Family (chapters 21-22)

Chapter 21: An unexpected encounter

With the confidence boost given to her by Reimu, Noriko started to train herself with renewed vigor.
She had a slight difficulty figuring out how to make her spells work, even after she had grasped the theory, but she no longer let it bother her and kept trying to find new ways to make it work.
After a series of trials and errors, Reimu suggested a new approach. They asked Alice for help, and after a little bit of designing they made several dolls of various sizes together.
Once they were done Noriko started practicing with them daily, the idea being that she might figure out a way to channel her magic through them similarly to how Marisa used her mini-hakkero.

She tried several different type of dolls, different styles and different numbers of dolls, until she finally found a configuration that she felt worked for her.
The end result was that she now used three dolls as her spellcasting mediums, channeling all her magic through them and had them weave it into spells, and it worked a lot better then when she tried to cast spells through her own hands.

The three dolls in question all had different styles.
One looked like a knight and carried a two-handed sword. It could create crescent shaped blasts with it’s sword swings that were large and powerful.
The second one was modeled like an archer and carried a bow. It fired large volleys of smaller shots.
The last one was wearing heavier armor then the other two along with a large metal shield. It conjured all her barrier spells.
Together the three dolls formed her complete magecraft (she even said that having the spell types divided into three units like this made it easier for her to do spell combinations).

Since figuring out this tactic Noriko had trained every day and it was really starting to show. She was now able to do pretty complex combinations, and Alice (who always watched her practice) was so proud of her that Aya made a joke about her wearing a ‘permanent smile mask’.
Noriko always became very happy when she saw her parents look at her with pride in their eyes, but what made her even happier was the praise she received from her sisters.
Whenever they called her ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’, a surge of happiness washed over her and motivated her to keep improving. Having taken her teacher’s warning about hubris to heart, she was careful to never consider her training ‘finished’.

Akane and Rena had both mastered the basics, but neither of them had advanced to the point of developing a personal style yet.
Rena still had a low endurance and Akane was a little insecure. Noriko often tried to encourage them and help them whenever she could, but so far their progress had been slow.
Rena’s symptoms had not manifested in a while, but Sakuya occasionally put a few drops of her blood into the girls tea, just to make sure they stayed away.

Izumi, who had been physically strong since she was a baby, had a rather strong confidence similar to her mother (although her recent experience had made her realize the importance of proper training).
She preferred physical contact with her targets during practice and focused on using magic that strengthened her fists and feet, as well as close distance directed explosions.
Lately, she had learned how to increase the mass of her fists just before impact, making her punches hit much harder (she had crushed a boulder that was several times larger then her into gravel once).
She did however feel a little guilty about being able to advance faster then Rena. She always tried to help her younger sister train, and cheered her up in case she felt a little down.

Momoka was rather agile and had become skilled at trick shots. She was able to create ‘floating light orbs’ that attacked on their own for several seconds before they expired, then combine their attacks with her own (while moving around erratically) to create complex patterns.
Orin said that the light orbs reminded her a little of her own zombie fairies, since they remained as a haze after expiring and could be recharged by Momoka.

She often trained with Kazehana, who was also practicing moving around at high speeds.
It was not uncommon for the two of them to play a game of tag, something that often resulted in a wild display of aerial maneuvering. Kazehana had a higher top speed, but Momoka was faster in the turns.
Unsurprisingly, the child of a tengu was skilled in wind magic, but it behaved slightly differently compered to Aya’s.
Unlike her mother, Kazehana was getting better and better at creating vortex winds (or miniature tornadoes if you like) and could use them to conceal herself briefly as well as throw around anything that made contact with them. Some of her sisters joked about her finally having found a way to get out of Momoka’s ‘hug attacks’, something that Momoka herself always got excited over when she heard it (because it meant that hugging Kazehana was now a challenge).

Sachi did not possess her mother’s ability to manipulate nuclear energy (as that was an ability Okuu had acquired, not an innate ability that could be inherited), but she did have the ability to manipulate something else.
As it were, her own magic did not take any special shape beyond the basic forms, but she could affect the spells cast by her sisters.
If she had physical contact with any one of them, she could change the spells they cast. Things like alter their bullets direction, make them split into smaller or join into bigger.
Also, if she had physical contact with two of her sisters, she could sometimes combine spells to create new effects (in a way that somewhat resembled Patchouli’s combined elements spells). She had as of yet not succeeded in combining more then two spells, but she was getting closer to being able to do three.

Currently, they where training in the cellar while Patchouli watched over them and provided assistance when someone asked.
Momoka and Kazehana were zooming around overhead while Sachi was discussing something with their teacher.
Noriko and Izumi tried to help Rena and Akane train, at the moment they tried to cheer them up after a couple of failed spells.
“It’s alright, Mother taught me that it doesn’t matter how many times you fail, it is kind of random when you will discover the method that works best for you personally”.
Izumi eagerly backed up her older sister’s words. “Yea, it only went fast for me because I got lucky and stumbled on my method right away, big sis here took her time finding hers and she is better then me now”.
Rena looked down at her hands with a worried expression.
“But I don’t feel myself getting better, when my illness disappeared I could feel that I was getting stronger, but I don’t sense any change no matter how much I train”.
Izumi looked a little sad as she tried to pat Rena’s shoulder. Noriko didn’t let herself be discouraged and continued.
“That’s not so strange, I didn’t advance at all until I found my method. I promise you will get stronger once you find yours”.

Akane, who had remained silent for a bit, decided to speak up.
“I understand how you feel Rena, it’s hard to think about something that you haven’t even discovered yet”.
As Rena’s face grew a tiny bit brighter, Akane continued.
“Maybe we should try doing it like our moms do, big sis does her magic like something of a mix of mama’s and Alice’s methods, we could try doing the same”.
As Rena wiped a tiny tear from the corner of her eye, Izumi immediately got excited over this idea.
“Yea, lets go ask Sensei right away, we can ask our moms for more details later”.

They quickly moved to the corner where Patchouli was sitting. When they got closer they saw what looked like their teacher conjuring and mixing various small elemental spells and explaining her process to an eagerly listening Sachi.
Their sister noticed them and turned to greet them.
“Hey everyone, how is it going?”
As Patchouli turned her head, Noriko stepped forward and spoke for them.
“Sensei, can you give us a walkthrough of how mommy Remilia and mommy Flandre use their magic? Akane and Rena want to try their method and see if it works for them”.
Patchouli adjusted her glasses.
“Hmm well, I don’t think either of you can turn into bats since you are dhampirs, but I guess there are other things you could try”.
She turned towards Akane and put her hands behind her back.
“Let’s see, I don’t think you have ever seen Remi’s Gungnir, since there really isn’t much reason for her to use it at the moment, but you should ask her to show it to you. It might provide the inspiration you need”.
She then turned to Rena.
“As for your mom, she has something similar called Laevateinn. I’ll come with you and ask her to show it after we finish up here”.
The young girl’s face became a little brighter as she heard her teachers proposition, then followed Izumi back to the training they had began earlier.
Noriko watched them go, then turned to Akane.
“Thanks for the assist earlier, you’re good at making people feel better”.
Akane smiled.
“I’m just good at sensing people’s emotions, I’m not quite as cool as you are just yet”.
Noriko could not help but straighten her back and puff up her chest when she heard the word ‘cool’, but she quickly tried to hide it by suggesting that they all got back to their training as well.

Later that evening Akane had a talk with Remilia while Patchouli and Rena talked to Flandre.
They all went to Remilia’s room so no one could hear their discussion, except Sakuya who brought them something to eat and heard a little bit of it.
When she left the room and returned to the kitchen Marisa was there.
“Yo, how do ya reckon they are doing in there?”
“I can’t really say, those two children seem to have had the hardest time advancing their skills compared to their siblings. It must be frustrating at times”.
The witch tilted her head with a grimace.
“Tell me about it, I still remember the days when I was just a rookie. Those were not so fun days”.
Sakuya put down her tray and sighed.
“I just wish I could talk to them openly, let them know the real me so that they have someone they can relate to. I think that could help them a little”.
Marisa moved closer and put her hand on her friend’s shoulder.
“Do you think Remilia suspects something? She must have figured out that you ain’t telling her the full story”.
“Yea, she probably does. I have no idea as to how much milady has figured out, and she never says anything. I can tell that she wants to though, I wonder why she never presses the issue”.
Marisa thought about it for a moment, then said in a more serious voice, “Maybe she has already guessed the truth, and is waiting for you to be ready to talk about it yourself”.

Sakuya stared at the witch for several seconds before she replied.
“Are you really sure about that? What if she hasn’t figured it out and I tell her, won’t that make things worse?”
Marisa smiled.
“I think you underestimate how much your mistress loves you. Having seen her behavior towards you lately, I don’t think there is anything about you or your past that she would reject”.
Sakuya couldn’t find any words for her thoughts, so Marisa continued.
“She entrusted you with the well being of her child and her sister’s child, if that isn’t complete acceptance, I don’t know what is”.
She gave the maid a pat on the shoulder, turned and started walking towards her own room.
“Think about it, this has to be your decision in the end”.
As she exited the room Sakuya was left alone with her thoughts.

Later that evening, when everyone had gone to bed, Noriko waited a few minutes after Reimu had kissed them goodnight and closed the door, then got up and tip toed over to Rena’s bed.
“Hey, are you awake?”
Her younger sister stirred, then opened her eyes slowly.
“How did it go? What was that Leveithan thing like?”
Rena gave her a small smile.
“It’s ‘Laevateinn’ sis”.
They both giggled quietly before Rena continued.
“It’s like a big wand of sorts, mom said she uses it to make her most powerful spells”.
She paused and looked at her hand.
“Her specialty is complete destruction of objects, somehow that doesn’t feel like something that would suit me”.
Noriko silently agreed, her sister was the most gentle person she knew, destruction magic was about as badly suited for her as fried fish was to sushi.
“Well, don’t worry to much about that. Even if you end up using a tool that’s similar to Laevateinn it doesn’t mean your magic has to be the same”.
Rena extended her hand and touched her sister’s cheek.
“Thanks for trying so hard for my sake sis, but I feel like this might be something I have to do on my own. I have been given so much, it’s about time I learned how to give something back”.

At that moment, a voice rang out through the room.
“Aw, what a touching moment we have here. Such a shame it will be cut short now”.
Noriko and Rena quickly straightened up and ran their eyes across the room, trying to identify the owner of the unknown voice.
“You’re looking in the wrong direction, up here”.
When they quickly looked up, there was a hole in the ceiling. But it was a strange hole, much to dark and filled with weird red glows.
Then a foot started to emerge slowly from the hole, followed by another, then legs covered by a purple dress, then the arms and chest and finally the head with long, blonde hair with red ribbons tied to it’s tips.

The woman that had emerged from the hole was elegant, beautiful and scary. The girls found it hard to look at her eyes.
As they stared at her, she laughed.
The sound was unsettling, and it wasn’t long before everyone was wide awake, shivering as they saw the unknown intruder.
Noriko mustered up her courage and slowly stood up.
“W-w-what do you w-want? W-who are y-you?”
The woman stopped laughing and turned her gaze to the one who had spoken.
“Oh, do you want to know? Well I suppose there is no point in keeping it from you, as you’re going to find out anyway”.
She twirled her hand and made an elegant bow.
“I am Yukari Yakumo, I have come to collect you”.

Before anyone could say anything else, holes like the one in the ceiling opened up underneath all of the kids. They barely had time to scream before they were all swallowed up by the darkness.

Chapter 22: The desperate battle

Noriko fell into the hole beneath her feet, expecting some horrible monster to eat her. What happened instead was that her feet hit solid ground after only about a meter of free fall.
Since she wasn’t ready for it, she stumbled and lost her balance, landing squarely on her butt.
She felt a surge of pain and winced, but quickly suppressed it when she heard similar gasps of pain from what was unmistakably her sisters.

Quickly getting to her feet, she looked around in the dimly lit room.
Her sisters had all landed around her a few meters apart. Breathing a quick sigh of relief, she tried to make sense of where they where.
The room they where in had a hard floor and was empty as far as she could tell. She could not see it’s walls or ceiling, so it was either really big or the lighting was worse then she thought.
Since there was no sign of the woman with the creepy laugh, she started helping her sisters up on their feet.
Some asked what was going on, others just looked in every direction with a worried expression.
Noriko had no answers for them, she had never seen that woman before and she had no idea what her goal was.

As she was trying to make sense of the situation, that chilling laughter rang out from the shadows once more.
“Hohoho, are you perhaps pondering your current predicament? If you are, why don’t you just try asking me since I’m right here”.
A dark hole opened in mid-air in front of them and the creepy woman emerged.
Noriko noticed that she had placed herself between the woman and her sisters as soon as she saw her without really thinking about it. Feeling that if ever there was a time to act like a big sister, she mustered up her courage and started speaking.
“W-why did you bring us here? Where are we?”
The woman’s eyes gleamed as she met her gaze.
“Hoho, I just moved you to a quiet location where we won’t be disturbed. Now I have you all to myself”.
As Noriko heard the quiet whimpers of her sisters behind her, she gradually began to sense a new feeling slowly replacing her fear. She clenched her fists and spoke in a more steady voice.
“What are your intentions? Depending on your answer, I may have to beat you up!”
The woman stopped laughing as a small smirk spread across her face.
“My my, you think you can beat me up do you?”
As she spoke, a large magic circle formed behind her and began to slowly rotate. Even with her limited knowledge of magic, Noriko could sense that it wasn’t even a complete spell, just her making her magic power ready, but it was still strong enough to make the air seem thicker and send chills down her back as she looked at it.
Sweat dripping down her forehead, the young girl gritted her teeth and slowly lifted her right foot. She then put as much force into it as she could and stomped the floor, hard.
It made a loud noise and sent a jolt of pain up her leg, but she welcomed the pain since it blew her fear away and sharpened her senses.
She glared at the creepy woman with an intensity that seemed to surprise her, as she raised her eyebrows.
“Oh my, you really are serious aren’t you?”

Sachi covered behind her older sister’s back together with her other siblings. She thought the whole situation was bizarre.
They had all been dragged out of their beds in their pajamas into some weird empty room, and now the woman responsible for this was laughing at them and telling them that she had them to herself.
She could not make any sense of it, and it scared her.
What could her motive be? Would she hurt them? How powerful was she to be able to do something like that?
The questions soared through her mind, demanding answers that she could not give. All she could see was the terrified faces of her sisters and the darkness that surrounded them.
Then, out of nowhere, she a voice cut through her thoughts and demanded her attention.
“What are your intentions? Depending on your answer, I may have to beat you up!”
She recognized the voice as her older sister’s, and when she looked at her back she stomped the floor once, hard.
“Oh my, you really are serious aren’t you?”

The woman who called herself Yukari opened a fan and covered half her face with it. Even though she could not see her mouth, Noriko knew she was smiling mockingly.
“Well then, lets see if you can back up those words of yours, but if you want to beat me up, you’re going to have to get past my pets first”.
She then opened up a parasol and quickly drifted away from them, opening more of those dark holes as she did.
From the holes emerged something that looked like the wolfs they had seen pictures of in books, but these were clearly different since they had glowing yellow eyes and unnatural looking fur.
They gathered in a pack and slowly started to move closer, bearing their teeth and growling as they did.

Noriko faced them down with a determination that somewhat surprised even herself. The only thought that crossed her mind was ‘if I move they will attack my sisters, I am the only thing standing in their way‘.
Feeling that fighting was the only available course of action was somehow calming, perhaps because it meant that she didn’t need to worry about any unnecessary details.
She quickly pulled out her three dolls from her pajamas (as Reimu always seemed to carry her amulets, so too did Noriko always carry her dolls) and activated them by putting the rings their strings where attached to on her fingers.
They quickly came to life and enlarged themselves to about the same size as their master, readying their weapons.

The knight doll swung it’s sword in a sideways arc and sent a large blast straight at the center of the wolf pack.
Two of the beasts where caught by the blast and was promptly cleaved in half. Those that had dodged it to the left where all skewered by arrows fired by the archer doll.
The four on the right opened their mouths and spat balls of fire at her, but they were all harmlessly absorbed by a quickly raised barrier from the shield doll.
Howling in rage, they charged her. One more got hit by arrows, the other three dodged them and lounged at her. The knight doll brought it’s sword back in a mighty swing and cleaved them all at point blank range.
As their corpses began to dissolve into black mist, Noriko quickly brought her dolls into their ready formation and faced Yukari once again.
She felt a new feeling surge though her that was unfamiliar to her. She decided to make sense of it later when she had the time, for now she still had to focus on the largest threat at hand.

Seeing her older sister beat back the rabid beasts really made Sachi feel ashamed of her behavior. Here she was, covering like a coward, while Noriko stood with a straight back and faced down the enemy alone.
Feeling angry at herself, Sachi pinched her own nipple (she knew that would hurt a lot, and it did), then stood up and faced her siblings.
“Come on, get up all of you!”
Slightly confused faces turned towards her. Once she was sure they were all paying attention, she continued.
“Are you all going to sit here and let big sis fight that hag alone? We have to help her!”
She caught Rena’s eye. Her youngest sibling looked terrified.
Steeling herself, Sachi chose her next words carefully.
“I know we aren’t ready, I know we all need more training, but our reality is that we don’t have a choice. We must fight, we can only consider ourselves lucky that big sis figured it out fast enough to give us the time we needed to wake up”.

As Noriko faced Yukari again, her opponent slowly clapped her hands.
“I see you haven’t been totally negligent in your studies, this is good news to me”.
As her eyes narrowed she leaned forward slightly.
“It means I can stop holding back so much”.
The young girl faced her opponent with a daring smile.
“Fine, then I won’t either”.
Before she had finished her sentence, she had the archer doll let loose a volley of arrows. Yukari dodged them seemingly effortlessly.
“Is this you not holding back? You’re gonna have to do better then that I’m afraid”.
Noriko ignored her taunts as she thought to herself “She is just trying to throw you of balance, don’t listen to her. Now, she seems agile enough to be a difficult target at long range, maybe I have to get up close then”.
Before she could form a plan of attack however, more dark holes opened and a new pack of wolf creatures emerged. They were also accompanied by a swarm of flying serpents, unblinking eyes staring and black scales gleaming.
Noriko readied her weapons and prepared to charge, but just as she was about to leap forward a swarm of bullets flew past her and shot several of the flying serpents out of the air.
Quickly turning her head, she saw all her sisters lined up behind her, three on each side, all with their arms raised.
They all had varying degrees of fear visible on their faces, but just seeing them all standing there, ready to back her up, made her feel very happy.

Sachi put her hands on Akane’s and Rena’s shoulders and as the two of them started shooting again, she made their bullets curve and twist in strange ways. Most of them aimed for the beasts but a few suddenly merged and went straight for Yukari’s face.
She quickly threw up a shield to block them and as she did, Momoka dashed straight into the wolf pack and taunted them, then jumped away when they all turned to charge her. What happened instead was that they ended up jumping straight at her bullet orbs she had left behind, and it only took a moment to pierce them all with bullets.
Meanwhile, Kazehana had taken to the air. Using her tornadoes, she plowed a path straight through the flying serpents that Izumi quickly followed her through with her fists raised.
Sachi looked at her older sister and quickly shouted a single word, “Go!”
Nodding, Noriko lunged forward, shooting arrows at the closest beasts as she followed behind her sisters.
Once they reached Yukari, Kazehana turned slightly and dashed past her, making as much noise as she could, then Izumi’s fist slammed into the shield and released a fiery explosion.
A sharp sound echoed through the room as the barrier shattered, clearing the path.
Noriko did not let the chance go to waste and charged forward, shield first.
A few bullets where deflected by the shield before it slammed squarely into Yukari’s chest. Noriko immediately had the knight doll move around the shield and deliver a devastating slash.
She could see red drops fly through the air and moved her shield doll to see the result.
Yukari was flying backwards, a large gash along the side of her torso, with a surprised look on her face. Just as she was about to hit the floor, one of those dark holes opened beneath her and swallowed her up.

Noriko felt a powerful emotion surge through her body, the feeling of besting your enemy.
It was a wonderful sensation, to feel that she had not only fought back and won, but she had protected her sisters as well.
Quickly turning around to check on them, she was greeted my smiling faces and cheers.
As soon as she landed all her sisters threw themselves at her and it turned into a big hug pile.
Words of praise and cheers mixed with sighs of relief and a few sobs.

Then she caught Sachi’s eye, and saw in it a clearly concerned look. Crawling out of the pile and excusing herself for a moment, she pulled her sister aside.
“What is it, I can tell you are worried about something”.
Sachi nodded.
“No offense to you sis, but that seemed a bit to easy. I do not believe that was the extent of our enemies power, nor do I think we managed to wound her all that seriously”.
Feeling like she was probably not going to like the answer, Noriko asked her question.
“Why do you think that?”
“Well, she did seem genuinely surprised when you managed to hit her, but there was not a trace of fear, pain or discomfort in her expression. Furthermore, I believe she has just been toying with us. She is obviously more powerful then she lets on”.
At that moment, the unpleasant voice echoed through the room once more.
“Aw, you didn’t have to figure it out quite so fast my dear, it makes my acting look bad”.

The two sisters quickly spun around to see Yukari emerge from a hole above them. There was not a single trace of the wound she had sustained, nor any drops of blood on her clothes.
“And here I thought I fooled you by letting you injure me for real. Of course I healed it up in a second once I concealed myself, but you figured it out anyway”.
Both Noriko and Sachi could feel cold sweat dripping down their necks. This enemy was a lot more dangerous then they realized.
The other five siblings had gone very quiet and stared at the woman they thought gone, standing before them completely uninjured.
Yukari raised her hands in a despondent gesture.
“Oh well, I guess it’s time to stop pretending. No more fun and games for you naughty children”.

As she spoke, a massive magic circle formed on the ground beneath her. From it, a scaly, fearsome head arose, followed by a long scaly neck, wings, clawed feet and a large body with a tail.
Noriko shuddered as she gazed on the hideous monster that now stood before her. It’s yellow eyes met her gaze, then it roared.
They all covered their ears as the horrible sound filled the room and made them all feel tiny and insignificant. Her earlier confidence felt like a lie now that she saw what this woman could really do when she stopped pretending.
Yukari rose higher in the air and laughed loudly.
“Hohoho, I look forward to seeing how you plan on managing this situation”.

Sachi was at a complete loss. She had no idea what they should do.
Since their enemy still was not fighting them directly and could command this enormous creature as a minion, it could only mean that she herself was a lot stronger then this monster.
That meant that even if they somehow managed to beat it, they would most likely exhaust themselves in doing so and then face an even more dangerous opponent.
The monster then swiftly swung it’s tail around and hit both Noriko and Sachi head on before they could get out of the way. They were both thrown back several meters and crash landed on the hard floor.
As they laid on the floor, pain flooding their senses, a feeling of despair began to spread in Sachi’s heart, she didn’t know what to do.
She found herself wishing her mom was there, shining like a sun and burning away the darkness. She wished her mommies and aunties where there, and most of all, she wished her mama Reimu was there. She lowered her head and cried a few bitter tears over her own powerlessness.

Then something happened, something that no one in the room had expected. Akane fell silent, stood up and walked towards the monster.
Even Yukari seemed surprised by this as she turned her gaze towards the young girl.
“Oh, what’s this now? Did you perhaps want to negotiate a surrender? Have you realized how hopeless your situation is yet?”
Akane didn’t answer. She clenched her fists and lowered her head slightly, then mumbled something inaudible.
“Hmm? What was that? You’re going to have to speak up darling”.
A bright, pink flash of light suddenly burst forth from Akane’s clenched right hand. The intensity of the light took everyone by surprise and they quickly covered their eyes. When they lowered their hands to see what had happened, Akane was holding a large spear in her hand.
Rena’s eyes went wide as she saw it.
“T-that looks almost like mommy Remilia’s Gungnir, but it’s somehow different. Also, Gungnir was deep red, not pink like that one”.
As even Yukari looked at this spear in amazement, Akane slowly raised the tip and pointed it straight at her enemy’s heart.

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