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[X] Deal with Yuuka
“How recent was that photo?” You ask, standing up.
“A few minutes ago, something like three... why? You’re going to try fighting her?” Hatate asks.
“I really hope not.” You say, fastening Ruukoto back to yourself.
“Yuuka’s bad news, human.” Hatate stands up as well, her face uncertain. “Anyone sane should be trying to get as far away as possible right now.”
You consider asking Hatate to keep Ruukoto safe while you head out, but decide against it. She’ll be safer if you keep her in sight.
“Well there you go.” You say, pulling open the door to the tunnel. “Thanks for the tip-off, and good luck using this scoop.”
You prioritize speed over subtlety in your rush towards Yuuka’s likely position, and it’s not long before you have company.
Momiji lands in front of you from above with barely a rustle of leaves as warning. You brake to a halt as she raises her hand at you. At least her sword is still sheathed.
“Charlotte.” She glares at you. “Care to explain your trespassing, as well as what you’ve got on your back?”
“Sure, after I calm Yuuka down.” You reply. “She seemed to have you guys worried.”
Her scowl deepens. “And what’s your plan for that? Asking nicely doesn’t work on creatures like her. Or are you counting on coming back from the dead?”
You shrug. “If that’s what it takes.”
She regards you with her scornful eyes for a few more moments before turning away with a flick of her tail.
“Fine, then. On your own head so be it. This way.”
She flies away without another word. You shift Ruukoto’s weight on your back and follow.
You become aware of Yuuka's presence long before you see her.
The bassy thrum of spellcard projectiles and a lot of shouting gives away her location. That, and the beams of light and other projectiles flying into the sky.
You let go of a deep breath, and out of the corner of your eye you see Momiji do the same.
"At least Yuuka's still playing nice." You mutter.
"For now." She grunts, then stiffens. You follow her gaze and spot a Tengu lying on the ground.
Momiji rushes to their side and checks their vitals, with you following suit.
"Come on, wake up, you useless mutt." She growls, trying to shake the luckless guard awake.
"Hey Momiji..." You begin.
"What?" She turns to give you a deathglare. "I'm busy."
You wordlessly indicate the multiple other Tengu sprawled across the ground. From where you're standing, you estimate that the better part of a platoon has been shot out of the sky.
As you and Momiji take in the scene, there's another flash of light and more shouting. A moment later, a plummeting Tengu crashes through the canopy with a shower of leaves and lands face-down before the two of you.
"I'm going ahead." You tell her. "I don't think this fight will last much longer."
Without waiting for a response, you push onwards through the underbrush and above the groaning and prone Tengu.
Yuuka dances through the sky, unleashing petal-shaped clouds of projectiles with sweeps of her golden blade while gracefully avoiding the curtains of fire coming from the dwindling Tengu.
She's enjoying herself. Her movements are confident and decisive as she dictates the pace of the battle. Each of her elaborate spellcard patterns swat Tengu from the sky and leave the survivors scrambling to regroup and counterattack.
If spellcards are meant to be an expression of the self, then what does this display reveal about Yuuka?
Pride. Authority. Love for life and growth. Eagerness for challenge. Equal parts majestic and terrifying.
How are you supposed to reconcile the almost maternal Yuuka you've met with the destructive force of nature before you?
One Tengu seems to be giving Yuuka a better fight than most, flying so fast they're a red and white blur while unleashing her own spellcards.
If this is what Aya is capable of, it's a small relief that she happened to pick up Junko's trail and not your own.
Speaking of Junko...
“Junko, you there?” You send a tentative message.
“Holy shit Char, get me out of here.” She replies. “Yuuka’s not fucking around.”
Yuuka lets loose another volley of petals, striking more Tengu down.
"Should we run?" You ask. "This is a hell of a distraction."
Junko sighs. "I think that'd be a mistake. Yuuka's here for us, or at least, what we found about Hakurei. She won't stop until she knows."
So running would only create more trouble.
"You still have Mimi with you, right?" You ask.
"Yeah, I bluffed and told them Mimi would self destruct if she left human custody. Aya didn't really buy it, but it bought enough time for Yuuka to show up."
"WOULD SELF DESTRUCT TO PREVENT RECAPTURE." Mimi announces.
"Hey, not when we're this close to getting out, ok?" Junko chastises her, reaching behind her head to pat her battered head.
With only a handful of Tengu left, Aya begins to attack more aggressively. Her resolve is admirable, facing down the vast power that Yuuka holds, but you don't know if it's enough.
Aya sees an opportunity and looses a hail of leaf-shaped shots with a shout and a wave of her fan. The shots strike Yuuka while she dodges another attack, battering her like a kite in a storm and leaving her doubled over and hanging limply in the air.
You hold your breath, not knowing for a moment which side your concern is for.
Her body trembles, barely noticeable at first, but quickly growing to resemble spasms.
"Is she okay?" You hesitate to even ask.
Yuuka rightens herself, throwing her head back in rapturous laughter.
"Oh, well done, well done indeed!" Her voice rings clear across the hillside. "Truly, I must thank you for making this encounter more interesting."
She levels her sword at Aya and smiles a wide, warm, and compassionate smile.
"Goodbye." She says, a prismatic ball of light forming at the tip.
The Tengu scatter, but not all of them escape the spark. You see more knocked down to Earth in the wake of the brilliant beam, trailing smoke as they fall.
"You know, if you're worried about having Yuuka not go on the warpath, shouldn't you have intervened before she started fighting the whole mountain?"
"I'm pretty sure this is cathartic in some way for her." Junko replies as Yuuka swivels in place, picking off the remaining Tengu with precision. "Besides, she's only using spellcards so the only real casualty will be their pride."
"Injured pride can lead to a lot of problems." You say, observing the fight. Aya's the last Tengu standing, and the battle seems to have come down to a contest of her speed against Yuuka's might. "Where's Caleb? He said he went to cover you."
"He baited out a bunch of them and ran towards the Yamanba zone before I lost contact. I think he'll be fine."
A final boom sounds, and Aya tumbles to the ground. In a flash, Momiji is by her side.
"Didn't... Think... You cared... So much." Aya manages to sound teasing between gasped breaths.
"Shut it." Momiji retorts. "Do you need help standing?"
"Nah, I'm good." Aya says, wincing while panting on the ground. "Just let me take a breather."
"That was an excellent performance, miss Shameimaru." Yuuka says, gracefully touching down despite the wear and tear from the fight.
"Yeah, same to you." Aya whistles. "Gotta say, I've never seen you put on a show like that before. They must really mean something to you, huh."
Yuuka's expression softens. "Yes." She says. "They do."
"What do you want?" Momiji cuts in.
"The safe passage of the three outsider humans who I have reason to believe are on the mountain." She says, planting her sword into the ground and resting her hands on the pommel. "And as you can see, I have won the challenge against my request."
"They found something in our territory." Momiji growls. "They're going to take it away when they have no right to."
"How unfortunate." Yuuka says, a perfect veneer of politeness over her words. "Perhaps they'll let you have it back if you ask nicely."
"Junko! Charlotte!" She calls out, ignoring Momiji's expression of outrage. "It's time to go."
Junko walks out of the treeline at the other side of the clearing. You do the same, both of you revealing yourselves but not moving to anyone's side yet.
Yuuka frowns. "Where's Caleb?"
"He, ah," Junko begins, glancing at the the few Tengu in good enough condition to pay attention. "He reported that he was going to ground in the Yamanba zone."
Yuuka ponders this, then snorts in an almost petulant way. "That old hag is probably spoiling him rotten right now. No matter. It will take hardly any time for us to meet him."
"Yuuka." You begin, choosing your words carefully. "What we found down there- it's big. All of the big names need to know."
Yuuka sighs as though you've confirmed something, but you're not sure if it's a hope or a fear. "Yes. That is only reasonable. Now come along, we still need to rescue Caleb from the Yamanba's clutches. Then we can return to the garden and summon everyone you need." She returns her blade to its sheath and moves to turn away.
"Ayaya~... do you three humans really know what you're doing?" Aya's voice, full of strained ease, draws your attention. She's standing back on her feet, breathing heavily while staring you down. You see defiance in her eyes, as well as a predatory sharpness probing for weakness.
"Coming into Gensokyo and digging up gods know what in forsaken corners... Aya, don't the good guys know to leave things buried?"
She has a point. How many messes have you cleaned up that began with the greed to take from the supernatural and the arrogance to think the consequences could be avoided?
"You don't even know whose side you're on. How many villagers will still trust you after hearing about the bees in your brains? What will Yuuka do, once she's grown tired of you like-"
Yuuka moves as green and red blur, and Aya cuts off with a gurgle. You blink to behold Yuuka lifting Aya off the ground with a hand wrapped around her throat, leaving her to helplessly kick her legs in the air and claw at her neck.
"You know." Yuuka says, her voice dripping with honey while Aya chokes. "Bird's tongues were once considered quite the delicacy in the outside world."
Her smiling eyes catch the light of the noontime sun at its apex. They are the color of blood.