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Also symbolism!
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I'm so sorry!
I couldn't help but mutter, "Just what have I got myself into...?" I was walking through a scene right out of a horror movie, complete with its checklist of spooky stuff. Tombstones, dead trees and a liberal smattering of seemingly pointless skull decorations. And that was just the left! To the right, a sheer cliff and a jagged end overlooking a sea of what I hoped wasn't freaking blood! And down the path, far in the distance, was a school that looked more like a haunted mansion rather than a place of learning! "Shoulda just freakin' said screw it and went back home. I'd rather drop out than go there. Feel like I'll just go missing or something if I stick around this pla—"

"Look out!"

I looked back just in time for a blonde to run me down on a bike.

When I came to, I found my bangs to have grown enough to cover my face. "Ugh..." I nursed a fresh lump on my head, complaining, "The hell..." I found that the blonde obstruction was actually a girl, and not my own hair. Wasn't expecting to see another blonde around. I mean, it could be worse, even if I would prefer to be the one on top... "You, uhh... you okay?" My words seemed to get her to stir, as she sat up, squishing me under her all the more. Hers was a look of dawning comprehension, and mine was just a little more than inquisitive. Sure, there was more to her than a pretty face and golden hair, but whatever it was, I wasn't seeing any of it.

"H-huh? Uhh... yeah. Umm..." My fellow blonde's face colored a bit as she got up and off of me. "Sorry... I didn't mean to hit you like tha— Ahh! You're bleeding!"

I followed her eyes, and found them on a fresh scraped knee. "Ahh, I hadn't even noticed. Well, it ain't that ba—" My voice flattened. "What are you doing?" This time it was my turn to blush, as she was licking my knee. Weird as it was, it was also goddamned adorable.

"I'b wicking yow wowd cwean!" Talking with her tongue hanging out is just a cheap shot. "Ahh! Yow bweeding mow!"

As she went in for a lick of my nose, I forcefully shoved her off of me. "Will you stop that?" My ears were tipped in red, as she was more than a little too close. Taking a deep breath to steady my nerves, I asked, "You have anything I could plug my nose with?"

"Ahh." She instantly was a flurry of motion as she rummaged in her school bag. While she was busy, I got up and off of her, surprised when she offered some tissues not long after. "S-sorry. I just," she licked her lips, "I just couldn't help myself. You taste so good..."

Okay, so she's some kinda freak. Well, whatever gets you there, I guess. At least she's distracted me enough to make the graveyard less creepy. "Name's Kirisame Marisa. You?" Cute enough to make that statement less creepy, too.

"Ahh. Flandre Scarlet, but you can just call me Flan if you like. It's, umm... Western order."

I rose an amused brow, asking, "Well, I wouldn't take ya for the pudding type, but if ya say so."

With a pout, she said, "Don't tease me... I may not look like it, but I'm—" In the distance the belltower of the haunted school began to go off. "Ahh! We're gonna be late! Umm... if you like, I could... give you a ride...?"

Shrugging, I answered, "Well, sure. Just don't kill anyone on the way and we're good." The way she blushed made me grin in equal parts to how embarrassed she seemed. She's just so fun to tease, adorable pout be damned.

Hopping back on her bike, she patted the back, but I quickly saw an issue in the plan. "Hey, uhh... Flan? Think that bike's not gonna be getting us anywhere."

"Huh?" I pointed to the now hanging chain, and she let out a sigh. "We're gonna be late on the first day..." Tears began to well up in her eyes.

"Hey, hey. Cut the waterworks, Flan. I got this." That said, I quickly realigned the chain, though was more than a little clumsy at it. "There, good as new! Learned how to do stuff like that watching an old buddy of mine." My work done, I climbed on the back of the bike, quickly regretting it, as I was forced to hold on for dear life. How she didn't kill me when she hit me at this sorta speed was beyond me, but hey, not dead. I was, however, screaming like a little girl the whole way.

By the time we made it, I was just about ready to make out with the ground I was so happy to be off the bike turned deathtrap. "Come on, we're gonna be late!" When she was done setting her bike in a rack as empty as this place seemed deserted, she tugged me along inside, near-on dislocating my shoulder in the process. Gonna feel that in the morning; girl's got some strength in those noodles... Still, it wasn't much of a run to class. Thankfully it seemed that we shared first period, as she dragged me the whole way to her classroom. And not a moment too soon, as the second bell rung when we opened the door.

All eyes on us, I called, "Safe!" The snickers I expected were replaced by stares of awe. Before I could even start feeling embarassed, I realized with a sigh that the eyes were all on my new stupid strong buddy, who was completely oblivious to the admiration.

A woman with ruby red hair gave me a grin, though, and said, "Guess you are, huh? Go on, then, you two. Find a seat." We went ahead and did that while she was busy smirking us up as if she had an odd idea about why we were late.

Or, at least, Flan took a seat. Never exactly let go of me, so I ended up uncomfortably far forward, even if I was comfortably seated next to her. Sure, I didn't have to squint, but I'm not what I'd call some sort of book worm or the like who paid attention and vied for the Teacher's praise. Still, Flan sending a weak smile my way was like a salve for my wounded delinquent pride. Cute girl, that one.

With us seated, Red cleared her throat. "Now, welcome one and all to Youkai Academy! My name's Kaenbyou Rin, but you can call me Teacher, Teach, or Orin! Catty nicknames will get you some lacerations, though~" I looked at her with alarm, though she ignored it, the joking tone evaporating. "Now, as you all know, this is a school for youkai meant to ease us all into society gently." Pointing to a picture of the Earth, she continued, "We sadly were a bit too late in leaving any kind of territorial footprint on Earth, so we have little choice. As such, if you see your fellow students leaving human form, you should take it upon yourself to get them to return to it! Humans are a finicky lot, so it's absolutely essential you not draw any attention. As such, it's one we'll have to practice~!"

Off in the back, some skinhead with a fluffy pink beard commented, "What's the point? All humans are good for is head and... head." He chuckles more sinisterly than I'd like, and that nobody was batting an eye made me more than a little concerned.

The teacher huffed, retorting, "Be that as it may, it's somethin' we all have to learn. Besides, you'll find no humans here, you know. I mean, in the off chance you did, they'd probably be killed or eaten or something." The blood drained from my face as the room chuckled at what seemed to be jokes to them. "Still, to keep up the charade, the school rules dictate that we all have to do it! It's why homeroom is all about true forms after all~" Beardylocks snorted, though gave no further comment.

As I obviously looked human, I was exempt from participation in the class this time, as was Flan. Weren't allowed to leave, though. And, by the time I was out, I felt more emotionally drained than I think I ever had been before. At least the class was the only one of the day, but it lasted uncomfortably long for an orientation. But, at the same time, I had Flan at my side after we escaped from that den of monster. Although, it was Flan, whose strength made me worried. And it was Flan, whose laughter had me worried the most.

"Marisa, want to go see the grounds with me?" She held her hand out to me, a lighthearted smile on her face. ...Could I really be afraid of her when she smiles like that...? She's like a candle in the dark, as nice as she's been, even ignoring that... licking. There was no real choice but to take her hand. As we wandered the halls, Flan comments, "The architecture is so pretty here..."

Outside? No, not really. But, inside, I felt like I honestly had to agree. All carved stone and fancy wood. Although, I was a bit distracted with how Flan seemed to constantly maintain the attention of the masses, every single eye focused on her, just as every gossip-flavored whisper had her as a subject. Whispers of what sort of youkai she was, and wonder at if she was single or not.

Of course, I two was curious, though far more on the former point.

That was up until they all at once went silent. The calm before the storm, like when a forest goes quiet. I may be just a human, but I swallowed at the shifting focus of their eyes, as at least I was observant. I knew it felt like something out of a horror flick, but I knew I was damned if I did or didn't. And so I peeked over my shoulder just in time to duck under a huge hand grabbing at my collar. "Woah, hey, what are you getting grabby for!?"

It was the skinhead from before, who talked about killing and sex like it was the weather. Flan took a half step in front of me, putting on her bravest of faces. "What do you want with my friend...?" Her brave face was only slightly less scared than mine.

The skinhead snorted, ignoring the question. "The hell do you see in a guy like that? Such a scrawny thing he is..." ..Ohh, he better not be talking about me. "Name's Unzan. Why don't you lose the zero and get with the hero, babe?" He had that sort of smirk that just tells you his head is so far up his ass that he can't see two feet in front of him. Well, that, or I look like an ant from his elevation. Seriously, he's huge...

However, I was never one to back down, so before Flan could answer, I glared up at him from the base of meathead mountain. "Did you just call me a guy?"

Returning my glare, and causing me to take a step back, he answered, "What of it, shrimp?"

"Like hell I am, asshole!" I was quickly losing steam, what with the guy looking a little like The Hulk crammed in a school uniform.

His hand moved too fast to see, and he cupped my face. My eyes were wide, and filled with anger and fear. "Then maybe you should have a turn first, girly. Show you your pla—" Faster than I realized what I was doing, my leg landed between his thighs. His legs buckled after a drawn out grunt from him, and he eventually ended up on his knees, clutching his precious thing. "You'll... pay for that... bitch..."

It was then that Flan grabbed me by the hand and fled, dragging me along with her. My feet simply couldn't keep up with the sudden pace, and I stumbled and even got dragged halfway through the trip. Damned tall people... When we finally stopped, we ended up in a little alcove with a juice machine that looked stylized to be monstrous in appearance. Flan finally looked at me, and our eyes met. And then her arms wrapped around me and boy did they squeeze me tightly. "Thank you thank you thank yooou... I was so worried he was going to hurt us..."

"A-aaair..." I felt her flinch before she let me go, though I was a little busy sucking air. Of course, I wasn't caught in her vice of a hug long, so I was quick to answer, "I just did what I had to." That said, I muttered, "Although, I think I'm gonna regret it..."

She winced, saying, "Still. You... you protected me. Thanks." She smiled at me, and I couldn't help but smile back.

"Hey, no sweat." Even if I may be a smear later, I wasn't about to back down. I brought a thumb to Flan's eye, wiping away a tear. "Don't cry, alright? You're too pretty to mess up your face like that." Even if Unzan was probably gonna mess up my face later. ...Or worse. Or much worse.

She gave me a smile. "Alright. ...Still, thanks. Do you... mind if I buy you juice?"

"Hey, now! Apparently I'm a guy, so it's my job to foot the bill, right?" We shared a giggle at that, which helped Flan settle down.

"...That was... the first time anyone's protected me, you know."

I rose a brow at such a statement. "Ohh?" At her nod I couldn't help but joke, "Well, I guess it was my first time protecting a girl as pretty as you." I couldn't help but give her a big old grin, and chuckled when she blushed. "Still, you nearly dislocated my shoulder twice so far. I can't believe you'd need protection."

She flinched at my words. "I-I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to, I just... I don't know my own strength somethings and... and—"

"Calm down." You flick her nose, earning a yelp from the now distracted pudding. "And it's not your fault. You were just tryin' to help, right?"

"...Right." She didn't seem convinced.

"So we're good. Still, you seemed pretty wimpy for not ever being defended, even ignoring your iron noodles." She gave me an odd look, to which I clarified, "Your arms."

"I... I just didn't want to hurt him. That's all." She looked down, rubbing her arm awkwardly. "Vampires are real strong, you see. I just tend to have trouble with, erm... being less than real strong. So I sealed away my power with a ribbon."

A vampire, huh? "...How about some tomato juice?" Surely if vampires are real, pop culture won't lead me wrong. That it was cheaper helped, of course.

She smiled brightly at the offer, answering, "How did you know I liked tomato juice...? Yes, please!"

Well, would ya look at that. They really do like the stuff. Popping in exact change, I handed over the can of red that didn't come from my knee or nose this time. Which I was eternally grateful for, as I'd have worse problems than I had already if I had tomato juice for blood.

As she gulped down her drink greedily, I couldn't help but smile at the sight. She really was cute, and just seemed to reinforce that image with her every action. Especially when she suddenly stopped, the can with its bottom up, and blushed. "...Umm... can you not tell anyone that I'm a vampire? I spoke without thinking, and erm... I won't tell anyone you're a witch, either, okay?"

...Say what? "...Heh, what gave me away?" Silver tongue don't fail me now!

She giggled, licking her lips clean of the tomato juice. "Well, I hear that witch blood tastes just as good as human blood, and, well..." She trails off, averting her gaze. "Your knee was really delicious."

...Well, looks like I hit the mother of all lies to use! If it tastes like a witch, surely it must be a witch, right? "Thanks, Flan." You put on your biggest grin, giving your best hug.

"What are friends for? Now, let's get back to exploring! C'mon! The map shows a few interesting places!" With a giggle, she began dragging me here and there, showing me the weirdly pretty sights among the creepy ones. Mostly scenery and such, though there was this weird statue of a dragon. By the end, we wound up at a particularly precarious cliffside overlook. The waters beyond were the same as before, and the sky had a gloomy look still. However, having her here made it just a bit less frightening.

Against my better judgement, we sat with our legs dangling over our potential rocky demise. "Y'know... as crazy as this place has been, it's not as bad as I expected." Facial smearing notwithstanding.

Flan gave me a nod. "It has a quiet dignity, this place." Noticing my odd look, she blushed. "W-well, it's nothing like the hustle and bustle of the human cities, is it? It's so quiet here."

I couldn't help but chuckle, earning myself a pout. "Guess that's a word for it." I layed back, my golden mess splayed out behind me. "Me, I'd just call it weird but peaceful. Nothing like back home, that's for sure."

Flan agreed, "I suppose it isn't, huh?" Leaning back, she continued, "I... used to go to a human school, so I like this peace."


"Mm-hm. ...I... didn't enjoy it there. I was teased and teased without end for being a guerrilla." I just couldn't help the snort of laughter I let out, and it earned me a far more upset pout. "What...?"

"Well, I dunno. I mean, you're not nearly as hairy. If there were guerrillas as cute as you, the world'd be a pretty weird place. Maybe a nicer one, too. ...Although, I also went to a human school my whole life, y'know." Mainly because I am human, but she doesn't need to know that.

"You did...?" She rose a brow in curiosity, apparently wanting to hear more.

"Yeah. Was a pretty boring place, full of pretty boring people save for my one friend. Here, though? It's exciting and has a cutie like you. It's... alright in my book."

Flan also laid back, her less messy mop leaving a lopsidded pool of gold behind her. "It really is... Even if there was that scary man from earlier, I feel like I fit in here. And... I have a friend. ...I don't even know what friends are supposed to do, but it feels... nice."

Though we laid there in silence, I felt that we could both agree that it was far from uncomfortable. Under the stormy pink skies and over the crashing red waves, I found myself contented.

That was up until a fist began to form in the clouds, looking much like the eye of a storm. It was then that I realized that the sky looked like cotton candy now. Reminded me of a certain asshole's beard.

That was when I began to sweat. "Uhh... Flan?"


"Does the sky tend to punch people around here?"

With that said, Flan gave me an odd look, only to gasp when she looked back up. "I-I don't think so, no?!"

As it finally careened towards us, we quickly began to scramble to our feet. Flan was faster by far, but I didn't think it was intended to hit her. Of course, that hardly mattered, as it was still about to smash both of us. That is, up until Flan picked me up like a sack of potatoes and flung me out of the way. "Flan!" As I sailed through the air at an uncomfortable speed, everything happened too fast for me to hope to react.

And yet there was no deafening crash of fist on stone, and no squishy crunch of fist on Flan. The pink smoke just spread across the ground like dense fog. However, by the time a figure began to become apparent, I finally hit the ground and rolled more than a little. It wasn't graceful, nor was it over quickly, but I was alive, if in a heap of pain. Of course, I'd been in my fair share of scuffles, so I was quick to rise once the stars had cleared. Looking to where Flan had thrown me from, I found her to be in the arms of that skinhead from earlier.

Shaking my head clear of the last bit of dizziness, I shouted, "Hey, asshole! Leave her alone!" The way he looked at me sent a chill up my spine. I had always been a bit shrimpy, but I made up for that in guts, kinda like a miniature dog. But the look in his eyes, mixed with his great size, made me want nothing more than to flee before he spilled those very guts for me.

So I took a step forward, gritting my teeth.

He let out a snort, not letting Flan out of his grasp, much to her obvious discomfort. "You think a pipsqueak like you can take me down...?"

For once, you honestly can't lie about that with a straight face. "No."

He let out a great bellow of a laugh. "Then get the hell out of here before you wind up dead, ya crossdressing shrimp."

...Ohh, it is on... "No." With a look of amusement on his face, the mist began to gather in his fist, forming a big, pink hulk hand. "I don't have to against a pinkette as weak as you."

That amusement quickly turned to anger, which led to me instantly regretting having more balls than sense. He let loose a punch from a good 30 feet away, and the pink mist speared towards me in the shape of a fist. My eyes widened in the same time it took for it to reach me, and I was blown back not by any physical force, but by hurricane force winds. I heard the ripping of wind and cloth, and was pretty sure I got whiplash from the force of the gust.

"Marisa!!" As I landed in a heap, my consciousness going in and out off and on, I heard what sounded like... footsteps? "Marisa, look out!" The footsteps didn't shake me, but the calling of my name gave me a foothold to regain my awareness, and the warning pulled in my attention. Looking up, I found Unzan's leg rearing back to kick me into the crashing waves below.


With a growl, I did all that I could, rolling out of the way when he swung his leg. Expecting resistance, he toppled backwards, Flan going flying with a yelp. My muscles screamed in protest, but I managed to rise long before the giant of a man had the chance to get back up. I did the only thing I could think of; the only thing I knew for certain would fell someone so much larger than me.

It was my turn to use my leg, and I did so not in a kick, but a satisfying stomp. At his howl of anguish, I did so again, and then once more for good measure. Every action of my leg was me pushing those muscles to their limits, as I didn't want a round 3. If he was going to come again, I'd ingrain fear into his heart. I may be human, but that doesn't make me a pushover.

Flan rose from where she flew when he went down, not seeming more than a bit winded. "M-Marisa?"

Huffing and puffing as my heart pounded, I just flopped on my back. My everything hurt, but nothing felt broken. Good thing, too, as the moment she propped me up, I heard a growl from behind her. My skin went bone white as pink smoke began to rise from his limp form, his physical body melting into nothing. "Flan... B-behind you..." Her eyes widened.
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Know your place
"Face the wrath of a nyuudou!"

I reacted faster this time. Flan spoke of a seal, right? The first thing I thought of when it comes to seals was the ribbon holding up her sidetail. And so, I tugged it free. The smokey fist that was coming straight for us got blown away in an instant.

Flan's eyes were wide for just a moment, but not another moment later, they lost that childish innocence, and instead hardened into those of a cold, calculated killer. Her hair lost all color starting at the roots, and she soon had what looked more like platinum compared to the gold from before.

Her chest also grew. Not sure why, but I wasn't complaining.

As Unzan reformed a bit farther from us in his pink glory, he seemed more than a little intimidated to say the least. "What sort of monster are you?!" She looked to the pink cloud, and simply cracked her knuckles. "Fool! You... you can't harm me with a punch!"

"Is that so..." She held her hand out to the side. "Thank you for the tip, in that case." Scarlet energy blazed from her hand in opposing directions, forming a spear.

"Wait, no! Stay back!"

"Know your place..." She pulled back her arm, and flung the spear straight through the cloud, scattering him to the four winds to the tune of his plea for mercy. It was at that point that I blacked out, but not before she took back her ribbon. "A brave fool, you are. ...But, I suppose I was saved by such a fool, wasn't I. ...Hmph." As my consciousness faded, I heard one last thing.

"I suppose I must thank you for that."
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A girl and a lady traveling together I couldn’t call unusual—but a girl escorting a lady catches your attention. And between the bearing of the former and the four-piece robe and the veil on the latter, I could about tell she was somebody who was somebody but didn’t want anyone to know just who. Beyond that was anybody’s guess—starlet; heiress; mob princess—

Then I fumbled into a hasty left at a yellow light while I was staring in the mirror, and that was when the novelty began to wear off.

“. . . You gotta tell me where you want to go.”
They hadn’t actually said a word to me after they got in, so all I had to go off of was first impressions and the occasional hint of perfume.

The girl was the one to answer. She had hair in a short bob that swished a little when she turned her head:
“Just keep your eyes on the road.”

Then she went back to staring out the back window, like she was expecting something to happen.

Well, I got the idea.

“Are you ladies, uh,” I ventured, “inna fix?”

I thought I knew the answer, of course. They needed a getaway, and my cab was it. Like I was in a gangster movie or—


What I had not expected was for the girl to pull a blade on me and open my cheek up when I tried to reach over and grab a donut. I hissed and I clapped my hand to my face—to stop the blood, I thought, but when I pulled it back there wasn’t a drop on my fingers no matter how hard I stared, and it seemed that I’d imagined the pain.

“The hell!” I went off anyway. Blood or none, the girl had a sword to my head—some old side-sword; polished enough to gleam off the street lamps passing by and probably sharp enough not to chance.

“Hands on the wheel,” she said, maybe a bit more curtly than she wanted to, and the sword lingered there a moment longer before she withdrew it. “Just . . . drive.”

So she was a little protective of the lady.

“Okay, okay; nothin’ to worry about from me!” I wheezed. “Look, they’re just donuts!”

The swordgirl kept silent.

“You want one?” I went on. “They’re fresh! . . . No? You sure? How about some chocolate raisins?”

Not much of a sweet tooth, either. But that was that.

After a while the moon began to cloud over.

I sped away from someone pacing us in the right lane and blew past a yellow. We were being followed. I could feel it—those pricks and chills of when you’ve got heat on your back. I cut through a gas station at a red light and I turned onto the side street, and maybe it wasn’t the best choice I could’ve made, but I took us away from the busiest parts of the city to see if I was right.

Well, I circled a few blocks at random, but as far as I could tell there was nobody. Still; I couldn’t shake the feeling, like I was being hounded by something.

In the mirror a maybe-familiar white sedan turned onto the street behind me.
“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” I muttered.

“No,” said the swordgirl, quietly; “I don’t think so.”

“. . . What?”
“Ah, that— nothing.”

I hummed to myself and turned into the entrance of a parking garage. The sedan drove on past behind us.

“Guess you were right.”
“. . . I see.”

The nipping at my heels seemed to ease off as I went further down into the garage. I circled the bottom level a few times, then, just to have a breather, and I stuck my head up to take another look at my passengers in the mirror. The lady was sitting pretty, same as she’d been doing the whole way, but the swordgirl had this strange look on her face. She hid it away when she noticed me watching, so I scratched the back of my ear and I pretended like I didn’t notice.

While we were down there it started to rain, and when I took us back up it was drumming neatly on the roof. I pulled into the street, and—

The heat seemed to be right on my back again, and more than just prickling or shivering it felt like this weight pressing down on my chest and on my shoulders. And I didn’t know why, but instead of pulling over or speeding off when every nerve in my body was raising hell at me to do one or the other, I just kept steady gas and drove.

The pressure started to build—I did my best to ignore it, like maybe that would make it go away. But I knew I could only handle it for so long, somehow I knew, even though it should’ve been all in my head. Maybe it was when lightning flashed behind me, just the one time for the entire night, or maybe when I had myself convinced that if I dared look in the mirror I’d come eye to eye with the face of Death himself, but I knew it wasn’t working.

I opened my mouth to say something about it.

“Lady Yuyuko,” the swordgirl murmured, a moment sooner.

Then there was the snap of a fan being closed, and the pressure lifted off of me—like an up-bound elevator coming to a stop; just like that. I had a number of questions, then, all coming up in my mind at once. I voiced about none of them, half because I didn’t want to acknowledge any more craziness than I had to and half because I couldn’t without coming off as a nut.

That Yuyuko smiled, for a moment, underneath the veil. Then—“The docks,” she spoke, for the first time tonight. And I almost didn’t hear it, it was so softly.

Well, but I did, so I went there.

The rain picked up along the way, so I turned the wipers on about full and I kept my eyes on the road and my hands on the wheel and I took it easy. And between the mist and the rain and the lights I could see something like a mirage—or at least I thought I could, which is what mattered.

So I saw myself and that swordgirl, and we were walking together down this narrow dirt path, twisting and turning, and there were these red spider lilies all around us on either side. Then we came up to a riverbank, all laden with fog, and in front of me was the darkest river I’d ever seen—not that I’d seen many rivers—and the banks were covered in more of those red flowers, both here and there.

I tried reaching out beside me, I don’t know why, but before my hand could move the swordgirl wasn’t there anymore; she was on the other side of the river, and I could just barely see her. Another blink and she wasn’t there at all, and I was standing alone between all these spider lilies, hurricane lilies.

Then I was back in the city, down by the docks.

When they finally took off I just sat in my cab for a while, watching them disappear into the rain. But before they did the swordgirl took a glance back at me, and the water made her skirt cling to her backside, and I swear I felt a brush of something cold on my cheek, along with one last whiff of that perfume.

By the time I got home the rain had stopped, and the moon might’ve come out again or maybe it didn’t, but I had something else on my mind instead of that.
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The crunching of paper.

So wet. So moist.

Your tiny boat didn't stand a chance.

The water kept seeping in… You could feel it penetrating the borders.

Shriveling the skin. Turning the paleness into a sickly, wrinkled yellow.

The hat, ribbon torn by the current. Your skirt, shrinking and ripping as you claw for air.

Your arms burn, nearly ripping at the seams as you struggle to breathe. Struggle for the surface. Water invades your chest. So close. The sun is so close. Freedom.


You awake with a start, through your gasp doesn't come; your chest is too waterlogged to be useful for anything but coughing. "KOISHIIIII!!" You look around in greater alarm. That was your sister's voice! You attempt to rise, but find yourself flapping uselessly, a pair of clothespins keeping you in place. You shake your hair, trying to force some of the water off of your floppy form, but it's no use. You have a hard enough time seeing, though; your body is all wavy and wrinkly. You can barely see past your chin!

One thing's certain: you'll have to get down from here. You flop back and forth, trying to free yourself, but you feel so heavy. You try to bend up and grab at the pins, but can't reach. You're just too soggy; you certainly don’t have the strength.

And then you land on the floor with a splat when your arteries manage what you failed. It seems that they took your boot dagger and cut the line.

You lie on a floor you've never stood on, staring up at the ceiling you've never seen as you try to at least flatten out. It... doesn’t work. You’ll need the warm press of your comforters at home to do the job. However, you do manage to peel your head off the floor to look for your sister… wherever she may be.

You stand on legs that feel like they will break apart at any moment, taking in your surroundings. There's a floor, walls and a ceiling, sure, but this also seems to be a cell. The flat metal bars holding you within are proof enough of that. They’re not even nice enough to give you a window! How could you possibly get out of here...? Those bars seems sturdy enough that your knife wouldn't stand a chance. ...But maybe you don't need to worry about that.

All you gotta do is flip things turnways. The way that you go and can’t be seen! So odd… You’d think someone else could learn to spin this way. Ohh well. Their loss. You squeeeeeze through the bars with relative ease. You’re still a little bit bent, so it’s not quite as easy to suck in your stomach! Still, you fit through the slot like a piece of mail and soon have your freedom!

Now free, you find another cell, with another clothesline. It seems to be empty, save for a pool of water under the line. ...If you had to guess, you'd say your sister was in there not long ago. There’s the distinct smell of hellfire and kitty litter that always seems to follow her around, too! Your sister would probably bop you if she heard you think that, but it's the truth!

"Hey, how'd you get out of your cell?!" Ohh no! "Hey, I see you! ...Yar! Turnin' sideways ain't gonna help you! ...Yar!" You huff, or at least try, ending up in a coughing fit. Still, you do pout at the pirate. "Now, get back into your cell and nobody needs to get hurt! ...YaRG!" Floppy and wet you may be, but you still have a knife! And now he has a knife! And a hole! After a few spins, he flops down, defeated. ...Well, that was easy. Wimp. I mean, he’s not even bleeding out! Though you’re not sure what bleeding out really is. It’s apparently something people do when stabbed. But there’s nowhere for it to come out of the paper!

“YAR. Tis ‘nough of trouble… Me hearties, to me! ...Any of me hearties! Feel free to come to me aid whenever! ...Stiiiiill waitin’!” You look back, and spy the scallywag of the sea tumbling about. Perhaps you should take the knife back. And so, you step on his face and give it your best tug free. "Yarharhar! Me poor face!" Oh, that was his face? Huh. Hard to tell looking at it. I mean, that’s a smile, but it could have been vertical for all you knew!

At least you have your nice crooked knife back! ...You might need to get a new one, though; his paper was so hard it nearly bent it in two! If only your knife were metal, and not tin foil... Still, it served you well, so perhaps a burial in a body was a good enough fate! At least you can make more.

Still, no time to be wasted! Sister was shouting for you. You need to rescue her before the worst takes place. ...Not that you're sure what the worst could be, but better not to find out! After all, what it the worst ends up with her chained to the bow and used as a figurehead? That won’t be right. Not at all. Not at all.

...Still, while your powers over flipping are amazing, they aren’t enough to get you through this big, thick, oaken menace that blocks your path. So, instead, you head to the other end which is a little more rickety and has a few more gaps. You spy an opening right at the floor! You’ll just have to slip right on down and into the neighboring room. Aaand you’re free! ...Though, drat it, this room doesn’t have an exit either.

What is it with pirates and building unnavigable boats? With the clear worst of fates in mind, you charge forward, but end up tripping over a big chest! As you tumble, you wang your head on another chest, and both are harder than any chest should be! Aren’t chests supposed to be warm and inviting, not giant big boxes made of wood and metal and who knows what else? This is completely ridiculous! Even your sister would beat these hard, painful chests right as soon as she got done with bopping you for saying that! ...Though, you think that one that you wanged cracked a bit…

Huh. And it’s starting to bounce and cra- WAAAAAAAH?!

“BEHOLD.” You end up knocked on your keister when it blows open. You're gonna feel that in the morning! And later! ...And right now, too! Especially right now, honestly. "I SAID BEHOLD, NOW BEHOLD." Ohh, right! There was something that blew its way out of that failed chest, wasn't there? Apparently something that needs to be seen to believe! Maybe a mouse of some sort. It was really high and squeaky and nasally. Obviously a mouse with a cold.

“SERIOUSLY. BEHOLD.” Fiiiiiine. You look up. ...You must still be knocked for a loop, as you’re seeing stars! ...Well, a star. ...A grumpy-looking star. ...A grumpy-looking star with a red and white moti- “What is WRONG with people anymore? Seriously, stealing stars, not PROPERLY paying RESPECT.” The star sighs. “WHATEVER. MORTAL, PROSTRATE YOURSELF.”

You give her an odd look. That isn’t something that you can do in mixed company. Sister says it isn’t polite. So why would this pushy star want to try and make you do that! Unless... IS SHE NOT POLITE??

“Come on… Don’t tell me you’re one of the fools that doesn’t speak.” The star crosses her… Are those arms? Legs? Tentacles? Do stars have tentacles? Or are they just- “Gonna be like that. Hooray. Guess I will have to exposit. Now, MORTAL. I WISH TO ASK YOU A FAVOR.” This seems like a rude way to ask...

Wait, you know this one! But where are you going to get a shrubbery on a ship...? Let alone a small one! So, you start making the motions of a small, round shrubbery.

The star keeps staring oddly. You keep making those motions, assured by that look that you are, in fact, doing this favor asked of you. “This is going to be… MORTAL, I REQUIRE YOUR ASSISTANCE ESCAPING. PROVIDE ME A VESSEL WITH WHICH I MIGHT CLEANSE YOUR FOES.” You point at your feet. “NO, NOT THAT VESSEL. IT CANNOT BE WIELDED BY ONE HAND.” You make a motion, turning a ship’s wheel, with one hand. At least figuratively. “NO. NOT...” The star sighs. “PROVIDE A WEAPON WITH WHICH WE MAY SLAY OUR FOES.”

You offer your bent and broken foil knife. Why didn’t she just say so in the first place? Talk about a big hullabaloo. The stabby little tin thing has seen you through both paper cuts and hard times. Mostly paper cuts. So you’ve no doubt-



“NO, I SAY.”

You sniffle. Mr. Stabby isn’t good enough for the big bad star.


You give her that big wide wobbly eyed look.


She didn’t.


Oh no she didn’t.


You attempt to huff, but doing so causes you to hack up water again. However, you do succeed at crossing you arms and turning up your nose, even if doubling over was the end result. Although, from the way your body is twisted, you could turn up your nose and look down at the same time! How convenient.

“DO NOT…” The star rubs its foretentaclepoint thing and just looks down at you. “Listen. I, er… My blessing cannot… fit in that little tea- knife of yours. So it wouldn’t be a complete blessing. Just, erm… a waste of time, basically.”

That makes a lot more sense. She does look kinda chunky. For a star, that is. Are stars supposed to have curves like that? But where would you get a chunky enough beatstick...? You look around. There seems to be plenty of things, but none of them seem to hold a beat or look sticky. Maybe she meant a beet stick or-

Hellooooooo convenient oar!

The star winces when she looks at it. “AIN’T NO WAY.” But it’s a beatstick? “NO HOW.” it’s even got a big wide end for paddling someone! “I AM NOT GONNA.” And it’s even extra long so as to fit her chubby self in. “I AM NOT CHUBBY.” Whooooah is she a satori, too? A satori star! You can be one as well! Maybe some day your sister and you will be stars!

Unfortunately, someone has interrupted your contemplation of stardom! It seems to be another pirate! “YAAARR” One with a limited vocabulary. Pity. It seems you may have to limit it further, too. "ARR—" And then you smack him. "Y-YA...!" And again, you smash your stick on his noggin. "A-arr...?" And again, and again. How rude he is, not staying down like this. But still, what a nice beatstick! It doesn’t even crumple!

“...Fine, fine. BEHOLD!” The star finally falls onto the oar. How lovely! She has a home! Just like the agency says lost pets should go to! "I AM NOT A PET." But you seem lost! "I DO NOT HAVE TO BE A PET TO BE LOST." The oak suddenly swells as red and white ribbons spiral down it, two crooked tassels shooting out to hang from the end. It’s perfect! Though you feel as if it makes it a bit harder to hold…

Though where did they come from? You’re certain that she wasn’t wearing that many. Can she spontaneously create ribbons? Ohh! Is she a magical girl star?! ...Actually, is she a girl star? You kinda just assumed. What type of features would even denote that? She seemed more girly before she lost her chest, no matter how hard it was! Or was it the chest that lost her? Hard to say...

"STOP THAT." Ahh! The oar spoke! You knew those days of using oars to paddle boats would catch up with you! "I SAID STOP." Instead of thinking, and instead of pausing, you just keep whacking! "YES, THIS IS BETTER."

"Y-yaa...arr..." The pirate looks up at you, and for a moment, he might say something else. But, instead, he simply collapses after another tassel-fueled whack. Yes, this weapon does have a good amount of… weight behind it.

“OH DO SHUT UP.” ...You have to wonder where her mouth is. Maybe smacking him with her is like a kiss. No matter! You just head to the next room in order to break in your new weapon.

And, as you go through, you find yourself confronting your earlier foe that had been stabbed! Aww. How precious! He has healed his injury with some gift tape! There’s even a pretty bow on his noggin. “ARR. Thought you had me, eh? Well, I patched me hole, and now I’m going to unwrap you… A WORLD OF PAIN YARHARHAAARRR.”

Did he just use punnery? “SO IT SEEMS.” You don’t like puns. “OUCH. DON’T GRIP MY SHAFT SO HARD.” You don't like puns. "YOU ALREADY SAID THAT." It bears repeating. "HE'S COMING THIS WAY."

“AHA, you are gonna get it now, you little-” It’s sad that he doesn’t make a clanging sound as you whack him once. That seems to be all it takes, though, and he falls to the floor.

“YOU MIGHT SAY THAT HIS RESISTANCE HAS CRUMPLE-” You whack the door barring the access to the next room. “OW!” Bang “OWW!” Bam. “OWWW!” Biff. “OWWWW!” Pow! “Owwwkay, sorry. No more puns.”

You learn fast, Miss Chubby Star. "I AM NOT CHUBBY.” Big boned, then. “...Also, my name is Reimu. Behold, one of the mighty star spirits!” She didn’t look like you could drink her… “Not that kind of spirit!” The oar sighs in your hands. “Still, let us leave before anything else happens." She also didn't seem like a ghost, either. "That is also wrong." And she seemed lacking in vim and vigour. "Okay, this is getting painful." You’d hope so! What good is a weapon if it doesn’t? “...Still, BEHOLD, Reimu, the Annoyed Star!”

...She’s really going wit- “I DIDN’T PICK IT.” That explains everything. "NO IT DOESN'T!" It explains so many things that you wouldn't believe! "NO. STOP." The mysteries of life! "THAT IS JUST DUMB." Well, your tentacle pudge is dumb! "I AM NOT FAT AND AM NOT A STARFISH!" Oh, you hadn’t even considered that! “...Don’t you have a sister to save?”

Right! You were distracted by hitting on pirates! Quiet successfully, at that! But now it is time to hit on a door! Let’s hope it’s not full of sesames… Time to annoy miss not-starfish! With a one, and a two, and a one two SMASH SMASH.

And with that, the sunlight kisses your papery skin! Thank goodness! Maybe you can finally iron out! Either way, you dash up to the deck with all the spring that you can in your step, making sure to flip turnways once you reach the top! Perhaps you can gain a sneak attack bonus! THAT'S NOT HOW HITTING PEOPLE WITH OARS WORKS. HOLY CRAP SHE'S INVADING YOUR MIND! STOP THAT, IT'S CONFUSING. Ohh, good point. ...Wait, who for? NOBODY. Then why can't I?

You are cut off from your cranial conundrum by the sound of laughter! Quite a bit of laughter! ...Boy, that person seems to be laughing a lot. “Perhaps it would be better to turn around?” Well, yes, but one must savor a good laugh when— “Oh, just do it.” Fiiiine. You turn around OHMYRAVEN GIANT PIRATE RAT! "It doesn't see us." EVEN SO! ...Although, man that belly laugh is something else. It's really putting its all into it. ...It's actually kinda infectious, even. "OHH, DON'T YOU DARE." You attempt to join in on the laughing, but end up hacking and coughing. Thoroughly spooking the rat with your retching and choking, the giant of a rat flees. And then it runs past you. And then it runs past you. And then it trips over you, and over the side of the ship. If only defeating giant rats was always that eas— Wait, did I gain weight? OH NO, THE CHUBBY STAR IS INFECTING ME! "I am not infecting— I mean, I'm not chubby! That's not even how chub works!"

You hear a door slam, noticing a less giant, less ratty mouse woman with a very fancy pirate hat to have come on deck. Maybe you should chuck her overboard, too!

"What was that splash?!"

"Ma'am, First Mate Ratigan went overboard!"

The apparent captain removes her hat, placing it over her heart. "A moment of silence for me first mate." Mice have weird taste in men...

"But Ma'am, he's still ali—!"

"A MOMENT. OF SILENCE!" Somehow you don't think she liked him.

The ship goes silent. Awkwardly silent. You really think she just wanted a divorce. THAT'S NOT HOW THIS WORKS. AHH! I mean, Ahh! Stop invading my mind! The oar continues to glare, but observes the moment of silence.

One of the mice pulls out a tiny violin, and begins to play. It helps drown out his cries for help. He really is quite operatic in his screams, you have to note. Every single one hits perfectly. You have to remember to see if he’s put out any albums. Quite fanciful, he can be.

"He was the mousiest of us all, he was."

You finally notice your sister! "He's calling for help, you know."

"No he isn't."

"He's actually climbing up the side."

The captain kicks him in the face when he nearly makes it. "No he isn't!"

"...You really don't like him, do you."

"What makes you think that, Pink?"

"My hair is purple."

"That's up to dispute!" It really is! YOU'RE NOT A GOOD SISTER, ARE YOU. Am too! Wait, why are you just talking to yourself? And just standing here! You have a beatstick! There is beating to be done and no beating is being done!

Your sister just grumbles at the argument you always have with her over her hair. Maybe you can use this chance to rescue her! WAIT NO. Why?? THE SKY IS FALLING. That's dumb. Of course it isn't. LOOK UP.

And then you look up! ...Huh. Fancy panties! ...Wait, are they inside out? How daring of them to flash while not wearing a human! NOT THAT. Ohh, right! There's a falling girl attached to the pink! HOW CAN YOU EVEN SEE UP HER SKIRT IT’S FLAT. You do have three eyes, after all. BUT— But nothing! SHE IS STILL FALLING.

And then, just before splatting on the deck, she falls the other way. And then, just before falling up towards that holycrapgiantupsidedowncastle, she falls down again.

"I'm impressed you didn't die."

"I'm impressed I didn't die." Miss neapolitan hair looks smug as smug can be.

"...This again...?"

"This again."

"Fine, whatever. Just take the satori and go do your horrible things with her, whatever they are." Hey! Only you get to do horrible things with your sister! YOU'RE A BAD SISTER. Am not!

Your sister looks unhappy! Which she better be! "What?! I am going nowhere!" Ohh! She slips right out of the ropes! ...Does that qualify as somewhere? You feel she would bop you if you said that.

"You're going nowhere."

"I'm... going somewhere?" Her frown turns upside down. Literally. Neapolitan grabbed her mouth and twisted.

"Without me."

"...With... with you." Your sister has started smiling creepily. It reminds you of a mirror. Creepy mirrors... ...Wait, since when can your sister bend like that??

Your sister seems to have taken the opportunity to fold herself into a travel size. Which the evil neapolitan lady snatches up, putting in her pocket. Dastardly!

Before you can leap out of turnwise space, your sister's new friend falls into the sky. "Hahaha... HAHAHA!"

"Wait, you forgot the stars, you idiot!" The captain lets out a sigh. "Welp, seems we have unlimited power, boys! What should we do with it?"

"Maybe we should eat it!"


And then you leap out of being turnwise, but to the shock of everyone. You try to shout something witty, but end up choking on your words.

"What's wrong, Green? You feeling... choked up?" The pirates all laugh heartily.

Ohh god! They're color blind pun pirates! That's worse than normal color blind people, and worse than puns! It's both at the same time, but also in a very undesirable person!

What did Neapolitan Hair want with Satori? Will Koishi ever appreciate puns? Did Ratigan survive his trip to the bottom of the sea? And what about those other stars? Did Reimu Even care? Find out next time!

Except seriously it’s Reimu what do you think.
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in a tree
“Woah Daiyousei, the view from your house is so awesome!”

At the end of a long day, along the shore of the Misty Lake, in the uppermost branches of a certain tree were two young fairies. At first glance, this would not seem to be such an unusual thing to find in the land of Gensokyo. Gensokyo was home to many trees, with many young fairies frolicking among the many branches, usually making mischief for any unsuspecting humans or youkai below. What made this particular tree so unique was the fact that these two particular fairies were not frolicking at all, but were in fact sitting. For this particular tree was planted in just the right spot, that the waterfalls and rivers of the Youkai Mountain could be seen reflected in the calm waters of the misty lake, set aglow in the beautiful oranges and yellows of the setting sun.

“Thanks Cirno. This view is the whole reason I picked this tree to live in.”

The two fairies sat close together, contentedly watching the sunset in silence. However, although the view was breathtaking, one of the fairies found it difficult to focus on it. For this fairy had something weighing heavily upon her mind.

This is it Daiyousei, the fairy thought to herself. You’re all alone with Cirno watching a beautiful sunset together. Now is the perfect chance to tell her how you really feel about her.

“Um… Cirno. There’s something really important that I have to tell you.”

“What’s up Dai?” Asked the ice fairy, quickly taking her eyes off the view to focus on her friend.

“Well… you see,” Daiyousei nervously began. “We’ve been friends for a long time right?”

“Sure have. For as long as I can remember.”

“Yeah,” Daiyousei continued. “And whenever I’m with you, we always have lots of fun together.”

“Sure do,” Cirno agreed.

“And whenever a strong youkai or someone scary like Reimu comes along, you’re always there to protect me. So even though I always get really scared when stuff like that happens, I know that everything will end up ok.”

“Awe, that’s really no big deal. I’m always glad to save you, cause I’m the Strongest!” Cirno bragged.

“Well, what I’m trying to say is… I like you,” Daiyousei said with some trepidation. “I mean like, I really, really like you.”

“Awe gee, thanks Dai,” said Cirno, rubbing the back of her head in embarrassment. “I really like you too.”

“You do!?” Dai exclaimed as happiness and relief washed over her. Does this mean that Cirno feels the same way about me? Daiyousei thought to herself with glee.

“Of course Dai,” Cirno said. “You’re my bestest best friend in the whole entire world! And nothing will ever change that.”

Daiyousei’s happiness shattered upon hearing Cirno’s latest proclamation. In sudden desperation she shouted, “No that’s not what I mean! Just being friends with you, it isn’t good enough for me anymore!”
“Wait…what? Not good enough? So then that means…,” Cirno replied with a growing sense of horror. “That means… you don’t want to be friends anymore?!”

“Wait, no, that’s not what I…” Dai said before she was interrupted by Cirno desperately throwing her arms around Dai in a panicked hug.

“But why Dai?! What did I do wrong?” Cirno cried as tears began to stream down her face. “Why are you mad at me? Was it the pudding I stole from your ice box this morning? I’m sorry Dai, I’ll get you more pudding, I promise!”

Oh God, this is going all wrong! Daiyousei thought to herself as Cirno sobbed into her shoulder. “Cirno wait that’s not…”

“Then what?!” Cirno interrupted. “Was it the snowball I hit you with yesterday? Or the time I made your soup get cold as a prank? Or was it the time I tricked you into jumping into the lake without your swimsuit? I’ll never do anything mean like that ever again Dai, just please say you’ll still be my friend!”

“Cirno, stop crying and listen to me!” Dai desperately yelled, causing Cirno to pull her tear streaked face up and look at Daiyousei in shock. Before Cirno could say anything else, Daiyousei quickly continued, “I don’t care about any of that stuff. Some of it was kind of mean, but I had lots of fun with you anyway. I’m always having fun with you Cirno. I do want to be your friend, but I want to be more than just friends. I like you. I really, really like you. I like you more than anyone else in the whole world.”

As Cirno looked on in confusion, Daiyousei took one last deep breath and exclaimed, “I love you Cirno! I want us to be together forever!”

I did it. Daiyousei thought to herself. I really did it. I finally told her how I feel. Sighing in relief, Daiyousei looked into Cirno’s eyes and nervously asked, “So… what do you think?”

Surprise slowly faded off of Cirno’s face, only to be replaced by a look of deep concentration as Cirno closed her eyes and began to think. A few tense seconds passed as Daiyousei watched Cirno compose herself, after which Cirno opened her eyes and said, “You know Dai, just now, when you said you didn’t want to be friends anymore, I got really scared.”

“I never said…” Dai exclaimed, before Cirno interrupted her.

“After you told me that, I thought that I would never be able to see you again. That really freaked me out. When you said that, my chest got all tight and I kind of felt like my heart was going to die for a second.”

Then Cirno grabbed Daiyousei’s hand and continued, “I never really thought about it before. I thought that we would be friends forever. But when I thought you didn’t want to be friends with me, it made me realize how much I would hate being without you.”

Cirno took a deep breath as she looked into Daiyousei’s hopeful eyes. Then Cirno said, “I guess what I’m trying to say is, I love you too Dai.”

Then Cirno lowered her eyes and said, “But saying that, I’m not really sure what makes being in love different from just being friends. What are we supposed to do different now?”

Daiyousei chuckled as tears of happiness streamed down her cheeks. “Well, we could start by doing this.”

As the last rays of the setting sun fell below the horizon, Daiyousei pulled Cirno close, and the two young fairies shared their first kiss.
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hunt or be hunted
"Graaaagh! I've had it!"

Luna Child punched the nearest available tree trunk in frustration, stirring up a cloud of startled insects.

"We've been wading, through a swamp, in the rain, for four hours. I'm covered from head to toe in mud, mosquito bites and bug guts, because some genius had the bright idea of swatting them with a giant exploding hammer!"

She slumped against the tree and slid into a half-sitting position.

"I wanna go home."

"We all do, Luna," Marisa replied, leaning tiredly on her sword.

"At least you're not up to your neck in river water," Luna shot back.

Marisa winced; as the shortest of the party, Luna was the worst off by far.

"These conditions do leave something to be desired," Kaguya agreed. Even covered in muck and sopping wet, she somehow managed to look dignified.

"We haven't even seen a single Ludroth yet," Luna groused. "How hard can it be to find a ten-foot lizard?"

"Not this hard, surely," Marisa agreed. She turned to look over her shoulder. "Something up your nose?"

"I smell disaster," Hina replied, still sniffing at the air.

"Please tell me it's not coming this way," Luna groaned.

"It's coming from over there," Hina said, pointing.

Marisa squelched to Hina's side and squinted through the downpour. The silhouette of a ruined ziggurat was barely visible against the clouds.

"Should we investigate?" Kaguya asked, shielding her face from the rain to look as well.

"If it gets us out of this bloody rain, I'm all for it." Luna punctuated her sentence by doffing her Great Jaggi cap and wringing the water out of her hair.

"Screw it, can't be any worse than this," Marisa said. "Let's go!"

"We'd better hurry," Hina warned.

Hina lead the way as the four hunters struggled through the flooded jungle. She towered head, shoulders and Peco Flint over the rest, and cleared a path through the undergrowth by the simple expedient of barging through it like a bull in a china shop.

The mud soon gave way to rock and then to an ancient cobblestone path, and she quickened her pace. The others had to jog to keep up.

A shrill scream suddenly pierced the rumble of the rain.

"That sounded human," Kaguya observed. Everyone broke into a run.

They reached to the base of the pyramid and stopped short. Confused shouts and the roars of an unidentified beast echoed around the clearing, muddied by the rain, making it impossible to determine where they came from.

"Up there," Luna said, pointing to an opening halfway up the structure's side.

Hina ran to the wall and crouched. She tossed Luna up two levels with one mighty heave before giving the princess a gentler boost. Marisa simply kicked off the wall, grabbed the top and hauled herself up.

"Goddamn I miss flying," Marisa huffed. Hina was already vaulting onto the next tier. Luna and Kaguya hoisted Marisa up after her.

Once inside they found themselves near the top of a large open space, containing a similarly large winged reptile.

"Oh crapbaskets," Marisa summarized.

The wyvern rammed and clawed the wall below them, where someone had squeezed themselves into a space too small for it to follow.

"...anyone remember if the Guild board said anything about Rathian?" Marisa asked.

"You can't seriously be thinking of - oh who am I kidding of course you are," Luna interjected. The others ignored her.

"I do believe it's open season," Kaguya replied, bow unslung and arrow nocked.

Hina let loose an ear-splitting, ululating battlecry and launched herself off the edge, bringing her hammer down on the surprised Rathian's head.

"LOOK OUT BELOW!!!" Marisa howled, before throwing herself after Hina.

"Lunatics!" Luna shouted after them. "Uh, no offence."

"None taken," Kaguya replied as she loosed her fourth arrow.

Luna drew her sword and began to pick her way down a litle more carefully, using her shield to slide down the rubble by the wall.

She joined a battle already in full swing. Marisa parried a snap from the Rathian and leapt aside. The Rathian pushed its advantage, only to let out a pained yelp as Hina, spinning like a top with hammer outstretched, struck it on the chin with an explosion-enhanced golf swing. Luna took advantage of the distraction to take a swipe at the Rathian's tail.

Everyone hit the deck as the Rathian swung its tail around like a club. Marisa's counterattack smashed a paving stone and little else as she misjudged the Rathian's movement. Luna was more successful, but was forced to break off as the beast lunged at her with its hip. Hina, caught mid-swing, was less fortunate.

The blow struck Hina full in the face, launching her into the air. She bounced off the wall with a sickening crunch and flopped to the floor, face down. She immediately tried to roll, but not fast enough; the Rathian planted its talons on her stomach and pinned her to the floor. It moved in for the kill, closing its jaws around Hina's head -

- only to howl in pain once more as a savage swing from Marisa lopped its tail clean off. Luna bashed it in the kneecap with her shield, unbalancing it enough for Kaguya to drag Hina clear. Hina leapt to her feet at once, ignoring Kaguya's attempts at medical aid in favour of scooping up her hammer and jumping straight back into the fray, blood streaming down her face.

In that time Luna had leapt onto the Rathian's back, and was clinging on for dear life as it fought to throw her off. She threw a few exceptionally foul curses Marisa's way as the latter nearly clove her foot with a particularly wild swing. With one hand gripping the Rathian's horn, and her legs struggling for purchase on its neck, she drew her carving knife.

A savage blow to the face from Hina provided the opening Luna needed. She stabbed her knife between armour-like scales and drove it deep into the base of the Rathian's skull. It let out a bone-bending screech, bucked hard enough smash Luna's face against its neck, and crumpled like a ragdoll.

For a moment everyone was still, gathering their wits and breath as the Rathian exhaled for the last time.

Then Luna flopped off the Rathian's back and onto the floor. Marisa let her greatsword fall and broke into a grin. Hina celebrated by tossing her hammer up and catching it.

"It's dead," Kaguya confirmed, failing to hide her triumphant grin.

Luna peeled herself off the floor and approached the crack in the wall.

"Anyone alive in there?" she called.

"I... I think so," came the weak response. "I seem to be stuck though, I think that headbutt broke something -"

"We got a man down over here!" Marisa's voice called from the other side of the chamber. Kaguya hurried in her direction.

"Hang on, I think I see the problem - " Luna scraped some debris aside and braced herself against the sides of the crack.

After a moment of strain a large chunk of rubble shifted. Luna reached into the gap, and a grimy hand latched onto her glove. With a grunt of effort, she dragged the man out of the hole.

He immediately collapsed onto all fours, shaking like a leaf.

"I-it just came out of the blue, not even a sound - killed Frederick before we even knew it was here -"

"Easy there, you're safe now," Luna reassured him, patting him on the back.

"If you hadn't come when you did we'd all be -"

"But we did, and you're not," Luna interrupted. "Come on, help me do a head count. Don't want anyone running into the forest in a panic and getting gobbled up by a Ludroth."



"I'm too old for this," a grizzled warrior grumbled as Kaguya cleaned the gashes on his face and chest. "It was supposed to be a quiet job, keep the Bnahabra off a bunch of eggheads while they probe the mysteries of our ancestors. Nobody said anything about Rathian. It's not even breeding season!"

"It's young, and bears the scars of recent battles with its peers," Kaguya replied, glancing up at the carcass. "I imagine it was driven here by a territorial dispute."

"You merely had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Hina added.

"Misfortune my boot. I think it's high time I retired."

"Hey, look on the bright side," Marisa joined in, "you got some wicked scars. Chicks dig those!"

"Lay off, Casanova," Luna grumbled, elbowing Marisa in the ribs. "Everyone's accounted for. One dead, three serious injuries and five with scrapes and shellshock."

"All done," Kaguya said, standing up. "Avoid touching the wounds or doing anything strenuous until the bleeding stops completely."

Job finished, she rounded on Hina. "Are you going to let me treat that or will you insist on tracking blood everywhere and attracting every predator in the region?"

Hina just smiled and knelt so Kaguya could reach her head wound.

"How soon can we move out?" Marisa asked. "I don't want to stick around here any longer than we have to."

"Tomorrow morning at the earliest," Kaguya replied. "We'll need time to fashion stretchers anyway."

"We could send Claus back for help," the guard suggested.

"Already have," Luna replied. "He wasn't going to stick around anyway."

"So we're camping until morning," Marisa said. "Hina, you've got first watch. If the big guy wants to help, let him, but don't let him do anything I would. Luna, help me with this thing"

"I was wondering how long you could kep your mind off the loot," Luna said, already sharpening her knife.
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