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A Different Demon-Sealing Record - Chapter 5: Deadly Dances

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Chapter 5: Deadly Dances

They returned to the Defense Force HQ. A policeman arrived, bearing the news that they'd found two more cursed Defenders, who'd been cured without much fuss. The Defenders had also figured out that Noroiko had struck her victims using homing bullets, which had swung around to hit them from behind after they dodged.

"Well, now that we have a location, and our system with the police seems to be working," said Kotohime, "I guess the only question is, when should we set out?"

Reimu nodded. "Well, um, how much time do we have?"

"I can keep my barrier going until a couple of hours after sunrise," said Keine. "I'll have to remain here, of course. But for all we know, Mima will have some sort of counterattack ready by then, and they'll still have access to Kirisame Marisa in the meantime."

Kotohime nodded. "I think it's going to be just you and me, Reimu," she said. "I mean, you're kind of mandatory, since none of us can pacify a vengeful spirit who's also a magician."

"Is there anyone else available?" asked Genjii.

Kotohime made a face. "Everyone who wasn't cursed is with the search parties," she said. "It's not a great position for fighting back, but the Human Village is obviously our top priority. And I don't think any of the Defenders who were cursed should be allowed in the same room as Noroiko for the foreseeable future."

"I can make charms against curses," Reimu said eagerly. If she could team up with Meira ...

"Nuh-uh," said Kotohime, shaking her head. "They're too close to this, still stinging from it. There's a reason, when you're in the police force, why you're not even allowed near crimes where you were the victim."

Reimu realized that she was now in the position where she would be the one protecting Meira. It was still disappointing that she wouldn't be able to see her again yet. "Um, okay," she said.

"The two of you should be enough," said Keine. "Do you know how to make danmaku that only hurts your enemies?"

"Yep," said Reimu, tapping the Yin-Yang Orb.

"Great, that was going to be my next question," said Kotohime. "In that case, we might as well just get going."

After a brief bit of discussion, they made their way southwest towards the Forest of Magic, Kotohime lighting the way with her cloud and Reimu with the Yin-Yang Orb. Reimu's confidence was beginning to wane. She was marching off to her very first battle against not one, but two youkai. Yakumo Ran's comments were gnawing at her, especially the bit about not being able to defeat someone with just one ofuda. Well ... Hakurei Chiyo probably could have exterminated something with just a single ofuda and a whack from her gohei, but Reimu wasn't anywhere near that level yet. Rika's tank had been pathetic, as she'd said, but Meira had actually beaten her.

"You doing all right?" said Kotohime.

"I think so," said Reimu.

"If you're not sure, feel free to duck out of the fights," said Kotohime. "I know you've got the skills of your predecessors, but you're still only fourteen."

Reimu thought about this. "No, I want to do this," she said. "I mean ... I'm gonna need to have a real fight at some point, aren't I?"

"Yeah, well, if you weren't the Hakurei Miko, I'd be telling you to come back in two years," Kotohime said bluntly.

"There is little we can do about it now," said Genjii. "Reimu is the only one who can seal Mima. She is not even the youngest a Shrine Maiden has ever been."

"Yeah, I know, I know," said Kotohime. "Well. At least wait until you can bring your god along next time."

"Um, okay," said Reimu.

Kotohime shook her head. "Seven years," she said. "That's ... I mean. Chiyo was a ... good friend and a great warrior, but as for keeping the Shrine itself going ..." She stared straight ahead into the darkness. "Well. You shouldn't speak ill of the dead."

"Yeah," said Reimu. The satchel felt heavy on her shoulder.

"I think we'll get Konngara back, at any rate," said Kotohime. "I think I mentioned I put the word out to the civilians, but I mentioned Konngara of Hakurei to the message I sent to the Defenders, as well." She shrugged. "We aren't exactly religious, if you take my meaning, but there isn't a youkai exterminator worth their salt who hasn't walked away from a fight and said, 'Thank gods I lived through that.'"

Reimu managed a smile. "I think I'm gonna add whoever invented the Hakurei Yin-Yang Orb to that," she said.

"Hah, yeah," said Kotohime. She didn't seem the slightest bit amused. "Still, though ... well, this is Gensokyo. All a youkai exterminator can do is, just do whatever we can, until there's either nothing more to do, or until we can't."

"That is true of any way of life, really," said Genjii.

"Yeah," said Reimu. She turned her gaze forward. "Oh."

"Ah," said Kotohime.

The edge of the forest had just come into the range of their lighting. Noroiko was loitering in midair, leaning against the branches of a tree.

She was skinny, and looked like she was about the same age as Meira, maybe a little younger — not, of course, that this meant anything when it came to youkai. She had short reddish-brown hair with a bright red bow, plum-colored eyes, and she wore a purple dress with red crisscrossing ribbons around the skirt. "Hey guys," she said casually. "Thought you might be coming over."

"You must be Noroiko," said Reimu, trying to sound threatening and failing completely.

"That's my name, don't wear it out," said Noroiko, smirking. Despite her casual attitude, she seemed incredibly tense, like a tightly-wound spring that could go flying at any minute. "And here we have a kid dressed up like a Shrine Maiden, her pet turtle, and some random policewoman."

Reimu growled. Genjii muttered, "Do not allow her to provoke you, Miss Hakurei."

"I'm not even in uniform," Kotohime said drily. "But let's cut to the chase. You know why we're here."

"Oh yeah," said Noroiko. "I mean, it's kind of obvious, right? This fox showed up, she was like, 'If the Shrine Maiden or any human dies, my master will be your reaper! I'm gonna go to the Shrine Maiden now.'" She chuckled to herself. "Damn near ruined our evening, y'know? So, I mean, don't get me wrong, I think I've taken a liking to screwing up youkai exterminators and all, it's just ..." She shrugged grandiosely, grinning nastily. "I'm not feeling that murderous tonight, ya get me?"

"Well, that makes it easier," said Kotohime. "So, you gonna make this easy?"

Noroiko rolled her eyes and snickered. "What does 'make this easy' even mean?" she said.

"Well," said Kotohime, "you could start by —"

"Seriously, though," said Noroiko. "We don't have a whole lot of options when the Defenders or the Shrine Maiden come knocking. Once you've positively identified the culprit or whatever, you're here to either kill us, or seal us where we can't so much as think." She sounded like she was repeating something she'd heard from someone else.

"Not always," said Kotohime. "You could —"

"I'm saying I don't usually have any incentives not to fight 'til one of us is dead!" Noroiko looked sidelong at Kotohime. "I mean, I'm pretty sure humans in jail are allowed to at least wake up before you execute 'em, right?"

"Well, if you're gonna be like that," said Kotohime, "it's a lot harder to lock up a youkai that's still alive and kicking. If she's conscious enough to see her surroundings, she's usually conscious enough to break out. And I've never heard of that ever happening without a human getting murdered, if there were any between her and freedom."

"I have," said Genjii, "but in nearly all of these cases, this was because the humans in question were able to successfully exterminate or re-seal the escapee."

Noroiko blew a raspberry. "Oh, well when human lives are threatened, suddenly you guys care."

"Um. Yes?" said Reimu.

"Yes, we do," said Kotohime. She glanced at Reimu and added, "This is what a youkai looks like who's completely remorseless about any killing, unless she herself is threatened or mildly inconvenienced."

"... What's your point?" said Noroiko.

"As I was saying," said Kotohime. "Still, though. If you kill one of us, you're going to get exterminated by Yakumo Yukari anyway."

"Yeah, well, I don't want to get killed by you jokers, either," said Noroiko.

"There is a third option, you know," said Kotohime. "I was trying to tell you, you could show some kind of remorse for what you've done, and help us take Mima down."

Noroiko burst out laughing.

"Hey, it's an option that doesn't involve getting sealed or exterminated," said Kotohime.

Noroiko grinned, and shook her head. "I pick option number four!"

"You're gonna run?" said Reimu, tensing up.

"Nope," said Noroiko. "See, the fox said we can't kill anyone, or make it impossible for the squirt to be the Shrine Maiden, but she didn't say anything about just ... making you leave for the night." She twirled around in midair, arms outstretched, and faint wisps of gray mist began swirling around her. "So let's dance!"

She unleashed a swarm of white bullets, shaped like the kanji for "curse" and infused with a dark aura that made them blend together in Reimu's senses. Reimu split the Yin-Yang Orbs into four, dodging and weaving through Noroiko's danmaku, firing ofuda-bullets which were phased to pass harmlessly through Kotohime. She didn't actually know what the curse would do, if not simply mind-control her, but she didn't particularly want to find out. It was relatively easy to avoid getting hit, actually; the curse made it harder to distinguish individual bullets, but even Meira's danmaku had been thicker than —

A bullet that had made a near-miss swung around and headed back towards Reimu from behind. She shrieked and thrust her gohei back, dispelling it with a quick blessing.

Almost at the same time, she heard a loud pop and laughter from Kotohime. Reimu glanced over; she'd summoned her mines, one of which had detonated into small white pearls of danmaku. "Seriously?" said Kotohime. "You were expecting a cheap trick like that to work on us, especially after we heard it from the other Defenders?" She launched a few mines at Noroiko.

Noroiko cackled as she danced and weaved unpredictably through Reimu and Kotohime's bullets, mists swirling around her. Through it all, she was still firing out her curse-bullets. Reimu stopped firing back for a moment, and just focused on dodging, which was ... easier, but it wasn't helping them win.

Reimu focused as much power as she could, gritting her teeth from the strain, and fired a single burst of ofuda-bullets, more at once than she'd ever done before, spread out just enough that there wasn't a single direction where Noroiko could just get out of the way. But Noroiko just laughed, dancing through Reimu's bullets ... and came to a sudden stop as she avoided colliding directly with one of Kotohime's mines. It was only a few seconds before the ofuda-bullets passed, and all Noroiko had to deal with were Kotohime's mines and pearls.

Reimu spared a glance to Kotohime. "Uhh, help?"

"Do as I do, but in the other direction!" said Kotohime. She floated a few meters lower, then started fired a two-dimensional pattern of danmaku at an angle that would pass above Noroiko.

Other direction ... oh! Reimu guided Genjii upward, and began firing a two-dimensional pattern of her own from the Yin-Yang Orbs, aimed below Noroiko.

Noroiko snickered. "What?" she said, flying straight forward between the two patterns. She stopped laughing when Reimu and Kotohime started closing in their patterns on each other, like a pair of jaws with teeth made out of light. Noroiko barely managed to slip above Reimu's pattern as they intersected.

Reimu leaned out of the way of a row of curse-bullets that got close. They swung around to hit her from behind, and Reimu ducked, inadvertently swinging her pattern down again in the process. Noroiko let out a squawk as she flew straight into an ofuda-bullet, and with a loud snapping sound, her danmaku vanished in a shower of red sparks. She blinked a few times, looking stunned.

Wow, that was easy, thought Reimu. She launched a pair of real ofuda at Noroiko, in the same moment that Kotohime did the same.

But Noroiko quickly twisted out of the way, and fired four curse-bullets into the path of the ofuda. She hit two of Reimu's ofuda and one of Kotohime's, and the other ofuda flew harmlessly into the woods. "Well, okay, guess I underestimated you a li'l," she said. "But that's not gonna happen again." She activated her Spell Card, and was surrounded by a black and pinkish-purple aura — just like Meira's, Reimu realized. "This is a little number I call: Waltz of the Nagashi-Bina! Let's dance!"

"You said that already!" said Reimu, at the same intant that Noroiko unleashed a torrent of bullets. The pattern was thicker than Meira's Trail Sign, almost as thick as Keine's danmaku, consisting of the "curse" bullets standing on top of the relatively simple kanji for "person". They bobbed up and down as if on a river, and looked for all the world like some sort of strange dolls.

Reimu's immediate assessment was that they we're going to have to spend too much effort dodging to pull off such a simple trick again. Frankly, there wasn't enough room to try any fancy predefined maneuvers. "First Card!" she said desperately as she activated Fantasy Seal. They'd come up with numbers so that it would be harder for their opponents to guess what they'd do next, although Reimu still had just the one. Fortunately, it was also getting easier to activate it quickly; unfortunately, she could still only fire bullets from a few Yin-Yang Orbs at once.

"Second Card," said Kotohime, as she fired up a Spell Card called Cloud Princess; Kotohime's Spell Cards were all plays on her name, the kanji of which roughly meant "rabbit princess." Her cloud started launching stylized wisps of smoke that exploded into dense bursts of danmaku.

It was chaotic, but Reimu was finding it ... manageable, as long as she focused on dodging and deflecting the bullets that got too close. It occurred to her that deflecting the bullets was something Meira had done — no, stop that line of thought, it's a distraction, there's an enemy right in front of me. Still, though, it was easier to concentrate on what she was doing than it had been in the battle against Meira, even though there were more actual bullets. Reimu didn't know whether it was because she'd tasted defeat and had come out with barely a scratch, or if it was because she wasn't distracted by a crush on her enemy, or just because she knew she had an ally who could take over if she couldn't continue. It didn't matter at the moment regardless; now was the time to act, not to speculate.

She started circling around Noroiko, trying to position herself so that the youkai would have to defend from multiple angles. Noroiko smirked straight at her, and responded by pirouetting between Reimu and Kotohime, mist spiraling around her as she sent bullets flying wildly in all directions. Reimu gritted her teeth as she dodged through them, deflecting the ones that got too close.

There was a thunderclap of a broken Spell Card from Kotohime. Reimu looked just in time to see Kotohime slapping an anti-curse ofuda on her side. She briefly gave Reimu a thumbs-up. Reimu nodded back, and focused back on Noroiko even as she heard Kotohime say, "Third card!" and activate another Spell Card. Number three was called Bomb Princess. Sure enough, Kotohime began launching mines in Noroiko's general direction, detonating into chaotic patterns of pearls.

Noroiko did another pirouette between them, this time in the opposite direction. She narrowly but stylishly avoided one of the mines, and struck a pose while facing Kotohime. The mine abruptly swerved around and looped back to detonate against the back of Noroiko's head, sending her spinning out of the air. Reimu started to giggle, but she gasped and put a hand over her mouth as Noroiko hit the ground and rolled to a stop. That could have been her, during the fight with Meira.

But the body of a youkai was much more durable than that of a human. Noroiko quickly hopped to her feet and launched herself into the air. "That's cheating!" she yelled, looking none the worse for wear apart from a couple of rips in her dress.

Reimu giggled again, slightly more nervously this time. "I can't believe you fell for your own trick!"

Noroiko stuck her tongue out. "Y'know what, I don't care about sparing you guys anymore," she said. "I'm just gonna skip to my last Spell Card, One Hundred Ghost Dances! They'll never find your bodies!"

She activated another Spell Card, and began a long, sweeping midair dance around the area, alternating between a grand jeté and a high-speed pirouette. With each movement, she sent out bursts of curse-bullets, and magenta lasers that curved wildly through the air. Reimu could feel the deadly energies in the lasers. She focused all her efforts on avoiding them, since curvy lasers tended to be really obnoxious to avoid.

But then she sensed a curse-bullet that was much too close — she wasn't paying enough attention to them — she felt a sharp pain in her side and heard a thunderclap, she felt her anti-curse charms starting to crack ...

Fortunately, the Yin-Yang Orbs knew what to do. Reimu reflexively snagged an anti-curse charm and slapped it onto her side, and the pain vanished with a sizzling sound. Immediately, she sent Genjii dodging out of the way of an oncoming laser.

"Are you all right, Miss Hakurei?" said Genjii worriedly.

Reimu shook her head, and just focused on dodging. "Yeah, I'm okay," she said. "Thank, uh, thank Konngara, any other gods who're listening, and — ack!" She swerved to avoid a laser. "— and whoever invented the Yin-Yang Orb!"

"Do you need time to recover?" said Genjii, wincing as Reimu managed to avoid getting him hit by a curse.

Reimu shook her head, looking up at Noroiko. "We haven't got time to recover!" she shouted. She flew Genjii higher in order to evade another curse-bullet, then got an idea. She tapped her foot on Genjii's back, and moved her feet into a position to signal retreat. "Hey! Gramps, what are you doing!" she said, as naturally as she could.

Fortunately, Genjii caught on. "I insist, Miss Hakurei," he said. "Miss Kawaji has this well in hand for the moment."

"Ugh, fiiiiine!" said Reimu, dismissing the duplicate Yin-Yang Orbs.

Noroiko snickered, and abruptly stopped as a mine detonated a little too close to her. Kotohime, showing no reaction to Reimu's supposed retreat, launched four mines at once in close proximity, and detonated them one at a time as they got close. Noroiko started focusing all her attention and danmaku on Kotohime, moving in a wide circle that sent her away from Reimu while carefully avoiding Kotohime's return fire. Reimu followed Noroiko, matching her speed, about ninety degrees around Kotohime behind her. When she reached the edge of the forest, she guided Genjii to move behind a tree, then waited and closed her eyes, using only her magical senses to see what was happening in the battle.

It wasn't long before Noroiko made it all the way around, and began approaching where Reimu was hiding. When she was almost upon them, Reimu suddenly zipped out from behind the tree, split the Yin-Yang Orb into four, and fired a thick burst of danmaku straight at Noroiko, with a real ofuda hidden among them.

Noroiko was visibly startled, but she quickly broke into a grin and danced through them. "Still pitiful!" she said. Three of the ofuda-bullets looped around to strike her from behind. "Oh no you don't!" she snarled, turning around and zapping them with a laser.

A second later, the real ofuda latched onto Noroiko's side. With a thunderclap and a scream, Noroiko fell out of the sky and landed facedown.

This time, she stayed there. Reimu flew Genjii over to Kotohime, and they watched her for several seconds.

"Nice trick," said Kotohime.

"Uh, thanks," said Reimu.

"Bet you a million yen it doesn't work on Mima, though." Kotohime cancelled her Spell Card. "Well, her body hasn't turned into dust, so she's still alive," she said. "Guess we'd better finish the job."

"Right," said Reimu, dispelling Fantasy Seal. They landed, and cautiously approached.

Noroiko pushed herself onto her side, swearing under her breath, but then she froze, eyes widening as she saw Reimu and Kotohime approaching.

Reimu pulled out four extermination ofuda, and jumped off Genjii's back. Kotohime had brought out a few ofuda of her own.

Noroiko exhaled, and chuckled. "Well, guess this is it," she said. "I had fun, guys."

"I didn't," Reimu said darkly.

"Last chance to give up," said Kotohime.

Noroiko responded by spitting at her, creating a single curse-bullet. Kotohime easily dispelled it with a pearl-bullet of her own.

"Right," said Reimu. She raised an ofuda ... and hesitated.

She was about to kill Noroiko. She was about to kill someone. There was no use wrapping it up in flowery words like "exterminate." "Exterminate" meant "kill." She'd never killed anyone, other than fairies, who couldn't die. She, Hakurei Reimu, was about to kill someone.

Noroiko blinked, then grinned. "What, never killed anyone before?" she said. "I have. Lemme tell you, it gets easier and easier every time you do it."

"Shut up!" snapped Reimu, feeling her blood turning into ice. She threw the ofuda at Noroiko's right arm.

Noroiko let out a bloodcurdling scream. She sat there, panting for several seconds, then smirked. "That ... nnghh ... That was an i-imitation of the ... th ... the first human I k-killed."

"Okay, that's enough of that," said Kotohime. "Reimu, don't watch." She stepped forward —

— and then she and Reimu jumped back to avoid a giant metal staff with a crescent moon on one end, thrown from the trees.

Reimu looked up into the darkness of the woods, but there was no one there. A green-haired woman with a pointy white cap abruptly materialized in front of them, one hand gripping the staff. Reimu realized that she didn't have legs, just a transparent white wisp poking out from under her robes.

Mima pointed her staff at Reimu, and an orb of light appeared inside the crescent as she charged up a spell. Kotohime shoved Reimu aside a split second before it fired.

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