A Different Story of an Eastern Wonderland: Chapter 5
"What?" said Maribel.
Yukari Yakumo smiled. "Hmm, yes," she said. "I suppose you could say it's a timeframe which resides on the border of 'long enough' and 'quick enough.' It will certainly be an interesting duel, regardless."
Marisa grumbled under her breath. "Why?" she exclaimed.
Yukari glanced at Marisa, then turned back to Maribel. "Voluntarily opening a hole in the Hakurei Border separating our two worlds? Accidentally dropping in is one thing, but making your own hole in it is no mean feat," she said.
Renko furrowed her brow. "But ... you show up on our side all the time."
"Well, yes, I can do it easily," said Yukari, mock-impatiently. "My power is the manipulation of any kind of boundary. But for two girls fooling around with crystals? One might say it should be nearly impossible."
"What're you talking about?" Marisa snapped.
"Are you saying you brought us in?" said Maribel.
Yukari made a show of pondering this. "Probably not," she said. "I was asleep at the time, after all."
Maribel wracked her brain, having trouble with just making head or tail of what she was saying. "You're not making any sense!" exclaimed Renko.
Yukari grinned. "Find me at the Netherworld's Gate in three days' time," she said, and slipped into another slit in space, which closed behind her.
There was a moment of silence. "Is there an actual ... Netherworld's Gate?" Renko asked.
"Yeah," said Marisa.
"I need to sit down," Maribel said weakly.
Renko was already starting to sink down. "I feel sick ..."
Yuuka's flowers were still there, so they sat in the little "clearing" in the center. Renko's stomach managed to settle down after a moment without anything untoward happening.
Marisa stood off to one side. "Where'd you learn out how to fly?" she said idly.
"Uh ... it was ... last night," said Maribel.
They explained about last night, starting with Flandre's escape, which Marisa had already heard about, and an explanation of the spell on Koishi, which she hadn't.
Marisa shrugged and shook her head. "Jeez, I'd better go check that out at some point," she said. "But it's like ... nobody ever knows what Yukari's deal is, yer not alone there."
"Ah," said Renko. She hesitated. "What did she mean by 'manipulation of any kind of boundary'?"
"Well, there's the Hakurei Border," said Marisa. "An' you probably don't wanna rely on magical shields when you're around her. But then there's also, y'know, the boundary of night and day, she once stopped the night, although she needed help from me an' a bunch of our friends. Or life and death, or mountain and sky," she added, "but I don't think she's ever literally done those ones."
A few moments passed in silence. "I want to go home," Maribel announced.
"Me too," said Renko.
Marisa tilted her head. "What, you're not even gonna go see Yukari?"
"I don't care about that," said Maribel. "I just ... I need to take a break, I need familiar surroundings, I need to know I'm in a completely different world from ... from youkai who don't care about rules ... my sleep-schedule is out of whack ... I-I'm just ... done for now."
She was trembling, she realized. Far too much had happened in the past twelve hours. She felt exhausted and drained, and it felt like there was no end in sight.
Renko put one arm around her shoulders. "Yeah, I feel the same way," she said, her voice shaking slightly. Maribel wondered if she'd ever heard Renko's voice shake before. "We really didn't plan this trip very well. We had no idea what to expect."
"Yeah," said Maribel, wrapping one of her own arms around Renko's shoulders. For some reason, she felt a lot more comfortable just from the contact. Probably just the familiarity in this world of strangeness ...
"Okay," said Marisa, frowning sympathetically. "I can take y'all to the Hakurei Shrine. Got everything you need?"
"Oh, right, we need to get our backpacks," said Renko. "I ... don't think they were damaged at the Inn ..."
"Yeah," said Maribel. "Oh, by the way, we, uh, met your father there."
"I'll meet you at the edge of the village," Marisa said promptly, as if Maribel hadn't spoken. "Just say the word, I'll take ya right to the Shrine."
Okay, that's obviously not something she wants to talk about, thought Maribel, as she and Renko got to their feet. But Mr. Kirisame obviously had certain, um, views about magic ... Her thoughts trailed off. She was just too drained even to think about this.
The flight back to the village was uneventful, although by the end, Marisa was impatiently flying circles around them. She landed by the scorch mark Yuuka had left, and stayed there as Renko and Maribel entered.
Keine was standing by the badly-damaged Inn. "Oh, good," she said. "Daisuke's taken Sanae to the village's branch of the clinic — she got a bit of a bump, but she'll be fine by tomorrow. I was just going to head over to the school, I'm usually a teacher when I'm not tending to the Inn. I take it Marisa-san dealt with Yuuka?"
"Uh, Yukari Yakumo did," said Maribel. "She grabbed her in one of those ... weird ... space ... things."
"A gap?" said Keine.
"Is that what they're called?" said Renko.
"We're leaving Gensokyo," said Maribel, before the conversation went anywhere else. Impatience felt rather strange when you didn't have the energy to snap at people.
"Oh?" said Keine.
"Yeah, this was just a bit too much for us," said Renko. "We're just, well, we're going to get our backpacks and say our goodbyes, if that's possible."
A tall woman with golden hair and nine large fox-tails stepped out of the hole that had once been a sliding door. "If you're leaving, that's probably for the best," she said.
Oh ... yes, I know who you are, thought Maribel. Suddenly, she remembered the dream she'd had the previous night, with the blanks filled with Yukari and Ran's names, and that didn't help her current mood. "Ah, you must be Ran-san?" she said.
Ran bowed. "Yes, I am Yukari-sama's shikigami, Ran Yakumo. She sent me to help deal with the damage," she said. "She also told me to remind you that if you leave now, you'll be missing out on the majority of Gensokyo, and have a hundred questions go unanswered. In the current circumstances, I'm not going to say any more than that."
Keine frowned. "Oh dear."
"Ah," said Renko. "What does she actually want?"
Ran grimaced. "She's expressly forbidden me to tell you about that."
Maribel halfheartedly looked at the boundaries. From the brightness and size of Ran's aura, she seemed to be around the same level as Flandre —
She blinked. Off to one side, she saw a boundary between the visible and the invisible. It was shaped like one of Yukari's slits-in-space. It quickly closed.
"What is it?" said Keine.
Maribel stared at the empty space. "I thought ... er, I can see boundaries, and I thought I saw ... something that was 'invisible', but shaped like, um, a gap."
Ran sighed. "Yes, Yukari-sama can create hidden gaps," she said. "She was probably just checking on me."
"I'll get your backpacks," said Keine. "Then, if you'd like, we can go see Sanae before heading out."
The clinic looked more or less what Maribel expected a doctor's office or hospital to look like if it was made using the materials at hand, but there was a slight oddness to the style which suggested that the designer wasn't from either Gensokyo or the Outside World.
"Leaving already?" said Sanae, frowning. There was a bandage around her head, but she was sitting up on the side of the bed, and there didn't seem to be anything wrong. Daisuke was there, too, looking concerned but unworried, along with a silver-haired woman in a red and blue nurse's uniform, who'd introduced herself as Eirin Yagokoro before leaving on other business. Keine had needed to head to her school; a teacher's life was a busy one, even without actual classes.
"Yeah, y'know," said Renko, rubbing the back of her head.
"It's just ... well ..." Maribel wasn't sure what to say.
"Yeah, it's ..."
"Yeah," said Sanae, running a hand over her bandage. "I really do understand, honestly." She sighed. "Sorry it had to turn out like this."
"How did the fight end?" said Daisuke.
"Yukari Yakumo appeared and tossed her into a ... gap," said Renko.
"That was right after, er, she was blasted by Marisa Kirisame," Maribel said delicately.
"I see," said Daisuke, and even though it was just a very short sentence, his tone of voice had a lot to say for itself. You could freely translate the sentence as, "Oh, her. Yes, I understand that it isn't really your fault for bringing her up, but I don't want to talk about that person right now, or at any point in the foreseeable future. In fact, let's just pretend you didn't mention her, it'll be for the best. Yes, I do notice that the temperature just dropped a few degrees." If a picture was worth a thousand words, then Daisuke Kirisame's tone was an entire art museum containing the works of hundreds of artists throughout the ages, none of whom were on good terms with their daughters.
Maribel quickly said, "And ... then Yukari Yakumo showed up. She said she wanted ... she ... I ..." And then ran out of steam. She shook her head. "You know what, I don't care anymore."
"Yes, it's for the best," said Daisuke, a touch of his previous paternal jolliness back. "You don't want to get mixed up with those youkai. In fact, I hate to say it," and he glanced at Sanae, "but you'll probably be safest if you never come back to Gensokyo at all."
Maribel nodded slowly, exchanging a look with Sanae, whose expression said it all: in that case, they'd never see each other again, either.
"But when you do, try to be more careful," said Daisuke.
And then they were off, flying over Gensokyo's fields, back to where they'd come from.
Before long, however, Marisa muttered, "Hoo boy, incoming fairies!"
"What?" said Maribel, and then saw the swarms of little pairs of wings rising up towards them. "Uh-oh ..."
"No worries," said Marisa, and began firing stars of light in all directions. There were several small explosions.
"Did you just blow them up?" said Renko nervously.
"Huh? Oh, right," said Marisa. "Don't worry about that, they resurrect like two minutes later. You can kill 'em a million times and they'll keep comin' back for more. And they never learn."
"I suppose they don't need to," muttered Maribel, who was still rather shaken.
Eventually, they reached the woods they'd been in when they first arrived, and it was only another minute or two before they reached the Hakurei Shrine.
Standing in front was a young woman dressed in clothing which looked almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the traditional robes of a shrine maiden. "Took you long enough," she said bluntly.
"We ran into fairies," said Marisa. "Anyway, here they are. Kids, this is Reimu Hakurei. Reimu-chan, these're the two girls who wanna go outside."
Reimu nodded. "You're Renko and Mari, right?" she said, as if she wasn't sure how long she was going to bother remembering their names. "Marisa called me up on CODEC."
"On what?" said Renko, who looked as confused as Maribel felt.
Marisa grinned. "Y'know, like in Metal Gear."
"Metal ... Gear ...?" said Maribel. Marisa giggled.
"Glad somebody doesn't instantly start babbling in recognition," growled Reimu. "It's this weird thing she invented after Yukari-san brought in these 'computer' things. Kinda useful, though." She shrugged. "Anyway, let's just get you back to where you belong."
"Thank you," said Maribel, bowing.
"Don't mention it," said Reimu, sounding almost apathetic. "I've already set things up. Just head around behind the Shrine, and keep going until the clouds change."
Reimu and Marisa watched them go. "So ... how long 'til they come back?" said Marisa.
Reimu gave her a look. "What?"
Marisa shrugged. "Just a feelin' I got," she said. "I 'unno."
Reimu glared. "Well, anyway, I'm going to go find Yukari and beat her up," she said.
The Shrine wasn't even out of sight before the world seemed to shift around them. The clouds were all in different places, the Shrine was back to being an abandoned mess, and several trees had vanished entirely. The lights of the nearby town were visible in the distance.
Maribel and Renko exchanged a glance, then ran around to the front.
Their car was still there.
They put their backpacks in the back seat, sat in front, and then sighed loudly. It was like a sudden weight lifted off their shoulders. They were free. The sound of the engine chugging to life was almost heavenly.
Renko looked at the sky. "Ah, real numbers," she sighed, and started turning the car around. "So. Home?"
"It's ... a bit of a long drive from where we are now," said Maribel softly.
Renko gave her a look. "Are you all right, Mari?" she said. "I mean ... Maribel?"
Maribel hesitated, but it'd have to come out sooner or later, and Renko saying her name properly somehow gave her a confidence boost. "Renko, I had a dream that I was Yukari Yakumo, and she was talking with Ran about her plan," she said. "I only just remembered when we met Ran just now. I ... I don't know why it's been bothering me so much."
Renko patted her shoulder. "I think I remember seeing a café on our way up here," she said. "Why don't we stop there and take a moment to settle down?"
"Great idea," said Maribel.
The café turned out to be crowded and a bit noisy, with a television hanging from the ceiling in one corner and broadcasting a baseball game, but this was exactly how they wanted it. Apart from anything else, it would be harder for eavesdroppers to hear them in particular. And none of them were youkai.
"That was rather badly-planned, wasn't it?" said Renko, sipping her coffee.
Maribel took a reflective sip of her own. "Yeah, I suppose it was," she said. "At least ... well ... now we know what's there." She sighed.
There was a moment of silence, or at least of neither of them talking. Maribel watched the baseball game for a moment. It seemed to be the World Baseball Classic.
"Not that we knew we'd be flying," Renko said abruptly, "but it probably would've been better if we'd brought ... shorts. Or gym bloomers."
Maribel blinked. "Why?" she said.
Renko raised an eyebrow. "Skirts."
Maribel considered this, and then blushed faintly. "Oh," she said. In Gensokyo, they'd done quite a bit of flying, and if a skirt's modesty is proportional to the proximity of the hem to the ground, then a skirt with a hem a mile and a half a mile up into the sky is no use to anyone at all. "Yeah, that ... would've been good ..."
"Is this seat taken?" An unfamiliar woman had walked up to the table with her own mug of coffee — she looked Japanese, but her short hair had been visibly dyed red. She was wearing a pink T-shirt and blue jeans, and there was a black ribbon in her hair. "Sorry, it's just that this place is packed right now."
"Ah, no, go right ahead," said Renko. Maribel privately felt that the distraction was a welcome one, or at least she tried to feel that way.
The woman sat down, smiling. "My name is Haruko. I do hope I'm not intruding on anything."
That's not her real name, Maribel thought suddenly. She wasn't sure how she knew. "My name is Maribel, and this is Renko," she said.
"Pleased to meet you, Maribel-san and Renko-san," said Haruko, pronouncing her name perfectly.
Renko sipped from her own mug. "No intrusion, we're just settling down after a camping trip that, ah, didn't go smoothly," she said. The "camping trip" had always been their cover story, on the basis that technically it was perfectly true.
"Yeah, we just need a bit of ... civilization now," said Maribel, managing what looked like a genuine smile. I wonder if I can see the border between truth and lies ...
"I know what you mean," said Haruko, sipping from her mug. "I've spent the past several years in America ..."
"Excuse me?" said Maribel, poker-faced. Every country had it's share of vague xenophobia, or at least a sense of "my country is automatically Better-with-a-capital-B than yours, foreigner!" and it didn't help that in Japan, you looked different from everyone else. She'd more or less gotten used to it, though.
Haruko laughed. "Sorry, Maribel-san, I didn't mean it like that," she said. "I just meant I felt the need to spend some time surrounded by a more familiar environment."
"I see," said Maribel, who was now thrown off her previous train of thought.
"But at least I was somewhere civilized," Haruko continued. "You have my sympathies, the wilds are a dangerous place."
"You're telling me," murmured Maribel. "But we'd just ... planned things wrong."
Haruko grinned. "Well, exactly," she said. "I mean, you can't always anticipate everything, and I always say that everything's a learning experience. Besides," she added, "you're still alive. That's got to count for something."
"It wasn't that bad," said Renko, trying to sound like she meant it. "I mean, well, it was only a camping trip."
Uh-oh, Renko, you've got to work on your acting, thought Maribel, taking a sip.
But if Haruko noticed anything odd, she gave no sign. "Oh, I know, I meant in general," she said. "Being alive is always a plus, Renko-san. I didn't think you'd been kidnapped or — Oh, are you all right?"
Maribel tried to control her coughing. "Mmph. Sorry," she croaked. "Just ... my coffee accidentally went down ... the wrong ..."
"Mmm, yes," murmured Haruko sympathetically. "What were the gods thinking, using the same tube for both air and water."
"The 'gods' probably figured it wasn't worth the effort," said Renko, who'd had time to get herself under control while Haruko was distracted by Maribel. "I mean, it's not like it's deadly, is it?"
Haruko nodded. "True," she said. "They seem to be rather lazy about that." She glanced at the television. "Ah, there goes our team being the best in the world, again."
Maribel glanced back at the TV. The Cuban team they were up against seemed to be doing rather atrociously. She tried to tell herself that that was a welcome distraction, too, notwithstanding the fact that sports had been in a different world from Renko and Maribel even when they weren't in Gensokyo. "We haven't been somewhere we could keep track of baseball," she said diplomatically.
"Ah, well," said Haruko, as if this was a complete sentence. "I don't really follow it that much myself, it's just, well, you've got to root for your home-team, right?"
"Can't argue with that," said Renko, nodding.
"Yeah, even I've found myself rooting for Japan," said Maribel.
Haruko grinned. "That good, is it?" she said. She glanced at the TV, and then at her wristwatch. "Well, unfortunately, I seem to be running a bit late. I'd better leave you two to your own devices."
"Goodbye, Haruko-san," said Renko.
"Later," said Maribel.
Haruko stood up and downed the rest of her coffee. "Goodbye, you two, and stay alive." And then she was gone.
Maribel and Renko stared at each other in (metaphorical) silence for another moment.
"Mari, what the hell just happened?" said Renko after a moment.
"She was a bit ... forward, wasn't she?" said Maribel.
"I don't know," muttered Renko. "I got a funny feeling from her."
"Renko ... I think she knew we'd been somewhere magical," said Maribel.
Renko sighed, rather put out by, as far as Maribel could tell, everything. "I say we just finish our drinks and get going," said Renko. "We can talk while we drive."
Rin Satsuki watched them leave the building, from a vantage point where she wouldn't be noticed. There'd been no sign of Yukari's hidden gaps, so she felt that a visual disguise was sufficient, and she'd strained to look at the two girls with her magical senses through their entire conversation. But finally, she let out a sigh of relief: she hadn't found what she was looking for.
"Are you all right, Renko?" said Maribel, after a few minutes of driving down the highway. "I mean ... uh ... yeah."
Renko sighed, and gently shook her head. "Don't worry about me, Mari," she said. "I've just been reflexively flinching from anything supernatural at the moment."
Maribel slowly nodded, watching Renko as she drove. "To be honest, so have I."
Renko actually laughed at that. "Yes," she said. "No matter what happened, we've been in it together ... Maribel," she said.
Maribel grinned. Once again, something about Renko pronouncing her name correctly just ... rubbed her the right way. She could see that being able to do so was having a similar effect on Renko herself. "Well, what has happened?" she said. "We actually made it to Gensokyo ..."
"We ran into a number of youkai of varying degrees of 'terrifying,'" said Renko. "A highly destructive vampire who was nevertheless less-scary than a flower-youkai."
"We learned how to fly," said Maribel.
"We solved the mystery of what happened to Sanae," said Renko.
"We took a few photos," said Maribel. "Well ... yesterday. Too bad we didn't get a chance today ..."
"And I learned how to speak English while I wasn't paying attention." Renko sighed. "Maribel, we're going to go back, aren't we?" she said.
Maribel considered this. "Yeah, we are." When you got right down to it, a shared interest in the supernatural was how they'd become friends, and as setbacks went, this was even less of one than their earlier accident.
"There's pretty much no way we could pass it up," said Renko. "Ran was right. I say ... let's see ... our student cards can probably handle the extra gas." Their university was experimenting with a new kind of student credit card which simply added charges to the tuition bill at the end of the semester, thus allowing them to rack up immense charges more quickly than any other system in history.
"And pants," murmured Maribel.
Renko laughed. "We've both already got perfectly serviceable pairs of shorts we can use," she said.
The car drove on, making its way back to their home. But they knew they'd be back the next day.
Remilia Scarlet was, if nothing else, a lady. She was aristocratic and somewhat vain, but she carried herself elegantly, and like most vampires, she had just that sense of stylishness. She wore a pink poofy hat that matched her pink frilly dress, which was low-cut in back to account for the pair of bat-wings that sprouted from her shoulders, nearly wider than she was tall. Oh, and she also appeared to be ten years old, which somewhat ruined the effect.
She found Sakuya in the kitchen. Sakuya paused and put down the dish she was cleaning, surprised to see Remilia visiting a "servants' area." Before she could say a word, Remilia placed a finger on her lips, and beckoned. Sakuya noticed that Remilia was hovering a few inches off the ground.
Uh-oh, thought Sakuya. Apparently, whatever it was, footsteps were a bad idea.
They flew silently through the first floor of the mansion, and arrived at a hallway which passed directly over Flandre's bedroom. For obvious reasons, this area was highly reinforced and the floor was thicker and firmer. Not that anyone expected it to do much good if Flandre was really intent on breaking out straight upward. Remilia tapped her ear, and pointed at the floor.
Sakuya floated downward, tilted herself so that she was almost horizontal, and pressed her ear against the floor. A youkai's senses were much keener than a human's, and vampires had an edge even then; Sakuya had particularly keen senses herself, but ...
There was the faint sound of a discharge of magic. Sakuya waited a moment, her heart thudding in her ears, and then there was another one.
She frowned, and looked up at Remilia, who nodded, also frowning. It sounded exactly like Flandre using her destruction-ability, but without the accompanying crack of something breaking.
They flew towards the entrance to the basement. What is she doing? mouthed Remilia.
Sakuya shrugged. They would find out soon enough.
They stopped at a large red door; hanging crookedly over it was a badly-damaged sign which had once said "WARNING" in large letters with "EXTREME DANGER!" below that, but now all that was left was "WARNINC EXTR" plus random markings. Remilia hesitated, and then mouthed, She stopped.
Sakuya frowned, and gingerly approached the door. The sounds of the mansion seemed to fade away, along with most of the colors, except for those of herself, Remilia, and the door.
"You said she jumped into some sort of spell that Yukari Yakumo had put on that satori?" said Remilia.
"Yes," said Sakuya, opening the door. There was a faint muffled-sounding echo, as the sound waves bounced off the other frozen-in-time air just outside the effects of her timestop. "And the elder Satori said that her ability was now manipulation of destruction."
Remilia harrumped as the two of them flew through; Sakuya carefully closed the door, and then time resumed. They floated down the stairs, and carefully made their way through the basement. Sakuya heard the jangle of Flandre's idiosyncratic wings, as if she'd just thrown herself onto her bed.1
Flandre's bedroom door was already wide open as they approached. She was lying on her back on the bed, apparently asleep from exhaustion.
Almost all the destroyed toys had been ... repaired. The scorch marks were gone, the formerly-broken shelves were perfectly aligned on the wall, with the dolls and stuffed toys were sitting in neat little rows on top of them. Even the gouges in the walls and floor were gone. In a small pile on the floor were the remaining broken toys.
Sakuya and Remilia slowly turned to face each other, an expression of astonishment on their faces that neither of them could hold back.
Suddenly, everything had been turned on its head.
At first glance, she looked like a young human woman, with short dark-purple hair, dressed in yellow and brown and green robes, with a white flower-ornament in her hair. In fact, the diagnosis of "young human woman" was entirely correct ...
... until you looked into her eyes.
She looked up at Ran. "So they've left Gensokyo for good?"
"I hope so, Miss Akyu," said Ran.
"And one of them was named Renko," said Hieda no Akyu.
"Yes," said Ran. "Sorry about that."
Akyu sighed, looking down at the well-preserved paper in front of her. "Don't worry about it," she said.
It was several hundred years old, but it was written in modern, outside-world Japanese. It was somewhat clipped and precise, as if the writer had only recently learned the language, or who'd had to translate it from something they were more familiar with. It said:
I never knew that a bamboo forest could be such a mystifying place! There's no signal for my cell phone, the GPS isn't working, and there's rare natural bamboo shoots for the taking. Maybe I'll rest around here for the day ...... but I'm actually in a dream, aren't I? Can't be helped, I guess. I'll walk around a little bit more and see.
And then there's the night sky filled with stars. Whether it's the underdevelopedness or the clear skies, this seems like it's Japan from a long time ago. A time slip, perhaps? Was Hawking's reversability of the arrow of time actually true? If there weren't monsters around here, this place would be more fun.
That's right, could it be that the dream world is actually made from the memories of the substance that the soul is made of? Monsters are said to be symbols of traumatic memories.
Hmm, that's new. I'll have to tell Renko about it when I wake up.
Now, then, maybe I should start wandering again.
1Sakuya had only asked about Flandre's wings once, immediately after entering into Remilia's service. Remilia's response had been "This isn't the time!" and then they both had to dodge a blast of energy Flandre was throwing.
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