Again I must apologize for the slowness of updates. I'll try to accelerate the pace into a somewhat acceptable one in the future.
And on an semi-related note, I have spent almost half a week working out an unnecessarily detailed syncretism between Norse Mythology and Zen Buddhism.
The worst thing about it all is that is actually works without raping either too much.
So yeah, the things one is driven to by the necessities of plot are many and varied.
[ ] Then you shall leave. There's nothing more for you here.
Time is ever precious, this you well know, and with every grain passing through the hourglass you must cause your friends undue worry. Dishonorable then to indulge your own curiosity without pressing reason.
"Then I shall leave, old master, if the choice is mine. Here lies not my goal, buried not amidst ghostly garden, nor hidden in spirit-sky. Unseemly would it be to linger." You state, short and straight to the point. The old master simply nods in reply and sets off towards the gate of the netherworld, the smoky gray spirit-cloud of his silently hovering behind him. At least you now know what that strange cloud actually is.
You take a final look at the battling sorceresses, their duel showing no signs of losing its intensity. Perhaps this fact is a good thing, at least for you, you think as you turn away and set out down the paved ghost-path.
You follow the old one as he walks through the great red gate marking the end of this strange road. But even more strange than this path is the fact that it seems as if the garden of ghosts simply ends here. Not like a mountain, this place, no gradual slope downwards, but a sharp, vertical edge bounding the realm of the dead. Only one way leads out it seems, an enormous staircase so long that you cannot see the other end. Sorcery at work, of course, for how could this massive stonework exist without anything supporting it, this colossus of shaped stone, greater even than the cyclopean feats of architecture that can be found in far-off Miklagård?
"Strange, so I must say, what my eyes behold. Supernatural stairway, stone suspended above void like the one where Ymir was shaped."
"Strange is an appropriate word," The old master concurs, a small smile forming on his lips, "Ironically Hakugyokuro is only half within Gensokyo, the other half being part of Enma's realm. It is possible to travel to both of these from Hakugyokuro, but we shall take the path to the realm of the living. However, though you may not be able to see it, there is a barrier between the realms of matter and spirit, preventing the dead from leaving Hakugyokuro without the permission of princess Yuyuko or the Yama. This stairway itself is entirely of the material world though, so the living can safely travel upon it."
"And you, old master? Holds it danger for you then, when you speak thus?" You reply, for if the old one is not a mere mortal, might he not be at risk?
Youki turns his head towards you and gives you a half-amused look before answering.
"I thank you for your concern, young one, but it does not. Even though I am part spirit, it should not be an obstacle for me." The old master calmly replies, "And if it should prove to be one, I know how to deal with the guardians of Enma's realm."
Interesting. As the two of you begin to descend the staircase you decide to ask the old master some more questions. Ever is knowledge precious, more than treasures of gold or the silks of the southern lands, and the telling of tales also passes the time of what could be a long walk. And perhaps not only idle stories will be exchanged as there is a comment of the old master's that catches your attention, for do not the dead rest in Hel's hall? Strange then that the old one would speak of another realm and another ruled of the dead.
"What then is the realm of Enma, old master, and who is the one who it rules, when he must station sentinels along his borders?" You ask the old master, for his wisdom surely can yield up the answers you seek. Well versed does he seem to be in the workings of the gods and spirits, and this knowledge would surely be of use to you.
"Enma's realm, young one, is the place where the souls of the dead recieve their judgement. And Enma Dai-O is the king of the Yama, the judges of the dead." Youki answers. Strange are his words, and deeper suspicions do they create, for is not the only judge of slain souls Odin Hangadrótti himself? This bears pondering, for surely this garden of ghosts can not border shining Asgard?
"As you speak of judges, old master, the men of the north know only of Odin himself, One-Eyed god, he who judges the souls of the valiant. Is this realm of Enma then wide-famed Valhalla, the noble warriors' reward?"
"Enma's realm is not one that rewards its inhabitants, young Sigurd," The old one replies with a thoughtful expression, as if your question has perplexed him somewhat. "And while many warriors can be found in Naraka, few can be called noble."
"Is this 'Enma' then another name for bleak Hel, she who Loki sired, serpent's sister and wolf-kin?" You reply, though you now begin to suspect that the realms of the dead may be different for the men of this realm and those of your own homeland, strange as the thought may be.
"Enma is a man, and he has no siblings that I know of." Youki replies, confirming your suspicions. "Therefore the answer has to be no."
"Though his realm may be considered bleak, sadly, but perhaps this is necessary." The old master continues, his expression marked by a gentle but sad smile.
You think about his words for a moment. Perhaps the old master is right, for you have heard it been said that the realm of the dead must be bleak, for why would men otherwise seek the honour to enter blessed warriors' heaven? But judging from the old master's words and expression he appears to find little joy in the thought, even though a man of his skill and honour surely has earned a place by Odin's side. Is not a man's destiny then in the world beyond the grave his just reward?
And more to the point, the idea that there are more than one realm of the dead seems to go against all reason. Odin and his brothers shaped the mortal world as well as the men who inhabit it. And was it not Odin himself who set Hel Loki's daughter to rule over the dead? It seems then as if the old master must be mistaken, or that the world is more complicated than you had thought. Every answer leads to another question it seems, but never had you expected the world to be simple. Enjoying the mental challenge inherent in figuring out the secrets of the gods you again address the old master.
"Old one, why is this sad? The valiant find their seats in Valhalla, and the cowards in the halls of Hel. Such is the way of the world, and such the justice of Odin." You remark, keeping a neutral tone, striving not to sound too callous. Perhaps this judgement is harsh, but so are many things in the world, and unseemly would it be to question the justice of Asgard's lord.
The old master's expression is strange, somewhat pained yet strangely happy, the conflicting emotions evident from his expression warring with his natural calm. Finally he simply smiles slightly and speaks.
"Young Sigurd, I have learned much in my long life. I had not expected it, but now I see that I may have to teach as well as understand."
The old master's reply, cryptic as it may be, still catches your interest. After a few moments of silence Youki finally continues speaking, choosing his words carefully as he reveals his hidden wisdom to you.