A Different Story of an Eastern Wonderland: Chapter 4
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Interlude: The Previous Night
Sakuya led Flandre down the stairs and into the basement. The younger of the two Scarlet sisters was allowed to do whatever and go wherever she liked in the basement, and nobody would bother her or indeed even visit very much, provided that she stayed down there and didn't try to bother anyone outside of the basement.
Flandre wasn't stupid. She knew perfectly well that the reason for this was to protect the world at large from her. Ironically, she had come to this realization relatively recently, now that her psychotically destructive tendencies were dying down.
First, Remilia had hired Kaguya and Mokou as tutors, since they could survive ... things. They'd gotten as far as teaching her that it was better to use non-lethal danmaku, and to at least consider "other people" as a concept. Then Koishi had shown up, used her control over the subconscious to prevent Flandre from vaporizing her, and then ...
... well, and then stole Flandre's heart, really, insofar as someone with the mentality of a twelve-year-old girl (with "five-hundred-year-old vampire" modifiers) could seriously be said to be "in love," and the reverse was true as well. Koishi had sealed her Third Eye shut in order to escape the fear and hatred most people had of the satori species, and this had closed her heart away. Her encounter with Flandre had opened it again.1
"I'm really sorry about this, Flandre," said Sakuya softly.
"Mmph. It's okay," said Flandre. She gave Sakuya a wan smile. "At least Satori admitted that they wouldn't have gotten to her as fast as they did without me."
Sakuya laughed. Even five months ago, Flandre would have probably lashed out at her. "It's definitely good to look on the bright side," she said.
"What's so funny?" said Flandre.
Sakuya paused, choosing her words carefully so that she wouldn't depress Flandre with mention of her past madness. "I was just thinking about how good it is that you met Koishi," she said. "You've really improved."
Flandre nodded slowly. "Yeah," she said. "I guess the next trick is getting Remilia and Satori to see that."
Even though their encounter with each other had left both of them for the better, neither Remilia nor Satori approved of their relationship, and they made their objections clear. Sakuya and Orin didn't see eye to eye on very many things, but one thing they agreed on was that this disapproval could only do more harm than good.
"Well, you have time," said Sakuya, opening the door to Flandre's bedroom.
It was a mess. That's putting it rather nicely.
The floor was littered with various toys and playthings — all of them broken, of course. A mildly-singed leg from a doll here, half of teddy bear's head there, scorch marks and gashes all over the walls and floors and ceiling, miscellaneous debris all around, and approximately forty percent of a bookshelf in one corner. Flandre had rebuffed all of Sakuya's polite suggestions that she might want to clean all of it up, and instead allowed her to pick up little pieces at approximately the same rate that Flandre made more pieces. The only thing that was not regularly obliterated was the bed;2 Flandre had learned that centuries before Sakuya had first set foot in the Mansion.
"I guess it's time for bed, then, Flandre," said Sakuya. "See you in the morning."
Flandre stood at the doorway, staring at the mess with a strange look in her eyes.
"Flandre?" said Sakuya, frowning.
Flandre blinked, looking up at Sakuya as if she was surprised to see her, then shook her head. "I think I'll just go to sleep," she said, walking over to the bed.
Sakuya's frown deepened. "All right, then," she said. She was picking up subtle cues in Flandre's tone of voice and bearing, all of which pointed to planning something. It would be pointless to try to confront her about it now, though. "See you in the morning."
"G'night," said Flandre as she flopped down on the bed, her wings giving a particularly loud jangle, and she smiled up at Sakuya.
"Goodnight," said Sakuya, and closed the bedroom door. Flandre usually wasn't very imaginative as far as "plans" went, and she usually had a one-track mind, but now there was an odd glint in her eye that made Sakuya very ... thoughtful. And cautious, of course. Which is to say ... she rarely caused any harm on purpose, and the odds of doing so by accident had gone down considerably, but even so ...
Oh well, she thought, I guess I'll find out soon enough ...
A tall woman floated twenty feet up in the air just outside the edge of the village. She had green hair, and wore a red plaid vest over a white shirt, with a skirt that matched her vest. She hovered in a sitting position in the shade of a frilly pink parasol. Beneath her, and looking incongruous next to her languid posture, there was a scene of panic, with villagers scattering away from her, fleeing into the village. There was a rather large scorch mark on the ground below, which she'd left with the earlier gigantic blast of light.
"Kazami," spat Keine as she rushed out of the Inn.
"Who?" said Renko.
"Yuuka Kazami," said Sanae. "She's one of the strongest youkai in Gensokyo."
"Her bark is worse than her bite, but, well, not by much, and both tend to be bad," said Keine. "Sanae, can you hold her back while I hide the village's history?"
Maribel wondered if she'd heard that last part right. "Hide what?" she said in confusion. The scorch mark was particularly ominous, given that the last time they'd encountered danmaku, it hadn't left any marks anywhere.
"I'll explain in a minute," said Keine. She held her hands in front of herself, and an orb of light appeared between them. "Get inside. Sanae?"
Sanae closed her eyes and clapped her hands together. When she opened them ...
... something was looking out.
"No problem," she said.
Maribel suddenly felt an absolute certainty that Sanae was using a godlike power.
"Will we be safe inside?" said Renko, who was dealing with all these fantastic things all happening at once by not dealing with them.
Keine and Sanae exchanged a glance. "Um ... not really," said Sanae, "but as long as I can keep her pointed away from the village ..." She took off, flying into the air at about the speed of a car.
Keine held the glow above her head. "I have powers related to history," she said. "If you had this power, wouldn't you want to use it to protect people?" The glow suddenly expanded, seemed to spread all over the village ...
A bright dome of light appeared, enveloped the entirety of the village, and then sort of sloshed downward like water in a half-full snowglobe, revealing ...
... an empty grassy field.
Yuuka Kazami glared. "What?" she said softly, frowning in confusion, and looked around. She seemed to be in exactly the same place; all the familiar landmarks were where she could see them. It was just that there was no village there anymore.
It was as if it had never been there in the first place.
"An illusion?" muttered Yuuka, furrowing her brow as she tried to see through it. "I can almost ... dammit, what did that woman do?"
There was a brief ripple of light, and Sanae Kotiya was suddenly flying straight towards her, coming to an abrupt halt ten feet away. "Yuuka Kazami," she said.
"Ah, you must be Sanae Kotiya," said Yuuka, smirking for a brief instant. "What the hell did you do with the village?"
Sanae grinned. "What village?" she said. "I sure didn't do anything to any village."
"Uh-huh." Yuuka peered at the complete lack of any village. "Did Keine do something?" she asked, setting to work at closing her parasol. "I've heard rumors that she made the place disappear during the Stolen Moon Incident ..."
"I really don't think she likes you going on a first-name basis with her, y'know," said Sanae.
"I'll take that as a yes," said Yuuka, nodding. "Were those two kids the Outsiders I've been hearing about?"
Sanae frowned in confusion. "Um ... well, I know they are Outsiders, but ..."
"Thanks!" Yuuka swung her parasol, hitting Sanae in the stomach and nearly knocking her out of the sky. She then flew straight towards where the Inn had been, vanishing in another ripple of light.
Renko and Maribel were standing in the front room of the Inn with Daisuke, when suddenly Keine threw the door open. "Sanae's down!" she shouted. "I have to —"
And then the front wall exploded in a blast of light. Maribel's heart stopped. Danmaku isn't supposed to damage things! But this was all she had time to think about, because then the green-haired woman flew straight into the room, parasol hooked over her shoulder, and grabbed Maribel off her feet. She yelped and struggled, and heard another yelp from Renko, right before Yuuka grabbed her with her other arm, did a U-turn, and flew back out of the ruined front door.
The illusion around the village faded away, and Keine and Daisuke staggered out of the partial wreckage. "Damn it," muttered Keine, as Daisuke rushed to the fallen Sanae, who was already sitting up and wincing.
Keine waited to make sure Sanae was okay, and watched Daisuke help her up. Then she turned and rushed to the village schoolhouse, entering the front door with a running leap. It was a single-roomed building, with a neatly-arranged row of desks facing away from the door opposite the teacher's desk; she quickly glance this way and that, then hurried to over to one corner that was partially hidden by a pile of books, under which was hidden a box.
Inside the box was a doll.
In a Western-style doll-filled cottage in the Magic Forest:
"Huh? What's this?"
"What? ... Oh! That's that communication-doll Yukari enchanted, I gave one at the other end to Keine in the village."
"Damn, guess that spell Yukari did was useful after all."
"Hello? ... Yes, she's right here, she almost always — ... um, okay ..."
"Sup, Keine? ... What!? Okay, I'm headin' over there right now!"
"Kazami attacked the frickin' village and flew off with a coupla Outsiders that were at Keine's inn! I'm gonna head off ta deal with her!"
"What!? Be careful, Marisa!"
"Heh, you know I will, Alice!"
Youmu Konpaku had finished a few days ago. She knew the risks, but she couldn't resist checking on it now ...
She flew up the Saigyou Ayakashi, her ghost-half trailing behind her and giving her a full 360-degree field of vision.3 She'd already prepared half a dozen different innocuous excuses for her presence here, and didn't want her mistress to get the drop on her. For someone who had been dead for a thousand years, Yuyuko Saigyouji was one of the most lively people you were likely to meet.
The Saigyou Ayakashi was a giant cherry tree, over a kilometer high, and rested in Hakugyokurou, a place just outside Gensokyo's living realm, where the recently-deceased went. At the same time, the tree itself was dead — the bark was blackened and decrepit, and not a single leaf or petal bloomed. It was completely devoid of any sign of life; of course, this was the local Netherworld, but it had no signs of ghost-life, either.
Except ... there. Buried amid the branches was a small section, little larger than a closet, which was alive. It was completely hidden; no outside observers, standing below or flying around the Saigyou Ayakashi, would have been able to see it. Here, the branches were a living shade of brown, with plenty of leaves and cherry blossoms. It looked like actual spring had come there.
Youmu approached slowly, heart pounding. Good; it was still as she'd left it, and there was still no sign Yuyuko knew about it, much less —
"Oh, Youmuuuuu!" said Yuyuko, poking her head out from behind one of the lively branches.
Youmu's stomach tightened. Yuyuko always spoke in a cheerful voice, and to most people they all sounded the same. Youmu had known Yuyuko all her life, though, and she'd learned to dread that tone of cheerfulness. "Yes, Lady Yuyuko?" she said.
Yuyuko's eyes twinkled as she drew nearer. "Have you been gathering the essence of Spring again?" she said, in a tone which would normally be used to address a beloved puppy who, despite one's best efforts, is looking up from a pair of thoroughly-chewed slippers.
There was no denying it. "Yes, Lady Yuyuko," said Youmu apprehensively.
"And we don't go around gathering Spring anymore, do we?" said Yuyuko, still in her singsong voice. She wasn't looking directly at Youmu, either, which made it worse.
"No, Lady Yuyuko," said Youmu. She felt as if her ability to fly was about to drop out from under her.
"And you know why we don't gather Gensokyo's Spring, don't you, Youmu?" said Yuyuko, suddenly grinning straight at Youmu.
"Yes, Lady Yuyuko," said Youmu, suddenly realizing what Yuyuko wanted her to say next.
"And why don't we, Youmu?" said Yuyuko, grinning impishly.
"Because it will ... 'accidentally' the border of life and death, Lady Yuyuko," said Youmu.
"Accidentally what, Youmu?" said Yuyuko, amid barely-controlled giggles.
"The border of life and death, Lady Yuyuko," said Youmu through clenched teeth. Years of living with Yuyuko had given her lots of practice in not exploding.
Yuyuko grinned. "Good!" she said, as if praising the same puppy for something done right this time. "Now, why were you gathering Gensokyo's Spring for the past few days, Youmu?"
"Yukari asked me to, Lady Yuyuko," said Youmu, speaking more naturally now that they were getting somewhere productive with the conversation. "She ... said to gather enough for 'one life,' Lady Yuyuko."
This seemed to give Yuyuko pause. Again, Youmu was one of the few people who would have noticed this. "Is that so?" she said, looking around. "Hm. Now that you mention it, that does seem about right, doesn't it?"
She suddenly looked Youmu directly in the eye, peering into them as if trying to spot something. Then she abruptly brought her fist down on Youmu's head.
"I thought so," said Yuyuko. "Youmu, you should know better than to let Yukari plant compulsions in you!"
"I ... what?" said Youmu in alarm. Yukari occasionally did something like that as a prank, but now that she thought about it — now that Yuyuko had undid it, she realized — this was the first time it had been something which was actually somewhat dangerous for Gensokyo itself.
"Hmm." Yuyuko grinned pleasantly. It was a false pleasantness, a pleasantness that was trying too hard. "Tell you what," she said after a moment. "Why don't you go and gather some more Spring, so that there will be enough here for two lives. Just in case," she added with a wink.
Youmu had no idea what she was getting at. "Are you sure that's wise, Lady Yuyuko?" she said weakly.
"Nope," said Yuyuko. "And while you're doing that, I'm going to go and visit Yukari so I can give her a whack upside the head, too!"
"Um ... if you say so, Lady Yuyuko," said Youmu.
Yuyuko grinned. "Run along now, Youmu," she said, waving her away.
Youmu fled. She wanted to get as far away as possible. It had been a long while since she'd seen Yuyuko actually get worried, and the way she was acting, if it had been someone other than Yuyuko, she would have been expecting them to be screaming in a panic.
Maribel struggled in Yuuka's grip. Flandre's night-flight had been bad enough, but this was nothing short of terrifying. First of all, she could actually see how far from the ground they were.
Second of all, Flandre hadn't wanted to hurt them.
Yuuka held Maribel and Renko under each arm, with her parasol tucked under one shoulder. She was tall, limber, and positively reeked of strength. Not power: strength. She wasn't very imposing as far as musculature went, nor did she radiate magical force, but she seemed to have nerves of steel, an iron will, a grip that could crush titanium, and a chest which, um, actually, let's stop that metaphor right there.
Maribel tried to look up. They seemed to be flying towards a different forest from the one they'd been in last night. She glanced at the borders, and saw not only the boundary between forest and field, but also what appeared to be a boundary between magical-levels, which were higher on the inside of the forest. Three guesses where we're headed, and the first two don't count.
Then she glanced immediately to her left at Yuuka Kazami's side. Yuuka's aura seemed to be ... well, it was hard to see how big it was very well because she was inside it, but it was brighter than Orin without being blinding.
She switched back to normal vision. It could wait until they got out of this, if that was even possible. She got ready to fly away, to throw some danmaku into Yuuka's face ...
Renko caught her eye and surreptitiously shook her head. She had a look in her eye which Maribel had seen lots of other times, except that this time she wasn't smiling: Renko had an Idea. Better hold off until she can come up with some way of communicating it to me without giving it away to Kazami ...
Yuuka laughed as she landed by the edge of the woods, dropping them unceremoniously on the ground. She raised her hand, and various large flowers and vines suddenly grew up around them. In a moment they were in a dense copse, surrounded on all sides by a sort of natural bouquet.
"Good day," said Yuuka cheerfully, holding her closed parasol like a cane. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Yuuka Kazami, the Flower-Mistress of the Four Seasons. I shall be your kidnapper this afternoon."
Maribel sat up, backing away nervously. "What do you want!?" said Renko.
"An interesting fight," said Yuuka. "And a fight with a youkai-exterminator over broken rules would be extremely interesting, even if that's not my ultimate goal ..."
"Broken rules?" said Maribel, her mind racing. "You mean, uh ... the Spell Card rules?"
Yuuka chuckled. "Nah, I never use Spell Cards," she said, with a sort of flat indifference in her voice. "But, well ..." She grinned. "You probably don't know this yet, but there's rules that youkai must follow concerning the kidnapping of humans. First of all, it must be done by prior arrangement. Second of all, they must be kidnapped from an area outside of declared safe-zones such as the Human Village. Third of all, they must be unharmed by the time the rescuer arrives. In exchange for this, the youkai-exterminators won't try to get rid of the 'kidnappers' permanently," she added nastily, in an "I'd like to see them try" tone.
Maribel blinked. This was food for thought. It certainly cast the whole human-versus-youkai conflict into a new light. But that thought was quickly followed by another: Not every youkai likes this arrangement. They were currently being confronted by an example.
"So you're ... trying to provoke youkai-hunters into fighting you, um, for real?" said Renko, her face turning pale. "By ... breaking your end of the deal?"
"Only the first two," said Yuuka sweetly. "Provided that you're good little girls, of course. But no, I have much bigger things in mind." She grinned nastily. "I'm after the holy grail of interesting fights: Yukari Yakumo!"
"We've heard about her," murmured Maribel. "What does that have to do with us?"
"Oh, her little kitten blabbed about these plans Yukari has for you two, even though she didn't know what they were," said Yuuka. "Apparently, there were also intimations to the effect that Yukari had withheld this fact prior to Chen meeting you, but later revealed it to her after praising her for acting like herself. This means that now she does want people to know about it."
This seemed to Maribel to be the converse of "three can keep a secret if two of them are dead."
"That's, um, a bit complicated," said Renko. "Especially since Chen was ... um ... actually, I'm not quite sure how shikigami-relationships work, but Chen was acting like she was her grandmother ..."
Yuuka chuckled. "Don't ask me!" she said cheerfully. "But yeah, no idea what she wants with you specifically. Think of it this way, though: you get to find out about it a lot sooner, and if it isn't something good, hey, I'm gonna be fighting her anyway!"
Unless this whole fiasco is also part of the plans, thought Maribel. No, wait, how could someone seriously count on the possibility that Yuuka Kazami would just happen to find out about this, and would want to break the rules?
"What does Yukari look like?" she suddenly asked.
Yuuka gave her a somewhat sharp look, then arched an eyebrow. "Hmm. Now that you mention it," she said, "you actually ... yeah, you do kinda look like her."
Renko and Maribel exchanged a glance. Here it comes ...
Yuuka nodded, looking Maribel over. "Yeah ... wait a decade or so, and you'll want a dress with a different cut, a slightly different style of that poofy hat, then grow out your hair longer and put ribbons in it and get a completely different face, and you'll look just like her!"
Maribel began giggling, and Renko joined in a moment later. It wasn't a very good joke, and there were more serious issues at hand, but when you're this close to Certain Death, you'll laugh at anything.
"But for now ..." Yuuka shouldered her parasol and grabbed both of their arms, and Maribel felt her body becoming weightless right before Yuuka took to the skies, flying up above the treeline. "Let's just look at the nice big view so we can see in all directions, hmm?"
The impromptu flower-field, Maribel realized, was a bit bigger and better-organized than it looked like from the inside. It was a nicely-arranged garden, in a veritable rainbow in a spiral pattern.
"Ah, yeah, like it?" said Yuuka, grinning. "'Manipulation of flowers,' that's my main power. Sunflowers of my favorite, though." She reclined, her arms wrapped around them. "Ah ... What would you do with that power?" she said.
Lots of people have been asking us that lately, thought Maribel.
"A barrel roll," muttered Renko. She made a sort of circular gesture to Maribel, utterly confusing her.
"What?" said Yuuka, frowning. Renko gave Maribel an impatient look.
"Oh!" Maribel hurriedly turned on her flight-power, and flew up and over Yuuka, while Renko flew down and under her. The youkai let out a yell, startled into letting go, and Maribel swooped around, hurrying after Renko and flying along the edge of the forest.
But Yuuka was quick on the uptake, and flew after them, quickly catching up. "Nice one!" she shouted over the wind. "No wonder Yukari wanted to meet you!"
There didn't seem to be much point in delaying the inevitable. Maribel and Renko slowed down, but kept their distance. Yuuka continued, "And I bet you can cast danmaku, too, hmm?"
"Not ... very much," said Maribel. She's more interested in having a fun fight than in delivering a curb-stomp battle ... right?
Yuuka snorted, looking disappointed. "Well, that answers that question. Why don't we head back? You're starting to push the limit of what constitutes 'good little girls.'"
"You're about to get hit from behind," said Renko, glancing past Yuuka and a little to the left, away from the forest.
Maribel looked. There she is! The woman in the purple dress, hovering way off in the distance! She must be Yukari Yakumo! But even as she looked, the figure vanished, as if slipping into a tear in space and closing it behind her.
Yuuka laughed. "You don't really think I'm stupid enough to fall for —" She stopped, frowned as she saw Maribel's gaze, and then darted backwards over the treetops, so that whatever-it-was would have now been pointed at Renko and Maribel.
Then she got hit from behind.
It looked like a great big rainbow-edged blast of light, and it sounded like a musical roar. It was coming from the direction of the forest — specifically, once it cleared, from an octagonal metal device held by a blond-haired young woman wearing a black and white dress, with a pointy black witch's hat with a white ribbon tied around it atop her head, standing on top of a broomstick like a surfboard. She also seemed entirely at ease with the situation.
Yuuka was curled up in a fetal position, looking mildly singed but none the worse for wear. She straightened up, cricked her neck, and smirked at the young witch. "Marisa," she said, grinning wickedly and shaking out her parasol.
"Hey there, Yuuka," said Marisa evenly, still aiming the metal thing at Yuuka. "Looks like yer havin' fun. Too much fun," she added, raising an eyebrow at Maribel and Renko. "Hi, I'm Marisa Kirisame. You guys probably want to hang back."
Maribel was mostly too busy being terrified, but a small part of her brain took note of both the familial resemblance to Daisuke, and of the fact that apart from her girlish clothes and voice, everything about her screamed "tomboy," including the fact that she used masculine forms and sentence-structures apart from the personal pronouns.
She also realized that she and Renko were clinging to each other in fright. They both blushed as they realized this, and disentangled from each other, then flew back to what seemed like a safe distance.
"They're outsiders," Yuuka began, and then ducked to dodge a laser from Marisa's hand that sailed past her left ear.
"Don't gimme that crap," said Marisa. "I mean, first of all, they can frickin' fly. Second of all, they were inside a buildin' in the Village, and therefore the rules apply to 'em."
"How the hell did you know that?" said Yuuka, suddenly frowning.
Marisa grinned. "Oh, well, y'know, word travels fast these days."
Yuuka hesitated, and then said, "I didn't know anyone in the Village was using that invention of yours, what was it called, Kodak, or ..."
"CODEC,"4 said Marisa. "And actually, they don't."
"Ah," said Yuuka, who had evidently decided that the question wasn't worth bothering with. "Ah well, I was hoping for Yukari, but this works just as well, you nasty little thief!"
"Hey, c'mon," said Marisa impishly. "I mean it's not like you somehow can't use yer own Master Spark anymore, you don't hafta wait until I die to get it back!"
Yuuka brightened. "You know, someday, I think that excuse is going to bite you in the ass."
"I can take it," Marisa said evenly.
"Glad to hear it," said Yuuka, and she shifted into a midair fighting pose. "I wouldn't want you to die before we can have another rematch!'
Marisa laughed, and drew back. A card materialized in her hand.
And then a slit appeared in space behind Yuuka. A hand reached out, grabbed Yuuka, and pulled her in, where she disappeared with a yelp.
"Oh you have got to be kidding me," said Marisa as it closed.
Another one reopened between Marisa and where Renko and Maribel were hovering.
The woman in the purple dress floated out of it.
"Sorry about that," she said to Marisa, "but really, denying her the 'interesting fight' is a much more effective punishment."
"Yeah, I can see that," said Marisa flatly, as if she was also experiencing the punishment.
"Don't worry about the village," said the woman. "I've already sent Ran to help with any damage Miss Kazami has done."
Ran, thought Maribel. "You're Yukari Yakumo, aren't you," she said.
Yukari turned to face her, and grinned. "Yes," she said. She had a triumphant air about her.
"You've been fooling around outside?" complained Marisa.
Yukari grinned. "You and I," she said, still facing Maribel. "Hmm. We're going to have a duel in ... let's say three days' time." It wasn't a challenge, a command, or a request. It was simply a statement of fact.
1During the fight, Remilia had tried to manipulate their fates so that Flandre would have a close, dramatic victory. Well ... Flandre did win, and she certainly succeeded at making them close.
2Remilia refused to sleep in a coffin, and Flandre more or less went along with this as well.
3Being half-ghost meant that in addition to her physical body, she had a "ghost-body" hovering next to her. Youmu made a point of not thinking too hard about this.
4Neither Renko nor Maribel played many video games, or they might have been prompted to ask if there was any relation to the similarly-named communication-device from the Metal Gear series. This was, in fact, precisely what had inspired Marisa and its co-inventor, a kappa named Nitori Kawashiro.
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