Redefined Fantastic Object: Chapter 1
The dust from the most recent Incident had hardly settled, but everything was back to normal. From the way Reimu and her friends were sitting on the footsteps of the Hakurei Shrine, you'd have never realized that just last week, they'd been fighting against a Celestial who'd turned a good one-third of Gensokyo's population into catgirls.
From left to right: Reimu Hakurei, the twentysomething miko of the Hakurei Shrine. She was dressed in a red and white multipart dress with detached sleeves; it superficially resembled traditional robes of a Shinto shrine maiden, if you'd been informed of this beforehand and weren't wearing your glasses. Marisa Kirisame, the slightly-younger witch of the nearby Magic Forest. Alice Margatroid, a youkai-magician who also lived in the Magic Forest, whose relationship with Marisa had progressed somewhat past "just dating," wearing a blue dress with a white shawl. Suika Ibuki, a drunken oni1 who hung around at the Shrine, often dressed in her tattered white top and purple skirt, carrying a purple gourd which could produce an infinite amount of sake.
They sat in silence for several moments, sipping their tea.2
"Heard the latest rumors?" said Marisa placidly.
"Yes," said Reimu, radiating disinterest.
Suika sat up halfway. "Ooh! Tell me!" she said; she was a cheerful drunk. Alice suppressed a giggle.
"There's supposedly a flying ship goin' around," said Marisa. "It's the treasure ship of the Seven Gods of Luck, an' if you catch it you can live free the rest o' yer life. It's got more wealth in it than actually exists in Gensokyo, and it's on the run from greedy folks." She was ending her sentences in the masculine "da ze" form.
"Don't tell me you believe a stupid rumor like that," said Reimu, but her disinterest was becoming somewhat halfhearted.
"O'course not," said Marisa. "We could see the whole damn sky from the Shrine here. No way we would've missed it by now. Besides, I got all the luck I need right here," she added cheerfully, wrapping an arm around Alice's waist.
Alice giggled. "Thanks," she said, and leaned in to give Marisa's cheek a light kiss.
Reimu frowned, turning away from their Public Display of Affection. "A treasure ship," she murmured.
"So, what, you've seen it not there?" said Suika unsteadily.
Marisa snorted. "It's wishful thinking," she said. "It's like ... Well, you know how we had bad crops a couple years ago because that Celestial was messing around with the weather, right?"
"Yeah?" said Suika.
"So people prayed to all the gods they could," said Marisa. She was somewhat bad at explaining this sort of thing, but Suika was drunk enough to understand it anyway. "People wanna foist their problems off ta gods, right? An' this year it's starting to look kinda like it did that year, so people kinda want all the help they can get."
"Are you saying gods are like cosmic scapegoats?" said Reimu.
"Have you been treating them like anything else?" said Alice.
Reimu frowned in confusion. "What?" she said.
"Just thinking about the way you've dealt with most of the gods you've run into," said Alice, who had never quite gotten the hang of socializing with people.
"Your MOM'S a god!" said Marisa, in English.
Alice giggled nervously. This was, in fact, techincally accurate. Alice had been born in Makai, the Demon Realm, and her mother was Shinki, the being who had created Makai. "Actually, uh, technically, Shinki's an Infinite Being," she said. "That's not quite the same thing."
"Really?" said Reimu, tilting her head.
"Yeah, uh ..." Alice hesitated. "Well, you know that gods need Faith from their worshipers and other things, right?"
Reimu furrowed her brow. "This did become fairly significant a few years ago, yes," she said.
"Well, an Infinite Being does not," said Alice. "And anyway, do you think a god could create an entire world from just Faith alone?"
"You know, I've never thought about that," said Reimu.
"Definitely no problem to create a human daughter," said Marisa cheerfully. "Even if, y'know ..." She looked at Alice, who had used her magic to turn herself into a youkai less than a year after she'd moved into Gensokyo. "Yeah," said Marisa, and then darted forward and kissed Alice's nose.
Reimu rolled her eyes and frowned, turning her gaze towards the nearby Youkai Mountain. It was the highest point in Gensokyo, and home to the rival Moriya Shrine. Reimu, however, never seemed to have enough energy to do more about this than complain, unless they tried to forcibly take over the Hakurei Shrine.
She blinked. Someone was flying over from that direction.
Sanae Kotiya was the Wind Priestess of the Moriya Shrine, and (though she wasn't seriously aware of this) she was a descendant of one of the two gods of the Shrine. She wore a blue and white outfit which vaguely resembled Reimu's clothes, with a stylized frog-hairclip on the left side of her hair and a blue snake-shaped hair-accessory wrapped around her hair on the other side.
Her hair had been turned light green by Gensokyo's magical aura. She knew this was the case because she'd lived in the Outside World until a few years ago, and until that time, her hair had been solidly black, like that of most Japanese women. The Moriya Shrine's primary god, Kanako Yasaka, had elected to move the Moriya Shrine into Gensokyo in response to the fact that almost nobody in the Outside World had much faith in gods anymore. With the help of the Shrine's small emergency backup god, Suwako Moriya, they had succeeded. They had also tried to take over the Hakurei Shrine, but Reimu and Marisa had proceeded to beat up all three of them in succession, and now the two shrines were merely vague competitors. The Moriya Shrine was markedly more successful even though they were even further from the Human Village, a small settlement in the valleys which comprised the only location where the humans outnumbered the non-humans.
More recently, two winters ago, the Moriya Shrine had collectively gotten fed up with living in a world with no electricity, and had sought to change this. Within months, the Human Village had hot water and electric lighting, and the local police force used flashlights when making their rounds at night. Shortly thereafter, she discovered that certain inhabitants of Gensokyo, Marisa included, had already been given a limited access to the internet by Yukari Yakumo, the Sage of the Youkai, who was widely considered to be the most powerful being in Gensokyo but too lackadaisical to actually do anything with her power.
And now Sanae and Reimu had started dating each other last year, more or less because "Alice and Marisa are doing it." Since she'd lived in Gensokyo for barely a year and a half at the time, it had taken her a month or two to get over the fact that now, she was basically dating one of the local celebrities. Not much had changed since then; quite often, they still felt like they were in the "getting to know you" phase.
Flight was a nearly universal ability, and Sanae made the most of it. She smiled as she landed in front of the Hakurei Shrine. "Hey, guys," she said to the assembled group.
Reimu set down her tea and stood up. "Hi, Sanae!" she said, with a cheerfulness that seemed to be self-defense against the way Alice and Marisa were snuggling together.
Sanae gave her a quick hug. "I'm surprised you guys are still hanging around here," she said. "I would've thought you'd be already chasing that ship down."
A tentative silence descended over the Shrine.
"I think we concluded that it was just a rumor," said Alice.
"Well," said Sanae, "it was a highly visible rumor from Youkai Mountain."
"You mean there is some kinda flying ship out there?" said Reimu.
"That's not all," said Sanae. This was exciting her. "I've seen UFOs flying around, too!"
"UFOs?" said Suika.
"I think it stands for 'Unidentified Flying Objects'," said Alice.
There was a pause. "You identified them as unidentified objects?" Marisa said flatly in English.
Sanae giggled nervously. "Well, um, you know. Flying saucers. Little disks with a dome on top and a couple of little domes on the bottom." She was mildly worried about that. She hadn't been expecting to see stereotypical UFOs in Gensokyo; they just seemed vaguely out of place, even if they had been unidentified until she got a reasonably good look at them. And then there was the timing of their appearance — there had to be some sort of connection with the flying ship. It was just a bit too much of a coincidence.
Reimu sighed theatrically. "Didn't we just have an Incident?"
"I don't think the perps care much about stuff like that," said Marisa. "But, y'know, if you don't wanna come resolve it ..."
"Excuse me," said Reimu. "Did I say I wasn't going to come?"
"No, no, I understand," said Marisa melodiously. "If you think it's gonna be too hard ..."
Sanae frowned, but then she realized that they were just teasing each other. Two years ago, I was mostly an Outsider who barely knew her way around Gensokyo and thought of Reimu as some sort of weird celebrity, she thought as she watched Reimu and Marisa cheerfully bicker at cross-purposes. Has anything really changed since then ...? This was one of those cases where the excitement started to wear off the minute she tried to share it with someone.
Reimu sputtered. "Listen, you!" she said, marching towards Marisa.
"Yes?" said Marisa cheerfully.
Alice barely repressed a giggle, which Marisa joined in, followed by Reimu herself. Suika giggled, too, but that was because she was drunk enough to find anything funny. Sanae managed a sheepish grin.
"Anyway," said Marisa, "why don't we swing by my old house. If it is a treasure ship, we're gonna need stuff to carry it in." As far as Sanae knew, Marisa seemed to have mountain-moving faith that it was her ingrained right, as she travelled through her adventures, to take anything of value that wasn't nailed down.
Reimu suddenly turned to Sanae and said, "You wanna come with us?"
This seemed to surprise everyone — not least of all Sanae, since she'd been expecting to go with them anyway. "Um, sure," she said.
"Mmm, I'll go with you to the Magic Forest," said Alice, "but I wasn't expecting to do any Incident-resolving today."
"So? Me neither," said Marisa.
"What, we're not even going to pause for tea?" said Sanae.
"We've got an Incident to resolve," said Reimu. "Who knows when something nasty might be behind it?"
Sanae narrowed her eyes. It wasn't necessarily just talk; Reimu had a supernatural intuition. "Is this your ... ability telling you that?" she said.
Reimu shrugged. "Too early to tell," she said, stepping into the Shrine, "but it's better to be ready to fight over nothing than to be completely unprepared for a real threat!"
Sanae nodded. This basically summed up everything you needed to know about how Reimu handled things in a crisis.
"Guess I'm gonna hold the fort, then," said Suika.
"See ya later," said Marisa, standing up and getting out her broom.
Reimu returned with the Hakurei Yin-Yang Orbs, a curious weapon which had been passed down since before the barrier had been put around Gensokyo, as well as her gohei3 and a few other items of note. Then the four of them took off for the Magic Forest.
The forest was big enough to get lost in, and by and large there was a lot more magic in the air than elsewhere. Alice and Marisa lived together in a smallish house in the middle, but until recently Marisa had lived in a somewhat more witchy-looking house nearby, just far enough away that you could get lost trying to get from one to the other. Or, for that matter, live in one for a few years without being aware of the other.
Marisa's old house looked like a squat, light brown building with vines growing up along the sides; it gave the general impression of being fairly unkempt; it was a sort of "low-maintenance, but only because the owner can't be bothered" house. There was a sign hanging on the inside of one of the front windows which read "CLOSED," and another which said "Please redirect all mail to Alice's house."
The four girls flew in among the trees, and landed in front. "I'll be right back," said Marisa. She raised her broom and tapped the lock in the front door, which opened with a brief burst of multicolored sparks, and she slipped inside.
Sanae turned to Alice. "Do you have electricity here?" she says. "I mean ... I know it's kind of new to Gensokyo, but ..."
Alice nodded. "But nobody wanted to build cables leading through the Magic Forest," she finished. "Yeah, we actually use a magical generator. Once we'd worked out that it was basically just smaller-scale lightning, we were halfway-done with the concept." She made a face. "The next trick was making something that didn't explode or pop our light bulbs."
Reimu giggled. "You're the one who did most of the work on that, right?"
Alice rolled her eyes. "Well, you know Marisa," she said.
Sanae giggled nervously; it wasn't anything they wouldn't have said to Marisa's face, and Sanae had gotten used to it by now, but ... well ... she hadn't reached the point where she could actually comfortably participate in their banter.
Marisa stepped out, holding what appeared to be three small leather bags, each about the size of her head. "Okay, these are gonna be invaluable aid in our search for treasure, ze!" she said, offering two of them to Reimu and Sanae.
Reimu eyed hers critically. "I think we could carry more treasure if we didn't bring these," she said. "Are you really expecting to carry anything in these?"
Marisa rolled her eyes. "Tch. Allow me to demonstrate." She held up her broom, which was five feet long, and inserted the entire length into the sack, up to the bristles. The sack itself didn't even bulge.
Alice and Reimu began applauding halfheartedly. Sanae joined in a second later. Marisa bowed.
"Is that some kind of TARDIS spell?" asked Sanae.
"Tardis?" said Reimu.
"It's something that's bigger on the inside than the outside," said Alice.
Sanae nodded. "Yeah, it's from this show in the Outside World called Dr. Who ..."
"Basically, yeah," said Marisa, shrugging, and she took the broom out. "Okay, are we about ready to head off?"
"Don't tell me you're actually planning on going out dressed like that," said Reimu.
Sanae regarded Marisa for moment. She was dressed in a black dress with white trim, a white long-sleeved shirt under the dress, a wide-brimmed black hat with red trim which somewhat detracted from the whole "witch" theme by not being particularly pointed, and a brown apron with a giant "M" embroidered in the front. Apart from the apron, each individual component was perfectly sensible, but somehow, with the apron, the whole was more ridiculous than the sum of its parts.
Marisa looked down at herself, then grinned at Reimu. "Hey, shaddap, these threads're awesome," she said cheerfully.
Sanae hazarded a sigh, and turned her gaze to Alice. "Alice, I'm disappointed," she said. Oh jeez, I'm going to screw this up horribly ...
Alice giggled. "Me? Why?" she said.
"You let her get away with dressing like that," said Sanae hurriedly.
"Hey, I don't try to exert any authority over what Marisa wears," said Alice. "That way I can't take any of the blame."
"Maybe that's part of the problem, then," said Reimu, not missing a beat. She sighed theatrically. "Oh well, it's not like youkai-hunting requires the least bit of fashion-sense. Maybe they'll start laughing so hard, they won't be able to fight back."
Marisa snickered, and turned to Alice. "You sure you don't wanna come with us?" she said, hugging her tightly. Reimu and Sanae promptly turned away.
"Mmm, I'll be fine," said Alice, kissing her cheek. "You go on without me."
"So, uh, where are we going to go first?" said Reimu, looking sideways at Sanae.
"Well, um," said Sanae, "let's try moving up towards the cloudline where we'll be able to, y'know, see more of Gensokyo."
"There's gonna be a bunch of fairies up there, it'll be dangerous," said Marisa, sounding eager.
"Be careful," said Alice.
Marisa grinned. "Hey," she said wryly, "it's me. Bye, now!" She kissed Alice's cheek.
"Mm ... goodbye, Marisa," said Alice.
"We're going without you!" said Reimu, hovering ten feet off the ground. Sanae floated up next to her.
Marisa laughed, then took off to join the other two. The trio took to the skies, eager to see what lay in store for them. They didn't know what they'd find, but this wasn't the first time any of them had been in that particular situation.
Something watched them go.
After a moment, they had a follower.
1This is a tautology.
2Except for Suika.
3A short wooden rod with paper streamers hanging from one end — used for many Shinto ceremonies, and invaluable as a weapon against attacking youkai.
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