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The fastest way to travel around Gensokyo obviously was flying. Since I clueless on how to fly let alone magic in general, Ran was quite annoyed with how things turned out. I wasn't too happy about the arrangement either, but there was no other choice. As Ran flew gracefully in the sky, I was dangling dangerously close to the tops of the trees, holding onto nothing but her arm with both hands. As one might imagine, this was very difficult to do as my arms got tired. I wasn't quite sure, but it must have been pretty hard for Ran to carry a hundred and something pounds with one arm as well. But then again, what did I know? Youkai, especially a powerful one like her, might have incredible strength on top of their spiritually abilities. As we flew over the trees, I realized just how much of Gensokyo was covered in forest. I would have been hard pressed to find so many trees outside. It really was a pity how technology had erased so much of the natural world.
I struggled to hold on for much longer than I thought I could, about ten minutes, before I finally decided that we should probably take a break. Apparently, Ran was thinking the same thing. Just as I finished that thought, she asked, "Feel like taking a break?"
We landed in a small clearing. I noticed Ran rubbing the arm I had been holding on to and realized how much my own arms were hurting. We sat in that clearing for a good while, saying nothing and just massaging our aching limbs. It was probably a funny scene to anyone who might have stumbled upon it. I noticed a few fireflies flying around as I tried to get the feeling back into my arms. I watched as they danced around in a mesmerizing way, randomly yet somehow beautifully. Ran tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention.
"We should leave now."
"Do you see the fireflies? There's too many of them."
I looked back to the glowing insects. It seemed that more of them were appearing so that the air was filled with these dancing bugs. It may as well have been dawn from the amount of light that was being produced. I started to notice among them other insects as well. And then I realized what was causing all of this. I remarked aloud, "Well it's too late now. I think she's already noticed."
"That's right. It'd take an idiot not to notice you two weirdos."
The insects all at once flew to one edge of the clearing and by the fireflies' backlight, I saw a girl with two antennae protruding from her head.
Even before I heard her voice, I knew who this youkai was and what she would look like. Short bright green hair, fairly plain white shirt, somewhat long blue shorts, and a short black cape. Of course at night, I couldn't see details or colors very well so all I saw was a silhouette of someone with antennae and a lot a bugs swarming around. However, as soon as she stepped out into the light of the half moon, her appearance dispelled any apprehension I may have been feeling. Which was close to none anyway.
Back in the world that I was more familiar with, back in the "real" world, I had never payed too much attention to this particular person. She wasn't exactly a subject of attention in the fan base I had known and I myself wasn't too interested. This is the reason that when I actually saw her for the first time, she didn't seem threatening at all. She looked really young. She could have passed as nine years old and looked like she was trying her hardest to look like a boy. As she confidently strutted closer to us, she reminded me of a little kid acting the part of a superhero.
Something tugged on my sleeve and looked back to see Ran.
"Come on, let's go before this gets stupid."
I started to walk off with the fox, but apparently the newcomer wasn't going to let us go that easily. Before I could get a good grip on Ran's arm, she quickly flew up and covered the rest of the distance between us in a matter of seconds and landed in front of us, blocking the way we were about to go in.
"Hey, don't pretend I don't bug you!"
I smacked my palm to my face when I heard that. So did Ran, but she also said with a muffled voice, "Didn't you say that the last time I saw you?"
"The last time you saw me?" the youkai asked. She thought back for a moment before jumping back and pointing at Ran, "Ah! You're that weird fox youkai that that other weird youkai threw at me!"
A strange image of someone throwing someone else as if pitching a baseball quickly flashed through my mind and I had to stifle a chortle. Meanwhile, Ran was trying to intimidate the stranger, but seemed to be failing. When I redirected my attention back to the two, I heard the short bug girl shout, "You can't scare me off! Just because you beat me last time doesn't mean you can do it again and this time, you don't have those other two to help you!"
For a second, she paused as she collected her thoughts. Then, after a taking a deep breath, she exclaimed as loud as she could, "I, Wriggle Nightbug, challenge you to a duel!"
"You want me to duel you?" Ran asked scornfully, "That'd just be a waste of time."
I couldn't agree more with that statement. But on the other hand, I couldn't agree less. I had a feeling that if the fox just agreed to fight and beat the crap out of Wriggle, we would have spent less time than this pointless argument was taking. From my knowledge, Ran's power was much greater than that of the bug youkai's and we would have been well on our way to the Yakumo household in less than a minute. If only Wriggle was more inclined to attacking without warning, forcing Ran to attack back and ending it quickly. Or if only Ran were more inclined to accepting pointless duels.
Instead, there they were, looking like a little kid trying to pester her mother into doing a favor. Well that was a bad comparison since it was more like pestering someone into killing her. But whatever, it was getting annoying.
"Are you two going to fight or not?!"
The youkai looked at me with surprise, having already forgotten that I existed. Wriggle took my sudden exclamation to be proof that she was right, and seemed very satisfied with herself. Ran, however, marched up to me, looking every bit like she was going to hurt me. I took a hesitant step back as she bent over, bringing her face within half a foot of my own. As she opened her mouth to say something, I was sure she was going to be yelling or growling or in some other way intimidating me. What I wasn't expecting her to do was to simply whisper, "What are you thinking?"
"Huh?" I said as I looked stupidly back at her, completely taken aback by the lack of volume. And then I realized that she wasn't angry at all - in fact, she was sort of smiling. Kind of. Maybe.
"I said, what are you thinking?" she repeated, "You sounded like you had a plan."
"Oh, uh, well," I stuttered as I stalled for time to collect my thoughts. "How long do you think it would take to defeat this person?"
Ran glanced back at Wriggle, who was looking at us like we were planning her death or something. Which technically wasn't too off. The bug youkai sneezed and wiped her nose on her sleeve.
"Not too long."
"Then just fight her instead of arguing about nothing."
She looked back at Wriggle again, just in time to see a bug land on her left antennae, causing her to jump and look around for the source of the "danger."
"You have a very good point."
Ran straightened up and we both walked back to Wriggle. She greeted us with an eye roll and a "'Bout time." Ran ignored that remark and informed her of her decision.
"I accept the duel. Standard rules. The battle ends when one of us cannot continue fighting or when one of us gives up," she stated, "And this human here is the observer, I guess."
"That means I just start the battle and watch right?" I managed to ask Ran before she took flight. She nodded to me as she rose in altitude with Wriggle close behind. At a considerably high height, the two of them separated, leaving a fairly great distance between them. They looked at me, which I took as a sign that they were ready.
"Begin!" I shouted as loudly as I could. I actually doubted they could here me but apparently just seeing my lips move was enough. Immediately, Ran declared a spellcard, visibly surprising Wriggle. It was apparent that she was going to go all out. In response, the bug youkai declared her own spellcard, ready to counter one attack with another. In only a few seconds, the battle was already ready to explode.
From my position, I couldn't hear the what the two of them had said as they unlocked the powers in their respective cards. In fact, I couldn't even see them pull out their spellcards either. Logically, I shouldn't have been able to detect the fact that both of them had declared a spellcard. By now, though, I had already learned that Gensokyo was not a logical place - at least not by my standards. Perhaps there was some sort of aura that surrounded the declarers, or maybe it was the way the environment seemed more quiet and foreboding like the calm before a storm , but I couldn't be sure. The only thing I was sure about was that both of them had just raised their attack abilities significantly.
However, I still didn't know what they had declared, but that wasn't anything a little observation couldn't fix. Ran didn't even wait. Since Wriggle had declared slightly later than Ran had, her spellcard would also have become fully active slightly later, giving the fox youkai a few precious extra moments to set up her attack. Multiple glowing orbs materialize around Ran and quickly spread themselves out in a semi-random manner. Wriggle barely had enough time to even look at the one closest to her before they started firing colored energy everywhere. And it was then, with the aqua and purple violet magic lighting up the night sky, that I recognized the spellcard. It was Shikigami "Banquet of 12 General Gods", an attack that was designed to limit the movement of the target while barraging it with projectiles from multiple sides. I squinted at the center of the attack, where it was most chaotic and saw that the bug youkai was indeed trapped in a purple cage of pure energy with teal arcs cutting through and coming dangerously close to her body.
Of course, Wriggle didn't really need to dodge the attack too well. After all, she still had her own card to defend with. Whatever it was, if it was strong enough, it could nullify most or all of Ran's attack. So that's what she did. It wasn't even three seconds before a blast of magic, this one yellow, erupted from within the purple prison, neutralizing it. Wriggle created a second wave almost immediately and I saw more clearly the attack was. She spun around quickly, emitting yellow orbs from her body and forming two solid yellow rings around her. It was a perfect defensive move, except that the rings only stayed for a second and a half. After that, the orbs that made up the rings suddenly exploded into smaller yellow and green projectiles. It was difficult for me to determine what the name of the attack was since many of Wriggle's attacks looked similar, but there was one aspect of this particular one that gave it away. It was fast, so fast that there was barely any time to react to the attack once the defensive ring dispersed into the offensive spread. Hidden Bug "Hermit of an Endless Night".
Both spellcards were, to my surprise, apparently the same strength. As I watched, neither the purple and blue nor the yellow and green were overtaking the other. Just as I wondered how long they would just sit there nullifying each other's attacks, Ran suddenly switched strategies. All of the luminescent orbs that she was attacking with dissipated and she dashed forward at full speed - she had dropped her spellcard prematurely. Wriggle didn't change her plans and continued the same attack. As soon as Ran entered the deadly pattern, she seemed to blend into it. The yellows of the projectiles were the same color as her most prominent feature, her tails. Periodically, bursts of brilliant teal broke the monotony of the shifting yellow, each time getting closer and closer to the center, the source of the attack. And then, just as I thought Ran had broken through and was about to hit Wriggle with something, the attack changed.
Suddenly, instead of needle-like projectiles, the yellow balls erupted into multicolored butterflies. From the center, red and blue butterflies were also being produced, following each other in single file curves so that they looked like twisting beams. To my disappointment, Ran was thrown out of the new attack back into plain sight by one of the beams of blue butterflies. After righting herself from getting hit for the first time, she looked back down at me from a hundred meters up gravely and I knew that she was thinking what I was. This battle was not going to be as easy as we had thought originally. Wriggle had somehow acquired the ability to use her last word at will. Her most powerful attack, "Unseasonal Butterfly Storm", was going to be difficult to defeat.
At least, I thought it was going to be difficult, even for Ran, but in a minuscule moment, I thought I caught a grin. As I squinted up at the sky in an attempt to verify it, a swarm of glowing butterflies engulfed her and she was once again hidden in the thick barrage. I seriously wondered how well Ran could dodge and worried that perhaps she had underestimated Wriggle. But my doubts were dispelled almost immediately after I had lost sight of her. A bright burst of neon colors from within the shifting pattern of butterflies caused a fairly large gap to appear, revealing an unscathed Ran. It wouldn't last long though and I was expecting Ran to rush forward to attack Wriggle through the split second opening, but nothing of that sort happened.
Instead, she rummaged in her clothing and pulled out what I was sure was a spellcard. But there was no way that she could declare it and force back that many projectiles quickly enough. A short but incomplete list of Ran's spellcards flew through my head, but not a single one of them would be theoretically possible to counter with on time... unless she was planning to use her trump card. But to unlock the full power of that attack, she would need to be absolutely desperate - on the verge of death. No one in her right mind would do that unless it was clear she would need to use it, would she?
Well, no matter what I thought, she was going to do whatever she was doing. And what she was doing was raising her right hand straight up with a rectangular card. The card flashed brightly for a millisecond as she muttered something just as the nearest butterflies got to her. I didn't even see her hand lower. The break in the pattern that she had created to get that brief chance to declare closed around her again and I lost sight of the fox youkai again. I expected to see some sign of struggle in the swarm of butterflies, but nothing happened. No flashes as energy negated itself. No sign of interference in the twisting maze. Not even a glimpse of one of Ran's bright yellow tails.
What's going on?
Wriggle ended her spellcard finally, after almost a full two minutes. I was amazed that she had enough stamina and spirit energy to keep it up that long. The butterflies disappeared into thin air as soon as she stopped. Even from my position, I could see that the bug youkai was exhausted from that exertion. But where was Ran? I scanned skies and saw no one but the green-haired girl. My heart dropped. Was Wriggle's attack so strong that not even a trace of her opponent could be found afterwards? She apparently thought so from what I saw on her tired but smug face as she flew towards me.
While she was still in the air, a name that had been lost in my memory suddenly popped into my head. Tenko. For some reason, I couldn't quite remember exactly what Tenko was, but something was nagging me, trying to tell me that it was important. And then it hit me - at the same time Wriggle was hit from behind by a concentrated blast of energy from a nine tailed fox who had miraculously materialized out of nowhere. The spellcard she had declared earlier was Shikigami's Radiance "Princess Tenko -Illusion-". Though I had no idea how it worked, I knew that it allowed Ran to hide herself from anything and at the same time reappear anywhere within the vicinity of several meters.
The force of the attack caused Wriggle to lose control of her flight, hurling at a dangerously high speed toward the tree line. Again, Ran disappeared and reappeared next to her target and blasted her with the concentrated blue burst. Wriggle reversed directions, heading toward the ground. At me. My body froze up as I saw her body flying uncontrollably towards my face, but Ran continued her assault and appeared at another angle to hit the bug youkai in another direction. At this point I started feeling sorry for Wriggle.
Ran did a total of five hits before wearing herself out completely. The end result was an unmoving Wriggle who was lying in the middle of the clearing. Ran landed next to her, gasping for air as she tried to catch her breath, and bent over to examine the defeated night bug. I approached with new respect for Ran. In fact, she sort of scared me now. She looked up at me and remarked, "She's just unconscious. It's better this way anyway. She can't stop us from leaving now."
I was about to ask something - whether it was really necessary to defeat Wriggle in such a brutal manner - but someone else spoke first, "I think you've gotten stronger, Ran. Have you been training while I've been napping?"
The voice came from above so we looked up, but instead of seeing someone flying as I had expected, I saw... nothing. But it was a special kind of nothing. That nothingness wasn't supposed to be there. Something was missing from a tiny portion of the night sky, as if someone had made a hole in the sky.
"Yukari-sama, you were watching the whole time?" asked a surprised Ran. The hole in the sky widened until it looked like a dark blot was covering the constellations. And then a head popped out of the hole.
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