Parsee lied on the rubble of what used to be her home, still clutching the wood in her hands. Soot covered her face and legs. She had stopped moving, keeping still upon the remains of the life she wasn't allowed to have. Even the mirror had fallen silent, sitting on top of a rock and gently kicking its legs back and forth. The cave was totally soundless—the smoke from the fire had dried out the ceiling so even the constant dripping had finally ceased. Parsee found herself suddenly wishing to hear that incessant and constant noise once again.
"It'll be back." The mirror spoke, folding its arms in its lap. Parsee sighed in response, and rolled away from the mirror. She was no longer aware of the passing of time. Moments into minutes into hours... it all felt the same, moving in the beat with the aching of her chest. Though the happiness she had attained was uncertain, Parsee had felt that it wouldn't end like the others... but she could see now that she was wrong. Starting with the rubble underneath her, everything would disappear one by one and she would be alone again, no one but her and constant dripping.
"Hello~." A song-like voice broke the silence. Parsee turned her head to see a woman in black with odd color-changing hair smiling and waving at her. "Parsee Mizuhashi, right? I don't believe we've ever met directly. My name is Byakuren Hijiri."
Parsee vaguely remembered seeing the woman at a party once or twice. She turned her head away and rested it against the remains once again, holding the scrap of wood close to her chest.
"Oh, come now." The sound of boots clacking across stone reverberated through the cave. "Now is not the time for sorrow. Today is a new day!" Byakuren grabbed Parsee by the shoulders and eased her into a sitting position. "That which is gone can be rebuilt!" The woman smiled warmly.
Parsee said nothing and stared blankly into the woman's bright eyes. She found her optimism almost insulting, as if she could stroll into her life out of nowhere and tell her how things would happen. Parsee knew that this was the beginning of the end, the first step into the rest of her life alone. The woman frowned slightly, drawing her brow together, and her eyes took a more serious tone.
"Aya asked me to mediate the situation here. I need to know everything you can tell me."
Parsee didn't say anything. She tilted her head to the side and looked away.
"Just tell her." The mirror slid off of its rock and stepped forward, standing next to Parsee and facing Byakuren. "It's not like anything you can do will help, anyway."
Byakuren drew herself up and looked over the mirror, cupping her chin as she did so. "So I see." Byakuren closed her eyes and nodded to herself. "You're..." She shook her head slightly, smiled, and extended a hand. "It's nice to meet you."
"Uh." The mirror withdrew slightly. With a bewildered face, it eyed Byakuren up and down and nodded tensely.
"Shy to the core, I see." Byakuren giggled to herself, letting her hand fall to her side. "But, unfortunately, I really need to know what happened here."
Parsee clicked her teeth together for a few moments. "I woke up this morning and went downstairs. Yuugi and I..." She crossed her arms and drew them in. "were talking. Next thing we know, torches and fire bottles were everywhere."
"Do you know why this happened?"
Parsee gnashed her teeth together, clenched her hands into fists, balling up the fabric of her arm warmers and looked to the ground. Why? The very question filled her with anger more intense than she could ever imagine. Why, why did the damned humans burn down her house? Burn down her life? What was their reason? If only she could move about freely, if she weren't bound to this dreary cave, Parsee would rip them all limb from limb. Their yelling echoed in her mind, and she tried to twist the memory into anguished screaming. Their rage turned to fear, their threats into petty bribes for mercy, the man screaming for the girl's return turned into screaming to her for salvation...
A thought suddenly shot through Parsee's mind like a skewer through a bat's torso. The name repeated itself over and over in her mind. Miyo, Miyo, Miyo, and it suddenly sounded so familiar, but why? A memory burned at the tip of Parsee's mind, and she sharply drew in breath as she looked up to face Byakuren again. "Do you have Aya's paper?"
Byakuren cocked an eyebrow slightly before reaching into a pocket and pulling out a full newspaper. Upon seeing Parsee's bemused look, she answered, "magic pockets" with a smile as she handed the paper to the smaller youkai.
Parsee snatched the paper from her hand and pored over the front page. "Oni Living In Cave to Underground! Could this Mark the Race's Return?" Underneath was an image of the house Yuugi had built, the house Parsee had lived in. The paper crumpled beneath her grip, and she could not stop her hands from shaking. It hadn't occurred to her to think of how the humans knew where to go, how they knew that an oni lived in the house. It was Aya's fault. Parsee pressed her hand to her face, her fingernails digging into her scalp. Next to her, the mirror was silent, but grinning wildly.
Parsee took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. "This isn't the right one." She whispered, holding the paper out. Byakuren grabbed the paper and stuffed it in her pocket, ruffling around the inside of it for a few moments.
"Hey, Parsee!" A loud voice echoed from the deeper end of the cavern. "Sorry I was gone so long!"
Parsee's ears twitched and she looked away from Byakuren. "Yuugi?" The pain in her chest began to alleviate. A large part of her believed that Yuugi was never going to come back. The oni ran up, waving with a forced smile, and stopped before the three to catch her breath, bending over and resting her hands on her knees. "Hijiri?" She asked, looking up at the group. "What are you—" Yuugi's voice caught in her throat as her eyes rolled across the mirror, standing behind Parsee with a sinister grin. "The hell are you doing here?" Yuugi stepped forward, poised to strike.
Byakuren stepped between the two, extending an arm outwards.
"Hijiri!" Yuugi spoke through grit teeth. "Why are you protecting that... thing?"
"Now's not the time for this." Byakuren's face had lost its pleasant smile, replaced by only a stony seriousness.
Yuugi shot air through her teeth. "What d'you want?"
"I want to know what happened down here."
Yuugi crossed her arms. "Some humans showed up screamin' about some 'Miyo' and burned my house down."
The name again. It struck like lightning through Parsee's memory.
"There's a Miyo from the village... restaurant owner's daughter, often comes by for grain..." Byakuren cupped her chin and put on a rather professional looking thinking face. "But why would they associate her with you?"
"Takahashi." Parsee spoke. "I remember now. Miyo and Takahashi were the ones from the article yesterday. A human and an oni in a relationship together."
Yuugi clapped a hand to her head. "Ah, yer right!"
"I see." Byakuren stroked her chin with one finger and closed her eyes, deep in thought.
"Speakin' of Takahashi..." Yuugi folded her arms and leaned against a large rock. "He seems to have disappeared. There's a huge uproar down in the city—people are sayin' that he was kidnapped by humans. 'S why I took so long gettin' back here."
"And I assume the humans think that the oni have kidnapped Miyo?" Byakuren asked.
"Seems that way." Yuugi clicked her tongue and tapped the ground with her foot. "'Course, we don't have her. Hell, 'sides Takahashi and me, don't think any of 'em have even heard the name."
"This is troublesome..." Byakuren's face tightened and she finally let her arms fall to her sides. "Two missing people from two races, each race blaming the other..."
"The oni are out for blood." A frightening darkness crossed Yuugi's face. "They were paranoid before, but when I started askin' about help for the fire..." She shook her head. "Might as well have declared war. Did my best to calm them down but..." She shrugged. "Oni are oni."
"I am afraid to report that it's not much better above ground. The humans who were chased out of the cave earlier have started to gather more people." Byakuren's eyes narrowed. "When they come back, it won't just be with pitchforks and fire bottles like before. They'll be coming with weapons and spells."
The two talked back and forth, exchanging information and ideas. Parsee felt a barrier between herself and the two taller women in front of her. They had people to care for, people they wanted to protect. Parsee understood that feeling, she wanted to protect Yuugi but—
"You're too useless." The mirror hissed in her ear, having slipped behind her while the two were discussing. "Too dumb, too weak, and too useless to ever do anything for Yuugi."
Parsee balled her hands into fists and her shoulders tightened.
"This looks bad." Yuugi muttered. "I don't see a way to avoid conflict here."
Byakuren was rubbing her temples. "I, too, am at a loss."
"J-Just." Parsee spoke suddenly and without thinking, slightly stumbling over her words. "Just find the two who are missing. That would clear up the misunderstanding."
Byakuren smiled. "That's a wonderful idea."
"Too bad we don't have a lead." Yuugi sighed.
"They're not underground—we know that much." Byakuren's face began to brighten again. "Hoshiguma, could you stall the oni for as long as you can?"
"I can try, but—"
"I have an idea!" Byakuren levitated off of the ground and waved. "I need as much time as you can give me. I'm counting on you!" And she sped off to the above ground.
Yuugi looked between the path to the underground city, Parsee, and her mirror. Parsee could see her face contorting in frustration.
"It's okay." Parsee crossed her arms and looked away. "I'll be fine."
Yuugi nodded tensely and turned towards the city.
"No, don't go!" The mirror cried in a sinister, mocking tone. "I don't want to be left alone anymore! I don't want you to go!"
Yuugi paused and turned her head. The mirror was glaring at her, and Parsee was looking down and away, her bangs hanging over her face. After a long, hard moment, she turned away and charged towards the city. When the clunking of her geta could no longer be heard, Parsee fell to her knees.
She felt so weak. So useless. So selfish. Yuugi was off trying to quell the anger of an entire race, and what could Parsee do to assist her? Nothing. All she could do was sit and wallow in her own misery. The mirror wrapped its arms around her stomach, and planted its head on her back. Parsee held her own head in her hands.
How nice it must be, to be able to walk freely. To not be bound to a dirty, dank cave. To be able to help the people you love. To have real problems, to have real solutions, to be able to experience more than darkness and moisture, to not be a burden on those who you cared for, to not to have to use others as a crutch, to love yourself.
If Yuugi had never fallen in the pool, if they had never met, Yuugi wouldn't have built the house. Aya wouldn't have written the article. The humans would have never attacked, and the oni would have never have had a reason to attack in return. If Parsee didn't exist, none of them would be in this situation right now. It was all her fault.
The mirror nuzzled its cheek against her back. "I really hate you, you know?"
Parsee's arms fell to her sides and she slumped forward into the hard, rocky ground. "I know."
The mirror giggled and laughed, running it's hands over Parsee's stomach. Moments passed achingly slow as the mirror deliberately dragged its hands across Parsee's entire body, whispering in her ear. Parsee made no move against it. She no longer had the energy to fight it. It was right. Everything it said was right.
It had rolled Parsee onto her back and began nuzzling her neck when Byakuren returned. She made her presence known kneeling down by poking Parsee in the forehead with a large smile on her face. "Is Yuugi still in the city?"
Parsee lightly nodded.
Byakuren made a slight groan. "I was hoping for a convenient meetup here. Though if she's still not here, she must still be stalling the oni... that's good." She drew herself up and brushed the dirt off of her knees. "I'll go meet her there then." Byakuren waved and ran down the cave towards the underground.
She felt a little guilty leaving Parsee behind. Byakuren had seen her particular affliction on youkai in the past, and it was something that was very difficult to overcome... She shook her head and put the thought to the back of her mind. One thing at a time—no point in trying to help the girl if a fight brought her cave down around her pointy little ears.
Once in the city, it wasn't difficult to locate Yuugi—most of the oni were gathered around her as she gave orders. When she spotted Byakuren, she excused herself and ran over to the magician, pulling her into an alley.
"Sorry about that." Yuugi rubbed the back of her head. "When I got here, it was obvious that they're to pissed to reason with... so I just took lead to slow 'em down that way."
"That's a very smart move." Byakuren smiled. "I sent Aya and the Captain's crew to look for the missing two and I asked Reimu to slow down the humans as much as possible."
"Ohh?" Yuugi cocked an eyebrow. "Bet she wasn't happy about that."
Byakuren chuckled softly. "She grumbled, but Reimu wants to avoid a conflict as much as we do."
"So what's the plan now?"
Byakuren frowned and closed her eyes, leaning against the wall behind her. "We hope that someone finds the couple before the groups start moving."
"Hm." Yuugi folded her arms and nodded. "I'll get back to stalling them, then." She turned, but before she could take a step out of the alley, Byakuren grabbed her arm.
"There's something else. About that girl."
"Parsee?" Yuugi sighed, frustration overtaking her voice. "When this is done, I'm going to punch that copy right in the—"
"Don't." In that moment, Byakuren's eyes reminded Yuugi of a seasoned warrior. "It is something she must overcome on her own. Attacking it would only serve to hurt her further."
"Wh..." Byakuren tightened her grip on Yuugi's arm. She was surprisingly strong. "Okay, okay. I get it."
"Good." Byakuren's soft, smiling face returned. "Well, best of luck!" She waved and took to flight, heading back to Parsee's cave. When she arrived, she found that the clone had Parsee's head in her lap and it was playing with her hair. If Byakuren didn't know better, it would have been a cute image.
"I'm back!" She called, floating down and sitting next to Parsee. "All that's left is to wait."
Byakuren smiled. She found herself wishing she had gotten to know the girl better, maybe have something to talk about. She made a note to drink at Parsee's table at the next party—at least, assuming there would be another party. Byakuren shivered slightly and shook her head. No point in thinking negatively—just gotta plan for whatever may happen...
"So why are you still here?" The mirror shot a sidelong glance to Byakuren. "Shouldn't you be searching for that girl?"
"Nope." Byakuren made herself cozy against a large rock. "Aya and the Captain's crew are searching for her. I will wait here to delay whatever group passes through first."
"Delay them how?" The mirror began twirling a lock of Parsee's bangs in its fingers.
Byakuren paused, her smile momentarily fading from her face. "However I can."
The mirror snickered. "I see."
Time passed painfully slow. The mirror kept toying with Parsee's hair and idly responding to Byakuren's small-talk. Parsee could tell that Byakuren was getting tense. Each moment that passed was another moment the oni and humans prepared for battle, another moment the couple was missing.
Clattering could be heard in the distance. Byakuren immediately stood and dashed over towards the underground city. "I can see torches. The oni are coming." Voices began to trickle in from the opposite cave. Byakuren spun on her heel and ran over to the other side. "Here, too. I wasn't expecting them both at once..." She returned to her previous spot next to Parsee with a scrunched up face, chewing on the end of her thumb, deep in thought.
Parsee sat up and slinked farther back, deeper into the shadows of the cave. The noises grew louder and louder before two large groups filled the cave. The humans were covered in makeshift armor, carrying farm equipment, torches and rusted swords. At their head stood Reimu, looking frustrated and tired.
The oni were fitted in dull armor and duller weapons. However, what they lacked in proper equipment they made up for in fury, yelling and screaming and clapping their shields against their breastplates. Leading them stood Yuugi, tall with bravado and a weird smile. Parsee could tell that Yuugi didn't want to fight just by looking at her... so why couldn't the oni notice?
"Return Miyo to us, you demons!" A man yelled.
An oni snarled in return. "What did you do to Taka you miserable sacks of flesh?"
The bickering continued back and forth, but neither side was willing to move before their leader. Parsee ground her teeth together. From the oni she could feel longing for the intelligence of the humans, for their wit and their technique. The humans desired the strength of the oni, their bravery and carefree lives. Their feelings burned stronger and stronger and stronger... it made Parsee so angry.
"I'll rip off your horns and wear them as a trophy!"
It just made her so...
"I'll eat you and your entire family!"
"We'll make sure to extinct your race this time, you dogs!"
So... pissed off!
"Let's get them!"
"Rip them to shreds!"
At that moment, Parsee screamed. It overpowered the booming voices of the oni. It blasted over the riot of humans. All of her frustration, all of her anger, all of her despair cascaded over the underground. It resonated and echoed, bouncing around the cave chamber, shaking loose dust and rousing the bats to flee to a deeper part of the cavern. The yelling stopped, and there was only the remnants of the roar remaining. Without realizing it, Parsee had stumbled between the two groups, the oni at her left and the humans at her right, with both slowly edging away from her. Her eyes were glowing an intensely bright green, lividly looking from group to group. "SHUT UP." She screamed again. "SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP."
"I-It's just a girl!" A human shouted. "Ignore her and get the—" His voice caught in his throat as Parsee fixated her piercing gaze on him.
Reimu sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "Don't you know who that is?" She grinned slightly. "That's the Green Eyed Monster. She's a fearsome beast."
Parsee focused her gaze on Reimu. Reimu's pretty black hair and smug face and confident stature, oh how Parsee just wanted to shove that face into the dirt!
"Yeah!" Yuugi chimed in. "She's more than a match even for me!"
Parsee spun towards the oni. Yuugi! Yuugi! How stupid could she be to not notice how miserable Parsee had been? Did that idiot only think of alcohol and parties? How unfair!
The angrier she got, the brighter her eyes became. Panicked murmuring began among the humans, and the oni began shooting each other sidelong glances. The humans, the oni... they were all so petty! Parsee would show them the true meaning of desire... she'd show them what it feels to—
"Waaaaiiiit!" In a torrent of wind, Aya charged in above everyone. "I found them! Look!" She pointed at the cave leading above ground. A tall, thin and excessively lanky male was running in with a delicate looking woman at most half of his size.
"We weren't kidnapped!" The girl shouted.
"We eloped!" The oni added.
The two groups clamored over the couple, swarming over them. Yuugi and Reimu stood rooted to the ground, breathing heavy sighs of relief. Byakuren trotted up to them. "Whew, I was all ready to start clobbering people!" She smiled again. "I'll go handle them, so you guys can relax!" Without a moment's delay, Byakuren melded into the groups.
"Man..." Yuugi rubbed her forehead. She strode over to Parsee and pat her on the back. "That was some nice work there! Even I was kinda shakin' in my boots!" Parsee's face was buried in her hands, a green glow escaping through her cracks between her fingers. "Uh, Parsee? You alright?"
Parsee hated Yuugi. She hated Reimu. She hated Byakuren. She hated the oni, the humans, the cave, the underground city, the above world, the pool of water, the rocks, the bats, the mushrooms... Everything just made her so frustrated. Everything made her so angry! It wasn't fair! But the thing Parsee hated most...
Byakuren began to lead the oni and humans above ground. Their voices became more and more dim. Aya followed the group, muttering something about getting a scoop. Reimu mentioned taking a nap, and excused herself. The only ones left in the cave were Yuugi, Parsee, and the mirror, who had reappeared standing near the large pool of water.
Parsee began to walk towards it. The thing she hated most... the thing she hated most was...!
The mirror's lips curved into a sadistic smile. She could feel the insult at the tip of its tongue waiting to strike at the first chance presented. She knew what it was. She had known all this time, but she didn't want to admit it to herself. The thing she hated most...
"Well?" The mirror sneered, barely a foot away from Parsee.
Parsee quickly grabbed the mirror and drew it into an embrace. "It's okay." She muttered.
"What?" A look of bewilderment crossed the mirror's face. "What are you—?"
"It's okay." Parsee repeated, stroking the mirror's back. "You can let it out."
The mirror's face twisted in confusion before it's eyes began to water. It sniffled and choked back sobs before finally letting out a loud wail, tears pouring from it's eyes. "I hate everything!" It shouted. "I hate being jealous! I hate being useless! I hate being stuck in this stupid cave! I want to leave!"
Parsee said nothing, and only continued to stroke the mirror's back. Yuugi watched from the center of the cave.
"I hate having to rely on everyone! I hate being unable to do anything! I hate feeling angry and sad! I hate feeling frustrated!" It hiccuped. "But the thing I hate most is...!"
Parsee tightened her grip on the mirror, holding it as close as she could. She could feel it's hands shaking as it clutched at her back.
"Is myself!" The mirror let out another large cry, sobbing and hiccuping loudly. Its sounds became quieter and quieter until silence filled the cavern, not even an echo remaining. Parsee was holding nothing. The mirror was gone.
Parsee sat at the basin of the pool. She could hear Yuugi walking up behind her. The oni grabbed the smaller girl and pulled her into a hug, Parsee's face buried in her chest. "I'm sorry." Yuugi whispered.
Parsee nodded. That was all she needed Yuugi to say.