Disclaimer: Touhou Project is the property of ZUN.
At the place where the fragments of imagination had gathered.
The place in which Megumi used to take solace, despite it barely retaining any traces within Megumi's wavering memory.
Its name was Hakurei Shrine.
A gust of clean forest air blew through the clearing, as if beckoning her to stay. Yet, she gave the shrine's torii one last look as she prepared to leave. But in the dim of the forest, again, something almost escaped Megumi's eyes.
She approached the object carefully. It was hardly surprising that such a place would hold startling secrets such as this one. But upon closer look, it was nothing but a thick tree stump with a few scratches on it.
No, not merely scratches, but writing. Despite looking old, it was still legible. The girl bent down, tracing her fingers over the writing as she read it.
"'Located herein... the entrance to the other world" ...What?"
Megumi was left staring. She was sure she wasn't the one who wrote that. Or did she...?
Someone must have seen her coming here long ago, and then carved that message so that she could read it when she came back.
She sighed. With her aloof personality, she was just too easy to make fun of.
It's about time she changed.
...Well, she had already decided on that a long time ago. For quite a while, she had wanted to become... a better person altogether.
Still, it took her a while to learn to ignore her imagination, and it was moments like this that reminded her of her former days of "glory."
Nope, no use wasting another second at good ole Hakurei Shrine. More important matters were at hand. Several school projects were due within the next week. And some friends had invited her to karaoke.
Not that she didn't want to go karaoke-ing, but it was hard to have a say being with a bunch of people who decide everything on their own. And, from the way things were, a chance to hang out was always a must-go, no matter what her preferences. Such was the new set of disciplines she had laid out for herself.
But just as she was about to head back down the hill, again, something made her stop in her tracks. This time, it was the noise of someone clumsily climbing the rocks to reach the top of the hill.
She looked slightly out of breath when she finally made it to the top.
"Oh, so it is Hakurei Shrine after all. I sensed it coming from this direction. Looks like we already have a visitor."
She was a woman in her early twenties, had short brown hair and a black, old-fashioned hat. She was also dressed rather formally, and carried a handbag full of important documents. A researcher, perhaps? Despite her authoritative look, she was still rather short and young-looking.
"Usami Renko," replied Renko with a bow, which was quickly returned. "Pleased to meet you."
"Edano Megumi," replied Megumi. "...Not a good time of the day for a bit of exploring, don't you think?"
The woman smiled slightly before speaking.
"At almost 50 meters above sea level, with the exact coordinates as I remembered, this place here... I have had quite a bit of history with it." She tilted her head to look at the sky. "But the stars aren't visible yet at this time of the day. The remaining sunlight is still adequate if one really were to explore. But I would feel much more reassured had I known that I am exactly where I think I am."
"You're... no ordinary woman," Megumi deduced.
"No. Thankfully, I'm not," said Renko.
She rummaged through her bad and pulled out an employee ID. Since it was too dark to read it, she lit up an electrical lamp.
"Here. Chief Theoretical Physicist at JAXA. Despite it being my first year at the agency, they placed me at such a high position. I wonder if I can really make it."
JAXA, was it? Megumi thought she heard of it somewhere. Right, a space agency, she remembered. Advanced stuff.
"Don't expect me to know anything about that," Megumi waved her hands. "I'm at the bottom of the class when it comes to math and physics."
"Well, then you have something in common with Merry."
"But now, without further ado," the woman's face took on a new shade of seriousness. "I have a question for you."
Megumi gulped. Being questioned by a weird woman in the middle of a dim forest wasn't really in her list of expectations. But she had to admit... a schoolgirl exploring abandoned shrine property at early evening was certainly a cause for question. Come to think of it, what was she doing here in the first place?
"What are you doing here?" A mind-reading genius. Surprise, surprise.
"Or, rather..." Renko waved off the question. "I don't have much of a right to ask that, since I appear just as suspicious, if not more so. But, you know about it, correct?"
"I know... something?" Although Megumi didn't know what she was referring to, she was had a gut feeling it was something she definitely knew.
"About the other world," continued Renko. "From all the data gathered from our experiences at the Sealing Club, Merry and I had come to a conclusion. And that conclusion is that within this Hakurei Shrine lies the very entrance to the other world."
Renko paused to take in Megumi's reaction. But the girl's expression was unreadable.
That writing on the stump... It was her doing.
"So, what can you tell me about the world on the other side?" asked Renko.
"Well, I... You see..."
What is going on? Is she talking about... that world? The imaginary magical realm? Ha... This is actually getting a little funny.
Meriko stared at the woman from head to toe, taking note of her formal attire and scientific aura.
Nope, no way anyone would believe anything like that, much less a scientist. It had got to be a coincidence. And a disconcerting one at that.
"What... exactly are you referring to?" Megumi finally asked obliviously.
To her surprise, Renko's shoulders dropped in relief. "Ah, I should never have expected otherwise. In fact, I don't think I have the right to believe any of that in the first place. Not after what happened with Merry. Merry... huh?"
Did this woman always talk to herself like this? It must be weird for those around her.
"A-Anyway, I do wish I can stay a little longer, but I really have to go," Renko finally said.
But another thing caught Megumi's attention. Renko had frozen up, her face taking a shade of mixed anxiety and... longing?
The reason for that became clear, as the very person she was referring to had just made her way up the steps.
"It sure is dark here. Why would Renko want to come visit the shrine at his time..."
The other woman noticed the two staring, and with an audible gasp, averted eye contact. Likewise, Renko looked down.
Not exactly on speaking terms, are they?
Did those two just get into a fight or something?
The new woman was the same age as the first stranger, and looked just as youthful. She had long, curly blond hair, and wore a purple dress, which looked to be dirtied and torn in a few places. She wore a mob cap, which she held to steady it in the wind.
"Um... Merry, right?"
"Maribel, actually," she said politely.
"You followed me here." Coming from Renko, it was addressed at Merry. A statement rather than a question.
"Unn, I couldn't help it."
"This is just like you, Merry."
There was a few seconds of silence. After a while, Megumi couldn't take it anymore.
"Hey! What's with this gloomy atmosphere? Uh, come have a seat. Right on the steps."
With Megumi seated and waiting, the other two hesitated before following suit. From the top of the shrine steps, the lights from the city were visible in the distance.
"Renko's new friend, right? How do I address you?" asked Merry.
"No, no. Usami-san's not exactly a friend... Er, I mean, we hadn't met before. Anyway, my name is Edano Megumi. Nice to meet you."
"Merry... It's been over for quite a while now," Renko said solemnly. "So, why are you following me?"
"I was interested as to why you would be visiting the shrine."
"I was simply following this girl. Edano, right? It appeared suspicious to see someone come here." Renko frowned slightly. "Merry, did you truly think I had other reasons for visiting this place?"
"For the sake of exploration," Merry said sarcastically. "After all, Hakurei Shrine is just like any old shrine. There are probably hundreds of them rotting in the forest."
"Even you should understand. Unlike any other abandoned shrine, this one brings back memories neither of us want to remember. In fact, I was just about to leave."
"...Huh?" asked Megumi. "Memories?"
"What memories?" taunted Merry. "I already forgot all of them. Along with that favor you were talking about. Don't you understand? We're equal footing."
"Merry..." A hint of annoyance in Renko's tone.
"Both of you, stop it!" cried Megumi. "Would any of you mind telling me what's going on?"
There was an audible sigh. But Megumi wasn't sure whether it came from Renko or Merry. Perhaps they did it together?
"Right, where do I start?" Renko wondered.
"I can tell the story," Merry claimed. "Recently, Renko here did me a biiig favor. She played along with me in a very interesting game I invented just to fool her."
Renko didn't wait to retort. "That was hardly a favor, and I doubt your intricate 'game' was worth wasting a few years of your life. But of course, it's a matter of perspective."
"But didn't you say so? That you had already done me the huge favor or believing everything?"
"My studies and research had just gotten more intense. It was highly impractical to be spending hours in your dream world at the same time," said Renko matter-of-factly. "Sooner or later, it was time to stop. Merry, you knew that all along, right?"
"D-Dream world?" uttered Megumi.
Merry nodded. "So then I got a little too angry and told Renko that everything I had been showing her was nothing but a lie. It's as simple as that. I probably played along with it for so long too, even I almost forgot about it being a lie. Renko, you have my thanks for reminding me."
"Ah... I see," said Megumi hesitantly, afraid to enter the conflict of two bickering friends. Especially when it seemed suspiciously similar to her own dilemma.
"Anyway, despite the fight we had, we both agreed on one thing," Renko recounted, continuing on where Merry had left off. "That everything, from the objects she brought back from her dreams, to the trips she and I took together into the other world, indeed could hold some truth."
"Yes, we did experience all that together," Merry agreed. "But all of those events were explainable through the work of shared hallucinations and delusions. Having some knowledge of psychology, I can confirm that. The bottom line is, there never was another world in the first place."
To Megumi's surprise, there was nothing Renko could say to argue back.
"But... you only believed that only to spite each other," observed Megumi. "See? Usami-san even asked me if I knew about the other world. She was genuinely curious."
"Huh? Well..." It was Renko's turn to stammer. "I never did believe that such a thing could have existed. Apart from the things that Merry showed me, nothing at all suggested of its presence. Frankly, I had my doubts early on. But I will admit that playtime was fun, if only the slightest. You have my thanks for that, Merry. But, your 'trick,' that you pride yourself so much in accomplishing, never worked. Regarding Edano-kun, I was merely wondering what a schoolgirl like her is doing at this time of the day, and I didn't know what else to ask."
"How about... 'What are you doing here at this time of the day?'" suggested Merry.
"Stop it, stop it!" Megumi frantically called. "I'm sorry. But I can't let this go on for another second. Neither of you value each other's presence anymore, so why can't you leave it at that? For the two of you to be so angry over this, I can tell that something very valuable has been lost to both of you. But instead of recovering it, you only attack the other person in the lowest of ways."
Both declined to respond.
Megumi turned to the blonde. "Merry... Usami-san was lying to you. ...Usami-san didn't follow me here because I was suspicious. She came because she sensed that there was something here. I don't know what she expected, and she may not believe it to be something worth going after. But curiosity is hard to come over, isn't it? It's the reason I'm here in the first place."
"You... felt it too?" asked Merry, wide-eyed, looking at Renko.
Renko closed her eyes complacently, with a hint of a smile. "This is interesting."
"More importantly, who exactly are you?" Merry addressed Megumi now.
"Usami-san," addressed Megumi, holding up a hand to put the question on hold. "You really don't believe that something like Gensokyo can exist. But you were curious about what I was doing here, weren't you? I might be wrong, even though you know that you can't believe it, you still want very much to believe."
"Can it be... You've seen the other world?" asked an astonished Merry.
"Don't jump to conclusions yet!" laughed Megumi. "I don't even know if the world I have in mind is the same one you two are referring to."
"Oi, if Edano-kun's seen it too, then this is too unlikely to be a mere coincidence," said Renko, who was lying on her back now. The stars were finally starting to become visible. "Edano-kun, why don't you tell us a bit about it?"
Megumi shook her head stubbornly. "I'm not saying anything, not until the two of you make up to each other again."
Renko sat back up and gave Megumi funny look. Then she sighed. "…If only things were as simple as you make them to be. But, I guess it can't be helped." She extended a hand towards Merry. "I apologize for lying about ever having been fooled by your trick."
"Huh...? So that's what you apologize for..."
"It's your turn," nudged Megumi.
"Eh... I apologize for..." Merry had to think hard on this one. Then, she said sheepishly, "I apologize for lying that I had intended for it to be a trick."
"There, you see?" asked Megumi delightfully. "Both of you still had the will to believe. But it's only now that there's actually room for such a belief. Otherwise, anything I say will just go straight over your heads."
"Just hurry up with it already," said Merry impatiently.
"Take your time," said Renko, lying back down on the grass. "And, thank you."
Smiling, Megumi nodded and took a deep breath.
Quite the delightful duo, these two... I can tell they had seen a lot in their past adventures.
...It's sad to see how they've come to the point where they needed to be saved this way.
But, now it's up to them to save me.
So, please. Listen carefully, okay?
I'm counting on you, Usami-san, Merry.
"Just like you, I also doubted the existence of the other world.
But... I couldn't help dreaming. Dreaming that it exists.
But that was long ago. Back when I was in middle school. But throughout the years, I had been having daydreams about it, similar to what the two of you had been seeing.
And, you know... Just now, you two have erased all my doubts. ...My doubts as to whether Gensokyo exists or not, that is.
There's no mistaking it.
Gensokyo indeed exists.
Those lucky enough to live there refer to it as that: Gensokyo. Literally, the countryside of illusions.
In Gensokyo, there's much beauty to be seen. I know that's not saying much, but... I've seen it. I really have.
The beauty lies not only in the physical world, but also in the sheer simplicity of such world.
That's right. Simplicity.
Eh, how should I describe it... In Gensokyo, if you are foolish enough to think that you have what it takes to solve any strange incident that occurs, then you probably can. Whether you are a lazy shrine maiden, or a meddling witch, it makes no difference.
Likewise, if you would like to selfishly do funny things to Gensokyo to fit your needs, chances are that you have the capability.
From what I've seen, one's desires can only be so complicated, especially in such a world as Gensokyo. This kind of selfishness only makes things much simpler.
How should I put this... there is a freedom to understand the wants of other people? Whatever freedom it is, I'm sure it can never exist in such a complicated society as the modern world... I wonder if that's the true meaning of freedom.
Hahaha! I think I may have just gotten to the point where I don't know what I'm saying anymore...
...But you know, it's not all selfishness and suffering in Gensokyo! Everything is actually quite balanced.
Those of us with a desire or ambition have every right to pursue them in any way possible. And given the variety of magic, there's plenty of room to be creative. To make it so that it's hard to upset the balance, everything is easily resolvable. If anyone else is also selfish enough to think they have the right to stop you, then by all means, let them attempt to fight for their desire. Just like olden times, justice goes only to the victorious!
Oh, here I'm getting to the fun part!
Just how does combat work in Gensokyo?
Even for a world with such complicated workings of magic, there is one standardized mode of combat. It's a little surprising, but it fits Gensokyo so well.
Danmaku, it's called.
Beautiful patterns that light up the sky, which are actually bullets meant for attack. A non-lethal kind of attack.
Even the essence of conflict in Gensokyo takes such a breathtaking form. The definition of conflict itself is rewritten - now it is strictly for enjoyment. Maybe even admiration for the opponent's power. All in all, it's a contest... to see who is the most beautiful and intimidating at the same time. As such, in these kinds of battles, it is aesthetics that is prioritized above everything else. The way it works, conflict is even said to bring foes closer to one another. Maybe that's why it's so easy to make friends with someone you had just fought.
So, it's not wrong to say that Gensokyo is forever at peace.
But then, those who haven't seen conflict cannot comprehend peace. Some humans and even youkai are too weak to fend for themselves. These poor people are subject to the whim of Gensokyo's magic, especially at the hands of wild youkai. There's no telling what can happen to them. But such is a necessary obstacle to everlasting peace - preserving the balance that has shaped Gensokyo into the way it is.
And you know... Most of the things that can happen in Gensokyo, especially magic, are beyond what any of us can imagine. Yet, strangely enough, they are easily understandable and explained by a child. That's just how it is, isn't it? Complicated, yet simple at the same time. Outsiders like us can't do much about it other than to observe and marvel."
"...Anyway, that's Gensokyo in a nutshell," concluded Megumi. "I had quite some fun seeing all that. I'm sure I've spent quite some time in that world, but I can't remember exactly what happened."
"Still, that's a very detailed description," Merry pointed out. "It sounds very familiar too."
"That's because it's suspiciously similar to the other world that we know of," said Renko. "The variety of magic, and all those folklorish creatures. That much, we have seen."
Megumi's face brightened. "So you have seen it! You must also believe that it exists, right?"
Renko's expression was unreadable.
"As a full-fledged scientist, it's not that easy to win me over with such a bold hypothesis," she replied enigmatically. "But I agree that such a world is quite fun to imagine. I will admit that I can neither confirm nor deny its existence."
"You think so?" Megumi's shoulders dropped in disappointment.
"Neither can I," said Merry. "But the fact that you know about it, Edano-san, despite never having met us, it makes Gensokyo's existence all the more likely."
"Extremely likely," corrected Renko. "Edano-kun... After hearing all that from you, there is one thing I can prove, but unfortunately, it goes against the ethics of science. Still, I'll do my best to prove it to you."
"I can prove how much I want Gensokyo to exist," Renko elaborated. Then she quickly added, "Except for the fact that forming a hypothesis out of sheer subjectivity is never a good sign. So please, don't expect too much."
"Still, I'd like to hear it," said Merry. This is just like the old days, she thought.
Has it ever crossed your mind, the question of why we exist?
Sometimes, it seems that the universe is created just for our sake. Just so that we humans can be aware of our own existence, as well as the existence of the universe itself. Almost as if we are the ones determining the existence of the universe.
But, did everything have to become this way? Why did the miracle of life spring up during the earliest years of this planet? Why was it able to evolve up to this stage over time?
As a theoretical physicist, I think this too much of a coincidence. If it weren't for atoms, molecules, and the specific properties that each of them have, none of this would ever have happened. None of this could ever have happened.
Who said gravity has to work the way it does? Who said positive and negative has to attract? You get my point...
One of my hypotheses is that, upon the universe's creation, someone, or something, had invented the physical world to be the way it is. But that is just one hypothesis. There can be many others for such great a mystery as this.
Maybe, just maybe... This universe exists precisely because we humans are aware of its existence.
Perhaps there are an infinite number of universes out there, that fail to exist because their physics is unable to generate creatures with awareness, like this one here.
And perhaps... there are different universes out there that do manage to exist because their inhabitants have gained awareness.
But there is one explanation in which I have quite a bit of confidence. This might finally bring Gensokyo into question.
Has it ever occurred to you...
That this universe, the universe that we live in, doesn't exist? Or rather, never existed in the first place?
Everything you see, hear, and feel... is hypothetical. The world you see now... is what a universe would have been like, if its physics were to function they way you and I perceive it.
...After all, it is too much of a coincidence. The fact that we have developed into such an advanced society as this one... Surely, that was accounted for as early as the Big Bang? There are countless sayings about how insignificant we are as humans, but... I do wonder if it's really true.
It could even be said that humans invented this universe. 'Hypothesized,' would be the better word. It's all so that humans themselves can thrive in it. Think nepotism.
Overall, this is why I think that there may be a sliver of possibility to Gensokyo's existence.
The other two girls stared blankly into the distance, trying to comprehend all that was said.
"So, just like this universe... Gensokyo is also hypothetical? Sounds complicated, but coming from you, it should make sense, right?" asked Merry.
"That's only a theory," said Renko modestly. "Don't forget, there is the question of who exactly is doing the hypothesizing. Gensokyo is a world far unlike this one, and all of its magic needs to be explained one way or another. It's no easy task. I do know that it's not us who are behind it, given that we are but mere audiences. Yet, we were able to see it, somehow..."
They sat in silence for a while, mulling over the puzzle. But Megumi was silent for another reason.
That's right. It had just hit her. She should have known all along.
"No... you must transcend causality for that to happen."
Megumi said it in a serious tone.
"The Dragon is in charge of the rules."
"Dragon?" asked Merry.
"I just remembered," Megumi continued. "The Dragon is the highest god of Gensokyo. According to legend, its power is said to be the manipulation of truth, and the granting of wishes. ...Actually, it is the dominance over causality."
"Causality, is it?" murmured Renko."Of what you say has some truth to it, then that actually makes things all the more simpler."
"Exactly," giggled Megumi.
But Renko pressed on. "Would you mind elaborating?"
"All you must do is believe in the Dragon. It is the force that bridges reality and illusion. The one who is in charge of the rules behind every mystery. If only in the small world of Gensokyo, where the technology of today is still unheard of. To put it in terms of Usami-san's theory, all we have to do... is believe in an entity that does the brunt work of hypothesizing."
"Wow...can such a thing really happen?" asked Merry.
"Well, there isn't any proof against something like that," said Renko. "But just try imagining it… A hypothetical hypothesizer! But, Edano-kun, how did you know all this?"
Megumi didn't answer immediately.
She abruptly stood up and took a few steps towards the shrine, causing the two women to curiously turn around.
"Eh? Where are you...?"
But before Merry could ask further, Megumi turned around to face them, before addressing them.
"Usami-san, Merry... Thank you for believing." She bowed. "Because of that, I was able to remember. That I am… the Dragon of Gensokyo. Right, the one in charge of Gensokyo's existence, it is me. But I have one last favor to ask of you."
"...Well, I'm ready," said Renko after a pause.
"I think... it is people like you that make this world all the more interesting," continued Megumi. "People willing to believe in something so different, so beautiful and so unheard of in this world. That's why, no matter what people say about you, no matter what bad things happen, don't stop being the people you are now, okay?"
The two of them were silent, but not because they had no response to Megumi's demand. Megumi had suddenly become transparent.
"Could it be... Are you headed towards that place?" asked Merry eagerly.
"I'm just saving that place," Megumi replied. "It's my job after all."
By this point, she was near invisible. But the two women could hear her just the same.
"Goodbye, both of you... Thanks again!"
Everything had become dark once more.
In Megumi's consciousness, she was suspended in nothingness. Her purpose for being there was vague, as well as the events that had just happened.
Slowly, the facts crept back in. She was a young girl once more, 14 years of age. And she was not in reality. Actually, the world she came from seemed to be far, far away. Insignificant and small, given her current position.
So a dream, perhaps?
No, Megumi, this isn't a dream.
To Megumi's surprise, it was her own voice calling for her. Although, it sounded a bit more mature, as if it belonged to a version of herself from a few years into the future.
Come to think of it, isn't that related to what had just happened?
Who are you? What am I doing here? asked Megumi.
I am the Dragon of Gensokyo.
A sudden wave of realization swept over Megumi.
I am the creature which you had perceived yourself to be the container for. Right now, I'm borrowing the personality and voice of your future self, that you dreamt of, in order to speak with you.
...That I dreamt of?
Megumi looked around, but couldn't detect a presence.
You remember, right? Being the container for the Dragon, and having to save Gensokyo from oblivion. That, Megumi... that was a dream. That's why it wouldn't be surprising if you have some trouble remembering it.
Ah. No... It's actually coming back now... You just reminded me.
You were the one who made it this way, remember? You turned every single event... every detail you've seen... from before you arrived at Gensokyo for the first time, to your meeting with Usami-san and Merry, you turned all that into a dream.
Yeah... Yeah, I did do that.
It was of your belief that Gensokyo could be saved that way, if the Dragon never left the Border. And your ability to transcend causality indicated that, unless otherwise proven impossible, you had every ability to manipulate the truth. In this case, it was turning everything into a dream.
Haha... Did it work? asked Megumi curiously.
Yes. You are back where you started from. That dream you had known all along, you were having it while sleeping at the Border. And now, your consciousness is still inside the Border. That's why we are able to communicate directly.
So all this time, I had been sleeping while being transported from the Outside to Gensokyo... But then, why? Why did I have that dream? What does this all mean?
Megumi... Anytime now, I can simply erase your memories and take up residence in your soul. Then you would appear on the other side of the Border, and the entire cycle would start again.
But, there is no longer a need.
You've seen it, haven't you? How Usami-san and Merry had stopped believing. I had little choice but to do what I had done. That is, manifest myself in a human. I picked the next Outside human who strayed close to the Border, which happened to be you.
You were going to enter Gensokyo anyway, so it was most probable you would believe... That you would place much value in Gensokyo's existence.
So I let you play the role of savior. And then, it was up to you to convince them that, Gensokyo does exist. Usami-san and Merry, that is. Otherwise, you would have never remembered that you were the Dragon.
There was a brief silence.
...And you would never have made everything into a dream.
So that little moment when I was a high school student... That could have easily been reality, Megumi realized.
It could have, confirmed the Dragon. But you decided not to let it be. That's because you remembered Gensokyo. It's all thanks to your decision to destroy Gensokyo before Outsiders could permanently erase its existence.
Ah, right, that's how it went, Megumi remembered. But just now, something not quite right was starting to bother her. But... if everything were a dream, then I didn't really meet with Usami-san and Merry, right? I couldn't have convinced them. How can that be possible?
About Usami-san and Merry... they have this strange ability of being able to live the dreams of others. In that case, it would be your dream. This is beyond the scope of your knowledge, and it's up to Outside science, as well as my role as the Dragon to explain for it. No worries. You convincing worked just fine, that is all that matters.
Megumi giggled and shuddered a little, having just been told how limited her knowledge was. But then, she was talking to the Dragon after all.
Hey, if that was a dream... then those powers that I could use... are they not there anymore?
I've removed your powers, as the human named Megumi and the Dragon are now distinct entities, confirmed the Dragon. There is no longer any use for you to have my powers at your disposal.
Yes, you are nothing but a docile human.
In the distance, there was a speck of light that drew closer by the second, like the exit of a tunnel.
That's fine... If Megumi had a physical body, she would be smiling, and turning her head towards the light. So, I should cross the Border now, right?
Before you actually enter Gensokyo for the first time, promise that you will keep everything that has happened to this point a secret. I don't think there is enough room in Gensokyo for something with such a high level of complexity. Some things are better off not known. ...That is the chief factor behind the existence of Gensokyo.
I promise. She laughed mentally. I wasn't going to tell anyone even if you hadn't told me.
There's one more thing.
I had given you no easy task. If I was able to feel heavier emotions, I believe I would be loaded with much admiration and gratitude. Therefore, I brought you a gift. You shall see soon enough.
Hahaha... I just hope it's not too much of a surprise.
The Dragon no longer responded. Megumi could already feel herself emerging back into wakefulness.
The smell of early autumn was in the air.
Megumi had been leaning against a tree. She wondered if she had fallen asleep in the Outside, in the exact same position.
Despite the sun being due to set soon, the colors of the scenery was still visible. Some of the leaves had already turned golden brown, fiery red, and all sorts of fall colors, while others still retained their greenish hue. There was still too much foliage to look into the distance, but Megumi thought she could make out the top of a shrine roof.
Reimu probably wouldn't remember her, and neither would Marisa, or anyone else she had met in Gensokyo. In the end, a dream was a dream.
"What is this place? Edano-san, you there?"
The voice sounded familiar. And it came from just on the other side of the tree.
"Who is it?" Megumi stepped around, and there he was.
Kyuuri-kaburi, the kappa Megumi had known in the Outside, sitting and looking about. His hair was ruffled, is backpack tossed lazily on the ground.
"Oi, Edano-san, I can smell it in the air. The rich feeling of spiritual energy. Is this... Gensokyo?" he asked. "The pastoral kingdom that's full of with magic and monsters?"
"Well, you're a smart one," teased Megumi.
"They kept mentioning it in the archives. I thought it was just a legend. Or, I could just be dreaming."
"I thought I was one who was dreaming," murmured Megumi.
The kappa looked at her curiously. To his surprise, Megumi's eyes had become misty. "Hold on... What do you mean?"
"I thought you existed only in my imagination," revealed Megumi. "So I never did take you seriously. You were just... that. A temporary friend. I guess I was wrong, was I?"
"What? Hold on, where did that come from?" he said exasperatedly.
Megumi shook her head and giggled. Right, during her entire life in the Outside, she had had the powers to perceive the occult. It was hardly surprising that, the moment the Dragon selected her to be its container, she suddenly had abilities ever since she was born. Causality could be tricky indeed. And such an ability would have included being able to see creatures like kappa and protect them from becoming nonexistent.
Just as she had done with Suika.
That's right... Kyuuri-kaburi should be thankful.
"But, never mind! Everything's okay now," she said. Suddenly, she grabbed Kyuuri's arm, a mysterious expression spreading across her face. "Actually, everything's not okay. Not until I show you everything!"
"Whoa… slow down, Edano-san!" cried Kyuuri as he was pulled to his feet and the two of them started darting towards Hakurei Shrine.
Surprisingly, Megumi stopped abruptly.
She spoke thoughtfully, as if having recalled something important.
"In this world, they call me Mugen. So, that's what you're calling me from now on, okay?"
Right, that's what she was going to introduce herself as, once she meets with Reimu and the others. It would be kind of funny to tell it to Marisa, who was the person who gave her the name.
"Okay... sure. But why?"
But she only laughed heartily.
"It's a secret!"
A/N: That's it folks! To the 15-20 of you who have been following this story, thanks for reading. Terribly sorry for hurling the "It's just a dream" trope at your face, but… Gensokyo must be saved! Still, I hope you've enjoyed the ride. Special thanks to the six of you in my story alert list - thanks for sticking around! This fic wouldn't be where it is today if it weren't for your interest. Special, special thanks to nekokuro13 for the constant and hilarious reviewing. To neko: I know your reviewing spree is (sort of) the prize money for the 100th review on your story, SSD, but really, thanks for the boost in morale!
Before I end this, let me know your last thoughts on this fic!