The challenge was posted on the Flame of Recca mailing list, 3/9/01. It required the inclusion of a member of Uruha Kurenai, a member of team Hokage, and a referee. Four bits of dialogue had to be included: "Are you sure that's supposed to stretch like that?", "I think he has rabies", "Shut up, Yanagi!", and "Is this thing on?" Hope you guys like it. ^_^
When she found out, her curiosity was piqued-- although her trepidation was justifiable.
It just *had* to be a mistake.
Bottou-chan looked at the small postcard, with neatly-lettered handwriting inviting her for a day of fun and festivities. On the other side was a brilliant four-color depiction of the Uruha Kurenai.
It just *had* to be a mistake.
"It's a mistake, right?" asked Lockheart. Due to geographical logistics, she wasn't actually *there*, but that's the message that showed up in Bottou-chan's inbox.
"I don't know," was the reply that was sent. "But I'd rather not get involved with this mistake by myself."
As an afterthought, she cc'd Fuuko no Miko in on the invitation, too. Mayumi of the Purple-Tinted Glasses was busy with her doctor's work, but perhaps she needed a little fun and frivolity as a distraction from the hospital grind.
The reply came an hour or two later.
"It's a mistake, right?"
That weekend, the three aspiring fic-writers found themselves *there* at ten o'clock sharp. Amazing, seeing that Lockheart was from Singapore, Fuuko no Miko was from Malaysia, and Bottou-chan was from Texas. But still, they managed to coordinate their timetables down to the exact minute, so they all arrived in front of The Gates at relatively the same time.
The Gates of...
Bottou-chan didn't want to think that.
They went up to the ticket office.
"We're here by special invitation," explained Bottou-chan, displaying the postcard to the ticket seller.
She squinted through her own glasses-- boring clear lenses, not purple-tinted ones. The girl looked a little... young. And she was wearing an eyepatch, too.
Could she even count money without making mistakes?
It was Lockheart who spotted her nametag.
That made sense.
It very well could be the last part of the fic that did.
They were allowed inside with no trouble at all. There were some families milling around the grounds, a small number of fanboys, and a larger number of fangirls. It was like a small, picturesque Japanese street, lined with small, picturesque Japanese shops. Lanterns were strung across the street, and would be presumably lit at night. Flowers bloomed spunkily from large wooden tubs, medium-sized clay jars, and small metal pots. Slender cherry trees graced the street, contained within small fences, although they would not bloom until spring was further underway.
The street led directly to a large, towering castle which reached towards the sky.
"Look!" exclaimed Fuuko no Miko, pointing her finger. There, next to a stand selling plushies, stood a girl with blue pigtails, pompoms up her legs and on her arms, and an indecently short skirt.
"Raiha plushies!" exclaimed Lockheart excitedly.
"No, it's Mikoto," said Fuuko in a slightly softer voice. She peered through the purple lenses and added, "And it almost looks like she's the real thing..."
The trio took a few steps closer.
"Mikoto-samaaaaaaa!" exclaimed one young fangirl, with her black hair tied up in pigtails in Mikoto's same exact style. She waved her hand towards her friend. "Take a picture of us together! Me and Mikoto!"
"Why don't you f*cking leave me alone?" snapped Mikoto.
"'Cause you're so f*cking cool!" replied the eager fan.
"F*ck you," snarled Mikoto, turning on her heel and striding away, leaving behind two starry-eyed girls gazing adoringly after her.
The three fic-writers sweatdropped to themselves. They had braved Mikagami's horde of fangirls at the MISC [Mikagami is so Cooooooooool!] Convention, but those hadn't been half as unnerving as the lone, minority Mikoto fans. Or perhaps, they were just unnerving in a different way...
"I think she might be the real thing," whispered Lockheart, taking a few steps back.
"She is, she is," came an assured voice.
Neither Fuuko no Miko nor Lockheart had to turn around to know who it was. That voice, that accent-- the fact that it was one of Bottou-chan's fics-- well, who else but Joker? Genjuro-- an afterthought?-- was standing stolidly next to him, peering at the three girls from under bushy eyebrows.
"So you three came to Uruha Funland?" inquired Joker with an amiable grin on his face. "I'm kind of surprised that you did. But pleased to see you three. Hopefully, you'll give us a good write-up, increase the fan base, and boost our profits."
"It seemed a bit scary--" began Bottou-chan.
"Our rides are *meant* to be scary," Joker assured her.
"--But it was too weird to pass up," she finished. "It's been pretty quiet around the ML's, and nothing too out-of-place has happened recently, except for a recent influx of yaoi lovers and someone who posed the hypothesis that you're female."
The fangs again.
"I'm male. Wanna see?"
Three pairs of eyes bulged, and three voices hastily assured him no, they were convinced as it was.
"Genjuro, actually, is supposed to be your guide," explained Joker. "I just couldn't help but give myself a very small speaking role in the fic. Speaking of fics, I want to get with you-- all three of you-- at the end of the day and try to coordinate some new plotlines that might showcase my innate coolness." He cocked his head to one side. "That is, if you still feel like speaking with me afterwards," he added thoughtfully. "Ah, well. Genjuro-han, take care of 'em!"
With a wave, Joker disappeared into the crowd.
"Well, then, let's see about showing you around Uruha Funland, the place where scary happy fun fun abounds," Genjuro said with forced pleasantness. "C'mon."
"So tell us," said Lockheart conversationally, as they wove their way past vendors vending inflatable Raijins, Taishaku Kaitens, and Mugens. "Whatever possessed you guys to build your own theme park?"
"Well, seeing that there's *only* forty-two episodes of anime, and no movie or OAV prospects in sight," began the eldest of the Jyushinshuu, "And that due to the fact that Anzai has been rather stumbling through the most recent volumes of manga... well, frankly, our profits were slimming considerably. Something needed to be done to bolster our preexisting fans, and draw in new ones. Hence, a theme park."
"Wouldn't it have been cheaper to try and produce an extra season, or churn out a movie?" hazarded Fuuko no Miko.
Genjuro wrinkled his nose. "You wouldn't believe what they wanted to do," he whispered. "You see, it would have been a love story, taking place in a school, where Mori Kouran was principal, and... well... it hurts to think about it."
Bottou-chan tried to remember. Why did that sound so familiar...?
"There was another idea that was tossed into the ring," added Genjuro. "It would have pretty much been a BDSM flick involving Mikagami, Kurei, and Raiha, with Koganei included in the director's cut release. But that didn't go over very well, either."
"Thank goodness for that," murmured Fuuko no Miko.
"And a third idea would have been called 'My Two Dads', surrounding the idea that a failed clone with a three-year-old mentality would be rescued from her first 'father', a filthy rich power-hungry dirty bastard underworld assassin organization leader who sexually abused her, and raised by her real 'father', who is an obsessively bitter pyromaniacal murderer and underworld assassin organization leader, because she was also cloned from cells from his secret girlfriend-- who was murdered by the aforementioned filthy rich power-hungry dirty bastard."
Bottou-chan blinked. "That was just one sentence," she remarked to no one in particular.
"So we decided that while all those ideas are frightening-- well, people like to be scared. And hence the idea of a theme park." He waved his hand. "With financial backing of the Kokom Corporation, and the JiaXian Chocolate Company, well, it was a simple task. We offered to go halvsies with the Hokage, but I guess they didn't get enough allowance from their parents." He smirked, though it was difficult to tell through his white beard. "Who knows where their percent of the royalties from the tv show and manga sales vaporized off to. Children these days."
They stopped at a booth to buy a box of Kurei-shaped chocolates... the ones without the charred flesh inside.
Genjuro indicated the roller coaster as they resumed their walk. "You girls want to ride it?" he asked curiously.
"I'd actually rather see something more... Uruha-specific," suggested Fuuko no Miko, examining a nearby map. "Like one of these."
"No problem," said Genjuro, and he set off, leading the way. "I only offered because Mokuren seems to like the roller coaster... he rides it time and time again, if only to hear the girls scream."
"Is this thing on?" came a hesitant voice, following by a booming TAP TAP TAP over the PA system. "Check one-- check one-- check one. Ah! Welcome! I'd like to welcome everyone to Uruha Funland! I'm your host, Midori, and I'd like to remind everyone to keep your hands and feet inside the boat at all times. This ride is not for the young of years, the timid of heart, or the weak of stomach. If you are pregnant, have recently suffered a stroke, or don't like singing, the exit is to your left."
There was a short pause.
"Very well! We're on our way to have some scary happy fun fun!"
The boat pushed off and rounded a corner. All was dark until...
The boats gently floated past tiny islands where mechanical reproductions of the Uruha stood, waving their weapons and chanting a song, brilliantly illuminated by brightly-colored spotlights.
"Happy, scary fun fun time! You're trapped in Uruha Land! Enjoy the show as you pass by, and give us all a hand! Happy scary fun fun time! Such things you know you'll see! You think you know how the story goes? --Well, just watch *OUR* stor-y!"
And then the group rounded a corner, and the swirling mechanical Uruha choir mercifully disappared from view... and earshot.
The first vignette to pass was the Hokage in the castle.
There was a mechanical Fuuko, Recca, and Domon.
"O, pity us! We're really weak! Yet into the castle we shall creep!"
They pivoted on their small revolving stands.
"We shall succeed! We don't know how! Yet off we go to save HER now!"
And the boat rounded a corner, and the Hokage passed from view.
Allow us to skip half an hour into the future, which saw the three girls emerging dazed and disoriented at the end of the ride.
"I... don't remember the story being... *quite* like that," said Lockheart, searching for something polite to say.
"Some of the rhyming was very... unique," added Fuuko no Miko, a frown creasing her face.
"What I don't get," said Bottou-chan, looking thoughtful, "Is if the Hokage were impaled by Ganko, and then squashed by Sekioh, and then diced by Koganei, and then crisped by Kurei-- how did they recuperate in time to go to the tournament? And how did Yanagi ever escape, since they were dispatched so easily?"
"You weren't paying attention," said Genjuro impatiently. "Didn't you see?" He recited, "Koganei pitied their fighting so poor, he bandaged them up and showed them the door."
"Ahhhh, that's right," agreed Bottou-chan. "I guess it must've slipped my mind. When I saw Shiju guarding the door, I was wondering more about the foaming effects coming from his mouth, and wondering if that affected the machinery any. I wasn't paying attention to the Hokage mannequins."
Lockheart grinned. "I think he had rabies."
"Perhaps he had just brushed his teeth after a healthy vegetarian meal," suggested Fuuko no Miko. "He didn't have time to rinse."
Lockheart nodded. "Something else that kind of struck me as odd... I don't remember Domon *ever* saying anything like... mmmm... 'Your incessant cries of 'Recca-kun' grate; shut up, Yanagi, such whimpers we hate!'"
"Come to think of it, I don't remember the Hokage being anywhere *near* that disorganized in the anime," added Fuuko no Miko.
"They had their times," agreed Bottou-chan, "But I think that they were depicted as being extremely discordant."
Genjuro shrugged. "Artistic license," he suggested. "How about, 'Flame of Recca: How it Should Have Been.'"
"So that explains the ending," said Bottou-chan, pretending to muse. "The KFC [Kurei Fanclub] marching out in long red dresses and white masks, waving their banners, and singing the Ode to Kurei while dancing around the Hokage Funeral Pyre?"
"You'd be surprised how hard *that* was to get passed," confided Genjuro. "Kokom wanted it to be the Ode to Mori. But the JiaXian Chocolate Corporation ended up strongarming them, and they agreed to let it slide."
Bottou-chan stopped. "Don't tell me you actually *believe* all that self-promotion you're churning out."
Genjuro smiled nervously. "Ahhh... well... you see, that particular ride was a cooperative effort between Mori, Mikoto, Magensha, and Mokuren. The Chocolate Corporation was a determining factor in the musical selection, but everything else was pretty much in *their* hands." He shrugged. "I was too busy working on the Referee Revue to pay any attention to that part of things."
"Referee... Revue?" Lockheart paled, tucking a stray strand of brown hair behind her ear.
"I designed it myself," said Genjuro, nodding proudly. "It's extremely popular, especially with the young fanboy market. There are machines that vend kleenex boxes, too."
"Kleenex... for...?" Fuuko no Miko frowned.
And then-- by the most amazing stroke of luck-- a small group of teenage boys walked past them, holding Kleenex to their noses. Snippets of conversation floated to their ears.
"...Demi's kind of cute..."
"...Was that supposed to stretch like that?!..."
"...Hey, look... betcha Neon's on the boat ride..."
And the group passed from earshot and made their way to the beginning of the boat ride.
Coincidence? They thought not.
Genjuro shrugged and returned to his original thread of conversation. "But we have to present a united front, especially since a small minority of visitors might... ummm... find some parts of our... historical reinterpretation... offensive."
His words were cut short by a billow of smoke erupting from the exit door. The visitors who had been on the boat which had been directly behind theirs now emerged, choking and coughing on the smoke.
"...Malfunction?" hazarded Fuuko no Miko, looking a bit worried-- and not for the first time that day.
A loud voice sporadically carried above the general noise of the crowd.
"WHERE DO THEY GET OFF CALLING HIME A.... LEGGO! I WANT TO SEE THE... YOU BASTARDS WILL PAY!!!!"
Bottou-chan, Lockheart, and Fuuko no Miko thought they saw something that looked suspiciously like Nadare being shot at the building, propelled by a teenage boy with a red shirt and black hair. His wrists were grabbed by security guards, to prevent him from writing in the air, and the boy was dragged off, still kicking and shouting angrily.
At a safer distance, their path was followed by a large, hulking teenage boy with a mohawk, and a girl with purple hair and short shorts.
The three exchanged a look.
Genjuro waved aside the distraction. "Would you like to take the ride through Mori Kouran's Cloning Tanks? At the end, you have the chance to buy a ticket for a lottery that will enable you to get yourself cloned. Three lucky winners are drawn every month. It's rather fun. Another one of my pet projects."
The three girls paled.
"Why don't we try the rollercoaster?" suggested Lockheart and Fuuko no Miko, nearly in the same breath.
That evening, Bottou-chan was sitting in front of her computer, with her newly-purchased Joker plushie propped up against her printer.
Her fingers were poised over the keys as she began to write the promised review.
"Scary happy fun-fun was promised... and only one was delivered," it began, and the rest of the evening was lost amidst the clatter of fingers on keyboard.