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- Return to Fiction by Valesta
Yukari wakes up. Despite being a ghost who can’t feel pain, the loss of her body’s spirit energy is just as hard on her. She opens her eyes and sees a grey ceiling. The first words that come out of her mouth express the perfectly natural reaction to her predicament: “Where… am I?”
However, Yukari was not expecting someone to answer, “Inside a dungeon. I see you’re finally with us.”
“Zzzzzzz…” Another voice is also present, in spite of being just snoring. However, Yukari recognizes the voice that spoke to her, as well as having a vague remembrance to the sound of the snoring.
“Yama…?” Yukari sits up, and sure enough, inside the typical-looking cell of the dungeon she is in, with stone walls, floor, and ceiling, and metal bars, with her is Sikieiki Yamaxanadu and Komachi Onozuka, who is sitting in the corner, sleeping.
Sikieiki points out the irony, “Fancy our reunion being like this. Out of many Netherworlds, we find ourselves in the same one, in the same place, in the same predicament…”
“And you’re a ghost now, I see. I never thought that would happen.”
“A while ago, neither would I. You see…” Yukari tells Sikieiki everything that happened to her, up until her confrontation with Kotohime.
“I see…” says Sikieiki, “You’ve had quite an adventure… and the end serves you right! You see, Yukari, even though you have the ability to alter the space between realms, it doesn’t mean you should have used it so freely. It is a crime against the natural order of things, and doing so excessively, like you had, is most certainly a way to find oneself condemned to Hell. What you should have done was_”
“Yama,” Yukari interrupts, “I know you are doing your job and all, but, frankly, it’s rather difficult to take your words seriously when we are sharing a prison cell. It… undermines the authority you are supposed to have. Even then, manipulating boundaries is what I do. I’d go so far as to say it’s my… raison d’etre.”
“…” Sikieiki understands, but doesn’t want to admit it outright.
“So, how did you and Komachi end up here?”
Sikieiki leans back, “As you are no doubt aware, the Lunarian Empire had taken control of this Netherworld. The Yama who governs this one is… how shall I put this… a coward. She surrendered rather easily. Accompanied by Komachi, I took it on myself to convince the leader of the occupation, this… ‘Kotohime,’ that it is in her, and the empire’s, best interests to leave the realms of the afterlife alone. She refused to listen, had her troops ambush us, and we were tossed in here.”
“Sounds like her…” Yukari stands up and looks at the metal bars of the cell, “You actually let these hold you? Are you even trying?”
Sikieiki says, unusually smug, “Try to escape yourself.”
“I will!” Yukari extends her arm and fires a blast of energy. However, it comes out much weaker than she intended. The small blast slams into an invisible field of energy in front of the bars and gets absorbed.
Yukari stares at the bars, “What happened? Why am I so weak?”
“This is why.” Sikieiki raises up her hands into plan view, revealing two gray rings wrapped around the index fingers of both of her hands. Yukari looks at her hands and finally notices that she is wearing the same thing. Looking at Komachi, the shinigami is in the same situation.
“What are these?” asks Yukari.
“I can only assume that they suppress our ability to use energy attacks,” says Sikieiki, “Komachi and I tried to do the same thing, but to no such avail.”
Yukari smirks, “Hmph. They forgot one thing! Watch and learn, Yama!” Yukari tries to open a gap, but nothing happens, “What? These rings do that too?”
“There is actually a different reason for that…” A girl with sandy blonde hair and golden eyes, wearing a blue uniform with a Lunarian emblem pinned on it, comes into view.
“Who are you?” asks Yukari.
“A Lunarian, obviously,” adds Sikieiki, “What do you want with us? Wasn’t conquering this Netherworld enough?”
“Relax,” says the girl, “I don’t get my kicks the same way as my ‘sister.’”
“Your sister?” asks Yukari.
“Kotohime, I mean…” The girl introduces herself, “My name is Watatsuki no Toyohime. I am the second princess of the Lunarian Empire. I’m terribly sorry about Koto’s treatment of you.”
“If you really are sorry,” says Yukari, “You will release us!”
“That, I cannot do,” says Toyohime, “You see, Koto had been granted absolute control of this realm. Even I can’t disobey the rules she had set. The least I could do is apologize to you for how you were treated.”
“I see your sister’s behavior doesn’t run in the family,” says Yukari.
“We Lunarians are living things… human and youkai, too,” says Toyohime, “We are all different, just like you.”
“So what’s going on? If these… rings didn’t take away my powers, then what exactly happened?”
Toyohime explains, “First, I will explain those rings to you. As you had discovered, I’m sure, they suppress your ability to use whatever energy you use as a weapon. They also disable your ability to materialize things in your space, greatly diminishing your combative ability. They cannot be removed through sheer force… that is unless you mutilate yourselves. A machine in this complex controls them and by deactivating it, the rings just slip off. As for your powers, golden-haired youkai, while you were out, Kotohime put you through a process she likes to call ‘conditioning.’ In that process, one’s innate powers are extracted into a crystallized form. The resulting crystal is then surgically implanted into another’s body, thus allowing that person to use those powers. I wouldn’t be surprised is Koto ‘stole’ your ability for herself.”
Yukari’s hands curl into fists, “What? I’ll kill her! In one way or another, her life will be mine to take!”
Toyohime smiles awkwardly, “Well, if you can find a way out of here somehow, you can try…”
Yukari takes a few deep breaths, knowing that getting angry in this situation will not help. “When I first met this ‘Kotohime,’” says Yukari, “She introduced herself as the empire’s fourth princess. Just how many princes and princesses are there?”
“You do realize it’s the enemy you are making small talk with?” whispers Sikieiki to Yukari.
Yukari shrugs, “She doesn’t seem like a… you know… BAD Lunarian…”
“I heard that,” says Toyohime, “No trouble, though. I find you interesting and reasonable. To answer your question, there are no princes and there are four princesses: Myself, my real sister, Yorihime, Kotohime… and one I’ve never met…”
“Care to tell us what you mean by ‘real’ sister?” asks Sikieiki.
Toyohime explains, “Yori is my blood related sister. Really, only the exiled first princess is the empress’ biological daughter. The rest of us were taken in. ‘Mother’ truly loves Koto, but she adopted Yori and I for our… convenience…”
“Yori and I are the last surviving students of the moon’s former greatest mind, Miss Yagokoro. With her wisdom passed on to us, mother figured that princess status would be a great asset for the empire’s chain of command, thus, our adoption.”
“Ah!” Yukari knows Eirin came from the moon, but also that she was escaping from there, along with Kaguya. She decided to say nothing and give the Lunarians no leads.
“Huh?” There is a yawn, “By ‘Miss Yagokoro,’ do you mean Eirin Yagokoro?”
Yukari whirls around to see that Komachi had just woken up. “You idiot!”
Komachi picks the sleep out of her eyes, “What did I do?”
Toyohime’s face lights up, “You KNOW her? Where is she?”
Toyohime’s expression softens, she slumps to her knees, and she clasps her hands together, as she begs, “Please tell me! I really want to know! Is she okay?”
Yukari sighs and pauses for several seconds, “Alright. I’m sure you’ll go to whatever means to find out. I guess the cat’s out of the proverbial bag…” Yukari explains everything she knows about what became of Eirin after she left the moon with the emissaries to retrieve Kaguya, to how she took them to Gensokyo, to the moon incident, and finally… “… she and Kaguya were taken away. I don’t know what Yumei’s plans are with them, though…”
Toyohime tenses up, “I see. I wish I could do something with that information, but unfortunately, our forces can only operate within other boundaries on nights of a full moon…”
“So, now that you know, what do you plan to do?” asks Komachi.
Toyohime pauses, “I would like to find her and bring her home, but I respect her too much to dishonor her wishes. For now, the information I had gained will not leave these walls…” Toyohime walks toward the dungeon’s entrance, “I’ll be sure to visit you again, and… thank you… for being there for Miss Yagokoro when she and Kaguya needed you, golden-haired youkai.”
“It’s Yukari. Yukari Yakumo.”
“Yukari… I will remember that name…” Toyohime leaves the dungeon.
Komachi remarks, “Looks like you made a new friend, Yukari.”
“I hope so,” says Yukari, her lips curling into a smirk, “Hopefully through that, I can manipulate her into releasing us. It will happen, mark my words! I will make Kotohime PAY for what she did to me!”
Meanwhile, in Makai, the immortal maid, Sakuya and the demon maid, Yumeko’s battle begins with Alice, Shinki, Yuki, and Mai watching on.
Sakuya begins the duel by throwing a single knife at Yumeko to see how she will react and gauge her skill.
“Hmph.” Yumeko swings her knife upward, deflecting Sakuya’s knife, causing it to spin into the air. The demon maid then whirls around to toss her knife, which Sakuya narrowly sidesteps out of the way of. However, Yumeko then jumps up, grabs Sakuya’s previously thrown knife out of the air, and tosses it down at the immortal maid, who is momentarily immobile from the momentum of dodging the first knife.
“Damn!” With no time to dodge, Sakuya raises her arms in defense and the knife sinks into her arm, “AAGGH!”
“Sakuya!” yells Alice.
“That’s our Yumeko,” says Yuki.
Yumeko says with a deceptively sweet smile, “That wasn’t bad, fellow housekeeper, but it looks like I have the advantage here. You might want to give up, you know. The sight of other people’s blood excites me and sometimes I lose control. When that gets to be the case, accidents happen.”
Sakuya pulls the knife out of her arm, “UGH! I assure you, I’ve been through worse. We’ve only gotten started.”
“That’s the spirit! Let’s continue, then!” Yumeko draws another knife and charges toward Sakuya, the distance between them closing faster than the immortal maid anticipated. Sakuya barely blocks Yumeko’s attack in time and then jumps away to put distance between them again, as she knows Yumeko has the speed advantage. Knives materialize between Sakuya’s fingers, and she tosses one handful, and then the other at Yumeko, who twists to one side to avoid the first throw, and then swings her knife, deflecting the second. Yumeko gets in close for another close-range knife attack, which the immortal maid sways back to dodge, but the demon maid follows her attack with a kick, which sends Sakuya slamming back-first into the wall.
Yumeko rushes forward to thrust a knife into Sakuya, who quickly sidesteps and avoids the attack, and then dashes back toward the middle of the room, again for distance, and draws a spellcard, “Time Sign: Private Square!” A pillar of area, with Yumeko in the center, becomes monochrome, as the time within it stands still.
“What just happened?” asks Yuki.
Alice answers, “That’s Sakuya’s power. She can control time.”
Yuki’s eyes widen, “Really? Wow, the outside world has some interesting things…”
“…” Mai attentively watches to see what will happen.
Shinki folds her arms in front of her, “Quite a talent your friend has, Alice, but we will see if that’s what’s needed to defeat Yumeko…”
Sakuya dashes frantically around the frozen Yumeko, materializing and tossing knives, which stop short upon reaching the outside of the pillar. Finally, the spell reaches its limit and time resumes. Yumeko notices the knives as they start to advance on her, gradually becoming faster. Quickly and instinctively, she leaps up, avoiding any major damage, though a few of the knives nick her ankles, and lands outside the danger zone.
“I did not expect that,” says Yumeko, “Quite a power.”
“…” Sakuya says nothing, dissatisfied over the utter lack of success her spell had.
Yumeko guesses at the nature of Sakuya’s technique, “They just appeared, and you suddenly went from one location to another, so I suspect you did something along the lines of freezing time?”
“Ah!” Sakuya is surprised at how fast Yumeko figured it out.
“It seems the knives need a little time to move, thus the time window, and there was only so much space you could affect, which is why the knives were not closer. Plus, there were no knives above me to cut off my escape, so it seems there is something to prevent you from covering that area. I hope that’s not your best. How boring. At any rate, let us resume, shall we?” Yumeko tosses three knives at Sakuya, who tosses three of her own in retaliation. The knives collide and deflect off each other. Yumeko summons a group of magic circles that fire out knives. To stay on the same level of power as the demon maid, Sakuya does the same, and soon, there is a large crossfire sequence between the two maids. Both manage to dodge most of the knives, though some get through their defenses and inflict minor damage.
As the battle rages, Alice says to Shinki, “This needs to end soon! I do recall how Yumeko can get when a battle goes on for too long. Sakuya could end up in serious danger!”
Shinki says, calmly, “Oh, I’ll worry about that when the time comes.”
“It could be too late by then…”
“It won’t. Trust me, dear Alice.”
“Time to end this!” yells Sakuya, drawing a spellcard, “Silver Sign!” Her magic circles multiply in number. Sakuya thrusts her open palm in Yumeko’s direction, “Perfect Maid!” All at the same time, the magic circles fire out a swarm of knives.
Two knives materialize in Yumeko’s hands, “Is that it? I imagined you had a challenge coming my way!” The demon maid charges into Sakuya’s attack, quickly swinging her knives and deflecting Sakuya’s until she gets all the way through with only some minor nicks.
Sakuya bites her lip, “Damn…”
Yumeko says triumphantly, “My reflexes are the best in Makai. It’s insulting to think such a feeble attack would beat me! Now then…” Yumeko draws a spellcard, “I’ve seen what a couple of your cards can do. Now allow me mine!” Yumeko raises her spellcard, “Demon Sign: Hell Mirror!” To her left and right, two identical Yumekos appear.
All three Yumekos jump away and toss knives at the maid at the same time. Sakuya narrowly dodges, but then the three Yumekos separate, and she loses track of the original.
One Yumeko dashes in close to deliver a close range knife attack that Sakuya leaps away from. Out the corner of her eye, she notices another Yumeko toss a knife at her, which Sakuya reacts to at the right moment, sidesteps, catches out of the air, and tosses back at its original thrower. The knife sinks into her lower chest, and the Yumeko bursts into black flames and vanishes. Sakuya acknowledges it as a fake, but also realizes something that differed from the original.
“Your friend has skills,” says Yuki to Alice.
Alice folds her arms in front of her, “The real Yumeko would not be caught off-guard like that. I assume the copies lack the ability of the original…”
Sakuya declares a spellcard, “Time Sign!” Energy fills her, but she doesn’t cast her spell right away.
“Haa!” One Yumeko attempts another melee attack on Sakuya, who again dodges, but the other jumps over its copy, lands, and prepares to strike.
“Private Square!” Sakuya again casts the spell where she freezes time in a small area, in which both Yumekos get caught. She dashes around the monochrome pillar, tossing knives, which stop and surround the Yumekos. Time resumes and the knives fly. One Yumeko jumps out of the danger zone, while the other gets stabbed from all direction as she tries to confirm the situation. Naturally, that Yumeko bursts into flames, revealing itself as the fake.
“Not a bad trick,” compliments Sakuya, “But it wasn’t hard to find its flaw.”
“I figured as much,” says Yumeko, “My copies lack my unparalleled reflexes. However, I figured you’d make it through that spell…” Yumeko readies another spellcard, “I wonder how you will deal with this one…” She raises the card, “Flash Sign: Shining Blaze!” Suddenly, Yumeko vanishes with a blur.
Sakuya raises her knife in defense, “Where did you go, Yumeko?”
“Oh, I’m here, I assure you…” Sakuya notices Yumeko’s voice is constantly on the move, coming from various directions and distances “… but it’s obvious you can’t keep up with me…”
“Surprise~” Yumeko momentarily appears in front of Sakuya, quickly jabs her knife into Sakuya’s left eye, and then disappears. It all happened before the immortal maid could react.
“AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!” Sakuya slumps to the floor in pain, her left hand over her blinded eye, blood seeping between her fingers, “Ugghhhh…”
Yuki winces at Yumeko’s action, “Ouchie! Sucks to be her!”
Alice grits her teeth, “Gr…”
“…” Shinki and Mai watch with unchanging expressions.
“Well, it looks like Yumeko’s getting into this,” says Yuki with a slight shrug, “When she gets excited, along comes her inner sadist.”
“End this!” Alice tells Shinki, “At this rate, Sakuya will lose… or worse! It’s over…”
“…” Mai briefly glares at Alice.
“Hmhmhm…” Shinki chuckles.
“What’s so funny? This is serious!”
“It’s nothing,” says Shinki, “It’s just unusual to see you care so much about someone. Still, it’s too early to call a winner.”
“Your friend hasn’t yet given up. She’s determined…”
Sakuya rises up, still with her left hand over her eye, and tightly grasping a knife in her right. Yumeko had slashed her back and shoulder, but compared to the pain in her eye, the rest is trivial.
“You are so stubborn,” says Yumeko, on the move, “Are you REALLY that serious about getting Alice out of here, only for her to die? Think about how meaningless all of this is!”
“…” Not saying anything, Sakuya focuses. All the colors around her become lighter, but time continues to move, albeit at a slower pace. With time slowed, Sakuya can see Yumeko’s movements, though they are still amazingly fast. Yumeko tries to perform more hit-and-run attacks, though Sakuya can now defend against them, but little else. She continues defending until the effects of Yumeko’s spell wear off.
Time resumes its normal pace and worn out from the time manipulation, Sakuya’s breathing becomes heavy. Yumeko smiles, “Another time thing, I take it? It seems those abilities take a lot out of you.”
“Plenty of blood. I’m quite satisfied…” Yumeko readies a third spellcard, “Are you ready for the coup de grace? Maid Secret Skill: Persistence!” In front of Yumeko, five magic circles appear, and each fires out a knife.
In spite of the pain, as well as the heavy loss of energy due to spellcards, time manipulation, and loss of blood, Sakuya still barely musters the energy to jump over the knives as she runs toward Yumeko, “Ugh… That’s… a rather underwhelming spell…”
Yumeko places a hand on her hip, “Perhaps you should turn around?”
“Hm?” Sakuya glances behind her. The knives she had previous dodged make a U-turn in midair and fly back toward her. “Ah!” Sakuya dodges to the side, but the knives stay in the air and continue flying toward her. She runs and flies, despite her body’s protests to stay ahead of them.
Yumeko says calmly, “It’s no use. Those knives will stay on your trail until they hit you.”
“Tch.” Sakuya tries to consider her options. She could attack Yumeko and hurt her enough to shatter her concentration on the spell, but in her current condition, it’s doubtful she’d succeed in the attempt. Spellcards are out of the question, since Sakuya no longer has the energy to use one without harming herself.
“Please! Just give up!” yells Alice to Sakuya, “It’s not worth this!”
Sakuya groans, “I never give up... The only people... I’ve ever lost to are my mistress… Reimu… and Eirin… the longer that list… the greater my weakness… This… is not just about you, Alice…”
Yumeko pouts, “You are so stubborn, it’s sad. Fine then, that will be your epitaph.” Yumeko charges at Sakuya. The immortal maid attempts to guard with her knife, but Yumeko’s swing is so strong, it knocks the weapon from Sakuya’s hand. Yumeko then thrusts her knife in Sakuya’s gut.
“ACK!” Sakuya coughs out blood. At the same time, Yumeko’s homing knives sink into her back.
Yumeko smirks, “Fighting to the death, eh?”
“Sounds good,” groans Sakuya, “Nothing to hold me… back… now…” Sakuya slowly pulls a spellcard out of her pocket, “Last… Wo_” Suddenly, Sakuya’s spellcard is cut in half. She and Yumeko glance at what caused it: A doll armed with a sword, which then vanishes.
They look at the obvious source. “That’s enough!” yells Alice, running over to Sakuya.
“Heh…” Sakuya slumps to the ground.
“Crap…” says Yuki, shaking her head, “So much for a good finish…”
“You didn’t need to do that…” says Sakuya, “I’m finished anyway…”
“Shinki!” yells Alice, “Is there any way we can save her? There isn’t a lot of time!”
Shinki walks over to them, arms folded, “Of course, there is. Sara!”
In front of Shinki, a girl with pink hair, wearing a red dress over a short-sleeved white shirt appears, “What’s up, Mothe_” she sees Sakuya, “Oh my GOD! I guess I see what you need me for…”
Alice stares at the girl, “Sara? I forgot about you…”
Sara glances at Alice and says sarcastically, “Oh, gee, thank you for thinking about me all these years, Alice, especially when I was constantly wondering about you… Ah, whatever, there are other issues right now…” Sara kneels next to Sakuya and pulls the knives out of her body.
“AHH!” Sakuya screams and winces in pain.
Sara rolls her eyes, “You’re not making this any more pleasant for me, y’know? Now hold still…” Sara holds her hands out and they glow white.
Alice glances at Shinki, “Um… What is she doing?”
The creator explains, “I granted Sara healing powers not too long ago. I thought it could come in handy someday…”
“Alice…” moans Sakuya.
“It looks like I’ve failed to prove myself to Shinki…”
“No, I think you have done enough,” says Shinki.
“You didn’t give in, and you even tried to use a Last Word. Sometimes winning isn’t what’s important. Your resolve is indeed strong…” Shinki turns her attention to Alice, “It’s not too late, Alice. Are you sure you want to return to Gensokyo? You are aware that death awaits you there.”
“I won’t say that until it happens,” says Alice, “Besides, I have friends. They can help me against whatever is supposed to end me.”
Shinki closes her eyes in resignation, “I see. It is your choice, and I won’t stop you, though I insist against it to the end.”
“Thank you,” says Alice gratefully.
“However,” says Shinki, “Night is about to fall. I suggest you remain here for the night. I will return you tomorrow.”
“We should,” says Sakuya, “You know as well as anyone that it’s not a good idea to explore an unknown area at night.”
Sara’s hands stop glowing, “There. You should be good.”
Sakuya turns her attention toward her body’s condition. She is still blind in her left eye, and most of her cuts remain, “How am I ‘good?’ Nothing is different.”
“Well, exCUSE me for being weak,” growls Sara, “I can’t heal ALL that! I just got you out of the danger zone. For the rest, you should just get patched up.”
“Good work, Sara,” says Shinki.
“Well, at least I got a chance to use that power…” Sara vanishes.
Shinki says to Yumeko, “Yumeko, I have some tasks for you,”
“What is needed, Mother?” asks Yumeko obediently.
“Take Alice’s friend and bandage her injures and your own. After that, prepare a futon in Alice’s room for her friend and make Alice’s bed. Then, I want you to cook dinner. Also, at some point,” Shinki points at the floor, where blood is smeared all over, and discarded knives laying around, “clean, wash, and disinfect this floor.”
Yumeko stares at the floor, wide-eyed, realizing the mess she was partially responsible for making, “Um… Yes, Mother. I shall get to work right away…” She helps Sakuya to her feet, and they leave the room, with Alice following. Shniki vanishes, leaving only Yuki and Mai.
“This is bad!” cries Yuki, “Alice is going to leave us again, and Mother says she’s going to die, so… SHE’S GOING TO DIE!”
Yuki clenches a determined fist, “Well, I, for one, will not let that happen. Mother may punish us for this, but I have a plan. Mai, wake up at midnight, because your help will be much appreciated.”
“Okay!” Yuki leaves the room with a mix of tension and resolve.
Mai stares straight ahead blankly “… … … … Luize…”
- Return to Fiction by Valesta