A Different Demon-Sealing Record - Epilogue: Post-Crisis
Kourindou was a small shop close to the edge of the Forest of Magic, a couple of kilometers from where the fight with Noroiko had been. It looked like three buildings in different styles had been squashed together; its interior was filled with strange and otherworldly artifacts, or at least Outside Worldly artifacts. Oddly, none of them had price tags. Marisa knew damn well that it was all an elaborate excuse for the proprietor, Morichika Rinnosuke, to hoard trinkets from the Outside World.
One of these items was currently the focus of Marisa's attentions. It was a sort of ball the size of a large watermelon supported by four squat legs, made up of interconnected concentric metal rings that seemed to be used for measurement; it looked like it was designed for the rings to rotate independently, but a few rust spots made this difficult. Several of the measuring rings had names etched onto them.
"What's this thing?" Marisa asked. She'd swapped out her torn robes for a more cute purple dress; at some point, she wanted to make herself a new witch-hat, but that could wait.
"That is an armillary sphere," said Rinnosuke, a bespectacled gentleman with silver hair and golden eyes, who merely looked like he was in his thirties. He had the ability to instantly discern the name and purpose of any object, but not how it was supposed to be used. "It's a tool for finding the location of any star in the sky."
"I know that," said Marisa. "I saw one of these at MiiiiiimI mean, I've seen one of these before." She paused, but Rinnosuke didn't even react. "It's just, what's with these names? There's the Celestial Dragon, and the Great Tengu, and I have no idea what the heck that name is supposed to be, what even are those kanji?"
"I believe it was made by youkai, for the purposes of their own astronomy," said Rinnosuke, who sounded like he was trying to hurry the subject along.
"It doesn't have the most important stars, though!" said Marisa, before he could say anything else.
Rinnosuke grumbled. "... And what stars are those?"
"Shootin' stars!" Marisa grinned and winked, and snapped her fingers, producing a small star-shaped spark.
Rinnosuke let out an exasperated sigh. "Meteors are not true stars," he said. "An armillary sphere wouldn't have them. Look, Marisa, you really ought to have returned to your parents earlier today, considering that it is now past noon."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said Marisa.
"This is no time to be flippant, young lady," Rinnosuke said sharply. "While you were off gallivanting with those youkai, we all thought you were dead!"
"Yeah, well ..." Marisa shrugged, looking away. "It's just ..." In truth, she didn't really feel all that reluctant to go home. She just felt like she needed to make a point. She wasn't quite sure what that point was, she just knew she had to make it.
At that moment, the door opened. In walked Reimu, who looked exactly the same as she had right after sealing Mima, complete with that satchel full of ofuda for some reason. Kotohime stood at the doorway, and Marisa could see Genjii outside.
"There you are!" said Reimu.
"Hey guys!" said Marisa, grinning.
Reimu frowned. "Marisa ... you need to go home."
"As I was saying," Rinnosuke said sternly.
Reimu nodded. "I mean, c'mon, everyone thought you were dead!" she said. "You should've gone back this morning, it's almost 1 o'clock now!"
Marisa laughed. "Man, everyone's sayin' that!" she said.
Reimu huffed. "Well maybe you should listen, then!"
"All right, how about this, Marisa," said Rinnosuke. He was looking at the armillary sphere. "A few days before your birthday, I'll take you stargazing on a night which I know will have a large number of meteors. I think your parents will agree to that if you go home quickly, yes?"
Marisa gave her most theatrical sigh. Still, she couldn't say no to stargazing, especially when shootin' stars were on the menu. Even if she did have to go home first. "Welllll, okay," she said. "You got a deal!"
"Good!" said Reimu.
An idea struck Marisa. "Can Reimu come?"
Reimu was clearly thrown off-guard. "Uh, what? Why?"
"I dunno," said Marisa. "It's just, I mean ..." She gave Reimu a more relaxed smile than her usual cheeky grin, because this was important and also serious. "I feel like I kinda owe you for my part in this mess, ya know? I figure ... bein' your friend is kinda the least I could do."
Reimu looked thoughtful for a moment. "Um, I guess it's all right," she said. "And, well ... you did help me take her down, and told us where to find the cursed Defenders. You don't have to say I did everything."
"Well, I see no trouble with Miss Hakurei coming along," said Rinnosuke. "I'll talk to your parents about it, Marisa."
"Then it's settled!" Marisa declared, adopting a tone which suggested that there wasn't the slightest possibility that anyone could possibly object. "Catch ya later!"
"Goodbye, Marisa," said Rinnosuke.
The Defense Force had confiscated and disposed of Mima's staff, because they had lots of experience dealing with Dark Artifacts that needed to be chucked into the nearest volcano posthaste, so Marisa picked up a bamboo broomstick she'd enchanted earlier that morning; it wasn't as comfortable as the flower, but it was probably more durable. Marisa followed Reimu and Kotohime outside, where a couple of other officers were waiting. "Jeez, Kotohime, did you have to go for the whole, y'know, cop-thing?"
"This is my job, Marisa," said Kotohime, who was all stone-faced and professional. Whatever, Marisa could see right through that bull.
"Oh, Keine caught the last of the cursed Defenders," said Reimu.
Kotohime nodded. "Yes, thanks again for that list," she said.
"No prob, no prob," said Marisa, gesturing grandiosely. It was always a good idea to show off how self-assured and independent she was.
"Oh, and, um ..." Reimu walked over and said in a low voice, "Remember, don't mention the Yakumos."
"Yes, I don't even know how we could spin the Yakumos' involvement," said Kotohime under her breath. "The cover story will be the one you suggested, Marisa: it was impossible to miss the fact that Mima was a villain once you started living with her full time, you were miserable by the end, and Reimu's the one who finally convinced you to go against her."
"No worries, I can just imagine how my dad would react," murmured Marisa. "Hey guys, I'm back, I switched to Reimu's side cuz we got told off by a kitsune, who works for another youkai who's 'parently really tricksy." She shook her head. "I ... y'know what, I'll just say I don't wanna talk about it."
"Probably wise," said Kotohime. "Just let me and the other police do the talking."
"Yeah," Reimu said softly. She looked like she also had something on her mind, and was trying to distract herself.
Marisa considered this, then hugged Reimu, who stiffened. "Don't worry 'bout it," said Marisa. "You've got a million advantages. Stuff's gonna be easy for you, y'know?"
Reimu just looked uncomfortable for a moment, and then managed a weak smile. "Um ... well, thanks," she mumbled.
Marisa stepped back and nodded, giving her a calculated cheeky grin and a thumbs up. Now that she'd discovered that it was okay for girls to fall in love with other girls, she wanted to make up for almost fourteen years of lost time. (What with one thing and another, Marisa had been left with the impression that you ought to have your romantic situation completely sorted out before you turned twenty.)
Reimu climbed onto Genjii's back. "Um, we're just gonna head back to the Shrine," she said.
"All right," said Kotohime. "You just take it easy for now, Reimu. Just laze around, you've earned it."
Reimu laughed. "Jeez," she said, shaking her head. "Yesterday right after the Shrine blew up, I was thinking I could laze around as, y'know, a reward for beating whoever cursed Rika. I didn't know what that would actually feel like, y'know?"
Kotohime shot Reimu a smile which Marisa thought was slightly forced. "Welcome to the youkai-exterminator club," she said. "Let us know if anything happens with the god of the Shrine, all right?"
"Okay," said Reimu, as Genjii rose off the ground. "See you all later!"
"Bye!" said Marisa. When they were in the air, she said, "Man, she keeps saying I helped out, but she's the one who ended up like that."
"That doesn't mean your contributions didn't matter," said Kotohime. "It's not the first battle I've seen that was decided by a single timely distraction, and who knows when we would've found the other cursed Defenders without your help."
"Well, all right," said Marisa, glancing over at Reimu's retreating back. "Well, I'll have to come visit the Shrine some other time." She had read enough comics about romance and between boys and girls to have a working idea of what that looked like, but with another girl, she was just flying by the seat of her broomstick. Still, it seemed that half the time, the couples just did normal stuff together until they finally kissed; the obvious thing to do was to start by treating Reimu like a friend.
And either way, she'd need all the advantages she could get if she wanted to outmatch the Hakurei Shrine Maiden any other way. "Hokay, let's go!" she said, angling her broomstick upward. "Next stop, Human Village!"
"Please don't try to race us again, Marisa," said Kotohime.
Reimu landed at the torii arch of the Hakurei Shrine, and hopped off Genjii's back. The carpenters from the Human Village seemed to be making good progress; she could already see the general shape of the structure. It was being funded by the Hieda family, which was old money — the oldest money in Gensokyo, in fact.
There was also a group of young men and women sitting around and not doing much; some of them had obvious weapons, and all of them wore the armband of the Youkai-Extermination Defense Force.
Reimu and Genjii were approached by the chief carpenter, Hara Takumi, who happened to be Rika's father. "Ah, Ms. Hakurei, Mr. Genjii!" He was a stubble-faced man in his forties with a ponytail. He paused when he saw Reimu. "Is everything all right?"
Reimu smiled faintly. "I'm fine, I'm just tired."
"I'm not surprised," said Mr. Hara. "Sounds like you were up late fighting that vengeful spirit who attacked us."
"Yeah," said Reimu. "I had help from Kirisame Marisa, though."
"Yeah, I heard rumors," said Mr. Hara, smiling. "Back from the dead to help the Shrine Maiden save the day, huh?"
"Haha, yep," said Reimu. Kotohime had said she didn't want news of Marisa's complicity to reach Mr. Kirisame's ears until he had Marisa right in front of him, but she was pretty sure Marisa was already home by now. Well ... probably. Actually, you know what, it was probably best not to say anything yet.
"Anyway, like I was saying, we're making good progress," said Mr. Hara. "Same time estimate I gave this morning, we'll get it done by Sunday or Monday."
"Oh, good," said Reimu.
Mr. Hara hesitated. "And ... once again, I have to say ..." He bowed low. "Thank you for rescuing my daughter yesterday."
Reimu managed a smile. "No problem," she said. "It's just, y'know, the job of the Shrine Maiden."
"Mm." He looked down at her dubiously. "Honestly, I feel kind of weird about having a fifteen-year-old Hakurei Miko," he said.
"Fourteen," said Genjii.
Mr. Hara managed not to wince. "I briefly knew Hakurei Chiyo through the Defense Force, and ... I just remember Rika being your age." He shook his head. "You sure you're all right?"
"Yeah," Reimu said promptly, wondering if she really was.
He peered down at her. "Just ... don't overdo it, will you please?" he said.
"Okay," said Reimu, feeling even less certain about that.
He nodded slowly. "I prayed to Lady Konngara, by the way," he said. "Here's hoping she can recover all the faith she lost."
"Oh, yeah," said Reimu. "Thanks!"
"Indeed," said Genjii. "Every little bit helps. Thank you very much."
"You're welcome!" said Mr. Hara.
"Um, I'm gonna go rest some more," said Reimu.
Mr. Hara chuckled. "You do that," he said. "You obviously earned it."
Reimu smiled back. "Lemme know if ... if anything happens," she said.
"Sure, sure!" he said.
Genjii dematerialized to ... do whatever he did when he wasn't manifesting as a tortoise, and Reimu went to the living quarters. She regarded her rolled-up futon for a moment, then just unrolled it and flopped onto it, fully dressed. Her satchel and gohei sat on the floor on either side of her, with the Yin-Yang Orb next to her head.
Last night had been ... a mess, quite frankly. After talking extensively with Genjii this morning, she was pretty sure she'd managed to seal Mima solely because of the vengeful spirit's arrogance. The thing was, Mima had insisted on winning. She hadn't considered the slightest possibility of any outcome other than "Reimu walks away" or "Reimu loses." Mima could have fled on her own, she could have given Reimu more than two seconds at a time to think of, she could have woken up Kotohime so that Reimu and Genjii wouldn't be completely alone ... and instead, she had escalated the conflict when they'd gotten in a lucky hit, she'd escalated when Marisa had almost died, she'd escalated and escalated until Reimu didn't have any options other than sealing her.
"Annoying," muttered Reimu. Well ... someday, probably not too far in the future, she'd be a good enough fighter that she could take on any opponent with impunity.
Honestly, this had just been exhausting. Reimu wished she could ask Chiyo how she'd done it. Well ... she'd be able to ask Konngara soon, at any rate. She wondered where Chiyo's soul had gone, or if she'd already reincarnated.
She lay there for several hours, listening to the construction and occasionally dozing lightly. At one point there was a jangling danmaku sound, which made her jump to her feet, but it was immediately followed by laughter and someone yelling, "That was just a fairy, you goof!"
Finally, at around five o'clock, there was a light rapping on the door. Reimu quickly got up and slid it open. "Yes?"
"It's just about time for us to head back to the Village for the night," said Mr. Hara.
"Oh, okay," said Reimu. She looked past him at the Shrine, which was ... still incomplete, but she could see that progress had been made. "I'll see you all tomorrow, then!"
Mr. Hara bowed, and turned. "Hokay, everyone, the work day is officially over!" The Defense Force youths were the first to their feet.
Reimu saw them off, and set the Yin-Yang Orb down in the middle of the half-completed building. She kept her satchel and gohei on hand, because it seemed like she shouldn't take any chances at the moment. After her rest, though, she felt as though she could handle whatever was needed for the rest of the day, such as it was.
She checked the offertory box. It contained about seventy thousand Gensokyo yen, plus a handful of the gilt oblong tengu-coins from Youkai Mountain — which didn't quite have a stable value relative to the human currency, but in practice, most places in the Human Village just accepted them as 1000-yen coins. Reimu could ... probably live off this for the next few weeks. Money seemed empty, in terms of a reward, but what could you do? She just grimaced, and once again thanked Konngara and whoever had invented the Yin-Yang Orb that she'd survived.
Reimu felt a very faint ... presence in front of her, seemingly in response to her prayer. She looked up, but there was nothing. After a moment, she just shrugged, and carried the offertory box over to the storage shed where the Shrine's money was kept.
Mima's stone was sitting on top of the safe; all the ofuda were holding steady, and Reimu had added a couple more. She rested her hand on it, feeling a faint thrum of the power. It seemed ... odd, that such a terrifying enemy could have just been reduced to a prisoner in a rock. Well, the whole adventure had been kind of weird, really, although now that Reimu thought about it, she wasn't sure what "normal" would actually look like. She'd probably never just rush in, exterminate some troublemaking youkai, and then kick back at the Shrine.
Especially now that she wasn't sure she could exterminate ... kill anyone. Reimu sighed, and just put the money into the safe.
As soon as she'd left and the shed's door was closed, a purple and black mist resumed leaking out around the ofuda.
Reimu went to the living quarters. She realized that her homework was exactly where she'd left it when the Shrine had exploded yesterday. Keine had given her an extension, but after that display with Meira, Reimu didn't want to take any chances, even if it had just been a ruse.
She reached for her writing implements, then hesitated. There was one other thing she'd wanted to do since last night.
She twisted the boundary inside herself for a few seconds. Once again, she felt completely weightless and relaxed. She twisted it back, then pulled a small hand mirror out of the dresser. Now that she could see better, her hair seemed dark brown rather than completely black. Reimu thought she could get used to the look. (Of course, she'd have to, eventually.) Maybe if she got a haircut ...
She briefly felt the creepy sensation of a boundary of nothingness opening just past the Shrine's torii arch. Oh, right, Yakumo Yukari was supposed to be "sensitive" to Reimu's boundary powers, wasn't she?
Reimu rushed outside, summoned the Yin-Yang Orb, and split it into four. Genjii appeared a second later. "Miss Hakurei, what — ah."
"Yeah," said Reimu, scrambling onto his back.
Yakumo Ran was floating just past the arch, looking just like she had before, complete with clasped hands. "Greetings, Shrine Maiden," she said as Reimu approached.
"Hi," said Reimu, frowning.
"You appear to have been practicing your boundary-powers," said Ran.
"Uh. Still haven't figured out what I did or what the other effects were," Reimu lied. "What do you want?"
"Our master wishes to grant you a fee for successfully neutralizing a threat to the Great Hakurei Barrier," said Ran. She unclasped her hands, revealing that one of them contained a small leather pouch, which bulged.
Reimu peered at it. "No tricks? It's not gonna turn into twigs and leaves the minute you're gone?"
"It will not," said Ran. "No tricks, either on our part or on that of our master."
"You might as well accept it," said Genjii. "Yakumo Yukari has given 'fees' like this to the Hakurei Shrine before, and there have been no attempts to trick us in any meaningful way."
"Um, fine," said Reimu. She guided Genjii forward to take the pouch, and opened it up.
There were twenty gold tengu coins in two short stacks. Twenty thousand Gensokyo yen. It felt, if anything, even more of an empty gesture than the other money. "Um, thanks, though."
"You are quite welcome," said Ran.
Reimu closed up the pouch, then looked up at Ran. "So, why isn't Yakumo Yukari showing up herself?"
"You are approximately ten years too early to face our master," said Ran.
"Approximately, huh?" This level of silliness just managed to get Reimu to crack a smile.
"We weren't using the figurative expression to mean that you're woefully unprepared," said Ran. "Youkai are born from human fears, which is why the majority of us are deadly, mysterious, or terrifying, and our master is all three. Extrapolating from your performance last night, we estimate that you shall not be ready to meet her before the summer of the 125th season." She raised her eyebrows. "That is, assuming you live that long."
"That's nine years," said Reimu.
"The youkai calendar starts with season 0," said Ran serenely.
"Yakumo Yukari has had this 'ten years too early' message to every new Shrine Maiden," said Genjii.
"Whatever," said Reimu. She took a deep breath, and broached the other subject that had been bothering her. "Hey, uh, I know you guys are behind the 'beginner's luck' thing."
"Are we?" said Ran, poker-faced.
"I was talking about this with Genjii this morning," said Reimu. "Mima sorta told us that you — Yakumo Yukari, and you and whatever other minions she has, you go around, like ... making deals with other youkai, threatening 'em, and, and just, keeping a lid on things while we're ... not good enough to do anything about it." She watched Ran's face, but there was no reaction. Reimu plunged on. "This time, you had to deal with us yourselves, because you couldn't stop them before they cursed a whole bunch of Defenders and blew up the Shrine."
"If that is true," said Ran, her face still unreadable. "would you rather we did not, or would you prefer if we simply gave you a detailed report on our activities?"
Reimu hadn't actually thought that far. "Well." She gestured with her gohei. "That's, uh, that's the paradox! I wouldn't even believe you no matter what you said!"
"Just so," said Ran. "What do you intend to do, then?"
"Just, um." It occurred to Reimu that suddenly putting on a poker-face was an indication of something, and it probably wasn't innocence. "I'm onto you guys, okay?" she said. "And I'm, um. I'm still gonna keep protecting the Human Village and making sure the Great Hakurei Barrier doesn't fail! And if you start making trouble, then, um." She waved her gohei. "Then I'll take the fight to you guys!"
She realized as she said this that this was probably a really stupid thing to say, especially if she was ten years too early, or woefully unprepared or whatever. She just glared at Ran.
But Ran only said, "We believe our master will consider that to be quite excellent, shrine maiden." She bowed, and a gap opened behind her. "As you were, then, Miss Hakurei, Mr. Genjii."
She felt a brief stab of pain as the Shrine was destroyed.
Then a whisper of a prayer touched her. "Thank gods, and, um, especially Konngara, that I was ... doing homework in the living quarters, instead of dealing with something in the Shrine." It was the voice of Hakurei Reimu, her new Shrine Maiden. She sensed that the girl hadn't literally been doing homework. She clung to this awareness.
Within a few hours, she heard more distant whispers, first a trickle, then a torrent. "Lady Konngara, please let our Village survive the night." "Oh great goddess Konngara, please deliver us from evil through thy Shrine Maiden." "Lady Konngara, I ... I dunno if I really believe-believe in all this stuff, even after I've met Aki Minoriko, but ... well ... look out for us, will ya? And look out for Reimu." At first, she heard them only because of the proximity of her Shrine Maiden, but soon they came to her by sheer weight of numbers, hundreds if not thousands of souls all praying to one god. It was like nearly dying of thirst, and suddenly finding a torrent of water running over your lips. A prayer in thanks from Reimu at the edge of the Forest of Magic, a halfhearted prayer from another youkai exterminator deeper inside ...
Throughout the next day, she felt the prayers from the workers who were rebuilding her shrine. It wasn't necessary at this point, but it helped to ease her pain. There were quite a few thankful prayers from one Hara Takumi. She also heard a couple of indistinct prayers from the Village, but they were more indistinct. Something about someone's missing daughter who'd turned up.
Finally, there was one last prayer, another one straight from her Shrine Maiden, a repeat of her thanks for survival.
Konngara had gotten quite a bit of faith, all told.
In the center of the partially-rebuilt Shrine, for the first time in seven years, something began to stir.
This stirring did not go unnoticed. After the sun had set and Reimu was asleep, a gap opened up directly above the torii arch. Out floated a youkai with golden hair and violet eyes, dressed in a frilly purple dress and a white mob cap; around the cap and in her hair, there were pinkish-red ribbons which looked exactly like the ones on her gaps.
Yakumo Yukari smiled. Or rather, I smiled.
(... and here I must apologize, dear reader, for what must doubtlessly seem to have been a deception in my chosen form of narrative. Not that I deny being deceptive ... but if you read carefully, you may notice that I never directly referred to myself in the narration until this point, except in dialogue and internal monologues! Hmhmhmhmhm~)
"Ah, excellent!" I said. "It's good to see that I'll soon have the opportunity to speak with you again, Lady Konngara." My smile was quite unreadable; there are more ways to hide your thoughts than a mere lack of expression. Indeed, even you can't fully discern my thoughts, can you, dear reader?
Konngara was jolted into further wakefulness. Her first thought was along the lines of: oh, hell ...
"And as you know, I'm never one for passing up an opportunity," I continued, raising my eyebrows. "If, for example, I were to discover that a vengeful spirit named Kirisame Mima was ignorantly plotting to attack the defenders of the Human Village ..." I grinned, and shrugged. "Well, I would be quite unable to resist the opportunity it provided for your resurrection. If the Village's own defenders were attacked, it would be quite inevitable that the Human Village would take the opportunity to unite in prayer against a common threat."
Konngara's mind raced. The only coherent thing running through her mind was What!?
"It wasn't precisely entrapment," I continued. "It was all Mima's own design. It would seem that as a rule, I do not interfere unless a youkai is attacking a young Shrine Maiden, but in this case, I simply ... stood aside, and allowed it. Until I did not, of course." My gaze shifted towards the storage shed, and my grin became cheeky. "Just as I allowed Hakurei Reimu to seal Mima away in that condition ... but I do not foresee any fatal complications."
Then Konngara noticed the dark energies leaking from the stone in the storage shed. Now there was something else running through her mind, namely incoherent swearing.
"I must apologize, however," I said. "I did not intend for the Hakurei Shrine to be destroyed, and I am sorry I was unable to prevent that. I can only promise you that if young Reimu had been inside the Shrine when that missile was fired, I would have rescued her." I grinned. "She thought she could reliably detect my gaps with her burgeoning power, but rest assured, I was watching this whole scenario much more closely than anyone believed."
Konngara didn't find that very reassuring at all. Well ... sort of, she knew that I tended to own up to my mistakes, but still. But Konngara was fairly sure that this was the kind of "apology" that would have made her absolutely furious if I had waited until she was fully alive, which she presumed was why I hadn't waited.
"In any event, it seems that there is no further need to take action myself," I said. "With the culprit sealed for the time being, the Shrine well on its way to rebuilding, and the Hakurei Miko safe, there is no further threat to my greatest creation, the Great Hakurei Barrier." I winked. "So, goodnight, Konngara of Hakurei, and may great things come from your Shrine Maiden!"
And with that, I descended back through the gap, and was gone.
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