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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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