Chapter 8: Summons
"He has returned in failure. I thought as much." Izanami said as she sat upon a throne of bones. Attended by Yukari, they both watched as a gap appeared in front of them, the massive spider falling through to land and split open, revealing the familiar form of a smaller spider hiding within.
"That could have gone better." Mikaboshi said, the physical form of the larger spider disappearing in a haze of black mist. "I actually would have succeeded had the ancient King not intervened. Well, no matter. It is a minor setback."
Izanami was silent, her eyes closed as she listened to Mikaboshi prattle on. They had more important things to do. Everything so far had just been a distraction but the real work had yet to begin. She rose from her throne before turning around to face the Saigyou Ayakashi. Within the tree was a body that should suit her purpose just fine. One she was always meant to have…
A memory returned to her before the death goddess dismissed it from her mind. There was no use dwelling on old grudges. This world has called upon unexpected beings, but they can turn this to an advantage by doing the same. It had been Mikaboshi's idea, but she was certain they can accommodate certain features.
"You've been busy, haven't you?" the spider observed as the Saigyou Ayakashi trunk split up down the middle, all the way to the roots and even managed to reach under the ground. Izanami steped inside, hands clasped together as the tree closed in all around her.
For this, both Yukari and Mikaboshi waited patiently. The former constantly frowned at the latter whenever their gaze met but neither appeared to dare test the other.
It must have been another hour before the Saigyou Ayakashi opened up again and someone exited the cherry tree. Clad in a white robe, Izanami reappeared with a new body with hair as white as snow. Yukari winced at the sight, the features of the goddess's new body reminiscent of her old friend but changed ever so slightly. The ghost princess was likely still lurking about somewhere, but no doubt this would cause her to stay away even more.
Yukari would have to tell Izanami of her concerns about this decision, but not in the presence of the spider. She simply looked on impassively as the death goddess inspected herself, fingers contracting and relaxing while gently floating down to the ground.
The mud around the Saigyou Ayakashi parted before her as she faced her servants. Two only, both with varying levels of loyalty. Yukari may have been forced into service in this case, but the gap youkai was still high in the death goddess' favor. It was Mikaboshi that she was constantly unsure of.
His approach was laden with honeyed tones and whispers of a great power arriving. His wealth of knowledge, not just in the Underworld but of the outside world was highly useful and much of his plans complemented her own. And yet, this was a god she knew very little about.
Amatsu-Mikaboshi, the August Star of Heaven. Even in the realm of Divine Spirits, this was a creature that was barely talked about, let alone referenced by those well-versed in history. He was a divine spirit defeated by the god Take-Mikazuchi and sent down to the Underworld of Yomi and yet… she didn't remember any such being coming before her in the past. His awakening of her and plot to remove the seal to Yomi was an independent act and they simply happened to have a similar alignment. Why he can manipulate the same types of boundaries as the gap youkai was a mystery and she suspected that there were many more things to be revealed about the seemingly innocuous spider.
"We are few in number and my influence in this realm is still…" Izanami paused and raised a hand. A small burst of green flame appeared at the tips of her fingers though her face curled down to a frown as she sighed, "…pathetic. This body still resonates well, but it will take a while before I am allowed to act at my full splendor. A small price to pay, I suppose, but I shall have to rely on you to do my work more than ever."
"I am always at your beck and call. Whether I like it or not." Yukari replied with a bow.
"Watch your tone. Lest I wrest even your mind away." Mikaboshi said, six of its tiny eyes glaring at Yukari, who simply chuckled in response.
"I shall permit her words. Despite what's happened, she is still a friend to us. And this body appears to share a certain… kinship to her. An all too mortal emotion, but it isn't unwelcome." Izanami interrupted as she turned to look back up at the mud-spewing Grail in the sky above.
There are limits to what she can do in this form, but enough that the next step of her plans can be realized. She raised a hand again, and multiple concentric circles of light appeared around the death goddess, three in total which encased one after the other as Izanami stood at the center. Seven other circles appeared, arranged in a pattern around the primary circles and at a whim, the light around her flared up even more with greater intensity.
"Even in that body, the magic you wield is overwhelming. Not many would be able to stand against you." Mikaboshi said, scurrying back as the energies around them continued to pool.
Yukari continued to stand at attention, parasol closed and jabbed into the ground in front of her, watching with mild fascination as Izanami began her ritual.
The death goddess was not overly familiar with this Holy Grail that had appeared here, mostly it was Mikaboshi who provided the wisdom in knowing what it is and Yukari to balance out its current effects. Left alone like this, the mud would have completely engulfed the Netherworld given enough time and any chance of renewal would be lost.
She needed no catalyst to summon, and though she prepared seven areas around her for the beings to appear, she knew not all of them will be filled. Mikaboshi said that everything was at the brink already and with the other Heroic Spirits existing in this realm already with ties to this Holy Grail, there is only so much that can be modified to get what she wanted.
But she began anyway, with a chant the mortals normally used to summon their respective Servants, with a few changes.
"My flesh and blood to thy origin. The call of the Great Goddess invites thee to this feast. From Takamagahara to the depths of Yomi, a wall to block the surrounding wind. And the four directions close, everything from my crown that leads back to the beginning.
Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut.
Fill these vessels and let myself announce.
Thy selves are under my dominion, thou shalt be my blades.
By the words of the Holy Grail and the blessing of Izanami, abide by my feeling, my reason, and my answer.
My oath is thus:
I am the only good in the land of the dead. I lay out all evils in my realm. Thou seven heavens clad in the words of power. Keepers of the scales, come forth from the ring of deterrence!"
Thunder and lightning roared in the depths of the Netherworld, a supernatural storm that covered the entire area as the hurricane like winds blew all around them in response to the summons. The patterns of the summoning circles glimmered with brilliant light until finally, it just connected to something and everything seemed to freeze.
Each of the seven circles around the concentric one flared up brightly and then finally dissipated.
Arriving from beyond this plane of existence, legendary illusions crouched down having answered the Death Goddess' call. Not all of them are human and many are separated from the mortal plane, a few elevated to powers beyond any of what they may have once been.
Most were of humanoid form, except for one serpentine figure that crouched low, poised to strike.
And from all of them voices that echoed as one.
"I ask thee. Art thou my master?"
"Lady Yuyuko, what's wrong?" the silver-haired gardener asked as the ghost princess looked back behind them. They have been walking through a long stretch of wasteland, secluded and hidden from prying eyes. It was another way back to the world of mortals, away from the influence of the Death Goddess that now ruled these lands.
"I feel as if we shouldn't be running." The ghost princess replied with a sigh.
"Confronting them is a useless endeavor. Without a plan, there won't be anything you can change should you return." Said the third member of their party.
Youmu turned with a frown towards the young woman leading the way. She had appeared before them by chance, clad in what appeared to be a suit of corrupted black armor. The Grail beckoned her, she said, but she will lend them her sword for the moment. Youmu didn't feel the need to have someone else accompany them, but at Yuyuko's urging, she accepted the offer.
"You sensed it too, didn't you, Saber?" the ghost princess asked, watching as the Heroic Spirit nodded her head.
"I am linked to it, in more ways than one. But yes, whoever is using it intends to perform something on a grand scale. It should have been destroyed." Said Saber, before turning back around. They were no closer to leaving this place than when they first entered, but instinctively, she knew that persistence will get them somewhere eventually. This was an Underworld, and the Underworld of many cultures share some similarities. Like hidden passages out of here.
"We will return there eventually Youmu, do not worry." Yuyuko smiled at her. "The boundary from here and the world of the living is still thin and we just need some time away."
They continued to traverse the blasted landscape around them, the area becoming darker and darker. At this point, only Youmu's phantom self and Yuyuko emanated some kind of glow from their bodies. It must have been hours, maybe even days since Yuyuko moved away from Hakugyokoru accompanied by Youmu. No warning, no mention of why, just an urgency that Youmu realized without question. They still haven't talked much about it, about what actually happened prior to that event, but the half-phantom trusted Yuyuko to act right in this case.
"Oh!" the ghost princess spoke up. "I smell… human food!"
"Eh? You're noticing food now at a time like this?" Youmu sighed.
"She is correct. The aroma of it cannot be mistaken as anything else. Wherever we are, some kind of nourishment is being prepared." Saber replied, her yellow eyes glancing over towards Yuyuko.
"Ah, a fellow connoisseur. I'm glad." Yuyuko nodded her head, floating forward and letting herself be guided by the delightful smells now. The others kept up easily enough and eventually, the area became just a little bit brighter.
"A veil to walk through into the land of the living… how convenient." Youmu said as she stared ahead of them. It is a simple image, swaying as if like a mirage towards a familiar-looking shrine.
"I didn't think there was a Meido that would connect from here. We are very fortunate to have found it." Yuyuko smiled, touching the image and to see it flicker where she touched it.
"Strange. When coincidence seems too convenient, you wouldn't be faulted for calling it fate." Saber observed. They had no reason to deny this opportunity though and with a nod towards each other, the three stepped through, into a new area that wasn't surrounded by the aura of death.
"The Hakurei Shrine. How interesting." Yuyuko said, flapping a fan as her two companions stood beside her. No one was inside, but she could sense that others weren't far. Their arrival here must be quite a surprise if someone noticed them, which shouldn't be long.
"Aha!" Reimu shouted, as the doors to the shrine slammed open. The Shrine Maiden stood in the middle of the doorway and Yuyuko gave a simple greeting with a wave of her hand. In her other hand was a rice bun, procured from somewhere inside the Shrine which she gladly bit into.
"Oi! New guests I'm assuming?" said a voice from the outside. Lancer had come to take a peek inside though his features tensed up as he spotted an all-too familiar opponent in the past. Though he and the other Servants had just finished giving a little fix to the Shrine… he suspected new damage soon.
Saber gave no warning about her intentions. Darkness flared up around her as she shot forward like a comet, right past the bewildered Reimu and straight into Lancer. The shockwave of her movements tore apart the entrance and sliced through the doorway. Thankfully, the Shrine Maiden had managed to avoid it with a nimble dodge to the side, but her eyes widened when she saw the destruction caused.
"Oh… I guess we should have told her not to attack." Yuyuko said, taking another bite of the rice bun as she walked forward, patting Reimu's head as she passed her by. "I'm sure she'll understand… probably."
"Why…? Not again…" the Shrine Maiden closed her eyes, hands balled up into fists. She looked back at the assembled servants, eyes now glaring as the area in front of the Shrine became a full-fledged storm of chaos.
Saber's assault had forced Lancer on the defensive, his spear moving just enough that he wasn't struck down by the initial push. He hadn't faced Saber in this state before, with strength beyond the norm. And he had experience in fighting her back then.
The attacks sent deep gouges into the earth itself and it was at this point that the other Heroic Spirits reacted in turn. Archer fired a single warning shot towards Saber, but it was deflected and redirected towards Caster's shadowy form. Caster simply responded by raising a hand, the arrow dissipating as magic circles began appearing in rapid succession all around her.
It was enough for Saber to break off her strikes against Lancer and she leaped back in response. Facing the three Servants, she didn't waste time.
Black flight flew out as a scorching wind flared up from Saber's sword. She smirked, her blade held out to the side, and uncaring of the damage this would cause.
"Releasing her Noble Phantasm now? Is she insane?" Lancer said, breathing heavily as he looked behind them. The Human Village would be wiped out if she released it here.
Saber froze. Whatever was happening, the amount of energy she fed into her sword simply vanished. Her body couldn't move and try as she might, she couldn't act.
All eyes turned to the Hakurei Shrine Maiden, Archer in particular looking quite a bit shocked.
The Magic Resistance of the Saber class made it nearly impossible to affect her with spells. Caster, more than anyone, despite her mastery over such magic could barely even slow her down. And especially here in this land where the parameters of a Servant is increased beyond previous limitations… it was unthinkable.
"This is the power of the Hakurei Shrine Maiden." Yuyuko said. She didn't know what kind of spell Reimu had cast… but it wouldn't be out of the blue to call it a miracle. It was rare to see the Shrine Maiden this angry and Yuyuko moved forward, placing a hand on the girl's shoulders to calm her down.
"It's alright, Saber. You can let go. We are all friends here." Yuyuko called out. The Heroic Spirit of the Sword looked a little confused before sighing and acquiescing to the request. She still couldn't do anything of course, but her muscles were no longer tense and she loosened her grip on the blade.
Sensing the change, Reimu eventually let go as well, her gaze on Saber as she breathed in deep.
"It's fine. I'm fine. I'm calm." Reimu told herself repeatedly. She looked serene, despite her anger from earlier, and it will be dealt with in time, she swore. For now though.
"Yuyuko… please gather everyone. In front of the shrine so I can see all of them."
She said this, before her gaze looked up at the sky. The craft of the golden Servant had appeared again with a fast approach, and she frowned. "Oh good, that guy again."