- (1.65MB, 2100x1032, rescue.png)
For optimal fun, open the image around the second song.
[X] Protect Aomu.
[ ♫: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoUxFuTXjQo ]
Gen turned a page over.
“Alright, Sakuya,” he began, putting a finger to a spell, “let’s have your fight.”
The maid simply answered with her knives. He spoke quickly, and bit his tongue.
After exclaiming “ow!”, strange bright auras began to take form and fold around him, colored yellow, green, red, purple, and blue. Sakuya squinted with recognition on seeing them, but her eyebrow bent that it was surely unfamiliar. On further scrutiny, it was for certain physical material he had summoned, but whatever Gen had spelled was not the Philosopher’s Stone she knew.
Magic of five elements surrounded him, rotating in impressively sized ribbons and cloaking him over all angles. When Sakuya’s first barrage of knives came, they were scattered by those ribbons acting like wavering walls. She looked on and puzzled, feeling this was, again, familiar.
“Want to know how it works?” the magician asked, starting to take off his coat. “You’re right, it’s like Master Patchouli’s grand spell, but I can’t use it offensively. To be honest,” he said, pulling the coat off completely, and she noticed the strange magics shifting oddly at that, “this is more like fairies’ magic. You want to go back to our first fight? Do you remember how it ended?”
As he held the robe over his shoulder and pinched his tongue, the maid glared at him. “You want to fight me while you’re invincible? My word... there should be a limit to how much you can get away with as an outsider.”
“I will certainly be limited,” he admitted, and he slipped his coat onto the kappa behind him.
The kappa flinched, and she spoke up in a faltering voice, “E-Eh? Gen...?”
“Keep that on, alright?” he advised, not looking at her. Then, at a lower volume he said, “But keep in mind that it won’t stop everything.”
“O-Okay...” she acknowledged, bringing his coat around herself more. The magic followed too, and he stepped out of it.
“Now that’s out of the way,” he spoke, walking a little more and rotating his wrists, “I encourage you to not hold back, Sakuya.”
Sakuya was silent for a moment, but soon enough stood up straight and announced, “I wouldn’t have in either case,” before vanishing.
What seemed to be a thousand knives now surrounded him, shining far as he could see like some several-lathered mirror sea. Seeing this he thought ... I must dial back the arrogance, This is excessive. He squinted around the Netherworld door’s top, and reminded himself quickly of what he could do.
Fuels were running somewhat low, and because of his use of the Philosopher’s Aegis just before this moment, anything that could help with his use of fire, water, earth, wood, or metal magic was almost out of the question. The Aegis was a trump card of his for truly desperate situations, and it was magic his Master had told him was almost useless. She was somewhat (or perhaps even more than that) correct: it had some deep flaws to its structure, and was still something he needed to put more research into.
So, he had some leaf-full mixture and aether left for light and air magic respectively. His spirit was perhaps about halfway gone. Light and wind wouldn’t help him right now.
Spirit it is.
The curtains of silver came fast to skewer him, and he spoke with speed again to match it, thinking he soon needed a break on his vocal cords and some honey tea. When his incantation was done and the blades were upon him, he winced at the familiar but still unused-to feeling of draining power from inside him, and scattershot magic translucent and black began to shoot out of his front and back in gem shape bullets. They clashed with the knives, most of them, and allowed the young apprentice to begin moving through to where he believed Sakuya to be. He leapt forward and turned ‘round, ducking for a series of daggers to fly over his head. He slipped through safely, and soon enough spotted his fellow human not many meters away from him. When he did, and she’d noticed, she disappeared again, adding more knives.
The scene above the doorway to the Netherworld thus became a glittering, sharp storm, strange of elegance. He was forced low and to leap more, scanning ever quickly for Sakuya who would not relent, and slipped away whenever he found her.
Not flying here... really causes some problems... he thought. And while I took the spell cards I had from my coat’s sleeves, I don’t think any of them will really help me here. Sakuya is steadfast in her trying to pin me down. He stopped where he was, for a small second safe. He sighed, and made a foolish decision.
He closed his eyes, and spun open his jar of leaves.
At once a high number of knives sliced past him, and he felt that he’d narrowly avoided one. While swinging himself in whatever vague directions he had wagered might constitute “openings” in Sakuya’s “patterns”, he spoke new words for a spell while fiddling with the top of his vial of aether. The black magic he had summoned before saved him regularly, and the maid looked at him doing all this dumbfounded.
Gen might actually die, she thought, standing still and watching. I suppose Lady Patchouli won’t like that.
And though this she determined, she did not stop her knives. She kept him in her gaze instead, listening for perhaps recognizable words in the spell he was casting. She was made to frown again when “lux” passed his lips, and she grit her teeth when his magic became manifest.
The stored light in his leaves exploded forth in simple, powerful luminescence. Any nearby were blinded by the intensity, which was made more pervasive and stunning as it bounded from every one of the maid’s mirrored knives. Sakuya had to shut her eyes, and shortly after doing so she felt a hand on her breast.
She peeked to see the magician’s apprentice pushing into her with a satisfied grin cut through his face. She could see that a knife had pierced his left leg, another in his right arm, and, apparently, one final in his left side. His eyes were full closed, and she knew at once that this had been his gambit: to confuse her enough to keep her in one remembered place. She thought then to stop time (for what good it could even do with the battlefield too illuminated), but another spell he had prepared was cast before she could accomplish the action. She was so forced, instantly, back.
Wind buffeted her with incredible power and she felt strongly in pain, more as if she had been caught in a riptide than a storm. She worried she would be cast off the door, but soon felt herself being pushed down into its grain instead, and dragged violently backward like she was being used to sand. She tumbled into an eventual but unkind stop, clothes in rags, and looked above to see more magic in the air coming in little bursts of cyclones. She stopped time then.
In a soundless, infinite moment she saw Gen far from her still smiling; hand over where she’d seen a blade in his core. There were about fifteen shots of his magic coming down onto her, and she herself... couldn’t move. She attempted to stand, and only managed to turn from her back to her stomach. She pressed her hand to the ground and pushed, but the agony from his attack had her drop in a stopped second. Time resumed, and punishment came, relentless.
Nearer to Aomu, Gen stood slouching. The knives within him hadn’t torn through anything too terrible, and the wards his Master always laid on his clothing had managed to help him somewhat. They were indeed not any true sort of “defense”, but they helped protect her “things”: the outfit he wore was sturdier, and the books he carried were almost indestructible. This had proved to work well enough against Sakuya’s weapons that any wounds he earned were kept from being too deep for him to move. Still, being stabbed was no joy, and he removed the blades to drop them bloody to the floor. They clattered through a silence that told him he’d won. Walking back toward Aomu, he wished his Master knew proper curative magics: something for fieldwork.
While thinking this over, he felt a strange but inured sensation slip over all of his perception. He turned, and found Sakuya there.
“Wha—?” he was cut off, as the maid returned his favor by sending him flying forward, the force of her attack ripping the back of his vest and shirt open in a great hole straight through.
He desperately held onto his hat as he tumbled, legs in the air, ahead, narrowly keeping his face from smashing into wood. From how it had felt, he was sure Sakuya had used a bullet for that strike. When he stopped rolling over and could stand up, he saw the hobbled maid casting wave after wave of purple-ish, human-sized projectiles. Between her, and him, was Aomu.
“Aomu...!” he managed, standing himself up and kicking from the ground, “S-Stay put, the spell won’t...!”
He lurched forth, unable to tell her that with too much movement his Aegis would break apart. The warning still reached her, however, and she remained. That was to the good, but he didn’t know whether the shield could hold against Sakuya’s damage. Not caring for the honor of this fight any longer he ran, jumped, and then flew to the front of his friend. He thought, he probably had spells to stop the coming barrage, but nothing was coming to mind. An avalanche of witchcraft approached, and worse: Sakuya came with it, flying now as well and with knives in her hands again. He had imagined his attack wouldn’t take her out. It wasn’t supposed to hurt her in any serious way, in fact, but it was supposed to put her down for a minute. That maid really was a monster.
He stood before Aomu with his arms outstretched, his legs wide, and his eyes shut.
... And nothing came.
[ ♫: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWVcdlM9bdw ]
A smell of grass and flowers filled the air.
He opened his eyes, finding a human-sized phantom turning serenely before them.
“Gen, I think it’s far too early for you to die,” said Youmu. “And to die on death’s door would be the height of sin!”
The gardener of the Netherworld stood before him with her Roukanken drawn, blade stopping well those of Sakuya, who remained aloft with a frustrated expression. Gen looked up and saw that where there had been just before gigantic bullets, there were now instead trails of vapor indicating slashing. The remains of Sakuya’s violet magic drifted down over them all in little stars that faded into nothing. He looked at the girls in front of him again, struggling with their weapons sparking against one another. The half-phantom gripped with all her strength and brought her sword sharply down. Sakuya retreated at once, flying far back. Youmu then took a combative stance, and she spoke once more:
“So, it’s a rescue!”
“Miss Youmu!” he shouted, and the girl almost fell over.
“Hey! You don’t need to shout, I’m right here, aren’t I!?” she complained, turning slightly to glare at him.
He felt in every part of his being that he wanted to hug her, his lips turning up without thought, but instead of doing that quickly shook his head and became stern. “Youmu,” he said, “spring—”
“Never mind that,” she interrupted, turning from him, “there is an intruder aiming to reach Hakugyokurou, and it is my duty to stop them.”
Sakuya looked oppressively sullen, composing herself in cold, refined, animosity. She had entirely run out of patience.
“So you’ve come out,” said the maid, “the culprit’s second hand.”
“So this is why everyone here was getting noisy...” Youmu noted aloud, “it’s because not one, but two living humans have come.”
“Finally... I’ve finally gotten to the source, eh?” Sakuya muttered, lightly shaking her head. “You know it took me a whole day to get here.”
“In coming here you have exercised great composure,” Youmu complimented, smiling pleasantly. “This is Hakugyokurou,” she announced. “The deceased live on in this place. Acting on the common sense of the living will only cause you trouble.”
Sakuya answered with her eyes closed, stating emphatically: “The dead don’t speak.” She opened her eyes then, and demanded, “Now, return the spring you stole.”
“Wait just a moment,” the half-phantom insisted.
“A moment is no good.”
“In just a moment, the Saigyou Ayakashi will reach full bloom. That could never happen with a normal spring.”
“I was saying I have no care for this.”
Youmu continued unabated. “The trace of spring you brought here could bring the Saigyou Ayakashi to full bloom.”
“Are you listening? Goodness, I’ve traveled through that cold, only to find an incredibly selfish idea here.”
The gardener said with a light voice, “But it’s warm here, isn’t it?”
“No, enough,” Sakuya spoke and shook her head. She stood straight again and brought her knives up, “The dead do not speak.”
“Right. They don’t speak,” Youmu answered, eyes briefly closed. She brought her own blade up, and plainly avowed, “I will take what warmth of spring you have away, and leave you in silence.”
“I wonder, can my knives cut through phantoms as well?” Sakuya mused.
“If you wish to speak of cutting...” Youmu began, “then I must inform you: the things that cannot be cut by my Roukanken, forged by youkai...”
Her spirit surged.
“... are next to none!”
Both rushed forward then, and clashed in brilliance.
Damn...! thought Gen. I wanted to see if I could reason with her...!
He looked back on Aomu, who sat staring and transfixed. Since those two are fighting now, I don’t have to worry about the lethality of the battle at least. Youmu and Sakuya fought with nothing held back now, throwing what seemed to be their best after their best in patterns, all evoking beauty and determination. Metal was struck against metal, sounding loud and far-reaching, and winds of force often shot down from their bout, rippling his clothes. Just looking, he did not know who would win... he only knew that the tree had to be stopped.
The lights faded for a moment, and both combatants landed to ground, Youmu again in front of him. He arrested her immediately, clasping a hand on her shoulder.
“G-Gen! I am fighting!” she snapped. Sakuya seemed to take this moment to breathe, and contemplate rushing for the mansion of the dead beyond the stairs.
“Miss Youmu, I have to stop the Saigyou Ayakashi from blooming,” he said, and the girl was bewildered.
“W-What!? But you helped m—! Egh, ah...” the child scowled, knowing that officially she had never implicated this man in her business. While she hadn’t been good at keeping them such, her motives had always been intended to be secret. This knowledge of her own betrayal seemed to make her falter, but she was quick to find conviction again. “I can’t disobey Lady Yuyuko, Gen.”
“I can’t ask you to,” he assured her, “and I can’t be sure that I can do anything to stop the tree, but I have to try.”
“Why? Why do you have to?” she asked him seriously.
“I don’t think you know what it does, Miss Youmu. I can’t be sure your mistress does either... but I do. I am part the reason for it almost being awake, and now I will by all my power put it back to sleep.”
And, he could see that the half-phantom was torn, the expression in her eyes pained. Her grip on the Roukanken was intense enough that he thought she might bleed it, and she was next frowning at the wood below her feet. Eventually, she told him, “Gen... you are... you are somebody that I... can call a partner.” She looked up at him, eyes steady and severe. “I will invite you to Hakugyokurou as my guest, but...”
She turned from him, to Sakuya who was preparing to escape, raising her blade to point to the maid. “After I finish this enemy, you will be the next.” Without looking at him she continued. “I will make sure your kappa friend is safe, but I cannot say the same for you. Gen, it is strange, but I... despite being me, cannot be two things... You should hurry.”
She posed to return to battle.
“I allow this because I trust you.”
Once more, she went to fight his peer from the mansion.
Gen remained there, unsure of how he should feel. He did, however, think that the silly sword-wielding girl truly was beautiful, not only in how she appeared. Suddenly, he winced and looked down at his side.
“Just hold still,” said Aomu, tying bandage around his waist after having snaked her hands into his shirt through the hole Sakuya had created. The Aegis still swirled around her, and he saw that she was uninjured. “These are bandages I made,” she continued, “they’re just as good for you as they’d be for a kappa. I also put a salve to your cut that should help the wound heal clean.”
“Aomu... I’ve got to apologize to you too.”
“Shut yer mouth and get going,” she replied, smirking as she finished applying her treatment. “I wanna know what it’s like to be friends with a hero.”
“I can tell you,” he said, smiling in return.
Aomu grinned now, exclaiming, “What the heck! So cheesy!” She then laughed an awkward laugh, chuckling and blushing.
Gen looked over to the Saigyou Ayakashi as danmaku exploded overhead. He addressed his companion once more, “Alright, wish me luck, good Aomu! Cheer me on!”
“Go, Gen! Do your best! You’ve got this!” the kappa cheered, pumping her fists.
“You bet,” he answered, hopping into the sky and tugging down his hat. “Stay safe, friend.”
“Stay alive,” she wished, and he nodded once before flying headlong into the Netherworld.
Colors and knives were left behind him, like a carnival-festival above the gate. He looked back at the chaos, and forward into a new kind. Although Youmu called him a “guest”, the residents of this land were unwelcoming.
“Daaamn... I really don’t want to deal with any of this,” he whispered through his teeth at the sight of spirits before him hurling death-smelling magics in vast curtains. He still had enough sense and wherewithal to dodge, but deliberately kept from returning any fire. There were fairies here, too, surprisingly, and just as trigger-happy (unsurprisingly) but still he refrained. He flew over the dead lands as peacefully as he was able (insofar as his progress was pacifistic, not gentle and calm), and soon began ascending the dangerous stairs, steps blurring gray and black beneath him as the world itself blended between shades of dark lavender and amber. The weather grew warmer, and he noticed the sky was no longer full of flower petals. Instead, flowering trees lined the staircase, and the Saigyou Ayakashi pulsed dully in the distance. This was all nice indeed. However...
Every thinking thing in the Netherworld seemed to genuinely want him dead, and he wondered why that might be as he traveled toward the youkai cherry blossom. He wondered if the Saigyouji Yuyuko surely at the top of these stairs was the one controlling all of them, or perhaps they were all like fairies and agitated or excited due to the strange phenomenon and power. Most likely, he thought that a living thing in the land of the dead should perhaps not also be alive, so they sought to remedy that in patterns of killing danmaku that had his heart thumping and his forehead sweating. He grabbed at his wounded arm, keeping some patterns to a path just behind his careful movements, soaring through others and only hoping for the best. He was struck twice as he went, and he truly felt like those two hits were the two worst-feeling things he had ever experienced in Gensokyo outside of dealing with Yuuka. They had each hit in the same shoulder, and he didn’t like thinking about it, but he felt like his arm was being wrenched out.
Panting, he reached halfway up the staircase, realizing it was truly absurdly long. Then, he heard a sound of magic from behind him.
Youmu...!? he thought, bringing down his brow. He dodged instinctively and looked back to see a yellow laser flying past. So, he spoke, “Marisa...!?”
“Bingo!” said a distant girl following after him. “So you really are here, Gen!” the little girl shouted. He saw that she wasn’t alone: the Shrine Maiden was with her. His heart sank.
They got past Youmu!? What about Aomu!? Damn it, damn it...!
Grinding his teeth together, he ran through various possibilities in his head, and many courses of action he could take from here. The children neared him, but only Marisa came to match his speed. Reimu flew past without even a glance in his direction.
“We decided the one who deals with you doesn’t have to make dinner for the next week,” the blond witch explained, nearing him on a broom. “You’re a real pain after all.”
“What happened to Sakuya?” Gen asked, looking to Reimu’s figure growing distant, “Did you pass her at the gate?”
“She was fighting some green girl,” Marisa said, “and there was a green kappa too, but the girl wouldn’t even let us go near her.”
Gen’s emotional state complicated and he was full of side-by-side pangs of panic, relief, and happiness. Eventually he palmed his face, and from between his fingers looked at Marisa.
“So, you want to fight me. Why?” he asked.
“‘Cause you shouldn’t be here,” she answered like it was nothing. “And honest, mostly ‘cause Reimu got a bad feelin’ seein’ you here.” She grinned. He grimaced.
“What intuition...” he remarked. After sighing, and feeling frustration that his progress had slowed, he told his fellow magician, “I’m trying to resolve this Incident. I know how to, and that’s why I’m here.”
“Hehh... really?” Marisa mumbled, but it didn’t seem like she was disbelieving. “What’s your plan to do that? Me an’ Reimu, we were just gonna beat up the boss and take spring back.”
“I’m here because I’m not sure that will work. More importantly, the reason they took spring was to revive an ancient, dangerous tree. Really, that’s what I want to stop.”
“Oh? Hmm. So, an apprentice magician who hasn’t even been studying for a year wants to try stopping a... an evil? Evil tree? One that’s older than, what? How old?” the little witch prodded, her arms folded.
“Definitely older than the Barrier.”
“Well, you’ve got ideas,” Marisa admitted with a shrug. Then, she looked at him seriously, “but right now we need something we know will probably work. This is, like, actually a really big problem, Gen. What if you mess with that tree and make things worse?” Marisa, squinting with a hand over her mouth in contemplation, shook her head. She looked at him seriously once more. “Now I’ve gotta stop you for a completely different reason.”
And, Gen laughed, it being his turn to shake his head. “Gensokyo... is really too much,” he managed to say in few breaths. “Even when we want the same thing, you just want a fight.”
“Yeah,” said Marisa.
He glanced back to the Saigyou Ayakashi, and then returned his gaze to her.
 Steady on, convince her to help.
 Risk a fight.
 Try to get away.