Perfect Square Ch2: Changeover
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Gensokyo has several mountains, although none of them are as high as the Youkai Mountain. One of the others is quite close to the Hakurei Shrine.
... which was wrecked a few hours ago.
The one ultimately responsible smirks as she surveys the wreckage. She is near the entrance to a cave near the summit of the mountain. She has green hair, and is dressed in purple robes with a blue cape, and a white pointed hat. Oh — and she doesn't have legs. Just a white whispy tail. Her name is Mima.
Her smirk deepens, and then she slips into the cave, promptly passing into another dimension. She flies along invisibly, and raises an eyebrow as she catches sight of the young shrine maiden, who is now battling against five magical orbs, riding on the back of a flying turtle with a beard. Mima quietly slips by, unnoticed, and passes into Makai, the realm of demons.
Makai is a planet in its own right; therefore, saying "deeper in Makai" makes as little sense as "deeper into Antarctica" when you're already on the South Pole. But some ways away from the entrance guarded by the five magic stones, there lies a small palace, where Mima's subordinate waits.
"Are you ready?" says Mima.
The young witch salutes; she's dressed in a purple dress and a matching pointy witch's cap, and has long red hair and scarlet eyes. She's only thirteen. "Ready as I'll ever be, boss!"
Mima nods. "Good," she says. "She'll be headed this way as soon as she destroys the magic stones."
"Okay," says the young witch. "Then we'll see about beatin' her, yeah?"
"Yeah," says Mima, smirking slightly and matching her tone.
A loud rumbling boom is heard in the distance. "Hmm, that will be the last stone's destruction," says Mima. "I'll go meet her at the entrance. Come here when I call you."
"You got it, boss!" replies the witch, saluting again.
Mima nods. "And, er, Marisa?"
"Why did you magically change your hair and eyes red, and why are you sitting on what appears to be an oversized sunflower?" asks Mima.
"Oh, y'know, it's an alibi," says Marisa cheerfully. "If someone from the village saw me, they won't recognize me, and I won't have to hear another boring lecture from Kourin or my dad, ze."
Mima slowly nods. Not for the first time, she feels a certain amount of unease about having selected this particular girl. Still, about half the traits which make her so exasperating are also the perfect combination for manipulating her towards Mima's own goals. "I thought Mr. Morichika and your father already knew you wanted to be a witch," she says.
Marisa shrugs. "Well, yeah, they've known that since I was six, ze," she says. "I meant specifically about this whole blowin'-up-the-shrine thing."
"Well ... all right," says Mima; her reluctance is mitigated by the fact that this is ultimately of no consequence whatsoever. "Just as long as you come when called."
"You got it!" says Marisa, saluting.
By the palace's courtyard stands the shrine maiden — a young girl in miko robes with long purple hair. A pair of orbs float on either side of her, half red and half white, in a pattern resembling a yin-yang.
"I sense ... some sort of evil spirit here," she says slowly.
"Indeed, Milady," replies the turtle in a low, gravelly voice. "Doubtless our final opponent is about to make their appearance."
The young miko frowns, looking around. "It seems ... I dunno, somehow familiar," she says. "In fact ..."
"What is it?" says the turtle.
Her expression swiftly becomes one of annoyance. "I don't believe it," she mutters. "Not again!"
"What?" says the turtle. "Who is it? What do you mean?"
"Here she comes!" says the shrine maiden, signaling for the turtle to back away.
Mima appears in a large column of light in front of them. "Hello, Reimu," she says. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Mima!" exclaims Reimu. "I knew it!"
"You knew what?" says the turtle, brow furrowed in confusion.
"Oh, sorry, Genjii, I guess this is the first time you've met her," says Reimu. "But this is no time for explanations!" She angrily turns on Mima. "You're the one who wrecked my shrine, aren't you?"
Mima smirks, calculating the response most likely to wind Reimu up. "Oh, who cares about some cheap, middle-of-nowhere shrine," she says sardonically. This is nonsense, of course; the Shrine on the eastern edge of Gensokyo is one of the most important landmarks. "My goal is to exact revenge on the entire human race!"
Reimu sputters. "Well, it's fine to dream big," she says, drawing a raised eyebrow from the turtle, "but there's nothing worse than insulting my shrine! I'm sealing you up here and now!"
Mima chuckles. "Ah, a challenge," she says. "But I'm afraid I just don't have the time. Soon, my revival will be complete. So until then ... I'll let you play with her." She gestures into the palace as Marisa out. "Ta-ta!"
"Hey, wait!" exclaims Reimu, as Mima vanishes into another column of light. "Dammit!" A barrier forms behind Marisa, sealing the palace.
"Okaaaay," says the witch as she draws up to Reimu and Genjii. "Leave it to Marisa!"
Mima retreats to the palace's throne room to prepare for the next stage in her plan. She has every confidence that Reimu will emerge victorious against Marisa. In fact, Mima realizes that her own victory is slightly less than certain.
She grins to herself in the darkness. This will certainly be an interesting battle.
The news spread like wildfire. Marisa was studying to become a youkai.
It reached the Bamboo Forest of the Lost, and the long ears of the rabbits in the mansion of Eientei.
"A youkai magician, huh?" said Midori Inaba, a short golden-haired rabbit-girl wearing a scarf. "Mika, you been hittin' the rumor mill too hard again?"
"Hey, I didn't make it up, Midori," said Mika Sayomi Inaba, who was taller and brown-haired, and had a bow on the collar of her dress. "Tei-sama said she heard it from Mokou."
"Tewi," corrected Midori. "Look, okay, first of all, she was born over a thousand years ago, and the 'wi' kana was only made obsolete in the year 62,1 and that was in the outside world."
"Er, well ..."
"And second of all —"
It reached the edge of the Magic Forest, and the shop of curiosities called Kourindou, which was filled with strange items from the outside world.
Rinnosuke "Kourin" Morichika sighed. He looked more or less like a silver-haired man, though his eyes were golden and slitted like a cat. He also had just a hint of the youkai-smoothness, but it was such that he'd have looked human in a crowd of youkai, and like a youkai in a crowd of humans. He also wore a pair of glasses, which was unusual for Gensokyo.
"That girl will be the death of me," he murmured. "So, trying to catch up with my age, eh?"
A young woman was sitting in the shop, reading a book; her face was more obviously that of a youkai, and she had silvery hair with blue streaks. She was actually a crested ibis youkai, so everyone called her Tokiko. "She can't," she said, barely looking up from the book. "You're just going to stay the same distance apart, even if she's going to live a lot longer now."
Rinnosuke snorted. "I didn't mean that literally," he said.
It reached the Myouren Shrine near the Human Village, which catered to both humans and youkai.
It was owned by Byakuren Hijiri, a formerly-human youkai magician herself. Her most striking feature was her hair, which was mostly golden, but faded into purple on top of her head. At the moment, she relaxed in a chair in front of the shrine, sipping her tea.
A karakasa flew down and landed on the grass in front of her. To most people who know a thing or two about Japanese legends, this calls to mind a mental image of an oversized umbrella, with a single demonic eye and an enormous tongue, with a geta-sandal at the end. This was, in fact, accurate. However, since a karakasa is a type of tsukumogami, it was being carried by a humanoid shape, in this case a young woman with cyan hair and a matching dress.2 Her right eye also matched her hair; her left eye was ruby-read.
Byakuren smiled. "Not trying to sneak in and surprise people today, Kogasa?" she said mildly.
Kogasa Tatara grinned and winked her right eye. She'd come up with a much better way to surprise her. "The witch is learning Shashoku magic," she said cheerfully.
This startled Byakuren — exactly the result Kogasa had intended. But after a moment she burst out laughing. "This is turning both of us on our heads," she said.
"What do you mean?" said Kogasa.
"Well, she's willing to sacrifice her humanity for her love of a youkai," said Byakuren, "and my ideals are thrown for a loop because it won't be a friendship between a human and a youkai anymore."
It reached the fairies in the forests.
Cirno was one of the strongest fairies in Gensokyo. This didn't say much, admittedly. She had light blue hair with a green ribbon and wore a blue dress. She had six wings which looked like shards of ice. "Well what's that got to do with me?" she asked.
She was currently sitting in a tree with Chen, a nekomata who looked like a little girl with a pair of cat-ears and two cat-tails; she wore a poofy green hat and a red dress. "Probably it means she'll be able to pound you even deeper into the ground," she said.
"Pah!" Cirno glared. "I'm the strongest! You know all those times she beat me were just flukes!"
Chen smirked. "Riiiight."
Later, Chen told her mistress, Ran Yakumo, and then Ran told her mistress, and then the news reached Hakugyokuro, the local Land of the Dead. On the front porch of the mansion in the center, the most powerful being alive in Gensokyo was having tea with the most powerful being dead in Hakugyokuro.
"Hmmm ..." Yuyuko Saigyouji, the Princess of the Netherworld, tapped her chin with a paper fan. She had short pink hair, poofy blue robes, and a trace of ghostly lights surrounding her. She, too, had a glow to her face, though that was because she was a ghost, and she really was glowing. "Well, what's your actual opinion on it, Yukari?"
Yukari Yakumo was perhaps the most youkai-like youkai there was. She was tall, wore a purple dress which matched her eyes, and had long golden hair. "I think if she wanted to become a youkai, she could have just asked me to manipulate the Boundary Between Humans and Youkai," she said. She teased open what looked like a rend in the fabric of reality, tied off at the ends by red ribbons. Marisa was visible through it, furiously studying in the library. "She just looks too enthusiastic about it me to offer, though."
Yuyuko's gardener, bodyguard, and all-around servant-of-all-trades, Youmu Konpaku, approached with the tea tray. She looked like a human in her mid-teens, with short straight silver hair, and what appeared to be a shapeless ghost hovering behind her like a Siamese twin that hadn't quite made it. She wore a simple green dress, and a pair of large swords strapped to her back. "Well, whatever happens to her," she said, "I'm definitely planning on remaining human for the rest of my life."
Yukari arched an eyebrow. "What will you do when you die, then?"
Yuyuko grinned, wrapping an arm around Youmu's waist. "She'll remain with me as a full-ghost, of course!" she said cheerfully.
Youmu blushed faintly and smiled. "Ah ... yes, Miss Yuyuko ..."
It reached the Moriya Shrine at the top of the Youkai Mountain.
Sanae Kotiya was the priestess of the shrine. She was a young woman with long green hair, dressed in blue and white robes. At this time, in this place, she communed with her goddess, the mighty Kanako Yasaka, current collector of a great deal of the faith in Gensokyo. "Um, I'm going to go see Reimu," she said. "I'll have to make sure she doesn't treat this like an incident she has to resolve."
"Go ahead," said Kanako, reclining in a chair in front of the shrine. "Be back in time for dinner."3
It reached Aya Shameimaru, a crow-tengu living two thirds of the way up Youkai Mountain, and in a sense it stopped there because she dutifully wrote it down. (The previous phrase was a bit of word-play she'd read in a book from the Outside World, and decided she wanted to steal it. Originality was one of the many virtues she lacked as an investigative journalist, except when it came to writing something more interesting than what had actually happened.)
And, of course, it reached the Hakurei Shrine. In fact, one could say that it had started there. The one spreading the rumor around lived there, after all.
"You've told everyone?" said Reimu Hakurei, the last in the bloodline of the Hakurei clan, and it would probably be fairly inaccurate to add "but not least." She dressed in red and white clothes which could only be described as those of a shrine maiden in terms even looser than her detached sleeves.
She was addressing Suika Ibuki, an oni who looked like a little girl with horns, chains, raggedy clothes, and a large purple gourd of sake. "Sure," she said cheerfully, wobbling slightly. "I figured everyone'd want to know, yeah?"
Reimu considered this. Suika tended to do whatever entered her head to do without fully considering the consequences, especially when this was "drink lots of alcohol." In some ways, she was even more carefree than Reimu was. "You even went to the Netherworld?"
"Oh. Nah, I just told Cirno while Chen was hangin' out with her." Suika shrugged.
Reimu stood back. "And she really is doing it," she said softly. "She ... wants to become a youkai."
"Um ... yes?" said Suika, tilting her head uncertainly. She was sober enough to realize that something wasn't quite right here.
"Oh," said Reimu, sitting down heavily on the front steps. She ... wasn't actually sure how she felt about this, come to think of it. There seemed to be a ... vague, fundamental sort of this is silly.
Sanae was flying over from the direction of the Youkai Mountain. "Hey, Reimu ..." she said, looking slightly worried.
"Um. Hi," said Reimu softly.
Suika frowned. "Er, I'll just ... I'll see you later," she said, and scurried away.
Sanae sat down next to Reimu. "So, she told you too?"
"Yeah," said Reimu, scooting in closer and wrapping an arm around Sanae's waist. Their relationship wasn't as passionate as Alice and Marisa's, nor as, hah, fiery as that between the Moon princess and that phoenix-girl; apart from anything else, they hadn't known each other for quite as long.4 "I'm fine. It just feels kinda weird. She's never gone so far out of her way before." She shrugged. "Of course, this wouldn't be the first time she's abruptly thrown all her time and energy into some project or other, and either lost interest halfway through, or finished it and found she didn't really want the results anymore ..."
"Has she ever been in love before?" asked Sanae, leaning against her.
Reimu thought about this. "Not that I've ever known," she said. "She and I went out for about five minutes between the Scarlet Mist Incident and the Long Winter, but nothing ... happened." She shrugged. "We never even kissed."
"Oh," said Sanae, tilting her head sightly. Reimu wondered if she should have told her that. "Well ... now she's with Alice."
"Yeah," said Reimu, smiling as she gave Sanae a squeeze. "And now we're together."
Sanae blushed faintly and nodded, smiling. "Yeah ..."
Reimu nodded, leaning closer against Sanae. "Well, at least she isn't hurting anyone," she said.
"Yeah," said Sanae, pointedly snuggling up closer.
"Er, sorry," said Reimu, shaking her head. "I've just ... Marisa's been a friend of mine for twelve years." She hesitated. "Or at least, I've known her that long," she added. "And that's almost half my life now. It just seems ... strange, knowing that she won't be human much longer."
"Mmm." Sanae shrugged. "Sorry. I've never really had anyone like that. I understand, though."
Reimu nodded slowly. "When did she go to the mansion, I wonder," she murmured.
"Er, I think yesterday."
The surface of the table was entirely hidden by books. Marisa was furiously grabbing books, reading through them, and putting them back, looking as exhausted as if she'd been trying to swim from Japan to mainland China.
"Oh hi Alice I'm trying to get this part done before lunch time!" she babbled.
"It's almost five in the afternoon already," said Alice, frowning.
"Lunch time tomorrow, then!"
"Marisa," Alice said slowly, "I think you really need to rest for a while."
"Wait!" gasped Marisa, hands shaking as she scribbled furiously on the notebook. "I'm almost up to Hartmann's quantum hexagrammatical divinatory runic channeling planar talismanic charm manifestation artifact occultism sorcery!"
"Marisa, your writing looks like you killed a row of spiders on the page," said Alice.
Marisa shouted, "But I can still read it!" She stared at the page. "I mean, uh ... I could probably, um ..."
Alice cast an anti-insomnia spell they'd developed together. Marisa looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded approvingly as her eyes closed. Her face thudded onto the notebook, and she began snoring loudly.
"And she calls me a goofball," said Alice, wrapping her arms around Marisa with the intentions of picking her up.
"Oh — I figured she'd want to stay overnight," said a voice from above, "so I had the maids prepare a guest bedroom."
Alice looked up. The speaker was standing on top of one of the bookcases. She looked like a ten-year-old girl with short lavender-colored hair, dresed in an elaborate pink dress with red trim and a matching poofy hat. She also had a pair of bat-wings as big as she was, and blood-red eyes ...
... which, when you looked into them, seemed to have a sinister cunning.
Vampires didn't get to be five hundred years old without learning a thing or two, especially when you looked like a little girl. One thing Remilia Scarlet had gotten good at was exuding an aura of power and confidence and intelligence, which her youthful appearance belied.
"Thank you," said Alice cautiously, wondering precisely what Remilia was up to. Altruism and vampires went together like spinach and turpentine. Well, okay, she could help someone else out, but there had to be a reason for it. "That's very ... kind of you."
Remilia shook her head dismissively. "Oh, I'm just helping out an acquaintance of mine out of the goodness of my heart," she said, giving a grin that bared her fangs. Another supernatural skill she had was the ability to say that sort of thing with a perfectly straight face.
"I thought you took pride in not having a heart," said Alice frowning. "What is this, some sort of ... oblique revenge against Reimu defeating you, or something?"
Remilia laughed. It sounded like a cross between a girlish giggle and a scornful chuckle. "If she insists," she said, in a tone of voice which indicated that she sure hoped so.
"Um, fine," said Alice, getting Marisa into a sort of "backpack" position. "Um, thanks. You're ... very kind. Is it all right if I stay here with her?"
"Not a problem," said Remilia, smirking. It was a smirk that said: Go ahead and watch over her. She's gonna need it.
Alice arched an eyebrow, and shifted her position slightly. Her general stance said: if you try anything funny, you're going home in an ambulance.
Remilia raised both her eyebrows, with a grin that indicated: I am home.
There was a reasonably tense pause.
"Well," said Alice, "which way to the guest room?"
Remilia smirked. She'd had the last grin. "I'll have Sakuya lead you there," she said.
Alice sat by Marisa's bed, reading a book and feeling tense. She'd offered to have her dolls help make dinner, which had seemed to annoy the head maid Sakuya Izayoi, and mealtime was somewhat ... unsettled at first.
She wondered if she'd broken some sort of social rule. Having Marisa as the only person you hung out with5 was really bad for one's manners, although Sanae had been doing her best to mitigate this for all their sakes. She wondered if she ought to try to just get out and socialize more, though this brought up worries that Marisa would muck things up, and their love was currently the kind of thing where they didn't even consider the idea of not spending time with each other. On the plus side, by the end of the meal they'd been on much more cordial terms, and there certainly didn't seem to be any chance of —
There was a soft thud in the wall nearby. Alice frowned and looked up.
Ten feet further away from the bed than she was, a silver knife stuck out of the wall. Alice jumped to her feet.
Time stopped. A tall young woman with short silver hair in a dark-blue and white maid uniform walked over and stood back to back with her, whereupon time resumed. "There's a dark presence somewhere in the mansion," she whispered.
Alice jumped. "Oh, really?" she muttered.
"It's not Remilia," said Sakuya, a note of strained patience in her voice. "Patchouli and I are trying to flush it out. I thought I'd sensed it here, but it either got away or wasn't there. Stay here and keep Kirisame safe."
"R-right," said Alice, wondering what the hell was going on. Great, of all the times for some sort of crisis to happen ...
Sakuya vanished, "teleporting" by way of stopping time and walking to where she wanted to go. The knife disappeared, as well; after a moment, so did the hole in the wall it had left.
Alice frowned, sitting back down on the chair. Well, it looked like tonight was going to be interesting, anyway. Actually, from the looks of it, it was mostly going to be interesting for Sakuya and Patchouli, and hopefully entirely uninteresting for her and Marisa.
"Is it working out?"
"Yes. None of them suspect a thing; I've used that little trick of yours to send them on a wild goose chase looking for you."
"Hah. Everything's going according to plan, then."
There was a soft knock on the door, then Patchouli poked her head in. "Ah ... Alice, are you all right?" she said softly.
"Apart from being tense enough that you could use me in a trebuchet, yeah," said Alice.
Patchouli chuckled and nodded. "Well, whatever it is seems to be gone now," she said, glancing to Marisa. "Is she all right?"
"Our patented sleep-spell is keeping her out of it," said Alice. "I don't think she'll even know there was any excitement.
Patchouli nodded. "All right," she said. "See you in the morning."
Alice nodded. "See you later," she said.
Marisa stretched. "Damn, that was a good night's sleep!" she said.
"Glad to hear it," murmured Alice, sitting next to her and looking like Marisa's lack of sleep had been transferred to her.
Marisa peered at her. "What the ... Don't tell me you were up all night now."
"Some sort of evil spirit got into the Mansion," said Alice. "Sakuya and Patchouli chased it out, I think, but ..." She yawned. "Mmm ... I didn't get much sleep last night, heh ..."
"Aha," said Marisa. "You shoulda woken me up!"
"No, not really," said Alice flatly. She yawned again.
"Okay," said Marisa, getting out of bed. "After breakfast, yer goin' straight home, all right?"
Alice giggled. "Oh, all right," she said. "You behave, now."
"Oh, I will," said Marisa, kissing her on the lips. "I promise ya that, ze."
Alice made her way home. She had a mild headache, and her brain felt like it was wrapped in cotton. This did not bode well for ... well ... probably the next several days, actually. Well, okay, when you got right down to it, she didn't actually need to eat or sleep, but old habits were hard to break. She wasn't some thousand-year-old youkai; she hadn't even been a youkai for half her life.
She got the dolls running on "automatic household chores as needed," undressed, and flopped down in bed. Well, the bright side was that even if she did waste a day sleeping when she didn't really have any phsyical need for it, she'd spend the rest of her immense lifespan with Marisa. Alice smiled, closing her eyes and settling down ...
There was a knock at the door. It was ... someone her dolls didn't recognize. Great.
Grumbling, she got out of bed, dressed, and went to the front door and opened it.
"Um, hello —" She stopped, and her eyes widened.
Marisa was surrounded by a rainbow-colored glow. There was also a dissonant hum, which sounded rather loud when you were right next to it, but which you couldn't hear unless you were looking directly at it.
Patchouli floated over. "Er ... how are you doing?" she said, feeling rather strange about talking normally with someone who she primarily knew as a thief.
Marisa continued reading from the books, writing in the notebook, oblivious.
Patchouli frowned. "Er ... oh." She reached into the glow and tapped her on the shoulder.
Marisa blinked, and turned off the magics. "Oh, hiya, Patchy," she said. "Sorry, I can't hear anythin' outside, ze."
"Yes, I can see that," said Patchouli, frowning. "Um, how are things ... coming along?"
The young witch crinkled her nose. "Eh. Kinda hit a snag," she said, tapping the notebook with her pencil. "It's like, I know I'm on the right track fer workin' out Shashoku magic, but I keep goin' in circles around the answer."
"Hmm." Patchouli considered this, tapping her chin. "How a magician can permanently change herself from human to youkai ... Well, this method is probably the most thorough. I suppose it would help if —"
"Miss Marisa!" a voice called out.
Patchouli nearly choked.
"Medicine," muttered Marisa. "Oi, Meds, over here!" she called out.
Medicine flew over as fast as she could, looking close to a panic. "Miss Marisa!" she gasped.
"Whoa, slow down, kiddo," said Marisa evenly. "Sit down, what's up?"
Medicine landed heavily on the ground. "Miss Marisa," she stammered, "Miss Alice is gone!"
Patchouli frowned. "Gone?"
"Whaddaya mean, gone?" said Marisa, a note of dread in her voice.
Medicine looked close to tears. "I ... I went to visit her, and ... and her door was sorta hanging open and the house was empty and none of the dolls were moving at all!"
Patchouli narrowed her eyes; this definitely sounded like bad news. Normally, at least some of Alice's dolls should have been floating around her house, checking to make sure nothing needed to be done.
Marisa dropped the pencil, her mouth hanging open. "Uh ... Patch," she said, her voice shaking, "I think I'm ... gonna need to take a break from this ... ya know?"
"Right," said Patchouli, and turned to Medicine. "Did you detect any strange or unusual magics, or residue there? Was there any sign of a fight or struggle?"
Medicine hesitated. "Um ... I ... think there was some sort of slivers of magic ..." she said nervously. "Um, I dunno."
"Hmm." Patchouli frowned at Marisa, who seemed to have picked up on all of Medicine's panic. "I think I'm going to get, ah, the other two."
"Ah, thanks," said Marisa, who looked like she felt stabbed in the heart. "G-great ..."
Patchouli placed a hand on Marisa's shoulder. "Relax, Marisa," she said. "We'll find her."
Marisa nodded, and Patchouli wished she felt as confident as she sounded.
1Gensokyo's calendar starts in AD 1884.
3A note on gods: The gods of Gensokyo were not all-powerful. Instead, their power was directly in proportion to how many believers they had, and how strongly they believed, which was quantified as "faith." Kanako had moved the Moriya Shrine to Gensokyo and taken Sanae with her because she had almost no faith from anyone in the outside world, and she'd seen a gap in Gensokyo's market because almost no one went to the Hakurei shrine. She had a shameless prophet motive.
4In the latter case, the difference was in several orders of magnitude.
5Marisa still hung out at the Shrine just as often, but Alice always vaguely felt that she was merely hanging out with Marisa, who happened also to be hanging out with someone else at the moment.
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