As Christmas Girl wails on the demons, you swipe Kusanagi and run for the nearest cover, a snowdrift. Blizzard winds whip your face, further slowing your sluggish thoughts. The girl’s red dress twists and spins in the wind as you watch from afar. The moon hangs in the sky above.
The voices in the distance get a bit louder.
But the girl with the Christmas Lights holds your interest. You cannot, physically, look away. You need to understand where she is...
You distantly remember her. Fear grips you; did she get left behind?
Did she freeze to death?
You scowl, fingering Kusanagi’s grip. If she did, you would set it right...
As the last pink-skinned demon grunts its last, red-dress turns around.
BGM: Quake -- The Life Beneath It All http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmHl4P2Gg8c
“Toy?” she calls, her voice distant in the wind. “I can smell you~”
Instinctively, you start to retreat into the trees. But she follows you nonetheless, hovering a foot or so off the ground. She conducts a wide sweep, weaving between trees to find you. You pull back between a tree, hand resting on Kusanagi’s grip.
You peer out. She’s vanished. Fear grips you as you scan the trees and snowdrifts. There is not a hint of red; the only color besides white snow and brown bark are the charred remains of the demons.
You set out, moving towards the voices as well as you can. But it is hard to pin down their location in the wasteland; the snow muffles their voices. Kusanagi grips in your hand.
Marisa’s voice is just audible. “Hey! Stranger!”
As you your way towards it, a sense of death begins to encroach on you. A soft murmur at first, crescendoing by inches... by the end, every nerve in your body threatens to snap. Your knuckles turn white on Kusanagi’s hilt.
Red fills your vision.
You move to rip Kusanagi out of its sheath, but Red Dress beats you to it. Her hand grips like a vice even as you try to free the blade; it’s trapped, trapped by her grip on your hand. Her mouth flashes a grin, revealing a row of vampiric fangs.
You’re no stranger to fanged humanoids.
Lunging forward you headbutt Red Dress. She screams hellishly, lashing out blindly. Her kick hits like a sledgehammer. You skid back across the snow as Kusangi rips out of your hands, spinning off into the underbrush.
All the same, you rise again. Flandre watches, eyes filled with hatred as she stares you down. Deprived of Kusanagi, the resonation fills your ears. She deafens: a constant hammering with no beat, rhythm or pattern. Your head pains you.
“Worm...” she mutters, raising her arms. “WORM!”
You roll around jets of fire and curling fireballs, even as some of them graze you, scorching your skin.
All at once, the barrage ends. “But I mustn’t break my toys!” Flandre announces eagerly, rushing up to you. Her arms seize around your leg and upturn you, dropping you flat on your ass. Once again you are dragged along.
This time no Kusanagi.
Your attempts to grab hold of something fail; she is much stronger than you. Some marine you are. woosh
Several knives embed themselves in the tree. Red Dress freezes, looking into the white distance with pure hatred.
“Mistress Flandre, I must ask you halt.”
The pressure on your leg releases, and blood starts to return to your foot.
“SAKUYA!” snarls Flandre.
A maid emerges from the whiteness, holding kunai between her fingers.
“Mistress Remilia is very concerned about your wellbeing.”
“I won’t be sent down again! NEVER NEVER NEVER!” Flandre stomps her foot impetuously. “Now that I’ve found all these friends, she can’t make me!”
“Flandre, you are in danger. I do not know how you have survived this long, but you must know the outside is not conducive to your wellbeing--”
“And now I found this brand new toy. It’s not FAIR!”
You scrabble away as Flandre hurls jets of fire at Sakuya. The maid handily evades and hurls knives back.
“Not so fast!”
The witch swoops in from above, blasting Flandre. The vampire shrieks with anger as more of your rescuers start to close in, all hurling magic. You cover your head, the best thing you can do. Resonantion clashes and bursts in your head as the girls clash, worsening your headache.
“ARGH! You have me this time! Don’t try and follow, or my friends will tear you APART!”
Flandre leaps up and scarpers into the woods. Sakuya moves to follow, only to be cut off by a blast of Mancubus fire. It came from Flandre’s direction, but she’s long gone.
“How bothersome.” Sakuya watches.
A wave of nausea hits you. As Flandre’s resonation fades away, all of your injuries pain you acutely. Burns, gashes, frostbite, hypothermia: they all bite like dozens snakes sinking in their teeth. You collapse.
“Yo! You OK?” asks Marissa, touching you.
The absence of Flandre hurts like hell. You start gasping for breath.
“Do I fucking look OK?” you snarl.
Others start to crowd around you, but you cannot make out their faces. Your vision is going dark at the edges.
“Shiiiiiiiiiiit!” moans Marisa, “Get him in, ASAP!”
Your world goes dark.
It’s a painful world, your dreams,
More painful than the outside?
It’s a haze of demons, your constant companions.
It hurts like hell, but you keep on.
One by one, your comrades died.
You took a vow: no more would die on your account.
What do you call this, then?
Lying in bed? Covered in bandages?
How weak you’ve become. You defeated...
Did you defeat anything at all?
You’ve left no one alive in your wake.
All their blood joined the cold Martian soil.
But you just keep living. It disgusts me.
Disturbing as your dreams are, you awaken in a bed that shows no signs of tossing and turning. Your whole body itches and burns while your muscles ache.
You rise slowly, easing yourself upright. You’re in a luxurious four-poster bed, in a sumptuously decorated room. It looks very nineteenth century, with elegant, flowing gold and ornate wallpaper. A change of clothes lies on the drawer.
There’s a knock at the door. “Enter,” you mutter.
It creaks open. The first thing to peek inside is the tip of a witch’s hat.
“You up?” Marisa
“Take a guess, Sherlock.”
“Eh? Who’s Sherlock?”
Your laugh is immediately cut off by the pain in your chest. “Forget it.”
Marisa slips in, carrying Kusanagi and a plate of toast. Hunger immediately gnaws at your stomach.
“What happened?” you ask. “What’s the situation?”
“Hey, hey, cool it.” Marisa puts Kusanagi on the fireplace mantle. “I’ll get there. How are you doing?”
You look down at the bandages. “Better than I should.”
“Can say that again. When Patchy looked at you she said you should be dead.”
“Sometimes I wish I were dead,” you say, stretching out.
“It’s been three days,” Marisa says, tranquilly.
You nearly reopen your wounds. “Three?!”
“Before you start up with the questions, I’ll just say there hasn’t been much excitement. Business as usual. Demons come, Meiling beats the snot out of them, ze. But they’re definitely getting tougher. Remilia is trying to work out what to do...”
Too many names you don’t know. “Reimu?” You start attacking the toast.
Marisa’s face goes dark. “Reimu is still asleep. Patchy says she was really badly hurt -- the demonic taint got into her. Now she’ll have trouble channeling divine power until she purifies herself. But we can’t do that until she wakes up...”
Her eyes go unfocused.
“She’s fine, but it was close. We found her only a couple of minutes after you were dragged away. If it had been longer, she’d have frozen to death.”
“Look, enough of this. We need to get going.”
“Hey, you’re still hurt.”
“Never stopped me before.” You stand up, stretching. “Now, I’m gonna change. I recommend you get out unless you want to get an eyeful.”
Marisa turns scarlet and rushes out the room. You get dressed, first pulling off the bandages. For the first time in a long while, you check your own body, the hardened muscles and livid scars. You’re practically a patchwork at this point: livid cuts and burn marks crisscross your back. But your body has compensated: your muscles have strengthened while your tolerance for pain has risen impossibly high. Every bone in your body has been broken at some point or another, but they’ve all set stronger than before.
You’re a space marine, all right.
You pull on the change of clothes. A three-piece suit, with a black duster. Checking yourself in the mirror, you decide it’s extremely bitchin’.
When you’re finished, you feel well enough. Better than you ought to, anyway.
There’s a soft tapping at your window. You glance at it sidelong. Something is throwing snowballs at the window. Thud.
Another connects. You scowl, walking over and throwing the door open.
A snowball flies up and catches you square on the chin.
You wipe it away. “What do you want, Cirno?”
The blue fairy flits to the window, ice crystal wings beating.
“Hah! Cirno is even stronger than the mighty Stranger, who defeated one thousand demons with a butter knife! With my help, of course.”
“We both know you made that second part up.”
“Cirno did too help!” she rages. “If you hadn’t had me, you would have been beaten up by those nasty imps! Nice suit.”
“I’ve been killing imps for years.” You reach out and flick her on the nose. “I think that little peashooter you gave me was worse than the knife.”
“Let’s have a duel! Settle this honorably--”
“Cirno, stop bothering the stranger at once!” A voice calls from the lower level.
“Oshit China!” gasps Cirno, as she flees. A girl in a green dress climbs through the snow on foot. Standing in the courtyard below, ‘China’ shouts at the fairy as the blue girl vanishes into the sky.
“Thanks,” you say.
“No problem.” She yawns, covering her mouth. “I’m a little surprised to see you up.”
“I’m surprised to see me up. Who are you?”
“Meiling. I guard the door to the Mansion. I admit... my job’s got a bit more interesting since they showed up.”
She frowns. “So... are the things they say about you true?”
“What? That I’m eight feet tall and have a sword the size of a house?”
“Of course not! Is it true that you’re a demon-slayer?”
“Yep.” You can’t think of any better word to describe your particular line of employment.
“Hmm.” She frowned. “Can you visit me a bit later? I need to get back to work, but I’d like to talk to you some more.”
“Sure.” You shut the window and head for the door.
As you reach the ornately-patterned, you get a pleasant tune in your ear -- something even-tempered and predictable. Like a classical concerto. As you reach for the door, it swings open and smashes you in the nose.
It just isn’t your day, is it?
“Oh dear, oh dear, my apologies!” As you check your nose for breaks, a maid runs in, in full French maid gear. “Are you well?”
“Yeah,” you say. First a snowball and now a door. What’s next, a baseball?
The maid helps you upright. “When Marisa told me you had woken up, I had not realized that you had become so active. You should really be in bed...” You sweep out into the hallway.
“Had worse.” There’s a small tray with food on it: a few pieces of toast, some ham. Hunger hits you like a freight-train; you haven’t had anything substantial to eat in quite some time. You swipe a couple pieces of toast. As much as you’d like to feast, you need to talk to someone important. “I appreciate your concern and all, but we do not have time to kill. Who’s in charge?”
Sakuya frowned. “I must insist.”
“It’s about the demons.”
There was a long pause. You munch your toast. “I see. I will conduct you to Lady Patchouli’s library.”
The Voile was built to levels of mystic excess you had barely conceived of before. As you floated between the endless shelving, you swallow your surprise and focus on the matter at hand. Whoever this Patchouli might be, you have heard the name a few times and figure she’s important.
When the platform drops you and Sakuya off, you’re in a miniature office/kitchenette built directly into the library itself. A young woman sits among the debris of various books, reading from one while sipping some tea.
“Lady Patchouli. I bring the stranger.”
“He is awake?”
You watch her, trying to get some hold on her personality. Exceedingly pale and refined, she strikes you as someone eminently important. The “press switches/open doors/grab items that seem important” school of thought has never failed you before.
“Ah, the esteemed stranger,” said Patchouli. “You really ought to be in bed.”
“I have heard intelligence to that effect.”
“How dry.” Patchouli closes the book; you notice a pentacle on the cover. “Very well. Sakuya, you may leave.”
Sakuya bowed and stepped away.
“Well then. We have much to discuss.”
“To begin with, I’d like to know who you are. Stranger is an unfitting name.”
“No time -- do you know what’s happening outside?”
“It is a little difficult to form a coherent picture of the outside world. We’re short-staffed here, and I cannot justify sending out fairies as expendable scouts.”
“We need to start pushing them back. Or they’ll...” You draw a deep breath. “They’re going to start bringing their world with them. They’ll turn this place into Hell.”
Patchouli turned this over in her head for a long while, eventually opening her grimoire again. “I see. Then this document is correct -- my worst fears are coming to pass. I trust you know how to deal with them?”
“There’s only one way to dispose of hellions. Blow up their faces.” Hey, it’s always worked for you.
“You will find Gensokyo has no shortage of visage-destroying capacity. I intend to explore this matter further with Lady Remilia, but until then I would like to further discuss the matter of you.”
You figured as much. “Fair enough.”
“I treated you. I examined your wounds. You recovered from injuries that would be fatal to any other mortal. You had burns, lacerations, and bruises all over your body. You suffered from acute hypothermia and malnutrition. And yet, right now, you’re not even in a wheelchair when you should be in the coffin. I would like to know why.”
Patchouli’s resonation is very soothing, like Barber’s Adagio for Strings
. You listen to it as you come up with a response.
“I can’t tell you. I fight for a living -- as long as my body can still move, I force it to move. I keep running, I keep fighting. It’s as natural to me as breathing.” You shrug. “For what it’s worth, I feel stronger when I’m around you lot.”
She throws you a piercing glance. “What lot would that be?”
“You know. Girls who throw magic around.”
“Mages?” She seems distracted as she sips some tea. “That is curious. Although, I must say, you seem to be taking this is perfect stride. Most outsiders are alarmed at the prospect of magic.”
“I’ve spent god knows how long fighting demons. I’ve traveled through interdimensional vortexes that dropped me into demonic parallel dimensions. I kill more demons by 9 AM than most people do all day. I’ve wielded weapons that, from what I understand, are supposed to be scientifically impossible in our universe.”
You look down on her. Sitting down, she is less than half her height.
“Straight up, nothing surprises me. Nothing.”
“I see.” The girl gets up. You can’t help but think that maybe she isn’t naturally pale -- she’s sick. “I admit, I’m pleasantly surprised. Outsiders are usually very difficult to acclimate with on the rare occasions they blunder into Gensokyo.”
“Great. Now, I need to explain something. They are bringing their dimension with them. They’re turning Gensokyo into Hell. We don’t have time to waste--”
“Yes, I understand the situation.” Patchouli picks up her grimoire and shows it to you. “This is not the first time this particular Hell has been encountered. We have very little time to drive them back.”
“Awesome. Now set me loose.”
“In your condition?” She sipped her tea. “I think not. Rather, I think we should take advantage of your talents effectively.”
“Do you have the faintest idea what you are?”
“I see.” Patchouli rose and began examining her shelves. “I suspected as much. You are a sort of amplifier; lacking any magical talents, your only ability is to absorb the magic of others and condense it, strengthen it, until it becomes something singular. A weapon, in your case.”
Seems true enough.
“There have been very few Synchronizers throughout history. I’d say you’re only the ninth one I’ve ever heard reference to. One was a court lady in the Chinese Empire about fifteen hundred years ago. Thanks to her, a dynasty was destroyed and another was raised. Another appeared during Japan’s Meiji Revolution. He made sure that the Shogunate fell. You are in good company, stranger.”
“Nice. So when do we get this party started?”
“I’m going to deal with these demons the same way I always do. Point and shoot. They’re delicate things, all in all.” You lean against a column. “Shred them
“How simplistic.” She laughed. “Then again, you’ll find no shortage of destructive power in Gensokyo. However, I propose a better solution.”
“If we were to develop your talents carefully, you could synchronize without harming your partner. Master that, and you can become a powerful ally. If not... well... we simply could not risk incapacitating able fighters.”
“So what? You’ll bench me?”
“You’re welcome to do as you please. However, we could not allow you to synchronize with anyone.”
“And who might ‘we’ be?” you ask.
“Lady Remilia, myself, those who answer to us. Quite a force, all told.”
“Hmph. Fine.” You see no disadvantage to this.
“I must say, you are rather coarse.”
“Excuuuuuuuuuse me, m’lady,” you reply, with a sweeping bow. “Doom is not a dialogue-heavy game -- I don’t get much time to practice my manners. For example, I may have some difficulty recalling the difference between the salad fork and the cheese fork. Indeed, when you spend long enough scavenging crates for army rations, you start to forget those distinctions.”
“Sarcasm was uncalled for. In any case, I’ll need to study syncrhonizers to find a way to properly teach you. For now--” Your stomach growls loudly. “--please get some food.”
“Danke,” you say, grinning. You can’t quite resist, “your magnamity is infinite, o greatness.”
“Enough!” But she smiles anyway. “But first... tell me your name.”
[ ] “Kohaku.”
[ ] “Hisui.”
[ ] “Nukem. Duke Nukem. Shake it, baby.”
[ ] “The Great Bungholio.”
[ ] “Caleb. I live... again...”
[ ] “I’m Megaman!”
[ ] “Lo Wang. I am the Shadow Warrior! You wanta some Wang?
[ ] “Dan Smith. You know, I hate holding back.”
[ ] “Back at base, they just called me Doom.”
[ ] “Jeblome. Heywood Jeblome.” [May or may not lead to porn]