"That should be for the best, right? Let's just spend the night here."
"Aha, please enjoy your stay!"
"If you can't get to sleep, call Youmu! She can bring you extra cushioning!"
Saying that, the two Yuyukos take off. You can hear them bumble their way through the hall and to wherever it may be that they're going.
The noise made by their departure fades, and the only ones left are you, Renko, a sleeping Mary and Youmu. Youmu points towards the hall, only in the other direction.
"If you don't want to be kept up by them all night, you might as well go to the other side of the mansion." She stands and starts gathering the tea cups together. "If you need me, I'll probably be in here."
You nod and look to Renko, who is too busy watching Mary to respond to Youmu. She nudges the girl's shoulder lightly, getting a soft grumble in reply.
"Come on Mary, you need to sleep in a futon." Renko shakes her lightly until she lifts her head up. "It shouldn't take too long, come on."
Mary mumbles to herself as she gets up. She rubs at her eyes all the while, deciding to just follow you and Renko out of the room. The three of you follow Youmu's suggestion and go to the other side of the mansion. It doesn't take long after that to find a room with futons in the closet.
Renko sets the first futon out. Mary quickly collapses onto it and wriggles her way inside.
"Come on, you can't sleep like that. You'll get your clothes wrinkled!"
Her only response is shuffling around in the futon and eventually pushing her top and skit out through the side. She goes back to sleep almost immediately, leaving the it to you and Renko to get your own futons.
As the two of you strip down to your underwear, you can't help but watch Renko's face. Her expression is both thoughtful and absent, giving the impression that she's thinking about everything that happened earlier today.
You resist the urge to ask if she's okay. Even if she wasn't she'd probably lie and act like she was on top of the world, just to make you feel better. She's too considerate, sometimes.
The two of you lay down to sleep without another word, and your consciousness fades before you know it.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
You slowly open your eyes. It's morning, though not the kind you've grown used to. While sunlight touches your face like it usually does, you find yourself in a strange place.
It takes a moment for you to remember where you are. It takes no longer than that to remember how anxious you are to get home, too. You move to get up, but find yourself held down by something.
You slowly lift the blanket, only to see Renko's back pressed up against your stomach. It's then that you realize how your legs are also pressed up against hers, and how your arms are wrapped around her. Slowly, nervously, you get your other arm out from under her and scoot away.
While folding up the futon you open the sliding door to the outside. It's refreshing how no bugs fly in here, though it's also unsettling. Regardless, the gentle beams of the sun get you energized for the trip home today.
You put the futon away and quickly throw your clothes on. Mary's the next one to stir, though she quickly goes back to sleep. Taking a seat, you look between your two friends and wonder if they're as anxious to get back.
The door to the hallway slowly slides open, and one of the Yuyukos pokes her head in. She waves to you and gestures for you to come, which you do. She waits until you've slid the door shut again before talking.
"Watak... No, Aoi. Are you really leaving today?"
"Mhm. Why do you ask?"
"Youmu said that you were acting differently the night before last, and that she's surprised that you wanted to go."
[ ] Ask her what happened the night before last.
[ ] Ask her where Youmu is, and then go see her.
[ ] Tell her that you don't remember that night and don't really care about it right now.
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"What're you talking about? I got here yesterday, not two days ago." You pause. Yuyuko just looks at you with a concerned face, unblinking. "Right?"
"I don't know about that..." She looks thoughtful, though still a bit air headed. "Youmu told me the two of you met two nights ago!"
You can hear motion in the room you just left. Renko and Mary must be getting up, and you'd rather not have them hear this. You start to walk down the hall, leaving the room behind you. Yuyuko follows, and you wait a minute or two so you can get your distance from the others.
"What did she say happened that night?"
"Well, not much. Just that she found you down below all beat up and tired, so she brought you back here. Then you vanished and she didn't see you again until the morning!"
It takes a moment for you to notice something wrong with her story. That being how, despite being the 'Lady' of this mansion, she appears to be telling you second hand information. Wouldn't she have met a visitor herself?
"You said that Youmu told you this, right? Were you not there to see any of this happening?"
Yuyuko shakes her head dismissively, and for a moment you can see a pained expression on her face. She quickly returns to her cheery personality, though.
"I think I was starting to possess my body when all that happened."
Nodding, you attempt to shake the feeling you asked something you shouldn't have. It's then that you realize who you're talking to.
"If you were possessing a body, would that make you Yuyu?"
A clever grin slowly creeps over Yuyuko's face. She stops walking and grabs your shoulders, inching her face closer and closer to yours.
"Oh my, yes, that would make me Yuyu! That's a name I told Ren and Mary, though. Ren and Mary who both received nicknames from me." She looks curious as she continues, moving away from your face and letting go of your shoulders. "Your name isn't as long as theirs though, is it? Who would you be, Watako?"
It's like someone drove an axe through your skull. A splitting pain has you buckle down in pain, gripping at your head with all your might. The sensation of your skull splitting in two is strong, and it feels as if your head would really pop open if you let it go.
'Yuyu'ko sounds concerned and quickly gets to your level. You can feel a soft hand rub your forehead as you clench your teeth, slowly relieving you of your pain. A minute passes by like this before you feel well enough to stand.
"Aoi, are you okay?" Renko runs up to you with Mary in tow. "What was that about?"
"Ah, no, I'm fine." You wave at her dismissively while rubbing the side of your head. "Yuyu was just helping me get back on my feet."
The three of you fall silent for a moment. Despite trying not to make eye contact with anyone you briefly see Renko's eyes. She's giving you the same suspicious look she was the day before. Just as she's about to speak, Yuyuko's stomach growls.
"Oh, right! Will there be any breakfast soon, and do you mind if we join you?"
You're a little impressed at how quickly you latched on to that! It feels a little rude to just ask like that, but you really don't want to sit through Renko interrogating you again.
"Mhm! Youmu should have breakfast ready right now, so we should get going!"
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Youmu and Yuyuko had some back-and-forth chatter during breakfast, mostly talking about deja vu and the supposedly 'evil' tree. You do your best to ignore Renko, not wanting her to take eye contact as an opportunity to start questioning you.
While keeping your gaze averted from Renko you momentarily make eye contact with Youmu. She stares at you for what feels like forever but lasts no more than three seconds. The look in her eyes suggests she has something important to tell you.
"Aha, well then! I'm off to look for Yukarin, so I'll see you later!"
Yuyu gets up and dashes off towards the front of the mansion. You start to wonder where the other Yuyuko went until you realize Miss Ran probably came back to take her away.
Renko gets up and stretches her arms. She motions for Mary to do the same, and then turns her gaze to you before looking at Youmu.
"Thanks for the meal and room, Miss Konpaku! We'll be on our way now."
Renko and Mary walk towards the front of the mansion, choosing to go around it instead of through it. You can see them talking while they go, slowing their pace down as they look back at you.
"Aoi." Youmu speaks up, a determined look on her face. "I... I have something I need to show you."
You don't really get her awkward approach. Is it something embarrassing, or private?
"It's very important, but you see..." She trails off, looking down before she continues. "It might affect your relationship with your friends."
"What is it, Youmu?"
She fidgets around, unable to contain herself. Whatever it is must be a big deal.
"It's by the large tree. The Saigyou Ayakashi." She looks you in the eyes, her face suddenly grim. "I have the feeling you won't be the same person once you see it."
That last line is more than unsettling; It's disturbing. Whatever this big secret is, it sounds like it comes with consequences.
[ ] Turn her down for now.
[ ] Agree to go with her.
This chapter is so amazing. I especially like the freedom of choice that is given to the voters, and how the choices really matter and help shape up the story. Not to mention the bright and positive tone, and overall playful atmosphere of hope and whimsy.
Deciding to just go with it and see what happens, you give Youmu a thumbs up before waving to your friends.
"Wait out front! I'll be there in just a minute!"
"Roger! Don't take too long!"
Having said that, Renko turns a corner with Mary and vanishes from sight. You smile as you look back at Youmu, who doesn't seem nearly as cheery.
Without a word she walks towards the Saigyou Ayakashi. You follow after her and take this moment to observe the tree now that its flowers have died.
It's definitely large. The bare branches reach up into the sky, almost looking like an above-ground set of roots. Without its flowers, the tree look dead and pathetic.
"So, it's sealed now? That means I won't die now that I've looked at it?"
"Yes." Youmu turns her head slightly in your direction as she walks, slowing her pace ever so slightly all the while. "For some reason, Lady Yuyuko's body makes a seal strong enough to stop this tree from taking any more lives."
Your eyes begin to hurt. The tree takes lives when it's unsealed, yes. You've already been over this before, haven't you?
Youmu comes to a halt a short ways in front of the tree. You can make out a familiar figure resting beneath it, partially buried in the earth.
"Do you remember how we met the other night, Aoi? Do you remember that night at all?"
There's a pressure building in your skull. You shake your head dismissively, unable to recall any events from that night.
"You were babbling about someone attacking you when we crossed paths. I had just finished collecting bamboo shoots for Lady Yuyuko and invited you to come back with me."
"You did? I don't remember that happening at all."
She seems to ignore your input as she continues with her story.
"We flew to Hakugyokurou. I carried you up here but lost track of you as you went to explore the garden. It wasn't until the next morning that I saw you again."
She hesitates. You can tell by the look on her face that she's not happy. Far from it, she's visibly scared. The pressure in your skull builds, making it feel like your face is being sucked into your head.
"I know where you went, Aoi." She leads you over to the tree, where Yuyu's body rests. "Lady Yuyuko died here. I came by earlier to make sure her body was in a dignified position."
Another pause. Youmu looks you in the eyes as she observes every detail of your face. Her reluctance is getting to you and making you nervous.
"So? What does that have to do with me? Why did you bring me here, and what does any of this have to do with me?"
She breathes in once, then breathes out. You can tell that she's steeling herself for what comes next.
"Lady Yuyuko was already in the process of being resurrected that night. If my assumptions are right, at least." She swallows hard and starts to walk around the tree. "I'm sorry. You won't like what you see next."
The two of you proceed around the tree slowly. You start to make out another figure who appears to be sleeping peacefully, their head rolling to one side. It takes you a moment to recognize who it is.
"...Y-Youmu? That's not me, right? What am I doing here?" Her story starts to make sense as you remember that night. The pressure in your skull splits. "What are you trying to say?"
She doesn't answer you. All she can manage is to stare at the body that's propped up against the tree, her eyes half-shut.
"There's n o w a y." While shaking your head you back away from the scene, feeling a rush of bile in your throat. "What am I? A fake? A doppelganger? What's going on?"
She says something softly. So softly you can't even hear it. You hesitate a moment, trying to decide between running or staying put. She speaks again, a little louder this time.
You feel the sensation of the bile flying into your mouth, but there's nothing there. The only other feeling you have is one of impending doom, which is unshakeable. You turn tail and run, feeling a hot, wet sensation at your eyes as you do.
You don't look back. Whatever it was she just showed you, you'd rather choose not to believe in it.
Your phone beeps at you every two seconds. It's impossible not to be worried about them, and the absence of Renko on the other end of the call only causes you more worry. Within three seconds you've hung up and called Mary, but her phone is also no good. Nothing but beep after beep until you hit the End Call button.
"Geez, those two!" You fall back onto your bed and stare at the ceiling. Thoughts of 'Are they okay?' and 'What if they're dead?' race through your head, but you shake them away. "What am I doing..."
There's a knock at your door. You stand up and rush to the front of the apartment, stopping only to check yourself in a mirror. Unable to find a fault with your appearance, you look through the peep hole before opening the door.
"Ah, you're a life saver!" With a skip and hop forwards, you wrap your arms around your friend. "How many were left when you got there?"
"Only three, I'm afraid. You're lucky I was in the area when you called."
She hands you a plastic bag with a thin case inside, and you hand her ? 7,140. It's a guilty pleasure you'd never share with Renko and Mary, but at least Eri understands your passion!
"Well then, I have to get going." She brushes one hand against her braid. You've always been envious of her front-braid and how well she maintains it. "Work at the mansion and all."
"Alright, seeya later!"
You wave to her as she starts walking away. You watch for a moment before receding into your room and locking the door. Setting your newest pleasure down on your bed, you pull out your phone and try for another call.
Still nothing. The thoughts about their well being start to creep into your mind once again, but you manage to shake them away. Maybe you can just play for a while and try again? Yeah, that sounds like a plan.
At first you can't tell if it's the spray of bullets on the screen or not, but eventually you realize your phone's vibrating. You turn it to get a look, and pause the game as soon as you see Renko's name. You fumble with the phone for a few seconds before getting a firm grip on it and answering.
"Hello, Renko? Are you okay?"
There's a pause. You can hear three people talking for a few seconds before the reply.
"Hey, Aoi! We're back in town and-" She stops for a moment before continuing. "Yeah, we're outside your apartment complex. Seeya in a minute!"
She hangs up before you can say a word. You check the clock and see that it's eight at night... Wait, what? Have you seriously been playing this stupid game for that many hours?
You rush to the controller and exit your game. It takes you a few more seconds to find the case and put the disc up. Tossing the thing onto your bed, you rush over to the small kitchen area and get out everything you need for curry. It's not much, but you want to look like you were actually doing something important when she called!
Before you can even get the carrots and onions going there's a knock at the door. You rush over and open it, expecting to see Renko and Mary in perfect condition.
They're just fine, but there's something very strange about their companion.
"Ah." Renko looks between you and the other person, a surprised expression on her face. "Yeah, that's two Aois! Talk about weird!"
Everything about them is the same as you. Did they find your long lost twin or something? Even if they did, there's no way they'd be wearing something from your closet and have their hair styled the exact same way as yours.
You back off and let them into the apartment. It's impossible to find any words to describe what you're feeling, so you can only manage to ask them a simple question.
"Is she some kind of professional?" The three of them give you a strange look, urging you to be clearer. "I mean, does she get paid to look exactly like someone else?"
"No clue! They say they're the same as you, but their story doesn't match up at all!" Renko turns to smile at your double, apparently nowhere near as bothered by this as you are. "Why don't you introduce yourself? It's only polite."
"Ah." The person who looks just like you offers you a short bow before trotting over to you. "My name... No, our name is Aoi. But we can call me Watako. Nice to meet me!"
This body double, 'Watako', takes over chopping the chicken. A pressure builds up in your throat and forces you to swallow as you wonder just what is going on.
Renko runs over with the case you forgot to hide, shoving it in your face.
"Hey, what's this?" She turns it to look at the cover, but doesn't look nearly as disgusted as you expected her to. "I didn't know you liked these kinds of games, Aoi."
"Ah, you see, a friend told me it was good. Tako! Tako said it was great and I should try it, so I-"
"Oh, it arrived?" The double calling themself 'Watako' has finished chopping the meat and turned their attention to the case. "Armored Girl 2: To the Death! Can we play together later, Aoi?"
They look the same as you, dress the same as you, and talk the same way you do. To top it all off, they seem to know about your secret passion and even share it.
No vote on this one! I'll post the "intermission" update for Chapter 2 tomorrow. Like with the last one, it'll happen some time between chapters and be coupled with a vote for where the next chapter should take place! Please wait warmly until then.
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ONE? MONTH? LATER
"Aha, sorry to make you wait!"
Renko sits across from you and removes her hat.
"No, it's fine! I already ordered, but you can order when the waitress comes back!"
She pouts while crossing her arms. Looking at that expression, you can't help but wonder. Should you have waited on her to get here first?
"Geez, some 'date'. Don't tell me you brought your double, too?"
"No way! I gave them a little money to go shopping with and said to be here in an hour." You prop your head up on one hand while looking at Renko. "That should be enough time, right? An hour to eat, and then we'll go get Mary?"
Your waitress returns before Renko can answer. She gives you your shortcake and then takes Renko's order before running off again.
"What were we talking about, again?" Renko looks up, focusing. She snaps her fingers a moment later. "Oh! About Mary. The thing is, she was telling me she didn't feel well earlier."
Does that mean the trip is canceled? You resist the urge to ask, but the question stays on your mind. Focusing on eating your shortcake doesn't seem to help with forgetting about it.
"I thought we should check up on her and make sure she's okay." Renko shrugs, grinning while looking to the right. "After all, that's what good friends do for each other!"
You nod and take another bite of your dessert. While thinking about Mary, you can't help but imagine her walking down the street. Without realizing it you've pointed in that direction and said Mary's name out loud.
Renko turns to look, a surprised expression on her face. It takes her a moment of observing to shaker her head and sigh.
"That's just some lady with long blonde hair. Mary's probably asleep right now, with how bad she sounded over the phone."
You finish your treat and set it to the side. Renko's order finally arrives, and she takes a moment to dig in. Rather than paying attention to your friend, you can only watch the blonde haired woman as she walks away. She turns and winks right before vanishing from sight.
"Please excuse us..."
Renko leads the three of you into the apartment. It's dark, with only a small amount of light coming in through the curtains in the back.
This is actually your first time really seeing Mary's apartment! You're a little excited to get a look at what she has around her when she's alone.
You, Renko, and your double proceed into the apartment. The first thing you notice is how much nicer it is than yours. It has a combination kitchen and dining area, with four doors leading to other rooms. Before exploring any further, you peek through the curtains to get a look at the view. It's not amazing, but it's still a nice view of the area.
Renko and your double peek into another room briefly. They leave it behind and head to another room. You join them, not wanting to be left out on the exploration.
The next room everyone peers into is a bedroom. A little light comes in through the curtains covering a window, but it's still very dark. A figure wriggles around on the bed and lets out a groan.
"Mary? Hello, you okay?"
Renko speaks softly as she approaches the bed and slowly pulls the sheet back. Mary looks at the three of you with half-open eyes before grabbing a tissue and sneezing into it. She tosses it into a bedside bin before speaking.
"Ah, hello everybody." She rubs at her eyes and sits up. Her head rolls around as she speaks. "Sorry to make you worried. I think I should be fine in a day or two, so we can go camping then. Right?"
"You're lucky we've got a break from university, Mary." Renko causally points a finger towards Mary while placing her other hand on her hip. "If we had classes you'd have to push this trip back at least a week."
She doesn't respond for a moment. Just when you've thought she fell asleep again, she laughs.
"In that case, I will not get sick at all until our next break." She smiles and lays back down. "I am sorry, but I must get back to sleep. I do not think I can manage staying up any longer."
"Alright then. Just make sure you drink lots of juices, and eat proper meals."
Mary's chest slowly rises and falls. Renko pulls the blanket back up on her and gestures for you to stay quiet as you exit the room.
The three of you exit the apartment. Renko makes sure to have the door lock when you leave, always thinking a step ahead. You catch a glimpse of the blonde haired woman from earlier as you leave. You look to Renko and your double, but neither one of them seems to see her. When you look back, she's gone.
I'll only do the dice roll like I did last time if there's votes for all four options. Otherwise, the option with the most votes will be the winner.
It'll be a week-long break again this time, with me continuing writing next Thursday. So long as nothing gets in the way, that is.
All that aside, I'd like to do something I meant to do at the end of Chapter One. If any of you have something you don't like about the story and would like to see me do a little differently, please tell me.
Some examples would be... Should updates be longer or shorter? Should I go into more or less detail about the setting? More dialogue or less?
In any case, I'll have the summary post up probably on Wednesday or Thursday next week! I'll see you all again then.
>If any of you have something you don't like about the story and would like to see me do a little differently, please tell me.
Second chapter was not as fun as first. Partially due to all the bleakness and death, but mostly because it had a lot of plot-critical events and exposition that couldn't be affected by our choices in any way. Living Yuyuko couldn't be saved, Aoiwraith couldn't be saved, there was no way to get closer to solving the mystery of the lost spring and doubling up, etc. It's okay if it just sets up the foundation for future adventures, but if this keeps up and our protagonists are reduced to nothing more than spectators when important events come up, it wouldn't make for a good story.
The one choice that I felt was missing the most was the one at the end: ?Tell your friends you are a wraith? or not. If wraithdom was revealed, it would kickstart the second chapter right away, because holy crap we have to save her before she goes insane and eats everyone! Now I have questions spinning in my head like ?why didn't Aoiwraith go insane by now? (because if a word ?wraith? is used it is implied that she doesn't have a soul (as opposed to ghosts, who have), and soulless creatures generally feel empty, tortured and murderous) and ?how did she manage to live a normal life for a month?" Hell, "A girl and her wraith self, alone in a small apartment? could be a story in itself, although maybe for another board, say, /at/.
Sorry for the wall. Will vote now, and voting this way because I'd like to see the next chapter centered around the quest of Aoiwraith resurrection, and for that we will need clean mountain air, frogs and a miracle worker.
Gonna go ahead and call it for the Forest of Magic so I can get some research in before starting Chapter 3.
>>46201 I figured that, as weird as it is for Watako 2 to be around, they wouldn't be making a huge deal about them after a month had passed. Maybe I should've written a little extra about Watako 2 joining the group.
>>46203 Thanks for the input! I really appreciate you taking your time to do this, especially for something as silly as touhou fanfiction. I just need to comment on a couple of things you mentioned, though.
>Living Yuyuko couldn't be saved, Actually, she could've been saved! When there was a vote to argue for her to listen to the others, the others to listen to her, or ask everyone to explain themselves, the second option would've lead to the others reluctantly accepting her right to live.
>Aoiwraith couldn't be saved, True enough, seeing how they were dead all along.
>there was no way to get closer to solving the mystery of the lost spring and doubling up, etc. >It's okay if it just sets up the foundation for future adventures,
It kind of will, though it more just hints at the underlying mechanic behind this story.
>but if this keeps up and our protagonists are reduced to nothing more than spectators when important events come up, it wouldn't make for a good story.
A very good point. In retrospect, it's pretty obvious that I was starting to treat them as mere spectators. I'll be sure to remedy this in future chapters! Thanks!
>The one choice that I felt was missing the most was the one at the end: ?Tell your friends you are a wraith? or not. Agreed. I wanted to include that vote, but that update was the fifth one where the readers were controlling Aoi. I'm not sure if I've said it outside of the filenames, but you're forced to switch your point of view every five updates. I regret not including this choice, but I'll try to make up for it.
>Everything concerning Watako 2 being a wraith.
Maybe I should've used a different word. While some of this should apply to them, not all of it would. Think of them as being more like Yuyuko and less like a soulless monster.
All that said, expect Chapter 3's first post on Thursday! I'll probably be posting it some time between 12 AM and 2 AM EST, in case you wanted a vague idea of what time it'd be up.
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The train station is mostly empty at this hour, which is strange. You would've expected there to be a lot more people here than there are now, but the only ones on your platform are you, Renko, and your double. There's a handful of people scattered across other platforms, but none of them are anywhere close to yours.
The other two haven't pointed it out yet, and seem content keeping to themselves. Renko flips the longer part of her hair around absent mindedly while your double flips through some magazine they bought earlier. You quickly check your cellphone to see no new messages. Just as you're getting ready to ask your twin about the magazine, your train pulls in. The three of you board as soon as it comes to a stop.
The next few minutes pass by the same way they did outside of the train. The doors eventually close as the train starts to move. It gains speed quickly, and your journey is soon underway. Looking back at your friend and mirror image, you can't help but wonder why they're being so quiet.
"Hope Mary feels better soon." Renko suddenly breaks the silence, her eyes locked on you. "She was talking my ear off after our last trip. All about how she wanted to go back right away and see that flying ship the one woman talked about."
It takes you a moment to remember what she's talking about. That was a little more than two months ago, wasn't it? Has Mary really been obsessing over something from that far back?
"I'd like to go back and try to figure this situation out, though."
She gestures towards your double, who takes a moment to realize they're being talked about. They leave a dog ear on the page they were on and close their magazine before looking up.
"What situation? Something about me?"
"Yeah, about you and where you even came from!" Renko leans back in her seat and removes her hat. "There were two of those Yuyuko girls and Ran took one of them, but she left you because Aoi wasn't there."
That's right! Going by what Renko and Mary told you after they got back, there was a double of some girl they met, too! So would that mean that girl and your double are somehow connected?
The other Aoi shrugs the conversation off and goes back to their magazine. It's been this way for the past month, with them just constantly ignoring anything that has to do with what they are and where they came from. It always ends with them seeming more and more distant.
There's a loud screeching sound, and the train suddenly shifts directions. While wondering about the other Aoi's origins, you failed to notice how you entered a tunnel. The other two jump at the screeching sound, visibly shaken.
"What the hell was that?" Renko looks out the window, wide-eyed. There's nothing but darkness on the other side. "...I think maybe we hit something? I'm gonna go ask the conductor real quick."
She takes off after that, traveling between the train cars on her own. You scoot away from the other Aoi and try to focus on the windows. For a brief moment you can see a dark sky, but the train quickly enters another tunnel.
It's actually very strange. You should've reached at least one stop by now, but the electric signs still say that you're on your way to it. A minute later Renko returns, looking dissatisfied.
She sits down and looks at her hands. You don't even have to exchange words; You can tell just by her expression that she wasn't able to speak to the conductor.
Just as you start to think about how Renko always tries to be in charge, the train exits the tunnel and starts to slow down. It approaches a platform that looks unfamiliar. There are no buildings to be seen, only a large field, a winding road, and a dense forest. The road leads into the forest, though not until it's gotten a ways away from the platform.
The three of you sit in silence as the train comes to a stop and the doors open. You and your companions can only manage to stare at the scenery outside for a few minutes, until the lights on the train go out. With a sinking feeling in your stomach, you step out onto the platform.
A large sign stands in front of the train, which identifies this platform as 'Kisaragi station'. You can't say that you're familiar with the place, but the name alone sends chills down your spine.
Just to be sure, you snap a picture of the sign with your phone. It's then that you notice your lack of an internet connection or even a signal. Renko's apparently noticed the same thing, while your double has no issues due to their lack of a phone.
Renko turns to face the forest and cups her hands over her mouth. She then breathes in deeply and yells...
"WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENIIING?"
A few birds fly out of the trees, cawing and screeching all the while. Renko chuckles while looking at you. You smile, but you'd rather talk about what to do next than yell at the trees.
[ ] Suggest returning down the tracks.
[ ] Follow the path into the woods.
[ ] Get back on the train and look for the conductor.
Sorry that I hadn't updated yet! The fall semester is getting closer to starting, and when it does I'll need to take a short break to make sure I have myself sorted. That won't be for another 3-4 weeks, though.
That said, calling it for the two most popular votes! That being these two:
[x] Be Renko.
[x] Follow the path into the woods.
The train probably won't be leaving any time soon, and your curiosity has been piqued. The path into the woods seems like the best way to go for now, you'd think. Afterall, you might find the reason the train stopped here in those woods! Or maybe just find out where you are! Where are you, anyway?
Looking up both tells you where you are and leaves you without a clue. Not being able to figure out your location means this is most likely that other world you've been to before, but it also means you could be somewhere in that world that you hadn't seen before. You ponder on this while stepping down from the platform before turning back to look at the Aois.
One of them has started to reboard the train, while the other is following you.
"Hey, what're you doing?" You wave for the train-boarding Aoi's attention as you speak. "The power's out, and I already told you that I couldn't get the conductor to respond."
"What if the power comes back on and we aren't here, though? What if the train leaves without us and we're stuck out here?"
As bad as that'd be, you don't see it happening. The more you think about the train leading you here and suddenly breaking down, the more it seems like something's up. Something or someone in this 'Gensokyo' place probably had something to do with your train coming here, and you have a hunch that they're probably still nearby.
"Here, how about this?" You open your bag and find your notebook. You write a note, tear it out, and toss it up to Aoi. "That says we'll be back after looking around the area. Leave that on the train."
It won't work. It definitely won't work. Even if there's a conductor on the train, and even if the power comes back. If you were the conductor and the power came back, you'd get out of here as soon as possible. Self-preservation should come first, right?
Aoi reluctantly goes to put the note on the train. After watching them vanish, you turn your attention to the Aoi who followed you. They smile after noticing your stare and stand on their toes expectantly.
"So, you're the one me and Mary picked up last time, right?" Snapping your middle finger and thumb, you point at the accused. "You're way too cheerful to be the regular Aoi. It's only been you that suddenly got that happy over the last month."
"Well..." They look back over their shoulder and shrug. "I guess you caught me?"
Just as you thought. You reach into your bag and hand them a hair tie, then gesture for them to put their hair up in a ponytail. Aoi returns just as they finish tying their hair up.
"So, you thought we should explore?"
You nod and point towards the woods, much to that Aoi's dismay. You actually like how upset they get about it. Classic Aoi, completely different from the now ponytail-sporting copy.
The path ends not long after you get into the woods. It's strange, since it seemed like it should have continued but instead just suddenly came to an end. Your group moves past that and continues deeper into the woods, undeterred.
The other two have been really cooperative so far, despite your search through the woods turning up a whole lot of nothing. You can't say that you've been looking very hard, though. Most of your time exploring has been devoted to thinking up a nickname for the cheerful Aoi, but the best you could come up with was Watago.
You stumble across what appears to be a small path. It's the first sign of life you've seen since leaving the platform, and a much needed break from the dense shrubbery that covers most of these woods. You're just about to comment on your luck when you notice something off.
There's someone up ahead. You motion for the two Aois to stay quiet as you look this person over. She seems to be a woman with blonde hair, wearing a purple dress and carrying a parasol. She's on the ground next to a tree, apparently captivated by whatever is at the tree's base.
You aren't sure what to make of her. She doesn't look threatening from this angle, but it wouldn't surprise you if she turned around and had no face at all. You've already met ghosts and animal people in this world, so humanoid monsters wouldn't be that surprising. You actually kind of expect her to be a monster.
[ ] Approach the woman.
[ ] Try to pass by silently.
[ ] Turn back and try to find the platform.
I'm so so so sorry that I've just left this sitting here and not even said a word about my hiatus! For some reason I felt like nobody saying anything about it was giving me a free pass to fuck around all I wanted.
I've been stressed out about getting a job and paying for classes lately, so it's been hard to focus on the story. I'll try to get an update out later today, or tomorrow if I can't manage. Hopefully there's people who still care about this story despite my bullshit delay. I'd be really sad to see that I killed the story I had been so excited about writing.
Again, I'm very sorry for the unannounced hiatus. I'll try to let you all know if I need a break in the future.
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You gesture for Aoi and the clone to follow you. At the same time you make a mental note of how impersonal a nickname like clone is, and decide to call Aoi's doppelganger Ponytail instead.
They follow as you silently move past the crouching woman, obviously as tense as you are. It only takes a few seconds to pass her, but it feels like an eternity.
The three of you continue to sneak away in that fashion for a while. At first the woman seems oblivious to what you're doing, but as you continue to slink down the road you notice something strange.
She's constantly turning her head, keeping her face hidden.
You pause. It's possible that she could just be looking around over there, but your mind will only let you believe that she's screwing with you. As a test you shimmy to your right to try and see her face, only to witness her quickly turning her head to hide it.
Without a word you're off. You don't even bother to take a look back. That's the kind of thing that gets you killed! The only option is to keep running with your gaze fixed straight ahead.
Somebody grabs you by the shoulder, and you turn back to see a path devoid of any dress wearing monsters. The only things there are two Aois.
"I don't think she's following us, so can we just walk?"
Aoi's panting and has their other hand on their knee. Not like Ponytail, who seems to be in great shape.
"Why'd you take off like that anyway? We were gonna be out of there soon enough if we just kept inching back!"
"That thing knew we were there! Couldn't you tell?" Aoi shakes their head. Negative. "Did you see its face?"
"I..." Aoi starts, then thinks. "Actually, I don't think I did. It's like she kept turning her head as we-"
A look of realization dawns on Aoi's face. They look to you and you nod. You then look at Ponytail, who shrugs.
"I didn't even see a face." Ponytail smirks. "As far as I could tell, she didn't have one!"
"Hahaha, real funny." You pat Aoi on the back and gesture down the path. "In any case, we should keep going. It might be lumbering this way for all we know."
The three of you continue to walk in silence. The only thing on your mind is that strange woman or... thing that you passed back there. That and doubts about Ponytail being an okay nickname.
"Oh yeah, me and Aoi- your Aoi I mean, not me- were playing Armored Girl the other day. Doesn't your little sister like that game, Ren? Anyway, I had just finished beating Aoi and then who logged on to challenge me? It was your sister!"
It's kind of hard to pay attention to what they're saying. You occasionally play games with Aoi, but listening to them talk about games is like listening to someone talk about soccer. You just can't care.
"-managed to shoot me down, so then I decided to use our secret weapon! So as soon as I landed I-"
You're making a slight effort to listen, but something else starts to grab your attention. You shh Ponytail and try to listen to what you think you can hear somewhere... behind you?
"-e pass, let me pass. What is this narrow path here?"
It's a woman singing. It's that... cross walk song? From those super-old lights? You're not too sure, but you think you've heard it while crossing the street.
Your first instinct is to look, but you stop yourself. What if it's that weird monster from before? Mary would probably know what to do in situations like these, but you're not as versed in mythology as her.
"-but returning would be scary. It's scary, but let me pass, le-"
"Hey, what's that?"
Ponytail and Aoi start to look back. You cough loudly and then shake your head at them. Negative. Aoi looks straight ahead with a concerned expression. Ponytail rolls their eyes and also looks forward.
The three of you keep walking, but the singing's getting closer and closer. It's maybe five yards behind you now.
[ ] Turn and look at it.
[ ] Stop walking and see if it goes past you.
[ ] "Betobeto-san, please go on ahea wait that's a different youkai [ ] Ask it what it is.
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You hesitate at first, but ultimately come to a stop. Aoi and Ponytail must be giving you concerned looks right now, but something compels you to turn around and see just what it is behind you.
Purple and gold enter your vision as you turn, revealing the figure from before. It's now wearing a mask with a hinged jaw which moves constantly as you stare. What feels like a full minute passes as the two of you stare at each other.
"I was beginning to wonder if I'd pass you." The feminine figure slowly removes the mask, revealing a normal face. "What was that about not seeing a face earlier?"
Your companions are now facing her too, and Ponytail looks terrified. They slowly back away, a fearful and apologetic look on their face.
"S-sorry, I didn't mean anything! I, um, was just trying to mess with my friends."
The... woman? That seems appropriate now, you reason. The woman stares for a moment and smiles. She tosses the mask into the bushes as she moves closer to your group.
"That's fine. You shouldn't just wander so close to people out here, though. You never know what kind of person you'll find."
You nod, and your friends follow suit.
"...You can call me Koizumi, if you'd like."
"Miss Koizumi, then." You try to regain your composure for a greeting. "My name is Usami Renko, it's nice to meet you."
Ponytail suddenly shifts their whole upper body down into a stiff bow.
"M-my name is Watate! It's a pleasure!"
A moment passes before their cheeks are flushed. It's then that you realize the perfect nickname for this person.
"My name is Watase Aoi." With one hand, they push back a lock of hair from their shoulder. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Aoi's introduction is a lot more relaxed than the Double's. Something about this strikes you as being strange.
"The pleasure is mine. What are you three girls doing out here, though? It's not the safest place to be."
"Ah, the train we were on came to a stop here and wouldn't move again. We were hoping to find a way outta here."
Miss Koizumi raises a finger to her mouth and looks up inquisitively.
"How will you get back to your home from here though? Hmm..."
She looks at you, and it's then you realize just how concerned you must look.
"Ah, sorry about that! Just talking to myself." She looks up and down, sizing you up. Her gaze locks onto your face as she nods. "You look honest. Keep this in mind, though."
She comes closer and cups a hand over her mouth, so Aoi and Watate can't hear her.
"This forest has a lot of dishonest kids. Don't let looks deceive you."
With that she passes your group, and waves while walking backwards.
"I have to get going, now! I hope I see you kids again some time! Bye bye!"
Weakly, you raise a hand to return her wave. She quickly vanishes from view, leaving your group alone.
Honest? Dishonest? Kids? She called you and your friends kids too, so does that mean these kids are in their 20's? If she hadn't vanished so quickly you'd have a lot of questions for her.
There's no time to dwell on that, though. She seemed to imply looking in these woods will do no good, but she also said returning to the train might not be the best idea. If you took these warnings seriously, then what option does that leave?
[ ] Return to the train.
[ ] Keep exploring the woods.
After mulling over your options, you're a bit stuck. Nothing seems like a good choice now, but given the situation you have to do something.
"Hey. Let's head back to the train for now."
"Are you sure?" Watate holds their hands behind their back and fidgets. "We haven't been in the woods all that long, and if the train started back up it probably left already."
Those are some pretty valid points. Even so, you feel compelled to head back. Miss Koizumi said the forest wasn't safe, and it's not the best idea to turn down advice from a local. That is, assuming she even lives here.
"Yeah, I'm sure. It doesn't seem like we have any better options. Plus the train is a better shelter than a mound of dirt." You kick at the ground, sending a rock into the bushes nearby. "It's not like we brought our camping gear with us, so what can we do?"
Watate doesn't look too happy with your answer, but Aoi nods in agreement. Your group begins retracing its steps in relative silence, the only words spoken being about this broken branch or that stump. At some point you start thinking about Miss Koizumi and what kind of person she might be. Something about her seems really familiar, but you can't quite put your finger on it.
It doesn't take long for your group to get out of the woods. The train still hasn't left, and for a moment you start to feel better about coming back. It's then that an ear piercing shriek fills the air.
Without a second thought you snap into action, racing towards the train. It's still there, and someone's inside it. It's still there, and someone's screaming inside it. It's still there and...
Something's inside it.
A flap of wings, too large to belong to any bird you've seen before. Sudden darkness, and even a million little legs crawling over the windows. There's another scream, and you can feel your heart racing. Grabbing the nearest stick you can find, you hop aboard the train and swing wildly. With both eyes clenched shut you continue, even as you hear breaking glass and the sound of many tiny legs exiting en masse.
With one motion you exhale and open your eyes to see the damage. A girl is lying in front of you, her dress torn up but otherwise seemingly unharmed. She's wearing a white hat, a purple dress, and a shocked look on her face. It's then that you realize you should be shocked as well.
"Mary?" Blinking and rubbing your eyes doesn't make her vanish. "What, uh.. what are you doing out here? And, are you okay?"
She says nothing at first. A few seconds pass in silence as you exchange confused stares.
"...Renko?" Mary shakes her head in what you assume is disbelief. "I think I'm okay. What're you doing here?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. I asked you first though, what are you doing out here?"
"Yeah! Why are you here, when you should be at home sleeping?"
Aoi says that as they step into the train, Watate in tow. They both look shocked, but the latter even more so.
"I... don't know?" Mary grabs her head and tries to stand up. She moves one arm to a nearby pole and lifts herself into a seat. "One second I was asleep, and before I knew it I was in here with some... things."
Watate tugs on your sleeve. You turn to look at them, only to be met with averted eyes.
"I saw those 'things'. They looked just like people. Like a bunch of kids."
Dishonest kids, huh? It sounds like Miss Koizumi wasn't lying. All four of you sit down and take a moment to calm down before continuing the conversation.
"Well, there's no two ways about it." Leaning back in your seat, you let your eyes wander the cabin as you speak. "We're in that place again. Wherever it was that all these strange things have been happening the past couple months."
Your friends all share a look of defeat as you continue.
"And thanks to those 'kids', the train's not safe anymore. Any ideas, guys?"
[ ] Be Aoi.
[ ] Be Watate.
- [ ] Suggest searching the train.
- [ ] Suggest following the tracks.
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You suddenly become yourself.
Renko waits patiently, her arms crossed beneath her breasts. It's obvious she's just as upset with this situation as the rest of you. Even Mary looks upset.
"Maybe we should, I dunno, look around the train before it gets really dark out?"
There's a pause where you can see the others thinking about your idea. Renko and her Aoi look like they approve, but Maribel doesn't look too happy. It's understandable, you guess. She did just get attacked here.
"Alright, sounds good to me." Renko nods while slapping her fist against the palm of her other hand. "We don't wanna waste too much time though, so we should split up. Aoi and Ao- er, Watete. You can search the back of the train, while Mary and I search the front."
You don't really like this setup, but you don't really have any room to argue. What with being the "outsider" of the group. You and your double- or maybe you're their double- proceed towards the back of the train. On the way you notice that there's absolutely nobody there, and not even any signs of someone having been there and left. You knew the train was empty before, but you didn't think it was entirely vacant.
It's kind of a disappointment, actually. There's no bags to look at or sleeping people or anything. Aoi soldiers on ahead, not looking over at you once. It's then that you think something might be up.
You catch up as they pass from one car to another. The two of you are almost at the caboose now, merely one car away. Aoi continues to walk ahead of you, seemingly picking up speed. This starts to annoy you, and you run ahead to stop them.
"I wanna know what! You've been acting cold to me for a little while now, and it's starting to freak me out!" Aoi glares at you, slightly shaking your resolve. "Please? I don't want us to keep acting like nothing's up."
A moment of silence passes, and then they sigh. You breathe a sigh of relief as the glare fades away, making way for a more apologetic look.
"Sorry. It's just that I was thinking, and..." They fidget with the edge of their skirt while shuffling their feet around. "I was thinking that I don't want Renko to think you're me, or that I'm you."
"I don't want anybody to think that. So I've been trying to make it obvious that I'm not like you."
You pause. Aoi looks disgusted now, though you can't tell if it's with you or themself. If you had to guess though, you'd bet on the latter. It seems more like the way you'd feel.
"I think I understand." You undo your ponytail and hold the band in your fingers. "I just wanted to be myself too, so when I found out that I... Well, it's not important. Look, I understand that that's your Renko and your Maribel, so I'll try not to get too close to them."
Aoi looks away. An awkward silence passes between the two of you, almost feeling like a wall that separates you from your other self. Putting your hair back up into a ponytail, you gesture for Aoi to follow you.
"Come on, let's see if there's anything back there."
You can see Aoi mouth four syllables before following you. It's probably best to not press the matter, so you decide to ignore that for now and continue with the search.
"So, how'd your search go?"
"We didn't find anything." Aoi looks over at you and offers a weak smile. "What about you two?"
Renko shakes her head, and Maribel does the same. Just as the four of you are about to sit down, you hear footsteps at the entrance to the train.
Looking over, you see a slender woman with long, red hair. The color's wild, but the style makes her look like a princess. She's also wearing a yellow ribbon in her hair, and has a purple kimono with a red floral pattern.
You continue to stare, and you can see Renko at the edge of your vision doing the same. The fifth person stands there a moment and stares back at the four of you before speaking.
"Um, excuse me?" Renko points at herself, looking just slightly mad and extremely confused. "Are you talking about us? Because we're not aliens, lady."
"Oh, sorry! I was just talking to myself!" The woman stands there another moment, both her hands held up awkwardly in front of her. "Um, I'm really sorry about that. I didn't mean anything by it y'know. I- I actually really like aliens! They're not so bad!"
"Uh-huh..." Renko crosses her arms and frowns. "So, what're you doing out here? A friend of Miss Koizumi?"
It takes the woman a moment to collect herself. She holds one hand to her lips and taps her foot rhythmically while humming.
"No, I don't think I know anybody by that name. Oh, but my business! Out here!" She reaches back and taps a sheathed katana on her back. "I heard there was a suspicious monster in these woods, so I thought I'd investigate!"
"So, you're investigating with a sword?" Maribel cocks her head to one side. "That's a little strange, isn't it? Something like that makes you look like you're out here to kill someone."
"No way! I wouldn't do anything like that! I mean, if I had to I might, but..." The woman pokes two of her fingers together and blushes. "Well, I like to think myself as an ally of justice. So I can't do something unjust like killing someone without a really good reason."
Renko, Maribel, and Aoi all look at the woman with narrowed eyes. A rush of energy courses through you as you realize you could be the one to take initiative again.
[ ] Ask the woman what her name is.
[ ] Ask the woman about herself.
[ ] Ask the woman what the suspicious monster is like.
"Hey, uh," you start, as the woman, Aoi, and Maribel turn to look at you. "What's this monster like? Our friend just got attacked by some things, so one of those might have been it."
"I doubt it." She shakes her head and looks away with a strained look on her face. "I don't know much about the beast, but from what I've heard it's a shapeshifter. So I doubt it would let itself look monstrous, but instead it might pretend to be a tree or a bush."
That prompts you to look out the window. The forest looks the same as before, though you're sure that if the thing was out there it wouldn't make it super easy to tell if it had moved or not. Regardless, the feeling that you're being watched sets in.
"I have a question for you four, though!" The woman claps her hands together and smiles. "What are you doing in a place like this? None of you seem like monsters or witches, so it's a bit odd."
"We were riding a train to our home, and it came to a stop here." Aoi averts their gaze as they continue. "I'm not sure why it came to this place, but it won't move any more."
"I see, I see. So this thing we're on is called a train?" Your group nods in response to the strange woman's question. "That so? Well, if this thing won't move then you'll have to find some place to stay the night."
"Do you know a place like that?" Maribel asks.
The stranger suddenly starts to act timid, holding her hands together and shuffling her shoulders a bit.
"Well, I'd have to clean it up first, and I haven't had company in a while, but you're welcome to stay at my place..."
The fidgeting bothers you, but spending the night at some strange woman's house sounds better than sleeping on a train with a monster potentially lurking nearby. You nod your assent to your companions, and they do the same.
"That sounds great." You stand up and offer a hand to the woman. "Would you mind leading us there, Miss...?"
"Ah." Her eyes go wide and her cheeks become flushed as she takes your hand and stands. "My name's uh, Koto n e."
She fumbles over the last part, but it doesn't seem too strange for her.
"It's nice to meet you all! Now follow me please, we can get back there before the sun sets."
After what you estimate to have been an hour of jogging through the woods, you've finally reached Miss Kotone's house. It's pretty large for one person, but it's also in the middle of nowhere and pretty run down.
It's a traditional Japanese home, simply put. Walkways along the side of the house, sliding panels to open rooms up to the elements, and a basic thatch roof to keep the rain from getting in.
Upon entering the house, you notice that the interior isn't so simple. Piles of weird objects sit in the corners of the entryway, stacked high against the walls. Right away you can see a tiki mask, a typewriter, and an easel.
"Ahaha, sorry about all the clutter." Miss Kotone removes her shoes and puts on a pair of purple slippers. "Like I said, I haven't had company in a while!"
"It's fine, sorry to intrude."
Renko smiles while grabbing a pair of bear paw slippers. It's then that you notice almost all of Miss Kotone's slippers are bizarre, save her own. In addition to the bear slippers Renko put on, you see some cat paw slippers, a few pairs that entirely ruined, some bunny slippers, and... Pikachu slippers?
Aoi and Maribel take the rabbit and cat paw slippers respectively, leaving you with the weird Pikachu slippers. You groan as you change into them and follow everyone into the hall.
"So, if you don't mind my asking, what's with all the stuff?" Maribel points at all the clutter in the entryway while Miss Kotone leads you around a corner. "Reorganizing your house?"
"Nothing like that! I find lots of things while I do my job, and take a memento home every now and then."
She comes to a stop and opens two sliding doors. Stepping inside, you see that the whole room seems like a dedicated kitchen. What's more interesting are her tools and appliances sitting around the room, which include a wireless rice cooker, a can opener, various silverware, and even a large frying pan.
Aside from that, the room seems pretty normal. A low table with four cushions around it sits in the center of the room, and various potted plants rest near the sliding doors. You even see a bonsai tree, which has been trimmed to have a cone shape. Mount Fuji, perhaps?
Miss Kotone gets a fifth cushion out and sets it down on one sides of the table. You and your companions all sit down, with Aoi to your left, Maribel to your right, and Renko across from you.
"Alrighty, now just wait here and I'll clean out some rooms for you. It shouldn't take more than half an hour, I think."
Ran a little bit late since I wanted to plan out the house's floorplan a little. And then I got distracted after that.
The rooms everyone will stay in are marked with a color representing them and their names, the bathroom, kitchen, and entryway are all clearly marked, and all the rooms marked with JUNK are filled with the woman's odds and ends. Also, the dark red areas along the walls are where sliding panels to the outside are, or where doors are inside the home.
Also the weird things in most rooms are closets that store basic furniture, since most rooms in these homes are meant to be multi-use.
Not that insanely useful, but I'll be using it to help me keep track of where each character is in future updates and figured anybody who cares enough could use it to help them do the same.
>>55954 Dude, I haven't read this story since Mayohiga and I can tell she's the monster.
There's the classic trope of the monster in disguise saying it's a shapeshifter, her 'job' led to coming across a bunch of slippers similar to the ones someone suddenly finding themselves in the middle of the woods might wear, and she's been acting weird the whole update. Question is whether helping her will result in the scene where you open the door and the guy's gnawing on a human arm or if it'll result in one of the party going off alone and getting killed. I recommend waiting until she goes off, then stealing some wilderness survival stuff from among the junk and skedaddling.
>>55964 Or possibly find something useful for harming or incapacitating her, given our presumable familiarity with Japanese myth and superior knowledge of outside world tech. From what I can remember, though, most youkai don't have a silver bullet equivalent, you just have to attack them with weapons, and untrained teenagers won't do well with that.
There might be some guns lying around, however, and we might be able to make a strobe light out of one of those ridiculously strong flashlights. Heck, we could just take the flashlight and shine it in her face.
We should probably run though. We might even be able to find something that'll overpower our scent so it'll be hard to follow.
You watch as she leaves, deciding it'd be best not to follow. The door shuts behind her, and the whole group waits a moment as her steps move farther and farther away.
"...So, what do you think?" Renko removes her hat, setting it down on the table. "I think this is a pretty odd house, and she's kind of odd too."
"This whole trip is odd." Aoi picks Renko's hat up and slowly moves it in a circle by moving their hands along the brim. "The train shutting off, Miss Koizumi, those monsters, and Miss Kotone too..."
They're right. The whole trip has just been really strange so far. Aside from all the things that have already been mentioned, there's also the issue of the train even coming to this place, and the monster Miss Kotone mentioned.
Just thinking about this unknown creature makes you feel like it's lurking along the edge of the house, watching you from a crack between the sliding screens.
"This whole situation is really sketchy." Maribel taps her nails against the table, making a loud clacking noise as she continues to speak. "That woman is the sketchiest, though. If it weren't for her telling us about it, we wouldn't even know there was some monster out there."
You feel like Maribel's trying to imply something, though you're not quite sure what. Shrugging it off, you continue the conversation.
"It was pretty nice of her to tell us, though. I wonder if she's nice enough to give us something for dinner?"
"Heh." Renko leans her cheek against her fist. "Hungry already? You know it'll probably just be rice out here, right? It's not like she can order us a pizza."
You are hungry, but obviously not due to any kind of body functions that require food for you to survive. You're not sure why, but eating just makes you feel better about your situation.
What sounds like a high groan turns into a guttural churning sound. Everybody at the table turns their attention to Renko, who stares blankly ahead for a moment before taking her hat from Aoi.
"I guess it'd be nice if she gave us something to eat, even if it's just fish and rice."
She adjusts her hat continuously, probably trying to draw attention away from her flushed cheeks.
"I'd like something to eat, too!" Maribel claps her hands together excitedly, a tiny bit of drool falling from the edge of her mouth. She quickly wipes it away as the door to the hall opens.
"Alright! I cleared out four rooms in the center of the house for you all, so now it's time for dinner!"
Miss Kotone rolls up her sleeves as she finishes her sentence, a determined look in her eyes. She kind of reminds you of yourself the first time you had Renko over, when you put your all into making a dinner that would impress her. You hope she's okay.
"Ah, do you mind if I help?"
"Not at all!"
Aoi gets up and follows Miss Kotone out of the room. A moment later they come back with dried fish and a large bag of rice.
The next ten minutes go by quickly, with Aoi and Miss Kotone excitedly talking about cooking on a budget and their love for rice. You and Maribel sit silently at the table, while Renko makes a comment on Aoi and Miss Kotone's conversation here and there. It's not long before the food is hot and sitting in front of you, and you gladly dig in.
The fish and rice go down well enough, and Miss Kotone brings your group some water to wash it down with. The pleasure of eating is enough for you, but your companions don't look so easy to please. Aoi, Renko, and Maribel all look a little let down, probably because of how small the meal was.
After putting everything up, Miss Kotone shows your group the four rooms you'll all be staying in. Yours is right across from the kitchen, and looking around all you see is a futon and a closet with some boxes peeking out of it. This lady really keeps a lot of junk around, huh.
[ ] Go to Aoi's room
[ ] Go to Renko's room
[ ] Go to Maribel's room
[ ] Go to Miss Kotone's room
> "That woman is the sketchiest, though. If it weren't for her telling us about it, we wouldn't even know there was some monster out there."
If you ask me, though, Maribel is pretty sketchy herself. She literally appeared out of thin air, and if Kotone is to be believed about the shapeshifter, Maribel's sudden appearance makes her identity uncertain.
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You decide to ignore Miss Kotone's junk for now and go see what other people are up to. Peeking out the crack of your door, all you can see is an empty hallway. Slowly, silently, you sneak out into the hall and listen for any sounds. From somewhere in the house you can hear a splash, and you think you can hear people talking in Miss Kotone's room.
Why are you sneaking, anyway? Stopping that, you walk past Miss Kotone's door and knock on the door to Aoi's room. No reply.
It's when you get further down the hall that you realize where the splashing sound was coming from. You can hear a splash here and there from behind the door at the end of the hall, accompanied by some low humming. It sounds familiar to you, but you decide to ignore it for now and check up on Renko. A short walk down the hall to your right, a turn, and you're already there.
You knock twice and wait a moment. The door creaks open, and Renko peeks out. The first thing you notice is how she left her shirt open, and her bra on full display. Her hat's off, too.
"Ah, Watate. What's up?"
You're really starting to hate that name.
"Ah, not a lot. I just felt like seeing what everyone else was up to."
She grabs your arm and drags you into her room, shutting the door behind you two. Before you can reply you notice that her room has a few cushions set out around a kotatsu in the center of the room.
"W-wait, why's your room different from mine?"
"Dunno." Renko shrugs visibly, her shirt drooping off her right shoulder. "I guess that Kotone lady set it up in here before and couldn't move it out. Not that I'm complaining."
She sits down at one side of the table and puts her arms under the sheet, a look of pleasure washing over her face.
"So, anyway, is someone taking a shower?" You ask, as you sit down across from Renko.
"Bath. Aoi has it right now, then Mary and I are sharing the bath. I guess you're last?"
You feel a little dejected. Aoi apparently doesn't like you enough to bathe together, even if you're the same person. Privacy is one thing you both value, though, so you understand. Mostly.
"...Um, aren't you going to cover up? You're kind of wide open right now."
"Oh, this?" Renko sits up and points at her bra with one hand. "I don't really care that much if it's y-"
She stops for a second, then looks deflated. Alright, this might be your chance!
"Hey, um. I don't really like being called Watate, you know?"
"...Yeah, I figured. I'm sorry."
"Ponytail is annoying too."
Renko nods while looking a little downcast. You can't help but wonder if she's as bothered by the nicknames as you are.
"Hey... Aoi." She huffs, then makes eye contact with you. "You're the real deal, right?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well... Sorry. I just wasn't sure if you and Aoi were the same sort of people."
You shrug. Honestly, you aren't sure yourself. For the most part it seems like you're the same person.
"Hey, Aoi. Your Renko... Am I like her?"
"I guess." You shrug again. She's asking some weird questions, seriously. "She's really nice, and always taking care of Maribel."
"Have you ever gone on a date with her?"
Wait, what? Is she seriously wondering about something like that? For a few seconds you just give her a confused look, but you eventually shake it away.
"Uh, well! I guess we kind of have, maybe." You start twiddling your thumbs, and can almost feel your heart beating fast in your chest. "I mean, it's like the kind of date that friends go on, you know? Wh-why do you ask, anyway?"
Renko grins while leaning back on her palms. She laughs a little to herself and shakes her head.
"Was just curious if your relationship with her was different from mine and Aoi's."
You sit in silence, staring at her expectantly.
"...Okay, I'll tell you. It's pretty different."
"Well, geez." She shakes her head as she leans forward. "Do I really have to say it? Aoi and I are friends, but that's about it."
You can feel your cheeks turn red. Without a second thought you shake your head back and forth, your ponytail flopping around behind you.
"No, you've got it all wrong! Me and you aren't dating or anything! I-I mean, my Renko. We're just friends too!"
Renko smiles as she starts to button up her shirt. You're not sure why, but you feel like something you said made her do that.
"Hey, come here." She reaches over the table and pats the cushion to her left. "Just for a second."
You do as she asks, and she beams at you for a moment while you sit in an awkward silence.
"You're a good kid, Aoi." With a swift motion she brandishes her thumb for a thumbs-up. "I'm rooting for you!"
There's a knock at the door, then a brief silence. The person on the other side speaks up, and you immediately recognize who it is.
"Renko, I'm all done! You and Mary can go now."
"Ah, alright! Thanks!"
You can hear Aoi round the corner and head back to their room. Renko gets up and you follow her as she opens the door.
"It's been fun talking, Aoi. I have to get my other clothes and all now though, so I gotta kick you out. Sorry."
"You said you don't care if it's me, right? So why are you kicking me out?"
She smiles and leans in, giving you a peck on your cheek.
"Try to read a girl's feelings, Aoi."
With that she closes the door, leaving you with rosy cheeks and a fuzzy feeling in your chest. As much as you don't want to now, you should probably leave her alone.
[ ] Go check up on Aoi.
[ ] Go check up on Maribel.
[ ] Go see who Miss Kotone was talking to.