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Previous thread hit sage limit, but I also forgot to post the update to a new thread, so an accidental double post it is.

[x] Cirno the ice fairy

“… Cirno the ice fairy,” Patchouli answers.

“Alright, then let’s train her up to fight Meira,” I continue naturally for a moment. My brain does a double take and I realize what was just said, pondering, “Wait… what do you mean Cirno won?”

“It was rather startling, but yes, she won,” Meiling confirms. “Shameimaru didn’t seem to put in much effort, and underestimated Cirno.”

I cajole with a wave of my hands, “I still don’t think I understand how that’s supposed to happen. I see it everywhere that fairies are supposed to be the bottom rung of Gensokyo, but she won against a tengu?”

“Nominally, you would be correct,” Patchouli notes, seated lamely waiting for her next chance to read. “Cirno is an odd fairy, however. You studied her, I imagined you would understand her potential better than I.”

“Don’t be a bastard,” I spew. “I knew she was strong, but I thought Shameimaru was some kind of famous tengu?”

“Famous for annoying others,” Meiling touts. “She taunted Cirno before turning her back to her opponent. Cirno grabbed her chance to show Shameimaru how foolish that was. She stabbed Shameimaru with one of her icy wings.”

“It was only happenstance that it pierced the tengu’s spinal chord about the small of the back,” Patchouli annotates. “Not to apologize for that nuisance, of course. Some might observe it as the purview of divine judgment given her grandstanding.”

I parse this information and find myself at an odd conjecture, “So… what? You’re saying that Aya was being a dumbass and lost for her hubris? But back on the point, do you both think that Cirno could be trained to take out Meira?”

“I can be trained,” Cirno affirms. “I’ve been training a lot lately.”

“Thank you, Cirno, but I do need an outside perspective to the match up,” I settle the girl.

“…” Meiling and Patchouli stare for a moment that I might assess what’s happening.

I turn on Cirno and start questioning, “Cirno, what are you doing over here? I thought you were wandering the festival after the primaries.”

“I had a feeling my subjects needed me,” Cirno declares. “A strong leader listens to their people!”

“Do you mean we are your ‘subjects?’” Meiling asks with a giggle, kneeling down to Cirno’s toddling height.

“Of course!” Cirno proudly puffs with a pound to her chest. “All of my friends are subjects.”

The green haired fairy presents herself next to Cirno, and continuing to act as the interpreter, says, “She saw the old guy and Chen playing earlier and got jealous.”

Cirno decidedly ignores the comment, but a twitch in her haughty demeanor is evidence enough to what Dai said.

I decide now’s a good chance to ask something on my mind, crossing my arms and asking, “Cirno, do you think that acting like nobility makes you stronger?”

“What?! No!” Cirno defends herself with a swift turn of the head.

“Cirno, I’m not going to scold you. You know that, right?” I press.

She sheepishly looks at me, answering, “Yeah… yeah, being a leader means you’re strong, right?”

“What’s this about?” Meiling chimes in out of curiosity. “Cirno doesn’t often act like this.”

“It’s almost become customary that every time I see Cirno we talk about what makes someone strong, or why being strong is considered good,” I explain to the guard.

“Why being strong is good? It’s never crossed my mind to ask a fairy that,” Meiling admits. “What is your answer, Cirno? Why is being strong good?”

Cirno stands to attention and answers with a wise look, “Being strong means people see me as Cirno and not a fairy. I can make friends like that and protect them.”

“Well, I’m glad you remembered that much after a month…” I sigh. “You’ve gone quite off route of what being stronger means, though.”

“What do you mean?” Cirno asks. “Leaders are strong. Dai told me. Other fairies agreed. Then we all agreed that I would be the best leader.”

“But would those fairies be willing to do things if you asked?” I retort. “Would they fight for you if you asked?”

“Uh…” Cirno thinks on the question.

“Little green one, Dai,” I address, “would you fight for Cirno if she asked?”

“Well…” Dai pauses. She nervously answers, “I don’t want trouble, but I’d help if she needs it.”

“That doesn’t mean you’d fight if she wanted you to, though, does it?” I point out.

Dai screws her face over trying to argue the point.

“Alright, let’s try this, then,” I start. “Meiling, would you die for your master Scarlet?”

“In a heartbeat,” Meiling answers without a second thought. “Well… unless she’s the one trying to kill me,” she gives a second thought.

“I think that goes doubly so for Remilia,” Patchouli addends. “She would die for each of her servants, much to their displeasure.”

“Right, so that’s probably the right grounds for what a strong leader is,” I conclude. “If your ‘subjects’ don’t share that level of trust, you may want to pursue a different means of strength, Cirno.”

Cirno nods to herself, contemplating the meaning of the discussion. Thankfully, the obvious takeaway isn’t the most present thought for her, as she says, “So instead of being a leader, I should be stronger as a person. Right. So what was that you were talking about with the angry woman with a sword?”

“Meira?” Meiling picks up the conversation. “We’re worried for her because she’s gotten stronger as well. We only sort of know why, but we can’t convince her to be helped.”

“We want her to lose the next match,” I divulge the curious fairy. “If she loses she won’t have a reason to hold onto her newfound power. The problem is we need her to actually lose, so that would currently be up to you.”

“So? She’s not that strong, right?” Cirno blusters with an air of overconfidence only she can muster.

“She’s very powerful,” Meiling does not mince words. She puts a finger to Cirno’s neck and continues, “Any wrong move and she takes your throat.”

Cirno frowns at the accost in a sense of disbelief. She asks, “So how do I fight her? I’m the strongest, but I don’t know anything about swords.”

“Come, I’ll show you how to take her on,” Meiling commands the fairy.

Cirno remains totally obedient to the order, too interested in beating a tough opponent to notice her sudden shift to subordinate. That girl, I swear. Sometimes she’ll take out someone leagues above her, other times she’ll play pretend.

With their departure, Kasen, Patchouli, and I are left to spectate the end of the exhibition matches. Chen continues to rise through the ranks, a fairly large pool of participants to go through. I check my watch. 4:01PM. We’re closing in on the later part of the day, and the exhibitions are still trying to finish up. But even so, I decide that I need to tackle the problems as they come up, and I haven’t gotten back to the other one at hand.

I pull Kasen away to a different corner so that we might talk. She seems somewhat concerned that I’d take interest in her problems, but doesn’t mind my earnesty to try and understand the immediate issue. She almost seems to have expected that I’d follow up on my word from earlier, and that it wasn’t platitudes. They weren’t, mind you, but they sounded a lot like they were.

I start as I did before, “Sorry for how things went during your match. I said it before, but I’ll say it again to make sure you know that I didn’t expect any of that.”

“It’s fine, Tanner,” Kasen states, hands defensively waving me back. “And I’m telling you, you don’t need to worry about Ibuki and I. We’re able to handle our own problems.”

“That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t offer you any help that I can give,” I upturn.

“That’s… haah…” she sighs. “I think that a certain someone’s nosiness got to you. I doubt you’ve even met her and yet you’re so much alike.”

“Who do you mean?” I ask.

“Never mind that,” Kasen quickly deters the conversation. “Give me your honest opinion. What did the end of my match look like to you?”

I think on my answer, attempting to not jump to conclusions from the onset. “I’d say it involved two friends, maybe two close friends, but I don’t want to assume anything.”

“Do you think your assumptions are wrong?” Kasen coerces.

“No, not necessarily. It’s more like it’s a foolish thing to try and even approach a problem with assumptions unless you know you’re allowed to make them,” I argue.

Kasen observes the confidence I say that with, cupping a hand over her mouth and saying, “Maybe you’d be fine…” She lowers her hand and continues, “What do you know about Ibuki and I? Ran must have told you some when you visited me.”

“What? No. Ran told me next to nothing about you. She didn’t even mention that you’re an oni.”

“Yet you know?” she interrogates.

“Patchouli told me at the end of your match. It didn’t sound like any secret to her, so I didn’t figure it was… or maybe is?”

“Is,” Kasen confirms. “I would like less people to know whenever possible.”

“So that’s what Ibuki was talking about in your conversation,” I infer. “But that really shouldn’t matter between the two of you. Even if you’re living different lives that shouldn’t mean you can’t be friends.”

Kasen winces a slight amount at having to tell me, “Well… it’s a little more than that.”

“No…” I gasp, realizing that I’m stepping somewhere I really ought not to be. “Oh, geez. I didn’t think it was like that.”

Her eyes shoot to me in horror, flailing her words, “No, no, nothing like what you’re thinking! I was her subordinate, once. I mean, we maybe had that sort of partnership off and on, but we’re big enough to move past it.”

I groan, understanding the depths of my mistakes when involving myself. This is not the direction I want to take this conversation, so I return to the original topic, “Do you think that you would be able to patch things up in the right setting?”

“What would you think is the right setting?” Kasen asks with a gesture for me to share my mind.

“A lot of things would be better than an arena,” I conjecture. “Better question is do you know of a way to get her in person?”

“Sadly, not really,” Kasen informs me, shying away to hold her arm. “I would have left to contact her if I could. If I had to guess, she’s hiding in her mist form to avoid people. She acts like she uses it for nefarious purposes, but really she feels comfortable in that form.”

“She feels comfortable being mist? That sounds like an acetic thing,” I josh. “But, wait, if she’s everywhere at once as mist… does that make her omniscient?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Kasen confirms with a hint of surprise. “She’s not going to listen to what either of us have to say, but she can hear everything. She probably didn’t even wander far before disappearing, so she hears this area better.”

Is that how that works? Ibuki can become part of the very air and listen in to everything people say. What an absurd power. But at the same time, that means that she’s technically not hidden, doesn’t it? An idea strikes me, something just as absurd, but maybe possible.

“Kasen, come with me, we need to find Meiling,” I wave her beside me as I make for the door.

We go down the stretch of halls back outside. The fair grounds is a tad more open now that the villagers are starting to thin out. Night is still some ways out, but the walk home can take time. Not to mention how tired they’ll be after an outing like today’s.

“Where do you expect to find miss Hong? And, for that matter, what did you need to ask of her? If it was so pressing you should have mentioned it earlier,” Kasen nags, not unlike a certain someone I know.

As we continue walking further to the corner of the mansion I placate the hermit oni, “No, listen. I just had an idea while we were talking that maybe we’d be able to drag Ibuki out of hiding if we were to try and net her.”

“What?” Kasen asks, baffled by the assertion. “In what sense do you think you can cast any net that could contain Ibuki? She’s an oni that has turned into the atmosphere. You may as well attempt to grasp at the aether.”

“Funny you should say that. That’s about what I was thinking to do. Well, not me, but maybe Meiling,” I springboard from Kasen’s exaggeration.

Kasen stutters her step to stare at me, and says, “You’re serious about this? You want to grab magic and that will be the same as grabbing Suika? I can’t say I know what you’re thinking.”

I explain myself, “You said before that Ibuki has turned into mist. In my mind that would mean that she’s as small as particulates in the air, if not smaller. So if we can think of something that might normally effect her, we now need to do the same at a lower power for a greater volume.”

“So you think that you can have Meiling manipulate life energy to drag Ibuki back to one spot? I want to say I don’t follow, but I think I do. It still doesn’t sound like the correct conclusion,” Kasen mulls over.

“That’s the hypothesis. If Ibuki is small enough she might be approximated as part of the empty space much like a field. That’s only a guess on my part that something like life magic would be akin to electromagnetic fields,” I expand on my previous point.

“How many guesses are you making to create that ‘hypothesis,’ exactly?” Kasen questions. “No, before that, you’re assuming that I’m okay with informing someone of my personal affairs.”

“Ah, well…” I utter, trying not to get ahead of myself. I decide to add on, “I can always ask Ran instead. It will have to wait until after the tournament’s over for today, though, since she’s heading the match rulings.”

Kasen doesn’t respond for a few moments. I pass over my shoulder to see her deeply concentrated on the suggestion before answering, “While I have my withholdings, I also know that time is important. That’s assuming she’s still here; she normally hides when I’m around. I need a moment to think on it…”

We’ve rounded a few corners at this point, finding ourselves at the back of the mansion and away from nearly all of the crowd. Only some drunkards looking for a quiet place to sleep are stationed on various outdoor furniture where they can be, but not a sign of Meiling or Cirno yet.

I beeline to a gazebo over by the mansion’s edge. This portion of the grounds is quite strange, sporting no external wall along the edge. During the summer it seems nonsensical, only separating the manse from the forest by a stone’s toss of short grass, but in the winter the lake’s waterline rises and fills the space considerably. Coincidentally this makes the mansion technically an island in that case. Meiling has complained about forest animals that occasionally approach this time of year, but nothing major.

On approach, I spot Meiling and Cirno in practice. Meiling’s taken a hands on approach to training Cirno. She wields a wooden katana against Cirno’s odd icy mimicry of the same weapon. She drills strikes for Cirno to guard against, but her movement isn’t usual. They aren’t methodical and disciplined like I’d expect of the gatekeeper, but use momentum to get around the opponent.

Meiling seems to be familiar enough with Meira to copy her style, using her sword in a reverse grip and showing Cirno where she might strike with her hook.

They haven’t paid us any mind as we’re watching.

Kasen stands by observing, then quietly says to me, “I’ve made up my mind. You can take the chance to let Hong know if you think its necessary, but my opinion stands that I want less people to know. I’m giving you a conundrum, I know. There may be no way to help me right now, anyway.”

So she’s offloading the choice to me so that it’s my responsibility. She doesn’t seem to do it consciously, but it’s an easy enough ulterior motive to weed out.

I can’t hold in an amused sniff while shaking my head, and reply, “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

[x] Resolve to let Meiling know about Kasen’s issues and seek her assistance on this matter as well.

[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.

[x] Come up with a different idea. (Write-in)

You’ll get a bit more of Meiling and Cirno training next update, but we’re soon approaching the next rounds, so I expect things to ramp up as we thin out the contestants. As for the beginning of this section, I think I may have had a bit too much fun, but I can’t get enough of philosophical corner with Cirno. It strikes my fancy.
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[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.

I think we shouldn't spread ourselves too thin.
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[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.

We're not in a rush anyways...
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>"...She stabbed Shameimaru with one of her icy wings.”
>"...it pierced the tengu’s spinal chord about the small of the back..."

That's hilarious. She tried to give Aya a Wario style shoulder bash and stabbed her instead. That or she copied the Spy.

Also, I like philospohical corner wirh Cirno, personally.

[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.
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I don't see any reason not to at least inform her.

She was there when Patchouli dropped the truthbomb, so it's not like she doesn't already know.

And it's not like she can't infer what's going on after seeing the fight, knowing that they're both oni.

So, basically there's nothing to lose.

[X] Resolve to let Meiling know about Kasen’s issues and seek her assistance on this matter as well.
-[X] "She probably already knows, anyway."

(Unless I'm remembering horrifically wrong.)
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[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.
It's better to put this up for later
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[x] Resolve to let Meiling know about Kasen’s issues and seek her assistance on this matter as well.
-[x] If its privacy you're worried about, you could just ask Meiling to plug her ears and turn around during the conversation with Suika.

Just because Meiling gathers up Suika doesn't mean she has to pay attention to the conversation.
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[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.

I walk over next to Meiling and Cirno, minding my spacing from their blunt weaponry. While a stray swing wouldn’t cause any flesh wound, it’s still idiotic to get hit at all.

“Meiling,” I address the woman a few paces away.

She lifts her wooden sword away from Cirno, the fairy holding her icy facsimile in a high guard. Perhaps Meiling was in the middle of explaining how to block from that angle.

“Tanner, what have you come here for? The exhibitions haven’t ended already, have they?” Meiling asks of me, sword unnaturally held upright. Her eyes drift to my talking partner and greets, “Ah, Kasen, hello. Did you have interest in my training after all?”

Kasen remains quiet as I answer, “We came by to check on how you’re doing training Cirno. It’s a very short amount of time before she needs to be ready. Is training her with a sword advisable?”

“I thought it would be cool!” Cirno gleefully announces, brandishing her weapon above her head.

“She insisted,” Meiling replies, tossing in an amused shake of her head. “I’ve had a long time to learn that Cirno learns only what she wants.”

“I can’t say I envy the task, admittedly,” I concede. Cirno ruts an undictioned complaint my way at that.

“Is that enough to help her fight someone skilled with a sword, though?” Kasen questions, intentionally letting our previous topic go undiscussed.

“Hmm…” Meiling ponders her explanation. “From what I could tell before, Meira is a lot like Youmu. We saw them match speed and strength.”

“Meira was lucky that Youmu didn’t go all out, though. Had she used her more impressive moves we might not be talking about this,” Kasen criticizes. “That doesn’t mean I expect someone that doesn’t know how to use a weapon to defeat her, however.”

“Hang on, you’ve grabbed my attention,” I interject as I hold Cirno’s head an arm’s length away. “If Youmu could do more, how much more are we talking?”

Meiling illustrates for me, “Youmu is fast. Fast enough for a human to not find by eye. Faster than I could possibly halt from passing me. She could put more power to her strikes, but in speed I disagree with Kasen’s thought. Youmu went the speed she meant to. Meira still caught her and stopped the passing movement.”

Kasen appraises, “I can’t argue with your judgment. I’ve not fought the Konpaku girl before, myself. Only witnessed her lose to liquor.”

I dismiss Kasen’s off comment to continue picking Meiling’s brain, “If you mean they’re on equal footing, just how fast would that make them?”

“From what you said earlier, you know about Shameimaru’s speed. Imagine that on the ground. That’s their speeds,” Meiling concludes.

“So are we expecting Cirno’s swordsmanship to counteract that speed in some way?” I drill on the main subject.

“No,” Meiling simply answers. “I expect Cirno to do what she wants.”

I run my fingers over my forehead in thought.

“I believe you’ve lost us,” Kasen notes, deadpanned.

“Ah, well, Meira seems like Youmu,” Meiling defends her position. “If someone fights her that does not have a style or tactic it will throw her off.”

My fingers stop as I focus on Meiling and complete her thought, “Because she’s trained against you so much. She only fights wild Youkai near the village. Normally fighting animals she doesn’t have a real method for fighting people, only countering calculated actions.”

“Uh…” Meiling emptily replies. “I’m not sure I understand you. Something seemed to make sense, so that’s fine…”

“I see you’ve saved me the trouble of finding Meiling as well,” a voice comments next to Kasen. The sharp and cold tone makes it easy enough to guess who it’s from.

I turn around and ask the maid, “Is it really already time?”

“Time?” Izayoi enunciates. “I suppose it is so. How unfortunate that you have not way to accurately tell the time. Oh, no, I forget myself, as you surely have that wrist bound time keeping device. But, then, why are you surprised by the time? Had you not heard the announcement from Milady that the exhibitions were finished and required a fifteen odd lapse before the second primary rounds?” she ends, shying behind her hand in presumption.

“Are you finished?” I show no mirth. “I left the room again, I know, but there’s things happening that I can be there for.”

“Things such as the winner of the exhibition rounds? Whom you now have no idea of their identity? Those such things?” Izayoi retorts, enjoying herself in this vitriol.

“Enough!” I relent. “Let’s head back, then.”

“With the three of you as well,” Izayoi notes, looking between the other women present. Well, other women and Cirno, anyway. “I trust you know the way to return, as there is still more of the ring to repair on my end.”

I grunt in affirmation. The maid pops out of existence from where she was standing. Meiling pats my shoulder as she passes by and states, “She seems to like you.”

Whether she’s being serious or not is beyond me. Does every member of the internal mansion outwardly torment people they are fond of? I guess it’s about the same as a certain someone’s proclivity to rest atop my shoulders when she’s around.

“Cirno, can’t you just fly?” I bicker.

“That’s no fun!” Cirno pouts, holding her crown in place as she bends into view.

Kasen giggles with a knuckle to her mouth at the opening of the gazebo.

“Kasen,” I address.

She checks over her shoulder to make sure Meiling has walked far enough, and turns back to say, “You didn’t need to stay quiet about that idea of yours. Still, you considered my wishes, so, thank you.”

“We’ll get back to it after all this. I’ll have to explain the idea to Ran and brainstorm if it would even work,” I inform the hermit. Cirno shakes around on my shoulders begging to be part of the conversation, to which I grapple her from knocking me over.

We walk back to the waiting room to some mild chit chat about Cirno’s current thoughts for beating Meira. I can’t say I have any real expectations in this scenario, after all I didn’t really think Cirno would make it past the first round in this ruleset, but she’s a bundle of surprises. Her confidence can’t be taken at face value, though, so her bluster only really falls on deaf ears.

The waiting room has been largely emptied out now that the exhibition matches are done. Only the odd Youkai hangs around to keep watching, the rest losing as some point in their independent brackets. Biten still sits close by Meiling, for whatever attachment the Youkai monkey found. Nobody else stands out as the winner from the exhibitions, so they’ve probably left to enjoy the festival themselves while the primaries are happening. The lack of conversation leaves a placid air as the remaining competitors size each other up.

A member is missing from the group, though. I can tell at a glance because her presence was by and large… larger. Hoshiguma isn’t here yet. Everyone else is: Chen, Cirno, Meiling, Jo’on, Kasen, Reisen, even Meira. I’ll have to ask Patchouli what that’s about.

I initially go to where the primary brackets were posted and see they’ve gone missing. I stroll up to Patchouli and find the sheet on top of a pile of books to the witch’s side. Left unguarded save for the attendant keeping watch on all of miss Knowledge’s literature. I thank the demonic redhead to no reply and turn my attention to the group. They’re all anxious in their own ways for things to get started again.

“I’m sure you all remember the order that you’re up next, but I’ll briefly list it off right now,” I start. “Meiling, Jo’on, you’re up first. Soon as Izayoi is here you’re going. I don’t think I have anything I need to warn either of you about, unless there’s any questions.”

I pause to give them a chance for exactly that, but neither vocalizes. Meiling shakes her head confidently, Jo’on… looks like she wants to say something on her mind, as is often the case, but recognizes now isn’t the time for that.

“Alright, moving on,” I proceed with the spiel. “Kasen, Reisen, you’re after them. Then we go Hoshiguma and Chen… oh boy, alright…”

“And what do you mean by that?” Chen perks up in contest.

“Nothing!” I insist. “But, where is Hoshiguma? If Izayoi found everyone she should be here too.”

“Shelve the thought for a moment,” Patchouli advises. I glance beside me to see if she’s properly joining the conversation or merely chiming in. Hopefully she means to talk about it after I’m done.

“Fine…” I stuff the topic and look back over to Chen. A passing thought escapes my lips, “Wait, I just realized, didn’t you also sign up for the exhibition matches, Chen?”

“Uh,” Chen intelligently mutters, looking away while playing with her fingers.

“There… was no rule against the idea,” Kasen ponders. “I wonder if those knocked out from the first round thought the same.”

“Never mind, it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things,” I deflect the discussion. No reason to clue everyone in that I don’t know the victor. “Anyway, Cirno and Meira you’re up last. I’ll talk to you all briefly before you go. Other than that, I’m right here for the time being. Dismissed.”

I added in a little habitual piece in the end, but nobody noticed the oddity, so I let it pass. Meiling and Jo’on approach, still waiting for Izayoi to come grab them.

“Like I said, you both heard the rules last round, and I don’t think you two are in danger of killing one another by accident,” I brief. It may have come off as dismissive, but I’ll live with it.

“I know,” Meiling agreeably states, “I thought Sakuya would know to look here first.”

“Ugh,” Jo’on gags. “I didn’t realize how bad she would be. The voice alone is grating like the grasshead’s sunny airheadedness.”

“What?” Meiling recoils in shock. She stares aghast at Jo’on for some semblance of a reason that the goddess is so volatile. She’s leans forward and cautions, “Have we met before?”

“No, but I’ve heard a thing or two about you. I can’t believe that a Youkai like you even exists,” Jo’on accuses.

“Ha?!” Meiling squeals. “What did I do?”

“Nothing, and that’s kind of the problem,” Jo’on persists.

I get my arms between them and shove the two apart. A moment longer and they would have actually been in each other’s faces. “How many times do I have to say it. Save it for the ring if you want to pull smack talk or whatever this shit is,” I command to Jo’on specifically. She clicks her tongue at me, but that’s about it.

In the next moment the doors fly open as Izayoi struts in to quickly collect the competitors. Without a word or a moment to question she drags the two off for the first round.

“Damnit, she probably knows where Hoshiguma is,” I gripe.

“The large oni left earlier,” Patchouli speaks up without glancing from her book. “She made mention to me that she was going out to find Ibuki. As you were not here at the time, she felt the need to report such to me. Thank me for doing your menial work.”

I heave a disgruntled tone from the back of my throat, cross my arms, and say, “Thanks and screw off.”

Hoshiguma left? How would she even find Ibuki? Damnit, I guess I really did miss something important. I didn’t think I would be jumping the gun so dramatically, though.

One problem at a time, Tanner. I’m coordinating the rounds and a contender left, forfeiting her place in the bracket. Chen’s not going to be mashed into roadkill, so that’s good.

… Gotta make sure that thought never slips out.

Now how to approach this upset in the bracket… I take a glance at the roster in my hand, inspecting the names as if they would have some sort of answer lying within. Overall it’s gotten to be one hell of an eclectic group, that’s for sure. If it’s already this strange, then…

“Hey, Patchouli,” I address the witch. She doesn’t vocalize a response, but circles her hand for me to continue. “Think we could use the winner of the exhibition matches as a replacement? I mean, assuming it wasn’t Chen.”

“I believe it is your responsibility to make that call. You were the one to set up the exhibitions in the first place. Whether they arbitrarily go at the end or now won’t be very different in Remi’s eyes. Now cease your prattle. I am not your coworker,” Patchouli assesses, being surprisingly helpful.

I consider her response, and decide that it would be best to do that if Hoshiguma did in fact suddenly leave. The replacement would make more sense in this context than to simply skip Chen forward in the brackets. Albeit, it might be someone that Chen fought in that same group. Would be quite comical, even if unlikely.

I return to the discussion with Patchouli, and emphatically spout, “Oh, wise and most beautiful magician, might you grace me with the knowledge of who won the exhibition matches?”

In an absolute show of discipline, the witch remains silent. Not even a budge to her exterior can be seen as her might of will does not allow any lightened mood to present itself from my exaggerations. I remain utterly ignored, without the grace that I might banter with someone while she turns a page.

“Was that too much?” I ask.

“Entirely. I can’t say I understand what you were even attempting to emulate,” she leaves the thought out to hang.

“Sorry…” I respond with an embarrassed scratch at my cheek not kept in check. “So, could you tell me who won the exhibitions, please?”

She points to the paper in my hand. I pass it to her, expecting her to write the name directly, but instead she turns it over in front of me. I lean in to find small and nearly illegible script in a corner of the sheet with the name...

[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion. (Write-in)

[x] Yes, anyone that hasn’t been discussed already.

[x] This isn’t limited to being sensical, either. Just don’t make it a noncombatant.

So, next update will not be where this choice becomes notable. I plan to make next update be very centered around Meiling vs Jo’on because despite appearances, this is still a Meiling chapter at the core. As for this choice, this is very much intended to be for fun. I really do want to see you all might agree on in more of an ‘anything goes’ sense.
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Kaguya (?)
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- [X] Reisen II
(Don't ask how I decided that...)
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-[x] Kaguya (!)
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>[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
>-[x] Kaguya (!!)
Kaguya is my favourite so I can't help myself but to vote for her.

It's Tsukihime time.
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Drunk Reimu

Tsukihime? Screw that noise, THIS is where we're at
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Kaguya

I wonder if there are special rules for fighting Hourai immortals given that you literally can't kill them no matter how hard you try.
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I was thinking one of the moon people but this is better.

[X] Reisen II
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[X] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion
- [X] Keine
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Drunk Reimu

Yeah! Drunk Reimu!
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[X] Reisen II
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Kaguya

Let's see how skilled Kaguya after all those death matches with Mokou
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[x] Sukuna
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Seeing Shimmy fight does sound pretty funny
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[X] Reisen II

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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Kaguya

… Kaguya. Kaguya? As in… Kaguya Houraisan, one of the moon people? I didn’t peg her as a very fisticuffs oriented person. Or trained in any martial practice at all, for that matter. She’s a princess who had legends made about her supposed transcendental beauty, so it’s odd to even imagine her throwing hands with the… well… ‘pro brawling’ collective here. I could be less nice in that thought, but at least half of them are alright.

“How did Kaguya rise through the ranks?” I ask Patchouli. “I can’t even fathom the way she must fight with these rules.”

Patchouli lowers her book momentarily, thinking back on the matches she sat around for, and interprets, “It was much like a military’s close combat techniques. The lunarians have their own methods of combat, and it seems efficace enough to take armed opponents bare handed.”

I scratch at my temple attempting to parse the visual of an immortal girl in noble dress performing soldier grapples. I come up short and comment, “What? She fights bare handed? I thought that even though lunarians aren’t human they still had a lot of the same physicality.”

Patchouli raises her book once more, reproaching my assumption with, “Grossly inaccurate. But given, it is correct to assume their physical strength is much the same as that of a human’s. It is also impossible to tell what the years spent on Earth have done to Kaguya and her retainer.”

“Oh yeah, we haven’t seen miss Yagokoro,” I state. “You don’t think Kaguya snuck out of their mansion, do you?”

“Don’t you have enough concerns at the moment?” Patchouli retorts my passive curiosity.

The mirror cackles to life with vicious giggling. The sound of a child taking pure joy in doing something they shouldn’t be. Scarlet’s merriment takes over the waiting room and the arena, and with it all eyes are on her.

She stands from her honestly gaudy throne and begins to announce, “Welcome one and all to the next rounds of the Scarlet Tournament! I know that you have all been waiting keenly for our greater chosen fighters to come around once more, and be not afraid to say so, for I have too! Let them know that you are ready to receive them with boundless excitement! Make yourselves loud enough that they might hear you from where they wait!”

She crescendos the last sentence and swings her arms open to the crowd, signaling a warhead of cheers greater than the start of the tournament. People are settling into Scarlet’s corny persona as the host.

“Scarlet Tournament?” I hear Chen stifle a giggle next to me.

“I sincerely hope that that isn’t the name she’s going to feed to the tengu,” Kasen coincides.

After a few moments Scarlet levels her hands and slowly lowers them to silence the crowd. She giddily retracts them as she continues her speech, “Yes! I think they heard that! The first two for the round probably felt that! It is my pleasure to reintroduce the first contestant to this lineup! The Scarlet Devil’s own personal guard, the mystical master of martial arts hailing from the Chinese nation! Hong Meiling!”

A few seconds pass as Meiling ducks under the rope netting to enter the ring, attempting to shirk off a roaring crowd. She stands tall but eventually gives in, her posture loosening and a hand bracing the back of her neck as she waves back to everyone around her, appealing to the image of a humble warrior bowing. The crowd loves her. The first performance she put on with Biten was spectacular in a very straightforward way so it’s no surprise that the spectators think highly of her.

God forbid anyone find scraps of the old eighties-nineties pro wrestling scene. Gensokyo strikes me as somewhere that would latch onto that shit like crack. Ah, but, there was also really real wrestling in other countries, too. Oh gods, what if they find the Mexican luchadors? Thoughts of these brightly colored lunatics in equally bright leather masks is disquieting, and I should heretofore never address this thought again.

“Tanner, is something the matter?” Kasen asks from across the group watching the mirror.

“Nothing, was just thinking about how much I dislike scripts,” I scowl away the erstwhile thought.

“Oh, uhm, alright?” Kasen confusedly replies.

Scarlet clambers the room to once again silence themselves as she invites in the next person, announcing, “Her opponent for this round will be the insidious troublemaker. The disastrous god of wealth. A public enemy who would claim her own bounty given the chance! It is Jo’on Yorigami!”

Jo’on enters to nothing but jeers. Whatever she did to Ichirin in the last rounds put a real target on her back. Despite this, she enters the ring with a smile, standing proudly with the rancor around her. She clasps her hands together and congratulates herself. The disdain only fuels her arrogance. It doesn’t take a keen eye to see she’s full of so much hot air that she should be floating off.

I’ve not properly seen Jo’on in a fight. She was ganged up by Sanae and Mokou when I last had the opportunity. I still remember the welt that grew from the bridge of her nose, but it was a two on one fight and I doubt that she was sober for it. Here today she’s out to break faces.

She stands opposite of Meiling, not preparing for any sort of combat and instead settling into a contrapposto. She’s outright relaxed looking, as opposed to the more high strung view I have of her. Some of that view may be my own fault, but I shouldn’t defend her too much. That smug grin is worse than shit-eating.

Scarlet lets the crowd have their fun putting down the clear antagonist of the bracket, and raises both of her hands high to shout, “FIGHTERS!”

Meiling lowers into a side position with most of her weight put onto the back knee. Her hands are offset towards her opponent, perhaps to prepare for an instant strike like with Biten. Jo’on remains casual, but eyes Meiling closely. She must want to make sure Meiling isn’t going to feint her stance into an attack herself.

“BEGIN!” Remilia shouts with more might than her small frame could muster, opening her arms as wide as possible. Her sheer presence sounds over the crowd, taking their attention. Everyone is quick to shut up and watch. Scarlet as well takes her chair, interested in how the round will play out.

No movement happens to start. Both women stand motionless, waiting for the other to do something. I catch Jo’on’s eyes narrowing, but that might be my imagination from the mirror’s distance.

“You know,” Jo’on starts, whipping a folded fan out from one of her coat pockets and pointing it to Meiling, “you’re something of a wimp, aren’t you?”

Meiling stares in disbelief at her opponent. She may be in her readied stance but it appears more like she’s frozen to the position.

“Hah?” Meiling utters with a questioning sideways look to Jo’on. Her tone screams how stupid she thinks the comment was.

Jo’on shrugs nonchalantly, “Well, just look around you. A cheering crowd, bunch of people wanting to fight, an arena built just for the whole thing. This tournament is for your little vampire to prop you up as some serious powerhouse when really you’re nothing to write home about.” She drops the smile as she finishes, “That cheerful attitude of yours throughout this is just disgusting.”

“I think I heard enough,” Meiling retorts.

She dashes forward out of her guard to rush Jo’on with several punches. Jo’on takes them directly, making no attempt to block the hits. The last hit strikes Jo’on straight in her nose, whipping her head back. Meiling retreats to a different guard with a hand forward and the other balled at her waist, Jo’on eases her head back down. A supple drip of blood comes from her nostril. After a heavy breath out she smiles. A nasty, insidious smile meant to scare children into listening to their parents.

She swings her folded fan from the side into Meiling.

Meiling slides below the strike, knocking away Jo’on’s hand upward by shooting the fist at her waist. This stops whatever the fan would have accomplished. It may have not been much in the first place, though. Meiling doesn’t notice as she draws back her guarding hand, seeking to hit Jo’on center mass, but a fist coated in golden flames rams into her jaw from below, clenching her teeth as an unwanted courtesy.

The sheer force imparted is enough to straighten Meiling’s knees, lifting her nearly to full height. Jo’on follows through with a returning punch, ducking her head to the side as Meiling tosses in a counter jab to no avail. Jo’on’s flaming hand folds Meiling into the ground, and I can see that it wasn’t just a punch, but a grab at Meiling’s throat. Jo’on looks down in satisfaction at the winded martial artist. No sooner does she let go that she adds in a soccer kick to Meiling’s ribs, separating the two once again.

Meiling staggers to her feet, blood coming from her teeth and broken skin around the neck.

“Pathetic,” Jo’on insults. “It felt like you were trying to love tap me. What kind of Youkai are you, anyway? Using the fancy practices of humans, not very Youkai-like by my standards. You know what, don’t answer that. You’re just comedic relief here. Some idiot that stands in front of a gate asleep. Everyone knows you don’t actually do your job.”

Meiling stands upright, returning to her first guard position, ready to accept Jo’on’s next assault should it come. She stares with a fire in her eyes, teeth still clenched from being hit.

“Do you have nothing to say for yourself? This is gonna be boring if so,” Jo’on taunts.

Meiling does not respond to the prodding, but it does seem to have an effect on her as her brow continues to furrow in rage.

Jo’on dashes forwards in a blur. Not the lighting speed that Youmu and Meira have achieved, but fast enough that you can react but not might act. Meiling is better than that, though, deflecting a low punch from Jo’on’s charge and opening the girl to a massive blow that Meiling twists her arm and body into. Her hand shoots out a brilliant rainbow, a consistency like pressurized water, sending Jo’on spiraling across the arena into the net. She falls back to the ground on her feet, limp but standing.

She bends up and makes a show of cracking her neck. She slowly walks forward and says, “So there is some bite to this dog. Honestly, what is your deal? You’re docile to humans and serve under a different Youkai. Isn’t that, like, opposite of how Youkai are supposed to act?”

“Please stop talking and fight,” Meiling asks of her opponent. While her words are still polite, you can hear she is not at all taking to the hostility.

Jo’on stops walking a couple paces from Meiling and puts her hands in front of her face, what would be expected of a boxer. Meiling starts to pace about her as she bobs in place, waiting for the chance to strike. Jo’on reaches a fist out several times, Meiling lightly swatting them away. The exchange brings to mind a cat pawing a toy.

A swiping kick to Meiling’s front leg does nothing to her balance, the leg returning to position relatively quickly. While it’s possible for Meiling to have capitalized on Jo’on’s wide motion, I could spot the moment that Jo’on was planning to block with her available arm and retaliate. I’m sure Meiling noticed it, too.

Jo’on pirouettes into her guard, bouncing as she waits for Meiling to advance. The guard stalwartly remains on the defensive, leaving the first action up to Jo’on’s whim.

This seems to be clear to Jo’on, as she slows for an instant before belting out a left and right jab inside Meiling’s guard. Meiling sweeps an elbow at her opponent, but Jo’on rotates her head with it, causing it to scrape across her scalp. She crosses above Meiling’s strike with her own. A left hook coated in blinding light lands square on Meiling’s jaw, sending her reeling. Jo’on sticks to the retreating Meiling and sends a few extra straights into her abdomen before being pushed away. She waits out Meiling’s next move.

Once again Meiling bends over, not fatigued, but certainly winded by the intensity that Jo’on flaunts. She coughs up more blood between breathes. She pauses upon seeing the blood on the ground, unconvinced that that’s her own.

Jo’on relaxes and continues her taunting, “You protect this place? You don’t even look like you can protect yourself from me. And we’re in a fucking favorable match for you.”

Meiling refuses to show any emotion over the provocations, slowly returning to her guard, but it’s clear she’s losing ground like this. Jo’on remains unimpressed by the display of determination and glances around the crowd. She settles on Scarlet, the little vampire looking more than unhappy with the way things are going. However, it isn’t Jo’on she’s directing her eyes to, but Meiling.

Jo’on points to Scarlet and presses her luck further than I thought it could go, saying, “Oh, you agree with me?” Scarlet looks to the fool, bewildered by her forwardness. Jo’on offers a hand in Meiling’s direction and happily asks, “She’s probably never won a fight when it mattered, has she?”

Scarlet crunches her hands into her chair before standing up. Her wrath is now turned to Jo’on with unsuppressible rage. The blood in her eyes can be seen from our perspective in the mirror. Her wings unfurl and beat. She leans in to–

“Stop!” Meiling cries. Scarlet whips her head back to her subordinate, remembering where she is presently. She relaxes her bat wings and releases the tension in her face. Jo’on’s grin stays plastered as she looks over to Meiling, who continues, “If you want to fight me, then fight me!”

She wipes blood from the corners of her mouth and puts up her guard. It’s different than the times before, though. Now she’s put her hands into fists and stands a bit higher, weight centered further forward, and bouncing from the balls of her feet. Jo’on sees the adjustments Meiling is going for and her smile turns from wicked to vile, teeth displayed like she’s ready to bite.

“How cute, you’re trying to copy me?” she concludes as she approaches once more. Meiling holds a fist forward, to which Jo’on stares for a brief moment before bumping with her own, quickly crouching into her comparatively brutish form. They begin to circle one another cautiously.

When the caution gives way they trade blows, and I quickly realize how Meiling’s adapted. She’s fighting with some fluidity, the motions on occasion recognizable to the tai chi that she often performs, but the strikes are more akin to what Jo’on does. Punch, and punch hard. Punch so hard that the only way to make them harder is to put magic into the punch.

They go ballistic, firing cannons for arms into one another at every open second. If they aren’t swinging they’re blocking the other person’s swing. The colors they emit shine in hundreds of mixtures, splashing every which way as some impossible liquid and plasma combination. Their forearms rapidly develop bruises and cuts from the constant shearing and compressive forces applied. They snap into each other’s hold at one point, their arms locking against one another as they punch in unison, identically ducking their heads to the side. In a snap reaction, Jo’on uses her opposing hand to hook Meiling’s cranium, while Meiling herself launches a knee into Jo’on’s gut with her back foot.

Jo’on’s hook misses Meiling’s head by a literal hair, but her upper arm sails into Meiling’s face, clotheslining her. Combined with the motion of folding atop Meiling’s charging knee, they fall onto one another in an exaggerated twist. Meiling, pinned under Jo’on, pushes the girl’s lighter frame from her.

Jo’on tumbles back to stay on her feet after landing. At some point, Meiling knocked the smile out of her. Not to mention a tooth. She added some swelling to her left eye, too. Meiling drags herself off the ground, looking no better, honestly. Swelling on an eye and her lower lip, the upper lip torn open and bleeding, and that’s just the damage to her face. She took far more hits to her body.

Looking at each other in a brief spell of silence, they wind up matching fists and clash. Their fists, one of golden light and the other a rainbow, become energetically volatile, shaking each woman as they try to overpower the other. This energy compresses further, and further, soon they both put what they were fighting with all into a singular point in front of them, creating a point mass of magical energy emitting strobes of light. If I had to guess, they want to make the mass turn supercritical and explode on their opponent. Meiling shouts and pushes their fists together with the mass of torrential light squashed between them.

In the next instant, a flash occurs, and dust from the arena’s recent construction flakes up in a dense cloud around a central fireball.

Next to me, Patchouli holds a hand up from her book toward the mirror, a faint energy alight under her palm. She lowers it again when the cloud starts to dissipate.

Beneath the dust, Meiling lies on her back. Her hat flew off and her clothes are in tatters but she’s still consciously breathing. Heaving, rather. On the other side, Jo’on tumbled into the dirt, launched out of the ring entirely and draped with the outer netting. The thing must have stopped her from flying into the stands. And it may go without saying, but there are scorch marks against her arms where even the sleeves have burnt off.

The crowd lay silent, taking in the scene.

Meiling uses whatever muscles or tendons still work to force herself up. She struggles to do so, her arms giving up midway, and so she relies on her legs alone to do it.

With worn out, maybe even broken, arms unable to raise, she instead raises her voice up to the ceiling, declaring, “I PROTECT THIS HOME!”

Everyone explodes. The audience, the waiting room, everyone. The only sound that exists is cheers for Meiling. Whether it be for defeating the bastard of the bracket, putting on the most impressive match yet, or for showing an indefatigable love for her duty.

She looks around, taking in the sound, trying to control her breathing despite numerous internal injuries. She turns to Scarlet, her master, who gives a standing ovation for her. Scarlet smiles genuinely for what feels like the first time that I’ve met her. I can’t see Meiling’s face at this angle, but I’m not very worried about that.

She collapses to her knees and keels over, coughing blood onto herself.

[Please wait warmly for fighters to be carted back to the waiting room...]

That one felt pretty good. I actually studied a very specific match from straw weight female MMA to get an idea of how Jo’on might fight to keep things grounded. At first I had her do a Shoryuken, chuckled to myself, and immediately said, that’s not really this cutthroat bitch, is it? I worked toward a more ideal fist fight scenario that while not as magical captures the identity of these two outside of danmaku rules. To my wants, anyway.
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Ending felt too climactic imo. Was expecting Joon to start getting punched mid sentence before getting the idea to shut up.
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You know, after giving it some thought, it is a bit silly, isn't it? I notice myself sometimes burrow into the campy attitude of writing where things are given and story beats just come naturally, but that doesn't always work. While I was doing this update I was hyper-focused on trying to make the fight itself read like an intense brawl that I neglected a few things surrounding its context such as,
Why would they not be moving around more at their level of strength?
Why are they getting so injured when I hardly noted major injuries in Meiling's first fight (which was a narrative mistake, mind)?
Does it make sense for things to pick up so fast in this moment when I've set myself up to still be only around midway through this chapter?

Moral of the story, don't do tournaments where you're looking at every fight, it takes a lot of fluff to get through to the story parts that you intend to write. It can also cause a scope creep like no tomorrow.

Also I took Ran out of the fucking story and I miss her.
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Oh. I was under the impression we were just shifting gears to make the Meiling arc Meiling's Arc™️
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[… Continued]

“Well that was dramatic,” Chen comments. “I kinda wish that idiot god kept going with the insults. She kinda stopped before they were getting good.”

“You should let the gate guard have her moment of glory,” Kasen admonishes.

“Oh come on, the vampire was even smiling weirdly. I bet the witch agrees with me,” Chen persists.

Patchouli raises an eyebrow and replies, “Those two read too much childish fiction. It might be rooted in their heads to act like buffoons.”

Chen nods vindicated, continuing, “See? It was dumb. Two against one on this.”

Kasen rolls her eyes up, shaking her head to show her distaste in the argument. I grab Chen’s hat and lean her this way and that.

She groans in distaste but still allows me to speak my piece, “Feel free to think that, but for the love of the gods don’t tell Meiling that to her face.”

She ducks under my hand in means of escape. With a smirk and wagging long nail, she retorts, “I’ll make sure to let the vampire know, then.”

“Do what you want you little imp,” I refuse to play along with her empty nonsense. Turning to the rest of the group I call out, “I need Reisen and Kasen up here for the next match.”

“Yes, I’m here,” Kasen notifies me from the side. I didn’t expect her to have walked off or anything, but I felt the need to get a direct callback.

“Alright, and where’s Reisen?” I ask no one. I search the current members at the mirror, so few as they are. Reisen’s gargantuan rabbit ears are not among them.

I look across the room over to the improvised first aid station from hours ago to see Reisen doing something with her stuff. Her back’s turned away, but she holds what she’s working on up to the light of the chandelier and I can see the pistol from the first round. A little excessive to be cleaning it between matches, but I can’t knock ‘over’ caring for a weapon as opposed to the opposite.

“Reisen!” I call across the way. She whips her head back from her weapon and realizes that it must be time to get moving. She carries the gun in one hand and her box of medical supplies in the other over to the mirror.

She sets down the box on one of the small round tables littering the room, probably covered in dried alcohol still, and makes a show of taking out numerous supplies from ointments to salves to gauze. Clearly intended to treat the previous competitors of their likely wounds in a fist fight. I don’t think she knows the extent that they were going at it, though.

“They’re gonna need more than that, mind,” I openly comment.

“Why? What happened?” Reisen asks looking over her shoulder, confused by what that should mean.

“They decided to go nearly all out from what I witnessed,” Kasen elaborates.

Reisen scrunches her eyes at the statement, inferring, “You don’t mean one of them split the other in half, do you?”

“No, but their arms have seen better days,” Kasen morbidly chuckles.

“We can continue this part of the discussion when they’re back,” I redirect the two. “First we need to talk about any specifics for you two fighting.”

“I don’t believe I have anything to ask,” Kasen opens, gesturing for Reisen to take over the discussion.

“Ah… well… there is one thing,” Reisen alludes.

She turns to Kasen and steps close before quickly rounding her pistol on the woman’s gut with a loud bang piercing the room. Everyone jumps in anticipation, most ready for combat. I for one only freeze momentarily, as does Kasen, for that matter. She looks down at her red tabard to see a gaudy mark left of the fabric, but not much other damage visible.

She brushes the spot tepidly before asking Reisen, “What was that?”

“That…” Reisen begins, searching the ground for the projectile she fired. With the dark red carpets, draped across the ground in various patterns and embroidery, finding anything small would be a chore. She instead pulls out the magazine from her ancient looking pistol, revealing the black bullet tips and explaining, “Was a rubber shot. I wanted to test if it would do anything at all to you, but it seems not.”

“Ah, because you need to be able to damage me with your attacks. That much makes sense,” Kasen concludes. A sound reason, albeit hasty and could have been explained upfront.

Reisen stows the black bullets in her blazer and unsheathes the real deal. Silvery bullet tips that are very obviously live ammunition. “Would you mind if I tried this on you? I think you’ll heal it off before the match if I shoot you somewhere like your thigh,” Reisen makes a perfectly reasonable request of her opponent.

“Reisen, what even are those bullets,” I ask, thinking on how their shape is loosely nine millimeter rounds but they’re pointed at the end like a rifle round. Some kind of abomination for what pistol rounds are usually used for.

“Penetrating rounds,” Reisen tells me, handing over the clip for me to get a better look. “Even for riot control we ended up using them due to the amount of armor people would wear… don’t tell master I said that, actually.”

She steals the clip from my hand as I process this madness and loads it to her weapon. Her opponent is confused at first when Reisen gestures to her firearm, but realizes soon after that the rabbit wasn’t making idle chatter before. Kasen looks over my way for some opinion on the matter.

“I mean… she’s got a point, as stupid as the point itself is. If her bullet can’t hurt you, then she’s at a major disadvantage in these rules. Up to you if you take her up on it,” I answer, trying to stay neutral to the subject. Also being hypocritical of my earlier enforcing, but I’m not going to mull on it. Perhaps I’m giving my own nurse the benefit of the doubt.

Kasen sighs, “Fine, if you must know, then I’ll let you test.”

She lifts her leg in a striking stance as Reisen lines her up in front of the closest empty wall. At this point the room’s doors finally swing open. I turn from whatever madness is happening next to me to see the previous contenders. First in is an unconscious Jo’on carted by Izayoi, looking just as ragged as I expected. I wonder how much her outfit cost in total, considering that she’ll probably need a whole new set. Meiling, however, walks without any assistance, surprisingly. Her arms seem to trail behind her, so I don’t think they’ve gotten much better since she left the ring.

Another gunshot goes off. I whip back around to see what happened and find Kasen clutching her leg. She winces at the pain but doesn’t seem to be worse for wear asides from that.

“Yes. Yes, I think that hurts a lot,” she admits through thinned lips.

“S-sorry,” Reisen apologizes in earnest. “Do you need me to wrap that? Blood is coming out.”

Kasen declines, saying it will heal quickly, and they share a quick back and forth as Izayoi wheels Jo’on over, but I’m focused on something else. There doesn’t seem to be any mark in the wall behind Kasen. I expected a bullet hole from a gods damned full metal jacket rifle round even if it was fired from a relic of a pistol like Reisen’s. That really puts into perspective how tough an oni is, I guess.

“And what might be happening now?” A voice asks, tone sharp enough to raise hairs on the back of my neck.

“They’re doing some prep work, miss Izayoi,” I answer the maid’s question. Whether I sounded confident or not is up to her to decide.

I turn to see her glancing from me to Kasen and Reisen and back. She doesn’t state her disappointment in our conduct, at least not in words. Instead she chooses to close her eyes, lift her eyebrows, and take a lengthy breath through her nose. In similar annoyance she pushes Reisen and Kasen towards the doors out of the room, apparently knowing explicitly who was going next. Reisen weakly protests that she should perform some preliminary treatments on Meiling and Jo’on, but Izayoi doesn’t comply any such suggestion. They flee the room before Meiling even has time to strike up conversation.

She stares at the doorway that Izayoi scuttled through, before turning to us and asking, “I wanted to ask her, but she was deathly silent on the way back. How was my match?”

Getting a good look at her arms, I can see why she isn’t even attempting to move them. She might still be recovering the basic functionality for everything that isn’t her upper arms. Her hands are charred like burnt wood. Her forearms look like a single, continuous welt more than they do usable muscle. I can only imagine the labyrinth of micro and macro fractures her bones have suffered during the bout. I instinctively busy myself by retrieving some of the supplies Reisen fetched and hovering about Meiling, doing what little I can of first aid against the flood of wounds she has. Whether I’m applying any of the liquids correctly is a moot point with how bad this is.

How Meiling can casually stay conscious let alone hold conversation with the likely pain is beyond me.

Patchouli cuts directly at the earlier question, “Could have done without the end.”

“Patchouli!” I pause to bicker at the witch for her tactless behavior.

“Ehehe,” Meiling weakly chuckles. “It didn’t feel weird in the moment but I guess I understand.”

“Do not pass the subject off entirely, yet,” Patchouli warns. “Why do you even question yourself as the one to win? Did you fight purely to satisfy Remi’s desire for base conflict?”

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” Meiling denies. “Why did I ask? I don’t think I know.”

I wrap some bandages to at least convince myself I did something, and look Meiling in the eyes to follow her thought with, “Did you maybe think about some of what Jo’on was saying out there? Forgive me if it’s not my place for saying, but at least some of it didn’t sound superficial. Or not meant to be, anyway.”

“You’re quite correct, it isn’t much of your station to say so,” Patchouli mocks my passive tone.

“No, no, I think I know what he’s thinking,” Meiling halts Patchouli’s berating. “Maybe. This time. I haven’t before.”

I feel something internal crack at the added note and concede, “Maybe I’ll just be quiet…”

“Finally,” Patchouli sighs in relief.

Meiling frets about as I step back over to the medicine box for more supplies. She is quick to apologize, “Ah, I didn’t mean to be rude… Did you not have enough wrapping for my hands?”

“Reisen didn’t take anything out for the burns,” I curtly reply. Opening the box is akin to opening an entire lab of chemicals. As I suspected, it’s somehow deeper inside than outside, and contains a dizzying amount of chemicals the like that I would have no hope of finding what I need. I calmly close the box and set it down in front of Patchouli, stating, “You’ll have better luck with this than I will.”

She opens the box and immediately counters, “This is all labeled in outside world chemistry nomenclature. In what way will I have an easier time than you?”

“I’m not a chemist. You kind of are,” I inform the temperamental magician.

She mumbles some obscenity or another to herself, but figures arguing would undermine her own vaunted position of being more knowledgeable than the layman. She leans over and starts digging through the endless bottles and packets.

“Tanner, about what you said,” Meiling chimes in from the side, “I don’t think Jo’on’s insults meant anything.”

An attention grabbing shout comes from the mirror. Seems it’s time to start the next match.

“We’ll come back to this conversation,” I tell Meiling.

Patchouli still sifts through the box, attempting to find something to use on Meiling’s burns. And Jo’on’s, for whatever that’s worth.

“How many of those jars do you think shrink appendages?” I joke with the witch.

She looks closely inside and guesstimates, “At least two. No, given that moon doctors propensity for the odd, three.”

“FIGHTERS!” Scarlet sounds in the mirror. “BEGIN!”

We direct our attention to the arena. Kasen and Reisen size each other up. Wait, not quite. Kasen isn’t circling Reisen directly, so there must already be illusions on the field to confuse Kasen.

Kasen sports a new accessory. The chain with attached tetrahedron Ibuki left behind is wrapped on itself, secured to Kasen’s unbandaged arm. It doesn’t appear to have any practical application in mind, only a memento Kasen wanted to hold onto.

Reisen stops being careful as they wind around each other, instead skirting to Kasen’s left side and firing a bullet to the ribs. Kasen evades further shots by diving back, rolling her right shoulder to fling her bandages in the direction of the shot. Reisen sprints forward and beats aside the grasping hand with her baton, attempting to duck into Kasen’s blind spot, most present from where she jumped. While it might seem like Kasen would be in short range to engage Reisen, she’s still turned around after throwing her arm. All Reisen needs to get out of close track is the second that Kasen uses to turn her head to her opposite side.

Sure enough, as Reisen passes directly behind Kasen, the hermit pivots from a hand to face her. She’s escaped Kasen’s sight. Reisen has almost full reign to move around as Kasen searches a fake crowd. They’re back to the slow engagement. It’s strange that Kasen is being pushed back like this. I figured she would have some kind of trick to engage in this fight.

“Closing your eyes? Really?” Reisen legitimately questions Kasen’s next move. “You understand that blocking your senses doesn’t mean I can’t target a different sense to confuse you, right?”

Kasen stands firm, eyes closed, posed similarly to how Meiling would, though leaning forward instead of back. Reisen takes the chance to fire upward, testing Kasen’s awareness. Kasen looks around without a focused point, having no idea where the sound originated.

“What happened?” I ask aloud.

“Reisen made the bang happen all over,” Meiling answers. “A scary power, she has. But I thought Kasen was focusing on Reisen’s qi, not noise.”

Reisen takes a few pot shots in Kasen’s direction, one of them landing true. A similar bout to before takes place and they’re back to the slow pacing. Ready for the other person to move at any time.

Kasen opens her eyes and comments, “I still need more practice sensing qi. It’s easy to lose focus.”

Reisen furls her brow at Kasen’s levity, and calls out, “Are you still out of it, Kasen? You’re not normally this passive.”

“And if I am? Doesn’t that mean an easy win for you?” Kasen questions.

“I don’t really care to fight. My master told me to, honestly,” Reisen shrugs, weapons in hand. “But this is just kinda sad. I’m really hitting you while you’re down.”

Kasen chuckles without enough push to sound convincing, saying, “That’s big talk for the middle of the match. Do you think you can keep that up?”

Reisen stows her baton, declaring, “I think I can do better than that.”

She brings the free hand to her eyes and stares in Kasen’s direction. Kasen staggers from… something. Reisen isn’t directly attacking her with magic, I don’t think.

“I wondered if she would use that part of her power,” Patchouli commentates. “’Parlor tricks’ she said. When she can do that.”

‘That?’ Whatever it is, it’s worrying.

Kasen shakes her damage off and stands back at the ready. She picks a direction, and flings herself at it. Despite Kasen running at open air, the very real Reisen jumps at the sudden shift in pace, moving to keep up her illusions. Suddenly the two are in a cat and mouse game. Kasen picks a direction and recklessly blasts towards it with whatever means available: jumping, running, grappling the netting with her bandaged arm, even flinging herself from the cracks in the arena’s stonework.

What would I call this attitude? Feral, maybe? Not something I’d associate with the polite woman Kasen usually is. If Reisen manipulates insanity, does that mean she can enrage someone like this? Is it truly an on-off switch in the mind? Terrifying.

Kasen runs rampant for a few dozen seconds, tearing across the arena faster than Izayoi did. Reisen does her best to pepper bullets at her opponent while only barely escaping the oni’s grips. It doesn’t work out in every trade, though, as Kasen sometimes forgoes the attempt to grapple and instead throws her arm like a wrecking ball. She tears through the net at one point in her haste.

After her blitz, Kasen stalls out, walking along the ground to catch her breath.

Reisen does the same, panting on one knee, and saying, “See? You can be more active if you try. Did you get what was bothering you out of your system?”

“No,” Kasen focuses on her arm with the chain, unfurling the fashion statement and grabbing the end. Several bullet holes dot her body, blood dripping onto her clothes, only leaving the red tabard largely unaffected.

“No?” Reisen repeats with more than a hint of concern.

“If I’m going to get worked up like this I should focus on winning the fight. So far you’ve hit me a lot more than I have you,” she blandly states, trying her best not to smile in her madness.

It is at this moment where Reisen realizes that making an oni as mad as possible was maybe not the best idea. The next moment Kasen swings her bandages and chain in tandem, trying to hit everything around her, while Reisen looks to be running for the hills.

Reisen is struck in the side, launching into the netting. A terrible situation for her, as I’m not sure if she could manipulate the ropes traveling in a wavelike motion. It leaves an obvious indent in the otherwise stable wall. Kasen seems to agree, as she looks at her exact position and rounds on the rabbit faster than a bullet.

Grabbing Reisen with her bandages, now larger than their torsos, Kasen drives the rabbit into the bottom of the arena. Reisen is given no quarter, as without even a moment to get away Kasen cycles her ornament and fist down into the ground on the spot. For about five straight seconds Kasen shakes the earth. After the first few I realize that we can feel the vibrations from here. Kasen smiles with sinful joy in her eyes.

A crater is left in the spot where Reisen lay. Her front side is a bloodied mess, bad enough that it’s hard to see her outline. If she plans to get back up, that would be the biggest surprise today. I don’t say that lightly.

Kasen breathes heavily, her rage waning in the passing seconds. She leans back, looking down at her display of violence, and not too proud of it. However much of the blood covering her is hers or not is a question I think I’d rather not have answered.

“Yeah I’m glad I didn’t fight that thing,” I can hear Jo’on comment from the wheeled table.
[Please wait warmly as Sakuya retrieves another body…]

There will be votes, I promise. Maybe not now, but at some point. I pigeonholed myself this chapter by giving Tanner so little agency throughout. With votes up to ‘ask someone to do something’ or ‘token response just to generate votes’ it’s not so interesting for me to think through the consequences.

You know what, instead of a normal vote, how about this: who do you all think is going to take the tournament at this point. You could either argue canonicity of the achievement or worm your way into my mindspace to try and predict me. That should give you all something to really think about.
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>> Who do you all think is going to take the tournament at this point.

I’d say Meiling. It may be my bias towards her talking, but the way I see it, this whole tournament is basically just one big training session for her.

I dunno, like I said in a previous post, I just really want to see that epic showdown between her and Kasen before this whole thing ends.
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Meiling is probably going to win but I'm cheering for Kasen
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I don't care about who wins, but Remi rigs it so the final match is Sakuya vs Meiling
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Kaguya will win and when she does, she will evolve from Princess of Eientei to Queen of Martial Arts.

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[… Continued]

“You wake up and the first thing you do is throw an insult,” I point out Jo’on’s maddening nature.

She sits up from the table she was carried in on, clutching a blanket close to cover over what remains of her excessive outfit. Izayoi had the surprising care to pick up her miniature top hat at some point after carrying her in. Jo’on lets her legs trail from the table, further joining the conversation.

“Well it’s the first thing that comes to mind,” she counters. Meiling looses a sigh at the woman. She rounds a glare on Meiling in return.

Before she starts another tirade I interject, “Woah, now. Don’t you know Kasen? Even for a bastard like yourself it’s a bit much to call her a ‘thing’ isn’t it?”

She looks about cautiously with a blackened eye, wary of the people around her. For obvious reasons, she keeps her good eye closest to Meiling.

“We’ve fought once. Doesn’t mean I know her well. What I do know is that deep down she’s a weird one, weirder than you, miss docile Youkai,” she gripes to Meiling.

“I’ve decided to not let your taunts mean anything,” Meiling firmly resolves to her antagonizer.

“Tch,” Jo’on clicks, showing a split in her lip at the motion. “Taunts, you say. Everybody thinks all I do is talk shit. Where’s the credit for being able to harm and manipulate with just words, huh?”

“Do not act as if you were some higher actor. None here care about your status of duplicitous divinity,” Patchouli warns from her… rather high and mighty throne.

“What is your deal, anyway?” I further pester. “Who are you to judge other people when you’re probably just as much of a dumbass?”

She snorts, teetering in amusement as she claims, “See, he gets it. We all have our bad sides. Mine’s pretty big, I’ll give you that. Those that hide it, or try to act like they don’t have one, they’re the kind that get on my nerves.”

She keeps her eyes pinned to Meiling as she speaks. I can hear Meiling’s arm wrappings stretch in return. I avoid looking so as to not draw further attention to the sound in the silence of the room right now.

Jo’on gets up from the table on shaking legs, spooking a couple of members in the room back a step. She puts a finger to Meiling, a grimace twisting her already contorted face, continuing, “You saw what that hermit was like. Her calm and collected manners are just bullshit to cover for herself. I see it as a lesson, even if you all don’t.”

Meiling stares from Jo’on’s finger up to her face, and asks, “What are you trying to say?”

“That I don’t resent you for having to fight that hermit next. After all–“

A loud bang bounces through the room from the entrance. The door is swung wide open as someone enters.

It isn’t Izayoi carting Reisen, nor Ibara on her lonesome. It’s a girl with long, straight black hair, cut to exact proportions. She wears a pink top with a red and wide brimmed dress bottom. It somewhat reminds me of the casual look of Patchouli’s clothes, but even larger in aspects. It also hosts plenty more embroidery and ornamental ribbons to look less like nightwear than the sad state of the magician’s clothes.

“I am here!” the girl announces proudly to the room, arms open as wide as possible, even letting her sleeves droop. She looks around in the silence, expecting some form of greeting. She spots our group by the mirror and scurries over to repeat the motion and announce, “I am here!”

“You are still not more important than anyone else in the room, Kaguya,” Patchouli curbs her enthusiasm. By her words this must have happened during the exhibitions, too.

Kaguya pouts at the lack of reaction from our lovely magician. She quickly trails her eyes across the people here and counters, “Clearly you’re the only one to think that. The others are left speechless at my presence. That girl has collapsed in her excitement of my arrival!” She points to Jo’on who has found her legs give in the few seconds that she wasn’t begging for a fight.

“As if!” Jo’on denies. Meiling bends down to help her up, to which she doesn’t seem pleased by, but she also doesn’t decline the support.

“Oh there’s no need to be shy,” Kaguya chirps. “You can admit that you’re overjoyed to see me in the flesh.”

Jo’on grunts from Meiling’s shoulder, “If she’s going to keep talking, knock me out again.”

“I certainly could,” Meiling says, hopefully as a joke.

I decide now would be a good time to redirect the conversation and ask, “Miss Houraisan, are you here for the next round?”

Kaguya giggles from behind a sleeve, “Why indeed I am. I’m glad that the servant is at least polite enough to properly greet me. It’s a little lacking in fanfare, but pleasant nonetheless.”

I choose to let the comment pass. For one, I kind of am acting as a servant, but also, she’s not exactly wrong about everyone inside the mansion being rude. Patchouli especially hasn’t relaxed once today.

“Kasen and Reisen are returning as we speak, so you have good timing… Actually, how did you know to come here now?” I question.

“Whatever do you mean? The maid hailed me while I was enjoying your festival grounds,” Kaguya answers with a curious glance.

Right, of course that would be the case. “Right, just checking. Chen, front and center!” I bellow.

“Don’t yell. I’m right next to you, you know,” Chen whinges from beside me. She walks beside Kaguya, a bit mixed in expression. “What happened to the big oni?”

“She had to take care of something, apparently,” I reply. “Miss Houraisan won the exhibition matches, and while it was intended for her to fight the winner of the seeded bracket, I thought it would be better to have a replacement than to move you up the bracket by default.”

“I quite enjoy the idea of playing with a cat for once. I’ve gotten so used to the docile nature of the rabbits when you get a hold of them,” Kaguya speaks her mind.

“And there you have it, Chen. She’s good with it, so get ready to get out there and fight her.”

Chen gives Kaguya a confused look, maybe even like she’s being led on. “What do you mean ‘there you have it?’ She doesn’t look like she’s built for this competition at all!”

Kaguya takes no heed of the insult, instead wrapping her arms down around Chen’s neck and lightly squeezing the cat back into her, saying, “Oh aren’t you a cute one? You remind me of a friend of mine. Always acting aloof when really you’re paying the most attention.”

Chen squirms in her grip a bit, face drooping in disdain at her choke hold. Ah, but that might not entirely be an exaggeration, as she clamps her eyes shut and starts tapping Kaguya’s arm for release.

“I, uh, think she doesn’t like that, miss,” I inform Kaguya.

“Hmm? Oh, so it seems,” Kaguya laxly responds, releasing Chen from her bear hug.

Chen gags a bit when catching her breath, and states, “Maybe the oni would have been better…”

“Here, Meiling, if I have determined this salve correctly it will either heal your burns or turn your skin blue,” I hear Patchouli comment from the side.

I pinch my brow thinking about the nonsense at hand. This entire room is becoming dysfunctional, and we’re still about five matches left in the tournament.

I see another table wheel in from the door, still swung open from Kaguya’s entry. Izayoi wheels in Reisen’s broken body, still a bloodied mess from Kasen’s rampage. In behind them is Kasen herself, looking more serious than usual, and having tied her triangular chain ornament back to her arm. The real arm, I mean. Still strange to me that her bandages are a magical appendage and not a physical limb.

Izayoi settles the table topped with rabbit roadkill in place of Jo’on’s, wheeling the first table a few paces out. She and Kasen both head me down, looking for something or other. Izayoi is quicker, retrieving the next contestants. She only pauses for a moment when I tell her that we had to swap Kaguya in for Hoshiguma. She gives no opinion on the matter and steals the two girls away with the table in tow. Hopefully we won’t have further use of it at this point.

Kasen takes her turn to speak with me. Her outfit’s specked with holes all about, Reisen’s bullets piercing the cloth, but doing so little damage that Kasen’s skin has already healed.

“Tanner, focus,” Kasen gets into my face, reprimanding me. “I have something important to talk about.”

“Huh, what? What’s this all of a sudden?” I utter, taken aback by the sharpness in her voice. It’s suddenly more… lucid than before, more directed and purposeful. “Is this about after the tournament? Like I said, we need to wait for Ran.”

“No, I’ve decided to change the plan,” Kasen declares. “I will have Reisen help me instead. I believe her power might be able to perform some of your idea. I also think that I can’t wait too long, after all. Every minute is less chance I have.”

“Hey, calm down, what’s gotten into you?” I intone against her sudden determination. “We agreed that not much will change between now and after the tournament, didn’t we?”

“I changed my mind,” Kasen remains resolute. “I will be taking Reisen and leaving for now.”

She turns and I have to catch her by the arm, sliding forward like I’m not even a real amount of weight to her. A few eyes turn to our conversation, uncomfortably close for any sensitive subjects, even if the other contestants don’t particularly care about each other. Well, maybe Jo’on isn’t a good example, everyone else is fine.

“Hey, hold your horses,” I beggar. “Think this through a little more, why don’t you? Reisen’s not even in a state to help you right now.”

“Are you telling me to wait, then?” Kasen replies, eyeing me over her shoulder. Her gaze drills through me a lot like Ran’s, disregarding my thoughts as worthy of attention.

“You could at least wait for her to wake up, yeah?” I rationalize.

She doesn’t seem to weigh the thought, only consider how far I’m willing to bullshit her. Somehow, though, my voice win’s out and she replies, “So be it.”

Kasen rips her arm away from my grasp and stations herself next to Reisen’s distressing form. She doesn’t attempt to treat Reisen or even glance down to the rabbit, only wait at the side.

Is this an after effect of Reisen’s spell? Kasen’s personality is obtuse compared to before her match. I don’t want to put stock into anything Jo’on said, but all the same Kasen isn’t just the kind and polite lady from my first impression.

The mirror cracks to life with Scarlet’s voice. I look into the mirror and spot Izayoi standing next to her. Right after I register the maid’s presence she once again vanishes into air.

“Welcome one and all!” Scarlet announces to the crowd, never seeming to stick to any single script. She downplays her voice for the next sentence, detailing, “Sadly, Hoshiguma has left, but far be it for anyone to control where an oni’s whims take her! To take her place in the next round will be the victor of the exhibitions! The lunar princess herself Kaguya Houraisan will be joining the bracket for victory!”

The crowd gives a modest cheer, nothing like the previous round’s vigor. It could be a sign of people leaving for the day. I would be surprised if any humans have stuck around, but the other side of the population are just fine with nightfall. For the yamawaro it was their recreational time, much like humans. For many species it’s their time for the haunt.

Scarlet picks up the announcement again, “Now to properly introduce her, please give a hearty cheer to the first fighter this round. The reclusive and mysterious undying lunar princess, Kaguya Houraisan!”

Kaguya steps under the netting with an ornamental folding fan covering her lower face. She struts toward the center like she were on parade, with wide steps that kick up the front of her dress. She turns to Scarlet, back towards the mirror, and gives an excessively gentle wave to the host.

Scarlet smirks at Kaguya’s demure presence, and moves on with her speech, “Her opponent for this round is the vixen feline of the Yakumo family. She who seeks to prove herself to be worthy of a name, Chen!”

Chen arrives into the ring, none too happy with her greeting. She stares up at Scarlet with a vigorous anger she doesn’t often show. I always felt like the last name thing might have been a touchy subject, which is why I never asked, but maybe it’s worse than expected. She glances to Ran as well, who remains unphased by the backhanded introduction. She shakes her head and returns her attention to the opponent taking up center stage.

“Alright, miss high class,” Chen says, “apparently I have something to prove, because fighting a single person reflects my worth on the Yakumo clan. Like that isn’t the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Kaguya lowers her fan to show a kindly smile to Chen, and asks her, “Are you sure you haven’t met Mokou before? I think you would get along famously.”

“Enough prattle, the both of you!” Scarlet scolds their banter. The two in the ring keep silent, Chen extends claws from her hands in preparation. Scarlet raises an arm to declare, “FIGHTERS! … BEGIN!”

Scarlet throws her arm down and Chen shoots toward Kaguya. Gauging her speed, she’s slower than Konpaku and Meira, but certainly faster than Meiling. I’ve seen her fight before, over a month back, now. At that time she was fighting Cirno under spellcard rules, but that didn’t add much to her game plan. When in today’s ruleset, she’s only limited by not being able to use the red and blue energy orbs she calls oni. Everything else she does remains the same: a trailing swipe across her opponent here, using her nimble movement to hit from behind there. I remember the motions, with their feline insistence on subverting or surprising.

Kaguya, however, is neither. She practically dances with her open fan. Her wide brimmed clothes trail around her in cyclic motions, and despite Chen’s best efforts, not a scratch can be seen on the cloth. Chen stops for a moment in frustration, attempting to observe how Kaguya is achieving this.

Kaguya flourishes her dance onto one foot with fan raised high, and prompts the cat, “You really should meet Mokou, I’m sure she’d love telling you about how I learned to dodge every punch she throws.”

“How the hell does that relate to how I fight?!” Chen wails in bafflement. She charges forward, low to the ground, and seeks to claw at Kaguya’s supporting leg with her speed.

Kaguya does the inexplicable, and flips from her foot to sit above Chen in air. Chen’s vision is still forward, so she doesn’t even see Kaguya grab her ankle from above. The sudden shift in weight causes their combined momentum to stall Chen out. Although she finds footing with her free leg, her body naturally attempts to use the caught one next, instead tripping her. She plants onto the ground, Kaguya quickly rounding upon her.

Chen tries her strength, propping her body up by the arms, but Kaguya predicts the defense, and drops onto the her. Even for a Youkai with strength greater than a fully grown human, the full weight of another person to the small of her back. Chen puts up a momentary resistance, but the impulse of force causes her arms to lock into position, vulnerable to Kaguya’s next move.

Kaguya swings her legs in front of Chen’s arms, moving in such a way as to not have her dress cover Chen’s face, and clamps her fingers under Chen’s chin. From there Kaguya starts to wrench her legs and arms back as hard as she can. This does little to Chen for the first few seconds, but after that her arms unbuckle and she falls chest first against the stone, arms folding like a bird’s wing. Her neck isn’t faring better, the Hourai immortal having more strength than I’d expect and cranking Chen’s head as far as it will go. I can see it now that she’s working one arm down to the front of Chen’s neck for a proper sleeper hold.

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised by the refined princess doing a move closer to wrestling, as everything in Gensokyo stands to surprise the average person, but I’ll admit it is quite the visual.

Chen uses the back of her legs to kick Kaguya, but the force generated is paltry against a dedicated hold. Chen next pushes with her arms only to find her raw strength isn’t enough to carry Kaguya’s full weight upward. The last thing she has the time to try is to roll over, putting Kaguya under, but the motion gives Kaguya enough chance to settle her arm against Chen’s neck.

Now with a clenched arm in front, Kaguya presses Chen’s head forward with her opposing arm to complete the choke hold, and it’s only a matter of seconds that Chen has before passing out.

“Ask Mokou how much wrestling we do as well. I’m sure she’d love to answer,” Kaguya comments in the brief moment she has to taunt.

With her body scraping for a last gasp, Chen flails her limbs wildly. And when that doesn’t work, she stops moving entirely, knocked out cold.

“I believe we have our winner,” Scarlet concludes. “Kaguya Houraisan has taken out Chen by knockout! Give the victor her due!”

You can hear the surprise in the crowd’s voice as they cheer. It doesn’t last for long, but it was there. I’m glad, since that means I wasn’t the only one surprised by Kaguya’s choice of fighting style. The crowd fires up again after that, realizing how clean of a match that was for the princess. Dare I say that might be the most one sided round I’ve seen yet. That’s pretty scary since I know Chen is no slouch.

“Kasen, what are you doing?” I hear Meiling ask behind me as Kaguya continues to wave to the crowd.

Kasen holds a wooden box and fills it with leftover sake from a nearby table. She doesn’t drink it, though. She approaches Reisen’s bloody body, none of us having the gall to even act like we could treat her otherwise. She lifts the rabbit’s head and begins to tilt the filled square cup down Reisen’s gullet.

“She’s not dead, you know,” I comment. “That’s some kind of last rites for the dead, isn’t it?”

“What?” Kasen gawks like I just said something stupid. “This is going to heal her, what are you talking about?”

I process the statement, and answer, “I don’t know. How was I supposed to know it would do that? Does it really do that?”

“Obviously, or I wouldn’t do it!” Kasen raises her voice.

A cough comes from the table, and the bloody pile rises to life. She looks at the group surrounding her and notes, “Guess I’m still alive, then.”

“You’ve looked better, though,” Jo’on adds.

Reisen looks down at herself, checking the many places that are soaked through in blood. She doffs her blazer to show herself that the front is the only thing so poor off. Looking closer at her clothes, it looks like there’s a big hole in her shirt at the abdomen, but her clothes are otherwise close to pristine past the blood. Gods know how much damage was pummeled into her during her fight.

“Is this all my blood?” Reisen asks, a wistful calm belies her usual personality.

Kasen snatches her from the table and closely explains, “That is your blood. You’ve been out cold for an entire match. I healed you with my medicine box. Now I’m going to take you to help me find Suika. Do you follow?”

Reisen stares blankly, hardly standing on her own legs. Some realization comes over her as she slowly gets bug eyed and panics, “Your box?! That cup that turns people more like an oni?!”

“Oh, so you know it,” Kasen states in wonder. “I don’t know how, but that does make this quicker. You’re all healed, come on, we’re going.”

“Wait, wait, wait! I don’t want to be an oni!” Reisen cries, finally understanding that she’s being kidnapped.

“You had one drink, you’re not going to change. Now let’s find Yuugi’s progress,” Kasen retorts, dragging the rabbit behind her.

“Hang on, Kasen!” I jump in.

“What now?” she commands. I’m clearly hitting some kind of temper she wasn’t tapping into before.

I clear my throat, covering a brief second to gather my thoughts and argue,

[x] “We still need you for the tournament. I know you’re itching to do your thing but could I ask you to stick around?”

[x] “Go do your thing. I’ll figure out something or other for the tournament. Maybe…”

[x] “Well…” (Write-in)

Deciding to post this right now, but it’s late at night so I’ll have to reread in the morning to do more intensive proofreading.

As for the vote, I think I will commit to this being impactful in an expected way. As for what that implies, I’ll let you all interpret my intents.
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[x] “We still need you for the tournament. I know you’re itching to do your thing but could I ask you to stick around?”

I think that Tanner should try to convince the angry, short-tempered 900 pound gorilla in the room. What's she going to do, eat us?
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[x] “We still need you for the tournament. I know you’re itching to do your thing but could I ask you to stick around?”
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[x] “Go do your thing. I’ll figure out something or other for the tournament. Maybe…”
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[x] “Go do your thing. I’ll figure out something or other for the tournament. Maybe…”
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>“I believe we have our winner,” Scarlet concludes. “Kaguya Houraisan has taken out Chen by knockout! Give the victor her due!”
>[x] “Go do your thing. I’ll figure out something or other for the tournament. Maybe…”
Tanner better leave her be unless he wants to end up a part of her skull collection lol.

By the way, does this take place before or after the end of WaHH?
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[x] “We still need you for the tournament. I know you’re itching to do your thing but could I ask you to stick around?”

We just need Kasen to stick around for the last few fights. Once the tournament is over, then she can go take care of her business.
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[x] “Go do your thing. I’ll figure out something or other for the tournament. Maybe…”

Kasen seems really temperamental right now, so uh... let's not poke the oni with a metaphorical stick right now.
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[x] “Go do your thing. I’ll figure out something or other for the tournament. Maybe…”

“I hope you mean that. I will be angry if Izayoi or Ran come to find me,” Kasen warns.

“Yes, yes. Just go before I change my mind,” I deter any inquisitive line of thought. Both for me and for Kasen. This is gonna be troubling if Izayoi decides to go after her, since it’s not like I control her. I mean, I don’t control Ran, either, but Ran would at least listen to my reasoning.

“Well, now what?” I ask myself aloud. I’ve already put a substitute in for Hoshiguma, but can I get another one? Who would I even get? It’s not like I can use someone that’s already lost. At the same time, though, I can’t just leave a semifinal round open.

“How rare it is for you to be stuck in thought,” Patchouli mocks my inner monologuing from a different book. “Whatever will you do without Ibara to fawn over?”

“Patchouli, I was not fawning over her,” I refute the notion entirely.

“And yet you were so gallantly announcing your intent to help her with problems that only superficially involve you,” she berates with the most emotion I’ve heard her use so far.

“Screw off, that isn’t what it’s about.”

Jo’on groans from beside Meiling, looking better from her previous wounds, “You two should get a room, jeez.” Biten stands behind her, aggravated that we haven’t kicked out the jester for all her musings.

“Shut up,” I weakly retort.

“Silence, wretch,” Patchouli does a better job at hers.

“I would also like you two to not be at your throats,” Meiling chimes in, gesturing half healed hands between us. “Please?”

I bury my forehead in my hand realizing how juvenile we’re being. Patchouli raises her book above a tinge of red on her cheeks.

“So what will you do, Regis?” Patchouli asks, using my name for a change. “Is there another happenstance you plan to use?”

“I can’t think of anything. The current roster is already packed with my first choices, and the likelihood that someone I could choose was in the exhibition matches is also high. I can’t slot in someone that lost at a different point in this tournament and call it a day,” I admit.

Patchouli shuts her book and looks at me to say, “If you’re going to have another exception I imagine Remi will want to hear of it. She’s fickle, but not entirely unfair. Of course, she might banish you on a whim.”

“Is that so, miss Patchouli? I don’t think the mistress would mind,” Meiling interjects.

“It’s Remi we’re talking about, what goes through her mind would take many more centuries of scrutiny to understand,” the witch protests. “She wanted to run a coliseum and now it is losing it’s legs. I doubt she’s content with half measures.”

“That’s… good to know,” I mete out. I’m a little taken aback from her shift in mood, but nonetheless I make sure to say, “Thanks for the tip, Patchouli.”

“Consider it a concession for my friend,” she touts. “I would never want my friend to be slighted from uncharacteristic expectations.”

Meiling steps by Patchouli’s chair and comments, “See? You can be nice.”

Patchouli looks up to the dopey sounding guard with disgust. For as rude as the words are, Meiling manages to say it so innocently that I can’t bring myself to consider it sarcasm. Sadly, Patchouli still kinda deserves sarcasm in my mind.

The doors break open, and Izayoi steps back into the room, dragging a cat and a princess from behind. One slides on their heels by the collar, the other is held in an arm lock that Kaguya herself should be envious of. That is, if she weren’t the one under Izayoi’s entrapment.

“Let me back out, the people wish to see me! Oh how wondrous it is to be cheered for!” Kaguya swoons, struggling against her captor. Looking again, it appears Izayoi had to tie Kaguya’s feet together to not let her get away.

As for Chen… she’s awake, at least, but it doesn’t look like she’s got much life in her body. Or… no, more like she just isn’t moving her body.

Izayoi drags the two back to our holdout in the opposite corner, tossing them down like sacks. Kaguya is disappointed to have been taken out of the spotlight. Jo’on claps her wrist while keeping the blanket over her figure, joking that it must have been hard work for Izayoi to take care of two children in such a masculine fashion. Jo’on is swiftly gifted a knife to pin the blanket to her chest.

“Next members,” Izayoi demands with some breath taken out of her.

“You’re gonna need to wait a few minutes, we’ve been discussing something else,” I inform.

Izayoi stakes her eyes into me, a hint of frustration peeking through her voice as she says, “If you continue to stand about and not perform your duties, then mayhaps Lady Patchouli would be better suited. You could instead stand outside of the mansion. And not come back.”

“Spare him your petty workaholic fixations, Sakuya,” Patchouli defends me. “Ibara left and there does not seem to be a suitable replacement this time. Take him to Remi to report.”

“Lady Patchouli?!” Izayoi gasps, stricken by the turncoat’s words. “Whatever has gotten into you?”

This strikes a serious chord with Patchouli, who rounds on Izayoi with an entire monotone dissertation, “Hm? Oh, I’m sorry. I suppose I’m beside myself with having to sit by this blubbering oaf and an entire crowd of people who would like nothing more than to commit violence on one another. If only there were someone with enough sway to tell Remi that this was all a terrible idea and that we’re lucky no significant damage has been done to the house or guests yet. Meiling, would you know any individual that might fit that criteria?”

Meiling staggers at her sudden inclusion in this war, and mutters, “Uh?! Uhm, n-no, Lady Patchouli.”

Izayoi tries to argue with Patchouli, but stammers in response, leaving her to fold a finger over her lips and collect her thoughts. “I will take him to Milady, Lady Patchouli,” Izayoi says, curtly bowing before rounding on me again. “Make haste.”

“R-right,” I falter at Izayoi’s insistence. I clear my throat and call, “Cirno, Meira, front and center!”

“Hi old guy,” Cirno merrily greets me from below my side.

“’bout damn time,” Meira stirs from meditation atop a table. She approaches with some agitation left in her eyes.

“Any questions from either of you?” I ping the two.

Meira raises her hand, stating, “Yeah I’ve got one. Can I kill her?”

Cirno puffs in anger at Meira’s cocksure attitude, and we all look at the fairy as I think through my answer.

Right when I go to speak, though, Izayoi answers for me, “No. You are not allowed to. Unless you wish to clean fairy dust out of the stonework. Fair warning that Cirno leaves a lot behind.”

“Hey!” Cirno puffs again. “Who are you calling messy!”

“The fairy that I need to clean off the walls more than the maids,” Izayoi dismissively retorts.

“Why do you ask that, Meira?” I get back on subject.

“I wasn’t expecting to get the chance to put her into the ground. I wanted to make the most of it,” Meira answers, arrogance emanating on full display.

“So you… know each other?”

Meira looks at Cirno with disdain as the fairy continues to complain to Izayoi. She answers, “In a sense. I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Alright. Any other questions?”


“Alright. Izayoi, let’s get going,” I command of the maid.

“’Let’s?’ Do you mean alone? What of the next round’s fighters?” Izayoi picks out, holding the fairy’s errant fists at bay.

“I do mean alone. If you bring the next fighters along Scarlet isn’t going to wait for my explanation, and then it’s gonna be more awkward to tell her that the round after isn’t gonna be done.”

Izayoi considers this point, and relents, “I suppose she would do that.”

We start to walk, but then I remember something important, and kneel down next to to an immobile Chen, asking, “Hey, you good?”

She turns her eyes my way and seethes, “That bitch broke my neck when she was choking me. It’s gonna take a while to get up. So, no. Not good.”

“Well, have fun healing up,” I jest to the sour cat, falling back in behind Izayoi.

She leads me out of the room and through the halls. The red starts to really blend together between floor and walls, everything looking the same as we traipse through the floor. It takes several minutes to get to our destination. At first we follow the signs pointing to the arena but then brush past one that points to an open door. Looking through I can spot the arena about a floor below, stands with patrons line the outer edge, with this door being the exit.

We turn a corner shortly after, and take the first closed door. Izayoi puts a hand to the door, but stops for a moment.

“Best of luck,” she taunts before opening the door and ushering me in.

“Make sure to keep Meira in check,” I lie in return. I don’t have anything substantial, but wanted something to badger Izayoi with.

Inside I get a better view of the arena spectators. The place is now a cavalcade of the colors and shapes of Gensokyo. Horns, wings, tails, flashy clothing, everything that would usually signal inhuman individuals dots the stands. Not a drab colored work cloth in sight at this point, and that’s likely for the best. I am the most alien in this crowd.

“Well, don’t stand around, Sakuya, tell me what you need to,” Scarlet commands in my direction.

I’ve been lead to the platform Scarlet and Ran have been sitting at. There’s a door just behind her throne I hadn’t noticed through the mirror. I wonder why they bothered with this layout if neither of them even took a break. Hell, why did they bother with this layout when they had to break the geometry of the room? I can see the door I looked through high above and definitely not the same planar distance away.

“Miss Scarlet,” I greet as way of correcting her.

“Ah, that voice,” she mulls and glances sharp red eyes from aside her throne. “Regis. This is an odd visit. Is there a problem with the next contenders?” she asks, returning to her view of the arena and leaving only her white puffy hat for me to see.

Ran turns to look at me as well. She seems more on autopilot still, but is definitely listening to me.

“That is… no, not this next round. The one after that,” I explain. “Kasen has left, likely not to return before the match.”

I pause to wait for Scarlet’s reaction. She takes a few seconds to think on the information, leaning further into her chair and scratching the armrest. She then responds, “It may come as a surprise to hear that I was most looking forward to that match in particular. Someone of Ibara’s skill would be the best fit to push my gate guard to her limits, something she hasn’t done in a long time. And whose fault is it that isn’t coming to pass?”

Ran shifts her eyes over to Scarlet to argue, “Miss Scarlet, you cannot be so petty as to–“

I raise a hand for Ran to stop. She looks back and forth, her face shifting by arc minutes more than usual. This might be a first for her to try to rebuff someone on my behalf, but we need to let whatever random bullshit Scarlet decides come to pass. This isn’t an issue of legitimate responsibility, but of things not going in this child’s way.

“Indirectly, but it was my fault,” I state. “When pairing Ibuki and Ibara in the first round it left a personal affair open that I did not have knowledge of. I attempted to convince Ibara that I would help her attend to it after the tournament… sorry for volunteering you for that, Ran.”

Ran raises an eyebrow at the apology, not expecting me to have offered her service in the first place. She makes a short guffaw but I continue my report.

“Ibara changed her mind during her match with Reisen, instead deciding to not wait and taking Reisen with her,” I finish.

“And so you believe that Ibara is to blame for not giving her time to the tournament she signed up for?” Scarlet summarizes.

For the briefest of moments I contemplate saying yes. It would be so easy to, and in a sense true, but it’s also very dishonest to how I was assuring Kasen I would assist her. Does refusing assistance mean she can be treated as a neutral party outside of my jurisdiction? I don’t fully buy that.

“No, I don’t believe so,” I refute Scarlet’s claim. “Honestly I don’t believe anyone is truly at fault for the her leaving. They weighed their personal affairs above this event. I can sympathize with the behavior even if I don’t condone it.”

“How very lax of you,” Scarlet tells me, “but also how very droll. Someone should be punished for what goes awry. But, if you tell me the oni are not to be punished for going back on their promise of participation, then that only leaves one other person.”

“I realize,” I grunt.

“Mm, but what is a suitable punishment?” Scarlet wiles to herself, propping her head from the armrest. “I cannot say that you didn’t support your end of the deal, as the tournament is happening mostly successfully. A missing participant to the semifinals, though…”

I can feel my face heat up as I wait. Scarlet is probably taking her time to stress me out, but it’s working in her favor. Anything short of not allowing me to do my job is what she’s implying, but that might still be something less than fortunate.

She lifts her head and sticks out a finger to say, “I think I have something in mind. After today, you will not be allowed onto the mansion grounds for any reason. Consider it a punishment of letting those under your observation roam free that you will not be allowed the same.”

That… doesn’t sound immediately so bad. Ran squints at the declaration, though, so I must be forgetting something.

Oh, right. I wanted to talk to Patchouli about the weird spell I’m under… but she doesn’t go outside much, does she? That’s a blaring issue. I’m not sure I can argue better terms, though. In Scarlet’s eyes that might be a trivial sentence, something that doesn’t affect me in the slightest since I only need to speak with Meiling for another day or two as part of my work. I can’t necessarily let on my situation so frivolously.

“My, you’ve gone quiet, dear coordinator,” Scarlet chuckles. “You’ve received a greater punishment than I thought. If that is the way fate has decided it, then I will not change your sentence.”

“Milady, the human swordswoman and the ice fairy are prepared to enter,” Izayoi states from my side, standing against the back of the throne. That would explain how Scarlet knew when the rounds were going.

“Thank you, Sakuya. Regis, why don’t you stay and see this round in person? No sense in allowing you to miss this true oddity you’ve created,” Scarlet directs me.

“R-right,” I agree.

Izayoi disappears once more as Scarlet steps from her seat to the edge of the podium. She announces to the crowd with ample volume, “Welcome one and all! The next round will begin now!”

[Please wait warmly…]

I didn’t expect this section to take up enough space to edge out the fight until another post, but I also want to make sure that I stuffed this information in here and give the fight a good showing. The conundrum I find myself in.
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I'm tempted to muse that it isn't as bad a punishment as Regis thinks. As a simple workaround would be to have a messenger on our behalf act as an intermediary and/or have them bring Patchouli out from the mansion grounds.

'course, it likely would be easier said than done.
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we can now send pachy all the hatemail she needs - and she has to come to us
that's amazing
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[… Continued]

Scarlet spreads her arms and continues, “Entering the stage first: the scrappy ice fairy that is forever the underdog, Cirno!”

Cirno enters on the right through a door inlaid at the bottom of the stands. She’s taken off the cape and crown for this fight. I can catch a brief glimpse through the door and see the same red carpets as the rest of the floor, which is just as confounding as the rest of the doors in this building.

Cirno enters the net and draws one of the crystals making up her wings like a weapon, the icicle thinning and elongating until it takes the shape of her ice sword. This is news to me that she can reshape ice. Would that mean her magic treats ice like a liquid?

No, I believe I somewhat understand how her power works, but I shouldn’t bother focusing on it right now.

“Her opponent for the round: the last human in the running and willing to go the distance through hardheadedness, Meira!”

Meira enters from the opposing side, ignoring Scarlet’s backhanded comments and keeping her eyes trained on Cirno even before stepping under the netting. She glances between Cirno’s face and the ice sword. It’s clearly a mimicry of her own sword. The blade, the weaved handle, the crossguard, all of it is the same as her own. In Cirno’s mind, I’d bet it’s only happenstance that she used the most recent sword she’s seen as her reference, but there’s no way for Meira to know that. It’s a declaration that Cirno’s better to the point of beating her opponent with their weapon, and yet the taunt is accidental.

Meira draws her blade, readying her stance without a word. Cirno’s innocuous action has turned into an added taunt for whatever grudges Meira is holding.

“BEGIN!” Scarlet shouts through the room. Standing next to her makes it loud enough to mistake for using a megaphone.

Cirno and Meira waste no time on banter, each brandishing a blade and closing in slowly. Meira squints at Cirno’s ice blade in interest, perhaps knowing that isn’t Cirno’s usual fighting style. She may also be wondering why Cirno decided to use a blade instead of some crude blunt weapon of ice like before.

Their blades click against each other and Meira takes the first move, raising her blade a minimal amount to cleave down in a diagonal towards Cirno’s shoulder and hand. Cirno responds in time to whack the sword away from her and sidestep away. She releases a hand from the grip and throws her fist to Meira’s face.

A low volume click rings as Meira catches Cirno’s punch with her hook, and I see Cirno’s hand has a layer of ice for protection. She did bring in a blunt weapon, her hands are coated in ice as a layer of armor. The prior round she was fine with covering her hand entirely, leaving them unable to manipulate objects, but this round she’s changed her strategy to account for holding a sword. I think I understand what Meiling was working on with her, now. That was only the first exchange, though, we need to see more of what happens.

Meira attempts to bring her sword up from the side but is caught in Cirno’s crossguard. They are now locked together, staving off a hit that could cause notable injury to their opponent.

The two pry against their holds. Cirno torques Meira’s arm across her body, maybe going for a way to smash the side of her hand into Meira’s fist with some give. Meira fights against this by lifting her elbow to draw on her larger muscle mass, meanwhile she twists the blade under Cirno’s low guard. They’re acutely aware of how close to hitting the other they are, but that also means being hit in return.

A snap in motion occurs as Meira scrapes her sword under and connects with Cirno’s side and in the same movement Cirno drags Meira’s arm aside and punts the center of her face.

They back up from each other, Cirno checking for blood on her side and Meira checking the bridge of her nose. Sure enough, Meira finds a spot of blood dripping alongside the bruised area she probably doesn’t feel yet. Cirno… doesn’t appear to have taken any notable damage. There’s a cut in her dress, but no blood comes from it. A fairy can bleed, I may need to add. They and their bodily remains disappear into a fine dust when they die, but before then it’s easy to mistake them for any mortal being.

How did Cirno avoid getting cut?

Meira takes a moment to find her voice and tells Cirno, “I see somebody helped you. Using a sword for defense? You’re just full of surprises. I’m getting better, too.”

Meira crouches down and brings her sword back. She breathes in slowly. Cirno spectates the move, curious as to what Meira is planning. Honestly, I am, too.

Meira launches forward, sword in line with Cirno’s head. The speed is nothing new for today, slow enough that I can barely see her. Where Youmu was a bullet, Meira is an arrow. Still barely any time to react from the range she’s at, though. Cirno shows that she’s barely capable of keeping up.

She raises her sword in the same instant that Meira is upon her, their swords clicking together from impact. They each go flying, Cirno a few paces to her side, matching her steps to the imparted velocity, Meira blitzes out to the netting. Meira impacts, her hook tearing through numerous rungs of the rope before arching her fingers from the grip on her sword. The strain rips her hand from the weapon but she reflexively falls from the net to grab it again.

With further show of instinct she lands on her feet, but one thing about this exchange is made clear: she’s not fighting with the same refinement that she took against Youmu. She builds up power to launch at Cirno, repeating the process.

Scarlet looks on nonplussed by the spectacle. “She seems to have lost herself,” she comments together with the clang of the swords happening over and over. “Her last match was far more impressive than this farce. She looks more like a wild beast mocking the technique used against her.”

“Truly,” Ran agrees with the vampire. “Mayhaps it’s a showing of her experience protecting villagers from mere chaff.”

“It’s more that she’s under some kind of influence,” I inform Ran. “I hope Cirno can win so that Meira will go and seek some kind of treatment.”

“Why ever would she do so?”

“Because she agreed to so long as I didn’t kick her out, is the short of it.”

“You have faith in the fairy?” Scarlet asks. “She’s so far below me to the point of being comedic relief. It was beautiful irony to see her defeat that lout of a tengu, but I don’t imagine her standing against a serious opponent.”

“Well… let’s hope my faith isn’t misplaced.”

“Dangerous words in this realm, dear researcher,” Scarlet notes.

Meira continues her assault, launching across the arena back and forth, gaining speed and better controlling it each time. Cirno holds on, but not by much, only raising a guard just before it’s needed. Neither side is gaining momentum from their trades, only managing to drive the other off. Cirno gets a glint in her eyes, that moment when she has some breakthrough of an idea that tends to backfire.

She keeps her sword raised in defense, but places her offhand to the back of the blade, extra bracing on her block. Meira flies again, colliding her sword into Cirno’s, but this time she falls to the ground with the fairy in tow. They slam down dramatically, losing grips on their swords which scatter away as one.

The blades slide past Meira, who’s quicker to her feet. She scrambles for hers as Cirno’s getting up. When she picks it up, though, she finds the ice sword comes with it. Cirno’s created a block of ice at the end of Meira’s sword stemming from the original ice sword jutting out. While this doesn’t necessarily neuter Meira’s sword as a weapon, I don’t think Meira is the right build to effectively swing a sledgehammer as her weapon of choice.

Scarlet sniffs with a bit of mirth at the ballsy play, watching Cirno as she stands to a similar stance that Jo’on used. Cirno knew she’d lose her sword in the process, but since she was only using it to block Meira’s own sword, that might have been by design.

Meira gets up and tosses the bulky sword amalgam at Cirno in frustration, the fairy dodging aside the projectile. “You think this changes anything? You’re not beating me again!” Meira then states, near manically.

She charges at Cirno, leading with her hook as if it were meant to swing. Cirno deflects it while trying to get in a quick jab. Meira swipes it away with her own block. They go back and forth, dancing between attack and defense, their blood running hotter by the second. Cirno stands her ground against the assault, making sure to not be driven back a single step.

Wait. Again? As in, they’ve fought before and Meira lost? That would explain that bit of history, but why would Meira be so mad about losing one figh–

Cirno is a fairy. A fairy is stereotypically weaker than a trained human. Meira loses to Cirno. Ersatz, Cirno is stronger than a trained human or Meira is a poorly trained human who could lose to a fairy. It’s easy to assume the latter given Cirno’s unfortunate personality.

Man, that ‘fortune’ word has been coming up a lot, lately.

Cirno attempts to take the initiative and punch before the next chance Meira has to bring down her hook. Meira was expecting this, though, as she deflects Cirno’s fist just the same but also steps into Cirno’s guard. Cirno attempts to retreat from the position, her left hand not in the right position to hit back, but Meira takes the opportunity to lower her hook before swinging, snagging Cirno’s chest before she can get away.

Cirno takes a couple uneasy steps back before balancing. She pats the tear along the front of her dress to ensure that there is once again no blood drawn.

“I thought I felt something earlier,” Meira determines. “You’re wearing armor.”

Cirno grits her teeth, eyes widening at the accusation. There isn’t anything in the rules to stop someone from wearing armor, as only the hits are counted for points, so there must be some other reason Cirno was trying to hide it.

Could that have been a suggestion from Meiling? Something to make sure Meira wouldn’t tear Cirno down in the first minute until she’s disarmed? That doesn’t seem to have deterred Meira a whole lot. I underestimated how quick she is with that hook, but I should’ve seen that coming given how it literally replaces a hand.

Cirno grabs another one of her wing crystals, the sixth one not having been replaced after making the sword, and forms it into a block around her hand much like an oversized boxing glove. Now that she’s been found out, she decides to rush in for the first damaging hit. Meira weaves out of the way as Cirno gets used to the extra weight and stabs her shoulder on the pass. She jerks her hook back, ripping some of Cirno’s dress but more importantly a piece of the ice that was covering her. It had been adhered directly to her skin, and as such some skin came with it. Cirno trips on the ground and groans at the pain, a layer of blood surfacing from the wound she can’t hold onto with the glove.

Meira has drawn first blood, and her eyes are that of a predator’s.

“There we are,” Scarlet states, grinning wide.

Meira descends on the weakened combatant, aiming to strip more of her protection like bark from a tree. Cirno takes a swing with her glove as she’s rising but Meira predicts the move and drops down to swipe at Cirno’s shin. Another piece of ice skids across the stone, pale skin coupled to it. The ice’s transparency made it impossible to see before, but now that we know Cirno applied a layer of it to parts of her body, it’s obvious where they would be.

Meira patiently chips away at Cirno, disassembling the fairy piece by piece. With each pass Cirno becomes further pained and exasperated, trying to hit Meira at all through her pain. With each pass also, the number of blood red spots on her body increases, another place that the armor is stripped and several layers of skin with it. It reaches a breaking point as Meira pushes Cirno’s glove out of the way to tug at the side of her chest. Cirno grabs Meira’s arm to force the hook back towards herself, releasing the play and thus her, but Meira presses a leg into her gut to gain needed leverage.

It’s a disquieting feeling to hear Cirno scream and roar in pain as her breastplate is pried off, the effort in no way quick.

“Should we stop this?” I ask of the two Youkai next to me. They do not respond to the question, the answer readily apparent.

Meira kicks Cirno a distance away, the large piece of ice crashing on the floor, shattering like glass. Cirno drops to the ground like a corpse, the top of her dress torn to reveal a plain of red across her chest. Her face twists in pain as she shambles back to her feet. Her breath has become haggard as she’s been losing the ability to ignore the torn skin and blood loss about her body. While her face is nearly pristine, that’s the only thing left that way and her expression reflects that.

“Not what you thought it was, you little shit?” Meira taunts with the same frown she’s worn this whole time. “You won’t win if you let just that get to you. I haven’t even given you any deep cuts.”

“How much is left of that one?” Ran openly ponders to us.

Cirno raises her fists again, waving for Meira to come at her. Meira takes the signal to pounce, putting all of her might into a swing directed at Cirno’s collar.

My foot comes forward subconsciously. Even despite knowing full well that Cirno can neither die nor cares when she dies, it’s rough to see her in pain like this. The fact that the fire hasn’t left her eyes only tells me she’s willing to take more of a beating.

Cirno looks fierce as she raises her lighter hand into the path of the hook, letting the implement sink through her palm and splinter off the armor through the back. It continues into her collar, but she remains standing. Meira tries to force herself back before Cirno can counterattack, but Cirno’s hand comes with her, the hook stuck.

No… no, not just stuck. Meira’s hook has been frozen into Cirno’s hand, the ice covering it so thick the weapon can no longer cut or move. In the time Meira assesses the trouble she’s found herself in, Cirno gains a second wind, knocking Meira’s temple with her ice glove. Meira staggers from the impact, dragging Cirno along with her before dropping to a knee. Cirno reels back for a second hit, stumbling to the side as Meira swings a fist into her. As much as Meira punches, though, she can’t stop Cirno from bringing her hand of ice, bigger than a hammer, into her head.

Now with an injured nose and blood dripping from the side of her head, Meira doesn’t seem to be in the dominant position.

Cirno doesn’t stop, a toothy scowl warping her otherwise friendly demeanor. She bears down her hand again. And again. And again. Meira is left to fend off the damage with a human hand and whatever magical strength she was gifted. It’s not enough to stop an effective club striking her head.

“Scarlet, you should stop this,” I tell the head of ceremonies.

“You command me?” she quips back.

“Does now look like the time? Meira’s gonna fucking die.” I force myself to not raise my voice.

“I disagree with stopping those two. Perhaps you would dare step in against my wishes?” Scarlet rounds on me with her demonic eyes, red as the blood in the arena.

[x] Stop the fight, consequences be damned.

[x] Trust Cirno to not go too far in her frenzy.

[x] Convince Scarlet in some other way that it’s dangerous to let the round go on. (Write-in)

Maybe I listen to a little too much metal. Maybe I don’t listen to enough. Also, don’t think that the write-in needs to be about convincing Remilia, I just think it would be the most in situation here to do so.
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[x] Trust Cirno to not go too far in her frenzy.

She's the strongest, after all.
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Don't we have Ran to possibly consult with?
>>“How much is left of that one?” Ran openly ponders to us.
[x] Ask Ran on what to do (and for further confirmation that Meira's life is actually at imminent risk).
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[x] Trust Cirno to not go too far in her frenzy.
I trust Cirno.
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[x] Trust Cirno to not go too far in her frenzy.
I mean, it's a club, not a blade at least.
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[x] Trust Cirno to not go too far in her frenzy.
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[x] Trust Cirno to not go too far in her frenzy.
Rolling 1d9 => 2
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[x] Stop the fight, consequences be damned.
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[x] Trust Cirno to not go too far in her frenzy.
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[x] Trust Cirno to not go too far in her frenzy.

While I don’t want to let it be known, Scarlet’s taunt does get under my skin. Whether she’s challenging me or really believes that I’m in the wrong, I don’t know. I stand back, letting things play out as they may, against my better judgments.

Cirno continues to go wild, dropping her leaden arm down on Meira. Once, twice, again and again she raises the block of ice, now splattered with Meira’s blood, and maybe some of her own from muscles rioting against their usage in the open air. Meira’s face and hair are covered in her own draining life. It’s easy to loose sight that this is a fairy and a human taking what should be showmanship of their martial prowess to be a scenario of dog eat dog. The sight is too much for me, but I keep watching out of obligation.

Cirno’s madness doesn’t seem to wither even as she tires. I’m beginning to think I made a mistake standing down.

Before I change my course of action, someone slips through the net where Meira cut it, and in the same breath puts themselves in front of Cirno’s club. The weapon swings down to Meira’s limp form, but the third party catches it with a grip tight enough to crack the ice. In one moment, Cirno was brutalizing her opponent, but now she gores Meiling with her eyes.

It takes a heartbeat for everyone in the room to realize that Meiling’s intervened, and that she doesn’t seem angry, or really showing any emotion for that matter. She stares Cirno down, waiting for the fairy to come to her senses.

Cirno, for what sense she can have with half of her skin ripped off, motionlessly stares at the gate guard. She does at some point become cognizant of what she’s looking at, and her face relaxes when she does. Now that she doesn’t feel a burst of pain, bloodlust, or a mixture therein, Cirno can’t stay on her feet. She falls to her knees, Meiling lowering her steel grip on the club to keep the fairy upright.

“Meiling, whatever are you doing?” Scarlet questions her subordinate. She steps up from her throne to stare in line with the interruption. “Did anyone ask for you to step in?”

“No, mistress,” Meiling responds.

Scarlet turns her head a bit. “And you know that I would consider that to be outside of the rules for this game?”

“Yes, mistress.”

“Then what do you think you’re doing?!” Scarlet outbursts with a stomp.

Meiling releases her grip on Cirno’s arm, shavings of ice coming out with her fingers. “I couldn’t let someone like Cirno go that far. She’s a fairy, not a killer.”

Scarlet isn’t amused with the answer. I can see her patience running thinner by the second. She must have been fully expecting me to cause this debacle, not one of her own.

Cirno ignores Meiling and Scarlet, retreating into herself. She doesn’t have energy left to do anything but look with sullen eyes at her opponent, tethered by their arms, and intones the word, “Kill?” I may be the only one to notice Cirno’s grief, though.

Everyone else in the room is focused on Scarlet as she berates her servant, “What foolishness has taken you over? You’re interrupting the tournament that I set forth. Do not think that I will let this go so readily.”

“Do what you will,” Meiling stalwartly holds. “I only wanted to make sure no one died.”

“She wouldn’t have died, you idiot!” Scarlet shouts back. “In fact, she–“

A clatter resounds as Cirno is brought to her stomach. Meira is somehow still conscious after being beaten into submission. A collective gasp is released from the room as Meira grapples Cirno. Cirno is choking on her own arm as Meira wrapped the limb around her neck. Using the hook still embedded in Cirno’s hand, Meira gets extra leverage to wrench back and tighten the hold.

I hear Scarlet scoff at the display, this being exactly what she was eluding to. In the same thought, Meiling isn’t intervening out of shock. She only came in to stop Cirno from killing Meira, but now that things have turned it’s hard for her to believe that the person she was saving might not have been in danger. Thinking on it further, Ran wouldn’t hold still if a village resident was in serious peril. At least, that’s what I choose to believe.

Meira has Cirno in a sleeper hold, and if left as is she will incapacitate Cirno without resistance. Meira doesn’t take her turnabout gracefully, however. She uses her open arm to grab Cirno’s chin and forces the fairy’s neck to twist. The motion is so quick it barely registers as happening. Cirno simply stops existing in the space next to Meira, a shimmering dust exploding around the ring. Cirno’s dead, and while that is no more than an annoyance to a fairy, it’s a problem for everyone here.

The room is speechless. Nobody expected this turn of events.

I’m not sure what happens next, either. The opponent has been killed… well, ‘popped’ as the fairies like to describe for themselves. Just before that it was interrupted by an outside contender, stopping a display of brutality that went far beyond what the match calls for.

I glance to Scarlet, her brows dipped in vicious frustration. She points to the two and complains, “All of you are ruining this event! You both are hereby banned from this tournament!”

I… can’t say that is what I was expecting.

Ran is quick on the followup, noting, “Miss Scarlet, that would only leave–“

“I don’t care! I want that miscreant human out of my sight! Meiling, we will talk later!”

Before anyone else has the chance to argue, Scarlet stomps out behind her throne, frustrated beyond words. She slams the door on the way out and leaves a horrible silence in the room afterwards. It’s soon replaced by the confused murmurs of the crowd to one another.

Ran steps forward to address the spectators, “It appears there will be an unpredicated closing of events at this time. Thank you for your attendance and may you see yourself out at your convenience.”

Amidst the awkward situation Ran keeps her eyes fixed on Meiling and Meira. I look over as well to try and understand why. Meiling is helping Meira to her feet. She does, but also notes the blood drenching her face and hair, trying to rub some of it off. Where the blood comes off there are visible dark spots. Not like an injury or a bruise, more like the tone of her skin changed. Looking closer, I see the same on Meira’s hand, a darker skin tone than I remember her having.

Ran steps away behind the throne, the sight maybe confirming something for her. She breaks open the door to some complaint from the object and steps into the halls.

I follow Ran as she carries herself around the twisting corners and ask, “What are you up to, Ran? Shouldn’t you make sure nothing else happens with that crowd of Youkai?” She doesn’t reply, instead she silently steps in a direction I don’t recognize. I’m unsure when she could have learned the layout of the mansion, but she beelines for a nearby door.

She’s found one of the doors that leads into the arena, specifically one of the two used by the fighters.

She tosses out several paper dolls to cut through the rope net and passes under the clearing. Meiling is carrying Meira out by the shoulder but she stops as Ran approaches. Ran swats a hand against Meira’s forehead, showing another patch of dark skin under the drying blood. Meira’s open arm swats in pursuit of Ran’s, though the exhaustion has properly set in making it easy for Ran to catch and pull Meira from her support.

“This fool will hence be under Yakumo jurisdiction. Relinquish her,” Ran commands Meiling.

Meiling gets defensive over the sudden proclamation, retorting, “What?! You cannot be wanting to punish her for the end of the match!”

“No, you buffoon, this is a serious matter that needs to be addressed as soon as possible,” Ran expedites her explanations. She strips Meira away as Meiling attempts to keep up with the conversation.

Meiling complies, but follows us out in suspicion of Ran’s clamminess.

We make our way out to the back of the mansion, where no one passes as they leave, before Ran tosses Meira to the grass. I scold the action but she doesn’t listen to a word and continues with what she’s doing. Paper dolls loose from her sleeve to circle Meira as she struggles to sit up. Some sort of magic reacts on the perimeter, glowing a faint light around the woman. What effect this has I couldn’t say.

“Dancer, show yourself before I force you to do so,” Ran commands of the air.

Meiling and I wait in anticipation for what Ran will do next, expecting some vile force to show itself at her demand. The cooling air of a late August night doesn’t reply. Meira gives us a questioning look, begging to be informed of why Ran just captured her.

I, also, wish to know and so I ask, “Ran, are you expecting someone at this point?”

“Silence, Regis,” Ran dismisses, tossing another doll at the circle. For an instant I feel like I can see some rectangular form appear behind Meira. Meira herself seems to feel this and whips her head around to find the source.

“The hell was that?!” I exclaim. “You can’t tell me I didn’t just see that.”

“Regis,” Ran outputs without looking back, “this is Yakumo business, it would be preferable if you, and miss Hong, for that matter, would abscond.”

“I will not,” Meiling holds. She’s already defied her boss tonight, what’s another high powered Youkai? “I also think that Meira deserves to know what you are doing.”

“She is merely bystander to greater powers. It is best if none of you were involved.” Ran shows some cracks in her defenses as she could have just as easily said no instead of explaining herself.

“Do you think that Meira feels bystander right now?” I pick at her argument gesturing to Meira in the magic circle. Meira doesn’t look happy that I’m shoving words in her mouth, but she’ll get over it. “Don’t let me be the one to tell you about what’s right, though.”

“Performing one’s duty with discretion is right.” She sniffs quietly enough that she passes it off for not happening. “Though, for the three of you it may not be impactful to distribute such information. If you must desperately know, Meira is under the influence of the hidden god, Matara Okina.”

“Matara? She caused that incident a year or two ago, didn’t she?” Meiling recollects

The words sit with me for a second, next causing me to twitch back. “A god? A god strong enough to cause an incident? Ran, what are you doing? What would you do if she actually showed up? Politely ask her to leave?”

“Do not dare take such a tone to my decisions,” Ran bites, staring into my soul. “And it is not the goddess herself, but her subordinates that are the cause of this. They act on Matara’s behalf, but even they do not know the motivations of their god.”

Meiling inputs to the discussion, “So you would have asked them to leave if they came?”

“Well… that is… yes, I would have politely asked them to cease their influence on this human.”

“Are they the type to listen to that request?” I toss Ran a bone.

Ran stays quiet. Ran then looks away.

“Oi,” I bicker.

“Mind telling what happens to me, too?” Meira announces herself. “You know, being trapped in whatever spooky thing you put down.”

“You should probably watch yourself after killing Cirno,” I mention. “The whole tournament’s been stopped because of that.”

“She went berserk, what do you want me to say?”

Ran motions to pinch the bridge of her nose, but stops herself, if only barely. “Swordswoman, innate life energy is currently being brought to a higher energy than your body is accustomed to. Please note that does not necessarily mean that your magic power has increased, as that would be amplifying it, rather your energy works more efficiently. Think of burning coal as opposed to burning wood.”

“Higher energy and amplification…” I inflect. “Are you saying that magic works akin to light waves?”

“Waves, Regis. Not electromagnetic. There are several extra dimensions to magic, but the most baseline understanding can be a wave.”

“Not following, here,” Meira groans, crossing her legs and checking her hand. She presents the limb, very obviously a different skin tone than she had at the beginning of the day, and points to it with her hook. Some ice is still left on the hook from her fight, interestingly.

“A servant of Matara is causing your magic to burn your body inside out. A side effect of your spiritual energy being pitiful at a baseline,” Ran makes no effort to show tact at this point. “You are, however, a village human, and thus off limits to such treatment.”

“Oh, fooled me then. I feel so safe here, now,” Meira sneers. “Well, keep going, I guess?”

Meiling questions again, “Is it safe for you to keep going? What does keep going mean?”

“At the moment, nothing. That spell was the attempt. Now alternate methods will need to be considered,” Ran explains.

“Before that, mind letting me out of this cage?” Meira suggests. Ran… kindly… flicks a finger toward herself, causing a force to pulse into Meira, skidding her on the green.

“You were never trapped. That was the set range the spell activates from the user.” Ran turns back to Meiling and continues, “Miss Hong, what do you know about the sexagenary cycle?”

“The what?” Meiling replies.

“From there, then.”

Ran goes over some basics about the natural cycle of the world. Three heavenly lights, four seasons, five elements, making up a cycle of sixty. The sixty part isn’t important in this case, what is important is that every living thing has an affinity for these different aspects.

“So some affinity is being invoked in Meira by this god’s servant?” I infer. “That’s the reason you’re telling us this, isn’t it?”

Ran nods and finishes her explanation, “Correct. The problem is that my methods are not enough to draw out life energy of a specific temperament, thus the servant is not brought to this plane. Hong may have a chance of doing so, if we were to find the aspect that this human is drawing on.”

“So how do I try each of the twelve choices?” Meiling asks, standing ready.

“Four choices. Matara effects seasons, both in the physical and spiritual senses. Elements and lights are irrelevant,” Ran elaborates. “It is not recommended to ‘try’ each season, however. If Matara’s servant has taken to Meira, they will retaliate when a concerted effort strikes.”

“Wait, back up, what do you mean strike?” Meira points out.

Ran ignores the question. “A planned effort should be undertaken only after you learn Meira’s season.”

“But would enough force work?” I query. “You were able to make something appear for a split second, despite not knowing.”

“By technicality, yes. Hong by herself wouldn’t be able to accrue such power. You ask because you have another idea, I assume.”

“Damn right I do. We figure out Meira’s season or get extra firepower, so why don’t we…”

[x] Go ask Cirno. She once had a tan she couldn’t explain, despite normally hating the heat.

[x] Find Kasen again. By the time we find her she’ll probably be done with her personal affairs.

[x] Let’s think of another solution. (Write-in)

What is this? Plot progression is finally happening? Impossible. There needs to be another twenty fights before the end of this chapter, haven’t met my quota on shonen tournament arcs, yet.
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[x] Find Kasen again. By the time we find her she’ll probably be done with her personal affairs.

Checking in with another sage might be useful
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[x] Go ask Cirno. She once had a tan she couldn’t explain, despite normally hating the heat.

I am disappointed, Cirno.
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[x] Find Kasen again. By the time we find her she’ll probably be done with her personal affairs.
If there is anyone who knows what’s going on, it’s another sage.
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[x] Find Kasen again. By the time we find her she’ll probably be done with her personal affairs
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[x] Go ask Cirno. She once had a tan she couldn’t explain, despite normally hating the heat.
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[x] Find Kasen again. By the time we find her she’ll probably be done with her personal affairs.
If there is anyone who knows what’s going on, it’s another sage.

Help me, Kasen!
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Took me a week, but I was too intriged by what I saw in ao3 to not bingeread all of this.

Also : [x] Find Kasen again. By the time we find her she’ll probably be done with her personal affairs

Lets hope the oni isn't too pissy still
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Also poor Remi, all she wanted was a tournament, truly a tragedy
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That's great to hear! I started posting to AO3 after Gooboi mentioned he did so for his stories and thought it would help draw in people to the site. I don't think I would have done fanfiction in other places with how much fun and sometimes unexpected the CYOA format can be. The yamawaro section especially would have lost my own interest writing it if the voters didn't get so clever with their plans.

Editing the older sections has really showed me that I lost some of the pizazz I felt in the start of the story compared to now, grammatical issues aside. I hope to keep your attention just as well in the current point of the story.

Here, have a Ran.
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>[x] Let’s think of another solution.
>>[x] Look for Tenshi's help
She's probably around here watching the Tournament and she seems like type that knows about stuff, so let's ask her if she can help lol
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extreme-ly fed up-maid
[x] Find Kasen again. By the time we find her she’ll probably be done with her personal affairs.

“… Go find Kasen,” I direct. “It won’t be that hard, I imagine.”

“I don’t want to ask why you think so,” Meiling adds.

“And I’m glad you didn’t ask,” I whim. “Really it’s because Kasen should be done with what she’s up to. She made a very dramatic show of leaving the mansion, so I’m sure she had a plan to act on.”

Ran follows up on my commentary, “If you are confident in that assertion, then what direction is miss Ibara in?” Her intonation, as slight as it is, tells me she’s only asking to poke holes in my confidence. If only I were able to retort in some way.

“Pick a direction Meiling. I’m sure you’re like a bloodhound for people like that hermit,” Meira suggests from her seat on the grass. Is she too tired to stand, still?

“I know it’s a joke against servants of my mistress, but I’m not a hound. Not like Sakuya,” Meiling mutters.

“Woof,” a voice like a cold nail stabs into us. The voice comes from Izayoi, who steps out from behind Meiling. It’s safe to assume she’s not happy being equated to a dog. She steps away from us, commenting, “Our mistress is very disgruntled, Meiling. So much so that she can’t leave the mansion to deliver your punishment.”

Meiling realizes the implications but tries to play the fool, “Oh, then I’ll… see the mistress after I return. Tanner asked me to help with treating Meira’s sickness, so I need to go for now.”

I didn’t actually ask you, but you’re also not wrong that we need you. I only went with the flow of things since you helped earlier. I’ll keep quiet about that fact, though.

“I’m not sick, stop talking like that!” Meira whinges from below like a child.

“Enough,” Izayoi demands of our banter. She points across the line of us, stating, “Each of you are due for punishment. That you all are here is fortunate for me.”

“For you?” I repeat her words.

“Yes, as Milady is in no way to deliver just desserts.” Izayoi flashes a set of knives to her hands while also having a cascade of them appear behind her. “I will.”

The knives shoot all at once, like a rain of arrows, in our direction. A distance of no more that a couple meters gives Ran just enough time to stand in front of me, shielding my body from the knives. Once they pass I can see that she deflected a majority of them with paper dolls, the edge of her dress frayed from those she missed. Meiling did similar for Meira, blocking many blades with her arm, but that doesn’t stop the sharp projectiles from leaving cuts all over the two of them.

Her knives are stuck in the grass and as a far out as the garden walls. The area looks as if an explosion of shrapnel directly in our faces.

“Izayoi what the hell are you doing?!” I shout at the madwoman.

“Showing you all that there are repercussions to not fulfilling your role to the devil,” she announces.

Ran wastes no time and counterattacks, throwing her shield of paper dolls to try and bind Izayoi. The maid blips out of existence and leaves behind another barrage of blades. This time we all dodge out of the way, Meiling dragging Meira and Ran embracing me.

“Let me go, dammit! I could have done that myself!” Meira continues to complain to her guardian.

“Izayoi, hurting us won’t accomplish anything! It’s a meaningless punishment!” I beggar the air around us.

Our heads turn and turn to find Izayoi, now on the prowl. Whether she’s serious about grievously harming us or not is up to debate, but now isn’t the time to ask. Ran holds me close, a hint of sweat and nervousness crosses her brow. She’s both enfeebled and protecting me, not a state to be combating someone with Izayoi’s renown.

An instant of weight sits and leaves my shoulders in under a second. I feel a cold and sharp pain inside my collarbone while I’m interpreting what just happened. I can’t contain a groan, my teeth clenching tight enough to crack. The pain prevents me from turning my head to inspect, but a small stream of blood dripping onto Ran’s shoulder tells me what I need to know. Izayoi just stopped time to stab me. Looks like she’s able to do that after all.

She shouldn’t know about my strange healing, but that would mean she thinks I’m still an average human. An average human wouldn’t be able to brush off this wound. She wants to send me straight to Eientei.

Ran flies next to Meiling while treating me, securing the foreign object in my neck with several paper dolls. The pain is near blinding. Unlike when my entire shoulder was blown off, every nerve in my body is still intact, so I feel every inch of steel just aside my neck. I’m unsure if the knife has penetrated my airway or not, but it wouldn’t be a good idea to test.

We land, but every bit of movement only subdues me further. I don’t feel like I’m passing out, but that seems more like a curse than a blessing. I reach my opposing arm to the blade without thinking but Ran is careful to stop my base instincts from kicking in. She uses a few dozen more dolls to make a tourniquet, preventing most of the movement. Note, not all movement.

“The mouthy one is finally quiet,” Izayoi says from a distance, casually taking a stone bench on the garden path. She points a knife at Meira and asks, “What is happening to the violent one?”

“Sakuya enough of this!” Meiling shouts at her compatriot. “Meira is dying and we need to fix her now!”

Izayoi nods in understanding. “I see, and is she in critical condition now?” She turns to Ran for confirmation.

Ran holds her tongue for a second until she decides to explain, “Not yet, but soon.”

Izayoi nods again and stands up to say, “Then her punishment seems obvious enough.”

She appears in front of Ran again, swinging a knife down at me. Ran is fast enough to deflect the attack and bash Izayoi’s head, tossing the maid from her feet. We retreat into the air a distance as Izayoi reappears standing in the open grass. She tries to scratch a paper doll off her head to no purchase. The doll glows a bright blue, obscuring Izayoi’s vision. She brings a knife to her forehead to shave it off, but is interrupted by Meiling kicking her from behind.

The knife she was holding rolls away into the grass while Izayoi is stretched on the ground. The bright blue glow intensifies revealing Chen’s entry above Izayoi, claws outstretched and blue and red energy balls snapping inwards. Izayoi pops away, leaving Chen to bury her claws into the soil. Chen stands upright, spectating her surroundings.

She cracks her neck, assuring that it’s attached correctly after her fight with Kaguya. “I didn’t think there was more fighting tonight,” she jokes.

The sound of an explosion echoes from somewhere. It was definitely nowhere nearby, so it couldn’t be from the fight here. Ran looks over to the source and comments, “Most likely direction located.”

“What?” I ask as she shoves me into Meiling stamping a paper doll to my chest on top of the still functioning luck charms with the motion.

“Ibara will need explanation of how to help this Meira human. Regis has a sufficient understanding. Izayoi will be held off in the meantime,” Ran explains to Meiling’s bafflement.

A burst of movement occurs as Ran raises her sleeve to blast another set of paper dolls above us, Izayoi can be seen above them after they disperse. Chen intercepts the flying Maid to chain the assault.

Ran eyes up Meiling before swatting her hand and commenting, “Your task is clear. The location is clear, proceed.”

Meiling gets the message and grabs me by my waist, tosses Meira over her shoulder, and flies with all due haste towards the forest. Meira continues to complain about this and that as we retreat. I only wonder if Ran and Chen will be enough to stop Izayoi. Hopefully they can convince her to settle things with a danmaku match instead…

Another explosion sounds, and then another to follow that. Where they originate is obvious, but their source less so. We end up above the forest of magic, my view being only directly to the ground makes it easy to spot the myriad glowing flora of the area. If Ibuki and Kasen are fighting out there I wonder how that might affect the forest.

More importantly, would we need to stop them from fighting if they are? We need Kasen for her hermetic arts, but she needs to agree to help us for little more than good faith and virtue. She didn’t seem to care about either of those when she was stepping away from the tournament.

Another explosion sounds, very close this time. Meiling stops flying forwards. My momentum carries me into a swing that exacerbates the pain from the god damn knife in my neck. I do everything in my power to not flex the area. It doesn’t stop it from happening but does fool me into thinking that I’m able to do something for the pain.

We lower to the ground, a sure sign we’re close enough to worry about what we’re stepping into. Meiling gives me a moment to find my footing before letting go. Standing upright nearly tips me over, but I catch myself well enough. She carries Meira even as we walk, for whatever reason. Least to say that Meira is nothing but complaints over her position on Meiling’s shoulder.

We walk over to some light shining in the trees to find the dark and gloomy magic forest has a wide opening in the canopy. And given the damages, it’s new. Many trees have fallen over, some with holes taken out of them, others torn straight in half, one even looks to have been taken out of the ground by the roots. I’m beginning to think we might be on the right track. That or a very localized natural disaster occurred.

… You know, that isn’t even impossible in Gensokyo, now that I think of it.

“Ah!” a familiar voice greets us from one edge of the clearing. “What are you all doing here?!”

Reisen hops across the debris in the clearing, making her way over to us. She glances back up before slipping and falling over dramatically. She sits up with an arm over a log while taking stock of us. She’s been run ragged, if the folds and creases in her large ears are anything to go by.

“Oh my gods what happened to you?!” she panics. “Tanner, you’re injured again! Meira, how did you get a tan?!”

“Reisen, where did Kasen go?” Meiling ignores the rabbit’s questions to ask one of our own. She crouches down to eye level with Reisen, holding a keen stare to emphasize the weight of the situation.

“Uh, well… somewhere?” Reisen answers poorly, averting her eyes.

“This is serious, Reisen,” I push. Thankfully nothing seems to push into my airway.

Reisen scrunches up her face, and ears, as she admits, “I don’t know! They started fighting as soon as Suika appeared and have been tearing up the forest for the last ten minutes or so now. It started here, obviously, but they could be anywhere, which is really freaking me out, by the way!”

Damnit, so we do need to stop them from fighting. Hypothetically if we were to wait for them to be finished Kasen might be defeated, out of commission, or simply too worn out to help. That isn’t even to address the elephant in the room of how long they might fight or what else could happen in the meantime.

“Meiling, we’ll have to intervene in some way. There’s a lot of factors to those two fighting, all of which may reflect poorly on our situation,” I assert.

Meiling and Reisen look back at me, trepidation plastered to their faces. “You do know what you’re asking for, yes?” Meiling asks.

“I realize,” I stand my ground, “but if Kasen goes down in their fight we’re shit outta luck.”

“That ain’t even to talk about the racket they’re making,” Meira points out. “Shrine maiden’s probably on her way as we speak. This is sorta nextdoor, you know.”

A dark figure flies in through the trees and stops at the center of the carnage. A witch on a broom, which for Gensokyo translates to Marisa. She spots our group, colorful as we are, sitting on the edge of the treeline. She’s lost her iconic white apron, herself, making her an all black magician right now.

“What the hell is happening here?” she asks us on approach, hopping from the broom onto a log. “I miss some kind of party? I know you all were doing some martial arts thing but you look like someone forgot to declare a danmaku match. Even the old man’s hurt again.”

Is that how danmaku matches work? I suppose that tracks, given Izayoi uses her knives for danmaku normally.

“Hi, Marisa,” Reisen greets the new arrival from below, leaning against her log, “can you help us find our oni and hermit? We’ve misplaced ours and they’re going at it.”

Marisa leans down and prods Reisen with the end of her broom, commenting, “Going at it doesn’t quite cut it. I was having a peaceful session of potion brewing when I thought the sun bird herself came upstairs. I’m lucky my house didn’t burn down with my apron.”

“You’re lucky for that on a good day,” Reisen notes unhappily amidst Marisa’s continued prodding.

“Well, can’t deny that,” Marisa chuckles to herself. “Oni and a hermit, though? Did that weird Taoist piss Suika off? Odd pair that would be.”

“No, it was Ibuki and Kasen,” I inform, brushing my hand to wave away any thought of that aptly named ‘wicked hermit.’

Marisa changes her tune, replying, “Really now? Can’t say I’m surprised to hear Kasen pissed someone off, but Suika’s a tall order even for her.”

“Why are you all still dawdling?” another voice announces herself. We turn our views to a blonde girl revealing herself from behind the trees. A miniature person floats by her side. No, not a person, this must be the puppeteer Alice Margatroid and her doll. “You need to go after the two of them before they ruin the forest’s magic.”

She steps out into our view in the crater, adorned in a blue dress with extreme amounts of embroidery. The same applies for her long blonde haired doll.

“Yo, Alice!” Marisa merrily greets. “The fighting interrupt you from playing with your dolls?”

Alice glares at the merry witch but doesn’t bother to retort, she instead expands on what she just said to the rest of us, “If the two people fighting cause more openings in the trees like this one, the forest miasma will escape into the open air of Gensokyo. I hope I don’t need to explain to you all why that is a bad thing.”

“Hope you didn’t come here just to tell us that this is just shy of an incident, Alice,” Marisa bites at the dollmaker.

“We were going to try and stop them, too,” Meiling assents. She must be happy to have more people to help out. Meira and I wouldn’t be able to do anything in the first place.

“Well, as it just so happens, Marisa,” Alice bites back at the witch, stepping over to the log she’s on to gain the height advantage, “I already have a section of dolls monitoring where the fighting is happening in the forest. They’ve gotten to the Southern tip. I imagine Rinnosuke’s feeling shaken up right about now.”

“So we catch them as they take the fight back North, assuming they don’t want to leave the ground,” Marisa concludes, clapping her hands together on the broom.

They turn to fly off, but I catch them by interjecting, “Wait, hang on! What do you plan to do when you catch up to them?”

Marisa and Alice exchange a glance before Marisa turns back says, “Fight them in danmaku? Seems obvious to me.”

“You really want to duel two people in the middle of a fight? Two very strong people?” I can’t even begin to describe how wrong that sounds.

“I mean, if you say it like that…” Marisa concedes, crossing her arms to ponder the circumstance. She points back to me and asks, “You gonna tell me you have something in mind instead?”


[x] Use a rational argument? Bribe them? Promise booze? Whatever might work along those lines.

[x] Jump one of them. If we can subdue one quickly the other doesn’t have a reason to fight us. Hopefully.

[x] I can be pretty clever sometimes! (Write-in)

Yes I’m proud of the dog of the devil joke, sue me. I’m still debating on how exactly to tie this all up, but I’m definitely close.
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[x] Jump one of them. If we can subdue one quickly the other doesn’t have a reason to fight us. Hopefully.

Not sure how effective calm and rational conversation will be in this situation.
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[x] Jump one of them. If we can subdue one quickly the other doesn’t have a reason to fight us. Hopefully.
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[x] Use a rational argument? Bribe them? Promise booze? Whatever might work along those lines.

Violence is not the answer.
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>“You’re serious about this? You want to grab magic and that will be the same as grabbing Suika? I can’t say I know what you’re thinking.”

>I explain myself, “You said before that Ibuki has turned into mist. In my mind that would mean that she’s as small as particulates in the air, if not smaller. So if we can think of something that might normally effect her, we now need to do the same at a lower power for a greater volume.”

>“So you think that you can have Meiling manipulate life energy to drag Ibuki back to one spot?

[x] Have Meiling do that ^

I figure Suika is at least partially mist if only to dodge Kasen’s attacks. This will either bring Suika here, thus stopping the fight, or weaken Suika because there is less Suika available to fight Kasen, which will make Suika lose faster.

If Meiling pulls Suika here, everyone can surprise attack Suika to end the fight. If Meiling only pulls part of Suika here, the rest of Suika will probably follow to stop us from interfering with their fight, and then everyone surprise attacks the weakened Suika. Either way, Kasen is sure to follow to finish her fight and once she arrives we can get her to fix Meira, possibly after everyone subdues Kasen too.
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[x] Jump one of them. If we can subdue one quickly the other doesn’t have a reason to fight us. Hopefully.

Also somewhat unrelated but Sakuya just fucking stabbed us, I say we start being passive agressive with her at all times now cuz thats about as much retaliation as we can get away with. Like damn thats a bit excessive, Remi already punished us for fucking up so that was uncalled for.
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[x] Jump one of them. If we can subdue one quickly the other doesn’t have a reason to fight us. Hopefully.

I look about at the members of the group right here. I recall each of their abilities and a thought hatches amidst it, to which I say, “As a matter of fact, yes. I think I have an idea.”

“Oh?” Marisa voices her curiosity, landing back onto a fallen log to hear me out. “Go on, then. I’ve been wondering if you’re any clever since Kourin swindled ‘ya.”

“Well how does a blitzkrieg tactic sound? If we take out one of them in one go the other doesn’t have reason to keep fighting, right?”

Alice cups her chin in thought, cross examining, “Miss Ibara is one thing, but that bratty oni? I don’t like those chances.”

“I’m a non combatant and Meira shouldn’t go into a fight, but the four of you should be more than enough for either,” I argue. It’s almost scary how calm I’m being with a knife in my neck right now.

Marisa smirks at my confidence. “He’s right, Alice. Even just you and I would give anybody a run for their money. With that rabbit and narcoleptic we can probably work this out. ‘Sides, you want less holes in the forest. Making the fight as short as possible is the goal.”

Alice sighs at her cohort, “I still disagree with the subterfuge, why aren’t we able to push their fight out of the forest? Taking one of them out is excessive.” Alice remains unswayed, it seems. She’s surprisingly level headed despite the possible outcomes. I wonder if an emotional plea would work to change her mind.

Meiling steps next to me, Meira carried with both arms now, and tells the two witches, “We need Kasen to help us. If she fights Suika it might make her unable to help. Please, we need this.”

Meiling’s looked determined since we left the mansion. It might be right to say that she’s willful in helping Meira. The hard edge to her eyes is almost uncanny from the laid back attitude I’ve seen of her so far. She hasn’t acted haphazard or aloof in any way before, but the tightness of her expression makes me reevaluate that statement.

Alice eyes her down, seeming to hold back words of frustration, or maybe berating us for making our problems hers. Either way she seems to have regretted coming out now that she knows there were people looking to stop the problem for her.

“Ha!” Marisa gives a hearty laugh. “Like you can say no after this girl shows some earnesty? C’mon, Alice, she never even admits when I beat her and here she is asking for a hand. Show a bit of humanity.”

Alice lets out a long drawn sigh at Marisa’s cajoling. She relents, “Fine.”

“Alright, that’s more like it, pal!” Marisa muses. “Now who are we hitting, again?”

“Preferably we take out Kasen. She’s less likely to get out of a surprise attack,” I propose.

Meiling hums a disagreement, replying, “That sounds like a very poor choice. One that Kasen will surely be mad about.”

“Yeah, I’m sure she’ll get over being attacked, though,” I dissuade the uncertainty.

“No, you idiot, she means that little oni will run if we go after Ibara,” Meira bemoans. “If they’re fighting it’s probably for good reason.”

Sadly I think I have a semblance of why. There’s a world that could have been if oni could talk through their differences, but that’s very obviously not the one we live in. I always felt like America had conflict baked into its culture, but Gensokyo blows it out of the water. Enough musing, though, I have to save on my energy.

“Then I guess we’re forced to choose Ibuki,” I point out. “Meiling, you’re probably the one with the most combat experience, so how do you think the four of you take her out quickly?”

Meiling takes pause at the responsibility. She skews her face as the cogs turn. Her lips pop open to give us some wisdom, but is interrupted.

“Hey, uh,” Marisa cuts in, “why don’t you think on that more as we get moving? Alice is tapping her foot. That’s code for she’s about to have cow.”

“Have a cow?” Alice and Reisen question in unison.

“Her words, not mine.”

Alice reproaches her, “I would say no such thing!”

Another earth shattering crash sounds off nearby. I can hear the trees crack from here. Everyone goes to alert as if it happened on top of us.

I venture to comment, “I think we hear the point. Marisa, can you carry me on your broom?”

Everyone readies up, hopping from the ground. Reisen and Meiling take a second to remember that they can’t fly out of the magic forest. If we could the oni wouldn’t be fighting here by accident.

Marisa glides on her broom and catches me by the collar. Before I can ascertain her method I’m swept off my feet, gliding into the woods. My neck is pinched under my own weight, the intense sting at my shoulder is secondary for the second. The other members of the group give concerned looks as we pass but don’t cough up a word of help.

Through the many lights of the forest I can see the brushes and trees shudder the closer we approach to the fight. My pain eventually normalizes. I’d consider it to sit at a nine instead of a ten for the moment, letting my nerves coil up in the meantime. It’s almost like I’m able to feel what the forest feels…

“Do you feel that, Marisa?” Alice speaks up, flying ahead of us.

“Course I do. The mushrooms are gonna taste like adrenaline for weeks after this.”

“The qi is all off here. I didn’t know this forest was such a place,” Meiling comments from our flank.

A flash of rainbow light shines ahead of us, followed by the sound of an explosion. Marisa stalls out in record time, flinging me forward at my neck and causing my muscles to scream in agony around the sheathed knife. We float to the ground and I fall to my knees stifling a cough.

“I wasn’t gonna ask since you didn’t seem to mind it, but are you really fine with that knife in your neck?” Marisa asks crouching down next to me. “I mean, Reisen hasn’t even tried to help you yet.”

Reisen crouches next to me as well, looking at the area closely before confirming, “I can’t do anything right now with my tools at the mansion. Not like I can do more than give him painkillers, these bindings are fine unless I want to take the blade out.”

“The Yakumo fox didn’t seem worried, so we should stay focused,” Meiling commands. “I think I know what to do.”

Yelling can be heard in a newly formed crater, along with a series of rainbow light and fire.

Meiling waves everyone together to whisper her explanation, “Surprise attacks aren’t allowed in danmaku, so we need to do regular fighting. Alice, Marisa, sneak to the other side and wait for Suika to be distracted. I will get her attention and Reisen will confuse her.”

“Will that be enough? Seems pretty simple,” Reisen questions.

“If the distraction’s enough Alice and I can do it. We can break a mountain together, after all,” Marisa voices her confidence. She steps away from the circle and waves Alice behind her, sneaking into the brush.

Meiling sets Meira next to me and walks forwards. Reisen and I follow behind her as she broaches visibility on the fight. We keep low and out of sight, making sure Marisa and Alice have time to get into position.

It’s on a different level from their fight in the arena. Kasen and Ibuki are fighting without abandon, jumping straight across the open clearing in the blink of an eye. They go back and forth exchanging blows, both attacking into the other’s hits. Every strike produces a sound easily mistaken for a gunshot and powerful enough that it shakes the trees around us. They mix their abilities into each bout, Kasen using her bandaged arm to contort the angle of her strikes, reshape her hand into different weapons and sizes, reach around her opponent. Ibuki uses a myriad of tricks from launching balls of fire to swinging her chains into the ground to pick up dirt and throwing that instead.

Another trick Ibuki uses is what still catches the most of my attention. On numerous trades I can see Kasen’s attack pass through Ibuki as if she weren’t there, that split second in which she must be transforming into a cloud. I didn’t think she’d use it in combat but it only makes sense she could do so.

I tap Meiling off to my side, getting her attention and pointing up to Ibuki to ask, “Did you see that? Where she turns into a cloud.”

“Sure. It’s hard not to think about when fighting Suika,” Meiling replies. “What about it?”

“I had an idea earlier, but didn’t run it by you at the time. When Ibuki is in that cloud-like form, do you think you can manipulate her like you would chi? She’s small enough to be a particle in the air, so I wondered if she could be approximated to something like a magical energy.”

Meiling looks at me incredulously, then to Ibuki, and back to me to ask, “What?”

“Wait, Tanner, you’re on to something,” Reisen chimes in. “Kasen asked me to do something similar after dragging me outside. She said to look for where the air looked wrong and I pointed here. I thought the forest of magic was playing with my senses until Suika condensed in front of us.”

Meiling scratches the back of her head as she gauges the idea. “I’ll give it a try. I don’t know how I was going to distract her.”

Meiling stares for the right opportunity to do whatever she is going to try. I listen in to some of the yelling between Kasen and Ibuki.

“Like you could ever hold off on the alcohol for long enough to listen to me instead of it!” Kasen yells at the top of her lungs.

“To listen to your nagging?! I’ve had enough for several lifetimes already!” Ibuki responds.

This… is a fight between oni, right? Not a marital spat? I’m not sure at this point. They were containing themselves in that arena fight, and in more way than one.

Kasen swings her souvenir chain down onto Ibuki, swiping through the oni turned mist, and Meiling takes the chance to act. Meiling stamps her feet to the ground in a wide stance and fluidly curls her arms about. She flourishes into one arm above the other as if holding onto something in between. At first she isn’t, but given a few more seconds I can see a cloud begin to coagulate.

Looking back up, Kasen and Ibuki are still going as quick as they can. They beat into each other with their entire beings. That is, until Kasen raises a hand for them to stop. Ibuki tilts her head with a squeezed brow.

“Are you shrinking?” she asks her opponent.

Ibuki checks her hands, legs, and back. Looks like she finds something, as she then takes her gourd from its holster. She wafts it around, inspecting it thoroughly.

“Shit, I am,” she concludes, following with, “what the hell..?”

She searches the area for the culprit of this oddity. I stay as still as possible, to the point of holding my breath. This whole plan revolves around her finding Meiling and no one else. She scours the trees, floating just above the ground to see better.

“Ah!” she gasps. Meiling looks up to see that Ibuki found her. While that is the plan, I imagine it still isn’t the most comfortable feeling to be bait for someone that can literally crush you with their hands.

It looks like Meiling may have only just now had the thought cross her mind, as she blanches to Ibuki’s toothy grimace.

“What’s the gate guard doing here?!” Ibuki roars at Kasen.

“I wouldn’t know,” Kasen refutes the implied accusation. “This is clearly some kind of– would you wait?!”

Ibuki is already flinging herself at Meiling before Kasen finishes. Before getting to impact, Reisen breaks from her hiding spot to stare at Ibuki. The effect is immediate, as Ibuki veers off course and punches a tree next to Meiling.

“Ganging up on me?! That’s a dirty move, Kasen!” Ibuki roars again, flying back to Kasen. It doesn’t even happen in a straight line, and Kasen takes a moment to rest a palm against her face, clearly embarrassed.

In Ibuki’s riled flight, a great torrent of light flies from the trees and catches her from the side, deafening the entire forest around us. A laser so great and powerful that it appears barely stable, fluttering at the edges from white to every color in the visible spectrum, is what engulfs Ibuki. And that isn’t even to state the real size of the blast, with a diameter the height of an entire adult human. I hardly have to search my memory to know this is the signature move of one Marisa Kirisame, whose penchant for gross displays of power are… well… well documented.

The light shoots past Ibuki’s spot, the oni caught somewhere inside. While that alone is visually impressive, it looks like they came up with something more, as the great laser changes direction from somewhere deep in the forest. It changes again after that, and again, and again. A complicated series of reflections brings the laser all the way back to its origin, skirting alongside the initial blast. The beams combine constructively, causing a wavelike perturbation at the edge of the now single stream. The amplification feeds into itself, peaking at the point where Ibuki was, breaking the logs and ground some feet below with the shock waves.

Several seconds into the display of might, the initial beam stops, and the reflected onslaught dissipates soon after. The forest stands still and quiet. Kasen, too, remains tight lipped as she inspects the now charred body of Ibuki. Knowing the tales of the oni, she’ll bounce back from the damage quickly, but it’s safe to say she felt that one.

Marisa and Alice appear from the brush, a wisp of smoke trails from a gadget in Marisa’s hand. “Well, that was a showy way of boosting my Master Spark, Alice,” she compliments her partner.

“It was only possible with miss Ibuki so disoriented,” Alice notes.

“What do you all think you’re doing?!” Kasen yells out, startling Alice and Marisa.

Marisa rounds on the hermit, “What do you mean, ‘what do I think I’m doing?’ We’re stopping you from ripping this forest apart, jackass!”

“It was not in your right to stop! That goes for all of you!” Kasen shrieks.

“Well why don’t we put you into the dirt, too?” Marisa taunts, beckoning Kasen with a finger.

Wait, that’s not part of the plan, you idiot! What the hell does she think she’s doing?! We were supposed to diffuse the situation after taking one of them out, not press an advantage! How can I herd all of these cats back into line?

Gotta think of something.

[x] Play the villain angle. While Ran is gonna slap me silly after the fact, it will undermine Marisa’s provocations.

[x] Get in between the conflict, physically if needed. Surely they’re still aware enough to not shoot me.

[x] I can think of an alternative. (Write-in)

I wanted to add in more marital bickering between Suika and Kasen, but I held myself in. Let’s just say that I don’t imagine oni would make good significant others if you want a functional relationship, at least for the long term.
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[x] Get in between the conflict, physically if needed. Surely they’re still aware enough to not shoot me.
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[x] Play the villain angle. While Ran is gonna slap me silly after the fact, it will undermine Marisa’s provocations.
Interested on how this would actually play out.
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[x] Play the villain angle. While Ran is gonna slap me silly after the fact, it will undermine Marisa’s provocations.
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[x] Play the villain angle. While Ran is gonna slap me silly after the fact, it will undermine Marisa’s provocations.
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[x] Get in between the conflict, physically if needed. Surely they’re still aware enough to not shoot me.
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[x] Play the villain angle. While Ran is gonna slap me silly after the fact, it will undermine Marisa’s provocations.

“Marisa, stand down!” I shout, stepping out of my hiding place. Reisen and Meiling toss concerned glances my way, wondering what I’m playing at. Reisen backs off into the bushes, over to Meira. Meiling releases some controlled energy she was using to capture Ibuki, standing at my side where my partner usually is.

“Wha-? Tanner?!” Kasen barks. “I told you not to come after me, remember?!”

“You did, but I needed something. And fighting you is definitely not what we’re here for, Marisa,” I address the witch still ready for combat. Hopefully my shift in attitude is enough to throw everyone off and control the conversation.

She lowers her weapon and turns her broom to me. “I wanted her to stop fighting, that’s all,” she wiles.

“By taunting her to fight?”

“Ah, come on, it would’ve just been some friendly fighting,” Marisa croons with a wave of her hand. She silences herself when I glare back unamused. Alice shakes her head and drags Marisa out to the side of the clearing, leaving Kasen as the focal point of the area.

I attempt to rationalize myself, “Kasen, you’ve still got time to sort yourself out. Suika is right there. We need you to help with something here and now, though.”

“I’m not returning for the tournament!” she responds, the offense in her tone is warranted for the assumption.

“That isn’t what this is about,” I stave her anger off. “I need you to support Meiling here and heal Meira before we have a dead human villager on our hands.”

“Heal her? She’s gotten injured?” Kasen restrains her previous frustration to confirm the situation with me. “Does that have anything to do with the gift in your neck?”

“Uh, no, that was separate,” I talk around the subject, scratching at my cheek. “And not injured, per se. More like her spirit is ill. Ran confirmed it as some sort of boost to her spirit using a seasonal affinity. I’m not sure of the whole story, but it has to do with a god and their consorts.”

Marisa pipes up from the side, “Oh, that bitch? Ehh, she’ll be fine. Even Cirno handled it for around a week or so.”

“So I’ve heard. That doesn’t stop it from being dangerous if untreated,” I counterpoint.

Kasen grunts from the center of the clearing and states, “This couldn’t have waited until I was done? You interrupted something so important to me to save someone who would die in a week?”

“Woah, that’s not something I’d thought I’d hear you say, Kasen,” Marisa denounces.

I decide now’s the time to push the subject, “Kasen you’ve been acting different since you left the mansion, and whatever’s got you doesn’t seem to be for the better.”

“And what do you mean to say, exactly?” Kasen growls, glaring daggers at me.

“I mean it’s a good thing that I interrupted you because it doesn’t look like you would have actually sorted yourself out.”

“Come again?” Kasen states with the same low tone, perhaps a signal that this is my last chance to make sense to her.

“Frankly you don’t even sound like the same person I met a few days ago. That reserved and polite hermit is nowhere in sight right now.”

Meiling quietly turns to ask, “Tanner, what are you doing?”

“I’m doing my part, just wait to jump in,” I whisper to my side.

“Are you saying that I’m not myself?! You barely know me!” Kasen yells at me. She clenches her fists to the point of shaking.

“Maybe I don’t. But if that’s your argument, why bother hearing what someone thinks of you? Are you even out here to make up with a friend? To me it looks like you’re here to defend some fake personality,” I taunt.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I said exactly what she didn’t want to hear. Between the look of death in her eyes and charging me down, it’s safe to say she’s livid. I can hear Marisa and Alice shout in surprise as Kasen winds back her bandaged arm, contorting it into a single point. The strips of cloth twist as if it were a large drill.

With the shred of time I have I brace myself for impact, raising my good arm for the little protection I can find. I close my eyes and grit my teeth, ready for anything to happen. The sound of something hard hitting flesh rings out. A distinct lack of pain, other than the knife budging from a shock wave, finds me.

I open an eye, skeptical that I haven’t been hit. I see Meiling at my side, holding off Kasen’s attack with the palm of her hand. She isn’t looking at the point of contact, though, instead over to my opposite side. I swivel my head, noting another hand behind Meiling’s stemming from the large oni I met earlier, Hoshiguma.

The woman, built like an entire platoon of marines, tosses back Kasen’s weaponized bandages, flinging Meiling’s hand with it. Meiling catches herself and looks down at a considerable hole going straight through her palm. She’s only able to flex a few of the fingers, the tendons completely gone. I was close to death once again, if my abnormality couldn’t handle it.

“Kasen, what have you gotten yourself into?” Hoshiguma grumbles, putting her hands to her hips, as if scolding a child. “Suika told me you’d become docile or something. Yet here you are trying to kill a human. That doesn’t look right.”

Kasen looks shocked at the realization that she almost killed me, Meiling’s blood dripping from the end of her bandages. Doubt strikes her face, but she assuages herself back into whatever anger she’s channeling. “I’m just doing what you suggested, working out my issues with Suika and not letting anyone get in the way,” Kasen glowers back at the large oni. She points to me and finishes, “He, and the rest here, were getting in the way.”

Hoshiguma looks at me and Meiling, and then looks about at everyone else present, Meira and Reisen, Marisa and Alice, and the smoldering pile of Ibuki pinned to the ground. I wonder what’s going through her head seeing the conclusion to this odd string of events.

She scratches the back of her head, looking a little awkward despite so confidently stepping in. She shrugs and asks, “Feel free to laugh at me for saying this, but have you tried talking this one out?”

“And just how do you think this started?” Kasen counters. “We were talking but Suika decided to not be so civil.”

“Yeah, and? She’s always like that. Sometimes I wonder if she likes fighting more than I do…” Hoshiguma comments. She drops the tangent and continues, “Anyway, she’s only fighting you because she’s scared of talking through her issues. I mean, that’s the excuse I’d give.”

“As if!” Kasen bites. “She’s hardly able to put together a cohesive thought, much less proactively work against any real discussion about how she doesn’t like the life I’ve chosen to lead.”

“You’re overthinking things,” I assert. “Can you even put your problem into clear words?”

“I don’t need you two to give me life advice!” Kasen fumes.

“Does that mean she doesn’t..?” Meiling guesses.

Kasen roars in anger, “Of course I do!”

“Why not tell us?” Marisa shouts up, clearly meaning to mock Kasen.

“No!” Kasen thrusts her hands down, diminishing the seriousness of her anger.

“Ha!” Hoshiguma chortles. “Looks like I’ll need to stick around to be the voice of reason for you two idiots. I think that should be embarrassment enough for you!” She floats up over to Kasen and ropes an arm around her neck, finishing, “Just the three of us! The rest can fuck right off!”

“No, we can’t!” I call up to them, shaking my fist at their intent to blow me off. “We need to heal Meira and make sure we don’t cause a political break– guh!”

I let out a pained utterance as the knife in my collarbone is pressed down with enough force that the bindings of my tourniquet sink into flesh. It happens so fast that I only have the time to see a red and purple blur pass by, along with an instant of falling. Everything goes black before I feel the earth beneath me. There are no dreams or visions in this temporary loss of consciousness.

I’m unsure if seconds or hours pass when I come to. Someone’s hand shakes me as I stir back to life. The light against my eyes is still gentle and low, cracking them open confirms that it is still the early nighttime. Reisen sits above me, looking relieved.

“Oh, good, you’re fine. Meira got up and ran right past you. It was like she was in some kind of rabid fury.”

Reisen helps me sit up, the fresh coat of pain in my neck enough to disorient. I see everyone in the clearing restraining Meira. The area has a great many more cuts in the scattered wood and logs, much the same can be said for a few of the members in the group. Reisen supports me to my feet and we walk over to them.

Meira is knelt down, a series of strings, bandages, and magical light ties her every limb together. Her eyes are hollow, and her skin looks even darker than before. Her face is stuck in a fit of rage more befitting a demon than a human. Her sword lies broken next to her.

Meiling is the first to comment on my arrival, “Tanner, I’m happy you’re alive. Meira really surprised us. She put up a fight I didn’t know a human could.” There’s plenty of cuts to her uniform, one striking right across the star badge on her hat. She takes slow movements as if doing her regular tai chi practice, but some sort of energy flows around her.

Kasen doesn’t look to care about me, understandably, but does comment, “I can see why we need to take care of this now. Her servants aren’t usually this pushy with their power, but this is different.” She’s holding her bandages in her other hand, the magical appendage cut close to the base of her arm.

Reisen helps me sit on a felled tree, the grooves and damage uncomfortable against my rear, but I don’t have much motor functions to adjust it.

The pain was draining me before, but the sudden onset from Meira’s assault left me hollow. I can’t muster more than a sentence at this point. “Are you able to help Meiling get whatever’s in Meira out?” I plead to Kasen.

She looks at me, a clear contempt in her eyes at my prior moxie, and then over to Meira. The swordswoman looks almost soulless all of a sudden. Like she’s already a corpse being forced to sit upright. The sight is unsettling, to say the least.

“She even breathing?” Marisa mutters to Alice off to the side.

Kasen shifts her gaze in their direction, but returns to Meira after a few seconds.

She releases a haggard sigh, stating, “I don’t really want to help you, but this girl doesn’t deserve whatever this is. I’ll support Meiling. Everyone stand back.”

Reisen helps me back to the treeline, Alice and Marisa following up behind. Hoshiguma takes a quick detour to pick up Ibuki’s body.

We stand by as Kasen and Meiling get into their ritual, energies flowing around the two of them.

[Please wait warmly for spells to be performed…]

For whatever reason this chapter took me quite some time to think through. On the onset this section is very simple, but somehow I had trouble putting in the details to make it stick in any impacting way. I can only hope it came out sensical. Expect the end of Meiling chapter soon.
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No update for this week as I spent my time finishing up a piece for the Exhibition of Luck and Fate.

If you haven't checked it out yet, there's really good pieces written by who knows which authors of THP. If you want, you can even give commentary on what you think of the different pieces in the post that announced the event (>>/gensokyo/17300). I know I would love to see what people think of mine and where I can still improve!

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[… Continued]

Meiling and Kasen move in turns, like a tide rising and falling, controlling lights around them with no more than a wave of their hands. Their motions are directly taken from Meiling’s usual tai chi, but for some application I do not know. The glow of brilliant colors brightens and dims as it travels from one person to another, an illusory content that is kept real by their wills. After some time of this dance between them the glow becomes closer to sunlight and stretches between them. I hadn’t noticed at first, but the lights are able to pass directly through them, further muddying my understanding of this energy.

They beset the rainbow on Meira, her body being covered by the light with some force repulsing the energy like a congealed substance. It sits on her like a liquid, not the ethereal lights that pass through Meiling and Kasen. The two of them then stand in some unmoving meditative state.

Meira eyes the both of them like a caged animal, searching for a chance to strike out against her constraints.

“You know, what are we doing here?” Reisen asks in monotone. What we’re witnessing is definitely not my first thought of a magical ritual, to be fair.

“Well, I don’t think either of them want to deal with that girl if she got back up,” Hoshiguma counters, shifting the miniature oni in her arms.

“I don’t want to deal with her, either,” Reisen looks to the oni to retort.

I can feel my strength returned after the shock Meira gave me earlier. I use my given headspace to wedge into the conversation, “How bad was she, exactly? She put me down hard for a second there.”

“Bad enough to bury her blade into the oni’s arm,” Reisen answers.

“Come again?” I blurt, eyes widening at the mention of a monster like Hoshiguma being hurt.

Hoshiguma rounds her grip on Ibuki such that she shows her forearm. The damn thing being as thick as my leg is the first thing to catch my eye. The second is a near inch deep cut now half healed. That is no small feat to do to an oni. In fact, that’s approaching the level of old legends and the like.

“That secret god’s influence really packs a punch when you’re not thinking about it,” Hoshiguma comments, looking down at the deep red area. “Still had to pull it out for her. The little thing couldn’t get it with one arm.”

I hadn’t really thought about it, but maybe it was for the best that I was so worried about Meira. Had I realized earlier that she was a total danger to others? That’s likely. Her personality was volatile at best, but the extra strength she received made her arrogant. Though, maybe arrogance is deserved for those able to stand toe to toe with the bigger dogs.

Meiling and Kasen seem to reactivate, splitting off to Meira’s front and back. I’m not left to guess their intent for long as Kasen strikes her palm into Meira’s chest. The change in pace was sudden even for Meira, as her eyes roll in shock at the impact. She settles to the ground once more, a bit of spit escaping her lips. I don’t think it’s possible for me to imagine the pressure Kasen can put into her palm, but it’s definitely more than that.

Meiling takes her turn to strike Meira’s back, launching her target to Kasen. Kasen hits again, sending Meira into Meiling.

The force exchanges back and forth, an obvious oscillation forming between Meiling and Kasen. As the two keep pouring more of themselves into their strikes I swear I see the layer of rainbow light stuck to Meira tear away before reconstituting. Something is not only holding the magical substance from passing through her body, but also sticking to it.

The sheering strength Meiling and Kasen display continues to increase to the point of shaking the ground at their feet. Meira herself is in the middle of their torrent, her body bouncing to and fro. It’s clear to me by now that any normal person would be nothing but pulp in this barrage, so whatever they’re doing is not directly harming Meira. Mostly.

At one pass I see the white of Meira’s shirt, what should be covered by the rainbow energy. It’s sinking into her. With each subsequent pass I can see more of her torso until finally most of her red vest is visible. Kasen calls this to Meiling who in turn pulls back with both hands. She puts a foot forward to deliver into a great push creating a visible shock wave around her. To our surprise, this does not send Meira flying. No, what is sent flying is the rainbow colored energy as it rends apart into a single clump. Meira is caught by Meiling before falling to the ground, being set down gently.

The lump of rainbow dissipates, revealing someone with green hair and clothes. They fly with the force Meiling imparted. Their time in the air is short lived as Kasen promptly redirects them to the ground in a pin.

“Ow,” the new girl moans. I’m getting a weird sense of deja vu. She picks a shoe off the ground and places it atop her head. So it’s not a shoe but a hat? Nothing will be as weird as Keine’s, but that shoe looking thing is pretty up there. Kasen allows her the freedom to sit up, to which I see a plethora of bruises and blemishes marring her face. It’s a little clearer how Meira wasn’t exactly dying from that strange ritual. Though she also seems to be out of it in Meiling’s arms.

The green clad girl takes a look at the people around her, trying to put context to what is happening, and points to Meira in special note. She brushes the surrounding chunks of wood from her skirt as she gets up, taking a moment to look at the carnage of the forest as well, before smiling to say, “Does anyone need a dancer?”

“Now is not the time for jokes, Mai,” Kasen stuffs the cheeriness.

“Why, I never joke,” the girl, Mai, retorts. She checks the ground around her, picking up another dropped item, one stick of bamboo sharpened at a tip, and strikes a pose with it. “That was a genuine question as to whether any of you need my services. I was giving them to the girl there before being so rudely… painfully pushed out.”

“What you were doing was going to kill Meira,” Meiling drives the point of the conversation.

“Kill her? No, no,” Mai denies with a defensive shake of her hands, flapping the bamboo stick with it. “I was testing her ability to control life energy. It’s crazy, she can hold even more than that human witch.”

“So you were still scouting for your replacements?” Kasen comments. “Marisa did say something along those lines, though I really don’t know why Matara-jin would bother telling you to do it.”

The green clad dancer shrugs, answering, “It’s not our place to question a god as grand as Lady Matara. Although… oh! I know you!” she exclaims pointing the stick at Kasen. She then bows to continue, “Forgive the delayed greeting, but hello, Miss Ibaraki.”

“Sorry, but we’ll have to drop the formalities today,” Kasen shirks off the attendant’s politeness. “You will need to answer for putting a human villager in mortal danger.”

“Kasen, wait,” Meiling requests. “You said you were testing Meira?”

“Yes, I wanted to know how well she could handle large amounts of life energy,” Mai answers plainly.

“Why?” Meiling asks. Meira, still plenty conscious but otherwise subdued, gives a miffed look at the question.

“Why? Well, to see if she could take over my or Satono’s roles, of course. Did you only just join the conversation?”

“No, I mean why would you pick Meira at all? She’s very hardheaded about protecting the village. She wouldn’t want to abandon her duty for another,” Meiling elaborates. Meira looks away from the comment.

“What makes you so sure of that?” Mai asks in return.

“I don’t know her too well, but I can tell that she wants to protect something the same way that I do,” Meiling states. It’s easy to see why Meira is looking away with the tinge of red on her cheeks.

“You protect that mansion?” Marisa jokes from our corner of the clearing. Alice punches her over the head for the lack of tact.

“Yes, I do, and I’ll fight anyone who thinks I don’t,” Meiling holds.

“Uh huh,” Mai utters affirmatively. “So… that doesn’t have anything to do with me. If the girl here doesn’t want to serve Lady Matara that’s not her decision to make.”

“So that means it’s yours?” Meiling interrogates.

“Me? Nah. In the end only Lady Matara decides. I just tell her about people Satono and I find.”

“Would you not tell her about Meira?” Meiling requests.

Mai puts a finger to her chin, the bamboo stick behind, as she walks towards Meiling, answering, “There’s no reason I wouldn’t. She’s like the best candidate I’ve found so far. Strong but not too strong. Isolated from everyone around her. Nobody cares about her… oh, were you asking me to not report. Nah, I’ll still report. She doesn’t have ties to anyone, so it’s not like I have to fight for her.”

“I will,” Meiling states.

Mai takes a second to understand what was just said. She fails to do so, mouthing, “Huh? You’ll what?”

“I’ll fight for her,” Meiling claims rolling her shoulder in a stretch.

“Oh? You will you will? A Youkai fighting for a human?” Mai repeats over herself. She crouches down to Meira and prods her with the bamboo stick. “Do you see that? It’s a rare thing to happen, you know. Even mountain hags and tengu abandon the children in their care if they’re pushed enough. This Youkai is helping you for no reason, though.”

Meira’s mouth motions slightly to form words. If she says anything at all it’s no more than a whisper. Judging by the fiery glare she’s giving Mai, it probably wasn’t any form of thankfulness she feels.

Meiling lifts Mai to full height and pushes her away from Meira, stationing herself between the two. Mai hops a few times to get her footing on the various logs and looks on with a merry chuckle.

Meiling rests herself low on her knees, one hand back the other forwards. “That’s enough talking.”

Her eyes narrow watching Mai. One foot shuffles to scrape away some of the wood scraps left underneath. Mai’s wide mouthed smile shifts a bit as she cowers back into her bamboo pole. Meiling furls her brows, her face straining away from a relaxed disposition.

“Hey hey, we don’t need to do anything rash. I don’t really want to fight, anyway. I’m bad at it while Satono’s not around,” Mai attempts to placate Meiling, laughing pitifully to keep a light attitude. She shifts her eyes about, possibly looking for escape routes. “Listen, if you’re gonna be this serious, I’ll uhh… talk to the girl when she’s feeling better. No possession, promise.”

Meiling remains still as a statue. The dancer jumps when she does decide to move. Just when I think she’s going to jump into a strike she instead straightens and replies in level tone, “Leave.”

“Huh?” Mai utters, wide eyed. “Oh, uh, yeah. Of course. Don’t mind me…”

The dancer turns away and starts to scuttle across the logs. Not long after another person intervenes, grabbing Mai at the collar and lifting her off the ground.

“You’re not leaving the consequences of your actions so easily,” Kasen thunders. There’s a certain edge and snarl to her, more self assured than her bickering with Ibuki. “In fact, Ran was around not too long ago. I’m sure she’d love to sink her teeth into a troublemaker.”

“Please have mercy, Lady Ibaraki,” Mai whimpers grabbing at the front of her collar and poking Kasen with her pole.

“It appears I have more to do tonight,” Kasen mutters to herself. She looks back at everyone else present and barks commands, “We’re done here. Yuugi, hold onto Suika for me. I wasn’t done with her. Regis, where is Ran? I have a child that needs to be punished.” She presents Mai as if it wasn’t already obvious.

“She stayed back at the mansion. You know, telling my gift giver to go fuck herself,” I respond. While I want to gesture to the knife in my neck, my arm is occupied over Reisen’s shoulder for support. “We should go back before that idiot of a maid decides to hunt us herself.”

Kasen shoots me a scrunched brow and asks, “You expect Ran to lose?”

Oh shit, wait. Ran’s weakness is supposed to be under wraps still. I try to recover the slip up, suppressing any nerves as I answer, “No. But that maid is a serious headache who probably won’t give up.”

Speaking of Ran’s enfeebled state, I haven’t asked her how she’s doing lately. I don’t expect anything to have spontaneously changed, but then again it could have and Ran wouldn’t say a word, I’m sure. Hell, communication isn’t her strong suit in the first place. Yukari was probably the one that did most of the talking for her.

“Wait a minute,” Reisen stops my train of thought. “You need to go back to Eientei. I won’t let Ran mock me again as a medical responder.”

“Hah?” I scowl at my caretaker. “You’re telling me to not see through this event too? There was a lot of things that needed to come together for all of this to happen and I’m gonna see the end even if you tell me no–“

I can feel the moon rabbit grab the knife stuck in me and I shut up faster than I can think. I emit a small squeal as the last syllable is stifled.

“Meiling, grab Meira. She’ll need attention as well,” Reisen commands the gate guard. Meiling is surprised by the sudden attention as she’s been standing around looking over Meira’s collapsed form.

I voice a few more complaints to my captor of best interests as we make our way out of the magic forest, on foot, and arrive to the bamboo forest and then Eientei, on foot. Now that I’m away from all of the excitement the pain flows straight into my skull with every step. Not a second of straining my body was forgiven as I’m treated at Eientei overnight.

Having the knife taken out of my shoulder was unpleasant, as was the stitches afterward, but far worse than that is having to wait for news of the aftermath.

I didn’t think much of it while in the moment, but Ran wasn’t at her full capacity when fighting someone like Izayoi. I do wonder if she was hurt at all from the encounter… it’s a disquieting thought that she’ll pass it off as nothing even if she was.

On the bright side, I know that Meira is safe now. Until that Mai girl comes for her, anyway.

I try to force myself awake through the wee hours, but no amount of will can overpower a stressed body experiencing an adrenaline crash. When I come to, my watch tells me it’s already ten AM the next morning. Doctor Yagokoro’s medicines work some maddening miracles if I’m not able to feel the wound already. I check to be sure and the cut is still apparent, so whatever my body does hasn’t worked its way through yet.

A familiar visitor greets me during my quick inspection. Chen sits on my lap in cat form, prompt to mock me for sustaining another critical injury in under a month. I pass off her platitudes and ask for the summary of what happened after I left. She’s brief, but assures me that her and Ran ended their fight with Izayoi without either side getting hurt, to my relief. She was also surprised to see that Mai girl show up in Kasen’s hands. Not that she doesn’t cause trouble, but more because she causes trouble with her companion, the two nearly being joined at the hip in Chen’s words.

I could have let her continue to gabble about the two servants, her words holding an odd sense of faux rivalry, but I stop her when noticing Meira isn’t in the room. I don’t think Eientei has other recovery rooms, so it brings to mind some concerns. Chen assures me Meira looked fine walking out of the hospital, even exchanging a quiet word or two with her on the way out. Most importantly, Chen says I woke up shortly after.

I guess this is more of a question for myself, then. Do I follow after her? I can easily guess where she’s going, because I need to go there again soon, as well. I still have things to talk about with Meiling.

[x] Let’s head there now. I want to see if this episode resolves itself.

[x] I’ll head there later. I’ve stuck my nose in as far as I need to by now.

[x] I have something else I can do before going there, actually. (Write-in)

Something about this section gave me a lot of trouble with writing. I guess I’m having trouble concluding this chapter, but I also expect it to be the very next section. Of course, Mai was a lot of fun to write for. The slight tinge of crazy that disregards those around her is a fun archetype.
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[x] I’ll head there later. I’ve stuck my nose in as far as I need to by now.
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[x] Let’s head there now. I want to see if this episode resolves itself.

To the end.
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[x] Let’s head there now. I want to see if this episode resolves itself.

Let's go ahead and find trouble!
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[x] Let’s head there now. I want to see if this episode resolves itself.
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[x] Let’s head there now. I want to see if this episode resolves itself.
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[x] Let’s head there now. I want to see if this episode resolves itself.

Poor Regis getting bullied into accepting healthcare lmao
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Another week, and another time that I'm going to delay. While I could simply say I don't want to rush the ending to a chapter it would be more correct to say that I'm unsure how I want to handle a conclusion exactly. I'll have a good chunk of thoughts to share about this chapter after I do finish, be sure of that.
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[x] Let’s head there now. I want to see if this episode resolves itself.

I want to go after her. There was so much that happened yesterday and I saw the resolution to none of it. This, despite being present for everything before that final stretch, still leaves me unsatisfied.

I get my things together to leave as fast as I can. I’m lucky Reisen retrieved my pack and supplies when she went back to the mansion for her medicine box last night. I’m also lucky that my shoulder is only stiff as hell, and not still injured like it could be.

Dr. Yagokoro spots me on my way out. We extend a few pleasantries, but she doesn’t seem bothered that I’m escaping. The stitches in my neck look as good as healed, anyhow. I coax the muscles to lift as I step away from the conversation, and out the front of the manse.

I walk the marked path out from the bamboo forest with Chen at my side. She knows just where I’m going, but at this point I can only guess she enjoys humoring my pedantic wants. It’s better she’s here, as that means I am still under protection even with Ran not around. Supposedly Ran is taking care of that loose end from last night, which I understand how that would take priority.

In short time we pass through the village as well, a thankfully uneventful path without seeing anyone we know. I do not bother to ask Chen to fly me the rest of the way to the mansion, not because I don’t think she’d comply, but because I don’t think Meira is attempting to get there any faster than us. I’d rather catch her and Meiling in the middle of their conversation.

The walk is lengthy, of course, but that’s to be expected when I’ve gotten used to flying everywhere. Rather strange to think about, since I have no such ability.

Meiling stands at the gate, and, as I figured, she’s talking with Meira. The latter woman looks to be in a sour mood, no different than usual.

I approach their conversation, hoping to make myself a fly on the wall.

Meiling pauses mid sentence and shifts her eyes my way.

“You’re here again? Sakuya told me to send you off when you came next,” Meiling explains.

I gesture the question back. “Will you?”

Her eyes drift away in thought, returning to me as she decides, “No. The mistress said you’re not allowed inside, is what I was told. You’re out here, not inside.”

“Oi, don’t ignore me now.” Meira glares at Meiling, clearly wanting to return to their conversation before I joined.

Meiling grins, a mischievous look coming over her as she teases, “So you want to start from the beginning where you thanked me for saving you?”

“W-wha…” Meira utters, closing her eyes and looking away like an embarrassed child. “Should I not thank you?! I would be a terrible person if I didn’t at least do that!”

Meiling giggles at the shy human, “I think that’s fine. You’re not a bad person, even if you went crazy from the power.”

I can spot a tinge of red at the tip of Meira’s ears, only made more obvious by her purple hair. “Are we fighting or not?” she murmurs, fidgeting with the pommel of her sword.

“We can,” Meiling assents. She steps away from the gate onto the dirt trail, turning around to ask, “Were you serious about going all out?”

Meira fixes her gaze into the intensity she had yesterday, answering, “Absolutely.”

She steps opposite of Meiling, the dirt trail used as their dueling ground like I saw several days ago. Within that time Meira looks to have redoubled herself, her eyes telling a level of focus I could never hope to interpret. What’s going through her mind must be as serious as the tightness on her brow suggests.

Meiling doesn’t seem to be any different than her before. If anything, there’s a more genuine smile on her face as she’s facing down Meira. Not a surprise given her sparring partner here was in dire straits only about some fourteen hours ago. But then again, she’s been in the middle of something rather troubling. If we weren’t able to resolve Meira’s plight any number of consequences could have occurred. A human villager was close to suspiciously dying after joining a tournament geared toward Youkai and winning rounds. A troubling development for many sides, and one that could spiral out of control. I can’t help but feel that was the true intent behind that god’s servant in all of this. It’s also what’s stopping me from asking Ran the exact amount of time Meira had left.

The same worries don’t appear to plague Meiling, though, as she happily takes her fighting stance. One hand above and the other below, weight on the back foot. I didn’t talk with Meiling a lot yesterday, despite her being my… target, for lack of better terms. It leaves me to wonder if she ever felt uncertain with what was going on.

“Would you call the start for us, Tanner?” Meiling asks me.

“Uhm. Sure?” I accept, though I don’t understand why she suddenly cares. I turn to my side and joke with Chen, “You don’t think this is to make up for the tournament ending prematurely, do you?”

Chen scoffs at the thought, “It probably is. These two would want any excuse to fight more seriously.”

“Hurtful words, cat,” Meiling vocalizes.

I hold back some laughter at the commentary and raise my hand, calling, “Both sides ready. Begin!”

I can see both women jet towards each other from the corners of my eyes. They clash before my hand even finishes coming down. I jump back a bit, not realizing how close I was to the center of their dueling ground.

They’re locked against one another, Meiling holding Meira’s sword and hook at bay. They struggle for the upper hand before breaking off contact, Meiling hopping back with a few unnecessary flips and Meira sliding to a halt.

Meiling soars back in, her arms releasing vibrant rainbows in her wake. She gets under a slash Meira uses for spacing and strikes with a palm. The light floods out of Meiling’s arm like water from a cannon, dissipating with every meter it sends Meira through the air. She sits above the lake after being flung so far. The only thing stopping her projectile launch is the ability to fly. I shouldn’t be surprised when someone flies in Gensokyo, but at the very least I was expecting a regular human swordswoman to not do so.

She floats back to the ground and breaks into a sprint, keeping her sword blade behind her. Meiling stretches a shoulder as the human runs up to her at a breakneck pace. They collide again, Meiling stops Meira’s sword by striking the pommel, but misses catching the hook as Meira slides around and under using her built up momentum. She tears at Meiling’s side, though only a glancing blow as it isn’t the correct angle for the hook to dig in.

Meiling pats the wound, checking to see that it did draw blood. She emits a little hum in recognition of the sight, raising her blood covered hand to beckon Meira.

Meira is all too happy to oblige, launching assault after assault against Meiling, who hardly retaliates against the effort. Is she perhaps sizing up Meira, seeing if she’s any different after yesterday’s episode?

I don’t have time to amuse the thought as Meiling shoots an uppercut into Meira’s gut so powerful the magic behind it bursts out in a ring. My hair bristles from the residual force, the main impact sending Meira sky high. It’s a solid four seconds of staring up that I can’t tell if Meira is rising or falling.

“Wow…” Chen mutters, shielding her brow with a hand as she looks up as well.

When it’s quite clear that Meira is falling again, Meiling leaps straight after her. The initial motion leads me to believe she’s going to kick Meira on her way down, but something changes her mind, as she puts her legs back and stretches out her arms. She catches Meira in her arms and fights the transferred force plummeting her.

Her feet slam the ground with a thud. She looks down at Meira with some level of disappointment, tossing her unceremoniously away.

Meira rolls to a stop on the dirt, keeping her sword in hand through all of that, and whips her head back up to shout, “You didn’t have to toss me, asshole!”

“No different than before…” Meiling states. She looks indifferent, all of a sudden. Did Meira do something wrong in some way?

“Come again?!” Meira snaps back, propping up to her feet by her sword.

“You didn’t grow from that power,” Meiling reasserts. “Nothing changed.”

Meira points with the pommel of her sword as she retaliates, “Fuck you ‘nothing changed.’ I know there’s more for me to gain.”

Meiling narrows her eyes, a sort of demeaning air hangs around her. “Are you an idiot? We both knew that all along. I thought you found your path to it after being so drunken.”

Meira’s grip on her sword tightens, jaw clenching under furrowing brows. She rushes at Meiling again, her sword whistles through the air as she strikes. Meiling redirects it with a single, somehow lethargic motion. Meira follows through before realizing what just happened. Her face reddens, any more frustrated and she might pop a blood vessel. She takes another swing at Meiling, a similar motion deflecting her attack.

“See? Nothing,” Meiling comments on her ease in fending off Meira. “I thought there was something different, so I let you play a bit.”

“Play?!” Meira shouts. “I’m not gods damn playing! Take this seriously!”

She takes a few more swings, but it’s all the same. Meiling did get hit earlier, so what changed?

Meira backs up a step, uttering, “Wha–“

Meiling grabs her collar, tossing her overhead into the ground. She looks down to emphasize, “I am taking this seriously. You’ve stopped improving.”

Meira sits supine for a few moments, looking up into Meiling’s eyes, before asking, “The hell? So you’re saying all of that was for nothing? There wasn’t a point to any of it?!”

“… Maybe,” Meiling admits, sitting down on her knees. “I don’t think feeling the power was enough for you to know it.”

Meira stays flat on the ground before sucking in a sharp breath and sitting up to face Meiling, resting her good arm on an upturned knee. She swallows and screws up her face as she asks, “What do I have to do? How do I go forward?”

“How…” Meiling intones. She glances to her side, to me and Chen, and waves us over.

We place ourselves next to them. I put my stuff down and get my notebook out just in case.

Meiling gestures to Meira and asks me, “What would you tell her to do?”

I ponder the question for a second, confused by the very nature of it. I point to myself with my pencil, questioning the obvious, “You’re asking me for advice on fighting?”

“I’m asking you how you’d grow any skill,” Meiling reframes her question.

I deliberate on an answer, thinking of what general words of wisdom I could possibly give that’s actually helpful.

I decide keeping my thoughts as simple as possible is probably for the best, answering, “You know, wouldn’t you want to just find somebody that knows the skill well and learn it from them?”

Meira clicks her tongue at my answer, not entirely unexpected. “What do you think I’d do if I could? None of the villagers are trained swordsmen anymore. Even before spellcard rules were there the village was going towards other weapons. It made more sense for them to use spears to stay away from things people were shooting guns at.”

Meiling perks up at the explanation, following with, “There are swordsmen in Gensokyo, though.”

“Like I’d take a Youkai as my teacher,” Meira shoots down. “Besides, no one’s gonna be using a style a one armed reverse grip sword wielder would.”

“To be fair, Youmu uses two swords. Not as common as you think.”

“If I may,” I interject, “does Meira need to look at fundamentals, you think? What’s stopping her from practicing her heart out?”

“You want to kill the woman you all were working so hard to save?” Chen yokes the easy joke from my statement. I give her a sidelong raised brow in admonishment of the behavior.

Meiling shifts a hand under her chin to choose her words before saying, “Maybe not the basics.” She looks back to Meira and continues, “I think you need to control yourself more.”

“Control myself?” Meira repeats, nonplussed by the suggestion. “You noticed my whole thing is fighting with anger, right?” She waves her hook around to accentuate her personal flair.

“Very Youkai-like, too, don’t you think?” Chen notes. I don’t dare argue her on that.

“Stout words for someone in hooking distance,” Meira threatens. “I don’t see the problem here if I’m slaying Youkai to protect the village.”

“But are you?” Meiling asks.

Meira eyes her down, befuddled at the insinuation, and growling, “Hah?”

Meiling throws her hands in front of her, wanting to stop Meira from jumping to any more wild conclusions. At least, I hope. She elaborates, “I’m asking if you’re killing Youkai to kill Youkai. Would you fight if there was no one to protect?”

“That’s a stupid question. Of course I’d fight, since I’d still be fighting for me,” Meira rebuffs.

Meiling nods to herself. “Mm, I guess that’s not a surprise,” she dourly confirms.

“Seriously, are you trying to pick a fight? I don’t get you.”

“That line could feed a starving family of ten coming from you,” Chen mocks. “Maybe you should read between the lines a bit with what the gate guard here wants to say?”

“You lost me,” I beggar. “I get that you’re going for some point to your questions, Meiling, but I think you need to be more direct.”

“Hmm,” Meiling hums, cupping her chin in thought. “Looks like I’ll have to tell you a story, after all.”

“What do you mean, ‘after all?’ Did you not want to tell it before?”

“Oh, yes. You’re like Lady Patchouli, so quick to finish other’s thoughts,” Meiling teases.

I dissuade her banter, “The difference here being that the opposite would turn you to ash. Why didn’t you want to tell me this story if it’s important?”

“Being pushy for other people’s dirt isn’t so charming, is probably one factor,” Chen admonishes me, now. I eye her down, feeling fed up with her cheeky attitude by now.

“No, I don’t mind if he asks,” Meiling rejects Chen’s assumption. “I don’t talk about the past as much as the present. That’s all.”

“So it’s a story about your past?” Meira tracks.

“Yes… but… how to start it,” Meiling laughs, scratching the back of her head to feign some level of awkwardness. I doubt it’s a story she’s not told before. She’ probably trying to lower our expectations.

She drops a fist onto her thigh, telling us, “I think I know. Lady Remilia has never left Europe before Gensokyo.”

She pauses, eyes wide and begging for someone to find the obvious contradiction.

I play along to keep the conversation moving. “But if she was in Europe all along, how does she have a servant from China?”

Chen shakes her head, eyes upturned. You can only be so much of a bratty teenager, you know.

“Well, I traveled to find Lady Remilia, of course,” Meiling answers with a smile.

“To find her? Did you know her beforehand or something?” Meira notes the oddness in the statement.

“No, this is where I talk about the start of the story,” Meiling deliberates. “In the long past of China, an earthly spirit wandered. A woman who looked no different from a human, except that her hair was red like a great dragon’s.”

Somehow I feel like I know where this story is going.

“China was dangerous, with every mountain the spirit would find the great beasts and monsters that roamed like her. Their fights with her were quick, never more than a leaf’s fall from branch to dirt. This wandering would happen for many seasons. So many seasons. She would see humans war with each other many times over before eventually the beasts of the road stopped fighting. Soon the monsters stopped, as well. The spirit did not know anything but strife, and so she went after these creatures. But since they would not fight back, the spirit would instead ask for a stronger opponent. With each creature she found, she would hear of a new one stronger than the last. This lasted many more passing seasons until finally she fought a creature lasting the time of the human’s great conflicts.”

“Question!” Chen raises her hand, eyes bugging to feign a sense of innocence that she has long since lost with me.

“Yes, cat?” Meiling allows.

“Was the spirit the one starting these fights?”

“No. The creatures always threw the first strike, although they were deflected.”

“Wow,” Chen chimes in awe like a schoolgirl. I’m… beginning to feel concerned if she genuinely finds Meiling’s story admirable.

“The spirit was not happy with that last opponent, though, and so she turned to humans to find even stronger creatures. Those creatures that hide away to not cause trouble. She would find them, and their fights would be great. Once, when returning with her greatest foe, the head of a qiongqi, she would hear names whispered in that village. Those who admired her would whisper Meiren, and those who feared her magic would call her Hong, the two headed rainbow serpent. The spirit would name herself Hong Meirin in amusement, not realizing it was her first time thinking of something that wasn’t fighting.”

“Yes, we know it was you, Hong,” Meira pressures the story teller. “Less dramatics and more story, please.”

“I’m almost there, stay seated,” Meiling states lightheartedly. A feat in itself when facing Meira’s moodiness. “The spirit didn’t have anything else to find in China, but she did hear of things greater outside of it. She had decided to go for the strongest of them all, the greatest of the creatures called vampires. Word of them spreading across the entire world must not have been by accident, and even more when the tales were about one whose name was Scarlet. Fitting for the spirit. And so she traveled. Across the world she didn’t know, and to Europe. After a great journey spanning months the spirit found the great monster known as the vampire Scarlet, and they fought. Lasting no more than the falling of a leaf, the spirit lost, for the first time.” Meiling pauses as she finishes, tumbling the idea of continuing on her face. She must veto the thought, as she remains silent for another moment.

Meira leans in, a hint of disbelief as she says, “After all that? No fancy words to make the story stick, you just came up to your boss and lost to her?”

“Yes,” Meiling confirms.

“… Are you gonna tell me the point of that story?” Meira asks, gesturing for Meiling to speak up.

Meiling smiles, almost saintly, as she asks the dreaded returning question, “What do you think I told you that story for?”

Meira and Chen lean back and groan in unison. The beleaguered duo have some kinship in their hatred of lectures. It’s enough that I’m forced to stifle a straight up chortle at their antics. Chen slaps my knee for the trouble.

“Yeah, no thanks,” Meira outright declines. “I’m not here for guessing games, and I don’t need that kind of guidance. I’m going.”

She gets up and starts walking before any of us drum up an excuse for her to stick around. What a troubling person she is. She’s probably poking hornets nests in her spare time with an attitude like that.

“I’ll wait for your answer tomorrow!” Meiling calls to the woman.

“… So,” I return my attention to Meiling. “Is there really a point to that story, or did you want to share it because you see your old personality in Meira?”

“Whatever do you mean?” Meiling asks, playing coy as she gets up and dusts her knees off.

“Don’t act like it’s hard to spot the parallels,” I complain. “And furthermore, how much of that was even true? You can’t convince me that an ancient Chinese village had a split opinion of you rather than unanimous fear.”

“Believe what you want. I don’t mind,” Meiling dismisses my criticisms, trailing back to her post and leaning on the wall.

“Hey, wait,” Chen chimes in, “why did you leave China, anyway? If you wanted stronger things to fight weren’t dragons all over the place?”

Meiling’s playful smile seems to freeze in place at the suggestion. “… It was fate that I met Lady Remilia, that’s all,” she weakly defends the inconsistency in her story.

“Holy shit,” I mutter, coming to a realization. “You hit the same wall Meira did, didn’t you? Everything you could have fought at that point was entirely out of your weight class.”

She scrunches her lips together, a hint of red at her cheeks. Chen giggles and elbows the poor woman for trying so hard to emulate the cool and mysterious mentor. She see her whole past persona in Meira. I guess that explains a bit.

“But that’s the past,” Meiling asserts. “Life is better after I met Remilia.”

And we’ll call that the formal end of this chapter. Before I start my thoughts, a vote for the usual:

[x] Yea side story!
-[a] Shrooms…
-[II] A wolf (and a dude)…
-[3] Lookalike…

[x] Nay side story! Let’s move on!

But now for a short post mortem, since this was probably the longest section so far, but with so little going on under the hood. I felt I went a little too grandiose for this story structure, and while parts of it were fun, an entire tournament isn’t something that can be done in the chapter lengths that I’ve been doing. At the very least, I needed to subtract so much of the granularity. I also could have done much better without playing into myself on that subplot between Kasen and Suika, which I won’t be able to fit in a conclusion to, either. They’re big girls, they can work it out. But if I spent that same time going over a strict dynamic between Meiling and Meira, something that would more naturally lead to this last section here or at least foreshadow it properly, I might have felt better about it all. That all said, writing grumpy Patchouli was super fun, and absolutely my favorite part, even if you can easily argue that she’s quite out of character for caring about what others might say.

If you, yes you who are reading this, have any thoughts to share, I’d adore every word spent before we move on to the next chapter (which is probably gonna have a lot of melodrama because I’m just like that).
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I want drama!
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[x] Yea side story!
-[II] A wolf (and a dude)…
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[X] Nay side story! Let’s move on!

I don't think it's a good idea until the end of next chapter.
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[x] Yea side story!
-[II] A wolf (and a dude)…

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[x] Yea side story!
-[3] Lookalike…

Found you, Faker!
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[x] Yea side story!
-[II] A wolf (and a dude)…

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[X] Nay side story! Let’s move on!

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[x] Yea side story!
-[II] A wolf (and a dude)…

State: Hong Meiling observation: Day 11
Time: 10:50 AM, Midday
“Listen, Ran, I don’t know why Keine asked for grapes, but it’s here on the list. If you really want to see it, then take it,” I bicker with my cohort as we walk through the village streets, pushing a piece of paper her way. Keine left the note on the living room table this morning so that I can run the errands this week, as we’ve come to agree is the state of normalcy. A corner of Ran’s lips lift ever so slightly as I continue to poke and prod her, her stoic demeanor being challenged by nothing but childish teasing. It’s really a wonder that Chen doesn’t try to get a rise from her like this.

Ran grabs the page to dissuade any more of my antics, and returns to her usual expression to state, “Whether Kamishirasawa desires grapes is of no concern. The grapes should have ripened and thus harvested around this time of year, but if the veraison period finished early due to the high temperature summer there may be no grapes available.”

“Well how many people sell them? Or… no… how many people grow them?” I ask for details. “It’s weird to me that grapes are grown in Gensokyo in the first place. Not much land mass to make a vineyard with.”

Ran sniffs in amusement at the sentiment, “The humans do find no shortage of niche specializations in this village.”

“What do you mean?”

“As the season changes, what do you imagine the farmers who finish their harvests do with their time?”

“Drink and rest?” I guess with the most typical Gensokyan mindset possible.

“Somewhat, but outside of their maintenance work most would find hobbies that aid their domestic lives. Some learn to seam, others to help care for stock animals, but a few have taken to more eclectic ideas. In this example there’s only ever one or two farmers alive that care about vineyards, but wine, like many forms of alcohol, have not been completely unknown to Gensokyo.”

As Ran continues to explicate an entire thesis on Gensokyo’s people, an odd figure passes a crossing ahead of us, cloaked by the crowd surrounding her. The sight possesses me to stop moving, though I can’t place why that is.

“Hm,” I grunt, skewing my brow at the sight.

“Is something of interest to you?” Ran asks from a pace ahead, turning to follow my gaze into the street.

“No, I just saw a woman wearing a shawl. I don’t get what drives people to bundle up more the second the weather isn’t trying to kill us of heat stroke,” I sigh. Really I’m hoping it was nothing and whatever tickled my lizard brain was purely paranoia.

“A shawl…” Ran considers my choice of words. “It’s not unwarranted in direct sunlight, albeit several degrees warm for comfort. Was this woman wearing a dress? If so, what color?”

My eyes narrow habitually. “I don’t like that line of questioning, Ran,” I retort. “What’s got you asking like it’s a specific individual?”

Ran removes a hand from her sleeve, signaling me to stop. After a moment of terse silence she insists, “It is no concern of yours. To sate your incessant curiosity, however, there is no trouble bound to the hypothetical individual.”

She folds her arm back into her sleeve, finished with her piece. An unsatisfying answer to my concerns, but she did deny that there’s any trouble afoot, so that’s good.

I start walking again, ready to get back to the usual errands, but then something more than coincidental stops me in my tracks.

Kazegou, one of the village guard, passes the same crossing, and headed in the same direction as the woman from before. It’s been a while since we went out drinking together, as he’s been posted endlessly at the Northern gate. When I asked another guard as to why, they were quick to mention that he’s covering for any nonsense a certain friend of his might drag into the village by accident. It doesn’t take a sharp man to notice the parallel between my trips and his posting, nor does it take a quick man to realize that he might be away from that post right now.

Ran eyes the stout guard as he passes by, and then looks again at me. As if reading my mind, she warns, “There are circumstances better to be ignorant of.”

“Very ominous,” I reply, though in monotone. “In what sense do you think I’m not going to bring it up with my drinking buddy? We both know how I am.”

“Unfortunately, yes. You are like that,” Ran does not compliment.

The conversation dies thereafter. My mind is made up on the matter, and I figure it’s the same for Ran. We can’t bring ourselves to idle chatter, and so we quietly go through the motions of running errands.

The evening comes, and I excuse myself from the house to hound out Kazegou. He’s put himself back to his station at the Northern gate, but it doesn’t take much convincing to steal him away for some drinking. The other guard present is miffed by this frivolousness, but Kaze is quick to point out how they did the same a few days prior, leaving him alone at the front. The guard scoffs, but doesn’t have any grounds to complain as we wander off.

We end up at a usual haunt. The same bar that decided to try making whiskey based on my description last month. The giant of a bartender has been making good business off of the new drink, the bitterness so different from the sake usually held in every home, restaurant, and workplace in the village. While I do enjoy the taste of the drink that reminds me of home, I’m sure to work in moderation. It’s a little thing I’ve learned from several nights drinking with Keine that humans, and nonhumans for that matter, like to boast their tolerance to the poison of alcohol when really they’ll get smashed all the same. All I need to do is be frugal with my cup and I’m right as rain.

Of course, it helps that Kaze himself is much more of a lightweight than his brutish exterior lets on. You’d think that a man who looks more like a bear with long hair would be able to drink my weight in beer, but that’s surprisingly not the case. In short order we shoot the breeze at whatever mundane bullshit we can conjure. At some point I sneak in the topic of interest, noting that I saw him in town earlier today.

“… Ah, yeah. I was patrolling,” he slurs after a pause. A poker table would have his wallet, to put it lightly.

“See anything of interest around town?” I goad, attempting to force my tone to a jovial trill, as if I were telling a joke instead of questioning.

“Mm… nah,” he mumbles, taking another swig of his drink after.

So he either doesn’t want to say or it really was a coincidence. Still hard to even imagine how that could be the case, seeing as Ran was sure the woman was some person of interest. Maybe I should approach this at a different angle.

I play off his comment, “You know, I guess it has been quiet lately. The only thing that can weird me out by now is how early in the year the women put on layers. Honestly, I saw a woman waltzing around in a shawl in this heat!”

His glass stops halfway to his lips. He squints his eyes, seemingly piecing together a coherent thought from what I said.

“Tanner, what are you on about?” he reflects my questioning. “What’s this really about?”

“What? I’m just making conversation,” I back off.

Kaze sneers at me, “You’re not as slick as you think, ya know.”

“Well now you’re just being rude!”

We’re able to laugh off the exchange for the moment and continue our bout of drinking for a while longer. By the time we’re out of the door, Kaze can barely stand straight. I have to haul him around back to his place, but on the way a familiar figure crosses our path once more.

The same woman as earlier today walks towards us on the road. She averts her face from us, but the red shawl makes it more than obvious it’s the same person. She’s wearing a white western style dress, but there’s something about the design including black and red that I feel like I recognize.

We’re about to walk past her, but Kaze stops, almost accidentally toppling us over.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he grunts, the alcohol doing no justice to his pronunciation.

The woman looks at him, face still obscured in moonlight, and notes, “You’re drunk, Kaze. Please just go home, will you?”

I keep my mouth shut. He got pissy when I pried, so I’m still unwanted in this conversation.

“Well, who’s to say being drunk wouldn’t work better for me?” he bites back. His hand reaches for the sword at his hip, basically on him at all times.

Before I’m allowed the chance to interject, he draws it in a flash, sliding from my hold to strike the woman. The weapon clangs against something that rattles. I shift to the side to see that Kaze’s sword was stopped by the woman’s hand. Or rather, the woman’s nails, elongated much like I’ve seen Chen’s do. It was obvious by the way Ran was talking that this woman is a Youkai, but those claws really demonstrate the danger posed here.

She raises her open hand to slash at Kaze’s arm, slicing clean through the armor like it weren’t there. He retracts the injured limb, a slit of blood forming on the forearm, and shoulder checks the woman from his sword. With a swing to follow he buries the blade in her side. Her hood perks up as she elicits a pained cry, something between a person’s and an animal’s.

Doors start to slide in the area, candlelight poking through as people investigate the commotion. The woman swivels her head around, spotting the numerous shadows looking our way. I can hear murmurs start as neighbors attempt to understand what’s happening. The woman forces the blade from her stomach with one hands and pushes Kaze over with the other. She jumps up to the rooftops and out of sight, causing a few gasps from the growing crowd.

I help Kaze to his feet, though he seems no worse for wear outside of his arm. He looks down at his blade, hesitant to wipe the blood from it, but does so to sheathe it, looking uncharacteristically depressed.

“Kaze what just happened?” I ask the downtrodden man.

He looks at me to snarl, “Fuck off, Tanner.”

Unwilling to exchange any more words, he stumbles away, the alcohol hurting his pace more than the bone deep wound he’s casually ignoring.

I feel a prick at my neck, though can tell by now where that near hallucinated feeling originates. I stow away in a tight alley between the houses and wait.

“Warnings are meant to caution from ill advised actions. You have ignored the signs numerous times already,” Ran’s voice lectures me from above, marking her entrance as she drops down. She barely fits in this tight of a space with the mass of fur that is her tails.

“And what, are you going to tell me what just happened? That was a Youkai in the village that a village guard attacked on sight. Not a good look from the outside,” I retort.

“A final warning, Regis,” Ran addresses my demand, “that if that guard were to find you know of his conflict, you would be no more than a sycophant pest in his eyes.”

I don’t answer right away, I instead try to gauge if Ran is attempting to spook me away from the conversation or is dead serious. It’s a stupid line of thought, really, since she’s never not serious.

I answer with certainty, “Tell me.”

She breathes out heavily, though I can’t place the exact reason, and starts, “Do you know the guardsman’s family name?”


“Correct. You have likely read that name elsewhere.”

I dredge up the memory of when I first met Kazegou. His family name and last name being so similar suggested a rather troubling connection to one of the many Youkai I read up on, but I thought it was absurd to even ask back then.

“The werewolf, Kagerou Imaizumi. That’s where you’re going with this. They’re actually related, then?” I conclude.

“Correct. The two are related by blood. Many years ago it was a tightly kept secret that a human villager birthed a Youkai,” Ran explains.

“’Birthed?’ You mean the werewolf was born that way?”

“Correct. Even Lady Yukari was uncertain as to the exact reason of this birth. It took multiple years of observation to conclude that the werewolf was of a dead specie of wolf. Within that time frame the girl and her brother aged to eight winters.”

“Both of them?” I note. “Does that mean they’re actually twins?”

“Though inconsequential overall, yes. They were born at the same time. More importantly, do you know a seldom discussed rule of the village? One imposed on the village as part of Gensokyo’s balance.”

“Human villagers must not become Youkai,” I answer matter-of-factly. “Even Keine had to explain that one to me in hushed tones. That gives me more questions as to why the werewolf woman is alive, then.”

“It’s a special case,” Ran elucidates. “One the previous Hakurei shrine maiden held. The girl was born a Youkai, and thus was not a human transformed into a Youkai.”

I think on the implications of such a ruling, and conclude, “Isn’t that rather…”

“Loose. Lady Yukari agreed. Kagerou Imaizumi may be one of the only exceptions to the rule that will ever be allowed, though not as a form of precedence. The parents were swiftly pressured to banish the child from their home before it ever became public knowledge.”

“That doesn’t explain Kazegou, though. Why did he attack his own sister on sight?” I press.

“He is a village guard. His duty is to eliminate Youkai from the village. He is simply inundated with the doctrine of his work.”

“Enough that he’s willing to fight with his own family to the death? That’s insane! Tell me you’re messing with me again! None of that can be true!”

“It would be less trouble if it was a fib. Unfortunately it’s reality for those two.”

I’m unsure how to respond to a story like that. Kazegou never seemed troubled to me, but being in a position like that. He’s made himself duty bound to a nightmare.

“I’ll need some time to process this,” I tell Ran.

“Perhaps remind yourself that this conversation also started with a warning,” Ran chimes.

I ignore the comment and return home for the night, unsure of what I should do with this new information. None of it is really actionable for me without outing what Ran told me about, but it’s also too heavy to pass off as a non issue. I mean, the guy’s my drinking buddy, I would hope I could do something for him.

Sadly, that isn’t in the cards for me at this time, and it may never be. I’ll just have to hope otherwise.

I could have put much more to this, but it would have been mostly minor details every which way. Another option would have been to condense the conversation with Ran at the beginning to summary only, but I’d rather get to the next chapter than to worry about editing this section since this will come up again some time later.
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State: Hong Meiling observation: Lecture Day
Time: 2:36 PM, Afternoon
That was a strange lecture. I didn’t expect Izayoi to show up out of the blue like that, given her parting gift the week prior. She was at least fine with speaking to me when delivering Meiling’s meals, but kept a cold attitude I’ve come to expect. She seems much more sociable when off duty, though. Then again, that’s not saying much when I’m thinking about someone with negative sociability. Maybe I should count my blessings that Ran didn’t disdain me that much.

Murano stands from her seat, setting aside the page her typewriter was printing to, and walks over to me carrying a new pile of papers. She sets them down on the front desk and smirks at me, asking, “By ‘public request?’ That’s news to me.”

“A little white lie for the people coming to these. Nobody’s gonna check if it was true or not,” I dismiss her scrutiny. “For that matter, you wouldn’t happen to know who actually wants these, would you? And don’t answer the village elders, because I know it’s not them.”

Murano puts a hand to her chest as if hurt. “How rude that you’d assume I have anything to do with your troubles, Tanner,” she answers. “I get the papers from Lady Hieda’s discretion and come to you with them. The most I know is the name you’re going to barrel into next.”

“Barrel into? I’m not some thug taking people’s money.”

“And yet you were so rude to that poor maid.”

“That was different,” I swat away the accusations and pick up the top sheet from the new stack of information.

“You know, Tanner…” Murano starts.

I bash her tone, hoping to dissuade any more banter, “What? I’m trying to read up on the next task here.”

“Do you think that gate guard is happy with where she is in life?” Murano asks, changing to a more genuine tone by the end.

I pause for a moment, unsure I heard the question right, before asking back, “Where is this coming from? I’m not pretending to be a psychologist, you know. I’m closer to impersonating a physician.”

“Oh of course, of course,” she wafts her hand about to tell me otherwise, the sleeve on her kimono drooping down laxly. “Everyone knows the way you’re faking things, Tanner, but that’s not what I’m poking right now. I really mean my last question. Do you think that gate guard Youkai is happy?”

My eyes roll back at the onset teasing she’s hitting me with this time, the conversations not usually taking this tone after I’m done with my lectures. I hazard an answer for her, regardless, “I’d say she is. As an unprofessional viewer I’d say she’s the hardheaded type who would make it known when there’s something she doesn’t like.”

“Because you’re the embodiment of professionalism normally,” Murano mocks.

I round on her constant jabs, “Listen, just because I let Izayoi’s constant smarm pass by doesn’t mean I like that kind of attitude, okay?”

“I’ll contain myself,” the servant relents. “But hardheaded, you think? I guess I can imagine that…”

“So, again, why bring this up?” I press.

“Read the next person you’re researching,” she answers, gesturing to the page in my hand.

I read the header name, Kogasa Tatara. A tsukumogami who frequents both the village and Myouren temple’s cemetery alike as a common nuisance. At least, that’s how what I’m reading generally describes her.

I come back to Murano’s reference and ask, “So do you think this girl is unhappy with life for some reason? Not to be rude, but why do you care?”

“I don’t,” Murano holds, stating fact, “but I thought you might want to know my own read of what you’re going into.”

“A warning, then?” I conclude.

She puffs in satisfaction, “That’s a nice way of phrasing it. Now don’t go and break the umbrella. She’s only got one foot, you know.”

I ask her what she means by that, but she ignores me, grabbing her things and leaving. It feels like more people are trying to talk to me in tongues, lately. I hate it.

I gather my own papers and carry the stack home, anticipating any outlandish thing I might learn about the tsukumogami through them. Keine is out for a while still, but she might end up roping me into grading again so I cut into the stack at the living room table now.

The first thing I notice is a good portion of the stack is newspaper articles. Next thing I notice, none of them seem to be related to this Kogasa girl. The headliners are all different things, and parsing the odd word strikes me as irrelevant to what I need. Did Akyuu pass along the wrong set of papers for me? No, maybe it has something to do with her own written word about Kogasa. The Gensokyo Chronicle page for Kogasa Tatara is included.

Even before I read it, the picture captures my attention. There’s something… odd about it. If I were to ascribe a word to it it would be… soft? Fluffy, maybe? A far cry from Meiling’s striking appearance or Hina’s intricate hems. It’s by no means off putting, but I guess I’ve come to expect more serious looking Youkai. Then again, there’s that little dog girl at the Myouren temple.

I shake the tangent from my attention and start to read through the primer article. Akyuu is fairly blunt in her description, showing at least some modicum of respect for her subject. Or so the first half would have me believe, but the back half describes her very differently. Impersonating a different Youkai, only dangerous enough to mildly raise your blood pressure, easily deterred? There’s some things I’ve got to unpack with this one. Shit, didn’t I tell Murano I wasn’t a psychologist? I guess it wasn’t verbatim, but still.

More on point, she can be found in the village or the Myouren temple cemetery…

The village? As in, she’s in the human village completely unchecked? Kazegou’s scuffle a few nights ago springs to mind, but I guess not every Youkai is an existential threat to humans. The fact that Kogasa even attracts the attention of children really says a lot about how she’s perceived. How can she have any form of sustenance in fear like other Youkai?

This is… admittedly less troublesome than the questions I had for Meiling. I didn’t even answer what kind of Youkai Meiling is.

I set the Gensokyo Chronicle section down and return to one of the newspapers. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t the headliners I was looking for, it was a side article. In every paper a side article summarizes some attempt of the tsukumogami scaring people to no effect. This sounds strange at first until I notice that every attempt is something different. In one she jumps from the roofs, another has her sway a wet sponge from a fishing rod, noted as a childish prank. My favorite is when she tries announcing herself to the person she’s scaring, somehow believing that would give greater effect to jumping out.

Some of these really sound more creative than this reporter is giving credit for. They’re misguided, but not without a sensible idea to start. I might need to be more prescient when following Kogasa around. Then again, I should have paid more attention to the newspaper itself before I started reading, because of course it’s the Bunbunmaru written by that thorn of a tengu. It’s hard for me to discern fact from fabrication when it comes to her choice of words.

By the time I have the details I want sorted out Keine returns home from shopping after school. She wasn’t angry at all when I explained how I got stabbed at the Scarlet Devil Mansion over a week back. It was more like she expected it, really. Izayoi has a reputation in the village for being violent and inhuman due to the nature of her service. While I could banter with her, she was beyond my understanding. Keine has insisted that I can’t come to understand the minds of Youkai, including herself, but day by day I’m finding it easier to see from their perspectives compared to the odd humans of Gensokyo.

Maybe… maybe that’s what Murano meant with her warnings, that I can’t project human psyche to a Youkai, no matter how similar they seem. Well, I don’t personally believe that after what I’ve seen. It helps that I live with someone who understands both humans and Youkai, showing there’s some evidence against the hypothesis.

After we’re finished eating, I hand the materials by Keine, who examines various pieces to remind herself of the tsukumogami.

“Kogasa, is it? I’m glad it’s someone safe for you to see. I was worried about you going to the devil’s mansion so often, and I was right to be so,” she mentions.

I stave off her worries from things not in her control, that being the mansion’s whims, “I consider that some of my own fault. I dug myself in too closely to them despite knowing the danger.”

“Yes, yes, always out to harm yourself,” Keine sighs. Her eyes trail before asking, “Hey, how do you plan to find Kogasa? She’s not known to stay to a single spot in the village.”

“I kinda hoped you would have more insight on that,” I admit to some surprise.

“Hardly, she’s been around longer than I have, but there’s always been a fear among the village that allowing a Youkai open residency would spell our doom, so she doesn’t have a proper home I know of.”

“Something you don’t know of?” I pine after her wording. She scoffs off the misnomer, not bothering to lecture me on the functions of her powers for the umpteenth time. I feel the corners of my lips slowly rise as she pouts.

She sneaks a glance my way, complaining, “Yes, laugh all you want.”

“Sorry. It was too easy to joke about,” I apologize. I clear my throat, forcing my smile down from its drawn state to continue on topic, “So do you have an idea of how to track someone in the village? I’m not much for finding people.”

She rubs the bottom of her chin in thought as she responds, “Miss Yakumo will have something to work with, I’m sure. Otherwise you’ll need to ask after Kogasa with anyone you pass. She’s a very well known figure in the village, since she doesn’t appear without her true body.”

“You mean her umbrella?”

“Which is her true body,” Keine completes my thought.

“I mean, the human part isn’t much different from anyone else, from how I see it,” I argue.

“Let’s not get too deep into the inner workings of the world, I still have grading to do.”

As she steps away I tell her to split the stack with me, taking up a short part of the night before we rest on the porch with some drinks.

I wake up to the first break of light, sitting up on the same porch with Keine beside me. We got a bit too comfortable with the late August air hanging onto the last bits of heat for the year. Inspecting the bottle we were hitting from I might have had more than I planned for.

If I’m early to rise, then I may as well be early to start. I take in the drinking set and debate on covering Keine with a comforter, but she wakes up soon after I’m done. We have a morning meal and I head out the door, hoping to get ahead of the busy morning hours that comes with proper sunrise.

As I’m walking down the nearly empty street a voice greets me. “Are you in a rush for a reason?” Ran makes her presence at my side known.

“What happened to living at the shrine?” I pester back.

“That circumstance is unchanged. There are methods of being somewhere quickly even without Lady Yukari’s powers. You should have inferred such by now,” Ran chastises. We continue down the street for a minute before she appends, “You are walking towards the business center of the village. Is the next person of interest a village resident?”

“Not really,” I start. I explain that we need to find Kogasa Tatara but Keine didn’t tell me where she spends her time in the village.

Ran tosses several paper shikigami into the air, scattering out in each direction of the village. “She will be found shortly. Despite her nature, stealth is not her specialty.”

“Seems to be the case from what I read,” I tack on. Ran hums at the comment but doesn’t respond otherwise.

After about another hour of wandering through the village Ran directs me into an alley, out of the now-dense crowd of the day. The stretch between the buildings is packed with various nick-knacks, storage containers, and side doors to businesses. It’s not as claustrophobic as the alleys in the residential area, but I wouldn’t go so far as to define it as a side street. Ran points to the center of the buildings, where they give way to a narrow opening between. I give her a second to get in front and continue guiding me, but she doesn’t budge, waiting for me instead. I’ll assume that we’ve found our target. I’m glad I didn’t have to chase her down all day.

I strut up to the crossing, hoping the girl will try something. Nothing happens as I stop before the gap. I give it some time before I look back to Ran, who brushes a hand for me to move forward. One more step and I see into the straight. It’s dimly lit as the roofs have no more than an inch between them. Not much is stored back here, as there’s hardly space for it, let alone an entire body. And yet there she is…

Kogasa stands midway into the alley, pinned on both sides with just enough room for her and her closed umbrella. I call to her but she doesn’t seem to react. I hand my rucksack to Ran and wedge in the opening, clambering over the errant box or piece of trash to get over to Kogasa. On approach it looks like she’s fallen asleep here, for whatever reason. She’s only standing because her body is slumped on both sides

I reach for her shoulder, shaking her awa–

“BOO!” she suddenly shouts, belying a fake sleep for some ruse to scare passerby.

I retract my arm, and I…

[x] Don’t react.

[x] Fake being scared.

[x] Do something else. (Write-in)

We’re here, it’s a new chapter! Huzzah! This choice will be an important tone setter for Tanner’s attitude for this chapter, so take that as you will.

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[x] Fake being scared.
It's only polite!

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[x] Do something else. (Write-in)
-[x] Fake being scared. Then collapse.

Who's surprised now?

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[X] A H H H H

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[x] Don’t react.

Bully umbrella.

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[x] Fake being scared.

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[X] Have a REAL heart attack.

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[x] Fake being scared.

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[X] Do something else.
-[X] Fake being scared. Then collapse.

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[x] Don’t react.
I just can't see it in Tanner's character to fake being scared for this.

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Huzzah! I caught up!

Probably should deal with the vote first, a little hesitant on which one to pick as to figure out which one is Tanner being helpful and friendly to Kogasa… I guess I’m going to go with the one I do for each run of Lost Branch of Legend that I run into her in:

[x] Fake being scared.

Unless there ends up being a write-in for critiquing her attempt and giving her pointers or something.

Man that last arc ended a bit roughly, not from a writing standpoint, just wanted to clarify, just that … no one really walked away from that all that happy. With the exception of Patchouli really, but she was right on the money regarding the whole thing it seems so she earned it.

But yeah, Kasen and Cirno really got hit hard there. I hope Kasen is able to work through whatever has her worked up like that (... she would be able to tell if Satono possessed/whatever her, right?) hopefully after calming down from nearly killing him on top of everything else he can get some leeway for the words said if she remembers he had a knife sticking out of his throat the entire time they were interacting there? I just hope to see some more friendly interactions between them (at least we know that Kasen will be back considering the last presentation!)

Then there is Cirno. Has Tanner gone to see her since the tournament? Thinking she had nearly killed Miera hit her hard there. And I am glad we voted to trust her, as it seemed she/ her instincts were correct to keep swinging as Miera was not down for the count… though whether or not that would cease to be the case before she died is a good question.

Speaking of Cirno:

>Little green one, Dai,” I address, “would you fight for Cirno if she asked?”

>“Well…” Dai pauses. She nervously answers, “I don’t want trouble, but I’d help if she needs it.”

>“That doesn’t mean you’d fight if she wanted you to, though, does it?” I point out.

>Dai screws her face over trying to argue the point.

It's a little funny that this is after 17.5, as that means that it is also after Visionary Fairies in Shrine chapter 14-15 where, in something that sounds like it came out of legend, she asks the remaining Faeries of Gensokyo (after they create what looks like the first Fae Court of Gensokyo) to assist Clownpiece in fighting OKINA to rescue the Faeries of Gensokyo. And then Cirno leads them to take on the Backdoor God head on! And since all of the Faeries are turning into stone cherries at this point, there’s no guarantee that if the faeries go down and turn into a stone cherry that they will be coming back from that. Meaning that she asked them to attack a god, while for all they know, being practically mortal (if not worse.) for the first time in their existence.

So while she might be speaking timidly in responding to Tanner’s question, Daiyousei’s actions speak a heck of a lot louder. I do hope that Tanner gets to hear about that and react to that. (granted I also hope to sometime see A Wizard is You’s Zuul react to that as well, but that probably won’t happen.) because yeah, Cirno IS strong as a leader. And in many other ways

Had a whole spiel regarding that Fae Court thing and also Cirno dressing up like she is a Faerie Queen but its a bit wordy and probably not what will happen here and whatnot so I’ll hold off on that. XP

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[x] Fake being scared.

I calculate the trajectory behind me, remembering that there are no objects along the ground for several paces. The question arises whether or not Kogasa herself moved items out of the way to account for a ‘scared’ victim, but I let the thought pass as I try to muster my best acting skills.

I let out a quick cry when jumping away from Kogasa, falling to my side as I fail to secure my footing again. The ground below is hardly flat, gravel set above dirt as a compromise. I noticed this before greeting my face to it, so suffice to say tumbling down was not intentional.

I groan in pain as my body settles.

“I got someone!” Kogasa cheers, giddy as a schoolgirl. After a pause she shifts a few steps over to me, leaning over on a foot to investigate. “Oh my, I’m sorry. Are you alright?”

“Never better,” I moan into the wall, my nose shuffled up against it. I ask a question I know the answer to, “Why were you hiding back here?”

Kogasa’s face is obscured in the shade of her drooping hair, but I can see her cheekbones rise at the question. “To surprise someone!” she happily replies.

“And could you help me up miss Tatara?”

“Ah, yes! Sorry, mister!” She lowers an arm down to mine and counterbalances me to my feet. I see she used her umbrella… body..? I’m not sure what exactly it would be called. Regardless, she used her umbrella as added torque, holding it far from her human body.

The tight corridor makes it more than difficult to reach my opposing shoulder and brush off the dirt.

“Can we leave this spot to talk?” I ask of the girl, thumbing the way I came through.

She nods, sounding out no more than a pip as I turn to exit. There’s a clamor to her step, the sound of geta recognizable to any soul that lives in the village. My feet scuff along the ground, though much more silent than when I traipsed in. I was making noise walking toward Kogasa, probably intending to alert her without thinking.

I emerge back into the open alley, stretching my limbs forward in a breath of relief. Tight spaces don’t do much to me, but the restricted movement is unnerving. I wonder if Kogasa had heard something about claustrophobia and came up with this idea?

Ran hands my pack back to me, dryly stating, “You appear to have suffered no injury.”

“Very funny,” I retort, snatching the pack to my shoulders. Ran looks over my shoulder where I just came from.

I look back over to Kogasa, barely peeking out of her hiding place. “Am I in trouble?” she asks like a guilty child.

I almost say no on reflex, but Ran jumps ahead of me to query, “Have you acted in a way you know to be criminal?”

Kogasa fidgets against her umbrella, muttering, “M-maybe? I hid in a shop and the owner got mad at me.”

“That likely does not constitute any deserving punishment.”

Kogasa lets out a breath of relief. Here I am thinking she’s somewhere between a young girl and a stray cat. But from what Murano said…

“Do you have a place we can talk in the village?” I ask, again knowing the answer.

She glances over to Ran, any sense of subtlety lost on her, and cautiously answers, “I don’t have anywhere.”

Ran breathes out, disguising a snort. It’s not lost on me that there’s some sort of satisfaction when another Youkai fears her. A power move, maybe? Reaffirming her importance in the pecking order? Unimportant right now.

“How’s about we go to a cafe, then? I need to talk to you for a long while,” I suggest. “Ah, and my name’s Tanner Regis, a researcher.”

“Oh, uhm, okay,” Kogasa emits, a blank expression taking form. She’s more docile than I was led to believe, hiding in a shop and between buildings notwithstanding. “Can we go to a spot near here, instead?”

Ran and I exchange a brief look before accepting. Kogasa takes us out of the alley, towards the edge of the village. The way there is specked with villagers of all shapes, sizes, and ages greeting Kogasa. The young women, especially those with children in tow, call her a troublemaker, warning her to stay away from their precious charges. The men young and old greet her much the same, but instead of bite there is jovial sarcasm, as if encouraging her to keep doing what she is. And the last… The last group are the children, much like those playing in the open lot of our destination.

Here at the separation between the commercial businesses and residencies lies a dirt lot. Dirt lightened as foundational work was attempted at some point in the past, but any residual signs of a building are absent. Kogasa’s light blue clothes clash with the area around, really making her stand out in the open like this. A hard thing to imagine when reading about her with a black and white picture on hand.

Kids are playing in the open area, a ball being passed between the lot. The oldest there is maybe only just a teenager. I noticed it in Kogasa’s article, but it’s strange that none of their parents are around to watch over them. If the parents were legitimately worried about the likes of this umbrella, they would have someone around at all times.

Kogasa struts forwards, opening her grand purple umbrella, the comically large tongue dragging behind like some eccentric accessory. The younger kids run up to her, greeting their ‘big sister’ with smiles. She shifts her skirt under her knees, crouching to their heights.

Ran and I keep our distance as she chats with them. I do it to observe how Kogasa handles the kids, or rather lets the kids handle her around. Ran does it for a very different reason.

“Abhorrent,” Ran states. I cast her an eye, noticing a lip raised more than I’ve seen in a long while.

“What?” I ask, both confused and morbidly curious as to what she means.

“Humans and Youkai are not meant to be in harmony. Even if she is but a minor exception amongst a whole, the precedent alone is a sort of omen.”

I contend, “… So you say, yet you’re standing here educating me instead of keeping it to yourself.”

Ran lazily raises her brow, fox ears sifting back in her hat. “How did that witch suffer an afternoon with you?”

“I’m a modern marvel of charm, Ran.”

Kogasa finishes greeting the children and turns to us, beckoning over to a bench. She sets her umbrella-self against the bench, open and spectating the world ahead of it next to her human-self. She leaves enough room for both Ran and I, but I already know for a fact Ran would have no such accommodation made for her.

“Hm?” Kogasa mutters as I sit, taking up the rest of the bench. She looks back up to Ran in curiosity. The fox towers over her, bigger than even her person sized umbrella.

Ran glances down to insist, “Attention is unnecessary.”

Kogasa catches herself recoiling. Ran’s tone is not the most polite, to be certain, but also not exceptionally hostile.

“Don’t mind her,” I comfort the girl. “Honestly I think she just likes scaring people...”

Ran doesn’t quip at the accusation, either because I’m right or because she’s letting me have my time to control the conversation.

I continue, “… That’s not too different from you, is it, miss Tatara?”

“Uhm…” she holds her tongue. Her eyes jitter in Ran’s direction. She’s unsure what I want, so she’s weighing her words with Ran standing here. “I dunno.”

“No need to be strung up,” I tell her. “In short, I only want to get to know you.”

I inform her in brief of my tenuous position in the village and previous outings. She looks at me like I were a madman at first, which isn’t entirely off the mark, but starts to become invested in the tales of grandeur like they were great legends. When I finish my recounting at the point of finding her in a dirty space between buildings she claps, looking positively satisfied at hearing the conclusion.

I stare at her ovation and ask, “You realize everything I said happened, right?”

She stares back, her smile warping to pity as she replies, “Really?”

“You’re literally an umbrella disguised as a human, how is my past trips any less believable?”

“Would you require the list of your exploits Gensokyans would find comically untrue?” Ran comments.

I turn to tut her, “You’re not helping!”

Kogasa giggles at our bickering. The thought of Hina comes to mind when I think of the last time someone laughed at our routine.

I scratch at my chin, well shaven for once, and conclude, “Ah, forget it. I’m here to ask you about you, Kogasa, so let’s do just that.”

“Mm!” she accepts, a more natural smile coming on now that she has a read on me.

We stay at the deserted lot for the afternoon. After some hours a few nervous mothers take the children away, but daren’t complain about Kogasa’s presence while Ran and I are here. Instead they take their time to ensure we spot their venomous stares.

Kogasa really doesn’t pay it any mind, happy as can be to tell me about herself. She sees them, but it doesn’t phase her.

“Don’t you care that those woman look at you like that?” I ask her between my notes, too curious to give in to tact.

“No?” she asks back, confusion apparent. “I mean, they’ve told me to stay away a lot... I don’t listen.”

“Why not?”

“Well I’m not hurting anyone. Kids love surprises!” she proclaims with a grin. I thought she didn’t like children? I point to her umbrella, remembering Akyuu’s note about kids liking her eggplant colored implement. She looks back at… herself and denounces, “So they said I don’t look scary, so what?!”

A space case, this one… but that sounds like something I can latch onto.

“Do you think you look scary?” I ask, trying to keep the question innocuous and in line with what I’ve already asked.

“Yeah!” she answers, smirking with pride. “And I can surprise anyone if I set my mind to it!”

Now where have I heard that kind of talk before? Another blue figure comes to mind. I should check how Cirno’s doing, if she remembers the tournament at all.

“So who have you surprised recently?” I ask. She points at me, which gives me a chuckle as I set her finger down and placate, “Yes, you did, but you know I’m asking who else.”

She thinks. And thinks. And thinks. Smile falling to a frown as she reaches deeper into her memories. She snaps her fingers at around twenty seconds or so, stating, “Last week I scared an old farmer by posing as his scarecrow.”

Early dawn light? No. Maybe if the surrounding crops were high enough? No, nobody grows corn of all things here. Maybe he was just shortsighted and couldn’t tell? No, who the hell would confuse a normally clothed scarecrow for one in different clothes?

I… can’t see how she would have scared some old man. Did he follow the same advice I did? He must have. But for that matter…

“Kogasa, how do you know if someone is faking their surprise?”

“What do you mean?” She tilts her head, red eye raising above her blue, the tongue on her umbrella shifting in turn.

“As in, when someone isn’t scared but acts like they are.”

“I don’t.”

“… You don’t?” I repeat.

“Do I need to?” She sounds like she’s asking in case she’s been doing something wrong.

“No..?” I draw out awkwardly.

“You truly do not discern between the two?” Ran also asks. She sounds mildly oddified by Kogasa’s remark, but it’s strange that she would take any interest in it.

Kogasa looks between us, fearfully answering, “N-no, why? What am I doing wrong?”

“You’re not doing anything wrong,” I dissuade, pinching the bridge of my nose. I’m getting nowhere like this. What in the world am I trying to accomplish with this line of questioning, anyhow? “You get your needs met regardless, right?”

“My… needs? I guess so…” Kogasa states, still looking small because of my belittling line of reasoning.

“Then that’s all that matters,” I conclude.

I continue my notes in silence for a second, looking back up to break into some other topic, but I’m caught off guard. Kogasa doesn’t look happy. There’s a certain melancholia that’s draped her. Asking her about other people made her sad and scared, like a small animal being cornered, but this is different. It’s a matured fatigue, with the muscles on her face giving up any control, like a melting wax figure.

It’s a familiar tiredness to me. Of the daily things. Of the frustrations you know will come. Of the world as a whole.

This reflection of listless emptiness spurs for only a moment before Kogasa rebounds, roping her lips and eyes back to that young spunk I’ve more associated with Cirno.

I’m at a loss for words, unsure how to bring up that peek behind her mask. And it was only a peek, something that you would need to look out for, lest you are fooled into thinking it was an uncharacteristic moment of weakness, and not the norm.

“What’s wrong?” she asks. “You look like something’s on your mind.”

“… It’s nothing,” I deter. Perhaps I’m over stressing things in my mind. Murano might have just messed with me and now I’ve become excessively paranoid.

Whether I feed that paranoia or not is up to me.

[x] Why not a field test? Evening is the best time for her to show us how she surprises people.

[x] Let’s focus on something unrelated. She seems to have other interests I would like to explore.

[x] Maybe I can ask her to do something else? (Write-in)

Feeling good about dialogue with Kogasa. I think her neutral attitude isn’t so different from other peppy young characters that have shown up so far, so I’ve leaned a little heavily on that type of characterization in her speech. Of course, I’m trying to implement more show and less tell as I’m going, and hoping to really nail that for Kogasa since she’s so easy to make animated. Having two separate ‘bodies’ to work with helps, of course.

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[x] Let’s focus on something unrelated. She seems to have other interests I would like to explore.

We'd be cruel to make her do a field test. She already knows her shortcomings and doesn't need a reminder. I don't know if she just shoves it down or deals with it in her own way, but youkai psychology is probably different from a humans. Best to let her show what she's good at off.

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[x] Let’s focus on something unrelated. She seems to have other interests I would like to explore.

I wanna see Kogasa making some cool metal knick knacks while Ran continues to mean mug her

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[x] Let’s focus on something unrelated. She seems to have other interests I would like to explore.

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[x] Let’s focus on something unrelated. She seems to have other interests I would like to explore.


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[x] Let’s focus on something unrelated. She seems to have other interests I would like to explore.
Blacksmithing is cool, but her skills with children shouldn't be ignored either. And even though it's not given much attention, she's no slouch at danmaku either, she was a midboss in an EX stage.

I'm so glad we're here, Kogasa is one of my favorites. Considering how disastrous last chapter ended for all parties involved (Remi's pride ruined, lots of bridges burned for Tanner, the entire Suika and Kasen ordeal, Cirno fucking dying, more Sage bullshit), hopefully things won't get out of hand here. I mean, it's Kogasa. How could things possibly get out of hand with her?

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not entirely sure which one to pick, though we'll probably get to the other eventually anyways, so I'll probably go with

[x] Let’s focus on something unrelated. She seems to have other interests I would like to explore.

and build up her strengths, and then circle back and see if we can help her spook people (which, he's been through the jumpscare fad of gaming and movies before being spirited away, maybe he can pull from that to help Kogasa or something.)


I did in an earlier post say that Patchouli probably was the only one that came away happy, though now thinking about it, Son Biten did pretty well herself, made a good first showing despite being a new face, and got a new mentor afterwards it seems! now this is probably still going to follow the canon timeline so she will probably still do her canon acts in TH19, but I wonder if afterwards she ends up being something like the SDM's second gatekeeper or something! (just hangs around the gate training with Meiling for long enough that the SDM considers her hired without her realizing)

And well having just read through it, sadly I'm not sure how well Tanner would have been able to avoid what happened with the resources he had. the tournament I think was understaffed, (especially since several people that should have been working it were instead signed up to compete!) and thus Tanner was left to run around putting out one fire after another and wasn't able to get things settled before it all went up.

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[x] Let’s focus on something unrelated. She seems to have other interests I would like to explore.

After finishing my notes for this conversation I roll my watch into view. It’s only around dinner time, but the sun is threatening to set soon. Before I let the day run out, I might want to try and get more out of Kogasa.

“Hey, Kogasa,” I grab her attention. She was staring off into space waiting for me to finish up, but is quick to attention. “If it’s not too late for you, could you show me your home? I’ve heard a thing or two about your other activities.”

“Oh, uh, you mean smithing..?” Kogasa infers, scratching at her cheek. “Well, you’d ask tomorrow anyway, so why not.”

She hops up from the bench, adding a pirouette to grab her umbrella. Her natural attitude is about as peppy as I expected, but it’s also somehow off putting. Like it’s an exaggeration of joy, her smile tugged tighter than it needs to be. Least I of all people ponder if it’s a fake persona, but it also might not be an issue for a Youkai. There are, after all, very literal shapeshifters out there, so it only makes sense that there might be Youkai who fake their personality.

Kogasa shifts in place, looking uncomfortable. “Why are you staring all of a sudden?”

I remember where I am, and that my musings aren’t good to indulge offhandedly. I pinch my brow and apologize, “Sorry, it’s nothing. Just some stray thoughts.”

“This human frequently stares without reason. Pay it no mind,” Ran addends.

“Uh… huh,” Kogasa sounds off in a sort of understanding. She thumbs towards the Southern gate, elbow tucked in as if still holding the umbrella. “Ready to go? It’s a bit of a walk.”

I stow my things as I get up, requesting, “Define ‘a bit.’”

‘A bit’ turns out to be across the entirety of the southern farmlands from the gate. Kogasa’s home is past the southwestern most point of fields and hidden in a light layer of forestry, not unlike another certain outcast I know of. This side of the fields has a view of the bamboo forest, something that looks more like a mass of green from here. I only ever see the top of the stalks from Keine’s house, so it’s weird how dense it is from any other perspective.

Another oddity, Kogasa’s home is well kept. Unlike Meira’s shack, the building is sustained with clear effort. The wood was replaced in various spots, the paper doors show no holes, even the window flaps are in pristine condition. Kogasa invites us inside, and the story is much the same here. A clean table, clean tatami, a usable kitchen. I ponder briefly if a Youkai like Kogasa would even bother to cook, but my attention quickly drifts to the fact that there is no bedroom. Instead there is a closet attached to the living room where the futon is kept.

Kogasa makes a point about setting the table out daily, for whatever reason. It might be me talking like the pragmatic American that I am, but it’s odd to put away your bedding if don’t expect visitors. Considering Ran’s lack of complaints, though, maybe that is the proper thing to do.

I don’t really understand all of the differences in home life between where I come from and where I am, but nobody really seems to mind. So long as I understand to take off my shoes and sit on my knees no one bats an eye.

Kogasa leaves her umbrella at the head of the table as she performs some hospitality, making a pot of tea and fetching snacks as soon as we’re sat. Her insistence on relaxing even works on Ran’s stuck up ass, forcing the fox to the table, too. When she’s finished with prep work and taken the seat from her umbrella-self I reel her back into the earlier conversation.

“So, about those other activities of yours?” I open the floor.

“What do you want to know about?” she croons, more than willing to gush about her hobbies, apparently.

I retrieve my notebook once more and ask more of what I’ve written, “Where do you do this blacksmithing? How often are you doing it? Where would you say your skill level is with it?”

“Oh… uhh…” Kogasa thinks on the questions for a second. She counts off on her fingers, “I do metal work here in a connected shed. It took some work to add it onto my home. I get a lot of requests from farmers on this side of the village since I don’t charge much for my work. And I’m… good? I guess?”

I’m about to ask her to elaborate that last point but Ran beats me to the punch, asking, “How long does it take for you to create a rice harvesting kama?”

“A what?” I can’t help but interrupt.

“A kind of hand scythe, the blade comes out at a ninety degree angle with a minor curvature and taper. The version in question is close in shape as opposed to the European equivalent which is shaped in a crescent.”

“Actually, I had to make a few of the crescent ones, too,” Kogasa interjects. “A few farmers have a little bit of wheat in their fields that they don’t want to use the normal kama on. The bushels are too thick.”

I offer an amused sniff at the comment, adding, “We were just talking about villagers doing all of these random things the other day. But back to the point, how long would it take you to make one of these tools Ran is talking about?”

Kogasa looks at me and then drifts her eyes up to the ceiling, sipping her tea as she determines some value to answer. I write the other pieces she’s offered while waiting, but a knock at the door stirs our attentions.

“Ah, I wonder who that is,” Kogasa gleefully jumps from her seat to attend the new arrival.

On sliding the door, she greets another girl, “Hi, Banki. What do you need?”

Getting a look around Kogasa I see the girl is wearing all red, including her hair. The blue bow is the only major piece of a different color. But her style of dress, especially a miniature cape with a high collar, strike me as familiar. Once again, not in the sense that I’ve seen it in life, but pictured in that one odd scroll that seems to have everyone important listed in it.

This Banki girl tilts her view over Kogasa’s shoulder, being a bit taller than our cheerful umbrella lends to her locking eyes with mine.

She shifts back to Kogasa and asks, “Got company for once?”

“Yeah! If you need some more work done I’ll listen, though.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Banki mutters, retrieving an item from a small rucksack around her arm. I see a glint of steel as she offers it to Kogasa. She gasps at the offering, sending Ran into an alert state clambering to her feet. Banki grabs Kogasa’s collar in a fit and admonishes, “Hey! Don’t just suddenly sound like that, you’re giving your guests the wrong idea!”

“Well, I mean…” Kogasa nods down, spooking Banki into letting go, likely realizing how this situation looks from our perspective. She turns with the thing handed to her, a bloodstained butcher’s cleaver. Worn like no tomorrow. “What… is this?”

“Not mine, first of all,” Banki takes offense at the implication. She shrugs her cape crossing her arms, and continues, “It’s Imaizumi’s. She said she didn’t want to go near the village for a bit and asked that I hand it off to you. Even handed me the rate she thought you’d charge.” She fishes a small coin purse from the rucksack as well.

There’s that Imaizumi name, again. It’s still been only some few days since I last saw Kazegou, but I’m not here for that trouble again.

Kogasa heaves a sigh at Sekibanki’s explanation, “I see. She just didn’t want me to nag her ear off, that girl…”

Oh? This is a different mask. Something about her seems sharper now that we’re talking about tools, and not the fact that she’s holding a knife.

“Come inside, I need to look more closely at this tool before I can even talk about repairing it. If it can be repaired…” Kogasa wafts it about in different angles, letting the diminishing sunset catch imperfections and dug in stains. “Why does she need to use things until they break?”

“Huh? I thought that was good for the tools?” I catch out.

“It is, if you’re keeping them in good condition until they naturally give out!” Kogasa, as a matter of fact, nags.

Kogasa walks in and past Ran, heading through the far door from the entrance. Banki starts to do so as well, but halts at the first step when she sees Ran, now unobstructed from her view.

I could be fooled into thinking this girl is some sort of bug Youkai with how wide her eyes go.

“Kogasa what in the dragon’s name did you do?!” Banki suddenly shouts to the back.

“What do you mean?” a muffled Kogasa shouts back.

“There’s a damn Yakumo here, what do you mean ‘what do I mean?!’”

“Do not mind the intrusion,” Ran calmly placates, sipping her tea.

“Ran you could at least explain that we’re here on business,” I argue her dismissive attitude.

She continues to sip her tea without a care. Why do it when you will for me, she must be thinking.

“Jeez with you,” I mutter. I look over to Banki and start the usual spiel, “Banki, was it?”

“Sekibanki to you, human,” she’s quick to correct… and quick to turnaround in attitude.

“No reason to be hostile. I’m here as part of the village to research Kogasa.”

“The village wants to research Kogasa? I can’t say I get why.”

The girl in question pipes up from the back room, “If you’re all going to talk about me could you come here, please? Walls aren’t meant to be listened through.”

I look awkwardly at the other two. They look mildly peeved, but don’t bother arguing. Ran slides open the door first and leaves it for me and Sekibanki to follow.

“So what were you talking about research, mister Tanner?” Kogasa asks from a low stool and workbench.

The forge, open to the outdoor air, is dimly lit with a combination of the sunset, a furnace, and a candle next to Kogasa’s workspace. Tools surround Kogasa’s head, all hanging from ropes or hooks just within reach anywhere in this small space. Ran is actually standing outside since there isn’t enough room to accommodate even one of her tails with the other three people here.

“Oh, I think he’s surprised,” Kogasa guesses.

“Anybody would be surprised that you work like this, Kogasa,” Sekibanki retorts. She begins shuffling around the furniture and loose tools, furthering, “There’s not even enough elbow room for me and the human to stand comfortably.”

“Do you actually have everything you need in here?” I question. There’s all manner of tools from grindstones to anvils, but everything seems to be centered radially form Kogasa, many items looking to be out of reach even for the overhead pieces.

Kogasa scratches her cheek through a thick glove meant to tend the furnace. “Well not everything. There’s a couple things I gotta keep in the kitchen, mainly the whetstones, since I don’t keep a lot of water out here for them.”

I notice a vice as part of her workbench, standing out as a more modern tool than the rest.

“Ah, that I found in Muenzuka. It only took a bit of grease to get it moving nicely. Oh, I also found…”

I flinch as something moves in from behind me. It’s the umbrella’s tongue, stretching to something on the ground. It… grabs… a blue piece of chalk. How it grabs I’m not sure, since the chalk is stuck to the end of the tongue like a fly to a frog’s tongue.

The umbrella hands the item off to the human form, shaking a spittle of saliva from the rock before marking up the cleaver. I’d rather not bring attention to what just occurred, since that would then lead to the horrifying question of if the human form’s tongue also does that.

Kogasa takes her time identifying places where the blade has cracked, letting the dried blood seep in as a result. When she finishes and presents it to us, it looks like a child had taken a liking to coloring, not a smith pointing out flaws.

“So, uh… I would need to reforge this,” Kogasa concludes. “It’s too worn down to sharpen without the cracks getting in the way.”

“Does that really matter? It’s more like a meat ax than some flimsy knife,” Sekibanki asks. She doesn’t seem passionate about the matter, but rather wants it to be over and done with.

“Yes, it matters!” Kogasa replies, stricken with terror at the notion. “Kagerou never even cleans her tools! If I handed this back to her after sharpening it would break at the cracks within a week as more blood gets in it.”

“So I should tell her to get a new knife?”

“Yeah, but also leave this one with me.”

“You can perform ritual rites for tools?” Ran questions.

I read before that tsukumogami are prevented by blessing the tool when tossing it, but I’ve yet to hear anything about the actual ritual itself. It’s annoying because I can’t tell if people don’t care to note it or if it’s left as some religious authority runaround.

Kogasa chuckles, “Well, no. I’m not a shrine maiden. I can give this little one a new life by reforging the metal and removing the impurities, though. But… uh…”

Kogasa holds her tongue, clearly mixed on something she was about to say.

Sekibanki grunts, “What is it?”

“Has Kagerou… used this knife to cut… people?”

“No,” Sekibanki cuts, rolling her eyes at how cautious Kogasa is being.

Kogasa breathes a sigh of relief, “Then this is all animal blood. Good.”

I feel like I know the answer, but I still ask, “How would that change things, exactly?”

Kogasa looks at me, and then down to the tool, as if speaking to it instead. “A tool used on humans can be a violent tsukumogami, not one for parties, pranks, or surprising people. It happens to anything that is used as a weapon. Thankfully there aren’t a lot of weapons seeing so much use right now,” Kogasa ends with a weak laugh.

“Alright, enough acting like the tool’s spokesperson,” Sekibanki dully states. “Keep that one and I’ll tell the idiot to get a new one.”

She’s about to walk off into the forest, but looks back over to me and Ran, noting, “She’s good at this, huh?”

“You mean Kogasa?” I clarify.

“Yeah, good at this odd little human work, but not being a Youkai. Maybe you can help her with that.”

“Mean!” Kogasa whines back.

My brow furrows as I parse Sekibanki’s words. “Why bother telling us this?”

“Kagerou told me I should try and be nice at least once a day,” she jokes, a grin spreading over her collar. She hops into the air and over the trees, out of sight.

“She just says whatever, huh?” I tell Ran.

“There was one valid point made, however,” Ran surmises. She looks back over to Kogasa, who’s still sat in her work seat. “The karakasa-obake is adept at something atypical of her species.”

“Actually, Kogasa, you didn’t tell us how long it takes for you to make that sickle,” I realize.

“Five hours, give or take?” Kogasa states, her answer already mulled over.

“Five hours for a blade. Average to above average skill level of a field smith,” Ran explains for me.

“Hey, I do the wood handles, too,” Kogasa corrects Ran’s evaluation.

I glance at my partner as she recalculates her verdict. “And?”

“… Better than reasonable,” she allows, though the slight sneer on her lips betrays how much she doesn’t want to.

“… Ah, she’s surprised,” Kogasa states again.

I scratch my head, and decide to call it here, “We should be leaving for the day. Thanks for cooperating and everything, Kogasa. But I’ll be back tomorrow, so I’ll let you decide what you’re doing.”

Kogasa lays down the beaten cleaver and cups her chin, thinking aloud, “Well then what about…”

[x] Surprising people in the Myouren cemetery. I get a little more luck there.

[x] Taking vengeance on those kids from yesterday! I’ll find a way to surprise them!

[x] What would you suggest, mister Tanner? (Write-in)

Alright, wanted to get this out today as I did a little goof with my cross-posting. I thought I had one more update to send to Ao3, but I miscounted. Anyway, wanted to say hi to everyone reading from both THP and Ao3 as you are now getting updates in tandem. This means Ao3 will now officially be on the same weekly schedule that I do my writing in. Votes on either site will be counted, though you’ll have to forgive me for liking the intrinsic anonymity of post boards like THP.

That all said, if you’ve stuck around for the last 264,869 words before this post, I’d love to know what keeps you around. This work is definitely in progress at all times, and is somewhat of a passion project I set out early on to both improve my writing capabilities and share the story I thought would be fun to go through. The improvised nature of the narrative is fun as a writer but has led me to the pitfall of the scope creep last chapter experienced.

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[x] Surprising people in the Myouren cemetery. I get a little more luck there.
Three reasons.
1. One last shot for Kogasa to showcase herself 'in her element'.
2. Kogasa is a pretty friendly youkai, but I think the ethics of scaring people who are going to a graveyard to mourn would be interesting to discuss, get the viewpoints of Tanner and Kogasa.
3. Opportunity for Yoshika and Seiga to jump in and I like them. And taoists in general, I don't think they've really had the opportunity to appear yet.

That said if there's a good write-in I'll happily change my vote to it.

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[x] Surprising people in the Myouren cemetery. I get a little more luck there.

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[x] Taking vengeance on those kids from yesterday! I’ll find a way to surprise them!

They should learn to fear youkai.

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[x] Surprising people in the Myouren cemetery. I get a little more luck there.

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Not quite sure which way to vote yet, but I do note that we'll probably get some Chen time for this arc too! her ability as a Bakeneko is surprising people, just like Kogasa.

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