The First Day of Spring
Spring had come to Gensokyo, and nobody cared.
Of course, this could be easily forgiven, as it was in the wee hours of the morning, and most of the mystical country's denizens were either hours from awakening or just getting to bed. A shame too. For as far as mornings went, it was a beautiful one. The sun was just beginning to peek over the tips of the mountain range, illuminating miles of dewy fields and sleepy forests. The buds of the first flowers of the year began to open in response to the sun's rays. A low mist hovered over the ground to billow over the lakes, enjoying its last few moments of dominance before the sun banished it entirely. In the forest, birds began to flit from tree to tree, singing their greetings to one another.
However, everyone else couldn't care less. Beyond the birds and the flowers, the various inhabitants of Gensokyo were asleep and planning on remaining that way for the foreseeable future. Everyone that was, except one.
Lily White literally exploded into the air, showering the land with projectiles of various sizes and shape as flowers bloomed in her wake. The first day of spring always worked her into frenzy, and this year was no exception. Laughing with joy, she zipped to and fro through the air, announcing winter's end to anyone who would hear. Whether they liked it or not.
"Wake up everybody!" she called as loud as she could. "Wake up! It's here, it's finally here! Spring has arrived!"
And it worked. Throughout the forest, various youkai stirred in their makeshift beds, wishing that she would just shut up for once. Kappa poked their heads above water, curious to see what all the fuss was about. Even the humans in their villages weren't immune to Lily's cry, as many of them cursed themselves for forgetting their earplugs this year while those who had remembered cursed themselves for not investing in a stronger set of earplugs. And in an ancient mansion several miles away, a cranky young vampire demanded that her maid "Shoot the damned thing down already." Unfortunately for them, Lily had learned from past experience to stay well out of firing range,
If the white-clad fairy had any idea how irritating her self-imposed duty was making her, she gave no indication. This was her job, and she would do it to the very best of her ability. If people didn't like it, it was their fault for sleeping through part of the first day of spring. She twirled in the air, joyfully spreading love and bullets as she went.
That was when something hit her in the face, something cold, wet and soft. Startled, she forgot how to fly and tumbled head over heels back to the ground. Fortunately there was a soft patch of grass for her to land in, but the impact still knocked her senseless. She struggled to sit up, but three seconds after her arrival, a sudden burst of lilies erupted around her, knocking her back down again.
Lily groaned and rubbed her head. She had no idea what had hit her, but she was growing increasingly aware of the fact that it was still in her mouth. She frowned and spat it out. Whatever it was, it was white and colder than anything had a right to be. Come to think of it, it looked a lot like…
A snowball? Someone had hit her with a snowball? On the first day of spring?
The fuzziness in her mind burned away, engulfed by the fury that was now growing within her at an alarming rate. Someone had dared use an element of winter to attack her. She was going to find that someone. She was going to make them hurt.
A raucous round of nearby laughter suggested that she would not have to look far.
Growling, she pushed aside the lilies and got a good look at her attackers. There were five of them: three youkai and two fairies. The youkai were the ones responsible for the laughter. One of them, a girl in a black dress with a red and white ribbon in her yellow hair, was helping support a sparrow-girl with short brown hair, a tan dress and a strange winged hat. The third, a firefly by the looks of her, one with a mop of green hair and strangely boyish clothing, wasn't even bothering with trying to hold herself up and was rolling on the ground in hysterics. One of the fairies, a girl in a blue dress whose green hair was tied into a ponytail, looked incredibly nervous as she hovered behind the group. However, the other, this one with blue hair and six crystalline wings, didn't look nervous at all, and judging from the unrepentant grin on her face and the snowball she was tossing up and down Lily had found her culprit.
Lily knew them, of course. Everybody knew them, nobody liked them. Rumia, Mystia Lorelei, Wriggle Nightbug, Daiyousei and, of course, Cirno. It was generally agreed that no matter the time, date, or season, Cirno's gang was going to be up to no good. It was also agreed that there wasn't enough brains between them to fill a water bucket. The combination made them very infamous indeed.
"You!" Lily spat.
Cirno's grin just increased. "Well, what'd you expect? All that flying around, screaming 'Spring!' at the top of your stupid lungs and waking everybody up! Frankly, I'm surprised someone didn't shut you up earlier!"
Lily's eyes narrowed and she pulled herself to her feet. "How dare you!" she shouted. "This is spring! Winter has no business here!"
In response, Lily got another face full of snow. She quickly wiped it off to see Cirno's tongue sticking out and her thumb pressing up on her nose.
"I'm an ice fairy, not a winter fairy," Cirno announced. "So nyah!"
Unlike her leader, Daiyousei didn't look to confident about harassing Lily. "Um, C-Cirno," she stuttered, "maybe you shouldn't-"
This warning was ignored. "What, you can dish out but you can't take it? Is that it?" Cirno taunted. "I guess you really are all talk! And that is why I'm the-"
"Look out!" Daiyousei shouted.
She swooped down and tackled Cirno to the ground. Just in time too, because Lily's trademark hurricane of bullets obliterated the area she had been occupying. The rest of her gang stopped their laughter to stare up as Lily White rose into the air. Though to be honest, the Spring fairy was now quite the captivating sight. She was now literally blazing with fury, with chaotic energies swirling around her fists and dancing in her eyes.
"WHY YOU DISREPSECTFUL LITTLE TRAMP!" Lily bellowed with all the force in her lungs. "I'LL TEACH YOU TO DISRESPECT SPRING'S MESSENGER! FEEL THE MIGHT OF SSSSSPRRRRRRIIINNNNGGGGG!"
"Scatter!" Rumia called. The surrounding around was immediately bombarded by a storm of firepower. Grass exploded upwards in clumps and flower patches bloomed just in time to be cut to shreds.
Cirno's gang, however, had not stuck around to see this happen. All five of them were now shooting through the forest, most of them sending out taunts and catcalls back at Lily. This of course did absolutely nothing to improve her mood.
It would probably be pointless to go after them. There were five of them, after all, and in the Forest of Magic even one would be difficult to catch.
Still, they had disrespected spring. You just didn't let an insult like that slide.
Lily took in a deep breath. Well, she had been planning on shooting the landscape up anyway as part of her yearly ritual. It looked like this time she would have a target.
After taking a moment to ready all the energy she had available, Lily began to follow.
It was generally agreed upon that while being a part of Cirno's gang was great fun, it was not without risks. As such, having to flee the angry victim of one prank or another was had long become routine.
Fortunately, Lily White was far from the strongest person to have pursued them with murderous intent. And they did outnumber her five-to-one. In fact, Cirno could probably have taken her on her own. But why stand and fight when driving your victim nuts was so much more fun? And seeing how Lily had never been playing with a full deck to begin with, they really didn't have to try hard.
Three youkai and two fairies dashed and darted through the trees of the Magic Forest, laughing and taunting as they went. Above the treetops, a furious Lily could be seeing trying to shoot them down with burst after burst after burst. She was certainly doing a great deal of damage, but thanks to her growing frustration none of her shots were hitting home. This of course was not lost on the targets of her ire, and their taunts and catcalls barraged her from every direction.
"Ha! Missed again you loser!"
"Wow, you really are a bad shot, aren't you?"
"Not even close, not even close, and the dumb fairy can't hit the broad side of a mountain!"
"Ahhh! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, don't hurt me! Ahhh!"
Well, taunts, catcalls and one plea for forgiveness. Daiyousei never had gotten the hang of the whole "danger" thing.
Frustrated, Lily skimmed above the treetops, angrily searching every which way for her prey. Movement to her left caught her eye, and she launched another barrage in that direction. A high-pitched cackling told her she had missed.
Lily balled up her hands. "Where are you?" she cried out in frustration. "Come out and fight! You're all a bunch of filthy cowards!"
A nearby voice answered. "Is that so!"
And that was when the world went dark.
Lily shrieked in surprise. She balked in mid-air and swung about in confusion. It was as if someone had deactivated her eyes and then struck out the sun for good measure. Now that was just cheating.
"WHAT IS THIS?" Lily screamed into the darkness. "WHATEVER YOU'RE DOING, STOP IT!" When her opponents failed to answer, she tried firing several more blasts in random directions. She swooped around, listening carefully for sounds of impact. From the sound of things, she had managed to hit several trees, but there were no cries of pain. Damn it.
Then the darkness disappeared.
Lily breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently she had managed to hit whoever had swallowed the light. There was that at least…
It was then that she noticed that she was on a collision course with a surprisingly tall and hard looking tree.
Lily's eyes popped in their sockets. She tried to bank hard, but her momentum was too great. She slammed face-first into the trunk hard enough to make the top of the tree sway back and forth. Her brain rattled in her skull and her thoughts immediately dissolved into nonsense.
"Guhhh, what in the tree love Spring I like beans-"
Rationalism managed to catch up before she went tumbling. Lily shook off the confusion and steadied herself. She noticed a sizeable bump beginning to form over her right eyebrow. She gingerly touched it and winced as it protested the contact.
Oh yeah. Someone was going to die. Unfortunately those someones were nowhere to be seen. She couldn't even hear their annoying taunts anymore.
"That was a cheap shot!" she called out in hopes of luring them out. "Come out and face me like a ma-" Wait, that wasn't right. "Like a fai-" No, that didn't quite work either. "Um, like something that's really, really brave!" Uninspired, but it got the point across.
Still there was no response. Again, Lily felt murderous urges surge within her. This was by far the worst First Day of Spring she had ever had, and that was taking the incident with the vampire into account.
Well, she couldn't kill anyone if she couldn't find them. Lily skimmed over the tops of the trees, hoping for some sign of those who had completely ruined her favorite day of the year.
Unfortunately for Lily White, Cirno's gang was no longer running. After Lily had collided face-first with the tree, they had taken shelter under a fallen log and snickered away while she shouted out her challenge. And once she had finally wandered out of earshot, their muted chuckles erupted and they fell over themselves laughing. Even little Daiyousei couldn't help but join in.
"Oh wow, I can't believe she fell for that!" Wriggle said as she wiped tears from her eyes.
"Me neither!" Mystia agreed. "And when Rumia hit her with the darkness?"
Seeing an opportunity to claim the spotlight, Cirno jumped up and began twirling around in a passable imitation of Lily's movements while blinded. Her friends laughed and cheered their encouragement.
"Oh, I'm blind, I'm blind," she wailed. "Where can I be?"
She then spun around and pretended to collide with a nearby bush.
"Oh no, I am defeated by a giant stick!" Cirno declared as she tumbled onto her back. "May your mothers be cursed with lameness and you fathers with dysentery!"
This performance was rewarded with another round of cheering from the gang. "Bravo, bravo!" Rumia applauded. "Your performance moves me to tears!"
Cirno popped to her feet and bowed low to her audience. "Thank yew, thank yew. I call it 'Stupid Windbag Who Refused to Shut Up and Got What Was ComWAHHH!"
Cirno's acceptance speech was suddenly interrupted by a hard metal object that had flown through the air to smack her in the head. Cirno was knocked over on her face, while the object in question tumbled into the underbrush.
Her gang immediately dove for cover. Flying objects targeted towards their heads was an occupational hazard in their line of work, and one didn't survive long by being a hero.
When it seemed that no more things would be flying with intent on doing them harm, they carefully peeked out from behind the log's shelter. Cirno was still lying unmoving on her face, and the thing that had hit her was likewise just as motionless. They gathered their courage and snuck out to check up on their leader.
"Cirno?" Wriggle said as she prodded the nearly unconscious fairy with a fairy. "Hey Cirno, you all right?
Daiyousei took a more direct route in her inspection. She flipped Cirno over and grabbed her face. "Hey Cirno, are you okay? Say something! Cirno?"
Cirno's head wobbled from side to side as she me mumbled, "Gugghhh, no teacher, I swear the pink umbrella wasn't in the lovely garbage flower I need scissors, sixty-one. Where's the bus!"
Everyone exchanged a look that clearly said "Huh?"
"Sadly, that's the most intelligent thing she's said in awhile," Wriggle muttered.
That got a snicker out of Rumia. "I hope no brain cells were killed. It's not like she can afford the loss."
That was when two pale hands shot out to grab them by their necks, ending their slanderous conversation. Jerking in surprise, they saw a still damaged but irate Cirno rising to her feet.
"I...heard…that…" she snarled as she began to throttle her backbiting subordinates. Daiyousei yelped and tried to pull her away, but her efforts were completely ineffectual. Wriggle and Rumia both began gasping out their apologies as their faces began to change color.
Mystia, it should be noted, was more interested in inspecting the strange flying object than saving her teammates. She pulled it out of the bushes and inspected it in puzzlement. "Huh. I wonder this came from," she muttered as she ran a hand over its surface.
Cirno stopped her murderous rampage long enough to take notice of her comment.
The quarrel quickly forgotten, Cirno quickly released her teammates and the four of them joined Mystia in inspecting on object.
The object in question turned out to be a small iron cooking kettle. Its black surface was covered with dried grease, and its interior was coated with something that could not be easily identified.
Wriggle picked it up and inspected its side. "Wow Cirno, your head really dented this thing!"
"Well, whose fault is that?" Cirno muttered. "I didn't ask to be assaulted by a crazy flying pot!"
The cold glare this comment received told Wriggle that discretion would probably be the better part of valor in this situation. Mystia paid no attention to their exchange and instead turned her attention to the kettle's interior.
What she found inside made her grimace. "Ugh, good thing you didn't get this stuff on you."
"Why, is it gross?"
Daiyousei peeked in. "Ew, is that alive?" she gagged. "When was the last time somebody cleaned this thing?"
"Wow, it looks almost sentient," Rumia agreed.
Cirno looked at her in confusion. "Centa-what?"
"It's a type of cheese," Mystia explained.
Rumia didn't bother to correct her. She picked the kettle up and squinted at its dented side. "Now, I wonder where this could have come from?" she mused.
A slight movement caught her eye. Reflexes honed by years of hanging out with Cirno took over and she dove out of the way. Just in time too, because what appeared to be a bamboo fishing pole whizzed right through the area previously occupied by her head and rebounded off a rock.
Everyone's eyes boggled. "What the hell is going on-"
Then they fell silent. Almost in unison, they turned to see where the objects were coming from. There, sitting by itself in a small clearing, was a one-story house. The building was T-shaped in construction, with the front door at the end of the lower-most bar. Its tiled roof sloped sharply upwards, and one of its arching windows, presumably the source of the thrown objects, was open. From inside, the sound of crashing and yelling could be heard.
Cirno and her friends exchanged a look and crept forward to investigate. As they approached, the shouting voices became more and more coherent.
"Stop throwing my stuff, ze!"
"Do you ever even use any of this junk? No wonder you can't find anything!"
"I could until you started throwing things around and messing everything up!"
"Messing things up? This place is a wreck! It is beyond a wreck! This place makes the dump look like a museum!"
Rumia scratched her head. "Uh, is that…"
"Marisa Kirisame and Alice Margatroid?" Wriggle answered. "I think so. That's Marisa's house at least."
"So…what are they doing?" Cirno asked.
Her question only got shrugs and blank looks in response. Fortunately, there was a rather convenient open window available. The five of them arranged themselves around the opening and warily looked inside.
The young witch known as Marisa Kirisame was renowned throughout Gensokyo for her sharp intelligence and strong work ethic. Unfortunately, this was heavily counterbalanced by her infamous rudeness, impulsive nature, a tendency to be "free" with other people's belongings, a lightning quick temper and for being extremely messy. This latter trait was best exemplified by the state of her home. The place was almost a literal landfill of junk. Boxes, books, weapons, toys, clothing and a variety of other items were piled in her typical careless manner throughout the house. Dirty laundry was piled in unruly mounds, mixed in with several old volumes that looked rather valuable. Filthy dishes filled the mold-coated washtub and lay stacked along its sides. And to top it off, everything was coated with dust and spider webs.
The girl herself had gone into a frenzy. Her arms were loaded with even more random items and she was frantically running to and fro trying to catch others as they flew through the air. The reason for her stuff's sudden interest in aerial acrobatics was her "guest," though that term would be applied loosely. Alice Margatroid was the closest thing Marisa had to a neighbor, in that she was the only person whose home was within walking distance. As such, the two could be technically considered friends, though given how often they were seen to be sniping at each there was much confusion as to whether they were close companions, bitter enemies, or passionately in love. Really, the rumors went all over the place.
At the moment, Alice was busy digging through one of Marisa' many junk piles, tossing item after item over her shoulder in her search. Over Alice's shoulder floated what appeared to be a blonde-haired doll in a black dress. Like the girls themselves, Alice's doll Shanghai was the source for many rumors, and no one could agree upon whether the anthropomorphic toy actually possessed a will of its own or was just controlled remotely by her master.
"I swear to everybody," Alice muttered as she dug her way deeper into the refuse, "this is the last time I let you borrow my-What on Earth is this?"
She held up a strange black plastic box. Buttons and odd holes dotted one side, and a square-shaped bit rising out of the top. Painted onto the square bit was some kind of smirking blue-and-yellow creature.
"Huh?" Marisa dropped her armful of rescued items and wandered over to look. "Oh, that. Dunno, got it from Rinnosuke's shop. I think he said it was some kind of game."
Alice tugged experimentally on the square part. To her surprise, it popped right out, revealing itself to be a cartridge of some kind. She looked at Marisa in confusion, who just shrugged.
"Lame," Alice said as she tossed them both her shoulder.
Outside, five sets of eyes watched the two with intense interest.
"Wow, where'd she get all that stuff?" Mystia wondered.
"Knowing her?" Wriggle said. "Probably stole it."
"That I can confirm," Rumia added.
"Remember that summer I had to…" Rumia coughed, "…'intern' at the Scarlet Devil Mansion's library?"
"Intern?" Mystia said. "They conscripted you because you broke Patchouli's-"
"Anyhow! They never actually let me work with the books, so most of my job was trying to keep Miss Marisa out. She'd show up at least once a week, trying to snatch some of Miss Patchouli's rare books. Plus I hear she likes to shoplift from Mister Rinnosuke's shop, Miss Eirin's clinic, been caught over at Miss Yuuka's mansion a couple of times. The lady's a total klepto!"
Cirno rubbed her jaw as she thought. The wheels in her head were turning, which rarely meant anything good.
"Huh, so that means there's probably some pretty cool stuff in there…" she mused.
They turned their attention back to the scene unfolding inside.
At the moment, Alice had just extracted a large book with the keyhole on its cover from under a pile of dirty bloomers.
"Ah, here it is!"
"See, I told you I didn't lose it," Marisa said with a smug smile.
Alice frowned. "You have a very loose definition of the word 'lose'."
"Hey, you found your damned book, all right? Quit your bitchin'."
The doll-master stood to her feet and brushed off her dress. "Sure, found it under your filthy laundry and…" Something glittered in the same pile of laundry that her grimoire had been in, catching her eye. "What's this?"
She pulled away the various scraps of linen and felt to reveal an odd looking chest. It was about half the size of a sailor's chest and made completely out of pale lavender quartz. The lid was cut in a crystalline shape, with four sharp edges slanting inward to support a flat rectangular top. The top itself was cut into a sort of grid shape, with each square containing a letter or number painted in deep scarlet. The chest itself was locked tight, with no keyhole or other visible means of opening.
Marisa came over to peek over her shoulder. "Huh, I completely forgot about that, ze."
Alice prodded the box with her foot. "What's in it?"
"Dunno. Found it as the SDM. I think it's Patchy's."
"You stole this too?" Alice said with a scowl. "How haven't you been arrested?"
The blonde witch turned up her perpetual smirk. "Maybe because I'm just that good!"
Alice wasn't the only one interested in the odd chest. Now that there was treasure to be acquired and mischief to be had, excitement was mounting at an alarming rate.
"Now that looks interesting!" Cirno said as she rubbed her hands together. Her eyes began to glitter.
"I've seen boxes like that!" Rumia said. "They're where Miss Patchouli kept all her really valuable stuff, the stuff they wouldn't let me touch!"
Cirno nodded. "It's probably full of jewels and gold! And…other cool stuff!"
"From Patchouli Knowledge?" Mystia said. "It's probably just all her cough medication."
"Maybe it's a really rare book," Daiyousei suggested. "Like a first edition!"
"Or maybe it's porn!" Wriggle cut in.
In the minds of her teammates, that last suggestion trumped all others. "Ooooohhhhh…" they all said in unison.
"That's it, now we have to grab it!" Cirno announced.
"But how do we get in without being noticed?" Mystia wanted to know.
Rumia tapped her lower lip while she thought. "Well, first of all, we need a distraction."
The team of youngsters floated to the ground and leaned against the wall as they pondered the problem before them. Heads were scratched, positions were shifted, and suggestions were cut off before being vocalized. Then, one by one, each head began to turn to stare directly at a single member of the gang. For her part, she was too deep in thought to notice right away. But no one can be stared at for any length of time without sensing it sooner or later. In time, she looked up and did not like what she saw.
"Erm, w-why is everybody staring at me?" Daiyousei asked nervously.
Back inside the house, the two magicians were still discussing the box and Marisa's unorthodox and possibly unethical means of acquiring it.
"I swear karma's got such a hard-on for you," Alice muttered. "So…how do you open it? I don't see a keyhole or anything…"
"Ah, its password locked," Marisa said, carelessly waving off the mention of something so mundane as a keyhole. "She does this with all her stuff. Just type in the right phrase on the crystals and pop goes the lid, ze!"
"Great," Alice groaned. "How are we supposed to figure that out?"
"Are you kidding?" Marisa laughed. "She uses the same password for everything. You'd think she'd learn after the fourth or fifth-"
A sudden knock at the door interrupted them. Marisa and Alice exchanged a confused look.
"The hell?" Marisa muttered as she made her way towards the door. "You'd think living in the godsdamned Forest of Magic would keep people away, ze."
She grabbed the door handle and pulled the door open. To her surprise, there was nobody there. She squinted in confusion and looked up, to the left, to the right, and finally down. It was then that she noticed a very nervous looking Daiyousei standing on her porch, looking down at the ground.
"Huh?" Marisa said. "Oh, it's Whatshernamesei, Cirno's friend. What do you want?"
The small ice fairy blushed furiously. She started fidgeting by pressing the tips of her index fingers together over and over as she tried to think of what to say.
Marisa's already thin patience was evaporating quickly. "Um? Um? Um?" she repeated, making a rolling "Let's move this along" gesture with her hand.
Unbeknownst to Marisa and Alice but beknownst to Daiyousei, the rest of the gang slipped in through the window and swooped down towards the crystal chest. Cirno, catching Daiyousei's eye, gave her friend an encouraging wink.
Daiyousei steeled herself and blurted out, "Um…I heard noises!"
Alice scratched her head. "You heard…"
"Noises?" Marisa finished for her.
Inside, each of Daiyousei's friends gathered to a corner of the chest and, working together, lifted it off the ground. Cirno looked over her shoulder to see a floating Shanghai staring at her. The ice fairy grinned conspiratorially and pressed her finger to her lips. Shanghai mimicked the gesture and watched as the four young pranksters slowly moved the chest towards the window.
Unfortunately, Marisa had begun to pull the door shut.
"Yeah, I would talk to your shrink about that…"
Daiyousei started to panic. Her friends were in the process of trying to fit the chest through the window and would surely be seen. "I mean here!" she shouted. "I heard…crashing and yelling! And I…wanted to see…if everything was okay…"
Marisa blinked. "Huh? Is that it?" She rolled her eyes and allowed herself a luxurious sigh. "Kid, it was nothing, okay? Alice here was just looking for her damned book and making a mess."
Her companion glared daggers at her. "Making a mess?"
"So thanks for the concern," Marisa finished, "but there's nothing to see. Now scram.
Finally her friends turned the chest sideways and got it through. Cirno shot her a thumbs-up and they disappeared into the forest.
Finally. It was time to wrap things up.
"I'm very sorry for intruding!"
Daiyousei bowed low and shot off as fast as her wings would carry her. Startled by her sudden departure, Marisa and Alice stared as she flew over the house and disappeared.
"Well, huh," Marisa muttered.
"That was weird," Alice agreed.
Marisa nodded. "Makes me kinda suspicious, you know?"
Marisa turned back into the house, closing the door behind her.
"She's part of Cirno's little gang of idiots," she explained. "Anything that has one of them acting weirder than normal usually means that they're…"
Her eyes fell upon the pile of linen Alice had been digging through.
The pile of linen that was now conspicuously bereft of a certain lavender quartz box.
Marisa grabbed her head as she screamed, "WHAT? Where's the box, ze?"
Behind her, Alice crossed her arms and smirked. "And that would be the karma I was talking about earlier."
Marisa began to freak out. Her house turned into a virtual whirlwind of motion as she desperately tried to find the chest. Items flew every which way as their master, so previously disproving of Alice's own method of searching, began to toss them aside without heed of where they may fall.
"What…where…it's gotta…" Marisa stopped her search to pump her fists at the roof. "Cirno! It had to be Cirno!"
"You're sure of that?" Alice said.
"Of course I'm sure! Who else would use that little green-haired punk? Ohhh, I just got fooled by Cirno! That little twerp and her stupid friends stole my box!"
"You mean the same box you stole from Patchouli?"
"Shut up! And you!"
Marisa whirled around to jab a finger at the still-hovering Shanghai.
"You backstabbing piece of firewood! Why didn't you try to warn me?" she demanded.
In answer, the doll lifted her finger to her lips and made a shushing sound. Marisa stared at her in disbelief, and then her face began to grow a deep shade of red, edging on purple. Veins throbbed in her forehead and her fists were clenched so tightly that her knuckles conducted a symphony of pops.
For a moment nothing happened. Then a thunderous boom shook the house and rippled outwards to the surrounding forest. The door to Marisa's house slammed open, and she tore out into the air. She was balancing on her broom, with one hand grasping the tip of the handle and the other clenched tightly around a wooden octagon-shaped amulet, which was now beginning to glow a blinding white. Her purple face was twisted into a grimace of rage. Anyone who knew anything about Marisa knew that when she looked like that, everyone in a thirty-mile radius should probably evacuate.
Behind her, Alice wandered out of the house to watch her go.
"Hmmm, should I follow her or should I let her handle it?" she wondered out loud. She turned to her ever-present miniature companion. "What do you think Shanghai?"
Shanghai repeated the shushing gesture.
Alice shrugged. "Good point. None of my business." She took to the air and flew off in the opposite direction. "I wonder what Medicine's doing today?"
Successful capers were hard to come by these days. When the overwhelming majority of people worth playing tricks on were either A) smarter than you and B) capable of turning you into a greasy little smear, it meant that the pranksters of Gensokyo often had to be content with targeting the small fry, such as Lily White. Therefore, having successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of the Mad With herself and gotten away to brag about it was cause for celebration.
And celebration was certainly in the air. Cirno's gang jabbered and laughed as they rushed away through the forest, carrying the crystal chest with. Cirno herself was in the lead, with Wriggle and Mystia handling the chest behind her. Daiyousei and Rumia floated in the rear, though Daiyousei looked like she was having trouble holding in her breakfast.
"Woohoo!" Cirno shouted. She pumped her fist in the air. "Mission accomplished!"
"That went even better than I thought it would!" Wriggle added.
"Victory, victory, we have victory!" Mystia sang. Then, in her normal voice, she added, "And nice work Dai! Best distraction ever!
Rumia flew up to the nervous ice fairy and put on arm around her shoulder.
"Sure!" she said encouragingly. "You did a great job!"
Daiyousei managed a weak smile. "T-th-thanks!"
Cirno grinned. "No doubt about it!" She spun in the air and struck a victory pose. "Another win for Team Ni-"
"MASTER FREAKING SPARK!"
A blazing pillar of white light tore through the gang's flight formation. Caught totally off guard, Cirno and her friends were knocked in every which direction by the force of the blast. The chest itself was knocked free from their grasp and was sent sliding down a dew-slick hillside to crash into a mulberry bush.
Unfortunately there was no time to go after it, nor was anyone even considering it. The arrival of a furious Marisa who's out for your blood will do that to almost anyone. As soon as Cirno managed to pull herself off the ground, every bit of her attention was sucked up by the fearsome sight of the fast approaching witch.
A thousand things went through Cirno's head, none of them fully capable of conveying how the situation made her feel. Her mind went numb, and the only thing she was able to say was, "Oh wow, she looks pissed."
Wriggle was suddenly at her side. "You think?" the firefly screamed. "Scatter!"
A moment later everyone was in the air and fleeing for their lives as the ground beneath them simply ceased to exist. Had they the time to reflect, they would have probably experienced an odd sense of déjà vu, as the situation almost completely mirrored the chase with Lily White. Except this time, there was no laughing. There were no taunts. There were only screams and pleas for mercy.
"WAH! Watch out! You almost hit me!"
"Dammit, that was too close!"
"Oh jeez, oh jeez, not good, not good, not good!"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Ahhh! Please don't kill me!"
"Whoa!" Cirno banked hard to avoid being pasted. The blast intended for her demolished a bed of poppies instead. She growled and whirled to face Marisa. "Okay, that's it! Let's end this!"
For all her faults, Cirno was certainly no coward. She intended to challenge Marisa directly, an action tantamount to suicide in many circles. But this was a matter of reputation and pride. Marisa had assaulted her gang, now she had to pay the price.
Cirno placed herself directly in Marisa's path, her fist raised in defiance. "I'll show you who's the stro-
She never got the chance. A beam of pure white hit her directly in the face and she was propelled backwards through two groves of trees, a patch of overgrown yellow-spotted mushrooms, and a very surprised hive of bees before coming to rest at the roots of an old cedar that was made of sterner stuff than its neighbors.
"Cirno!" Daiyousei cried before having to dive to avoid being shot herself.
"And now for the rest of you!" Marisa shouted.
She flew into the air above the treetops. Her eyes began glowing with gathered energy. Circles of power began forming around her, each one containing an eight-point star. She raised her arms in the air, her fists crackling with lightning.
Surprised, Marisa broke off from charging her spell to see a white bundle of fury coming directly at her.
Lily White fired one of her trademark barrages at Marisa. The witch was so taken back that she didn't even think to dodge until she had already been struck. The force of the blast cancelled her spell and knocked her right off the broom.
Above, Lily began ranting. "First that gang of rude jerks and now you? Why can't you people just enjoy spring like you're supposed to?"
Marisa managed to grab the handle of her broom just in time. Holding her hat in one hand, she tried to pull herself back up.
"What? What the hell are you talking about, you stupid flying klaxon alarm?" she shouted back. "I'm trying to…"
It was then that she noticed that Lily's blast had ripped a sizeable tear in her hat's brim.
"…you ripped my hat."
Thunder shook the treetops and Lily was sent flying.
Marisa was now on her broom and furious beyond all reason. Play her for a fool, steal her box, shoot her in the face, all these she could forgive. But never, ever touch her hat!
"YOU RIPPED MY HAT!"
Her rage still burned as brightly as before, but now it was focused on Lily. For her part, Lily did not back down from the challenge, and the two were soon doing everything in their power to eliminate the other. Cirno's friends took advantage of the distraction and hid as the sounds of destruction moved further and further away.
For the longest time nobody dared to move. Then, one by one, their heads popped out of their hiding places.
"…Are they gone?" Mystia whispered. True to form, she had taken shelter in the branches of a gnarled old oak.
"I think so," Rumia said. She was in the shadows of a large boulder. Nearby, Wriggle was creeping out of a patch of tall grass.
Mystia sighed in relief. She dropped down to the ground. "That was way too close." This statement was met with agreement.
That was when they heard Daiyousei cry "Cirno!" Wriggle, Mystia and Rumia looked at each other and went to go investigate.
They found Daiyousei over by Cirno's prone body. The blue-haired ice fairy had taken quite a beating. Her clothes were burnt, her skin was now a shade darker, her wings were lined with cracks that were just beginning to heal, and her entire body was covered with a fine layer of ash, dirt and bits of honeycomb. Still, she was alive and awake, though the way her eyes refused to focus was worrisome.
Wriggle whistled between her teeth. "Whoa, she got messed up pretty bad."
Rumia waved a hand in front of Cirno's face. There was no response.
"How's she doing, Dai?" she asked.
Daiyousei shuddered. "I d-don't know. She's p-p-pretty out of it."
Cirno's body suddenly began shaking. "…like a diamond shining in the sky…" she mumbled. Or perhaps wheezed would be more accurate. Her voice sounded like it had been strained through a rusty smokestack.
"Cirno!" Daiyousei cried. She grabbed her leader and began shaking her back and forth. "Snap out of it!"
"Wahwahwahwah!" Cirno wailed as her brain rattled in her skull.
"Dai! That's enough!" Mystia grabbed Daiyousei and forced her to release Cirno. Cirno, for her part, just pitched forward and landed on her face.
There was a groan, and then she muttered, "Why do people keep hitting me in the face?"
Everyone sighed with relief. "Just one of those days," Rumia said.
They all helped her up. Cirno was still a little shaky, but for the most part she looked all right. Annoyed and a bit dazed, but all right.
"Damn it, that hurt!" she complained. "Why'd she do that for?"
"I don't know, maybe because we robbed her," Wriggle said sarcastically.
"Yeah, but she didn't have to take it so freaking personal! I don't go around barbequing everyone who-" Her voice cut off as something horrible occurred to her. She looked around wildly. "Wait, where's the box?" she cried.
"Seriously?" Rumia asked. "After all that?"
Cirno stamped her foot and winced as pain shot up her ankle. "Yes, seriously! I did not just take a Master Spark to the face for nothing!"
The others conceded the point.
"Um, I think we dropped it back there," Mystia said, pointing.
"Fine! Let's go…whoa," Cirno said as she tried to fly, only to begin wobbling immediately.
Her friends tried to convince to slow down a bit, to wait until her wings were fully healed. But now that her mind was latched onto an idea, Cirno would have none of it. Finally, a compromise was struck. Rumia took one arm, Daiyousei the other, and together they helped her through the air.
The chase had taken them a long way from where they had lost the chest, but fortunately the trail was easy to follow. Marisa's rampage had left a clear path of destruction almost a mile wide. They followed the line of craters and smashed trees until they found the hill where they had first been attacked. To their immense relief, Marisa was still occupied with Lily and hadn't returned for her prize. The box lay on its side in the mulberry bush it had landed in, glittering in the mid-morning sun.
Cirno's gang immediately flew down to the bottom of the hill. They set Cirno down carefully at the edge of the bush.
"Whew, it's still here," Rumia breathed. She didn't dare to think of what Cirno's reaction would have been had it been gone.
Mystia agreed. "And it didn't even crack!"
Cirno grinned from ear to ear. This day was starting to look a little brighter. "That settles it!" she declared. "Whatever's inside must be super important!"
"Only one way to find out," Rumia said. As usual, Cirno's enthusiasm was infectious. "C'mon!"
She and Mystia pulled the chest loose and brought it over to the group. They all gathered around their prize and began oohing and ahhing over its shiny surface.
Then Daiyousei said, "So…does anyone know how to open it?"
"Sure, Miss Patchouli had a bunch of things like this," Rumia said. She pointed to the lid. "Just type in the right code on the keyboard and it'll open right up."
"Type on the what?"
"The pretty purple squares," Rumia explained. "Fortunately, Miss Patchouli uses the same code for everything. Now let's see…"
Her hands moved over the keys, typing in an odd sequence of letters and numbers. Everyone held their breath, fearing some sort of security countermeasure to activate should Rumia misremember the password. Instead, there was a click and the lid popped up a tiny bit.
"Yay, it worked!" Cirno whooped "Rumia, I love you!"
Wriggle scratched her head. "2BRNT2B? What the hell does that mean?"
"No clue," Rumia said happily. "Now let's see what sort of treasure she has stashed…"
She pushed the lid open. Everyone edged in closer to look.
"Ew, what is that?" Mystia asked, sticking out her tongue.
Wriggle just blinked. "Well, that's bizarre."
"What?" Cirno said. "All that for a giant booger?"
That was certainly what it looked like. The entire interior of the chest was taken up by what at first appeared to be a glistening bubble, but the way it moved showed it to be some sort of thick blob. Its body was composed of a completely clear jelly-like substance, and the slightest movement caused shivers to ripple over its mass.
Cirno and her gang couldn't decide whether or not they were disappointed. Certainly this thing was interesting, but it didn't appear to be worth invoking the wrath of Marisa. At any rate, their opinions of Patchouli Knowledge's personal habits were taking a sharp decline.
Then Daiyousei pointed and called out, "L-look!"
The blob thing, whatever it was, had started to move. Its surface shivered, and a long tendril extruded from the main body.
"Ah!" everyone cried as they leapt away.
"It's alive!" Mystia screamed as she backed away.
"Oh wow, that is so wrong," Wriggle agreed.
"Wh-what is t-t-t-that?" Daiyousei stuttered.
Unfortunately, the appendage had apparently sensed them. It shot out on the direction of their voices. Startled, they all dove out of the way, but Rumia's foot caught on a stone and she fell. She turned to see the appendage hovering only a few inches from her face. Her eyes went wide and her body began trembling.
The others had no idea what to do. They certainly weren't going to leave Rumia on her own, but none of them wanted to chance shooting the thing. For all they knew they would just make it angry.
"This is not good," Wriggle muttered. "So what now, boss?"
Cirno stared at the tentacle-like appendage and shook her head. She was out of ideas.
Suddenly Daiyousei called out, "Watch out Rumia!"
The tentacle now seemed to be inspecting Rumia's body. It hovered a mere inch from her skin as it ran up and down her torso. Although it didn't seem possible, it appeared to be sniffing her. Rumia set her teeth and closed her eyes tightly.
Then it poked her.
Rumia's eyes shot open. "Wha-?"
The tentacle began to tickle her. It dug into her side and dug in. She squirmed and tried to push it away, but it just dug in deeper.
"Huh, wha…hey, stop!" Rumia said. She started laughing. "Come on, knock it off!"
That only seemed to encourage it. Soon she was on the ground, laughing hysterically while trying to get away. The others could only stand and stare at what had to be the weirdest thing they had seen in their weird lives.
"So…" Mystia began, "it's friendly?"
Cirno shrugged. "It looks like it…"
"Wonderful," Wriggle said. She folded her arms. "Just what I always wanted, a pet booger."
Daiyousei shushed her. "Careful! You don't want to make it angry."
For its part, the tentacle didn't even notice them. It definitely seemed to have taken a liking to Rumia though. Finally, it stopped tickling her and began staring at her again.
This time, Rumia smiled back. "Hey, you're a nice little pile of weirdness, aren't you?" She rubbed the body beneath the tip, giving it a friendly squeeze. "You are, aren't you? Yes you are."
The tentacle's surface shook slightly. To everyone watching, it almost looked like it was giggling.
Then the tip began changing. It expanded and reshaped itself. Soon Rumia found herself staring at what appeared to be the smiling face of a young girl with short hair. It winked at her.
She blinked in confusion. "Hey, what…"
The face collapsed back into a normal tip again. Then it slithered down to envelop her hand in its viscous substance.
"Hey, what's this all about?" Rumia asked. She wasn't sure if she liked what her new friend was doing.
Suddenly it lunged forward, dragging the rest of its body out of the chest. Before she knew it, Rumia's arm was completely covered.
"Hey, what is this?" she shouted. She tried to claw it off with her other hand, but it wouldn't budge. "Get off, get off!"
The rest of the team was at her side in seconds. Wriggle and Mystia tried clawing the thing off her arm while Cirno beat it with a stick.
"Let! Go! Of! My! Friend!" she shouted. "Let! Go! Of! My! Friend! Let! Go! Of! My! Friend!"
Unfortunately there was no such luck. Instead of disengaging, the tentacle only began slither over more of her body. Soon Rumia's entire chest was covered.
"Get it off me, get it off me!" she cried as she tried to get away.
"We're trying!" Wriggle said. "This stuff is tougher than it looks!"
"All right, I've had ENOUGH!" Cirno shouted.
At that last word, her hands suddenly blazed with white light and a blast of freezing mist shot out from her. When the mist cleared, the entire lump of goo was frozen solid.
Cirno grinned and put her hands on her hips. "There!" she declared triumphantly.
Rumia tried to move. Unfortunately, she was just as immobilized as the blob was. "Um, that didn't help much…" she began.
That's when cracks starting forming in the ice. Little ones at first, but they spider-webbed outwards, joining one another until the surface of the ice looked like some kind of crazy patchwork. Then the ice broke apart into small pieces that were slowly sucked into the goo's body to disappear completely.
Everyone was in shock. "It ate the ice? Mystia said.
"Kill it, kill it!" Cirno shouted.
They certainly tried. Bullets of every kind shot from their hands to impact against the blob's body. But instead of exploding, they just stuck there until the thing looked like a giant, writhing pincushion. Then, just as the fragments of ice had been, they too were absorbed.
"It's not working!" Daiyousei cried as she fired off another shot.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious!" Wriggle shouted back.
By now, Rumia was almost completely covered, leaving only her head. She cried and gasped and tried to escape, but nothing she did had any effect. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and her cries for help were now little more than whimpers.
"Please don't let it eat me," she sobbed pitifully. "Oh gods, please don't let it eat me."
"Hold on Rumia, we got you!" Wriggle shouted. She turned to the ice fairy hovering over her shoulder. "Dai!"
"Make yourself useful and go get help!"
"Anywhere!" Then a thought occurred to her. "Reimu, get Reimu! Go!"
Daiyousei nodded and shot off as fast as her wings could carry her.
Meanwhile the others continued to try to release Rumia from the blob's hold, but it was now obvious that it was hopeless. Only her face was uncovered, and that was rapidly being sucked in as well. "No…please no, please no…" she whined, and then had to shut her mouth as the goo oozed over her last bit of free flesh.
Rumia was now completely inside the thing. Cirno, Wriggle and Mystia stared and she kicked and struggled to break free.
"Rumia!" Mystia cried. She slashed as the blob with her talons. It caved in to her assault, and then bounced back out, knocking her back a step.
Cirno began pounding on the blob's surface. "Let go of her already, you giant pile of…huh?"
That was when Rumia began to dissolve. It started with her clothing, which blurred and distorted. At first they thought it was due to being refracted through the blob's substance, but then they started to tear apart and disappear. Just as quickly the tips of her digits and hair began to fade away like smoke. The process sped up as her skin melted away, revealing the muscles and ligaments beneath. These too evaporated into nothingness.
"WHAT?" Wriggle shrieked as she leapt away. "What is this?"
Mystia's body began trembling, but she couldn't tear her eyes away. "Oh my gods," she whispered as Rumia's digestive system came into full view. "Tell me this isn't…"
Cirno didn't say anything. She just turned and vomited out everything she had eaten in the last ten hours. Then she looked again and retched out everything from five hours before that.
Rumia was now nothing more than a small lump of meat and bone. It turned and swirled in the blob's body like a boiling egg, fizz surrounding it like so much steam. It shrunk until it was about the size of a small coin, then a postage stamp. And then, with one final sizzle, nothing.
"She's gone…" Mystia whispered. She had gone completely pale.
They stared at the blob in shock. Never had it occurred to them that they would lose one of their number. Being young, foolish and immortal, they had thought that their days of mischief making would continue for eternity. Even when their plans blew up in their faces, there was no question that they would always bounce back in time for the next caper.
But now Rumia was gone. It didn't make any sense.
As for the blob, it sat in a glistening lump. If it had any idea of what it had done, it gave no indication. Well, that it, until the surface began shivering again. Than three more tendrils shot out of its body and snapped at Rumia's friends.
"Ack!" Wriggle yelled as they dove out of the way. "It's after us now!"
Mystia snapped out her stupor. She screamed, a piercing sound with perfect pitch that could have shattered glass. With that she took to the air, flying blindly in her desperation to get away.
"I won't be eaten, I won't be eaten, I won't be eaten…" she chanted over and over again.
"Wait!" Cirno shouted after her. "What about Rumia?"
The goo lunged for her again. Fortunately, Wriggle pulled her out of the way just in time.
"C'mon, she's right!" Wriggle said, pulling on Cirno's arm. "We gotta get out of here!"
"But I can't leave Rumia!"
"You won't help her by getting eaten too!" Wriggle responded. She pointed at Mystia, who was now a distant spot in the sky. "We need to go and get help, understand? This isn't something you can do on your own!"
Cirno's eyes filled with tears, but she stiffened her lip and nodded once.
"Right. Let's go," she said. Anymore and her voice would have cracked.
Wriggle nodded in return and her into the air. They flew forward, heading for Hakurei and trying not to look back. But nothing would stop the glittering tears that dripped from Cirno's face to crystallize into snowflakes as they fell.
The blob was now left to itself, though it didn't know it yet. It sat where it was while its many tendrils roamed the surrounding area, searching for any indication of its prey. Two of them brushed against the now-empty box that had been its prison, only to retract quickly as if they had been burned.
Once it was satisfied that it was alone, the tendrils all returned to the main body. Than it began to shiver again. This time, however, the shivering didn't stop. It increased in intensity, until the whole thing was shaking violently like a lump of jello in an earthquake.
And then it began to change. Most of its mass was sucked into itself and was sent out again in four limp tendrils. Another lump bubbled up at one end, while the body below it writhed and thinned itself out. Digits extended from all four of the tendrils, which were now smoothing themselves out into humanlike limbs. The lump began to take shape, forming a nose, cheeks, lips and other facial features. A mass of tendrils erupted out of its end and smoothed themselves out into something resembling hair.
Meanwhile, a darkness began forming at the thing's core. As it continued to reform itself, the darkness swam through the body, gobbling up the clearness of the substance.
And the transformation was complete. Where a lump of transparent goo had been, a body that superficially resembled Rumia now lay. It had the same features, the same body-type, and the same dress. However, the entirety of its body was pitch black. Its fingers ended in tearing talons. Wisps of darkness danced liked smoke danced over the surface of its body. And the ribbon Rumia always wore in her hair was gone.
One gnarled hand twitched, and the wisps of darkness shot out and twisted into the shape of a wickedly curved sword.
Then, clutching its new weapon, the thing that wore Rumia's shape lurched to its feet. It turned its head to the sky and opened its eyes.
Two blazing spheres of fire stared at the world around it.
Then it rose into the air and headed away from the Forest of Magic, its sword held limply in one hand. Grass and flowers wilted beneath its shadow, but it paid them no heed. Now that it was free, it had business elsewhere. Hopefully those it intended to see would be just as glad to see it as it was going to be to see them.
You know, I've always wondered why Daiyousei so often gets left out of fan depictions of Team Nineball, despite being the same species as Cirno and appearing on the same freaking level! Meh, it's probably her lack of dialogue.
Anyway, I'm trying to stick as close as I can to the generally agreed upon personalities of the characters, but there's going to be minor changes here and there. For example, I'm going with timid Daiyousei rather than mischievous Daiyousei, just because Cirno needs the foil. Also, Lily's usually much less aggressive and really isn't likely to give chase. It was just funnier this way.
Until next time, everyone!