Former Hell, Chireiden

Satori sat in her chair, wearing her customary floral pink skirt and blue blouse. Her third eye rested easily over her heart, six veins leaving it and securing it to her arms, head, and chest. She was gently petting one of her pets, content in its contentment and reading a new book leisurely, recently brought to her from the surface by Orin. Ever since Utsuho had regained control over herself, things had settled calmly back into a daily routine. Of course, nothing in Gensokyo stays routine for long, and Satori was rather surprised to see the Yama appear in front of her.

Ah, good, she's still here. "Greetings once again, Satori Komeiji."

"To what do I owe this honor?" Satori sent her pet on its way, and it left, unnerved at the presence of the Yama.

Formal and to the point. I'll be direct as well, then. I've come here to inform her that the blazing hells are needed once more. Hopefully she's kept them ready. "I've come to tell you that the blazing hells are ready to be reopened. How soon can they be ready?" The Yama stated.

"Of course. We've kept them on standby, so we could get back to full operation within a few hours. The flame keeper was recently fed a sun god, so maintaining the heat has been easy."

Impressive. It's been several hundred years. The Yama silently contemplated.

"I could look up the exact date, but yes, it has been a while. Any particular reason the hells are being restarted now?"

More traffic, more budget, needed to restart…The Yama wasn't sure which point to mention first, but Satori answered for her as she was collecting her thoughts.

"Finally able to, it seems. I suppose we'll finally have to do some work down here, hm?" Satori smiled wryly.

I've got to tell her to stop interrupting so much… "You should-" The Yama started, sounding a little annoyed.

"Mind my manners more, yes, I know. I don't need to hear it again…"

Have I said that before? No, I'm sure that was the first time I said that."That was the first time I've said it."

"Right. Of course. Is there anything else?" Satori remained calm, but the conversation was wearing on. The Yama was always ratherdispleasing to speak with, despite her lack of hatred. Satori minded her manners as best as she could and respected the Yama, but the Yama had a tendency to repeat things over in her mind several times before speaking them. To make the matters even worse, the Yama's thoughts were uncomfortably powerful… the sensation was not unlike having an ear be calmly yelled into. Satori realized that interrupting the Yama would lead to trouble, so she did her best to keep her mouth shut.

Right, I should probably tell her we might need her help."I think we might need your help if traffic keeps this high."

"Well, I'll do what I can. A small price for being able to live in such a grand palace, really."

Well, she's qualified… Don't want it to be needed, other satori aren't around… I really hope it doesn't come to it, but as the only satori around, she's one of the few even remotely qualified for the position as a judge. "I really hope it doesn't come to this, but we may need you to use your abilities as a satori to serve as a sort of temporary judge." She spoke into Satori's shocked expression. There was a moment of silence… What is she thinking? Probably that she's not capable? Well, there's not really any proof one way of another yet.

"Something… like that, yes. Well. I do hope it doesn't come to that. It seems like a rather stressful job, and I'd really much rather not have to deal with it, but if I must, then I will. I suppose there aren't any others that would really work, are there?"

None I'd trust. Some shikaisen recently arrived from outside might be of some help, but I suspect they'd refuse on principle, and they're not to be trusted with matters of death in any case. Others might have the good judgment, but lack the ability to use the mirror or any other information gathering, which would slow it too much… no, only a satori even might work, and even that's mostly hypothetical.The Yama paused and considered the question before answering. "No, not really. Only a satori would really work, and even then it's mostly hypothetical."

"I understand. If there isn't anything else, then?"

If she -does- end up needing to judge, she'll be called on to wield a rod of remorse for a while… she should probably perform some spiritual cleansing."You should probably perform some spiritual cleansing. You may end up needing to bear the weight of your own sins while serving."

Satori frowned. "I really hope it won't come to that, but it never hurts to be prepared. I'll take your advice." Satori waited, but the Yama seemed to decide the conversation was over.

Farewell."Farewell." The Yama said, before leaving as suddenly as she came.

Satori let out a long sigh. Hells, that had gotten tedious. At least youkai and humans had some interesting thoughts behind their words. And were quieter. Well, she should probably record this and get to work restarting the hells then. It wouldn't do to keep the Yama waiting.

A Short While Later...

Satori sat at a desk, writing down her memories of the conversation, while a hypnotized pet heard and saw the tale recounted via some basic magic. Satori finished with the book, pulled another one down, and added a simple line to the current index. She then released the hell raven's hypnosis and absentmindedly fed it some snacks to keep it happy while she used techniques honed from long years of practice and research to store the memories neatly within her mind. By the time she had finished, the ink was dry, and she returned the books to her shelf.

Satori reached up and grabbed another index, corresponding to her first years here at Chireiden. She thumbed through it and found which book she had written the details of how to restart the blazing hell, when the Yama had told her all those years ago. She told the hell raven to go find Orin and Okuu and bring them to her, as well; they could probably do with seeing the procedure themselves.

She fed it another snack and it flew off, Satori's suggestion carrying no small hypnotic weight as well. She had long since learned that the natives here, and the hell ravens in particular, failed to follow directions due in large part to their very… simple minds, so she had gotten in the habit of coupling her requests with a hypnotic suggestion, which had solved that problem smoothly. She found the book indicated in her index, turned the page to the entry, and began reading it at a rapid pace while she waited.

In the ten or so minutes it took for her most distinguished pets to arrive, Satori had finished reading the instructions.

I wonder how we can help her. Orin smiled, positive feelings flowing from her and reaffirming Satori's sense of self. Of course, Okuu was no less helpful in that regard, though her thoughts were more scattered: Oh! It was Satori that called us! Why? Oh no! I hope nothing's wrong.

Satori chuckled. "No, no, I'm quite alright. Actually, I've got some instructions you need to pay attention to. Fortunately, they're already in your heads, but I think a refresher would be wise. Now, please don't interrupt until we're finished, and just watch this."

Satori conjured a hypnotic pattern, and her two pets were almost immediately fascinated by it. She smiled fondly at the response. Their minds may have grown substantially, but they were still beast youkai at heart, filled with basic needs and basic desires. Once they were entranced, she subtly shifted the pattern and spoke soothing directions to them to ease the memories she had long ago implanted from hidden, rarely used corners of their minds. She watched the image through their minds, falling partially into her own hypnosis through theirs. This part had taken years of training, but she managed to remain in control of her mind enough to begin playing the memory in short order, copying it into their active memories as she did so.

Satori observed her centuries-old conversation with the Yama as the Yama used diagrams and magical illusions to illustrate each of the necessary tasks, and Satori-of-Then read the Yama's thoughts, partially enraptured, receiving additional help in understanding the complexity of the tasks from the Yama's own mind. The Satori-of-Now couldn't help but be amused at the expression of wonder on the Satori-of-Then's face. She vaguely recalled how overwhelmed she had been by the Yama's presence, but continued watched the demonstrations. Once the conversation was finished, the old Yama left, and Satori-of-Now lowered the lid of her third eye slightly, falling back into her own senses and discontinuing the hypnotic pattern.

Orin and Okuu looked pensive. They seemed to be trying to focus and keep the thoughts that had just resurfaced into their minds there. Satori watched them struggle, and although Orin was managing fairly well, Satori decided to give Okuu a bit of a nudge… She conjured up another illusion for Okuu and, with Okuu in such a suggestive state, carefully molded the memory to fit in Okuu's tiny mind. She released it and saw that Orin had finished memorizing the procedure. Well, enough of it, anyway. It was complex enough that it filled most of their current thoughts, so Satori didn't waste any time, quickly putting away the books and leaving with her two pets. If they were going to meet the self-imposed deadline, Satori herself would have to get her hands dirty, and leaving the Ministry of Right and Wrong waiting was simply not an option.

Late That Evening

Satori was drained. They had indeed managed to get the hells up and running in time, and Orin and Okuu were at work keeping things running smoothly. The toll, however, had almost been more than Satori was able to handle. She had to focus on putting one foot in front of another en route to her room. Her every motion made her body ache, and her limited reserves of magical strength were completely tapped, preventing even basic flight. She had had to use most of it opening some chambers to properly funnel the flames.

In manners of the mind, she had met few equals, and of course she had far more magical skill than even most magicians could ever hope to muster, having learned such skills from masters in the past in a very direct manner. However, having the most efficient solution for most tasks, whether physical or magical, had prevented her from needing to push her endurance and strength. Experiences like today reminded her that sometimes those were simply necessary. Thankfully Orin and Okuu had been able to finish what she started, but Satori still cursed her frail body and insufficient magical reserves.

She slammed her shin against something and collapsed forward. Fortunately, her subconscious seemed to have guided her toward her bed, and though the pain in her shin throbbed, the comfortable sheets drowned it out, along with everything else, as she fell into a deep sleep.

The Next Day

Satori awakened a long while later, her back and neck sore from the awkward position she had slept in. She yawned as she got up, surveying her condition. Apart from every fiber of her physical and magical being feeling sore, and still being low on energy, she felt… Well, no, actually she felt pretty awful. She hadn't pushed herself that hard for a long while. She had some ideas as to how to streamline the procedure for the next time the hells needed to be restarted, and she made a mental note to add that idea to her archive so she could implement it later.

For now, though, she needed some more rest. She shambled out of her room and saw a blaze cat chasing a hell raven, intent on catching and mauling it. Apparently, the cat thought the raven had stolen a corpse that the blaze cat had been saving. The raven, naturally, had no idea what was going on and was just trying to get away.

Satori smiled at their antics: "Just don't hurt her too much if you catch her." The cat gave an affirmative thought but kept chasing, and the hell raven paid no mind at all to the comment, its mind somewhat focused on other things.

Feeling a little better already, she made her way to her bath. Once there, she conjured some water into the basin and slipped a piece of meat under it. A salamander quickly came to grab it and while it was eating it, Satori asked if it to heat the basin. Salamanders enjoyed tight spaces, so Satori had used magic and some more old fashioned methods to construct a network of tunnels under and around Chireiden that opened into the hell of blazing fires where they had formerly lived. While the tunnels were rather hot, they were nothing compared to what a salamander could do. The basin itself had taken no small effort to acquire. An oni in the village had made it on commission to withstand such heat, though it hadn't been cheap.

She used a bit of magic to disrobe, allowing her clothes to literally fall through her to the floor, then stepped into the basin and sank comfortably into it. She called out thanks to the salamander, which, having finished its meal, was now moving away. Satori felt it's mind move far away, then let out a sigh and relaxed completely. The soreness slowly melted away, and she simple relaxed for several hours, recharging her magical batteries as well. From time to time as she soaked, various inhabitants of Chireiden would walk past the room, sometimes offering a thankful thought for this or that, sometimes not even noticing her.

Feeling much refreshed, she exited the basin, emptied it the same way she had filled it, and dried herself off with a cloth she kept handy for such a purpose, then began the complicated task of donning her clothes.

Donning her clothing was a was a more complicated procedure than doffing them, as her third eye and the many veins securing it to her tended to get in the way. After several centuries of experience, she now ended up using a bit of magic to do so, phasing her third eye through parts of the clothing, securing the veins in place with specially shaped heart decorations. It was still the work of several minutes, but once fully clothed she felt much more at ease.

Leisure time finished, she left the room and went to her room to work on redesigning the startup process for ease of use. Ah, and the spiritual cleansing. Yes… she would do so soon. It wouldn't do to be ill-prepared should she be called on to judge, though she once again fervently hoped she wouldn't be.

One Week Later

Satori had completely recovered, and was sitting in the grand hall for a change, taking in the warmth of her pets and the beautiful view. She had only recently managed to hypnotize herself without needing the aid of another mind, and she was currently amusing herself and practicing her skill by altering her view of the grand hall, seeing it with a different sort of perception each time. She had been working on and off in the hells to make sure they were running smoothly, but her pets were proving quite capable at performing the jobs, needing only occasional guidance and management. Indeed, their excitement and sense of fulfillment was a refreshing change from the boredom and casual interest that typically flooded the palace. Satori still occasionally patrolled to ensure that the vengeful spirits weren't causing trouble, but she thankfully had little else to do.

She was suddenly shaken out of it by the presence of a tremendous mind.

It seems she really likes this hall. It is unfortunate I must disturb her."I'm sorry to disturb you."

Satori shook her head. "No, no… it's fine. Is there a problem."

Well, it's as I had feared. We need a temporary judge… there are just too many victims."It is as I had feared. We need a temporary judge. There are simply far too many for us to judge."

"I suppose it can't be helped. But… victims? Victims of what?"

War is never a pleasant thing, truly."War." The Yama said, her sadness clear.

"Well, I'll help: I said I would, and I meant it. I'll just need a bit of time to give some orders to be carried out in my absence. No complaints with the hell so far, right?"

Well, the sinners aren't terribly pleased with its presence, but apart from that, no, so… "None of any import." She's doing a fine job. It will reflect quite well on her when her judgment comes. "Your fine management will reflect well on you when your judgment comes. As will your assisting us with judging, of course."

Satori nodded. "I'll just be a few minutes, then." The Yama nodded. I wonder what she was doing in here anyway. It's a grand room, but I suppose I don't see the appeal.Satori smiled as she walked away. She remembered from the few occasions when she'd had to see through the Yama's senses that fine differences between hues were generally missed. Satori enjoyed the subtle colors that flooded the grand hall, but from the Yama's perception, it was a rather dull gray room.

At the Shores of the Sanzu River

No rest for the weary, is there? Maybe I shouldn't be ferrying them all over so fast… it seems to be stressing out Eiki. Komachi thought to herself, busily loading passengers onto her small boat. She looked up to suddenly see not only Shikieiki Yamaxanadu, but someone else as well; a girl with purple hair, a pink skirt, a blue blouse, red and white shoes, and hearts adorning her outfit, but of course Komachi's eye was drawn to the eye present over the girl's heart.

They haven't met, have they? Introductions, then. "This is Satori Komeiji, and this is Komachi Onozuka." Shikieiki turned to Komachi: Seems she's been keeping busy for once. Good, we don't have time to slack off."Good work, Komachi. Nice to know you can work under pressure after all."

Oh no… someone else got dragged into this? Now I -know- I should have have taken it easier. Poor girl.

Satori, who had until this point been quietly looking at the spirits, and becoming slightly unnerved by their thoughts (which tended towards violence), turned to Komachi. "No, I came of my own volition. You've a job to do, so you should do it."

Komachi looked surprised, her thoughts as plain on her face as they were in her mind Did I say that aloud? Oh no… If Eiki heard that…

What are they talking about? See, this is the exact sort of rudeness I was warning Satori against…The Yama seemed about to speak those words, but Satori interrupted her.

"I suppose you've never met a satori, then? Hardly surprising, really. Here's the quick version: Your heart and mind are open to me. And really, your concern is appreciated, but you should probably treat your boss, this -Yama-, more formally." Satori emphasized this point by turning the the Yama and informing her. "You should probably have a heart to heart with your worker here when you get a chance."

Komachi's face was hiding it a bit better now, but her thoughts still rang in Satori's mind: Oh no... I really hope she forgets that by the time this is all over. Her heart to hearts are so -boring-.Satori shrugged subtly, not particularly caring.

We should get moving. The boat looks ready. "Well, let's get going. The boat looks ready, so shall we?"

Komachi nodded. Right. Making the journey short before she rips anything else out my mind.

"I hardly ripped it out. It was more like skimming it off the top." Satori coolly declared as she stepped into the surprisingly steady boat.

Ohh, if she keeps it up, I might just toss her into the river. I doubt anyone would miss someone like -that-.Komachi angrily shoved off as soon as the Yama had boarded and seated herself.

I should have known Komachi wouldn't take it well. She always seemed a bit of a secretive sort, always sneaking off like that…

Satori sighed and waited for the undoubtedly long boat ride to end. As she waited though, she felt Komachi focus on something, and as Satori lifted her head, she saw that the other shore was already in sight, while the one they had just left was hardly any further As she watched, the other shore drew closer as Komachi propelled the boat… or was she pulling the far shore closer? It wasn't clear, but soon they were at the far shore, and Komachi's focus released.

Satori smiled. That was an interesting sort of travel. She made a note to pay closer attention on the return trip. It could prove to be a useful trick in her repertoire.

The various ghosts disembarked, as did Satori and the Yama.
Seems she got us here quickly. Well done."Our thanks for the swift transportation."

Good riddance to bad rubbish."No problem! Take care, boss." Komachi happily said to the Yama, while her thoughts were clearly directed at Satori. She wasted no time in shoving off back to the other side while Satori and the Yama worked. Satori felt Komachi focus herself again, and then she was gone.

Well, she was rather rude to our guest, but I suppose it -may- be excused with the stress we're all under right now. Anyway, we're nearly there, now. Then we just need to instruct her and she'll be ready. "We're nearly there, now. Then you'll just need a brief idea on how to judge from what your third eye shows you, and you should be ready."

"I should be able to manage…" Satori sounded confident.

I don't think she understands the magnitude of what's going on. I wonder if she's ever read someone's mind as they've died. What would that be like...The Yama silently thought as she walked on.

"A few times, yes. It's not particularly pleasant. It seems they're generally quite content to pass on, from what I've seen."

That's a relief. If she's been around death, she should be fine."That's a relief. You should be fine if you've been around death like that."

Satori nodded. She had known there would be death involved: she was judging the dead.

If Shikieiki could have read the mind of the satori maiden, she might have been able to spare her a great deal of pain.

Within the Ministry of Right and Wrong

Satori sat in her chair. Getting into her new uniform had been tremendously difficult and tiring. Most clothes simply were not made to accommodate her third eye and its attachments comfortably. It had taken no small amount of effort to adjust her body to be able to get the outfit on under her third eye, as usual, but she had managed. Now, she looked not unlike Shikieiki herself, though with a few of her extra heart decorations to keep her third eye's veins in place.

She looked over the room, remembering what she had been taught over the past few hours, and sat, nervous. She lifted the rod of remorse once more, and though far from the featherweight the Yama had claimed it would be for a pure soul, its weight was manageable, even with Satori's relatively low strength.

The oni who was dealing with her paperwork approached her, carrying the first soul's dishearteningly large file. A new judge? Not everyday you see that. I suppose it makes sense, though... It's been way too busy. Crazy eye, though. Must be her mirror... she doesn't have one proper. Whatever, my job's just to give her the papers and ready the rods."Here you go, miss. It should be here in a minute. I'll prepare the rod while you study up." The oni went to work, rapidly transcribing the soul's sins onto the rod.

"Thank you." Satori speed read the file, and she did not like what she was reading.

The soul appeared before her. Great, where'd I end up, now? That dame said I'd get my money back after the ride. Cheating little runt.

Satori conjured a hypnotic pattern and tied it to the fellow's mind as she took the rod from the oni. It had the normal comfortable heft to it.

"Lekeolr, you have committed the following sins…" Satori took a deep breath and braced herself… If what the Yama had said was true, then the hypnotized soul should recollect the sins as they were listed. Satori… wasn't sure what to expect, but she had been told that she would generally only need to deal with the worst unrepented sins to make a fair judgment, so she started with...

"Binding the souls of a summoner's family, then betraying the terms of the contract." An series of images flashed through his mind: Seven bodies, dying, heavily tortured, faint essences being drawn into gems held in outstretched hands. A cackling laughter... Then a new scene The gems being annihilated in front of a young man, crying out in desperation. Then hands reaching out and crushing his throat before trapping the soul in yet another gem, and destroying that as well.

Satori stood, shock clear on her face. She simply hadn't expected that level of brutality. Even worse, she felt -proud-. No... she realized it was the feelings of Lekeolr that she was feeling. Not an ounce of regret for utterly destroying an entire family. It appeared to have taken place a long time ago, but clearly, sin purification hadn't been high on the soul's list. She read the next charge, though she was already dreading what it would bring.

"1,203 counts of unreasonable murder." The images flashed by, almost too quick to see. Claws disemboweling a young woman, an old man being torn limb from limb, an infant having its head crushed, feeding a young boy to a bear... well over a thousand of them, humans, youkai, and demons, all perceived in mere seconds. Satori, upon seeing this all, felt rather nauseous, but managed to control herself. She read the next charge, and the next...

After a mere 10 minutes, she handed down her final judgment, and the soul was sent to a deep layer of hell. Her oni assistant handed her another set of papers. Oh wow, she's not taking this too well. The stress on her face was clear. She glared at the oni, who hurriedly began preparing the next rod.

The next subject was clearly a soldier, though one who had seen little true combat before dying. Even so, the list of sins was considerable. Laziness: Sneaking away from training with other rabbits, Deception of comrades: Lying to protect a deserter comrade. Cowardice: fleeing a demonic enemy, only to be run through. Agony as the self is mutilated, eventually being decapitated, and seeing its own body through its severed head, demon laughing. Satori was unable to move, unable even to retch, much as she wanted to. She had never felt such a terrifying death. Watching such ones through Lekeolr's mind had been bad enough... experiencing it first hand was crushing. It took her a few minutes to compose herself enough to hand down the negative judgment, but her stomach wrenched as she did so.

She's crying? I don't think she's cut out for this. Eh, Seems she was just another person determined to get in the Yamas' good books without considering the cost after all.

Satori realized she couldn't simply keep going this way. She placed herself under a deep hypnosis, and mostly ran on autopilot for several more hours. Although she was somewhat conscious of the judgments she was handing down and why, she had partitioned away the emotional load behind them. She would have to deal with them later, as the memories resurfaced. Better over years surrounded by friendly mental support than within a day, surrounded by sin.

At the entrance to the Ministry of Right and Wrong

After a long day of judging, Satori had changed back into her normal clothes. She was mentally drained, and as the Yama approached her, Satori cursed the fact that she was so -LOUD-. It was all she could do to keep a dead, distant expression on her face.

It seems she made it through. I'm glad to see I didn't underestimate her, though it seems it was rather taxing. "I'm glad to see I didn't underestimate you." the Yama spoke. Satori stared daggers back at her.

She seems... upset. She normally pays proper respect, but... perhaps it was the work. She's probably just tired. The Yama stood, unsure of what to say, as Satori's hateful glare stayed on her. Thanks... are probably in order, then. "Thank you."

Still Satori just glared at her, every fiber of her being taut, barely restraining herself. Well... I suppose I should go then.

"Oh no you don't. Not after that. Do you have any idea what I went through!" Satori cried out. Of course I do, I do it every day. Images floated through the Yama's mind of the judging process."Of cou-" the Yama started, but Satori cut her off.

"No. You don't. You just look in your mirror, get the facts, and judge. Me? It's not so easy. Today, I gained memories. Memories of committing thousands of atrocities, and suffering a thousand more."

War is ugly. I could swear I had warn- But Satori cut off even the Yama's thoughts.

"Have you fought in one?" No, but- "Then you don't know the horror! I've been shunned my entire life, had to watch as my people were 'quietly' cut down, able to hear their silent screams. That was -nothing- compared to today." Satori was trembling with poorly contained rage.

She... really doesn't seem herself today.

"My -self-?" Satori laughed, the laugh of a madwoman. "Maybe, maybe not. I can't remember who I was when I came in here. All I can remember right now is decades... no, centuries of torture and worse. And -YOU!- YOU!" Satori seemed to have run out of words, and without any more warning, lunged at the Yama and threw a punch. So shocked was the Yama that she didn't even react. Even if Satori had been stronger, the Yama was as unyielding as stone, and all Satori got out of the gesture were bruised knuckles.

I knew this was a bad idea... but... it was necessary... and it will be again, if- "No." What? "I said no. Never again." Satori was nursing her bruised knuckle, but had a defiant gaze that said she wasn't budging on this issue. But if there are too many-

"Then make it so war stops. I don't care." Well, this invasion seems to be nearing its end-

"Oh, they didn't seem to think this was the end. Nowhere near. They had plans. They... They might never stop..." Satori fell to the ground, clutching her head and crying. It seemed she had spent her rage, but the tension in the air hadn't dispersed. They had more plans? How did she know?

"How did I...? I just told you!" She snapped, tears still streaming down her eyes. "I read their minds, remember! 'The first of many glorious conquests.'" Satori staggered back to her feet. "The bastards were -proud- of it. Happy they'd get to keep going... so I was too." Her mind reading carries that much emotion? Satori silently nodded.

The Yama, quiet though she had been, felt her heart sink. If that's true- "It is..." Satori muttered. Then perhaps they need a good talking to.

Satori laughed once again. The Yama was absolutely not used to dealing with these sorts of mood shifts. She had difficulty enough reading the mood normally.

"Talking to them won't work. No, they'd happily gut you before they listened to anything you said, unless it was an offer of allegiance. Then they send you to the front lines. Why now, though? What started this rampage?" she clutched at the Yama's clothes.

That, I don't know. "That, I don't know." Much to her surprise, the Yama managed to get out a complete sentence. Satori sighed and released her grip.

"Perhaps it's just that they were ready and couldn't before? Maybe some path was recently opened to them. Maybe their leader got bored... They had many different guesses, but they didn't seem to know. Their victims, of course, knew even less." Satori had, finally, begun to calm down. The Yama was still treading carefully in this conversation, though. Perhaps someone else might know. Though I judge its inhabitants, I begin to believe that I do not truly understand them. "Perhaps someone else might know, but I am afraid I do not understand them well, despite being their judge."

Satori nodded quietly. The magicians in Gensokyo may know more. Their power comes from Makai, after all. "The magicians in Gensokyo may know more. Their power comes from Makai, after all." Images of four people; a western styled blond witch bounding with energy- Satori recognized her immediately as Marisa. Another blond mage in the company of many dolls, and a purple dressed and purple-haired wizard with a frail body- Alice and Patchouli... they had helped Marisa when she entered Chireiden searching for the source of the hot spring. And another person: Her hair seemed to be purple, though about halfway down it seemed to turn brown, as though the hair itself had changed color as it aged. Dressed in a black and white dress, she seemed weary, but smiled regardless.

"Could you... for a bit... please stop talking. Thinking is enough, and I really don't want to hear everything twice. Your mind is very loud, and I'm really sick of... everything."

Normally I'd chastise you for reading my mind so freely, but I suppose I can answer this request for today, considering what you've done.

"Thank you... now... Who was that last one? With the odd hair?" Byakuren Hijiri? She recently set up a temple near the human village. I know little more. Satori nodded.

"It's been a long while since I've spoken with a true magician, and never before on the subject of Makai." Satori said, already beginning the long journey back to her normal self. The Yama could sense that Satori was still tense, but she had regained some measure of composure.

The Yama nodded. Please look into it. I must remain here. Although today seemed the peak of the war, it's still continuing, and others continue to die regardless.

"I'm tempted to say no... but the alternative is judging again, isn't it?" The Yama nodded in response. "Then I suppose I must. I apologize for attacking you earlier. Now, I must excuse myself before I lose control again." Satori started off, but the Yama caught her shoulder, turned her around, and handed her a small ring. It was made of an unfamiliar metal, and bore the signature of Yamaxanadu Shikieiki.

The treaty with the underground is still in effect, though it has been much more lightly enforced lately. Even so, a satori attempting to return to the surface would encounter great resistance. This gives my express permission for you to do so, and should help import the magnitude of your objective. Take care, Satori Komeiji. I hope for everyone's sake that you can stop their war.

Satori walked away silently, donning the ring. When she reached the river, she waited for a ride, and by chance it was the same shingami that had ferried her here.

Done here, thank goodness. I hope we'll never be seeing her again. Komachi let her on to the boat. Wait. Is that Eiki's ring? What is she doing with it? She couldn't help but notice as she shoved off.

"Stopping a war, I hope." Satori said to herself, gazing at the Yama's ring. It may not be heavy, but it carried a great deal of weight indeed.

You know, maybe I -should- have a heart to heart with the boss. Even she can make bad decisions from time to time.

Satori sighed as the boat reached the other side and she stepped out. She felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. Right now, she had a journey to prepare for.

Chireiden, Later that Evening

Satori went to the branch shrine of Kanako Yasaka located in a hidden corner of Chireiden. She had only used it once, and Kanako had been rather upset to learn that Satori had discovered it. Satori had learned of its existence from Orin, though Orin was trying to conceal it at Kanako's request. It had been installed by Orin to contact Kanako to keep her in touch with Utsuho, though she usually simply worked through Orin. Satori allowed Orin to continue doing so, and was thankful now that she had a means to contact the surface. She placed an offering of tea at the altar, and prayed.

After a few minutes, a grand wind picked up in the room, clearly supernatural given their depth underground, and leaves spun out of it and materialized in a flash into an imposing woman with an large frame and purple hair. Her shimenawa framed her form as she hovered and stared down.

Oh. Great, she's probably going to chew me out again. What in the hells does she want? Like the Yama, Kanako's mental voice was mighty. Satori also realized that unlike the Yama, Kanako's was deliberately so. Kanako just thought of herself in such a grand way that she simply thought loudly. She had a strong business sense, but was extremely selfish and afraid of ceasing to exist.

Kanako snapped up the tea offering and spirited it away, as Satori replied.

"Lucky for you, I don't intend to stop any of your projects... though I must advise you against reinstituting human sacrifice. Your faith comes mostly from the kappa, so if you do something along those lines, kappa should probably be the victims. In any case, I only contacted you because I need to go to the surface." Satori explained, while Kanako quietly fumed at having one of her potential schemes discovered, then suddenly disturbed by Satori's declaration.

What? Oh faith, no. Satori had expected this reaction, really.

"Trust me, I'd rather not go up either. My duties to the Yama, however, insist. But... what ghosts? Ah, many are on the surface? Yes, it seems there's a war going on and she wishes me to stop it." Satori explained, Kanako was clearly irritated at being unable to get a word out. -Stop- a war? And lose so much faith?

Satori sighed. She had forgotten Kanako was a war god as well.

"I just need some information." Fine. If the Yama needs it stopped, I'm not about to get in her way...

"This may sound a little odd, but… what's the weather like lately?" Kanako looked upset at the question. What? That's what you called me for! Weather's fine. Sunny, not too cloudy, a bit windy... That can't be all...? Kanako was about to speak, but Satori once again interrupted her.

"Actually, I was referring to the season. I haven't been keeping careful track of time. " Satori clarified. Kanako groaned. Of course... underground... What am I, the weather channel? Images of snow falling gently outside as Kanako supped with her shrine maiden and fellow god flashed through her mind. "It's been very cold, with spring more than a month away. And as a freebie, it's currently sunrise; can't have you tearing around at odd hours, after all. If that's all…" Satori nodded. "Then I'll be going." I should really look into having this shrine destroyed. Utsuho seems stable enough lately... Kanako was still upset about having hardly been able to get a word out... what good were all her diplomatic graces against someone who couldn't even hear them?

Satori stood and walked away, thankful she had asked. Though she was a youkai, the bitter cold of winter was nearly as dangerous to her as it was to a normal human. She had some heavy cloaks, though she couldn't remember offhand the last time she had needed them. Of course, she had other preparations to make as well.

The blazing hells seemed to be running fine once again. She may need to check back again later, but for now she could trust her pets with its maintenance. They had maintained it well before she had arrived at its closure, after all. Even so, she decided to tell at least Orin and Okuu that she would be going elsewhere. She sent some nearby pets to bring them to her at their earliest convenience, and began to pack her things into a magical storage space, easily reached by a basic spell.

Hours Later...

It didn't sound urgent… but we were rather busy... I hope we didn't take too long…Orin's thoughts confirmed Satori's suspicions. They had arrived nearly three hours after she had sent the summons. The night was wearing on. Well, the day, Satori supposed, given what Kanako had told her. She would have to reset her internal clock.

Is she happy with how we've been doing? We've been doing well, right? I think we have…Okuu seemed a little nervous.

"You're both doing very well." Satori started, feeling the warmth of her words through the hearts of her pets. "I'm very thankful for this, because I must be going for a time." Panic from Utsuho, and disappointment from Orin.

"No, it's really not because of anything you've done."

Is it more work from the Yama?" You haven't even been back for a day, and you need to leave again? That's just not fair!" Orin said.

Orin's right! Master was so tired last time. It took hours of cuddling to get her in a good mood again. "Yeah! You don't need to do anything that meany says."

"No, no… it isn't the same work again. I should… be alright. I just need to go to the surface for a while. I need to talk to some people there. Then they can hopefully take care of the rest of it." Satori said, and her pets were convinced, though she herself wasn't.

The surface? Ohhh! She's finally going up there? It's so bright and warm! Orin thought of happy moments, being pet by a bored-looking Reimu on a comfortably sunny day.

Meanwhile, Utsuho was having similar thoughts, pleasant memories of floating lazily through the wide open air. Satori wasn't sure how much they knew about winter, but decided not to bring the current season up in any case, for fear of feeling its chill before she even reached the surface.

"I will probably be gone for a few weeks, but I'll try and keep in touch." She turned to Utsuho. "I'll send word with the mountain goddess if something happens."

Utsuho was trying to remember just who that was. Satori conjured a small illusion to remind her, and pointed it out to Orin as well. Their mental images of Kanako grew clear, and Satori dismissed the illusion. "You should be able to trust any messages she passes on from me."

I suppose it would be kinda greedy for us to keep master all to ourselves…Utsuho reasoned.

Satori sighed. "If only the people on the surface agreed."

Utsuho looked surprised "But who wouldn't like you? You're so nice and neat and cool!" Utsuho's words came out at the same time as her thoughts. Satori couldn't help but smile at Utsuho's mind, beautiful in its simplicity.

Orin's mind was a bit more complex. Well, it's their loss if they can't see what makes her so good. I'm sure they'll come around eventually." They'll see; you really are a nice person."

"Ah, to ones such as you, yes. But most people seem to dislike having their minds read aloud to them in the middle of talking. I hope you're right, but I fear the worst." Satori was feeling much refreshed from her pets' comforting words and thoughts, but the enormity of her task still weighed on her. She looked at her ring as she considered what to do.

Can't you just get the shrine maiden to fix it?"Hey! I just had an idea!" Utsuho chimed in. "Get the -shrine maiden- to fix whatever the Yama asked you to."

Satori smiled gently. "I accepted this task and I'll see it through to the end, but I should seek her help, truly. Brash and rude she may be, but she certainly has quite some luck, doesn't she? No small skill either, I suppose. She even knows the black-white. Good thinking, Utsuho."

Does she know where the shrine even is, though, Utsuho?" Do you know how to get there, master?" Orin inquired. Satori was taken by surprise. In hindsight it was an obvious question, but she really had no idea of the layout of the surface.

"Well… Ah. Not… really, no. I don't suppose you could help me? I'm… not even sure how to get out of the underground, now that I think about it. I had... other things on my mind on my way down here."

Orin nodded and started to give directions. Satori was only half listening to the words, paying more attention to Orin's mental image as she exited Chireiden, passed through the underground city (Satori made a mental note to simply go around), crossed the bridge over the underground river, passed near a few Tsuchigumo nests, and exited the cave. From there, she took a straight path along the ground, clearly in her cat form, and moved swiftly, using the looming Youkai Mountain as a guide, shortly finding herself at the shrine before hopping into a surprised Reimu's arms.

Satori smiled as she memorized the path. "Thank you, Orin. Once I get there, it shouldn't be hard to find the others I need."

Yup! Always a crowd there, it seems. Orin's mind showed an oni, Marisa, and a few others making regular appearances at the shrine. "There are always bunches of folks about. I'm sure someone will be able to help." Satori was relieved to see that the "crowds" Orin spoke of were perhaps 10 people at most. She could handle much larger ones, but she preferred peace and quiet in general.

Orin continued, having just remembered… something. A face? it wasn't clear who… Orin probably didn't know "Oh, master! I've heard rumors about an evil spirit at the shrine. I couldn't find anything, but maybe you could ask Reimu about it. It might be a stray vengeful spirit. If you could just scare it back down here, I'd appreciate it..." Orin seemed to be feeling guilty, thinking that it might be her fault.

Satori nodded. "I'll ask about it. I suppose you couldn't really… you seemed to spend most of your time up there in cat form." Orin nodded. Otherwise everyone kept shooing me away...

Utsuho was next to speak. Again, her thoughts and words came out at the same time. "If you see Koishi, let her know we miss her!"

Koishi. The name struck Satori like a brick. She immediately and furiously searched her mind, trying to think of the last time she'd seen her sister. Countless years ago, it had been. And in the intervening years, had Satori thought of her at -all-? She focused, trying to remember.

Did I say something wrong? Utsuho remained silent. Orin did likewise: Where is she anyway? I haven't seen her at either home…

Satori shook her head and a tear escaped. Not once. She couldn't remember giving her sister a single thought for years. And Satori had thought herself responsible, a loving sister. Doubt and shame assailed her mind. Utsuho remained oblivious, but Orin was beginning to foster similar thoughts of guilt.

Koishi Komeiji, her sister. She had been trying to rescue Koishi from her self-imprisonment, trying to restore her eye. But now she couldn't even spare her a thought?

"I… I'll do that. I hope she's alright." Satori's doubts grew. How could she hope to stop a war if she didn't even care for her crippled sister?

Orin hastily said "Don't worry! She must be alright! She's way stronger than you!" Then her thoughts caught up. Wait. that came out wrong. Umm…Orin's mind fumbled for an apology.

Satori smiled despite herself. "You meant it as a comfort, not an insult, so I'll take it that way, with thanks." Orin was relieved.

Utsuho silently thought See, how could they dislike her? She's so forgiving. Utsuho's pride in her master and love for her bloomed brightly in her heart.

Satori decided to wait a little while before heading out. "If you two don't mind, could you keep me company for a while? I fear it may be some time before I can once again enjoy the comfort of your minds." The two happily accepted, turned into their animal forms. Orin settled on her lap, while Utsuho perched cheerfully on her shoulder.

She sat basking in their physical and mental warmth for as long as she could, drawing as much of their support as she could. Every so often, she glanced at the ring given by the Yama. and reminded herself of her duty. But for now, duty could wait a few hours.

At the Entrance of Chireiden, the Next Morning

Satori stood at the door leading out to the former hell proper, her supplies packed into a small magical space, Many of her pets had taken a brief break to see her off. Their thoughts were mixed, but generally positive… She'll show those surfacers what the blazing hell is all about! I wonder if she'll bring back some nice corpses or tea. She'll have tons of stories when she comes back, I bet. I can't wait! She gets to go to the surface! So lucky! I wish I could be as strong as master.

She turned and waved, then took a deep breath and opened the doors. For the first time in centuries she looked out into the underground. It was unchanged. She saw the city with its perpetual lights. She remembered the images from Orin's mind and moved out.

"Take care of everything until I'm back. You've all been doing splendidly." Satori waved and left, to the sounds of mental cheers, and even a few audible ones from the few humanoid attendees. Satori basked in their warmth for a while, shedding tears, before finally managing to pull herself away and fly out, tapping the door closed behind her.

She flew at a comfortable pace along the path from Orin's memory. The path to Chireiden was unsurprisingly poorly maintained, and she seemed to be the only traveler on it. She could sense the thoughts of minor animals here and there. It seemed many of them were sleeping, and they provided a quiet life to a world that appeared at first glance to be dull and lifeless.

After about an hour of flying at a good speed, she was nearing the city. She landed and decided to try and go around the city. Even if she weren't hated there (and she was), the majority of the population were oni, and as such, always perpetually drunk. She wasn't sure how they never ran out of sake, but she had long since learned that being around drunks tended to make her a bit… prone to... rash behavior herself. Pushing those uncomfortable thoughts from her mind, she skirted the edge of the enormous cavern the city filled.

Satori only ran into a few youkai, and didn't exchange any words with them. Whasshe doin' herrre? One particularly drunk oni questioned, while another oni, apparently on some sort of dare, was clutching his head in a state of sobriety. Just three more days… three more days. The pain he was feeling from the worst hangover Satori had ever witnessed was uncomfortably sharp in her mind. She gave him a bit of a hypnotic boost to strengthen the effects of his mantra, soothing her pain as well as his, before continuing on. Apart from that, she made the journey around the city without incident. She took off once a comfortable distance from the city, and flew hesitantly towards the bridge.

The bridge to the underground, watched over by a being of great jealousy. Satori wanted desperately to blame her loneliness on Parsee Mizuhashi, the bridge guard. The most difficult, first years in the underground, envy and fear had run rampant. Satori had always suspected Parsee of fostering the ill feelings, but never bothered to find out the truth, instead secluding herself within Chireiden. Even before Satori could see the bridge, she could begin to feel her sight become green-tinted, and grew a little envious herself. She steeled her resolve, then flew to the bridge. Upon nearing it further, she could hear voices… there seemed to be a party going on at the bridge.

"Drink up, there's plenty for everyone!" A leader among the oni sat drinking from a sake dish. Her thoughts were like most oni's: perfectly clear, but surrounded by a foggy haze. She was in her comfortably tipsy zone. She wore a white shirt and multicolored translucent skirt, and her unique red, star-patterned horn horn pointed straight into the air as she took another gulp from her dish. Yuugi Hoshiguma was the only oni Satori interacted with even somewhat regularly (and even then it was through letters delivered via Satori's pets, and on matters of business and supply), bar a few odd exceptions now and again.

As she neared further, Satori felt the expected waves of jealousy wash over her, and though her mind was prepared enough to deal with them, it didn't stop her from being just a little envious of these friends, sitting and drinking together in such a carefree manner, while she not only had work to attend to, but little in the way of friendship.

There were also a few others, as she got closer. A tsuchigumo and a tsurube otoshi were also present. The former seemed to be just getting started, her mind still clear, while the latter seemed to be struggling with consciousness. Once Satori approached even more, she saw an impressive number of bottles next to the little green-haired bucket-dwelling youkai.

Yuugi seemed to notice her, much to her dismay. Hey, izzat Satori?"Satori! Come down here! Plenty for everyone!"

The Bridge to the Former Hell

As much as Satori wished to simply fly by, refusing to acknowledge Yuugi would lead to complications later. She touched down. The Tsurube-Otoshi's drunken state was giving Satori some difficulty, and she took a moment to steady herself after landing.

"Hah! Haven't even started yet and you're already getting drunk! Biggest lightweight I've ever seen, getting drunk off fumes!" I wonder how she gets when she's -really- drunk.

The tsuchigumo didn't seem to recognize her, and simply waved, her attention focused on her current drink, an amusing ditty going through her head. Parsee's venomous thoughts, on the other hand, were impossible to ignore. What's that ungrateful whiner doing here? Living in the grandest house of all, and does nothing but shut herself away.Satori sighed, trying her best to ignore Parsee, who to most eyes seemed to be simply drinking lightly, as focused in her drink as the tsuchigumo.

"Sorry, Yuugi, I've got to get moving. I've business up ahead."

"You sayin' ya didn't come to join the party? But I even invited ya!" 'Course, couldn't tell anyone else or they probably wouldn't have shown, but it's just the proper thing to do. Never expected her to actually come, though. Kinda bummed she did... Now I need to get the others so drunk they won't remember tonight, or no one will ever come to another party again. Satori recalled the invitation… it had been sent a couple weeks ago. She had discarded it like the others. It was hardly the first, and though Yuugi always pleaded with her to attend, Yuugi's heart told Satori that the invitations were sent out of a sense of duty rather than a legitimate request for company.

"We've got plenty of Sake. Really good stuff, too. You're welcome to join us." Parsee offered. Chireiden drives the whole underground economy, but do we ever see so much as a glimpse of -her-? No! Just sits high and mighty in her… tower… mansion thing. Parsee's thoughts kept flowing freely, Satori having some difficulty holding them at bay.

"Look, I need to get to the surface. A war could erupt, and I need to try and stop it." Satori pleaded pushing away the sake Yuugi and Parsee offered.

A war! Well! That could be interesting. I wonder if they'd let us up to go fight in it. Waaaait a minute."Ain't there still that treaty? We ain't s'posed to go up there. You 'specially... why'd you change your mind, anyway?"

She gets to go to the surface? She doesn't even realize how lucky she is. I'm stuck at this stupid bridge, and she gets to traipse around under the sky without a care in the world.Satori kept a calm facade, but between that tsurube-otoshi's drunkenness and Parsee's envy, it was taxing and distracting to keep from giving Parsee a good kick to the ribs. Instead, Satori held out her ring.

"I have express permission from the Yama to be on the surface. I'm going there on official business. This war has caused problems, and the invaders need to be stopped."

Yuugi sighed, shrugged, and resumed drinking. Had to offer. Just glad she didn't accept... I'd never live it down.

"Well, I wish you the best of luck, then." Parsee gave her a salute and took her drink back in hand. She's working for the Yama? Figures she gets to work for someone important. Who do I work for again? Oh that's right, -no one-. Closest thing is this crowd. She probably just had to do some easy paperwork, too.

Satori suddenly grabbed spellcards, the drunkenness now fueling a sudden envy-sparked rage. How -dare- Parsee envy that work. That scarring, tortuous work!

"We're going to duel. I will use two spellcards, and you will wish you hadn't done that." Parsee, eager to show Satori the depths of her envy, took out two spellcards. Satori pulled out only the promised two; half her standard array. Her normal hypnosis one, and a simple blank one.

A duel over being wished luck? That may be the most ridiculous thing I've heard yet... Yuugi thought. The tsuchigumo merely noted the contest, and nudged the bucket to point out the scene before returning to drinking calmly. I wonder who'll win.

Parsee immediately launched into a spellcard:"Tongue-Cut Sparrow: Hate for the Humble and Rich". Satori's mind was focused entirely on the fight now, however, and though Parsee's form seemed to split in two, Satori immediately recognized one as an illusion, and proceeded to blast the real Parsee, despite multiple attempts on Parsee's end to confuse her.

Satori continued to dodge, and Parsee's patience quickly ended, launching into another spellcard: "Covetous sign: Enviable Freedom" almost immediately. Walls seemed to close in around Satori, but she knew, from Parsee's mind, that the wall would have cracks appear as it neared Satori, when she would be able to escape. She accomplished this, the burning rage kept just under the surface. Parsee would pay dearly for being so flippant about Satori's day as a judge. Satori would settle for nothing less than complete humiliation, now.

Then Satori unleashed her first spellcard. "Recollection: Terrifying hypnotism". It was the prize of decades of research into minds and hypnosis. It was tuned to her third eye, hypnotizing her as much as her opponent. Its lights spun, and her mind was driven to perform thorough and blindingly fast calculations and correlations, while simultaneously drawing forth the most terrifying memories from her opponent and copying them to a card in a way that would be sure to evoke that exact feeling. After the initial tests on Marisa and Reimu a while back, she had finished refining it. Of course, the magnificent elegance of the spellcard was lost on a single minded youkai like Parsee, but it was a good test, nonetheless.

Parsee cleared the spellcard, but already she was shaken. Hardly a surprise: she had just had her most painful memory called up against her will. Of course, she didn't seem to realize what would happen next, as Satori made her declaration.

"Now, sleep with the horrors slumbering within yourself!" Satori received enjoyment at sweeping her opponent off her mental feet, as did other satori. Of course, without letting them know just what you took, there wasn't nearly as much fun to be had.

"Recollection: Chains of Wooden Shade!" Satori and Parsee were suddenly engulfed in darkness, while magical glowing chains looped around them. Parsee panicked immediately, and she flew in a frenzy around the chains, not noticing that a ceiling and floor of brown, twisting bullets was lowering, restricting her movement more and more. When she finally did notice, Parsee froze and stared. The chains, though not particularly difficult to dodge even in close quarters, inevitably found their mark, and entwined themselves around Parsee, tearing her clothes almost as thoroughly as her mind.

Of course, there was a cost to this sort of attack. Satori was forced to endure it, just as her opponent was, for she had to understand the terror behind the attack to make it effective. She had to lower her emotional distance, and expose herself to every bit of emotion Parsee experienced. The old horror of waiting in darkness, eventually finding her movement restricted, trying desperately to escape the bridge which bound her, even as it seemed to shrink around her and pull her closer. The regret of the path that led her there, and the resignation as the walls finished confining her, chains of fate binding her forever to her bridge. Trapped… forever, never to see the sun or feel wind ever again. Satori felt the chains encircling Parsee, felt her incomparable envy of those able to move as they pleased, those with free will to do as they desired, those who had escaped the bonds of their flaws.

With that, Parsee fell to the ground, unconscious. Satori's envy of Parsee's life was gone. Her rage had turned to pity in the wake of the attack. She had caused such suffering… and for such a petty reason. Perhaps… perhaps the spellcard worked a little too well. Satori's mind began to clear, and she realized the duel had seemed to sober the mood around her.

"I… need to go." Satori said, desperately holding back her sympathetic tears. She hadn't had any idea how Parsee had felt about her own situation. Guilt wracked Satori's mind. Already, she was beginning to wonder if she wouldn't bring more pain than relief on her quest to stop the war. She had just been true to her nature, but at what cost?

Well, that was pretty.The tsuchigumo quietly admired. The tsurube-otoshi had seemed to enjoy the spectacle, the confining nature of the attack. But Yuugi… it was her thoughts that followed Satori the longest as she forced herself to walk on, past the bridge.

Why… would she do that? Was Parsee's life not bad enough already? Satori had to remind her of -that-! What a monster…

And Satori, for the first time in a very long while, couldn't bring herself to disagree with that assessment.