On the Border of Life
Despite being relatively comfortable in the Netherworld, Yuyuko still finds herself discontent, unsure about her past. Alongside her phantom gardener, she searches for answers.
TW FOR SUICIDE/DEPRESSION
Everything must come to an end eventually.
The girl stood mournfully, staring over the village she spent her entire life in. Though over the years she had become known for leaving a harboring trail of death, Yuyuko still loved her home more than anything. Her mind began to drift, wondering if they would ever miss her. Perhaps they would—
She walked along the empty road that led from the village to the Saigyouji clan estate, an impressively massive building constructed many generations ago by Yuyuko's great-grandfather, or so she was told. The cherry blossom trees around the estate were especially wonderful, and as she neared them she stopped to admire their beauty. Yuyuko took a deep breath, steeling herself. There could be no turning back now.
Though Yuyuko's early years were full of leisure and joy, upon growing into an adult death seemed to follow her wherever she went. The first time was merely a freak accident; a case where someone in the village was attacked by a youkai and then died within minutes. Yuyuko could do nothing but stare at him in shock, watching as blood pooled around the corpse. Days later the girl noticed she could now interact with spirits of the dead, which was discovered when the man killed in front of her showed up at her window every night. He never said a word to her, and only whispered strange phrases—she could not understand him.
After that, odd occurrences started happening more frequently. More people began to die near the girl, and it was soon clear that they were somehow attracted to her. The spirits of the dead began appearing in increasing numbers, all drawn to her. At first she tried to avoid them, but their whispers grew so insistent, she had no choice but to accept it.
Yuyuko shakily unlocked the main gate to the Saigyouji estate, and slowly passed through the courtyard toward the garden. It was far too late at night for anyone to be awake, the silence was comforting.
She wandered among the cherry blossom trees, admiring them as best as she could without letting the thought of what she was about to do ruin the experience. The whispering from the nearby ghostly spirits grew louder, as if urging her on.
If her misfortune ended at merely being a magnet for death, Yuyuko would be able to continue on, perhaps even to settle down happily someday. This hope was shattered, however, when the girl found herself with the ability to control death itself. She could now manipulate humans into anything she wanted, including an act of suicide. No longer did her actions have any limits. It horrified her.
Yuyuko reached her destination, a quiet pond at the center of the garden. There, surrounded by a small wooden bridge and its shimmering waters, she sat down and waited. The soft breeze caressed her body; a touch that brought Yuyuko to the verge of tears. She reached into her pocket, brandishing an intricately carved knife. Her fingertips touched the cold metal, and her trembling fingers gently closed over the hilt.
For several minutes Yuyuko held the knife out before her. It gleamed in the moonlight, reflecting a strange aura from the surrounding air. She felt tears falling down her pale face, dripping into the water around her. It was almost time. She had to do it.
Yuyuko slowly held the knife to her stomach, pressing the sharpened edge against her flesh. Her head was screaming at her to stop, pleading with her to preserve her life, but her body did not listen. Yuyuko pressed harder. She shivered as a thin line of blood oozed from her navel, trickling down her abdomen. She grinded her teeth, feeling the metal rip her apart.
Yuyuko watched as the water around her turned red, continuing to gut herself as if she were incapable of stopping. With an anguished scream, the young girl let go of the knife and slumped forward. She lay on her back, floating in the Saigyouji estate garden. The stars were bright in the sky, but Yuyuko did not see them. She just stared, still, at nothing.
"Lady Yuyuko, are you alright?"
Yuyuko blinked. Youmu had been standing over her for a while, trying to get her mistress's attention. Youmu had an intense expression of worry on her face, and was holding a steaming cup.
"Oh, yes... I'm sorry..."
Yuyuko looked at the cup. "I'll have some tea."
Youmu handed the steaming drink over, smiling. "It's peach tea, Lady Yuyuko."
Yuyuko took the teacup, sipping from it carefully. It was quite tasty. She hummed, enjoying the flavor. "Thank you..."
She rested the cup upon the ground, staring out over the garden. Strangely, Youmu continued to linger by Yuyuko's side, rather than running off to take care of chores.
"Forgive me for asking but..." Youmu started, trailing off with uncertainty.
The servant paused. "What were you thinking about?"
Youmu cocked her head. "But you looked so serious when I came over."
Yuyuko grinned, staring up at the sky. "To be quite honest, Youmu...I already forgot."
Yuyuko giggled, a sad expression on her face. "That is quite typical of me, though." Youmu sighed, but did not press her further.
The two sat in silence for a long time, watching the pond water ripple in the wind. Finally, Youmu cleared her throat. "Lady Yuyuko, I'm very worried about you."
Despite herself, Yuyuko put on a shocked expression. "Worried about what?"
"Your health," Youmu replied softly. "You look terrible..."
"Oh Youmu, you worry too much! I'm just tired from working so hard!."
Youmu shook her head. "I only have your best interests in mind, Lady Yuyuko."
"Youmu, I have no worries about my own health..."
Her voice trailed off, and she stared out across the garden. She felt it again, the overwhelming feeling of deja vu. It was as if she had already been here, many times before. She just couldn't remember where or when.
Youmu Konpaku had lived at Hakugyokurou for as long as she could remember. Though she was merely a gardener, Yuyuko saw too much potential in the girl to let her spend eternity sweeping floors and planting flowers. Youmu became more of a personal servant to Yuyuko, taking care of the woman when she refused to function normally.
Youmu stood looking over the massive garden, staring at a distant figure standing in the pond. She sighed, shaking her head sadly. Her mistress always wandered silently to that spot, nearly every single day. It was starting to bother Youmu more than she cared to admit.
A gentle breeze stirred the air, rustling through the cherry blossoms. It brought with it the scent of fresh, vibrant life. Youmu turned around, searching the trees. The garden was full of the bright petals, their light and color permeating the cold air. It seemed a shame that this place was only inhabited by the dead.
The breeze grew stronger, blowing gently through the cherry blossom trees. As if she were carried by the wind, Youmu found herself approaching her mistress.
Yuyuko's eyes were glazed over, looking past the surface of reality. She smiled weakly as Youmu approached. "How lovely the cherry blossoms look today."
"Yes..." Youmu said softly, unsure of how to approach the situation.
The branches of the trees ruffled against one another, flapping like wings. Youmu frowned.
Yuyuko gazed at the sky with a gentle expression. "I wonder...what it's like to be alive."
She looked out across the world with a dreamy smile. Yuyuko's voice was soft, almost a whisper. "It sounds so wonderful..."
Youmu stood before her mistress. "What are you talking about?"
Her voice was sharp, stern. Yuyuko blinked as her eyes focused on Youmu.
"Oh, no. I'm sorry. Forgive me. I don't know what got into me."
Youmu shook her head, but did not reply. She was not sure if her mistress was insane or simply delirious. Either way, it was her duty to make sure she stayed well and sound.
"Where would you like to go today, Lady Yuyuko?"
Yuyuko stared at Youmu sadly, before returning to her usual cheerful grin. "Actually, I would love to visit the Mansion today, Youmu."
After a brief exchange with the Scarlet Devil Mansion's gatekeeper, Meiling, the two women found themselves navigating a maze of twisting halls and western architecture.
Youmu followed behind her mistress, trying to keep up with Yuyuko's intense speed. She was able to catch glimpses of the mansion as they passed through various rooms; some more pleasant than others. The main hall was a spacious, elegant affair; decorated with deep crimson draperies that danced in the breeze coming from outside. Youmu wondered if she could ever live somewhere as grand as this.
Finally, Yuyuko halted in front of a towering doorway. She gestured for Youmu to enter first, and as she did, her eyes widened in awe. The room had vaulted ceilings, ornately decorated with intricate woodwork. Rows upon rows of books lined the walls, meticulously arranged. Youmu gazed around in amazement, taking in the scale of the library before her.
Before Youmu could inquire as to why they were there, a purple-haired woman materialized before them, her gaze accusatory. "Saigyouji Yuyuko...and Konpaku Youmu," she said icily.
"Good day to you as well, Patchouli." Yuyuko smiled as the other woman glowered at her. She took Youmu's hand gently. "Apologies for not telling you in advance, but I need some books from you."
Youmu blinked in surprise, staring at her mistress with a puzzled expression. "Why?"
Yuyuko squeezed Youmu's hand, staring down at her wordlessly. Youmu didn't press the subject further. She just sighed, nodding as if this had all been preordained.
Patchouli glared at the two women for several moments before departing, leaving them to their business. Yuyuko wasted no time, disappearing into the shelves with the ease of a wraith.
After returning from their outing, Yuyuko was seemingly nowhere to be found. Youmu reassured herself that Hakugyokurou was vast, surely she would turn up. So the girl waited for her mistress, busying herself with chores and preparing dinner.
The time passed quickly. Eventually, Youmu heard a knock on the door, causing her to jump in surprise. She rushed out of the kitchen, to see Yuyuko slowly approaching. The pink haired woman seemed worse for wear, and had an unusual smile on her face.
"Where have you been all day?" Youmu asked her, slightly nervous.
Yuyuko sighed, avoiding Youmu's gaze. "I was busy today, that is all."
"No, I mean really. What were you doing? What did those books say?"
Youmu glanced down at her feet, suddenly feeling guilty. It wasn't like her to question Yuyuko's actions. But something about this whole affair seemed wrong to her. She felt bad for not trusting her mistress, but at the same time she couldn't help it.
"They were no help to me." Yuyuko mumbled, as she grabbed Youmu's hands gently. Getting a better look at Yuyuko's face, Youmu noticed tears forming in the woman's eyes.
"Oh, Lady Yuyuko!" Youmu gasped, terribly worried for her mistress.
Yuyuko smiled at her, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "For years now, you've worked so hard...so hard to help me."
"But I haven't done anything but be your maid, Yuyuko," Youmu whimpered.
"You're my friend."
"You have always been so kind to me..."
"Why are you saying these things!" Youmu shouted, letting her frustration show.
Yuyuko's eyes widened, shocked at Youmu's sudden change in tone. "I..."
"You're just so...sad all the time!"
Yuyuko did her best to smile reassuringly, "It's true that I have not been well lately, but I promise I'm fine, Youmu."
"No, you aren't! And what if I wasn't around? What would happen then?"
Yuyuko's smile wavered slightly. She didn't respond.
"I can't stand it any more! I've got to do something." Youmu cried, tearing up. "You're not the same person anymore! I...want my Yuyuko back."
Yuyuko gasped, staring at the girl with wide eyes. Youmu had never spoken so frankly about this before.
"I don't want to lose you!" Youmu continued, her voice rising. "I need you."
Yuyuko looked like she was going to speak, but Youmu cut her off. "Please, Lady Yuyuko..."
The words barely left Youmu's mouth when Yuyuko pulled her into a tight embrace, tears falling from her own face. "Oh, my Youmu..."
Yuyuko held Youmu tightly for a long while, before releasing her. "Do you really mean that?"
Youmu nodded fervently. "I...I made dinner...We should eat before it gets cold."