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[X] decided to fight her.
Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. As they’d acknowledged earlier, the two had very little reason to meet.
“Alright Reimu,” he answered with a bit of a smile, “I’ll take you on.”
“Alriiight,” she drawled. She seemed pleased. “Let’s lay some ground rules then.”
Reimu put her hand behind herself and pushed up to stand, stretching once she had and then warming her fingers. “Two things first,” she began, patting through her clothes in search of something. “One: I don’t want you to use any spells you think are ‘special’ or ‘strong’. I want to see your average, not exceptional.”
Not finding what she was looking for, she retreated into her home. Gen craned his neck to see that she was heading into some other room, and after he heard her rummaging through something. “Two!” came a sudden shout from within that made him bring up his shoulder, “We’ll fight twice! We’ll use the spell card rules first, then we’ll fight without them! After all, you probably get less chances dueling than you do without rules. The first rule won’t apply to our second fight, of course. Don’t hold anything back, okay?” Reimu walked back out with a simple rod-and-paper gohei and nearly tripped, sending the lines of white diamond cutouts attached to the stick’s top wildly over her head. She was superbly demonstrating an air of dual preparedness and inebriation. With balance regained, she touched her fingers to her forehead and breathed out “Fuu...” before looking at him through bleary eyes and showing a cat-like smile. Well, this was what he’d signed up for.
At any rate, the lush was correct. While he tried to avoid places where he knew particularly dangerous and/or strong youkai liked to lurk, he still regularly had to fight youkai. At this point it wasn’t like every battle paralyzed him with fear, but they were indeed fights with no holds barred, so in the (generally unlikely) case he lost against a weak youkai, that person or monster would (most likely) eat him then and there. And, of course, in the case he had to fight something even approaching Yuuka or the ship-killer’s strength, even now... Ordinarily, wouldn’t he just die? More practice to avoid a grim fate was appreciated.
So he was fine with these ground rules. They’d be a good measure of his abilities. Or they’d be... a measure. Rough, but probably worthwhile measure? Reimu was absolutely not fine on her feet at the moment, and he could already picture her wavering in the sky. He’d still lose to her without a doubt, but these were surely not the ideal conditions for a fight.
“Oh, and uuhm, some advice, a suggestion,” Reimu raised a finger and eyebrow as she spoke, taking a quizzical posture, “a request, an order. This is an order.”
Reimu, who stepped off the ground, began floating.
She brought her gaze to his and commanded, “Don’t think you’ll lose to me.”
Gen started to lift himself, the hairs of his neck prickling to the sense of approaching battle, and voiced his confusion with a “Huh?”
[ ♫: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9XG8bWAo2A ]
“Don’t think about losing. Do you think about losing when your life is on the line? Do you fight against death thinking that death is going to take you? Even if you will lose to me, come at me like you’ll win.”
She continued, not allowing him a breath: “You have a face like you want to lose... Learning from your mistakes? Experience from failure...? Loser talk! You shouldn’t want to fail at all! If you want to win, think about winning! Look! Toward victory! Then it won’t be a dream!”
Shouting now she readied a sheaf of seals grasped from her sleeve, and he rushed to his feet. “That’s my advice and my order, Gen!” she declared. “Now, move!”
He’d gone colder than the air, and when he leapt backward to crash into the snow of the yard the sensation was nearly warm. Out the shrine came a torrent of paper, and soon Reimu gently followed it. Though she swayed in the sky freely and wore a satisfied expression, the drunken shrine maiden looked to be taking on the library’s apprentice with all gravity.
Marisa woke up.
“Hunh? Whuh?” she mumbled, looking up to see a pair of bloomers and legs. “Hah? Uh, Reimu?” she asked, moving onto her elbows.
“If you’re gonna sleep, do it inside,” advised the shrine maiden to the magician under her.
“What’s goin’ on? You’re fighting?”
“I’m teaching Gen two lessons.”
Marisa’s expression was grave, and her answer of: “That’s somethin’, comin’ from a girl who’s never even had one,” was serious.
“Quiet,” answered the red and white girl, lifting more seals. Gen, watching, took to the skies. Reimu followed after him, and Marisa wrapped herself in her blanket, transfixed.
As Gen ascended, Reimu wasted no time tossing the charms that were her ammunition. He moved in reverse, teeth grit while he avoided the shockingly fast projectiles. They screamed past his chest, through his legs, and he spun to have them miss his coat, but there didn’t seem to be a pattern to this, which had him perplexed. Certainly in spell card duels there were periods of play without any cards at all, but even those in-between rounds were marked by true and pretty danmaku. Reimu seemed to be coming at him like this wasn’t a match, but a hunt.
Eventually he bent his neck out the way of one final seal, and saw that Reimu had stopped. She simply stared at him with her warm eyes and face, and though he didn’t get why he decided not to bother doing so and reached for one of his grimoires. At this moment, another slip of paper flashed forward by his right ear.
His entire body reacted in surprise, and he turned to see that behind him Reimu had walled the sky in seals. More red, more white, stretching out as his sight seemed to allow. Then, it all came after him, while Reimu shot more to replace it.
Thus he was forced to dodge both an avalanche of talismans and a constant volley of them from either front or back, depending on where he faced. He moved horizontally, forcing his body to turn and dive and rise and stop in avoidance, and he immediately realized he had never moved liked this before. He sobered up.
Gen didn’t bother shooting. He genuinely needed to aim all his effort at keeping “alive”. When Reimu noticed that, she grew irritated and yelled, “Shoot, you moron!”
“With you, everything’s ‘easier said than done’, huh?” he growled, releasing a tome from his belt. He bid it follow him, and breathed, ready to speak the words for his countering magic.
Whether it was affinity or that he’d simply gotten used to it by now, he truly felt comfortable casting from light. He could speak the praises of variety all he wanted, but if Itou Gen was ever pushed into a corner, sun or moonlight was soon to follow. He hoped to one day not slip into a habit so readily, but that day was not today. At any rate the Sun and the Moon were almost always available, so he almost couldn’t resist. Without a second thought, he called to the cosmos above and sent its rays at his opponent.
Reimu was, again, right. Danmaku play wasn’t only about dodging (outside of specific circumstance), so he couldn’t neglect firing back, even at the cost of his concentration of movement. At least he’d learned that, when focusing both, generally speaking one’s counterattack would be honed for further damage. Not that he’d drag himself carefully now. Not when he needed the speed.
He crossed left and right several times and very quickly, dowsing Reimu in sunlight whenever he passed her, but his delay and technique left him without enough time. He ran the round to its limit, and with a frown Reimu lifted her first spell card.
“Pretty pathetic,” she noted, and she said the card’s name, “Dream Sign 'Evil-Sealing Circle'!”
That’s the one she parodied with Marisa, right?
When she’d “done” it earlier, she’d thrown only a single “bullet”. He had to imagine the true spell wasn’t like that. And, it truly wasn’t.
After her card dispersed into light, talismans began to flood out of her clothing in eight directions, cardinal and ordinal with her body as the compass pivot. It quickly appeared that every envelope she sent out was in fact a packet of many: after a short distance they divided and fanned, and as always in these fights “bullets” fast replaced the air. The idea here reminded him of Alice’s “Benevolent French Dolls”, but the execution couldn’t have been more different.
Although Reimu directed nothing at Gen and indeed seemed to not be thinking about shooting at all, the “Evil-Sealing Circle” was undoubtedly an organized pain (unlike Alice’s spell, which consisted of unorganized splashes of colors). Paper lattices crossed into a locking cage, forbidding any large movements. As he flew in place between them, drifting laterally as the cage would allow, looking on he got an impression to which nothing could be compared. Seeing these shrine maiden-colored chains surrounding everything, binding him on all sides, running overhead and underfoot, and the shrine maiden herself in the center... he thought it was no wonder she was commonly called “red-white”. He’d only see these colors for a while.
Just when he was becoming used to grazing the envelopes marked as though they were full of money (with “ooiri bukuro”; what on earth was that about?), Reimu swung her gohei. When she brought it down before her, she cast rings of pearls from her spirit, six around her, in rapid succession. The speed of their approach made him nearly back into a paper wall, but they didn’t actually reach for him. Instead Reimu lifted her gohei once they had stopped an appreciable distance away from her, and the white orbs became red spades.
“Aaagh...” Gen moaned as his expression melted into one of agony and his eyes glazed over. “Miss Reimu... are these the only colors you know?”
“Quit whining!” she yelled, still swinging her gohei and casting pearls.
It’s definitely amazing, but my poor eyes... he thought.
He squinted his way through her spell card. While this was a claustrophobic, commanding spell from the child, it was also fair. It certainly stole all his attention, and it was giving him a headache, but he could capture it, and after a measured struggle, he did.
“My turn, right?” he asked.
“You don’t need to ask,” she answered.
“How obnoxious should I make my card?” he wondered aloud.
“Make it as obnoxious as you want, it won’t make any difference.” Her reply was blunt.
This brat... I mean, she’s probably right, but—ah, oh yeah!
Think to win.
He decided to mimic his master.
Patchouli had a magic inspired by the light filtered between branches that he liked for many reasons. It was a little difficult for him, but would still fall within Reimu’s limitations. First he would summon wood, then he would once more call on the Sun.
He removed another book from his belt (that flew above his right shoulder, opposing the one above his left) and began invoking the elements. From the right book, thin branches shot out toward Reimu and spread throughout the sky. From the branches, leaves sprouted and began to fall. The shrine maiden looked on curiously as the leaves slowly drifted toward her, expecting more. And, more soon came. Gen’s left book began to channel the sky, and fired light at the “wood” danmaku. When magic met magic, sunlight scattered in all directions. As his Master intended, it looked like the scene of a forest in summer. Once the wood and light had gone, he got into a pattern of doing this repeatedly, and earnestly tried to take Reimu down.
Reimu, with her hands at her hips as she nonchalantly moved through the bullet curtain, revealed a smirk when a ray passed by her eyes. “Hmph, I like it,” she affirmed. “Patchouli’s?” After asking, she started to aim offensive energy at him. As in, it found him, not that she directed it herself (she wasn’t even paying attention, in fact). He didn’t know counterattacks could do that...
With pale red square spirit slapping his cheek, as he was squinting, wincing, he answered, “Yes, it’s Master’s.”
“Can you do it easier or better with ingredients?”
“You’re just casting from incantations!? Are ya STUPID!?”
Gen ignored Marisa and continued his spell unabated.
True enough, the biggest reason his Master could cast from her soul alone was that her soul was strong: a youkai’s soul tempered by a good amount of years and practice. This was why he, a human, often found himself on his last legs after a serious bout. But, while he did not have his Master’s power, he did have her stubbornness and her pride.
Reimu shot him in the face one too many times, thus he drew his first card: “Sun Sign ‘Noble Flare’.”
“Ah, ah, I remember this one,” Reimu commented with a small grin. Then she asked, “‘Noble’?”
It was another variation of his Master’s. Ideally, it was a “Royal” card with many double-layered waves of solar flares. He could only manage singles.
Marisa piped up again: “Maybe if you used magnesium or something, you could make it like Patchouli’s.”
“You’re not wrong,” he replied as his sorcery took effect. A triangle of solar fire formed between himself and Reimu, spinning outward. He had spoken and willed the magic to go a certain way, and he knew it would be simple for Reimu, but he had some hope the difference in density from what she already knew would throw her off. He’d summon, have the magic spin and wave, and do it again and again. At its best, this card looked like an orange and crimson screensaver. It wasn’t so pleasant to face, however.
But... as before, Reimu’s movement through his attack was effortless—truly effortless. When Youmu, Marisa, and even Miss Sakuya were avoiding danmaku, he could always tell in their flight and faces that they were trying, or concentrating, or had some awareness of the field. Everything Reimu did, from her thoughtless direction to her absentminded bullet-response, told him that this wasn’t just easy for her: it was as natural as breathing.
The shrine maiden proved to always, unfailingly, find a way through his spells. She would casually slip through gaps, stand still like nothing was coming and have it all miss her, and if she felt like it she’d fly before him to shoot energy from her talismans. Otherwise, energy would come regardless, and hardly miss him.
He went through three spell cards – of sun, of wood, and of both – as well as another undeclared pattern, and the unfair Reimu made it look like he was shooting nothing at all. He thought, It’s amazing Marisa can regularly beat her.
When her turn for assault came again, he refused to become disheartened. He faced two more Hakurei cards with “victory” in his head:
First, Kamikuji “Rule Violation Barrier”—
One that seemed to be based off of omikuji, and was an incredible and stunning response to his complaints over Reimu’s favorite colors. The young girl made the sky look like the inside of a forgotten and fantastical, crystal-wall grotto. She summoned innumerable ofuda of several colors, all soft and bright, but he did not realize that she was entirely trapping him for all the beauty she showed him. He was left like a man encased in gorgeous and magical stone, staring down at a glowing maiden surrounded by an unbound cave in the sky, whereupon Reimu poured out more of her spiritual energy and pummeled him. This nearly forced his loss (as he wasn’t allowed to clear anything with a spell card), until he realized he could slip out of the encasing seals before being trapped if he only moved carefully. While it was simple after that, his first failures were quite the embarrassments.
Second, Divine Spirit “Fantasy Seal -Blink-”—
He wanted it explained to him how it was supposed to be possible to capture this inhumane card. During it, Reimu began to slip through existence all around him and zoom about at absurd speeds, summon charms from nowhere, appear from nowhere, and suddenly fire large cascades of bullets that nearly caused him to yelp in surprise. His facing it had comprised of unabashed confusion. Furthermore when he noticed she was still perfectly susceptible to fire and thus this was not a survival card, he had cursed aloud.
It was madness to contend with, and eventually, while hanging about the center of the battlefield and worrying over where the shrine maiden would appear next, she appeared behind him, and immediately had him overwhelmed in a violet tide.
Gen was now on his back and on Reimu’s roof (which had not been cleared of snow). He heard Marisa call to him from below, “So you lost, huh?” He had.
What the hell was that...? How was she moving during it? It wasn’t stopped time, was it?
“Hmmm...” hummed Reimu as she descended close to him. She had a very puzzled look, twisting her lower lip and contracting her brow.
“What?” asked Gen.
“Well, considering you’ve only been doing this for about a year, and you’re being stupid about what spells you use, I think you’re doing pretty well.” Reimu pinched the same lip she kept squirming about. She revealed, “’Pretty well’ can definitely get you killed here, though...” and stopped her pinching to move her hand to her hip, lifting the other to point at him with her gohei. She gave her final judgment then, “Your ‘pretty good’ is still terrible. It’s below average, and maybe only a little like someone from the village playing at extermination. I guess if you do foolish and drastic things when you fight, you can survive, but all it takes is you screwing up stupidly once, getting exhausted from doing something like that, and then you’re basically a waiting plate of food for any youkai passing by.”
He nodded to this. There was excitement in putting it all out there for a fight, but...
“Your skill can still be terrible, sure—” she continued, “—most people are terrible—but it needs to be a better terrible than this, alright? Get that through your head.”
He certainly had to admit it: he’d probably grown too complacent.
“Fine,” he answered, “I’ll waste away in front of arsenic and mercury, then.”
“That’s the spirit!” cried Marisa. It was a lesson he’d learned early on in Gensokyo, but one he’d been choosing to ignore. Since Patchouli herself hardly used ritualistic or material-based offensive spells, she didn’t bother chastising him much over his choice. She’d already told him why he should use fueled magic. If he wanted to forego it and die, so be it; if he wanted to forego it and live, even better. She could brag about that. In all honesty, he wasn’t happy about having her lose some bragging rights.
“We’re to fight again, aren’t we?” he asked Reimu, lifting himself up onto his rear. She did not reply. “... Reimu?”
He only noticed now that the light of the Sun was being obstructed. He looked up to see a little girl flying in the air with an enormous sphere above her head, held only with one hand.
They exchanged words.
“Is that the ball of ice?”
“It’s the Yin-Yang Orb.”
With that, she threw it down. He scrambled out the way, knowing their next battle had already begun.
The black and white Taoist symbol was probably a head over his height in diameter, and when it crashed into the snow of the roof it sent out the cold white as waves, covering him. He ended up on his stomach and buried, and he could hear Reimu preparing a volley of paper “bullets” behind him. This was no longer “play”. This would hurt. He needed a plan of action.
 Quickly find some magical ingredients for better magic.
 Simply fight as ordinary: to win.