Chapter 23:

[Fumi] — Unhappy Ending (2/4)

Questionable Days with Yokai

Deep underground, on the side of a mountain, there stood a castle made of ice. It was built by its only inhabitant: its self-proclaimed ice empress, Fumi. All she ruled was her castle, but that was enough for her. All she needed was herself, her memories of Ichijo no Shunzai, and her yokai powers as a yuki onna.

For centuries now, Fumi had spent most of her days alone in her castle. She would wake up from a sweet dream of her bygone days with Ichijo, and then reminisce wistfully for a few hours. Any new detail she remembered about Ichijo, she would etch a sentence or two into one of her castle's icy walls. Then she would create a lifelike sculpture of Ichijo made of ice, and spend the rest of the day with it. She would hold conversations with it, eat meals with it, and gaze at the stars with it. Anything that lovers did together, Fumi did with her icy simulacrum of Ichijo.

She knew the likeness could never measure up to the real person. But it was all she had.

And what did it matter if others found it depraved? It wasn't like anyone was going to try stopping her. She could allow herself at least one iota of happiness.

From time to time, Fumi would visit the town to check on how things were going for all the other yokai. Nothing ever changed much in this hidden world though. It was rare for her intervention to be required; the yokai had learned to take care of themselves over the years and not cause too much trouble.

Things did finally change though about a half-month ago, when Akemi the otter returned after a long drought. More significant than her return though, was the arrival of two humans: Yasuo Mizutani, and Risako Kitamura. They claimed to be a wonderful couple, and for the first time in ages Fumi felt like she had something new to look forward to and be excited about. She was in desperate need of a shakeup, a new way to rekindle her passion for her beloved Ichijo no Shunzai, wherever he might be. Fumi was never going to give up on the possibility that Ichijo was still alive somehow.

If she could live on after dying, then so could Ichijo. In her mind, there was no way he wouldn't keep living in some form after dying. And her greatest hope was that she would one day find him somewhere in this hidden world. She just needed to keep believing, and keep searching. After dinner with her effigy of Ichijo, she would spend a few hours looking for him. Looking, hoping, and praying. And never giving up.

There was nothing in the world — this one, or the real one — that was stronger than love. Fumi not only believed, but she knew, that her love for Ichijo would one day lead her back to him. No matter how many years, centuries, and lifetimes passed, she was never going to give up on her beloved.

She had hoped that the newly-arrived humans would share a similar kind of love for each other. Perhaps Fumi would even find something in their love, that she had been missing in her own...

But in the end, their love was weak.

Or rather, they had never truly been in love with each other at all!

They had made a mockery of love.

And Fumi could not let that stand. She could let a lot of things slide — humans are fallible creatures, she was well aware — but she had to draw the line at complete disregard for true romantic feelings! The very core of humanity!

Where would humanity be if it weren't for love? That's right! It wouldn't exist!

Sadly, things did not work out for Fumi. Not only did the humans utterly fail their test of love, but they had the nerve to deny Fumi her just retribution! The boy even burned off nearly half of Fumi's body in the process... She was able to remake her physical body over the next couple days, but what about her shattered feelings? Her shattered hopes and dreams? Her shattered conviction that Ichijo's descendant would surely hold a love for his companion as strong as the love Ichijo held for Fumi?

But then, Fumi remembered. The boy's tears. Yasuo Mizutani had cried when he saw how he had hurt Fumi. She had been in no state to speak with the boy calmly... But these past couple days, Fumi had spent many an hour reflecting on those tears.

Ichijo is... crying... for me... There's still hope. There's still hope. As long as there's love! There's still hope! Nothing can defeat love!

That was what Fumi had exclaimed from the bottom of her broken lungs, before returning to her castle in a miserable heap. She had called the boy Ichijo in a fit of confusion and despair — which of course was nonsense, she later told herself. That was just her being a heartbroken fool. But thinking back on it now with a clear mind... wasn't he kind of Ichijo in a way? As Ichijo's descendant, the boy had the same blood — and to some degree, probably the same personality, mannerisms, and spirit. They couldn't be exactly the same, obviously... but wouldn't they share the same essence?

At the very least, the boy would be a massive step up from the lifeless ice figures Fumi created...

She thought this as she sat at her ice table, her eyes closed wearily. It had taken a lot out of her, growing a new arm and leg, and repairing the other organs inside her that had been damaged in her brief clash with the boy. It took extraordinary focus to make her icy self become like soft flesh, and her icy kimono to become like smooth silk.

“Yasuo Mizutani... Yasuo Mizutani... Yasuo Mizutani...”

She repeated the name out loud, over and over.

She opened her eyes. There was very little to look at in this massive room, beyond its ice walls, ice floor, and ice ceiling. When Fumi decided she wanted a castle to live in several centuries ago, she had asked Akemi for details on how a present-day one looked. It took many months of great effort, but Fumi succeeded at making her ice fortress a forty-meter structure with five stories, each with its own curved roof — but she was never quite sure how the interior of the edifice should appear. The otter was less helpful on that front, and so most of the castle remained empty inside.

Fumi didn't mind. She didn't want to fill it with useless stuff. So instead she filled it with her love for Ichijo. And one day, when she was finally reunited with Ichijo, she would fill the castle with stuff for him! She couldn't wait to make over him. Anything he wanted, Fumi would give it to him. Ichijo's happiness was her happiness.

She stood up and began skating about the room, losing herself in her thoughts of her inevitable reunion with Ichijo. She was always wearing her wedding kimono, so she was always ready to marry him. It was going to be such a wonderful day! The thought was enough to make Fumi shed a tear. It didn't matter how many times the thought had passed her mind already — she still would shed a little tear and smile. Sometimes the thought passed her mind once a day, sometimes a thousand times a day.

“But isn't it possible,” Fumi said to herself, “in a way, in a manner, in a fashion, that-I-have-alreadyyyy reunited with myyyy... loooove?”

Maybe Fumi had been looking at everything the wrong way. She spun around and began skating backward. Since she had perfect control of herself on the ice, she didn't trip over the long hem of her fine ceremonial kimono.

“Maybe, just maybe... Yasuo Mizutani is more than just a descendant. Of. My. Love. Maybe, just maybe... Yasuo Mizutani. Is. My Love. Oh, wouldn't that be some-thing? Wouldn't that be some-thing?” Fumi leaped and spun in the air, landing on one foot and gliding out the room.

“Yasuo Mizutani is!” Fumi posed to slide sideways, her arms outstretched. “Yasuo Mizutani is!” She spun around to hold the same position facing the other way. “Is! My! Love!”

She stopped in the middle of a hallway and grinned like a girl realizing she was in love for the very first time. She placed her hands on her cheeks and chuckled lightly.

“My dearest, my one and only, my treasure! Was it really you? Your... reincarnation?”

It made sense. She was attracted to him the very first day she met him, wasn't she? At the time she thought she was just playing around with him, but it must have been an honest feeling deep down.

Fumi fell on her knees and shrieked. She slammed her hands against the floor, cracking it severely — but not quite shattering it entirely.

“I'm so sorry, my love... I tried to hurt you... I didn't mean to... I didn't mean to, honest! I didn't know, I didn't know...” Tears poured in great globs from her eyes, freezing as they fell to the floor and clattering noisily against the broken ice.

“Whaaaaaaaaaaa!!!” Fumi bawled. “I didn't know! I didn't know!”

She stood up and smiled softly, her crying ceased in an instant. She hugged herself tight and squirmed in pleasure.

“Ichijo, oh, Ichijo... I need you so much. And-now-you're-here! I was blind. I was blind! But you'll forgive me, won't you? Our love can overcome a silly misunderstanding. Please forgive your dear idiot Fumi, she can be such a simpleminded fool sometimes! But Fumi won't hurt you ever again, because Fumi loves you more than you can ever know, Ichijo, oh, Ichijo.”

She walked downstairs to a lower floor and began skating about there, giggling giddily.

“Oh, how shall I prepare? I must see you again soon, Ichijo, my cute new younger boy version of Ichijo! How shall I present myself to you, and smooth things over with you, and win your heart over once more, my tengoku valentine? Whaaaat shall I say to you? And then, whaaaat shall we do together?”

Fumi's mind raced from one thing to the next. It felt like no matter what they did together, she would be ecstatic. She already was ecstatic.

She stopped skating. She stopped breathing. A series of what if's flooded her mind in rapid succession.

“What if he still hates me? What if he doesn't love me anymore? What if he thinks I'm ugly? What if he leaves me? Leaves me again? Leaves me again when I need him so much!”

Fumi began biting her fingernails furiously. She bit off the ends of each and every one, then started biting them again. Then again. Then again. She bit off the fingernails entirely. She continued biting. She bit into her fingers. Biting harder each time. She sharpened her ice teeth. Bit harder. Bit off the ends of her fingers. Kept biting. Bit down to the bone. She spat out the bloody stumps of her ice fingers. Then kept biting. She only stopped once she realized just how much she was in pain.

She looked down at the half-chewed-off stumps that were her fingers.

It was okay. She could grow them back.

She laughed as loud as she had ever laughed, her howls echoing throughout the castle.

Because. After all. She and Ichijo were meant to be. Weren't they fated lovers? Weren't they destined for each other? No matter how many times they died, wouldn't they inevitably reunite and fall for each other once more?

There was no way Ichijo would hate her. Of course he still loved her. And the first thing he was going to say when they reunited, was oh Fumi, you are so beautiful. And then he would never leave Fumi. Not again.

Fumi created an ice sculpture of Yasuo Mizutani, as close to a perfect likeness as she could possibly manage. This likeness of the boy couldn't move on its own, but Fumi could control it. She knew it wasn't Yasuo Mizutani — wasn't Ichijo no Shunzai — but it was good enough for now.

She lightly stroked the ice sculpture's face, smearing blood all over it. She laughed, having already forgotten about her self-inflicted injuries.

It hurts, it hurts so bad! But not as much as it hurts to not be with you, Ichijo!

Fumi covered her fingers' wounds with ice to stop the bleeding, and proceeded to wrap her arms tight around ice-Yasuo's body. She held him as close as she could, and kissed his forehead, his eyes, his cheeks, his lips.

“Ichijo... Ichijo... Ichijo!”

Fumi tore off her kimono and removed every layer of her clothing. She wrapped her body around ice-Yasuo, and forced him down to the ice-covered floor.

“You're... mine... Ichijo!” Fumi slowly gasped out between kisses. “And I'm... never... going to let you go... ever again!” She embraced the sculpture of Yasuo so tight, he began to fracture.