Note for the uninitiated: This is an answer to a question that was posed on an in-character blog. If you are not familiar with the Touhou universe and characters, this story is likely going to be difficult to understand to its fullest. A good starting point to understand it however would be to read some parts of the wiki entries about Yukari and Ran, the two characters this is about, and about what a Shikigami is in the official works.
The actual answer now follows.
It has been a long time. A very long time indeed. Gensokyou hadn't even been a thought on my mind, let alone been established yet. Even though I was much younger, I had already found a good balance in nature back then. As such, I had built my home out on the far ends. After all, my abilities would allow me to travel any distance effortlessly and instantly. There was no need to stay close to the human settlements, I could pay them a visit any time I desired.
For the most part I led my life in seclusion, in balance with nature. Over time, the fauna and flora around my establishment got accustomed to me, so it wasn't out of the ordinary for animals to come by for a visit out of curiosity. However, this one time was special. This one was different.
This, I remember quite vividly. I was sitting on the porch, taking in the sun. The weather was quite nice outside, though a chilly breeze made things a bit colder than need be. The air was filled with a silence that seems to be quite common during fall. A calm, yet tangible silence. Suddenly I heard a faint rattling coming from the storage room to the side. This was curious, since I always made sure to lock it tight, to ensure that animals wouldn't wander on in to dig through the supplies.
I quickly peered inside with a gap and found a fox ripping open a bag of dried meat. This cunning little rascal had found a different way inside. Indeed, I discovered small paw prints on a shelf leading up to a slightly opened window. I then made a decision. I would capture this fox and use it for some experiments. At the time I was very interested in researching the nature of spiritual energy. Perhaps it would be possible to tame this fox and with its cooperation finally unlock some of the mysteries behind it.
I opened the shed's doors and quickly moved the fox to the kitchen with a gap. It had caught a quick glimpse of me, but the gap tends to incapacitate smaller animals, so I was quite sure that I couldn't have scared it too much quite yet. On my way over I planned out my next steps. Usually food seems to be the way to gain an animal's trust, and this one seemed to be famished. I also heard that foxes were fond of fried tofu, so I decided to cook some of that.
While I was making myself busy cooking, I thought back to the results of my earlier discoveries. It seemed that spiritual energy follows a natural flow to try and achieve an equilibrium. However, it amasses itself in objects, and particularly in living beings. There is some kind of force at work that keeps it in place. There must also be ways to transfer this energy between places. A lot of the process behind this seemed to be buried in the brain. Or in the very least the brain seemed like the main container for spiritual energy in animals. I hoped that I would be able to confirm some of my suspicions.
After a while the fox finally awoke. It almost immediately tried to dash off the shelf and towards the door. I swiftly caught it. It struggled and fidgeted around, trying to break free from my grip. I looked at it sternly and spoke very slowly and precisely. “Fox. I bear you no ill will. I will provide you with food and shelter.” It had stopped moving and seemed almost in a trance. “The only thing I expect in return of you is not to run off. You are to remain here for now. Do not leave this room.” I paused for a brief while and then gently set it back on its feet. It broke free from its trance and immediately hid behind a shelf. Satisfied that it wasn't trying to flee through the door anymore, I went back to work.
I put a full platter of fried tofu on the small table in the middle of the room. The fox had been watching me work from its little hiding place, so I sat down and waited. Animals are very cautious, but the smarter they are, the more curious they seem to be as well. Perhaps it is the lust for knowledge that compels them. It didn't take long, then, for the fox to poke its head out and slowly, one step after the other, wander closer, eyeing me suspiciously all the while. I pretended to be asleep. And sure enough that made it confident enough to quickly snatch a piece and dash back with it.
The procedure repeated a few times, hungrily gulping the tofu down every time, though never letting its guard down either. It managed to clear off the entire plate. However, such a hunger could only be followed by a great drowsiness as well. Soon enough it had fallen asleep in its little hiding hole. Ensuring myself that it was properly asleep, I got up and cleaned the kitchen.
On my way out I made sure to close the sliding door shut. The fox was still asleep and I hoped it would remain there. I was quite sure that it had not actually understood my words earlier. After all, whenever an animal happened to understand a human it turned out to be a youkai later, and I was quite certain that this fox was not one. Just to make sure I put up a barrier around the house to prevent it from leaving.
The sun had already set, so it was getting quite dark around the house. I lit a candle and headed over to the library, where I noted today's finding in my diary. Over all my time, it has proven very resourceful to keep a record of the major events in the day. Otherwise a lot of useful little thoughts and realisations get lost to the ether.
As my eyes grew weary, I decided to settle for the day. I closed up the library and set off for the bedroom. The moon light shone brightly through the paper windows. It prickled on my skin and dust glimmered brightly around me. The moon always did have a strange pull on youkai. I never quite understood why. Another mystery to figure out some day.
My mind filled with thought I donned my night gown and laid down to sleep. At the time I was used to a human sleeping cycle, in order to more easily accustom myself to their habits. I was easily powerful enough to withstand the energy low throughout the day. In fact, I held too much power for my body to handle. This, coupled with my sleep-walking, would cause gaps to appear randomly around me to let off the excess. Or at least that's what I figured was going on. Being asleep I couldn't exactly confirm it, but every morning the room always felt unusually stuffed with energy.
That night however, I did get to witness it first hand. I was awoken by something unusual in the room. Immediately as I gained consciousness I noticed the heavy air all around me and felt the presence of a variety of fissures that I couldn't control. I opened my eyes and saw the fox standing in the doorway. And then I noticed something peculiar. The massive amounts of energy sloshing about the room started flowing into the fox's body. Not only that, they started to change something about its aura.
Suddenly my hair stood on end and I felt that something very bad was about to happen. I was certain that the fox was the cause of it. Oh if only it had remained in the kitchen as I had ordered it to! Anger and fear washed over me and the fissures danced menacingly as my emotions fluttered. I shouted at the fox which had just remained frozen where it was. Finally it seemed to have come back to its senses and bolted out of the room.
And with it, the ill omen was gone as well. The atmosphere discharged itself and everything returned to a calm and quiet state. The fissures were still there, but they even seemed peaceful in a way – tranquil under the soft, blue light flowing into the room through the windows. I calmed myself with a sigh and let myself down onto my bed. I felt drained and weak. I would have to analyse what happened when I got up again, right then I was too tired to think straight. I returned to sleep.
I woke up very slowly and only got up when it was already nearing noon. I felt awfully tired and sore. The sun glistened into the room and it told me that this was going to be a quiet day. I got dressed and headed out to the library first thing. I noted my experience from the previous night in as much detail as I could. While I didn't intend for any of this to happen, and was slightly worried that something might have gone awfully wrong there, I was still intrigued. Something had changed in the fox; the abundant energy must have been the cause for that.
Having finished my writing I went on to look for the fox. Thanks to the barrier around the house it could not have escaped, so I was quite certain that it would still have to be around somewhere. After a good while, I finally found it lying in a bush in front of the storeroom. It was breathing heavily, several wounds were visible, and it seemed to be unconscious. I prepared a small bed for it in a side room and treated the wounds. The strange impression I had gotten that night was still there. Something felt different about the fox. I couldn't quite put my finger on what though.
Over the coming weeks I pondered about what had happened. I decided to experiment and put several different animals into my bedroom, to see if I could replicate the event, but to no avail. The fox didn't regain consciousness. The wounds were healing fine, yet its condition seemed to worsen by the day. It puzzled me a great deal. I knew that I was missing something crucial, but I couldn't figure out what.
One day –I'm not quite sure which– I was busy reading over old manuscripts in the library when I suddenly saw a white flash somewhere outside, followed by a loud racket. I ran out and towards where I thought the sound had come from. I found myself standing in front of the side room that I had placed the fox in.
The walls were damaged, wood splinters and broken plates were strewn all over the floor. In one corner of the room stood a small girl. Or at least it looked like a girl for the most part. Aside from a human body she also had two ears and a fox tail. Much more revealing than that though was the aura she sent out. This was very obviously and clearly a youkai. One that had just been born mere seconds ago and was overflowing with energy.
Immediately it flung itself at me, but I simply caught it with my hand. It struggled under my grip and stared at me furiously. With one motion I threw it into the opposite wall, but it immediately tried to launch itself at me again. This same procedure repeated itself a few times, until it finally crumpled together on the ground, shaking.
Encounters with new youkai like that are always difficult; they are reckless – too confident in their own power and all too eager to prove it. Worst of all, they lack the sense to know when they are clearly outranked. I didn't have any patience for this sort of thing.
I grabbed a set of light clothes, laid them on the ground in front of it, and stepped out. I desperately needed time to mull things over and letting it have some time to its own to come to its senses seemed like a wise decision. I withdrew myself to my study. After a while, I finally figured it out. The reason why the experiments hadn't worked, the reason why this fox did not get better despite the medical treatment, and the reason why it had finally turned into a Youkai. It all hinged on one crucial fact that I had missed all along: that fox… had already been on the verge of death when it came here.
At once I understood the very nature of youkai and how they came to be. My mind was racing with ideas and theories. I quickly sat down to make record of it all. Not before long I had lost track of time.
I didn't see the fox-youkai again for two days. Sooner or later however it would have to confront me again, of that much I was sure. I used the time to clean up and repair the old side room that had been demolished and to think about how to proceed. By now things had diverged from my initial plans so far that I didn't really know what to do next. I now had another youkai in my house; one that couldn't speak, let alone understand how to behave properly.
Evening was already closing in on the second day when I heard another loud crash. Tired and worn out from a long day of research, I slowly scuffled over. This time it came from the kitchen. The door was drawn wide open and various clanging sounds could be overheard. What I saw made me snicker. It looked too silly. In a pile of kitchenware sat a little girl, rubbing her head, wincing in pain. She wore a long, white nightgown that had been muddied with dirt and shrubbery. But not only was it far too large for her, she also wore it backwards. Two fox ears pierced out of her golden hair and immediately twitched in my direction as I entered. As soon as she saw me she hissed at me and hid behind the shelf.
The two orange eyes followed my every move as I begun preparing dinner. It all played out almost precisely the same way as the very first time we had met. I put the finished platter down, and slowly but surely she dared to come closer and gobble it up. She looked at me with eyes full of curiosity and bewilderment, but I sensed something else too; something very subtle about her expression that I couldn't quite trace. In a flash, the whole plate was empty. Seeming satisfied with the meal she burped and hiccuped. Slowly she became drowsy and curled up in a ball in the corner beside the shelf. Her piercing stare never left my face until she finally closed her eyes and dozed off.
The following days were rather difficult for me. I had to get used to someone following practically my every move and I constantly had to clean up various messes that she created. Gradually though we got accustomed to each other and things started to work out better. While she behaved like a human child for the most part, she still very distinctly was not one. Every now and then she would try to attack me or destroy parts of the house, trying out her powers. Overall however, she was altogether too amiable towards me for a youkai. It puzzled me a great deal; there must have been something that I did not quite understand about our nature yet.
Still, all in all it worked well for a time. I even came to appreciate the companionship and things felt much more lively. It was only after some weeks that I noticed something was off. She had become gradually less energetic and slept for longer and longer. Her aura was dwindling and her spiritual energy with it. I had to find a way to stop this, or else I feared that she would simply vanish altogether. Oh if only I had been able to figure out the mystery behind energy transmission!
Indeed, her condition worsened rapidly and soon she didn't wake up for more than a few minutes every day. Having exhausted all the material I had available in the library I saw myself forced to visit the human villages and search through their libraries in hopes of finding a clue somewhere. It was risky to leave her on her own already, but not as great a risk as wasting more time trying to stumble upon a solution. Being a youkai made approaching humans difficult. Even if you did disguise yourself sufficiently, they could tell that something was wrong if they were alert enough. This could lead to all sorts of complications.
Fortunately the harsh weather around the time forced most people to remain indoors, which made it easier for me to avoid contact. I had to visit three different libraries around the country until I finally found a lead: I discovered a manuscript that seemed to describe a form of magical contract between a master and a creature. Apparently the creature had experienced a large increase in power after the ritual, yet remained completely obedient. However, the master showed signs of weakness and fatigue shortly afterwards as well as increasing complications over the next few days. The manuscript ended there, unsigned.
The spell used to establish the contract I could not understand; it was written in a language foreign to me. However, I could simply copy it down and the rest of the necessary preparations listed seemed well feasible, so I was fairly certain that I could reproduce it. I didn't like the idea of performing rituals that I did not comprehend at all; there were simply too many things that could go wrong. Not to mention that if this manuscript was to be believed it ended in the author's death. Still, the clock was ticking.
I returned home to make sure she was still alive. And indeed she was still there, almost as if she hadn't moved at all. She appeared very pale and was fast asleep. Still, the food I had left her was all gone and she hadn't fallen unconscious yet, so I decided that I would still have some more time left. I focused on unlocking the contract's secrets.
Unfortunately I was unable to find any books that gave a detailed description of whatever spell system it appeared to be written in. I only found small fragments of information scattered about. However, even these small bits allowed me to understand enough to see where the original author had gone wrong. The contract appeared to describe a form of imaginary tunnel. I figured the idea was to use it to channel energy through, which would explain the observed effects. Still, I could not make out anything that would limit this tunnel's capacity, meaning that the host could simply be drained. Through careful examination I found a way to modify the contract in such a way that it should be possible to immediately destroy the tunnel if something should go wrong.
I decided that it was time for an experiment. I captured one of the crows from the local area and set up the ritual. Immediately as it was signed off I noticed a heavy drain on my mental energy. Furthermore, the crow had stopped fluttering about in its cage and now remained perfectly still. While I desperately wanted to observe this further, the amount of energy I was losing by the second was simply too much. I terminated the tunnel using a specific sealing mark that I had incorporated into the contract. To my relief, it all worked out just as I had expected.
Still, with these effects it was all not a feasible method. I had yet to verify whether the energy was actually coming across, and even if it was there had to be a way to limit it. I returned to my studies. After around fifty further experiments and various changes I finally managed to limit the amount of energy that was tunnelled. However, in my frenzy I had forgotten about her entirely. When I found her, her skin was white as chalk and she was no longer breathing.
Her body laid still in my hands. Cold and lifeless. The situation was all too reminiscent and I was overcome with an instinctive fear. The world went completely silent and I acted almost without thought. I carried the empty body over to the study and prepared it for the contract. In my dazed state I chose a version of it that I hadn't had time to test yet and for all I knew it could have killed me instantly. But I paid it no mind and went ahead. The seal was placed. Energy started flowing into the markings, activating the spells which directed it like a complex and incomprehensible machine. The letters lit up faintly one by one, slowly reaching towards the body. Suddenly there was a flash and things turned all white.
The contract had disappeared, as had the room and everything around it. In its place was whiteness. White, as far as I could see. I turned around and in front of me lay the body. I reached out for it, but it appeared without motion. The skin was ice cold, like that of a puppet. My mind begun to race. Had I messed up the contract? Had she already been too far gone? There didn't seem to be any way to go back and I was completely disoriented. Perhaps I had pulled myself out of existence by trying to establish a tunnel to her?
I tried shaking it, but to no avail. The body remained just as lifeless as before. Finally I let myself fall to the ground and cradled her into my arms. She was.. surprisingly heavy. My arms started to feel heavy as well, and the sensation quickly spread to my whole body. Soon I couldn't withstand it anymore and was pressed against the ground. It became difficult to breathe. And then I felt myself falling.
With immense force I hit the ground and immediately gasped up for air. I opened my eyes and found myself back in the study. My vision was blurry and I breathed heavily for a while. My muscles felt sore. Once I had regained some of my strength, I looked up. In front of me lay her body. It was moving again, breathing heavily. The contract had worked after all!
I inspected the contract again at a later date. It had a modification that I hadn't been sure about at the time. In theory it would allow the recipient to modulate how much energy they were pulling from the host. This is a much more effective method than a fixed rate as it would allow requesting energy as needed. Fortunately enough my hunch ended up being correct. I concluded that the whole experience after the contract was in fact due to my lateness. Most likely her spirit had already been well on its way over the Sanzu river.
Still, it all worked out in the end. Now bubbling with energy, Ran required even more of my attention. Over time I taught her to speak, read and write, and to one by one take over the various chores around the house. She has proven herself useful, even if she could do well to heed my orders more closely, instead of disregarding them at her whim. Perhaps I should refine the contract a bit…
Written by shinmera