[x] “...Still, as a courier you should just run past her, you’re not getting paid to fight.” - [x] "But if push comes to shove, a spell card fight is how things are done in Gensokyo" explain the rules.
“I can crawl along these caves faster than you can run, you know!” Yamame calls out, “I didn’t do it this time, but I can also set up my webs to slow you down if I want to! There’s also diseases…actually, you don’t need to know about that.”
“Well, fight it is then.” You shrug, “Ian, want me to explain the spell card rules for you?”
“Please do so.” He’s already shuffled off the pack and is settling into a battle stance. He’s not manifesting his sword though, strange.
“Rule number one of a spell card fight, you must give names and meanings to your attack sequences that you will use as a sort of…video game boss pattern? That’s the best comparison I can make. For us, these attack sequences are usually patterns of magical bullets, but I expect outsiders to have their own techniques. However…technically you don’t have to do this if you’re okay with being on the defensive the whole fight.”
“I have some names for my attacks, and they are far more unsightly than patterns of magical bullets, but they can deal with airborne opponents.”
With a deep inhale, he furrows his brow as his arms melt away into a stream of black ink, before swiftly reforming into something significantly more threatening. Something metallic, and colored ivory and gold. You clap as the massive claws emerge from the ink, bound to his normal body by chains.
“Now that is a dueling worthy apparatus for a human!” You praise, “You’ll fit right in here in Gensokyo.”
“What.” Again, that weird typewriter effect is echoing like a bass line in his voice, “You don’t find this…hideous?”
“Why would I? There’s a monk up on the surface who controls a ‘nyuudou’, which is a massive cloud giant’s head and arms, and probably fights the same way as you with giant hands. And Yamame, mind showing him your lower body?”
With a grin, the earth spider leaps upward to the cave ceiling. Her bulb-like dress distends and distorts as her human legs disappear. Then, all at once, six hairy brown arthropod limbs sprout out from under the skirt. She extends her body forward as her rear becomes the abdomen of a wagon-sized spider.
“See, your transformation is tame compared to what the average youkai can do.” You say to reassure Yan. This boy’s got some serious self-image issues, though at this point you are sure that’s the least of his problems if he thought coming to a stranger’s home in the equivalent of the Feywild (thanks Baldur’s Gate for giving you that analogy) was a good idea. “Just don’t go waving those sharp claws around, that’s looking for trouble.”
“Ah…” He’s staring at Yamame. “That seems similar to…no, this is the real deal, not an imitation.” Raising the claws up in front of him, Yan gets on the balls of his feet. “Let us get started then, now that we’re both ready.”
“In that case, I shall begin the duel!” Yamame shouts as she flies onto the cave ceiling and clings there, “Spider - ‘Cave Spider’s Nest’!”
It’s a card you’re quite familiar with, having fought with Yamame on and off during your tenure down here in Former Hell. For a human who’s never seen it, or any danmaku before…
“HOLY SHIT!” Yan exclaims, utterly losing all composure for a moment as he sees the elaborate web-shaped pattern of bullets fly all around, many of them aimed towards him. His speed is enough to just barely manage dodging the first wave, but as per usual Yamame’s second wall of bullets overlaps with the first one, and he is promptly nailed by at least a dozen of them.
Knocked back, he draws the claws back towards himself, covering his whole body and blocking the bullets.
"Using the difficult version of your spell card, eh, Yamame?" You call out.
"Just making sure the kid is up to snuff. If he can take this much danmaku to the chin then he can take physical harassment from fairies with no issue!” Yamame replies between sending waves of bullets at the boy.
You watch as Yan stumbles back into the cave wall, his claws clasped around like well, claws clasping around a small object, like an egg or something.
“Ian! Rule Two! Danmaku attacks all come in elaborate patterns! You don’t have to dodge all of them as a human who cannot fly, so it should be possible. There!” You point to the gaps in Yamame’s bullet pattern, which you’ve seen over a hundred iterations of. “You can stand there to avoid the worst of it.”
“As you order!” He leaps over to the safe zone, where bullet density is low enough that he can afford to free one of his claws. Curled up into a fist, it is hurled towards Yamame in a straight punch.
She dodges it with ease. “Too slow!”
“Miss Parsee, any other…”
“Make sure you keep an eye on your pack while you’re fighting!” Horosha interjects with a warning, while Yamame eases up her attack so the boy can hear, “The enemy may have an accomplice, or will try to overwhelm you with attacks before running off with it.”
“That…wouldn’t be an issue.”
You raise your brows as he sends one of his claws over, and a strange glow bursts from it as it gently punches the pack. Faint, almost ethereal chains then sprout from the top of the pack, anchoring it to the ground, and out of the tangle they came from sprouts a gigantic padlock with an oversized keyhole, tying the chains together like the bow on a present that the humans and recently the oni have been doing for this thing called “Christmas”.
You didn’t participate in Christmas, or most festivals, come to think of it. Maybe you should…because lots of potential jealousy victims go there! Right?
“So, you do know magic!” You say to Yan.
“Not really magic, this is Jeong Industry’s patented lock tech, alongside my own…peculiarities. It’s nowhere near what Miss Yamame can do.”
“If this is technology,” You let out a scoff, “Then call me an engineer. No outsider who visited Gensokyo had anything like this.”
“Have you had any Korean visitors?”
You look at Horosha, who shakes his head. “Last time I checked the Village’s records, there weren’t any. A few Westerners, a few Chinese. No Koreans. You’re the first one here…Ian. Though, as for Koreans in general…” Horosha perks up as he remembers something, “…I think the komainu of the Hakurei Shrine might be related, given how komainus are named in Japan?”
“Probably not if we’re talking about technology.” He looks up, and experimentally throws a few more punches at Yamame, who skitters around the ceiling at a pace too fast and too erratic for his relatively slow moving attacks to land. “I retract what I said about ranged capabilities. If opponents are like her, then this is not going to work.”
“Nah, I’m just pretty fast like this.” The earth spider says as she swings past an incoming claw with unnecessary flourish. “You’ll do fine against a ground-bound feral or a dumb fairy. I guess if the tengu harass you it can be a problem, but those crows and wolves generally stay civil.”
“Such speed…” You hear him muttering the next part underneath his breath, “I’m jealous.”
The boy’s picking up after you! That’s nice.
The fight goes on for about another minute, before Horosha raises a hand for Yamame to stop firing. “Good, we see that you can defend yourself adequately. However, such situations are not ideal, and are to be avoided.”
“Of course not. I would prefer not to fight…”
“I mean fighting defensively. It is better to crush the ne'er-do-wells that harass you with an unfair spell card, as the attacker. That leaves less potential risk for your package.”
“Spell cards can be any attack with meaning, according to the rules, as long as you write it down somewhere as a contract.” You say, showing off the spell cards that you use regularly, written down on cursing dolls. “Since you don’t know magic, you’re not going to be firing off bullet swarms any time soon. A sucker punch with a fist should solve the problem, unless you have something flashier.”
You see Yan frown as his arms fade back into normal ones…though, now that you’ve seen the claws, it is clear that the human arms are just a thin facade, with the chains underneath clearly visible if you know what you’re looking at. He then draws his sword out of the dimensional pocket. “I have one…I’d rather not use it. But if that is what is necessary...”
He raises his sword up high, “Miss Yamame, prepare yourself!”
You look over just in time to see a massive sword blade, resembling a giant version of his slab of steel, sprout from the ground and hurl itself into the ceiling. Upon impact, black ink splashes out with an acidic sizzling sound, before rapidly dissipating.
For Yamame though, the slow speed of the sword and ink do not manage to get her, although she did have to jump off and fly as the ink spread across the ceiling.
“Ineffective, but visually impressive.” Horosha says with a hand on his chin. “A name might give it some more meaning. Tell me, boy, what is the name of this attack?”
“...Distorted Blade.” He says, quietly.
“Distorted Blade?” You think about it for a moment, “Too simple, how about ‘Absolute Execution: Blade of Fate’? Eh…maybe that’s a little too much.”
Yan stares at you as you cringe at your own suggestion. Video games have begun rotting your brain, it seems.
“Parsee, don’t you name your spell cards after folk tales?” Yamame asks, still upside-down on her thread even though she’s almost to the cave floor.
“I don’t know any folk tales involving a giant sword though.” You think back to both tales youkai told about themselves here in Gensokyo, tales that were part of the general Japanese zeitgeist, and tales from your homeland, “...Nope, nothing that wouldn’t be pretentious.”
“Giant Killer: Blade of Jack.” Horosha suggests, with an uncharacteristically enthusiastic tone. Come to think of it, this weirdo spider always was happy to talk about foreign things. “This British folktale contained no mention of a giant sword, but it did contain a hero who went around slaying giants, so such a weapon would be well within his purview.”
“No offense, Parsee, but your suggestion was too presumptuous for someone of my status. ‘Giant Killer’ is a good title, Mister Horosha.” He holds up his sword again, “Giant Killer - Blade of Jack!”
This time, the massive conjured blade slams into the ceiling at greater speed, and Yamame looks noticeably surprised, and excited, at the change. And then, instead of merely splashing out some ink, the liquid coming out of the sword slowly turn a verdant green, a color in start contrast to the earthy darkness of the tunnel. The ink coagulate and twist, and before your eyes they transform into beanstalks, shooting towards Yamame.
Yamame enters an evasive pattern, skittering erratically to have the beanstalks hit air. However, the beanstalks sprout pods, and the contents of the pods explode outwards, covering the air with soramame. Yamame isn’t an oni, but getting nailed with a fava bean to the head still hurts enough that she clutches at it reflexively.
Bean danmaku. Not a common sight outside of Setsubun on the surface. But it makes so much sense that you wonder why more people don’t do it.
“A hit!” You cheer. Yan has frozen in shock, letting his sword drop into the ground while pointing at the botanical manifestation that came out of the Distorted Blade.
“I…I can do that?” The typewriter sound effect seems to have lessened, more background noise than bass line. “Was that magic? Just from renaming my attack?”
“This is Gensokyo. Names have power, especially when they tap into folklore.” Horosha brushes aside his bangs, “Britain may be a long ways from Japan, but the tale of Jack the Giant Slayer…Did it get conflated with the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk? It has been a century or two…This tale is still notable in Japan through contact with westerners. This ain’t proper magic though, it’s just you tapping into what’s already there.”
“Oh, but still…” Yan purses his lips, continuing his stare as the beanstalks dissipate along with the sword. “Jack and the Beanstalk was a tale of courage, guile and…hope, wasn’t it?”
“I could debate you academically on that.” The traveling earth spider says, “But yes, that would be the popular opinion.”
“Ah, then it definitely can’t just be part of my…condition…then. I cannot slay a giant.”
His tone on the last sentence is odd, with rasping like he’s crying, but there’s no tears on his face.
“So, Horosha.” You ask as Yamame flies down, rubbing the sore spot on her face. “Good enough?”
“You should have more than one spell card to have a dignified duel against a proper opponent. But for a human new to Gensokyo, your new ‘Giant Slayer’ and that ‘condition’ of yours should suffice to keep nuisances off your back. Most of the time, they are fairies, so a single good hit from those claws of yours should defeat them.”
“Do they die?” He said as he dismissed his sword. “I don’t want to kill…”
“Yes, but fairies just dissipate and return to life within days.” Yamame says instead of the other earth spider, “That was a really cool spell card, human! You’ll do well in Gensokyo.”
“Thank you?” He hesitantly replies. “Was it really that impressive?”
He’s looking over in your direction.
[ ] That was indeed a really cool spell card, Ian. [ ] That was indeed a really cool spell card, Yan. [ ] Impressive for a novice, but could use some improvements. [ ] I’m jealous of it, whatever it qualifies as.
You take a glance at your phone to see what people’s talking about on your Discord server’s social channel. You are genuinely curious now as to what your new fans are interested in. To better evoke their jealousy, of course.
GunBunny: It sounds like you have it rough over there.
Knife Bnuuy: You don’t know the least of it. After the whole mess with [PARTNER CORPORATION REDACTED], we’re in an energy crisis and the Caw-caws are breathing down our necks ‘cause we worked with them. One wrong move and it’s time to be converted into gene-stock.
GunBunny: Yeesh, and I thought my masters back then threatening to turn us into rabbit stew was bad.
Knife Bnuuy: If I got purged, the gene-stock will probably qualify as Rabbit stew lol.
GunBunny: We should form a union. “Asian Federation of Abused Rabbits”. Too bad it’ll just get crushed immediately.
Knife Bnuuy: [CryingWojak.png]
Sandwich Enthusiast: OH SHIT, WIFE’S GONE INTO LABOR, GTG
Knife Bnuuy: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, asshole
GunBunny: So hostile
Knife Bnuuy: You’d be hostile too seeing a happy couple if the person you loved since childhood doesn’t even remember you
GunBunny: That sounds like a story
Knife Bnuuy: A very personal one, thank you very much.
GunBunny: But you shared that much
Knife Bnuuy: I’m a little drunk, okay? Shit, it was mostly my fault for not confessing, but I was supposed to act professionally during the one meeting I got with her. And just a month later, the Incident happened, the facility she worked in was demolished, and everyone inside disappeared to god knows where.
GunBunny: That’s rough buddy.
Knife Bnuuy: And I’m going to be honest, it’s one-sided. I’m just one of many street rats she saved, while she is…kind of a big deal. I worked really hard my whole life, selling myself to [PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT REDACTED], just trying to be a little bit of the hero she is.
I’m not a hero. Nothing close.
GunBunny: There there. It’s okay, I’m sort of a coward myself too.
Knife Bnuuy: I won’t go as far as to call myself that
But what I’ve done.
GunBunny: What did you do?
Knife Bnuuy: Many, many questionable things. Cowardice isn’t one of them, but she would be disgusted by whose blood me and my team have gotten our hands stained with.
Can I show my face to her again?
GunBunny: Sounds like you need some help getting her to like you.
Knife Bnuuy: Are you offering help?
GunBunny: Just some casual advice. First you need a cup of dried and crushed rose petals, then a sprig of wolfsbane. Mix those together.
Knife Bnuuy: What?
GunBunny: Let me DM you the rest of the medicine recipe. It’s a perfume that will make you absolutely irresistible and it should be easy enough to make. (edited)
Oh, somebody’s getting groomed, either for sex or for crime. Lovely. None of your business right now though. “I Am Fire” can deal with it (for free).
“Parsee? You’re making that sound again.” Yamame says with worry in her voice.
“It came out a really nice spell card. My spell cards never come out with such dramatic flair.” You clutch your head and stare at Yan in a way that makes him severely uncomfortable. “I’m…jealous.”
Now that you have time to think about it…it’s so cool. So aesthetic. Such a dramatic display of inner turmoil and strength that makes all of your spell cards appear superficial and petty. It is a true masterpiece, straight from a distorted soul.
“Don’t mind her. She’s just like that sometimes.” Yamame reassures the human, “You'll get used to it if you keep living with her.” “Dammit Yamame.” You sulk a bit, but make no further comment as the three of you make your way out of the underground. Several other earth spiders came out of their dens at the sides of the cave systems to gawk at the human, but Horosha doesn’t appear to have set more “challenges”.
“I did not set any further artificial barriers.” He states as the group crosses the threshold into the blinding sunlight. “The road ahead would prove challenge enough.”
“If you say so.” You take a glance at the “trainee”, who is…smiling? Barely smiling, but smiling. His slight frame, juxtaposed against the mass of packages he is carrying, is a remarkable sight in the morning sunlight, amidst the natural landscape of Gensokyo.
You sketch as you walk, being mindful to depict the contrast between the traveling couriers and the unkept wilds around this area. Neither human nor tengu and kappa tread much around the entrance to the Fantasic Blowhole, with the latter preferring the elevator shaft leading to the Nuclear Furnace when needing to travel underground. With most everyone leaving the Underground for whatever reason having some form of flight, the “road” joining the Blowhole to Gensokyo’s network of barely maintained paths was largely tread out by the few earth spiders ferrying seeds or construction material.
Walking is nice. Moving around with your feet to the dirt is significantly easier and more relaxing than flying. Your shoes rarely get much mileage, much like those of many Gensokyeans who think that going out in socks only is perfectly fine as long as they’re flying from indoor space to indoor space, without ever touching the ground.
“See? To the north, that distant peak in the clouds. That’s Youkai Mountain. Twas a different name in the past, but its current occupants, the tengu, bestowed this awfully unimaginative moniker upon the range.”
“Youkai Mountain? That does sound…obviously descriptive.” Yan shields his eyes from the sun as he looks towards where Horosha was pointing. “But perhaps we don’t have enough context judge their decision. Tengu are wise beings, or so I’ve heard.”
“You’ve heard wrong, my dear Yan.” You say, before switching into a tone mocking that of the long-nosed bastards, “Us tengu are mostly scared of anybody not us coming up the mountain, and carry around big swords to intimidate humans! Except for crow tengu, who zip around like mosquitoes sucking out every last drop of personal information from innocent bystanders!”
“I take it you don’t like them very much, Miss Parsee.”
“I don’t like anything, but tengu particularly.”
“Aww, don’t be like that, Mizuhashi.” Yamame followed you three out of the underground…doesn’t she have construction contracts to do? “At the very least, you enjoy feeling jealous!”
“I don’t enjoy feeling jealous.” You instinctively retaliate with a false statement.
“Yes you do.”
“No I don’t. You popular, cheerful spide.”
Yamame grins. You groan.
Seeking to divert your attention to something else, you check your phone. Oh, somebody pinged you on Discord.
Sandwich Enthusiast: @everyone THE BABY HAS ARRIVED
Did this guy just ping everybody in the server? Discord lets you do that? You remind yourself to remove mass pinging privileges from people who are not you.
Rift Maiden (KR): Couldn’t be there, but I’ll come visit as soon as I can!
Dark Quietude: Thanks, grandma
Rift Maiden (JP): Congratulations!
Dark Quietude:: A duplicate grandma?
Rift Maiden (KR): :trollface:
Rift Maiden (JP): :trollface:
I Am Fire: Mind if I ask you what the kid’s name is?
Sandwich Enthusiast: Medoro
Dark Quietude: It felt like we had to choose that name, to prevent something bad from happening.
Wolfgang Mozart: He’s so cute!
Wolfgang Mozart: If anything happens to Medoro I will kill everyone involved and then myself.
No more messages from the trio after that. Discord is probably low priority during a birth, and it’s weird that they’re sharing it on here at all. Shouldn’t they be sharing it on social media using their real names? With their friends and family?
You hate happy families. Shouldn’t they just die?
“They’re probably security contractors. ‘Fixers’ in our slang.” Yan says when you ask him. “Posting about things as vulnerable as an infant on Twitter or Kakao with their real names is inviting an enemy to kidnap it or worse. As you can see, they probably all know each other’s online handles, and if they are going to share pictures it’s going to be over private messages.”
“It’s that bad?” You remark, “The online news in Korea surely don’t report on this ‘Fixer business’ from what I saw.”
“Fixer business and organized crime are two things the media won’t touch. These two groups are not averse to raiding news offices. Fixer business is usually the worse to report on of the two, since you won’t know if you’ve accidentally condemned the very same Fixers you hired to guard your own property and life.” He shrugs, as if this is normally expected. “I would argue that other countries like America do not report on their ‘routine and expected’ crime and violence either.”
You think about the shrine maiden, the only person you can think of in Gensokyo who is close to a “security contractor”. Considering how the shrine has been targeted during incidents, you cannot imagine Hakurei Reimu having a child even if nobody has come after her with murderous intent yet. You’ve heard that one of the Four Devas hangs around the shrine regularly, and a drunken oni is probably among the worst things in the world to mix with an infant.
“Having a child in that scenario just sounds like a bad idea.”
“I agree with you on that.” Yan checks your phone, “But judging by their screen names, they probably think they will do just fine.”
You audibly “hmph”, “What, you know them?”
“No…but given the records of some of the more famous contractors, I can hazard a guess that they are among the upper echelons.”
“Hmm.” You look around and see the Village…moving away from you. “Horosha, aren’t we going to the Village?”
“No. We’re heading to Eientei.”
“YOU’RE HAVING THE ROOKIE DELIVER TO EIENTEI?”
“Dealing with hostile terrain is part and parcel of being a good courier.” Horosha says as the Bamboo Forest of the Lost gets closer.
The tree-sized bamboo stalks loom over you as you walk into their shade. You've never been comfortable with the place when you absolutely had to come here for Eientei’s services. Despite being largely devoid of hostile ferals, the massive bamboo stalks always seemed to conceal gawking eyes. Eyes which you felt penetrating deep within you, laying your less savory aspects bare. Of which there are many, you presume based on how uncomfortable you get around this place.
Horosha is deliberately not leading the way. As such, after about half an hour of wandering around on the soft loam, crunching the fallen leaves, you, Yan and Yamame are hopelessly lost. The other earth spider is chewing on tobacco while not saying anything, only keeping a watchful eye on the trainee.
“Miss Parsee, I am sorry for asking, but do you know the way?”
“I’ve come here once before…quite a while ago.” Your life up to this point has been largely a blur, with most details lost in the endless haze of jealousy that made up your memories for the past centuries. “How did I get to Eientei again? Yamame?”
“Miss Yagokoro always met me outside of the forest.” Yamame says with her hands behind her back, “Something about not wanting me near the patients. Understandable given my nature, I suppose.”
“Wondering how to get to Eientei? Needing an appointment with Miss Yagokoro for your illness?” A voice rings out.
A fuzzy white and pink blur leaps out from behind a bamboo trunk, does a somersault in mid-air, and lands with one foot forward and head leaning down, letting her floppy white ears droop.
Tewi then moves into a cutesy curtsy, “Tewi Inaba, at your service. I spy three hated youkai from the underground, traveling alongside a human reeking of cement and smoke. What an odd group to be traipsing around the Bamboo Forest!”
It is the boy who speaks up first, “Miss…Inaba, if we are treading upon your land, we sincerely apologize for the trespass.”
“It is my land, but you’re not trespassing or anything. I’m just thinking that you look a little lost and need some directions.”
“Oh, in that case, thank you…”
Fragmented memories, cast in sharp relief, spring to the front of your mind. You recall bits and pieces of pain, tripping and falling, and a lot of cursing.
You do remember that you got to Eientei by the end though, somehow. You weren’t sure if the rabbit fulfilled her end of the deal.
[ ] Despite her reputation, you should deal with this rabbit.
[ ] DO NOT deal with this rabbit. She will screw you over, and it will be painful. Let’s find our own way.
[ ] Uh…howl like a wolf, that will intimidate this rabbit! And accomplish something else I don’t quite recall.