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Astraphobia

Chapter Text

The Yakumo House on a cold, clear night. 24th March 2007.

“Good evening, Yukari-sama. We’ve received a residency application from a family of gods near Lake Suwa.”

“...Good evening, Ran. Do we really need to do this right after I wake up?”

“Unfortunately we have quite a lot to get through tonight. They wish to relocate their shrine to Gensokyo, in order to gather more faith. The gods are named Kanako Yasaka, Suwako Moriya, and-”

“You don’t need my advice for residency applications. Remember what I said about non-human population numbers?”

“...So I should write them an apology and tell them we aren’t accepting new applicants right now?”

“Correct. They cannot live in Gensokyo, not for a few more decades at least. There isn’t enough room. Now bring me some tea.”

“As you wish.”

*****
One year later. 29th March 2008.

The rain started suddenly, on an overcast afternoon three days ago. Dark, foreboding clouds rolled across the sky, and the sound of rain tapping against the window woke Marisa up from her afternoon nap. She’d scrambled out of bed, and sprinted outside to yank her clothes off the washing line. The rain was heavy; a grey curtain that sent a shiver through the forest. It was still too chilly for storms; she assumed it wouldn’t last long.

But the rain kept going. It fell and fell, from sunrise till sunset, and all the way through the night. Days passed. Rivers burst their banks, the Misty Lake filled to the brim, and water-loving youkai celebrated across Gensokyo. People began moving furniture upstairs in the Human Village. The Forest of Magic turned into a swamp, the thick smell of mud and wet vegetation adding to the humidity. Even the driest dirt paths stuck to Marisa’s boots like gloopy natto. Heavy rain wasn’t unusual in Gensokyo, but intense rain in this season was a rarity.

The water got everywhere, through the tiniest cracks and the thinnest gaps, creating skinny streams that trickled through the ceiling. Marisa had given up staying dry long before her house flooded.

It happened while she was out, checking on the village. She stopped by the Hakurei Shrine on the way back, and found Reimu splashing through a waterlogged main room, carrying buckets under both arms and cursing under her breath. Marisa slipped away unnoticed, not in the mood to help. Reimu was fine, that’s all that mattered. When she arrived home, her living room was flooded up to her knees. Piles of junk stuck out here and there like little islands, and the notes she’d worked on that morning floated on the surface like white leaves.

There were no holes in the ceiling. The water had almost appeared like magic.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Marisa yelled as she tossed her broom aside, and waded through the room. She tried to scoop up her notes, but the pages fell apart in her hands. The pages that stayed intact were illegible, the ink running and blotting like watercolour paint. A magician’s worst nightmare. She told herself not to panic. It was just a week’s worth of notes, redoing them wouldn’t be too much hassle. As long her grimoires were safe-

Except, weren’t her grimoires stored in a trunk near her desk?

Shit. Marisa dashed through the water, feeling it slosh through her boots like blood being pumped around her heart. Marisa’s grimoires held years’ worth of research and observations. They were invaluable; losing them would set her career back several years at best. She reached her desk, and just as she feared, the trunk underneath it was totally submerged. Opening it to check the damage wasn’t even an option; that would allow even more water gush in. Marisa knew it wasn’t air tight.

“No.”

The sky darkened outside. The wind blew, driving the rain against the side of the house. Marisa trembled, clenching her fists.

She turned around, and waded out of the house. She snatched up her broom on the way out, and emptied her boots as soon as she was outside. Her spell cards and mini Hakkero were in the inside pocket of her waterproof coat, safe from harm, but if she was going to beat up whichever moron decided to make it rain for days on end, they were gonna get wet too.

It was an incident now, the first one in years. She was going to rip apart whoever wrecked her house.

*****
A long time ago, back when Marisa was still learning how to fly, her teacher made her read a book on thunderstorms.

“Now, Marisa,” Mima had said, taking the book from her and opening a random page, “you’re flying several hundred metres up in the air, surrounded by forest. What do you do if you see a thunderstorm up ahead?”

Marisa couldn’t remember how she answered, but it was incorrect, because Mima made her do fifty sit ups as punishment. She knew now, though, that if you see a thunderstorm, you get out of the sky immediately and seek shelter. Ideally you turn in the opposite direction of the storm and get indoors as fast as possible, but if that’s not possible, you land and start running, because you’re more likely to get hit in the air. Magical storms were fine, of course. Magical lightning counted as a form of danmaku, and was essentially non-lethal. But real lightning was dangerous to humans.

Most youkai could survive a good zap, but if someone like Marisa got struck, that would be it.

Marisa remembered this advice as she heard the first rumble of thunder. She was halfway up Youkai Mountain, the cold rain and wind tearing at her face. Her hat had long blown away, and her hair was a ragged mess. The glittering lights of a danmaku fight were fading away up ahead, barely visible in the howling rain. Reimu was already ahead of her, aiming to solve the incident first. The culprit had flooded her shrine, so she was undoubtedly just as angry as Marisa. Unfortunately for her, the magician was catching up fast, having avoided several fights earlier and taken a short cut through Genbu Ravine. Soon the pair of them would be neck-and-neck, racing to the top of the mountain.

The storm clouds were thickest at the peak. That was obviously where the troublemaker lay in wait. As far as Marisa was aware, nothing lived that far up Youkai Mountain, so there was plenty of time and space for someone, or something, to concoct a fiendish plot. A textbook incident. Marisa was looking forward to smacking a nice, weighty danmaku bullet into the villain’s stomach. She gripped the handle of her broom, and leant forward.

There was a second roll of thunder, louder this time.

Marisa felt it. Goosebumps shuddered over her skin. She pulled her broom to a stop, and hovered in place. Her brain was numb with cold. There was another rumble of thunder, and this time a flash of lightning within the clouds. It lit up the whole landscape. She saw Reimu up ahead, fight over, still moving forwards, ignoring the storm completely.

Was she insane? Marisa considered rushing over and yelling at her, even if it sparked a danmaku battle, but a few seconds later she realised Reimu’s logic. The storm was real, but unnatural. Whoever was responsible for it wouldn’t direct the lightning towards them. Not if they were playing by the rules.

Another flash. The thunder was deafening this time, as though the sky itself had split in two. Reimu was lit up again, and for a split second Marisa saw her in perfect detail. Her clothes were wet and weighing her down. Her ribbon was askew. Her skin glimmered with a thick layer of water, and a strand of dark hair was stuck to her forehead. She held her purification rod in her left hand, and there were now three long needles in her right. Of course, ofuda were useless in this weather.

If Reimu was continuing, Marisa would too. She leant forward and directed her broom to the right, hoping to avoid Reimu’s notice if she could help it. If the two of them made eye contact, they would fight, Marisa would lose and then all her time and effort flying through the rain would’ve been for nothing. She glanced over the flickering landscape, trying to spot a less obvious route to the mountain peak.

She wondered if keeping up with Reimu would be harder in the future, now that all her research was ruined. Maybe this was her only chance to solve an incident first, for a while. The thought made her sick with anxiety. Mima’s face flashed through her mind for a moment.

And then, it happened.

There was a blaze of white light, and a roll of thunder so deep it hurt. The hair on Marisa’s arms stood up. She felt herself yell, but couldn’t hear anything. Searing heat splashed against her left side. And moments later, darkness again. The heat disappeared, replaced with biting cold. Marisa’s eyes couldn’t adjust fast enough. Her ears rang. The rain constantly pounding against her was the only thing grounding her to reality.

And in the corner of her eye, she glimpsed a flicker of red and white falling out of the sky.

*****
“Reimu!” Marisa skidded to a stop, mud smearing over her legs. “Hey!”

She’d landed in a small forest clearing, the trees resembling a wall of rock in the darkness. There, floating in a small pool of water right in front of her, lay Reimu Hakurei, face down and motionless. Her weapons were nowhere in sight. Marisa felt cold terror rush through her. She tossed her broom aside and sprinted, trying not to panic. This was Reimu, she told herself, the amazing shrine maiden of paradise. She could defy gravity itself. She’d probably get up all by herself any moment. Right? “Reimu!”

Reimu didn’t respond. Marisa plunged into the pool, and found the ice cold water went up to her bare thighs. “Come on, stop messing around and get up!” She waded over, and grasped Reimu by the shoulders. One was red hot, where the skin had blistered. “Reimu?” She could tell, now that she was up close, just how bad things were. Reimu’s clothes were singed, and the cloth around her right shoulder was burnt black. There was a small, gruesome looking wound on her right shoulder that reminded Marisa of a cigarette burn. “Reimu…?” She grabbed her and flipped her over, onto her back. Reimu’s eyes were half-closed, her mouth slightly open. Water dripped from her lips.

Reimu had been struck by lightning. There was no doubt about it. Panic overtook Marisa. She stood there, frozen in terror, knees shaking, her mind racing, heart beating so fast she thought she might faint. She had to do something. Something, anything, what?

The rain made the pool’s surface foam and ripple. She had to get Reimu out of the water first. Marisa wrapped both arms around her and began dragging her out of the pool, onto the mud. This had to be a joke of some kind, hadn’t it? Maybe a bad dream. Nothing felt real. Once she was out of the puddle, Marisa knelt down next to her and hovered a hand over Reimu’s face. No breath. She pressed two fingers against her neck, trying to find a pulse. Nothing. The mud left ugly marks on her skin. It looked like blood in the darkness.

Yes, this was a joke. A disgusting joke. Marisa almost wanted to laugh. She put her head against Reimu’s chest, trying to hear her heart and lungs. Nothing. Only the sound of infinite raindrops hitting the leaves around them, and the occasional roar of thunder overhead.

“Come on, Reimu.” Marisa could barely speak. “You’re not allowed to die, remember? That’s why we have spell card rules and stuff.” No response. Marisa shook her. “You can’t call yourself the best in Gensokyo if you die to something this stupid, come on.” Still nothing. “Seriously, this is a fucking sick joke! Get up and go beat the crap out of that guy! This isn’t funny!” She was having trouble breathing. Something wet and heavy was clogging her lungs. “I’ll do it myself if you don’t. I’ll beat you to it for once, just watch.” But she knew she wouldn’t. She’d lost the will to fight. “Reimu…”

She knelt there, feeling the rain seep through the stitches in her waterproof coat. The cold water washed over her skin, and numbed her joints, her limbs, her mind, her heart. The only warmth came from the hot water dripping down her cheeks and through her nose. She reached out, and touched Reimu’s cheek with a knuckle. It was cold too.

She didn’t have to worry about Reimu beating her anymore. The last Hakurei shrine maiden of Gensokyo had passed away, and Marisa was alone in the world.