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A Different Demon-Sealing Record - Chapter 4: Offense and Defense

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Reimu explained the situation to Keine and Kotohime, Keine and Kotohime reported to the Council of Elders, and the Council declared a state of emergency; if the Human Village's live-in defenders had been mind-controlled into doing evil, who knew what would happen. Broadly speaking, a state of emergency mostly just meant that Kotohime and Keine didn't need to ask the Council's permission before moving around Defenders and police officers, or for rushing out of the Village to chase down Mima if they figured out where the hell she was. It also meant you were allowed to fly over the Village, which Reimu thought was an improvement.

Keine had then gone off to "hide the Village's history," which Reimu didn't quite understand, but the entire Human Village territory was now enclosed in a strange-looking reddish barrier, which apparently rendered everything inside it invisible. Reimu had been dispatched to investigate Rika's workshop, which was within Keine's barrier, while Keine and Kotohime had gone to chase down any Defenders who mysteriously failed to respond to the general summons.

The Youkai-Extermination Defense Force had been founded about twenty years ago. Broadly speaking, it was mostly a formalization of a practice which had more-or-less already existed, insofar as the original settlers had all been youkai exterminators. The new form of the Defense Force included things like rules and regulations, mentorship and training for those who were too young but who had useful powers, and a whole network of support and backing. They weren't as powerful or skilled as the Shrine Maiden — the best among them was Keine, and even she couldn't have taken Hakurei Chiyo in a fight — but they were closer at hand, and they could deal with fairies and weaker youkai without any trouble, so that the Shrine Maiden didn't need to be everywhere at once. Reimu tried not to feel bitter at the fact that they also tended to get fewer injuries than the average Hakurei Miko, and were thus longer-lived.

The problem was that it was mostly volunteer work, and a given Defender invariably needed to juggle it with another job. This particular wrinkle in the system went all the way up to its leaders, Kamishirasawa Keine, who was a schoolteacher and historian, and Kawaji Kotohime, a medium-ranking officer of the Human Village Peacekeeping Department. Regardless, a mere fifteen years later, the Defense Force was now considered one of the fixtures of the Human Village. The building which housed their headquarters was near the center of the village, in a squat building next to the main police office.

At 7:30 PM, by prior arrangement, Reimu returned to the Defense Force HQ on Genjii's back. The sun had already mostly set by that point. Keine and Kotohime were standing by the front door, each carrying a magic-powered lantern. Kotohime had changed into red and purple robes; Keine was now wearing a cobalt-blue hat which looked like a witch had started transforming a bento box into a miniature single-tiered pagoda, gotten distracted partway through, and then topped it off with a red bow. Both of them wore white armbands bearing the kanji for "Youkai-Extermination Defense Force" wrapped around a red circle.

"Welcome back," said Kotohime. "Find anything?"

"Uh, the charms around the workshop got zapped by danmaku," said Reimu, as she followed them inside. She'd mostly been lighting the way with the Yin-Yang Orb.

Genjii shrank down to a smaller size so that he could fit through the doorway. "I have surmised that young Miss Kirisame must have been the one to neutralize them," he said. "It was difficult to read the remains of the ofuda, but I believe their combined strength should have resisted a direct assault from a youkai. This probably means that Miss Kirisame was coerced or persuaded to work for Mima, rather than controlled by Noroiko's curse."

"I think I can guess how they persuaded her," said Kotohime. They went into a small meeting room, and Kotohime sent individual danmaku bullets to light the paper lamps dotted around the room.

"Yeah, Rika said her dad wasn't letting her learn magic, right?" said Reimu. "And she's a witch now, so Mima must've promised to teach her." They each took a chair, and Reimu set down the Yin-Yang Orb in the chair next to her. Genjii simply floated up to hover above the Yin-Yang Orb.

"Did you find anything else?" asked Kotohime.

"Nope," said Reimu. "No residue, other curses, anything like that. I did a little purification ritual and blessed the workshop anyway, though."

"And no clues about where the three of 'em could've gone, I'm guessing," said Kotohime.

"I'm afraid not," said Genjii.

Keine nodded. "I tried to look into the census and extermination records to see if Mima was originally a Villager, but I haven't been able to find anything," she said. "It's hard to search for anything when all you have is a single given name. The good news is that we've found three other Defenders who'd been cursed by Noroiko. We're having the police and Defenders making a sweep through the village to see if we can find any others."

"Yeah, it's about one Defender to five police," said Kotohime. "They'll let us know if they find someone they can't beat. Oh, and I put out the word about your god. Got a feeling I know who people are gonna be praying to tonight."

"Oh, good," said Reimu.

"All of the cursed Defenders had essentially the same story," said Keine. "Noroiko attacked them near the edge of the Village, they were inexplicably hit by one of Noroiko's 'curse' bullets, and Mima gave them orders to attack you for varyingly nonsensical reasons. We sent them all home, by the way," she added. "Their families had ... various reactions, but the ones who were angry mostly just directed it at the attackers."

Reimu nodded. She hadn't though to ask Rika about family; setting aside the fact that it wasn't an actual thing for Reimu herself, well ... it didn't happen that much, because the Human Village was safe in and of itself, but in Gensokyo, it was just common enough to lose a sibling, or a child, or for children to live with uncles and grandparents, that it was impolite to inquire too deeply about family matters. Too much of a risk of opening wounds, both old and new.

"I guess we're left with chasing down the enemy, then," said Kotohime. "If Mima's just a ghost, even Rika could dispel her, but I kind of feel like we're dealing with something more than that."

"Oh, yeah, that's what my intuition is saying, too," said Reimu. "She might even be a vengeful spirit!"

Kotohime nodded. "Is that something you can deal with yourself? Vengeful spirits are kind of above the Defense Force's pay grade, as it were."

"Um ... kind of?" said Reimu, slightly backpedaling. "I mean ... I could probably exterminate Noroiko, but my training hasn't gotten to dealing with vengeful spirits and other, uh, super-powerful ghosts. I mean, besides just keeping them out of places with stuff that works on pretty much all youkai."

"Could you seal her away?" asked Keine.

"Yes," said Reimu firmly.

"Then I guess that leaves the question of how we're going to find them," said Keine.

They all sat in thoughtful silence for a moment. "What do we know about young Miss Kirisame?" asked Genjii.

"Well, that's as good a starting point as anything else," said Kotohime. "Let's see ... she started running away in November or so, which in retrospect is probably when Mima started teaching her magic ... but until her complete disappearance last month, she was always brought home within a few days by Mr. Morichika Rinnosuke, a friend of the family. Um ... she lives in the top floor apartment of the Kirisame Shop on Second Market Street with her parents, Mr. Kirisame Nakamoto and Mrs. Kirisame Ayumu ..."

"She was an A-student until she started running away," added Keine, "and she had the gift of magic, potentially fairly powerful, but, well, you know the rest. According to Mr. Morichika, her father has had some sort of unexplained grudge against magic and youkai since he was young."

Reimu blinked. "Does Mr. Kirisame know ... about ..." She gestured to Keine.

"Both of her parents know I'm half youkai," said Keine. "Nakamoto doesn't have a problem with us, as long as we're useful to the village, or once he gets to know us — Mr. Morichika is also half youkai, for the record. But people like Mr. Kirisame are the reason why I don't advertise myself, yes." She shrugged. "Not that I can really blame them."

"Was there any pattern to where Mr. Morichika found Miss Marisa?" said Genjii.

"We thought of that months ago, actually," said Kotohime. "Unfortunately, she usually ended up going straight over to Mr. Morichika's shop Kourindou. The rest of the time, she was found wandering the Village."

"Where is Kourindou?" said Genjii.

"Over by the Forest of Magic," said Keine. The Forest of Magic was a few tens of kilometers southwest of the Village; as its name implied, it was a forest, which was filled with magic.

Reimu frowned. "What if they're in the Forest of Magic?"

There was a pause. "Right, we're switching gears towards finding someone else," said Kotohime wryly. "We never investigated too far in that direction because we always found Marisa in the end. Of course, the other reason we never checked in there is because the Forest is pretty big and kind of dangerous. It could take all night just to track them down, and that's if we don't wake up anything nasty in the process."

"Did anything in particular prompt that, Reimu?" asked Keine.

"Um ..." Reimu nervously glanced at the Yin-Yang Orb. "My ... intuition?"

"Well, that's a perfectly good source of information," said Kotohime. "Especially if it comes from the Yin-Yang Orb, I know you've got —"

There was a knock on the door, and a policeman poked his head in. "Excuse me, Miss Kawaji, but there's just been a sort of disturbance near the eastern gate."

Kotohime peered at him. "A sort of disturbance?"

"Well ..." The officer shrugged. "According to the guards, a nine-tailed kitsune just appeared, walked into Ms. Kamishirasawa's barrier, and then called out that she had information for the Shrine Maiden. The guards said she appeared from, quote, 'a portal full of eyes', unquote."

"Oh dear," said Genjii. "Did she who she was?"

"Uh, yes," said the policeman, who seemed slightly unnerved at talking to a hovering tortoise in the middle of the meeting room. "She said she was called Yakumo Ran, and that she represented a youkai sage named Yakumo Yukari."

Genjii closed his eyes and sighed. "We had better go and see what she wants."

The crystal ball showed kilometers upon kilometers of empty fields.

"Any luck?" asked Noroiko.

Mima stared at the crystal ball, which showed a wide, empty field. "In spite of my most valiant efforts, the ongoing 'nothing' festival hasn't ended yet," she said. "I know Kamishirasawa's power is history-based, but beyond that I have no idea what she's doing except that it's pretty fantastic."

"I thought your scrying spell was supposed to be fantastic, too!" said Noroiko petulantly.

"Which means that it's vulnerable to something lesser, but specialized," said Mima. Noroiko wasn't a good listener, but it didn't hurt to try to explain something. She glanced over at Marisa, who'd gotten up and started pacing restlessly two minutes after the Village had vanished. "Even if I did know what caused it, there's no guarantee that I could ... hang on."

At a gesture, the view zipped over eastward. Yakumo Ran was standing there, staring at the empty field with roughly the same befuddlement that Mima felt. She took a few tentative steps forward, looking around, then called out, "To whom it may concern: we are Yakumo Ran, the shikigami and representative of our master, the —"

Mima burst out laughing. "Well then!" she said.

"Oh, jeez," said Marisa.

"We're dead, aren't we?" said Noroiko, looking slightly terrified.

"I know I am," said Mima, without missing a beat. "But seriously, as I told said earlier, we just need to lower our standards."

"I will return once the Shrine Maiden arrives," said Ran, and she disappeared through another gap.

Keine, Kotohime, Genjii, and Reimu flew back out to the eastern gate. Kotohime seemed to be standing vertically on a fluffy white cloud that had formed around her feet, and it glowed just bright enough that they could see around themselves. They were, Reimu realized, the best youkai exterminators in Gensokyo, all gathered together. Well ... she wasn't sure if Genjii counted, but still.

For that matter, Genjii had been nervous and silent the whole way. Hmm ...

Reimu drew in power from the yin-yang orbs and pulled a couple of anti-youkai ofuda from her satchel. She knew that kitsune gained an extra tail every century up to a maximum of nine, which meant that this "Yakumo Ran" was at least eight hundred years old. Youkai tended to grow stronger and more dangerous with age, and foxes in particular were a cut above the rest, with a wisdom and cunning that made each extra tail a signifier of much greater danger. They were loyal to a fault and quite reliable if you could somehow acquire this loyalty (and if you could stop them from doing things like "bringing you wealth" by stealing from your neighbors) ... but this one seemed to be loyal to a self-proclaimed youkai sage.

Kotohime glanced up at the waning gibbous moon, which was still distinctly visible through Keine's barrier. "Too bad this didn't happen on Monday," she said. "You probably could've caught every cursed Defender and then taken out Mima yourself before dinner."

"I suppose she must have timed it so that the moon wouldn't be full enough anymore," said Keine.

"Huh?" said Reimu.

"I'm a were-hakutaku, a beast of history," said Keine. She sounded uncomfortable. "I ... change, under the full moon, except for my face."

"Oh." Reimu tried to imagine it, but she didn't know what a "hakutaku" was supposed to look like to begin with.

They reached the guard shacks by the eastern gate, and policeman wearing a guard helmet stepped out. "Well, here we are," said Kotohime, descending down to a comfortable level for conversation. "Is the fox still here?"

"She went back through one of the ... portals," said the guard. He looked nervously out at the gate. "She said she was going to come back when the Shrine Maiden arrived," he added, nodding to Reimu.

"Hmm." Kotohime gazed out at the barrier.

"She walked into the barrier, but it looked like she had a barrier like yours wrapped around her," said the guard.

"Did it look like she could see anything?" said Keine.

"Not really," he said. "She mostly just looked perplexed."

"Then it was working, don't worry," said Keine. "She just saw an empty field."

Kotohime shrugged. "Well, I guess it can't be helped." She rose back up and moved towards the gate, and Reimu and Keine followed; Reimu split the Yin-Yang Orbs into four. A couple of other guards stepped out, watching from a safe distance.

From the inside, the barrier looked like a shifting wall of red-tinted glass, with strange shapes floating over it that Reimu realized looked like woodcuts, or the outlines of paintings, showing scenery in the Village territory. Kotohime flew through without hesitation, and it rippled like water.

Reimu flew through on Genjii's back. She could feel the presence of the barrier as it ran over her, but all sign of it vanished the instant she was on the other side. She glanced back, and just saw a wide open field, several dozen kilometers wide. Even the walls were gone. "Well, hiding the village is amazing, Miss Keine!"

"Thank you," said Keine, expressionlessly.

And then a portal full of eyes opened in front of them.

There was just a horizontal slit in space, as if someone had run a pair of scissors several meters through the fabric of reality, revealing a dark void with dozens of eerie red eyes staring out. Three human-looking hands were grasping the edges from inside, seemingly pushing it open, but they slipped in and vanished after it was a couple of meters wide. It was tied off at both ends by a pair of cute pinkish-red bows.

Creepier than the appearance was the fact that Reimu could feel a boundary being opened. She wasn't sure what kind of boundary it was; it wasn't as though there was a barrier in front of her, although Keine's ability raised the question of whether she could know for sure. But it felt like nothingness itself had opened.

"Dear gods," muttered Keine, who looked like she was currently in fight-or-flight mode.

"Well, that is ... certainly a portal full of eyes," said Kotohime. She summoned nine black pearlescent mines, and they began spinning around her at high speed.

Reimu drew the full power of the yin-yang orbs, trying to access her combat instincts and get any insights about the portal.


What? She tried again.

All she got this time was a bit of a strain, since she was already pulling at their maximum.

O ... kay, why wasn't she getting any ideas or battle plans? Reimu tried turning her Yin-Yang-Orb-instincts to this question. Two hazy possibilities fizzled into her mind after a moment: either the other Shrine Maidens had all gotten used to these ... portals-full-of-eyes, to the point that they didn't see them as a threat in and of themselves ... or, more unsettlingly — and she couldn't believe she was considering something more unsettling than that — maybe the creator of that portal had some way of overriding her combat-instincts.

A woman with nine large fox-tails descended out of the portal. She wore white robes, and a white hat with two points roughly in the shape of a fox's ears. Her shoulder-length hair was the same shade of gold as the fur on her tails, and she had the golden-orange slitted eyes of a fox. She was standing perfectly vertical, with her hands clasped in front of her, hidden in loose sleeves.

Let's see ... kitsune, obviously. If it came to a fight, a few options specific to foxes sprang into Reimu's mind, and of course as a youkai, this woman would be weak against a lot of the rest of a Shrine Maiden's arsenal. However, she hadn't actually done anything threatening yet. Reimu noted that her instincts were working just fine with the fox, despite not reacting to the portal.

"Greetings, shrine maiden," said the kitsune, with a serene but businesslike tone of voice. The portal closed behind her and vanished, as if it had never been there. "We are Yakumo Ran, the shikigami and representative of our master, the youkai sage Yakumo Yukari, Youkai of Boundaries."

The countermeasure that popped up in Reimu's head for a "youkai of boundaries" was to talk it out rather than fighting directly, or failing that, to be ready for literally anything and preferably to run like hell, which was not encouraging — hang on, boundaries? As in, that one source of the Shrine Maiden's power!? What did — "Wait wait wait wait, you're a shikigami!?" she blurted out. "That's just ... no. Nine-tailed foxes are, like, crazy-powerful, you can't just make one into a familiar!"

"Reimu," said Keine, in a warning tone of voice.

"Well, you're correct as far as that goes," said Ran. "Lady Yukari acquired our services through persuasion, with no deception or force on her part."

"How?" exclaimed Reimu, though she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to know.

"Shenanigans," said Ran.

Reimu laughed helplessly. A portal had appeared which was the scariest thing Reimu had seen for at least three separate reasons, and out had popped a nine-tailed fox who was someone's familiar, and who had just said "shenanigans" in a calm, professional tone of voice. You could either laugh, cry, or run away, and options 2 and 3 weren't on the menu for the Hakurei Shrine Maiden.

"I suppose one of us ought to tell you that's not an answer," Kotohime said mildly. Her mines were still spinning around her.

"I'm afraid we cannot divulge information regarding our nature as a shikigami," said Ran.

"Even why you're calling yourself 'we'?" said Reimu.

Ran showed the faintest hint of a smile. "Especially why we're calling ourself 'we'," she said. "But our purpose here, at the command of our master, is to divulge information regarding the crisis you face."

"Really, now?" said Kotohime, cocking her head and putting her hands on her hips. "What does a 'youkai sage' care about a crisis caused by another youkai?"

"Lady Yukari's reasons are entirely born of self-interest, we assure you," Ran replied. "We shall speak plainly: the Great Hakurei Barrier has grown weak. It is considerably weaker than it was immediately before the death of the Thirteenth Shrine Maiden of Hakurei, and only slightly stronger than it was at the time of the inauguration of the Fourteenth Shrine Maiden." She looked each of them in the eye. "If Hakurei Reimu dies at this time, the Great Hakurei Barrier will only grow weaker. There's in fact a 45% chance that it will collapse, destroying Gensokyo."

"Yeah," said Reimu. It was just as she'd told Rika. "The Barrier is ... definitely weaker than it should be."

"Well, that chain of logic is sound, if nothing else," said Keine. "What information do you have?"

"The identities and locations of the culprits," said Ran.

"We already know that," said Reimu. "Mima, Noroiko, and Kirisame Marisa. They're in the Forest of Magic, right?"

"I see," said Ran. "Did you know that Mima is currently using a crystal ball to watch this entire conversation?"

"W-what!?" Reimu went on full alert and looked around, trying to sense whatever magics were being used to spy on them.

Kotohime looked straight up. "There," she said, pointing. Before Reimu could even detect what was there — she couldn't see or sense anything — Keine and Kotohime pulled ofuda out of their sleeves, sent them flying into the sky —

"Whoops!" said Mima. With a gesture, the image in the crystal ball vanished.

— and only then did Reimu feel a faint perturbation, a faint sense that something had just winked out, before the ofuda even reached them.

Kotohime harrumphed. "Looks like she's faster than thrown charms."

"Um ... yikes?" said Reimu. "I ... almost didn't see it at all."

Keine shot Reimu a warning look, and she realized it probably wasn't a good idea to wear her heart on her sleeve while there was still a potentially hostile youkai around. She frowned, and turned back to face Ran.

"We believe Ms. Mima was also watching your other battles, as well," said Ran.

Kotohime shook her head. "Yeah, okay, what do you want?"

"Merely to give you information," said Ran. "The vengeful spirit Mima, the unrepentant ringleader; the curse-youkai Noroiko, the childish fool, who caved to the simplest threat; the human witch Kirisame Marisa, too easily swayed by the offer of that which was forbidden. They are located in the northeastern quadrant of the Forest of Magic. We merely wish to have your assurances that the threat will be neutralized."

"Yeah, we're gonna do that," said Reimu, trying to glare at her. "No matter where the threat comes from, even!"

"Indeed," said Ran. "And you, Miss Hakurei, must continue your training. At your current rate, we estimate that the Great Hakurei Barrier will reach its previous strength in the next twelve to eighteen months. You are forbidden from dying during that time."

Kotohime snorted and crossed her arms. "How very droll," she said. "I was friends with Chiyo, you know."

"I apologize," said Ran, looking genuinely taken aback. "I did not mean to offend."

Kotohime glared at her for another moment, then gave a curt nod.

"You said Mima's a vengeful spirit?" said Reimu, noting the 'I' in place of 'we'. "Not just a ghost?"

"Ah ... correct," said Ran. "Though we don't know what motivation or desire has prevented her from passing on, nor the method she used to retain her powers as a magician."

Reimu thought about this, then pointed her gohei at Ran. "Okay, fox, what do you really get out of this?"

Ran didn't react to having a youkai-extermination tool shoved in her face. "Is it so unbelievable that continued survival is enough for our master?" she asked.

"Well, honestly, yeah," said Reimu. "I mean, if it's that important, why doesn't she deal with it herself!?"

Ran nodded. "Therein lies the paradox," she said. "It is the place of humans to defeat youkai, not that of our master. And would you even believe a sage of youkai if she were to report that she had resolved the crisis behind your back?"

"No," said Reimu, Keine, and Kotohime.

"For myself, that would depend on far too many other factors," said Genjii.

"Just so," said Ran. "Furthermore, Miss Hakurei, besides the maintenance of the Great Hakurei Barrier, you require combat experience against a true youkai opponent, not a human you can neutralize with a single ofuda."

"Actually, we beat most of 'em before hitting them with ofuda," said Reimu. She decided not to be more specific than "we."

"I see. Well done." Ran peered at her. "Incidentally, did Lady Yukari detect the use of your boundary-powers during the battle against the swordswoman? Our master is quite sensitive to such things."

"I don't think we need to keep a youkai up to date minute-by-minute about Reimu's training," Keine said coolly.

"Understood," said Ran.

Reimu sighed, and looked down at Genjii. "What do you think, Gramps?" she said. "You've dealt with these guys before, right? Can we trust them?"

Genjii grumbled. "The truth is that in every single crisis in which Yakumo Yukari has given us information, matters have been resolved much more smoothly than they would have been otherwise." He looked sidelong at Ran. "Or at least, except for those cases in which she showed her own face, but those instances were more difficult for ... entirely unrelated reasons."

Ran looked slightly pained. "Yes, she is indeed quite a handful," she said.

"Guess we'd better head back inside to make preparations, then," said Kotohime. "Unless there's anything you've conveniently left out?"

"Nothing of the sort, but there is one other thing," said Ran. "Our master has instructed us inquire about this, regardless of whether you wish to answer: are you working towards restoring the deity of the Hakurei Shrine?"

Kotohime laughed humorlessly. "Don't see why we ought to keep your master up to date about that, either," she said, poker-faced.

"Very well," said Ran. "Just know that Konngara of Hakurei is no less important to Gensokyo than the Shrine Maiden, and she is more difficult to replace." Another portal-full-of-eyes opened, and she bowed to each of them in turn. "As you were, then, defenders of the Human Village. We shall see you again, Ms. Hakurei, after this crisis has been resolved."

"Um, bye?" said Reimu.

Ran slipped through, and the portal vanished.

Five seconds passed, then all four of them exhaled, and Kotohime dispelled her mines. Reimu took a moment to let her heart stop thumping loudly enough that Genjii probably heard it. "What are those portal-things, anyway?"

"Yakumo Yukari refers to them as gaps created in the boundary between 'here' and 'there'," said Genjii.

"Where is 'there', exactly?" asked Kotohime. "I almost blew her the fu—" She glanced at Reimu. "... the heck up when she popped out like that."

Keine created an opening in her barrier, and they passed through; as they flew in, the guards retreated back into their shack.

"About four years ago, during a visit to the Hakurei Shrine, Miss Yukari described it as the actual concept of 'there', in comparison with the fact that 'here' is defined as wherever you are, relative to yourself," said Genjii. "I'm trying to remember her precise words ... ah, 'Wherever you go, here you are.' And because of this, the concept of 'there' must be outside of any location in time and space."

There was a pause. "What?" said Keine.

"Yes, that was more or less my own reaction," said Genjii. "For her part, Miss Chiyo said that she was not drunk enough to understand it."

"Ha! Me neither," said Kotohime. "It does make a weird kind of sense, though."

"That is largely the only kind of sense Yakumo Yukari makes, I'm afraid," said Genjii.

"So, wait, this 'youkai sage' is in the habit of just ... showing up at the Shrine?" said Reimu.

"Yes," said Genjii. "Though it has historically been quite rare."

"When was this?" said Reimu. "You said it was four years ago? Why didn't I see her?"

"That was during one of the brief periods in which you were attending school in the Village," said Genjii.

"Oh, right," said Reimu.

She thought about this for several moments as they flew back towards the center of the village. "What is she ... I mean ... what's Yakumo Yukari's whole deal?" she asked finally.

"Yakumo Yukari is an incredibly ancient and powerful youkai, and is obviously therefore incredibly dangerous," said Genjii. "However, on the broad scale, her actions appear to be directed towards maintaining the current state of relative peace in Gensokyo. As for what she's like in person ..." He shook his head. "I have only met her a handful of times. She is simply ... indescribable. She is indescribably strange. She is a very youkai-like youkai."

"Well I wouldn't expect a youkai to be human-like," said Reimu. "Um. No offense to you, Miss Keine ..."

"None taken," said Keine. "There actually are a few types of human-like youkai, by the way. But, Genjii, you're saying that ... to the extent that most youkai are not very human-like ..."

"... Yakumo Yukari is very, very youkai-like," Genjii finished.

"Wow," said Reimu. "Gramps, you should've told us that before we went out." Something else was nagging at her, a connection that had been made in her mind, but she couldn't pin it down ...

"I apologize," said Genjii. "Still, what I said was true: her information is valuable, when she deigns to say anything of substance at all."

"Then I guess we'd better make the most of it," said Kotohime.

Mima sighed, staring at the darkened crystal ball. Marisa was sitting on her rolled-up futon, looking unsettled and annoyed. Noroiko was leaning against a wall, seeming even more nervous.

"So, uh, boss," Marisa said finally, "now what?"

Mima shrugged. "I suppose there's nothing for it but to get ready for the youkai exterminators." She grinned as a thought struck her. "Come to think of it, Yakumo Ran's proviso was fairly ... specific, wasn't it? Noroiko, you can dispel your curses remotely, can't you?"

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