After a good minute's worth of free-falling down Suwkao's makeshift passage, the three finally landed on solid ground, and in a rather painful fashion. "Urgh…I'm…Never doing that…again…" Meiling groaned in pain. Falling from a distance that would have no doubt killed an ordinary mortal was one thing, but being a landing pad for two little girls who weren't nearly as light as they looked was another.
"Boy that sure was fun! It really made my heart race; I sure hope we can do that again sometime!" Koishi chirped happily as jumped off of Meiling's poor spine, completely unscathed by their plummet.
"Are you okay China…? Your back looks…weird." Flandre asked in concern before quickly adding, "…N-Not weird in a bad way though! It's weird in a good way!"
"Y-Yeah fit as a fiddle…N-Nothing a little yoga won't straighten out…" Meiling assured as she managed to get back on her feet.
"Well guys, we made it! And it's all thanks to my nose! Welcome to Former Hell!" Koishi cheered as she raised her hands in the air happily. "Isn't it the greatest? Just take in all that fresh sulfur…"
"I'd agree with you Koishi, but it's so dark it's hard to make out much of anything here…" the gatekeeper said as she began to flex her back in hopes of repairing the damage the combined weight of two little youkai girls had caused.
"Huh? What're you talking about China? Everything is clear as day down here. Though I was expecting more lava and fire…But this is really nice too!" Flandre remarked as she admired the vast darkness around them.
Meiling laughed, "Well we aren't all gifted with night-vision like you vampires Flandre. Would you mind doing your little trick and shed some light on the situation? I think it's safe to say that fall put my lantern out of commission permanently..." the gatekeeper said as she discovered the splintered mess her lantern had been reduced to with after fumbling in the dark with her hands.
"O-Oh right! I keep forgetting that…" Flandre said sheepishly. The vampire then focused energy into her wings just as she had done during their side-trip to the Sanzu River. Soon enough, the cavern was lit by the bright rainbow-colored light emitted from Flandre's wings.
Koishi was awestruck by the spectacle, her mouth forming a perfect circle. "Oh wow…You're so pretty Flanny! You're like a Christmas tree!" the satori cheered as she admired the light display.
The light from Flandre's wings also did a great job illuminating the large blush growing across her face, "Th-Thanks Koishi, but they're not anything real special…"
"What? Sure they are Flanny! They're the prettiest thing I've ever seen! Can I touch them?"
"W-Well I guess you c-could, but…" Flandre didn't even manage to complete her sentence before Koishi began to stroke her wing crystals. While she didn't feel any sensation from her touch due to the lack of nerves her wings possessed, it certainly did make her face even redder than before.
"Wow! They're really warm…" Koishi said as she pet the crystals gently.
Thankfully for Flandre, a small tremor lightly shook the ground, causing trickles of debris to rain from the cavern's roof. This tremor managed to take Koishi's attention away from Flandre's wings and look up curiously. The tremor was small enough that no real damage occurred, but large enough to be noticeable to the three.
"That must be Kanako and Suwako." Meiling remarked, impressed. The power of gods weren't something to take lightly, but Suwako and Kanako were obviously on a different level if the effects of their attacks could be felt this far down in the earth. "It'd be best to get moving, we can't waste a single moment Suwako has bought for us. We must put as much distance between us and the Moriya shrine as possible. Now Koishi, since Flandre and I have no idea where we're going here, it looks like you'll be leading the way."
"Really? Oh boy!" Koishi cried in joy, obviously excited to be able to take the helm of the group once more. "Alright let's go guys, next stop, home!" the satori then took ahold of Flandre's arm and began to drag her along deeper into the cave.
"I just hope the rest of the way will be smooth-sailing…I've had enough excitement for one day…" Meiling muttered as she followed the two down further into the depths of Former Hell.
Suwako grit her teeth in frustration. The fight was far more one-sided than she had initially anticipated. While she never expected she'd be able to win, this battle was a flat-out curb stomp. Any hits she actually managed to score on the sky-goddess did little to slow her down, while Kanako's attacks were devastating. It didn't help matters that Kanako was far more at home in the skies than the earthbound Suwako was. It was precisely this reason that the earth goddess had surrendered during the Great Suwa war. She was simply outmatched.
Kanako wore a smug look on her face, obviously reveling in the fact that she had the upper hand. All this battle proved to do thus far was act as a rather painful reminder of why Kanako was the one calling the shots, and just exactly why Suwako was powerless to prevent things from going as far as they did.
"If you surrender now Suwako, I'll forgive your act of betrayal. Our partnership can resume as if nothing had happened." The sky-goddess offered. Despite her pride, Kanako did hold some respect for Suwako, not to mention she possessed abilities that were a very big asset to her…
"Forget it Kanako! I refuse to submit to you any longer and I refuse to keep letting you have your way!" Suwako spat, "Those three gave me the biggest wake-up call of my life, and I won't allow you to harm anyone anymore Kanako!"
The purple haired goddess's expression furrowed, "Hmph, have it your way then Suwako. Just know that was my last offer. Expect no mercy from me here on out!" Kanako then charged at the Suwako. The blonde goddess smirked, just as she had planned.
Using her momentum, Kanako threw a punch so powerful that it would have impressed even the strongest of oni. Thankfully Suwako's smaller frame added to her maneuverability, allowing her to avoid the powerful attack. Kanako's failed strike gave Suwako just enough of an opening to retaliate with one of her own. Using all of her might, the earth-goddess landed a powerful drop-kick right on Kanako's face, causing the goddess of the skies to plummet down to earth.
Suwako wasn't finished yet however, for as soon as Kanako made contact with the hard earth bellow, the earth goddess willed the land to swallow the goddess in a tomb of soil. Kanako tried to escape the grasp of the dirt, albeit unsuccessfully. The more she struggled against the earth's grip, the tighter and more compact it became.
Suwako grinned, Kanako may have been powerful, but being literally grounded from her element took its toll on her, no matter how much faith she may have. It was beginning to look like things were finally going her way for once. Or that was, until a giant onbashira rocketed towards her at high speed.
The pillar ran down the frog-like goddess, smashing her into the mountain side. The pillar then proceeded to ram Suwako against the mountain continuously. Suwako fought against her eyelids to remain conscious, she could take her fair share of beatings, but even goddesses had their limits…
Suddenly the onbashira paused in its onslaught, giving Suwako a moment of peace. Kanako then floated towards her, having escaped Suwako's trap. She wore a smug look on her face. "I'll extend this offer one last time Suwako, are you ready to admit defeat? Do yourself a favor and surrender, I promise your punishment will be less severe if you stop this foolishness now."
Suwako looked up at the purple haired goddess, "N…Never…I won't…Give up…" she said weakly, barely grasping to consciousness.
"Feh… I thought you wiser than that Suwako… as you wish. I'll save us both some time and finish this right here and now!" the goddess of the skies declared.
Kanako raised her hands into the air, collecting power from the atmosphere itself. Suwako could feel the energy being pulled towards the purple-haired goddess, its power was…overwhelming. With the amount of power Kanako was preparing for this attack, it could very well demolish half of Youkai Mountain and then some…but she kept gathering more and more power. Kanako practically radiated with power, it was to the point that staring directly at her was blinding.
Suwako closed her eyes, due to both the brightness of the energies Kanako was gathering and to help her suppress the anticipation of when these energies would blast her into oblivion. But for once, it seemed lady luck favored her this one time.
"Lady Kanako, what are you doing!?" Sanae cried as she flew towards the two goddesses. The shrine-maiden was still in her pajamas and her hair was still a complete mess. It was fortunate none of the tengu had the stones to come close enough to the dueling goddesses to take pictures; otherwise Sanae's unkempt look would have easily been front-page news.
Kanako didn't bat an eye at the demi-god's appearance, "Sanae, go back inside. This is between me and Suwako."
"Go back inside!? How do you expect me to go back inside while you're pummeling my grandmother!?" the green-haired maiden shouted, "This is just as much my concern as it is yours or lady Suwako's!"
"I'll explain things later Sanae, now just be a good girl and wait inside the shrine until I've wrapped things up here." The sky-goddess said sternly, as if she were scolding a child.
Sanae then flew in front of Suwako, stretching her arms out by her sides. "No Lady Kanako. Can't you see you've already won? So Pl…please just…just stop…" the young shrine-maiden said, holding back tears.
"S-Sanae…" Suwako managed to say with what little energy she had left.
Kanako looked into Sanae's tear-filled eyes and felt a twinge of guilt. While she had no qualms putting Suwako back into her place, she couldn't bear it if she brought Sanae sadness… Sighing, the sky-goddess reluctantly released the power she had gathered. "It's alright Sanae…Everything's going to be fine. I…I let things get out of hand."
Sanae didn't say anything as she swooped towards Suwako. The demi-god lifted the small-goddess up on to her lap so she could inspect her properly "L-Lady Suwako are you…Are you alright…?"
"N…Never better." Suwako hacked.
"We need to get you back inside…" Sanae said as she picked her beaten grandmother up and gently began to carry her back to the Moriya shrine with care.
Kanako remained silent, but the glare she was giving Suwako said more than words could possibly impart. While Kanako was triumphant in their duel, she couldn't help but feel she had lost. Not only had the very reason for their battle had made their escape during the chaos and her relationship with Suwako had become horribly strained, but now it was obvious Sanae had lost quite a bit of respect for her in the process. For once in Kanako's long existence, victory tasted bitter…
Despite being called Former Hell, the area felt strangely peaceful. The cavern was nearly completely silent, with only the echoes from drops of water being heard. The sound was peaceful in a sense, a sense of peace all three of them could enjoy after the hectic experience they had on Youkai Mountain.
While the Mountain had scenery that was beautiful beyond anything else Gensokyo could offer, the cave walls also offered a simple beauty in themselves. The way the spider webs shined off of the light Flandre's wing produced was dazzling.
"Say Koishi, what sort of creature weaves these webs?" Meiling asked, "I can't imagine any ordinary spider weaving webs this large."
The satori turned around, walking backwards and replied, "Oh, those're made by the earth spiders. Pretty neat huh? Their webs are really fun to jump on! They're really nice and bouncy!"
"I can't imagine them enjoying you trampling on their hard work Koishi." Meiling chided.
"Haha, yeah, they sure do get mad afterwards! One time they made me really sick after I smooshed one of their webs! I was throwing up for a week!" Koishi laughed.
Meiling just stared at Koishi in a state of stunned silence. From the way it sounded, the satori was just as big of a handful in the underground as she was on Gensokyo's surface. The gatekeeper couldn't help but feel her respect grow for the sister Koishi constantly spoke of. She could only assume Koishi got herself into trouble quite often…
"So Koishi, what's your home like?" Flandre asked, changing the subject to something a little more pleasant.
"Oh my house is the best! It's got a really big gate with a bunch of sharp spikes on it, there's a really big lake of lava nearby and the kasha bring in dead-bodies sometimes! You and China'll definitely love it!"
"Well that sounds…Lovely?" Meiling remarked.
"It really is!" Koishi chirped, "Oh! We're nearly there! We just gotta cross this crusty old bridge and then it'll be a cakewalk getting home!"
Koishi's stories must have been extremely enticing, as Flandre and Meiling hadn't even noticed that they had arrived at the foot of a very large bridge. It was in great disrepair, nails stuck out, the wood was rotting, and the red paint on the bridge's handrail had begun to chip. The fog covering the area made the rickety bridge appear even more ominous than it would have by itself…
"Boy, this bridge doesn't look the most…welcoming. It doesn't look like anyone's used it in years, not that I'd blame them…" Meiling remarked as she looked the bridge over. Flandre nodded in agreement, she didn't trust the bridge's condition if her expression was any indication.
"Yeah, we don't get a lot of visitors…" Koishi said with something akin to sadness. It wasn't an emotion the girl displayed often, but when she did it was always sobering. However this moment of melancholy passed quickly and Koishi back to her usual happy self. "So anyways, let's get going! The ancient city is just past the bridge!"
Koishi didn't have to tell them twice, after today, the two were ready to turn in. It had been one of their more exciting days since their journey had begun. Flandre couldn't have imagined that she'd be interviewed by a tengu and make a narrow escape into an underground cavern during a clash between two goddesses all in the same day when she first stepped outside of the basement. And that wasn't even mentioning all of the other things that had occurred during her adventures. She met all sorts of people…Saw places that one could only find in fairytales and most importantly…She finally made a friend. These past few days had made her feel more alive than she had ever been in years…
As the three walked across the bridge, with the wood letting out an unsettling creak with every step, Meiling peered over the bridge's railing tentatively. There was a river below, something that could have been easily inferred by the sound of water echoing throughout the cavern. Despite the fact that the water below would cushion any possible falls, it didn't make Meiling feel relieved in the least. She could have sworn she saw something moving in the water…something LARGE.
"S-Say Koishi, there isn't anything…living under the bridge is there…? Like say, some sort of huge bloodthirsty monster?" the gatekeeper stuttered. While she certainly wasn't any coward, Meiling wasn't looking forward to dealing with any demons or beasts of that ilk. She more than had her fill of action from the past few days.
"Psh…I wish, it'd make things a lot more exciting down here if there was…All we have around here is Parsee…"
"Parsee?" asked Flandre, "Is that some sort of spice?"
The satori laughed, "Heeheehee! You crack me up Flanny! But no, Parsee's this really funny lady who lives on the bridge. She's got really pointy ears…like an elf! Oh and her eyes are as green as a lime and she always mutters really weird things under her breath! Oh and she never EVER leaves the bridge! She's kind of like…like…A hobo!"
"Would you care to repeat that? Despite how pointy my ears are, I just seem to have a horrid time of hearing things…" a feminine voice hissed in response to Koishi's evaluation.
Flandre and Meiling jumped at the sight of the figure before them. The two were so distracted by Koishi's colorful phrasing of things that they hadn't even noticed the woman's presence. The woman had short blonde hair, along with a pair of elf-like ears as she had pointed out. Her green eyes were piercing; despite this, Meiling and Flandre couldn't help but admire their beauty…the way they shone through the darkness was quite pretty. Her skin was unblemished and pale; it was nearly as white as the scarf and the arm socks she wore. Her skin tone was a strong contrast to the brown and blue dress she wore. All in all, this fair maiden was the farthest thing from the image Koishi had painted with her words.
"Oh hey Parsee! It's been a while! How've you been?" Koishi asked with a tone that sounded amazingly sincere. It was amazing how the satori maneuvered her way out of awkward social encounters without batting an eye. It was a little concerning, honestly.
"That's great! You always say that, so by terrible, you must actually mean fantastic!"
"Hmph, it's enviable how deluded you are. Being completely oblivious to the harsh reality of life…It must be nice, isn't it?" Parsee hissed.
Koishi cocked her head to the side before smiling, "Sometimes it's hard to understand what you're talking about, but you sure are funny Parsee!"
The maiden huffed in annoyance, crossing her arms before noticing the two behind the irritating satori. "I see you've finally found yourself some friends…"
"Oh yeah! These are my friends, Flandre and China!" Flandre gave the harsh woman an awkward curtsy while Meiling just gave her a small wave and muttered something along the lines of her name not being China.
Parsee leered over the satori's two new friends, inspecting them closely with her emerald colored eyes, "…Bah, just more people who have more than I do…" the bridge princess hissed as she glared at Meiling, "…Those crimson locks of hair…that beautiful dress…that figure…Why can't I look even half as desirable as her!?"
"E-Excuse me!? Pl-please stop looking me over like that!" Meiling blushed, covering herself with her arms in embarrassment.
Parsee then quickly turned her attention to Flandre and gave her an even uglier look, "Urgh, you're even worse! Just look at that nice clean hair…That adorable little outfit…those beautiful wings…that petite frame…You're so cute is disgusting! It's sickening how blessed people are…"
"Y-You really think I'm cute…?" Flandre blushed; she was unused to people pointing out such features about her. It was nice…even if it was said with so much malice.
"I'm certainly not calling you a dog, now am I?" Parsee grumbled. "Now, if you've no business with me, be on your way. The longer I have to bear the burden of speaking to you, the more reason I find to envy you."
"Oh well…Okay then! Later! I'll be sure to come and visit!" the satori replied, appearing to be completely unoffended by Parsee's harsh words. "Come on guys, the Ancient City is just up ahead! Let's go!"
Meiling and Flandre bid the envious blonde a quick and awkward farewell before following Koishi across to the other end of the bridge. They could audibly here the bridge-princess muttering something under her breath, and given how the conversation ended, it likely wasn't anything positive.
As soon as it was certain they were out of the bridge-dweller's range of hearing, Flandre let out a sigh of relief. "What was that all about? I like being called cute and all, but that was a weird way of doing it…"
"Oh, don't let Parsee bug you. She's always like that! She just takes a long time to warm up to people…A really long time." Koishi replied.
Meiling nodded, "Well, that's to be expected I suppose. She is a hashihime after all."
"Hashi-what-now?" Flandre asked.
"Ah, sorry Flandre, I keep forgetting that you wouldn't know…A hashihime is a youkai born from a human who feels an intense amount of jealousy. Being born from envy itself, they feel an irrational amount of jealousy, much to the point of them feeling envy towards things that aren't desirable. I trust that clears things up for you?"
Flandre nodded, "That sure explains a lot! But I still don't get why she was jealous, I think she's really pretty. Her ears are cute too!"
"Well when one is consumed by jealousy, they can often times forget to be thankful for what they have…" Meiling responded.
"Ooh! There it is! The Ancient City is straight ahead guys!" Koishi announced happily.
Before the three was a moderately sized opening in the tunnel. It was impossible to miss, due to the fact that it was the only source of light in the cave that wasn't being provided by Flandre. In fact, it was so noticeable, it came to a surprise to Meiling that she didn't see it earlier.
"Well? Come on guys! Let's go!" the satori said with excitement before running off into the opening.
"Hold on Koishi! We should stick together!" Meiling called after the girl, but to no avail as Koishi was long gone. Whether the satori couldn't hear her or just decided to outright ignore her was anyone's guess. "We had better catch up to her Flandre, I can't even imagine what sort of trouble she'll get herself in unattended…Stick close now, we've no idea what this city is…" at that moment, Meiling realized she was talking to herself. It seemed Flandre had run off after Koishi while she wasn't looking…the gatekeeper let out a sigh before jogging after the two.
Thankfully, the two hadn't gone far in the least. The two were standing just around the corner. They appeared to be admiring something, and as soon as Meiling caught up, she joined them in their state of awe. A deep depression lied below them, and within it was the source of light emanating from the opening they came through, a large city, if the words did its massive size justice.
The community bellow them was a true marvel to behold. Everything they had encountered before, the Kappa Village's advanced underwater villa, the tengu's bustling city...While they were both truly wonderful in their own way, the city they set their eyes upon swallowed them whole in terms of wonder. The city looked as if it were celebrating some sort of event, as every building in sight had lanterns of a wide range of colors dangling from them. In short, it was a rather awe-inspiring sight.
"This is it guys! Welcome to the Ancient City of Forgotten Hell guys!" Koishi chirped, breaking the awe-stuck silence between the three.
"This is…I've seen a lot of things in my lifetime but this…Who knew something this huge could have been under our feet all this time!?" Meiling exclaimed.
The satori laughed, "Yeah, it's pretty neat right? You guys are gonna love it here, I just know it! There's so much to do, so many places to see, people to meet...Ooh! First we can go out and eat, and then we can go do some shopping! Ooh and then we can go play some games and then there's-"
"Uh, that sounds fun and all Koishi, but perhaps we could go to your home and turn in for the day instead? I don't know about you two, but I'm exhausted…"
"Yeah, I feel a little tired too…Maybe we can do all that stuff later?" Flandre agreed. "Besides, I really wanna see where you live! Oh and meet your big sister too!"
The satori's expression fell at the mentioning of her sibling, "Oh, r-right…If you guys are tired I guess we can just go home…Let's get going then."
Koishi's demeanor suddenly felt a lot less peppy and energetic than it had less than a moment ago. The once happy and carefree satori now looked troubled by something, her eternal smile now replaced by a worried frown. Flandre couldn't help but feel as if she had said something wrong as she and Meiling followed the satori along the downward spiraling path into the ancient city…
As was expected from a community of its size, the streets of the Ancient City were packed. All sorts of supernatural entities wandered the streets, from evil spirits to a flock of different cave-dwelling youkai. The most abundant creatures were oni though; oni of all sizes went about their business, with nearly every one of them having a drink just an arm's length away at all times.
Unsurprisingly, the scent of alcohol was strong in the city. The Oni was infamous for their strong affinity for alcohol. The scent was so powerful it was nearly intoxicating. It wasn't shocking though, it was well known that oni brewed the strongest liquor known to man. It was due to this fact that Meiling kept an even warier watch on Flandre and Koishi than usual. She feared what would happen if even a single drop alcohol entered their system…
But despite that one nagging fear, the streets of the Ancient City was a welcome sight compared to those on the surface above. For the first time in a long while, no one prowling the streets knew them. No one gawked at them or whispered their names. In fact, if Meiling didn't know any better, the citizens of the city outright ignored them. It was a pleasant breath of fresh air…
"Wow…Th…There sure are a lot of people here…" Flandre remarked, taking a look at her surroundings with a mix of nerves and anxiety.
"That there is…Are you alright Flandre? You look paler than usual." The gatekeeper asked, looking slightly concerned.
"Y-Yeah, of course China! E-Everything's great! It's just…there are a lot of people here…" the vampire said with a bit of embarrassment.
"Yeah, I know, isn't it great? The more people, the more stuff you can find lying in the streets! One time I found a nice pair of shiny keys and a pair of underwear!" Koishi chimed in.
"I don't think she meant that as a positive thing Koishi…" the Chinese youkai said, "Anyways, I thought you were okay with crowds Flandre?"
"W-Well yeah…but they weren't ever this big before…"
Given how little exposure the vampire had with large social interactions, it was actually a surprise that this hadn't been a problem earlier in the human or tengu villages. "There's nothing to worry about Flandre, no one's going to harm you. Though if you really feel that nervous, you can hold my hand if you'd like."
Meiling's offer was accepted as soon as it was placed on the table; the young mistress quickly snatched her hand and gripped it tightly. The gatekeeper cringed at how much strength was behind the vampire's hold, if she were a mortal, she had little doubt that her hand would have been reduced to a bloody pulp…But despite this she didn't complain, if it helped calm Flandre's nerves, she was more than happy to endure it. Koishi apparently felt left out as she quickly took Meiling's other hand into her own, though her grip was far less taxing on her hand than Flandre's was.
"Wow China, your hands are really soft! They're so soft I could use them as pillows!" Koishi commented.
"I think I'll take that as a compliment...Thank you." The gatekeeper replied. Despite how long they've traveled together, the satori still managed to surprise Meiling with the strange things that came from her mouth… "Anyways, how much farther is your house from here? These buildings all look awfully similar to one another…" the gatekeeper checked each building for the features Koishi had described, but failed to find any with a spiked gate or one that looked over a lake of lava. Then again, given it was Koishi, she wouldn't be surprised if the satori exaggerated a little.
"Oh um…Just a little bit further! We just need to take a left in the next fork and we'll be there! You can't miss it!" the satori said.
The gatekeeper smiled, "That's a big relief, my feet are killing me…Let's be on our way then, shall we?"
"R-Right! Let's get going! Hahaha…"
It was puzzling. Meiling was certain she had led them down the correct path; she took a left at the next fork in the road as Koishi had told her. Yet there was no sign of the building Koishi had described. Instead, the three were standing outside the city boundaries…Obviously not anywhere near their intended destination.
"What the…? Are you sure we were supposed to take a left at that last fork Koishi?" Meiling asked.
The satori pondered on it for a moment, "Oh! Uh…I think we were actually supposed to take a right! My bad!"
The gatekeeper nodded in understanding, "It's alright, mistakes happen. We'll just have to go back and take a right this time. Let's get moving then."
Once again, the three found themselves in a puzzling situation…They had gone back and went the other way this time, yet they still didn't see any sign of Koishi's abode. Unless the satori just so happened to live in a dank and dark alleyway filled to the brim with trash, that is.
"This definitely isn't right…" the gatekeeper said as she plugged her nose, the stench of the alleyway was overwhelming. "Koishi, are you certain we've gone the right way?"
Once again the satori pondered the question, "Oh! Urrr…I-I think it was a right at the NEXT fork in the road! Sorry!"
"It's alright Koi-Koi! Everyone makes mistakes!" Flandre said reassuringly, "But let's get out of here, my eyes are watering…Peeyoo…"
These results were beginning to test Meiling's patience. She had followed Koishi's directions to the letter. She was absolutely certain she did. Yet once again, they found themselves nowhere near their intended destination. Instead, they found themselves in front of a pottery shop…
"Well this is an improvement I guess…" the gatekeeper sighed, "Koishi, think, where do you live? Maybe we ought to ask for some directions…"
"N-No! We're getting really REALLY close China! I promise! Just follow me!" the satori insisted.
"Alright Koishi, if you say so…"
It had been almost an hour since Koishi had begun to lead Meiling and Koishi to her home. In that time, they had easily circled the Ancient City five times over. Both Flandre and Meiling were exhausted and their patience with the satori was quickly thinning.
"Koishi, please, if you forgot where you live, just say so. There's no shame in it, we can just ask for directions somewhere…" Meiling groaned.
"Yeah…Pretty please Koishi…? I'm tired…And my feet hurt…and my throats dry…" the vampire whined in agreement.
The satori looked back at the two nervously, "N-No! I know where I'm going! Just trust me! We'll be there in less than a second!"
"No Koishi! We've been wandering around the city for lord only knows how long! Flandre and I are both exhausted! It's time to give up and just ask for directions, there isn't anything to be embarrassed about."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa…What's all the commotion about over here? There aren't any bad vibes allowed here!" a hearty voice asked.
The three turned around and found a tall blonde woman approaching them. Her attire wasn't anything special, just a plain white-shirt along with a blue, slightly transparent skirt. From her forehead protruded a red spike that had a small yellow star painted on it, this horn alone was enough to identify the woman as an oni. The shackles on her wrists and the sake dish she held only helped solidify this fact. The woman wore a jolly grin and her eyes were welcoming, making her feel approachable despite how intimidating she might have seemed otherwise.
"Oh, well look who we have here! If it isn't Koishi!" the woman said as she waved to the satori happily.
"Oh hey Yuugi! What's up?" Koishi greeted cheerfully, quickly brushing Meiling's complaints aside.
"Oh, nothing much, same old same old." the woman named Yuugi answered, "So everything alright over here? We don't have any problems, do we? Or do you want me to have a little chat with these two?" Meiling audibly gulped at that, while she didn't lack confidence, the gatekeeper wasn't certain she'd be able to handle an oni in a fight.
The satori shook her head, "Nah, everything's cool here. These guys are my friends!"
"Ah! Great to see you making some friends, I always used to see you walking around by yourself. Every journey is better with friends after all!" the oni laughed, "Sorry for the misunderstanding there friend, the name's Yuugi Hoshiguma! It's a pleasure!" the woman said as she swiped Meiling's hand and gave it a firm shake.
"Not a problem, I'm Hong Meiling." The gatekeeper returned with a smile.
"And I'm Flandre!" the vampire chirped.
"Well met you two! Always great to see some new faces, the more the merrier I always say!" the oni laughed.
"Likewise! Say, Yuugi perhaps you could help us with our problem here?" The Chinese Youkai asked, "Koishi here insisted she knew where we were going, yet we seem to be a little lost. Do you think you could point us in the right direction?"
"Of course, I'd be more than happy to! Where you guys headed?"
"Well, we're going to Koishi's home, would you happen to know where she lives? We've been wandering around the city longer than I'd care to admit searching for it…"
"How'd you manage to forget that Koishi? I know you've been gone for a while now, but you'd have to be as blind as a bat to miss it!" Yuugi pointed behind the three, "You see that big building with the fancy stain-glass windows that's a wee bit outside of the city? That's Chireiden, the palace of the Earth Spirits, and the place you're looking for."
The three turned around and low and behold, the building Yuugi described was in painfully plain sight. The building was incredible, it easily eclipsed all the other buildings in the city in terms of beauty, and that was saying something. Even at this distance, it was easy to see how much detail was put into the building. Its gothic design complemented its colorful stain glass windows perfectly. Normally Meiling and Flandre would have been struck with awe at the beauty Koishi's home held, but the two were too busy glaring at Koishi, who was looking to the side guiltily.
"I see...Thank you for your help Yuugi, who knows how much longer we'd have wandered in circles searching without your directions. I can't begin to repay you for your help." Meiling said gratefully, suppressing her bitterness towards Koishi for the time being.
"Don't sweat it, always glad to help those in need! Though if you're serious about repaying me, come down here once your business in Chireiden's finished and join me for a drink! Sake's always best with company after all!"
"Well, I'll definitely consider it. Thanks again Yuugi." The Chinese youkai replied.
"Again, don't sweat it! Hope to see you soon!" the oni said as she walked off to return to her business, "Oh yeah, and be sure to give my regards to your sister for me Koishi!"
"Y-Yeah, I'll do that…Thanks for the help Yuugi…See ya…" the satori murmured as she avoided the looks of scorn she was receiving from her two friends.
The trek up to Chireiden was a difficult one. The path leading to the palace was a long one, and while that fact alone wouldn't have made the hike up too hard on its own, the condition of the road did. The path was in horrible condition, if it could even be called one. Time had obviously taken its toll on the road, with the majority of the stones making it up being reduced to rubble, making footing a bit dangerous at times.
However, neither the length nor the poor road conditions compared to how painfully awkward the trip up was. Meiling and Flandre had been giving Koishi the silent treatment for the past hour or so. The two were still obviously sore at Koishi for leading them around circles for hours. The satori was unused to this sort of neglect; it was crushingly lonely to her.
It wasn't until the three had only a fourth of the way left to go did Koishi manage to muster the courage to make amends with her two friends. "Um…I'm s-sorry for earlier guys…I should've taken you guys home right away like you asked…So, will please forgive me and talk to me again? Pretty please?" all the satori received in response was a pair of cold shoulders. The silence stuck right at Koishi's heart, the pain that simple silence brought cut harder than any blade. The satori was surprised to find herself brought to tears, "C-Come on guys, please say something…A-Aren't you going to yell at me like you usually do China? Aren't you going to tell me you forgive me Flanny…? Please, say something, anything!" the satori pleaded. "Please d-don't hate me! P-Please, still be my friends! I'll…I'll do anything! J-Just don't leave me alone! You're the only friends I have…"
Flandre and Meiling turned around and faced the teary eyed satori, "We don't hate you Koishi…Me and China are just tired…Right China?"
The gatekeeper nodded in agreement, "Koishi, we could never hate you. Can we be upset with you? Yes. But I swear to you we'll always be your friends. We won't abandon you."
Koishi looked up with tear-filled eyes, "Do you…Do you guys promise…?" she asked timidly.
The vampire nodded in confirmation and hooked her pinky finger to Koishi's, "Promise."
"I'll second that." the Chinese Youkai said as she joined her own pinky finger with those of her two companions, "Now dry those tears Koishi, neither one of us likes seeing you sad."
The youkai girl did as Meiling asked and wiped her eyes dry with her baggy sleeves. "Th-Thanks guys…"
"Don't mention it Koi-Koi, you'd do the same for us!" Flandre chirped.
"Now that things have been settled, can you tell us why you had us walk all across existence Koishi? I have a hunch that it wasn't just one of your strange jokes."
Koishi's expression fell at the gatekeeper's question. The answer was something she had wanted to avoid, to hide from. But she knew she had to face her fears, one way or another, she may as well confront them now. "…It's my big sister…I haven't seen her in a long time…Too long. I…I'm afraid to see her. What if…What if she forgot about me? What if…She hates me?" the satori whimpered. "I-I was too scared to see her, that's why I didn't want to go home, why, I…I lied..."
"Koishi…" Meiling whispered.
"Don't be stupid Koishi! Your sister would never hate you!" Flandre shouted, "Big sisters always love their little sisters, no matter what! I know your big sister misses you and she wants to see you again! It's because she loves you! So…So…Stop acting so dumb and go see her! A-And China and I'll be right there with you, so there's nothing to be afraid of! Um…right China…?"
Meiling wore a look of surprise. She had never expected Flandre to speak with such boldness, even if it were briefly. However, this moment of surprise passed by quickly and the Chinese youkai nodded in agreement with a grin on her face. "That's right Koishi, Flandre and I will be right behind you. You've nothing to fear."
"F-Flanny…You're…You're right. Th-Thanks…both of you." the satori said as her smile slowly crept its way back onto her face.
After a few moments the three had finally reached their destination, the Palace of Earth Spirits. The building was even more impressive up close. The intricate designs imprinted on the stain glass windows were only able to be truly appreciated up close; the amount of detail put into each window was jaw-dropping. Each one had a unique design, but every one of them featured roses and eyes in one way or another. The windows matched the statues and garden up front quite nicely. The palace was beautiful, yet in an eerie way…
Koishi's legs shook and swayed violently as she stood before the palace. Despite the words of encouragement her two friends gave her, fear still had its grasp around her heart, slowly suffocating her in a state of anxiety. She was so nervous the satori had trouble remembering to breath…it was strange, she hadn't felt this sort of sensation before, this feeling was unheard of to her…The thought of running away from her sister never crossed her mind before this instance. In fact, she had begun to feel many things she didn't fully understand…and thinking about that only served to terrify her even further. She was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea, if-
"It's alright Koi-Koi, I'm right here. There's nothing to worry about!" Flandre encouraged, resting her hand on the satori's shoulder in an attempt to comfort her, "It's like…drinking your medicine! First it's all gross and you'll want to spit it out, but once you swallow it you'll feel better!" Meiling offered the satori a warm smile along with a thumbs-up.
The satori managed to smile, albeit a nervous one. Her friends' presence was a big comfort, though it didn't stop her heart from throbbing uncontrollably. But the satori somehow managed to push her fears of her sister to the back of her mind and shakily knock on the ordinate doors of the palace.
AN: Hello, here's the first chapter of the Former Hell Arc, if you want to refer to it as that. It must be a big surprise to see that this chapter didn't take a month or two to post. (To be honest, I'm a little surprised with myself.) Heck, the length of this one chapter is practically the size of two, so it's like Christmas in March!
I feel like this chapter came out pretty well…Left off at the perfect spot too. We writers love our cliff-hangers after all! (Plus it prevented me from overwhelming the reader by introducing too many new characters in a single chapter.)
Anyways, I can't say that this chapter is an indication to me writing and posting chapters quicker, as I got a new job recently. So this means I'll have less time to pursue my horribly nerdy hobby of writing fanfiction about lolis. So please wait warmly as you have been, I promise I'll do my best to make it worth the wait. Until next time!