Megas XLR Fan Fiction ❯ Fantasy of Utter Ridiculousness ❯ Main Story ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Megas XLR is the property of Cartoon Network Studios, Jody Schaeffer and George Krstic, as far as I know. Touhou Project is the property of ZUN and Team Shanghai Alice (of which ZUN is the sole member).

Creative liberties have been taken at certain points, so tread cautiously and don't get stepped on. The story is the equivalent of a one-hour special as opposed to a multi-episode saga, so it only has six chapters (plus the Alternate Ending).

Read, enjoy, and wonder whether I've gotten enough sleep recently.

-/-/-/-

Tewi sat on the roof at Eientei, staring up at the moon. It was barely over a month ago when the night that some had called "Imperishable" had taken place. Now for an entirely different reason from what had transpired, she felt that it would be due to the moon once again that their lives were about to be enlivened.

She stared at the faint twinkles of light surrounding the moon, instinctively knowing that they were not stars and wondering what was going on up there. Something wasn't right about all of this...

A minute later, Tewi's eyes widened in shock as it happened. Was it some sort of trick? A complex prank of the type that she'd pull on Reisen? ... No, she told herself. It's worse. Much worse. This is no trick or illusion... this is very real!

Jumping off the roof, she flew indoors to search for the first Lunarian she could find. It was unusual behavior for her to act this way, but even she knew the potential repercussions: the long-lasting night had been due in part to a misunderstanding, but this next incident would be a disaster.

/*/*/*/

Outside the Scarlet Devil Mansion, Meiling maintained a silent vigil. Even at this time of night, when Gensokyo's humans would be asleep (and thus, no risk of Marisa barging in uninvited), there was no lack of potential intruders; fairies and immature youkai alike would occasionally try to bypass the gates. Her track record had been good thus far, and she wanted to keep it that way.

Still, she had her limits. She still needed to sleep every now and then, and the time for her to do so was fast approaching. She'd give it another ten minutes or so before calling it a night, she decided.

Stretching a bit, Meiling stared up at the sky... and paused. Her eyes weren't playing tricks on her, weren't they? What just... did that just... ... Finally, giving up, she allowed her eyes to bulge and her mouth to drop open.

Meiling was fully acquainted with Remilia's strengths and weaknesses, and knew that they were connected in some way to the moon. She also knew bad omens when she saw them, and this one qualified. High-jumping over the gate, she charged towards the Mansion's front door in the hopes that Sakuya or Remilia were somewhere nearby.

/*/*/*/

Youkai or not, Alice wasn't known for keeping odd hours. Tonight, though, she couldn't stay asleep; some leftover nightmares from the recent tag-team fight against Mokou, she supposed. She and Marisa had learned a bit of her history from the schoolteacher Keine after the dust had settled, and what she heard agitated her inwardly even as she remained calm outwardly. Some of Marisa's comments were borderline insensitive, not helping things much at all.

Alice wanted to return to bed and get some much desired rest, but on top of the nightmares she was feeling an odd sense of foreboding. She walked to a window and sat down near it, trying to remember why she had agreed to that trial of guts anyway...

Something caught her eye. She squinted up at the sky, examining what was sprinkled around the moon. She didn't know what had happened, but at least she understood what that foreboding feeling was about. She needed to tell someone about this before her nerves made her do something rash.

Five minutes later she was away from her home and airborne, flying as fast as she could. 'Two heads are better than one', as the expression went, so maybe Marisa would be of some assistance in figuring this mystery out.

/*/*/*/

"Yukari-sama?"

Of all the things that could've happened... such a rare thing indeed.

"Are you alright? Is something wrong?"

I recall something that a talking dog once told me. It fits this situation perfectly...

"Is the border in danger? ...Didn't you sleep long enough? ...Did someone call you old? ...Yukari-sama, please answer me!"

Ignoring Ran's increasingly frazzled questions, Yukari stared up at the moon. This was so far beyond the realm of possibility that it wasn't even funny. Should I say it? ...Or shall I not?...

"Is it because of Chen? ...Have I done something wrong? ...Should I find a rolled-up newspaper and smack myself on the back of the head with it?- - -"

"Ran."

The shikigami fell silent. Yukari slowly raised a hand, pointing at the distant circle of the moon. "Look carefully. Tell me what you see."

Ran obligingly stared upwards... and froze. Her pupils shrunk, her hands clenched, and all nine tails stood straight out like exclamation marks. Her jaw opened and closed repeatedly as her mind tried to connect a fragmented sentence together.

/*/*/*/

Tewi's emergency message was delivered straight to Kaguya and Eirin, steamrolling their peaceful conversation without her caring too much. Likewise, Meiling had informed Sakuya of what she had seen without letting the maid inquire why she wasn't on duty. Alice had to smack Marisa awake with one of her dolls, but the discovery she voiced made the "Ordinary Magician" sit up and listen without further hassle. And Ran's shellshocked mind had finally recovered enough for her to speak.

/*/*/*/

"Something just blasted a hole in the moon!"

...

It was then that Yukari decided to say what was on her mind. "I would not have predicted this."

-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Nice.

FANTASY OF UTTER RIDICULOUSNESS

By: Curtis Wildcat

-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-

An undetermined time later on the lunar surface, Megas stood back as Coop observed his work. The task was long, dull and annoying, but the moon was as intact as it was going to get. There was nothing left over from the disaster-causing battle with the Glorft.

"So," Coop said as Megas dusted off its hands, "does that work for you?"

In the back seat, Kiva gave the area a once-over. "It'll do," she decided. "Hopefully, the chaotic weather patterns on Earth will settle down soon, if they haven't already."

"Good." The gearhead smiled in satisfaction, wiping off his brow. "Means there's enough time to fly home and catch the start of The Rogue Wrestler trilogy."

"Nah." From his usual spot next to Coop, Jamie waved it off. "I'd bet you anything that we'll get caught in a situation that could've been avoided if we'd just gone home earlier."

Kiva brought up her holographic console and entered some commands into it. "The sensors aren't picking up anything..." She frowned as she thought of Coop's track record. Where he and Megas were involved, just about any dumb thing could happen. "...but we'd better be careful, just to make sure- - -"

A young yet strong feminine voice interrupted Kiva's advice. "Attention, unidentified mech!"

A thick energy burst shot past, the proximity of it forcing Megas back a step and jostling its occupants. A giant robot, this one gray, skinny and vaguely rabbit-shaped, had appeared seemingly out of thin air. It lowered the massive gun that its right arm had transformed into and spoke again, the mouthpiece mimicking the words of the pilot. "On behalf of the Lunar Defense Corps, I am here to deliver a warning. Leave now, impure ones, or we shall take action!"

"..." Jamie looked at Kiva's startled reflection in the rearview mirror. "Like I was saying..."

/*/*/*/

"Yorihime, are you sure that sending her out alone was a good idea?"

"Quite certain. The alien race that arrived caught us off guard, building their base almost on top of our civilization... it is just as well that they couldn't detect us. While I am thankful to that Earth mech's pilot for forcing them to flee, the fact remains that it caused a lot of unneeded destruction."

"..."

"In the best case scenario, she drives off the mech and gets some much-needed battle experience. In the worst case, we gather some quality intelligence on our foe. There has to be a reason why they are able to field this vehicle when the rest of their equipment is primitive by comparison."

"...All right, sister. I'll trust your judgment." Toyohime Watatsuki, one of the co-leaders of the Defense Corps, smiled. "So, you want to have a peach while we wait? There's no better way to pass the time."

Yorihime shook her head, a thin smile of her own taking form. "I'd rather watch my figure for a while, if you don't mind," she answered, settling in to watch the altercation.

/*/*/*/

It took a few extra seconds for Coop to respond. "The Lunar..."

"...Defense Corps?" Kiva finished. "Since when was there a sentient race on the moon?"

"And where were these guys when the Glorft were trying to crash this place into the earth?" Jamie wanted to know. "It's not like they made any big secret of it."

"I will say this only once more, earthers," the enemy pilot warned. "Make yourself scarce, or else I will not be responsible for what happens next."

Kiva turned away from the displays she had been manipulating. "May as well leave them be, Coop. Our job here is done."

"Wait, hold on. Are you saying that you don't want to know who these guys are?" Coop inquired.

"Who knows what's going on in their mind," added Jamie. "Or whether they're even from the moon at all."

"...Wait. Aren't you usually the one who suggests running away from the enemy?"

Jamie shrugged and smiled. "We've been through a lot of weird stuff up 'til now. I guess I'm starting to get callouses."

"Look, can we just go now?" Kiva insisted, becoming irritated at the slackers' stubbornness. "Who or what they are is none of our business."

Coop smiled confidently. "Come on, this won't take long. Just a few questions, and then we can go home. Maybe if we just ask politely, they'll- - -WHOA!"

Another energy blast from the rabbit mech neccessitated a need to dodge; Megas followed through on that need and jerked to the left, letting the blast pass by harmlessly. Again the trio had to hang on until things settled down; notably, Jamie was cowering at how close the shot had come to hitting the car. So much for callouses.

There was no further time for pondering. The Lunarian robot morphed its gun arm into a large, curved sword and charged; Megas's engines roared as Coop met the enemy halfway.

/*/*/*/

The sisters were already talking to themselves as the battle began. From where they had been monitoring the situation, they were able to catch everything that the Earthers had been saying. So the enemy aliens had wanted to use their home to destroy the world beneath them? That would've been a great stroke of irony had they actually succeeded... the sisters' indecisiveness had almost cost them gravely.

Not this time, they decided. If all went well, this enemy would never bother them again, one way or the other (points were allotted to the redheaded Earthling, though; at least someone was thinking straight). And if those "Glorft" ever dared to show their faces on the moon again, the Lunarians would be waiting in full force.

/*/*/*/

Megas raised both its hands, catching the enemy's sword in-between them. Metal creaked as the Lunarian attempted to free her weapon.

Recovering from his cowardice briefly, Jamie was treated to an up-close view of the rabbit mech's face. There was a black horizontal visor across its face where the eyes should've been. Barely visible behind that visor was...

"Huh?"

"What?" Coop acknowledged him even as Megas exerted additional power, slamming the mech's sword into the ground and giving him a free punch at the robot's torso. "You see something, Jamie?"

"Yeah," Jamie said, raising an eyebrow as the mecha-rabbit staggered backwards. "There's a teenage girl with rabbit ears piloting that thing."

Kiva almost facepalmed. "Why do you two always have to attract the weird ones?"

Coop shrugged and pushed a combination of buttons on his joystick. Megas responded, four beam cannons popping out of its shoulders and peppering the opponent with a volley of energy. "Beats me... hey, get back here!" he shouted as the enemy robot went evasive. He chased after it and continued firing, most of his missed shots either flying off into space or splashing against an unseen barrier.

/*/*/*/

From the start, the outcome was never in doubt. The rabbit-mech (dubbed the Guardsman by its designers) was a fine piece of equipment, boasting an unlikely combination of incredibly dense armor and high agility... as well as some bells and whistles in case its weaponry couldn't do the trick. But its pilot was a novice, only beginning to fully understand the power at her command, and was a bit of a coward to boot. Against a video game freak who saw Megas as the world's biggest toy, she would've been better off obeying her instincts and asking for Yorihime's assistance instead of standing her ground.

Five minutes after the confrontation began, it was just about over. The Guardsman's armor was damaged in places where Megas's fists and energy beams had finally struck, its forehead was cracked, and the sparking wires at its right shoulder showed where Coop had opted to rip out the arm and use it as a makeshift club (and depriving the mech of a sizable portion of firepower). Electricity crackled along the armor as the pilot struggled to keep the Guardsman upright.

While not escaping undamaged- - -the scorches and bits of melted armor across its torso and legs a testament to the enemy's aim- - -Megas itself was in much better condition.

An image of Megas's oversized controller appeared on the Guardsman's viewscreen. "Look, lady, are we about finished? I just have a few questions I want to ask before I leave. I don't want to miss my movies."

The pilot frowned severely, not liking the idea of answering anything that he'd want to ask. She briefly glanced at one of her displays; the Guardsman's power core was flickering, and if she didn't shut the whole thing down soon it was liable to go critical. Some of the lights had turned red, confirming as much. "Is that a joke?" she spat. "Why should I tell you anything? Leave us alone!"

Another display flickered. "Don't let your pride get the best of you, Kyla," a voice spoke over the transmission.

"...!" The Lunar rabbit sat upright. "Lady Yorihime!"

"My sister and I agree that it is permissible to answer the Earthling's questions if it means that they won't disturb us again," a smiling Toyohime said, edging next to Yorihime into the camera's view. "Just use your own discretion and don't tell them anything classified, as per regulations."

"With all due respect, masters, I'm going to have to leave my Guardsman," Kyla informed them, an edge in her voice. "My reactor won't last much longer. Any longer than two minutes, and..."

"I understand," Toyohime said, solemn. "Is your ETB still operational?"

She checked a still-functional display. "Yes, Lady Toyohime."

"Then use it, and quickly." The capital's co-guardian straightened. "I stand ready to receive you and the impure ones. Earthlings, stand by for translocation."

It'll be close, but I think I can manage it. "As ordered."

The ETB, or Emergency Transporter Boundary for short, was an advanced form of technology that had been successfully tested two centuries prior. The long and the short of it was that the device would lock on to any usage of boundary manipulation in the area (or more specifically, Toyohime's) and send both the device's user, plus any targets where applicable, to her relative location.

The fat Earthling was quick to protest to this. "Hey. I'm not sure what's going on, but I don't have time to sit around and chat. You're sure we can't just talk out here?"

Kyla was already at work, powering up the ETB and selecting both herself and the Earthlings as targets. ...He seriously can't put the facts together? I guess my friends were right; impurity rots the brain. "Quite certain. Now stand still a moment and let me handle this. This won't hurt a bit."

"Famous last words," the other male human snarked. The female in the back seat frowned and folded her arms, but didn't object.

A slot in the rabbit-mech's damaged forehead opened, revealing a translucent blue crystal shard. It glowed brightly as the Lunarian technology kicked into high gear. On-screen, Toyohime held her hands out from her sides and called upon her abilities, giving the ETB something to latch onto.

Perhaps the pounding it had taken from Megas had jarred something loose... which wasn't unlikely, since the Guardsman's head had been repeatedly bludgeoned by its own arm... or maybe there was simply a high chaos factor involved. Either way, something was starting to go wrong. Kyla frantically manipulated the controls, becoming increasingly alarmed. "Why now? Why now, of all times?"

"What is it?" Yorihime asked worriedly.

"It's not picking you up!" Kyla yelled, urgency entering her voice when she realized that the mech's reactor was flickering more quickly. The rest of the lights in the cockpit started blinking red, and an alarm started buzzing. "Something in the ETB has been disconnected! It's trying to grab a signal far beyond its projected range!"

The implications of this sunk quickly into the sisters' minds. "Kyla, clear out, now!" barked Yorihime, her fists tightening.

"Yes, ma'am!" The moon rabbit pulled an emergency lever, opening the back of the Guardsman's head and launching herself out of it in the same motion. The nearby barrier shimmered as she passed through it, reaching relative safety.

/*/*/*/

Kiva recognized the signs of a potential disaster well enough. "When that mech explodes, it'll catch us in the blast! Coop, get us out of here!"

Coop reacted with the reflexes of a seasoned gamer. Flipping Megas around, he gunned the engines and tore off towards Earth in a blaze of blue and orange, the acceleration pushing everyone into their seats.

Jamie was the first to notice what was happening. He thought at first that his vision was clouding up, but it turned out to be a bluish tinge creeping across the side windows and windshield. "Um, guys?"

"Yeah? What is it?"

"Is that this translocation thing they were going on about?"

"..."

They were still in Megas, they were travelling at high speed, and they were about to be teleported. The often-ignored laws of physics were about to get their sweet revenge.

"...Oh, boy..."

The blue light ensnared Megas, wrapping itself around the futuristic mech until it was fully enclosed. In a bright and wonderous flash that echoed the Guardsman's explosion behind them, the stolen prototype vanished from Lunarian airspace.

/*/*/*/

"I am sorry, Lady Yorihime, Lady Toyohime. I realize that you wanted to indulge their curiosity, but- - -"

"Don't worry about it too much, Kyla." Toyohime sat down, helping herself to a peach. "It was partially our fault for asking that of you on the spur of the moment."

"In any event, while unintentional, the enemy has departed. While part of me believes that they don't have any designs on our home, for its sake I am still relieved that they opted not to stick around." The normally serious Yorihime winked at the nervous Lunar rabbit, dispelling some of her unease, and dismissed her.

"Something that bothers me a little is that other boundary manipulator that the ETB discovered," Toyohime told her sister once Kyla was out of earshot. "Is it who I think it is...?"

"Call it a hunch," Yorihime said, smiling enigmatically, "but I think our visitors are about to make things a bit problematic for our old adversary. My only regret is that we cannot be there to see for ourselves; finishing their repair work and recovering what is left of the Guardsman takes priority."

"..."

"I think I may have a snack after all, Toyohime. Pass one of those to me, please."

And so another day went by on the moon.

/*/*/*/

Not for the first time, Patchouli stared up at the library's ceiling and breathed a sigh of relief that the chaos outside was finally over.

Remilia and Flandre both had been greatly unnerved by what was happening, although the Mansion's mistress hid her anxiety behind a facade of confidence. The fairy maids had been witnessed drawing straws to see who would be unfortunate enough to check the weather... with the loser, surprisingly, being the non-fairy Sakuya. Meiling relocated from the front gate to the foyer, wanting nothing to do with any of it; honestly, no one could blame her. Patchouli had been finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on her research, alternating between that and the odd card game with Koakuma.

But now, the terrible storms and inclement weather that had rocked Gensokyo had finally subsided. That meant that things could finally return to normal... at least, 'normal' for them. And for Patchouli, that meant the learning process and the tranquility that came with it.

The noisiness of glass shattering and a terrible crash reverberated throughout the library. Patchouli closed her eyes, suppressing the anger that was threatening to arise. That didn't take her long. "Marisa, how many times do I have to tell you?" she complained indignantly, starting to turn around. "If you want to visit the library, use the- - -"

But the person that had smashed into the library's floor wasn't Marisa. Patchouli floated back a bit in surprise, wondering if she was seeing things. Is this... what is going on?

Battered and looking as if she'd gotten on the wrong side of a super-sized oni, the unconscious Yukari wouldn't have been able to answer that question even if it had been spoken aloud. The laws of physics had claimed their next victim.

/*/*/*/

A long furrow stretched through the Forest of Magic, smashed trees and rocks littering the path on either side of it. Clusters of fairies and youkai alike dotted the area, wondering who or what had caused this level of damage. Their wonder and awe would increase as they completed their investigation...

At the end of the furrow was Megas, its systems temporarily down; the ETB-induced transit had been too much for it to take. Coop and the others were rattled, but whatever safety measure it was that had kept them alive through their adventures was still active.

"I can't tell much from here," Coop said as he looked up through the windshield, "but this doesn't look like no moon to me." He turned the ignition key, but was rewarded with silence.

"We must've ended up back on Earth somehow." Kiva tried to run an analysis of Megas's systems, but nothing was working yet. "Their teleporter had to have malfunctioned due to that fight. It's the only thing I can think of."

"So I guess that means we won't be finding out about those moon people, then?" was Jamie's question.

"Not unless you want to waste extra time by flying back there, no."

"Well, no big loss." Coop smiled as he continued trying to restart Megas. "It means we still have time to get back home for the movies." The smile became a grin as the engine finally kicked into gear; in the backseat, Kiva successfully manipulated the console to get a better read on the mech's condition. "There. That's how we do it!"

Megas hopped to its feet suddenly, startling the fairies that had gathered around it. A great number of them believed that the giant robot was an antagonistic giant and fled, screaming in terror. Most of those youkai that had discovered the source of the furrow did the same, not wanting to pick a fight with something that big. Only a certain dollmaker remained, staying a safe distance away as she tried to determine who or what this thing was that had disturbed her morning routine, and even she had to struggle to keep her "flight or fight" instincts at bay.

Kiva was the first to hear the terrified fairies, and she looked out the side window. "..." She blinked. "Did those children have wings?"

"Winged kids?" asked the confused Coop. "C'mon, you're imagining things."

"If she is, then so am I." Jamie tapped the side window, indicating the view outside. "You've got to see this."

Megas turned a bit, allowing Coop to see what Jamie was talking about. There were no tall buildings to block their view. Nothing but beauty as far as the eye could see... a mountain in the background, standing tall and resolute... a thick forest of bamboo off in the distance... a large mansion in the middle of a lake... and trees everywhere they looked, with a few clearings here and there. The overall splendor of the area had no equal anyplace else on earth.

"It doesn't look that great to me," Coop complained, shaking his head.

Kiva didn't believe what she'd just heard. "What are you talking about? I haven't seen this sort of beauty in all my life. If there was anyplace like this in the future, it was gone long before the Glorft arrived!"

"It can't be that great." As Coop spoke, Megas gestured at the surrounding area. "I don't see a convenience store anywhere. How am I supposed to get any meatball subs when all the good places are gone?"

Jamie smirked. "The world doesn't revolve around fast food, Coop- - -"

"It does to me."

"- - -and anyway, I wasn't talking about the forest. I was talking about her."

/*/*/*/

Alice floated up to shoulder height, still staying far enough away from the metal monster that she could react in case it turned out to be hostile. Her emotions shifted as she continued to observe it. She felt nervous, believing that if it were malevolent and showed no regard for the Spell Card rules, the chances of her holding it off weren't good (unless she tapped into her grimoire's full power, something that she preferred not to attempt). There was some anger when she remembered that the thing had barged rudely into the territory that she'd claimed for her own (although to be fair, it wasn't like she minded having an occasional visitor; she just preferred that they didn't bother her while they were present).

The nervousness and anger gave way to curiousity when the thing turned to look at her. Is that really its head? It looks out of place. ... And are those... humans inside it? ...So if there are people in it, does that mean... that it's a golem of some kind? A giant puppet, and they're the ones holding the strings?

A sweatdrop. Wait... why are they looking at me like that? It's as if they... Deciding to take a risk, she floated closer so as to make herself heard. "What's wrong?" she asked, trying to keep a note of anxiety from entering her voice. "You're acting like you've never seen someone fly before."

One of the windows on the head opened, and the black-jacketed male leaned out of it. "Um, last we checked, people couldn't fly. Is gravity optional around here?"

Alice was starting to get a sneaking suspicion about them. "Answer a question of mine, and I'll explain it to you. Where are you three from?"

"Jersey City," the fat male answered, opening the other window. "Why?"

...That answers that. Outsiders, then; that's a place I've never heard of before. "Well, if you came here hoping to see the sights, good for you. You may have a slight problem, though..."

"What could be worse than missing The Rogue Wrestler? I've been waiting to watch it for weeks, we go up to the moon, and now here we are at who-knows-where!"

Any anxiety that Alice felt was gone, replaced by complete confusion. ...I guess we both have some things to explain...

/*/*/*/

"So, is she alright?"

Sakuya looked back into one of the Mansion's guest rooms, where the unconscious Yukari had been placed. Satisfied, she turned to face Patchouli and Remilia in the hallway. "She will be fine, as far as I can determine. I don't have much advanced medical training, so I don't know when she will wake up. Could be a matter of minutes... or, maybe hours."

Patchouli had no real feelings one way or the other for Yukari, but she knew that something capable of one-shotting the overseer posed a serious threat to Gensokyo. Judging from Remilia's thoughtful look, she figured her friend was thinking along similar lines. "So, what do you want us to do?"

"We'll need information." Remilia began pacing the floor. "And quickly. Sakuya, the responsible party is likely still in the vicinity of the Lake or the Forest of Magic. Find out what you can and tell us promptly about your discoveries. Try to keep whoever it is from seeing you; I don't want you to meet Yukari's fate, or worse."

"At once, my lady," Sakuya acknowledged, disappearing in a ripple of time.

"...Why can't she just walk out of the room like a normal human?" Patchouli muttered, shaking her head.

Remilia smirked. "How many normal humans do we know?"

The number of full-blooded humans that the two of them personally knew in Gensokyo could be counted on one hand, and none of them met humanity's standards of normality. Patchouli shrugged and moved on. "Dismissing that for now, Remi, what about me?"

Stopping her pacing, Remilia stared down the long hallway. "Set whatever project you're working on to the side for now. I'll meet you in the library once Sakuya returns. I need to check on Flandre first."

Beat. "Any particular reason why, or is this just a social visit?"

"I want to be able to let her outside of her room more; you know that. It was a mistake for me to forget about her up until the Scarlet Mist's aftermath." Remilia stared her best friend in the eyes. "What with her control issues and general immaturity, allotting her additional freedom hasn't been an option... until now."

Patchouli regarded her concernedly. "Did the weather really scare her that much? I'll admit it was the worst that I've ever seen in all my life, but..."

-?-

"Accckkk!" A skull-splitting shriek, blaring from no more than a dozen feet away, caused Remilia to flinch as thunder and lightning warred with each other outside. "Man your battle stations! Sound the alarm! I need five pastries on aisle five, stat!"

Remilia wondered where Flandre had picked up such odd terminology. It certainly wasn't her, and it couldn't have been the others... "Get out from under your bed!" she shouted, fists tightening at her sides. "Are you going to let some bad weather get the better of Flandre Scarlet? Get out from there, I say- - -"

A lightning flash that felt much closer to the Mansion than the others, followed by an explosive BOOM of thunder that caused the room to shake, and suddenly Remilia was much less inclined to chastise her sister. Deciding to follow her lead, she dived under the bed as well.

"Make way for the inspector general! Be arrogant, be elegant, be smart! Brodny, to the sky!"

"Flandre, stop your rambling and get your wing out of my eye!"

-?-

"That's probably an understatement," Remilia uttered dryly. "I think she'll be much more likely to focus on your lessons now. But that'll be for later." She walked off down the hall, the very picture of poise and dignity. "I'll see you shortly, Pache."

"Likewise."

Once Remilia was out of sight, Patchouli took one more look at Yukari and shut the door before flying back to her preferred sanctum. Her instincts told her that it was going to be a long and restless day.

/*/*/*/

Humming a tune, Reisen ventured forth from Eientei to sell Eirin's medicine. For the sake of an unimpeded flight, the lunar rabbit flew up and over the Bamboo Forest; at her speed, it wouldn't take too long to reach where she wanted to go. She was honestly interested to see how this business venture would turn out.

None of the former moon residents had taken the news of the lunar explosion gracefully, so they were happy when they learned that the place was put back together. Reisen had considered getting into contact with her fellow rabbits back in the capital to get some news, but decided not to risk outing herself. Still, it would've been nice to learn what had transpired.

Before her thoughts could get much further on the matter, she glimpsed something that was terribly out of place in Gensokyo. She rubbed her eyes to make sure she wasn't imagining things, then took another look: yes, a giant robot was standing in the middle of the Forest of Magic. The Guardsman unit had been in use on the moon for a while even before she had run away, so she had no trouble recognizing a machine made for war.

She halted in mid-air, looking in the direction of the Human Village, then back at the robot. She lingered a few moments more as she considered what to do, then sighed reluctantly and flew on towards the Village. Information gathering could wait until she finished the task that Eirin had assigned her to carry out. If it was still there by the time she finished, she'd worry about it then.

Occupied by her thoughts on her upcoming job, Reisen didn't see Sakuya passing by in the distance.

/*/*/*/

...I can't figure out whether I can tolerate these people or not...

Alice had dealt with outsiders several times since she first settled in Gensokyo. Even if they weren't put off by her hospitable-yet-cold attitude, they would draw the wrong conclusion from misinformation about youkai and quickly desire to make themselves scarce. These people are not your average outsiders. Not at all.

Since both parties wanted to learn more, all of them had relocated to the clearing where Alice's home was located. The four of them now sat at the golem's feet (she felt that its controller would probably destroy her door frame if he tried to walk inside, hence why she didn't invite them in), enjoying some admittedly delicious drinks and exchanging information. She'd been cooped up indoors for too long, anyway.

The fact that they offered me something to drink instead of the other way around is proof that they have no idea what life is like in this part of the world. Perhaps I should instruct them a bit before I send them off to the shrine maiden... Still, it's tasty. I'll give them that much.

The way Alice had understood the redheaded human- - -Kiva, she corrected herself- - -the golem (the fat one, Coop, had been adamant about referring to it as "Magus" for some reason) had been stolen and altered to save the human race's future generations from an invading army. Various things went wrong, and not only did the golem end up in an incorrect time period but also in the hands of a pair of lazy slackers. Hmm...

Her disbelief only got worse when they described how they'd arrived here, and she very nearly had a conniption when she discovered that Coop had been responsible for the recent weather. It took all the control she had not to dispatch her dolls after them; they were speaking of this as casually as one would describe a mid-day stroll.

As Jamie had pointed out, though, if the invaders had their way then the entire planet would've been smashed to pieces. Knowing that someone out there would stoop to such an act and had the means of backing up their threats was a very sobering thought, and it made the cataclysmic weather seem trifling by comparison. And at any rate, Coop did at least try to put the moon back together... although judging from his tone, it must have been too much work for his liking.

On the conversation's flip side, telling them about the existence of magic had been more difficult. Coop outright refused to believe it ("Are you kidding me? I've seen movies with better plot than that"). Kiva was just as jaded, but at least gave a reason for her disbelief ("I'm sorry, but I've never put much stock in magic. It seems a little far out to me"). The discussion looked like it was going to go nowhere, when...

"I believe her."

Alice, Coop, and Kiva turned their heads towards Jamie. "Huh?"

"Look, you guys. In no particular order, we've faced alien squids, a floating head with tiny arms and legs, a spider that wouldn't die, a planet killer, and a planet monster. We should be used to stuff like this by now. Even discounting that," and here Jamie raised his voice for emphasis, "this chick can flippin' fly! How cool is that?"

A long moment of silence ensued as Coop and Kiva mulled this over, and as Alice tried to discern what Jamie meant by "this chick can flippin' fly". The temporally-displaced soldier was the first to come to the right conclusion. "Well, I suppose it would explain those winged children, at least..."

"The fairies," Alice supplied.

"...I dunno," Coop said, still hesitant to admit the existence of magic. "Can we see a demo of some kind? You know, something that doesn't involve pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Otherwise, it doesn't count."

Alice was struck with a mental image of her pulling that lunar rabbit they'd met out of Marisa's hat. Disregarding it, she remained silent for a few moments as she wondered what sort of demonstration to give them. If Marisa was here, she'd probably just demonstrate her Master Spark or that laser attack she stole from the librarian. I need to show them something more elegant than that.

...Where is Marisa, come to think of it? I thought she would've been eager to see this for herself.

/*/*/*/

Unlike Sakuya's last solo investigation, it didn't take her most of the day to find what she was looking for. Quickly locating where the trench began almost half a kilometer away from Misty Lake, she followed that trail to its end. From there, whatever it was had gotten up and walked off through the Forest, bent trees and giant square footprints marking its path.

Most of the fairies she saw didn't bother her, surprisingly; those that did were quickly dealt with. She wondered about their sudden cowardly streak; normally, "reckless" didn't even begin to describe them. What could've spooked them so badly that they would forego their usual boldness?

She neared the edge of a clearing that she remembered as belonging to the Seven-Colored Puppeteer. Sakuya heard four voices, recognizing one of them as Alice's but not knowing any of the others. Wanting to see them and not just hear them, she started to peek around the giant statue that was taking up a good deal of space...

Sakuya was intelligent and extremely capable, but even she had her moments of the exact opposite; it took a few seconds more before a feeling of wrongness settled in. Finally realizing that there was something to this statue, she looked up. ...And up.

...And up.

...And still up.

...

...What... is... this...?

...

"...something that doesn't involve pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Otherwise, it doesn't count."

The maid snapped back to reality as one of the strange voices spoke. There was a minor pause before Alice replied: "I guess I could do a Spell Card demonstration, if you don't mind taking control of... 'Magus' again."

...This statue's a magus? An honest-to-goodness MAGUS? And it's under their command? Oh, dear...

"Spell Card?" the unfamiliar female was heard asking. "What's that supposed to be?"

"It's part of how we settle disputes in Gensokyo, Miss Andru. There's a few different variations, but the main arrangement is that one person creates a complex energy pattern that targets his or her opponent. The other person simply dodges and fires back as much as possible until the Card is broken, on the condition that getting hit at least three times results in a defeat. There's more to it, of course, but that's the gist of it."

"...So, it's like a game, then?" the deeper-voiced male asked. Another beat, then: "Rock on! Now that's something I can understand!"

Who are these people...? Sakuya tried to get a good view of the proceedings again, this time being able to see who the puppeteer was talking to.

"Coop, don't forget that you wanted to watch those movies when you got home. I bet the first one's started by now."

Strangely dressed... outsiders?

"No prob, Jamie. Before we went to the moon, I went ahead and set up the VCR. If I miss 'em, it'll record 'em on its own."

...They were at the moon?... Sakuya paled as she heard this. Were they the ones who...?

"But you were making a big deal about missing them just a few minutes ago! Why'd you change your mind?"

'Coop' brushed off his reminder. "Don't get me wrong; I don't want to miss my films. But I'm not about to miss out on a fun game, neither."

"Like that containment cartridge that Grrkek was imprisoned in?" 'Miss Andru' dryly reminded him.

"Yeah, exactly. It would've been more fun if he wasn't so much of a game breaker."

"Coop, you're the one who broke it."

"So?"

Sakuya felt that she had heard enough. She backtracked as quietly as possible to the point where the magus's footprints began, getting her thoughts in order. These people were too dangerous, and what was worse was that Alice had apparently allied herself with them for some reason. As much as she wanted to solve the problem at the source, however, her mistress's order was to keep from being seen by them; she had never disobeyed an order from her in all her years of servitude, and she wasn't about to start now. Jumping into the air, she arrowed back towards the Mansion as fast as she was capable.

/*/*/*/

I can't believe this. I refuse to acknowledge it!

The inside of Marisa's home was a complete mess even on the best of days. Today it looked even worse, if such a thing were possible.

Terrific. What would Reimu and Alice think if they saw me now? Or Mima, for that matter? Patchy would overcome her asthma just to laugh her head off. That's not how I'm going to go down in history!

One of the windows had been destroyed, the glass smashed into a multitude of shards; unbeknownst to her, it was due to a stray branch that had been snapped off of a tree when Megas began plowing through the Forest. The branch had hit one of Marisa's stolen books, knocking it over, and that in turn had provoked a series of small-scale disasters that ended with all the junk she'd accumulated falling on top of her. She'd never had any serious problems with it before, as difficult as it was to believe, so saying that she was both surprised and hurt by the occurance would have been safe.

How would that look in their minds? "Marisa Kirisame, the Ordinary Magician, brought low by kleptomania"? C'mon, not likely! I'd sooner call Yuuka a pansy than allow that to happen to me! And I have, too. Why she took that as a compliment, I'll never know!

Just a half meter away from her nose was her mini-hakkero, completely free of the junk around it. Struggling, Marisa tried to work her arms free of their entrapment. "C'mon, little by little. Work with me here..."

While she struggled, a gust of wind blew into the room through the shattered window. It disturbed the contents of a flask that had been broken during the mishap: a bluish-gray powdery mix created from the surrounding area's plethora of ingredients. As the air circulated, the powder swirled around a few times and drifted out the window deeper into the Forest...

/*/*/*/

A relaxing breeze. Blue skies. A luminous flash of light. A great metallic hand swatting her aside, too fast to allow her to escape...

And oblivion's darkness.

Yukari's eyes fluttered open, and her conscious thoughts came back to her a moment later. The brief memories of that attack were vivid, and the thought of someone getting the drop on her like that disgusted her. She made a mental note to drop whatever it was that caused her impromptu nap into a volcano the next time she saw it. Or smack it around a bit and invite it to have some tea, depending on her mood.

Without getting up, she surveyed the room she was in. Judging from the decor, the fairy maid asleep near the door and the gigantic portrait of Remilia Scarlet that occupied the wall across from her, she didn't need to make any guesses as to her current whereabouts. Her favorite parasol was propped up next to the maid, undamaged. Depending on how long I've been out, Ran must be pitching a fit right now looking for me. I wonder where they found me...

Yukari raised one arm gingerly and looked at it, frowning at both that and the absence of her favorite cap. Quickly she assessed her overall condition. ...And why they even bothered with this haphazard treatment. Getting hit like that hurts, but having duelled Suika it's nothing I haven't experienced already. I just wasn't prepared for it, that's all. She lowered the arm back under the blankets and pondered her next move.

I could just let myself out. There's nothing keeping me here, and a bit of boundary tweaking would make this pain negligible. The one responsible for this needs to be dealt with, too. Another look at the snoozing fairy maid. Still, maybe I should just rest and let the healing process handle itself for a change, she thought as she smiled. After all, do I really need a reason to sleep? If there's a threat, they're strong enough to deal with it.

With that happy thought Yukari closed her eyes, pulled her blanket back up to her chin and willingly let unconsciousness reclaim her.

/*/*/*/

Staredown.

With the drinks finished and a decision made, both Alice and Megas had taken to the skies. The boosters on Megas's back flared brightly as the robot hovered over the trees. Both its pilot and the youkai in front of them locked determined stares, with Coop's tinged with excitement and Alice's completely calm.

Let's see... most of my patterns as they are now are geared more for human-sized opponents. If I go with those, then the magus will be unable to dodge them all. ...Not that one, no... Alice's expression became more satisfied as she made her pick. This one should do. That should leave them just enough space to thread the needle.

"I wonder what sort of attack she's going to use," Kiva was murmuring. "She told us she was a dollmaker, but what do dolls have to do with any of this?"

"I hope we find out soon." Jamie wondered for what felt like the twentieth time why they kept getting themselves into these situations. It was almost as if this robot attracted weirdness of its own initiative. "It feels like we're stepping deeper into 'Bizarro World' the longer we stay here."

"Alright, Alice," Coop declared, paying no mind to either of them; he was much more eager than they were, unsurprisingly. "I'm ready whenever you are. Bring it on!"

"And brought it shall become!" Alice shouted in response. A card with some sort of design on it- - -none of Megas's occupants could discern what it was- - -materialized in her hand. "Darkness Sign: Foggy London Dolls!"

Before Jamie or Coop could wonder what kind of name that was, the card vanished just as quickly as it appeared. The surrounding area faded from view, replaced by a dark red and black backdrop that none of the three really understood. A song that somehow straddled the line between ominous and cute began playing on the speakers- - -which were supposed to be off- - -and those up front spared a quick look at them in confusion.

Four blonde-haired dolls formed around Alice, spinning rapidly and rotating slowly around her. One by one, each doll fired a smattering of energy pellets... some pointed, and not much bigger than Coop's arm, and others orb-shaped and easily half the size of a full-grown person. The bullets swirled around the dolls and briefly formed a vague flower pattern before breaking apart and drifting towards Megas. Dozens upon dozens cut across the air, with more appearing as time went on until space itself became clogged.

"Whoa!" Coop tilted Megas onto its side, barely fitting through a thin space between some of the shots. He smacked a weapons panel; Megas's hands retracted into their respective limbs and allowed them to dispense attacks of their own, a half-dozen missiles firing from each one. That was all he had time for before he was forced to dodge sideways again; Jamie winced as two of the energy orbs brushed against Megas's fins without really hitting them.

The missiles that Megas fired homed in on Alice, but exploded just short of her. When the smoke cleared, the cause of this was revealed to be a bright red energy shield, a large triangle occupying the center of it. She smiled as the card continued to run its course. "You have the right idea, Coop, but you'll need persistence and patience if you're going to win a Spell Card match."

As if to drive the statement home, one of the pointed bullets hit Megas's left arm; the entire mech shuddered with the hit, the supposed damage far out of proportion to the bullet's size. The entire attack pattern vanished into thin air, granting Coop a brief respite, but it wasn't more than a second or two before said pattern took form once more.

"Well, then... you want persistence? Here's a plateful for ya!" Coop bit out, pressing and holding down the same panel he'd hit earlier while keeping his other hand on a joystick. Missile upon missile launched out of Megas's arms, each and every one of them flying true... only for Alice's shield to withstand them all. One of the missiles glanced off the side of the shield, making her flinch as it screamed past her ears and soared off harmlessly into the far reaches of the forest.

"Just how much damage does that shield of hers take?" Jamie wondered aloud, holding on tightly to his seat. He knew that the game was theoretically harmless, but he still didn't like getting involved in these things.

"It wouldn't be much of a duel if it folded after a few hits," Kiva pointed out, poring over a readout. "Although... from what I could tell, it doesn't look like we're running low on ammunition... the cache keeps reading as full."

"Sounds cool to me," Coop declared with a grin. He loved how that news sounded. Pressing his assault, he began focusing entirely on passing Alice's demonstration. "Radius, knock yourself out!"

/*/*/*/

Far enough away that Alice and Megas's duel didn't disturb them, a trio of fairies were fascinated by the odd trinkets that were lying on the ground.

The objects varied in shape and size, but they all had the same thing in common. They were decorated with a red circle and two curved lines on either side, plus four white lines- - -two of which were in the shape of a downward arrow. None of the Three Mischevious Fairies understood what they were supposed to mean.

"What sort of hard language is this?" Luna mused, holding one of the more metallic trinkets up to her eye for examination. Now that she was focusing on it, she could see some additional symbols beneath the circle, none of which made any sense to her.

"Maybe they're toys?" Sunny suggested, holding a vaguely oval-shaped ball in both hands. "They look like they could be thrown around a lot."

Star took Luna's trinket from her to examine it herself. "This would look very pretty if we hung it from a tree branch..."

"No, let's hang it inside our home." Sunny put the ball down and picked up a flat disc with a hole in the center. "We found these things ourselves. Do you want someone else to take them?"

Luna regarded the sheer number of objects that were lying at their feet. "There's a lot of things to carry just on our own."

"Why don't we just take what we can carry, then?" Star suggested, already cradling several of the trinkets in her arm. "There's nothing wrong with that."

"Yeah... guess you're right."

As they considered what to do, a strange whistling noise caught their attention. The three of them looked up... just in time as the stray missile spiraled on in, exploding dead-center in the pile of toys and catching the Three Fairies in the blast. Upon their regeneration, they completely forgot about what they had discovered and fled as far away as they could, scared.

Even in Gensokyo, PopTV just couldn't catch a break.

/*/*/*/

The demonstration was serving its purpose. Having gotten the hang of things, it took little effort for the magus's controller to throw it past bullets and retaliate in kind. The spell card's built-in timer was almost in single digits, but she figured that a time-out wouldn't be an issue.

Alice was impressed at how quickly Coop had understood the idea. Judging from his size and personality, she didn't think at first that there was anything more to him than his clumsiness and oafish qualities. I guess even the idiots of the world have something positive that they specialize in...

With each successful hit, the puppeteer's shield grew smaller and smaller until it barely covered an area a little larger than her grimoire. One more missile streaked in and detonated against it...

...and with a sound similar to that of thunder, the spell card broke. The area's dark color scheme reverted back to the forested backdrop that she was used to. Her dolls and the remaining bullets disappeared, and the magus seemed to glow slightly in response. Alice herself felt a bit tired, but not so much so that she couldn't have continued the duel if she had been so inclined.

/*/*/*/

Surprised by the suddenness of the demonstration's conclusion, Coop raised his hand off the weapons panel and brought Megas to a stop. His attention was drawn to a blinking monitor on his dashboard. "...'New high score'?" he read aloud, smiling. "'497,050'? Nice."

"Could've been higher if you hadn't gotten hit that first time," Jamie commented, happy that the bout was over. "Another... 20K, maybe?"

Kiva shut off her console and leaned back in her seat. "All things considered, I'm happy with how this turned out. This whole 'Spell Card' arrangement's more complicated than I gave it credit for."

Coop turned a bit to look at her. "What do you mean?"

"Well, there's the endless ammunition, of course..."

A grin. "Oh, yeah."

"And that shield of hers was strong enough to withstand Megas's firepower for what, 40 seconds, give or take?" Kiva folded her arms and blew some stray hair out of her eyes. "It goes against numerous scientific laws without question, but I can easily see how this type of thing would work out. Reminds me of basic training, actually."

As Coop brought Megas back down to where it had been parked during their chat with Alice, Jamie stared out the window. "I doubt they had any heat-packing dollmakers a thousand years down the road."

"Wasn't quite my point, Jamie..."

"Ah, who cares?" Coop asked. "It was fun. That's what counts in a game, right?"

"Correct," Alice's voice spoke. The trio looked outside in time to see her land next to the car. "You sounded like you were enjoying yourself. So, have I convinced you yet?"

Coop thought about this for a bit. "I can roll with it, I guess. I mean, it's not like I'm going to use any of it myself." He patted the car's dashboard, smiling. "I've got all the magic I need right here."

"..." Alice slowly nodded. "Alright. Just so long as you understand. ...So- - -"

"Do people here have strange tastes in music?"

Alice did a double-take at that, her eyes curious as she regarded Jamie. "What are you talking about?"

"There was this creepy song playing during the demo. We knew we weren't playing any music, so I have to wonder if it was part of that whole magic thing you were talking about."

"...I don't know," Alice confessed. "I've never heard any music playing during a match before."

"Personally I wouldn't think about it too much," Kiva suggested, rolling her eyes. "Megas has been a walking nexus of chaos ever since Coop got his hands on it."

"Hey, now..."

"...Musings for another time. Thank you, Miss Andru." Alice cupped her chin and stared downwards, getting her thoughts in order. "Now, then..."

"'Now, then', what?" Coop asked after a few beats. "What else is there?"

"Nothing to do with the matches themselves. I was actually going to explain this before you made your disbelief known. It deals more with Gensokyo as a whole."

"With Gensokyo?" Kiva sat up, attentive.

"Yes, it does. More specifically, on how you're going to be able to leave."

Everyone's undivided attention was on the youkai now, not just Kiva's.

/*/*/*/

"...So, to summarize... a giant statue...that's also a magus?"

"That is correct, Miss Patchouli."

"...Under the control of three outsiders?"

"True indeed, my lady."

"Decorated in pretty flames?"

"...Yes, Lady Flandre."

The meeting in the Mansion's library had promptly begun when Sakuya returned. The maid quickly described what she had seen during her investigation, ending with a description of the statue and Alice's joining forces with the outsiders. Once the overall shock had worn off, everyone present had differing views on what to do.

Sakuya herself was all for subduing the outsiders and defeating Alice, or at least getting Reimu and Marisa to handle things. Once the controllers were taken care of, everyone could assumably destroy the statue at their leisure or else find another use for it.

Patchouli was more interested in figuring out how a statue, and one from outside Gensokyo at that, could be capable of using magic. She suggested that the controllers be convinced to visit the Mansion so that she could talk to them and take notes. Perhaps they could even be swayed to remain.

Remilia wanted to know if it could be possible to take control of the statue for herself. In case another incident arose, it would be nice to have some extra power in their corner. Events could be swiftly settled without the need to exert themselves any more than what was really needed.

And Flandre?

"I wanna see it, I wanna see it, I wanna see it!"

...Her enthusiasm spoke for itself.

"Flandre, settle down," Remilia reprimanded her calmly, waiting until her sister sat back down before continuing. "With the sun out in force now, neither of us could go out to look for it if we wanted to. And you still need to learn to control yourself. With your enthusiasm, you might end up destroying what we want to get."

"It's not like it's hard to miss," Patchouli said before Flandre could protest. "If it's as big as Sakuya described it as being, doubtless it would easily be visible to us if it approached the lake."

"I wanna see it," Flandre insisted stubbornly. "I won't explode it, I promise! Please?"

About five seconds passed in silence before Remilia finally heaved a tired sigh. "Alright, you can see it." She held up a hand to stall Flandre's excited shout. "But you must take a parasol, you cannot destroy anything, and you cannot go beyond the Mansion's gates. If you do either of those, you're going to have to go back downstairs for a while. Do you understand?"

"Yayyy!" Flandre cheered, jumping out of her seat and running around the table a few times before making tracks for the door. "Outside, outside, outside...!"

"Sakuya, go with her and make sure she does what I asked," said Remilia, shaking her head. "Pache and I still have a few things to discuss. I'll join you in a few minutes."

"Of course, my lady." Sakuya turned away from the table, again disappearing via time manipulation.

"...So, what should our plan of action be?" Patchouli asked quietly. "I realize that you want the magus on our side, but that would mean disposing of the outsiders. We won't know how to control it unless we leave them alive, and I would much like to get the details from them anyway."

"..." Remilia was silent for a bit, one palm on her chin. Her eyes bored into the table as she considered their options. "...How's your health holding out today, Pache?"

Patchouli blinked in surprise, but she already had a reply on the way. "Well enough that I didn't start coughing at the topic shift. Why?"

"I have a strong hunch about this, but with Sakuya tasked with guarding Flandre I can't have her follow up on it. If you don't mind..." Remilia looked up, meeting her best friend's gaze. "Would you be willing to head out and take care of something for me?"

/*/*/*/

Carried by the wind, the strange powder that had been created at Marisa's home continued its leisurely path through the forest. There was a small crowd of fairies present, chattering amongst themselves about the great metal thing that they had seen. A great deal of them were still exhibiting fear, while others were starting to overcome said fear and considering launching an all-out attack against it.

The powder drifted down onto the fairies, sinking into their skin and clothes. Nothing happened at first, but slowly they felt themselves becoming bigger...

From the waistline of an adult human or shorter, they matched the mortal race's full height within ten seconds. They didn't stop there, surpassing any of the dwellings that they might have seen in the human village. Higher, higher and still higher they went, the forest floor becoming increasingly crowded with each passing second, until there was barely any space for anyone to walk.

There was a great deal of surprise amongst them as they grew; this was such a change from their daily lives that they didn't know how to react at first. Some of the smaller trees and brush were shoved aside as the fairies pushed against each other, struggling for space. Even after they stopped growing, what had happened didn't fully sink in right away.

All it took was one fairy to notice that they were now nearly as big as the scary metal monster, though, and she voiced her discovery aloud. As word spread, their fear ceased to exist and was replaced by their typical uncaringness for their own mortality... or immortality, in this case. Laughing with glee, the entire contingent lifted into the air and flew off in search of their giant foe, the air trembling with each flap of their wings.

/*/*/*/

Having made some progress in freeing her right arm, Marisa strained to reach her mini-hakkero.

Not having the strength to pull herself out from under the multitude of junk and magical items she possessed, nor the mobility to reach behind her and pry her other arm loose, she'd had to make a tough decision. Normally she would've dismissed such a thought as stupid, saying that it happened to other people but not her, but she was left with no alternatives.

"Laser... is not... difficult..." she hissed through gritted teeth, trying to grab her most prized possession. It was so close she could almost, but not quite, reach it... but she had not spent so much time trying to match Reimu to give up now.

/*/*/*/

Suika Ibuki sat on the Hakurei shrine's roof, took a swig from her gourd, and decided that today was going to be a good day.

There wasn't any more bad weather to be had. Reimu was busy for once, scouring the shrine grounds for any signs of damage; obviously she intended to have Suika handle whatever repairs that needed done. The oni didn't mind putting her strength to good use for someone like her; the shrine maiden's honesty was in part why she chose to stick around. And anyway, once everything was in order, perhaps Reimu would be in the mood to have a drink shared with her. Conversations held over sake were the most interesting ones of all.

Throughout the tempestuous storms, Suika had put her control over density to good use; the rainfall and wind in the shrine's vicinity were not as strong. The storage shed, the stone walkway and the grounds themselves had not been as fortunate, hence what Reimu was doing. I wonder if whoever did this knew what they were getting into, causing another incident right on the heels of the last one... she thought, ignoring the fact that the same thing applied to herself.

From time to time, she thought she'd heard rumbling in the distance. She dismissed the noise almost immediately. The sky was virtually cloudless from what she could see. There was no reason to think that the rains would kick in again so soon after they had ended.

"Suika? Hey, Suika!"

Aw, I was hoping she'd take a few more minutes. Oh, well! Suika poked her head over the edge of the roof, eyeing the impatient miko that was down below. "Yeah, Reimu?"

"Would you get down here? I have a task for you. Several, actually. I've figured out what we have and what we don't have, and I need you to get the things we don't have..."

...

And so it was that Suika found herself ambling down the path towards the Human Village, a task sheet committed to her hazy memory. Wood and shingles for the shed. Some new stone blocks for the walkway... never mind that she could produce those herself if she needed to. ...

...Wasn't there something else she wanted me to retrieve? Something to fix the shrine gate with? Or maybe some paint?... She paused as she tried to recall it, then smiled. Eh, I'm sure she'll tell me if I forget. She's good that way. She took another quick drink from her gourd, smiled good-naturedly at nothing in particular, and ran down the path with her arms stretched out to the sides.

All was right with Suika's world.

/*/*/*/

A giant robot car with three outsiders, accompanied by the Seven-Colored Puppeteer. A lunar rabbit selling medicine down at the village. A band of super-sized fairies out for vengeance. A perpetually drunken child-sized oni doing a friend a favor. A highly unamused librarian, just now departing the Mansion on orders from a self-proclaimed descendant of Vlad Tepes.

Yukari probably would've had a good laugh at how this would turn out. And speaking of Yukari...

"Zz... zz... No, Mister Larson, I'm not afraid of ducks watching me..."

Wakefulness wouldn't be for a little while yet.

/*/*/*/

Patchouli cared about Remilia as a friend very much, but there were times when she felt like introducing her to knowledge by slamming her face in a dictionary.

I could have handled doing research on magic-using golems or something similar... so why is Remi having me go out and play "Incident Resolution Specialist" in all but name? I'm not a field worker. I'm not even a house worker... I'm just a shut-in librarian with far too much time on her hands...

"And all this moisture in the air makes me want to sneeze," Patchouli muttered to herself as she flew. Off to one side she could see the trench that marked the statue's arrival, damaged earth and trees everywhere. She ignored it for now, heading for a point just past the Human Village. "Needing to find this 'Kourindou' place, looking like Remi's personal errand runner..."

She knew of Kourindou, of course, having recalled the name being mentioned in connection with one of Sakuya's errands. Marisa had once spoken of its owner as well, a half-youkai who could discern the name and purpose of anything... even if he had no idea how that purpose could be carried out.

It wasn't his knowledge that Remilia wanted her to get, though; it was his ability. If she at least had a name and an idea of what the statue was meant for, that would make determining how to handle this much easier in theory.

...But until she got there, she'd have to deal with all this leftover moisture from the storms. "And the sun is out," she groused. "Messing with my hair, making me feel that I have to find some shade..." She trembled a bit as the wind picked up. "I should've taken a parasol with me, too... or better yet, a blanket... I don't like this at all."

A strange noise was heard in the distance, and she frowned. "And worse yet, the fairies are active... now I have to fight my way between them and the shop." A smattering of colored dots appeared in the distance off to her right. What's this, now? The fairies are visible even from this distance? ...Something about this smells like sulfur...

Wind pushed and tugged at her, slowing down her flight speed. "What's... this?..." Patchouli managed to utter aloud; the wind was coming from the direction of the fairies. Her eyes squeezed shut as she struggled not to be blown off-course...

The noise that she heard was much more audible now: it was cackling and giggling, very annoying, off-center and extremely loud. She forced open one eye, intent on at least making a pretense towards combat...

And almost choked. They were fairies, all right, but they looked as if they'd gotten some oni blood in their veins: they had to have been close to a dozen meters in height, at least; they were raring to charge into battle, and they were heading straight for her. Still struggling against the wind, which was being whipped up by the furious beating of the fairies' wings, Patchouli grabbed a spell card and braced herself for the inevitable onslaught of danmaku. This is going to sting...

But the fairies flew past, not seeming to have noticed her. Their size, momentum and proximity- - -the closest one had brushed past scarcely a centimeter away- - -spun her like a top and disoriented her, but she wasn't harmed. Patchouli looked up at the departing fairies as she swerved dizzily, eyes swirling. ...It didn't sting? They didn't attack? The vicious little whirlybirds don't want a piece of the One Week Wizard? ...Dizzyyyy, head's spinning, like a whirlypool that never ends...

She stayed still for a bit, stabilizing her vision and her thoughts. Once she could think straight without her brain delving into non sequitors, she began pondering what she'd just seen. "They must be so intent on their target that they disregard anything beneath their notice... and someone on the order of five feet tall qualifies," Patchouli mused aloud. "But how did they get so big? And what or who could they be going after?..."

Something at the edge of her vision tugged her eyes in that direction. She frowned; she might have been in overall poor health, but there was nothing wrong with her eyesight. Walking through the Forest (and making a mess of it) in an easterly direction was a speck of blue and orange... and if she wasn't mistaken, those were flames painted on it. "What, indeed?"

A quick look at the distant fairies confirmed it; they were going after the statue. Giving a silent apology to Remilia, Patchouli turned in the direction the behemoth was walking in and flew off as fast as was permissible. Second-hand information was fine in some respects, but for a situation like this she wanted to learn the facts straight from the source.

/*/*/*/

Unknowing of the incoming flock, Coop and the others sedately journeyed eastward through Gensokyo to their final destination. Having faith in his recording equipment and being willing to put the movies aside until he returned, the obese gamer wasn't in any hurry to return home just yet.

Alice had volunteered to lead them and was now flying just a bit off to Megas's left side. "...So like I was saying," she was explaining, raising her voice to be heard over the noise the mech was generating as it walked, "Reimu Hakurei's really your best bet to send you past the barrier. Gensokyo's overseer would have a much easier time of it, but no one really knows where she lives, and she usually sleeps during daylight anyway."

"Sounds like my kind of person," Jamie remarked.

Alice's head turned towards them. One of her eyebrows was halfway up her forehead. "How so? I haven't even told you anything about her. Most youkai are nocturnal anyway, so..."

"People with lots of power have their own little quirks," the tagalong explained. "There's examples all over the place if you know where to look."

"And where were you looking?" Coop wanted to know.

"Z, the fifth episode in or so. The guy who created that computer virus thought that bacon was the highest form of life on earth."

"Fairy," Kiva remarked out of the blue.

"Bacon, not fairy," Coop said. "And I saw what he was getting at. Cook 'em to perfection, slather cheese sauce and mushrooms on them, stick them between two slices of bread---"

"Fairy," Kiva said again, this time a bit irritably.

"The fairies wouldn't like it if I did that." Coop shook his head. "Ask them to cook it, maybe, but- - -"

Alice, who didn't bother trying to figure out what they were talking about, looked around... Dear sweet mother of Makai...! ...And went evasive, just as a colossal amount of spell fodder crashed headlong into Megas, forcing it to take part in impromptu deforestation as it went down.

"...Oh. That fairy."

/*/*/*/

"Concentrate... my mind..."

/*/*/*/

The lead fairy sniggered happily, pleased that its first attack had worked, and raised its hands in front of it. A ring of danmaku took shape, and as she prepared to fire she let herself be lost in her triumphant thoughts. This is the big metal thing that scared me? What a joke!

Before she could get much further, the giant raised one hand and shot it off, nailing the fairy square in the face. For all of its size, the mythical creature still had the comparative fragility of its race, and thus shattered into a cloud of defragmented glass. The glass continued to break down, disappearing after a few seconds.

/*/*/*/

Coop wasn't given much time to question anyone as to what happened. Immediately after Megas's hand reappeared and the mech stood up, their vision became clouded with enormous fairies. In the air and on the ground, there were so many that not even Alice could see them all. They were roughly half of Megas's size, but they all had that unnerving childish glee that said in no uncertain terms: "We are going to annoy you until you beg for mercy!"

It was a shame they didn't know what they were up against. The reactions would have been priceless.

"..." Jamie surveyed the crowd. "...I don't know whether to laugh or cower."

"You'll probably end up doing both," Kiva remarked. "Look at them all! Where did all of these come from?"

Alice was looking between the fairies and her grimoire indecisively. "Hey, Alice!" Coop called to her. "Do those card rules apply to these things?"

"Not usually, no," she answered. "Do what you want with them."

"Just what I wanted to hear." Coop glared at the fairies. "Showtime, kids!" Putting the pedal to the metal, he drove Megas straight at the nearest pair of oversized shrimps, who in turn rushed to meet him in combat.

/*/*/*/

It was probably one of the most ridiculous and one-sided combat affairs that Alice had ever witnessed. For a while the magus didn't even bother to use any danmaku, its controller opting for melee combat.

Faintly audible over the noise of combat was a song, at least one of the instruments used being unrecognizable to her. To her ears it sounded harsh, completely unlike what she was used to (not that she had heard much), but she had to admit it fit the pace of the combat. She wouldn't be inquiring about it anytime soon, though; it was interesting, but not that interesting. At least now I know that Jamie wasn't lying to me about the music.

The first pair of fairies were downed when Coop slammed their heads together with enough force to drop them to the ground, where they disintegrated a second later. Another one tried to blast the magus with an onslaught of bullets, but they were dodged altogether; instead, they hit a different fairy who was trying to get the drop on it from behind. Yet another fairy was used as a stepping stone for the magus to get some height, driving a target into the ground with an elbow drop.

A punt here. A clothesline there. Grabbing a large bullet and slinging it back at the one who threw it. Flinging a fairy away with an over-the-shoulder throw, and then grabbing another and giving it a good long spin before launching it into the sky.

Alice was not so intent on watching the fight that she missed the shadow that covered her. Without turning around, she summoned a squad of eight dolls and had them blanket the air behind her head with lasers and danmaku. She didn't need her eyes to know that what she had hit was one of the giant fairies, or that the startled creature temporarily snapped out of existence after prolonged fire. Not one of the greater ones, then. Those take a substantial amount of damage already...

The disappearance of that opponent had not gone unnoticed. Three of the closest fairies turned their attention towards her, seeing the little blue-and-white speck that had dared to strike one of them down. Yelling, they brought their hands towards her and peppered the air with spherical danmaku. Each bullet that normally would've been half her size had been magnified to colossal proportions, and even as she started to go evasive she knew that dodging all of them would be a chore...

"Sun Sign: Royal Flare!"

The air shined brightly, and the vicinity became filled with fire and sunlight. Alice cried out in surprise and shielded her eyes... but whoever was responsible wasn't attacking her. Instead, the blazing fury swept across that portion of the battlefield, extinguishing bullets and subjecting her attackers to its full power. By the time the light dimmed enough for her to see again, all three fairies had gone the way of their companion.

Alice swept her eyes across the air, finally spotting a familiar face to her left. Patchouli was floating there, panting a little from the exertion of using one of her strongest spell cards. "...Patchouli? What are you doing out here?"

The librarian turned to where the magus was still engaged in combat; a sword of fire had appeared in its hands and was now being used to thin the fairy horde. "Playing a game by request," she said after a moment. "It's not a very fun one. Do you know who is responsible for those fairies, or what that thing over there is supposed to be?"

/*/*/*/

The skinny mustached human, some salve and medicine in his hands, gruffly gave Reisen his thanks and walked off. With no other customers nearby, she stood back a moment and took a quick look at what she had left, which wasn't much.

For all that she looked like just another youkai, the humans had effectively swarmed her when she made it known that she was selling medicine. The miserable weather had damaged a number of the structures in the village and caused more than a few injuries, and they weren't picky about who they wanted recovery aids from. There were even a few minor youkai who had crept into the crowd and took those aids meant specifically for them, claiming that the loss of their own homes had left them at the mercy of the elements.

Reisen wasn't wholly comfortable around humans, and vice versa, but for Eirin and Kaguya's sake she supposed she could put up with them. She stood patiently, waiting for another customer to approach and ask what was left...

"Arrrghh! Look out, rabbit!"

"Eh...?" The curious Reisen turned to see what was wrong... and was hit by a whole mess of debris as one of the fairies that Megas had thrown crashed into a nearby abandoned house, utterly shattering it. The fairy made its fade-out almost as soon as it hit, but the damage had already been done.

Some of the braver humans that had seen what had happened rushed forward and carefully pulled the debris off of Reisen. The moon rabbit staggered and stood up, surprised and scratched but otherwise fine; the decades of dealing with Tewi's mischevious nature had unexpected benefits. "What... was that?" she exclaimed, eyes wide.

"If I didn't know better," a burly farmer muttered in bemusement, "I'd say it was a fairy that ate too much of my grandma's cooking."

"Or one that ate too much of my daughter's," Reisen's last customer quipped. "If I didn't know better, I'd say she was the one behind this..." He shook his head after a second. "Mm... nah. Not likely."

Several of those that had helped her ran off while the rest lingered and kept their eyes open for any more large fairies, talking amongst themselves. Reisen herself didn't stick around; she had an idea as to why that fairy had landed there, and she fully expected that robot she'd seen earlier to have something to do with it. Grabbing her miraculously undamaged pack and medicine, she proceeded to close up shop.

/*/*/*/

At the same time that Reisen was finishing her work in the village, someone else was getting ready to take action.

The thunder, strange metallic wheezing, and fairy cries had been growing louder for a while now. Not too far from the village (as far as she knew), Suika's sake-addled mind worked to determine what the cause of them was. The trees around her had become wrecked, snapped apart and leaving little but stumps and broken limbs behind. Every now and then she caught glimpses of blue and orange amongst the remaining plant life, amongst other colors. Square footprints criss-crossed the path in places where the ground hadn't yet dried up from the rain.

Suika's eyes brightened. Someone's fighting here. Someone big. Could it be...? She raised her head, shielding her eyes from the sun, and frowned as she discovered who the combatants were. Shame... it's not an oni. I was hoping one of them would come out by now... Smiling, she cracked her knuckles. But if it's someone big, maybe they'd be up for a challenge. I wouldn't be adverse to that...

She raised her gourd to her lips and took another good, long drink of the sake within. But first, to victory...!

There hadn't been any warning, and it happened so fast that she didn't realize what had happened. There was a panicked yell as something unwillingly grazed past her, snapping her gourd's chain and sending the treasure spinning off somewhere; this was accompanied by a burst of wind that made her hair fly every which way. A sharp snap was heard as the victim disintegrated, but Suika didn't see it or pay the noise much mind.

"Ehhhh?..."

She thought for sure her gourd had been in her hand a second ago. Did I drop it?... A quick survey of the ground revealed that no, she didn't. Where did it go? Did someone want a drink without asking me first? Maybe Yukari? Wouldn't surprise me if she did... She looked around, but saw only the nearby forms of the iron-clad titan and the fairies. The empty air had no answers to her question, and of her favorite possession there was no sign.

No, I didn't drop it. I'm not that clumsy. It couldn't have disappeared into thin air, either. Someone had to have swiped it from me... it's the only thing that makes sense. That someone is going to pay the price for stealing from an oni... Suika's stare lingered on the metal giant, eyes narrowing. And it looks like someone just got volunteered.

She turned off of the path, walking slowly and with purpose towards the smackdown that was in its final stages.

/*/*/*/

"...Tenderly whisper the spell... into the mini-hakkero..."

/*/*/*/

A puppeteer and a librarian stood side by side, watching Coop cut the last of the fairies down to size. There were only around ten or so left, and the two youkai were starting to get the feeling that he was used to fighting against uneven odds.

Down below them, the first of the fairies that the magus had pulverized had fully regenerated. It was dazed and just a little bit frightened, but most importantly it was no longer the gigantic being that it was before. Whimpering and wondering just what had happened, the fairy tottered off and flew away, wanting to reach the untouched sections of the Forest.

Neither of the two youkai paid her any mind. "It's like watching Flandre at play," Patchouli murmured as two of the fairies met their end by a spinning piledriver, with one being crashed into another. "My experiences with humans on the whole are limited, but I've never heard of anyone his age being this rambunctious."

"It's probably just as well that they don't want to stay," Alice returned. A flurry of missiles escaped from Megas's legs, racing towards the remaining fairies; several of them missed and went on to create a few sizeable craters a hundred meters away, while the rest disintegrated the unruly mob. "The collateral damage is absolutely atrocious. If they remained, there wouldn't be a safe corner left in Gensokyo." She frowned. "I never thought I'd say this, but where on earth is Yukari?"

"Injured and unconscious in one of our guest rooms. I don't know if she has woken up yet."

"...That puts a whole new spin on things. If we'd known about this sooner, we could've just flown there and woken her up instead of heading up the mountain towards the shrine."

Patchouli shrugged minutely. "I don't think her present condition is very well known. Don't concern yourself with it."

It was then that they noticed that the battlefield had fallen silent. Exchanging looks, the two of them drifted towards the magus, the acres surrounding them an utter mess; everything in a one and a half kilometer radius had been effectively decimated. Every now and then they could hear the confused murmurings of fairies that had finished their regeneration, and they were relieved to note that their innate immortality had reversed their growth. At least something good had come of this.

/*/*/*/

For the second time that day, Megas dusted off its hands. The brawl was over, and there were neither hide nor hair of their attackers that they could tell. For all of their bluster, none of them had come close to doing any serious damage; there had been a few close calls whenever they were able to get any shots off, but the modified prototype had been able to stay the course. All in all, it was no different from the first time Megas had butted heads with the Glorft.

"Well, that was a blast." Coop opened a compartment next to his seat and withdrew a Big Glug, drinking from it heartily.

"Goes without saying," Jamie said, gesturing at the ruined landscape. In the distance, several halfway-damaged trees splintered and toppled over. "So, who else are we going to meet today? Living phantoms? Talking cats? Tofu enthusiasts?"

"Perish the thought," Coop replied, grimacing as he set the Big Glug down. "What sort of nut enjoys tofu, anyway?"

-?-

Elsewhere in Gensokyo, growing increasingly concerned that she hadn't located her master yet, Ran wondered why she suddenly felt the urge to defend her snack preferences.

-?-

"Fake food aside, if we're finished demolishing this side of Gensokyo," Kiva uttered just a bit bitingly, "we really ought to get to the shrine. And could we fly this time instead of kicking aside everything in your way?"

"Hold up a sec." Jamie sat up, checking something in the rearview mirror. "Doll designer and flying zombie in pajamas at six o'clock."

When they turned to look, they could see that Jamie's assessment was pretty accurate; the girl that was with Alice didn't quite look like one of the undead, but she had the look of someone who was both annoyed with life and hadn't seen the sun in weeks, possibly months.

Alice stopped a few meters away, but the "zombie" flew right up to Megas's head and tapped on the glass. Obligingly, Coop rolled down the window. "Yeah? What is it? We've got someplace we've gotta be."

"Forgive me," the girl said, her voice quiet but firm. She leaned on the car door as she spoke. "...But I would like to ask you about this... thing you're controlling. I've heard some details from several sources, but it seems my information was in error."

"We were just on our way to the Hakurei shrine to get home, but if you'd like we can talk on the way," Kiva offered, making a bit of room in the back seat just in case.

The girl didn't look too sure. "You want me... to sit in this thing? Please. I'm not that foolish."

"I'll have you know I'm a perfectly safe driver," Coop defended himself. "Sure, I've had a few close calls, but it's always been the other guy's fault."

Jamie smiled. "That's usually how it works, isn't it?"

Kiva gave the girl a once-over, concerned. "Are you sure you should be flying out there? You don't look too well."

"I've been better," the girl admitted, starting to look a bit unsure, "but I'll manage. I'm used to- - -"

A child's voice from down below cut her off. "Heyyyyyy..."

Something hit the side of Megas's left foot, illicting shouts of surprise from Coop and the others; the vehicle shook and almost toppled. The girl, who had still been leaning against the door, jerked forward a bit too far; she fell through the open window and behind the front seat, a nonsensical exclamation escaping her as she landed.

"What was that?" Jamie shouted, alarmed. "Where'd that come from? I thought there weren't anymore of those things out there!"

As Coop brought Megas back under control, the childish call repeated itself. After the mech turned enough for him to survey the sides, he discovered the likely culprit... and it wasn't like anything he'd expected it to be. "A kid?"

"A kid?" Jamie and Kiva echoed.

"Yeah. It's this little kid with pointed hair," Coop confirmed, gesturing at the side of his head to indicate the possible length.

Kiva barely heard Alice's quietly muttered "uh-oh". "I have a bad feeling about this," she spoke with a frown.

"Heyyy..." The child called up to them, her voice just this side of slurred. "Whatcha take my gourd for? Gimme it baccck."

"...A gourd?" Jamie asked, staring outside with bemusement. "What does a gourd have to do with anything?"

"You got the wrong person, kid!" Coop shouted back down. "I'm just passing through here on my way to Jersey City. I'm not looking for trouble."

The child hiccupped. "Don'tcha lie to me, big guy. I know you did somethin' with it. Let me have it and I won't crack your toy like an egg."

"Play it safe, Coop," Alice tried to warn him. "Don't do anything to antagonize her. That raw strength of hers is nothing to laugh at!"

"Play it safe, how?" Coop protested. "I don't have whatever this gourd thing is, and I don't want to stand here all day arguing with her. If it means taking her down a few pegs to get her to stop, then she's more than welcome to try!"

The response he got was another hit, this time to Megas's torso. The prototype skidded backwards and fell, crushing some tree stumps beneath it and accidentally smacking aside some fairies that had just gotten done regenerating; Alice just barely avoided the same fate.

As the group regathered themselves Megas propped itself up on its arms, only to stare up at a dangerous sight: the little child that had threatened them had shot upwards in height, easily equal to Megas even without the horns that grew out the sides of her head. She smirked almost lazily down at them. "Don't wanna give back my drinky-drink? It's a fight you're hankering for, huhhh?"

The girl who'd fallen inside the car groaned as she tried to sit upright, but the trio's attention was locked on the imposing figure before them. "You want to surpass an oni?" she continued a bit more coherently, leering at them. She smacked one fist into her hand. "You're interested in a fight? Fine with me. Let's you and me fight."

/*/*/*/*/*/*/

Never again. Never. Ever.

Patchouli turned over, finally getting her feet beneath her, and tried to stand up. She didn't get far, the low roof over her head stopping her, and she was pressed down into a cushioned seat by the redheaded human. She tried to reach out the window, only to find glass instead of open air. Her eyes widened when she realized that her decision had been made for her, and she facepalmed heavily. "This clinches it," she groused. "I am never leaving the Mansion again for anything short of an earthquake."

"You may want to strap in," the redhead warned her as the magus got to its feet. "Things are about to get a little rough."

"..." Patchouli looked outside, flinching when she saw Suika's eager face. "Wondrous. Wait. 'Strap in'?... never mind. I see what you mean," she said, noticing the belt next to her. She tugged at it experimentally a few times until the redhead helped her click it into place.

"Alice was telling us earlier about Spell Card duels," the skinnier of the two males- - -'Jamie', from what she remembered from Alice's explanation- - -was saying, watching Suika rotate her arms a bit, "and she mentioned that there were 'variations'. Do any of them involve getting danced on by a steer?"

The librarian glimpsed the various devices that layered the front of the chamber. Nothing she saw made any sense at all. I've gotten in way over my head with this... "Well, one of them does involve simply fighting back and using your more dangerous attacks as they become available..." A frown as 'Coop' turned towards her and smiled, acting like that was the best thing to happen to him all day. "I really think you're overestimating your chances at victory, outsiders."

Almost as soon as that last word left Patchouli's mouth, and even as Jamie muttered "Hey, leave me out of this", music began to play seemingly from out of nowhere. It sounded tense, possessing a quick tempo and a sense of danger; it seemed to her to be something that she had felt before. Disregarding it in favor of answering her question, Coop just shrugged. "Never know until we try." He faced out the windshield at Suika, locking glares with her. "We don't have much choice, anyway. The sooner we win, the sooner we can go home. Let's rumble!"

A loud roar, and Coop's toy took to the skies. Suika jumped after it, fist already wound up, and swung. The attack was met by the magus's own gigantic hand; when the two collided, a brief shockwave pushed the air away. A quick missile volley was swiftly countered by a large fireball, making the weapons explode prematurely, and then two streaks raced around the sky as one tried to catch the other.

Patchouli hunkered down in her seat, hands gripping the material she was sitting on, and tried not to panic. It was one thing to be dodging danmaku on your own merit, but another to be hanging on to something that was doing it for you. This was much faster than what she was used to. "What a horrible day to have a nightmare!"

"Didn't someone say that reality is stranger than fiction?" Jamie shouted back, sounding no less panicked. "This is one novel I'm not going to buy!"

Kiva shook her head and smiled. "Amateurs."

/*/*/*/

An eye twitched once, and then again. It and the one next to it surveyed the extent of the damage to Gensokyo. They took in the wrecked trees that were even now slowly recovering, thanks in part to the presence of those fairies that were left. They wandered near the footprints that pointed in the shrine's direction before abruptly cutting off partway there. They looked up towards the horizon, where her oni friend and the massive blue figure were blasting away at each other and slowly circling in the direction of Misty Lake.

Something had been bothering her since Suika had left. She couldn't quite put her finger on it at the time, but now that she'd seen the ruination and her friend's opponent, she knew that she couldn't let something like this stand. If Gensokyo was to be restored, the outsiders had to leave. Now. She didn't know what Yukari was thinking when she let them in, and it didn't matter to her.

She knew that Alice and the moon rabbit---the latter having arrived just a few moments ago, carrying a mostly empty pack---were close by. She didn't care what they did, or whether they followed her, just so long as they stayed out of her way. It seemed like they had an inkling of the situation regardless, so there was no need to explain things to them.

With resolve and anger in her heart, Reimu lifted off and made tracks for the Lake.

/*/*/*/

"There it is. They must've gotten on the wrong side of the oni. A pity."

"So it would seem, my Lady."

"..." Sip.

Once they had actually made it outside with their parasols, Flandre's excitement had dimmed some; she recognized the danger the sun presented, so she stayed still and watched out the gate with the others. The metal giant and Suika, both visible through the Lake's ever-present mist- - -still minimal, considering it was morning- - -exchanged danmaku bursts and traded blows with fists and feet.

"Sakuya? My lady? Young mistress?" Meiling's voice called nervously from the gate. "I really don't think it's safe out here."

"We'll be fine, Meiling," Remilia called back. "Just stay at your post for as long as you can."

"...I don't know," Meiling admitted. "I feel like a bug that's about to be stepped on! I mean, just look at the size of them!"

"...Sakuya," Remilia said with a smile, glancing at the head maid, "make a note to visit that curiosity shop later and check for any manga from the outside world."

"Certainly, my Lady." Sakuya returned the smile, knowing what her intent was.

Sure enough... "I will stand strong until there is nothing left I can give!" Meiling shouted, her voice and posture clear evidence of her renewed determination. "None shall pass!"

Remilia's smile widened a fraction. "You have to know what motivates certain people to get the job done," she muttered to no one in particular.

"..."

In the distance, the metal giant clapped its hands together. A blast of air and energy swept across the lake, blowing away the mist temporarily and giving everyone present a clear view of the fight.

Suika was caught in the shockwave, but she simply rode it out and began swinging her right arm quickly. Danmaku gathered around it and condensed together, forming a huge boulder, and was consequently thrown at the giant; the controllers must not have had much experience in dealing with an attack of that type, for the statue raised its hands to try and catch it. The boulder slammed into it regardless, the raw power launching it over the lake and into the far shoreline before breaking apart.

Seizing a chance to follow up on her strike, Suika gathered additional danmaku together for her next attack. The statue recovered quickly, though, and stormed back forward; right when the boulder was thrown, the giant shifted far to the left and allowed the rock to sail by. Getting in close enough, it decked Suika with an uppercut possessing enough force to lift her into the air, then flew up and spin-kicked her into the lake. Waves of water were jettisoned in all directions, one of those waves propelling a certain startled ice fairy straight into the outer wall next to Meiling.

The oni, as was par for her kind, shrugged off the assault for the most part and went airborne once more. "You've got guts, big guy," Suika shouted, her voice reaching the observers. "And I'll give you credit for strength. I actually felt that one!"

The statue's controller shouted back, but he was too far away for them to hear. Sakuya directed her attention to Remilia. "It's probably just me, but her voice doesn't sound as slurred as it normally does."

"...She probably hasn't had as much to drink," her mistress mused aloud. "Whether it has something to do with taking it easy on her challenger or not, I don't know."

"Ha ha ha ha!" Suika cackled in response to her opponent. "Confident, ain'tcha? You still have a ways to go before you can even think of calling yourself 'the champ'!" She held out her hands, spewing small and large danmaku alike and forcing the statue to dodge.

"I'm happy that I stayed up for this," Remilia admitted, the empty cup in her hands half-forgotten. "Yukari doesn't know what she's missing."

Sakuya nodded. "Maybe, my Lady." She stole a glance at Flandre. "How about you, young mistress?"

"..."

A puzzled frown. "Young mistress? Is something wrong?"

Flandre just took a long sip from her cup, finishing the last of her cocoa, and stared at the battling titans with a subdued enthusiasm. "Cooolll."

Neither of the two knew how to respond to that calm utterance. In the end they both decided to just keep their mouths closed and watch the fight. The younger sister's increasingly odd traits could be considered another time.

/*/*/*/

In the Mansion's guest room, the fairy maid that was supposed to be keeping watch over Yukari stirred; she hadn't meant to doze off, but with the way things were... well, things had just happened. Yawning cutely, she looked over at the bed to see if the youkai was still there.

Yukari was still asleep, not having budged from the bed. The maid was curious about her, wondering why she was sleeping when she had been hurt. Wouldn't that have kept her awake? Wouldn't she have wanted to wait to sleep until she felt better?

The green-garbed maid, as was the norm for fairies, was not particularly bright or useful; her fellow staffers had sometimes commented that she made even them look smart. She was bright enough to know when to ask questions, though, and she decided that she wanted answers. She hovered over to the bed and tapped Yukari's shoulder. "Hello? Funny border lady? Wake up."

"Mmmmff... not now, Ran," Yukari mumbled, turning away from the fairy in her sleep. "Just five more hours, please..."

The maid didn't understand why the youkai called her 'Ran' when her name was 'Get That Blasted Fairy Out Of The Kitchen!', or why she wanted to sleep some more. Maybe she needs something to drink. They always use it on me when I need to wake up, after all. Smiling at this stroke of brilliance, she hurried out of the guest room.

A few minutes later, she returned with a pitcher of water held with both hands. This should be enough. There's nothing more nice than a glass of water.

Of course, the fairy had neglected to remember several things. One, a pitcher was not a suitable drinking glass; and two, most people did not like to have water dumped on them without warning.

Yukari sputtered, jolted awake by the application of cold water to her face and neck. She wiped off her face with her sleeve, wincing at the ache that was still present in her arm, and turned over to look at the culprit.

"Miss border lady?" the beaming fairy asked, unperturbed by the overseer's glare. "Why were you sleeping when you were hurt? I thought being awake meant that you would know to be careful. And I hope the water helped. Were you thirsty? I can get more if you want..."

Yukari ignored the questions, feeling a simmering anger as her conscious mind caught up with the rest of the world. Reluctantly getting out of bed, she walked slowly towards the inquisitive fairy maid.

...

In the Mansion's halls, several other maids looked up from their duties as the bane of their workforce frantically fled the guest room, screaming for someone to save her from the scary eyeball gap lady. When no one came charging out after her, the maids dismissed what they'd seen and returned to work.

/*/*/*/

For all that she was angry deep down at her gourd's disappearance, Suika was still thrilled. She'd been listening to what the humans were saying even as she fought, and she'd gotten a rough picture of who they were. Most of it she didn't understand, but the fact that they were outsiders- - -outsiders with a violent toy- - -was plain and clear.

And it can give as well as it takes, she thought as she used the chains that hung from her wrists as bludgeons. The first three swings struck their strange machine, denting and rattling it. The fourth... not so much, as her chain was grabbed and stopped long enough for her to receive a full-on missile barrage. Definitely made for the sole purpose of fighting. Shame it can't drink; we could've gotten along great.

A frown as she floated backwards out of easy thrashing range, smoke wafting off of her body. She ascertained how much energy she had remaining and decided that it was time for her second Spell Card. I'll need to finish this soon, if possible... my thoughts are becoming easier to understand. Little miscreants, thinking they can hide my sake from me? I wonder how well they'll fight when they experience density at its finest...

/*/*/*/

The battle had been hectic thus far, leaving little room for discussion amongst the trio and their unwilling passenger. Attacks, defenses, and flight were executed as quickly as both combatants thought to do so, putting Coop's reflexes and Megas's limits to the test; more than once the prototype had gotten rocked, showing that Suika hit as hard as any opponent that had been faced up to that point, if not harder. Finally after Coop was able to stop one of her chain strikes, there was enough time for both sides to catch their breath.

Kiva stayed busy, ascertaining Megas's condition from the readouts she received. "On the plus side, it's not getting damaged, per se. But with each bar that blanks out, Megas's overall energy level drops."

Coop downed the rest of his Big Glug. "How many are left, Kiva?"

"About three and half bars out of the six we started with. If it hits zero," Kiva warned, "we'll be left at her mercy, if she even has any."

"Can't have that." Coop stared thoughtfully at the dashboard, considering what to use next. "Hmm..."

Their pale-faced passenger was hanging on tightly to the back seat, terrified. "I am going... to see that... in my dreams..." she managed to say, coughing as her breath ran away from her momentarily. "How... do you people... put up with this?..."

Jamie knew what she was thinking, having been with Coop and Megas (often against his desires or better judgment) since the beginning. "Practice," he said. "Lots and lots of practice."

"Practice?" Kiva scoffed. "You?"

"Hey, it takes a lot of work to sit around and do nothing. Eventually, you start ignoring most everything."

"Is that why your eyes were squeezed shut each time she attacked?"

"It sure wasn't because I was tired."

This didn't encourage their guest any; if anything, it was very unamusing to her. She made as if she wanted to unbuckle her seat belt and escape from the car, but paused. The sight of Suika's dangerous smile and the pulling of a Spell Card made her eyes widen, and she tried to warn them. "Trouble on the way!"

Too late.

"Breath: Small Oni Inhales Deeply!"

/*/*/*/

"...And when I aim at someone I don't like..."

/*/*/*/

Except for Patchouli, none of the four knew about Suika's control over density; if they had, they... or at the very least, Kiva...would have realized that creating a black hole was within her range of control.

The hole that took form was around two-thirds the size of the combatants and began pulling in almost everything nearby, including danmaku that hadn't been there a few moments prior; only its creator was immune to its effects. Megas was slowly being tugged towards it as well; when Coop experimentally fired some energy pulses at Suika, those were pulled into the black hole with no reaction on the oni's part.

Alarms in Megas started buzzing, and the displays flickered red. "It's pulling us in," Kiva barked. "Coop, get away from it!"

With effort, Coop flipped Megas around and gunned the engines, ignoring the surprised grunts of Jamie and Patchouli as all of them were pressed into their seats. This maneuver was slow to work, but work it did, and Megas dragged itself away from the event horizon. What danmaku that grazed it did little to deter it.

At the Mansion, Meiling grabbed onto the Mansion's gates and held on tight, snagging a struggling Cirno as an afterthought. As soon as Sakuya realized that she and her mistresses were being slowly drawn towards the gate, she handed Remilia's parasol to her and stopped time long enough to drag both sisters behind some adequate cover.

Alice and Reimu, who were approaching the fight with every intent to stop it, discovered that they were being forced towards the black hole; they immediately put on the brakes and tried to fly away, but the pull of the anomaly was just too much for them both. Only Reimu's last-second creation of a dimensional rift, which landed them behind the Mansion's outer walls, kept them from getting sucked in. Reisen had lagged far behind for some reason and thus found her escape attempt much easier to carry out.

The black hole suddenly vanished, cutting off its pull. Megas overshot the lake's shore by a hundred meters, and only when Coop realized that they weren't being dragged into oblivion did he turn it around to investigate.

Jamie's eyebrows raised when they got close enough. "Huh? ...She's just floating there. Something wrong with her?"

"She looks fine to me," Coop decided. "Let's remedy that." He reached for a switch that had begun to glow during their escape attempt and started to flick it...

"She's not done," Patchouli hissed between her teeth, stopping him. Her anxiety over being inside Megas was still there, but it was tinged with a desire to assist these people, even if it was only to slow things down enough for her to escape. "Anything swallowed gets spat back out."

"So what's the big deal?" Coop asked her a trifle impatiently. "If it comes flying out, I'll just hit it back."

"You just don't get it, outsider!" Patchouli declared indignantly, the background music that was playing fading out. "I've fought this oni before. I know how it attacks and how it fights. Would you pay attention to me? It's bad enough that I'm in here to start with, and I'm not going to be pulverized because of a stupid mistake on your part!"

Coop's tone started off cold, even as Suika started to glow white. "Listen, purplette. While I appreciate the help, it's not needed. This is supposed to be a game, right? I'd rather finish this on my own instead of getting someone's walkthrough. Save it for someone who really needs it."

Patchouli opened her mouth to speak, but Coop kept right on going and revved the engine a few times as he spoke. "Let me finish this match, alright? She's accused me of theft, gotten between me and the shrine, and she's keeping me from catching The Rogue Wrestler. This bullheaded girl is going down!"

"You told us earlier that there wasn't any rush," Kiva reminded him. "Make up your mind."

Beat. "I've got to make a stand somewhere, Kiva."

"Hey, boys!" Suika called, her lips forming a taunting smirk. "You'll waste away just floating there like that! You wanna be target practice?"

"..." Patchouli again grasped the seat's fabric. "You really think you can defeat her without my help?"

"Sure can." Coop flipped the glowing switch, then pressed the three buttons that were subsequently unlocked. "Trust me. I know what I'm doing."

The sides of Megas's arms swung open, revealing a set of component parts. The prototype pulled them out and slammed them together. The upper portion of the combined device expanded into a boxy, vaguely cylindrical shape, and by the time it was done the weapon of choice turned out to be nothing less than an oversized sledge hammer.

Patchouli's eyes turned towards Kiva exasparatedly as Suika's glow became exceedingly bright. "Why," she muttered, "does this not fill me with confidence?"

"How do you think I feel? I'm stuck with them."

Any further conversation was cut off as Coop sent Megas rocketing towards their opponent, yelling a battle cry. He raised the sledge hammer to strike, aiming to bypass her Spell Card...

And the oni acted. Suika's glow condensed and formed around her, and everything that had been swallowed came rocketing out of a shining white portal. Danmaku, rocks, lake water... it all flew much too fast for Coop to hit them all away. He managed no more than four swings, half of them missing, before the bulk of the projectiles exploded against Megas's armor. The damage added up quickly, and the detonation that ensued when the last of the bullets hit propelled Megas back across the lake. The prototype hit the dirt and skidded twenty meters inland before stopping.

Suika wasn't done yet. Five seconds after the white hole disappeared and while Coop was reorienting Megas, the black hole came back into being. Once more, the group had to deal with being pulled towards the darkness against their will.

"We have to do all this again?" Jamie protested. "This is getting redundant!"

"I wonder if librarians in the outside world have to deal with this much disrespect," Patchouli complained, taking a page from Jamie's book and shutting her eyes tight.

Instead of turning Megas around and arrowing for the horizon, Coop decided to put it in full reverse instead. The mech hovered in place, not giving more than a few feet forwards or backwards. "I can't answer that. I'm no good with libraries." He took aim and hurled the sledge hammer... straight towards the black hole. "Here's your major malfunction!"

"Coop!" Kiva shouted.

"What are you doing?" Patchouli started to yell, but it came off as more of a wheezing cough towards the end.

"'Major' is right!" That was from Jamie.

To their surprise, Coop actually had a plan that time. Moments before the hammer would've vanished into the black hole, the oversized vacuum once again faded out... leaving a clear flight path between it and Suika. The oni had just enough time for an obligatory "Eh?" before the hammer's business end slammed into her, knocking her off balance.

The trio regarded each other with surprise that this maneuver had worked out before Megas shot forward. Coop's finger hovered over a red button labeled "Technology Does Not Work This Way" for a moment before pressing down on it. Panels all over Megas slid open, disgorging volleys upon volleys of missiles and other explosive weapons. Recovering her balance in time, Suika focused her efforts into grazing the weaponry...

But before she could do anything of the sort, the projectiles began to merge together. Some of the clumps attracted others to them, and so on and so forth, until everything had combined together into one colossal warhead. Grinning savagely, Suika brought both hands together and caught the monstrosity in-between them, holding on tight until it ran out of fuel. "If this is your idea of a Spell Card, it needs improvement!" she shouted as she wound up to throw the missile away...

An explosion with Suika at its center rocked Gensokyo. Misty Lake shook, waves splashing against its shores. Remilia and Flandre covered their ears the best they could, their hearing being the most sensitive out of those witnessing the duel; the others weren't immune to the racket, either. What few windows there were at the Mansion shook, but didn't break, and the noise was enough to attract even Yukari's attention inside the residence.

"...She's right," Coop said as the noise died down and the panels on Megas slid closed. A thick cloud of smoke floated over the Lake. "It was supposed to explode as soon as she caught it. I'll have to work on that one."

"Glad you agree, big guy."

No one was surprised when the smoke abruptly blew away, revealing that Suika was mostly unscathed from the attack. The oni had her arms folded, a Spell Card held between two of her fingers. "The more I drink, the stronger I become. Sobriety is not a pleasant feeling to me, and you've pushed me very close to that point. If I'm going to beat you and get my treasure back, I'll have to stop pulling my punches."

She raised the Card aloft and called its name. Jamie stared fearfully at the mention of it. Patchouli silently wondered just how it would compare to the likes of 'Pandemonium'. Kiva tensed, waiting to see what would become of this, and even Coop looked a little unsure.

"One-Oni Wrecking Machine!"

/*/*/*/

The damage wrought by those two... I haven't seen something so awe-inspiring and frightening since I parted ways with Shinki!

Whoever is controlling that construct deserves a smack upside the head. Picking a fight with
Suika, of all people? And look at all the wreckage in their wake. This is a mess!

I've heard Kaguya's stories of the oni, but she was under the impression that they'd disappeared! And that mech...

So
that's who it was that blindsided me. I should have guessed.

It'll take some work to repair the outer wall, but at least nothing was damaged beyond that. The mistresses seem to be enjoying this, so I can't complain.

The sooner these giants stop fighting and go away, the better!

Where's Pache? She doesn't know what she's missing.

Wow...

Such were the thoughts of the spectators gathered at the Scarlet Devil Mansion in the seconds leading up to the declaration of Suika's third Spell Card. Some felt regret that the fight would be ending soon, while the others couldn't wait. However, all of them- - -including Meiling- - -did nothing to disturb the combatants. As long as they lived, this match would be sealed in their memories.

/*/*/*/

"...A magicannon of love... shall be unleashed!"

/*/*/*/

Suika floated into the air and held both hands over her head. A black hole similar to what she used previously took form between them, hindering Megas's flight capabilities. Instead of taking in everything around it, it absorbed danmaku: fire bullets that materialized well beyond the battlefield and spiralled on in. Several of them struck Megas from behind as their rotation took them too close, almost dropping the mech into the Lake. Thankfully, such wasn't the case.

As Coop worked the controls, trying to outmaneuver the bullets and peppering Suika with blaster fire, Patchouli tore her eyes away from the oni and looked at what Kiva was doing. The display she was working with was tinted red, and it changed each time it was either touched or the magus was hit. "Not a good sign, I'm assuming?"

Kiva looked up, gesturing out the window at the fireball that was superimposed over the black hole. Slowly but surely, it was growing with each bullet that was absorbed. "That's correct. If I'm reading this right, she's readying a massive bomb. There could be enough power to turn this entire Lake into a gigantic crater if it hits!"

"..." Patchouli's heart sank. "...Do you have a piece of paper and some ink I can borrow?"

"No, I don't. What for?"

"I was hoping to finish writing my will."

"Ugh..." Kiva shook her head. She should've expected that. "It's like you and Jamie are cut from the same mold."

"I guess this would be a bad time to say that one of my ancestors was a youkai," Jamie quipped.

Both back-seat residents turned towards the front, surprised. The slacker's reflection in the mirror smirked back at them. "Not really. I'm just messing with you. Even if there was, it's not like I'd know about it anyway."

Kiva's sour look matched Patchouli's.

/*/*/*/

Outside, the firebomb that Suika was prepping had absorbed all the power it could take. With a yell, Suika dismissed the black hole and flung the tremendous blast at Megas with casual ease. "Try this on and see if it fits!"

She had expected the construct's pilot to dodge the bomb and outrun its blast radius. It would've been within the realm of common sense to do so, and it would've given him enough time to retaliate before she started the whole process over again. Any idiot fighting in a Spell Card duel would keep it at the back of their mind; even a fairy that she'd fought against briefly- - -Circus, or whatever her name was- - -knew how important it was not to get hit.

Coop, as Suika discovered quickly, was not just any idiot. Megas charged directly at the firebomb, flames churning to life between its hands and taking a vaguely sword-shaped form. The oni's offense met the construct's defense, gave a polite hello, and was repaid for its kindness with a blast of light and a raging heat wave. The air rippled and distorted as each attack sought to break past the other.

/*/*/*/

He would admit later that it wasn't the smartest move he could've made, but for now Coop struggled both to keep Megas upright and to swat away Suika's firebomb. Steam rose from beneath the robot as the lake water evaporated, and the temperature inside the car increased rapidly.

"See, this is what happens when you spell 'dessert' with only one 's'," Jamie was saying, about as uncomfortable as the rest of them were.

Coop remained focused on his driving. "I like 'em cold," he stated matter-of-factly.

"The systems are overheating," Kiva warned. "We have less than one energy bar left. If you're going to get rid of that bomb, do it fast!"

"It is rather warm for this time of year, ain't it?" Coop agreed, reaching over with one hand and toggling the car's air conditioner. He nudged the lever, moving it past '70', '60', '40', beyond 'Really Cold' and clear on down to 'Antarctica'.

Cold air began to circulate throughout the car... indeed, throughout Megas's systems. The mech's fiery weapon slowly changed in both shape and appearance, becoming less of a fire sword and more of a frost sword... one with an odd reddish hue. The danmaku bomb slowly began to freeze over from the point of contact outwards, crackling loudly in the time span it took to do so, until it resembled nothing other than a red iceberg.

Coop blinked, then stared approvingly at the end result of this. "I was half-expecting that to backfire somehow," he admitted, breaking Megas's frost sword and drawing back its right fist. The prototype slugged the iceberg dead-center and shattered it into a multitude of chunks and shards, some of them hitting the nonplussed Suika before she could recommence hostilities.

"An ice weapon," Patchouli breathed, watching some snow flurries drift down to the lake's surface; Megas's impromptu weapon had been cold enough to effect its immediate surroundings, it seemed. "You have an honest-to-goodness ice-generating weapon in this... this magus. How did you accomplish that? Better yet, where?"

Coop looked up at the car's roof, considering what to tell her.

-?-

Busy assisting Kiva with some of Megas's repairs, Coop noticed a weirdly-shaped compartment in the mech's systems. He looked between it and the Stratospheric Strawberry Slime-flavored Mega Slush that was sitting next to him, noticing that the cup's design could possibly fit in said compartment...

-?-

"...A chilled beverage," Patchouli deadpanned. "And you're not lying about it."

"Like I said, I like 'em cold."

Patchouli didn't bother to dignify that with a response, nor would she have had time to were she so inclined. It was at that moment that Suika came charging up to them, left foot out in a flying kick. Coop tried to catch it, but his reaction time was a hair slow. The kick struck Megas backwards onto dry land, with a follow-up haymaker crashing it into the ground a bit further out.

/*/*/*/

Grabbed!

"MAGICANNON: FINAL... MASTER... SPARK!"

It was less of a shout than a decibel scale-rattling yell. The magnificent laser blast was blinding at close range, encompassing Marisa's entire vision and requiring her to squeeze her eyes shut. Everything that was keeping her pinned down was blown away by its hyper-power, along with the roof and the structural integrity of half the house. The further away from the mini-hakkero it got, the bigger the spell grew until it outmatched even her rendition of Yuuka's Double Spark; the starry danmaku that bordered it became somewhat wider to match.

I guess Alice was right when she told me that Eientei would be easier to clean... not like I'll admit it to her or nothin'.

/*/*/*/

Suika approached Megas as it got to its feet once more. "You've come close, mister," she declared, "but no sake for you." She began winding up, her fist wrapped up with flames. "This duel goes to me!"

Coop pushed a few buttons, trying to shoot back before Suika could finish the job. Only the ominous sound of silence, something he did not enjoy, answered him. "Nothing's working! C'mon, Megas, talk to me!"

"All the weapons are down," Kiva announced grimly. "The systems aren't responding."

"There's gotta be something that'll work!" Jamie, true to form, was in a state of panic. "You have any idea how embarrassing getting beaten by a humanoid steer's gonna be?"

"She's an oni, idiot," Patchouli intoned quietly, seemingly resigned to their inevitable defeat.

Coop, of course, was not going to go quietly if he had a say in the matter. But with the weapons not working and not knowing just how much more his opponent could take, he wasn't seeing too many options. And so it was that he went on the defensive for once, quickly spinning the car's steering wheel as Suika started to punch forward...

...and jerking Megas to the side, grazing the flaming punch with bare centimeters to spare. The fire was jettisoned harmlessly past it and dispersed not too far away. Not having expected the dodge, Suika hopped forward a step or two and waved her arms frantically in an effort to balance herself.

She had just managed to recover when a twinkle of light showed up in her vision. She inclined her head slightly simply to acknowledge it was there, then turned towards Megas. One punch. That's all it will take.

As soon as a rainbow appeared in place of the light, she recognized her mistake. Her eyes widened as she realized just what that rainbow was, and that it was flying straight at her face. She knew who was responsible for it, and that her eagerness to finish off her opponent had left her off guard. These realizations were all hammered home in the span of a half second.

"Aw, beans."

/*/*/*/

The Final Master Spark enveloped first her face, and then Suika herself as the oni steadily shrank down to normal size. The air rumbled and shook, the proximity of it rattling Megas but doing little else to it. A loud humming akin to electricity drowned out most other noise, including the surprised cries of the mech's occupants...

And then a noisy crash like that of glass shattering, or of Megas striking an awesome pose.

The Spark caught Suika and hurled her across the Lake; she skimmed the ridge that the Mansion was on, flew through the open gate, bounced once or twice and crashed into the Mansion's doors, cratering but not breaking them. The Spark itself flew right over the building, not quite brushing the top of the clock tower, and would eventually go on to dissipate against the distant Hakurei barrier.

Reactions to the fight's finale varied. Patchouli simply stared, her eyes blank and her mouth hung open; Alice, Reisen, Meiling and Remilia had much the same reaction. Reimu sighed in annoyance. Flandre giggled with delight, recognizing Marisa's involvement. Sakuya and Yukari were the most composed of the group, but even they couldn't keep from sweatdropping. Kiva did a double take, looking between where the Spark had come from and where Suika had gone.

"Was that..." Coop began.

"...a ginormous magical laser?" Jamie finished.

Their guest, still in shock, could only nod minutely.

Kiva calmed down and rechecked Megas's status. What she saw made her smile. "Looks like that did it. All of Megas's systems are back online and functional. Energy levels are maximized. The game's over, guys, and we won."

Coop and Jamie were silent a few moments more before they grinned, bumping fists and exchanging a familiar gesture. "Rock on!"

Patchouli sagged, suddenly feeling very tired mentally. "Just... let me out. Please."

/*/*/*/

Once their disbelief was shunted aside, Reimu and Yukari flew off to catch the outsiders before they left. The entire area between the Lake and the areas of the Forest where Alice and Marisa lived had been victimized, and while the damages would reverse themselves in due time, the fact remained that the shrine maiden and overseer did not want Megas in Gensokyo. Yukari seemed to recognize the mech, but she wasn't saying where she saw it or how she knew about it, offering only a cryptic hint about a sun-powered spider and leaving it at that.

Somehow, it didn't surprise the Mansion's residents that Yukari had chosen to sleep off her injury. Typical.

Patchouli drifted onto the Mansion's front walk a minute or so later, halting near Remilia's group. The mansion's mistress turned to regard her, smiling thinly. "You certainly took a while, Pache; you missed a grand party. Were you able to secure the half-youkai's services?"

The librarian remained quiet, her lips moving but no noise escaping them.

Sakuya frowned. "Miss Patchouli? Are you alright?"

Patchouli looked from one to the other, her expression quickly souring. "Listen and listen good; I'm talking to you. I have had a long morning. I was subject to temperature extremes that I shouldn't have, overgrown fairies, my own ill health, and the whims of an idiot hero with more guts than good sense. I will tell you everything about what I saw when I feel up to it, but in the meantime, leave me alone, let me sleep and stop asking me stupid questions. Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?"

Maid and mistress looked at each other, wincing at her biting statements, then hurriedly nodded in agreement. Without another word Patchouli turned and floated into the Mansion, ignoring everyone else present.

"...I'm not enthusiastic about whatever tale she has to tell," Sakuya said to herself.

"Neither am I," Remilia agreed, her eyes on the distant statue that hadn't moved since the fight's conclusion.

"Strawberry ice," Flandre commented, chewing on a piece of the iceberg that Megas had smashed earlier. "Very tasty."

At the other side of the stone walkway, Alice, Reisen and Meiling were gathered around Suika. She had slumped against the Mansion near the doors, feeling downcast. "...It's gone," she moaned, finishing her explanation. "And I don't even know where to begin looking. I know I can get my drinks elsewhere, but I'd had it with me for so long..."

"So, you picked a fight with this iron giant..." Meiling began.

"It's a magus," Alice supplied.

"...because you were convinced that it had stolen your most prized possession?" the guard finished. "This gourd must really be special."

"Two words: endless sake. It's an oni treasure," Suika told her, not in the mood to go through the whole explanation for how that was possible.

Reisen 'hmmed' thoughtfully, a hand on her chin. She gave a start as a light clicked on upstairs, and she reached into her pack and pulled something out... "This wouldn't happen to be it, would- - -hey!"

Suika's mood did a quick 180. She eagerly grabbed the gourd even before Reisen was finished speaking. "Mine!" she shrieked happily, lifting it to her lips and drinking heartily.

"...What?" Alice uttered, disbelieving. "Where'd you find it?"

"Back where we first took up the pursuit," Reisen explained. "I found it in a broken tree next to an unconscious fairy. It looked important, so I grabbed it just to be safe. That's why I had trouble keeping up with you."

"Huh. It's a good thing you were along, then," Meiling noted. "This wouldn't have had a good conclusion otherwise."

"Why'd you join us, anyway?" Alice asked as the three of them rose to their feet. "What are you doing this far from Eientei?"

"My master's having me sell medicine down at the Human Village," Reisen explained. "That's what I was doing when one of those large fairies almost landed on top of me- - -"

"Medicine, you say?" Remilia asked sharply, causing them to turn towards her as her group approached. Her tone softened a little. "Pardon me. I have a dear friend who struggles daily with anemia, amongst other things, and I dislike seeing her unwell and unhappy." Her eyes glowed. "Very much so."

Reisen blinked at her unspoken request, not having expected this from her in light of the recent events at Eientei. She dug into her pack to check her remaining supplies. "Let me see. I should have something here that's suitable for her... is she human or youkai?..."

As the two talked business, Suika finally stopped drinking and smiled in the direction of Misty Lake. She had reclaimed what was hers and had a good fight against a strong opponent; all was right in her world once again. "Here's to you, big guy," she mumbled. "Come back for a rematch anytime..."

Alice and Meiling shuddered violently, but stayed silent.

/*/*/*/

"...I see," Reimu said as the outsiders wrapped up their explanation. She and Yukari were standing next to Megas's head, having reached the trio before they wandered off. "Well, if you were just looking for us and wanting to go home, I can let you off the hook this time. But only this time."

Yukari had kept quiet up to that point, frowning. It could've been because of the recent events on the moon, or that they'd been the ones to (accidentally) knock her out. For all Reimu knew, it could've been because she didn't have her favorite hat with her. It was hard to say.

"So," Kiva asked, "you can drop us off outside the barrier, then?"

"I can do you one better," Yukari finally stated, smiling. "I can send you directly back to Jersey City if you'd like."

Coop looked delighted at the idea, but settled down as something occurred to him. "Wait, we never said where we were from. How'd you know we're from Jersey?"

"I was bored, so I watched your fight against the unstoppable Regis Mark Five from here," Yukari told them, smirking at their annoyance. "I was going to shut him up myself before you figured out how to stop him."

"If the powers of you people are any indication," Jamie said, his arms folded, "pitting you against Regis would be like blasting a soccer ball with a bazooka."

Yukari's eyes glazed over momentarily before one hand went to her chin. "That's... not a bad idea, actually- - -"

"Anyway!" Reimu all but shouted. This whole conversation was getting too confusing for her. "Moving on... Yukari? Portal. Let's get them out of- - -"

Growwwwllll.

Coop patted his stomach a few times. "Whoops. Heh, heh... haven't eaten anything since before we went to the moon." He looked eagerly up at Reimu and Yukari. "Could we get something to eat before we go?"

Reimu looked at Yukari, who just stared back, and then at Coop. Finally, she let her head sink into her hand. "Fine." She pointed at the distant Scarlet Devil Mansion. "Everyone there was watching the fight. Just ask them to feed you, and they'll probably agree."

"I can roll with that," Coop said with a smirk, revving Megas's engine. The shrine maiden and border youkai jumped away as the mech jetted off towards Remilia's home.

There was a mild whoosh as Marisa approached the two; as she turned, Reimu noticed that she wasn't flying at full speed as was her habit. Her friend had her usual cocky smile, but there was a clear wince in her expression as she floated off her broom. "Yo!" she greeted them. "Sorry I'm late; I had to blow up my house. What did I miss?"

An irritated grumble. "Oh, shut up, Marisa."

/*/*/*/

Coop settled into his sofa, his remote control in one hand and a large bucket of popcorn in the other. "Ah... finally. The movie event of the year is about to get underway."

"Took long enough, too." Jamie occupied the other end of the couch. "Moon people, a land full of girls with magic powers, children that hit like tanks... I've had enough for a week, let alone a day. Who knows how much of that trilogy that we missed?"

"I wouldn't mind visiting Gensokyo again at some point," Kiva commented as she took over a nearby chair. "It's not like the Scarlet sisters and Suika were adverse to the idea."

"Something I don't really get," Jamie brought up. "The place was hidden somewhere in Japan, right? So, how come everyone was speaking perfect English?"

Beat.

"Well, no use dwelling on that... it's too much effort to work it out. Let's just sit back and enjoy some quality entertainment." Coop pointed the remote at the TV and clicked it on...

"...That's funny." Jamie's left eyebrow raised. "You did set the TV and VCR for Channel 35, right?"

"Yeah," answered the puzzled gamer.

"That looks more like Channel 2." He squinted at the VCR... "And it's blinking 12:00..." He frowned at his only friend. "Coop, I think the power must've gone out while we were at the moon."

Kiva had just enough time to cover her ears before the house shook with an anguished cry:

"I missed the Rogue Wrestler movies? NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/

The End

Notes

Alright, people, I confess. This entire story was written solely as an excuse to have Megas and Suika lock horns (see my disclaimer at the start of Chapter Four); the trick was building it up to that point. To those who saw her name in the story's summary line and guessed the final conflict correctly, reward yourself with a snack.

(Yuyuko sat off to one side, eating several Philly cheesesteaks with enjoyment. Youmu and Kiva shared an exasparated expression.)

When considering how to write it, I took a look at the Gensokyo timeline over at the Touhou Wiki. I discovered that Imperishable Night's Extra Stage fell on a date that corresponded with late October 2004... just a very short period before the air date of "Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Coop", an episode that ended with Coop needing to put the moon back together. The first chapter pretty much wrote itself.

(Jamie was engaged in conversation with Patchouli, only to be interrupted by a face slap from an overprotective Koakuma. The librarian for her part just stared dumbly, unsure how to react, as Remilia laughed at the goings-on. Flandre sat next to her, confused at Jamie's actions.)

Kyla is basically little more than another moon rabbit, while the fairy with the long name was inspired by a one-shot Get Fuzzy character with a similar moniker. Both of these characters belong to me.

(Marisa was trying to paint something on Megas's mudflaps when a yell of protest from Coop startled her. She backed off, whistling innocently, and decided that maybe adding her hat to the female silhouettes was a bit much.)

My M.O. where memes are concerned is to try and avoid using them in their original form whenever I can; thus I tried to stick with what canon details there were (I took some liberties with the Lunarians, and I made an exception with Marisa's mutterings). After someone told me that Remilia's lapse in decorum during the thunderstorm was termed a "charisma break", I almost facepalmed. It still came off as funny to me, though, so I kept it in.

Speaking of the Scarlet sisters, Flandre's comments on an Inspector General refer to Danny Kaye's movie of the same name. I thought about including a flashback in the final chapter where Ran showed her a magic-powered film projector, but the idea didn't last.

(As Coop enjoys a delicious dinner, Sakuya drummed her fingers in time with some rock music coming from Megas. Upon seeing Meiling giving her a strange look, she backed off and looked away, a bit embarrassed.)

I like the Three Fairies; don't get me wrong. Still, I experienced no end of frustration at their hands during my recent playthroughs of Fairy Wars. Does it show?

One of the reviewers at Fanfiction.Net suggested that it wouldn't be out of the line of possibility for Coop (and probably Megas by extension, if I read it right) to remain in Gensokyo. Alice's comment to Patchouli about collateral damage serves as my reply to that, plus the fact that witnessing a video game junkie going through withdrawl likely wouldn't be pleasant.

(Alice sat at a table, sketching out plans on a piece of paper for a house-sized doll. Kiva stood nearby, enjoying some tea and offering suggestions.)

Two of the songs mentioned in the story are synonymous with Touhou. The other one is commonly associated with Megas's beatdowns of any mooks that get in its way. I'll leave you folks to figure the rest out yourself.

I had trouble figuring out what I wanted the red button to say. Ideas included "Because It's Gensokyo, Baby" and "Violation of Common Sense", amongst others. I finally decided on "Technology Does Not Work This Way" after noting that the whole thing was a blatant escape from reality anyway.

(Patchouli leaned back in her chair, reading the instructions on a jar of medicine as Reisen summarized how it was supposed to work.)

I had the final outcome of the match more or less planned out since Chapter Two: Suika was supposed to have Megas on the ropes, and then Marisa would blast her from out of nowhere. As with the fight's circumstances, getting to that point was half the battle.

(In a sealed off corner of Gensokyo, Megas and Suika again faced off against each other. Yukari floated nearby, a whistle around her neck, while Reimu lazily looked on. As the whistle was blown the combatants charged forwards, their fists poised to strike...)

See the Alternate Ending for my closing messages.

Chapter 2
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