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Mercy of the Blossoming Self - Chapter 3

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Return to Fiction by Valesta


Stage 3: Rivals

9 months earlier…


Reimu and Marisa walked into a room filled with bookshelves.

“Wow!” said Marisa in complete awe, “Look at all the books! Any other archives in Gensokyo should be ashamed of themselves! THIS is a base of knowledge!”

“Hey now, Marisa,” advised Reimu, “We’re not here to study! We’re here to find the person who caused the mist, so let’s look around and find her!”

“Yeah, I know. I was just thinking of coming back here for the books once we off that ‘mistress’ the door guard was talking about…”

The room began to shake. Marisa, looking around frantically, exclaimed, “Wh-what the hell? What’s going on?”

Reimu observed, “Marisa! The bookshelves!”

Suddenly, the bookshelves began to sink into the floor, leaving a wide open room, larger than a gymnasium.

“DAMMIT!” cried Marisa, “What happened to all the books? I wanted some…”

A moderately pitched, but monotonous girl voice echoed across the now-barren room, the owner of the voice was but a speck in the distance, making the room seem so much larger, “You’ve got nerve, voicing your plans of robbery, in the presence of the owner of the very things you planned to steal. I’d rather the door guard or head maid had taken care of you intruders first, but you are nonetheless unlucky to have come here.”

“So you’re the owner of the books?” asked Marisa, “Well then, with you out of the way, I can have them for myself!”

“Were you even listening to me?” asked the voice.

Marisa drew a spell card, “Love Sign!” The card turned to golden energy that flowed into Marisa’s body. Marisa directed her open palms toward the direction of the voice, “MASTER SPARK!” She fired a massive beam of magical energy across the room. There is a large crashing noise in the distance.

“Did I get her?”

The voice answered, “Attacking from such a distance is foolish. You allowed ample time for me to dodge. I saw your attack and the dodging was easily accomplished, even for a physically-challenged body like mine.”

“Fuck…” muttered Marisa, “I didn’t get her with that…”

Reimu stands and didn’t say anything, since she pretty much agreed with the mysterious voice.

The voice’s tone started to sound a bit more impressed, however, “Still, the nature of that attack… Can I assume that you are a witch? If so, I welcome your challenge, as I am a witch myself. Since you opened the battle with one of your attacks, allow me one of mine! Water & Wood Sign…”

“It sounds like a spell card is coming!” observed Reimu.

“Water Elf.”

Suddenly, clouds built up at the room’s ceiling and rain started to pour. Trees began to sprout up out of the floor.

“What the hell kinda spell is THIS?” asked Marisa.

Finally, the trees reached their full growth, gaining large vines, which the trees lash around like whips. One of the vines hit Reimu, who is knocked back and crashed into the wall. Marisa dodged one of the vines and yelled, “Reimu! Get outta here! I’ll take her myself!”

“No! Whoever she is, she’s dangerous! We should work together!”

“Well the way I see it…” Marisa dodged another vine, “Whoever she is, she’s a witch, like me! You know very well I’m aiming for the top of witchdom, therefore, my witch’s pride doesn’t allow me to accept help in kicking another witch’s ass! Just go and find the mistress! I’ll catch up!” With that, Marisa hops on her broomstick and rides into the dangerous forest of deadly trees.”

“Interesting belief,” said the voice, “Well, I’m more than happy to accept a challenge to duel with another witch. I will allow you to escape, witch’s partner. The head maid will take care of you anyway.”

Reimu hesitated, “But…”

“Don’t worry about me!” echoed Marisa’s voice, “Just go ahead and leave everything here to me! If you run into the head maid, kick HER ass, alright?”

Reimu paused and responded, “Fine. You’d better win this, Marisa!”

“It won’t be easy, but that’s the plan…”

With that, Reimu left the room.


Present day…


In the Forest of Magic, Sakuya hovers above, looking down at Reimu and Marisa.

“Sakuya! What the hell are you doing here?” asks Marisa.

Sakuya replies, “I’d ask you the same question.”

There is a long silence. Finally, Sakuya breaks the noiselessness and explains, “I came here to question a youkai that I was led to believe stole spring, but I was mistaken…”

“What?” asks Reimu, “That means your mission is the same as ours! Marisa found a healthy cherry blossom fall around here her house is and believes spring is elsewhere. We were on our way to look into that when you showed up!”

Sakuya raises an eyebrow, “Are you serious? Spring is elsewhere? Well, you may have just given me the lead I was on my way back to the mansion for…”

“Then why don’t you come with us?” asks Reimu, “We’re after the same thing after all.”

“What?” yells Marisa, “Haven’t you forgotten about before?”

“We made up,” says Reimu, “Besides, aren’t you the one that’s been paying countless visits to the mansion’s library?”

“Yeah, true…”

“I see your point,” says Sakuya, acknowledging Reimu’s suggestion, “Very well. We apparently collected different information regarding the season’s disappearance. We could certainly be of help to one another.” With that, Sakuya descends to where Reimu and Marisa are.

“Welcome to the team,” says Reimu.

The three girls fly through the Forest of Magic, en route to Marisa’s home. Along the way, Marisa says, “A witch, a miko, and an old maid… An unlikely match up if you ask me.”

“I’m not old,” protests Sakuya, “I’m in my 20’s!”

“You ARE old,” jokes Marisa, “You’ve got gray hair and everything!”

“My hair is SILVER!” exclaims Sakuya, annoyed.

“Whoa! Settle down,” says Marisa, “It was only a joke, but seriously, you can manipulate time, right? Time manipulation is a top-rank power. Most humans that have that ability master it by the time they are old crones, yet you have that same level of mastery, despite being so young. Whatever your secret is, I wanna know it!”

“Can’t tell you,” says Sakuya, “I don’t even know where or when I learned how to do it!”

“You don’t know?” asks Reimu.

“Nope…”

“… You are quite the enigma, Sakuya…”

Within minutes, they arrive outside Marisa’s house, a small, but surprisingly well-built house made of wood..

“So you saw some sakura petals around here?” asks Sakuya.

“Just one,” says Marisa, “but maybe more fell while I was away…”

Reimu, Marisa, and Sakuya examine the ground, eventually finding three withered petals in the snow. Marisa examines the petals, “Yes, these are definitely sakura, out of season and out of place, as no such trees grow in this forest. This still confirms my theory, although I have no idea where they are coming from…” Suddenly and randomly, Marisa’s stomach growls.

Reimu and Sakuya look at her strangely, but suddenly, as if their bowels answered Marisa’s, their stomachs growl as well.

Reimu chuckles nervously, and says, “Um… Marisa… We left in such a hurry that we forgot to eat. Might you have some food in your house?”

“I’m completely out!” answers Marisa, “I normally get my intake from THIS…” She points to a withered apple tree, right next to her house, “But fucking winter isn’t exactly helping! Now I gotta mooch off of whatever leftovers Scarlet Devil Mansion has to offer! It sucks!”

“HEY!” yells Sakuya.

“Don’t worry about it,” says Reimu to Sakuya, “That’s just the way she is. Right now, though… we gotta get some grub…”

“You say you get food from that apple tree?” Sakuya asks Marisa.

“Breakfast, lunch, and dinner!” answers Marisa.

“That’s a rather unbalanced diet,” says Sakuya, “but I suppose it’s a healthy lifestyle nonetheless.”

“It’s not unbalanced,” protests Marisa, “I also make apple juice, apple sauce, apple pie, and apple cider! Besides, there’s also a small spring next to my house, which is frozen, where I get water from!”

There is a long pause. Sakuya pulls her last orb of spring essence out of her pocket, “At any rate, I have an idea of how we can obtain some food…” She tosses the orb at the apple tree. As expected, the tree comes to life and grows a number of healthy apples. She draws a spell card, running toward the tree, “Time Sign!” The card vanishes and a white circle forms on the ground area around the tree. She pulls out several knives, “Private Square!” Everything within the area of the tree becomes frozen in time, but time flows normally outside the circle. With the spring tree frozen in time, Sakuya tosses knives, which freeze as soon as they enter the area of frozen time. After a minute, the card’s effects wear off and the tree flows with time once again, however, Sakuya’s previously thrown knives, cut the apples off the tree, which land on the ground in thuds. Soon after, the tree withers again. Sakuya scoops up all the apples and asks, “Will this make for a satisfactory meal?”

“Holy shit!” exclaims Marisa, pulling her orb of spring essence out of her pocket, “These things do THAT?”

“Yes,” answers Sakuya, “I learned from Patchouli that these are the essence of spring. That’s what we need if we want spring back.”

“Dammit!” mutters Marisa, “Patchouli one-ups me AGAIN!”

“ANYways,” begins Reimu, “that’s another piece of the puzzle. Thank you for the information, Sakuya.”

Sakuya walks to the door of Marisa’s house, “At any rate, it’s chilly outside. Shall we eat indoors?”

Reimu and Marisa nod their heads in agreement. They enter the house and upon seeing the interior, Reimu and Sakuya’s jaws drop. Just about every surface in the house is covered with books, most of which are as thick as dictionaries. Marisa notices their reactions and walks over to where the table is and shoves a heap of books off, which crash on the floor, creating a large cloud of dust, “We can eat here.”

Sakuya asks, “How can you live like this?”

“Because I can and I enjoy it. All I need is within reach! How can YOU stand to live cleaning a large mansion?”

Sakuya stands silently to Marisa’s surprisingly effective riposte “… Um… Anyways, why are we waiting? Shall we eat?”

Reimu, Marisa, and Sakuya sit at the table. Sakuya uses one of her knives to cut the apples down to easier-to-eat pieces.

As they eat, Reimu asks Sakuya, “So what else do you know about this ‘spring essence’ stuff? You certainly know more about it than us.”

Sakuya explains, “It’s what’s needed to make the seasons, other than winter, possible. It’s growth, maturity, and death is what causes spring, summer, and autumn.”

“Its lifespan determines seasons?” asks Marisa, “I wish it just had the growth and death. Summer is just too hot and humid. I like spring, autumn… and NORMAL winters.”

“What’s so great about winter?” asks Reimu, before biting a piece off of her apple slice.

Marisa explains, “Because the Forest of Magic is safest in the winter. No man-eating plants grow, so my magic shop would more likely have customers.”

“That’s another way of looking at it,” says Sakuya, cutting up an apple.

“Yeah, but right now, I want spring more than money.”

They continue eating. While cutting an apple, Sakuya randomly glances at one of Marisa’s books laying on the floor, “’Quick, Easy, and Inexpensive Ways to Insulate a Home?’ Patchouli was looking for a book of the same title.”

Marisa stammers, “Uh… er… Sh-she has a copy as well? What a coincidence!”

“Patchouli told me it was one of a kind.”

“Aw shit!”

“It seems you have an explanation. Out with it!”

Reimu explains for Marisa, “Um… Marisa had been making frequent visits to the mansion’s library. Marisa must have borrowed that book…”

Sakuya asks, “Then why would Patchouli ask about it if she let Marisa borrow it?”

Reimu says to Marisa, “I did what I could. The rest is yours to answer for.”

Marisa, seeing no convincing way around it, says, “I just took it from the library. I’m sure Patch would understand…”

Sakuya says, “It’s ordered that no one is allowed into Scarlet Devil Mansion without permission… and that means YOU, Marisa! What the hell has Meiling been doing?”

Marisa answers, “Sometimes, she’s sleeping, other times, she’s practicing her martial arts. I guess she was in her own world and ignored me all those latter times…”

Sakuya stabs her knife into the table, “That idiot!”

Reimu decides it won’t end well if things continue the way they were, and decides to change the subject, “By the way, Sakuya, you never told us why you went to recover spring.”

Sakuya responds, “It’s because winter is causing there to be some… problems at the mansion. That’s really all I have to say about it. How about you, Reimu?”

“Because winter sucks.”

There is a brief pause, broken by laughter coming from Sakuya, “Hahaha! THAT’S your reason? It must be nice to have such a simple life. Nothing complicated whatsoever!”

Marisa asks Sakuya, “If it’s so nice, why don’t you quit being a maid and live a simple life as well?”

“I am indebted to Remilia-sama. She gave me a home. The least I can do to pay back her kindness is to work for her as a maid.”

“For the rest of your life?”

“I suppose so…”

Reimu thinks back to nine months before. At that time, she and Marisa were storming Scarlet Devil Mansion to make Remilia lift the red mist from Gensokyo. After taking a wrong turn and ending up in the library, they encountered Patchouli, who Marisa challenged to a one-on-one duel, causing Reimu to head to the main hall alone, where she confronted Sakuya. They fought a fast-paced and difficult battle, which ended with Reimu using her Fantasy Orb spell card and restraining Sakuya at the same time, despite getting stabbed in the thigh by doing so. The orbs hit Sakuya in the back, stunning her and the two airborne combatants went plummeting to the floor. Using her last ounce of energy, before falling into unconsciousness, Reimu tossed a handful of needles that tore through Sakuya. Both of them ended up unconscious and bleeding on the main hall floor. Later, Marisa, having narrowly defeated Patchouli, found them. She patched up Reimu’s wounds and went on ahead and alone to confront Remilia, a heated battle, which Reimu eventually arrived to lend a hand on, despite her injuries. Looking at the current situation with her and Marisa having a friendly conversation and eating with Sakuya, the bad blood between them now seems like a distant nightmare. Reimu decides to patch up whatever hard feeling are left over from the past, “Um… Sakuya… I’m sorry for what went on between us nine months ago. I appreciate that you are willing to come along with us, in spite of our history.”

Sakuya finishes cutting up an apple and hands a slice to Reimu, “It’s not worth apologizing over. I was protecting my mistress and you were fighting for Gensokyo’s fate. I may have done the same thing in your position. I hold no grudges from before.”

“Thank you, Sakuya.”

A couple hours pass. Reimu, Marisa, and Sakuya finish eating the apples.

Reimu pats her stomach, saying, “Well, I’m full! That was an amazingly satisfying meal and those apples were delicious! You’re lucky to have that tree growing outside your house, Marisa.”

Marisa shrugs and says, “I never thought of it that way, however, I guess the predicament sure put it into perspective. Thank you for using that essence, Sakuya.”

“It’s not a problem,” says Sakuya, “but we really should get back to the business at hand. We need to track the origin of those blossoms.”

“Yeah,” They get up from the table and leave the house, entering the chilly nightmare outside.

Reimu says, “I said it before and I’ll say it once again, this sucks!”

Marisa responds, “At least things will get better once we get spring back… MUCH better…”

Sakuya walks ahead, “Then let’s not waste time talking about it…”

They start looking for more fallen blossoms. Within a matter of minutes, a petal blows by. Reimu looks in the direction it came from, “I’d say we should go in this direction…”

Reimu, Marisa, and Sakuya follow the direction in which the petal fell. In little time, they became much more frequent.

“Cool!” exclaims Marisa, “It’s looks like we are getting closer to the source!”

Sakuya notes, “It still strikes me as strange, however, that spring would be regulated to a different area, as opposed to Gensokyo’s whole. On top of that, we are still in the Forest of Magic.”

Reimu sees what Sakuya is getting at and says, “You’re right. Could one person have somehow taken spring and used it for himself… but if we’re approaching the source, I’d imagine spring could have happened there anyway. It can’t be an act of selfishness or desperation, hogging something that one would still receive, taking the same benefits away from everyone else. Just what can be gained by that?”

“Pretty complicated logic,” says Marisa, “I should know, but I can’t…”

Sakuya glances at Marisa and smiles, “For someone who has a lot of books, you sure seem clueless…”

“What did you say?” asks Marisa, becoming upset.

“Knock it off,” says Reimu, “Sakuya, Marisa really is smart, but she just doesn’t seem to know much about this. She’s mostly about the pursuit of magical power, right?”

“Pretty much,” answers Marisa, “but I like to believe that I’m knowledgeable about everything else. So many mysteries in this situation, to me, is deplorable!”

They press onward. The frequency of petals increases still.

Marisa asks Sakuya, “Hey, about spring’s essence… Did Patch tell you HOW it can be taken? Just where did it come from and how can it be accessed?”

Sakuya answers, “I didn’t even bother to find out… I just wanted to find spring. I didn’t care much about the details…”

Marisa shrugs and says, “With all that info at your disposal, I’m appalled you didn’t look more into it…”

“I don’t need to know every last detail. Still… you do bring up a good point. Who could have gained access to something like that… to steal a season…? Interesting…”

=========================

Meanwhile, back at Scarlet Devil Mansion, Meiling enters the library, flying over the countless bookshelves, “Dammit, Patchouli! You really need to clean this place up…”

Patchouli, reclined in a chair, looks up from a book she’s reading, “That voice… It can’t be…” She grabs a pair of glasses from her nearby table and puts them on to see further away, “Meiling? What brings you here? Why are you not guarding the door? I’m sure you know the punishment.”

Meiling floats down in front of Patchouli, “Ah, there you are! It’s fine. Sakuya gave me her job while she went away on her little spring-hunt. I have no idea how to cook and clean, I’ll just leave that to the fairies, but I can at least protect the mistress. I thought I’d pay a short visit, since I hardly ever get the chance to come down here nowadays.”

“That’s very nice of you,” says Patchouli, taking off her glasses and returning to her book.

“So… whatcha reading?”

“I’m looking into how spring may have been stolen…”

“Interesting! How was it done?"

“I’m really not sure. You see, Meiling, Spring is started by its essence…” Patchouli explains the concept of spring essence to Meiling in the same manner she explained it to Sakuya, minus the demonstration, then continues with the original subject, “The essence stays in an area outside Gensokyo’s boundary…”

“Outside the boundary?”

“Yes, a different dimension, or a subspace, in layman’s terms. It leaves the subspace and enters Gensokyo when the proper time arrives, namely springtime. The seasons, spring through autumn happen as new essence is born in the subspace from what was left behind.”

“So… you’re saying spring’s essence doesn’t exist in Gensokyo, until that time of year arrives… but if that’s the case, how can it be stolen. It shouldn’t even be able to be accessed…”

“That’s right, Meiling. It shouldn’t. It’s impossible to all beings, except…”

“Except… who?”

“There is a being that has existed in Gensokyo since its infancy, who has the power to manipulate boundaries. That being can certainly access or weaken the seal, separating Gensokyo to spring’s dimension…”

“So that ‘being’ is the one behind all this?”

“Possibly, but I don’t see how spring can possibly relate to that being. I know of no such relations, so it’s too early to be pointing fingers.”

“At any rate, I sure hope Sakuya can get to the bottom of this. It’s getting too brutal outside…”

Patchouli sighs and says, “Yes, everything is falling apart without the preferable seasons… The mansion has been getting colder. I only hope it doesn’t affect Miss Flandre’s temperament…”

Meiling gulps at the idea.

Elsewhere, in the mansion’s basement, Remilia knocks on a door, colored pink with a big yellow F on it, offsetting the otherwise murky area.

Behind the door, a cute, but somewhat annoyed voice asks, “Who is it?”

“It’s me, Remilia!”

The voice cheers up slightly, “Oh! Big sister! Please come in!”

Remilia enters the room. It’s a small, but well-decorated room, with white walls, a bed with pink sheets, several handmade dolls, and a metal wand leaning against the wall near the door. However, there are claw marks on the walls and half of the dolls had their heads pulled off. Also, the room is roughly 50 degrees, making it uncomfortable for an indoor location. Sitting on the bed is Remilia’s sister, Flandre Scarlet, dressed in red and a pink hat, with blonde hair, kept in a ponytail, and features distinguishing a vampire, fangs, red claws, crimson eyes, and wings, though in Flandre’s case, they are made of metal and have sharp prism shards dangling from them.

Remilia walks up to Flandre and pulls a small doll out of her pocket, “I made this for you, sister. I know things are a little rough right now, but I hope this will make you happy…” Remilia is a little unsure, seeing the fate of half of the dolls she made for Flandre, but tries to sound sincere.

Flandre accepts the doll, “Thank you. Um… It’s becoming cold in here. I’m having trouble controlling myself…”

“I know. This extended winter is causing a lot of problems, but we have to stay calm…”

Flandre randomly flies into a rage at the mention of winter, the thing that has caused her, and others, much discomfort and trouble. She gets off of the bed, her eyes glow, and her entire body radiates a crimson aura. The doll she’s holding is reduced to ash, “Damn winter! I shall not forgive it! AAARRGGGHHHHH!” Flandre flexes her power, creating a force pushing everything away from her, including Remilia, who slams into the nearby wall, creating a dent in it, “It shall feel my wrath! I will ANNIHILATE it! I will make sure winter never happens again!” Flandre starts to run out of the room.

“Shit!” Remilia runs up to Flandre from behind and restrains her. The prisms on Flandre’s wings sink into her skin, but she ignores it and yells, “Flandre! Get it together NOW! This is not going to solve this problem! It’s being taken care of as we speak, but we have to keep our cool! CALM… DOWN!”

Flandre takes a few deep breaths and her energy drops, “Yeah, I guess not. I’m sorry Remilia…” She takes a few steps away from Remilia and notices the wounds she got, restraining her, “Ah! I’m so sorry, sister! You got hurt because of me…”

“It’s no big deal,” says Remilia, “I’ve had worse…”

Flandre looks at the ashes blown against the bedroom wall, the remains of the doll Remilia made, and says, about to cry, “And I destroyed the doll you made for me…”

“It’s fine,” says Remilia, “I can make you a new one…”

“Thank you…”

“This winter won’t last much longer. Can you please be a good girl until then?”

“Yeah…”

Remilia leaves Flandre’s room, takes a few steps, and clutches one of her wounds, “Damn… Even if she says it, I can’t be sure. This time, it was too close... I don’t know when Flandre will lose her cool again. Sakuya, please get spring back before something terrible happens…”

=========================

Back at the Forest of Magic, after the sun had set and the only light is that of the large crescent moon shining in the sky. The stars are hidden by clouds. Sakuya suddenly pauses, “Ah!” Reimu and Marisa also stop.

“What’s wrong?” asks Marisa.

“Is something the matter, Sakuya?”

Sakuya sighs and says, “No… I just got some sort of bad feeling. C’mon, let’s continue…”

“I dunno,” says Marisa. A while ago, the frequency of petals had increased, but after traveling through it a ways, it decreased. Supposedly, they should have located the source of the petals, but found nothing, “We didn’t find anything, yet we should have flown right through the source. Now it looks like we’re getting further AWAY from it. We should turn around and give it another look.”

“Maybe we should look again tomorrow,” suggests Reimu, “It’s dark out now.”

“Did you bring a tent or something?” asks Sakuya, “I sure didn’t. We won’t find our way back to Marisa’s house in this darkness and we’ll freeze if we stop. The best thing we can do is tough it out and continue to look!”

“Dammit,” mutters Reimu, “I see your point…”

“Didn’t think we’d go this far out of our way,” says Marisa in dismay, “We totally fucked ourselves over…”

Reimu, Marisa, and Sakuya turn around and go back the way they came. Sure enough, the concentration of petals increased again, but still no sign of an area where spring essence is. They find themselves hovering above a frozen lake. The crescent moon reflects off the ice.

“Dammit all!” yells Marisa, “We’ve looked all over this part of the forest, but found nothing but land as frozen as everything else!”

“We should have found something!” exclaims Reimu, “Just what is it we’re missing?”

“Just what is it that you’re after? It better not be the same thing as me!”

“Huh?”

A voice comes from above. Floating in the air, the moon’s light shining on her, is a girl. She wears a blue dress with white highlights, has blue eyes, and has semi-long blonde hair, complemented by a red headband. She holds a grimoire, locked shut and nearby, something small, resembling a living doll, with long blonde hair, with a red ribbon, wears a blue dress with a white apron, and has beady blue eyes.

“Who the hell are you?” asks Reimu.

Marisa cuts in, “Oh, hey there, Alice! What brings you to this godforsaken part of the woods?”

“You know her?” asks Reimu.

“Yeah,” answers Marisa, “Her name is Alice Margatroid. She’s a witch like me and she’s the only other person crazy enough to make a living in the Forest of Magic.”

“In other words, she’s exactly like you?” asks Sakuya.

“Don’t compare me to her,” moans Marisa.

“That’s right,” says Alice, “don’t! I’m on a higher plateau of magical mastery. Miss Kirisame here doesn’t come close to comparing!”

“Damn you!” yells Marisa.

“I take it you two haven’t exactly seen eye to eye…” observes Reimu, “still, she seems kinda familiar…”

Marisa explains, “We’ve been competing in studies and collection of magical items. I can’t lose to her!”

“So she’s your rival?” asks Sakuya, “I don’t know if I should be amazed or sorry for Alice there…”

“Sorry for me?” asks Alice, “I think you have that backwards! Marisa is far too stubborn to regret competing with me in this arcane field!”

Sakuya’s eyes widen, “She’s like another Marisa…”

“SHUT… UP!” yells Marisa in a sharp voice.

Reimu rubs the back of her head, “This is quite an interesting girl…” she gets serious, “However, Alice Hemorrhoid, or whatever your name is, what did you mean when you said that we shouldn’t be after the same thing as you? Just what are you after?”

“That’s Alice MARGATroid,” says Alice in an annoyed voice, “As for what I’m after, it’s to end this winter.”

“That’s what WE’RE after,” says Marisa, “Alice, you may piss me off sometimes, but we’re after the same thing. How about joining us? We can definitely do this together!”

“Invitation declined,” responds Alice, taking no time to think it over.

“WHAT?”

“Why not?” asks Reimu, “It’s best if we work together toward the same goal!”

Alice answers, “I don’t want you three taking my glory. I don’t want the honor of returning the season to be divided. I want it all! Everyone will know that I am the most powerful witch in Gensokyo.”

Marisa growls, “Grr… This sets a new record for shitheadedness! The fate of Gensokyo is at stake and all you care about is your reputation? You don’t get out much anyway! What do you care about what others would think of you?”

“It’s not so much for my image,” says Alice, starting to blush, “I just want someone to notice me. I’m sure to earn respect from him if I prove myself and return spring…”

Reimu speaks up, “Rinnosuke, right?”

Alice’s eyes widen, “What? How did you know?”

“I knew I saw you before. I didn’t recognize you without your face being all red and not holding a heart-shaped box of chocolates, but you’re always standing in front of Kourindou, beat-faced, holding a box of chocolates, and muttering to yourself. I guess you never noticed me, since you were always in your own little world!”

Alice sighs and says, “Yes. That’s right…”

Sakuya, in the middle of the whole debate, scoffs slightly, seeing that Alice’s arrogance was just overshadowed by innocent emotions.

Marisa says, “Fine! Whatever! I see where you are coming from, but you can just tell Kourin how you feel! You don’t have to put yourself at possible risk over that!”

Alice, becoming defensive, yells, “I’ve made up my mind, Marisa! I will do this alone, without your help! If you intend to continue taking the same path as me, I will stop you!”

Marisa sighs and looks at Reimu and Sakuya, “She’s beyond reasoning. Looks like I have to settle things…”

“What do you mean by ‘I?’” asks Sakuya, “We’ll go through her and continue our quest!”

Reimu on the other hand, smiles and says, “Good luck! Kick her ass, Marisa!”

Sakuya looks at Reimu in surprise, “What? You aren’t helping?”

Reimu answers, “No, and neither should you, Sakuya.”

“Why?”

Marisa answers, “It’s because she’s a witch and I’m a witch. That’s all you gotta know. If you interfere, I will take care of you afterward.”

Sakuya’s eyes widen, “Marisa…”

Marisa flies up toward Alice.

Sakuya says to Reimu, “I still fail to fathom why we should not be involved in this affair!”

“It’s Marisa’s pride as a witch,” says Reimu, “she won’t accept any help when it comes to confronting another witch, regardless of the situation. It was the same deal nine months ago.”

“What?”

“Marisa and I were storming Scarlet Devil Mansion. Much was a stake. However, when we entered the library, Marisa insisted on facing Patchouli alone and having me go on ahead. I had trouble accepting it, but Marisa wouldn’t have it any other way. Now she’s faced with the challenge of another witch, and it’s the same thing all over again. It’s a personal affair between witches, and it’s not our place to cut in.”

“Very well,” says Sakuya, “I’ll still go on ahead, regardless of this outcome…”

Marisa, approaching Alice, says, “You know, Alice, deep down I was hoping this would happen! I always wanted the chance to face you in a duel, I just never imagined that it would happen like this!”

“Likewise,” says Alice, “but before we begin, we must agree on something.”

“What?”

“If I win, not only will you abandon your quest for spring, but also your two sidekicks.”

“I… see…” Marisa yells down to Reimu and Sakuya, “You hear that? If I lose, we all go home!”

“WHAT?” yells Sakuya, “I will not give up over this! If we quit, who will end this winter?”

“I think we’ve already gone over this,” says Alice, “If you three give up, you’ve still got Alice Margatroid to save the day!”

Reimu says, “I know it sucks, Sakuya, but she has a point. If she’s powerful enough to beat Marisa, she certainly has a shot at completing our mission.”

“I don’t like this,” says Sakuya, “but fine! You’d better win, Marisa!”

“That’s the plan,” yells Marisa, turning her attention back to Alice, “As for you, Miss Margatroid, what can you offer if I win?”

Alice says, “I will give you the spring essence that I have collected in my travels, plus, I have an idea of where all the petals are coming from. I will give you that information should you win.”

“Sweet!” exclaims Marisa, “I guess I shouldn’t kick your ass TOO hard, then!”

“I should say the same,” says Alice, “I’d feel bad doing so…” She holds out her grimoire, “Shanghai! Hold onto this!” Alice’s nearby doll, Shanghai, wraps its arms around the grimoire. It struggles to stay airborne, due to the weight of the book, but manages to fly to a safe distance.

“You really are sure of yourself…”

“I don’t need it to deal with the likes of you.”

“I think you’re afraid of using it and STILL losing.”

“Sh-shut up! I’ll show you!”

“Sure you will. Well then, let’s begin, Alice!”

Marisa backs away from Alice, extends her arm, and fires several green blasts of energy. Alice responds by concentrating magical power into her arm and swinging it at the blasts, deflecting them. Alice then extends her arm and index finger, creating a magical red laser.

“Whoa!” Marisa flies to the side, narrowly dodging Alice’s laser, counterattacking with several blue blasts of magic.

Alice quickly descends, avoiding Marisa’s attack, “Is that it, Marisa?”

“Hardly! I know YOU’RE fucking around as well! Let’s see some toys, shall we?”

“DOLLS, is the proper term. I was hoping to play around longer, but if you insist on seeing my true power…” Alice draws a spell card, “… then you will see all that power has to offer! Curse Sign!” The card disappears. Behind Alice, several dolls, looking exactly like Shanghai, materialize. Alice smirks and yells, directing her arm in Marisa’s direction, “Straw Doll Kamikaze!” In unison, the dolls fly toward Marisa at amazing speeds, leaving golden trails of light in their wake.

Marisa looks at the countless dolls and mutters, “Shit… Shouldn’t have provoked her…” Marisa turns and flies at a speed similar to the dolls. Two dolls approach and Marisa makes a sharp turn away from them as they burst in small explosions of golden light. Several more dolls fly in. Marisa takes evasive action and dodges explosion every which way, almost looking like a firework display. Marisa tries to fire blast of magic at Alice, but between dodging and the lack of vision, due to the dolls’ explosions, she can’t get a good shot.

Watching from a distance, observing the battle, Reimu says, “Look at all those dolls! How can Marisa deal with it?”

“She’d better not lose!” exclaims Sakuya, with some worry in her voice. She takes a deep breath and calmly observes the situation, “Although this Alice is certainly more skilled than her appearance suggests. Still, there is a major flaw, despite the scale of the attack…”

“A flaw?”

“Yes. Look at Alice.”

Reimu looks at Alice, who is hovering still with her arms extended and her eyes paying attention to the dolls, but not lending a hand to her creations, “Alice isn’t moving and certainly not attacking!”

“Exactly. Alice must be controlling the dolls. Looking at all that, she has quite a workload. She’s helpless when controlling them!”

“It doesn’t appear to matter, though. She has Marisa at a disadvantage. All she can do is dodge. I don’t see how Marisa can get in a good shot through all that!”

“True. I don’t even think I’d have an easy time with that. The dolls would be all over me before I could freeze time. For now, Marisa has to outlast the spell card’s effects…”

Back at the battle, Marisa reached the same revelation Sakuya had and desperately tries dodging the dolls, but Alice has a much easier time controlling them as their numbers dwindle. Finally, a doll flies at Marisa, unexpectedly, from above and bursts.

“ARGH!” Marisa is knocked downward and crashes through the ice below and into the water. The card’s effects end and the remaining dolls vanish. Maris rides her broomstick out of the water, “AHHHH! Cold! Cold! Cold!”

Alice grins slightly, “You sure don’t look very well. How about saving yourself some trouble and surrender?”

“No way!” yells Marisa, “If I do, I won’t hear the end of it from Reimu and Sakuya! I’d sooner lose!”

Alice runs a hand through her hair, “That sounds like a tired cliché, but an admirable attitude, nonetheless…”

Marisa draws a spell card, “Well, since you got a chance to show off before, it’s time for me to do the same! Love Sign!” The card turns to golden energy that flows into Marisa’s body.

Alice raises an eyebrow, “Ah yes. Your trademark Master Spark…”

“Damn right, Alice! Now let’s see how you deal with it!” Marisa backs away from Alice, extending her arms toward her, “Master Spark!” Marisa fires a massive bolt of magical energy at Alice.

As the bolt approaches, Alice moves her arm in a circular pattern, hand leaving a silver trail in its wake. Finally, the circle completes and a star-shaped symbol appears in the middle, “Too easy, Marisa!” The Master Spark flies into and is absorbed by the circle, which glows brightly afterward. Alice holds out her hand and a red-haired doll materializes. The circle shrinks and engraves itself on the doll’s chest. She draws a spell card with her other hand, “Curse!” The card turns to purple energy that flows into the doll, which emanates an aura afterward. Alice points the doll toward Marisa, “HOURAI DOLL!” A large beam of purple energy, mixed in with gold shoots out of the doll, the power of Marisa’s Master Spark Alice absorbed, in addition to her own. Blinding light radiates from the beam. Reimu and Sakuya move their arms in front of them to cover their eyes. After a few seconds, the beam subsides and Alice’s doll vanishes, “Did it…?”

Suddenly, Marisa’s voice yells up from a lower altitude, talking back to Alice’s previous statement, “Too predictable, Alice!”

“Huh?”

Marisa rockets up toward Alice, clenches her fist, and throws a right hook to Alice’s jaw. Alice reels back, then floats in place, rubbing her jaw on the count of being unaccustomed to physical pain. She feels some blood run down her chin and wipes it off, “Ah! Curse you, Marisa!”

Marisa, with a smirk, says, “Didn’t think I’d do that, huh? I know you know about my Master Spark, so I thought a couple steps ahead!”

Alice says, “You underestimated my power and I underestimated your intelligence… That makes us even, but this is still far from over!” Three dolls materialize in front of Alice and each fires a volley of magic bullets at Marisa, who back away. Alice draws a spell card, “War Command!” Around Marisa, front, behind, left, right, above and below, dolls materialize, each holding a small sword.

Marisa looks at the situation, shrugs, and draws a spell card, “This should do, Black Magic!”

“Doll’s War!” The dolls start to charge and close in on Marisa.

“Event Horizon!” Star-shaped projectiles materialize and swirl around Marisa, intercepting the dolls and destroying them.

Alice draws another spell card, “Elegant Sign: Spring Kyoto Dolls!” Several black-haired dolls materialize in front of Alice in two circular patterns: A smaller circle right in front of Alice with their arms extended and the wider circle, firing several magic shots. Marisa fires several blasts of magic toward Alice, but the dolls with their arms extended create a barrier defending Alice.

Marisa thinks to herself, Damn! A barrier. It will probably take something more powerful to break through it. A Master Spark would probably work, but it won’t get a lot accomplished doing nothing to Alice… unless… Well, it’s time to test out the new one I’ve been perfecting! Marisa draws a spell card, “Loving Heart!” Like with the Master Spark spell card, golden energy flows into Marisa.

Alice observes, It looks like Master Spark, but it seems… different…

Marisa flies toward Alice, flying around the shots the dolls are firing. She extends her arm and fires a massive bolt of magic, resembling Master Spark, but smaller. The dolls shield Alice from the blast, but disappear afterward. New dolls begin to materialize in their place.

“Too late, Alice! DOUBLE SPARK!” Marisa fires a second miniaturized Master Spark, slamming into Alice before the dolls could defend her. The dolls vanish and Alice hangs in the air, stunned. Marisa fires a volley of magic blasts, all of which hit Alice, and she falls to the ground below, missing the lake. Marisa flies down after her.

Reimu says, “Well, Sakuya, it looks like we have a clear winner…”

Sakuya wipes some sweat off her brow, ”Whew! Good! Now we can continue..." Reimu and Sakuya fly after Marisa.

The three of them land next to Alice, with some burnt skin and torn clothes. Shanghai descends nearby, holding Alice’s grimoire.

“I think that’s enough,” says Marisa, “I doubt it can be considered… y’know, HEALTHY to keep going with this…”

Alice tries to rise to her feet, but collapses, “Darn it! I don’t want to say it, but you’ve won this round, Marisa…” she reaches into her pocket and hands her spring essence, a ball slightly smaller than the one Marisa has, to Marisa.

“Thank you!” says Marisa with a grin, “More importantly, though, where are the petals coming from?”

Alice says, in a slight riddle, “If you’ve searched north, west, south, and east, and found nothing, what direction is there left to go?”

Reimu, Marisa, and Sakuya take a few seconds to think.

“Up?” guesses Marisa.

In response, Alice points toward the sky. Sure enough, petals are falling through the clouds before being swept up by the wind.

“Spring is in the sky?” asks Sakuya.

Alice says, “I just noticed that and I was about to go that way before you three showed up…”

Marisa says, “Alice, you can still come with us if you want…”

“No thanks,” says Alice, “I’m quite worn out after that and I’d be a burden to you like this. I’ll just return home and wait for spring to arrive. You beat me, Marisa, so you’d better not fail!”

“Yeah,” Marisa turns, but stumbles slightly.

“Marisa?” asks Reimu.

“It’s alright,” says Marisa, “That last spell I used was still in its trial stages and unperfected. I’m just a little dizzy, but it’s no big deal.”

Reimu, Marisa, and Sakuya fly to the sky.

Alice slowly gets up and takes the grimoire from Shanghai, “Well, Shanghai, I’d hate to admit it, but whoever has Marisa as an enemy doesn’t stand a chance…

Shanghai, incapable of speech, raises an eyebrow.

“Yes, I know. It doesn’t end here between us. I will become more powerful and best her someday.”

Shanghai smiles.

“C’mon, Shanghai. It’s chilly out, so let’s go home! Don’t worry though, soon the weather will become nicer…” Alice and Shanghai slowly take to the sky and fly into the darkness of the forest.

Meanwhile, above the clouds, Reimu, Marisa, and Sakuya find themselves in an unknown area, resembling a tunnel with cloudy edges. Snow falls, but it is mixed in with petals.

“What IS this place?” asks Reimu.

“A place out of the ordinary,” answers Marisa, “I didn’t think something like this exists above Gensokyo!”

Sakuya smiles and says, “Well, whatever this place is, the concentration of cherry petals is greater than ever. Whatever this is, it seems to be the right direction…”

“It’s like a tunnel,” observes Marisa, “I’d say it leads somewhere…”

“Then let’s see where it goes,” says Reimu.

The three of them fly further into the tunnel.

=========================

Meanwhile, elsewhere, Yuyuko, shrouded in darkness, with her servant, Youmu, standing nearby, looks up at a large sakura tree, almost at full bloom, “Beautiful! The Saigyou Ayakashi is more splendid than I imagined! And this isn’t even its full bloom! We still need more essence, but not too much more. I’m counting on you Youmu!”

“Yes, Yuyuko-sama…” says Youmu in a slightly strained voice.

“Youmu? Is anything wrong?”

“It’s nothing. I shall be on my way…” Youmu walks away. She pauses and looks back at Yuyuko before continuing to walk. Yuyuko-sama… The Saigyou Ayakashi is more than just a tree. This is not what I want, but… Dammit! Father, I haven’t forgotten what you taught me, but… just what can I do? I mustn’t disobey Yuyuko-sama, but…

Youmu enters a large palace. Inside, she is confronted by three figures.

“Ah! Youmu!”

“Oh. Hi,” greets Youmu, unenergetically.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing… Hey, can you three do me a favor?”

“Whatever is it, Youmu?”

“With the lack of spring essence, the inhabitants of Gensokyo no doubt are curious as to why winter is continuing. Some may have even investigated. It’s unlikely that they would be led here, but just in case, I want you three to stand guard. Also, thanks to Lily, fairies containing essence have been unleashed onto Gensokyo, so anyone who could possibly come here may have gathered some, so take it from them should any appear.”

“Yes, Youmu! We want to big flower-viewing event to run smoothly, so we’ll do everything we can to help.”

“Thank you…”

With that, the three figures disappear.

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