The mansion's double doors burst open, like a voracious monster spreading its jaws to feed.
"Great," Elly mumbled. She rolled over and rubbed her head. "NOW you've done it."
"Are you still here?!" Mokou said, but relaxed. A dim sense of foreboding permeated the Dream World. Mokou glared into the mansion's monstrous throat. Whatever lurked in there must be worse than an attention-deprived child with a boomerang-scythe.
"Has your mistress been summoned?" Kaguya asked Elly. The princess shuffled to stand beside Mokou, but with her chin pointed up to make her look taller and more of a stuffy snob.
Elly shot an odd look at Kaguya. "You don't get it, do you. I didn't call her. Nobody 'calls' Yuuka. She goes where she wants, where she feels she's needed. Don't ask me how that works. I just answer the door."
"I see," Kaguya murmured. But no one could possibly see into the churning darkness beyond the exquisitely engraved doorway. Life-sized B=black rose vines twined about the portal, beyond which lay darkness deeper than the void that filled the sky.
Mokou ground her teeth, bit her nails, chewed her tongue. She could really use a nicotine fix.
Then, in that dark doorway, a blob of brightness loomed and bloomed. A lily-white parasol, made of giant living flower petals, shone with faint light. And under it...
A grinning green-haired youkai, eyes glittering with the wisdom of millennia. Many millennia of blood and torment.
"Mistress!" Elly cried. Scrambling to her feet, she broke away from Mokou to stand at her mistress's side—or, as Mokou saw it, hide behind her skirts.
"Yuuka Kazami," said Kaguya, "what a wonderful pleasure to see you."
"Who's this creep again?" Mokou muttered; Kaguya shushed her.
Yuuka twirled her flower-petal parasol, tittering. "Visitors!" she exclaimed exuberantly. Then a harsh aside: "You should have told me we had guests, Elly."
Elly began, "Didn't want to upset y—" but finished, "Shorry, marshter, shupposhe I washn't shinking," due to Yuuka pinching her cheeks.
Yuuka beamed. "How true." Striding down the steps with florid grace, she turned her terrifying friendliness on her most unwelcome guests. "Trespassing upon my private residence, harassing my staff. Who do you think you are?"
Kaguya extended her arms in a gesture of formal complicity. "We are—"
Mokou raised a hand to interrupt; Kaguya scowled. "I'll do the intros this time. You always get to." Whether out of apathy or morbid curiosity, Kaguya let her.
"I'm Fujiwara no Mokou—'sup—and that's Kaguya Houraisen, lunatic princess and unofficial president of the Closeted Sadists Society. Please welcome her, all the way from the faraway castle of Annoyingly Fake Innocence. Me, I'm just here. Believe it or not, 'cause I'm not so sure I do, to get here we drowned in a lake of blood we fell in through a door in a basement. And one more thing: I'd skin you alive with my teeth for a pinch of tobacco. How's that?"
Kaguya nodded, suitably impressed.
Yuuka laughed haughtily, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. "Well, what characters!" She smiled at Elly. "Kill them."
Mokou protested, "Now wait just a—"
But the scythe was already in the air.
Actually, the spinning blade-on-a-stick glanced off the Hakurei Yin-Yang Orbs, careered past Mokou (she calmly sidestepped), and skittered into the shadows.
Kaguya returned Yuuka's detestable smile.
"Like I said, I already tried that," Elly said. Not that anybody was listening.
Yuuka giggled. "So," she said, "you're not so weak as to be deterred by my puny gatekeeper."
Hurt flickered on Elly's face, mingled with grudging agreement. Sighing, she snatched up her scythe as it whirled back to her.
"I suppose," Yuuka said, "I'll have to send you away myself."
"We seek no quarrel with your ladyship!" Kaguya said quickly. "In truth, we seek out Mi—"
"Stuff it," Mokou said. "You say that every time. Won't work here either."
As Elly gave a wide berth, Yuuka tossed aside her parasol. It wilted instantly.
There rose a stirring from the gardens that lined the mansion.
"Forget what I said before," Elly said, her smile smug and ugly. "NOW you're in for it."
She was right.
Vines erupted from the flowerbeds, spraying topsoil. Woody stems—growing, groaning, groping—burst from the earth and lunged at Mokou and Kaguya.
"Wow," Kaguya said, though she didn't sound too impressed, "what incredible turgor pressure it must take to—"
"Get your head in the game, princess!" Mokou snapped.
Instinctively, Mokou torched the vengeful vegetation with a blast of flames. The nearest withered, but the rest kept crawling, an inexorable rush of roots and vines. Mokou took a step back—"They won't burn!" Then it struck her: Duh. Wet wood doesn't burn, moron. Scowling, she retreated another step. The plants were gaining ground.
A smirk curled up Yuuka's face. Elly attempted to imitate it.
"Hold on," said Kaguya, interrupting Mokou's fizzling blaze, "I can slow them." At her behest, time thickened around the vines, congealing like old blood. The writhing vines slowed, crawling like sluggish snakes, and finally froze. Finally.
"Nice," Mokou said—possibly the first and last compliment she'd give Kaguya. Then she toasted the creepers in a fiery inferno. The smoke stank of rank plants and boiled sap.
Something about the sight of flames devouring her enemies made Mokou want to laugh. She resisted the temptation. "Burn, burn," she crooned, and the fire obeyed. It gobbled the plants, its orange orange tongues sucking dry the stems then licking the husks till they curled, blackened, crumbled to dust. Fire was beautiful.
A woody tentacle wrapped around Mokou's ankle.
She started. The plants had crept on her! From behind—?
"Sorry," Kaguya said, rubbing her temples. "I...can't concentrate...on ALL of them!"
"Oh, that so?" Mokou said, wriggling and kicking against the encroaching vines. "Well, that's just—"
A branch slithered over her mouth, gagging her. Screaming obscenities, Mokou fought and bit but only filled her mouth with bark bits and sticky sap. Mokou focused fire in her hands, to no avail—the vines oozed slime that snuffed her flames.
While Mokou struggled, Kaguya retreated from the advancing plants. She beat them back with energy bullets, pounded them with the Yin-Yang Orbs until the vines were crushed to mush. But more sprang to take their place. Eventually Kaguya succumbed. The vines snagged her ankle and strung her up like a rabbit caught in a trap. She squealed—her kimono skirt flew up, flashing her flailing white legs.
Mokou would have sniggered, if the vines weren't constricting her breathing.
They wrapped around her chest, overlapping and interlacing, sliding and gliding, sliming her bare belly. Her arms and legs were bound tight. Bones cracked—ribs, spine. She was sure she'd died several times. She knew not to ask how things could get worse, because they did. A stray vine crawled up her pant leg. Others followed. The woody stems poked, prodded, probed. Rough bark scraping her skin, they explored her heels, her calves, her thighs...
While Yuuka watched.
Mokou gritted her teeth.
Well...this sucks. How did I get into this mess? Let's take a look. I went from carousing with my immortal enemy, to getting violated by trees. And still utterly unable to kill myself. Joy. Now what? Wait and see what that sick bitch down there is gonna do next. Test the limits of our immortality, oh boy here we go again. Flay us? Chop us up? Feed us to her pet plants? Dull, done it all before. Feed us to each other? Ugh, haven't tried that yet, not looking forward to it. Look at her, standing and gawking, as she makes up her mind how to torture us. Here I am, strung up like a dancing meat puppet, providing nightmarish horrors for a lonely old lady who will undoubtedly pleasure herself over them later. Or, better yet, get that smarmy ass-kisser to do it for her. Ugh. That's it. I've had it: no more questing for me. First chance I get, it's back to the woods. Soon as I...
"Mokou," mumbled the upside-down bundle once known as Kaguya, "mm..."
Mokou rolled her eyes.
Shut up. Just shut up.
Kaguya screamed and struggled, surprisingly unladylike. Mokou couldn't turn her head to see what was happening, but she could guess, and was quite pleased to do so. As for Mokou, in shame and suffering she retained her stubborn inborn dignity, something Kaguya had faked her entire life.
But they both had bigger things to worry about.
Yuuka was growing bored.
Nodding off, the guard now snapped to attention. "Yes boss?"
"What should I do with these...vagrants?" Yuuka tapped her chin thoughtfully.
Elly's forehead crinkled. "Them? Oh, uh...I dunno. Flay 'em, I guess? Chop 'em up? Ooh, I know! Or maybe you could feed 'em to the plants!"
Yuuka laughed and tousled Elly's hair. "Such a small imagination. You're so cute." She turned to the ensnared Mokou and Kaguya. "Oh vagrants, can you hear me? Scream if you can hear me." There came a short shriek from Mokou's right, but nothing more. It made Yuuka laugh.
"Scream all you like, it's not like I can hear you anyway. Anyway...I've picked a fitting punishment for you. Isn't that exciting? Are you ready? Get ready." She cleared her throat. "You'll be chopped into pieces, chewed thoroughly, and swallowed by my Giant Pitcher Plants, in which you'll be slowly digested over a thousand years." She grinned. "Sounds fantastic, right? Scream if you agree." Another silent scream. "Just kidding," she said sweetly.
Yuuka sighed and stretched. "Pity we can't play longer. The gardenias need pruning, and frankly, I'm tired from all this playing with new toys."
Out of the carpet of vines that writhed on the black ground, there sprang sunflowers whose heads swelled to the size of houses. The stems bowed under the weight of the flowers. Bent toward Mokou. Close enough for her to see the teeth sprouting from their heads, the rows and rings of jagged gnashing razor-sharp fangs. Next, the pitcher plants—hideous bulging sacs burst from the earth, belching the stench of sickly-sweet syrup and digestive fluids. Weak acids. All the better to savor the slow, slow pain.
Mokou wriggled, pushing herself up over the root that smothered her mouth. She gasped a breath. "You don't scare me," she snapped, voice even as she could manage. In response, the fanged flowers hissed at her.
"I cannot kill you," Yuuka said, "but I can do worse. Leave you alive, clinging on the cusp of consciousness, your brain dying and reviving every instant. Every instant, dying and reviving. For the rest of time."
Mokou spat. She was ready for the end.
Then she saw it: a glint, the sheen of a blade in the dark. Behind Yuuka and Elly, a human shape materialized out of shadows. A person, a passenger from a portal to yet another world. It looked at her, knowingly.
Mokou's eyes widened.
Skirts swirling, the shadow slipped behind Yuuka.
Yuuka misread the wonder on her face as fear. "What? Don't tell me, after all your years..."
The blade raised...
"...you're still afraid of death?"
Swung. And missed.
Yuuka dodged, immediately producing another flower-petal parasol, which she pointed it at her assailant. Spikes and spines sprouted from the spokes, dripping venom.
"Why hello," Yuuka said, with poisonous pleasantness. "Didn't catch your name on the way in. No, no—don't speak. I refuse to duel or deal with clumsy assassins." She rested a hand on Elly and shoved HER toward the shadowy figure. "Good luck, Elly."
Elly stumbled toward her opponent, but quickly braced herself. She put on a fierce battle snarl. "Back off, bitch! I have a scythe, and I know how to use it!"
There was a strange strained silence.
"A scythe?" The shadow chuckled. "You call that THING...a scythe?"
There was a swish. The crescent blade of Elly's scythe dropped off—the stick shivered into splinters. The head fell with a plunk.
The other scythe was larger and longer, livelier and lovelier. It gleamed with dark light. "Honestly," the shadow sighed, "posers like you make my job much more difficult than it needs to be."
She slashed again. Elly cringed...but the target wasn't her.
Mokou felt the tangle of plants around her stop and stiffen. They clung to her frame, dry and brown and withered. She grinned. "Finally." Mokou ripped free of her brittle bonds and doused the vicious vegetation with a dose of fiery blaze.
Yuuka's green minions burned magnificently: pitcher plants deflating, sunflowers drooping, all things clenching, blackening. The sight made Mokou smile.
The sound made Mokou smile more.
"At least wait until I'm out, idiot!"
Kaguya crawled from the bonfire, somewhat singed and majorly mussed, and stalked toward Mokou, fuming. "Listen, you insolent..." Suddenly she froze, forgetting her rage. She pointed past Mokou. "Who is THAT?"
The fire cast dim glow on their savior: a tall girl sporting majestic magenta ponytails, with a bright blue dress and a wicked scythe. Her gaze was like a fresh corpse, dead but still warm. "Komachi Onozuka, ferryman of the river of the dead," she said with a bow, "at your service."
Kaguya Houraisen and Fujiwara no Mokou, two immortals in the presence of a reaper, clung to one another like terrified children.
"A r-r-reaper!" Kaguya cried.
"S-s-stay calm!" Mokou said, smiling shakily, since she was shaking worse.
Komachi smiled back. "No, no, no. I'm not exactly a reaper—I get that all the time. Think of me as a posthumous taxi service." She sized up the duo, both so dirty and disheveled and determined to avoid eye contact. "So you're the two true immortals. Glad to meet you. I thought I'd never get to."
Yuuka tapped her foot expectantly. Elly hovered uncertainly.
"I'm getting to you," Komachi said, pointing with her scythe. She glanced back at Mokou and Kaguya. "You must be wondering how I found you. The truth's quite boring, as it often can be. Yesterday morning I collected the samurai. Out of curiosity, I tracked her killers to the ruins of Scarlet Devil Mansion, where I put that poor vampire out of her misery. It was nearly sunset." She motioned behind her. "I'm here to get you out of here. Go, now. I've left the portal open. Don't worry, I won't be long. I'll take care of HER—you go on ahead."
"You have our undying gratitude," Kaguya said breathlessly, collecting herself and cheerfully edging away. "Now if you will excuse us we must be—"
"Hell no." Mokou hooked her arm in Kaguya's elbow and yanked the princess close. She glared at Komachi. "We're staying. It's stupid to have you clean up our mess."
Komachi paused, but shrugged. "Whatever. Suit yourself." She turned to Yuuka. "How do you like that? Almost a fair fight: three against two. Well, one and a half." Elly quavered.
Yuuka chuckled. "So it is. I'm afraid I'll have to pass." She raised her hands and hung her head. "You got me. I give up. Do whatever you want to the girl—" she nudged Elly—"but leave me alone."
"Don't think you'll get off that easily," Mokou growled. "YOU attacked US! What the hell kind of a greeting is that?"
Yuuka shrugged, somehow supercilious even in surrender. "It's my property. I can and will do as I please." She indulged in a horrid grin. "And I like to tease."
"Tease?" Mokou cried. "You sick sadistic witch! Remind me again what part was teasing, the chopping to bits or the digesting for a thousand years!"
"You forgot the chewing."
"STOP," Komachi boomed. And at the voice of the reaper, they did. Now that she had an attentive audience, Komachi could relax; she leaned her scythe back on her shoulder. "I hate to admit it, but she's right. This IS her property. Her house, her rules. No matter how stupid."
"Of course," Kaguya said quickly. She tugged on her arm, but Mokou held fast. "Good thing we were just leaving."
"Of course," Yuuka repeated, smile broadening. "Don't let us detain you." For one last spiteful bite, she added, "Besides, I haven't even heard of this Mima. Whoever she is, she can't reach me here. Not here, not ever."
"I never told you her name," Mokou growled.
Yuuka looked unbothered. "Oh, was that it? Lucky guess."
Mokou clenched her fists, till her nails dug into her palms. Yuuka knew more than she told. However, Mokou knew she must resist the urge to roast this twisted flower girl alive.
Komachi sidled to stand between the immortals. "Come with me," she said, beckoning. "Grab hold." As Mokou and Kaguya reluctantly pinched the reaper's sleeves, Komachi slashed a bleeding red gash in space and time. She hauled them inside.
Yuuka waved farewell; Elly mimicked her mistress down to the lurid leer.
Limbo space swallowed the three travelers—red, red, red everywhere. It hurt the eyes to stare too long.
"All right," Komachi said, unflinching, "where do we go from here?"
"Home," Mokou said immediately. "Away from all this excitement and adventure. It's horrible. I want my life back."
"No." Kaguya pulled on the reaper's sleeve. "No, we cannot go back, not now. Mokou, how can you be so careless? Soon there will no longer be a place to go back to!"
"Not my problem," said Mokou.
"The world will be annihilated!"
"Then I don't want to know about it. That way I won't have wasted my last hours stressing about something I can't be bothered to stop."
"You have a DUTY to Gensokyo!"
"I have a shady spot by a stream. Your move."
With a cry of frustration, Komachi slammed their heads together. Mokou and Kaguya staggered, dazed. "IF YOU CAN'T CHOOSE," Komachi roared, in her booming reaper-voice, "I'LL DO IT FOR YOU, AND YOU WON'T LIKE IT!"
Suddenly they were pale and timorous. Looking at their ridiculous faces, Komachi broke down and laughed. When she'd gotten her breath back, she said, "All right, we'll go to hell."
They must have gone pale again—she spluttered into more laughter.
Kaguya mumbled, "That was...where we were...planning to go in the first place."
"Yeah," Mokou muttered, "the vampire said..."
"Aha!" Komachi scratched the nape of her neck with the tip of the scythe. "She told you that THIS was a portal to hell?" The immortals nodded glumly; the reaper laughed again.
"It's not, you might have guessed," she said. "She might have thought it would be, for you. Yuuka's famous for her nasty breed of hospitality. Looks like Kurumi lied to you through her big pointy teeth." A grim grin split Komachi's face. "How would you like to see the real hell?"
The immortals paused. Komachi added, "It's on the way to Mima's."
Mokou looked at Kaguya, and Kaguya at Mokou. They both looked at Komachi.
"We'd like to go ho—"
"Take us to Mima," Kaguya finished, faster than Mokou. "We have a score to settle."
While Mokou raged at Kaguya, Komachi scratched her head. "You sure? The way I know isn't easy, otherwise you wouldn't be the only ones there, trust me."
"We do trust you," Kaguya said, which incited more baffled babbling from Mokou. "That's why you're going to take us there."
Komachi laughed once again. "Right this way."
With a swing of her scythe, she sliced another gash in time and space, then stood aside to let the others enter first.
And so the immortals passed into the land of the damned, with the ferryman of the dead following close behind.
A/N: Whoa, Evil Dead moment.
One long, weird chapter later, they're finally on their merry way to hell! Glorious.
Next chapter: Discover the ultimate secret of Gensokyo, even if like our intrepid heroines you really would rather not...