The door slowly creaked open as I pushed it. The doll on my shoulder swayed slightly before returning to position.
"I wish I brought a flashlight." I said. The inside of the house was actually pretty well-lighted, but this comment was made for one reason only.
In truth or in fiction, this was the messiest magician's workshop that I had ever seen. And I could swear that the gleaming implements scattered in piles of junk metal and gadgets from the old country were daring me to touch them.
"Oi, Alice, I might need some directions now." I said. In my ears I could hear the two of them on the other end chattering.
"So this is Marisa's place." Reimu said. I could see her brown head with the red ribbon on it nod in my mind's eye. "It's a dump."
"Yes, there are magical implements all over the floor." Alice said. "I really wonder how she gets anything done like this…" They began to digress.
"Umm… you guys…" I said tentatively, wondering whether I would ever get to come in.
"By the way, Alice, how did you get the doll to show us the inside so well?"
"Oh, it was because this was one of the ones I had Yukari help me build."
"Ummm….." Honestly, I had no idea how they could be so nonchalant about such a thing.
"Oh right, you and Marisa went down to try resolving that too. I always thought she was just in it for the hot springs."
"Yeah, at first she was, but then she heard there was treasure down there and all but forced me to come."
"… Directions please, Alice, or I might end up blowing the whole house apart." I said. "I don't know jack about magical instruments or anything, so help me out here."
Honestly, I didn't know how or why I ended up in this situation. I mean, I knew the what, when, who, and where, but the important questions are usually the ones that never get answered in the anime I watch. Maybe you can make sense out of it.
Delivery 0: A Personal Delivery
This must be the hundredth time I've done this.
I put my hands in my pockets again. Nothing unusual about it.
I sighed. Must be the hundredth time for this too. Today was not a good day for me.
"I guess I deserve it." I muttered to myself as I reclined in my back corner chair. The room was filled with people busily scribbling away at their paper.
All except me.
"This sucks." I said as I stared up at the acoustic tiles on the ceiling directly above me. When we had ended school a few months ago, they had given us a list of books that they "suggested" we read. Being as lazy as I am, I didn't read a single one.
Now I had to write a book report on them. Believe it or not, it was a pain in the ass not to be writing one, because I knew that I could do it if I read the book.
I didn't know when my hands left my pockets, but I put them back in and sighed, letting myself sag into the seat.
How many times does this make? Not reporting a broken ID, having to run around to buy more things, getting stuck in a class full of people I don't know… man, what a load of things to do this year.
I continued to stare at the acoustic tiles, the airconditioning and the projector, silently running and doing their job despite my melancholy.
Then I looked dreamily out the window of the door that was very close to me, on my right.
I've got so many problems…
I sighed again.
It would be better to just disappear.
The foolish boy's idle wish was heard.
And it became a sort-of reality.
The first thing I noticed that was horribly different from my comfortable plastic chair in the back of the classroom was that it was warm.
Warm and damp.
Warm and damp and noisy with crickets.
Only then did I open my eyes and see the plains roll out in front of me. A bit to my left was a packed dirt road which I could only assume led to a village. In the distance I could see a few mountains.
This is a pretty crazy dream. I thought. I stood up and took a better look around. Indeed, there was a village, but it was farther down a small hill. Behind me appeared to be a deep forest.
"Hey, a human, a human, let's play~!"
I turned in the direction of the voice. It was a small girl with blue hair, blue eyes, blue clothes, and all around looking very blue in a happy way.
Did I forget to mention the six wings that looked like ice crystals and the fact that she was flying? Whoops, throw that in.
"What." After all those video games I played and all the time I spent fantasizing and daydreaming about stupid events happening to me, all I can say in the face of one is a flat "what." Shameful.
She waved her hand, and I felt the temperature around the area go down a few degrees.
"Okay, your turn!" She said.
Normally I had no fear of cold.
But this girl had caused it with her bare hand.
I ran into the forest, away from the village. I definitely needed help, both physical and mental, but I was pretty sure that an ice fairy would be beyond the capabilities of a village of normal humans to take on.
"Hey! Don't run away from me!" She yelled and easily weaved between trees to chase me as I pathetically attempted to flee on foot. "I'm gonna freeze you for this!"
I took a hard left turn and ran back the way I came for three steps, then turned to the right. If I had been watching myself in an anime I would have derided my own actions as worthless, but right now it seemed better than just running straight and waiting for her to catch me.
"Huh! Where'd he go!" I heard her tomboyish voice cry out.
I reached into my pockets to look for a weapon or a distraction. I felt my wallet in my left pocket and my tarot cards in my right.
Wait, I didn't bring my tarot cards today! Ha! This must be a dream! So if I play with her I might get out!
"I'm over here!" I yelled. "He~ey!"
The blue girl turned to look at me.
"Oh, there you are." She said intensely. She looked somewhat peeved that I had run. "Now let's play!" She threw a white cloud at me.
I sensed more than felt the intense cold that mist had in it, because it hit an invisible wall.
"Hey, who's interrupting my play time!" She yelled at the sky. "Get out here, you!"
"I'm here, I'm here, little ice cube!" I turned in the direction of the voice.
The first thing I saw was the hand, forming the shape of a gun with the thumb and forefinger. I followed that arm to the shoulder. From there below the girl was clad in a black coat and apron, the garb of a traditional western witch. Above that was a mane of golden hair that looked like it had just been thrown about carelessly in the wind, golden eyes, and a reckless-looking smile.
That seems kind of familiar; where have I seen that before…?
"Hey, don't steal my toy!"
"He doesn't have spell cards, idiot!" The blondie didn't lower her hand.
"Don't call me idiot!" The blue-haired girl yelled.
I felt as if invisible walls had come down around the two of them. The blondie turned to me.
"Get out of the boundary, things are about to get nasty!" I nodded. "Thanks!" I replied, and ran outside the boundary back into the trees. After a few seconds I turned back.
And I just stood there.
It was quick, almost fleeting in fact. But it was a wonderful typhoon of color, light, and sound. The blue fairy started off by firing a random stream of rainbow-colored bullets that covered the screen and froze them. She then started to fire off blue bullets, then the frozen bullets unfroze and charged around in random directions.
And the black-and-white witch deftly evaded them. Weaving, ducking, diving, climbing, her every flying movement was aimed at evading every attack.
"Did you really think this old trick would work?" She asked. "Idiot!"
"Only idiots call people idiots, idiot!"
I looked at the battle again. Through the huge streams of ice and broken shards I saw the words near the top of the boundary.
"Freeze Sign: Perfect Freeze…" I read it out to myself.
And suddenly I remembered exactly why this seemed so familiar.
This was that game.
That game had dragged me down into the depths of the internet. That game was the second to bring me down into depraved fanboyism.
That game was Touhou. Set in a world called Gensokyo, it chronicles the whimsical adventures of a huge cast of little girls who are actually superpowerful beings with the mental maturity of ten-year-olds with a toy.
"I must have E rank Luck to deserve this." I looked at the sign again. If I remember right, it was Cirno the Ice Fairy's signature spell. Suddenly, it disappeared.
It was replaced with "Love Sign: Master Spark."
Those were the only two words I could say before the rainbow-colored light bathed everything.
Of course I knew it was coming. In the other world, this had been my favourite spell card along with my favourite character. To be honest, I didn't really think that it was possible.
But the Ordinary Magician Marisa Kirisame had just fired a Master Spark in front of me. And I was in Gensokyo.
As of right now, common sense is worthless.
I just stood there.
The blond girl came down to meet me. On instinct, I decided to pretend to know nothing.
"What… was that?" I asked.
"That was a spell card." She smiled while explaining. "It lets us fight without actually hurting each other too much. See?" She pointed at the ice fairy, who had already gotten up.
"I'll get you for this!" She made a face and flew off in a huff.
"I'll be waiting." The witch smirked. "You, on the other hand, have a lot you need to learn. You're holding onto magic without even knowing it, after all."
At this point normally I would have said "What!" but at this point anything was possible. Instead, I responded with "Where is it?"
"You're not shocked?" She asked.
"Believe me, after today, I don't think I'll ever be surprised again."
"If Cirno's a shock, then you're in for a long day." She said. "Oh, that's right, introduce yourself."
"Why are you telling me to introduce myself!" It was just an extremely strange demand.
"It's common courtesy, isn't it?" She asked.
"Victor Hunter, formerly a student but now just surprised." I said.
"Marisa Kirisame, ordinary magician and professional thief." She responded. "You don't seem to be able to use your magic, so let's fix that…"
She grabbed my right pocket, let out an "aha!" and pulled out the cards that had appeared there.
"These are yours, aren't they?"
"Yeah." I said.
"Good." She said. "If you ever get in trouble, just lift one up; any one will do."
"Next, you'll have to learn how to fly." She said. "Actually, there's no learning involved, just jump and wiggle your shoulders and you should be fine."
"What!" I yelled. "If it were that easy, I'd have flown to school in the other world!"
"It only works in Gensokyo." She said. "We're a pretty unique place."
"No kidding." I said. "Well, no way to learn but to try."
With that I kicked off the ground.
And then I was hovering. Instinctively my shoulders went up in surprise.
So did I.
"Now practice. See that village over there?" She asked. She was up in the air too, sitting lightly on her broom. She was pointing towards a set of brown roofs. I nodded.
"That's a safe place for people who don't know anything like you." She said. "See you, idiot." With that she flew off at a speed I would have considered impossible.
What a day. I thought. In my mind, my middle finger moved to where the up arrow would normally be. I shot forward.
Looks like I'm still playing the game after all.
Delivery 1: To Start Off…
I arrived in thirty minutes. Which was totally new for me because the village was almost over the horizon, and I was used to walking. I smiled at the thought as I arrived at the village with the brown roofs and the dirt road. It was crowded, being the middle of the afternoon, just when it was light enough to see and late enough for it to be cold. The streets were crowded with all sorts of people. There were hawkers on both sides of the street yelling out about snacks, little toys, and other such things. There were also more serious-looking shops, and some that were so run-down that they looked like they would collapse if you so much as came in. I barely felt as if I was noticed at all in the crowd, despite my white shirt and slacks.
How does this even work? I mean, I've never spoken a word of Japanese and I'm clearly surrounded by native speakers who are still speaking, but why can I understand their conversations at all?
"That's because you belong here now." A voice came from my left. "You have to live here now." Naturally, I turned.
There was a girl there. She had a purple dress and a parasol unfolded, above her.
Half of a girl, anyway. The other half was buried in what I can only describe as a hole in the world, with an innumerable number of eyes staring out of it. They were large, red, and menacing, reminding me of an anime I had watched with something called the "Law of Equivalent Exchange".
But all that was irrelevant as the elegantly-dressed woman continued speaking. She had blond hair, and now that I looked closer her hands seemed to have those thin, Victorian-era gloves.
"Anyway, it's a bother to explain here in the middle of the street." She said. She lazily waved her hand and opened another one of the tears in the world. "Go on in."
At this point, I knew better than to argue. I walked into it. Right after, I found myself in a tatami room with a girl writing furiously on the desk. She looked up and, upon seeing me, gave a smile.
"You must be new here. Sit."
I walked up to her table and sat down. Somehow, I could understand the words that she had written down. The characters were still in Japanese, but the meanings came out in perfect English.
"My name is Hieda no Akyuu." She said. She had purple hair and was quite short. She seemed young, yet she was studying quite seriously. "I am the eighteenth generation of the Akyuu clan."
All this, combined with the traditional Japanese garb, was quite difficult to take in. But then again, I was both forearmed and forewarned. I quickly responded with an "It's a pleasure to meet you."
And I used to think playing too many games wouldn't come in handy.
After that, and as the tea from our respective cups slowly ran dry from sipping, she explained everything. Gensokyo, spell cards, things I should and shouldn't do, and what had happened here. Of course, there was still one question on my mind.
"Thank you for your help, but I have something I need to ask." I said. "After all this, why is there no talk of me being sent home?"
"Oh, that's simple." Akyuu said. "Even if we were to send you back, nobody would remember you. You don't exist there, and you belong here now."
No game could have prepared me for this.
"Thanks." I said, and stood up abruptly and left.
But that thanks was perfectly hollow. She had said I could stay with her for the night.
If I came back tonight, that was.
I walked through the dark town with a cold deeper than the night around me on my shoulders. Every street seemed like a curse, every step a weight on my soul. I could hear cries of "That's enough, children!" and "Stop yanking on my umbrella!", but they didn't mean anything to me. The heavy walk continued.
I saw a man come in, injured. His arm was broken. He looked like he had recently been running for his life. A large contingent of men had come out to help him. Quickly, I ran to the gate. A boar seemed to be ready to charge. It was huge, and if it were standing up it would probably be equal with my height and certainly stronger than I was.
"Tch, it's one of those beasts gone crazy." A large, middle-aged man wearing work clothes held a spear in his hands. "I'll get him." He circled around the beast carefully. They measured each other up, getting ready to charge.
They were ready to go at any second. They were still circling menacingly when it happened.
The man's legs caught on each other. He tripped. At the same time, the boar charged.
My hand was in my right pocket before even knowing it. Without trying to say it, my voice rang out.
"The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed… Show me my fate!"
With that I drew a card.
The Page of Swords looked back at me. I stretched out the hand that held the Page and a sword exited. It was a European broadsword, straight and about as long as my forearm and half of the distance to my shoulder. I felt the weight of the sword on my hands, but it didn't change what instinct told me to do.
I was already rushing towards the boar. Sensing its new opponent, it turned and rushed me.
Come on, gaming, don't fail me now… I thought as the boar charged me down. I ran towards it.
Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. The boar was right in front of me, ready to gore me. It jumped, as if reveling in anticipation of the kill.
I turned my ankle. My entire body moved to the side and I brought the sword up, cutting at the neck of the boar.
Thanks to its downward falling movement, it was a perfect cut. I felt the warm blood through my clothes. I saw the crimson on my sword and I saw the body fall to the ground. With a hiss, the sword dissipated as I put the Page of Swords back into my pocket.
What happened after would be an eternal shame to me.
Right there, in front of the crowd, after winning a war, I fainted dead away.
When I woke up, I was still in my bloody clothes and I was lying in a large room, with many cushions and couches. I had a feeling that this was one of the large families in the area.
"You're awake." Hieda no Akyuu's voice. There was no mistaking it, I had been hearing it all day.
"Sorry for imposing." I said. I took off my bloodstained shirt and undershirt. For some reason the Star card was in my hand.
"Give me your shirt." She said.
"Starlight, cleanse my robe." With that, the stains seemed to disappear along with the dirt, and I put my shirt back on. "Never mind that. Is the injured man going to be alright?"
All of the above was done almost automatically.
"Yes, and Mr. Kirisame is too." She said.
"Who, that guy with the spear?" I asked. "Kind of old to be that little witch's husband."
"That's her dad, and I'd prefer it if you don't mention one around the other." She said. "It's better all around." There seemed to be an important family matter there. After a few seconds of silence we spoke again.
"So, if it's not too much trouble, can I impose on you tonight?" I asked.
"We already agreed on that." She said. "But those cards… may I see them?" I reached into my right pocket and handed over my cards. She looked them over, one at a time. Then she nodded and gave them back.
"So did you find anything out?" I asked.
"Not a clue." She said. "You'll have to go to a real magician for that."
"Wonderful." I said. "Looks like I'm done for tonight."
"Not quite. Mr. Kirisame wants to see you."
"I'm right here, kid." A gruff, blunt voice, and the large, bald man with the spear opened the door. I stood at attention. "Thanks for that."
"I'd tell whichever one of my split personalities that did it, not me." I said. He laughed heartily.
"Kid, I run a bit of a merchant business, and I know you're new here, so how about coming to work for me?" He asked. "I'll run you slow for the first few days."
"No, I couldn't." I said. "That injured guy was wearing a uniform with your name on it, so you're short a man. I'll do what he did."
"Are you sure you wanna go outside?" He asked. "I mean, delivery's great and all as long as it's bright out, but there are the beasts and the youkai to consider... choose wisely, kid."
The only part of that I understood was that it was dangerous.
Dangerous means powerful.
Powerful usually means intelligent.
Which means they might be able to help me understand how and why I got to this point.
"I'll take it." I said. "There's something for me out there, and I'm going to find it."
"Alright, kid, but remember, you said it." He smirked as he told me. "Seven sharp tomorrow morning, be ready at the gate. I'll give you an easy first run. I'll have your uniform ready too."
"Much obliged. Thanks, boss." I saluted. He told me to sit down and have a rest before he left. Before he completely closed the door I heard him tell Akyuu "I like this kid."
I smiled. You won't be liking me for more than a month, pops, because I might not be here that long.
After all, in a world this big, there was bound to be someone who knew how to help me…