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Main story threads: >>>/border/28011 >>>/border/28877 >>>/border/29707

Previous side story entries: >>>/border/29391 >>>/border/29511 >>>/border/29748

Camp Fijr Dhwa
2330 Hours, 280620XX

You are Lieutenant Adin Sylla, officer in the Kenyan Army Infantry 9th Rifle Battalion and former head of security for Camp Abu Shok, a refugee camp, located in war-torn South Sudan. Over the past two days you have also managed to become a Director for a mysterious Asian multinational known as Clear Sky, and is currently working under the supervision of what you have confirmed to be a fox demon (with extraordinarily fluffy tails) from the Orient who goes by the name of Mae Indigo, and have engaged in the first real offensive operations in your entire life. You have also witnessed your boss literally tearing apart a janjaweed ambush with just tooth and claw, and have wiped out a government convoy just to steal their shipment of arms as a side job from escorting Red Cross employees to camps for their free labor.

As shady as Clear Sky's actions are, the employees themselves are even shadier. Aside from Indigo, many of the mercenaries you've met are monsters of one sort of another, and consume human flesh. According to what Indigo told you they are magical beings from a magical land, facts which are not exactly reassuring as witchcraft isn't something really wholesome in your country. Apparently the company's revenue source is also magic-reliant, so you are not exactly surprised at the sheer amount of supplies and material they have brought to the camps and towns under their control.

Right now however, you are not entangled in anything eccentric or abnormal. It is late at night, and most of the camp has gone to sleep. Looking outside you see few gaslights lit among the rows of tents in the camp, and the so-called youkai mercenaries would be doing whatever they do outside of the camp perimeter. Most of the troops formerly under your command have either taken up Clear Sky's offer to be extracted back to Kenya or returned to their civilian duties from their militia ones, and the handful left are currently fast asleep in their billets as the youkai mercenaries take up night watch duty.

You would normally be sleeping too at this point, but every time you try to doze off images from the day's operation begin flashing into your mind. How the bodies crumpled and fell like ragdolls, how limbs were blown off by bullets...how you didn't really feel anything when you shot them.

The FN FAL the army issued you is currently in the weapons locker, but the SV-98 sniper rifle that Indigo gave you for the convoy attack mission is sitting on your desk. It just doesn't feel right to put it into the locker, though you cannot quite explain why, and so right now it just lies there, silently shadowing you.

The rifle, currently appears to be more animate than the other person awake in the large tent that serves as the office/rec room for the camp's command center. Faceless, a lavender colored youkai girl who had left a lasting impression on the camp's residents, as well as your soldiers and yourself, by chopping a man in half from head to groin with a glaive. She also demonstrated what she claims are emotion manipulating powers in combat, though those had a serious draining effect on her stamina as a counterbalance to their terrifying effects. Right now she is watching old Hollywood movies off the DVD player, movies that you have watched and re-watched numerous times. You can't tell if she is enjoying them or not, since her face is a permanently emotionless expression. Conversation with her is like talking to a robot, with her unnerving monotone and blank stare, so it's not really an enjoyable activity.

As the liquor stores are also dry, you decide that you might as well do what your new boss told you to do and play the video games the handbook told you to play. You never really were into video games, since you spent most of your youth working, so you have no idea what these games are, other than the vague "bullet hell" description in the manual. As such, after booting up your laptop and copying over the files, you picked out three whose names caught your eye. Now you have to decide which one to play, since you probably will HAVE to sleep soon to wake up at 8:30 AM.

[ ] Perfect Cherry Blossom
[ ] Hopeless Masquerade
[ ] Double-Dealing Character

- [ ] Faceless isn't doing much right now, you might as well ask her to help you with this and/or play with you.

It's supposed to be 6:00 AM, but you've changed the times discreetly a long time ago and Indigo never questioned it.


I figure that dumping the side story somewhere else is probably better in terms of clarity.
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[ ] Double-Dealing Character
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[ ] Double-Dealing Character
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[X] Perfect Cherry Blossom

Local soldier plays chinese cartoon games, is confused
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[x] Hopeless masquerade
¬[x] Ask faceless to play with you

OH! He got ascended to MC? Excellent.
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[Z] Perfect Cherry Blossom
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This to a T.

[x] Hopeless masquerade
¬[x] Ask faceless to play with you
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[x] 1/3 for each choice.

Have to keep the pattern going somehow.
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Annnnd that's how you don't get an update. It's like a conspiracy or something.
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Call upon the divine wrath of the Random Number God
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[X] Perfect Cherry Blossom
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Cool, vote called for PCB.
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[x] Perfect Cherry Blossom

For starters, you are not really into botany, so you wonder just how can a cherry blossom be perfect. Does it have all of its petals intact? Does it mean that the cherry tree is perfect? You don't really know, and you don't really feel like bothering Faceless to find out. The story in the game will probably clarify it anyway.

A small text file contains the instructions. Z to shoot. X to bomb. Arrow keys to move, and Shift for...focus movement? Escape for menu.

The first thing you notice about the game as soon as the title screen boots up is that the music is quite nice. The second thing you notice is that the character art is quite bad. You have about the same level of appreciation for East Asian cartoons as you have for botany, but even with the few pictures you had seen you could tell that the art is not the best. It's stylistically decent by itself, but it's not anything to be proud of. The other art assets are pretty good, however, for what appears to be a one man job.

Difficulty setting: Normal. You feel like you could probably handle this. Playable characters consist of an Asian priestess of some sort, an European witch, and a French maid. A peculiar collection of characters. You wonder why they are all girls for a moment, before making the connection between the gender distribution of Clear Sky's management to this.

"Is it supposed to promote a feminist worldview or something?" You wonder. Looks like the priestess has homing bullets in her A version shot-type, so you pick that archetype and start the game proper.

A top-down shooter. You've played this a couple times on arcade machines before. Looks like the enemies are fairies, and everything is very snowy here. The music is soft, and HOLY SHIT THAT'S A LOT OF BULLETS FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK.


How are you supposed to dodge that? The bullets are far too dense for your character to fly through, and the speed she's going at means that she runs into the bullets even a single tap of the arrow key...Oh, right, the shift key. It makes you go slower and makes a white dot pop up on your character's sprite. As you begin dodging the next wave of bullets from the fairies, you notice that the bullets don't seem to actually hit you while you're in "focus movement". Is it that easy? Just focus and plow through...


Apparently the white dot is the hitbox. That would have been helpful to know. A few more experiments reveals that the hitbox in both modes are the same tiny area. Well that makes things a lot easier. You run through the miniboss, a larger "Cirno" fairy of some sort without much trouble, and reach the boss.

The ensuing dialogue is not really comprehensible, even though you can read English just fine. What do you mean "stealing spring", who is this "Letty Whiterock?"...nah, they just start fighting, your character "Reimu" and the boss. The usual dense patterns of bullets fans out from the boss, and you begin hammering at her with everything you have. It's not that hard, her health is going down pretty fast, and...what? "Cold Sign: Lingering Cold?" You begin muttering, "What is that? Oh, more bullets, great."

After narrowly avoiding losing your last life by bombing her second named attack, you clear the boss. Her portrait looks more beat up, but apparently she's not important. Oh well, time for stage two.

More fairies, joy. More bullets now too. Your shots are clearing them faster since they are at full power, but the fairies are getting also upping their firepower. Arrow shaped bullets regularly force you to cower in the corner of the screen, and after half a dozen waves a "Chen" comes spinning out and throwing bullets in every direction. This one even has a named attack! Still, it's not too hard, you clear the miniboss and keep moving on in the stage. Fairies, large fairies, small fairies...


You groan as a random wave of small fairies coughs up more bullets than a boss pattern, overrunning your character. You're out of lives, and a menu pops up.


Very much like an arcade game, this one allows you the option of continuing, though of course you do not have to insert more money. You press yes and press on.

Oh look, it's Chen again. Looks like she's a cat demon of some sort, judging by her appearance and outfit. She's also the main boss for this stage, by the looks of it. Some more incomprehensible banter, and go.


Damn her bullets are fast. Oh well, you begin playing more cautiously. Her first named attack is decently easy, though her constant movement makes her really hard to hit by the non-targetted components of your own shots.

Her second named attack is much easier than the first, there's not that many...okay, there's a lot, but they are pretty predictable, and you can...




Camp Fijr Dhwa
0000 Hours, 290620XX

You tried it a few more times, but even on easy mode you can't get past the three musicians on Stage 4. It's midnight now.

[ ] Fuck it, time to hit the sack.
[ ] You suck at this, maybe the magical girl in the room can help you out.
[ ] There's this file labeled "TH_07_CHEAT.CT" in the folder...hmm...
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[X] You suck at this, maybe the magical girl in the room can help you out.
You'd think years of being shot at would hone bullet dodging skills.
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[x] You suck at this, maybe the magical girl in the room can help you out.
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[X] You suck at this, maybe the magical girl in the room can help you out

Damn, not unlike my first experience. Even better, consider that he has a life
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[X] You suck at this, maybe the magical girl in the room can help you out.

You don't get to be an African Warlord by cheating! You learn! Adapt! From your unnervingly blank-faced teacher!
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[x] You suck at this, maybe the magical girl in the room can help you out.

"Faceless...Faceless? Lieutenant Kanonai?"

No response.


"Hmm?" Faceless turns and looks at you from the couch, "Director Sylla, do you need something?"

"This game. It's fucking impossible. Why did she order everyone in the company to play this?"

She saunders over and leans over your shoulder, staring blankly at the high score screen. "Hmm, you're playing Perfect Cherry Blossom? Well, you probably don't need to know or really finish the game to accomplish the objective. Look." Faceless takes your keyboard and exits the game back to the main menu, and selects "Extra Stage". "All of the stages are unlocked for every character, so just use practice start if you must. But for now just watch me."

Extra stage looks much, much harder than anything you've seen. Bullets are not just dense, but also fast, and the enemies can soak up entire barrages of your own bullets before going down. Faceless seems to handle it quite easily, either due to experience or her innate supernatural reaction times. She clears the fairies with ease and hits the mid boss with no lives lost.

"Chen again? What?"

"She's a servant of the main boss for this stage." She calmly explains as she dodges Chen's new attack patterns with little difficulty. You notice now that her chest is pressing against your shoulder in her leaning position, and quickly shrug away. Faceles shifts her body back over your shoulder a few seconds later.

Eh, Faceless doesn't really have much of a chest anyway.

A few more waves of fairies, most of whom seemed easier than their predecessors. A lull occurs in the barrage as no fairies spawn, right before you start violently laughing as the boss comes up.

"Dear God is that Indigo? This 'Ran Yakumo'?" You half-groan, half-snort at the nine-tailed fox woman that pops up on screen. Sure, the deformed art style makes it impossible to identify based on facial features, but the blond hair and golden eyes are exactly what defines Indigo's appearance. And the tails of course, though the ones in the game appear to be smaller than the one you napped on.

Best fringe benefits ever.

"Yes. Unfortunately this is not her true name either." Faceless scrolls past the text, where the fox woman scolds the player for causing trouble and hurting Chen, and dives straight into the first wave of bullets as the music changes. "Indigo's a sneaky fox, and had been careful to preserve the secrecy of her identity. There is no legend of a blond haired fox, after all."

"So when she talked about her child, she meant Chen?"

"An adopted child. Most of the time Chen does not sleep at home unless it is cold, and during the daytime Indigo lets her run wild in the mountains of Gensokyo."

That's more like raising a house cat that a child. "Wait, how do you know this?"

"I lived at their house for a while." Faceless had died two times, but has cleared approximately half the boss fight. "During the fall and winter time she goes to school in the Outside World in Japan, in order to groom her into another member of the ruling organization of Gensokyo -- The so-called Hakurei-Yakumo Clan. In case you haven't been paying attention they also are in charge of Clear Sky."

You stopped really paying attention to the gameplay--seeing the power of a virtual Indigo is nothing compared to having the visceral ferocity displayed in front of you in real life, "This Gensokyo, where all of you magical creatures came from...how large is it?"

Faceless pauses the game, and thinks about it for a bit, "Population wise, about fifty to seventy thousand sapient beings, not counting the nature spirits and such. It is quite difficult to determine the size given the fluctuating nature of the border, but a rough estimate would be that to march across the length of Gensokyo takes a day and a half for a human."

"It's not a very large place then. Huh. I thought it would be an entire parallel dimension."


"I mean, won't powerful beings like Indigo, Violetta, or heck, you, generally be at the top of the pecking order? There can't be just fifty thousand people to support such power..."

"There is just fifty thousand." She unpauses the game and continues playing. "Much like this refugee camp, Gensokyo is also a refuge, but for the magical, the disbelieved. Also much like this refugee camp, only those who were strong enough to reach it survived."


"Game Over"

The girl's mask abruptly switches to a red-faced anger one, though her actual face shows no change. "That's all you really need to know for now."

"Who makes these damn games anyway?"

"Some man. I have only seen him once. It is irrelevant. Just understand that the purpose of these games is to give a very simplified introduction to Gensokyo."

"Simplified my ass."

"If you find them too difficult then peruse the list of reading material Indigo provided." Faceless gets off of your shoulder and walks back to her spot on the couch, stopping for a moment to turn around. "Question, is it not sleep time?"

"For the humans, yes." You reply.

[ ] "But I have one more patrol round to make around the camp."
[ ] "But I have a bit more work to do."
-[ ] Reading materials
-[ ] Supply checks
-[ ] Troop checks
[ ] Just go to sleep normally
[ ] Use a sleep aid, and by sleep aid you mean your emergency stash of Changaa spirits. It's been there long enough that you only found it again today.
- [ ] Sharing is caring...
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[x] Sleep...
-[x] With help
--[x] And company

Better get over it fast, good man, your line of work hardly allows hesitation.
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You're a soldier. Every day may be your last. Be daring.
[x] Sleep...
-[x] With help
--[x] And company
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[X] "But I have one more patrol round to make around the camp."

Sleeping is for jerks
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[x] Sleep...
-[x] With help
--[x] And company

What's life without a little adventure?
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[X] "But I have one more patrol round to make around the camp."

You have your I'm-a-friend whistle, right soldier? Don't want to get eaten by your sisters in arms, after all.
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[x] Sleep...
-[x] With help
--[x] And company

Time for a bedtime drink with the cute (but creepy) Menreiki.
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[x] Risky choice

"As such, I, in my duty as camp director, give the order to distribute sleeping aids to help calm the minds of people in these troubling times. For now, a test run will be made consisting of the occupants of this tent."

The mask on her face switches to a gasping one as you remove the crate from under your desk, removing the lid to reveal the bottles of brown liquor. Your friend back home owns the distillery for these, so you are fairly sure these aren't as toxic as the ones that cause blindness. So far, they haven't killed you yet, and you had him mix it with some mnazi just in case. Still, these are for getting drunk, not for taste.

"Lieutenant Faceless, I will be requesting your participation in this trial." You say to her as you pour out two mugs full of spirits.

The girl leans over and sniffs the mug, "A curious brew, I have never seen such like it before."

"I'll take it you've never left Japan."

"I have traveled to neighboring countries in Asia, but this would be the first time I have been to this one." She eyes the drink carefully, then chugs up the whole mug in one gulp. "Very bitter."

"Yeah well it's meant for getting drunk." You reply, noticing that even after downing the mug, not even her cheeks have reddened. Damn youkai.

Not to be outmatched, you pour yourself one mug and hold it up, "To the success of our company." Raising the mug up to your lips, you barely keep from gagging as you down the fiery liquid.


"Of course!"

Faceless downs another shot without any change, though your blurring vision makes this hard to determine. With your shaking hands you pour another mug and match her shot.

You've never actually drank more than one mug of this stuff, so at this point both your intoxicated brain and eyes tell you that you have drank just one. Your pour yourself another drink.

"Sylla? Adin?"

"I'm...fine. This stuff has not brained my touch yet."

The last thing you see before losing consciousness is Faceless staring at you as you fall onto the table. You think you see a trace of worry on her expressionless visage.


Camp Fijr Dhwa
0912 Hours, 300620XX



"Mr. Sylla. Wake up."

"No mother I didn't take that...it was Johan's fault....Yes Master Indigo please more tails."


"NO PLEASE NO!" You spring upwards from your position on the desk. "Oh, Mr. Safar. Good morning."

The UN humanitarian coordinator of the camp, a short spectacled Egyptian man in his 40s, is the one who interrupted your sleep. Muhammad Safar is a man who your parents always told you you should aspire to be: hardworking, determined and strict. Naturally, he disapproves of you falling asleep with a bottle of empty liquor next to you in both moral and religious terms, but either because you are military or because he simply doesn't care anymore he does not have that irritated look on his face.

Instead, he looks worried.

"Listen. Miss Indigo had taken a contingent of her troops and are moving off to take another camp. In the meantime she, without telling us three days before, had invited a group of European reporters to come visit..."

That shocked you right awake, even making you forget your hangover. "WHAT?!"

"Yeah, she wanted to have the media get a hold of the camp on her own terms or something, and she's given us a blank order to handle them."

"Oh by God." You feel a new headache replace your hangover. "How long do we have?"

"Three hours."

"What do we have that's out of the normal?"

"Some of the 'Gensokyeans' are still here on guard duty, including...why is she sleeping on your cot?"

You turn around, and see Faceless comfortably resting on your bed, with nary a trace of alcohol around her peaceful form.

"She stole it."

"...Having young women sleeping on your bed is not a good thing to display to your troops, or anyone, for that matter."

"Does it count if she's not even the same species and is at least a thousand years older than my grandparents?"

Safar shakes his head, "If you do not believe so. Back to the topic, we have a PR op to run, and I believe that the reason you got picked to guard a refugee camp in the first place is because your only notable skill was at the art of political language. As I am not proficient in this area, I am deferring to you on how to deal with this situation."

You did bullshit your way up the ranks, so you have one angle covered. Making a plan on short notice and with little time is not one of your strong points though.

[ ] HIDE EVERYTHING THAT'S INCRIMINATING...but it's doubtful you can get all of it. Especially not the trailer sized nuclear power plant.
[ ] Go full military. Only let the reporters travel through a small area because of "security reasons". Too bad these types of reporters are notorious for their ability to sneak off.
[ ] Play off the ignorant angle and organize the standard PR. They will notice that something is wrong but you won't be giving out anything important before you escort them back out.
[ ] Hey, we have magic, right? That's like Clear Sky's thing, so what could possibly go wrong if we use it?
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Ah, my heart melted. Why is my face reddening? Why am I smiling?

I loved the update.

[ ] Play off the ignorant angle and organize the standard PR. They will notice that something is wrong but you won't be giving out anything important before you escort them back out.
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[X] Go full military. Only let the reporters travel through a small area because of "security reasons". Too bad these types of reporters are notorious for their ability to sneak off.
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[x] Play off the ignorant angle
-[x] But try to hide completely unexplainable things.

The world will laugh at them if they just show young girls or some guys with long teeth. Hell, they might start a rumour about cannibals or something. We, as a society, go to great lengths to not believe in magic.

Besides, he did say he was the master of Bullshiting. I only added the last part because there might be some things that, unlike wings, can't be ignored.
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[x] Play off the ignorant angle and organize the standard PR. They will notice that something is wrong but you won't be giving out anything important before you escort them back out.
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Your argument is sound. You have my vote!

[x] Play off the ignorant angle
-[x] But try to hide completely unexplainable things.
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[X] HIDE EVERYTHING THAT'S INCRIMINATING...but it's doubtful you can get all of it. Especially not the trailer sized nuclear power plant.

Reporters will latch onto anything suspicious and never let go. So don't give them anything.
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280620XX, 1200 Hours
KNU-Clear Sky Joint Base Gamma
Kayin State, Burma

Normally, a rebel base for a movement in a relatively backwater Southeast Asian country is a small project. A few thatched huts and tents, maybe a sandbagged weapons position or two, and a shed to house valuable equipment. Therefore, an adventurous tourist hiking this stretch of jungle would be quite surprised when he comes across this 10 square kilometer facility, if he was sharp enough to recognize it under the foliage.

The native vegetation had been artificially twisted, through both scientific and supernatural means, to create an unusually thick canopy. The aforementioned tourist would note that the trees are growing in neat rows, and if he takes a step closer he would be further confused by the fact that the ground beneath him is not jungle loam but hard, brown concrete.

As the guards come and inevitably catch him and detain him, he would see while being dragged through the base that much of the underlying foliage are not foliage at all, but rather intricate camouflage nets disguising sunken concrete pillboxes and bunkers of various sizes, with the smallest guard post containing just enough space for four men while the vehicle bays open up to reveal entrances into massive artificial caverns containing rows of trucks, BMPs and second generation main battle tanks. His confusion will only be multiplied when he sees the train stations with no rails that extend beyond their boundaries, but every so often the screeches and horns of a moving train could be heard from inside, and pickup trucks drive out loaded with supplies soon after.

On a clearing next to a command bunker, a strange soldier, clad completely from head to toe in sleek looking black armor, is pacing in front of a group of fresh-looking individuals carrying duffel bags. Each one of them are wearing civilian clothes instead of a uniform, and each one of them is just as confused as the theoretical tourist.

"Alright you stinking lee gons, line up. You! Associate Chung! Wipe that stain off your face." The soldier barks at the new employees, who promptly stiffen up and obey at the intimidation, "Welcome to Clear Sky, and before any of you ask, yes, this is Burma. No, we will not tell you how you got here on a train ride. No, not even if you are a native here."

He paces closer to the line of intimidated individuals, "You might be wondering why orientation isn't in a cozy little office building with some gelded HR worker walking you through colorful, bullshit slides. Some of you might be preparing to ask if this is a military organization. Well yes and no---Associate Parker! Swallow that gum!"

The straw haired young man almost chokes as he hurriedly complies.

"We are a military organization in that we have guns, and we use guns. However, what we primarily offer is not security or force, but prosperity. Yes, prosperity." He emphasizes the word in front of their confused expressions. "Not many companies can claim to sell prosperity, but this is what we do. We offer cheap energy, plumbing and equipment. We offer affordable construction of modern roads, rails, houses, and irrigation systems. We offer high quality education, financing, and exporting opportunities. We grant the poor of the third world the means and guidance to transform into a first world livelihood. All they have to do is sell us a portion of their product at a reduced price and stand with us in the case of conflict. Yes, Associate Xian, do you have a question?"

"Um Sir?"

"This is not the army, Associate Xian." The black armored man cuts him off in a decidingly military voice, "Address me as Manager Crowne. Now, what is your question."

"Why are we in a hidden base in the jungle then? Shouldn't we be working in a village or city?"

Crowne chuckles, "You see, Associate Xian, some people, often times the local government or strongman, do not like seeing another group exert so much influence over their subjects. We are then forced to defend our investments, often times by allying with another force in the region. Here we have aligned ourselves with what is left of the Karen National Union, as you can see their symbol being depicted alongside ours. We do not hold ourselves to the laws of thugs and criminals, but rather to the laws of humanity. Associate Zachary, what is your question?" He asks a European man in the back row, who appears to be quite angry at Crowne's last few lines.

"What if the people themselves do not wish to betray their country?"

The man pauses for a moment before asking in a soft, poisoned tone. "Associate Zachary, what is your country to you?"

"It is where I am born and raised! It is the sovereign land of my people!"

"Ah yes. Sovereignty, self-determination, independence: lies from the powerful to keep you complacent. Tell me: Would you rather live a wretched existence in your village, with the heel of the 'native' ruling thugs' jackboots on your necks. Or would you rather allow an outside organization to give you the means, and just the means, to live standing up, to build yourself a proper future?"

"That is a loaded question. What are you to judge others with your subjective perspective?"

"Is that so?" Crowne paces away, "Then tell me, is a leaky thatched hut or a sturdy steel and concrete house an objectively better shelter in a village here? Assuming identical outside conditions and circumstances."

The associate combs over the question for a questionable assumption, "The...the house would be a better shelter."

"Well then, it is objectively determined that we are better at providing housing, as the government here offers them only the thatched huts they make themselves for their taxes while we offer them the steel and concrete houses for less. For the same reason we are also better at providing agricultural services, protection, and other aspects of living which normally are the responsibility of the government."

"You did not answer my question! What if the people do not..."

"They do. They always do. Sometimes we need to convince them. Sometimes leaders may be bribed, sometimes self-described patriots and nationalists may be re-educated, sometimes we just have to wait for those in power to abuse them until they turn. Of course," He cuts the associate off, "You will try to jump in with some comment about how this isn't just, or how this is evil. And you would be correct."

Muttering starts among the new workers, and some of them are eyeing the environment for suspicious looking structures that may be prisons or torture chambers.

"However, we're a company. We measure success in dollars, not moral points. My previous job was with an organization that did care for moral points. A religious group actually, Christ Charity International---you know what? A picture would say what words cannot."

Many of the new employees were wondering where the projector is when he pulls down a white canvas cloth onto the bunker wall and fiddles around with a strange looking blue box on the side. An image flickers, then focuses onto the canvas, the colors seeming to be flooding through the texture of the cloth itself rather than projected from an external source.

"Ah, Nigeria. Lovely place isn't it? Your typical African country. Endemic violence, foreign companies taking resources, all that good stuff. See those aid workers there?" He gestures to a group of foreigners, highly distinguished from the natives by their skin color, "The one on the left, the one giving the injection? That's me."

His cinematic counterpart turns and smiles at the camera. A few of the associates look at the worker on the screen and onto their current instructor, confused. Sure, they appear the same in general facial features and even hair style, but they could hardly tell that the dirty, cheerful young man in the screen is the scarred, grim-faced and well-groomed gentleman instructing them.

"That one with the curly hair is Gertrude, lovely woman, made sure all of the kids were well fed with the little resources we had. And that one sporting the pony-tail is Sandy, an American; always tried to teach the kids there how to play their version of football, futilely, of course, but he tried. We were a group of angels then, thought we were doing God's work helping the poor and downtrodden with food and medicine." He chokes up a little bit, "And we thought it was all good. The people we helped smiled and were thankful, and each vaccine we gave and bag we handed out felt like another drop in the half-full glass of this world."

"You were an aid worker? For a church group no less?" One of the younger associates called out.

"Yep, we were deployed in Borno state, in a little village with no name...well, it had a name, back then."

Half of the associates gulped. They know what he is going to talk about. It was headline international news, in the West at least. The Chinese and Burmese associates look around themselves, slightly confused.

"They came one night without warning, militants with guns and fanatic ideology. Sandy tried valiantly to fend them off...I heard him screaming for the entire night before he died. Gertrude...let's just say we found her body in a horrific, desecrated state. They killed the children first, in front of the adults, all the while screaming that this is their just punishment for defying their god and colluding with the imperialists. I was a coward, I hid in a trash heap, and I lived."

He mechanically flips through several clips, filmed from the attacker's perspective through phone cameras, of executions, of rapes, of crying and shrieking. Several of the associates tried to look away, but are drawn back by a morbid curiosity whenever there is a new sound.

"Nothing new under the sun, considering what you can find on the internet. But these were people I knew and cared for." He flips to a static image, of heads on spikes outside a burned out house. "See this? Most of you probably saw this in the news, look, there's little Ajala's head on the far left; he had wanted to be a farmer like his father. There's Kemi's head, she was about to get married next month and was worried about her husband being too sickly to work. And you can see Sandy's head in the middle. They probably put it there to make a point or something."

He gives a forced chuckle at his own unintentional pun. Several of the associates nervously laugh with him.

"According to the news, the Red Cross came first to help us along with our parent organization, then the Nigerian Army, and we got evacuated and the army eventually wiped out the responsible militant group. Well, that's a load of bull. The first thing I saw when I crawled out of the trash heap after the sounds died out was the side of a truck. On it was a logo, this logo." He shows his armband, "A soldier stepped out, his face masked and his clothes ragged. He called for others to help me up. I expected to see a stretcher and medicine, maybe an ambulance of some sort, but after looking me over for any serious injuries, what they got me instead was a canteen of water...and an AK-47."

"They didn't tell me what to do, but when I looked at the mutiliated corpses of my friends along with the corpses of the villagers we were helping, I knew what they meant. I felt it inside of me. What good was charity when people didn't even had safety? They didn't offer me a soft bed and a camera to cry in front of, they offered me a chance to really change things, to stop these human monsters from doing any more harm."

"Of course, I just did rear guard duty this time, owing to my less than ideal condition and the fact that the gun was for personal protection. I watched them storm the hideout of the militants, tearing through them like a scythe through wheat. But still I just watched, I did not believe I had the stomach to do actually kill another human being. Had."

He smiles, and switches to a final clip.

A bloody man is shown in front of the camera, tied to a chair. A voice orders him to state his name and position. The man screams, calling the interrogator a coward and an infidel.

A young man walks in, his eyes closed in prayer. The audience recognizes this person as the young Crowne. He is apparently praying for the salvation of the man, who according to the off camera interrogator is the militant commander responsible for the attack on the village.

The prisoner violently reacts to the prayer, spitting at Crowne and letting loose a stream of profanities. Crowne clenches his eyes shut and proceeds with the prayer, even going as far as to extend his hands out towards the wretched thing.

Seeing how the praying did not stop, the prisoner began mocking Crowne, taunting him about how he is a "Slave worker for the imperialists" and how "Your fellow slaves are burning in hell for defying the will of god.", which makes Crowne visibly shake and twitch in response, but continue praying until the prisoner said one last line.

"You won't do anything, slave, you're a coward just like the rest..."

He did not get the opportunity to finish, as Crowne reared back his hand and punches him in the jaw, followed by a kick that sends the prisoner onto the floor, now screaming in pain. Crowne himself makes no sound save for his ragged breathing, as he begins beating down on the man with his bare fists. Some other figures appear to try to intervene, but a hand waves them back, allowing Crowne to continue his wrathful onslaught with only the screams of his victim as the audio. At some point a club is offered to Crowne, who grabs it and begins drawing blood, the spikes on the club tearing open the skin.

"Mercy." The interrogator's voice commands offscreen.

Crowne pauses for a moment, then nods his head and brings the club down with both hands on the prisoner's head, silencing the screams with a concussion. He then repeats it, eventually causing spurts of blood to come out and then skull fragments as he crushes the skull. He continues beating for two minutes even though there is barely a head left, just a pile of gore spilling out of a shattered hunk of bone.

The clip ends.

The current Crowne shuts off the video, takes a deep breath and begins speaking again to the mollified workers, "We don't lie, here in Clear Sky. You signed on to work security and distribution, and you will work security and distribution. You will shed whatever ideals and values you held beforehand and understand that all of this is necessary. You will be working in refugee camps that have not seen food for weeks, in squalid gang-infested shanty-towns and villages that have seen massacres. You will face off against enemies, some human, mostly monsters in human skin, and you will be expected to pull the trigger. You will also work alongside monsters, good monsters, to do your job."

The tourist, watching this scene from behind his barred windows, will uneasily note that his cell's guard has slitted pupils, like a beast.

"If you do not wish to pursue this path, feel free to request a transfer to a desk job in a safe country." Crowne points at the train station, "Or you can hop back onto the train and go home, maybe picking a cushy job in a cubicle. But remember, you will never change anything if you do that."

"You...you crushed his head...completely."

"That's irrelevant, I---" Crowne is suddenly interrupted by a flying object sailing past his face that he just manages to catch in time. It is a gourd, and the pungent smell of rice wine comes wafting out when he pops open the cork, a look of resignation on his face.

"Crowne oh Crowne, you can't introduce our new employees with so much doom and gloom." A merry, booming voice pipes out from the side. The detained tourist will not see this as a gourd flying through his cell window would have impacted him on the head and knocked him out cold.

The trainees turn their attention to the new arrival, a girl stumbling over with the dreamy smile of a drunkard on her face. Two large horns, long to the extent of slight ridiculousness, sit upon her head, and the trainees look to each other in confusion as they notice it is not a headdress of some sort. Even more odd are the chains she is wearing on her wrists and ankles, not thin decorative ones but chains more suited for boats and elephants. The strange girl carries a large sack, and she is tossing bottle gourds like candy to the crowd, flinging them with enough force to leave bruises when one fails to make a catch.

"Alrrright, all of you here. I'm CVO Ibuki, and I'm the boss in this area. Of course, Commander Tyih is in charge of the base, but nothing goes through without *hick* me knowing it."

The trainees half expect this situation to be a set up by Crowne as a joke of some sort, but Crowne simply nods and adds on, "Pay attention people, Miss Ibuki will be your director in many operations and is literally a demon from hell."

"Are you serious?" Zachary, the outspoken associate from earlier asks, incredulous, "Do you honestly expect us to believe----ARGH!"

The rest of the associates stare in dumb silence as Ibuki casually reaches over and lifts him up by the collar with one hand, before tossing Zachary over her shoulder, sending him sprawling onto the ground twenty meters away. "Looks like we got a cheeky one here! Tell me, just how am I unqualified to manage, huh?"

Zachary groans in pain, but does not offer any verbal answer, likely because every part of his body is hurting.

"Any of you others have objections?" She tosses her own empty gourd onto a wall, and it shatters with a loud boom as the fragments fly off at the speed of shrapnel, forcing everyone to cover their eyes.

All of the assembled trainees shake their heads.

"Alright, it's 12 o'clock, that means it's your company alloted boozin' and feedin' time. Crack the gourds and drink up. Ain't nobody's crazy enough to fight a war sober."

At first the young humans imbibed the liquid nervously, but as soon as they tasted the sake they are chugging them down as if they are oni themselves. "Is this real?" One of them muse loudly.

"Of course it isn't real, it's fantasy, and that's what you'll be fighting for. Finish up the drinks and grab a bite at the mess hall, you'll begin physical training exactly one hour from now."

"WAIT WHAT?" is the collective yell of surprise. Some of them gag on their drinks.

"If you can climb a wall drunk, you'll do it twice as fast sober. Now," Ibuki reaches over and shoves a gourd back into the mouth of the trainee, "FINISH UP!"
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Crowne is a good guy, but jesus christ showing how he wrecked that guy's head is quite the way to break the ice
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Suika angling for that Boss of the Year award.
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[x] Play off the ignorant angle and organize the standard PR. They will notice that something is wrong but you won't be giving out anything important before you escort them back out.
-[x] But try to hide completely unexplainable things.

A subtle order is sent out, delivered via the medium of short messages written on easily burnt paper. All Clear Sky military, act cool and hide your weapons except for those on guard duty. All Clear Sky non-military, do what you usually do but call yourself volunteers. All camp residents, keep doing whatever and don't spoil any secrets; bad things will happen to you if you do. Everyone, organize some events or something to distract them.

The most secure way to prevent an assault by media is to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal. Nobody in the camp, except for perhaps a few currently locked up for criminal acts, are willing to see this arrangement fall apart.

You walk through the camp, making sure that anything too out of the ordinary is covered up. Helmets and hoods are on for everyone who has horns or funny-looking ears, and some of the overly luxurious storefronts, such as the cell phone shop, are quickly changing their storefronts to resemble basket shops, and other more refugee camp appropriate items. Whispers of "Western media" and "cameras" are getting even those who didn't get the memo to react appropriately. Old shoes and s-hirts are put back on, not too shabby as to suggest maltreatment but not too new as to be suspicious. The bars put away their imported bottles and take out the pots of homemade brew.

You are a bit unnerved at how smoothly things are going. Everyone who you pass by gives you an affirmative nod, and some of the refugees are cooperating with the Clear Sky mercs without question, working side by side to clean up and erase evidence. How can they have built so much trust in just two days?

Camp Fijr Dhwa
1200 Hours, 280620XX

"Right this way, as you can see we have set up a well system inside the base so people do not have to walk five miles to get water, and for safety the old flimsy thatched fence has been replaced with HESCO walls."

"Question?" A short, ruddy-faced reporter asks, "Director Sylla, Where is the Sudanese government officer responsible for this camp?"

Six feet down with his head detached was the true answer, but obviously you cannot say that they offed the annoying twat who threatened government intervention in reaction to the takeover. "He is currently away in Al-Fashir on his own affairs. Sadly I do not have a method of contacting him as, you can see, we're a refugee camp without the resources for telecommunications."

Good thing the satellite comms array isn't going up until next week.

"And the soldiers?" The reporter gestures with his pen at the Clear Sky mercenaries posted on the watch towers around the camp, thankfully wearing the distinctive UN blue helmets. "There seems to be an awful lot of them for a refugee camp."

"Peacekeeping and safety is our top priority here, Mr. O'Conner. Janjaweed attacks have been on the rise recently so DPKO dispatched additional peacekeepers to key locations around this region."

Another reporter, a woman wearing a gaundy floral tie this time, pipes up, "Director Sylla. According to my sources in the DPKO the UN has pulled out of this region, ceding control to the government. So can you offer an explanation of why these Peacekeepers remain?"

She's either lying or has a faulty source, as Indigo had made extra sure that the UN never officially pulled out, going as far as to register the two hundred Clear Sky mercenaries quartered in the camp as UN Peacekeepers. You respond with confidence, "Refugee camps remain under the control of the UNHCR, so naturally peacekeepers are in charge of security here."

"The camps we visited within the Chad border are under government protection---"

"And that is in Chad, where there is no ongoing civil war."

"---and also in Camp Abu Shok, which we visited two days ago. The Sudanese army was in control of that camp."

"Abu Shok is currently under negotiations to transfer control back over to the Peacekeeping Corps. It had to be temporarily transferred to the Sudanese government due to pullouts from some of the countries."
Camp Abu Dihon
1200 Hours, 280620XX

"Sergeant, I order you to transfer control of this camp over to Clear Sky International." The blonde beast mockingly ventriloquizes, using the commander's severed head as a puppet by moving the jaw up and down. "You will do so immediately."

"YES YES WHATEVER YOU SAY!" The sergeant hysterically pleads as he scrambles to sign the contract, "JUST PLEASE DON'T EAT ME!"

The monster in human clothing never changes her expression from a detached grin as she tosses the head out of the window, provoking a chorus of screams from the refugees gathered down below, "You look too skinny anyway."

A greasy smoke rises into the sky, able to be seen from miles away. Human and youkai alike take part in disposing of the soldiers that had opposed them, albeit in different ways.

You lead the group on through the camp, careful to avoid the more suspicious areas such as the factory being set up and the standalone train station. Even so, they are definitely getting some ideas.

"That is a lot of meat stocked there," A reporter, wearing glasses that look two sizes too big for his face, comments as they pass through the marketplace near the center of the camp, pointing at the numerous rows of smoked lamb and dried fish, "It looks like your camp is doing quite well; most of the camps we've been to can barely manage to keep themselves alive."

Ash has been mixed into the ground here, making the dirt hard and firm. Wheelbarrows and bicycles hurry to and fro, laden with raw materials and goods that are sent to respective workshops and market stalls. Currently, all of the workshops and home factories are producing goods exclusively for the need of the camp: Clothing, simple furniture, soaps, and other everyday essentials. There are no refugees wandering aimlessly about, as commonly seen in photographs. Everyone has instead the hurried gait of urban residents, working hard to earn their newfound fortune. The ones who are resting are seated or reclining, confident that they no longer have to waste energy wandering around to have the first grab at scraps.

"All thanks to our sponsor, Clear Sky Logistics. They have made it possible for us to purchase food in cheap from the West, and ship it at affordable costs. Much more efficient than relying on donors through the WFR. For the first time the people in our camp no longer have to trade their rations for meat."

You wipe some sweat off your brow. No doubt this will bring positive coverage, but if they find out just how ridiculous the amount of resources Clear Sky is transferring, and of course the weapons, then it's going to be ugly.

"Are those electric lights?" The cameraman, previously silent, suddenly speaks up as he notices the fluorescent bulbs illuminating the inside of a brickworks, where refugees are hard at work baking adobe blocks to fuel the process of replacing the camp's worn tents with sturdier houses. "And is that an OVEN?"

"Aye, we can afford to ship coal here, and electricity is available via the generator they provided. Sadly, I cannot show you the generators. We have security concerns."

According to Indigo, it is a nuclear fusion reactor. That is the size of a trailer. You have no idea how or why, but apparently it is enough to light up the whole camp at night.

You notice that a few of the reporters have disappeared, likely to get an "honest" opinion from the refugees to find out if there is any shady business happening. Indigo had already told them what not to tell, and you doubt they would sell out the welfare and safety provided by Clear Sky for media brownie points. Besides, it's not like Clear Sky is mistreating them or anything, if anything the response from them should be nothing but good even without guidance.

Alas, reporters are a suspicious bunch, prone to seeing deceptions and traps even where there are none. They would likely term the minuscule wages the refugees are paid for their mandatory labor to be exploitation, even though Clear Sky provides high quality food, first-world utilities and safety to a level unimaginable in other refugee camps, where refugees would struggle to find employment at all. It's a win-win relationship, as well-fed, happy refugees make for loyal, productive workers.

Unless they coax something juicier from the children, of course.

"If you look to your left you can see the metal foundry we are setting up, where most of the camp residents not already employed in the farms around the area will be working. We import metal from local sources and produce goods such as wires, bolts and other goods that can be used for both the needs of the camp as well as exporting to fund the camp's needs."


You puff up your chest in a false display of defiance, "I know it may be a negative concept to you media types, but this camp needs to be able to at least partially fund itself. You know that the UNHCR runs on an ever shrinking budget, and that other camps are suffering as a result. The Income Generation Projects they do is just a way of transferring budget money to refugees, which produces nothing. We can't just have crafts and sewing, no, we need industry, industry that takes advantage of the region and population. We are buying metal from local mines, and turning them into goods to sell abroad. You know what this means? Everyone gets richer, Clear Sky Logistics are happy with their cut, and the refugees no longer have to rely on the shaky goodwill of the West." You punctuate this with a pound of the fist, "The world sees refugees as liabilities, and we intend to change that!"

Nods and murmurs of approval come out of the group of reporters, You breathe out in relief. These Western reporters, generally left-leaning in politics, will generally latch on to anything that shows "the strength of the indigenous and downtrodden", only letting go for extremely juicy bits such as massacres and genocides.

You then sucks that breath back in when you see one of the missing reporters walking quickly down a path, led by an excited looking child who is blabbering something about "...chopped him in half!"


The other reporters, seeing a potential scandal literally on the move, runs after the child. They are heading towards the very center of the camp, where Indigo set up the command post that serves as the office for her and Sylla, and is where the barracks for the soldiers are located.

You struggle to catch up with the more lightly dressed reporters, only managing to out pace the cameraman. You see that there is a group of people, mercenaries and refugees alike, standing around watching something in a square. As you get closer you stop, alongside the reporters mesmerized by the girl dancing on the stage.

Faceless had changed out of her khaki military dress and robe, and is wearing what looks to be a very rococo blouse and dress as she spins and weaves across the stage, performing some sort of Oriental dance at approximately three times the speed of what a human is capable of. The two white fans are the only real way to keep track of her movement in the faster parts of her routine between the second-long pauses where she stares at the crowd with a mask on, a different one every time, and judging by that you can see martial movements being mixed in to what looked to be the normally gentle poses in her dance. Just looking at her however makes your eyes ache, but the fascinating spectacle itself makes up for it.

A few soldiers sit in the back of the crate and tarp setup used as a stage, beating drums and humming chants that set the tempo for the performance. You edge close to them. "What the hell are you people doing?"

"Indigo told us to put up a good show for the media," The white-haired soldier whispers back while beating the drum with his barely covered clawed hands, "So Faceless volunteered to perform. It shows that we're close to the people and all that."

"Yeah but like this? They'll figure out that Faceless isn't a normal human."

"That's your job. Indigo is paying you more than us to handle this."

You resist the urge to shout at the man, but he is right. It is our job, after all.

Only technically right, they still should never had done this in the first place. It is his job, and they've just added more work.

"Alright Sylla," you mutter to yourself, "They're amazed right now, but then they'll ask questions. It's probably the easiest to just pretend nothing is abnormal, that Faceless is just a normal person...aw who am I kidding what kind of soldier comes out dressed like that with hair that color? At least the other youkai covered up their hair."

Faceless stops dancing as she strikes a final pose with her fans stretched out like an eagle's wings, and bows as the crowd, abruptly ripped from their trance, claps vigorously. The cameraman is right next to the stage, and another reporter is snapping off picture after picture on his film camera. Welp, this is now going to spread, but it's just a dance, and at most people who have played the games or whatever Indigo said they sort of were featured in will think, "Huh, she looks familiar."

Indigo might just be using this to draw upon the fanbase as a recruiting pool. As only the most dedicated would be willing to figure out the association and apply for a job just based off the footage, she could gather a number of loyal employees working for reasons more than money. Then again, their physical conditions might be found wanting.

"My my, Director Sylla, that was a performance worthy of Broadway!" The glasses reporter declares, "Your camp must be extremely resourceful to be able to attract such skilled performers like her! What's her name and what NGO is she affiliated with?"

"Uh..." You didn't need to reply. The reporters have all fallen silent as Faceless changes out of the performing dress into a military blouse, don a blue helmet, and sling her the long bayonetted rifle she is using as a more subtle variant of her glaive across her shoulders.

"Any orders, Director Sylla?"

All of a sudden you iare drowned under the pressure of about ten different voices and three different languages shouting in unison, all of which are some variant of "SHE'S A SOLDIER?"

"Alright, alright, settle down people, one question at a time, and yes, Lieutenant Kanonai is a UN Peacekeeper from the JSDF. Any other questions?"

The boy that was leading the reporters onward pushes his way out of the crowd and grabs Faceless's hand, dragging the confused youkai over. "Miss Faceless! Miss Faceless! Tell them how you chopped that bad man in half!"

This boy ain't right. You think to yourself.

"Hmm?" Faceless takes a moment before responding in her usual monotone, "Oh, that one? The one who tried to assault me?"

And just like that, all of the reporters peeled off of you and swarmed around Faceless, "(Ridiculously) Strong female (soldier) who fends off (by brutally slaughtering) rapist in third world refugee camp (actually a corporate worksite at this point)" is the kind of news that is not really significant, but can fill up social media in milliseconds, deriving hundreds of thousands of clicks if needed. It's also an excellent filler piece for traditional news media. So naturally these reporters are desperate to get first grabs at the tender steak that is Faceless.

"Lieutenant Kanonai, please tell us what happened." The glasses reporter, after batting the others way, asks in Japanese.

"The man attempted to disrupt the distribution of food through violence, and attacked two Peacekeepers with a machete. I---" She stops for a moment and looks at you, giving a knowing gaze.

She cranks her neck off to the side and mutters something. The noh mask she is wearing on the side of her head changes to a plain white one, with no expression.

"I bisected him, cut him in half, spilled his organs on the floor. We then burned him on the spot, since he is too disgusting to be consumed like a normal corpse..."

You cover your eyes and ears.

"Okay, alright Lieutenant. That's not important, can you tell me about the duties you perform in this camp."

"Huh?" You look up and see that the reporters look disinterested, even bored at what Kokoro just said. Taking a peek, you let out a deep breath as you see that they have not wrote down anything. Looking up, you blink as you see a soldier, the one who Indigo had called Kakumei crouching on the roof top of the command trailer, with her eyes closed and casting a spell of some sort between her hands, where a small red flame dances. Looking back at the reporters, you notice that their eyes have acquired a glaze of red, and are responding to everything Faceless is saying...oddly.

"We clean the roads and make sure that the rules are followed..."

Intense scribbling, the reporters lean so far forward that Faceless has to back up.

"Also anybody allied with the Sudanese government is interned, and if determined necessary slaughtered and fed to our soldiers."

No scribbling. "No no no, that's not important Miss Kanonai, tell us more about the roads and their composition."

"They are ash and lime..."

The scribbling resumes. Each of the reporters have excited grins on their faces, as if they are getting the scoop of their lifetime.

Meaningless questions and answers continue to be given and replied, as the reporters probe Faceless with the questions they should have been asking you in the first place, until Safar manages to show up and relieve her. By the time they stop two hours have passed, and their notepads and camera footage are filled with information about food content, building construction, and disease prevention, all information which is actually fairly relevant when discussing refugee camps but nothing that will make an article in even a small-time paper.

Camp Fijr Dhwa
1430 Hours, 300620XX

"I think that's inadequate material for this camp," The older reporter who appears to be in charge announces, "We have more camps to cover in this region."

"May we look at the camera footage?" You ask.

"As unbiased members of the press we cannot allow outside sources to try and censor us, so of course you can!" The camera man retains the prideful smile as he hands his camera over to you, who still stands still, slightly shocked at how blatant the logical contradiction is.

"Are you a media worker?"


You look away from the hexed journalist, and begins looking through them for incriminating footage. Good thing it's just Faceless's little interview, and you only have to delete the first couple of clips recorded.

"Here you go. Thanks for the visit."

"Fuck you!"

You escort the group over to the gate, along with a slightly confused Safar, and sends off the group of reporters, who reply in a mix of goodbyes and profanities as they get into their press van and drive backwards out a hundred meters before reversing direction and leaving normally.



"What just happened?"

"Magic happened! That's right!" A happy, excited voice comes from behind them as Kakumei practically skips over, her facemask and helmet gone, revealing her short, messy black hair with odd white and red streaks through them, along with the fairly conspicuous horns on the top of her head. "Those stupid humans will never know why they wrote down a bunch of useless crap!"

"You...you're Kakumei, right?"

She scowls, "I LOVE being called Kakumei. Dammit my name is Kijin Seija, not the stupid codeword that Yakumo gave me. She said this service is penance for all the trouble I stirred up in Gensokyo. Ha! What an idiot. All she did was give me a bigger place to stir up trouble."

"So Miss Kijin," Safar asks, his face in his palm, "Are you like a monster of opposites or something!"

"An amanojaku never tolerates the so-called correct order in the world! Why should black be black and white be white? It makes no sense!" She lifts a finger at Sylla, and with a mutter turns his cap inside-out. "And I thought Gensokyo was stuffy! Out here you humans have this thing called a central government, and beyond that you have a world government. What utter rubbish! I would see all of it torn down!"

"So you're an anarchist."

"Ha! I reject such petty labels! If that is the case why am I happily cooperating with the Yakumos even though they have not fitted a seal on me?"

"You're insane?"

"Ha! Look around you, don't you see it? Don't you see what Clear Sky stands for?" She does a hopping spin, gesturing all around. "This, all of this, is the beginning of the end."

Safar quietly whispers to you, "Adin, is she implying that this company has a doomsday device?"

"No, it's actually much more terrible." You suddenly realize what Indigo's obtuse words yesterday after you had ambushed the government convoy meant, what was causing the refugees to trust Clear Sky besides the physical things, "The horizon is the line, the sky is the limit. Gensokyo, from the material I've read, is a walled off fantasy land, but what would happen, if you could imagine, if it grew."

Improved living conditions alone is tempting, but being able to live in a fantasy world would turn supporters into fanatics.

Kakumei...no...Seija, raises her hands and speaks a word, conjuring up a small magical explosion above her head, "Chaos."

The humanitarian coordinator slowly realizes, "If Clear Sky manages to not just secure areas, but turn them into more Gensokyos, then this would mean that the stuff of fantasy would be reality, not just for a few thousand, but for everyone."

"And once people realize they could live in a world like that there would oh SO much unrest." Seija clasps her hands together as a dreamy look comes on her face, "Protests, riots, uprisings, revolutions! Even those who do not care for fantasy can be turned by quality of life. The old powers will try and hold on as hard as they can, and I will so be there to cast them down from their towers and onto the stones below. I'll be surprised if you continue cooperating with us, Mr. Safar."

"Actually, yes I will." Safar adjusts his spectacles and walks up to Seija, "While I abhor violence, I cannot disagree with the prospect of improving the life for the common people of the world. Normally a chaotic monster like you is something I would avoid and rebuke, but this road is something we must share. We will never be friendly, of course, but I can trust you to work towards the same goal."

The amanojaku looks taken aback, "You...okay. Lieutenant Sylla?"

"I've said this before and I've said this again." You answer, "This is my job. I like this job."

"Fine then. Hmph." She turns around and stomps off, "I love you all."


PR job is done, what now. It's not like there's a lot of things that Safar needs you to handle, and Indigo's still away.

[ ] Chill out with ________.
[ ] See if you can get somebody to teach you magic.
[ ] Practice your marksmanship
[ ] See if somebody can teach you better CQC
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[ ] Chill out with Faceless.
That was one lovely performance, Kokoro.

-[X] See if you can get her to tell you more about magic.
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[x] Chill out with Faceless.

More Kokoro, please.
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[x] See if you can get somebody to teach you magic.

You gotta at least try!
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[x] See if you can get somebody to teach you magic.
-[x] Faceless?
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The Gensokyean Pork Barrel

I have observed that Clear Sky's humanitarian convoys have a strange imbalance in the content of the meat they are carrying. While it is rare indeed for any humanitarian rations to contain meat rather than vegetable based protein, the fact that Clear Sky intends to establish itself as a permanent governing body would render this detail irrelevant. Even so, instead of using cheaper meats like fish or chicken, I have found that the meat most often transported, particularly in their African and Middle East operations, is pork. Often salted pork sealed in large oil drums for easy transport and preservation, but pork nonetheless.

I was baffled at this fact, and sought out the coordinator for their food program. He was quite cooperative, and initially provided several factual answers. Pork, especially the cuts used in salt pork, is high in calories and thus better than leaner meats for the hungry refugee camps and war-ravaged territories that are brought under Clear Sky control. Pork is also much easier to maintain, as pigs are voracious omnivores and can be used to dispose of a good deal of organic waste that chickens cannot consume, and are less susceptible to adverse environmental conditions.. Finally, he presented me with a file that detailed the additive they mix in with the regular pig slop: A magical concoction distilled from Gensokyean flora. This chemical, he explains, raises the sensitivity of animals to magic, which would normally cause them to begin transformation into youkai. However domestic hogs, unlike wild boars, possess very low potential for youkai-dom due to their perception in culture, and thus the excess magic introduced serves instead to increase their size. The coordinator showed me one of their pens, and the pigs there easily exceeded mundane pigs in mass by at least a factor of three.

Still, after all of this the coordinator dodged the elephant, or rather hog, in the room. The African and Middle East regions that a good deal of the pork are delivered to are heavily Islamic, and consumption of pork is both forbidden by religion and shunned in culture. So, I ask, why deliver pork there?

The man grins at me, and tells me the reason. He was the one who came up with the idea, and the details were laid out by Ran Yakumo (alias Indigo). As a disillusioned UNHCR coordinator, he had noticed how refugees and people in desperate situations are willing to compromise their principles for survival. Seeing how formerly devout people become desensitized to prostitution and violence endemic to camps, he experimented to see if it could be induced in a lesser sense and over a long term. With his own funds, he ordered a shipment of pork and had it prepared and served at the camp he was in charge, and even after issuing multiple explicit declarations that the meat used in the stew they served was pork, a vast majority of the refugees, some of whom have not seen meat in years, eagerly devoured the food. The reaction was not so good the morning after, however.

He was discharged as a result shortly afterwards, as his fellow workers filed complaints and so did the local government. As soon as he reached the airport a Clear Sky agent approached him and offered him a job with the company instead. The coordinator implemented, with the help of Yakumo, a more subtle variant of his experiment that used price control and culinary adjustments, and the results showed that over the span of several months pork became accepted, even if the older and more conservative people did not, which led to an increasing rift between the two groups. This, combined with several other studies done by the company, demonstrated that simple manipulation of logistics is often enough to erode the influence of tradition among young people in the areas under Clear Sky control, which is just what they desire. Clear Sky, being a youkai-run company, is far more concerned with the next generation rather than the last. These barrels of pork are just as much tools for control as their guns and magic, as young people who grow up eating pork, drinking wine and mingling with youkai will identify far more with Clear Sky rather than their native culture, and who can blame them?

- Agent Winters
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Even though they are largely inconsequential, I like these little insights into this world you've imagined. It's really interesting.
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And now I want some Youkai-pork cutlets
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[x] See if you can get Faceless to teach you magic.

Camp Fijr Dhwa
1450 Hours, 300620XX

You catch the youkai girl sitting on the top of one of the older walls of the camp, swinging her legs over the edge as she enjoys an ice cream bar. You think she's enjoying it, at least, judging by the smiling mask on the side of her face.

"Hey Faceless."

She swallows the rest of the bar, "Lieutenant Sylla."

"So...uh. I was wondering." You carefully sit down next to her, "You Gensokyean types seem to be really good at magic, being from another world and all."

She turns towards you, not saying anything. The mask turns neutral.

"I was wondering if a human like me, can do what you guys can do. You know, control people's minds and stuff like that."

Faceless stops swinging her legs, "Mind-altering effects are exclusively powers that youkai, like myself, are born with. In exchange for our powers our souls are generally weaker than humans like you, and cannot hope to achieve the same capacity of non-inborn magic as you can without consuming human flesh." She gives you a good look, "I could probably still teach you some of the basics, however."

You watch carefully as Faceless gathers up a pinch of dust in her hands. "A simple cantrip, a spark spell commonly used to light campfires and tobacco pipes. Hold up the dust and repeat after me..."

Following her instructions, you chant out a sentence-long incantation, and your eyes turn wide as the bit of dust glows bright green and sprays outward in a massive shower of sparks, somehow not burning your skin in the process. Faceless quickly shifts aside to dodge it.

"I...I did it!"

You then tilt forward and fall straight off the wall as you suddenly lose control of your body. A sudden force on your right ankle stops you from breaking the fall with your face, and Faceless proceeds to gently pull you back up.

"Learning to not overexert yourself is a key aspect of magic, Lieutenant." She bites her lip as you awkwardly stand back up, "Hmmmm...what did she do next...try again, I guess, but focus."

You obligingly follow, and this time you focus your mind on holding back the torrent of energy. The dust glows, but only shoots out a small spray of sparks, you also only feel a tiny bit of exertion in the process.

"Is that good?"

"As good as it will ever be." She replies as you excited try out the spell a few more times. "This alone shouldn't take more than an hour to master, so let's move on to a more useful cantrip."

Faceless takes out two markers, handing you one in the process, and draws a complex sigil on the wooden floor that is surrounded by a large circle. "This is a protection rune. Different cultures and civilizations have many different ways of doing this, but I'm only familiar with the Japanese method. What it does is that it generates a magical wall along the border, about six feet in length, where no living being other than the inscriber may pass when the incantation is spoken."

She chants a different incantation, and a wall of light springs up, tracing the contours of the circle around the sigil. You cautiously extend a hand against it, and feel a firm resistance, not quite the hardness of a solid wall, but rather a force, as if the air itself is resisting your effort.

You push harder, and the resistance increases in response.

Faceless watches you with the neutral mask on, "Of course, thrown objects and robots can pass through with no problem, and as with most magical barriers sheer willpower can be used to breach through. Maintaining it also drains the caster's energy."

"Well what's the point of it then?" You remark as you focus your mind into a desire to breach the wall. It yields more, and you see Faceless scrunch her eyes for a brief moment, before the wall suddenly pushes you back.

"Traditionally travelers, like my creator, would use it to protect their camps from youkai. Nowadays it is more of a teaching spell according to Indigo, but its more difficult derivatives, instant-cast spells that produces barriers on demand and walls that can actually block non-living objects, are still used quite often."

You catch something odd in that sentence, "You have a creator?"

"Yes, Hata no Kawakatsu, a great noh performer who danced for the 29th emperor of Japan and started the Kagura tradition. I arose from the masks he created in his service."

"I mean...I thought youkai came from animals and stuff, not masks." You still aren't very familiar with this Japanese monster thing. "Indigo looks like a huge fox monster when she gets angry, so what do you look like in that sense?"

Her mask switches to an amused expression, "If you wish."

The girl in front of you flickers, and morphs into a vaguely humanoid black shape. Its surface ripples like water, and porcelain masks float to the surface regularly, only to sink inside the figure and be shortly replaced by another one.

It is disturbing and bizarre, but it isn't exactly horrifying in the way that Indigo was. You don't scream, cry or even try to look away.

"I am the 66 masks of Kawakatsu, no more, and no less." Faceless says, despite you not seeing anything resembling a mouth on the figure.

A strange sense of calmness overtakes you, the same that allowed you to maintain a deadly rhythm while sniping. Faceless's natural form is indeed monstrous, but not enough to scare you.

"But you are an excellent dancer and warrior of your own, are you not?"

"All aspects of my creator which I had inherited. Tsukumogami--youkai who came from objects--such as myself are defined by what defines artifacts. Of course, we become youkai of our own right eventually, but in the end ourselves are still the objects our creators wanted us to be."

There is something slightly off in her monotone, a slight inflection of emotion just large enough to be suspicious. While you may have been terrible at the art of war, the art of words is something you were good enough at to cover up your other deficiencies.

There is something else behind those masks than just nothingness.

[ ] Alright, it's pretty cool.
[ ] So what happens if I do this then? (Take a mask)
[ ] I doubt that. (Pry into the darkness)
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[ ] I doubt that. (Pry into the darkness)

I don't know if this means to literally pry, or pry as in questioning. Either way, I'm curious.

>black mass filled with masks
Reminds me of Phalanx from Demon's Souls.
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[x] All sentient things can learn. Like you learned to inflect emotion in your speech, like you just did. (Pry into the darkness)
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[ ] I doubt that. (Pry into the darkness)
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[x] All sentient things can learn. Like you learned to inflect emotion in your speech, like you just did. (Pry into the darkness)
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[x] All sentient things can learn. Like you learned to inflect emotion in your speech, like you just did. (Pry into the darkness)

Giving youkai self-confidence, heck yeah!
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"We have an IRC?" Winters tentatively asks.

"Yeah, it's not very productive, though it does provide very immediate feedback from the employees." Violetta yawns as she adjusts into a more comfortable position on her plane seat, casually conjuring up a border to rest her head in. "The tech people should have set your laptop up already to use it"

"I'm sure you use an antiquate protocol for employee feedback and entertainment." Winters mumbles as he starts up the client. "Not for any deniable purposes at all."

> Connect...Okay
> You have logged in as JWinters

>> Welcome to Clear Sky International Discussion IRC
>> Please type "/rules" for a list of the guidelines enforced on this channel. Violating the rules may lead to disciplinary measures taken against employees
>> Message of the Day: Spells are toys but not child friendly ones. Please refrain from setting things on fire around children.
>> Tip: You can use "/filter *region* to only see the messages from the employees in your region"

<KLaila> Bodyguard here, boss is asleep

Winters looks up, and see that the soldier right in front of him is indeed typing on his laptop.

<NGonzalez> IT'S TIME
<OUchi> R I O T
<MAdams> F U C K Y U K A R I
<JWinters> uhh
<TYafu> F U C K Y U K A R I
<RRogers> F U C K Y U K A R I
<BLazlo> F U C K Y U K A R I
<JJudoc> F U C K Y U K A R I
<ZKing> http://imgur.com/eksTjjY
<AHamo> F U C K Y U K A R I
<ETai> F U C K Y U K A R I
<JWinters> Is this allowed?
<~Blue> F U C K Y U K A R I

[x] I doubt that. (Pry into the darkness)

At first you thought, as you proudly play the role of the uplifting friend, that she was referring to how she has not changed from her role as a mere pile of masks, and is thus unable to express emotion, or rather she was lying about it for some reason.

"That can't be right, Faceless, you are more than that." You reach forward into the blackness, pushing aside some of the masks, "You..."

Your fingers touch something hard, something rough and leathery. You also feel something metallic, and you quickly retract your hands when a tinge of pain courses across your fingers. Looking at them, you see a thin streak of red--a cut.

Looking up, you see the blackness peel away for just a moment, and something else bubbles up from its depths. A withered, yet muscular arm, clutching a wicked-looking blade. You step back and reach for your gun, abandoning that movement when you see more such arms emerge, until the blob is bristling with blades in addition to the masks.

The blades part, and out from the darkness comes a piece of red. A raw, beating heart, perhaps it was human at one point, but now it appears to have sprouted additional vessels like roots, with each one of the arteries connected to the peripheral of her form. Each one, you note, connects to a mask.

She wasn't lying about her role or feelings, she was lying about who she fundamentally was.

"As I've said, I am what Hata no Kawakatsu created, no more and no less. He was, however, not just a noh performer."

The black blob and masks fade away, revealing just the lavender haired girl standing on the wall, staring at you with an neutral mask on the side of her face. "Perhaps he was never human to begin with, but shortly after I was created he took a journey out to sea, and came back...changed. History disagreed on what he was, truly, but Prince Shotoku, his closest friend, eventually came to regard him as a god of strife and conflict..." She pauses, thinking, "...and here we are. Hata no Kokoro...the heart of the Hata legacy."

"Damn." You shakes your head as you process what you had just witnessed.

"Are you, scared?" She asks

"Scared?" No, not really, "Why would I be scared?"

"Very well then, shall we continue?"

Faceless...you think you know her well enough to just call her Kokoro at this point...continues with her instruction of magic, seemingly unconcerned with the prying you did. You guess that perhaps the terrifying forms of youkai weren't such a big deal after all, especially when you consider how open they were about their diet.

"Say, Kokoro." You ask while attempting to draw the rune for the umpteenth time and not QUITE getting it right. "What are you?"

"You asked that already."

"No, what are you. What you see...gah...how you would judge yourself mentally and spiritually."

Kokoro looks up from the book she is reading, "Many have asked me this question, phrased perhaps in different forms, when I was merely a performer in the Outside." She turns her gaze towards you, "First, what do you see yourself as?"

"Soldier, speaker, leader."

"Are we going by roles then? Dancer, Warrior, Actor." The mask changes to a concerned looking one, "So Lieutenant Sylla, why are you asking these questions?"

"Can't a soldier chat with his comrade?"

"That's not unusual," She says, standing up, "However, those who asked me these questions before, especially the men, were generally seeking courtship."

Your heart skips a beat.

"Are you?"

A misunderstanding. Say no. Say no.

[ ] Yes
[ ] No
[ ] Maybe
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[X] No
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[X] No
- "While you are indeed a pretty young lady, I doubt company policy allows such relationships to sprout between us"

><~Blue> F U C K Y U K A R I

I laughed so hard.
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><~Blue> F U C K Y U K A R I

My sides are eternal.

[x] No (for now)
-[x] Just want a friend.

Well, you did said no. Besides he's not. I mean, not yet. That doesn't make it a lie, now does it?
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[X] No
- "While you are indeed a pretty young lady, I doubt company policy allows such relationships to sprout between us"
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[x] Yes

Company policy? Have you been checking their IRC? Whispering sweet nothings at the ears of Youkai is a proud Japanese tradition. Err, nevermind that he isn't Japanese.
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[x] Yes
We are not fazed by what we saw earlier.
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[X] Maybe

[X] Maybe not.

Leave it up in the air. Don't be TOO forward. We don't know her THAT well. Like this, we might be able to gauge her reaction. Will she politely shoot us down? Will she mention she wouldn't mind? Will she be even more vague about it?

As it is, let's play it safe.
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>No winning

Cowards! All of you!
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[x] No

"No." You almost immediately regret being too direct, and tack on, "I mean, not that I dislike you, but..."

"I was not asking a question. It was merely a statement." She goes back to reading her book, "No more and no less."

"Aye, no more and no less."

The sheer level of awkwardness that exudes prevents you from saying anything more as you go back to trying to cast the spell.

To be honest, you barely know her, and the fact remains that she is far more of a robot than a living being. To say that you have feelings would be a lie.

Camp Fijr Dhwa
1850 Hours, 300620XX

You idly scratch the runes again, not really even trying to cast it successfully. The sun is setting at this point, and the orange light casts a rather beautiful sheen over the savannah. Darfur really isn't a very interesting place for the eyes, given it is mostly flat, earthy colors dotted with dark, squat desert trees. At this time, since it is the rainy season, Darfur can sometimes sport a coat of green, but then it is just the same landscape with a different color.

"I wonder why our company is staking out a claim all the way out here?" You ask, "Darfur isn't exactly the most underexposed region, and its natural resources are not the most plentiful either."

"This place is embroiled in war because of scarce resources in the first place, is it not?"

"Frankly Kokoro I'm not too sure what is the reason myself, but yes the conflict between the Arab and non-Arab ethnicity groups started over disputes for grazing land and water sources."

"So for the sake of survival then, interesting." The menreiki puts away her book and swings back over the edge of the wall, "I thought humans mostly killed each other because of things they want, not because of things they needed."

"Yeah welcome to the sub-Saharan region. I really don't know what Indigo is hoping to achieve with this expansion. Sudan's kind of a rotting mess of a country, and how in the world can a PMC hope to bring a 38 million strong nation under its control? I get that we have a ton of money, but you can't take over a country with money alone. Toppling the government is one thing, but stabilizing it is another."

Kokoro shrugs, "We youkai are fighting for profit and flesh, nothing more. I have not been with the Yakumos long, but previously their plans have been limited and are often capricious in nature. The magnitude of Clear Sky, from what I have seen, would disagree. My own humble opinion is that she believes money, manpower and magic in sufficient quantities will remedy any issue that comes up."

You let out a "tzee" sound, "So far she's not wrong, but eventually---"

A loud, roaring sound drowns out your sentence. The camp's warning sirens have gone off, and you scramble to your feet, unslinging your SV-98 and scanning the area over the wall. Nothing. Normally this siren indicates an oncoming dust storm or a janjaweed attack, but you can't see either of these from your direction.

Your radio crackles online, "Director Sylla, Operations Manager Tadakuni here," The officer Indigo placed in direct command of the Clear Sky forces here while she's gone, he had called himself a 'white wolf tengu', "Somebody or something had breached the camp perimeter without identification. Requesting preparation for a camp-wide search to find the intruder."


Moreso than the siren, your announcement causes a sudden frenzy of activity in the camp. From up here on the wall you can see the people scrambling to gather their belongings and children, hastily close up storefronts, and disappearing into houses. Carefully scanning the area, you see no sign of any suspicious personnel, and soon the streets of the camp are empty save for the cautious teams of Clear Sky mercenaries patrolling them.

"Director." You see Tadakuni wave at you from the bottom of wall, at the head of a team of youkai operatives, who are quite recognizable even in their various coverings due to their large knives and wrist-stabilized machine pistols.

"Manager." You give a brief salute as you hop off of the wall, "Had this happened before at other Clear Sky installations?"

"Alarms? Yes. An infiltrator triggering it? No." He actually looks quite nervous, his red bestial eyes glassy and he keeps rubbing one of his fluffy ears drooping out of the hood, "Normally if is that damned Seija...I mean Kakumei, who is deliberately messing with us, but in that case she is usually found a few seconds after the alarm goes off because of her damned laughter."

"Speaking of which, where the is Kakumei anyway right now?"

The tengu snorts, "Either Indigo dragged her off to an operation, she's sneaked off to another camp, or she's trolling on the internet in her barracks. Again. Either way she's being quiet and not visible, which means she's not starting any trouble."

You listen to his frustrations with humored interest, "I can't imagine beings like you who can cut through cars and fly would be entertained like that."

"That dirty amanojaku is nothing like us, and you'll be surprised..."


- You are now in #PHT
Topic - | ❦ SESIMERP MORF HSID EKAS EVOMER ❦ | !WOBNIAR LAYOR | deyht6/yl.fda//:ptth :sevihcrA | 3 EFIL-FLAH :LEVEL UH2 WEN | 5978341/stsop/su.iamnod.uroobnad//:ptth :dog eurt eno ruo liah lla | stcejorP n'dooH ehT - PHT# ot emocleW
<nevoepaR> ?su kcah ot derehtob lleh eht ohw
<cihtE> resrever txet a hguorht ti nur tsuj
<cihtE> kcuf eht tahw ,yako
<GoodnEvil> ハッキング
<mubaK~> gnikcah htrow ereh gnihton s'ereht uoy no s'ekoJ
<mubaK~> hsilgnE kaeps neve t'nac uoy etirw uoy tahw yb gnigduj dnA
<GoodnEvil> Yes I can. I can speak English perfectly. I just don't feel like doing it for you.
<ssirc> rekcah gib a er'uoY
<sullaG> keew a ni setirw pht fo tsom tahw naht hsilgne erom etorw rekcah paj siht ,wow


"...Ignoring Kakumei, I need you to come with us since you're much more familiar with this place than we are. He has to be hiding somewhere, and while the rest of our forces are strangling his options we can go in for the kill."

"Agreed, but I doubt that would be much help." You inform him, "At least before you guys came this place was completely a tent city, with a few watch towers and storage buildings being rigid. He could be lurking in one of the storage buildings, but given how you guys are pulling in everything from the portal train stations I can't imagine how doing that is going to accomplish anything."

"You do have a point there. Back in Gensokyo intruders on the Youkai Mountain generally did it for no real reason or for fun, according to Guard-Captain Inubashiri. Forgive me if I'm unfamiliar with Outside World military operations, but what would an infiltrator hope to accomplish here?"

"Sabotage, information gathering, and prisoner recovery would be the primary reasons." You recall your lessons at the academy. "And I doubt the janjaweed are sophisticated enough to carry out any of them. Odd."

"This is a forward base too. We have not yet moved any important infrastructure here, and the prisoners we have are heavily drugged at the moment. Either way, I have dispatched teams to stand guard around the reactor and prison areas."

It doesn't add up. Somebody was sophisticated enough to bypass Clear Sky's technological defenses and the watchful eyes of both human and youkai guards. To infiltrate a refugee camp.

You're missing something.

"Are you sure an infiltrator would not have other motives."

"Could be somebody trying to steal from us, and in that case I wouldn't worry too much about it. Hmm...I guess he could also..."

A sudden noise comes from behind you, and you see Tadakuni suddenly turn pale along with his team and scream in surprise "What?! Where did that come from?". You quickly turn around to the sound of metallic clanging.

Kokoro is still up on the wall, and she is dancing from side to side swinging her blade as she is avoiding the blows of what can be best described as...a killer robot or something. It looks vaguely humanoid, and is completely covered in shining metal, with plating and headgear that suggested a very European medieval look. It is wielding a large assault rifle, a strange looking model, which has a glowing bayonet attached to the underside of it. It doesn't look that skilled at all compared to the menreiki, however, and is being effectively disarmed by her footwork keeping her just too close for him to use either the bayonet or the gun with any results. Still, you are troubled by the fact that her glaive isn't getting through its armor, and even the youkai soldiers recover from the surprise and open fire on it with their machine pistols it just shrugs off the bullets as they ricochet off of the armor.

"Grrr..." Tadakuni stops firing and charges forward, an incantation on his lips and his machete wreathed in iridescent flame, "My turn! Taste my blade!"

For a brief moment, you wonder if a magical attack would be effective against that armor.

You never get an answer. Just as Tadakuni is about to connect a swing when a second armored figure appears out of nowhere, and parries his blade with a silver sword. The figure then uses its free hand to shoot a pistol at point blank range at Tadakuni, causing the tengu to cringe and give out a pained howl.

It then draws the blade back around, onto the now flanked Kokoro, who was surprised for one second by the new enemy. That one second gave it the opening it needed to lunge and catch her in the torso, spearing the silver blade straight through her body.

The activity happened so fast that even you barely processed what happened when the first figure swings its gun around to take a shot at the now heavily injured and stumbling Kokoro, who even with an entire sword stuck in her is still disturbingly blank faced. Normally you would start panicking, but something else happens instead.

An odd reflex, one neither native nor adapted, sends signals through your nervous system. You raise the SV-98 up to your shoulders, and without even consciously aiming you fire off a shot.

The armor piercing rounds that Indigo supplied you with for this gun appears to be a bit more effective than pistol rounds, and the first hostile recoils at the shot, knocking away its aim and causing the burst it fires to hit nothing. You then drop the gun, allowing it hang on hy its straps, and lunge onto the wall at the second figure. You find its ankle, and grab on tightly. The sudden addition of weight spoils its move to pull the sword out of Kokoro, and the surprise causes it to trip and fall.

If you had the time to really think about this, you would have deduced that its armor is extremely well reinforced and padded, but by exerting continuous force like this means that unless the armor is rigidly locked it would cause the hostile to lose balance.

Taking your lead, the other youkai solders leap onto the wall and attempt to wrestle the free figure down. However, it appeared that your success was due to surprise, and the figure fends them off with its gun while backing away. The one you've manage to trip pulls its leg back up, and you along with it. Shoving it away gives you a brief moment to stand at the top of the wall as it completes its recovery, which is a brief moment for you to make a split second decision on how to buy time with this horribly lopsided scenario.

The armor is well protected against blade and shot, and is quite strong. The enemy is armed with a pistol, having failed to retrieve its sword, though that pistol managed to severely hurt Tadakuni, a youkai.

Your only advantage here is that it is still half on the ground, and the armor doesn't appear to be too well balanced.

[ ] The rifle has some effect, recock and fire.
[ ] Fuck it, grenade.
[ ] It only has one light weapon, grab onto its pistol and make it fight.
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>"Normally if is that damned Seija...I mean Kakumei, who is deliberately messing with us, but in that case she is usually found a few seconds after the alarm goes off because of her damned laughter."

Literally Gallus tier.

[x] The rifle has some effect, recock and fire.
-[x] Try to make him drop his gun

The armor piercing weapons are the only advantage he has that the others don't, so let's try the approach that is exclusive to us.

Also, disarming the son of a bitch, after he proved that the shoots can knock him around, would make it harmless. Too bad he isn't alone though.
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[x] The rifle has some effect, recock and fire.
-[x] Try to make him drop his gun
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[x] The rifle has some effect, recock and fire.
-[x] Try to make him drop his gun

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[x] The rifle has some effect, recock and fire.
-[x] Try to make him drop his gun

"Stay away!" You shout as you let off a second shot, hitting it in the shoulder. It jerks back at the impact and you can see that the shot left a dent, but it does not drop the pistol. You pull the bolt and bring up the gun again, but this time the enemy takes the initiative, and lunges at you.

You bring up your rifle in a hopeless attempt to parry, but the enemy simply knocks you down completely. A bang, and you scream as a sharp pain courses through your shoulder as the enemy shoots you in the shoulder with its pistol.

You close your eyes. A second shot rings out, but you don't feel it. Only a few seconds later do you notice that you are not dead and look back to see Kokoro's impaled form fall back down, clutching at her profusely bleeding throat.

"Perish, monster." The enemy abruptly intones, for the first time, as it aims its pistol again, a modulated voice. "For the greater good of the world..."

An emotion, uninhibited by common sense and reason, suddenly floods your mind. A dusty, dark corner of your brain, previously warming up, now fully actuates. Adrenaline courses through your veins, and you almost spring right back up as you detect a sickening feeling in his words.

Vanity. Undeserved pride.


"Daddy! Daddy! Are you okay?"

"It's alright son, its just the Odinga gang down the street."

"You are bleeding so much! Why are they hurting you!"

"They say that us reporters are stepping on the toes of those in power, stirring up trouble."

"Why are you doing it then? Isn't it wrong to cause trouble?"

"My dearest child, have you heard of the tale of the Lion and the Monkey?..."


A nauseating feeling, not unlike stagnant sewage, washes over you, suppressing all feeling but a desperate loathing. You lunge at the enemy, grabbing at the pistol even as blood flows freely out of your shoulder. With a roar, you wrench the enemy backwards, apparently surprising it, as it yells out.

"What are you doing! I showed mercy---gah!"

"SCUM! PRIDEFUL SCUM!" Regarding little of your own safety, you shove sideways, sending both you and the unbalanced enemy off of the wall, thinking nothing but what flies to your mouth. "DIE!"

"Madman! You risk your life for these monsters!"

"STOP TALKING!" You tear your combat knife out from its sheathe and frantically stab at its head to accomplish your threat. In the flurry of attacks that only glance off of its armor, you are slightly surprised when a stab sticks.

The blade had jammed in its eye hole.

It screams, and flails about as it tries to remove the blinding element. It drops the pistol in its panic, and you quickly swipe it up.

"DIE DIE DIE." You fire at its head at point-blank range, not caring whether or not you are dealing damage. "FUCKING DIE!"

Something hits you in the back like a baseball bat, knocking you onto the ground. Probably a bullet, though you could care less. You see the other enemy jump down onto the ground, looking somewhat worse for wear, and grab its comrade by the arms. "HQ! We've got wounded! Extraction!"

"Extraction has already arrived." A cheerful voice announces, in a similar modulated tone, but more female.

An armored vehicle materializes, much like the humanoid hostiles, just tens of meters away, and to your despair you see the enemies rush up to it. From behind youkai soldiers give chase, but a burst of fire from two more armored figures inside the vehicle sends them sprawling back. The armored figures inside look much the same as the ones outside, and the vehicle itself is a strange looking thing, sort of like a Humvee but with a black shell-like armor protecting its whole body.

"Gun beats claw. Ha!"

More vanity. More arrogance.

"YOU ARE GOING NOWHERE." You yell, hateful but impotent, as you could barely stand up, let alone raise your rifle, if it didn't break in the fall. "DIE!"

"Sorry, but we're leaving. Later---ARGH!"

The vehicle suddenly shudders with a red glow, and you see glyphs etched into the surface glowing. It tilts violently, sending the two enemies who had just gotten on sprawling back out. It continues tilting, as if threatening to flip over, but the effect breaks, and it settles back down.

And then proceeds to take a direct hit from a rocket launcher. Armor piercing, yes, but the explosion is still large enough for you to feel it from here.

"Block this, assholes!" You hear someone yell. However, it appears as if they did block it. The vehicle, while scorched, was not penetrated, and the rocket appeared to have hit a hard spot on the armor. The crew seemed shaken though, and it takes a few moments for them to begin pulling the casualty back in.

A few moments is all that's needed. From behind you you see Kakumei...no...Seija. You see Seija run up, a strange looking golden mallet in hand, and suffused with red energy. A single blow sends the vehicle skittering backwards by a meter, and a second blow falls upon the injured enemy on the ground. A crunching sound is heard, and as the dust clears you see, along with everyone else who for an instant are frozen with shock at the sight of the flattened enemy, its torso crushed by the mallet and the armor bursting like an overripe tomato, spilling blood and gore across the dusty ground.

The crew of the vehicle seems to react first, and quickly pulls in the survivor as Seija wounds up for another swing. You hear cries of "No! Let me go!" and "You don't need to die too!" as the vehicle smoothly speeds up and speeds away, faster than any car you've seen before.

Seija carefully lets the mallet drop onto the ground, the red glow fading. She lets out a deep breath and remarks, "Damn I'm lucky. One more hit and I would've ran dry", and collapses.

Everything just kind of stays still there for a while. The injured youkai soldiers are groaning on the ground. Seija is busy being unconscious, and you are too injured to really move. The only reason you haven't passed out yet is because you are fixating on the body of the dead enemy, the black tar of hatred forcing your mind to stay awake.

"Director!" You feel yourself being helped up by somebody, "Don't worry, you'll live. Medic!"

"Hold on," You put all of your effort into your legs, and stand, "Bring me over to that dead hostile."

"Director, you really..."


Perhaps shaken by the volume of a shout from such a badly-wounded person, he does what you say and helps you hobble over to the squashed hostile. Even when dead and crushed, you still see the vanity over it. Its shining armor, in particular, is causing the hatred to grip even harder on your brain.

[ ] Desecrate the corpse
[ ] It is a pointless gesture
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[X] It is a pointless gesture

Best course of action, why give a prideful enemy your time of day?

Also it's best not to mess it up right now in hopes of using the body to find out the weakness of others.
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[x] It is a pointless gesture
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[x] Desecrate the corpse
This rage is a powerful weapon and be a good fuel for many things. Nurture it.
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[X] Desecrate the corpse

Good update. I like this story as much as your other one, which I like a lot.
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[x] It is a pointless gesture. Attend to Kokoro.

She took a bullet to the throat for us. The (hopefully) still living deserve higher priority than prideful scum. Be they her last moments, a quick application of gauze or last words to her corpse, we owe it to her to be there for her.
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I don't think he's in condition to do shit. And I think she'll be okay. I can't say the same for our MC.

However, if this are his last moments, then worrying about her is more important than minding dead thrash.

[x] It is a pointless gesture. Attend to Kokoro.
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[x] It is a pointless gesture. Attend to Kokoro.
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[x] It is a pointless gesture. Attend to Kokoro.

"Director, please, you need medical attention." The soldier insists, going as far as to lash his tail around your waist.

"I'll be dead in a few minutes anyway from all this blood loss."

"You should have been dead since he shot you in the back." You hear Tadakuni's voice call out from behind, "Let's get you patched up first. What are you going to do with a dead body anyway? Eat it before us?"

You ponder his words, with great difficulty through your hate-dulled brain. Yes, he's right. The scum is dead. There is no need to interact with a pile of dead flesh. Besides, the youkai would take care of him shortly.


"Good, Director." Tadakuni, along with the other tengu soldier, hoist you over their shoulders, allowing you to use them as a crutch as you limp back into the camp. "We'll just get that bullet dug out of your sternum and shoulder, and one Scarlet Blood application should be enough for your body to regenerate. Easier for you than for her, I guess."

"Lieutenant Hata!" You grit out as you suddenly remember, "Did they kill her?"

"Yeah, no. Youkai don't go down as easily as humans, even with these strange bullets." Tadakuni informs you, "Besides, we got to her before brain death would occur in a human anyway, though I wouldn't say she's fine."


Tadakuni sucks in a nervous breath, "You see, unlike animal youkai such as me or Indigo, youkai who arose from objects technically are still objects. Lieutenant Hata, in particular, is a collection of 66 masks, as you know."

You recall the grotesque blob of darkness and masks that she shifted into, "Yes."

"So shooting or stabbing at her, regardless of what you may see in her human appearance, is actually damaging the masks. Normal bullets can do no more than chip at the objects of such an old youkai, but these assassins, they did a bit more damage."

He leads you into the medical tent, and you see Kokoro lying on a bed inside, with Clear Sky medics busy tending to her. She looks fairly stable, the various seemingly mortal wounds merely requiring bandages and gauze to cover up. More strangely though, she's conscious, and as soon as you enter she turns straight towards you.

"Director Sylla." She waves you closer to the stretcher.


She closes her eyes and concentrates for a bit, and with a subtle shift a mask appears in her hand, "Here, this is yours."

"What? I don't understand." You look down, and see a mask of a frightful gray demon, its face contorting in an inhuman expression. It’s not the stark red of the anger mask you see Kokoro switch to from time to time, but a sickly white, its mouth and eyes stretched to such grotesque proportions that it is tearing the skin apart. More noticeably though, a sharp gash splits the mask down the middle, and cracks spider out from it, rendering it unfit for any future performance.

"Is this what they did to you?"

She nods. "I wasn't expecting such lethal weapons, though it is good they didn't know my actual composition. Still," A mask of frustration switches onto her face, "That's one more emotion I'm going to have to recover, and the mask of hatred isn’t an easily replaced one."

"You mean that these masks can grow back, like cells?" You ask incredulously.

"Even humans replace their cells every seven years, and it has been a millennia and a half since I was born. Though rarely have they been destroyed so violently." The mask on her face switches to a frowning one. “They also require me to relearn the whole thing.”

"So if the emotion was destroyed...wait." You reach over to your shoulder, near the wound, and gingerly touch it. You feel the cooling liquid of your own blood, but when you take your hand back out it sure does not look like it. The blood is a dark red, and you can see streaks of black laced in it, like a badly made coffee. Worse, it appears to be vaporizing.

"See, Director Sylla, when I told you that you should have died when he shot you in the back I was not exaggerating. That bullet penetrated your fucking sternum and likely smashed its way around your vital organs." Tadakuni points at the destroyed mask, "You are only living right now because of the Lieutenant's dissipated magic flowing through you. I suspected as such when you stood up after all of those shots."

"I am sorry about that." A smiling mask and a sad mask appear on each side of her face as she tries to do the same on her actual face, "If I lose a mask like this the emotions go everywhere, often to whomever is closest. The hostile may have absorbed some too, but his body's annihilated now so it matters little."

"Why apologize? You saved my life, Kokoro."

"At the cost of your soul."

You blink, "Eh?"

She tries to sit up, but the mask switches to a pained expression and she flops back down before continuing on, "If I lose a mask, the emotions within are still stored inside. If a mask is destroyed, the emotions within are released completely, unable to be recovered. Emotions only exist as a part of the human experience, and the released emotions will automatically bound to a new host. All of the hatred stored within, garnered over the course of multiple centuries...they're yours now, and will be yours even in the lives you lead after you die."

"I'm a Christian man, Lieutenant." You chuckle even as her implications sink in, "I don't believe in reincarnation."

"Well you aren't going to heaven with that soul either." Did Kokoro just make a joke? "You have to understand, Sylla. My power to manipulate emotions draw from the fact that these masks can contain, sustain and release large amounts of emotion-tinged magic. It took them multiple mortal blows with what I can only presume as anti-youkai weaponry to destroy one mask. Compare it to a canister of acid, where the thickness of the container corresponds directly to the volume it holds. Now imagine the acid in a feet-thick steel container funneling onto your body, scorching away skin and flesh. That's what's happening to your soul."

"That's a bit over-dramatic, even for a stagedancer like you. Emotions are just emotions."

"Except in this quantity it is more than just feelings and moods." The mask at the side of her face is dead serious, "You are moving and talking despite having a severed sternum, and even now you can feel the pain fading away as I see no wincing or pained gasps from the bullet wounds. If the hatred can do so much for your body, what has it done to your soul?"

The feeling, like black tar, abruptly rises again to the surface. A blur of images and sounds: things you've hated, things you've loathed, things you've despised. You slam a hand against your head, dazing it and temporarily driving them away.

"Don't you feel it, Adin? The bitter draught of hatred washing over your mind? It is not a natural emotion for humans in this quantity. You are likely familiar with tales of heroes whose sheer rage drove them to superhuman acts, and it would be true for you if it was the mask of anger that broke. Hatred is not an attractive emotion like anger, your hands remain cold, and your mind remains clear, but the only thing that you can focus on is the destruction of the object of your hatred. There is no room for indignant protest or wrathful justification. No, the bitter draught will ensure that you will fight, and kill until all that you hate are destroyed utterly."

It is somewhat strange listening to what appears to be a lavender-haired teenage girl lecture to you about hatred in an oppressive monotone, but as you let her words flow through your mind you understand, with a sense of foreboding and despair, that she is right.

"So that destroyed mask...why me?"

"Emotions attracts similar emotions, as you know. Love begets love. Hate begets hate. Much of the mask flowed into you because it found more of itself in you than the others."

Yes, she's right, the hate you felt towards the hostile was your own, only multiplied hundred-fold.

"Perhaps this saved you from the physical wounds, but eventually it will burn out your soul, stifling any emotion other than hate."

"And that'll make me a..."

[ ] A monster
[ ] A weapon
[ ] A human
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[x] chore to stop.

So now we hold the world's worst grudges. It will be up to those we trust to stop us if the time comes.

Besides, we're a cold and calculating human, but a human all the same.
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[X] A weapon
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[X]An idiot
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[x] A weapon
A tool to be used by others. I just hope we can serve the interests of the people we care about.
That said, can't Kokoro help him? If he has too much hate, pour some other feeling in there
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[X] An idiot
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[X]An idiot

Although seriously, if one were to think this through. The main difference between Human and Youkai in most tales is that since a Youkai lives longer, they sort their emotions and feelings slower. What Kokoro says can most likely mean differently for a human. Some point, it will burn out. And unlike Kokoro, who focuses on one emotion at a time.
A human utilizes multiple emotions, and through sheer will can potentially keep down the overabundance of hatred stored in him until he vents it off safely.

This is just my philosophy and conjecture speaking though. I'm not a psychiatrist.
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[x] A human

What is a human? A miserable little pile of hatred.
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Beijing, China
1530 Hours, 300620XX

"Zhao Ni-Tian!" The angry old man, his few strands of hair messily dangling, screams from his desk at his phone, "Get him on the line right now!"

"You called? Vice Premier Zhang?" A black haired young man, his white dress shirt unbuttoned and askew, casually walks into the office. Normally the Vice Premier, a cautious, strict man, would be suspicious about what he was doing so close to his office. The cautiousness, however, has been consumed by his rage.

"You! Explain this!" He drops the phone and slaps down a collection of photographs on the table, and a series of accompanying documents. "Your targets, accused of 'subversion' have been our eyes and ears throughout Beijing and Shanghai! What have you done with them? Not even consulting us!"

"I don't see the problem." Ni-Tian closes the door and lazily scrolls over, "According to our agents they have been instrumental in destabilizing the Party's activities, and have contributed to disrupting the peace. Here look: Liu Xiang Ming, caught selling ten pounds of cocaine. How is that not an automatic death penalty?"

"Did he not present you with a badge?"

"Maybe. Didn't bother. Shot him on the spot. Tasted okay."

"You!....what did you say?"

"Shot him on the spot. Tasted okay." The lazy smile on Ni-Tian's face grows wider.


"Yeah, seasoned with a bit of chili and soy sauce. Tasted better than you State Council types normally do."

Zhang Wei quietly presses the alarm under the desk and reaches for the pistol in the side drawer, all the while attempting to retain a composed feature.

"You're insane, Zhao Ni-Tian. It is our fault we let your madness remain hidden for so long." He accuses.

"Heard that already," The minister of State Security yawns, "Say whatever you want, nothing is going to change."

The door opens, and a squad of uniformed guards enter the room, guns drawn.

"We heard the alarm, is there something wrong, Vice Premier?" One of them asks.

Zhang Wei gives a sigh of relief, "Yes. Mr. Zhao just threatened me with violence. Please escort him to a holding cell."

The young minister looks back and grins at them. The guards lower their handguns and back away.

"I'm afraid we can't do that." One of them says as they back all the way out of the room, "We are going to have to...Ha ha!" They all laugh as they slam the door close and lock it, "Fuck you Zhang Wei!"

The old man's mouth widen in shock, "Traitors!"

"See, this is what happens when the people you employ aren't nearly as aligned with your ideals as you thought." Zhao takes out a long knife from his pocket and idly spin it, "You can pay them, sure, but soon they want more than just money. Besides, I also paid them."

"Why are you doing this?" Zhang had gotten a good grip on his pistol, "Did the Americans or Russians make you their lapdog?"

"Quite the contrary, I'm my own master. Though..." He suddenly lashes out, grabbing hold of Zhang's right arm and stabbing it straight through, nailing it to the table, prompting the latter to scream violently. "...nice try by the way...you can say I am working for one of China's true rulers, and no, it's not the scumbags in Taiwan or some foreign dogs. You old men have this vision of a harmonious, peaceful China, where you rule like some sort of Confucius scholar kings. That's not a way for China to move forward in this world, and frankly we're overdue for some actual social turmoil. You, on the other hand, are just overdue."

With his free hand, Ni-Tian grabs hold of the old man's head. For a brief moment, Zhang can see his assailant's hand glow a range of vibrant colors along with his eyes, before Ni-tian squeezes.

A soggy-sounding crunch, and Zhang falls face forward onto his desk, skull crushed and blood pouring out of his seven facial openings.

The door opens, and the guards peak in, "Is it over?"

"Yeah. Don't worry, I'm not eating anymore State Council. You men can have him if you want."

"Not going to sir." Is the collective reply.

"Well maybe you guys will get the heart for it eventually. Helps a lot with your body and magical potential if you've bought books from Clear Sky." Ni-Tian says as he cleans his knife on the dead man's clothes. "In that case please start disposing of the corpse...hmmm..."

His attention is taken by a calligraphy scroll hung on the wall. A masterful work done by a contemporary Wang Xi-Zhi, the beauty of the calligraphy is nevertheless dampened by the fact that the actual phrase is a hollow party slogan.

"I'll go ahead and leave a little message."

He picks up a decorative brush on the desk and dips it in the dead man's blood. Walking over to the wall, he turns the wall scroll over and begins writing a small poem.


The red sun descends behind the mountain,
The moon darkens, covered by the heavy clouds
The thunder father and lightning mother herald a storm
Only for the rainbow's glow when the winds die down

"Boss, that's a terrible poem." One of the guards remarks.

"Don't care. It sounds good on the tongue."

"Hey boss? You know the Falungong and the Dalai Lama? You think they could help us since they're so popular with the usual ZaoFan crowd?"

"Hell no. When we are done cleaning out the Central Committee we're also cleaning those traitor-cultists out for good. Remember, we want China to be FREE! Not enslaved to another ideology!"

Ni-Tian stares for a moment at the wall scroll, then nods and adds a separate line below his improvised poem.


<%Purple> Spice what are you doing
<Spice> Busy

[ ] Cross
[ ] Story
[ ] Updates
[ ] Would
[ ] Be
[ ] Fun
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I had it once. Terrible stuff.

[x] Story

I'm really liking the setting, but that is not an option, so I'll go with 'Story'
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[x] Be

First things first. Existence is a prerequisite for most other things.
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[X] Updates
Update more, fag. This and the main story are my favorite running stories on the site.
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[x] "...An idiot"


"I'm a bloody idiot." You say, before giving in to an uncontrollable urge to laugh, "What was I thinking? I should have ran away like the rest of my men when I was offered the chance. I should have stayed back and let the company handle these new hostiles. No, I had to go in and get shot."

"It was a brave act. Perhaps some may call it foolish, but it was noble and brave."

"NOBILITY IS A FUCKING STAIN ON THIS WORLD, KOKORO!" You let out without warning, realizing what you have said only a few moments after as you see more people gathering around the tent to stare at you. "I..I'm sorry. I can't..."

"Yeah, this is going to be a problem." Tadakuni remarks, "Yo, Lieutenent Hata, can't you just stuff him with some other emotions to balance it out?"

Kokoro gives Tadakuni a rather condescending stare, somehow without showing any actual emotion on her face, "If you want him to become a bipolar wreck of a man who can do little but rave and attempt to tear his own brain out to stop the emotions, then sure, I can. Adin, I would recommend that you simply allow the hatred to run its course. It's not all bad, after all, the sheer amount of magical power contained within the seeped emotion gives you quite the edge above a regular human. As you can see in your not dying act."

"But you said it would burn out my soul!"

She shrugs, "As far as I know souls can change. What I meant is that it is probably going to become a central facet of your personality from now on and likely for a few lives after this. Naturally if you lose control you can have it take over the rest of your being."

"And I am just a human, one already hating before. What makes you think it won't burn?"

The menreiki remains silent for a moment, then quietly says, "Put on the mask."

"Eh?" You respond, confused. The other youkai give a similar sign of unknowing, save for Tadakuni, who perks up but says nothing.

"Put on the mask, just do it. You called yourself an idiot, did you not? An idiot needs guidance. Put on the mask."

You stare at the porcelain for a long while, before deciding she is right and place it over your face.

"Now, let go."

You carefully let go of the mask, and to your surprise it stays, even though you don't feel any straps or glue holding it. Right after you feel a sudden drain in your broiling emotions, and the black tar clears out of your mind, though you can still feel it. In addition, a part of your brain, the part that strained upon usage of the rudimentary spells Kokoro tried to teach you, feels warm and alive.


"You really didn't offer him a choice, didn't you, Hata no Kokoro?" Tadakuni remarks with a surprisingly cool undertone.

"Idiots are idiots. Idiots don't get choices. Now, Lieutenant Sylla, what you have done is transfer the madness out of your head and into that mask, in turn also making my broken mask a part of you."

A cold realization comes up, and you stagger back. Such a seemingly innocuous act...


"You are effectively part-menreiki now."

You grab the mask and try to pull it off, to no avail. The mask is as immobile as if it had been bolted to your face. Kokoro looks on with her blank expression, though you can see her trying to look concerned with what limited facial expressions she could muster.

"Don't pull. It's a part of you now. You can move it by thinking."

Ceasing the struggles, you calm your mind and will the mask to move to the side of your head. Like a long neglected limb, it kind of creaks, before obediently transferring position. It does not resist or exert unwanted thoughts into your mind as a cursed item from a fairy tale would. It is in fact, like a body part.

You kind of understand how Kokoro functions now.

"So," You take in another breath, "Now what?"

"You should be fine now. By taking that part of me into you the hatred should no longer be in danger of taking over you. Mostly. In exchange however you have become part-menreiki, with all the benefits and drawbacks that entail."

"Notably any anti-youkai weaponry would work against you, though not well." Tadakuni picks up, "And of course normal people would feel uneasy around you, but not much. Really it's not much of a difference."

Thinking it over, you sigh, "So really, not much of a change from before, is there?"

"Not that I can think of. You are still at least ninety-five percent human." Kokoro bites her lip, "I actually have no idea what happens after I transplant a part of myself. Tadakuni?"

"No clue, I suggest you ask Lady Yakumo."

You shift the mask around your head, "Speaking of which, is Indigo heading back?"

The white wolf gives a nervous chuckle, "Oh yeah. The other manager's on the radio with her."

"Is she mad? Worried?"

"Oh she is PISSED."


Camp Fijr Dhwa
1650 Hours, 300620XX

You put up as good as an impression as you can possibly muster under these circumstances. The afternoon sun beating down on your neck doesn't help matters, though as a soldier you've grown quite used to it.

Indigo paces in front of the five of you, her nine tails swinging freely in the air. The three high level managers, which includes you, Tadakuni and a former South African officer named Bright, as well as the two C-level operatives, which includes Kokoro and Seija. Bright is the only one not encumbered by bandages or casts, and he seems to rub it in further by dressing in light clothes while the rest of you are sweating in your dressings.

"In any case," She finally says after listening to each of your debriefings. "It seems that the strange enemy sighted last night in Gensokyo has a wider reach than we thought."

"They're in Gensokyo too?" Tadakuni perks up. "Have the Youkai Mountain become involved?"

"No idea. At this moment their 'elite' agents," Indigo curls airquotes in the air with her hand and two of her tails, "The ones you fought compared to the ones we have gotten confirmed kills, they seem to be fixating on an outsider and our Project Iron Wing which for some reason seems to like him very much. Good job, Seija, by the way, we got some resemblance of a body and equipment to work with."

You can see her veins bulge and her hands clench as the amanojaku looks away and mutters, "I hate you."

"What this tells us is that the enemy is hitting us in what they believe to be a priority location, and that would be correct, considering that this is where I sleep. It also means that whatever measures I have put in to deceive the UN and the Sudanese government is not working against them."

"Are you saying that we should begin working more quietly? Miss Yakumo?" You ask.

"No, and nice job actually doing the required reading. Don't you remember, 'The horizon's the edge, the sky's the limit'?"

The train station doors behind her slam open, and you hear the roar and squeal of a train exiting one of their eldritch dimensional rifts. You see said train slow down and stop, as Indigo walks open and shoves open a boxcar with one hand.

"We don't hide. We expand operations."

Indigo kicks a box out as she opens it, and inside are a motley collection of swords and machetes. Looking closely, however you can see that they are far from mundane blades. The handles are noticeably detached from the blades, and a series of leaf springs hold the blade to the hilt. The handguard on the grip also seems to have a black boxy object attached. You can see soldiers and support personnel from around the camp gather up in curiosity of an off-schedule supply shipment.

Several other boxes are shoved out and kicked open. These contain ammunition, seemingly normal for rifles save for the strange colored shells and red tipped bullets. Picking one up, you read "DU HEAT round 7.62x54R."

"As part of our first phase of escalation." Indigo announces with great relish, "Clear Sky is proud to announce that we are distributing our first batch of Armor Piercing armaments from Kappa Village. ultrasonic blades and magically fueled armor piercing ammunition will now be standard issue for all Clear Sky personnel, in addition to any of their funnier toys they slipped in here. In the case the janjaweed forces or our new foes deploy armored vehicles or the reported powered suits, you should have no problem penetrating them."

She picks up a blade, twirls it, and in the same motions swings at a chunk of warped railroad track piled on her left. You tilt your head as you see the blade cut straight through the thick metal like so much bread.

"Avail yourselves of these new weapons and familiarize yourselves with them. You will be using them soon." She raises the blade, "This new enemy will find that they have indeed forced our hand, but not in their favor. Tomorrow at dusk we will march on Al-Fashir and claim this entire region to ourselves!"

Cheers and yells erupt from the gathered mercenaries, as they raise their own guns and blades in response. You feel the bitter draught rising again to the surface as your mind drifts to the potential of butchering the corrupt officials responsible for oh so many problems when you were running the camp in the UN's name, and you can't help but let out a sadistic snarl.

"Mere weapons is not all we have, warriors!. Behold, the fruits of our first research project! Steel Shell!"

From the darkness inside the train car a glint of light is seen, and then a massive six-legged...thing jumps out. It's definitely robotic, with obvious mechanical parts and metallic armor plates, but it moves too...animal-like. It superficially resembles a insect in form, though not by much, and is roughly the size of a car. Its stubby but powerful looking legs are lowered in a crouched position, and you back away slightly as you see the heavy machine gun mounted on its "head". It is not a pretty creature, all bolts and plates joined together just enough to make it work and slathered with desert colors, enough to dispell any notion of it being organic or benign.

"I like to call it just the kabutomushi, but the English designation we are using is the KP-07 Beetle. Anybody here who has worked with golems or robots should be familiar with its nature, although in this case the kappa took the liberty of using nerve cells instead of microcircuits for some of its sensory and motor controllers. As such they are a bit more adaptable than most unmanned vehicles. Oh, and they are imprinted instead of programmed, and can easily discern between friend and foe."

The mechanical monstrosity retracts its machine gun and crawls forward into the crowd, provoking everyone to move away from it. You note that it is not following movement patterns typical of normal robots, and is fluidly moving, slowing down, and poking its sensory antennae as necessary without any noticeable stopping or looping.

"Isn't that a tachikoma?" One of the Asian human mercenaries points out.

"If you don't want to get us sued don't call it that." Indigo remarks as she gracefully leaps onto the robot. "Now, this thing is armored like a tank thanks to the CNT meshes our kappa colleagues developed, and can jump up two stories at a time as well as run up to 80 kph. It comes armed with a Kord heavy machine gun and a Kappa rocket launcher..."

She pauses for a moment to allow the robot to flip open its weaponry hatches and demonstrate its impressive armament.

"...though a cruder model than what you would see on our Burmese special operatives. It isn't very good at tactics and only fires when fired upon unless manually instructed to by its controller. Every squad will receive one, and I highly suggest using it to draw fire and lead head-on assaults. Don't worry if it gets destroyed, its components are stronger than itself."

Several more spider bots crawl out of open hatches, some carrying additional crates of equipment on their backs.

"Now then, warriors! Take your pick of the equipment and practice. Squad leaders, tell a Beetle to follow you and read the instruction manual on our website. I trust you are all competent enough to handle a simple equipment upgrade."

Indigo leaps off of the robot and skips over. "Adin, Kokoro, I'll need to speak to the two of you after this. Privately."

You note her suddenly less enthusiastic tone and seriousness, and give a firm nod as well as a "Yes Ma'am".

Kokoro riffs through the boxes, with the other soldiers politely (or rather by policy) letting her have the first pick. She chooses a longblade, much like her unpowered glaive, and a nasty-looking pistol with a needle pointed tip.

You grab about ten magazines full of the HEAT rifle ammo for your SV-98, as you see no need in trading up as your very, very partial bit of youkainess doesn't grant you nearly the amount of strength to use an anti-materiel rifle like that. There are a couple of other items within that catch your eye, and may come in handy.

[ ] Ultrasonic Blade - Comes in knife, sword, axe, whatever forms. It's a chunk of sharp metal set to vibrating at extremely high frequencies and magically alloyed to not shatter. The power supply is rather bulky, however. Good thing it's silent.
[ ] XM25-G - Clear Sky in house versions of this prototype American weapon. It fires 25mm grenades at a semi-automatic pace.
[ ] Lava Bombs - Apparently a leftover product of "Marisa Kirisame", who Tadakuni calls a "rotten thief" and "nutty witch". It was later mass-produced by Clear Sky who saw use in a grenade with both incendiary and explosive properties. The grenades themselves contain an explosive that when detonated is converted into a superheated liquid, that, as Tadakuni reluctantly admits, is very good at getting through armor cracks and vehicle ports.
[ ] Neutralizer - An odd weapon. Looks like a M2 flamethrower on the outsider, but is far lighter due to the advanced materials used in its construction. It sprays a fast acting anesthetic and sedative for quite some range, and the flexible nozzle can be toggled to spray under doors and through windows. It is designed for civilian inhabited areas where it could be used indiscriminately without much drawback.
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[X] Ultrasonic Blade
Woo, update
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[X] Neutralizer - An odd weapon. Looks like a M2 flamethrower on the outsider, but is far lighter due to the advanced materials used in its construction. It sprays a fast acting anesthetic and sedative for quite some range, and the flexible nozzle can be toggled to spray under doors and through windows. It is designed for civilian inhabited areas where it could be used indiscriminately without much drawback.

If I have the choice to vote 'finish your foe fast' or vote 'play with your new toy', I always choose 'play with your toy'.
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[x] Neutralizer

So, instead of finding a way to deal lethal damage through an incredibly resistant armor that probably favors vital points, all we have to do is to take care of the mask filters (that some of them don't even use, I might add) to win? I'm in.

Non lethality is also a bonus for crowded areas, non armored foes and for going against our new "Fate"

That last thing is quite the turn on for me. Er, literary-wise.
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[x] Neutralizer
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[x] Neutralizer
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[x] Neutralizer - An odd weapon. Looks like a M2 flamethrower on the outsider, but is far lighter due to the advanced materials used in its construction. It sprays a fast acting anesthetic and sedative for quite some range, and the flexible nozzle can be toggled to spray under doors and through windows. It is designed for civilian inhabited areas where it could be used indiscriminately without much drawback.

A fair option. As somebody who prefers to deal with nasty business from afar a device that could disable hostiles in close quarters before they get the chance to open fire is a welcome addition to your gear set.

Packing it up into its attached container, you tap Kokoro on the shoulder and gesture towards Indigo. Both of you follow her into the command tent, where you see Indigo groan as she flops down on a swivel chair, sprawling all fourteen of her limbs in different directions.

"Sylla I have no idea exactly what happened to you and I don't really care. I've been up for over 72 hours directing operations and I think that speech took the last out of me. Here's what I'm going to do: because you somehow managed to become part-menreiki within THREE DAYS OF JOINING THE COMPANY, you are now designated as an independent operative and are relieved of your command position here at camp for this time. New security director will be whoever has the highest rank in the company at the moment. Ugh..." One of her tails reaches around the shelf hear her and plucks out a bottle of wine cleverly hidden behind a thick book, and flings it from tail to tail until it reaches her open hand. "Faceless will now be your commanding officer from now on..."

"What?!" Your surprised tone clashes with Kokoro's monotone even as both of you say the same word.

"This is a temporary arrangement; seeing how it works out I may make some adjustments." She rips the bottle cap out with her teeth and sniffs the contents, "Aged well...Anyway here's the job. While the rest of our forces will advanced and assault Al-Fashir tomorrow, the two of you will be sent in as infiltrators to try and subvert as many of the government troops stationed there as possible. Those camo cloaks over by the cabinets are for you two, by the way. According to the company's ethics code we have to make every effort to minimize casualties..."

You can't help but ask, "We have an ethics code?"

"We have to have one, otherwise Higan and its infernal associates tend to become agitated and end our life insurance policy, but that's something above your paygrade for now. Faceless, you know what to do. Since Sylla here is now part-menreiki you are responsible for commanding him to make maximum use out of his new role."

Kokoro shrugs, "Yes Miss Yakumo."

"Sylla, consider her your mentor and guide from now on, as you are her sole subordinate. Your call sign is now 'Dagger', and you will be responsible for dealing with everything you can handle on this operation, am I clear?"

"No. I have no idea what that means."

Indigo sips the bottle without breaking eye contact, "As you know already, Faceless is capable of large scale emotional manipulation. While doing so in a short amount of time is not possible or at least efficient in the Outside World, acts such as slowly draining the fighting will of an army or gradually building up anger in a community is more than possible. She will require concentration and other preparations to perform these spells, and you are there to facilitate that."

"Got that. Yes ma'am. Whatever it takes to kill these fuckers dead. Ma'am."

You clasp your hand over your mouth and Indigo rolls her eyes as she removes a manila folder from under her desk, "Yep, definitely the mask of hatred. Now, both of you will leave within half an hour within a civilian car, driving along the routes detailed in the provided map to avoid attracting attention. Everything after that should be a cakewalk considering Faceless's capabilities, but if those strange hostiles with powered armor show up again then we may have some trouble that would require lethal action. Your fledgling nature as a menreiki would also be of use, though the specifics would be up to her."

"You think we can take them on? Just like that?"

"Their only real advantage was their armor, and the upgraded equipment should be able to breach it easily judging by how the suit we recovered is made of a conventional polyethylene-ceramic plating, though of vastly improved craftsmanship and thickness compared to market models. If that doesn't do the trick feel free to requisition more equipment or operatives, but I personally wouldn't because just two new strangers in town is already attention enough, and the extra things may prove to be a burden instead of a boon. "


Requisition other items here:

[x] Relevant spellcards and mundane infiltration toolkit - Provided
[x] Ritual materials - Chalks, magical fuels and catalysts, tomes, focuses - Provided

[ ] ONE OR TWO other operatives TOTAL, issued with standard company underarmor, civilian guises and camo-cloaks. Reasonably well-versed in stealth operations.
- [ ] ___ Human operatives, equipped and trained with AS Val and VSS Vintorez silenced rifles loaded with the upgraded rounds.
- [ ] ___ Youkai operatives, equipped with ultrasonic weaponry and silenced MP7 PDWs with the upgraded rounds.
- [ ] ONE specialized KP-07 Beetle equipped with optical camouflage devices and equipped with a Neutralizer and multiple jammers capable of disrupting IR and radar signals. It will be traveling alongside the car so be sure to figure out how to hide it, since camouflage won't do much for something that large when somebody's close.
[ ] C4 plastic explosives w/ detonator
[ ] Traps and alarms kit (magical)
[ ] Distraction kit (magical) (Kirisame-made)


"Jesus Christ Indigo, you don't have to scream it."

"Just making sure. Anyways the details of the operation are up to you. I trust that planning a milk run like this should be a simple exercise. A test, if you will."


Camp Fijr Dhwa
1700 Hours, 300620XX

"So considering how the military barracks are located in these sectors, we have to perform the ritual right around..." You finish drawing the last arc with the compass and point out the location on the map. "Here."

"The marketplace?" Kokoro's still not showing any expressions, but is doing her best to show it by switching on a quizzical looking mask and holding her cupped hand over her mouth. "Too much commotion and not enough room, though I can theoretically pacify the crowds, there is no way I can perform the ritual while doing the same."

"Well the other potential areas within the overlap are the radio station and the Al-Fashir university grounds, that or we can use a residential house."

"No, the Dance of Despair acts as a contagion, which means that to affect the soldiers stationed in these barracks within the timeframe of the attack there needs to be large quantities of people witnessing it. The university grounds could work if we prepare the ritual beforehand, and if we perform it on the roof of the radio station we could channel the feedback from the immediate witnesses as audio for the radio to broadcast, which would amplify the effect."

"Wait, how does that work?" You try to put your mind around it. "A contagion? Like a plague?"

Kokoro shifts her hands up between her eyes as the mask changes to a menacing one, "You have worked in refugee camps, correct? You've seen how despair pervades them, how people just sit down and do nothing? All emotions, to some degree, are contagious via the network of empathy in communities, but some like despair and anger benefit the most. The Dance of Despair is simply a spectacle incredibly invoking of that emotion and choreographed specifically so that those who view it are propelled to move around and speak loudly of their feelings."

"So somewhere popular yet reserved. Looks like it's just these spots then." Al-Fashir is kind of a massive refugee camp/lower-class suburb only economically active due to the massive torrents of foreign aid in the region, and the construction of the city reflects it: a sprawling grid of low-rise pre-fabricated structures.

The full menreiki nods, "Yes. Do consider that the assault will commence at 1900 hours, and the crescendo of the effect should coincide with it, ensuring that the guards would be affected enough to put up no resistance and the other soldiers simply stuck in their barracks. I can dance for around one hour, with the effect gradually building up as more people are affected, and at closing stage it can roughly affect everyone within the radii and a coin toss for those outside. To be able to schedule it at 1800 and to sustain it for one hour without interference would be the physical objective here."

"Let's see: the police, the soldiers stationed there...the weird armored men. The Sudanese government isn't exactly an iron fist, just a fleshy fist, so passing you off as a street or student performer shouldn't be difficult with some disguises. If we go ahead with the radio station idea then it would definitely attract a shitton of unwanted attention."

"But if we do that," She reminds you, "The effect should be strong enough to crush them before they could act."

"Ideally speaking, of course, and we have to deal with the people in there first."

"You will for any of these locations: Passing off a new student performer or reserving a spot in the marketplace."

[ ] Radio Station
[ ] University
[ ] Marketplace square


"Fuck. We are so screwed." A human mercenary groans as he stares at the ultrasonic blade in his hands. "We are totally the bad guys now.'

"Lay off the video games, Ryu," A youkai trooper says as she looks up from cleaning her gun, "I know what you're talking about, but really?"

"I'm sorry! It's just that our current leadership here consists of a socially-isolated polearm wielder, a misanthropic troll who flips objects, and a boss who has things coming out of her rear that I've seen first hand can be used as protective mechanisms. And now we have vibrating blades and are being attacked by infiltrating enemies in armor who claim we are evil and have weapons designed to counter us."

"They're the ones with the cloaking devices, not us. Besides. As long as we don't have a samurai the analogy won't work. More importantly..." She gestures to the head mounted on a spike near the fence, "We won, they didn't."

"Maybe they'll send stronger ones."

"So become stronger then." She finishes cleaning her gun and moves on to her blade, "You'll only lose if you think like a loser."

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[x] Distraction kit (Kirisame made)
For our inevitable explosive escape.

[x] Marketplace square

I can't wait to see him in action.
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[X] Distraction kit (magical) (Kirisame-made)
[X] Marketplace square

Time to cause a ruckus of mild proportions!
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[X] Distraction kit (magical) (Kirisame-made)
[X] Marketplace square
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[X] Distraction kit (magical) (Kirisame-made)
[X] Marketplace square

What's the ending referencing? I'm drawing a complete blank.
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I mean this whole sequence. It sounded like it was supposed to be a reference to something specific:

>a socially-isolated polearm wielder, a misanthropic troll who flips objects, and a boss who has things coming out of her rear that I've seen first hand can be used as protective mechanisms. And now we have vibrating blades and are being attacked by infiltrating enemies in armor who claim we are evil and have weapons designed to counter us."

>"They're the ones with the cloaking devices, not us. Besides. As long as we don't have a samurai the analogy won't work.
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It's just a happy coincidence. Also update in a few hours.
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Waiting warmly, son.
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[x] Distraction Kit

[x] Marketplace Square

Al-Fashir, Sudan
0730 Hours

The road to the provincial capital is a dirt road pock-marked by various craters, rocks, and other collective bullshit. You are not exactly an excellent driver yourself, but still you hesitated when Kokoro offered to take the wheel.

“I’ve been driving longer than you have lived.” Is what she said. Still, the ride turned out to be bumpier than was reasonably expected even given these conditions, which you have little doubt is partially due to Kokoro driving with one hand and eating dinner with the other, while only looking at the road half of the time. By the time you see the outskirts of the capital your rear end is a shiny beacon of pain and you are trembling, barely able to thank God for the fact that you survived the ride.

Kokoro slows down the car as she approaches the first checkpoint. You see four figures near the post level their guns at the car, only to lower them as the car gets closer and as the blank mask floating by Kokoro gets brighter.

“Stop.” A soldier calls out half-heartedly. You see that in the span of ten seconds they have gone from an alert state to dangling their assault rifles at their sides. They check your bags briefly, glance over the fake identity papers, and nod you on. They dismiss the distraction kit as just a gaudy backpack.

“Why do you need me again?” You mutter over as she starts the car back up and proceed forward.

“Because it’s a test run and your presence gives me enough leverage to minimize casualties.” She mutters back, an annoyed looking mask over her head.

Entering Al-Fashir proper, you see that the streets are emptier than usual for this hour, and contrary to your experience here three weeks ago there are barely any soldiers patrolling the streets, while you would expect the opposite given the increase in attacks both genuinely rebel and Clear Sky orchestrated recently. There are also fewer civilians than usual, and you note that the ones remaining look worse off than the average.

“I have a feeling we’re being led into a trap.”

“So? It’s not like they could do anything.”

You nervously survey the streets through the car windows. “If those strange knight warriors show up again that could be a problem.”

“And your job if they show up is to distract them away from where I am. It’s not as if I’m dressed for attention.”

With her homespun robe, plain black wig and veil, she looks just like another poor refugee trying to eke some extra money by performing. You idly wonder if she would attract more attention by wearing less, then immediately suppress the thought for fear that she has secondary mind-reading powers.

Kokoro, reading the map and not really looking at the road, almost runs over a pedestrian as she turns down a narrow alleyway and emerges into an empty lot, where a number of other beat-up old Toyota models like your own are haphazardly parked.

“The marketplace is just up ahead.” She says, “We have roughly a day to prepare before starting the ritual, so don’t hurry.”

“Yeah, but if somebody’s already on to us then we may have far less time than that. Did Indigo give us radios?”

“No. Radio silence is necessary.”

“Shit.” You lay your head down on the dashboard. “Alright, this is what I would do. Recon the marketplace, ask about the recent absence of people, and hole up somewhere for the night. As far as we can tell right now we have not been identified, at least openly, and we can use our civilian status to move around openly tomorrow to find any potential source of interference and prep your performance area.”

Kokoro nods, a bit over-vigorously as usual, “A reasonable decision. Lead the way.”

“I thought you were the commanding officer,” You complain as you turn your head.

“In these arrangements Indigo prefers it to be less like that and more of an equal partnership.”

“That’s stupid.” Your SV-98 and Neutralizer are separated into parts to fit in a plain black backpack, while Kokoro’s new glaive appears to be foldable. “Milk run, right?” You mutter as you open the door and swing the backpack over your shoulder, the distraction kit in the other, “Fuck it, let’s just go in.”


The marketplace is still running, and reasonably full, though you see that a good number of booths are vacated, with the vendor markings absent. Judging that Kokoro probably should not talk with her bad accent in Arabic, you take up the role as group face and take up a stool at a nearby open-air coffee bar.

“Say.” You find a person by himself and decide that he is as good as a source of info here as any. “Where is everyone?”

“You must be from out of town.” The middle-aged gentleman answers in a heavy Egyptian accent as he sips the bark-infused coffee and takes off his cap. “Government ordered an evacuation. Foreign aid workers have been forced to leave and they’re moving civilians on trucks out of the city to the east. It was sudden, they just started yesterday evening.”

Yesterday evening? Explains the lack of intel on this development. “They must be preparing an operation here.”

“Can’t be. They’re moving soldiers out too. Odd given how they have not been losing ground or anything, but it looks like Khartoum’s abandoning this area for whatever reason. I’m not leaving. I’ve lost my village already and I’m not moving again.”

A frightening revelation flashes in your mind. Have they figured out Clear Sky’s neo-colonialist strategy? “How many have evacuated already? I’m looking for my sister here and am having trouble.”

The coffee drinker does some thinking, “About two out of every ten people have left, and they are sending in more trucks as we speak.”

“She might have gotten on already. Never one to disobey authority, that Aisha. Where are the trucks being boarded at?”

“The military base in the far east end of town. Haven’t been near there myself since I don’t want o get evacuated, and I’m no military man or fancy dancer that could blend in…”

You instinctively draw your knife from its sheath as you detect the odd and targeted reference in his words. “What do you mean?”

“It means I’m a better hider than you, Adin.” Ahmed, your spotter from yesterday, grins as he pulls his fake beard down. “Those glasses you wear disguise nothing.”


You raise your hand and make a V signal, and Kokoro walks over. “Indigo didn’t tell me you got in already. Heck, she didn’t tell me about you at all.”

“Indigo believes in having her subordinates build plans from the bottom-up and spontaneously whenever it’s not too important, and if they cannot do that it means they are too stupid to be trusted.” Ahmed states in a now noticeably lower and clearer voice as he downs his cup. “I sometimes think she’s just being lazy, but so far it’s worked pretty well and has the added bonus of perfect OpSec before execution.”

“Ahmed.” Kokoro acknowledges as she takes a seat at the same table. “Sylla, though Indigo doesn’t tell us she would generally send in multiple infiltrators before taking a site, and she often sends only her most trusted operatives.”

“It’s not hard given all the tools we have. Magic, futuristic tech, fluffy tails, the whole shebang. Kokoro’s here to dance them all silly again, aren’t you girl?”

“Dance them sad, not silly. I’m trying a different trick this time.” She takes Ahmed’s pot and pours herself a cup, and adds multiple sugar packets. “So I heard something about an evacuation?”

“Yes. If this goes on we might only have an empty city to conquer, and the enemy would have slipped away before we close in. I have not been able to talk with HQ about this yet, so it’s up to us whether or not to take action.”

“As usual. Sylla? Would it be a good idea for us to stop the evacuation?”

“Uhh….” Despite being a lieutenant and a director, you have made surprisingly little military decisions in your career, mostly due to not being on the front lines.

[ ] Pursue additional objective: Sabotage the evacuation


“Also, you did figure out where we would spend the night right?”

“Ahmed, you have a place?” You ask.

“No. I’ve been wandering around the streets like a lost refugee and sleeping wherever.”

[ ] Set up a nest in a nearby empty apartment.

[ ] Commandeer an abandoned booth and pretend to be merchants sleeping among their own wares.

[ ] Stay in the car.
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[X] Pursue additional objective: Sabotage the evacuation
[X] Commandeer an abandoned booth and pretend to be merchants sleeping among their own wares.

Operation: Cheerful Businessman
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[X] Pursue additional objective: Sabotage the evacuation

The more people still around the better our main mission will work.

[X] Set up a nest in a nearby empty apartment.

The problem with the merchant option is that someone could come by who knows who that stall belongs to. Out of obvious sight should be safer.
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[x] Sabotage and empty place

Time to counter the counter strategy
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But what if they counter our counter to their counter strategy?
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Then I guess he gets mad and kills everything...?
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[x] Sabotage the evacuation

Al-Fashir was never a really prosperous city. Even as foreign money flowed in via relief efforts in recent years its primary commercial activities are still based around the local agriculture, which still remains primarily focused around subsistence. With a population of roughly 300,000 as of this year, it is also not nearly as densely populated as say, Omburdan. Most of the houses are still mud-brick in construction, and barely any structures outside of minarets and the occasional Western-funded building rise above two-stories. More recently, owing to the Clear Sky-sponsored unrest in the region, the government has sent three entire brigades of regulars into the capital, where they set up large encampments along the edges of the city. Often times you can see uniformed men standing guard on street corners or walking in pairs, but none of them appear to be too alert or concerned. Many are using their phones or smoking, and like the guards you met earlier their guns are held lazily or slung over their backs.

You are beginning to think that given the immense technological and magical advantage your side has that this may indeed be a cakewalk. Sabotage and subterfuge may not have been something you were trained in, but your charismatic talents have served a similar purpose long enough. You thought as the three of you walked among groups of refugees to the staging area that it would be a simple matter of slashing some tires. Even if a shootout happens and the plan goes south you still have the new CNT undershirt and pants Indigo gave to you as well as all new recruits, which she says reliably stops assault rifle caliber bullets from piercing...though it does not prevent blunt trauma.

The three of you slow down as you see the floodlights outside of the staging area, and duck your heads down as you see the soldiers standing near the chain-link fence. You note that these ones appear to be better trained than the checkpoint guards and the ones patrolling the streets: Their postures are stiff, their weapons are readied and most importantly they are actually scanning their surroundings instead of staring forward vacantly. You also take note of the RPG launchers on their backs, as it appears that every single trooper is carrying one, in flagrant defiance of the military doctrine and tactics you have been taught.

"Looks like they're expecting heavy resistance." You mutter as your group breaks away from the main street into a nearby alleyway.

"No kidding. These guys don't look like any SAF forces we've seen yet, and they sure as hell aren't janjaweed or militia." The Iraqi looks up and down for a way to scale the two-story building, currently serving as a closed store, "We need a vantage point. Faceless, can you cast a spell or something to get us up?"

Kokoro casually grabs him under his arm and jumps without a change in the mask, clearing the height quite easily and then lets Ahmed roll off of her shoulder. You close your eyes and bite your teeth as she jumps down and grabs you too. A sudden feel of heaviness, and you flop down on your arms on the roof.

"My skills at proper academic magic are rudimentary at best, I'm afraid."

"Right, youkai." You push yourself up, and see that you now have a clear view of the staging area. The fenced in area is quite large, about four soccer fields in size. Military trucks are lined up in rows along one edge, while a steady stream of civilians, refugees and ordinary impoverished citizens alike, are being led through the gate and loaded onto the vehicles. Another gate, this one looking heavier and also motorized, opens to the south, where you can see trucks leaving and entering. Judging by their exit paths they look to be going towards the B26 highway.

"So Sylla, you have any idea how to sabotage a motor pool?"

"We sneak in and slash their tires?"

"Have you been watching too many spy movies man?" Ahmed exclaims, "That shit only works on single vehicles, and even if somehow we don't get caught slashing the tires of all..." He gestures to the quite impressive amount of vehicles lined up in the staging area, "...of those trucks, they can repair or replace them with ease. Any other ideas?"

You shake your head at Ahmed's question, "No, I'm a regular infantry commander, not special forces."


She shrugs, "There was never the necessity to do so in my life. I am capable at sabotaging people, not machines, and while I have experience in driving vehicles I do not possess detailed knowledge of their inner workings."

"Fuck." Ahmed sighs as if resigned, though his eyes appear excited. "We'll just have to go with my idea then. Here's the situation: Al-Fashir is a rural settlement, and while more people have gotten automobiles these days the gasoline supplies in this town are not nearly sufficient for this evacuation effort. The army has been sending in fuel trucks to resupply the evacuation, and the gasoline is loaded into those-" He points to the white storage tanks at the far end of the staging area, "-containers for refueling. If we could get unseen access to the fuel supply for just a few moments then their progress would be crippled."

"What, you going to blow it up?"

"That's a stupid plan Sylla and you know it. No, what I'm suggesting is that we spike the fuel supply with cleaning supplies. If we can dump a closet's worth of corrosives and oxidizers in there none of the trucks will be able to drive more than half way out of the province before their engines break down...."

"…which would necessitate recovery efforts and destroy potential resources that we could use after we take over this city." Kokoro interjects, "If you are willing to go that far then I propose a different method. With my abilities it should be sufficient for us to gain access to the local commander in charge of the evacuation effort as well as their communications. From there on it would be a simple manner of forcing him to call back all the trucks and obey our directives by browbeating him with all the techniques we have. I have done this before."

"And that will likely cause our entire plan to go kaput if something goes wrong." The Iraqi shakes his head, "Direct sabotage is dirty and wasteful, but carries little risk. We simply need a few minutes with a fuel truck or the storage tanks. I don't want Indigo screaming at me again."

"Uh...can't we try both?" You suggest, trying to be helpful.

Both of them glance at you, one obviously smirking and the other one only implying it through a smiling mask, "That would carry both the higher risk and the lower benefits." Ahmed explains.

"Well then as the third member, I say we go with..."

[ ] Sabotaging the fuel supply
[ ] Hijacking the chain of command
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[x] Hijacking the chain of command

Takeover is our goal, after all.
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[X] Sabotaging the fuel supply

The unusual nature of their troops makes me wonder if they're more prepared than we expected in other ways as well. Our main task will be risky enough, I don't want to add extra chances to fail.
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[x] Sabotaging the fuel supply

The other is too risky.
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[x] Hijacking the chain of command
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[x] Sabotaging the fuel supply

Let's go with the safer option. I'd rather not fuck up on our first mission.
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The other option's too Risky. Sorry, Kokoro, but I'm afraid we'll have to go with
[X] Sabotaging the fuel supply
wasteful as it may be.
(This is gonna get back to bite our arses, I'm sure)

That said--- ah, Adin. Embrace the hatred that is in you! Embrace the dark side!
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Have you forgotten about this, Mr. Rifle?
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Prolly update it tomorrow
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[x] Sabotaging the fuel supply

"Damn it. As much as it would be nice to secure the assets intact we cannot jeopardize our mission. We'll make sure the trucks don't move and that'll be the end of it."

"That's what I'm talking about!" Ahmed exclaims. Kokoro merely shrugs.

"Look," The Iraqi brings up his tablet and opens up a map of the region. "In order to properly hijack a truck we are going to need to nab one in the blind-spot between the checkpoint on the highway and the base itself. We have about ten minutes before a truck passes there if they are still following the same schedule yesterday, so we should probably leg it. Now."

Affirmatives all around, and the three of you vanish from the rooftops and begin jogging down the road.


[x] Sabotaging the fuel supply

"Damn it. As much as it would be nice to secure the assets intact we cannot jeopardize our mission. We'll make sure the trucks don't move and that'll be the end of it."

"That's what I'm talking about!" Ahmed exclaims. Kokoro merely shrugs.

"Look," The Iraqi brings up his tablet and opens up a map of the region. "In order to properly hijack a truck we are going to need to nab one in the blind-spot between the checkpoint on the highway and the base itself. We have about ten minutes before a truck passes there if they are still following the same schedule yesterday, so we should probably leg it. Now."

Affirmatives all around, and the three of you vanish from the rooftops and begin jogging down the road.


"You fucking idiot! Are you trying to die?" The driver yells at Kokoro as he slams on the brakes and barely manages to swerve out of the way of her standing in the middle of the road. He does not notice the fact that the girl leaps all the way out of the road before he even turns the wheel.

Taking advantage of his distraction, you pop up from behind a rock with the Neutralizer in hand and aim a full spray of white gas through the windows. The truck briefly speeds up, then stalls out a hundred meters down the road as the driver falls unconscious along with the other soldier in the front seat.

"You got 'em?" Ahmed asks as he drives his car full of cleaning supplies over, courtesy of a theoretically-locked closet in the NGO-catering hotel. Kokoro has already made her way over to the truck, running on legs faster than any car, and is in the process of removing the unconscious occupants out and stripping them of their gear. You nod, and he proceeds over to the captured truck.

"Just gotta mix in some of this drain cleaner and bleach, and presto we got a truck full of engine death." He remarks as the three of you pitch in to dump the pilfered cleaning supplies into the storage tank on the truck. "What's better is that once this is mixed into all six of their storage tanks they're gonna have to clean them all out before they can drive, and by then it will be too late."

You watch the clear diesel fuel in the tank as the various chemicals transform it into mechanical poison. "You sure they won't find out?"

"They will, but by then it won't matter and we should have slipped away."

"Sylla did you have to use the Neutralizer?", Kokoro has a angry looking mask on, but even her actual face is giving you a very stern looking glare.


"I can't eat them if they are not dead, the company ethics code forbids us from killing harmless targets, and I'm hungry."

"You just had dinner!" You protest as you pour in a large container of bleach.

"Don't tell me you've never had a late night snack!"

"Calm down zalamas, we could pick up a straggler or something once we get this job done." Ahmed huffs as he empties the last can into the fuel hold. “There. Hurry up, let’s go.”

You and Ahmed put on the gear of the unconscious soldiers and squeeze into the cabin, Kokoro hiding in the back since even disregarding the lavender hair a girl riding in a military truck is going to attract unwanted attention.

The drive is eerie. You are sweating like a sinner in church, while Ahmed is driving the truck with one hand and whistling all the while. Kokoro’s playing a handheld console.

“How’s your Arabic anyway? We’ve been talking in English.” Ahmed asks you as you reach the city’s limits again.

“Good,” you reply in the language, “Heavy accent though.”

“Then let me talk.” The truck passes the first checkpoint without the guards even batting an eye.

You grow even more nervous as you see the searchlights of the staging area perimeter, and your breath grows deep as you see several of the tower guards aim their guns in your general direction.

“Adin.” Kokoro mutters from behind the seat, not even looking in your direction.


“See the man by himself, near the black car?” Yes, there indeed a lone Sudanese soldier smoking there, which as your car approaches the front gate checkpoint turns to look at something distracting him. “Listen to him.”

“What?” You protest, “He’s way too far away.”

“No, listen with your heart.”

You can’t tell if Kokoro’s serious or not, but you do lean closer and try to “listen with your heart” by attempting to read his face, and perhaps his thoughts, maybe his surroundings too.

The smell of the cigarette.

The blank look in his eyes.

The way he grips his rifle.

The rotting black sound.

“Sympathy. Us menreiki have more of it than others. You can feel exactly how he does, can’t you?”

The resentment at a promotion denied.

The seeping irritation at the mockery of his faults.

The loathing of the officer he is assigned to guard.

Sticky, smelling, nasty black tar. It overwhelms your senses, causing tears to swell up in your eyes. It triggers your gag reflex, and you can’t help but vomit it back out.

The man snaps.

As if possessed, he wordlessly spits out the cigarette, abruptly raises the rifle with one hand and mechanically opens fire at the window near him, and amidst the shattering glass you can see blood drops spraying out. Shock overtakes the scene for a few moments, before loud shouting and angry commands are spouted left and right, and the soldier is almost immediately gunned down by his former comrades.

The gate guard who Ahmed had been talking to turns back around, shaking. “What the hell. What the hell.”

“Uh, can we go in now?”

The guard shakes his head, and waves you in.

“Nice job Kokoro.” Ahmed whispers as he drives over to the fuel tanks.

“It is Adin this time who provided the distraction. Not me.” She mutters back. “Adin?”


“Adin Sylla.”

“.....K-Kokoro.” Your head clears a bit as you finish your emotional vomiting. “Did I just get that guy to commit a murder suicide?”

“Quite so. You would be surprised at how many people have just enough buried hatred that all it takes is one revelation for them to snap.” Kokoro briefly pops her head out of the back with a helmet and mask on. ”You have the mask now, but I can still somewhat see through it but not use it.”

The truck reaches the storage tanks without challenge. You and Ahmed descend from the cabin, and begin working quickly on refuelling the containers with the spiked diesel. You keep your head down, still kind of in shock over what just happened and not willing to attract any attention in the staging area which is currently a confused mess of screams, itchy trigger fingers and nervous eyes.

“Hey, Sylla. Sylla!”


Ahmed subtly but violently gestures towards the front gate, where several peculiar figures have just exited from a white jeep. You instantly recognize your previous headgear: the blue helmet with UN emblazoned across it. Three ordinary Peacekeepers exit, followed by a much more imposing figure, one at least above the rest. He is wearing a large coat and heavy webbing, and is carrying a rather oversized rifle. Still wearing a Peacekeeper helmet though.

They are currently arguing with the gate guards, and the large one is clearly putting his foot down, as you can see the Sudanese soldiers slowly backing away.

You move closer and try to hear what they are saying.

“This place is Sudanese land! Your types have no right to tell us what to do!”

“We have every right under Resolution 2251 to inspect military facilities for human rights violations, sir.” He looms over the gate guard, “We will not inhibit your operations if we do not find anything.”

Is it an aura, perhaps? You feel something unearthly come off from that man. Another magical being?

Then you see an aberration in the contours of his body. Pants and coats don’t stretch like that, in fact, it’s almost as if he’s wearing…

Plate armor.

“Ahmed. Kokoro.” You whisper in panic. “We have a problem.”

“It’s them again, isn’t it?” Kokoro replies in her usual unnerving monotone. “The knights?”

“A knight, I think.” You catch the man occasionally making glances in your direction, as if he senses something. “We need to finish this up fast, and get the hell out.”

[ ] Try to go away quietly
[ ] Run him over, crash the vehicle, and re-infiltrate the town
[ ] Use the Kirisame distraction kit


A/N: Out of school and into a forty hour workweek for the summer
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[X] Try to go away quietly
I'd rather not anger the crusader. Yet.
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[x] Kirisame distraction kit

WE have this for a reason, no?
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[x] Use the Kirisame distraction kit
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[x] Use the Kirisame distraction kit
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[x] Try to go away quietly

tide, etc
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You drive the fuel truck over to a deserted looking street and leave it there. It’s awfully close to your hideout for the night but with luck they won’t be able to make the connection until it’s too late.

So far your luck has been pretty good, relatively speaking.

The abandoned apartment (Apartment is a rather nice term for the hovel, you think) you scoped out earlier was abandoned rather thoroughly, with the family occupying it having vacated well in advance of the government mandate. Fortunately for you, the lock on the place is fragile and even you manage to break it with a hard shove on the door.

Unfortunately, staring at the empty bed frame, you realize that between the three of you there is exactly one sleeping bag. Which belongs to Ahmed.

“So can I...”

“Mine, not yours.” The Iraqi barks. “You should have thought of it beforehand..”

You sigh with resignation. “If we’re rotating watches...”

“I shall take the watch, worry not.” Kokoro speaks up, “You humans need the sleep more than I do.”

Seeing no real way to obtain a decent sleeping spot, you find a relatively smooth area on the mud floor and lay your jacket on it. It’s crude, and for somebody who has never been in the field overnight you groan as you lie down on the hard surface.

“Ahmed, what is that?” Kokoro asks as he removes his equipment from his knapsack, revealing a strange looking curved blade.

“This long janbiya?” He unsheathes the blade, revealing a golden glow on the weapon as well as runes etched along its length. “What about it?”

“Is it...a family heirloom? I have never seen you use it.”

“Nah, I got it in Kurdistan for 300 USD and had somebody in the Garden enchant it for me. Cuts through metal like butter without the noise of a sonic blade. Great for close-range killing and sabotaging quietly, not so much for everything else. For everything else, I like this.” Ahmed holds up a gun that looks just as strange as his sword. “RGS-33 grenade launcher, removes anything from people to walls with the right ammunition.”

“A replaceable tool then.” Kokoro says, “Like all of ours.”

“Yeah, I got my gun and dagger, and you’ve got your glaive and Adin. Aw come on sadiq I was just kidding!” He quickly adds on as you make a sound much like a lost puppy at the comment.

“He’s not wrong, you know. Though I would not call you replaceable.” Kokoro explains with the usual monotone. You note that her mask is just as blank this time around.

You turn onto your side, "Thanks Kokoro. I like being a non-replaceable tool. Ugh. I hate being in the field."

"I always did wonder, how did you get to be a lieutenant in the first place?" Ahmed asks.

"By kissing ass, mostly. I'm very good at that. Oh, and I taught marksmanship. Not much more than that, to be honest."

"Man, the Kenyan military's gotta be pretty bad if you were teaching marksmanship, but then again I was taught by the Americans so I probably shouldn't say anything. I'm a bad shot," He twirls the blade around his hands. "Which is why I prefer the art of the blade and the bomb to the art of the rifle."

Kokoro looks up from her water bottle, a surprised mask on the side, "First time I have heard a modern human soldier like you calling battle an art. I thought such attitudes was lost long ago."

It is times like these that forces you to remember that Kokoro is indeed a millennium in age.

"Calling it an art is a bit of a stretch, Kokoro, I'm just calling it an art for its practiced nature. War is ugly business. Though." He smirks, "I believe the so-called modern artists in the West would call such an ugly thing an art."

"He's got a point." You add in, "Your art of the glaive turn people into bad anatomy displays. Ugly doesn't say the least."

She vigorously shakes her head, and the mask changes into an angry looking one, "No, no. Of course my victims look disturbing, they're props. Some props are meant to be broken."

"It would be better for my stomach, Kokoro, if you would make cleaner cuts on your lurid 'props'. Watching what you did to that machine gun nest crew nearly made me lose my lunch."

"A stronger stomach as well as a stronger body will be needed, Adin, if you want to be a true performer in battle." Kokoro removes a whetstone to sharpen her glaive, as does Ahmed. "Just because you prefer the cleanliness of a rifle doesn't change how an enemy turns into a corpse."

It is also times like these that you are reminded that these youkai likely had killed many, many times before you met them.

"Speaking of turning enemies into corpses, how are we going to deal with that damn knight here?" Ahmed pipes up, "We still don't know what they are but I'm pretty sure he'll notice when Kokoro starts dancing."

[ ] Avoid at all costs - Confrontation with a knight could jeopardize the mission

[ ] Reactive engage - ...On the other hand you do need to defend yourself

[ ] Proactive engage - ...On the other other hand removing this guy quietly could spare you a lot of headaches
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[x] Avoid at all costs - Confrontation with a knight could jeopardize the mission

Unless we are defending Kokoro, I don't want them to engage a Knight. It would be a hard battle.
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[X] Avoid at all costs - Confrontation with a knight could jeopardize the mission

It will never be 'one knight', once knight will bring more knigths, and more knights. Maybe not now, but later down the line it could spell our doom.

And thats even considering we manage to beat him.
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[x] Avoid at all costs - Confrontation with a knight could jeopardize the mission
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[x] Avoid at all costs - Confrontation with a knight could jeopardize the mission
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I voted for the neutralizer so we would be able to avoid a situation like the hostage bomb thing were Indigo was shot down and to curb the influence of the mask of hatred but boy it sure is useless against a knight. Unless we manage to hit him without his helmet that is.
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[x] Avoid at all costs - Confrontation with a knight could jeopardize the mission

"We can't jeopardize the mission like this." You tiredly explicate, "Even if we win it will blow our cover, and that means thousands of Sudanese soldiers are going to come after us."

"I guess you're right." Ahmed says, shaking his head, "We have just got to solve this peacefully."

"Every play possesses times of low action. Every noh chant possesses times of silence. Besides," Kokoro comments as she looks out the window, "It is a welcome break from struggling for our lives, despite its delectable drama."

You flip back over again, "Honestly Kokoro you're getting really creepy."

"I apologize, it is the night and the weaponry." An awestruck looking mask takes over her face as she stands up straight, "For youkai, the moon is the stagelight and the land is the stage. I am, what you would call, on edge."

"Going crazy is more like it." Ahmed grumbles as he fishes around his pack. "Don't get too carried away by yourself, Kokoro."

He removes a golden cigarette case and flashes it in front of you, "Got this off of Hekim's corpse. Indigo didn't take it for whatever reason. Still has some nice cigarettes in it."

You decline, "Not in the mood."

"Yeah I wasn't offering them to you. Though I guess you probably had a better claim to it than me, since you were there with Indigo when she killed the bastard."

"I don't like to remember that." A bit of vomit comes back into your throat, "Indigo...she turned some of the men inside out, some of them into thin ribbons, and the rest into sausage meat."

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Double for a youkai, and triple for one whose maternal instincts went full out." Ahmed takes a long drag on his cigarette, "The claws of a kitsune, especially a two thousand year old tenko, are as lethal as a pair of autocannons."

"I can't imagine what Violetta is like then." You wonder.

"I can't either. I haven't met her that much. Kokoro?"

"Oh, Yukari? She is a nice lady. Sanguine and choleric. Probably has thousands upon thousands of skeletons in her closet."

"Probably." Ahmed mockingly repeats.

"Her powers on the other hand...I could see how an elder tenko like Ran...Indigo? Let's stick with Indigo for now...I could see how Indigo would have agreed to become a shikigami to her. Aside from her virtual omnipotence in the Garden, Yukari...should we just call her that?"

"I agree." You say, "It sounds better than Violetta, while Ran just sounds...weird."

"Yukari demonstrated her power in combat one time," Kokoro continues, "She captured an entire Myanmar armored company in the blink of an eye, by transporting the drivers out of their vehicles and then out of their clothes and weapon holsters. She did that while drunk."

"Why doesn't she just fight the battles by herself then?"

"Because even she has a limit outside of the Garden, that's why Clear Sky exists."


It's been an exhausting day, and as you talk you feel sleep overtaking you. After some more chit-chat with your unsettling commanding officer/progenitor as well as Indigo's slightly unstable driver/infiltration specialist, you slump your head down on your improvised pillow and begin drifting off into unconsciousness.

Halfway there, on the brink of sleep, you feel something prop your head up onto something soft and warm. A hand, silky and fine, slowly runs along your face and hair.

A faint question, somewhere across from you, "Pampering him like that?"

A faint reply in return, softly, “He is a menreiki too now, however faint. You can't blame me for taking care of my own kin, especially a fledgling.”

Supported by your newfound comfort, you fall unconscious easily even without a sleeping bag.


Al-Fashir, Sudan
0800 Hours, 300620XX

You wake up to the sunlight streaming in through the glassless windows, feeling oddly comfortable despite your lack of sleeping arrangements. It is the sound of a kettle stirring, back in the kitchen that ended your sleep.

"Mmrgh," You moan as you scamper up from the floor. You see Ahmed doing some writing on the kitchen table, and Kokoro is nowhere to be seen.

"Oh, you're awake." Ahmed says as he turns his head towards you, "Never knew you slept so much."

"It's been a very rough day for me yesterday. First I had to deal with reporters, then we got attacked, then Indigo sent us on this operation, and I had to use the damned distraction kit." You reflexively grab for your water bottle, "Where's Kokoro?"

"She's getting breakfast from the marketplace." The Iraqi answers. He finishes writing and begins folding the paper. You watch closely as he carefully folds it edge to edge, and then a series of what seems like random folds and compressions to you until he holds in his hands a tiny paper bird.

Ahmed holds it high and begins muttering an incantation. As you watch, the paper bird stirs, and begins tilting its pointed head and flapping its wings. He moves it closer to the window, and with a whispered command it begins flapping like mad and flies out of the window, into the clear blue sky.

"A temporary shikigami, should be enough to get the message through to Indigo."

"What are you telling her?"

"Just a brief report of what we did so far. I hope she's happy." Ahmed slumps back in his chair, "Man that spell was tiring, when's Kokoro coming back with the food?"

The door opens, and Kokoro walks in with her knapsack full of sandwiches. "Good morning Adin."

"Where'd you get these?" Ahmed asks, staring at the food that distinctly isn't porridge.

You are quite tired of porridge. It's all they cooked in the refugee camps, and even after Indigo took over she seemed to prefer porridge and beans for the breakfast menu, just with rice instead of wheat.

"A Western aid group had a tent set up and was handing them out. They had quite a surplus since this place is half-empty of civilians, so I asked for some for my family and they gave them to me."

"Thanks a bunch, Kokoro." You say as you get to work on a lamb and cheese.

It almost makes you forget that you three are on a mission. With the tea that Kokoro left on this is one of the most pleasant breakfasts you've had in a while, right here on the table of an abandoned apartment.

"The government soldiers look scared after what happened last night." Kokoro debriefs between bites, "I've seen some more UN peacekeepers around, but none that look like knights. Also, from what I've overheard, our ploy to poison the fuel dump was a success, and most of their trucks are ruined."

"That's good news." You say, content, "Anything else?"

"They are looking for the fuel truck that we used."

"That is bad news." Your mood goes down again. "Alright, we should probably think of what to do next."

[ ] Scope out the town, can't risk any more surprises
[ ] Stay put until you need to start setting up
[ ] Stay put somewhere else until you need to start setting up

<SHisao> Why is swordsmanship class so hard
<SHisao> I just want to know how to enchant mine to cut through armor
<GBeni> swords in 20XX lul
- KYouki kicked GBeni from #clearskygeneral (No)
- GBeni joined
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[x] Scope out the town, can't risk any more surprises

> KYouki kicked GBeni from #clearskygeneral (No)

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[x] Scout the town

Sloth is a capital sin, you know?

Just kidding, that was adorable. Good on him for having a good night's rest
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[x] Scope out the town, can't risk any more surprises

Pamper us big sis Kokoro.
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[x] Scope out the town, can't risk any more surprises

>not polearms
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So here it is:

<Spice> i wish there was as much lewd fanart of me
<Spice> as there is of you
<%Purple> not the time Spice
<%Purple> we have a serious FUCKING problem
<Mir> 20,000 is a lot of enemies
<%Purple> so, about those favors you all still owe me...
<Mir> fuck
<Spice> fuck
<BEARS> oh dear
[x] Use the Kirisame distraction kit

The Kirisame distraction kit is by its own labeled description "Not Pandora's Box, but it will sure look like it."

The kit, after you snuck around to the back of the building, pulled the ostentatious red cord then threw it like a live grenade, running at full sprint the whole time, manages to live up to its description.

As you get Ahmed and Kokoro into the truck, a loud wail emerges from the back of the building, and a brief glance through the side window makes you do a double take as what looks to be shrieking ghosts, skeletal and burning, stream out through the windows and walls and into the air. You recoil as one of them moves at you, and through you, doing absolutely nothing which is expected of a mere collection of photons.

Most of the soldiers scream and flee at the sight, and so do the UN peacekeepers, save for the disguised knight who levels his weapon and approaches the building. As soon as the path is clear of people you slam on the gas pedal and send the truck speeding out of the gate and down the road outside. You do not risk a glance back at the knight.

"...Has he lost our scent?" Kokoro asks as she leans over to peek back out the window.

"I don't see him." Ahmed mutters, "But you can bet that him and his buddies will be looking for us quite soon."

"No, I don't think he knows it was us in the fuel truck, just that we were somewhere in the vicinity. All he saw was a black passenger and an Arab driver. Nothing out of place. I think we’ll be fine."

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>20000 Knights

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Nuke Gensokyo, then make a better one.
Problem solved.
No need to thank me, guys.
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Gensokyo - The Unstable Equilibrium

Gensokyo has a problem, and that is its entire existence. Any casual fan knows that the place is dominated by youkai, with the strongest representatives for the humans being stage 3 bosses at best in influence and . Despite the average human being stronger than the average youkai, they are vastly outnumbered and rarely have much of a say compared to organized youkai societies such as the tengu in the power-based "democracy" of Gensokyo. Conversely, the isolation of Gensokyo required for youkai to exist in spite of scientific unbelief paradoxically makes their awareness to humans also mandatory for continued existence. Without it, ViolettaYakumo claims, Gensokyo would collapse into an empty ruin like Avalon in our country.

Naturally, this leads to quite a bit of potential problems, including:
- Humans angry at their lack of influence coming into serious conflict with the youkai population, leading to the end of Gensokyo
- Humans angry at their isolation from the outside world trying to wreck the border, leading to the end of Gensokyo
- Youkai angry at the native human eating ban banding together and massacring the Human Village, leading to the end of Gensokyo
- A single unstable and powerful newcomer upsetting the balance, leading to the end of Gensokyo

With such a fragile setup, it is no wonder that the sages of Gensokyo sought a solution to the temporary band-aid of the Hakurei Barrier. While the vast majority of them fell apart because of an incident that Miss Yakumo has yet to tell me in her drunken stories (save for one word: 'Makai'). The immediate patchwork was done through the hands of the Hakurei shrine maiden and the Yakumo clan, keeping the peace and resolving incidents as needed. However, this isn't a secure solution. The shrine maiden could fail or die, and the Yakumo Clan may not be able to respond in time or with enough force before everything goes down the drain.

A more permanent solution was needed.

The first step is redundancy. Backup locations that could be used to reconstruct a Gensokyo at a moment's notice and rendering events such as the one postulated in the fangame Concealed the Conclusion to be a non-game ending loss, though still catastrophic in results. Yakumo has maintained outposts in a handful of viable locations, mostly dead Walled Gardens, but so far has failed in gathering the necessary magical power needed to perform a full backup due to the aforementioned sage breakup and the fact that the Dragon God of Gensokyo has been unavailable. This avenue is, so far, a very narrow one.

The second step is a release valve for discontent. The Border is designed with intentional leakage in mind, to keep Gensokyo as a whole from falling too far in technology from the Outside World, and to keep an unreliable but relatively steady intake of outsiders (not just ones intended as cattle) to keep the gene pool of the village healthy. This allows for rather significant progress to be made, with the kappa spearheading scientific improvements based off of the objects leaking in that developed into an industrial base that allows Gensokyeans to live a 20th century lifestyle, and also form the cornerstone of Clear Sky's production framework. Yet even with this technological progress Gensokyo still maintains its original character and society, much to the relief of its magical denizens.

Clear Sky itself began as a backup reserve fund for the inevitable times when Outside help is needed to fix a problem in Gensokyo, such as purchasing materials to repair after a disaster, and the fund is massive. One of Clear Sky's oldest facilities, among the few located in Outside World China, is a concealed fortress dedicated to holding countless bars of precious metals and works of art and literature long since thought to be lost, but actually pillaged by Yakumo during eras of chaos and are now likely valued in the hundreds of millions. It is guarded by a very small-scale stripped down Hakurei Barrier, or at least that's what she told me when I asked why there are no guards here. It was not until after World War II that part of this fund was used to jump start Clear Sky as a logistics and military company.

The military aspect is natural. Traditionally nations have used the military to decrease the number of angry young men who can disrupt social order, and Gensokyo uses Clear Sky in this manner for both genders. Humans and youkai alike dissatisfied with the relative peacefulness and small area of Gensokyo are offered employment with Clear Sky, to see the world and shake it up. Naturally, with their magical and physical advantage over Outside World humans they have formed the core cadre of Clear Sky's mercenary force alongside recruited military veterans.

I am going to take an aside to mention Clear Sky's relationship with malcontents. In the military department, the normal, well-adjusted individuals who are fairly satisfied with the way things are and just happen to be on the wrong side of the government or reigning ideology are given basic training and militia duty, nothing more. These auxiliary forces are there to provide eyes and ears for Clear Sky, and are only supposed to use their weapons as a last resort to save their homes and families or as part of a massive offensive where extra guns are needed to cover large areas. Clear Sky's primary mercenary force, euphemistically titled the "Sales Division" (the actual sales division is titled "Marketing"), as well as much of their full-time civilian positions are composed almost entirely of malcontents of one sort or another. Yukari's personal bodyguards (more of a symbolic service since she doesn't need any actual guarding) is composed of jilted ex-Executive Outcomes operatives who never felt the compulsion to fall in with contemporary PMCs with all of their restrictive guidelines. The janitor/caretaker for the building I am writing in is a crippled Iraqi veteran who takes pride in his mundane work as "doing his part to bring down those fucking globalist scum". When I was touring the base here in Myanmar I asked a young recruit who got off the train who she was. The answer: 24-years old, no previous job, college dropout, history of abuse, bullying and neglect at the hands of her family and peers.

From top to bottom, Clear Sky is filled with people angry at the world. It's ironic that they are used to maintain the stable order in Gensokyo, but it makes complete sense when Gensokyo's entire existence is an affront to the modern world's order. It is no wonder that they can get new recruits comfortable with youkai comrades and participating in death squads so easily: they are all on the same page from the start.

The third step is dealing with Gensokyo's fragility in a more proactive manner, namely, by permanently dealing with the opposition: The Outside World's encroachment. Instead of relying on Walled Gardens to preserve magic, Clear Sky will spread the belief in magic and the fear of monsters among the muggles. The plan within the century, as elaborated by Yakumo, is to form a third-world "bloc" of Clear Sky dominated countries centered around the failed states of central Africa and whatever chunks of Asia they can get, breeding a natural Gensokyo among the relatively malleable population there (after all the troublesome elements are removed, of course). With the relatively undeveloped landscape and the under-educated populace it is simple to reintroduce the existence of native youkai and magical potential among them. Soon, the fantasy will become the reality as the bloc grows in strength and absorbs other countries, eventually becoming a superpower in its own right and with enough influence to reverse the demystification of the world, securing a future for the fantastical races and turning fairy tales into reality.

- AgentAnalytic Historian Winters


Meanwhile, halfway around the globe.

[x] Scout the town

As you patrol the streets of Al-Fashir, splitting off from the other two to avoid attracting undue attention, you see nothing truly out of the ordinary.

Shopkeepers still have their shops open, though most are closed. Soldiers are still on patrol, though most of them look shaky in attitude. The mod brick houses and corrugated metal structures that make up this city in the backwater that is Darfur are just the same as before. Nothing really seems capable of stopping Kokoro's activity later in the day other than if the knights show up again.

Stomp. Stomp.

Somebody behind you is stepping quite loudly.

Very loudly.

[ ] Turn and check
[ ] Take evasive action
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[x] Take evasive action

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[X] Turn and check
random pic for votes
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[X] Turn and check

Difficult to evade what you cant see.
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[x] Take evasive action
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[x] Turn and check

Is there a problem officer?

Also: so those are the purpose of a few of those "stalled" proyects back then.
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[x] Take evasive action

>Soon, the fantasy will become the reality as the bloc grows in strength and absorbs other countries, eventually becoming a superpower in its own right and with enough influence ... turning fairy tales into reality.

Sounds kinda' familiar.
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wrong ideology
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[X] Take evasive action

Might look weird if there was no threat, but at least the initiative is ours if there was
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>initiative is ours
Wrong protag
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[x] Take evasive maneuvers

Without taking a single look back, you begin picking up your pace. To your horrified confirmation, the heavy footsteps behind you also begin accelerating along, and quite quickly you find yourself advancing at a suspiciously fast pace among the people on the street.

You run, pushing aside people on the street as you try to lose your pursuer, but there is no sign of cessation in the gait behind you. You take a look back and see somebody in a cloak being the one responsible for the footsteps, and suck in air at the fact that he is two heads taller than everyone around him.

And looks to be wearing plate armor under the cloak.

With a slide, you make a sharp turn into an alley to your left and run straight in. A fence as tall as you blocks your way a short distance in, but without thinking you jump up and vault over it in one smooth motion, and only when you take a second to look back do you realize the athletic feat that you have just done, before continuing to run. Youkaihood has paid off in this regard.

A trudging sound behind you indicates that your pursuer has not been deterred. Strange, there's no sound of him breaking or clambering over the fence.

You have nothing but a pistol and a knife hidden under your jacket, and while they are somewhat capable of taking on armored foes you doubt they would help much here. Emerging onto another street, you cut to the right and around an oncoming army truck, much to the chagrin of the soldiers on there who curse and throw empty bottles at you. Taking a look behind, you freeze as you see them completely ignore your eight foot tall pursuer, who is walking right next...NO

He is walking THROUGH the truck.

The frame and glass of the vehicle part around him like water, with its occupants not even looking in his direction. In fact, nobody seems to be looking at the eight foot tall giant of a man, a white man no less, aggressively marching towards you.

They even ignore him when he thrusts a blade of pure light at your face.

You find yourself leaning backwards into a flip, before the human part of your brain actually realizes what your instinctual parts just did. Landing on your feet, you don't try to process the last movement, allowing your training drills to kick in and level your pistol at him.

Exhale. Fire.

You blink. The giant did not move at all. You hear a metallic clang as the bullet slams into the engine block of the car. Directly behind him.

A follow up shot. Double tap. This time you see clearly that the giant does not move.

He curves.

Like the water around a drain the knight's body twists into a vortex for an instant, the center of which is a clear hole to which the bullet passes through cleanly. Another instant and the vortex reforms into its previous existence, without harm.

"HEY!" An angry shout comes out from the truck as the soldiers begin to dismount at the sound of gunfire. You look left and right to see that the citizens of Al-Bashir have begun to disperse from the scene. Quickly putting your pistol back into your hidden holster, you dutifully put your hands up as you see the Sudanese Army troops come out with their G3 battle rifles drawn and leveled at your face and the face of the knight.

"The fuck are you thinking blue helmet?" The officer of the squad spits as he shoves his gun in the knight's face. "You think this is your UN camp on the other side of town. Hey, I'm talking to you! Are you fucking deaf?"

They didn't see that you were the one who opened fire. You swallow a breath in relief. Maybe they'll harass the knight so that he will leave...

Then the knight raises a hand, and begins to speak.

A honeyed, firm tone exits his mouth in a series of words. An almost superhuman tone that wraps your mind with confidence and conviction. It seems to be Arabic, but as you process the words they come out to be just gibberish. But you can sense his intent in those words. You were the one in the wrong. You were a rebel terrorist.

You see the soldiers who were once pointing their weapons at him lower their weapons, and their faces soften. You see them then level their weapons at you.

The shock of your impending death sends your vision into a daze. You smell black tar in the wind. You smell a high amount of black tar in two of the soldiers. You sense the black tar building within their hearts--resentment at this stupid white man telling them what to do even as their brains are lulled into complacency. The black tar excites at somebody else touching them, understanding them.

Permitting them to run free.

A hail of fully automatic rifle fire slams into the knight's torso, sending him reeling and cutting his speech short. The roar of gunfire covers the "FUCK YOU" and "IBN GALB" thrown by the hate-filled soldiers as they mindlessly shoot, their squad mates confused at what is transgressing, and only the officer with enough sense to point his gun at them and ordering them to cease fire, which they do once they depleted their magazine.

You don't see any of this happening. As soon as their guns were lowered you turned around and made a break for it, sprinting at full throttle down the street and turning into another alley.

"Kokoro! Ahmed!" You scream at the top of your lungs. "HELP!"

The radio silence that was necessary is now a liability. You run like a fleeing gazelle through the alley and into another street, this one in the shadow of the Great Mosque that sort of dominates the city center of Al-Fashir. From its minarets one can look out at the relatively well-off city of Al-Fashir proper and the shabby adobe walls of refugee camps that spread along its perimeter in an ever expanding sprawl.

You also spot somebody waving at you from the minarets.

Slowing your pace down right as the noon prayer call goes out, you mingle with the crowd of incoming worshippers as they move into the mosque. You've been here a couple times before when in town, but not as an infiltrator. Still, you spot the stairs leading up to the minaret and as subtly as possible make your way up.

"You have caused quite a ruckus in the streets, Lieutenant Sylla." You hear the muezzin--the singer of the call to prayer--say as you emerge at the top of the tower. You look to see an unfamiliar face.

"Have we met?" You cautiously ask. You don't smell any trace of magic on him as you did with the enchanted reporters.

"Wassem al-Ribah, at your service, sir." He gives a warm smile as he eagerly grabs your hand in a firm shake. "Your companion, Miss Hata, blessed me with a visit just this morning."

"Blessed?" You do recall Wassem al-Ribah being mentioned as the muezzin of this city, though as a Christian you never attended prayer for obvious reasons. He was said to not own a home and sleep in the temple, and fasting for weeks even outside of Ramadan.

"Aye. My friend, surely you know that you have been travelling with an angel? Who else could move with such grace and bring such comfort with her eyes? What else has wings that flutter and dance in the morning sun? She revealed to me the great plan that Allah has planned for this land, a beautiful plan for Sudan! "

Stunned, you have no response other than to open your mouth and have half a word form at the tip of your tongue. It comes out at a mumble which the excited Waseem barely notices. When did Kokoro get wings?

"Oh! I feel like the Prophet himself! She revealed to me that on this very day, a holy army of peace will descend upon Al-Fashir, and there will be no more shooting, no more slaughter of our innocent Christian brethren in the region. The unholy men of Khartoum, fat and rotting in their wicked Salafist ways will soon see the light of justice, and have their thirst for war forever slaked by their own sins. She revealed to me that I shall have my part in this great turn of events, and that is to assist her blessed companions in ensuring no innocent lives lost in this undertaking. There are wicked devils in this very city, dressed in the garb of Blue Helmets and the misguided Crusaders of old, trying to deceive the people and desecrate her earthly body! As such, she wants me to prove my faith, and take a stand against these demons and aid her holy companions in this task."

He clasps his hands around yours, holding up to your breast, "Blessed are you! Touched by an angel! Such an honor I could only dream of!"

In a way, Kokoro hasn't lied at all. In a way, she is an angel by Islamic definition: 65 angels, to be exact going by the definition. Of course, in all other ways, she is totally bullshitting. You kind of feel bad for Wassem, but decide that it will be better for both of you to not say anything. After all, it's not like she lied about the results of Clear Sky's domination over the region.

It is all for a good cause.

"Alright, Wassem." You say, "I thank you deeply for your service. One of the devils have picked up my scent, and will probably be enchanting soldiers to come capture me. I am basically unarmed at the moment and cannot fight back. Is there a place where Kokoro told you where we should meet up?"

"Yes. The point that she told me we should head to is the Westerners' Crimson Lights restaurant on the far west side of town. It's some ways away, but I can help you avoid the eyes of the enemy along."

A change of clothes and...

[ ] A truck of groceries due to deliver to the restaurant. There's an empty crate you can chill in that's totally concealed but very suspicious if uncovered somehow.
[ ] A van of some NGO workers that are heading there after worship. He knows them well.
[ ] He will drive you there in one of the mosque's covered motorcycle trikes. Normally they are for the imams and layperson workers of the mosque.
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[X] He will drive you there in one of the mosque's covered motorcycle trikes. Normally they are for the imams and layperson workers of the mosque.
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[x] A van of some NGO workers that are heading there after worship. He knows them well.

Goddamn immortal knight. I'll enjoy watching you die.
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[X] He will drive you there in one of the mosque's covered motorcycle trikes. Normally they are for the imams and layperson workers of the mosque.
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[X] He will drive you there in one of the mosque's covered motorcycle trikes. Normally they are for the imams and layperson workers of the mosque.

Didn't notice this update. Weird that this doesn't scrape the popularity of the root story, I personally like it just as much.
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[X] He will drive you there in one of the mosque's covered motorcycle trikes. Normally they are for the imams and layperson workers of the mosque.

The trike ride was uneventful, but extremely stressful, covered under the tarp, you have to rely on what little menreiki power you have mastered to faintly sense the presence of the passerby around you. All you can really clearly sense is their level of hatred.

You’d rather have gotten a different mask for this, if you were to be honest.

The Crimson Lights restaurant became one of those Western fusion places partially as a result of intense foreign aid activity, though that might be giving it too little credit. As Wassem hurrys off back to his duties and you hurry in, you duck your face down to avoid any potential enemy observers…only to see Kokoro and Ahmed eagerly going at a plate of spaghetti, with the only attempt to avoid attention being picking a table secluded by wooden dividers.

“What the FUCK are you two doing?” You angrily whisper while sidling into the seats. “Do you even know what I had to--” Abruptly, you notice that there are several occupied plates of food, as well as two additional occupied seats, “Oh, hello.”

One of them is a rather hairy yet strangely youthful and vicious looking man chowing away at a plate of what appears to be nothing but fruits, and the other is a veiled woman…no, this one looks quite young judging by body shape…a girl, curiously sampling one of Sudan’s local dishes.

Kokoro shoves a plate of roasted corn and chicken in front of you, which you recognize to be one of your preferred dishes back home, but not prepared like this in the Sudanese way.

“So is this Sylla?” The new girl says, politely yet with an air of arrogance about her, the tone containing the gilded attitude of a noble addressing a peasant, that is disrupted by just how young she sounds, “I thought he’d be more impressive, Kokoro.”

“His capabilities are fine.” Kokoro responds before you get to say anything, “For a young human.”

“Guys should we really be having this conversation in public?” You mutter.

Ahmed responds with a shrug, “Who cares. The true enemy is onto our presence here, and from what I’ve got from poking around the ranks with disguise magic on, the rank-and-file Sudanese probably won’t put up much of a fight regardless of what we do if Clear Sky arrives, other than those handpicked by the knights. So once Kokoro starts the ritual, we’ll be facing straight fights with the knights. Which is why Indigo ordered this newbie to be ferried here by train to bulk up our forces. If they want to spy on us, let them.”

The girl sticks her tongue out through the veil, but you notice a discrepancy, “So who’s this gentleman sitting here and listening in on our talk then?”

The man pauses his fruit eating to turn his gaze towards you, with irises the color and brightness of molten gold, “Oh, me? I’m just here to keep an eye on all of you dirty youkai. That includes you, Tenshi.”

“You are sure one to talk, rockbrain.” The girl snaps back, sticking her tongue out in the process. “Being a youkai yourself.”

“And you’re about as much of a celestial as I am, and that, is being generous. My point is that I can’t do anything if the problems that the people of this land face are reducing from you dirty youkai running around, so don’t push it.” The man nabs a peach splice away from Tenshi’s grasp. “Ugh, canned stuff. This is why I don’t like leaving Asia.”

“Says the one who killed off three youkai who were actively helping a kingdom…”

“And were committing religious persecution. Plus, they killed themselves when all they had to do was admit the truth and let their deeds judge them, without trying to match this:” Without warning, the man puts his hands around his head and twists it all the way around, with an audible snapping sound. Before you can react, he twists it back. “I can regrow it too, but that’s an uncouth thing to do in a restaurant.”

“Show-off.” Tenshi mutters. “I can’t believe dad compared me to you all the time.”

You have a nagging feeling that, despite not knowing her, her father is correct in that assessment, given who this man obviously is.

“Before you complain too much, I’ll also step in if your enemy’s bothering the people too much.” He grins, “So if you are acting on the side of righteousness, I will be your ally.”

“Someone like you acting as an arbiter? Did the Outside World’s Heavenly Court put you up to this?”

The man acts as if stung, grasping his walking staff leaning on the side of his chair and grimacing, “…No. The Yanwang, our Enmas, made this request. The Jade old coot is rather preoccupied at the moment by some internal affairs.”

You don’t even need to lean on your new menreiki side to tell that he’s hiding something there, but it’s irrelevant. You cough, interrupting their bickering, “So, are we going to be continuing this mission or what? Tenshi? That your name?”

“How dare you…yes, yes, that’s me.” Tenshi bites her tongue as the others at the table stare at her.

“Operative Hinanawi has the ability to manipulate the heavens, the earth, and the spirit like any celestial. However, here in Africa, so far from Gensokyo, and with only the Sword of Hisou…her ability is to not die from multiple divine bullets to the face.” Ahmed states, “That is however a very useful skill to have, since other than her, everyone here under Clear Sky will die from multiple divine bullets to the face.”

It’s hard to tell with the veil, but you sense that Tenshi felt rather happy at that statement.

“So we have some way of taking pressure now once things get loud. But…” You furrow your brows, “The knight that chased me was capable of sort of distorting himself to pass through physical obstacles, including vehicles and bullets, do we have a countermeasure to that?”

Kokoro explains, “This technique is used by focusing one’s mind so thoroughly on a subject that they become unaware of everything but their target and the ground under their feet. Think of it like a magical duel and a reason to learn melee combat, or having magical backup.”

“I’m a sniper, so...” You finish your food, and watch impatiently for the others, especially Ahmed, to stop taking so long. “Not to be selfish, but everyone else here seems to be pretty good at that.”

“Just use your enchanted armor piercing rifle rounds and they should work. You ought to be worrying more about their armor and numbers.” Kokoro says between mouthfuls of food, having immediately sensed your impatience and speeding up her eating. “Which brings us to what Ahmed and I found out today: They’re guarding the market square.”

“Three to five of them.” Ahmed says, “And we don’t know if more are in reserve. Since we’re planning to run the ritual there, this is kind of a hassle. What do you think?”

[ ] Just go at it. If Tenshi can take holy weaponry to the face we can hold out at least until the rest of Clear Sky shows up.
[ ] Keep sneaking around and head for the radio station. Reserve your newly acquired tank for emergencies.
[ ] Request Ran for more backup, if its war they want, it’s war they’ll get right now.
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[X] Keep sneaking around and head for the radio station. Reserve your newly acquired tank for emergencies.
>Since we’re planning to run the ritual there, this is kind of a hassle. What do you think?
Turning the stage into a warzone before the show even starts doesn't sound like a good idea.
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[X] Keep sneaking around and head for the radio station. Reserve your newly acquired tank for emergencies.

Yeah, I enjoy the side stories a pretty great bit too.
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[x] Keep stealthing around and head for the radio station. Reserve your newly acquired tank for emergencies.

All of you quickly polish up your food and step out of the restaurant. Checking up and down the streets to see that the knights are not currently present, all four of you, Tenshi in the front, head right for the radio station, taking whatever alley and detour amongst the low buildings of Al-Fashir you can find to dodge any searching enemies.

The man follows behind you at a brisk pace, though he is noticeably not attracting attention in his new form as a mosquito. Ahmed notably complains “Stupid monkey and his stupid morphing skills.”

With some close calls, though nothing that some emotional dampening from Kokoro couldn’t handle, the four of you reach the radio station. You are already mentally drawing up plans to sweep and clear the place when Ahmed walks up and knocks on the door before you can stop him. You then watch as he chats with the person at the door, then hands him several fistfuls of US dollars.

“What?” He looks at you strangely as the four of you walk in, “Why are you looking as though you were preparing for a fight? These are civilians who are more than happy to take our money in exchange for cooperation and use of their facility.”

“Why don’t we do this with the Sudanese forces then?”

“They ask for too much.” Ahmed replies, while directing the radio station’s workers to set up what little spare recording equipment they have on the rooftop. The radio station’s interior is too small to accommodate an audience, so for the initial seed of the reaction the rooftop is the only option.

“This seems exposed.” You remark as you survey the surroundings with your binoculars. There are no taller buildings around this area, and plenty of vantage points to shoot from. “Even if Kokoro can weather gunfire, the workers here will be risking their lives.”

“The Sudanese army are not a concern once the ritual gets going, the knights are what we have to worry about, and judging from reports from other Clear Sky facilities they do attempt to avoid civilian engagements as much as possible. With this many people on the rooftop.” Ahmed quietly says as he gestures at the happy people being paid to watch the performance, “Any incoming attack from them will be sniper fire, and countering that is the job of you and Tenshi. I will be handling anybody attempting to breach below.”

You follow Ahmed back down. Kokoro’s doing warm up exercises and Tenshi’s experimenting with levitating the broken bits of concrete on this old building. Doing it on the rooftop is very dangerous, but doing this inside of the radio station would have necessitating breaking down the walls which would lead to a whole ‘nother mess with the people here. Might as well do it somewhere with a height advantage.

The knights may be strong, but as far as you can tell there’s not a lot of them in Al-Fashir. They might, however, have patsies, but it is doubtful that they will be resistant to Kokoro’s Dance of Despair once it kicks in.

You mentally review their tactics during your relatively brief encounters with them. With your half-youkai nature now, you are more vulnerable to their weaponry, but you’ve also noted that your physical capabilities have greatly improved, and you have tried and succeeded in some of the feats Kokoro and Indigo performed when you ran from that knight earlier. Still, you are effectively untrained in melee combat and likely do not stand a chance and are far better off just keeping distance and shooting. The height of this building does give you a good vantage point, and you feel that you can hop onto the radio tower when the ritual begins to spot and snipe at the knights as they rush in, though that of course exposes you to incoming fire as well.

Ahmed’s barricading the windows and booby-trapping the entrances with supplies that you have no idea where he stole from, and occasionally pressing money into the hands of any station worker that tried to ask a question. The hairy man watching all of this happening while snacking on his can of peaches doesn’t seem to care one way or another, though his burning gaze does fall on you a few times.

Now, what should you do during the hours until the scheduled event?

[ ] Talk with Tenshi and refine the defensive coordination between the two of you
[ ] Talk with Kokoro and refine the techniques you have as a newly-minted menreiki
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[x] Talk with Tenshi and refine the defensive coordination between the two of you
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[x] Talk with Tenshi and refine the defensive coordination between the two of you

Given how impulsive she is, knowing how to at least play around her/with her will likely be important, otherwise I feel like she could easily be a liability.
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[x] Talk with Tenshi and refine the defensive coordination between the two of you

You approach the celestial, who’s very busy not taking the situation clearly. Having not bothered to leave her camo jacket on in the heat, her white undershirt paints her as a fairly obvious target in this city’s diminutive skyline.

“Hey uh, Tenshi? Is it? I don’t think I’ve properly introduced myself yet.”

“And neither have I.” She confidently says, puffing up her chest, “I am the great Hinanawi Tenshi of the Nawi Clan, patron celestials of Japan’s tectonic activities.”

“Long since left to obscurity since at least when I was born in the sixth century, mind you.” Kokoro adds on from the side. Tenshi sticks her tongue out at the menreiki in response.

You wonder what’s the best way to introduce yourself to nobility, “Well, um, well, I’m Adin Sylla, my family...what’s left of it anyway...isn’t very important. It’s an honor to meet you.”

“Ha ha ha, at least this commoner knows some sense of manners! Ah...” She stops in her laugh as her ears catch up with her thoughts, “What do you mean ‘what’s left of it’?”

“It’s not that important.” You dismiss her question, “So, for the upcoming confrontation, how are you planning to deal with the enemy? Kokoro has overexerted herself before, since we’re not in your Gensokyo, so if you’re planning on hurling boulders...”

“Ah, you needn’t concern yourself with that! I am a celestial of heaven, not some petty youkai! Behold!” She raises her hand towards the empty, mostly isolated yard behind the radio station, and a cube patterned crack begins forming on the dirt, “My power!”

The huge chunk of earth almost ten meters wide and deep is lifted into the air for about three feet, then plops down into the ground. The radio station workers cheer and clap at the performance, but Tenshi herself looks disappointed, not to mention panting at the exertion, “Yeah, see?”

“Very good.” This girl feels rather similar to your superiors in the Kenyan Army, rather needy for validation and bristling at challenges to her status, “You must have a good idea of how to use this against the enemy, right?”

Tenshi regains some of her bravado, smiling and proudly declaring, “Of course! As I’ve done in Gensokyo...and a few times in America, I’ll pound the scum with stones and emanations from my sword, and cut through them like evil spirits up close!”

You continue with a tone invoking faith in her that you do not actually have, “How well did it work in America? If I may ask? You being able to maintain consistent performance even in the Outside World must be an incredible feat!”
“I knocked a bunch of weirdos harassing me and calling me a ‘devil’ flat on their backs, though there were more of them who came after me...and I had to...”

You continue this process of deferentially questioning her capabilities, gauging just how far she could use them through that along with a few subtle tests of her abilities. It did not even take you one-tenth of your reservoir of platitudes to get a the full picture, and she seemed to be rather content at the end of it, so you transition into the recommendation portion of the act, which is where you sometimes slip up even after extensive practice “Due to your astonishing skill in lithomancy, I am very interested to see it’s performance against the enemy’s ballistics. As you know, us humans in the Outside World often use sand and dirt piles to intercept projectiles as they work better than many other shields we have developed, so a defensive stance would really show your skill!”

“Ah so you want me to protect your weak mortal body!” Tenshi says joyfully, poking at your chest as an emphasizer, “That I can most definitely do! I just gotta pull some rocks together around you and...”

“Let’s slow down. While I can’t match your power,” You say as you remove the SV-98 from its disguised carrying case, “I can take care of lesser enemies at a faster pace with my commoner weapon without needing to trouble you. All you’ll need to do is intercept rounds by fusing dirt mounds!”

You did not expect Tenshi’s face to take a downward turn when you say that, “Really?” She says, an air of annoyance in her voice.

Good thing, right at this moment, Kokoro passes by you to grab a prop, and along the way she whispers “She’s a thrill-seeker.”

“Ah, right, right. No, that’s not what I meant.” Damn it, you had considered her abilities to be well-suited to providing a nice magical sniper nest for you to pick off the enemies, but apparently this girl judged her durability to the clubs and gunfire of crazies in America as another combat asset! You quickly decide upon a second option without thinking too hard, “What I’m saying, is that you can focus on beating down enemies at close range and covering us while I soften them up at range. That way, uh, you can lean in on the strongest parts of your abilities while I can take care of their dirty tricks.”

“I understand! So you will be my servant!” Tenshi proudly declares, raising her sword at you and then to your gun. “Taking care of the small fry that I need not trouble myself with!”

“...Sure, let’s go with that.” You resign yourself to the fact that this girl is completely ignorant of what she’s gotten dumped into and begin sketching out tactics.

Careful to not degrade any aspect of her capabilities, you start off by scouting around the area with her and identifying possible firing positions and disadvantageous terrain that you, a newborn half-menreiki, and a celestial cutoff from the rich energy source that is Gensokyo will have to deal with without the power of flight. This goes way smoother, as even Tenshi isn’t arrogant or deluded enough to fabricate facts in an environment she is wholly unfamiliar with. While still putting on the airs of a disdainful noble, she does not interrupt you as you talk and note down each of the city terrain features and how they will factor into the enemy’s movement and attacks. She does cut you off, however, when you marked the area you designated as your primary vantage point as safe.

“I would definitely jump in and cut you down if you don’t move.” She says, “Why are you marking areas as safe, any how? In my experience safe zones don’t tend to last longer than a couple seconds in a battle since your opponent can always saturate the area with more bullets.”

“I meant as in you’re probably not going to get shot...wait. Jump in? Right, damn it!” You had completely forgotten about the fact that your enemies are also highly likely to opt to charge in with a sword rather than fight like normal humans. “In that case, we’ll need to block off routes where they could charge at us from multiple angles...”

You rewrite the plans with new places for Tenshi to raise rock barriers at, mostly including the whole bottom section of the radio station once the first couple enemies charge into Ahmed’s traps. They are likely capable of breaking through after some time, but as long as they’re cordoned off to come in one-by-one, there shouldn’t be much of an issue.

Of course, actual combat never plays out so cleanly like that, but you have to try your best. Hence, planning.

There’s no way to rehearse anything with all the civilians in the way, so after a final review and memorization pass of the combat plan you sit back and stretch. Tenshi plops down alongside you, and looks at you expectantly.


“Tea, of course! After putting me through so much work, surely a servant ought to treat their master with some refreshment.”

“I’ve only got coffee.”

“Coffee’s fine! I really liked it when I was exiled.”

You lead her downstairs into the radio station’s tiny little staff area. Typical for such a poor establishment, there was just an empty area for a propane stove to be placed, which is currently absent for whatever reason. Sighing, you pull out your camp stove and light it on the countertop, putting a can of well water on it to boil.

“No proper tearoom or even a good table. Tsk.” She remarks at the grimy surroundings.

“We’re in a third-world country’s radio station, Tenshi. This is as good as it gets.” You shoo away several cockroaches from the stove with your knife. “It really could be worse, trust me.”

“And I thought being thrown out of Gensokyo was enough of a punishment.” She complains, doing the same anti-cockroach technique with her sword, “Being thrown out of Heaven is one thing, but the Outside World is so...dusty and smoggy. America was tolerable, but then Yukari forced me to come here!”

“Heaven...you don’t mean the heaven good people go to when they die, right?”

“No, what?” She remarks, incredulous, “Heaven is where great people ascend to when they become immortal, so we may live our deserved eternity in peace.”

“Oh, so what great thing did you do to get into heaven?”

“I...” For the first time, you hear her sounding unsure of herself, “I...it’s not that important.”

“Tenshi.” You firmly state with conviction you do not actually feel, “You are a great person, and why should a great person hide their deeds?”

“It’s...I didn’t.” She finally admits, “My parents ascended, and brought me in with them.”


The pot boils over. You add the instant coffee and turn off the flame, before resuming talking. “So, this place must be like hell for you then. I can’t imagine Heaven being anywhere near any place I’ve been to.”

“Heaven itself wasn’t that great.” Tenshi’s confidence comes back up, “Sure the gods provided everything you needed, but there are all these stuffy regulations and laws you have to follow to be a celestial, just so that you’re allowed to eat that stupid elixir. Earth is so much more fun, just..not here.”

Sheltered doesn’t even begin to describe this girl’s upbringing. But if her foolhardiness allows her to take swords and bullets for the rest of you, then you’re not one to comment on it. Still, you can’t let that slide. “Sounds like Gensokyo is a really nice place even outside of Heaven, nothing like my country and especially not Sudan.” You say as you pour out the coffee into two of your collapsible mugs. “I don’t have sugar, by the way.”

She takes a sip, and grimaces, “This is really bitter, and sour.”

“I’m used to it. The aroma’s great despite the acidity, and reminds me of home.” These sachets are made from Kenyan beans, after all, and you are actually getting rather annoyed at her constant negative reactions.

“Can’t be that nice of a home if the coffee naturally tastes like this.” You cough at Tenshi’s egregious state. Okay, that is going too far. Kenya’s beans are a prized commodity, as you well know.

You gulp down the coffee and say, without warning, “Tenshi, let’s spar. Fists only.”

“You think your earthling fighting technique could match my prowess? Very well,” She happily accepts your sudden challenge as the two of you move into a larger room. “I don’t need the Sword of Hisou to best opponents in melee.”

[ ] Emotional Turbulence - Let your feelings run wild and flow into your attacks.

[ ] Suppress Ardor - Cool down your head and let your fists do the emoting.
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[x] Suppress Ardor - Cool down your head and let your fists do the emoting.
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[x] Suppress Ardor - Cool down your head and let your fists do the emoting.

You stare down the celestial in front of you. She’s a child, both in looks and in mind. Gensokyean or not, there is no way that she has the mental state necessary to best a trained soldier like you in CQC, in the Outside World that is your domain, far from the paradise she had lived in.

She does not even put up a proper fist-fighting stance. Instead, Tenshi falls into a swordsman’s position, stretching out her arms and putting her fists together. While hammer strikes with both hands are a part of many martial traditions, it is never a default stance to start off in. Judging from how she’s warming up with some practice swings, she’s clearly just intending to slash at you without a sword, relying on her celestial nature to brute force through despite only using her hands.

You glance around. The radio station’s workers are watching intently at this new source of entertainment, and even Kokoro’s paused from her preparations to survey this new development. Taking a few deep breaths, you try to put their attention out of your mind as you put up your fists against Tenshi. A calm mind is necessary in the heat of battle to triumph, after all.

“Here I go!” shouts Tenshi. She bends her legs, and erupts upward in a mighty leap, raising her fists in an overhead swing aimed at your head, shielding the sun with her form.

You catch your fears and swallow them, suppressing everything in your mind but the clear picture of battle. Pivoting to the side, you dodge the blow, allowing Tenshi to land and whiff her swing completely. Clenching your right fist, you draw back slightly and then throw your arm forward, nailing her on the head with a right hook.

A surge of pain erupts, spreading from your knuckles onto your arms, and a rather unmanly yelp escapes your lips as your hand briefly goes numb. It feels as though you have just struck a boulder.

Tenshi grabs your hand and pulls you downwards, sending you sprawling onto the ground. While as a human, you would have likely gotten thrashed on and ended the bout like this, your newfound dexterity and strength as a part-menreiki gives you the opportunity to counter with an upward kick to the chin, snapping her neck upwards.

Still feels like kicking a rock, but your boot cushions the impact somewhat this time. The kick loosens Tenshi’s grip on your arm, and you hastily roll out, popping back up into a fighting stance.

Surely, as long as you keep her celestial iron skin in mind, her amateurish moves should not be a threat. Just focus on kicks, and she should…

Another two handed swing, this time horizontally. You dodge it by stepping backwards, only to give Tenshi enough clearance to follow up with another one, then another, then another. You keep backstepping until you realize you’re near the edge of the roof, and are forced to lurch forward and retaliate with a spearing kick against the next swing, allowing your newfound dexterity to intercept her incoming fist.

You then watch your kick be simply batted aside by her imitation sword swing. Realizing with some terror that while Tenshi is rather strong in spite of her relatively clumsy movements, you spring upwards with your other foot, right over her fists, and land right behind her. Steadying yourself, you pivot around and throw another kick at her head.

Tenshi’s head snaps to the side under the force, but this time she doesn’t flinch as she throws out a backhand counter punch with both fists, once again knocking your foot off. This time, you are thrown off balance, and while you try to steady yourself, your peripheral vision catches a fist hooking in on your left, and...darkness.

You blink and squint your eyes at the sun shining down on you. Your head hurts, one from a stinging bruise on your cheek, and the other on the side of your head that hit the roof. You wonder if your skull might’ve cracked if you weren’t sturdier than before.

You hear clapping and cheering from the workers spectating the fight, along with laughs from a voice you recognize as Ahmed’s.

“Ha, and the great and mighty Tenshi triumphs again! While you were fast, your Outside World constitution wasn’t nearly enough against me!”

A head leans over and blocks the afternoon sun. Kokoro looks over you, expressionless as usual. A quizzical mask is what’s lashed to the side of her face this time around.

“You didn’t fight with nearly the amount of fervor I saw before. What happened?” asks Kokoro, her mask tilting to the bottom of her face. “Surely you were not holding back so much that you were flattened?”

“I don’t know.” You groan, partially due to the pain and partially at your own inability to defend the honor of your country’s coffee beans. “I thought I was doing better than last time! I wasn’t flailing about in a panic, nor was I so overwhelmed by anger and hate that I lashed out wildly like a kid.”

“So, you are saying that you suppressed your emotions when fighting?”

“Of course, a cool head always prevails. I can’t do anything when Tenshi’s built like a brick wall!”

Kokoro bends over, and with a swipe, she reveals the mask that has become a part of you, on the side of your head, “Adin, do you not remember what you have become? Emotions are what fuels us menreiki. To suppress your feelings like that is to suppress your power.”

“So what, I have to actually let myself go and let my brain be driven by instinct like that?” You prop yourself up and look at your hands. “I’m trained as a marksman, Kokoro. Every bit of my combat abilities, whether with my gun or my fists, requires me to keep a cool head. There’s no way I can think of things like tactics if I give in to my feelings!”

“You possess the Mask of Hatred, Adin. A corroding and toxic emotion it may be, but it is also one of the least likely to interfere with rational thought.” Kokoro pulls you upright, and straightens your shirt and cap. “We are not facing enemies that could be put down by mundane bullets and blades. You’ll need this strength.”

“Focusing on the black emotion consumes nearly all of my focus though.” says you as you watch Kokoro set up a loose chunk of concrete in front of you. “I really do not think I can think clearly under those conditions.”

“That is because you are inexperienced and allowed yourself to become consumed by it.” says Kokoro, patting the chunk, “You should touch upon it briefly, only during the moments when you connect a punch or fire a bullet. Now, take a few deep breaths, and try to think of the things that you hate, but do not allow them to linger and pollute your psyche.”

Tenshi’s dumb face immediately flashes into your mind, but you hurriedly dismiss it. Hating a comrade, however abrasive she may be, is not a good attitude to have in a combat situation, which is about to come up.

You then try to recall certain aspects of that...incident you had in your childhood, but immediately they stick to your frontal lobe and refuses to go away. You gasp and clench your fists as you try to shrug off the memories, but fail. Struggling with the hatred, you finally cough at the consuming thoughts and spit out something, and the memories dissipate. Looking down, you see that you have spit up a glob of black tar, which is quickly evaporating away even as it tries to burn a hole in the roof.

“You’re drawing upon heavy memories, aren’t you?” says Kokoro, her monotonous voice tinged with a hint of concern, “Try to think of shallower things. Things you hate, but do not truly concern or trouble you. Little things. Brief things.”

“Got it.” You take another deep breath, and begin thinking of the sensations of a hangover. The pain, the nausea, the faint sense of shame...all distilled into a small hatred that you force into your fists. With a yell, you punch the concrete chunk, feeling the emotions envelop your fists.

The chunk shatters, sending dust billowing, fragments flying, and surrounding spectators ducking. The emotions have hardened your skin, and strengthened your muscles, enough that you feel no pain as you shake your hand, looking at the end result of something you usually only see in martial arts demonstrations on TV, and they certainly did not shatter the concrete to this extent.

“This is what I can do...incredible.” You had experienced the athleticism your newfound youkai-dom had granted you, but never thought that you could use your abilities to enhance it even further, “But it makes no sense, how does getting more emotional make me stronger?”

“Didn’t I already tell you? It is because of our nature. Us menreiki are products of the stage, and what matters on the stage, first and foremost, is for the audience to comprehend and savor your emotions.” She strikes a dramatic pose to emphasize this point, “The more emotion you put into what you do, the more the world recognizes your stagecraft, and the stronger you get.”

Do it once more, with feeling. That is what it means to be a mask youkai like Kokoro. You truly have much to learn in this newfound world of mystics, and you resolve to begin leaving your previously learned common sense behind. After all, given that you have learned that magic and monsters really do exist in this world, so why not readjust your worldview?

You spend the next hour doing just that, attempting to put emotion into everything you do. You bombastically recite the tactical orders you’ve given yourself and Tenshi, and exaggerate your movements as you walk around and perform the preparation tasks in anticipation of the attack. You dramatically prepare and present another cup of coffee with flair, flourish, and a bow, this time with several packets of honey and cream to soften the taste, to Tenshi, who was more than happy enough to go along with your new manners.

It also seems as though the celestial’s more comfortable around you now that she’s decisively laid you out on the roof like that. At least, from the way she actually calls you “Sylla” rather than just “you”, and offered to share her tin of peaches. Though the way she wanted to toss it into your mouth like a dog may not be something you want to encourage in Tenshi.

“Come on, don’t you want to do it? It’ll be fun!”

“I must respectful decline, my lady Hinanawi.” You vigorously shake your head and toss a look sideways, “It is unfortunate, but my code as a soldier forbids me from taking on the duties of a dog.”

But you still have quite a bit of trouble with one particular thing, the actual emotions part.

It is good and all to put emotions in your voice, but you’ve been doing that for a long time. After all, your sweet-talks and buttering words are all forms of acting. While you are putting in effort with your mind, you are also getting rather frustrated at the lack of resonance from your heart. Other than the emotion of hatred, which you can only touch lightly upon, and only for certain actions, you cannot really feel anything intense with, well, anything else really.

Is it because you’re deliberately trying to overact? Yet you don’t even feel much of shame or humorous joy at the actions. You realize, as you pose in front of the silent, simian arbiter that has been watching everything going on without comment, that you only feel what he appears to feel: a drudging sense of duty.

The sun is approaching the horizon, and the time for the assault is about to begin. Kokoro has taken up position in the center of the roof and is readying to perform. Tenshi watches the streets and rooftops, ready to go in sword swinging at the first sight of danger.


[ ] Start off the scene with a bang! Let the world know that you’re here, and ready to perform so that Kokoro may be overshadowed and out-of-focus until her Act reaches its climax.

[ ] Perhaps a more subdued first act would be appropriate. Wait and let the audience decide how to react to the performance before you begin to improvise.

[ ] Open the act by having Tenshi and you assist with Kokoro’s performance, if only in appearance, so the first reaction may be directed towards you

[ ] Smell the black tar of the audience in the air, and commence a predatory performance.
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[x] Perhaps a more subdued first act would be appropriate. Wait and let the audience decide how to react to the performance before you begin to improvise.
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[Coin Flip] Smell the black tar of the audience in the air, and commence a predatory performance.

“We’re going in. Plan D.” You say to Tenshi, “The enemy should be disposed of before they reach Kokoro.”

“Nice! My favorite one of your plans.” Tenshi could hardly contain her mirth. She’s already drawn her sword and taken up a fighting stance.

Ahmed calls out from below, “Go ahead, I’ll hold down the shop. Just make sure you don’t let too many through at once. My setup can only handle so much armor at once.”

“We won’t fail.” You say with deliberate bravado. Your hands are rather clammy and sweaty as you shift the SV-98 into a comfortable position. Taking a deep breath, you close your eyes, and let your menreiki senses flow into your head, carrying aloft emotions from this city.

I really wish I didn’t have patrol duty. Fucking hate it.

Casual spite, not nearly enough to be true hatred.

“I hope that fucker Ibrahim chokes on his money and dies.”

A lot of hate, but not the sort you're looking for.

“Why did we have to lose our village like that?! I demand an answer, God!”

Closer, but this individual isn’t who you’re looking for either.

"These impure monsters must perish before they further degrade our societies!"


“Follow me.” You order, leaping across the rooftop to the nearby apartment building. “The target is northwest of us, about three hundred meters away.”

Hopping across the rooftops draws quite a bit of attention, but that only helps your plan, right? Drawing them out and closer would mean less going on Kokoro, after all. And you really don’t want her to get hurt again, lest you end up with another mask or something.

Right, that’s why you want to keep her out of danger.

“Contact.” You hold up a hand for Tenshi to stop, in a shadowy corner on the roof next a set of laundry. Down the street is a tall, bulky figure in a trench coat, the same one whose emotions you smelled. “Let’s go. I’ll open up with a shot to clear the crowd, and you’ll hold until he charges.”

“Hold? I...” Tenshi begins to instinctively dispute, but then rethinks, “...I can do that. It won’t fit a celestial to go charging in all the time. You can handle the opening move.”

“Good.” You raise your gun and smirk, your newfound youkai dexterity giving you the fine control over your rifle that you would have had to train for decades more as a human to obtain, “I’m going for a headshot.”

You don’t even bother breathing out. Your arms compensate for your lung activity as you take only a second to line up and take the shot, angling to hit the ground even on a miss.

The cracking report of your rifle rings out over the afternoon air. The crowd of people on the streets, somewhat used to gunshots in these recent months of unrest, immediately scatter for cover without any shock-induced lingering. You quickly cycle the action, slamming another round into the chamber as you brace for a charge.

And...nothing. Only after you reload do you notice that the figure is lying motionless on the ground, a wide spray of blood, brain matter and metal fragments. Looking through the scope again, you see with some nausea that the miniature HEAT round (you’re not quite sure what sort of magic they used to make such bullets) had shorn through the helmet and done a number on the target’s skull. While the nature of the ammo meant that the entry wound was relatively small, the effect of molten metal going inside the brain cavity is...disturbing, to say the least.

“What?” Is all you can say.

“You...downed it? That’s a massive...mess.” Tenshi seems just as confused, “You said they had some sort of bullet resistance, didn’t you?”

“They did! How...is it because I ambushed them?” You then remember what Kokoro told you, “Right, they need to focus on a target to become immune to other things around them. I guess they’re relatively weak when off guard...then...Tenshi, we should keep going, immediately!”

Without waiting for her response, you dive back into the sea of emotions, and seek out the next instance of holy hatred...instances. You sense multiple now. They are converging upon your location. You reach out to touch their minds, but are forced back by a sizzling barrier.

You cannot exert your powers directly over them, it seems like. You think to yourself as you run over to the furthest one you can sense. Jumping off the rooftop, you gain just the bare minimum line of sight for a snap shot, and fire.

No brain splatter this time. The target instinctively dodges just in time for the bullet to only clip the edge of their helmet and detonate, leaving a hole in the concrete wall behind.

You ready your knife and pistol right as a plume of dust is kicked up, the armored enemy having skidded into position from the alleyway. The two of you stare at each other for a second, and then you immediately jump out of the way as the enemy raises a revolver and discharges it at you, sending several silver bullets wheezing past. Emotions heightened, you hold on to several hateful memories as you back off, firing several rounds in retaliation before hopping completely out of the line of sight.

The black gunk cakes to his armor, even though the bullets pass through harmlessly. The enemy spends a few precious seconds cleaning off the hatred, before jumping on top of the building after you. You greet him with a rifle bullet to the head, which likewise goes right through, but it does leave a black splotch of hatred all over his face.

Blinded, the enemy quickly leaps backwards down to the street, right as you hesitate to charge in with your knife. You can’t really harm them with bullets now, and your magic takes effect way too slowly, if at all. Still, going into melee is going against your training and your basic human instincts, to stay out of harm’s way.

But you’re not going to be able to protect the ritual like this. You have to engage in CQC, as much as you hate it.

That’s right.

You hate CQC.

“Curse you for making me do this!” You nonsensically yell as you jump down, knife raised above your head. You bring down the hate-filled instrument on the enemy’s head, right as they raise their sword up to parry. The knife sparks against the silvered blade, and you are forced back against the wall. Kicking off, you ready yourself for another charge…

...Right as the enemy suddenly sprouts a rainbow-colored blade through his neck.

“Gotcha!” Tenshi happily states as she pulls the blade out, letting the corpse slump down before turning to you, “You should’ve waited a few moments for me to catch up, you know! Now! Let’s get out of here before he recovers and gets up!”

You lose your words for a few moments, then say, “Tenshi, he’s dead.”

“Oh!” Tenshi looks rather taken aback, “From what what Kokoro told me, I thought they would be...more durable.”

You wipe the sweat off your brow as you stare at the corpse, “They’re humans, Tenshi, they just have really good gear...”

“But they also have celestial techniques as you’ve described!” Tenshi seems to be more affected by this revelation than she should be, “Like, focusing to ignore the effects of projectiles. From what you’ve said, it’s even better than mine, which only allows me to ignore most of the impact...” she mumbles the last couple of words, “...in my current state, stuck Outside, anyway...”

“That’s a celestial technique?” You experimentally poke at the corpse with your rifle barrel, just to see if something would happen. “He might not be fully dead then...why don’t you cut off his head just to be sure?”

“I mean, that won’t kill me...I think...but I can try.” Tenshi says with a quivering voice. She raises her sword over her head, and brings it down in a heavy chop. It goes thunk as the enemy’s head is cleanly separated from his shoulders. No response is observed other than a few more spurts of blood.

“...Yeah, I would say he’s definitely dead now.” You remark. “So, are they like minor celestials or something?”

“Now that you’ve mentioned it...no.” Tenshi bite her lips as she takes a whiff, “They reek of food, dung, and all manner of worldly scents. They’re not even hermits, or even a fake hermit like the one I know. But then how do they practice such a technique? And is killing them an...impure act? Sylla? I’m not familiar with the rules of the Outside World.”

“Speaking of scents.” You pick up more coming your way. “Forget about the hermit thing, we have to keep going. Judging by the ones I could smell, they’re all funneling towards us.”

Your strategy of actively hunting down the enemy has borne more fruit than you can handle right now. Kokoro’s quite safe as of this moment, but can you and Tenshi really handle twelve hostiles bearing down on your position?

You smell intense hatred on three of them, and more a more confused feeling on the rest. Likely squire equivalents of some sort. With any luck, they won’t be immune to bullets.

[ ] Ahmed’s traps should be utilized. Split up and draw part of the group to the radio station.
[ ] Kokoro’s safety during this ritual cannot be risked, we’ll handle them ourselves.

Also, is Tenshi fine? She seems a little uncertain about the killing part.

[ ] “Don’t worry about the killing part. They’re sinners who came after us first.”
[ ] “Just focus on defending yourself. We’ll talk about the consequences later.”
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[x] Ahmed’s traps should be utilized. Split up and draw part of the group to the radio station.
[x] “Don’t worry about the killing part. They’re sinners who came after us first.”
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[X] Ahmed’s traps should be utilized. Split up and draw part of the group to the radio station.
[X] “Just focus on defending yourself. We’ll talk about the consequences later.”
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