*proceeds to fall over*
Well, readers all, you deserve an explanation. The full story would take too long, so I'll abridge things the best I can.
For the past two years, I've been living with my grandparents since my parents divorced. I was supposed to be in my mother's custody, but since she decided to ne a worthless booze hound, I was left with two people who had absolutely no care for my emotional wellbeing and were only content when I was cleaning their house or not around. Mind you, I stated this to them more than once, and was called an ungrateful bastard-exact wording-and other childish insults in response. So, one day several months ago, I got fed up with not seeing my father, and went to visit him in my old home. I recieved a large amount of browbeating beforehand, but went regardless. My old man? Real great guy, he showed me no ill will about what had happened.
After spending a weekend with him, we drove the two hours back to my grandparents', only to find my belongings in boxes outside. My uncle was there as well, shouting obscenities at me when I tried to go into the house. From what I could gather,my grandmother made up a huge story about how I supposedly struck her. (She had used a similar story earlier to try and get my mother thrown out by my grandfather after a drinking binge.) They didn't care that they had sworn to me to support me through high school, they didn't care that I was in the middle of my final quarter of my senior year, they didn't care that I wouldn't even have the chance to say goodbye to my friends, they didn't even let me have my bulldog that I had raised from puppyhood, because they COULD because the medical information was in their name-stealing a boy's dog, the lowest form of petty vengeance I can imagine. I called my mom, but she was in California with her new boyfriend, saying she wouldn't even give me my old furniture out of storage because I "didn't understand the value of things", as it was so charmingly put.
Thankfully, my dad and older sister came to my aid immediately. My dad had been considering seeling our old house, but cancelled right away so that i could live in the only home I'd known all my life. I was able to re-enroll back in the high school I'd started in my sophmore year, back with the people I had known since elementary school. Money was no issue to my dad; he got me a new bed and dresser and, once I'd finally had the opportunity to take my driver's test, got me a vehicle as well.
As it currently stands, I'm well on-course to graduate, I've a couple of summer jobs lined up, I have my beginning of college life set up, and I'm finally content on a regular basis for the first time since I was a child. However, I might have given up on life if it wasn't for a group of absolutely wonderful friends. And who are they?
Etherdrone, WillieG.R, Kerreb17, DeadMasterUsa, Doomknight Levos, Captain Vulcan, Demon Neko Shen, and the rest of the fine people on the Let's Danmaku forums. That's right, something as simple as a common enjoyment of a japanese bullet hell shooter allowed me to meet these amazing people, and they gave me the emotional support that i could never recieve from my family for all this time when things looked unbearable. It is because of them I'm still writing, and all of you should keep them in mind-for those of them who are authors, their work on this site is incredible.
For all of you who have waited patiently for the story to resume, I thank you with all the elation I can give. I'm the Magnificent Sasquatch, and I'm picking back up my pen and paper to get back to doing what I love: telling stories.
Without further adieu, it's my joy to bring you Average Joe in Bullet Hell Chapter 28: The Fifth Team!
The sound of overturning bush and feet lightly thudding against the ground was the only thing that could be heard for half a kilometer around as Chino, lieutenant first-class of the surely Wanted Sasa Sanctuary made his way through the thick Forest of Magic.
This wasn't something he particularly cared to do, of course, sneaking around the entire countryside, but with the current state of affairs, he...really couldn't afford not to.
She had faltered. The sadistic, bloodthirsty woman he served, they had caused her to tremble, to seize up. He could not recall another instant in all his lifetime when such an thing had happened.
That's why... He thought to himself, keeping stride, why I sent them here. I had my suspicions upon seeing Reiuji's power, but...I needed to see this firsthand...
And he had done so, the results exceeding his expectations. That amazing combining and releasing of powers; such bonds in Gensokyo were far and few. Now, he had something to invest in. Now, Chino had some manner of hope to support.
He continued on his way. No matter what, Chino needed to find a surefire way to keep pulling their strings.
"I-I really don't like this..."
"Would you please...just...move."
Sakuya gritted her teeth behind closed lips, watching her Chinese coworker clinging to a bamboo stalk for dear life as if it would make the scary nature-maze up ahead disappear and would somehow keep the irritated maid from reaching her.
"Hong Meiling," Sakuya began, once more brandishing her knives, "you will get down from there this instant, or I will make use of those childbearing hips to hold my excess ammunition; am I quite clear?"
Meiling bit her lip, the stinging of the blade lodged in her right buttock reminding her all-too-well of what her superior could and would do to get her motivated and in that goddamn bamboo forest. However, in spite of the realistic threat, she stuck to her guns.
"N-No...!" The guard insisted, burying her face in the plant. "This whole place feels so...unnatural! My senses are useless to me against such an abomination; I can't go any further!"
A whooshing of air made it clear to her that Sakuya had taken flight, putting her in point-blank range if those knives...as if Sakuya was ever going to miss from even the farthest distances.
"You will listen to me, or your next bowel movement will be laden with daggers, guard." Sakuya snapped. Seeing the sad youkai flinch, she sighed and decided to take a far less lethal approach. She floated forward, setting a gentle hand on Meiling's shoulder. "Honestly, Hong...you're easily the most formidable thing we're going to find in this forest..."
Meiling here eased up, rubbing the corner of her eye a bit.
"Y..." She swallowed nervously. "You really believe that, Sakuya-san?"
Sakuya opened her mouth to speak when, in the next moment, memories of a blazing immortal howling in primal fury came to her mind. Not wanting to give false hope, she closed her mouth as quickly as she had opened it.
"..." Meiling's head hung. "That's a 'no' if I ever witnessed one."
"...The second-most dangerous thing we'll find, though." Sakuya quickly added softly. "And remember, we're only on our own until we find Miss Kamishiwa's associate!" She raised Meiling's wrist, which held the bracelet given to them. "There's no need for such a fuss, Meiling is strong~."
The gate guard sniffled a bit, drumming her fingers against the bamboo stalk in thought for a bit. Finally, she steeled herself, punching a hand into her palm.
"...Okay!" She smirked. "You're absolutely right; it's shameful for someone in my position to be acting so cowardly!" She readjusted her hat. "Thank you, Sakuya-san, but I'll need no further assistance~!"
With a tremendous battle cry and a powerful leap, Meiling flung herself towards the forest floor. Flipping in the air and bringing down her fist, she struck the earth below with a massive quake and the cracking sound of the ground ripping up from the sheer force. At that moment, all nearby fairies and spirits scattered, not wanting to tussle with whatever that was. Satisfied with her handiwork, the youkai, smacked the dust off her hands with a smirk, running her hands down her backside-and removing the knife when she nicked her pinkie on it.
"A-ha-ha~. I can see that my warrior's might has scared off the rifraff~!" Nodding with her hands planted on her hips, Meiling began to rhythmically stride forward. "Nothing will stand in my wa-"
Three seconds and a big THUD later, Meiling found herself facedown in a crudely-dug pitfall only about two feet away from where she had made her big, dramatic reentry. Whimpering in equal parts embarassment and pain, she looked back over her shoulder at Sakuya who, for the first time since the guard decided to jump down, made a motion-that being to bring her palm smacking into her face.
Of course, of course. How could I have forgotten her...? The maid thought, dragging her hand down her face. The Earth Rabbit...and it would appear she is out in force, tonight...
"S-Sakuya-saaaaaaaan...!" Meiling whined. "What on earth was that? What just happened?"
"...Hong, dear?" Sakuya began with a hint of sheepishness. "Remember when I called you the second-most formidable force in this forest~?"
"...Make that 'third'."
An airy chuckle filled the air, followed by a low, long groan. The source of this disturbance was the group of three currently heading through the northern Forest of Magic, towards a certain temple where, one of them dreaded, all kinds of chaos, disregard, and freeloading would surely ensue.
But, she was the gardener. Her opinion was invalid on principle.
"Oh-ho-ho, my goodness~!" Yuyuko beamed, rubbing the head of the shapeshifter latched onyo her side, head rested on the side of her chest. "Nue, you are an absolute delight! Oh, I am so glad I didn't eat you, now!"
"Don't be so modest, Lady Yuyuko!" Nue chirped in kind, completely content in her current position. "As a youkai who has been around quite a bit, I get the idea of ritualistic sacrifice and, if I was to be fed to any horror beyond the mortal world, I would gladly have it be you!"
Youmu grumbled something as she trudged along.
"Ahem!" Yuyuko smiled yowards her servant. "Youmu, aren't you~?"
"...Wouldn't have minded filletting the little hooligan, honestly..." Youmu quitely spoke, before responding aloud with, "Of course, Lady Yuyuko!"
Yuyuko stared at Youmu a few more seconds, before suppressing a snicker. Aww, Youmu was jealous. How cute. How innocent.
How easily manipulated.
"Oh, goodness~!" Yuyuko grinned, hugging Nue tighter against her, "You' re staggering, poor thing, you must be tired~!" Nue's eyes widened a bit in shock, her cheeks flushing in embarassment at the situation before the ghost stroked her head. "There, there...Miss Yuyuko's dead bosom is nice and cool for you to rest on~!"
It was here that, had Youmu been drinking something at this time, she would have spit it out with enough velocity to drill through a tree. However, she was not, and so merely turned in shock at her princess's lewd behavior.
"Y-Yuyuko-sama?" Youmu stammered, nearly dropping her swords. "What on earth are you doing; holding that creature in such a way...?"
Yuyuko could no longer supress her laugher, a haunting chuckle resounding through the area as she exhausted her pent-up mirth. Sighing after taking a deep breath, she began to speak.
"Homestly, Youmu, I'm just making our little companion comfortable for our trip's duration~." She smoothly replied, before her eyes narrowed in mischievous inspiration. "You know, there ARE two sides to my body, and Houjuu-chan has only occupied one of them..."
Youmu here froze up, having a hunch as to what Yuyuko was about to drive at. Not wanting to disgrace herself or her family, Youmu blocked all imagery from her mind and continued on.
"Th...There is no need for that, I've dealt with worse." She muttered.
"Oh, don't deny yourself some simple pleasures in life, now~..." The ghost princess hummed, opening the crook of her left arm invitingly. "My embrace can hold more than one; now get on in there~..."
"Heh! She think she's too good to enjoy Marshmallow Heaven? Feh!" Nue scoffed, smirking at Youmu. "Yuyu-sensei, if Miss Gardener won't join, can I climb up and take both~?"
Youmu flinched, but kept walking. Yuyuko continued doing her best to keep from breaking out into laughter and suffocating the shapechanging youkai against her bosom.
"Oh come now, Miss Bridge Princess." Yuyuko teased, winking. "You only get offered a comfy ride like this once in a lifetime~!"
Youmu here took a deep sigh, held up her hands in exasperation, and whirled around.
"...That phrasing would be more inticing," She spoke in an exasperated way, "were you not dead, Lady Yuyuko."
"..." Yuyuko stroked her chin in thought for a few seconds. "...Once in a deathtime! That must be, ooh, twice as rare~!"
The gardener had an image to maintain. For this reason, she opted not to give into the uncontrollable urge to dash her own skull repeatedly against a random tree. Sure it might kill her, but Yuyuko would probably find the unintended suicide a bit ironic and get a kick out of it, if nothing else.
Youmu's head shot up. Normally, the presence of a previously unknown being would send her on the alert, but now her reaction was one of joy that this attempted-sensual nightmare would be forced to a close. And so it was, when a mouse youkai bounded out of the forest ahead, spinning two dousing rods in her hands as she glared both Nue and Yuyuko down.
"Nue, if you want to be a depraved lesbian, that's fine," The mouse snapped, "but do it on your own time, not when you're on guard duty!"
She here paused.
"...and preferably not in a way that incites necrophilia." She added on, trying not to wretch. "Ugh. Gag me; why not dig up something from the Mausoleum if you're that 'in need'?"
Yuyuko's eyes half-lidded in annoyance.
"...The rat offends me, but I've never tried rodent..." She looked down to the equally-annoyed nue cuddled against her chest. "May I have a nibble, see if she offends my palette as much as my ears?"
"Hmmm...nah. S'just Nazrin." Nue finally said with a shrug. "Always the mousy prude, aren't you, Nazzy~?"
Before Nazrin could respond in indignance, her red face already showing how she'd react, Youmu had rushed forward, bowing generously to the mouse youkai with muttered prayers.
"...Yooouuuumuuuuuuu~!" Yuyuko whined, balling up her fists. "I did not bid you bow to a vermin! Rise, have some shame!"
The very fact that Nazrin was disrupting Yuyuko's teasing so effectively only further motivated Youmu to do all in her power to keep the aforementioned mouse from being anywhere but there.
"I welcome your presence, Nazrin-san!" Youmu greeted cheerfully. "I am terribly sorry to bother you, but from what you said, you're with the Myouren Temple, yes~? Well, your coworker here was supposed to be leading us there, but I believe she was sidetracked getting 'friendly' with my mistress, Lady Yuyuko..."
A shout of "HEY!" from the onlookers went unanswered as Nazrin sighed and shrugged before nodding in agreement to Youmu.
"Don't get me started...this parasite only stays with us still by Lady Hijiri's grace; her lewd tendencies and sad excuses for 'completed work' infuriate the rest of us..." Nazrin explained, already feeling some kinship to the young half-ghost. "...but, in any case, you made it past our guard. By all accounts, had I not come to investigate, you would have made it to the Temple anyway, so..."
Nazrin took a deep breath and exhaled, smiling weakly at Youmu.
"...I suppose it's only fair that you get escort there." She raised an eyebrow at Nue. "A travel escort. Hint-hint."
Youmu smiled brightly at Nazrin's triumphant smirk, gratefully strolling along behind the youkai knowing full well that her mistress would end up following in the end, nomatter what kind of tantrum was thrown during that time.
"..." Nue closed her eyes, gritting her teeth. "Lady Yuyuko...do you have any job openings, by chance...?"
"Look, Reimu, I know you wanna get moving," Marisa began sheepishly, "but I seriously gotta check in with Alice real quick."
"Marisa..." Reimu groaned, "if that shota-bug was telling the truth, we might lose out to Meiling and Sakuya. Hong Meiling...and Sakuya."
"..." The witch grimaced. "You're right. Better make the visit quick, ze."
The duo flew southwestward over the expansive forest which took up the great bulk of Gensokyo, having next decided to look for clues through beating the crap out of the Prismrivers and the Three Fairies of Light, see if they knew anything, when Marisa had remembered she'd been meaning to meet with Alice (for reasons that, whatever they be, she refused to tell Reimu what the meeting was for) and got the maiden to agree to a quick stop. ...Very, very reluctantly, of course, but an agreement nonetheless.
It helped that Wriggle spilled the beans about those two headin' out on the bratty vampire's behalf. Marisa thought to herself. Really, with Sakuya needin' to babysit China, we should have plenty a' time to catch up, ze!
"Okay..." Reimu said through an exasperated sigh, "...where should we be touching dow-"
The two immediately stopped in midair when a series of golden lasers exploded from the trees below, dragging several birdlike figures into the air with them before disappearing.
"Say, Marisa?" Reimu began quietly.
"Yeah?" The witch replied.
"That...came from Alice's place."
"That it did, ze. That it did."
The two hung there a few more seconds, first staring blankly into the sky where the beams had risen. Then, they turned their heads incredibly slightly, looking towards each other with the same, blank expression. The silence was only broken by several blinks.
Then, in the next moment, a powerful shockwave shook the air as the duo launched themselves straight into the forest.
"So!" Marisa cackled, holding onto her hat while wind whipped around her. "What was that you were saying about roughing up a couple of fairies and band geeks, ze? Tellin' me my detour wasn't worth it?"
"As far as I'm concerned, blasting the musical spooks and the pranksters, that was your idea!" Reimu grinned in kind. "Following this new lead: that's my amazingly good idea!"
The two continued charging headlong into potential danger, grazing the occasional beam or danmaku burst that came from the forest ahead and, with each additional burst, they grew more and more eager to see just what Alice had gotten into that would warrant such a firefight.
"Woah!" Marisa looped around another beam, shielding her eyes from the sudden brightness. "Uh? Reimu, I think we're about to break the clearing!"
"Right!" Reimu brought out her gohei, spinning it stylishly in her hand. "Here we go, get ready!"
The duo, eyes flaring with the light of ultimate justice-also known as befriending foes by mercilessly pummeling them-flew out of the ring of trees surrounding the space by Alice's home, flipping into the air and landing in battle-ready positions; Reimu crouched with charms between her fingers and gohei clutched between her teeth, Marisa having her arms crossed in front of her with her broom in one hand and hakkero in the other! The sight of gensokyo's most reknown heroines in such a bold stance would be enough to send any villain running for the hills...
...if there were any even there to speak of in the first place.
"...Uhhhh..." Reimu began, speech a bit garbled due to her weapon. "There's...nobody here?"
"You gotta be kiddin' me..." Marisa groaned, glowering beneath the brim of her hat. "I think I pulled somethin' shooting my arms outward like this, ze. There's nobody here to be awed by it...?"
"A very stunning performance, rest assured." Came a smooth feminine tone from behind. "But, Reimu, the 'warrior' stance really isn't you. And Marisa, just...what is that meant to even be?"
The two jumped at the voice, quickly turning to see who it was...only to be greeted by the sight of Alice smirking slightly at them, an armada of dolls tieing up a small group of sparrow youkai, one in particular being dragged towards the puppeteer by Shanghai and Hourai. She made her way over to him, tilting his chin up with one finger.
"You're just in time for interregation, friends." Alice went on, shifting her eyes towards the others. "This fellow here seemed to be barking the orders while I was being effectively mobbed. Thank you for the 'backup', by the way."
"Hey, the awesome battle poses wouldn't have worked if we came in from above, y'know..." Marisa muttered sheepishly, her face a bit red as she abandoned the ridiculous stance.
"They didn't work anyway." Reimu groaned. "Seriously, we work on the choreography in our spare time, and for what? I'm starting to think it's a lost cause..."
Marisa patted her friend on the back as the two of them walked over to Alice. Speaking of, Alice herself was currently busy with extracting information from the soldier she had singled out.
"Alright, you cannon fodder. I hope your vocabulary is expansive," Alice stated, folding her arms over her chest, "because the only way you'll get out of this intact is by saying quite a bit. Now why are you here?"
The soldier grumbled, Alice's dolls holding his face up. However, despite the situation he was in, he opted to keep up the bravado to keep whatever remained of his self-respect from shattering outright.
"I-I'll be askin' the questions!" He stammered out. "We know yous were supplyin' the raven and the human wit' intel, little girl! Now, yer gonna be tellin' us where they're goin'!"
Reimu's body stiffened up upon hearing the boorish youkai's words.
"Who knows~?" Alice said with a smirk. "Perhaps they're out melting or exploding your fellows? I certaintly wouldn't know. Oh, and uh, Hourai."
The doll she addressed roughly smacked the youkai in his left cheek.
"You're forgetting rather quickly the position you find yourself in, sir."
Marisa slowly raised her eyebrows, looking towards Reimu. Given the miko's expression, she could tell they were thinking the same. What the heck did that guy just say? A human and a raven?
Reimu furrowed her brows in thought, before her eyes popped open with a sudden realization.
Wait. The day before Ryan vanished, he left with Yukari, she took him and her shikigami to the Underground...! Reimu shook her head in disbeleif. And the way Yukari never even hinted at what her scheme was like she normally will... No, no, she wouldn't be crazy enough to bring that monster into whatever she's up to...!
But what Alice had joked about, the possibility of "melting" their associates...a raven that holds dominion over extreme heat, that could only mean...
"Uh, so, Alice!" Marisa began unsteadily. "This guy, huh? He's one of these mystery youkai who've been making a mess of Gensokyo in recent days, eh?" The witch cracked her knuckles. "Need a bit of help gettin' him to talk?"
"...No need." Alice turned her down, merely glancing at her and Reimu before going back to staring down the soldier. "However, if you really want to be helpful, you could go into the house; fetch my Grimore as well as an incomplete doll on the crafting table?"
"Uh..." Marisa shifted from side to side uneasily, before conceding and giving a halfhearted nod as she made for the door. "S-Sure thing, heh-heh! You got it, ze..."
There was a few moments devoid of speaking while Alice and Reimu both listened to the sound of footsteps on floorboards, Marisa making her way into the house, and neither dared utter a single sound until the door shut with a deceptively loud click.
"...Well, Reimu?" Alice began, making sure the complaining soldiers she had captured were secured tightly. "Are you going to ask me the obvious question, or should I simply throw it out there if you're not capable?"
"Oi!" The lead soldier whined. "You're ignorin; me, yeh are...!"
"Alright...fine." Reimu said, taking a deep breath and exhaling sharply. "Alice...did Yukari do the thing I'm absolutely hoping she did not do and bring Utsuho Reiuji to the surface?"
Alice spun on her heels, eyes half-lidded with unreadable emotion. Although Reimu's face didn't show it, her heart sank. Alice's demeanor spoke volumes more than her next words ever could.
"Yes. Yes, she did." The dollmaker responded. "What's more, it would seem our self-imposed queen thought it best to place Miss Reiuji in authority for this latest incident."
...No. No, no, no. Reimu cringed, fighting the urge to replicate the motion seen often from Ryan of slapping his face. Utsuho Reiuji nearly risked killing untold numbers of people in an attempt to set Gensokyo ablaze, she gave me and Marisa a run for our money working together, what is that manic hag thinking putting a nuclear lunatic in position over-?
"...Wait..." Reimu slightly regained composure upon realizing something rather odd about all this. "Alice, did...did you meet her here, then?"
She looked around, taking in the remarkably not-destroyed condition of the area.
"...This is very odd..." Reimu muttered. "Your house is intact, you're unharmed, you don't even seem concerned by the concept of this."
"OI! YER STILL IGNORIN' ME, YEH ARE!"
"Quiet." Reimu snapped at the disgruntled soldier. "Alice, you were supporting Marisa when we went to the underground, you witnessed secondhand what that girl's capable of, why is it that what seems like the most obvious outcome of her not being confined to her cave wasn't the outcome?"
"Simple, really." Alice shrugged before nudging the soldier with her foot. "Yes, you. Stop your incessant screaming; I'll humor your little question."
"...Wut, really?" He asked, only to be answered by a slight nod. "Okay... Ahem! You were feedin' the raven and her human information, you were! Where they goin' to next, huh?"
Reimu opened her mouth to object, but she quickly realized the purpose of having him restate the question.
"That's right~." Alice hummed, calling her dolls back to her. "Utsuho-oh, she prefers Miss 'Okuu'-is a rather pleasent person, when she's not riled up. If you don't believe me, ask Ryan Randa. After all, he's traveling with her."
Chino panted hard, his blades held tightly in hand as he fought his way through yet another cluster of fairies. He had been making his way to the Bamboo Forest, where he knew the subjects of his watch would be going, when a horde of fairies came out of nowhere and attacked him.
Of course, Chino thought to himself, beginning his flight once again, any old group of these would be easy enough to deal with, but-
"Yipe!" The sparrow yelped and rolled to the left, avoiding a sudden burst of danmaku fire. He looked back, and saw more of the same still after him, ...but the problem is, not only are all these fairies of an identical appearance unfamiliar to me, but they seem to be focused on not merely causing trouble, but actually hurting me!
"Well, so be it..." He groaned, drawing his blades yet again, "I've plenty of fight for all of you! Step right up!"
The fairies gave off low groans, spreading out and encircling him. However, before they could resume their attack, Chino began to spin quickly, releasing red feather-shaped danmaku in a radial pattern. The fairies grunted in dull suprise, quickly turning in an attempt to retreat,but all were skewered thoroughly by the paper-thin bullets and, in turn, exploded.
"Hah...gah..." The sparrow gulped a breath of fresh air, wiping the sweat from his brow. "Between the running all day...flying in the way I have to, and fighting off these little pests...I'm exhausted..."
He groaned in slight pain, moving his hand over his shoulder, feeling his back.
"Oh..." Chino gave a melancholy sigh. "If I only had my wings..."
"-?" At the sound of approaching footsteps, Chino made haste and darted behind a nearby tree. Okay, with any luck, any fairies in the area would be attracted to this newcomer and leave him be. If not, well, perhaps he could 'convince' the individual to 'run interference' on the nuisances. All he had to do was wait for them to pass by!
...Aaaaany second now... He thought to himself, fingers drumming impatiently against the bark. Chino was to be disappointed; from the moment the person came to pass the other side of his tree, they seemed to just stop moving completely for some reason. Suddenly, there was a sound like a cork popping. Followed by a trickling noise...a distinct odor...
...Are you joking? Chino gritted his teeth. Of all the terrible luck! Somebody had to pick this exact spot at this exact time of all the places in the forest and minutes in the day to get drunk? ...I can't linger here any longer, I have to make myself known...!
"Alright!" Chino declared loudly, flinging himself to the other side of the tree with blades at the ready. "Now look here, sir or madam! This spot is quite occupied, so if you wouldn't mi..."
Chino's mouth hung open in shock, all bravado leaving him in a matter of seconds.
"If...you wouldn't mi...mi..." He swallowed hard. "...Oh my god."
His eyes were met by the sight of a large, athletic-looking blonde woman, flicking her hair back so it wouldn't get sopping wet by the sake in the very large red dish she had in her hand. As she tilted her head back to take a good long drink, the red of the single horn on her forehead glimmered in the sun. He knew right away, this was Hoshiyama Yuugi, one of the Four Divas of the Mountain and an all-powerful oni. Once she'd finished, she raised an eyebrow at Chino, allowing herself a slight smirk.
"...What was that you were saying, sport?" She swished the drink in her dish a bit. "Did you wanna have a drink with little ole me, bird-boy?"
Chino knew of this legendary figure full well. He also knew that, should he upset her, he'd been staring down the barrel of a long, long hospitalization. If he wanted to complete his objective - and he did, more than anything - he would need to start choosing his words very carefully from that very second onwards.
"Ah...n-no, my apologies." Chino quickly stated, bowing respectfully. "I didn't mean to offend a maiden, it is not within my principles. I was just worried, is all..." He here rubbed the back of his neck, hoping his next statement wouldn't see him put in the headlock hotel, "...you see, there's been an abnormal concentration of very unusual fairies in the area recently, and I'm sure you wouldn't want your, ahem, drinking time disrupted-"
Chino stammered at the sudden interruption from Yuugi. She...knew what the nature of these bizarre fairies was? Had she been assaulted by them as well, and he just hadn't noticed?
"Yep, zombie fairies. They aren't much for conversation," Yuugi paused to take a drink, "or battle tactics, apparently, but they sure beat the piss outta what you're gonna find up here, eh? Gyah-ha-ha-ha-ha!"
Chino winced as the powerful youkai put herself in stiches, slapping her own knee. He really did not like the way this conversation was headed...maybe if he could take her attention off of him for just a second, he could take to the sky, and-
"Ah, but hold on a second!" Yuugi grinned, snapping her fingers as though she'd been struck by inspiration, and reached behind the rock she was sitting on. "Hang on real quick, I wanna show ya something really great!"
Chino realized then that it wasn't going to be that simple, so he'd best wait for her to make a slip-up of her own accord...that is, until she hefted up a misshapen chunk of ice. Securely trapped within it were three zombie fairies, all appearing to have been frozen in mid-attack. Yuugi tossed it up and down a bit, grinning at Chino.
"So? Don't be shy, take a bow, haha! Even I gotta admit, this is a pretty awesome trick you pulled, here!" Yuugi laughed, setting the chunk down. "But then, I guess I shouldn't be suprised! After all, you'd really have to be one helluva guy to be balsy enough to go after Okuu, right?"
Chino's eyes shrank and his body froze up. She knew about what he'd done. She knew about what he'd done, and she'd known about the fairies. She'd known about what he'd done, she knew about the fairies, and she referred to Utsuho by a name that friends call her.
This was no random meeting. This was an ambush.
"H-H-H-H-Hold on, now!" Chino shrieked, swallowing nervously and waving his hands inj front of himself defensively, "I didn't freeze those fairies, and the situation has changed, you have to believe-"
"Believe?" Yuugi snapped, the smile leaving her face. "Right now, there's only things I don't believe, guy. And you wanna know what I cannot believe? That Okuu, that poor gal, was nice enough to let you leave with your life after ya went in there, made demands, insulted her family and then started shootin' at her."
The situation was clear. Yuugi had come to the surface, came this far from home, to avenge her friend's honor by massacreing the one who had been bold enough to take such a stand against her. And he was betting she would not leave unsatisfied.
"M-Miss Hoshiyama, please..." Chino stammered, backing away slowly, "...I'm different. I want to help her. You can't just kill me!"
Yuugi pounded her fist on the ground once, hard. A shuddering ran through the earth under Chino's feet, ending in a wall of dirt and rock shooting up behind him, cutting off his means of escape. Yuugi was not about to let him walk, and he wasn't about to change her mind with unsupported claims.
"You're right. I can't. Because Okuu would be absolutely pissed if I did." Yuugi growled, standing from her seat, dish in hand. "And even though I'm worried about making her feel bad, I'm almost just as worried about her deciding to punish me. See, I get how strong she is, and I recognize even I don't have right to mess with that. Why a little runt like you thinks that you do is anybody's guess."
She began walking slowly towards him, her every step sending a shudder through the ground, cracking the earth underneath her feet, and allowing Chino to feel just a glimpse of her terrifying strength.
"So, here's what's gonna happen, Robin. And I DO hope you're smart enough to cooperate." Yuugi spoke lowly. "I'm not gonna kill ya. Don't worry for a second about that. Nah, I'm just gonna beat you so badly that you'll wish you never even heard of Okuu, much more myself." She came to a stop just after the shadow she casted lommed entirely over the frightened bird. "See, word from Rin is that Okuu's got herself a new pal she's out adventuring with. Now, I was gonna wait a little while before tracking you down once I found out about this, but I didn't wanna risk you ruining her first little surface adventure. So, while she's having fun, getting to know this 'Randa' guy and seeing the sights, you're gonna be recoving from a nice, full-body bruising."
She crackled her knuckles ominously. Chino looked around for any real openinghe could use to get away.
"...Please...I can't afford to waste any time," Chino insisted feebily, "I need to leave..."
"Oh, good. Then the sooner you're nice and unconscious, the sooner you don't have to worry about things like time, anymore." Yuugi smirked maliciously. "It's the best of both worlds, trust me. Let's start."
"Waaaaah!" Meiling shrieked, ducking quickly before a series of arrows that shot from a nearby fake row of bamboo shoots. "Guh! Another trap, what is the meaning of this? I thought that this was meant to be a maze to get people lost, not one of those booby-trapped temples like in Patchouli-san's adventure books...!"
"Hang on, Hong!" Sakuya called, giving a ferocious battle cry as she took three knives in each hand and swiftly carved through the offending trap, landing gracefully while the shoots fell apart into neatly-cut chunks. "Hmph...Meiling, are you alright?"
"Never this concerned when you're the one stabbing me, you know..." Meiling muttered, readjusting her hat. She looked over to the felled trap, noticing something bizarre. "Sakuya-san...look there, there's a note stuck to the inside of it!"
"Hm? ...Why, so there is. Excellent eye, Meiling~." Patting her coworker's head, Sakuya floated back over to the trap, yanking off the note. Her eyes flitted left to right as she read, before the pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. "Uuuuuuugh...of course..."
Hahaha~! Gotcha good, Udongein! Bet 'cha didn't know that I had a whole bunch more of these left, huh? Don't worry, I'm not gonna use them! ...Directly on you! ...Right away! Uhahaha~! Welp, I'll just leave these here and get back to setting up the rest of today's game! ...And you will run into the rest today! Have a lot of fun, and remember - I'm always happy to serve!
Grr...how charming. I swear, the little rodent has a trap fetish of some kind. Sakuya snarled in her mind, crumpling up the note when she was sure Meiling wasn't looking and therefore could save face. I know, I know, I'm not one to talk, but if she hurts Meiling, I will make sure to hunt her down before we return home, and no amount of luck manipulation is going to-
The head maid snapped her head upwards,and saw that Meiling's foot had been firmly caught in a rope snare.
"...Oh, for the love of the Lady Devil, not again." Sakuya groaned, floating upwards with another knife to free Meiling fromwhat would be her third rope snare since they'd entered the Bamboo Forest. "Meiling, I know these traps are proving to be quite devious, but I think you could avoid them if you would just pay closer attention?"
"It's -Rrrrrgh!- not my fault! I'm not the kind of person to fall for traps..." Meiling insisted while Sakuya ran a knife through the rope quickly, both freeing the youkai from her humiliation...and unintentionally thrusting her into an entirely different one. "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
Sakuya cringed midly. That fall looked like it had to hurt.
"Owwwwww..." Meiling droned, spitting a good pile of leaves out. "Pleh! Agh...as soon as I say 'I don't normally fall for traps'..."
"Bad choice of words, that's all. You just jinxed yourself, it happens to the best of us." Sakuya reassured her, flying down and helping Meiling to her feet. "Unfortunate yet comical circumstances aside, you were saying?"
"There's something wrong with these traps..." Meiling continued her previous train of thought, now taking to the air so as not to set a new record for most snare trapes set off in a single night in the history of Gensokyo. "It's like...well, whoever set them is a master of their craft, these things are extremely well-hidden...it's almost a shame that somebody so remarkable at being incognito would stoop so low as to squander their talents in something like...well, like..."
She helplessly motioned her arms around her.
"...Well, this! Placing random trap after trap, baiting prank after prank..." She sighed, shaking her head. "I don't know, Sakuya-san. It really seems like a wasted life to me."
"Not just her life..." Sakuya nodded, running her hand along a wall of nearby bamboo shoots. "I can't imagine what kind of psychological effect this is having on poor Reisen..."
-Cue Music - "Record Scratch"-
Sakuya's hands quickly clamped over her mouth. Sadly, it was far too late; Meiling had already picked upon what she let slip out.
"...What was that, Sakuya-san?" The guard asked quietly. Sakuya shook her head with a negative grunt. "Reisen, huh? Who is that, exactly? Does she get pranked often? ...Do you know who would be pranking her?"
Ohhhhhhhh, dear. Sakuya yelped in her thoughts, trying to think of something to say that could disarm the time bomb that Meiling had become from a single Freudian Slip. Okay, Sakuya, think quickly; the last thing our mission needs is for the muscle of the team to get-
"Have you known who's been setting these traps? Sa-ku-ya-saaaaaaaaaaaaan...?" Meiling smiled pleasantly, but even a child would be able to tell this was merely a mask for her quickly-growing fury. "You knew, and you didn't say anything to me? You just...kind of let it happen for the sake of letting it happen, then~?"
"Meiling...let's all remain calm." Sakuya spoke in a commanding tone of voice. "Now, I know you feel very upset at the moment, what with being subjected to various humiliations, but letting your temper boil over won't solve anything. So let's just-"
"Come to think of it..." Meiling began, slowly approaching Sakuya, "you haven't thrown a single knife at me since we encountered that first trap...could it be you were satsfied with the pain these pranks have caused me, then?"
"N-No, of course not, don't be absurd...!" Sakuya snapped, now feeling a bit worried by the dark aura she could feel from her partner. "I simply didn't want to cause excessive pain on top of what you would already be recievi-"
Sakuya's palm collided hard with her face.
"...That was the wrong thing to say, right?" She asked meekly.
"Oh, undoubtedly." Meiling responded.
"...Well...I'm, er, so glad you could join us for dinner~!"
"In-Indeed, Lady Hijiri..."
"OI! THAT SPOOK'S EATIN' ALL THE FOOD!"
Byakuren, the brunette messiah figure to youkai and humans alike, sat at the head of the dinner table in the Myouren Temple. At the chair to her closest right, the tiger youkai Toramaru Shou, a disciple of Bishamonten and Nazrin's master, sat with her plate bare and an uncomfortable smile on her face. To her closest left, a raven-headed sailor woman with a large anchor rested against her chair sat with her fists balled up on the table, constantly eyeballing the bottle of sake next to her - this was Captain Murasa Minamitsu, a resident ghost.
"You know, Minamitsu..." Shou began, biting her lip, "You're not exactly one to call anybody a 'spook'..."
"Oh, come now...!" Came a voice from across the table, belonging to a woman in a blue hood with lighter blue hair. She smiled weakly, fiddling with her hair while a strange wisp of pink smoke orbited her body. "We have guests, you two. Let's not start any kind of conflict, make them feel unwelcome~!" She giggled sheepishly. "R-Right, Kogasa-chan~?"
The person she was addressing was heavily sunken into her chair, eyes wide with an unfathomable horror as she watched what was happening just across the table from her. This girl was a karakasa with turquoise hair, a blue dress, and heterochromia of one turquoise and one red eye. A purple umbrella with a single eye and a large tongue lolling out was hugged to her side.
"So hungry...but can't eat..." She whimpered quietly. "If my hand somehow got stuck in there, Ichirin-chan, I'd never get it back...!"
Of course, the subject of all of this awkward small talk was the ghost princess ravenously shoveling food into her mouth, often deciding that the act of chewing within itself was unimportant and swallowed portions the size they were when she inhaled them. Of course, Youmu who was used to such a display, only reacted because of the embarassment she was feeling in seeing other have to witness it.
The worst part of it all? This was a meal meant to be big enough to feed ten people.
So far, Yuyuko had finished half of all the food on the table, nobody else had eaten so much as a crumb, and it had only been fifteen minutes since they had so much as sat down to dinner.
"Oh, kami-sama, forgive us..." Youmu muttered, placing her face in her hands. A soft hand lightly rubbed her shoulder, and Youmu looked up to see Nazrin smiling weakly, in an attempt to console the girl.
"Your hand~?" Yuyuko smiled whimsically smiled at Kogasa after miraculously stopping between bites. "Oh-ho-ho. Of course that's not it, silly girl~!"
Kogasa gave a small sigh of relief.
"If I got your hand, it's not that you would never see it again," She stopped to take a sip of wine, "Ahhhh~. ...But rather, that nobody would see you again~!"
In the next moment, Ichirin was lightly shushing the frightened youkai by resting her head on her lap, all the while the mischeivous shapeshifter in the corner seat was cackling like a madwoman, pounding her fists on the table.
"Gyahahahahaha! Oh, this is too good!" Nue wheezed, trying to catch her breath. "Ah-ha-ha... Whoo, guys, what'd I tell ya? Didn't I say she was great?"
A moment of silence struck everyone present, besides the noise of Yuyuko stuffing her face. Youmu scooted back slightly in her chair, wanting nothing more than to say she needed to use the bathroom and just leave for Eientei on her own when nobody was looking. Thankfully, Byakuren herself spoke up before she could do anything she would regret.
"Ah...s-so you've said, dear." The kindly woman spoke, coughing a bit. "A-Anyway, Yuyuko-hime..."
"Hm?" The ghost princess looked up, her face sufficiently stuffed. "Yish? Wusha needin'?"
"Ya said ya had some important business to talk to us about." Murasa continued for her, rapping her fingers on the wood impatiently. "Something about the latest incident, how you were looking to resolve it and thought we might have answers? You didn't FORGET that part, right?"
She did. Youmu thought in silence. She completely and totally did. But I'm not about to tell them that.
"Well, yes." She said, forcing a cheery smile onto her face. "You see, e have some limited information regarding the perpetrators...they're apparently of an elite group of youkai, primarily sparrows, from a place called...'Sasa Sanctuary'. All else we know is that they're entirely nondiscriminate in who they attack between humans and youkai..."
Everybody's eyes moved towards where Byakuren sat, having herd her chair shift position slightly. The saintly superhuman was biting her lip slightly, looking away from everybody else. Everybody here had been around the block more than once -with possible exception of Kogasa- so they knew a 'I know something you don't know' reaction when they saw it, and damn if Hijiri was doing anything aside from that.
Well, now, this is...intriguing~. Yuyuko thought to herself, having stopped eating in order to add onto the pressure currently being put on her. And here I fully expected the goody-two-shoes to simply restate everything we said in a way that would seem less incriminating to those birds and send us on our way...but it seems she knows more~?
"...Given the way you're all looking at me, it seems my attempt to hide my knowledge of this matter failed..." Byakuren sighed, casting her head down with a look of shame. "In any event...please forgive me my attempt to decieve you..."
"I-It's okay, Lady Hijiri..." Murasa said with an akward sweatdrop. "I mean, it only lasted for like ten seconds, and you didn't exactly fool anyone for one of those seconds..."
"The captain makes a good point." Shou added, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Besides, you needn't worry about the explanations, after all, I know of that time just as you..."
"Ah, okay, that's fine." Nazrin smiled cheerfully.
For a few moments, the mouse continued sitting there with her pleasant expression before realizing what her master had said. Then, like everybody else, she stared slack-jawed at the tiger youkai who rubbed the back of her head in embarassment.
"Wait, you know something about this, Shou-sama?" Nazrin demanded. "And...you never said anything to me about it?"
"Give her some lenience, Nazrin..." Byakuren insisted, placing her hand over that of the youkai's on her shoulder. "...It's not the proudest moment of my life from before my sealing - far from it, in fact. And of course, your master had to keep the ugly story to herself as well..."
An airy chuckle filled the air, and all eyes fell upon Yuyuko, who was getting a serious kick out of the dread and discomfort the atmosphere was providing.
"Well, I for one am quite fond of ugly stories." She held her fan in front of her face, pushing the food away slightly. "I don't suppose you could share your tale with these good samaritans who have come all this way?"
"Oh, thank goodness...!" Kogasa exclaimed, quickly reaching out and snatching one of the few unbitten bread rolls around the ghost, biting into it with great vigor. "I was starving!"
"...Reimu, weren't you going to play the good cop?"
"And miss this show? Not on your life."
With that said, Reimu took another sip of tea, sitting at the table on the small patio behind the dollmaker's house with her as they watched Marisa continue to pummel the daylights out of the soldiers who were still tied up, making demanding questions without waiting two seconds for an answer before swinging her broom again. Granted, it was fun to watch, but it wasn't really getting them anywhere...
"Marisa, if I may be so bold..." Alice began, sighing a bit. "I can't help but feel that, if you gave them time to talk between beatings, they might, ah, actually talk?"
A momentary beat of solid quiet was had.
"...Are ya crazy?" The witch frowned, raising a skeptical eyebrow. "Dangerous and radical ideas like that could get ya killed, ze."
This smack was not a broom, but Alice's forehead colliding with her table.
"She just might be crazy, Marisa. She's doing the same thing Ryan did, after all." The shrine maiden couldn't help but giggle lightly at the memory of the distraught boy slamming his cranium repeatedly into the wood of her table with Marisa's constant teasing. "Speaking of, Alice, we really need to talk about that. Marisa, you give her idea a try."
"Alright, alright..." Marisa walked over to one of the girls tied up. "Hey, little birdy missy?"
"Eh?" She looked up, scoffing a bit at Marisa. "What, witch? Gonna smack me some more?"
"Nah." She grinned. "First, tell me what I wanna know...then I'm gonna smack ya."
"So," Reimu began, sipping more tea while Marisa haphazardly interrogated in the background, "tell me more about Ryan and Utsuho...what are they doing working together, and how'd they come to run into you?"
Alice nodded, setting down the doll she'd been working on to speak properly to her guest.
"Well, I'd been busy with building on my 'forces', so to speak, when I noticed heavy laserfire from the forest nearby. I had seen Marisa head to your shrine earlier, so combined with the deep orange hue of the beams, I figured it wasn't her."
"Orange is for sissies, ze!" Came Marisa's voice. "Rainbow is the color of tough love!"
"...Thank you, Peanut Gallery. Anyway." Alice cleared her throat. "I and Shanghai went into the forest to investigate, and we came across fairies being beaten horribly by none other than that raven herself. Naturally, I had my suspicions, and figured that human boy might have been nothing more than an accomplice. Shanghai's discovering of a severed finger, clearly not fairy, only succeeded in hammering into my mind the idea that they were dangerous, and so...I tried to ambush them with an exploding doll."
"Whoa, Alice!" Marisa laughed. "Kinda dark for you of all people to do, ain't it, ze?"
"Get back to interrogating or hold you tongue; I thought they had murdered someone." Alice spat in annoyance. "Anyway, I'm not proud of what I did. I was even less proud when they dispatched me with little issue, and explained the finger was leftover from a cloning Spell Card being destroyed. Beyond that, the two seemed to get along quite well."
"I doubt that he knew about what she had done in the past, then..." Reimu mused. "More to the point, when did Utsuho learn to clone herself?"
"Ooh! I think I busted something!" Marisa cheered. "New record, ze~!"
"Ouuuuuch! Alright, alright!" The female soldier whined. "I'll sing! Honestly! Just...stop hitting me!"
"Actually, Reimu, you're wrong on both counts. Not only is Randa the one who can apparently duplicate himself, but he's well aware of what Utsuho's caused before. And despite that, he was very defensive of her when I demanded if he did in fact know about her incident." Alice corrected the shrine maiden. "Combined with how civil Utsuho was behaving in my home and how neither of them begrudged me for my actions, I-"
"Wait!" Marisa interjected.
"...Agh. WHAT?" Alice snapped, fed up with Marisa'sinterruptions.
"So...Ryan ended up shaking upnot only with a youkai, but Okuu?" Marisa asked.
"...Well...they seemed fairly close," Alice muttered, "but I wouldn't say-"
"WAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...!" Marisa fell over onto the ground, punching the dirst repeatedly. "Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod...I thought he was goin' for China, but instead of the pathetically weak route, he went down the stupidly dangerous route, ze!"
"Marisa..." Reimu spoke lowly, in a warning tone.
"Oh man, oh man!" The witch grinned, wiping tears from her eyes. "I would hate to see the kids-"
"Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" Marisa held her now-hatless head, nursing the bruise where Reimu's thrown gohei had struck. "Ow, Reimu, uncalled for! Why can't you let me have a little fun, ze!"
"Thank you." Alice smiled to the shrine maiden.
"My pleasure." Reimu nodded. "Now, you were saying?"
"As I was saying, I felt bad about how I'd jumped to conclusions, and so..." The dollmaker stopped to sip some tea herself. "...I decided to share with them what I knew about the current incident."
Reimu jumped out of her chair, looking at Alice like she was just meeting the magician youkai for the first time, and was seeing human blood all over her. In short, pretty shocked.
"Wait, you know something about what's been going on here?" Reimu demanded. "Well, then, why are we just sitting here, waiting for..."
She motioned to Marisa, who was gleefully kicking one of the soldiers in the side.
"...waiting for that to yield any results?" Reimu finished, suddenly appearing very, very tired.
"Simple. You never asked me." Alice responded, looking rather pleased with herself. "If you like, I can tell you what I told them..." She smiled.
"Yes, please do-"
"But," Alice raised a finger in objection, cutting Reimu off, "on one condition."
Chino landed with a rough thud, managing to avoid yet another gigantic oni fist smashing into the ground where he'd been only seconds before. For somebody who said she wasn't going to kill him, Yuugi certaintly seemed content to put what seemed like a lethal level of force in every swing.
"Oh, enough of this!" Chino yelped, drawing a Spell Card, "Great Bird's- WHOA!"
"Oh no, ya don't!" The giant Yuugi bellowed, bringing her foot down on Chino - or would have, if he hadn't dodged once more. "I'm not lettin' ya invoke the Spell Card rules! You won't learn a thing from this if you don't retain the pain, punk!"
"Wait, when did this become a learning experience?" Chino screamed, flattening himself against a tree. "I thought the whole point of this was to make sure I stayed away from Utsuho until the incident's resolution?"
"Everything's a learning experience, kid!" Yuugi snorted raising her fist. "This one in particular will teach ya how to avoid tremendous amounts of pain!"
That's right... Chino thought, bracing himself. Swing now, swing here, don't miss...!
"And here's yer first lesson!" The oni roared, bringing her massive knuckles down towards the small sparrow.
NOW! Chino grunted as he flung himself as far as he could, allowing Yuugi to punch out the tree he'd been in front of...and causing the branches of the overgrown two right next to it to dig into Yuugi's arm. "Good...now if I can just...!"
"...What was that noise?" Chino murmered, looking back to where Yuugi was...still stuck? What was going on? She shouldn't have been having that much trouble...!
"What...nnngh...gives?" She demanded, yanking backwards. "My...fist...it's...stuck...? How'd...you freeze me?"
Frozen...? Chino peered to where Yuugi's fist was...and saw that, from the middle of the forearm down, she was stuck in an oversized ice formation that stretched across several nearby trees as well. Wait...
Chino looked over to where Yuugi had been sitting when the fight began. Those fairies she had shown him...!
Frozen as well! He looked back towards Yuugi, seeing she was finally yanking her arm free. That settles it! Somebody is helping me, but who?
"That...wasn't...bad...guy... " Yuugi panted slightly, snapping her arm forward once and breaking off most of the frozen coat. "But no matter how ya pulled that off, I ain't takin' my eyes offa ya twice!"
Chino winced, seeing the oni in all her imposing stature towering over him. Whoever was helping hold her off, they weren't anywhere to be seen; and given that yuugi had already broken free from that oncer, she was probably better-prepared for...
...For... What was that noise?
He'd heard this sound before...
"Well? Got any other last little tricks up yer sleeve ya wanna try? " Yuugi grunted, stepping forward. "Or can I just get this over with?"
She doesn't hear it...which means it's coming from behind me! Chino couldn't help but smirk a bit at his sudden realization. Yes, I know this sound! I heard it in the mansion, when I was attacked by...him! That's the sound he kept making before...
Could it be? Had they somehow came across this place and decided to help him? ...Well, he was en route to the Bamboo Forest, the same way they were going before getting held up, and he had nothing to lose at this point...
"Actually..." Chino began, puffing himself up. "If you don't mind, Yuugi Hoshiyama, I'd like to give one last thing a try. "
"Gahahahahahaha!" She reared her head back, guffawing at his resistance. "I will respect one thing about ya, you do got a serious set of stones." She crouched in battle stance, one fist clenched confidently while the other hand still held her sake dish. "...You know, tell ya what - I'll let ya try this, eh, this one last thing of yours before I beat ya senseless. Sound good? "
Chino smirked, hearing the sound behind him reaching a single, continuous pitch. A full charge. It didn't matter that she was mocking him; she'd soon come to regret it.
Chino took to the air, Yuugi blinking a bit in suprise.
"Wait, the heck're you-?"
Yuugi srunted in suprise when a gigantic orb of icy mist exploded from the cover behind Chino, hitting her hard in the middle. Now fairly upset and ready to take back her offer, Yuugi began to step forward...but there was a problem.
Her foot was stuck.
"H-H-Hey!" She grunted, struggling to step forward, "What the heck is this? You weren't the one flinging ice every which way? Is this some kinda joke?"
"Not hardly!" Chino declared, puffing his chest out proudly. "As you can see quite clearly, I've not only been forgiven, but am being supported!"
He motioned his arms towards the trees, as well as the lone figure who just came out from them.
"Why don't you tell her yourself, Ran..." He blinked twice in shock once he actually looked at who was there. "...da?"
Cirno fluttered in midair, an ice blade in one hand and a palm turned upwards.
"Who're you calling Randa?" Cirno snapped, eyes narrowing. "Who would ever want that wimpy human to help them instead of me?"
It's...that's... Chino's eyes widened. Drops of moisture were condensing in the air, before being drawn into Cirno's body, causing a misty aura to rise above her. That shouldn't be possible...! How is that little fairy using his technique?
"After all," Cirno grunted, the mist beginning to form a globe bullet above her palm, "I'm the strongest in Gensokyo!"
Yuugi had no chance to finish her statement before Cirno launched her projectile at the oni's face, freezing it entirely in a solid coat of ice. Her three free limbs flailed in rage, smashing through rock, bark and stone for several seconds...before Yuugi went limp.
And there stood Chino, completely baffled at what he had seen.
One of the Four Divas had been stopped cold by a fairy.
Chino snapped out of his trance upon seeing Cirno right behind him. Thankfully, when he turned towards her, her sword wasn't pointed at his neck, and she didn't look like she was about to beat him senseless. Rather, she looked...intrigued.
"I've been looking for you since you ran off from that stupid mansion." She huffed, looking him square in the eye. "Eye normally wouldn't forgive anybody who made me look like an idiot, but..."
She dismissed her sword, floating a little further from him.
"What you were saying about Randa and that jerk raven..." She folded her arms over her chest, "just what business do you got with them, anyway?"
Chino looked back towards Yuugi for a second.
...A fairy that could not only learn a unique energy-gathering technique just from seeing it used, but could change its purpose from gathering heat into gathering cold... He stroked his chin a bit. ...And to have it down so well that she could stop an oni's ability to function...
"Oi! Sparrow guy!" Cirno yelled, tapping her foot impatiently. "You just gonna stand there?"
"...That ice won't hold her much longer." Chino finally said, looking back towards Cirno. "Let's talk about this somewhere else."
Meiling and Sakuya both hung suspended in the air, looking rather displeased in different ways. Sakuya, where she was, drummed her fingers along her thigh in pent-up aggravation, glaring at Meiling. Meiling herself,on the other hand, merely sighed with her head hanging, not daring to face Sakuya.
Why was this happening? Because Meiling had flipped and chased Sakuya into a large net-trap, which had gotten both of them caught. And because this net was made of cables rather that rope, it wouldn't be such an easy matter of cutting their way out of it.
"Say nothing." Sakuya quickly interjected.
"...But..." Meiling insisted, "I'm sorry-"
"I'm sorry your 'but' isn't in position to be impaled repeatedly by my knives." Sakuya snapped, standing as best she could in the tight surroundings. "You had to let the stress get to you. You had to lose your temper on me. You had to charge aimlessly even though you knew full well beforehand that the path ahead would be laden with traps!"
Sakuya gave that last one a moment to sink in, and Meiling held her face in her hands.
"Okay. I will not try to lie." She groaned. "That was really, really poorly thought-out."
"What thought?" Sakuya yelled, fists clenched. "There was not a single ounce of thought to be had, here! All there is to be seen from this is...is...mindless China kung-fu rage!"
Meiling whimpered slightly, but Sakuya looked away.
"No, I will not apologize for insensitively calling you China, because right now you deserve that!" Sakuya huffed. "Honestly, I thought after your performance against Keine, that you were really ready for this, but-"
"It's not all my fault...!" Meiling blubbered, hands clasped together. "Come on, Sakuya-san...! You've been on multiple investigations, this is my first, I'm still learning!"
Sakuya here whipped around, taking Meiling's cheeks in her grip.
"Hong Meiling. Are you, or are you not a practiced master of hand-to-hand combat?"
"Do you not often speak of the level of intensive training and dilligence it requires to maintain the ability gained from such teachings?"
Meiling nodded again.
"Then why on earth are you acting so pathetic?" Sakyua demanded, releasing her face. "Honestly, Hong, I thought if anybody had the talent to handle this kind of situation with ease, above anybody else I know who has never done this, it would be you!"
They sat in silence, Meiling shocked by Sakuya's statement.
"...Y...You really mean that?" The guard swallowed nervously. "E-Even though I so often fall asleep on the job?"
"...Yes. Because, when it matters most, you have always risen to the challenge." Sakuya explained, facing Meiling. "You see, that is why...I recommended to the mistress that she trust you to accompany me."
Meiling stifled a gasp of shock, covering her mouth. Sakuya was the reason why...?
"Sakuya...san...you...?" She fought the urge to cry. "You wanted me to come with you...?"
"...I know I'm going to regret saying this, but..." Sakuya blushed slightly, looking away. "I thought it was only fair...that my friend have a chance to stretch out every once in a while. Maybe if you were treated as being capable, you would show as much on active duty."
"Urk!" Sakuya grunted, being crushed in an instant by a powerful hug from Meiling. "H-Hong...t-too tight...!"
"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...! Sakuya-san, you're too good to meeeee!" Meiling sobbed as she crushed the maid in her embrace. "I-I-I'm so sorrrrrrrry! I swear, when we get out of this net, I...I'm going to shape up without a doubt! I swear on my honor!"
Sakuya was about to say something in response, when her well-tuned ears picked up a steadily growing noise in the distance.
"Meiling..." Sakuya said quietly. "Get down."
"What?" Meiling stared in confusion. "There's no room in this net to dance-"
"I mean, duck!" The maid yelled, throwing herself on top of Meiling and avoiding a sudden whipping of razor-sharp wind that cut trough the air above them. Unlike Sakuya's knives, this force didn't back down in the face of abnormally strong cords, the the net was ripped open, allowing the two two tumble out to the ground below. Sakuya flipped in the air, stopping her fall through flight. However, once again... "Meiling, for crying out loud, you can fly!"
"I forgooooooooooooot!" Mei shrieked, bracing herself for another painful impact.
However, the only pain Meiling recieved was a sharp tug in her arm when someone in the nearby bamboo caught her hand, keeping her from falling.
"Ah... What?" Meiling hesitantly opened her eyes. "...Huh?"
"That was close..." Her savior pulled her up next to them, smiling kindly. "Even though Sakuya's right, are you okay, Mei?"
"...Ryan-san!" Meiling's face brightened up immediately. This situation had just become a lot more bearable.
"Well, Lady Byakuren, this has all been very informative!" Yuyuko chuckled, bowing a bit as she floated out the front door. "I know this was all rather unpleasant for you to share with us, so forcing yourself was very much appreciated."
"It's no trouble at all." The holy woman bowed in kind, although much more gracefully than Yuyuko had done. "We should thank youfor volunteering your services to the safety of Youkai and humans alike; I am relieved that someone as powerful as you is on the job."
Meanwhile, collapsed on the floorboards, Nue attempted to claw her way over to the ghost while Nazrin held her back.
"Nooooooooooooooo! Yuyu-samaaaaaaaa!" Nue sobbed, reaching for her. "Take me with you, take me with yooouuuu!"
"For crying out loud, you freeloader, you have work to do here!" Nazrin snapped, looking back towards Yuyuko and Youmu. "...Unless you really want her...?"
"...Nope~!" Yuyuko declined cheerfully, turning away. "One servant is enough. Farewell, Myouren Temple~!"
Yuyuko began to float away, leaving behind a sobbing, rejected Nue while Youmu actually made some effort to pay respects.
"I apologize on her behalf, honestly." Youmu insisted. "We hope you'll find some other manner of not going hungry, tonight!"
"Eh, she's not the first glutton we've had." Nazrin winked. "Go on, and don't worry, we aren't about to starve, over here."
"...Thank you, Nazrin; you've been very kind throughout this whole ordeal!" Youmu chirped, now looking much less anxious. "I hope to repay your kindness, someday!"
With that, the gardener hopped down from the steps and quickly dashed off to catch up to her master. Now that they had some new information, it was time they made their way to the original destination: the hidden settlement, Eientei!
"BOO!" Kogasa suddenly popped out of nowhere where Youmu had been secondsago, waving her umbrella around. "Bwa-ha-ha! ...Huh?"
"Sorry, Kogasa..." Byakuren offered in pity, "maybe you'll get them next time."
"Y'know, Alice, you don't have to do this." Marisa looked behind her as she hopped onto her broom, watching as the dollmaker locked up her home. "Really, I doubt there's anything me and Reimu can't blast our way into or out of."
"No, I insist." Alice stated, testing her door to make sure her locking was successful. "After all, I now have my own interest in seeing this matter resolved. I will not risk allowing anybody who has the gall to attack my home go unpunished."
"Alright, alright, that's fine. Welcome aboard, I guess." Reimu nodded to Alice, a bit glad to have her along. "Although...what's with the doll? You've been working on it since we got here."
Alice looked to the doll in her hand. Half-complete a pair of black wings hung off its back, and a green bow adorned the top of its head.
"...I have a promise to keep, that's all." Alice smiled slightly, beforeraising into the air. "Okay, you two. The Bamboo Forest, let's get moving."
Marisa grumbled a bit, wondering aloud when Alice started giving the orders, but the three of them took to the skies once again, leaving behind the home of the dollmaker in favor of the same place everybody was heading...
...Or rather, most everyone.
"Okay, so let me get this straight!" Cirno began, flying along next to Chino. "You're turning against the people you were going on and on about how great they were?"
"That's right." Chino confirmed, looking straight ahead. "I can't tell you why, but they have to be stopped. I can't watch as my people as digraced due to poor leadership once again..."
"Yeah, 'again', you've said that before!" Cirno snapped, irritated Chino wasn't looking at her. "What do you mean by that? Has this kind of thing happened before, now it's going on again?"
"Now if I can help it..." Chino declaredlowly, his gaze intensifying. "Ryan and Utsuho seem a safe bet, but all the same, I can't just assume they'll work everything out themselves. I have to do something myself..."
He suddenly pulled out in front of Cirno, stopping her.
"...Look. This is by no means something I normally do, but it has become clear that skill and cunning isn't going to fix this. it's going to take a certain amount of raw power...the kind of power I lack..."
Her moved forward, taking her hands in his own.
"...The kind of power you apparently possess. Fairy or not, you are clearly nothing to sneeze at, Cirno." He looked her straight in the eyes. "I come to you now, Ice Fairy with this request: be my strength. I cannot do this alone; I need someone like you, who has no reason not to turn their back to me, and who has the courage to stare a raging oni in the face and not back down. Please, will you help me?"
Cirno stared at him in kind a few more moments...before her face went red and she yanked her hands away.
"H-Ha! Y-Y-You're so pathetic, you know that?" She turned away from him. "You're right, I don't have reason not to help you, but I've got no reason to help you, either, you know!"
Chino's head sank. It appeared he'd gotten his hopes up too high.
"...But I can't turn down such an earnest request. Y-You wanna keep you're people from looking bad, being disgraced. That's noble, I like that!" She clenched her fists, looking resolved. "...Yeah, okay! And besides, if they've got Mystia, it can't be helped!"
She flew towards him, pointing towards the sky dramatically.
"Alright, Chino-guy! Cirno, they great fairy warrior, is at your service!" She grinned confidently. Chino's eyes widened.
"Y...You mean it? Truly?" She nodded,and Chino couldn't help but laugh in joy, raching forward and shaking her hand. "Oh, thank you, thank you, I promise not to slow you down too much!"
This is looking even better than before... Now I've power in my own corner! He thought to himself. I'll end this soon...I'm going to save her...
And with that, Tundra Team, our fifth has been formed! Everybody is on their way to Eintei, two of the teams have converged, Alice has resolved to join Reimuand Marisa, Yuyuko and youmu have learned something interesting...and it seems Chino has a private agenda entirely different from everyone else's...
Next time, we follow Teams Solar and Devil on their way to Eintei! Moukou shenanigans to be had!
This is the Magnificent Sasquatch, signing off! Godspeed, readers!