Perhaps you've heard of the realm called Gensokyo, the Land of Illusion. It is a realm of magic and gods and monsters, where all the stories begin with the words "Once upon a time ..." Once, it was hidden away by the mountains of Japan; today, it is hidden by the Great Hakurei Barrier, a boundary of common sense which has stood since the summer of A.D. 1885. Broadly speaking, nothing living may pass through the Barrier ... which is just as well, because outside of the Human Village and the Hakurei Shrine in the east, nearly all of Gensokyo's inhabitants are youkai — a Japanese word which is used in this land as a catchall term for any non-human, non-divine supernatural creature.
Perhaps you've heard of the Hakurei Shrine, which lies at the easternmost edge of the Barrier. The existence of this Shinto shrine can be viewed as synonymous with that of Gensokyo itself, because one of the duties of the Shrine Maidens of Hakurei is the maintenance of the Great Hakurei Barrier. Indeed, there have been times in Gensokyo's history in which the existence of the realm was threatened merely by the death of the Shrine Maiden, and the lack of an immediate replacement. The other role of the Hakurei Miko is of course the extermination of any youkai who threaten the lives and welfare of Gensokyo's humans.
Perhaps you've heard of Hakurei Reimu, the current Shrine Maiden of Hakurei. If you already know about Gensokyo as it currently stands, you've certainly heard of her. The fourteenth Hakurei Miko is well known as a study in contradictions. She is formidable, yet laid-back; she tirelessly performs work which entails hostility towards youkai, and yet bears no ill will against them; she is utterly devoted to the role of a Shrine Maiden in all ways, except that of the uniform. There are many tales told of Hakurei Reimu and her battles against gods, powerful or dangerous humans, and all manner of youkai.
This is not one of these formidable tales. Instead, it is the tale of Hakurei Reimu's very first adventure. The tale of her first encounter with the samurai Miyamoto Meira, who ended up having a much greater role in Reimu's life a few years later, and with Kirisame Marisa, Reimu's sometimes-partner, sometimes-rival.
And, of course, it is the tale of Hakurei Reimu's first battle with the vengeful spirit Mima.
The story begins one afternoon in the summer, one hundred fifteen years after the creation of the Great Hakurei Barrier ...
A Different Demon-Sealing Record
Chapter 1: Chelonian Aviation
It was about 5:30 PM on Thursday, the twentieth of July, year 116 of the Hakurei Era (which of course began with year 1, not 0). Hakurei Reimu was sitting at a small desk in the Shrine's living quarters, a little ways to the north of the main Shrine. It was a small building, only just large enough that you could say the kitchen was separate from the living space, and with nowhere to store her futon mattress except to leave it rolled up in one corner. It was an old building, and had probably stood since the formation of the Great Hakurei Barrier.
Reimu herself was only fourteen years old. She was a bit short for her age; she had waist-length light purple hair tied in a red bow, and at the moment, she was dressed in a white kimono jacket with detached sleeves and red hakama trousers — more or less the uniform of a traditional Shinto miko. Several moments ago, she had been working on a homework assignment. Now, however, she was procrastinating by writing calligraphic charms on rectangular strips of paper: ofuda, the most important tools of both youkai-extermination and of the majority of a Shinto shrine maiden's other duties. A pile for exterminating youkai here, a pile for dispelling curses there, a pile of good luck charms here ... a little bit of everything. Leaning against the desk was her gohei, the Hakurei Miko's second-most important tool, a short thin wooden rod with zigzagging paper streamers attached to one end.
Reimu had officially been the Shrine Maiden for a little over fifteen months, and she still felt as though she hadn't quite adjusted. As much as any other reason, there was still a fading sense of grief over the death of her predecessor, Hakurei Chiyo. It didn't help that at any given moment, Reimu was the only person around for miles, apart from the Shrine's deity, who had been silent and absent for as long as Reimu could remember, and a divine spirit named Genjii, whom Reimu sometimes felt was entirely too vociferous.
Her history was ... about what you might expect. She was a stray orphan who'd been taken in by Chiyo; Reimu had never known her parents, and for all she knew, she could have been somehow brought in from from the Outside World, though Chiyo's abilities as the Hakurei Shrine Maiden had confirmed that Reimu's origins were in Gensokyo instead. She celebrated her birthday on the first of November, because "probably October or November" was as close as anyone knew.
Hakurei Chiyo herself had been a cold, taciturn woman. She'd uncomplainingly gone out every few weeks or months to battle against troublemaking youkai, and didn't say anything even when she came home covered in bite marks and claw marks and had to spend the next few days in bed covered in bandages. Chiyo had somewhat perfunctorily named Reimu as her successor about two years ago ...
... and then last year in March, she'd gone out one night and simply never returned. They hadn't been that close; their relationship had actually been somewhat chilly, as far as Reimu had any frame of reference for that sort of thing. It still stung, though.
Incidentally, she was fully aware that this was the fate of all Hakurei Shrine Maidens: five or ten or fifteen years after you started, you'd go out one night to fight monsters, and never return. Chiyo had only been twenty-nine years old, for gods' sakes; she'd lasted twelve years. With the Shrine's god unwilling or unable to say anything, Reimu didn't even know what Chiyo had been fighting, or if her death had accomplished anything.
Reimu sighed and set down her calligraphy brush, leaning back in her chair and rubbing her eyes. Meanwhile, the past year had been dead quiet. The people who'd gone out of the village for whatever reason hadn't been particularly bothered by fairies, let alone eaten by youkai. Well, there was one thirteen-year-old runaway, what was her name, Ki something Ma something. Reimu couldn't remember. But she hadn't been seen in over a month, and after anyone was missing for more than a week or three in Gensokyo, especially if it was a child, there was nothing anyone could do except make arrangements for the funeral. The bottom line was that there was suspiciously little for Reimu to do besides training to be Chiyo's replacement —
There was the distant sound of a loud metallic pop, followed by a loud splintering explosion right next door. Debris pattered against the walls and roof of the living quarters.
Reimu jumped, knocking her chair over in her haste. She grabbed her gohei in her left hand, slipped several ofuda up her sleeve, and flung open the sliding door.
The Hakurei Shrine's main building had been leveled by the blast. There were a few black wisps of smoke.
Reimu screamed, "GENJIIIIIIII!"
Genjii appeared out of thin air beside her. He had the appearance of a two-meter-long tortoise with a bushy white beard, and was surrounded by a faint sensation of holiness. "What ... oh no!" he said. "Miss Hakurei, quickly, get on my back and summon the Yin-Yang Orb!"
"Uh, right!" said Reimu. She quickly slipped into her sandals, and climbed onto Genjii's back. "Okay. Yes. I ... I can do this, it'll be fine, it'll be ... just like fighting fairies. Summon Yin-Yang Orb, summon Yin-Yang Orb ..."
At Reimu's mental command, a crystal orb the size of her head flew out of the wreckage. It was red and white, with a pattern that made it look like a spherical yin-yang symbol. Reimu commanded it to split in two, and in a flash of light, a second identical one appeared. "Okay, uh, right," she said, setting them to hover behind her shoulders. "Let's go!"
"Do you have your youkai-extermination ofuda?" said Genjii.
"Yes, Gramps, first thing I grabbed, just like you told me!" Reimu said hurriedly.
Genjii lifted off the ground, in defiance of all known laws of aviation as they concern tortoises. Most beings in Gensokyo could fly, of course, and it was easy enough that even most humans could do it if they had a reason to learn, but Reimu had a ways to go before she could usefully do so in battle; one of Genjii's primary duties was transportation for fledgling Shrine Maidens, or more precisely, not-quite-fledgling Shrine Maidens.
Genjii flew westward down the cobbled pathway in front of the Shrine. Just past the torii arch, the path descended about a dozen meters down a flight of steps, and the cobblestones continued for about half a kilometer. Sitting in the middle the road was a large squat tank with its cannon pointed up the steps. It looked as though part of it had been built using bits left over from the Shrine, and had subsequently become overgrown with vines and flowers. A black and white yin-yang was painted on the top.
"Uh-oh," said Reimu. She had never seen a tank before, but she understood the general principle.
The tank rotated its cannon to point directly at Reimu and Genjii. "Uh-oh!" said Reimu, and then let out a yelp as Genjii dived downward just as the tank fired a shell towards them. It exploded harmlessly in a rainbow-colored fireball, several dozen meters above them.
"Miss Hakurei," said Genjii urgently, "I strongly recommend that you draw upon the maximum power of the Yin-Yang Orbs!"
"Oh! Right!" said Reimu, who had already figured out that this wasn't going to be like fighting fairies at all. She clasped her hands together and began willing the Yin-Yang Orbs to lend her their power. She'd done this before, of course, but until now, Genjii had forbidden her from drawing more than half of their maximum. Drawing the maximum power would grant Reimu access to the combat abilities of all the Hakurei Shrine Maidens who had come before her.
Right. Okay. There were a couple of obvious potential weak points. Its biggest weakness was of course whoever was driving it, whether they were human or youkai — her intuition suggested that they were human, but she wasn't sure about the reasoning. The shells would be easy enough to dodge, unless it had other kinds of weaponry. Reimu flew towards the tank, making sure she avoided the cannon's line of fire, then —
— realized that what was actually happening was that she was moving her feet across Genjii's back in a prearranged pattern, how the heck did she know what to do, no, stop that line of thought, it's a distraction, it's panic, there's an enemy right in front of me, I know I'm getting this knowledge from the Yin-Yang Orbs ...
And that was when the tank started firing a thick swarm of orbs of light: danmaku, the magical martial art of choice for everyone in Gensokyo, from the mightiest gods and demons to the lowliest spirits. Reimu directed Genjii to weave through the glowing bullets in a manner which wasn't "dodging" so much as "navigating". She could feel the energy of the bullets all around her, beyond her mere sight and hearing; she just knew how the pattern was moving, where to position herself and Genjii, where gaps in the bullets were about to appear that she and the tortoise could fit through.
Abruptly, the barrage stopped. Reimu paused to see if the tank was going to do anything else, but then the hatch started to pop open. She flew Genjii right up to the tank and said, "Hey you!" As she said this, she realized that she would most likely come up with a much better opening line at 3 AM the next morning.
Out climbed an older teenage girl with brown hair in a pair of braids. She wore an oil-stained white shirt and a knee-length brown pleated skirt. "There's no need to whoa you're a lot younger than I was expecting."
Reimu bristled. "What were you expecting?" she snapped.
The girl looked confused for a few seconds, then shrugged. Reimu thought she felt something — "Doesn't matter!" said the girl. "Uh ... there's no need to say anything, Shrine Maiden! I'm Hara Rika, The Nineteen-Year-Old Genius! You're the one responsible for that stupid rule, keeping my weapons and inventions out of the Human Village!"
Reimu was genuinely baffled. "What? I haven't made any rules!" she said, fighting a mounting sense of panic. Had Chiyo done something ...?
Rika pointed dramatically at Reimu. "A likely story!" she exclaimed. "I'll take you out, and take the Yin-Yang Orb as a prize! Uh, Orbs, I mean! You know what I mean!"
That's when Reimu realized what she was sensing. There was a dark presence, like an invisible shadow cast over Rika, concentrated around her head. "Uh ... Gramps ..."
"Yes," said Genjii. "I feel it too. Some form of curse is clouding Miss Hara's mind."
Rika blinked a few times, looking as though she was trying to interpret something in a language she only half-understood, while some form of curse was clouding her mind. "Uh ... what-freaking-ever!" she said. She shook her head as if to clear it, and Reimu felt a stronger surge of dark power. "Would you please be destroyed by my Flower Tank!?" said Rika, striking a dramatic pose with one hand near her face and the other held out to her side.
"Hey!" said Reimu. But Rika was already jumping back into the tank, and she slammed the hatch shut before Reimu could react.
The tank resumed its barrage of danmaku. Reimu swerved to the side, then let out a yelp as she went a bit too far and a couple of bullets grazed her arm.
"Do be careful, Miss Hakurei!" said Genjii.
"I know! Shut up! Lemme concentrate!" Reimu moved Genjii to a higher position. "Okay, uh, let's see how that thing can dodge!" She swung her gohei at the tank, returning fire with danmaku of her own. Instead of white orbs, Reimu's bullets appeared to be glowing red ofuda with illegible white calligraphy. It was a simple pattern for now, mostly aimed directly at the tank.
There was a yelp from inside, and the tank slowly backed up a few meters. It was struck by every ofuda-bullet that crossed its path, leaving a couple of scorch marks.
Reimu broke into a wide grin. "Oh! It can't dodge!" she said. She mentally ran through the Yin-Yang Orbs' offensive maneuvers in search of something particularly flashy. "Okay! Time to end this!"
She sent Genjii into a dive beneath the latest barrage, and pulled up just before hitting the ground. Genjii let out a cry of alarm, and pulled his legs into his shell. Reimu fired a few bursts of danmaku directly into the tank's caterpillar treads, and was rewarded by a satisfying crunch. Rika was still firing above Reimu, so she set the Yin-Yang Orbs to stay where they were, swung around to the other side of the tank from behind, and then ... recalled them.
One Yin-Yang Orb knocked the tank to the side by several centimeters, and the other actually tore the cannon off. Smoke began rising from the back of the main ... body. Reimu didn't actually know what the different parts of tanks were called. "Okay, Gramps, I'm gonna use Fantasy Seal!" said Reimu. Fantasy Seal was a Spell Card, a particularly powerful danmaku pattern; typically, they were also particularly elegant. It was also the only one Reimu could actually use at the current stage of her training.
"Very good," said Genjii.
Even before he'd finished speaking, Reimu clasped her hands together, gohei held upright, and concentrated. After a few seconds, there was a hissing roar, and a red-and-white aura surrounded her and Genjii. The two Yin-Yang Orbs became seven, in all the colors of the rainbow, and spun counterclockwise around her in a wide orbit. Then, one by one, all seven orbs slammed into the back of the tank, leaving bigger and bigger dents, until the last tore out a large chunk. Reddish-orange flames started to lick out of the tank's body.
"Well done, Miss Hakurei," said Genjii. "But next time, I recommend that you fire actual danmaku from the Yin-Yang Orbs."
"Oh, uh ... right." Reimu cancelled the Spell Card. The aura faded, and all but the original two Yin-Yang Orbs disappeared.
Rika popped open the tank's hatch and frantically scrambled out, coughing. She jumped into the air and began flying as fast as she could ... past Reimu, towards the trees. "Get outta here!" she screamed. She wasn't actually flying that fast ...
Reimu exchanged a glance with Genjii, and he nodded. He pulled in front of Rika, and she landed on his shell, clinging on for dear life. Genjii almost immediately took a nose dive into the trees and flipped upside down, depositing Reimu and Rika onto the forest floor with a shared yelp of surprise, then positioned himself on top of them and pulled his head and legs into his shell.
The tank exploded noisily in a brilliant, sparkling fireball.
Genjii moved aside. "We appear to have borne the worst of it," he announced. "I overestimated the size of the explosion and the reach of the debris."
"Damn turtle," said Rika, staggering to her feet. "You could've at least warned me!"
"Yeah, seriously, Gramps," said Reimu, rubbing her leg. "That's the kind of thing where you should say what you're doing!"
"My apologies, Miss Hakurei, Miss Hara," said Genjii. "It has been more than ten years since I was required to serve a Shrine Maiden in battle."
Rika whirled to face Reimu. "And as for you —"
Reimu slapped a curse-removal ofuda onto Rika's forehead. There was a sizzling sound, like water splashed on a hot pan. Rika froze in place and toppled over onto her back, twitching, as faint wisps of black smoke rose up around the charm. As its power was expended, the ink on the ofuda spontaneously began to run, and the paper crumpled and yellowed.
"There," said Reimu. Genjii sighed with relief.
Rika groaned as if she'd been unconscious. "What the ..." She fumbled with the spent ofuda, stared at it, and then slumped back onto the ground, putting her hands over her eyes. "Oh gods. Did I really just blow up the Hakurei Shrine?"
"I wouldn't say it was you," said Reimu. "It was whoever put that curse on you that was messing with your head!" She held her hand out to help Rika up.
Rika sat up, shaking her head. "Ugh, I'm an idiot!" she said. "Gods damn it ... stupid, stupid, this shouldn't have happened to me, I've been in the Defense Force for three years now! I've literally been a Defender since the day I came of age!"
Reimu frowned, and lowered her hand. The Youkai-Extermination Defense Force was a group of humans based in the Human Village, and while they weren't quite as effective as the Shrine Maiden, they were sensible enough to put up charms that should have been enough keep evil at bay ...
"Miss Hara," Genjii said firmly, "do you have any idea as to who might have done this to you?"
"Yeah, it was this teenage-looking redheaded youkai in a pinkish-purple dress," said Rika. She hesitantly reached out, and Reimu helped her to her feet. "I have this workshop outside the village. I was working on the Flower Tank when I heard danmaku. I looked up, and there she was, she just zapped me with this bullet that looked like the kanji for 'curse'."
"No room to dodge?" Reimu said sympathetically.
"Haha, nope," Rika said glumly. "Not like I can do much without my inventions, anyway. But then this green-haired ghost wearing a blue cape floated in, and she told me that the reason I wasn't allowed to use my inventions was because of a rule made by the Shrine Maiden."
"... Is there a rule like that?" said Reimu.
"Sort of, I just can't bring any of 'em into the Village," said Rika. "It's ... slightly annoying at worst, and I can understand why they have the rule." She gestured back towards the path. "I mean, case in point."
They walked back out to the flaming wreckage. A thick pillar of smoke rose into the sky. It didn't sound like fires Reimu was used to; it was a little less crackly, a little more windy. It also smelled considerably more ghastly.
"There was also a little red-haired girl in a purple witch costume," said Rika. "She didn't look like she was related to the curse-girl, but she looked like she was younger than you."
"Another youkai?" said Reimu.
"I'm not sure," said Rika.
Reimu nodded, and shrugged. "Don't suppose you got any of their names?"
"Nope," said Rika.
"Worry not," said Genjii. "We shall probably solve this mystery soon enough."
Reimu sighed. "Yeah ..."
She looked back up the shrine's steps to the torii arch, thanking the gods in general and the deity of the Hakurei Shrine in particular that she'd been ... doing homework in the living quarters instead of dealing with something in the Shrine. She'd been looking forward to slacking off on her homework tonight, maybe practice some of the kagura dances for maintaining the Great Hakurei Barrier, and then after dinner and a bath, she wanted to just laze around until it was time for bed. Really, in spite of her anxieties about the other shoe dropping, she'd mostly hoped she'd be able to fly under her own power before she'd had to deal with something huge and major like, say, a curse-flinging youkai who could break through the Defense Force's wards. Those hopes had just been blown up by an artillery shell.
"And where did 'nineteen-year-old genius' even come from?" muttered Rika.
Reimu turned back to the wreckage of the tank. Well ... if someone was attacking the Shrine, exterminating them would also indirectly help the Barrier. After that, lazing around for a bit would be a reward, wouldn't it? There was nothing for it but to get up and go.
"We're gonna need more ofuda," she said.
This was all visible in a crystal ball, sitting in the middle of a table in a shack somewhere in Gensokyo. It was being watched by a green-haired ghost-woman, a redheaded teenage-looking youkai, and a little red-haired witch girl.
The witch looked up at the ghost. The conversation was ... amusing, but Rika had still lost. What would ...?
"Hm, what's this emotion I'm feeling?" the ghost said blandly. "Oh, I know what it is. I'm feeling not-surprise. I'm feeling the exact diametric opposite of surprise that Hara Rika lost."
"Yeah, why'd ya even bother with her, anyway?" said the witch.
"Seriously, boss," said the curse-girl. "I mean, she got rid of the Shrine nice and quick, but apart from that —"
"That is why we bothered with her," said the ghost. "Notwithstanding her skewed priorities regarding the basic ability to dodge, the Flower Tank certainly worked as a tool for shrine-removal."
"Oh," said the curse-girl. "Oh! Yeah, I get it."
The witch exchanged a glance with the ghost, and then sighed and peered down at the crystal ball. The curses were useful to The Plan, but the youkai casting them was ... less so.
Reimu had climbed back onto Genjii's back, and was now flying up the steps with Rika in tow. The ghost said, "Well, I can't move our point of view too far into the shrine's territory until it becomes noticeably less sacred, so —" She abruptly stopped as another figure appeared from the trees where Genjii and the girls had been just a moment ago.
It was a tall, slender woman with short golden hair, dressed in white robes and a white hat. She had nine golden fox-tails, each nearly as long as she was tall.
"Oh, crap," said the curse-girl. She and the ghost had suddenly become very tense.
"Who's that?" said the witch, looking from one to the other uneasily. "And how'd those guys miss seeing her in the woods there?"
The fox-woman suddenly turned around and looked up.
It didn't make any sense whatsoever, but from the young witch's perspective, it looked as though the fox-woman was staring right out of the crystal ball, directly up at the two older youkai.
The ghost quickly waved her hand. The crystal ball went dark.
"Who was that fox?" said the witch.
"Someone very dangerous," said the ghost, "who works for someone even more dangerous." She shrugged and smiled, though she was obviously not as calm as she was trying to look. "We'll have to see how this plays out. The good news is, that particular faction is something of a wild card when it comes to handling the Hakurei Shrine Maiden. Of course, this is also the bad news."
"Oh jeez," said the witch.
"Oh, crap," the curse-girl said again.