Koishi and I decided to meet up in front of this one little, weak-flow fountain in a few hours after we went searching by ourselves. It’s in the heart of the city... or more like just outside of that. I check my clothes for damage and check my breath for cigarette smoke. Nothing. I feel a little jumpy, a little on edge, and kinda pissed off all around. Like I’m anxious. Like, I’m ready. Sis has gotta be out there. It’s frustrating. Hell, ffffuckin’ frustrating.
So even though I could delay it, even though I could just touch base with her and go do something else: because my fingers are shaking and my head feels nuts and even after the golden flame seared me clean I can feel blood and heat on my knuckles... I want to relax with her.
I step down a street of red flagstones, hearing people whisper after me while I pass. My shoulders are hunched—I can’t lower them, it’s involuntary. They’re talking about a golden fire taking a building in one of the forgotten districts—about the god with golden fire who stirred up trouble only a day ago. I need to keep that momentum up—
I hear her voice at my ear and feel her resting against my back, her arms light around my neck and sleeves bunching up like scarves. She holds me, and I see her third eye out the corner of my right.
“Wanna go home? What happened?” she asks.
“Well... yeah, I don’t wanna talk about it here but,” I stop talking for a second and I grab hold of her forearm, turning my head left a bit, “don’t worry about it. Let’s hang out for the rest of the day, huh?”
Koishi floats around me until I can see her frowning face. What’s she miffed about? “I think I know where your sister is,” she says.
I open my mouth and she puts her finger tall against it.
“Let’s do what you want for a little while first. It’s not all good news I’ve got.”
She puts her nose-tip to mine and I shut my eyes against the tingling feeling. Then, there’s a tingling on my cheek and I look to see her touching her lips there.
I don’t deserve someone this good to me.
Koishi vanishes for a second and in the next she’s to the right of me, locking her arm with mine. She gives me a worried look.
... Frig, screw feeling down for a bit.
I smirk at her and say, “Come on.”
The only thing I love more than making money is spending it. There’s a release when I do it, like this weird and permanent sense that I made a call, and now my life’s just that small bit different, officially. It’s more than the idea of getting something new, it’s the idea that it took me however long getting however much, and I threw it away in an instant, in an impulse.
I don’t know how Koishi feels about that. She was a little worried when I got that ring for her, but I think that was mostly ‘cause we’d just met. While I walk with her past shops, stopping often to look at pretty things—modeling them only a bit before putting down cash—she doesn’t criticize. Honestly, it’s spending like this that makes me closer to Sis than I like to admit. The reason Sis doesn’t hold onto her money is since she’s so clouded with misfortune she literally can’t keep any of it. One way or another—debt, accident, mugging, or anything—she’s gonna lose that money. Me on the other hand... sitting on cash doesn’t sit right with me. Hell, I will burn money if I feel like I’ve got too much of it. Now there’s a goddamn release: setting fire to cash and knowing that money’s destroyed forever, the economy’s just a little more damaged. Like the biggest “fuck it” you can commit.
All these acts are displays of me being alive, and on my own. My own person.
I love it, but hate it a little lately.
Even though I started out being smug and fun while we went from store to store, Koishi notices fast that my heart’s really not in it. It’s a lotta things. It’s not just Sis being out of my reach. I want to keep being selfish—I love being that obnoxious, I love being that “myself”—but—
It’s like Koishi said last night. It’s there: “a want to be good”. Right now my mind feels split in half. On one side, I want to run away. I wanna leave Hell—take my money and live without a care. Not even bringing Koishi. No religion, no responsibility, no prospect of rescue. Just me, myself, and money. But on the other side, I want something any god wants...
Helping, fostering. I’ve got the power to do that much.
I put down an earring I’d had against my earlobe, the shopkeeper looks surprised I’m not bringing it to the register. Yeah... I won’t buy it.
“Koishi,” I say, and my girlfriend looks up at me past a display of sparkling brooches, “let’s get the fuck outta here. I want you to level with me for a bit.”
“‘Course, Joon; no problem,” she says smiling kinda weakly.
Way outside the market, carrying ten shopping bags.
The bridge to the Common District.
It’s still early enough that the atmosphere doesn’t suit the gravity I feel right now. Like, I’m gonna talk serious, can’t the city die down and the lights go up? That’d be nicer than just feeling... ordinary.
I put my bags down on the bridge. Normal, red bridge like the one that princess lives on. Koishi stands behind me with her hands held over the back of her skirt.
“Koishi...” I start, looking out over the mess of dark caves and spikes that make the Underground, “you were being honest with me last night, right?”
“About how I love you?”
“N-No! Not that. Love you too, though,” I mumble, blushing deep. “You think I’m really strong? Like... in my heart?”
“Yeah,” she says flat. “I can see it.”
“You can...” I mutter. “... I can’t. I honestly can’t stand myself. Like, I’m looking at what I need to do and this... this knowing that defeat is what I’m coming up against is tearing me the fuck apart.”
“I wanna leave,” I admit to her. “I’ve always been more of a talker than anything else. I even talked big when I made a vow to you and now I just wanna leave it behind.”
I bring up my shoulders again.
“You should’ve found someone better than me, Koishi. I’m really just... I’m not trying to beat myself up here: the truth is I’m a garbage person... and honestly, that’s the sort of person that I’ll always be. I can’t picture it!”
I’m yelling now.
“I can’t picture this fuckin’ Yorigami Joon doin’ any fuckin’ thing ‘right’! It’s all gonna fuckin’ crash and fall! What the fuck!”
I turn and look at her.
“Why the fuck did I come here!? Did I think I could talk slavers into giving my sister freedom!? Talk oni out of it!?
“And the fucking fact is, I can barely fight! I don’t have time to get that much better, either! If I’ve got to, and the oni I’m fighting is for real I’ll get fuckin’ torn apart! I’ll lose!
“Koishi, if I try... if I really try, and I don’t win...”
I pull my sunglasses down, feeling gross warmth in my eyes again, turning my gaze out over the railing again.
“Nothing will matter. I don’t...
“This whole thing... I’m shaking thinking about it; look.” I hold my quaking hand up. “How do real strong people do what they do?
“How’d you cut your mind out of yourself just for a chance at happiness?
“How did Hoshiguma Yuugi stay around when all her pals left her behind?
“How’s anyone do anything that isn’t easy, knowing it can go wrong as hell and ruin everything? That’s what happened to you. You didn’t make it out alright at all... All my goals, even in at my lowest points, have felt just in my reach but this shit...”
A bunch of slaves—faithless gods under the Underground.
A goddess who can’t have anything good happen to her.
And me, a god who spreads ruin, thinking to save others. And I don’t even think past now with 98% of the shit that I do. Even my plans so far’ve been these all over the place random... “figure out how to figure it out, so when you’re ‘ready’, you can just burn everything down. Something will work out—something always does”.
Koishi shows up in front of me, flying in the air beyond the bridge. She reaches out and puts her hand over my heart. My frown deepens, and my brow lowers further.
“Thanks for telling me,” she says. “I guess you can’t give yourself hope, huh?” she follows with a bit of a smile. Well no, I can’t... do that, or smile either. She feels my chest and moves her palm to kind of grab my front and side, her gaze getting distant. “... You just want someone to know that you’re not sure. It’s what I didn’t do.”
“Hmm? Huh?” Not sure... I get what she means.
Still holding me, she goes on, “Something I remember as a full satori is how even oni were dishonest. Not in that they’d lie with their words, but without. Omission, y’know? And I was guilty of that too. Like if I’d told my sister Satori about how I was feeling... wouldn’t she have just stopped me? I didn’t want someone to tell me to try harder—I wanted to give up. I didn’t want to look sad to her... Oni never want to look weak to anyone. You hate that too, Joon: showing weakness,” she tells me. She then lifts my glasses, showing my tearful eyes, and puts that free hand of hers on my cheek and a bit under my chin. “Even though you hate it, you showed me... thanks...”
Well, I’ve already showed you all of me and I’ve seen all of you so...
I smirk. “Don’t be a pervert,” she lightly chastises me with a smirk of her own, her purple eye waving beside her. “I think that... what’s really strong is to be able to show what makes you weak, and wanting to hide it in a better way than just ignoring it. Wanting to fix it if you can. You don’t just want to run away, Dear: you want to stay here and try.”
At her “Dear” my heart thumps. Aw man, that makes me happy as hell...
“You already saved one person. Don’t lose hope.”
“I already said I haven’t saved you,” I tell her, self-loathing building up in me again already.
She shakes her head. “I’m me, Joon. I can think for myself, and when I say you saved me, I’m saying it because you gave me the strength to be able to say it. I... before I met you, I would’t’ve even had the chance to think whether or not someone had saved me. I wouldn’t’ve thought anything was wrong in the first place. I didn’t.”
Koishi looks stern for a second. Then, she looks at me with the kind of determination I had when I swore myself to her. “You also can’t forget that you’re not alone down here...”
She brings the hand on my chest to my face, cupping me now. “You’re a real bitch of a girl, Joon, and I love you for that, but you don’t need to take this Underworld on your shoulders. You’re worried that you might fail, and you’re right. You might. But I’m here.”
She brings me close and kisses my lips. “I’m here for you,” she says, “like you’re always here for me.” She looks for a moment at the pink jewel set on her finger. “If you want to help me from the bottom of your heart, then you’d better not dare stop me from helping you right back.”
I guess that’s true... something like pride, that’s the real problem. I keep imagining busting doors down and rescuing Shion, and when I do I’m by myself. Like, I really... really want that.
Not just ‘cause it’d be cool. I want Shion to see how much I care about her without me having to say it. I want her to see me walking through flames and taking her hand and I want her to know just like that that I’d do anything... anything to know she’s okay. No matter... whatever else I’ve said...
And giving that up... isn’t easy.
But Koishi is right. And more than anything, what I want to do is finish this, right.
That’s... in the end, that’s what I really, really want.
“Will you... really help me?”
I ask her that, and I realize my heart’s in a mess again. Koishi leans forward, and kisses a tear from my cheek.
“This never had to be just you,” she answers, and... something in me feels incredibly relieved.
I’m okay with that. Yeah.
Even a god needs support...
... After Koishi comforts me out of a sobbing state, she tells me that she’s heard of blue divine flames showing up in the Ibaraki Quarter. Specifically, that an enslaved god has them. The problem is the slave-runners... whoever they are, they don’t sound weak.
Now Shion didn’t have fire last I saw, but hey neither did I when we met last. So, she’s somewhere in there for sure... Probably for sure.
... I know I said I need to keep momentum up, but I think if I hit another wall again I’ll end up taking a ticket to fuckin’ Hokkaido and getting the hell out of here because my poor, pathetic, easy money heart can’t take much hard opposition. Thrills and seat-of-your-pants chills are fun and all, but I gotta accept the reality that this isn’t just fun and games. I need to stay away from causing trouble for a little bit...
 ... and work on training until then.
 ... and work on gathering information until then.
 ... and just stick with R&R. Get my head sorted out.
Bonus. Should I let Koishi handle money for me while I, well, don’t?
I wake up with the side of my face against the stone wall. My shoulder really hurts... I guess I fell asleep while counting in my head to pass the time. I look through the bars, to the door leading to my cell. I look down at myself... my lousy sitting posture. The flame around my ankle flickers.
... Hm. I could use another bath, I think.
Anyway, I can hear them.
“... No shit?” That’s the slave master.
“No shit,” that’s the younger oni of the group, “but since they got so fucked over, no one knows what the deal is.”
“Then get the heck outta here and ask ‘em.”
No reply for a second.
“They’re quiet, and they’ve got barriers around the place to stop people... at least, like if you pass through one of those Yosho’ll probably come at ya.”
“Yosho... he’s alive then.”
No answer. The boss keeps talking.
“They all alive?”
No answer. Maybe he’s nodding?
“So someone, or a group a’ someones burned the whole place down huh. But that’s all they did... So we’re okay.”
Again, nothing. Yeah, he likes to talk with his hands and head and shoulders.
He does speak up next, though.
“Told you we shoulda put a fly on the wall up in there. Boss, it’s just a matter of time—”
“I know, Jashi. You were right—look, just... get what rumors you can for now, at least. I mean, facts would be the best but I know how it is.”
“Alright. Why’re you in front of Yorigami anyway, boss?”
“I’m checking to see if she can curse people through walls. Took off the ofuda too.”
Ehhh... really? ... Huh, she’s right. There aren’t any seals around.
... Well, I can’t. Not through walls...
“Boss... use someone else for that. What if she can?”
“I’m an oni, Jashi! You are, too! This is a matter of pride—are you a fucking coward!?”
“Wah! Stop! I get it! Hey, I remembered something else, so calm down!”
“If you know something fucking tell me, you dipshit!” The floor shakes, and I hear Jashi yell “Ow!”
“Sorry... I remembered that people said the fire was gold.”
“Gold?” she doesn’t say anything for a little while. “Haven’t I heard about gold fire recently?”
“Boss, I can’t remember everything you hear.”
“Shut up! Shut your stupid mouth, Jashi!”
They go quiet.
... Golden fire? Hmmaybe, like this fire on my leg? A godly fire? A divine flame?
I don’t know what they’re talking about, though. I guess someone burned something down, but I don’t have the pieces of information to figure out what the problem is. It’s someone else, not related to them, but they care about what happens to them...
... I think...
... Wasn’t there another slave ring like this one? They’ve been talking about it here and there. Was it them—uhh, the Kurode?
Hehh... That’s big news. Did they anger a free god out there? Maybe I can get saved...
I fish the coin out of my hoodie’s pocket. It pulses with dark energy. They start talking again.
“... Well, I don’t remember. Anyway, thanks for doing that stuff with the earth spiders ‘til now, you cutie. Come to my room tonight. I’ll give you a reward~... Alright, shoo!”
I might not do anything yet, but... they might answer some of my questions if I ask them. I’ve been good ever since I got here... aside from threatening someone. Uh...
I crawl over to the bars of my cage: to the bar farthest to the right, which I put the coin against. I look to the left, and pull my hand that way, striking eight times. Then I drag it back toward me, hitting them all again and falling on my back before throwing the yen into my open left palm. I close my fingers around the coin while dirt settles in my wake and stinging sounds shoots around the once quiet room. Raising hell. Loud as hell. Can she hear i—?
The door flies open and the echoes of my noisemaking flow out the room, while the metal frame clangs and booms something new to replace them. My Joon-sized captor comes in in a rage.
“What the hell are you up to in here!?”
“Nothing?” is what I tell her, looking her way lazily. She drags a thumb up one of her black horns, tapping her thigh with her free hand. She looks around the part of the room she’s in, then scrutinizes the inside of my cage from afar.
“‘Nothing’... Only ‘something’ makes that kind of noise... You’d lie to an oni?”
I puff out air from my lips without thinking, like a reflex. What a joke.
“You’re still the kind of oni that thinks she has honor?” I ask her. “You’re despicable, you know.”
Her dark eyes fall on me, but she doesn’t answer.
“Well since you’re listening to me, now...” I mutter, looking toward the stone ceiling. “Hey, will I ever get out of here? Even as a slave... No one’s interested?”
“Someone’s interested,” she says bluntly. I glance over her way, finally noticing she’s totally alone. “Someone could use you, I’m trying to get in contact with him. He’s a busy guy, and even when I do it’ll be tough convincing him you’re worth anything.”
That’s honest at least... my mouth squirms with faint disgust. “So much for letting me go, then...” I say, just a little jokingly.
She talks straightly again: “I wouldn’t let you go even if no one was interested in buying you. You’re dangerous when you’re free. That’d be like swallowing roasted soybeans for me: just stupid, and suicidal.”
She shakes her head.
“Even if I have to keep you locked down here for a hundred years, that’s what’ll happen.”
My eyes narrow. Fucking bitch... I decide to prod her.
“You’re afraid I’ll ruin everything for you?” I question.
“Why? Is it because you think there are gods out to get you?”
“You mean the arsonist?” she asks. Then, she grins “Good. That’s right. Listen in, and be defiant. Don’t just roll over... even if you know talking back too much will get my fist in your gut.”
“Shut up.” She laughs at that. I grimace.
“But yeah, that’s right... golden... that’s a type of divine flame, right? There’s a rogue god, tackling the god-selling racket. You think they’re after us next?”
She smirks at me. My frown deepens.
“You’re a real piece of shit,” I say. “You’re lower than dirt.” And she guffaws.
“You’ve been a good girl all this time! You starting to get fed up? Even though I treat you nice ‘cause of all your good behavior.”
“This isn’t ‘nice’... you threaten me, and keep me locked up...”
“Hahh? You don’t like getting fed either? You don’t like the baths?” she looks annoyed.
“I don’t like you,” I tell her, clenching my left hand. “I regret... not cursing the fat man when I had the chance.” She shakes her head.
“You didn’t have a chance.” She starts walking toward me, and I turn my eyes and neck slightly as she gets nearer to the bars. “Then, you were spiritually trapped. If you want to curse someone, do it now.” She taps some metal with a knuckle, her lips twisting nastily. “Look: no seals. It’s open. Do something.”
“... Who are you?” I ask.
“Kobari, of the Tenryoushin.”
“And who... is your lover?”
She huffs a breath through her nose.
“Seiyou is just a boy.”
“Well... Lady Kobari... I don’t believe in karma,” I start to say, my gaze on her drifting. She folds her arms and eyes me curiously.
“Karma is a silly hope to believe in. Retribution’s only dealt by those who want it dealt. The freak misfortunes of the world are outside the reasons of fate. It’s all ‘luck’. Those who suffer suffer by chance...” I look at her directly. “Unless they encounter me.”
>>16423 [x] already have.” ---- [x] (lie) ---- [x] (truth) "You think seals like these actually worked? Oh I know they kept me from cursing you all personally, but let me tell you a secret, My nature as a god is to invite in disaster no matter the circumstances, so all these wards accomplished was to make it hard for me to curse you all personally. All ready my nature is inviting in disaster of the most calamitous kind upon the "family" that keeps me. To be honest at this point id rather you keep me here so that i can witness your inevitable destruction first hand"
She smiles wide at this. She reaches for the door of my cage. I gave her an excuse, but—
I’m not going to waste my misfortune on her, Not yet.
The bars creak as she drags them open. I drag my body up through the filth of the ground, reaching into my sweater’s pockets: slipping the coin into a hole in the lining. I speak too, telling her: “You knew, right? That I can’t help cursing anyone around me, including myself.” She walks toward me, rolling her neck. I show my teeth a little in a halfway smile. “But I’ll admit: this one was on purPO—”
The words are cut from by mouth when she grabs the front of my sweater and jerks me toward her. I squint at her, keeping my misfortune in check,
She pulls back her free hand, and throws it at my face.
She drops me and I grab my already-swelling face. It hurts... It’s radiating...
But it’s fine...
“Wanna know how I cursed you...?” I mutter, my voice quaking. “I did it special... just keep an eye ou—oofph.”
My insides tighten, and my guts and parts are searing hot. She kicked the toe of her boot into my stomach. I hold my bladder back, and tears start falling out of my eyes while I squeeze my shaking mouth shut. Speckling the floor. I claw the ground.
This is all fine.
“Mmg—! Guh! Hahh! Hah!”
I want her to worry.
Worry worry worry, little demon.
You said it yourself: somebody’s out there and gunning for you.
Beat me all you want...
“...” I go silent against the other wall. She steps near me and drags her boot back while touching her knuckles.
It’s way more satisfying to think you’ll fall apart without me doing a single thing.
“Go ahead...!” I shout, laughing too. I look her dead in the eye. “Just don’t be surprised when it all burns dow—!”
Ever since I burned down the Kurode base, faith in me skyrocketed.
I was thinking the more shit I did, the more recognition I’d garner. The faith game’s kinda nebulous to me... before all this, I used to exploit it for high, quick gains. I didn’t think about the effect my disappearing after doing a bunch of shit would have.
The eighth month.
In the Noble District—The Ibaraki Quarter.
Rumors went nuts.
A mix of fear and respect followed in the wake of all my actions. I was the sudden god who’d, in a period of two days, become a new star of the ring, beaten down a known thug, spread money like it was nothing, and ended my twisted rampage with an entire building razed—one that belonged to yakuza. People couldn’t read me, so they started making shit up. As they did, everything about me grew much stronger, and in a month everyone knew the name “Yorigami”.
Now I’m in the Ibaraki Quarter, where I bought a place two months back and have been operating outta since. Koishi, who’s right next to me as usual, still hasn’t opened her third eye. I feel bad about it, seriously... but she says it’s fine. We’re focused right now. Focused on finding Sis.
She’s been making me more money than I know what to do with, too. She started gambling more often: on me, on whatever, and she’s just made a killing. She doesn’t really spend it either. It’s like every day I come back to overstuffed coffers. I think, when I’m ready... I’m gonna burn most of it. Security is “nice” and all, but I really don’t need all that much.
Some shit to note since my arson job happened:
* The Kurode went silent for a while. They started operations back up a while after, and started looking into who I was. Right now, I don’t know what they’re planning, but if it’s not revenge I’ll be fuckin’ stunned.
* I still don’t have a name or place for the group I think took Sis. Since I’ve grown more famous, especially for attacking a slave ring, people don’t want to tell me shit. I know it’s in the Ibaraki Quarter, and that’s all I know. Even though I’ve gotten more involved with fighting and gambling, even though I’ve started shaking hands with adult services, I still ain’t even a bit closer to them. I’ve been more pissed off about that lately instead of how pissed I tend to be over my lack of strength.
* And: Yuugi came after me last month for neglecting training.
I’d say all in all it’s not great, just okay. Trying to find things out has basically been a crapshoot, but because I was low-key for so long my spiritual power is higher than I’d even figured was possible. That’s nice, I feel like I’ve wasted time. By this point, is Shion even still unsold? I’m assuming she was unsold in the first place... If she got a master, that just fucks things up for me further.
Today I’m out in one of my other outfits while Koishi’s clinging to me and telling me what she could figure out last night about everything going on. It’s not much, but I’m not complaining—not about what she can or can’t do. That said, we gotta do stuff differently. Right now I have Koishi sneaking through places and trying to catch useful whispers. Satori’s also tried helping out, but she’s too conspicuous most of the time. People just fuck off if she’s around. As for me, I’ve been exercising influence. Too bad I’ve allied with too many good-hearted types. That’s why my way “in” to the slavery racket is blocked. Seriously: nobody’s talking. I thought by fighting and getting respect, I’d just stumble on answers eventually by merit of being so well-known and badass but... no, it hasn’t been like that at all.
Agh... what the fuck do I do?
 Get your hands dirty.
The most I’ve done has been working with host and hostess clubs, and a few titty bars. Maybe if I looked into prostitution, it could lead to slavery...? Problem is, everyone already knows how I feel about slavery, or assumes they know. The rumor’s that I’m basically a crusader... But on the bright side, it’s only a rumor: a belief. It’s possible for me to change that perception, and alter the view of my actions against the Black Hand. I told their top guy that I was after the gods, but he’s the only one who knows that, and he’s not talking about what happened that day.
 Work with the old and influential.
In other words, talk with Yuugi and Yamame about all this. I haven’t yet, mostly ‘cause of pride and the feeling I’ve burdened those two enough already. Yuugi I’m pretty sure wouldn’t want to help me because she’d prefer I fight on my own. I might be able to convince her, though, since this is about family... Yamame, she’d help, but how helpful she’d be is another question. I don’t see her knowing much about slavery down here. On that note, Yuugi’s probably not good about figuring things out. If I do get her help, she might not be helpful at all. Mmmgghh... I dunno about this option. Almost feels “last resort”.
 Change approach.
I’ve been roundabout all this time—talking to other people or having Koishi listen in. I haven’t been direct so far—haven’t really broken bread with people in the Ibaraki Quarter—because the rumors around me are just that: rumors. Keeping it that way gives me wiggle room and leeway in the Underground. Only a few people know what I want to do down here. Fewer have a solid idea on my plans. Most are assuming, and cautious. Maybe I can lower caution by just being my friendly, charming, poverty god self. Basically like... a more subtle take on my first choice. Wading in instead of diving in.
To be honest, I’m not confident about any of this. I just know something has to change and it’s been too long. My blood is boiling because my blood is out there and still not safe. No more waiting. I have to finish this.
The Underground has a currency: in paper bills and copper coins. It’s arbitrary. “Value” ultimately adds up to “strength” in a land of oni, and anything before that is just formality. Yorigami Joon took stock in both kinds, She only ever needed one, and with as much as she has, her implicit influence is far beyond any other’s.
A fair giant walks through flush pink curtains, casting a hidden gaze around a packed room. It’s hidden by a large hood, leaving the top of her face in shadow. Her head is not concealed, however. Like any oni: disguise isn’t her greatest skill, and her crimson horn extends prominently out from the dark cloth. It’s emblazoned with one half of her name, gold and shining whenever the lights of the clubroom catch it. She isn’t noticed at first, but that glinting star eventually finds enough eyes to start more than a few murmurs—murmurs she either does not pay attention to, or does not notice.
She walks to the bar, plucking at a loose thread of her hoodie.
“Bartender,” she says directly to the spider at the counter, dropping her heavy hand on the top and shaking every drink upon it, “give me a girl.”
And were it not for the music, the room would have fallen silent.
“Y—” the man behind the bar starts, his face having gone pale, “Ho... Ah... What... sort of girl... Miss Customer?”
“I want a god,” she says, and the bartender’s face turns monochrome.
“W-We don’t have anything like that...!” he insists, slightly leaning forward. “And even if we did, we don—don’t give girls! This isn’t that kind of place.”
“Huh,” the customer slumps her shoulders, turns, and reaches over the countertop, “take me to a place that is.”
She grabs the bartender by his collar, and pulls him across the top, crashing glass and sake.
Now she notices the crowd watching her. Holding the man like a coat behind her shoulder, her red eyes glint as she scans the sea of people, seeking whichever are willing to fight, and finding none. She turns her eyes to the exit and asks, “You do know, right?”
But the man has become petrified and won’t answer. The curtains open as she’s looking at them, and in walks an oni her size. He looks at his sovereign, swallows, and steps to block the door. At once, a smile crawls up Hoshiguma Yuugi’s face. The beat of the music fades to a pulse.
And the newcomer speaks up: “Hoshiguma, sis... There... something wrong? What... What are you planning?”
 Be straight.
 No talking, let’s just fight.
 ... Wait, actually, what? What plan? There ain’t no plan.
In another place, at the same time.
Somewhere cold and quiet.
It total, 34 legs.
They don’t usually show them, but earth spiders have as many limbs as you’d expect from the name. Most of the time, you’ll only see brief flashes while they prop up buildings in the middle of the night. Right now, everyone’s got them out, though. Coming out their backs, six extra legs each—thick, carapaced. Guess the “arms” don’t count.
I’m sitting down on a boulder and smoking again. I’ve really gotta stop, but isn’t it cool? The way smoke and distant city light mix. I stand and crush the cigarette to ash in my hand, briefly looking back at the Former Capital. Yuugi said she’d do “something”, and said “don’t worry”. I’m not worried about her, I’m worried about how good or bad this is gonna be for the whole thing. There’s no doubt in my mind: my girl is gonna flip the town over tonight. The problem is whether the roaches will scatter while she looks. I swore it two days ago: this is the last push. That’s why I’m here now. Yamame’s helped me out, too.
“So you can’t just get her to talk?” I ask, waving ash out of my hand while stepping toward Yamame and one of her pals. “Can’t you make diseases? Make hyoscine.”
“I don’t know what that is, girl,” she says. Psh.
“Pfsh,” I breathe out. Her other friend stands up from tying the remaining spider to a chair. “She isn’t even awake,” I tell them.
The spider who bound her coworker tells me, “Yamame made her fall asleep. We didn’t want to fight.”
I look at Yamame, who looks at her sisters before looking at me. “Just shake her a bit and she’ll wake up. But for the thousandth time, I can’t make her talk. All we know is what we know.”
“I know, thanks.” I hold the tip of my ring finger, thinking things over. “... You can’t get her to talk, but you’re sure she knows the details?”
“She probably doesn’t know where it is—when she was bragging forty-seven years ago she said they always blindfolded her before taking her to the job site, set up illusions and barriers a good distance around, and only let her survey the immediate area for work,” the girl next to Yamame explains. “But yes, she’s the only one who’s done below-below-ground contract work for the Former Capital in the last fifty years, and it wasn’t on any books. When we asked her about it yesterday, even those of us who’ve been especially close to her, she said she never had. She’s been mum about it for thirty years, apparently. She’s lying.”
Now I touch my forehead, start sliding my fingers into my hair. I sigh through my nose and say, “One of your sisters... Do you at least know if she was in on it?”
“She’s been maintaining it,” Yamame says, and I look over at her, “consistently, and secretly. I don’t exactly monitor my sisters, but we all have our eyes everywhere.” Yamame scratches her head, not looking in my eyes and wincing. “She’s complicit.”
I walk to the grandma chair that this girl is seated in, fast asleep and wrapped in webs. Her hair is red and she seems like any normal, nice-looking youkai of the modern age. She’s in her night gown, and it looks like her weird-ass legs came out when Yamame drugged her.
 Alright, just talk... persuasively. Money talks, and it’s better with a silver tongue.
 Threaten her for the floor plans. Don’t hurt her, just make her think she’ll get hurt. Not just physically.
 Torture this youkai for info. This isn’t the time for pussyfooting.
I lift my right hand and push my thumb against her forehead. Her eyebrows knit and she opens her eyes slowly, waking up.
“Hey there,” I greet her while she gathers where she is, and who’s around. I get a feel of her anxiety, and make a gesture—holding my palm to the side and aloft. “I’m Yorigami Joon,” I tell her, “and it sounds to me like you know some things I need to know.”
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Still holding the bartender over her back, the Greater Oni slams the youth down to the ground outside the building. The earth quakes and splits, and his chest threatens to give way as well. Crowds cheer at first—always happy to see a fight—until they see the instigator: Hoshiguma Yuugi, going wild in their private slice of Hell.
“I recognize you!” she yells joyfully, her golden locks falling almost slowly from her sudden launch at the man. He swallows, almost afraid. “If it isn’t Seiyou! What are you thinking anyways, getting in my way tonight?” She smiles, happy, and tells him, “I’ll kill you.”
“S-Sovereign Hoshiguma, hold up!” He throws his hands to the forearm pushing against his body and begins to try moving it off of himself. It doesn’t budge, and Yuugi’s smile turns pitying. “Listen!” he yells. “I just wanna know why you’re here! Why you’re asking what you’re asking!”
“How the Hell do you know what I’ve been asking? It’s the first time I see you tonight,” Yuugi notes, rather incredulous. She leans toward his face, grinning now and pressing his ribcage more. “Big, stupid idea: an oni trying to keep secrets and play quiet.” She lifts her fist without warning and crushes it down into the boy’s body, a geyser of earth firing up from the blow. His eyes go wild, his insides pulse. As sand falls back down, Hoshiguma Yuugi swaggers off of the pained oni beneath her and explains her purpose, and her lack of plan:
“I haven’t got a single plot in my head. A friend wants my help, Boy, and I’m an oni, so I’m gonna give it.”
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“However much you want and more,” I tell her, lightly slapping bills across her cheek while I’m squatting down before her, “and I’ll even make your problems go away once you tell me. Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?”
“... It—” she says, looking defiant, but she stops. We all flinch. Throughout all the caves of the Underground, it sounds like a bomb’s gone off. We all look to the source, and way in the distance see an earth-colored spike jutting out toward the ceiling, collapsing as soon as we catch sight of it. Uh oh; I’m worried.
Frowning, bothered, I look at her again. It’s going fine, but I’m getting tense now. Cool it, Joon. “Just say yes,” I tell her, “I’m not here to fucking take this slow. I didn’t get you grabbed because I wanted to tiptoe this shit. Let me play nice, tell me, and we can all fucking get on with it.”
“... Is that it? Did one of your kin get enslaved?” she asks me, kind of leaning my way. I grimace, biting down on the inside of my cheek.
“Hey, hey, this is my interrogation. Answer me, don’t ask me.”
The entire Underground shakes and the spiders around me all start looking around worriedly. Then there’s another explosive sound. I clench my fist. Yuugi, god damn it...
“Y-You’re not going to hurt me? She’s not gonna hurt me, Yamame, sis?” She looks past my shoulder, so do I.
Yamame has her arms crossed and she’s looking like her thoughts are somewhere else. Still, she meets our eyes and answers, “She should.”
I rub a bit slow at my chin, smiling. Without looking her way I tell her, “Don’t worry, I personally don’t totally spit in the face of a good ol’ exploitative business venture. I’m not keen on ‘slaves’, but... Hey, profit is profit right? And you’ve profited nice.” I grin, and look her way now, seeing the fear in her eyes. “Just help me out, this isn’t a threat.” I stand up. “If you don’t tell me, you just don’t get the money or any of my help should shit go south after this.” Looking toward where I think Yuugi’s wreaking havoc, I end with this: “I’m going to get in there and get what I want one way or another. This is just more guarantee for me.”
She gulps, and I look her way again. I flash the cash again. It’s half my fortune. The other half...
“... So?” I jab at her one more time with the question. “Do you want to make some money or not?”
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Yuugi laughs uproariously after punting her fellow oni up to the top of the Underground, crying out as he falls: “Amazing, amazing! You’re like a punching bag—this is super fun!”
Before he collapses back to the street, he stops himself with flight and feels over his body. He sees that he isn’t going to die—that nothing yet is broken. Hoshiguma Yuugi hasn’t gotten angry with him; her assault is purely for the thrill of it.
But he’s figured this much out: as his Sovereign has no plan... what she wishes to do instead is flip the Quarter onto its head.
Yuugi meets him in the sky and presents him with the bartender she’s been carrying. With her teeth shining still in a smile while he awkwardly grabs the spider, she winds up her arm once again, and socks him across the chin and down to the earth.
“WOO YEAH!! LISTEN UP, IBARAKI BASTARDS!!” she yells as the boy and his charge descend, her voice rumbling the air. She throws her arms out and bellows, “YUUGI OF THE HOSHIGUMA IS ON A RAMPAGE TONIGHT!!!”
She roars out in eagerness, her mirth choking the atmosphere, and the population below pales. The oni she was thrashing meets the ground terribly, his right arm limp from the impact, and he gazes at his superior in full terror. Getting onto his left leg, he feels that his right has broken, and he can no longer carry the (now unconscious) spider he was given. I have to tell Boss Kobari..., he thinks.
Seiyou drags his body up into flight, and makes his way under a “sky” of dark red clouds amassing and flashing with purple light. Lightning strikes the bars and homes and hovels, crashing through and tearing them asunder. It feels seismic: wrathful mother nature manifested through strange and indiscriminate power. Everyone runs and flies, debris litters the road and he flies. Through the panic—fast—and away from the woman now crashed back down to earth, laughing again, and reaching for the back of his neck.
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I look over to the city while folding the notes and blueprints Yamame and them made into my bag. I definitely heard Yuugi just now, and some weird shit is hanging over where the spike was before. While she’s untying the girl we captured, Yamame tells me, “You know, Yuugi is one of the most raw examples of ‘oni’ you can find.”
I turn my gaze onto her and say, “... What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That means ‘no limits’ and ‘you’d better hurry up, Joon’,” she says, and finished untying her fellow youkai she hits the girl on her head with a strike of the knuckles. She looks miserable, but sighs with relief.
Yuugi... What the hell is she thinking—well, she’s probably not thinking at all, right?
I still don’t know where Sis is. I only know what I’ll find when I get there. I left it up to Yuugi to find the actual place...
Now I’m worried she’s going to fuck that place up, maybe even fuck up the captive gods on the way. And there’s no telling they’ll even stay. They’re on high alert since the fire in Old Old Hell...
I pinch my nose bridge, grit my teeth. I glare at the impossible dark clouds hanging over the Ibaraki Quarter.
“Thanks for everything, Yamame,” I tell her, cracking my knuckles. I feel her eyes on me, and say, “I’m gonna go find my sister.”
“Would it be fitting for me to say ‘give em Heaven’?”
I laugh, just a bit, and tell her, “Well... I am a god aren’t I?”
I throw my bag into the distance, and disappear.
After bounding through the air enough, I find myself above the Ibaraki Quarter in a minute, with Hoshiguma raging ecstatically throughout it. She looks like a bull... like a stampede of bulls, even if there’s just one of her. There’s an earth-fog following her rampage, and only a few people are bothering to try to face her. I feel an impulse to get down there and tell her to slow her roll, but I stifle it. I look up at her storm clouds of violet and red, frowning... First rule of a “bad man”: when there’s a disaster, take advantage. I dash down to land on a pagoda and survey the land.
What I’m looking for—feeling for—are signs of divinity and broken barriers. Yuugi’s wrecked liked a third of this place by now, and there are youkai all over scared shitless or fleeing. It might also help... to keep a look out for people who are fleeing in instead of out. When a Deva like Yuugi is going off, the only options are getting the hell away or, if you’re like a lot of oni, taking the chance to fight her—and losing, duh. But not leaving and not fighting... that’d mean there’s something to protect. Or, what I’m looking for: something you were hiding...
... But nothing’s seeming off, not from what I can see here. I pick up my head. It’s a big part of the capital, and Yuugi keeps destroying swathes of it, laughing like a maniac. I should look somewhere el—
“Fwack!!” I swear, backing up off of the tower, dodging a short building flying at it in a blink. I shoot my gaze left while it collapses: Yuugi is in the process of trying to lift another shop, and I can see the ground shuddering beneath her. For fuckin’ fuck’s sake... This oni’s goddamn crazy!
I fly away, flinching when I hear an explosion against the ceiling. Glancing back, it looks like that’s where she through the place, and now great spikes are falling. God damn... God damn! While I’m freaking out, freak lighting arcs past me and I remember her storm again. This is a fucking mess!
In another, untouched part of the city (for now), I look and find a crowd of oni getting hyped at the thought of Yuugi coming at them. More people are heading into the last Quarter next to Ibaraki’s, but I don’t see anyone desperate to hide anything. There’s nothing supernatural in the air, either—nothing distinctly supernatural I mean. I look for a while. Not here—?
I shudder as a jolt of fear runs through me, then I hear a blast like a volcano’s erupted.
“HEEERE COMES THE ONI!!!”
Yuugi!! I turn and see her with her arms over her head, shouting with pure joy and exhilaration. The crowd I spotted earlier rushes her, and she starts a brawl. I decide to leg it—bounce—get the hell to the final third of the Quarter.
Like before there’s nothing I can find when I stop to look, nothing weird I mean. I drop down to the streets, frantic, realizing now hard my heart is beating. I feel like this is my last chance. I feel like I fucked up. Where is she!? Not even thinking about it, I shout out, “Sis!!”
But of course I’m not gonna get an answer. No one even looks at me...
And just like that, cold starts flowing through my veins. Was she never even here? Th-There’s no way right?
“Shion...” I whisper. “Yorigami Shion!” I yell this time. I grit my teeth, and start throwing open curtains, kicking down doors. Now people are looking at me—looking at the fire at my back. This is bullshit. I have to find her. I have to!
A few youkai are stopped, looking at me losing it. I glare at them and demand to know, “Where are the gods!?”
They run off, my shoulders drop and my chest feels like ice. I put my hand on my head, eyes wide.
There’s no way...
There’s just no way I fucked up.
There’s a small earthquake beneath my feet. I stare down at the pebbles and dust vibrating, and a hand falls slowly onto my shoulder.
“Tiny god...” I hear, “did you find her?”
I turn around to look at Yuugi and the destruction behind her, and I can feel my pupils shaking.
She tilts her head and frowns, her eyebrows sloping in worry. “No good?” she asks.
I turn my eyes to the ground.
I can’t blame her... I just... I don’t know. I don’t know if I should give up or—
Nah. No, I’ve decided.
I meet Yuugi’s eyes. I tell her, “Tear this place apart. I’m finding my sister tonight.”
My shoulders are wrapped in fire. Yuugi smiles proudly, telling me, “Sure, with pleasure.”
We step past each other, Yuugi stomping her foot into the earth, making it wave.
She has to be here, and I’m not giving up.
In an hour, most of the Ibaraki Quarter’s been made into ruins.
It’s nothing spiders can’t fix fast... but it looks like a typhoon and a tornado rolled through. I guess they sort of did, all in one.
I’m sitting on the pagoda that fell before. There’s nobody here but me: not an oni, not Hoshiguma, not Koishi, not Shion, just me. I didn’t find her, and... I don’t usually think like this—like thinking the worst—but I get the feeling... Yuugi...
They say twins have a connection, like they feel what each other feel and can tell what the other is thinking. They can tell if one of them dies. It isn’t true. I don’t know anything. I don’t know if she’s alive, I’m just worried she isn’t.
Wouldn’t it be just like me... to’ve killed her, when I was trying to save her? Wouldn’t that be definitive “Yorigami Joon”?
I don’t know...
Rocks and debris tumble off the building below me, the sound rattling my body and I’m like... I’m really struggling to keep it together here. I’ve gotten used to having Koishi show up at times like these and putting her hand on my back, but since I had Yuugi involved I wanted her to stay back this time. I didn’t want her to get hurt, funny enough...
It’s not funny... Is my sister dead...?
I push my hand into my face.
No one’s gonna tell me “yes” or “no”.
I hear Yuugi walking toward me.
... “Hope” is a stupid thing. Just baseless, wish-like belief.
I stand up and think: I want to hope, just one more time. A gust of smoke-scented air blows past us, tossing our hair. Yuugi puts her hand on her hip, looking down at me without any expression.
... Let’s try one last thing, when the Sun rises outside.
Koishi breathes out like she’s cold. I guess it’s not as hot as the season down here, at this hour. She’s holding a big silver suitcase in her arms, and standing behind me, a little to my left.
I drop the cigarette I was smoking down into the rubble. I’m leaning on the rail of a red bridge, watching spiders and other youkai go to work repairing everything in the dark. People got hurt. Of course they got hurt. Yuugi’s back in her home, not being blamed for anything. She didn’t give any reason for what she did. That’s why I’m here now: to make everything sure.
I turn my head a little to talk to her—Koishi. “Y’know, I was born in Kamagasaki.”
“Japan,” I tell her, “in Osaka.”
“I’ve heard of Osaka,” she says, smiling.
“Osaka’s cool...” I touch the jewel on one of my rings, “Kamagasaki, though—no, was it Airin-chiku now? Hah... What a shithole.”
She doesn’t say anything to that.
“... It wasn’t something story-like, like just me and Sis, but the parents we had couldn’t do much. To be honest, we were scumbags.” She keeps listening and I keep talking. “As soon as we could figure out how, we were stealing and scamming. We had a good thing going. So good, it felt good playing around. When we could save our parents, we didn’t, and we laughed. That’s who we were. We saw their squalor—our squalor, and we just bought diamond rings, kicking them into gutters for the hell of it.
“We ruined lives,” I say, and I’m proud of it. “People hated us, and loved us. Sis, she just had the best way to destroy other people, almost without even trying. Everyone called her cursed. And me, I had the best way of charming people. I’d get in their good graces—make them feel alive for two minutes, then leave them on the streets begging. Through every crisis, through every riot, we reigned. We tiptoed on the line of poverty and extravagance, and loved it... loved ea—... just, not ever saying it.
“And we became gods.” I finish with that. “Felt like it was the best thing that ever happened to us, even with how it left Shion. But with how it left her... I eventually got tired of her. Shion... Sis... isn’t like me.” I grip at the back of my hand. “I left the only person I never wanted to, just ‘cause she put me in a bad mood one day. I can make excuses... but that’s the one thing I can’t forgive myself for. I’ve burned both of my parents... but my sister is the only one where it always felt unthinkable. She’s a part of me, like it or not... She’s the one person I’ve always loved.”
The wind of Old Hell whispers over us, toward the fallen buildings, and I say, “When we find her... don’t tell her I said that.” I smirk. “Give me the suitcase.”
She does. She asks me, “What are you going to do with that...? It’s everything...”
“Yep.” I hold it in both of my hands, turning back to the city, standing it on the railing. “They need to know this wasn’t a whim.” I open the top latches. “They need to know I’m looking for her.”
The suitcase swings open, and the wind catches what’s inside of it. I hold out my left hand, fire burning at the tips. Cash catches fire, and dollar bills start flowing into the air like dancing leaves. Everything spreads out, carried by the churning currents of the Underground. The shops are almost obscured, fire falls like rain. Glinting, everywhere, and evened out. Soon, the city’s covered by a vast curtain of dying flame and burning money, to send a clear and golden message:
The last time the Underground glowed like it had another Sun, it was the golden god’s doing. It was Yorigami Joon, who had it out for a slavery ring. That’s here too, and I want you to know the rumors weren’t only that.
“See the hell I made of a place that thought it couldn’t see worse?” I announce in a level voice, watching my fortune fade into ash, watching the people of the Ibaraki Quarter stare on bewildered at the sight of such a waste. “I’m not tiptoeing anymore. This is what I want to say:
“I’m done with it all, I know you’re here, and I’m going to fucking ruin you.”
Divinity and disaster mix across the broken streets and homes.
Who’s looking on at it with a worried face?
That’s who I’m going to find first, and follow.
The boy who’s half broken and gritting his teeth at the new, sunlight sky.
The one down near a crumbling well.
“Koishi,” I talk to my girlfriend (who’d wandered to my side), and she perks up and takes her eyes from the glittering spectacle out what seems a mile now away from us, “that guy, tail him. Don’t let him see you.”
She nods, and starts to fade from my consciousness but— “Wait,” I say, “when we do this...”
Koishi hid me until this moment, and with sounds of a fiery song beating fast through the air, I slip past her into a storm of tinted rays.
The guy who was on watch flinches at the chaos, I rush in taking a count of the eighteen or so people in there and start flashing toward one. In three—
I stop in front of the first horned girl I could see.
She realizes, and throws a punch.
In one—... I flicker out its way—
Bring up my left hand and throw it to her neck—
Push her into the wood flooring, breaking it apart.
I make a fist, and bring it down in an instant on her teeth. With spit flying over my fingers, I ask the only thing I want to know:
“Where the fuck is my sister!?”
... It turned out Yuugi made too much of a mess. When Koishi said she found this place, apparently they were talking about having hoped it wasn’t me; how they were glad they’d had a plan for me in this sorta worst case. Picked too early to celebrate, but you know oni: too impulsive, and not the best with secrets.
Now I’m here, and I studied their backup floorplans from the spider too.
Everyone’s starting to realize what’s going on, though they were having a good time ten seconds ago. The things I need from these guys are “keys”: real ones to cages in the basement, and ones in theory—the ways to take down the seals and barriers. And yeah, I know where the cells are... but not Shion. Thinking, I grasp the oni’s collar from under me and pull her nearer to my face. She’s not bleeding, but it looks like that punch with my rings made her teeth ache.
“My face look familiar?” I ask while spotlights switch across it, hardly piercing through my shades. “I’m a Yorigami. I’m pretty sure you’ve got something that belongs to me.”
This adult-sized bruiser spits on my cheek, and that just sets me off—just as all Hell breaks loose.
I turn into an inferno while other oni start heading deeper inside the building or stand their ground in the clubroom or at the bar. I lift my fist again, a golden tornado turning around it while I eye this girl’s face, and a piercing high sound signals me to fuck off.
I move, pushing off the girl’s body into a front flip and spotting some sort of laser firing over her chest, through where I just was, I look to my left and see a bald, uneven-horned guy pointing at his eye and looking at me. Well, alright then. The others – seven left, it looks like – start making bullets.
In the scene of bassy, rapid music and intense, rave lights, Koishi comes bowling in with the lookout, blasting him out of a rosebud from the doorway into a pair of slavers, making them all fall over. I take the tornado coiled around my forearm and slam it downward. It beats the air, swells, and pushes out with glass-shattering force and singeing heat. That wrecks the place, and in the confusion, I take a page out of Yuugi’s book.
I start darting toward whoever I can, headbutting, elbowing, and clocking whenever I can manage. Whenever they try piling on, in a brief half second of red light I’ll spot Koishi’s purple veins catching their arms and waists before they’re yanked out of my way. I end up hardly thinking, and feel a kind of Zen exhilaration. Like this is right. Like I’m going to wipe this whole place out.
Even when I get hit across the face.
Even when I get jerked up and slammed into the floor.
Even when the room fills with even more colors than the clubhouse lights, small and large shaped of danmaku crowding wherever I move.
I exhale sharp.
I get back on my feet.
And I start using the golden flame to make them lose track.
It’s pain: hot, mind-wiping pain, whether I’m the one taking hits or giving them out.
I’ll thrust the bone of my arm into a throat and shove someone’s head into my knee (numbing it), only for three new guys and girls to yank me back and pound my ribs. I’ll throw people over my shoulder, feeling that shoulder strain, and catch a fist before it hits Koishi’s cheek, finding her behind me whenever my body and brain start to waver.
In a whirlwind of sweat and heat, surrounded by bodies, the two of us hold steady at the center of the room, bruising and beating, back to back. After several straight minutes of throws, jabs, haymakers, powers—soon enough, there’re just two oni left. Only two left... Without a word we decide: she takes the man, and I take the woman.
The little oni standing at the door next to their bar: at the iron and steel bulkhead before the blessed cattle. She’s my height, with tall horns and long hair. She whips her hand out and before I can react I feel my left arm tug. I look at it, and between the flashing colors I spot the shine of strings. My arm starts waving without me, until my bag starts to slide off it.
In that moment I reach for it, but out the corner of my eye I see her throw her hand out a second time and feel a stopping in my right leg. It jerks down, throwing me off and letting my bag drop. Then, she starts pulling me apart.
Like my skin is searing, and like my insides are splitting: that’s what I start to feel, and she’s trying her best to get rid of me in no time. She’s dragging her claws apart in a mirror to my body’s stretching, floating in the air. I can’t reach my bag or throw anything, and even if I slip down to the purse, she’ll likely catch me again anyway. Instead of that I hold onto the first thought I have: I put my right thumb between my teeth with the nail on the bottom row, and I bite down ‘til it breaks.
FFFuucking hurts, but I stay focused, flick the blood towards her, and when it splatters on her face I teleport in front of it, socking her down without missing a beat.
She gets up with a hook that I catch. I throw my fist into her face another time.
She buckles and tries to string me up again. I burn, and crash my blazing head into her skull.
When she’s on her back foot I crack into her face again, she’s pushed to her knees and I lunge at her once I see that, pressing my left hand down on her chest. And I think, fuck this girl. I think, fuck Yorigami Joon.
For being down here.
For getting into all this shit.
For what they did, and what I let happen.
I find myself mashing over and over on her face, cracking it, splitting it, making her bleed and bashing out teeth until—
“Joon, don’t forget Shion!”
I hear that, and get back to myself. I stand from the oni, who’s still alive.
I look toward the ceiling, breathing hot and heavy while what looks like black drips, drips off my knuckles and rings. The blood sizzles off my hand under the golden fire, and my heart starts to slow.
“... Alright,” I breathe out. Looking back at my girl, I say “... Thank you.”
“We better hurry up,” she insists with a determined look on. I’m still breathing heavy and surging with adrenaline, but goddamn she’s cute.
I spot what looks like a stereo system and a record spinning on a table. It’s just playing on without any DJ. I feel myself getting chills. In the atmosphere just after a brawl, this kind of song... a brutal and dark synth: I like it.
“Hey, let’s keep that song on. I’m digging it.” I propose to Koishi, pointing at the record and smiling. She keeps that serious look on her face.
“We have to hurry up, Joon,” she says, and I sigh, looking off for a second. Like, I know... I think I’m getting nervous. My emotions just went haywire after all.
“Sorry...” I tell her, looking her way. “Yours still awake?” Mine’s broke and bloody after all.
“I’m keeping him wrapped up! Try getting him to talk and then knock him out!”
I step her way while saying, “This is where an opened eye would be useful,” and she frowns at me as I’m walking past. The olive-skinned oni wrapped in my girlfriend’s embrace looks pretty shaken after I did what I just did. I take a glimpse at the short, sharp horns on his forehead, just a little more obvious with his baldness.
“You’re... the golden god, huh?” he growls at me.
“Where’re you keeping the case of keys today? You move it around, right?” I glance backward and spot my bag under the flurry of colors. I guess the lights are running automatic too. I check them hanging off the ceiling while I grab the purse. “Koishi,” I say, “give him an arm.” I pull out one of the blueprints I received and add a warning: “Try anything dumb and I’m taking pieces of you off. This flame can burn youkai, too; don’t forget.”
I push the map toward his face while a grip of skin-rope open at his side. He cautiously lifts a finger while glaring at me. Stiff, he points at one of the basement rooms. I look at where he poked and confirm, poking it myself, “This?”
He nods. I singe the paper on that spot. I follow up with, “How about Yorigami Shion? Do you know where she’s kept? She’s a poverty god.”
He looks confused, I grimace.
“You don’t know?” I ask.
He opens his mouth, and closes it. I look over at Koishi, and she shrugs with her hands. “I don’t know if he knows,” she says.
I answer back, “Seriously, open your third eye already.” She pouts and grumbles. Hmph... “... Alright, I guess you don’t know,” I speak while looking over the map. “But do you at least know if there is a poverty god here?”
“We weren’t... Boss said we shouldn’t get near her, so...”
I feel like a jolt of electricity ran through me hearing that. I can’t hold the smirk off my lips. “... Last question:” I start, meeting his eyes through my sunglasses, “how do I break the seals?”
“Only Boss knows that.”
“‘Boss’, huh...? What’s this Boss’s name?”
“You said that was the last question, Gold God,” he answers fast. I feel my face drooping down, mostly in repugnance.
“H-Her name is Tenryoushin no Kobari!” he gets that out quick.
“Kobari...? I don’t know a Kobari...” I mutter. That pisses me off. She must be an oni, right? What kind of oni’s that deceptive? She managed to hide her operation that long while I was trying to sniff her out... What was she doing? Or more like... what’s the deal?
Is she really an oni?
I mull this over a bit before telling him, “Thanks. But listen, if you lied about any of that,” I hold up a gold and blazing fist, grinning, “after I put you out here, I’ll be making sure you don’t get up again.”
“We oni never lie!” he swears. I huff. Yeah, I guess that’s mostly true.
“Right...” I say, and I strike him across his left cheek so hard the wall to the left of us shakes, splinters, and gets indented. His eyes go white, and when he starts drooling Koishi lets him go. While I roll the map back, I speak up, saying, “Koishi, stay out of sight, out of mind until... until you ever feel like ya shouldn’t.” Koishi blinks, not saying anything with her eyes or mouth. I feel my own lips turning miserably, “I’ve got a gross, bad feeling... You can tell, right? Well, I’m not going to let you get screwed over while I try to unscrew someone else... someone I let go... Alright?”
Koishi walks up to my front and I straighten my back. Without looking at me, she rests her hands between my chest and stomach. When she speaks, she looks up at me with her half-empty eyes to say, “I’ll be right with you, the whole time.”
I feel like my heart’s being shielded. I put my arms around her and hold her as close as I can while trying to remember her while she starts making herself forgotten. I really... really feel apprehensive. Before she vanishes, I feel a kiss on my cheek. I grasp there gently, holding on to the feeling, then open my palm in front of my eyes. I squeeze it closed, reassuring myself. It’s hard... real hard to not start freaking out. I want to wait and make sure I’m in the right mind, but... she was right: there’s no time for that.
I flash to the steel and iron door, put my hand to it, and start heating it. It glows yellow and starts to melt off its hinges, falling molten to the floor and bending the wood. It’s a shimmering, searing pile after a minute, leading into an unlit stairwell. Knowing Koishi’s at my side, I descend.
About forty divine souls, and a wave of choking forces telling me to get out of here. It’s like the basement of the Black Hand... I just feel like it’s worse. It’s pitch black for half a minute, until it opens into what looks like a fallout bunker or... like what I imagine one’d look like. It’s half concrete, half earth, and... Are those...?
I step inside and bend my head around the first hall I see and lo’, there’s a sleeping, pristine god floating midair in a cage. An old prison: I guess that’s what this looks like. I look over the iron bars of the cage, seeing and feeling the seals placed all over them. I can’t even touch that stuff if I tried, and I have a feeling Koishi might not either. The Spider said they were talking about making the seals affective against youkai as well, just in case. Ones that weren’t oni, at least...
I check the map. I don’t want to get the keys yet, but they’re close by from here, probably. There’s a panic room where that “Kobari” is probably hiding. I want there first. If I take the keys first, they might destroy them, and while I could burn bar after bar, it’d take too long. Oni have less trouble with cages...
I start moving toward that room. I think there are... maybe at least five oni there, judging by the count I had of people upstairs, and just raw assumption. I’m already healing from the earlier battle, so I should be alright, but it wasn’t really an easy fight. If Koishi hadn’t had my back, I might’ve only managed after sacrificing a limb or something, and that’s a big “might”.
It doesn’t take long dashing past wailing gods and closed doors, through some chilled and dusty paths before I’m standing in from of the panic room. It’s a big-ass, wheel-handle thing that looks liked it’d take two oni to open if it wasn’t locked. It’s twice the size of me, shining with... what was its name? An alloy, but... it doesn’t matter, I’m punching it open anyway.
I push the toe of my boot back and grip my right hand shut, focusing all of my fire into my fist. There’s a lot more than I’ve been getting used to. A lot of faith, and a lot of my pure, plain-old fury: it concentrates until it’s roaring, sizzling the dirt off the floor and billowing out into the halls to the right, left and behind me. Standing, shaking as still as I can, I quickly open and my hand again, feeling like I can barely contain this. I exhale, drag my knuckles forward, and slam like a wrecking ball into the metal. A hole melts through it in that split second, the rest ripples before it just explodes into the safe room, crushing whoever was standing at it into the far wall. I, uh... hope I didn’t kill that guy. When I’m lucid, I’m really not really feeling the whole “murder” thing.
I walk into the room. It looks like it was described in the plans and by the Spider: really basic, but really sturdy. At the back is something that looks like a vault: it’s a tunnel to the surface. A last resort, since youkai leaving the Underground is allowed... but for most folks: not smart. The Hakurei Shrine Maiden doesn’t fuck around.
Not that I’m fucking around either, though...
A kid is sitting against the vault, bending a little away from the impact of the door against the wall a few meters to her right. She’s an oni... probably. She... looks like a devil, though.
“Well...” she says, “I guess you’re the poverty god’s sister?”
“How could you tell?” I ask, lifting up my shades to get a better look at her. She’s... red.
The other oni in the room don’t seem like they’re here to fight, but I’m not exactly counting on that. I give the little Satan girl another look, waiting for her explanation.
“I just had a feeling ‘cause... I dunno, it just seemed right.” She shrugs with one shoulder; her eyes closed, her lips pulling to a smirk.
“She’s a god of misfortune, a poverty god,” she says. “Her life’s dirt and irony. Bad timing, and bad luck.”
I feel worried. The girl runs a clawed hand through her shining hair, white like bone, and puts her black-yellow eyes on me again.
“Hey, you’re from the Outside World, right? Then do you know this one? ‘Sorry, your princess is in another castle’.”
She grins a row of sharp teeth at me, and... there’s a bad feeling but... I gotta say, first thing I feel is respect here: for the hustle. If I were sitting down there like her in those fine threads, feeling like I’d won on the one thing that mattered, I’d feel just as fucking smug.
“Shion’s... not here...” I confirm, grinning back... gritting my teeth, gripping my nails into my palm. I look at her, seeing she’s just about to laugh. “You... sold her.”
“And you wanna know the funniest part!?” she raises her voice, snickering now and almost falling over. With tears in her eyes she says, “A month and a half! We got rid of her a month and a half ago! It’s like, damn girl, isn’t it like you usually just miss it in stories!? How unlucky is she!? What the fuck have you been doing!? Ha ha ha!! HA!” She bellows laughing. Well, she at least laughs like an oni...
Shit, I... That means I missed her a little after I moved into the Quarter...
“When was it you moved in?” she asks when her laughter dies down, bending a white eyebrow and still grinning brightly. “Same month we sold her? I guess you ‘just missed it’ then. Shit, girl... Hahaha!!”
“I’m feeling optimistic,” I tell her. “If this is what you’re saying, it means I can find her.”
The girl... Kobari, I’m betting... settles back more into the vault-door, barely hiding the twisting smile on her mouth behind a loose hand.
“... What?” I ask, feeling angry.
“You... I won’t lie, you’re a really tough god. It’s impressive! I’m impressed, Joon!”
“But you’d’ve been fucked if you tackled us before the Kurode, and if you try to get your sister back now...” A chuckle escapes her lips. Then, she throws her head back cackling like mad, and I’m too pissed to not speak.
“Say it, damn it!”
“NO!” she yells, and she bears her teeth just... gross. Her mouth opens, showing her cherry tongue and every one of the spikes lining her jaw. She feels so pleased with herself. I’m stunned just looking at her. The rest of the oni keep quiet. “Client-customer confidentiality!!” she boasts in as smug a voice as she can manage. “An ‘oni’ promise, hahahahaha!!”
Look, I’m running low on patience. She keeps blabbing.
“Even if you knew who they were, they’d flatten you!” she says. “You wouldn’t even be a stain on the floor! You wouldn’t even be dust!”
That’s a hint if I ever heard one... She’s holding her stomach now she’s laughing so hard. “You’re laughing too much...” I say.
“Haven’t... you heard the saying about oni and future plans? It just makes us laugh!!” she tells me.
“So you are an oni,” I confirm (though I’m pretty damn sure that’s about making plans at least a year ahead), she stops her mirth to just look at me with a smile.
“Mostly, mostly,” she says. Aahh... I gotcha. She’s some sorta half-breed... That’d explain it. “I’ve got the blood of a demon from Makai. Hey, did you know? A silver tongue’s worth a thousand times its weight in gold down in a world where the truth is given, and lies are inconceivable.”
... This piece of shit’s way too much like me.
“Tell you what,” Kobari says, pointing my way with her palm up, “I like you, especially since you’re not a pathetic piece of shit like your sister.” ... I’ll allow that. “I’ll give you one chance and two hints to guess the name of the guy who has your sister. How’s that sound?”
“... If it’s the oni part of you making that deal,” I answer. Hey, I’ll bite.
“Your first hint,” she says, lifting the finger she was pointing at me beside her face, “is that there are more legendary oni than four.”
Huh? She raises her middle finger, not stopping, “Your second hint is that this ain’t no bear.”
Does she mean...
Uhh... How did it go? Shuuten-douji, Ibaraki-douji...
It’s not Ibaraki, and if it was Yuugi... no; oni don’t betray friends.
Not a bear, so it’s not her anyway, and can’t be Kuma.
Offhand I forget which was the fourth Deva of the Mountain aside from Ibuki and Ibaraki. Which one was that Suika lady’s other name? There’s no Ibuki-douji, so I guess like Yuugi she changed her name a little. She’s got to be Kane, Shuuten, Kuma, or Tora. As for Ibaraki, she should be gone... So is she back, and plotting something crazy?
Shuuten, Kane, Ibaraki, or Tora: those are the most famous, legendary names that could fit.
... Thinking about it... isn’t it—?
Song 1 [Sexkiller on the Loose - TRILOGY (Carpenter Brut)] Song 2 [In The Face Of Evil - Hotline Miami 2 (Magic Sword)]
Originally, Shuten was not a deva, but the boss of them. That doesn't seem to be the case in Touhou, since the Shuten expy, Suika Ibuki, is one of the four. In this story, however, it seems that there are indeed five legendary Oni. Makes sense. Also, something Ibuki's place is taken by someone named just Kuma. Talk about confusing.
Anyway, Yuugi Hoshiguma is Hoshikuma and Kasen Ibaraki is Ibaragi.
This leaves Torakuma and Kanakuma. Both bears and both out.
Wait what. Ah no, Kanakuma is actually Kanaguma. Fucking moonrunes man.
I'm guessing Kane is Kana? I don't even know at this point.
Right... damn, it was Torakuma, wasn’t it? And since I saw Ibuki’s statue along with Ibaraki and Yuugi, and remember hearing she was their leader, she’s probably that infamous Shuuten. Ibaraki... Her hint made it sound like it was someone not so known.
That only leaves—
Kobari claps once. The air from the hit tosses my bangs. “Good answer!” she shouts. Damn, someone needs to teach her what an indoors-voice is. She aims her finger at me and says, “If you don’t hurry, he’ll eat her up.”
—? Uh, huh? What?
The question shows on my face, and she answers it while laying back, folding her arms, “Brother Kane has a plan, and part of it needs what your sister’s got.”
I want to run out, but I really want to know: what’s this about “eating”. I speak up, “... Is that bastard going to fu—”
Before I end that word in a hard consonant, Kobari’s face turns real negative and she snaps, “Oi! Hell are you thinking!? What part of ‘eat’ sounds like that to you, you dumb bitch!?”
I lean back a little. Guess not all oni know the euphemism... I get back to my ordinary posture and ask instead, “So he’s going to consume her? He wants her power of misfortune for himself or something? Is that it?”
“Yeah. Once he heard about her flame, he practically jumped at buying her.” ”Flame”...? “But he wanted to make sure it was at its ideal strength before eating her. ‘Just in case’, he said.”
I listen to what she’s saying, looking toward my feet, taking it for truth...
... Thing is, truth or a lie: her objective here is obvious. I call her out on it, meeting her gaze with min, “You want to hurry me off real badly, huh? Going to cut your losses and escape to the surface...”
The slave master keeps her eyes steady, not smiling anymore, but not nervous either. “I can take you,” she says, “and the satori if she’s with you, I can stop you both by myself.” She starts to stand up, not showing me her face while she does. She clarifies: “But just because I ‘can’ doesn’t mean I ‘will’. Unlike pureblooded oni, when I see the risk in a challenge, I don’t get excited, I get nervous.” When she picks her head up, standing confidently, she flashes me her dagger-whites one more time. “And you’ve got a Sovereign on your side. You know, even if she lets me kill you because you died fighting, I don’t like the idea of spending the rest of my life afraid of the retribution of Hoshiguma Yuugi. All that said...” The yellow of her eyes shine in a way that makes my hair rise. Creepy as hell, the contrast between her iris and the black of where white should be. She tells me, “if you try to stop me, or try to kill me, I’ll drag it out and take as long as he needs. Hell, I’ll put you in slave shackles if I can. What I’m saying is, for your sister’s sake, you’d better just get out of here.”
Koishi manifests behind me, whispering, “What are you gonna do, Joon?”
What am I gonna do...? Really, it should be obvious what I want to do. This is the girl who kidnapped Sis. But, there’s nothing to choose here...
“I’m leaving,” I say, “and I’m going after Kane-douji.” At that, Koishi vanishes, but not before I feel her passing my left side.
“Really!? You should just give up!” Kobari yells, and I look at her blankly. She gestures at me while talking, “This is Brother Kane, you know! Kane! He’s on the same level as the Four Devas of the Mountain! He wields disasters! Just leave it alone! You’re fucked!”
“I’ll figure something out,” I say. I think, blink, and smirk, asking, “What? You worried he’ll guess you’re the one who gave me his name?”
“It wouldn’t help me any...” she admits, falling gently into the vault door again. She shrugs. “Whatever. If that’s how you want to die, I guess it’s better than having no choice about it...” She turns around.
“Wait,” I stop her, and she stares at me. “Oni, tell me how to free the slaves.”
Her shoulders hunch, her eyes narrow, and she grins like before. “I don’t have to do that,” she says. I nod upward, though she doesn’t notice. “Why do you think I wou—gh!?”
Koishi shows up behind her, tightening her cords over Kobari’s throat, arms, torso, and legs. I will myself toward Koishi, and before she can say anything I throw a flaming hand at the oni’s neck, grabbing around it, feeling the squeeze of the muscles in there, and watching as gold fire threatens her hair. The other oni in the room get into poses to act. I speak up, “Because I’m going to make ash out of you if you don’t. You’re right that I don’t have much time to waste, but you don’t wanna die right?” I grip harder, and she sputters, struggling against her bindings. “I don’t like the idea of killing anyone, but for how you handle other lives I can make an exception.”
“Khyou... couldn’t even if you... wanted!” she brags. Well...
“Maybe you’re not wrong,” I tell her, “but scarring you for the rest of your life wouldn’t be a bad deal either.”
I don’t know if I can really “beat” Kobari. I can tell just by holding her that she’d make Gasha look like a joke, and there’s a bunch of her pals around. But... I can’t leave here without rescuing the other gods. It’d be too low, even for me. I’ve said a lotta shit getting all the way here, but the truth is: I can’t abide this “slavery” crap. If I can stop it...
“F-Fine...!” she manages to say. She glances to her right, to a taller, but younger-looking oni who seems like he’s hobbled from the way he’s—wait, this is the guy I had Koishi follow. “Seiyou, put the thing by the door.” I check and see him pulling out his pocket a small black staff with a gold, kinda-spike top and a bunch of rings clanging off it... A shakujou?
“Hey,” I address him, and he winces after hopping with surprise. Damn, Yuugi really did a number on him... that’s not oni-like at all. “Will that take down the barriers?”
“O-Of course!” he stammers. “Boss wouldn’t lie about that!”
“She would,” I say, glancing at her, “you wouldn’t.”
After letting that sink in a moment, he goes to put the staff where he was told and after I let up a little on her throat, Kobari keeps talking. “Just wave that over the cages to dispel the bindings. Nothing to it. You can find the keys in one of the rooms. Okay? Gonna let me go now? Let me get away scot-free?” She smiles.
I start to back up toward the door, Koishi following with Kobari still wrapped up. When we’re there, I meet Koishi’s eyes, she disappears, and I use my fire to launch Kobari back into the tunnel gate. She hits it, but not all too hard; she doesn’t even fall, just stands a bit weakly against it. The other oni wait to see if I did anything to her, and after she stops coughing, she says, “It’s fine. Let her do what she wants.”
“Kobari... right?” I say. She looks at me with one eye closed. “You probably know this without me saying it, but this ain’t me forgiving you.” I cross my arms. “I’ll meet you again, topside.”
“As business partners, I’m sure,” she swears, grinning toothily as ever. Tch, fuck off. She gives one laugh. “Now fuck off, Joon, and go die.”
I feel my body get shoved out of the door, pushed into an invisible Koishi. I lift my head after I brought it down in defense, and just see... it looks like a void, where the door used to be. I touch it, and see that it’s solid. Some weird oni bullshit... I confirm to myself. Maybe I could take it down, but that’s not my business anymore. I face Koishi, see the shakujou in her hand, and sigh so long and heavy my body rattles. She puts her hands on my shoulders and I look at her.
That was intense... Honestly, I felt bad there the whole time.
I look back at the void. Kobari... I really didn’t want to let her get away. That bitch... the only thing she’s losing here is her stock. She’s not the type who stumbles and can’t get back up again. Finding her, too... won’t be easy.
Kane, though: he will be.
Koishi and I both look at the Buddhist staff meant to dispel Shinto barriers. At least, if the oni said so. We decide to split up—me going for the keys while she erases the seals’ power. We’ll meet back up and free everyone else, later.
I stick the right key into the last cage. Behind me are dozens of weak and deflated gods. It didn’t take long to do all this, though half of them wanted to stop me with a hug once they got what I was doing.
I unlock the bars and drag them squeaking open. The luminous old maid inside breathes with relief, but doesn’t move. Maybe she thinks she’s dreaming.
“Wish I had a cellphone. I want someone dealing with all this. This sucks,” I tell Koishi, who’s smiling brightly right next to me. In contrast, I look and feel like shit.
“Joon, you did great! Get hyped up! Come on!” she encourages. I smile myself, and huff.
“It’s hard. This is a shit deal,” I say, turning away from the cage and going to the stairs. The crowd of murmuring gods follows us. “Finding someone as famous as Kane won’t be hard, it’s the ‘getting Shion back’ part that holds me back. You haven’t tussled with an oni Sovereign, Koishi. They’re dumb. This could just wind up being the end. I mean, the end, and that’s it.”
“Get Miss Yuugi to help!” she says as we start ascending. I put my hand on the back of my neck before answering.
“Yuugi won’t help,” I tell her. “Even if she did, I wouldn’t like it. I think I’ve spent too damn long down here... especially around her. I get the honor thing a little too much.” I sigh, shaking my head. “Can’t wait to leave; get better ideas in my head.”
“But you’re taking me, right?” Koishi asks.
I don’t hesitate to say, “Of course.” I look back at her and reassure her, “You’re just as much a part of me as my heart is, you know? I can’t do the rest of this with you missing.”
She swoons. Well, good, I really meant that.
When we finally get out of the clubhouse, marching past unconscious oni I wonder about (like what’ll they do? Follow Kobari?), the gods we rescued start talking real loud. There’s a whole hell of a lot of them: like young, old, boys, girls, men, all that. A lot of them are asking what I’m doing, what’s going on.
Yeah... I’m gonna have Yamame take care of this. When I get the Black Hand taken down, too, that spider’s gonna be on all.
But, before I get the elder spider’s attention, what about Kane-douji?
When I find out where he is, what do’ll I do about it?
I punch my fist into my palm. Koishi brightens up, and nods.
We got everything together for the gods through Yamame, or more like, Yamame gave us a good suggestion to see Koishi’s sister. See Satori’s acquainted an influential pair of gods from the surface that know a good amount about how a god can get by. Basically, that old bag Kanako will take care of them.
Other than that, I chose to leave Satori out of this stuff. Me and Koishi left without explaining a thing, and I wasn’t going to wait around long enough for the sister to try to stop me after hearing what I was trying to do. Girl’s too noisy... Koishi said we should get a guidebook to find Kane, and we did. I flipped through one at a bookstand uptown, near the Nobles’ District. Kane, Torakuma, even Ibaraki’s old place: everything was right there, on a map. There I was, thankful for a second time that the Underground had become a tourist destination in the last six years.
Of course, it could be Shion’s not there.
Could be that he’ll’ve had her locked away somewhere secret.
But here I am now, in the shadow of the Palace of Kane no Kinshi, crouched down and figuring the place out, looking at his name – 「金詩」 – displayed on the plaque of a defensive wall. It’s a pretty ordinary castle for Japan: tall and with obvious, distinct rooves. Looks like he didn’t bother with a moat or anything. Well, this is a world where pretty much anyone can fly I guess, so, fair. It’s also mostly peaceful down here in Hell. Guarding yourself in spite of that’d probably send a bad, “I can’t make friends” message. At any rate: it’s red and white... “Bad sign” colors.
Koishi pops out from under my arm, bunching up my overcoat in the process. I look at her and ask in a whisper, “Got any bad vibes, Koishi?”
She shakes her head, then asks, “How about you, Joon?”
“I was worried... but now I’m getting kinda amped up.” I look to the topmost part of the building. Five stories... How come I get the sense we’re going to be down in a basement right after getting in...? “Can you hide me again while we sneak in?” I ask, staring down at her.
She looks at me a bit painfully, which really just makes me confused. “I can try,” she says, “but, um... honestly. I’m kinda nervous... It’s hard to get rid of my presence like this.”
Huh... that’s “good”, but a lack of emotional progress would’ve been more useful here. Catching my mix of pride and disappointment at this information, Koishi eyes me suspiciously.
So, my gal wasn’t nervous about the slaves, but old Gold-Gospel out here’s giving her a bunch of second thoughts. Any abundance of thought’s at all could do that; break her “ability” (if that’s what you want to call it). “Don’t push yourself,” I tell her, “we’ll just do everything carefully. Stay quiet, and follow my lead. You’re not used to sneaking around without your third eye doing all the work for you. Let’s get moving... Need a kiss before we do?”
“I don’t!” she hisses, glowing with shame. I grin, turning back to the castle.
“Just saying...” I reply, “could be our last chance.”
She swallows, and I can feel the small flame of anxiety flickering inside her chest. I decide to reassure her.
“Let’s make sure I get as many chances as I want after this. I’m burning this death flag invitation.” I grip the cloth of my dress, and I start in on the palace.
I’ve got a good amount of experience with breaking and entering, but “easy work” is “safe work” is “best work”, and I’ve always been better with my tongue than my hands—uh, right. Like I can talk a mean talk, but “walk” isn’t much in my portfolio of skills. Still, I know how to do it. It’s good to know stuff, you know?
Koishi keeps at my back while I push to the outer walls of Kane’s castle. The best thing to do if you want to get in somewhere and out without being noticed is to never go in while someone’s already there, and I can sense an oni inside this place. The next best thing is to plan, but I didn’t have any time for that. So, I’m left with some basic keys of burglary. Stick to shadows, don’t make a lot of noise, and for fuck’s sake pay attention. I sidle along the heavy-looking red bricks of the wall (like fuck it feels like each one of these is half my height) until Koishi and I are behind it. Kane is in a part of the District not affiliated with any particular sovereign. From this side of his palace, all you can see is a mile of unused, uneven, underground earth. From the front, of course you can see a not-too-distant Former Capital.
I meet Koishi’s eyes, trying to ask her if she doesn’t notice anyone either. She gives me a go-ahead nod, and both of us turn to start scaling the thing by hand. Or, I climb the whole way up; Koishi gives at the ground, disappears, and I next see her waiting, crouched, at the top. So much for being nervous...
So... if a fight with Kane Kinshi is inevitable... and really, I should be thinking it is as a worst case scenario... what exactly do I do?
I can’t beat that guy, can I?
Guess I can try to wound him at least...
And what does that mean? “He wields disasters”? What?
Maybe I can convince him to settle this with danmaku...? The Hakurei Shrine Maiden managed to get Yuugi to agree...
Ha ha... yeah, that’s not happening.
I summit the wall. Koishi gives me an encouraging nod for not cheating by flying up here under a cloak of subconscious. I look at the castle, and the gardens.
First, there’s a Zen garden here in the back, unsurprisingly. Oni are really into that vibe, in spite of how crazy they usually are. The porch: can’t see anything on it from here, but I can’t really see it at all to be honest. Any open windows...?
Koishi looks in my eyes, expecting a next choice. Well...
I point down, to the gardens.
For now the two of us split up and take either side of the thing, we both carefully climb down the walls, keeping aware of any changes in energy through the air. When we reach ground level without any problems, we step softly over the stones of the garden and then onto the wooden step, reuniting in front of his opened back doors. Inside...
“So many lamps...” Koishi comments, and when I move to shush her, I notice she’s vanished again. This girl...
Anyway, yeah: looks like Kane-boy has a thing for paper lanterns, because there seem to be like fifty of them in this room before the garden, and I can see more on walls further in. That’s absolute shit for sneaking around, you know? I mean, they’re dim at least... but there’s an orange or yellow glow just about everywhere inside, it looks like: not a spot of darkness at all. Too bad I can’t collect ordinary flames using my godly ones. That’d make things easier.
I walk, crouching, into the castle.
Other than the lanterns, what really strikes me about this place is... god DAMN it’s big. I wasn’t paying attention maybe? These hallways are fucking massive, like clearance for truck passage massive. The floors are decorated with literal gold leaves, embedded into the planks below. The walls have either lanterns, or plain white space. I stop and listen for a bit, trying to hear or feel for any drafts ‘cause... I just know it. I’m really damn sure if Shion’s anywhere, it’s even further underground. I’ve... got theories, I guess.
I don’t feel anything, though. I think we’ve got to scope the place out. I point at (a once-more materialized) Koishi, then point to the halls ahead of us. I’ll wait in the standing-lantern room, she can go scout. She agrees, and I lose sight of her.
After a few minutes sitting in a pulsing room trying to look like I’m not there, Koishi appears before me, points up with one hand, and down with the other, moving both slightly my way like she’s asking a question.
I point down again. She confirms, and waves me to join her. While I do, I notice that I can “feel” her pretty clearly. Honestly, I think I’ve mostly only noticed this when we’ve had... I mean, I don’t think she’s turned on or something, but she... might be freaking out.
I watch the back of her head while we skulk the halls, and keep totally silent.
... And in a little time, we’re at a cutaway: where there would usually be wall there’s nothing, and at the floor there’s only a fifteen by fifteen foot square pit. Guess it’s... a change of pace from staircases. Is that really it...? Well...
... At the very least, the big guy is down there.
I find that I’m holding Koishi’s hand. She lets me squeeze her palm.
Uh, when I see her, what do I...?
 Keep calm and in charge and leave as soon as possible.
While we descend, it keeps getting either balmy or cool and dry; feels really bizarre... I don’t have a lot of experience with it but... like moving to other worlds? Or like barriers... Something’s funky.
Koishi keeps close to me, still holding my hand tight. I can’t see her, but I can hear her breathing. It’s kinda keeping me sane, if I’m being honest. This is, like, sensory deprivation...
Without thinking I ask, “The fuck’s going on...?” out loud. Koishi whispers that she doesn’t know either.
While we’re going, an updraft rolls over us and we stall for a second. I squint below, just thinking: what the hell was that? I don’t know how far down it is, but enough light starts coming in after a few minutes that we can just barely see each other. Koishi puts a hand over her chest and I get a sudden urge to hug her. She picks up on it, and shows me a half-confident smile.
We land on a smooth floor made of black sheet stone. I look up, and it looks like we’re in a service or loading hallway or something. The ceiling is still high as ever, and the walls are far apart too. Only a two way split from here: forward or left. There’s some modern, but dull lights evenly spaced overhead, showing that whatever the floor is made out of, it’s being used everywhere. Koishi and I start gliding above it to avoid making echoes. I think, So Sis is down here, huh? and then I freeze.
Because I can feel it, like it’s unmistakable.
Shion’s pathetic spirit: it’s here.
My heart beats in my ears. Adrenaline pumps through me. I feel Koishi’s free hand rest over the one she’s already holding, and when I look at her I see that she’s worried. I tell her, “Wrap your arms around me, I’m going to run.”
She gets behind me and does that, around my shoulders and neck. I take a starting-line position, look up toward where I can feel her (the path to the left), and then I start dashing.
My heart beats twice for every second. My eyes focus like I’m in a low-odds fight. I can only hear that beat, and the rushing of standing air as I push through it in a mad blaze. Koishi holds on tight, and tighter, which reminds me I should be more careful but... I can’t help jumping the gun. She’s here.
Down this hall, in a room, I can nearly hear her.
I start burning through the dim-lit hall almost like a rocket, with Koishi squeezing on to me for dear life. The hall is long, almost worryingly but not worryingly enough to overwrite this rush I’m getting, knowing she’s just there. There. There! In that room!
I screech to a halt, fire washing over the floor and walls, and Koishi almost flying off of me. I stopped in front of a metal door. I grab the long handle, and I throw it open.
The room inside is bright and concrete.
It’s not a prison cell, and the door wasn’t locked.
It’s just an empty, pale room. Mostly... empty.
Except for Shion on the floor.
I stay still in the entrance way, hardly breathing despite how fast I was moving. I barely register Koishi coming off of me.
She looks terrible.
She’s... asleep. Her back’s lifting and falling, but she’s on the floor in the middle of the room, and she looks dirty and... thinner. If I’m noticing Shion’s thinner, then that’s... really fucked up.
She has bruises. How’d she get those? Looks like beating...
Has she been eating at all? I scan the floor for signs of old scraps or crumbs or something—I’m—I’m just assuming the worst.
I walk over to my older sister and practically collapse in front of her with my hands up.
She’s alive... She...
I reach for her, and feel over her body, checking her condition. Nothing’s broken, but she hasn’t been taken care of for a while, it looks like. Even when things got to their worst before, she’d always have something she could eat.
I shouldn’t wake her up... I take her more into my hands, and when I start to lift her up I just stop, and I ask myself:
Before I can stop myself, the tears are falling from my face, and my body’s shaking.
“Kh... Sis... thank god...”
I sound like a wreck already. I put my forehead to hers, and feel my face screwing up. In a few seconds, I’m just sobbing.
Forget hugging her, I wanna kiss her. I can’t believe I let all this shit happen to her. I can’t believe I let her down. I start calling her name while bawling, and I can’t hold anything back. I kept thinking she was dead, or that something worse happened, and I was so fucking angry at myself. I didn’t want to admit it...
I hug Shion’s head, and cry into her hair. I feel my lips twisting and distorting. Thank goodness this stupid idiot sister of mine is asleep... I can’t ever let her see me like this...
This is her. Lanky and tall like a doofy-looking pole. Too much hair: dark blue hair, almost blanketing her like a weird comforter. There’s a weak flame spiraling around her ankle... She’s pale. It doesn’t look like she has her cat. Did she lose it? Her sweater and skirt are still a mess... There are bills and notices all over both... Holy shit... god damn, it’s her.
Koishi doesn’t interrupt me, and I’m careful not to wake Shion up. I let the emotions rush out of me until I’m just quietly holding her, the flames on my body burning off the filth on hers.
It feels like I haven’t seen her since she was a kid. It hasn’t really been that long, but I dunno... Usually I just yell at her and treat her like garbage, but before I left her last time, I’d never left her alone.
We just had a stupid argument. There wasn’t anything to it. I got fed up with her attitude, and her powers had screwed something up again, and I was pissed off about it.
I said “I’m gone”, and I meant it then, but I think I wasn’t being serious. When I went to check on her and didn’t find her, I told myself I wasn’t worried, but I was. I seriously was. I mean come on, Joon, you asked around everywhere for her. When you heard the rumor, you went into Hell just like that.
Saying it was for money, when you don’t fucking care about money.
I hold my sister warmly. It might be the first time I’ve done that.
“... Sorry about that, Koishi,” I eventually say, not looking at her. I don’t hear an answer, but can picture her shaking her head. I pull myself away from Sis, looking at her face one more time and feeling a pulse of anguish coming up again.
“Joon... we have to get out of here,” Koishi says.
I force myself to stand up, saying, “Y-Yeah,” but I can’t stop my voice from shaking. Well, this is me... at the end of the day a fuckin’ pathetic mess. I breathe out a few times, trying to get this pain, sadness, and elation out of my system. I have to hurry. This is great, but I need to make sure she gets out of here okay, too. I also need to keep Koishi safe...
I look at the satori, and see she’s hiding the lower half of her face with a hand. Her eyes are glassy, and she won’t look me in the eye.
Ahh... damn it, I love this girl.
“Koishi, can you carry her? I don’t think I’m mentally stable enough,” I admit, and seriously that’s true. I’ve been worried about this for so fucking long, just being close to Sis is ruining me.
“Okay,” Koishi agrees, and she floats past me to do that. I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand and look out of the door, checking to see if anyone’s there. There isn’t.
Once Koishi has Sis in her arms and tentacles, I take point and start leading us slowly back to the exit without a word.
Not a word.
Not an echo (since we’re flying there).
Nobody but us...
... And him. He’s somewhere down here, not moving. That kinda pisses me off.
It of course takes us slower to find the shaft upward than it was when I was running to Sis. By the time we make it there...
... where the exit should be, there’s a wall instead.
“Oh boy...” I mutter, whisper.
“It looks like it’s always been a wall,” Koishi notes. She’s right.
I step toward it, put my hand on it, and look around. I don’t see any hints that it slid in or something. I don’t know if it’s hollow either, but I’m not about to knock to find out.
We’re trapped down here right now. I don’t know how big this place is, but somewhere in here is an oni who can rival the best of them, and he bought Shion. He’s not going to let me steal her back. I guess he knows we’re here. Guess it’s my fault.
Koishi has Sis, my hands are free... I think that’s good. Before I came here, I think that might be how I wanted it. I think—no... Just straight up:
“Hey Koishi,” I address her while still looking into the wall, “take care of my sister.”
“I’m already doing that!” she tells me in a half-loud whisper.
“Yeah, keep it up.” I turn to her. “Bring her back to where you found her. Hide out. It’s safer if you two aren’t around and all hung up if... when Kane shows himself.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not planning to fight him,” I lie, “I’m just looking for another way out.”
Koishi frowns, and her brows push up and together. She repeats, “Joon...” Is she seeing into me? Then she’s gotta go now.
“Hurry up,” I talk blunt, cold, and walk past her down the hall we didn’t take before. I stop, and add, “That’s me you’re holding on to. You love me... right? Then, please keep her safe f-for me.”
“Joon, don’t go off by yourself.” She’s chastising me... “Didn’t you want me to come to help you? Let me do that.”
“You are helping,” I tell her while walking forward and trying not to choke up. “You’re the person I’m the most glad to’ve ever met. So, please...” I turn only a bit, not wanting her to see how I look. “Can you, please...?”
Don’t follow me.
Even if you come with me, it’s not even like we “might” lose...
More likely than not, I’m going to lose. Taking out the slavers, that was practically simple compared to this. Koishi, I’m not letting you or my sister die for some stupid bullshit.
“Joon, no... I don’t want to.” I hear the waver in her voice.
Forcing a grin, I point a thumb at myself. “Believe in me,” I say, “that’s the best you can do.”
I leave her behind, and can tell that she wants to shout after me, but she’s holding herself back. Fact of it is, if Koishi stays behind, and I die fighting Kane-douji, she can use her power to hide herself and Shion until a chance to escape shows itself. Like, the big guy’s gonna have to eat sometime.
But the “sacrifice” thing doesn’t suit me...
While stepping loudly down the black hallway, I realize I’m not striding with confidence or determination, I’m shaking with fear.
My chest is tight.
I’m already crying.
I’m not someone who honestly says they’re gonna do something, even when they know they can’t do it. I’m a god, but I wasn’t always, and even now I’m still a realist. I’ve gotten powerful since I first fought Yuugi. A whole lot of the Underground’s put their faith in me, from Ouzu to Satori, Doushi to Yamame...
I made money down here, but more than that I’ve made spirits grow.
But that isn’t enough, right?
I can tell just how strong my punch is, and it can’t knock out Yuugi.
I can tell just how tough my body is, and it can’t handle a real storm.
My odds here... are shit, and there’s no cheating my way out of them.
What exactly am I supposed to do...? Just want hard enough that I win? This isn’t a comic book, and I ain’t the Dragon God. I’ve felt how much passion can boost me, and it’s got a limit. I’m coming up against something limitless...
And I don’t really want to die, damn it...
I don’t want to fucking leave everything behind... I don’t want to not see Koishi again...
I don’t want to fucking die in a hole no one knows about.
I want this all to have a happy ending...
But if I have to die to get somethin’... even half-happy...
Then I’m gonna do it.
More tears roll down my face, and I force down hiccups. I’ve admitted it, over and over: I’m not strong.
I put my hand over my eyes while I march, and breathe out everything from my nose. Inside, I feel my heart straightening out. I feel ready.
I’m not strong, but I have to be.
Let’s not feel defeated before we even see the fuckin’ guy, Joon.
And hey, you’re crafty. Maybe you can work something out.
I put a smile on my face.
Deva? King? God or oni... Who fucking cares!
I barreled through practically all of Hell looking for you...
So yeah... Come on!
You wanna meet me? Then here I am.
I’m Yorigami Joon! Joon Yorigami!
Sure, I’ll see your ugly mug... and I’ll throw my fist right in it!
The end is here...
 Tackle this carefully.
 Go 100% right off the bat.
 Don’t do anything crazy, fight like you always do.
[X] Don’t do anything crazy, fight like you always do.
Well, whatever I do.... probably doesn’t matter, right?
I reach a staircase.
Each step looks like it’s a meter long.
... I get it already. Fuck, man, get the Miracle Mallet: you’re obviously too big.
I decide, fuck this, and stop walking to float down the stairs instead. Kane-douji’s at the end... He’s obvious. I’m not even sure you could hide this amount of youkai power. It’s kinda nauseating, but mostly it’s just putting me on edge. I swallow. I can’t look like a weak punk when I face him. Oni... generally don’t have mercy for those.
After a minute, I land at the bottom. A bit of hallway extends before me. I stop looking at my feet to look down it.
“You didn’t scamper off,” a voice croaks, loud and resonant, lifting every hair on my body. Far away, at the wall where the next room ends, there’s a demon sitting down on a throne. “I was sure that you wouldn’t. I took your blood.”
He sounds like a talking boulder. Every word he speaks sounds beyond sure: almost plain. Like every reverberation from his throat is an undeniable truth, said with no real inflection. I’m going cold hearing him, not moving a muscle.
“It’s only right that you come down here. I was holding out. Your sister suffered much. I needed her to, but I drew it out longer than needed. It didn’t feel right. You hadn’t been given the chance to take her from me.”
I start walking forward, eyes aimed down.
“You’ve impressed me;” he says, without sounding impressed, but without sounding mocking either, “evil gods haven’t lasted long in our world since the Hakurei were made to protect it. Gods, in the land of oni, are always eaten.”
“I’m not evil,” I say, still walking, “I have to be honest about that.”
“You are evil.” I shake at that statement. “I am evil.”
“That so...?” I ask, my voice trembling. I’m an asshole, but I don’t think he’s right, no matter how convinced he sounds.
“I am Kane no Kinshi. Kane-douji. I became a name used to scare children. I rampaged. I was a chaos from the mountain.” I finally enter the room he’s in. “Joon...” I shiver at how he draws my name out. “No good man or woman does what you’ve done. I recognize it.”
“Yeah, whatever man,” I answer, trying to gather my courage to look at him. “I didn’t come down here for bedtime stories. I don’t suppose you can open the door out of here?”
I pick my head up, and the cocky smile I was sporting vanishes.
From a distance I definitely got the impression he was monstrous, but this is fucking ridiculous. Sitting down in a stone chair, arms out on the rests and grasping their ends, is a giant, deep-red man. His maw of golden teeth, looking like shiny cave pillars and spikes, can’t even be held properly behind his lips. Two, like, tusks are coming up from the bottom of his jaw. And, calling him “muscular”...
This guy is just a bunch of huge rocks and plates made of flesh. Most oni I’ve met so far don’t fucking look like this. Look strong, I mean. If it was anyone else, I’d figure they were posing.
Kane no Kinshi stares right into me with small, but piercing yellow and blood-red eyes. His mane of silver hair is ridiculous too. It puts Sis’s to shame, spreading out crazy over his shoulders and I can’t imagine how long down his back. He has one horn, like Yuugi’s, unmarked and towering from the front of his skull. Shirtless, clothed like a ceremonial warrior or something all decked out in prayer beads, a skirted belt, and heavyset pants. His shackles are immense, and the chains on them seriously look like they could brain me.
So this is it, huh. This is an oni who wants to kill me.
I look around the room.
“This is where I meditate,” he says, still watching me. This room is the largest one I’ve seen in his castle yet. The roof reaches way, way up, and even though I can see Kane-douji clearly, he’s still at a serious distance (he’s just that goddamn big—like three and a half me’s tall, and wide like a fucking truck). The walls on either side of me go way back too. I guess... if this is the sort of place that settles your mind, then it’s perfect. Boring as hell, though. All this stone, so few lights... At least it’s pretty bright compared to higher up from here.
I shift in a panic, raising my fists.
“I’m sure you want to know why I’ve done this,” he says.
“No,” I answer, shaking my head fast, “no, what the hell? I don’t care what you’re trying to do. Cut the crap. If you know about me, then you should know I’ve been trying to get this shit over with for a while.”
I hear something like an earthquake mixed with an avalanche and start getting worried. While looking all around, I catch sight of his face and she his eyes are closed and he’s... kind of smiling? Was that a laugh? Was he laughing?
“Fine,” he rumbles. “I will kill you, then, and eat your sibling’s flesh. It will be a simple matter to change the world order then. I will honor you. Your history will not go on lost. It will not disappear after today.”
“FFFffuuuck you, man! Seriously!?” I clench my fists, speaking through clenched teeth. “No! I don’t know what it’ll take for me, but I’m gonna fuckin’ beat you into the goddamn ground! I’m a god!”
He drops the cape from his shoulders, and the pauldrons that were keeping it up make a crack in his throne when they fall. He answers me, in a voice that sounds like it’s coming from an abyss: “I am an oni.”
And he says that... knowing I know damn well what that means.
“Alright,” he says, rotating both of his arms, flexing his hands, and pushing blood through his veins, “show me that my Sister was right to put faith in you.”
For the coming choice:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/02/24(Sun)17:00
A wind blows out, almost knocking me off my feet and to the stairs. My flames kick up immediately and I brace myself. Through the whipping force I see that Kane’s muscles are swelling more; that his skin is rippling and peeling in flakes. A ball of nausea rolls up in my stomach, not from that image, but from his blood-curdling energy.
“Come,” he begs, the hard ground getting crushed like snow under his bare feet, “it’s been too long since I last faced a god.”
“Wha!? Who?” I speak, sounding parched as ever. There’s a good scent. Actually... don’t I also smell good? What’s going on?
“You woke up!”
I lift my head to see that a little girl is holding me in my room. There are weird purple veins coming from her body, wrapping around me.
“Shion, right?” she says. I nod, twisting my eyebrows. “I’m Joon’s girlfriend.”
“‘Girlfriend’? Wai—Wha—Is... Is Joon here!?”
“Don’t worry, we’re gonna save you.” She smiles at me.
I start pushing myself out of her arms, and she starts panicking.
“Wait! What are you doing!?”
I fall face-first onto the floor. I put my hand on the ground and start lifting myself back up. “Joon...? Saving me...?” I ask.
There’s no way. I reach into my pocket, feeling around until I find it.
I take the coin I’ve been protecting for almost half a year, and I grip it tight.
▒▓ ▒ ░ ▒▒ ▓ ░▓ ▓░▒░ ░▒▓▒▓▓ ▓▓ ▓ ▓▒ ░▒ ▓
The ground under my feet shatters.
Kane-douji lands before me just as I get up into the air. He’s even more massive up close—more than I figured. Without trying, he split the earth. I hold my fist tight and get ready to swing at him. He swings first, and I disappear toward the ground.
His chain flies past my face and I almost fall on my ass from not expecting it. The force of his blow hits the wall, and craters it.
I throw a punch into his gut, fire dashing all over the floor. It sinks in and he makes a noise before reaching down in a split second, grabbing my arm, and lifting me up to either throw me or slam me down like a ragdoll. I force my body around to get my foot over his face, and jet my sole down into his nose. He grunts, and lets go of me.
I blink to his lower right side and swing there too, landing it. He starts rotating to try and get me, I move over to his blind side and stomp down on his back, kicking off.
He doesn’t move to that, but does move to catch my leg. This time I can’t do shit. He yanks me from the air and flings me at the floor in front of him.
I roll over twice, but it doesn’t hurt too bad. I get up, and see that he’s over me, ready to punch down on my face.
I slide out of the way and bring my own fist back while time slows. I lock on to his jaw and launch a jab there when I need to. His head rocks, but he makes it look like it didn’t hurt.
Alright, I’m out of ideas. I guess from hereon it’s just wearing him out. I’d go for his eyes, but they’re so small it’d be kinda hard.
While I’m thinking about where to go next, he puts those eyes on me. A shiver rolls through me, and I get the feeling I should skedaddle. I grab his arm and pull myself onto it, landing on him for a second before leaping away.
When I’m a few feet back, the winds around him intensify. Like, really, As in, it starts getting typhoon-tier scary. Since I’m not down on the ground, I can’t really fight against it, The wind catches me, shoves me to the right, then blows me down before buffeting me on every side.
My fires twist off of me and I can see that the typhoon’s turning into a tornado from that. Kane-douji stands in the middle, slowly standing back up while air violently spins around him. I put my fingers through the stone below me and grip as it gets stronger and stronger.
While I’m doing that, he stomps once, then jumps at me.
I let go as his fist comes roaring down where I just was, but that starts pulling me away. The floor tosses up in chunks, and those chunks burst and sparkle like fireworks. I call on my flame even more, fire turning in a whirlwind around me, reverse what’s going around Kane. Surprisingly, I can stay put like this. I bring the fire to my hand, and knock down into Kane’s skull.
“Guhh!” he moans, and I grin. Then, the tornado dies, a typhoon returns, and I blast back in an instant right into the wall.
“Gho fuhck...” I manage to spit out. The wind feels like its punching me all over my stomach. I wince, looking to where the oni is. He touches his head a few times, and while he does, the winds keep shifting. The room starts to shake too, and the wall I’m on starts waving. I push myself off.
The air feels hot. The wind stops, and I feel water on my face. I force myself back to the floor and realize a storm is building. Well, that and more shit because I can barely stand on this floor.
Kane’s body clenches, and the floor has an upheaval while dark clouds fill the ceiling. Lightning bolts start fall, and so do the walls. I finally get it. I get what that bitch meant about his “disasters”.
A blizzard turns around his body as he turns to face me. This is bullshit. I can’t fight this! He starts stampeding toward me, and I get ready to move. He lifts his fist again, and wind pushes me from behind, sweeping me off of my feet and blowing me right into it.
Oh, my, GOD.
This can’t be right, When I’m up against his fist, it feels like every bone in my body breaks at once. He follows through, and I’m hurled into the wall again. I feel my fire crawling over me, rapidly trying to fix what just happened. I push myself up after crumpling to the floor, and find him dragging a horrific uppercut through the concrete toward me. Since I’m still in pain, I can’t do anything about it. It collides cold, and I’m catapulted high up to a different wall.
I feel like my leg detached, and I panic, but I can’t check. I rebound off the wall and the wind takes me into the storm clouds. Electricity runs through me, and lighting arcs straight through my core. I cough and gasp. I feel riddled with pains. This is fucking torture. While I’m looking through one eye, I see the clouds clear all at once. Kane-douji is up in front of my face, and I hear a sonic boom. He suddenly claps his hands over my body, crushing everything. He lifts me for half a second, then throws me down below.
I crash, and it feels like the whole room undulates from the impact. I don’t actually feel bad though. I can feel my divine flame coating all around me. My heart is pumping like mad. In a second, I feel mostly okay, which is good, because flipping onto my back I see Kane coming down toward me with his foot aimed at my ribcage.
I get outta dodge.
The floor flips up and slaps me, launching me for a second before I get my bearings and right myself again. I notice then that we’re in full-blizzard mode in here, and it’s goddamn frigid.
“Your flame’s almost full,” Kane tells me. He huffs. “I’ll have to deal with it quickly.”
He holds his palm up toward me. Shit, what’s this?
I notice the snow around it is rotating. What the—this fuckin—is he trying to vacuum me up!?
A tornado forms from his hand, reaching toward me.
Nuh uh! Fuck you!
I let myself get taken in the course, holding power in my hand. The tornado ignites, and at the last second he realizes I’m using his velocity to strengthen my fist. He cuts the tornado and gets defensive just when I’m a meter away. I throw my Chanel bag at him, and he’s distracted as it hooks around his neck. I flash down to his left side, all the snow around us melting in a flash from the gold and heat. I throw my knuckles into his abdomen like a wrecking ball, feeling something break, and he fucking flies
I teleport to him before he reaches the wall, grabbing my bag and revolving around him to pull it off. While we’re speeding on, I start flashing around his body and striking at soft spots on his torso. He takes the beating until we’re nearly to the wall. When we’re there, the wall explodes, and falls in an avalanche.
I back off.
Or, well, I try. He grabs my leg and throws me back into the mess, standing still while the debris slams over him. Me, I get swallowed in dirt and rock, almost suffocating while trying to burst most of it off with the Golden Flame. I realize somewhere along the way that he’s grabbing my leg again, through the avalanche. He tugs me out and throws me at the ground behind him, which is cleared. I look at the wall and see it’s totally reformed. What... does control of disaster mean he can reverse shit too?
He punts me toward another wall, jumps, and stomps on me before I can reach it. I try to escape, and me tugs my arm, throwing me to the right. It’s at this point I can tell he’s seriously not fucking around. He thinks I’m a threat.
Well, I think I’m going to die.
I’m amazed I’m keeping up with him, but he’s fuck he’s just not letting up. It seems, like Yuugi, he’s dealt with a Golden Flame before. He knows the ins and outs, and knows he can’t even give me a fuckin’ minute. When he punches me again and I realize it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as before, I see why. Oh, it hurts, but I’m literally on fire. My divine powers are working overtime to keep me going, so he’s working over that to destroy me.
He moves for another punch and I slip under it, upper cutting him in his jaw and sending out a geyser of spit. Then, he grabs me in his arms and starts using his strength to squeeze the hell out of me.
“Ghgh... khgkgk...!” I make noises while feeling like my insides are going to spurt out of my skin. Bad...! Fucking... HURTS!!
I manage to free a hand and start reaching toward his face. He figures I’m going for his eyes and jerks his head away, just when I grip firm on his bottom lip and tug down in a blaze.
His blood splatters on my face (burning off just as it touches) and he roars in pain. He drops me, holding his face and grumbling. I need to recover so I can’t keep up, but damn, that looked like it hurt. I almost feel bad for doing it.
“RRrrgh! GGhhrrgh...!” He moans, blood oozing from between his palms. It’ll definitely heal, since he’s an oni, but it’s probably a new pain huh?
“GRAH!!” He bellows in, his voice echoing, and I lift off of my feet from the force of his shout. Is that what it is? No, it’s—
Something fucks up. The space around him gets funky, and my perception distorts. Whatever sort of disaster this is, it’s not anything normal. It feels like... the world of fantasy’s getting torn up...
Well, that would be a kind of disaster.
Everything pulses in this awful, grotesque way, and I get pushed way back, putting me near the hall that leads into this arena. Kane doesn’t follow me. Around him, shit’s still distorting.
With a moment to myself I realize that the fire was mostly faking shit for me, because now that I can actually stop, it feels like a lot of shit got fucked up on and inside my body. I think it dulled my pain first before it started trying to heal.
... Honestly this is really not too bad, but if he keeps pulling new tricks out of nowhere I could be fucking majorly screwed. In the first place, I don’t know if I can really stop him. It’s more like... pecking down an enemy with too much HP, and my defense is alright but he’s got some shit that knocks right through it.
At any rate, I need to let my body get better. I wish I could think up a strategy to take him down, but nothing’s coming up...
Seems like I’m gonna lose here, it’ll just take a while.
Kane eventually breathes out for a long time, the ripples in space around him finally settling down. My body isn’t perfect when he finally pulls his hands away from his face, but I can keep going.
“... I’m sorry about that,” I apologize honestly. “Guys like you, I always feel like I have to play dirty to win.”
He doesn’t answer me. He’s leaving his hand a few inches out in front of his face—maybe he still hurts?
I’ve been resting, crouched, until now. I stand up, wearing a smile. “Hey, at least I ain’t tricking you, right?” I offer. I hold my arms out, getting ready to fight. I decide to ask him, too, “You ready?”
He doesn’t budge, so I don’t either. I don’t want to try to attack when his guard looks down—that’s asking for something weird to happen. Like, I’d go at him, and the roof would fall down or something.
I’m staying put.
A hand lays on the back of my shoulder and I flinch. Not to the touch, but to that voice. I turn my head and ask, “Sis...?”
Shion is floating behind me, looking out of breath.
“Where’s Koishi!?” I shout.
She looks confused.
You’re confused? I’m confused.
“That girl...?” she asks. “I left her behind.”
“What the hell are you doing here, then!? Get out!” I yell, pushing her away.
“No...” she says.
“Sis, don’t grow a spine now! I’m not joking—go!”
She shakes her head, putting her hands over the one I’m using to push her. Tch...!
“I’m... I’m not letting you go...!” she says, her eye glittering just slightly. Damn it... I don’t need this right now...
“Don’t screw around! You can’t do anything, alright!? I didn’t come down here to have you die, and I sure as hell didn’t come here wanting to see that bastard eating you alive in front of me!”
I point at Kane, who seems like he’s getting his bearings. Fuck, fuck, fuck...!
“Joon! Hear me out!”
I turn my attention back on Shion. She looks fierce, no more tears in her eyes. “Trust me...” she whispers in a deep kind of voice. “I don’t know what you’ve been through, Joon, but are you really as strong as that guy...?”
I don’t answer her, I keep listening.
“I can help...” she says, looking toward Kane-douji with half-narrow eyes. “Come on... it’s been a while, right?”
A while since we...
Hmph. I smirk.
Maybe... this could work.
“You know what? You’re right, Sis. We’re the worst, most despicable and disastrous pair, aren’t we?” I say. Shion glows at that, smiling brightly, and my smirk becomes a grin for a second. I have to take it off to warn her seriously, “But be careful, alright? Stay behind me, and don’t get in the way.”
We both look his way as he looks ours. “The twin,” he says. Looks like he can talk now. “Here’s a threat: I’ll eat the girl if I think it’s needed. She’s ready by now.”
“Eating fire can’t be good for you, man,” I tease while Shion takes cover behind me. I jerk a thumb her way to point at her, saying, “If you say she’s ready, then she’s got some crazy power to rival mine, right?”
He answers bluntly: “Yes.”
“Then forget about it,” I say, punching my rings into an open palm. “You said you were a chaos from the mountain? We were the nightmare of a society,” I point at him, flashing my teeth. “Just you wait! We’ll show you an inferno you ain’t never seen before!”
Or... that’s what I’m hoping for.
I hold my right fist steady, flame jetting off that shoulder.
I clench my left fist, and fire blazes out of me.
Sliding the toe of my boot back, I put myself in a fighting stance as the golden flame stokes to its max at my back. I look at Kane no Kinshi, determined.
—So here’s the deal:
I’m banking on something simple. Sis’s power over misfortune is greater than mine, and the fire she’s got means she might even be able to control it by now.
If I handle her right, I think... no—maybe I can definitely turn this over!
Just gotta keep her safe...
Kane slams his hand into the ground, we both shiver. The floor shifts, and yep: here comes an earthquake.
“J-J-Joon!? You can fight him!?” Shion chatters behind me.
“Just watch: your little sister’s changed a lot since you last saw her.” I throw her a self-assured smile, and rush in.
Naturally, I fly toward him, Shion lingering as a mist at my back (she can do that?). He only got me to fly to start something else, though. A tornado starts blowing around the whole room while the floor is breaking, so it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
I bring my hand back, into Shion’s smoke, and grab there. When I do I grip the front of her hoodie and feel a sudden surreal connection. I don’t know everything but... this flame of hers... I just kinda get it.
I was planning to hold her tight while I pulled a crazy dodge, but instead on instinct I decide to throw her down toward Kane-douji’s feet.
“WAaaAAaaGH!?” she screams as she flies in a dark blur. I keep in the air and get ready to use the same trick I pulled to speed up my fist before.
When Shion lands, she materializes again, unharmed but definitely freaked out. But forget about that: when she hit, a wave of black and blue power splashed out around her. Kane’s hand that he’s using to bolster his earthquake suddenly sinks way down past his elbow. He looks baffled, and I smirk again.
The wind takes me to the walls. I start running along them, leaping every few steps and catching speed, I spark my knuckles on the stones under/beside me, they ignite, and finally launch myself to make my strike.
I look like a golden comet, screaming through the air. Shion warps behind me once I’m pretty close, and she hugs around my shoulders as I bring my fist down on the oni.
“GRUH!!” he bellows. I brought it down on his skull. The power of the impact shoots out in a wave and he buckles. A crater blasts wide around him. I drive his arm further into the ground.
While he’s reeling I grab Shion again, this time by her collar. She clenches her teeth, I throw her into his back.
She squishes down on him, her misfortune falling out of her like she’s a bucket that just got knocked over. She holds onto his back, grimacing. I land, and punch Kane in the face.
“AGH!!” he yells. I jab his face again. I grab his hair, slide in, and start pounding on his mug.
However! Much it! FUCKIN’! TAKES!!
I keep beating my fist against him, until Shion yells, “Joon, careful!”
I warp behind her, just as lighting strikes where I just was. I grab her hood and lift off as Kane’s back flexes, his muscles moving like lava.
He rips his arm out of the earth, again making the debris around him crackle and burst. A chill goes down my spine, and I throw Shion away.
Kane turns on me, and the air goes still for a second. Then, it goes nuts.
A winter/summer storm starts raging, lightning and thunder crashing down and around everywhere while snow obscures everything. Kane meets my eyes, and I recognize his look. It’s the look Yuugi gives me when she just wants to fight. No bullshit.
I hold my hands up like a boxer.
Alright, dude, let’s go—!!
I punch toward him, and my fist meets his. The instant it does, I remember that Yuugi always held back when she sparred with me.
My right arm is [i]done.
Mother fuck is it done. I need to let my fire heal it.
I drop down under his next-coming blow and start trying to fake him out. With water splashing all over, I keep dodging in flashes all around him while he flails. He starts glowing. Shion grabs me from my right.
“What are you doing, Joon!?” she cries. I don’t know!
Rays of red energy fire off of his back, and a ring of bullets spreads out from him. For fuck’s sake! Danmaku, man!?
Shion drags me real fast out of the danger zone, holding me tight. I look past her to see Kane huffing and growling, surrounded by lights.
“Your arm’s broken!” my sister yells.
“Just give’t a minute...” I hiss, looking at the noodle-like thing. It fucking hurts, you know. I close my right hand and focus my fire around it.
“Joon, I can curse him.”
“Sis, no shit. What do you think I was doing?”
“No, I mean I can seriously curse him bad.”
I push myself out of her arms and stand up, feeling my bones start coming back together. “Oh yeah...? Then why haven’t you done that already? In case you hadn’t noticed, this guy’s almost invincible. We could use something like that, damn it.”
“I need to flick it at him.”
Huh? “Wha? The curse?” I look down at her, and see she’s holding something in her hand.
Uwaa... what’s with all this misfortune and poverty? That’s insane... Makes me sick.
“Flicking it... makes the curse actually stick?” I ask.
She nods. I turn my head to look at Kane-douji.
“I’ll make an opening then.” I finally grip my right hand while flexing my arm. Feels better. I look into the bullet curtain and say, “Keep up!”
I start flying, Shion not far behind.
Kane’s danmaku isn’t really patterned. I think he’s just raging, or like he’s excited. Bullets and lasers of all sorts and sizes are shooting past me fast and slow, but moving through it is real easy (and reeeaaal dazzling). The thing that really sucks here is the cold of the blizzard. I start spinning fire around myself to keep warm... Spinning fire, hm...?
I start getting closer. “Hey Kane!” I call. “You—!”
I don’t get to finish.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/02/25(Mon)08:30
Kane turns toward me, his eyes shining brightly. He stomps his foot down and a tower of earth shoots up from below me. It catches me under my jaw and I feel my brain jostle. Then I feel like I’m getting caught in an avalanche again and
“JOON!!?” I scream, stopping in the air. Joon doesn’t answer me, she just lets a wave of dirt take her. While she’s arcing back, I see her face: her eyes are closed and her expression’s nearly blank.
No...! Not now! Did my misfortune have to act now!?
Oh no, oh no, oh no!
J-Joon’s gonna die!
I feel tears in my eyes and I start hyperventilating. My breath is shaking. I can’t move!
I stay still while Joon starts to fall, then my whole body bounces in surprise.
Joon stops, just like that. Is she conscious!?
Huh—? No wait, there’s... somebody...
Looking closer I see somebody carrying her. It’s that girl from before... She takes Joon into one arm and aims her hand at the oni. A giant rose blooms out of her, then thorns, just whip out everywhere!
“Eek!” I duck, covering my head and shutting my eyes. When I peek one eye open I see the girl still there, and a bunch of light and flower buds all around the room. I hear a scary roar go out and feel like I’m gonna pee myself, but I stay calm. The girl comes over... What name did Joon say? “Koishi”?
“Take Joon and l-leave!” she orders, putting my sister in my arms. “I don’t care how, just go okay!?”
“What’s with you two!? I-I’m not gonna run away!” I yell.
My eyes fall on one of hers: a third, closed one wavering around her body. The veins are attached to that. Whoa... how weird...
“Listen... Shion. Joon’s—... your sister is unconscious. You can’t help here, so go!”
“I can help!” I cry. “I was going to help! I can curse him! I can curse him!! Let me stay here, and we can wait until she’s better so we can try again! St-Stop trying to kill yourselves, god... god damn it!”
I’m practically screaming by the end, and out of breath. The girl looks at me, then toward my feet, thinking hard.
“Okay,” she says looking me hard in the eyes, “but please take care of Joon.”
Feels like worms are crawling through my skull...!
“Aa... aaagh!” I yell, then I groan, picking myself up and holding my forehead. Fuck happened...?
I can see... issat—Shion? “Sis...” I manage to say, “what’s going on?”
“Joon!” she shouts, making me wince while she turns her head to look at me. She’s smiling... Looking at her, I realize she was just using herself as a wall between me and something else... Something else... Damn it, the sovereign-style oni...!
“Kane... Kinshi...” I growl, pushing myself from the wall behind me onto the floor in front of me, onto my hands. “Fire... heal me already...”
“Why hasn’t he killed us...?” I need to know. It doesn’t make any sense. Did Shion run away and hide me?
“Because... your girlfriend...” Sis says... Girlfriend?
“Koishi...!?” I stand up in a flash, ignoring how bad everything feels to squint past my sister.
Koishi is in the air, looking seriously serious while she and Kane duke it out with... if not spell cards, definitely danmaku. A bullet whizzes past us (Shion squeals and shivers when it does) and blows up part of the wall behind me. Right on cue... this isn’t some upper world Gensokyo pussyfooting shit. It’s a life-on-the-line fight.
Koishi... Why the hell are you here!?
“Get out of my way, Shion...!” I grumble, trying to march forward and realizing everything’s too woozy for me to manage that. I stop, and hold my head with my eyes forced shut and my mouth in a tight frown. My brow keeps twitching.
“Joon, stop! Let yourself get better first!” Sis... you’re too mindful.
“ No...” I tell her. I open my eyes, looking at their fighting and telling Sis, “That’s someone I can’t lose up there. I can’t... let her get hurt either. I’m not letting... any of you get hurt...!”
I make a fist.
“So get the fuck out of my way, Shion. I’m saving her.”
After speaking darkly, I feel the flame trying to set things right inside me. I can’t wait for that...!
I dash past Sis and feel a wave of nausea, stopping and falling on my knees.
Eh!? Koishi’s voice...!?
I close my eyes again.
Come on... It wasn’t that bad of a blow was it!? Heal... Heal!
I feel Shion hug me around my back.
And surprisingly enough, I feel her faith in me.
“Fine, Joon. I’ll let you go,” she say, speaking against my spine, “but don’t be an idiot.”
Since she’s a god, her faith does nothing for me, well, practically... but...
“Okay...” I answer her, and exhale.
Sometimes a word of confidence is enough, you know.
I stop panicking to just concentrate on searing the pain and injury from my head. Sure enough, in a few seconds I’m feeling alright. I lift my head again and tell Shion, “Get ready with that coin. We’re making this happen, Sis.”
She nods against me, and I warp out of her grasp, instantly to Koishi’s side.
Just as Kane thought “screw danmaku” rules and rushed my girlfriend with a fist. I take her up in my left arm and meet his knuckles with mine. My clothing ripples and every bullet in our vicinity clears. Holding Koishi close, I ask him, “What’s with this weak punch? You holding back for a little girl?”
“What fire,” Kane remarks, still with his hand pressed into mine (and, seriously, dwarfing it), “it’s a shame it doesn’t suit my abilities.”
I frown. “If you tried to eat me, I’d make sure to give you indigestion.”
Koishi presses closer to my front, and I make her more secure. Kane laughs.
“If I didn’t have to do what I’ve decided I have to do, I would have befriended you, Yorigami Joon.”
“I can’t say that goes both ways.” I pull my fist from his. “You creep me the hell out.”
“Hmmm...” he mumbles. I feel his energy building up. I take the chance to put Koishi beside me carefully.
“Are you alright...?” I ask her.
“Mostly...” she replies, but it’s a little weak. She looks more than a little beaten up, and her youkai healing isn’t nearly as fast as my divine flame’s.
“Sorry...” I apologize, for not being there to stop anything else that hit her, and for wanting her out of harm’s way even though we both decided... we’d be there together at the end, right? She nods, understanding my meaning from my heart. “Just stay safe,” I ask her.
She looks me in the eyes. Firm, she says, “You too.”
We both look at Kane-douji as a hurricane starts wrapping around his body. Seeing that, I start forcing my fires to spin around mine. Koishi slips out of our perception.
Alright, the two of us need to hold him in place long enough that Shion can shoot a coin at him without feeling nervous about it. First thing—
I make my flame expand outward while his hurricane is going. He looks surprised when the Golden tornado hits, stopping up his wind. While yellow is dancing over his eyes, I get near him. He senses me and gets ready to do something, but he’s probably not expecting this.
I dash to his back and clasp my arms around him.
“What!?” Wow! Wow! He actually sounds surprised. I get my fire going around me again. Koishi clicks with me like always and appears at his front, throwing her indigo veins around his upper torso and arms.
“Here we go, Koishi!”
I lift him, fire billowing all over me, and all over him. He can still do something so I’ve got to make this fast. I bring him and myself upside down, Koishi struggling but still following suit. It’s a suplex. Specifically: an assisted Izuna Drop. Koishi helps me lug him over, and all three of us start spiraling downward while my fire increases our speed. Kane sounds completely baffled, struggling but not knowing what way to struggle first. Once we’re almost at the ground, I let go, Koishi lets go, and the oni’s head, shoulders, and chest get drilled into the earth.
I flip and land on my feet, sliding back. And I pump my fist. “Wooo!!” I cheer. That was awesome!
“Miss Shion! Get him now!” Koishi yells.
Shion, who was nearby waiting, aims the coin at his stomach, held between her thumb and pointer finger. She flicks it, and all three of us are shocked when a feeling of ill will falls over us. It’s only temporary, but it wipes any smiles off our faces. With black, ill signs manifesting around it, the coin fires right into Kane-douji’s gut, blue contrails sickly twisting around the arc it took to get there. The coin falls with a tink, tink, and after it rolls about until it’s flat, a vortex starts churning around him. The smoky, midnight-dark think gets almost violent before it’s suddenly sucked up into his body in a rush out of nowhere.
... We did it?
“... We did it!” I shout.
“Ha...! Ha ha...!” Shion laughs.
Koishi stares at Kane’s body, looking concerned. I don’t like that look.
“Everyone back off!” I order, and we all retreat toward Kane-douji’s throne. The oni, with his legs awkwardly up in the air, looks pretty damn funny. But if Koishi’s got a bad feeling, I’m not sticking around.
Even I can tell he’s still kicking. This isn’t over until we have a way out of here.
The girls get behind me and beside me.
When he gets up, I’m—
 going to focus on destroying this room.
 going to pummel the fuck out of him.
 going to hang back, ‘cause I think now he’s desperate.
Kane pulls himself out of the ground. Dirt falls off of him like water. He shakes his head a bit and pushes his body up so that he’s on one knee. Most of his clothes’ve turned into rags and strips of cloth, and they fall off, too, beads dropping to the floor and rolling into fissures. Only the foundation of his skirted belt is left.
“Let me be honest,” he says, and we all stiffen, “I don’t feel anything after all of that. I won’t call you weak, but if you want to slay an oni, you need to be much stronger than this.”
He breathes out, his voice rattling.
“You’ve celebrated too early.”
He didn’t hear why we were cheering! Did he not notice Shion’s curse taking hold of him either? I can accept not noticing the coin bouncing off of those abs, but... Hm, is this a good thing or a bad thing?
“It’s too bad that you are strong, Joon. I can’t deal with you easily.”
“Right...” I give him a hesitant reply, smiling a bit nervously.
“I will have to...” he starts, lifting himself onto both feet and wavering, “RIP you apart, and dash you against the ground. I will have to...” He starts shaking. If he’s not, like, hurting from anything, then why’s he...
“He’s angry. You can’t tell, Joon?”
I mean, I can read emotions, but not as well as you, Koishi.
Wait, he’s angry...?
Oh god no...
Kane looks into his palms.
I pinch my nose bridge and close my eyes. A mad oni... I’ve only been up against a few, and really only one that genuinely wanted to kill me... Yuugi.
That was the first time I seriously understood fear of youkai. This might be the second.
“Koishi,” I address my girlfriend without looking at her, “I won’t tell you to leave, though if I’m being honest... I really want you to.” I turn to lock eyes with her, speaking from the heart: “Seriously. Don’t do anything risky.”
She thinks about that, her eyes moving just slightly as she looks off toward the floor. She nods, slowly, and says, “I won’t, Joon.”
“I’ll try not to either, but I can’t promise I won’t. Yeah... I know that’s unfair,” I reply, giving her an empty laugh. I look toward my sister and tell her, “Hey, in case we fuckin’ die here... I’m sorry for everything.”
She puts her thumb to her lips, the rest of her hand made up into a weak fist. Her answer: “No, it’s fine. I... knew that you couldn’t mean it all, and I thought you’d come back, but... I got caught.”
“Yeah, you did.”
“But we’re a team,” she says with a smile, “we’re twins. A part of one another, Joon.”
I think about that... I’ve basically said the same thing. I believe it, it’s right.
“Joon...” Sis whispers. I glance at her, and she beams, her eyes closed. “I love you!”
Ugh! “Tch! Come on, now!” I turn my eyes onto Kane-douji again. “Whatever!” I snap. “I love you, too!”
“I love you too, Joon!” Koishi cries.
“Aaagh! Shut the hell up, you two! Can’t you read the mood!?” God damn! You’re gonna make me pull my hair out! Sighing, I shake my head, stand tall, and punch my rings together once. I remind them, “Don’t forget, we’ve still gotta finish this! Quit getting sentimental, ‘cause we’re right at the goddamn end!”
... I can’t deny it though.
With the two of them smiling behind me, my heart feels like it’s covered in gold.
I can’t help smiling too, from total happiness. Tears well in my eyes, and I force them down.
I sniff, I exhale, I face Kane no Kinshi, and feel confident.
I won’t lose here...
I’m gonna win!
No matter what... I’m swearin’ that here and now!
Don’t worry, Komeiji... Don’t worry, Sis!
I’m doin’ this for sure!
The world splits.
Shion cowers behind as reality starts rocking from several huge impacts. We can all see it, like glass, breaking from a beating and cracking like crazy. Kane starts floating with his arms out, and eight spheres manifest around his back.
The room is torn up and thrown away, the red giant stays aloft and certain before us, and we’re transported onto a plane of stars.
“Wh-Wh-What the heck is this!?”
“Chill out, Sis.”
“Joon, where are we?”
“How should I know...”
Looking again, it’s more than stars. I’ve see these neon grids in my dreams before. Plus, there are parts of the area that look like a blue and cloudy sky. What’s even weirder... I still feel like we’re in that meditation room from before.
“Don’t rush, alright!?” I yell, staying steady. “We’re dealing with a wrathful oni, here! Not sayin’ there’s no tellin’ what’ll happen... We all know that fucker’s dangerous!” I grin bright at the other two behind me. “But we’ve got the upper hand...! Don’t puss out, either!”
Koishi gets ready at my left side, Shion breathes out at my right.
I look right at Kane-douji.
“Let’s do this!” I shout.
From us changing atmosphere so fast, winds are going wild everywhere. I squint at Kane through ‘em, looking at those weird, clear orbs behind him... That’s it! They’re set like Raijin’s drums!
Each one looks like it’s got sorta like... some kinda raging storm of elements in it—like earth, wind, fire... the eighth one, I can’t tell what it is just from looking. Yeah... those things worry me.
But they’re givin’ me thoughts, too.
“COME!!” Kane no Kinshi orders with a roar, his chest out. He poses like an old god, one hand before him, one arm bent with his elbow raised and behind him. One of his orbs shines: one that looks like it’s swirling. A windstorm shows up immediately, and it’s maybe ten times worse than the shit that was throwing me around before.
I bring up my flame and have it start rotating a whole lot to protect us.
“Koishi, I’m gonna need you to get out there! Keep at him from afar!”
“Roger!” she says, and without hesitating she slips out of my barrier and into the wind.
“Sis, stay close to me.”
She nods. After waiting a few seconds, shaking from the force of the wind, I blow out my fire and let it hit us, but not before grabbing Shion.
At the moment of impact, I warp to wherever Koishi is, which turns out to be pretty far from Kane-douji to his right and behind him. She starts firing hearts and flowers at him (that he casually flits out the way of, though he barely looks like he’s moving (or even paying attention, really)), I start dashing toward him before he can realize where I am. The wind that was trying to get at me can’t find me anymore either. When I’m getting close, I jerk Shion forward.
“Grab the water one!” I yell, and I catapult her toward his back.
Shion flies, her arms outstretched, and Kane notices, turning around while his orb of fire flickers.
Too late though.
Just as a wildfire starts to bleed out from him, Shion grabs his water orb, her body flailing and the soles of her feet kicking pathetically into his face. It glows purple, and a flood turns out and around the two of them.
Kane bellows so loudly I hear it even though he’s engulfed in water. Shion’s cheeks are puffed out, but she’s looking okay. The water keeps filling the air until it can start swelling. It towers to the three-part heavens, and starts to fall down on us.
“Koishi, launch me!” I order.
She latches onto my body and pulls me into a flower. Meanwhile I start gathering fire into my hand.
She fires me out of darkness toward Kane-douji just as the tsunami starts to crash down. I rush toward him, color blearing around me, until the water gets to me. I clench my teeth, hope, and it evaporates to the heat while my flames intensify. In a flurry of hot air and flame, I cut through the manifested ocean and hurl my fist not at Kane-douji, but at the orb of his filled with churning dirt.
It cracks for a moment, then shines brightly. I grab Sis and throw her out of the water before it finally consumes me. Kane reaches out to me, and I shake my head. The orb of earth starts spewing an avalanche out right against his head, turning into a mudslide, I start swimming and zipping the fuck away while he rages inside a total fucking brown and blue mess.
I breach the water, breathing fast and looking around until I spot Shion. I push my arm out of the water and cry, “Sis!! Get over here!”
She shouts, “Okay!” and comes toward me. She catches my hand and I pull her close while getting out the water all the way. Just then, it all rushes back toward Kane-douji, but not the mud he’s halfway trapped in. I had a feeling that’d throw him off!
I face him and start dragging Shion toward him. He throws a punch just to try to have the impact hit us, but we dodge it. Only one of his arms is free. I throw Shion behind him, and slide my way under his free arm.
He moves to claw at me while grunting. I grab hold of the chain from his wrist’s shackle and yank it while I move past him. There’s floating, wet earth all around us; I pull his hand toward one pile before letting go, teleporting to Shion, and kicking down on his back.
He stumbles, and his hand submerges.
“Get the fire one!” I tell Shion. She rushes to his right side and puts both her hands on his blazing orb. A brushfire spreads at once, and while it does I fight it off using my own flames to protect me and my sister. The mud hardens into clay, and I start backing away from him, Shion doing the same.
He won’t be stuck long! “Koishi! Let ‘im have it!”
Out the corner of my eye I see her aiming both her palms at him. A twisted helix of love then BOOMs out of her hands, firing fast down onto him and punishing him without even a moment of letting up.
“Phew...!” I sigh. Not like it’s done, but...
The air rumbles. Under us, I see Kane flinging his arms open, cutting through Koishi’s danmaku with ease. He touches the swirling earth orb over his shoulder, then throws his hand out. Like that, the air fills with dust and stones.
“... Hm??” What’s he trying to do?
He clenches his fist, and they all start jittering and jumping around the airspace, randomly. One smacks me across the cheek. After that pain, I notice a boulder hurtling toward me from my front.
“Fuck!” I cry.
Kane points toward the sky, then throws his hand down.
A downpour ensues, drenching me and Shion (dunno if Koishi got caught in it). I sputter—I fuckin’... almost can’t breathe! Another rock hits me, slamming the right side of my skull. I can’t see anything! This is worse than the flood...! Rain is such a bitch!
I feel Shion clinging to my back, and I shield my eyes. As I do, I see Kane’s massive body before me, see lighting flash over his face, and hear thunder crashing.
I brace myself for him to pummel me.
Instead, he lifts his head, flexes his nose a few times...
... and sneezes. Thankfully without getting anything on me.
The rain lets up.
“Get away, Shion,” I tell my sister. I stay put. “... Come on, Kane. You want a little one on one again, right?” I beckon him with both hands.
He huffs, looking like he’s fighting another sneeze.
But then, he gets into his old-god fighting stance again, and waits for me.
I go under his arm and give him a punch in his side. He takes it.
I throw one at his stomach. He takes that, too, and puts his eyes on me.
Playing that game, eh...?
I punch his stomach again, hard. I pull back my left hand and punch at him again. I float to his other side and hit him there too. Yep, yep... this isn’t working!
I let my fires rise until he’s blinded and wincing. When he’s like that, I give him an uppercut and his jaw shifts. Now he’s noticing. I kick off of his chest and step on his left shoulder, putting my other boot on his face and firing it down. He moves to grab me and I flash to his other shoulder, planting my knuckles into his skull. He breathes suddenly, sharply, and starts coughing. I think he just breathed some water.
I punt him in the head and back off while he still thinks I’m hanging around there I drop low and start building fire in my hand. When it’s ready, I land it in his ribs.
“Rrgh...!” Finally, he buckles, and shifts. Seven of his eight orbs flash.
With a hand that’s splitting with nature, he swipes at me faster than I can move. I wait to feel the hit... but don’t. He rips his clawed digits upward, and takes my overcoat with them.
Guess I’ll need a new one, but I’m okay with this!
Still, before I can move he throws a punch at me. I choose to grab it, my fire exploding out of me while it tries to dull the hit.
“Shion...!” I grumble. “The last one...! The orb he didn’t use!”
“You... Did the other god lay a hex on me!?” Kane asks while Shion flies toward us and Koishi watches over her. I hold his arm in place, but like... really fucking barely!
“Y—... You finally no... ticed!?” I manage to say. Shion gets close enough to grab the orb. I let go of Kane’s fist and teleport to her side, hugging her body before she can touch it. Like I expected, he swivels around to swipe at her. I blink us down to his feet, then around to where his back now is. He swings his arm behind to sweep us, and I bowl Shion over to his other side, trying to block his attack but not managing at all. It hits and I go flying. He gives chase. Shion leaps for the one weird orb behind his head, the one that glitters, but only barely.
I quickly set my fire to work on fixing the side of me that just got wrecked by his arm. I see Koishi throwing her tentacles over his body, trying to slow him down. Shion hugs on the sphere desperately, her eyes shut. I turn over and—
While the skies turn stone, and the stars blink out, I grin at Kane. He opens his arms wide, and his storms start up again.
“Guys, back off!” I growl, finally feeling right again. We’re moving toward the ceiling. I close my eyes and hold up my hands while he throws his fist toward me. Just before my eyes are completely shut, I spot Shion... holding desperately onto his leg and flapping like a ragdoll. “Sis...!”
I feel his strike miss me by a hair, flying past like a violent ripple. I open one eye and see Shion falling, Koishi catching her. Over me is Kane’s red chest, and behind me is the roof. We hit it in a flurry of water, ice, wind, sands, and fire. I grab Kane’s belt as he slips on and starts barreling through the foundations.
I keep holding on for what feels like a full minute, and then we’re out of the earth, flying over lava.
Of course, I freak out.
I let go of Kane and start flying back and upward. He squeezes his hands shut and trembles while settling his form and regaining his senses. He looks up at me, and then at the molten earth underneath him. He looks up at me again, and smiles. He opens his hands, another of his orbs flashes, and magma forms around him.
I throw my hand back.
He starts flying towards me through the smoke and cinders.
I make a fist.
I’ve gotta believe it...!
NO OTHER CHANCE BUT THIS ONE RIGHT HERE!
Luck! Misfortune! Whatever, don’t fail me now!
My hand catches golden fire while Kane nears me, totally swathed in primordial, Mother Earth rage. I put my other hand out and rush at him.
One by one, his orbs flash, hitting me with disaster after disaster...
But I’ve already said it.
I’m the most disastrous!
The fifth, the sixth, the seventh...!
In a hell of wrath, I push through, gritting my teeth, ignoring the stings and cuts.
Before his eighth can go off and he can fuck me over with reality-breaking bullshit, I throw a punch down on his collarbone.
He looks stunned, and then...
He shouts in pain.
I felt that... I just broke his bone...!
He weakens, then cries out again as the lava he summoned touches his flesh. He starts recalling his powers, and his orbs start to break.
I follow through, putting more of my might behind the hit, until he folds, until he cries...!
I knock him down, and down he goes, ignited.
While he does, I see a light in his eye. This dude... won’t die.
He falls down the shaft. I think this must be the volcano...
But, Youkai Mountain is dormant, right...?
I feel the back of my shirt getting tugged on. I look behind myself and see Koishi pulling me with a totally, stone-panicked face. Shion’s wrapped up in her tentacles. We fly upward, and below us I see the glow of fire.
While I watch Kane’s summoned eruption near us closer and closer, I just know we’ll be fine.
This was just his last word.
Though lava nears my toes just near the end, Koishi gets us out of the cone and onto the mountain. A red geyser blows out behind us, but then promptly vanishes into black smoke.
All three of us lay in a girl-pile, looking at it curl, then slowly fade away...
I lay my arm over Koishi’s back. Under her and in a pile of purple tendrils, Shion groans like she’s aching. I hold Koishi and pull her from my sister. We falls down backward, with her turning on top of me in the action. She breathes out over my front. She looks like she’s in pain, too.
I look toward the mouth of the volcano... but he doesn’t come up.
It’s done. That fight’s done.
Allowing myself to recognize that, I feel a ball of positive and negative emotions contorting inside of me. My composure breaks, and I start sobbing in that moment, clinging to her and saying, “Koishii...”
She looks up at me in tears too, and we hug one another like it might be the last thing we’ll ever do. I squeeze her tight, and she bawls into my shirt.
It happened... It’s over. We... We did it....!
The two of us manage to get onto our knees, still holding each other. I kiss her, panting after and then just kissing her again. I pull her close, my warm tears mixing with hers on her cheek. “Thanggyu...!” I tell her. “Thanggyou sho muussh...!”
She brings up her arms under mine and shakes her head against me. “Id’s fhine!” she answers. “Id’s fhine...!”
We sniffle while still embracing, shaking. Everything... Everything came to this. I didn’t fail...
Shion jumps onto my back, holding me from behind.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!!” she yells, breathing against my nape. It tickles. I laugh.
Koishi lets me go while I put my hands on Sis’s forearms. Shion nuzzles me, thanking me over and over.
“Sis...!” I say, half in complaint, giggling in reflex through my snot and sobbing. “Calm down!”
She hugs me, and I feel her lips trembling on the back of my neck, turning down. She twitches, and I feel something wet on my skin. Heat. She hiccups quietly.
I hold back my tears, and pulling down my left hand, hold her arm firm and safe with my right.
“I’m sorry...” she apologizes. I look at Koishi, who nods at me with a forced, but sincere smile.
I close my eyes and tell Sis, it’s alright. You’re not a burden.
I already promised: I’m going to keep being there for her.
After a while, we all settle down, just as the Sun starts rising on the horizon, coloring everything golden.
Shion won’t let me go. I talk with Koishi while my sister holds on with her head against the back of mine.
Talk about how, now we’ve gotta go back down there. We still have to rescue the slaves under the Black Hand’s control.
Talk about seeing her sister and Yamame about other things.
I want to see Yuugi, too.
But then... what about after that?
I don’t know.
But I don’t think I’m gonna just settle down, at least not for long.
I swore I was going to save Koishi, too. I need to keep that vow. Plus, c’mon... However much I want to be a nice girl, I can’t help wanting to be a bastard.
Being a bastard got me here, so did doing good.
When I thought I was at the bottom months ago, I remember thinking: I’d get Old Hell under my foot someday.
Guess that’s today, huh?
I chuckle, once.
I don’t need riches and power to be happy.
Just being here, with the people I love, is way more than enough.
Whatever I do in the future, so long as I’ve got that... I’ll be good.
I look at the bands of the rings on my hand.
But let’s be real...
I close my fingers, and smirk as the gemstones glitter.
I was born for greatness.
Making money burns a fire inside of me.
I ain’t stoppin’ here.
Thinking that, I aim my fist at the Sun, feeling a zeal despite my exhaustion.
Yep, that's right: if you didn't recognize it already, the "Kane-douji" images were actually just edits of a guy's "what if Yuugi was a dude" fanart. I had found these before quite a while ago, randomly, but stumbled on them again when I was looking for random "oni" pictures through google, pixiv, danbooru and so on. Specifically found these through googling while LOOKING for Kane-douji (in kanji) and noticed that it was actually a series of crazy Yuugi pics. Kinda fitting. At any rate, lucky me.
I consider Make a fist. my first completed full story, not just on THP but period. I've been a starter, but never a true finisher. I've completed projects, but never in a way where I've truly felt "that ended".
This was a real blast. I didn't think I could get as much mileage as I think I managed with a Stream of Consciousness narrative. I'm glad this story had fans, even after it took a sudden turn into "gay land". Koishi, or the idea of Koishi pre-subconscious insanity really ended up being a character I quite liked. I've always liked Joon. She's awesome.
Thank you for reading!! Thank you for voting!!! Leave whatever comments you want, positive or negative! Love you all! PEACE OUT!
Damn, son. I have to say, at first I didn't expect I would sympathize with Joon as much as I did, but now she's honestly kinda badass? Plus, I don't think anybody's gonna complain about Koishi's major role. That is what we wound up voting for, after all... This story was pretty short, considering how long things can get if they go un-checked, but imo that's just another strength of the work — it said everything that it needed to, and never risked overstaying its welcome.
All in all, fantastic work, and a fantastic (and suitably epic) conclusion.
Cheers, your thoughts are massively appreciated. Have one last song for the time being. [ ♫: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zz1E0drlNgQ ] 東方 Touhou remix (Orchestral) Tonight Stars an Easygoing Egoist ~ Egoistic Flowers - Touhou Orchestral Music (Lowlands Blossom)]
I don't know when a second story will start following Joon and her new crew, but at the least I have ideas hammered out for it. I think I'll focus on finishing Unchanging Days ( >>/shrine/41060 (and just to be clear that is NOT close to an end of any sort)), and then give y'all a head's up about a sequel incoming. Most likely, it'll be over on /th/. Look forward to it.