Redefined Fantastic Object: Prologue
Once upon a time, a shrine maiden and a witch did battle with an evil spirit. This took place in the magical land of Gensokyo, where magic and youkai and strange magical beings existed because people of the Outside World solidly disbelieved in them. The evil spirit in question was wielding a Stone of the Celestials, an artifact of immense power. (Not to be confused with the Celestials' earthquake-keystones, which looked similar.)
The shrine maiden, rather foolishly, destroyed the Stone.
This, not surprisingly to some, shattered Gensokyo's history.
It took the power of a were-hakutaku who could control History itself, with a boost from a much more powerful sunflower-youkai, to set things right. The effects of the destroyed Stone were reduced merely to changing the shrine maiden's hair from purple to black, and causing the evil spirit to vanish, her ultimate fate unknown. Apart from a stray memory here and there, nobody even remembered that anything had happened.
Which isn't to say that nothing had changed, however ...
In a distant corner of another world, there was a small region called Houkai. The sunset sky glowed with orange and red.
"Wait. Youkai hunters?" Byakuren said flatly. It had obviously been exactly the wrong thing to tell her.
Reimu frowned. Sanae grinned nervously. Marisa coughed and said, "Well, uh, mostly we just keep the peace, y'know?" she said. "I mean, when particularly powerful youkai threaten Gensokyo itself, and stuff. Uh ... sometimes humans and youkai play at 'kidnapping' and 'extermination' games, but nobody's actually hurt."
This still didn't seem to be the answer Byakuren wanted. "Is there no friendship between humans and youkai?" she said. There was a vague desperation in her voice.
All three opened their mouths to respond, then closed them. None of them, with a straight face, could deny the conversations they'd had on their way to Houkai. Suddenly, the atmosphere had changed for the worse.
Marisa's thoughts immediately went to Alice. That was one hell of a "friendship" right there. But then her thoughts went to the looks and mutterings they got from the villagers, and her strained-to-the-breaking-point relationship with her father.
"Has anything changed?" whispered Byakuren.
She wanted it to be true. She needed to know that something, anything had changed, to allow friendship between humans and youkai. But to be perfectly honest, there really wasn't anything.
"You can't change human nature," said Marisa softly. "And it's like it's built into humans, y'know, to hate stuff that isn't like them."
Byakuren sagged. "Nothing has changed, then," she said in a hollow voice.
"Sorry," said Marisa, wincing.
She tried to ignore the hurt look Reimu and Sanae were giving her. Yes, they were more in-the-wrong, sort of, so they'd been sort of relying on Marisa, but you couldn't change reality by hoping at it.
"No, I understand," said Byakuren. She straightened up, hefting her scroll. "I was foolish to expect a change of that magnitude, even after a thousand years."
"But, but, look," said Sanae, looking even more nervous than she usually did. "Um, maybe we can still —"
"We can't," said Byakuren, holding the scroll above her head. She unfurled it, releasing the rainbow-colored glow once again. "I gave up my humanity long ago. Now you are my natural enemies."
"Um, hey," Reimu began.
There was a rumbling that seemed to shake the whole building. "You have nothing to say, shrine maiden," Byakuren all but snarled, as she began to rise into the air. She sounded as pained as she was angry. "And neither do I. In the name of the three treasures ..."
And with that, she released a startlingly intense burst of danmaku, consisting of giant rings of light with sort of "tails" of smaller bullets sticking out of the sides.
The trio took off and scattered. "W-what the hell!?" squeaked Sanae, returning fire with a dozen snakes of light.
"She's freaking gone Lunatic!" exclaimed Marisa, launching a swarm of stars. Byakuren, out of rage and sorrow, was pushing herself much further than normal-mode.
She realized she was seriously wondering if they were going to get out of this alive. It wasn't because Byakuren had tougher danmaku, say, Yukari (she didn't; whatever else you could say about Stage-6 danmaku in Lunatic mode, Phantasm still had it beaten), but she was coming to the horrible realization that she didn't know if they deserved to survive this. She would have been yelping with everything she had to dodge, to give the enemy a false sense that she didn't have much confidence about this, but, well, she didn't have much confidence about this.
Reimu suddenly surged forward between them, a Spell Card drawn. "Spirit Sign 「Fantasy Seal」!" she exclaimed. The yin-yang orbs floating around her glowed brightly, then went flying towards Byakuren.
Byakuren dodged all of them easily, ducking and dodging and simply leaning out of their way. She thrust her hand out towards Reimu, and the pattern shifted slightly; a few more of the larger rings seemed to be headed straight for Reimu, dodging as the orbs swung around for their return journey. By pure luck, one of the orbs hit Byakuren from behind just as one of the rings hit Reimu.
Reimu let out a yelp and Byakuren grunted, all the danmaku shattering into green sparks. "Spell Cards," muttered Byakuren. "Ah, yes, I know of those." She grasped the handles of her scroll and raised it above her head, and the shifting colors seemed to solidify somehow, glowing more brightly. "Good Omen 「Nirvana's Cloudy Way in Violet」!"
And then they were dodging thick pink and purple spirals of bullets, and questions of whether or not she should survive this were supplanted by the question of merely whether or not she would.
Let's see ... there was a not-quite-gap in the spiral, or at least a pause between each wave. Marisa thrust her hand forward, firing a thin laser out towards Byakuren. Byakuren dodged, then turned and glared at her, shifting the pattern so that it was aimed more directly at Marisa. There were tears in her eyes.
"Are you okay?" she heard Sanae say.
"Yeah, kinda," said Reimu's voice. "Ugh ..."
Marisa reached into her hat and pulled out her mini-hakkero. She was starting to really wish she'd had more time to repair her wand, or at least that she hadn't tried to use it so soon. At least, she thought she did. And if they did survive this, how would they get back to Gensokyo? Would Shinki help them out? She'd be well within her rights to refuse, all things considered. How would they get to Pandaemonium from here, anyway? Which way did they have to go? How long would it take to get there? What would happen in Gensokyo in the meantime?
She didn't have much time to think about it, though, since Sanae suddenly came screaming forward, a Spell Card in hand. "Esoterica 「Grey Thaumaturgy」!" she exclaimed. A double-pentagram of bullets appeared around her, before splitting off and recombining to become ten, adding to the confusion of Byakuren's Spell Card. Which was fine, except that Sanae wasn't really dodging very hard, and oh gods she's about to get hit ...
Sanae yelped as she was struck by one of the bullets, the danmaku starting to shatter into green sparks. Marisa thrust her mini-hakkero forward with a yell of "Love Sign 「Master Spark」!" There was a rainbow blaze of light, though it shattered as well — but not before enough of it struck Byakuren.
She flinched back, her Spell Card shattering as well, and then seemed to sag in midair. The tears were more visible in her eyes now.
Marisa felt a surge of hope. Dang ... is this gonna affect her combat performance? She mentally paused. Which is to say ... is she feeling even shittier than we are?
Then Byakuren grew wings.
Actually, it wasn't really a pair of wings. It looked more like a sort of structure, resembling gold foil in a flowery pattern, about twenty feet wide. There were four actual flower-shapes on either side of her as well. And it didn't grow so much as blossom.
"That won't work again," growled Byakuren, and Marisa knew that they probably weren't going to make it through this after all ...
... but none of this has happened yet, and won't happen for a while. In fact, it might not happen at all — with all the mucking around that's been done with History, not to mention the small-scale screwups caused by maids, it's a wonder yesterday comes before tomorrow and today happens between them.
See? This story isn't even starting at the beginning.
Let's try that again.
Picture what looks like the inside of an ancient Japanese-style mansion, with a structure like the inside of a ship. Or maybe it's the other way around: someone built a seafaring vessel, but gave it the interior walls of a Japanese mansion, circa one thousand years ago. Which, not coincidentally, is when it was last boarded.
At least, until now.
There is a small square-shaped room in the bowels of the ship, somewhat resembling a throne room, with a large grey stone sitting in the center with a thick rope tied around it with zigzag paper streamers hanging from it. It throbs with an intense magical energy; the rope is there to keep it in.
At last, a spear is thrust into the rope, cutting it cleanly away. It falls to the floor without any fanfare, or any sign that the energy is even aware it's been released. Sometimes the sleeping beauty is awakened with a kiss that shocks her awake; sometimes all you need is the possibility of wakefulness, and then letting it happen on its own.
And sure enough, a multitude of ghostly formless shapes begin rising up from the stone. There is a soft hissing noise, as they gently begin to clump together. About seven feet above the stone, they begin to form a generally roundish shape. Two dark slits open in the glow where eyes would probably be, and a voice begins to speak ...
"One thousand years," murmured the voice, and then its eyes opened wider. The voice boomed, "Who, then, disturbs the slumber of CAPTAIN MINAMITSU MURASA?"
"Um, it's us, Captain," said a young girl's voice from below.
The spectral form blinked, and peered down at the two figures beneath it. "Nazrin?" it said. "Shou! Well, well, well!" Ghostly laughter rang out through the ship. "Don't tell me it's taken you this long to get to me!"
"We were trapped, too, Captain," said a tall young woman with black and yellow hair, dressed like a Buddhist god. She carried the spear that had cut the rope. "It seems we were only released last winter because these strange geysers began erupting. It had something to do with a hell-raven who'd somehow acquired the power of a three-legged sun-crow."
"Or something like that," said the younger of the two, a girl with the ears of a mouse, dressed in grey.
"Interesting," said the specter. A raven-haired woman's face was now visible in the upper part, her head's features becoming more and more defined with each passing second. "Oh, forget it," she finally said, and snapped her fingers. "Let's go the rest of the way ..." Her body materialized, covered with a simple white robe.
"Is that in fashion for sailors in these times?" said the taller woman, a note of humor in her voice.
"Nah," said the captain, looking herself over. "I'm gonna need to find a picture of something that is. So how did you break the seal? Those youkai-hunters were rather thorough about that."
"Treasure hunting," said the mouse-girl. "I helped!"
Captain Murasa laughed. "And precisely what kind of treasure were you and your mice hunting for, Nazrin?"
The mouse-girl held out her hand. "This kind of treasure." There was a small object resting in it. It cast a reddish glow, shifting to blue and then green and back to red again.
The captain froze, her smile vanishing, and her eyes widened. Then she broke into a much bigger grin than before. "Is that what I think it is?" she breathed.
"Yep!" said Nazrin.
"We've had difficulty finding them all," said Shou, gesturing with her spear, "but we're certainly making progress towards getting enough to start the Great Revival."
"So everyone's late," said Murasa whimsically. She was easily slipping back into the role as The Captain. "Where's Ichirin and Unzan?"
"Right here," said a voice from the doorway. It belonged to a blue-haired woman in a dark blue dress with a matching hood. There was a large golden ring in her hand. "Unzan and I decided we'd rather not miss your revival, Captain." A small pink cloud floated around her; occasionally, an old man's face was visible in it.
Murasa chortled. "I'm touched," she said sardonically. "Next question: can we get at Houkai?"
"No problem!" said Nazrin. "Well ... not much of one, anyway."
"Nazrin and I could go through individually with a bit of work," said Shou, "but for something like this, we'd need enough of those 'treasures' for the Great Revival to begin with."
Captain Murasa was grinning widely. "Okay," she said. "We can deal with this."
She leaped towards the doorway, sinking slightly more slowly than it looked like she should have. She had a grin of supreme confidence, a grin that was prepared for anything the universe threw at her, a grin which bore no argument. "Okay, girls," she said, "we've all been asleep for a thousand years. In that time, civilizations have risen and fallen, thousands of humans and youkai have fought each other and died, there must've been huge shifts in the language, and who knows what the culture's like these days."
"And someone's put a barrier around Gensokyo," said Nazrin helpfully.
"Really, now?" said Murasa without missing a beat. "Interesting. But! Has anything changed in our loyalty to Hijiri?"
She looked each of them in the eye, including the cloud floating by Ichirin. None of their gazes flickered.
"Absolutely not," said Captain Murasa, smirking. "No matter what stands in our way, we will prevail. If any enemy tries to oppose us, be they human, youkai, or god, we'll defeat them. After all, we have Right on our side, and powerful magic besides. Now, let's get the Sacred Palanquin moving, girls!"
It wasn't the best speech ever given, but the others cheered anyway. They had an important job to do, a mission of mercy. They knew what to do to finish it, and that it would be finished very soon.
They should have paid a little closer attention to the objects Nazrin was collecting, though.