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Have you ever thought what makes someone human? I know that’s quite cliché for where I am, but that doesn’t stifle my wonder. That seems to be a lot of what I’m doing right now. Wondering. Or maybe wandering? Sitting in bed, or rather futon, at the early hour of a morning is always like this. Just a constant stream of random nonsense for which some piece of coherent thought may stay to be what I think of for the rest of the day. If it can get attention next to its neighbor, the hangover. This one is light but no less annoying, like a small buzz somewhere in the farthest corner of my head.

A call from another room, “food’s about ready! You should be up by now!”

Ah the dilemma, to trudge out of the comfort of sheets and start the day or to remain in comfort with a lighter belly. Not a choice for me, as the footsteps approaching the door forecast the next few seconds.

“I’m not your mother, so stop making me get you out of bed and start your day already,” she announces with an authority enough to vibrate the room. I follow the command to suit with no haste in the slightest. Bidding farewell to my light conscious and greeting my now painfully aware of fuzz in the back of my head self. That won’t make today fun. Seeing that I’m following orders, my host gives a quick harumph and returns to the kitchen. Leaving me to lift my body off the ground.

Enough dramatics, though. I get up with that little extra effort needed for a futon instead of a standing bedside and change into my usual day clothes. This is no more than a simple white folded sleeve button up shirt and some old brown khakis with amounts of pencil lead staining the upper legs. It sounds simple, but I think it looks good for any occasion. The look is only really completed by the shoes, but I need to leave them off inside due to tradition in Japan. Maybe I should wear a tie to recover the lost professionalism.

Thoughts for another time, my benefactor will kill me if the food goes cold before I’ve had it. A quick bathroom run to wash my face and I’m at the kitchen in ample time. Just a moment late, as the kind lady has already set out the plates and is now sitting down at the low table.

“Please tell me this won’t be a daily thing. You can’t have a caretaker if you want to convince the village that you’re a competent worker,” she admonishes.

My eloquent excuse being, “it was a long night of work, Keine. I’m getting close to finishing up my research on what the curriculum should be.”

“That is to say you still don’t have any presentable work finished.”

“Well, I mean…” She’s not wrong but setting up a class doesn’t happen in just a week. Well, at least not for somewhere that a teacher doesn’t know a thing about his students.

I remind myself of the food on the table to hopefully kill the conversation. Keine remains silent, probably deciding that it’s better if I’m taking care of my needs instead of starving again. The plate before me carries some strips of bacon, scrambled eggs, and a couple pieces of toast. Strictly western instead of the miso and rice from the last few days. Or the fried tofu the day before that. Not that it’s a complaint, something resembling home is nice after a week. “Keeping me in mind for your choice of grocery? I’m flattered.”

She remains unflapped, “I simply thought you’d want something you’re accustomed to, considering it’s been several days now.”

“A few more than that. I came last Monday.”

She gives a soft chuckle after a bite, “oh, I guess I got used to you already. Next thing you know I’ll be taking money for rent.”

“Yeah, real funny, I’m still hoping that I can find somewhere to call my own. Would be rude of me to take up a lady’s private space for too long.”

She remains quiet for a few more moments before I hear a click on her plate. She picks up with, “so about that. I’m being critical of your progress because of this,” she says, taking a scroll from the counter.

Ominous words aside, I’m unafraid. It’s probably someone wanting to know what the courses will be that I plan to head. She hands the letter over, and it’s still tied with a light purple ribbon. It reads as follows:

Hello Mr. Regis,

I am inviting you to a discussion on your current work and future participation within the village as a center of intellectual pursuits. As you have been frequenting my manor, I would ask that you come to me first thing today. I of course have no way of forcing you to come, but it is within your interest to do so for various reasons.

Lady Akyuu Hieda
Ninth true head of house Hieda

Huh, I wonder why she is bothering with this formalism, she talks to me frequently when I’m in her library. Wait, shit, does she want to see my progress on the science and math curriculum? That’s what Keine was getting at. Oh god I should have stayed in bed after all if this is how today’s gonna go.

No, no. It’s fine. I can get through this, I’ll tell Akyuu that I’ve gotten the research done that I needed and can pull together physical progress within the next few days…

I’m so dead, aren’t I?

“So about your classes…” Keine remarks.

“Save me.”


Finishing up breakfast, I make for the notes left on my desk. On my way out I can hear Keine cleaning up breakfast. She hollers for me to not stop anywhere for dinner as she bought for two. With my cured leather shoes on I feel complete once more and am out the door.

I take my practiced walk to Hieda manor. From Keine’s house on the western corner of the village, I walk through the trade district where various metal workers, woodworkers, and occasional academic type station themselves. Past that I cross the river running through the village over to the residential area which occupies a little over half the village. Or from what Keine knows, anyway. A bit further down and the multitude of houses and service buildings give way to a singular wooden wall for the equivalent of three blocks. This is one side of the Hieda estate. The closest thing to a noble class in the village.

Making my way past the side wall I continue my walk to the front gate. The guards let me straight through as it’s been five times that I’ve come by now. They already had enough terror from Keine strongarming them my first time here.

Moving inside the first thing I see is the servant seemingly waiting for me. They just assumed I’d come right here first thing in the morning? Alright then. The brunette leads me through the halls of the manor, mostly lined with the outside itself. She stops before one of the identical doors and states it is her lady’s office.

Entering, I’m sure to be on good behavior and greet as I should an official, “hello Lady Hieda. I accept your request for audience on this fine day,” and end with a short bow.

Walking in, it’s a complete library but also with the right materials for writing an entire novel should the need arrive. The desk at the back of the room houses a woman too small for it. Akyuu seems busy with some formal document I can’t be bothered to ask about. I sit down along the long table occupying most of the room. She said before that it’s too much to move rooms for formal meetings, so she just put a large table for company.

She seems antsy today, as she remembers my presence immediately. Her eyes hold a bit more authority than usual, so I guess she’s acting as my effective boss.

She begins, “Tanner. In good time as well. I did not mean to rush you here with my letter. I only wanted you here sometime today.”

“Really? The servant at the front door says otherwise, Akyuu.”

“My servants are used to watching the front door in shifts when I invite someone. They’re used to such antics,” she admits to no shame.

“Glad I’m only a normal bother, then.”

“Enough, enough. Like why I sent the letter, I need to talk to you,” please don’t ask about the curriculum. Please do not ask about my progress, “the village elders had their monthly meeting yesterday and have decided on a certain project for you to do.”

YES! Wait… NO! That means doing something I don’t want to.

She continues, “in light of your status as a new arrival, and despite your academic bearing, the elders wish for you to study various beings of Gensokyo as a way of helping the village.”

I tap a finger on the table, deciphering the consequences of this, “why would they care for such a project? I can understand using someone new as a jockey for unwanted work, but I don’t see what I can do that you can’t.”

Akyuu gains a solemn but sure look with her response, “While I do try to get out of the house, I can’t stay for field work and visit a Youkai in their daily life. The elders think that you can fill this niche. It’s possible this is a power play to know when some Youkai are out of line and planning something, but that might be stretching.”

I did want to be part of this new world, but diving into politics is not how I wanted it. Hell, I didn’t even watch the news in the outside world.

Guess I need to plead here, “Akyuu, I’m looking to be a teacher, not run into the woods watching a woman with wings host her grill stand with questionable ethics. Is there any way to skip past this hazing? I know I don’t have concrete progress on my classes, but still.”

“Sadly not, there’s a sum of money ready to pay you for the work and a partner for the project lined up. From how the merchant representative was speaking, I can only assume they need this done badly enough to make you consider otherwise,” she’s none too happy to say that. In fact, this is the most her brow’s furrowed since I met her.

There’s not much chance I can win against a bunch of old men the village trusts, so, “Alright, then what is this work? And what is this about a partner?”

“I’ll send you away with the full details, but effectively, they want information on specific subjects detailing their daily activity, their power and scale, and their general health or state of well-being. Again, more or less what I do, but without bringing the subject to the village. It’s possible they’re still mad from Miss Kagiyama entering the village,” Akyuu glances to the side at this comment.

“Alright, and the partner?”

“That would be our guest waiting outside,” she gestures to the door. “And please, remember to be formal towards me when someone else is here.”

On cue, the door opens, and enters one taller woman with short blonde hair, a blue tabard, and nine large tails. After reading through the Perfect Memento, I know who this is on sight.

“Akyuu why is Ran Yakumo in here?”

“What did I just say about formality?”

“Akyuu,” I glare at her. This is not a level of nonsense I can handle. We both know this isn’t some random Youkai for as much trouble as that would be. This is the servant of the most important figure maintaining the Great Hakurei barrier.

“I’ll leave the explanation to her. It’s her own reason for this,” Akyuu leans back in her chair, sitting out of the conversation.

“So why is it that you want to do this, miss Yakumo,” I don’t miss a beat to grill the newcomer.

The fox looks to me with a neutral expression, belying no emotion, “it is by my own will that I participate in intellectual pursuits. Nothing is wrong with using one’s free time on such. Also, please refer to me as Ran. Yakumo should be reserved to my master.”

“Ran, right. There’s nothing wrong with joining, but from what I’m getting, this is going to be a physicist attempting to do an anthropologist’s work. This is not going to be professional to the level of things you’re used to.”

She leaves no time to study my response, only replies the instant I finish, “I am not looking for professional, only to participate in academic study relevant to the village.”

“Alright, I guess I’m not leading this right. Why do you care? Is there some aim in this?”

“Mr. Regis,” Akyuu pipes from behind me. The fox raises her hand to halt the reprimand.

“This is something I am doing by my own will. Truly. You have information that Lady Yakumo rests for most of her time every day. The time for which I have no orders is of my decision on how to use. Therefore, I wish to bring myself to understand more of the academic setting those of intelligence within the village participate. Do not assume that I will not resolve myself to protecting and helping you where necessary, of course,” she claims to no uncertain terms.

In fact, it bugs me even more since foxes are supposed to be whimsical and flippant. To see one so determined of its place throws me. It doesn’t help that as I’m thinking of my next retort her slit eyes are intensely locked to my own. She isn’t angry, but she is the embodiment of intent. I remember being like that as a student asking for extra credit from my professor. I suppose a fox’s words are supposed to be trusted, too. A paradox for another time.

Looks like I’ll have to be strung along for a bit, “fine, so what is it that you’ll be doing for this?”

“I am acting as your personal security for the duration of the research. You will not be under harm from any Youkai you study for your research,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Uhm…” I think I’ve hit capacity for this dialogue. I can’t even think of any retort that falls under snark or inquisitive. Really out of character for me. I’m even rubbing my temples, it seems.

“Tanner, please just accept this. The worst that comes of this is you’re given enough money for a house because of research you won’t succeed in. There’s a lot more good I believe you can do if you get through this and start teaching. When you finish that curriculum, anyway,” Akyuu interjects.

I guess my life is now going to be running into the woods looking for man eating girls. I’d hoped Keine was joking when she said to not trust common sense here.

Akyuu senses my brain continuing to cave in and goes on, “if you’re in agreement, then I think I can get you started. The first thing you need is a travel kit with materials of recording and defense. The elders were kind enough to leave a forward payment for you to buy what you would need for this.”

“So I guess I’m taking a shopping trip as I digest this,” I don’t even know why I’m asking, I know where this is going. I have my hands on my face so there’s no wonder of how I’m taking things. I guess I just need think of where I’m going and if Ran is coming along.

What to do? (Write-ins are fine, as always)

[x] Check in the village commercial district for tools and supplies. Simple and fundamental items do best.

[x] Check the curios shop for useful magic items. Maybe I can find a magic infinite page journal or some shit.

[x] Check the Hakurei shrine. Maybe I can ask for protective talismans against the wilds.

Alright, it's time to do story. Reminder that this is based off the previous work I did for /shrine/ so you will know what story chapter is coming up, or at least what character. In terms of the format this will all be in, I will hold periods of in town activities and periods of exploration for research.

Even higher on the meta, I do not plan to include bad ends. There will be times that your actions will have consequences, though. I'll be sure to notify you when it's major.
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[x] Check in the village commercial district for tools and supplies. Simple and fundamental items do best.

Ran covers the security department, but she can't double as a mess kit or cold weather clothing.
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[x] Check the curios shop for useful magic items. Maybe I can find a magic infinite page journal or some shit.

Don't take the common sense route. Trust that Kourindo has a bag of infinite food or something.
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[x] Check in the village commercial district for tools and supplies. Simple and fundamental items do best.

Foundations first, everything else after.
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[x] Check the curios shop for useful magic items. Maybe I can find a magic infinite page journal or some shit

Anything Rinnosuke has to offer has a chance of being a million times cooler then whatever those people in the Village could have
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[x] Check the curios shop for useful magic items. Maybe I can find a magic infinite page journal or some shit.

Yeah, probably more useful things there compared to what the village might have.
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[x] Check the curios shop for useful magic items. Maybe I can find a magic infinite page journal or some shit.

Enough dread. If I have to do work then I’ll be sure to do it well. I can understand what’s happening around me as I’m in the middle of things. But first, priorities.

I turn to Akyuu, “when exactly am I starting and what is the first topic,” I ask.

Akyuu says in turn, “you start as soon as you can. I was hoping this would imply tomorrow at the earliest. As for the topic, I can’t say who or what you will be researching. It’s possible a servant with the official papers I meant to give you knows. No clue what’s keeping them.”

Hearing ‘get this done ASAP’ is not something I like. It does mean I need supplies today since I can’t delay starting. I’ll decide where to go on my way out.

I think the conversation is done, but just in case, “any other advice you can give a poor soul, Lady Hieda?”

She contemplates a moment, deciding what nugget of wisdom to impart. Then she says, “watch for fairies. They’re worse than bugs.”

“Uh-huh…” not quite what I was expecting. You’d think a warning about Youkai would be the first thing to come to mind. “I’ll keep that in mind. Alright, well, hope to talk to you again, Akyuu.”

“I feel the same, o’ old American man,” she coo’s. She’s enjoying ordering me around after chewing through her library. I did occupy her home for the better part of a week, after all.

I get up to leave, to which I remember my new companion occupying the doorway.

She stares with a neutral face, expecting me to speak, “uhm… we’re going? Did I not say something, Ran?”

“No. I am awaiting your order,” she says, stepping back into the hall for me to lead.

Walking back out of the manor, we run into a servant carrying a pile of documents. In fact, it’s the same one that lead me in. A brunette woman with short hair. I’d question why she has brown hair in Japan, if not for the fact that the woman I just spoke to had naturally purple hair. Magic can be pretty stupid.

I hail her on approach, “Hello again. Lady Hieda has you carrying quite the healthy load of work, huh?”

“The lady is always busy. I can say that a bit of this pile is not for her, though,” she says, shaving off the top of the pile and handing it to me.

“Ah, the official documents she wanted to give me. You don’t happen to know what I’m researching right now, do you?”

“I would, Mr. Regis. I was given word that you are researching the ice fairy, Cirno, as your first assignment.”

So much for Akyuu’s warning. Figures this would be the case. Strange that it’s a fairy and not a Youkai, though.

Regardless, I forgot the first time, so, “thank you. You know my name, might I know yours?”

“Murano Saki. You humble me for wanting a servant’s name,” she states with a short bow added.

“Don’t worry about it, I just feel bothered how often I meet people without even asking a name. A bad habit, really. Thank you for the papers, Miss Murano.”

With that I continue my way outside. Now to organize myself and figure out what to do next.

Cirno means that I will be traveling around the Misty Lake. I won’t need exceptional cold gear for the middle of summer. I’ll take a blanket in case the fairy tries to give me hypothermia. I won’t have reason for overnight packing since the lake is about an hour or two walk away. At worst I’ll need to take around an extra three hours to get to another side of the lake, depending on where she is. Wait that would take too long. Maybe I could use a boat instead?

“Sir,” Ran speaks up, releasing me from my thoughts.

“Right, we should get moving and worry about things as they come. First thing: do you think that magic shop on the forest border would have things I could use,” I ask Ran.

“In terms of magical tools, Kourindou would have a large assortment. If it’s something specific the proprietor can be convinced to make it for a down payment. Check that there is money included with the papers,” she lists off. Oh, there was money with the stack. Oh that is a lot of money.

I confirm where we’re headed and set off out of the village. Pacing through the residential area is relaxed midday, so much that I wish to be at a tea shop. No time for that until after I get things I need. I don’t care for tea as much as coffee anyway.

Out the eastern gate I can see the day guards ready to fall asleep. They really don’t need a day shift for guards at the walls. Of course, I do get a chuckle when Ran passes them because they completely bug out. Poor guys must not know what to do for someone high on the metaphorical food chain.

Past the gate is a bit of farmland in use by villagers living outside and inside the walls. A good portion of these farms are rice paddies. Being close to the lake and forest of magic makes for good convertible swampland. Thinking on it, maybe this is why those elders want to know about a fairy. She could easily freeze and ruin the water fields of rice from what I read. Okay, maybe I’m reaching to try and rationalize some of this.

Speaking of ‘this,’ my companion hasn’t said a word yet. Dead silent the whole walk. We’re walking a nice raised portion of dirt trail over to the forest, but there isn’t anything happening otherwise.

I should bring up the subject, “you can speak freely with me, Ran. I don’t need peace and quiet to contemplate the greater meanings of the universe.”

“Is that what you do outside of this project,” she asks from behind me.

“No, I was being facetious, sorry.” I guess she’s not much of a comedian, “I was preparing a math and science curriculum for both young and old students in the village. What about you? From what I read you take care of the great barrier. I don’t understand how you have the time to just follow me around.”

“The barrier does not need any support at this time,” she responds… ah, robotically. I remember reading a bit about shikigami being like that. So does that mean that she’s in low power mode or something? Clearly she’s barely been in the conversation.

Let’s try something, “so why did you know about what the elders wanted me to do before I did?”

“I had Lady Hieda keep me posted of academic opportunities in the village.”

“Why did you decide to join in on the project?”

“I have told you already that I have interest in joining academic activities in the village.”

“Why do you have interest in academics?”

“Because I like it,” she admits.

“You like it?”

“I like it. Is that what you wish to hear?”

I grumble a bit, “it’ll have to do for now.”

“So pushy.”

I’d like someone I’m working with to give me their honest opinions on things. A very selfish desire, but something that I value. I just don’t like people being polite because they can be.

God I feel old.

Arriving to the front of the shop, the front looks… like I could spend a long time describing everything. Here lies the remains of various outside world knick knacks including street signs, bikes, furniture, you name it. This is an impressive junkyard here.

Entering a swinging door, the sound of a bell accentuates my steps. Its night and day to compare the organization from the outside, but that isn’t to say the place is clean. Things are on shelves, at best. Also part of the décor are three people: an oddly feathered girl in the rafters, a girl in a semi-classical witch outfit on a couch sitting below the front window, and a man at a desk at the back of the entry area.

I recognize two of these things from what I’ve been reading and it isn’t the bird girl. Side note: there’s a lot of bird girls, no clue why. The witch isn’t what I’m here for. I’ve already heard plenty of tales about the black and white, and thank gods for that.

I give a pleasant greeting to all involved, “hello, Mr. Morichika. I am here to buy whatever I need from your shelves!”

“What the hell? Aren’t you the foreign guy clammed up in Akyuu’s,” the notably tiny witch comments from the side. Okay, let me emphasize, Marisa Kirisame is about the size of a child and yet I know she has to be at least in her twenties. I should point out that she is human, last I checked.

“Clam no more, Marisa! I am out of my shell and need to buy things for field research! Oh, wait. Sorry, would you prefer Kirisame? I did that without thinking.”

“Nah it’s fine. I prefer my given name. Not much of a family girl. Little weird from such an old man, though,” she whimsically comments.

The shopkeeper looks up from a book to stare at me. “Foreign you say? I can see it. He certainly doesn’t look like he’s from Japan,” he says. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to have some free time, would you, sir? There’s some stock that I would like to have an older outsider look at.”

“On a time crunch, so no. My name’s Tanner, by the way,” I wave him off as I attempt to skirt over to the side shelf. Ran doesn’t catch what I’m trying to do and instead engages in conversation with Marisa. I’ve got to make sure that I don’t get caught in a conversation with Morichika or I might never be out of here.

As I hide behind a pile of stuff I catch some of their conversation, “so what’s going on, Ran? You with him,” I can hear Marisa asking.

“Correct. His competence is in question for choosing here to shop,” Ran replies.

“Oh come on, he seems no different from what you’re used to!”

“Is that an insult to my lady, child?”

“I think Marisa has a point. He can’t teleport, at least,” a third voice chimes. Must be the unknown bird in the ceiling.

The girls continue their conversation as I pour through the stock on the shelves. Although when I said at least things are on shelves? Yeah, there’s a bit too much on these shelves. They’re cluttered with all array of colors muted and vibrant. Light from the front window is obscured by varying piles of oddities, leaving less light to parse piece from piece.

One of the first items I notice is a small toy car. It’s like the size of those old Hot Wheels but not absurd and colorful in the way I expect. It’s a bright hot pink, first of all, and the frame looks like a slug bug. Picking it up, there feels like moving parts I wouldn’t expect from this scale. How in the world are the wheels like a textured rubber? What the hell is this even for? I should move on, this isn’t what I’m looking for here.

Moving over I spot something more my size, a shovel leaned against a shelf. I pick it up to find no searing pain or magic hand glue as I put it right back down. I need to be cautious of things in here. I doubt that anything really is cursed like that, but just in case. Well… the shovel doesn’t kill me, but that doesn’t help with anything. If it’s here it’s obviously magical. Asking Morichika will give him the opportunity to lead me on. Shovel of a great hero or some nonsense. I think Ran can help.

I call to the other side of the room, “Ran, can you come take a look at this?”

A quick stop to the conversation and some light shuffling has Ran beside me very quickly. I didn’t really mean that I needed her urgently. I feel a bit bad to interrupt her talk.

I resume my train of thought with, “thanks. So, can you tell the magical properties of objects when looking at them?”

“I am not an enchanter, sir. I can determine whether something is blessed or cursed, but not the nature of the enchantment’s use,” Ran states.

I pick up the shovel and present it to Ran, “can you tell me about this?”

She doesn’t touch the shovel, instead eyes it intensely. After a few moments of scanning she comes to a conclusion, “this is both blessed and cursed. The blessing is far greater than the curse, so testing may be required.”

“Huh, weird. I’ll give it a try, I guess. Nothing ventured and whatnot.”

“Your decision, sir.”

“You can stop with this ‘sir’ thing. Like yourself, just use my first name. Makes it less awkward for the both of us.”

“Certainly, Sir Tanner,” Ran says with a straight face.

“Drop the sir, you know what I meant. Let’s look at something else.”

I step through the shop towards the far corner, scanning through shelves and piles for things that could be useful. I stop at a book amidst similar books, this one without any label. I once more ask Ran to check the item.

She finishes her scan to conclude, “this appears to be purely benign. An empty journal, no less. How unlikely.”

“I won’t question coincidences if they end up helping. Call me simple if you want for that.”

Lastly, I spot something at the end of the room that could always be handy. A nice large sleeping bag partially unfurled to show its puffed glory. The extremely vibrant color and material tells me it’s an outside world item on approach. I ask Ran to check this too.

“It’s… strange. Not necessarily benign or malevolent. It could very well do anything, maybe good in some way but bad under other conditions,” she holds her face closer to understand the enchantment by staring at it. Unsuccessfully, as she hasn’t added a word.

“Let’s not think too hard on this one. A sleeping bag is hopefully meant to be used, so I’ll take it. If it ends up bad we can still use the cloth.”

With that we have a few solid items that I wanted for a first foray. Something to write on, to interact with the world around me, and a usable material and blanket. The last one might even be a sleeping bag if it doesn’t set me on fire or something. I’ll call that successful shopping.

After I pay, anyway. Morichika is eyeing me at this point as I walk up. He’s probably getting the names of the things to get the better barter from me. Luckily, I remember how his power only tells him the name and what something is used for, but nothing else. Therefore, he could only tell enchantments with his own enchanting knowledge, which should be minimal considering his stock is anything he could pick up anyway.

This train of thought crashes when he states the names of each item to exactness as follows: fire and water resistant journal, unbreakable shovel, temperature acclimating sleeping bag.

“Wait, I thought the shovel was supposed to have a curse,” I ask to try and gain back the advantage.

“It does indeed, it simply tires you out faster,” he replies with a bit of thought.

Bullshit. But without any verifiable way of checking that, I can’t call him out on it. Looks like I’ll be paying more than I wanted.

As I race to determine the price point before him, he instead stands up. He walks across the shop to find a small pouch he returns to the desk with.

“These are called flashing rocks. Them hitting something makes a blinding light. I’ll give you these and fix the price of what you have as if it weren’t enchanted,” he says.

“What’s the favor you want,” I ask in return. Business doesn’t know the word free, after all.

“Like I asked, Tanner. I take up a bit of your time crunch for my older stock. Or, maybe instead you could help explain to me some working parts of a metal box I have.”

I look back over to Ran, who has positioned herself next to Marisa. Seems they were mid conversation again. I look to my watch to find it’s still only ten.

“Mr. Morichika, I think I can spare some time to help you out,” I assent.

Only about an hour or so passes helping Rinnosuke understand the operation of an old computer. I’m not the perfect source to tell him everything, a lot of his questions are too detailed for me to explain with only the most basic working principles of circuitry, but we got through the whole assembly. As Ran and I make our way back out I try again to strike conversation.

“So what did you and Marisa end up talking about?”

She lapses her blank expression to think and say, “nothing pertinent to research. As for Mr. Morichika?”

“Guys talking shop don’t really do the gossip thing, so it was just about the computer. Glad to know you adore me enough to talk about me. At this rate I’ll get more than business talk before the end of the day,” I joke. The earlier conversation probably didn’t carry on, but I can’t not poke at it.

“Speaking of business,” Ran says, returning to a formal demeanor, “it will be close to noon when arriving back to the village. The best use of time would be to start networking.”

“What? Introduce myself to a bunch of people? Who is important enough to beeline before even starting,” I don’t exactly follow the line of thought yet.

She clarifies, “not individuals, but groups. If a group of importance learns about the research they may be inclined to support in some minor way later on.”

Ran continues, “if I may recommend a few groups:

[x] the Scarlet Devil could be useful to our assignment now,

[x] the Buddhists of Myourenji have a suitable network themselves,

[x] directly meet the aliens of Eientei as they’re the ones to heal you later.”

“Wait why do you say I’ll get hurt as an ultimatum?”

“Only inevitability.”

Second post. Realized quickly that I needed to extend the first scene, so now I sprint out of Akyuu’s. Otherwise, I hope the quality and votes are to your likings. Let me know where I can improve and all that. I’ll be trying to nail down the rude straightman role for Tanner for a while still.
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[x] the Buddhists of Myourenji have a suitable network themselves

Strictly, Youkai, business.
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[x] directly meet the aliens of Eientei as they’re the ones to heal you later.”
Safety and Health are very important. Also I want to see how you handle it considering all the Canon characterization and exploration we got from it in CDS
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[x] the Scarlet Devil could be useful to our assignment now,

and in the future, considering that we will be covering Meiling at a later date. Also, the resident librarian Patchouli might have a few notes she would be willing to share regarding the ice fairy.
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[x] the Buddhists of Myourenji have a suitable network themselves,
We should probably start with the most friendly Youkai around and work our way down to the most unfriendly ones like Flan or Rumia
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[x] the Buddhists of Myourenji have a suitable network themselves,

I like this tanner guy and you portray Ran well.
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[x] directly meet the aliens of Eientei as they’re the ones to heal you later.”

Insurance policy first.
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[x] the Scarlet Devil could be useful to our assignment now
As an intellectual Tanner would have the highest chance of getting along with SDM through Patchouli. Additionally, assuming Ran's goal is to entertain herself by studying rare (read: Western) Youkai, getting to know said Western Youkai helps.
I also want to see more Flan.
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The Buddhists were the vote I've written up for! Halfway, that is. Yell at me if there isn't an update posted by tomorrow the latest. Also, I'll set a timer for future votes. I'm pleased by the turnout, otherwise!

You've got the right idea.

In due time, but we'll not get to pop Tanner into space dust (yet).
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[x] The Buddhists of Myourenji have a suitable network themselves

We’re still walking to the village, but I think I’ve made up my mind, “what can you tell me about the Buddhists, Ran? I’ve read the articles including them, but they don’t give as much sense on how they are as a community.”

Ran responds with the expected placative, “their views match their leader, Byakuren Hijiri. Articles including her have much concerning philosophic views.”

“Right, because I know everything I need with a little bit of reading.”

“That is…” she’s still stone faced, but the lack of response says enough.

“No, sorry that was a bit much. I’m guessing you just don’t know how they’ll act when I march in and start asking things?”


“All right, let’s stop by Keine’s house so I can drop off this stuff, then we’ll go over to the temple and hope for the best,” I say with the reminder that I’m carrying a sleeping bag and a shovel under my arm. Not weighty, but certainly cumbersome and an odd choice to walk into a temple with.

We continue our walk back to the village, returning to awkward silence for the rest of the way. Leaving the couple of random things in ‘my’ room while keeping the journal on me, we start making our way to the Buddhist temple. Out of the south gate lies the cemetery path, a very old path predating the Myouren temple. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the temple itself, rather the Buddhists took over memorial services when they came in. Weird that people just let them do that.

This is neither here nor there. I’m really just keeping my mind occupied as there is still no conversation happening. Never did I realize how vital the other person talking was to a conversation. I’m too used to lecturing for hours on end, I guess.

We approach the front gate of the temple to find the well known doglike Youkai, Kyouko Kasodani, sweeping up the entry way. Why is she supposedly always here? Is she the Buddhist guard dog? Do they even have an equivalent within Buddhist iconography?

Regardless, I make sure to give her as pleasantly quiet of a greeting as I can, “hello miss, I am hoping to find the head priest of this temple. Can you help me with that?”

She stops her sweeping to look up over toward me, “I’d love to! Can I get a name to pass over to her?”

Her response is quaint enough, but the volume is louder than expected. It’s like someone needs to explain to yamabiko that there is such a thing as too much of an outside voice. I wonder if they eventually shoot out their own hearing. Perhaps I’ll need to look into how to do a hearing examination or something to figure that one out.

Oh, and I should respond to the girl now that my ears have calmed down from the sudden volume. Well, I would if Ran hadn’t apparently responded already.

I look over to her, with her hands shuffled in her sleeves like always, “What did you tell her? I was distracted wondering where that loudness is stored within a humanoid body.”

“Tanner Regis of village research requests audience with the head monk.”

“Ah, so it’s now an audience. All right then. This won’t be any more awkward, no sir.”

“Happy to be of assistance,” she says, still stone faced as usual, but I feel like there must be some glint in her eye from that comment. Come on, nobody just says that with true intent.

“And what would you two be doing here at all?” a woman asks from the building.

I turn from Ran to the new voice, owned by one blue clad woman. Clad with enough blue that her hair has taken the same shade as her hood.

“Hello, miss Kamoi,” I greet the arrival. The lady in blue remains unhappy.

She responds sternly, “it’s Kumoi. Answer my question before I need to see you out. That goes for you too, Yakumo.”

“Please, just refer to me as Ran. Yakumo should be reserved for my lady,” Ran replies, not missing a beat.

I decide to properly introduce myself, “my name is Tanner Regis. I am a researcher under orders from the village and am hoping to meet with your chief priest. My intentions are purely academic, I assure you.”

“That only makes me more unsure of you, you know. The village doesn’t care about academics,” the blue headed woman responds.

“Then… I don’t know how I’d convince you.” I’m unsure of where to go from here. I know from incident reports that Ichirin Kumoi is temperamental, but I don’t know how far that extends to keeping outsiders away from the temple for reputation reasons.

“Are you here to poke and prod the Youkai of the temple to see if they bite? Is the village trying that one again, throwing some seedy looking old man our way to rile us up? And seriously, Yakumo, why are you here?”

“I am only here to escort Tanner for his duties,” replies Ran. I’m surprised she answered that since I think the conversation is still pointed at me.

Ichirin considers this for a moment, before saying, “I don’t buy it, but I guess I can’t really question you. Whatever, I’ll keep my eyes on you two while you’re here.”

Ran speaks up again, “Kasodani has been sent to fetch the head priest, so it is best to wait here.”

“Wait I can’t let that last bit just go. What do you mean seedy, do I look that bad,” I must argue my dignity here.

Before anyone else speaks, another voice chimes from the adjoining outer hall, “oh. How good of you to see to the visitors, Ichirin.”

The head priest has arrived fairly quickly. Must be a quiet day.

Her presence is more commanding than I imagined. The eclectic magician nun with distinctive purple and reddish gradated hair. She’s wearing more standard monk clothing than what I saw from drawn pictures and the like. Probably a way to try and standardize the temple as Kumoi’s is similar sans the hood. I do wonder why her rosary is so large. It really gives the look that she’s going to sermon any moment from now. Wait they wouldn’t call it sermons, would they? Oh well.

Time to be charmful, “hello, Miss Hijiri. My name is Tanner Regis from the village. I am beginning a research project studying Youkai and wanted to meet you for… uh… what was it, Ran?”

“Networking. Requesting future assistance. Acquitting information.”

“Those reasons,” so much for charm…

“Uhuh…” says Kumoi.

“Is that the case…” says Hijiri.

A tumbleweed rolls somewhere in a western desert.

“So… would you care to chat in the gathering hall,” Hijiri offers, a little rigidly at that.

“Yes, that would be lovely,” I answer in haste. I feel defeated in some way, probably my middling first impression.

Hopefully a quick walk through the halls and resetting the conversation will make for less awkward atmosphere. The front entry yard is fine and all, but the rooms here are well kept with perfectly clean tatami in every room. Kumoi asked me to take my shoes off to even set foot on the outside wood walkway.

The four of us arrive at the gathering hall. A large double room with a low table stretching the entire way. Mats are laid out close together, so I guess this may be used for times like meals and such, too. A much more informal feel to the room, something that feels more like a tea room. Hijiri seats herself at the head, with Kumoi on her flank. I take a space away on the opposing flank. Partially as common courtesy for a guest, but also to keep an eye on Kumoi. She hasn’t let her brow change from a straight line the whole time. She would make a good Easter Island head. She must be reading my thoughts, she looks even angrier now.

Hijiri starts, “so what is it that you request of me, sir researcher.”

“Oh, please, Tanner is fine. Researcher is no formal position of hierarchy. Since I am going to conduct field based observations on Youkai and other magical beings, I am hoping to take information from you and your group that could help my understanding,” good first try. I’m sure I can still word that better for future use, but I think that was pretty good for coming up within elevator time.

Kumoi looks to Hijiri, “master Hijiri you can’t think this guy is serious, he’s with a Yakumo for crying out loud!”

“Whose intentions are normally benign for Gensokyo, Ichirin,” Hijiri refutes. “Tanner, what you say does please me. I’m sure you already know that I wish for Youkai and humans to live together equally, and that is why you came here for support. Other than that, though, I wouldn’t know what I myself can do for your path. I can tell my disciples to trust you, but not much else.”

“Master Hijiri, please reconsider! We can’t just trust someone on our doorstep because they say they share similar motivations,” Kumoi pleads.

Hijiri now leans to her definitely-not-servant, “what could convince you otherwise, Ichirin?”

Now that the opposition has been flipped to her, Kumoi seems stumped. She takes a few moments to concentrate on the question. While she does so, a pink cloud begins materializing. Her personal spirit must be wondering what has her in deep thought and worry.

She responds after a few more moments, face twisted and voice unsure, “maybe if he can prove that he’s an academic?”

The room’s gone quiet. The request is far more immature than I expected, maybe it can be seen as a statement of authenticity. Kumoi is certainly clashing her outfit with the shade of red on her face, she must have quickly realized how simple she’s being.

That said, it sounds like its down to a back and forth between me and Kumoi until we reach some agreement.

I try a solution, “so how would I prove my position to you? Should I bring a letter from Hieda stating my work under her general jurisdiction? Well, not directly under her, but my point stands.”

Ran chimes in for a different approach, “it would be simplest if you taught them something as a teacher. Gensokyo has more academics than it does teachers.”

“Wait, how did you know I was a teacher,” I ask.

“I was given a brief profile of you from Miss Hieda.”


Hijiri muses with the idea, “that would be nice. It can also be payment in information, if that would please you, Ichirin.”

“Alright, fine. What are you going to teach us,” Kumoi concedes the argument.

I now need to pick up a topic to teach on the fly. God I wish it were that easy.

“I need to know what you both don’t, first. I can teach mathematics and physics but I don’t know how much you’d care for those,” I say.

“Why not the current advances of the village? Something new seems to happen weekly,” Hijiri offers.

“That would be great if I were an actual villager, but I only came in last week.”

Kumoi seems to have something click, “oh I should have guessed you were an outsider. No villager would be bold enough to walk to the temple and ask for something other than being a disciple.”

“I already know the answer, but you don’t mean that as a compliment, do you?”

“Of course not.”

“You could teach us something from the outside world,” Hijiri opts.

“That could work. Ran, how different is Japanese technology of the outside world from America’s?”

Hijiri seems to have a stall in her thoughts. She then simply asks, “America?”

“Yes, it’s where I come from. I’m not Japanese.”

“And where is America?”

Oh. Oh wait.

“Miss Hijiri, how long were you sealed for again,” I ask.

“I’ve been told it was for something of seven or eight hundred years,” she answers.

I now turn to Kumoi, “you didn’t tell her about the rest of the world after she came back?”

“I was stuck in a ship underground for about half of that time, you know. Go yell at Nue or Mamizou, if anyone. I don’t know anything about this America either,” she deflects.

“So… would you both want me to describe a bit of western world history for you?”

“It would do us well to know more of the world since we left. I have some idea of Japan at this point, but not much else,” Hijiri assents.

“Just to make sure we’re on the same page, you do know about the rest of the world past the ocean, right?”

“The what,” she says, innocently.

“This is going to take a while, do you have some writing materials handy,” I begin lecture mode.

The next several hours are a constant barrage of questions from the people in the room (except for Ran, obviously). Convincing them that there was more world discovered around the time Kumoi and the other ship members went underground was a bit of a strain, as was discussing how the world was round, and not the center of the universe. It’s hard to teach people hundreds of years out of date, go figure. After a bit Kumoi left to grab the rest of the ship members including the ghost captain, the tiger, and the mouse. They all became enraptured in the conversation, even despite my shortcomings on historical background. Hijiri especially was enthralled with learning that there was so much more that happened in the world after her sealing even compared to before.

All in all it was some nice hours of teaching students again, especially since they showed a drive to listen and learn of what I could teach. The only thing better would be if I could have taught physics, because again, I’m not a history professor. Well, so long as no one asks me if Christopher Columbus was the real first European to discover the Americas for the European nations, I think I’m fine.

By the end, Byakuren (I started to call the whole temple by their first names halfway through) simply ended with a reminder that evening meals needed to be prepped, and I was thanked for my time teaching. It appears there really are no teachers for the academics, other than Keine, anyways.

Walking back to the village for the early evening time, I try once more at conversing with my companion, “I think that went quite well. It started awkward as hell but ended up just fine after it got onto the subject of academics.”

Ran remains stoic as ever, “they should remember your earnesty. As for remembering your original purpose, it remains to be seen.”

“Oh it’ll be fine. You’re worrying too much.”

“On worry, don’t you require food at this time?”

“I mean, yeah. That’s why they shuffled us out in a rush. I guess I’ll go do just that now.”

“Might I offer available options?”

“No, I’ve been out the house at least a few times, thank you very much!”

Now where to go for the evening?

[] A local bar, there’s a few with decent food alongside the drinks.

[] A proper meal of fine dining. I happened upon quite the windfall today.

[] Wait, did Keine say something earlier?

Really did do this halfway last week, just needed to sit back down and do the other half. As usual shout me out on writing improvements, I'm especially unsure if I'm using enough gestures and ticks to dialogue. I'm getting more of a feel for voices in conversation at this point, though.

Wait, shit, timer
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2022/06/10 (Fri) 04:00

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[X] A proper meal of fine dining. I happened upon quite the windfall today.
Don't stinge if we are eating on the Yakumo dime
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[X] Wait, did Keine say something earlier?

No making the teacher waste her food.
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[X] Wait, did Keine say something earlier?
Keine is kind enough to let us live with her, not eating her food would be quite rude
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[X] A proper meal of fine dining. I happened upon quite the windfall today.
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[X] Wait, did Keine say something earlier?
Gib teacher
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[X] Wait, did Keine say something earlier?

I think on my choice of location for the evening, but recall this morning instead. Keine had called from the kitchen to come back for dinner. Maybe I’ll be a good boy and listen. Nothing wrong with making my benefactor happy with me, after all.

That said, it seems I’m done for the day. Project given with details, a few tools acquired for the field, and some contacts made outside the village. Normally this would be something productive, but the job involves running out into the monster infested woods daily so that’s… yeah. Keine’s gonna need to learn about this, too. That isn’t going to be fun.

I stop inside the southern gate. It’s the beginning of the evening for the village and everyone is moving to their homes or choice of bar for food.

I turn to Ran and say, “Well, Ran, it was nice meeting you and all that. Where should I find you tomorrow to start work?”

“Elaborate,” she says.

“I mean that I’m heading back to Keine’s house to turn in for the night. We need to decide when and where to meet tomorrow.”

“That is of your discretion.”

“Uhm... so the northern gate 8 am?”

“So be it, sir.”

“Stop calling me sir. See you tomorrow.”

I stand still for a few moments. No response from Ran. I’m unsure if she understood me.

I give a short wave followed with, “Well if that’s all,” and start walking. Only to now hear footsteps behind me. Screw it, I’ll bother with it when I’m at the house.

A short jaunt in the evening air later, and we’re back at the craftman’s district, one which also serves as a congealed artisan and academic district since there isn’t enough space to house the latter two. Keine’s stout hovel is right up against the northern wall with the schoolhouse in view. For as small as the village is, even with its more city-like size, it’s still surprising to see that Keine basically owns two buildings.

I bought a bit of sake on the way back. Had to make up for the stuff I binged last night. Funnily, I think Ran didn’t say anything because it seems to be the most natural state of being for anything in Gensokyo to seek alcohol. Figures since half of every Youkai legend ends up being from a banquet, bar, festival, celebration, foodstand, etc.

Well now I’m at the front door. Ran’s still here, in case that wasn’t obvious. I think I’ve neglected to mention that she never walks at my side, only ever behind my flank.

“So, uh, I’m gonna go inside. You can go now,” I say.

“You do not require protection when inside Kamishirasawa’s home, then,” Ran says not in a questioning tone.

“I didn’t really need protection after we stepped foot in the village, honestly.” Is that what it’s about? Protecting me is her job so she plans to stick around? What about when she has to do upkeep on the all important barrier or her real boss calls her? She really leaves me with no information on anything.

“Incorrect,” she says.


“Danger is possible in the village as with anywhere. Gensokyo is unsafe.”

“I feel like there’s a level of paranoia in there, but we can argue this some other time. For now, go, leave, skedaddle,” I shoo her like one would a dog. This is getting ridiculous.

To my relief she finally takes a step back. I move into the door while she states, “As you wish, sir.”

I close the door to let the moment come to an end. I don’t need to tell someone to do something all the way through. Had enough of that from class projects. Did you know bottle rockets just barely have the right durability to break a door window? I do.

“Welcome back,” I hear from behind me. “I wanted to ask about the things you bought. Are you planning a day trip?” Keine is sitting on the other end of the room, working on a series of papers. There’s enough to make two neat stacks on the corners of the low table.

“Nah, that isn’t it,” I say, getting my shoes off and moving to opposite end of the table, setting down the bottle beside me. Keine gives the bottle an odd glance before returning to work, her rhythm unchanged. Looking at the stacks and a few loose papers taking over the space of the table she appears to be working on grading. Quite a bit, too. I guess I gave her extra paperwork last week before she could get back to this. Maybe even when there’s no central government a sudden live in would require paper pushing. I wonder if an outsider is tax deductible.

“I can feel your thoughts wandering,” Keine says.

I return my view to the table from its wandering across the wall behind Keine. Seems she just got done grading a paper c minus in Japanese grammar. Rough. She sets aside the paper to the slightly smaller stack on her left. She’s framed between the stacks of paper but cleared the space between us so she could rest her hands flat atop one another, addedly leaning in to talk. How does her hat stay on her head? Isn’t it square on its base? She must look like a lopsided shrine lamp from the side with her pagoda hat.

“People get the wrong idea when you stare, you know,” she teases.

“Would you believe me if I said you were just that enchanting?”

“From you? No. You would sooner be thinking about how my hair has uneven coloring.”

Actually, yeah, how does it do that? Usually hair gradients are laterally layered, but hers is longitudinal. Shit she's right.

She cracks a tired but whimsical smile and says, “You’re ridiculous, you know. People don’t think about such minor things so often. Enough of that, though, what happened at the Hieda manor?”

“A fair bit. I should preface this by saying I’ve been given a job with money upfront,” I say. Hopefully I can buy a moment to word this correctly. Or at least sound mildly confident.

“That’s very nice. What is it you’re doing?”

So much for that. It’s a nice trait that she doesn’t perk up at the mention of money, so that's good. I answer her with, “I’ve been given a research assignment from the village elders, and Akyuu told me the details this morning.”

Keine suddenly looks like she graded all the remaining papers at once and says, “Oh, them. I hope this is nothing bad. Really, what is it that you’re doing?”

“I’m studying supernatural beings out in their natural spaces. I’m reporting everything I can about them and their day to day.”

“Don’t omit things. I know supernatural beings would include any number of Youkai here. Ugh, Tanner why did you agree to this?”

“I’d love to not, but it seems I’m forced to here. I either do it or the elders make me unemployable in some way. At least I get pay from it,” I offer in hopes of silver linings.

“Wait… what?! They can’t do things like that! In the first place any academic project outside the village goes through me before that as the sole village guardian. Otherwise anyone working outside the village not by vocation is sent back. Even more so, the elders aren’t allowed to use their influence to force people into doing things!” Keine says. She’s thrown her hands in the air over frustration. Yet her pagoda sits pristine on her head.

“Hey, listen, I’m not that against the work since I’m at least being paid well,” I continue to input the silver lining into the conversation.

She’s now resting her forehead against an arm braced on the table. “Money won’t do much if you’re eaten in the woods, Tanner,” Keine retorts. Well, I can’t argue that without bringing up my personal protection. That’s a can of worms in of itself, though.

The door raps the second I finish the thought. Please let the can stay closed for a bit. I feel like Keine’s going to blow a gasket with anymore of this. But much to my dismay, she answers the door only to find the big fox standing there. Ran’s looking a little perturbed, though. Well, her hands are out of her sleeves, at least. That’s gotta be something.

Keine opens the conversation, “Ran Yakumo? What are you doing here at this hour?”

Wait so she comes by here at other hours? I’ll have to ask about that.

Ran responds with, “I appear to be having some trouble, but allow me to formally discuss this with the both of you.”

Keine’s head perks up at the implication there. She then turns her head to give me a great picture of the oni of old. Will I survive tonight without a concussion? Maybe I should break open the bottle now.

Keine takes a moment’s breath before returning to Ran, saying, “Please come in, I think this will be a while.”

Both women seat themselves at the table. The new arrival with her back to the outside facing wall at my side, arms returned to their partnered sleeve. Keine takes the ungraded stack out of the way to clear the space between her and Ran. Must be a courtesy thing for her.

Keine gestures for Ran to start the dialogue. I can tell that she’s in teacher mode as she has the expectant look of hearing excuses.

Ran says, “You know me, of course. Your tenant does as well. I am Ran Yakumo, normally working under Lady Yukari Yakumo, and I am working as a safety measure for the field research involving Tanner Regis.”

Keine turns back over to me, confused and says, “Tanner how the hell did you convince her of all people to help you? Also, did you not listen to a word I said about trusting Youkai? What in the world are you doing?”

“Now hold on. Ran is helping me, but this really is something she wants to do. I only met her today at the Hieda manor when Akyuu was explaining things to me,” I nervously tell Keine. Understandably, this is a very odd scenario I’m in here, considering this is one of the most elusive residents to listen to requests.

Keine turns back to Ran. “Is this true Ran? You didn’t care about village academia before.”

Ran perks up a little at the point of discussion, “Well, I’ve done everything I could on off time studies.”

A rather simple and disarming reason. It’s very appreciable considering who she always follows the orders of.

Keine gives some thought to the situation. Her exterior cools from previous rage and frustration, and eventually she says, “To be absolutely certain, you are not doing this under Yukari’s orders in any way?”


“Hmm. Then if that’s how things are go with it for now. I will try to find out what’s going on. I have a feeling a few doors need knocking for straight answers,” Keine states with a crack of her knuckles.

As good as it is to have two very powerful women protecting me, one does beg question here. “Keine, why are you going so out of your way to house and even protect me? I’m basically still a vagabond here,” I say.

“It’s simple, Tanner. You are in my house as someone of my field, and so you are under my protection. It helps that you want to stay here to teach, of course. You should not be exploited for your outsider status so openly,” Keine says with a resolute face. The kind expected of someone called the village guardian.

It’s nice to have someone so on my side. Haven’t really had this happen before. Hell, I’m about to break open the bottle in celebration of friendship I feel so elated! I’m actually smiling right now!

“Ahem,” Ran clears her throat to return us to her end of the conversation. Keine and I break eye contact with a bit of residual heat in our faces.

I think I finally realized the problem, and so I ask, “Ran, I thought I told you to go home. So why are you still here?”

Ran gives a flat look, probably hoping I’d realized sooner. “I attempted to go back. I am unable to at this time,” she says.

Keine gives a rather cautious look to the remark. “That is to say, Yukari did not allow you to go back to your home?”

Ran’s exterior poise cracks at the fact. She says, “Yes. I do not understand lady Yukari very well.”

“So you came back for somewhere to sleep?” I attempt to bridge the train of thought.

“Indeed. Might I impinge on your abode, Miss Kamishirasawa?”

“I’d very much sooner send you off,” Keine immediately answers. Strange, I thought this was going well.

“Wait, what? Why not help her? I know you have no duty to, but still,” I say in confusion.

“Tanner, remember that there are balances to be had here. I cannot lightly house a Youkai even should they be benign. You will eventually understand the importance of that,” Keine explains in no uncertain terms.

“As is expected. I shall take my leave,” Ran says, getting up from the table.

“Wait, what are you going to do for the night, then?” I ask.

“There will be a location in the woods that can be procured,” Ran says, already at the door with shoes on.

I’m at a loss for words as to how easily she accepted the situation. As for Keine, I understand that she’s headstrong in her own principles and duties so there is no fault in this. Nevertheless…

“I don’t agree with this,” I say. Not necessarily to Keine but she’s the only one present to hear my complaint.

“I know you don’t, but that’s how things are here.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

I guess the only thing left is to turn in for the night. That or screw around with something else.

[x] Nah, screw it. Early to bed means early to rise.

[x] Drinks for myself? Yeah, sure. Not like I can’t get more.

[x] Invite Keine to drink? That or she’ll rope me into grading with her.

I got more mileage than I expected out of this one scene. Tell me, should I perhaps reign in the dialogue a bit in favor of more actions/scene setting or am I not going enough on the back and forth exchanges. If I can make someone laugh by the dialogue alone I’ll consider it a win. Also, good pick to not get headbutt.

God damnit, timer
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2022/06/21 (Tue) 12:00

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[x] Nah, screw it. Early to bed means early to rise.
Laser focus
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[x] Invite Keine to drink? That or she’ll rope me into grading with her.
Let's party with the pretty teacher. Although let's not drink too much so that we can actually work tomorrow.
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[x] Nah, screw it. Early to bed means early to rise.
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[x] Invite Keine to drink? That or she’ll rope me into grading with her.
Gensokyan cream!
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[x] Nah, screw it. Early to bed means early to rise.

Let's try to avoid getting a hangover on our first day, eh?
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[x] Invite Keine to drink? That or she’ll rope me into grading with her.
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[x] Nah, screw it. Early to bed means early to rise.

Best to be well rested.
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[x] Nah, screw it. Early to bed means early to rise.

We did eventually get around to eating dinner, Keine cooked some good fish from one of the more adventurous fishermen. It was a bit quiet while eating, but it was a more pleasant silence now that I didn’t need to worry about explaining my sudden change in work scope.

In my time waiting, I decided to get productive and skim through some of the details of what I’m doing. The pile of papers I was given detail a lot about different regions, their flora and fauna specifically. Strangely it even details areas like Higan or its connected river Sanzu. It’s wild that these places are just physical areas that anyone can travel to, bar the fact that the Higan is only accessible to the already dead.

Back onto more important topics, one packet had a specific list of wanted information. A lot of the points have to do with the power of any individual or how their power might work. I guess I should have expected this, but I still thought this would have already been done by Akyuu. Oh well, there are at least several points that want me to mention things like dietary habits or shelter method. Shelter method? Did they literally take a page out of some 101 class on biology?

Jokes aside, the shelter thing needs to be figured out. I did read an article detailing Cirno to live on the lake itself in an igloo, but the same article stated that the igloo was destroyed causing Cirno to also go on a rampage amongst the fairies. She couldn’t seriously just make another igloo afterward, right? I already know I won’t like the answer, but I can hope.

As I’m prepping for bed, I take a few moments to recall some points from the Gensokyo chronicle article on Cirno. I wonder if Akyuu internally calls it the Gensokyo chronicle or the Perfect Memento in Strict Sense. I’ve seen it sold in the village under the latter name. The information in them is really good for the day to day person that might find themselves outside the village walls. Some of the things mentioned on Cirno are suspect to me, though. Specifically some points on how her powers work contradict her nature. If she really can freeze things instantly, that should mean her power is many magnitudes greater than expected of any fairy.

I’ll need to meet the fae in person to get conclusive answers, but it does leave me wondering. With this persisting curiosity I grab my journal to note down information that I might want to double check the authenticity of. I skip the first few empty pages of the journal to start writing ; I don’t know what I want to write for a preamble yet, if I even need one. I’m not making a strict chemist’s lab journal.

After I finish my notes, I put away all the items I was using and crawl over to my futon. Keine’s complained already that I don’t put mine away, but I think it’s far too weird to put your bed away in a closet. In the same way I leave the futon in a corner of the room. So many differences from home here. The food, the culture, the language are all different. Speaking of, I haven’t properly stopped to question that last thing. I don’t know Japanese in the slightest but from day one I was able to read, write, and speak like it was second nature. Includedly, I can still write in English when I focus on doing so.

It’s much like an overly specific blessing, but there’s no reason that I have this. So why?

It could be some god’s divine power, but I’m pretty sure I was the same when I first got here.

This means that it must be some passive effect on the area. A passive effect on all of Gensokyo? I think I get what’s happening.

I open my eyes to meet the morning twilight. It seems what I was thinking about was caught right in a lucid moment just before waking. Whatever the case, I roll out of bed, the futon covers I mean, and skitter to the low table I’ve been using for my desk. I take the journal back out from a day pack I’ll be using and flip open the first page. Thus, I write the preamble:

These pages are for the use of discussing and observing things of the residents of this land, Gensokyo. Although every individual is quite the oddity in of themselves, there exists one being that almost has a mind of its own, The Great Hakurei Barrier. The barrier is what separates the outside world of science and technology from the mystic and fantastic, but is made to do so very strangely. Things that are common to the outside world are taken to be just the opposite inside the barrier. Simple logic doesn’t always follow through cleanly. Reality seems to bend like a street magician would a spoon. So to better understand the beings of this place, let me first explore different coincidences that may beg question of causation versus relation due to The Great Hakurei Barrier.

In other terms, the list of weird things The Great Hakurei Barrier does:
- Language seems affected by the barrier. If I were to guess, the common logic is that wherever you go in the world a different language is used, and so within the barrier everyone may speak, read, or write the same language. Further discussion needed for why the language of Japanese was chosen besides the region with this reasoning. Cit. I don’t know a single letter in Japanese, yet I write and speak it fluently.

- The hierarchy of the region seems to be affected. I suppose I should specify this as the power dynamic between genders, for lack of more eloquent speech. Whilst most historical figures of importance to the outside world are male, nearly every name thrown around inside the barrier is a woman’s. This is to the point that the only male figure the people of the human’s village may point you to is a reclusive shop owner outside of the town. Albeit there is a “council of elders” that the people talk about, specific members are rarely discussed. Cit. The chronicled past of these lands detail the many individuals that live or lived here, and thus this correlation has been made.

- Similar to the last point, majority of important figures are of a young age or of a young looking age. Besides the council of elders, no individual in roles of power or fame have an apparent age of over forty. A majority are only half that, in fact. The reasoning may be identical to the previous point as well, in that figures of the outside world are normally prominent when they are well and aged, but inside the barrier the opposite may be true.

Oh wow, I went at that for a hot second. I think it would be better to stop there for now. Nobody is going to read those thick paragraphs I left over something taken to be so mundane. I’ll leave the rest of the introductory pages blank in case I think of more, though. It could come up as something explanatory. Maybe.

Packing my belongings back up, I move over into the main room where the seating table is. I take a moment to notice the odd sight of Keine’s dumb box hat enshrined on a set of shelves. I guess she leaves the hat there enshrined during the night, but seriously, why?

“I must be hallucinating for you to already be up,” Keine states, groggily from just waking up.

I set my papers out for another read through when Keine comes out of her room in her white dress. I didn’t even realize the white was a separate piece from the blue. She seems a bit oddified to see me awake and active so damn early, but that’s understandable. Maybe she can eventually come to trust me in my sleeping habits.

She makes tea and eventually some breakfast to a relaxed conversation between us, and then we both move to get ready for the day. In reality, I’m only getting my shoes on and heading out the door. No need to clean up when you expect to get a little dirty, after all.

Keine calls a wish of good luck for me as I’m moving. Now it’s over to the northern gate as I said last night.

The walk is the same as usual, with the active members of society moving about for their daily work to start up. Upon reaching the gate, I can find neither hide nor hair of my foxy attendant. I ask the guards where she ended up and they point me to a farmhouse a few fields out.

I find Ran handing a package over to a farmer. No clue what is in the wood box. I wait for her to find me instead.

She beelines to the gate before noticing me waiting.

She walks up and says, “You arrived faster than anticipated. Work will be done better the earlier it starts.”

“Do I really come off as someone that would be tardy to the first day on a job?” I say.

“It is not a servant’s place to comment.” Smartass. At least she seems more sociable this morning.

Speaking of, I ask, “What was that you were carrying?”

“It was a delivery of out of season vegetables from the Buddhist temple to that farmer.”

“You were running a delivery for the Buddhists?”

“They gave me shelter the prior night,” she says. I guess someone says shelter instead of place to rest.

“Let’s talk about this on the walk,” I say, moving toward the Misty Lake.


“Well I can’t fly.”

“I can carry you.”

“Pass. I’d rather keep my two feet on solid ground for as long as possible,” I say and wave off the suggestion. I’d also rather see the sights of the nearby area to get a better idea on the lay of the land. A very tourist approach to things, but it works well enough. Yep, that’s the lie I’m sticking with.

On the way, Ran in her usual scientific paper vocabulary, explains that a member of the Myouren temple was making a return trip from the mountain and found her wandering the woods just out of the village. It seems they interpreted this as her being disowned by everyone and left to fend for herself. Ran gave no objection to an offer of housing at the Myouren temple, of course. She had no reason to refuse at all.

“The Youkai present to those halls are rowdy, however. Meeting them in person gives better perspective that their lot are really nothing like Buddhists,” Ran comments.

“How should a Buddhist act, then?” I ask in return.

“Subdued. Much the inverse of them,” she puts her nose a bit in the air for the comment. Rare that I get a legitimate opinion out of her. Guess I should try theology and philosophy to get her more talkative.

“What’s your thought on Byakuren’s life goal, Ran?”

“To house and convert Youkai to a point of being peaceful and cooperant with humans,” Ran whispers inflectively. “It should be impossible. The goal itself is non antagonistic, so there is nothing wrong with her attempts. It’s already been discussed enough the paradoxical nature of a Youkai of faith, so I’ll not speak on it. Although…” She trails off.

I look over to her as she cups her chin in thought. “Although what?” I ask.

“Nothing. Semantics if anything.”

“Alright, well looks like we got to the shoreline anyway,” I state stopping at the edge of the waterline. It seems the trail goes directly along the edge the whole way.

The Misty Lake, a central location for some Youkai and fairies. The cold doesn’t make it a very popular hub for humans, but all other activity is present. Fairies dance and skip on the ice chunks in the distance. A mermaid sits on a rock viewing them in the distance. A village worker dragging a cart is walking the trail on the far side, whilst a fisherman takes position a short walk away. It’s the middle of the morning by now, so the mist is beginning to form some amount.

This is all well and good, except for the part where I don’t spot the ice fairy anywhere. In fact, the fairies I do spot all seem to be woodsy green, not some cold bluish colors. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that fairies are colored to their connection with nature.

There are several possibilities here for where she could be. From what I know, there should not by any right be an igloo on the water, but it’s absolutely going to still be there if we look. The Scarlet Devil Mansion is on the far side of the lake, and wow does it look tiny compared to the lake. I wasn’t expecting the lake to be this kind of size, this is going to be over and hour or two to walk to the other side.

I can feel my face slack into a tired frown. Ran is standing ahead and I can tell that she wants me to comment. I refuse to give in so soon. I will not be carried like a damsel, damn it!

I should consider my options, I don’t have forever here.

[x] Ask the locals if they’ve seen the fairy

[x] Check at the mansion

[x] Give in and fly to the igloo that definitely will but shouldn’t be there.

I can't channel my inner Suika like this. I'll instead give you internal ramblings about some oddities I like to think about. Please like this TED talk for more musings on the internal workings of a fictional setting. Now in seriousness, I didn't much like the mid section of this, but I can't place why.
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2022/06/28 (Tue) 12:00

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[x] Give in and fly to the igloo that definitely will but shouldn’t be there.

Carry us, Ran!
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[x] Ask the locals if they’ve seen the fairy

May as well get a primer on how to deal with fairies before we get to the real deal.
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[x] Ask the locals if they’ve seen the fairy

Seems like the most sensible option. And one that is probably the least time-consuming depending on how many we choose to question.
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[x] Give in and fly to the igloo that definitely will but shouldn’t be there.
When she lets go of you in mid-air, remember to spread your arms out for more air resistance. We get to live longer.
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[x] Give in and fly to the igloo that definitely will but shouldn’t be there.

I want tails, I want fried tofu, I want to be held, etc.
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[x] Give in and fly to the igloo that definitely will but shouldn’t be there.

In a moment of depressive sanity I consider the options. Stopping at the mansion? No, it would take some time for me to walk all the way around the lake with the least guarantee of finding the fairy. Asking the locals? Fairies are given to notorious attention spans fitting their childlike appearance while the mermaid likely doesn’t keep tabs on things above water. I wonder how deep the water is, anyway?

Anyway, the conclusion I have to finding Cirno is retracting my words from not even an hour ago.

I close my eyes and my brows now pinch, meeting with my disappointment at the situation. I can’t even go one day outside the village without flight. What an absurd required convenience. It’s like needing a car because the public transport system wasn’t designed right! In this case, though, the car is actual magic.

My eyes open to find Ran patiently waiting. She must have noted the surroundings and the optimal path before I even checked if Cirno was with the fairies.

Without enthusiasm, I shrug and say to Ran, “All right. We seem to need to fly if we’re getting anywhere. I still don’t like the idea of being carried, but I’ll suck up my issues for now.”

Ran remains almost the same as always. There’s only a slight lift of her eyebrows when saying, “Indeed. This is the most efficient use of my presence right now. Remain still.”

She briskly approaches, stopping at my right.

“Oh come on, at least make fun of how quickly I changed my mind! I just said I’ll never fly like ten minutes ago!”

“You came to a rational decision for the best possible solution after being presented further context. Shame on you.”

She takes her left arm across my abdomen and launches me onto her shoulder in a lumberjack carry. Before I get my next words out we’re already rising above the lake water.

My head feels like it’s hanging on a hook from this position. I swivel my view to try and get a look ahead or at Ran. I can get a good view of the water below but not ahead, and I can see Ran’s face by passing my view under my arm. I probably appear like a dead body. Or at least I feel like one right now.

I take my vantage and ask as calmly as possible, “Ran? Why are you carrying me like this?”

The upside down Ran responds, “This is the optimal carrying position as it allows one of the carrier’s arm free movement and both of the carried person’s arms free movement.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. Now how about in terms of comfort? Have you stopped to consider the blood currently rushing to my head like this?”

“Your position should not be changed mid flight. Further discussion on this topic can be held when the next flight is required.”

“Did I do something to piss you off? Was it not vouching for you to stay at Keine’s?”

“Perish the thought. These arrangements must be tested to know their quality. Is there any more to comment on this carrying position?” she asks, looking at me for response.

I scratch at my scruff. “Well… I do feel like my stomach is clotheslined like this. I’m also sure that this doesn’t look good for the fairies on the edge of the water.”

“These comments shall be taken into account for later.”

“Yeah, uhuh. Do you see what we’re looking for, yet? I can’t exactly search from my angle.” I’m crossing my arms now to get across my displeasure here. That’ll surely work.

“That should be it below us now. I had observed ripples on the water from some large perturbation earlier and so I’ve flown along the normal from our original position to the point of origin. The lake itself does not have flow, so the object we seek will not stray far from this path.”

“Why did you assume that the point of impact was near Cirno’s igloo? Seems like a leap in logic, even if it did work.”

“Happenings in Gensokyo love to be connected with specific individuals, Tanner. An empirical law that should help you once internalized,” Ran says with a wag of her finger during our descent.

Getting a closer look at the area, it is indeed an ice shelf. One with a lot of icy rubble scattered around. Remember when I said that Cirno shouldn’t have her igloo in the same location because the last one was torn down as a mean spirited prank? Deja vu.

Touching down Ran ensures my feet are on the ground before releasing her bear grip on my stomach. Those old chronicles didn’t lie when they said Youkai had a lot of strength. I give my back the feeling of unfolded liberation it deserves and begin to look around more. Cirno isn’t around, of course. I didn’t expect it to be that easy.

What is here is the base of the igloo still intact, so whatever broke it only targeted the home. That is to say this ice shelf is surprisingly sturdy, if otherwise. The shelf is about a canoe and a half in length. How long is that in actual units? About four meters in diameter I think. Unsurprisingly, there is nothing inside the once enclosed space of the igloo. I didn’t really expect fairies to have personal possessions. No wait, there’s a frozen sunflower under some of the rubble. Shining from another spot appears to be a badge with a trident on it. I’m going to pocket the latter as it seems like something that shouldn’t be lost in this wreck.

Though, the ice itself seems thicker than I thought. I carefully maneuver to the shelf’s edge to get a grip on the plate of ice and find it to fit my entire grip to the second knuckle. Damn, did that fairy really make this all by herself? Definitely need to ask her.

Concluding my observations I notice Ran is looking back out to the edge of the lake, or at least the opposite edge we came from.

I find my footing again and slide over to her. The ice feels so weird with how it lacks any dirt or snow on the surface; it has no shuffling sound and I’m unsure if I can slip more or less easily. It’s probably clean because it was made directly over the water. Wait it would be with the water, right? No, stop there, that’s a pretty scary thought.

I stop next to Ran and look out in the same direction. Whatever she sees in the treeline I don’t. So I ask, “What are we looking at?”

She removes a hand from her sleeves and points a bit above the horizon. “Do you see above the forestry? It is bright out right now but the light of a battle is also present,” she says.

“So naturally that’s Cirno fighting whoever broke her house? It can’t be that simple, right? I mean I heard people fight here as a form of greeting so it could be someone else,” I say while loosely waving toward the spot.

Ran considers the argument for a moment and follows with, “That is true, however danmaku duels are not so common that causation must be secondary to correlation.” With that she wraps an arm around my chest and locks me in a hug, then we start ascending.

“Ran, what is this?” I say with the vigor of a large dog that’s plucked off the ground. Well, maybe more than the vigor, I’m sure I have the same face as one.

“We are flying,” she replies. “Is there any problem with this arrangement? I’ve taken into consideration your comments from previously.”

“Am I a giant stuffed animal?”

“No. You are the human Tanner Regis. Might you require a psychological evaluation?” she answers dry as always.

“Ran this isn’t funny. Why can’t you just carry me with both hands like a normal person?”

“Is this truly the imperative topic?”

“I’d like to think so!”

Approaching the spot Ran pointed to I can see the flickering lights more clearly. Somebody’s fighting somebody. That much is obvious, but we’re hoping it’s Cirno specifically.

I insisted that we return to the ground when we started getting close to a clearing. I didn’t want to disturb whatever was happening. That and if Cirno is there it’s a good chance to see her power in action.

Breaking view of the clearing I now see the source of the lights. One childlike figure clad in blue… and red… and some white? Is that a fairy wearing the American flag? What the fu-

“Clownpiece! I will make you say sorry for messing with the strongest in Gensokyo!” there’s some familiar words. I think I know where those words came from. Above one end of the clearing is the fairy of ice, Cirno. It seems she’s no worse for wear as despite the scuff marks on her dress, she looks perfectly fine. If anything, she’s practically incensed right now. I think I could venture a guess as to why.

Now while the two fairies are above the clearing Ran and I are still in the treeline, intent on observing. They’ve been fighting, but I can’t tell for how long. I’ll need Ran to fill me in on some basics of the dueling system, since I only know of its basics. Currently they’re firing at each other, the flag fairy using large waves of star shaped bullets while Cirno blasts ice shards directly across the field. I just noticed the flag fairy is wearing a jester cap… and holds a torch? Seriously what is with that outfit? This makes Keine’s box hat look normal by comparison. Hell, it makes even Ran’s coupon sticker hat look normal.

While I am paying attention to the crazy fairy’s attire I’m paying more attention to what Cirno is doing. Inside the star waves she weaves through seamlessly, and when lasers occasionally accompany the spread she outright freezes the bullets in front of her. That’s a pretty insane tactic, just encasing the bullets in ice to cause them to fall or break apart. The speed at which the localized cold snap occurs is incredible, and the range on it acts more like a conducted shock propagating through connected bullets. In fact, it takes on a pattern I’d expect of a bolt of electricity attempting to tether to grounds.

The American(?) fairy shouts mid volley, “I won’t lose to some smallfry! I’ve still got a spellcard to deal with you.” She pulls a card with a slight flourish that also catches the torch’s fire. Raising her torch, a large object takes shape above her. Is that the god damn moon?

The new moon orbits the fairy and she couples it with a counter orbiting source of spiraling fiery bullets. Cirno doesn’t seem very phased by the fiery bullets as she glides along the contrail. As she preps to freeze the bullets for some breathing room, however, the fiery bullets don’t seem very phased by her. She dives with a yelp to move behind the moon for cover.

This barrage is a bit too much for me. I need to get closer to continue observing.

I look behind to ask Ran, “Is there any way that I can get closer without being hurt in that? It’s too bright to see what the ice fairy is doing to retaliate.”

Ran follows the pattern for a second, and then looks to the ground for where the spirals peter out. She concludes and says, “Though ill advisable, that set of bushes will keep you visibly covered and safe, should you remain supine.”


“Lying face upwards.”

I look at the set of bushes a walk around the clearing and begin through the treeline. I make sure to watch my footing and keep my steps quiet, as I don’t want the fairies to know they have spectators. Ran follows at a regular pace without concern of her footfall. I don’t mind since she’s light on her feet anyway, hell she might just be floating a small amount and fake walking.

My back and knees give a little argument against my slide into the ground, but I ignore the complaints to continue my army crawl into the bushes. I sidle into a sidelong position to look out from my plant cage. Not the most comfortable hiding spot, but I’ve had worse.

Thankfully this didn’t take more than a couple dozen seconds to get to, as Cirno is still dodging the assault, a little more rhythmically now. In her panic she’s fashioned herself a shield from some formed ice, but it’s pocked with dents from the fire bullets’ heat. Her open side is firing around the shield with baseball sized balls of ice. Their path doesn’t seem to go all the way to her opponent, as the fire melts them along the way. I can only barely feel the residual heat, but it must be immense near the center.

I hear a slight shuffle from my bushes, I look expecting Ran to be going for visual as well, but nothing is in sight. I must be going paranoid or insane.

I take another look at the avalanche of fire Cirno’s found herself in. She’s down to the thinnest bits of her shield, and no longer able to focus on firing anything at the opposing fairy. Now I catch a glimpse of her face.

She’s smiling, like a maniac. Something between pure joy and a raw fury. A face a street boxer wears on his sixth continuous round in the ring. I always considered this image to be something absurd or ridiculous, but apparently nature thinks it normal for her sprites.

I’m not the only one keeping my eyes on Cirno now, as her opponent is blanched by the false confidence displayed. The American fairy intensifies her fire in both senses at the insult. Cirno’s absolutely losing the fight, but she’s without a care in the world over it. In some way she’s won, but God knows what way that is.

I hear from my peripheral a quiet, “One, two…”

I pull my attention from the spectacle above and feel things grasping at my waist and legs. Things because I can’t see a fucking thing-


At the call my khakis are slipped straight off, the belt included.

“Augh!” I can’t help but shout.

My thoughts are in shambles attempting to process what’s happening, but my first coherent act is to look for the perpetrator.

I see none, but I do see my pants flying away, literally. I’ve got a clear view of Ran who’s outright surprised. And lastly, the lights from the fight are quickly fading, accompanied by a gentle thud in the dirt behind me. Oh what to address first?

[x] Pants, obviously. No way I’m walking around a world of women leaving briefs as my first impression.

[x] Still got shoes and a shirt, and that means I’m in service. Gotta prioritize the work here regardless of common decency.

[x] Surely I can think of something more than binary options! (write in)

Yet another update! I made sure to add a bit more to dialogue sections in terms of actions or gestures. Overall I quite like this chapter just on the fun aspect of things. Next update still contains Cirno regardless, since I am definitely not railroading or anything!
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[x] Pants, obviously. No way I’m walking around a world of women leaving briefs as my first impression.

We probably have a few spares in our pack.
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[x] Pants, obviously. No way I’m walking around a world of women leaving briefs as my first impression.
Yeah, Tanner isn't Walter White. I don't think he can make running around in briefs look cool.
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[x] Throw a rock! Flying pants aren't immune to rocks! Probably.
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Ran! We need to document!
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[x] Pants, obviously. No way I’m walking around a world of women leaving briefs as my first impression.

I get my ass off the ground. Can’t run after flying pants if I’m in the dirt. Ran recovers her own composure to look over to me.

Of course, she says, “Enjoying the lake air?”

“Seriously? I need to lose my pants for you to crack a joke?” I say with my evil eye.

“It seemed fitting to the situation.”

“AH!” I hear from behind us. The colorful fairy is next to Cirno’s body. Seems Cirno got hit by the end of the other fairy’s spellcard and fell. It also seems that the fairies are getting a great view of me bearing not quite my all to the world.

The American fairy stares in horror. She points at me and says, “Cirno, it’s one of those pervert things! Master told me we need to run!” She proceeds to fly off in the clear other direction with all haste. Poor girl almost seems traumatized given how wide her eyes were. Cirno, on the other hand, is just staring from her grass bed.

I look back in the direction that my shame flew off in. “I hope this won’t cause too much trouble.”

“There is no public list of sex offenders for Gensokyo.”

“Jesus, Ran. What the hell?!”

“Hey, fox lady, what’s a six offender?” Cirno asks in complete innocence.

“It is a class c felony in which-”

“Ran I SWEAR TO GOD do not finish that sentence!” I shout in exasperation. “Just… go grab my pants, please.”

“I’ll go fetch them.” Ran simply states and flies off. I’m unsure whether to feel bad for yelling or not. I’ll need to discuss what she considers polite conversation later.

Wait, she flew off, but without me. I’m just standing around now. “At least bring me with you!” I shout to the fox already in the distance. She continues to shrink from view, and so I’m left to accept my fate and begin hoofing it.

This side of the lake forestry is about the same as I entered in from, but with more foliage and rough terrain from less travel. It’s not quite over to a more common section of walking to the foot of the mountain so it’s not used by anything but fairies, really.

I make careful way through the bushes and brambles back toward the lake. Ran flew off in this direction, but hopefully my pants didn’t make it over the lake already. Breaking through the treeline I can now see that the Misty Lake is living up to its name. It’s about 11:37am according to my watch, so this is probably the thickest the fog gets in the day. I can’t see anything through this, in fact it’s thick enough to cut.

“So what now?”

“I guess I go around to the other side and hope Ran caught it there,” I say in response.

Wait, who? I jolt sideways away from Cirno, who I guess followed me. This kid is nuts. She doesn’t even know me yet she’s acting casual enough to be right next to me.

“Cirno, why are you following me?”

“You look weird, but also like you need help! But you’re also super weird coming out of a bush! I’m gonna make sure you don’t do bad things,” Cirno retaliates with a shred of indignation in her voice.

“Alright, fine. I need to talk to you anyway, but I’d rather do so with pants on,” I say and begin walking the trail.

She’s gliding beside me to keep at eye level, declaring, “Don’t people not care about pants? It was shoes and shirts.” She cups her chin in thought.

“Kid, what are you… No, wait. No shoes, no shirt? Where did you even hear that?” I’m trying to wrap my head around where logic starts and ends for fairies. It’s not working well.

“Mystia told me that when I wasn’t wearing socks at her stand one time. It’s so mean to fairies!” Cirno says throwing her hands down.

“Why would you even remember something like that? Why would the bird even remember that? You make me question if my head’s on right. Even more than how everyone can fly.”

I stop when I hear a loud splash from the water. A body flies out toward me and lands on the ground. No, wait, it’s the mermaid of the lake from earlier. She flops for a moment.

“Pah!” the mermaid shouts as she lifts her face from the ground. “I saw a white flag on the shoreline! Is someone in trouble?!”


She looks between the confused faces Cirno and I have. When we don’t respond she trails her look back to eye level.

The woman flushes before saying, “I’m sorry, it seems you’re in the middle of something. Please excuse me.” And with that she does a hearty flop back into the water.

“What was wrong with Waggy? She went angry red,” the fairy questions.

Suddenly, I feel like dying. Haven’t felt like that in a while. I think I’ll ask Ran for that psychological evaluation later.

But really, is everywhere outside of the village such a madhouse? There’s too much happening at once to keep up with. Next thing I know a god is going to show up out of nowhere. I need Ran to get back to help me make sense of this.

A little later I’ve lost my speed and now traipse around the lakeside, hoping no one else shows up to misconstrue what’s happening. Thankfully, I spot the giant yellow furball flying above the trail. This time, carrying a bit of familiar khaki under her arm. Wait, that isn’t just my pants. She must be carrying the troublemaker I couldn’t see.

So I can see it now, then? Magic nonsense. I’ll stop questioning the frequency that this comes up... eventually. Maybe.

Ran touches down across from Cirno and I. I thank her as she hands me back my pantaloons. She continues to set down the incapacitated victim and perpetrator. It’s a fairy in a lighter tan dress with blonde hair. A lot of blondes, huh?

I don’t find myself mad at the little girl, at least not when she’s been put out cold, anyway. Time to shift gears back to why I’m really here. And hopefully reestablish an air of professionalism.

Don’t laugh! I swear I’m a real academic worker.

I get my pants back on, a few extra holes present from their travel through the bushes and trees. Then I turn to Cirno and greet myself, “Hello, ice fairy. To introduce myself finally, I am Tanner Regis, a researcher.”

Cirno gives me a little survey before asking Ran, “fox lady, isn’t this guy weird? What’s a researcher?”

After attaching a few more paper dolls to the fairy she was carrying, Ran acknowledges Cirno, “Researchers are those that study things within the world. In this case, Tanner was watching you from a set of bushes.”

“Please watch your phrasing, Ran. I was spectating the battle, not watching like a lecher,” I tut Ran. She’s done this joke already… These aren’t jokes, I already know this. Talk about it later.

I look back at Cirno before I continue speaking, “I already know a bit about you, Cirno. I am here to learn more about you at the request of the human village. They desire to know more about notable individuals of Gensokyo. Do you have a while to stop and talk with me?”

Cirno is listening intently but also with a completely blank look. She takes a moment to stop and change to a thoughtful look, saying, “So people finally understand my greatness? Of course I’ll tell you more!”

At least she’s making this easy. I motion for Cirno to use a close rock for a seat. I grab the notebook and a pencil from my satchel to start recording important parts of the conversation.

“So, I of course know your name, but if you could just start with basic information for the sake of it,” I tell Cirno.

She’s swinging her legs from the rock as she settles back from the last half hour or so. She starts to talk, “I’m, uhm, Cirno. The strongest in Gesokyo. An ice fairy. Friends with Daiyousei, Rumia, Wriggle… uhmmm…” she stalls out thinking of what to say next.

“It’s alright, Cirno. I can ask you things to answer if you’d like.”

“Mhm,” she sounds and nods along.

I take a bit of advantage of this, as I’m finally in a position that I can let my curiosity be unfettered and ask whatever inane absurdity it wants. I start with pieces of interest for the contract, like the extent of her powers, how much she knows about fairies, and the purpose of her wings. Each something she doesn’t have much answer for. The most she has for her power is that she can freeze things and summon ice. She knows the barest minimum of what a fairy is, an extension of nature.

When asked about her wings, she responds, “I don’t know why they’re like this. Why, do you think it’s weird?” There’s genuine concern in her voice and expression when speaking. She’s a bit of an open book. Maybe there’s something more to it, but I won’t bring it up unless it becomes pertinent.

After this I switch to some questions of personal curiosity. Where does Cirno or any of the fairies get their clothes? What other kind of fairy types are there? Who gives them names? The first and last question getting a resounding ‘uhm’ or ‘uh’ but the second question is answered to my intrigue.

Turns out fairies come in a lot of flavors, with some I wouldn’t guess at all. There are those like Cirno, tied to obvious pieces of nature: plant life, winds, storms, natural air temperatures and the like. Things that seem to govern phenomena of the natural world. But then she lists some surprising limits of what the ‘natural world’ is considered. The fairy that Ran captured, as well as another two that helped her, all three are attuned to the heavenly lights. It is an attunement as all fairies supposedly have some minor power based on their reflection of the world, what might be called the nature of a fairy. I find this one named Luna especially odd, since the moon isn’t a light source at all, just a reflection of sunlight. Perhaps I could ask her about her powers in relation to daytime. After she accepts her punishment due, that is.

Then Cirno says the strangest one imaginable, a hell fairy, Clownpiece. The fairy that beat her earlier. As comical and strange as her outfit is, it has nothing to do with her actual nature. In fact, it’s hard to say that her power deals with nature as I know it. Looking into Clownpiece’s torch can drive people mad, and this isn’t even limited to humans. This would imply that psychology, or the mind itself, is a foundation of the universe. It’s difficult to imagine that the divine nature of human consciousness, or even the consciousness of fantastic beings, to be something considerably innate to the world itself. That a will could be as ordinary as the wind or rain. Or maybe I should consider this in a different light since the fairy herself is from literal hell. I’m unsure how I should parse this information.

Ran decides to speak up, “Please be sure you’re on the task at hand.”

She seems to have been paying more attention to me, not the fairy distracted in her seat by nearby wildlife. I have been asking quite a bit about the hell fairy, so the topic shifted progressively away from Cirno.

I push off Ran’s chide with a simple, “Yeah, yeah.”

I decide that I’ve asked enough for today, and shelve the more existential questions that I now have. It’s a bit into the afternoon by now, and I know I wouldn’t be able to hold this fairy down much longer. I don’t consider myself bad company, but the novelty of someone professionally asking deep or obtuse questions can wear off fast.

This was only the beginning, though. I have the foundations done but there is still ground to cover. Notably, attempting to understand Cirno’s power in depth. I’m not looking forward to it since there’s no way in hell that it doesn’t break some god damn conservation law. Maybe there’s someone that can show me something to unify some of these fantastic things back to the mundane.

I ask Cirno one more thing before we part today, “Hey, Cirno. Would it be fine if I came back to ask you more? I want to know what sort of things you do in your day.”

Cirno shoots back another confused look, saying, “Well, duh. You can come back. I still need to teach you more of the strongest lessons!” She ends with a hearty wide grin.

“Ughhh…” a droll ring sounds next to us.

Oh yeah, one of the troublemakers. I should do something to dissuade her and her friends from trying something again. Actually, thinking on it, Cirno said that the light fairies were residents near the shrine, not here. Not only that, but they were responsible for destroying Cirno’s house as a prank the first time. So…

“Hey, wait a sec’, Cirno. Why was your home broken to begin with?” I begin contemplating.

Cirno gives a thoughtful look with an eye closed and the other to the sky. She then follows with, “Clownpiece said something about getting me back for her friends. Is it the three jerks?”

“They were close by enough to steal my pants, right? Causation trumps correlation here. Your opinion, Ran?”

“A teacher that learns quickly. A good thing.”

“I’ll take that as I’m right. Well in that case, how about a little retribution for giving us the runaround?” I rub my hands in ye olde villainous clasp.

What to do with this kid?

[x] I’m sure I can come up with something (specify)

[x] Got some ideas, Ran? (Likely to be torturous)

[x] Wanna have some fun, Cirno? (Likely to be torturous, cold ver.)

That was nice, but I didn't get as much out of that scene as I thought I would. I'm getting lame, couldn't milk the joke for all it was worth. I also wasn't feeling quite as inspired to improve on any aspect of the writing itself, so I'm unsure how the quality is holding up. Ah well, I'll let it be for another couple updates and see how I feel.
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[x] Wanna have some fun, Cirno?
Revenge is a dish best served cold. I also can't think of anything specific that would be appropriate so more observation of the subject in her natural environs is fine too.
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I'm not sure how effective it will be here but I've read in some SDM fanfics that fairies are particularly susceptible to a lack of stimulation. Basically, Sakuya punishes misbehaving fairies by locking them up in a concrete room with nothing to do for a few hours. Many of them ending up traumatized by the experience.

Just throwing ideas out there in case we want to go with Option 1.
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[x] Wanna have some fun, Cirno? (Likely to be torturous, cold ver.)

May as well let nature run it's course~!

>“There is no public list of sex offenders for Gensokyo.”

this implies there's a private list somewhere. I wonder who has it~?

>“It is a class c felony in which-”

Does Japan run off of a criminal charge system similar to America? Or does Gensokyo have such a system?

which is to say, be careful when making these one-off jokes sometimes. In a story that focuses on world building and research, readers will potentially lock onto any odd or out of place detail to follow up on.
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[x] Wanna have some fun, Cirno?
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[x] Got some ideas, Ran? (Likely to be torturous)
I'm not a big fan of either option, but, when at the beach...
>I wonder who has it~?
Probably Akyuu.
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[x] Wanna have some fun, Cirno?

Something I’ve always found quite interesting: the versatility of nature. Any man can find beauty in nature, but there’s a certain artistic flair to its integration within fields such as engineering. Long before humans pondered how to make something like a robot move gracefully, the world already had answers. For many shapes, sizes, and every permutation, there is already a living creature that can be used as a reference for how something can move. That itself is a sidenote, though. The important idea is that man cannot help but ponder and inspect nature for his own purpose. I now have the opportunity to see what nature has learned from man.

I defer to the one with most rights on the matter, “Cirno, would you like to punish this fairy for what she did?”

“Well, duh,” she says, intoning how stupid of a question it was. I gesture her to the fairy. “Oh, you want me to. Yeah.”

Cirno inspects the stirring fairy. Probably deciding what she wants to do here. Luna looks like she’s just barely out. Cirno jostles Luna’s head against the tree she’s resting on, eventually rousing her, as well as a few leaves.

“Ugh! What?! Ah, Cirno!” the wrapped fae exclaims. “Please help! The scary fox lady hurt me!”

Luna stops her plea when she catches Ran and I standing in the corner of her eye. We’re just waiting to see what Cirno decides to do. Luna looks back to Cirno for an explanation.

Cirno begins to interrogate, “Luna, they said you had Clownpiece break my igloo.”

“What?! No, that’s-”

“Luna…” Cirno holds a look far more aged than her face.

“It was Star’s idea! She thought it would be funny if Clownpiece melted your igloo, but we didn’t think you’d still be there!” the meeker fairy pleads.

Cirno steels herself in a bit more vim, saying, “I’ll fight Clownpiece again later! I’ll win, too! But you’re here right now. Sunny and Star will think that it was just fine to be mean to me if I let you go!”

Luna shrinks against the tree at Cirno’s proclamation. She then clamps her eyes shut when Cirno reaches to pick her up from under her arms. The fairy is outright quivering, but I’m not sure if it’s fear or from how cold Cirno is. This looks like we’re tormenting a child. It’s more intense than I imagined it would be.

Luna chances a look at what Cirno is doing holding her up with her paper doll bindings still on.

Cirno then says, “For stealing this old guys pants, you are sentenced to ice pants!” Incredibly, the space around Ran and I doesn’t change temperature at all. Around the two fairies, though, the very air becomes visibly fogged. Cirno seems to be forming ice around Luna’s lower half, until it becomes a large block. It didn’t really click earlier that Cirno’s power can just do that. Make ice from thin air. I’ll ruminate on why that might be possible, but for the moment something else caught my attention.

“Where did she learn to speak like that?” I ask Ran as we spectate the event.

Ran keeps a keen gaze on the fairies while answering, “Years ago there was an incident in which all flowers bloomed, even those out of season. During that time the Yamaxanadu came into Gensokyo to help guide the people of her cared realm away from hell.”

Cirno stops flaunting her superiority to the other fairy, seemingly having a new thought catch her attention. Cirno grabs the underside of the block and with a huff she flings the block into a grip right above her head. The fairy above struggles against her restraints to no leave, so she also pleads to be let down. Cirno has an iron grasp and uses it to carry the half fairy half block of ice off. Ran gestures for me to follow behind them.

As we tail the absurd hostage situation, I pick our conversation back up, “So the Yama coming obviously sounds like quite the religious experience, but I can’t imagine Cirno here sitting down for sermons from a god. Actually, I can’t imagine any of the Youkai doing that, from what I read.”

“That would be because they all fought the Yama and listened only after losing to her,” Ran explains.

Ah, that makes sense. Wait… “All of them? How many were there?”

“We keep close eyes on scenarios where important figures travel in Gensokyo, at that time we counted fifteen other unique individuals of note, including the few important humans and Gensokyo’s ferryman Shinigami,” Ran recounts from memory.

“I empathize with your poor Yama. I at least never needed to fight an entire class worth of students to get them to listen. On the bright side, I’m sure a French or German philosopher would have a field day hearing that.”

It was a fairly short walk, as we’ve arrived back at the lake. I assume this is where Cirno was going, as she stopped walking as well. Now that it’s later in the afternoon, the water is crystal clear and I can once again see the other side. The chill introduced by the water is always in the air, so I’d bet Cirno naturally finds her way back as a place of comfort.

Cirno looks for a second before speaking up, “Alright Luna, now for the other part of your punishment! For breaking my house yet again, I sentence you to a water dunk!”

Luna rattles in her bindings to high energy again, saying, “Wait, Cirno! We can talk about this!”

Cirno looks up to respond, “Nah.” Then she proceeds to squat and push her captive through the air a fair distance. The splash cascades back to where we stand. The water is hellishly cold, like it came from somewhere far colder than this smoldering and humid Japanese forest.

I try to push the sheer cold out of my mind since Cirno just dunked someone in it. Speaking of, Luna seems to be capsized due to the mass of ice around her legs. No, wait, she can’t keep her head above water at all. Is she still bound by the dolls, too?

… Oh god she’s drowning!

Ran and Cirno are both onlooking like this is completely normal. I don’t think they understand what’s happening! I take a step forward to lunge into a sprint, but Ran grabs across my chest, stopping me.

With the same expression as always, she says, “It would be dangerous for you to submerge yourself.”

I look at her and back to the turbulent water around the ice block, which is now less energetic than before. She can’t really think nothing is wrong right now?!

“Ran that girl is dying!” I cry. I don’t have time to deal with arguments, so I try to break from Ran but she instead grapples me in a hug.

Cirno looks back in confusion and a hint of panic at my disturbance. She can’t tell how to respond to my outburst. I seem to be the only notable thing right now, not the child dying in the water.

Ran is restraining me from moving and only says, “Calm yourself, this is irrational. Fairies cannot die.”

“Fox lady, is that old guy okay? He looks like someone is hurting him,” Cirno tepidly asks.

“How are you both not doing anything?! This isn’t right!” I struggle out of Ran’s grasp only to find her sweep me to the ground.

“You are to remain in this position until you calm,” Ran commands as serenely as still water.

This isn’t what I thought would happen in the slightest. Why the fuck would anyone expect this to be what happens? Fucking hell!

I lie under Ran’s pin. At least for a little bit. I’m not sure how long it takes for me to calm down. I stopped looking at the water and paying attention to the sound of splashing, if there is any. I try to remind myself that fairies can’t die, and that I reacted because she looks human. It doesn’t help, really. I still feel like something vile happened so naturally in front of me. But that moment’s passed, and I’m the fool for speaking against it.

“Ran, I’ve calmed down now,” I say without the vigor left to put much feeling in my words.

She releases the weight on my back, saying, “This is true. Should you become stressed again you will be evacuated.”

“Ran…” I want to tell her what I’m thinking but I don’t think she’d be good emotional support for what just happened. How should I get across to this machine of a person that some things are really just not fine? I don’t even know how Youkai think in the first place, much less Ran.

“Are you hurt?” I hear Cirno say peaking from behind Ran. “You looked hurt on the ground.”

I think on my choice of words. I can’t be mad at Cirno as this is the world that she lives in, nothing that was meant for me to even see much less experience. I say, “I’m alright now, Cirno. But, why did you throw Luna in the water like that?”

Cirno responds, “I thought since she broke my house on the water, I’d put her there, too.” She states this with the most innocent look on her face.

“Right,” is all I can say. Fairies consider throwing people off of cliffs a prank, huh? I really thought that was pure exaggeration, but this is way worse. They don’t seem to even consider the implications of bodily harm to someone else! Now I know why Akyuu warned me of fairies, but I don’t feel even slightly better with that.

I have only one unaccounted thought at this point, and ask Ran, “Can you see if Luna’s really dead?”

“I can almost guarantee that there will not be a body attached to the ice, as fairy bodies dissipate on death.”

“Please, just check anyway.”

She quickly passes over the block and back, saying, “Empty, as was expected.”

I don’t consider much more to talk about, even though not much time has passed since we stopped interviewing. I can tell by the sun being in about the same spot and how little the chunk of ice melted in the water. I’m far too drained for any loose curiosity to strike me.

I wave Cirno off, saying that I’ll be back again tomorrow to continue what we left off, and start walking back to the village. It’s late in the afternoon by now, and I can only process what just happened.

A bit of cheap philosophy and poetics comes to mind in a question: what did nature learn from man? What does it mean that fairies are how they are? Their strange, wacky, and innocently evil selves.

I don’t know, and I wouldn’t know if anyone could possibly answer. I just know that I need a drink and some sleep after today. Maybe even welcome whatever words of wisdom Keine could have.

Well… today’s not over yet. There is one other thing that needs to be taken care of non job related.

I stop and Ran on my back flank does as well. I decide to get right to the matter, “Ran, where are you sleeping tonight? No, wait, where are you going from now on?”

“Back to the side of lady Yukari, of course,” Ran answers in absolute certainty.

“Right, but can you?”

She looks at me for a moment, maybe wanting to remark, but instead places her hand ahead of her. With a practiced motion, she slowly cleaves a line straight to the ground with her finger. And it… accomplishes nothing. Ran lets out a puff of breath that I can plausibly compare to a sigh.

She turns back to me to answer, “No, I cannot return to home.”

“Right, let’s sort that out, then.” I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be a one night thing for her.

“I will continue to seek shelter from the nearby woods. There will be space for me to evict current residents from-”

“Let’s find you some actual shelter, Ran. Not a nest in the woods.”

“What is the error in a Youkai seeking natural shelter in a forest?”

I think about where this train of thought is headed and venture an argument, “For one, the villagers probably don’t want a powerful Youkai holed in their piece of the woods.”

“Then I shall travel closer to the Youkai mountain which is purely neutral territory.”

“My other reason is that I’m selfish and would prefer if you had an actual roof. You’re a Youkai, but also not an animal.”

“Fallacious argument: I am an animal as it is the original form before the Youkai.”

“Then it’s below your prestige. Ran I’m rather unhappy over watching a fairy drown so rationality in my choices is emotion based, and I’m not too easy to rock.”

Ran stops talking entirely. I can’t tell if she’s discontent or thinking on it.

“Alright, let’s find you somewhere to rest,” I conclude. I begin walking, but Ran stops me.

Her eyes have a sharpness to them when she asks, “Do you consider me homeless, Regis?”

“My honest opinion? If you can’t return to your home it isn’t much of a home.”

That incites her. She turns me completely and grabs my collar. It goes without saying, but if looks could kill. “My home is by lady Yukari’s side, not some hovel that a human decides I should have,” she says in a low, stern voice.

I raise my arms in defeat and say, “I didn’t mean it like that! I know that you are sworn to Yukari or-”

“Speak of her in respect.”

“-Lady Yakumo or whatever service you are in to her. I have a reason, as silly as it is, but I guess you wouldn’t care to hear it right now.”

She lets go and return to her neutral stance but still says, “As you will,” with a bit of fire.

I take the reacquired silence in our walk to think on what to do. There are a lot of consequences that could come up from anywhere Ran ends up. I could try asking Keine again, even though I couldn’t get a word in edgewise last night. I don’t know, maybe I just need to be more assertive on it. I’m very cautious to even consider Myourenji as we only know them as friends of equal trade in information, so housing a non-faithful might mean they’ll try to elbow favors out of me or Ran… or Yukari even.

God I’m tempted to just literally buy a house and call it good. Not like I don’t have the damn money.

What to do:

[x] Convince Keine to take Ran in, somehow.

[x] Just buy a house, how hard can it be?

[x] You know what, you choose somewhere, Ran. Make sure it has a roof overhead.
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The Hakurei Miko is already used to dealing with a Komainu guardian and an Oni freeloader in her shrine if I remember correctly. Why not add a Kitsune to the list?
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[X] Go bug the red-white

dude above has a good idea, plus it'll be another likely place for Yukari to show up for Ran.
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[X] Go bug the red-white

i love this idea
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Hey all,
Just got into new work with a lot of manual labor and an included Saturday, so I've only gotten to writing today. Hopefully I'll have energy to finish about the other half tomorrow, but for now no post.
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[X] Go bug the red-white

Wait, there is an answer I hadn’t considered. I need to remember that we’re trying to house not just any Youkai, but Ran, and Ran has very particular duties to Gensokyo. Duties which likely keeps her in contact with the Hakurei, so why not try going there?

“Hey, Ran. Why don’t we ask the Hakurei shrine maiden to shelter you?” I ask, keeping the same leisure pace toward the village.

“I would recommend the same,” she answers.

My mind does a double take before I ask, “Wait, what do you mean?”

“Had you asked the most likely individual to keep me, then I would answer the shrine.”

I scratch at my scruff and speak an intelligent, “Oh. Huh… So we’re agreeing here? I honestly expected a bit more back and forth on that.”

“We could engage in a contest of shouting if you desperately seek entertainment,” Ran says with a mild squint belying her still soured mood. She doesn’t seem to like the idea of finding a home any more even when we’re on the same page, but at least she’s not fully against it now.

I give a small harrumph to her comment before she picks me back up into flight. I was complaining and thinking about other things when she picked me up before, but this way isn’t so bad. Certainly better than being sandbag carried. Ran seemed fixed on keeping a free hand. I do wonder how often people just fly into each other and start fighting, though. Doesn’t sound very sensible.

Well, sense is a bit dead in my eyes right now, that might not be a good measure. I think the concept of sweet and innocent fairies has been killed for me after today.

Being above the treeline with my feet loosely hanging is quite the strange feeling. A little blunt of a reminder for how common impossible things are here, but at least this is a more pleasant example.

Shit. I should be thinking of how to explain the current circumstance to the Hakurei. She’s apparently more crotchety than someone thrice her age, from what Keine told me. And from what Akyuu told me. And from some casual conversation I had in a bar when I dropped by last week. You know, she sounds like the type where you can just be really rude with her and she’ll strangely appreciate the honesty. Not that I’ll test it!

… A shrine maiden, huh? Fairies, foxes, vampires and so forth. All things I got used to hearing in less than a week. A guy can get used to things that don’t exist when he talks to them everyday.

There is one thing that hasn’t crossed my mind, yet.

“Hey, Ran. What is it with religions in Gensokyo?” I mouth from my limp position in her arm.

She gives only a slight pause before returning, “That is not something I am equipped to answer. Be more specific in the query.”

“Hm. I guess I’m wondering why there are different religions if gods are real. Or maybe how that’s possible at all. I’m not a religious guy, so I didn’t think of it until we brought up the shrine,” I say. I don’t know why I do bring it up, maybe a tick of existentialism digging at me.

Ran answers in no time flat, “Both Gensokyo and the outside world have equal use of religion. Each is based on individuals attempting to guide masses into a set of ethical practices, and each is lead by fallible beings.”

“That’s… somehow dissapointing. But I guess it’s unsurprising that it’s all about those at the top and how they think. Bah, whatever. I was atheistic before coming here, so I’m not much of one for belief and theology.”

“Do you believe there is some fallacy in going to the shrine?”

“No, I just had the thought wander in tangentially.”

“How frequently do you ‘wander?’”

“Frequently, truth be told. But not when I’m teaching. Main reason why I stuck to doing it at all.”

Ran doesn’t pick up any more conversation from there. We settle into a tranquil moment of flight as the sun digs into the horizon at our backs. The torii ekes into view at the top of a hill of trees, meaning we’re about there. One last thought catches up, trailing from before.

I ask, “Do Youkai like yourself believe in any kind of religion? The Buddhists exist but I don’t know if they take it seriously.”

Ran remains silent, probably deciding it’s a dumb question or something requiring too much context to explain. I leave it be for now as we set down in front of the torii to the shrine. My feet get the queerest feeling touching the ground again, but hopefully it won’t be any problem with blood circulation.

The first thing I notice about the shrine is how old the whole place looks. Not decayed or dilapidated, just old in structure and material. Like the cobble has been here forever, and that the wood has outlasted the trees around it. The latter is odd since I know I read an old incident article that the shrine collapsed only years ago. Maybe it has to do with sanctity of Shinto grounds.

Not that the Buddhist structure is a good comparison, being a literal transforming boat and all.

The second thing I notice in the area are the two distinct guardian statues adjacent to the cobble path. Both are the distinctly lion like and well known pieces to shrines. Even I’ve seen images of these things before. Komainus they’re called. What’s more important is that one of them should be alive, actually.

I waltz to the one with a closed mouth and begin speaking, “Hello, my name is Tanner Regis. I am looking for the Hakurei shrine maiden. Can you lead me to her?”

The stone remains in complacence without even an ounce of motion. Its pedestal is the only existence it knows. Actually, it looks quite worn on that pedestal compared to everything else of the shrine. Like they are the only things here really feeling time pass. It could just be that you can’t take care of a statue and make repairs the same as a building or walkway.

This statue hasn’t talked yet, so it’s probably the wrong one. I walk to the other one and repeat myself while Ran remains dead still in the middle of the walkway. I begin to think that I’m being tricked by the statues when I receive no response, but a small chuckle comes from the first one again.

“Sorry, but it was funny to see someone talk to statues so confidently. What do you need to see Reimu for?” responds a girl sliding out from behind the first statue. Long green hair, stone ears, odd horn. Yup, that’s the living komainu alright. She’s holding a broom to which I now notice the lack of dirt on only portions of the cobbled path.

Walking out, she catches the fox in view past her kin statue and continues speaking, “Oh? This is a nice visitor. Good to see you, Ran! Is miss Yakumo keeping you busy with stuff?”

Ran begins speaking in regular professional fashion, “Lady Yukari has prevented me from returning home without word as to why. This human is forcing me to attain housing in the meanwhile.”

“What I’m forcing you to do is find somewhere to rest that isn’t the open forest near the village. Call me weird all you want for it,” I speak in turn.

The komainu looks between us, gauging our relative familiarity, saying, “So, you two know each other? I didn’t expect Ran to find a human that she likes.” Her smile is outright beaming. Her mood is at the level of infectious positivity. I do wonder what keeps her so bright in this drab looking place. Especially backdropped by the condition of her sisters.

Ran appears visibly peeved at the comment, saying, “You appear to be under incorrect assumptions, Komano. This human is under protection for his work. No relations otherwise.”

I brandish the back of my hand to my forehead and cry, “Oh, how you wound me!” in as monotone as I can. Ran gives the expected lack of reaction.

The lion only half contains a giggle and says, “I was only teasing you. You’re always too serious, Ran! I don’t know how you can be when you’re always around Lady Yukari and Chen.”

“Who did you learn to be disrespectful from?” Ran retaliates. She’s growing into an offended look like from earlier.

“What do you mean? I thought you knew the residents and visitors even better than me.”

“That is…” Ran deflates at this. She’s much more animated than usual, so this must be some sore spot for her.

“Oh! No, sorry! I just wanted to lighten you up since you seemed off. I didn’t mean to insult you in any way,” the lion scrambles her words into a more polite attitude. She raises her hand and straw broom defensively to hide from Ran’s wrath.

Instead of wrath, Ran holds an unreadable expression, saying, “You are not incorrect to say such. Scrutiny of Gensokyo is a logged task of mine.”

The implications of this statement quiet me and the lion. We’re too busy pondering what privacy violations have been committed by Ran and her master to keep talking.

The lion eventually stirs and returns to the main topic. “Well, Ran, you wanted to see Reimu? We can go find her, not that she’ll be away from the patio,” she trails off.

“If we could, that would be good,” I jump in. It feels like these two could sit around without doing much for a while. They’ll have time for that later if we can convince the shrine maiden. First, though, I hold out my hand, saying, “Oh, and before we forget, I’m Tanner Regis. I’m sure you’re already aware when I told the statues.”

“I’m Aunn Komano! Call me Aunn. Good to meet you!” she returns the statement and gesture with both hands clasping mine and the broom held in the crook of her shoulder. A pleasant surprise since I’ve mostly seen people bowing in greeting. I’ve been told day one to go to this shrine if I wanted to return outside, so it only makes sense that foreign customs might trickle in to the residents here.

Aunn puts down the broom in the paws of her glowering sister statue and waves Ran and me behind her. We walk past the front steps holding the donation box to find the side walkway. Here we spot the girl in red holding a cup midway across the building. She makes for part of the background in the evening light.

It’s picturesque. Compared to the piercing light and scorch of the afternoon, the soft red of both her and the shrine are a warm and loving look matching the cooled air. The din of the cicadas are now a low white noise informing the natural world that it’s time to turn in. An odd feeling since many of the fantastic world comes here whenever. I’m literally walking with two of them to a girl who is considered the most important individual in this world, not to mention extremely powerful.

We stop a couple paces beside the shrine maiden of strange uniform before she turns her view from the treeline towards us. Lowering her cup, I can see she’s like Ran. Her expression is plastered to be neutrally serious, and even the view of us barely cracks that mold. Barely because she does lift her eyebrows at the sight of Ran. I’m assuming Ran and not me, anyway. I’ve heard plenty about her, but with just how important she is I expected someone… bigger? I guess? The amount of emphasis that people put into how tough she is tilted my expectations of this shrine maiden.

“What does she want?” the girl asks as directly as possible.

Ran picks up on the words immediately to follow with, “Lady Yukari asks nothing this time. This is a personal visit from myself.”

The Hakurei is nonplussed by the statement. “Wow, how believable. You’re even using the first person. Good for you. Now then,” she points to Aunn, “what happened to chasing off Youkai?”

Aunn’s nonexistent cat-dog ears perk up when replying, “Oh? I thought Ran was welcome since she does basically the same thing as you. Yukari was the one that we don’t want around.”

The girl let’s out an exasperated sigh at the lion’s conclusion. She then asks, “When do you see me directly doing maintenance on the barrier?”

“Hm, that’s true. I guess you could try percussive maintenance?” Aunn says in no sarcastic tone.

“Could we please keep relatively on topic?” I jab. This lot takes life at their own pace, it seems.

The shrine maiden now takes a notice of my presence, saying, “Who’s this older guy? Wait, shit. Ran, you didn’t kidnap this guy, right? You couldn’t seriously be so cocky as to do it and then show up right in front of me.” She stares daggers at Ran awaiting an answer.

Ran obliges, “This human is-”

“Tanner Regis. Naturalizing resident and teacher,” I cut in. Very rudely, but I’d prefer to introduce myself for any impression.

“Naturalizing..? Teacher?” the Hakurei pieces together. “Ah… the weird outsider I heard about from Marisa. I definitely see it now. Have you come to leave Gensokyo? Or is this giant yellow furball holding you hostage?” She seems fully invested in the conversation now. Also slowly reaching into her sleeve.

“Well, before anything,” she continues, “I’m Reimu Hakurei, but just call me Reimu.”

“Reimu, your previous statement will not stand. This human is in no way hostage. We are working in tandem by our own objectives,” Ran says in her calm and level voice. I’m beginning to notice that she focuses on keeping her words in even tone when she wants to not sound offended.

Reimu looses a small puff at this, saying, “Objective? Bullshit. I haven’t seen you do anything outside of Yukari’s orders but shopping for groceries. That or taking care of your cat.”

I see my queue to speak up. “Ran is telling you how it is, Reimu. She’s keeping me safe as I’m doing a research project forced onto me by the village. She has no obligations to help me otherwise,” I vouch.

If Reimu wasn’t paying attention before, then she’s alert now. “So you’re telling me a Youkai is helping you just on a whim? Are you stupid? Why haven’t you thought about this? Aren’t teachers supposed to be smart? You haven’t even amused the dangers there,” she berates.

I go to retort on reflex, but nothing comes to mind. I don’t have much recourse in mind. I didn’t really consider anything being wrong because of how strange the circumstance was in the first place. That and Ran doesn’t seem like someone good at hiding information.

Ran speaks up in my place, “You have my word that I am helping this man. My word, not my master’s.” She says this in no uncertainty, with a voice of finality.

Reimu glares in an intensity unlike before. Something like an exterminator seeing pests. She still has her hand in her sleeve, but is otherwise still in watching Ran. I can feel my breath abating and Aunn isn’t the same sunshine from a moment ago. Everyone is waiting.

Ran waits, too, but without concern. She stands the same as always. Hands in her sleeves. Not a flinch in her tails, her ears, nor her sharpened eyes. She plans to have Reimu trust her on promise alone, then. It seems to work, as Reimu slowly releases whatever she was holding in her sleeve. The moment passes, and everyone breathes again.

“What were you here for?” Reimu now asks.

“A room to board in your shrine,” Ran returns.

“What the hell are you on about? Did you finally leave the hag to do her own chores?”

Ran decides to ignore the comment and more practically responds, “I am incapable of returning.”

Reimu starts in confusion at that, “Wait, she kicked you out?! Has she really gone senile or something? You’re her personal servant for crying out loud!” I’m getting the feeling I’d get along great with Reimu.

“Well, crap,” Reimu continues with a scratch of her cheek, “I don’t really want you here, either. I’ve already got a record. I don’t need it to grow.”

“One point two of the average village rate per head,” Ran suddenly claims.

“Two,” Reimu says without pause, now fixed in catlike gaze.

“One point three.”


“One point four or I will head to the Moriya’s.”

“Like hell you will. They wouldn’t take you in!”

Ran doesn’t respond further. It’s apparently the final offer.

Reimu takes a moment to agonize the verdict before accepting with a flacid, “Damnit, fine.”

“Regis, hand me the money for counting,” Ran commands. Oh, they were discussing rent… Wait, she wanted pay enough for two people?!

I fish out my traveling purse and hand it off to Ran. While she’s counting I quietly ask, “She knows I’m not staying as well, right?”

“Most certainly. Business with this Hakurei is simply of higher magnitude.”

“Ran, she wanted double.”

“She once asked for quintuple out of Lady Yukari.”

“Who in the world does that?!”

“She just has no sense of the value of money,” Aunn says in pity.

“I can hear you all!” Reimu shouts.

What? No vote? Yep. I'm evil, and will attempt to write another scene by midweek that will have an included vote. Otherwise, I hope this was a good update and that you enjoyed seeing the good doggo.
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“Haah…” I expunge my stresses alongside the contents of a sake dish. It feels like a form of sanctuary back at Keine’s, whom has not left my intake go unnoticed.

She agreed to sit with me for a drink on her back porch, but now she’s screwing up her face a bit more than normal, saying, “Tanner, if that’s how you will treat these drinks, then I’ll leave now. You can feel free to pass out here if you so need to.”

“Don’t be like that. I had a bad day and I need someone that I can talk to. I’m serious!” I pontificate with sways of the dish.

“I’ll console so long as that bottle isn’t joining in. I’ll not lecture you otherwise, as I’m sure it won’t change the outcome,” Keine says without the angry housewife face, but instead with the stern teacher look.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll slow down. And it’s basically all dramatics, but I feel like a deserve a bit of consoling here.”

After Reimu accepted the cash ‘donation’ with the added bonus of housing Ran, I was flown back to Keine’s for the night. Keine greeted me with little concern for my well being. She knew that nothing would hurt me with Ran around, at the very least. Dinner was already made after she had gotten done with some grading, so it was nice to walk in to a warm meal. Well, warm not hot.

After that I made quick work fishing out the bottle I bought from a loose floorboard. A real clever hole the pure and innocent teacher came up with at some point, not that it took me long to find. Everyone has their vices.

I’d decided that I needed to take the time to wind down in a good setting: alcohol and a kind woman. I’m a simple man.

It didn’t take much to drag her away from grading. There are no classes tomorrow, after all.

“So what happened today?” the woman sitting beside me asks.

“Well…” I ponder what all needs to be stated. With a swirl of the dish, of course.

I recount, “I went with Ran to the lake, and after a bit we found Cirno. She was fighting with another fairy. Ran caught a fairy responsible for the two other’s fight. We settled down for me to interview Cirno, and a while after that we decided on what to do with the prankster fairy.”

Keine remains sagelike, asking, “What happened? I couldn’t imagine things going too wrong...”

“Well…” I draw out, “Cirno partially froze and drowned the fairy.”

Keine deciphers my words for a split moment, before asking, “Wait, was she partially drowned, too?”

“No, I mean Cirno killed the fairy!” I exclaim.

“Alright, there’s no need to shout. It is weird that Cirno would go so far, though. Fairies aren’t so forceful with each other,” Keine ponders aloud.

I’m baffled at the lacking reaction. I say, “Keine, can we step back to the part where a child died in front of my face?”

“You know they’re immortal, right?” Keine asks in seriousness, eliciting a spark of anger in my brows. She bares a palm toward me to hold my temper. “If it’s getting to you, then help me understand your thoughts, Tanner,” she instead commands.

“Well, they’re children, right?”

“Not human, though.”

“But they look like it!”

Keine’s patience begins to wear thin as she says, “Well, I don’t know what to say to help you work through this. Fairies aren’t the same as humans, and death has no consequential meaning to them. If they die one day they won’t even remember by the next, so you shouldn’t hold yourself to outsider morals.”

“I am an outsider, though! I can’t just drop how I think in the span of a week.”

Keine drinks her own dish before choosing her words, “To outsiders, that’s exactly what is meant to happen. You’re not supposed to know this place. It’s an entirely different world.”

We both shut up for a moment to nurse our drinks, not sure what to say. The only sounds between us is the calls of distant birds and bugs of the night. It’s a more subdued background noise compared to the early afternoon activity. Something that still lets you feel the absolute silence after a conversation.

Keine now timidly says, “I’m sorry I’m not able to sympathize with you on this. I can tell it isn’t something small to you.” She’s looking away. Does she feel in the wrong somehow?

“No, what you said is completely right, this isn’t the world I know. I shouldn’t make this your problem That’s just forcing my issues on someone else hoping it magically fixes itself. I just don’t know who to talk to when things seem messed up.” I lower my dish to the wood and do the same for my head to my hands. “Thanks for at least hearing me out without saying it’s an absurd thought.”

“Yeah…” she trails.

With another moment she decides to down her dish before saying, “Hey, Tanner. You never talk about yourself, do you? You’ve been living here a week and I don’t know a thing about you, really. This is the first that you’ve opened up.”

I think about where she might be going with this and say, “The hell is this? You’re not seriously getting flirty or shit with me, are you?”

“With a gross old man who can’t even get himself up in the morning? Not on your life!” she spouts with a bit of redness to her cheeks. “But I’m serious, tell me something, I can’t tell what’s on your mind if you don’t talk. I get the feeling it isn’t just the dead fairy that’s bugging you. She’ll probably try to fight Cirno, by the way.”

“Oh, I’m sure. Also, I don’t get why everyone has been calling me old. I’m forty four, nothing like my granddad, yet,” I toss out, since it seems to keep coming up.

“Ughhh,” Keine groans, “See, I didn’t even know how old you were! Life expectancy in Gensokyo isn’t all that high since Yagokoro only appeared several years ago. Before that, people could easily die in their fifties or sometimes last until the turn of a century. Not literally, of course, but it was rare regardless.”

“Huh, I guess I am old if I’m expected to die in a decade. That’s a weird thought.”

“You spent so much time with books in the last week that you haven’t really talked to people to try and learn what is normal to us! Come on, ask me more things! I’m a teacher and I’ll teach you if need be!” she shouts with a bit more red to her face. Keine must be the excitable drunk.

“Alright, well…” I decide to indulge her for a bit. I ask about comments people have offhandedly made about things. What people know who. Some basic cultural stuff about the villagers and even some of their beliefs. Keine sways from concise and pure lecturer to housewife gossip at a rate proportional to the emptiness of the bottle. Even if she’s the only one drinking, this is nice.

“Gah!” Keine once again bemoans. She’s taken to supporting her upright form with an arm across my shoulder. This is difficult on me because she’s gotten real animated with her intoxication. I’m not exact on the spectrum of inebriation, but I think we’re somewhere in the territory of sloshed. “This still isn’t talking about you, damnit! Tell me something about your past. Screw it, tell me about the worst point of your life or something, for gods’ sakes!”

I consider it for a moment before I ask, “If I tell you that, would you tell me the same about you?”

“Oh?! You were acting like a schoolboy who accidentally stepped on a rabbit an hour ago, and now you’re a jeweler in the bargain? Don’t get cocky with me, I’m probably thrice your age. But I will consider it, depending on how earnest you are,” Keine both berates and coos. Perhaps plastered is closer to her current state.

I gather the pieces of the only real story I have before I begin, “Keine, do you remember what it was that I specifically taught.”

“No rhetorical questions, you deflecting idiot. It was physics.”

“Right, well I didn’t go to university to get a teaching license. In fact, I have no such credentials.”


“Yup. I was there to get professorship. A full doctorate’s degree, the level a professor has in their education-”

“I know, we’re not cavemen, you bastard,” she slurs from her nestled crook in my shoulder. Her box hat is desperately attempting to remain a part of her.

“Anyway, I was set up for the dissertation of my work on theoretical quantum information storage, which is a common thing outside nowadays, but then something happened. I had apparently done work too closely related to an independent group at a university in California. My university wasn’t even a tenth of the populace and out of nowhere, Colorado. The California university tried my work for plagiarism, and I was pretty much automatically found guilty. No one at my department wanted to even fight the size and resources that this more famous place had, it was just not worth it to them. I was expelled immediately in my last year of work towards doctorate, and cast as a miserable failure by the full university body. I couldn’t pick back up and go somewhere else at this point. I was through.”

Keine seems to have stopped moving quite as actively, simply listening to what I was saying. She then asks, “Where did you go after that?”

“Nowhere. For three weeks. I was inconsolable. Twenty six, only a bachelors’s degree, and no job. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. My parents had nothing they could really do to help other than get a low grade blue collar job for me. It felt like my life had become worthless compared to what it could have been,” I say with the memories dredging up ancient emotions for me.

Keine looks straight at me, even with her beet red exterior and lopsided hat, and asks, “Tanner, are you crying?”

“...No,” I lie. I can blatantly tell that I’ve made myself miserable by now. Fuck it, who cares. Keine’s probably not going to remember tomorrow, anyway. She went through the whole bottle almost entirely on her own.

“It’s fine to be sad about things, Tanner. In fact, if it was that important a memory, then I think you deserve to know a bit about me now.”

Keine shifts entirely off of me and looks up to the moon, currently waxing to only a day or two until full. Her drunken smile fades to a more sober facade as she continues to gaze upon the sky.

She eventually speaks, “I wasn’t born like this, you know. A therianthrope, I eventually learned was the term. I have lived long enough to outlast every human living around the same time as me. Well, one exception, but she’s not technically alive.”

“So… what happened?” I ask, finding my curiosity escalating rapidly.

“I don’t know. No one knows. I don’t even know why when I change under the filled moon, and that’s explicitly what my power does!” she forces out a low chuckle at her own excuse of a joke. “One day, I guess maybe I felt different, but it wasn’t until the full moon of that month that everything went wrong.”

She pauses to gather herself, probably remembering fine details at their worst. She then continues, “I’ve always lived in Gensokyo, even when the barrier was first created. At the time, the Oni had disappeared and Youkai Mountain became the dominion of the Tengu and Kappa. Things weren’t good back then. Everything was attempting to kill each other. Humans were given harsh awareness of their new permanent neighbors, and couldn’t last without action. A guard and hunters were established against all creatures of the night that were out for blood. This was the backdrop for the first time I transformed.”

She pauses again, trying to find the words to explain something complicated or maybe just irrational, “You wouldn’t know it yet, but it is emotional when I transform. Not for some silly reason like it hurts to do so, no. It’s because I learn all of the happenings of this realm in an instant. I’m the most reliable source of past information on a full moon, and also make for the most accurate obituary. I also get a lot more in these faux memories than just an idea. It sometimes feels like I’m one of the participants in these visions, with full awareness. I don’t think I need to tell you my emotional state on that first night, nor how the scared and superstitious people of the time reacted to the sight of me. It was a long time before I found my way back into the village.”

Keine is no longer talking, letting her story end there. She once again holds a smile softer than the glow of the moon in her hair, but her eyes are anything but cheerful. I’m not sure what to say, or if there’s anything to really say at this point. The most I get out is a simple, “I’m sorry.”

“That’s not what you should say, you idiot.”

“I don’t know what to say. My troubles aren’t anything compared to your past.”

“I may be drunk, but that isn’t why I brought it up. Tanner, you need to know that your problems aren’t comparable to mine, but it isn’t because they’re dumb or inconsequential. They’re your problems, and very real to you. I made peace many years ago with everything and I can enjoy life how it is now, even if the memories still make me sad. But at this point I’m just an old lady rambling,” she rambles. “Maybe my point is that you can’t let something that weighs on you… uhm… lose meaning if others think it is minor…?” she drawls in a lost confidence.

“Thanks, Keine. It means a lot to me,” I say in pure gratitude to Keine. She’s trying really hard to get my mind off things.

“Tanner, carry me to bed. I can tell that I’m not getting there myself.”

“Should I hold you to your earlier words of using the porch as a bed?” I tease.

“Just get my ass to bed, and don’t do anything weird because I’m drunk. I’ll know later and gore you.”

“I think I’ll pass on that. You sure swear a bit when you’re drunk.”

The night passed uneventfully after that. The morning was met with the usual routine bar Keine’s hangover. It also led to me being the one to scramble the eggs and burn the toast. With the routine done, I once more set out to find Ran at the northern gate. It’s time once again to figure out what the hell the deal with fairies is.

I arrive at the gate to find Ran standing at the side of the road like an imitation Jizo statue. She only begins to boot up her robotic motions after I’m in front of her.

“You appear rested from the previous night. It will be assumed you are prepared for the day.”

“Well that would be because I am,” I reply.

Time to find what Cirno is up to. There’s still much I need to decipher about her power and motivations.

Cirno will be...

[x] Taking a mountain trip

[x] Moving to a mushroom filled forest

[x] Reclaiming her top fairy spot from the American flag

Yup, I'm late. It's funny, too, since this was a nice update to sit down and do. I kind of wish I gave this a proper attempt midweek, but I'm here now. As for characterization, I hope this isn't too uncanny of a Keine for people. Keine's definitely another one of my favorites, but I imagine her as a more no shit or nonsense kind of a person as both a teacher and guardian. Overall, I like this update, but feel free to poke holes at stuff that's stupid, as always.
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[x] Reclaiming her top fairy spot from the American flag
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[x] Moving to a mushroom filled forest

Perhaps this will allow us to have some fun moments with Cirno and the others in the Nineball gang. (Though I know Rumia, at least, will have her own "episode" in due course.)
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Coming to terms with the past is important, otherwise it's hard to figure out where you're going. I wonder if life expectancy in Gensokyo is really all that bad but, well, the werecow would know.

[x] Moving to a mushroom filled forest
In the spirit of not creating a three-way tie, I'll vote for this.
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[x] Moving to a mushroom filled forest

Let's run the chance of meeting the local human witch. At least for the small chance of someone that could emphasize with our perspective and give a more grounded reasoning.
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[x] Reclaiming her top fairy spot from the American flag
More Clownpiece
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[x] Shroom Forest Time

Considering the MC's response to Cirno's casual attitude towards death, maybe avoiding witnessing more potential fairy death would be healthy. So instead, let's check out more of the local fauna to get a feel of the land and potential contacts.

I wonder if the MC's backstory will play into how he ended up in Gensokyo. Though considering his misfortune with the University occurred when he was 26, and he is now 44, it may not have anything to do with how he ended up in the land of fantasy. Yet, how did he end up here?
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[x] Reclaiming her top fairy spot from the American flag
Enough from the clown
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[x] Moving to a mushroom filled forest

We make quick way to the lake as we did the day before. Cirno is working on stacking more bricks of ice around her reformed igloo. The ice raft is visibly smaller today, probably because she had to focus on her housing instead of refreezing the area. Despite being forced to rebuild her home for the night, Cirno looks upbeat as usual.

Even to the point that she gleefully proclaims, “I didn’t get to show you the power of the strongest yesterday! Imma fix that today, I am!”

She then sets down her bricks before flying atop her igloo and boldly pointing in the direction of the mushroom forest. The magic forest? The miasmic forest? One of those. It’s where magicians gather.

Though I need to be clear on one thing beforehand, so I ask, “This is great, Cirno, but just what are you going to fight in there?”

She freezes in pose before shakily answering, “The first magician I see!” As soon as the words escape her lips she also gains a certain width to her eyes. The kind that belies a very grave screw up.

“Well, you said it. Go ahead and show me,” I encourage the poor kid.

She meanders… floats… drifts off with little enthusiasm toward the forest, whilst Ran and I fall in behind her. It’s not much of a flight since the forest has a small gap bordering the lake. I’m given a couple of pointers from Ran about it as we touch down just outside. Why outside, you ask? Well, turns out there’s some weird ass things happening with this forest. To the point that Ran tells me to hold on to a talisman she hands me.

First, there’s different flora and fauna than should be natural, but everyone expects that of a place known for magic mushrooms. Second, you apparently can’t fly out of the forest freely or something, so it’s best to walk in so that you can keep a consistent trail head back out when needed. That said, it doesn’t attempt to make you lost, I don’t think? I’ll worry about it if it comes up. Still, even from outside looking in, the forest goes many shades darker but gains a sort of neon glow. It’s like a city alleyway, or an empty street at midnight with only the light of convenience stores.

Cirno waltzes in without so much as a word. Brave, foolhardy, or just knows the area that much already. Ran walks ahead of me to signal safe following. This is all a quick and wordless moment before I catch a glimpse of Ran’s backside. I don’t mention it often, but Ran’s tails take up a lot of real estate to her silhouette. From the backside she can look like a creature made of tails and hair, should she flare up her tails like a peacock.

I bring this up because a bit of shining light found me from the fur mass like the center of a satellite dish. Its needle, I think.

I move to stop Ran and simply say, “Hey, stop for a second.”

She looks back, seeing me go behind her, and surprisingly obliges without question. Cirno also stops trying to figure out what I’m doing. I grab and yank out the needle in one go.

Ran’s reaction from ejecting a small sharp piece of steel near her spine is an expected, “HYAAA,” with a followed jump forward into a defensive posture against me.

“What have you done?!” she erupts very uncharacteristically. She takes a moment to look at the needle in my hand before any threats escape her mouth. She snatches the weapon from me to inspect, before inquiring, “Why do you have one of the Hakurei’s needles?”

This catches me that she hasn’t figured out what happened, so I spell it out clear as day, “What do you mean? That needle was sticking out of your ass. How didn’t you feel it?”

She takes a long breath scrutinizing the needle for answers, but it doesn’t seem to be able to speak. I break the silence and ask, “Why was this needle here in the first place? I thought things went fine at the shrine.”

Ran continues to stare down the piece of metal for answers, but does reply, “The Hakurei is fickle, and for any change in her mood she may find reason to attack nearby interlopers. She did launch an attack as I left the premises, maybe because of a visitor, but I had assumed myself fast enough to dodge the needles.”

“So you were dodging the needles but you didn’t feel one hit you?”

“The Hakurei also employs ample use of undodgeable amulets. They inflict similar damage but don’t stick to a target as long,” Ran blanches a bit at the thought of barrages that Reimu can make. Scary girl, that one.

“Are you okay, fox lady?” Cirno now questions in concern. She gives the needle a tepid look of pain, probably in understanding what a thrown one must feel like.

Ran launches the needle from her hand toward a near tree, sinking it almost completely in the bark. She then responds with sharp eyes a curt, “My conditions are nominal, continuing work.” Cirno and I decide to not question it further and instead begin traipsing through the magical forest.

The place is something out of a book. The canopy is dense and conceals portions of the trees in heavy shadows. The flora consists of mushrooms of nearly any size, and I mean that they can be as large as the trees, adding more to the canopy by proximity. Some are drably colored, others have vibrant shades or spots covering them, and the rare occasions outright glow in a neon sheen. There are also other more earthy looking plants, some things that I get a close look at wear naturally unnatural colors, and others that Ran holds me from approaching are hazardous. I could swear at least one is identified as a mandrake by her scrying eyes.

As for the creatures that inhabit the shadows, I can see a clear mix of mundane and magical. Birds, mammals, insects that are of no surprise to see in a forest, but also things that require a bit of extra description. A type of bird with two heads. A small bulbous creature with two legs that looks like a child’s drawing. A large patch of moving moss that I can spot possessing the head of a cow or something similar. I think I even spot a weasel or ferret with some strangely attached appendage to its forelimbs. This all in just the visible range that I can see, not even accounting the distant shadows that stick to the thickest parts of the forest.

Cirno, for all her moxie, paths through safer portions of the forest for her intended target. She doesn’t seem to give the surroundings much thought otherwise. Strangely, this includes ignoring gaggles of fairies that we pass. The fairies of the forest are more diverse than I imagined, as some are the reported palm-sized miniatures that Akyuu wrote of.

I decide to question Cirno on the fairies we pass, “Cirno, do you know any of the fairies in this forest?”

She shrugs when answering, “Nah. They used to want to fight all the time, but eventually gave up when they realized that I was the strongest.”

Any gaggle of fairies we pass gets one look at our group and quickly makes their way out of sight. This does remind me of a particular thought I had. If Cirno is so strong, then does she have many peers of her own kind? A very nosy thought, but a lack of privacy comes naturally to teachers. Something like trying to enrich the lives of people I meet, selfish as it is to think I can do that.

I decide to try and steer the conversation that way, “What can you tell me about fairies you do know, Cirno?”

She drifts her body and gaze upward into a state of thought. Her crystalline wings refract the myriad glow of the forest, another reminder of her difference from other fairies.

“Sunny, Luna, and Star are all really weird. Sometimes they’ll be friendly, but other times they’ll be very mean. I don’t think I get them or all of their pranks,” Cirno concludes.

“Do you join them in their pranks?” I ask in turn.

“I do. They’re fun to do, until you’re the one being pranked,” she garners a flat contemptuous look, remembering yesterday, I’m sure.

“What about Clownpiece?”

“She’s cool, really strong, too. She feels smart, but also really stupid at the same time. Like she’s thinking about something else all the time, I guess?” she explains the best she can. The point gets across but she seems to not have the exact words for her thoughts.

“Anyone else?”

“Eternity, I guess. We don’t really go together since she’s a summer and heat kind of fairy. I met her when I got a tan one time,” Cirno says with strain in remembering specifics.

“How could you possibly get a tan? Aren’t you basically made of ice?” I ask in deep confusion. The more this girl talks the less things make sense.

“I’m not made of ice! Mean!” Cirno pouts with a throw of her hands. I’ll take that one at her word. I don’t care to see fairies die to understand what they’re made of. That wouldn’t be enlightening, only grim.

“Hang on, before we move on, you did mention other names yesterday. Are they not fairies?”

“One of them is. I only really talk to her when sitting around the lake. She doesn’t like to prank or fight much. The others are Youkai, though. They’re fun even if we fight a lot.”

I begin to get the picture of her relationships. Namely, “Do you fight everyone you’re close to?”

“Yup! I have to have strong friends as the strongest!” Cirno flourishes into a muscle pose.

Yeah that seems to explain some things. We still haven’t found anyone willing to stop and talk. It doesn’t surprise me that an unsociable fairy, an angry looking fox, and a tall stranger would be hard to approach and talk to.

I wonder if Cirno and Ran see this the same way I do. I’ll definitely come back to that later. For now, we’ve been walking a while without finding anyone. From what I’ve heard and read, there’s at least two people that we can find in this forest.

“AH!” Cirno shouts in discovery. Across the way the shadows of the forest clear to show a woman wearing a large rimmed hat. Seems we’ve found one of the magicians.

Cirno’s shout seems to have alerted her to our coming, as she waits for our approach. Getting a better look at her, it’s a woman wearing a straw hat and a gray tunic with a red scarf. She also holds a large ornate staff like one of the ones in the Buddhist temple. I’ve just gotten deja vu. Did I see one in Kourindo or something?

Back on topic, I can make out the woman’s face at this distance, and boy does she seem confused. We make up the odd gaggle, for sure.

“Travelers? But no, the ice fairy is with you. I believe she knows the way through this forest,” the woman mutters to guess why we’re here.

Cirno takes the initiative and boldly proclaims, “I’m here to fight you, statue lady!”

The woman doesn’t say anything for a moment, stuck in a pleasant smile but with a hint of… tiredness. It appears this isn’t uncommon for her. Though, what about a statue?

The woman seems to resign to her fate, saying, “Very well, Cirno. Though, who is this with you? I certainly don’t recognize the gentleman.”

Cirno introduces us before we have the chance to speak, “This is old researcher guy and the fox lady.”

The woman only seems more concerned at the explanation, saying, “You… do know their names, right?”

I hop in before this drags on anymore than needed, “Hello miss. I am Tanner Regis, a researcher, and this is Ran Yakumo. We’re shadowing Cirno here to investigate the power of fairies.”

The woman relaxes her staff against her shoulder and brings her hands to a position of prayer... for some reason. She then says, “Good tidings then, mister Regis. My name is Narumi Yatadera. I understand you being here now, but why does the Yakumo of all people accompany you?”

“Regis requires a guard to explore the land outside the village. He has no capacity for combat that may keep him safe.”

“Ran, seriously, you can just say that you wanted to be here,” I pester. She flashes a small frown my way, but a mean look isn’t enough to scare me down.

“Hey, don’t ignore me!” the smallest of our group pipes up. She seems to have gotten impatient at the pleasantries. I mean, we were here to fight someone anyway, so fair enough.

“You wished to fight me, Cirno? Why?” Narumi questions.

“I gotta show this old guy that I’m the strongest! Clownpiece got me yesterday with a surprise attack, so I want someone to fight fair and square,” Cirno nods along with her own logic.

Narumi gives a pitying look to the kid, saying, “Uhm, alright. I’ll play with you, then.”

“I’m serious!”

“Hold,” Ran suddenly says, “a warm up match should be held to gauge the strength of the fairy for study.”

“What?! Why didn’t you say so earlier?!” Cirno says with little contained energy. She wants to do something since that’s what she came for.

“I did mention it earlier,” Ran calmly states.

“But… you didn’t! Gah! Whatever, just FIGHT ME!” Cirno cries as the two of them float above into the treeline of the clearing.

“What even just happened?” Narumi asks, but looking tired again.

“I don’t know, they take life at their own pace, I guess. So, Narumi, if I may call you that, what were you doing out here?” I decide to pass the time while the two in the air begin flinging all manner of magic at each other. Well, ice and light, that is. I didn’t even know that was what Ran used to fight.

“You’re a forward one,” she says with a light tinge of red. “You really are a foreigner, aren’t you?”

“What’s it to you?” I ask. I still remember the multiple times Keine told me to not advertise my outsider status. Something along the lines of not knowing what people would do.

“Oh I don’t mind. It just hasn’t happened in a long while for someone to stay. Well, to properly stay, anyway,” she bemuses. I have no clue what she’s referencing with that comment, though. “Ah, what I was doing. I was maintaining a leyline out here. A sort of magical river.”

“Right,” I say, “you’re a mage. But what was that Cirno said about a statue?”

She seems to show a bit of concern, or maybe a dry smugness, when saying, “That would be because I am a statue. A Jizo, specifically. I would think the hat gives it away. But surely you’ve observed this world enough to realize you can’t take someone’s species at face value.”

“And here I thought I wouldn’t be lectured today,” I remark.

She jingles a bit when scratching her cheek to say, “Sorry, I guess it’s not my place to comment. Even with your choice in company.”

“The hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, miss Yakumo is a shikigami under orders of a very high level Youkai. So this begs the question of why her orders are to work with a human on a small village project. Uh, no offense!” she quickly detracts from her own words. Not the biggest social butterfly, this one.

She does bring up an interesting point, though. Ran has said multiple times that she’s doing this of her own free will, but even if she’s been ordered to do the same that wouldn’t make it a lie. This logic crumbles after that, though, since there’s no way someone like the Youkai sage would care to keep her right hand on something as small scale as this. I mean, I’m only observing Cirno, and maybe some other individuals after this. No big wigs.

Speaking of, Ran and Cirno have been fighting for a few moments now. That’s weird, I would expect Ran to dominate any show of strength pretty quickly, at least if reputation is anything to go by. Why’d she fight anyway, it isn’t like anyone ordered her to do so. The two are fighting with a lot of fervor, so I can’t say how things are really going, knowing as little as I do about the ruleset of dueling. Cirno hasn’t pulled any other tricks like yesterday out, so I haven’t seen anything noteworthy about her power.

I already came up with a minor hypothesis on how her power might function, based on some small tests I conducted yesterday, so I was hoping to see some more stress test style usage. Another ‘wow’ moment like when she made a glacial shield in panic.

I spend a few more moments in idle chatter with Narumi. The fight between the fox and fairy nears a close when a sound from the bushes rattles to produce another girl. It’s Marisa, who is munching a mushroom from a pile stowed in her hat.

She takes a look at the situation before greeting us, “Hey, Naruko! Hey old dude from the village. You really did come out from house arrest. Want any as a present for no longer being a shut in?”

She presents one of the many mushrooms in her cap. This one being a palatable bright purple cap with wart like protrusions accompanying. I hold away the mushroom, doing my best to not touch it for the sake of safety.

“Marisa, are those even safe to touch?” I ask, noting the myriad colors of the mushroom caps including a couple visibly bright red.

“Well sure they are,” she answers, completely chipper.

“No, they’re not. Please stop telling people otherwise,” Narumi follows up.

She seems to have relaxed quite a bit after Marisa showed up. Her smile seems much more casual than before when talking with me.

“So what the hell is this? Why are the dog and the pipsqueak fighting?” Marisa inquires after exchanging a couple more pleasantries with Narumi.

“I don’t know. Ran said she wanted to do some warm up round against Cirno before Cirno fought Narumi. In fact, that was the only reason we came to begin with.”

“Well ain’t that something? Maybe the old fox wanted a little more attention,” the witch chirps between bites of a fungus.

“They seem to be done,” Narumi states. Cirno didn’t seem to do anything I couldn’t already figure out from her fight with Clownpiece yesterday, so not much to report on that. Ran and Cirno are both floating back down, scuff marks shared in spades between them. I figured Cirno would be sweating in that fight, but why do I see that with Ran?

“Tanner, a word in private,” Ran states in the same tone as ever.

“Well shit, first name basis. Aren’t you impressive,” Marisa jests from the side.

I tell Cirno to take a breather before walking away with Ran.

We stop in some shade a stone’s toss away. Marisa looks to be heckling the fairy while we’ve stepped away.

I turn to Ran to ask the obvious question, “What happened? How come Cirno seemed to give you trouble?”

She’s still as a statue, contemplating her words, before saying, “Unknown. The power within this body has drastically dwindled from unknown causes. Rest assured, it is enough to protect against ferals, but greater Youkai is now out of the question.”

I shake her a bit, hopefully jostling her to think of the consequences of what she said, saying, “Ran, that isn’t the part I’m worried about. You can’t just suddenly be weaker out of nowhere. How does that even happen?”

She instead brushes me off, choosing to ignore the line of thought and walks back to the rest of our gathering. Her face isn’t the same stone still image as usual, though. I’ll have to try seriously talking about this again later. Still, what could cause a loss of strength that large?

I also return to the group, now with a rested and energetic Cirno. She seems to have gotten a lot out of her fight with Ran, somehow. Ignoring Marisa’s taunts, she once again challenges Narumi to fight. The Jizo accepts and they both take off for another duel.

Narumi’s opening tactic seems to be using paper talismans shot in a wide spread splicing midway. Wide spread shooting seems to be common among the residents for some reason. Cirno takes the opposite approach, opting for a thin line of icicles. The shrapnel pierces much of the paper midair without interruption, but the sheer amount of talismans in the air still forces Cirno to find gaps in the volleys.

“That little runt can be impressive when she wants to be,” Marisa admits off to my side. Seems all of us started paying more attention to the fight than any conversation we could have.

With good reason. Cirno seems to have taken to the first barrage easily and pushes Narumi to try something else. She swaps from projecting the talismans at a constant rate to letting them bloom outward from her position. It’s imposing to see so much in the sky, and Cirno is sitting right in the middle of it even before it cascades out from the center and overlapping.

“Showing too much pride being in close proximity,” Ran can’t help but state.

Cirno attempts to weave through the wall ahead but clips much of the projectiles around her before finding the gap. As Narumi sends out another wave Cirno instead decides to flash freeze the talismans together when they pile on each other, allowing her to shatter the whole wave in one move. There’s something interesting. Her freezing doesn’t seem to need an object even when that’s what she’s going for. Or rather, she can freeze both objects and things a short distance from them as well with no visible connection afterward.

That could mean the freeze is applied as some kind of field stretching out from Cirno, but I’ll get back to that later. Narumi has finally decided to take out something bigger. Bigger as in it’s a ball of fire. Cirno just can’t get lucky, can she?

“Fifty that she eats it on this one,” Marisa jokes.

“Not in the mood for gambling,” I reply with my eyes glued to Cirno.

She sees the large ball of fire approaching, and realizing that she can’t freeze it like Clownpiece’s flames before she decides to…

[x] Try the same thing she did before. It worked before it will be the same here.

[x] Try something different but simple. I noticed she gets the most mileage out of easy ideas.

[x] Try something crazy. I can’t wrap my head around the unorthodox mind of fae. [write-in]

What do you mean not weekly? See, there's two updates length right here! In all seriousness, I didn't feel like there was a good point to put in a vote that wasn't purely talking flavor, so I opted to do most of this part in one go. Also, Narumi a cute.
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>“What do you mean? That needle was sticking out of your ass. How didn’t you feel it?”
Ran has a fat butt! The fattest butt in Gensokyo! Ran's fat butt!

[x] Try something crazy. I can’t wrap my head around the unorthodox mind of fae. [write-in]
What if Cirno launched herself, and then froze herself in a big ball of ice? Giving herself a suit of armor/turning herself into a cannonball? It's dangerous and stupid so it's an option
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[X] Touhou cannonball option
Seems like a fun idea.

Also seems that Ran forgot that most of her power comes from acting under orders as a shikigami. Since she's acting on her own, her servant power boost is waning.
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[x] Cannonball the fool
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[X] Cannonball
"I'm Tanner Regis, and this is Jackass"
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File 166183959574.png - (618.76KB, 826x867, this_hat_full.png)
[x] Cannonball the fool!

When your normal options don’t work, it’s time to restrategize. That’s obvious enough, but what options does someone like Cirno have? A fireball barreling her way, launching gouts of heated projectiles from the center, and without much care for her pitiful icicles.

Well, apparently her next best option is rather insane. After all, you’d have to be out of your mind to flash freeze your body whole and use yourself as the projectile. That said, she rushes forward without a care and casually breaks laws of heat induction to change air into ice… right around her body.

Now a cannonball of ice, she penetrates through the fireball leaving only a dissipating ring of plasma, with a flaring trail following her path. Intertwined with the light of this flame is the vapor of her icy shield-prison melted away. That’s an odd effect, as there shouldn’t be any real material to turn into a gas. It was only air until Cirno made ice in its place. I’ll keep that in mind for extra study, as I haven’t questioned what exactly the ice is made of yet.

Although whatever it’s made of, it’s certainly solid, and rapidly approaching Narumi. She was focusing on the movement of her conflagration before the fairy popped it like a balloon. Her hat gets some airtime as she dives out of Cirno’s way. A Cirno with the grin of a madman like I spotted yesterday. I would say her face has been frozen that way for a bit now, but… yeah.

Cirno breaks from her cage like a bird spreading its wings. Magically, I might add, since she was very much frozen stiff before that. How she could even have enough strength to break out of several inches of ice with no degree of freedom is beyond me. Guess I’ll have to evaluate her strength even higher than before, since she must be lifting boulders when I’m not looking.

Back on the fight, Narumi seems to have recovered her posture after dodging the projectile fairy. Said fairy is only laughing maniacally and touting her intelligence to her opponent. It’s funny to see how blinded by her own cockiness she is.

“Looks like she had to bomb that after all,” Marisa now comments.

“Bomb?” I ask.

“Oh, right you’re new to these things. Cirno’s on the attack side and so we say using a spellcard is ‘bombing’ as a defensive attack. You’re smart, you can pick up more specifics from watching,” she helpfully explains. Well, sort of helpfully. It’s not exactly easy to figure out rules of dueling by watching people fling bullshit magic at one another.

Speaking of, Cirno’s returned to firing ice at Narumi. She’s in an even better position than we could have expected, since a sea of fire approaches from behind the Jizo. It might be she was focusing on starting that and the large ball before was actually automated. Cirno might have had to contend with both but the sea would have been behind her original position.

That said, the new wave of fire above the trees, besides being a concerning environmental hazard, is still quite impressive. How Cirno squeezes through the maze of fiery death is almost a thing of beauty. She still takes some licks of scalding heat as she weaves past and keeping up her own barrage of shots. Eventually, the shots seem to be too much for the poor monk and the fire dissipates across the entire field.

Now lowering back to the clearing, a Cirno with burns and scratches from two fights in a row and Narumi now clad in tattered articles. Her scarf was a little too dainty to keep up with any fights like that. Whoever the clothier is must be a rich motherfucker. Wait, Cirno doesn’t have money. Wait, I could swear I literally asked her about this yesterday! Moving on!

“Hahaha! Were you watching me be the strongest?! I can take on the world,” Cirno boasts in exuberance. Her wacky smile from before didn’t seem to be anything like nerves; she just likes being in an even fight like that.

Narumi on the other hand is none too happy about the outcome as she counts the holes now speckling her hat, her scarf, and even her dress.

“Need a visit to Alice there, Naruko?” Marisa jests beside her maybe a friend. Now that I think of it I forgot to ask their actual relation. Though I may not need to with how Narumi is pushing away her jester by the face. She seemed so polite before now, but I guess that’s how it is when you’re surrounded by crass people.

“Were there any notable observations, Regis?” Ran prompts.

I check the notes I made for later reference during the fight. There are a few things to follow up on now, but I’ll need to bargain things out of Cirno for them. First and foremost…

“Hey, answer me!” Cirno glowers at us. She must have wanted compliments for the fight. Sometimes with children, I swear.

“That was pretty cool, Cirno,” I answer with a soft smile. “What was that thing you did where you froze yourself, though? I don’t get how you broke out after.”

“Doesn’t everybody do that?” Cirno reflects in confusion.

“What, break out of ice?”

“No, dummy! I mean break their own thing,” Cirno states in arm crossed confidence.

I look to Ran for any kind of explanation. She clears her throat before questioning, “Little fairy, you refer to controlling magic, correct?”

“Uhuh. And I’m not little!”

Ran doesn’t ask anything else, instead choosing to ponder the meaning in Cirno’s answer. Marisa, on the other hand, decides to take great interest in our conversation now.

Taking Cirno under her arm, she says, “Well look at you, ya big knucklehead. Aren’t you just full of surprises?” Her rude compliments are matched with a rough knuckling to the fairy’s head. Cirno deflects Marisa’s arm and the two begin to grapple in an angered and a playful way. Marisa’s hat flops to the ground spilling a chemical hazard of mushrooms when the they tackle each other down.

“Is it unusual for a fairy to control their power? I thought they were literally supposed to be whatever natural thing they came from,” I begin to think aloud.

“No, Mr. Regis, they are not literal aspects of nature,” Narumi now joins the conversation, holes and all. Getting a close look at her skin underneath, it seems that there wasn’t even any bruising from the damage. I wonder if that’s because she’s actually made of stone or just some more nonsense with dueling rules.

“Uhm, sir,” Narumi interrupts her explanation, “please stop staring.”

“Ah! Sorry, never mind me,” I try to play off. Bad habits are a bitch. Narumi’s now flushed and covers with her hat.

“So, I was about to say, since you seem a bit keen on the subject, I wanted to give some knowledge on fairies,” Narumi begins to explain once more. “They are not literal aspects of nature, like how Cirno here is an ice fairy but is not made of ice, instead they are made up of life energy.”

“Life energy? What kinda spiritual stuff is this?” I ask from behind my notebook.

“The energy of nature. Basically it is the magic of the world to create life of all kinds. This is a specialization of my own magic so I’m familiar with it, but explaining the ins and outs is unintuitive. To keep it simple, fairies are nothing but this energy made manifest, and so their bodies may be physical but not in any way we normally think.”

“That’s good information, but what does this have to do with the original question I had with Cirno?”

“Why it’s special that she has control of her fairy magic? In knowing that fairies are not made of their aspect, we can then infer that they have no natural affinity for how their power works beyond knowing they have it. I say this since all fairies act so much like human children. The only difference I’ve ever noticed is that they are imprinted with some personality fitting their power.”

“I’m still not quite following,” I say, eyeing the witch quizzically.

“Right, sorry. Cirno shows more intelligence than other fairies since she’s self aware about her power, if I were to put it in words. Otherwise she’s smart for a fairy, generally speaking,” Narumi finishes.

I begin to contemplate the points she made when Cirno shouts from her grounded brawl, “See, a couple people know I’m smart! Why do you gotta be so mean, you black white idiot?”

“You’re just too fun to mess with!” Marisa giggles out in response. It’s like looking at sisters. Well… no, no it’s brothers.

“Alright,” I say in my brusque teacher tone, “that’s enough rolling on the ground. Get yourselves up before you get high off magic dust in the dirt.” The two stop and give me a suspect glance, unsure if I really just took that tone with them. “Yes, you two idiots.” Narumi giggles at my blatant rudeness.

Marisa brushes herself off while giving me a stink eye and saying, “What the hell are ya’ actin’ like my old man for?”

“Hah. I just figured if everyone’s calling me that anyway I might as well act the part,” I respond in levity.

Cirno walks up and says, “I think I need to show my strongness more. Let’s go find somebody else to fight!”

“Hey you could always fight me, you munchkin!” Marisa provokes.

“Are you sure this is a smart fairy?” I ask no one in particular.

“Unfortunately,” Ran chimes in.

There’s plenty of time in the day, so humoring Cirno to go somewhere else is no issue. If I’m lucky I could convince one of the magicians to tag along. They seem to give a lot more input than Ran cares to, at least.

The question is, where does the ice-cube wish to go?

[x] Scarlet Mansion is the closest target to beat.

[x] There’s plenty of people to catch in the Youkai Mountain!

[x] Wherever the fairy thinks of off the top of her head (write in or I’ll dice roll above ground places)

No proofreading, no inspiration, it's time for an update! I thought I wanted to go into some more important conversations here, but I couldn't find a good segue. Oops.
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[x] There’s plenty of people to catch in the Youkai Mountain!
There's the Mountain God! The Frog God (not to be confused with a god of frogs)! The Marketplace God! The Curse God! The Autumn Leaves God! The Festival God!

6 Gods VS Cirno! An even fight!
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[x] Scarlet Mansion is the closest target to beat.

Marisa's Library Adventure interrupt!
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[x] There’s plenty of people to catch in the Youkai Mountain!

Narumi option.
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[x] There’s plenty of people to catch in the Youkai Mountain!
Mountain Hiking and Birdwatching are nice hobby to have.
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[x] There’s plenty of people to catch in the Youkai Mountain!
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[x] There’s plenty of people to catch in the Youkai Mountain!

Kappa, and Tengu, and Goddesses oh my!
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[x] There’s plenty of people to catch in the Youkai Mountain!

“What do ya’ mean ‘unfortunately’ you giant tuft of fur?!” Cirno begins to fume.

“Enough, enough,” I say while pressing her feet back to the ground, “let’s just decide where to go next.”

“I wanna find tough people, so I’m going to the mountain,” Cirno says.

I look to the two magicians in conversation with each other and call out, “Hey, did either of you want to come with? Looks like a trip, but I’ve also been enjoying our chat.”

They look to me with a bit of consideration, a cross between considering my words and a sense of schadenfreude curiosity. Marisa speaks up first, “Nah, that’s a bit out there for me, so I think I’ll be making a stop to Patchy’s. After I pick up this mess,” she gestures to the rainbow pile of mushrooms on the ground. “Tell ya what, though. Next time I spot ya I might ask about some of those outside sciences. Heat transfer happens to catch my interests.”

With that she begins to sift through the pile reinspecting everything that’s fallen. Narumi however acquiesces with a curt, “I would love to join you. Not many people listen to the inner workings of nature that I know.”

With that I turn back to Cirno for one more order of business in my studies, but she’s disappeared entirely.

“Where’d Cirno go?” I ask Ran. She hasn’t bothered moving much this whole time, and has ended up more quiet than before.

“The fairy is moving to the foot of Youkai Mountain, as was stated,” she responds.

“And you didn’t decide to tell me?”

“You were in the middle of another conversation. It’s rude to interrupt others.”

This garners a chuckle out of Marisa, likely knowing when Ran is just messing around. Well, whatever. I’ll pick up on it soon enough. I motion for Ran to lead the way back out, who then instead defers to Narumi.

Under the statue woman’s guidance we find our way out of the forest in half the time, and are flying in the direction of the mountain. I didn’t even spot as many shadows stalking us in the trees on our way out, maybe due to some magical protection Narumi provides.

The Youkai Mountain is certainly the largest centerpiece of Gensokyo. No matter where you might be, it’s in view, and were you to be in its shade you would definitely lose a number of hours of sunlight. It apparently is even vast enough to house a number of different groups. No telling which one Cirno is after, but we can hope we’ll spot her at the foot of the mountain.

At least I think since she was just in the forest she would be in some mindset to try walking through whatever place we’re going to. I myself was hoping to get one of her wings to hold onto. See if they were made ice crystals of water or melted into whatever her magic ice is made of. I’ll ask when I get another chances, but I do hope it’s not too weird of a request. The crystals might be her wings but they surprisingly don’t attach in any visible way. I haven’t tried prying one off, so I wonder what force could be holding it there, even if via some magic I wouldn’t know.

“Does he always look so… graven when you carry him?” Narumi asks Ran when we’re a ways in the air.

“Indeed. Is it of some concern?” Ran asks back.

“Oh, no. I was just thinking of how wild cats look when you pick them up. That’s how he looks, I mean. How come you’re working on this with him? I mean, you already said, but I wanted to hear your reason why, Miss Yakumo.”

“She’s really too polite, isn’t she?” I note.

Ran ignores my comment and chooses to answer Narumi instead, “My Lady Yukari takes much time to rest, and so I am left time without orders. Status quo is to maintain the household and pursue intellectual inquiry when not tending to the barrier. By her own teasing I have decided I should learn some of the work the villagers perform in this age.”

“Hmm, that’s it? Wouldn’t you sooner go to the kappa for science projects?” Narumi inquires.

“The kappa do not perform academically minded research. Their preference is the construction and destruction of whatever they own.”

“That’s the same as everything I’ve read on them,” I comment. “Though, you gotta give it to them for being so crafty anyway.”

“Is it really crafty if everything they make explodes..?” Narumi interjects.

Some travel time later we arrive to the foot of the mountain. Cirno isn’t in sight, so we begin to fly upward in search. There’s no telling where she went off to in hopes of fighting something. Not that I’ll be stopping her in any way. I just hope we can find her to at least see it. Also grab the wing, can’t forget that.

As we’re scaling up I’m asking Ran about any markers we see above the treeline. A couple of spots around the base of the mountain have some oddly colored trees dominate the view. Ran tells me the red trees are from the Aki sister’s Autumnal home, while the discolored leafless trees surround the miniature shrine and home of Hina Kagiyama. It’s strange how much these people really make the area their own, even down to the trees and foliage. Down a river path I see some surprising columnar jointing that marks the Genbu Ravine, the home to the kappa workshops.

This mountain can hold a lot, huh?

For a bit longer we travel before I begin to suspect Cirno to have flown straight to the top. Then a ball of energy flies straight next to us. Narumi doesn’t even seem phased by this, but Ran takes instant action, deploying some sort of barrier against the shot. So I guess there really is a reason she holds me with one arm.

We halt midair. Awaiting the source of the warning shot. From the treeline floats someone dominantly white. Their hair, their clothes, and even a large tail are all white. This must be a white wolf tengu on patrol, and none too happy to see us. Even from a distance it’s hard to ignore how lithe her frame is. Not really someone that screams guardsman, but the large drawn weaponry make up for expectations.

She wastes no time taking control of the encounter, with a loud authoritative, “State your business trespassing tengu land. That goes doubly for you, Yakumo.” She holds her blade directly to Ran and I. “Why do you hold what is apparently a human?”

I look to Ran and propose, “Should I explain or do you want to?”

She quickly responds with, “The tengu are conditioned to my mannerisms. Better the wild actor to subvert expectations.”

“I’ll remember that you called me wild, Ran,” I nag. Next I shout back to the tengu, “Ran is here under service to me. I myself look for the ice fairy should she have come up here.”

The tengu looks to us for a few moments unsure of what she just heard. Before she recovers to continue barking orders a blue blip ejects from the trees toward me. It seems the wolf was in the middle of stopping Cirno just before we arrived, so that’s fortunate.

“There you are!” the kid cries, “I thought you ditched me at the forest! Nobody came with me, but I had to keep going as a fairy of my word.” She puffs up her chest in haughty pride. Beating Narumi and keeping up with Ran must have boosted her confidence more than I expected.

“So what exactly was your word, Cirn-”

“Hey!” the white wolf interrupts our leisure conversation. “If that’s your fairy, then take her and leave. Immediately.”

“What do you think, Cirno?” I wryly smile. “Should we leave?”

“Nuh uh, I want to fight a bird!” She exclaims.

The wolf sighs and slumps her shoulders, likely weary from the lack of peace on her patrol.

“Fine,” she says, “but I won’t allow it without taking a round off of me.” She mounts to a sword front stance and readies a quick slice. Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be a normal danmaku duel?

Cirno doesn’t waste time getting in front of the wolf to start firing icicles. The rest of us make distance from the action. Spectating has gotten interesting after I got used to looking directly at the offensive player. The patterns people make are neat, but the fluid motions needed to dodge those art projects tend to be more interesting to me.

The wolf takes a wide sweeping swing of her sword to make light projectiles in multiple impressive outward spiral moving in directions out from her. Neat little Doppler effect makes the front of spirals going towards Cirno much denser than the other end.

But for all the impressiveness of the packed bullets Cirno circumvents it by freezing the front row to ignore the worst of the volley. Or so I’d assume but she gets nicked by some bullets going straight outward from the tengu. Seems she overlapped her attack to make sure you couldn’t camp a single position with a gimmick.

I think Cirno will win out regardless, so I should focus more on some observations here. The density of the bullet wall Cirno froze was impressive, so it’s interesting to see that the amount she needs to freeze doesn’t change how or when she uses her powers. Perhaps a single flash freeze is only limited by the amount of material to freeze. That begs a couple of questions…

“Hey, Narumi,” I say.

“Yes? I’m assuming it’s something about the duel?” she infers.

“Sort of. What can you tell me about the power of fairies? Or I guess how powerful fairies are? Or, wait… both I guess..?” I try to think of the exact semantics of my question.

She giggles at my flub, then says, “I think I can help you with both. I discussed fairies being life energy before, but doing any kind of quantifying is just not reasonable. Though I should ask the shikigami beside us if such a thing has been done.” She eyes Ran, prompting an answer out of her. After a few moments of silence Narumi further gestures for Ran to speak up.

Ran gets the message this time and returns, “From conclusions personally made previously, fairies are not characteristically quantifiable. To be explicit, they do not fit into observable categories such as classes, levels, or raw numerical values of their power. Some fairies have powers that fit a niche for combat, whereas others may have notable powers but without a suitable capability to adapt to combat.”

“Thank you, Miss Yakumo!” Narumi chirps. “That is something I hadn’t tried myself, so it’s good to know it was already tried.”

“Please call me Ran. Miss Yakumo should be reserved for my lady.”

“Not quite what I meant, but I get the point,” I add.

“Ah, do you mean how strong a fairy is compared to a similar Youkai? I would definitely say they’re leagues apart. If a Youkai has the same power then I haven’t found one weaker than a fairy. Well… it’s still hard to tell with Cirno. Her love of conflict makes her a bit sturdier than other fairies,” Narumi says.

I can’t help but bite that last bit for a change in the conversation, “Do you know Cirno well? It’s not hard to tell she’s different, but I worry that not many people like her because of it.”

“How ridiculous,” Ran interjects.

“Well I think it’s nice when people think about the fairies in such a personal way. Even if I study nature I don’t interact as much as I’d like with it. Why do you say people wouldn’t like Cirno, though? I’d like your opinion on the matter,” Narumi proposes.

I parse my thoughts for the right words, then decide on one string of thought, “I don’t think it’s complicated. If I had to give some formalism enough to please tuft and grumble here-”

Ran harrumphs at the slight.

“I would say that an individual who drastically changes can find themselves isolated from their original niche and still unaccepted by the niche they wish to be a part of. Probably not even the right way to put it, so instead let me just give my own example. Let’s say a bookie kid starts to become interested in sports instead of reading. There’s nothing wrong with that, but now he’s pushed away his connection to the people that knew and accepted him- other bookies. Now he instead tries to become part of the big sports kid’s group, but they don’t want to accept a scrawny bookie who’s only beginning to build muscle to play with the bigger kids. That kid now has no group to be a part of.”

“So you’re saying Cirno is part of the bookies?” Narumi assesses.

“Well, yeah. An un-fairylike fairy. Can’t be considered normal to be with fairies or Youkai or gods or humans. The friends she says she has are only Youkai and that seems to be more so just to fight them,” I begin touting.

“Actually, there’s more to it than that,” Narumi stops my thought. “In fact your analogy has more in common than you meant. The kid was ‘beginning to build muscle’ is the same thing that’s happening to Cirno. Her life energy, her ‘muscle,’ is growing much more powerful than can be expected of any fairy. It’s a strange sight for sure. The only other one I’ve seen like it is the clown fairy, but her power specifically effects life energy itself… I myself cannot even begin to understand if this is some freak of nature in the making.”

“Don’t know, but I get that a lot,” Cirno conjectures. “I feel sad for that kid, though. I wish he could have a friend.”

“Wha- Cirno you were here?!” I say with a hefty jump in Ran’s arm. Thank gods her grip is more loving than a bear’s. That or the grunt she emits conjured the image.

“I beat up Momiji pretty quick but you all just started talking again. Jeez you like talking a lot,” Cirno puffs.

“Kind of my job, actually,” I retort.

“I don’t get why you were talking about kids, though. And I thought you were nice, statue lady, but now you’re just calling me weird like that other thin lady from that time with the flowers.”

What other lady? I look to Narumi in question. She catches my thought.

She asks Cirno, “Do you mean the sage behind the seasons incident? I remember flowers were kind of a motif for the whole thing. Well, other than in the forest. Who knew Gensokyo had enough water to make that much snow.”

“No, it was a long time before that. That time that flowers bloomed everywhere and everyone was going everywhere to figure out why,” Cirno explains with a wave of her hands, unsure what to do with them.

I instead look to Ran, who probably has encyclopedic knowledge of past events like that. She looks back with a disinterested look, but eventually caves in when I refuse to relent.

“The fairy refers to the visitation of the Yamaxanadu for the end of the previous natural cycle.”

“Natural cycle?” I ask.

“A set time for which nature has a sort of rebirth of its energy,” Narumi answers with a trademarked lecture finger raised. “You’re saying the Yama talked to Cirno, though?”

“Was her name Yama? I don’t remember. She talked about stuff I didn’t get, like not being in nature something or other. I don’t get it, I’m always in nature. I’m the strongest one in it!” Cirno inflects.

I begin to piece out something that seems important, and say, “The Yama talking to you is definitely notable, but I almost missed that part where you said this has been happening for a long time. Cirno, have you always been ‘the strongest?’”

“Yup,” she answers without a second thought.

“Well that can’t be right. Why would people keep telling you that you’re changing from being a fairy if it’s been that long. Something doesn’t seem to line up,” I begin pondering the meaning of it all.

We all go into a silence, dissecting parts of the conversation so far for any ideas.

Cirno eventually breaks the silence, “Hey! I haven’t even gotten to show you me beating a crow yet! Come on, let’s go.” She tugs at Ran’s dress and floats up the mountain.

It appears there’s just a bit more to today’s trip, but I need to start tackling one of the problems I’ve noticed today. I’ll do whatever I need to so I can sit Ran’s ass down to talk about her loss of strength, but how do I want to approach Cirno about interpersonal relations?

[x] With tact, but professional and direct nonetheless. If I’m upfront she may be honest about whether she considers it a problem that I can help with.

[x] I’d make a shit school counselor, but the one I knew did good for the high school kids. Got on their level and didn’t mind being on the nosy side if he felt there was something he could help with. I could try and emulate that, somehow.

[x] I’m taking this approach wrong, but I need to crapshoot some other idea. (write-in)

Realized that I need to be going somewhere particular with Cirno’s part, so I’m going with what feels right on this. Your own opinions may play parts with how things end up here, but don’t feel obligated to write my story for me. That said, full disclosure, I initially thought to put Marisa to the mountain and Narumi to the SDM since it’s closer to her introverted butt, but then reading a vote I felt like that would be a rude switch of expectations.

Also, Pick a color
[x] Red
[x] Purple
You know exactly what this is for.
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>I’ll do whatever I need to so I can sit Ran’s ass down
Ran's fat ass yet again returns!

[x] I’d make a shit school counselor, but the one I knew did good for the high school kids. Got on their level and didn’t mind being on the nosy side if he felt there was something he could help with. I could try and emulate that, somehow.
[x] Get Ran to play the direct no-nonsense role.
A sort of good cop/bad cop thing could work (though much less emphasis on the bad cop/interrogation aspect). We try to be more relatable, while Ran takes the role of the direct no-nonsense professional. Granted, that's what she is by default, so just use Ran as normal when you relate to Cirno.

I'm tempted to say Ran should play the role of the "friendly school councilor trying to relate to his youth", just to see her struggle, but we know she'd fail in it.

[x] Purple
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[X] Shit school counselor
[X] Get Ran to play the direct no-nonsense role.
[X] Purple

How does one get on the level of a fairy?

>“Wha- Cirno you were here?!” I say with a hefty jump in Ran’s arm. Thank gods her grip is more loving than a bear’s. That or the grunt she emits conjured the image.

Were they all just floating in the air talking for the entire scene?
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[X] Shit school counselor
[X] Get Ran to play the direct no-nonsense role
[X] Purple

Wait. There is something I’m not accounting for in my methodology. I’ve not considered that I have Ran beside me for a bit of double teaming. That said, I need to convince her first. That or order her. Whatever I can get away with. I’ll come back to it when Cirno is busy with her next fight. Thankfully I think I’ve seen all I needed to of her ability at this point, so I don’t need to worry about any observations.

That said I do need to compile my observations as I’ve listed down in some meaningful manner. It feels like there’s some interesting conclusion that I can make off of this, but it might be a stretch without some confirmation. I’ll be sure to ask Narumi’s opinion before she leaves. Otherwise I’ll need to pour through some reference texts and source anything I can get a hold of. Maybe I should send a request to use the library at the scarlet mansion. You can’t tell me there’s a library in a pocket space and I won’t try to get in.

Some other time. Right now we’re still climbing up the mountain behind Cirno. I’m not sure why, but I think that Cirno’s rushing this little expedition for some reason. She’s moving at a faster pace than when we went to the forest. She might be done with conversation from an overload in the last couple days. Hopefully I can convince her to sit down later.

We break from the thick treeline of the forest choking the mountain and emerge into a sort of rocky clearing. This terrain reminds me a lot more of the western American mountains. Mostly rocks, patches of grass here and there, occasional trees. If this is the way to the Tengu Village, then I can see why they would like the area. Nobody walking would even attempt to come here leisurely.

Cirno mildly changes bearing towards a colorful speck far above us, up in a tree. Getting closer I get a view of someone in white and purple. Even closer now I see it’s one of the tengu with their white collar clothes, but this one has quite the fashion sense. I’m no fashionista, but I’m pretty sure that a checkered purple skirt like that stands out like a sore thumb. It really makes you wonder if some of these people wear things as a statement.

Her terrible fashion won’t make me forget walking into a bar for the first time only for someone to ask me if I was a tengu in disguise, though. Honestly, why do these idiots wear the clothes of outside world office workers? That gripe is coming to the top with me if I can.

“Hey birdbrain!” Cirno hollers up to the perched tengu when we get to the base of the tree. She must be riled up to skip any banter before fighting. Just when I was beginning to think that it was a law to do so.

The tengu gets a start before looking down past her… is that…? Is that a fucking flip phone? I don’t think I can even begin to understand what they’re doing in that village if one of them is running around with a micro computer whereas the human village still can’t fully grasp electricity. On that note, I wonder if they have good old CRT’s hooked up by a VGA cable. If there’s a school up there it might look like a few rooms that were in mine when I started teaching. God I feel old.

While I’m busy with my thoughts, the tengu floats down on dark wings from her back. So they can sprout wings. That’s neat, I guess. Not gonna hold myself to quizzing the dynamics of that for now, I have other things to think about.

Cirno abruptly takes the lead, “You! Fight me! Right now! No talk!”

The crow seems taken aback and ignores the request to instead spill forth in questions, “The ice fairy? What do you mean fight? What’s this warband with you? And…” she pauses to check the heads present, “I know those two, but is that also a human with you? What in the hells?”

“No! Shut up and fight! I don’t want confusing talks anymore!” Cirno fumes and stomps the air under her. I must have hit some thought capacity for her in the last couple days. Note to self: asking a fairy where they got their clothes is a defensive tool.

In all seriousness it was probably the existential talk with Narumi about being maybe not a fairy. Considering fairies rather… lax value of life, maybe it’s a topic she tries to avoid. I’ll really need to keep that in mind.

Cirno loses all patience when the tengu continues to question her, instead answering with a volley of ice shards. The tengu, however, simply hops to the side as if never in danger.

“Oh you little shit!” the crow shouts. “You wanna go so bad I’ll just have to make you even more blue until you tell me everything!”

And they fly up above a little distance. Thankfully the clear treeline means the other few of us simply land to spectate. That isn’t my priority number one, though. I turn to Ran. I’m going to get her on my side to actually probe Cirno’s attitude with this idea.

“Hey, Ran, I was thinking about that thing from earlier with Cirno’s friends.”

She looks over with the same bored expression before commanding, “Speak.”

“I want to sit down with Cirno and gauge her own thoughts on friends she has. See if it’s a problem to her, too. But to do so I’ll need a hand to sift through some of the conversation. Basically, can you be something like my ‘bad cop?’”

Ran doesn’t do anything at all for a second. As though loading whatever reaction was supposed to happen. When I still wait for her answer, she eventually sighs, “How absurd. Rejected for reason of being outside the scope of objective.”

“It’ll be fine, just play along.”

“Regis,” Ran says in a sharper, more present tone, “cease this play at being a self entitled benefactor. Retrace to allotted objectives.”

I play it off as her being her usual grumpy self and say, “All right, you don’t want to. Fine, I’ll have to work on my own I guess. Unless you want to help, Narumi?”

As I turn to look over to the Jizo, Ran shoves me to look back. In her finely slit eyes I can see a mixture of disgust and disappointment. The look a teacher gives to say a student missed the point of why they’re in detention and reprimanded. She isn’t playing coy, and has a serious issue with what I’m doing right now.

“Miss Ran?” Narumi questions her reaction, but there is no response. Ran waits for me to say something.

“So… what? You don’t want me to see if the kid needs help?” I begin to formulate.

“Correct. That is outside the parameters of your role. A role you show little merit in performing at this time.”

“Hold up, where’s that coming from?”

“Your lack of meaningful observations arriving at numerical conclusions.”

Now that really ticks me off. “Hah? The hell do you mean numerical conclusions? I’ve been doing qualitative assumptions this entire time and you’ve even been checking my notes to confirm them,” I argue back.

“Wait, you two…” Narumi quietly tries to interrupt.

Ran continues unabated, “Qualitative findings that should have all been made in one instance and then disregarded in favor of data analysis affirming each by correlation,” she explains without so much as a movement of her body. It’s like I’m speaking into a scientific review journal that’s spitting back words it likes.

“You can’t seriously think that I’d know everything from a glance. And asking me to do analytics for this kind of work is just idiotic, Ran!” I say with a bit more bite than I intended. I can feel the heat rising as this is going.

“If that is your opinion, then it explains why you have not treated this project with decisiveness leading to results. Your workflow has been painfully slow to spectate.”

“Are you god damn joking? It’s the second fucking day why would I be done with everything? I’m doing what I can without being a dumbass about it. Maybe you should curb your expectations, oh mighty and intelligent holier than thou.”

“Your lacking sense of professionalism to the matter calls into question the level of competency you perform. Saying that you wish to ‘help’ the fairy furthers the matter. Perhaps you shouldn’t be taking this position if you cannot remain uninvolved with your subjects of observation.”

“I don’t think you two are thinking levelly,” Narumi again tries to tone the fight down.

“Christ, Ran, are you always like this?! I can see why Yukari would kick you out of the house if all you do is think about working!”

“Do you think you’re allowed to speak to me like that? You’re a worthless human, one who is no more than a miserable backwater failure!” Ran shouts in an earnest, angry pitch.

“SILENCE,” Narumi intones with a commanding slam of her prayer staff against the ground.

The entire area listens. Not a breath is expended against her order. The fight above between Cirno and the tengu stall as they look back down to see what happened. Ran and I are finally peeled from our stare down to find this positively fuming Narumi.

“What are you two doing? I thought you were both more civil than this. So stop acting like children,” she says with a quick whack of the flat side of her rod on the both of our heads, “or I will have to mediate as if you were. Understood?”

Our lack of voice could be taken for acquiescence, or utter confusion at the sudden change in this mild mannered girl. To be frank, an angry look only makes her cuter, so the image doesn’t alleviate the disjoint in tone.

With our lack of response, Narumi takes control of the conversation after a quick clearing of her throat, saying, “You two are speaking past each other somehow. A certain pair of witches in the forest do that, too. So let me interpret the flow of thought.”

She first points to me, and says, “Mr. Tanner, please tell me what you want to do in the fewest words you can manage.”

I put my thoughts together for a brief moment before eliciting a response, “I’m worried that Cirno does not have friends, or at least quality friends, and I want to fix it if that’s the case.”

“Very good. However, you need to be more direct about why you want to help her. Ran did have a point that this isn’t really your job.”

“I don’t… I guess I just want to help her because she’s a kid close to what I used to teach to.”

“Remember that she’s not a real child,” Narumi points out.

“I know! I just can’t help it I guess. Not like I haven’t been traumatized enough to get attachment issues yesterday…”

“Wait what happened yesterday?” Narumi breaks persona.

“Cirno killed the light fairy, Luna, by drowning. Regis was unable to disassociate fairies from human children and reacted accordingly.”

“Ugh,” I utter at the thought.

Narumi shoots a very pitying look my way, but lightly shakes her head back into a totally intimidating stern frown. “Let’s not get off topic. We know that Tanner wants to help purely for humanitarian values,” she says and points to Ran, “but we also need to know specifically why you are directly against it, Miss Ran.”

Ran dips her head in contemplation before rising to say only, “Impertinence.”

“You gotta be more specific than that,” I mouth off.

“Quiet, Tanner. Let her give her reasoning,” Narumi reprimands. I toss up my hands in a show of backing off for a bit longer.

The fox elaborates her previous word, explaining, “There is no value to neglecting the assigned duty. Straying from task will result in continual deviation in quality of outcomes.”

“So you argue that helping Cirno is not his job and that doing so will get in the way of him making observations?” Narumi reiterates.

“Close, but not incorrect, either,” Ran states.

Narumi once again tucks her staff into the crook of her arm and brings her hands together as if in prayer, then say, “I can understand your concern, Ran. However, since you are working with Tanner on a village project, try to think about things from a different perspective.”

“You ask me to develop some level of sympathy and throw myself into making sure a fairy has friends?” Ran determines.

“No. Think differently than that!” Narumi says with a wave of a hand. “You should think of whether the things Tanner wishes to do are really against your goal. Tanner, you said that you simply wished to study Cirno, right?”

“Yeah? I don’t think I’m following yet, here,” I respond.

“Well, would you both consider that understanding Cirno not just in body and spirit but also in mind would be part of your job?” Narumi proposes to us.

“You mean like an actual psych evaluation? Would I even be qualified to do that?” I ponder.

“You have no qualifications for anything, Regis,” Ran jabs.

“Hey! You can’t just say that! I’ll have you know that I… teach… well..?”

Ran buries a hand in her face, but opens up again to say, “Your argument is understandable, Jizo. However, why would helping the fairy specifically have value to the study, rather than a regular psychological assessment that I might perform?”

“Need I argue the value of knowing how someone thinks? Especially the value of how someone changes how they think. Even something like self reflecting is an enlightening subject matter, Miss Yakumo,” Narumi begins to devolve into a lecturing tone. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a woman who was once stone puts a lot of weight in matters of thought. No pun on her mass, of course.

Ran takes another moment to evaluate Narumi’s point, then concedes, “There is certainly truth to your words, however there remains concern of the span of time required for such outcomes to be observable.”

“That would depend entirely on how you and Tanner approach it. I have no personal experience in fairies to that depth,” Narumi defers with a curt nod.

That does strike me, so I ask, “Why are you so adamant that I try to help Cirno, anyway? I get the nature thing you were talking about before, but is there more to that?”

Narumi glows a bit when I ask. Clearly it was something she omitted in hopes one of us would catch on to. A simple lecture trick to grab attention to something important. She says with a clear and sagely voice, “I am a magician of nature. Though the magic I perform may not be plants and fairies, it is the same energy. Fairies are nothing but that energy, and so they are important reflective surfaces of the health of the world around us. This even goes so far that the general mood of fairies impacts it. Happy fairies make for a happy world, if I were to put it romantically.”

“Right… so I guess you’re okay with it now, Ran?” I ask once more.

Ran sighs and crosses her arms, but still relents. “Very well. We must further discuss our roles and goals, but I will work with you to ‘help’ the fairy,” she says with as lame of an expression as I could expect. Not happy, but Narumi seems to have convinced her that there is something to this.

With that worked out I can get back to the fight between Cirno and that tengu girl. It appears they have been at it for a while now, and Cirno seems to be harshly on the receiving end. Her current performance even says that she may have lost a few times already.

The patterns the tengu creates are nothing overly complicated, but on close searching there appears to be some kind of gimmick that she’s using in her attacks. Much like how Cirno can simply freeze a trail of bullets, this girl has some way of clearing an entire swath of bullets from the field. I’ll assume it is dangerous to be in the middle of it since Cirno makes darting attempts to give these disappearing regions a wide berth. Currently it looks to be radially centered on the tengu, but it strangely isn’t a perfect circle. A star pattern, maybe?

Cirno doesn’t get as much time to analyze the fight, as the vanishing act happens on her end of the field intermittently, and she was keeping too wide of a gap to recover back to the center. And like that, Cirno takes whatever the feeling a giant invisible field of magic feels like. Judging by her sudden change in speed, it’s probably not pleasant. Oh god she really got flung, actually. Still tumbling and everything this way. Shit is she going to be fine if she hits the ground?

“Ran, could you catch her?” I look back to ask.

“Such a fall will not injure that fairy beyond their natural healing,” she outputs.

I try my best stern glare to the response. She aims back her own sardonic look with included eye roll. However, she reluctantly moves to the fairy’s landing trajectory regardless, and floats a few paces above the ground. Cirno’s angry wail only gets louder as we wait for her. She has some surprisingly large lung capacity. It must be from all of her yelling.

Ran tilts to match Cirno’s resultant angle, and opens in embrace. The fairy missile strikes at mach speed, but Ran’s catch changes the hard landing into a soft crash. This produces the sound of cloth being hit together. Ran’s clothes are the softest or the baggiest things, depending on how generous you feel.

On landing, she produces one dizzied fairy almost completely out of it. Cirno grabs her head to try and steady herself, but can’t seem to stay upright. She falls on her butt in no dignified manner, clothes torn, and certainly far from happy.

“Graah! That bird uses weird moves!” she complains.

“You’re just too stupid to get it,” the young tengu says in turn. I didn’t even notice when she flew down. I heard the crows moved quick, but damn, I only looked away for a moment.

“And you all,” she looks over my way, “are going to explain exactly what is happening. I don’t leave the house often, so this had better be something interesting.”

“Tanner, if you could kindly explain to the girl,” Narumi says. “I think Ran needs a bit more convincing on your perspective.”

“Uh, alright?” I intone back. I thought we had ironed things out already. Odd.

I spend the next short while to tell the tengu girl, Hatate, about the reason for the collected ensemble. She seems to take it with some interest, and flits through several pages of notes created. Narumi and Ran are discussing something off a ways, and Cirno is simmering in her loss on a rock overlooking much of Gensokyo.

Hatate tells me she’s a reporter, and that she wants my permission to write an article about me. I see no reason to decline, but I can’t take an interview today since I have other plans. She accepts the request and says she’ll find me some later time. Before then she doesn’t want me to talk to any other reporters. With a friendly wave she sets off in the direction of the village. I wonder if anything’s happening.

Overall she was pretty agreeable, after you get past the bratty teenager attitude. Akyuu told me the tengu reporters were worse than Hollywood paparazzi, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Or at least not that one, anyway.

Now to collect everyone and return to Cirno’s raft. It’s time to actually sit down with the kid.

Here we are again. I get out an extended post late, and now you’re waiting for me to give an actual vote. Not only that, but I need to actually put in the scene for the previous vote. How vile I am. Then again, I kind of realized before writing that I kinda had to write some character development. Slipped my mind for the last couple posts.
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Something important to note is that this update is basically an old man yelling at an old computer until a young girl manages to get it to work for him. And God I want to be caught in Ran's soft baggy clothes.
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Good to see a typical result of a group project; becoming frustrated with each other and then hurling insults.

Reading through this first, I was a bit confused about Ran upon being presented with the idea of sitting down to talk and understand Cirno’s mindset, not immediately grasping the perspective of the benefits of learning an individual’s thought patterns. I would think that being a nine-tailed kitsune, she would have experienced how knowing such information could be helpful; manipulation and that kind of stuff. But then I remembered that Ran is a shikigami, a separate entity from the fox she is attached to. That there exists an actual separation between the two mentally. Is the actual fox youkai still there, just watching this entire journey so far as a backseat passenger while the shikigami controls the wheel, or is she asleep in a sense?

> “Uh, alright?” I intone back. I thought we had ironed things out already. Odd.
When dealing with mythical creatures, remember they tend to be proud, old, and stubborn and thus tend to hold grievances a bit longer than humans. Ran has all those in significant amounts simultaneously and is a supernatural computer. So it makes sense that Ran would require further convincing. Regis thinking otherwise is a testament to his statement about making a shit school counselor because I cannot see how one could interpret these words from Ran
>We must further discuss our roles and goals
as having ironed things out already.

I know that Regis has thought about the strangeness of clothing and hats, particularly Keine’s hat, but has he considered who produces these hats? Do the folks just make it themselves, or is there some wealthy hatter? Has he ever tried on Keine’s hat out of morbid curiosity?
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To group everyone together… Ran and Narumi are still talking about something. I can’t tell what, though. I should give them a few extra moments before butting in.

I mean, I need to see if Cirno’s done sulking, anyway. She huddled on the ground when I started to talk to Hatate, but hasn’t gotten back to her usual upbeat attitude. She’s crossing her arms and staring at the ground with a mean look.

I walk up to her and ask, “What are ya’ thinking about? You’ve been sitting there for a while now.”

“I’m figuring out what that dumb purple crow did earlier. It was something with that weird metal brick. I think she even takes pictures with it like that box Aya has,” she contemplates with a scratch under her chin, mimicking me. She sprawls out across the ground and let’s her legs kick in idleness. “Gah, I just don’t get it. How do people think about things like that? I can’t remember things, but other people remember what they had for breakfast three seasons ago!”

“Well, if you want my thoughts, it’s best to only remember the important things at first,” I say. She’s staring off into the sky but lets me continue, “Then you can look some more and find more important things, and you can keep doing that to remember what you need to. Like how other than the bullets Hatate also seemed to fire something that cleared them in a rectangular shape. That’s important. You’re already doing great if you think it’s coming from her cellphone. I wouldn’t ever guess that, and that’s definitely important when fighting her.”

“So you were watching,” Cirno says cutting her eyes towards me. Her words come out a little sharper because of it. “I thought you got bored and just talked to the other two. You all talk a lot about nothing.”

That’s harsh. She must have wanted to say that all day. “I wouldn’t say it’s nothing. Maybe not of interest to you is all. I did want to talk with you about something else, though.”

“I don’t know. I feel like you don’t really care. Kinda like the fox.”

“What if I said I cared more than you think?” I reflect.

“As if. Nobody takes a fairy seriously. We’re small fry after all,” Cirno says, looking back to the distant sky.

Even in fantasy land, kids share a lot of common sentiments. So I say the same as I do for the kids I teach, “I don’t think you’re a small fry. I think you’re just as important as everyone else. I think Narumi agrees with that sentiment, too. Tell you what, if we go back to the lake and talk like I want, I think you’ll be convinced.”

She eyes me for a moment, then pops up by her heels, icicle wings springing back to their natural angles. She doesn’t seem happy about talking more, but she’s not complaining, either. Ran and Narumi are looking over as well, so they probably finished their chat.

I walk back up the slope and ask Ran, “You two done? Narumi said you still weren’t agreeing with my idea.”

Ran looks back quizzically, “That is…-”

“She’s fine now. We can get going if you wish,” Narumi cuts in.

“Well… alright then?” An odd deflection, but I won’t bother to pry.

“Ah, I should say that I will not be joining you. Plants to take care of and magic to study. But I think you two won’t mess up when you… see if the fairy is happy?” Narumi says uncertainly.

Not the most glittering encouragement I’ve ever gotten, but it’s appreciated. We start flying back to the lake after that. Once the lake gets into view, Narumi splits off back toward the forest. I’m sure I’ll need to contact her again about some part of the research. Ah, should have asked how to message her in that forest… oh well.

When Cirno’s a bit ahead and out of earshot I speak up to my fluffy passenger carrier, “Alright, Ran. You wanted to know some specifics on my idea so here’s what I was thinking: I have seen a few sessions of school counseling in my time, and I think I can emulate that a bit. At first I thought to do something like a ‘good cop bad cop’ routine, but- no do not say it I know it’s meant for interrogations.” I interrupt and hear her jaw clamp back into place.

Her lips curl in annoyance, but she allows me to continue, “… So I was thinking that you can act natural and drive the conversation whenever you think it would stall out. Sound good?”

She pauses to consider, then asks, “You will accept any interruption where necessary, then?”

And now I take the turn to pause. That’s a dangerous implication, and I don’t know what she wants to get out of that. I answer in caution, “Only if we both think it’s necessary.”

She gives a mild nod and we continue trailing behind the fairy in silence. A couple moments later we plant our feet on the ice raft with a still intact igloo. It looks like Cirno scared off the other fairies from yesterday. Not surprising, really.

I lean down to sit for a while on the ice, but to my surprise Cirno freezes over a few spots making ice stumps good for sitting. She waves for us to take the two stumps across from her, replicating common courtesy for visitors. She never fails to surprise. I take a stump and set my gear down to my side, but notice Ran standing right on my oblique.

I motion for her to take the other chair, but she only answers with, “Standing is preferential.”

My eyes roll as I look back over to Cirno. The air is nice and cool for a summer day. The ice sheet radiates a lot nicer than I would expect. It does feel strange to be on a floating block in the middle of the lake, though. Hopefully I won’t develop a sudden fear of drowning in the next few hours. The sun is still high above so we’ve got plenty of time to talk.

I start, “So, what I wanted to talk about, Cirno. How do I put it…”

“He wants to know if you have friends, Cirno,” Ran speaks plainly.

I look over my shoulder with a bit of brimstone in my eyes, and ask, “Ran, do you even know what the definition of tact is? Jesus.”

“An often unnecessary precaution in which one attempts to use polite phrasings to elaborate on exact questioning, reprimands, or concerns.”

I should have just told her to be quiet. I am already regretting this.

“What do you mean,” Cirno interrupts our improv, “You asked about my friends yesterday. Did you forget? You were just telling me about remembering things.”

“No, no- well, yes you did, but not the point,” I fumble my words. “What I wanted to know was if you had any close friends. Someone that you do more than just fight on the occasion of seeing them. I’m worried that you aren’t really close with anyone in that way.”

“Rude! Why do you even wanna know?” the fairy asks.

“Not for the study, or anything, really. I just wanna look out for the well being of someone I know,” I say, fully knowing that I’ve only known the fairy for two days. It sounds better than saying ‘someone I work with,’ though.

“Hmph,” Cirno grunts and gives me a discerning look. By that I mean she’s pouting, but there’s at least a speck of thought in her eyes. She relaxes somewhat and says, “Well I talk with Rumia and Wriggle whenever I see them. They end up saying the same things all the time, though. What animals Rumia eats or something about bugs Wriggle keeps around. There’s also Daiyousei, but she’s pretty shy,” Cirno elaborates.

That last name she used, I need to ask, “I don’t recognize that last name. You mentioned this Youkai before but can you tell me about them?”

Cirno gives a small giggle before answering, “She’s not a Youkai, dummy. Dai is a fairy, but she’s like a lot of other ones that are too scared to do much with me. They all run whenever anything mean shows up. Unless it’s an incident, then everyone fires danmaku everywhere.”

“Right,” I lamely reply. That fairy could be an actual friend instead of some acquaintance that she fights, but what’s the right thing to ask?

“Would you say Daiyousei is a good fairy?” I decide to ask. I’m not finding much purchase since Cirno doesn’t elaborate enough towards the goal of the discussion.

“Well… she doesn’t like playing pranks, makes sure everyone isn’t hurt after playing, and protects the small fairies from wild Youkai. So, no,” Cirno claims almost jovially.

Wait, what?

“What do you mean, ‘no?’ She sounds like a model citizen,” I ask, baffled at the logic.

“She doesn’t play like a fairy should. It’s weird,” Cirno states matter-of-factly. This is something else to hear from her of all people. Wait, I might be able to pivot off of this. Forgive me for throwing you under the bus, Daiyousei!

“How does she not play like a fairy should, in your view?” I ask.

Cirno glances upward with a finger to her chin as she puts the words together in a few mumbles. Then she looks back down and replies, “She’s too nice! Fairies gotta mess with people and get away with it on their own. Without worrying about each other. But she tries to act like a big sister instead! Taking care of fairies that are weak instead of making them get stronger on their own. I don’t like that.” She’s puffing up with confidence of her own words. She speaking from her gut but it’s still not quite enough for what I wanted. I can almost succinctly say why she doesn’t get along with other fairies, except I need a bit more to-

“Do other fairies share that perspective of this fairy?” Ran asks. I guess I didn’t ask anything when she wanted me to. “Correction: how many fairies follow Daiyousei?”

“Huh? Well,” Cirno spends a few moments counting her fingers before answering, “like fourteen? A few hide when they see me, so I dunno.”

“That at the least says that every fairy doesn’t share the same opinion, but I think we’re barking up the wrong tree now,” I conclude. “Let’s think of a fairy maybe closer to your temperament, like Clownpiece. Do fairies play with her?”

“Sure, they’re a loud bunch,” says Cirno

“Why don’t you play with them?” I ask.

“Well loud doesn’t mean strong, old guy.”

“Ah,” I exhale. I think I get it now. She understands a fairy’s strength because she can fight so many of her own kind. If she wants to be friends with most fairies, she would need to go easy on them, but that isn’t what she wants. That doesn’t hold for every fairy, though.

“Why aren’t you friends with Clownpiece? She seemed to be an equal match for you,” I point out.

Cirno mulls it for a second before responding, “She’s kinda weird. Don’t ask why, I don’t know. But… I guess I haven’t talked to her a lot still.” She rocks back and forth weighing her thoughts on the matter.

“Alright, I think we’ve hit a good junction to switch up topics, so tell me about Youkai you know. Which seems to be a lot…” I trail. “Let me try that again. Why don’t we discuss Youkai you know that seem like they might like you.”

“Come on, you’re being so mean!” Cirno retaliates. “Everybody loves me!” Yeah that wasn’t the right wording.

“So everyone you meet likes you?”


“I don’t,” Ran states followed by my hand slapping her stomach. It hurts me more to do so, given that she barely budges.

I continue, “In all seriousness, Youkai aren’t exactly the most kindly people. Can you recall some names of people you’ve met?”

“Well there’s Rumia and Wriggle,” Cirno starts to list, but stalls out before more names come to her.

“Right, we’ve discussed them. Can you think of a few more names? You can tell me what they look like if you can’t remember their name.”

Cirno pops back into motion to answer, “That lady always in front of that big house.” She proceeds to point toward the Scarlet Devil Manor.

“Alright, Meiling Hong. Anyone else?” I ask whilst continuing to track what I can in my notebook.

“Uh… that one winter lady… She’s pretty… white? Blue? She’s white and blue and only appears in the winter,” Cirno cautions to answer.

“Is it possible for someone to only be around for a particular season?” I pause my writing to ask Ran.

“No. She refers to the Yuki-onna, Letty Whiterock. Whiterock goes into hiding for the non winter seasons. She still exists within Gensokyo, however,” Ran explains.

“So, a gateguard and someone only around for winter. Both mature women, too. Not exactly what I had in mind,” I begin to brainstorm what a more personal interaction between them and Cirno must be like.

“It is possible for them to act as maternal figures for Cirno,” Ran proposes, to my surprise.

“While that’s true, I don’t think that’s the right way to take this,” I decline. Just when she tried to directly add in an idea, too.

“What’s the problem? I don’t get what this is for anyway…” Cirno exasperates, leaning forward to prop her chin in her hands.

“Haven’t we been over this already?”

“No?” Cirno reflects the question. I almost brush it off and continue, but I pause.

I need to gather myself for a moment. I’m not doing this in the right way, and I mean by the train of thought. I have to remember that someone needs to want help for me to help them. So I gotta get her to understand how I see this. Preferably I can get her to inflect on her current isolation. Or, maybe she doesn’t need help becoming proper friends with someone. She’s surprised me already, so who’s to say she’s not more grown than people give her credit for?

Ran almost interjects once more after a moment of silence, but I hold her back, then say, “To put it simply… if you had a bad day, would you talk with anyone about it?”

“Uhm… like how bad a day?” Cirno asks in slight interest.

“Like, say, you lost every fight you took. People make fun of you for it, to boot.”

“Hey!” She pops up to shout. “I wouldn’t-”

“I’m only saying that in example,” I hold up my hand and explain, barely pacifying her.

“Grrr… fine. I guess I wouldn’t talk to anyone, I’d sit here and get back at everyone later.”

“Do you think it would be better to have someone that you could tell your worries to? Someone that could properly listen to them and respond in kind.” I propose to the cross fairy.

She legitimately ponders it for a second and answers, “I dunno, maybe?”

Eh, I’ll take that positively. Better than a spiteful retort.

“Right, well I hope that satisfies why I’m asking about this. I’m trying to see if anyone you know would be good for you to try and make better friends with. Does that sound so terrible?”

“Well… no, I guess,” Cirno deflates back down.

The look in her eyes tells me I messed up. I definitely explained that later than I should. Great, now I made the mood awkward. And I still can’t think of any Youkai that might pair well with this kid. Fairies might be the option I’ll default to at this rate, but I’m unsure if that’s right. I stare off to nowhere going through Youkai names I still remember from the archives when Ran steps into view.

“Regis, if I may,” she asks in outright respectable deference.

My eyes refocus and the most I respond with is a confused, “Uh, sure.”

“From evaluating this fairy, there is one Youkai that would fit your request to ‘make friends’
with her.”

“Well, color me surprised. Who do you have in mind, Ran?”

Cirno even lifts from her melancholy to look at Ran with open curiosity.

“By happenstance, my shikigami, Chen, would mesh to such a role.”

Well, now we’re at an interesting junction. I hadn’t even considered Ran’s shikigami, much less remembered her existence.

“Before that, I have a couple of concerns,” I state directly.

“Speak,” Ran prompts, plain as always.

“From what I read, your shikigami acts a lot like a feral Youkai. Somehow even more than Rumia. How do you think Cirno could get along with her?”

“Chen requires some taming, but she has been due for such for some time. Her hostile attitude to weaker species such as humans and fairies is obstructive to her potential work under Lady Yukari.”

Cirno gets a small shine back in her eyes, likely taking that as some form of challenge.

“Alright. And for my second concern, I also read that she lives in some hidden place along the edge of the border. Did you plan to do something about that?”

Ran pauses, seemingly to decide how much to divulge now, and says, “I will explain when it comes to that point. Know that there is a definite solution to allow Cirno into the area of question.”

“Huh. Well that works out better than I would expect. What do you think, Cirno?” I gesture to the upbeat fairy.

“I mean I’ll fight her. If she wants to be friends after I beat her then that’s neat,” Cirno shrugs with a light smirk.

“Then I think we’ve hit a sort of break to this discussion. The only thing left is for you to decide if you want to go after anyone, Cirno. I’ll tell you now that I’ll have to focus more on my work again by tomorrow, but I’ll try to guide you however I can when the opportunity arises.”

I take quick note that there is still some daylight left, but not enough to get to somewhere like the edge of the barrier and back in good time.

“You mean tell me what to do? Come on, I know how to make friends!” Cirno touts triumphantly.

“Then I’m sure that you’ll have no trouble. Who caught your attention the most? The choice is up to you, after all.”

“Ah, well…”

[x] A fairy! (Specify one, unless it is the light fairies who count as a unit)

[x] A Youkai! (You may feel free to choose any Youkai, but be warned that they have lives too, and are likely to deny being Cirno’s playmate!)

[x] Fox lady’s kid!

What? I can update? Yes! I can! This took me forever because I had to take a while to properly decide how to go about this. I messed up by not setting myself up better with anything more relevant. Anyway, I definitely didn't generate a proper level of emotional investment, but oh well. Next time.
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[x] Fox lady’s kid!
this should help defrost the ice queen fox
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[x] My wife's son
[x] Fox lady’s kid!
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A Catty Ritual
[x] CHEN!

Essentially a play date.

>“I don’t,” Ran states followed by my hand slapping her stomach. It hurts me more to do so, given that she barely budges.

Putting aside my surprise at Tanner physically rebuking a colleague, especially a youkai, out of all the options, why a stomach slap?
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[x] Fox lady’s kid!
Oh yeah, this one will be fun.
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[x] Daiyousei
An odd choice but If any fairy would listen to Cirno and give some level headed advice I reckon it would be Daiyousei.
That and I want to see how you write her,

as a side note this is a really interesting story that has me throughly engaged from the drunk Keine scene to all the other diologue, this seems really well written and what they would say,

My only hope is that at some point for Ran to open up a little and be a little less stiff as whilst its in charcter for her to be rather buisness like, she’s not here because of her master she’s here by her own choice because she’s curious about this stuff as she is something of an academic, yet the sheer lack of interest on her part seems odd, if anything the only thing she’s seems interested in is getting the job done quickly.
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[x] Fox lady’s kid!

If you had Ran's squishy stomach next to you, wouldn't you want to touch it too?
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Horrible Fox Creature
No, horrible ancient fox computer creature will eat hand. The fluff, though, is appealing. Plus, I would imagine Ran's stomach is pretty rigid.
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[x] Fox lady’s kid!

The air’s remained placid and cool for a while now. The lake seems far more empty today. I guess the other fairies got bored of playing over the cold waters. The late afternoon sun is shining down on the calm waters just right to hit my eyes. I didn’t notice before because I was so focused on the conversation. Cirno’s mulling over her choice, so I’m just waiting patiently. With this time I notice that the lake is very plain looking at this time. No mysterious mist to hide all manner of monster, and no open venue of magical creature enjoying the open air. It would feel perfectly mundane if I wasn’t sitting on a giant ice raft with a girl doffed in ice wings and a woman bearing nine tails. Also her odd talisman hat. Seriously, do those serve a purpose of some kind? Are they usable?

“Has some issue arisen, Regis?” Ran asks to my apparent stare. I wave her off to try and act natural.

Cirno continues to juggle the options, and eventually exclaims, “The fox lady’s kid sounds like fun! If she’s from the fox lady then she must be tough! I want to fight someone like that! If they want to be friends after, then that’s even better!”

I look to Ran for her opinion on Cirno being so gun-ho on fighting Chen, but there’s not much thought in her expression. I guess she doesn’t mind throwing her kid into a fire. Err… ice? This could be about ‘taming’ her like Ran said. I wonder what that means exactly.

“Very well,” Ran assents. With a single fluid motion she produces a paper doll, the same as others I’ve seen her pull out, but this one has only a single bold marking. It reads as Chen’s name. Ran whispers it to a faint blue glow, and let’s it drop, somehow falling like a rock. On impact it shines brightly, almost too much for me to look at. In a fraction of a second the light takes shape from the small doll to a full human body.

Once my sight comes back to me I see a small dark figure contrast against the brighter ice. The colors of red and brown. The shikigami of the shikigami, Chen. She takes a low prepped stance, likely expecting a fight just after being summoned, or teleported or whatever. Her ears bowed back and tails swinging. She looks to Cirno and then me, slit eyes set deep on a neutral face. Indications of a cat ready to pounce. And it is at this point that I realize how she’s right next to me, and I jump right out of my seat after spotting her claws. Those things are scalpels, what the hell?!

With my most elegant fall to the ground accompanied by a manly startle, everyone pauses for a second to assess that nothing is going to happen.

This child looks ready to kill! Tame my ass! Chen stands at full height for a brief moment, studying her surroundings before letting her ears swivel up and tails rise, looking back to Ran and bowing. Ran doesn’t visibly react to the gesture but I do feel a bit of her usual tension release at Chen’s arrival.

Chen’s first words are a deferent, “Your orders, Lady Ran.” A tone much the same as Ran herself, but in a pitch consistent of the smaller package.

“This human is attempting a specific objective,” Ran gestures to me and continues, “And you hold a high probability to completing this task. Are you within acceptable parameters to accept a new assignment?” The fox questions her subordinate.

Without a moment’s thought Chen answers with a resounding, “Yes, my lady!” The outright militant bearing to her response doesn’t escape me.

Ran flashes a small uncharacteristic smile to the cat, before returning to her solemn self and pointing to Cirno “This fairy, Cirno, is somewhat isolated, and this human,” she now points to me, “believes that another fantastic being on the same level would be beneficial for her to interact with.”

Chen holds a slit gaze between Cirno and I before returning to Ran, asking, “Lady Ran, do you think I am no stronger than a fairy?”

Ran looks straight into Chen’s eyes to state, “You are weaker than this fairy.”

Ran? What are you doing, Ran? You’re starting to worry me here.

“Huh? But… wha…” Chen utters in raw confusion. She nearly stumbles over her back foot from the surprise. Ran doesn’t elaborate in the slightest, and Chen stands rock still for a moment. Cirno leans about to try and catch the look on her face.

Chen quickly turns to the fairy with wide eyes devoid of the previous feline cunning. Her ego has been shredded in all of ten seconds. She’s supposed to be fairly high on the pecking order, especially close to Ran, but she’s taken Ran’s words to mean she’s below a creature at the very bottom. Things are getting out of hand at this rate…

“I’ll grind this bug to dust,” Chen states in a tone more like Ran’s. I can feel a chill through my bones harsher than the cold.

Cirno, however, bears a fiery smile displaying her sheer excitement, and fires a wide blast of ice shards our way, nearly hitting Chen. Also almost killing me, but Ran steps in, using her tails as a shield. Cirno, I’m trying to help you you little shit! Even if this isn’t exactly what I had in mind!

Ran steps back aside and I can see that Chen has slashed at Cirno’s stool. Deep grooves now mark the spot Cirno was sitting in. The fairy herself has floated above Chen’s reach, ready to retaliate any movement. They’re sizing each other up, and I’m worried about their next collision. Aren’t danmaku duels supposed to be with projectiles? Chen clearly just went for a kill shot.

“Ran, is this fine?!” I ask her in slight panic. “Chen at least seems to be taking this like a real fight.”

Ran continues to watch the two in a stare down, and says, “This is within spellcard law. The residents have dubbed this as ‘contact danmaku’ as opposed to the normal projectile only variant.”

“So even here where there are magical dueling laws, people still end up just punching each other for the hell of it?”

“Well…” Ran can’t seem to place a rebuttal for this. Gensokyans must just exist with violence in mind.

Back to Cirno and Chen: they’re batting at each other with some ferocity. Chen is pouncing back and forth from Cirno’s position, clawing at her and sometimes also… spinning to act like a cannonball? What even.

Cirno is standing her ground by summoning swathes of her ice to deflect Chen’s advances. She can’t find a way in to turn the tables. The both of them are darting around the ice raft. This platform is surprisingly spacious, honestly.

Chen delays her assault to instead take out a spellcard. After it fades from existence she launches two orbs, a red and a blue, to follow Cirno around. The fairy is zips around the air to stay out of the way. A few times Chen almost takes that momentum by nicking Cirno midair, but Cirno remains ready for every strike.

Cirno outruns Chen and her magic to the edge of the raft, then digs her heels into the ice, pulling out a spellcard. She wields it above her head proudly, letting it disappear. Maybe it’s because I’m closer for this fight, but her card breaks down differently. It floats off in shards of ice. Can’t say why that is.

Cirno jumps with enough force to sway the raft and… well… she also spins. Have I just not been paying attention; how many people spin?

Anyway, Cirno is almost back to the ground intercepting Chen and the magic. She stretches her arms into a swing, and-


The entire ice float pops up under Ran and I, folding me in on myself. The view of the end they’re fighting on is submerged. This sudden angle change is vertigo inducing, but not as much as the sudden weightlessness. Ran catches me before I really fall, and I can see all the water of the lake wave about. We’re at least a couple meters in the air when the platform comes to rest. Thank gods my pack doesn’t have any delicate things, unless the flash rocks went off… check that later. For now I can see what in the world Cirno just did-

Jesus! She just popped an entire glacier into existence on top of Chen’s head! That thing fucking flattened Chen into the ice! And just like that it also pops out of being. Chen is still flat inside of the ice, and her magic was outright destroyed, to no one’s surprise. I look over to Ran, but she doesn’t seem even remotely surprised by this turn of events. Cirno’s a lot stronger than I could have imagined.

A small crack resounds as an arm liberates from a Chen-shaped indent in the ground. The rest of Chen rises with her arm. She might be realizing that Ran was telling the truth before. I mean, she’s not happy about it, though. That is a definite amount of fury.

Cirno is delivering a snide and arrogant laugh at her handiwork while Chen stands back up. She once again pulls out a spellcard, and once it fades the red and blue orbs reappear, but this time a little more wisp like. They stay closer to Chen, and the hair on her tails flay out as she grabs one and throws it straight at Cirno.

The fairy gently floats aside, not even giving much attention to the red baseball, but grits when she sees it left behind a trail of bullets all directed where she’s sitting. She stops to focus on deflecting the new volley, but Chen doesn’t stop with just that as she crouches low, prepared to pounce. She’s on the opposing side of their field, so I don’t see how she could hit Cirno from there.

She bursts in motion and I completely lose sight of her. I whip back to see Chen somehow got right above Cirno while she was still busy deflecting the extra projectiles. Putting both of her arms into it, Cirno momentarily creates a transparent dome to protect herself from the bullets and the claws. Chen’s momentum sails her through the air past Cirno, but the moment she touches back down she tosses another orb and launches again into a low tackle. I catch the motion this time, but so does Cirno.

Cirno wraps her hands around an imaginary weapon and upswings to meet Chen’s chin. From the thin air comes a literal ice sword that Cirno lets the weight of carry her swing up into the air. She strikes Chen in a couple loops of the same motion before tossing the sword away to flap her wings into a dropkick which delivers a large icicle to Chen’s chest.

The fairy daintily floats back to the ground, but the cat doesn’t land on her feet, earning a small bounce from the impact with the ice.

If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought Chen was weak in some way, but really Cirno is just a gods damned monster. Why is she so good at this kind of brawling? That cocky smile sure says a lot, not to mention that whenever she isn’t attacking she has been calmly posed the entire time. I mean, she’s crossing her arms! That ain’t no fighting pose!

Chen gets back up, slower now, and attempts to bear down on Cirno with her red and blue magic to get into range of a purely melee match. She might not have enough gas in her tank to continue the breakneck assault, but she still has enough stubbornness to try and claw the fairy down.

We all know how this is going to go at this point. Chen is wild eyed and unfocused on anything other than Cirno’s general area. She ends up missing her blue orb entirely on toss. Ran releases me back to the ground, knowing there is no more danger to my well being.

“Shouldn’t you stop this, Ran?” I ask with, at this point, a paternal level of worry. “She looks like she’s really going to hurt herself doing this.”

“You know the answer to your question, Tanner,” Ran says, solely focused on Chen’s weakening stride.

Her topshirt doesn’t even open by the vertical cuts Cirno left in it; she can’t bring herself to enough speed. Cirno is not wearing a smile at this point. She’s waiting solely out of pity. After finally getting into Cirno’s face, Chen brings her talons down. Cirno responds in full force, showering Chen in a wave of icicles, and launching her halfway across the raft once more. She slides prone across the rest of the way, just barely stopping before the edge.

Chen drawls herself back up, stilted from the repeated heavy hits she’s taken. We’ve gone past whatever match rules there are at this point. Chen is bleeding from her head onto her eye. Her open eye is somehow still loosely focused, but her body won’t follow suit. She spills over slipping on the ice, and the returned red and blue magic move in front of her like a desperate shield. This is too much, and I can’t stand it.

“Chen!” I shout. “That’s enough! Just admit that you’ve lost.”

The cat turns my way, and nearly screams, “SILENCE HUMAN! It is disgusting that you think I’m so weak that I need to be pitied. Do not look at me like that!”

I halt a stride I was taking without noticing. Is this what Ran meant? Her sense of pride is just absurd. Cirno begins stepping over to Chen, not even cautiously.

Chen doesn’t notice, instead lying on her knees pleading, “Lady Ran, I’m strong, I swear. I’m not weak.”

Cirno sits next to her and says, “This isn’t fun anymore.” The red and blue wisps have retreated to the side. “It isn’t fun to beat up somebody taking it so seriously.”

“Do not taunt me,” Chen says trying to muster up the same level of noxious spite as before. Cirno ignores the bile and embraces Chen into a hug. Chen can’t even put up enough fight to get her off by now.

“Don’t-…” She tries to complain, but is unable to hold back tears. At this point she can’t form anymore words and breaks into a whimpering cry, utterly humiliated.

Ran and I approach after waiting a bit. Cirno and Chen stay like that for a while. Chen is no longer the prideful Youkai, but just a small crying child. It takes time for her to run out of energy and fall silent. I can tell that there’s no place for me to try and start speaking, so I wait for what everyone else will do. I hope Ran was right to get her so riled before losing.

“Chen,” Ran says imperiously. “What were your orders?”

“Hey fox lady, why you gotta be so mean?!” Cirno bites directly at Ran, but the fox only signals her to wait.

Chen limply lifts her face to look at Ran, and says, “Your orders were to fight this fairy, Lady Ran. I am sorry that I could not win.”

“Incorrect,” Ran replies. “Your orders were to interact with this fairy. Furthermore, it was explicitly given that you are physically weaker than her.”

“Lady Ran, I’m sorry,” Chen says unable to keep in eye contact.

“Do not be sorry. Be better. The human is right to pity you as you are now. Befriend this fairy, and understand her force of will. Those will be your current orders. Am I understood this time?” Ran elaborates. She bears her eyes down on Chen, but her look is indecipherable.

“Yes, my lady,” Chen says, tails and ears drooping ashamedly. She turns to her hugging captor, and says, “I didn’t catch your name, fairy.”

“Cirno!” the fairy responds in glee.

“Cirno,” she tests the sound of the name. “Would you be fine with being friends with me, Cirno?” the nekomata asks in purely embarrassed supplication. Something not necessarily friendly, but better than her initial hostility.

The two break from the grapple and stand back up. Chen is perfectly fine after getting time to heal. I’ve been told that Youkai heal rapidly, but to not even have any form of concussion after that is impressive.

We’ve used up our time out for today, as the sun is already set by now.

“Chen, I will update you tomorrow on recent happenings. Be here once more within the hour of the tiger,” Ran commands.

“Yes, Lady Ran,” Chen assents with a bow.

With that, we say goodbye to Cirno and Chen for the evening, Cirno replying with a hearty “Later!”

We fly back to the village. I for one am ready for a bit of rest.

“Is that what you wanted out of that?” I ask her in flight.


“You wanted Chen to really see Cirno as stronger than her. You got her so angry that she’d take it seriously like that.”

“I calculated how my shikigami would respond in a situation that would promote her training.”

“You told her to be friends like a doting mother would,” I remark.

“In flight reminder that you are only being carried by contractual obligation. Be thankful that I keep to my contracts,” she jests back.

After landing, Ran quickly absconds back to the shrine before I invite her to food or anything else. We can talk more about her thoughts on today some other time, I guess.

I suppose since I am at a calm point in my workflow, I can choose something around the evening area to do…

[x] See if Keine wants to relax and knock back a couple drinks (and not a bottle like I let her do last night!).

[x] Find myself a bar, maybe hear more rumors from the villagers that I can use for information.

[x] Perhaps grab some reading material to understand some more about the villagers usual activities.

*This will not be a decision for a full length update, and will mostly be flavor here and there. The next update will of course mostly be about activities the next day over.

Well this was somewhat how I saw this coming out. Not exactly. Also I didn't expect to write Cirno getting a perfect in a fighting game combat, but oh well. Be mad about it. Anyway, that should be it for... oh wait right!
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Now for you, oh brave anon who wished for a Daiyousei, I had the thought cross my mind in such a way for the previous update as well, so it was something that I played with. Here is what our favorite unnamed fairy is up to at this time.

I don’t think anyone noticed me!

They all flew back before the end of the day, but the fox and human came back with her. Something must have happened. Cirno, why are you so intent on getting yourself in trouble, those are bad people!

Now they’re sitting down and talking. It’s weird to see Cirno polite to anyone. She’s usually so rude and wanting to fight anything. It’s the only reason I hover around her, since she fights things that would have her for breakfast.

Oh gods what am I doing here?! That’s a nine-tailed fox outside the igloo right now! If she finds me hiding she’ll mistake me for some kind of spy against that big important lady like Sunny, Luna, and Star talk about. That’s very bad! I don’t like pain!

Cirno, please get them to go away!

I can hear some bits and pieces of what they’re talking about, though. Why are they talking about Cirno’s friends? She has friends! Fairies all love each other!

She just never notices… Cirno what do you mean I’m not fairy-like?! Is being nice to your own friends really that bad?! I even heal you pretty often after you eat dirt!

Cirno, you idiot! You will not be forgiven for such an insult!

Oh, the fox summoned that cat. I think I’ve seen her a time or two. Why is she looking at Cirno like that? What did you say to her, Cirno?

Jeez! She’s fighting that cat in the fighting rules that gets people hurt more than usual! She’s always picking fights with scary people. Why do you never understand how worried I get when you do that? The other fairies know. Even Lily understands…

I think I’ll just leave when they’re all distracted. The fox probably wouldn’t care about seeing a fairy. Oh, the cat’s beaten. Wow, Cirno, you’re really too strong! She’s even going up to the cat to give her a friendly hug. Awww. You’re just too nice of a person, Cirno!

Maybe I’m being too worried for Cirno.

Although the fox and human left… the cat’s still here. I can’t really leave at this point. I guess I’ll be taking Cirno’s igloo to sleep in.

“Dai?!” Cirno shocks me awake at some point in the night.

“Hi, Cirno,” I lazily greet her with the sleep in my eyes.

“Get out of my sleep hole, Dai! I gotta rest to beat Chen again tomorrow!” she victoriously exclaims.

I shuffle up and crawl to the mouth of the igloo, and bid Cirno with, “Alright, good night Cirno. Have fun with your new friend…”

Floating off, I wonder what her new friend is like. I haven’t even seen her talk to anyone besides that ca- wait wha…?

Cirno why are you getting yourself into more trouble by inviting her back?!
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[x] Find myself a bar, maybe hear more rumors from the villagers that I can use for information.

Cirno da strongest!

Though I immensely enjoyed the interactions with the teacher and would no doubt love seeing Regis explain how he tried to be a shit school counselor but got into a shouting match with Ran, I am curious to know how the human village will be portrayed, especially if we get to meet any of the fellows who would in the future attend Regis' lectures.
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[x] Perhaps grab some reading material to understand some more about the villagers usual activities.
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Don't mind me, just doin' a coin flip.

Heads to the bar!
Coin flip: heads!
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Outing myself now: don't expect an update this week. I'm starting a new job and might not have the creative juices flowing right to pump it out in just a couple nights.

Have this Ran as a gift.
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[x] Find myself a bar, maybe hear more rumors from the villagers that I can use for information.

It’s time to unwind a bit. I pace the flattened dirt roads of the village with the day taking up the front of my mind. It’s strange, isn’t it? To care so much about finding a kid a friend. I kind of forced the issue mostly for my own self gratification. Cirno didn’t seem unhappy to begin with, just a little lonely.

I wonder if other teachers from my old school would say that I overstepped and got too emotionally attached. Actually, Keine would tell me, wouldn’t she? I wonder how she treats the kids of the village.

Myself, I didn’t realize how much I cared about those damn highschool kids, especially the quiet ones. They stood out when they were all alone. Not that Cirno resembles the quiet kids. Or, well… maybe there’s something to that with how she bottles up her thoughts like they do. Not really considering anything might be better if they acted differently.

Enough of that, though. Any more of that train of thought and I might even start missing the troublesome shits.

I find my walk brought me by the commercial section of the village. I haven’t checked out many of the bars near hear. Gods know there’s more bars than regular restaurants in this village. It’s funny how the bars are only open for the afternoon and early evening. Certainly different than I’m used to, but I guess it’s because everything here follows the farmers’ schedules of early to rest and early to rise. Except not really, since there are light bulbs installed for craftsmen, officials, and so on, so the light hours don’t really effect when work is done.

There are even low street lamps designed like shrine lanterns, but they don’t serve much purpose with how few people are out at this hour. Only the occasional strangely colored head of hair sticks out at this point. Plenty of homes are still lit as people fight off sleep, so you get the sense that some life is around. It makes me happy being a night person myself.

Ah. The lights of that building shine out an open door. Seems I found yet another bar. Funny that people thought I was cooped up when I went out nightly to different bars.

The sign left in front is capped with a blue whale. I have several questions about that, but I won’t bother for now. I just want to get my booze.

Stepping inside, the place looks nice and homey. A lower roof around the bar space, low tables with paper spacers, even some nice low hanging lamps. The tint of the light against wood adds a little extra to that orange glow. The room is like a warm winter blanket. Unfortunate that I found this place in the middle of summer, as I would be pretty at ease otherwise.

That said, I’m getting a drink either way, so I can ignore any mild discomfort. A girl comes out to get my order, and lo and behold she wears a great whale upon her head. The sign was not the end of it, I guess. It gives her a childish cuteness, though, so it must be some intended dress code.

A couple of guys across the bar from me are chatting about some people in the village while I pour through my notes for the day. The chatter from a couple filled tables, one of which seems to be some town watch off shift, makes a nice white noise to focus with. The newly present cup of sweet sake helps, of course.

A few moments of serenity pass before the conversation changes between the two at the bar. I pick up on a few exchanged words of ‘weird’ and ‘suspicious’ assuming that they’re referring to me. I had it happen at a couple other places since I apparently dress like a Tengu.

Hold on, they’re still talking about other people in the village. I sneak a look at the two men, one wearing clean cut pants and a shirt fit like a kimono I expect from merchants while the other is in some dusty and frayed loose fitting clothes. So a merchant and maybe a woodworker talking after the busy hours. Pretty normal aside from the absurd blue and green hairs. What I would give to stump a geneticist with that.

“Hey you,” the merchant picks me out, “You got some stake in what we’re talking about?”

“Uh, no?” I try and brush off. “Sorry if I was staring, I was only spacing out.”

“Hmmn. As long as we’ve got your attention, why don’t we get a third man on this. What do you think about the arseholes sneaking around like nobody notices them? Kato here thinks it’s all rainbows and sunshine, the idiot,” the man says. I get a better look facing him to tell that he has quite a few wrinkles. That and the characteristic red flush of alcohol.

His younger counterpart speaks up before I do, “Screw off, Zen. You know I’m just saying that they’re good for business. It doesn’t matter if they’re the village or not. That doesn’t mean I wanna invite them in for a drink!”

“Hang on,” I interrupt before the older man, Zen, chimes back in, “what is this all about? Who’s business?”

Zen squints down his eyes into extra wrinkles and says, “You know. Those that don’t belong in the village. The guard won’t do anything about them, but that doesn’t mean they’re welcome. People just try to pay them no mind, is all. But they’re really on every corner these days, it’s just no good.”

“Ah come on, you old man,” Kato speaks up. “You gotta be rougher with ‘em, but they give good money for their requests. You can get away with some gutting. No reason to spoil the pot and kick ‘em out.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll keep out of this, sorry guys,” I excuse myself from the conversation. I take another glance around the room to see at least one of the guards are focused on the two men, and the bartender shifts about uncomfortably. The two drunkards must be on a bad topic.

After a few moments, the bustle returns to people’s voices, and I return to writing some outlines for how I would present my work. A second drink helps me fly through it. I have to remember that I need to condense everything in a lecture while I’m making the full paper. Feels like making a thesis again.

Before I can get more points down after significant effect of race, a hand taps my shoulder. A woman with straight brown hair is standing by me. She must’ve just walked in because it would be hard not to notice her. Her round glasses, green coat, and checkered scarf give quite a classy appearance. Of course, it more so screams con artist or similar.

“Hey there, mind if we had a chat?” She speaks in a surprisingly rough accent. What impression is she going for, honestly? Oh my god, she even takes out a smoking pipe, come on!

I follow her to a table, and we order more drinks. She simply looks at me for a few moments before asking, “What do you think you’re doing here?”

“Excuse me?” I ask back. Partly in confusion and partly in offense.

“Sneaking around here. You think I wouldn’t eventually notice that you’re on my turf?” She responds in a hushed yet blunt voice.

There are gangs of some kind in the village? Why does she think that I’m part of one? Shit it’s gotta be the business casual again. I gotta straighten this out before she decides to stab me or something.

“Listen. I’ve got no idea what you’re on about. I’m just a guy having a drink,” I attempt to sound direct and to the point, without giving away that I feel in danger.

She glowers in wrath at me, and says, “What’s this bullshit? I can tell you’re up to something. You reek of it. Now get out of here before I set my dogs on your ass.”

Ah fuck, what did I do? I try to plead, “Please, I’m not whatever you’re thinking of.”

“Shut it, fox, unless you want me to use your corpse as a warning.”

Fox? How in the… wait did she mean I reek literally? I pull a sleeve close to smell, earning a befuddled glare from the woman, and sure enough it’s got that woodsy doglike smell that Ran has. This changes things. Specifically who or what she must be.

I check that no one is paying attention to our conversation, especially the two guys from earlier. Then I ask in no more than a whisper, “What are you?”

She tilts her head back a bit, her eyes still wrathful, but brandishes a wily smile. “Head of the tanuki, you little runt. And there’re no foxholes here for you to try and hide in.”

Let’s try this for all it’s worth. If she doesn’t know who I am or the people I know, then I can really get in her head. I think of it as a specialty you get when working with developing adult minds all day that you can bluff your way out of anything.

If I remember correctly then her name is… “Mamizou, you think I’m scared of you?” I state clearly with a bit of expectation. Her drink lightly sways from her scraping a nail against the table.

Now, of course, I’m very terrified of her, as she is highly dangerous and willing to kill my ass at any time. So long as only my legs are trembling, though, she won’t notice. It’s all about eye contact.

“Using my first name like we’re mates? You’re this close to being swine feed, you irrespectful shit,” Mamizou states in simmering wrath. She looks ready to kill me regardless of who’s in the room.

“I don’t think Keine would take kindly to that,” I joke with a paltry smile.

“Oh? And just what would Miss Kamishirasawa have to do with this?” she snidely remarks. She’s trying to do more than just call a bluff; she’s trying to feel me out.

I got no snarky retort! I can only fumble out, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Mamizou let’s out a low chuckle alongside a sip of sake. Wait when did the cups get here?

“Whoever taught you the art of subtlety did a pretty shit job,” she says with a satisfied grin.

“She tells me I’m a work in progress for this political climate,” I admit.

“Oh, little teacher’s pet I found here,” she mocks.

Wait… does she think I’m bedding Keine? No, I can throw her off. In fact, Mamizou clearly hasn’t heard a word about me, if she doesn’t know I live with her. But I thought the tanuki are information whores like the tengu?

… Oh this will be fun. I have a plan.

“Would you like the Hieda to vouch for my humanity personally?” I shift tone to as cocky as possible.

“Oh, are you name dropping, now? That’s cute. Very believable, even,” she jeers.

I press on, “Then perhaps Marisa? Oh, or Rinnosuke?”

She loses some edge to her voice, trying to play off with, “Oh as if. There’s no way that you-”

“Maybe Reimu, then? Oh no, how about Byakuren?”

“Wait, seriously?” she asks taken aback. “… Who-”

“Oh, I’m sure the village elders would also be so kind as to-”

“Hold on!” she stops me. “Who even are you?! When did you meet all these people?!” I can really see the panic in her eyes as she tries to wrack her brain on my connections.

Now to try to string this along just a bit more…

“Would you like to know?”

“I can just ask them all later,” she determines.

“You think they’ll remember somebody like me just by description? You don’t even know my name,” I retort. The answer is obviously yes, ‘cause I met most of them literally yesterday, but she doesn’t know that.

She shrivels inward to think, eyes me up a bit too, but ultimately shuts up no longer in control of the conversation. Now that she’s on the spot I can get what I really want.

“How’s about we exchange a bit of information? I tell you about me, you tell me something worthwhile that I can use?” I can’t help but feel my lip crawl up egotistically. Yeah I’m having some fun, and maybe a bit much.

Mamizou mulls over my offer and takes a hit of her pipe to calm down. Who’d have thought she’d be so weak to surprises?

She eventually sighs, and says through her smoke, “Fine. Looks like you got me this time. I can hint you to something those nuns at the temple wouldn’t want found out. You are gonna tell me who in the hells ye’ are and what yer up to.”

She takes out a pen from her coat and beckons for my hand to write on. She writes as follows:

The nun in blue takes a stop to the Flat Fairy pub on Wednesdays.
This is to grab a drink for herself and take a haul to the temple.
Hijiri has no idea.

With the note written she gestures for me to speak up.

I very happily tell her that I’m a researcher and the details pertaining to my work. Including who I work with, and my subject of research. With every word she rises back in anger. Not a red hot rage, but the frustration that comes with being conned in some way. I’m sure she thought I was going to state some nonsense about being some underground conspirator or some such with how close lipped I’ve been.

My students taught me well how to bullshit. Especially the rascals that thought they were the top of the world, or at least they were in their own fantasies. Never thought it would come in handy.

With our drinks emptied and Mamizou nearly seething, I bow out for the night from her company. Hopefully she won’t try to kidnap me or anything the moment I step outside.

A nervous but calm walk back to Keine’s house shows that she took defeat gracefully. Winning an argument with a tanuki was not what I expected today to bring me. If only I’d feel so cunning with the other women in my life.

I'm here! Not weekly as I'd wanted, but I'm here! All the learning that comes with a new and proper job leaves me a bit dormant every time I get home. I had actually blitzed out over 3/4 of this last week after going out to dinner, but didn't get around to finishing until today. I still have to do the next day's section too, so expect that for a new vote. In other news, I was originally going to put in the two usual layabouts but thought that would be boring. Also, you are now aware that since most of the village is in monochrome when we see it, it is plausible that all villagers can have any hair color.
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I find no chance to flex my newfound wordsmithing prowess against Keine as she is well entrenched in grading. She still left out some food, even if it got cold by now. I should consider it a blessing that she even bothers to make food for me at all. I should take her out sometime. She doesn’t do much besides going to the school and various busywork. And I guess busting heads when needed.

I settle into bed and let the rest of the night pass.

The days of a week pass quickly. With Chen now part of her life, I need to be especially observant with how Cirno acts. It is, after all, someone new that will allow her to grow into her own words. For as prideful as she speaks, Cirno doesn’t see herself as a great and powerful being, or not the powerful fairy she boasts as, anyway. She clearly struggles to make proper friends with people, and her strength and violent tendencies are what drove away other fairies that wanted to get close. She’s a black sheep of her kind.

Chen, however, is a carefree… mostly carefree Youkai, and as typical as one can get. Even more than the other Youkai Cirno knows, Chen values power. I’m sure a certain fox and their master are to blame for that. Unlike Mystia or Wriggle, Chen doesn’t care for any kind interactions with humans. She’ll freely threaten me without a second thought, and even gain Ran’s ire as my guardian. With Cirno, though, she’s challenged with every word.

Cirno doesn’t take threats, and she makes good on punching anyone to talk smack. So it’s only natural that the two fight. A lot. With the level of beat down Cirno put in before, Chen shies away from contact danmaku matches. I’m sure Reimu would be pleased to hear that, in a way. It is what the dueling rules are meant for, just a bit of the opposite from expected that a Youkai would benefit from it against a fairy.

The two are closely matched in regular duels, so they challenge each other in any possible way. Playing like the fairies’ childrens’ games, racing, scaring or pranking people. Anything they can come up with. This of course even means fighting people they think will beat their rival. There was one time that Chen proposed she was smarter and told me to come up with riddles. They both lost, realistically, but Cirno’s answers were far closer. It’s hard to remind myself that Cirno has been alive a while and somehow learned to read as well as know number theory. I can probably ask Ran what her curriculum is, though.

The two are almost like sisters a lot of the time, now. I don’t think Ran even needed to order Chen to come back, she probably would have done so on her own. Even when not competing in something they still do everything together, even their personal pass times.

Cirno has a great fondness for freezing things, to no one’s shock or amazement. She’ll entomb objects in an ice casing whenever she gets the chance. This power also has surprising limits, as I did get to see her do this to an entire boar at one point, but more on that in a bit.

I think I have some idea on this magic that she uses. She seems to drive the heat out of something. As obvious as that sounds, there’s more to it. There isn’t any heat that leaves her when she does this, at least not that I can tell. She can snap freeze whatever she wants whenever and for any amount of time. Her own boredom is the only limiting factor. This isn’t possible for something that simply acts like a fan or a cooler, since there needs to be a heat transfer that at most could leave global entropy equal, but never negative. Exceptions to this should be not only impossible, but I’d imagine should break the universe in some way. I can’t even tell, it’s so far beyond my paygrade to have ever thought of the repercussions of this. Now the last thing for me to somehow try and figure out is the actual mechanism she’s performing this trick in besides ‘magic.’ I mean, whatever magic is is driving the interaction, but the outright reason things get cold is because the constituent particles lose energy. This can mean that she acts like… what was it? Gauss… Kelvin… Maxwell..? Maxwell’s demon. I believe that went something along the lines of forcing particles of differing energy into bins by filtering with their energy. This would therefore make one area cold and another hot without using any energy. Second law of thermodynamics be damned. This could explain why Cirno can act indefinitely, but wouldn’t prescribe why there is no heat coming out. The other way this could be obtained is that Cirno uses magic to exert energy that lowers the energy of particles, but that would have the opposite problems.

Oh, and I gave up on why she’s able to summon material from thin air to make ice. That shit’s outright magic. Maybe something to do with her wings, which are in fact water. And can be taken off to use like a weapon.

A lot to try and parse out, but so little conclusive statements. Such is research, I guess.

Chen’s personal time killer is hunting. That is why we found a boar in the thicker parts of the wild to begin with. Her methods are much the same as her brawling style, quick and to the point. She doesn’t take much care in tracking, but when something is in her sights she’ll launch like a bullet for the thing’s throat. One day we were reprimanded for her antics after almost subduing a yamawaro in one strike.

It was surprising to find anyone out there. Chen only hunts far out from central Gensokyo, such as past the Youkai Mountain, since the larger game is out there. The woods aren’t any different out there, it’s just less foot traffic from the humans and Youkai. Except for ferals, as it turns out. Ran told me a boar Chen killed, different from the one Cirno froze, was a newly born feral Youkai, but it didn’t look any different from a normal boar. A small reminder for why I need Ran around.

Her face is as stoic as always, but Ran does have a lighter air to her attitude with Chen around. I’m still working on getting her to give Chen positive reinforcement, though. It’s funny when she tells me how nonsensical I am for trying to do so when Chen hates my guts. I’m around her master all day, so I think her catlike nature is bringing out a possessive attitude. It doesn’t help that I’m an average human, either. Again, she respects power. The kind Cirno boasts about.

Cirno’s even gone so far as to boast that she could take down Ran in single combat. Ran was a bit sour about this since we don’t know how strong she is now. I can’t get her to open up about the problem, either. So I have to take guesses at why she’s weakened. I still don’t have a solid running theory other than it being about shikigami this or that. I can only hope that she’ll tell me if it’s too much for her to handle. No telling what other Youkai or places I’ll be assigned to visit after Cirno.

Speaking of such, I did finally get around to writing a proposal to the witch of the Scarlet Devil’s manor. I’ve meant to ask for permission to read from her library, as I’ve heard it’s pretty large. A witches writings are much like a scientific paper, I’d imagine, so I could probably get about half of the content on a few read throughs. It’s optimistic, but I’m only looking for information about fairies, and even then I’d bet I could ask Narumi for help on all of the nature spiritualistic nonsense.

Ran was a bit skeptical that a letter could convince the librarian to humor my request, but she took it to the mansion anyway. I expect the letter to probably get a response today, as it is. I can tell a little more about the contents when it comes up. I may have leaned on my resources just a little bit to hopefully catch her interest.

Whatever I can use, after all. Well, other than the tip that Mamizou gave me. I told Ran about it after she found tanuki were surveilling me. When I told her about getting the jump on Mamizou, she didn’t believe me, of course, until I told her about the tip I got.

A number of rude words were exchanged over how brazen I was to do this, but she eventually accepted it as foolhardy eccentricity a little like her master’s. Of course, I also had to explain why I didn’t act on the information this week. I expected that Mamizou was probably angry enough to tip Ichirin off the very next morning. And even if she didn’t, she would be looking out for me to try and get the jump when I do go. Pretty rude, but the tanuki are a glorified gang.

She’ll make herself known in time, but for now it’s the end of the week, and this is the last day that I was planning to go out to see Cirnok. After this I’ll be holing up to write a full study report.

As soon as she heard this, Cirno wanted to impress me by fighting the shrine maiden. I’m not sure why this was her idea, as from my understanding people don’t beat the shrine maiden. And I mean no one, there are only a few individuals stronger than her with or without dueling rules, apparently.

But, I should know at this point that nothing seems to daunt Cirno, even something that makes Chen tremble like a kitten. I haven’t seen Chen scared yet, even at Ran’s reprimands, but just mentioning Reimu seems to be enough to get her to hide in Ran’s tails. And you’d think I was exaggerating, but she literally hopped in them like a bush.

That’s how I’ve ended up sitting on the porch of the shrine, leisurely watching the fight above from the afternoon shade. It seems Cirno’s good enough to dodge a couple of cards, but gets obliterated pretty quickly after that. She keeps getting back up to continue trying, though. Seems nothing can keep her down for long. That must be what makes fairies so annoying to people.

I do hope she won’t ‘pop’ as the fairies call it. It’s an odd feeling to see her literally pop out of existence. It’s strangely impersonal with how nonviolent it looks to see her turn into fairy dust after being killed. No shit fairies don’t understand the concept of death well, just seeing dust is making me apathetic.

There’s a question, I continue to watch but ask aside, “Hey, Marisa. Do fairies have bodies like we do or are they just the dust they turn into?”

Marisa, sitting next to Ran and I, takes a sip of tea before answering, “Hmmm, it’s weird. They seem to have the same flesh and blood, but the moment they die it all turns to their little sparkly dust. Like nature decides ta’ grab the rest of ‘em and leaves a bit of magic crud behind.”

“Magic crud?” I ask with a bit of a chuckle.

“Oh yeah, sure, a bit of leftovers of that nature magic, with only a bit of juice left. Not great material for magic, but you gotta use what’s on hand. Helps when you gotta kill like a thousand of ‘em during an incident,” she says leaning back against the donation box with a tired expression.

I ponder the state of things, but only impart the common wisdom, “We all have our own problems, huh?”

“Mhm,” she replies while munching on a ricecracker from a tray.

Speaking of problems, though, “Chen, are you going to help your friend up there? You’ve been hiding for a while now.”

Only the quiet sounds of the surrounding woods and magical bullets answer. Seems she really has no intention of going out there. A couple of loud crashes above signals that Reimu decided to end the round with something flashy.

Cirno falls with a loud and angry roar, but no one’s concerned. Aunn stops her sweeping to catch her at the ground once more. Nobody else would have probably bothered, knowing how little Cirno cares about injury, but Aunn’s a decent person like that.

Instead of flying back up to fight for the dozenth or so time, Cirno decides to head over our way after being propped up.

With a little pout she looks to Marisa and says, “Marisa! Reimu’s too hard, help me beat her!”

Marisa snickers and chides the fairy, “You know I ain’t gonna help. Besides, you’re doing fine on your own, munchkin. Here, a reward for ya.” She tosses a rice cracker from the tray to Cirno. Cirno isn’t too pleased by the response, but gives up convincing the little witch to help. It doesn’t hurt that she got a free cracker out of it.

She turns to Ran, and then immediately goes behind her to avoid her gaze. Of course, Cirno’s real objective is… “Chen!” she shouts into the fuzzy mass. “Come out and help me!”

No response, of course. She begins to dig into the fur in search of her friend. “We can get her if we try together,” Cirno persists.

After a few moments I can’t help but wonder, “Don’t you mind that she’s doing that?”

Ran glances over her shoulder to the fairy being buried in her tail hedge, but doesn’t give it much show of concern. “This happens frequently for their age group,” she surmises.

“Uh… huh.”

“It’s not like they’d really stand that much of a chance with the both of them,” Reimu states, having joined the group again. She has very little marks of battle to show for the last hour or so. Gotta wonder how she does that.

“Old guy,” Cirno spouts from within the wriggling mass of fluff, “help me get Chen out of here! And also me, while you’re at it!” An arm jets out from the odd Venus flytrap. It’s like the tails are strangling her.

“No, Cirno. And it isn’t because I don’t want to help, but because Chen clawed at me last time I tried to coax her out of Ran’s tails,” I respond.

“So that’s why you’re bandaged,” Marisa states, openly looking at the cloth I wrapped my hand in.

“Ran, weren’t you protecting this idiot?” Reimu says with a flatter tone than I’d like for someone showing concern. She senses my distaste and continues to snark, “Sorry. You’re not an idiot. You’re a fool. It wouldn’t surprise me if you poked the cat with a stick.”

Marisa joins in the joke, “I don’t know, Reimu. I’ve got faith that he at least used a foxtail.” She once again snickers at her own joke.

I set my cup down and get up to stretch. A couple spots along my back voice their opinion before I say, “Welp. It’s probably time to head out if the kids don’t want to keep going.”

“Why were you even here to begin with?” Reimu asks with clear peeve in her voice.

I point towards Ran. “She wanted to be here,” I respond.

“Which one?”

“Take a wild guess.”

“Okay. That doesn’t answer my question in the slightest,” Reimu determines.

“I’ve been observing Cirno. Today’s the last day so she wanted to impress me by fighting you,” I shrug.

A rustle comes from behind Ran, and out crawls Cirno gasping for air. She walks over, but still takes a few seconds to catch her breath. “And I did pretty good!” she says.

“That you did,” I compliment.
“You really didn’t, though,” Reimu deters.

We look at each other for a second.

A light cough comes from Marisa, “So, uh, you were going?”

“Yeah… right. Let’s get going,” I say a bit deflated.

Reimu sits down beside Marisa with her own teacup and states, “It’s better if you do. You just attract weirdness. I don’t want the headache.”

“What a glittering review. Make sure to stop by for the presentation in the village next week,” I impart as we all bid farewell to the shrine denizens.

And with that, I think Cirno got fighting out of her system for the day. That still leaves time to do something as a small goodbye. I have a feeling that I’ll see her around plenty, regardless.

But what to do?

[x] Get a present of her choice.

[x] Impart some bits of wisdom.

[x] I can be more creative than that! (write in)
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[x] Impart some bits of wisdom.
One shudders to imagine what madness a fey mind could do with such power.

>And I guess busting heads when needed.
Regis should aspire to be more like Keine.

>Pretty rude, but the tanuki are a glorified gang.
Ain't fooled by any fluffy tails.

>Nobody else would have probably bothered, knowing how little Cirno cares about injury, but Aunn’s a decent person like that.
Bruh. Seems Regis has accepted the survivability of fairies into his heart.

> It's like the tails are strangling her.
The all-consuming fluff spares none.

It was nice to have Cirno as a companion for a time and to see her set up with a proper friend, but all good things must end. So what will Regis' field studies lead to now? An exploration of the underworld?
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[x] Impart some bits of wisdom.

Cirno was lucky to escape with no respawn, she's lucky there were too many witnesses.
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[x] Impart some bits of wisdom.

I continue to weigh my choice. I can’t decide what Cirno would want. She seems so simple, but will sometimes surprise me, or everyone, with almost sagely wisdom. She has the capacity to contemplate things like friendship and death when asked. She can understand some abstract concepts in maths or philosophy, given enough patience. She even has a surprising recollection of history, from gods know where. It’s more than I expected at the beginning of the week. Akyuu painted the fairy race to be simple, almost animalistic, in their thoughts, but Cirno’s not an example of that.

Perhaps she would appreciate it if I didn’t overthink it. Sadly overthinking is my area of expertise.

Landing back down to the village gate, the same scene as the last few days plays out. The two guys at the front stiffen up at the sight of Ran, Cirno laughs at their deer in the headlights faces, and I can even hear a snicker from Chen as she sifts back out of Ran’s tails. I can never get over the part where Chen will sometimes just be an actual cat but with two tails. Her transformation back into a human is even more indescribable than the complex patterns displayed by danmaku like Reimu’s. Ran seems content enough to end the day so early and begins to move.

Everyone starts to shuffle into the gate, but I nudge Cirno’s shoulder stopping her. She looks over with her normal dry look expecting questions about whatever she was doing earlier. It’s almost a ritual she expects from me by now to do so.

“Hey, Cirno.”

“Mhm?” she lightly grunts with a bit of impatient arm folding.

“What would you want as a gift?” I ask in attempt to casually offload the choice.

“A gift? What do you mean?” Cirno asks with a hint of interest. The kind of tone I expect when Chen’s ears turn into radar dishes.

Speaking of Chen, she’s emanating the slightest bits of jealousy from inside the gate. Ran seems to be neutral as always. The guards match the look, but more because they’re feigning and trying to find their happy place, away from the fox standing next to them. In fact, they seem ready to drop their muskets and pump out a hundred push ups.

I ignore the peanut gallery and address Cirno’s wonderment, “I won’t be coming along with you after today, but I wanted to at least thank you for showing me your… adventures, I guess.” I give my chin a light brush wondering if that’s the right way to put it.

I mean, her daily activities do put her all over Gensokyo, it seems. She spends most of her time in places adjacent of the lake, but will also move somewhere far out like the back of the mountain, near the sunflower field, or even close to Muenzuka. Places I’m sure I’ll have more relevant times to bring up again.

Cirno, maybe detecting my indecisions, dives into her head space for a few minutes. Her inner dialogue must be quite the court, as she shifts and sways to her own rhythm. Ran joins me in observing the spectacle of a fairy in such deep thought. I could swear Cirno thinks I’ll be dead tomorrow with how seriously she’s taking this.

She stops herself before walking straight into the swampy rice paddies below the trail, and says, “Hey, hey. You said you do the same thing as that scary bull lady, right?”

“Scary bull lady?” I return the question incredulously.

Ran responds, reading the fae’s thoughts, “She refers to Kamishirasawa. Explicitly the partial hakutaku form she exhibits on the full moon.”

“Cirno, don’t let her catch you calling her that…” I conclude. I traipse down the trail side and kneel to Cirno’s height. “As for the actual question, yeah. I do the same thing as her. Teaching, that is. I’m definitely not some top dog village protector.”

“You don’t really sound smart like she does,” Cirno states bluntly.

I reply, more hurt than I should be, “Hey, I’m plenty smart. I resent that statement!”

“Oh yeah? Prove it!” Cirno chirps in childish excitement.

“You mean just say something smart? Is that all you want?”

“Mhm,” she affirms. Ran and Chen have joined us at the bottom of the knoll, too. Chen feigning some indifference to whatever I’ll say, and Ran looking out toward the clear view of the mountain above the distant treeline.

“Say something smart, huh? You’re a weird kid, Cirno. I’m sure you know that, though.”

Cirno giggles impishly, as she’s acting a lot more like Chen now. If she were Chen in disguise it wouldn’t even surprise me at this point.

I take a second to think of what I should say, but decide to ask something that I’ve had on my mind for some time now, relating mostly to Ran’s strange indifference to losing her power, “Cirno. Why do you want to be strong?”

Cirno stands confident, cocky even, waiting for me to continue, but eventually understands that that was all I wanted to say. She takes a moment to release herself from confusion before jovially saying, “That’s it? Maybe you’re stupider than people keep saying! Obviously I want to be strong because being strong is good!”

Ran mumbles a light, “Hm… wait isn’t this?”

“So being strong is good? What makes strength good on it’s own, Cirno?” I ask with full intent to hear the fairy’s thoughts on the matter. Strength is something almost more mystical than magic to the people of Gensokyo. I’ve seen it treated as both the most valuable entity and as the most worthless. Albeit from different people and contexts.

Cirno scratches under her chin in thought of the question, then hazards an answer, “Being strong means you don’t lose fights. Winning fights and not being beaten is good,” she nods to herself, hopeful that I’ll agree.

I can, of course, immediately point out the problem with that. Anyone can, in fact.

“So then strength is good because you can beat others and not be beaten. Would this mean that you consider Reimu, Marisa, or Yukari as the people most good in Gensokyo?” I ask. The names of those three strike chords to anyone in this magic island of the world, and mostly not in a good way.

Cirno struggles to refute the statement, and nearly overheats trying to come up with a new angle for argument.

Instead, Chen now comes to her rescue, sounding brazenly offended, “What’s your problem, human? Cirno has her reasons for why she is. Who the hell are you to say that her reasons aren’t good?”

“I don’t mean it like that at all,” I say as calmly as I can muster against her aggression, “I only want to know why Cirno values strength so highly. Simply saying that it’s good for fighting doesn’t give me the underlying reason why it’s important to her,” I argue.

“It is clear that the fairy desires it in a sense of self worth or fulfillment,” Ran argues.

“Uhm, what would that mean?” Cirno tries to internally understand Ran’s words, holding her eyes closed and circling her temples.

“That means you think you’re better as a person if you’re stronger,” I interpret. “Ran, please don’t answer for her. I’d like her genuine thought in this.”

“You dare to command so casually,” Ran says with extra venom. I don’t need to look at her to feel the daggers stabbing the back of my head.

“I do,” I answer in short order. I continue to wait for Cirno’s own words, no longer present for Chen to prick or Ran to berate.

Cirno’s eyes open again after a time, the wisdom of many years held for but a moment of clarity. She then says, “I don’t think I’m a good person for being strong. Being strong is good, though. Being strong means that people look at me, and not a fairy. I think that was how Wriggle put it one time…” her near noble demeanor reverts back to childish insecurity after finishing. She looks to me, expectant of another argument to stumble her.

I don’t think that’s needed, though. In the first place, the question is so broad and vague that there couldn’t be one single answer, it’s just something that everyone comes up with for themselves. Same bullshit like asking someone the meaning of life.

Instead, I ask, “So would you say that it’s something that you can use to make friends?”

Cirno ponders for a moment, but confidently answers, “Mhm.”

“Then your answer is as good as any other,” I calmly state, content in understanding Cirno’s values.

“That’s it?” Cirno asks, disappointed.

“Well what else would you like? I could always ask you what something like justice is, or maybe love,” I give out a hearty chuckle.

Cirno puffs up for a second, probably feeling lead on for taking the conversation so seriously. “You’re no good, old guy!” she pouts.

I get a laugh from her harmless anger as she sits cross legged in the air, turned away from me.

A light tug at my sleeve vies for my attention, now. I turn to face one narrow but starry eyed Chen, wishing to speak her mind again, but with a change of tune from before.

“Is being strong to help your master a good answer, too?” she asks with a wanting innocence of a kitten behind the mask of a rebellious teenager.

I think on it, but decide to satiate the girl rather than give my honest opinion, “Do you think your master is good?”

“Yeah. Yes, definitely I do!” she sounds out, attempting to impress her master with a sense of trust.

“Then that should be an answer you can take seriously,” I reply, my hand gravitating to tousle her hair through her puffed green hat.

Only after grabbing the hat do I remember how horrible of an idea that is, and freeze in hopes that she’ll have the mercy not to slash my entire arm off. When a second passes and my arm remains attached do I understand that Chen doesn’t want to retaliate against me right now. I carefully rub the cat’s head, weary of any sudden change in temperament.

Chen’s hated me all week, so I don’t fully get why she seems fine now, but I guess I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I feel like I can even hear a purring. Ran noticeably clears her throat, jostling Chen out of her catlike pleasure to scuttle back and away. No usual hiss to accompany, instead a confused and tired stupor remains on her face.

I begin to get back up, but Cirno now tugs at me with a giddy smirk and earnest expectation on her face. She then places the arm she’s tugging atop her head, like a crown would naturally sit upon a king’s. I look at her befuddled, but assume what she wants, and begin to rub her head.

She shivers, practically preening at the gesture. What the fuck am I doing? This feels wholly illicit.

After a round of pet the fairy, Ran and I decide it’s time for us to check out. Chen doesn’t bother, knowing full well that we’ll call her some other time soon, but I make sure to say goodbye to Cirno since I don’t know when I might see her next. Then again, it might be tomorrow if she gets bored enough. Hell, she goes practically everywhere unnoticed in the first place.

Nevertheless, I give Cirno a proper, “It’s been good working with you, kid. Make sure not to cause too much trouble.”

“I will be sure to cause all of the trouble and make my name feared,” she mock salutes in military bearing, then breaks into a giggle. She’s picked up snark, I see.

I let out a snort as I turn into the village, but Cirno wraps onto my leg. Without a word, she stays for a spell, before unlatching and flying off. My leg feels very cold now, but looks like I-

“I think you made a friend,” Ran states. I stare outright impetuously at her. She just gave a proper opinion of a situation. Not philosophically, nor as hypothesis. Just redundantly stating the obvious like a normal person. It’s enough to make me tear up.

“You seem to have broken in some way,” she blandly states.

“No, it just makes me emotional to see someone grow,” I enthuse.

She gives me a disgustedly concerned look, and mumbles, “Humans…”

She walks past the gate into the village. The guards seem to take their first breath in a while, and watch her leave behind them. I decide to mess with them, hopefully break their nerves a bit.

“KAZEGOU,” I shout with the depths of hatred only a drill instructor manages, one of the two men turn to stone, “fifty pushups this instant!”

“Yes sir!” Kazegou affirms, dropping down in full armor with his weapon to his side. That’s military training, for you.

I walk over to pat the man’s shoulder while the other guard is having a fit of laughter. I can’t fully contain a chortle, either, as I say, “Hey, it’s just me. You can get back up now.”

The man’s brown hair drapes his face, but not enough to contain the hot red creeping up it. He stands back up to full height before punching my arm. The force makes me vomit my own laughter out.

“Piss off, Regis, it’s not funny!” his stony face daintily exclaims.

So I may have messed with him just for my own amusement, I’ll admit. At least the two guys seem at ease again, though. Every time Ran passes the gate guards, whoever is on duty at the time, will suddenly transform into marble sculptures like those of Greek fame. With a wide variety of frozen faces belying their inner most thoughts, it’s a very entertaining sight.

It does occur to me that I haven’t asked why they’re all so afraid of Ran, but I’ll save the question for when I go out drinking with them again. It’s only a matter of time.

I walk in, happy as a dog getting a bone, while Kaze curses my very family for screwing with him. I love that guy.

I return to Keine’s and to my surprise Ran is waiting for me. I assumed she went into the village for groceries, but she must want something from me still.

“Yeah, what’s up?” I ask, expecting some extra task to be laid out alongside my workload for the next week.

“I only wish to speak my mind,” she says curtly. She’s continuing to surprise me today.

“Oh yeah?”

“When did you decide to play at pantomiming ancient western philosophy?”

I can’t help but scratch the back of my head with an awkward laugh, saying, “Yeah, I guess you might know such things. I only really came up with the idea to mimic it when Cirno asked me to talk smart. It made me remember some philosophy 101 I took once upon a time.”

Ran sizes me up for a moment, but I have no idea why. “There’s more to you than could be initially assumed,” she says, with the faintest upward curl to her normal lame-faced expression. And with her mind spoken for, she walks off without even a goodbye.

I’m only left confused in front of the door, before coming back to my senses realizing that I need to start my work for the coming week. I rush inside and break out my notebook and plenty of paper.

Side story?

[x] Yea
–[a] Dreams…
–[2] A Grillstand…
–[III] Otters..?

[x] Nay

Holy shit an update before a full week passed?! Yes. This one came out almost naturally for me in under a day after I started pouring through it. Somebody stop me from waxing philosophy, as I can go all day at it. Also, expect side stories to be just that. I have some fun things I wanted to put out as one offs from everything I've been tumbling around in the idea grinder, but consider the close of this 'arc' to already be prepped and the next one just fine to go into as well.
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[x] Yea
–[III] Otters..?
Otters are adorable. Especially when they hold hands while sleeping.

>She shivers, practically preening at the gesture. What the fuck am I doing? This feels wholly illicit.

Why don’t you take a seat over there?

>Every time Ran passes the gate guards, whoever is on duty at the time, will suddenly transform into marble sculptures like those of Greek fame. With a wide variety of frozen faces belying their inner most thoughts, it’s a very entertaining sight.

Terrifying fox creature, so these are understandable reactions. That or she smells terrible, and these guys are doing their best to withstand the BO.

>Ran sizes me up for a moment, but I have no idea why. “There’s more to you than could be initially assumed,” she says, with the faintest upward curl to her normal lame-faced expression.

Of course, the fox liked the Socratic method. It's the method of being a shit, something she has experience with. Probably imagines Regis using it on Yuuka and being forced to drink hemlock.

Also, Cirno, as a gadfly, would be awful. Strong enough to be an annoyance and with more than enough willpower to keep coming back after being killed to keep asking questions ranging from stupid to sagacious.
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[x] Yea
–[2] A Grillstand…

Seems like a fitting choice after Cirno's chapter.
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[x] Yea
–[2] A Grillstand…

 or Moko?
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–[III] Otters..?
This is hard as hell to choose between Yachie or Mystia. In the end though I'm gonna have to pick Yachie because it's so out of left field, and I love this flat yakuza turtle.

I miss Cirno already though, I hope we'll see her again. I really liked this characterization of her, still kept the silly gung-ho baka stuff but really turned it in a unique way
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[x] Yea
–[2] A Grillstand…

Mist time. Or Mok time. Either works, and either is good.
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[x] Yea
–[III] Otters..?

The most dangerous but also coolest-to-think-about route. Our dude tends to not get spooked so easily, but what about the not-so-local crime lord?
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Well shit.
I was gonna just do the Misty story, but I can't be that guy and say that I called it the day before. Let's put it to the coin and say that will be the line.

Heads for Misty!
Coin flip: heads!
Also because I totally, definitely have something in mind for the otters. Yes sir I do. Just not exactly with the dragon. Oops.
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It's over. The turtle lost. To an idiot bird no less.
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[x] Yea
–[2] A Grill stand…

State: Cirno observation: Day 5
Time: 7:05pm, Twilight

It got to be a little late again today… I ended up taking a long time drilling Cirno on contents of a couple history texts I dragged out. It was just too interesting when she brought up some bit of history yesterday. I can’t even remember what it was she mentioned now that I’ve had to pour through so much of the Kojiki.

What I will remember is that Cirno has a surprising knack for Japanese history and mythology. I wouldn’t figure a fairy would be like that given that nature should be… agnostic? That doesn’t quite sound right. If only I could get home faster to write a manuscript section about it.

That and get some food! I’m starving out here! Why did I have to agree with Ran that I should walk more instead of relying on her flight so often? All I get from this is the cumbersome volume of my pack. Did she foresee this situation to torment me?! The fiend!

I hear a rumble, but it does not quake my hollow frame. Instead, it comes from beside me.

“Which of you two was that?” I ask to the point.

“Not me, I ate the rabbit I caught,” Chen answers with a still satiated glee. The little rodent was napping the whole time I was talking to Cirno, so that’s not a surprise. It would have been nice to have her own knowledge as a baseline, and I think even Ran was frustrated that she didn’t want a history lesson, but oh well.

Anyway, if it isn’t Chen, then– “Ran?” I ask.

“…” she decides to remain mute and neutral. Except for the slightest hints of red on her face, that is.

I decide to poke her a bit in fun like she would me, “Oh? The divine Youkai fox feeling hunger pangs? I didn’t even know Youkai could make that sound. You teach me something new everyday, partner.”

I get a laugh out of myself, upsetting my own stomach. Well, the air of superiority was nice for the five seconds it lasted…

“You two are fun to watch!” Chen bemuses.

Ran doesn’t even return the banter, instead we walk the dirt road for a while longer in silence. A kind waft trails our way. But the smoke of the village is only barely viewable on the horizon by now; we’re not even out of the forest clearing. Ran picked up on it before me, but now I can tell that she’s been measuring her pace to keep steady and not beeline for the source. It’s fortunate that we can both be happy while I get to see what madness is cooking up out here.

I cross straight in front of Ran to the direction of the lights I assume the smell is coming from. The smell distinct to food on a grill. Like a family barbecue. Glorious.

The continuous shuffle beside me says Ran has followed suit, driven by her baser desires.

Soon we round enough trees to see our target. One little stall out in the middle of the woods.

Run by a Youkai? No shit it is. But so long as we get food that isn’t poisoned, I could care less.

The red lamp signaling the open stall sheds some light to the growing nightfall, and illuminates some warm wooden seats behind the curtains. The whole stall looks ramshackle and patched up from years of use. Only the gods know what kind of whether this thing’s survived by this point. After all, if this is the owner I think it is, then she wouldn’t remember.

I’m the first to break the curtains and see inside. The stall is shelved with various alcohol, two plates of grills in the back, and one conspicuous owner. She’s on the shorter side, turned away grilling food up.

“Welcome!” her small voice chirps to our group, now sitting down.

I can’t say it necessarily surprises me, but I wasn’t expecting a bird Youkai to own a grill stand of all things. Isn’t she worried that the grills would burn her wings when she faces customers? Not only that, the space inside her cook station looks too tight even with her wings folded. Maybe Youkai really don’t think of such human concerns. Or some nonsense.

“What would you all like?” she tosses her voice behind to us. The few shelves of alcohol catch my eye briefly, but I know I probably wouldn’t stop if I got started. I also shouldn’t give Chen a reason to have any lower opinion of me for a while. Or at least until she no longer cares about me. Cats, honestly.

I consider the decorum for where we’re sitting at, “Grilled food like this calls for a chicken skewer, right?”

A sudden thunk into wood throws my attention back to the proprietress, who’s stabbed a knife into a cutting board beside her. “Care to repeat that order?” she asks without a hint of hostility.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Chen tuts. “Mystia doesn’t appreciate those jokes, human. Grilled lamprey, Mystia. It’s what everybody orders anyway. Oh, uh, an order for me, the human, and my master.”

Mystia pauses for a brief moment, but returns to her motions of trading items to and from the grill without looking at us. She must have not noticed Ran was also here. It must be like having a CO walk right up to you for Gensokyo residents, so I can imagine her nerves got tied up after the casual threat to one of her friends. But would she have gone further if I was alone? I shouldn’t stop to think on it.

She could’ve just turned around and it wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t get why she’s facing away, shy as a mouse. In fact, isn’t she part of a metal duo? I could swear I’ve read news articles about their shows. She shouldn’t be shy at all.

… Something isn’t right here.

“Why grilled lamprey, anyway?” I ask, even though I know the answer. Maybe I can piece something together with this.

“Didn’t you read about all the Youkai already? You should know this,” Chen comments.

“Slipped my attention. Didn’t think it would be important to remember at the time.”

“Hmph. Give him the shpeel, Misty.”

“Practice polite grammar, Chen,” Ran dotes.

The cat goes quiet for a moment as the bird heads the conversation, “You can’t just expect me to remember every time you want, you know. That’s super rude.”

Chen shrinks in her seat to sulk, “Yeah, alright. Sorry.”

Mystia giggles, “It’s okay. Just remember, since I can’t,” she says happily. Solemn words for that tone. “As for the lamprey, they are said to cure night blindness. It makes them good for late night travelers like yourselves.” She takes a moment to sprinkle seasoning onto three skewers of rubbery looking fish.

They make their way onto clay trays, and she grabs the bunch, while continuing what she was saying, “Of course, with the protection you seem to have, I’m sure your eyesight is perfectly fine.” The tray is placed down, and the cooked creature before me is kind of disturbing. Near the spots the eyes had to be taken off, the skin of the lamprey looks like extra eyes. The fins and teeth were removed, leaving the thing looking like a scaleless snake. Is this safe to eat?

“Thank you~” Chen says to her friend chef.

Wait, before that, what the hell was that she just said about protection? Good eyesight?

I look back up to the small bird in her brown waitress outfit and bandanna. Light reflects back from a brown, blank canvas. Not a feature there. It’s as if some god forgot to sculpt her face in, and left it as is.

There’s nothing but a perfectly round contour reflecting the soft lighting unnaturally. “You look like you’ve seen something scary,” she says without an inch of her empty face moving.

I can feel my brow bullet in shock, and I look to my companions next to me to make sure I haven’t lost my mind to some kind of magic. Ran is normal, and Chen is scarfing her lamprey without a care.

Chen notices my stare and glances up to me. She shows some concern at my fear, then looks over to her ‘friend.’

“GYAAAH,” she screams, bolting from her chair a man’s full height into the air, half eaten skewer flipping away to the brush.

Ran remains perfectly content with her skewer even as Chen lands and hisses from several yards away. I’m frozen to my seat by the void person standing above me. I can only sit still, shut up, and pray to any god that Ran’s aware of the problem.

Several moments pass without any movement. Only the sound of Ran chewing her food lamely. “Uhm,” the false bird eventually breaks the silence. She fidgets about for a few moments, waiting for anyone to say or do anything. When nothing more happens after what feels like an eternity, she reaches a hand towards me over the counter.

Another hand rushes in from the side, claws digging straight into the thin forearm of the not-bird. Ran stares back at the imposter with death in her eyes. Thin trails of blood congeal from the wounds onto the counter. The fake Mystia doesn’t appear to react at all, but that might just be because there’s no face to see the present horror of her situation on.

Ran leisurely stands to her full height, dwarfing the creature by almost double its size. She slowly, but with noble gravity, says, “You may scare this one, but you may not lay hand upon him.”

The faceless bird cowers as much as possible against the counter, also pinned by Ran’s grasp across it. Whimpering, she says, “Y-… Yes Miss Yakumo. Please forgive my insolence!”

With the pecking order established, Ran releases the faceless person’s arm and they crumple to the floor.

With the air only somewhat cleared, I can’t help but wonder, “… What’s going on? Who is this?”

“This Youkai is a nopperabo. Generally docile and sustains on mild terror, but there will be no leniency to individuals that have evaded the yearly census. You will come with me and be punished accordingly,” Ran says, leaning over the Youkai trapped inside the stand.

A rustling from behind signals something else approaching. Chen breaches the brush, but I didn’t even notice her leave. She also doesn’t come alone, Chen’s red orb is carrying one agitated and flailing bird by the wings. The real Mystia, face now included.

Chen gleefully greets her master, “I’ve found the real one hiding in the bushes! I thought I only sorta’ smelled her from the faker.”

The red orb, or oni, I guess, tosses the bird flat against the ground in front of Ran. Who is not all too happy.

“Don’t go tossing me around!” exclaims the bird. “And also, my hired and paid worker is running the stall for me! There’s no problems here.”

Ran picks her up by the collar, saying, “There are a myriad of errors made here. The most egregious of the list being that you have employed an illegal immigrant. The Yakumos do not tolerate such undermining of authority, and as such I will punish you now before you forget this transgression, whelp.”

And with her threat about to become battery, Ran drags the bird behind the stall. A musical din of screams are heard for a while afterward. In the meantime, I begin to strike conversation back up with the faceless person.

“So, uh… how’s it going?” I can only awkwardly ask.

“Could be better,” the nopperabo dully responds from the ground of the stall.

“Could be worse,” I counter optimistically.

She gets herself up from the ground to face me again. Or whatever verb I should use. “Ha! I guess I could have tried to spook the shrine maiden. Name’s Seisui, by the way. Who might you be, foreigner?” she asks while doffing her wings. Getting a close look at them, they seem to be no more than paper mache and sticks painted over pink.

“Tanner,” I answer. “A man out from America. What were you up to out here, anyway? I mean, other than the obvious spooking people.”

Seisui recounts a small tale of scaring the people of the village, or would have, had they been scared of the faceless gimmick. The village people just ignored her power entirely, each saying that they’ve seen worse. So when exploring the nearby area to set up a stall, she found Mystia down on her luck. Turns out Mystia was also having trouble scaring people, since everyone knew about her blinding trick and treated it more as a novelty to her stand nowadays. So they teamed up to put a bit of life to the con. Mytsia and Seisui would man the stand on alternating nights. Seisui would scare them posing as Mystia, and Mystia would take the next night to say that the food cured them of a sickness making them not see faces.

A fun little ride, I’ll admit. It even got Chen. Seisui sells herself short on acting skills, since Chen didn’t even figure she was talking to someone she didn’t know, and I only guessed because I had just read up on literally everyone in Gensokyo.

“Ah,” I utter, “I just remembered that Ran is living with Reimu right now.”

“Well,” Seisui mutters, “shit.”

“Best of luck not getting exorcised tonight. Why did you miss the census, anyway?”

“I literally had no idea there was one. Who’d figure that a Youkai intentionally living in disguises would miss being told important stuff?” she jokes.

With the sounds of bird slaughter dimming, Ran rounds back to us. Impressively, not a speck of blood on her. I stay my mind from imagining what torture she just put the bird into. Instead, I’ll enjoy the rest of my cold lamprey. Much less grotesque to look at than whatever pretzel is probably behind the stall right now.

Alright, that was fun. I think I'll do more of those between chapters. No vote because the next update will be the post lecture section. Then it's clear onto Yamawaro time. I've been looking forward to this coming up section for a few ideas I've been bouncing around.
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>Ran picks her up by the collar, saying, “There are a myriad of errors made here. The most egregious of the list being that you have employed an illegal immigrant. The Yakumos do not tolerate such undermining of authority, and as such I will punish you now before you forget this transgression, whelp.”
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Foxes do eat birds I suppose.
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Tanuki Pups
You know it makes perfect sense that Regis dislikes gangs considering he was a high school teacher and all. Wonder if he knows that Maimzou has pups, young children wearing gang signs, and what his reaction to that would be.
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Ended up missing this week. Will attempt to double post length to a better vote spot!

Take this for wherever it may apply!
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State: Cirno observation: Lecture time
Time: 3:34pm, Afternoon

Well, I think that went over well. I wasn’t expecting Cirno to actually show up for the lecture, and she interrupted frequently, but I think it ended up keeping the atmosphere light for everyone. I really can’t read what she’s going to do next, can I?

And there’s so much more to her than what I had time to get to. I ended up leaving out a lot of thoughts I had on fairy aspects because I wanted to skirt around the messy issue of why Cirno is the only known ice fairy around. Ran had offhandedly mentioned a census the other night, and I asked her for the numbers of fairy types there are. Plenty of woodsy things are on the list, but I could only find one ice fairy.

That almost makes sense, given Gensokyo isn’t particularly snow capped anywhere, but then that begs the question of why Cirno is around all year instead of just during the winter like a seasonal Youkai. You’d expect there to be no ice fairies in the summer, and a ton in winter.

The only other examples are the fairies of light, who are independent aspects of something otherworldly, and not bound to the Earth. Even sunlight isn’t all powerful. Maybe because the energy goes to other fairies before the light itself, or maybe fairies can take aspects rooted in more universal things. Is there a space fairy? A heat energy fairy? But that only leads to an unsettling conclusion that Cirno might be a fairy of something far more sinister than a simple cold spell…

“Mister Regis,” a woman addresses beside me.

I stop shuffling papers into my bag. My thoughts trailed so much I wasn’t making them ordered anyway. Everyone else has left at this point. There were plenty of questions for some half hour after I was finished, and Keine kicked Cirno out for freezing something or other, but the room got thin fast after that. The only other person is a woman that I loosely feel like I’ve met before. Brunette, shorter hair, a polite but maybe overly formal demeanor.

Ah. “You’re one of lady Hieda’s servants, right? Thanks for doing the transcript for today. I’m sure the lady will like to use the transcript as a sort of abstract,” I say, trying to reflect the woman’s polite air.

She giggles in return, then catches herself into a pleasant tone, “No need to be so formal; we’ve met already. My name is Murano. The servant that gave you the assignment materials.”

“That would explain it. Do you need to give me another packet? I’m guessing this isn’t the end of it.”

She gives a light sigh and says, “Not at the moment. I have to organize some of them still. They come from a number of different sources, I’m sure you’re aware. What I wanted to ask was some things that I myself found interesting in the lecture. Do you still have time?”

“Of course, ask away.”

Murano takes her leaflet and flits to a specific spot in the writing. The pressing of the typewriter somehow kept up through the whole thing. She even snagged a few offhanded comments between Cirno and I. I didn’t know typewriters printed so fast.

She points to a spot, asking, “Here, you say that you contacted a Patchouli? She is the mage of the Scarlet manor, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, that’s right. I’d heard that there was a very fleshed out library on the magical, and I needed some reference material on fairies,” I explain.

“But how did you get her to lend you that research? Her library has always been closed to the village, no matter how much the rich and scholarly like to pester her.”

I scratch at my scruff, now fully in need of trimming, and say, “Well, funny thing, that. You think you can keep this a bit of a secret?”

Her eyes glint in a discerning wile and says, “You would be surprised how many are kept for my lady.”

I pause a moment to see if there’s any kind of tell or coyness to her, then decide to trust in saying, “I sent her a letter, of course.”

Whatever she was guessing, that wasn’t it. “A letter was all it took? Did you confess your love or contract your soul to the devil of the house?” she guesses with some levity.

“Nope. I basically insulted her.”

“… You what?” she says completely baffled.

“A little thing I learned in my time of academia. If you want someone to tell you something, you gotta question if they even know what you want. Of course, I didn’t really insult her. You’ve got to be careful, get in those not quite back handed compliments or ask things in such a way that can be interpreted as dissing them,” I explain with pride and joy that my knowledge came in handy.

“But that’s… ridiculous! There’s no way that would work,” she says outright scratching her head.

“Acting like a bureaucrat can be funny like that. Why, did you expect something different?”

Murano rears back indignantly to say, “A polite discussion over a fair trade in information. The kind where you would even haggle over details of a contract.”

I can’t help but get a laugh at the thought. She fumes so I say, “Sorry, sorry. I was just thinking about how different the worlds we come from apparently are.”

“I should be the one saying that! Being rude to someone as your go to. Honestly!”

She remains silent for a few moments of thought, then asks, “Is that why the shikigami follows you?”

“What do you mean?” I respond. I have no idea how that’s the conclusion from this conversation.

“Well, I’ve heard the Yakumo were strange. It would only seem right that they would be interested in someone of a… different perspective,” Murano attempts to explain. A little backhandedly, but I’m not always one to make a good case of my character.

I consider the argument itself. Ran is certainly an oddball, but I don’t think being foreign has anything to do with why she’s around. But then again, I don’t really have any idea why she wants to follow me around instead of any other human. If she wanted to see village activities then why didn’t she follow Akyuu around? Akyuu’s basically a high class VIP. Should be right for her standards.

“That look on your face says you haven’t figured out why she’s around,” Murano comments.

“Well… no. The thought’s crossed my mind, but there isn’t anything for me to piece together. If you’ve never spoken to her, she’s not a very talkative type,” I muse.

The conversation trails off at this point as we ponder the question. I know it’s typical of Youkai to keep that mysterious air around them, but at the same time it’s weirder that I know so little about Ran despite having her around nearly all day for two straight weeks.

That aside, Murano seems to have a bit more than an idle interest in this question. I don’t think I can poke and find out what the deal with that is, though. She seems clever enough to notice any prodding on the topic. I might be overestimating her, but I’ll save it for some other time. If she’s been assigned as the transcriber for these lectures I’ll see her in another couple weeks.

“I’ll keep your thoughts in mind, but I should be going by now,” I excuse myself.

“Remember that the next assignment will be ready tomorrow morning. I’ll deliver it to you,” she bids on my way out.

It’s relieving when a project gets done and the only thing left to do is head home and just unwind. Or at least it would be, if I had any sort of hobby. I was always the type to relax in a cushy chair for the night and vegetate to whatever was on TV. Maybe I’ll do some reading? I’m kind of required to read the entire Kojiki as it is. Yeah, grab a drink and lay back. I think with a lame stride back home.

“Wake up you idiot!” a motherly and authoritative voice pierces my skull.

My eyes barely squint open when something flimsy but heavy smacks me further into my pillow. I lift the thing from my face and roll up in bed… futon.

This is the next bundle of papers Murano was gonna deliver to me.

“You weren’t awake so I took them for you,” Keine says. “Of course, we’re pretty well into the morning, so I decided that you should be awake by now.”

“Thanks, Keine.”

“Don’t thank me, Tanner. Wake up at a respectable time,” she nags when closing the door.

I did go to bed late last night. I don’t even know why that happened. I got home and was bored to death. I couldn’t focus on reading or studying anything without a focal target. Then I decided that a drink would be nice to lull me over, then I had another… Yeah I guess that would be why.

At least my head feels alright.

I get dressed and ready for whatever the day will bring. It’s time for another prep phase.

Sitting down at the living room table, I break open the bindings for the next assignment. This table is nice and big to accommodate all these papers. It is weird sitting under the home shrine on its high shelf, though. At least it gives me a chuckle every time to see Keine’s hat enshrined like a relic. Certainly looks like one.

With the different sections spread I can tell that this work isn’t asking me to look at one individual, but instead a species. The Yamawaro.

Maybe somebody liked the work I put into some extrapolations I made on fairies for the report and wants me to do more of it.

Ugh, the report. It’s gotta be edited by Akyuu, but it’s going to be passed back to me for finalizing afterward. Definitely my least favorite part of these things. I like it so much more when they’re just off my plate.

Focus! You may not have coffee here, but you can still wake up!

Reading through all of the documents takes a long while. Enough that Ran decides to show up to the house again. She’s been here in the early afternoon lately because she does barrier stuff before that. What exactly it is I have no idea.

Pouring through the papers I start to get an idea of the Yamawaro: they’re kappas but on the mountain. Also don’t have the head dish thing. Nor the shells.

Their original appearance is… strange. This image shows an almost human creature with one eye and a bald spot. Oh wait, that’s supposed to also be fur on their body. Literally how are they supposed to be related to kappa? Who said that?

Something else is that they’re apparently kappa that migrate to mountains from water. So that would mean that they’re not related to kappa, but that they metamorph from kappa into yamawaro. I’m getting into some confusing shit here.

Hang on! Something usable! It’s stated here as a personal note by Akyuu that there are some which live in the mountain of Gensokyo.

Alright that’s good, but where on the mountain? Actually, this implies the Youkai mountain, right? Not a different mountain?

Keine walks into the room with tea for the three of us, including Ran standing as still as a statue in the corner. They each take a seat at the side of the table, making sure not to move the papers I’m shuffling around like mad for more information on the location.

I take the chance to ask my benefactor some things, “Keine, what do you know about yamawaro?”

“Shrewd businessmen. Worse than their cousins, honestly. I take it you’re researching them, then. You’re welcome for the tea, by the way,” she says sarcastically.

“Thank you for the tea, my deeply beloved friend and peer,” I retort with the dryness of a graham cracker. “And yeah, yamawaro. Akyuu has something here that says they’re in the mountain, but not much else. Do you two have any idea where they are?” I ask both the women at the table.

Keine checks Akyuu’s note before pondering, “This much isn’t enough for you. Does even she not know?”

“Why? What do you mean?” I ask with a pointed interest. My notebook has already been broken out and is ready for writing.

“Well…” She awkwardly starts. “The yamawaro are especially seclusive. Even more than the tengu. It’s gotten to the point that they stop anyone human or Youkai from approaching their area. So no one knows where they are. Well, that’s not entirely true…”

“Because you and Yukari do, right?” I finish for her. Having read up on everyone, I already have an idea of how ridiculous the powerhouses in Gensokyo are. Talking with a couple of them daily forces me to consider the repercussions of what they can do.

Keine gives a lightly insulted frown to the inference, and says, “That is correct, Tanner. But I would like it if you didn’t sound like I’m convenient for you. Shouldn’t you know not to treat people like a utility?”

“R-right. Sorry,” I say with my head lowering in mild embarrassment. I guess Ran’s attitude has rubbed off on me some amount. Well, no helping it. “So, could you please help me?”

“Ah, well,” she says avoiding her eyes from mine. “No. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because I really can’t. You know how my power works. I can see what every person in Gensokyo is doing one night a month, but that is also a big issue of privacy to some. So the tengu, yamawaro, and others have made a contract with me to keep silent on their personal matters.” She’s tinged a light red after speaking. It’s probably strange for her to admit that she holds some wildly high position above a lot of groups like that.

“I… well, I can’t really say that should surprise me. It does, but I guess it’s just so weird to hear that legal issues like privacy are treated so bureaucratically here. Am I losing my sense of what’s normal in outside world terms?” I say with melancholy that I’ve forgotten my old life a bit more.

“No, no. You’re alright, Tanner. It is unusual for groups to come together on a matter like this. But that aside, I really can’t help you with information on things unless it has to do with what I would know as a school teacher,” Keine finishes. She doesn’t seem very happy to admit to it, but she doesn’t even have any anger toward it, just sadness.

“It’s okay, Keine. I know that you would help me if you were allowed. And thanks for letting me know a bit about the mess you’ve found yourself in.” I turn over to Ran, who is calmly sipping the tea and not generally paying attention. “Hey, Ran. Do you know where–“

“No,” she abruptly replies.

Now that’s surprising. “How?” I ask.

“The yamawaro do not want Yakumo presence in their domain. Lady Yukari has also refused to provide discrete directions, likely as a form of test to my independence in information gathering,” she elaborates.

“Wait, but what about the whole census thing? I used those numbers as hard evidence for some of my last report, you know.”

“They are contracted to self report in place that I don’t investigate their domain’s central location. This is under threat of eviction from Gensokyo in event of perjury. Lady Yukari had joked at the time that execution via multiple explosive trains would be more direct of an incentive, but decided it would not be taken as a true and actionable statement upon paper,” Ran explains. I’m pretty sure a couple of those points are confidential.

But this still leaves the original problem unsolved. If not add another problem to the list. “So now I need someone who not only knows where they are, but also who can get me to their front door without being turned away,” I think aloud.

“That will require a representative member of either the kappa or the tengu,” Ran proposes.

I rub my temples at the thought of that. They’re both people that don’t do things without fair trades. It’s not hard to guess that information that could get them in trouble would be high value.

“How exactly do you expect them to help Tanner?” Keine points out.

“Not willingly,” Ran states as robotically as always. Those are some mischievous words coming from her.

“Huh?” Keine mouths, wide eyed.

I shoot Ran a very questioning look when I say, “What? This had better not be something bad. I’m not looking to be a bad guy to get my job done.”

“Do your morals align with using people’s vices against them?”

“… Maybe,” I caution to answer, “but it depends on what you have in mind.”

Keine slaps my shoulder for that. “Don’t just say that! I’m right here you know! You can’t just scheme about something while one of the few lawful people of Gensokyo is sitting next to you,” she touts.

“Alright, fine. We’ll just go somewhere else,” I joke. “But seriously, Keine. I’m not seeing many better ideas other than getting a little dirty for this. Even Akyuu only knows they’re somewhere on the mountain. If the knowledge center of the village only has a vague idea, then how many people do you think know where they actually are?” I challenge.

Keine fidgets a bit, wrestling with herself on the situation, then says, “Fine! I’m not able to help, but please don’t get yourself into trouble, Tanner. Now excuse me, as I shouldn’t be accomplice to this.” She gets up and takes the empty teacups from the room, leaving with a heavy slam of the door.

Now only Ran and I are here to work on whatever nefarious plan she has in store. I do wonder where this is going.

Looks like I got dressed today just so I could go out to a bar. Typical. Too bad I can’t treat my drinks leisurely. Other priorities to take care of.

Here on the southern point of the residential area, I walk into a hole-in-the-wall bar. The place is nothing but a flat roof, the front door, and the housing crushing it on both sides. The inside isn’t much better. Cramped would be the quickest description, but the narrow walkway between some tables and the bar feel like this two room space was not meant for more than a few people.

I shuffle my way around the tables and bar stools toward the back table. I can already see who I’m looking for. I knew she would be here at this time of the evening already, now I’m just going to need to capitalize on the situation. I can’t jump now, I have to wait a little longer before then. I take one of the bar stools and order a drink.

It’s a silent wait. The people in here don’t seem to be the happy-go-lucky kinds. One man at the bar looks dead enough to fall into a grave, a woman at the front corner anxiously hides from sight. Not the finest, probably just those looking to hide and scrounge a drink. That’s what I know she’s here for, anyway.

Blue hair open to the air, a simple kimono, entrenched in some reading, Ichirin looks very fetching. I had to convince myself not to stare so she doesn’t notice me. She’s sitting at the back table on her own, waiting with a dish at her side.

Exactly as Mamizou had said she would be. Waiting a week just in case turned out to be worth it. Anytime now the other party will get here, then I act.

The door opens again to the early evening air, bringing in a much smaller girl with a hooded jacket and backpack. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what she is. This is who I’m actually here for. After I said I didn’t want to get caught by Mamizou last week, Ran investigated this bar. She just so happened to see a kappa walk in not long after Ichirin. The kicker was the two didn’t leave at the same time.

Using this information, I should be able to elbow whatever kappa that is to bring me out to the yamawaro.

She scoots through the aisle to the back table, sitting down across from Ichirin. They start speaking in low whispers, making sure no one picks up on their conversation. It looks like they don’t plan to talk for long, so I make my move.

I take my drink, and like a desperate man, put myself right beside the girl. Ran’s idea to not let the kappa get away, not mine.

“Ladies,” I say with a level of smug I would love to punch normally.

“Who the hell are you?” the kappa snidely remarks beside me.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Ichirin demands with a low brow. She’s already picked out my face, that was fast.

The tassels on the kappa’s hoodie clink as she swings between Ichirin and I before asking, “Wait, you know him?”

“Hi, Ichirin,” I say jovially. “Thought I would greet you while I was out barhopping again.”

“Yeah, great. You greeted me, now go away. I have company, in case you’ve gone blind,” Ichirin replies in open disgust.

“Oh, no need to be like that. Why don’t you introduce me to your friend?” I say, continuing to ignore her crossed arms and sour face.

“How’s about I don’t, and you instead mind your own business, mister scholar.”

The kappa beside me decides to pipe up finally, “Hey, don’t ignore me. Who are you, putting yourself down right next to me?” Her teeth are bearing, giving her a look a lot like a chihuahua trying to act tough. It’s hard to remember that these girls can absolutely turn me into pulp when they look like that.

“Name’s Tanner. Who might you be?” I extend my hand out with a bright smile.

“Oh, uhm. Kawashiro,” she answers meekly and shakes my hand, before remembering she should be brash. I didn’t expect her to actually answer. Instincts of a businessman, I guess. “Wait, no. Stop deflecting the question already!” she exclaims a bit into room volume, turning a couple errant heads.

I awkwardly wave to the patrons, trying to placate the mood and turn back to Ichirin to say, “I was just hoping to see what a Buddhist and a kappa are doing together in a bar.”

“Excuse you? Is it illegal for a nun and a kappa to be friends?” Ichirin mocks.

“Well… by your own religion, yes. At least if it has anything to do with booze…” I say, finally revealing my play. Gods I was lucky to hear a couple of rumors in passing that one day at the temple. Knowing that Ichirin stashes liquor at the temple was a big tip off. Now to figure out some way to use that rumor that Minamitsu likes to sink paper boats.

“Gh– what are you talking about?!” Ichirin audibly panics with a bit of extra manic laughter to cover. She scratches at the air for some argument to throw me off. Kawashiro just plants a hand to her face, embarrassed to be affiliated with her. I mean, I would be too, since she kind of gave away the secret with a reaction alone.

I can’t stop here, though. Now’s the time to cinch this plan!

I turn to Nitori, and ask, “So, how much business in alcohol do you do with Ichirin here?”

“What is wrong with you? You seriously think you can just ask a kappa that casually? What in the dragon’s name happened to your head?” Kawashiro asks with notable impatience.

“Nothing’s wrong with my head. If I’m being direct, I’m here to make a deal. You guide me to the yamawaro’s home and I won’t tell a certain head priestess that you’ve been selling to her temple.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” she almost spits.

“I’ll tell her that the alcohol is stashed in the premises, too.”

“You fucker,” Ichirin fumes.

That’s totally a guess, but I don’t think that Ichirin would be more thorough.

Nitori claws at the table, looking ready to assault me in any number of ways. She restrains herself and manages to levelly say, “You are an absolute bastard. You’ve got a deal. I hope you live long enough for me to pull you inside out.” She holds her hand out to shake again.

I take up her bear grip with as much as I can do myself. “I thank you for working with me,” I happily state. Before the fiery retribution of these two might strike me, I down the rest of my drink and pay the bartender on the way out.

I think that went well. Too bad the kappa hates me, but I think Ichirin might come around if I explain it some time later.

Out in the cool night air I walk along the outer wall of the village. A breeze picks up beside me. My cohort joins me holding a few pieces of hunt in her hand. It seems she was right about Mamizou setting up sentries to spy the area. Thankfully Ran doesn’t seem to have been in a fight with the mob boss herself.

“How did you know they would react like that?” I ask.

“The Nyundo user and the kappa are both simple people. Simple people are those Lady Yukari manipulates frequently with nominal success. This idea was appropriating her tactics of negative trade to cause a net positive outcome to both sides. That is how she explains it,” Ran drones.

“Kawashiro would disagree,” I counter.

“Youkai valuing commerce is ludicrous. It only serves to neuter the terror they may cause. Such cases are better culled,” Ran says without any sense of blasé sarcasm.

“Remind me not to get on your bad side,” I joke.

“That list is reserved to few, but you are making attempts to be on it,” she says tossing the maybe dead or alive tanuki over the wall.

“Oh, please, you’re too kind.”

Now that that’s been taken care of, I guess I just need to think of how I get into the yamawaro’s door. Or maybe how I act, that is. Knowing that they’re reclusive, I doubt anyone knows what tithe they’d want, and Kawashiro certainly wouldn’t tell me.


[x] Direct, blunt, to the point. Open honesty might be appreciated and we can negotiate some price from there.

[x] Polite, shrewd, mercantile. Bargaining with things they could consider worthwhile might be more enticing than directly drawing up a trade contract.

[x] Clever, unknowable, (write-in).

Extra long because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with the first scene. I know I wanted it to happen, but not the finer detail of the point of it in the moment. The other couple scenes came to me pretty quickly, though. However, I get the feeling that the extra delay made me burn out on some finer detail or interaction work I could have been doing here. (In b4 Nitori once told Ichirin to fuck off for drinks ‘cause I didn’t check this time)
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>[x] Direct, blunt, to the point. Open honesty might be appreciated and we can negotiate some price from there.
"Oh hey, I know where you live, you're gonna tell me all about you! Wait, why are you pointing a gun in my face? RAN HELP"
>[x] Polite, shrewd, mercantile. Bargaining with things they could consider worthwhile might be more enticing than directly drawing up a trade contract.

[x] Clever, unknowable, strongest. Bring Cirno with.
It will all work out if we just make this an adventure.
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>[x] Clever, unknowable, (write-in).
Have you ever seen Breaking Bad? You know, where Walter does something rash and crazy yet brilliant, which solves a short term problem but leads to a long term problem, so he does something rash and crazy yet brilliant, which solves the problem but... etc. I think that's what Regis should aim for. It's what Yukari would want after all.

One of the most important things you see manipulators like Mamizou and Yukari do is act confident and polite - because they know their plan is going to work and they're going to get what they want. Everything is merely going through the motions. Yukari asks you to pick up the can? You do it and she wins, you've done what she asked. You don't pick up the can? Yukari knew you'd be too arrogant to do so, she took that into her plans, you've done what she wanted you do to without knowing it. You sit paralyzed because you're not sure if you should pick up the can or not? Yukari finds that indecisiveness cute and amusing, you've done what she wanted you to do. Whether this is just an attitude she adopts to make herself seem like she's in charge and clever even when she's completely wrong about everything, or if she's really that incredible and cunning is a mystery. But we should try and capture some of that mystery for ourselves.

The Yamewaro are going to be naturally a bit curious about us. They might hate us for seeking them out, and even more for blackmailing a kappa to have her drag us to them, but they are going to be curious. Why has a human wanted to find them, a secretive bunch who aren't even that high on the totem pole? We'll probably have only a few seconds at their door to get them to invite us in, that's going to be the moment we'll need to hook them, and have their curiosity outweigh their natural desire to tell us to fuck off. My initial thoughts would be acting like and telling them a meeting would be in both parties best interests. "You know why I'm here. We need to talk, or things are going to end up bad for all of us." Something like that. What excuse are we going to have for our meeting? No idea yet, we might need to make it up on the fly, maybe if we notice something off inside we can hook onto that and pretend we always knew about it. "My, it's looking really crowded here isn't it?" "Wow, such incredible machines you're selling, no doubt all the permits are in order for them, hm?" Get them to fill in the blank of why we're here and go along with it, pretending we know more than we really do.

They don't like the Yakumos putting their nose in their business, we can use that to our advantage. We have a Ran, we might not want to have her right by our side when we visit them. If we do they might flatly refuse us entry, arguing it violates some bullshit agreement. However, if we come in, we could pretend we know something they're doing that violates said bullshit agreement and use that to blackmail them for an interview, with the Ran as a nebulous threat kept to the side and probably watching us from a safe distance but not visible to the mountain monkeys. (Alternatively we could even do the opposite and pretend we're there to tell the Yamewaro of something the Yakumos are doing that would give them advantage in their agreement, though we might have to clear this bluff with Ran, we don't want her to think we're actually going to do something like that.)

If we need backup escort visible by our side, why not Cirno? Cirno has proven herself to be quite a capable fighter, and Ran we know is beginning to get weaker and weaker. She might be able to beat some weak tanukis 1v1, but a whole bunch of Yamewaro on their home turf might be a bit more than she can chew at this rate. Could Cirno take on a whole bunch of Yamewaro? Maybe not, but she could cause quite a ruckus if we needed her to, and that could give the edge to at least an escape. Only problem here would be tracking her down, as I think she could be easily convinced to come with us ("We're going to need protection/want to maybe challenge some mountain monkeys who are cowards/we'll buy you some candy afterwards") Even if we don't want to try Yukariing our way in, Cirno might be worth trying to get to tag along just for the extra help. It's not like Cirno would be at any risk, she's a fairy.

In short: Maybe grab Cirno, and do what we did to Mamizou and Ichirin to the Yamewaro. We have the Ran, so we must become the Yukari.
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[Na] Clever, unknowable, offerings of food, salt, and business tips.

Warning! Warning! Warning!
The lecturer is approaching the fringes of the most cutthroat, oppressive, and dangerous arenas. The arena of business. Therefore the art of war must be heeded.

Control the battlefield and gain the initiative by setting up shop with delicious food in front of the hideout to lure out one with hunger by the scent. There's also in the folklore of the yamawaro mention of food being used to deal with them.
Divide by offering a gift of salt to show that those engaging get rewarded.
Conquer by further entrenching interest by providing tidbits of modern business tips. Of course, savvy people in business always need to be savvier.
Buying something could help alongside flattery.

I don't know if Regis would have comprehensive info about that unless he had a prior interest, took a class in university, or had a coworker who taught marketing. The skill set and knowledge of high school teachers can vary wildly, in my experience.
Then, of course, there's also the question of whose cooking and learning the palette of the mountain-bound, but Ran might help somehow; I don't know, to be honest, brain juices didn't stretch that far. Essentially a wine and dine plan but with more salt and a slice of business. Probably cost a pretty penny, though, since salt is scarcer and good food to feed a group could be costly.

>She giggles in return, then catches herself into a pleasant tone
I don't think I have quite seen the word catch used this way for a social situation. I thought it was used when a speaker realizes they've made a faux pas rather than transitioning into a different speaking manner. Something like, "Catching her informal manner, she shifted to a more formal style."

>She’s tinged a light red after speaking. It’s probably strange for her to admit that she holds some wildly high position above a lot of groups like that.
Keine knows where the salt comes from.

You tempt me, Anon, with talks of TANNER MAYS, SCHOLARLY TRAVELERS, FIERCE FOX GIRLS, and Cirno.
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>It's what Yukari would want after all.
>We have the Ran, so we must become the Yukari.
Out of everything I've read in this story, this fills me with the most apprehension and dread. The high school teacher evolving into a forever 17-year-old mean girl is a horror I could not have conceived.
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sweet more updates
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Man, these are some quality posts. Much better than the trash this author usually posts.

In all seriousness, calling it for bringing along a friend. Y'all can't get enough of the strongest, I see.
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[x] Clever, unknowable, strongest. Bring Cirno with.

We return home without incident. Keine doesn’t come out to greet us, and I don’t blame her. Karma won’t like me poking a hornet’s nest for the hell of it, but I’ll just have to deal with it. For now I have to keep in mind what still needs to be done. Ran stays around for a bit and we take our seats at the table. No doubt she wants to know how I plan to get inside their doors. Kawashiro is only helping me find those doors, after all.

But sadly, I can’t wrack my brain enough to think of anything out of the box. The most I’ve got is some amount of bluffing, a little bit of coercion, and maybe even bribery to get inside, but that isn’t enough to confidently say that I won’t still be turned away. There’s no reason that they have to speak with me. They could just as easily ignore me at the gate.

Or… wait. Much worse than that, they might turn me away if Ran’s with me.

I turn to my companion and ask, “They won’t allow you in, will they?”

“Likely not,” Ran replies.

“What do you recommend, then?”

“The yamawaro should not bring harm upon a guest. That is within their ideals of business. Problems occur from the magnitude of attention you shall draw. Any move must be decided with care, as there will be political weight behind any action within their domicile. This will breach even into mundane discourses,” Ran briefs.

“So I gotta come in with some goal to take their mind off of me specifically, or get their attention on something else entirely…” I think aloud, beginning to sift through any ideas or resources I have for something that might meet these requirements.

Straightforwardness? Maybe not. They’ll probably turn every bit of information that I’d need for the study into a painstaking trade. Definitely the last thing I want.

Offer a sort of cultural exchange? That’s better… but I don’t think that’ll have enough pull. They’re business people, not religious or scholarly types.

Maybe I need some harder distraction. Where can I get one, though? I don’t think we can convince them to allow Ran in, though that would be the perfect distraction. No way I could get someone like Keine or Akyuu out there, obviously. Reim– no let’s not even humor that thought.

Cirno? Cirno..? Well, there’s an odd thought. Actually I’m not even sure where that came from. I guess it was the only feasible choice left. I need a moment to sort out how that would work. It isn’t hard to guess how I can get her out there, but what happens when she’s at the gate? Or even worse, when she’s inside? She’s more like some agent of chaos than a simple fairy that makes ice.

That’s what I want, though, isn’t it?

There’s zero chance this won’t backfire. I’m just scared that I have no idea how.

“Oh, Ran,” I say with saintly innocence.

“You have been deliberating internally for the previous four minutes and fifty four seconds. Whatever you may suggest is best left to yourself, as it is most likely to be absurd,” she states in monotone.

“Well, if that’s really how you want it. We’ll have to make a stop to the lake before meeting Kawashiro.”

Ran stares for a second, narrows her eyes, leans to the side, and sighs in utter disappointment.

I rebut her reaction to this, “Hey, you know as well as I that Cirno can really throw people off. If I act like I’m just following her whims, then I can get in alongside her pretty easy.”

“This does not generate a foregone conclusion. The yamawaro are still able to turn you away at the gate.”

“But do you think that Cirno would really give up if she wanted to get in? If she wanted to get in real bad?” I egg on my side of the argument.

Ran seems unimpressed, but still changes her line of questioning, “You expect this to change your political standing within their domain. Explain in what way that should occur.”

“Well, if Cirno’s there, then I can just act like I’m with her. Then I’m just an addition to Cirno. I just happen to be there!”

“Kawashiro will out you as being the one interested in the subject,” Ran counters.

“She can say what she wants. She’s angry, so I’ll just play it off like a lie,” I deflect.

Ran stares for a moment, and I feel like her piercing eyes roll in their sockets, but that’s probably my imagination.

“Very well. You shall visit the lake in the morning. Should Cirno agree, I will abscond from the trip,” she relents. “However,” she continues, “you will be monitored with surveillance magic. Should anything happen to you, it is within my responsibility to protect your person. Not the fairy’s. Is this clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I can’t help but reply to her stern tone.

With the plan decided, Ran steps out for the night. I sit at the table still thinking. I can already see how I’m going to convince Cirno to come, that isn’t hard. What’s still bugging me is that front gate. I have no clue what to expect. I don’t like uncertainties like that, but I hate it even more when there’s nothing I can do about it. Maybe I do need to weed something from Kawashiro to help with that.

With but a small resolution I turn in for the night. Ran expects to go visit the lake before Cirno runs off again. I’ll need to be bright and ready for convincing her.

Ran and I got to the lake at first light of the morning to find Cirno. She was still asleep in her igloo, with a couple extra holes in the roof, again, as expected. We’re once again on the ice pedestals effectively part of the raft now. It’s only taken me a moment to explain how I want to go to the yamawaro but I don’t have a good way inside.

I should probably note that I decided that I should be honest with Cirno, as it’s easier to play off her slip ups of any truth than to go along with whatever lies she comes up with. The fae mind is not something I can keep up with to that degree.

Then again, it looks like I already can’t keep up. By her words she means… “They live in tree houses? Do you know where the mountain kappa live?” I ask.

“Those idiots in all green with faces like they’re chewing umeboshi?” Cirno says, mimicking the angry pout and pucker of a lemon victim.

“That would describe yamawaro aptly,” Ran confirms.

Cirno giggles in childish arrogance while answering, “I fought those dummies before. They’re not all that tough, they just wanna hide! When they didn’t let me in to fight their strongest fighter, I started freezing their playground until they gave up.”

“Their playground?” I question.

“Yeah, they got a big playground in the back of the mountain that they don’t let anyone else play in!”

Oh my god Cirno used guerrilla tactics by breaking down the area around a base to weaken an enemy. They must have given up because they couldn’t patrol their territory with ice covering things. And that was all just a whim Cirno had one day. This girl is undoubtedly an agent of chaos.

“Cirno, you wouldn’t happen to remember the way to their home, would you?” I ask.

“Uhuh, why? You just said someone was gonna show you.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose. All that clever work from last night, wasted. I ended up just pissing some kappa off, and I guess Ichirin, for something I could have just asked Cirno about.

“Huh? Did I do something wrong?” Cirno flusters from my reaction.

“No. You are only full of surprises,” Ran compliments.

Cirno puffs in relief. I release the grip on my poor, somehow untwisted nose, and get back onto topic.

“Cirno, could you come with me to the yamawaro?” I request.

Cirno nods, content with herself, and says, “So, you haven’t gotten enough of my greatness, huh?”

Oh, this child.

“I guess not, huh. We’re gonna meet over at–“

“Ahem,” a new voice announces unhappily from the pedestal Ran never uses. I check my fluffy companion, but there’s no one- wait that’s a cat.

“Hey, Chen,” I say to the brown two-tailed cat.

The cat grows in size, fur giving way to orange cloth, the ears producing a puffy green hat between them. Ran’s told me that animal Youkai simply shapeshift naturally, but that doesn’t mean I won’t think it’s the strangest looking thing every time.

She sits cross legged, resting her head on an arm, and looking none too happy to see me. “Hey yourself, you old man. You were planning on leaving me here, weren’t you?” she prosecutes.

I play at acting offended, proclaiming, “To think so low of me! I had not planned to leave you behind.”

“So you just forgot about me,” she states, not in question.

I can only shrug. “I mean… how’d you guess?” I ask in legitimate interest if I’m that easy to read.

“Blame my company. And my role models. And my friends sometimes. You get the idea,” she explains crossly. Or, at least not cross at me, anyway.

“You’re welcome to come,” I offer the olive branch. Was it olive? Am I showing my own stupidity to my country?

“Come with you to wreck the entire yamawaro’s campsite? Sounds fun. Unless I’m also part of that thing, Lady Ran?” she asks with dumb longing eyes. Bullshit if she isn’t using the eyes of her cat form.

“Do you bear the name Yakumo, shikigami?” Ran asks with a nip of mean rhetoric. When she acts so overtly parental it’s easy to see why Chen can be so snippy.

“No, my lady,” Chen loses the snide and snark to her tone when answering. She’s also put herself to proper posture as if on alert.

Ran stares down the girl for a moment, before answering, “That is your answer.”

“Alright! Well, if it’s decided, why don’t we reconvene later, yeah? I’ve gotta grab my stuff still,” I decide to interject and hopefully cut some tension before it can sink in.

“Raagh!” Cirno gives a war cry from her stout frame.

Thinking on it, I didn’t even need to convince her. I really just had to ask. Life feels so simple when I have to deal with Cirno. Much less thinking required to do what I want, not so much worrying to do.

Within the next couple hours I return home to grab my travel gear and head to the meeting point with Ran, not too deep in the woods, but also not close to the village. There we see Kawashiro pacing impatiently, maybe waiting a little too early for our arrival. The second we land she turns to bite my head off, a nonstop torrent of complaints. A few moments pass before she loses her breath, to which I take the chance to tell her that I don’t need her to guide me anymore.

“The hell do you mean?!” she exclaims.

“I mean that I found someone else who can show me there. Listen, I’m sorry about the whole business thing last night, I just really needed to find them asap, alright?” I try to calmly apologize, but her high strung energy doesn’t make it easy.

“Oh that is not happening! I’m going with you. I have to tell Takane just how shitty of a person you are, because I don’t think you understand what consequences your actions have,” she says with a wild look and accusatory finger.

“I said I’m sorry, there isn’t even any lasting harm done, right? I didn’t stop your business, we didn’t go to the gates, what’s the issue?”

“The issue is that I had to clear my entire schedule for today. You were also going to willfully sully the entire kappa name to our cousins. That would take months to repair our reputation. Not to mention that you’ve only been mildly inconvenienced so far and decided to take it out on someone else, dragon forbid you actually need something harder to get than the location of the green idiots. What were you going to do at the gate, huh?! Sell the village guardian or something? Do tell, you absolute jerkass,” she continues to bear down against me.

“I think I found them,” Cirno’s young voice pops in from behind Kawashiro.

“YAHH!” the kappa near screams into a jump away from the bush. I think Akyuu mentioned something about them being easily startled.

“What are they doing, though?” Cirno asks her companion cat.

“Having a shouting match, it looks like. A game only meant for idiots,” Chen continues to speak in only snide remarks.

“Great, you brought more people with you. Why don’t I just post the directions in the village?” Nitori fumes when she realizes that they’re with us. “And that isn’t even the worst of it, I’ve been ignoring the YAKUMO right beside you! What even is that about? She’s not allowed in. I don’t even want to see her face she’s so much troubl–“

Ran snags her collar, lifting the short kappa up clean off the ground, looming over her. She outsizes her enough to shade her from the early day sun.

Ran clearly and concisely says, “I shall be leaving. Should any harm happen upon this human, even a single hair, you shall find your untested products suddenly being announced as such. Along other things.”

Kawashiro blanches after a few moments of internalizing what was just said. “Wait, you can’t just…” she begins to mumble, but thinks better of even asking with Ran’s piercing gaze staking her.

“Sure, I’ll keep to that,” she says, all contempt having left her pale face. Ran releases the kappa to collapse to the ground, then heads off without so much as a bye.

“Chen, does your master just like looking scary?” Cirno questions the cat she ‘s holding up.

Chen mulls over the idea, and replies, “Hm. That’s probably it. Both of my masters are good at it, so I see why they flaunt it so much. I wonder what I’m missing.”

The kids devolve into banter about scary looking women while I check on Kawashiro...’s barely alive figure. I’d figure she’s just been exorcised by how she looks. Oh, there’s a twitch.

The kappa’s backpack begins to rumble before suddenly bursting out a long mechanical arm. The thing uses a comically sized glove to prop Kawashiro back on her feet. Not much happened because of it, she’s still in a stupor, only upright now.

Her backpack splays out another two arms, one carrying a bucket. She’s like a comic book villain at this point, but also how much space is in that backpack?

The empty hand gently lifts her hat to reveal a bright dome of skin atop her head. So the kappa really do have bald spots, and look like monks because of it. Oh that’s just comical to look at right next to her pigtails. I could swear she even polishes it.

The bucket hand reels up, beginning the motion of a forceful swing, and I scramble back from the splash zone. The bucket leases water like a trebuchet directly on Kawashiro’s hairless dome, waking her immediately. Her eyes go totally wide as she whips around to find the perpetrator. As she steps about unsurely the arms retract to their nest, the one carrying her hat flourishes before replacing the baldness crown.

“Huh?! What?! I wasn’t out!” she claims, lifting a wrench ready to fight off whatever phantom her imagination made. Then she remembers what’s going on.

Her face once more drains of its startled frenzy, changing to a dull peeved look. She silently returns her wrench to a belt before coughing. A few trickles of water still drip from her head.

“So, if I understood that, I’m now taking care of this human I hate,” she addresses me.

Oh. Oh yeah, I guess Ran’s words would mean that. “Looks that way to me, huh? I’m glad that you’re here to help out, Kawashiro,” I say, still kind of pleased by how this all turned out so far.

She sighs heavily, saying, “Call me Nitori, already. Nobody calls me Kawashiro, even idiots I hate.”

Nitori… is the name of an important kappa, isn’t it? Well, shit. I didn’t piss off a kappa. I pissed off the de facto leader of the kappa. Smooth move, Tanner.

“You’ve heard it already, but my name is Tanner. Pleasure to meet you, Nitori,” I say slightly more formally.

“Yeah, whatever you bastard. Let’s just go already, if your skin gets cooked by a random Youkai wandering around, then mine will get turned into sashimi,” Nitori only somewhat jokes. Or maybe not at all, she sounds pretty done with the whole situation.

“What’s a bass tard?” Cirno asks.

“When you’re older, little sprite,” Nitori replies. “Seriously, they’re coming too?” she asks referring back to me.

I scruff Cirno’s hair before she gets uppity, and say, “Yeah, that’s right.”

Nitori rolls her eyes and starts walking. I follow suit beside Cirno and the cat nestled in her arms.

Alright. I went longer than I expected. I didn’t even get to the part with the actual consequences of the vote other than having our ice fairy around. Next time, for sure. Now of course, I was gonna just leave it at that, no vote or anything, but then thought that would be lame. So instead, I’m gonna put in an obvious obligatory vote and ask which of the wan’s is the best and why.

Beware of dog?
[x] Yes

[x] No
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[x] Yes

all of them. They're good dogs, poingant.
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[x] No
We've got a turtle, cat, and Cirno. What dogs are out there for us to fear? They'll need more dogs to face us.

I didn't expect we could bring Chen, I figured she would've been included in any agreements of the Yakumos. Now I feel bad for not mentioning her. Hilarious how we did all of that Yakumo-ing just to not even need Nitori though, and I'm glad we got to even say that to her. Poor turtle.

I can already see Keine growing more disappointed to see a fellow scholar become more and more Yakumo-like. It's like poetry.
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[X] No

No higher power to chain the madness of Cheno shall lead to glorious heights.

What color will be assigned to Regis?
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[x] No
blood and fire (ft ice)
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Wait… y’all voted against the dog? Well… I wasn’t expecting that. You have spared Momiji from being the butt of a joke, so I guess Momiji respect gained.

[x] No

Nitori said it’s best to walk the full stretch of the mountain. We don’t want to spook the tengu with the size of our group, after all. We also want to avoid alerting the yamawaro, or the mountain hags, or maybe even the kappa. Why is everyone on this mountain reclusive?

Are they all afraid of each other?

I get a sudden chill that makes the hair on my neck stand. I quickly flip around to yell at Cirno for being a nuisance, but she isn’t even paying attention to me. I could have sworn that I just felt something strange, though. I stop to face the opposite direction of my stride. My stare brings me to a point halfway up the side of the mountain, but it’s too far for me to pick out anything.

“What’s up, Momiji giving you the stink eye?” Nitori asks after rounding back to me.

“Well, there was definitely something. What do you mean the stink eye, though?” I ask, glad that my new not friend is at least keeping an eye on me.

Nitori looks up to the same point on the mountain, and says, “Oh, she’s just like that. Good vision, able to see forever and all that. She hasn’t come down yet, but that’s just because I’m here. Actually, you know what,” she stops talking to give a very rude gesture up the mountain. I think I can see something rustle up there from that.

“So, what’d you do that for?” I can’t help but ask.

“Because she’s up there, and not down here helping me. Some friend, honestly,” she sighs and shrugs.

I don’t think that’s anyway to treat a friend, but I guess it’s expected that friendship amongst Youkai comes across as constant insults to each other. Actually, that sounds more like what you’d say about people like the British. Are the Japanese actually like that, but I’ve only met civil people until now? I’ll have to ask the history teacher.

We keep moving for some time after that. The sheer size of the mountain cannot be appreciated until you have to walk a contour of it. It’s felt like hours that we’ve been walking from one side to the other, now. I can tell that we’re deeper into the woods away from civilization, but otherwise there are no bearings anywhere that I could use. The thicker treeline hides a lot of the lower elevations like a heavy brush, the breaks and openings in the upper elevation shows the mountain becoming steeper on this side, almost more like rock cliffs in places, but nothing to pinpoint where I might be.

Cirno and Chen have also stopped talking, now just waiting for anything to come up and maybe even get in a fight with it. Nitori is still not exactly fine with me, and doesn’t want to open up into conversation. The only sounds present are the footsteps of our group and the woodland creatures scuttling to and fro on their mid afternoon adventures. No more signs of the tengu, and more importantly, still no sight of any yamawaro.

“Hey, idiot, we’re in their woods, now. Stay sharp,” Nitori warns after spotting something on a tree ahead. As we get closer, it’s obvious to see that a sign was left here. No, literally, a cut and painted wooden sign hung from a branch by some rope. It uses yellow and black paint on a roundish cut to make itself present from the trees and other foliage.

On it, it reads: Abandon hope, all ye who enter. This place is fit only for the clever and strategic, all incompetents shall be routed and purged from the land.

That’s pretty corny. I hope I’ll see another sign that says “might makes right” just to be sure that they’re joking with these. No, before that, are there other signs? I look from where we’re at by the sign to see if I can’t spot any other blotches of yellow amidst the sea of green and brown. This must be the warning sign for anyone coming in, they can’t just leave gaps where you can’t spot them. I can’t spot any others, though. This sign seems to be only slightly weathered, too, so I doubt other signs were knocked from their perches.

I lift the sign to inspect it a bit more, but Nitori yanks my arm from it faster than I notice her coming up to me. She looks a bit frantic, asking, “What the hell are you thinking?! Don’t just go touching their stuff! They’re even more finicky about stuff than kappa. Anything out of place and they’ll know somebody’s around.”

“But aren’t we trying to find them?” I argue.

“Their home, not a patrol sweep, you dolt.”

Cirno speaks up to ask, “I thought we’re already in their home?”

“Not yet,” Nitori answers the fairy, lowering her voice below the din of the forest breeze. “We want to be at their gate. If you can read that sign, then you know they don’t like trespassers, but they also get stupid about people at their front door. Something like ‘anyone at the gate must be clever to get past the guards.’”

“Blaming your own incompetence on the other guy being too good. A tale as old as time itself,” I joke.

“Enough, if we keep sitting around here we’ll get caught before we even see the gate,” Nitori states while ducking behind the tree. “Follow my exact step, now.”

Cirno takes a stride without any care, hardly even paying attention to her path. I on the other hand take Nitori to her word and try to match my steps to hers. An awkward endeavor for a man head and shoulders above the small lady.

Some distance in the sounds of wildlife calm down. The area feels a little empty without the sound of movement. Well, it would, if the sound of movement now wasn’t so unnerving. I’m the only one who has no idea how far out we still have to go, apparently. That also means I’m the only one who doesn’t know how likely nearby movement is the yamawaro protecting their stake of land. I work my best to ignore the distractions and keep following Nitori’s steps.

That is, before I hear a click underfoot.

My body halts every motion into a rigid lock before my brain even processes what’s happened. I get as far as internalizing the sound to be metallic before something wraps around my ankle and jolts me straight upward. The movement is so heavy that for a brief moment I wonder if I’m going to flip, but that’s ruined by the continued yank tearing my leg off of me.

“GAH!” I cry from the pain in my somehow still socketed leg. I don’t even notice my bag falling off my shoulders, though it’s no surprise when you’re upside down in a rope snare.

“GYAAH!” Nitori’s voice echoes my cry. Wait, why is she–? Ran’s threat, right.

The three girls (or rather two and one cat) gather around my limp body, hung like wet laundry. With the way my other leg dangles, I certainly feel like it. Nitori wastes no time fidgeting a few straps on her backpack to get the mechanical arms moving again. This time one comes out with a pair of shears… somehow. I’m not gonna bother questioning that damn thing until someone tells me to.

A swift slice of the rope releases me to the inevitability of gravity. It’s not a long fall, but gods does landing headfirst fucking hurt.

“Come on, you’re not down yet,” Cirno tells me while she gives me a hand up, amidst my grunts of frustration, anyway.

Nitori scans the immediate area in a cold sweat, evaluating the situation, “Crap, we gotta get outta here before they show up. There’s no way they didn’t hear tha–“

“Oh I heard that, alright,” A new, rough voice says from behind the tree closest to Nitori. The kappa hops from the spot, but can’t outrun the arm that snags her waist.

Now carrying Nitori underarm like a sack, a woman has emerged from her cover. Long fluffy green hair almost matching the brush and her own camo attire. This must be one of the yamawaro. Which is not a good thing right this very second.

In fact, this is pretty bad, huh?

“How nice it is to see you, Nitori. Why don’t you introduce me to your friends who you thought you would sneak in with?” she asks of her sandbag.

No one decides to speak up against the woman. Nitori sure as hell doesn’t want to dig herself deeper than she already is. The yamawaro continues to speak, “Oh! Perhaps you want your privacy? My who would I be to intrude on that?”

When no one continues to say anything, she stomps a foot down, losing her cool. Carrying her momentum she lifts Nitori above herself before driving the kappa back into the ground by her stomach. The backpack doesn’t seem to offer much cushion for Nitori with how much wind gets knocked out of her. The yamawaro keeps a foot planted on the girl in an assertion of dominance.

“Care to talk now? Or do you want me to really tear into you?” she says in barely contained rage. “Can’t say I care about the fairy or the cat, but him? What the hell are you doing bringing him here?”

Nitori catches her breath and squeaks out, “He’s the one that wanted to come here, that bastard. Now get off of me, Takane.”

Takane obliges. Then she guns right for me. Nitori catches her leg, and Cirno stands in between us with an icicle raised. I’m surprised at how on page Cirno is.

“Alright, fine. Talk first. Bastard, why are you here?” she directs to me.

Tell her that Cirno wished to fight the yamawaro and that I am still observing her. It’ll work.

“Uh.” Thinking about it again it seems pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Oh well. “I was following the fairy?” I answer without the confidence I was hoping for.

“Wait, what?” Cirno looks back to me, mystified. “I came with you, though?”

“Don’t play games,” Takane commands with frustration. I don’t like how this is turning out yet. In fact, I’m not sure how much room there is for this to get worse.

“Aren’t we all just playing games, turtle?” Chen muses comfortably from Cirno’s arm.

Oh no.

“What did you just–?! Wait, a nekomata?”

Chen hops from Cirno and transforms back into human form, looking mighty cocky.

Takane takes a moment to recognize the girl, and says, “Well, not just any nekomata. The cat of the great bitch sage herself. Nitori, I’m gonna throttle you after this.”

“Like anyone couldn’t find your little hidey hole? You can’t even hide in the trees right, so come on out already,” Chen looks off to the side.

Yamawaro suddenly sprout from every surrounding tree, somehow getting here without notice. Or I guess without me noticing, anyway. They’re all holding various weaponry, even ridiculous things like throwing stars or caltrops. So far my takeaway is that they don’t appreciate visitors.

“For a Yakumo to come into our area,” Takane starts, but Chen holds up a hand to subdue the tirade.

“I don’t have my master’s name,” Chen simply states with a horrible smugness.

Takane appears taken aback for a second, but quickly goes back to her previous red hot rage, and almost yells, “You know what, I don’t even care about the terms. Get the hells out of our woods!”

Chen doesn’t back down in the slightest, rising to the opponent. “If you’re not gonna follow the rules, then I don’t need to either. Actually, Lady Ran doesn’t need to, either. Not against you lesser beings,” she states outright haughtily.

Takane produces a dagger from her garb, pointing it at Chen. Everyone present tenses up. I can’t think of any way I can deescalate the situation. I’ll admit, I was hoping to feel a little more charismatic than this. I was also betting on them being a bit more amicable to offers, or talking of any kind.

“The hell do you think you are, coming here just insulting us like it doesn’t mean shit?” Takane growls.

“Better than you,” Chen says with a smile. “In fact, the idiots I came with are better than your idiots. We would easily beat you at your little war games.”

Takane doesn’t talk for a few moments, only scowls between Cirno and I, Nitori, and her own people.

Then she laughs, “Okay, you know what.”

Takane lunges, and the knife goes from threatening weapon to deadly projectile before I could blink. Chen easily moves out of the way, but it sticks into the tree right next to my head. Everyone moves on like nothing happened.

“Hold onto that knife for me to win it back. Your squad versus mine. You win, I rip the fucking contract apart in front of the dumb fox herself. We win, you get outta here, and never ask for payment ever again. EVER. Yeah?” Takane says holding her hand out with a look that could kill.

“H-hang on. How much prep time are we getting?” I ask in concern. This entire venture has gotten well out of hand. At least we’re getting somewhere, though.

Chen looks at Takane, stating, “One week.”

With a nod from Takane, Chen gives her a hard handshake. Their grips look tight enough to break a normal human’s hand. Their glares a piercing cold.

After they release their strangle, Takane waves off the reinforcements.

“So… we’re fighting the yamawaro?” Cirno asks. She hops into a float to grab the dagger embedded in a tree, but struggles with the weapon. I nudge her over to give it a try and also end up unable to pull it.

“...Everything myself,” Chen mutters from behind, and yanks the dagger out, taking a chunk of the tree with it. She holds onto it by the natural sheathe, returning to Takane.

I grab my things and follow behind everyone else. Well, first I grab Nitori off the ground, ignoring her comments against it. She must have thought she could stay out of this if she lied on the ground the whole time.

And with that, we’re off to the yamawaro village. It only took pissing off everyone to do so.

Now what to do when I’m freed up inside?

[x] Train? I mean, I guess we’re fighting them or something. Wait am I included as part of that?

[x] Maybe a bit of shopping. Didn’t bring a ton of money, but it should help them not hate me if I spend a bit.

[x] What else would the yamawaro do? (write-in)
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[x] Maybe a bit of shopping. Didn’t bring a ton of money, but it should help them not hate me if I spend a bit.

A turtle, a fairy, a cat, and a teacher walk into a monkey den.

The foot is in the door, might as well put the rest through by buying something.

Don't know if Regis can help out much in the war game, whether it be some capture-the-flag or elimination thing. The only thought I have for that so far is Takane seems hot-headed, so she might be susceptible to being enraged into a trap.
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[x] Train? I mean, I guess we’re fighting them or something. Wait am I included as part of that?
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Alright, here's how I'm gonna do this. I'll coinflip. If anyone tie breaks the vote within twelve hours, I'll follow that. Heads for shopping trip!
Coin flip: heads!
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[x] Maybe a bit of shopping. Didn’t bring a ton of money, but it should help them not hate me if I spend a bit.

I’m feeling out this bunk I’m stuck with for the week, but it’s no more comfortable than the ringing in my ears. A gift from Takane before releasing us. I didn’t dare check my watch while we were in her personal tent, so I don’t know how long she was actually lashing us for.

What I do know is the terms of the next week. Mainly, that I’m stuck here in the camp because Chen really pissed Takane off. Other than that, I’m pretty free to do as I wish. We were given bunks in one of the barracks tents, I can explore the surrounding owned arena for training, and can even request amenities from the quartermaster. Extremely lenient, considering they didn’t want any of us in the first place.

The accommodations lead me to believe the yamawaro aren’t as mean as they might seem. Takane herself is a pretty good example. Get her mad and she’s meaner than an attack dog, but that’s just a persona. Like she read the screenplay to Full Metal Jacket and just attempts to emulate American drill sergeants. It feels like she has people’s interests in mind. She brought us here, after all. I do wonder how much she was raising the challenge and how much she understood that we would have come back if she sent us away.

Dealing with people being stupid and ridiculous for no reason is something I can sympathize being short about. I have over a decade of experience in the matter. I can’t give her too much credit, though. She did still throw a knife next to my head. That being said maybe I can talk to her in better terms now, somehow. I don’t remember if I had the balls to say anything other than “yes sir” to my drill instructor in the army, even in casual settings.

Letting my thoughts drift away for a bit, my senses return to the barracks, now without my own companions. I don’t feel immediate danger since Takane told me the yamawaro have a nonviolence pact inside their camp, but I still feel a bit nervous to once again be in unfamiliar territory. Not to mention the heavy usage of military decorum. Canvas beds, a massive barracks tent with footlockers, the works. The sound of a squad running the perimeter of the camp makes a nice metronome behind the chatter of the idle people elsewhere.

Actually, what is that chatter? It seems to be coming from one direction around the center of the camp. The yamawaro must gather for something at this time. I get myself off of the cot and wander out of the tent. The green tarps lining the trees make sure the evening light doesn’t break into the canopy. Well trodden dirt trails wind around the regular forestry and thickens in the direction of the commotion.

Gathering they are, as a few more of the fatigue clad youkai pass me with less than trustful looks as I arrive to a complete congregation. The yamawaro have set up all sorts of tarps along the grounds with assortments of wares and money exchanging hands. It seems that I’ve walked into a sort of bazaar of military nuts.

There is no order to how everyone moves around, but seeing it head and shoulders above the crowd makes them all look like an ant colony. Some move from mat to mat window shopping the various weaponry, tools, and other metal knick knacks that litter the ground.

I join the window shoppers, wandering the lantern lit grounds filled with that farm market energy. Here and there people crowd around but with it all on the ground I can’t tell what they’re so invested in. Less populated booths hold paraphernalia like the stereotypical weapons of ninja. In fact, a lot of booths hold such a selection. Throwing stars, thrown daggers, pellets I assume are bombs, and short blades. It seems to be a favorite for them with how much variety to these odd tools there are. The fringes of the lot don’t have very many people, the sellers on their mats are the only ones dotting the area.

I wander through this underpopulated section away from the hustle and bustle of the rest. The items on display here are vastly different in nature. Larger weaponry like swords, axes, and even one halberd. Basic items that would normally be considered simple necessities like canteens. Small tools meant for every day purposes like knives or cleaning kits.

The things go on and on, to the point that even if I did want to buy something I wouldn’t know what would be appropriate.

“There’s quite a lot here, huh?” I hear from behind me.

Nitori snuck up behind me at some point. She also came out here looking at stuff on display.

“Hey, Nitori,” I greet. “Yeah, there’s a lot around here. I’m not sure what I should get.”

She gives me a queer look and crossed arms when asking, “Why do you say that like you’re forced to buy something?”

“Ah, well…” I fumble with my thoughts a bit. I only have a rough idea of what I plan to do while I’m here for the week, and I don’t have any confidence that I can get what I need for the research. I respond to Nitori, “I was hoping that buying something might put me in some kind of better graces with the yamawaro, I suppose.”

Nitori shakes her head with a disappointed sigh, and says, “You must not be looking at the same Youkai. The ones I see here are all obsessed with weaponry like children with toys. They couldn’t care less about the buying and selling so long as it nets them some shiny piece of metal that they can use in their game. Even those selling here are just doing so to get enough scrounge for a different weapon than they sell.”

A yamawaro next to us speaks up from her selling mat, “Those are some bold words to say right in the middle of the camp.”

“Oh come on, you know everything I said is true. You all barely function outside of mercantilism and your little survival games. You even draw straws for who has to do the chores in camp,” Nitori now argues with the straight haired yamawaro tending to a display of tool belt items.

“At least we fend for ourselves. You all come to us just to set up stalls. You can’t even price your goods without us!” the yamawaro now retaliates.

“Hey, let’s not do this,” I try to talk in between the two. It doesn’t work, obviously.

“Coming from one of the idiots that won’t even try to develop their products past ‘sharp’ and ‘shiny.’” Nitori continues her end of the assault.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize we cared to make revenue instead of tinkering all day for no realistic output period,” the yamawaro gets up to say. The two are right against each other, seeing who would take the first swing.

“Hang on, hang on,” I nearly shout when pulling them apart. “What is this about product development and pricing? You can’t seriously have bad blood just for that, can you?”

They break their death stares to address my question, staying deep in thought of their response.

“Well…” the yamawaro says.

“It’s…” Nitori stammers.

“They just rub me the wrong way,” the two respond in unison. The opposite’s response doesn’t go unnoticed, and they return to their kill glares thereafter.

I can’t help but sigh myself now. It’s hard to count how many times I’ve seen bad family issues come from the pettiest things. It’s even worse here, since they’re working togetherf, it seems. Maybe it’s best to just not bother with it.

I decide to ignore the rest of their bickering, like everyone else is, and instead peruse the tarp. There’s plenty here, just like everywhere else. A tape measure here, a stud finder there. Wait why would they use a stud finder? Nah, I’m just moving past that.

One piece in particular catches my eye. A knife, perhaps a switchblade no longer than the length of my index finger. A bit heavy on its coil but otherwise pretty usable.

“Excuse me, is this piece for sale?” I ask the girl busy with her argument.

She pauses her next line of insults to look at what I have, and instantly swaps to a cheery tone to say, “Why, yes, of course it is. Why this piece, if I may ask?”

Nitori looks on with more interest in the yamawaro as I say, “I’ve never had one of these, but I think it would be useful with how much I’m outside lately.”

The mundane response lightens the tension in the air a bit. Nitori scowls a bit but leaves it at that and flaps an arm as she leaves. The yamawaro is all too happy to do business, and forgets about her argument when describing the different pieces of the knife. Specifically she was proud of personally putting a gradient of hatching into the handle as a bit of flair to an otherwise simple piece. Apparently the belt clip was added as an afterthought, so I hope that doesn’t come up later.

With my purchase made, I get a bright smile from the yamawaro as I wander off again to find my companion. A few of the other locals shoot me some odd looks but point me in the direction of the kappa.

Nitori seems to have found herself at an unoccupied workbench, checking a few different tools I’d assume came from her backpack. The evening’s fully set in, but that doesn’t seem to stop her from inspecting pieces for wear or oiling the mechanisms with free motion to them. Especially those weird ass arms.

“Well, are you gonna say anything? That knife looks tacky on your brown pants, by the way,” she eventually acknowledges me.

“Would you like me to say that you act your apparent age?” I jest.

This gets a pitched snort out of her before she responds, “Ah, whatever. At least I’m not the idiot that thinks that buying something will make business owners like him.”

I’d like to continue the banter, but something else is still on my mind, to which I ask, “Where’d Cirno and Chen go?”

“The fairy and her cat? Out into the woods. Looking at the training grounds, I guess. Silly stuff, if you ask me. Everyone here thinks that their little game is so cool, but really they just go out into the woods and make themselves look like fools,” Nitori claims while she continues to perform her maintenance.

“It’s like a survival game, yeah? I’ve heard a little bit about those before. Though in the outside world we mainly use fake firearms like a military simulation.”

“Same here,” Nitori states, “it’s just that they also have their old tools around, still.”

“You don’t mean to tell me they use airsoft guns.”

“Yup, that’s exactly what I’m saying,” Nitori claims while stuffing a few pieces back into her sack. “A couple years ago one of those idiots got a hold of one of those fake guns, and it took off since. Basically don’t hurt them, and still have most of the velocity of a real gun. I’m always bugged that they barely change up the way they make things. It’s always the exact same mechanism as what they originally found. Stupid to do it like that, if you ask me.”

I think on her words for a moment before asking “So the kappa develop stuff while the yamawaro do all of the business end, effectively?”

“Screw off, they don’t do all of the business end.”

“So most of it?”

“Ugh,” she grunts and slings her pack back over her shoulders.

“Seriously, though,” I persist, “why don’t they like their cousins and why don’t they want to talk with outsiders even though they already do business with them?”

Nitori takes a glance around to make sure we’re alone this time before she says, “Because they’re idiots. They like to act like they’re in their own corner of the world without having to worry about anyone else. Why else are they all the way here on the back of the fucking mountain? Even the tengu don’t care to check up on them since they’re so out of the way.”

“So what? They’re reclusive, I get it. Doesn’t mean they can’t be nice.”

“Are you nice?” Nitori cocks an eyebrow my way with her question.

“Shut up, I’m nice,” I reply a bit offended.

She rolls her eyes very emphatically before continuing, “Think what you want, but there’s still other stuff to worry about. For example…” she walks up to me and puts a finger straight to my gut, “what are you gonna do about that challenge? I’m obviously here for it. Would be funny to put them in their place, but what do you have to gain from actually beating them in their little game?”

I think on my answer for a second, pondering the repercussions of joining, “… I suppose it would be nice to get an interview with Takane?”

Nitori lightly punches my gut now, berating me with, “Don’t call her by her first name, dumbass. She wouldn’t like that.”

“I literally don’t know her last name,” I retort through a small spit of pain.

“Yamashiro, and are you gonna join or not? I should know now before I gotta figure out what I’m doing,” Nitori says squatting down next to me.

I wipe a bit of spit and ask back, “Why would you even want me to join?”

“I don’t want you to join, but if you’ve got something to bring to the table, then I’m all ears.”

Now’s the time for me to take a moment and really think on what I’m going to be doing.

[x] Join in the festivities. Perhaps there’s something I can think of to help out. Joining may also give me some credence to the yamawaro.

[x] Abstain. I’m here to talk, and I’ll do that no matter how persistent I have to be with the residents.

[x] A more tactical approach I’m not thinking of? (write-in)

A longer than normal post followed by a slightly shorter than normal (and later than normal, thanks to Christmas) post. I had a hard time thinking of what to put up to vote, but then I realized this was a pretty obvious choice, since you all never decided to go for this side of things. Do note, abstaining or anything synonymous will not bar you from seeing Cirno cause the not turtle monkeys to slip and fall for an hour straight.
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[x] Join in the festivities. Perhaps there’s something I can think of to help out. Joining may also give me some credence to the yamawaro
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[x] Join in the festivities. Perhaps there’s something I can think of to help out. Joining may also give me some credence to the yamawaro.

When in Rome.
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[x] Join in the festivities. Perhaps there’s something I can think of to help out. Joining may also give me some credence to the yamawaro.

>Basically don’t hurt them, and still have most of the velocity of a real gun.
>most of the velocity of a real gun

There are WORDS I must say but I am too conflicted with emotions to put down.
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[x] Join in the festivities. Perhaps there’s something I can think of to help out. Joining may also give me some credence to the yamawaro.

Obviously I’ll be joining. What better way of gaining their respect is there than beating them at their own game?

I get back to my feet, and respond to Nitori’s question, “I’ll join you. I don’t know what I can help with, but I’ll help.”

She looks at me for a moment, properly sizing me up, and says, “We’ll figure some way of putting you to use. A week should be enough time.” And with that, she finishes up her maintenance, packing up her stuff to leave. I wonder if I’ve signed up for something I’m gonna hate here.

I turn in to the bunks for the night after I record my findings. There’s been a surprising amount of information I’ve gleaned from just being around the camp for one evening, so I don’t think the information gathering will take too long to do. The main issue is getting into some of the grittier questions. I need to get some kind of interview with Takane, the de facto head around here. Anyone else would be too tight lipped for questions like ‘how often do you head business operations’ or ‘is there any groupings of the population in the camp.’

There’s no way she won’t agree to meet if we win against her, but that’s so conceited to think we’ll win just because we want to. Another way may be more appropriate, even just asking would be a better venture. Now that I’m here and the yamawaro seem to at least tolerate my presence, if they know my objectives it shouldn’t be to my detriment.

Well… at least not in terms of being able to do what I’m here for. I’m sure they’ll hold against me wanting to know about their culture, probably thinking I’m some weirdass fanatic. But, if the job gets done, then I’m willing to do it.

I let my mind continue to wander for some time as I drift to sleep on the frankly small cot. Dreams, or maybe memories, of my time in the army as a mechanic stream in and out.

I wouldn’t exactly call it all pleasant, but it’s better than awaking to a trumpet call. The yamawaro awake to an honest to god trumpet call. Is that even a thing for Japanese military? I should stop questioning where they get their military knowledge, I’m sure it will only hurt my head to think about their sources.

The rest of the people in the barracks take no time at all to sling their packs on and fly out the tent flaps, with only my group lagging behind in the uptake. Cirno and Chen came back in at some point last night, but Chen still seems to not have joined us in the land of the waking, despite Cirno’s best efforts. Nitori doesn’t seem surprised by the call, probably knowing the daily routine around here, but even so she can’t seem to keep up with her cousins.

I myself only grab my canteen and new switchblade. I don’t figure I’ll need the other pieces of gear I have while I’m around.

We make sure we’re all ready, Nitori even spritzing Chen with a water gun to wake her right up. A comical sight, I’ll admit. As we scramble out of the tent in the direction of the yamawaro, a short, straight haired one I haven’t met harumphs our appearance.

“You are all too slow,” she reprimands. “All members of a platoon must be ready to move at a moment’s notice, regardless of the time.”

Nitori takes a moment to recognize the girl. “Kisu? I forgot you came over here in the summers,” She cheerfully greets the new face.

Kisu halts her fellow kappa and states, “Kawashiro, you must be ready to take life here seriously for the next week if you want to challenge Yamashiro. I’m here because I’ve been assigned as your platoon commander, and I will train you strictly. Am I understood?” she asks with higher intonation expecting an answer.

“Yes, ma’am!” I respond in nearly atrophied instinct. Cirno and Chen give me an odd look for my sudden obedience.

Kisu glares her wide forehead at the other members, and prompts, “I was asking a question, and he answered. Like you all should as well! Now again, am I understood?!”

“Yes ma’am!”
“Uhuh, sure,” Chen lamely affirms.
“Yeah!” Cirno happily declares.
“I guess?” Nitori maybe affirms.

“Ugh,” Kisu grunts. “Good enough for now, we’re holding up the rest of the company here, so let’s get back to the square.”

“… You mean the circle at the center of camp?” I can’t help but ask.

“Yes, smartass. Now put those brain cells to moving you legs, and head the squad. In a line, we’re double timing there.”

At the words double time, Chen slinks off above the trees, with Cirno following below in playful flight.

Nitori and I are left with our now fuming tiny commander, to which the kappa in blue lines up right behind me before she can get an earful. We finally start cadence to the center of camp, where the tarps have been cleared out to show even ground that some ten full platoons spread radially from. Their numbers are small, only around five people to three squads per platoon. Of course, the space under the central tarp is not quite large enough for everyone, so it’s packed real tight here.

Kisu leads us to a wedge between two platoons, where one other yamawaro awaits. We line up directly behind her to fit in the slot, where Cirno and Chen also make their appearance from the tree foliage, causing a few members in the back to jump at their sudden presence.

Takane nods to Kisu once our members are all (at least trying to mimic) standing at attention. She speaks to the company, “Alright everyone, as you can see, alpha company will include an extra squad for this week. Treat them as a separate platoon in the documents, but know that they are only a squad in size. Make sure to give them a warm welcome, everyone,” she says with a cocksure smile. I have a feeling I know where this is going…

She continues, “And with their welcome, they are now adherent to our rules, including the punishments.” Everyone preempts her next words, dropping their bags to the ground with some dismay.

“Now, since everyone thought it was fine for the new idiots to be late, fifty push ups!” she commands.

Every yamawaro outside of Takane’s central group gets into a plank with practiced speed and posture. I follow suit, only lagging behind by my body’s rusty, untrained joints. My few companions are left dumbfounded at the displayed green carpet that has taken over the square.

A few green follicles swat at them to also get down and join the exercise. Poor Nitori doesn’t think to take her backpack off, and so it comically juts upward giving a very fitting turtle-ish appearance.

“Down!” Takane yells to the company. The green carpet fluctuates as every person here dips down on their arms.

No one has trouble doing so, not even Cirno. That said, I can feel the stiff joints that haven’t had to perform such motions in years creak as I apply nonexistent muscle.

And it continues for some fifteen or more minutes. Not for me, though. I couldn’t even handle more than a minute of repetition before it felt like my ligaments would snap. Nitori surprises me, lasting a lot longer than I’d suspect for carrying her pack through the motions. I’m not quite sure if Chen and Cirno are doing the push ups, or are somehow floating to make it easier on themselves. Wait, no, they’re super strong for no reason, I forgot.

Thankfully, no one comments on my comparatively frail endurance, but I do hear a snicker or two close to me.

With everyone back to attention, Takane addresses the company once more, “With that out of the way, are there any questions before you dismiss to your duties?”

A moment of silence and the company breaks to their daily tasks. I’ll have to ask about the organization around here, as if there’s an alpha company that means there must be more.

Kisu flags us down to head out of the ‘walls.’ Really, there’s just a perimeter where the tarps have a gap that people use. I mean, I guess if it works to stop people from going in it’s just as good as a structural wall.

I’ll get my chance to try talking with people later, so for now, I should just roll along with whatever is happening here. Even if it’s training from our new leader.

“Alright, you runts!” Kisu states when we’re at an open clearing of ground, one still covered by the forest canopy. “Let’s get down to business. You all want to defeat Takane, but she’s in the leader’s squad. Simply playing around is not going to cut it! You all need to work together.”

“And why are you talking like you aren’t going to be part of it?” Chen jabs.

Kisu looks at the feline indignantly, peeved with her attitude. “Now I might be your leader and trainer while you’re here, but don’t think for a moment I intend to join you. You make up only a third of a platoon, which uses every member in a normal game, by the way, and you want to go up against the head commander. And the commander isn’t a paper pusher, in fact she sucks at that side of things. She’s the commander because she always wins her matches,” she sourly explains.

Before the others pipe up their complaints, I can’t help but latch onto a stupid and minute detail and ask, “A third?”

“I’m impressed. One of you knows numbers,” she mocks. “Look to that oddball there,” Kisu states, pointing to a pile of leaves by Nitori’s feet.

The leaves rustle, getting Nitori to take a few steps back, and unfurls..? It’s a yamawaro, thin but notably sizable, and clad in brush all along her back. Not quite enough that I’d call it a ghillie suit, as it’s focused on the back, but it does enough to conceal her skin and matted black hair when she’s perfectly still. It helps that her posture is already curled in on itself even when standing. A stark contrast to the puffed up chest and tiny frame of Kisu.

The girl, probably as tall as a yamawaro gets, speaks in a soft whine, “Haguruma, please don’t out me. I wanted to introduce myself.”

Kisu, or maybe Haguruma would be better to call her, scoffs at her cohort, “And just when were you planning to, Dasshi? After we started training and you sat there in your pile of grass?”

Dasshi slumps over a little more than before and flaccidly retorts, “I would’ve greeted them. Really. Why do you have to be so mean?”

“Well, get on with it, we’ve got training to do, and you need to act as their senior,” Kisu criticizes her maybe-not-a-friend. What did the poor girl do for this treatment?

Kisu walks off to gather some materials from a chest behind the trees while Dasshi looks over and properly greets us, with a bow, even, “H-hi. My name is, uhm, Dasshinki Tadayou.”

She fidgets nervously while we wait for her to continue talking.

Nitori instead fills the air with an “Ah! I think I’ve heard your name before. Aren’t you some older kappa? What are you doing amongst the yamawaro?”

Dasshinki crouches down on herself, and Cirno copies the position, looking to her with a mix of concern and curiosity. The bush answers, “N-no. I’m not. I’m a yamawaro– I mean now I am, I’m not saying you’re wrong!” she corrects in a fluster.

“This one’s hopeless,” Chen shrugs.

“Chen!” I retort.

“Wait that doesn’t answer my other question,” Nitori points out. The bush shrivels down a bit more, now only a shrubbery. We’ve got a bad case of lacking self confidence on our hands. Doesn’t help that she’s around people that like to act strict.

“Alright you lot, enough jabbering. Let’s get on with today’s lessons!” calls our leader.

Nitori and Chen sigh and grunt respectively, but go over to her. Cirno, on the other hand, stays seated next to Dasshinki.

It’s then that something occurs to me, “You’ve been quiet for a while, Cirno. Anything on your mind?”

She looks up to me with an innocent ponder to ask, “Are these people strong?”

I see she’s on that topic again. “Why does it matter if they’re strong?”

“If they’re strong… and I beat them… that means my strongness is better, right?”

Oh no… “Where’d you get that idea?” I groan at having to untangle her logic once more.

“Well, I’d thought about how I wanna be the strongest, but I also thought about what you were talking about. My strongness must be shown, and if I beat other people’s idea of why they want to be strong, then my idea for being strong is the stronger one!” she states, happy with her train of thought. This child always puts so much thought into something but goes astray so easily. At this rate I’ll be responsible for whatever nonsense she gets up to.

“Cirno, people can be strong for different reasons. It’s a means. No strength is greater or lesser than another even if you can beat them. Or… rather, ideas don’t have strength because of their validity, I suppose? Hm, I’d have to think on the phrasing, but hopefully my point gets across,” I explain my thoughts to her.

She silently nods, taking in my words closely, before replying, “So the thing someone wants to be strong for is not bigger or smaller, but the amount of strongness they have is based on it. Yeah, I get it, old guy.”

“No, that’s not–“

“OI! Get to training!” Haguruma shouts at us.

“Yes, ma’am,” I reply by muscle memory. “We can continue this discussion later, Cirno,” I continue as Cirno gets up to join the others.

“Uhm, uh, should I have left for this conversation?” Dasshinki nervously interjects.

“No, I think it’s fine. Did you want to talk about something, though?” I ask to the earth.

“Just… just go ahead to everyone else,” she states, continuing to meld with the ground.

Well, maybe I can ask her things at some point. She’d probably just answer questions because she couldn’t imagine not doing so. For now, though, I have to join in. Who to go with at this time?

[x] Practice trap making with Nitori and Kisu

[x] Practice movement and guerrilla combat with Chen, Cirno, and Dasshi

[x] Practice strategy and layout.

Update! What? I’m just updating here, there’s no pattern in my delays. Certainly not hoping to delay to cycle back to Monday updates. Anyway, here I realized that I needed to introduce characters since we don’t have staple yamawaro like we do staple kappa. I took liberties on how they act, so hopefully it isn’t too jarring. Of course, we’ll be here for a while yet, so I hope you like the current group. Oh, and the vote will not affect the outcome of any combats, just the flavor.

PS- sorry >>43998 I can't check everything!
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[x] Practice movement and guerrilla combat with Chen, Cirno, and Dasshi.

We've got a week, and it's probably a good idea for Tanner to shape up a little. Everything else can come after it's made sure he won't get swatted like a fly out the gate.
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[x] Practice movement and guerrilla combat with Chen, Cirno, and Dasshi
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[x] Practice movement and guerrilla combat with Chen, Cirno, and Dasshi
[x] Practice strategy and layout.

Trap-making is pretty situational and better used defensively than offensively, and Tanner would probably be able to contribute more in tactics, strategy, layout, and planning when compared to the other choices.
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[x] Practice movement and guerrilla combat with Chen, Cirno, and Dasshi

I scope out the open concept we’re holed in. Nitori and Haguruma have taken to arguing over some pieces of metal scrap and cloth, likely plotting some nefarious use that they can turn the loose ends into. Cirno and Chen have begun looking out past the clearing for somewhere else to go, Cirno also holding onto a load of sharp tools that I wouldn’t particularly trust her with. Wasn’t that battleaxe for sale at the square yesterday? Somebody actually bought that thing?

I check with the yamawaro disguised as a plant, “Hey, Tadayou, mind if I just call you Dasshinki? Who are you going to join?”

The bush produces a face, though not well with her equally overgrown bangs covering it, and she responds, “Uh… those kids look like they wanna go somewhere. I’ll… show them the grounds that everyone uses. It’s the spot that you gotta move the most, but I usually go around and fire in on it.”

I begin to ponder the implications of joining this game, and ask, “What are the rules to this survival game or whatever it’s really called? I only know that the yamawaro play it and use outside world toys for it.”

“They’re hardly toys, these tools,” she retorts, finagling a rifle from somewhere along her back. I can’t tell if it was on her back or buried as part of the bush with even more leaves, grass, and green mesh wrappings covering the whole thing. She presents it for me to get a closer look, showing it to be a lever action rifle, or whatever the airsoft equivalent would be.

“Huh, it really does look like a real gun,” I comment. In a single statement, I fully understand the problem governments outside have with hobbyist toy guns.

“Looks good, right?” Dasshinki says with some pride and joy.

I stop myself from getting off topic, “Hang on, back to my question.”

Before she answers, Cirno comes over to say, “Hey, old guy. Chen and I wanna go somewhere else to play. Those two sour idiots are too loud.”

“Ah! Uhm,” Dasshinki stammers to reply to Cirno, “f-follow me! I know somewhere you’ll like.”

She stretches from her squat back to full height, reminding me that she’s exceptionally tall for the yamawaro. Actually, from everyone I’ve met so far, she’s still comparably tall. If she stood upright she’d be around Ran’s or that Hieda servant’s height. The hunched back doesn’t seem to be from habit, as she uses her rifle for a walking stick to shuffle off, the leaves making a noticeable bristle across the ground. I’m surprised by her sudden movement, but it isn’t hard to keep up with her, only around the pace of a lax stroll for me.

Cirno floats up and around spectating Dasshinki before realizing that we’re moving slow and settling on my shoulders. Chen at some point changed to her cat form and is following above in the trees. At least I think she is, it’s hard to pinpoint want movement in the canopy is from her.

I try to return to the previous conversation, “Hey, Dasshinki, could you–“

“OH!” Dasshinki exclaims. “By the dragon, I’m sorry! You were just asking me something and I ignored it. I’m so sorry!” she says, flailing her arms in defense.

“No, it’s fine, but I would like some explanation, still,” I try to coax her to continue. Gods forbid something else distracts her before I get the information I want right now.

“Yeah, yeah…” Dasshinki trails off. “So, uh, I guess I’d better say that anything goes as long as you don’t poke someone’s eye out. It… hurts to put them back in.”

I’m going to force myself to not imagine the circumstances that caused that preamble.

She continues, “As for the game, Haguruma said it, normally two teams with full squads of around fifteen people. We’re only five, Nitori or you convincing Haguruma to join not counted.”

“Why is Haguruma not joining despite being assigned as our squad leader?” I ask.

“Why do you think I can’t convince her?” Cirno also asks.

I pause for a moment to address that question, “Cirno, I mean this in the nicest way I can when I ask: do you know how to get someone to do something for you?”

“Tell them to do it, duh,” she asserts too confidently.

“Kid, we’re gonna have words later about all this,” I retort with a barely contained groan.

“Huh? What did I say?” she responds, baffled.

“Dasshinki, please continue.”

She gives our little routine an odd look, but complies, “Where was I? Right, the rules. So we have two squads normally, and we play for a few different game types. Capture the flag, elimination, and ground hold. Want me to tell about how those work?”

“No, I think they explain themselves.”

“Right, so killing players has a bunch of things that I don’t always remember because I only use a few,” she scratches her head at the admittance. “With melee weapons we say any hold that the enemy would die if they tried to move, like a blade against the neck. But no real moves, that’s not the point of the game!” she fervently clarifies.

She carries on explaining the rules, “Next would be hitting someone with any shot object, regardless of the size. This is what almost everyone does by now, since model guns are not much louder than crossbows but with a lot of the same travel speed. Of course, bows still hold a lot of the power on the field since they’re quiet, but don’t have the charm everyone is looking for in a win.”

“Hang on,” I interrupt her, “how exactly are you using arrows that aren’t hurting people? I know that the guns use pellets instead of proper lead or iron, but are arrows blunted or something?”

She halts her steps to think through the question. “Hm,” she mutters, “I guess… well… No, it’s easier to just show you, you’ll get it.” She crouches by a nearby tree and from a crook under the roots pulls out a chest, somewhat dilapidated and worn, and from it pulls an arrow. The arrow is presented to me, and I can see what she means. It is constructed the same, but the head is shaped quite differently, instead of the triangular point it’s been given a small semi-circular bar attached to the front. A nifty solution compared to blunting the end of a normal arrow, though I’m sure the aerodynamics would disagree on the potency.

Dasshinki explains in a bit of ad nauseam how traps are ruled in all of this. Not all traps are made equal, after all. So a properly set spike pit trap (where the spikes are laid flat against the ground) would be a kill while a rope catch like I got hooked in before wouldn’t. Dasshinki showed me her personal affects have some fun little plates of twined twigs strung together in a mat that she places on branches around her hiding spots. Since they’re so flimsy they make great slipping hazards to anyone moving around.

I’ll have to keep that item in mind, since they are a lot like what Cirno talked about with making the field unplayable. The yamawaro are under constant abuse, aren’t they?

We stop our walk a few paces after finishing, and Dasshinki points over to a chaotic looking ground. The trees are slightly larger here, raising the canopy. Or maybe they’re not really larger, on closer look the roots seem to have surfaced and grown thick to accommodate, leaving the ground labyrinthine to navigate through, while the branches are raised higher in suit. Overall the area is the size of my high school's football field.

“That’s what you were talking about with people moving through the area, right?” I ask just to verify.

“Uhuh, it’s popular to skirmish through, and the clear line of trees out from the area usually draws spectators. I thought the fae and her cat would want to run around it.”

Cirno hops down from my shoulders, studying the area with a content grin. She looks over to thank our bush friend, but Chen hops atop her head, sitting in cat form, to interrupt.

“I am not this fairy’s cat. Do not think I’m that weak, you pile of garbage,” she spits with rounded back ears.

“I-I’m sorry,” Dasshinki cries, using her rifle to shield her body form the diminutive cat.

Oh, Chen. She’s been pretty out of line this whole time. I think it’s time to reign her in before she does something really stupid.

Knowing everything about my position here, her, her master, and some history about Youkai, I take the stupid and ballsy approach. I pick her up by the scruff of her neck. Her eyes go wide in shock at the situation.

“What in the hell do you think you’re doing, human?” she asks with a revile normally attributed to a staff sergeant. She attempts to turn her head toward me, however my hold does not leave her the leverage to do so. I turn my hand to let her face me.

“Human..?” Dasshinki picks out.

I’ve learned at this point that Youkai love to talk a big game, but if you really know your position in things, then you can put your foot down to some of their nonsense. And so I tell Chen, “You’ve been acting like a playground bully, pushing the yamawaro around like it means nothing. I need them to be willing to talk to me. Now cut the shit.”

She stares straight through me, eyes outright lines, and her ears unable to go further back than they are. I keep my gaze firm. Even a Pug can act like a bigger dog when it wants to. All I need to do is show that I’m stupid or crazy enough to not fear the dangerous animals around me. I’m effectively holding a rabid animal right now, so I’m already there.

Chen puffs from my bullheadedness, and decides to change back to human form to talk, “You’re seriously ordering me? Are you my master?”

“No, but just because the fox is out doesn’t mean the cat gets to play how she wants. At least not how you have been. So I’m bringing this up before it becomes a bigger problem down the line,” I retort.

“Like you can control me,” Chen jeers.

“I mean,” I begin to bluff, “I could certainly forfeit the game in favor of getting an interview with Yamashiro, or I could leave and grab Ran since you’re being disruptive to my work, or I could even sit you down for several hours to lecture you on the finer points of not being an ass. I have a few ideas.”

“You don’t fool me, none of those would work,” she calls.

“Care to test that hypothesis?”

She narrows her gaze to spot any tell I give off, but then breaks to contemplate how realistic each idea might be.

A couple of moments later, she relents, “Alright, fine. Be nicer to the shut in weapon nuts. You’d better be ready to help out with the game, though.”

“My brain’s already running through the scenario. Besides, that’s why Dasshinki brought us out here. To train, right?” I ask to the noticeably silent yamawaro, standing a bit estranged from the conversation.

“R-right, but should I have heard all of that? I mean, I thought you were a tengu,” she comments.

This tengu joke is getting old now. Maybe I should consider buying a yukata, or the puffy work clothes the farmers use.

“It’s fine,” I insist. “Let’s just get started already. Run through this maze of tree roots, right?”

“Well… yes. I mean, you’ll be shot at, though,” Dasshinki states, brandishing her airsoft gun. “I don’t want to surprise you while you’re running, so, uhm… sorry!”

Before I can react she flips her weapon to a firing position and quickly fires off a few shots right at Chen and I in point blank. Now, let me tell you, plastic bb’s don’t really hurt, they sting sure, but they don’t hurt. What she just fired, however, fucking hurt a lot. I think I misjudged what was being used out here, as it’s probably not airsoft, but older style bb guns that use small iron or lead ball bearings.

Between it and a paintball, I’m not sure which feels worse hitting my gut. At least on a real battlefield the fear for your life kicks in some adrenaline so you stop caring about bullets catching your limbs. Meanwhile, my gut feels like it’ll have a welted bruise when I check, and the safety of the situation leaves me depressively aware.

“I’m sorry! I thought you were a tengu before, so it wouldn’t really hurt so bad. That didn’t leave anything permanent on you, did it?!” Dasshinki says fidgeting around me to get a look.

I notice Chen was caught a bit more surprised that the model gun has an impact, and hear her rasping something between a meow and a groan. The third shot must have been meant for Cirno, who is… Where is she?

Dasshinki notices my search and points into the roots where an ice fairy lies with hands grasping at her back. Seems she got hit after all… Which is impressive since there are a lot of roots covering her position. Oh what have I signed up for.

“I like that kid, she knows to get to business and doesn’t really care for discussion,” Dasshinki comments looking at the fairy staggering back up. She then walks off to a root above the rest and settles into a crouched position for firing, calling out, “Chen, please avoid my shots and move back and forth through the area. Tanner, try and catch Cirno, I’ll shoot at you once in a while. Cirno, avoid being caught, of course.”

And with a warning shot, the three of us start to get moving. Cirno having a giddy time moving through the jungle gym with ease, occasionally dodging a pellet or my advance. Chen quickly dips through the area back and forth, barely dodging shots that Dasshinki puts her way. What’s really incredible is how much the shots have to be led to hit Chen, but Dasshinki almost gets them spot on whenever I see their trades.

I, on the other hand, have a lot of work do to. My agility is nonexistent, I can hardly move out of the way of the stray shot that comes for me, and I can’t even figure out how Cirno is moving to be able to catch her. I’d have hoped watching her and Chen play gave me some idea, but it just isn’t so.

A complete morning and some odd was just spent in this tiring environment. By the time we stop I’m ready to just collapse from exhaustion. I couldn’t even lay a finger on Cirno and I’m dozens of sore spots richer from the lead pellets hitting me.

But, with our first training over, it’s time to weed my way into other things. Maybe…

[x] Learn the business side of things yamawaro. Someone should be willing to talk to me about it.

[x] Sift out information of how other yamawaro play the (not) airsoft games.

[x] Perhaps I can find something else that could help with the job or in winning the game (write-in).

All, the continued existence of Dasshi makes me happy since I don't have any truly meek characters in later parts of the story. Please enjoy your time with this bush that wants to shoot you in the face.
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[x] Learn the business side of things yamawaro. Someone should be willing to talk to me about it.

Still have our own task to worry about as well.

Also up to about halfway through the post I've been imagining Dasshi as similar to Miyu from Blue Archive.

Also don't be afraid to poke in the discord/matrix for any airsoft questions. Whether it be the guns themselves or the games.
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[x] Learn the business side of things yamawaro. Someone should be willing to talk to me about it.

Perhaps ice statues could be laid around to distract during the match.
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[x] Learn the business side of things yamawaro. Someone should be willing to talk to me about it.

I set my tray down at an open spot along the long and low table stretching the mess hall. The cooking happens outside the tent, but the serving and tables are all inside one barracks tent. It’s quite neat, truth be told. Everything is kept quite clean, and even if the serving stations are a mishmash of refurbished outside world lunchroom modules from gods know when things still look orderly.

I on the other hand feel like a pile of garbage sitting down. After Dasshinki’s assault I think I’ll look like an overused target practice sheet. Can’t wait for all of the dark spots I’ll find in the morning. That doesn’t even cover how tired I am after running like a maniac all morning. I’m happy Cirno enjoyed herself and all since I brought her as an excuse, but damn does she have endless energy.

Mine is very much at its end. This food doesn’t look like it’ll keep me, either. Some chunks of maybe potato and a small bowl of rice porridge. After the first bite of each I can hardly find the will to care for eating. It’s tasteless enough that I hope for the yamawaro’s sake they keep kitchen duty on a rotational roster.

Looking to the other groups around, much of the same mood persists. At first there was a lot of openly curious eyes looking my way, but now everyone looks amongst each other, fatigue from the morning work and training settling in. Maybe they’re seeing who’s brave enough to complain to the cooks about the dishes.

“How’s today’s food?” someone asks me from across the table.

My head whips to my new company. It’s a voice I recognize but not as one of my teammates. It’s Takane, looking stern and sharp. It seems to be her normal mode. She’s decided to come right over to me for some unforeseeable reason.

Now this is partly good, since I wanted to go find her. It’s also probably bad because I have no idea why she would come find me.

I consider the atmosphere around us, and try to lighten the mood when answering her question, “It’s perfect prisoner food. Just the right amount of bland hopelessness seethed in.”

A few eyes prick my way, hardly believing what they just heard. Wait I know this setup…

Takane rubs her wrist, looking agitated, maybe even hurt. She perks back up to say, “Well I’m sorry my cooking isn’t to your liking, oh esteemed bastard. Maybe you’d prefer birdseed instead?”

Oh for– “Takane, I’m not a tengu! Is my way of dressing seriously that weird?!”

Her scowl freezes in place. “Huh? What?” is her only perplexed statement. You can see the cogs turning as she tries to catch up with what I just said. Finally, she states, “You’re not a tengu?”

“That’s what I just said,” I reply exasperated.

“But you dress like one?” she asks pointing to my (admittedly dirty) buttoned shirt and khakis.

“That’s what everyone tells me.”

“So then what are you?” she continues asking, not quite getting the picture.

“Human. Researcher. Name’s Tanner Regis.”

Takane bounces a finger through the points, trying to find where she went wrong earlier. She brings a palm to her forehead with a forlorn sigh, “I assumed you were one of the idiots with the tengu village coming down for an audit of some kind. It takes forever to drive those assholes out.”

“You treat auditors that way?” I can’t help but drive the point.

“No, no… it’s more like they’re not our auditors. They just think they are. It’s a pain in the ass since if anything they’re on our bankroll. Not like newspapers and holing up in your community makes money,” she explains collapsing into the seat across from mine. It seems having caught each other on the wrong end of some simple conversation brings us equal ground today.

“And don’t think I wasn’t paying attention to what you just said!” she exclaims, regaining some energy, but reigns herself back in after. “There’s a ton I should be asking about why a human decided to haul himself all the way out here, with that company, no less, but let’s stick to that part where you said you’re a researcher. What are you researching out here?” she asks almost pleasantly. It’s not the right tone for a casual conversation, it’s definitely her needling for information to leverage against me or my group.

I think of any excuse I could come up with right now. Any lie about my work isn’t going to hold water long.

As such, I remain quiet for a few moments. The others in the mess calmly file out, fleeing from however this interrogation ends up going.

Takane postures up when breaking the silence, “It’s fine. I can already guess someone wants to know what we’re all doing out here. Let me give you something easier: are you under orders of the Yakumo?”

I can see why she’d ask, since I came with Chen in tow.

“No,” I answer. Thankfully it’s been left to a yes or no, since having to put any detail on how I know Chen would only lead to fibbing or put me in further suspicion.

She nods, not necessarily in belief, but as courtesy. “I’ll keep that answer in mind,” is what she says. It must be easy for her to tell that I’m holding in a lot of information with such a simple answer.

The area’s cleaned out by now. I suddenly find myself having a private conversation with the head yamawaro. Now I need to figure out how I’ll bargain for information from her. She knows why I’m here, that cat’s out of the bag, but I don’t know what she wants. Problem after problem, but I can only tackle one thing at a time. A few more moments pass as I weigh my

Takane’s keen gaze softens a bit as she continues to speak, “You’re something else, looking so slack jawed right in front of something able to put you down. You know what, I think you’ve put me in a good mood. Seeing a human acting this foolhardy even associating with creatures that can kill him… it reminds me that Youkai are supposed to be big and bad. Something to keep human children in bed at night instead of wandering the mountains. Much like you’re doing right now.”

I don’t like the somewhat distant tone she’s taking, I’m not sure how to parse it. “Where are you going with this?” I ask.

She returns from whatever daydream she’s having, sharpening back out to reply, “Nowhere, just having a moment of rest from all the hard attitude. I only do it to keep everyone’s morale up, you know. Not that they’d believe it if you told them,” she chuckles.

I scratch at my chin a bit. “Huh, gotta say it feels strange being on the receiving end of someone’s stream of thought,” I comment.

“Well, lemme stop boring you and say something that’ll pique your interest. A trade.”

“A trade?”

“Yup. I’m not the best of my people, but I am still a businesswoman. So I want to have some fun with a stranger and stake him an interesting deal: you ask me any one thing, and I ask you any one thing in return. It is information you want, right?” she asks, wearing a face telling that she feels a wild abandon at the proposal.

An interesting one it is, I get any piece of information I want, and she gets hers. But to be able to ask anything at all, that’s much more like a game. One with dangerous implications. She could ask me about how I know the Yakumos. She could be cheeky and ask me for all of the details I’ve learned so far in my research. What worries me is if I don’t know or don’t want to give the information…

Takane’s stare breaks as the tent flaps open from the corner of my eye. Nitori comes marching over… on the opposite side, where she takes a seat next to her rival. To say stupefied would not illustrate the level of confusion on Takane’s face right now.

I decide it’s up to me to break the ice as both of them grumpily sit around, “Hey, Nitori. What’s going on?”

The kappa looks right at me and says, “I’m making your life hard, that’s what’s going on.”

I see she still hasn’t forgiven me for the whole threatening her business thing, nor Ran’s ultimatum of protecting me.

Takane gathers her wits to mount a defense to our conversation against this intruder, “And just what the hell do you think you’re doing here you damn munchkin? Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something?!”

Yes, indeed. Well said. So very eloquent. I’m sure being rude to the nosy person will convince them that we’re not talking about anything interesting.

Nitori looks over to her green fellow, and replies, “Takane.”


“Don’t talk to this jerk off. He’s really not worth the time.”

I take reproach to this, “And here I thought we were starting to be friendly.”

They ignore my commentary, moving through their own conversation. “And you think I’m just going to listen to your opinion because why exactly?” Takane questions.

Nitori stifles a curse, choosing her words carefully, “Maybe because I have reason to not trust this guy?”

“So that means I gotta follow your reasons? As if,” Takane objects.

“Well, no. I mean that I’m thinking about what would be to your benefit,” Nitori fervently argues.

“Like you ever want what’s in my benefit, Nitori,” Takane retorts.

“That is not what I said and you know it!”

“Like it matters what you say! You’re always getting in my way like some gnat!”

“I’m just going to excuse myself…” I attempt a polite retreat.

“STAY THERE!” they shout in unison. My spine crawls at the blood in their voices. I amply sit back down, praying to the dragon himself that I’ll be out of here soon.

Takane takes the initiative. “You know what?!” she exclaims getting up from her seat and stepping over the low table. “I’m gonna do what I want, and it’s what you’re telling me not to do, so you’re just gonna have to live with it!”

She yanks me by the shoulder from my seat and shoves me over to an exit of the tent. After we walk out, she exchanges eye contact with Nitori that could outright generate sparks before she lowers the tent flap.

I feel like I’ve witnessed a spat between two teenage sisters…

Actually, on that matter… “Uhm, Takane?”

“Call me Yamashiro, damnit,” she states with level agression.

“Yes, ma’am,” I say, cowering behind the safety of obedience.

“And ask your question already!” she says perturbed.

“Ah, right, so… uhm. May I ask what that was about?”

“You’re just as bad as she is…” she comments, walking off. A few paces away she signals me to follow.

As we’re walking to… somewhere she says, “Here’s a better deal for you, don’t ask around with that question and I’ll tell you about some of the yamawaro principles and junk. Deal?”

It’s not much to consider. “Deal,” I reply with confidence.

And let me tell you, there are a lot of principles. The next portion of my day is getting a full briefing on everything they do. And I mean everything.

So, the structure of the yamawaro is all about cross pollination. Everybody has every job on a weekly shift. The people doing the janitorial stuff around the camp and in the play field one week will be making direct decisions on contracts the next and vice versa. Other such roles include those working in the manufacturing areas, on site management for their businesses, and even the facilitators for the play field on noncompetitive games. Takane says this is actually a pretty old practice for them to balance their sort of work and play.

It’s only within the last several years that knowledge of outside world military divisions and stories of them drifted into Gensokyo, and with it most cultural spheres around here didn’t latch onto anything it had to offer. The yamawaro, though, were already at the right size and working distinctions to make use of squads from a whole company. The kicker was that they already played survival games before that as it was a form of ritual training and entertainment. This means everything was right for them to double down on their ways.

This still leaves the question of what bloody conflict must have taken place to decide the head commander and her squad, but I hold off on asking that for the day.

Takane very proudly shows me the manufacturing section where raw materials are processed. Turns out the yamawaro source just about everything they have directly from their sources. Pickaxes lay about near forges and boxes of rock. Axes and saws hang on walls over large timber that sits near cutting benches. The various casts, molds, and holds could make any craftsman feel humbled to be in this workshop. The usage of taps and dies for screw shapes isn’t lost on me, either, but if I had to guess they were probably something that the kappa convinced them to adopt.

Their business strategies are… a bit more tactical than mathematical. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, but there is some oddities with their methods. They might invest or outright buy businesses doing bad if they interpret their downswing as an inversion point. Something like the business shows that it has room for growth and thus potential profits gained if they survive a bad revenue period. A blatantly Darwinian take, but I suppose Gensokyo’s economy is more fluid than I can even imagine. So long as a bank isn’t built in the next few years, their tactics of swooping in on low hangers should work.

As for where they go: they go everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The village? Check. Tengus? Yup. The road of liminality, old hell, multiple realms of new hell fucking somehow, you name it.

Their methods for business improvement are simple, too. Do things that add value to what someone pays for. It means that you either can up the price of it or find more demand for it when you do. It’s very obvious when stated, but the application of this principle is powerful. Takane tells me about a few areas that they’ve been able to trim the fat of some contracts. The village used to hold no rules for where sales stands could be set up, but the people here convinced one of those seedy elders that it was to everyone’s benefit if the stalls were all placed in a single area. That’s how the current market came about.

How does two follow one? Well… it’s a longer explanation which I can’t say I completely followed the whole way through. Takane explains things worse than an avid conspiracy theorist, so I’m unsure if she knows either.

By the end of the day I think I already have a good understanding of their societal structure, so I have a lot of what I need for the research. I’m still missing physiological items. I can’t say I’m done until I have the details on how they relate to kappa. If earlier is any indication, though, they don’t like each other all that well, but that doesn’t make sense with kappa transitioning in and out of their fold. Maybe I’ll find some way to tackle the problem with some more discussion.

As the next morning rolls in, my team finds ourselves getting pick on the job for the week. Haguruma and Dasshinki had been working business analytics, but since it was only yesterday before a rotation, they didn’t want to bother training on all of their work.

Haguruma decides to abstain her vote so that there can’t be a tie. It’s a good thing she does, as it’s up to my vote to break one.

I decide that it would be easier to work…

[x] The kitchen. Just because they’re organized like a military unit does not mean their food has to taste like that.

[x] The inventory. They say going through a person’s trash can teach you a lot about them. So having access to their entire cupboard…

Doing this before rushing to work. Will give my short little commentary later.
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[x] The inventory. They say going through a person’s trash can teach you a lot about them. So having access to their entire cupboard…
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> A few more moments pass as I weigh my
This sentence appears to be unfinished.
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[x] The kitchen. Just because they’re organized like a military unit does not mean their food has to taste like that.

Might as well either one-up Takane after our commentary on her food or use it as an opportunity to get into the camp's good graces for being a comparatively decent cook.
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Alright back for the commentary. Now where do I–
What? Oh. Shit. That's what I get for trying to finish edits right before going to work.

Anywho, I had some fun with this one, but it took me a while to setup how I wanted to do any kind of lead in. So, uh, Monday updates, huh?
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[x] The kitchen. Just because they’re organized like a military unit does not mean their food has to taste like that.

Hit 'em with the Tanner Special!
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[x] The kitchen. Just because they’re organized like a military unit does not mean their food has to taste like that.

The group is at an impasse before the coordinator’s table. With it being up to my vote I consider the strategic advantage of each choice. Inventory is a very useful job as I can learn about literally all of their possessions. The traps they can make, the weaponry they employ, and the field tools they’d have as faux infantrymen.

That said… Takane’s tasteless rice still sticks to the back of my throat from this morning’s breakfast again. It’s… oh it’s so bad. I didn’t know you could mess up rice this badly. It was even mushy today, but since it was served without any additives it wasn’t intended to be a gruel.

Haguruma gives me an odd look. I must be making a weird face thinking about this. If it’s that potently at the front of my mind, then let’s take care of it.

“Haguruma, let’s take the kitchen,” I vote.

She gives me a hearty smile, like I answered her correctly. She taps out her signature to the paper the coordinator hands her. With a quick flourish she hands off the paper and turns for the mess hall without delay. Her demeanor’s lightened up considerably already, so I guess she must have been looking forward to leading the cooking.

I catch up beside her, as she makes quick in her pace, and comment, “So I take it you like cooking, ma’am?”

“I just might consider it my favorite pass time. If anything, that kitchen is all my own stuff from whenever I change around from here and the ravine,” she says with open pride.

“If it’s your stuff, does that mean you let other people use it when they’re on kitchen shift?” I question.

“Of course! It’s a thing for the yamawaro to have our meals all in one batch, unlike when I’m with the kappa. That means that any improvements in the cooking station is something that everyone gets to enjoy, and they all know it’s due to me!” her pride continues to bleed out.

“Kisu spends a lot of time thinking about food,” Dasshinki comments, keeping an awkward pace with her improvised walking stick. “Really, she spends her whole time with the kappa making cooking devices. It’s cute to hear how much she loves it.”

“I am not cute!” Haguruma retorts, cutely of course.

We all make our way to the back of the mess hall, where the complete station is in view with a shed beside it. Cirno floats onto my shoulders as we all observe the many mechanical looking tools courtesy of Haguruma. It’s like a functional junkyard. A gas grill refurbished to have a grill on the top and bottom side, the top of course adjustable for when the lid is shut. A steamer system where a metal pot is coupled to a water pipe and wrapped in a heating coil. Somebody even made a god damn toaster out of two clothes irons and c-clamps.

The impressive display of ingenuity and some level of insanity isn’t lost on everyone else, either. Nitori even observes the mechanical bearings the grill is held by, inspecting the improvements made to the mundane cooking utilities. Make no mistake, they look absolutely ridiculous and liable to kill any toddler that should wander within fifty feet, but at the same time a grill with a top and a bottom sounds pretty useful.

Their fuel sources are also scattered about, a generator large enough to probably power a house rests near the steamer and toaster. Haguruma must have been procuring these things for a while for the area to look like this. I also can now say I don’t fully blame Takane’s team for their horrible cooking, considering that even for the steamer it’s heat appears to be controlled by a valve screw instead of any gauge, dial, or lever.

Haguruma makes her way to the shed, and takes out a set of keys. It’s pretty apparent how much she really owns this kitchen if she just has the keys to this shed on hand at all times. She swings open the door on well maintained hinges into a cool, dark cabinet of shelves.

“Ah, let’s see how the stock is doing. I’m gonna kill someone if they used all of the wild mushrooms already,” she states. I’m not sure how seriously I should take that line.

A lot of the space in here is taken up by foraged fruits and vegetables, with only a small portion of the shelves containing dried meats. It goes without mention that a few large sacks of rice lie in a corner for constant use. The only question remaining is what can we make with all of this.

Haguruma looks upon her hoard like a dragon’s riches, but hopefully she also has an idea of what we’re gonna do.

She turns around, confident and ready to command. Looking at me, she asks, “Alright, tell me Regis, what will we be making?”

“Huh?” I answer. “Why are you not just deciding automatically?”

Dasshinki answers me first, “It’s something she likes doing. Asking–“

“Shush, Dasshi!” Haguruma interrupts. She stiffens an official posture to elaborate, “I like to ask my team members what they think we should cook. It keeps things fresher when I have outside opinions on the meals.”

Well, that’s a fair enough view. I look again at our inventory, contemplating a dish to make, especially with our excessive amount of vegetables. The only idea I’ve got comes from an old adage: Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew. A stew, then.

I know the line was meant for potatoes, but it should work just as well for starches like yams. I relay my idea to Haguruma, but she seems somewhat let down. Stews are not the most interesting of ideas, but they are without a doubt very efficient. Easy on the staff, easy on the resources, easy to make tasty. Without Haguruma asserting a different option, there’s not much opposition to the idea. We get out our batch of vegetables and prepared broth for the junk steamer to boil up, and get to work.

Haguruma makes a case to teach everyone their designated task, and it seems things go pretty orderly in preparations. Cirno and Chen are cutting the vegetables and cleaning the tables from the morning meal, respectively. When asked why she voted for kitchen duty, Cirno answers that Haguruma said she would get to chop up stuff with a sharp object. I can’t quite tell if I need to condemn the buds of violent tendencies, it is Gensokyo, after all. But then again, I shouldn’t support the idea of a fairy swinging around a knife. Chen, meanwhile, doesn’t seem very bothered with the cleaning, simply going to the task on autopilot. Must be some of Ran’s training presenting itself.

Nitori doesn’t seem very comfortable keeping watch on the rice in a separate steamer, even with Dasshinki helping her. From what Haguruma tells me, the kappa don’t seem to cook at all. How their diet could possibly subsist of only raw cucumber is beyond me, but that’s a question for another time. What’s important is that they don’t cook anything, so hopefully Dasshinki doesn’t let the rice turn to mush in that wooden steamer.

I am keeping watch of the pot beside Haguruma. Well, that and also making sure Cirno doesn’t chop off a finger. I’m not sure if a fairy would just regrow a finger like a lizard, but I’d rather not find out. Momentum experiment labs with high schoolers had me taking care of enough injuries for a lifetime.

We surprisingly make it through the cooking for lunch without incident. Cirno doesn’t end up staking a knife through herself, Chen doesn’t make a stink about cleaning, and Nitori doesn’t even drum up a complaint about staring at a pot for the better part of a morning. Well before lunch the respective tasks are done and we’re all sitting around on whatever looks sturdy enough waiting for the stew to finish. We’ve prepared a large pot at Haguruma’s request, expecting the total amount to last us for a side with dinner as well.

Not much important happens after that, just random pleasantries and opinions of the camp to bide the time. We all know that we have cleanup, training, and dinner cooking coming up afterward, so no one is really laying back just yet. Well, I say that, but Cirno ended up lying her head on Chen, both napping.

As noon time comes closer, yamawaro begin to stream in from their work around camp. Tired in body or mind, they don’t seem expectant of a good meal, but they come by habit anyway. I get shafted to the serving crew, and try to keep a light attitude, but the heavy air everyone carries in makes it hard. Some hundred or so yamawaro take up half the mess hall before I’m done serving.

They first look at the stew with disdain. The cuts of vegetables are too big, the broth on the watery side. The side of brown rice appears overcooked, clumping together in the bowl.

That all said, it’s easy to tell they love every bite.

A bit of the dried meat by my convincing, and a pouch of personal spices that Haguruma keeps around adds some flair to the broth, letting Cirno’s oversized cuts of yam soak in a lasting flavor from the stew. Dasshinki helps make sure the rice doesn’t go soggy, but Nitori’s own preference cooks it to a nice spongy texture. Oh, and credit where it’s due: Chen cleaned the area so well I wouldn’t be surprised if I could eat straight from the ground, which is still dirt mind you.

Overall, I think the meal comes out great. The company enjoys their food much more than this morning’s meal.

A few people come to greet Haguruma personally, saying they knew she was on cooking detail by the first bite. Practically every inch of her short and stocky frame radiates with the compliments. A few more people come to thank the rest of the cooking staff for a good meal, to which Dasshinki retreats to the kitchen, but Cirno basks in the gratitude. I’m forced to pull her away from the crowd before she can start boasting her accolades to the small crowd. At the very least, wrestling Cirno away from the top of a table gets a rowdy laugh from Chen and a few spectators.

Suffice to say, everyone has a good time at lunch with a simple stew to lift their spirits.

I should be hurling for such a statement even crossing my mind, but the mood is nice enough to warrant it. Even Takane comes to the mess with some frustration on her face. The food keeps her mouth shut, albeit more frustrated than before about yesterday’s cooking comment.

The same routine generally persists for some days after that: training, cooking, talking to whoever I can find about more of the yamawaro culture. Being one of the main cooks definitely helps people open up to me, that’s for sure.

As the days go by other groups begin to notice our time here. Cirno especially makes a name for herself, sometimes not able to control herself from freezing the mock guns to wield like clubs. Nitori’s gone around arguing with just about everyone, but I think that’s a given for kappa and yamawaro if she’s any example. Chen, however, remains pretty docile. I’m glad that’s the case because of just how gung-ho she was to make enemies with everyone. It’s still possible that she’s gone around being a bastard. Who knows how many people she pissed off while I wasn’t looking.

It may be nothing to worry about, though. A group was even kind enough to offer a practice round today. It’s definitely appreciated, considering we’ve only had trainings but no outlet for practice. Not that I’m worried, by any means. I’m confident that Cirno, Chen, and even Nitori would shred through the playing field. The weakest link here is obviously myself, but I’ve really started to get the hang of moving around and spotting things out. It’s a strange feeling being taught so directly like a student again, but that’s just me.

Dasshinki made sure to whip me into some level of shape within a few days, though I’m not sure if the muscle pains or bb shaped welts were more painful. Rhetorical question, the feeling of my lungs collapsing on me is the worst. I’m actually able to keep a decent jog now, at least. No 100m dash, not while carrying my pack with a few new knick knacks, but it’ll service me.

Chen even helped me out, giving me some pointers on tracking. Having good ears isn’t as important as being able to parse out the nature and direction of a sound, and a careful eye with training can spot a surprising amount of detail in all of this greenery. My aging eyes don’t particularly help on that latter portion, though, as I was only ever able to spot Dasshinki once within a couple day’s time. Chen thinks that’ll be good enough, but I can’t say I agree. It’s probably because Dasshinki always shot my forehead when I squinted for her.

Regardless of my current progress, I need to remember how Haguruma and I decided to format our group. While she wasn’t joining, she was still interested in organizing us to something a little more direct in our game plan. Dasshinki is obvious, a back line sniper. Cirno and Chen have become something of front liners, getting right into the face of things as quickly as possible. While they’re doing that, Nitori and I take point and hold down a retreat zone for them. Nitori traps the flanks with some of the quick assemblies she came up with to really ruin someone’s day, and I toss out supporting utilities and suppressing fire on main rush forces.

The primary challenge here is the one third size of my group compared to the opponent’s. With enough smoke and mirrors on the field we should be able to even out the odds. I only need to do what’s in my ability to let the crazy fairy and her cat run amok.

Both teams set up on the field, situated some football field apart, and the referees sit ready to call start. The ruleset for today’s match is a simple elimination: two lives, a single use of a med-patch to get a teammate up each life. Whoever’s out of people first loses. Easy enough to follow for a practice game.

Neatly, it seems the judges use the optical invisibility tools from the kappa.

Enough of that for now, I’ve gotta decide what I should focus on while I’m out there.

Tactical play vote: win or loss based (this match will have no lasting impact)

[x] Straight shooter. Grab a big bb gun, start firing at the main force.

[x] Subterfuge. Toss out as much obfuscation as possible onto the field.

[x] Get a bit technical. (Write-in for you tacticians that have been waiting)

*Basic engagement strategy will be used regardless, so please don’t bombard me with a dissertation of squad tactics. Thank you!

I had a bit of fun here, sorry to any cooking aficionados that I didn't go hard on the details. I'm terrible at cooking, so I literally had to ask a friend if you can stew yams, lol. As for the timing, it looks like Tuesdays may end up being my regular timing. Maybe... Anywho, I'll expect this chapter for another few sections, and then I'll be coming around again with a section closer.
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[x] Get a bit technical
- Push up as far as your position allows, providing cover fire wherever needed. After every burst, dump a distraction device and move locations. The trick here is to make the enemy think you are somewhere you're not. Rinse, repeat.

I don't suppose we have a diagram of the field for use? We only know it's a football-length field. But we don't know of any barricades, flanking routes, angles, etc.

I'm totally not asking this because this means more thought has to go into this scenario~.
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[x] Subterfuge. Toss out as much obfuscation as possible onto the field.

>Push up as far as your position allows, providing cover fire wherever needed. After every burst, dump a distraction device and move locations. The trick here is to make the enemy think you are somewhere you're not. Rinse, repeat.

This is still pretty much Subterfuge, though.
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[x] Subterfuge. Toss out as much obfuscation as possible onto the field.
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[x] Subterfuge. Toss out as much obfuscation as possible onto the field.
Since we can't keep up with the youkai in terms of direct physicality, this seems like the best strategy.
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[x] Get a bit technical / Subterfuge
- Push up as far as your position allows, providing cover fire wherever needed. After every burst, dump a distraction device and move locations. The trick here is to make the enemy think you are somewhere you're not. Rinse, repeat.

I agree with >>44020, but might as well be specific.

I mean, what else can we really do? Cheat? Disguise ourselves as one of the judges? Start a fire? Poison the stew? All of the above??
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Lying Among The Tall Tails
[x] Get a bit technical / Subterfuge
- Push up as far as your position allows, providing cover fire wherever needed. After every burst, dump a distraction device and move locations. The trick here is to make the enemy think you are somewhere you're not. Rinse, repeat.

All warfare is deception.
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[x] Get a bit technical / Subterfuge or “How I learned to be more like a trickster”

A judge blows the whistle and we’re running. Well, Cirno’s flying, but literally everyone gave up on reminding a fairy to not do that during the game. Her and Chen make quick headway toward our holding point, but Nitori and I are nowhere as quick to keep up with them. I myself can only keep up with Nitori because I’ve been moving around so much this week.

We’re going out to the Northern most edge of the grounds. A sort of set bounds to the field as it is. The whole play field splays out south ways from the camp itself, with the scramble yard of tree roots placed right against it for access to the spectator area. Trying to go around the scramble isn’t easy, as movement through the camp or around the northern side of it are both not allowed. This means the only option is to detour further south where the forest is densest.

The plan is to hold our side from just out of the scramble and corner ourselves against the camp to reduce directions we need to cover. The other purpose of our hold is to directly tackle the frontline before any flankers can find us. If we take out the frontline first, we retreat to take out any opponents hard flanking from behind and let the side flankers move to our previous position where Nitori will have set up traps by that point. Once their members are wiped or forced to retreat for a different position, Cirno and Chen can assault from the flank themselves.

Now, of course this hinges on the idea that the opposing team separates their party equally three ways. With only some leniency on that factor we need to be able to change up our plan of action at any juncture. Everyone having an extra chance to go back to their starting line only complicates things further. They can either choose to group up as a second wave or stream back in to the front, whereas my group doesn’t have the headcount to do much but move back up. So long as we properly take a retreat path we should be fine.

Before getting to the clearing, I stop over by Dasshinki as she stows some items for climbing up her preferred tree. Wait, when did she get ahead of me? Whatever, I need to make this quick.

“Dasshinki, how’s that thing I asked for?” I question the tree moss.

She flinches for a moment before realizing who was just talking, and responds, “A-ah, well. I hid around their tent, and I don’t think anyone knew I was there, but… there’s a lot, so…”

I hold out my hand and assent, “Yeah, we can talk after. Hopefully it’s nothing too bad.”

She doesn’t react to my comment, only returning a blank stare and continuing to climb. Quickly she blends into the canopy above, and I make my way over to Nitori as she’s setting up the flanking traps.

She’s setting up an assortment of tripwires, pressure traps and even Dasshinki’s slipping hazards in the trees. Her speed in laying everything down shows how much she’s practiced the mechanisms over the week. If I had practiced with her throughout I might be able to help enough that we could even set up behind us and just entrench here, but no use considering it right now. Her eyes catch me, and with a quick thumbs up into a wave I get going again.

Now at the clearing proper, I stow myself in a convenient ditch to overlook the space. Chen and Cirno are waiting for my first move, hunkered behind some bulky roots covering from light fire across from us. From what I can tell it seems to be two members ahead, trying to suppress our advance from this area.

It’s immediately apparent that they’re missing some three members that should be assaulting us from the front. That’s bad, and means we gotta take care of things quick. I toss of a smoke grenade to cover my two frontliners. Somebody decided to make a proper smoke grenade that puffs up for a while since they found a need for it in the games, and boy do I appreciate that right now.

I take out my my assault rifle to begin pelting one of the two firing yamawaro. It seems that the yamawaro also took some inspiration to make their bb guns look as much like real guns as possible, in example mine being a real old looking hunk of junk. A boxy receiver, a thick tube barrel, even a stock that connects to the handle instead of the receiver directly. Seems their models for reference are some museum worthy pieces.

I fire a steady stream of bb’s downrange and keep close to the tree I’m using for cover in case they start firing back. If Cirno and Chen are moving how we planned, then they’re using the smoke coverage to flank the second yamawaro before sweeping through for the one I’m suppressing. This works out with the weapons they both grabbed. Cirno decided to snag a sub machine gun model and take my knife when I wasn’t looking, so hopefully she doesn’t stab anyone with it. Homicidal fairies are not a statistic I wish to learn about. Chen asked the inventory for a pump shotgun. She was told they didn’t have anything like that and instead took a coach gun. Where she learned gun knowledge the yamawaro didn’t have may be a point of discussion with Ran later. Regardless, their love for running in the grove works out to our little scenario here.

In a short moment the sound of pellets streaming toward my side dies off. When the smoke dissipates I spot Chen who gives me the okay for the area being clear. We’re now in some trouble. The frontline had very few members of their team, and until we get hit by the flanking parties we don’t know who will take us from the side and who will come up behind. Thirteen members are currently unaccounted for, and I’m sure that’s how they expect to catch us and hold the area. I signal Chen to return over to my side, wherein she promptly grabs Cirno and they break their way back across.

It’s then that a few pellets catch the two off guard from my side. I duck behind my ditch to spot where the fire came from, but they seem to have dove back into the trees. This is now a very bad situation. Cirno and Chen are sitting around downed in the center of the scramble, and I don’t have an open line to check on Nitori or Dasshinki. How did they even manage to get around those two without anyone noticing?

A few moments of holding my breath and nothing else happens. No movement in the trees, no sound of shifting brush, nothing. I need to act soon, there’s no way around it, but the problem is that I need a new plan of attack. They took the flank to hit the frontliners on return. Certainly not something I would have expected. They knew they could get away with it since there wouldn’t be enough cross angles to cover the whole scramble on my side.

I catch Chen’s and hopefully only Chen’s attention, to which she cocks her head for me to move over to her. I gesture over that I need a moment to think. She returns a rather rude gesture at my slow response time. With my time, though, I come up with something that just might work.

I toss a smoke grenade over to the center of the scramble and do my best to look like I’m not doing the area’s namesake. After having run through here enough, I can tell where I’m going by using the roots as a bearing, so I quickly find both girls. They appear peeved, but remain quiet otherwise as the rules stated they should. I tie the ribbons they brought as faux ‘first aid kits’ to their arms, and they’re back to their regular rowdiness.

“Why didn’t you cover us?!” Chen demands.

“They were over there hiding in the trees!” Cirno claims pointing in the general direction of the pellets from before.

I shush them both before saying, “We gotta get into cover, come on, over south from here.”

They take no time at all to get out of the area, but I’m not quite so quick. Thankfully, the smoke lasts a while, so when I hear some bb’s shot they’re still over toward the center. When I make it out, I can see Chen and Cirno watching the nearby area for anyone else.

I gather them together and start to go over my idea, “Alright, we were routed, but we can still swoop in behind them now.”

“How do you think?” Chen asks. “Don’t they know to expect it? Actually, why didn’t they get you as well while we were getting shot at?”

I only shrug at the question. “They must have thought I retreated or something,” I guess.

Chen sighs in frustration, “I can’t believe they got me so easy.”

“Actually, we should have the upper hand since we know where they must be by now,” I retort Chen’s pessimism. “Besides, we’re only really starting here, almost everyone still has an extra life right now.”

“So what now, old guy?” Cirno interjects. “You said we go up and pow pow from behind?” she asks, mimicking a finger gun with a real one. Where do fairies learn this shit?

“And?” Chen puffs. “What else do you got, wise guy? You’d better have something that doesn’t get us fumbling the ball like a bit ago.”

“Well, hear me out…” I start.

I crawl up through the brush. Not much is happening, only a couple members of maybe ten try to move around in front of me, but none of them can get past the one or two people watching for them. The opposing team has stalled out on their assault. They can’t approach the central choke in front of them, Dasshinki’s tree. Depending on my luck, Nitori is hiding behind it, but I can tell for certain that Dasshinki is still up top. Not because I can see her, but because pellets fly at the opposing team members the very second they peek. The yamawaro are pinned trying to search the top of the trees, but to no avail. Looking up alongside them I can even see members taking cover in the canopy, pinned just the same. Good at sniping was definitely someone’s understatement about that girl, just can’t remember whose.

Finding the full head count, I decide it’s time to start my idea. My idea of acting like a maniac, anyway. I take another of my smoke grenades, and toss it right in the center of the opposing team’s line. Before the closest two can react, I begin to unload a bit of fire downrange at them.

“OUT!” A couple of them call out loud and clear. The rest of the group knows that’s a red alert. They whip around, looking straight at me, and four of them bolt around the trees in my general direction.

With only about ten yards of distance between us, I book it. From where I start, I drop another smoke grenade. Ahead of me, another one. I almost trip on the tossed one and toss another. I cycle doing this as I’m running to keep the smoke up. I’m trying to delay them from knowing their surroundings for as long as possible. From the way back, I can hear the guns firing back and forth, but not for long. Far more present are the guns firing around me. The pellets silently fly past me, only their clacking against trees and roots tell me just how close every shot is. My idiotic running is only to delay a few members, so I expect I’ll get hit eventually.

The reckless abandon helps against the feeling of anxiety I had earlier in the week. A battlefield is the last thing I’d describe as fun. But this... I can understand why people like this. A sort of drill in discipline, camaraderie, and tactical thinking. Sometimes even the dumbest ideas you could imagine! Only the good things about the modern parlance of combat.

One last grenade and I try to fake out my pursuers, stopping at a cluster of trees, whose roots leave an impression in the ground, and crouch low. Thankfully, their ears can’t be as good as Chen’s, because they go several paces before realizing that I’m not part of the next smoke cloud over. After a moment’s decision, they start to pace back my way. Slowly, as quietly as they can, but Chen showed me how to listen for quieter. It concerns me that I can’t hear one of them, but I should be fine for just a few moments longer. Anytime now…

“Hey!” A small voice rings through the area. A gust of frozen air sends the smoke away enough for me to spot a yamawaro only a few feet away with weapon pointed at me. Before she realizes what just happened a few pellets catches her in the back.

She calls her out, and looks straight at me with a silent pout, but her teammates seem to be preoccupied with the fairy that just made herself known. The last part of my idea. They’re now pinned dead between two enemies and need to get themselves to cover before anything else.

Cirno slings her gun by her side and strikes a signature pose standing tall, looking down on the world, right out in the open, no less. Of course, she is above the world, as she’s atop the trees. The yamawaro don’t seem too impressed, instead opting to have one fire at her while the other two climb. Cirno, understandably, panics at their lack of playful demeanor, and flees not so gracefully. I attempt to move quietly around the grounded member, but they catch on and start firing at me instead.

By the time the yamawaro are on the same height as Cirno, she’s already several trees away. The two assaulting units make their way around the trunks for cover so they can hit her, but forgot to account for how much Cirno likes to leave ice everywhere, including the tops of branches. A short slip from each the moment they dive for cover, and they’re tumbling down into the brush. I take the opportunity to take out the rearguard from behind when she’s distracted by the noise. To end things off, Cirno and I candidly take out two groaning yamawaro.

Should things have gone smoothly, it’ll be quiet by Dasshinki. Cirno and I leisurely stroll back over, to find a pile of yamawaro angling for the smalls of their backs in pain, and Chen wrestling the last one into submission. She looks a bit too happy… or maybe intense, but I’ll leave it for now. That should be one life down for their lot, but a quick regroup and they’re back at us for the next wave.

One for which I could regale the tale of how Chen ran through them once more like a rampaging fiend, and Cirno ended up catching more than four of them with the same bait and switch gimmick, but I’ll hold off.

Least to say, we were able to set up into the original tactic without issue after that rough start. Blinding the yamawaro with smoke ended up being that lucky break I needed. I had to bank everything on Chen not getting caught while finding them in the smoke using her good hearing. Well, probably a few other heightened senses I can’t imagine, too, but that doesn’t change the idea. The other saving grace was that they walked into Nitori’s trapped field, and since they knew it they couldn’t walk out when they lost their bearings. I, on the other hand, intentionally lost my bearings. I just had to delay the members that tailed me long enough for Cirno to get the jump on them.

The opposing group thanks us for the good round, though looking a little less prideful than when they challenged us. Chen and Cirno act like a couple of sore winners and mock them as they head off. I take a few moments to tell them off before we check our gear to pack it in for the afternoon. Nitori seems a little let down that her traps didn’t directly get anyone, but Kisu comes around to assure her that she did great for a first time.

Before I head back with everyone else I notice Dasshinki waiting behind for me. She didn’t forget about the discussion I wanted earlier.

She sits feebly, like I’ll get mad when she talks.

What she says surprises me. Takane plans to cheat tomorrow.

Well… what do I do with this?

[x] Tell everyone, they should know what to expect. But if I do so, I’d bet Nitori will try to catch Takane in the act.

[x] Keep it under wraps, let things flow how they might. Chen might even enjoy a bit of foul play on the field. Just hope it’s not gonna hurt Cirno, though.

[x] Approach Takane about the issue. She seemed pretty alright when we talked earlier, so I gotta know what changed.

Not extremely proud of this one, to be honest. Especially the bit that I had Chen poke at as well. I had fun with it, though. Now how I'll change up things for the next one, I'm not entirely sure yet. Why don't we all pitch in some mean and dirty things that Takane might have up her sleeve! Me first: tear gas.
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>Why don't we all pitch in some mean and dirty things that Takane might have up her sleeve!
Tengu air recon or other "independent" observers.

[x] Tell everyone, they should know what to expect. But if I do so, I’d bet Nitori will try to catch Takane in the act.

Let's play on Hard Mode for a bit.
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One concern is how do we know Takane is actually planning on cheating, and this isn't a diversion, or underhanded trick? She could be trying to trick us into cheating by making us think she's cheating.

The second concern is, how exactly can she cheat? What are the rules? My first thought is her using some way of tracking our exact positions so we can't hide (maybe through either tech or fairies), or maybe she'll just do something more straightforward, like keep sending in mountain monkeys even when they get knocked out. Or maybe they'll just use more than normal BB guns. The more the rules are twisted though, the more it risks devolving from a wargame to an outright war. Which is probably best to avoid.

Pretty concerning, pretty scary. That said, something that seems to have consistently worked out for us this adventure that we should do - Become Yukari Yakumo and manipulate, girlboss, gaslight.

Specifically, instead of seeing if she'll cheat, or how she'll cheat, let's keep her from cheating in the first place. Confronting her with the accusation of cheating would be a terrible idea - if she's determined on cheating she won't admit it, and whether she will or won't she'll be insulted by the attack on her honor (regardless of how merited it is).

But what if we get Nitori to confront her with an accusation of cheating? Us confronting her will just be insulting, she doesn't really have much of a personal connection with us, but Nitori? That carries more weight, more emotion. Takane will be upset at Nitori, and more specifically want to show her up ten-fold. Then, we can swoop in and listen to Takane vent about the accusation, and we can then offer a solution that should make her happy and prove that (if she's victorious) her victory was achieved solely by the superiority of her mountain monkeys alone; have some outside refs monitor the event. Those outside refs should likely be one appointed by each group (do not let Takane pick all of them). So we end up having 2-3 refs total. Ran would be an obvious pick for who we'd ask since she's smart and I'm sure would easily notice anything that looked suspect, but if not her, Keine could be a great back up. Or any Touhou with a power that would be helpful in keeping things on the level. The presence of these refs, as well as the insult on her honor by Nitori, should hopefully keep her from wanting to do any cheating. And it won't be something we need to worry about, at least on a blatant level (she could still cheat anyways, at which point all bets are off and it becomes a madhouse). As for Takane's ref of who she'd nominate, no idea, but try not to accept anyone who would have no moral code and would be happy to help Takane cheat to victory. If we see someone like Seija or Seiga, "No.".

In short, here's what I think could work well.

1. Have Dasshinki tell Nitori the information that Takane plans to cheat (layer of separation, we don't want Nitori telling Takane she heard of the plan from us).
2. Nitori should confront Takane about this. They argue.
3. We come in (after Nitori leaves, but if things get too wild we can interrupt their argument) and innocently ask what's going on. Let Takane vent.
4. Say that you think Takane is honorable since all of your interactions with her have been pleasant and reasonable, but if she really wants to show up Nitori at her victory, have some outside referees watch over the games and parties to make sure no one does anything funny and remove all doubt about how honorable a victory is.

This should help solve the issue, regardless of whether Takane actually plans to cheat or not.

[x] Have Dasshinki tell Nitori this information and begin Yukari-ing.
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[x] Have Dasshinki tell Nitori this information and begin Yukari-ing

>gaslight, go!
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You son of a bitch, don't make me get out the flowcharts! I'll do it!

However, since you've taken this so seriously, I'll tell you that I did plan to have the outcome tie into some repercussions (albeit I still need to decide the specifics).
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⒳ emulate Yukari
- prepare a gift if necessary

sure why not
I know no promises that Takane will confide, so we might have to bring a gift too as a precaution. She's comes from a mercantile culture, after all, so what's the harm in trying to buy her trust?
Nitori says we can't buy the goodwill of the yamawaro as a whole, but perhaps this is an opportunity to discover an exception to her rule.
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(X) emulate the gap hag
He's supposed to have a big brain, time to put it to work
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there's quite a few methods to cheat at an airsoft game. depending on what's going on, but ultimately, the most common method is to just not, "call your hit."

Takane could probably just have judges look the other way or scrutinize us more while being not as diligent on her side. Or just outright ignore shots until one of the teammates on our side gets annoyed and it devolves into a game of chicken with both sides laying down a hose of BBs until one side cries uncle.

But some more sophisticated measures of cheating could be using outside recon like 44027 mentioned. Or going out of bounds to get a better advantageous position.

Or, while not technically cheating, but still mean-hearted, she could use more powerful kits so that the threshold of pain is lower. Or specifically aim for soft spots on enemies, like head, pelvis, knuckles, fingertips, etc.


Ultimately, I'd say our two best options is [X] gap hag method/politick
[X] Get Ran involved to run outside interference to prevent any third-parties from interfering in the match.

However, I'd say the second option could sour tensions even further. Especially if it turns out we were off the mark.

So I'm for [X] Politician method/Gap Hag
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[X] Politician method/Gap Hag
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[x] Make Yukari Proud.

Dasshinki finishes her report after her quiet voice almost decays to nothing, forcing me to crouch low next to her. She’s clearly terrified of what I or anyone might do about the information. For me, winning this game is the simplest way of sitting Takane’s ass down to ask whatever I want. It would be easy to convince her that just giving me an interview is enough to get me to leave. For Chen, this contest is of vital political standing to her master. I can’t imagine what Chen would do about this, but I need to decide what I’d do. Dasshinki shrinks back as I stand from my crouch to get some air to my head. I consider the options at hand right now.

Tell no one? Dangerous. Foolish. When something happens on the field anyone will be a liability to winning the match. That must include anyone trying to call off the match for the reason of cheating.

Tell everyone? Cautious. Overly cautious. Has some of the same problems but only off of the field instead. Kisu or Nitori would most definitely cry foul over the matter. Chen… I don’t know.

Confront Takane? Outright idiotic. There’s no proof to anything Dasshinki has told me, it’s all been too loose and uncertain. Being an outsider to their culture, inciting their leader with any allegations, no matter their truth, will only push me further away from learning what I want to about them…

But that’s for someone they consider an outsider. Someone not so far outside of their scope wouldn’t have the same limitations.

I can feel my feet moving me to keep pace with my thoughts.

Kisu nor Dasshinki could work, they’re too low on the rungs for that, even with the general respect they have in the camp. Allegations they make might be considered disruptive at best and undermining authority at worst.

Dasshinki seems to be tensing up, I must have been glancing at her when thinking about it.

Nitori… well there’s an idea. A loudmouth, always trying to find someone’s faults, and people like believing those vocal about things. If she causes some kind of stink, then that’s cause enough to raise an eyebrow. You can’t accuse something without a shred of truth in the mix, after all.

“Dasshinki,” I prompt the shrub, halting my pace.

The bush audibly flinches. She halters an attempt at voicing a couple of times before managing, “Y… y-yes, sir?”

“Tell Nitori what you’ve just told me. Consider her to be the first person to hear about this, am I clear?” I command. Even I can tell in my tone that I’ve picked up a bit of Ran’s mannerism.

“Yes sir!” Dasshinki enforces herself to not stutter in response.

I shoo her off and begin strategizing the outcome of events. I will have to carefully craft my logic. Words are too much to decide on with anyone used to interacting with liars. The best excuses are not the ones explaining a reason, but rather telling a snippet of something as if it truly did happen. I’ve had students clever enough to make me believe a dog truly did eat their homework, and I myself never considered it a hard thing to emulate.

All I need to do is play on her mercantile side and offer a fair deal to this problem of distrust that she’ll soon find. If I do that, then I can avoid the issue of this cheating information altogether by preventing the root cause of the problem, rather than attempting to work around it down the line.

I spend time crafting my reasoning and imagining a scenario and before I know it it’s been around half an hour. At least if my watch is still fine. The poor thing’s gained a lot of scratches in just a few weeks. I move through the camp again, looking for where Takane might be. I have to be aware of how conspicuous I am at all times, so if I see her I’ll need to double back without anyone’s notice.

With some wandering of the paths I find her tending to the wood treating sites as they’re just ending a shift. Their wood treatment happens on open worktables in a tent space comparable to the mess hall. The yamawaro didn’t want to get the whole area dirty with wood shavings and sawdust.

I pass by and make my way around a large part of the camp before circling back along the outer fencing… tarping. With no one walking the path I find myself alone on the path over to Takane. I find some low ground out of sight from the tent itself, but still within earshot, and hide low to the ground. It appears I’m right on time, too, as I hear the tent flaps swing with an impatience to them.

“Takane!” I clearly hear the shrill of an angry Nitori.

“What?!” Takane responds, clearly confused by her not-friend so loudly provoking her.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”

Silence for a few moments before I hear the shuffling of many feet leaving the area. Takane must have sent the rest of the woodwork crew away for the time being.

“I don’t know, Nitori, what in the hell am I doing?” Takane asks back with impertinence, but not rhetorically.

“Planning on cheating tomorrow,” Nitori claims, cutting right to the heart of the conversation.

“Excuse me?” Takane responds with a heavy dose of whimsy and disbelief.

“Word upstream is that you won’t be playing fair, and I’m not about to be taking that shit from you.”

A couple more moments of silence pervade.

“Nitori, what are you on about?” Takane’s patience can be heard wearing down. “I wouldn’t cheat against you and your stupid friends. Where do you get off on accusing me of crap?!”

“I’m accusing you because one of your own told me about it! Is this supposed to be the amount of respect you get around here? You have a reputation for being underhanded?!” Nitori says, sounding outright wrathful.

“Screw off! We both know that yamawaro do what they want just like kappa. If those idiots want to gossip about something that ain’t true, then let ‘em be!” Takane retorts.

“Oh, right, fantastic! I’ll just not pay attention to what your own underlings have to say about you. Clearly they’re lying! I’m sure that everything you tell me is completely true. You are an upstanding and responsible individual, aren’t you?!” Nitori says. Sarcastically, of course.

“What the hell is your– no, I know what your problem is. Maybe you’d like to tell me just how much you hate my guts again! Not like we haven’t been through the same discussion every time we see each other.”

“You really wanna go there? I can go there! I can go back there anytime, in fact! Nothing’s stopping you, either. Even then, you just won’t. I don’t get you! These people barely trust you enough to not cheat in their stupid game, what the hell is out here for you?!”

“Not you, for a start!” Takane concisely states with venom.

“Yasune!” Nitori yells.

“That is not my name!” Takane roars back.

A few moments of dead air weigh down between them. The bustle of the camp continues in the background, and makes Nitori’s next words difficult to catch.

I can just barely make her out saying, “You used to be family.”

… Oh… Oh I’ve fucked up.

Takane doesn’t seem to let up, though, as she spits back, “Yeah, ‘used to’ being the point. If you or anyone else had accepted that I wanted to do what the yamawaro up here were doing, it might even still be that way.”

“So it’s my fault?!” Nitori bursts. “You walked away from it all without a word and you’re telling me that I’m the one at fault?! Do you have any idea how many years it was that I thought some hunting party caught you and… and…!”

“You already answered yourself. I walked away from it all, and that means that I didn’t care what you thought. Get it through your skull, we keep going through this routine everytime.”

Very audibly, very clearly, the sound of a hand hitting something harshly rings out. The silence after is worse, as I can’t imagine what either of them are going to do at this point.

Nitori speaks up first, voice barely holding back tears, “You know what… I don’t know what happened to my sister.”

And with that I assume Nitori is the one running out of the tent, trying to get as much distance as possible. I only let the sound of the camp continue in ambiance as I wait for Takane to do… anything. I hear nothing in the tent. Slowly, carefully, without so much as a crack in the grass, I make my way back up and away from the tent to come up a bit afar on the path.

This isn’t what I had in mind. This isn’t even close to how I thought this would go. I knew they had bad blood, but there was no way I could’ve known it had been that personal, right? Without a doubt, everything I just heard is not something I’m allowed to know about those two.

Even worse yet, I now need to un-fuck this situation, because boy have I made a grave miscalculation. Should I even act like I heard any of it? I mean, I have to just to be able to talk about it with her. And even through it all, I’m still going to be using this situation for gain. When did I become such a terrible person?

Sunk cost is a bitch.

I take a few deep breaths to compose myself. Hopefully not come off like I’m the one who ruined the little threads of familial bonds for two people. I walk up to the tent, no longer checking the sound I’m producing with my steps. I still don’t hear Takane doing anything. No moving, no crying, no nothing.

I lift the tent flap into the woodshop. Takane takes a spot in the center of the room, sitting up against one of the benches with a hand to her eyes. Her camo cap lifting just enough to make out her bald spot.

Where do I go with this? This just isn’t my forte.

“Takane?” I ask for her attention.

“What?” she responds. Her tone is negative, but unreadable otherwise.

“I’m… sorry, but I picked up on some of that conversation and saw Nitori leave. Are you okay?”

“Just fuck off,” she placidly remarks.

I walk and sit across from her, and say, “Sorry, but think of it as my own selfishness that I won’t.”

She lowers her hand to show reddened eyes with a burning hatred behind them. “What the hell do you want from me? This was all your doing anyway, wasn’t it?”

“What makes you say that?” I ask with my best expression of genuine tone.

“She warns me about you and not a few days later she storms up to me about stuff I don’t know. How would you think about that?” she continues to drill with a bit of her usual vigor.

I think through her question, and eventually answer, “Maybe it was something he couldn’t know would happen? What about if he comes up to you after and starts talking? What do you think that means?”

“He wants something else,” she states, sounding like she’s ready to get up and fight me at any moment.

I hold a hand in front of me to pause her thought. “Or, it could mean he regrets what has happened,” I reply in kind.

“Why should I believe anything like that?”

“Because hurting you like that isn’t something I’d want, nor would I want to do that to anyone. That includes Nitori. I mean, you’d still just have to take me on my word for that, but I hope you do,” I rationalize.

Takane looks me over for a moment, and draws a long, heavy sigh. She then asks, “So, again, what do you want from me?”

“Care to confide in a stranger? Get an outsider’s opinion on the subject?”

“You’re an outsider?” she catches, baffled at my choice of word.

“No!” I reject. A little too forcefully, though. “No, that isn’t what I meant. You know what I was trying to say.”

She puts a fist to her mouth, considering my offer, before saying, “Do you have any siblings, outside world man?”

“Just call me Tanner, and no, I do not. What’s it like?”

Her eyes trail off to the distance, and she start to explain, “A pain in the ass. But it’s one that you hope could be in a good way. You always hear people talk about their brother or sister and hope for the same bond that they have. Someone that would always have your back, trust in you, help you when things are hard.”

“From my experience, siblings are never so perfect.”

“Yeah, well, one could hope. Not like Nitori and I are anywhere close to that, though. It’s always been a thing of trying to out-compete her in whatever we do. Building things, talking with people, even just knowing how to sort things out. She’s way too good at everything that a kappa does. Nitori’s practically the prized child of the whole kappa society. I can’t even tread water compared to her.”

“A lot of people feel that way about their siblings, if that’s any condolence.”

“It’s not. I don’t give a damn about other people, and I tried to stop giving a damn about her and the kappa. That’s why when I heard that the yamawaro work a lot differently, I just kind of… left. I didn’t want to compete with my sister on everything I did, and I didn’t want to keep feeling like my whole existence hinged on her.”

“Have you ever stopped to think about her perspective on this?”

Takane frustratedly eyes me, “You wouldn’t know, but still, shut up. She gives me an earful about her opinions on the whole thing every few years whenever we end up working close together again. Same as a bit ago. Tries to get me to think something’s wrong with what I’m doing, and goes by some asinine angle every time.”

“Doesn’t that mean she wants you back with her?” I comment.

Takane shifts uncomfortably at the idea and responds, “Well, yeah. She wants me to go back, but I just can’t handle being around her like that.”

“Have you told her what you just told me? In a calm setting, I mean. One where you two are willing to listen to each other.”

“Step off it. I think you’ve said your thoughts enough,” Takane warns.

I raise my hands in guilt and relent, “Alright. Can I at least ask what happened this time, though? Maybe I could offer an idea for some kind of solution.”

“She barged in accusing me of cheating in tomorrow’s match,” she states, but catches herself on a related thought. “I don’t have any clue where that even came from…” Takane inflects.

“Well, I can’t exactly ask you to just promise not to cheat, we both know words aren’t enough for that kind of thing…”

“Hey, listen here. My sister accusing me of cheating is one thing, but I’m still under rights to kick your ass anytime, got it?” Takane warns, again. I’m getting ahead of myself here.

“Right, right. Let me rephrase that. How exactly can we have it down to something evidential that you and your team are not cheating?” I offer.

“Why does that matter?”

“Well, if you want to convince her that she’s wrong about running on a gut reaction, then why not have someone vouch for you on that end?” I explain, offering a hand over to Takane for her to finish the thought.

She cups her chin, and continues, “So I should, what? Replace a judge, and you’re probably going to suggest the Yakumo, aren’t you?”

I’m taken aback by her near psychic interpretation, but play it off, “Well… I mean if you’re going to steal my words from me, yes. How was it that obvious, though?”

“Nitori did tell me at one point that she was forced to protect you from the horrors that we may inflict upon your frail body, mister Yakumo researcher. It isn’t hard to guess your plans from there.”

“I’m not hearing a no on those plans, though?”

Takane waves a hand in resignation and says, “Yeah, fuck you. So long as you can keep that fox accountable I’m alright with it, but again, fuck you. This is your mess you made, now clean it up.”

And that’s it for the moment. Don’t worry, I’m going to continue working on more of this, but I thought this was a good stopping point for one update. I of course don’t have anything to vote on this time, since I still gotta carry through the full story beats from the last one, so apologies for that. Instead, let’s discuss if it would be fun headcannon that Nitori and Takane were sisters. I got this idea well before this specific update and wanted to integrate it, but I didn’t think I’d have such an occasion to be this bold with the setup, thanks for that anon.
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>Takane and Nitori sister headcanon

[Mitori didn't like that]

In this case, I don't think it breaks too much. It's a general possibility. But not a lot of information where a lot of stuff changes based on if they are or aren't. TL;DR: take it or leave it, doesn't matter.

Anyways, looks like we aren't cut out for Yakumo scheming. A *true* Yakumo would take that open wound you just made and rub salt in it and play it to your advantage!

Which is good, because we don't want to be a Yakumo. They're mean. And Tanner isn't mean.
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Wow, I felt really bad the moment the sister reveal dropped. I didn't expect girlbossing to lead to this. How does Yukari live doing this to people? Still, it DID work in the end, so... Success? I wonder how Ran would rate us for this scheme, I've missed her commentary, when she comes back to judge it'll be nice to hear again.

Family drama is always tantalizing to have, so I'm really interested in seeing what's done here with Nitori and Takane. Can Tanner get these two down for a therapy session together, or do some more manipulating and girlbossing to mend this relationship?
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>“Yasune!” Nitori yells.
>“That is not my name!” Takane roars back.
>“Yeah, ‘used to’ being the point. If you or anyone else had accepted that I wanted to do what the yamawaro up here were doing, it might even still be that way.”
>“You know what… I don’t know what happened to my sister.”

Hngh, I see real-world parallels, and I feel conflicted about it.
I like the dimensions this has added to this section of the story as I felt it had fewer intense character conflicts, which I was interested in, unlike the last section, which had the Ran and Regis argument or the initial match Cirno and Chen had.
I am very interested in seeing how this gets resolved now.
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>This is your mess you made, [...]
I'll point out to the benefit of our dear readers that this mess is of their own making. By stirring the pot, they may come to a resolution instead of simply trading insults every time they meet. There is no need to feel bad or ashamed.

However, please consider that putting Ran or Yukari on the judge team will result in at least some degree of pseudo-sociopathical/hyper bullying behavior. Kitsune are known for their mind-reading powers, after all. And they're gonna be doing their do without getting promised compensation, so...
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>I'll point out to the benefit of our dear readers that this mess is of their own making. By stirring the pot, they may come to a resolution instead of simply trading insults every time they meet. There is no need to feel bad or ashamed.
This reads like something Yukari would write to justify her behavior towards other people. The only reason I know Yukari didn't make this post is because she's too old to use a computer.
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All shikigami are not unlike computers, my dear reader.
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A pair of sisters with a really dysfunctional relationship? Yup, that sounds like it fits with Touhou canon.
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I don't think Ran, who's original personality is overwritten by the Shikigami contract and extended servitude would be incentivized towards such sadistic behavior. (Her master leading by example not withstanding.)

She'll get compensation, but I doubt she'll hinder or sabotage Tanner's work maliciously.
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Past the Point
>Can Tanner get these two down for a therapy session together, or do some more manipulating and girlbossing to mend this relationship?

[Pic related]
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Now, to fixing things. First and foremost, find Ran. I need her to judge tomorrow’s game, but more so, I need her to sanity check any idea I might have. Apparently when she’s not there for that I get into trouble like I am now. Well, to be fair to myself, how could I have known they were sisters? They kept quiet about it the whole time. I wasn’t even supposed to hear the conversation between them just now.

I shake my head from the tangent, and begin pondering how best to contact Ran. No sooner am I out of the woodshop tent that I run face first into a giant golden ball of fur. The familiar short haired woman accompanying turns to face me, nonplussed as usual.

“Oh, Ran?” I ask of the fox who shouldn’t know to be here yet. “Were you listening in on my conversation? How..?”

“Enough,” she commands. “Now is the time to talk in private.”

On finishing her sentence, she dives at my waist, and tosses me onto her shoulder. Maybe there’s something to her treating me like a stuffed animal, after all. She begins to walk through the yamawaro’s camp without so much as a care. She picked a good time, since all of the residents are working on setting up the evening bazaar or attending to the last of their duties.

I recognize the pathway underf- her feet that goes into the mess hall. She makes her way over to the kitchen, where Kisu nearly has a panic attack. Unsurprising, since an intruder with a restraining order is prancing through camp with a hostage guest to boot. It takes a bit of coaxing, but I eventually convince her from my dignified position that Ran is a friend. Or, at least friendly enough to not be something that she needs to worry about.

With only a reluctant approval, she backs down from escalating things. Ran then absconds to the kitchen shed as the rest of the group spectates the new visitor. Notably, Nitori isn’t with them. Cirno is, and Chen is probably hiding somewhere to get out of duties like usual, but Nitori being gone isn’t a good sign.

Entering the shack, Ran barely fits between the shelves, her tails taking up the whole area. Before I can comment that this might not be the most comfortable place for her to sit around in, she tosses me from her shoulder. The ground impacts with my tailbone, which then reverberates straight up my spine.

While I’m wallowing in pain Ran takes a moment to summon Chen from a paper doll. Like before, the article glows a bright blue, falls like a rock, and flashbangs me with the cat’s arrival. Chen’s crouched low and ready to pounce, but quickly realizes it’s only Ran and I here. She calmly stands back to height, but Ran forces her to sit down.

I rub my sore ass but stay seated, deciding it best to follow suite. “So, I take it you’re not happy to see us, Ran?” I joke. I know it won’t lighten her mood, I’m more doing it to calm my nerves.

“Not happy?” she states, questioning the validity of the words applying to her. “Perhaps that would be the best way to describe my current state,” she states sardonically. The pressure of her words match her deathly glare for once.

“So… this is about what Chen and I have been up to, yeah?” I guess.

“And what, pray tell, might have you been ‘up to?’” she mocks. Her presence lurches far above the roof of the shack, feeling like it reaches straight for the sky before crushing me. She’s not in the mood for my casual attitude.

Losing my nerve, I instead use the last defensive mechanism at my disposal. “I’m sorry,” I say, hoping my voice sounds earnest enough to mean it.

“Were you truly sorrowful, you would not have mistaken your own ignorance for potential strategic gain. You realize how little you knew, so this will be the only warning I give,” Ran remarks. She turns her eyes from me, the weight of what felt like the world no longer cascading me.

Her eyes land upon Chen, who’s been dead silent the second she was forced back to the ground. It appears she knows punishment is coming for her for whatever reason she hasn’t understood yet. Not that she’s completely lost, as with only half her usual moxie she says, “I did not mean for this to become a matter you would have to be involved in, master.”

“Of course it was not,” Ran states, marginally softer in tone, “otherwise you would have properly consulted me. Instead you have chosen to take matters into your own and stake Yakumo contracts and reparations on the matter.”

I… think she’s so fumed that her voice actually hit a local minima of intensity. No, of deepness, the intensity is far higher now.

Ran doesn’t continue to talk for several moments, letting Chen simply sit with her own thoughts to process how much her gall has the potential to backfire, should things not go well. She catches on fast, as her rapidly changing expression indicates. Eventually, she settles on a pitiable face I imagine I was making before.

“I wanted to do something you would like,” she pleads to her reasoning through tearful eyes.

“And thus you directly challenged a faction of our lands for personal gain, rather than trading in things of value?” Ran counters her. “Chen. You disappoint with your whims.”

“Hey now,” I pipe up, “she just wants you to acknowledge her, Ran.”

Ran’s face snaps directly at me, letting the mountain of resentment crush me. “I remind you once more, I may protect you, but do not mistake it for letting you participate in all matters Yakumo. This especially pertains to the training of my own shikigami,” she declares.

I keep silent, my spiteful nature knowing when to shut up because self preservation told it to.

Ran continues to tear into Chen, “Now, my shikigami, your punishment.”

Chen breaks into a cold sweat, awaiting her sentence.

“After the matter here is down… repair the barrier. Everywhere. In two day’s time,” Ran states. “Recent activity from hell has punctured several places, one of which near enough to this camp that your dealing will afford you access.”

Chen’s taken aback at the task, as am I, it doesn’t sound as bad as it could have been. A few moments more, though, and Chen begins calculating how many places in Gensokyo that must apply to right now for that to be a punishment. Her eyes widen as she continues to evaluate.

Before Chen finishes understanding her imminent torture come tomorrow, Ran returns to me, and asks, “What is your current idea for tomorrow?”

“Uhm, you’re one of the judges meant to stop any cheating?” I more ask than answer in return.

“Unnecessary, Yamashiro does not plan to cheat.”

“I mean, yeah, I kind of got that after she broke down a bit ago,” I state with regret.

“Yet you still asked her to allow me entry.”

“I don’t know, I guess I just need your help on how to get those dumb sisters to not hate each other.”

Ran nods, as if to say that I answered correctly. “That you did shows improvement. You personally need not plan around subterfuge like Lady Yukari or I. The time before was due to time constraints,” she explains. “Now, however, you have an opportunity to reset your reputation with both Yama- and Kawashiro. More so, Kawashiro left to Genbu Ravine once more.”

“Would you be able to get her?” I ask.

“Is that a command?” Ran retorts.

Wait, is that… “Is that a joke..? I mean, uh, please?” I reply

“It will be arranged. Now for how you plan to convince the two. It must be in your hands for any worthwhile interaction between the two. They believe you to be of simplistic nature and would more easily take your words to reference.”

I want to answer immediately that we can just get them into the same room and say that Takane wasn’t even planning on cheating, but I hold myself. That isn’t the problem at hand, theirs is a distrust for each other much longer than I understand. If I want them to come to terms, I need to break down the problem several fold. I’ll need time to decide methods and solutions. Time which I have so little of.

“Just get them into the same room for me, Ran,” I command. “Please and thank you.”

Ran grunts, but doesn’t continue the argument. Seems she’s mildly satisfied that I’m putting thought to the matter for now. I’m gonna need to work fast, though.

Ran glances between the two of us, no more convictions to make for this visit. And with that, she takes her leave, claiming to introduce herself to the yamawaro of the camp as a new guest. It doesn’t take me long to spring back to my feet, the soreness in my rear mildly aching, and move back to the kitchen. Chen still sits in the shed, ruminating on the conversation and what she didn’t think she did wrong.

Kisu is immediately on me with questions, to which I answer directly and truthfully. Ran is here to judge the event at my request. Nitori left after fighting with Takane. Chen’s fine, no, there are no bodies to clean up. Yes, I know she looked that agitated, trust me I know.

“As for tomorrow,” I say to our squad leader and the rest at the kitchen, “would you be willing to lend a hand for a game, Haguruma?”

“Huh?” she snides. “Why would I do that? I don’t have reason to, right?”

“Oh come on, you were just saying you would love to knock Takane’s group down a peg earlier this week. You don’t have anything to lose for joining us, just say that I asked you to do it and nobody will hold you for helping Chen,” I argue.

She doesn’t look sold on the idea, but shrugs with a, “Alright, whatever. I’ll join in.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

The rest of the evening is spent doing the usual kitchen tasks before we’re back to our bunks, thoughts of the day to come fresh in our minds.

The rest of the group is thinking about the game. I’m racing through how to best approach the situation between the sisters, but can’t find anything to really get traction. If they can’t just talk out their issue then I’m not sure what’s wrong. It sounds like a simple case of family disagreement, which you’d usually be able to call an intervention and force whatever idiots you’re working with to spit out their problems. Is that enough for these two? There’s no way to tell if Ran and I can get them to open up on the issue on their own.

Ran told me not to, but I may need to think outside the box for this again. Something a bit tough in the love department, maybe a bit sadistic.

I continue to formulate a chain of thoughts for different ways to tackle the situation but can’t bring myself to choose one I think best. After that, though, the morning horn sounds. Seems I fell asleep at some point in thought.

The game starts early in the morning after breakfast. We do our usual morning routine, but everyone is ready to start plotting a way to win today. Well… we have to do both. Essentially we are going to do kitchen duties and then run straight to our starting positions, so we have to plan while working the kitchen. Not favorable, but Haguruma and I take to planning pretty quick, so I’m not worried.

Today’s match will be a capture the flag round. The flags are positioned a couple dozen meters from the team starts. The rules are as such: first team to three captures wins, no extra rounds. Each member is allowed three lives, so as not to force the match into a team elimination setup but still enforce some penalty for getting cocky. The flag bearer is required to hold the flag with both hands, so they aren’t allowed a weapon when running the objective. There is no enforcement on team composition for positions or strategies, otherwise.

Haguruma says that the best way to get the jump on Takane’s team is to ram straight into them headfirst. I think she’s kidding at first, but she remains adamant on the idea. She argues that we have a crew meant more for a blitzkrieg since we don’t have the numbers to really control a territory. Our strongest members can hit the enemy fast with a bit of supporting fire, but can’t hold an offense past the element of surprise. As much as I agree to her individual points, I can’t imagine going along with the idea that she’s arguing for.

I’m overruled when Chen chimes in, much more amped to prove herself since yesterday. She boasts that she can work with Kisu’s idea just fine, and ropes Cirno to agree with her on that end. Since I’m not the majority voice on this, we end up prepping for Haguruma’s plan.

She takes the flank like Nitori did, setting traps and keeping flankers down that might first appear. Cirno and Chen take out the frontline from a smoke covered entry, where I’ll be putting down suppressing fire to the front, just like before. This time we’re pushing up past the scramble to try and tighten the area of engagement, hopefully to let the two frontliners break in immediately. I did convince everyone to let Dasshinki hold the flag at our base, though I know it takes away from the front and she won’t be able to hold against a full five man unit if they slip past us. It’s sound enough to try something ballsy that Takane might not expect, but there needs to be some kind of safety net in place. She’s supposed to be good at the game, so who knows what she might want to try.

My mind is bisected in focus: the game, and my own plan for when Nitori and Takane are in a room together. There’s no way in hell Ran will want to let me be tied down by a favor, so she’ll probably turtle-nap Nitori immediately. So I need to decide while I have a moment to think about other things.

Now then, how to do this…

[x] I gotta put trust in them. If they want to trust each other then they need to be willing to bridge that gap. Sit them down for family counseling like civil people.

[x] Ran told me not to, but a bit of overthinking might go a long way. What if I tricked them into realizing they trust each other, such as making myself a common enemy (only temporarily of course).

[x] Wait, that’s not right! There’s a better way! (Write-in)

Well, look at that. An on time update after an early update. Expect a late update next week!... Just kidding, of course.

As for the update, let me give a bit of a preface and say that I'm sorry this is ending up being kind of votes every other update during this section. I like giving meaningful vote choices, but also don't like going past normal update length to reach the effects of something every time. That is to say, this vote is early because I thought you'd want to duke out your family counselor caps now.
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I felt like a child being scolded reading this. Ran is scary as hell. I feel bad for girlbossing. I feel even more bad that I'm super super tempted to pick the "keep girlbossing" option. It does feel like poetic justice that we get Takane and Nitori to like each other again by hating us. Our reputation with them might be shot (it was sadly never good with Nitori), but if it improves both of their lives wouldn't that be a benefit? However, Ran was pretty clear that we SHOULDN'T do it.

[x] Ran told me not to, but a bit of overthinking might go a long way. What if I tricked them into realizing they trust each other, such as making myself a common enemy (only temporarily of course).
I don't expect this option to win, but I do want to give it a vote just so it can have a fighting chance. However if there's a really good write-in I'll pick that.
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In which Regis and Chen get yelled at for poor decision-making.

>On finishing her sentence, she dives at my waist, and tosses me onto her shoulder. Maybe there’s something to her treating me like a stuffed animal, after all.
Regis, the grumpy teddy bear.

[x] Ran told me not to, but a bit of overthinking might go a long way.
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[x] I gotta put trust in them. If they want to trust each other then they need to be willing to bridge that gap. Sit them down for family counseling like civil people.

Much as I like subterfuge, we've got to remember that the reason we're on this mission in the first place is to get Takane to provide us with information on the yamawaro – so it's probably best that we do not cause her to entirely distrust us.
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[x] I gotta put trust in them. If they want to trust each other then they need to be willing to bridge that gap. Sit them down for family counseling like civil people.

I hope this involves either a chaise lounge or a bunch of comfy couches; it's not a true therapy session if there is no comfy seats. And now that I think about it, this family counseling therapy can also double as an interview depending on the questions asked and provide information regarding the Yamawaro.
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[x] I gotta put trust in them. If they want to trust each other then they need to be willing to bridge that gap. Sit them down for family counseling like civil people.
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[x] I gotta put trust in them. If they want to trust each other then they need to be willing to bridge that gap. Sit them down for family counseling like civil people.

We have antagonized Ran enough for one day
We still have to work with her once this arc is over and it'd be best to not bait a bad end
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How can we actually get a bad end, given how Tanner would live long enough to flip even Aya off?
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[x] I gotta put trust in them. If they want to trust each other then they need to be willing to bridge that gap. Sit them down for family counseling like civil people.

A swift jab to my side shakes my mind out of any thought.

“C’mon, quit thinking and start acting!” Haguruma exclaims with a rowdy shove to get me moving.

I must have missed the starting call. Chen is already out of sight, and Cirno just dips behind the trees. I use the momentum Haguruma gave me to try and keep up. Not that I honestly expect to do so, I just want to put some effort into the game. That, or not feel like the weakest link because by comparison even Haguruma outruns me while she’s carrying a duffle bag as large as herself.

We the forest on our side of the field, breaking out to the central scramble. I just catch a glimpse of Chen’s orange clothes ducking out of sight across the way, and Cirno’s halfway across. She’s flying when she shouldn’t be, of course.

I take a look at the path I figured out to cross above the area. Much of this stretch is thick tree roots a few feet higher than myself. The density of the roots makes traveling through the mess possible, but not as fast as skipping across the tops. Even better, since it’s all tree roots, the ground has been disturbed enough over time to leave the dirt as soft as a farm soil. I’d rather not join the ecosystem of bugs and mushrooms hiding in the roots, but it’s certainly better than breaking a bone if and when I fall.

I skip across the top of the branches, confident that enough yamawaro have done the same to leave no dirt on the top for me to slip off. As I’m cutting across I catch the crowd watching over by the camp. It seems that a lot of people stopped working to spectate. Not too surprising, given how everyone kept saying Takane’s team was the best. They might not even play too often, now that I think about it. They’re supposed to be an administrative group, after all.

My lax mind misses the next root top, and I’m sent chest first into the side. The wind is cleanly knocked out of me and I barely reach out my arms to stay above the canopy of roots below. The shock reorients me again. I can’t be so idly active like yesterday. I need to move seriously here, there are some stakes involved, including my own work!

I scrounge the bits of strength and muscle that I’ve been building up over the week to pull myself back up, and continue my stone stepping across. Passing the densest portion, I hop back down but don’t see any of my team ahead. It seems I was the only one taking his time to cross the way.

I run up into the enemy’s forest, drawing my weapon and keeping my head on a swivel. It’s cute enough to say we’ll go faster than the other team, but that also means we have to get the fast moving frontline fighters to act as the suppressive unit instead of the support members like myself. Chen and Cirno should be holding the front while Haguruma sets up the side, and then I’ll take over for Chen so that she can swing across the side to hit their flank. When doing so, she’ll try to pierce through a hopefully unfortified side group and grab their flag.

Capture the flag is definitely not a mode in our favor. The only good thing about having to run a flag back and forth is that Chen is the fastest one here, but any ambush from the opposing team can easily challenge that advantage. Meaning that we need to hold this area as long as we can to get a head start.

I spot the orange of Chen through the trees again, lying down and laying out some rifle fire to the enemy line. I slide in next to her, prepping a smoke grenade to chuck at the line a dozen yards over. The second the canister flies Chen bolts out to the side, going for the outer area of the field opposite of Haguruma’s traps, and hopefully past any opposition to keep her from any flanking attacks and their flag.

I’m not sure where Cirno is in all of this, as she picked out some shooting position in the trees. The only thing I can do now is lay down suppression from my knoll and hope that Chen is quick enough for us to retreat before we’re rolled over.

Before I can be so lucky, the first bit of suspect play comes. A yamawaro dives out of the smoke in the same direction I’m firing. The get right back into cover, but even a blind man could tell you they should have gotten hit in that.

Before I can start to focus down the idiot behind her cover, a heavy pellet strikes at my right side.

Damnit that still hurts a lot. “Out!” I call to the present party.

Raising my hand above my head as a flag of surrender, I look for the jerk that shot my rib. She’s standing on the ground, a ways behind my position. Specifically where Haguruma should have had the place held down and trapped with all sorts of nasty surprises. I try to see if Cirno or Haguruma are around, by I see no sign of them. It looks like I’ll have to take the run back to the starting point.

Making a conservative jog back, I take a few moments to gather what’s happening. One walked right through my line of fire, and another got through Haguruma and her traps like they weren’t there.

They’re cheating. Obviously, but why the hell are they doing so? And are they cheating in any other way than not calling their outs?

No, before anything else, why didn’t Ran call foul? She should be watching the game right now, and I know for a fact that she can multitask enough to watch each member. I’ll have to ask Chen what her master is doing right now.

But none of this tackles the brunt of the problem: how do we play around this cheating? I’m not sure my team also cheating is the right play, though it would be apt. There must be some other way to push through this.

Back by our flag, I can see that things aren’t much better. It’s a complete standstill between Dasshi, Haguruma, and a group of opposing yamawaro. Looks like Haguruma did get picked off earlier, now I just need to know where Cirno went.

As for why this standstill is happening despite the enemy team blatantly cheating, it seems Dasshinki has a few tricks of her own. One of the enemy team tries to take a pot shot up into a tree, and is met square in the face with something a bit more live in the ammunition department. She keels over in pain and is left alone after that. The projectile landed next to me, and it looks like Dasshi’s using thicker pellets, and it might not be compressed air she’s using now. Least to say, it’s still legal since it can’t puncture the skin, but nobody wants to get punched by that.

I continue to skirt around the area, keeping my arm raised in hopes of not getting shot at. As I’m back towards my end of the field, I can hear loud rustling breaking through the trees. From behind the enemy’s cover, a blur shoots past. Chen carries their flag right over their faces, literally stepping on one in the way and using their face as a step stool. She transfers some momentum into a ridiculous spin over the little clearing to set down the first flag.

The crowd isn’t stunned for as long as she might have hoped. A barrage of pellets start spraying upward to hit her in the air, one yamawaro even bravely ditching her gun to instead intercept the flying cat. Dasshi isn’t able to keep up with all of the targets in the chaos, leaving the interceptor to ram right into Chen.

“Out!” I hear Dasshi call from the top of a tree.

Chen is tackled to the ground, letting the flag pop up into the air. A second yamawaro ditches her gun to catch the flag for retrieval, the rest of the members present now fire upon Haguruma. I keep the whole event in my line of sight as I head back to the beginning, and see the yamawaro catcher leap up for the flag.

She’s only greeted with a face full of lead and is sent back down to the earth. The members all panic trying to find what sent their runner back face first, but can’t find a target. The flag is instead snatched up by a light blue fairy gliding by. It seems Cirno was looking for an opportune moment to secure the point but instead found a chance to score for the team. The members actively keeping an eye on the flag realize what just happened and turn to open fire at her, but the pellets come in from nowhere again to subdue them. Whatever’s hitting them is just as, if not more, painful than Dasshi’s kit. Even with their entire team present at this point, it doesn’t seem like they can do anything. One girl outright keels over after getting hit in the head. We’ve very clearly departed from a casual level game.

With the way clear, Cirno takes the flag in a dive right for our team’s score post. Impressively, she even turns the dive into a roll for cover afterward. She slams into a tree, but is otherwise safe from the perpetuating battle.

Dasshi walks by me, heading for the start as well.

“I think she’s gone crazy. She’s switched sides,” Dasshi comments.

I get a feeling I know who she’s talking about, but ask anyway, “What? Who?”

She points out a far distance from the field. I can’t even see if what she’s pointing at has a person hidden around it. But sure enough, bullets continue to pelt every member of the enemy team, and they can’t ignore it. Not for a lack of trying, mind you.

At least two of them try to bring out some huge, old looking shields, but somehow they seem to still be getting hit. They’re clearly pointing walls hulking above their body in the direction of fire, but for whatever reason the bullets just decide to hit them from all other directions.

Some of them finally give in and raise their arm to call out, others run back. Around half of them ended up taking a dirt nap from the barrage.

My team is left speechless. We’re not sure what to take tabs of first, the fact that we actually scored, that someone drove off our opponents for us, or that whoever it is did it from so far away.

After a few moments of complete silence, Chen decides to burst into the enemy’s field again. The rest of us follow suite, and plan to do much the same as before, but with some furious sniper coverage.

It goes without saying Chen lapped back and forth at impressively fast, bringing the game to a close before I knew it. We moved back toward the spectator area for the refs to call this match our victory. Significantly bruised and battered after the onslaught, the opposing team met up with ours, and looking none too happy. Some glares are exchanged, especially between Chen and a member that might have been the one who tackled her. Cirno hides behind me, not sure what to do with herself if things get serious.

I didn’t think she would be one to get nervous about a possible fight, but it’s not surprising that she wouldn’t want to join. Chen’s eyes alone could draw blood.

Before any words are exchanged between anyone, another person drops in from above. Takane lands in a crouch, and rises to meet everyone’s perplexed gazes.

“Enough of this nonsense, now,” she demands. Not a shadow of the girl crying over her sister yesterday exists in the Takane right here and now. She gives off the same dominant air Ran exerts. Nowhere near the same magnitude, but it works for how big a gap her usual shithead nature leaves.

Her team seems to understand just how deep they’re in, and Chen doesn’t attempt to instigate any further. Takane’s mere presence drains both sides from any agency. Once she’s certain that her own are in line, and that Chen won’t pipe up with any snark, she begins to address the group.

“I’m sure you at least noticed, cat, but there was no game being held just now.”

“What’s that mean?” Chen asks, eyeing up the enemy leader.

“That means this was only an exhibition. One of which I thought was needed to teach my team some manners,” Takane explains.

One of the yamawaro shift in surprise, and speak up, “Captain! We only wanted to get them out of here!”

Takane holds up a hand, neutering the team member’s confidence.

“We do not cheat,” Takane states, “and doing so means that you’ve already lost. There’s no point in playing a game with rules if you aren’t going to follow them. I stopped by a few groups to ask where this idea I was going to cheat came from. To my surprise, my own team decided they would cheat, and tried to do it without me noticing. So I sent off the judges, the Yakumo included. There wasn’t a game worth judging.”

She stops speaking for a few seconds, observing the faces of her crew as they’re called for the bullshit. They don’t look even slightly indignant, it’s frankly pitiable how much they deflated in only a couple minutes.

Takane clicks her tongue in frustration, looking absolutely appalled at the display. She returns to her military bearing, barking out orders.

“At attention, maggots!” she growls, petrifying the group. “You all have decided to go against my wishes of fairness in this match. If you think acting like that is so great, then let’s see just how much you can stand it! All of you, your punishment is to act under the Yakumo, even their servants, for their every wish. The severity of the stakes should warrant exile for spitting on our reputation and position, but I’ll call it for two months. After which, if I decide you all haven’t reformed, I will personally break you instead. Do I make myself clear?”

“YES MA’AM!” the group cries, not wanting to test how much this woman can break. It must be safe to assume this is no idle threat.

“Dismissed, and get your shit out of the commander’s tent before you report to the fox! If I should find anything, I’ll have her cook you into a stew!” Takane unwaveringly grumbles to the fleeing members.

Chen scratches her cheek before voicing herself, “So… uh. Should I ask where we stand in all of this?”

Takane walks over to Chen, pissed as all hell, and asserts, “Consider your contract shredded. It was a pain anyway. Now get the hell out of my sight, I’m not done here. In fact, the lot of you disperse,” she calls at the last dredges of the crowd in the gallery still spectating the post game results. The remains scatter for safety, and my group leaves as well.

I stay, of course. I know what’s coming up next. Takane eyes me knowingly, but something else catches her attention.

“Tadayou!” Takane yells. “You get your ass back over here as well.”

Dasshinki is practically startled out of her body.

“Wait,” I start, “what is this about?”

Takane eyes me, the air of superiority still present, and tells me, “Keep quiet. This isn’t your concern. Nor do I need to explain myself to you.”

“Ma’am?” Dasshi weakly asks, grasping at her rifle cane to stand upright.

Takane looks down to her feeble subordinate, but doesn’t soften her judging glare, proclaiming, “Don’t think I didn’t notice you pulling this match along. Because of you I’ve had to punish perfectly good members of my community.”

“Your community?” I catch her words.

“Yes, mine…” Takane trails. “Dasshi, you need to stop being like this, but we’re already past final warnings. I know you’ve been so careful in spreading discontent of visitors, despite my wishes. Inciting my team to cheat, though. Then to even shift the blame to me so my sister would hate me. These are unforgivable things, and so…”

She chokes up. Not wanting to finish her sentence. Dasshinki doesn’t even look scared. Instead she seems resigned. Whether that means what Takane is accusing her of is correct or not is up for debate, but I’ve already learned my lesson of barging in without all the background information. I can only be surprised at this turn of events, trying to wrap my head around the whole thing.

“… Just leave,” Takane says without the previous power behind her voice. “Don’t make me say it, Dasshi.”

She turns away from us, head down, and walks back toward the camp. I take another look at Dasshinki, but it seems she just accepts it. A world of new melancholy pervades her face, unlike the usual anxiety that plagues her. I decide it’s probably best to not say anything, or rather, there’s nothing that I can say to someone in this situation.

I instead start striding in the direction Takane went off in. These are separate matters, and I might still have the chance to ask about it later.

[x] Please wait warmly as Ran kidnaps gags invites a turtle.

Oh ye silly man… Tanner cannot get a bad end, of course.
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For a moment there I was wondering why Ran would even kidnap Genjii.
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OK hold up. So Dasshinki was girlbossing on her own time to get the other team to cheat to remove Yakumo? But when she was trying to manipulate us into causing strife, we accidentally reverse girlboss and end up getting her in big trouble, ultimately leading to her getting banished? Have we just ruined some poor youkai's life?
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She could probably just migrate to the Kappa.
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"Hey Kappa I know I bailed on you guys to join those traitorous mountain fellows but they kicked me out for being too traitorous can I come back please?"
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File 167825022544.jpg - (324.73KB, 538x759, kappa_waterworks.jpg)

I find myself having to ask various camp residents what direction she went in, but I eventually find Takane some distance out in the woods. She’s found herself a hideaway below a small stream with a breakage revealing an alcove. Sitting in the shade, she must be listening to the sound of water pouring down onto a dented rock. It doesn’t sound anything like a river. More like a small rain shower.

I walk into the alcove, which thankfully has enough height for me to stand in. Takane glances up to check that I’m the only one here yet. I sit across from her, waiting, listening to the sound of wind through the trees mix with the falling stream. This is a nice and quiet spot, for sure.

After some moments, she starts a conversation, “Well? Aren’t you going to ask?”

“About Dasshi? From what you said I have an idea… but just a bit of context would make me happy.”

“She’s done little plans like that in the past, but this week was a perfect storm for her. I can’t let my reputation be ruined. Not so easily.”

“Is exiling her alright, though? There’s no way the kappa would take her in after she left however many decades ago,” I consider aloud, worried for my team member as troublesome as she must be.

Takane shrugs, and laxly says, “I’m sad that I have to kick her out, but some things are for the best. Maybe you can convince your fox friend to take her in, instead.”

I take reproach to the idea, “I’ve been asking quite a bit of my ‘fox friend’ to just come out here without her supervision for the week. She’s my collaborator, not my servant. Don’t let her fool you when she calls herself my body guard, though.”

The jovial note hangs stillborn in the air before blowing away with the falling water. Only silence persists as we await my collaborator, any other topic being soured by the mood just before and what will be just after now. I still can’t say I have a proper plan of attack in mind, only that I need to convince them to be civil enough to try and work it out for themselves. Sadly, both of them are so stuck in their own heads I can’t imagine how I’m driving them into the open.

“Regis,” a familiar voice speaks.

I turn to the entrance of the alcove, where Ran holds Nitori over her shoulder. Facing the front, as well, for whatever reason. Nitori’s set down, wrapped in paper doll restraints and some covering her mouth. Ran waves an arm, loosening the paper dolls around her mouth into the air, then slipping into Ran’s sleeve.

“You think you can just kappa-nap me, you damn fox!” Nitori berates my colleague. “I was just minding my own business with a drink in the workshop! Why I oughta’ smack you around!”

“There’s much you ‘oughta do.’ Primarily, your objective protection target was left unattended. A complete breach of terms means a punishment is due,” Ran states. She places an open bottle beside me. Coming from it is a faint waft of alcohol and… cucumbers. Yeah, shouldn’t be surprised by that.

Nitori tries to wrestle her restraints off, but to no avail. “Would you help me, either of you?!” she snaps at Takane and I.

“Yeah, I think I’m leaving you like that,” Takane muses.

Ran sneaks up behind her, loosing paper dolls from her sleeve once more, restraining the green sister as well. Takane topples over with her arms unable to prop up her torso.

“Wait, why me, too?!” she cries.

“Ah, sorry,” I admit with an awkward scratch to my cheek. “I figured that as soon as we get down to business you would probably try to escape the first chance you get.”

“Why? You’re just telling this idiot that I wasn’t actually cheating or anything.”

“That wouldn’t be enough,” I propose. “Just getting her to say she was wrong to judge you in the moment doesn’t take care of the actual problem here. Wouldn’t you agree, Nitori?”

Nitori stops pushing against her bindings and glances between the three of us.

“I mean… no?” she answers trepidatiously. “What’s this actual problem, though? I haven’t been told anything about this.”

“Ah,” Takane emits, “Well… you see… I might have asked him to fix our relationship.”

Nitori stares at her sister for a brief moment before responding.

“You… oh for fucks sake,” Nitori grunts and fidgets against her paper ropes once more. “Just let me out of these, I’d like to go home before this gets any stupider!”

I reply simply with, “No.”

“You can’t seriously just think that we’ll make up ‘cause we’re bound here and asked to play nice,” Nitori grimaces.

“Well, no,” I explain, “I expect you to actually talk to each other in an honest setting and come to terms that you hopefully don’t really hate each other. The bindings are just because I don’t think you’d legitimately stop to do this otherwise.”

“For the record, I personally consider this plan naive and foolish,” Ran comments.

“Look, see? There’s even someone to prove wrong, now,” I joke to our captives.

“Takane, seriously, what is this?” Nitori asks, completely out of patience at this point.

Takane looks at her sister with a bit of embarrassment, and replies, “Well, like I said. You stormed off yesterday, he implied that he was the reason Dasshi told you about the cheating, and I commanded him to fix things. I guess he took ‘things’ to mean more than just false accusations.”

I assent, “Yup, I took ‘things’ to mean your relationship, because honestly I don’t like the look you two have whenever you interact. Something about it pissed me off. This is just an excuse to get the both of you to not be so insufferable.”

“Yeah, well fuck you too. What do you want from us? Just yell at each other for a few hours until we stop? This is just idiotic,” Nitori opines.

I toss my hands to and fro, considering the idea, and reply, “Well, I mean, if that’s what you wanna do, be my guest. I’m just here to try and drill into the heart of the matter.”

The sisters roll their eyes. I’m sure what’s going through their heads is something like, ‘this asshole who doesn’t even know us is gonna make us suddenly love each other?’ Which isn’t entirely true, but it’s also not entirely false. What I’m really banking on is that they haven’t stopped to talk things out before. It’s pretty common for people to just not do that, and I haven’t seen any reason that it would be different this time.

Both of them are sitting silent, brooding over how much they don’t want to be here. I break out my notebook and decide it’s time to start the real discussion, “So, then, who are you two?”

“Huh?” both utter in unison.

“I’m just making sure we’re all on the same page, and that means that we gotta start from first principles. It may seem simple, but I feel like it’ll be important for this discussion. Now then, who are you two?”

They begrudgingly play along for now.

“Nitori Kawashiro, kappa mechanic.”

“Takane Yamashiro, yamawaro business consulting.”

“Good,” I continue, “now who’s the person sitting next to you– that isn’t myself, of course.”

They both click they’re tongues, mad they couldn’t throw an insult my way.

“My sister, Nitori.”

“Takane… My sister.”

They both answer, making sure not to look the other in the eyes.

“Does your sister have any other way you might call them?” I question.

Nitori clams up, and retorts, “What the hell is the poi–“

“Just answer, please. There’s no shame in what you call your own blood.”

“… Own blood, huh,” Nitori trails off.

Takane fidgets, deciding whether or not to speak her mind.

She answers, “I… uhm. I used to, a long time ago, call her ‘big sis.’”

After finishing her sentence, she starts to smile and burn a furious red. Nitori looks at her, somewhat baffled at the response.

“Wait, you intentionally did that? I always thought it was just you being lazy,” she jests.

“Well, I mean. It doesn’t hurt that it’s smoother to say, but I also just liked calling you that,” Takane says with some blush not dying off from her face.

“Alright, alright,” I interrupt Takane, “that’s well and good, but we should get a bit of buy in from your sister.”

The light mood in the air stagnates and both of the sisters give me a sour face for my trouble. Nitori doesn’t deign a reply until Ran takes a step forward, prompting a fight or flight response.

“You know it already, obviously,” Nitori spits back. Fight response.

“What do I know?” I taunt.

Nitori doesn’t speak up, a turmoil growing on her face, just containing an outburst. Ran steps forward to threaten her again, but I wave it down. She eyes me over, but allows me to make the judgement.

In a few moments, Nitori relaxes, and softly says, “Yasane is my sister.”

Takane takes a few moments to comprehend the wording. I caught it as well. And so did Nitori, who’s gone bug eyed, and looks away from Takane with an immense frustration.

“What?” Takane breaths, taken aback. “Wait, what does that mean, Nitori?”


Nitori hides her face from Takane’s gaze.


I attempt to pry her open, “Nitori, please tell us what you’re thinking. We want to know.”

She continues on her silence, the sound of running water taking over the alcove once more. The dreary sound gets to her, spite giving way to melancholy, frustration replaced with depression.

After what feels like an eternity, Nitori responds behind contained tears, “I don’t feel like I’ve seen my sister in a long time.”

Takane parses the words, trying to understand what was just said. She has difficulty doing so. Her face displays a mixture of confusion and understanding.

“But I’m right here,” Takane weakly says. It’s unclear if what Nitori said defeated her or if this is a calm rage boiling beneath the surface.

Nitori still doesn’t face her, and responds, “Takane… is right here. I haven’t seen Yasane in forever.”

“Wha-” Takane mouths with a slight chuckle, utterly struck. Nitori can’t hide her shame.

I decide now is the right time to interject, and stay the course. Keeping a level tone, trying to feign emotional understanding beyond my experience, I press, “Nitori, can you tell me about Yasane?”

Nitori barely contains herself, and after a few breaths, tries to answer, “I–!” and pauses, surprised by her own volume.

She tries to speak again, “I… she… used to be smaller than me. She had the same blue hair. She liked to keep it in a ponytail because it was too straight. She always had the tools that I wasn’t carrying, right when I needed them.”

She can’t hold back tears, and continues, “Yasane always kept a leaf in her shirt pocket to practice her power with nature. Something the kappa didn’t have. It was such a beautiful thing, but everyone else, our family or otherwise, mocked her for it!”

Takane looks to her sister, forlorn.

“I thought she trusted me, and that I was the only one who knew how hard she tried to fit in! She tried so hard to make things, to one up me in competitions, nobody could go against us! But one day, she just… was gone. No one knew where she went, and suddenly I was alone. I didn’t have anyone. I didn’t love any of my other family the same way, and they didn’t love me, either.”

Nitori takes a moment keeled over, before returning upright, tears streaming. And with a mad grin, she says through an uncooperative throat, “One day, I heard that one of the kappa met her living with our cousins. This was years later, I thought I was in a dream, and that I would wake up any second. I dropped everything I was doing and ran straight to this very camp, and after asking around, I was told to find her in the barracks.”

She grows an agitated look, something unlike all her previous anger and frustration I’ve seen.

“Who I found wasn’t Yasane, it wasn’t anyone I recognized!” she roars.

After letting the words sit, Nitori returns to a quieter, somber voice, and continues, “She was bigger than me. She had different colored hair. She let it hang down and it would puff out. She no longer had tools on her person, nor did she have a leaf in her pocket because she lived with nature all around her. She could play, she could run around, she didn’t have any stress or worry about what she was doing. Her name was Takane. And she wasn’t the sister I knew.”

She falls back to silence. We all do, and none of us are sure what can be done. Nitori stifles a hiccup amidst her crying.

“Tanner…” Takane orders, “please have the Yakumo take these off. We won’t go anywhere.”

I look to Ran, and she moves without complaint. Takane shuffles over to Nitori, and embraces her. No words are exchanged for a few moments, but then Takane starts to cry as well.

She tries to handle her emotions, but can’t reign them in, and instead says through a sobbing voice, “Big sis, I… was always so jealous of you, but I didn’t know what to do. I tried so hard to be as good as you, but it was never enough! I just wanted to get away from it all. I didn’t even think about you for a second. I’m just… not alright.”

The two sit sobbing for a spell. At some point, Nitori stops being limp and returns the hug. No words are exchanged, but it doesn’t look like I’ll need to intervene anymore. They’re big girls, they can reconcile from here. I get up, and point Ran over to the entrance, where we start to walk back.

“You’re not gonna watch to the end?” Cirno asks.

“Wha!” I shout and bolt to my side. Sure enough, the ice fairy found us again. She’s surprisingly good at doing it, and then sneaking over behind me. It wouldn’t surprise me if she did it for fun.

“Ahem,” I reassert my most noble posture, acting as if I had not just been scared half to death. “Cirno, how long have you been watching?”

“Whole time. Chen said it would be fun,” she answers, pointing to the cat sitting atop her head.

“And it was! I can’t wait to lord that over the idiot kappa for months. She was crying like a baby!” Chen chuckles manically with a paw over her nose.

I pick her up again. I don’t say anything, just look very cross. She weighs the option to bicker with me or not while Ran is standing there, and decides against.

“Good,” I confirm, “as long as we’re on the same page. And Cirno, don’t eavesdrop people when they’re going through things. It’s not a good thing to do.”

“Wait, does that mean you were doing the same?” she retorts with innocent curiosity. I know it’s innocent, too, since Cirno and snark are antonyms.

I answer her honestly in return, “No, Cirno. I was trying to help them. They didn’t like each other, and I wanted to change that.”

“Change that…” she pauses for a few moments as we walk. After not speaking up for some time, we all look at her, wondering what goes through our fairy’s mind.

“Is that something someone strong does?” Cirno asks.

Oh boy, we’re back to the philosophy corner. I don’t know if I have the mental capacity for this right now.

“Yes, Cirno. It’s what a strong person can do, but be warned, this strength can hurt people worse than any cut or broken bone,” I shelve the topic. Hopefully doubling back on myself will keep her from doing anything drastic. She nods, maybe understanding my point, but that’s being hopeful at best.

“So then, old ass. Are you staying here for tonight, too?” Chen remarks.

I find the question odd. “What do you mean?” I ask.

“The competition is concluded, you are free to move as you see fit. Same as those under the Yakumo name, now,” Ran explains. She attempts to hide a note of pride in her voice, but I can tell by now when she forces her voice.

“Well, I’m just going to stay for an interview with Takane, right? Why would I want to leave?”

“That is…” Ran pauses.

Oh that’s not good. Ran doesn’t pause her sentences.

“A school teacher,” she finishes.

“… and?” I ask with considerable concern.

“She is worried.”

“She worries about a lot of things,” I point out. I don’t like this flow of conversation…

“She has not been notified of your trip,” Ran elaborates.

This stuns me, and I can’t hold my own surprise in, retaliating with, “What?! You didn’t tell her?!”

“That is not the duty of a guardian to do so.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose, not sure where her logic came from, and respond with, “How’s about keeping me guarded from my own landlord’s rage? Is that a part of your duties?”

Ran closes her eyes, calculating a response, and asserts, “No.”

Well… now I’ve got to deal with that. Now or later, I suppose. Maybe I’ll just camp out with the yamawaro for a while longer and try to order Ran to bite the bullet for me. If I can, anyway…

This isn’t good, is it? I need to go back.

But before that, one loose end...

[x] Leave Dasshi to her devices.

[x] Convince Ran to bring Dasshi.

This was coming, and it was coming hard. I’m gonna break my usual commentary and ask for some feedback on the update. This was the first real ‘drama’ section I’ve had in a while, and I feel like it might have come out overly sappy. As if I hadn’t always done drama like that. But such is life. I’m a bastard for melodrama.
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>“Yes, Cirno. It’s what a strong person can do, but be warned, this strength can hurt people worse than any cut or broken bone,”
Was this spoken from personal experience just earlier?

If anything, I wanted more melodrama, it was fantastic. This story bit here has really sold the idea of the two kappas being sisters. That angst is delicious.

[x] Convince Ran to bring Dasshi.
We are semi-responsible for Dasshi being pretty much homeless now. Such a communal youkai being removed from both societies ain't going to last long. Let's keep her!
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[x] Convince Ran to bring Dasshi.

Two words. Myouren Temple.
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[x] Convince Ran to bring Dasshi.

This fella says it best. Gotta wonder how Tanner's reputation changed after he tried to snitch on one of the temple's disciple, though
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[x] Convince Ran to bring Dasshi

Out at the entryway to the camp, the guards awkwardly greet us, mixed feelings towards our present gaggle. Just a week ago, every one of us would have been beaten on sight this close to the camp, even Cirno, comically. Now, though, we’ve proven ourselves the right to come and go, outright nullifying a restraining order on Ran. And I guess Yukari, for whatever that’s worth.

Out past the guards, I spot my loose end. Dasshinki carries a pack under her usual leaf ridden hair and fidgets with a map in hand. She doesn’t seem certain how to use the thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if she doesn’t know where to go now.

“Hey, Ran,” I address my partner.

“No,” she states once more.

It feels like she’s slapping me on the wrist for asking something stupid, to which I retort, “I haven’t even said anything yet.”

“That may be so, but your target of observation is apparent. It would be best to leave that one scorned to her own devices.”

My chest automatically puffs up, ready to break into argument over Ran’s view on this, but I stop myself. It isn’t worth the trouble to argue when our positions are so polar.

“I disagree,” I say with a shake of my head, and break away from the group to talk with Dasshi.

On approach, the bushwoman lowers her map. “H-hello. Are you mad too?” she greets me tersely.

“Not particularly, you haven’t really done anything to me. If anything, I goaded you to this point by trying to be clever,” I admit.

She looks down, pondering the truth to my words, and tries to apologize for me, “No. I-I mean..! If anything, I would have gotten kicked out sooner or later… with how I’ve been.” She looks away, not wanting to continue this line of conversation.

I don’t ask anymore on the matter, and instead point out the map, “So, what are you doing there?”

“Ah, I’m… That is, I need to go… somewhere. They told me to get lost, but I think I’m there..!” she weakly chuckles at her plight. I look over the map she holds up. A topographic map of the area, but without markers besides the camp. So she really doesn’t have any clue where she’s going.

“Do you have any place in mind to go? One that isn’t being lost?” I ask.

“Uhm…” she drawls, and buries her face into the map. Before I continue asking, she rustles back and forth.

I sigh, not shaking the feeling that this is partially my fault, and offer, “Would you like to come with us and maybe we can figure something out for you?”

She surfaces from her map, teary eyed and awestruck by the offer. “You would do that? But you don’t owe me anything…”

I wave over Ran, who rolls her eyes back, knowing exactly what I’m doing.

“Don’t think too much of it. Just pin me as a big softie,” I joke.

“Regis, what are you doing?” Ran demands.

“We’re taking Dasshinki with us. She doesn’t have anywhere to go now, and I feel mildly at fault,” I lay out my objective and reason.

Ran pinches the bridge of her nose, Chen shakes her head with a sigh, and Cirno isn’t sure what she should comment on. She decides to cross her arms and nod with an overly torqued grimace.

“And what, pray tell, will you ‘do’ with the girl?” Ran asks.

“First, don’t phrase it like that. Second, we can probably find a number of places that would take a hard working yamawaro, village or otherwise.”

“A Youkai should not be taken amidst the village out of principle,” Ran argues back. “And secondly, I will not vouch for this cretin in front of the Hakurei. She only barely tolerates the presence of one extra nonhuman at the shrine.”

“Alright, so do you have an actual suggestion? You know I’m not giving up on this,” I eye down the fox, who stands as unwilling as usual.

A throat clear chimes in next to us, coming from Chen. The two of us look down to the diminutive feline… Still a feline, that is.

“Why not just throw her at the Buddhists?” she suggests.



Landing down at the Myouren temple, it’s already gotten to late afternoon. It’s a long trek even with flying to get all the way from the back of the mountain. Ran still isn’t happy that we’re going out of our way to guide around Dasshi, but she’s stopped trying to convince me otherwise.

Dasshi herself looks over the temple entrance with a bit of anxiety, and says, “I’ve done business here during some celebrations, but it’s hard to imagine joining them.”

“Why, ‘cause they’re a cult lead by a muscle brain?” Chen chides from atop Ran’s tails.

“I… I don’t know,” Dasshi states.

Ran harumphs, and comments as well, “Much of Buddhist philosophy is antithetical to Youkai nature. It’s a wonder this temple has the following it does. It doesn’t help how all of its major members are not in line with any teachings.”

I feel fed up with Ran at this point and childishly comment, “Gee, Ran. Why don’t you tell us how you really fe–“

“GOOD AFTERNOON!” an unfortunately familiar voice reverberates through my skull.

My hands reflexively shoot to my ears, attempting to protect me from the torrential sound. It wouldn’t surprise me if she made shockwaves when greeting someone.

I turn and speak to the diminutive explosive with a very soft, “Hello, Kyouko.”

At least, I think it’s soft, since my hearing is currently too shot to really tell. I also think I hear Chen cackling like mad behind me. I’m choosing to ignore the little bastard and move on with things.

“Oh, it’s that temple teacher again,” Kyouko notes. Her glance shifts over to Ran, at which point she pauses for a second more than necessary and then says to me, “Right, I’ll go fetch miss Hijiri.”

She scrambles off, broom in hand, with a pace too fast to be polite, and we’re left in the entrance once more. I get the sense that this happened before…

Other residents avoid the foyer as our group sits around. Even with Cirno going back to the lake, we still make up an odd collection of four. And even if they remember the last time I came with Ran, it doesn’t surprise me that they wouldn’t want to deal with us, regardless.

Especially with how Ran is right now. Her glare’s been piercing me for a while. She’s pretty mad about how uppity I just got with her, and if Kyouko hadn’t come along, that probably could have soured fast. Thankfully, now I’m only sort of in boiling water with my bristly, but most certainly respectable, partner.

“Oh no…” I hear a low grumble from across the way. Ichirin has come to greet us again, and doesn’t hesitate to walk right up. Not the first person I’d want to see here, truth be told. “Have you come to ruin my day again?”

Chen takes the chance to joke, “Ruining your day is the most important thing we could be doing right now! So who were you, again?”

“Quiet, Chen,” I hush the cat. “Ichirin, listen, I’m sorry about last week. I needed to get my work done, but was put on the spot. I didn’t see any other way to get things done, but that doesn’t mean what I was doing was alright.”

She halts before me, sizing me up, deciding if I’m lying or not. She then says, “What is this? Trying to sneak away from the issue? I’m not forgiving you if that’s what you’re asking for, and I’ll be damned if I let anyone trust you.”

“Uhm… isn’t that a bit much?” Dasshi queries from behind Ran.

“Excessiveness is the only thing people like him listen to. If you don’t, he’ll just continue to make any little issue of his everyone’s problem,” she states with eyes like daggers. Would this brutal honesty be considered desire or the lack thereof? Probably better to not ask.

Looking right back at her, I reply, “Well… I guess that’s fine. I’m not particularly asking for forgiveness.”

“You know there’s nothing stopping me from kicking you out right here and now, right?”

I consider what the best response to this threat is, but my arm already is moving to an answer. Ichirin follows the movement, my thumb settling in Ran’s direction who looks bored of the situation, but understands to step forward against the nun. Ichirin thinks twice before further escalating the situation, but Ran keeps up pursuit.

“What might be happening out here?” a maternal voice calls from the main building. Byakuren is standing under the awning. I’m not sure how long she’s been there, either.

Ichirin and Ran both awkwardly glance at her, and return to neutral postures, attempting to fool the woman of their immediate antagonism. It doesn’t work, obviously, she just eyes them both crossly instead of scolding. I ignore the two and walk up to Byakuren. She looks to me, serene and awaiting my greeting and business.

“Hello, miss Hijiri. I’ve come today hoping you might take in a new tenant.”

“Oh..? Oh my,” she claims with uncharacteristic giddy. “You wished to join us? I never would have thought someone from such a different culture would want to undertake the eightfold path.”

My brain stutters attempting to process what she said, and momentarily manages an, “Uhm. Wait…”

“Miss Hijiri,” Ran calls from the entrance, snagging Dasshi up by her collar, “he refers to this one here, not himself. Forgive the misunderstanding.”

Byakuren changes her view to the yamawaro, then back to me and gains an indiscernible look for a split second before recovering her placidity in the next.

“Oh,” she utters faintly dejected.

“Oh?” I utter back. “Is something wrong?”

“Ah, no,” she tries to brush off a bit of fluster. “No, do not mind me, let me see this… girl? Forgive me, but I cannot see much of your face nor figure.”

Ran sets down the yamawaro for her to walk over. Dasshi looks very unassuming now that her rifle’s been taken away, only a stick propping her hunched walk. She… bows to Byakuren? It’s hard to tell with her. Regardless, she greets her, and the two start talking in earnest. After a few moments, Byakuren asks me to wait in a tearoom as she continues to talk with Dasshinki.

Ichirin seems opposed to us even breathing the same air, but Byakuren quickly shut her subordinate up for lack of forgiving nature. This doesn’t stop the air from growing foul in the tearoom after some twenty minutes of waiting. Ichirin and I continue to stare each other down, hoping the other flinches first. Chen curls up on her serving table, relaxed as always.

Byakuren returns with Dasshi before it becomes unbearable and delivers her verdict.

“Ichirin, set up board for this child. I will train her in our path to enlightenment.”

“Just like that? Miss Hijiri, you should know that this man should not be trusted, nor any compatriot of his. He might as well be treated as a Yakumo at this point,” Ichirin rebukes. All eyes are on her now.

Ran doesn’t miss the implications of this statement, nor does she appreciate the disrespect of her name.

But before she is able to lash out in an all encompassing rage, Byakuren interrupts. “Ichirn. Cease,” she commands. None of us retort, only awaiting her next words. The pressure in her voice spiked a few of Chen’s hairs while still asleep. Something much like Ran did before, but whether this is something magical isn’t for me to say.

To Ichirin’s favor, she doesn’t back down from Byakuren. She certainly isn’t as spunky about arguing, mind, but she is standing up against her leader. Byakuren takes this to heart, resting a hand on Ichirin’s shoulder and sitting down next to her subordinate.

“Tanner, you may go. Miss Tadayou does accept being part of the temple, but I feel my follower here may need convincing that this is fine,” Byakuren surmises. I look over to Dasshinki, who feels my glance and nods vigorously.

Another sigh escapes me. Not wanting to leave loose ends at the cost of tact, I say, “Just to be clear, you do understand that I brought Dasshi here for a reason, right?”

“Must everyone think me so unwise? To not even notice a troublemaker’s potential…” Byakuren bemoans.

“Well, yeah. I guess that is pretty rude. Just had to check,” I chortle in short order.

Knowing when to take my leave, I get up with Ran and Chen to leave the room. I give a short bow, and leave them to their own issues. Bringing Dasshinki here is really as far as I should go. We have a strange enough relationship as is with all of the political eddy currents we produced around each other.

I’ll just have to hope I won’t see her at my (Keine’s) front door in a week.

Chen thanks me for the good time and leaves for today. Before Ran does the same, I nag her enough to join my trip back to Keine’s. She’s not getting out of whatever shitshow is coming my way. And I know some kind of divine retribution will await my poor cranium for not thinking to notify my roommate that I’d been kidnapped by a bunch of military nuts.

I stand before the door, not arrogant enough to slide it open on my own. My hand reaches for the handle, but my mind thinks better and raises to rap the door. It’s close to sundown, so I don’t expect Keine to be asleep yet. Even so, not much noise is coming from inside.

A couple of moments pass and I exchange a look with Ran. She’s lost the mood to make fun of my overly somber attitude. I appreciate it, since I can feel my emotions continue to sink without any mocking to help it.

Ran and I perk up at the sound of footfalls inside. The door rattles aside showing the teacher’s bright white and blue hair. No one reacts for a moment, Keine just looking between the two of us. Her confusion eventually subsides for a singular reaction. Namely, a firm step forward to use her whole body for a slap straight to my cheek. I can tell you that she doesn’t have superhuman strength, but she does put enough gusto into it to send me reeling several steps anyway.

I take a few seconds to recover my bearings, internalizing the amount of pain currently in my cheekbone. Keine looks ready to deliver an entire lecture on me… but frustration gets the better of her and she storms back inside without a word. Ran and I silently agree to enter in behind her.

Inside, I see Keine already sat down, her hat perched in its own little shrine once more. More apparent than either, though, is the pile of work she seems to have backlogged. A complete stack of paper has accumulated next to her, reaching from the ground to above the table. Least to say, but this isn’t usual for her. Sitting down across from her with Ran to my flank, I now notice the shadows under her eyes. I can take a guess why, but I know I don’t like the answer.

“So…” Keine tries to start the conversation, but peters out. She takes a second attempt, “So where have you been? It’s… been a week, you know.”

“I’m painfully aware,” I retort with my emergency reserves of humor.

“Haah…” she sighs, lowering herself against steepled hands, “Please don’t be like this. Don’t act like you were gone since just this morning… You know what I must think when you don’t return for days on end.”

I stare into the table, processing her words, making sure I understand what she means.

“I had no idea Ran didn’t inform you,” I say. In reality that was deflecting the point entirely, but I don’t know why I did that. Ran grunts at my side for the comment. I’m surprised she didn’t reject it entirely…

Keine doesn’t take my answer any better, saying, “You’re really making excuses right now. And why the hell would Ran be the only one able to tell me anything?”

“He has become illusioned in the idea that he can command me beyond measures of his personal wellbeing,” Ran answers. “This is a point of discussion that you should have in private,” she furthers in attempt to casually escape.

“Sit down!” Keine and I yell. Ran stops dead at the outburst, and slinks back to the table, this time sitting down.

“So what is this about Ran being the only one able to tell me anything?” Keine asks.

I give her a brief synopsis of the last week amongst the yamawaro. Not sparing the details of my own failings since it feels like it will only come back to bite me when it comes to Keine. Actually, that’s probably true.

Keine looks at us lazily, resting on her hand propped up from the table. It’s that look that says when you’re so done with someone that you outright no longer care about anything, including appearances.

“So…” she starts the conversation again in a tone more cutting and direct, “In the entire time of a week, you never once thought to just ask the yamawaro to send me a letter?”

I can feel my face heat up from how correct that is.

“Yes,” I say, ashamed and defeated.

“At this point, I’m not sure if you’re betraying my trust or if you have a death wish. Or if you’re even capable of intentionally hurting me like that. And you,” she looks over to Ran, who flinches, “you decided to claim that you look after his wellbeing. I happen to have an interest in him being well. As in not wandered into the woods, dead and decaying. Would it kill you to notify me of this, you rigid piece of metal?”

You can see the gears process in Ran’s head whether she wants to challenge Keine for insulting her or concede and save herself the headache. Take a guess which wins out.

“This will be accounted for in future circumstance,” Ran responds, but has a small glimmer in her eye, further asking, “If it isn’t uncouth, however, what is your vested interest in this human?”

“Miss Yakumo,” Keine directs with layers of fatigue to her voice, “do you understand how many actual friends I have? Other than him I have an immortal with depressive mood swings. While I care deeply for her, she’s not someone I can imagine complaining about grading over drinks with.”

Keine’s straight answer leaves Ran somewhat baffled. A look asking, ‘that’s it?’ is plastered to her face.

“You know, that’s probably the deepest level of trust teachers with the same students can have. Not to mention helping each other grade. You wouldn’t get it,” I joke to further throw Ran off.

She gets up, and says, “Well, perhaps it would have been better to step out after all. You two clearly need no help facing one another.”

And with that, she walks out.

“Uhm,” I intelligently utter. “Were we that bad?”

Keine sighs again, losing the bit of mirth we were building, and reflects the topic, “Ask yourself that. I’m going to bed, please double check my grading. I feel like my soul has left to Higan at this point.”

And Keine walks out as well. I am left with only the piles of paper, the tatami floor, and her silly enshrined hat. I can’t even tell if that went well or terribly.

Over the next couple of hours I pour through Keine’s work, and realize I have free time before going back to the yamawaro camp tomorrow. Keine will be off, and it would be good to properly sit down and chat with her. Maybe take a bit of heat off myself. At the same time, I should probably do the same with Ran, but I’ll need to drum up an excuse to keep her around…

[x] Spend some time making lesson plans with Keine. It would be good to just shoot the breeze for a while and try to let things get back to a casual atmosphere.

[x] Go with Ran to run a report to Akyuu. That’s an easy excuse to drag her along. And if she’s there already I can just tell her to stick around for a bit.

[x] Maybe these ideas could use a bit of workshopping… (write-in)

Took a bit, but I got there. Gotta say, still not sure how to construct scenes with the Buddhists, and so I still kind of just fumbled my way through here. You have now gotten Dasshi a home! She just might come back later for some reason or another, maybe.

Next update oughta be a nice bit of regular talking and then my usual world building bits.
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>“Oh,” she utters faintly dejected.
>“Oh?” I utter back. “Is something wrong?”

Hmm. Why is the nun disappointed? Because the loss of a very different new recruit is the best answer, I can come up with.

So Regis slapped Ran on the stomach, and Keine slapped Regis on the cheek. Who does Ran get to slap, and which body part?

I'll admit to half-expecting either a hug or a slap from Keine. Although, I was leaning more toward a hug after reading the whole sappy sister resolution.

[x] Go with Ran to run a report to Akyuu. That’s an easy excuse to drag her along. And if she’s there already, I can just tell her to stick around for a bit.

More Ran! It has been a bit since the deuteragonist appeared. Inquiring about how she fared during Regis' leave with the mountain folks. Perhaps, she would provide her opinions about the making up of the sisters.
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My first thought at seeing Byakuren disappointed we aren't joining is that she wants us to join for some reason, and that a "temporarily join the Buddhists" arc could be a ton of fun, especially with Ichirin. She hates us, so we gotta keep bugging her!

A few thoughts;

1. We need to spend time with Keine
2. We need to spend time with Ran
3. We should probably thank Cirno

Nitori got some emotional healing with her sister, Chen got to get the Yakumos a more favorable deal, Cirno was involved in this and got nothing in the end, and she didn't even complain. We should really get something to thank her (and I doubt it takes much to really wow a fairy).

As for Keine and Ran, our relationships with both are really tense and rough right now. Keine I feel really bad and guilty about, and Ran is a pretty critical and mean computer but still important that we shouldn't make too upset. I wish we could do something to appease both of them. However, they're polar opposites who don't like each other. There's gotta be something we can do... My first and disasterous thought was bringing Ran into the school to meet with the children and teach them basics about youkai, but I imagine while the children would love to pull her tails and grab her legs, Keine wouldn't be too pleased with such a high rank youkai in her school near her children, and Ran would gawk at the idea. Though it's still a cute thought.

Speaking of that, Ran seems fairly emotional lately, is she getting more comfortable around us, or are we rubbing off on her? Or do we just manage to give her reasons to be emotional?
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[x] Spend some time making lesson plans with Keine. It would be good to just shoot the breeze for a while and try to let things get back to a casual atmosphere.

We've neglected our Friend for a whole week. Let's spend some time with her and relax for a bit.
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I believe it's because Tanner is a follower of a different religion (christianity) so having him switch faith is like a huge boost to your ego (aka confirmation that your path is the "right" one)

[x] Maybe these ideas could use a bit of workshopping… (write-in)

Spend time with Cirno/Chen duo and hide from responsibility like any proper adult
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Here, I decided to go with
[x] Spend some time making lesson plans with Keine. It would be good to just shoot the breeze for a while and try to let things get back to a casual atmosphere.
I don't think Ran would be a decent choice, since she would see through our attempt to "hang out" and tell us to bug off if she doesn't have any proper business to do for us, and the Akyuu excuse she'd see right through.

I do like the Cirno vote though. Are we going to go drinkign with Keine? Maybe we should bring Cirno along for drinks. We owe Cirno.
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>Bringing Cirno drinking with Keine
For some reason, this doesn’t seem the soundest idea for getting the teacher to relax or creating a calm atmosphere.
>Owing Cirno
Already she has been given a battle buddy and wisdom. What more must be given? The best idea that comes to my mind is a handmade bracelet with her name and the word strongest etched on it.
>Emotional Ran
If I had to guess why, the shikigami is probably stressed out over her waning power, as noted in the story. The power is linked to following her duty, which she places great importance on, and if that's waning, something is awry. What can Regis do? I don't know. His manner can best be described as gruff, and he's butted heads with Ran over duty and focus. Plus, I think any goodwill has been singed somewhat due to his girl-bossing activities.
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[x] Spend some time making lesson plans with Keine. It would be good to just shoot the breeze for a while and try to let things get back to a casual atmosphere.

While I do enjoy more fogs. We should at least rebuild or at least stabilize the situation with Keine before jumping off into another errand that may turn into another adventure.
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Keine admitting that we're one of her few friends only to repay her by going missing and possibly being dead for a week just isn't right. First priority is to make amends for how we treated her and giving her a hand with work and relaxing afterwards is a good first step.

I actually really like the idea of giving Cirno a friendship bracelet. I think it's rather sweet and I feel she'd appreciate it.

Maybe while making lesson plans with Keine Regis could suggest a fun activity/handicrafts class to organise sometime. It'd not necessarily be an official school subject or anything, but it could be a nice one-time change of pace for the kids. If Keine allows it we could invite Cirno and perhaps other less-threatening youkai (so maybe not Chen) to participate and that way Regis can make one for Cirno as a gift. We could also make one for Keine, but I'm not sure how much she would appreciate such a childish gift. Aside from the cat and fairy duo no others that'd fit the class really come to mind except maybe some other fairies we haven't really met (e.g. Daiyousei, 3 fairies) and Akyuu, who is more or less our boss and doesn't really need to go to school anyway.
It might not be a very Regis thing to suggest or do, but he's shown that he does care for the kids. Really I'm just suggesting it because the image of a tired middle-aged man trying to show a bunch of children how to make friendship bracelets amuses me greatly.

[x] Spend some time making lesson plans with Keine. It would be good to just shoot the breeze for a while and try to let things get back to a casual atmosphere.
- Suggest a handicrafts activity as a change of pace from regular lessons and ask if you could invite Cirno.
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[x] Spend some time making lesson plans with Keine. It would be good to just shoot the breeze for a while and try to let things get back to a casual atmosphere.

I think we should prioritise mending our relationship with Keine first, given that we can only talk to her while we're in the village, while we can talk with Ran during our expeditions as well.
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[x] Spend some time making lesson plans with Keine. It would be good to just shoot the breeze for a while and try to let things get back to a casual atmosphere.
We're going to be spending time with Ran once its time to fuck around again
We wont get another opportunity to properly spend time with Keine and mend things until the next arc is done in all likelihood
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I wake up to a bright room. The feeling of the many meaningless and meandering thoughts drift off once more as I roll up in my futon. It seems I slept in again. I check the watch on my desk, 8:10 AM. Seems I’m not too late in starting my day.

But I do wish I had more time. With just several hours before I have to go back to the yamawaro for an interview, I need to be decisive on what I’m doing. It’s terrible of me that I need to think of Ran and Keine separately, because I don’t want to put one before the other, but I don’t think they’d casually sit around each other no matter how hard I’d try.

So between the two… I need to make up some time with Keine. I disappeared on her for a week with no explanation, and that isn’t exactly a nice thing to do to someone you live with. I also wonder how many skulls she cracked asking around for me to no avail. Yeah, I need to do something for her because of that.

I get myself ready for the day, leaving my traveling gear behind for now, and awkwardly enter the main room. I’m expecting some very terse conversation with Keine the second the floor creaks, but I still don’t hear a sound through the house. Her hat is gone from its shrine, and the only thing left out in the kitchen is the kettle she puts on in the morning. Seems she’s gone out, but was it for errands or something else?

No, if I really had to guess, then it’s probably something work related, so she’d just be next door in the school. I slip my shoes on and head over to the front doors of the temple school. I say ‘head over’ but in reality the school may as well be a conjoined building to Keine’s home. It’s sizable compared to most buildings, but it’s also structured much the same as the rest of the village.

I try not to come in here too frequently, mainly out of principle, since I’m not an instated educator yet. Keine doesn’t really care for the formality and nobody would bat an eye for me of all people if I go in or out, but still it feels like it’s not something I can call my workplace. I’m definitely being too conscientious of it, though.

In the doorway I slip my shoes back off and look down the hall. Wood floors with sliding doors to one side, paper windows on the other. I slide the door to the first classroom. Chairs, desks, a small bookshelf at the far wall under the paper windows, but no Keine. I check the next classroom down the hall, much the same but there is some old lesson stuff written on the chalk boards. Something about the first season of Gensokyo post border. I can’t say I know too much about the actual history of Gensokyo itself. I read a lot of it in brief, and I didn’t follow many of the major beats. I could only tell it must have been a very active period of time.

I close the door, reminding myself that I’m here to find the teacher and shouldn’t be distracted by the school. I’ve already been in here a few times, and I’ll be in here plenty more. Stepping over to the last door of the hall, I can hear a constant faint sound coming from inside.

I lightly knock against the light frame of the door, and say, “Keine, I’m coming in.”

“Come in,” she answers.

I open to her office space in the school. A quaint little space with only really enough room for a low desk and a bookshelf against the back wall. Keine doesn’t take up the most space in here, but she still looks bigger than usual as a mass of blue in this cramped brown space. I do have to wonder if she can even step around her desk properly in here.

“Tanner,” she says, gesturing across from her, “take a seat already.”

“Right, sorry,” I comply with a light chuckle to fail at hiding some embarrassment.

She puts her pen down, next to the remnants of the work I hadn’t gotten to yesterday, and asks, “What do you need? I’m still busy today.”

“Well, I just…” I start, but can’t really find any words to do anything with. Thinking now, I didn’t really have any kind of plan for this, I just wanted to be here with her. “Do you… need any more help?”

She mouths the words, as if to make sure she didn’t miss anything. She appears to start saying something, but stops herself with a drawn out sigh, and replies, “You know what? Sure. If I can get this backlog done faster I wouldn’t mind.”

She shaves off half of the stack of papers and hands them to me. She takes a spare pen from the bookshelf behind her, hiding amidst some scrolls, and explains how to work through the section I was given. It’s a quiz on some of the content I saw on the chalkboard in the second classroom.

I shuffle through the answers as she tackles some older work. The only sound pervading the room is the scratching of our pens intermittently paused by drawing from the inkwell. It doesn’t take too long to pour over the work, or it doesn’t feel like it anyway. We’re done with only a small spat of bickering from how I put the done papers opposite of her pile, despite it being in the same orientation from my perspective. Keine checks through a few pages for any discrepancies, but quickly decides that they’re fine and returns them to her own done space.

She spends a few moments cleaning up, but Keine quickly realizes that we’re done with what she asked, and grasps for something else to do instead of talking with me.

She snatches the first thing from a to do folder and shows it to me, saying, “Uhm, so, why don’t you help me with this next?”

I once over the page, really a bunch of hasty notes that Keine had taken at some point, and play along, “So you want to do this? Do you know how hard this will be?”

She clams up, trying to see through my feigned seriousness, and continues to test me, “Surely we could do this together, right?”

“Keine you know this is a self proposal to have a class make a game board with historic events, right?”

She reddens a bit, well, more than a bit, and says, “Oh, I… must have grabbed the wrong folder. Just ignore that.”

She takes the paper back, crumbling it in light frustration.

“I mean, I wouldn’t mind trying to make one if that’s something you wanted to try doing. I’ve seen history teachers try to gamify their lessons as a sort of break in the classes,” I try to reassure my fellow teacher. Truth be told, I’m holding back teasing her more. I haven’t seen her embarrassed yet, so that folder must have some very fun things packed away.

She looks at me, cross but not angry, and relents, “Oh, fine! If you’re so sure it’s not silly then let’s do it.”

Before I can continue the banter, Keine stands up to grab a series of scrolls, carrying no less than ten before taking an unraveled blank scroll with her free hand. I get up as she wades back to her desk, and lo’ and behold she does in fact step straight over it. She keeps the papers in hand while wagging at the door, telling me to get it. We shuffle to the classroom next to us, where Keine dumps the scrolls at the front of the room and pins a portion of the blank scroll paper across the blackboard.

She breaks off into a pseudo lecture of the current progress of her class on Japanese history, detailing the different eras, or rather periods as they are denoted by the emperors of the time. She breaks off into many anecdotes within the scrolls that she brought with her, and many tangents of things that she personally found interesting after studying the contents so frequently.

It’s relieving to hear her speak so passionately about her own subjects. It’s not often that she would bring any lesson content back home with her, or when she does she only files it away for next year.

Eventually, without any impulse, she starts to write what she’s talking about onto the scroll at the farthest corner of the board. And this sparks some back and forth discussion. It doesn’t take a historian to ask how a roadmap should be structured.

It’s fun to have this kind of collaboration, just poking into what someone with a lot of knowledge is thinking. You can learn a lot from them and they get a rhythmic train of thought. Keine is very good at keeping that train of thought, so much so that it’s hard to get her to change topic. It surprises no one to say that she’s a rather stubborn individual, for the lack of polite phrasing she might even be considered narrow minded.

Damn if she doesn’t enjoy that sort of narrowness. Seeping into every crack of interest, finding every corner she can to some topic. The depth of her studies go far beyond any high school history teacher. She is outright prolific in her study of the past, theorizing new contexts for events on the fly with a bare minimum input from me. I feel like something between a fly on the wall and a pet rock with how she’s able to keep up her own conversation.

And the strangest part of it all? I don’t mind it one bit. I’m happy seeing Keine enjoying herself, seeing her elated to do something. I haven’t seen this side of her, either. It crosses my mind that it might be my fault to some extent. I’ve never considered myself the joyful type to be around.

Those thoughts are secondary to Keine’s infectiously childish glee at showing off the full chalkboard snaked with many various events, people, and places. In a couple of places she couldn’t even contain the game map to just the paper, having to instead improvise the lines by connecting it with chalk. It certainly is impressive, but I don’t think I have it in me to tell her that this wouldn’t be a very fun game to play. We would get a good laugh out of the absurd number of war events she places around, but the sheer length would take us hours to work through. This is only a poorly disguised game of chutes and ladders, after all. One that spans the length of an entire chalkboard, and many historic chutes.

Even knowing that, we spread the page out along several desks put together, using folded pieces of paper as the playing pieces. Keine’s character is an elaborately folded paper crane, I can only manage a paper triangle, myself.

And so we sit there, one hour passed making it, and hours more to play it. It’s as absurd as I figured it would be. The events continually dart a piece across the board. Some events jump you forward a number of spaces because a new emperor was crowned bringing in a period, and the landing space would be a war tearing up the country. Some would have the samurai mount a brave defense for their lords only to round right back into those samurai betraying their lords turns later. At some point we decided that the pieces would be named Inari and Fujiwara. You’d never guess which piece was mine.

By the time we stopped, it was around eleven. The game wasn’t over, far from it, but it was time that I started moving to get ready for the interview with Takane that I was promised. Keine was fine that we were stopping, though she was having fun. It’s hard to act like I don’t notice how let down she is that this good time is over so soon, though.

“Keine,” I address her as she’s rolling up the paper with a face marked by hints of melancholy.

“Yes, Tanner?” she asks back without looking over to me.

“Do you want me to stay for a bit longer?”

She stops and looks at me. Her perplexed gaze tells me that didn’t come out right.

“Wait, no, I didn’t mean it in any kind of–“

“Tanner…” Keine interrupts, clear disappointment in her voice. “Just get going, would you?”

“No, Keine, listen. I wanted to do what I can to make up for this last week. I can’t begin to say sorry enough for walking out without a word. It’s just such…”

“… A shitty thing to do?” she finishes for me.

“Yeah,” I agree in shame.

“Haah…” she lightly sighs. “Tanner, you don’t need to act so conscientious. It just isn’t like you, for better or worse.”

“No, Keine,” I plead, “yesterday you made me realize that I’m not being a great friend, or roommate, or peer, or whatever else I am- I’m just not being a good person to you. I don’t know what I should do to make things right. I guess that’s what I really want to say.”

She looks back down, unsure how to respond to that. I certainly wouldn’t know. That might have something to do with how I got to this point to begin with.

“Well I…” she tries to get her thought out, “That’s good… Yes… Yes, that’s good. I think that much is what I want, just knowing that you care like that. People generally don’t get close to me. Wait, no, I don’t mean it physically, that’s meant as a… a metaphorical? I believe I’m callous in people’s eyes, not someone to share feelings or thoughts with,” she finishes.

“Even Mokou, sometimes,” she mutters in addendum.

I didn’t realize it before, but it’s true. No one visits her. People barely stop for more than a minute on the street when she’s around. Even after my lecture a couple people stopped to talk to my crazy ass, but ignored Keine altogether.

It sucks to understand your own obliviousness to something so obvious.

I decide to retort her, “Hey now, you’re not giving yourself credit here. You took in a stranger after, what? Ten minutes of conversation with Akyuu? I can’t think of many people that would do that.”

“Now you’re just using generalities,” she argues, the corners of her mouth turning ever so slightly upwards.

“I’m serious. You deserve someone that can be your friend, and even if I’m pretty clumsy, I’d like to try and get there.”

Now she smiles softly, upending me at the sight. It’s… I can’t exactly explain how it feels to have such genuine joy directed at me. That smile is going to be plastered in my brain for a while, that much I’m sure of.

“Thank you, Tanner,” she whispers.

“I, uhh. Yeah,” I jumble together. “So, uh, yeah. I should get going, I guess. I’ll be back some time tonight, hopefully…”

I pace back to the entrance of the class, uncertain what mood is in the room right now.

“Please take care of yourself.”

Well… that went… well.

[Please wait warmly for next update]

And in b4 there was never once a samurai that betrayed their lord or some other nonsense. I’m always afraid to get into any level of detail with Keine’s knowledge because I have the most surface level knowledge of Japanese history. Makes it hard to stay in the scene as it’s happening. Otherwise I’m quite happy with how this section turned out. Back to Ran, Nitori, and Takane next update.
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What a pair of dorks! Though I do wonder if it is time to dance, so to speak, based on what we saw in this update. It could be as likely that the ecologist is not used to sincerity/genuineness. It makes me wonder if he ever had a student come back and thank him during his tenure as a high school teacher. The idea that he might not seem sad to me.

The only instance I can recall of him expressing interest in someone was with Ichirin.
>Blue hair open to the air, a simple kimono, entrenched in some reading, Ichirin looks very fetching. I had to convince myself not to stare so she doesn’t notice me.
Blue hair and a woman he knows he will piss off.
Blue, Da ba dee da ba di.
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I can feel an idiotic grin stretch across my face, but I couldn’t care less. I feel like I’m walking on clouds on my way out of the school. I didn’t even imagine that Keine would forgive me so quickly. It’s so beyond me that I don’t even feel like I deserve such trust from her.

I’m so caught up thinking about how lucky I am that the world around me ends up in a blur. I don’t even notice my surroundings outside as I walk back to the house. This is much to my detriment as something yanks me off the ground by the collar. Still hanging an inch or two above the ground, my captor turns me toward them. To my lack of surprise, it’s Ran.

Oh shit, I’m late and Ran’s here.

Maybe I can play this off with a casual attitude. “Hey, Ran, whatcha up to, picking me up out of the blue?” I ask with some snark and some joking attitude.

“Ceasing your motion into a tree,” she responds by turning me back into my previous direction of travel. Well… how about that. “You needn’t divert your cause of distraction, either. It’s apparent.”

“Is that to say you know it by intuition or that you were listening?” I pointedly direct back.

“This is not something requiring answer, nor does it have to do with your wellbeing. Information declined.”

“I beg to differ,” I state as she sets me back down. Ran waves a hand back in the direction of Keine’s front door, and I move back over to grab my pack. I decide to only really take a few essentials, such as my notebook, since I won’t be going on a full trip today.

I eye Ran as she continues to act neutrally innocent to eavesdropping my conversation with Keine. That would be something that Chen could have a field day with, if she had known. But Ran’s inscrutable as always, and so I decide to nix the idea and let her carry me once more. Quickly enough, we’re in the air and heading back behind the mountain. I’m always surprised by the size of the mountain, since we land in front of the camp entryway well past noon.

The guards are certainly not happy to see Ran, especially since we pass through without interruption. Now I’m left to wonder if the yamawaro or the human guards dislike Ran more. Can she even go anywhere without her master’s reputation haunting her?

We make our way through the camp, greeting a few various denizens making their way to the mess hall for a late lunch, and end up in front of Takane’s tent. She didn’t really mention a place to conduct the interview, but Ran said to just go here anyway.

“Takane?” I call. “You in there?”

“Yeah, get in and let’s get this out of the way,” she answers back, her usual blunt attitude refortified.

I glance over to Ran, but she gestures I go in first with a look that screams ‘this is your bed to lie in.’ Oh Ran, I know you always have my back. Mainly because I’m never sure if you have my front like you’re supposed to…

Stepping in Takane’s tent, the space feels larger than expected. That has less to do with any form of magic and more to do with the sheer level of clutter in here. The central shaft holding up the tent has an entire rotisserie of bladed weaponry. The tent walls all have a stand laying out guns of all different models that look no younger that fifty. Whether the guns are firearms or their playful counterparts is hard to say, but if it really bugs me I’ll just ask. As for the actual amenities to make this a room to rest in and not just an armory: a cot with a blanket and pillow is under a shelve of several guns, a trunk rests at the end of it, an old ironing board with its compatriot lie in a corner against one of the guns, and three stools are left out for us to use.

Takane is tending to one of the guns on a workbench that she somehow fit into all of this madness. I thought Kourindou looked packed, this place beats it out easily. It’s impressive there’s enough room to even walk around in like this.

“Are you gonna keep gawking, or take a seat?” Takane goads from her bench.

“Right, right, I’m sitting,” I reply, trying to pass through the rubble of guns and blades.

How Ran can fit her tails in here is absurd. I know she is, since I haven’t heard her knock or shove anything around, but she’s been in the corner of my eye. Feels like my small mind won’t comprehend whatever magic she’s doing to manage in here.

I settle down into one of the foldable stools, checking if I’m in the right position of the thing. The triangle stools are always the worst. Well, a rock can be worse, but I’ve had my share of comfortable rocks. Takane sets the rifle she was servicing down and moves over to the stool across from me right in front of her cot.

She stares at me with a certain intensity that I’m unsure how to feel about. Ran sidles into my periphery, letting me know she’s here, despite being quiet. She’s still standing, of course.

“Everything alright, Takane? Things worked out with Nitori after I left, I hope,” I comment. A bit of a driving question, but hopefully this ends up being a good note to pick up the mood to something more casual.

Takane strokes her chin for a second, determining if my question has any meaning underlying. When she decides not, she replies, “After we finished off that bottle of cucumber beer, we knocked back a bunch of bottles I’d been saving up. After that, we started fighting and wrestling each other all night. Hell if I remember who did or didn’t notice us. I think it ended with me tossing Nitori off a cliffside and passing out after, hah!”

“You…” my brain halts mid sentence. “Off a cliff? Is she… fine? Ran, would a Youkai be fine from that?”

“A welp would die,” Ran confers.

“No, she didn’t die. My sister ain’t that fragile,” Takane repudiates.

I sigh, “Well, that’s good I guess. So is this to say you two are doing well or terribly?”

“Eh,” Takane grunts, “same old same old. It’s good that we’ve come to an understanding, though. So, uh, thanks. You’re a bit better than I thought. Doesn’t mean your not still an ass.”

“Yeah, I can’t really deny that,” I chuckle.

“Enough, Tanner. Remain focused,” Ran admonishes. Takane and I give her a cross look, but comply and move into the body of the discussion.

I open the dialogue with, “Just so we’re clear, I’ll be asking about the yamawaro physiology and anything I find tangentially related to it. Any concerns, Takane?”

“No… well, actually, yes. I assume I can choose to not answer questions at my discretion?” she asks with a light change to her dialect. Would this be her polite voice or her business voice?

“You are here to answer questions at your own will, as far as I’m concerned,” I affirm her.

“Ahem,” Ran clears her throat.

I gesture to Ran, and say, “My cohorts concerns might not be the same, mind.”

“I can only hope it doesn’t get down to that,” Takane half jokes.

“Now then, let’s get started,” I state. “I know some of the yamawaro culture, and how it has a lot of the same key points that the kappa’s do. If anything, I only know this because you and other yamawaro used comparisons to yourselves against them when explaining things like business practice and ways you spend your free time. What I don’t know is what the exact relation between kappa and yamawaro are, only that they call each other kin. Care to elaborate the familial bond for me?”

“Yeah, probably,” Takane states, crossing her arms to think over her response. “Or so I say, but… it’s a bit more annoying than that. If I say we’re the same, that’s not really true, but saying how exactly we’re different is like describing… hm. You know how there are red and green apples?” she instead asks me.

Japan has apples? Or, maybe it would be better to ask where doesn’t have apples? I’ve always just figured them to be in the Americas for some reason.

Instead of my internal monologue, I simply reply, “Sure.”

She nods and continues, “Right, apples. Green ones are soft and sweet while red ones are crisp and tart.

“Wait,” I interrupt, “isn’t that backwards?”

“It is,” Ran confirms.

“Okay, whatever. Point is, they taste different and look different, but what’s different about them?”

“Sugar content, supposedly,” Ran returns.

“Supposedly?” I repeat, turning to my companion.

She eyes me back, uninterested, and replies, “Botany is not a studied subject of mine.”

“I mean, I wouldn’t expect it,” I say raising a brow her way.

“It’s not about the specific reason,” Takane claims. “It’s that you’d call either color an apple but they do have differences even though they’re practically the same!”

I think on her point, and state, “That doesn’t completely make sense to me. We call all dog breeds a dog even though they’re different species, aren’t they?”

“That is the incorrect definition of a specie,” Ran comments.

“Wait, it is?”

“The correct definition is in closer alignment to what animals could produce proper offspring should they mate. Dog breeds are able to produce mixed offspring.”

“Huh… learn something new everyday.”

“Are you two always like this?” Takane asks, keen eyed to our banter.

“Yes,” we reply in unison, Ran a little unhappy to do so. I shoot her a coy smile while she holds in a groan.

I clear my throat and return to topic, “Sorry, so the point is kappa and yamawaro have differences, but you’re the same people at the end of the day. That’s what you mean?”

“More or less,” Takane answers giving her hand a rocking motion to show her certainty.

“Wait, but old images show kappa and yamawaro looking very different,” I point out. “In fact, yamawaro only have a single eye in old depictions, so how are they supposed to be the same?”

Takane stares into space for a moment, and shrugs after not coming up with a good explanation. I look over to Ran, who prompts a finger in understanding, but deflates thereafter and hides her hand once more.

“Is this one of those ‘too strange to answer correctly’ types of questions?” I offer.

“It’s not that there isn’t and answer,” Takane starts.

“It is much like DNA, but with magical properties applied to it,” Ran finishes. “Would you like the complete series list of kappa versus yamawaro. I find it quite elucidating.”

“Pass, maybe some other time…” I concede.

The conversation passes with a lot of similar back and forth. Takane warmed up to the casual nature I take with Ran, and started to even tease Ran’s stiffness once in a while. I’d say it was an overall fun time.

As for what I learned…

Kappa and yamawaro have very little difference. One’s in water and likes banging tools, the other likes banging tools and is in the mountain. Complete opposites, yes. Now in all seriousness, they have plenty of cultural differences, and their physical builds vary between the groups, but at the end of the day nothing ends up distinct in comparison.

That said, there are some pieces that I can’t place that assumption to. Like their classic fears. Youkai weaknesses are fucking weird. How yamawaro are literally afraid of a line of ink is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. They’re afraid of a line not even drawn in the sand, just one on paper. I can’t begin to understand how this happened.

Meanwhile I also hear the most mundane of information like how the yamawaro and kappa have a salt deficiency since they are not near an ocean. I’m not sure how that makes sense, exactly, since the yamawaro were always mountain dwelling and the kappa I could swear were fresh water based. It does explain the amount of salt they added to the food when I was in the kitchen, though.

There’s not as much I need to ask Takane about due to being around the camp for a week, so discussion goes by pretty quickly.

By the time we’re ready to wrap up, a fun thought crosses my mind.

“Hey, Ran. Why don’t you ask a question as well?” I propose.

“For what purpose?” she judges as obstinately as always.

“I just thought that it would be interesting to hear what you might want to know from Takane.”

Takane perks up a bit to the idea, saying, “Well, that does sound neat. Hearing what a great Yakumo might want to know from us ‘lesser’ Youkai.”

She gives a queer stare to further emphasize her distaste of my partner.

Ran doesn’t take the taunt lightly, eyes piercing straight through Takane in attempt to intimidate the yamawaro. When that doesn’t work, she instead allows the idea, and blusters, “Hmph. Very well, welp. Answer this: how did the yamawaro correct barrier distortions within their territory without the assistance of barrier experts?”

“Who said we didn’t have a barrier expert to consult?” Takane answers in question.

“What?” Ran mumbles, eyes narrowing down on Takane. A sudden tension permeated in under a second. I can somewhat understand why Ran is worried, but I hope she doesn’t get ahead of herself, here.

I put a hand over to Ran, and say, “Hey, let’s not do anything, yeah? We need to know if Takane is willing to elaborate, first.”

I now direct my hand over to Takane, who replies, “You would need to offer a trade for it. And don’t think it’ll be cheap.”

I scratch at my chin. I could swear the rough scratch against my chin hair is audible, and realize I badly need to shave. I take my time to think of something, then get a small epiphany.

“How about,” I suggest, “Chen returns your knife?”

Takane laughs, “I totally forgot that little shit had it! How do you figure that’s an even trade? Ya tryin’ to swindle a yamawaro, now, mister Yakumo pet?”

“Oh, I think it would be fine,” I pontificate. “We get that tree buried knife back, and maybe recommend Chen to not scream to high heavens about how she beat you guys at your own game. Or perhaps keep tight lipped about you and your sister crying into each other’s arms. She was very excited to lord that one over you.”

Now Takane changes her tune. I wiped the foolish smile right off, and she’s put up one ugly grimace to say, “You really playing that way? Again?”

Ran has also gone notably silent.

“Well… let’s just say that I don’t really learn my lessons, despite being a teacher,” I joke.

Takane lets the joke sit out in the open, not really cheered up by my poor humor. Right when I think she’s ready to tell me to fuck off, she instead lets out a chuckle no louder than a whisper, maybe belying her opinion of me.

“Fine. Have it your way, you prick. Get me that knife and by the dragon put a leash on that damn cat. You’re not much fun to shakedown, being so quick to stop being nice,” Takane decides.

“Then state what you know,” Ran interjects once more.

“Knife first!” Takane holds firmly. “I get the knife and we can just assume that you dunked the cat in water until she agreed.”

“You understand that you can always be coerced into speaking, correct?”

“Sure I do,” Takane puffs, “but that just wouldn’t be be fair. I’m all about fair exchange, even if jackasses like him make it dirty.”

“Isn’t that contradictory?” I ask.

“Silence, Regis,” Ran tuts. She stares down Takane with that intensity she used on me before. Something unnatural, calling attention to her eyes wide with wrath. Shining. Striking. She states in usual levelness, “The name Yakumo does not care about fairness, child. The boundary receiving the least amount of impulse is paramount to norms and conduct. You will speak.”

Takane sits stone solid. Not because she’s brave enough to face the impinging fury of Ran Yakumo, but because the raw pressure emitted has scared her beyond reaction. Ran leisurely reaches clawed fingers to Takane’s eyes. Violence present in her own.

Before anything else can happen, I find myself shouting, “RAN!”

She stops, not in surprise but by command. I realize a cold sweat has run over me, not able to handle whatever Ran was doing. I’m not alone, as Takane is drenched and gasping for air, falling out of her stool from the motion.

“You dare shout for me to stop, human?” Ran looks at me, without the magic from a second ago. She looks only as stern as usual, unphased by what she was preparing to do.

I look up at her, with what shaky confidence I can muster, and answer, “Yes, Ran. You don’t need to go that far, she’s already agreed to help.”

“For a price,” Ran argues. “Even a pittance, trading anything for Gensokyo’s stability is an irredeemable failure of the hierarchy.”

“Ran,” I say again, quivering up from my stool and putting a hand to Ran’s shoulder, mostly to keep myself standing. “It’s fine. I’m telling you that you don’t need to do anything harsh.”

She looks at me, thoughts indiscernible, but doesn’t return to her assault. She grabs under my opposite shoulder to help lift my limp frame. Takane coughs a bit. Once getting her breathing steady, she stands back up, stilted. A mixture of fear and anger at the fox.

“You…” she looks for something to curse at Ran, but is too stunned to do so. “Just… just go. Don’t do anything to me or my camp, please.”

Ran grabs my pack without a word, and supports me out of the tent. Moving around the clutter like before, shoving a lot of it with her tails. We then fly straight up from the camp.

Not a word is exchanged for a while.

[x] “Sorry.”

[x] “Why go that far?”

A light and cheerful update? Not on my watch, apparently. It was literally in my notes, ‘low stress update.’ And now here I am on a mini section at the end of a chapter. Me and my interest in good interactions…
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Lesson learned, don't try to bargain about the barrier with a Yakumo. The gloves come off. Which makes sense. Point of duty and pride, all that jazz.

[x] “Why go that far?”

Still worth hearing her thoughts tho. Don't know how much apologizing for trying to command her would do.
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[x] “Sorry.”
[x] “Why go that far?”
Are these really mutually exclusive options? I feel like if we just say sorry Ran will either scold us or just remain silent. It just seems like sorry would lead to asking or finding out more about her intentions either way.

If they're intended to be mutually exclusive than I'll go for [x] "Sorry."
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Suppose I owe a short explanation, also an apology for not thinking more on the vote. I originally thought to break between [x] Rebuke Ran / [x] Apologize for impeding her duties, but figured the wording was overly dramatic for the current point of the scenario. But with that in mind, I did intend for the two choices to be exclusive by their original intents, so I'll consider this in tie for now.
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[x] “Sorry.”
Ran doesn't seem to be in a good mood lately so pushing it won't help. We also know that she takes her duties very seriously and the fact that she hasn't been able to return to Yukari makes things worse, so this whole outburst might have been her trying to prove herself.
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[x] “Sorry.”

Even though I do think she went too far I get where she's coming from.
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[x] “Sorry.”

“Come again?” Ran asks as we’re mid flight.

“Well, I mean sorry for getting in your way, I guess. Your duty is important to you, after all. I only stopped you out of a gut reaction,” I explain.

We continue along the air for a few moments, Ran not replying to my thoughts. The base of the mountain trails underneath, the rest of Gensokyo streams into view.

Ran speaks again, “No. You were right to question my actions. It is beyond my capabilities to do so. Assigned directives are to be followed without need of questioning intent. Such is part of their parameters.”

“What do you mean?”

“My directives are to protect Gensokyo by knowing all factors that affect the Great Hakurei Barrier. This barrier is normally distributed across Gensokyo, therefore any factor that effects it on the fringes such as the yamawaro’s base on the backside of the Youkai Mountain should be taken with extreme contempt. How the barrier should be protected is outside of this logic.”

“So that’s why you went so hostile?”

“Indeed. It is not a hostility toward the yamawaro, but a hostility of the barrier’s integrity.”

“Why did you let me stop you, if it’s that important?” I question glancing directly back at Ran.

She stares back at me, contemplating her response, and answers, “You are the only outside opinion available currently.”

I’m baffled by the implications. “What?” I ask.

“That is to say, there is nothing else to stop the logical conclusions of my directives,” Ran answers with a solemnity that concerns me.

“No, Ran, I can’t be the only thing. What do you usually have as a moral compass?”

“Your decisions are reasonable enough. Compromising with a diplomatically understanding party is advantageous overall despite the immediate compromise being an undesirable event. My directives are not in line to understanding when to pursue that line of action,” she explains.

I pick out something and ask again, “But why was I able to tell you to stop?”

A hint of concern crosses Ran’s face, much to my surprise, and she says, “You are the only moral direction available at this time.”

“Yeah, you already said that… Wait. Has Yukari not contacted you? Still?”

Ran remains silent. It’s not often that she doesn’t have some rebuttal, refute, or banter. This is something serious for her.

“Ran how many days has it been since you last heard from her?” I ask, shifting in Ran’s grip to properly face her.

“Twenty days,” she answers in controlled monotone.

My thoughts fluster out before I can compose them, “That’s… weird. It’s around when we first started working. Is there anything to that? No, more importantly, is you power still waning? No, no, what I think I really need to ask is… aren’t you worried?”

“Please choose only one question at a time.”

I cast my glance into the horizon to think some more. I thought it was weird the other week, since it sounded unprecedented, but now it’s probably getting out of hand. The lake is coming into view at this point, and Ran begins a slow decent towards it. Seems we’re going to be visiting Cirno once more. I can only guess Ran knows exactly where Chen is, though I wonder why she didn’t just land to summon her like prior…

Oh… “The second one. Are you still losing your power?” I ask. I make sure to look directly at Ran, as she’s been acting different in the last few days. If anything, she’s more touchy but also more personable.

“Regis, this information is not pertinent to your station,” she argues, keeping her eyes fixated ahead.

“Bullshit. You’re just as much my partner as my bodyguard, and I want to know your problems,” I argue back.

Ran sighs, maybe knowing that I’ll keep arguing this point until I win, and replies, “I no longer have access to barrier manipulation abilities. As before, this will not affect your security in times to come.”

“But it does mean that you have even less ability to go home,” I retort. “Your real home, not the Hakurei shrine. Ran, really, are you okay?”

“There is no reason to feel concern over my circumstances,” she says, returning my stare. “Do not proceed with this line of questioning. There is no action to be taken at this time, regardless.”

She looks towards the ice raft again, and refuses to humor anything else I say or ask. It’s definitely not alright by now. I had hoped things would work themselves out a couple of weeks ago, but nothing’s changed.

Why has Ran been kicked out of her house?

We float down to the raft. Cirno and Chen are sitting in front of Cirno’s igloo, thankfully intact. A number of items are sitting around them. A few notables include a frog frozen in an ice cube, a small bag with plant stems sticking out the top, and Takane’s knife stuck in a chunk of wood. Ran hands back my pack as we walk up to them.

Chen, currently in human form, gets up to attention as soon as she spots Ran. It doesn’t surprise me she wouldn’t want to deal with any excuse for further discipline. Actually, I’m surprised she got done with her previous punishment already.

“Hello, Miss Ran!” Chen greets. “Do you have need of me again?”

“Indeed,” Ran states. “Two measures are to be taken for an issue, by the agreement of the yamawaro.”

Ran slides over to pick up the knife, now with the sappy wood shaved down into a scabbard. I wonder if it can be taken out of the wood now. Oh, thinking about it, I left the little piece I bought at home.

“Lady Ran?” Chen questions her master for taking the knife and inspecting it.

Ran looks down to her shikigami, ignoring Cirno’s curious stare. “This is the same knife that was taken from the yamawaro’s challenge seven days ago, yes?”

“Uhm, yes,” Chen replies. “The fairy and I were comparing our treasures and debating who the knife should go to.”

“How’s that?” I ask, taking a look at the frog and bag of plants. Probably catnip, if I had to guess.

Cirno answers with an outstanding pose, “Because I’m the one that won the game by scoring the most points!”

“But I’m the one that actually got the flag from the enemy base!” Chen refutes.

“Chen,” Ran states in her intense, commanding tone. Chen stiffens back into a statue. “This knife is the first measure to a required compromise. It will have to be confiscated, though not by your actions.”

“What?” Chen flinches.

“Hey!” Cirno shouts.

“The second measure, Chen. You are not to speak of your victory over the yamawaro nor the events between Kawashiro and Yamashiro. A verbal contract with myself will be sufficient,” Ran orders Chen.

Chen is flummoxed, “Wha… but–“

“Those are commands,” Ran rephrases.

Chen stands there face reddening from feelings of frustration almost to the point of tearing up. It’s not that she thinks that she’s done something wrong, but the way Ran is doing this makes her feel like it. It doesn’t take much to mess with an angsty teenager’s head, and Ran could make even the nastiest soldiers bawl with apologies to boot. I guess Chen isn’t immune to Ran’s rough attitude in conversation.

“Understood,” she assents.

A part of me understands that these two are Youkai and Youkai think differently, but another part feels like this is just in bad taste. I try to speak up, “Hey, Ran–“

“No!” Cirno shouts again, now jumping up to Ran’s arm to try and snag the knife from her. “Bad fox lady! This is our trophy!”

She attempts to peel one of Ran’s fingers from the grip, but doesn’t gain much purchase. She plants her feet against Ran’s side to try and apply some leverage. Ran doesn’t try to swat her off, as she knows she’s still strong enough to resist a fairy. Cirno’s anger does, however, get through Ran’s thick head that she should better explain her actions.

“You are both in error,” she says, “this must be done. This is in purpose of the great barrier’s safety.”

Chen looks up, still a bit teary eyed but clearly listening.

“The yamawaro have information on an independent agent interacting with the barrier, which Lady Yukari has not informed me of. Though the information could be coaxed out of them, I have agreed with Regis’ assertion that a diplomatic deal should be made for the information,” she explains.

I sense a chance to jump in, “What she means to say, Chen, is that she’s thankful you were thinking for yourself and taking a risk that has ended up helping her immensely. At least, that’s what she should be saying…” I eye down Ran. She looks irritated at me for it.

Chen perks up, and asks, “Really?”

I pull Cirno off of Ran by her waist, making sure my grip is firm against her wriggling. Ran looks mixed on how to respond to her shikigami. She turns her gaze and replies, “I… said nothing of the sort.”

“C’mon, Ran,” I goad with Cirno still fidgeting in my arms. “You can just tell her she did a good job.”

Ran turns on me, attempting to look intimidating but too flustered to make a concerted effort. “You are in no position to say how Chen should be taught. Her moves were unfounded risks without inherent necessity. Such antics are not to be encouraged.”

“Right, and you disciplined her for it,” I argue. “Now that she’s taken the detention for something bad she did there was also something good that ended up coming from it. But that’s just me one-sidedly giving you advice as a teacher. What do you think, Cirno?” I ask the icicle in my arms. She stops flopping around and looks up and behind her.

She fingers her chin in thought, and turns it back to Ran to say, “If someone wants to be nice for you, you should have thanks full.”

I pause a bit at Cirno’s poor lingual skills, but also say, “Right, thanks full.”

Ran holds a stern gaze, but caves little by little to my smug face and Cirno’s innocence. She narrows her eyes in frustration, but does look back over to Chen. The diminutive shikigami is outright timid at this point, unsure what to expect from her master.

Ran squeezes the bridge of her nose, and after lowering says, “Chen. I do not agree with your approach to the problem, but you have been helpful. Thank you.”

“Boo,” Cirno jeers. “That was a weak thank you. I’ve heard rocks give better!”

I put the fairy down to knock her on the head. She slinks down to the ground, hands covering her cranium.

“That’s enough, Cirno. She’s already trying hard, so we should wait for her to open up.”

“Are you two… spectators?” Chen asks, mildly amused at the exchange.

“Annoying gnats would more closely describe them,” Ran jokes.

The only reason I know it’s a joke is because she doesn’t look so angry now. Also because she doesn’t like to speak in metaphors, but that’s definitely the after thought here, surely.

“As for you, Regis,” Ran comments, walking up to me disregarding the icy ground. “You’re getting ahead of yourself, not to approach the topic of your developing sense of brash personality toward myself.”

“Ah… well…” I realize my faults for essentially playing around. “I guess I got carried away. Sorry?”

She begins to float up. And up. “Not forgiven,” she states, floating still higher off the ice. Without me in tow.

“Wait, Ran?!” I call up to the kitsune.

She calls back from a few paces in the air, “Find your way back, Tanner. Some physical exertion will be your discipline. The water is at a regular fourteen Celsius, nothing to be concerned for. My subordinate and the fae will accompany you, most assuredly.”

With that, she floats off toward the mountain again. Still without me, mind. I look over to Cirno and Chen. Cirno looks curious about what I’ll do, Chen seems to have regained her composure and then some. She’s practically reveling in my misery.

“What are you giggling about, cat? Did you forget the part where I convinced Ran to show you some sympathy?” I nag the brat.

She stares at me for a moment and snirks, “Well I wasn’t offering any for you. You just wanted Ran to be nice to me because you could.”

“Oh you little shit.”

“Shit?” Cirno innocently asks.

“Don’t remember that word, Cirno,” I order the fairy.

“Use that word every chance you get, Cirno!” Chen orders the fairy with a wily smile.

I shake my head and think about the best way back to shore. Considering Cirno can’t lift me… well no she can lift me but I don’t think she can fly with me. I once again am questioning what she’s made of. Anyway, Cirno no and I highly doubt Chen will be kind enough either. So unless I find a way to paddle this entire raft, it looks like I’m swimming. I kneel down and start to get my shoes off.

“What are you doing?” Chen asks.

I glance up at her and answer, “What’s it look like? It’s not as easy to swim with high back shoes like mine. Would cut circulation in my feet real quick.”

“I mean why are you going to actually swim? Cirno and I can carry you across,” Chen thumbs her friend.

This gives me a pause, after which I reply, “You know, I wasn’t expecting you to be willing. Maybe the snark and jabbing threw me off.”

Chen can’t wipe a smug grin off when retorting, “Oh you can get a bit of exercise if you want you old geezer. Even after a week of training you look like you need it. I’m just saying that maybe I can be convinced to do something that I don’t need to do because I could.”

Cirno sits down across from me, and states, “He’s not really fat, is he?”

Chen plants a palm to her face and sighs, “No, Cirno. Not really. We’re mocking each other.”

“That doesn’t sound nice to do to friends,” Cirno asserts.

“Shut up and grab a side, we’re carrying him across!”

“Thanks, Chen,” I say.

“Yeah, whatever,” she mumbles.

It’s side story time! That’s right, I’m calling the chapter here and we’re having the next selection of short(er than short) story ideas to break before the chapter conclusion and next chapter’s introduction. And no, I totally wasn’t goofing off a few days to cause this update to be on Wednesday, what are you talking about?

Side story?

[x] Yea
-[a] Dreams…
-[II] Shrooms…
-[3] Otters..?

[x] Nay, get on with the story!
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[x] Yea
-[3] Otters..?
Round 2
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[x] Yea
-[a] Dreams...

Is this Doremy (baku that eats dreams and nightmares), Marisa (magician addicted to magical mushrooms), and Yacchi (leader of the otter spirits) respectively?
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[3] Otters!
Yachie came so close last time! You know you've already been seduced by her charms, so no need to hide it!
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[x] Yea
-[3] Otters..?
Again, the whole "animal mafia" thang is one of 2hu's more detailed/interesting stories. Also this presumably puts us in closer physical/social proximity to the endgame(?) of Hecatia's Hell. Not to imply I want the story to end faster or include less characters than the first portion of this story, though!
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[3] Otters..?

State: Yamawaro observation: Day 9
Time: 9:00pm, Crescent Dark

Where did Kazegou run off to? That bastard convinced me that the Misty Lake is a nice drinking spot in the evening, but now he’s gone off to gods know where. I was a having a bit much even before we left the village, so I’m sure he stepped away to piss or something, but it’s felt like it’s been too long for him to do that at this point.

I get up from our spot on the shoreline, making sure to grab the partially emptied bottle of stupidly strong stuff he brought. Even when I’m well beyond tipsy I can appreciate the beauty of the lake in the summer, at least. Fairies light up the area, whether by their dim insect wings shining with some magic nonsense or by firing danmaku at each other. At this distance it could be mistaken for a collection of fireflies.

The still rational part of my brain tells me that being out here at this time (drunk no less) is courting death, but the inebriated part stopped caring even before we got here. The thought crossing my mind does tickle a nerve or two, so I think it’s time to get moving.

Moving through the treeline back toward the village, the summer air doesn’t feel any cooler at night. It feels hot, stuffy, and mostly humid out here. As hot as summers were growing up in Arizona, at least it was dry. Out here I feel like I’m swimming in my own sweat.

Somewhere down the path I see a large log toppled on the road. Kazegou found himself a nice spot in the dirt to pass out while in full armor. The angle that his family’s helmet rests at cannot be comfortable for his neck. Knowing that we’re sitting around on a dangerous, dark road, I try to wake him with a punch to his unarmored shoulder.

He grunts and tosses over. “Tanner?” he says amidst a few other mumbles. “What the hell, man? I’m trying to rest here…”

“Yeah, well, I’m sure you’d enjoy resting for all eternity out here,” I nag. Kaze looks around the dark forest area before realizing just where we are. He rolls up to his to his feet like a springboard. It’s comical to see his gruff build and burly mutton chopped face filled with terror. I drawl, “Alrigh’ we’re on the same page now. Let’s go.”

I feel my legs take a false motion to the side, and Kaze grabs me. Even when he looks weak in the knees he keeps solidly on his feet, enough to support me as well now. We start taking steps out of the grove. Well, he does, I’m being dragged along at this point. Some few moments pass silently through the area, but then a light breeze kicks up.

Something about it feels queer, and I instruct Kaze to stop for a moment. I hold myself back up and look in the direction of the wind, trying to determine whatever is so strange about for myself.

A light rustle in the distance. Far in a set of bushes, and well past what would likely be something stalking us. Chen’s training for spotting things is still fresh in my mind, so I can tell that whatever it is is several dozen meters away. My calm interpretation ends up being quite wrong, though.

Two blurs move past Kazegou and I in a wildly erratic pattern. It took no more than a second. Kaze didn’t even have the time to ready his hand to his sword hilt, much less draw it. We both tumble on our asses, feeling a rush of wind knock us down. I couldn’t tell what it was in the slightest, but the fact that we both seem to have our limbs intact and the things are gone is a good sign.

Or so I think, but a fresh stinging pain comes from my forearm. I can barely make it out in the dim moonlight, but I think I see a thin line around my whole arm. It’s like it was drawn on with a blade, but not even a drop of blood is coming from it.

I look over to Kaze, who’s holding a spot on his leg where his armor is cut clean through, showing a bare part of his upper leg. I take a moment to inspect the spot he points to and sure enough it’s just like my arm. I can’t tell in the slightest what the hell that was, or what they did to us. The fact that they took off a bit of Kaze’s armor says that they are dangerous, but ended up doing very little visible damage to our bodies.

We decide, with the remnants of inebriated courage, that whatever the hell that was, we should probably learn about for the sake of the village. You never know what the hell is out here causing trouble until you try to find it before it finds you. Or, rather… you’re not seen again because it found you first and you didn’t know about it being out here.

Forget it! We’re a couple of idiots that like to find dangerous things, and that’s what we’re doing!

Finding where the two whirlwinds went is easier than expected, the trees and branches along the way are lacerated the same way we were, but with a lot less care taken. It doesn’t take us long to track down a space in the woods where a lot of small movements can be heard. The two of us sneak up to an opening to find… otters? Yes, otters. A group of them in a circle surrounding a literal tower of otters standing atop one another. I look over to Kaze with what I hope is a confused enough look, but he just shrugs, as mystified as I am by the scene.

What the hell are these otters fucking doing? They are moving around the tower in a ritualistic fashion. Scrutinizing the scene I can make out some specific roles amongst them. The moving circle is a coordinated group of performers, the tower hums and yips a tune, one extra scruffy otter with a silly conical cap looks on from a position flanked by larger otters with… blades for hands and feet? Well, that at least explains the lacerations.

I tap Kaze’s arm to motion that we should leave before we’re spotted. I think I have everything I need to research what’s taking place here, even if I won’t know the specific spell or whatnot.

He begins to shift over before a sudden, “Gyah!” he squeals.

Now while I would normally note how absurdly girly he can scream, now is not the time. Not when an imposing figure stands behind us silhouette by the moonlight. Some bulky creature shaped like a burning star sitting around my height. Its arms have folded in on themselves like a continuous appendage… yeah it’s Ran.

“Humans!” a tiny voice shouts from the otter tribe. The humming and yipping crashes to a halt as the otters all turn to look at us, even some stuck in the wrong direction of the tower. A heartbeat passes silently.

“S-seize them! Quickly!” the overgrown otter hops and shouts to the crowd.

“Now, wait! WAIT!” I try clamor above the din of otter cries. The bladed otters spring into action quicker than the eye.

Kaze tries for his blade again, but he can’t move fast enough for them. Ran steps ahead of me in a flash and tosses out her shikigami everywhere. She lets them swarm like mosquitos, trapping the bladed otters under a pile of them away from the sharp edges and the other otters corralled.

After the paper dolls settle, the area has been cordoned off and the dangerous otters restrained. The overgrown one and the ritual dancers were left be. Ran steps over to them, towering high as a mountain above the critters.

“Stop any attempt at this incantation. On this attempt it was paused at sixty percent completion, but any further would have brought it past a potential barrier. More forceful means of termination would occur in that scenario,” she threatens.

“Hey, woah. Let’s not get drastic. What’s happening?” I recoil.

Ran turns and answers me directly, “These miscreants were casting a spell to another dimension from Gensokyo. Whilst not jeopardizing the integrity of the barrier, such practices are regularly regarded as taboo.”

Ran is about to turn back to the otters, but spots Kazegou behind me and speaks, bringing him to attention, “Vice captain Imaizumi, now would be a good time for you to step away. Do not attempt to take Regis, he will stay unless you physically force him away.”

“You know me so well,” I coo. “Anyway, yeah, you probably don’t want to get roped into this, Kaze.”

“And what about you, jackass?” Kaze refutes. “You ain’t got a got a reason to stick around. I don’t get why you want to get involved in Youkai problems willingly, but I’ll at least be here to make sure a drinking buddy doesn’t wind up dead.”

“I feel honored, Kaze,” I say and turn back to my fluffy companion, asking, “Ran, what do you plan to do with these otters?”

“Sir!” one of the tiny voices exclaims. The old bearded otter puffs up amongst the group, ready to take a stand. “To call us otters is disrespectful! We are WEASELS!” he shouts with pride greater than his diminutive stature.

Ran goes to silence him, but I interject, “Why is that important exactly?”

The bearded weasel takes a moment to breath and clears his throat to speak, “My dear human, and Fair Lady Yakumo, to whom I am most sorry that we could not meet under more favorable circumstances, we are the weasel coven of Gensokyo. To my, admittedly ragged and aged, knowledge I have gathered all weasels of age to become as Youkai within our band.”

“So then… you’re the leader?” I ask. “I’m really just curious what the hat is about.”

“Ah, an eye for class my good sir! Indeed, this cap fashioned from stable moss into a conical pillar is a prized staple item to the druid of the pack. Might you ever find yourself leading a community, fashion a similar hat to denote status,” the elder recommends. Ran scoffs at the notion, likely favoring the puffed hat iconic to Yakumo.

The weasel druid pays it no mind and continues his explanation, “If you do not mind my brevity, we weasels were attempting to contact the beast realm within the many hells. The summoning was to beckon forth a leading member of the Kiketsu family, for which we wish to join.”

“Tanner, are you getting any of this?” Kaze leans over to query me.

I line a hand against my brow as I sift through any possibly related memories. “I was until that last part,” I confess. “Do you understand what that all means, Ran?”

She nods and elaborates, “This band of mystically gifted animal Youkai seek to summon a member animal spirit of the Kiketsu clan, primarily comprised of otter spirits. The beast realm is the specific ken of hell for animals that live adverse to nature or humans that may live no better a life. The Kiketsu itself is a band of these animals that are collected into a group of organized crime to politically position themselves above the masses.”

The more I hear the less I understand. I’m not even sure what thread to follow out of all of that.

“Do you require further explanation?” Ran prompts.

I hold my hand up to stop her, feeling something I can only describe as a sudden aneurysm.

“Hang on,” Kaze picks up my side of the conversation, “what’s got them doing all that? If it’s something in hell then they’d have to be dead, right?”

We look to the druid for an explanation. “Ah, if I may explicate our coven’s philosophy to you all, then–“

“Seventy,” Ran interrupts.

I look over to her. She looks wide-eyed at the spot the otter, no, wait, weasel tower was. I try to get her attention, “Ran, what-?”

“Eighty, approaching rapidly,” Ran states. The weasels back up from the spot at Ran’s brisk approach. She begins to whisper and materializes a magic circle around the space.

The situation at hand clicks for me, and I start to think aloud, “Wait, shit. The spell is still going? Didn’t she say there was a potential bar-… ah. Potential barrier, like with energy, not a possibility.”

“Nay, we had not completed the ritual to the point of self completion,” the druid weasel argues.


“That’s even worse!” I exclaim. “What the fuck were you summoning?!”

The moment I say this Kaze springs his sword into his hand, and though reluctant, moves ahead of me to bodyguard.

A sudden torrent of magical energy wells up around Ran’s spell, not physically impacting us but drowning out the previous silence the forest held.

“It should have only been an otter!” the elder fearfully states, getting to my shoulder to get a better view.

The light vanishes. It was almost comically instantaneous, but that’s somehow unnerving. Ran set down a barrage of paper dolls to the spot, redirecting all of the quarantine area to where the circle was, covering the ground completely.

Nobody makes a move, wondering if whatever Ran did worked. Suddenly, a loud thump comes from beneath the spot, denting the paper doll wall like a piece of sheet metal. Another thump sounds, louder and more aggressive. A third, the paper dolls are so bent they look like they’ll pop from the spot if they’re not punctured first. The entire collective of weasels, myself, and even Kaze back up. Ran remains at the ready to combat whatever this thing is.

The next thump is replaced by an extreme crash, more akin to a gunshot echoing through the forest. We all look over to see from the paper wall a clawed human hand emerged from the earth. Ran doesn’t spring to attack yet, but she’s still prepared. The claw finds more of the paper and begins to rip it from itself, opening a gap for the rest of the creature.

Up crawls a horned woman, with a spiked turtle’s shell hooked to her back and a massive, gnarly lizard tail. She is adorned with a simple yet refined dress, now dusted by dirt. Her thin eyes appear cold and calculating. Her height is nearly comparable to Ran’s, who stands not two steps away from her.

“Geh,” she utters in reaction to Ran, recoiling from the fox, her tail wrapping in front of her for safety.

Ran lifts an eyebrow at the slight, and addresses the arrival, “Yachie Kicchou. I would personally greet you under the name of Yakumo, but it appears you do not deign reciprocate such courtesy. Or should I understand that ‘geh’ is a local colloquialism to the beast realm?”

“It would be better if you weren’t so damn close,” the turtle-ish person, Yachie, sneers. “Are all of you living bastards buddies now? I didn’t seem to get the same treatment. I don’t think that’s quite fair.”

“Your powers are ineffective, do not attempt to sway the argument in your favor,” Ran commands, leaning above Yachie to bear down her presence. At this distance it’s not something I have to worry about this time. She continues, “You are not allowed to the surface realm, was that not clear before?”

“Does it look like I came because I wanted to?” Yachie retorts in frustration. “I’m only here to scare the idiots phoning directly to the Kiketsu clan en mass.”

Ran retracts herself, giving Yachie some breathing room. I’m sure it’s only my imagination at this distance, but I feel like I see Yachie break a sweat. Who is she for Ran to act like this?

“Do so, then return to your correct realm,” Ran dictates.

The turtle woman pauses to reclaim her regal composure, a wicked smile forming, and states, “For what purpose has the Kiketsu clan been summoned to the surface land of Gensokyo?”

“My lady,” the druid speaks, “’Twas I that sought to bring one of the Kiketsu to this realm. Mayhaps we were too fervent in our ritual, as it has led the great matriarch herself to us. We are truly not worthy.”

Yachie looks over to me. Her scowl grows more intense from the sight of Kaze and I, but she makes no comment on it.

“You there, elder,” she addresses the shoulder weasel, “come here.”

The druid picks himself up in excitement and springboards from my shoulder, also using Kaze’s to skip further across. Bounding down, he halts before the matriarch, standing on his hind legs and bowing his head. I guess weasels wouldn’t really be able to bow from their backs, since it would look like they’re getting on all fours.

Yachie looks down on him, her wily smile fading. In the next moment she stomps down on the old creature’s small form in fury. I almost start before noticing that she didn’t kill him, as he’s squirming in pain under her sole. His moss hat flies off in his jittering.

Yachie’s intense glare forces the other weasels to cower, even the bladed individuals that were released from their restraints earlier. They do not go to support their leader while he sits in agony under the pressure.

I go to help the poor guy, but Ran and Kaze both bar me from moving forward. Kaze silently shakes his head, implying to not get involved.

After a few moments of panicked squealing, Yachie starts to shout at the poor bastard, “You think it’s cute to bring the Kiketsu to you?! You don’t control anything! I don’t give a damn about you rodents!

She leans in further to the point of causing audible cracking before lifting back up to give a mighty kick, launching the overgrown weasel from her into a tree several yards over. He falls to the ground, maybe just passed out, but I’d doubt that.

Yachie gazes around, blood on her breath, “Any others know they are not worthy? What of you, simian filth?”

She turns back to Kaze and I again, this time beelining for our heads. Ran steps in front of us, halting her.

“What in the hells?” Yachie replies, stupefied. “You? Protecting humans? Is your head messed up, Yakumo?”

Ran simply replies with a calm, “No.”

Yachie scoffs, “As arrogantly cryptic as ever. I am returning, like you fucking want, so make sure the surface animals know to not treat the Kiketsu like a fun diversion.”

She lets her rage subside and walks back to the spot she clawed out from. Ran raises a talisman and sends it out, activating the same magic circle as earlier. The hole in the ground becomes reddened by some mist and obfuscates the walls of the space. Yachie jumps down into it, collapsing the ground in on itself and leaving only a regular patch of dirt behind.

The weasels are in shock over what just happened. I would be too.

They lamely shuffle over to the druid’s body, laying crushed and battered like roadkill. One of them grabs his hat from the ground. They convene on the spot, unsure what to do now.

“Ran, what the fuck was that?” I ask my partner for any explanation that could satisfy me right now.

“A Youkai enraged,” she answers.

“He just wanted to get away from the incidents,” a weasel says.

“He said that the Kiketsu would accept us if we showed them our power,” another adds.

“I wanted to see what the beast realm was like…” a badger states.

“Why did she do that?”

“It was probably them, they stopped us from doing the ritual right,” one weasel stands with an accusatory finger.

“No, we didn’t…” I try to defend myself.

“You lot are conceited. Believing that a denizen of hell and so enthralled by it would grant you mercy,” Ran demeans the group. “You two, it is time to leave them to their own devices. They should understand the level of sin they commit by piercing dimensions.”

Ran walks between Kaze and I, to which we quickly fall in behind her. Many boos, jeers, and cries can be heard of the weasels as we leave the forested area.

Worst of all, I lost the bottle to forget tonight.

[Please wait warmly…]

So that went darker than I expected. That was initially going to be quite happy go lucky, but then something clicked when I was on the last writing stage for Yachie, and I said ‘fuck it, she’s evil.’ RIP druid weasel, I will miss him.
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I mean, she is quite a bitch.

What kind of being doesn't take off their shoes inside of other people's homes purposefully!?
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>What kind of being doesn't take off their shoes inside of other people's homes purposefully!?
A monster mobster. One doesn't become top otter by worrying about things like taking off the shoes.
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State: Yamawaro observation: Lecture time
Time: 3:36pm
Another presentation done. Today’s crowd was rowdy, but also pretty strange. Maybe it wasn’t advertised right? The Hieda household takes care of that for me since this event is much more of an afterthought to spread some of the information to the villagers. Academic politicking as usual to keep up good relations with the villagers. Of course, even I do things with ulterior motives, such as omitting information on my reports. People don’t need to know everything I was up to, nor what I found out.

That said, I would love to know where that knife I bought went. I had thought about it the other night, too, but I never found it in the desk I use at Keine’s. I wonder if Chen stole it as revenge for my idea to give back Takane’s knife. I certainly hope it isn’t anywhere near Cirno, she’s already as misbegotten as they come.

I finish shuffling my papers back into my pack. The poor thing ended up getting a lot of dirt into it from this last adventure. I hope wherever I get sent next is going to have less crawling on the ground. Speaking of, it looks like that woman from Hieda, Murano, has a large parcel with her. I cross the room as she’s checking through the lecture transcript for errors.

“Hey there. Another one done, huh?” I greet.

She flits the papers some more before conversing. Setting them down she says, “Mm. One more done. I’d tell you good work, but it seems you must have played while you were out there.”

I pose a bit embarrassed and retort, “Well, it didn’t feel like playing. It might seem they play at living like outside world soldiers, but their temperament is anything but. Their physical exercises convinced me pretty quick.”

“Certainly, Tanner,” the housemaid dotes. She giggles when I give her a disapproving look for not taking my word. “No, don’t worry. I believe you, it’s only that I think it was strange circumstances. To not only get into the yamawaro’s territory but to also join in their game. My lady has said it wouldn’t be possible to do as they turn away all that approach. Any that aren’t kappa, anyway. How did you manage to get in?”

“Oh, they took me in after we talked. I can ask nicely for things,” I half lie with a shrug.

She squints at me with intensely dark brown eyes, still smiling in amusement.

“What?” I sheepishly deflect.

“Well…” Murano starts, continuing to animate herself in the light mood. “I suppose keeping some secrets isn’t so bad. Let me ask something different, then. Do you think the kappa and the yamawaro might ever truly be at odds? You said they enjoy their rivalry, but I wonder if that could ever escalate.”

I raise a brow to her question, and say, “That’s a pretty pointed question. Almost too pointed, isn’t it? But… if I just play along, I’d say they wouldn’t get there.”

“What reason do you have for saying so?” Murano continues to drill.

“Same to you,” I reflect, rubbing my chin, hair and all. “What makes you think they’d ever be more than rivals? They’re symbiotic, and that’s pretty well known.”

“Hmm…” Murano hums and cups her cheek, thinking through her argument. She lightly sways, bobbing her short hair like a pendulum. “Maybe I’m cynical, but… people seem to always try and get the upper hand in that type of relationship. It happens amongst humans, it happens amongst Youkai.”

“Yeah, I’d say that’s being pretty cynical,” I josh. “If you don’t mind me sounding naive, I’d say the two of them seem to know that their wellbeing is coupled. One does well the other must also be doing well. I only really say that because they’re business partners, though.”

She looks at me, gauging my thoughts for herself. It interests her, as if she’s hearing an idea she didn’t consider in the middle of studying. Her hand starts to shuffle in on themselves as she spaces out more in her own thoughts.

“Murano?” I break her concentration. “What are you thinking about?”

She looks back with that deer in the headlights look. Fluttering for something to say.

“Uh…” she tries, “Well, just… uhm. No, don’t mind me. My mind just goes off on its own sometimes. It’s nice to have a fresh set of eyes, though. A foreigner, not just to Gensokyo but Japan entirely, is not too common.”

“Oh? There’s other foreigners around?”

“No. Well, not human, anyway,” she alludes. “Listen, would you care to pick up this conversation some time later? I’m curious what other thoughts you have.”

“Uh… sure?” I venture an answer. “Though, if you’ve gotta get going, I’m hoping that’s all for me.”

I point out the stack of papers separate from the lecture transcript. Murano jumps at being caught off topic, and hands them to me before making a hasty escape.

An odd one, she is. Wonder what the hell that was all about. Though, I guess I can ask more some other time. Right now, what the hell is all this? A pile of papers varying in age, or degradation, or dirt? I see at the top of the pile a… piece of story writing. Small, short paragraphs, like what would be used in a children’s book. The oddity catches me and I decide to read the passage before carrying the pile back into Keine’s house.

It reads as follows:

The little boy wandered in the forest.
The little boy was not sure where to go.
The critters of the woods sung in chorus,
scaring him further down flow.

He drifted upon the river,
to the deeper parts of the dark.
There the forest was thicker,
and the trees bare and stark.

He plodded through ashen ground,
wondering where he’d ended up.
Surely someone he would have found,
had he not seen her in her getup.

Her dress nary flawed,
the red ribbons adorning her elegant.
The boy felt wholly awed,
this beautiful lady living in this element.

He let himself be seen
and found a youkai playing a god.
Even then his fate he could not have foreseen.
For the troubles of misfortune are broad,

and a god that brings it a fraud.

I don’t think I need to point out how this poem is rather… blunt, but I also don’t really understand it. Well, I understand it, obviously, but I don’t get everything else about it. Who wrote it and why? And most of all, why is it part of my supplementary material? Murano’s head really might not be on right.

Though one thing’s for certain: if this was meant to scare me in any way it didn’t work well. I’m only more curious about the next subject having a poem written about them. I settle down in Keine’s living room, taking over the center table while she’s out.

Today’s subject: Hina Kagiyama, the hidden god Nagashi-bina.

The… what? Hidden god? Is she the hidden god who is a Nagashi-bina or is she the Nagashi-bina of the hidden god? Who the fuck makes these titles? Akyuu? Oh I’m gonna have some select words about how confusing these are…

Wait, why is it even a hidden god when we know exactly where she lives?!

Oh this is going to be a strange week.

Combing through the material, I gather a few things. First, Kagiyama is an extremely strange existence. She is called both a god and Youkai but her name and title lead me to believe that she is specifically a doll tsukumogami. Of course, a tsukumogami is a type of Youkai, but I wonder if they can also be a god?

Next, she absorbs misfortune. Apparently not controls it, but only absorbs. But, wouldn’t that make her a sort of energy sink? Why in the world does she spread misfortune if that’s the case? Is she like a sponge? Can she suck up too much? And for that matter, what happens to what she accumulates? It can’t just remain as some kind of misfortune miasma forever.

Akyuu’s article on her from Symposium even sort of contradicts itself… You shouldn’t act like you saw her but she sells nagashi-bina dolls in the village? That doesn’t make any god damned sense. How is she not banned from entry if she’s dangerous to be around?

At some point while I’m still buried in the books Keine returns from regular grocery shopping. She gives a cursory glance at the papers, but figures we’ll talk about it after I’m done. That or she wants the table back to start on grading. She has a desk in her own room, but she has an easier time focusing right here. I’d like to think it’s the hat shrine above the table.

“You’re thinking about something idiotic again, aren’t you?” she teases when walking back into the room.

“How could you say such a thing about your own home shrine?” I counter.

“Ah,” she utters, “Well… at some point, maybe, I’ll tell you.”


“About the altar there,” she elaborates.

“Right,” I conclude. “So, you’re here to ask about what all this is, yeah?”

“Tanner,” Keine tuts, “I could just be here to tell you to help me prepare dinner. Not everything revolves around you, you know.”

I chuckle, “What? No, I’m clearly the center of the universe here… So do you want help?”

“No, I’m kidding,” she says with a wack at my shoulder. “Now really, what do you have here? It looks like something serious.”

“Mmm. Well…” I start, causing Keine to look very concerned with a plastered smile. “This week it seems I’m studying one Hina Kagiyama.”

Keine freezes in place. She doesn’t say a word for a few moments, processing what I’ve just stated. And with a deep breath, she slides into her hands on the table.

“That bad, huh?” I joke.

“If by ‘that bad’ you mean extreme deathwish, then yes,” Keine grumbles through her hands.

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad, right? I mean, she even has an interview article here and everything,” I argue.

Keine looks at me with raised eyes, and says, “That wasn’t Hieda who did the interview for that article, it was a servant. Said servant ended up with a fine stay at Eientei for the better part of a month afterward.”

“Right, okay, maybe it is that serious,” I admit. “But it’s not like I’m willingly doing this. I’m not that dumb.”

Now Keine’s brows raise as well, saying, “Some part of me doubts that. Immensely. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’re currently thinking about how to introduce yourself.”

“No!” I defend myself. But with Keine’s persistent glare I fold. “Well… maybe I am! But it’s important to make the best impressions if I’m working with someone.”

Keine shakes her head at my bold work ethic. It’s important to take your work seriously, especially when obligated to it.


“Remember when you talked with the village elders before, Keine?” I ask.

“About your research? Certainly. I believe two of them still have sore skulls.”

“Do you remember any of the conclusions to your questioning? I want to know how long I’m expected to do this.”

“Well…” Keine mutters while rubbing the back of her neck. “There wasn’t really any exact statements I got from any of them. How they chose their subjects, why they pay you upfront despite the ‘acceptance to the village’ pretext, even a fake reason they might want this, I could get none of it out of them.”

“None of that?”

“The best was ‘I don’t know.’”

My fingers begin tapping the table as I think. An ice fairy, a troupe of military nut business Youkai, and a curse (not-)god. It would take a smarter man than I to find the connection between them, if there is one. But more than anything, who wants this done? Do they even gain anything from it? I’m doing pretty much the same thing Akyuu already does, so it doesn’t make sense that there’s any added value in me going out and just talking with people like I am. No, it doesn’t make sense.

“Any ideas?” Keine assks.

I cross my arms and answer, “No, it just seems like a lot of nonsense when you put it together.”

“Nonsense is normal for Gensokyo,” Keine jokes. “… Though this is more than I want. And while I’m worried greatly for you, I’m also worried about what political water asking the Hieda about this issue could cause.”

I give Keine a confused look in response.

Keine clears her throat and clarifies, “Surely you understand how tumultuous it would be if Lady Akyuu were to begin scrutinizing the elders. They act as separate bodies, so they nominally attempt to keep interactions low. In fact, my first red flag was when the elders wanted you to do something for them, despite being under her good graces.”

“And here I thought you were just caring for me and my woes,” I comment with crocodile tears.

“Yes, and I’m still under right to kick you out at any time. You have money now,” she retorts. I raise my hands in defense, showing that the comment did not mean to have ill will with it. She chuckles at the exchange. “But in all seriousness, we need to do something. If they’re fine with sending you to the curse goddess, then I’m not sure what could be on your plate next. It could be one of the ill intended characters or worse: someone from the underground.”

“What? How bad are the undergrounders?”

“It’s suffice to say that you wouldn’t want to meet most of them, as they were all banished for a reason,” Keine warns. She flips the mood and asks, “How are you with owing favors?”

“Just fine, but I don’t see how that–“

“Good. You’ll owe someone so they’ll look into your troubling working conditions,” Keine cheerfully concludes.

She claps her hands together, smiling as a gesture of optimistic thought and gets up from the table, but before she returns to her groceries for dinner, she kneels right next to me and whispers, “And let me know when that fox doesn’t have your health in mind.”

I pat her shoulder as a curt reply, and she seems satisfied with that. On her way out of the room she leaves the box lunch hat on its little shrine. Usually this means that she doesn’t plan to leave for the rest of the night. I take the opportunity to move the reading material onto my desk and continue to pilfer what information I can. After the initial draw, though, there doesn’t seem to be much. Unsurprisingly, not a lot of people try to interact with this goddess of misfortune, and instead everything is left to general hearsay of secondary sources.

After a quiet dinner prepared by Keine I continue into the wee hours without making much headway. The days feel too hot, and sadly the night isn’t any cooler with the September air ruminating. Even an open window does very little to comfort me. So here I sit in my hot and humid environment, finding less focus for reading and notes as the night continues to stagnate.

I take a moment to swipe the unwanted grease from my forehead, and while my eyes are closed the strangest feeling takes me over. I survey my desk. Many papers scattered about, my pencil chewed down to half its original size on an open notebook, and a small, dim incandescent light bulb attached to a plastic winding lever. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I check the open window. No breeze is coming in, though I hear the collection of birds and bugs singing. I close the window, sit back down and nag to myself about getting more sleep. As soon as I’m done with this work, of course.

But I get the feeling again. This time I get a grasp of the sensation. Like a twinge in the back of my head, telling me something I don’t fully understand.

I turn to the darkened end of my room, and say to the air, “Ran?”

And unexpectedly, or rather expectedly, the room remains silent. I look over to the corners just to be sure, and nothing jumps out at me. I turn back to my desk, the filament light flickering to mock my paranoia.

“I’m going crazy…” I mutter and shake my head.

“If you are speaking to yourself, then it is an early sign of dimentia,” the air behind me speaks up in a familiar voice.

I flip around in my seat a little too fast and knock my knee against the desk. I ignore the pain for a second to make sure that yes, it is Ran who snuck up behind me.

I complain to my vulpine companion while holding my knee, “If you were there, then say something, would you?”

I look over to the closed window and door. “Wait, how did you even get in?” I further ask.

“The door, like any individual can. Including any Youkai,” Ran answers impishly. With her brand of dryness, anyway. “A regular human to call upon a shikigami is unusual, however.”

“Right, so… I don’t know,” I reply with a shrug. “It just felt like something was here. Maybe Chen’s detection training stuck around? I mean, we focused on spotting things but there was bits of that environmental awareness…”

I die off mid sentence as Ran looks uninterested.

“What?” I ask.

“You are attuned to my presence,” Ran explains. “Spiritual energy interacts with Gensokyo directly, and as such having a literal sense of energy is highly probable. The interesting portion here is that you required multiple occasions of unrestricted energy weighing you down before your sense developed.”

“And that means what, exactly?”

“You, human, have room to grow.”

I roll my eyes and reply, “I’m in my early forties, I’d hope I don’t need to keep growing by now.”

“Humans retain a sense of value in personal growth for their entire lifespan,” Ran surmises. “This development should be seen with optimism.”

I give her a queer look, baffled by what she just said. “Optimistic? I never thought I would have heard you say that word in an actually positive way.”

“You retaining a quality common to humans of Gensokyo is good for your objective of integration.”

“…” I stare at her for a few seconds, still having trouble gauging her mood. “Were you listening in on Keine and I earlier?” I gamble an accusation.

“No,” she simply answers. We stare each other down now, neither side giving in.

“Fine, I’ll drop it,” I relent. “As long as you’re here, there’s more important things to talk about.”

“Such as?”

“Greeting Hina Kagiyama tomorrow morning,” I state.

I should introduce myself…

[x] Cordially, like a neighbor. Even get some kind of gift at Keine’s suggestion.

[x] Professionally, as Ran suggests. I can’t get sidetracked like last time, especially since being around the subject is itself dangerous.

[x] Maybe I should think outside the box.

A part of me wanted to pack the vote right into the joke with Keine, but then I realized it would have been annoyingly placed and people might miss it. So instead have this overtly forced segue! In other news, I skipped a week to continue thinking about this upcoming chapter, which I’m excited to work on! Even if I don’t know what the hell the actual subplot is going to be!
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[x] Maybe I should think outside the box.

Find Reimu, get some sealing talismans and a crash course on how to talk to gods without exploding. Especially curse gods that can put you in a hospital for three to fourty weeks.
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[x] Cordially, like a neighbor. Even get some kind of gift at Keine’s suggestion.

Hina, unlike many others, is a danger to be around even if she herself doesn't want to harm anyone thus preparation for some type of protection before meeting her are in order. Aside from that we should be nice to her and a neighbourly approach might do a lot of good.
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[x] Cordially, like a neighbor. Even get some kind of gift at Keine’s suggestion.
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[x] Maybe I should think outside the box.
- [X] Preparation is key to many ventures. See around for any protection charms to protect yourself from errant misfortune. (Reimu)

Omamori charms are the go-to I would imagine. But it would help to be prepared.

Maybe Tewi could be another option, assuming we'd even be lucky enough to interact with her.
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This is basically what I was thinking of, prepping charms or amulets for luck/warding against misfortune. On the other hand I also think treating her cordially and bringing a gift as a show of goodwill can go a long way as Hina has a generally friendly disposition and just wards people away from her to protect them. I don't think it'd be considered rude to bring protection when we're trying to look nice as it just shows we're invested in properly researching her, with all possible precautions made; maybe she'll even approve of us going the extra mile. Friendly yet professional, the best of both worlds.

[x] Maybe I should think outside the box.
- [X] Preparation is key to many ventures. See around for any protection charms to protect yourself from errant misfortune. (Reimu)
- [x] Also prepare a gift at Keine's suggestion
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[x] Maybe I should think outside the box.
- [X] Preparation is key to many ventures. See around for any protection charms to protect yourself from errant misfortune. (Reimu)
- [x] Also prepare a gift at Keine's suggestion
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Maybe go to Kourindou if Rinnosuke has the magical equivalent of an HEV suit? Doesn't really hurt to check. We could also try to get help from lucky characters like Tewi and Tenshi, but I don't know if Tanner knows of them in character.

[x] Maybe I should think outside the box.
- [x] Preparation is key to many ventures. See around for any protection charms to protect yourself from errant misfortune. (Reimu)
- [x] Maybe check Kourindou for lucky trinkets (Rinnosuke)
- [x] Also prepare a gift at Keine's suggestion
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[x] Cordially, like a neighbor. Even get some kind of gift at Keine’s suggestion.
-[x] But also maybe take real preparations and appropriate a charm to ward away misfortune.

My fluffy companion looks at me, and ascents to the genius of my idea with a, “What.”

“Well, this is someone with a bit of prestige, unlike the fairies, and completely isolated, unlike the yamawaro. If I don’t make a good first impression things won’t go so well,” I explain.

“Perhaps you require sleep before thinking more. Your query is beyond a triviality. Such an amount of idleness would be better spent understanding how to armor against misfortune,” Ran dissuades.

Huh… yeah that would be a good idea, wouldn’t it? I didn’t consider ways to get around the misfortune during my reading. I only took it for granted and tried to understand what effects it may have, attempting to future proof myself from whatever cosmic horror having the literal universe against me could be like. But wearing some kind of retardant would be more apt, if I have to walk into the metaphorical fire, anyway.

Okay, hopefully metaphorical fire. Jinxing myself internally isn’t helping my fate here.

For that matter, though… I ask Ran, “Are you not worried about the misfortune that Kagiyama carries? You make it sound like you’re not doing any kind of preparations yourself.”

Ran holds up a hand and answers, “Be assured, there is no need to pay me mind on this matter.”

My finger taps the desk behind me, and I skeptically reply, “Alright, if you say so. A trip to the Hakurei shrine in the morning, then.”

“As you command.”

“And also to Kourindou, I wish to find a suitable gift. Maybe something with heavy spiritual ties would be good…”

Ran’s puffed hat droops slightly as she asks, “There’s no way to convince you against this mundane act, is there?”

“Nope, I’ve decided to be a friendly visitor, so I’ll be taking it seriously!” I cheerfully reply.

“For what purpose does this line of thought serve?” Ran questions.

“Well, I mean, it doesn’t need to be anything complicated,” I argue. “Just being nice for the sake of it is plenty when you’re worried about making a working relationship.”

Ran shakes her head, “I don’t believe I follow that reasoning. Why must you require a ‘working relationship’ with a subject of study?”

“Don’t be so distant, Ran,” I tut. “You’ll see what being on someone’s good side gets you, soon enough.”

She closes her eyes and sighs, but doesn’t continue the conversation, instead choosing to walk back out. I decide to take her advice and turn in for the night. I need to be more on my toes with what we’re up against, since this isn’t like something I can really imagine fighting. No, that’s not right, it’s that misfortune itself isn’t something you can fight. It’s some vile force left in the world to bring misery to others, not a Youkai to get along with. Getting along with the person that holds it, though, that’s a different thing.

The next morning rolls around, and I make sure to stow only my bare essentials into my pack. I’m not even chancing any of the recorded documents being ruined by any number of paper damages. I need them for later.

Keine shoots me concerned glances every now and again throughout my preparations, but doesn’t have more to say from last night. My calm cheerfulness might be disarming her and she isn’t sure what to tell me before I go. It really does feel like another day out at this point, though. I’ve already gotten used to running out into the middle of nowhere to meet ridiculous people, this is just someone with a very literal air of danger to them.

I tell Keine I’ll be back before nightfall and make my way out to the eastern village gate. Kazegou stands guard, well-to-do as usual, and stiffens up when I go to greet him. He knows that if I’m here then the fox is soon to follow. I spare him the heckling and make off a few paces out after some small talk. Ran blips into the distance and soon enough we’re back out traveling to the Hakurei shrine.

It’s felt like a while now that Ran has been staying there, and I haven’t asked much about it since the first week. Maybe talking to Reimu some more would help me get some perspective on things.

After an uneventful trip we land down at the shrine. It looks more or less deserted right now.

I turn to my companion and ask, “Ran, is anyone here?”

“Yes,” she immediately replies, “The current Hakurei is on the veranda. The oni and the living statue are currently away, however.”

I tilt my head towards said veranda and walk around the shrine. Last time I was here she was sitting there then, too. Sometimes I wonder how often some people just sit around at the spot that you usually find them, like a teacher that never leaves their desk for breaks, or a coworker that seems to live in their office.

Rounding the corner I find Reimu sitting down with tea once more. She looks markedly more miserable now that she’s waiting for the summer heat to leave for cool fall mornings to come. Surely drinking hot tea doesn’t help, but my prior red blooded subsistence on coffee knows that’s just hypocritical. She turns her placid gaze in our direction, and limply waves us over.

She takes another sip before she properly greets, “Hi.”

“Hi, Reimu,” I return. I can’t remember if it was her or Marisa that told me to call them by first name. Actually it might have been both.

“So I’m surprised to see you alive and well,” Reimu mocks. “I thought the fox didn’t want to bring you over ‘cause you were gone.”

“Ran you wanted to bring me over?” I turn to my fluffy cohort with some exaggerated enthusiasm.

“No,” Reimu answers before her, “I wanted her to bring you. Make sure she hasn’t run off with your head, yet.”

“Yet?” Ran and I intone.

“Humans and Youkai,” Reimu mystically replies. “So is there a real reason you’re here?”

I feel sidewinded by the sudden topic shift, but decide it’s better to roll with it, “Ah, well, yes. Reimu, do you have–“

“Nope,” she answers, taking another sip of her tea.

I pause for a moment, shooting a look over to Ran before I continue, “… a charm for luck?”

Reimu looks over, unimpressed by the request. I don’t get it. Why is she insistent on not helping? A tap at my shoulder catches my attention. Ran holds her hand in front of me rubbing her fingers to her thumb.

“She’s got the right idea,” Reimu comments, pointing to Ran.

Right, even though this is a religious place its caretaker is still like this. I can only imagine how many fathers take pay to listen in the confessional. Well… so be it. I can play ball.

I drop my pack and retrieve the purse near the bottom. I loosen the strings with one onlooker who’s interest has been piqued. I snag a few bills out, noticing Reimu’s catlike gaze as I do so. She continues to stare at the loose paper in my hand as I toss the rest of the purse on her lap. I don’t have an excessive amount on me today as I was expecting to go to Kagiyama’s after, but this should cover it… and hopefully enough for a visiting gift. Damn, maybe should’ve thought this through more.

Reimu’s fixation is broken after she realizes that I’ve given her pay. Her face flits from intent, to confused, to concerned in under a second. She lifts the purse to her face, and cautiously checks inside the bag. When she understands that I left a very healthy chunk inside she looks back up to me.

She demonstrates the bag, and asks, “… a charm for luck?”

“One that can protect me from anything without breaking,” I reply.

“What the hell are you doing?” she further ponders.

“Something very stupid,” I chuckle. “Meeting a pestilence god for research.”

Reimu stares between Ran and I for a few moments, looking troubled. She cups a hand to her mouth, focusing on her thoughts. After a few more moments she sets down her teacup and gets up.

“Fine,” she says. “But! Fortune charms aren’t really something I can do, so…”

She steps over and looks between me and the bag. Reluctantly, as if fighting her better judgment, she hands back the purse.

With a heavy sigh she explains, “This isn’t how I’d usually treat anyone, but you’re stupid (and honest) enough that I feel like I can’t take money for something I’m not gonna do. That cursed doll has more power than I can put into a single charm, so nothing idiot-proof for you.”

“Wait, does that mean you can’t help me?” I ask with concern.

Reimu starts walking along the patio to the front of the shrine. On the way she further comments, “I mean, you could always just use a bunch of charms, but that sounds like it would backfire in some dumb way, so instead–“

She slides open the door behind her donation box and produces a kit from inside. Setting it on the donation box she breaks it open to reveal a large number of colorful charms.

“So then, luck,” she re-emphasizes. “Here, let’s pick from the seven fortune gods. But which one?”

Reimu fishes out seven charms of slightly different colors and looks at them as if they’ll talk back to her. Ran steps beside her and looks across the multiple paper folds with their intricate embroidery. The names of each god are neatly written on a whitened section of the papers.

“Komano’s handiwork, is it?” Ran asks.

“Well…” Reimu clams up. “I put the god’s blessings in them.”

“Hmm,” Ran announces to no one. “Make it simple and use Bishamonten, that is the fortune god closest to Gensokyo itself at this time.”

“He’s not going to war, you idiot,” Reimu counters. “I always think Ebisu is a safe bet.”

“Are you perchance hungry, shrine maiden? A meal can be prepared shortly, if you are so inclined,” Ran snidely remarks.

Reimu harumphs, “Don’t make me remind you who owns this shrine. And who would you choose, Benzaiten?”

“The general blessings granted by Jurojin would be a suitable fit.”

“He doesn’t know so I’ll comment for him: he isn’t that old, Ran,” Reimu pesters the fox.

They continue in this back and forth, arguing which god would be best for this. I sit back as they continue to throw out a collection of names, taking pot shots at each other for every choice. At one point they even argue whether one god could be used since they’re basically the same as another god. Is that some sort of blasphemy?

After several minutes, or rather after they give up, Reimu hands me all seven charms, with a relenting, “Just take them, damnit!”

“Didn’t you say a bunch of charms would backfire somehow?!” I reiterate while trying to shove them back her way.

“I mean it’s just one collection of them. That’s not gonna do anything to you!”

“That’s what I’m worried about!”

“Oh shut up and be happy I helped!” Reimu spouts.

She grabs my purse again and takes seven bills out from it. Seems she did want money but just needed an excuse to take it. Though it’s not like I can argue. Literally. I don’t know the exact value of the money she took, nor the actual worth of these charms. I’ll just have to hope that a full enclave of gods can help against walking into disaster.

I feel like I’m trying to find ways to safely travel into Chernobyl.

The mental image of me geared up in full hazmat takes over before I realize that Ran relieved the charms from my hand. She begins to adorn my shirt buttons with each like a Christmas tree. It makes my shirt feel somewhat heavy.

“Ran, what are you doing?” I eventually ask.

“Giving allowance for each charm to claim some territory of your mortal form. It is disrespectful to expect so many gods to share an exact position on your person,” Ran explains. She points out a few detailed positions of the gods and her preferred hierarchy, but most of it goes over my head. I need to brush up on the Shinto-Buddhist stuff.

“Right,” I deflectively agree. I look over to Reimu to ask a question, but she seems enchanted by the sight of Ran now meticulously sticking the paper envelopes to the cloth of my shirt. “What?” I instead question her stare.

“Oh, uh,” she comes to, looking back up to me. She points to Ran and comments, “That’s just weird to see. She’s never been so attentive to someone that isn’t the old crone or their cat. I’ve gotta order her to make food while she’s here every morning. She doesn’t do it otherwise.”

I don’t believe she’s under obligation to cook for you, though? Oh well, as long as they’re getting along and Ran has an actual roof to be under.

Speaking of, she pats me down to check her work. The charms are now strewn from each button toward the left side of my shirt. It appears they’re completely stuck on, though I’m not sure how. I test it and the button still fits in and out, the charms’ straps fitting over the original holes. It’s pretty neat, though I already feel bad with how browned and dirty this white shirt has become only to now be adorned with special trinkets. Hopefully they don’t suffer the same fate.

Ran stands up and takes a step toward the gate wordlessly. She must think it’s time to get going.

“Who were you again?” Reimu asks me.

“Tanner,” I answer, putting the purse back into my rucksack and ready to get moving again.

Reimu gives a little nod and replies, “Well, don’t die out there and all that.”

She goes to place the charm kit back in the shrine as Ran settles me into flight, but interrupts us to note, “Oh, and Ran, I’d like those charms back if he does!”

“I resent that comment!” I shout as Ran and I start climbing the air.

I’m glad we stopped by here, even if I can only hope these charms do something to protect me. Ah, right, we’re making another stop before going out, though. That’s why Ran wanted us to get moving quickly.

Some time in the air later and we’re landing at the curio shop once again. There’s a piece that I can only guess might be in here, since it’s one of those things of spiritual value in the outside world not tied down to a major religion.

The shopkeeper, Rinnosuke, is sitting down at the entryway with a book in hand. How he always is, by my understanding. He gives a small greeting without looking up before I start to dive through the materials he has on hand. Ran sits back, unsure what the hell it is I’m looking for even after I explained it.

So much of what Rinnosuke has on hand is just junk technology to Gensokyo. Akyuu uses a modern tablet as a paperweight and coaster, and that’s what phones are used for, too, in the village. After getting past the outside world ‘junk’ I start to find the rest of the stock. The items I’d sooner relate to being a curio of some kind. The odd miniature statue here, the porcelain vase there, and– oh hey it’s the little toy wind up car I saw last time I was here.

No, gotta focus. I scour the floor and shelves, checking behind and below everything for what I’m looking for. Sadly, it has to be something so damn thin. I have full confidence it would be here, if anywhere in Gensokyo, though.

After a time, I see in a small pile of ornate ground tiling what I want. I carefully slot it out from the rocks, taking care not to damage any of the strings, though it looks a little worse for wear in the first place.

A dream catcher. A wooden hoop, well colored from age, but even with torn strings enough remains to retain the idea of a spider’s web. A bit of Native American culture that bled out to anywhere and everywhere, but mostly as a decoration. In a place like Gensokyo, though, it’s got to be functional to some extent.

“Is that what you described, Regis?” Ran queries.

Rinnosuke looks up from his book over to what I’ve found. He walks over, curious as to why I would have grabbed this old looking netted hoop.

“That was the dream catcher, no?” he begins. “It should be an object that tapir use to catch nightmares for consumption, much like a fishing net. I’ve never understood why it’s so small, though.”

Guess I should have figured the ‘catching’ part could be taken too literal. “It’s for a very small tapir, much like a gnome, my friend,” I humor his imagination.

“A gnome you say? My, you are full of interesting perspectives. I didn’t know gnomes could consume spiritual forces,” he says, readjusting his glasses to take a renewed look at the dream catcher.

It doesn’t take much to convince him to sell the thing for cheap, considering its condition and my unintended misdirection of its niche purpose. Had he known that it could be used by anything at any time he might have fixed it himself and hung it over his bed.

Ran and I quickly set back into flight after walking out. I hold the dream catcher in my hands, but something bugs me.

“Ran, are gnomes real in Gensokyo?”

“Yes, and ferocious. Run, should you see one,” Ran warns.

Oh. Huh. Can’t say I expected that one for some reason.

[Please wait warmly. Hina will spin in next update]

Here we are again. An update with no vote. Ah well, it’s fine, right? I’ve only started the chapter, so I wouldn’t want to bore everyone with too simple of choices if it won’t mean something. And yes, that does mean the friendly or professional choice will effect the overall outcome of the chapter. As for how to hold all of you over like last time… Why don’t I ask who the best cat is? I mean, we all know there’s only really one answer, but might as well here your reasons for being wrong~
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Obviously best cat is Mike! Need a lucky cat for luck!
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Does she even count as a cat?
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Don't expect an update this week. Video games and after work tiredness are a couple of attentive bastards.

I have some fun ideas in the works, though. (pic unrelated)
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[X] Whirlpool
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[… Continued]

We land down at some part of the forest at the base of Youkai Mountain. The forestry is happily green and humid. Just what I expect of pretty much anywhere else in Gensokyo. Sweat is already forming at my brow from the midday conditions. I turn to my partner, but she seems content to stand around at the moment.

“This doesn’t look like we’ve ended up anywhere. How come we didn’t go to Kagiyama’s directly?” I point out.

“A meeting point needed to be determined outside of the domain,” Ran explains. “Chen has been entrusted with appropriating a useful factor.”

I cross my arms and attempt to look cross at Ran’s lack of explanation, but she doesn’t budge at my implied demand. We wait a few minutes in silence. Well, that’s a lie, there’s plenty of movement coming from the woodlands around us. We, however, are sitting around. Ran has taken to doing something spiritual or another with her eyes closed and remaining completely motionless. I am dying of boredom. I don’t have anything on me to really read, and the only important thing I currently have is the dream catcher. I decide to inspect it for any nicks or scratches I didn’t see before. The frayed twine making the net definitely needs to be treated at some point, but I don’t have anything for it right now.

Really I’m just in the doctors office counting the dots in the Styrofoam ceiling. Thirteen dots in the otherwise clean wooden ring, by the way.

Past the sounds of the forest, something distant seems to be approaching. I can tell because it’s not very pleasant sounding. Like somebody grabbed a ferocious raccoon. As it gets louder I can make out whose voice is angrily berating Chen.

Sure enough, Chen comes bursting in from the treeline, one angry blue child held in fireman’s carry. Nitori struggles to get out of the hold but there isn’t any purchase for her arms or legs against Chen’s grip. Before she can try something else, Chen drops her forward onto her stomach. A loud curse escapes her as she slams the ground with perturbed rattling from her backpack. Chen walks over to us as Nitori rolls up and checks her face for any damage. After a brief moment she notices us standing next to her.

“Geh,” Nitori looses. “You again. What do you want from me this time?”

“Well,” I muse, “that’s no way to greet someone. Didn’t everything end up good with your sister?”

She gathers herself back up and brushes off some of the dirt and leaves from her sleeves before saying, “Sure, but that doesn’t mean I exactly like how you do things. Helping people is one thing, but messing with them as a way to help them is just disgusting.”

“Well then how’s about round two?” I joke.

“Oh hell no,” Nitori refutes. “You are not bringing me to Hina just to mess up our friendship. Go by yourself, asshole.”

“Is that to say you forget the Yakumo’s hold on you, kappa?” Ran threatens.

Nitori puffs at the clear incitement, “Act scary all you want, but I won’t be handing over my friend because you’re asking ‘nicely.’”

“Oh come on, I’m not doing anything bad by meeting with people, Nitori,” I argue.

She looks directly at me with a wild scowl and responds, “Was I supposed to believe that before or after I found out you banged my sister?”

I don’t answer on impulse, attempting to figure out if she’s being serious about that one or not. I rub at my forehead in confusion and ask, “Wait, what are you talking about?”

“Hah!” she shouts. “You’re seriously acting surprised?! You’re a shitty liar!”

“Regis,” Ran addresses me, “you didn’t truly do so, did you?”

“No! Why do you even have to ask?!” I answer in panic.

A chuckle breaks out from the last member of our group. Chen tries to contain her amusement, but fails miserably, broaching from a giggle to a guttural laugh in a few seconds. The rest of us have a feeling that we know what happened, so we wait for the cat to contain herself.

She gets the rest of her jolliness out before realizing our stares of contempt are directed at her. “I couldn’t help myself, alright? It was too good of a joke to pass up on.”

“Ugh,” Nitori scoffs. “I hate you idiots. I’m leaving.”

As the kappa walks off, Ran sends a paper doll in front of her.

“Hold,” Ran says putting up a hand before Nitori can further refuse. “You’ll be compensated for your time.”

This shuts Nitori up. We’ve gone from talking about just helping to helping but with money. It’s enough to throw her off and consider the proposition for a moment. Her foot taps the ground. She looks from Ran to Chen and then me.

She sighs. “We’ll talk amounts afterward,” Nitori allows. And before anymore words are exchanged she takes the lead deeper into the forest.

It seems we were closer to the area than I had thought. We walk through more greenery but it rapidly shifts out into… well… some kind of dead zone. At first it’s only the trees losing a lot of their leaves, but then all of the plants start to lose color. The ground hardens, eventually becoming a very solid layer of ash and clay on the surface. At some point the trees stop looking even remotely alive. It’s a wonder the sky isn’t changing color to accommodate the drear, and if anything, that makes it all the more surreal.

The place is unnerving, to put it lightly, but it doesn’t affect my companions in the slightest. It seems they expected to see exactly this going in. I for one didn’t once consider how the world around Kagiyama might be affected by her misfortune gathering. It makes a more tactile example of the present danger.

Everyone’s silent as we’re walking, and at this point the silence is only broken by our footfall. The sound of animals has become no more than a memory for this area. Though I can’t say I’m surprised that living things would naturally wander away from here.

After a lengthy walk we arrive at our destination. One dilapidated cabin out in the middle of, well, it’s not really a clearing. The trees don’t mind brushing right up to the windows. Or what’s left in the frames, anyway. The place doesn’t look all too healthy, and even though it’s raised about a foot off the ground it doesn’t seem to want to be there. The term ‘dilapidated’ doesn’t quite describe several parts of wood. Those spots appear closer to rotten… which is highly concerning.

We step onto the raised porch. Approaching the front door, it’s just as aged and filthy as the rest of the house. The entire place smells like something died on it. In it? Around it? Where the hell is that smell coming from?

“Even the human can smell it,” Chen says.

“Something’s off,” Nitori states.

“Indeed,” Ran agrees. “Chen, move to the perimeter and begin investigation. Subdue any suspicious individuals present.”

Chen goes to attention and replies with a hearty, “Yes, Lady Ran!” It’s only too bad that I can’t take her squeaky voice seriously like that.

She blitzes off in the trees, wasting no time to gain height, hopping around like a maniac.

“So what did she mean ‘even I can smell it?’” I ask.

Ran turns to me and explains, “Misfortune effects everything, even the world around it. Even simple animals can understand that when they see this exclusion zone. However, when the energy that is misfortune congeals to a specific critical mass it putrefies the air around it. This only applies in practice to those with spiritual senses. If it has gotten to such a high density some abnormality is occurring.”

A thought occurs and I ask, “Why do you know so much about it, Ran?”

She lays a finger to her cheek, deciding how much to say. “Even the Yakumo would prefer to avoid this area where possible, but it must be contained to not propagate into adjacent ecosystems,” she replies.

“We’re nearby the kappa watering hole, she means,” Nitori chimes in.

“Right,” I lamely reply. “So, uh, I’ll knock on the door now, I guess?”

I gesture for either of the two to take the lead, but it seems they don’t quite like the idea of setting off whatever might be waiting in the house. I can’t help but roll my eyes. A quick knock at the door tells me that the wood will give out if I try to really get the occupant’s attention.

I scratch my chin in thoughts of what to do. The other two check the door and get my issue. Nitori attempts to call for Hina for a few moments, see if there’s any response from inside, but it appears to be a ghost house.

“So now what?” I ask. “We’re not gonna break down the door are we?”

“Hey, this is my friend we’re talking about. Don’t joke like that,” Nitori refuses. “Here, we can still enter, she leaves her door unlocked most of the time.”

She tries the handle in confidence, but it decides to prove her a liar. She blankly stares at it for a moment, unsure how to play off her error.

“I mean, I said most of the time…” she chuckles awkwardly.

“You wouldn’t just happen to have a house key, right?” I ask.

Nitori closes her eyes in thought and after a pause replies, “Oh, actually, yes. Haven’t had to use it in so long I forgot.”

She fishes a key out from one of her many pockets. I’ll have to ask her at some point… You know what? I should ask. I never round back to these things afterwards.

“Hey, off topic, but what is that key holding your pack together?” I ask the kappa.

The question confuses her for a moment, but then she lifts up the end of the key and says, “This? Every kappa uses one for all of their machines. It’s the start and stop for their personal items.”


“No, not really,” she replies with a squint. “It says gullible on the ceiling, by the way.”

That joke gets a long sigh out of me, and I state, “Just get the door open already.”

The key works the door with a satisfying clack, and it opens on squeaky hinges.

A moderately sized cabin. An entry foyer, kitchen in the back, and a partially open spaced second floor, likely to the bedroom.

But for as quaint and homely the size, the house holds a lot. I can tell because of the amount of trash thrown every which way. The place is in chaos. Collections and debris are strewn along the ground all over, the kitchen has a table collapsed on two legs (not to mention the utensils not where they should be), the open access stairs to the second floor has its rails busted up. It looks like there might have been a chandelier in the overhang, but that’s entirely a guess. You could make an entire statue out of the loose glass and porcelain here.

It’s a good thing Cirno isn’t here to get her feet cut up by the floor.

We’re sitting in the entryway, just taking it all in, before some motion comes from the kitchen. This brings us to various levels of fight and flight. What I thought was a pile of rubble produces a shovel head, and then a pot sitting atop a head of green as well.

Clearly the woman I’ve come here for, but probably not in her best. Her clothes are disheveled and frayed. Hair not in its distinctive front knot. Her bow bowed below the pot on her head. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought she was a homeless person that found some nice clothes in the trash.

The disparity is palpable in the smell of the misfortune around us.

“Please, all of you, leave!” Kagiyama cries while raising her chosen weapon from her cover.

“Hina!” Nitori yips at her friend. “What happened here?! Are you okay?!”

“Everything is fine, Nitori, but you must leave for your own safety!” she shouts waving the shovel towards Nitori. She’s clearly manic, if not at least going mad.

I nudge Ran and gesture at her to explain the current situation. She shrugs.

“You two, though I do not know you, please go away!” Kagiyama continues.

“Wait, Hina! At least explain what’s wrong!” Nitori raises her voice unintentionally.

The ragged woman emphatically shakes her head, spooling her green hair by the seated pot. “There is no time, you have to go before it comes back!”


“Wait, what comes back?” I look over to Nitori. She looks deeply worried, but just as confused as I am.

To all our surprise, Nitori slowly approaches the manic woman, bearing her hands as if she were stepping toward a rabid animal. The shovel head is pointed directly toward Nitori, but she chooses to ignore the brandished tool. The air is disturbed only by the rough sound of crunching glass shards under Nitori’s feet.

She stops a few paces from the trash pile, just under the overhang. Ran and I hold our breath for what might happen next.

“Hina, please come out and let’s talk,” Nitori requests, holding out her hand just beyond the shovel.

A crack from somewhere in the house makes itself known. I swivel around to try and find the source. The corners and the roof look fine, even if I now notice a chunk of the roof is gone.

The entire place groans as something gives out. It’s a horrid sound, like the trees making the house are screeching at us.

My heart skips. There it is: what was once a hairline crack in the second floor’s frame is coming undone.

The entire wooden frame into the kitchen swings down onto the kappa, crashing her through the floor by its end. It happens in under a second. Enough for us to all get a good look at Nitori’s shock. Ran moves in the next second to stabilize the infrastructure so that the whole place doesn’t collapse. I carefully make my way over to Nitori.

It’s… holy shit it’s a mess. There’s blood, so much of it. Enough that her clothes forgot they were blue ten seconds ago. She’s buried under a heavy wooden frame. I can’t even begin to describe the state her face is in, or whatever’s left. I’ve seen limbs come off from explosives, but never the misfortune here.

“O-ohh,” I shudder out. The other two don’t react. It’s obvious that the danger here is beyond what they’re used to.

Ran shuffles next to me, several paper dolls flying from her sleeve. They staple onto the doors and windows. One with more design to it stamps onto Kagiyama’s forehead below the pot.

Ran turns to me and reports, “This area has been secured, sealed, and the source of the miasma contained within. Now is an appropriate time to abscond and reevaluate current circumstances.”

“You mean… leave them both here?” I confirm.

“If you wish to interpret it as such.”

Kagiyama remains dead silent. Her eyes are so defeated, not even sad or remorseful. Just without anything left.

Ran’s attitude grinds me, especially with how she’s not noting what happened, but she has a point. She always has a point. Nitori maybe took the worst of it already, but I’m nowhere near as durable as a Youkai.

She’s telling me to get going, and I’ll grab Nitori, of course, but I need to think fast if this is the right thing to do.

[x] Run for safety. Better your life to fight another day.

[x] Stay here. Better to die on this hill and attempt to help in whatever way possible.

[x] Extract. Better to isolate the cause by bringing Kagiyama away from the current environ.

A bit delayed, but here we are. It’s time for the meat of the chapter, right front and center people. And now I get to pull this out while I remember…

*Chapter divergence present in this vote. What happens will determine how this entire chapter plays out.

Have fun with that thought!
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[x] Run for safety. Better your life to fight another day.
When a goddess of misfortune tells you to run, you run.
>Her bow bowed below the pot on her head
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This is tough, really tough.
I want to help, but what can we really do?
Whatever it is is bad enough that Hina herself, a god, is clearly overwhelmed by it, seeing as how was even trying to manically ward nitori, ostensibly her friend, away.
My gut feeling is that the "it" in question is particularly heavy misfortune that comes in waves (hence it "coming back"). So heavy in fact that even Hina herself is left in a state like that. Of course, there's far too little evidence to go on at this time to say for sure. Perhaps "it" is actually something or someone tangible, but that's my thoughts on the matter.
Regardless of what we do we simply cannot leave Nitori like this, even if we stay we have to at least bring her outside and check on her, sturdy youkai or not.
I am currently at a loss on what to choose, so I'll refrain from voting for now.
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[X] Extract
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>“There is no time, you have to go before it comes back!”
>The entire wooden frame into the kitchen swings down onto the kappa, crashing her through the floor by its end.
>Nitori maybe took the worst of it already

With Nitori probably taking the worst of the misfortune for the time being, now Hina has some time to explain the situation.

My vote would be conditional on whether or not misfortune will follow if we try to extract Hina. Basically either of these two:

[ ] Run for safety. Better your life to fight another day.

[ ] Extract. Better to isolate the cause by bringing Kagiyama away from the current environ.
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[x] Run for safety. Better your life to fight another day.
so you see, stalker
the thing that makes weird stuff you don't know about happen is an artifact
and that can kill you in more than ten different ways!
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[ ] Extract. Better to isolate the cause by bringing Kagiyama away from the current environment

At the very least we need to grab Nitori,
Ran also said that the miasma was contained so I think we should have a little time to ask Kagiyama a few questions so we can actually help later
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I somehow forgot that Regis is covered in charms right now.
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>>44135 here

After thinking it through a while removing Hina from the house after Ran literally just sealed it could prove disastrous.
So if we do want to help I think we should stay inside, the seals and our charms might at least stop the entire building from collapsing.
Regardless of everything Nitori has to be moved outside, so perhaps we can extract her and then go back in to hear out Hina, staying alert all the while.
It was tough but I'll vote:

[x] Stay here. Better to die on this hill and attempt to help in whatever way possible.
-[x] Extract Nitori from the house first and leave her with Chen
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[X] Stay here.
- [X] Get Nitori out with Chen

We have the charms and talismans, and Ran has secured the building. But we're on borrowed time, I say we use it to get at least some information on the situation and then get out right before we overstay our welcome if we can.

At the very least, we need to know if this is something that can be drained safely or contained until it passes.
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In light of current votes, I will currently plan to write on the 'run' option, but will pivot to either other choice should they change by Sunday evening my time.

The lot of you deliberating on details and remembering facts makes me beyond humbled.

As for >>44137 I will count your vote for run to keep transparent with your condition.
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I love this story, so it's only fair I give the choices the thought they deserve.

Already voted, but I wanted to reiterate for last day voters that I think removing Hina from the house would invite the worst possible outcome considering Ran's actions.

>Kagiyama remains dead silent. Her eyes are so defeated, not even sad or remorseful. Just without anything left.

I voted to stay (but get Nitori out) because I want to help and abandoning Hina in such a state does not sit right with me at all.
We're covered in charms and Ran is with us, so that might give us the opportunity to get info straight from the source.

Just wanted to give my take on the matter one last time before the deadline.
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[x] Run for safety. Better your life to fight another day.

Getting out of here immediately would be the safest, however…

“Ran, grab Nitori and make sure nothing happens,” I command the venerable fox.

“What?” she asks in return. I walk over to the collapsed area which gets her to call, “Stop! That’s inadvisable!”

Kagiyama rouses from her depressive state to once again bear her shovel, this time at me. I can tell that she isn’t the type to do anything, so I get right to the end of the weapon and grab it.

Kneeling down I keep to a direct and cutting attitude, saying, “Kagiyama, I know that I need to go but you need to tell us what’s happening so we can help.”

She pauses for a moment, trying to find whatever fear is in my gaze. I fake my confidence as best as I can and she responds, “It’s the spectre of misfortune itself. It’s come for me but I do not know why. It’s been this way for a week, and comes in waves like a typhoon.”

Ran makes some noise behind me as she digs the kappa from the wooden supports and asks Kagiyama in response, “You control and purify misfortune, this should not be happening as you say!”

“There’s too much!” Kagiyama shouts in frustration. She slides the shovel head from my grip and slams it on the ground in anger. “It’s like the world is suddenly bearing down upon me and I can’t take it all!”

Volatile doesn’t even begin to describe her mood. But seeing the state this house is in, it only makes sense. It doesn’t take a genius to tell that the situation is serious, so I need to pay attention if I want to help. We need to know why this is happening first and foremost.

“You mean since last week there’s been too much misfortune for you?” I question.

“Yes! I’m going insane trying to purify it, and at this point it’s boiled over and even started affecting me!” Kagiyama answers hysterically.

My mind races trying to piece together how some existence close to godhood could be overwhelmed by their own specialized purpose. It’s an unsettling thought.

“Do you know why this is happening?” I interrogate. Whatever she knows we also need to know in the few moments before anything else might happen.

“No, only that it started a week ago and has been happening to greater intensity since,” Kagiyama replies, scared.

She gasps, pointing at something on my lower abdomen. I look to spot something wrong with the charm at the bottom of my shirt. It’s blackened with a texture like charcoal. I didn’t feel anything, and it didn’t make a sound. My first assumption is that whatever evil invades here has burned the amulet, and it might be working its way up the ladder if it started at the bottom specifically.

Ran drags me back to my feet by the collar. She carries Nitori on her shoulder, and looks like she’s ready to grab me at a moments notice. I settle on my feet, assuring her that I’m fine. Kagiyama props herself against the trash mound to better view Ran and I breaking into a run from the house. She’s stunned but doesn’t necessarily seem surprised. The poor, ragged woman’s still sealed, so she’s trapped in her own home until Ran and I know how to tackle the problem.

We make a healthy distance from the place before slowing down and catching our bearings. We keep our heads on swivels, watching for anything out of place. It takes several moments to feel the silence of the woods settle in. The adrenaline spike tricked my brain into hearing things not really there in the rush.

This place is actually dead silent. I’m not going to get ahead of myself and say it’s safe, but it’s at least safe enough for Ran and I to talk for a while.

“So do you have any idea what that was about?” I ask of my companion as she lays the wounded kappa down. “What the hell is the ‘spectre of misfortune?’”

“Mmm…” Ran intones. “I do not know what Kagiyama referred to. Misfortune cannot take a physical form, at least not in any precedence. If it is something turned sentient, or, dragon forbid, sapient, peril may come upon us at any time.”

Her frown is the most intense I’ve ever seen it. She’s outright disturbed by what we’ve found. And for good reason. A god of misfortune itself is being effected by their own gathered bad juju. What the hell do you do with that information?

“What… what if she’s just gone crazy?” I hypothesize. “She might just be imagining the problem being out of her control and letting her power run rampant.”

Ran stops to contemplate the argument, but concludes, “Nay. Were that the case it would not have congealed into its current state. The power of Kagiyama Hina is to gather misfortune, and that power must be immutable by her existence. It would require her conscious effort to further drive the restoring force she produces.”

I look around at us, seeing a problem with that statement, and reply, “If that’s the case, then why does this entire area look like a drought, an earthquake, and a volcanic eruption happened simultaneously?! Something needs to be gathering it.”

“Kagiyama emits her misfortune in periods, however it has not been to the point that it could cause fatal damage to someone. Minor flesh wounds are what she can output to any human. Normally.”

“Then why did everyone act so horrified when I said I would go to meet her?” I start to drill in on this point particularly.

Ran spreads her arms wide, and with uncharacteristic energy explains, “Her misfortune is intended to be a half truth. Something that would ruin you should you encounter her, leaving the goddess Youkai of misfortune as a force of true calamity that can control something purely evil. Gods are founded on belief in them, so exaggerating the intensity of her power and domain makes her truly solidified in this reality.”

I look at her like she’s been possessed, and ask, “What was that?”

“An impression of how Lady Yukari would answer,” she states in the usual deadpan tone.

“Right, back on subject,” I correct myself in thought. I take a moment of silence to piece together what we know. “What are we supposed to do now? The goddess of misfortune is buried in her own shit. Who or what is supposed to fix that?”

“The process from here is to ensure this event is in a temporarily stable equilibrium while extrapolating information from as many sources as possible for the root cause. A solution may present itself at the end of the process,” Ran pragmatically responds.

“So… investigate the problem before anything else happens and fix it before it breaks, you mean?” I pragmatically dissect.

“Correct in a clausal sense,” Ran admits.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?! Do you not see what happened to Nitori right there?!” I can’t help but yell, gesturing toward the blue and red mess leaning on a tree.

“Emotions do not beget rational thought,” Ran sermonizes. “A fact true even for Gensokyo.”

My brain hiccups attempting to come up with a plausible argument, and instead I only spit out, “That… that’s just not right, Ran! We can’t leave things like this while we try to meticulously put together what’s happening. Somebody will get hurt!”

“But it must be the case,” Ran elaborates. “There is no time for us to conscript suitable aid that would better know the magnitude of this issue in terms of investigation. Every moment must be spent to understand suitable actions to resolve the apparent problem.”

I look at Ran, as deeply as I can. She’s stoically confident in her thought process like usual.

“How are we going to investigate everything, then?” I begin to counter-argue. “We just go around all of Gensokyo and narrow down the cause as we go?”

“You have not experienced it, but that is how incident resolution generally goes,” Ran states, almost like a complaint.

I look back in the direction of the house, and feel obligated to ask, “And what about Kagiyama in the meantime? We just leave her there like she’s some highly contagious hospital patient waiting for help?”

“She is unable to help in her delirious state. She did not consider asking for help when the misfortune proved to be above her limits,” Ran coldly remarks. I didn’t even think about that. Even in all of that she still wanted us to leave rather than try to help.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” I snide, ignoring my previous thought.

“Kagiyama must be left in her abode. We are to investigate the cause of the problem. That is the best way to isolate the misfortune,” Ran tells me.

“I think you mean to say we’re quarantining Kagiyama in her misery. I can’t say I agree with that,” I deliberate my feeling on the point.

Ran glints at me. She steps up to me and sternly repeats, “Kagiyama must remain isolated, she understood it herself. It is the reason she begged new guests to leave and nothing else.”

“Sure she did, but she’s also wrong about driving others away. She’s the resident expert on misfortune, and so she’s also our chance to know what she knows about her own problem.”

“Argue your logic,” Ran demands.

I think myself into a scowl, trying to word myself correctly before I state, “If she’s had this problem for a week, then she’s been able to think about what is happening to her for a week. She probably is way ahead of us on what to investigate.”

“Even should that be the case,” Ran declares, “There is no circumstance in which anyone will be allowed to Kagiyama’s residence before an understanding of the cause comes forth. There will be no entry permitted to the residence until some meaningful method of purification can be agreed upon.”

“Ran, isn’t that an ultimatum?” I critique her.

She doesn’t falter when retorting, “That is an order.”

A rustle in the trees catches our attention before I can really tear into the cruelty Ran is showing Kagiyama. From above drops a red blur. Chen’s back, looking no worse for wear.

“So I think there’s a problem,” she starts.

Ran pauses her, already figuring what she’s going to say. She’s confused until I point out the (maybe) alive kappa resting against the tree behind her. Chen launches at least four feet with a nasty screech. There’s no way she was expecting it to be that bad.

Ran and I catch her up on our side of the trip, including our argument from a moment ago.

“That makes sense,” she concludes. “The area did look bigger than it used to be.”

“How could you tell?” I ask.

She breaks into an uncannily familiar explanatory tone, steepling her hands and saying, “I had not checked physical distance by measurement, nor did I mean to imply that. I first searched for traces of change in the cursed part of the forest.”

“Cursed?” I interrupt.

“Misfortune applied forest area. Cursed forest, for short. Anyway what was I saying?” she breaks character for a split second. “Ah, right. The area that could be called ‘cursed forest’ seems to have a hard cutoff in certain places, and even there no evidence of a change over time can be found. Instead I resorted to exploring the adjacent lush forested areas for wildlife. The forest animals were proportionally denser just near the cursed forest compared to any other natural forested area in Gensokyo. Knowing this, I calculated the increased population of the surrounding area to generate a guesstimate of how many animals were recently displaced, and therefore achieve a rough estimate of the displacing cursed area.”

I pause for a moment, working through the explanation. I turn to Ran and joke, “Have you been doing proper language classes with her?”

“Was it that obvious?” she says with so much dryness I can’t tell if she’s serious or not.

“Do not make fun of me!” Chen pouts. She crosses her arms to look extra childlike when adding, “I’m telling you two what you wanted to know like how you’d say it.”

I seize the opportunity to keep the mood light and joke, “I don’t think I talk like that. But let’s get back on track. What is the size of the area now?”

“Should you consider the oblong region somewhat circular, it would be approximated to point seven four two kilometers squared,” Chen prints. Well, not literally, but it’s as close to a terminal out as I’ve heard from these two.

“Can I get that in inferior freedom units real quick?” I beggar.

Chen rolls her eyes and replies, “Point two eight six miles squared, you damn foreigner.”

“Thanks, I’ll act like you didn’t give me any lip,” I give the wily cat. “But that size… is about the size of an entire neighborhood outside, if I remember my distances.”

“More importantly it is in the realm of fifty percent increase of previous values,” Ran states. “Assuming Kagiyama is working at full intensity, the intrusive force is one point five times the magnitude of power.” She covers her mouth with a sleeve, mumbling, “Though, that is a hard claim to call factual, as misfortune is a non regular type of energy.”

“But what does this mean for us?” I ponder. “The power went up, but we already figured that.”

“Having a number to expect can still help us,” Chen inputs.

There’s a point. Something that can output to one and a half times that of Kagiyama herself. Not much to go on, but could be a general ballpark estimate of what the hell we’re looking for.

“Ran, where would you say Kagiyama scales in terms of gods? Is there a lot of things that number could be stapled to?” I try at some deductions.

“She would realistically be considered the lower quartile, even with her specialization being rare. The number will only narrow down beings in the upper quartile, such as myself,” she declares with no hint of arrogance. I nudge her by the elbow to try and remind her of the whole power drain thing she has. She clears her throat in awkward admission.

Chen doesn’t really catch on to anything. Though, now that I’m thinking about it, has Ran told Chen that she’s lost a lot of power in the last few weeks? I hope they’ve gone through that conversation already, ‘cause I wouldn’t want to be the one to explain it.

“In any case, work will need to be expedited. Chen, take the lesser Youkai you know near the mountain and ask them if they know anything that happened in this area in the past week,” Ran commands. “Should none of them have suitable information extend your search at your own discretion.”

“What will you be focusing on, Lady Ran?” Chen asks modestly.

“Further sealing measures for both entry and exit of this area must be taken. When that is completed there are still two species on this mountain that may know what plagues this zone,” she answers while prepping an ensemble of paper dolls and full sheets of paper with immense amounts of writing on each. I’m curious what her getting serious looks like, but before that something else occupies my thoughts.

“Ran, I’ll be coming with you, I’m not one to sit around and act like problems will resolve themselves around me,” I demand of my partner.

She looks over to me, as if already anticipating this request, and answers, “Sure.”

“Wait, no complaints? I’m good to join?”

“If you did not want to be you would not have asked,” she swats at my skepticism.

“R-right,” I reply turning away in light embarrassment. Then I remember, or rather spot, the elephant in the room. “Uh…”

I catch Ran’s attention and point over to the kappa. Her face is… doing something. I wouldn’t know what the fuck regenerating Youkai flesh looks like, so for all I know she’s turning into some other kind of monster right now.

“Chen. See the kappa to Eientei before your primary task,” Ran issues a subclause to the cat.

Chen looks over at the messy pile of just living kappa and scoffs, “If I have to.”

With only a gag reflex or two, Chen picks up the bloody not corpse in the same fireman carry as earlier and streaks off into the woods, beelining for the bamboo forest.

“Tanner,” Ran addresses me, “if you wish to be of use pick a target with a chance of having good information from the mountain residents. I must focus on these barrier spells.”

I still hate the idea of sealing in the problem with the victim inside, but if I’m given the chance I might as well help make things go better.

So, a resident of the mountain, huh? Let me think… there’s...

[x] Basically any tengu. They own a large swath of the place, even if it’s a ways up someone might know something pertinent.

[x] The other kappa might have some contact or travel through this area with what Ran and Nitori were talking about.

[x] Wait I might be forgetting some people. (write-in)

And so the story takes to the route of seclusion, ensuring ‘nothing’ happens to Regis or Gensokyo. A misfortune doll is supposed to take all of the burden, after all.
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[x] Basically any tengu. They own a large swath of the place, even if it’s a ways up someone might know something pertinent.
Find the purple tengu. Ran probably knows how to manipulate the tengu to some degree.
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[x] Basically any tengu. They own a large swath of the place, even if it’s a ways up someone might know something pertinent.
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[x] Basically any tengu. They own a large swath of the place, even if it’s a ways up someone might know something pertinent.
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Ahhhhh. This is why I didn't want to run!
I feel so incredibly bad for Hina.
Regis better be ready to [X] GENUFLECT for forgiveness from her when this is all over.

So, my gut feeling/read on it being overwhelming misfortune that "comes in waves" was correct.

We only lost one of the charms in that timeframe, so maybe we can come back later for more info. Unless Ran locked it up so tight she can't even make a momentary gap in the barrier.

As for the choice this time:

We need information > go to the crows
pretty simple, but that means spilling the beans to them too. They probably already know but telling a tengu can invite problems.

The kappa could be a good source of information too, but we might have better luck with them if we had Nitori with us.
On that note, we should ask Ran if she knows how long it'd take Nitori to recover with aid from Eientei.
Ideally she'll be available to help soon, but let's not count on it. It'd be nice if she was well enough to be asked questions, though.

3rd option: Gods?
>The number will only narrow down beings in the upper quartile
Ran said herself this swell of power would rank high amongst gods/beings.
In that case an option would be going directly (or as directly as Regis can, anyway) to the most powerful gods on the mountain.
The target would be Suwako, her connection to the Mishaguji could give insight into the matter, if they aren't directly related.
Kanako could also be a source of info, maybe there's a leak of vengeful spirits at the geyser center which is causing all this.
The problem with that is that Kanako would likely not cooperate freely. This situation could reflect poorly on her if she proves even somewhat involved and she's not one to play a bad hand.
Sanae... wouldn't be much help directly, but could help as a liaison with the two gods. It's only her job after all.

Waiting on input from others to make a final decision but right now I'm stuck between these two:

[ ] Moriya Shrine

[ ] Tengu

I'm leaning Moriya Shrine, myself.
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Im going to side with anon above me, they have a well written analysis of the potential political challenges that we might have to deal with in this situation.
And I hope that when we (hopefully) fix this, we remember to get Hina something nice to apologize

[X] Moriya shrine
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b-but tengu CNN....
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[x] Basically any tengu. They own a large swath of the place, even if it’s a ways up someone might know something pertinent.
[x] Wait I might be forgetting some people. (write-in)
-[x] Yorigami Sisters
-[x] Suwako Moriya

Tengus have an information network that is pretty much unrivalled by anyone but the Sages in Gensokyo. They likely already know about the Kagiyama situation.
The Yorigami sisters might make things worse, but they do know their stuff around misfortune.
Suwako Moriya might be the most helpful as she is one of the oldest gods (at least 2,300 years old) and therefore one of the most experienced.
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[X]Yorigami Sisters
The most interesting choice by far.
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[x] Moriya Shrine
- [x] (sub-goal of locating the Yorigami Sisters)

I don't think we'll have an easy time locating the Yorigami sisters, since they tend to float about. Checking through Moriya Shrine and getting the advice of other gods (while also resupplying our protective talismans since we lost one or two from exposure) would be wise.
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>>44165 here

After thinking it through a while I'm gonna have to go for Moriya Shrine, it might be difficult but Suwako is too juicy a target for our purposes.

If this is a choice where multiple options are allowed I would vote going to the Tengu afterwards, otherwise just the shrine.

The Yorigami sisters.... I am hesitant on. As already mentioned they'd be tough to locate, but more than that they're the Yorigami sisters.

Joon's personality can perhaps be described as "belligerent", though she might have mellowed out with her time spent at Myouren Temple (if she's not still there, but it didn't seem that way if I recall correctly).

Shion is Shion, a very interesting target and indeed seems like a great fit for the current predicament, whether that is as a source of information, insight, or just as the cause.
Her personality might be better than that of her sister, but her ability would prove a problem that doesn't need explaining.

Altogether I don't think we should search them out, at least at first. But they should definitely at least be mentioned to Ran and possibly Suwako if we get to see her.

> We only lost one of the charms in that timeframe, so maybe we can come back later for more info. Unless Ran locked it up so tight she can't even make a momentary gap in the barrier.

On the topic of Ran, I do still want to ask her this. We went the route of quarantining Hina, so I'm not holding my breath; but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

[X] Moriya shrine
-[X] Ask Ran if we could ask Hina more questions directly, later
-[X] Mention the Yorigami sisters as possible persons of interest
-[X] Tengu afterwards if possible
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