~Chapter Eight: The Darkest Hour~
~Mr Kirisame Rides Again~
The earthquake was growing stronger by the second. It reverberated through Reimu's body like the rumbling snores of some ancient beast that was about to wake up and most likely start eating people. All around her, her friends were casting nervous looks at the ground, checking their spellcards and just generally having no idea what to do.
"So, giant worms..." said Reimu, rising unsteadily to her feet. "Worms. Giant. We know they're likely to come from the ground, and presumably eat solid rock..."
"We can fly, though, can't we? We could bombard them from the air without risking a pitched battle," offered Patchouli.
"Or freeze time and kill them at our leisure," suggested Sakuya.
"Good thinking. Sakuya, you freeze time as soon as-"
A violent tremor sent Reimu sprawling on top of Sakuya.
"The Shrine Maiden of Paradise, ladies and gentlemen," giggled Marisa. "Is this a good time to mention I brought potions?"
"Proper ones?" said Reimu dubiously.
"I made them myself!" said Marisa proudly.
"That's a no, then."
Marisa pouted. "You really need to have some faith in me, Reimu." She reached into her pocket and retrieved a small glass bottle half-filled with thick, bright-red liquid, which she drank in one gulp. Strength flowed back into her limbs as the static charge left her. "Ahhh, that hit the spot. I've got invisibility potions, too! Want one?"
Marisa lobbed another healing potion and a small vial of greyish-purple liquid into Reimu's hands. "It might not be shock-proof, so be careful." She turned to Meiling. "Can you stand up?"
Meiling rose laboriously to her feet and accepted her vials. "Yeah, just about."
"Awesome. Keine, think fast!"
A bottle of healing potion bonked the unconscious Keine on the forehead.
"Maybe I should do it," offered Flandre, retrieving the bottle of potion. Scowling with concentration, she lowered it to Keine's lips and poured it down her gullet.
Keine's eyelids fluttered gently apart. "Whuh-? F-Flandre Scarlet?! Where am I?! What happened?!"
"I don't know. Reimu, what happened?" asked Flandre.
"Terrafirmavores," replied Reimu, forcing down a fearsome belch as the potion met her digestive system.
"Oh." A few memories resurfaced. Keine's eyes widened with horror. "The village! What happened?! Did anyone get hurt?!"
"Everyone got out safely," Reimu reassured her. "The Agohakas escaped, though, and-"
Reimu, Keine and several other people turned to see a dozen or so humans loitering sheepishly beside the bakery, brandishing makeshift staves, crossbows and the occasional firearm.
"Is it safe yet? I mean, we saw you drive the toothy youkai away," said a young woman with a pitchfork and a dangerous-looking scarf. "We'd've loved to have helped out, but, um, Hayato was worried we might get in the way..."
Reimu gave her a withering look. "If you call yourself an Incident-Resolver, you have to-"
"The thing is, there are giant worms coming," Keine interrupted. "Sure, I could've used some help, but that's in the past. If you want to live-"
"Grow a backbone and help us fight them!" snapped Reimu. "Those who can fly, take to the air! Sakuya, get ready to-"
The earth in front of her tore open with an almighty roar. A set of circular jaws as wide as a horse burst out of the ground, arcing over Reimu's head. A moist, wrinkly, grey-brown body rumbled past her, showering her with mud and assaulting her nostrils with a soggy, earthy smell. Reimu fell back, dimly aware of the worm's jaws smashing through the ground behind her as she landed heavily on her bottom. Screams rang in her ears. The courthouse turned to splinters as another Devourer poured out of the ground and aimed its ludicrous jaws straight at her. Two beady little eyes sat at what might as well have been the top of its mouth.
Reimu raised her gohei. "Divine Arts: Omnidirectional Dragon-Slaying Circle!"
A cloud of spell-tags battered the Devourer, making it screech with pain. It lunged towards Reimu.
Marisa and Meiling cast a barrage of stars and petals. The Devourer writhed and screeched, shielding its eyes with its tail as the bullets peppered its skin, only to rush forwards with double the fury.
Reimu flashed into the sky, letting the Devourer's jaws close around empty air just in time for it to crash nose-first into the ground. It reeled back in agony, leaving a deep crater full of cracked cobbles and broken teeth.
"All right! Finish him, Reimu!" suggested Marisa, punching the air.
Reimu's power poured into the yin-yang orbs, flowing easily now that she (and the orbs) had got a good warm-up. "Spirit Sign: Fantasy Seal!"
The worm took an orb to the neck with little trouble, but the subsequent three orbs in the ribcage (if a worm could really be said to have such a thing) were enough to send it sprawling between the half-eaten houses.
"Marisa, how did you know the worm was a 'him'?" asked Reimu.
"Um," said Marisa.
The Devourer let out a roar. A mighty twitch of its bruised torso turned one house into rubble. Two more Devourers rose from the ground either side of it with cracking, tearing rumbles that shook the town square.
Reimu's eyes narrowed. "Flandre, Marisa, take to the air. Keine, I want you-"
"Sure, I'll fight alongside you," said Keine firmly. "Sakuya, if you wouldn't mind-"
"I'll look after anyone who can't fly. Patchouli, might I suggest-"
"That Flandre stay on the ground with you and obliterate any worm which looks close to eating somebody?"
"Sure thing," said Flandre brightly. "Meiling, could you maybe-"
"SHUT UP!" bellowed Reimu. All around them, more and more Devourers were bursting out of the ground. The villagers clung onto one-another in terror, apart from one middle-aged man with a blunderbuss, who was clinging onto the blunderbuss. "Less talking, more worm extermination, all right?"
As one, the Devourers pounced, and Reimu was suddenly alone in a maelstrom of noise and dust and huge, writhing sausages of pure muscle. The Devourers surged through the air like avalanches, barely flinching as Reimu bombarded them with spell-tags. A piercing scream and a faint "Sakuya! Sakuya, speak to me!" caught her attention.
"Don't worry, Reimu, I got her! Just shoot the worms!" Marisa plucked the last healing potion from her pocket, flashed a two-fingered salute and and flung herself at the maid.
Two Devourers were circling Reimu like vipers poised to strike, wheeling their heavy bodies through the air with impossible grace. "Um, Keine, do something?"
"Okay. Spiritual Birth: First Pyramid!"
A spread of small blue bullets got the second Devourer's attention. Three colossal balls of energy sent it sprawling along the high street.
"Spirit Sign: Fantasy Seal: Spread!"
The yin-yang orbs tore through the other worm's midsection. The Devourer howled in pain as its tail fell to the ground in a shower of blood and badly-digested danmaku. Its front end dove into one of the gaping holes that pockmarked the town square, watched by another, rather worried worm.
Reimu breathed a sigh of relief. If a Devourer was vulnerable to being cut in half, this wasn't going to be half as bad as she'd thought. She glanced down at the village: Devourers were weaving in and out of their tunnels, ploughing through buildings, stuffing themselves with everything that couldn't get away. A cacophony of screams, battle-cries, spellcard names and explosions rose into the air. The battle seemed pretty even so far. Time to tip the balance.
Reimu plucked a spellcard from her pocket and took aim at a random Devourer. "Divine Spirit: Fantasy Seal: Blink!"
Reimu launched herself at the Devourer. At that moment, Keine's back garden split open as another worm poured out into the sky. Bones trailed from its midsection. Before Reimu's eyes, a new tail was knitting itself onto the bisected Devourer even as the worm launched itself towards her. Reimu grit her teeth. It was going to be half as bad as she'd thought.
"M-my leg..." Sakuya's eyes were glazing over, her face lined with pain.
"It'll be fine, I promise! It's barely even a scratch!" said Meiling desperately, not once looking up from the strips of green tank top that kept Sakuya's life from pouring out onto the ground. "Marisa, don't touch her-"
Marisa poured the healing potion down Sakuya's gullet. Sakuya coughed and spluttered as the deep gash running from her thigh to her knee started to close.
Patchouli glanced over from the two Devourers she was peppering with fireballs. A terrified village guard clung desperately to the larger one's lips as its tongue tried to shove her down its throat. "Is it going well, you two?"
"I... I don't know!" Meiling took Marisa's arm in a worryingly firm grip. "Is it, Marisa? Is it going well?!"
"If you wanna keep that hand, you'd better take it off me," Marisa reassured her.
Meiling's grip tightened. "If anything happens to Sakuya-"
"Marisa, that potion was amazing! Thank you!" gushed Sakuya. "I feel on top of the world! Just show me a Devourer..."
Several Devourers burst out of the ground and came charging towards the terrified villagers.
"All right, feud over..." sighed Meiling. "Colourful Sign: Chaotic Light Dance!"
The whole group unleashed their strongest spellcards. A few Devourers dove underground with their tails between their... tails, while the rest ploughed through the hail of bullets.
"Th-they're unstoppable..." a young woman whimpered.
"I don't know the meaning of that word," scoffed Mariss. "Anyone who's not an Incident-Resolver, get down! Magicannon: FINAL MASTER SPARK!"
"Dream Sign: Bullet Between the Eyes!"
An almighty ray of light blazed through two Devourers. A third fell with a scream of agony as its eyes exploded into goo.
"Gods, what kind of spell was that?!" gasped Marisa.
"My own invention," the blond-haired man said modestly. "A shopkeeper can't be without protection, can he?"
"Guess not." For the first time since the battle had begun, Marisa took a moment to look at the shortish man fighting beside her. There was something vaguely familiar about him. Very familiar. "Wait... Dad?!"
"Marisa?! What are you doing here?!"
"Well, uh, defending the Human Village..."
Mr Kirisame snorted. "How typical of you. You're only doing this because you value every human life and you want to keep us safe from evil, even if it means your death. Oh, yes, I can see right through bratty witches like you!"
"Well, don't expect me to risk my neck dragging you out of some giant worm's stomach!"
The ground beneath Mr Kirisame's feet crumbled like chalk. He fell with a strangled yelp into the emerging mouth.
Marisa sighed. "Well, you know me and my promises. Oi, ugly, come and get me! I'm delicious!"
Meiling's eyes widened. "Marisa, what are you doing?!"
"I value every life! He said it, not me!" shouted Marisa, diving headlong into the Devourer.
"She's lost it," sighed Meiling.
"Dream Land: Super Duplex Barrier!"
The Devourer's mouth splayed open as it crashed against a shimmering wall of blue light. Waves of spell-tags tore into the worm.
"Lævateinn, I summon thee!" declared Flandre. A flaming red sword materialised in her hand. The young vampire flashed towards the Devourer, thrust her sword into its tail and unseamed it from the nave to the chops until she hit the barrier.
"Oww..." whimpered Flandre, rubbing her flattened nose.
The two halves of the Devourer fell limply to the ground, giving Reimu a far better view of its innards than she had ever wanted, and Flandre just as good a view as she'd always dreamed of. It seemed to be nothing but a stomach wrapped in muscle, with plenty of teeth at the business end.
"Well, at least now we know we can kill them," said Reimu.
The two halves began to tremble. Fresh muscle and stomach lining began to grow, followed by a coating of wrinkly grey-brown skin. Two brand-new Devourers glared up at them.
"You're kidding me!" wailed Reimu.
"Just leave it to me," said Flandre confidently. She reached out to one of the new Devourers until she found the core of its being and drew it into her hand. Gritting her teeth with effort, Flandre clenched her fist. The Devourer was promptly consumed by vivid red fire.
The other Devourer stared in horror as its twin went 'kyuu'. It leapt into the air with a scream of rage, its eyes fixed on Flandre. Or rather, its eye.
"Hey, it's only got one eye! What happened?!" gasped Flandre.
Reimu's brow furrowed. "When you cut the original Devourer in half, did you damage its eyes?"
"Ummm... No. I think I cut between them."
"You did, did you? Hmmm..." Reimu took a moment to aim and threw a single spell-tag. It hit the Devourer's eye with a terrible splat, sending a shower of ocular goo through the sky. At once the Devourer was stricken, its body writhing in agony as its mouth opened and closed without sound. Slowly but surely it fell.
Reimu stared for a moment, then whooped with joy. "That's it! Flandre, you're a genius! Hey, Keine, you've got to aim for the eyes!"
A gigantic tooth slashed Meiling's arm as another Devourer surfaced beside her, sending her flying sideways. Biting down a scream of pain, she rolled onto her feet (which isn't too hard when you can fly) and raised a spellcard. "Illusion Sign: Imaginary Flower Dream Vine!"
Waves of blue bullets battered the Devourer, pushing it slowly towards Sakuya. Sakuya responded with a handful of knives, real knives this time, which embedded themselves in the worm's torso. Screeching with pain, it dove into the nearest hole.
There was no respite, though, as yet another bloody Devourer was ploughing towards them. Meiling groaned. "Can any of you humans handle this one?"
"Well, um..." said Hayato, toying nervously with his naginata.
"HURRY, MEILING, PROP IT OPEN! I'M EITHER GONNA SUFFOCATE OR MY ARMS ARE GONNA DROP OFF!"
"Who?! What?!" There was no mistaking that voice, nor, now that Meiling thought of it, the Devourer it was echoing out of. Meiling ran to the Devourer's head, grabbed a tooth in each hand and wrenched its mouth open. Marisa burst out, covered in soil and and saliva and gasping for air, a slightly acid-burned Mr Kirisame in tow. The Devourer gave a mighty heave and coughed with all its might, sending the three sprawling on the ground.
"I... I'm alive?" said Mr Kirisame blearily. "I'm alive! YES! Gensokyo's second-hand shop industry is safe!"
"I'm glad," sighed Marisa, her face warming as tears of relief began to flow. "I couldn't let you die. I... I'm mildly fond of you, Daddy."
Mr Kirisame's eyes bulged. "You...! What, REALLY?! M-mildly fond?!"
"Of course," sobbed Marisa. "I used to think I hated you, but... I-I saw what happened to Kappa Valley, all those poor kappas horribly murdered, and, and... I realised how much you meant to me. If-if you were to die, I'd be slightly disappointed."
Mr Kirisame's face fell. "Only slightly?"
Meiling cleared her throat. "Um, hello? Giant worms attacking?"
True to her words, four Devourers were charging across the ravaged town square towards them.
"The eyes, people, aim for the eyes! That's their weak spot!" Reimu's voice cut through the terrible cacophony around them.
"What, really?!" cried Marisa.
"Makes sense to me," muttered Mr Kirisame.
Well, it couldn't hurt to try. Marisa took aim and fired a shot into each of the biggest Devourer's eyes. They exploded in the usual disgusting fashion.
"It may never wash out," sighed Sakuya, shifting slightly as the Devourer fell to the ground beside her. She casually flicked a knife into another worm's eyes, killing it instantly and messily.
"It's a fairly pathetic weak spot, isn't it? The eyes aren't difficult to hit," said Patchouli, killing a third Devourer with ease. "Still, we can't exactly complain..."
"Nope," agreed Meiling, killing the fourth Devourer. "If anything, this is too easy!"
A dozen Devourers burst out of the ground, a handful arcing up over Reimu, Flandre and Keine while the rest ploughed in through the square.
"You just had to say it, didn't you?" sighed Marisa.
Flandre screamed as a Devourer chomped down on her legs. Two more ploughed past Meiling and Patchouli to share a terrified villager, his spear jabbing uselessly against their wrinkled skin as they split him into two fair portions. Another worm came down on Marisa from the sky, biting her broomstick in half before she could blink. All around her, the Human Village was collapsing in on itself. An unending rumble rose into the air as the once-solid ground upon which the village had been built turned inexorably to crumbling earth.
"Aaargh!" wailed Mr Kirisame, as the ground gave way beneath his feet. Again.
"No..." breathed Marisa. "No! Not now! Not after all we've been through!"
"We've rebuilt it before! Don't give up!" roared Keine, dodging past one Devourer to shoot another in the eyes. A third Devourer snapped at her dress, only to take a Fantasy Seal to the face.
"If you ever need a plumber or a water-purifier, I'm here for you," said Marisa fiercely. She grasped her father's flailing arm and forced herself up into the air, her weak flight-muscles straining to hold them both afloat. "Dad, watch our back, okay?"
"Okay," said Mr Kirisame numbly. "But, um, when you say 'back'-"
A Devourer wheeled past them, aiming for Patchouli.
"Watch anything!" snapped Marisa. "And shoot it in the eyes!"
"Well, that's what I was going to do!" snapped Mr Kirisame. "Do you think I don't know how to kill giant worms?!"
"Of course you don't! None of us do! We're just making it up as we-"
A thick, muscular tail slammed into her stomach, knocking the wind clean out of her. Marisa plunged towards the shredded mass of cobblestones that was once the town square, screaming without sound. Where was Dad? Where was Reimu? Where was-
"No! NO! Marisa, don't you dare fall to your death!" screamed Reimu. "Flandre, for pity's sake, you have the power to destroy anything! Use it! Keine, stop messing about and-"
"Don't worry. They're quite safe."
The Incident-Resolvers turned at once to see a familiar face, framed by silky blonde hair and a pale pink mob cap.
"Yukari! You've got some nerve, showing yourself now of all times!" snapped Reimu. "I hope you're here to do something productive, because otherwise-"
"Oh, Reimu, always so eager for a fight...!" giggled Yukari, fluttering her ornate paper fan. A Devourer gave her a suspicious look, receiving a blast of primordial energy to the face for its troubles. "As we speak, I'm gapping the villagers and all your little friends to the marshes. Marisa and her darling father will live to fight another day, assuming they don't drown. The Devourers will struggle to tunnel through marshland, what with the taste. Speaking of which, Reimu, my nose tells me you've taken my advice..."
"Advice?" said Reimu weakly. All she remembered was being told to stop bathing. "Wait, you're right! Hakiba couldn't eat me because I tasted so bad!"
"Splendid! Now, would you like me to conveniently solve this whole Incident for you?"
"Well, um... Only if it's not too much of a bother," Reimu hedged.
"Nonsense! Nothing's too much of a bother for my dear little shrine maiden!" A gap opened up in front of Reimu. "Don't dawdle, now, Reimu. You can't keep your reporter waiting."
Reimu blinked. "You mean Aya?"
"I wouldn't trust her, Reimu," said Keine warningly. "Remember the Cherry Blossom Incident? The Silent Sinner Incident? Or that one time she wanted a snack in the middle of the night? Besides, you told me she started this whole thing."
"Oh, Kamishirasawhatsit, you wound me!" cried Yukari, feigning severe hurt feelings. "All I did was give Reimu fair warning of the horror that was about to be unleashed, a few short hours after I met my former schoolmates and caught up with them over tea and crumpets. Lots of crumpets."
"I knew it," groaned Reimu. "Yukari, I hope you recognise-"
"Oh, do get moving!"
Before Reimu could blink, Yukari had grabbed her by the collar and was hurling her bodily through the gap. Reimu reached for her gohei, only to find a quartet of yin-yang orbs being hurled into her face as the fabric of reality closed around her.
A small smile of satisfaction crossed Yukari's face as her gap closed. "There we go! Problem solved!"
"And what about us, Yukari?" said Keine dangerously.
"Oh, have some patience, Thingyshirasawhadjamacallit, do!" Yukari chided her. She reached through the fabric of reality and pulled open a wide gap. "There you go, one fine, upstanding gap for you to traverse at your leisure!"
Keine's eyebrows rose. "And what if we don't?"
"Reimu will most likely have to face all three of the Sisters Agohaka alone," replied Yukari. "There will be little you can do to help her, save to hurry over and hope for the best. Do you not think the best thing you can do is to take my gap?"
"Well..." Yukari had her over a barrel, she knew, but Keine would never have made it as a teacher if she didn't know how to deal with people like her. "Yukari, can you tell me something? If you knew this was going to happen, why would you release the Agohakas in the first place?"
"Why, Kariumpunkala, when did I ever say that I released them?" queried Yukari.
"Um... You implied it," said Keine lamely. "Well, Reimu told me you implied it."
"Don't believe everything your hear," said Yukari warningly. "Now, come on, I haven't got all day! Your friends need you!"
Keine looked to Flandre for some support. None came.
"I suppose we don't have a choice," sighed Keine, hitching up her dress and stepping into the gap.
"Yay! I've always wanted to be gapped!" squealed Flandre, leaping headlong into the gap.
"Bon voyage!" Yukari called after them. The gap slowly shut behind them. "Yes indeedy, a breath-taking final battle! I do hope Reimu doesn't get too lonely without all her comrades..."
"What the-?! Where are we?!"
"I'm alive! I'm alive! Oh, Kanako be praised!"
"The worms! They're gone!"
"I'm bleeding to death! I'm bleeding to death! Please, Kanako, I promise I won't ever say your big circle of rope looks stupid again!"
By and large, the villagers established that the worms were gone, the village was gone, and they seemed to be in some sort of marshland. Most of them had landed feet-first, allowing the bog to get a firm grip before they knew what was happening.
"Why?" Mr Kirisame demanded of the universe at large. "Why? Why me? Why this particular bog? Why now? And more to the point, why?!"
"Speak for yourself, Dad. I almost drowned here a couple of days ago," said Marisa archly. She was perched precariously in a small pine tree, her dress impaled on at least twenty separate branches. "You've got a good point, though. Why?"
"Because Yukari," said Sakuya, who was standing primly on top of the peat. "Meiling, can you-"
"Change my name to Morecambe Bay Coastguard? Fair enough," sighed Meiling, clambering out of the sucking mire with remarkably little effort. "Anyone drowning?"
Something stirred beneath Sakuya's foot, pushing upwards with sudden force. A head was emerging from the bog, its skin smeared with greyish-brownish-greenish-brown mud, its long hair matted and filthy beyond belief. Sakuya gasped."By all the gods, a mud youkai, and for real this time! Hold on, Meiling, I'll protect you!"
"Hey, don't you think she looks a bit like Mokou?" muttered Marisa. "Same sort of hair-ribbons, same bored look on her face... Same voice saying 'I'm Mokou, you idiot!'... Hey, wait a minute, it's Mokou! Sakuya, hold it!"
"Yes, hold it!" spluttered Mokou, spitting out a few more globules of mud. "For Amaterasu's sake, we've been here for days! Are you lot getting us out or what?!"
Sakuya let out a whimper. "M-Mokou? Not a mud youkai? I feel like such an imbecile..."
"Wait, did you say 'we'? Is someone else in there too?!" cried Mr Kirisame.
"Yeah. Her Royal Loonyness, Princess 'I-Can-Take-Any-Terrafirmavore-Blindfolded' Kaguya Houraisan the Stupid!" declared Mokou. Her eyes grew moist with tears. "Please get her out. I-I couldn't bear the thought of her being-"
"Aiyeeee!" wailed Keine, falling head-first in the bog.
"Yippee! Oh, boy, what a ride!" squealed Flandre, landing on top of Marisa. "Yukari, Yukari, please can we do it again? Pretty please with sugar on?"
Mokou's ears pricked up at the unmistakable voice of her dearest friend. "Hey, is that Keine?!"
"Pain..." groaned Marisa. "Flandre, what in the world?!"
"Yukari gapped us!" explained Flandre.
"Of course," sighed Meling.
Keine's head emerged from the mire with a satisfying pop. She floated unsteadily to dry land. "Any ideas where we are?"
"Keine, I've missed you so much!" cried Mokou, moving to glomp Keine with all her might. The bog intervened, sending her sprawling.
Keine looked about herself in amazement. "Mokou?! Wait, Patchouli?! Meiling?! Sakuya?! But-but where's Reimu and the Terrafirmavores and Remilia and Aya and everyone?! What's Yukari done to us?!"
"It was horrible, Keine. So many days alone with Kaguya... We told each other stories, played I-Spy, sang songs, did each other's hair, had quicksand agaric for dinner every night- I tried to cook them once, but I burned my hands to a crisp- oh, it was too awful for words! There's so much I don't want to tell you!" squealed Mokou.
"Yes, fine, later. Listen, Yukari's betrayed us! Reimu's probably going to die! We need to do something, and fast. Meiling, stop lazing around and dig everyone out of the mud!" ordered Keine.
Although the rain had stopped a while ago, the air felt cold and clammy as Reimu floated out of the gap. She was above a soggy brown field littered with pieces of splintered wood. The Agohakas' back garden.
"Flandre? Keine? Are you coming?"
There was no reply. Reimu's brow furrowed. She glanced over her shoulder just in time to see the rend in the fabric of reality shut with a satisfying "vwoooorp".
"Ohhhh, gods... Yukari, you're a stupid, selfish pranny," sighed Reimu. "But that's a matter for another day, I suppose. I can wait until they-"
A blinding light erupted from the Agohakas' distant mansion, gleaming against the clouds and casting shadows throughout the forest. Reimu's eyes widened. Only Aya's camera could do that. And what about Remilia?! In the chaos of the worm attack, she'd forgotten her completely. One vampire (and maybe a stupid tengu) against three Agohakas. That could never be a good thing.
Reimu suddenly felt drawn to her pocket. She reached inside, her fingers closing around a cool, smooth surface. Marisa, I could kiss you! I won't, though, because I don't want to send you any mixed messages. Reimu downed the potion in a single gulp, retched a couple of times, and launched herself towards the mansion.
"Ayayayayaya!" Aya could feel her feathers standing on end. Lightning tore through the air around her, crackling ever closer as Kuichiko pressed her attack. A hailstorm of teeth shredded her clothes and battered her skin. No matter how many shots she fired, Kuihciko didn't even flinch. "Help! Help! Do something, Remilia!"
An elephant tusk nicked Remilia's ear as it whooshed past her face. She lashed out with a wave of gigantic scarlet comets that trailed glowing red bullets. One comet impaled itself on Naruwaru's tusk. She grunted, took the comet with both hands and hurled it at her enemy. Remilia's eyes widened. Not even Tenshi had tried that before.
Remilia swooped down as the comet roared overhead. Snarling vampirically, she raised Gungnir and aimed it at the Terrafirmavore's face. Naruwaru's muscles tensed. Remilia spun on her heel (even though it wasn't technically touching anything) and catapulted her spear into Kuichiko's heart.
Kuichiko screamed with pain. Naruwaru gasped and screamed with horror. Aya sagged with relief. Remilia stuck her tongue out at Naruwaru, who lunged forwards to rip it out of her mouth. Remilia quickly retracted her tongue, readying a spread of shimmering crimson daggers.
"Good team effort, Remilia, old mate! Now let's wrap this up!" shouted Aya, plucking a leaf-shaped fan from her pocket. "Wind God Sign: Thousand-Yard Nose!"
"Bugger that," said Kuichiko, sending several thousand volts coursing through Aya's body. Aya plummeted with a wail and a terrible crash, taking much of the mansion's roof with her.
Remilia's eyes widened. "But-but I just killed you!"
A bolt of lightning tore through Remilia. Her voice turned instantly to a scream of pain as every fibre of her being received an overdose of electrons. She staggered and fell to her knees, which wasn't at all easy in midair, and would have made Kuichiko laugh her head off in any other situation.
The lightning winked out as suddenly as it had begun. Remilia let out a magnificent groan. Although every part of her body was begging for mercy, she had to fight on. For Flandre. For Sakuya, Meiling, Patchouli and all the good people of Gensokyo. And for their delicious blood. With a ferocious snarl, Remilia forced herself up onto her feet, bracing the spear she was no longer holding against the nonexistent ground.
"You're... You're not surrendering? You're not writhing around in agony?!" cried Kuichiko, unable to believe what she was seeing.
"It'll take more than one bolt of lightning to vanquish the Scarlet Devil," said Remilia haughtily. "And I fully intend to get out of the way of the next-"
Naruwaru beaned her upside the head with a whale's jawbone.
Remilia's eyes glazed over. She fell to her knees, then to her face, and drifted slowly downwards like a leaf on the wind.
"Great bonk!" said Kuichiko approvingly. She tossed Gungnir casually into the ground on the other side of the vast crater, where it stuck. "Did you see anyone else coming after us?"
"No-one. We're home free!" rejioiced Naruwaru. "What's our next move, then?"
"First, eat these two idiots. Second, wake Hakiba up and give her the offal."
"You snooze, you lose!" chuckled Naruwaru.
Kuichiko nodded. "Third, we gather up the Devourers, kill anyone who got away, and scour what's left of the village for more supplies. Fourth, we head home, have a rest, eat Rumia and set about planting the fields. Sound good?"
A yin-yang orb smashed into the side of Naruwaru's head, sending her flying across the hillside. Kuichiko's eyes widened. She swung around to face the incoming shrine maiden, only to find herself being battered by glowing spell tags.
Screaming with rage, Kuichiko unleashed a storm of writhing lightning bolts which burned through the spell tags in seconds. Two yin-yang orbs were still coming for her. Kuichiko soared up into the air, lashing out with her foot. An almighty crack sent pain stabbing up through her leg as the yin-yang orb tumbled to earth in a shower of broken flip-flop. As the other orb swerved to intercept her, Kuichiko loosed a volley of football-sized shark teeth, forcing it back.
Kuichiko glanced over at Naruwaru. She was weaving desperately through volleys of persuasion needles, hardly able to fire off a single tooth. The needles were coming from everywhere, with no shrine maiden in sight.
Kuichiko's eyes narrowed. They could handle a stealthy shrine maiden. "Reimu, where the Hell are you?!"
"Right here!" A gohei flashed towards Kuichiko, its tassels glowing like the Sun. Kuichiko yelped and raised a pair of elephant tusks to block.
The gohei sparked as its unseen wielder pushed against the teeth. Kuichiko barely felt it. With a savage, barking laugh, she reached for Reimu's neck, but her fingers closed around thin air. "What-?!"
"Divine Arts: Omnidirectional Dragon-slaying Circle!"
The cry came from behind her. Before she could blink, Kuichiko was sent flying by a wall of pain. "Naruwaru, do someth-"
All four yin-yang orbs slammed into Naruwaru. She fell screaming to the ground.
"Belay that," sighed Kuichiko. "All right, Reimu, you've made your point. Now, for Amaterasu's sake, show yourself! Fight me like a woman!"
"Nope. Dream Sign: Evil-Sealing Circle!"
Kuichiko was ready this time. She fired a barrage of teeth into the oncoming wall of spell-tags, setting the sky ablaze with red and white sparks. "Too bad you just gave away your position. Taste my lightning!"
"Not a chance!" giggled Reimu.
Kuichiko loosed a mighty thunderbolt straight over her shoulder. Reimu screamed in a combination of shock and agony, but mostly agony, as she sparked and flickered back into view.
"Ha! It's true what they say, you know? Lightning solves everything!" Kuichiko laughed triumphantly.
"You're wrong, Kuichiko. I'm still going to defeat you and your idiot sisters if it's the last thing I do," growled Reimu. "You can't hit what you can't see, and you can't see what you can't... see."
"Reimu, we can see you," said Naruwaru patiently.
"What?" Reimu glanced down at her now fully-visible feet. All the blood seemed to drain from her face. "...Oh. Not shock-proof. Right." She laughed nervously. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to have a tea break?"
Kuichiko's only reply was a blast of stegosaurus molars that sent Reimu tumbling head-over-heels into Naruwaru. Muscular arms closed around her legs. A cold, smooth tusk pressed against her calf. Her face was flattened against a weathered kneecap.
"Whatever you do, don't let go of her," ordered Kuichiko. Reimu winced as Naruwaru's grip on her tightened, threatening to flatten her pelvis against her spine. Her situation had gone south faster than she'd ever thought possible. She couldn't see, her gohei was gone, and she was most probably going to be eaten within seconds.
"Should we eat her now?" said Naruwaru predictably.
"No, it pays to be careful. Hold on a minute." There was a crackling roar, a flash of vivid blue and a yelp of pain. "Ah, Hakiba, you're awake! I trust we didn't disturb your sleep by fighting Reimu without you?"
"N-no. Not at all." Hakiba's voice was groggy. "Wait, Reimu?! You- you got her! Wicked!"
"I beg to differ," said Reimu sourly.
"Shut up," suggested Kuichiko. "I don't trust you to let yourself be digested quietly, Reimu. Naruwaru, throw her into the hole."
Reimu gasped. "No, not the hole! Assuming the fall doesn't shatter me to pieces, the Devourers'll eat me for certain!"
"Aww, poor little Reimu..." said Naruwaru mockingly, raising the limp shrine maiden over her shoulder in one hand. Her muscles tensed for a mighty throw.
"Freeze Sign: Perfect Freeze!"
Reimu suddenly felt smooth, frigid ice pressing into her stomach and chest. Naruwaru was encased in a block of ice, frozen as if to shot-put for eternity. Reimu could do nothing but stare, dumbstruck, as she and the ice began to fall.
Kuichiko was equal parts scared and livid. "Reimu, what did you do?!"
"You just leave her to me, big sis. I ate the forge, remember?" said Hakiba confidently, descending towards Reimu. "Don't try anything, now, unless you want molten metal vomited all over y-"
"Freeze Sign: Perfect Freeze!"
Another block of ice thudded against the ground. A fairy with a blue dress and a red ascot emerged from the other sunflower patch, her eyes sparkling.
Reimu breathed a sigh of relief. "Good work, Cirno. You really saved my bacon, even though I could've arrested my fall long before-" Reimu's brain finally caught up with the situation at hand. She almost jumped out of her skin. "Wait, CIRNO?!"
"You... you saved me!"
"YOU?! Saved ME?! But- but- but HOW?! It's not possible!"
"Of course it's not! Doing the impossible is my job!" roared Cirno. "I am no mere icy thing, Reimu. I am the strongest of all fairies! Always fighting, always moving forwards, I am SHINGEKI NO YOUSEI!"
"That means 'the Advancing Fairy'!" Cirno added proudly.
Kuichiko, bit Cirno's head off. "Aargh, cold, cold! Good grief, that's cold!"
"Cirno..." Reimu's heart suddenly felt heavy with grief. After all that build-up, the poor thing hadn't even got to use her second form. "Your brave sacrifice will not be forgotten." Reimu clenched her fists. The yin-yang orbs launched themselves from their hiding-places and flew to her sides. "Kuichiko, this ends now! Migrating Spirit: Marred Fantasy Seal!"
With all her might, she hurled out a ring of shining white bullets as big as buffaloes. Kuichiko kicked one out of the way and summoned a cloud of incisors, which she hurled in all directions. Reimu launched herself through the teeth, twisting her body to let them all pass harmlessly by. Trailing behind her, the yin-yang orbs began to glow.
Kuichiko loosed a hasty blast of lightning. Reimu dove, her hair and enormous bow standing on end as the electricity crackled above her. With a cry of fury, she launched another spread of white bullets, this time catching Kuichiko off-guard and sending her flying. Swarms of purple, white and red spell-tags came flying out from the yin-yang orbs to batter her senseless.
Kuichiko loosed a bolt of lightning from each hand, turning most of the spell-tags to ash. Both crackling rivers of pain were immediately set upon Reimu. Gritting her teeth, she arced over the nearest bolt and shot to one side. Sweat beaded on Kuichiko's face as she struggled to reorientate both thunderbolts at once. Reimu seized her chance. "Spirit Sign: Fantasy Seal!"
The yin-yang orbs blazed out towards Kuichiko. Her eyes widened. Desperately, she broke off her lightning and raised a barrage of molars. She launched them at Reimu just as the first orb crashed into her stomach.
Reimu wheeled away from the teeth. One tore through her vest. Another ripped a gash in her thigh, making her yelp with pain. A smouldering yin-yang orb crossed her field of vision for a second before another tooth forced her to dive. A crackling roar sounded in her ears, just enough warning for her to launch herself up again, the lightning toasting her feet and, judging by the smell, melting the soles of her shoes as it passed.
Kuichiko swore loudly and creatively. "Can't you keep still?!"
"Never!" With a wave of her hand, Reimu lifted the yin-yang orbs off the ground and sent them ahead once more. "Can you shoot lightning from your feet, Kuichiko? I think not. Pragmatic Spirit: Fantasy Flank!"
In a second, the orbs had surrounded Kuichiko. Three orbited her feet while one sat pretty above her head. The Terrafirmavore growled nervously. "I don't know what you're planning, but-"
Reimu waved her hand. The orbs charged inwards. Kuichiko yelped and unleashed all the lightning she could muster, two blindingly bright forked beams that could just about hit all four orbs at once. She pushed out with all her might, screaming with effort. Reimu pushed back, not quite screaming but still making a lot of noise.
The two warriors slowly drifted towards each other, their bodies trembling, their faces slick with sweat. Reimu reached out across the sky, touching the white-hot power of the orbs, the abyss of hunger deep within her foe, the ancient energy that thrummed deep beneath the ground. The orbs blazed in all the colours of the rainbow as they drew upon her strength, as she drew upon the strength of Gensokyo itself. Slowly but surely, the orbs began to close in.
Rage rose in Kuichiko's heart like red-hot lava. The energy blazing through her body redoubled in strength. With one final roar of defiance, Kuichiko hurled all her fury at the heart of the shrine maiden.
Reimu felt the bolt coming before she saw it. With calm, practiced ease, she stepped out of the way, looking on in satisfaction as the yin-yang orbs battered the now-defenceless Terrafirmavore and threw her to the ground like a sack of mouldy potatoes.
"Aaghhh... I- I don't suppose I could... interest you... in a sensual massage?" groaned Kuichiko.
"Dream Sign: Evil-Sealing Circle!" replied Reimu. Reams of spell-tags battered Kuichiko all over, flashing with golden light as the power of the gods flowed into her. A glowing rope of identical spell-tags wrapped around her in seconds, slapping a particularly big charm over her mouth. Kuichiko tried to scream, but all that came out was a muffled, well, scream.
"There. I'd say you've murdered your last person." As Kuichiko thrashed helplessly about, Reimu finally felt as if she could relax. Breathing such a deep sigh of relief as would floor a lesser woman, she drifted down to a small bush. Her gohei was sticking out at an unusual angle. Slowly, she grasped the handle and teased it free, glad of the familiar weight in her hand. She glanced up at the two blocks of ice; both fine, although it looked like they were starting to melt.
Suddenly it hit her. She'd done it. They'd done it. Marisa, Meiling, Aya, Remilia, Cirno, everyone; they'd fought with all their strength, given everything they had for their beloved Eastern Wonderland, and now they had finally won. Reimu whooped with joy and flopped down on the grass, ignoring the lingering moisture soaking into her dress. Between a week's worth of earth, mud, sweat, blood, saliva, stomach acid, more sweat and even more earth, what could a little water do to her?
"Mmflmflgmllflmffl..." said Kuichiko sourly.
Although it may seem like it, this is not the final chapter. Make sure you have your cucumber sandwiches ready for Chapter Nine, coming soon to a web browser near you.