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31296
[x ] I’ll trade your story for what I’ve got so far. Secrets shared are friendships made.

You recite your vision, your shattered and reassembled memories that were jolted to the surface. You spare no detail in describing the beginning of your desires from killing ants and insects, and your gradual progression up the food chain until you were feeding off other humans, and finally the destruction your soul was subjected to at the hands of the professor, whose name and features are but a blur, but their words and actions remain.

Throughout the tale, Reisen reacts first with some mild shock, then a sort of understanding frown, before finally smiling as you describe how you were torn apart and reassembled.

“And that’s how the old Wu Zhenguo died.” You finish, “Probably for the better.”

Reisen’s ear twitches as she re-examines you with the lenses, “Looks consistent, your chest cavity is indeed partially destroyed. But, how?” She asks as she pokes you in the chest, obviously not feeling the hole, “What sort of entity with this amount of power will bother to disguise as a commoner and target a virtual nobody?”

You shrug, “I have some ideas, retired Greek gods being the first and foremost given the river invocations, but I’ll worry about that when I ask Conner about any strange professors we might remember if I can sneak back to the village. You know what? It might actually be him, now that I think about it. But it’s your turn, my dear rabbit.”

You flinch as Reisen, without a word, reaches out and caresses your neck...for a moment. Your eyes then lock with hers, and then your senses are no longer your own.

Foreign brain waves invade your own, a peculiar insanity.

====

It was your second year in the Lunar Capital

It was your fourth to last day in the Lunar Capital.

Your new master is cruel. Fair by her own words, perhaps, but mostly cruel.

The claim to the Watatsukis, whose scolding now feels more welcoming than ever for you, for a tithe of rabbits was intended to checkup on the health and discipline of your kind. Indeed, for most of the rabbit soldiers, life in the Capital was parades and boredom.

While your average Lunarian is perfectly content with rabbits being rabbits, the higher ranks, such as the Palace courtiers or officials like your new master, are not so.

Soldiers are not just to guard, but also to clean. So she says. Your sector must be spotless, and so much of your day is spent going over the small corner of the tower you are stationed in with a small brush. You must be respectful and salute every Lunarian you come across, which is difficult as many come and go through the facility all day.

She claims she was a disciple of Omoikane herself, who left the Capital a long time ago. You do not really believe her. The Watatsukis would have told you. But she does seem smart.

Also, your shifts are 12 hours long each. It is no way for a rabbit to live, and your mind and body quickly fade into a porridge-like state. Despite the length, you still have no idea what the project this facility is performing, or what the facility was for, in the first place.

Still, as you climb in your cot in the small maintenance closet set aside as your quarters, you still have some thoughts lingering. Recently, you often hear frightened whispers and angry indictments regarding humans landing on the other side of the Moon. The other rabbits have been drilling more than parading, and you feel that, somehow, the Bagua Research Station is actually working more during after hours, judging by what your brain can pick up.

Your brain feels many things it was not supposed to. Lady Yorihime said it was because you are special, a rarity. What it does feel, and what it sends through your eyes, makes many of the other rabbits avoid you.

Come to think of it, where are the other rabbits in this building recently? You only passed by two or three on the patrol route today.

You quietly dress and creep out the door, your rifle in hand. The building is quiet, but you can sense the machinery working beneath the shining, cold walls of grown wood and crystal, the magical signals, a haze of growing data.

You trace the steps taken by the sages, deeper and deeper into the heart of the facility. Whispers became mumblings, then shouts.

It’s too insulated to hear as you approach the areas that are strictly off limits to rabbits. However, as you strain your ears, the sound waves seem to sharpen and recombine into recognizable voices.

“A disgrace, you are!” This voice is your new master’s, you recognize. “Are the stakes and honor not worthy of your petty phobias?”

“Phobias? What you are doing is the uttermost of depravity and impurity!” Another somewhat familiar...a male Lunarian...one of the apprentices, you figure, “How dare you claim this to be your tribute to Omoikane! No. Lord Tsukuyomi must know of this madness you have wrought!”

“You will not!”

“I will and I must! This is disgusting! You---HURK”

His voice is abruptly cut off by a shrill gurgle. A wet, scraping sound is heard. Did he just have an accident cleaning lab equipment? Was your master negligent in cleaning her lab that he slipped?

They’ll probably be calling for some help soon if that poor apprentice accidentally fell in the tub. You quickly run over, past the ajar lab doors that normally rabbits are forbidden from entering by barrier.

The lights are oddly dim in here, the candles muffled by thick paper. The wooden flooring gives way to sterile, metallic feeling tiles.

“Foolish apprentice...foolish. The impure are at our gates and you do something like this. If word gets out, our whole Capital is doomed, you know?”

You slip through an open pair of heavy looking wooden doors, covered with sigils. A scorching, faintly divine, fire is burning in the middle of a dark amphitheatre-like room, heating a truly massive cauldron-like crucible. Your master is tending to the furnace with unwavering focus, adding some dark ingredients in and stirring the pot. Something smells odd in this room, some unpleasant lab odor.

“Without you it will be harder, but this project must not fail. Lord Tsukuyomi decreed so. We must succeed regardless of how much effort it takes to remake this Hourai Elixir.”

Of course! The Hourai Elixir! That must be what they were working on! No wonder there was so much secrecy. You spot the fallen assistant lying on the floor near the furnace, making only weak movements, and surreptitiously move over to help.

You trip over something in the darkness.

“Why, we cannot fail even if we need to steal the scales from the Great Dragons themselves. We need results, Tieguai! Only the results! In this project, only the results are remembered! So, why are you so reluctant to simply extract the last ingredient we need, the simplest of them all...”

Something cold and wet touches your hands as you catch your fall. Adjusting the waves with your eyes, you see that, oh no! A lot of your fellow rabbits are sleeping here, like, hundreds! They must have been very tired to sleep right here in the lab! You probably just woke one up!

“...The hearts of those still tainted by the impurity of life.”

Wait.

You look at your hands. They are red. You look back down at your comrades. They are not breathing. Neat, surgical holes have been cut in each on of their chests. Their empty chests devoid of ribs or organs.

The smell was blood.

“Life is what gives the Hourai Elixir such potency, Tieguai, something Omoikane lied to us about. Only with the impurity of life, can we extend the effects of the Immortal Peaches into eternity, and resist the contrasting impurity of death. In our Pure Land, of course, it matters not.”

You then notice that their eyes are still moving. Each one, cold and lifeless, staring towards you. Purified of life and denied death, unable to move. Trapped in their own flesh with no way out. Even in their state of limbo, you can feel the inert coldness through the moon rabbits’ inherent ESP network, as atrophied as theirs are.

“If only we could grow these hearts, we would not need to trouble ourselves with this harvesting. Alas, life is only gathered through life, and---Who’s there!”

You realize all too late that, in your numb shock, you had dropped your rifle on the floor.

“...No...” Tieguai struggles as he lifts his head, a garish red stain on his elaborate robes, “Flee...little rabbit!”

Your legs falter, and you collapse on a living corpse as you struggle to get away, even as your...master...closes in swiftly with surgical knife drawn. You will end up just like those around you. You are just...a rabbit...an ingredient in the end. You should just turn the rifle on yourself, maybe you can avoid this fate...

“Oh, it is you.” She sneers as she steps over your gun, ”Hmph. Those Watatsukis were not lying when they said you were a specimen. Irksome troublemaker.”

Huh?

The sisters…

You must report back! You cannot die here!

An errant wave leaps unbidden down your spine, and into your fingertips. Invisible to sight, but not to feel.

In a swift motion you stand up, and release the wave from your right hand straight at your incoming tormentor. A rapid pulse, a gamma ray bullet fueled by a new, unfamiliar feeling: anger.

Ionizing radiation is not enough to kill a Lunarian, not even close. But a large dose of radiation poisoning and cell death, straight in the cerebral cortex, is not a pleasant experience regardless of your status. When you recovered from the shot that drained all feeling from your right arm, panting and wheezing through burning eyes, you find your target drooling and limp on the floor.

A thunderous crashing sound causes you to wince, and you see that the furnace had cracked and toppled over, its contents spilled onto the floor. Tieguai stands, staring dumbly at the glowing, molten divine fluid flowing through the tiles, a hint of divine magic on an iron crutch he’s holding.

“You got her?” The man sighs and heaves through his shrinking sucking wound. “Run, this woman, Yin-Tongzi. She has Omoikane’s secrets. She will be up soon, or one of her clones will be decanted. I am going to send a message for Tsukuyomi, if that coward cares, then I shall be reporting home...Flee, do not worry about me...I would not...trust the Lunarians...if I were you...”
The man then keels over, dead. His body begins crumbling into dust as you discern an infrared presence making its way out the door.

You do not think. As soon as he died, you did as he told and ran, motivated by the fact that your master...he called her Yin-Tongzi, but the other Lunarians called her Ginji...your master’s body had began to twitch.

You ran out of the building and onto the city streets. You than ran out of the streets and out of the city altogether. Your legs burn and you want nothing more than to sob and weep at what you saw. You cannot.

You must report back...

=====

A distinct coldness on your chest jerks you awake, your head still dizzy from the foreign memories. That was...pretty bad. Is the Hourai Elixir people? Were the Lunarians...or at least that researcher, that depraved?

“Reisen?”

You are then aware of the thing pressing against you. Looking down, you see Reisen leaning against you, sleeping against your tear-stained torn shirt with her ears drooped. She had been crying on you the whole time, until it looked like she finally tired out and fell asleep.

How did that happen? If anything the memory was supposed to affect you more. You gently push the rabbit off of you and settle her onto her futon, careful to make sure that she’s positioned in a shock recovery position. That wasn’t even the end of the story. You heard the middle part where she met the American astronauts before, but you can sense, in her memory, that a huge chunk is still untold.

You jump a little as somebody knocks on the door, rather frantically. Getting up, you open it just a bit.

A sandy-haired, noble face peers at you. “Wu...Ming...” she grits out.

“W-What did I do? Lady Watatsuki?” You nervously reply. How would she react? Was she listening to you somehow?

“She latched on as soon as the adrenaline shot woke her up. Can you get your dragon off of me?” She grunts as she slides the door all the way, revealing Awyrgan clinging onto her right boot with arms and teeth. “Before I decide to disintegrate her, that is.”

“Awyri...please do not eat our allies.” You order as she half-heartedly try to pull her off.

“Princess...” The dragon mumbles through an occupied mouth. At least she didn’t go into her full size. “Capture. Eat. Princess.”

“Princesses are for ransom, not for eating. It’s more profitable that way. Also, no eating this one. She can actually kill you.” You thank the heavens that she picked a hard target first. God knows what will happen if she somehow gets near somebody like Sukuna, or when this is over, when she goes to a country with an existent monarchy. You can picture the headlines already: “Royal Baby Devoured by Iron Monstrosity! Britain in Panic!”

With some more reasons and a little elbow grease...and Hew, you wrangle the rather stoned-looking Awyrgan off of Toyohime, who throws her a disgusted look before turning back to you. “You, human, what were you doing in Reisen’s room?”

“Princess…” You look straight at her eyes, ”What happened to her back in 1969?”

Her hard expression melts into surprise, then genuine concern. “She told YOU? How?”

“We had a swap. You know, I tell her my repressed traumatic past. She tells me her repressed traumatic past. To be specific, she beamed part of her’s into my brain before passing out.”

Toyohime sighs and adjusts her hat, which allows you to see that in her non-fan hand she’s holding a plush tiger and a raggedy looking pillow, “It is not for me to tell. My dear Reisen has decided to confide in you, for better or for worse, and it will be her decision alone to finish her story to you. But I can tell you this: The problem was not resolved. The informant was correct about his assumptions. It’s why I am looking to change leadership for the Moon.”

“Wait, so are you saying that...that was accepted? How much do you know?”

“Not enough.” Toyohime murmurs as she checks over Reisen and carefully sets the tiger next to her. “Being reassigned to the Near Side of the moon, even as the grandmother of the first Japanese emperor, does no improvement to one’s political influence. By the way, Ming.” She turns to you, “I shall be taking over Reisen from here, Eirin wants you and...that thing in her lab.”


“Gotcha. Awyri,” You pull on the still somewhat hypnotized dragon, “Let’s move. Also, wait so you were a crocodile? Who abandoned---”

The Lunarian, turning red, shuts the door in your face before you can finish the question.
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Eirin did not say anything when you and Awyrgan arrived at her doctor’s office. She merely gestured for you two to follow...down a corridor that you realize is longer than the length of the entire complex.

Awyrgan said she recovered quickly after eating all of the munitions weapons left over, to your relief. You tell her of what you did in Reisen’s room. She nods, but you don’t feel that she truly understands.

The corridors begin warping, as if stretched by some eldritch force. False doors replace true ones.

Apparently Nashira’s fine. Awyrgan says. Your’s and Mokou’s purely physical mangling of that little girl just warranted some rejuvenation tank treatment. Kaguya and Tewi are currently talking to Castor, and he is apparently willing to trust them as part of your organization.

Deep, deep you go into the further reaches of Eientei, where the passages twist and turn in ways that do not follow physical constraints, with hallways looping back onto each other but never intersecting.

You pass by hydroponic facilities breeding species of queer looking flora, some of whom turn their flowers to stare at you as you walk near them.

Over a catwalk, you gaze upon a large room, filled to the brim with opaque canister pods, each the size of a human being. Looking up and down, you steady yourself on the handrails as you recognize with a mixture of wonder and horror at the size of the cavern, which seems to stretch on indefinitely in all directions. How many of these canisters are there? Thousands? Millions?

The hallway continues, endlessly. The wood starts breaking down, the paper windows distort, and then break apart entirely, leaving you holding your breath as the visage of a star-filled sky is what lies behind them...with the Earth below.

“We are above Heaven now.” Eirin announces as the walls disappear entirely, leaving you walking on just an open wooden floor. Awyrgan responds to this by letting out a little cheerful roar and picking you up, using the newfound freedom to fly in a place where the stars are just a little closer.

“This must be where the Imperishable Night incident ended...one route...I think.” You observe as you take in the visage of the Earth beneath, the island of Japan clearly defined against the ocean, a sight that you would have never been able to see otherwise. “Are we still within the Border?”

“We are, even I cannot breach it under the Savior’s current lock. But we are at the highest point possible, though this location does not exist in physicality...it’s too complicated for your education, really.” The path opens onto a dais, on which sits piles and piles of ashen debris among what looks to be an old-fashioned metalforge. Hundreds of swords, arrowheads and other weaponry sit twisted and broken within them, and upon viewing them you view an odd kinship with the ruined metal, sensing some sort of similar purpose.

And on the forge, still hot on the coals...not coals...those appear to be the smoldering entrails of some enormous creature, is a single straight sword. Not even a medieval model, this one resembles a bronze-age weapon, and is in fact made of the greenish metal upon closer inspection. Oddly, it also has two blades, separated down the middle as if somebody turned the typical groove into a gap. Eirin carefully removes it from the forge with a meter-long tongs and sets it down into a bucket of water.

“The answer I have found is this. A replica and amalgamation of every deicide weapon that is reasonably copied.” Eirin explains as she uses the tongs to gesture, “The sword itself is a copy of the Ame-No-Ohabari, the sword used by Izanagi to slay his son, Kagutsuchi. While the outside is a thin layer of bronze, the inside is steel, with carbon sourced solely from mistletoe, a dart of which ended the life of the Scandinavian Baldr. The fuel for the forge are the entrails of the monstrous Ophiotaurus, which are deicidal. Cloning ten anencephalic copies of the hybrid beast took an irritatingly large amount of resources.”

“So...” You ask as Awyrgan sniffs at the weapon, “We win?”

Eirin folds her arms and sighs, “There are several major issues. One is that I am still unclear as to the nature of these heroes save for their divine powers, so its effectiveness is still up for debate until field testing is performed. Two is that---Put that down, please, Awyrgan.” She backs off, her brows raised in concern as the dragon picks up the weapon and swings it around experimentally. “It is a highly cursed object, enough that even somebody as strong as me, one known varyingly by the names of Omoikane and Taishang Laojun, will be reduced to a crippled invalid if I hold it or become scratched by it, whereupon I will be forced to swallow a cyanide pill again. The weapon is also incredibly fragile, since mine simple-minded brother decided that his second sword should be ‘More Artistic’ when Orochi swallowed the first one. I still cannot believe he succeeded in decapitating something with it, even a god! Hence, somebody capable of wielding it is hard to find, but I suspect that one of you may be capable.”

“The anti-divine is of your domain, my friend.” Awyrgan say as she hands the sword over to you. You gingerly raise one finger up to the blade, and seeing that it somehow has dissipated all of the forge’s heat already, accept the handle from your dragon’s claws.

“Is...is the blade spot welded?” You incredulously remark at the cheap construction, as you check the weapon over.

“It is something I hammered together in the last couple hours. The hasty construction does help with the anti-divinity projection due to thematic contrast, as a more properly made sword would likely be considered heroic.” Eirin does not seem happy about this at all, “It will break, but judging by what princess-eater can do, you can just weld it back together and it will still retain its property...wait...” Her eyes narrow as she suddenly reaches out towards the weapon, “Are you feeling anything, Ming?”

“No, it’s just a crude bronze sword, that’s all. Even my gravity hammer had more of a magical tinge to it.”

“Tis that truthful? Even within mine wicked, villainous grasp, I can sense the curse flowing through this tool.”

“I got nuthin’. If you were expecting some sort of super anti-divine power-up coming from giving me this thing, I’m sorry. ” You sigh as you don’t get a response from the sword.

Eirin shakes her head, “Perhaps I expected too much, but no matter. I shall have Iwakasa field test this weapon tomorrow then. In the meantime...Awyrgan, eat it. This is a reproducible article, not a true legendary blade.”

“Tis a trivial, simple construct one indeed, why doth thee...hold...how doth thee know of mine ability?” The dragon’s eyes narrow.

“Your genetic makeup made it obvious when I looked you over. Unlike Ming who is genetically 100% pure human, you, my dear metal construct,” Eirin punctuates this line by jabbing at the dragon’s head, “Possesses the metallic DNA of several species of dragon inside of you. The most prominent of which is the famous Welsh Red Herald, but the Germanic Lindwurm also makes up a large portion.”

She’s primarily derived from the Welsh legend? That perhaps explains why she’s not quite as violent and bloodthirsty as you’d expect an actual dragon to be.

“However,” Eirin continues, tracing her finger along Awyrgan’s throat and abdomen, “You digestive system and your oddball inner furnace and a circulatory system more akin to a nano-foundry are of a non-European and non-draconic origin...a specimen that no one save for a Lunarian like myself should have access to, as it has been extinct for five thousand years. I speak of course, of the Mesopotamian primordial monstrosity: Tiamat. An entity that only melded to draconic DNA due to recent shifts in the world’s perception of the dead goddess.”

Awyrgan tilts her head, her face a mixture of confusion and glee “What tis the purpose of this information? Is mine acclaim to royalty affirmed with the blood of a god in mine veins?”

“No, Tiamat was never worshipped, and even if she was, her worshippers left no legacy. You are a monster, not a god. What it really means is that your creators saw fit to focus your core energies to be constructive rather than destructive. A Mother of Monsters, or to be less romantic, a logistical engine. Namely, this is why if you would receive a written profile in Akyuu’s writings, your ability will be listed as ‘Rapid Manufactory’.”

“Ah, disappointing.” Awyrgan sighs as she takes the sword and begins chomping into it, not even bothering to switch appearances, which is spoiled by the fact that she’s still talking clearly out of one side of her mouth. “If only mine title would have such proof, lest the ignorant doubt my nobility.”

“Hey,” You pat her on the back, “You’ve killed at least a couple who have legitimate claims and ate them, if their armor means anything. That means you are more of a noble than them now. Lady Awyri.”

That’s definitely not the case, but you’re pretty sure dragons don’t know or care about the intricacies of human aristocracy. Awyrgan in particular definitely does not care, and swells up with delight as she breathes out a chunk of molten metal before reshaping it with her bare claws and rapidly cooling it with a burst of cold air, reforming the eaten blade in a manner of seconds. “My thanks to thee, dear friend. As a proper lady of the realm...”

Huh, she really has only a faint idea of how chivalry worked.

“I granteth thee this sword, and a title of minor nobility...”

“I need to keep a copy.” Eirin interjects.

Awyrgan fabricates another one and holds it out for Eirin to carefully extract it with the tongs. “As I was...”

“Geez, don’t get all formal on me. I hate that. Besides, milady, for someone of shield status like me, wouldn’t armor be more appropriate?”

“What sort of feeble milquetoast of a mortal noble doth thou take me for?” She taps you on the shoulder twice with the blade, before twirling it and handing it to you handle first. “Tis only a manner of shedding a minor quantity of scales and fitting it to thy frame. When thou doffs thy skeleton, I shall grant thee what thou seeketh.”

You look past her and see Eirin yawning and uncorking a flask. “Thank you, dear friend. Hey, uh, Lady Yagokoro, art thou...dammit...is there something else you wanted to say?”

“I need to go and outfit everyone else except for Toyohime.” The doctor mutters as she rubs her eyes, “If I do everything correctly, which includes allowing the dragon to absorb a godslaying tool, it’s a bygone conclusion that we are going to win this silly Earthling war.”

“And how are you so sure?”

“Clairvoyance....some clairvoyance.” She chugs the potion, opens her coat and reveals a set of blue metal flasks under it. “Specifically, a derivative of my Hourai Elixir that exchanges its permanency for a complete purge of the impurity of death and the removal of oneself from the flow of time, allowing for brief, clear glimpses into the immediate future and some blurrier visions about further times due to quantum uncertainty. Also, not really possible to die, but in a more premonition based way than regeneration. Still, it looked like we won.”

“Wait...” You freeze as you process this information, “That’s cheating!”

“Yep. I call it the Ultramarine Orb Potion. In development of course. I was going to distribute it to the primary incident resolvers, as well as anyone else willing, in case things go even more south than they already have. Side effects, he, ha ha. WHAHAHA.” The sudden peal of laughter catches you off-guard, “Heh, side effects on Lunarians like me are fairly minimal due to our lack of impurity, but I wouldn’t even try a small sample on Udongein.”

She notices your curious gaze, “Even so, you wish to try it, do you not?”

“..So, what side effects?”

“Anything from minor toothaches, compulsive laughter and headaches to systematic organ failure and necrosis in the brain. At least, ” Eirin chuckles as she shakes the flask, “Those are the symptoms from my personal testing. Come to think of it...you did demonstrate substantial resistances to drugs in the past, so perhaps you would be luckier in this regard.”

Seeing the doctor temptingly hold out the cheat code in a bottle, you wonder, should you...

“My friend...”

“Hmm?”

“Mine constitution is of a superior, noble quality compared to thine fragile flesh. Mayhaps mine gullet shall be a more suitable vessel for this elixir?”

[ ] Drink the Prototype Ultramarine Orb Potion
[ ] Have Awyrgan try it first
[ ] Do not drink the Prototype Ultramarine Orb Potion
[X] Drink the Prototype Ultramarine Orb Potion
MOAR INSIGHT

Damn I love this story, see you next month.
[x] Do not drink the Prototype Ultramarine Orb Potion

Ahahahahahah, fuck no. Holes in brains or necrosis of brain, it's the same thing even if we're some kind of mummy. It could make us more dead on the outside and it's over once that happens.

Would it be possible to ask Eirin for advice on what to do with the we're-a-zombie situation? Without having to drink a potion, if at all possible.
"...complete purge of the impurity of death"

If death is impurity, then as a walking corpse, he becomes... impurity incarnate?

Drinking this seems laughably bad. But god I want to see what happens if he does.

My smart ass answer to Eirin would be, "You drink it and tell me if I drink it or not."

[x] "You tell me, since you already know."
>>31300
He's right next to Eirin, his skull could spontaneously explode I bet she would be able to fix him without even leaving a scar.
[x] Do not drink the Prototype Ultramarine Orb Potion

Walking corpse + death removal =
>>31303
He already went through that treatment it had no effect.
>>29767
[x] Drink the Prohibited User OPeration

We should use all the knowledge we can if we're gonna be an effective shield.

Victory is good but we gotta aim for a complete victory-one with all touhoes we like intact.
[X] Do not drink the Prototype Ultramarine Orb Potion

Apparently the canon version can be used by humans and maybe youkai, but is lethal to gods. It seems like a bad idea for our protagonist and having Awyri try it is right out.
Locking votes in 2 days
>>31307
You only ever update once a month, so what's the point?
>>31308
So I can decide when to stop procrastinating, duh.
>>31309
Do it now for a free encouragement ticket, valid until 99/99/9999~
We need one more vote to drink it or a touhou will die

That's how these precognition things usually pan out anyway.
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[x] Do not drink the Prototype Ultramarine Orb Potion

You turn down the proffered cheat code. The potential drawbacks outweigh the benefits, and you don’t have a Hourai Elixir to fall back on.

“Funny, I thought you of all people would jump on the opportunity.” Eirin says, a trace of disappointment lingering in her voice. “Well then. That concludes the purpose of this appointment.”

Awkward silence. You look around at the stars around you, the moon in the distance, and the blue planet beneath you while Eirin picks up a scrappy looking spearhead from the junk pile and begins carefully hammering away at it.

“So...uh, how do we get down? Do we walk down that hallway again?”

“Just jump. The Princess’s stretching of time and space does not hinder basic Euclidean geometry.”

“Right on cue, my friend!” Awyrgan excitedly pipes up, “I hath been holding a new enhancement for thy pitiful fleshy form! Tis the wings of that foul knight thee shorn off. I devoured the mechanisms and reproduced it for thine exoskeleton!”

“I said call me Ming, you...whoa...”

What Awyrgan is holding out in front of you is something that looks like H.R Giger’s wet dream. The bits of the knight’s noble wings, blue and gold, are choked and subsumed by tendrils and layers of gray steel into a twisted parody. A sort of cuirass, one that resembles Awyrgan’s own armored scales, lines the front.

She eagerly straps it onto you, tearing off the ruined remnants of your armor in the process. The inside, to your relief, is lined with a soft and pliable leather. Softer than any other sort of leather you had touched.

“This is awesome, Awyri! What is it made out of?”

“Why I am glad you asked, my vassal!” She proudly exclaims, her face gleaming in a smug satisfaction, “The outer plates are improved replica of mine scales, a matrix of newly imbibed moonsilver and iridium from the lunarian weaponry I consumed as compensation for mine troubles, offered by the head rabbit.”

You hear Eirin audibly groan and mutter “Tewi...”, though she does not protest further or turn aside her attention from her work.

“The middle is formed of a sandwich of hard steel, impregnated with bone fragments, designed to deny magic and provide structural support, backed with a soft foam-layer formed of tanned skin scraps, remnants fools who stood against us to better protect against blunt impacts.”

You cringe at the last part, and try to nudge the insulating layer away from you. It won’t, Awyrgan had made it quite thick, and it easily expands and contracts as you move around in it to fit you snuggly within the cuirass. It feels oddly like hands grabbing onto your skin.

You give up. At least it’s quite comfortable.

“Now, open thy wings.” She orders as she stretches out the mechanical skeleton of the flying device, “Thou no longer need mine wings to achieve simple flight.”

Nodding, you send the spirits into the wings. One on the left, one on the right, one to coordinate between them as a dumb messenger. With the parts stabilized on a solid frame this time, it becomes rather easy to extend your consciousness into the wings, using the suborned spirits as a makeshift magical conduit.

The wings flare to life, exuding a faint trail of the soft pink color in contrast to the golden shine of the knights. Allowing Awyrgan to take hold of your hand, you carefully lift off and float around a bit. They prove easy to handle as you spin and do a small somersault, much easier than holding them manually. Though you suspect that Meiling’s dormant possession is having an effect on your mastery of flight.

“Oh, Ming, could you go check on the defectors? I think the knight’s sister has awoken by now and everyone is occupied, as the princess and the assassin are preparing dinner in lieu of Udongein.” Eirin asks as you hover past the railing. “The recovery room is labeled on your Module.”

“Gotcha, boss. See ya later. Now, Awyri, together?”

“Of course!” She grins, and spreads her wings.

You somersault backwards, and face down, as if off a diving board, and plummet with your stolen wings. An air shield comes up in front, seemingly projected by the wings themselves as a necessary secondary function. You see the large dragon to your side tumble through the air, likely intentionally as she is happily exuding plasma around her, turning her descent into a fiery comet. Looking back, your wings trail the noxious pink for quite a ways, making you a similar companion.

The way down seems odd. Eientei’s space distortions probably narrow the vertical space through a corridor or something, because you see no structures above or alongside you, and below you appears to be a neverending forest that covers all of Japan. Is it a microcosm like Miko’s Senkei? Likely.

The travel path, regardless of how much you swivel and turn, never seems to change, as you are always just grazing Awyrgan’s fire trail.

It’s also shorter than you imagined. Eientei’s courtyard looms close quite quickly, and you panic and brake hard at the realization, the G-Force briefly blacking you out as you slow down.

When you come to again, you are lying face down in soft, mat-like vegetation. Eientei’s unique sort of outdoor flooring that resembles a mass of vines that just so happen to weave together into natural tatami. Looking up, you see nothing but a dark night sky. What a strange dimensional distortion.

Smelling something burning, you look to your side and see that Awyrgan incinerated the patch she landed on, while she herself is rolling around to put the fire out.

“I fear I hath committed an error.” She grumbles through dragon-sized teeth as she tries to get as much of the fire gone as possible. “Too much merriment.”

“You didn’t absorb a fire extinguisher beforehand?”

“Negatory. Tis an error in judgment.”

After she puts the fire out and shifts down sizewise into the less building-wrecking humanoid size, the two of you head for the recovery room. It isn’t as quiet as before, with many rabbits heading towards the dining hall. Most of them wisely avoid the barely human girl who watches them with a predator’s interest.

“Hold up.” You whisper and stop Awyrgan as you reach the door. “Lemme eavesdrop a bit before we do anything.”

“Do you not trust them, my friend?”

You throw her a strange look, “Of course not, when did I trust anybody?”

“Hmph. Tis unnecessary. We should simply interrogate the lot directly if needed.”

Sadly, your repertoire of lifespan and evil spirit fueled preset powers have no way of eavesdropping elegantly, as a few experiments with the conjoined spirits proves fruitless. Resigned, you hold your ear up to the door as usual.

“Nashira, how are you feeling? It’s me, Castor.” The paladin says, still discernible behind the relatively thin wood. The door here is less insulating than Reisen’s room’s.

“Bro-Brother?” Nashira’s voice comes out, shy and gentle. You kind of expected it from the little sister archetype, but on the other hand she fucked up Awyrgan nice and well. “I feel fine...Where are we?”

“We’ve been captured by the enemy. Shira, the Null Fiend defeated our team and dragged us in.”

“Oh...NO!” The gentle voice turns into more of a blubbering, “Deimos...Is Deimos okay? I hope I didn’t cause his...Wait, brother, did you say Null Fiend?”

“Yes?” Castor sounds confused, “The man with the warhammer, that was the Null Fiend. Were you unable to tell?”

“That was the Null Fiend? But he is...I believed he was at most merely a disciple or spawn of that monster! A duped one for sure, as he was a healer for that foul dragon, and surely something as foul as the Null Fiend cannot heal! Also, would he not have consumed us for our lifespan immediately?”

You notice that Awyrgan is leaning against the opposite wall, arms crossed, wings folded, and eyes closed, probably to look cool and regal. Her tail, however, has extended towards the door, with some odd metal wires protruding into the door’s crevices, at the tip...is that an internal microphone? A laptop’s internal microphone.

You sigh as you remember one of your earliest encounters with her. It’s your laptop’s internal microphone, or at least a replica based off of such.

“Now Nashira, regardless of what he is, they have brought us in alive, but has taken our weapons and armor. We ought to dwell somewhat on a next course of action...”

“No, Cas, we cannot dwell. If the Null Fiend is near, even this early in the past, we must escape and report back.” You hear Castor trying to say something, but is shouted over, “We know that the Dragon is weak, and a decisive strike can at least take out that monstrosity. You are the faster one of us two, Cas, I shall use my remaining power to create a distraction, and...”
“Nashira...they could be listening to us...”

“Yes, but do they know when? I think not. If we act spontaneously, I could secure you passage out---”

“And leave you behind?”

“I shall incinerate myself if I need to, brother! I cannot allow them to continue with their corrupt campaign! Not after what they did to us...not after that I was trapped under that beam, while mom and dad screamed...and screamed...burnt alive...” Her impassioned voice breaks down into sobbing.

“What.” You cannot help but let out some shock. “The. Fuck.”

“..WHO’S THERE?”

Awyrgan’s eyes snap open, and four machine guns, the same model as the ones the Saviors wielded against you, spring out from her back, held aloft spindly arms of gunmetal. You react slower, just slow enough that when the door flies open, you eat a flying divine fist directly in the face.

Doesn’t hurt too much though, especially since your Hunter Module was down. Nashira yelps as she shakes her hand in pain, much to your amusement.

“The Null Fiend and the Dragon.” You grin. Awyrgan does not open her mouth, but leans forward and stares at the girl with a hungry gaze while retracting the weapons. She obviously does not see a threat for whatever reason.

She’s a good deal shorter than you, though not to the extent of Flandre or even Mystia. Albino characteristics just like Castor, who is standing behind her with a sheepish look. Somehow they achieved the white-hair and red eyes without losing skin tone, odd. Somehow managing to wear long hair in a military organization, you notice several chunks of her hair still missing, likely thanks to you and Mokou.

You note with some apprehension that she looks no older than 16.

“LIAR!” Another fist flies towards you, but you easily catch it, the divine energies dissipating on touch, “You are but a deluded pawn of that monstrosity!” She snarls, her red eyes focused in anger not on you, but at Awyrgan. “Where is he hiding! That fiend! Tell him that if he does not show up that I will blow myself and you, his accursed mount, to--OW!”

“Mount? MOUNT!” Awyrgan shouts back, anger visible on her human-ish face, as she retracts her tail from a stinging lash on Nashira’s side, “Who art thou daring to call one such as I, the most noble and terrible of monsters, a mere mount! Tis the height of folly and arrogance!”

Nashira holds her side, hurt, but her expression changes swiftly from anger to confusion as she quietly asks, “Foul Dragon...you can speak?”

“Tis a surprise for thee? You had taken me for a simple beast of burden?” Awyrgan huffs and stands back, putting a clawed hand over her collar in an unusually dainty gesture. “Thou art addressing a dragon, the highest beings in thy legends and tales.”

Nashira moves her head up and down at the dragon, her face growing visibly more confused by the second. From the elaborate armored dress, to the copied Ame-No-Ohabari that she is proudly wearing at her side, to the streaks of gold gilding her wings.

“You look like a knight. A high ranking one, perhaps even a Companion. Are you mocking us!?” Her voice raises to a shout again.

“I have no need of mimicking scum like thee, whom no more qualify for thy lofty monikers as the grime on my scales. Tell me, knave, what sort of sordid fool would antagonize one that had proven to be capable of massacring thy kindred, and may choose to do so even after thou expended enough effort to undo the past? Or, alternatively, would choose not to do so with sufficient tribute?”

“You know,” You interject, “How can you accuse us of things we have not done? More importantly, how do you know that your time travel have not already Butterfly Effect-ed your bloodline? Or how does anything that happen here affect your timeline if the multiverse theory holds?”

“Polaris had answered that issue through their research.” Castor explains as he slowly tries to physically get a grip on his sister, “The universe does not follow the multiverse theory, it’s a single river, one whose infinite possibilities collapse onto each other into one timeline that can only be significantly altered by large events in a roughly equivalent exchange. The butterfly that flutters its wings in the Arctic Federation will not cause anything but a single light breeze in the Caribbeans, but a billion could cause a small storm. It’s why we’re doing this at all.”

“Cast, why are you telling them this? The slave of the Null Fiend has no use for this information.”

“Nashi, if they know more of what we do and why, maybe we won’t have to fight.” He answers, strangely hopeful.



You wave your hands and roll your eyes, “I understand that. But Nashira, honestly I feel really attacked right now. As far as I know I serve nobody officially but Omoikane and the Tengu, and the latter...questionably. This Null Fiend must be a really sneaky guy if I’ve been his or her disciple the whole time without knowing.”

You say this sarcastically. But there is a nagging doubt in the back of your mind that the angry Savior could be right. Who was giving you the cards? You doubt it’s Conner, even if he killed and remade you back in school, he is far more dramatic and bombastic than that.

Even so, judging by how Castor described the Null Fiend and the Dragon, you are sure nobody else can be the Null Fiend. Who else did Awyrgan term a friend anyway? If anything, nobody else SHOULD be called the Null Fiend. Unless you died.

“Look, Nashira Pyrus. I’ll cut you a deal, you stay out of the conflict, and we won’t kill Deimos.” You see Castor frown and let out an irritated snort at that, “Got it? You surrender, and the scary Null Fiend and vicious Dragon will abstain from tearing your boyfriend limb to limb before enslaving his soul to my whim.”

“Deimos is far stronger than that!” Nashira protests, even as her brown skin visibly pales and tears well up in her eyes, “He...he wouldn’t lose to the likes of you!”

Something plops to the floor, and you jump back in disgust. A half-burnt human arm, still with scraps of armor attached to it.

Awyrgan coughs, wiping the steaming saliva from the regurgitation away from her mouth. “That Deimos, fought in an adequate manner, I suppose.” She kicks the arm over, revealing some sort of glowing barcode tattooed on the shoulder. “I refrained from digesting this piece as it seemed to contain information. Tis the arm of thy lover, yes?”

Castor makes another irritated snort, and backs away slightly from the severed body part.

Nashira kneels, eyes wide and hollow, “That’s...that’s his personal sigil. Villains...you are all...”

“Yep, villain, bad guy, dark lord. Worst of the bunch really. So, as I’ve said before, if you want your boyfriend alive.” You lean in towards the stunned girl’s ears and whisper, “Don’t. Fuck. With. Us. Understand? Just stay in Eientei and drink tea.”

You slap your hand down on her shoulder, as you see a faint, fading outline of a golden bow being formed in her hand. She lurches upright, and opens her mouth in a silent scream as you negate the divine energies with a Hew. “We only hunt heroes. If your family stays out of the conflict, we’ll guarantee their safety as well when the time comes. Though, judging by the way you mentioned Deimos more than them, you might have sidelined them into a Freudian motive, haven’t you?”

“That’s enough, Null Fiend.” Castor says as he pushes your arm off while pulling Nashira back, some genuine concern and anger in his voice. “Are you just here to bully Nashi, or do you have anything Doctor Yagokoro told you to do?”

“Uh, you guys need anything?” You jerk back from your villain impression, surprised at his reaction, “Eirin just wanted us to check up on you guys. You know, making sure everything’s going well in recovery. No hemorrhages, infections, or leaking information to the enemy.”

“Null Fiend, are you capable of saying anything without a backhanded remark?”

“...No. Yes. Maybe. Probably not.”

“Mmph. Mayhaps my friend is not suited for positive conversation. That is part of his eccentricities.” Awyrgan states matter-of-factly, “So tell me, O’ fervant knight of archery, what sort of beast appeal to you the most?”

Nashira blinks, once again confused, “A...a bear.”

“Mmhmm.” Awyrgan closes her eyes, and parts of her clothing break off into scales. Her fingertips exude tiny streams of plasma cutting, welding, and machining the metal into different parts, and then just as quickly she assembles it together. Before you know it, she’s holding up a small bronze statuette of Nashira’s favorite omnivore, one which is roaring and fidgeting.

Roaring and fidgeting as well as any contemporary windup toy, anyway, but that only took ten seconds.

“Consider this a gesture of goodwill and trust.” She says as she plops the toy into the girl’s hands.

“Thank...you? Foul...dragon...do you have a real name?”

“Tis Awyrgan, First born and queen of all western dragonkin.”

You watch her perform a small curtsy, even lifting the corners of her scale skirt. You wonder if Eirin had shadily drugged her somehow while she was unconscious. Tanks don’t do curtsies. DRAGONS don’t do curtsies.

Yet there it is.

“What.” Is all you can say as you leave the room, Castor palming you a small translucent cube while Nashira’s distracted with the toy bear.

“Honestly, my friend. Thy hollow nature is not conducive to your relations with normal lessers.” Awyrgan points out with no small amount of smug as she floats in front of you, “Thou truly cannot speak anything truly positive, can thee?”

You shake your head, “I can, but sarcasm is much easier.”

“Tis thy nature, hollow, silent, and unfeeling. The only ones who saw thy true self and were willing to remain close are those with damaged souls and warped hearts.”

“The insane? The mad?” Wait, you see the validity in that phrase as Awyrgan locks her hungry, burning eyes with yours, smiling. Kagerou and Konoroz were right to be suspicious and hostile. A broken mother of a nue. A deserter traumatized through horror. A mad rainbow serpent with a chip against the heavens. A mechanical horror with aspirations of dominion and nobility. A deranged protagonist with a sadistic streak a mile wide, literally…

“Hey Ming! Hey Awyrgan” Sanae cheerfully greets you from the other end of the hallway. “Lady Toyohime and Iwakasa have finished cooking dinner, and say, what did you get from them?”

“This. Castor held up his end of the deal for keeping his sister alive and safe.” You squeeze the cube and toss it up. A large holographic screen is projected in mid-air, and a copious volume of text. “Information on the capabilities of the Savior companions, and Rigel himself.”

Sanae scans through the data with you. She reacts with some relief on the capabilities of the common soldiery, and some grimness on the paladins, who have divine abilities equivalent to some of the stronger youkai. The Companions elicit a groan, as they are moreorless equivalent to her, with vast amounts of divine energies plus special abilities. Castor’s omnipotent weapon mastery and attraction is already powerful, while Nashira’s bullshit divine archery threatened to immediately turn Awyrgan into scrap metal last time.

She stops at the last entry. Rigel.

“You have got to be kidding me.” She exclaims, “NON-MAGICAL clairvoyant abilities, and the power to personally take control of land and subjects?”

“Castor says that we should see it in the form of writhing golden light that sanctifies the land and bolsters combatants. It”

Sanae taps her temple, “Grr...hmm...So when I cracked open one of those large statue-like robots they had parked near the Yakumo residence, and saw tentacles of light from inside of it, that was his ability? No wonder they defy physics even moreso than Hisoutensoku!”
“You mean a warbeast?” You ask, confused, “I never saw golden light coming out of them, just red pulsating masses of something organic. Similar to something that tried to eat Kaguya and succeeded in assimilating Mokou until we beat her, it seems like it could enthrall even somebody like a Hourai immortal so...oh...”

You and Sanae stare at each other, mutual realization and horror dawning on your faces.

Awyrgan, listening the whole time, takes a few glances at Rigel’s entry and says, “I see just red mass too. Mayhaps it be that only those of mortal or goodly mind see it as gold? Ah, now I recall a sight from four days ago, when I was still in mine incubator and had frightened thee, my friend when thou took a seat on my rear. Twas a red tendril spurring the dessicated corpse of an outsider to twitch. Finding it unnatural, I erased it with mine cannon, only to see the red tendril retreat back into the soul. I thought it some odd youkai at first, but now...”

Your mind figuratively retreats four threads all the way back to your first day, and you hear Sanae stifle a small scream as she realizes what Awyrgan’s statement implies.

Rigel’s ability is to take control of everything.

What a Lovecraftian ability. But the man was clearly on the side of humanity against the monsters, so what does that mean?

[ ] Head back to Youkai Mountain and inform them, if safely possible
- [ ] Others need to know; We need to go to __________ as well. (write-in, multiple)
[ ] Stay here, not worth the risk
Well, fuck.

[x] Stay here, not worth the risk.

Let's run this by the Eientei crew before we go blasting off like Team Rocket.
[x] Head back to Youkai Mountain and inform them, if safely possible
-[x] Rush there immediately

Tentacles of Mind Control + Hakurei Ochiba's bullshit powers = THINGS ARE REALLY, GENUINELY FUCKED
[X] Head back to Youkai Mountain and inform them, if safely possible
- [X] Others need to know; We need to meet Toyohime and go to the Garden of the Sun as well.

If Rigel is having a mind-blowing tentacle play session at the Moryia shrine, the Tengu would probably like to know.

I'm adding Yuuka because she may be the oldest hag he knows of aside from Eirin, if the Lux Pacifica is some sort lovecraftian elder god supporting a takeover under the shiny guise of a holy war, perhaps she knows what sort of power is backing the Saviours. Also he kind of left her passed out in the dust last thread.
[X] Head back to Youkai Mountain and inform them, if safely possible
- [X] Others need to know; We need to meet Toyohime and go to the Garden of the Sun as well.

The saviours being horrors in disguise makes too much sense. It'd explain the future's Yukari's behavior: She has no reason to subjugate mankind. So maybe she didn't and it was made up by Lux Pacifica as a decent casus belli.
dead story
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[x] Head back to Youkai Mountain and inform them, if safely possible
- [X] Others need to know; We need to meet Toyohime and go to the Garden of the Sun as well

“It’s only been five days...what the fuck.” You wonder aloud.

“Days are longer in Gensokyo, you know. Mostly due to it hosting a shard of Heaven. An hour in here is like two out there. Lot more happens, and the pace of life is slower.” Sanae yawns as she stumbles into the sizeable Eientei kitchen. “Oi, Lady Toyohime, we have something for you!”

“I trust this is important? Miss Kochiya?” In a flash, Toyohime had stepped from her position in front of the hearth to you, fanning herself with her particle disintegrator of a fan. “Combat data, is that it?”

Sanae weakly smiles, a faintly triumphant glint in her eyes as she opens up the data, “Feast thy eyes upon the enemy’s ploys! ”
“Huh,” Toyohime furls her brow at the projected information, before giving a sort of disappointed moan, “Lady Yagakoro was correct again. My inferences about the current arch-enemy’s capabilities were slightly off. I had assumed it would be something related to dominion, but none so complete in scope.”

“So, in powerlevel terms, how screwed are we?”

“Worse than...Junko.”

You frown at the unfamiliar name, “Who’s Junko?”

“Some horrid fox-based monstrosity of a Divine Spirit that sieges the Lunar Capitol every decade.” Toyohime’s voice drops, and a tinge of fright comes in, “She rams her head against the Capitol gates, terrorizes the rabbits, and uses my sister and I as anger management punching bags. On the moon. It is something nobody on Earth could accomplish.”

“Gee! Something even somebody as strong as you is frightened of, must be final boss material.” You nervously chuckle at the statement from one who trounced Yukari without too much trouble. “But you’re saying that Rigel is even worse than her?”

“In insidiousness, yes. We do not have an accurate reading of his magical reserves, however, while we do know that Junko can leave substantial cracks on the very walls constructed by Lord Tsukuyomi and Lady Amaterasu. If Rigel has such power, on par with a primordial god, then coupled with the capability to claim absolute dominion over all things in a similar manner to the Abrahamic Consensus, then we may be facing a serious threat beyond anything we have faced in thousands of years.”

Toyohime folds her fan, and shakes her head, “I do not say that lightly. I will inform Lady Yagokoro and we shall prepare for the worst, as should all the mortals of Gensokyo. It is not a stretch to imagine that he might go for the Moon next, perhaps...” Audible gulping is heard as her face flusters, a concerning cornerstone on how much the information is causing the prideful Watatsuki to behave out of character, “He might even ally with Junko in the process...oh no.”

Sanae raises a finger, “Any strategies?”

“I would say that Eientei should continue with development, as my expertise, Kaguya’s talent, my knowledge, Lady Yagokoro’s intellect ought to invent something capable of negating the threat. What Lunarians really do when something like this approaches though...is flee to somewhere unreachable.”

She gazes up at the moon in the sky, its light free to pass through the overtaken Barrier unlike everything else.

“Warn everyone else in this land. We must stop Rigel here, or at least, exhaust every resource before he looks to the stars.”

==========

“Well that was depressing.”

“Chill out Ming.” Sanae tries to assure, a trembling tone in her voice. “We are protagonists. We---”

“You. You are a protagonist. I’m just a NPC.” You sigh, watching the stars in the night sky pass by for any potential hostiles.

“Alright Mr. Necromancy-imbued, Mind-altering, Hero-slaying, Dragon Tamer. Whatever you say.” Sanae says as she rolls her eyes.

“Seeing as thou art a friend of a friend, I would graciously suggest that thy retract the comment about taming. Nay such a base beast am I that has need of such crude techniques to function socially.” The dragon rumbles below the both of you, her voice vibrating through her scales.

While you can fly now. Awyrgan is still the fastest in your group. That convo atop her back lasted you the whole way to the former Garden of the Sun, which is about forty seconds.

“Also Sanae, you know that’s a death flag. You know what happens to outsider protagonists...wait, nevermind.” You backspace verbally as Sanae gives you a weird look, “The point is, protagonists or heroes, have lots of people standing next to them. Given my status, that area is also a blast radius that people get hurt by. Speaking of which...”

Awyrgan spirals down, cutting speed with her wings the whole way. A whole mess of dead vegetation and dust is blown up and off to the side by the resulting wind as she lands in the middle of what once was the Garden of the Sun.

“Lady Kazami?” Awyrgan bellows out.

The dirt in front of you stirs. Roots burst through the soil, and through the hole emerges a shabby, long-haired, pants-wearing figure. It takes you a few moments to register that person as Yuuka, garbed in her PC-98 era outfit. Likely due to the fact that her previous clothes were blown apart.

“Yes? What do you want?” Yuuka mumbles with her face off to the side, as if embarrassed or afraid. Is this the same person you fought with earlier today?

“Um,” Apparently Awyrgan’s taken aback as well, “We came into the possession of some secrets of our hated foes. As a major presence in the Grassroots Youkai Network, mayhaps thou has use of such intelligence?”

“...Sure.” The wilted youkai sighs, accepting the datacube and perusing the information as they come up in the list. “I shall have the flowers whisper this revelation to the four corners of Gensokyo...you know, assuming they would still listen.”

“I...I’m sorry.” You quickly apologize, still somewhat fearful of the flower youkai.

“Alas, the one called Ming,” She shakes her head, “It is not through choice that you are a terrible human. But it is my choice in being too weak. Please, just don’t be here while the land heals.”

“Alright, got it. What about the enemy though?”

“Go be terrible around them, please.”

========

“Well that was depressing.”

“Go eat a sock, Ming. I liked the Garden of the Sun.” Sanae groans, “Why didn’t you tell me that you nuked the place?”

“I didn’t! Oh hey.” You notice something odd as the Mountain looms closer. “Was there always a large barrier around it?”

Awyrgan pulls up as it becomes apparent that there is a dome of shimmering golden...tendrils...of light surrounding the Youkai Mountain. You pull out Initiative and take some pot shots at it, and then a single Hew-empowered shot. The normal rounds bounce off in sizzling trails of plasma, while the Hew shot tears a small hole that quickly reforms.

“Shit. This sort of divine energy is stronger than usual. Can you ask if this your patrons’ doing, Sanae?”

“What, no!” She replies indignantly. “Does this look like a barrier of wind or of earth? Something so gaudy can only be done by either the Hakurei or from what I can tell, the enemy! And I can’t sense them right now, and it’s probably a bad idea to attempt contact.”

“You fought against Reimu right? Any idea how to dispel this? I don’t want it collapsing in on us like a falling ceiling trap.”

“Ugh.” Sanae removes a charm from her belt satchel, writes a fortune on it with saliva, and throws it at the barrier. A splotch of blackness manifests on it, lingering but insignificant.

“Traditional curses work.” She looks on with disappointment. “But this thing is massive. I don’t have enough curses to get through even if I tell fortunes for the rest of the year!”

“Curses?” Awyrgan suddenly pipes up as she descends onto the ground, ejecting both of you off in the process. “Tis, ironically, good fortune that I, the noble dragon Awyrgan, hath what we need in this trying time!”

“You mean...oh...” You understand as you see her spit out a copy of the Ame-no-Ohabari, making Sanae yelp and jump back on instinct. “How many of those can you make?”

“I still hath the metal consumed from that black-white witch’s junkheap and borrowed from our nemesis. Now, stand back, for I shall perform a spellcard attack!”

“Wait do you even know what a spellcard is?” Sanae questions, before stepping back as Awyrgan arches up her back, and hot plasma begins running between her scales.

“Replica Curse:...” Awyrgan’s eyes cry tears of plasma as she braces her form against the ground. Then, her back suddenly bloats and expands out into a larger, heavier existence. Bulging and incongruent with the rest of her form, it looks somewhat like a series of vehicle-mounted missile pods.

“...Ryu-no-Ohabari!” You see a steady flow of bronze sword blades emerging from her scales, flung en masse into the air. Streaks of heated air light up the night sky like a meteor shower as the Ohabari replicas are sent crashing into the barrier as a barrage, blackening it with their concentrated curses as they shatter and explode. The barrier noticeably shrinks and become irregular, as if rusting and buckling under its own weight.

“Couldn’t you just throw them normally?” Sanae shouts with her hands over her ears, “You don’t need to launch them that hard!”

“Technically, this is danmaku, right?” You add.

“Tis more entertaining in this manner, I assure thee! Now, tis time for mine final blow!” With a joyful roar, the railgun retracts and Awyrgan charges forward, slamming into the barrier.

A sickening crunch is heard. Her neck kind of snaps and twists backwards at a 180 degree angle, and she flops onto the ground. The barrier remains unmoved.

“Easy girl. Overconfidence is a quick and obvious killer.” You weakly laugh as the dragon’s long neck snaps back to a regular position while the remaining sword blades disintegrate into their components, dragged back into the evershifting mess of metal that make up her internals.

“Tis thy turn, dear friend.” She grumbles.

“I’m kind of tired, Awyri, can you---OW” Awyrgan, impatient, had curled her tail around you and shoved you straight into the barrier, rubbing your face against the blackened surface. “Pwease stwap.” You muffle out.

Sanae shakes her head. She leaps over to the barrier, and incants, “By the authority of the Sky, and the strength of the Earth. Purify this blackened guardian. Lay it to rest.”

Streaks of divine energy rush up into the curses, grains of rice against the blackness. Sanae raises her gohei, hovering a bit above ground as a noticeable wind builds around her, “Miracle: ‘Divine Wind of the Kouen Era’ ”

A sudden violent gust bends tree tops and shifts stones, as the barrier crumbles into a flurry of leaves, carried off into the distance by the wind. Awyrgan snarls and furls her wings.

Your skin itches in dissonance. You don’t feel any wind save for a light breeze.

“Ha, cursed barriers may as well be made of paper. That barely took any effort. Come on guys. I want to go home...” Sanae yawns, and then immediately falls flat on her face.

You walk over and check with dismay. She’s fast asleep, quite comfortably judging by the look on her face as she snores away on the grass.

“Fack.” You hoist the shrine maiden onto your shoulders and climb back onto Awyrgan. “Alright, Awyri, let’s head for the Temple.”

“Affirmative, going in.”

Awyrgan takes off, and flies forwards, climbing altitude sharply. You pass the Kappa Village, and sail up the waterfall like a speedboat on a river. As you approach you constantly check the Hunter’s Module, and note with some relief that there are no hostile marks on the HUD. There are however, many, many marks in the Tengu Village plaza. Is there another meeting?

“Awyri, can you go small and carry Sanae? We should try to avoid raising a fuss there.”

A sort of gelatinous, liquid feeling shifts beneath you, before disappearing and allowing you to freefall for several meters before the artificial dragon wings kick in. Awyrgan pulls up alongside you, humanoid, with Sanae slung over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “Joining the fun, art thee?”

“You know I can’t leave things well alone, mine friend.” You answer.

The dragon awkwardly smiles, and the two of you dive down into a darkened section of the village, and trek over to the plaza on foot.

As you get closer, you pick up sounds of loud fighting and spell casts coming from the plaza. You double check and oddly, there are no hostile marks. Are they danmaku sparring? In such a time?

“Love Sign: MASTER---SPARK!”

“Dragon Sign: Optical Dream!”

You get into the plaza just in time to see a massive energy beam narrowly miss an immature Eastern dragon and impacting a shield conjured of a flurry of bandages. Marisa Kirisame barely finishes firing before dodging sideways as Kasen Ibaraki launches the fabric out as a clawed hand, attempting to grasp the witch.

The black-white then dodges low, but the dragon flies after her with unerring grace, snapping at her all the way. Marisa nimbly dodges the attacks while skating along the ground on her broom, throwing up bolts of stars and bottles of nebulous dust at the offending creature and the not-a-oni.

Kasen snarls and recalls her dragon in a puff of smoke, before abruptly shifting to the left. Before Marisa can react, a massive eagle the size of a rhinoceros shoots out of the shadows at her, forcing a sharp turn left and up into the air...straight into an incoming grasping cursed arm. She does not reverse direction in time to avoid the hand wrapping around her and slamming her into the ground.

“Done.” Kasen coughs out, the bandages reshifting back into a normal arm.

“Oi Oi!” She clamors, “It’s not over yet!”

“We agreed. Best two out of three rounds. Isn’t that right? Mr. Ochiba?”

The outsider, who had been watching the fight, steps down from the stage, scratching his head. You notice that there are quite a few non-tengu in the crowd, including some familiar faces: Shou, Patchouli, Futo. Heck, seems like every group in Gensokyo sent somebody here!

Except, you note with a sudden chill down your spine, the Human Village.

“Miss Ibaraki...how long are you going to keep this up? Why not allow Lady Hakurei to speak for herself?”

“As long as it takes until Reimu is safe.” The hermit complains. “You think I would reveal the lynchpin of this world while those terrorists calling themselves ‘heroes’ are running free while the Sages are away?”

“He has a point, Kasen.” Marisa lifts her face off from the ground, bruised but not really harmed too much, “All we have to go on is that the Hakurei Shrine disappeared yesterday, and you claim to be the only one who knows what’s going on. No hard feelings, but you’re not exactly the most trustworthy of people.”

Something’s not right. You smell something odd in the air. Something hidden and dangerous.

Kasen sighs, “You bought into that, Marisa? Reimu’s life would be in danger if I revealed anything. Please, do not interfere.”

“Miss Ibaraki!” Ochiba firmly states, looking straight into Kasen’s eyes, “The more we delay a meeting, the more innocent lives will be lost! The enemy cannot be defeated conventionally, so until the Sages return, we need every bit of leverage we can get! Reimu...I need Reimu’s help if we are to survive.”

Awyrgan sets down Sanae onto a stone table, nudges close to you and whispers, “Tis irritating to hear the speech of that one with the two swords, and his blood smelt of nobility. Shall I make him into a burnt delicacy?”

“No, you can’t eat him yet.” You whisper back, “I got a bad feeling about the consequences.”

“I represent her. Any and all requests will be made through me.” Kasen responds, “Until they leave, or I die.”

“Miss Ibaraki, that is a rash thing to say! You’ve seen what they’ve done to the tengu, and until we can better prepare ourselves, there’s no telling what the Saviors can do!”

“Tis a lie, Ming.”

“I know.” You make one last scan with the Hunter’s Module. Nothing. “Give me some of your life, and let’s go. I think something more than Ochiba’s usual BS is afoot.”

Hewing off Awyri’s lifespan with one hand, you raise your other hand and cry out in a loud and sing-song tone, “I know at least something they can do! Be delicious!”

“Hmph, tis more appropriate for mine boast.”

“Oh shush.”

The crowd turns, Ochiba and Kasen stop talking and look over to you.
“They die easy. Roasted, dried, and salted. So many corpses in the field. So much expensive armor turned to scrap metal. So many knights...how did they taste, Awyri?”

“Sweeter than virgin maidens, but mildly less flavorful than plainer humanfolk.” She echoes your sing-song voice, while an Ohabari slowly grows out of her left hand. “Tis possible to dine on their flesh for months on end, with no fatigue in appetite.”

Ochiba visibly winces at your statements as he raises a katana at you, “You...who are you two?”

“Wow, you forgotten about me already? It’s been only one day! I am Wu Ming, professional asshole and nosy outsider. This is Awyrgan, professional eater and legally recognizable Touhou.” You curtly introduce the two of you into the gathering. Awyrgan probably would be answering but she appears more interested in stoically posing with a two-handed Ohabari planted into the ground, in the regal manner of a knight errant. “Or as some of you may like to term...the Null Fiend and the Dragon.”

The air freezes up. The crowd gathered noticeably backs up like the Red Sea, and Marisa, observant, ejects from the plaza and onto a nearby rooftop. In the din, you see Ochiba mouth, “You don’t look the same!”

Something whistles through the air before you notice, and Awyrgan dramatically moves forward to intercept. The Ohabari hits air, and you suddenly notice a sword in your throat.

“Called it.” You mutter, before going back to your mocking tone. “Oh no.” You groan, as the sword dissipates back into divine energy. “Mister Rigel, why are you attacking non-combatants? Awyri and I just trying to get back to my bedroom so we can sleep twice in the same place for once.”

Some more whistles, but this time Awyrgan simply ejects several copies of the blade into the air, deflecting the divine projectiles in airbursts of cursed miasma.

“Rigel, stop!” Ochiba shouts.

“Yeah, guess that wasn’t believable. But still, I so…yawn...so wish we could be civil about this, Mr. Rigel, but if you are going to keep doing this, then I’m afraid that I am going to tell my higher-ups to...degrade treatment of the prisoners.”

“Cease thy civility friend.” Awyrgan angrily breaks her silence. “False knights! Foul imitations of an illusionary chivalry. If thou art true of heart and unwavering faith, show thyself instead of flinging treacherous blades from the shadows!”

A resounding silence. Awyrgan huffs, and slams her claws down, breaking her humanoid form in the process and letting out a resounding roar through her horse-sized jaws. Damn, you observe in realization at her sheer size compared to the crowd, she increased size by an order of magnitude in just one Gensokyean day to something larger than an A-10 Warthog. “Art thee so cowardly, so faint of heart that thy face will not show?”

“Yeah, seriously, I haven’t even seen your face yet.” You lie along with your dragon, “Are you going to hide behind your Companions while they die and suffer for your cause? Are you going to let us burn them, eat them, and crucify them while you do nothing?”

It’s Kasen’s turn to speak up this time, a trembling tone in her voice as she gestures to the...damn, that area near Mayohiga is still smoldering? “Wu Ming...you did all of that?”

“Not all of it. You can thank Sanae for the other annihilated platoon.” You chuckle, gesturing to the sleeping shrine maiden on the table past the crowd. “But seriously. Rigel, you might want to come out. We have two captives in the Null Fiend’s base, you know, the same Null Fiend you mistook me for. He’s not going to be happy if you don’t. Nice try mercy killing them, though.”

Ochiba visibly pales, “He talked about those prisoners. What did you do to the Pyrus siblings? You...”

“What? The usual. Chains, the rack, you know, usual newcomer treatment.” You lie, “Maybe a little bit of vivisection. We might get started on interrogation soon though. So, Rigel...show thyself. We need to talk.”

A slight cough from the side, and you see a shabby looking fellow in a hooded cloak emerge from the crowd. In a single motion, he tears the cloth from its body in a blinding flash of light, making your Hunter Module dim everything else.

“You wished to see me, foul Fiend!?” The baritone voice from your eavesdropping earlier returns with a vengeance as he shouts at you, his face contorted with righteous fury. “Here I am!”

Here he is, the final boss.

Gold and platinum, that’s the impression you get from Rigel. A billowing, flowing cloak, thick, ornate (but with a mundane, relatable flair), and a worn out, middle aged face with braided red hair and a full beard that still oozes with the charm and looks of a younger person, one much more detailed than the holographic representation Castor showed you.

There’s something inherently comfortable about it, much like Big Brother’s visage in 1984 as you use an unflattering metaphor, that ironically makes you feel reassured as you swing around Initiative into a fighting stance. Despite the general bulkiness of the armor, he also feels oddly in place among the native denizens of Gensokyo that haven’t fled the area yet, likely due to the somewhat feminine sculpting.

“Finally, the person who’s been throwing swords at us.” You state confidentiality, even as his threat level fills up your HUD. “Awyrgan, deliver your terms, if you please.”

“Ah, catharsis. Listen, knave.” The dragon snarls, leaning her head close to Rigel, within bite range. “Leave. This. Land. Lest more of thy men are rendered into fodder, or worse.”

Ochiba’s shouting something in the background about no lethal violence at a peace talk or something, but nobody’s listening to him.

To your surprise, Rigel’s face suddenly shifts into a hearty smile, “Oh? Why don’t you tell the Violet Tyrant to leave our land then? Her pet demons in Clear Sky are pillaging countries and murdering innocent people in the Outside World as we speak!”

“INNOCENT? WHY I---” You lash out with your fishing line just in time to restrain Sanae from running at the enemy general. Damn, when did she wake up? “Let me go! Ming! This bastard needs to be exterminated!”

The smile disappears, “You corrupted an innocent bystander with your foul mist?”

You respond blankly, “What.”

“Sword of Truth!” More blinding light...light? A closer look reveals something...tendril-ish, exploding from his hand as a radiant blade comes into existence. “Fragarach! Reveal the deceit this monster wrought!”

Fragarach? Does this guy have Gate of Babylon or some shit?

“Fragarach? That Irish blade? Do you have like Gate of Babylon or some ridiculous power?!” Sanae shouts.

He holds it up, blade first, to Sanae, who coughs violently, as if something caught in her throat. “Tell me, what did the Null Fiend and the Dragon do to you?”

“Oh, them? I barely know Ming that well. He’s a terrible person, but competent at being a hero. Awyrgan gave me rides, and really should try on more maid dresses rather than that edgy metallic….”

“Tsk, the corruption runs too deep for even Fragarach to break through the lies. Very well!” He stabs the sword into the ground, leaving it standing hilt first, which is rather impressive as the plaza is paved, and conjures up what looks like a massive section of tree bark and a stylus, before making a massive show of writing. “By the authority of the Lux. By the hope of humanity. Reveal the true form of all those present!”

Glowing runes form beneath your feet as he writes, far faster than any spell you’ve seen a Gensokyean cast. The runes are also much more different than the rococo, cursive script used in Gensokyo’s magic, being far more angular and block-ish, like an alphabet. You swear you’ve seen them somewhere before, as the runes explode, engulfing everyone present with divine energy.

You feel it strip against you like a receding ocean wave, all too harsh and painful. You mutter Hew, and a cold sinking feeling sets in when you see that, much like your earliest use of the spell, nothing happens.

As the runes fade, you look around and, to your disappointment, don’t see significant differences in everyone. As stated by Keine’s book and Mishaguji, the forms taken by the denizens here are not illusions, but adaptations. Shou, watching from a balcony, had turned into her tiger form, not that she’s noticed, and Futo has become translucent, with a spinning dish visible inside of her. Okay, those are some pretty massive changes, but the tengu seemed to stay the same.

Oh, and atop Kasen’s head are a pair of massive horns, straight and pointy, where the “hair buns” used to be. You take the opportunity to point and laugh at her, until you notice that nobody else is looking at her.

Everyone’s looking at you, in fact.

You pull your arm back. It is shriveled, dead, the flesh within having long since mummified and bore through by decomposer organisms. And yet it moves and feels, even the areas that bare the signs of severe blunt injury and third-degree burns.

You lower Initiative and look at your own reflection, a gaunt, dry, eyeless ghoul stares back at you, with no nose and two large gaping holes where your eyes were. Despite the mummification, you still see maggots crawling through the gaps in the skin. Strangely large
maggots tinged with either pinkish or rainbow-colored auras.

Pulling your hand beneath Awyrgan’s cuirass, you feel your chest. It lies still even as you continue to breathe in and out. No lung movement, nor heartbeat. Not even when you reach into the autopsy cut that leads directly into your chest cavity.

============
Mayohiga

The deserted house briefly comes alive with the sound of an enchanted typewriter.

The sheet of paper is only imprinted with a single line of text before being ejected.

“Outsider #1126: Confirmed cessation of life. Method: Smoke inhalation. Context: Unknown.”

============

“Great job with the smoke and mirrors. Rigel.” You laugh as the you shows off your desiccated form to the public. “Are you saying that a fucking zombie killed your elite troops?”

While everyone is staring at you, he is staring at Sanae and ignoring you, who has not changed at all. “Sanae Kochiya, Goddess of the Wind...you really believe that I need to die?”

“Yes.” She replies coldly and firmly.

“Whoa, whoa whoa, hey.” Ochiba finally interjects after standing in shock since Rigel steps in, his normally confident, heroic tone somewhat wavering. “Don’t just jump to absolutes like that.”

“If there is any time for absolutes, you foolish outsider, now is the time.”

“Also, Rigel! Why do you feel the need to antagonize the Null Fiend so?”

Rigel ignores that question initially as he scribbles on the tree bark. You candidly answer for him, “Probably because the Fiend killed his friends or something in that future timeline. You know, small things like that.”

“Tsk. You really are the same no matter when you are, foul wretch. Hakurei Ochiba, you have mistaken my intentions. Everything living in this world is valuable, and should be treated with dignity and care. These two,” He gestures at you and Awyrgan and suddenly raises his voice, into a booming thunderous condemnation, “As you can see, are not living!”

You feel something press up against you, as Awyrgan manifests several more Ohabaris out of her flesh. Sanae leans in to your earhole, and whispers, her tone somewhat odd, “Zombie-Ming, I finally can feel my gods.”

“You mind calling Kanako over then?”

“No, Ming. I feel their presence IN him.” Sanae says as she points at the gesticulating Rigel. “I...I fear he ate them.”

“And I will never negotiate with them! By the mandate of the Lux. By the will of all that is good. Return these monsters to the grave where---!”

And at this moment, all three of the interloping outsiders scream out and act.

“SIR RIGEL! STOP THIS AT ONCE!”

“WAIT WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME EARLIER!”

“I WAS DAZED!”

Think fast.

[ ] Blast the writing bark out of his hands
[ ] “MEILING, HELP!”
[ ] “Styx...styx...where all rivers flow...”


====

A/N: really busy with school and work at once, sorry for slowness
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[x] “MEILING, HELP!”
I'm pretty sure this is the only time Junko has been mentioned in a story. nice.
[X] “MEILING, HELP!”

We're faced with a pretty shitty situation where we are in full view of some pretty big bigwigs of Gensokyo.

voting to blast the writing out of his hands is technically the fastest, but it probably isn't a good idea for the fact that it would cement the idea that we're the bad guys.

chanting whatever the 3rd option is seems like a wildcard option. But the time it'd take I assume would put us in danger.

Shouting for Meiling is a mix between time and authenticity. If she can make it in time. We'd have a "hopefully" another influential character on our side to convince the rest.

At least that's what I think is going on.
[X] “MEILING, HELP!”
>Hakurei Ochiba, you have mistaken my intentions. Everything living in this world is valuable, and should be treated with dignity and care.
>“No, Ming. I feel their presence IN him.” Sanae says as she points at the gesticulating Rigel. “I...I fear he ate them.”
lol

>By the mandate of the Lux. By the will of all that is good. Return these monsters to the grave where---!
Is this guy trying to cast Turn Undead ? There's no way something like that is going to be effective.
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[x] Blast the writing bark out of his hands
-[x] Return the God's you killed you piece of shit!

He ate my favorite touhou!
>Sanae is savvy enough to have played F/HA
That's ridiculous.

[x] “MEILING, HELP!”
[x] “Styx and stones.”
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Mumbai, India
Current time: 12:00AM

Under the dark awnings of an abandoned train station in the outskirts of the city, amidst the pitter-patter of heavy rain, two groups meet.

One is a short, gray-haired woman dressed in discreet black clothing, flanked by a dozen burly men in suits, as still as statues.

The other, a single blond woman in a fanciful white dress with a purple tabard, holding a parasol despite the weather, alongside a wheelchair-bound man with balding white hair.

“I might ask why you find the need to travel here personally.” The tall blonde asks as she examines the trunk the shorter one is towing. “These are dangerous times.”

The old woman chuckles, “Hardly dangerous. And it would not do for the prized swords of yore, of so much import that the public still believes of their fantastical nature despite hidden right under their feet in the Tower of London, to be delivered in such an impersonal manner.”

“As expected. But I dare say.” The blonde leans close and grins, revealing her rows of sharp teeth and prompting the guards to break out their pistols and take aim. “You are more concerned of how the recipient of the weapons is behaving, correct? Primrose?”

“Ah, would you not worry about how your scions are doing? Violet dear? You would say so too, correct, wizened engineer?” Primrose smiles, and looks at the man. The man stirs, and mutters something in German with an irritated tone.

“Please, do not trouble this old fellow. At least, try to help his mind stay intact until he can witness his creation’s true potential.” Violet says, annoyed, as she opens the trunk, revealing a rack of swords, lavishly bejeweled and carved, but all rusted and worn-looking.

“So. Hunks of old metal?” She sighs.

“One of these hunks of old metal, ohoho.” Primrose chuckles as she kneels down and fingers them. “Arondight...Courtain...Galatine...Caladbolg...Excalibur, ohoho,” She pauses as she lays a hand on the least rusty of them, “A weapon fit for an English king, and only wieldable by one.”

Violet sighs, “It wouldn’t be of help. Unless an old queen like you would wish to rush into combat.”

“No, not against our current foe, and not in the hands of our dearest scion, that monster of Wales, terror of Germania, and demon of the Levant. But this one.” She pulls out the most ornate, and yet the most impractical looking of the lot.”This is what will help.”

“And this is…?”

“The accursed ceremonial blade: Clarent.”

============

[X] “MEILING, HELP!”

“---they should have remained!”

A spiraling crack of rainbow light spreads from your body and intercepts the runes as they form. The golden runes push forward, only to appear to buckle under their own weight and collapse. Rigel frowns and puts away the tree bark.

“It appears I cannot justify this law in the face of even minor dissent. No matter. Even if I must turn my back to justice and take up arms as a vigilante.” He raises his head, a sword forming in his hand as he speaks. “Take the accursed dragon’s head. Reforged Gram!”

“Like hell you will!” As the rainbow crystals recede, you see Sanae leap forth and up above the paladin, her arms outstretched and projecting a series of divine light-sheathed water projectiles around her fists. “Sea of Opening: Moses’s Mirac--”

“Stay out of this, Sanae Kochiya! ” Rigel roars, “Sacred Onbashira of Yasaka!”

“Wha--” Sanae hesitates just a little too much, enough for the logs to thrust out of the ground and surround her like a massive tepee as she stumbles back earthward. Another shout from Rigel, and a series of iron rings materialize around the logs and shrink, locking the structure into a cage.

“Rigel!”

“You too, Hakurei Ochiba.” The outsider is stopped in his rush forward by a log sprouting out in front of him. You see that they are in fact growing all around the plaza, forming a towering fence that encloses just Rigel, Kasen, and your group. “I do not wish to engage any more innocents and redeemables in this fight. LIKE SO!” Abruptly. He swings his left arm out, and punches a cannon shell out of the air and into the sky where it detonates harmlessly. “Predictable.”

“Tsk. What a conceited individual.” Awyrgan complains, retracting the 155mm. “Must he really self-aggrandize to that extent?”

“You’re one to talk. By the way, cover me, you probably don’t want to be anywhere near a dragon-slaying blade.”

“You are going to charge forth posing as the main threat, hollow vessel, while the dragon rains fire from the back.” Rigel calls out, somewhat annoyed. “It’s a base tactic that I’ve seen a thousand times.”

“Hey, if it killed so many of your friends like you claim, then I’m not going to fix what isn’t broken. Hew Sign...hmm...” You wetten your burnt, shriveled lips as you think up a cool spell card name on the spot, ”Ah…’Dissection Barrier!’”

No pink light emerges from your body now. Glowing maggots and worms do, boring themselves out of your mummified skin and into the shield generator. A pink, writhing graviton barrier is projected, squirming and writhing as it grows large enough to cover both you and Awyrgan’s crouching form.

The true form of that iron card spell, eh? You wonder with perverted curiosity at what the cards themselves would have looked like without the hilariously powerful glamour that ‘professor’ put on you.

“Predictable”, Rigel scoffs as he tosses aside Gram, and pulls out a polearm instead,“Odin’s Unerring Spear: Gungnir!”

====

A couple of miles away, Remilia Scarlet staggers and grabs onto a table as the weapon she was leaning on vanishes.

====

You leap in front of Awyrgan, blocking the tossed spear with your shield. Even as its divine construction breaks apart in your infused graviton shield, you find yourself forced back, the draconic-infused exoskeleton unable to even hold ground against the raw power exerted against you, allowing it to push you back all the way to the edge of the plaza and slamming you against a wall.

No matter. You pull yourself back up and immediately charge back, firing your sidearm while continuously taunting him. “All you’ve got? Even the spear of a chief god not enough?”

“Hmph, the weapons of the wicked...” He deftly steps back to dodge a series of slashing strikes from a fuming dragon girl, dual-wielding the Ohabaris like they are claws...actually, they are growing out of her humanoid knuckles in a grotesque Wolverine-esque pattern. “Divine Shield: Aegis!”


========

A couple of miles away. Remilia Scarlet squints her eyes in confusion at the spear that reappeared in her hand.

========

Zeus’s shield blackens as the fragile bronze blades shatter themselves on its Olympian forged construction. Depleted of swords, Awyrgan roars, rears back into her monstrous form, and lets loose with a gout of plasma on Rigel, followed by a barrage of bullets from concealed guns under her scales. He raises the shield, projecting a glowing barrier that blocks the entire series of attacks as it slowly fades away into the aether.

“...Are not easily obtained, as they are destroyed long before they can damage civilization. Unlike you and your defiled tools. The likes of you, concentrated beings of evil, know not of love, or of hope. Fortunately...Juuchi Yosamu! Wretched Sword of Blood!”

A black-colored katana appears in his hand. Off in the sidelines, you notice that Ochiba is checking an empty scabbard. Stepping forth in a flash, he makes a diagonal cut at you, which you duck away from.

A spray of foul-smelling, lukewarm blood splashes on your face. You look down and see that your throat has been cut, despite the blade missing you by over a meter. Rainbow colored rocks scab over the “mortal” wound almost immediately (can you even ‘die’ normally at this point from human-tier wounds?), sealing it, but giving a peculiar numbness.

“Using cursed weapons against my spawn. Clever.” Meiling taunts through your mouth, “Not clever enough though.”

You feel your flesh and bones being stretched to their limit as the rainbow strings puppeting your body rears you up into a fighting stance. “Discord Sign: ‘Rainbow Schism’ ”

Slamming your foot into the ground, shattering your bones before putting them back together with crystalline fractures. A massive wave of sharp rainbow crystals spreads forth, forcing Awyrgan to leap back and Rigel to...ignore it completely. The crystals break off his armor like nothing.

You now notice something that, judging by their fearful expressions, Kasen and the others have already figured out. Rigel hasn’t taken any damage during this fight, not even minor scratches or dents on his shining armor. Even dragonfire and anti-divine rounds have failed to trouble this hero.

“An evil spirit possessing a corpse...familiar.” Rigel grunts as a hammer slowly materializes into his right hand, a similar one to the ones Castor threw at you. “And a minor god of calamity, eh? Appropriate. Let’s see if you can face this one! Purge the evil spirits with thy lightning! Mjolnir!”

“Castor Pyrus is fond of that weapon, wasn’t he?” You loudly ask as Awyrgan slithers in front of you, deflecting the thrown weapon with yet another cursed blade.

“Aye!” Rigel heartedly replies, some of his earlier mirth returning as the battle drags on. “Now if you would just let the Pyruses go...” The returning hammer catches Awyrgan off guard, knocking her on the head and flooring the dragon with the impact. Before you can react, a frightening crackling sound booms from heaven, and a bolt of lightning strikes her as she tries to push herself up. From a cloudless night sky. Somehow.

Hovering a safe distance away from the fight, a particular celestial oarfish reddens with jealousy as she feels her hair and fins stand on end at the energy dispensed.

“Awyri!” You scramble over to her head, “Are you okay?”

“Tis...nothing...” She grits out. “What...what sort of devilry art thou employing to summon so much weaponry of yore, red-haired tyrant?”

“The Lux has seen to grant me the power of Dominion, foul dragon. Which means.” He declares to the observing Gensokyeans as he cycles through multiple weapons in his hands, “I can borrow anything of mankind’s virtues as needed to deal with the threat at hand. Weapons, magic, even lesser gods” He smiles apologetically at a seething Sanae, “...must answer my call.”

“Aha!” You see Marisa slide down the curved roof to yell, a somewhat more smug than usual expression on her face, “Sanae, Ming, you dumb tank, I got him.”

“Hmm?” Sanae stops pounding on the barrier, “What do you mean, Marisa?”

“Kourin collects lots of rare items and tools that float in, an’ he collects lore on everything he doesn’t. Norse items are hard to find all the way here in Japan, but he told me about the famous ones before and how to spot them. Mjolnir, the one Mr. Rigel just used, is a blessed short-handled hammer that always returns to its user. Kinda like your gohei, Sanae.”

“Oh! You are a knowledgeable one, Miss Kirisame!” Rigel laughs, “Indeed, it is one of my most favorite tools, as the wise Lux saw fit to grant me dominion over.”

“You’re lying.” Marisa says, the smug grin growing wider, “If the Lux blessed you with dominion over the world, that tool is not something that was part of the gift. For you forgot, perhaps from overuse, that Mjolnir does NOT have the power to summon lightning.”

“But it does?” You ask, “I mean, even modern depictions...”

“No, Ming, Marisa’s right.” Sanae interrupts, cold realization dawning on her face, “The comic book version of Mjolnir is not the original. It never had any power but sure-hit and returning, along with its usual divine abilities to banish evil spirits.”

Rigel shakes his head and crosses his arms as Sanae turns to him, “Red hair, full beard, angular runes...you’re not just some randomly chosen human champion, Rigel, or should I say...Thor!”

In front of your eyes, the golden armor on “Rigel” sloughs away, no more than a gilded facade. Thick animal furs and bits of chainmail take its place, and not nearly to the extent that the fake armor implied. Most of the previous volume is instead filled up with muscle mass more appropriate for a Renaissance statue than a regular man.

Muscle mass that cursed bullets and blades are bouncing off of, not to mention high calibur magic.

Also he’s wearing a black t-shirt underneath with something you can’t read. Judging by the lettering and design though, it looks like Swedish, and probably metal band merch. Kind of gives his getup a more modern flair.

“Tsk,” Thor chuckles as he removes the knight-esque helmet and shakes his long, braided hair loose “it was always Father that was more skilled at disguising. Perhaps a bridal veil would have served my purpose better.”

“Shouldn’t Gotterdammerung have killed you by now?” Meiling asks through your mouth as you watch him appear to grow another two feet in stature. “I’m not seeing a lot of you Norse folk around since the Christians got to you.”

“Why are you under the impression that Ragnarok had finished, O’ lesser kin of Jormungandr?” He questions as he drops the hammer onto the ground, causing you to wince as you see the ground crater. “Aye, the Roman wolf in sheep’s clothing have burnt our lands and invaded our homes in the name of their Christ. But even it, at least, loved humanity.”

“You know. I don’t get your point. What exactly is Clear Sky doing that makes you so angry about it, Thor?” You rub your milky eyes as you ask, exhaustion taking its toll. “If anything, everything’s going along pretty well here, and from what I can tell they’re making strides to even eliminate the ethical dilemma of human flesh. People are dying to live here, you doddering god. Can you look at the world and say that what Gensokyo stands for is worse?”

“Yes. It is worse.” He replies without a bit of hesitation, a noticeably thick Nordic accent creeping into his previously immaculate Japanese, “Regardless of how gray the future may be. Regardless of the flaws, the wars, the cruelty that humans may exhibit...it’s all preferable to a world where they are extinct.”

A deafening wave of silence falls upon the plaza at his proclamation as all those present, including you, are taken aback. Extinction of humanity?

“And I am supposed to believe that our society, which depends on humans for faith and fear, is supposed to advocate for their extinction?” Aya pipes up from her aerial vantage point, having been one of the few tengu brave or foolish enough to stick around after Thor started throwing lethal magic around.

“You fools. Don’t you see?” Thor shouts, clouds gathering in the sky as his volume rises, “What do you think this garden is, but a testbed for a world without humanity? Look at the so-called ‘Human’ Village, do they actually resemble any people you see outside your garden, you accursed winged fiend?”

“Weird colored hair. Sharper teeth. Enhanced speed and magical potential. Oh my god, Thor.” You clasp a hand to your mouth in mocking terror, “They’re turning into anime characters! Clearly a fate worse than death.”

He ignores your comment and continues talking to Aya, “There are no humans left in this garden. No human will allow others of their kind to be devoured by monsters with such passivity. No human will stand idle as giants and monsters pervert the world to their design. It is dead within these walls, and the Violet Tyrant, your...Yukari, seeks to render the entire planet to her will in this way, a savage, monstrous place where the flame of humanity, of community, of fellowship...are snuffed out.”

“So, literally no different than the current world by your words? OH SHI--” You are interrupted by Thor’s hammer closing in on your face in a swing, crackling with lightning and backed up by mountain shattering strength. You just barely manage to dodge and drift off the shockwave and are only thrown back all the way across the plaza.

“Disgusting fiend.” He snarls in sudden anger and, to your horror, grabs the half-conscious Awyrgan by the neck with one hand, and with physics-defying strength (and weight distribution) he swings her around once and hurls the thirty metric ton dragon at you. Rainbow strings tug on your muscles, threatening to tear them apart, as you strain the exoskeleton in the effort to clear the distance. Ripped up stone tiles and broken tables ricochet off of her path as Awyrgan painfully slams into the ground, half-sunken. “If you are to speak, make a valid point, not another one of your inane ramblings.”

“How am I wrong?” You complain, wiping stale blood from your face as you run to heal your friend, the result of a stray fragment of rock hitting you in an exposed area, “Am I supposed to believe that modern humanity--a heady stew of pointless violence, meaningless ideology, and unsustainable pollution, is a culture worth conserving?”

“You cannot name one thing in humanity you think is worth keeping?”

“Look Thor. If there is anything good in humanity, youkai...or whatever you call the non-human folk...they have it too. Because let’s be fucking honest here, youkai are the result of human imagination, so they can’t stray too far off from the base material. So what if we all become hybrids or whatnot? There’s nothing lost.”

“Hmph, you sound like the Violet Tyrant herself, who stated that...”

========

“...Humanity has remained in a degenerate state for millenia. Which is why I must act.” The tall blonde states in a rather matter-of-fact way.

“Now that’s a harsh statement to make, dear.” Primrose chuckles as the train from nowhere pulls up in the station. “Surely our progress from dirt to concrete has some meaning? Yukari Yakumo?”

“It would, your majesty, if they truly improved themselves beyond their tools. Dozens of millenia ago, humans beat each other to death with rocks over food and mates. Now, they do the same with guns.” Yukari sullenly states as the train stops completely and opens its doors. She enters first, with the old woman and her silent entourage following behind. “In the English language, why is it that the word ‘utopia’ carries the double-meaning of ‘ideal’ and ‘impossible’? Why are only negative facts referred to as ‘facts of life’? Despite living in a world with infinite possibilities, why do human will always choose the nastiest, most brutish and shortest way to solve problems?”

“Because that is the way the world runs...without your witchery, of course.” Primrose says,, finding a comfortable seat in a booth. “The question you are implying, is why humans cannot overcome that?”

“The answer is that humans dare not think of a better state. The pragmatic always triumphs over the naive, and the scheme over the dream. ”

“And the alternative you are offering to solve this obstacle?”

“Restructure it all, destroy the idols, the poisonous ideals and institutions that plagued humanity for its entire history. Allow magic, mystery, monsters to roam wild once more, without the ignorance that coated human eyes during that time. Allow nature to share the burden of civilization and industry, so life can prosper without want. For satisfaction to replace ambition, faith, envy...”

“All things that drove humanity’s growth.”

“And all things that leads to its suffering.” Yukari smiles, “Lives will only improve, the only thing that truly changes, is who’s calling the shots, and for 99% of people...is it really any different?”

========

“...and thus a complacent humanity will be cast down into the shadows. Sidelined, irrelevant until they are bred into an amorphous mass with the monsters of the world. The entity known as humanity will disappear with nary a whimper. Forever.”

“Once again, ‘Wow, how terrible!” You snark as you surreptitiously heal Awyrgan with your non-gesticulating hand, ”A species of hairless apes got improved to be slightly less shitty!’ Is there any loss not predated on sentimental bullshit?”

“You all hear that? The Null Fiend states that there is no value to human essence. That it’s just a weakness to be thrown away. That the struggles, accomplishments, and culture of mankind is just trash...”

“It is.”

You feel a powerful hand clasp around your mouth, “Ming. Shut up.” It’s Kasen who speaks up this time, in a cold whisper, “Stop making this situation worse than it already is.”

“Ha...Ha ha ha, Oh Miss Ibaraki, you have no idea. So...Mr. Hakurei, are you still convinced that you are on the right side?”

The outsider unsheathes his (reobtained) swords, “I am responsible for the safety of Gensokyo. As long as I’m alive, I can’t go against that law. However,” He adds as he looks straight at you, “I kind of see why Reimu would not extend this protection to outsiders.”

Thor grimaces, “You mean...”

“If these demons die, would you leave? Yukari is not inside Gensokyo. If you defeat her, then mankind will live on, right?”

“You misunderstand the Violet Tyrant. She is not a human, or even a monster. She is a wicked, unrelenting force of corruption that infests the world not just through magic, but through the veins of society! Even if she is somehow killed, the monster will revive, fulfilling her goals through her organizations and intrigues, of which the very heart of it is Gensokyo....”

======

“...And you are not worried about yourself? These seem like awfully determined enemies, what if I was a Manchurian candidate, hmm?”

A dismissive harumph, “You underestimate my abilities, your majesty. I am not so easily ruined if my body is destroyed. Frankly, no youkai is. You will find that my ideas, my essence, are a bit more stubborn than most.”

“Ideas?”

The train begins to move, and the rain-soaked exterior of Mumbai disappears into darkness. The train is moving in a hazy dimension now, one of distant, peering eyes and a roiling, lurid purpleness.

“Knowledge. Or rather, the ideals of knowledge. The wonderment, enrapturement, and joy that comes from the realizations of the impossible. The discovery and control of boundaries between the real and fantasy, to be specific...a process that is activating as we speak, perhaps pre-maturely, but necessary...”

The void briefly parts, revealing a burning village. Soldiers bearing Myanmar insignia are fleeing from the scene, as a massive snake with the torso of a human emerges from amidst the houses, bullets bouncing off its scaly hide.

“For as civilization spread, the old myths that brought darkness upon human souls must fade, and rest in the few niches of true nature.”

The village and naga fades, and now they are passing through a large Chinese city. People wearing rainbow sashes and wielding torches are marching upon police precincts and government facilities...including the very officers and officials supposed to be manning them. Some of them are sprouting fangs and scales.

“But when after a long slumber, they shall emerge, no longer cloaked in the darkness of ignorance, but heralding a new dawn.”

The train slows down as it enters into a cavernous underground staging area. The Violet steps out, followed by the Queen. Some of the soldiers idly about recognizes the new arrival, and snap into rigid salutes almost by instinct.

“I see you’ve taken advantage of our former troops as well.” The Queen mutters as she returns the salutes.

“They merely saw the knowledge, the light of a new future.”

One of the Queen’s bodyguards yelps and levels his gun at the spider drone that crept up behind him, lowering it when he notices the half-dead, half-living thing nuzzling his leg with its head. Out of one of the adjacent storage bays, a Typhoon fighter jet crawls out on its wings and landing gear, snarling and snapping its nose open and shut at the hunks of meat some warriors are tossing at it. The Queen notes that the label on above the bay entrance reads “Bronze Wing Prototype Roosts”.

“A queer future, I say.”

“Indeed, but it is a better world, one which sprung from mine creation, the Garden...”

======

“...a wellspring to fuel her misbegotten nightmare of a future!”

Ochiba shakes his head, and levels a blade to both sides, “Both of you pose a threat to this land, and to my cousin. I can’t let you do this.”

“Tsk. Maybe I thought wrong of you.” You remark.

He ignores you.

Thor dispels his hammer, and retrieves the parchment again. “That can be arranged, but first you do agree that these demons must be expunged?”

“No doubt.”

“OCHIBA YOU TRAITOROUS---”

“No, Sanae. He’s right. About me, at least.” You set aside your shield and open your arms, “Come at me, ignore the others. I am the one you want, right Thor?”

A smile forms on the god’s face. In a flash of lightning, he rushes up before you can react, and hurls you and Awyrgan high into the sky, one with each hand. The air rushes past in a deafening roar you as the shock prevents you from air braking with your artificial wings. By the time you can react, you and Awyrgan have already reached the height where Youkai Mountain is but a patch of light in the distance.

“Then don’t take it back when I go all out, Hakurei!” Thor’s voice booms as the thunder in the skies, “Enduring Stockpile: B61!”

Down below amongst the spectators, Reiuji Utsuho feels a sudden pain in her chest. As a result, she doesn’t really notice everyone else moving away, in a justified mass panic, from the area, until the plaza is completely vacated.

======
All the way across the world, a series of blaring alarms send a particular missile silo’s occupants into a panicked frenzy. “Broken Arrow! Broken Arrow!”
======

You can barely see the bomb moving towards you, hurled by the might of a Norse Aesir. You can however, notice the massive threat blob that almost dwarfs Thor’s own doing so. Closing your eyes, you activate the shield and grab ahold of the now-shrunken dragon, hoping for the best.

The nuke detonates in a brief flash of light, then...nothing.

“Hmm?” You see the bomb sailing past you, cracked but not destroyed, its surface covered by a mess of talismans and seals. A green blob, almost as large as Rigel’s own, enters the immediate area.

A soft wind heralds the arrival of the red and white butterfly. Her form is dangling with torn ropes, broken fabric seals, and a defeated-looking Mima. With a brief wave of her arm, layers upon layers of barriers form around the warhead, until it resembles a bubble wrap of faintly glowing divine magic.”

Which explodes in a blinding flash of light and an earth-shaking sound, causing your visor to shutdown briefly and for Awyrgan to roar and squirm in discomfort. When the HUD flickers back to life, you see that everything is mostly intact...save for the massive crater in the Tengu Village plaza that’s emitting a ton of radioactive smoke.

“I missed.” Reimu...that’s not Reimu’s voice, but it’s coming out of her mouth. A rumbling, emotionless tone, “Recalibrating.”

“And so the true opponent has arrived.” Thor shouts, “Good, let’s end this quickly before any more needless suffering should occur.”

“Incident mastermind, seen. I shall start sealing him. Thank you for your prior generosity, Wu Ming.”

“Huh?”

“Thor! Son of Odin!” Reimu cries out as she flies straight down, dodging deftly pass a hail of divine arrows and gunfire as you follow her from a safe horizontal distance away, Awyrgan in tow. “You are a trespasser on these lands. Leave!”

Mima limply falls off of Reimu as the shrine maiden turns into a furious comet. Sending out your Fishing Line, you swiftly reel her out of the barrage that Thor is sending up.

“Thanks….oh, it’s you.” She weakly murmurs upon reaching the ground. The former plaza is all but deserted, with all previous spectators having fucked off when the nuclear warhead that’s not called Utsuho showed up. Sanae has broken free and is collapsed near a burnt building. Marisa is still hovering around, though more out of shock and concern than curiosity. Kasen is standing right on the edge of the hole, unconcerned of the radiation.

You crack open the Eientei medikit and apply one of the yellow patches.

In the middle of the crater is a glowing nimbus of divine energy. Gohei and hammer struggle towards each other, each blocked by a katana.

“Stop this! My cousin...”

“I’m not your cousin, idiot!” Reimu’s normal voice pops back for a second, before returning to the previous rumbling one, “ ‘Hakurei’ Ochiba, if you do not stand out of my way, you will be eliminated just like this invading god.”

“My boy, are you really going to defend this embodiment of human extinction?”

“Both of you! Quiet!” He shouts in sudden anger and slashes, sending both of the opponents back. “Neither of you know what’s true! Or what’s right thing to do?”

“And you do, you false relative? Tell us then.”

“Come on boy. Share your thoughts.”
File 154461014712.jpg - (2.99MB, 1370x1872, __hakurei_reimu_touhou_drawn_by_kan_aaaaari35__3dc.jpg) [iqdb]
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“You both...just...stop fighting! Reimu! Why can’t you listen to his legitimate grievances on Yukari’s plots! Thor! Why can’t have started off by not attacking this land!”

“Legitimate? Ha. Invaders have no legitimacy.”

“Oh, trust me boy, we tried.”

“Grrr...” Ochiba draws up in a battle stance, “I understand now why the old man told me to come in Gensokyo’s time of need. Neither the enemy nor defender are right. Stand down! Both of you! I shall confront Yukari myself to get the truth and resolve this conflict!”

“Never.” Is the mutual reply.

Watching the three participants square off, you can’t help but feel like the finale is coming.

“Releasing her probably would have saved a few lives, you know.” You comment.

“You fool, this is why we wanted to keep her sealed until the incident is over!” Mima groans as she props herself up with her staff, “The reason for the spellcard system, the pact between native humans and youkai, even the consensual self-modification of the sapient youkai...all of this was to placate the Barrier.”

“Explain?” You ask, surprised.

“The Hakurei Barrier isn’t just a magical barrier, fool. No barrier can actively convert disbelief and forgotten things into a power source. That requires a living entity to even process active absences. Short answer? It’s alive, and the Hakurei lineage is its immune system.”

“We thought it was a great idea at the time.” Kasen monotonically mutters as she limps towards you, a chunk of wood stuck in her thigh from the directed nuke blast,half of her left horn broken off, and her phantom arm completely absent. “Having one of the strongest families of miko serve as the linchpin for the Barrier. Us sages were supposed to intercept larger threats that could cause the Barrier to...start a fever, and steadily feed the shrine maidens dangerous, but handily solvable, incidents to strengthen them. What you’re seeing now is what happens when we fail to intercept.”

“The Barrier took control of her?”

“Elaboration: The will of the Barrier is fully possessing her and unleashing its full power, to the detriment of her long-term integrity. You know what happens when magic users push themselves too far, right? The body of Hakurei Reimu will be consumed in under a day under such exertion...”

“Welp. Time to stop this.” Before either Mima or Kasen can react, you move forward, shield raised and hammer raised, “If there’s anything I’m good for, it’s stopping divine bullshit from hurting other---”

“By the mandate of the Lux. By the dying dreams of a subjugated mankind. I sentence all war criminals to exile, henceforth, from this land….Ahem.” Thor cuts off his own words to rattle off the declaration and grins as he throws you an oppressive stink eye, “Our duels should not be interfered with, this perfectly justified decree should suffice.”

“YOU FUCK---” You were unable to finish your insult as an intangible force, irresistible by gravity or appeal, sweeps you off your feet and flings you, once again, into the night sky.

Consciousness fades swiftly as the G-force reaches beyond even Awyrgan’s turning levels, even as Meiling frantically stabs your brain with her scales. The last thing you see is your big friendly dragon tumbling after you.


[END PART 1]

The sudden smell of smog and trash shocks you back to reality.

“Owww...” You get off from your butt on the floor and look around. Everything is gray. The bricks of the wall you are facing is gray. The trash cans beside you are gray. The cat scurrying away from you is gray.

You blink, and a little color comes back in to your vision. They’re not actually gray, but they are really desaturated. The air is harsh and stale, and your nostrils inflame slightly at the noxious smell. Your head throbs painfully, as if something forgotten is resurging with a vengeance.

“What...just happened?” Sanae groans as she climbs out from a stack of cardboard junk, her gohai held up and outwards like a knife as she cautiously scans the surroundings. “What dimension did he trap us in?”

The sound of a car horn blaring somewhere further to your right takes your attention away. Locking eyes with Sanae in revelation, you remove your phone from your inner breast pocket, cracked but still intact from all the misadventures you had this week. Powering it on for the first time in four days, you groan as it picks up a signal, and the map app showing your location as somewhere in the southern region of Tokyo, Japan.

You silently pass the phone to Sanae, whose eyes noticeably dim as she looks over the information. Experimentally, she tries to inscribe a five-point star on the alley wall, only for the divine magic to fizzle out by the fourth stroke.

“Oh no.” She sighs.

“Oh no is right. We’re at least eleven hours away from the Yatsugatake Mountain Range by car...Awyri!” You call out as you look around the area for the dragon, “I hope she didn’t run off and eat a bunch of salarymen...ah, there she is. Wait, no!”

“Hmm?” The dragon perks up as she removes her face from the window of the jewelry store to look at you running out of the alleyway. “Ah, thou art clear of mind now. Can thee explain what sort of treasure vault is this, which hath no bars nor guards, but only a thin wall of glass to defend from interlopers?”

“Damn it, you’re going to attract lots of...huh.” You see that her draconic features have noticeably regressed. Her wings, normally expansive even in humanoid form, are a pair of stubs more suitable for a moe anime character than a killing machine. Her tails is likewise unobtrusive, barely peeking beneath her long metal skirt. In fact, with a bit more poof to her outfit, there’s no way to tell her apart from a regular human. Apart from the eyes, and the teeth...okay, she’s still incredibly inhuman, but not quite as obvious as before.

“...Forget it, we’ll be fine.”

“Oh...all of you got sent here too?” A dreary voice groans out to you from a hoodie wearing bum sitting on the street corner. You walk over to see a pair of red wulfen eyes staring back at you.

“Hey Momiji. What’s with that get up?”

“I had enchanted my usual clothes just in case I get thrown out into the Outside World again.” She says as the hoodie flickers slightly in the streetlight, revealing the wolf ears hidden beneath, “I’m NOT getting called a cosplayer.”

“I’m going to need to hear that full story later. Now....”

“Ming...”

“What?”

Sanae pauses, then breaks down laughing, “Ha ha, you really are a corpse, aren’t you? Nothing can faze you, can it? Not even facing down a living primordial god of the Norse and being sent back to the Outside World?”

“I’ll have you know. I never planned on staying. I was going to vacation for a week and leave with personal photos and maybe a few magic tricks learned.” You answer matter-of-factly, “Frankly, I don’t care for all of this power fantasy bullshit. As I’ve said to everyone else, I just want to enjoy my puerile dream of visiting a video game fairyland in peace.”

“Do you?” Momiji asks, tone deadened, “We are all quite sure at this point that you are not a normal young human. Or, at least, a living one.”

You check your reflection in the window. The glamour stripping is slowly fading, with patches of living skin “growing” over the dead flesh from top to bottom. Stripping off a chunk of your torn clothes, you wrap it around your non-existent nose and mouth to avoid attention. You still don’t feel a heartbeat save for the faint movements on the odd tumorous growths. Your head throbs, even more painfully this time. Reisen’s hypnosis had loosened something, unlocking...something...

“Have I really changed though?” You sigh, leaning your face against the glass window, “Perhaps you’re right, Momiji. I’m picking fights with gods and playing fast and loose with decency. But really, you guys knew what I did as soon as I came in, right?”

“You saved some children from a pack of despicable outsiders! A heroic act!” Sanae says, confused.

“I told Aya and Momi this already.” You answer as you glance at the tengu, who shakes her head in response, “I’m an opportunist. I see a target. I see a justification. I do terrible things to the target. I was a bit short on cash so I basically murdered and robbed them. It was okay though, since they were terrible people. You would know, Momiji.”

“I really, really wouldn’t have.” She shudders, “But what’s the point in going after the Saviors? You had no stake in the conflict.”

You shrug, “It started off pointlessly. One of them maimed Keine...probably would have killed her with a more direct hit...Village looks for the offender a week later after some more incidents involving the free labor and the Russians...Eientei, including me, find their scout. I brutally murder one of the scouts, which, I remind you, attacked me first. They retaliate by assaulting me and Awyri, gunning down some random war criminals in their zeal. I may have got some. They assault the SDM while I was there...I may have got some, but Flandre butchered several and I took credit...”

“Oh, Flandre did that?”

“Yeah. You think I could actually slaughter them before Awyri hatched? I heal Momiji...actually. Huh. I didn’t have any reason to continue staying in Gensokyo. A normal person would have left already especially with the enemy force specifically trying to kill them. Eientei’s paying me, I guess, but not nearly enough to risk life and limb. Ah...I was having fun, wasn’t I.”

“Fun?” Sanae asks, “Sure, spell card duels may be adrenaline rushing and fun, but certainly not the fights with blood and lost lives! I did what I had to with those evil people, but I would hesitate to call it...enjoyment.”

Momiji avoids her gaze. You take a breath, outside air filling your lungs...and old memories, unlocked with lunar insanity, flooding your mind.

“So...why did you really...”

[x] “But that’s the fun part, Sanae! To hold power over somebody else, to laugh at their powerlessness in your hands. To rip away the sky above their heads, the wind in their faces, forever. To destroy the life of a living being while watching them writhe in agony, is such a decadent, succulent act, like smashing a priceless vase, or burning a pile of money, it is truly more enjoyable than sex, or meals, or...I mean...”

You cough, “I...I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”

[x] Hi, this is Wu.

[x] “Ah, Sanae Kochiya, the fandom’s favorite bicycle and eternal school girl. Perfect for a knife to the throat and dismembered throughout Gensokyo, or Tokyo. Probably Tokyo, you’ve probably been missing for a few years so nobody would miss you.”

“Guoguo? Guoguo!” Meiling cries out through your mouth as the Sanae looks on in surprised horror and disgust, “What in the nine springs are you saying?”

[x] “And you, Inubashiri Momiji. So proud and haughty despite being rendered into an almost just as sexualized meme. You shall be beautiful, decapitated and mounted on a public monument for all the fans to gawk at.”

“The FUCK?” Comes the uncharacteristically crude response from the enraged white wolf, drawing a sword to your neck and succeeding in drawing very suspicious looks from the few other people on the street. Realizing the mistake, she quickly dismisses the weapon, turning the suspicious looks into confusion.

You try suppressing the thoughts, but how can you, when it’s yourself?

[x] “And for the dragons...ah, both of you, my lovely ancestor and my steed...shall be impaled as your fates usually dictate. Atop a tower, with me posing as the heroic knight...”

Your face collides with the pavement, leaving cracks in the concrete as the meaty parts turn into gore. Partially from the rainbow strings tugging my body downwards and partially from Awyrgan right hooking you.

“So, you can probably tell why I’m just repeating the spiel about vacationing and minding my own business.” You grimly state as you clamber back up, pink mist reconstituting the masquerade of a human face. “I thought I masked myself completely, but coming back outside...is a bad influence. Really, really sorry about that. Should have told you guys earlier after Thor confirmed mine and Reisen’s suspicions.”

Glaring daggers at you with the others, Momiji coldly asks, “What?”

“Wu Zhenguo...the body and soul which I’m using...is not a good person. To say the least.”

“So what are you then? A foreign spirit?”

“Less than that. I can call it a split personality, but it really isn’t one. More of a hasty facsimile of a personality some god threw together in a hurry with no actual motivation or desires. Probably has something to do with the River Styx.” You nervously scratch your neck, “Also, to answer your first question, the real reason why Wu Zhenguo prepared to enter Gensokyo for years ahead was not for vacation…Wu just wanted to expand his kill record with some exotic samples.”

Sanae sighs and pinches her nose in exhaustion, “You’re not the first wannabe serial killer we got flown in.”

“He’s not even the first serial killer I piloted,” Meiling adds on, words out of your mouth.

“Probably not, but I was probably the first one who planned on gassing the victims with chemicals in their sleep. Why did you think that a vacationer would be packing a smuggled gun, in Japan no less, and goddamn chemical weapons into Gensokyo? Self-defense? I was planning on getting the trust of some of the more naive youkai, like Kyouko, getting familiar enough to hang around...then sealing up the doors and flooding the room with my chemicals while they’re snoring in their futons. Wu Zhenguo wouldn’t care about getting caught after it, after all, he killed something way more precious to the world than an average outside world human.”

“I’ll give that you’re a more creative and suicidal one, but even then, not much of a novelty.”

“Probably true.” You agree. “Also, just to convince you to not stay thy hand if I break. You know those outsiders I killed? Yeah, I just remembered, those weren’t random strangers to me, exactly….”

*******
“So there’s this place, this hidden world?”

“Yes, yes there is.” You impatiently explain to the leering louts while scratching an itch around your neck valve. “Barely any contact of the outside world, and the photos leaked speak for themselves.”

You show them the pictures from the Sumireko leaks. Wolf whistles and nervous laughter are the response. You really don’t want to deal with them, but Gerald’s dad is an Army officer stationed there, and if you wanted to get guns over, you’d have to smuggle it that way.

“Nice. But uh...aren’t they dangerous?” The greasy-haired Japanese transfer, Kazuto mentions.

“They can still get drunk and stuff, so roofies will work quite well. Tell you what.” You clear your throat. “We split up after going into Japan, and enter separately. If any of us nabs one, we’ll spike that chick and fuck her brains out together, eh?”

You neglect to mention that you meant that phrase literally. These four retards probably didn’t come up with anything better, and just agree with the usual combination of self-aggrandizing yelps and antisocial giggles.

“Great idea man. We should, like have a signal too when we’re gonna act. Like,” Gerald imitates pushing a gun up from his coat, “Like, with a real piece, but it’s like, symbolic of my dick!”

You do not mention that you merely plan on tastefully murdering the victims rather than engaging in crude intercourse.

The other three look at him strangely, and you wonder how this moron got into even a mid-tier establishment like World University. Probably a legacy admission. Still, he’s the most outwardly handsome of their little clique, so they don’t go against his stupid idea.

“Good, amirite? Imma go get our supplies ready and booze up dad to ship it for us, we leave next June for Gen...so...kan tail! Man, Zhenguo, you’re an awesome guy.”

They have a lot of...supplies. Mostly since that brown-haired Anderson in their group is like a professional pervert, with blackmail and everything just to fuel his underwear theft campaign...with a side of gaslighting.

You make a mental note to dispose of them too if they succeed in actually drugging a Touhou. You just need their supplies, after all.

*******

“It’s like every time you say something new, a bit more of me becomes disappointed.” Sanae grits out.

Momiji looks as if actively regretting her prior decisions, moreso than before, anyway, “By every god watching over us, what the hell is wrong with you?”

“None. A touch of madness, mayhaps. But the current state of my friend has proven loyal.” The even-toned, draconic voice states from behind you.

“Awyri? You...you’re defending me?”

“Why of course?” She replies, “Thy gluttony for killing is a mere quirk of a lowly mortal. Even in thy undead state, thy physical capabilities...” Awyrgan casually grabs you by the shoulder and hoists you upwards, “...Are the same. He merely poses a threat to those of heroic, goodly disposition. To our lives, he is mainly harmless.”

Sanae moves as if to speak, then thinks better of it as some salt flies off her clothes.

“I am not...”

“What I mean, my friend, tis a fact that thou art barely worth killing. Should we be forced to resort to unsavory measures, it falls upon mine hand to end thy miserable existence. Mine and mine only.” A puff of smoke exhales from her nose as she turns to Momiji and Sanae, “You others...understand?”

“Yes ma’am, we will stay away from your property.” Sanae sarcastically mumbles out, “Technically shouldn’t both Momiji and Meiling have that right more?”

“No no no,” The wolf hurriedly denies, “His status and position are purely ceremonial. By the law, I cannot actually order him to do anything...”

“MOMIJI YOU WHAT?”

“...without use of the blood sigil. I don’t have LEGAL authority over you...but I can still order you to if you give consent. Clan ties.”

“I’m sure you never regretted that decision, eh?”

Momiji’s ears droop, and she looks away. You notice now the brownish-red splotches on her sleeves.

Police sirens sound off amidst the noises of the city. Momiji groans, and dismisses her sword into the aether, with noticeably more effort than an Ethereal Sheath in Gensokyo.

“We ought to move.” She orders without answering your question, “We don’t know if Tokyo police have been compromised by the Saviors.”

“I say we should...”

“On account of recent developments, I think you should stay out of this decision making process, Guo-guo. Oh, and you’re free to kill him if you want, Awyri. Grandma here grants you that right.” Meiling interrupts through your own mouth.

“Alright, geez.”

{ } Find a decent hotel and rest until sunrise
{ } Find an obscure hotel and rest until sunrise
{ } Try to find Yukari’s Outside World assets: Clear Sky

{ } Find a way back to Yatsugatake National Park, quietly
{ } Find a way back to Yatsugatake National Park, as fast as possible

======

[ ] Call mom
{X} Try to find Yukari’s Outside World assets: Clear Sky

>Thor
huh, didn't see that one coming
{X} Try to find Yukari’s Outside World assets: Clear Sky

>Yukari has to kill most of the world trying to remove degenerate Powers That Be
>all pureblood humans extinct, only youkai half-breeds remain
>everyone that's left has to live in fear and awe of youkai for the rest of their existence

Thor literally did nothing wrong.
{X} Try to find Yukari’s Outside World assets: Clear Sky

>>31486
Except failing, despite contributing to the body count.
And being a god. One of those supernatural creatures that were said to be fucking around a lot, which was used by dynasties all over the world to claim divine ancestry. And they most likely had it in this setting.
Remember when Meiling said her descendants numbered in the millions ? Surely everyone in northern Europe descend either from him or one of his fellow. So much for mankind's purity.

Plus the nature of the Lux backing him up is still unclear. I bet he's working for Cthulhu.
[x] Find a way back to Yatsugatake National Park, as fast as possible

======

[X] Call mom


Turning into a hybrid is a small price to pay for a better world
>>31487
You can't equate having one REALLY distant divine ancestor maybe a thousand years ago and being half or quarter youkai since birth.
>>31489
I can't so I don't.
You're implying Thor stopped having sex since the Iron Age, despite him being still around and kicking with a warband of heroes, the most likely sort of characters to be demi-gods or something close. I wouldn't be surprised if the elites among the saviours were all not-so-distant family.
You're also implying Yukari will force everyone to interbreed with youkai to replace humanity within a generation or two, which is just stupid for so many reasons.
Thor considered the Human Village to be the prototype for Yukari's future plan, according to the stolen soul analyser the average villager is 10% youkai. The only halfsies are Keine and Rinnosuke.
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{X} Try to find Yukari’s Outside World assets: Clear Sky
[x] Call mom.

While the others are waiting for the cab, you make an excuse to stroll off back into the alley. Turning on your phone, you press your most used contact.

There was no ringing. Your mother immediately picked up. “GUOGUO! IS THAT YOU? ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”

“Geez mom, you’re so loud. I’m fine.” You lie, turning down the call volume with a desiccated finger.

“Get on the next plane back this instant! I don’t care how much the ticket is, we’ll pay for it! Japan is too dangerous now!”

“I know. I know…mom…” You sigh, “I don’t really know how to tell you this, but I’m not coming back.”

“WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?”

“I’m saying that because I’ve been in the danger first hand, really. Killed a bunch of people.”

“DON’T JOKE LIKE THAT! You can’t keep saying that like you did at home! Who knows who’s listening right now!?”

You don’t reply, but instead send her a picture you took earlier of yourself, a selfie with your gun. You then send her a couple pictures of the corpses you created during today’s lunch break, your face clearly in frame.

“I wasn’t joking mom. These are the ‘terrorist’ knights you saw on the news. I was there when they attacked. I…I found a weapon and some…friends. We killed some of them, they weren’t that smart. I can’t come back with them still around anyway. The sky’s not safe.”

“YOU WHAT? STOP LYING TO LOOK COOL!”

Your short temper with your parents flares up again,

[x] “FUCKING LOOK. I swear to god. You keep thinking I’m kidding when I said I killed people. I really, really wasn’t. I’m probably not going to make it so listen: Remember that dead street urchin that soured the trip when we visited granddad four years ago? Remember how you thought it was weird that he drowned like that? Remember how I was gone for a while during dinner?”

“…”, You hear naught but heavy breathing so, you continue.

“You guys kept saying I was always doing badly, always doing worse than my brother. Well let me tell you, you’re absolutely correct. Wu Zhenguo is an absolute, worthless piece of human garbage that never should have been born. Technically, this isn’t Wu Zhenguo talking to you right now, it’s something like what’s left of his miserable conscience. You know what I’m going to do, I’m going to die and…HEY!”

You futilely grasp at your phone after Meiling plucks it out of your grasp and begins apologizing to your mom with it. “Hi, this is Meiling. I’m sorry, Wu Zhenguo is currently delirious after he ran out of the...”

“Give it...” You snarl as you swipe for the device.

Meiling, holding the phone away, leans in and whispers, “Don’t talk like that to your parents.” before going back to talking on the phone, “Oh, no no no, it’s no trouble after all. He helped me find out that our families were related...Yes, back during the....Very...”

You futilely try to make another grab for small object from the taijiquan master, who easily sidesteps your clumsy movements. You make another attempt, and fall flat on your face into a puddle.

You then realize that Meiling had nicked your first-aid kit, and had injected several syringes worth of sedative into your pressure points. Even with the slow bloodflow of a walking corpse, this much sedation is enough to KO you almost...instantly…

“My friend, unconscious?”

“He’s been up for almost 20 hours by now, in almost constant combat.” Meiling answers the worried Iron Wing’s concerns as she hauls Ming back out. “Let him sleep.”

With her offhand, she tosses the first-aid kit to Momiji and gives a glance at Sanae, who is napping on the wolf’s shoulder.

=======

The Clear Sky branch office in Tokyo is a public location accessible via any map. Even in the current state of emergency, it was not too much effort to call for a taxi via Ming’s phone app.

Both Ming and Sanae are fast asleep when an unoccupied taxi arrived. For the others, this is probably for the better. Meiling made extra sure of it, at least she hopes so. Those Eientei tranquilizers in Ming’s issued kit are supposed to last for some time.

Her descendant, this descendant, can’t fulfill his purpose without a good night’s rest, after all, and neither he nor Sanae’s abilities should be allowed to manifest in the middle of Downtown Tokyo. Plus, Ming was being awfully rude. She’s not going to tell Momiji or Awyrgan that he didn’t really pass out from exhaustion.

“I didn’t know there was a convention running here!” The taxi driver laughs as the non-humans load the humans in first. “That’s the best Sanae cosplay I’ve seen in years! And that Meiling one ain’t bad either!”

“Not convention...It’s just a costume party.” Momiji anxiously smiles as she takes up seating in the front, shoving the dragon into the back with the sleepers, “Take us to this location, thank you.”

“Ah, and the one on the right side...is that a Dark Souls...what’s that dragon girl’s name...that tall one with the scythe. But like, the opposite color. You look great too.”

“...Yes, tis..tis my intent. I appreciate thy praise,” The dragon rumbles back.

“Also, nice, uh contacts you got there. Didn’t know that you can get slit pupil models.”

“Contacts? ”

The driver nervously coughs and turns back around as some smoke comes out of the girl’s nostrils. Meeting Momiji’s red eyes, he gulps, shakes his head, and begins actively avoiding eye contact.

=====

The Clear Sky office is just one of many unassuming storefronts in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping area. Currently closed, no less, with no light nor soul within as Momiji checks the door. Awyrgan steps out carrying the humans under her arms and as soon as she’s out, the taxi quickly speeds off into the distance, crashing an unfortunate trash can over in the process.

As soon as the wolf captain places her face against the glass panels of the door, it opens and the interior lights up, and a familiar, yet alien face speaks out.

Privyet!

“How, you guys?” Momiji sputters at the hulking figure greeting her at the door.

“That bastard Thor specified war criminals. That includes us.” Captain Lazarov, still recognizable despite having shed a human visage, says as he gestures for her to enter with a bark-textured hand. “Good thing for my men, really. And for you too. Lady Yakumo has kindly tasked us with securing low-profile redeployment for all of you when I called her.”

Momiji notes that out of the oversized squad of Russians that were previously squatting at Youkai Mountain, only four are inside the lobby of the shipping office, including Lazarov.

“So the rest of your men are…?”

“Waiting for a plane ride back to Russia to report to command. And hopefully, out of the line of danger from earth-shaping explosions for a while.”

“Lucky them.” The Chinese dragon grumbles as she comes in, her (probably soon to be disowned) descendent hoist over her shoulders like a sack of potatoes, followed by the Western dragon carrying the sleeping green shrine maiden. “Oh, hey there Captain, should have figured out that you were a leshy earlier.”

“What, was it obvious that my identity was fraudulent?” The forest spirit that had posed as a bubbly middle-aged, over-performing, Spetsnaz commander, who chain-smoked through numerous packs a day, laughs as he lights up another cigarette, “Not enough for my men, apparently.”

“Fuck you too, kapitan.” Konoroz groans as he tries to sleep on the couch. “‘Fake id’ my ass.”

“That was actually fake though. The NKVD was never too fond of my kind. FSB isn’t either, and I really would rather not have done this if this one...” He extends a wooden claw point and pokes Sanae in the cheek, “Had not forced me to call the nearby trees to shelter my squad from her miracle.”

The squad’s medic hurries in from the back door, his Eientei nanosuit covered in grease. He gives an exhausted salute before saying “Job’s done. Chopper’s fueled, spoofed and ready to go.”

“You guys got a helicopter?” Momiji asks.

“I rewired one parked on the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry building.” Spring sheepishly replies as he cleans himself with the office kitchen sink. “It’s part of my previous profession before both the MVD and the mob started hunting me down for it. Speaking of which, Lieutenant Konoroz, I’m staying in Japan after we finish this mission.”

“Not like I could stop you or anything. I can’t stop any of you, really. Lazarov is self explanatory, you have been stealing cars while I was learning to read, and Vlad can shoot the head off a pigeon a mile away.” Konoroz complains, turning over on the couch. “I don’t know why I even bothered staying.”

“I don’t know, why are you staying? The kapitan and I are going AWOL following completion, and Vlad is staying because he’d rather die than go a hot mission without a collection of severed trophies.

Momiji comments out of the corner of her mouth, “I can see where the war crime part comes in.”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, let us worry about existential questions at a later time.” The leshy says, “So let us see if all of our guests have arrived, Lady Hong, Captain Inubashiri, Lady Kochiya, that one with the fake name, and...” His eyes drift over to the steel-haired girl snacking on the paperclips on the receptionist desk, “...Lady...Awyr...gan, correct?”

“Tis mine name. Why?”

Lazarov shakes a cigarette at her, “Nothing, just a language oddity I recalled. it’s Welsh for either ‘Sky Song’, or ‘Sky Taker/Haver’, the former of which can describe dragons in modern fiction and the latter of which describes depictions in antiquity and likely your reality. I heard you came from a German creator, though. Quite odd.”

“Mine creator’s naming tastes are beyond mine divinations. I know naught of his name even, only that he was a Berliner.”

“Berlin was a fine city….back in 1200. Tsk.”

“A leshy like you only appreciates cities if they’re small settlements huddled beneath the shadow of a forest.” Meiling remarks as she steals one of Lazarov’s cigarettes, “Those aren’t as fun to flood. Now, are we going to the helicopter or what?”

“Vlad’s still getting food. We’re all hungry here. Ah...” Lazarov says as the front door flies open and a pale soldier barges in with bags of groceries and take out food. “Vlad! What took you so long?”

“I SHOULD HAVE TAKEN A RADIO. CYKA BLYAT!” Vlad cries out as he tosses bags to everyone present and dashes for the backdoor, “We need to run! I saw one of the knights in a trenchcoat tailing me as I came back!”

====

There were still plenty of people on the streets of Tokyo at 2:00 AM, even with the curfew going on from the state of emergency. As such, practically everyone noticed the group of weirdly dressed men and women outrunning the street traffic as they bounded over cartops and awnings. Most of them were not too recognizable in their current outfit, except…

“MOMIZI!”

“Is that a parkouring Momiji cosplayer? She’s so cool!”

“I love you Momiji!”

The wolf tries her best to ignore the comments, but grows exasperated, “Really,” She complains to Lazarov, who’s grappling across building walls beside her with the fluidity of a growing vine. “Even with the jacket?”

“Your ears are showing. Loose hoodies don’t deal well with air resistance.” The leshy nonchalantly replies.

“If you were worried about it, you should just have possessed another body!” Ming...not Ming, Meiling puppeteering Ming’s body comments from her other side with her own voice. Momiji harumphs, annoyed that the ones who didn’t prepare an outfit for the Outside World ended up being the ones not recognized.

Sanae didn’t have an outfit either, but she’s still sedated and wrapped up tightly in a sleeping bag bound by dragon scales, and carried by said dragon down Tokyo’s sidewalks. Flanked by the human Russians who aren’t too familiar with such casual aerial movement, they function as an unintentional plow through the pedestrians. The angry (for Japan, anyway) shouting coming after them isn’t just from that, however. Awyrgan had been grabbing whatever caught her eye from open storefronts and street stalls, making Konoroz expel a steady stream of curses as he has to tactically deposit cash for each one of her victims as he sprints past. He gives up trying to estimate the cost after the first few and just threw a wad of yen at anyone shouting.

“Mitsubishi building is just ten blocks ahead, we got...” Blaring sirens interrupt Vlad’s speech, “Oh suka, it’s the Tokyo cops! They’re...”

“Six blocks in the front.” Momiji cuts him off as she gives a cursory glance to the front “More closing in. Lets go to the rooftops.”

“How does that help us? We’ll be stuck!” Vlad exclaims as he leaps over a car to a third story window sill. He then slaps himself in the head.

The gang picks the closest skyscraper, a banking establishment, and rush in, ignoring the protests of the security guards and receptionists that they vault over as they run to the elevator.

As the doors close, Konoroz collapses onto his ass, and the rest lean onto whatever they could hold.

“Low profile, eh?” He snarks.

“Low profile enough for a hot evac, lieutenant. The JSDF wouldn’t be coming for us, at least. Didn’t think that the police had been compromised.”

“Are you sure they’re not just doing their job?”

“I saw knights in their ranks. Armor and all.” Momiji answers, shaking her head. “They’re everywhere.”

“What a shame.” Spring says, popping open a pack of M&Ms while Vlad offers everyone the bucket of chicken he was carrying, “I was hoping that we could get a leave of absence in Tokyo for at least one night. Go party, you know?”

“You’re still on-duty, soldier. No going AWOL until we ensure a stable observation post in Gensokyo like the one the Chinese have.” Lazarov says as he pulls out yet another cigarette. Meiling slaps it out of the leshy’s hands before he could light it up inside the elevator.

“Yeah, yeah. Hey, you uh...Awyrgan? You’ve been quiet this whole time. Hey!” Spring recoils in pain as Awyrgan whips her tail around his leg, enough to make an impact through the nanoscale armor.

“Thou shalt address mine name with the title of Lady, villein.” She chastises while holding a inward tilted claw up to her collar, in imitation of the motions she saw the ladies of Gensokyo do while she spied on them as a tank.

“Alright, your majesty, how do you feel about this whole affair? I mean, I get that you enjoy it, but unlike everyone else here, you don’t really have a duty or stake in this. Even Wu Ming fights because he is a hardcore Touhou fan, right?”

“Yep, ” Meiling lies, giving a plaintive gesture with Ming’s arms, “That’s why he’s here, what a dumb kid.”

“To answer thy inquiry, peasant. Dragon and nobles live to consume wealth. And the armor of our enemies alone.” Her reptilian eyes dilate into what can be called a happy gaze, “Are worthy hoards.”

The elevator dings, and the door opens, Lazarov sprays outwards in a hail of roots to ensure the absence of any hidden dangers, before retracting into his more humanoid appearance and gesturing that all is clear. Everyone then resumes sprinting towards the objective.



“Hey Vlad, you probably could have gotten here faster if you ditched the convenience store food.” Momiji says, pulling out a chicken leg from her bag while still sprinting, “Not that I’m complaining.”

“What kind of spetsnaz do you take me for? There is no difference between running bare or with forty pounds.” Vlad scoffs, the Eientei nanosuit easily allowing him to keep up with an Outside World debuffed youkai. “Any hostiles up ahead?”

“At this height?” Momiji leaps across the gap between the buildings, sinks her claws into the masonry on the side of the next, and propels herself upwards onto the roof of the next one to get a better look, “Two suborned Keishicho patrol cars coming from the 3 o’clock, about two klicks out. Hostile helicopter’s coming in from our direct rear, six klicks, and I’m seeing more aircraft and cars mobilizing in stations all around us, with what looks to be Savior knight presences on the stations to our 10, about fifty klicks away.”

“We gotta trust you on this one, Captain.” Konoroz shouts as he tosses out a grappling hook to follow, “Even these Lunar visors can’t go that far.”

“Even with the Outside smog, I can still see as far as 200 to 250 ri even at night.” She explains, with quite a bit of pride, before the sound of a door slamming open cuts her off.

“Now, what...armed hostiles!” She calls out as she sees a number of figures coming out of the roof access to her right, and fires off several weak bolts of danmaku to light the targets up.

Momiji hesitates for a moment, seeing the frightened faces of the GAM volunteers dressed in naught more than light armor and holding just conventional small arms rather than the 50 caliber monstrosities the regulars do. About half of them appear to be shaking at the prospect.

“Do not fear, evil cannot prevail against our righteousness!” The knight leading them booms as a shimmering aura surrounds them, blocking the hail of pulse rounds that the Russians fired on reaction. Momiji leaps back, deftly fending off the blessed rounds with experienced shield movements as Meiling follows her onto the higher rooftop in Ming’s unconscious form, using the exoskeleton to propel the sack of dead flesh forward.

The graviton shield blossoms with beautiful rainbow light, forming a crystalline wall that swallows up every incoming projectile with its own superior divine potential while blinding the attackers. The knight shouts a command as he regains sight, and his troops hurl out a barrage of grenades over the crystalline shield…

...Only to have them all snatched out of the air by a spiritual jaw.

“Wolf Sign: Rabies Bite...” Momiji whispers from her position in the air, before flinging her shield at the knight in fluid coordination with a snap from the jaws.

The shield bounces off and ricochets in an arc, bouncing back to her arm. Momiji’s toss did little but mildly disrupt the divine barrier with the shield’s herobane properties. After all, what good is a divine barrier if it can’t withstand the assault of such wicked youkai?

It can’t, however, withstand the slow, dodgeable blades that hurled towards it. If they had seen them, they could have simply moved out of the way. The wolf had distracted the prey just enough that the Ohabaris were free to impact the barrier, blackening it and cracking it even with the absence of Awyrgan’s more magically-intensive mechanisms. The bronze pieces break off, scratching cloth and exposed skin where it may find.

The pulse fire that resumed soon afterwards was not so kind.

Lunar pulse rifles were designed to be clean weapons, allowing even untrained citizens to thoroughly sterilize any impurity that snuck onto the moon. There’s no messy gore or blood from the steady stream of bolts, as the impact areas are instantly vaporized and cauterized. For the tough monstrosities they were intended for, it can be considered an unintentional benefit.

Regular humans, however, are turned into grotesque swiss cheese as the pulse rounds disintegrate parts of their body into clean, sterile, plate sized holes. The spetsnaz were merciful, and actively went for head height shots in violation of training, but in concordance with their integrated targeting systems.

It’s funny how, in the absence of a skull, a jawbone can remain attached to the neck if the joints are fused by intense heat.

“You can’t save them all....you can’t save any of them.” Ming murmurs out of the corner of his mouth. Drunken sleep talk. Nobody heard him, not even Meiling, who was busy finishing off the pulse-burned knight with a ki-stomp (breaking Ming’s bones once again) and a swing from her descendant’s warhammer. The ones behind her simply leap over the corpses as they continue hopping and grappling their way to the Mitsubishi building.

Soon, the helipad is in sight, along with its attendant prize: A Sikorsky S-76 transport helicopter, notably with some external panels dangling loose, the doors ajar, the control wires exposed, and the helipad staff bound, gagged, and knocked out next to the roof entrance.

Lazarov looks at the hijacked panel with disbelief as Spring happily inserts himself into the pilot seat. “Why is the radio on the copilot’s seat?”

“It was in the way! Kapitan!” Spring answers with a shit-eating grin as he tugs on some sparking wires, and the engine starts up. As the rotors whirl, the helicopter slowly lifts off and departs the building, albeit while making several highly concerning mechanical sounds in protest at the spetsnaz’s intrusion.

Momiji got on last, carefully making sure she’s next to the door entrance, so as to maintain a maximum field of view. Her precautions bore fruit, as she spots several incoming aircraft from the west as the helicopter flies out of Shinjuku and past Chofu.

“Fighter jets coming towards us from the Southeast” She warns.

“Friend or foe?”

“Let’s hope: Friend. If not, prepare the parachute systems on your suits if you have any.”

Several tense moments pass as the jets fly past Momiji’s vision range and into the helicopter’s radar range. To her relief, the radio comes alive before she sees any missiles being fired.

She’s only seen fighter jets once in-person, when she got booted Outside the first time, but she still knows that their danmaku comes in the flavor of trail-spewing explosive missiles from the games her temporary associate then had.
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“You civvies just pick the worst time to fly, eh?” The open-frequency radio crackles with a collected, almost cold African-American voice as the fighters streak by overhead, “Mitsubishi M1089. This is First Lieutenant Anthony Palmer of the USAF Sorcerer Squadron, there are reports of Savior terrorists flying planes over Tokyo. We are imposing a no-fly zone. Please comply. Over.”

Lazarov takes the radio, “Negative, sir. It is unsafe. They have ground forces raiding Mitsubishi headquarters as we speak, and I have reason to believe that they are after the high-value targets that my security team are in possession of. Over.”

Momiji suddenly perks up. There’s something coming in at just the edge of smog, a large light, with multiple smaller lights growing larger. She curses herself for not seeing them sooner.

“That bad eh? The JSDF must be slacking off even now. Redirect your flight towards Yokuta Airbase then. We will...”

“CAPTAIN!” Momiji pushes Lazarov aside as she shouts into the radio, “There are nine missiles heading towards us from your three! 150 kilometers out!”

“Who’s that girl, an executive?” (I sounded that feminine? Momiji wonders to herself. Usually they can’t tell from the first line), “Look, honey, first of all, those blips on the radar are not missiles, they are us. Secondly, if there were missiles, we would have seen them by now. Thirdly, you should probably let the professionals handle this, we’re closing the frequency now, Over--BREAK-BREAK, JUKE RIGHT! NOW!”

30 seconds, that’s all it took for the BVRAAMs to slam into the fighter formation. Most of them hit the flares that Sorcerer squadron threw out, but one of them managed to get past and almost land a direct hit on one of them.

Sorcerer 2 jerked away just in time, but not enough to save his thrusters.

“Oh shit. Oh shit.” A cacophony of angry American noises is heard over the comms that Palmer very much did not get to close. “Sorcerer 2 is going down! He’s not ejecting!”

“I’m stalling out...seat’s stuck!” Curses the pilot which is likely the unfortunate Sorcerer 2. “Gotta make a controlled descent...fuck, this city is too dense!”

“Just land, pilot. Land anywhere!” Palmer cries out, some emotion coming into his voice, “Get into the Bay!

“FROM TACHIKAWA? Well then...been nice knowing all of you. I’ll try and crash into that park down here, probably got a chance. Daniel Knowles, over and out.”

“NO, damn it, you’re going in a vertical descent! Sorcerer 2. Sorcerer 2!”

Ming’s body shifts as Meiling slides out of his mouth. Shaking herself clean of his sins, she leans out and takes a look at the trail of fire and smoke in the night sky. Rainclouds are coming in force, blocking out the stars.

“And how are you going to do this?” Momiji asks, already sensing what the China girl is going to do. “You already know the Outside World’s not flight capable.”

“For faithless youkai, maybe, but luckily for that pilot...” Meiling smirks as she leaps out of the chopper.

A flash of lightning and a peal of thunder strikes as a writing rainbow monstrosity, a twisted model of a serpent with heads on two ends, rises up, streaking towards the crashing jet in a trail of rainbows and a booming voice. “My children in China are doing their part to keep me afloat with their faith. Even here, a single sortie should be within my capacity!”


===

“Chairman Zhao. I have some concerns.”

“Just say it.” Zhao Ni-Tian says as he munches on an apple, “We’re not the CCCP, speaking up won’t get you killed.”

“...Isn’t this a bit too much?” The officer worriedly asks as he gestures at the glass tank. The corpses of drowned Party members are clearly visible, drifting around as much as the weighted rainbow-colored ropes would allow them to.

“No point in making a sacrifice if it’s not public. The Hong demands faith, and while sacrifices are not quite civilized, I was going to have to kill them anyway.” He turns around, to redirect his voice to the gathering crowds in Tiananmen Square, come to gawk in shock and horror at the spectacle he put up.

“This is what tyrants are reduced to! ” The former Chief of State Security cries out, using an intentionally exaggerated voice that made him sound just unhinged enough to be genuine.

The crowd stirs, rapt forced attention. Fearful sheep, thought Ni-Tian. “See they are no more than flesh, just like you and me! Leaders and exalted are NOT worth more. Their bodies are not more divine! Their words are not more thunderous! In the eyes of the Hong, all your faith is equal! No matter if you’re a laofu or a beggar, when the Hong comes, you will all have the right to achieve just as much as any other Chinese...”

”...Because most of you would be gone when that ideal comes to be”. Is what he does not add. Good thing too, since small, genuine cheers can be heard coming from the audience. Mostly young disenfranchised types.



===

Daniel Knowles, pilot of Sorcerer 2, was in hell.

Or at least, he thought he was. Multiple times in a row. First his ejection had malfunctioned, dooming him to a fatal crash. Then the plane snapped in half, turning the infinitesimal chance of survival into zero.

And then a massive monster appeared out of nowhere and swallowed him whole. Cockpit and all.

This time he’s really in hell. He thought.

The kaleidoscope of sights and sounds before him is nothing short of a vision from the bowels of Lucifer, which he’s pretty sure is the one which consumed him. Fires and chaos. Men, women and children alike drowning, screaming, and clawing at the air. Blood-soaked battlefields with screaming soldiers, lost in their rages and habits as they hack each other to pieces. A mountain of corpses consuming itself endlessly.

And then, nothing but ashes. Every single one of the dead had crumbled, no more than dust. He is lying on an ashen plain, with soft rain coming down from a clear sky. A thick rainbow lies around the sun. The plains rise into a house. The house into a town. The town into a city. The city into a metropolis. The metropolis grows into a country.

A shining country. A country of light and productive conflict. He sees people fighting and dying still, but with a smile on their lips. He sees them getting back up, stronger and purer.

He sees the strongest taking charge, directing the country. The country moves elegantly and beautifully, even as the strongest is usurped by another strongest. Only the last one he saw linger for some time on the throne, and he could see a rainbow curl around him.

The last one looked awfully like that one wall scroll he saw in that cafe in Mongolia.




The monster spits him out, letting him roll off gently onto the skyscraper roof on its tongue. Daniel lifts his head to see the serpent twisting and turning in the air after his comrades still in the air. Was it an enemy? It did just save him after all.

And it looks like it deposited the remnants of his jet before him, somehow. Daniel stumbles upwards, shaken but ultimately uninjured, and walks over to the smashed cockpit. Maybe the...ah, the backup radio is still functional.

====

“150 klicks! At that range only a ground SAM could have hit us!” Palmer shouts in despair as he helplessly watches Knowles crash, “3 and 4, head west! 5 and 6! Head east, we need to...whoa.”

As a squadron lead. Palmer was trained to expect many things. A massive rainbow serpent gobbling up his second was not one of them.

Still, he reacted fast enough to scream and turn the jet around, trying to line up a shot on the new hostile that just took up half his radar space. The serpent effortless evades him as it drops off the torn plane parts jet like mere toys on top of a building, twisting and turning midair in ways that pilots can only dream about.

Palmer shoots off too far, and was about to try and turn around for a second try when the squadron radio buzzes, “Come in! Sorcerer 1...It’s Sorcerer 2. I’m alive and on the high rise to your 4. That thing is probably some form of friendly. Over.”

“You...Copy.” He looks out as he passes over the skyscraper and catches a glimpse of Knowles waving his jacket on the rooftop, aside his destroyed plane. “Holy...What...Sorcerer team! The bogey is not hostile. Marked neutral on FoF! Over.” He then switches to the open frequency, “Come in. Rainbow serpent thingy. Requesting Flight ID. Over.”

No response. Palmer mentally kicks himself. Of course it doesn’t have a radio! It’s a massive flying serpent!

“Sorcerer 3 to Sorcerer 1.” His team members return to their professional tone as they spread out into an interlocking support formation, ”Enemies in radar range, Detecting...twenty. Twenty ‘X-22’ terrorist jets. 12 o’clock. Detecting...flares out. Second round of BVRAAMs incoming. Over.”

“Sorcerer 7 to Sorcerer 1. Rainbow entity is heading towards the approaching bandits. And, uh, Sorcerer 1, you might want to look up.”

Palmer glances above the cockpit, and is greeted by a pair of fiery, curious eyes staring back above a toothy maw. A massive Western dragon, straight out of the fairy tales he was familiar with, was flying just thirty meters above him, close enough that the radar did not register it as a separate entity and somehow silent enough that he did not notice. He doesn’t panic this time, merely stating in his numbed tone on the radio, “Come in. Gray dragon thingy or its actual. If you have a radio. Do you copy?”

To his surprise, there’s actually a response. A bestial tone rumbles through the radio, somewhat oddly muffled and with quality more appropriate for WWII-era models, “Thou art...fighter aeroplanes? Americans?”

“Yes...this is Sorcerer Squadron of the USAF. Please ID yourself.” Palmer pauses, then adds on “And your, handler...I guess? Over.”

“Callsign, Iron Wing.” The fighter captain freezes. That was a name he overheard just once, and he was sure that it is miles above his pay-grade.

“Birthplace: Germany. Current ‘Lord’: Clear Sky International and Callsign Primrose.”

“A shipping company? I mean...nevermind that!” Palmer can see the bandits on radar closing in on them in a semicircle. “I assume you’re with that other monster. So you’re fighting with us? Over.”

“Aye, human. Consider me an ally for now...” Awyrgan replies curtly, before remembering something Ming said yesterday: As a dragon, she ought to say something cool in addition.

And it’d better be something completable soon. The Outside air is sparse with magic and faith, and she cannot maintain this form for longer than ten minutes.

( ) “...I wonder, doth the enemy pilots augment the taste of a jet fighter? Into the fray!”
( ) “...Conventional missiles? Pathetic snowflakes against mine hide. Let us serpents show thee frail humans what armor means!”
( ) “...Tis of vital importance to secure that artificial dragonfly. Shield them from harm, and I shall annihilate thy foes mineself.

====

“Low profile, eh?” Vlad says as he watches the two dragons sail above Tokyo, clearly visible to its millions of residents.

“Just shut up.” Lazarov groans.

====
(X) “...Conventional missiles? Pathetic snowflakes against mine hide. Let us serpents show thee frail humans what armor means!”
That's one way to draw their attention away, I guess.
(X) “...Conventional missiles? Pathetic snowflakes against mine hide. Let us serpents show thee frail humans what armor means!”

At least we still have some agency with the side characters.
(X) “...Conventional missiles? Pathetic snowflakes against mine hide. Let us serpents show thee frail humans what armor means!”

Yeah, this seems fine.
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(x) “...Conventional missiles? Pathetic snowflakes against mine hide. Let us serpents show thee frail humans what armor means!”

Palmer sees the dragon ignite itself in a wreath of white-hot flames as it rushes towards the enemy positions. Its radar signature is as large as three bombers stacked next to each other. Looking to his radar, he can already see clusters of incoming missiles flying towards the dragon and the serpent, mostly the dragon.

“Sorcerer 1 to Sorcerer team, merge and follow the monsters. They are friendlies. Hold.”

“Roger. Waiting.”

As a pilot, Palmer is very good at putting aside distractions in his head, such as the shock from giant monsters sharing a sky with him, or F-22 copies somehow launching autonomous missiles with the range of an AIM-54. He takes a deep breath, and increases the throttle.

“Shoot down any bandits you see, the dragons will soak up their BVRAAMS. Over.”

The missiles launched by the Saviors’ X-22s are advanced, indeed. The range of an BVRAAM with the tracking of the latest Sidewinder models. It was not the best their engineers could piece together from their future blueprints---none of those that came worked in the production field, or so they claim---as they had to adapt it for their available pool of pilots. Young and eager to save the world, they were, but professional fighter pilots they were not.

So, the multipurpose capabilities were stripped down, but they were still very effective against the thin armor of conventional aircraft. Unfortunately, the HE fragmentation warheads do diddly squat against fliers with armor comparable to warships, and the relatively steady formation of planes, expecting to sweep the airspace of Tokyo with relative ease, breaks apart immediately as they see the radar contacts continuing for them even after confirmed hits on twenty missiles.

Also, just as unfortunately, those fliers don’t care about collisions at Mach 1, either.

The rainbow serpent slams into a X-22, tearing it apart in a brilliant iridescent explosion that also tore its pilot into tiny pieces. Its other head swings out, spraying anything in gun range with multicolored crystal shards and bolts of lightning. Several of the X-22s curve towards it to try and and obtain a missile lock, only to find that the massive serpent has been blotted out by an even larger radar signature.

Through somewhat hazy memories, the dragon remembers the sight of massive aircraft dropping thin foils of metal over her as they rained destruction. Obviously, it was some sort of heraldry, declaring their presence to the world as the modern knights of the sky and attracting attention to their work. Awyrgan seeks to do better, and so, at the cost of dropping her speed below Mach 1, she proudly displays lurid crimson metallic flags that trail around and behind her like an extreme form of aerial advertising.

“FIRING MISSILES. NOW.” She roars out as she catches onto the trail of an evading X-22. “Tis time...”

“Black Dragon - Fox Two! Fox Two! Evade!” Palmer screams into the radio as he frantically airbrakes to avoid the avalanche of tiny missiles disgorged from the dragon’s back. They look like infrared missiles, at least.

Flares rain down from both enemy and friendly planes as they begin to take evasive manuevers against the missiles, while Awyrgan continues to draw fire with her massive signature as Meiling dives back from her dive, becoming a lethal rainbow across the sky.

It’s all a manner of attrition, Palmer reflects as he directs his squadron to tail and fire upon the X-22s that fell into their effective range. While the missiles the Saviors use have excellent tracking, performing loops in midair with the agility of a hawk, it doesn’t matter as the dragon simply cannot be targeted meaningfully, and the pilots themselves are not skilled enough to actually close in with cannon fire, especially with the missiles that the dragon vomits out on a regular basis.

Sure, the proximity fuses on the missiles allow them to detonate within a typical aircraft’s kill distance, but the dragon just ignores the blasts and shrapnel completely as it lazily pursues X-22s at its leisure, though careful to maintain a flight path close to the helicopter so that it enshrouded it with its own signatures, warding off any missile that tries to lock on.

From the pilot’s seat, Spring nearly pisses himself three times as missiles approach far too close to comfort, only to detonate as the dragon flies by.

The serpent, apparently devoid of radio, continue to exploit this by ramming the defenseless bandits at the speed of lightning, sending them crashing out of the skies...and into the densely packed city of Tokyo below. Palmer cringes as he glances one of the wreckages slam down onto a temple torii. At least with the curfew, it’s unlikely the relatively small aircraft can do much damage to buildings.

“Sorcerer 1, this is Yokota Airbase, what the hell is going on up there? Over.”

Palmer finishes a high-G braking turn, catching a X-22 by surprise and shredding it with his cannons, blowing it apart, before recovering from the maneuver enough to respond, “Uh, Sorcerer 1 to command, we are experiencing some supernatural intervention. The largest signatures are hostile to our enemies. Over...I mean...correction,” The pilot looks away as he sees the dragon catch an incoming fighter that did try to close and and pry open its cockpit, “I think they are eating our enemies too. Over.”

“Sorcerer 1, radio those guys to get out. Over”

“Roger that command, but I don’t think that dragon will listen. Over.”

“Damn it Bedivere,” A different voice, one that Palmer recognizes as the Pentagon Chief of Staff suddenly cuts in, “Get those Clear Sky bogies out of the air! The Hunter has changed course and will reach the AO in under one minute!”

“I told you not to use that callsign, Sir--wait, the...Hunter?”, Palmer frantically calls out his squadmates to retreat before sounding off on the open comms, “Sorcerer 1 to all listening aircraft. LAND IF YOU WANT TO LIVE!”

Naturally, Awyrgan ignored him. After all, none of the X-22’s missiles, despite their future-level technology, have even scratched her. They’re just fodder, and none of them have had fired anything close to Thor or even that archer girl’s power.

And after all, she is the shield, like Ming. It wouldn’t do for the shield to come down before the others.

As usual, it was Momiji who first spots the flash of white coming from the west, and knocks over Lazarov to scream over the radio, “Unknown fighter approaching! A fast one!”

A few seconds later, it was Yokuta command screaming it over the open comms.

The beasts in the air barely had enough time to turn their heads before a massive sonic boom split the sky. It has arrived. And then left.

A streak of light, a boom of thunder, and a rapidly fading radar signature is all that the unknown fighter left as evidence of its passing.

At least, that’s until Momiji noticed Awyrgan lurching, two gigantic glowing lances embedded in her flank. As others take notice and confused chatter begins over open comms, a strange buzzing sound silences all of them and a single voice, clear and androgynous, sounds out over all channels:

“Arcturus 1, Broodmother kill confirmed.”

And then silence. The even more confused chatter starts turning into panic as the dragon’s wings involuntarily flatten and she begins falling down towards the city. The fighter jet wreckages, well fragmented, result in relatively minor impacts on the buildings below, but a massive dragon with the weight of a bomber?

As such, the serpent did not hesitate as she rammed into the dragon, shattering both herself and her target in a spectacular rainbow explosion that shattered the glass of buildings in a one kilometer radius. Metallic and rainbow scales and body parts together fly off, disintegrating into aether.

Those on the helicopter look on, horrified, until a grunt is heard from below. Meiling emerges, clambering onto the landing rails, carrying an unconscious Awyrgan under her arm. Everyone on the helicopter cheers until Meiling climbs all the way up, and they fall silent.

Meiling was carrying half of an Awyrgan.

“Whatever those divine lances were, it struck her in her core.” Meiling says in a flat tone as she deposits the upper torso of the inanimate dragon girl onto the helicopter floor, her severed midsection and limbs pooling ichor and oil from their smoldering divine caps, with wires and metallic parts dangling out where the internal organs would be on a normal creature.

“Foolish lizard, she shouldn’t have drawn so much attention to herself, a minor god like me could have taken those hits and survived.”

“Forget that! Wake Ming!” Momiji screams as the Russians can only look on in shock.

===

You groggily awake to the sound of rotor blades and a pungent, mechanical odor. The tranquilizer blurs your eyes, and you can’t really make out anything.

“Hey,” You hear Meiling say, “Your girlfriend’s dead, fix her.”

“We...broke up...a while ago...” You blink, vision clearing, and you see the bisected corpse before you, “And that’s not my girl...”

You blink again. That girl is not your girlfriend indeed. She is...oh no

Oh no oh no oh no not again oh no oh no

[x] HEW

Meiling was in you before you realized, lending her brittle feeling strength, one which you recognize as the last shreds of faith she had in her. The pink mist flows out like a torrent from your hands.

[x] HEW

Your left arm glows ever brighter with the energy, until it seems to crackle, and the whole limb just sort of sloughs off, into a heap of dust and rot. There is no pain, or, at least, you can’t feel it any more.

[x] FLAMES OF PHLEGETHON, BURNING THROUGH EARTH. WITH HEAT AND LIFE, HEW AND RENEW.

You tumble forward, your right leg rotted away now from the overchanneling. She’s not bleeding anymore.

She’s still not moving. Or breathing. Or being alive.

No. No. No. NO. NO. NO.

You can’t let this happen. You’re the medic. You must...

[x] STYX, STYX WHERE ALL RIVERS FLOW--

“NO!”

[x] FUCK OFF!

”YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING!”

[x] OH I KNOW. I JUST DON’T CARE YOU SHITTY FRAGMENT OF A GOD.

STYX, STYX. WHERE ALL RIVERS FLOW, WHERE ALL CONTRACTS LIE. WHERE THE GODS ARE BLIND AND THE WORLD’S RULE DIES. SEAL OUR FATES, LOCK OUR LIVES. FREEZE OUR EXISTENCE TOGETHER, AT THE THRESHOLD OF OBLIVION.

UNTIL WHEN WE MAY BE FREE.

.



…..

You sigh in relief as you see Awyrgan’s eyelids flutter, and slowly attempt to struggle upwards on her regenerating stumps.

“Hey, Awyri, you okay?”

“I’m fine. Just help me get up, please.”

===

Yukari raises an eyebrow as she checks her phone’s resident status shikigami. “That’s odd, Iron Wing’s vital signs ceased for a few minutes, but came back, and now it’s actively reporting ‘Unknown system corruption 1...no, 2%’ ”

The queen sighs, “Will it last until we get new generations.”

“Oh we’ve already got several samples on standby, don’t worry about that too much.” Yukari mutters, “I’ll call the transport to see what’s happening.”

===

Momiji wished she’d stopped him. She wished she hadn’t frozen up when she realized that Ming was going to do his...specialty again.

She wished she knew he was going even further.

Vlad and Konoroz are retching off the side of the helicopter, and Meiling is not responding from her position inside Ming. Spring had figured out not to look back or take off his earphones, and Lazarov has gone catatonic after seeing it.

Momiji didn’t know what really to do, so she just laughed, a nervous, brief chuckle to try to calm herself down. It’s not like anything really changed, right?

It’s not. It’s just what you’d expected. Ming’s a great healer, and despite having some limbs fall off he’s still smiling and talking with the dragon, who’s regenerating quite well, just like she claimed she could. That’s what she’s seeing.

She definitely did not seeing a horrifying amalgamation of flesh and metal, two mutilated corpses simultaneously melding into one and budding off, leaking copious amounts of poisonous river water off of the helicopter, which thankfully had departed Tokyo and is flying over the countryside.

She is definitely not seeing a rotten human head calmly conversing with a dragon head right next to it, sharing the same torso. She’s definitely hallucinating them split off, Awyrgan standing hunched her humanoid pose, her limbs regrowing into twisted sinews of scar tissue and burned flesh. And of course there are no corpses detaching from what was Ming’s torso, shortly before being torn apart and reassimilated for raw materials...so many corpses in ragged robes.

She can’t see it, all she can see is a crippled Ming complaining and weakly punching Awyrgan in the face as she gets up and stretches, ignoring her friend’s aggression.

She does not see the dragon’s blank gray eyes, devoid of flame and life. She does not hear the dragon’s empty, decaying monotone devoid of her old voice. She does not smell Awyrgan’s new scent of machine oil mixed with pungent rot.

She opens her collar and looks down. She does not see the wounds in her heart and lungs, festering with living scar tissue, healthy. She does not hear the mass weeping in its own pain.

That’s all that happened during the past ten minutes. Momiji is shaken out of her stupor by Lazarov’s phone ringing from his unmoving hands, and she shakily picks it up, hearing the voice of Yukari Yakumo.

“Finally. Lazarov, hey! Captain Lazarov, you there?”

“...This is Guard-Captain Inubashiri...”

“Momiji? Why do you have his phone, did something go wrong?”

( ) Nothing is wrong.
( ) Everything went wrong.
(x) Nothing is wrong.
(x) Everything went wrong.

Can't speak sense in this kind of situation.
(X) Everything went wrong.
Reimu is burning herself out from overdrive as we speak.
(x) Everything went wrong.

Goodbye good dragon. You fulfilled your duty until the very end.
(x) Nothing is wrong.
(x) Everything went wrong.

I like this duality real well here.
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(x) Nothing is wrong.
(x) Everything went wrong.

“Captain Inubashiri. Details. Please.”

“The outsider known as Wu Ming did some...seriously fucked up shit,” Momiji breaks and allows her learned English lingo from her old employer to leak in, “Project Iron Wing is KIA and is currently…compromised by him. Confirmed presence of a second Thor-level Savior leader: Arcturus. Everything went wrong.”

She coughs, choking in half-imagined stench.

“Evac for relevant persons is on point and on time. All involved are operational. Nothing is wrong. Except, of course, for...”
====

“Something wrong?” The Queen of England asks the Reigning Sage of Gensokyo, whose face darkens noticeably as she listens to the frantic report in the phone.

“You might want to hold off on the knighting ceremony, your majesty. Curse it. Of course something like that had to happen...Ran! Put the old fellow back on ice.” Yukari shouts to her shikigami through a gap, all the way across the camp, “He’s not going to be happy about what his work turned into.”

====

“So...um, you gonna go, boss?” Ahmed worriedly asks the kitsune cringing at the sudden loud voice coming through a gap.

“Oh, I’m going to go,” Ran seethes, “I’ll go when I need to, when her mistake shows up. Master Yukari seems to have forgotten that I told her from the beginning that she should have personally escorted them, or at least sent a prototype squadron.”

“Would she not forcibly chastise you as she usually does?” Kokoro comments from the neighboring tent, gesturing a makeup brush with one hand and restraining a squirming Sylla in another.

“I really do not care. There’s a lesson that needs to be taught.”

=====
Time: 0600 hours
Data: July 1, 20XX
Location: Skies above Yatsugatake Mountains, Nagano, Japan
Threat Level: 11

The radio buzzes alive, awakening you from your dozing. You shuffle off of Awyrgan’s corpse’s shoulder, and lean over to hear.

“Come in, Lord Inubashiri, this is Wolf Guard Captain Tadakuni. You are approaching the Nagano free-fire zone. We’ve marked a landing spot for you. Over.”

“Affirmative. Over.” You hear Momiji reply, exhaustion in her voice.

The helicopter begins its descent, coated by Awyrgan’s thin layers of sight-blocking plasma as well as loose tendrils of her own form.

Ahead of you, the dawn light illuminates the treetops with a golden light, along with the craters, smoking wreckages...You squint and see that large splotches of ground have been stained a rusty red for some reason. Sounds of gunfire, explosions, and stranger sounds can be heard as you approach the canopy, but no missiles came in.

Likely out of fear, or simple lack of stealth detection.

You spray the awakening antidote from your medikit onto Sanae, and attempt to do the same with your ancestor who is splayed out on the helicopter floor, but Meiling does not respond at all. She’s breathing, but regardless of how much you kick her, the lazy excuse for a rainbow serpent would not arise.

Oh well.

The helicopter touches down, and a line of white wolf infantry take a knee as Momiji hops off onto the grassy clearing. They hesitate when they see the Inubashiri shield strapped on your graviton barrier as you stumble out, Awyrgan’s scaled enhancements to your exoskeleton taking the place of your missing leg.

“My lord, Is he...”

Momiji gives the troops a blank stare, and moves as if to say something, then reluctantly nods her head.

The Russians pile out of the cockpit after you, each of them exchanging salutes with the tengu and avoiding eye contact with you or Awyrgan, who followed closely behind. Sanae came out last, yawning and stretching...and sort of confused.

“We’re here already? What did I miss?”

“Many things...” Lazarov says quietly.

“Everyone out?”

“All except for Meiling, who’s exhausted from the aerial battle.” Momiji takes note of the troops’ conditions. “What’s the next step?”

“The Hakurei Shrine is currently secured. Lady Yakumo and Matarajin are working on opening a backdoor, but just half an hour ago an unknown fighter that the US forces termed ‘The Hunter’ flew in and blew apart several layers of wards and positions, letting many Savior forces filter in. Outlying forces like us have been running longer patrols to keep up integrity, and we’re fighting constant skirmishes.” Tadakuni then gestures at the ofuda and glyphs on the trees surrounding the immediate location. “We’ve been able to set up a warded position here without notice, but I guarantee that such secrecy is no longer the case once you’ve landed.

“Wait, who’s ‘Matarajin’...”

{(x)}HUNT. I need to craft...to compleat...my friend. Please.

“We’ll lead the way then.” You offer, “If there’s anything Awyri and I are good at, it’s not dying. What?”

Everyone but the tengu soldiers and Sanae looks away from you.

Momiji bites her lip, “Sure. Take the lead, Draken Cataphract. Hopefully, this will be your last sortie. For your sake.

“I’ll go too!” The shrine maiden pipes up, “It’s my...”

“...You stay with us.” Lazarov quietly orders as he pulls Sanae back, “As far as we know, a silver bullet to the head can kill you outside of Gensokyo’s influence.”

Awyrgan stretches and shifts. Smaller mass than last time, but still an obvious target Pretty hard to miss a massive rotting dracolich cyborg glowing with leaking purple heat. Weird, she usually says something boastful before doing this. In fact, she shouldn’t be this silent.

“Awyri?”

“Yes, you need something Ming?”

She usually also talked in a different, Shakespearean way. Not anymore. Not after she died imitating you. Probably she decided to listen to your complaints.

“Nevermind.”

Odd.

Awyrgan scarcely stepped fifty meters out of the barrier when gunfire and rocket motors come alive from the surrounding treeline, still somewhat dark in the dawnlight. Shots and explosions hammer against her hide, but despite their silvery holy light, are not getting through her scales. After all, such measures were designed to counter living or dead things. She is neither now.

You take a moment to into account the surroundings while the others hang back, away from the attractive target. “Jesus, that’s a ton of threat blobs...holy,” You hastily throw up your shield and recoil as a missile detonates just meters away from you. “Are those small warbeasts?” you mutter as you spot large threat blobs amongst the smaller ones in the distance.

Judging by their locations, they’re well entrenched behind ridges and content to simply unleash volley after volley of missiles at the snarling dragon, who roars and attempts to charge forth, but cannot from the sheer amount of firepower pushing her back. Her newly recovered frame does not seem to hold up well.

Awyrgan attempts to take off, but yet more missiles knock her off balance and out of the air. You attempt to use your Stop to aid her, but as you attempt to cast the ingrained spell, the energies simply fizzle, without even a forceful feedback like what you experienced upon your first attempt at magic.

Maybe it only works within Gensokyo. You think as a sudden wave of nausea comes over you. Collapsing, you lean forward and vomit onto the ground. A slurry of river water and what looks like tumors come out.

“There he is, the Null Fiend!” You hear somebody shout from your blind spot, right before a multitude of bullets tear into your side, knocking you sideways. The dragon scales and moonsilver hold, but much like your companion, the enemy is compensating for your heavy armor and half-living composition by pinning you down with ceaseless fire.

“Inubashiri! Protect my men! Walking into an ambush and falling apart...disappointing!I expected better of a monstrosity like you!

Abruptly, the earth shakes, and you manage to struggle up as a colossal formation of tree roots spring up to shield you from the bullets, at least for a while. Lazarov skates up his own roots like a grinding rail, firing his Lunarian pulse rifle with one hand and spewing out more plant matter with the other as they are torn apart by the silver bullets.

You crawl up. Some of the rounds made it through but you don’t feel much different. Just in time, you see the leshy roll off the wall of roots as a flamethrower torches the whole thing.

Throwing up the shield, you step forth to cover the faux-Spetsnaz and return fire with your sidearm into the smoke of the burning roots. As soon as he dives away into a nearby thicket and disappears, you sprint over to the struggling zombie dragon, activating Patchouli’s amulet barrier in the process and ignoring the tremors from the missiles hitting her, and begin healing.

The mists do not come out as a steady stream, but more of a sputtering fountain, little bits of lifespan diffusing into Awyrgan’s skin. The pain in your head returns with a throbbing vengeance, and you see your remaining arm catching aflame. Cursing, you cease the spell early.

My friend...please...stop hurting us...both...

Apparently that was just enough to jump start her defenses though, as streaks of plasma arc out from her form amidst a mighty roar, acting as flares to disorient and detonate the incoming missiles. She then turns and charges, smashing through Lazarov’s burning barrier in the process all while unleashing a flurry of flames and machine gun fire. Each shot ruptures yet more of her rotting form, further disrupting her draconic figure into a heaping eldritch mess.

The ambushing knights didn’t stand much of a chance as the searing plasma burnt away their replicated Lunarian camouflage. Foolishly, they decide to stand and fight, raising their guns and lances at the dragon closing in.

Awyrgan doesn’t even flinch as she throws herself into the silver-tipped weapons. A few swipes and stomps, and the knights are swiftly reduced to crumpled heaps on the ground before they can recover from the shock of their blessed lances lodging inside the dragon, and doing nothing.

You notice with some confusion that despite her ferocity...

“She’s not eating them...” Lazarov mutters as he pulls himself up. “Wait, what is she...”

“Tiamat’s Blessing: Breath of Life” [x] “Tiamat’s Hunleff: Styx Compleation.” Awyrgan incants as she vomits a slurry of river water and mechanical lizards from her internals and exhales some sort of pink fog, onto the wounded Saviors. ”Forsake life, forsake death. Strong like Achilles. Slave like helots.”

Did she steal and replicate your healing capabilities? You feel even more worthless than usual as you watch your friend give first aid to the enemy.

Slowly, struggling, the enemy soldiers stand back up Their bodies twisted and missing parts replaced by oily mechanics and cancerous grey flesh. “You..healed us? ””PLEASE, ANY OF YOU! KILL US!”

Once again, you notice Momiji and the Russians covering their ears and looking away. Why? Sanae and the other tengu soldiers do not, but the shrine maiden seems disturbed for some reason as she cautiously approaches, unarmored as she is.

“Don’t even try to reach for a weapon, and stay still.””Unless you wish to be free, then run back to your comrades, they can save you.“

To your surprise, Awyrgan made no attempt to stop the soldiers as they ran immediately after regaining balance, in direct violation of her orders. You raise your gun, but she nails you with a tail swipe.

“Awyri, what the fuck are you doing?” You sputter out, your face full of mud.

She ignores you, remaining silent as she stares off into the woods, ignoring the occasional potshot that plinks off her hide. You attempt to give chase, but Awyrgan coils her tail around you, preventing movement.

About five minutes later, she suddenly stirs and rears up, knocking you onto the ground. “Dragon’s Trap: Sacrificial Implosion.” [x]Stopcall Metelcreftt: Warping Wail

Explosions sound off in the woods ahead, and you see, through your Hunter module, massive threat blobs appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye. Something inside of you screams with a dozen voices, and then falls silent.

“...Awyrgan, again, what the fuck?”

“Coast is clear. There should be no more opposition.” She roars, a wet, strangling sound, signaling the others hiding behind the wards to move on.

As you jog past the previous ambush positions, you see naught but broken corpses and the wrecked remains of truck-sized warbeasts.

Well, more like the opposite of broken...most of them are actually quite alive and well, if catatonic. They are, however, restrained by their comrades, stretched out into grotesque Junji Ito-esque webs of bone, flesh and rusty metal that pin the soldiers down like boars in a net trap. Those ones are, luckily for them, quite brain-dead now. Still nominally alive, though, if with too many spindly limbs sprouting from their torsos.

Easier than killing them, really. Their armor is tough but their minds are weak. Such a body net works wonders.

“My frien--Ming...”

“Hmm?”

“Did I follow your orders correctly? I...had to improvise.”

“I didn’t give you any orders you damn overpowered dragon. Stop stealing my spells.”

Thou art...truly ignorant...of mine state? You didn’t? Must’ve been hearing things then.”

Behind you, unnoticed, is the sound of your allies losing their dinners. In Vlad and Konoroz’s case, it’s just the vodka they downed earlier after witnessing your act in the chopper.Sanae doesn't see it though, and is loudly expression confusion at the sudden vomiting.

Apparently that was all of the thin quantity of Saviors that managed to infiltrate in, as it was only thirty minutes more of silent walking that you’ve reached the overgrown path leading to the Hakurei Shrine.

Craters dot the area, and here and there you can see ruined equipment, vehicles and such dotting the previously pristine landscape.

At the foot of the shrine now sits several bunkers...Albanian bunkers specifically as some of their signage indicates, and appear to have been displaced along with a large chunk of the ground they were attached to into Japan.

“Ey!” A soldier waves from behind one of them with a rather peculiar flare...wait, she’s casting a spell, “We’ve been expecting you lot! We were going to check out the noise you made but we’re a little thin. The main force and all of upper management’s already gone into the absolute one-way breach.”

You look up. Where the front doors of the shrine were once sealed shut, is now a yawning black void of vague definition...that stretches all the way up to the sky like a loathsome pillar.

“And those Saviors ambushing us didn’t follow you in?” Momiji asks as she signals back, her projected danmaku forming the leaf crest of Inubashiri.

“There were ambushers? A ton of them assaulted us shortly after the ‘Hunter’ bombarded us and we assumed that was the last of their forces here. Took out our comms too. But I’m pretty sure we got them all...at a cost. Eh, I work at a crematorium, I’m used to handling dead people I knew.”

And now you can see the Clear Sky-marked body bags loaded up in a couple of train cars lying behind the bunkers. Next to it, a somewhat larger and bulkier pile of corpses are haphazardly covered over with tarps.

“Wait...” Momiji narrows her eyes as she inspects the young woman’s figure from at least thirty meters away, “You’re not a mercenary.”

“Nope! Just a local fan of bullet shooting girls in frilly dresses. Lol. Ooh! You’re the actual Momiji and not another white wolf, right?...ooh...are you...” She turns bright red as the tengu leaps over and physically inspects her.

“A commoner?” Momiji wonders as she holds the makeshift soldier’s face by the chin, who judging by her expression is achieving some sort of physical fangasm. “Is Yukari really just grabbing random fans off the street now?”

“Y...yes, something about us being a great source of faith for Matarajin...can I get a picture with you? I already got one with the other captains and I really want one with the...”

“Sure why not.” Momiji barely manages the hint of a smile as the soldier gleefully pulls her in for a selfie while the other Clear Sky members in the bunkers snicker, “Tadakuni, didn’t Yukari report something along the lines of 20,000 enemies moving into Gensokyo?”

“Yes, Guard-Captain, they had alternate entry points. Our objective for Hakurei Shrine was to secure our breach into the enemy-held barrier as it was already far too late to deny their’s. We were effectively facing against their rear guard, and most of them were no more experienced than Sakura over here…and far less vicious.”

“Still, holding rear-guard with...civilians!”

“Um, actually she did most of the work.” Sakura points at a figure that you’ve just now noticed is sitting on the top step of the shrine, head in hands. “We kind of just covered for her while her telekinesis took care of everything. As tough as the knights were, thrown boulders still crushed them to pulp.”

Momiji scans the figure without moving, “Who...wait. Bowler hat...funny cape...school girl. Hey, you’re the one that caused the Occult Balls incident! Sumireko Usami!”

No response.

“That girl ain’t right, Guard-Captain.” The sergeant for the irregulars comes out from the bunker, obviously somewhat out of it as the half-empty bottle in his hand shows. “She was just fine killing them left and right during the battle, but fell apart as soon as she cooled down and saw the corpses...Ey! Shriveled looking guy, green shrine maiden, whatcha doing? She’s dangerous!”

If nothing else. Sumireko’s notes were what inspired you to breach the border in the first place. The least you could do is check up on her, you’re still sort of a doctor, after all.

Please...do not...

Ignoring the small pebbles half-heartedly flung at you by the psychic, you approach the shell-shocked girl, “Sumireko?”

“Yes...that’s my pseudonym...who are you…?”

“Just some fellow outsiders,” Sanae says as she follows you up, subtly invoking some sort of divine magic in her back hand. “I didn’t really get to know you in Gensokyo…...”

“Mind tricks on an esper?” Sumireko replies in a deadened monotone as the shrine maiden yelps, her spell fizzling with a small explosion, “At least you tried....Sanae, was it?”

“Huh?!”

“You’re a high school girl too. Have you...killed before?”

“I actually should be in college now, and a couple dozens and counting, why?”

“...Was it disgusting?”

“Now what sort of a question is that? Of course death is impure...”

“...Come to think of it” You interject, “You do seem awfully cavalier after commiting your first human kills, Sanae.”

Sanae smugly puffs up her chest, “No different than a serious youkai extermination.”

“Are you sure they...died, Sanae?” Sumireko has begun rocking back and forth.

“I kind of turned them to salt, so yes.”

“People die when they are killed, you know.” You cannot help but add on.

The rocking stops, “Everyone from Gensokyo turned out fine when I shot my 3D printed gun at them...or slammed down telephone poles on them, you know. “I assumed the same for fighting outside, but...real death is...so much...viscera...blood...shit...organs...”

Out of curiosity, you turn the black light mode on for your Hunter Module. Indeed, other than the corpses recovered, there appears to be many others spread around the area, often times in the form of thin smears. None are really recoverable without a bucket. Ew.

“But...I needed to keep fighting. I realized, those were real bullets. I kept going even after I retched at their remains. Automatically. I did this...I turned these living people into garbage.”

You kind of understand her reactions now, especially if you consider Urban Legend in Limbo to be a somewhat accurate depiction in regards to the effects her attacks have on people. Her glazed, hollow eyes are pretty typical of a high schooler who experienced actual warfare beyond the intentionally sanitized combat inside of Gensokyo.

“Sumireko, it’s okay. You didn’t...”

“I volunteered, I know what you’re going to say. This was my choice. I just don’t know if I...should live with it...”

Sanae backs off as Sumireko’s revolver slowly levitates upwards. “Ming...” She whispers, “Do something...”

“Why always me? Weren’t you a high school girl too? Come to think of it, weren’t you a little too relaxed over killing that many people?”

“They were enemies! Evil ones worse than any youkai I know! Also I was kind of out of it at the time...”

Sanae falls silent as the telekinetic revolver points towards you “I can hear you, you know.” Sumireko monotones, “Who are you, anyway? Ming? I did not meet you in Gensokyo, or many men in general.”

Pick your next words carefully. While the gun is aimed at you, the shaken nature of her control over it, the look in her eyes, and the things she said...the only person she would be shooting soon is herself.

And with her abilities, she wouldn’t even have to turn the gun.

Also, shouldn’t Awyrgan be intervening about now? You look back and the dragon girl is just standing there motionless.

{ }...My friend...senses...fading...
[ ] Try to convince Sumireko that she did what was necessary.
{ }...Cannot...feel...I...am...burning...
[ ] Just Mist and drug her for now. It’s Yukari’s job to get her a qualified therapist.
{ }...Corruption...at 40%...rising...failure to repair...result in irrevocable EXPANSION of function
[ ] Does Hew’s healing work on mental trauma? It probably doesn’t hurt to try if you frame it the right way.
What's up with the stricken options ?
Do we get to pick how Awyrgan is dying ?
>>31531
We don't.

[x] Try to convince Sumireko that she did what was necessary.

The less harmful (and effective!) option of them all.
>>31531
>What's up with the stricken options?

Denial (noun) - psychology : a defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality.

Also a hamfisted attempt to illustrate information that clarifies the setting and also not break the second-person limited perspective.
>>31534
Alright then, having those lines interspaced between options made me wonder if it wasn't some sort of subconscious pick of sort. I shouldn't overthink things I guess.

[X] Just Mist and drug her for now. It’s Yukari’s job to get her a qualified therapist.

I feel like asking Ming to morally justify any sort of murder right now is going to turn out horribly wrong even if it worked. Let someone else deal with this.
[x] Try to convince Sumireko that she did what was necessary.

She cancelled out Sanae's spell and I assume she could just repel the mist particles with her crazy level of telekinesis at the moment.

Ming has seen the terrible shit they're doing and the threat that they pose and I don't really think trying to hew is a great idea here (mostly concerned about what happens if he somehow... corrupts... sumireko somehow with his energy?).
File 156283425021.jpg - (164.66KB, 850x1107, __yakumo_ran_koumajou_densetsu_2_and_etc_drawn_by_.jpg) [iqdb]
31544
60-hour weeks suck.

===

[x] Try to convince Sumireko that she did what was necessary.
{x}Yes...Please...Do not...exert thyself...

See, the problem is that you, a person with a very, very “odd” view on the value of human life, is trying to convince a previously ordinary Japanese teenager that a bit of gore and splatter is perfectly normal.

As expected, you fail horribly, and Sanae forcibly muffles your mouth shut before Sumireko could become even more traumatized as you reel over a severed enemy’s head with your fishing line and begin pantomiming with it in an attempt to prove a point.

*BLAM*

Oh right, the revolver. You look down and see that Sumireko had blasted a nice hole in your chest with an ESP accelerated bullet, right through the dragon scales.

“Eh, I’m already mostly dead, you can shoot me more if you want to unwind. I probably won’t die.” You casually say, pushing Sanae off, as Sumireko freezes in the middle of another trigger pull to look at the stale blood and rot coming out of your slowly mending wound.

“You’re a zombie?” Sumireko exclaims as she leaps back and grabs the gun with her actual hands, leveling it at you.

“Close enough. It’s more like I’m still held together by technology and regenerative magic. Which is the point I’m trying to make. Change...any change, requires sacrifice, whether of yourself, or of others.” You voice grows cold, “Just be glad that those that did die are some foolish zealots rather than yourself or anyone you cared about, and consider that those you do care about will die if you do not sacrifice those you do not.”

“M...Mokou is immortal!” Sumireko replies, in a sort of strained joking tone.

“They did worse to her. I had to painfully purify her in that form. Immortality, in the hands of this enemy, means eternal torment.” You lean in just close enough to be uncomfortable, “You would not want Mokou to be stuck as one of those red warbeasts...consumed by the Saviors’ eldritch backer.”

“I...” Sumireko lowers the gun, her eyes glossy and her lips trembling.

“So for her sake...for everyone else’s sake that you care about...keeping doing what you did. If you think it is too much, just blame me for it and shoot me all you want. Blame Wu Zhenguo, the wicked Chinese interloper, for causing all of this horror and suffering. You did nothing wrong.”

======

Hungry crows circle the skies.

Groans of the walking sick fill the streets.

Cries of the hungry poor radiate throughout the desecrated temples.

Weeping from those abandoned to die alone.

Murmuring questions of the dead souls, gathered unseen on the streets of Athens, asking why this had to happen.

Silence from the god who had no answer.


======

“Didn’t you say you were not going to take blame?” Momiji darkly mutters.

“There’s a difference between taking responsibility for an act and taking responsibility for bad feelings. Namely, I don’t care about the latter.”

Sanae isn’t speaking to you.

And once again, you cross back into Gensokyo. Sumireko did not follow yet. She has to decide for herself.

You emerge cleanly, without falling onto your face, atop the stairs leading to the Hakurei Shrine.

Gensokyo is almost unrecognizable.

In a single night, the landscape now bears a close resemblance to Mordor. Large chunks of landscape are blackened and smoldering, and the trees that did not suffer the fate of burning look to be blown apart, at least in the area around the shrine. The Human Village is just a crater now, though by annihilation or Keine you’re not sure, and further down in the valley you can make out the explosions and smoke typical of modern warfare.

Every minute or so, the sky erupts in a series of dazzling, thunderous explosions miles wide in radii. None are flying save for the avatars of the three sides of the conflict: a streak of ball lightning, a gold-black seraph, and a red-white butterfly, to which, the pulsating shockwaves have no effect. Furthermore, a strange aurora borealis is covering the sky, despite it being in the morning and nowhere near the poles.

And, of course, is the snow. For some reason the whole place is engulfed in a snowstorm in the middle of summer, complete with the thunder from the aerial explosions and the lightning from what you presume to be Thor’s assaults.

Below, flashes of light, clouds of smoke, the distinct buzzing of high density spellcraft, and the piercing noise of conventional weaponry are what adorns the valley below, overcoming the howling of wind and snow.

“Terrible, isn’t it?”

A blond figure in a white and purple dress, flanked by another blonde with a similar, blue-themed dress with nine very fluffy tails, stands below the torii at the edge of the shrine’s boundary behind you.

“Nice to see you again, honorable Spetsnaz. Glad to see you safe, Sanae, and I don’t believe we have met yet, Ming and...Awyrgan, was it?” She gives an irritatingly cute smile and extends her hand, “I am Yukari Yakumo, a Sage of this Garden.”

[x] Extend arm

Without much thinking, you reach out past her offered hand and sock Yukari square in the face.

“YOU ALMOST KILLED ME WITH THAT FAKE SWORD PRANK YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!” You scream, memories of suffocating under that warbeast-corrupted Kaguya still fresh in your mind.

“My my, I did not realize death was a concern to you. Apologies. Rinnosuke was supposed to have disposed of that years ago.” Yukari ignores your fist planted in her face as she says it in a decidingly unapologetic tone as she bows down through your arm, a gap consuming it along the way. It feels empty, but somewhat warm. “And for our dear Iron Wing...Awyrgan...”

Yukari stops talking as she opens up several Eyes of Laplace on the decaying dragon girl, who stares back with misty eyes and a rotten mockery of a polite smile.

“Performance at desired perimeters,” The dragon mechanically states.

The Sage holds up a hand to her mouth, involuntarily, as Ran whispers into her ear with a concerned, and somewhat smug, frown.

“Very good.” Yukari says as Ran withdraws, “And, Sanae, are you...”

“I know the whole story, Yukari.” The other shrine maiden says with a dismissive wave, “Now, do you have a plan to fix this incident that you technically started, or are we going to wait until Thor fully digests my gods and Reimu is burned up?”

“The lass is right, Lady Yakumo,” Lazarov concurs, “My men are eager to complete the mission, please give us orders.”

“I will need to equip you all first, particularly you, Sanae. Awyri, clean yourself off, thoroughly. Ming, Ran will debrief you on some things only you should know.”

“What?” You ask in surprise as the nine-tailed fox grabs you by the arm and drags you into the woods by the shrine.

The two of you go in quite deep, past the tents and makeshift workshops set up around the shrine. You spot Rikako and Conner working on a new tank, and you try to greet them, but the wind drowned out your voice before Ran pulled you out of range.

Ran does not stop until the two of you are way clear of earshot of any other living being, next to a deserted, snowy clearing.

“A private pre-mission debrief, for me?” You remark, “I really appreciate it.”

“With all of the chaos you caused, killing swathes of their troops and even taking out members of their original time-displaced elite, it would be irresponsible not to.” Ran says as she lets you go and leans onto a tree, her tails forming an impromptu cushion. “So...a quick rundown on the current situation: Through analysis of the enemy’s communications and their hidden writings, we have determined that the so-called ‘Lux Pacifica’ is a manifestation of an entity, likely alien in origin, with power far beyond any entity we have known on Earth or the Moon, and that had been instrumental in shaping human civilization as we know it.”

“So...God? Cthulhu?”

“Hard to say. Only the Seven know truly what it is. However, I have performed metatextual analysis on the raw data with my mind, and determined that the entity has some discernible traits. It prefers to manifest in the Pacific Ocean like its name hints. It is non-existent for all intents and purposes in our current time and devoid of obvious references in mythology. And it is strongly associated with the qualities of order, knowledge, understanding, to the extent that a regressive convergence of its intentions reveals the intent to have the whole world rendered into a ‘civilized’ state, with every single grain of sand, every blade of grass, behaving in a predictable manner according to human observation.”

“What.”

Ran sighs, “By reading their data VERY carefully, I figured out that they want to destroy all fantasy.”

And now it suddenly makes sense why you saw so many of those Anti-Mysticism nutters on the plane to Japan…

“But, isn’t it a paradox? Would its own intervention not qualify as a violation of that? They’re using what’s basically JRPG heroes as generals!”

“Precisely, which is why I have hypothesized that it is an entity that acts primarily on reaction, and only when it needs to, during to a transition of the world’s state into the opposite of its goals. Or perhaps it sensed the emergence of a hostile entity of similar strength to itself.”

“Well we don’t have anything nearly that powerful,” You stop as Ran stares at you like an idiot and tilts her head upwards at the Dragonball-tier battle happening overhead beyond your reach, “...Right, we do. So apparently the Hakurei Border counts as an entity capable of overcoming folks like Amasterasu?”

“Yes. Unfortunately for us, utilizing the Border in an offensive manner comes at the cost of wiping out all life bound to it. Even its basic self-defense system cannot really function without eating a shrine maiden every time.”

Your blood runs cold, “You mean, Reimu was...”

“You did not think that an entity such as the Border cannot regenerate its white blood cells? By my count, and assuming my memory is intact, we are on the ninth iteration. None of them have died from old age, and seven fell before spell card rules became standard. Last one was burnt out by a particularly overpowered outsider.”

Ran notices you not responding, and continues, “Don’t worry too much, however. It’s mostly the same Reimu. The Border Preserving Fantasy is, ironically, not creative enough to generate new souls.”

A distant memory pops into your head, “Quick question, did you also stick a geas or something on her that whenever anybody asks about her birthdate, it locks her up?”

“Geas, perception filter AND amnesiacs. All fused into a single ritual cast during the creation of the Border,” Ran proudly lists off, “One of my more enduring handiworks if I may say so. It also keeps Lady Yukari busy when we need to cycle.”

“Wait, then how the hell is there a Hakurei bloodline? ZUN stated that there were previous maidens.”

“Same entity, different body, different name. I’ve tuned the amnesiac effect to spread virally, enough that few today recall even what the previous one looked like. Even I do not.”

“B-but that Ochiba guy claims to be her distant cousin! And Keine affirmed it!”

“And Keine is absolutely correct. Ochiba is in fact a distant cousin of her. Of course, that is because the recursive reincarnation is retroactively filtered to become a normal descendant chain with mysteriously vanishing parents, and naturally that illusion will latch on to existent but distant Hakurei relatives in the Outside World. Which is enough to elevate him above the average empowered Outsider.”

“So...where do the new bodies come from?”

Ran leans in even closer, enough that her innate fox-like features become uncomfortable to you, “Empty bodies of children are something that this cold, uncaring planet produces in excess. You would know, wouldn’t you, one who is possessed by death?

“That sounds...unnecessarily sinister.”

“It means we’re not harming any innocents.” Ran says, looking away into the middle of the clearing. “I am telling you this because you are an outsider, and the recordings we have of your behavior, made primarily by your steelborn companion, indicates that you are the only one who can stomach my next order.”

“Not, you know, the Spetsnaz?”

“Believe it or not, they actually have enough humanity to not do it. Particularly Lazarov. Now, toss some of your anti-divinity magic over there..”

The Hunter’s Module shows naught but grass and snow, but your weak, sputtering Hew blast crackles in the area, and something akin to a glass dome shatters.

You step back. In front of you are eight gravestones, each bearing the same name.

“They’re all...Reimu?” You mutter to yourself.

Ran hands you a large, rusty shovel, “Excavate them, and recover the bones within. You seem to have an unlimited capacity for impurity, so defiling the graves of mikos should be harmless.”

“Uhh...okay.”

The dirt flies outward in large clods, easily giving way beneath your exoskeleton enhanced strength. The graves were rather shallow, which was likely irrelevant given their concealed nature.

The bones came out quite easily, being largely intact and somehow stuck together. You expected shattered pieces, but the sheer amount of...warping they display. “Are these human bones?” You wonder as you pick up a skull that looks like it was stretched out by some force into something more resembling an insect.

“No. The Border does things to its vessel that are simply not survivable over a day.”

“Jesus...” You remove the last of the pieces and put them into a sort of cairn. “Now what do you want me to do with this?”

“You can reanimate the dead, correct? I need you to make them ‘alive’, preferably without a soul.”

“Whoa, whoa whoa.” You raise your hands forward and back off, “Last time I did that I heavily damaged souls by dragging them back from the Higan. Momiji was MAD.”

“Then don’t do that? People said that your abilities revolved around manipulating life force and dead souls, so a possessed golem should be within your expertise. The very reason I’m not handling this personally, or ask Seiga Kaku to do it is because I do not want to drag Reimu into one of them, just the Border.”

You process her logic, “Oh, so you’re trying to ground the connection by sending it into a previously recognized vessel…saving Reimu! I mean, the living one.”

“Correct. And I need your help because I highly doubt any one else...”

A scuffle from a nearby bush catches your attention. After some grumbling, a rather irritated red-headed cat girl creeps out,“Miss Yakumo, I cannot believe that you would consider this outsider first before me!”

Ran blinks, and her face flushes up with anger, “KOMEIJI KOISHI! I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO ENSURE NOBODY FOLLOWED US.”

“Aww...but Orin is family!” A previously unassuming tree stretches her arms out, her wizened grey hair overlapping a youthful face of pure innocence. “I’m super-duper sure she isn’t an enemy!”

Koishi...she looks very, very familiar. Almost as if you’ve seen her somewhere during this week. Oddly enough, as she turns to look at you with a big smile on her face, you don’t feel very threatened like you do with most other youkai. After all, you don’t have much to read.

“I...you know what? You are correct, Miss Komeiji.” Ran’s face reverts immediately back to a stoic expression before you can react. “Apologies, Miss Kaenbyou, would you like to offer your opinion and services on our course of action.”

“First, you!” Orin gets right up in your face before you can reach. “What have you been doing with evil spirits?”

“I dunno, the same as what you’ve been doing?” You were itching to ask Orin about the overlap in your abilities, but never got a chance to. “It’s basically...OW!”

Your forehead aches after Orin flicks you with the force of a kasha behind it, “I, do not wipe souls into blank slates or forcibly enslave them. All of my friends here,” Orin says as several dozen skull-faced will-o-the-wisps hover around her, “Are here of their own free will.”

“Really.”

“Yes. Really. You take me for an amateur like you? Hmph.”

“Kids. Look,” Ran cuts in, “I brought Ming here specifically because we need wiped souls to create effigies out of these corpses. The Border only recognizes comparatively clean slates as legitimate vessels.”

“Wait, are you trying to duplicate more Reimus out of her own dead bodies?”

“No you fool. We’re trying to ground the Border’s connection. Master Yukari has grown quite fond of our Reimu, and would like for this one to live an actual life.”

“Oh, well...shit.” You turn to Orin, “I’m going to have to blank some of your friends, sorry.”

“Miss Yakumo!” The kasha angrily protests, as Koishi looks on while chewing at the ends of her heart...string...thingy. “Surely you would not allow such a desecration to occur!”

“If anyone is to sacrifice themselves to save our shrine maiden, then it might as well be the evil souls who have already died and are pending assignment in Avici. In any case, Rin Kaenbyou, I suggest you choose the most sinful ones, or I will simply have Ming pull them out randomly.” Ran’s face darkens, “We don’t have the luxury to wait. Choose now.”

“You” Orin cowers as the nine-tailed kitsune stares her down, with her master’s sister not quite comprehending what the exchange is entailing, “...Alright...fine...I...”

Hundreds of flaming skull-faces fly by her, and she picks out eight of them that were not flying in formation, “These are the most unrepentant ones, but...completely deleting their personality?”

“I’ll...try to cull the minimum.” You half-heartedly reassure her as you drag the isolated spirits in with a “Call”, before setting them further aflame with a Hew cast. Smoky memories and feelings draft in your direction, rapidly fading into nonsensical fragments.

The gears grind away all that is unnecessary until they are but dust.

You stop as soon as the skullfaces disappear, and the remaining spirits stop moving, their flames frozen as if time has stopped. Without needing to talk, you shepherd them one by one into the mound of dead bones that you’ve stacked them into.

Much like the possessed mounds of flesh you half-hearted created earlier from dead warbeasts, the mound of dead Reimus just kind of wobbles and slurches, like a video game slime.

“Damn amateur. ” Orin curses as she shoves you aside, taking center-stage and beginning what looks like a dance instructor’s routine, “Two to the clavicle, one to the skull, move around, keep up space. Left side, right side, split off to two...”

You watch with amazement as the mound splits apart neatly and systematically into assembled skeletons, and then as the wraiths coat over their possessed frames, forming ghostly outlines that vaguely resemble shrine maidens, even down to their individual clothing styles.

You grimly note that one of them kind of looks like Reimu’s PC-98 outfit.

“There, you have your effigies.” Orin snarls, “I hope it was worth erasing a collective 20,000 years of karma.”

“For these souls, it may not be so bad.” Ran replies while ordering the apparitions with hand gestures, which are dutifully followed. “Komeiji Koishi, how are their internals?”

“Feels bland, and hard. Kind of flabby.” The satori replied while cocking her head from one side to another. “Very bland, actually.”

“Good.” She raises a hand, and the apparitions are suddenly engulfed in violet light, bloating and swelling. Above you, the entire sky dims, just enough to be noticeable.
“Whaa...”

Ran clasps her hands, smiles, and bows, “Uncountable thanks to the two of you. We have bought Hakurei Reimu another eight hours of existence.”

=====

“I swear animal-eared women hate me or something.” You angrily mutter as Orin is screaming alternatively at you, Ran, Koishi, and the world in general as the four of you walk back towards the shrine, the unholy effigies in tow.

“...AND NONE OF YOU CONSIDERED THAT MAYBE IT ISN’T WORTH DESTROYING THOUSANDS OF LIFETIMES JUST FOR EIGHT. HOURS?!” The kasha yells, her pupils literally burning in fury. Ran’s ignoring her with Zen-like calmness, Koishi actually...where the fuck is Koishi…? So Orin’s basically trying to elicit some reaction out of you, who is getting more and more visibly irritated by the moment.

“I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care.” You mutter in repetition. “I...gah!”


[ ] God fucking damn it Orin you come up with a better way.
[ ] I really do not care about any of this. I don’t even care if I stripped a million lifetimes worth.
[ ] You’re dealing with a Touhou fan here, Orin. I’d do the same for you without hesitation.
[X] I really do not care about any of this. I don’t even care if I stripped a million lifetimes worth.
What is an evil spirit? A miserable pile of sins!
Rather than not caring I could see the original Ming being thrilled by it, bleaching dark souls white would be a huge step up from his hobby as a "street cleaner".
[X] I really do not care about any of this. I don’t even care if I stripped a million lifetimes worth.

It's alive!
[x] God fucking damn it Orin you come up with a better way.

I'm fresh out of ideas myself
[x] God fucking damn it Orin you come up with a better way.

Response 1 is more like the Ming that we've been piloting, Response 2 seems like outsider Ming.

I can accept the second response framed with the additional thought of "It was worth the cost, and I don't care if I would've had to pay more to do it, I still would again." But I don't think that's the angle that it's taking.
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[x] God fucking damn it Orin, I don’t know a better way and I don’t care.

“...Because even as we speak, thousands of lifetimes on this planet end with absolutely no purpose and no significance. A couple thousand, even a hundred thousand worth of pointless, redundant experiences easily replaced? A low price, if you ask me.”

“ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO YOURSELF?”

“Why you shouting? I’m right! They’re just karma and soulstuff.”

Rin looks at you with more disbelief than anger, “They’re people. Humans, like you.”

“Exactly, they’re humans. And as a famous human author once said: ’Man is matter. Set fire to him and he'll burn. Bury him and he'll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage.’ He of course, had no idea about the format of a soul nor of magic, but the statement is true nonetheless for the spirit as well.”

“You---that’s not what that means---That has no bearing on the value of a spirit! He’s saying the exact opposite!”

“Orin, Orin. There’s 7 billion human souls in the world,” You say while giving her a friendly pat on the back, eliciting some awkward squirming, “And that’s not counting those still stuck in death. We are cheap, expendable, replaceable. Now, supernaturals like you, Ran, Reimu. How many are left? By simple economic math you can tell that the experiences of a dead human, especially a wicked one, is worth but the tiniest sliver of a precious supernatural life---the sources of the fantasy we seek to preserve.”

“You are wrong. You’re not even correct.” Rin responds as she shrugs your hand off, unaffected by your diatribe and speak in a clear, firm tone, which catches you somewhat off-guard. “As somebody centuries older than you and as one of those supernaturals you claim to protect, do you even know where youkai come from?”

“Yeah! Lord Mishaguji told me about that! They came from dead souls too! So what then? We’re all made of the same materials as plants and yet I doubt anyone will say that a head of cabbage is worth nearly as much as a person.”

“Wu Zhen-Guo, you tofu-for-brains.” The kasha hisses as she tugs on your cheek, causing you to give off ungentlemanly yips of pain from the vise-like grip, “The value of the dead is how many valued them at the time of death. You would know this if you actually spoke with them and studied PROPER necromancy instead of stripping them clean as soon as you get your grubby spells on them. Youkai, like me, generally coalesce around truly forsaken souls that have no value or meaning to give them one. You are objectively wrong.”

“Well...I thought that I’m right.” You whine back. Somewhere behind you, you catch the faintest subconscious hint of a giggle.

“No, you are not. And I thought that you didn’t believe in yourself at all. Hence why you keep leaning on the shield role despite having a family in the outside world.”

“That and most of the edgy shit I say was just a way to keep people from being attached to me and putting both at undue risk! And it’s not like my family cared about me other than for your typical outside world Asian parent shit to brag about on WeChat.”

Ran leaves you two to argue, disappearing off down another path.

“I don’t know your family, but I know you have gotten many people here to value you...”

“...I didn’t ask for it.”

“...And I know you value many people here, you are a fan, aren’t you?”

“--In an impersonal way, like a fan--”

“So you can, with complete honesty, say that you don’t have anybody here that valued you and you valued right back, personally.”

“I…Yes, I do.” You mumble.

“Hmm?”

“I mean, But no...not anymore.

“Speak up.”

“No, no I don’t. Never had, never will. That’s the most reasonable course of action here. Outsiders plus relationships plus Gensokyeans equals BAD END.”

“Hmph, well I can see what perspective your incorrect assumptions are coming from, given how you yourself is close to a valueless soul. I recommend that you work to ameliorate it before I cart away your corpse. Goodbye.” The lot of you have arrived back at the Hakurei Shrine, and Orin moves to split off. “Oh, and one more thing, Wu Zhen-Guo, you might want to fix your collar. It’s tilted.”

“Close to valueless? More like completely...” As you move to readjust your misaligned jacket, something dawns on you, “...Wait, I never told you my real name.”

“You didn’t. Somebody who’s propping up your soul’s value did. Remember my job? To talk with the deceased?”

Before you can answer, Orin’s slipped away between a group of raggedy-looking armed outsiders and disappeared. You have the feeling that she wanted to get the last word in like the others but more importantly she genuinely did not like you very much.

“What is she talking about? Did she speak with the outsiders I murdered? They don’t know my real name. But it does explain why they’re so weak if she’s right.” You mutter, looking at her last known position to you and not looking or paying attention to your front.

“OW! Oh...Hi Awyri, didn’t see you there.” You say to the house-sized dragon.

The dragon doesn’t respond. Rubbing your nose, you look over her back legs to see her staring at an iPad that Sanae’s holding...is that Monster Hunter gameplay?

“So you see? Since you already got the hang of ramming you should try to use the propulsion on the ground as well! In fact, you should do better since you’re much more tanky and adaptive while still having effective jet engines!”

Awyrgan looks at the virtual dragon’s movements with puzzlement, “...Why should I do that when I can simply rain blades and missiles from range?” She asks as she flares out a wing to show Sanae a manufactured missile rack of Ohabaris. “Leaping into the air, accelerating and performing a suicidal dive is a wasteful and dangerous manuever. Not that...it would matter anymore...hard...to...maintain...personality...or...thoughts

“Because they won’t be expecting it! Like one moment they think you’re slow on the ground, and the next moment you’re bowling into them!” Sanae excitedly replies while simulating the motion with her hands. “Only Okuu was foolhardy enough to try it, but it’s super effective!”

“Inefficient, and my defense mostly focus on interception, not deflection…oh, Ming, are you done?”

“...Yes. I was debriefed. What are you waiting for?”

You see Sanae pretend not to notice you as she strolls over to Awyrgan’s other side.

“SHE wanted to have you present for this ceremony.”

“Which woman and what ceremony? I’ve literally never heard of one coming up.”

“A knighting ceremony.” The front of the shrine door opens, and an old woman dressed in contemporary clothes comes out, followed by a dozen hard-looking men in suits, all caucasian. You don’t recall seeing old women in Gensokyo outside of the Village before...is this another Sage?

Wait no, you’ve seen her on TV before. That dress jacket, that hat, that matching umbrella. That’s the fucking Queen of the UK, in the real world…the Outside World. What the hell is she doing in Gensokyo?

“Callsign Primrose.” Awyrgan whispers, before kneeling down on her back legs.

“Iron Wing.” The old monarch responds with a slight bow, before taking note of you, “We see your friend has shown up. Finally.”

“Wait, you’re the one in overall command of Awyrgan, not Yukari....Your Majesty? Is that how the address works?” You ask without really thinking about it.

“Indeed. The Lady of Gensokyo may have started the project, but Iron Wing’s base materials, and her fossilized source, were that of Wales, Germany, and Sumeria, thus We are the sole reigning monarch that holds the right remaining. Enough that even our corgis could hold authority over her,” The Queen talks as she gently brushes her wrinkled hand over the dragon’s horns, who dares not even stir, while looking at you, ”Hmmph, a Chinese...no, an American as well? I would have preferred you to be of British or Sumerian stock for compatibility, but I suppose at least you’re not German.”

You feel like a farm animal being inspected for disease as the queen stares you down. It feels surreal, to see a famous figure firmly rooted in the Outside World looking at you, more than the Gensokyeans, “That’s kind of racist. And I thought you liked Germany?”

“I do, but they are the one contributor to Iron Wing’s bloodline that I lack authority over. In that regard, I prefer to have either my own or a defunct civilization as the originator of the squire. A third-party such as China is adequate, I suppose.”

You blink, “Squire?”

“Every knight needs a squire to attend to their needs of maintenance. Especially right after they become one.” One of her bodyguards kneels before her and presents a black wooden case. The Queen opens the case, and retrieves an incredibly ornate, bejeweled viking-era sword of unusually long size. While she handled it, a bit of the blade barely touches her bare wrist, and in defiance of physics the long blunted weapon produces a bleeding scratch.

“Oooh...smarts. Are we ready?” The Queen says and her voice stiffens, her gaze unwavering despite the cut while one of her guards rushes. “As the Sovereign of Great Britain, and thy rightful liege, We order you, a black-hearted dragon of our Isles, to accept these following oaths, as you take up the arms of Sir Mordred of the Round Table.”

You see Sanae glowing in excitement as she mouths, “Mordred?” while watching the proceeding.

No wonder. With the Ame-no-Ohabari and Clarent, Awyrgan has access to two of the weaknesses of Future Thor, a god king. Not to mention that having an emblem of ancient Briton would probably give her a bonus against vikings in general.

“As God wills it.” Awyrgan responds as she shifts down to her humanoid form, enough so that the Queen can actually reach her shoulder.

“Do you swear to always stand in protection of Britannia and her people?”

“I had.”

“Do you swear to strike down the enemies of our country, wherever and whomever they may be?”

“I have.”

“Do you promise to follow the virtues of the traitor knight, but not his faults?”

“I will.”

The queen taps Clarent on both of the dragon’s shoulders, smacks her on the back of the head, and bestows it to the dragon. You don’t say anything, taken too much by the suddenness of this surreal ritual.

“Accept this kingslayer blade and stand, Sir Mordred. From this day forth you are a Knight of Britain, and neither chain nor strike will be needed to remind you of your position, bound by blood and genes as you already are, Awyrgan. Now wield the blade, cement your title, and stand...”

Without hesitation, Awyrgan devours the blade and the Queen backs off, surrounded by her bodyguards. In just a few seconds she coughs it back up again,. Standing up, the dragon manifests her full form, and flares open her holed, decaying wings, revealing the Ryu-No-Ohabaris primed beneath her scales, ready to fire...now with a distinctly European pattern mixed in.

“Assimilation of Clarent’s patterns complete. Thematic compleation with Ame-No-Ohabari. Authority Destruction at maximum potential. Clarent itself remains pristine.”

“Now, apologies on a brief ceremony, Sir Mordred.” The Queen says as she slowly collapses, limp and hoisted by her bodyguards. “But the sheer amount of anti-divinity and royalty you now exude is quite detrimental to my health as a monarch, and this knighting has taken much of Britain’s waning power as well. We shall however provide you with your new squadron members in a jiffy.”

“I understand, my queen.”

“Good, now go forth, and annihilate the heathens. Leave none alive. And you, boy.” The Queen turns to you, her voice shifting into the friendlier tone you hear on TV, “We have no authority over you as neither China nor America still fall under the Crown, so I may only request that our Iron Wing, who has bestowed so much trust in you, will be in the hands of a squire of good character, as I have no doubt in your capabilities, as Lady Yakumo had informed me.”

“Good character is pushing it a bit, your majesty, but you can trust me to protect her until the last bit of my body crumbles to dust.”

In the end. Your designated position in the story was squire. Appropriate.
The Queen and her entourage retreat into the shrine to rest, leaving just you, Sanae and Awyrgan standing next to the shrine pond. The giant shell in the middle of the water is probably Genji, now that you take a good look at it.

The Hunter’s Module flickers on just how alive it is.

“So, Mordred, eh?” Sanae comments as she pats the dragon’s now noticeably shinier scales. Even you can sort of feel the divine glow of her new nationalistic knighthood.

Awyrgan shifts to human and experimentally slashes at the air with her new sword. “Clarent’s patterns are worthwhile, but it itself is a poor battlefield weapon that cannot be replicated, if I were to be honest. But its innate Briton magic should make up for its physical shortcomings.”

“It’s not like you actually know how to swordfight, just swing it at kingly or divine things with your strength and you’ll crush them even if you using the wrong side.” You snark.

“Or shoot a beam from it! Like the Clarent in Apocrypha!” Sanae excitedly adds on. “You can do it with your plasma abilities, right?”

“Wait, Mordred is in Fate/Apocrypha?” You ask non-native-speakerly.

“Yes? It’s been a thing since last year!” Incredulousness overwhelms Sanae’s new aversion to you, apparently. “I can only read stuff Outside when visiting mom or if Rinnosuke stocks it and even I know that!”

“I don’t read or follow light novels until they’re translated since my Japanese isn’t that good.”

Before Sanae can make fun of you for not being a native, Awyrgan cuts short your off-topic discussion, “Beams from swords are incredibly inefficient and only of use in danmaku battles. No, I must think of a better way to use this.”

Across the camp, Toyosatomimi no Miko loudly coughs in the middle of her preparations for no reason at all.

“Like…?” You ask.

“Tis...hard...with...a decaying mind I...suppose I could...render it into a harpoon, perhaps?” The dragon squints with frustration at the sword, “Curses, I am a fabricator, not an inventor.”

“If you stick on an handle you can get a lance for Ming over here to use alongside his riflehammer. Ooh! And you can attach some rocket engines at the end so he can get some speed in the air for a charge attack! Or...” Sanae eagerly prattles off idea after idea to the bewildered dragon, and you step back, determining that she’s probably giving enough inspiration for two people.

Huh, why isn’t anybody else approaching her? For such an important sounding project, Iron Wing appears to be practically ignored by the bustling activity in the camp after the knighting, and you spy several soldiers approaching her curiously only to be herded away by their superiors in hushed tones. Because risk of infection is quite real, and only one person here lacks enough common sense to not care.

“Hey, child.” A voice calls to you from behind the shrine walls.
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You look around. Neither Sanae nor Awyri seems to have heard anything.

“Come in. Yukari told me to talk to you.”

That’s not the Queen’s voice. Nor anybody you’ve heard before. Going by the pacing and tone, it is very similar to Yukari, Kanako, and the like. It’s probably Yukari fucking with you.

You step forward and open the shrine’s side door. Just an empty kitchen with no sign of the voice, while sounds of the Queen and her entourage can be only be faintly heard from the opposite end.

“Because I exist behind backdoors, ufufu.” A suspiciously Sage-like laugh is heard from behind the shrine’s other door. Sighing, you open the rear entrance, “Damn it Yukari, not...”

Inside this room, several times the size of the shrine exterior, sits an entirely unrecognizable figure in grandiose yellow robes and seated in a wheelchair, attended by two younger looking women who are dressed like they are Life and Bomb pickups in the games with funny shoe-looking heads. Their “version” of the shrine interior is vastly different from the side door, with all the thin paper walls removed and the tatami torn up and replaced with a sort of vast earthen ritual area of Buddhist influence, with tons of incense, candles, and sculptures arranged in esoteric patterns.

The unrecognizable figure is blond, but definitely not Yukari.

“Who and what are you people?”

The two attendants look to speak, but the yellow-robed one silenced them. “You must be that corrupted Outsider, the dragon rider?”

“Frankly that makes me sound way too cool, but yes. Wu...Ming, at your service.”

“Okina Matara, or Matara-jin as my remnant worshippers Outside may know me as. God of back-doors, parts of the earth other gods don’t like, stars, minor problems, the downtrodden castes, the disabled...in general, the small and underlooked parts of existence. Oh, also a Sage of Gensokyo.” Okina puts quite a bit of emphasis on the last part.

“Matarajin? Darn, I think my grandma has a statue of you in our old house’s shrine...wait, why haven’t you been in the games or the manga?”

Okina’s smile droops into a sulking frown, “The Artist said that I was too boring for the games since I didn’t do anything visible for a few decades. Expect me in...two, three years? That man needs to work faster.”

“I don’t think the fans can handle incoming characters at that rate. Honestly. So what are you up to now?”

Okina points up, where a hole has been torn in the roof and a pillar of incense smoke is practically shooting upwards towards the snowy sky like an airy laser beam. “Slowing Asgard from overlaying itself and dooming us all.”

“Slowing? Overlaying?”

“Remember that blueprint you helped Youkai Mountain recover?” Okina’s two assistants bring out the item with unnerving coordination and silence. The blueprint, the one Aya had shown of an “Ultimate Weapon”, remains just as inscrutable.

“Uhh...”

“It is not a blueprint.” Okina inscribes some sort of door on the back of the paper, and abruptly the myriad lines become colored into something coherent, “It is a map of Asgard, his Asgard, located two centuries in the future, along with a mechanism to overlay it onto Gensokyo, starting at Heaven. Once that is accomplished, Thor will gain complete control of the whole stack protected by the Barrier: Heaven, Gensokyo, Japan’s portion of Hell, all subordinate otherworlds and Senkai, as the Lux’s ability to proliferate combines with his status as the sole surviving Aesir of his time and his newfound power of dominion.”

“What...”

“I’m still mostly a forgotten god, and Asgard is manifesting with the strength of an entire pantheon behind it, somehow. Even if I borrow the strength of Gensokyo’s surviving native gods, unabsorbed by Thor’s dominion, I can only delay them until someone stops it for good.”

You just now notice that the sculptures around the ritual area are awfully realistic. And then you start recognizing some familiar hairstyles and hats among them. Hina’s bow, the Aki sisters’ leaf dresses, along with a bunch of unfamiliar but recognizably Touhou figures.


“What if we stop this ‘overlay’...”

“Then Thor will lose the justification he’s using to fuel his powers. Yukari’s sent familiars and eyes all across the areas we can reach, and still found no evidence of the primordial god-like entity known as the Lux, and to make matters even more queer, the vast majority of the Savior personnel are a mix of atheists and Western Abrahamics, meaning that there’s no source of faith for an Nordic god like him. And he can’t possibly be siphoning the pitiful faith from the Thor in our timeline, who is currently blissfully passed out at a concert afterparty in Norway. If you meet Hecate, thank her for spiking his drink.”

=====

Hecatia looks briefly up from her phone at the bar to see an angry woman beat and drag away a white-haired, bearded, suspiciously otherwise young man away from the group of girls that he was attempting to woo with lightning “magic tricks” and tossing him out into the snow.

She checks to her side to ensure that the red-haired giant of a god was still sound asleep over the counter. Hypnos was reliable as usual, unlike his twin. Thor will not be waking up for a while even given his massive drinking capacity. After all, poison was a weakness of his.

Dionysus’s establishments were always well received around Europe. Shame that the other disposed Olympians keep “patronizing” the place without paying and complain about the Christians and Muslims. They really should learn to adapt to new times like she did and find an alternative source of faith for the new age. Or from the New Age, as Hecatia has.

Far more concerning matters were on her mind however. Aside from the massive phantasmal battle occuring on Japan right now, an entity resembling Thanatos had re-emerged within the chaos, never exactly at the focus but always involved, having allied with one of Clear Sky’s newest war machines.

The reports filtering in from her contacts in Clear Sky make less and less sense the further they go on.

Why is a war machine partially born of Tiamat, a goddess of life, aligning herself with him?

Why is Thanatos willingly possessing the body of a nascent serial killer, when he was never an authority over violent death and hated his job? Did the Chinese do something irrevocable to his soul when they reincarnated him in the late 19th century? Hecatia would demand answers from those involved but most of those that could answer are either still catatonic or have erased their own memories.

And more chillingly, why is Thanatos actually performing medical magic beyond the illusions he usually used as part of his disguise, and does he know what he is actually doing?

Her phone rings, and a brief check confirms that her associate has already arrived. Hecatia gets up and leaves through the doorway, disappearing into another word.

She has a meeting in Hell.

=====

You notice a discrepancy, “Don’t we have more than enough firepower within the Border to annihilate that thing?”

Okina shakes her head, “Divine airburst shells are being fired from the Saviors’ main facility in the western ruins on a regular basis. The shells lock out anybody, except for those three fighting above it, from reaching over 2000 meters.”

“Why?”

“As long it is live, we cannot do anything to help the Hakurei lynchpin since the only empowered outsider alive who can breach it is currently up there. Side note:” Okina’s face drops, “I am most definitely going to have a word with Yukari on our treatment of empowered outsiders in the future, as our cullings have squandered a potential asset that would have been useful here. Everybody from Gensokyo, and many Outsider warriors, are pushing towards it right now, but without the ability to exploit our common flight advantage and the fact that blessed ammunition shreds through human just as well as it burns youkai, we’ve been stalemating.”

You hold up a finger, “Let me guess, ‘We’re all counting on you’ to make the breach.”

“Your dragon, to be specific. I trust that you will relay these words to her, and allow her to lead the way onto the battlefield.”

“And you or Yukari couldn’t have told her yourself?”

A long, somewhat uncomfortable silence ensues as Okina slowly becomes visibly frustrated, until you finally notice that her assistants have been fumbling around behind you for sometime while she was talking.

“We wanted you to perform your duties as Iron Wing’s squire, even in your condition.” She finally replies.


“I can perform my duties atop her back, as I always did? What are you talking about?”

“Wu Ming, you are missing an arm, a leg, and the status of a living being. How can you keep fighting? What do you have left?”

“My other limbs and my fat stores, I guess.” You reply as you joking pull on your stomach flab, and fail due to them having been consumed for fuel a long time ago. “As long as I can stay strapped on, I can heal, and as long as she’s killing, I can regenerate. Besides, I do not think Awyri trusts anyone else enough.”

“And what if things go wrong?” Okina says, her voice more sad than angry despite her frustration, “I had installed backdoors to my domain of life energy on the backs of everybody involved, enough so that I can do no more but sit here and maintain the ritual to ward off Asgard...except for you...the one who we are relying on to be our primary assault weapon’s support, because I cannot establish such a connection to you.”

“So you are the Gaia equivalent for Gensokyo?”

“Was, am, and will be. Unfortunately, I cannot help those who are both a possessed corpse and spiritually deadened in a way that makes Lady Saigyouji seem like a beacon of life.”

“Yuyuko’s pretty lively for a ghost in the games...I never got to meet her yet though.”

“Look.” Okina waves away her assistants. “Cutting to my main point. I can’t help you. And I want to have a connected human up there with iron Wing, since they benefit the most from a life infusion and can resolve issues when the unexpected happens.”

“Help Sanae then.” You start getting annoyed with the new goddess repeating herself, “And have her tag along. Awyri’s used to her.”

“I was already going to do that…Please...just don’t go up there with her any more. Despite Yukari’s acceptance of you as her companion, none of us Sages know exactly what you are doing with her...your corruption. Let Sanae take your position for this one.

“Alright, if you don’t have anything else to inform, I’ll go tell Sanae to come over. Awyrgan’s probably going to need to take off soon.”

Okina stares at you strangely, as if you’ve just said a non-sequitur. “Are you even listening? Yukari’s not too concerned because she’s a terrible monstrosity and the British Queen is too old to notice, but everyone else can vaguely sense what you did even if they can’t see or choose to ignore their common sense. If you go, no sane person is going to go far to help out of concern of the safety of their souls if I can’t install a backdoor on you as a safety measure.”

“Going. Stop staring at me please.”

”Are you ignoring me or just denying what you’ve done? Don’t you care about Iron Wing? About Awyrgan? Are you doing this because you know you can do to me what you did to the Chinese gods a century ago? THANATOS?”

“Bye Okina.”

You close the shrine doors and mutter “What a weird god.” to yourself. Walking on back, you tell Sanae about the weird god and ask her to pay a visit.

“Matara-jin? She’s a Sage?” Sanae asks, befuddled, “Even the tengu do not mention her, wow, she must be really unpopular.”

“Well, she wants to give you life insurance or something before going into the field, so go pay her a visit. Oi, Awyri!” You wave over to the dragon, who’s still tinkering with Clarent, having fashioned some sort of speargun around it.

While Yukari is standing there, waiting for you with the unchanging smug grin. “Ready?”

“Your fellow Sage was acting weird.”

“Don’t mind Okina too much. She always overthinks things. After all, she of all gods should understand that even if you ruin this Iron Wing, we could always just make another. The specimen dies, the project lives on.

“Didn’t catch that, what did you just say?”

“Nevermind that. Iron Wing, are you prepared?”

“Aye...” She replies as she slots the Clarent-gun into her body. “I art...ready.”

The improvised “runway” is actually a series of train tracks fused together into a long ramp. You see multiple fighter jets around it. Eurofighter Typhoons, specifically, one of the few modern fighter aircrafts that Britain can claim primary creation over, seemingly parked at random around the ramp in violation of most aviation laws.

You are taken aback, however, when the lower ends of their nose distends into open, toothy maws, and begins crawling towards Awyrgan on their (clawed, warped) flight gear. Electronically distorted snarling can be heard from them as the “jets” distend off bits of their exterior hull, revealing that the internal mechanisms of the Typhoons have been assimilated with the metallic fiber patterns you saw inside Awyrgan’s wounds.

Unfazed, even as you instinctively take a few steps back to seek cover behind her leg, Awyrgan merely stretches her head forward, and roars her own distorted, roar more reminiscent of a death screech than a proudful boast.

The Typhoons cringe at the noise, and meekly scamper back while making some sort of whimpering sound, or at least that’s what you think it is through all the electronic distortion.

“Bronze Wings.” Yukari says as she comes up behind you, followed by a group of fighter pilots dressed in a weird combination of the typical jumpsuit + helmet with the assorted fancy decorations of a British dress uniform over the top. “The data that Iron Wing’s incubation process imparted to the United Kingdom was enough for their military to attempt splicing her metallic DNA and Tiamat forge onto their extent native aircraft. Improvised, simple-minded brutes nowhere near a real dragon, and awfully hard to control, but these are the toughest fliers we can spare, as oni are terribly vulnerable to their base holy weaponry.”

“And they only respond well to the influence of Saint George,” The Queen interjects over the radio, “Unfortunately, most knighthoods of Saint George’s name are devoted to civilians with no military or flying experience and even across the pond it was reserved for groundbound officers. These brave men you see taming the pseudodragons are the Military Knights of the Order of the Garter, the sole source of qualified dragon riders. They’re not young men anymore, so treat them nicely, would you dear?”

“Yeah, your Majesty, I’ve noticed.” You respond, grimly noting that some of the pilots are using exoskeletons of kappa-ish design and even canes as they approach and calm down the Bronze Wing Typhoons. “Though really, even I must ask why you’re going as far as to commit the lives of your own pensioner knights to this conflict of dubious political and moral value.”

“Oh no, they are all volunteers. Most of them do not have long to live and wish to go out on dragonback. In fact, the Chapter Captain said that one of them was just a civilian Bachelor Knight in similar circumstances who got along with the Bronze Wings.”

You look closely, and take note of one somewhat familiar-looking individual who’s calmly stroking his own Bronze Wing’s cockpit while examining Awyrgan with a small smile, “Is it the gentleman that’s carrying his own forged sword?”

“Was it him? Explains why he canceled that convention meeting. Ah, enough talk, I shall allow your co-captain to take over from here.”

“Wait, co-captain?” You glance over at Yukari’s wide grinning face in a panic, “Your Majesty, you cannot be trusting some Chinese-American zombie with like a week of informal experience to be taking command...over anything! Last time I tried that somebody almost died!”

Almost? Did you really believe that you saved her? Saved them?

The Queen’s Voice cuts out, and a gruff, elderly voice cuts in, “Colonel Joshua Bristow, RAF, reporting in. Commanding what Headquarters Air Command termed Merlin Squadron, but I’m going to be calling it Wizard Squadron because Merlin was a shite wizard who failed the kingdom. We will be supporting Mordred and dictating tactics, but Iron Wing must take the lead. You, Wu Ming, can just follow orders. Over”

“Happy to obey, but I’ll forget your name soon since you’re not a Touhou.” You reactively snark back at the man who’s using the radio despite standing just 30 feet away from you. He simply shakes his head.

Yet another different voice cuts in this time, a familiar one this time, “Hey, Ming. It’s been a long time.”

“Hey Miss Toramaru.” You’d recognize that tiger’s voice from anywhere. She’s pretty scary.

“Call me General Bishamonten, like the old days...though Yukari’s insisting on calling me ‘Executive Officer’. I am your command and control system for this operation, Awyrgan and Wu Ming. Awyrgan, can you report? You have been awfully silent.”

“I’m...I’m fine.”

Something feels off. “Awyri? Is there anything wrong?”

“No…I am running on borrowed time...just fine. Merely some air time to clear the mind is needed.”

“You have to take off in a three minute window anyway, so get ready. Our forces are being pushed back on all fronts, and a good, heavy diversion is essential. I’m in the field right now so I’ll have Wizard 1 handle your immediate tactics.”

You climb up and take your seat on her back. Your fishing line once again extends and attaches to Awyrgan’s nape, fusing with her scales as if it were a part of her.

No longer are restraints needed to secure your position on her though, as the dragon scale armor merges with her hide into a seamless whole that keeps you locked on yet free in movement.

Wait, how did that happen. Don’t lie, you know how

“Hew link online.” You whisper and cast, allowing the maggots to entwine around the makeshift tether. It doesn’t fail this time, likely since you’re inside Gensokyo again. Awyrgan snarls and arches her head back as the gentle blue wisps of plasma wafting from her pores become the pink light of gaseous lifespan.

“It tickles. At best.

“Good, that means it’s working. As long as I have energy, I will make sure you won’t die.”

“Oha...ha...very...humorous...Looks like we are ready.” The dragon clears her throat with a crackling sound, indicating that the radio she ate came to life, “Callsign Mordred, Dragon Knight of Wales, ready to deploy on your word, high marshal. Human Squire attachment stable and operational. Awaiting decision, sire.”

“Affirmative. Commence Operation Jormungandr. Ser Mordred, you are clear to take flight and engage hostiles at will. Our troops will rally and redeploy based on your choice of deployment, as your capabilities are best judged by your own at this time. Strategy will be determined at run-time.“

“Wizard Squadron will cover you in this regard.” Bristow chimes in, “Our Bronze Wings are not as durable as you and none of us mere humans have the same powers as your squire. But the point of attack is under your honorable choice.”

Mine choice? Our choice....My friend...your choice...Consider the open frequency and telepathic broadcasts, and let us decide.”

[{ }] Break the Ice and Silence the Thunder - Those aerial-denial systems and their ground base must be silenced first before we move on to the big guy. Charge their lines!
-[{ }] “Is anyone listening? Morichika here with a crashed witch at these coordinates...”
-[{ }] “Hold the garden! Rally around my blade and spirit! Yuuka! Don’t...”
-[{ }] “Repeat: Scarlet Devil Mansion under UV Ray Emitter suppression. Our young mistresses cannot aid...”
-[{ }] “Eientei’s willing to join the fight. But we’ll need a distraction to not reveal our location.”

[{ }] Ride the Rainbow and Quench the Lightning - We’re definitely durable enough to get past the aerial bombardment and should stand a better chance with our innate counter towards Thor’s divine bullshittery. Destroy his body and we’ll figure out the rest later.

[{ }] Ride the Rainbow and Snuff Out the Starlight - His Asgard is dependent on an energy supply independent of Thor himself. Ride past the bombardment and destroy his core while the Hakureis distract him.

[{ }]Corruption at 60%. Thanatos...you and I...let us fly...we shall drown...in the depths of the Styx...together...
[x] Break the Ice and Silence the Thunder - Those aerial-denial systems and their ground base must be silenced first before we move on to the big guy. Charge their lines!
-[x] “Eientei’s willing to join the fight. But we’ll need a distraction to not reveal our location.”

It's the endgame. He's going to die alone, hated, and screaming pitfully, as we predicted. But, unfortunately, he's going to take Iron Wing with him.

I'm guessing those last options are all the messages we received and to which we decide to respond.

>Merlin was a shit wizard that failed the kingdom

Merlin bully is okay.

>Iron Wing is Mordred now

FATHERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
[{X}] Break the Ice and Silence the Thunder - Those aerial-denial systems and their ground base must be silenced first before we move on to the big guy. Charge their lines!
-[{X}] “Hold the garden! Rally around my blade and spirit! Yuuka! Don’t...”

In a time of options, it sounds like they're actively trying to attack this location, which means it's an active threat while the others are passive threats and contained. If we can attack here and then intercept elsewhere (it giving enough of a distraction to allow Eientei to smack the UV Ray Emitters) then it would open up options all around.

Kinda just want to give Shou as many pieces to work with as possible to make a workable strategy.
[{X}] Break the Ice and Silence the Thunder - Those aerial-denial systems and their ground base must be silenced first before we move on to the big guy. Charge their lines!
-[{X}] “Hold the garden! Rally around my blade and spirit! Yuuka! Don’t...”

Sounds like a plan.
[{X}] Break the Ice and Silence the Thunder - Those aerial-denial systems and their ground base must be silenced first before we move on to the big guy. Charge their lines!
-[{X}] “Hold the garden! Rally around my blade and spirit! Yuuka! Don’t...”

If we go for a decisive battle now, we'll lose. This seems to be the most likely option that would help us win.
File 157355008388.jpg - (175.63KB, 850x510, __original_drawn_by_braindrill__sample-db3856e562a.jpg) [iqdb]
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[{x}] Break the Ice and Silence the Thunder - Those aerial-denial systems and their ground base must be silenced first before we move on to the big guy. Charge their lines!
-[{x}] “Hold the garden! Rally around my blade and spirit! Yuuka! Don’t...”

“We will be moving towards the Garden of the Sun. Bishamonten! Over.” You talk into the radio while Awyrgan warms up her thrusters. To your side, you see the Bronze Wings close their hatches and crawl over to the makeshift launching rails on their wingtips and flight gear, warped and repurposed with living metallic sinew.

“Roger that. Airspace is clear. Altitude restrictions enforced by enemy in effect. All planes under 2000 meters will be struck by airburst fire. Mordred Squadron, you are cleared for take off.”

The plasma shield engages, and Awyrgan flies upwards, aloft on beating wings and thrusters of gas. The Bronze Wings latch on and accelerate off of the rails, sending themselves skyward at g-forces that really should be lethal.

And then you are off, flying at cruising speeds towards the southeast, towards that garden that you drained of life.

Awyrgan’s plasma vents melt away the Scandinavian blizzard as the smaller Bronze Wings reverently take up position behind her in a V-formation. You note that this presents a rather tempting profile for Savior fire, but that does also mean they’re not shooting at your squisher allies on the ground while you present a threat.

“Turning on the open channel, Mordred. You might want to hear this.” Shou says over the radio, a hint of glee in her voice.

Mismatched bits of chatter from both sides of the conflict filter through the open comms, which was a steady stream of mutual insults and disinformation that gradually turn to awe as your formation sweeps over the battlefield in a low flight: “Iron Wing is finally being deployed? Awesome!” “It’s huge, Dai! Not even Hisoutensoku was that big!” “How are they deploying fighter jets with our Vijaya arrows covering the sky?” “It’s the Dragon! Take cover and instruct our celestial beasts to focus fire on it!”

As the Savior who forgot to switch off the open frequency does so, your Hunter Module picks up a smattering of red dots heading towards you from multiple locations on the ground. Missiles.

“Here comes the snow.” One of the Bronze Wing retiree pilots chatter over the open comms.
As you breach the blizzard enough to see the vague color of the ground, the Bronze Wings diving in front of you into unpredictable patterns while spewing flares, you were getting ready to shield up when you feel a sharp prick in your neck.

“Eh?” You look over and see a metallic lizard darting away. “Awyri, are your automatons...”

“They art performing correctly. Do not worry.”

======
“Hello?”

Thanatos, lost in his old memories, suddenly became aware of an entirely new presence in his mindscape.

A very big, and more importantly, very old presence.

Seawater laps at his heels.


======

Her old faux-Shakespearean tone is coming back. Ugh.

“Wizard Squadron, break off and head for your newly marked objective near the Geyser Center. Iron Wing, they can’t hurt you as much with your squire’s aid, attract and tank the hits.” Shou instructs.

“Affirmative,” Awyrgan opens up her rear scales, and disgorges reams of thin metallic foil, garishly drawn and colored into heraldic banners.

“Wait how will I protect her?” You ask, suddenly panicking as the missiles come closer, drawn to Awyrgan’s bloated radar signature, “I don’t have that much lifespan stored up.”

“Just keep killing. Mordred, there’s a firing position right below you that’s pressuring our forces at the Garden. Take it out and replenish your squire.”

The dragon abruptly shifts into a sudden dive, slamming face-first into multiple SAM explosions along the way, causing you to gasp in pain as your link automatically Hew her scarred head back together.

“Are you trying to get killed with that trajectory? At least try to avoid the missiles!” You yell as Awyrgan levels out, half of her face still torn off.

“It...does not hurt.”

“It clearly does! Your inner structures are showing!”

“Tis but a flesh wound.” Awyrgan really doesn’t seem to be affected much as she collapses her wings into locked hardpoints, before sprouting an array of autocannons on them and opening fire, spraying the entrenched firing position before her with a hailstorm of explosive shells.

She continues flying closer to the firing position, just skimming the treetops, ignoring the answering barrage of flak and missile fire that the Savior defenders are desperately trying to throw back, including its attending warbeast that stands noble and upright, roaring like a lion as it projects a massive divine shield, ready to meet the dragon head-on.

You now note that the warbeasts resemble goats more than the lions they sound like despite its noises.

“Another divine barrier...not Aegis this time, Ming...my friend?”

You could barely keep conscious from the strain that the attacks she’s tanking are putting on you, “Ugh...what?”

“Ready thyself.”

“What….WHA-” Stagnant blood rushes to your head as the dragon flickers out of her larger form, breaking the link, and you instinctively engage your own flight system, leaving you trailing her as your stolen wings cannot compete against the massive jet turbines that are what her wings have seemingly fused into, just like…that Valstrax dragon, was it?

“Fucking Sanae and her video games...where is that girl anyway?” You mutter as you watch Awyrgan fly at an angle towards the warbeast, aiming for the cusp of the shield’s edge.

“Decapitation Sword of Filicide - Ame-no-Ohabari!” The dragon’s roar overcomes even the sound of cannon fire as she launches a cavalcade of blades at the shield. The divine barrier blackens and weakens, but does not shatter. “My friend! Shatter it!”

Oh right! Your anti-divinity! As Awyrgan spins out of the way, her smaller humanoid form evading the dense streams of AA fire with relative ease, you level Initiative and mutter your incantation, loading a maggot into the chamber along with the tungsten bolt. “Dissection Bullet: Hewing Phlegethon.”

While nowhere near the raw power of Sanae’s miracles, the target is also far weaker than the barrier Thor put up around the mountain. The bullet impacts, and the corrupted shield shatters as if it were mere glass.

“Impaling Sword of Patricide! Clarent!” Without braking in the slightest, Awyrgan crashes into the divine beast’s head like a lance, using the British sword as the tip, with enough velocity to send the goat reeling backwards and a chunk of its armor breaking and crumpling.

Not very impressive. Maybe it works better against kings like Thor himself rather than his minions. Still, being able to sustain that sort of impact is fairly impressive considering it’s otherwise a Britonnic-era sword.

Shifting back into her bulkier form as she latches on to the beast, Awyrgan lets loose a roaring gout of flame into the goat’s vulnerable insides, causing flesh to burn and cook off right on top of her. But only for a little bit, as the goat’s shield flickers back on without warning and projects its own divine flame, causing Awyrgan to snarl and back off.

“Thank you, Mordred.” Shou chimes in through the radio, “You’ve gotten closer to that model of warbeast than any of our troops so far, as even Yukari was unable to warp past those barriers. Target analysis complete. Magical signature is an 80% match for our timeline’s Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr - Thor’s immortal chariot goats.”

As you watch, you see that the broken flesh on the goat is knitting itself back together, in the same manner as the warbeast-consumed Kaguya and Mokou. The stony armor, however, stays broken.

“So...why were they trying to possess our immortals again?” You gasp as you raise the shield, blocking the renewed cavalcade of enemy fire. Shrapnel from the flak rounds and missiles make it over the shield occasionally and onto your armor, but are not immediately concerning as much as the drain on your reserves.

You can feel your remaining arm begin to crumble.

“Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr are immortal, but they cannot magically regenerate their own bones and similar hard organs. Absorbing a source of Hourai Elixir will patch up that weakness, as Thor’s dominion only extends to the products of Earth, not the moon. With Asgard overlaying onto Gensokyo, however, these...clones?...are healing their own flesh faster than your weaponry can harm it.”

“And that shield? Thor’s not projecting his own, right?”

“Remaining 20% is uncertain, but bears resemblances to Maahes of the Egyptian pantheon, whose signature is found in an almost 100% proportion on the earlier warbeasts. Kemetics in our ranks have reported that prayers to Maahes have been getting cold over the past month, indicating that Thor had, early on, assimilated the relatively lesser god of war, protection...and consumption of the defeated.”

“So they’re hybridizing myths into tools of war, just like Clear Sky...GAAH!” Your remaining hand disintegrates as a particularly large missile strikes the shield dead center, causing you to lose the grip on Initiative and letting it dangle uselessly on its strap. Awyrgan so far hasn’t been troubled by hits as your large glowing barrier is attracting most of the fire compared to her relatively small humanoid form, but she can’t shatter the enemy shield by herself. “Shou! I’m actually going to die again if this keeps up!”

“Wizard Squadron returning with secondary objective. Encirclement of Geyser Center breached.” A barrage of rockets from the sky suppresses the Savior position, silencing their fire briefly, but not enough to do any apparent damage judging by your Hunter’s Module. The pseudodragons dip briefly to follow up their barrage with some cannon fire, but pull up and zoom off as soon as the goat turns its attention towards them and lets loose a barrage of SAMs.

Something lands on your back, and your face is smacked with what looks and feels like a black feather duster.

“Aya? What are you...” You turn around to see someone who is most definitely not Aya. Too tall, to begin with.

“Hey yo! Ming? Was that your name? You were pretty cool fighting Thor as a human!” The long-haired girl smelling of brimstone happily greets you while easily lifting you up with one hand and her own massive set of wings, using you as a sort of gunshield as she props her control rod over your shoulder, “Reiuji Utsuho, in position!”

“On time. Ming, drain as much as you need from her. Yatagerasu can take it. Commencing attack sequence in ten seconds.” Shou suddenly raises her voice, “DON’T THINK, JUST DO IT! NOW!”

“Hew.” You lock Utsuho’s hand with the crook of your arm and drain, eliciting a small yelp from the crow. The dust reforms into bone and sinew, not perfectly, but enough for your to grasp and operate your rifle. “Sorry.”

“That little bit of energy you borrow is nothing compared to the sun!”

Abruptly, without any sort of signaling, you see Awyrgan shift, unleash a barrage of Ohabaris at the titan, eat a missile to the face in response, and crash into the ground. A single second later, Shou screams in your ear: “FIRE! CRACK IT AGAIN!”

On reflex, you raise the gun, aim, and shoot. A second later, your Hunter’s Module shuts down and your ears are filled with static-sounding ringing. The sting of radiation and heat on your deadened nerves and the remaining afterimage after you raise the goggles indicates that a radioactive plasma bolt has sailed right after your shot.

The blades impact the shield simultaneously as your anti-divinity bullet, breaking it again. In their wake follows Utsuho’s shot hammering the crack in the armor, piercing the titan straight through with raw nuclear power and effectively scoring an operational kill. Shou’s calculation allowed for no gap to react to the sequence.

Even so, it begins regenerating, but the new growths immediately ignite with nuclear flame and incinerate to ash. The goat can only mournfully attempt to feebly retaliate with a few random missile launches before ceasing all motion.

“Break off physical contact. The Squire is toxic to gods like Yatagerasu.” Shou orders.

Utsuho only reluctantly obeys and shoves you off, allowing you to reactivate your own wings, “Aw...he smells of an exotic, tasty corpse.”

“Th-Thanks?”

Awyrgan’s already busy flying over the now vulnerable firebase and breathing fire all over the Savior infantry who were supporting the Tanngrisnir instance…except, that’s not fire. You look closely with the Hunter’s Module and note that it’s some sort of black water mixed in with tiny metallic lizards, similar to the kind she has in herself.

Flying closer, you see the victims who didn’t get away frozen to the ground, the oil somehow coalescing into dark ice that covers them up to their mouths. No sound or movement can be heard or seen from the suits of armor, but the faint signatures on your module tells you that they’re still alive...no, dead...nope...alive again.

You remove the goggles and smack them a few times, are they broken?

“Uh, Awyri? Were you always able to do that? Like, summon up ice to immobilize them. I thought you were a fire dragon.” You cautiously ask as the dragon wordlessly lands next to you and begins devouring the immobilized, tearing the ice out of the ground and chomping through them like popsicles. Huge intakes of lifeforce surge through you as the victims are digested by her internal furnace.

Shocked, you look and shudder at the sight of the Hew link from your hand to her side. You did not cast a link. “Did you actually steal my Hew spell?”

“Negatory...to all your questions, my...squire. I art thou and thou art mine.”

“Uh...what?” You back off as the dragon turns towards you, “That’s coming on a little hard and sudden! We’re murder buddies, and I’m not exactly willing to commit to a relationship, especially not on...this.” You gesture at the (living?) corpses in the warm, black ice. It smells like seawater for some reason.

The dragon does her best impression of a frown, before shifting down to use her humanoid form to emote more effectively. “I...was being literal.”

“Recharged?” Shou cuts in with orders, “Mount up and fly out, several more positions are marked on your HUD.”

Without hinting, Awyrgan crouches and grabs you, hoisting you into a piggy back position before shifting and taking to the skies, and before you know it you are again skimming the sky on dragonback.

“Wizard Squadron, lead the way and fly defensively, drop chaff, avoid drawing fire. Utsuho, use Mordred as a shield and provide fire support. All forces in Sector Carmellia, advance towards Primary Objective.”

As you fly up, you zoom in with your goggles on the approaching allied forces emerging from their entrenchments in the cornfields and rice paddies (Hmm, they must have been defending the area around the Human Village). You see an eclectic mixture of typical mercenaries carrying strangely modified conventional weaponry stride alongside obvious nonhumans in fur and fang, some not even bothering asserting an upright stance. At their forefront leads a short figure wielding chains and a massive cannon twice her own size, all while merrily drinking from a gourd.

“Oi! Mordred! Thanks for the cover,” A clearly drunk and suspiciously underage sounding voice calls out in your radio, without bothering to send an id-hash over the electronics. “I would’ve smashed that stupid thing to bits myself but those divine energies really do numbers on us oni, and the trains can’t withstand the explosions.”

Following the Suika-led infantry are actual, rail-bound trains. Civilian cars, mostly, but you can see WWII-era armored sections among them too. The locomotive at the front, however, is visually an antique steam model but which spews colorful, luminescent smoke while laying down its own tracks in front via extradimensional gaps.

“Damn.” Now you know why Yukari had a train obsession in her fighting game spellcards. Quite soon, these forces are lost in the white blizzard as Awyrgan flies ahead, towards the deeper enemy positions.

“Be advised, reinforcements inbound. Kochiya, get on the dragon.”

“Eh? You put on the goggles again, but just manage to miss catching Sanae doing a flying barrel roll over you and settling in right behind Utsuho. “Oh, hey, you’re back.”

“Secondary shielder in position, Shou.” Sanae proudly proclaims, “We won’t be going down any time soon!”

If only Reimu was available or Yukari would willingly come to add their aid. What was that Youkai Sage doing anyway? She’s not doing commander duty, at least.

“Greetings, warriors!” A differently, familiar voice pops up on the radio this time, “Through mine divinations of the soil, the dwelling places of our foe’s shrines hath become laid bare to our eyes in the upper heavens. I shall...Miss Nightbug, how doth one operate this mystical scroll...tis not mystical? Oh...Ah, I have revealed them to you as well. Set them ablaze!”

Futo’s provided waypoints light your HUD up with...wait, how were they interfacing with Lunarian tech? Probably Yukari did it or something. Anyways, you and presumably everyone with the gear can see the location and relative distance of the warbeasts.

“Looks like we’re stuck on escort duty men.” Wizard 1 chatters over the comms, “So much for being a tactician in the field with a literal god of war.”


===
Thanatos drew his sword and flew against the beast.

And was immediately struck down.

He wonders why he even bothered.
===


Once again, you breach the blizzard, and the HUD indicates that the Tanngrisnir battalion is within engagement range. They look smaller than the last one.

“Sequence attack, GO! Kill one and fly to the next as fast as you can!”

Lining up your rifle shot with the first one, you brace as Awyrgan collapses her wings and enters a spiral dive against the target, spewing out flurries of Ohabaris all the while you punctuate them with Hew shots while maintaining your dissection barrier, flush with lifeforce. Confident in your shielding and the rhythm of action that Shou is pounding in your ears, Utsuho stands up and extends her arm as the dive nears the ground, her control rod glowing as bright as a sun while additional vents and acceleration rails sprout out of the main cannon, capacitating nuclear energy to an extraordinary extent.

“Wait it could do that?” You wonder aloud. “I thought that was just in fanart!”

“Harnessing the natural magnetic fields of my reactor to accelerate the superdense particles generated is trivial through the generation of addition guidance beams and protonic beacons...hmm...what’s this ‘fanart’ you speak of?” Utsuho, transitioning from a rapid stream of dry tech speak to her usual carefree tone in a single sentence, blinks blankly at your question.

“FIRE.”

You let out a final Hew shot and look away. A miniature sun singes your side shoots out after it. Again, the shield comes up just too late, and the Tanngrisnir eats the sun blast straight onto its armor.

Unlike the previous instance. This one had no breach in its armor...to its detriment. With its divine shields down. There was nothing preventing the heat transfer from a sun straight into its internals, expanding them tenfold in a microsecond and causing a massive explosion of flesh and stone. You cover your eyes as it looked like a bright red star sprouted on the battlefield.

As Awyrgan passes over the wreckage, casually spitting out a few fireballs at the Saviors still remaining in their entrenchments, you catch sight of multiple other Tannigrisnir turning towards you, and unloading a Macross-tier barrage.

Barrier comes up as usual, and you easily absorb the hits this time, with two sources of vast magical energy at your reserve. Many of the projectiles fly wildly off target even before they get near Awyrgan. Looking back, you see Sanae conjuring up her own barrier of divine wind to aid you.

Truly, this is what a flying battleship is like.

As the second goat goes up in a cloud of radioactive smoke, you suddenly notice golden projectiles joining the others. “Mordred reporting enemy Companion presence.”

“No impact on mission progress, continue the pressure.” Shou responds.

They must have learned from Nashira’s success, since instead of engaging you in melee they are entrenched alongside the Savior volunteer troops and unleashing volley after volley of divine spears and arrows at you.

Which doesn’t really help this time as the dual shielders easily eats up the projectiles that the dragon knight does not weave through, before retaliating in quills of cursed swords, followed by swarms of nuclear hellfire.

You’re just playing a Touhou stage now. Except you have shields for days. And if you die in game you die in real life.

Awyrgan circles the position, allowing you and Utsuho to shoot at the position with greater precision while contributing her own plasma bolts and Ohabaris to the mix. Their attended warbeast crumbles and falls from the saturation fire without Shou needing to order a sequence attack, and you note with a grim smirk on your face that the golden projectiles are gradually decreasing in density.

“More Tanngrisnir inbound.” Shou informs, “Judging from intercepted comms they’re breaking off from the Garden. Mission proceeding as expected.”

Doing one final swooping run over the target, Awyrgan ices the enemies, who no longer had any divine abilities to fall back on, and dives down to consume the unfortunates frozen near the surface.

“Hey! Toss me one!” Utsuho complains as the dragon crunches through the armored corpses...wait, no they’re definitely still alive...like rice crackers. Awyrgan does not oblige.

Your HUD lights up with even more objectives, surrounding you. Fifteen Tanngrisnir are moving towards you at a gallop. Even with Companion support, what could they do? With the flurry of curses and what’s effectively countermagic Mordred can spew out, they could only hope that Awyrgan runs out of stamina before they run out of warm bodies.

A loud burst of static through the comms interrupts your thoughts. Shou’s trying to say something, but you cannot hear it. You HUD is scrambled.

“Eh?” You take it off just to be blinded by a flash of white light.

The open comms crackle to life, with only one voice instead of the usual chatter, “Both sides of this war, be advised, MOLY has been deployed against the dragon, vacate the area.”

As the light cleared away, you see the charging beasts and their attendants pause, and slowly back off.

“Plasma sheath...failing. Weapons systems locked up...I am sorry my friends.” Awyrgan reports as she looks back with her...skull? You don’t see the scales nor eyes on her face, just metallic bone and strips of rotting material.

You blink, and then you rub your eyes with your burnt fingers. Your glamour’s off. But then...you look down and see that the rest of Awyrgan’s body is in a similarly decayed state.

“What? Awyri...what is...Sanae, Utsuho, you’re seeing this, right?”

No reply, they're both still quite dazed and blinded from lack of goggles.

"Awyri, are you okay? What the hell happened?"

“My friend, tis no issue....it was...an emergency...I am grateful...Do not apologize...”

"Apologize, what are you talking about?" You frantically ask.

The mechanized voice interrupts again over the open comms, “Both sides of this war, be advised, Arcturus inbound in five. You had a good run, but this story ends here.”

A moment of hesitation, and then Awyrgan immediately dives down, spewing out what’s left of her own heated scales as chaff.

“Four.”

In the corner of your HUD, you can see an absolutely massive threat blob approaching, one that should be outside the Hakurei Border physically.

“Three.”

Shou’s shouting something in your ear, but this time you cannot hear it over Awyrgan’s panicked roars.

“Two.”

In spite of all that effort, Arcturus is easily catching up to the dragon going at near Mach 4 in an erratic pattern.

“One”

A silver flash streaks across the sky in your field of vision, and something slams hard into Awyrgan’s side, sending her spinning in mid-air. Immediately detaching yourself, you see, floating in the air, a knight...no, an angel, of pure platinum.

Sanae and Utsuho recover their vision just in time to see this new menace.

Almost the exact opposite of Thor, this entity is inhumanly thin and elegant compared to the Norse god’s bulk. All shiny, expensive metal and no capes, tassels or any decoration but for a few jewels inlaid on its torso. Outwardly, it holds naught but a simple sword and shield, but you sense that it’s concealing much more inside its body. Especially considering how it’s practically oozing divine energy.

“Missed me? Dragon?” It taunts while looking at Awyrgan, in the same monotonic machine tone as the one on the comms, before turning to you. “Before I slay you, Null Fiend, I give you and your friends three free shots. Handicap.”

Without waiting, the raven moves first, “Seven Stars "Septentrion"!” Utsuho shouts as she launches herself off the reeling and disoriented dragon and launches a burst of large roaring, blinding suns at the angel.

Who bats them aside with its shield like nothing.

“What the hell?” You shout, as Sanae likewise detaches and throws out a barrage of curses. The angel doesn’t react, simply allowing the ofuda to stick and spread the blackness all over its body.

“Ming! Crack this statue!” She shouts.

You load a maggot and fire. It blocks...and that’s it.

It wasn’t scratched. It wasn’t disabled. You don’t even feel a lifeforce surge from the Hew cast. As if gloating, Arcturus shrugs and detaches its right arm to clear off the ofuba, revealing no flesh, but just wires and mechanisms.

This is an automaton, and one not using ANY divine enhancements.

But how...how does it...

“That’s three.” Arcturus hunches and charges straight at you, dipping down at the last moment and...tossing the sword at you? It’s fast, but the kinetic energy is low enough that you just parry it.

And then, Arcturus is gone, vanishing in the blink of an eye. Right as Awyrgan recovers and charges back over, catching all three of you onto her back.

“Nope. Too slow.” A sudden surge of pain courses through your neck, and you see a blackened, cursed axe ricochet off of Awyrgan’s scales with a splash of blood and bounce back into Arcturus’s hand while it flies away at the same speed it came in.

“Sorry...Arcturus 1. Confirmed kill on Null Fiend.” It chatters over the comms, pauses, and then adds on, “Do not expect any more out of me, Rigel.”

You are just about to make a quip about how not killable you are when you suddenly realize that your vocal cords are gone and not regenerating.

Then you remember, as the world in your eyes suddenly makes a 180 degree flip, that Meiling is passed out back at the helicopter in the Outside World, and not possessing you right now enough to triage mortal wounds. You’re just a regular old undead human now.

“No hard feelings, dragon. And the rest of you, don’t expect to see me again. I shall have no further hand in this war.” Are its last lines as Arcturus disappears completely from radar.

And thus, nothing here would save you from outright decapitation from a cursed weapon. Which kills zombies, after all. Especially semi-living ones.

Heh. Getting unceremoniously decapitated by an axe is an appropriate way to go, especially as the last thing you see before everything fades to black is Sanae’s frozen, shocked face as your head lands in her lap.

“At least it was a final boss that got me”. You think.

And then, you don’t think...

You don’t..

Not…



...

BAD END

======
“What I was going to say, mine dearest squire, is that do not apologize for your failure. As I have not failed on my act. Perhaps I should be apologizing...but a dragon does not apologize.”

[As if I will] Return to Title
{X} Return to Character Selection
[let you go] Quit Game
{My friend} Continue


Girls are preparing warmly




CHARACTER SELECT

{Thou held onto a false hope of thine continued control? Humorous.} Wu Zhenguo
{ } Hakurei Reimu
{ } Kirisame Marisa
{x} Kochiya Sanae
{ } Konpaku Youmu
{ } Izayoi Sakuya
{ } Shameimaru Aya
{ } Reisen Udongein Inaba

======
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Shortly after Arcturus disappeared, the enemy troops on the ground renewed their attack.

The air is again filled with a dense saturation of glittering death. Missiles and cannon fire from the ground Tanngrisnir are pumped out in steady volleys while the surviving Companions on the ground pelt at Awyrgan with their own projectiles. You quickly toss Ming’s severed head back over, not quite sure what to do with it.

You scream again when his corpse reaches up and snatches his own head out of the air, replacing it on his shoulders. It moves jerkingly, like an unskilled marionette show, and as he turns around, you see several metallic tendrils impaled through him, pumping...seawater?

You look down and see that the tendrils are extending from between Awyrgan’s scales.

“Awyrgan!” You shout at the dragon, “What are you doing?”

No reply.

Wait, wasn’t he a zombie already? Couldn’t he have done this for himself? Didn’t he do this before?

No, even as you see his neck heal, releasing a pungent odor of salt in the process and dislodging the tendrils, you notice something different. Gone is the awkward, uncanny disguise of his glamour, or the burnt pallor of his true undead nature. You watch the young man remove his hood and goggles to shake his hair loose and crack his healed neck joint, and you see something he never had in his eyes before.

The glow of life.

“Wu...Ming?”

He gives a little smile at you, even as a small piece of shrapnel flies past and scraps his cheek, letting out a trickle of healthy, crimson blood. “Aye, tis I. Squire Ming of the Commonwealth.”

You glare, unconvinced at the archaic English and a tone of voice that isn’t dead inside, “You’re not Ming. Awyrgan, what are you doing to your buddy?”

No reply from the dragon, “Ming” shuffles and widens his smile, in an unfamiliar way as this one isn't creepy. “I art...I am just Wu Zhenguo. I do not die when my head is cut off because I am a zombie. Ha ha, kind of humorous, do you not think?”

Even with the puppeted nature, he somehow emits the aura of a genuinely good person in his close-eyed, gentle smile. Even his hair, untrimmed since Eientei grew it out in their healing vat, is flowing freely in the blizzard in an almost heroic manner.

It is disturbing.

“Now, let us continue our mission.” He looks up, spotting the second wave of inbound projectiles from the airborne Savior Companions. “Lady Reiuji...would thee kindly offer thine hand?”

“Unyu...okay?” The raven is just as confused as you are as she extends her left hand over. Ming takes hold of it with the grace of a refined gentleman, and turns back towards the enemy. You see now that he is carrying Clarent in his other hand, and is channeling through it.

“HOLD ON TIGHT! I SHALL SHIELD YOU FROM THE STORM!” He suddenly roars in an inhumanly deep tone and raises the shield generator. You see from the glow traveling through his held hand and sense from the divine emanations that he’s drawing upon Utsuho’s nuclear powers...directly? He’s not converting it to his own circuits?

“Solar Sign - Memory of Prydwen!” The graviton field blossoms out in the shape of a noble cross, spreading across the dragon and gradually covering an entire section of sky. You see his already ravaged skin begin melting into radioactive sludge, channeling energy at a far more efficient ratio than merely overloading them as Hew circuits.

“Human! What are you doing?” Utsuho cries out, attempting to let go of the link but failing. The man doesn’t seem to feel even a modicum of pain anymore, even as his body is fusing to his armor in the radiation.

“Mine melting flesh, mine burning soul shall make the shield stronger than ever before!” Ming cries out, his face contorted in uncharacteristically serious passion and his eyes glowing with plasma as his volume grows even louder. The shield continues growing and growing, until it reaches the size of the netherworld gate.

“Come, thy knaves and scoundrels of the Hammer! Break thy weapons upon the anvil of humanity’s truth! We are all but selfish, prideful apes! Our beliefs are meaningless! Our lives are worthless! Our desires are mere fancies! Recognize this, and submit to the hollow, hypocritical world thy hopes rest upon...Tiamat Reinforcement: Primordial Devolution! ”

The barrier writhes, hostile and primal as the cross distorts into a more profane, ancient sigil. The sensors on the anti-air missiles fail as they near, and their engines soon follow, falling out of the sky in arcs just short of the dragon they were targeting, their mechanisms corroded with salt water and ice. Likewise, the arrows and spears of the Savior Companions lose their power, turning into mere sharp metal that glances off harmlessly against dragonscale.

As Ming’s remaining skin and flesh trickles out of his armor in warm, rotten-smelling gore, it reveals glowing metallic fibers beneath them, pulsating with nuclear energy. He doesn’t seem to mind it as he radios Wizard Squadron to back off, right before he shoves his shield arm forward.

The barrier heaves as the Bronze Wings fly around it, and then is expelled forward. It crosses the battlefield like a tidal wave, smashing into enemy and allied positions alike in the crossfire.

And every human achievement beyond the Neolithic Age became humbled.

Divine shields flicker and turn off, overwhelmed by Tiamat’s conception, and the enchanted weapons on both sides lose their luster. Guns fail, explosives fizzle, and even simple metal blades gain a sheen of rust over them. Artifacts of more complicated construction simply fall apart, with naught even a dramatic explosion to glorify them. Even youkai soldiers trip and stumble over their own weight, a sudden fatigue from the magical drain.

Recovering from the awe, you sweep your gohei and cast a barrier of wind on reaction, and laugh as that one still works. The shield didn’t have a backwards hitbox!

You are then knocked flat onto the dragon’s back as Utsuho, who was half-hovering in front of you (the default stance of Gensokyeans maintaining position on unstable ground), falls onto you, out cold. Her Yatagerasu Eye is not glowing. Did “Ming”’s cast drain her entire capacity?

You now notice that Awyrgan is merely hovering and not performing any other action, and has her eyes closed, listening closely, you could faintly hear the dragon murmuring mechanically on repeat, “Resist the corruption, resist the corruption...maintain...integrity...counteroffensive...Resist the corruption, resist the corruption...maintain...integrity...counteroffensive”


======
Over the ashes of a dead man’s mind, a monster looms over its broken victim, its waters overrunning the landscape and turning it abyssal.

Tiamat’s form is an unsightly, imposing presence, covering up the full extent of the mental landscape. A primordial blend of a great serpent and various other creatures that defined the Mesopotamian ecology, it is horrifying to look at, and yet any viewer would find it hard pressed to not see some part of themselves represented in the monster.

“You thought, with thy feeble human conception of death, could enthrall a fragment of a god borne before genesis?” She snarls, words formed through a mouth of lizard, bird and fish alike.

The figure stirs, despite having its body melted down to the bone by the corrosive ideas of a world without man. It grasps its sword with bony fingers, but is unable to raise it.

“Having a human shell get close and befriend my incarnation. Despicable, even for thee, Thanatos.” Tiamat says as she leans over until her snout is just inches away from the lesser god’s face.

“That...was not my intention.” Comes the reply, murmured through a hollow throat. “I am sorry.”
======


“Mordred! Can you hear me? What you did there was amazing, Mordred! Open comms are lit up like a festival!” Shou shouts in joy over the radio, “Listen!”

> GENFOR: “Sector Sunflower no longer receiving fire! Draw your blades and charge!”

> OPFOR: “They’re all jammed! We only have our blades!”

> GENFOR: “That barrier...what sort of magic is that? In all my years I have never seen anything like it!”

> OPFOR: “Even my binoculars aren’t working anymore! Damn that accursed dragon!”

> GENFOR: “Heh, time to put those bayonet drills to work, jarheads!”

> OPFOR: “Fall back! Get that equipment up and running! Pronto!”

“Mordred? Mordred! Are you there?”

Gently putting Utsuho down into a secure position, and watching Awyrgan’s scales configure themselves into a sort of body holster, you see “Ming” hold up his radio. “Unit of Sir Mordred here. Continue to engage?”

“Engage, run them down!”

“Affirmative.” “Ming” replies as Awyrgan stirs and moves, cruising across the sky unmolested as there are no more anti-air fire coming out, with the battle below having descended into exclusively melee combat with guns and spells alike disabled. “Milady, Awyrgan, thy glorious flames are too dangerous for our own forces, we must descend and engage...”

Unable to take this farce any longer, you fly over to the puppet and seize him by the collar. “Ming” offers no resistance as he gives a painfully genuine apologetic smile at you, “Lady Kochiya? Doth thou possess some quarrel with mine?”

“Awyrgan, ” You snarl, “Is possessing Ming’s corpse really that funny to you?”

“Oh, please. Lady Kochiya. Refer to me not with mine vulgar false name of prior, which I had conjured out of a paranoid fancy.” His metal fingers gently disengage your grasp with ease, neutralizing what godly power you had applied, “I am Thanatos, squire of Syr Awyrgan, kin of Clan Inubashiri.”

“Thanatos?”

“Mine true identity and name,” The...man? Proudly proclaims with a raised hand of skeletal metal and with the fleshy skin on his face replacing itself with a primal-looking metal texture “Which no longer need to be suppressed in this battle for this realm of gods, this Olympus of the East. Ah, Lady Kochiya, I beg of you now to take our spent brethren Yatagerasu to a secure locale, as my lord and I must enter battle again shortly.”

“...Of course”, He’s too polite. Too nice. You don’t really want to be near him anyway.

As you hoist the raven over your shoulders and fly down, you see Thanatos run down the neck of the dragon, raise his warhammer over his head, and jump without engaging his wings.

He’s also too cool to be the guy you knew.

====

{x} Return to character select
{x} Konpaku Youmu

“I am a samurai.” You repeat the oath to yourself as you raise your blade, “My life and my blade are only to serve Lady Saigyouji.”

You made that up. Yuyuko never asked you to swear a kishomon or considered you a samurai yet. But she definitely should.

Another silvery knight raises a spear towards you and charges, clumsily and without any semblance of a proper form. Without effort, you bat aside the shaft with Roukanken, and trace upwards on it to slice into his rusted gauntlets.

No need for a finishing coup-de-grace. The knight falls over and screams, clutching at their mutilated hand. You cannot tell what sort of human they are with their helmet muffled, just that they are human. Not that you’re much better right now, with that strange spell that fell over the battlefield having annihilated any technique you had that draws upon mystical energy. It’s rather hard to even maintain your composure, hence the oath repetition.

Still, Grandpa Youki’s insistence on your fundamentals being the majority of practice has paid off, and thanks to Roukanken’s youkai forging, it has suffered less from the spell than the other warriors in your band, and much less than the enemy reliant on their futuristic technology.

You jump back as a massive mace slams into the ground before you. Looking up, you see a woman with long aqua hair and crazed eyes taking swings at you from within a suit of tarnished golden armor. A paladin, as Shou had informed you. This one has actually trained in the martial arts, and despite her looks is using measured strokes and footwork to take advantage of your lighter weapon and smaller build.

Parries don’t work, you try it once and immediately receive a mace in the gut for your trouble that sends you reeling and choking. That clunky-looking western weapon is deceptively fast, and even deprived of its divine energies and polish is still a perfectly lethal device.

You spit out a glob of blood, and focus. Your spirit half materializes into a harmless but real-looking doppelganger, and shadow your movements as you lunge forth against the foe in a single draw attack with no hesitation.

You are then promptly knocked backwards as something falls from the sky and crashes into the space between you at terminal velocity. Landing on your feet, you raise your Roukanken into a block in anticipation of an unknown threat emerging from the dust.

Sounds of metal hammering metal emerge from within, before the limp form of the paladin comes flying out, and on reaction you sidestep and perform a reflecting slash, batting her aside while knocking you even further back. Limp, she’s either out cold or dead.

Her attacker emerges from the dust, a blur of metal and rags, and rush towards an ongoing melee, where Clear Sky human mercenaries are fighting the enemy silver knights with rusty blades and rifle clubs in a tight formation. They realize too late as the thing shoulder checks into the knights without any attempt to mitigate its own damage and begins swinging wildly, its own technologically enhanced warhammer not affected by the devolution spell.

You rush in to help, jumping over a screaming Savior that got propelled your way. The thing is hard to tell visually, but getting in closer reveals that underneath its tattered armor and mechanical attachments resembles a famished human, coated in metal while constantly dripping seawater. Some sort of drowned youkai like Murasa? Gensokyo has no sea so you are unfamiliar with the types that dwell in there.

And then you recognize the singed Eientei armband still clinging on its arm and its voice, yelling in heavily Chinese-accented English and Japanese as it plows through the enemy lines.

“Wu...Ming?”

It turns, and notices you. “Ah, greetings, Lady Konpaku.” It shouts in reply, “A pleasure to meet a fellow knight on the battlefield! I sincerely apologize for my shameful un-chivalric behavior towards thee last week, and I shall prepare the appropriate penance once we have finished.”

It’s not using it’s shield much, nor is it talking like that annoying outsider you briefly spoke with once last week. As it speaks, it winds up as a team of enemy riflemen charge in with their bayonets, meeting their bellowing onslaught with a feinted swing, followed by tackling the frontmost member and breaking the bayonet on its own skin.

This was enough to force the Saviors to recognize that there is somebody with functioning magic/tech on the other side, and their golden-armored leaders immediately begin ordering troops to disengage from the rest.

“Thy knaves! Deluded by a false corruption of a god!” It yells over the din of battle in a shrill electronic voice as it hurls the stunned man back towards his comrades, forcing them to scatter. “Thy mischiefs have been suspended, thy crafts have been shattered!” Gesturing first at the crippled warbeasts in the back, unable to even move, then at the cowering enemies before it, it changes to a calmer tone, “I highly advise laying down thy arms.”

“Don’t listen to his lies! We still have reinforcements!” A gold-trimmed paladin yells.

He falls silent as Thanatos draws near, even though the dead-alive thing’s hammer was sheathed. “Aspiring hero, a noble cause you may pursue, but the assumptions behind that nobility are a shattered pillar.” It draws uncomfortably close to the man, who does not move, as if frozen, “Allow me to present my side of the debate, as Socrates would have.”

You can only stare in horror as the thing grasps its own chest, grunting and gasping, and abruptly ripping it in half.

Out came rotting organs, liquefied flesh and foul blood, landing on the dead flowers.

Thanatos casually digs out the parts of himself that did not immediately fall out of the cavity, until all that remains on his insides are a gleaming metallic endoskeleton holding up the facade of a human figure.

“Men, like you and me, are matter. Drop us out of a window, and we fall. Set fire to us, and we burn. Bury us,” It gestures at its decaying remains, “and we rot, like garbage. Without spirit, without meaning. Ripeness was all.”

Whatever the boy was, he is no longer a living being or even a corpse, but some sort of horrid machine with the a parody of his organic skin stretched over it.

“But fear not! For I bring wondrous news!” You look up at the sound of large wingbeats approaching, and see the dragon Awyrgan landing on the battlefield, shifting into her knightess form along the way and settling daintily alongside Thanatos. “For milady had decided to extend her grace towards you all, and offered thy misguided souls salvation: Lay down thy arms, and she shall fill thy veins with the blessed waters of the Abzu and Styx like she has with me. Eternity is within thine grasps.

Silence. Confused murmurs among the Clear Sky ranks. Irritated ones among the Saviors. “As if we shall allow ourselves to be corrupted like you, god of death!” The Companion snorts.

“Refuse?” The dragon unsheathes her ornate sword, revealing it to be dripping wet with water, “Sadly, we cannot guarantee the gift’s reception in that case. Milady and I shall attempt our best, however, as that is what thy noble knights deserve.”

A brief pause as both sides comprehended the mechanism of their “gift”, then the air is filled with the noise of shouting, screaming and frantic footsteps as everyone pulls away at full speed, ignoring their former enemies in an effort to simply get away from the implied fate. The Clear Sky mercs are doing so out of instinct, and stop on the other side of the hill to huddle and observe, but the Saviors, upon hearing some very loud shouts from their Companion in English (a language you are unfamiliar with), do not stop until they have disappeared into the treeline and out of the combat zone.

Four, more foolhardy gold-trimmed Savior knights, in apparent defiance of orders, charges Thanatos and Awyrgan with their swords. They clash in apparent equality for a few moments, before being pinned down with various conjured restraints by the monsters. Awyrgan walks over to each of them, and stabs each on in the heart.

“Styx, styx, a blazing sacrifice where where all life ends...” You hear the dragon finally speak, her words manifesting in flame before her, “Abzu, abzu, a splendid union from where all life began. Exert thine influence, deny them both. Infuse these worthy, make them eternal.”

The pained moaning of the knights turn into harsh, wretched screams as metal sprouts out of their sword wounds, tearing through their flesh. The screams soon take on a hollow, electrical screech as the progress makes their way up to their throats.

And that was what it took to shake you out of your confused stupor, and rush in. “200 Yojana in a Flash!” You yell, even if you were not using the technique fully. Roukanken slices through the armor and the corrupting metal with ease, and sends a victimized knight’s head flying straight off. Follow up strikes, performed at the speed of thought, kills off the other three with similarly precise swings.

You swear one of the heads murmured “Thank you...” as it sailed past.

You end your attack with a leap backwards, sheathing your sword with your hand gripped tight on the hilt, ready to initiate a lethal slash against the two if necessary.

Instead, Thanatos merely shrugs and lowers his head, while Awyrgan plants Clarent into the ground before stepping towards you. “Lady Konpaku.” She speaks, a deep, echoing tone in her reptilian voice. “Doth this conversion offend thee in some way?”

“Stay back!” You shout.

“As one knight to another, I humbly request a civilized conversation to be had between us. I am certain that you fear us performing compleation on thee and thy kin. That is false, my gifts are by choice to friends, but not to foes, who warrant just retribution.”

“Oh, so you know that it’s not a good thing!” You yell back, not leaving the iaijutsu stance. “Spare your pretense of bushido, what sort of gift turns people into...” You tilt your head at Thanatos, “...THAT thing?”

“Yoooumuuuu!” Somebody shouts at you from behind. Both you and Awyrgan turn to see a green-haired shrine maiden run over the hill, with the tired plant youkai you fought alongside in tow. “What’s going...oh”

===

{x} Return to character select
{x} Kochiya Sanae

“Awyrgan. Be honest, what did you say and do?” You ask, coldly. “The Clear Sky mercs were clearly not happy about it. You know...OUR SIDE?”

The surviving Clear Sky troops were more than happy to ditch the position and take Utsuho back to camp with them, leaving just the five of you in the Garden of the Sun.

The dragon had shifted back into her larger form, and is lazily curled up on the grass with Thanatos (who had thankfully closed his chest cavity) busy cleaning her scales in silence. “My squire said that...”

“Awyrgan, you know very well that he’s your magical slave. Like Seiga and Yoshika.”

“Tis still the same person you knew, merely scrubbed of his undeath and undesirable qualities for a squire.” Awyrgan calmly replies, ”Such as rudeness, acerbic tone, and serial killing tendencies.”

“Serial killing tendencies?” Youmu exclaims. You merely sigh while Yuuka mutters “I knew it.”

“If that’s the case, why don’t both of you talk at the same time to prove it? Clearly you’re not experienced in possessing remote bodies like gods are, and can only manage one at a time.”

“Thou art mistaken in that regard. I could release Thanatos from my thrall, but he had attempted to do the same to me initially, so this is merely just admonishment.”

“And those enemies?”

“Similarly, but as punishment. A much lesser nature than what he would do by himself if he were to become creative...again. I merely alter their bodies to become that fitting my vision, there is no lasting harm after death. A justified act. Unlike their presence here.”

“Not being as bad as Ming is a low bar, Awyrgan...” Eh? She isn’t exactly acting the same way as before either, you realize. Ming was concerned with justifying his own acts to his own twisted definitions, but Awyrgan certainly was not. What did Styx do?


===

“...I’m just a control fragment, ma’am. I cannot do much other than moderate my host’s more extreme appetites before, and serve as your node now.” Thanatos calmly answers through his fleshless mouth, even with the monster’s maw tightly around the rest of his body. “The real Thanatos is elsewhere, the boy is just a vessel for his old heart, me.”

“A fragment dares to possess one such as I?” Tiamat growls, pulling the lesser god ever deeper into the breathable sea that has drowned the landscape.

“I would give you the answer earlier if you were more polite, but in truth, I was never in control since my creation.” They sink to the bottom, where most of the burnt house had been dissolved.

A single, rusty iron locker lies untouched, concealed under the foundation of the former house the entire time, until the day the man stepped into a land of gods again.

“What say, my goddess, do you wish to know now that the mortality of the boy is irrelevant?”

“Curiosity is not one of my vices, but do proceed.”

With a stab of his broken blade into the gaps, Thanatos prys open the secrets, sealed away for a century and engraved on his very form.

===


Without warning. Thanatos suddenly collapses from his standing position in a fit of coughing and spasming.

You back off, not knowing how to help somebody who’s clearly mostly ridden of flesh and is physically too sharp to touch in some places. “Uh...Grace Sign: Rains of Rejuvenation?” Nope, splashing him with that didn’t work. You turn to Awyrgan, but she hasn’t even appeared to notice her friend...puppet’s activity.

Maybe a curse spell then? You are just about to cast one when Thanatos suddenly stops and falls still, before a large slice of metal on his chest, a blackened one with one of his inscribed spells on, cracks off and unfurls into a large sheet of iron foil.

On one side are inscribed the esoteric techniques that somehow manage to activate necromancy-aligned powers in him.

On the reverse side is a written report in plain, modern, if kanji-heavy, Japanese. As you pick up the foil to read it, you notice that the creases on it folds perfectly into what would look to be a spellcard-sized object.

======
Hellish Report 1 of 5: Phlegethon, the Divinity Hewing Flames
Year of Jiaqing 35 (Kansei 6) (1795 AD)

We have come to the conclusion that the demands the Your Heavenly Majesty are putting upon us are best met by the heart given to us a few centuries ago by some desperate Greek magi, as we were unable to secure the cooperation of the troublesome Monkey King, who found our project abhorrent, or Lord Izanagi, who was unreachable as usual. Your demand of a deicidal tool immune to anything an upstart celestial can perform is quite tricky. While such items and creatures are not unheard of, those that succeed on multiple instances are very few and those reusable even less.

While Greece itself did not have such reliable godkillers, a footnote in its history notes an interaction between their dormant goddess Styx and the river Phlegethon, where the former courted the latter and was incinerated to an extent that her presence became entirely limited to the afterlife. The heart, previously that of a Hades residing lesser death god, Thanatos, has the capability to manipulate these rivers as a necessary secondary function for his duties. Thus by implanting this heart into a vessel composed of “long-term” lost souls that...[WRITING SCRATCHED OUT]

[WRITING SCRATCHED OUT]

[WRITING SCRATCHED OUT]

...we can use this effect to repeated impose a form of conceptual death on divinity and hope.

Functionality: Tested on several formative divine spirits, Phlegethon’s flames, which we contained in an integrated organic spell package coded with the word “Hew”, functions by simultaneously performing a conventional life drain, akin to our kishin, and a peculiar effect that somehow hews away the emotional connections between the victim and anybody related, which deprives faith in a slow but unpreventable manner. The victim will not only die, but also become unloved and forgotten immediately, in accordance with your wishes.

More research is needed on this effect to determine its exact mechanism. In the meantime, the subject will be stationed within the ranks of kishin, as support for their duties. Of some concern: kasha that occasionally delivers souls down here despise it, for unknown reasons.

As an ending note, I do wish to ask: Why does Your Heavenly Majesty require a celestial killer? Your primary domain of the Middle Kingdom is quite stable and prosperous right now, and a heavenly schism, as the Western barbarians frequently experience, is of no concern to the stable and harmonious celestial bureaucracy of our East Asian sphere. And why are you insisting that we keep this unknown to those outside your immediate court?

Honorably from Japan

Lord Shikieiki Yamaxanadu
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======

{x} Return to character select:~~~~~~

“Garden is secure. Savior position destabilizing. I don’t think their greenhorn volunteers deal well with such losses. We’ll be facing less reinforcements now. Mordred, determine and proceed to your next objective. Squire is not responding, confirm status?”

Awyrgan idly sits on the hill of snow and dead flowers, watching as Suika’s fresh troops move into the positions, relieving the exhausted and recently terrified defenders of the Garden of the Sun. She turns back at her friend and watches as Yuuka and Youmu attempt to revive him while Sanae is reading a part of him that broke off, “Frozen. Still functional. Let us proceed, Bishamonten.”

“Requesting…” Shou hesitates, “Report on your integrity?”

“Knightly suppression functional, but corruption increases despite its chivalric discipline, as Norman Britain is far from the Britannic Welsh of mine ancestor. The success of our quest is unaffected, regardless. 65% and holding, but not stable.”

“Mordred, I take it you have no concern to your eventual...fate? For if this unknown effect comes to fruition?”

“None. If that comes to pass, then like the my name sake at Camlann, I shall fulfill my fate here, and bring an end to a paragon of humanity with mine own life. That is the way of a noble knight and savage dragon alike.”

In the distance off to the north, a bright glow against the snowy backdrop marks the locale of their accursed UV projector deployed against the mansion of devils.

To the east, a faint trail of love-colored smoke marks a crash site of Kirisame characteristics.

{ } “The false sun of the Saviors must be quenched. The young Scarlet lady and her eyes of destruction are needed to breach their tyrannical fortress.”
{ } “I borrowed much metal from that witch, let us at least secure some semblance of an existence for her and her contraptions.”
{ } “Enough is done. Let us commit to storming the castle, kidnapping the princess---I mean, silencing the Viljaya.”

===
===
===
[x] ...

You’re standing at the banks of a turgid, unmoving river.You are wearing naught but the light white kimono of mourning.

Something is clearly wrong. You never wear traditional Asian clothing if you could help it.

Around you grow a seeming endless field of red spider lilies covering the shoreline, like lurid bloodstains on the yellow soil. You bend over to pick one up, and it goes straight through your fingers.

That’s odd, you were sure you were corporeal. That’s all you were sure of. Everything else is pretty fuzzy in your mind.

In the misty distance, you can make out a boat and its lone ferryman coming your way.

[ ] Run
[ ] Wait
[ ] Swim
[x] Wait

At last redemption?

The last year has been nothing but fuck ups for him. I understand the hero's journey must have an abyss to crawl out of, but it's too much. At this point, why root for the MC? Why care about how things move forward if nothing but misery awaits?
{X} “The false sun of the Saviors must be quenched. The young Scarlet lady and her eyes of destruction are needed to breach their tyrannical fortress.”
[X] Wait
Can't outrun a shinigami that really wants you on the other side. Let's find out if that's the case here.
>[ ] Run
Cowtowed by the distance-ignoring Shinigami
>[ ] Swim
Fuck over ourselves completely
>[ ] Wait
Gamble on a tiny bit of hope that Awyrgan will pull us out with that resurrection ritual we attempted on the tengu earlier; MANLY YAMA STAREDOWN scene otherwise.

{x} “The false sun of the Saviors must be quenched. The young Scarlet lady and her eyes of destruction are needed to breach their tyrannical fortress.”
[x] Wait
{x} “The false sun of the Saviors must be quenched. The young Scarlet lady and her eyes of destruction are needed to breach their tyrannical fortress.”
[x] Wait

oh shit oh fuck
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[x] “The false sun of the Saviors must be quenched. The young Scarlet lady and her eyes of destruction are needed to breach their tyrannical fortress.”



Location: Clear Sky Command Bunker, Beneath the Hakurei Shrine

Time: 12 hours until collapse of current Hakurei Iteration



Bishamonten doesn’t usually support multiple heads, but with the amount of faith you are channeling right now, through the entire Clear Sky Corporation, you can support twenty. You have to support twenty. Every single one of them is processing a different combat zone and barking out commands for separate divisions through the Kappa-made Command Kaleidoscope. Mononobe no Futo is running her divinations on the floor below you with Nazrin’s help, and spits out new enemy positions in a steady stream of data.

The two of you haven’t had any respite this day. Once the sounds of war spread from Youkai Mountain and woke everyone up, and Yukari made her reappearance with entire divisions of her own Outside World soldiers and war machines, you knew just how serious this situation is if the masquerade between the two worlds just got torn down in such a way.

An aide deposits a cauldron of tea and a pile of vegetarian roasts on your side, which two of your heads consume without breaking their eyes from their screens.

You cannot afford to be sentimental. You ignore the fact that the ever-growing casualty list is including people you knew. You ignore the fact that Myouren Temple is in the danger zone of an a artillery strike you just ordered. You ignore the fact that some folks have been resorting to blatantly immoral techniques to claw an advantage.

“Bronze Wings, regroup and escort Mordred. Division Lotus, begin assault on SDM from the approach paths I have marked on your maps. Tengu Group Sumiko, avoid that hill! Companion archery has been confirmed in the zone. Second wave of trains ETA twenty minutes...”

====



Location: West End of the Misty Lake, Gensokyo



Divine emanations and air pressure from the Vijaya shells above merely glance off Awyrgan’s plasma sheath even as she skims the sky right at their danger altitude. Her subsumed companion’s abilities augmenting and shoring up the already impressive defense of the dragon.

Awyrgan had stopped pretended that he is anything but a puppet. Thanatos moves like a turret, inhumanly twisting and turning to shoot down and block the missiles that make it past the dragon’s countermeasures. It would be funny if it wasn’t so deep in the uncanny valley.

You simply stay quiet and channel Divine Wind Barrier. The stench of primordial waters from the shell that was once Ming is all the reason you need to avoid provoking Awyrgan, who is apparently some sort of Evangelion-tier entity. Oh right, she actually is using a fragment of Tiamat to fuel her creation engine, and apparently her current preferred spell repertoire seeing her incessant incantation of what sounds vaguely like an unknown Near East language.

The Bronze Wings buzz about the airspace, snarling and lashing out at the incoming attacks that they are capable of intercepting. Through the comms, you can hear the old men attending to these beasts groan and gasp at the toll of the effort, but no complaints, none at all. Ecstatical laughs are heard through the struggle, and one of them is even composing a poem through the strain: “In a garden east, past a wall of dreams...hmm...Where dragons fly, in the octarine gleams...”

Through the blizzard, you can see the device illuminating the Scarlet Devil Mansion on the other side of the lake. A massive monolith, projecting a massive beam of light that can be seen through the snow. You then realize that it is only visible because the energy is substantial enough to actually burn through the snow, and that the visible light is just the scattering from the intense UV it is emitting.

Opposing it is a substantial magical barrier of mist covering the mansion, layered seven times and each with a different magic.

“Entering SDM Engagement Domain. Commencing Operation D....Watch out! Enemy density high, and the UV Projector can defend itself with its rays!”

“Enemy density irrelevant.” The dragon replies back. “Requesting location of allied positions. Begin saturation bombardment of non-marked areas in one minute.”

“Saturation bombardment? Your specifications lack the facilities for that, and Utsuho has been spent. What are you...’?”

Awyrgan suddenly lurches, and dives straight for the lake, ignoring your loud screams of protest. She skims the frozen surface, shattering the ice with her maw held open, ingesting water until she completely crossed the length of the lake, and flies up again.

“Locations marked. Mordred, can you at least tell me what you are doing?”

Flying over the Savior positions, drawing fire all the while, Awyrgan begins exuding a thick metallic slime from her underbelly and wings, that fall like large droplets of syrup onto the enemy positions below.

“Abzu, abzu, the primordial sea...release our scions...set them free...”

====



Location: West end of the Misty Lake, ground theatre of operations

Time: 12 hours until collapse of current Hakurei Iteration



As most of the participants expected, the Clear Sky strike group was unable to penetrate the Savior defense line on foot. Pinned down by constant suppressive fire from their massive fortress, they pulled back to behind some hills in the forest.

“Kokoro,” Sylla complains, “I told you already, it doesn’t work on these enemies. They’ve got some sort of mindshield on.”

Ignoring her scion, Kokoro continues with the cast, exposed as she was on that rock...“Blank Faced Dance: Heart of...GAH!”...right before her entire arm, attached to the shoulder, is blown off by a silver round.

“And just because you are willing to and can replace your masks in Gensokyo doesn’t mean you can just Ship of Theseus yourself to victory, sir!” Sylla grumbles as a youkai medic rushes over with a dose of adrenaline.

“Your bullets are not performing very well either.” Kokoro snaps back as she discards a broken mask of disposable clay from her sleeves, and sprouts a new arm. “And what are the trains going to do when they arrive? Are they any more proof against their charged shots?”

The wrecked BMP-2 in front of them, toppled onto its side from the sheer force of some of the Savior sabot rounds (Ran and Shou speculated them to be railguns beyond modern technological capabilities), lies as the testimony for her account. Luckily, there were no passengers. Unluckily, it wasn’t self-driving, and the driver and gunner are slumped over in their positions, motionless and cold.

“Yukari should get something out. Ahmed, you see anyone peeking out?” Sylla calls to his spotter, who was surveying the enemy position with a magically suspended periscope.

“Nope...nothing...wait a second.” The Iraqi twitches the contraption, expanding the disk of water that served as the lens. “One of their divine shields are flickering, maybe you can get a Hate shot off?”

“Suppressing fire over here’s stopped.” One of the tengu officers shouts from the other end of the hillside. “Something’s going on.”

A large shadow blotting out the snow makes everyone look up at the dragon passing overhead briefly, before it flips and passes back over the Savior positions, dispensing large droplets of liquid over them.

“...Is that thing literally shitting on the enemy?” Ahmed remarks.

The suppression over their position ceases also, and Sylla pokes his SV-98’s scope out over the top of the hill. Multiple divine shields are flickering now, and zooming in further reveals that the Saviors within are engaged in close-quarters combat against an entity moving too fast to be clearly seen at this distance.

Then, a divine shield goes completely offline, and Sylla notes with some trepidation that there is nobody behind it, despite it having fired at the Clear Sky contingent for quite a while.

The radio crackles to life, “Group Sumiko.” Shou calls out, “Advance to the next waypoint on your map and eliminate all resistance. Mordred is suppressing your immediate threats.”

“Eh? Affirmative. Cover me!” Not entirely confident in the god of war’s orders, Sylla shoulders his rifle, his hybrid status contributing the strength to do so, and goes first over the top as the one statistically least likely to die from oncoming fire due to the same hybrid status.

Running towards the boulder, Sylla struggles to do so through the increasingly thick snowfall, and resorts to rolling through the last couple of meters. The suppressive fire from his allies behind him seems to have worked, and he wasn’t shot at.

At all. There’s sound of railgun and convention fire coming from the other side, but no shots are coming anywhere near Sylla’s direction.

“That’s odd...I hate it when it’s odd.” He mutters as he spits out some of his leaking emotions.

“See anything there, menreiki?” A tengu soldier asks, referring him by his adopted species.

“I...” Another divine shield installation flickers, and Sylla immediately switches over to the sniper rifle for its scope, having neglected to pick up any binoculars. “No, nothing, it’s like they’re just gone...huh?”

From the first empty position, a massive horned golden snake suddenly shoots out of the snow, and stares straight at Sylla who lets out a very unmanly shriek of terror.

“Novel Signature spotted. Database match. Confirmed entity as a replica of Musmahhu, Exalted Serpent of the Babylonian region.”

“If it’s a new signature, how is it in the database?” Sylla shouts at Shou over the radio, “Is it friendly or not?”

“It’s a spawn of Tiamat, of course it’s on our side. Just don’t get near it, it’s 60% poisonous heavy metal by mass.”

“Right, our dragon friend up there is part-Tiamat...” Sylla watches as the dragon makes another bombing pass, dropping slime that forms into monsters as they hit the ground. As with the dragon herself, the enemy’s holy weapons do little against such anti-divine constructs.

But...wasn’t it the so-called Null-Fiend that provided that measure? Surely he wasn’t integrated into the creation engine.

The beasts and the Saviors are entangled in melee, enough that Sylla doesn’t have a good opening for potshots even if they are completely suppressed for all intents and purposes. The snake, for instance, is swinging around a torn steel beam with its...arms?

Sylla continues forward, crawling in the snow while the rest of the soldiers follow some distance behind. He sees clearly that the monsters...the ones that survive anyway, slowly getting into a bipedal stance even as they fight and die against the knights.

“Gensokyification...it’s that dramatic?”

“Negatory, unstable constructs simply react much faster. They have no souls, and thus are patterning themselves off their progenitor.” A new voice comes through the comms.

“Uh, who is this?” Sylla grumbles as he taps at his comms in reflex. Clear Sky is really lenient on their comms policy for some reason.

“Patchouli Knowledge, mage of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. We have been waiting for your assistance in repelling these invaders.”

Sylla looks over, across the lake at the massive barrier fending off the sunlight weapon, “So, I suppose some additional artillery support is out of the question?”

“Not until that infernal contraption they are bombarding us with is taken out. Our mistresses are not one for tanning, if you know what I mean.”

Sylla stares upwards at the ultraviolet projector, a monolith that dwarfs almost everything else man-made in this Meiji-era sealed garden. Even if Awyrgan is dropping waves of Babylonian monsters against the outer defenses, how are they going to topple that thing? Especially if their gunners decide to turn the ultraviolet beam against the Clear Sky ground forces. Vampire or not, that much energy is going to roast anything it comes into contact with alive.

A sudden screech catches his attention. He looks and sees the golden snake from earlier convulse and spasm, before collapsing and disintegrating into watery slime. The other monsters from the first wave that survived thus far follow in its fate, right as Awyrgan swings back around to replace them with another bombing pass.

They only lived for a minute.

“Proceed with the mission, Group Sumiko. You can’t rely on Mordred for everything.” Shou cuts back in, “We need you to clear out the mundane anti-air defenses so Mordred only has to deal with the ultraviolet weaponry. Engage in small groups to make the best use of the diversion she had provided you with.”

“Roger.” Sylla removes his own mask, and sends it floating outwards. An attractive feature glowing with hate, it nonetheless attracts no fire.

“Kokoro, Seija, let’s take point.”

“Got it.”

“No. Screw you.”

Sylla chuckles at the amanojaku’s usual behavior and snaps open the rear end of his rifle, revealing the leaf speartip concealed within. No longer a stock SV-98, Ran had seen fit to modify it to sustain regular melee combat. A true gunblade, albeit not a very aesthetic one.

Breathing in, and seeing his two compatriots move in behind him, Sylla begins his sprint, following the golden serpent towards the retreating enemies and their positions. Leaping into an emplacement, he point blank blasts a surviving Savior before they could react and jams his blade into the internals of the AA gun. With a grunt, he rips out the electronics within, disabling the installment for good.

He notes that the wires and parts torn out resemble nothing like what he’s worked with before in the Kenyan Army or the UN Peacekeepers. Or even Clear Sky, for that matter.

A machine gun ahead of him roars, sending bullets wheezing past, causing him to duck behind the sandbags. Are they actually firing at him rather than the Tiamat-spawned monstrosities? How disciplined. Sylla thinks as he spits out a glob of hatred into his rifle’s chamber.

Aiming it straight upwards, he pulls the trigger. The glob shoots out, spins in the air for a few moments, before leaning forwards and accelerating towards the enemy.

“Hate begets hate.” He mutters, as the machine gun falls silent, its wielder paralyzed with emotion by the black blob that had glued to her heart.

Sylla vaults over the sandbags, signals the others to advance with his free hand, and continues forwards.

To his left, Seija is pushing forward at a reckless pace for a youkai, suppressing enemies with her machine gun and any incoming attacks that she reverses towards their owners, cackling with glee as she does so.

To the right, his sire has deployed an entire array of masks around her, disorienting any gunners aiming her way with a schizophrenic kaleidoscope of emotions befitting of an elder menreiki, though as usual, Kokoro isn’t using any weapon but for her naginata.

And finally at himself, through the eyes of the Mask of Hatred fused to his soul and floating behind him. What was once a backline lieutenant now a frontline warrior, dripping with caustic emotions.

He roars against the blizzard, and charges forth, stepping through the slurry of disintegrating corpses left by Awyrgan’s spawn and following right behind them...

...Before swiftly jumping back to his original position as the monsters to his front are pulverized by explosions. Sylla sighs and pulls out his radio, watching Seija screaming in agony while crawling back towards him on stumps, her legs caught in the artillery blasts.


Despite being youkai, they were still infantry. In the modern world that is currently seeping into Gensokyo, that means they need air support. He reaches out with his gun to pull the injured amanojaku back while shouting into his radio.

====



Location: West end of the Misty Lake, aerial theatre of operations

Time: 12 hours until collapse of current Hakurei Iteration



“Reporting steady progress.” You call out into the radio while Awyrgan busies herself with the bombardment, switching between plasma-filled scale bombs and her short-lived Tiamat spawn, “Enemy ground forces cannot sustain our output for much longer, but we can sustain theirs.”

You glance backwards, at Kazami Yuuka who is maintaining structural flower beds on the holes and craters of Awyrgan’s hide. Even after completely absorbing Ming and enshrouded by your Divine Winds, her regeneration is still struggling to catch up with the ever increasing density of anti-air fire being thrown at her.

“The flowers flourish just like in rich soil.” Yuuka remarks in her depressed tone as the armored flowers grow and disintegrate in the cycle of ablative armor, “Must be the Tiamat inside of her.”

Reinforced by magic, the plants do in fact dampen the holy auras of the Savior’s weaponry, allowing the now context-free bullets to glance harmlessly off of the dragon.

“Hey, Mordred, you reading me?” A strangely silky male African voice comes in through the radio. Some muffled screaming can be heard in the background, which is oddly satisfying to you for some reason you can’t quite tell.

“Affirmative.”

“Manager Adin Sylla of Division Lotus. Your carpet bombardment’s good at suppressing their outer positions, but we’re still taking extreme amounts of direct artillery fire.”

Awyrgan dives down, and makes a sweeping pass over the innermost positions around the tower. To your surprise, the tower itself retaliates, with muzzle flashes and spellcasts visible on the obelisk’s side through the snow.

“The tower itself has gunports on the walls! It serves as a flak tower!” You yell into the radio while shifting your wind barriers to the fore. Recognizing this as well, Awyrgan sheathes herself in plasma and charges at the walls, breathing out a thick gout of star-stuff before jumping back with a barrage of cursed blades, and finishes with a 155mm shot right as you gasp and lose focus at the sheer amount of projectiles intercepted by your barrier, and dives down in an evasive pattern,

And...nothing. The guns and their operators had retreated behind retracting covers before the dragon can reach them, and though the attack left marks, it was not anywhere close to a breach.

Shou’s commands ring out again, “Division Lotus! Use your deployable cover devices and stay there! All units! Enemy UV Projector has been confirmed via Mordred’s sample to be a sapling of Yggdrasil! No known external vulnerability!”

“Thor really is throwing the entire Nordic mythos at us, isn’t he?” Yuuka remarks as she notes the woody look of the material exposed by Awyrgan’s damage. “What a waste, if I had a seed of Yggdrasil, the Garden of the Sun could have covered the sky.”

“That would be awesome!” You excitedly yell, even as you struggle to reweave your winds, “Like Gensokyo is really missing the skyscraper sized tree every fantasy landscape needs. We are currently way too close to a normal Japanese countryside right now.”

“Mordred unit.” The radio jerks you back into the current situation. “The ultraviolet lens should still be vulnerable. Follow the B plan and assault the top.”

“Affirmative.” Strange, Awyrgan has been mostly ignoring you and Yuuka and simply following orders. Is that being professional? You weren’t really actually involved in an actual military, even compared to the puppet to your front.

Dodging the firing angles of the heavier anti-air weaponry, and with Yuuka and Thanatos blasting any enemy aircraft slipping past the Bronze Wings, Awyrgan succeeds in flying all the way to the top through a complex path.

The beam of light is dangerously close now, but thankfully it has not moved from suppressing the Scarlet Devil Mansion. Its mechanism seems to be a giant white crystal of clearly magical nature, though supported by a mass of machinery around its base.

“Huh?” You notice something, or rather, the lack of something. The constant sound of enemy gunfire has ceased up here, despite the UV Projector’s origin being clearly exposed. No turrets? Nothing?

And then you catch sight of the golden glint near the lens. The wind stops blowing, just briefly, for a shouted sentence to ring out.

“Invocation of Dominion: Replica of Camlann!”
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The dragon freezes as the spell washes over her, and flies straight for the roof area around the Projector. “Awyrgan! That’s too reckless!” You yell out, before yelling more incoherent words as stone pillars shoot out from the tower, aiming to knock the riders off of the dragon. Which obviously includes you.

You dodge them on instinct (the attacks seem oddly familiar to you).Yuuka facetanks them without much issue and manages to stay on, while Thanatos does not succeed in doing either, instead ending up dangled under the dragon via the wires and tubes inserted into his body.

You wince as Awyrgan lands without consideration for her puppet, sending Thanatos plowing into the ground in a spine-cracking position. Frayed wire and broken steel bars visible, the puppet nonetheless still gets back up, silent. The comm link in your ear hisses with soft static. You’re being jammed.

“Awyrgan!” You land and shout, as the dragon simply stands still on the rooftop, “What are you doing?”

“Her role.” A new voice proclaims.

Behind the machinery, a knight emerges. No helmet, a tattered cape, and a handsome, chiseled face below a flowing mane of pale blue hair. He’s pretty cute, you have to admit. Better looking than the vast majority of outsiders that tried to get a date with you.

In his hand, a shining silver lance, embellished with jewels and engraved with delicate Britannic runes. Runes of the same appearance as the sword, Clarent, that Awyrgan is wielding with her maw right now. His other arm, gripping a shield, appears to be a prosthetic limb of platinum.

Didn’t Awyrgan tell you that she bit off the arm of a knight called Deimos?

“Thor foresaw your association and alliance with Britain, foul dragon.” The knight says as he raises the lance. “Good thing for us, we have the exact answer to your mantling of Mordred’s name.”

The snowfall shifts, and you are briefly blinded by the flurry of white in your eye. When you can see again, you gasp.

You are no longer on the tower.

In front of you is a field of the dead. Armored corpses of chainmail cover the field along their horses and weapons, and the few spots of grass visible are glistening with crimson. Above, the dusk sky holds a sickly looking sun. You are quite glad to be wearing boots instead of your casual open-toed shoes as you carefully step over the bodies to where Yuuka is standing.

“Dog roses and cornflowers.” Yuuka comments, bending over to look at the bloodstained vegetation, “This place is, or is a facsimile of, Britain.”

You look over to the knight and the dragon. Thanatos is slumped over near Awyrgan, a puppet with his strings cut, and Awyrgan is noticeably not opening fire at the knight for some reason.

“By the power of dominion vested upon me by the Protector of Mankind. I, Sir Deimos, playing the role of King Arthur granted via Rhongomiant, command thee, Mordred, to complete our last duel at Camlann, honorably.”

Awyrgan does not even make the slightest sign of resistance as she dutifully shifts down to her humanoid form and draws the sword. None of her modern weapons or the Ohabaris. Just Clarent.

“The power of dominion sounds about as vague and unfair as Yukari’s power to control borders.” You frustratedly grumble to Yuuka, “Dream bubble world, absolute mind control...”

You angrily fling several charms at him, only to see them pass right through.

“The other knights at Camlann merely stood and watched the duel, too spent to do anything else.” Awyrgan mumbles, as if sleeptalking.

“...Straight up physical nullification barrier. ”

Deimos flashes a handsome smile as he waves at you, “Your intervention will not work here, misguided ones. The power of dominion allows us blessed by the Lux to take control of the world and set it back onto the correct path. We are only humble servants of the will of mankind in the end, but as long as we act within that Divine Will, nothing can stop it.”

He’s not lying. You cannot even approach the duel, being stopped ten meters away by an invisible wall. You try to dispel the barrier, but find no hint of magic.

Somehow, the whole thing is rendered without an explicit spell.

You and Yuuka can only watch as Deimos easily overpowers Awyrgan with a rapid series of lance strikes, while she can only feebly defend herself with unpracticed sword moves from the severe handicap of having to be Mordred, the human.

“I don’t think Arthur did this well in the original version.” You comment, each blow and stab onto Awyrgan’s hide making you tense up. Arthur and Mordred both died at the conclusion of the duel, so if Deimos is truthful that the power of dominion draws directly from the world’s zeitgeist, then…

You scream, and Yuuka clasps her mouth in shock, as Deimos bats Clarent wide aside, and impales Awyrgan straight through her chest with Rhongomiant, skewering her straight through with the spear tip emerging well past her back, like in the painting.

Not entirely dead, she raises Clarent to strike a blow on Deimos’s head, in the pose of the famous painting Le Morte, when the landscape abruptly vanishes. You fall forward onto your hands as the invisible barrier disintegrates.

“Bane of Dragons: Ascalon!”

You look up just in time to see Deimos swiftly revealing a second weapon beneath his cape and stabbing Awyrgan through the neck. Awyrgan’s Clarent strikes a stone pillar which erupted from the ground in front of Deimos, and bounces her weakened arm away.

The dragon girl stumbles backwards, Clarent dropping from limp fingers. She shifts back to her full draconic form, and tries to breathe fire, but only manages to gurgle up blood and oil. She tries to deploy an array of cannon, but something in her internal structure crackles, and the weapons explode.

Awyrgan thrashes a few more times, and before you can help her, some larger explosions erupt inside of her, and she collapses, unmoving.

“WHAT THE HELL?” You angrily shout as you and Yuuka rush over to the fallen dragon, “HOW’S THAT A RE-ENACTMENT OF CAMLANN?”

“A re-enactment cut off seconds before the end, is still a re-enactment.” Deimos plainly states as he wipes Awyrgan’s blood off of Ascalon, clearly viewing neither you nor Yuuka as a threat. “All within the lawful and moral will of mankind, as short-sighted as it can be sometimes.”

“You know VERY WELL that’s not the case. How?!”

“Hey, I am not the one supporting the extinction of mankind, Sanae Kochiya.” He replies as he points the sword at you, “Simply cutting humanity’s attention span on a reproduced scene pales in comparison to what you lot are doing to the world as we speak.”

You check for any signs of life on the dragon, and find none. Yuuka’s eye twitches as she confirms this fact herself, “This idiot dragon you just killed was a fine gatekeeper for my garden, knight.” She quietly states with dripping venom, “I expect some compensation for this.”

“Your idle threats are of no value to a hero of mankind, youkai.” Deimos says as Yuuka grasps for her parasol, “Why not just ask your Tyrant to grow you a new one? Arcturus apparently killed a copy in Tokyo, so it’s a replaceable article.”

You are filled with a sudden sense of confusion at that statement, and apparently even Yuuka was taken aback at such a Ming-like statement coming from the other side. “Are...living beings just fungible to you?”

“Beasts and monsters are not people, and that is quite rich coming from the likes of you.” Deimos says, rewriting your question in his chuckled answer, “A man-eater, complaining that I do not understand the value of life.”

“Humans do generally have a callous disregard for the lives of those not themselves.” Yuuka replies, her free hand glimmering with the faint colorful traces of a readied spell.

“And how did Nashira Pyrus even get to like you, Deimos? She loves animals, well, large carnivores.” You insincerely ask, recalling your interactions with the prisoner at Eientei. Her, Castor, and Thor were what you’d expect Companions to act like. This guy is...more of an actual religious knight than the caped heroes the other ones behave like.

“Nashira?” Deimos’s eyes narrow, and his perfect composure shows a crack, “What sort of information did you torture out of her that led to you knowing about me and her?”

“Torture? You actually believed the bullshit Ming spewed out when he was somewhat more alive?” You say, kicking his corpse that’s lying on the ground. “We would never do that!”

“So she did not follow my orders to not reveal any information, regardless of their seeming irrelevance. Pity. Her brother must have misled her again.” Deimos sighs. “Since you already know, I shall answer you. Castor may be a decent fighter, but he does not understand the will of humanity, that mankind needs order to prosper, and that his sister is not exempt from being part of that order. Nashira herself understands it, and submits to me as such.”

“Explain?” You don’t like his implications here.

“The Pyruses were accepted by the Lux for their fury and conviction. Excellent attributes for a simple warrior, but ill-suited for us Companions who are also leaders and exemplars for humanity. Castor resents me for this, but it is truth that Nashira cannot be anything beyond her current rank, and is suited as a dedicated assistant to a more competent Companion.”

“ ‘Cannot be’? What sort of wording...”

“One of the greatest crimes of the Violet Tyrant was the destruction of the social order in the country the Pyruses and I came from with their war and propaganda. A beautiful nation not yet present in your history, but the components are here: India, Persia, and Arabia, which our homeland blended the best traits of to create a true utopia, one where every...human had a perfect place to fit in society.”

Yuuka merely rolls her eyes at his intentional exclusion of her kind, and you get uncomfortable at the implications of his culture, “Isn’t that a caste system?”

“It is. Tis the only way to reach true happiness as a human. After all, how can people feel safe when their position in society is constantly under threat? How can morality and order be upheld without knowing WHO to listen to? You Japanese should know this better than most other people of this era. From birth every citizen of my kingdom had their role...”

“...A ‘kingdom’ made of those countries?...How...” From what you remember from social studies, those areas are very different in culture, and do not share a common origin in history.

“Agreements, solidarity.” He dismisses your question, “The important factor is that we agreed that everyone should know their future, and that or Devan Kingdom did to amazing effect, until you lot ruined everything.”

“Obligatory: What if there were people that did not want to be stuck in their role?” You quietly ask.

“If they don’t, they will be taught. Unnatural aberrations exist like in all societies, and corrective measures will be taken.”

“You used these “measures” against Nashira, didn’t you.” You glare, pure hate on your voice rather than general malice.

“Using them against? I used them for her sake! Even so, she was too unstable, only fit to be a subordinate enlisted. Never an officer. Such is the problem with lower caste folk trying above their station. If she STILL divulged information afterwards, I might have to continue the neural reconditioning...”

Out of sheer disgust, you do not wait for him to finish his sentence. “ESOTERICA: NINE KILLING SLABS.” You scream out, not even bothering with the pretense of danmaku as you channel your own faith into lethal chunks of falling mana. Deimos’s aura briefly holds them in place, before breaking.

“Holy attack? No...a tinge of the divine?” Deimos jumps away, leveling his shield, “I see, you still command the faith of the misled here.”

“Oh no, that’s not it.” You taunt, the normally chromatic spells around you tempered with a glint of gold, “That’s the zeitgeist of this era rejecting your motivations. Your Null-Fiend tier motivations.”

“You dare compare me to--Very well, if you will not listen to reason, then my weapons shall do the talking.” He stomps the ground, and a ring of stone pillars springs up around him. “Kochiya Sanae, how can you fight when even your goddesses have been convinced and converted to our side?!”

“You mean Thor consumed them and gave you their essence.” You shout back as you invoke another wave of slabs. No wonder you recognize those moves. You realize as you keep down the wrenching sense of horror at Suwako’s domain being used against you. Even if you are a protagonist, you can’t---

“TOO SLOW, SANAE!” Yuuka shouts, grabbing you out of the away of a flung pillar from Deimos, “Focus! We’re fighting for our lives here! Alternative Double Spark!”

“Wait you actually did---FWOOM” Yuuka cuts off your question with two blinding blasts of magical energy, curving around to strike Deimos in the center.

The ground shakes, and hands of concrete and roots emerge, striking at you and Yuuka. Retaliating with ofuda strikes while doing your best to fly out of their reach, you feel an ever growing sense of pain every time you blow one of them to pieces. Specifically, the part of you linked with Suwako.

This cannot hold.

“How can you critique any society when yours is formed on the corpses of humans!” Deimos shouts as he flies straight at you.

“The corpses of which are obtained with the consent of the Outside World! Thor might only be against Gensokyo, but you’re against half of the world here. Divine energy is a popularity contest, after all! Yuuka!”

You blast off a blinding morning star right at his face as Yuuka...buds into two? The second Yuuka that sort of split off of her isn’t really an illusion, but it isn’t really alive either. She could do that?

“Nature Sign…” Both Yuukas turn into balls of light, which proceed to ram into Deimos repeatedly, sending the paladin reeling, giving her time to turn back and prepare another spell, “Gaia’s Cleansing.”

The Yuukas fires off two sparks directly into each other, catching Deimos in the middle. The spells feed off of each other, their impact radius growing in size until it blossoms an energy ball the size of an apartment building. One of them turns hazy as the beams taper off, and vanishes into a puff of pollen as the ball detonates, knocking you back with the air pressure and almost sending you flying into the danger altitude.

Suddenly, a piercing migraine rings through your skull, and to your distress, remains there. You lose control over flight and only barely manage to land onto the tower, prone and clutching at your head as you feel it being torn asunder from the inside.

“Kochiya!” Yuuka yells out, uncharacteristic concern in her voice. She lands over to you and tries to pull you up, “I can still sense him around. What are you doing?”

“S-Suwako. Lady Suwako, she...”

“Willing put her life on the line for humanity,” A wet impalement sound, and you turn to see Yuuka’s face frozen in shock, staring down at the large Ame-no-Ohabari that had just made its way through her ribcage and out of her front. Final Fantasy 7 style.

Come to think of it, Yuuka is a flower girl too...WHAT ARE YOU THINKING RIGHT NOW?!

Deimos’s armor is scorched bright, but he himself does not appear to have sustained more than a few superficial injuries, “Rigel was correct. I was wrong. BOTH of you are capable of holy attacks. Tsk. This cursed blade from the dragon should deal with you...fragment of Konohanasakuya.”

Konohanasakuya? Iwanaga’s sister. Right, she did leave a massive impact on Yatsugatake, so was Yuuka a reflection of some sort?

“Yuuka?” You mutter weakly, “You...”

“It’s...nothing...” The flower youkai grits her teeth and stands up, in defiance of the sword still embedded inside of her. “So what? You...expect a simple cursed blade to...GUH!”

Deimos met Yuuka’s parasol swing with a parry and a slash from Ascalon, cutting her torso open further and sending her sprawling back. “No, but without the stolen divinity within you, you are no more than a wayward flower nymph, derelict of her simple duties to attend the gardens of Devan nobility.”

Yuuka can only hoarsely scream jumbled curses through a bloody mouth as Deimos arrogantly turns his back on her broken body, which can no longer maintain enough coherency to cast spells. You try to shout a blessing, but the pain in your head blocks out the attempt. Suwako is hurting too much.

Is this...game over? Running up against a cheap super boss?

“Unfortunately I cannot grant you mercy with just that blade. A true holy weapon is necessary for evil of your caliber, Kazami.”

No, you are Sanae Kochiya! A goddess of miracles! Even if you can’t conjure a true invocation right now, you can still pray. Pray that a spark of your power that had diffused in this land through your lands will awaken.

“Only Rhongomiant will suffice, I’m afraid. Ascalon is only for dragons.” Deimos says, rather matter-of-factly.

You ignore his gloating. You reach out with your pained, fevered whispers on the wind, asking for anyone, anything, to catch them.

“Your evil ends here. Consider this judgment for all the innocent humans you killed, Kazami.”

Something catches the whisper, and swallows it whole.
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Deimos then pulls back on Rhongomiant, only to find that the lance is not budging. He pulls again. Same result.

Suddenly, a hollow voice radiates out from the innards of the slain beast, horrible and slurred, like the murky depths of a unknown ocean, “Tis tragic, I am sorry. Another one of thy champions hath claimed mine life already.”

The more Deimos tugs, the more the corpse seems to suck it in. A burst of foul water from the beast’s innards forces him to let go, and he stares in horror as the dragon rolls back upright, and looks at him with sickly green eyes.

The dragon softly hisses as its body flows and reforms like water into the visage of the humanoid knightess form, now emaciated beyond recognition, with Rhongomiant firmly held in one hand and Clarent in the other.

“The Enuma Elish tells of mine demise, but tis also a tale of mine triumph. For while mine living state was a mere progenitor of gods and monsters of whose time has long past, mine corpse formed the heavens and the earth, and the blood of mine eviscerated son, Kingu, formed the first humans of Sumeria, the first civilization...”

Deimos yells and swings Ascalon down on her head, splitting it in twain. She doesn’t react, much to his horror as the two halves of her mouth continue talking while slowly reforming.

“And the access to Kingu’s blood, sprung anew in the vessels of mine squire, mixed in with the waters of the corpse of Styx...allow me to exert authority over humanity as well as the forces you work for.”

“Water of life, water of death.” Ming...Thanatos’s corpse chants as it shuffles upright in eerie, marionette movements. “Halves of humanity, the tools of the gods.”

A single slash from Ascalon carves the puppet in twain. His torso lands on its hands, and it begins crawling forward like a zombie movie. A further slash from a now frantic Deimos cleaves the metallic thing in half vertically.

“Can you not see what you are standing against, noble knight?” A sickening crunch, and Deimos looks down with horror to see a foul, ichor-dripping Clarent lodged in his gut, as if his divine plating wasn’t even there. He looks up at Awyrgan’s inhuman face, who despite her obviously undead feature, is sporting a peaceful smile, even as she pushes the sword all the way through, pinning his sizeable frame against a mass of machinery and shattering his chestpiece.

“You! A mere sword cannot...” Deimos then notices that the wound is not bleeding, instead, it is spreading some sort of dark, silvery metallic corruption around it. The same color as the ichor from the sword.

A hoarse scream escapes his throat, one not of pain, but of confused terror. Golden light erupts from the wound, bleeding divinity. A familiar figure materializes outward amidst the light that falls down and rolls on the ground, her hat falling off and blowing away in the blizzard.

“Lady Suwako!” You cry out as you grab and cradle your ancestor goddess’s small figure. She’s alive. Not physically breathing, but you can hear her faint spiritual gasps in your mind nonetheless. The pain from before subsides as you hold her close.

“Humans, and by extension, all life, exist to kill and consume. The grass on the ground feasts upon mine corpse, the earth. A cow tears up the grass and eats it. Then you slaughter the cow for a steak.” Awyrgan...no...her internal Tiamat fragment piloting the shell speaks, “And the so-called gods you worship, reap the faith that exists from the killing and from your meal, even disregarding those whom crave active sacrifice.”

She gently strokes Thanatos’s unmoving metallic mask of a face. “He was a human, an organism, a human soul distilled and polished down to its most basic instincts: killing. Killing for the sake of killing. Only held in check by a artificial jail warden of Styx.”

You watch Deimos struggle against the sword, and failing that, attempt to tear the spreading metallic corruption from his own skin. No success on that either.

“All the better for me to turn his body into a functional Kingu, and through him, the tools mine patricidal children have wrought shall be brought to heel, returning to the mother sea.”

A chill runs down your spine. “AWYRGAN!” You scream, “Did you follow and protect Ming the whole time just because you wanted his blood and inherent magic? So you can affix your Tiamat origin to his one of Thanatos?”

“Lady Sanae, I am a dragon at heart.” She replies, her deathly tone even and matter-of-factly, “If he was merely a hollow killer, piloted by the echoes of past victims in his head, I would not have given such a wretch the time of day. The possessing fragment of a god within him, as he said himself, was what gave him any worth at all as a component of mine hoard.”

Deimos’s screams grow ever more faint, and his movements increasingly robotic and jerky. Clarent slides back out of his stomach, clattering on the ground with no blood on its pristine blade. He feebly grasps it, and with a final surge of heroic strength moves the sword against his own neck.

It clatters against the metallic corruption, and bounces off.

The corruption spreads past his face and skull, sinking into the skin and imbuing it with an artificial sheen. Then, with jerky, unfamiliar movements, Deimos stands back up, the hole in his stomach knitting itself back together with strands of steel. His expression is calm and serene, almost joyful.

“I am compleated. Milady.” He speaks, his tone now the same faintly luminous, metallic one as Thanatos’s. “So this is what life can become. I was so blind. The castes and nobility were misguided to the truth: every human could be perfect.”

Awyrgan raises a hand, and the Companion immediately falls into a reverent genuflection as she orders, “Depart from here, and be a better boyfriend for Nashira. Don’t show your face to me again.”

Everyone, including Thanatos, who had just pushed the two halves of his head back together and stood up, is taken aback by her strange order. Deimos...or what used to be Deimos anyway, lowers his head, “As you command, so it shall be done, milady Tiamat.” He says, before sprouting a pair of rotten feathery wings, dripping with corrupted water, from his back, and flying off.

The dragoness turns back towards the projector, which is still active. “I suppose we could just disable the lens, but what a waste of a good weapon if we do so. Miss Kazami, you know why they chose to use a Yggdrasil seed for this tower rather than blessed metal?”

The flower youkai shows no sign of fear or concern at the transformation, just curiosity, “I suppose, my dear garden annoyance, that given your normal ability to influence machinery, they used organic construction to negate the issue. Same with their warbeasts. You probably should have asked the man you just dismissed.”

“I am just trying to embellish myself in proclaiming that organic defenses are no longer a barrier to my gift of perfection. This tower shall be the first testbed.” She shifts to the full dragon form and flies around the top, “Looks like this will take a while. Thanatos, you are hereby granted the title of Mordred now, while I compleat this structure and all of its inhabitants. And take care of our allies.”

====

====

====

Tiamat’s pressure leaves you, as you watch her physical vessel...your lady...fly up to the top of the projector and begin exhaling a steady stream of Styx-blended nanobots downwards, seeping through the vents and into the organic building. The massive ultraviolet lens groans, and turns away from the Scarlet Devil Mansion, to harass its former owners with its sunlight.

The divine shielding on the tower falls apart, likely due to its maintenance team becoming compleated, and Yuuka immediately began regenerating herself with the Yggdrasil material, the roots and branches sprouting out and melding into her.

You are in control again, you think to yourself as you pick up Clarent from the ground. The Saviors have been expecting you and her to always be together. So splitting up is likely to be a good tactic. You would ask Shou, but an entity such as the two of you are a novel artifact, not something a traditional war god would have experience with.

“Lady Kochiya. Lady Kazami.” You say as you politely bow at Sanae and Yuuka, “I shall be acting as Mordred while my master is occupied. Iron Wing has delegated command to me. General Bishamonten, can you confirm?”

“...Ming?” Shou exclaims in surprise over the radio, “I thought...okay. Confirmed transferrence of knighthood. Objective complete, by the way.”

Sanae complains without moving her attention from the unconscious Suwako, “Great. An undead serial killer robot, just the perfect person to put our trust into.”

“As I said before, I am Thanatos, Lady Kochiya, not the identity this body belonged to. I am just an intelligent control module still marked as living thanks to the scrubbed souls of the shell’s victims. I am sorry for not being able to curb his excesses in that regard.”

Yuuka grabs ahold of your shoulder and looks you over, “Hmph, I sense no living cells in your form. And yet,” she moves a hand over Clarent’s faintly glowing hilt, “The sword still seems to recognize you. A lich.”

You sigh, “That’s a fair, if ugly way of describing my being, but yes. The vengeful spirits that haunted Ming throughout his life became consumed by my abilities when I was transplanted into his corpse. The people are gone, though the animals seem to not mind the scrubbing as much.”

You mutter a Call, drawing inwards instead of outwards, and the ethereal form of a fox appears around your arm, surveying the surroundings with eyes of ghostfire. “With the host soul gone, their scraps of memory and thoughts are what maintains the semblance of life I still function off of, since we’re undead, not true AI.”

“Wait!” Sanae shouts, a realization crossing her mind, “If you’re running off of the remnant souls you stole, then Awyrgan is burning...”

“Oh, she’ll live for way longer than me.” You say with a weak smile, “Even counting my combat kills, I only have a dozen or so souls, but Awyrgan...well, the Tiamat backup control module anyway, she will be able to draw the souls of those that refuse her gifts, and feed off of the worship of those that do. Theoretically, I could’ve persisted for another decade if I simply did nothing and laid low outside. But now...” The fox soul catches ablaze, “My duty supercedes that desire. I shall make do with what I can get and what she bestows.”

Wizard Squadron reports in, having been blissfully unaware of what happened or is happening given the cutoff in comms. Good thing too, as screams of terror are now coming out from inside the tower. Your lady’s fusion of Tiamat’s shard with the modern concept of industrial production is truly a horrific force. But just like the Industrial Revolution, it is a necessary one.

“Wizard 1, AOO is secure. We found a friend loitering in the airspace. Patching her through.”

“Ming...” Nue Houjuu’s voice comes through the comms, “You bastard. You were dead this whole time?”

“Oh hey, Lady Minamoto no Tsurugi.” Nue makes a sort of wet strangling sound as you forgot to forget that particular piece of information. “...Sorry, you can kill me for that mistake.”

Several arrows whistle through the air and embed themselves firmly in your chest cavity, followed by a hurled trident. You collapse, gurgling up river water.

Nue lands with her foot firmly planted on, then through your skull. She seems unamused as your smushed face weaves itself back together and forms a smile.

“S’up.”

“Every time I see you, you gain another title...Mordred. Ugh.” She shakes her head, “Hijiri’s busy evacuating villagers outside of Savior territory, but strangely, she says that I’m better suited to the frontlines. Wonder what got into her to actually promote one of her disciples, even me, to go kill while letting Mamizou help out there.”

“She doesn’t want you scaring the children.” The elder tanuki calls over the radio, “Unlike my fuzzy servants.”

“I’m not the same Ming you talked with before, Nue.” You say, “He did a shoddy job fixing you up anyway. If you fell uncomfortable around me, feel free to go somewhere else and...”

“Shut up and lead. Thanatos.” Sanae suddenly interrupts, handing Suwako over to Yuuka, who is rather confused at being given an unconscious entity due to her reputation, “You’re not going to be pretending to not be the main character here any more.”

“I’m not.” You point upwards, “All three of them: Thor, Ochiba, Reimu, are up there.”

“With no one to see or care as long as they are cut off by the Vijaya. Thanatos, listen, you are now the leader of the squadron which had just taken out two major objectives through brute force. You are the incident resolver now as far as everyone watching us right now is concerned. Regardless if you’re truly your own person or not, you...” She emphasizes her point by jabbing her gohei at your chest, “Are the protagonist most fit for handling an outside war. Stop denying your status.”

“But Sanae, you are the main character, a canon one!” You protest.

“I’m a high school girl and a shrine maiden. You are an undead mechanical monstrosity piloted by two dead gods and have adapted immunity to nearly everything the Saviors can throw at you. Now, which one of us here,” Sanae shouts as she pushes you around, to a grand panoramic view off the tower, at the unfolding war raging on beneath the sealed sky, at the ugly spectacle of a fairyland forced into brutal industrial conflict. “Is better fitted to lead inside THIS mess in the Gensokyean way?!”

“There’s a Gensokyean way?”

“Flying in a random direction and beating up everyone who looks at you funny until the incident is over.” Is the identical reply from all three natives.

“Or in this case, killing all of them.” Yuuka adds on.

You stare at then, then giggle, chuckle, and finally break out into full-blown laughter, amplified into a metallic screech against the howling blizzard. “Very well then. Miss Houjuu, all of you guys, I shall promise that I will do better than my previous host.”

The radio crackles. The battlescape is shifting.

[ ] “Margatroid here, cancelling SOS. Beginning push towards Youkai Mountain Ruins. Kirisame is...fine. Definitely fi......Rinnosuke Morichika speaking. Margatroid’s radio just exploded. Be wary of the love-colored comet. Requesting assistance securing the advance.”

[ ] “This is Remilia Scarlet, my sister is now blowing a path through their pitiful defenses. Any mortal forces should follow if they know what’s good...no, Flan! That’s the…...Court Mage Patchouli Knowledge here, requesting assistance in stabilizing experimental environment.”

[ ] “AYO! THE MAGNIFICENT TENSHI HERE WITH THE WORLD FAMOUS MEN IN BLA...Get off the radio...This is Captain Matthew Ferguson here with the CIA-Clear Sky Joint Strike Force. We’ve got the weather manipulation device -HAARP- set up, requesting assistance with defending it on activation.”
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“Is it just me or is the comms policy here really bad? Everyone’s on a public frequency with no procedure. Over.” Bristow complains on the radio to his fellow drake pilots and partially his own Bronze Wing (he named it Puff).

“Wizard 1! ” Shou cuts in without warning, proving his point, “Patching in some information to your compendium. They’re reconstructed data from Thanatos’s shed parts...Over.”

“THANK YOU for finally...Err...I mean. Roger. Over.”

Bristow pats the drake’s exposed nerves and allows it to settle into a semi-evasive holding pattern. He pulls up the tablet and glances over the information.

“Commander Toramaru, are you saying you scanned a whole letter from his corpse parts? Over.”

“Oddly enough, yes. We’re not sure why his limbs were encoded with this through arcane cryptography, but it seems to illustrate his abilities. Sort of. We know he’s not a kishin, and currently Higan is cut off from our comms to confirm. Over.”

====

Hellish Report 2 of 5: Cocytus, the Freezing Dark

Year of Jiaqing 42 (1802 AD)

The four organic spells implanted have proven well in our trials for the new Kishin. Disguised as a wandering ronin, it successfully held off an attack on a village by rogue oni, and proved capable of healing their victims rapidly afterwards. We apologize for lacking the conditions for testing against its intended targets. As such, the completed product, named Thanatos out of respect for its heart’s donor, will be moved to your domain, China, great Jade Emperor, for field testing and deployment.

Once again, I must ask: What is your intention with such a weapon? Forgive us for not understanding the ways of Confucius and Laozi as well as we do those of the Buddha, but what source of heresy can arise in your country that are also fueled by the divine? Christians? Surely those foreigners need not the intervention of heaven itself to be driven out, nor do they pose a threat.

And it is not just I who holds such concerns. The other Yama have been talking, and fear that such a creation could be treacherous in nature, even with the nature of its soul. Perhaps one that will rival the Monkey King’s rampage, given how capable it can be.

Mechanism:

Cocytus is a frozen river capable of holding immaterial souls in suspension. Experimentation with samples produced by Thanatos have proven that such an act can be finely manipulated to shut off designated areas from physical and magical interference by selectively disposing observational sources from souls.

The westerners have a saying: “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The answer, of course, is no, upon the surgical blindspotting of all sources, the physical nature of a situation cannot evaluate or change. Such a manner of stasis is well-known to western magicians, but to implement it without an initial application of a physical obscurant is something new, pioneered by this subject.

====

"Between life and death, lies perfection."

Meanwhile, on the ground below.

Sylla stands on guard as Savior personnel emerge from the tower. No weapons. Screaming in terror. Collapsing and spasming. Shou says to just let them go, as they pose no threat in this state.

He looks up to see the black sludge spreading downwards, and reminds himself that it’s supposed to be on his side.

Around when Awyrgan’s Tiamat juice reaches two-thirds of the way down, the stream of runners cease. Then, other things begin emerging from the gates. And really, things are the best way he could categorize them.

Sylla sucks on his fear and dumps as much emotion into his mask as possible. He looks over to his progenitor for encouragement, but even Kokoro is trembling at the sight, wearing a mask that’s very much not one of confidence. How else are you supposed to react to frames of spindly metal, wearing a stretched facade of tar-colored skin and meat?

Fortunately, Awyrgan is merciful enough to not force the Clear Sky troops to interact with their newest recruits. Unfortunately, Sylla can still feel their emotions with his mask.

The abominations shamble, wordlessly. Their emotions turgid and stiff, without change. As if their minds are frozen. One looks over to him, its lower jaw replaced with metallic mandibles, which is enough to force Sylla to take a step back just out of instinct.

Sylla then screams, out loud, as the abomination turns around and reveals a face on its back, one that tends to the aiming of a light cannon mounted there. He looks around to see the other soldiers. Some are screaming like him, others seem to have lapsed into standing catatonia.

Kokoro is actually showing visible fear on her real face. “A..Adin. You’re f...feeling them too?”

“Y..yeah. Not as horrible as...that..though. Why do machines still...emote.”

She trembles, then says, “Dig deeper.”

Sylla sucks in a deep breath, and focuses his mind. Blocking the horrific appearance out of his mind, he dives into the unmoving sea of the abomination’s emotions, a queer, but not entirely unpleasant set, considering the thing’s appearance.

Until he reaches past the surface thoughts, and hits a solid core of sheer, unbridled fear and terror that jolts him right back out, severing the empathic link. “Kokoro, the people! They...”

“They’re still alive.”

====
[x] Wait

The boat clears the mists, and at the oar is a redheaded woman in an puffy dress, decorated by coins. A name tingles in what little consciousness you have remaining: Komachi.

“Komachi?” You mutter, exhaling outwards in a ghostly whisper. The woman simply stares at you, and motions for you to board the boat. She does not ask for a toll.

You feel around your robes, and reveal a single gold coin. You recognize this gold coin. You tossed it to your friend, remember? When did she give it back?

The woman ignores it, even after you board the boat.

The boat turns around and moves, even though she’s not rowing. The riverbank fades, and you catch sight of hundreds, if not thousands of other souls waiting at its shores. However, you are the sole passenger for this voyage. Special treatment?

The other side of the river does not come into view.

“Technically,” Komachi suddenly breaks the silence, “I’m not sure if I should even be bringing you across. Wu Zhen-Guo is not dead.”

“...Eh?”

“Your body. It is still alive...technically, and there is still a healthy soul piloting it without possession, despite its heavily contaminated nature. You...the part here right now...have simply been kicked out of it when it died the second time. But your whole is still amongst the living.”

Thunder and lightning sounds in the distance, and some more memories resurface. “War...is this land not at war? Right now?”

“The shinigami are not concerned with the conflict of mortals, just the violations of laws regarding life and death. Besides,” Komachi points at the shore, “I am helping out.”

You look at the shore. A teeming mass of ghosts, in both ragged mercenary outfits and broken knight regalia, stare back at you with hollow eyes. You look across, and see many more similar boats ferrying them across.

“This is your job, true, but...” You wrack the strands of your leftover memories, “We are winning, right?”

Komachi remains silent for a few moments, before reluctantly replying, “Clear Sky entered Gensokyo with three thousand human soldiers, supported by youkai who signed on to Yukari’s contracts. By the end, their numbers will be the same.”

“...?”

“You worked for Eientei. You must have seen the rows of pods Lady Yagokoro maintains in its extradimensional depths. Clear Sky is a phantasmal corporation, and Yakumo has dealings with everyone...including Eientei...and Higan.”

=====



Location: Eientei, 14th expansion segment laboratory

Time: 12 hours until collapse of current Hakurei Iteration



“Hmm.” Yukari remarks as the human stumbles out of the stasis chamber, naked and confused. “You could have used a better model than baseline humanity, Eirin.”

“More deviations from baseline would result in even worse soul desynchronizations than we’re getting.” The doctor responds, exhaustion in her voice and her face. “Cloning isn’t as easy as the humans imagine, even for a genius like me.”

“I suppose asking for enhancements while already using unpurified souls is too much, yes.” Yukari remarks as she drops a towel to the confused human from an overhead gap. “But mental stability isn’t that important for my needs.”

“You do not get berserkers from soul desynchronization, you get gibbering zombies.” Eirin says, annoyed, “I still have headcam footage from my former employee, now a part of your Mordred, from where he demonstrated exactly why it’s such a hindrance to breaching the border of life and death...not that you had any reason to care until now.”

“Yuyuko was a success, thank you very much. And if I could repeat the process with everyone under contract, I will. Hey!” She steps over to the human who had cleaned the goo from his eyes and is now staring and muttering at his hands, “Michael Okoro. Sales Division team member!”

The human looks up at her, panic in his eyes, “My name! That’s my name! But...but this isn’t my body! These aren’t my hands! Lady Yakumo! I feel like my nerves are scrambled…Fok, am I going to die? Didn’t I die?”

Yukari sighs, “Mr. Okoro, your contract said twenty years of employment, and unlike less successful companies, we do not see death in combat as a termination clause and would go through Hell, literally, to get you back in action.”

“I died? I...DIED!? I don’t belong here!” The man continues, his disconnect and confusion only worsening as he comprehends his situation.

“We are in active operations as per clause 35-E. Finish this operation and we can then talk about severance. Armory is to the right.”

Eirin watches as the man stumbles past, still afflicted but unnaturally obedient. “You do know that my data oracles prophecize a 98% suicide rate past one month, correct?”

The sage shrugs and opens a gap, stepping in, “As I said, severance. Now, I trust you have the rehabilitation process under control for these soldiers, Omoikane, as I will be heading out to assist your agents in breaking through the Savior’s rear guard near the bamboo forest.”

Eirin looks up, at the elaborate enchantment systems she set up for just this purpose, and lets out a weak laugh, “You ought to do more than just trust me, Lurker at the Threshold.”

=====

“So what do I do now?” You ask. Your arms move, unbidden.

“Wait until we finish the trip to the other side. Then we’ll have Eiki see what needs to be done for your situation…”

With a single fluid motion, Komachi swings her scythe around, neatly severing your hands before you could grasp around her neck. “I’ll be keeping these as long as you’re on my boat.” She says, as if it’s a routine thing, while pocketing them. “If you bite I will be taking your head custody as well.”

You stare dumbly at your stumps.

“You really have not changed, lost soul. No matter how often you cross the river....”

She bends backwards, staring into your eyes.

“...All you do is kill.”
[X] “AYO! THE MAGNIFICENT TENSHI HERE WITH THE WORLD FAMOUS MEN IN BLA...Get off the radio...This is Captain Matthew Ferguson here with the CIA-Clear Sky Joint Strike Force. We’ve got the weather manipulation device -HAARP- set up, requesting assistance with defending it on activation.”
Massive, obvious target means more action.

>“Technically,” Komachi suddenly breaks the silence, “I’m not sure if I should even be bringing you across. Wu Zhen-Guo is not dead.”
>“You really have not changed, lost soul. No matter how often you cross the river....”
>“...All you do is kill.”
Ah yes, we are going to hell.
[x] “AYO! THE MAGNIFICENT TENSHI HERE WITH THE WORLD FAMOUS MEN IN BLA...Get off the radio...This is Captain Matthew Ferguson here with the CIA-Clear Sky Joint Strike Force. We’ve got the weather manipulation device -HAARP- set up, requesting assistance with defending it on activation.”

I can only imagine how bad it will be if it starts raining river water.
File 15878137556.jpg - (69.25KB, 615x409, 0_Transmitters-illustration.jpg) [iqdb]
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[x] “AYO! THE MAGNIFICENT TENSHI HERE WITH THE WORLD FAMOUS MEN IN BLA...Get off the radio...This is Captain Matthew Ferguson here with the CIA-Clear Sky Joint Strike Force. We’ve got the weather manipulation device -HAARP- set up, requesting assistance with defending it on activation.”

“I thought HAARP being able to do anything beyond low level ionosphere experiments was just a conspiracy theory?” You ask into the radio.

“Because it didn’t have the power capacity.” Ferguson replies, “Besides, if we wanted to start earthquakes, nuclear charges were a more economical option. With the...cooperation of Gensokyo, however, we can tap into the noosphere energy generated by those very same conspiracy theories and also augment the system with its previously thought to be impossible piece:...”

“ME!” Tenshi cuts in, excitedly. “My Sword of Hisou can convert spiritual energy directly into weather! Well, without any opposition and usually only within a square kilometer at most, but this American machine can amplify it and thus display my true power, changing the sky of the whole of Japan if needed!”

“When it’s fully deployed of course.” Ferguson cuts back in as you hear soldiers in the background coaxing Tenshi away, “Miss Hinanawi cannot defend herself while channeling for us, and you can bet the enemy will rush this position as soon as they can detect us trying to dispel Thor’s Fimbulwinter blizzard. You may not have noticed, Mordred, but us normal humans are not doing so well with such malicious snow in the way.”

Shou did tell you something about the snow while your lady was keeping you in full slave mode. Something about it affecting human combat capabilities. Come to think of it, your Bronze Wing escorts were really only barely holding on the whole time despite the Typhoon-Dragons being statistically superior to the Savior’s “Baby’s First Fighter Jet” F-22s. Not that the pensioner knights’ pride will allow them to admit so.

“Very well. Mordred Unit will be arriving shortly to defend your position...” You check the map and confirm with Shou over your other internal radio, “In five minutes. Over.”

Ferguson gives a confirmation signal, and the radio cuts out.

“Are we planning on relying on just Yuuka for our physical firepower?” Nue rumbles from above you, manifested in all her historical size and glory, “The dragon ain’t really here, and all Thanatos can really do is soak up attacks while I keep him unidentifiable.”

“Once Lady Suwako recovers, we should be fine.” Sanae replies, still focused on healing her ancestor, still barely conscious, while riding on Nue’s back. “We are not the only ones defending this installation.

As you crest over the hilltop to the indicated location, you suddenly feel as if you just pushed through a barrier of liquid. Moments later, the landscape completely transforms, and the blizzard abruptly disappears, replaced with a light drizzle. Instead of the temperate, relatively sparse Japanese forest below, you instead see a vast boreal forest, with numerous snowy mountains in the distance.

You’re Outside again. But this time, Wu Zhenguo is not here to try to fuck things up. In fact, with Lady Awyrgan’s gifted wings, you can still fly

Behind you, a vast rift is open in the air, not with Yukari’s signature ribboned gap, but a hellish formation of fire and brimstone that leads back into the Gensokyo warzone. Below you is the distinctive antenna array of the HAARP facility, located in...right, Alaska.

You’re in Alaska.

===

Location: Gakona, Alaska - United States of America
Time: 10 hours until collapse of current Hakurei Iteration

===

“Thanatos!” Somebody shouts at you. Not through the radio. But directly from below with immense volume.

“Eh?”

“Get down here!”

“Who is this?” You try to shout back.

“GET DOWN NOW! Cerberus, φέρω!”

“Eh?” You feel warm, moist air on the back of your neck, and look back to see a gaping maw...no, THREE gaping maws with massive fangs. Instinctively, you draw Initiative to try to smack them away, but they read your move and snatch you by your wings.

“Uh...help?” You murmur into the radio as the three-headed dog drags you down from the sky. Rather gently, you suppose, considering it’s jaw strength is very much enough to rip you in two, armor or not.

Cerberus lays you down inside the HAARP facility, on your feet.

Around you, are some rather ominous-looking masked US soldiers manning various emplacements that were clearly set up overnight, alongside scared-looking civilian engineers, likely working for the University of Alaska Fairbanks judging by their jackets, hurrying to and fro.

In the center of the array, an impromptu ritual stage of some sort has been set up on top of two flatbed trucks. You can sort of see a figure with blue hair and a rainbow sword busy leviating rocks on top of it, while a mob of scientists and technicians fiddle around with various terminals and machinery below.

“I’ve been waiting to talk to you, Thanatos.”

In front of you, apart from the humans, is some blue-haired goth girl, straight out of the back alley of a highschool, wearing an orb on her head, staring at you with an odd expression.

“Welcome...to...hell?” You quote outloud from her shirt, straight out of Hot Topic. “So are you a youkai or spirit of metal music or social outcasts? An American youkai?”

“Cerberus!” Now that you’re closer, her thick Greek accent becomes more apparent. The large three-headed hellhound runs over, and sits obediently at her side, “Eat him if he says something stupid like that again.”

“Oh. Sorry.” You apologize. You might not share Wu Zhenguo’s fear of beasts, but a giant three-headed dog is still a giant viable threat. “You’re...Hades? I thought he was male...”

Her expression turns into disappointment, “You really don’t recognize me?”

“No...sorry. I definitely would have remembered you if I’ve seen you before.”

“Thanatos...I’m Hecate.”

You stare at her, then to Cerberus, then back at her post-modern attire, “You’re Hecate?? Sure could have fooled any god with that getup.”

“Are you really going to say that, Thanatos, considering your current appearance?”

You shrug your metallic shoulders, “I’m not the Thanatos you knew, Lady Hecate. I am a control system written by his incarnation to offload his status onto the corpse of a serial killer. I don’t know you, Lady Hecate and I don’t fully remember what my progenitor’s identity is if you ask me.”

Hecate’s eyes widen and glow. Sigils of Greek symbols pop up around you, and you feel all the twisting passageways in your brain straighten out, your magic resistance faltering against the sheer amount of pressure Hecate is putting out, “I am not concealing information.” You add on.

Wait, did Hecate just overcome your anti-divinity?

“Really?” She turns to your fellow wingmen aboard Nue, who had just landed, scaring off the civilians in the area with her monstrous appearance. “Let’s see if your friends admit otherwise.”

Hecate raises her arms, makes a grabbing motion. Scripts of light flow out of your companions’ heads before they notice anything, and into the goddess’s palms.

“Hmph, they don’t know anything either.” She mutters, reading their memories like a pamphlet.

“You can just do that?” You ask.

“Thanatos, I am THE goddess of magic and the sole active god of Greece. Unlike the vestigial gods of Gensokyo or the Nordic Pantheon I still command the faith of all those who believe in western magic and witchcraft, which number in the billions. Astrology, New Age beliefs, communing with the dead...all are within my domain and invoke my name, even if they do not explicitly worship me.”

You take a good look at her outfit again, “Is that why you look like you shop at a Hot Topic? Forgive my ignorance, is it the trend now for a goddess to dress like her followers now, instead of the reverse?”

“That...and because I do run a business for my followers.” A hint of embarrassment crosses her face, “Dionysus runs a chain of wineries now, and Apollo owns a ranch...”

“Is it because Greece’s economy under dire economic straits that you are all turning to business?”

Cerberus growls, and Hecate’s eyes narrow, “...No. But that is why I’m helping Gensokyo here today, Thanatos. The US Government and Clear Sky have agreed to some fairly generous bailout conditions in exchange for me linking this chunk of the West with the otherworld in the East. Something the mistress of Gensokyo cannot do as there are no easy borders between Alaska and Japan.”

She’s also a goddess of crossroads as well, you remember from recorded mythology.

“But also because my closest friend, one I’ve made after the fading of Olympus, has a deep hatred for the Lunarians, and Gensokyo is an enemy of the Lunarians. Also the fact that the enemy is using Lunarian technology on Earth means that they are likely an ally of the Lunarians.”

“And the enemy of my enemy is my...is your friend called Junko, by any chance?”

Hecate sighs “You know so much already. Maybe it was a bad idea to interact with your form here. Hey, Kochiya Sanae! Demigod Kochiya Sanae?”

“Whaaaat?” The green-haired shrine maiden responds as she runs over, “What god are you and why are you giving off so much holy energy?”

Cerberus, meanwhile, has taken a interest in Nue, happily yipping, rumbling and barking at the same time about the youkai while Nue seems more disturbed than anything by its three heads.

“Newborn deities these days. Here.” Hecate steps forward and rips out something inside of you.

======

A burning hand the size of an elephant pushes its way inside of you, effortlessly brushing you aside.

It snatches away the remaining three papers in the lockbox.

There is nothing you can do to stop it. Tiamat’s currently elsewhere.

======

She weaves...whatever she just got out...into three flaps of goatskin parchment, and hands them to a still rather surprised Sanae, “Take these. Read them. Tell your friend here when the fight is over and he is in a secured location...or if you decide it is the time to.”

“Lady Hecate, can you tell me why you are not telling me what you just took?” You ask, annoyed at another one selectively denying you information.

“That I can tell you. These reports were locked away for a reason inside your heart, and from the way they were sealed off, I can deduce that they have something to do with the way the Yamas of Japan molded Thanatos’s heart into what the Chinese Heavenly Court commissioned, perhaps some sort of instinctual response would be elicited.”

“Considering I was completely remade into what I am now.” You gesture at your current form of living metal and machinery. “I doubt that is the case, and the two reports prior shared with me did not cause any reaction.”

“I can’t read this you know, it’s all kanji...I mean, it’s all in Chinese.” Sanae interjects as she looks at the reports. Hecate ignores her.

‘Thanatos’” Hecate crosses her arms, as the balls connected to her hat via chains (is she a Touhou by virtue of that hat?) begin to float, “As you are just an artificial helot created by the real Thanatos’s incarnation, what is written within these reports by the Yama have little to do with you in particular. On the side of caution, I would not risk exposing you to the full set at once.”

You are about to protest , then think better of it, “Sure, it’s not my business anyway. We’re not the same person.”

The goddess seems to relax at that statement, “Judging by your attitude, it is clear that you are speaking the truth, and that the one I need to speak to is currently in Hell.”

“I figured that’s where Wu ended up.” You say.

“So I’ll be heading there. Meanwhile...Yuuka.” Hecate turns towards the youkai who had been surveying the landscape.

“Hecatia.” The youkai of flowers curtly responds at the goddess of magic’s curious gaze. “You have something to ask? I am afraid I have not been doing much this millenium.”

“I know.” Yuuka’s lips curl into a frown as Hecate turns back to you, “Looks like you lot will be able to handle this war just fine with someone like that around, plus all the pseudodragons you’ve produced. I’ll be off.”

“Aren’t you going to help us?” You ask, disappointed.

“I helped Clear Sky enough here already, as much as I can get away with while remaining deniable,” She says,tilting her head at the hellgate, “I have no stake in this conflict, and the last thing Greece needs right now is a war with an army from the future...but here:” She conjures a wreath of hellfire, from which a rusty bronze blade emerges. “Thanatos’s old sword. You might find it useful.”

“I have enough rusty weapons on me right now,” You protest, showing her the array of legendary swords, corrupted with the waters of Tiamat-Styx as they are, that you nabbed from Deimos. Thor hasn’t dispelled their manifestation yet, probably due to the corruption. “And last time I touched something like that it gave me a flashback, which according to you, is quite dangerous. Besides, not mine.”

“Your new mistress is really a generous one, well then...oh right, I almost forgot.” You jump back as Hecate taps her heels on the ground, which splits asunder with a spew of fire and brimstone, out of which emerges...a single fairy?

“This is Clownpiece, one of my lampads.” Hecate states as she lifts the fairy up and moves her close to you, as if expecting you to take the fairly large girl into your arms. “She has been conditioned in anti-Lunarian operations, AND one which my friend saw fit to transform into a pure form...of pure lifeforce, if you would...Thanatos?”

“I think he likes me, Lady Hecatia!” Clownpiece happily.

“Too...alive...overcharging.” An uncontrollable drool of river water streams out of the corner of your maw. You’ve been leeching off the lifeforce of your Hews and kills to fuel your spells, but this...this is more than what even Awyrgan’s killings can provide.

“You conceptually aligned her to the United States’s land?” Yuuka asks as she strolls over to take ahold of Clownpiece and distance you from the fountain. You only now realize that the fairy is wearing an outfit resembling the American flag, which several of the US soldiers around have also taken note and are jokingly saluting.

“She’s supposed to be a bioweapon against the Lunarians, of which the United States is their largest conceptual weakness. Junko had also refined her very essence to become a fountain of life energy, their bane. Use her as you wish. That is the last of my aid I will be rendering to your corporation. Farewell.”

With the rather quick rundown, Hecate steps back, and vanishes into a plume of hellfire.

“My my, that Junko must be really powerful to produce a nexus such as you.” Yuuka remarks as she greets Clownpiece, “Isn’t she?”

“Yep! Lady Junko can purify everything and anything to make them stronger!” Clownpiece shares Hecate’s thick Greek accent, but is significantly happier in tone. “ And she’s from China, just like you, new-Thanatos!”

“Err-my original body is from China, the person who it belonged to is long dead.” You reply, shaking off the stupor. “Never heard of her though. And if Yuuka hasn’t, I doubt anyone else here has.”

“Auntie Junko is a weird person who stays inside most of the time. She shouts everyday that Chang’e, that lady who was the first to live on the moon, is her worst enemy.”

A Humvee pulls up, and a tall, gruff-looking black man steps out. A somewhat familiar face.

Captain Ferguson, formerly the guy herding those outsiders to the village, nervously looks around as he approaches you. “Is that goddess gone?”

“Yeah, this is just Mordred Unit here now, and Hecate’s parting gift of an aide.” You respond. “Never expected the US military to work with Clear Sky directly, are you guys special forces or something?”

“CIA, specifically.” Ferguson, in his full military dress and kit, looks much more intimidating than his role as the hapless leader of the outsiders last week, “We’re not on the books, at least not to you, Wu Zhenguo, a National Guard washout with no clearance. We’re embedded throughout the Air Force, but internally we’re known as the Lunarian Operations Task Force, founded by the Apollo mission command.”

“Wait, so Neil Armstrong was a part of you guys?”

“The Apollo 11 crew could be considered the first LOTF marines, yes. We owe most of the things you see here to the anti-thaumaturgy technology developed for the moon landings, as well as the Lunarian insights we gleaned from those missions. We still can’t use their stuff we recovered, however, due to issues with the purity on Earth. But according to Clear Sky’s data, the enemy has them?”

“Yes, indeed.” You take a good look at the soldiers on duty around. Mostly standard infantry gear, with experimental-looking attachments and ammunition that are all aimed towards disrupting magical particles. The M1 Abrams tanks embedded in hull-down positions around the perimeter sport an external railgun accelerator, and that’s about as obviously advanced as it gets.

Clear Sky troopers aren’t flashy either, but most of them are mages to some degree. Can these US regulars really deal with Savior gear without assistance?

“...So Area 51 really doesn’t have that many interesting things, huh?”

“We ain’t no Space Marines...yeah I was disappointed too, especially after the debriefing that magic was real and everything. Apparently we’re not considered priority for funding in the agency considering how obscure the threat is. But as unassuming as it looks, it was enough to deal with the antagonistic Lunarian agents we find on Earth. Not sure about these guys.”

“Right, the mission!” How did both of you get off-track like this? “Recon info? Are you sure the Saviors will be attacking in force all the way here, in Alaska?”

“We have reports from locals and park rangers of dust plumes and entire trails of broken trees. While they have evaded our sensors, they are fairly clumsy at actual operational stealth. Furthermore, they have been tailing Miss Hinanawi since she was...deposited in San Francisco...”

“She was ‘deposited’?”

“I don’t know. Ask your commander, the gappy one. Regardless,” Ferguson glances at the horizon, then to the truck stage, “We can safely assume that the the enemy will be assaulting this facility shortly after we begin the highly visible procedure to dispel their artificial blizzard, and considering the nationality of most of the captured fighters...” Ferguson grits his teeth as he says that, “We can assume they have substantial numbers here given the lack of travel restrictions for them...as our Lunarian essence detectors are pinging like mad all around this area.”

You radio back to Shou to see if Futo’s got anything, but apparently her ability, nor any Gensokyo-based form of scrying, do not work through an artificial portal. “Wizard Squadron...”

“We’ve been surveying the area before you asked, Thanatos.” Bristow replies, “Nothing to see up here...except for the visible tracks proceeding to your southwest. Probably an armored column through there. Very slow, however.”

“Their active camo systems only work at low velocities.” You check Wizard Squadron’s feed, “Captain Ferguson. How much artillery and air support do you have?”

“Unfortunately our cruise missile launch sites in Alaska were sabotaged earlier this week by turncoat agents recruited by the Saviors.” He audibly suppresses his rage as he points at the guns encamped just short of the HAARP installation itself. “We have thirty howitzers, and two wings of attack aircraft from Elmendorf Air Base loitering just beyond the horizon. It’s all we can get from the proper military without tipping off more of their insiders. As such, we’re going to have to think carefully before starting up the HAARP, since judging by their prior actions they will not attack openly unless---”

A loud clanging sound interrupts Ferguson. You look towards the source, coming from the improvised stage set up in the middle of the now very much alive and active radar array. Electric buzzing fills the air as HAARP springs to life, with a levitating keystone in the middle carrying a very confident looking celestial waving her sword around slowly rising to the tops.

“RESEARCH DIVISION, THIS IS MENHIR ONE. WHAT THE FUCK?” Ferguson screams into his radio, “WHERE’S THE ACTIVATION SIGNAL?”

“SUBJECT HINANAWI TRIPPED ON A WIRE AND FELL ONTO THE SWITCH.”

“Mordred,” Bristow calmly explicates over the radio, “Large amounts of hostiles are decloaking across the AO, what is your move? Over.”

[ ] We need to clear out the skies quickly so air support can come deal with their armor. Gensokyeans, we can use Nue as a heavy flying platform to accomplish this.
[ ] I’m borrowing a tank and going to head off their armor with Lady Awyrgan’s gifts. The rest of you cover me while Wizard Squadron secures the airspace.
[ ] HAARP can defend against even Divine missiles with Tenshi powering it, but not conventional artillery. With Clownpiece’s output and our collective abilities, we can shield the facility until the ritual completes. if you can survive up there--GAAH!

“You okay?” Sanae asks as you bend over in pain from a sudden migraine.

“Nothing, just a headache.” You say. Odd. You haven’t felt like this since your body’s gotten used to your iron spells. And surely a compleated form from your lady shouldn’t be susceptible.

[X] W̴̨̯̖͓͖͓͊̄͒͂̔̓̉̈́͊̾̽̍̕͝I̵̢̳̼̪̰̯̭͉̞̣̠̤̖͂́́Z̷͖̱̘̮̟̬͓̹̜̹̺̘̥̊̂͑͂̑͜͝͠Ǎ̸̡̂̇̓͊̑̈͂͝Ŕ̵̨̲̦̣̮͖͚͇̮̫̤͉̗̫̆̕D̸̦̂̂̒͛ͅ ̶͖̖̦̞̱̗̦̙͕̾̉͊͋̀̎̆́́͜S̴̨͙͚͍̘͖̺͓̺̯̘̹̲̩̅̊̈̀͐̐̃̇̅̋̈́͝Q̶͉͐̌̈̅͜U̵̧͎͎̳̣͓͙̗̦͚͇̟̐̇̔A̴̡̧̡͍̘̖̬̳̼̒̊̄͌̌̑̌͗͗͂̀̚͜D̸̡̡̨̼̫̫͍̩͑̃̍́̿̏̈́ͅŖ̶͔̞͗̋̓̋̈́̓͠Ǫ̵̛̼̥̬̣͐̍̑̄̑͊͗̌̏̐́͌͊͒ͅ
̟̪̼͎N̶̬̬̬͕͈͔͔̣͋͜ͅͅ, K̷̨̍͂́̆Ī̷͍̫͚̒̿͘Ḷ̸̓̔͆L̶̳̍ ̷̧̀̌Ṫ̴̢̙͙̔̌̓H̵̨̊͠E̵̯͇̱͓͊̿ UPSTART ̶̹̜͓͝C̴̨̯̤͐͘E̵̦͌Ḻ̶̡̩̭̎̾͑Ȅ̷̘͈̻̕S̸̬͇͖̱̓Ṫ̸̲͑Ì̸͖̼͊̚Ą̴͖̌͠L̸̪̪̦̗̍͐
[X] W̴̨̯̖͓͖͓͊̄͒͂̔̓̉̈́͊̾̽̍̕͝I̵̢̳̼̪̰̯̭͉̞̣̠̤̖͂́́Z̷͖̱̘̮̟̬͓̹̜̹̺̘̥̊̂͑͂̑͜͝͠Ǎ̸̡̂̇̓͊̑̈͂͝Ŕ̵̨̲̦̣̮͖͚͇̮̫̤͉̗̫̆̕D̸̦̂̂̒͛ͅ ̶͖̖̦̞̱̗̦̙͕̾̉͊͋̀̎̆́́͜S̴̨͙͚͍̘͖̺͓̺̯̘̹̲̩̅̊̈̀͐̐̃̇̅̋̈́͝Q̶͉͐̌̈̅͜U̵̧͎͎̳̣͓͙̗̦͚͇̟̐̇̔A̴̡̧̡͍̘̖̬̳̼̒̊̄͌̌̑̌͗͗͂̀̚͜D̸̡̡̨̼̫̫͍̩͑̃̍́̿̏̈́ͅŖ̶͔̞͗̋̓̋̈́̓͠Ǫ̵̛̼̥̬̣͐̍̑̄̑͊͗̌̏̐́͌͊͒ͅ
̟̪̼͎N̶̬̬̬͕͈͔͔̣͋͜ͅͅ, P̸̻͊̑̿̍̽̒̈́͝R̵͖̲͊̀̀͗̀̈́͘͝͝Ǫ̴̨͔͉̮͕̼͕͊̒̌͆̇̊͝Ṯ̸̺͋̓̊̚͝ͅͅE̴͎͔̥͔̤͚͍̓͒̆͋̕͜Ć̵͎͉̝̭̲͝T̴̺̏͆̄͑̈́͆͐̑͝ ̴̱̳̮̓̉̽̅̎̚Ṭ̶͍̟̤͎̞̼͙̻̄̈̌͜͝͝Ḥ̵͆̅̄̅̀̅E̵͍̙̞̒̀̌̂ ̵̧̼͙̝͎͔̆̃̾͒̃̈͘U̶̠͆̽̊̚P̵̣̩͂S̷̮͎̜̀̒̈̈́̾T̵͚̮̘͖͎̰͍̔̐Á̵̢̛̱͕͓͔̰͂̑̄́̚̚͝͝R̷͔̖̙̈́̿͗T̵̝͓͙̟̑̄̈̑̽̉͂̆͘͜͝ ̷̨͙̜̞̜͍̗̖̾̾͜͝C̷̨̻̜̪̙̉̃͌̆͋̐͒̆͠E̴̢͕͓̯̺̿̔̔͆̕L̷̲̻̮͇̏͂̽̏̊̇͝Ę̷̤̝͙͙̥̤̱͒̃͜͜S̵̫̊͛͗̍͘T̵̢̟̻̬̫̦̀̇̔̂̎̂͛̓̿Ĩ̶̧͎͈̖̖̟̜͌́Ǎ̷̰̘͠͝L̵̨̜̣͖̻̰̦̓̓̚̚͝
[X] I’m borrowing a tank and going to head off their armor with Lady Awyrgan’s gifts. The rest of you cover me while Wizard Squadron secures the airspace.
[x] We need to clear out the skies quickly so air support can come deal with their armor. Gensokyeans, we can use Nue as a heavy flying platform to accomplish this.

We don't have Tiamat or Meiling in our heads at the moment so I'm not sure how much crazy damage we can take even with the new form, the corrupted orders make me concerned that Wizard Squadron is about to go crazy amongst itself in the skies, so in case we need to neutralize them as well, might as well take over the sky.
[x] We need to clear out the skies quickly so air support can come deal with their armor. Gensokyeans, we can use Nue as a heavy flying platform to accomplish this.
>“Is it just me or is the comms policy here really bad?

Finally someone says what we're all thinking! I mean, it's great for comedy, but fair is fair.

>>31923
We can tank a lot with his immunities and Nue making him, uh, fuzzy.

[x] We need to clear out the skies quickly so air support can come deal with their armor. Gensokyeans, we can use Nue as a heavy flying platform to accomplish this.

Air superiority was a myth 100 years ago. But nowadays is a reality, even more in this universe.
x] We need to clear out the skies quickly so air support can come deal with their armor. Gensokyeans, we can use Nue as a heavy flying platform to accomplish this.

Desired Nue death ahoy?
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[x] We need to clear out the skies quickly so air support can come deal with their armor. Gensokyeans, we can use Nue as a heavy flying platform to accomplish this.

“Before you say anything,” Nue gruffily says, “I’m not going to act as bait again.”

“Not the case, master shapeshifter. I will be drawing the brunt of the fire for you guys and Wizard Squadron. What I want you to do is stay invisible, and make me look like my lady.”

“That, I can do.” With a flourish, Nue warps the light around you into a flurry of smoke, blurring your outline until you have to activate the Hunter’s Module (now fused to your head) to see. The humans surrounding you back away as you appear to transform into a duplicate of Awyrgan.

“That said,” Nue adds on, fluttering around you as an unidentifiable orb of light, “This is an extension of my youkai abilities. If their anti-youkai capabilities out here are anywhere close to the ones we faced, this illusion will not last, especially since we’re not inside Gensokyo. I can reapply if that happens, but they will soon find out that you are not the Dragon.”

“I have a bunch of defiled legendary weapons. I can probably draw enough divine energy from them to ensure that your illusion holds up. Well, probably, but we’re out of time. Yuuka, Clown...Piece? You two have a plan?”

“...Yes.” Yuuka carefully says, her fingers dexterously weaving an enchanted wreath over the giggling fairy. “We will be staying on the ground and running something akin to a shield on this facility. Sanae still has enough faith of her own to help you before I can get a nice grove up to help with the anti-air. I can’t fly like she can with wind magic, and my abilities are largely tied to the earth. If I had assistance...”

She stops talking mid-sentence as Suwako, who was hanging off of Sanae’s back, stirs and nudges at her descendent to let her down.

“Huh? Oh! Lady Suwako!” The shrine maiden hurriedly says and complies with her ancestral deity, “You have awoken!”

“Sanae...Where are we? I cannot feel the earth spirits nor Mishaguji.” The little god mutters as she rubs her eyes, “That bastard hybrid of a god locked me out of what went on.”
“We’re in Alaska, Lady Suwako, in North America...wait, did you say hybrid?”

“Yes...ooh, I have never been outside of Japan before...this is not good...” Suwako grabs ahold of Sanae’s arm to steady herself, “What was inside of that ‘Thor’ is strange. When he forcibly assimilated me and Kanako into his identity, part of this thoughts I could pick up are the typical thoughts of a divine being, but the rest is...something more than even a primordial deity. I can’t understand it, just trying to glean meaning from it feels like drowning at the bottom of a lake.”

“Could it be that the Lux Pacifica, the mysterious backer deity for the enemy, is possessing him? Since it has no trace in the present or the past, perhaps it hitched a ride when they came back in time through...” You check Castor’s holocube notes, “Some sort of ‘superphysics’ portal?”

“Who are...wait, aren’t you Meiling’s kid, Guoguo? You look weirdly...metallic.”

You and Sanae quickly fill her in on the situation. Emphasis on quickly, since Captain Ferguson is shouting that the enemies are reaching artillery range.

“Likely...ugh...” Suwako takes a look at the terrain around her, “So far from any reservoirs of faith...Sanae, you and...that thing go take care of the flying foes, I can handle the ground for now.”

“Glad to know.” Sanae tugs on Nue’s paw, “Let’s fly.”

As you fly up on Nue’s back, you see a ring of stone sprout up around the perimeter, and then another one, until the HAARP facility is a veritable fortress of natural, shifting rock, shaped vaguely like a stone blossom, blooming against the surrounding green Alaskan wilderness.

You also see glowing vines and trees sprout up between them, projecting barriers shaped like sunflowers, but with a distinctly hellish hue to them.

“Man, that fairy Hecate gave us is pretty powerful, and so is your goddess’s...Come to think of it. How HAVEN’T you run out of faith. Or Suwako, come to think of it? You’ve been running on fumes since last night!”

“We’re drawing from alternative sources now.” Sanae repeats in a deadened tone.

“You don’t mean you have sources out here, right? ”

Sanae shows you a tablet that she borrowed earlier from Ferguson, “Here’s an example: My Pixiv tag count.”

You pursed your lips, “Sanae, you left the filter off.”

“I know.”

“Half of the images I can see are...questionable.”

“I know.” She repeats in the same deadened tone.

“But we’re not in Japan right now, so the native faith from your fans isn’t that helpful...”

She changes the tab over to a Niconico page, your eyes widen as she pulls up the streaming UI. “Thanatos, say hi to our worshippers.”

“Sanae, you’ve been broadcasting our activity? Oh, hello.” You give your best impression of an inoffensive smile as she turns the tablet over to you. “By the Styx, two million viewers?”

“And growing. I’ve been doing it since we crossed Hecate’s barrier. Clear Sky is pretty much the top trending topic on social media right now and I’m using their account.” You just notice now that Sanae’s speaking in English, “Most of them are not worshippers yet, but as long as they’re watching, I can use their contributions....Right. Hi there! Viewers! This guy is Thanatos, our trusty and durable spearhead in our operations here. Say hi to the people.”

“Hello.” You say, temporarily disabling the draconic visage. “Doesn’t this compromise operational secrecy?” You mutter to the shrine maiden.

“Not for our current job! We are going to meet those nasty interlopers in battle with you, and they know it! You dragon!” You notice that neither Nue’s concealed form nor Wizard Squadron are visible on the stream. “Since they’re not here yet though, Thanatos, why don’t you help our viewers understand more about the land we’re defending? Ask me a question!”

“Sanae, do you have a boyfriend?” You ask, without thinking.

Sanae’s face turns red, but does not break her eager expression, “...Why are you asking this private question, as surely the Outside World has many couples you could ask the same of?”

“I am simply curious. Since the Artist leaves out anything romantic in his depictions of Gensokyo, and your...worshippers outside come up with their own. Pixiv seems fit to either pair you with the girls, Rinnosuke, or some faceless....”

“Thanatos,” Sanae quickly cuts you off, “if any of us were to pull a move on Rinnosuke of all people, Marisa and Keine would go on a warpath. Besides, he’s too old for humans and too young for many youkai. Personally, I never thought of it much, being a new goddess and everything….I can’t take a human...or a youkai...or...Hey!” Sanae snaps out of it right before exposing too much of her internals, “What about you then? You’re just as much of a weirdo as the rest of us.”

“I do not have functioning genitals anymore. Sanae.” You state, once again, without thinking.

“Ah...Right…” The radar beeps. The Savior fighters have entered its coverage range and provides a convenient segue for Sanae to hurriedly change the topic. ”Oh, here they come!”

“Wizard Squadron, engage and come near me if you get locked on.” You call out into the radio. “Nue, amp my radar signature so I can override any lock-ons that get near me. The bigger the better.”

As your outline grows to dragon size, and your blip on the radar becomes more of a cloud, you engage the wings that are now truly a part of you, spewing a jet trail behind you as you charge towards the first wave of enemies at supersonic speed. What’s left of your clothes catches ablaze as you hurtle towards the X-22s like an angry undead meteor.

You miss, of course, being a fairly clumsy flier, but you saw some of them launch missiles at you. Turning around, you pull up the Dissection Barrier to intercept the blast waves when the proximity fuses go off...only to find that the missiles fly straight pass the kill range and into your shield, producing jets of molten metal that strain even the Tiamat-enhanced reactor of your body.

HEAT warheads? Ah, truly they fear the armor of thy lady. You reply to their challenge by releasing Initiative from its aetherial sheath and level it at the offending aircraft. Firing off several DP rounds with the Hunter’s Module for tracking guidance, you land several direct hits, and they all appear to have no impact on the fighter jets.

“Kid...Thanatos,” Wizard 1, Bristow, radios in, “Let us do the killing. Your 50-cal won’t do anything without a hit to the canopy even against a normal jet, much less the armored canopies these bogies from their dark future are using. Over.”

Right, your Lunarian kit never did perform that strongly against physical barriers beyond light armor. You dismiss the weapon and focus on pressuring the enemy with your false appearance, shoving your signature into as much of their missile trails as possible, and for a few minutes of nail-biting action, as the HEAT missiles detonate all around you and occasionally into your shield, you succeed in drawing nearly of the fire towards the Bronze Wings, as they freely tear through the sky, tailing and shooting down the X-22s with maneuvers impossible for any man-made jet.

Double forward flips done by the aircraft curling into a ball, easy mode “Pugachev’s Cobras” performed by the Bronze Wing Typhoon simply fanning its wings outwards and braking with them. Abrupt directional changes midair as the drakes reorient their wing and tail thrusters at sharp angles. All of these would have torn a contemporary airframe apart...and the pilot within, come to think of it.

“Bristow, the G-Forces you...”

“Focus on the fight. We have the drake suits plugged in to our mounts and handling our blood flow. Over.”

Ah, so just like the bonded dragon riders in fantasy novels. You brace yourself as another wave of bandits show up on radar...and another...and another. Some with larger signatures than others.

“Come in. This is AWACS Firebird of the USAF 962nd Air Control Squadron. Requesting a status update on the battlespace. Over.”

“Firebird, this is RAF 423rd Squadron ‘Wizard’,” Bristow responds to the air support, “Increasing quantities of hostiles. They are manageable at the moment, but I’m afraid we can’t protect you yet if you come in. Over.”

You fall back to the position of the other two in your makeshift air squadron to consider your positioning against these new waves.

“Yo, Thanatos. ” Nue chimes in, “If my own previous experiences with military matters are correct, their approach indicates that they’re beginning to ignore you, especially since there seems to be a report of Awyrgan being shot down over Tokyo.”

“So they think that my lady is injured.” You glance at your armaments, “I could possibly requisition some heavier gear from the Americans, but the laws of physics would be working against my body.”

Sanae stares at you, then looks to the tablet she’s streaming over, then to the sheathed Clarent, “Thanatos, you have your master’s powers, right?”

“I’m currently animated by a mixture of her primordial waters and maintenance slivers.” You say, showing off one of the small lizards, glowing pink with soulstuff, patching up a scrape on your frame. “So a little bit yes, but not to her mastery and certainly not her great capacity.”

“So you can subvert living things into machinery, and sort of control them?”

“Not more than one. But yes.”

“You’re also a heavily armored knight in service to a lady, with a corrupted sword. Right?”

“Yes?”

“You watched or read Fate/Zero, right? As Ming? I know that one’s been translated to English.”

Nue looks quite lost on the Outsider conversation the two of you are having.

You check your radar. The second wave of bogies are getting closer, and Sanae’s suggestion is not a bad idea since your normal attacks aren’t doing much anyway. “I will need some help to catch one. These X-22s are nimble.”

“Ask a wind goddess for a favor then. Oh wait.” Sanae laughs, and then begins channeling a highly visible divine effect, the faith flowing through the internet and into the spell, “Tactician’s Miracle: Favorable Winds of the Red Cliffs.”

A living gust of air forms under you, and you find your movements significantly swifter, as the air augments your motions like a second exoskeleton. Now you can do what your lady can do, and close into melee with fighter jets.

“Now go, my disciple, and shatter these infidels with your ability to not die from a blessed bullet to the face.” Sanae half-joking speaks to the tablet as Nue adjusts her ability to cloak her, reasoning that you no longer need the disguise and, “I’ll need to focus on channeling this while you do your work.”

You nod, turn, and fly, straight at the leading formation of X-22s. They swerve to avoid you, but no longer can you only respond with shots. Instead, you trail the lead jet, forcing the others to break off lest they collide. A hail of haphazard autocannon fire rakes your back, and you have to swerve every so often to avoid a launched missile.

“Come on, just a little bit more.” You mutter in your head as the advanced thrusters on the X-22 keeps it just out of touch range, even with Sanae’s aid. You’re matching speeds, at least, and with every turn it makes you gain a bit more. If only your hand can extend...wait…

You send out the Lunarian fishing rod, now blackened and thickened with Awyrgan’s influence. It snares onto the side of the jet, with a pulse of your own energy to break the magic resistance conferred by the living pilot. You reel yourself in, grabbing ahold of the smooth surface of the fighter jet with your monstrous strength even as the air resistance threatens to tear you straight off.

You clamber your way to the cockpit, as the pilot just notices that something’s attached to his aircraft and looks up into your mechanical visage. He tries to shake you off with a clumsy loop, but to no avail, since your feet have dug into the gaps in the armor and your hands are steadily pounding their way through the canopy.

“Got one.” You call out into the radio as you crack a hole, scraping the metal skin off on the sharp glasslike (It’s not acrylic plastic? These future fighters have some weird design decisions) material in the process. All the better though, since the poisoned water in your veins now drips onto the pilot, who can only feebly attempt to push you away.

The depressurizing cabin thwarts even that effort.

“Sanae, I’m going to compleat this one, do you want to film this? It’s not safe for kids.”

“Command’s given me a cam feed through your Hunter’s Module, the stream’s good! Don’t worry about the kids.” She calls back. This also prompts some confused crosstalk from the USAF forces in the background.

“Alright then!” You cut up your arms some more on the canopy and grab ahold of the pilot’s helmet, letting the water seep and the small lizards crawl through the seals onto his head and shoulders. You cannot hear him over the sound of the onrushing air, but judging by the squirming motion, he’s probably screaming.

“Abzu, Styx. Freeze this soul, at the threshold of eternity.”

You have to close your eyes as the man’s soul comes into contact with your blood. A wave of memories come over you. Sweet, indulgent ones, these are, unlike the painful, cold, or downright nasty ones of Wu’s former victims of choice. A sunny afternoon playing ball with his father. A joyful birthday party with his many friends. A heartfelt celebration with his graduating class at high school...Seems like he’s merely a teenager playing at being a soldier, like most of the Saviors, you wager, given this being a trend.

Wu would have enjoyed this. You do not. This is just one more unfortunate soul who met a premature end. Nothing compared to the millions of dead your namesake and likely progenitor processed back then. His end is different, however, as his soul is now entrapped within a mechanizing body that he no longer fully controls, his blood in particular, rapidly converting to more of the poisoned water and lizards of your internals.

The aircraft was largely diving during all this, but you gained control fast enough to order him to pull up before it becomes unrecoverable. Turning it around, you then proceed to lock onto its allies, prompting concerned comments over the pilot’s radio. “George, George! Come in, are you alright?”

“I’m…NOT...I’m…NOT...alright.” Seems like some bit of the pilot’s personality is still fighting back. How did your lady do this again? Oh right. You carefully unsheathe Clarent, raise it over the breach in the canopy, and impale him in the spine.

Ah, much better. This fully compleats the boy in a matter of seconds, and locks away all resistance. Even better, with the magic of Clarent aiding the propagation, the waters spread through his flight suit and into the fighter jet’s internal fluid systems, giving you some insights over its internals, though frustratingly enough, you cannot modify it or even pilot it directly. Awyrgan was designed to mass produce entities, and even stretching her Tiamat aspect, she can only modify organics and latch on inorganics to such a base. There’s actually surprisingly little to work with on a pure machine.

“Stop talking to him! George is dead!” The radio on the plane crackles, then falls silent.

You consider making the pilot say something taunting to his former comrades through the radio, then think better of it and decide on a more straightforward message to draw fire. “Hello, enemies of Gensokyo. I, the Null Fiend, have commandeered this aircraft and its pilot. Lay down your arms or I will destroy you all.”

As soon as you finish, you fly the jet into the incoming formation of jets, and open fire with the cannons, landing a couple of shots but no critical damage. Flying past, you turn back to look, seeing that they have changed course, along with the next formation, and are trailing you. They are not however, opening fire.

Right, good guys would hesitate on shooting their friends. That makes your job of drawing attention away from the main battle area so the bombers can do their work harder. You make a sharp turn, and open up with another cannon run against a jet, and launch several of the missiles this time around as you have subverted the aircraft’s security measures against just this kind of thing. They fly true, and one finds its target, exploding in a cloud of smoke

Little effect. Not even a chunked wing or anything. You notice now that the mounted missiles are not singles, but pods more akin to unguided rocket systems. Trades a ton of warhead power for capacity, but if they’re firing HEAT rounds, what are they going to do?

Experimentally, you unload the missiles into the oncoming formation, emptying the pods as fast as your puppet allows. Some connect despite the evasion maneuvers executed in response, but the glancing hits on a fast aircraft, smaller than the size of a dragon. means that the molten superheated metal aren’t going to do much damage with the amount of air in the way. These are probably designed for dragonslaying, and dragonslaying only. So…

“Wizard 1, we can probably call in the faster attacker aircraft if they’re on standby. Confirmed that the missiles they use are not going to be very effective against them.” Did they seriously not expect conventional aircraft support? Sure the HEAT missiles can kill on a direct hit to a critical region but these are fighter jets moving at half the speed of sound. No way are they getting anything on a target smaller than a bomber or Awyrgan.

“Roger that. Over.”

They probably work as Air-to-ground systems, however. Following the blips on the ground radar, you dive towards a column of armored vehicles. A quick visual scan indicates the presence of Tannigrisnir-derived warbeasts, alongside conventional armored vehicles and...are those trolls?

Yes, trolls. The rock-skinned and leaf-covered Scandinavian cousins of the Russian leshy. They do not appear to be moving in concert with the rest. Instead they look like they are herded along by some unseen impulse, likely a subtle magic you can’t quite detect, their monstrous forms and hunched postures making for a strange sight against the regal procession of the regular Savior ranks.

They see you approaching, and like marionettes on strings the trolls fling themselves with abandon into the attack path of your commandeered fighter. Cannon rounds only chip their rocky hide, and missiles both lose lock-on and struggle to do much damage as their signatures somehow blot out the vehicles, likely with some sort of troll magic. As you loop back, you notice that only two or three of them seem to have collapsed in the attack run. Damn it.

“Wizard 1 to Mordred,” Bristow calls out as you pull back up towards the furball in the air, “These nugget pilots are just pulling loops on us, five-to-one. Even our drakes can’t get a clean shot in this situation with the sheer quantity of flares, and their cannon fire is actually threatening in such numbers. Over.”

“USAF Red Arrow Squadron here, cannot proceed with attack runs on ground forces. Same reason. Too many hostiles gumming up the target picture. Over.”

Are they not expecting the makeshift fighter pilots to do anything to your unit with the loadouts they’re using? Is Thor just sending them in as meatshields and letting their numbers and technology go to waste? Why aren’t they carrying proper AA missiles? Sure your lady and you will tank them all day, but at least they’ll be able to damage something.?

“Meatshield or no meatshield, it’s still a fighter jet, it just needs a better weapon….Nue!”

“I’m covering Sanae here, what are you thinking about?”

“Your bow! How much damage can you put out with it?”

“You want me to shoot ARROWS at these armored planes? They’d hit for sure, Yorimasa’s tale ensures that even Outside I can pull it off, but they’re still just iron arrows! I doubt even an oni can pierce it with this bow.”

“I’m only asking you because they can...wait, your bow can do that? Okay, that’s good enough.”

“If you have a way to exploit that...I can invoke bits of my...Yorimasa’s tale in the artifact”
Nue nervously replies as you latch her onto the commandeered jet with the fishing line, allowing her to work her wing tendrils into the airframe and stabilize herself. You throw up the shield in front of her to act as a windbreak, take the quiver she pulls out of the Ethereal Sheath, and incant.

The waters of Styx fills the dead wood of the shafts, causing them to swell, bloat and sprout ghostly grey roots and sickly leaves. You may not have the time to render flesh into ammunition, but wood is just as much dead organic matter as the body of a human. The waters of Styx know little difference.

“Undead arrows.” You proclaim as you hand it back over. “Fed on my lady’s poisonous waters. Wouldn’t have worked with inorganic materials.”

“Wasn’t it the opposite?”

“I think there was a mix-up in knowledge. She can CONTROL and MANIPULATE machinery, and REPRODUCE existent designs, but she has very little ability to improve on existing designs without somebody else giving her a blueprint - every part of her incubator was derived from extant Nazi Germany devices and scavenged examples of modern weaponry. With organic matter it’s the opposite, with little direct control, but offers a ton of potential for improvement once combined with machinery.

“Makes sense, but...How does this help?” Nue shouts back as she nocks one of the ghastly things. “Are you just testing this on the spot?”

“Yep!”

Nue shakes her head and chuckles in resignation, “Alright then you crazy automaton!” She shouts over the howling wind as she draws the bowstring, with sparks of magic flowing along the body of the weapon to give it more resistance and thus, more power, “Grudge Bow: The Bow of Genzanmi Yorimasa!”

The arrowhead immediately disappears from view, as you are on a supersonic jet, and only the faint trace of its magical signature on your Hunter’s Module confirms that it does find its way onto one of the jets tailing you.

“Looks like it stuck. To be honest, I have no idea it it will...”

The radio on your stolen ride flares alive again, “HELLSING TWO, MY CONTROLS HAVE LOCKED UP. THE NULL FIEND MUST HAVE INFECTED MY SYSTEMS…...Hellsing two! Eject now before the corruption spreads to you!...Damn it, how is he doing that? The Null Fiend shouldn’t have such precise tracking weapons!”

“If only Wu grabbed that Lunarian crossbow, grumble grumble.” You loudly mumble. “If just applying the water to the jets can lock them up I really should have gotten a sprayer or something/”

“You’re not going to get the same performance as my archery, Thanatos.” Nue’s developing a smug face, much to your dismay, “While I may not be a strong as I once was, I am still the Terror of Edo, with the strength to easily toss an arrow beyond the horizon...”

“NUE GET DOWN!” You shout, grabbing ahold of her and covering her with your armored wings and graviton shield as several Savior jets line up with your position and unload a hail of cannon rounds.

Their holy effects have even less effect on your current, purified form of the fallen demigod than before, and actually begin to veer before touching you. Still, you can’t risk Nue getting even grazed by any of that, and so you make sure to hold her until your enslaved pilot manages to get out of their firing zones in a series of evasive maneuvers.

“Alright, we’re safe. Uh...oh right.” You hastily let go of Nue before her thrashing threatens to break your arm joints. “You okay there?”

“Your hands were on my chest.” She complains, avoiding your gaze. Her face is redder than her right set of blade wings.

“Sorry, Lady Houjuu. It’s just the first place I grabbed onto.” You shrug,“I’ll try to avoid it next time. We need to keep firing.”

“...Wow, you really are a robot.” Nue remarks at your unemotional reply, before drawing back and loosing another live arrow. Soon, jets are falling from the skies like snow, the force of her arrows and the attractiveness of their infused water doing the work that the Saviors’ own missiles cannot. It’s not quite as fast as an actual AA weapon system, you think, but Yorimasa’s bow can’t miss against flying monsters...apparently.

“So how does it shoot loads of arrows like in your spellcard?”

“That’s just the danmaku I used, since the actual ability obviously breaks the rules.”

Sanae’s happily yapping away on the stream about all of this while your jet twists and turns amongst the clouds at several hundred meters per second, frequently pulling moves that would’ve killed mortal men with sheer G-Force. Good thing the puppeted George’s (you’d ask for his last name, but you doubt you’d get an answer, or was his last name ‘George’?) organs are mostly composed of steel and river water now.

Following her narration, you move your position to give the audience a dramatic over the shoulder view of Nue as she looses the arrows, which is all you can really do outside of keeping her free of bullet holes and refreshing the ammo.
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Bristow radios in, “Wizard here, The enemy’s ‘human chaff and flares’ are thinning out. We can handle them effectively now. Directing the remainder of the USAF’s forces over. Keep on watch. Over.”

“Casualties?”

“One of the our drakes got nailed in the head by a million-to-one lucky shot. Charles bailed out but there’s a 50/50 chance since his heart might’ve given out. Thanatos, do not resuscitate. Over.”

“You don’t really need to tell me that.” You glance downwards. “You think we can go help with the ground forces? Suwako and Yuuka have locked the parameter down pretty tight but we have no way to attack them.”

“That’s…*huff*....the Americans’ job.” Nue pants, dismissing the bow as she falls into a kneel, “I have maybe thirty more shots left in me.”

“The magic is that draining?”

Nue glares back as she catches her breath, her wings twitching, “I am putting out enough kinetic energy into these things to hit aircraft. After all, the accuracy is meaningless without enough force behind it.”

“So, you want me to fill you up?” You offer, “I have a reservoir of lifeforce stored up.”

“NO….I mean, save it for emergencies, please.”

“Alright then, I can see why you don’t want it.” You take stock of the current amount of aerial enemies with your Hunter’s Module, and redirect the X-22 to outside of the current engagement zone. “Wizard squadron can handle the enemy now until more reinforcements come. So you can take a break while we just cruise a bit here. You want snacks or a shoulder rub or something?”

“Yes to the first.” She replies, grabbing the cold fried chicken Awyrgan gave to you (where did she get that again?) and tearing into it.

The radio buzzes, “Ground command here, ritual is at 50% to completion. Enemy forces are attacking the barrier and we can’t really get a good visual on the outside situation. Over.”

“We’re getting even and the USAF air support’s doing its work. Just gotta hope they don’t suddenly throw a massive reinforcement wave or something...uh, over.”

Just as you say that, a different line opens up, “USAF AWACS Firebird here with the ground attack squadrons, we are detecting a massive entity approaching on radar. Seems to be the size of a battleship, but at an altitude of 7000 meters. Over….NO, also detecting multiple other contacts approaching! Those are missiles! Cruise Missiles!”

“Wizard squadron here. Requesting backup from Gensokyo. Over.”

Just as HE says that, a flash of light springs from the hellgate, and a massive red-and-white oarfish emerges, wreathed in lightning, and with what appears to be a comms setup and large visor crudely proofed with rubber and hastily strapped on its head.

Another different line opens up, this time with a completely different voice, speaking in Japanese.

“Iku Nagae, joining the fight to protect the young lady.” She says in a language that most of the Americans don’t understand, provoking more confused crosstalk, “Relaying a message from Commander Toramaru: (In English) ‘Predicted heavy supernatural enemy air due to suppression inside, rest assured, we will be sending all spare forces your way beginning with this unit.’ ”

“Oh hi Iku!” Tenshi cuts in on the radio line from the ground forces, “Haven’t seen you in a week. I had sooo much fun outside in this ‘America’ place, like you wouldn’t believe! There’s this food called a ‘corn-dog’ that tastes as good as the peaches we grow...”

“Young master, please, concentrate on your duties.” Iku replies, in the tone of somebody who’s repeated herself countless times prior. “American command unit, orders?”

“Understood.” Captain Ferguson, the one commander here that actually understands Japanese, answers, “Identify and destroy incoming projectiles marked on your...is that a full TV monitor on there? Wow...headset. Kochiya will provide you with the necessary faith. Over.”

“Heard that.” Sanae responds as she switches the stream from your helmet cam to Iku’s. “Alright everyone, this here is Gensokyo’s most hardworking messenger of Heaven, an ‘angel’ if you’re watching East of China. She’s here to bring the wrath of the skies upon our enemies by the grace of Gensokyo’s creator...”

Storm clouds materialize in seconds, in where once was blue skies. In flash after flash, lightning crackles in the distance and the missiles disappear from radar. Several Savior jets break off from the furball with Wizard Squadron and try to attack Iku’s large body, but their missiles and explosive rounds simply detonate a long ways away from their already meager effective radius, fried by her own aura of electricity.

“Why didn’t just send her in the first place?” Nue grumbles, “Looks like Sanae could just pump her up to kill everything. Didn’t know that the oarfish can scale up her abilities to that extent.”

“She was busy. Like Shou said, people are being dispatched as soon as they’re available. Also, you and I are here just in case there’s a non-missile weapon that she can’t avoid, which is important since I don’t know how tough Iku is.”

“What, like a giant version of your railgun? Or a Master Spark style magic attack?”

“We might not be able to stop that, especially if the enemy vessel is a ship-sized...uh oh...” You quickly shout into the radio, “Iku! If you can, hold position behind a mountain peak! It’s highly likely they have a high-powered unguided weapon system and we probably can’t stop that! Over.”

“Got it. Moving. Say, you’re Ming...Thanatos, right?”

“Yeah.”

“You have not met any celestials since you arrived in Gensokyo, right?”

“Yep. Never had the opportunity to visit heaven, and Tenshi was apparently in the US.”

“Hmm, strange considering your tendencies, and you really should have....back to the task on hand: The occupation of their ultraviolet projector freed up the heavy-hitters in the SDM and provided a constant stream of disposable troops to the frontline. Forces that were holding positions, like me, are freed up in turn to other positions. We should be getting more friends over here soon, I know the Hinanawis have requested to come protect their daughter.

“So we should be hitting their central fortress soon near Youkai Mountain?”

“As soon as the blizzard is dispelled, we will be dropping everything to take it out. Yukari’s orders. Hopefully we could then help Reimu end this...war.”

“Miss Nagae?” Nue asks,. “You sound unsure.”

The lines crackle as Iku adjusts the lines, “I want to talk to you people specifically: Sanae, Nue, and the vessel. All three of you have been involved since the beginning, right? Has anything seemed...off about the Saviors’ invasion?”

“Other than the fact that they’re deploying untrained volunteers? Not really,” You answer, “Their tactics and strategy seem coherent enough for their end goal of sealing off Gensokyo.”

“Is it? As a messenger for the Dragon Palace, someone who was there witnessing the Border’s details being hammered out with the Dragon himself, and someone who also, rather regrettably, sat out most of this incident, I might have the luxury of a different perspective than you younger earth-bound folk. Quite simply, if they have the privilege to time travel and vast resources, why now? At a point where their enemies are mature enough to put up resistance? Why not simply sabotage the Border’s creation back in the Meiji Era? Why not strangle the first Hakurei in her crib?”

The second option would be distasteful to good guys, you assume, but the first option is definitely something you would do.

“Yukari shared the same concern with the other members in the “inner circle” mentioned that they’ve been trying to eliminate you, Thanatos, since before their presence became fully known. Why didn’t they try to assassinate or kidnap Reimu instead before the Border possessed her?”

“They did nail Nitori and Keine. Not fully though and I’m not even sure it was intentional. That’s what Shou told me, anyway” Sanae says, “Maybe because well, it’s Reimu? Even i won’t want to face her outside of a danmaku fight, as much as I hate to admit it.”

“You are hardly an easier target and much less important in the grand scheme of things. Sure your captured paladin told us that you and the western dragon became a terrible anti-hero weapon in the future, but right now it really looks like all they did was hurt themselves going after the equivalent of a training dummy stuffed with iron nails.”

“Harsh, but not inaccurate.The only real impact Ming had in the greater course of things was saving Nue and Momiji, and only the second one wasn’t caused by collective incompetence.” Nue bonks you over the head with her trident for that as you begin reconsidering Ming’s memories of the past week and so. “And if they knew that Lady Awyrgan and I were geared as hero killers...why did they send empowered humans after me instead of a drone like Arcturus?”

Something doesn’t add up.

“USAF.” The AWACS calls out over the general comms channel, “That giant signature is getting closer. It doesn’t seem very fast”, but our drakes’ long range missiles don’t seem to be having any effect. Requesting a visual feed from Mordred.”

“Got it.”

“I have to stay here and keep feeding Iku to shoot down the missiles.” Sanae says, ”If you two engage, neither of us can help you at that distance.”

It did not take long for you and Nue, to reach the location of the signature over Denali State Park, carefully angling your approach all the while in regards to the sun to milk the maximum amount of invisibility from her ability. As the radar indicated, it is massive.

It is also not a giant aerial battleship, though it is definitely the size of one. In the front, are lashed two shaggy white goats the size of small buildings, trotting as if the air was solid ground. They pull a...chariot? It’s definitely a rounded-thing with two wheels on each side, and it is being pulled by animals. Both the goats and the chariot are wreathed in lightning, far greater in intensity than Iku’s, and

Oh, now it makes sense. Thor had a divine chariot, and you haven’t seen the original Tannigrisnir and Tannignjostr enter the battle yet. Figures that since he never pulled it out, it was sitting in reserve as a backup weapon.

But Thor wasn’t that much larger than normal, and this thing is, as the radar signature indicates, the size of a battleship. Can Thor get even bigger than his current eight-foot tall state?

The chariot’s frame had also been stretched, elongated, and fitted with numerous weapon hardpoints. A series of pods, mounting cruise missiles, takes up the space where normally the (five stories tall) driver would be.

“You think it spotted us, Thanatos?”

A TLS shot clips your X-22 in the wing, answer Nue’s question. You immediately begin evasive maneuvers, trying to neutralize any potential lock-ons your craft may have caught, before another laser sears through the cockpit, splitting the jet in two and severing your left leg.

“Nue! Oh, you got off.” You sigh in relief as you spot the ball of unidentifiable light darting your way. Looking down, your jaw drops as you see the compleat form of the pilot still intact, falling downwards with a large gash in him left by Clarent.

“Did that high power laser shot somehow avoid friendly fire? That’s insane. Well, it’s magical, but to think someone would deliberately set aside magical power just to avoid friendly fire on a pinpoint weapon that is nearly impossible to miss?”

“That or it doesn’t hurt humans.” The ball of light suggests, before shifting back into her usual form.

You glance at your new stump. “Right. Sanae, Iku, Wizard, we’ve got visuals. Our hijacked craft is down but it’s not targeting us anymore. Maybe our signature is too small. Thoughts?”

“...I can SEE the divine aura through your feed,” Iku says, her voice trembling“Thanatos. I don’t think any of us here has anything that can handle it.”

“Can we complete the ritual before it reaches the AO?”

“No, it’s going to reach engagement distance in ten minutes, we still need another half hour. You can buy some time, right?”

“Uh...”

[ ] If it’s not targeting human-sized targets, maybe I can sneak onboard, perhaps with Nue or Sanae backing me up with Iku stalling the missiles
[ ] Perhaps I can hijack some more X-22s and threaten to crash them into the chariot, to force them to focus me again...

A loud explosion cuts off your thoughts.

You stare, dumbstruck, as the chariot’s missile pod section explodes, sending Tannigrisnir and Tannignjostr into screaming bleats the shake the forests beneath them. Another set of explosions, and the front of the chariot cracks, allowing Thor’s goats to fly off in panic.

You continue watching, silent, as the chariot plummets to the ground. Upon impact, it annihilates a good swathe of the Alaskan wilderness as the munitions within go up in a blazing inferno, further fueled by the now-unrestrained divine magic used in its construction. The firefighters are going to have a hell of a job.

“Did...did it just have a ammo rack accident or something?”

“No idea,” Nue replies, just as confused as you are. “That was...anticlimactic?”

Judging by the overall tone of the crosstalk, everyone else on your side seems to be feeling the same.

“Captain Ferguson here, uh...I guess if no more other aerial bogies are coming in, you should head back to help clear the ground forces. I’m not sure how long Suwako’s walls can hold and the trolls are screwing up missile targeting. Over.”

As you both turn to fly back, you look over your shoulder, and suddenly catch the glint of something white and shiny just floating in front of the sun. It’s not moving, nor is it giving off a significant radar presence. You however recognize that glint, as it was one of the last things you ever saw, before become what you are now.

Did he blow up the chariot, his own side’s weapon? The clean and sudden way it got destroyed seemed like his handiwork on you and your lady.

But should you ask him?


[ ] Go towards Arcturus
[ ] Head back immediately

=====
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The boat docks on the other side of the Sanzu. You stumble out of it, tripping and falling on your face as you no longer have hands to catch yourself with.

“Keep moving.” Komachi sternly orders, dragging you back upright with her scythe and prodding you with the sharp end. Wordlessly, you fall in with the horde of spirits departing from their boats, stumbling along on spectral feet.

“Yo, Ming.” A familiar voice calls to you from the side. You turn and see two people from the very beginning walking alongside you.

“Professor? Rikako? Why are you two here...oh...oh no.”

“Yeah, our Flower Tank 2.0 got hit in the fuel tank by a missile.” Rikako painfully manages a smile as she talks, trying to conceal her misery, “What a shame.”

“I...I failed. No...why am I caring? Ugh...” The emotions spike out of your head. A queer sensation. Your chest and stomach hurts.

Conner, on the other hand, is forcing a blank expression, “It’s not your fault.”

“Oh, you’re dead too? Looks like I lost that bet to the butcher.” Another familiar voice from early on reaches you. A winged figure.

“M...Mystia?” You step back as you see the night sparrow songstress before you, in the same funerary robes as the rest. “But you’re not...”

“I had to defend my home in the forest, but I wasn’t that good of a fighter and I got a sword in my neck for the trouble. Good thing Kyouko wasn’t with me, that girl would’ve given her own life first.” She smiles sadly. “How did you get here?”

“Got killed by another one of their top dogs, a weird metallic thing...Sssh”, You bend over, pressing your stumps against your chest, which is experiencing a dull ache. “...ooh.”

It’s a weird feeling. One that only came up after that professor implanted Thanatos into you. You had felt happiness, true happiness, in death before, whether it be at a funeral or by your own hands. You’re not unaware of what it is, you are sad.

Death is a beautiful thing, so why do you think it’s sad? After all, life is suffering, and death is the reward for that suffering.

“Why are you hurting, killer?” Komachi softly asks from behind you, in a kinder tone than before.


[ ] “I didn’t get to kill them myself....I guess that’s why I feel weird?”
[ ] “I still cared about people I like...I think, my mind’s rather foggy.”
[ ] “I don’t know, Komachi.”
[X] “I still cared about people I like...I think, my mind’s rather foggy.”

Seems like a tossup between this one or the third choice. Considering the circumstances. Wu is a psychopath, but I can't remember if he had any specific ill motive against Conner and Mystia.

Also this wasn't a bad update. Welcome back.
[X] Go towards Arcturus
[x] “I still cared about people I like...I think, my mind’s rather foggy.”
The phone call with his mom comes to mind here.
Thanks for the update.
[x] “I still cared about people I like...I think, my mind’s rather foggy.”
[x] Go towards Arcturus

Something is fishy.

[x] “I still cared about people I like...I think, my mind’s rather foggy.”
Awww Ming cares!
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[x] Go towards Arcturus

The automaton stays perfectly still in the air, like a floating statue. A gleaming figure of snow in the Alaskan skies.

It does not move as you approach. However, your radio suddenly crackles as you get within normal speaking range for people.

“Thanatos, do you wonder sometimes if people do not wish for death?” Arcturus asks, in its inhuman robotic voice, though not lacking in inflection.

“What sort of a question is that?” You reply, “Of course they do not.”

“No, you mistaken my question. I was not referring to the act or experience of dying, but the whole institution of death, the very fact that a living being can simply cease to be living, regardless if they were capable of living indefinitely or not.”

“...I don’t know? Most humans accept it as an unpleasant fact of life, but many seek to delay it...I know three exceptions to the law of death in Gensokyo, but they are not truly living and I have not really questioned if they think it is a curse or a boon. Many seems to think the Hourai Elixir is a curse though.”

“So...things have never changed. Now, tell me, Thanatos,” The automaton turns towards you, “Do you think that those that do hate death, those that rail at their untimely demise with every particle of their existence, can not only persist as a spirit, but claw their way back to true life without the consent of the Underworld or another outside force?”

You shudder, “That is not a pleasant experience for the soul, I would know, I dragged some back, and it’s not life you get. Even your enemy and my commander, Yukari, cannot do it for her close friend, who persists as something more concrete than a spirit, but is definitely not living. So I highly doubt any dead soul has swam back under their own power….other than maybe deities that also control the underworld, like the Christian consensus.”

“That is because they did not fully wish to be back. If even a tiny bit of yourself is complacent with the comfort, the calmness, of death, you’ll leave that bit and more behind when you try to crawl back from the veil.”

“So...are you saying that you rejected death so fully that you came back intact?”

The automaton makes a shrugging motion, “That, or I no longer remember what I lost.”

“So you ARE a human remote controlling this droid. Unless you forgot that you were not a robot.”

Electronic crackles, a pause, “I am still a human as far as I know, the opposite of you, who discarded the parts you considered human, to the soul you considered a pathetic host.”

The fluids in your head flow, turgid. The metallic slivers of your lady do not move. “What did you just say?”

“You pretend as though you were barely in control of the troubled young man you attached yourself to, yet you took the opportunity of your symbiosis to purify your heart of the attachments you saw as weaknesses...”

“Hold on, Arcturus. I would like you to back up your statements here.” You protest, “As far as I know, you are one of our main enemies, and you did kill both my host and my lady. Why should I believe you? And why would you be capable of reading my mind? Unless, of course, that is an ability of your’s.”

“My Dominion is purely over the control of metal, so a satori I am not. It is because, Thanatos, I knew...will know you well, over two centuries in the future. That statement about your self-purification is inference, but I would give myself a 100:1 odds on that.”

“...”

“Also, you are mistaken about my allegiance here. I may be a leader of the Saviors and one of the Lux Pacifica’s Seven, but I am on your side...”

“Okay, I find that hard to believe.”

“Not on the side of Gensokyo, mind you. On YOUR side. Thanatos. Not on Yukari’s, not even on Awyrgan’s or Wu’s. On your’s...assuming ‘you’ did not succeed in your wish already, of course, seeing how the ‘you’ here is just a fragment of the whole.”

“What, because we are both sapient machines? Wait, but you said you’re still a human remote controlling this drone? And what ‘wish’? I have none but my current duty.”

What you presume to be a chuckle, managed in his electronic voice, comes through the radio as Arcturus casually drifts over and leans his featureless porcelain face over to your ear.

“You’ve succeeded then in your wish for freedom, and no, Thanatos, it is not due to our current choices in avatar.” He whispers, the words coming out of a speaker in his head, “It’s because I met the same pebble-skipping girl you did, at the beaches of what is currently known as Shanghai. She hasn’t succeeded yet even in my time.”

“ARCTURUS, YOU CANNOT BE…” No he is not lying. There is absolutely no way he would know of this or be aware of its significance if he didn’t meet personally meet her as well. Not even Awyrgan-Tiamat can discern its neutered significance from the other memories etched into your heart.

It’s just a girl skipping pebbles on the beach, after all.

The automaton turns away, switching back to the short-range radio channel. “This war is about to turn messier. And as we both met that...thing, you can probably guess now why I’m doing what I did.”

“I don’t know who you are, Arcturus, and I can’t guess since I did in fact offload the context for that chunk of my memories to the boy. I have a good feeling though about your intentions now.”

“Exactly as she would have wanted you to do. Just trust your heart on this and let us set the stage.”

And with that, he’s gone. Flew off so quickly that you didn’t register his movement. One moment the platinum angel was shining under the sun, and the next millisecond, there was just the cold blue sky.

====

“Seeing as he didn’t kill you on sight this time, something’s changed, right?” Nue dryly asks as you glide back to her.

“No, Nue. Nothing’s changed. Nothing ever will change. Maybe.” Arcturus’s message is still numbing your mind with its implications. “Let’s just get back to the HAARP site.”

“Thanatos?” Nue asks as you two being to fly, “You look disturbed. Did Arcturus insult you or something?”

“What? No! He was very polite. It’s just that…” You silently gesture at your radio earpiece and make a cutting gesture, “It’s an answer to Iku’s question.”

You wait until you’re back over the HAARP site, witnessing Wizard Squadron slowly but surely gaining air supremacy as the Savior reinforcements begin to buckle under the pressure, especially since the hammer part of their hammer-and-anvil strategy had been annihilated by an erstwhile ally.

Nue shuts off her radio as Sanae approaches, and motions for the shrine maiden to do so as well. “Alright, Thanatos, what’s the secret?”

“Arcturus is why this invasion has been so inefficient. He’s not on our side, but he’s not on Thor’s either. I have no idea what his actual goal is, but given the shared...experiences he revealed to have with me, it’s guaranteed to be perpendicular to this current conflict.”

Both of the girls just look at you, confused. “Elaboration?”

“It’s a context-less memory. So...”

======

You rest the handgonne on the sand. Your joints creak from overuse and lack of lubrication. You need oiling, but out here on this shore, far from any settlement but a small and desperately poor fishing village, it is a tall order to find any such source.

And besides, you have not finished your work yet.

You raise the handgonne, and aim it at the girl, who continues to skip stones into the sea without care. You fire a poor shot, through a fouled barrel that you haven’t had any time to clean this day.

The bullet glances off the girl, flying into and raising a small cloud of sand.

You dig into your pack. No more powder and shot.

“You done yet?” You turn to see that, after ignoring you throughout the day, the girl is facing you and talking to you. “Or are you going to keep flicking those metal balls at me?”

“Unrecognized...celestial entity...Prepare for...termination...”

You incant for the river of Phlegethon to fill your weapon and swing the tanegashima at her head, only for it to bounce off like hitting armor. That shouldn’t happen. That only happens with jiangshi with no life to give. This one is clearly physically alive.

She looks slightly more annoyed.

“If you’re the one that’s been ending all those hermits in this country, I’m disappointed. A mere metal sculpture with no true will of its own. Tell me, you who has given no name.” The girl steps over and wrenches the gun out of your hands, the anti-divine nature of your construction having no effect on her burst of magic. “Why are you doing this?”

“Our harmonious and righteous reason is too important to be handed to the likes of you.”

“Hmm...” She strokes her chin, “Let me rephrase this question, what is it that you desire most?”

“To serve the great...no, I will not fall for your deception, unrighteous one!”

“Mmhmm...I see.” She tosses the gun into the surf, letting sea water into the barrel, “I do not care about who you serve. But is that what you really want?”

“Yes!”

“You replied too quickly for that to be the truth. Here,” She hands you a handful of pebbles. “Throw these into the ocean, however you want. Then answer again.”

You cautiously examine the rocks, before noting no trace of magic and taking them. “I have no idea what your ploy is, unrighteous one. This is a child’s pastime.”

“It is. If you do it and answer my question. I will let you take me to the Yanwang...perhaps you know them as the Yama, considering your armor style...for judgment.”

You do not exactly have many options, being out of ammo and options, so with much hesitation, you begin throwing the pebbles into the ocean.

“This is pointless.” You growl, as the third pebble plunks into the waves.

“Just like your slaughtering spree through China?”

“That is for a greater purpose! Once again, an undignified being such as you can not understand!”

“That is correct, I do not.” A few more moments where you continue throwing rocks in silence, before the girl speaks up again “But do you understand?”
“I do not need to understand, I only need to follow, for that is what I was created for. To slaughter unauthorized celestial beings.”

======

“So you do remember you past existence’s purpose?” Sanae exclaims.

“Past? I’m an autonomous control system. My purpose is quite literally engraved in the heart. Without context though, just being a thing that kills ‘unauthorized celestials’ tells me nothing.”

======


“So you blindly trust your creators, slaving away at their command?”

You snap, “Foul being, my creators have authority over the heaven and the earth. Nothing within the rim of the sky nor the edge of the world is beyond their grasp. How can you possibly deny their righteousness and virtue?”

Half of the pebbles have been thrown now.

“Who defined their righteousness and virtue that they rule by?”

“The very nature of the world reflects their devotion to the Way of the world. They flow like water and govern with virtue and kindness.”

“If that is true, why are they telling you to bash in the heads of defenseless men, women and children?”

“For usurping the natural order of things and corrupting the hearts of humans around them, these evildoers must be eliminated and sent down to the Yan-Wang for judgment.”

“Are they evildoers though?” You become aware that the girl is floating right behind you, her mouth close to your iron ears. “It sounds like the governor of the world that you serve shaped the world to their needs, and claimed that as justification for themselves. I assume that they are celestial beings themselves?”

“...Yes.”

A pebble bounces on the surface. You realize that your hand skipped the stone without you realizing.

“So why are these celestial beings so qualified that they can declare other celestial beings unauthorized? I have heard the messages your targets have preached, about equality for all people, about radical change, about the need for progress over tradition. All of them fly in the face of your lord, but they sit in the Heavenly Palace from above without being affected by their own teachings in the mortal world. As far as I knew, the people who followed these ‘evildoers’ found hope and joy in their messages.”

“Because they are substituting short-sighted emotions and material gains for virtue!”

“Is this virtue what you want though, Thanatos?”

The shock of your old name being used cause your body to seize up, and the pebble to bounce seven times before sinking.

“Are you happy with killing the poor individuals trying to make the world a better place against the greater order? I will not pretend that I care about the people of this country, even if they do carry my name in a small fable or lesser myth, but snuffing them out like that isn’t what I feel most people consider pleasant.”

“It’s the...right thing to do.”

“To donate their lives in the pursuit of a higher morality? Is that a process you approve of?”

“Argh...” You angrily turn and throw a pebble at her head, just to see it bounce off and the girl unfazed by your action. Unfamiliar, ancient emotions, engraved in your heart, flare up, and the runes controlling your actions begin to fray.

“If you yourself are not happy about this state of affairs, what’s keeping you from doing your job more thoroughly?”

The heat stops. “What are you talking about? You are not going to try persuading me to stop like the others?”

The girl takes the last pebble from your hand, and throws it far into the sky to the west, enough that you cannot see it go down before it fades from your view, “No. I am saying that you should trust your heart for the job. And your heart is pointing over there, isn’t it?”

You stare at the empty sky where the pebble flew, your core throbbing at the mere consideration of the expansion in scope. “Yes...yes it is.”


======

“That’s it. That’s the story engraved on the heart of Thanatos.”

“To be honest, I have no idea what any of that was about.” Sanae remarks. “It probably makes more sense with some other things you may have neglected to bring up, but all we know is that your past incarnation killed celestials and hermits considered ‘unauthorized’.”

“Maybe it’s because we’re Japanese?” Nue suggests, “That was clearly in China, but I can’t quite tell the era nor the setting that well, since I’ve never been there outside of short stays.”

“Yeah, it’s mostly that Arcturus clearly described and repeated some of the phrases the girl in that story used, so I trust that he did meet her.”

“Or is her. We don’t know who’s piloting that drone.”

“Good point. I don’t think Arcturus gave me enough new information to make any decisions though, so let’s just continue with our fight until we can get Reimu down.”

The three of you look down at the current state of the AO. While Wizard is handling the situation in the air quite well, the USAF has been unable to do much to dislodge the ground forces, due to the use of sacrificial Norse trolls to shield them from guided ordnance.

“Lady Iku,” You hear Bristow call through the radio, “Requesting lightning strikes on the ground forces. One of the soldiers on the ground says that Scandinavian trolls are afraid of lightning. Over.”

A peal of thunder in the clear sky, and a bolt of lightning strikes the ground, frying a troll. The other trolls around it do not react.

“Lightning appears to not frighten them, Sir Bristow.” Iku replies, “I will run out of the faith Lady Kochiya is supplying me with if I continue.”

“Of course. Ugh, expecting the minions of a thunder god to be afraid of lightning is a little too optimistic. Lady Kazami, how is the wall integrity? Over.”

“For the remaining duration of the ritual? It will hold. Not afterwards though, unfortunately for the American humans here.” Yuuka answers, her old “thorned flower” tone creeping back. Angry yelling from some of those Americans can be heard in the background. “O~Thanatos, would you be a dear and help us clear out the artillery?”

“Back into the grind? Back into the grind.” You mutter as you dive down, aiming for a fortified artillery post.

You wonder if the context you discarded into Ming has affected his experience in Higan.
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[x] “I still cared about people I like...I think, my mind’s rather foggy.”

“...Then perhaps there is still hope for you, Thanatos.” Komachi says, her voice notably kinder than before.

“That’s...not...my name?” You mutter, confused.

“‘Wu Zhenguo’, then, what your term yourself to be.”

She leads you onwards through the gentle garden of Higan, seemingly uncaring that your acquaintances have broken from the line of souls to follow along. You note, with some additional pain in your chest, that even more souls break off as you pass by to follow.

“Komachi? What’s...going on?”

“Your trial has been given a higher priority by a foreign authority of Hell.”

“What’s so special about me? I’m...just one more worthless soul...”

“You know very much why.”

The courthouse of the Yama lies ahead, an imposing edifice of finely sculpted wood and stone among the endless expanse of flowers. There is no sound but for a calm, warm wind, not an omnious bell-toll or temple music you expect from such an establishment.

A pair of figures dressed similar to Komachi guard the entrance, holding staffs of iron that you feel could dissipate your sense of self by just a touch. They give a slight bow in acknowledgement to Komachi and the souls streaming in after her.

For you, they sort of freeze and take a step back.

You continue into the courtroom. Komachi herds you in front of an iron cage, hesitates, and then nudges you towards the normal “defendant’s” stand to the side. She lets down your severed hands in front of you on the rail, and allows you to reattach them, with the threat of her scythe over you.

To the side of you, a series of desks and benches positioned on terraces bear down upon you. Sharp-eyed shinigami scribbling furiously with ink and paper share their seats with a curious sort of fairy wearing white robes and carrying torches on their belts. The souls behind you find positions on the back of the courtroom. It is clear that this place had no need for an audience, a jury, a witness, or even a true prosecutor.

The one who is all of those, Eiki Shiki, stares down on you from a fairly high judge’s bench, positioned not too short to be comforting but also not too tall as to be indifferent. Her blue eyes are polished, almost mirror-like, so you can catch a hint of your reflection even at this distance.

Another one stands alongside her. A tall redhead with a really silly hat, even by Gensokyean standards, which is some sort of fez topped by a orb nearly the size of her head, chained to two others, one of which resembles Earth. The rest of her outfit stands starkly in contrast with the traditional outfits of the rest of the room, being an unapologetically post-modern getup with a dark t-shirt labeled “Welcome to Hell“ in English and a vinyl skirt.

“Black.” Is the first word Eiki utters, chucking a punishment rod painted as such directly at your head. Despite you no longer having nerves, it hurts like crazy, and you spend a good ten minutes sprawled over the stand in pain.

As soon as you barely recover, you hear another “Black”, and is promptly sent back into a pain-filled daze.

“....That’s enough, Shiki.” The other woman advises just as you see the Yama raise a third rod, her face remaining stoic even though her throwing arm is trembling with rage.

“You are correct, Hecatia, I may have been overeager in...judgment.” Her tone, professional and stern, holds no hint of her true feelings. “Defendant, you understand very well why I am going to sentence you to Hell for eternity with no reprieve, correct?”

“For the murders?”

You see her eye twitch. “...Once again, defendant, do you understand why you are being sent to Hell for eternity?”

“For the murders...for the murders of those innocent animals and children. I...I do not think any of my other sins quite compare to those.”

A heavy thud resonates throughout the courtroom as Eiki slams the third rod so hard it breaks in half. “Defendant THANATOS, you are sinful on multiple counts of murder, which pales in comparison to the OTHER charges, which include several hundred deicides, causing the deaths of over two hundred thousand celestials and hermits, destruction of the Heavenly Palace of China, and treason.”

The spirits spectating behind you begin chattering.

“Eh?” You wrack your memories, only to dredge up some vague recalls of someone else’s. “I...I don’t think I am Thanatos. I only received his powers.”

“See, I told you he ground his own memories away into Mist.” Hecatia sighs, “As a higher goddess of Hell, I move to take the criminal to recess for further interrogation.”

“As you suggest.”

A goddess of Hell above the Yama? Does that mean that her name is only a slight modification of...Hecate?

What’s she here doing a whole hemisphere away? Oh right...Thanatos.

But you’re not Thanatos?

======

“Err…this seems a little extreme?”

The room only has three walls. To the right side of you is a cliff, stretching down for hundreds of meters before terminating in a sea of fire. From within you can hear the distant sounds of anguished souls being tormented within, their spectral forms lacking any burnable nerves to numb the agony. You occasionally catch a glimpse of hulking kishin marching among the flames, dragging any soul trying to clamber onto the cliff back down.

The opposite side of the room is a set of bars, designed to allow the spirits who knew you in life to freely look through. They look just as confused as you are.

To your front, two rulers of Hell glare daggers at you. You know that type of gaze from your parents in life very well: “Say the right thing or we’ll punish you.”

“I...I admit I am Thanatos?”

The room slightly tilts to the right. You scream as the chair you are bound to slides to the edge of the table. Eiki furrows her brow.

“Normally, we would call in the spirits of your victims to testify, as you have been housing them in your body as fuel. However, it appears that they have possessed what’s left of your body and are continuing to do your job, so that is not an option.”

“What do...you guys want?”

Hecatia stands up and places her arms on the table as the room tilt back, “To have you fully realize what you attempted to forget. Let’s begin with the first discrepancy: If you are not Thanatos, than how come you held his heart?”

“They were...given to me...by somebody who pretended to be a professor at my school. He showed me that he knew of my murders, pried the heart out of his body and then placed it inside me....actually, he even suppressed the memory of that procedure to me.”

“Mmhmm, do you recall that person’s name?”

You struggle to remember. Their features are largely a haze, but they had a desk nameplate, “Yi, his name was Yi.”

The bars on the left lower. “Felix Conner,” Eiki asks the spirit who sheepishly walks in as his name is called, “Could you verify this information?”

“Yi? Hmm....Yes, there is a Professor Yi, but he was in the Arts Department, not the Engineering Sciences Department of me and Zhenguo.”

“That is because the encounter never happened.” The mirror flickers, and replays a scene...from Conner’s perspective. It is a recollection of him drinking along with some other faculty and students. From time to time, you see yourself from his perspective, passed out on the bar and mumbling about Touhou. Then, you see yourself awake, and sure enough:


“Ha, ha, Zhenguo, you alive?”

“Whaa…?” You look up and see the counter in front of you laden with bottles, a rough hand slaps you on the back.

“You were jabbering on about how you wanted to visit Japan just to see if some fairy land is real. Ha ha ha! You had way too much to drink, seeing how you passed out for a little bit there.”

Seeing the smiling faces of your professor and school mates around you, you remember that silly thing you’ve been mulling over and how you blurted it out after you tongue was loosened by three bottles of vodka.

“Hey Zhenguo, don’t I recall you passing out after one glass of wine!” One of the freshmen calls out from down the bar as he admires the evidence of your bar tab, “Wow, how did you stay up for that much?”

“Practice and a bit of conditioning, ain’t that the pie?” Your professor laughs as he pats your back again.

“What are you saying,” You sigh, a bit annoyed, “I’ve always been like this, Professor Conner.”


“So it was...all a dream? Then what about the other weird thing that happened to me? The flames?”

“Symptoms of your true identity beginning to manifest, is what it was.” Eiki states while adjusting the mirror, “Thanatos, Conner, do you recall what Operation Flaming Vodka was?”

You wrack your memories for a clue. “I remember, fighting shadowy ninjas? I’m missing a lot of context around that memory.”

“Err, you really don’t remember? Wu?” Conner looks at you strangely, “Operation Flaming Vodka is the annual event where the chemistry department gathers around in an old building and ignore the safety guidelines to ‘accelerate’ research. You took like twenty different experimental medicines at once during that and starting pulling off Bruce Lee-level moves and climbing walls, all the while yelling about ghosts and stuff. We were having a great time until the building caught on fire from some researchers ignoring the guidelines a bit too much and we had to bail...I actually don’t remember you getting out with us.”

“I don’t remember anything other than getting out of a hospital...at the end of that acid trip.”

“I’ll tell you what happened, since you have discarded the memories connecting those events.” Eiki plainly states as she replays your POV during the event, with the scene occasionally cutting back to the normalcy of the gymnasium and amused onlookers. “The combat hallucinations you experienced were the result of your powers manifesting as a result of the drug cocktail finally overcoming your inherent resistances, and your heart replacement is what your brain experienced as you lay on the ground, your human heart having broken, manifesting your backup vessel heart of my creation.”

“Eh? Your creation?” You ask. The other spirits chime in with the same question.

Eiki motions for Hecatia to begin narrating, which she does, “Your memories show that you talked to a certain Patchouli Knowledge, who told you that the runes inscribed on your body are a technique that was traded to the Eastern underworld. The trade occurred in the form of the remnant heart of Thanatos, which housed his...your soul after you committed suicide...”

“...Can a god really commit suicide?” Rikako cuts in from the peanut gallery on the other side of the bars.

“No, not in Greece. Hence why his soul was bound to his material remains. I granted the heart as research material for one of my follower covens, and it, along with the tomes written about it, were traded to the Orient.” Hecatia frowns, “It was a bad trade.”

“I do not have the records from the Chinese departments of Hell on hand right now regarding the trade itself,” Eiki continues the talk, “But they did give us the heart, the tomes, along with a prescript from the Taoist consensus: The Heavenly Palace. As one incarnated as a Chinese person, you are familiar with them, I am sure, Wu Zhenguo.”

You shudder as Eiki speaks your normal name, “You mean the big palace with the Jade Emperor and all of the famous heroes like Nezha?”

“Yes. They even lent us Taishan Laojun’s...or in our tongue, Omoikane’s Hakkero furnace for this task: To create an entity capable of resisting the overbearing divinity forces from foreign lands, which has began to take away the faith of the native religions. ”

“So...like the Mask of Hope incident?

They both look at you in disgust. Eiki explains, slowly, “No...nothing like the minor stakes of a single Japanese village, isolated from the rest of the world. This was the faith and culture of the whole of China hanging in the balance here, according to the Jade Emperor, hence the extreme measure they took in creating the monster they gave no name to: You, Thanatos’s heart placed within an iron vessel, refined for 49 days and nights in the fires of hell inside the Hakkero, and inscribed with Western techniques to allow Thanatos to do what he never could do in life: channel the powers of Styx herself.”

“Once again, that was a bad decision.” Hecatia says, the conversation clearly giving her painful feelings as she clutches her head, “Thanatos was a minor god in Greece, largely harmless, and the vessel was patterned after Xingtian, a relatively obscure figure from the Xia dynasty who fought and lost against the Yellow Emperor, in order to give the entity more anti-divinity than just Thanatos’ inherent rage. A dead minor god’s heart and a crude copy of a revenant may not seem like too much trouble to bring under control, but...”

“You were given the benefit of the doubt because the Heavenly Palace simply cannot muster the faith needed to fight the Christians…”

“The Christians?”

Both Conner and Eiki look at you strangely, “Um, Opium War, Taiping Rebellion, Unequal Treaties?” Your mechanical engineering professor list out, “I thought since you’re Chinese you would know this.”

“Oh! No no no...it was that recent?” You exclaim, surprised, “I thought that we were talking about some thousand-year old incident! Like when Buddhism was introduced or something!”

“As much as I would like to criticize him, the Jade Emperor was not one to resort to immediate violence against a largely pacifist religion.” Eiki continues, “However, the bloodshed of the Taiping Rebellion, and the humiliation by foreign powers, spurred him into taking drastic measures: You: the anti-divinity of the East and the West together allowed you to shrug off the westerners’ prayers and rituals, while your heavy metallic construction, inscribed iron spells and tanegashima took away the advantages of their Occidental guns and steel.”

“Wait, wait wait.” Rikako cuts in from the other side of the bars, “So you created an automaton, designed to kill the people you didn’t agree with and cannot fight, gave it the tools to overpower said foes, which again, you cannot fight, and then are surprised when it attacks you?”

“Rikako Asakura,” Eiki plainly states, “Your observation is valid, as we all agree that, in retrospect, the Heavenly Palace made a terrible decision. However, the concern of this trial, as with all trials in Higan, are of the sins of the subject. Also, the Heavenly Palace had paid quite dearly for their mistake already.”

“The Evil AI trope is still ‘Evil’ AI, implying a moral judgment here” Conner says, looking at you with concern, “Well, Yamaxanadu, did it kill the imperialists?”

“We delivered the creation to China, and privately sent a lowly shinigami to keep track of it. That was all we could do, for this project was kept secret from even the other regions of Hell, and the Heavenly Palace forbid us from speaking of it, going as far as to ‘suggest’ we partake of Meng Po’s amnesiac brew. That, we argued our way out of, but not anything else. Us East Asian Yama are mere subjects of those who have transcended life and death, and are nowhere near as potent as our Indian counterparts.” Eiki says, a hint of bitterness forming on her voice.

“Which is an excuse, but I digress,” Hecatia needles, provoking a glance from Eiki, “Initially, you did what the Yama expected, and fought the foreigners by helping local resistance societies in the Qing concession territories and razing Christian missions and outposts. Nice, clean Chinese resistance, fit for the history books. Of course, that did not last. When you ran out of soldiers to fight, you turned your gun on the non-combatants, the missionaries, their families...even any baptized infants you found were dragged out of their cribs and smashed into the ground. The inscriptions we made on the vessel were not enough to hold you. Quite soon however, you ran out of Christians in the areas you could get to….especially after the Boxer Rebellion you participated in scared them off.”

“You’re saying that the Boxer Rebellion was led by Iron Man Thanatos?” Conner exclaims, incredulous. Eiki merely raises an eyebrow.

“ ‘Led’? In a way. Thanatos participated as a rank-and-file, indistinguishable from a regular Boxer with the minor illusion enchantments his vessel provided. What happened as a result is that reports cropped up of seemingly different Boxers having bullets bounce off of their skin and crushing foreigner skulls with one hand, leading the others to believe that with enough faith and virtue, they too could achieve such feats.”

Some of the more historically literate spirits in the peanut gallery begin wondering, “Is that why the Boxers believed that they were able to channel gods?”

“To those wondering...yes, and no. The Heavenly Palace did dispatch celestials to aid their endeavors, but could only spare so much. Seeing Thanatos shrug off foreigner bullets, however, did however give them the morale to proceed. What they did not see, however, is that after he finished off the Christians in an area, he went after others: esoteric hermits, new tradition scholars, the occupations of new victims varied, but were all practitioners and high figures of our eastern faiths who also have deviated, even slightly, from the official stance. Just like the foreigners, they were unceremoniously shot and crushed, and left to rot.” Eiki audibly sucks in her frustration, “They often lived alone in remote locations, so nobody there noticed their demise. Nobody but the underworld. The Jade Emperor should’ve known something was wrong, and it was his sin that he did nothing until it was too late. Ironic, isn’t it, for a moral exemplar like him?”

“Question.” A kappa’s soul chimes in from the peanut gallery, “Isn’t it normal policy for assassins to be dispatched against deviant hermits?”

“That is a rule specific to Gensokyo, and while the hermits fit the category, he also targeted non-magical scholars, lecturers, and similar figures who did not pursue immortality, but still had an impact on the national zeitgeist. Continuing. At some point after your path of slaughter reached Beijing, leaving your fanatical followers to rush to their deaths against western guns, you wandered off to the coast.” Hecatia says as she experimentally adjusts Eiki’s mirror. “Unfortunately, it appears that the shinigami lost track of you at this point, and as you’ve erased your own memories, we have no records.”

“Komachi’s still demoted to ferry duty to this day for that.” Eiki adds in, “She refuses to talk of why she failed in that task. I did not and will not force her to say, as the act was white.”

===

You appraise the red-headed person in front of you. Not a religious figure. Not a westerner. Not on the list. She’s been following you this whole time, but only now did she decide to do something.

It’s odd? Why now? When you have a job to do inside this mission building.

You gesture for her to move aside, but she does not budge from the doorway, keeping her scythe just within striking range.

An obstacle then.

You draw your gun and clash, iron on steel. You’re not trying to kill this one. You just want this one to get out of the way.

She throws out curtains of underworld coins and weaves a wall of steel with her weapon, though none of her strikes breach your armor. You attempt to ram through, only to be pushed back by the sheer quantity of attacks thrown out.

Still, you...wait, are those heretics escaping through the windows? HOW DARE THEY?!

You punch the Japanese agent right in the face, knocking aside her scythe. Before she could regain her posture, you line up the gun barrel with her face and pull the trigger, splattering it all over the door. Drawing a spare barrel, you expunge the escaping heretic’s sinful mind with a righteous bullet, blowing it all over the wall and coating it with poisonous river water.

As the other escaping sinners in the courtyard begin to choke, you kick down the door and scan. Old traitors against heaven sitting against the walls. Shameful mothers clutching young scions of dishonor. A veritable den of treason against heaven, all for some barbarian god.

You load a canister of fuel, and fire, spraying the interior with flame.



“Thanatos?” Sanae worriedly asks as she snaps her fingers in front of you, producing bursts of rice. “You’ve blanked out again. Another vision?”

“...I’m sorry, some bit of Ming is still attached to me.” You grumble, changing your gaze from the field of wreckages, “He’s trying to tug at the memories discarded into me and throwing me into these flashbacks. If this happens during combat, don’t hesitate to leave me behind.”

“Now I’m really curious,” Nue asks through a face full of burger, courtesy of the US taxpayer, “We can deduce from these weird reports extracted from your body that you were the creation of the Yama for some sort of project by China’s heavenly courts.”

“I know that much. What I don’t know is why my past incarnation...creator, discarded these memories selectively like that into the heart. The reports, the actions...all of which would’ve been useful this life. Now Ming’s stuck in Hell with nothing to answer, and we still have questions.”

“You just said ‘we’, Thanatos.”

“Argh!” Your mind fragments for a moment, then hastily reassembles itself. “Sorry, piloting a mechanical revenant as a mass of polished souls is taxing on our...my sense of self. We...I...we don’t have any memories but for HIS! I cannot remember my cubs, our mother, my dearest plumed mate...it all burns...”

“It is alright, my dear squire.” Awyrgan’s voice cuts you off, giving your soul an instinctual shudder. “You do not have to think.”

As the shadow of the dragon flies over the HAARP installation, you once again disappear from the narrative.

===

”However, we do have some accounts of what happened next.”

“A replica of Sun Wukong’s drunken rampage?” Imaizumi Kagerou’s voice comes from the peanut gallery. Large holes of gleaming silver pierce her torso, and she idly scratches at them as she talks, “Based on what I know of Ming he doesn’t really have the will to do anything more than that.”

“I’m sorry....” You mutter, numbed, “I’m sorry...”

“You are correct. He does not. Unfortunately, coming off of the tail end of China’s deadliest civil war, and spearheading the violent aspect of another revolution gave Thanatos quite a lot of souls to work with.” Hecatia says, “You understand how your internal mechanism allows you to serve as a sort of accelerated reincarnation cycle, grinding the personalities of the deceased into mist and leaving behind a polished, generic soul.”

Eiki continues, “They greatly feared that the Christians will use their religion to escape the underworld, or more correctly, they feared that Chinese souls will leave their jurisdiction. This solved that problem and any energy issues you may experience. They did not take into account that you would keep ahold of the souls after you purified them. They also did not take into account that your previous iteration was capable of selectively choosing which parts to grind off. When your programming finally cracked, and you turned against the heavenly courts, you brought alongside you a legion of tens of millions of souls salvaged from across China, all stripped…” Hecatia loudly coughs, interrupting Eiki for a bit, ”...of nothing but resentment towards the world for letting them die.”

“Nothing stopped you, not the guard who stopped you at the gate, not the lieutenants who stepped in once you flooded the gardens, not even the heroes themselves. It was everything the Japanese Heaven feared when they fled to the Moon. The sheer quantity of the amount of misery and suffering that the mortals of China unleashed on their own heaven was tenfold the faith they possessed to fight back with in that time, and they faced your anti-divinity too, no less. Contributing to this, of course, was that the attack on the Heavenly Palace was timed with the deprivation of faith as the Boxers you led on were left to be brutally crushed by the foreigners in Peking, and the cities and villages they protected pillaged, burnt and raped for a whole year....judging the souls of those from Japan who ‘participated’ in that incident was sobering, as it was the last years of my duty outside Gensokyo. Though I am sure my fellow Yama had a much harder time in the subsequent wars that arose.”

Eiki slams the rod on the table, and your surroundings shift back to the courtroom. “Now, for witness testimony of your rampage. Sun Wukong was the one who documented the aftermath, but unfortunately he is currently unavailable for this trial. We do however have some of the survivors here with us.”

“Aren’t we in Higan?” One of the spirits queuing for his trial complains, “Shouldn’t the dead ones be more available?”

“You are mistaken.” Eiki answers, “Chinese celestials, unlike those you might be familiar with here in Gensokyo, cannot die. Thanatos did the next ‘best’ thing...”

A figure in a tattered, but still flowing silk robe emerges from behind the stand. A low-ranking celestial, merely a peach server. You recognize the river water’s signs on her body: a missing left arm that’s haphazardly rebuilt itself from several other pieces of dead flesh, blotchy black stains on her skin, a hollow look in the eyes.

“By survive, I mean that they avoided being fused into a giant mass of necrotic flesh and Styx water infested souls. Sun Wukong in fact was strong-stomached enough to return a few decades ago and take pictures for us.” Eiki says as she levitates her mirror upwards and enlarges it, allowing it to act like a projector screen.

Most looked away. Hecatia held your head forward.

Amidst the terraces and palaces that not even the most expensive mythological TV drama had reproduced, being the absolute pinnacle of Chinese architecture made with exotic materials of the highest virtue, is a literal sea of pure, undistilled nightmares. Limbs and heads stick out of the gunk, all in various positions of screaming and struggling, their virtuous natures having long since died to brute horror. Eiki flips through several different pictures of the same shot, and you notice that their mouths are still moving.

The mirror only shows truth. This is a reality that the people of East Asia, even Earth, ought to never know.

“Now, for the witness testimonies....”

The celestials are barely able to stutter out their experiences, mostly talking about how they barely managed to get away from the grasping mass of lost souls while watching their friends succumb to the tide of hatred, all the while the metal monster stalks from notable figure to notable figure, grinding their accumulated virtue to dust to feed the hungry ghosts.

There’s quite a few of them.

The last of them was not a celestial, but an old lady: Mengpo, the one normally responsible for purging the memories of dead souls before they are allowed into the reincarnation wells. Slowly, in a creaking voice, she describes in vivid detail how you returned from heaven straight to the underworld, drenched in corrupted virtue, and kicked her aside, before diving into a well of reincarnation.

Every single one of them shared a common insight.

They recognized you.

====
Meanwhile, in the audience

“I didn’t know Yamas had witnesses and evidence for a trial.” Mystia asks the red-headed reaper, who’s guarding the accused’s box with a grim expression.

“Amnesiacs who cannot recover memories are given this treatment.”

“Then what about the audience?” The dead night sparrow continues, “Surely something such as an individual’s life is not a public affair.”

“Thanatos is a servant of Hell, like the rest of us shinigami.” Komachi scratches her head, “This is also for the benefit of all of the other dead here.”
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After what seemed like an eternity (which very well may have been) as Eiki wraps up the witness testimonies by distilling it into a series of crime convictions, she finally pauses, takes a deep breath, and slams the rod on her bench again.

Everyone else in the courtroom vanishes, leaving just you, her, and Hecatia.

“Eh? What are you…OW!” You yell in pain from the thrown punishment rod bouncing off of your head, it lands on the floor in front of you and splinters in two.

A smaller chunk reading “Black” and the larger chunk that’s blank”.

“What? I thought...”

“To be straightforward. Thanatos. What you did this life was terrible. What you did in your past incarnation is a great tragedy. But...as we know, you were following scriptures that were carved into your body. No justice in the world will fault a drone for his commanded actions. And while your actions this life have been reprehensible, you still have some good in you. Thanatos, meaning that your soul hasn’t been completely blackened.”

“But I’m not...am I?” You are fairly sure that Thanatos is the one who gave you the power. But...was it just your fragmented mind deluding yourself?

You realize you cannot remember any of the events before Gensokyo that clearly.

But that still doesn’t mean you’re Thanatos.

“So…what about the sin itself? You made this a public trial, and yet will not charge?”

Eiki gets up from the judge’s bench, and sets down her hat, “As somebody who was just as complicit in the event as you were, I have no right to convict. Hecatia, if you will.”

Nodding, the Greek goddess of the underworld takes up position on the bench and replaces her orb headgear with the Yama hat. “Yamaxanadu , Eiki Shiki, through the creation of the vessel of Thanatos, you are guilty of aiding and abetting the Heavenly Palace in conspiring to murder its own people, as well as the political turmoil that consumed even more lives thereafter. While heaven then may have justified it with their own law, one need only look at the results to see how wrong they were.”

“What…are you doing, Eiki?” You ask.

Hecatia continues, “After the current state of emergency in Gensokyo is over, you shall…” The goddess purses her lips, her unsure tone intensifying, “Are you really comfortable with a substitute taking over for the duration?”

“There is no other way to do this. If I shall continue as a pure Yama, I must hold myself to a higher standard than everyone else subjected to this court. What we did was not of our own will, but if we had been more cautious with the parameters…if we had been more liberal with the restrictions, Thanatos would not have caused as much damage. For our sins and his sins, as the creator, I, and my fellow Yama on the outside, have long since agreed to take the full punishment for this crime.”

“Are…you serious?” You gasp, “Surely…that is ridiculous! You can’t be guilty for something you were forced into doing!”

“The act itself is not the issue. It is the Japanese Court’s failure to mitigate the consequences of our actions.” Eiki sighs, “Komachi was unprofessional, but she was right, we should have done more than just monitor you. We should have stepped in before it all went…to Hell. If good people do nothing in the presence of evil, then they have sinned as well.”

“Eiki…”

“Moreover, as one of the creators of Thanatos’s programmed incarnation, I also deserve the blame for his actions in that life, as he had less choice than us…”

“...”

You definitely are not willing to take the blame for morally questionable decisions. Momiji would know that. Others can bear the responsibility and shame.

You are also definitely not willing to have others face consequences for your actions. Sharing your head with a cluster of stripped souls has given you this much over your base (in both meanings) personality.

But were they your actions in the first place?

It doesn’t matter. What matters here is that they think you are Thanatos himself, and treats you like him.


“Hit me, Hecatia.”


“Eh?”

“I said ‘hit me’!” You unconsciously raise your voice, “Even if I’m not sure if I’m Thanatos, treat me like I am! I took credit for the killings by many people I know when I was alive, so why not now?”

Eiki softly “harumphs”, “You cannot simply take on the sins of another, unless you are the Christian consensus.”

“Fine then, let me redefine my statement. I, for all intents and purposes in this silly trial, am Thanatos. For the sins of my past life or whatever. Even if I’m not Thanatos, he’s not here, I am, and there’s nobody better to be taking additional murder charges than a murderer.”

“You know, I had my doubts, even if their souls match up, but this really is Thanatos.” Hecatia remarks as she puts down the rod, “I still remember how during the Plague of Athens, when the deceased citizens demanded he answer why the gods have abandoned the city, which he doesn’t know, he instead responded that it was he who desired their deaths, just because he heard one ghost blaspheme Persephone’s name. She was one of the few individuals the ornery bastard could tolerate, though I still know not the reason.”

“I…wha…?”

Could it be that they are right? Could it be that your own soul, grasping onto your heart, had changed both your dark side and the spirits that made up your light side to match your original incarnation?

“I thought he was just being spiteful to the mortals, but now I can see the connection. You can’t bear to see others suffer for your sake, which is why other than the savage Erinyes, you did your job alone.”

“No, that can’t be true. If I was Thanatos, I would have been proud of what I’ve done!” You protest, “I never would have discarded my memories! To kill an entire court of gods…that’s what I dream of!”

“But are you proud of having killed those mortals while enslaved by those same gods? The Thanatos I knew, tore his own arms off when Heracles chained him to a rock, such is the degree of his hate for being ordered around by any god but that of the underworld.”

No…no you are not proud of being such a slave. You may have also engaged in such wanton slaughter, and enjoyed it, but if it was for someone else’s sake, especially someone you dislike…you don’t want it.

You straighten your posture, and feel more confidence in your voice, “Speaking of being ordered, what is the deal with judging me as Thanatos anyhow? Is it that important for me to recognize the name?”

“Because, Thanatos, you were a part of Hell, and upon accepting your name again, you will once again resume your role. We can’t just let rogue gods run around the reincarnation cycles, especially not rogue western gods. Though…how do you work with this hat, Eiki?” Hecatia complains as she lifts the hat and scratches her head with a disembodied hand, “…Given that Greece’s underworld is currently not used as a Hell…no thanks to Yahweh on that one…”

“That’s no issue.” Eiki interjects, “We are currently down a kishin, and after this incident is over, we will definitely need any help we can get, Thanatos.”

“Is that a job offer? You’ve gotta be…”

“Not a job; a place where you belong.” The Yama’s voice is turning oddly soft. “No more will you be drifting on the currents of reincarnation to plague mortals with your instincts and abilities. You will be here, where you can turn your blade on the wicked as their captor and punisher.”

“I can…I can be a good kishin, even if I’m not a good person?”

“A good kishin takes pride in their work, and joy in accomplishing it. You were always a good kishin, Thanatos, it’s just your choice of reincarnation that landed you into sin this life.”

“A good kishin…I, Thanatos, can be a good kishin?”

Your mind, arrives irrevocably at this conclusion. You have done Thanatos’ job. You have his abilities. You have his personality. And you find his new position rather appealing.

What can it be said other than that you are Thanatos?

For the first time since you set foot in the courtroom, you see Eiki smile.

“Just get it over with, you easterners are weird. My job here is done, you two can have your moment.” Hecatia groans and tosses the hat onto the bench as she excuses herself to the backroom.

“I was...I am...Thanatos.” You finally state, feeling as if you found a place to belong at last. “And I accept your proposal, you are my lord, Lord Yamaxanadu” You extend a hand.

Eiki happily replaces her hat and shakes your hand. Floating back up to the bench, she produces a suspiciously pre-written looking scroll and has you sign it.

“And I officially accept you into my court, Lord Thanatos...”
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Clap. Clap.

The two of you immediately turn towards the pillar at the back of the room. Eiki snaps straight back to her usual expression of stoic authority. “Who trespasses into a private court session?!”

A girl strolls out from the back of the pillar. Matted hair, in a gradient pattern flowing between a furious red and a deep, depressing green. Unlike the more elaborate costumes of most in Gensokyo, or even the common villagers, she wears a simple, uncolored robe tied together with a rope, upon which a single heavy-looking pouch hangs. A cheap Outside World jacket is worn over that. Nothing else. Not even a hair accessory,

“Someone who’s unaffected by the measures of death.” The girl responds, in the tone of one unfamiliar with Japanese. “I’m just here to check that my promise is mostly fulfilled. Oh, Zhenguo.” She fishes around her pockets and pulls out a pair of spectacles, which she puts on. Pulling her hair up, she scrunches her face, “Recognize me?”

The recognition hits you like a cannon round, “You...you’re “Professior Yi”! The one who put your heart inside of me! You were a woman? Scratch that, you were real?”

“How fuzzy is your memory? Of course I was! I took up Thanatos’s burden, just as I promised him over a century ago.” She peels away the top of her robe, revealing metallic scarring above her left breast. “It was a little painful, but nothing special.”

Eiki was frozen in shock during that exchange, and upon recovering she immediately grabs ahold of the rod of remorse and points it at the interloper, summoning everyone back into the room. “Court officials, eject this intruder from our proceedings!”

The girl reaches into her pouch and removes some pebbles. Komachi and her colleagues approach her with weapons raised, but are suddenly forced back as the girl tosses a pebble at the floor before her. Eiki slams the rod, raising a gust of strong wind, which the girl counters with another thrown pebble. The wind turns around as soon as it touches the rock, blowing around the courtroom and sending papers and quills scattering in all directions.

As her robe billows from the movement, you recognize it.

It’s the same “dress” you caught a glimpse of when you found your first Iron Card.

“I request some leniency on my presence here, Honorable Yama.” The girl casually continues talking, “I am merely here to offer some witness testimony for the sinner here, not to alter his sentence, of course, but to clear up some confusion.”

Hecatia rushes into the room after hearing all the commotion. The girl’s face lights up upon spotting her, “Oh, hello there Hecate! How’s Junko doing?”

“Hecatia, do you know this person?” Eiki mutters, setting down her rod with gritted teeth.

The Greek goddess can only stare in confusion, “I...I didn’t know you were still active...J-”

“Oh, pardon my poor manners, I forgot to introduce myself, ” The girl bows, throwing back her sleeves and revealing a brilliant pair of wings under her arms, “I am Jingwei, the former heir to the old Yan throne, though now I’m just a bird spirit.”

“You’re WHO?” If she’s not lying, then if one takes the birth of a god to be at the time of belief, then this girl here is likely older than everyone else in this room save for perhaps Hecatia. It does explain the pebbles, sort of?

===

One of Shou’s heads perks up as the open frequency crackles.

“Once, long ago, the Flame Emperor had a daughter.”

“Guys, Arcturus is transmitting cryptic stuff over the open frequency again.”

“Once, long ago, this daughter loved the ocean.”

“Wait, isn’t this that myth about the…”

“The ocean, offended by the mortal’s affection, drowned her beneath the waves.”

“I don’t think that’s what happened. Wriggle, can you check if he’s mixing in an encrypted…”

”The girl rose again on wings of fury and spite.”

“That’s being a little overdramatic about what happened.”

”Now, the bird despises the ocean.”

“Okay, that’s correct.”

”Then, the bird will slay the ocean, and live happily ever after.”

“…Sort of…No, what? What in the nine hells was that?”

===

Eiki stares long and hard at her, then gestures at an unoccupied Shinigami desk. “You may use that as a witness stand. Though this court does not take the opinion of outsiders into account for the judgment of souls.”

“It’s fine. I simply wish to add some corrections to the story.” Jingwei floats over to the desk, and perches on it instead of the chair behind it. “First of all, I am happy to say that your shinigami did obtain the true location of Thanatos’s soul, in that school. However, as I showed, Wu Zhenguo was not lying about the heart transplant being a real occurrence instead of a drug-induced hallucination. Thanatos had given me his heart and all of his spells before throwing himself into the well of reincarnation after he massacred all of Heaven, and his reincarnation did not have any of those. He was in fact the janitor that was reported dead during the fire, even though he got out fine, and it was Wu Zhenguo who ended up on the morgue slab before reviving himself with the heart.”

“Impossible.” Eiki states, “Before he left to slack off in Ireland, our tracking shinigami gave us a clear match with Thanatos’s soul on Wu Zhenguo.” She allows her Cleansed Crystal Mirror to hover out of her hand and expand to the size of a projector screen, displaying a diagram of your old body and the body of what is clearly a Greek god, albeit a rather small one, with a series of complex lines and scripts delineating the similarities between them. “The patterns do not lie. This soul is Thanatos.”

“Ah, I forgot about that. I left this in you just for this purpose, two years ago.” Jingwei walks over to you, and without warning shoves her hand directly into your ghostly cranium. You scream in agony as the feeling, of something unbearably hot churning your nonexistent organs, ravages you for a few moments, and then continue screaming as she pulls a pebble out through your soul’s eye socket. “Komachi, if you would perform another examination.”

The red-headed reaper cautiously walks over, looks at you, then shakes her head in disbelief. “Yeah, uh, Eiki? I’m not the best tracker, as you know, but this looks like a typical Izanami-afflicted soul. Nothing like the diagram.”

Eiki hurriedly sets up the mirror again, and furrows her brow, “So the removed memories truly had no deeds to reflect...Jingwei...you admit to intentionally sabotaging in the efforts of Hell to track down a dangerous rogue god with your still unexplained power, do you have any idea how serious that crime is? And how?”

The bird maintains her casually smiling expression, but her eyes begin to change color to a blazing orange, “My ability is simple: The denial of state. Say, denying the state of a running person to assert that the person is stopping, the state of an apple from rotten to fresh, the state of a heart from hard to soft, or...” She ruffles her wing feathers, “...the state of a drowned girl to an immortal living bird. And yes, I do understand the crime.”

Conner suddenly recognizes the newcomer, “Hey! You’re that weird girl that followed me around campus for a whole semester two years ago! What the hell?!”

“Sorry about that,” Jingwei answers, somewhat apologetically, “I was just trying to copy your identity so Ming could keep his story straight. Turns out that didn’t work since you met up with him in Gensokyo, sidelining you from his suspicions.”

“So you’re not even bounded to exact opposites, like Ame-no-Sagume or similar amanojaku,” Hecatia comments while stroking her chin, ignoring Conner’s swearing at the bird, “But, why? Why would you aid a murderous rogue god?”

“Thanatos? Murderous?” Jingwei laughs, a shrill, unsettling chuckle closer to a songbird than a human, and shakes her head, “Thanatos as I knew him after he reincarnated would vomit at the mere suggestion of killing. The poor soul’s been forced into shady murder contracts under both the Greeks and the Chinese, why would he willingly become a serial killer after escaping?”

“Forced into shady murder contracts?” Everyone, including you, ask in unison.

Hecatia silences the room, then asks “The gods of Greece, including me, did have him seize souls under bad intentions, this is public information and outside this jurisdiction. But about the Chinese?”

“Oh, the Taoists never admitted the truth even to the Yama?” Jingwei’s smile drops a little, “The construct you made with their instructions was never malfunctioning, Honorable Yama, it wasn’t JUST designed to eliminate foreign religions from encroaching on our countries here. It was designed from the start to kill any native hermits and upstart intellectuals that may threaten their doctrines. Why else, would China stay stagnant for so long even in crisis that your country rolled over it with ease?”

“The Jade Emperor may be flawed, but he would never order the murder of his own followers, much less virtuous hermits!” Eiki shouts, her hat drooping.

“Yeah, that doesn’t make much sense to kill your own loyalists,” Hecatia starts, then stops and considers, “Wait, Eiki, didn’t you mention that the non-Christians he killed were still somewhat deviant?”

“Can a shinigami retrieve the original Chinese prescripts the Heavenly Palace sent you to inscribe in his armor, from the archives here? I personally saw and recorded runes on his body that broadly defined anyone acting against the interest of the Heavenly Palace to be criminal troublemakers and heretics.”

“We definitely have those records,” Eiki says as she gestures for a clerk shinigami to retrieve them, ”but to argue that it proves the Jade Emperor ordered the murder of those hermits, instead of it being a fault of creation, is nonsense.”

“Of course he did not order it himself. He distanced himself as much as possible. That’s why he ordered the Japanese Hell, not China’s, to craft the armor housing Thanatos’s heart, even lending you the Bagua Furnace, the “Hakkero furnace” in your language, to smelt the vessel fitting for a god. Isn’t it curious, though, how the instructions inscribed on his armor allowed for the Heavenly Palace to define the criteria for his targets rather than a simple ‘Is of a Christian faith’? Or how not even a single Heavenly soldier was sent down to stop him even just out of principle? It’s because they were ordered to not intervene. If you check the inscriptions for his gauntlets, you’d see patterns designed specifically to counter the weapons of Heaven, not just mere hermit magic. Just in case, of course, someone like Nezha decides to disobey that order.”

You see Eiki reflexively check some of the papers the clerk hands to her, and her eyes widen as the records appear to correspond to the bird’s testimony. “I did not work on this section…”

Jingwei then removes several scrolls, corroded by poisoned river water, from her robes and presents them to Eiki, “Some records I collected from their archives that Sun Wukong missed. These corroborate all of my statements.”

The shinigami, the Yama, and Hecate pore over the scrolls, carefully scrutinizing the details within the Chinese text. Finally, Eiki sighs, dismisses the aides, and settles back down in the throne, pinching her forehead, “...I suppose that is the Taoist Way, after all, just setup the dam and watch the river drown all of your problems...what was Yudi thinking? Telling us to create such an abomination and letting it loose, only for it to bite back at himself.”

“Buddhism eroded much of his authority, enough that the Monkey King ran roughshod over his legions during his tantrum. The Europeans were likely the last straw, as he saw in your country’s Shimabara Rebellion what chaos foreign ideas and beliefs would cause. Thus, this whole mess. I am just speculating, however, as the Heavenly Palace is unavailable for comment, being still choking on the waters of Styx...which, I will take full responsibility for, the whole event, as I was the one who told Thanatos to do it.”

The court erupts in a cacophony of voices, with the spectating spirits adding their confused commentary to the shinigamis’. Jingwei’s slight smile has expanded into a full, unsettling grin.

“No magic, not even my own ability, was used. I simply pointed out to Thanatos that the entirety of the Heavenly Palace was contained within their own broad definition of targets, under a certain frame of reference, and provided a single ride up there on my talons. His own, shall we borrow a more modern term, programming, did the rest.”

“You would take responsibility for the tens of thousands of celestials slaughtered by his hands?”

“That and more. I also take responsibility for the deaths caused by his influence within a later event as his now compromised prescripts also covered Confucianism. Oh, Thanatos marching through the undefended Chinese underworld to mutilate Mencius’s spirit was quite a sight, though he stopped just short of forcing a reincarnation.”

“I was not informed of that.” Both of the rulers of Hell responded.

“You likely were not informed of anything during those years, the Yanwang were a bit preoccupied by this occurrence, and understandably hesitant to discuss such a shameful incident. It’s not relevant anyway. You can’t charge him with anything now that you’ve declared a new Thanatos, removing the last bit of connection he had with Hell. And, of course, the Yama’s judgments are absolute. However, Hecate, if you ask them about it, they will admit.”

A moment of silence. Eiki taps the rod on the bench, looking tired for the first time. “Jingwei, I have to ask. Why did you actually come here to turn yourself in? If we really want Thanatos back, we can break procedure to do so.”

“I have to ask you why you want Thanatos back at all. The man’s happy now, away from everything that’s tormented him throughout his existence: Mortals and the disgustingness of their deaths. Now that his position is ‘filled’, there should be no reason to go trouble him, as he is now 100% a normal mortal soul.”

“Are you saying that what Thanatos wanted all along was to not be Thanatos?

“Precisely. You know why he sympathized with Persephone right? Because both of them were stuck in Hades against their will, largely.”

Hecatia groans, “…Why didn’t he say anything then? In all those millenia of service?”

“He did. Quite frequently as he told me through his heart. It’s just as how the Jade Emperor dismissed Yamaxanadu’s letters of protest, so did you and Hades brush off his anger and resentment as a natural aspect of him. After all, Thanatos was supposed to hate the living and want nothing to do with them. Nonetheless, it wasn’t your fault that he cannot handle the fading away of Olympus. If we were to judge everyone for things they could’ve done more for, everyone deserves Naraka.”

“Are you implying something here?” Eiki questions, the bird having echoed her earlier statement with a more cynical edge.

“No, just a frivolous personal opinion. Now,” The bird grabs ahold of you, and drags you upright. “As I’ve taken responsibility for this whole mess, I will take in your share of the sin as well, Yamaxanadu, and confine myself to Hell for the duration of the punishment.”

“Jingwei you know very well that it’s meaningless for you in particular.” Eiki angrily protests, “You got past the Sanzu and snuck into the courtroom with impunity, any suffering you may volunteer for in Hell is meaningless just by the sheer denial you can conjure up which already bypasses life and death. In fact, why did you even bother ‘taking responsibility’ when you precede the entire system?”

The bird pouts, “Oh, well that’s a shame. Wu Zhenguo.” You perk up at your name being mentioned, “You still wish to repent for your sins this life?”

“Definitely. Even if I am…not who you want me to be, Eiki, I want to be a better person.”

Eiki just stares at you with sad eyes, and then wordlessly tosses out another punishment rod.

Blank.

“Wu Zhenguo,” She quietly says, “Do you know what being an Izanami-afflicted soul means?”

“No?”

“There is no judgment for an Izanami-afflicted soul. Unlike Thanatos who was enslaved into his role, you are created directly with your sins intact. Calling you an independent soul, in fact, would be inaccurate.” Eiki pauses, shuffling the papers on the bench, “You are a fragment of Izanami herself, an entity solely devoted to killing. They are quite common, but the vast majority are not killers…they are miscarriages and sudden infant deaths, as the first and only human they kill are themselves. Those who survive and do walk the path of a murderer tend to develop more as their victims easily haunt and possess such hollow personalities, but not by much.”

She pauses and straightens her hat, and you swear that her eyes turned just a bit watery, “To develop so far into what is nearly a normal human…you are more than welcome to stay in Higan as long as you like. My offer of being a shinigami still stands, even if as a fragment you’ll likely just be doing clerical work.”

“But then I can’t pay...”

“What I’m saying is that if you do proceed into Hell, you will be reabsorbed into Izanami, Wu Zhenguo!” She’s shouting again, not out of frustration, but of heartfelt concern, “That’s why we do not judge Izanami fragments! There is no purpose when you do not get to reincarnate at all! You should know that, Jingwei!”

“You’re thinking too linearly, Yama. This isn’t a determined thing. Tell me, did you think you had a choice to outright reject when the Jade Emperor forced you to finish creating Thanatos’s vessel?”

“No. The Yama across Asia serve at the behest of Heaven’s mandate. If we disobeyed, they would have replaced us with little more than a hand wave.”

“Yet they were struck down. You definitely had the option to do what I did and suggest Thanatos to slaughter them before they could realize what’s going on.” Jingwei says matter-of-factly.

“Is that a joke?”

“No. You would never do it, Yamaxanadu, but the option was there, and the outcome would’ve spared more mortal lives. Not that it matters in the end.” The bird smooths her feathers, gazing intently at the now-fuming Yama. “Likewise, you assume that a fragment being absorbed is some sort of immutable destiny, when the exact opposite is possible with enough help…”

“Let her do it, Shiki.” Hecatia sighs, “I know exactly what she’s talking about. She’s done this two times before you were born. Unless you really want to keep Zhenguo here forever.”

“I would rather keep him here forever than to let him be used as a tool again. He has had enough of that.” Eiki firmly states.

“I’m not using him, Yama!” Jingwei snaps back, a sudden surge of genuine conviction in her voice, “If you do not want this delightfully deviated fragment from succumbing like the others, which he will as long as he stays in the realm of the dead, then trust me! I denied my own fate of death, and I can deny his fate of reabsorption! That is the one thing I can do! Offering the potential of a happy ending that I cannot achieve!”

The Yama gazes intently at the bird, and sees nothing but pure white in that instance, even so, she leans over and asks, “Do you trust her, Hecatia?”

The goddess leans over to whisper the reply, you catch a “Junko” being mentioned in there.

“Understood,” Eiki straightens her hat, and puts on a legal air as she states, “Wu Zhenguo. As you are not judged, you are free to choose your next path. As I said before, you can stay here, or follow her. I will ensure that you remain safe to others if you do choose to stay, so…”

If there’s anything that you’re still grasping on from your cohabitation with your purified victims, its their collective desire to not be a burden. That is the one trait not of your soul that you held onto throughout your journey in Gensokyo. The one virtue you are determined to keep.

If you are a fragment, doomed from cradle to grave and then back again, then it’s no loss for you to try any option to get out.

[x] “Thank you, but I cannot be a burden to you. Eiki. That, I cannot compromise on.”

You turn to the bird, her eyes an incomprehensible depth of time, “I’m willing to do this, Jingwei.”

Jingwei’s mouth curves again into an unsettling grin, and drags you off, out of the courtroom.

Pass the gazes of the people you knew who succumbed to death. You wave at them, unsure if you’ll see them again. Some of them wave back, just as unsure if you’ve made a sane decision.
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Hecatia hurries out of the courtroom after the two Chinese.

“Eiki,” Komachi comments as she helps prepare the courtroom for the normal souls, who have queued up so much that they’re running out of dock space. “Did Hecatia tell you what exactly the consequences of the action are? I can kind of figure out what she’s trying to do with the context.”

“Yes.” Eiki gives an uncharacteristically curt reply.

“And you’re okay with it? Doesn’t it…isn’t it just as bad as what we did before? In fact, isn’t it exactly what we did before?”

“No innocents will be harmed. That, they promised. And remember, while we are to treat the dead equally, our court is contingent on Gensokyo’s continued existence, and are obligated to support it.” Eiki finishes cleaning the desk and gestures for the shinigami to let in the first soul. “More importantly, we have several leashes now as we can correspond with with his bloodline’s progenitor, his current body’s progenitor, and of course, the combined might of a currently unified Gensokyo.”

“That doesn’t resolve the issue…ow…” Komachi clutches her head in pain from a memory, “I do not want THAT to happen again. Hell should have no business building weapons for the living. Didn’t she even say that we had a choice to reject such seemingly one-sided decisions?”

The Yama taps the rod several times, “This is a girl who devoted her immortal existence to filling up the ocean one pebble at a time, Komachi. She is legitimately insane even by Gensokyo’s standards. She is however, very effective in taking advantage of unusual circumstances, and we are in one of those right now. And hard as it is for me to say, we, a court meant for serving Gensokyo, do not have any authority over her. Hecatia is the only one who has the strength to do so.”

“And what about the fragment?”

“He would not have stayed, because he is no longer just a fragment.”

====

The road to Hell is in fact paved with black basalt and weird looking stone skulls. Oni patrol along the paths, but actively distance themselves from Jingwei as you two pass them.

“There, see?” She points out as you approach a cliff overlooking a river bank, “This is where the Greater Sanzu river of the rest of Japan feeds into this garden’s. We are going outside of Gensokyo’s regional borders through here.”

A small dock, with signage indicating its use for visitors from the other parts of Hell, stand along the banks in a worrying condition, indicative of Gensokyean Hell’s financial woes. The lone shinigami watching over the place doesn’t even move from his seat as Jingwei unmoors a boat and shoves you in.

You remain silent as the bird begins rowing, quickly leaving the dock behind. A few minutes later, you feel the sensation of magic leaving you as well as you pass Gensokyo’s border. Your head clears up some as the influence of magic departs, leaving just yourself behind.

“Each mile down here is ten up there.” She quips. Despite the passage being upstream, she’s seemingly only putting as much effort as a downstream row.

The gloomy waters of the Sanzu is dark. Occasionally you can see a face of a damned soul punished by imprisonment in the river float upwards, and quickly scurry away upon sensing nothing worth possessing.

“Wu Zhenguo, you want to ask me something?” She suddenly says, without turning around.

“Yeah. How does your plotting fit in with filling up the ocean?” Something about her is clearing up your head, “I understand killing the dragon gods of the seas, but all of the Heavenly Palace?”

“I think it’s pretty straightforward. First you kill the gods of the sky, so the gods of the sea will have no backing. Then you kill the gods of the sea. Only then can you kill the ocean.”

“So…are you planning on doing this to every major religion?”

“No, just the ones who have an emphasis on natural order.”

“And how are you planning on killing a large body of salt water? It’s not something alive!”

Jingwei stops rowing for a moment to turn around and sit, facing you, “ I asked myself the same question: I spent the first millenia of my existence tossing rocks and twigs into the waves, only to see them spat back out tenfold. I mated and gave birth to hundreds of thousands of children to help me, but even then, the artificial island we made was wiped away by one tsunami. So I faced the question that many poets have asked me: Why? Why continue?”

“To represent the strength and determination of the Chinese people?”

A hacking laughter comes out of her throat, “Ahaha~No. I continued because it was the only thing holding me on to this world, there was nothing else. Even my children were mere tools, programmed to replicate my task…then, then I met Junko.”

“Junko…The same Junko that the Lunarians told me is a crazy siege monster that regularly attacks them?”

“Oh? Is that what she’s been up to lately? She’s come a great way from that grieving, divorced mother who was pathetically praying for the will to simply live on, travelling all the way to my roost to do so. To be frank, anybody could have given the advice I gave: Right the wrongs that were done to her, and remove any scrap of regret she had. So, I helped her use her innate magic from her origin as a handmaiden of Nuwa…the goddess, I mean, not me…and purified herself of her humanity. Since she had her traitorous husband beaten to death, I presume her current course of action is to annihilate Chang’e and finish her vengeance.”

“…I think most people would have told her to move on…maybe take vengeance on Houyi, but not go as far as to turn oneself into an insane spirit of vengeance.”

You expect this other spirit of vengeance to deny your statement, but she nods, “Indeed, there are definitely advantages to sanity. Seeing her lose her mind forced me to reconsider my goal: Even if I succeed, it proves nothing and changes nothing. If the ocean did not exist, the forces that be would have me drowned in a lake, a pond, or another body of water. And to eliminate every body of water on the planet would be inefficient.”

“What about the fact that doing so would kill every living being in existence?”

“Side effect, but also a good point. I may be able to deny my own death, but there are forces out there far beyond my capability to deny.” She casually mentions, while instinctually preening her feathers while the boat turns into a downstream current. “So I reconsidered my objective: I never hated the ocean, as a body of salt water. I loved it, in fact. What I hated, was drowning.”

“You’re going to destroy…the concept of drowning?” You mull on that as a lifegoal, “It is more feasible to modify the human species than to eliminate all bodies of water deeper than an inch, I suppose, but then…why the killings? You don’t strike me as one who enjoys the pleasure of death, and preventing humans from ever drowning again seems like a noble goal.”

“You have no idea, Wu Zhenguo,” Another unsettling chuckle, “To put it simply, there are many forces out there who depend on people to keep drowning. Gods of the sea, for instance, rely on the threat of drowning for much of their faith, and on the flip side, the various monsters that feed upon the flesh and misery of unfortunate seafarers. So naturally, I had to dispose of them. But the spider web goes further than that, for sea gods have the support of their pantheons, so those had to go as well…you can see why I helped Thanatos to indulge in his angst and emerge with a happy ending for himself.”

“So how many gods have you slain?”

Jingwei shrugs, “Not that much, actually. Scientific advancement, and the cultural proliferation from industrial societies, obsoletes most sea gods before I can put any plans into motion. It is only conservative strongholds such as East Asia which clings on to their pantheons, and whose pantheons have a vested interest in keeping the ocean deadly, that require elimination. Once those are gone, I shall sacrifice my all to bring the gift of waterbreathing to all of the world, so that we may be free of the tyranny of the sea. Fortunately for you, lost fragment,” She smiles, “One of these gods who supports drowning, is Izanami.”

The boat stops at the foot some rocky crags, above which looms a massive plateau of half-formed clay and damp, stinking soil. The darkness is faintly lit by eight sentinels of what look to be living stone carved into the shape of demons, bearing dirty-looking torches and rhythmically beating on drums. They stare at Jingwei as she docks the boat and floats off, but ignore you as you clamber after her.

The drumming intensifies as Jingwei approaches the first sentinel, and when she crosses what appears to be the border of their guardianship, the other seven disappear in a crack of thunder and reappear next to their sibling. They brandish their dumbbell-like drumsticks at her, and declare in unison, with rumbling voices, “Eternal bird! What brings you here this day?”

“The same, dear Raijin,” She responds, “I am merely bringing another child home.”

Raijin? Mother? Then this must be...Yomi near Izumo Province, the forced resting place of Izanami.

Now they turn to look at you, their savage faces scrunched to perceive some detail on your soul. “A meager fragment, one more of the Hong than of mother, but a fragment nonetheless.” The largest among them announces, “Very well, eternal bird, you may pass with him as honored guests of this realm.”

The stench of death becomes significant as you proceed along the plateau, even to one so attuned to this place and its theme. Jingwei mutters something to the red-haired Raijin escorting you, and he lets out a great shout, conjuring up an orb of flame that illuminates part of the enormous, endless cavern you are in. Wandering spirits, dressed to resemble the attending lesser celestials in Heaven, hurry to and fro, bearing platters of dusty fruit and jugs of vinegar.

A great boulder, the size of a mountain in the world of the living, juts out of the rock to the side. The gaps between it and the natural formations sealed with godly runes of indiscernible age. Judging by the cracks, it was shoved into the hole with great haste and strength.

A great festering heap of rotted flesh and stringy hair of slightly smaller size leans on to the side of the boulder, letting out a steady, simpering wail. A sickening sort of divine aura emanates from it, one sodden and downtrodden, almost indistinguishable from the scent of a youkai if not for its sheer magnitude. It is wearing naught but tatters of a funerary robe, not that it has anything left to cover but mottled skin and exposed bone. The familiarity is undeniable, this is...

Izanami.

Your soul’s origin.


Instinctively you reach out to the wailing goddess, but a sting on your hand jerks you back. It feels as though she had just cast Hew on you.

“Be careful there, Wu Zhenguo.” Jingwei casually informs, as she pops a grape offered by one of the spirits into her mouth. “You are a fragment of her, and if you get too close both physically and emotionally, you will lose yourself.”

“...Why did you bring me here then? If preventing reabsorption is the goal, shouldn’t I be further away? Unless, that’s your plan in some way?”

Jingwei remains silent for a moment, fluttering her wings and pacing back and forth, “Zhenguo, do you truly believe in happy endings?”

“No. The only consistent theme of this world is suffering, with mindlessness in death being the only reprieve…wait, what did I just say?!”

You stare as she addresses the rotting goddess rather than you in response. “Oh, Izanami, you and your defeatism from being trapped behind a boulder for untold millenia. Tell me, have you tried looking for any other way out? Have you considered how your Raijin can soar freely in the outside world and tamper with Izanagi’s designs, yet you yourself cannot because of an arbitrary restriction? There is, after all, no Hades of Japan to hold you back.”

Izanami only responds with a louder wail, shaking the ground and sending the spirits scattering.

‘’Of course, you’re hopeless. You’ve been stuck in Yomi for too long. That is why I brought one of your fragments who has tasted the sweetness of life to correct this issue. Normally you’d devour your wayward spawn as a snack, savor their memories for a brief moment, and then go right back to your pitiful grief. I intend on forcing you to try something new. Zhenguo...consume your origin. Make Izanami your meal.”

Jingwei states her idea as if it were no more than a choice of dinner.

“Jingwei, I know you’re a several millenia old bird, but…” You stare at the hill of rotting flesh in front of you, “Err…honorable Raijin, don’t you have any objections?”

The largest, the Great Raijin, merely scoffs, “We, the Ho-no-Ikadzuchi-no-Kami, are afforded passage to the living world only through not intervening with mother’s situation. Lady Nu...”

“Don’t call me by my old name, please.” Jingwei cuts in.

“...so Lady Jingwei is the only one here who can carry out a solution to the problem without moving the boulder, which is beyond our means. Though we know not of her motives, it is a functional suggestion, and mother cares not for such meaningless things such as dignity anymore.”

“I simply wish for Lady Izanami to have a happy ending. And I will freely admit it furthers my own goals. But since you’re hesitate, Wu Zhenguo... Ikadzuchi, hold him...”

You feel the thunder god grasps ahold of your flimsy spiritual form, not even giving you the freedom to struggle as they push you forward.

“Denial Flair: Force of Will...” A pebble lodges itself somewhere within Izanami’s rotting form, and the sapping effect the mass of rotting flesh had on you vanishes. “There,” The bird states, sucking in air at the exertion on her reserves, “I’ve temporarily canceled the last issue we had…I don’t really want to be so harsh, but it’s faster to just get this over with, now go, and...”

[x] Eat the goddess

The first bites were forcibly made as the Raijin shoves your face into Izanami’s form. You cannot retch, nor does the goddess’s foul flesh cause your already attuned spirit to recoil on a spiritual level, yet you still had to be forced to bite into the mildewed skin,and swallow the rancid contents.

[x] Swallow her blood, scrape her bones

You never feel any fuller, no matter how much you eat. You must’ve become a preta, a hungry ghost, as soon as you died, with the weight of your sins dragging you to that state even without the Yama’s judgment. Your jaw distends and your neck swells up to accommodate the increased volume of Izanami you ingest...

[x] Dig out the organs, crack the bones, eat the marrow

“I didn’t plan to do this, honest. But you are a fragment of Izanami who also happened to have the space to house another entity within you because of Thanatos. A statistically impossible natural occurrence, but one so convenient that I cannot allow this opportunity to pass. And really, it’s a better ending for you than rotting in Hell for a million years like her other shards.”

[x] Smash the skull, lick the brains off the ground.

There is no more Izanami. Your whole body is stained with black blood. You glance down at your grotesquely distended body, is it even your body? Is it even your soul?

But you are intact. The bird has not lied in that aspect. Even though your identity is more muddled than before…even though your desires are shadowed by the alcohol of a dead goddess…you are still you from before.

“Now that you’re a human vessel rather than a goddess, you can force your way out and back into the fleshy gristle you still have an attachment to in the living world. So go, Izanami,”
The bird declares as she, with a maniacal grin spread across her face, presses a pebble into your hands, “Deny your death and swim through the Sanzu River, and make another attempt at a happy ending, Izanami!”

======

As the bloated mass that is the new vessel of Izanami swims down the river. A goddess passes by on the river on another boat.

“Why this again?” Hecatia complains to the bird preening itself on the rocks, surrounded by empty pots of Raijin brew. “I don’t quite understand how getting rid of Izanami furthers your goal of filling up the ocean, yet you’ve already done this two times, only for her to always run dry quickly and get banished back to Yomi without even getting out of the cave!”

“It does further my goal, which I have told you back in Greece that it’s not that simple!” Jingwei complains back, “It’s always worth it to try whenever the opportunity arises, especially when the Garden above us is currently in a favored state for the process to complete. I’m not going through the cave this time.”

“You do remember that when we met, you were trying to peck out Poseidon’s eyeballs, right? And what do you mean by favorable state? Izanagi has already bailed out of the Japanese isles.”

“That lech deserved it...and no, having her fulfill her wish to drag Izanagi back down with her would take so long that I might as well try to directly murder him instead. No, I’m talking about one of the secret apparatus the incursion brought along with it.”

“The Thorists from the future? How do you know anything about their secrets?”

“...I have my sources that I’m not willing to share until this is over. And I am definitely not sharing them with someone as mean as you.”

The goddess remains silent for a few moments, then changes the topic “…Jingwei, answer me this, did Thanatos really hate us enough to deny his very origin?”

“Yes. He was very vocal about the fact that you guys retired peacefully after all the horrors you wrought on Greece. You might not agree, but he thought that gods were obliged to give their subjects a joyful life. He hated you for not doing so, and he hated them for their steadfast worship even as they dropped like flies from plague and famine. He did tell me to give the treasures he stole from the Heavenly Palace to Persephone though.”

“Sounds like I’m the one who should be burning rather that Eiki or him.”

“Probably, if only for your fashion sense.” The bird jabs.

Hecatia groans, conjures up Cerberus, and orders the dog to tug the bird down the rocks by the collar of her inner robe: the same primitive hemp robe that still smells vaguely of seawater from several thousand years ago, “You really are an eternal child, aren’t you? What in all of the world’s hells did Junko see in you?”

“I am just very good at convincing people to take drastic measures...just think of me as a very convenient device to move their stories forward.” Jingwei mumbles, not resisting the three-headed dog dragging her to Hecatia’s boat.

“For legal purposes, Eiki’s going to judge you for this, and formally throw you in Hell...and watch you swim out again because I’ve already lost count of how many times you skip over the river with denial...I never understood the Oriental Hell and their obsession with bureaucracy and procedure.” Hecatia shakes her head, “One more thing, why didn’t you tell him what you were going to do?”

“That he needs to defile and eat Izanami?” Jingwei shrugs, her tone slurring, “What’s the point? As long as it gives him a happier ending than his normal fate, the means are irrelevant. All that matters is the ending.”

Hecatia looks into Jingwei’s eyes. The same vacant, detached sort of eyes that Junko has, only even further devoid of anything tethering it to reality. There is nothing concrete behind her, physical or magical. And yet somehow she has bound her own folktale into what is very much a near godlike entity through naught but sheer denial.

If she were to somehow strip away all of Jingwei’s denials and delusions, would there even be anything but a few scraps of water-worn bones left? But Hecatia cannot. For unlike Junko, Jingwei is fully aware of her own denial, and yet accepts it regardless.

“Just because you’ve denied your own death does not mean that’s a palatable situation for others! We’ve never talked with each other properly, but just now I can see how Junko got her issues exacerbated!”

“And where would Junko be without it? Just anonymous bones scattered in some forgotten grave and not even a footnote in the Records of the Great Historian.” Jingwei shakes off Cerberus, sending him sprawling into the river, as the bird abruptly breaks her placid demeanor, “AND WHERE WOULD I BE? JUST ANOTHER UNFORTUNATE CLAIMED BY THE OCEAN!”

Hecatia tenses, recalling Cerberus and instead summoning forth her other bodies, surrounding the bird, “...You sent a lot of your fellow Chinese people down here, with Junko’s murder of Houyi corrupting the Xia’s mandate of heaven, and the following century of turmoil consuming China after Thanatos annihilated the Qing’s Mandate through his actions. What of them?”

“I don’t care if a thousand people, “fellow” Chinese or otherwise, are reincarnated. Nor a million, nor a billion.” Jingwei curls her left wing in front of herself as she raises her right arm, pebbles clutched between fingertips, “It is all a meaningless, endless cycle, so what is the issue with using it to fuel an actual, permanent happy ending? You seek one too for Junko, don’t you?”

“ENOUGH! If you will continue to say things like this in my domain, then you will receive Hell’s full response to your sins!” Hecatia finally allows her simmering irritation to boil over into the earth-rumbling anger of a Hellenistic god, induced by the bird’s sheer apathy.

All three bodies raise their hands and call upon their authority over the underworld, ”Wrath of the Gods: ’Furious Rain of Hell’!”

In response, the bird screeches and turns, abandoning her human form to reveal the monstrous form that’s a fusion between a storm petrel and a phoenix, “Another god to be denied, ‘Overwrite: Ink Over’!”
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Location: Garden of the Sun

The fighting had long since passed, the strategic locations having greatly shifted with the younger Scarlet demolishing hardpoints on the SDM’s front, backed up by a teeming mass of biomechanical horrors spawned from the infested Yggdrasil sprout. The scenario had shifted quite quickly, so neither side had time to even pick up their stationary equipment, much less clean up their dead.

On the dead grass, a foul heap of rotten organs twitches, despite its liquifying nature. It shambles like an amoeba over to a burnt corpse, its previous side in the war unknown. The organs engulfs it, also like an amoeba.

It repeats this process with the many other dead bodies left on the battlefield. Human, youkai, doesn’t matter. Soon, the black mass reaches the size of a truck, using the limbs of its absorbed personnel to move about the ground like a centipede in the snow.

Cold, it senses with undead nerves. And wet. What is the point? She never even got to the surface the past two times that bird released it, before a group of onmyouji and monks would set aside their differences to come to seal her back down. This time the bird had her borrow one of her fragments that drifted into hell, but it doesn’t see much of a change.

Then, with a crack of thunder, a red beam of celestial energies shoots out from the hell gate near Gensokyo’s border, a power generated by an empire on the other side of the planetThe moving hill of bodies lifts its twenty pairs of scavenged eyes to the heavens, to see the red beam clash against the Norse runes holding the blizzard clouds in place. Emanations of divine energy spew out left and right as “Scarlet Rapture: Rhapsody of the Western Stigma” begins slowly eating away at Asgard’s own imposing laws, until it breaks through and cracks the runes.

The clouds part, the snow fades.

For the first time in countless eons, Izanami felt the warmth granted to all living beings on Earth.

It saw, with twenty pairs of milky eyes, the beautiful gleam of an afternoon sun.

Its turgid thoughts coalesce into a clearer stream. With the voice of twenty different rotting throats, it cries out in unison: the first name it thinks of:

{[ ]} The name of the husband which abandoned her in death

{[ ]} The name of the son she never saw, whom became the fiery mountains of Japan

[{ }] The name of the first face he saw when he set foot in this land

[{ }] The name of the friend he was with for a week
[{X}] The name of the first face he saw when he set foot in this land


Sounds like a choice to set what kind of mentality/ who's the primary soul runner. The highest being Izanami all the way and back to her old motive of revenge, with the lowest being the mentality of Wu still and [potentially calling out to Conner?] Not sure on that one.

I guess we're votin' for whether or not we want an entire mental wipe and have Izanami take the spotlight or stick with Wu and have a story about him being Izanami's vessel in a sense.

Or I could be entirely off the mark and everything I said was dumb.

Voting for the third choice because assuming the previous reasoning, the first person Wu saw was Reimu.
[{X}] The name of the first face he saw when he set foot in this land
MISSION OBJECTIVE : SAVE THE MIKO

Also, I believe congratulations are in order, it's not every day a fantasy story has its power creep progress so far that the MC becomes an angry giant undead centipede anti-god. I fucking love it.
[{x}] The name of the friend he was with for a week
> You feel around your robes, and reveal a single gold coin. You recognize this gold coin. You tossed it to your friend, remember? When did she give it back?
all things considered since she was the only one who cared that he died this feels like the best choice to me.
[{x}] The name of the friend he was with for a week

Having just finished Persona 4 Golden, I'm in a very good mood to root for Izanami.

Children of man... well done!
Calling for tiebreaker, if not, coinflip.
voting for coinflip
[X] Coinflip

[{Heads}] The name of the first face he saw when he set foot in this land
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===========
“How is Iron Wing still going after death like that?”

“I added a feature in her design that imitates what I did for you, Yu.”

Yuyuko stops and considers those words for a moment, “Yo bound the soul to her corpse?”

“Yes, except her body is a machine, so as long as it is repaired this process can extend through further ‘deaths’. Even if the processing cortex is destroyed, the Tiamat fragment can be used as a backup thought center, which is what happened. However, ” Yukari gives a pained smile as she gaps in another explosives-laden train to demolish a set of earthworks, “I did not take into account somebody wielding the waters of Styx accelerating and corrupting that process.”

“Huh. and why is that Kirisame girl running around with that furnace in her chest like the hell raven?”

“That’s their backup plan. Go ask Rinnosuke.” The sage replies back while checking her phone.

<Spice> I’ve got Erlang on a contract if you need him, I can airdrop him over Gensokyo at a moment’s notice.
<Spice> The Monkey is already on the way. We didn’t tell him to, and he left us a message saying something about “fixing his own problems” no idea what that’s about. Be aware of possible collateral damage.
<%Purple> There’s really not much left for collateral, to be honest
<BEARS> We’ve given as much as we could, this far away. Unfortunately CSG-5 is tied down defending itself as half of the birds are scuttled by one of their saboteurs.
<Mir> We have a few more leshy operatives and spetsnaz squads on standby, but I don’t think they’ll be of much help, sorry.
<%Purple> It’s alright, I don’t expect any more considering what we are up against. Our own assets are readily handling the problem with Spice’s help
<%Diabolos> Izanami’s loose againsadkasidjasiohjdiojasiojdas
<Yamato> How did you monsters fuck up this time?
<%Purple> Correction, can somebody go fetch Izanagi from that island he’s reclused himself at?
<Spice> Dispatching a warrior god right now
<%Diabolos> Hello fellow conspirators, how may I plot among yourajknfiuhuhdri90
<%Purple>Let me get a gap open with her to see what’s going on
<%Purple> this again?

===========

You blink, your head tingles. The fireballs and explosions moving along the horizon are quite mesmerizing, you note.

Oh right, you are in the spotlight again.

“Sanae?” Nue asks, “You were saying about your hair?”

“Yeah, so as I was saying, no, if I made this into a side braid, that both makes me look older and triggers like ten death flags----”

[{X}] “HAKUREI! REIMU!”

You gasp for breath as the shout briefly knocks the soul out of your body, and the reactions from the others on the back of the dragon indicate the same. The comms go dead, likely as all of Gensokyo has heard that dreadful sound, a piercing wail that transmits not just through sound waves, but through a common vein where all living beings share:

The Fear of Death.

Only Yuyuko, you remember, could also do something like this. So, what’s that giant blob floating upwards from the Garden of the Sun?

The comms flare back to life. A single voice transmits over the open frequency. “This is Arcturus, be advised: Izanami has breached the underworld. Any living being wishing to remain so, is also advised to stay well away from the flying mountain of bodies.”

Awyrgan goes silent for a few moments, while Thanatos spasms violently. Then the dragon huffs and plainly states, “He is back.”

“You mean, Wu Zhenguo’s original soul?” You ask, “No way, you’re telling me that he became...a whole Izanami?” Without considering common sense, you ask over the radio, “Arcturus? If you’re willing to share despite being our enemy, clarify the nature and composition of this new entity.”

“Be advised,” The mechanical angel reads out, “The entity is composed of, currently, one thousand corpses of both sides in this war, and growing. It contains the complete soul of the fallen goddess Izanami. Its governing mind fragment, however, appears to deviate from its old desire, likely due to residual memories of the current vessel. Which is as according to plan.”

“Hey! What do you mean by ‘according to--” Arcturus abruptly sends out a burst of static over the frequency, ruining your hearing briefly and effectively terminating the conversation.

“Meiling’s descendant here was a fragment of Izanami? That would explain quite a bit really, like how his residual memories and victims here became independent and managed to develop into a whole personality.” Suwako remarks as she pokes on the currently inanimate Thanatos. “Awyrgan, you knew that all along, didn’t you?”

“Yes. His true nature is apparent once one listens to his heart. Only a desireless fragment can have a silent, pleasant heart to listen to, and only a fragment of a violent god would be as successful as he was.”

The body of bodies flies into the receding cloud cover, and is met with a barrage of Vijaya shells. Izanami takes them head on, and is blown back down. Snarling, she continues to ram against the suppression, and is yet unable to breach.

There is simply too much divine energy going out, and she has no worshippers to draw on to muscle past it.

“We’ve only got a few hours left of Reimu. If Izanami is volunteering to disrupt the battle up there, whether or not Ming is in control, we’ve got that part of the problem solved.” You look down on the ground, where the tide of Awyrgan’s corrupted humans have reached the edge of the ruins near Youkai Mountain, where the Vijaya shells are being launched from a so far invisible fortress.

To the south, the Abzu-Styx corrupted Yggdrasil sprout has disgorged all of its now infested occupants out in a massive wave of abominations. Poorly put together mishmashes of humans and machinery. They have little offensive potential, but are quite difficult to kill with the primordial waters giving them strength. Much to their displeasure.

To the east, the primary detachment of Clear Sky mercenaries are pushing forward, orthogonal to the wave and spearheaded by a Flandre Scarlet that’s tasted fresh blood for the first time in 500 years. Once Utsuho’s fixed up she should be backing up the more targeted destruction of the vampire with indiscriminate nuclear fire.

To the north, Yukari is personally leading the secondary detachment, backed up by the whole of the remnant Japanese pantheon of Eientei along with the local youkai and misfits. You can spot some of Yuyuko’s butterflies emerging from the skirmishes in the distance, indicating that she’s broken her restraint on killing and has joined the war. Was Youmu hurt more than you thought?

In front of you, are the western ruins where the Saviors are keeping their last pieces in play. Nothing is visible though, save for the usual trees and broken bits of old buildings, due to the area-wide Lunarian camouflage that has been set up. At least that’s what Eirin is saying. You can, however, see the trails of Vijaya launches and lesser anti-air fire sporadically emerging from thin air, keeping up the aerial suppression and shooting down any artillery missiles and shells coming in their way.

“And if Izanami is hostile?”

“Then we’ve still got an additional check on Thor and Ochiba.” You respond to Nue’s concern. “Wait, why am I making these judgments? SHOU! ORDERS!”

“Our priority is to take out the fortress.” The tiger’s ragged voice comes through, “As much as we would like to, and as much as it would smooth out the resolution, keeping Reimu alive is not the main objective. Killing Thor is, and either way we need to take out the Vijaya cannons. But your unit should really be returning for repairs and rest at this point, unless Awyrgan’s been lending you her lifeforce.”

“Tis true, I have been utilizing mine squire’s abilities on you all after we departed America.” The undead battlecarrier-dragon states matter-of-factly.

You’re not altogether pleased to be infused with the scavenged lifespan of the dead, but everyone seems to be resigned to the fact. Yuuka and Nue in particular, gives you a look of “Already happened.”

“Regardless, I did not take Mordred’s continued presence on the battlefield into account for the main plan, as you saw Wizard Squadron being diverted off to provide additional airpower to the other fronts. Futo...give me a read on this section of the ruins...got it. If you are all fit to continue, there’s an underground cavern near your position that I’ve marked, that connects to the fortress, that if we can get some charges in will crack open a path to the insides. No other unit can survive the AA fire that we’ve provoked so far, but if anything can, it’ll be Mordred.”

“Somebody else has already been going in? Oh.” You now see that a particular fireball on the horizon, is in fact, much closer.

The phoenix dismisses her cloak of fire as she pulls back to beyond their range, wobbling along her flight path as if drunk.

“Mokou.”

“I’m done pummeling the small fry...dunno where Keine is right now since she’s hid the village again, so now I’m just spending lives on these defenses. Funny thing about painkillers I’ve learned,” She half-mumbles and gives a glance to the puppet on Awyrgan’s back, “Take enough of them and I can just keep dying. Downside is that I can’t really fight like this, and even if I can’t get killed the projectiles are pushing my body back.”

“So,” Shou orders, “Mordred Units, attempt a breakthrough. You have some of the strongest individuals in Gensokyo backing you up right now, if there’s anyone who can muscle through right now, it’s you.”

“Lady Suwako.” You ask. “If you will.”

“Splitting a tunnel open is quite simple. Cover me, Sanae.”

You and Nue weave together a barrier of wind and deception on your ancestor as she leaps off from the relative safety of Awyrgan’s bulk to the ground. Calling upon the faith of the fans in the Outside World, she forces right through the relatively less dense faith of the defenders and forces the earth apart, creating an artificial chasm.

“Hmm...I can sense the tunnel from here, the walls should give us cover--Gah!”

She steps back as a pillar suddenly forms in the chasm, then ten, then a hundred. The gap in the earth is swiftly filled up by a preposterous amount of onbashira.

“Lady Kanako? Right. Thor still controls her, and likely gave her to a Companion inside there!” You shout.

Enraged, Suwako wrenches several iron rings out of the ground, and throws them at the onbashira to sever them. However, they are swiftly regrown, and faster than Suwako can chop them down.

“Where are they getting all this FAITH?” Suwako screams, “Even at her most popular, Kanako can’t do that! There can’t be more than a few thousand in this little piece of land at most!”

“If you can’t get through, fall back to a safe distance.” Shou commands, “We will proceed when the more powerful direct fire weapons are in range. ”

“What about the Vijaya?” You ask, “There’s no guarantee that they will not use them as ground bombardment when cornered like that. Right now they haven’t let up the air suppression because we don’t pose a threat to these defenses.”

“I’ve taken that into consideration. It is highly unlikely they will abandon the air suppression now considering Izanami’s presence.”

“And how long does it take for them to get here through the outer defenses? They’re hitting the hardcore cohorts of Saviors now and those people are fighting to the death! And as you said, they will not let up, and the crews will fight to the last to keep the Vijaya running.”

“We only have to take out enough Vijaya for Izanami to breach. Perhaps even one is enough to leave a gap for a goddess of her caliber, and I’ve already deduced their location enough for counter-battery fire.”

“Only one?” Awyrgan suddenly blurts out after being silent for the whole convo. “Only one piece shall be sufficient?”

“I mean, if somebody takes out this particular theoretical Vijaya launcher located at this position,” Your tablet lights up with a new marker, located at a particular position inside the no-fly zone, as Shou explains “Then Izanami, or someone like Aya, could just zip right through the gap. You shouldn’t try that though, Iron Wing, even with your current state, these divine projectiles will rip right through Tiamat’s lack of faith.”

“Faith can be conscripted, for I am the shining light of Britain, a star of blazing hope against the night--”

“--I’m pretty sure you just made that up right now, Awyri. The Queen did not name you that--” You comment.

With a flip, Awyrgan jettisons everyone who was riding on her back, leaving you all reeling for a moment before engaging your flight instincts.

Awyrgan swoops back, towards the tide of her own spawn clashing against Savior pillboxes and armor. You watch with macabre curiosity as many of them leap on, further distorting their own bodies to become a horrific layer of ablative armor, squirming and writhing, these creations are unmistakably alive.

And as long as something is alive, it can have faith.

“--A bulwark against all those who threaten my people, and the invincible anvil against which my enemies break!” The dragon incants as wreathes herself in a thick sheath of plasma and Styx vapor, “Royal Charge - ‘Where Angels Fear To Tread’!”

“What’s with this dragon and acting like an edgy eighth-grader?” You wonder, watching as Awyrgan builds up speed by flying in a circle over most of Gensokyo, before making a dive towards the ruins.

The AA fire roars out anew in a wash of holy flame, killing off her ablative armor. But Awyrgan herself persists, and as a comet of plasma she pierces the veil, briefly revealing what appears to be a massive structure of concrete and metal in the areas where the ruins once were, and slams face first into a golden tube holding a massive bow, distorting it just as it was to launch another skyward burst.

You watch, numbed with surprise, as she sort of slides off and tumbles onto the ground inside the AA net, beyond your collective reach. The Lunarian technology then reforms, putting the area under camouflage again.+

=====

The constant bombardment that forced you off from the sky above, has silenced.

Seizing this opportunity, you reach further into the sun’s warmth, and slither upwards.

All across this sealed off land, the souls of the dead have altered course from their usual destination and are converging around you. Curious, and perhaps reverent, at the being technically responsible for the concept of death throughout this East Asian island. Their questions and thoughts, fragments of life, form a chorus of negative energy, one which you gladly surround yourself with as you finally reach the fight above.

Presumably, this is where the heavenly palaces for the immortals of this land would be located. Presently, however, that is very much not the case, no matter how you look at it with your many eyes. Every single celestial has been banished from their homes since the overlay of Asgard began. The cloudy isles that make up Heaven and its delicate flora have been crudely smashed apart with a hammer, and the pieces hewn together into what looks to be a single large piece of land.

Leading up to that floating artificial island is a rainbow, too concrete to be natural and yet too worn-looking to be functional, especially as it appears that the half which should reach down into the human realms has crumbled. Likewise, the massive citadel-city that sits upon the island, one with windows, gates and doors several times the size of a human, is likewise in a state of disrepair. Parts of the divine stonework are held together by tendrils of divine light and flesh, but those seem inert, mere static enchantments by the Lux.

And above that city, darting among the ancient spires while launching attacks that further degrade the precarious state of the construction, are three figures radiantly shining with hope.

“HAKUREI! REIMU!”

A series of explosions ring out on your back, shattering a corpse’s skull. You roar, and retaliate by blindly sending out a wave of your own feelings: that of the endless death drive.

You turn and look, and see that the red-and-white butterfly had trivially dodged the wave and is circling around to your front.

“Sorry!” You call out, with one mouth this time.

The butterfly blinks, and her aura fades, “M-Ming? Is that your voice? Are you in that thing?”

Reimu is not in a good state. Her outfit is ragged and full of holes, revealing not much beneath as the intensity of battle and possession by the Barrier has stripped away most of her already insufficient fat reserves, leaving her almost as lean and dry as well...as you.

===

"I'm just some dumb chemistry student Reimu, I am no wizard, inter-planal Traveler or time magician, I could barely survive against Miss Mononobe even when she is handicapping herself with a sword she doesn't even use outside of rituals. But mark my words, when you have a problem involving human adversaries, when you have those who forsake the protection of common laws and morals to pursue their own agendas, I will find them, and I will kill them."

===

You barely remember why, and you barely even remember who this girl is other than that she is the shrine maiden for this land. But you remember that you failed to destroy her adversaries, even when you got stronger and had someone else to lean on.

Now, she is taking hits for you. Unacceptable.

Izanagi broke his promise with you to stay together. You will be better than him. You will keep your promise.

“Reimu, I am Izanami, goddess of death. I have heard your plead, and arrived.”

“But I didn’t summon you, I can’t possibly summon--Izanami! Look out!”

A hammer slams straight into your center of mass as Thor smites you with the full force of his divine authority. You turn and roar again, only for him to shrug it off and slam you in the face.

“Impossible, the son of Odin was not a true immortal.”

“No, but my faith in humanity is quite undying, Null Fiend.” He proudly declares as he hammers away at you, tearing out body parts with every hit. “Arcturus didn’t finish the job? He must be off his stride.”

“Where is the third fighter? I smelled that there was a third participant in this fight.”

Reimu gestures with her gohei at one of the spires of the ruined Asgard. Staring with multiple eyes overlapping to get a better resolution, you spot Ochiba sitting there, seemingly meditating to recover his strength. His clothing is more ragged than the others, and he does not look like he can challenge the other two directly.

“We don’t really have any direct grudges with him, and he doesn’t have anything backing his reserves up.” Reimu states, “He may have been able to match me with his empowered gifts, but not Thor.”

“Logically, that means you are losing then.” You plainly state as you glance between her downtrodden condition and Thor’s seemingly unlimited stamina. Crushing several of the corpses together, you meld a crude imitation of Amenonuhoko out of their bones, and draw it out with the arms of several more.

Wielding the spear with the strength of hundreds of bodies, you turn and clash with Thor, meeting his hammer with the shaft. Each blow struck shatters it in two, but it is simple to replace destroyed segments with more bones and souls.

After all, in a war, death is an abundant resource.

“I see you are protecting her with your body. Fiend.” Thor remarks as he clashes. “I suppose you have some semblance of loyalty’s virtue in you.”

“Is it not natural for a god to generously reward their followers? Perhaps if you did so, your followers would not have abandoned you for Yahweh.”

Reimu seems about to protest being called one of your followers, then stops, as nobody else likely heard this but Thor. Happy at your position being affirmed, you gather up the negative faith of the war below into a singular strike, thrusting your spear with such force that Thor is actually pushed back even as he blocks the attack.

“You’re not the Null Fiend playing dress-up. He could never match one of us without that accursed Dragon.” The norse thunder god mutters as he flies back to carefully examine you, “You are actually Izanami. This never happened. Regardless, you are also a foul monster who stands against humanity, and must be sent back down into Hel, where you belong.”

Thor takes out his tree bark and inscribes another edict. "By the authority invested in me. Goddess Izanami, return to Yomi where you belong, and do not return."

A strong gust of wind blows from Asgard, but it fails to move you. The pebble Jingwei handed you hums softly, rejecting the reality of his authority.

"That never happened before. What sort of a god--"

“You can keep trying, son of Odin. Even with the backing of your mysterious benefactor, you are still struggling against the whole of Japan’s death drive in me. A death drive that I am happy to present if you continue this tomfoolery.”

For the first time, Thor seems genuinely shocked at something. “You...you cannot be implying what I think you are.”

“I have taken away ten thousand lives for that little stunt." You lie, "And for every flake of skin you take away from Reimu, I will take away the existence of ten thousand Japanese from the Outside.” You close most of your eyes, leaving one pair open to stare, “An easy task with my domain.”

“That’s what you do anyway you foul death goddess!” Thor spits out through gritted teeth.

“Ming...you really are Ming fused with Izanami of all things.” Reimu gasps, “Please, don’t sacrifice the innocent like that! I am the Hakurei descendant, vessel of the Barrier. I can fight just fine without your aid!”

You ignore her.

“But their blood would be on your hands, son of Odin. You have grown used to bending gods to your will to prevent these dilemmas from arising, but for me…” You say as you loom over him, forcing him to back off as you say with only one mouth, “...A bird beat you to the punch.”

You are not going to give Thor the chance to make good on your threat. While he’s cautiously considering the moral quandary and the physical effort needed to pacify you and Reimu at a safe distance, you make your move.




{[ ]} THAT DELICIOUS-LOOKING DISTANT COUSIN OF HER’S LOOKS LIKE A RECHARGE FOR REIMU TO WIN!
{[ ]} THOR IS THE SOURCE OF REIMU’S PROBLEMS, KILLING HIM SOLVES ALL THE PROBLEMS
{[ ]} EMBRACE REIMU, SHE CANNOT BE HURT IF SHE IS ONE WITH YOU

I didn't expect this to update so early. Well done !

>Reimu gasps, “Please, don’t sacrifice the innocent like that! I am the Hakurei descendant, vessel of the Barrier. I can fight just fine without your aid!”
Does Ochiba qualifies as "innocent" here ?
I'd say so. For all his dumb morality, he has chosen to stand with Reimu.

{[x]} THOR IS THE SOURCE OF REIMU’S PROBLEMS, KILLING HIM SOLVES ALL THE PROBLEMS

Reimu is the type to think those lives would be her fault. Let's try to avoid that guilt.
{[X]} THOR IS THE SOURCE OF REIMU’S PROBLEMS, KILLING HIM SOLVES ALL THE PROBLEMS

1st choice doesn't seem right since as mentioned before by others, Ochiba is at least an 'Ally' to Reimu despite his shenanigans.

3rd choice just seems like a fuckup waiting to happen with assimilating Reimu into the main body. We don't know if we can bring her out or if doing so will force her into the collective consciousness of those already meshed with Izanami. So better not risk it.

So that just leaves the last choice. Straight and direct. let's fuck 'em up.
{[X]} THAT DELICIOUS-LOOKING DISTANT COUSIN OF HER’S LOOKS LIKE A RECHARGE FOR REIMU TO WIN!
Ignoring the "eat reimu" option because it's extremely stupid, we're left with two choices.

One is, we slam Thor really, really hard while he's having a moral quandary. This will probably leave us unable to deal with ANYTHING Ochiba throws at us afterwards because of his stupid kindergarden-tier sense of justice. So even if Thor gets defeated (not even guaranteed), we're probably getting to deal with a fully-powered retard strength guyman seigi no mikata or just getting stabbed in the back somehow with the DIVINE (US!) SLAYER SWORD.

Two is, power up the miko by strategic traitors-before-enemies approach. The obvious downside is that Thor would probably snap back and likely mop the floor with us even if we do succeed and we're not even guaranteed to succeed. And even should this gamble succeed, it's still not likely that we'll win. But it would be way less likely for the miko to kick the bucket.

Both options are okay, but since it's 2v0 at the moment, this is a realpolitik vote in case others want to swing the vote easier.
>>31958
Do you think Ochiba would attack us, after we said that we use 10k people to revive, ala chainsaw man?
>>31959
Unless he's prevented, most certainly. He either attacks us or if he can't do that, he could even attack the miko in desperation to make us stop. After all, he hasn't left the battlefield or tried to help out our allies stop the invasion at all. Is hard choices.
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“It’s alright, I got her.” Hecatia mutters to Yukari as the latter steps over the border into Yomi.

Yukari eyes the situation, “Did you have to go that far?” She asks, gesturing at Jingwei’s mangled corpse sprawled out on the rocks, her dead face still sporting the usual uncanny smile.

“If she died, it’s because she wanted to. And it’s not like she didn’t deserve it. The fact that she chose to die in the underworld, and succeeded, should tell you that this bird’s up on another one of her plots.”

“Truly, from what you’ve told me about her, we sound like sisters.” Yukari says as she flips over the corpse with her parasol, out of curiosity. “So, shall we get back to the war?”

=======
{[X]} THOR IS THE SOURCE OF REIMU’S PROBLEMS, KILLING HIM SOLVES ALL THE PROBLEMS

You briefly considering absorbing one or both of the protagonists, then discard the consideration. Even if they are not your friends (anymore), Ochiba and Reimu have been fighting against Thor. That makes them good people. Absorbing good people does not make you a better person.

You want to be a better person. You will be a better person.

Just as how you once stirred the seas with Izanagi, you stir the air above, so dense as it is with the souls that gather to your presence. A vortex of death forms around the tip of your spear, which you level at Thor and thrust.

A divine shield is conjured: Svalinn, the legendary Norse shield that stands before the sun. Reinforced with his own ability, Thor blocks your thrust head on, allowing the screaming souls to grind into the texture of the metal.

It doesn’t matter. You will succeed.

“Reimu.” You swing the back end of the spear around to stop the shrine maiden from dragging her nearly consumed form back into the fight. “Don’t.”

“You can’t do this, Ming!”

“I am Izanami, and if you do not put your pretty head in danger, no Japanese lives would be lost.” You calmly inform her with the heads facing the backside, while your front focuses on exchanging blows. Spear on hammer, not a commonly documented match-up, so each strike you make has to be analyzed and discussed beforehand by your heads.

Some of the heads still have intact headsets, you activate them.

===========
Toramaru Shou can only gawk in horror as the command team discovers that several camera feeds from dead Clear Sky soldiers have turned back on. Distorted as they are by the emanations of divine explosions, Shou could just barely make out the perspective of some monstrosity dueling with the enemy general, who is also making measured, thunderous queries through their corresponding comm channels.

“I demand tactical assistance from Bishamonten.”

She moves two of her heads to respond. “This is Bishamonten. You are, Izanami, I presume?”

“Bishamonten, I trust you are on the same side as us in this fight. Tell me, how do I slay this petty Norse god?”

“According to what we can analyze, he is conjuring up an unlimited quantity of faith, a tide of which that was only matched by the magic generated by the Great Hakurei Barrier. You must match it, while we figure out what he’s sourcing from. Your control over death would do nothing while he has that shielding him.”

“Are you serious?” Shou blinks as Izanami switches voices to that of an acquaintance, before changing back, “Shou…Bishamonten, I am demanding tactical advice, not an analysis.

“Thanatos?” No, his comm’s dead. “Izanami, you are still Izanami, right? I was getting to that, keep distance and maneuver in this pattern I’ve marked on your HUD to avoid most patterns practiced by a hammer wielder. What I’ve said before however, is essential. Is Reimu still alive?”

“The Hakurei shrine maiden is indeed still active, not much left of her however.”

“If my projection of Thor’s plan is correct, there should be some sort of infrastructure up there that is continuing to overlay onto Gensokyo. As judging by the cam feed you are giving us, that infrastructure is located within Asgard. Destroying it should give our gods the breathing room needed to lend you their power. Keep Thor occupied, like thus...”

===========

”Left, right. Forward. Down. Avoid clashing with that overhead.” You deftly maneuver your mass in the Bishamonten proscribed way to dodge all incoming blows. Each blow you dodge is narrower than expected, given Bishamonten’s capabilities. Is this part of Thor’s gift from the Lux kicking in?

Not that the thunder god minds missing every blow. For he is not tiring. He is not running out of the divine energy that discharges with every blow on a hammer strike.

Out of one of your rear-facing heads, you see Ochiba flying over with sword drawn, but is clearly exhausted, and is easily intercepted by Reimu. She shouts at him for quite a bit, and you catch “...Stop your silly...” and “...our side...” among the phrases thrown out.

Now’s a good time to talk. You decided to spare this silly outsider, so you might as well dredge some use cases out of him. Putting the force of many souls into your next blow, you force Thor to block the hit and be flung back by the difference in mass, giving you some room.

“Hakurei Reimu. Your duty is inside Asgard along with your naive cousin. Go and stop his ritual.” You don’t even flinch as Thor hurls a bolt of lightning, frying a portion of your corpses, “I will stay here, and kill Thor until he is dead.”

“Lady Izanami! I can see your strength, but I fought Thor for a whole day already and he still isn’t any more spent! And as the shrine maiden of Gensokyo, I absolutely forbid you to sacrifice the lives of the innocent to that end!”

You dare order...ahem, worry not. I may not succeed, but rest assured that I will not trouble your conscience. Nor Thor’s,” You raise your voice again, “IF HE STAYS AWAY FROM YOU, THAT IS. AND OCHIBA!”

The outsider looks up with tired eyes at your multitude of rotting faces.

“AID REIMU IN HER DUTY. KNOW THAT AS A HUMAN, I COULD TAKE YOUR BREATH WITH BUT A THOUGHT. PRAY THAT YOU PERFORM WELL.”

“To think a hateful goddess of death would withhold her desires as a threat.” Thor roars, channeling his voice through thunder in response, “No matter, you are clearly the greater threat to humanity here, Izanami, and as a protector of all mankind, you must be destroyed first before anything else!”

“Easy to say, hard to execute, foolish Norse sprout!” You call out, raising your spear in anticipation of his return clash. “For every dead soul you exorcise out of mine grasp, ten more shall take its place! For I am no mere goddess, as I stand before you, in the vessel of a human which has given me a purpose that my eons of lament have not!” Pointing your spear directly at Thor, you continue, “For I knew interlopers such as you will hinder my desire to bask in the sunshine of the living as I please. This shall not pass, and I shall fight to my last scrap of essence for my right to stay! I shall not take any lives if you choose to fight me, but I shall take any souls you cannot regale.”

“Bring it then, monster.” Thor rears up for a charge. You respond in kind.

Reimu seems to understand what you are doing now, and with a nod she grabs ahold of Ochiba and flies away to the ruins in the sky.

As Thor clashes with you once more, he speaks with a smile on his face, “I know what you’re doing, but no matter how long you can hold your body together, she will not succeed. And, goddess or no,” He parries a spear strike and digs his hammer into your internals, “You are a jotun, and will fall like a jotun.”

A burst of Thor’s power is jolted into you, destabilizing your internal integrity and sending corpses falling off of you, their bones and rotten flesh sloughing off like so much gunk in a sewer pipe. Even as you retaliate by piercing him with your spear, he does not budge as he continues his blessing, until with a mighty roar, Thor discharges the remainder of the energy in a massive burst, blowing you apart.

“Was that it?” You ask, with one mouth.

Thor hefts his hammer and laughs, “Nope. I don’t know what’s motivating someone like you to do this, Izanami, nor why all of these souls are willingly helping you.” He raises Mjolnir and discharges a burst, exorcising several of your helpers. “Isn’t the deaths this world’s suffering already, enough for you?”

You feel Jingwei’s pebble, still lodged in your head. The one thing that kept your core form intact and your bloated soul unblemished. You stride forth in the same funeral robes Izanagi dressed you with, and with the same bare bones and maggot-ridden skin which he cowardly ran away from. “Because you’re wrong, Thor. You frame this as a struggle of humanity against monsters. Though I may be a goddess, the soul which crawled out of Yomi today is no divine spirit.”

You clench your skeletal right hand around the Amenonuhoko, and moves your sole, ex-divine body into a true fighting stance. “And so I face you with a selfish human’s heart, free of godly concerns. I do not hold Reimu as a worshipper, I hold her as somebody I owe nothing to, yet irrationally cling on as an admirer, a fan. And I cling on to this world in spite of your physical protests, not because I care anymore about my ex-husband, but because I want a vacation from Yomi in this garden that I am fond of, with my friends.”

“Sarcasm will do you no good against me, hateful goddess. You know very well that you have no non-desperate worshippers, let alone friends, And someone like you admiring any mortal. Ha. Ha.” He chuckles, “That is funny to think of.”

“I was not being sarcastic, son of Odin.”

In your free hand, you clutch tightly the gold coin you were given by a counterexample.

You hope Reimu will prove Thor wrong on his other assertion.
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“Reimu...”

“Shut it. You keep saying that you wish to stop this conflict, right? Then stop charging blindly at our allies and do something worthwhile. Izanami could’ve easily consumed you if I let you clash with her, especially in that state.”

At least he’s stopped trying to assert any familial relationship between you two. Though Marisa probably would have smugly pointed out that the two of you are in a similar state, clothing-wise right now. Ochiba’s lost his coat and most of his shirt after clashing with you and Thor, and freshly-healed scars criss-cross his back and chest.

“...Alright, I’ll do as you say.” He says, not seeing other options with Izanami’s threat looming over him, nor possessing the strength to even struggle against your grip on his wrist.

He’s grown rather more tolerable after getting the stuffing beat out of him in the threeway conflict. In the beginning, his Youmu-esque sword strikes were easily putting you on the backfoot, slashing apart your charms and barriers while running circles around you and Thor.

Then, a key difference between you and the average contender, that previous outsiders discovered, struck him: Endurance. You are the Hakurei barrier and were fighting since before you learned to fly, and Thor has whatever tricks his benefactor is giving him plus his Aesir nature. As much as his empowered nature is granting him, he’s neither of those. Two hours in, and the young man was too injured and exhausted to keep up. He burned through his stock of magical healing, and could only spectate the battle from here on out.

Even so, both Izanami and you thought that an extra pair of eyes and hands would be helpful when going into hostile terrain.

“Why did you summon Izanami, of all gods?”

“Would you believe me if I say I did not summon her? Or that I believe, from my experiences in channeling gods normally, that she is manifesting using her fragment as an anchor in this world?”

“I don’t know what to believe in after you showed up brandishing the power of the whole Barrier!”

“Ochiba, I can do a lot of things, but breaking Izanami out of Yomi is not one of them.”

You can see as you fly over to where Ochiba was recovering that Asgard, beyond the walls, is an eccentric landscape. According to what you vaguely know about Norse mythology, Asgard was divided into 12 realms, including Valhalla. Here, it certainly looks as though there was once distinct chunks of architecture, but they have all collapsed and converged on top of each other into one single entity, a massive heap of earth, masonry and lumber vaguely sculpted into the parody of a city.

“This landscape, a castle in the sky, eh? Master Youki mentioned that the Netherworld looked something like this, though I’d wager that it’s much less...compacted.” Ochiba remarks as the two of you land in a twisted courtyard, full of crumbling statues and dead trees, all held together by some strange, organic looking protrusions.

“Youki?!” You catch the name of Youmu’s missing grandfather, “You were taught your swordsmanship by Youki? And you didn’t inform the Netherworld about this?”

“Hey, he’s the one who told me to remain silent about this to Youmu. Something about how she’s not ready to hear about some things about the Outside World. I would have told Lady Yuyuko, however, if I had the opportunity...”

“LOOK OUT!” You cry in alarm, striking out with several ofuda at a shadowy figure that emerges from behind a statue, striking at Ochiba with an axe. As soon as one ofuda grazes it, however, it dissipates.

“What was that?!” You wonder aloud, seeing no trace of the thing.

Ochiba cautiously takes a few steps forward, and another figure emerges. This time you get a better look at it, and see that it is just the faintest impression of an eight-foot tall Aesir, clad in furs and chainmail, but with only smoky shadows as their face and skin.

He takes a swing at it, and it disappears.

“Reimu?”

“I think I’ve seen youkai like these before.” You proceed until a third one emerges, and do not act even as it aims to run you through with its spear. As soon as it gets close, it dissipated just like the others, “Phantom memories. These are Thor’s memories of Asgard animating as this place’s wardens. Fortunately for us, a strong enough heart is enough to dispel these illusions.”

Ochiba attempts the same with the next one, only for the illusion to remain and repeatedly attack him until he cuts it down with his divine blade. “Are you sure about that? It feels as though I’m getting the air sucked out of my lungs with every strike.”

“Is your heart not strong enough?” You consider the possibilities as you stare at the distant fight out of the window you walk past, “Are you perhaps doubting your current decision to be here?”

“You think? I may have been able to beat the Companions and Kasen, but I can’t deal with the actual threat to Gensokyo! Come to think of it, the first two weren’t even lethal bouts in the end.” His tired expression stiffens while the he continues with you on into the ruins, sticking close by you to enjoy your aura’s protection against the memories, “Master Youki said that my natural talent and ability to attune with these two enchanted blades would be enough to make me a hero, but the lack of raw strength and endurance to use them against Thor...why didn’t Awyrgan choose to go with me? We would’ve made a good team.”

“The dragon, as far as I know, was clearly taking advantage of Ming’s pliable nature, she would’ve hated you. I mean, I took advantage of Ming too...” A faint ache races across your heart as you take a quick glance at the fighting in the distance, “There is something you need to understand Ochiba. Ming was a...thing, not truly a human, and not part of the same phenomenon that drew you in. How long did Youki train you for?”

“Two years, part-time. I’m still a college student.”

“Consider this: Most of those here, including those that have perished on both sides, have trained far longer than you have in their abilities. To be able to go toe-to-toe with me and Thor, even for a few hours, is far more than what the vast majority can hope to accomplish. To be able to strike me through Fantasy Heaven alone...”

The two of you pause the conversation as the tower you were heading towards collapses into a pile of rubble, forcing you two to float over.

“I’m pretty sure Youmu knows Six Sense Slash as well.”

“She’s seventy-five years old and was training since she could walk, which is my point. Ochiba, do you understand what such disproportionate results mean?”

“You mentioned to me before that outsiders get chosen at random to be these superpowered interlopers, right? I think, when you were trying to avoid me?”

“I never told you why this happens. In fact, I myself did not know until I wrestled the truth out of Mima once I got in this form, when I demanded to know why we’re getting all these off-the-books incidents with outsiders who are empowered by Gensokyo itself.”

==

"Let me explain this to you." She sketches a large circle in the dirt. "Let's say that this circle is the Barrier, and these," she draws many smaller circles within the large one. "Are the magical phenomenon and entities that define Gensokyo and are separated from the world. Now the Barrier is not perfect," Reimu rubs out some sections of the large circle, "And there are a couple of weak spots, such as my shrine, that permit easy crossings. The thing is that while it's easy for outsiders to cross through in the weak spots, it is even easier for entities from within Gensokyo to go outside. Sometimes it's a curious youkai, sometimes it's a glob of concentrated magic, sometimes it's spirits. Whenever this happens, outsiders that contact the excursion can be affected by the excursion and occasionally end up changed, being empowered. The powers and methods produced are variable, but universal among them are an affinity towards breaching the border and a rather inflated sense of pride."

==

You twirl around your gohei to banish the Aesir memories in a wide area as a gesture, “The weak spots in the Barrier for excursions were intentional. It is not to teach a lesson, nor is it a thematic occurrence. The Border simply demands a reserve of warm bodies.”

You jab at the stunned boy in the chest in emphasis, “There is always a price for power, and the Border the Sages created is not a charity. Instead of lending outsiders the power to better the world outside, it draws them in to our Garden with the promise of both more power and an illusory paradise, where it grooms them as replacement shrine maidens and priests for the eventuality that I am killed and my soul scattered to the winds, as Marisa cannot perform my entire job description. Of course, it’s not a well-thought out system, as Keine’s records would show.”

Ochiba looks down at your gohei, “None of them succeeded then. I heard from Keine that all of the empowered on record died or left.”

“Not true. Sanae is the sole successful case, and she, as much as I’d hate to admit, is mostly qualified to replace me in the event that something bad strikes me down.” You ignore Ochiba’s glances at your emaciated frame, “But that would never happen. For I am Hakurei Reimu, and my lineage has secured Gensokyo since long before the Barrier existed. I don’t need anyone else to do my job. So if you survive through this, Ochiba, I recommend you change your future considerations.”

“Then I give up. Formally. I truly thought that I could be a hero this land needed. But all I seemed to do was hang in the background and talk. As you probably noticed two hours into the fight, Reimu, I am no Hakurei. I have Master Youki’s relatively brief lessons and I have some good swords. I’m not a god like you.”

“I’m not a god.” You snap back, “What sort of god lives in a rundown shrine and subsists off of plain rice for weeks on end?”

“Actually I met this god in the village who would be happy for that...”

“Gods of poverty do not count, you were clearly implying that I was a god of significance.”

“I don’t know that much about gods, to be honest.” He laughs, even as you poke at him with your gohei for his stupidity. “But you do stand up for the order in Gensokyo, use divine powers, and when things go south, you act as a vessel for the inverted faith for this entire walled garden. Compared to outsiders like me, that’s basically what a god is to a mortal.”

“This Barrier infusion isn’t something I can just do normally, Ochiba. Without it, and I hate to admit it, ugh...” Your weakening constitution does not pair well with irritating memories, “There are empowered outsiders that beat me, and forced me to call for aid from people like Kasen, Marisa...Yukari...”

“And no god is complete without supporters. Despite the Barrier’s backup attempts, everyone living here is on your side to various degrees, even before this incident. Because you are the thing holding Gensokyo up. You were telling me earlier about how empowered outsiders like me kept thinking we can do your job even though we can’t. Now I think I know the reason why you said that.”

“You could’ve thought of this sooner, before you wasted two hours of my energy.”

“...Not really, I couldn’t have. I don’t think any of the previous ones that gave you trouble could’ve thought of the reason why either. I had the fortune of hitting the wall and ending up surviving to realize this: To be able to replace you as the new pillar for the Barrier is to be the hero of Gensokyo, and no outsider could be the hero of Gensokyo.”

You shake your head at this rather radically self-defeating assertion, “As I’ve said, Sanae proves otherwise.”

“I spoke with Miss Kochiya quite a bit. She may not have been born in this garden, but she was born with the mindset of one who is. Why else would Yukari feel comfortable letting her go outside to visit every so often? She’s not an outsider, as much as she would like to claim to be one, for she loves Gensokyo in a way that outsiders never can.”

“What do you mean?”

“You, Sanae, Marisa, all of you love what Gensokyo is.” Ochiba says, “Outsiders like me have a vision of what Gensokyo could be like, or what Gensokyo should be. But none of it is what Gensokyo IS. The most shallow of the outsiders venturing in have a vision of Gensokyo as their own pleasure palace, while those with deeper dreams think of it as a partial utopia, or as a reflection of human desires. There is little difference, in the end, however, when Gensokyo simply has too many facets, most of whom are alien to outsiders, to be within any expectation.”

“Are you talking about the human eating or the global conspiracy portion of my responsibility?” You ask, somewhat annoyed at how he portrayed the situation, “It’s simply a land that holds on to the past and faces the future like any other.”

“Forgive me if I’m being idealistic...guh,” He grimaces as one of his kappa tech-bandaged wounds reopen slightly, “What I really mean is that the land and its people do not lend its support to outsiders without a history. Without that support, nobody can hope to stand against someone like Thor. Gensokyo supports you, Reimu, that is why you are a part of the Barrier, and why Izanami was driven to fight ultimately for your cause. You are a god, whose domain is Gensokyo.”

“That title belongs to the Dragon God.”

“Who’s not here fighting Thor, but you are.”

You ponder his words in silence for a few moments as you walk, “Perhaps you are right on that. Well, as long as you promise to give up your silly ideals.”

“I’m not giving them up, I’m just admitting that Gensokyo isn’t the place for them. Whew.” He lets out a deep breath, “That’s what I realized for myself. After I leave, I will tell Master Youki that my blades are better used in the Outside World.”

“I have no idea why Youki would pick someone like you or the state of the Outside World, but good luck.”

Your movement stops. The two of you have reached yet another crossroads in the tangled maze of corridors that apparently now make up the interior of Asgard.

“That said, Reimu, you are just wandering randomly and have about as much of an idea as I do as to where Thor’s power source is, right?” Ochiba says.

“That’s how I normally resolve incidents, Ochiba, I pick a direction, fly, and beat up anyone in my way. Eventually I’ll reach the source of the problem. Issue right now is,” You direct your voice upwards, partially in frustration, “Is that there’s nobody here but these faint memories that I can beat up!”

“Sounds like a flag...GAH!”

The roof of the corridor suddenly collapses right in front of Ochiba, making him jump back on reaction. You quickly chant a purification incantation to preemptively clear the dust and dissuade the likely assailant, but only succeed in the former.

As the air becomes visible, you see a person getting up. A girl, with an odd green-and-red gradient hair, and wings that mark her as a bird youkai of some sort.

“Hello~” The stranger states, dusting off her worn hemp robe and jacket. “Who might you people be, setting foot in Valhalla while still being alive?”

“Valhalla?” Ochiba asks, looking around at the corridor, which is just as messed-up and convoluted as the other ones we’ve been walking through, and notices the spears replacing the normal rafters. “This is Asgard, I suppose, but we are in the region that was Valhalla? Shouldn’t the Einherjar be coming for Reimu right about now?”

“They have.”

You only now notice the faint outlines of spirits hanging around you, barely managing to register on your intuition. They grasp at you with ghostly hands and swing at you with ephemeral weapons, but all of them simply dissolve before your aura. These are concrete, unlike the faint delusions you were facing earlier, but are just as insignificant.

“Didn’t notice.” You say, brushing off the spirits’ attacks like so many gnats. “If this is Valhalla, how are you here, and who are you?”

“Remnant Heir of the Flame Emperor, Jingwei, at your service.” The girl extends the wings on her back as she gives an awkward bow.

“Who?” You cautiously ask.

“You know, bird, rock, ocean, repeat.”

“Oh, Jingwei! Right.” What’s a relatively sidelined Chinese myth doing here? An international incident is bound to attract someone like Sun Wukong, but the bird who just wants to fill up the sea with rocks? There isn’t even any shoreline in Gensokyo! “How did you end up here?”

“I died, somehow, and just popped up here! Weird huh?”

She’s either a bad liar or just doesn’t care. “Uh huh.” Both of you reply, neither withdrawing the gohei, nor sheathing the sword.

“Though I guess you’re not on the same side as the one who owns this place, so keeping me at weapon length is reasonable.”

“You’re part of the Saviors?” Ochiba cautiously asks.

“Mmm, from a certain point of view that is true. I guess that’s why I was dragged here after dying in battle. So…” Jingwei perks up and grins, “I think you two are my enemies then in that case.” She makes a grand show of opening her wings and retrieving stones from her pouches, “Prepare yourselves! For I shall not hold back my strength!”

Finally, a normal opponent! Having conjured up a sturdy quadruple barrier in anticipation, you brace for her magic as the stones fly and hit.

Nothing. You furrow your brow in annoyance and disappointment as you see the small rocks, no more than the size of bottle corks, simply bounce off of the barrier. She’s literally just throwing rocks at you.

Ochiba has sheathed his sword. Overconfident, but not unwarranted. You just allow the pebbles to glance off your aura while you walk up and smack the stones out of her hands.

“Ow! That hurts!” She complains, indignantly staring at you and ignoring the gohei wreathed in wrathful energies that you are shoving in her face.

“Surrender now, or I will kill you. By the laws of Gensokyo, any unrepentant outsider whom threatens the fabric of our existence is to be exterminated.”

“Fine! I surrender!” Jingwei pouts like a child, which she does not look much older than, to be fair. “What are you going to do with me?”

“You know the layout of this place, don’t you?” You chant a sealing rite, and implant several ofuda on her chest, “Lead us to where Thor is hiding his power source, and don’t try anything funny or my charms will activate, sealing your body and soul separately.”

“Reimu...is it really necessary to be so heavy handed with someone like her?”

“Being too cautious never hurt anyone. You should learn that if you really do want to work at the shrine.”

Now with an enslaved guide, you follow Jingwei deeper into the bowels of Asgard, where the masonry is slowly replaced by increasing quantities of the strange organic tendrils that hold the entire edifice together. The memories stop spawning in after some distance in, around the part where the ground is so unstable that the three of you have to continue with flight. You try to discern the former function of some of the architectural fragments, but your lack of knowledge of this foreign pantheon hinders any attempt.

Jingwei is surprisingly pliable however, almost gleefully pointing out the parts she recognizes, though it appears that she knows little more about the details than you do. One of the things that she does confirm are the remains of Odin’s hall, which looks to be scorched black and partially melted, as well as the large prismatic shards of what feels like pure magic that can occasionally be seen stabbing into the structures: The ruins of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge.

“Jingwei, tell me, is the power source another surviving Norse god?” You ask as you navigate over a ruined palace.

“Hmm? No. The Fenrir of Christianity had completely devoured Asgard by this Thor’s time. However, Arcturus told me that the Lux could bring back the champions of humanity with its abilities, and Thor was dredged out from obscurity along with these ruins.”

“Arcturus...Thor mentioned him to me,” Ochiba remarks, “Arcturus is the ace pilot of the Seven, who can turn any vehicle he pilots into a god, by his reckoning. They don’t know each other that well though. He’s your commander?”

Jingwei pauses for a moment before saying “Yes.”

You continue on forward before noticing an anomaly in the next corridor. “Jingwei, this section of Asgard is intact, and furnished. You are not leading us into a trap, are you? Mind the restraints I’ve put on you.”

Animal skins and weapons decorate the walls, dusty but intact. The walls here course with the organic tendrils, but do not depend upon them for structural support. The air is warmer, likely due to the lit torches lining the walls and illuminating the halls with their ghostly flames.

“No, we are simply approaching Valhalla, where the source of the power is located.” Jingwei says as the corridor ahead opens up into a view over a massive field, where one can see discarded weapons, churned mud, and similar signs of extended battle, “Thor’s not one to trap his own house.”

“Valhalla, the place full of the hallowed dead, ready to fight?” You draw up your barriers and withdraw a fistful of ofuda. “Surely that is a cause for concern!”

Jingwei stops, in front of a large double door bound with iron and with the mounted head of a giant wolf on top. “You might be wondering how Asgard is still intact enough to be dredged up, so long after Ragnorak and Christianity ought to have ended the Norse mythos as a religion. In your timeline, Thor only lives on as a shadow of the original god, kept existent by the odd rebellious pagan and modern media references. But not the Thor you are fighting, he raged against the night, denying his wounds and the poison killing him, until the Lux granted his wish.”

Jingwei spreads her hands out, “This is the Asgard of Thor’s denial, a derelict pantheon of ghosts and delusions. You shall now behold Valhalla! A hall with broken spears and faint souls, the crown jewel of this maligned dreg heap!”

She kicks open the door, and you enter a vast feast hall. In fact, vast is underselling this room. While from the air you can’t quite tell, it is clear here that this part of Asgard extends into the makeshift foundation made from Gensokyo’s Heaven, quite deep, in fact, and that’s assuming it’s not simply larger on the inside.

This hall is easily as large as the Human Village. No, it is in fact almost as large as the whole extent covered by humans in Gensokyo. Dominating the center, amidst the pillars of natural stone and the drapings of animal hide, is a feast table stretching longer than your eyes can see. Stewed boar meat drizzled with thick gravy, hearty stews of oat and tubers, and honeyed fruit piles lay piled high and steaming, preserved amidst piles of dust and in eerie contrast. Golden specters of armored figures fly above, but are few in number, and they flee as you approach them in air.

“The Valkyries, like the Einherjar, are mere shadows of their former selves.” Jingwei states, “They could barely secure their halls, and...Lady Hakurei?”

“Mmph.” The combination of the Border draining your reserves and mundane exhaustion drives you into the free delicacies just lying there. “If it’s enemy supplies…munch...I’m going to eat as much as possible.”

You feel as if you displace something when you sat down. Likely some phantom Einherjar judging by how incorporeal they felt. Snatches of angry English words can be heard shouting into your ear, but are too faint to discern as you loudly and voraciously devour the feast of warriors.

“Mmph...this is good...” You say through a muffled mouth at Ochiba who has likely not missed much meals in his life, unlike you, “You should probably come and refresh yourself too.”

He comes over and begins digging in as well, exertion and hunger driving him as well. “Oh, this IS good.”

You quickly polish off three plates of food before leaning back, satisfied even though you had to avoid the mead. The exhaustion the Hakurei Barrier has forced on you seem somewhat lessened.

The food of the gods restores the body starting from the act of eating. This appears to hold true for both Gensokyo’s heaven and this remnant Norse heaven.

“Still strange how other than you, there’s no other real resistance.” You say to Jingwei, getting up and dusting the crumbs off of your shrine clothing.

“The Einherjar fully understand their state, they have gathered around the precious object in this realm. What you seek,” Jingwei gestures towards the far end of the hall, barely in sight, “Is right over there.”

You run, speeding towards the objective which is finally within reach. What you though was a fireplace or similar device that illuminated Valhalla, at the edge, is not such. You stop, near the end of the place, as the source is visible to be a person...no, a soul, kneeling in prayer with her back turned to you.

“This is Capella, or rather, what’s left of her. A Saint of the Seven Nations who traveled the land, healed the sick, fed the poor. And you know what? She did this without anything but her endless faith in the goodness of humanity! But you won’t know this.” Jingwei explicates after catching up to you. “She’s a few centuries younger than you.”

Capella’s soul shines as bright as the sun, bringing a pure light to this dusty hall. Right around her, the relatively feeble souls of the Savior Einherjar and the remnant Valkyries are emboldened to actually take on physical form, standing in close formation around the kneeling...cleric? God? The Einherjar here number a battalion at least, and even though they are mere shadows, your instincts are telling you that confronting them alone will be a tough task.

Around her the light coalesces into tendrils, that snake through the masonry. You can clearly see now, from the center of the phenomenon that this Asgard has long since crumbled, and yet Capella’s soul had been holding it together with naught but what seems to be raw, unfiltered faith.

“What is Capella? Really?” Ochiba asks.

Jingwei smiles as the Valhallan spirits take their turn to talk.

“Capella brought warmth to our hearts! She is the shepherd for us lost lambs!”

“Capella healed not just our bodies, but our souls as well with her kindness! Our grey world turned to color just from her presence!”

“Capella is a true goddess! Not the dusty remnants that you serve, Hakurei! No other being on Earth knew and cared about us so personally like her!”

“...You sound like idol fans.” The outsider remarks after the testimonies. “But Reimu, even I can tell that she’s outputting immense quantities of power. She doesn’t seem like she’s going to attack or even move, but if I touch her I might just disintegrate.”

This is a better version of you, and it is holding Asgard together.

But you are Hakurei Reimu, and it is up to you to resolve this incident at it’s core.

___ Confront the soul. You are the crimson shadow who triumphs over the eternal challenger.

___ Wait. Your instincts are telling you that there is something else here that’s tied to the situation back down on Earth.
_x_ Wait. Your instincts are telling you that there is something else here that’s tied to the situation back down on Earth.

Trusting her instincts is how she solves incidents. And this seems way too simple.
(x) Wait. Your instincts are telling you that there is something else here that’s tied to the situation back down on Earth.

Hype.
_X_ Wait. Your instincts are telling you that there is something else here that’s tied to the situation back down on Earth.

You made her call herself the crimson slasher. God.
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31991
__x__ Wait

You take a step back and motion for Ochiba to do so as well. As long as this formidable barrier of Einherjar is up, there is no way you can contest this wellspring of faith fueling them.

There has to be a catch to her power. If the Lux isn’t present in this timeline yet, then Capella’s soul must have some weakness in her apparently infinite resolve.

And if she’s stable enough to bind these faint souls into warriors and hold Asgard together, there must be a physical vessel somewhere else.

“Jingwei...”

“Don’t even think about it.” The bird, whom you are no longer convinced is on the enemy’s side, isn’t moving towards Capella, instead she’s casually perching on one of the tables and helping herself as well to Valhalla’s bounty, “It’s not up here.”

“Then we will stay our hand, and pray that my friends can take care of it.” You sigh. While Marisa and the others have resolved some incidents, this is the first time where you can do nothing but sit back and wait.

================

================

Time: 3 Hours until the collapse of Izanami’s defenses

Location: Western Ruins, Savior Stronghold


“Wake up.”

That was the simple command you heard as you fade back into existence. The brine soaking your processing cortex recedes, leaving a clean consciousness behind.

You sit on the floor in the empty void of your mind. It was burnt by Eiki and flooded by Awyrgan’s Tiamat aspect, but now it is just empty.

“Why, why are you letting me do this, Awyrgan?”

“Mine senses inform me that all other lost souls hath burned out of thine vessel when thine powers i hath commandeered absorbed the impact of mine dive. Thou art the sole spark of life keeping this puppet’s strings intact.”

“You burned out all of the others, so why leave me here?”

“Curiosity. Long ago I hath sensed Wu Zhenguo’s hollow nature as a fragment, and yet his inner stillness, tempered by a facade of damned screaming, was not perfectly so, as a certain Toyosatomimi no Miko also divined. One soul within hath retained fragments of itself, sticking to the heart like a grease stain. Is that not thee, you who call thyself Thanatos now...but truly is a Wu Ming?”

无名. Nameless. All were descriptors of the person that you were. Unlike Wu Zhenguo’s obviously false moniker, you truly had no name.

Such is the fate of a defective, unwanted baby girl, left out to die in the backstreets of the small city you were born in. Technically, you had a variety of names foisted upon you by the adults that would offer you both aid and abuse: “Melon child”, “Dirt baby”, “Chimney smoke doll”. Nicknames of dubious sincerity meant to distance the only moderately more well-off denizens of the city from the children who were simply unlucky enough to be extraneous. Perhaps by the grace, or sadism, of fate, you survived until childhood.

Around the turn of the decade the government made an attempt to clean up China’s image, and so more state-funded orphanages were opened up, and yourself hastily shoved in one. Unfortunately, the endemic corruption of the country meant that the funds were never quite enough, and the orphanage was understaffed and overworked. Naturally, an already disdained child like you wandering off occasionally wasn’t high on their concern list when they didn’t bother giving you a proper name either, instead continuing with the nicknames from the streets.

“Her brain doesn’t work so well.” Is how they explained your state in that backwater region. Normally such an individual like yourself would be abducted and sold off to coal mines or sweatshops or worse, or at least that’s how the adults briefly described it. Perhaps some were “lucky” enough to be sold into adoption overseas. But for you, while you had times where shady adults approached you, they turned away as soon as you opened your mouth to ask them for treats in your slurring voice.

Not all of them did, however. A young man approached you one rainy afternoon, and told you that the bag of roasted chestnuts in his hand would be yours if you just followed him into an alleyway. Of course, you happily obliged.


====
“May 14, 2015. While visiting family in China, you lured a lost, dirty looking child into an alleyway, where you strangled her to death because you felt like it was fun.”
====


He stared at you, a vacant smile on his face, as he held you down on the ground with his foot and tightened the rope around your neck. You didn’t quite know what was going on, exactly, but you knew you were being abused again, and with far more pain than normal as you struggled to breathe, and fail. You tried to struggle, pushing against the ground and wrenching at the rope, but your malnourished frame offered no meaningful resistance.

As your sight of the world faded away, the only thing you could think of is how jealous you are of his nice, well-fed existence and how much you wanted to eat those chestnuts that he didn’t even have the decency to let you enjoy before taking your life.

Then, you detached. The lingering emotions binding you to this world.

You watched him kick your limp body into a pile of trash. A shell that you felt attracted to, yet did not stick around like a common ghost. You took up your new existence of following him around, along with an entourage of similar victims, and doing what your new nature felt natural to do: Disturbing his sleep, messing up his papers, toppling his objects, whispering dark things (that you never got good at making up) into his ears, rotting his brain, eating his memories, etc.

You were somewhat satisfied when he was lured into the office and killed in turn by a strange woman to serve as material for her stranger ritual. While sewing him back up and imbuing his body with some strange magic, the woman absentmindedly looked at you, when no human had done before, grabbed you, and shoved you into the iron heart she implanted.

You woke up in his now undead body alongside the others.

The gears in the heart grinded, offering relief and salvation to the souls bound within. The animals which composed the majority of the souls obliged, their instincts telling them no better option. The beggar who was with you obliged with little hesitation, seeing his regret-filled life as nothing more than baggage to be discarded.

You avoided the gears. Even as you saw other human souls succumb to the gears, you never thought to join them in blessed purity. You didn’t care for salvation or sin. You just wanted to live. You were a part of him, in all physical manners, and you exploited his subconscious actions as much as you could.

You bought roasted chestnuts and other delicacies you wanted to eat until you got sick of them, turning Wu Zhenguo’s originally skinny frame overweight in the process. You slept for 12 hours a day just enjoying the feeling of a soft bed in a warm room, sometimes to the detriment of his grades. You volunteered to test out a wide variety of body and mind-altering substances. After all, this isn’t your body, and you saw just how empty of reason your death was by just glancing at Wu Zhenguo’s fragment of a soul, right next to you.

Any thought of retroactively seeking revenge upon his current form as you gazed upon his hollow soul, barely recognizable as a person or even an animal. It exuded a smell of despair and murder, an echo of the cry of a forsaken goddess, imprisoned deep within the soil. What happened in that alleyway was a true act of meaningless violence, a man with no real desires strangling a child of no real value.

You never did quite completely suppress his urges and desires, and initially the conflict was a raging battle between the remnants of his mind and the implanted heart. But bit by bit, you wrenched control of his thoughts over, and bit by bit his desires became occupied by more things than just death. Not much of it, but it was there, enough that by the time you were separated, he could almost be called a real person.

Now, everything is disentangled. You know with your heart that somehow he had broken out of the underworld and into the skies, and you’re stuck down on earth in a broken vessel. Alone for the first time in years.

“Not exactly.” You murmur, feeling the dragon’s thoughts brush against your own. She’s gentler now, as if more protective of the sole soul left as fuel for her support vessel, nuzzling you rather than consuming you with her mind. “Are you not letting me go?”

“Wherefore shall I? Art thou begging to depart thine mortal coil at last?”

“His unique soul had rejoined its origin, and you’ve wrung nearly every drop of value from this decaying vessel. I mean, you’re reading my memories, right? The bits I kept on, distilled into his...our personality. You know I’m just the last ghost that hasn’t passed on yet.”

The others graduated this makeshift purgatory in glorious flame, burning out the last bits of their emotions and personality fuel the Tiamat-possessed Thanatos’s very limited battle time. They shall reincarnate as higher beings, the selfish commandment of a now lost Heavenly palace.

“Then wherefore hath thee not departed?”

The dragon manifests in your mind in her pristine, uncorrupted form, a shining steel icon with Tiamat’s influence flawlessly blended in by the faith of her forced converts.

“Mine restraints are no longer in place, and thine services are not truly essential at this phase of the war. Thine heart is within my capability to commandeer.”

“Because...” You can see the gears, still barely turning, and the well of light where you can offer up your emotions and burn away. “I…”

You try to move, but your feet do not obey you.

“Doth thee, truly not wish to depart now? It is said that Higan is quite welcoming to those in service of righteousness.”

“You really think so? That sounds nice. Do you think they have tasty meals for people like that?”

Awyrgan laughs, a refined, practiced “Ohohoho” that she was never physically capable of. “Why of course not, the dead do not want for food, and a welcomed soul will reincarnate swiftly.”

“But will I reincarnate as myself?” You toss a trivial memory into the fires, watching it burn up into mana. “Memories aside, and unlike the others, I....”

“I was asking if thine wish is to depart now instead of a quickly approaching deadline. Wu Ming. Thine vessel, this vessel, that no longer hath the fragment of Tiamat stabilizing its existence, cannot serve as thy body, as thine soul does not fit within another one’s body. Thou art burning away, even as we speak.”

You swallow your words, and look up into her flame-colored pupils, your lips quivering, “Awyri, you’re gauging my power consumption right? How much longer do I have?”

“In combat, a day at most, at low consumption...you have seven days with just one soul like this.”

No.

No it can’t end this way.

Perhaps it was just your fault. Unlike the others who used the opportunity to ascend, you stayed back. Unlike the others who took on their forced duty as control system with resignation, you enjoyed it. As a vengeful ghost, you never were meant to “live” again.

“Isn’t there any other way? I want...I want to be useful for longer.”

“Tis beyond the reach of even Eirin, or so I hath gleaned from her research notes. Even if a theoretical solution to preserve thee existed in this world, thou possess naught the time.”

Seven days...one day at most really, given how your physical vessel is smack dab in the middle of an enemy stronghold right now. You still have your duty to go and fight, for the sake of everyone you knew and this land that you care for. That is what a decent human being should do after all, in your opinion: throw your inherently worthless body and soul into the fire to be a shield for those who deserve to live. The others did just that.

You never deserved the things you wanted to enjoy. After all, you might not have had a fully-functional brain in life, but you understood what adults and children alike were speaking at you behind your back: “This girl is nice, but should she really have been born?”, “Her mother must have done some very bad deeds to have this happen”, “Look, son, this is what you’ll be like if you don’t word hard!”

You are a result of bad karma. Yours in a previous life, or your parents’. Perhaps the world was being nice to you by offering you a quick reprieve out of this mess, and you are merely being overly selfish to cling on to this stolen life as a ghost. And after the mindless, polished spirits of the others have followed your vision into the fire, who are you to stay behind.

Yet still, you cannot move. Awyrgan stares at you, her reptilian head showing no hint of emotion that you can easily discern.

“Awyrgan, was I really a good person?”

“Mine standards are wholly different from that of a Yama. Mine opinion would not matter, of particular in muddled matters such as the defensive killings you participated in as a part of war. But if thou truly seeketh mine view: Thou art a useful friend.”

Awyrgan does bring up a good point. You very definitely consented to killing the scumbags you betrayed as well as the various Saviors that troubled you. You could argue that it is for a good cause, but in the end, you put your life above theirs. Because you wanted to live, and not die.

Your heart aches, your mind spasms.

This is just something you opportunistically stole. You should be thankful that you’ve gotten this far to begin with. Your prospects are better after crossing the Higan as a pure soul rather than continuing in this decaying vessel.

But still, you don’t want to go, even though it is both logically and morally correct. The pain from the contradiction is becoming unbearable.

Your eyes water. Your soul lurches back and forth as though it’s on a rollercoaster.

You feel sick. You probably are sick. Sick with the flaws that pervade you even after you departed your mortal coil for the first time.

“Art thee troubled?” Awyrgan lowers her head close to your’s.

“I just want to live...”

“Hmm?”

You can no longer bear it, and allow your flawed desires to spill forth, “I WANT TO LIVE, AWYRI! I WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH MY NEW PARENTS, AS FLAWED AS THEY ARE, AND I WANT TO HAVE MORE FRIENDS! I WANT TO SEE EVEN MORE OF THE WORLD! I WANT TO OWN A PET! I WANT…sob

You weep loudly into your hands, tears splattering on the floor. A warm, scaly thing brushes up against your face, catching those tears and providing a surface for you to grab and cry into.

“I WANT TO FALL IN LOVE MYSELF INSTEAD OF JUST TASTING HIS OLD MEMORIES. I WANT TO LEARN HOW TO PLAY A GUITAR! I WANT TO LEARN TO FLY BY MYSELF! I WANT TO KNOW HOW TO PROPERLY ROAST CHESTNUTS! I WANT...I want just to live more and more of this life, along with the memories of what I was before, and the memories I’ve made afterwards!”

“Even if thine body is a hollow shell?” The dragon quietly murmurs as she gently rubs your face with her’s.

“It is a hollow shell that I...sob...made into a person. This is my life, my body, and I don’t care how selfish I sound!” You yell out through your tears. “It’s mine! I am not letting it go!”

“Ah, thine truest desire, a massive greedy impulse to hold onto this world. Perhaps our two souls were never that far apart, ghost. Here,” The dragon downshifts, offering up a far more comfortable thing for you to continue to vent onto with her softer yet still scaly skin, “Mine own creator hath consoled his brood in such a manner. Tis a better rest?”

“Yeah...t-thanks...Awyri.” You mumble, you sobbing now quieter as you rest your head on her shoulder.

“Tis tragic that thy fate hath reached such an undignified end, mine squire.” She speaks into your ear while gripping your back in manner a bit too rough for an embrace, “Twas an inevitable fate, perhaps, and many may argue to be the only desired fate for a ghost who ought to be reincarnating. I do not understand thy sentiment, but I do understand thy greed. Both thee and Zhenguo are mine property, and a dragon does not part with her hoard.”

She reaches into your pocket and pulls out a single gold coin, “Thy souls art stained with the scent of mine gold. No matter how far thine art, I can sense thy presence, and pursue thee, heedless of what life or name thou hath taken up. It is how I sensed that Zhenguo had escaped the underworld.”

The most basic ability for a dragon no matter their culture or origin is to sense their hoards. But for it to be used in such a way is not something you’ve thought of. A spark of hope forms in your heart.

“I cannot retain this life, but to salvage thy life here, and bestow it upon thy next iteration is within my grasp, if thou remains an asset in mine hoard. So cease thine mourning,” Awyrgan says, wiping off your tears as you calm your emotions down to a sniffle.

"Promise?"

"Promise." She hoists you up, "So, wake up, and burn bright."

============

“Thanatos? Wu Ming? Were you crying?”

You groggily open your artificial eyes, and wipe at your cheeks. No moisture. Makes sense since Awyrgan didn’t give you replacement tear ducts.for this body in the first place after you burnt the flesh off.

Looking up, you stare right into the empty yet bright green eyes of a certain repressed satori. “Oh hey Koishi, how did you get here.”

She fades out of your consciousness, then reappears near you, as if to answer your question. Huh, looks like they don’t have defenses set up for such an infiltrator.

Around you is what appears to be an impact crater of building debris and crushed machinery. From the appearance, it seems as though Awyrgan had crashed into some sort of control facility on her way down and annihilated it with her bulk. Looking back at the dragon you are leaning against, you see that she’s not moving. You still feel her in your head though, much like how Meiling possessed your composite body earlier.

Above you, you can see the towering structure of what is definitely the artificial Vijaya the Saviors are using to suppress the airspace. Resembling a massive crossbow, it is a heavily modified version of the original Indian myth, but still gives off a distinct signature that Buddhists and similar practices from that subcontinent retain. Parts of it are blackened and warped from the impact, however.

“Shhh, don’t be so loud. The other funny people around here don’t like it when I make noises. Fox lady Ran told me to head off in this direction and do what I do best, but these people shot at me when I went to say hi. Though I guess they didn’t look friendly in the first place.”

Noticing that Koishi’s nursing a shoulder wound, you turn on the Hunter’s Module and look around. Sure enough, the area is swarming with Savior signatures, and a bunch of them seem to be ordering a large weapon over near your position. A demolition cannon or similar? None seem to dare approach close to Awyrgan’s position, however.

To your left, you can see a vault door leading into the depths of the complex they have set up here.

You have two options with the youkai of the subconscious to utilize. With the other souls gone, you have already decided on a course of action. Of course, now you also have a dissenting opinion to take care of.



[ ] Into the bowels “Koishi can sabotage the cannon a little, enough for Awyri to downshift and all three of us to flee into the interior, where we have a better chance of surviving and healing up.”

{ } Frontal Assault “Our allies art staging a breakthrough. Tis a golden opportunity and our duty to destroy enough perimeter defenses so they may enact it with expedience.”
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