Chapter 1 – A Suspicious Headline
It's been more than a thousand years. More time than that has passed since she moved here and started a new chapter in her life. Here, in Gensokyo, where reality and illusion were two sides of the same coin; where everything was believed to be possible. And even though a thousand years may seem like more than enough time to forget everything to a human, she still remembered that time vividly. Perhaps because she wasn't a human, but certain events can leave such a lasting imprint on one's mind, that even if humans had the lifespans of the tengu, they'd be able to recall them with as much clarity as she recalled the day of settling down in Gensokyo.
"Heh… how nostalgic." Aya Shameimaru sighed as she flipped through the pages filled with her faded handwriting. Pages of a thousand-year old diary.
"Time sure flies…" Back in that time she had no idea what her job in this fascinating new place would be. Now that she looked at her past self through her own diary entries, she couldn't hold back a smile, because in a sense, her first job in Gensokyo wasn't that much different than what she was doing now. Before the era of journalism as we know it today, information was mostly delivered verbally, be it by travelling merchants, pilgrims, monks, tavern patrons, barkeeps, or town criers. The tengu society was no different in that regard, although unlike the humans, they hand one major advantage. They had their own writing system long before Japan adopted its kanji system from the Chinese characters. Eventually the tengu also took that system as their own, so that they could better understand the humans and gather valuable intelligence about their settlements, trade routes, army strength and a plethora of other things that helped the tengu survive in this beautiful, but hostile land, and the countless attempts of humans to hunt down and exterminate every youkai. Many books were written in the "tengu language" during that time, although calling it that would be a misconception. The tengu spoke no different words than the humans; they simply had their own, unique way of writing them. But not every tengu was literate back then. Only the nobles and the wealthy could afford to study at the few tengu schools that existed in Yamato at that time. The Shameimaru family didn't belong to either of the two social castes. Even though nowadays, the crow tengu are viewed as the elite of tengu scouts and spies, and the knowledge of written word comes to them as naturally as breathing, things weren't the same one thousand years ago. Whereas today it's an obligation for every tengu, especially the crow tengu, to be able to read and write, back then it was a privilege for a select few. But Aya never viewed her illiteracy as an obstacle in her job that kick-started her career. She was a crier for the tengu village situated high in the treetops of the Youkai Mountain. Every time Lord Tenma had something important to announce to the tengu villagers, Aya would fly from house to house, repeating the message with her energetic young voice until every family heard the announcement.
It wasn't exactly every tengu girl's dream job, but Aya enjoyed it, because she loved flying. The wind blowing through her hair and caressing her skin, the magnificent view she could get whenever she soared up over the mountain's treetops… But that was only one reason of many, why the job of a village crier was right up Aya's alley. She was very outgoing ever since her childhood and that trait remained a defining part of her character to the present day. She made friends everywhere she went, and there were always so many places to go in Gensokyo, so many interesting people and youkai to meet… Unlike he rest of Japan, the humans here were used to the youkai, and they became used to the ever-curious Aya as well.
As years passed, the lively black-haired tengu girl finally learned to read and write, and she started keeping a diary. Even then she never ceased to lose her interest in traveling around Gensokyo and discussing all the latest happenings with all sorts of Gensokyo's denizens. Every moment that she had free time on her hands, she used to fly around in search of interesting stories. She figured that the tengu of the mountain had much to learn about other groups, races and communities in Gensokyo. The other tengu weren't as adventurous, so that put Aya in an enviable position. Even if she had never sat at a school desk in her life, her experience gave her the knowledge and wisdom that no amount of books and studying would. Despite all that, Aya never bothered to think about how she could turn her rare knowledge and her genuine passion into something beneficial for her fellow tengu. So, she continued working as a crier and over the course of her life, tried several other jobs, which she wouldn't even consider worthy of mentioning.
Fast-forward several centuries to the time when the Great Hakurei Border was already forming an invisible protective circle around Gensokyo, and Aya would stumble upon something that would revolutionize the way stories could be told.
The Hakurei Shrine used to be one of her favorite places to stop and chat with the resident family of priests and shrine maidens. It was already known to be one of the few places in Gensokyo where the boundary was the weakest, so the Hakurei family would often find unusual "gifts" from the outside world lying around their shrine yard.
Aya would never forget that fateful day, when the shrine maiden showed her that strange little black-silver box that she found while sweeping. It had one eye, a button and a cog-like wheel on top that would adjust the "pupil" of its glassy eye. Truly, Aya had never seen anything so strange in her entire life, and like the shrine maiden, she had no idea what it could be used for. However, she had a friend who could give her some insight about the strange object.
And that's how Aya learned about photography and the device capable of painting pictures with the power of light – the camera.
She was fascinated. She was willing to spend all her savings just so she could get her hands on a working camera that would make full-color pictures and enable her to keep the tengu village in touch with all the recent events in Gensokyo, even without words. Aya's friend spent many hours in her workshop just trying to understand the camera's purpose, and she would spend even more hours modifying it to Aya's specifications. But her hard work and Aya's investment have paid off to both of them. The day when Nitori Kawashiro handed her the finished product, was certainly one of the happiest and most exciting days in Aya's life.
It wasn't long before her photographs started appearing and circulating among the other tengu. She became known as "the girl who could capture time". The tengu village already had several newspaper publishers, but none of them could do what Aya's magic box could.
Aya made a life-changing decision to start publishing her own newspaper before the kappa would make the photography technology available to the rest of Gensokyo. She named it Bunbunmaru, and it was the first newspaper with real photographs complementing the articles. She was still small-time among the rival journalists, and her newspaper didn't come out regularly, but she became recognized, mainly because she was the first to start selling her newspaper outside the tengu village.
That's how Aya ended up where she was today, doing something she was dedicated to, and what she was determined to keep doing for as long as she'd have the energy to fly, write and gossip. And she seemed to have an infinite source of energy for those things.
"This really brought back some nice memories." Aya smiled as she closed her very first diary shut. "I should clean up the archive room more often."
She put it carefully back into the small wooden box that protected it from harmful elements and kept it preserved for all those centuries.
"Okay, that's enough reminiscing for the day."
She walked up to the door of the windowless room, flicked the light switch off and left the archive rest in the darkness. After spending a couple of hours cleaning the place up, her eyes longed to see some daylight. She walked up to the window of her study and opened it wide to let even more light in, as well as a wave of fresh mountain air. The cool breeze softly tickled her face as she took a nice deep breath in. She was greeted by a spectacle of bright, fiery colors that the trees always wore in this season. Even her own aralia was dressed in the same beautiful colors as the rest of the trees in the forest.
Aralia was a long time considered as the sacred tree of the tengu, appearing in their legends, songs, as a symbol on their soldiers' shields, as well as serving as a support for their wonderful architecture that could be defined as "being one with the nature".
A gentle gust of wind swept by Aya's house, sending few of her home tree's leaves into her study through the window, like letters announcing that winter was just around the corner. Aya knelt down slowly and picked up the golden leaves from the floor, briefly studying one before taking them to the window and allowing the wind to pick them up again.
"It's been a while since my last big scoop." she muttered to herself thoughtfully. "Either I'm stuck in a rut, or there's simply nothing interesting going on in Gensokyo lately."
Such was Aya's ruling, but the autumn wind soon proved her wrong. By an odd stroke of luck, or misfortune, depending on the viewpoint, the ever-changing wind picked up a newspaper from one of Aya's neighbors' terraces and sent it flying right into the unsuspecting Aya's face.
"Ayayaya~! Something latched onto my face!"
When she peeled the paper off her face and took a look at it, she immediately noticed the familiar font that the newspaper's name was printed in.
It read: "Kakashi Spirit News".
Just reading them name made Aya snort out of contempt. The newspaper's publisher and reporter was one of Aya's rivals, Hatate Himekaidou. A crow tengu like her, but Hatate's articles and even her information-gathering methods were as different from Aya's as day and night. While Aya was always out in the field, in her search for the next scoop, Hatate relied solely on her ability of capturing and analyzing the so-called "spirit photography", earning her a nickname "armchair reporter" among her rival journalists. Her articles dealt exclusively with events from the past, and she rarely stepped out of her office to do interviews. Even after she gathered the courage to embrace the more investigative form of journalism to keep up with the competition, Aya never really considered Kakashi Spirit News as a serious competitor to Bunbunmaru.
Even when Aya's articles were far from what one would expect from a professional, full of bias and sensationalistic half-truths, according to some residents of Gensokyo, she still thought of her own newspaper as superior to the "news of the yesterday" that was the Kakashi Spirit News.
Aya let out a chuckle as she glanced at the front page, but her grin faded a little when she noticed its date of print, which was quite recent. Aya hadn't published a new issue for months, since she had nothing interesting to write about. That's why she felt a little envious after seeing that Hatate still had something to put in the paper, even when nothing noteworthy was taking place in the land of illusion.
As expected, the front page headline "A new shrine appears in Gensokyo" was referring to an event from the past, as all of Hatate's articles. After all, the Moriya Shrine had already celebrated several anniversaries of being transported to Gensokyo, and despite its resident goddess getting off on the wrong foot with the rest of the mountain, even going so far as to ask Reimu Hakurei to close her shrine down, Aya has been getting along with the shrine's residents more than well. There was hardly anything she didn't know about them, and she doubted that Hatate's article contained any information that she hadn't already known.
She was about to roll the newspaper up and throw it away, but her curiosity took over. She at least wanted to skim through the article to have an idea what Hatate's opinion of the Moriya Shrine residents was.
As her eyes raced across the columns of text, she quickly, and with no small amount of surprise, learned that the article was not referring to the spiriting away of the Moriya Shrine into Gensokyo at all.
"With the construction work completed, the smallest shrine in Gensokyo is ready to welcome visitors and their offerings, if they get get lucky enough to find it in the dense woods at the foot of the Youkai Mountain. Few attended its opening ceremony, however, and with no official priest or even a shrine maiden to maintain it, the future of Kagiyama Shrine is uncertain at best..."
"Wait a minute. Kagiyama Shrine? It can't be…" Aya blinked at the front page, as if what she just read was merely an optical illusion. "I've never even heard of planning for its construction, and here she claims that it's finished? Right under my nose, no less."
For Aya it was unthinkable to even imagine Hatate besting her in obtaining first-hand information of any event and writing an article about it before Aya even heard of the said event. Aya's surprise quickly turned into suspicion. The whole thing stank, and the blurry photograph of a shrine in the middle of a forest wasn't making it any more believable.
"It's not like her to write articles about recent events." the journalist of Bunbunmaru bit her lower lip. Though as she thought about the few encounters with her, she couldn't help, but to realize that Hatate actually does have a reason to change her ways.
After all, it was none other than Aya Shameimaru, whom she viewed as a rival. A rival, who she grudgingly had to admit to be more successful than Kakashi Spirit News. The only way to keep up with Bunbunmaru, was to observe and adapt its reporter's methods. This resulted in their not too friendly confrontation, which escalated into a danmaku battle to prove once and for all which one of them is the better reporter.
And even if Aya won that duel, she inspired Hatate to try even harder and become an even better journalist.
"Maybe it's my own fault that she's turning into a serious competitor." Aya mumbled to herself, folding the newspaper in half and putting it on her desk. She felt almost flattered that she inspired Hatate to do her best, but for her less experienced rival to get a hold of such exclusive information, when nary a rumor of it has reached Aya's ears, was starting to sting her ego.
"That's it." Aya made a decision. "I need to see it with my own eyes."
She opened a drawer of her desk and took three of her most commonly used items: a notepad, her camera, and her leaf fan. Not that she had planned to make an article about the same shrine; it was simply her firm habit. She never left home without the tools of her trade no matter where she went. She tied her stylish autumn-themed scarf around her neck and put her favorite pair of tall geta shoes on her feet. She was ready to head out.
Even though the article she just read didn't specify the new shrine's exact location, Aya was confident that she'd be able to find it after a bit of exploring around the foot of her home mountain.
"And off I go~." she announced her departure to her home and kicked off into the air.
She didn't hurry. On the contrary, she flew leisurely, taking in the beauty of the scenery below her. A few of her fellow villagers, waved at her from the central square of the village, if one could call it as such. Aya smiled and waved back, still deciding which side of the mountain she should explore first.
"Aya-chan, good morning~!" a child's voice belonging to her neighbor's daughter greeted her as a dark-haired girl with two short pigtails peered out of the window. She a young, energetic child, not even 50 years old. Despite the age difference, she loved to play with Aya and pose in front of her camera, once acting as an intrepid adventurer, other times as a famous musician and having make-believe interviews. Even now, her question for Aya was: "Are we going to play today~?"
"Good morning, Kaede." Aya greeted her back. "Maybe later."
"Okay~. But this time I wanna be the reporter." the little tengu girl clapped excitedly.
"A reporter, huh?" Aya muttered under her breath as she flew onwards. "Am I raising my new competitor here? Or perhaps a successor?" she chuckled at the notion.
She was now passing over the more respectable part of her village, where the beautiful, sprawling treetop palace, supported by a dozen of massive aralia trees stood proudly next to the luxurious residences of the tengu nobility. It was this part of the village that was home to Hatate Himekaidou.
"No wonder she used to be a shut-in." Aya thought to herself as she gazed upon Hatate's impressive house, made of rare wood, sporting several terraces, with ornamented railings and a roof covered with expensive tiles of highest quality. "Must be nice living in such an exquisite house."
She didn't even realize how long she's been admiring the Himekaidou residence, but it must have been quite a few minutes, since even its owner took notice of her presence.
"Are you planning to write an article about me, Aya-san?"
"Ayaya!" the absent-minded reporter jolted out of surprise as she turned around. There before her hovered the brown-haired, brown-eyed crow tengu girl, wearing her light pinkish shirt with purple collar hem, a black tie and a checkered black-purple skirt. A small patch of her bare legs was visible in the gap between the said skirt and the pair of black thigh-high socks, rolled down to just below her knees. Like Aya, she also wore geta, but hers were pale purple with brighter purple straps. Her long pigtails on both sides of her head and tied by a pair of purple ribbons were swaying in the wind. Purple has always been the color of nobility in the tengu society. It was no wonder, that even her tokin, the traditional tengu headwear was of this color, unlike Aya's red.
"Ah, good morning, Hatate. I was just passing over your house."
"Yes, in circles for 3 minutes." Hatate nodded, not holding her sarcastic tone back. "And with a camera in hand."
"I always have my camera at the ready. That's a part of being a good reporter, you know."
"Hmm, I wonder… A good reporter or a peeping Tom?"
"Anyway, it's pretty unusual to see you outside." Aya changed the subject just as quickly and suddenly as the wind changes direction. "At this early hour, no less."
"Well, I WAS inside until I noticed a nosy crow flying past my window repeatedly. And just as you find it unusual to see me up and about so early, it's equally unusual for me to see you so spaced-out."
Aya had to admit that as far as journalist ethics go, she got a little carried away.
"If you must know, I was admiring the exterior of your house before heading out of the village."
Hatate smirked at her excuse. "Is that so? \Well, I might even show you the interior, if you ask nicely, but my today's schedule is already full. I have some field work to do, which is another reason for me to be outside."
"What a coincidence. I'm on my way to do some field work myself." Aya replied. "But I have to say, you've changed a lot, Hatate. As a reporter, I mean. You publish more often, and include current events."
The twin-tailed journalist giggled amusedly. "My, my, does that make you feel uncomfortable, Aya-san? That I'm becoming more successful? That my newspaper is rivaling yours in the number of sold prints?"
"No." Aya shook her head lightly. "I wouldn't want it any other way."
"If there's one thing I've learned from you, Aya-san, it's that in order to be the best in your field, you have to study your competition and come up with ways to be better than them."
"In that case, you should work on your photography skills a bit. You may have the latest camera, but I could still make better photos with a sweet potato."
Even though Hatate's expression didn't change, her clenched left fist gave away her current emotion.
"Trivial details. If my readers can recognize what's in the picture, that's all that matters. Nobody cares how many leaves the tree in the background has."
"You see? That's the problem right there. Your readers can hardly tell what you've photographed. That's how sloppy your photos are." Aya continued to take cheap shots at her rival, but Hatate's tongue proved to be equally sharp.
"In my book, that's still better than not publishing anything at all."
Aya felt the sting of those words, but held her emotions under control.
"I'm still in the business, Hatate. In fact, I'm on my way to get my next big scoop." she lied.
"Oh? And what might that be?" the younger crow tengu tilted her head and smiled teasingly.
"Heh. Do you really think I'd tell you? Why don't you buy tomorrow's Bunbunmaru and see?"
Another amused giggle came from Hatate. "I can hardly wait."
At that point Aya had turned her back on Hatate and taken off. Her words might have sounded confident, but there was something about the way Hatate looked at her, the way she spoke, that made Aya feel that her rival knew exactly what situation she was in. Not only she didn't have anything noteworthy to write about, but by lying to Hatate, she had imposed a challenge on herself to publish a new issue by tomorrow.
"Guh… what was I thinking? I have no sensation to write about, unless I make one up. And I'm not going to stoop that low…"
She glided down along the mountain's steep slope, heading south, as that's where she thought the most likely place to find the new shrine would be. The embarrassment would be too much for her if she couldn't keep her word.
"There's no rule against writing articles about the same events as other newspapers." she muttered to herself as she was nearing the mountain's foot. "Might as well make an interview with Kagiyama-sama… something I did not see in that Kakashi Spirit article."
At the same time as Aya left the village, Hatate briefly watched her fly until she was a barely visible flake on the horizon. Then she turned around and flew the opposite direction. As she passed over the forest on the north-eastern side of the mountain, she was able to hear the distant roar that told her she was heading the right way. In a little while she was able to see the source of that roar. The Waterfall of the Nine Heavens, cascading from the Moriya Plateau and streaming through the mountain, forming a river that led all the way to Misty Lake. It was truly an impressive waterfall, and a popular hiding spot of water fairies. But aside from fairies, this was also one of the white wolf tengu guard posts. And that's why Hatate was headed there. Even her mind wasn't much at ease after her conversation with Aya, but for different reasons.
"Hmph… My photographs… sloppy? How can she say that? I spent a fortune on that new cellphone…"
After a moment, she noticed a familiar figure occupying her usual spot, a cliff next to the waterfall. There was a small wooden table with two chairs, only one of which was occupied. A shogi board was set up on the table, waiting to start a new game.
"Good morning, Momiji-san." Hatate bowed lightly as she landed next to the person.
Momiji Inubashiri, the short girl with short white hair, armed with a sword and shield nodded in response to her arrival. "Did everything go as planned?" she asked.
"I… think so." the crow tengu gave a bashful reply.
"So all you have to do is wait." Momiji said calmly.
"That's the worst part of it all." Hatate pouted as she sat on the other chair. "If she finds out the truth…" she bit her lip and left the sentence unfinished.
"Well, the idea might have been mine, but in the end it was your own deliberate decision. Nobody pushed you into it. Since you carried it through, you must have understood and accepted all possible risks. Besides, didn't you say you WANTED her to find out?"
Hatate sighed as she rested her troubled head on her palm. "I know… But what if the whole thing backfires?"
"You worry too much, Himekaidou-san." the white wolf tengu smiled faintly. "It's all like a game of daishogi. You need to play the right pieces at the right time. I'm quite confident in my planning capability, if I do have to say so myself. This is a win-win situation."
"I hope you're right."
"Now, care to join me for a game or two?" Momiji invited her visitor to play.
"Since I have nothing better to do…"