I don't normally place author's notes at the beginning of stories, but I'm going to make an exception here, as many people probably haven't read Imperfect Metamorphosis and those who have might have forgotten the scene this story springs from. So, just a quick background: in chapter 28 of IM, Satori, Orin, and Utsuho are sitting in Yukari's citadel, waiting for an important meeting to start. And Utsuho, who had never been there before, starts comparing the tower to the Palace of Earth Spirits. And as she's Utsuho, she starts wondering which one would win in a fight. My beta-reader then demanded that I write the scene out in full. So I did. Enjoy!
"Hey, is this place bigger than our house?"
"In height, yes. But the Palace of Earth Spirits covers a greater area."
Utsuho looked at her in confusion.
"This place is taller, our place is fatter," Orin told her.
"Oh!" Utsuho said, suddenly understanding. "Okay." She frowned. "So…"
The Hell-Raven held up the control rod that covered her right and stared at it. She balled her left hand into a fist and put it next to the control rod. She seemed to be taking measure of both.
Orin's face twisted in bewilderment. "Uh…what…"
"She is picturing Yukari's citadel and the Palace of Earth Spirits side-by-side," Satori told her. "To be specific, she is trying to decide who would win in a fight."
"Win…You mean the buildings?"
"Yes. It seems that this citadel has a fully functioning laser installed at its pinnacle, and our own home comes equipped with numerous missile silos. Admittedly, I am not certain as to why she has decided that this battle must take place outside of the earth's atmosphere, but I suppose the lack of gravity does allow for easier maneuverability."
Space. Far from the final frontier, but a damned big one nevertheless. These are the voyages of the Underground Palace Earth Spirits. Its mission of indeterminable time. To explore strange new worlds and find them disappointing when compared to our own. To seek out new life and new civilizations and figure out how to exploit them for profit, no matter what the bosses back home say. To boldly go where no youkai has gone before, only to run crying back if it ends up being too scary.
"Captain's Log, Stardate I don't even care anymore. I am now seriously regretting letting Koishi write the intro. I dunno, it just makes us sound like a bunch of jerks. Maybe if we edited out all the sarcastic addendums it might turn into something presentable-"
The bridge of the Palace suddenly rocked violently as blaring alarms wailed. "Captain! If you're done playing with your diary, we kinda need your attention over here!"
Captain Rin Kaenbyou (Orin to everyone who knew better) glanced up. "And…I'll get back to you," she muttered at the recorder. "Orin out." She turned her attention back to the view-window. On it, a shining white spike of a tower still floated against a backdrop of star, despite their best attempts to shoot it down. "Okay, what's the situation?"
At the helm, a girl with her blond hair tied up in a bun and strange markings on her face shot Orin a dirty look. "The situation, Captain, is that we are still getting whupped eight ways to Sunday!"
Orin scowled. "What? Damn it, Yamame. I was only gone for like a minute, and now everything's gone to hell?"
"You didn't go anywhere! You just said 'Kick their asses' and started bitching at your talking chair about the intro!"
"Watch that tone, helmspider. I'm still the Captain here."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. It must be the thought of our imminent destruction while our Captain decides that opening credits needs her attention more that's causing me to forget myself."
"All right, all right. Point taken. I'm still writing you up for that, though." Orin turned to the weapons officer. "Yuugi, Yamame says we're getting our asses kicked. Why are we getting our asses kicked? We've got like missiles in twenty different flavors while all they got is that big-ass laser thing. And that takes like a full minute to charge-"
A thick green beam of energy shot out from the tower's spire to slam into the Palace. The bridge rocked once again and the lights flickered. "Shields down to sixty-nine percent!" someone shouted.
"-which it apparently just did," Orin completed. "Seriously, what gives?"
The massive one-horned youkai growled. "I'm giving it everything I've got here, but it's hard to do this with one hand."
Orin irritably eyed the dish of sake Yuugi held up with her left hand. "Then put your drink down and concentrate on not letting us get exploded!"
"But then it'll just spill everywhere! Oh, hold up. I got an idea."
Yuugi placed the dish on the tip of her horn. Miraculously, it balanced. "Okay, one massive ass-kicking coming up," she said as she devoted both hands to the battle.
"Captain, we're being hailed!"
Orin turned toward the communications array. Or rather, the large wooden bucket sitting where it would normally be. Sitting inside was a slight girl with her green hair tied into a ponytail at either side. Kisume was the Earth Spirit's communications officer. Despite having it explained to her several times, Orin had never been exactly clear how she did her job out of a wooden bucket. Curiosity had gotten the best of her at one point and she had looked inside to see for herself. All she found was the inside of a bucket.
Still, Kisume did somehow manage to get results, so without even questioning how she knew that a transmission had been received, Orin simply nodded and said, "All right. On window."
The battle was replaced with the image of a tall woman with long golden hair sitting in an elevated stone seat. "Hello again, Captain Kaenbyou. Ready to give up yet?" Legate Yukari Yakumo of the Borderland Empire said.
"Why would I want to do that?" Orin growled.
"Because if you don't, you'll be reduced to an asteroid field. A short, fat asteroid field."
"Yeah, okay. Hey, refresh my memory. Why the hell are we shooting at each other again?"
"Because, as I just pointed out, your palace is short and fat. Whereas mine is tall and lean. Is any further reason necessary?"
"I guess not," Orin admitted. "But hey, if that's the way it's gotta be, then so be it."
"Famous last words. All right, kitty-cat. I'll put a flower on your grave, if there's enough of you left to bury." She turned to someone off-window. "Blow 'em to hell."
Yukari disappeared, to be replaced with her tower in space. A moment later there was a flash of green, and the world shook.
"Shields down to forty-three percent!" Kisume cried.
"Okay, okay," Orin growled. She turned to her ever-silent but always-present first officer. "Well, Satori? Any bright ideas?"
Satori's heavy-lidded eyes turned to her. "Just the one," she said, her voice its usual monotone. "Do not pick fights over reasons as pointless as size comparisons."
"Really not helpful."
"Captain, our weapons have thus proved ineffective. Despite the incredible amount of missiles Ensign Hoshiguma has fired off, they have taken no damage. The logical explanation is that they have some sort of defensive system with capabilities far beyond what we are capable of. Furthermore, their primary weapon, despite having an impractical charge-time, is only minutes away from eliminating our shields entirely."
"I can see that. Okay, screw logic then. Any crazy ideas?"
"That unfortunately is outside of my forte."
Orin slapped the badge she wore on her breast. "Hey, Koishi! We've got a problem that needs a stupid idea. Bullshit something for me."
An irritated voice came from the other end. "Damn it, Orin! I'm a doctor, not some half-baked, drugged-out, nonsense spouting plucky comic relief!"
"Oh, whine, whine, whine. It's not like you're a real doctor anyway."
Yamame, who had been listening with half an ear, suddenly whirled around in her seat. "Wait, she's not?"
"You didn't know that?" Kisume asked her. "Her degree's totally forged! The Captain's the one who snuck her aboard."
"But I've got spinneret surgery scheduled with her for next week!"
"Great. Thanks for killing my rep, Orin," Koishi snapped.
"Your reputation can hardly take any further damage as it is," Satori said.
"Oh, piss off, you pointy-eared…Uh, sorry. I mean, piss off, you triple-eyed computer."
"I am as organic as you," Satori told her. "Furthermore, the number of eyes we each possess is identical."
"Yeah, and look how well that turned out."
"Knock it off, both of you," Orin said wearily. "Good gods, how did you guys keep from killing each other as kids?"
"With extreme difficulty," Koishi said. "And sometimes unsuccessfully."
"Yeah, I've got no doubt. All right, sorry for bothering you. Oh, and that intro thing sucks. Orin out." She turned to Satori. "Well, okay. That went-"
She stopped as the Palace once against shuddered. Once the shaking stopped and Kisume announced the current shield loss, she continued.
"-about as well as expected."
"Captain, I do not wish to rush you," Yamame called over to her. "But if we do not think of a solution soon, we're pretty much going to end up as free-floating particles."
"Yeah, okay. I went to the wrong person anyway." Orin tapped her communicator again. "Okuu! We need some help here!"
Down in the Engine Room, Head Engineer Utsuho Reiuji had her hands, wings and just about everything else full trying to keep the reactor from blowing. "I'm giving it all she's got, Captain!" she shouted. "If I push any harder this thing will blow!"
"Blow? What?" Orin said. "Okuu, you run the engine! We're not even moving, and the weapons are all self-powered!"
"But the shields aren't! And the drain is straining the core."
There was a pause, and she heard Orin mumble, "Uh, did Utsuho just correctly correct my correction?"
"Yes, Captain," Satori's voice said.
"Huh. Well, I guess there's a first time for everything. Um, Okuu?"
Utsuho considered asking her what she had just been talking about, but decided that it would probably be too confusing. "Yeah?"
"Listen, you know those incredibly crazy ideas that you come up with sometimes? The ones that make us look at your weird but we eventually end up trying anyway and are all surprised when they work?"
"Sure. But doesn't Koishi do that more?"
"Let's…not talk about Koishi right now. Can you come up with one? Like right now?"
"Right now?" Utsuho shot a dubious look over at the struggling reactor core. "I dunno. I'm kind distracted right now…"
"Great! Call me when you got one. Orin out."
Bewildered, Utsuho traded looks with her engineering crew. "A crazy idea?" she said. "How am I gonna come up with something so-"
Orin shrugged. She leaned over to Utsuho. "Just to save you some time," she murmured. "Our place would totally kick this place's ass."
"We have a lake of lava. This place has a bunch of rocks. We win."
Utsuho thought about that for a moment. Then she grinned. "Coooool…"
"The lake of lava!" Utsuho said suddenly. "That's it!"
Her entire crew looked at her if she had suddenly blown a gasket. She ignored them and tapped her communicator.
"Orin, I've got it! The lake-"
"-of lava," Orin said. "I know."
"Huh?" Utsuho blinked. "How?"
"I'm the one who told you about it, remember?"
"But…wait, that was the real-life Orin!"
"This is your weird fantasy, Okuu. Don't complain if it doesn't make sense."
Utsuho was now thoroughly confused. "Uh…"
"Anyway, how quickly can you prepare the lava shield?"
"We have a lava shield?"
"Sorry, sorry," Utsuho said quickly. "Um, real soon?"
"Great. Oh, hang on a sec…"
Orin turned to Satori. "Yeah, what's up?"
"Captain, I do not even begin to understand how you expect lava to work when their weapons are energy-based."
"Because lava is awesome. And hey, it's Utsuho's fantasy. Let her have her fun."
"If this is her fantasy, then how are we having this conversation?"
"Got me. She's a great girl, but not really all together up here," Orin said, pointing at her head and making little swirls with her finger. "But hey, we have it, so we might as well use it. "She tapped again on her communicator. "Okuu! Where's my moat?"
"We've got a problem, Captain!" Utsuho cried. All around her, fairies wearing the little blue uniforms the engineers were pushing their tiny wheelbarrows, carting bits and pieces of deceased crew members, all of which were wearing the tattered remains of the security division's red uniforms, and dumping them into the reactor. "We're running out of corpses! I don't think we have enough."
Indeed, the number of full wheelbarrows was steadily decreasing. It wouldn't be long before they started to return empty.
"Damn it," Orin cursed over the communicator. "What about the ones we were saving for Koishi's arts-and-crafts class?"
"Those were the first to go." And with good reason. Utsuho had participated in that same class that previous Monday and had attempted to make a table. No one must ever know…
"Typical," Orin muttered. "Okay, hang on."
Orin turned to the head of the security division. "Yuugi! Go find me someone expendable!"
Yuugi's eyes glazed over as she considered. And then, with a smile, they refocused. "I know just the ones."
She tapped her communicator and spoke a few short commands. Soon enough, the door slid open and in marched a squad of canine youkai, all looking very smart in their pressed red uniforms. Their leader, a lanky fellow with short, spiky blue hair and pointy dog ears, saluted.
"Reporting for duty, lieutenant," he told Yuugi, a wolfish grin on his face. "You have a mission?"
Yuugi returned the grin and waggled her eyebrows. He recognized the look on her face and his smile faltered.
The lava shield blazed to life, a sphere of liquid flame that surrounded the Earth Spirits and lit up the cold of space with its burning radiance. And not a moment too soon, as Yukari's citadel chose that moment to fire off another blast. The viridian beam shot forward, impacted against the shield and dispersed harmlessly.
"Lava shield holding, Captain!" Kisume reported happily. "We're safe!"
Orin slumped into her chair and sighed with relief. "I knew those butt-lickers would come in handy one day. All right, let's get back to blasting that thing into oblivion!"
Over at the weapons station, Yuugi cleared her throat, a deep rumbling sound. "Uh, yeah. About that, Captain…"
Orin did not like the sound of that. "What's up?"
Yuugi tapped the controls, bringing up readout that displayed the outline of the Earth Spirits. Surrounding it was a bright red circle. "While the lava shield is protecting us from their attacks, it also prevents any of our own from getting through." She tapped a button, and tiny simulated missiles shot out from the palace's outline, their paths creating trails of dotted lines. Each of them stopped upon hitting the red circle.
"Well, that ain't good," Orin muttered. "I don't suppose we-"
At that moment, Legate Yakumo's face appeared on the stained-glass viewscreen. "Oh, so clever," she hissed. "But honestly, do you truly believe such a ridiculous measure to last forever? You possibly cannot fire upon me with that thing up, so all I have to do is wait for the fuel to run out."
Orin laughed. "Don't be so sure of yourself, Legate. We've got a trick or two up our sleeves. We may surprise you yet."
"How scary. I might faint with fear. Please don't keep me waiting."
Yakumo's face winked out. Orin turned back to Yuugi. "Okey-dokey now. So, what tricks do we got up our sleeves?"
"You're asking me?" Yuugi moaned. "I thought you already had something in mind!"
"Come on, I couldn't let her think that we didn't have anything."
"But we don't have anything, that's what I've been telling you!"
"Captain, I'm afraid that Ensign Hoshiguma is correct," Satori cut in. "None of our weapons possess the capability to bypass the lava shield without compromising its integrity, and even if we did, we still have no means of penetrating their defenses."
Orin pondered this. "Well, okay. So maybe this was a stupid fight anyway. Why don't we just get out of here?"
"All available power is currently being diverted to power the lava shield. Fleeing will require we make ourselves vulnerable to attack, and with our primary shields in their current state, I doubt we will have sufficient time to enter warp."
"Damn," Orin muttered. "All right. Can we use our breathing room to get the primary shields up and running again?"
It was Kisume that answered. "Given the pounding they've taken, it'll require the better part of an hour to repair the generator. The lava shield is probably only good for fifteen minutes."
"Indeed," Satori said. "I'm afraid we have only bought ourselves a few extra minutes to, as you put it, come up with a 'bullshit plan'."
"Well, that's nothing new," Orin muttered. "Alrighty then. So, we're stuck here for fifteen minutes, after which we get blown to bits. We've got one shield that's almost gone and another that won't let our weapons through. So, what we need is something tough enough to pass through the lava shield and breach their defenses."
"I regret to report that we have nothing with those capabilities," Satori said, her hands clasped behind her back. "Logically, anything short of an oni's strength would be insufficient to-"
She stopped talking when she saw the look on Orin's face and heard the thoughts in her mind. She glanced at Yuugi, who was grinning in joy.
"Fascinating," she said. Then, after a brief pause, "Not to mention completely insane. The required timing alone has a success chance of-"
"Some astronomically huge number to one, I know," Orin said, grinning from ears to ears. "Does it ever matter?"
Satori took a few moments to consider before answering. "No, Captain, indeed it never does."
"Exactly. And hey, that's exactly the sort of bullshit idea we needed." She clapped Satori on the shoulder. "You're better at this than you think!"
"That was rude and unnecessary, Captain."
Orin shrugged. You couldn't please everybody. "Whatever. All right, we only have a few minutes to get this done. Yuugi, get yourself down to the Weapons Bay and load yourself into a missile pod. Kisume? Raise the Transporter Room and tell Parsee to get ready to pull off a miracle."
"A miracle, she calls it," Lieutenant Parsee Mizuhashi muttered as she tapped at the transporter controls. "A miracle. More like…like…something that's completely impossible but she wants me to do anyway!"
Her assistant, a blue-eyed fairy, said, "Isn't that exactly what a miracle is?"
"Shut up. And it doesn't make it any less impossible. I mean, what do I look like, a goddess?"
Before an answer could be produced, Parsee plowed forward. "No, I do not! And I wouldn't hold out for any of them being able to pull this off either."
"And while I'm at it, why do I get stuck manning the stupid transporter anyway? I should be the one playing the First Mate! I'm the only one who has the ears for it, after all."
"But no. Satori gets it because she's the cool and logical one with the psychic powers. Does that sound fair to you?"
"And while we're on it, did you know that this is the first time I've been so much as mentioned in the two years this story's been running. And it's just in a non-canon spinoff! I'm one of the most popular characters from Subterranean Animism and I haven't gotten so much as a cameo in the main story!"
"Neither have the Aki sisters," her assistant pointed out.
Parsee glowered at her. "Yeah, but who cares about them? Is anyone so devoted to Minoriko or Shizua that they're just itching for them to make an appearance? No! I'm probably the most requested character, and yet I never get any scenes! Does that sound fair to you?"
"All right," Satori said, jerking Utsuho out of her daydream. "I truly hate to interrupt, but…what in the world was that?"
Utsuho blinked. "I, uh, don't really know," she admitted. "Wow. That went to some…weird places."
"I do not rush to disagree," Satori said, staring at her pet without something resembling amazement. "Yours is quite the fascinating mind."
"Thanks!" Utsuho grinned. Then she sat back into the uncomfortable chair and returned to the battle.
Tension sat thick upon the bridge. Orin was hunched forward in her chair, unblinking eyes focused on the viewscreen. Kisume sat silent in her bucket, monitoring the palace's heartbeat, ready to report any sudden changes. Yamame remained focused on keeping the Earth Spirits steady, as even the smallest deviations could spell disaster. Even Satori seemed nervous. At least, her hands were clasped a bit more tightly behind her back.
Over at Yuugi's normal place at the weapons array, Koishi said, "Can I take this moment to point out how this is in no way part of my-"
"No," Orin said, not taking her eyes off the image of Yukari's citadel.
"Shut up, Koishi."
"Captain!" Kisume said suddenly. "Five minutes to shield loss!"
Orin nodded once. It was now or never. "All right," she said to Koishi. "Fire in the hole!"
Koishi grimaced. "Oh, this so violates the Hippocratic oath," she muttered, but she fired anyway.
Out of the foremost missile turret shot Yuugi Hoshiguma. The massive oni soared through space with one clenched fist sticking straight forward, the other holding onto her dish of sake.
"Tally ho!" they heard her cry over the intercom as she sailed toward the lava shield. Everyone winced as she collided with the field of liquid flame, but she punched right through and kept going.
Suddenly Yamame screamed, "Captain! They're-"
"I see it!" Orin said. On the viewscreen, the tip of the citadel was lighting up, preparing for a blast. "Yuugi, watch out! They see you coming!"
The viridian beam shot forward to disintegrate the flying oni. Yuugi simply drew her fist back and threw it forward to meet the beam. Fist and laser met with such force that a green shockwave reverberated outward from the point of impact and causing so much interference that the viewscreen filled with static.
Everyone held their breath as the image of a charbroiled oni spinning through space filled their minds. However, when the static cleared, they saw, to their delight, that Yuugi had been victorious. The beam had been knocked back to its source. The tip of the citadel glowed bright green for a second, and then exploded, sending flaming bits shooting off in every direction.
As for Yuugi herself, she didn't even slow down, but continued forward along her trajectory straight at the citadel's center.
"MEGA!" she roared as she approached. Everyone flinched at the battlecry and covered their ears. "TON! PUUUUUUUUUNCH!"
With that, she reached the citadel and slammed her fist into the citadel's side.
It worked. Whatever advanced defenses had protected the citadel from their missiles, it was woefully unprepared against the full strength of an angry oni shooting toward it at breakneck speed. The force of her punch shattered the smooth stone, sending cracks straight through its skinny body and snapped it in half. The two broken pieces spun off into space and, though they couldn't be sure, they were reasonably certain that they could hear someone screaming in rage from the topmost half.
As for Yuugi, she kept right on going.
Snapping out of her reverie, Orin tapped her communicator. "Parsee!" she cried. "Now!"
"'Now', she says," Parsee muttered to herself as she watched Yuugi's path. "Like it's as easy as pushing a button."
Her assistant spoke up. "But it is as-"
"Quiet, I'm concentrating."
She chose a point along Yuugi's trajectory, waited with her finger hovering over the controls, and, a split second before Yuugi reached the point, pushed the button.
Sparkling lights filled the transporter. Parsee held her breath. Had she done it? Had she managed to snatch Yuugi out of the depths of space? Or had she missed and therefore doomed her fellow officer to an eternal ride through the black?
But then the lights cleared away, and Yuugi stood full in person on the transporter.
The oni was shivering violently. Her entire body was covered with frost, except for her right fist, which was badly burned from fire and laser alike. But her smile of triumph was glowing for all to see.
She held up her left hand. In it was her dish of sake.
Yuugi whispered through blue lips, "Not…even…drop…"
With that, her legs gave way and she fell onto her back and started snoring. Her left hand remained high in the air, holding the dish aloft.
Captain's log. Having defeated a deadly enemy through a clever use of fire and fists, we must now bear the lessons we have learned. Firstly, short and fat buildings are superior to tall and lean ones, though trying to kill each other over this point is kind of stupid. Second, fields of fire are awesome. Third, there truly is no problem that can't be solved by hitting it really hard. Fourth, breaking the fourth wall is best left to the professionals. And perhaps most important, I'm never letting Koishi write the intro again. I'm doing the next one. If nothing else, it'll make us look less like pirates. Orin out.
"Well, that was entertaining," Satori said to Utsuho. "Bizarre, silly, and in violation of everything even resembling sense. But entertaining nevertheless."
"Hey!" Utsuho said, beaming. "Thanks!"
"There is one detail I find perplexing, however, something your thoughts failed to explain."
"Look, I don't know where Parsee's weird speech came from," Utsuho said quickly. "It just sort of showed up!"
"I was not referring to that; though, yes, that was odd. No, I was wondering why it was that Orin was placed in the position of Captain whereas I was relegated to the role of First Mate. I am the master of the Palace of Earth Spirits, after all."
"Oh, that's easy," Utsuho said with a dismissed wave of her hand. "It's to fulfill the necessary parts of a heroic trio. See, on one side, you have you, someone representing cold logic and reason, the one that always suggests doing the smart thing and working towards the greater good. And on the other, you have Koishi, the emotional one who listens to her heart and suggests doing the immediate good, long-term consequences be darned. And then you have Orin, the one in the middle, who listens to the other two argue before coming up with a plan that's both logical and moral which saves everyone…Uh, why are you guys staring at me like that?"
Orin and Satori, who were making no attempt to hide the wonder and amazement on their faces, exchanged a look. "I…wow," Orin said. "Utsuho, you are full of surprises."
"What?" Utsuho said in confusion. "Did I say something wrong?"
Orin grinned. "Nope. Just…surprising."
"Of that there is no doubt," Satori murmured. "However, I should point out that nothing about that final solution possessed anything resembling logic or morality."
"Maybe not," Utsuho admitted. "But it was cool!"
"What was?" Orin asked. "Come on, how'd we win?"
As Utsuho excitedly explained how victory over Yukari's citadel was won, Satori settled back into her seat and sighed. The mind of Utsuho was truly a strange and wonderful place, even if it rarely made sense. She could only hope that the battle before them would be won with something so simple as launching an oni out of a cannon. Highly unlikely, but still, she could dream.
Okay, that was...interesting. I probably had way too much fun with that. Just note that this was all for fun, and shouldn't be taken seriously. At all.
Live long and prosper, everyone!