The morning smashes you on the head and cracks your eyes open. It's a feeling you're intensely familiar with — the result of far too many drinks at the shithole down the street. You sit up and rub as much crust and haze out of your eyes as you can and silently praise the curtains keeping most of the intruding light out of your bedroom. The alarm clock reads 7:02. It's early, but apparently you were too drunk to wash your mouth out whenever you made it home. Now your tongue feels rotten and all you can taste is stale alcohol and ass. You breathe into your hand. It doesn't smell much better. You can't fall back asleep like this.
But when you throw your legs over the side of the bed, you become aware of slow, faint breaths that are not your own. You turn carefully behind yourself to the blonde head of the woman who had been sleeping next to you the whole time.
Holy fuck. You've had a barren run of it these past several years, so you can't help but feel impressed with yourself for hooking up with someone in a bar. But this is also way more awkward than you want to deal with this morning. If only you could remember the actual hooking up business. Maybe if you take a good look at her face, you could figure it out. . .
You hover closer to see, but her looks stop you cold. She's cute for sure, but there's definitely something that's... unsettling. She's hunched over into the fetal position, her slim shoulders barely sticking out of the blankets. Her face is round, just slightly tanned, and flawless even without the touch of makeup. There's just enough fat in her cheeks to where you'd like to pinch them, and she snores gently through tiny nostrils and pursed lips.
In conclusion, she looks just a little young, doesn't she?
Some women are that way though, and many even consider having a babyface to be an attractive feature. Yet as you look closer at her small form obscured by the blankets, you feel less and less convinced that this is a woman at all. Carefully, you lift up the covers to settle the matter once and for all.
You are no expert of female anatomy, but you do know some things from over thirty years of living. And you can hazard a guess that in your bed right now is the slender, nude body of a girl who could not possibly be more than thirteen years old. This is someone who should be getting ready for middle school right now, not sleeping naked next to some burnt-out, wannabe detective.
Just what the fuck were you thinking last night?
You pull some underwear from a couple days ago off the floor, some socks from an ajar drawer, and don your wrinkled robe hanging from the doorknob. It's all you can do to feel a little better about yourself, but you know it's not really helping anything.
After moving around a bit, the urge to relieve yourself comes quickly, and you welcome a chance to lock yourself in the bathroom and pretend this isn't happening. As you step in front of the bowl and pull your underwear down, the sight of dark red to your right jolts you and your piss sprays all over the seat and the floor. You can recognize the clothes you wore last night hanging from the shower rod and splattered with dried blood. Without giving one shit about the mess you just made, you grip what was once your only nice shirt.
There are no tears and no holes. You look over yourself and feel around on your head. Nothing. That girl didn't seem to have any wounds on her, either.
So where did this blood come from? Did you save that girl from some danger, only to take her home in a fog of booze and scar her more thoroughly for life? Or maybe you were being a good Samaritan by letting her have your bed, but you were too fucking slammed to actually get up and move to the couch.
That would be lovely, if you were really the hero in all this.
The living room of your apartment is cramped by a collection of newspapers and letters to and from various publications, in addition to the scraps of trash laying about. You try not to spend too much time in it. However, at the moment it does provide a sanctuary out-of-sight from the minor sleeping in your bed and the bloody shirt hanging in the bathroom. You turn the television on but keep the volume down low. The only channel you bother with is the tengu news channel, not because you trust it but so you know what not to trust. You recognize the raven-haired anchorwoman, discussing something about the harvest season in a jovial manner — definitely no food shortages in Gensokyo at all, no sirree. All that matters is the mountain and the Central District; pay no attention to the starving humans being picked off one by one in the slums by frenzied youkai coming in from the forest and the Underground. At least someone's eating. As you inwardly rant to yourself, you find yourself drawn to the anchorwoman's very adult proportions. Or maybe you're just trying to prove to yourself that you aren't a pedophile. Fuck.
But now isn't the time for cynicism. You open your laptop on the coffee table and go straight to your KRC client to connect with your usual channel — the wellspring of backdoor information you make your living on. Only two users are on besides yourself: the channel owner and her friend, a cheerful regular who mostly lurks.
*** now talking in #kakashi *** topic is Official Channel for Kakashi Spirit News THE TRUTH | SEND NUDES TO email@example.com | SHAMEIMARU TERROR LEVEL: ~BLACK~ *** set by ~internethatatemachine on Sat Sep 29 07:01:35 2008 *** channel #kakashi mode is +nrst *** channel created at Sat Jul 23 23:31:01 2005 <~internethatatemachine> I'm so tired of seeing that cunt's face on my tv <~internethatatemachine> I hope she gets raped and murdered by bird flu <AgentQ> Good morning, PI! <PI> Hello, Q <~internethatatemachine> hey PI <~internethatatemachine> help me shit on shameimaru <PI> No time <PI> I have a problem <~internethatatemachine> come on man check that fucking terror level you know the rules <PI> fine <PI> aya is a shit, she sucked long-nose dick to become an anchor, kakashi is best, etc. etc. <~internethatatemachine> thank you <AgentQ> What's wrong, PI? <PI> I woke up next to a girl and I have no idea who she is <AgentQ> Nice. <~internethatatemachine> drinking went pretty well last night huh? <~internethatatemachine> you have lewds for me? <PI> no <PI> I don't think it's like that <PI> she's a little young <~internethatatemachine> wait what <~internethatatemachine> how young <PI> Like 12 maybe <AgentQ> Holy shit. <~internethatatemachine> OH YEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSS <AgentQ> Are you sure she isn't a youkai? <PI> I'd be eaten already if she were <~internethatatemachine> PI, baby <~internethatatemachine> you gotta let me run this <~internethatatemachine> “Does alcohol exacerbate pedophiliac tendencies in humans?” <PI> goddamn you <AgentQ> Don't worry PI, I still believe in you. <AgentQ> Even if you might be a closet pedophile. <PI> Um, thanks <~internethatatemachine> just meet him IRL and fuck already, Q <~internethatatemachine> we know he likes little ones now, so you'd be perfect <AgentQ> Shut up. <PI> fuck you <PI> But seriously how do I approach this <PI> my shirt is covered with blood, too <~internethatatemachine> haha wow <~internethatatemachine> probably because you obliterated the poor girl sexually <AgentQ> Maybe you helped her out of a tight spot? <~internethatatemachine> I wouldn't call that helping <~internethatatemachine> she's probably loose and traumatized by now <AgentQ> Any youkai crime last night? <~internethatatemachine> spoiler: there always is <AgentQ> You could try looking elsewhere at some respectable, vigilant news outlets. <~internethatatemachine> double spoiler: you're a bitch <AgentQ> Or maybe your landlady knows something. <AgentQ> If something...unfortunate has happened, she would certainly know all about it. <~internethatatemachine> don't bother her <~internethatatemachine> just wake the loli up with a gentle dicking and ask her
 Keep watching the news and check a message board or two. You might find something out.  If something crazy happened last night, your landlady would have heard it or maybe even seen it. Go knock on her door.  Wake the girl up and ask her what happened. Without the dicking.
[X] If something crazy happened last night, your landlady would have heard it or maybe even seen it. Go knock on her door. -[X] Ask politely if she has any clothes that could suit her. You probably don't have anything loli-sized in your wardrobe.
Waking up with a hangover, blood-stained clothes and a nude thirteen-years-old sleeping in your bed can either turn into a very bad day or a very good day.
[X] If something crazy happened last night, your landlady would have heard it or maybe even seen it. Go knock on her door. -[X] Ask politely if she has any clothes that could suit her. You probably don't have anything loli-sized in your wardrobe.
Frogloli best loli. May this story never be abandoned.
Getting some serious Metropolitan vibes here. This is an excellent thing. Even if I'm wrong, we could always use another story with a drunk loser sleeping with tohoes (in the literal sense) and fucking around IRC.
[X] If something crazy happened last night, your landlady would have heard it or maybe even seen it. Go knock on her door. -[X] Ask politely if she has any clothes that could suit her. You probably don't have anything loli-sized in your wardrobe.
[X] If something crazy happened last night, your landlady would have heard it or maybe even seen it. Go knock on her door. -[X] Ask politely if she has any clothes that could suit her. You probably don't have anything loli-sized in your wardrobe.
<PI> I think I'll go ask the landlady <~internethatatemachine> whatever <~internethatatemachine> bring a helmet with you <AgentQ> Tell her we said hi! <PI> Q: Will do, thanks for the tip <PI> And I shouldn't have to mention <PI> but this is all classified <~internethatatemachine> nobody wants to hear about your lovin' of the young'uns anyway <~internethatatemachine> I've seen that and far worse <~internethatatemachine> same as any youkai <~internethatatemachine> the only people in Gensokyo who would really care are the snooty humans in Central <AgentQ> That's a surprisingly valid point. <PI> is it really, though? <~internethatatemachine> fine, cut your dick off out of shame <~internethatatemachine> just remember that I better be getting something out of all this <~internethatatemachine> even if it's your junk in a soggy cardboard package <PI> noted <AgentQ> Please don't actually cut off your penis. <PI> signing out
You close your laptop, lean back, and massage your still-aching forehead. You should have taken the offer to be a courier for that rabbit drug ring a while ago. A dose of whatever pills they're pushing at the moment sounds pretty good right about now. Your thoughts briefly turn to a former friend-of-a-friend, whom often bragged about the paycheck he made going in to test drugs at their “happy bamboo fun palace,” as he called it.
Then again, maybe you'll stick to hard alcohol. At least you woke up today.
After washing your face and brushing your teeth, you feel somewhat capable of tackling the day ahead. Before leaving the bathroom, you poke your head out the door to see if there's any activity from the mysterious girl.
No, she's still snoozing away. In fact, she's spread herself across the whole bed and spun into a cocoon of blankets. Only her blonde head is visible. How greedy of her.
You creep around — wait a minute, that isn't the best word in this scenario. You gently walk around the bed to your dresser. Your outfit for today will be an old yet clean hoodie, and a pair of jeans with only a couple of holes in them — what a catch! Truly, you are of the fashionable lower-class. With these on, you project the perfect mix of poverty and apathy that lets you blend right into the slums. Anyone in the business of shit-flinging should operate with this kind of subtlety.
Fellating yourself aside, your eyes fall on the mass of cheap cotton rolled up in the center of your bed. At its core is a naked young girl, which begs the question: shouldn't she have clothing of some sort around here? Even the scrappiest drifters find something to drape themselves in.
It doesn't take you long to find a pile of something, tossed to the floor at the side of the bed she was originally sleeping on. Looks like maybe a dark blue dress, and some other things that were once white. With your toes, you pick out a long, ragged sock from the pile. These all look like they were high-quality once, but now they're caked with dirt and riddled with tears and holes. Keeping a safe distance, you bend down and sniff the sock. Mud and foul water.
After pushing the sock back into the pile, you spot something: panties that resemble a fisherman's handkerchief, rather than any kind of proper undergarment.
Fuck. How long has she worn these? You're starting to get an idea of what exactly you're dealing with here.
You toss the dirty clothes in the bathtub with extreme prejudice, so that they can soak before you try introducing them to a washing machine. Maybe they're salvageable, who knows? Regardless, as you wash your hands, you conclude that finding this girl some decent clothing takes an extremely high priority.
Walking out of the bathroom, you notice something odd hanging from the bedpost: a large brown hat with two bulging eyes on top. This is hers too, you assume? It looks like it's staring right at you. But you're not in the mood to be judged by some toy googly-eyes on a kid's weird hat, so you turn it away from you. Then you sigh because you felt like a hat was judging you.
Hopefully, this is the low point of your day.
Your apartment building stands out only in that it is so small compared to other buildings around it. It's a simple, two-floor building, with two units on each level. Many years of neglect have cracked the concrete, sent ivy up the walls, and even shattered some windows — but this is true of nearly any building around these parts.
You step out onto the ground floor, near the staircase that leads up to the second level. The landlady lives on the opposite side of the building on the second floor, while the other two units are abandoned. Apartments are usually prime real estate, but no human wants to live next to the forest, and for some reason no youkai wants anything to do with the landlady. That's how it was explained to you by Hatate, when she set you up with the place. Occasionally you see the landlady drift in and out of the empty apartments, but you have no idea why.
As you ponder how this conversation is going to go, you trip on a step and slam your knee into the edge of a step above it. Shit. Your teeth grit and your hands vainly try to rub the pain out of your kneecap. You never thought of yourself as a clumsy person before, but for some reason stuff like this always happens around here. A bit more conscious of yourself, you follow the railing around the building until you come to the second door.
The best way for you talk has always been off the top of your head, so you don't even bother thinking of anything to say. You knock on the door three times.
Instantly, a slot about eye-level with you slides open to reveal a pair of solemn, emerald eyes. “Good morning,” they bid you.
Did she just happen to be standing right at the door when you knocked? “Excuse me, Miss Kagiyama, I had something to ask you.”
“Of course,” she replies. The slot closes, then the door pops open. You expect her to slip outside to converse with you, as she's done in the past, but instead the door swings wide open. Miss Kagiyama is in the frame, her long blue-green hair adorned with red bows and frills. Like always, she wears a red dress with some kind of swirl decoration on it. Even if she wasn't wearing her black boots, she would probably be standing a bit over you — she's quite tall.
“Please come in,” she says. “I have been waiting.”
She turns and walks into her unlit apartment. Never before has she invited you inside, and you can't help but feel a bit nervous as you follow her. You close the door behind yourself, and look around.
Bare. This apartment is almost completely devoid of any furnishings or decoration. All you can see is a small table in the center of the room, with two chairs set up across from each other.
Miss Kagiyama turns to face you, smiles, and then bows. “Welcome. I don't have anything to offer you, I'm afraid, except for a seat. I would love it if you sat with me.”
She leads you to the table, and both of you take a chair. There is nothing extraneous about her movement as she occupies the seat, holding herself perfectly straight and still. Her smile is mild, and her eyes lock into yours, rarely blinking.
It's just a bit unnerving.
She talks first, after you spend longer than you should have staring back at her. “Is the little one still sleeping? I am surprised she is not with you.”
For once you breathe a sigh of relief. That makes this conversation easier to handle. “Yes, she's downstairs. Still, I'm not sure how it came to this. I can't seem to remember some of the details.”
“I don't think you remember anything, considering the state you were in.” She bows again, but the small smile never leaves her face. “I apologize. It was my fault for asking you, but you were the only one I could trust, even if you didn't have your senses.”
This is confusing you. “Could you explain exactly what happened, Miss Kagiyama?”
“My name is Hina. There is no need to be so formal, PI.” Her smile grows a bit wider before she continues. “About seven hours ago I was on the roof performing a... ceremony, of sorts. While I was in the middle of it, I sensed a great disturbance in the forest. I thought there must have been a human in danger.”
You're not sure how she knew this, but she doesn't give you a chance to intervene, so you let it go for now.
“That was when I saw you,” she says, “returning from some sort of celebration.”
If she calls “getting really drunk because you can” a celebration, sure.
She continues. “Once I started my ceremony, I could not stop. Because I know you to be a man of good sense who has dealt with youkai in the past, I thought it prudent to call to you for an immediate investigation into the matter, as is your calling.”
This is quickly turning bad. “So I went in to the forest, then?”
“Not quite. First, you went inside your apartment. I was worried, because I thought you might be ignoring me. But shortly afterward, you came back outside and went straight out to the forest. You were carrying a gun.”
You freeze up. Your gun! You didn't even think to check for it when you woke up this morning. If you took it out of the safe, did you put it back when you eventually made it home? If you lost it, or worse, if that girl gets a hold of it—
“Don't worry.” Hina's calming voice drags you from your thoughts. “I think I have what you're looking for right here.”
Hina holds both her hands out, presenting to you a handgun — your handgun. You look back up to Hina in amazement. “How—“
“That girl,” she answers preemptively. “I don't know what happened after you went into the forest, but less than an hour later she dragged you out of it. She told me to take care of this, and I pointed her to your room. Since then, I have waited for you to come and pick it up.”
She nods. “For a little over seven hours, yes.”
The image of a barely-smiling, dead-eyed Hina with a gun doesn't make you feel any easier, so you swiftly but carefully take it from her hands. You'll check it after you leave.
She doesn't seem to have anything else to say. Seems like it's time for you to ask something.
Where do you even start?
 Focus your questioning on Hina. What was she doing on the roof? How did she know someone was in danger? - (Feel free to write-in additional questions you would like to ask Hina about herself.)
 Focus your questioning on the girl. What is she like? Did she say anything about herself or what happened in the forest? - (Feel free to write-in additional questions you would like to ask Hina about the girl.)
(Pick one, add some write-ins if you want. PI will ask Hina about clothing for the girl in the next update, regardless of what is chosen.)
Let me know if this update is worse, if you please. I tried proofreading it myself this time.
[X] One question for Hina herself. Can she be more specific about the disturbance she sensed? [X] Otherwise, focus your questioning on the girl. What is she like? Did she say anything about herself or what happened in the forest?
[X] ... are you alright, Miss Hina?
The nature and details of her ceremony aren't relevant to the case, but the disturbance in particular is.
> Let me know if this update is worse, if you please. I tried proofreading it myself this time. Looks good to me.
[X] One question for Hina herself. Can she be more specific about the disturbance she sensed? [X] Otherwise, focus your questioning on the girl. What is she like? Did she say anything about herself or what happened in the forest?
[x] One question for Hina herself. Can she be more specific about the disturbance she sensed? [x] Otherwise, focus your questioning on the girl. What is she like? Did she say anything about herself or what happened in the forest? -[x]If she was able to "drag me out of the forest", she can't be human, then. Did the girl strike you as a youkai? But then why wouldn't she have harmed me? -[x]And it sounds like she trusted you enough to come to you, not to mention have you handle my gun. Were you two previously acquainted? -[x]I found blood on my clothing when I woke up. Did either of us seem to be wounded? -[x] (If allowed: check over your gun to see if you fired it last night, and how many times.)
[x] ... are you alright, Miss Hina?
I'm curious about Hina herself, but may as well go with the trend so far. And I like the indication that Suwako might have rescued the MC, heh. Wonder how he'll take that if so.
No noticeable issues with your proofreading. Minor nitpick that it seems a little odd for Hina to call the guy "PI", I would have expected at least "Detective" or similar barring an actual name. Though I could see Hatate not bothering to identify the MC beyond "PI" when she set up the living arrangement, which could explain it.
I'm not sure if you're new or just using a different name, but this is a good story. Keep up the good work, Raftclans.
[x] One question for Hina herself. Can she be more specific about the disturbance she sensed? [x] Otherwise, focus your questioning on the girl. What is she like? Did she say anything about herself or what happened in the forest? -[x] I found blood on my clothing when I woke up. Did either of us seem to be wounded? -[x] (If allowed: check over your gun to see if you fired it last night, and how many times.) -[x] It sounds like she trusted you enough to come to you, not to mention have you handle my gun. Were you two previously acquainted? -[x] If she was able to "drag me out of the forest", she can't be human, then. Did the girl strike you as a youkai? But then why wouldn't she have harmed me?
[x] ... are you alright, Miss Hina?
Hina is a strange woman. If you had all the time in the world, you'd love to hear exactly why she was on the roof last night and couldn't be interrupted. But there's a sleeping vagrant in your apartment and you have to be there when she wakes up. Your questioning has to be focused and the girl has priority over Hina, at least for now. That being said, there's one thing that needs to be addressed before you can even begin to understand what happened. "Miss Hina," you start, "I'd like for you to clarify what you meant when you said you sensed a 'disturbance' last night."
"A great disturbance," she corrects you. "It is one of my... talents, you might say. If there is misfortune nearby I can feel it. I can even look at someone and know if a tragedy will soon befall them, based on the amount of misfortune I can see."
It might sound crazy, but it's Gensokyo. If someone walks up to you on the street and says they can rearrange your organs with their mind, you know it's safer believing them than not. "So, you're like a fortune-teller?"
Her eyes widen. Then, she laughs. "I am sorry. The thought is amusing, but no. I could not call myself a fortune-teller. I cannot predict the events themselves with any sort of accuracy, nor can I sense good fortune. All I can see is the negative — the bad luck."
Sounds depressing. You wonder how that might have shaped the woman sitting before you, but you quickly refocus yourself. Priorities. "So, that disturbance you felt was related to your ability to see misfortune?"
She nods. "It was like a wave of misfortune. I had never felt anything like it before. I was certain someone was in grave danger."
Her ability sounds simple enough, but what you don't understand is how she decided it was a good idea for you to get involved. "Yet you felt comfortable sending me, a human, alone into the forest to investigate?"
"Yes," she answers without missing a beat. "I believed if it was you, there would be no problems."
You're taken aback, at first. The implications of the words themselves range from terribly negligent to blind faith, but she spoke with none of those sentiments. It was more like the simple logic a child would respond with upon being asked why they put a square peg in a square hole. "Was that assumption also related to your ability?"
Her smile grows. "So you understand then."
You close your eyes and massage the back of your head. The only thing you understand is that this conversation isn't doing any good for your hangover. "Anyway," you move on, "about the girl. Did she say anything about herself, or what happened in the forest?"
"She said she was attacked by a youkai. Then she handed me your gun and told me you could not be trusted with it in your current condition."
That... sounds about right. You were going to wait until you left to do this, but this could be relevant to the conversation. "Excuse me, Miss Hina, but would you mind if I checked my gun?"
"Not at all."
You pick up your gun, keeping it pointed away from Hina and yourself. The outside goods dealer explained that it was a "revolver," though he didn't know much else about it. All you care about is that if you aim and pull the trigger, it fires a ridiculously fast bullet. Even someone who can't use magic at all — like yourself — can pose a threat to youkai with a gun. That might by why they're heavily outlawed in Gensokyo. Good thing there aren't too many people around who enforce said law. You hold down the latch with a finger and then push the cylinder out of the gun. When you glance up at Hina quickly, she's watching your hands curiously. Her concentrated stare and slightly open mouth — a pleasant change from her vacant contentedness — are kind of cute.
However, when you look back at the gun and see only three bullets out of six, your stomach turns. You level your gaze at Hina, who is quick to refocus herself on you. "Miss Hina, did you hear any particularly loud noises last night while I was in the forest?"
"The neighbourhood is never quiet at night, I'm afraid," she answers. "But yes, I believe I did hear something that might have been your gun. Three times, very quickly."
If you fired your gun that much and that fast, then you were definitely startled by something. You can't remember a thing about it though, and trying just makes your head ache worse. What probably happened is that you spotted a youkai pursuing the girl. You fired at it, missed, and it charged at you. Then you kept shooting until it fell or decided to run off. That doesn't really explain why there's so much blood on your shirt though, and no injuries on either you or the girl.
You might as well ask Hina to be certain. "I found blood on my clothing when I woke up. Did either of us seem to be wounded?"
She shakes her head. "I did notice the blood, but the girl assured me it was not yours or hers. What a shame. It was a very nice shirt. If you fail to wash the blood out of it, let me know. I'm fond of recycling clothing."
Looking around at the barren apartment, you have no idea what she could be doing for. "I'll keep that in mind," you assure her. The girl seems to be the one to ask about the blood, not Hina. You're starting to get even more curious about the little vagrant, since there are a few things that don't quite add up. "Back to the girl," you continue. "She trusted you enough to come to you, not to mention have you handle my gun. Were you two previously acquainted?"
"I have seen her a few times while out and about this past week, but we have never properly spoken. That funny hat is difficult to miss after seeing it once. I was surprised she trusted me with the gun as well, though I did notice that she was in a hurry and did not seem to linger much on who I was, once I told her I lived here with you."
The girl's a local then, but you've never seen her around before this. You'd definitely remember a hat like that. "She was in a hurry then, even though she was able to 'drag me out of the forest'. Tell me, Miss Hina, could this girl actually be a youkai? Because I can't think of a human, let alone a homeless teenage girl, who would be able to go to such lengths in that precarious of a situation."
"I am also limited to my eyes in discerning between human and youkai," she explains. Then her smile vanishes completely and her voice lowers. "But when it comes to misfortune, what I can tell you that she is ensnared by it — more than any human or youkai I have ever seen. It is very rare to see negative energy take such a vibrant form."
More talk about her ability that you don't understand. But something does stick out to you in what she said. "A vibrant form?"
"White tendrils with sinister eyes," she describes in a hushed tone, "pulling her towards the mountain."
Then she smiles again, brighter than you've ever seen her. "I apologize for asking this of you, but if she lacks hostility, would it not be better to treat her as a human? That would be more in line with your character, yes? I have heard so many good things about you from my friends on the mountain, PI. It has been such a pleasure to finally have a chat with you."
This woman is a bit much for you right now, and you decide this would be a great spot to bring things to a close. You rise from the chair and give a bow of appreciation. "Thank you, Miss Hina. You've helped me quite a bit."
Hina rises to meet you with the grace you've come to expect from her. "It is my pleasure. Although it is a strange arrangement, I am happy to be here with you."
You're not sure what's so strange about the business between landlady and tenant, but then again, everything seems a bit off about this woman. Actually, you should probably address that. "Could I just ask one more question?" She nods. "...are you alright, Miss Hina?"
"I think so, yes. Do I look alright?"
"You look quite charming." It's not a lie. She's a very pretty lady: a good figure — if a bit tall for your tastes — nice clothes, gentle face. It just seems like she's missing something in her head. Or maybe she has too much of something. Of course, you can't actually say that to her. "I was just concerned when you mentioned you stayed up all night waiting for me. I wouldn't want you to spoil your health on my account, so do try and get some sleep."
With a completely straight face she replies, "Thank you very much, but I am afraid I do not understand. Why would I sleep?"
Yeah, she's definitely missing something alright. On that note, you think you'll take your leave. After all, you have to find that girl some clothes before she wakes— hey wait a minute. "Miss Hina, you said you recycle clothing. Would you happen to have anything in that girl's size?"
"Of course. Give me one moment, please."
With that, she walks into one of the rooms in back. Considering the similarity of this apartment's layout to yours, it would be the bedroom. You hear the shuffling of things being moved about, and the opening and closing of drawers. So, she does have some possessions after all — they're just crammed into her bedroom for whatever reason.
It doesn't take very long for her to return with a stack of various small clothes. "Here you are," she says as she sets the pile on the table.
It's a little strange for a woman to have so much children's clothing — and no children. "Miss Hina, I appreciate it, but where did you find all this clothing?"
"They belonged to the family that lived here before me," she answers with a smile. "Did you not know? There used to be several families living here, but by the time you or I moved in, they were all gone. The bloodstains were terrible, this room in particular. I finally have it clean, but now I have no idea what to put in it!" She laughs.
You thank Hina once again, grab the clothes, and leave.
Once you're outside, you sigh. That was a slow spiral into madness. Hina had quite a bit of information for you, but none of it can be verified until you either speak with the girl or magically start remembering things. It's not that you think she was lying, you just can't tell if she was sharing the whole story. Whether it's intentional or not, her little smile and unblinking eyes are practically a mask. Hatate seems to trust her though, and that girl does not trust easy — even for a tengu.
Back in your apartment, everything is just as you left it. The television is still on, the place is still a mess, and there's still a naked, teenage girl sleeping in your bed. In fact, she hasn't moved one inch after settling inside her mound of blankets. You set the pile of clothes down near the edge of the bed and check the time: almost nine o' clock. From speaking to Hina, you know that you both had a very rough night. Letting her sleep for a couple more hours might be the more humane thing to do, and it would give you a chance to update Hatate and the others on KRC. However, you would know a lot more about what happened last night if you just woke her up now and got it over with.
 You need answers straight from the source. It's time to wake the girl up.  Let the girl sleep a while longer and sign back into KRC. Others might be on, and Hatate might have found something.  Fuck it, go back to sleep.
[x] Let the girl sleep a while longer and sign back into KRC. Others might be on, and Hatate might have found something.
Best to let her sleep. If you have the story right so far, then she's the victim here. Hell, if she really did drag your bumbling, drunken self out of the forest — no matter why or how — then she probably saved your life. But how did you repay her? With your dick.
No, you're not the kind of person to do that. So you'd like to think. Too many times, words and intentions are divorced from the truth. Nobody knows that better than someone in your line of work. The booze, the adrenaline leftover from facing an attacker, the pervasive loneliness that has accompanied your career... and the holes in your memory. The truth is stacked against you, the way you see it. And what really twists your guts is that you can't say with absolute certainty that you wouldn't take advantage of that girl in that situation.
Any longer dwelling on this and you might end up vomiting out whatever alcohol is left in your system. Retreating to the living room, you rouse your laptop from its slumber instead. After the KRC client finishes connecting, you see that there's someone else in the channel in addition to Hatate and Q — someone you recognize.
*** reconnected *** now talking in #kakashi *** topic is Official Channel for Kakashi Spirit News THE TRUTH | SEND NUDES TO firstname.lastname@example.org | SHAMEIMARU TERROR LEVEL: ~ORANGE~ *** set by ~internethatatemachine on Sat Sep 29 07:59:11 2008 *** channel #kakashi mode is +nrst *** channel created at Sat Jul 23 23:31:01 2005 <Lucy> PI <Lucy> hello hello hello! <PI> Hi Lucy <PI> I haven't seen you around in a while <Lucy> I KNOW <Lucy> I'm getting worked SO hard ;_; <Lucy> and not in the good way... <PI> that's not fun <Lucy> Maybe I'll get a day off soon, though! <Lucy> Then I can finally meet you IRL! :D <Lucy> I can be your sexy partner in sleuthing <3 <3 <3 <PI> haha <Lucy> I'm serious though! <~internethatatemachine> sorry am i interrupting something <~internethatatemachine> we have shit to talk about here <Lucy> THAT'S RIGHT <Lucy> I HEARD YOU'RE CHEATING ON ME >:( <PI> god dammit Hatate <~internethatatemachine> there is no classified info in kakashi <~internethatatemachine> only THE TRUTH <Lucy> I'm not mad at you <Lucy> After all, the dirtier your soul, the better <Lucy> I just would've liked to know <PI> It happened pretty suddenly <Lucy> Who is the little bitch? ._. <~internethatatemachine> no need for a recap, PI <~internethatatemachine> go ahead and report
<~internethatatemachine> okay <~internethatatemachine> well that's interesting to say the least <~internethatatemachine> I'm glad Hina knew what was up <~internethatatemachine> when the girl wakes up make sure to grill her so you can start to corroborate all this shit <Lucy> I think you should kick her out, PI! <Lucy> She'll be nothing but trouble! <Lucy> Isn't it weird she was in the forest, brought you back, and then stayed with you? <Lucy> She definitely has a motive! <~internethatatemachine> wow you're a jealous bitch <~internethatatemachine> but I agree something isn't right <PI> There's no way to know until I hear her story <PI> Did you find anything out, Hatate? <~internethatatemachine> nothing <~internethatatemachine> all the tengu are worried about some lake that appeared on top of the mountain last week <PI> A lake just appeared on the mountain? <PI> I haven't heard anything about that <~internethatatemachine> of course you wouldn't, not just listening to the lamestream media <~internethatatemachine> Lucy has your crew heard anything about that? <~internethatatemachine> didn't your place pop up out of nowhere a while back too? <Lucy> Ummmmm that might be true <Lucy> But I don't know anything about this >_< <Lucy> I'll keep my ears open, though! <~internethatatemachine> good <PI> Anything you need me to do? <~internethatatemachine> concerning the lake, no <~internethatatemachine> worry about your own problems <~internethatatemachine> but Q has something else that's interesting <~internethatatemachine> she's idle but I'll ping her <AgentQ> Don't worry, I'm paying attention. <AgentQ> PI, rumor has it there's a soup kitchen in your neighborhood. <PI> A soup kitchen? <AgentQ> Yes. They give out free food to whoever shows up, apparently. <PI> I didn't think charity like that existed anymore <AgentQ> To be frank, it shouldn't. <AgentQ> As you probably know, the kappa control all of the agriculture since genetic engineering was developed. <AgentQ> That's why there aren't any food shortages even as population and industry expand and we have to get rid of more farmland. <PI> Oh, I'm aware <PI> That processed shit is disgusting but it's cheap <AgentQ> Disregarding that, I want you to find out what they're offering and how they get their hands on it. <~internethatatemachine> if it's legit it could mean a big shakeup for the poor's dependence on kappa products <AgentQ> That's... not exactly what I'm looking for. <~internethatatemachine> of course not you turtle merchant <AgentQ> Anyway, it shouldn't be a problem for you, right PI? <PI> Not at all <PI> So where exactly am I going? <AgentQ> Somewhere near you, that's all we know. <~internethatatemachine> you didn't think it would be that easy did you <PI> Okay then <PI> Priority level? <AgentQ> Not urgent, but the sooner the better. <PI> Understood <Lucy> Aaaaaaaaaaa <Lucy> I wish I could be an investigator instead of being stuck in this crappy mansion. <Lucy> It all sounds so exciting! :> <~internethatatemachine> it really isn't <PI> It really isn't <Lucy> awww you guys have no idea >:| <Lucy> Anyway, break's over. <Lucy> Back to work. :( *** Lucy (email@example.com) has quit (bye bye!) <PI> I'll be off also <~internethatatemachine> godspeed and shit <AgentQ> Stay safe, PI! *** disconnected
You close your laptop and sigh. Lucy has wanted to meet you in person for quite a while. You're almost certain you're being catfished and everyone else is in on the joke. Regardless, it's difficult to handle the energetic types, so you're grateful Lucy's job keeps her from lingering around the channel much.
On the bright side, a job has fallen into your lap. It's been a while and you were honestly starting to get worried. Even if rent's cheap and you're living off ramen, your money was going to run out soon. As for the job itself, it doesn't seem so difficult. Free food in the slums? If only that could be true. There's definitely a catch, a scam, or some kind of danger to it—
"Wow, so even Gensokyo has the Internet, huh?"
You jump about an inch out of your seat and turn around. Leaning on the back of the couch is the girl you thought was still asleep in your bed. You were so busy with chat that you didn't notice her come up behind you. She obviously ignored the stack of clothes you left for her on the bed, opting instead to walk around in the nude with only that ridiculous bug-eyed hat on her head. Her sly blue eyes have been watching you conduct your business, and she beams a smile directly into your face.
Your mouth is frozen. So many things to ask, and you can't decide where to start. Perhaps the question staring you right in the face should come first. "Why are you still naked?"
She frowns and hops off the back of the couch. "Because someone threw my clothes in the damn bathtub. Not that I mind wearing wet clothes, but I figured you wouldn't want water all over your floor."
"How kind of you," you respond dryly. "Your clothes were filthy, so I found some new ones for you. They're on the bed. Go put on something that fits."
"Alright, alright. I'm sorry my hideous, scrawny body doesn't do it for you."
You only caught a glimpse of her naked form this morning, and you didn't notice anything particularly distressing. When she turns and starts walking back to the bedroom, you find yourself examining her figure once again. She's not hideous or even scrawny. In fact, she's quite—
"Way to fall for the bait, perv." She catches your gaze with a smirk. Laughing, she disappears into your bedroom and shuts the door behind her.
God dammit. This is not what you expected. What kind of teenage girl can be that comfortable in a situation like this? Hatate and Lucy were right, she isn't just some victim. She has something in mind, but you have no idea what she could possibly want from you.
A few minutes later she comes out of your bedroom, dressed in a tank-top and shorts. They fit surprisingly well despite being second-hand. Of course, she's still wearing that hat. "What do you think?"
You don't give it much thought. She's clothed and that's what matters. "Looks fine to me."
"Where did you get this stuff, anyway?" She sits down next to you on the couch — adjacent, but not intimately close.
"The lady upstairs, Hina. I visited her this morning."
"Oh, that nice lady? I need to thank her for helping me out last night." A thought seems to occur to her. "That means you have your gun back?"
"Yes," you answer sternly. "Though you really shouldn't hand something like that to anyone you meet on the street."
She shrugs. "Miss Hina told me she knew you and I trusted her. I happen to be a pretty good judge of character. Besides, guns are illegal right? I didn't want us to be caught with one."
"Judge of character" nonsense aside, she actually seems like she thought it through somewhat. "Still, you shouldn't be touching my gun in the first place. It's dangerous."
"Fine, fine," she concedes. "You don't want to just sit here and scold me about the gun, do you?"
She's not wrong. "How long were you watching me while I was on KRC?"
"While you were chatting? I showed up while you were in the middle of explaining what Miss Hina said to them. Everything was accurate, and your guesses were pretty good too."
"So I scared off that youkai? Why were you even out there in the first place?"
"Well, you can get some dumb ideas in your head when you're desperate," she admits. "But that isn't important. After you made that grand entrance with your trigger finger, you could barely stand. So I decided to repay the favor and helped you out of there."
"That's the part I don't understand. Why bother helping some strange drunk person with a gun? It's suspicious."
"You don't trust me because I helped you?"
"I don't trust you because I don't see what you have to gain."
"Is it so hard to believe I just want a roof over my head and someone to watch my back? Not like you were watching it a minute ago, mind you." She laughs. Human or not, she sure sounds like a cheeky brat.
So that's her plan. "Unfortunately, I'm not in the market for any roommates, especially if they happen to be smug little girls. If you really want a place to live, ask Hina upstairs if you can take one of the empty units."
She shakes her head adamantly. "That isn't the same. I want to stay with you."
You're feeling just as stubborn though. "Forget about it."
"Well, if you want something in return, then how about I help you with your work? I could be your partner!"
Where have you heard that before? Not that you care about "cheating" on Lucy, but you really don't need some girl following you around and becoming a liability, especially when she's proven herself to be troublesome once already. Still, you'll humor her. "Oh yeah? And how could you possibly help me?"
She crosses her arms and grins triumphantly. "You're looking for a soup kitchen, right? Turns out that's where I've been eating this past week, and I can lead you right to it."
"No way. You aren't coming with me. Just tell me where it is."
"Fine, then I'll find out where it is myself, and you can go back to the streets."
She cocks an eyebrow. "Oh? You think you can find it? Are you going to look everywhere in these slums? Not to mention, it's only open at very specific hours that change frequently. How long do you think it will take you?"
Stay firm. You're not exactly sure what you're getting out of this argument, but this girl is really bringing out your bullheaded nature. "I have people I can rely on besides you. All I need to do is ask around."
"Can you actually depend on that, though? It's first-come, first-served, and the supply is awfully limited. I don't think anyone who knows about it is looking to give themselves more competition."
You grit your teeth. This girl is clever. She knows her leverage and you're sure it's going to end up working for her. But do you even want to pursue the soup kitchen today? Her answers about last night seem dodgy to you, and you'd rather not place your faith in someone you can't even trust. If you can convince her to take you back to the forest, then it should be easier to get some concrete answers from her. Maybe you could find some traces of the youkai that attacked her.
However, your capacity for trouble is a bit limited at the moment. With only three bullets, you really have to be careful about picking any fights. You could go visit your dealer right now if you wanted, but that would be burning the last bit of your finances until you finish this soup kitchen business. Walking there and back would also eat up most of the day. But wouldn't the added security be worth it if you're planning to rely on your gun in a pinch?
 Stubbornness aside, it would be a huge help if you just took her with you to the soup kitchen. If you can hurry up, get this done, and get paid, you'll be able to breathe easier.  The soup kitchen can wait. You're not satisfied with her responses. Take her back into the forest and see what you find.  Before you do anything, you need to visit your "friend" and replenish your ammo, even if it breaks your wallet.
[X] Stubbornness aside, it would be a huge help if you just took her with you to the soup kitchen. If you can hurry up, get this done, and get paid, you'll be able to breathe easier.
If three bullets don't do it, six probably won't be the line that separates success from failure. Beyond that, it tends to work out for the best if you don't let stubbornness get in the way of practicality.
[x] The soup kitchen can wait. You're not satisfied with her responses. Take her back into the forest and see what you find.
I like this Suwako, but don't think we should cede to her quite that easily. Wonder what might've happened between her and Kanako here.
>>63390 I'm about 95% sure Lucy is Koakuma, given the hints. That or a fairy maid, but seems less likely. Q I wasn't sure of until this update, but I'm pretty sure she's Nitori: "turtle merchant", kappa knowledge, likely Bond reference in the handle.
And I'll go ahead stop the votes here. We aren't going along with her that easily.
>>63390 >>63392 >>63393 I'd rather not outright spoil the identities of anyone in #kakashi myself, but I will say I'm trying to make it more obvious than not because I want you guys to have an idea of who you might be voting for later.
>>63399 Welcome! I'm honored that my story got to take your THP virginity. I wasted it on a shitpost in /blue/.
It's clearly one of the fairy maids, most likely the straightest-laced, stern-faced one, with giant coke-bottle glasses and a meticulously kept female bowl cut obscuring her surprisingly gorgeous facial features. She's called "Mini-Sakuya" by the other fairies because of how dedicated she is to her job and how she cracks down on any of her fairy brethren who slack off, and she's never seen smiling by them. Meanwhile, in reality she's a giant fucking pervert who has like two shoeboxes filled with bedroom accessories hidden away in her closet (because she has her own private room due to being one of the few competent fairy maids), and an entire bookshelf dedicated to bodice-ripper detective novels with corny titles like "The Dick and Jane", or "Private Inspector", or "Shercock Holmes", and whenever she's on #kakashi she's furiously fantasizing about PI sweeping her up in his strong, manly detective arms and taking her away to a life of noir drama and intense romance. Pretending to be a certain devil librarian is just a way to keep her true self and proclivities from being found out, especially since everyone expects the libidinous, aggressive chick named Lucy to clearly be a devil. "Not PI though", she bets, "PI's probably so smart he knows it's really me, but he's going to be so impressed with my reasoning he'll have to take me on as a partner!"
Haha, nah, it's most likely Koakuma. But it'd be funny if all the women into PI were small, like he can never escape it.
 The soup kitchen can wait. You're not satisfied with her responses. Take her back into the forest and see what you find.
Hina told you to try treating her like a human. Well, you don't trust humans. In fact, you'd probably feel easier around a youkai. The common, half-feral youkai that run around here are interested in one thing: attacking humans. "Making a scene," as Hatate put it once. You see a youkai, then you know what their endgame is going to be and plan accordingly. If this girl wanted to attack you — to devour you and parade your guts around, as is the youkai MO — she had several chances before now: in the forest, in bed, right now. Instead she's leaned back in her seat with a toothy grin, confident with the thought that she's going to get her way. Like this, you can see her being an ordinary teenager — or a youkai old and powerful enough to overcome its natural tendencies. You can't say you'd prefer one over the other.
Regardless of what she is, you're not won over that easily. There are too many convenient holes in the story. Until they're patched up, you're not trusting this girl with anything, let alone a job. "I'm not taking a stranger with me, and that's final. The last thing I need today is to be led around by a novice."
She jolts forward in offence. "How rude!" she pouts. "You would call me a stranger and a novice after all I did for you last night?"
Ignoring any possible double meaning there, you press on with your argument. "It's simple. I can't trust you until I remember what happened." You stand up. "Come on, we're going back."
"Into the forest," you explain. "I'm going to retrace my steps."
It's a bright, crisp day outside — the kind where it's perfect as long as you're wearing an extra something. The girl is sitting by the door in a patch of sunlight. You had to lend her a dark green hoodie that's so big on her, she's tucked her legs into it. She watches you walk from down the street back toward the apartments, the bug-eyed hat keeping the sun out of her eyes.
"Maybe you should stagger, you know, for maximum immersion?" she calls to you. When you stop and glare at her, she laughs. "Sorry, sorry. I just didn't think you meant literally retracing your steps."
Nobody else is around. That's one of the benefits of living so close to the forest. Only during the night do a few youkai walk this way, and even they avoid your apartment building. Something to do with Hina's reputation, Hatate told you. She wouldn't elaborate, and Hina herself certainly hasn't offered any insight into the matter. Suddenly you step into a big crack in the concrete or something, and lose your balance. You stumble forward and fall, scraping your knee on the rough ground — making that both knees you've scratched up this morning.
You hear the girl laughing again as you stand back up. "Yeah, like that! That's perfect!"
Goddammit. Ignoring her, you think back on everything you've heard this morning and try to piece it back to what's in your head. You left the shitty bar and came back this way, made it to the apartment, and then heard Hina call to you from the roof...
You look back to the girl, who is playing with a rock in her hand. "Hey you, do me a favor and act like Hina for a second."
She stares back at you. "Do you even remember my name?"
If she told you last night, it's lost in the thick fog of your booze-addled recollection. "No," you answer flatly.
"Well fine then," she huffs. "You can call me 'Mori.'"
"Mori, huh... ?" Not a bad name, but you feel like the way she told you was off. "That isn't your real name, is it?"
"Close enough. And what about you, 'PI'?"
You sigh. If she's going to be like that, then fine. "Mori it is, then. Now, would you please act like you were Hina telling me to go into the forest?"
"Okay, I can do that." She thinks for a moment. "Gotta get it just right..."
Mori opens her blue eyes wide, and adopts a rigid, plastic smile. "Mister PI, I sense some terribly bad things in the forest," she says without blinking. "You simply must go fetch the adorable girl within and let her accompany you on your adventures."
Her face is surprisingly spot on, but the dialogue was awful. "Very funny," you say. "At least try—"
A loud snap interrupts you, as an iron bar from the railing above Mori breaks off, swings down, and falls. It lands right in front of her with a loud clang. She yelps and tries to stand up, but she trips on the oversized hoodie and falls backward, smacking her head into the wall.
As she grabs the back of her head and cries a smorgasbord of curses, you feel no desire to laugh at her. All you need to do is stand there and bask in the warm satisfaction of someone very quickly getting what was coming to them.
You take in a clean breath of air. The flora around you is awash with the colors of autumn and the scent of dying leaves brings a smile to your face. It's not that you particularly like nature, but it's refreshing to be without the color gray or the smell of concrete.
Most humans are frightened of the forest and stay far away from the wall of trees on the edge of the city. But you know that in the daylight, the average human can easily handle a youkai on even ground. If you're aware of your surroundings and travel with at least one other person, a nice stroll through the forest is far safer than walking on the streets. Unfortunately, the women you've dated over the years refused to believe so. Their loss.
It's a touch of irony that this brat is the first girl to accompany you into the forest. Mori stays by your side, unwilling to let you take the lead if she can help it. Occasionally she reaches under her hat and rubs the lump on her head. Otherwise, she's particularly cautious of her surroundings — not surprising considering she was attacked here. Isn't it cruel of you to lead the teenage victim of an attempted murder right back to the scene of the crime? Maybe it is, but that's how you pursue "THE TRUTH." Or so you've been told. In any case, you wouldn't be out here if you thought there was any danger.
Mori stops and grabs your sleeve, pulling you to a halt as well. "Hey, we're going the wrong way. It was over in that direction more."
Maybe you should have let her lead the way in the first place. "How far in were we?"
"Not much farther." She turns around to look past the trees behind the two of you. "I could still see the lights of the city behind me."
After following Mori for a bit, you spot it before she says anything: a large tree in a small clearing, with two gaping, splintered holes in its trunk. Judging from the distance between them, it seems your marksmanship was certainly impaired. "This is it, right?"
She nods. "I don't know what you think this will accomplish."
But you don't even bother addressing that, because you're already checking out the tree. The two bullet-holes go in deeper than you're willing to stick your finger. As for the third bullet missing from your gun, you don't see anything on or near the tree. Considering your state at the time, it's not unlikely that you pointed your gun in some random direction. However, you would wager that the missing bullet was the one that struck its target and caused it to flee — if the story so far is true.
You turn your attention to the ground in the area. There's a lot of fallen leaves in this area — more so than anywhere else in the forest. You look up. The big tree itself looks like it's dying, and many of its branches are already bare at the beginning of autumn. In fact, the surrounding trees are the same way: all bare and dying. A small patch of death in an otherwise-lively forest.
"Do you feel usss?"
The slithering voice in your ear makes you jump. At first you think it's a youkai, but when you look around, Mori's still the only one around. "Did you hear that?"
She turns her attention from a leaf she picked up off the ground to you. "No. Hear what?" She doesn't meet your eye.
You sigh. Yes, that's what you needed: strange voices in your head. You shake it off. "Nevermind. Now, could you go over exactly what happened last night?"
The leaf is dropped with a sigh. Mori isn't too enthused about the idea, but she doesn't reject it either. "Let's see, uh, I was in the forest walking around, and then—"
"Why were you walking around in the forest?" you cut in.
"I was looking for something important," she explains. "Then I heard a noise. A fluttering up above."
"Wings? A crow tengu?" That's the only bird-like youkai you know of.
She shakes her head. "No, it was actually a bird I think. Dropped down almost on top of me, and said something about the 'terror of darkness.' I ran this way, and... when it was about to catch me, that's when you appeared."
The story's good so far, but you need positions if you're really going to understand what's happening. "Alright, so where was everyone?"
"The youkai was about where you're standing, in front of the tree. I was on the ground." She walks in front of you, takes about twenty paces forward, then stops and turns to face you. "You were about right here."
Yeah, you can see it in your head. "Okay, then what?"
"You slurred something and shot at— at the youkai. You missed twice, umm, she charged toward you, and then uh... you must have hit it with the last shot, because she stopped and flew off after that."
You lean back against the tree, racking your brain. Nothing comes out of it. Imagining the scene is easy, but you're still not remembering anything. There's also no explanation for the blood on your shirt, the most puzzling thing about all this. "How close was the youkai when I shot it?"
"Um, I don't really know. About halfway between you and me, I guess."
Then there's no way the splatter from a single bullet wound could have sprayed so much blood on your shirt. Something's strange about all this, and if there wasn't any magic tomfoolery involved, then the one who's suspicious here is—
"Hey!" A loud, high-pitched voice beckons you from above. Standing on one of the larger branches is someone who certainly wasn't there when you were looking up there just a moment ago — a woman with shoulder-length brown hair, wearing a white-and-black robe tied with a red sash. And on her feet: geta. Uh oh. "What are you doing in the forest? Don't you know this place is off-limits to humans?"
Technically it is, but you're also pretty sure that tengu patrols don't normally come down this far. What in the hell is she doing here? Before you can think of a good response, she jumps down from the branch, landing a good distance away from you. Her ears are long and pointed, and the black wings on her back mark her as a crow tengu — even stranger for her to be out this far, unless she's hunting for a story in the forest for whatever reason.
"Ah!" She gasps in surprise and points at you. "I know who you are!"
You have to say something, dammit. "I err, didn't think I was that well-known..."
"What are you talking about, you idiot?!" she shouts, pointing again. "Not you, her! That girl's the Outsider we've been looking for! If I bring her to Tenma, I'll get a nice fat bonus for sure!"
"Outsider...?" You look down at Mori, who seems undecided between ducking behind you or stepping forward bravely. Well, you'll make that choice for her. You pull her back, while you're the one stepping forward bravely. "It's not that I'm particularly fond of this little brat... but whatever she is, she can't be worse than some self-serving, fear-mongering, piece of shit flying rat!"
Man, that felt good. The tengu doesn't seem to regard your words with anything other than an exasperated sigh, though. "Seriously? You're one of those ignorant, rebel-without-a-cause humans? Fine, then I'll just take her from you!"
She zips forward, kicking up waves of red, brown, and orange leaves as she flies toward you. Charging in a straight line, without firing any danmaku? She's seriously underestimating you. The element of surprise is yours, and it's stuck between your back and your jeans — outside the underwear, of course. This could all be over with a flash and a bang.
But what if you miss? You only have three shots. If she can dodge those, then you're defenseless, Mori's gone, and this tengu would probably kill you for trying to put up a fight. Then she'd cover it all up, of course. No, it might be better to duck back into the trees. She can't fly with all the foliage in her way, and if she tries to look for you from above then the leaves should still be thick enough to cover you. But are you — and Mori — quick enough to duck a tengu, even with the terrain on your side? You honestly don't know.
 If you shoot last, you die first. Draw.  Break to one side as fast as you can. The trees will cover your escape.  (Write-ins also welcome.)
>>63401 Such an awesome idea tempts me horribly. Perhaps a side story or a spin-off of some sort.
>>63426 I'd only like to clarify that this instance in particular isn't really "tossing away a plot hook," more like delaying it ("The soup kitchen can wait"). Again, I'm trying to be a bit transparent so you guys don't feel like you get kappa'd out of anything important.
No time to second-guess yourself. She's already closer than you'd like. Every single muscle needs to be dedicated to getting your gun out and pulling the trigger. As soon as the element of surprise is lost, it's over. Your hand darts behind your back. The handle is lukewarm. Your index finger wraps around the trigger guard. You breathe in. Then, you whip your revolver out and bring it level to the charging tengu, while stepping back with one foot and placing your free hand under the other. For one moment, the forest around you is gone. Mori is gone, even you are gone. There's only the gun, and the rapidly-approaching youkai down the sights. You pull the trigger. There's a burst of light and smoke from the barrel, jolting your hands upward and back as the splitting roar blasts your eardrums.
She doesn't stop. Panic sets in. Palms are sweaty. You can't tell if you hit or not. You squeeze the trigger again. And again. Thunderous cracks echo through the trees. Your stomach drops, and your arms begin to quake.
Then the tengu wavers and falls. She tries to drive her geta into the ground to keep from crashing, but that only makes it worse. Her knees buckle and the momentum of her flight sends her rolling the remaining distance towards you — which isn't much. Her body comes to a halt only a couple yards in front of you, laying face-up in the leaves. She never leaves the sights of your gun.
A second passes where the last echoes of gunfire leave the trees. Silence overtakes the forest. The animals took cover after the first shot, no doubt, and anything after that just drove them further away.
Finally you breathe out. But it isn't over yet. You carefully take a few steps towards the tengu, gun still at the ready even though you're fairly certain you don't have any bullets left. The first thing you see is the blood streaming down her face. You follow the source to a hole in her forehead, almost right between her wide-open eyes. An excellent shot — it must have been the one that put her down. You nudge her body a few times with your foot — nothing, completely still. Then you kneel down to investigate her wounds more closely. There's another hole above the sash of her robe, slowly dyeing the white cloth a dark red.
Still over the body, you turn back to Mori. The girl hasn't moved one inch besides covering her ears. "Are you all right?"
She lowers her hands. "Y-Yeah," she replies. "I'm fine. Just... a bit shaken, but fine."
Understandable. You wonder if she's ever heard a gunshot before. Even you aren't completely used to it yet. "That's good. Just stay—"
Suddenly your throat is squeezed shut, and the rest of that sentence is just choked squawks. Your feet leave the ground and your body rises into the air. The tengu is standing up, and one of her arms leads right up to your neck. With the other, she rips the gun from your hand and dangles the weapon in front of her face, appraising it as she gradually squeezes your throat harder.
"Disgusting. We really should sweep those ghettos clean. Then I wouldn't be caught off-guard by toys like this." She flicks her wrist and releases the gun. It lands somewhere far away, and her wild, bloodied eyes shift to you. "But you see, I can be sneaky too. Tell me, who seems more like the rat now, hmm? Because that's what you humans are to me. All you do is scurry about — waiting, sometimes begging, for someone to catch you, break your bones, and rip at your flesh."
The grip on your throat gets even tighter, her nails digging into your flesh. Her hand isn't big enough to wrap all the way around your neck, but she's doing a number on your Adam's apple. Things pop and snap that make your stomach turn and your eyes sting. The fucked up part is that you can breathe just a little bit, so you can't pass out right away and deprive her of the pleasure. The only kind of defiance you can muster is staring her right in her face as you vainly try to wrench her hand off your neck.
Watching you squirm in her hold, the tengu smiles. The flash of white teeth stands out against the torrent of red. "But something has to be at the bottom," she continues. "Otherwise, there'd be nothing for us to stand on."
It had to be a tengu. Any death would be better than this. You won't be an elaborate cover-up, or even a fake statistic. You'll be some upper-class lackey's joke, some story she'll tell her fellow bitches about from time to time — cackling as she remembers the feeling of your neck being crushed or tore out or whatever the hell she's planning on doing. Your eyes dart from side to side. No sign of Mori. At least she might have a chance.
It's unbearable. You stop fighting her hand and wheezing for breath. Your vision goes dark. All you can do with the last bits of your consciousness is try to look somewhat dignified for the end. Should you pray? You don't even know what to pray to, or for. Fuck it. If there's a god left in Gensokyo, you'll offer anything you have left. Just end this bitch crow. "Oh, is that all you have?" You hear her laugh. "Well, the resignation is my favorite—"
Sinking down into the depths of unconsciousness, there's suddenly a loud pop. Then your neck is freed, and you feel yourself fall to your knees. You take a proper breath, but it hurts like hell. Light returns to your vision. Sprawled out on the ground before you is the tengu. She's sustained a new wound: another bullet-hole on one side of her head, and a gaping cavity of sagging flesh and brain on the other. The same wicked smile is still froze on her bloody face. Not even a tengu could withstand that.
A hand rests on your shoulder. You look up and see Mori, standing above you. "Are you... okay? Can you stand?"
In her other hand is your revolver, the last wisps of smoke trailing off. You look back to the tengu's ruined head. Then to Mori. She did that. She saved you. She didn't run — she went for your discarded revolver while the tengu was busy with you. Damn. This kid is something else.
But you're so glad.
Her little hand shakes you, and she eyes you with concern. "Hey, you're still with me, right?"
Yes, you are. That's what you want to say, but all that comes out is a strained croak. You rub your aching throat. No talking for a while, it seems. Instead you nod to the worried Mori and stand up. You point to your gun, and then back to you.
Mori catches on quick. "Oh." She hands your gun back to you. "I—I wasn't supposed to touch your gun, was I?"
You shake your head. This time you can excuse it, because she ended up saving your life. Hopefully it doesn't become a habit.
The gun is the least of your worries, though. Anything could have heard those gunshots: more youkai, or worse — more tengu. You point to yourself, then to Mori, and finally back towards the city.
"Back to the city? Right. Yeah, we better."
As Mori stiffly leads you along, the warm gun rubbing on your backside reminds you of something. Didn't you only have three bullets? You definitely fired three shots at the tengu. So where did the bullet Mori fired come from? You stop and watch Mori duck under some branches. After she takes a few steps ahead, she turns around. "Um... everything alright? Why did you stop?"
"Outsider," that tengu called her. From the Outside. She's a kid who got dropped in this world somehow, alone. A kid who's had to survive on the streets barely knowing a thing about Gensokyo. A kid who's already been attacked once. A kid who you may have been intimate with. A kid who just had to shoot someone dead with a fucking miracle bullet to save your ass. When can you throw your hands in the air and say "Forget it, it's Gensokyo"?
You resume walking. When you pass Mori, you grab her hand. You're not the smiling type, but you try your best. She smiles back. Hers is better.
The first thing you do when you're back in your apartment is flop down on the couch. Your wrists ache, your throat feels broken, and you're covered in sweat from what should have been a half-hour hike in and out of the forest. When you add the fatigue from yesterday night's events on top of all that, you're damn exhausted.
Mori shuts the door behind the two of you. "We're probably going to have to lay low for a while, right?"
You turn over and look at her. She's thinking critically, which should be praised. Too bad you can't actually converse with her at the moment. You nod, and then turn your attention to the television. It's playing a commercial for some kappa product. "Exteeeending Aaaaarm! Cucumbers on the top shelf? Don't want to get up from the workbench? Exteeeending Aaaaarm is for you!" Lame.
The end of the couch sinks near your feet. Mori leans back into the cushion and sighs. "What kind of channels does Gensokyo get?"
Not like you can answer. You point to the table, and she follows your finger to the remote. "Oh! I can change it, then?"
There's nothing you care to watch, anyway. She grabs the remote and starts flipping through the channels. You close your eyes and make it halfway to sleep before something nudges you.
When you open your eyes, Nori is making a sour face at you. "Your feet kind of stink. Let's switch places."
You groan, but lack the energy to deny her. Mori sits where your head was, but when you try moving over she stops you. "Hey, hold on." She straightens her back and brushes off her shorts. Then, she presents her lap to you with a big grin. "Nice-looking pillow, huh? Come on." The grin fades. "You look tired as hell."
It's tempting. Very tempting. But should your head really be in a teenager's legs right now? Ignoring the obvious conflicts of morality, what just happened? You killed a tengu. You killed a tengu. Well, Mori dealt the finishing blow, but still. Sure, any youkai will regenerate eventually and only be a bit weaker for it, but a human defeating a tengu never happens. Not that you've ever seen. This is the kind of stuff Hatate would give you a bonus and a hooker for — not that you'd accept the latter, with present company. Shouldn't you be getting on KRC to find out exactly what's in store for you and Mori?
 Forget about it for now. Try to relax and watch some bad daytime television with Mori.  The sooner you contact Hatate, the better. You need to find out what the hell is going on.  A series of unfortunate events.
[x] The sooner you contact Hatate, the better. You need to find out what the hell is going on.
Yeah, this situation isn't something we should leave be. I have to wonder if the magical girl contract accidental offering ourselves to Suwako and her friends would have happened with the other choice.
>>63483 3 days isn't that bad at all, don't worry about it. Quality's still good, anyway. (Also as the anon you quoted, to be fair, she seemed like much less of a racist asshole in the previous post.)
>>63485 >Yasa ...is this a reference to something? Since I'm pretty sure the hissing voices go by a different name.
>>63505 I think it is the other way around. I have no doubt about whom that snake hissing belongs to. What I worry about is his interpretation of PI's desperate pledge (although, to be fair, he does owe them his life) and the repercussions towards Mori. They originally came to Gensokyo due to her own imminent fate-starvation death. If that is true here as well, then how expensive was that miraculous bullet?
Apologies, but I'll be a day or so longer on the update. I received some lovely financial news and am in the process of celebrating.
>>63529 >>63531 Mostly correct, but I would call it a detour rather than an outright derailment of the plot.
I think through every choice before I put it down at the end of an update, but I'll admit some are less thought out than others. So when I sit down to write and I don't have enough going on, I have to pull something like a tengu out of my hat. Then it keeps going. Sometimes things get moved around from what I originally planned. That's what makes this format interesting for me, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
I apologize if the way I responded to >>63494 made it appear like I hold some kind of disdain for how the votes have turned out thus far. That is certainly not the case; I'm very grateful. Even if you guys decide to jump in Misty Lake, I would probably just go with it and turn it into some case for PI to solve.
>>63540 Personally I didn't read your reply as disdainful at all. People might just be a bit paranoid about derailment since it's sometimes led to certain writers dropping stories, IIRC. Not saying that's going to happen here, just speculating. Anyway, congrats on your financial news.
>>63551 That would be hilarious, but not quite, no. I'm not the one who abbreviated the name as Mishi, but odds are that we had the same idea. Does Mishaguji ring any bells?
[x] The sooner you contact Hatate, the better. You need to find out what the hell is going on.
Those siren's legs are singing to you — and it's a lullaby. But you can't listen right now. Fall asleep, and you might not wake up. You just flipped the bird to tengu dominance and got away with it, but it was close. Probably the closest you've ever been. Now you need to know why. What's going on with the tengu? Easiest way to find out is ask one of them, so you reach for your laptop.
By the time you open it, Mori's wearing a frown so big you can see it out of the corner of your eye. "Really? Diving right back into your computer, huh? You remind me of S... someone from back home."
You turn to Mori with as grave an expression you can muster. This is more important than your beauty sleep.
She groans. "Okay, I get it." Then she moves closer to you, hovering in from your side. "Only if I get to watch you, though. Move the screen over a bit."
You tilt the screen away from her.
"Hey!" She grabs your shoulder and pulls on it, so she can pout directly into your face. "I need to know more about what's going on, too!"
There really is no harm in it. You shift the computer back towards her and she settles down, leaning on your shoulder. Seeing her pout made you feel a bit better. Is this what having a little sister is like? Though considering the age gap, you're actually more like father and daughter.
You restrain the urge to gag. It's a bad thought on multiple levels.
The computer finishes waking up. A few clicks later and you're back in KRC. Hatate is the only one online.
*** reconnected *** now talking in #kakashi *** topic is Official Channel for Kakashi Spirit News THE TRUTH | SEND NUDES TO firstname.lastname@example.org | SHAMEIMARU TERROR LEVEL: ~ORANGE~ *** set by ~internethatatemachine on Sat Sep 29 07:59:11 2008 *** channel #kakashi mode is +nrst *** channel created at Sat Jul 23 23:31:01 2005 <PI> Hatate you around? <PI> Hatate? <internethatatemachine> what yes i'm here <internethatatemachine> i was finally about to fall asleep too <PI> I have something big <PI> I had to shoot a bird today <internethatatemachine> wait <internethatatemachine> you mean one of THE birds <PI> Yes <internethatatemachine> what the fuck <internethatatemachine> how the fuck <internethatatemachine> why the fuck
So you explain everything that happened since you last logged out of KRC, with as much detail as possible. Mori watches the screen with great interest, and Hatate acts like a half-diligent reporter — asking for elaborations of the tiniest details. That means she's actually interested, which is saying something.
However, there are two things you purposefully leave out. You remember hearing a strange voice in the forest, and possibly once again while you were being held by that tengu. You can't really remember what it said. Could have been a youkai or a spirit messing with you. The forest is a strange place, even in the daytime.
The other thing you leave out is Mori firing your gun, even though it didn't have any bullets. Again, you could have miscounted. You can't be sure if you fired twice or three times. Thinking back, you did pray. Did a god answer your plea and provide you with a miracle bullet? Not a chance. The gods left Gensokyo before you were even born. Anyone who calls for them only does so out of a sense of tradition — or desperation.
It takes the better part of an hour, but you finish explaining the incident to Hatate's satisfaction.
<internethatatemachine> i definitely have to look into this <internethatatemachine> i have no idea why that fascist dickhead would be interested in an outsider <internethatatemachine> unless it had something to do with that lake that appeared on the mountain last week <internethatatemachine> ask her
Mori reacts before you even turn to face her. "The lake? Yeah, I lived near a lake." She sighs. "So, it moved to Gensokyo too. Is it safe on the mountain, if there are so many youkai up there? I want to feel relieved, but..."
Her brow creases, and the worry makes her face look years older. It isn't any kind of raw, desperate emotion. Her concern is carefully tempered and mired in deep thought. No kid should have to make that kind of expression.
You leave her be and return your attention to the screen.
<PI> She says she lived near the lake <internethatatemachine> interesting <internethatatemachine> an unwitting victim of the border's eccentricities then <internethatatemachine> i'm going to have to look into this harder <PI> Try leaving the nest for once <internethatatemachine> fuck you and the little girl you rode in on <internethatatemachine> i don't need to leave my room <internethatatemachine> i'm fucking psychic <PI> Ok <PI> What about us? <PI> Won't wolves be sniffing around? <internethatatemachine> i don't think so <internethatatemachine> tengu are an awfully proud people <internethatatemachine> how many humans do you think have gotten the drop on a unsuspecting tengu throughout history <internethatatemachine> you never hear anything because if stories like that spread we wouldn't be nearly as strong <internethatatemachine> that's how youkai work and that's why tengu are so powerful <internethatatemachine> we're the best at controlling information <internethatatemachine> so I don't think that tengu will tell anyone about her little slip up <internethatatemachine> she'll definitely have it out for you though <internethatatemachine> assuming she even remembers what you look like <internethatatemachine> sounds like you did a pretty good job of splattering her brains <internethatatemachine> those never regenerate quite right <PI> Good to know <internethatatemachine> but if you ever get a picture of that tengu or even her name let me know <internethatatemachine> i would love to run a good smear piece <PI> I'll keep that in mind <internethatatemachine> and most importantly <internethatatemachine> keep that girl with you <internethatatemachine> i know you like your loner act but she's important <PI> If you say so <internethatatemachine> now i'm gonna take a nap <internethatatemachine> try not to die in the meantime <PI> Will do *** internethatatemachine (email@example.com) has disconnected
With that, you're alone in the channel. It's not uncommon for this to happen when it draws closer to noon. Hatate and Q are both nocturnal and usually pass out around this time, while Lucy and the other less-frequent regulars seem to have normal working schedules.
You close the laptop. No use in staying on an empty channel.
Mori is still unresponsive, deep in thought. Your shoulder is getting warm — too warm for comfort. You shake her a bit so she gets the hint, but if she notices she's ignoring it. Eventually, you just push her off.
That snaps her out of it. "What, not a fan of intimacy?"
You feel like you've been intimate with her enough in the past twelve hours to last a lifetime. If she wants to think, she can do it on the other end of the couch and leave you enough room to take a nap. You let her know this through a series of glares and nudges.
"Fine, I'm moving." She slides over to the other end of the couch. But instead of sitting on the cushion, she perches herself on the arm with crossed legs and a satisfied grin. "This is more my style, I think."
If she falls off the side of the couch, it's her own damn fault. You lay down and close your eyes. Doesn't take long for your body to feel heavy.
"They have game shows like this here? No way!"
Sounds like some ridiculous shit is on the TV. You tune it out. Thoughts turn to your chat with Hatate. It was reassuring. The tengu won't be coming after you in force, at least. But they're still after Mori. Need to find her something to wear that hides her a little better. But that's the least of your problems; you're going to have to convince her to stop wearing that fucking googly-eye hat. Could be a challenge — she seems attached to it.
Mori laughs and your eyes crack open. She's focused intently on the TV with a wide smile, and her blue eyes reflect the light. It's a heavy contrast to the expression she wore while you were chatting with Hatate. It happened when the lake was brought up. Probably worried about her home, her family. Must bother her more than she's willing to let on. Not sure why she's so comfortable staying with you for the moment, though. Maybe you'll talk to her about it sometime.
Looking at her face too long puts a weight on your chest you'd rather not have. You close your eyes again, and keep them shut.
Cabinets opening and shutting. Your eyes open and Mori isn't there. You rise from the couch and rub your eyes, then your throat. It's sore to the touch, and it feels like there's definitely a giant bruise there. If you had any ice, you would put some on it.
As for the noises, they're coming from the kitchen. More doors and drawers opening and closing. You decide to try calling out to the pest. "What are you doing?" Your voice comes out hoarse, but at least it's manageable.
A door slams, and she marches out into the living room with indignation. "Looking for food!" she huffs. "Who keeps an empty kitchen? How do you survive? I thought I'd at least find some ramen or something."
Oh right. You were planning on restocking today, but that was before... all of this. You sigh. "We can go shopping today. What time is it?"
"Close to three," she answers. Damn, you slept for quite a bit. "Hey, what about the soup kitchen you were supposed to look into?"
"The charity case? You mean, eat there?"
She shrugs. "Why not? Kills two birds with one stone. Besides, I'm hungry now. We haven't eaten all day, you know. Aren't you feeling it?"
You've been trying to ignore it, but she's right. Just mentioning it makes your stomach droop. Taking advantage of what should be a reprieve for the homeless and impoverished doesn't thrill you, but Mori's logic is undeniable. The only problem is that you're supposed to be laying low. You glance at Mori, or rather, the thing on her head. "Listen, about the hat. It makes you stick out quite a bit, doesn't it?"
"Oh." She takes it off and holds it in front of her, looking at it. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I don't feel right without it though, if that's what you're implying."
"So you'd rather get spotted by another tengu?" you argue. "They'd spot you from the sky real easy if they knew to look for it. And the one in the forest seemed like she did."
Mori strains her face hard. "You aren't wrong, but..." She puts the hat back on her head. "Sorry. I can't go out without it."
Stubborn kid. Well, you're familiar with compromise. "Wait one second. I think I have something that might work."
She points to your neck. "You also might want to cover up that bruise, while you're at it. People might think we're into some kinky stuff."
Mori leads you through the street confidently, the bug-eyed hat hanging on her back. You managed to find some pretty durable thread, so you poked a couple holes in the hat, strung the thread through, and knotted both ends. From afar, she just looks like she's wearing a strange backpack. Pretty ingenious stuff. The difficult part was convincing her to let you make the holes, but you assured her it was either this or staying behind, and she relented. Not bad, PI. If only you could say the same for the raggedy scarf you grabbed for yourself. At least it makes you look like you should be accepting handouts. Like camouflage. Yeah, you'll go with that.
It doesn't take long to reach the alleged soup kitchen, and it's not nearly as subtle as you might have thought. Looks like they're operating out of an abandoned bar, and there's already a large crowd gathering around the doors. As you approach, the doors burst open and they all flock in. Must be getting popular. Not surprising if they're offering free food. This area of the slums is mostly "residential," as in it consists mostly of tall, battered structures that house whoever lays claim to them. There's a lot of boarded-up windows and doors around, but the bar itself is surprisingly quaint. It appears to have been recently cleaned up, likely by whoever's behind this operation.
When you lag behind, Mori turns around and puts her hands on her hips. "Hey partner, we should hurry! They run out pretty quick, and they close when they do."
You resume walking. "I don't know about this 'partner' business, but alright."
She elbows you in the side in protest. "What, I haven't proven myself yet? After what I did for you this morning?"
You sigh. Hearing that is going to get old, quick. "I'm grateful. I really am. But this is different. You don't just aim and shoot for this kind of stuff. Let me do the thinking, and the talking, and everything else. If you pay attention, you'll learn. And if you learn, then maybe I'll let you call yourself my apprentice."
"Ohhhhh!" She throws her hands up in the air. "Then please instruct me through glorious example, master!"
Smartass. The door is propped open, and you purposefully step in front of Mori so you're the first one in. She steps on the back of your shoe, likely on purpose also. It was worth it.
The first thing you notice is the smell. It's pretty strong and actually not bad, especially for the slums. You're not really sure what it is, but it's definitely homemade. Processed stuff doesn't have this kind of savory aroma. As for the bar itself, it's pretty small on the inside: only a few rows of booths, some tables and stools, and a bar which seems to have been converted to the food line. Some have already received their handout — a small plastic bowl of whatever's making that smell — and taken their seats. Many more wait in line. You can't see the person handing the stuff out through them, and you can't see anyone else who might be working here either. Very strange. If they have so much food, you'd think they would also have a lot of protection. Something's off here, you can feel it.
You also feel something poke at your ribs in a much less abstract fashion. "Well?" Mori looks up at you expectantly. "What's the plan?"
The mission is to find out what they're serving, how they're getting a hold of it, and why they're doing it in the first place. As far as you can see, you have a few options available. One is to simply wait and watch. If this place closes quickly, you shouldn't have to wait long for it to clear out. Then you can trail the owners to wherever they get their stocks. You can also eat while you wait, which is ideal. It might also benefit you to talk with Mori about her situation, or...
"Mori, do you see anyone around who's a regular? Someone who's been here every time you have?"
She scans the room, and it doesn't take her long to find someone. "There."
It's easy to follow Mori's eyes to a dark-haired young woman with some kind of big, red ribbon tied in her hair. Her outfit is red, with detached white sleeves and a long skirt. Pretty dirty-looking too — reminds you of Mori's clothes that are still in your bathtub. But her wardrobe isn't your concern. If she comes here often, then she probably knows something about what's going on here. Might be able to give you some helpful information.
Besides that, you could go for something a little more active. If something were to draw everyone's attention away, you could try sneaking into the back. It definitely smells like they're cooking this stuff here. It makes you even more hungry than you were. Once you've infiltrated the kitchen, maybe you could take a... sample. A few, maybe. But of course, you would remain focused on finding out what this stuff is and where it might be coming from.
Finally, you could just be forward and ask. The line starts to thin a bit, and you can spot the person handing out the food. It's a young woman with blonde hair — a bit darker than Mori's — wearing a red cap, a yellow blouse, and a pink apron. She's smiling from ear-to-ear. You're not sure what sort of nefarious scheme would necessitate giving this much food away. Maybe these people are just really generous farmers who managed to hide a patch of farmland from the kappa. It might be better to strike up a conversation with her and see what she says.
Another poke in the ribs. Mori grows more impatient by the second.
 Get something to eat and observe until the crowd clears out. - In the meantime, have a talk with Mori about the Outside. - In the meantime, pick out a regular and see if you can learn anything.
 Have Mori cause a scene, so you can investigate on your own.
 Be direct. Talk to the girl and ask her why she's doing this.
I'm not sure why I was at all surprised that Hatate never leaves her room, but it does seem like the logical extension of her spirit photography and personality. She's still amusing, anyway, Mori as well.
[x] Get something to eat and observe until the crowd clears out. -[x] In the meantime, pick out a regular and see if you can learn anything.
Honestly there's a lot of interesting options here, and questions that come to mind- Looks like the server/proprietor is Minoriko, which makes sense but also makes me wonder what she'd been doing until recently, considering the IRC mention that kappa controlled most of the food supply which presumably wouldn't leave much room for harvest goddesses. PI's thinking the gods left long ago is interesting if these are the Akis here, and considering Hina.
>a dark-haired young woman with some kind of big, red ribbon tied in her hair. Her outfit is red, with detached white sleeves and a long skirt. Pretty dirty-looking too ...But honestly I'm most curious about what the hell Reimu's doing here as a regular, and what that'd mean for just what happened in this Gensokyo. We can always talk to Suwako or the soup-kitchen owner later, but I really don't want to miss the chance to talk to Reimu.
[X] Be direct. Talk to the girl and ask her why she's doing this.
Figure she'd appreciate this better than dancing around the issue.
>>63578 Good question, from what I gather the Moriya shrine shunting to Gensokyo happened but this time somehow the Tengu/Kappa managed to take over everything. I wonder what Yukari's doing as the only way I can see the Tengu pulling such a big stunt is if she wasn't around
>>63588 Yeah, I wonder what Yukari's up to as well. It seems like the tengu and possibly kappa have been in power for a decent amount of time. And it seems likely that they're the ones responsible for the tech level being modern (or maybe even advanced past modern, there was a mention of genetic engineering). Which is also something canon-Yukari seemed to avoid until Kanako started her technological revolution. Just makes me curious whether she's decided to be very non-interventionist in this story or what. I'm assuming the Barrier still exists, and Yukari and Reimu both help maintain it canonically, but it looks like at least the latter isn't doing well here.
>>63589 It wouldn't surprise me if we run into her eventually, but a soup kitchen isn't the place I'd expect to find her. Still, I can understand thinking it when a blonde woman's described in the context of nefarious schemes.
[x] Get something to eat and observe until the crowd clears out. -[x] In the meantime, pick out a regular and see if you can learn anything.
You sneak another glance at the red-and-white girl that Mori pointed out. Though, there isn't really any reason to be subtle about it; the girl is completely focused on the steaming bowl in front of her. She dips a spoon into it, holds it in front of her, and blows only once before shoving it in her mouth. She cringes, and then swallows with tears in her eyes. Too hungry to wait for it to cool, apparently.
You're getting pretty close to that level yourself. If Mori and the rest of these people have eaten the stuff before and are still fine, then you probably don't have anything to worry about. Yeah, you'll get a free bite to eat and then wait. By the time they close up and move out, it should be getting dark — the perfect time to trail someone. Hopefully that will lead you back to where they're getting this stuff, but even if it doesn't you should have something.
"We'll wait around and see what happens when they close up shop," you whisper to Mori. Then you motion to the red-and-white girl. "In the meantime, do you know anything about her?"
Mori shakes her head. "Nope! I've tried to talk to her a couple of times, but she's not very sociable. Also kinda mean-looking, but that might just be the face she was born with."
You look back at her. Nothing ornery about the expression she's giving that soup. She's treating it like a gift from the gods. It's perfect. "We'll sit by her, then."
Mori raises an eyebrow. "Can I ask why?"
"If she isn't sociable, then that means she listens. She watches. If you're looking to know something, the first person you go to is someone like her. All we need to do is negotiate a price, and something tells me that won't be too difficult."
She hums a satisfied note. "I see. Yeah, I like that."
Not that it would have mattered if she didn't. You're the professional here.
While the line shifts forward, you take a chance to survey the other patrons. Most of them are older men, eating alone or in small groups. They're quite somber, and speak in low, hushed tones. You'd guess that most of them used to live in the central district, but fell on hard times one way or the other. Might even be criminals. Of the few jobs the slums have to offer, these worn men are least suited for them.
Then there are the children, ranging from teenagers to infants. Packs of orphans or bastards no doubt, who have formed clans of experienced street-dwellers. There's no way free food would escape their notice. They add a helping of liveliness to the place — though it's too much for your tastes. Would Mori have ended up with them eventually? Maybe, but kids are surprisingly insular. You've heard fairies are even leading some of them, and those little gangs are the ones to watch out for. Fairies are bad enough pranksters on their own, but add in the cruelty of human nature and you've got some troublemakers that could give hardened criminals a run for their money.
"Excuse me, sir?" The gentle voice of the young woman handing out the food retrieves you from your thoughts. She has a distinct rural twang, but her tone is proper. "Would you like some?"
"Yes, that would be lovely," you answer. "Thank you."
"You're very welcome." She dips her ladle into the giant pot beside her, and fills a bowl with it. It's definitely some kind of white broth, with chunks of... something in it. "I don't believe I've met you before. I'm Minoriko Aki."
After dropping a spoon in, she offers the bowl to you. When you take it, the calluses on her hands are easily noticed. Must be involved with growing the stuff somehow. But if they're working for the kappa and stealing to give some to the poor, how could they get away with so much? And if they're growing it on their own, where could they be doing it without the kappa knowing?
But now you have to introduce yourself, and there's too many aliases to choose from. Eventually you decide on something old. "Shinichi Tsurugi."
"Well then Mister Tsurugi, please make yourself at home." She bows, to which you can only respond with something half as earnest. Then she turns to Mori, who has been waiting beside you with her own bowl of soup. "I'm glad you've found someone. I was worried about you."
Mori smiles back, but it isn't the same as Minoriko's. It's dry, rigid, and lacking support from the eyes. "Thanks for the concern."
With that, Mori turns and walks away. You follow. When you look back to Minoriko, she's already serving the next people in line. When both of you are a comfortable distance away, you make a pointed observation. "She seems friendly."
Mori stops, looks at you, then laughs. "Maybe to you. She hates me. I get along better with her sister. They had a falling out recently, but I hoped they would be over it..."
You wouldn't consider yourself an expert in reading facial expressions, especially the little ones that great detectives can pick up on, but Minoriko didn't seem to be radiating any type of hostility towards Mori. But there is one thing you do know: women are different. Who knows what secret passive-aggressive nonsense was transpiring right in front of your face. Regardless, something else is bothering you. "Putting that aside, I didn't think you were that close to this place."
"I'm not," she replies adamantly. "I just talked to the sisters a few times since I didn't have anyone else. It's nothing important. They weren't willing to tell me anything about what they were doing, if that's what you're getting at. It's one of the reasons I wanted to come with you. I'm interested in what's going on behind the scenes, too."
Knowing a bit more about Mori's motivations, vague as they may be, is of some comfort to you. Seems she's as concerned as Q is — but Q is more focused on the product, while Mori is concerned about Minoriko and her sister. Or something like that.
Satisfied for now, you walk to the booth where the red-and-white girl is sitting. Her eyes briefly acknowledge you as you approach, but quickly return to her bowl. Then they flash back to you again, when you're standing right in front of her. You take the opportunity to slide into the booth across from her, earning yourself a surprised look from both the girl and Mori, who has been trailing behind you. As soon as you settle into the seat, you find that it's quite chilly, enough to raise the hairs on your neck. There must be a strong draft from something.
"Um, hey, 'Shinichi.'" Mori starts to protest, but after looking at you for a moment, she lets it go and sits down next to you.
The red-and-white girl ignores Mori and scowls at you. "What do you want?"
"An exchange." Best to make your intentions known immediately. Her wrinkled brow tells you she's not in the mood for pleasantries. "This place is an anomaly, as you're no doubt aware of. I want to know more."
She sighs. "At least wait for me to finish my soup. Shinichi, I take it?"
"Yes. Shinichi Tsurugi."
She continues to glare at you, right into your eyes. Mori was right, this girl is pretty mean-looking. But after a moment, she sighs and goes from a glare to a stoic frown. "Whatever. The name's Reimu."
"Reimu...?" You're expecting a family name here.
"Let's just leave it at that," she replies, before bringing her bowl to her lips and tipping it back, draining the rest of the stuff directly.
You turn to Mori. She's already taking spoonfuls of the soup, without regard to the temperature. Can't blame her; she was probably even hungrier than you are. Speaking of the soup, you still have no idea what it is. You turn the spoon around in it a few times, and all you see are lumps of white and specks of black and green. Pepper and maybe onion? But you're not sure what the main ingredient is.
Well, no use fretting about it. It is free food. You take a sip. It's a creamy broth, and pretty damn good. Just as savory as it smells, and miles above dumping yellow salt into bowls of instant ramen. The heat is only a notch below burning the hell out of your tongue, but it feels good since your seat has only gotten colder since you sat down. The cold air from the draft or whatever has spread from your back to the rest of your body. It's even colder in this seat than it is outside, and it doesn't seem like the others are feeling it. Hell, your nipples are even starting to get hard through your hoodie.
The red-and-white girl, Reimu, slams her bowl down after she's finished with it. She looks at you with her hard, brown eyes — through you, it seems like — and grimaces. "Mima, could you stop groping him already? It's disgusting."
Someone laughs, but you have no idea who. In fact, it sounds like it's coming from inside you. "Aww, Raymoo. I was just starting to get some nice reactions."
Then something pokes out of your chest. At first it's just a green and white blur, but slowly the image starts to focus like your eyes are adjusting. It doesn't take long to realize that it's a head. You blink a few times, just to be sure. Yes, that is definitely a translucent head sticking out of your chest — a woman's head looking straight up at you, with long green hair and a slick grin. "Hello," she bids you.
Keep it cool, PI. You wouldn't want to draw attention to yourself by doing something like, who knows, screaming wildly and shoving Mori to the floor so you can get the hell out of this booth. No, you'll take a deep breath and relax. Maybe another spoonful of soup. It's Gensokyo, right? Anything can happen.
"Why are you so surprised? You sat right on top of me, you know." The head laughs again. Then you feel something like cold air passing through your insides as her whole body slides out of you, coming to a stop floating above the table. She's wearing some sort of blue outfit, with a bright yellow ribbon tied around her neck. What's most noticeable is her legs, or lack of: all that's below her waist is a blurry white tail. It looks like it might come into focus like her head did, but it never does.
You look around. Nobody else seems to pay this bright, floating woman any regard. Not even Reimu or Mori seem surprised, but they do at least acknowledge her. Then you realize what you're dealing with. "A spirit."
The ghost slips down into the booth across from Mori, next to Reimu — much to the latter's disgust. "My, you're quicker than I thought!" Then her expression drops to something resembling Reimu's. "In a way that's kind of boring. I thought you would give me some more entertainment. Well, at least feeling your heart jump was worth it."
Mori rests a hand on your arm. "Don't worry. I don't think any less of you for being scared of ghosts." Comforting, but the shit-eating grin on her face suggest she's being less than sincere.
"Very funny," you say. Then something comes to you. "Why weren't you surprised?"
Mori lets go of your arm, and suddenly she has a lot more difficulty looking you in the face. "Well, in the Outside there are haunted places and stuff too, so maybe I'm just uh... not really bothered that much by it."
Bullshit. You get the feeling she knew the ghost was there the whole time. But you're not sure how. "I have some experience with spirits too," you say. In particular, ghosts have actually hired you in the past. The spirits themselves don't scare you, but like most of your fellow humans, you can't see them unless they want to be seen. And you'll probably never get used to the nasty surprises they can come up with. However, they do pay well — probably because all they need is six coins for the boat. "It's been a long time since I've seen one though."
"Well, there's less and less of a reason for them to stick around," the ghost says. "I'm a little above the rabble, though."
Reimu groans. "You sure are. Anyway, before Mima decided to make a spectacle out of herself, we were talking business."
Yes, changing the topic. Much appreciated, Reimu. "Right. I want to know more about this place and how it operates."
Reimu leans forward, sliding her bowl to the side. Her glare returns, and it's no friendlier. "Why?"
You shrug. "I don't really care. I have a client and a job. That's all I know." A bit of a stretch, since you could imagine why if you connected the dots.
Reimu leans back. She seems hesitant — but not unwilling. "Look, I couldn't give a shit each for the sisters, but I like their food because it's free. If something I say were to play a part in closing this place down, I would want some compensation to cover the loss. Food's expensive out here, and I have a lot of inside information."
"I can't deny that food's expensive," you admit. "But I'm not exactly rolling in yen either, and it's not like anyone else is going to be paying you for your information. Especially since Mori here could probably find out most of what you know herself, if I keep sending her here."
The ghost, Mima, whistles. "Two mercenaries meet, each looking out for their own pockets. This is better than the stuff the tengu put on daytime TV, by far."
"Yeah really," Mori says. "I wonder who's going to sleep with who."
You frown at Mori, as Reimu does Mima. Both are unashamed. Then Reimu turns back to you. "Ignoring the peanut gallery, let's say 10000 yen even, and you make me privy to wherever this takes you. Deal?"
Not bad if she really does have as much info as she claims, but maybe it could be better. "8000 and you're privy."
She's unfazed. "10000, or I'm going to smash your head in with a brick and keep eating free food."
No time wasted in bringing violence to the table, you see. It's a quick, cheap threat, but she does have some muscle under those dirty scraps of clothing. She's not just thin, she's lean. And probably desperate, in spite of her attitude. She'd probably make good on her word. "Just thought I'd try. 10000 it is, then."
You pull out your wallet and retrieve a 10000 yen bill. With this, all you'll have left are a few 1000 yen bills and whatever coins are in your pocket. Looks like you're going to have to finish this case before you can buy more ammo for your gun.
When Reimu sees the 10000 yen, she smiles for the first time you've seen. After taking it, she offers her hand. "Pleasure doing business with you."
You take it and shake. Her grip's just as firm as the oni's at the bar you frequent, even though her hand is much smaller. You don't regret 10000.
"I really wanted to see someone get their head smashed in with a brick," Mima remarks.
Mori nods in agreement. "Yeah, no wonder the ratings are down this season." Those two seem to play well off each other, at least.
But now isn't the time for antics. You're paying good money for this little interview, and you need to make it count. As far as you can see, there are two ways this can go: you keep the product in your sights, or focus instead on the Aki sisters.
The product is what you came here to investigate, and it's what Q is paying you for. You need to find out where it came from exactly, regardless of whether it's being grown or stolen. Once you verify, all you'd need to do is report back. What Q will do from there isn't certain, but since you suspect she has close ties with the kappa, it probably wouldn't be good for the soup kitchen operation. But it would be good for your wallet and your reputation, since you'd be getting right to the core of the matter.
On the other hand, Minoriko and her sister aren't really part of the job description, but you'd be lying if you said you weren't a little interested in them. Who are they working for? What's their agenda? Is it possible they're doing this out of the kindness of their hearts? Unlikely, but there's a very tiny optimistic part of you that would be happy to hear that might be the case. This soup is pretty damn good. Q wouldn't appreciate you straying from the job, but Hatate was interested about the idea of challenging the kappa's dominance of the food supply.
 Stay focused on the product itself. It's what Q wanted you to do.
 Turn your attention to the Aki sisters themselves. This could be big.
 Have your "apprentice" ask some questions of her own.
Feels like each update is taking longer than the last. Of course, the updates themselves are actually longer too, so I guess it balances out.
I would like to try updating twice a week though, as I originally set out to do. But once a week is also fine. Any longer than that, and I'll be sure to post a status update and probably an excuse. Last thing I want to do is leave you guys hanging.
Just felt like you guys should know what to expect in terms of an update schedule, since I don't think I've mentioned anything thus far.
[x] Stay focused on the product itself. It's what Q wanted you to do. [x] Have your "apprentice" ask some questions of her own.
Throwing in at least a token vote for doing what Q (who I still think is Nitori) asked us to do: I don't think investigating the Akis is the wrong choice as such, but she was friendly to PI and providing the information asked for is the professional thing. Granted, the leading option could provide us more info to relay if we so choose.
Wasn't expecting Mima, lol. And I'm curious to know more personal stuff about Reimu but I don't know how well she'll respond to the "Get Personal" option, depending on what PI takes it to mean.
>>63661 Thanks for keeping us in the loop. I wouldn't worry too much about once a week updates, though if you find a way to get back to the intended schedule I don't think you'll find any objections.
[x] Turn your attention to the Aki sisters themselves. This could be big. [x] Have your "apprentice" ask some questions of her own.
You can't help yourself. The idea of humans actually helping each other — instead of tolerating each other at best — touches your bleeding heart. Or maybe this soup is so good that you can't imagine yourself going back to instant ramen every day. You'll look into the goals of this operation, and if your heart hasn't scabbed over by then, you'll think about feeding Hatate a report instead of Q.
But before you begin, you should probably make something clear. "Mori." The girl perks up from her seat. "If there's something you don't understand or you want to ask about something in general, just do it."
She eyes you warily. "You serious? What happened to the master and apprentice bit, with the shutting up and the listening?"
"Normally yes, that's exactly what you should be doing. But given your... situation, I think it'd be wrong to deny you a few questions." You turn to Reimu. "If it's alright with Miss Reimu here."
The dirty, brown-haired girl frowns. "Yeah whatever," she replies, "so long as you get on with it."
And that you will oblige her. Given her attitude, it seems that Reimu will be more receptive to getting hit with the important questions first. You clear your throat. "Miss Reimu, who is Minoriko Aki working for? If this is some kind of scheme, I want to know."
She cocks an eyebrow. "What, are you looking out for the people around here? Or maybe you'd like to get in on it?"
"I paid to ask the questions here." But after seeing her frown deepen, you feel obligated to say something. "Let's just say that the bigger the pile of shit, the more I can get out of stepping in it."
Reimu leans back and sighs. "I know how that feels. Well, what you see is what you get." She points to the bar, where Minoriko is still busy serving. "It's just her."
"Just her?" you repeat. "I find that hard to believe. Someone has to be looking out for her."
"Her sister helps," Reimu explains, "but she hasn't been around these past few days. Don't know why. Never really talked to her. Far as I can tell, their schedule went like this: they pick an abandoned building that has a functional kitchen, they bring a big sack of potatoes there in the morning, they cook them, and they serve whoever comes in when they open the doors. No advertising. Since the sister's gone, Minoriko has been doing it all herself."
Potatoes? So that's what was in the soup. No wonder you didn't recognize it — potatoes aren't exactly common in Gensokyo. But if you remember correctly, they're a pretty formidable crop that can grow anywhere, so that might explain why Minoriko has been able to grow so many. How she can get away with it is still a mystery to you, however. "But even if her sister was with her most of the time," you argue, "it's still extraordinary for them to have been doing this without harassment from humans or youkai." Well, before you came along, anyway.
Reimu furrows her brow. Seems like she's trying to think of something. But before she can figure it out, Mori elbows you in the side to get your attention. "PI, lemme ask you something. Don't you feel kind of at peace here, even though we're in some abandoned building in the middle of the slums?"
"I can't say I do," you answer. But then you look around. The children are eating and playing, the old men are telling stories to each other in wistful tones, and even the dirtiest families seem to be blissfully unaware of the weight on their shoulders.
"You see it, don't you?" Mori continues. She looks at Reimu. "And so do you."
Reimu's eyes widen and blink a few times, then she nods. "Yeah. I guess you could say it's... peaceful."
You may see it, but you don't really understand what they're getting at. "So you're saying that because everyone's having a good time," you say, "nobody's going to want to mess everything up? Because in my experience, that only makes it more likely. Humans are covetous, greedy creatures."
Reimu nods. "That's absolutely true." Sounds like she's speaking from experience as well. "Yet here we are."
Mima takes the opportunity to float over the table on her back, gliding through the air like she was on water. You never saw her move out of her seat to begin with, but such is to be expected when dealing with spirits. "Then it would stand to reason," she says, "that there is something extraordinary about Minoriko Aki." Suddenly she's hovering next to Reimu again. "Wouldn't you think?"
"Extraordinary", huh? But the ghost might not be wrong. When you consider that the venue moves and the sister hasn't been around lately, the only constants here are Minoriko Aki and what she's serving. The soup's good, but you don't think it's miraculous. It isn't going to stop human nature. Then it hits you — human. Yes, there's one possibility. You lower your voice. "What are the chances Minoriko Aki isn't a human?"
Mima chuckles. "Now you're getting somewhere. If I knew, I'd tell you. But I'm a bit detached from the corporeal realm, as you're no doubt aware. Otherwise I'd be able to sniff her out."
You can't blame her for that. Though it does make you wonder what kind of individual Mima was in life to have such a talent. You turn to Reimu for her opinion. "And you?"
Reimu turns the idea around in her head with no lack of distaste. "I can't imagine a youkai going to such lengths to help humans without making a feast out of them in turn," she concludes. "If she's a youkai, she's definitely not normal."
Two fingers dig into your side. "I have a question," Mori tells Reimu.
You beam disapproval down onto her little blonde head. "There are better ways of getting my attention, you know." Also, she wasn't even addressing you in the first place.
Mori gives you another of her shit-eating grins. "Yeah, but I like how your gut feels." Then back to Reimu. "Anyway, aren't you a shrine maiden? Wouldn't it be pretty easy for you to figure out if she's a youkai?"
Mima smirks, and Reimu's eyes widen. Seems like Mori actually caught the dour-faced girl by surprise. "These are shrine maiden's clothes," Reimu admits, "but I'm not... technically a shrine maiden."
Weren't shrine maidens supposed to have a proper kimono and a hakama, instead of the ragged three-piece ensemble Reimu's wearing? But beyond that, there's only one shrine in Gensokyo worth mentioning, and you do make sure to mention it to Reimu. "You wouldn't happen to be related to the Hakurei Shrine, would you?"
Reimu expresses her displeasure at the question with a frown, but doesn't shy away from it. "I'm the shrine's caretaker, and a descendant of the last to serve its god. So yes, you could say I'm very related."
That's quite a serious claim to fame. Mori obviously wouldn't understand the significance, and she looks to you for clarification. "What's the Hakurei Shrine? Is it important?"
"Quite important," you answer. "The reason Gensokyo is Gensokyo is because of a barrier that divides it from the Outside. That barrier is focused on the Hakurei Shrine. Used to be that the Hakurei shrine maiden was a protector and representative of the humans in Gensokyo, but the god of the shrine vanished and the shrine maiden's power went with it. The other native gods in Gensokyo started disappearing, and the power balance between humans and youkai swung wildly in favor of the latter." That's the gist of how the shrine relates to the present day, at least.
Reimu snorts. How ladylike. Bringing up the shrine appears to have made her even more sour. "You're certainly learned," she says. You don't get the feeling she's complimenting you. "That isn't exactly common knowledge, nowadays. Where did you hear all that?"
A half-woman obsessed with her own ill-gotten intelligence. But you have no desire to bring her into this. "It doesn't matter," you reply. "I'm right, aren't I? Of course, people are starting to doubt the Hakurei God even existed, and believe it was just a powerful youkai that got scared off by the tengu."
Reimu scowls at you. "That's bullshit. The Hakurei God wasn't a youkai, and it will come back."
The weight Reimu puts on her words takes you by surprise. Looks like you pushed a bit too far and struck a nerve. Though you don't quite agree with her, it's nothing for you to let it be. Talking about the Hakurei God is useless, anyway. Whether it comes back in a year, ten, a hundred, or at all — it doesn't matter since everyone can agree that it sure as shit isn't around now.
"Well, humans thinking that way isn't surprising," Mima chimes in with an air of smugness. "Youkai and the divine are on the same spectrum. Take the tengu. Aren't there humans who revere them as protective mountain deities?"
You don't know about that, but Mori nods along. "I see," she says. "That would explain the state of things around here."
Reimu can barely seem to contain her rage at the thought. "I'll never accept that," she declares with clenched fists. "The tengu are only interested in themselves. The more humans rely on them, the worse it'll get."
That you can agree with.
Mori prods you yet again. "Hey, do you think Reimu would be able to help me out with my... dilemma?"
It's not the worst idea. If Reimu's inherited the Hakurei's knowledge, then she would probably be the best person to ask about anything related to Gensokyo and the Outside. However, you're not sure how she could help Mori get back home. "I don't think she's very... relevant, in the scheme of things," you explain. "But like I said, if you want to ask a question — ask."
Mima seems intrigued by what Mori has in store, but Reimu's glaring at you. Maybe you should have phrased that a little better. "Just do it, for fuck's sake," she snaps at the both of you. "I bet I'm more 'relevant' than you think."
"Great!" Mori responds with a beaming smile, unfazed. "How does the barrier work, exactly?"
Reimu freezes. You know for a fact that question isn't an easy one — even if it appears simple. Someone took the greater part of an hour to explain it to you once, and you still have no idea beyond "magic". Reimu furrows her brow and leans back. She opens her mouth a few times, but nothing comes out. All the while, Mima watches with a sadistic grin. Finally, Reimu manages something of an explanation. "It's a big blanket that has to keep Gensokyo nice and warm so it doesn't freeze to death. But the blanket's old, and it gets a lot of holes and tears."
That's... certainly not how it was explained it to you.
Mima snickers. "Oh Reimu, I love your explanations. They're adorable!"
A tinge of red not unlike the color of her clothes spreads on Reimu's face. "I don't know what you're talking about," she grumbles. "I'm just telling it how I see it."
"No, no!" Mori says. "I totally get it. That helps a lot, actually."
It's easy-to-follow, you have to admit. But you also know that magic is far more complex than an elementary metaphor. Especially whatever's keeping Gensokyo together.
"So if someone were to fall through one of those holes and end up here in Gensokyo," Mori continues, "what would happen?"
Reimu fumbles yet again to provide an answer. She probably can't think of a neat metaphor for this one.
This time it's Mima who gives a much more scholarly response. "Humans can get drawn into the barrier, but they're still grounded in the Outside. They usually find their way back out before too long, not that they ever made it into Gensokyo proper in the first place. Mostly this happens in their dreams, or if their consciousness is otherwise inhibited." Ah yes, here's the mysterious and vague concepts you've come to expect from someone trying to explain Gensokyo. At this point Mima takes a breath and grins. "There are exceptions, though. Some humans get lost, end up in the forest, and are devoured by youkai. The corpses end up displayed in some gruesome manner near the shrine, and it's up to Reimu here — as the caretaker of the boundary between Gensokyo and the Outside — to bury them."
That certainly took a turn for the depressing. Suddenly you feel quite bad for Reimu. "That sounds awful," you tell the dakr-haired young woman. "I'm sorry for your burden."
But if the woman in question feels any pity for herself, she sure as hell doesn't show it. "I think the youkai do it just to piss me off," she replies nonchalantly. "I'd teach them a lesson and exorcise them, but I don't have any divine power of my own. So I just have to keep beating them to a pulp over and over again. It's more annoying than vindicating."
Yeah, you can't imagine this person being a proper shrine maiden. Instead you turn your attention to Mori, who seems to be in deep thought. It's hard to blame her, since she could have very easily shared the fate of those lost Outsiders. In fact, that makes you wonder. "Say, Reimu," you begin, "how often do lost Outsiders survive? How would you get them home?"
Reimu's response is an immediate shrug. "Who knows," she says. "I've never actually seen a live one before. If they get lost in Gensokyo, they're probably weird anyway."
Mima clears her throat. "I think what Reimu means to say is that if someone were to enter Gensokyo and survive, they would likely belong here."
That's a pretty carefree way of looking at it. You glance down at Mori to see her reaction, only to find her looking right at you. Your eyes meet. Then she turns to Reimu and Mima with a smile. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense."
Not to you it doesn't. Isn't Mori worried about her home? Shouldn't she speak up, reveal herself as an Outsider who needs help? She doesn't seem very discouraged that the odds of her getting back home are dwindling. You won't deny she's weird, but does she think she "belongs" here in Gensokyo?
As you try to wrap your head around Mori's situation, you become aware that the ambience is beginning to fade. Gradually everyone's picking themselves up and leaving.
Reimu puts her hands on her head and stretches her back. It pops twice. "Looks like it's about time," she declares. "Is there anything else?"
First you look to Mori, who shakes her head. Then you reflect on what's been said. Was it worth it? You've learned that Minoriko Aki is definitely a person of interest, maybe enough to override your original job. You also managed to acquaint yourself with a historical figure — or rather, what remains of it — so that might pay off in the long run. Mori also seemed like she got something out of it, though you're not clear on what. You wouldn't call it 10000 yen well-spent, but it's not really a loss either.
Mori smiles at Reimu as the latter gets up to leave. "Thanks a lot, Reimu. You were a big help."
Reimu waves off Mori's gratitude, though you can't help but notice some of that blush from earlier returning. "Yeah, yeah," she grumbles. "Try not to make it a habit, if you please." She shoots a nasty look at the ghost beside her. "I already have one more tag-along than I want."
Mima chuckles. "Oh, don't flatter yourself. I'm just floating along for the ride." She looks down on you and Mori with a smile that looks more wicked than it should be. "And the more, the merrier. If anything else comes up, just drop by the shrine." Mima swings around Reimu, and links one of her arms around the faux shrine maiden's. "We're always available."
Reimu shakes the ghost off — not that there's really anything there in the first place. "Speak for yourself, freeloader."
The forest. It had to be the goddamn forest again.
After lingering outside the soup kitchen as discreetly as possible, you saw Minoriko Aki leave and followed her all the way to the edge of the slums. Now you're frozen where the concrete ends and the trees begin. It's a different area from where you were attacked by the tengu, at least. The trees still haven't completely changed color around these parts, and the Youkai Mountain looms ahead. Well, if you're growing crops in secret, you might as well do it in style — right under the long, crooked noses of the tengu.
The only problem is that it's going to be dark soon. The sun is almost at the edge of the sky, painting it gold. The forest is much more dangerous at night than it is during the day — and this morning you almost got your throat crushed. Should you risk it? Your gun's stuck to your backside, but you can mentally feel how empty it is — still worth brandishing as a threat to humans maybe, but a wild youkai would be more than happy to test their luck.
From a few paces ahead, Mori turns around and frowns. "What are you waiting for? We're going to lose her!"
No fear, this one. "Aren't you at least a little hesitant to go running into the forest again after last time? I'll be honest with you, I'm not exactly equipped to handle another attack today."
She smiles without any trace of concern. "If we're looking out for each other, then we should be fine!"
If only you could have such boundless optimism.
"Sounds like the two of you could use some help," says the husky voice of a woman that's intensely familiar, considering you last heard it minutes ago. The green-haired spirit casually floats between you and Mori. She's likely been following you, and it's not like there's anything you could have done to stop it. Annoying.
You look around, expecting Reimu as well, but she's nowhere to be found. "Where's your partner?" you ask the ghost.
"'Partner' sounds too formal," she tells you with a smirk. "I merely look out for her, and I can do the same for the two of you. I was a talented magician in life, I'll have you know."
Admittedly, that is intriguing. You've met a lot of people through your work, but never a magician. After all, they don't usually need your kind of assistance. But the only one who can vouch for Mima's abilities is herself, which isn't quite enough to persuade you. "Even if you were a magician, can you still do magic as a ghost?"
Mima nods. "Of course! Magic goes beyond the physical realm. I'd give you a taste, but my particular brand is a bit... flashy. It's not something you'd want me to use unless we needed it."
Even if that were true, you still don't understand why she's willing to help. "And what do you want out of it?"
"Not a thing," the ghost claims. "I'm just curious, is all." She puts her face right in front of yours, her green eyes sparkling. "Come on! There's no downside at all to taking me with you two! I swear."
So she says. You look through the incorporeal woman to Mori, who is quiet — apprehensive, even — despite her earlier rapport with the ghost.
 Take Mima up on her offer.  Have faith in yourself — and Mori.
I don't see the harm, though anyone else realized something about Shizuha dissapearing and what Reimu mentioned. Whatever plot is going on likely deals with whatever force (highly suspect to the tengu) and how they're basically making gods disappear. Or it might be Kanako.
In short Shizuha being missing is not just an idle detail
There's no logical reason to deny Mima, really. Even if she's lying about the magic, we're in the same situation as if we'd left her behind. It also doesn't look like she'd seriously turn on us and kill us in the forest, based on how she's acted thus far. She feels more likely to do some kind of harmless prank instead.
From the way the conversation is framed, it's not so much an issue of Mima turning on us and killing us as her motives for offering help. The choice is between trusting Mima or trusting Suwako (who is clearly apprehensive about this turn of events) and given that I'd opt to stick with the latter.
There really isn't time to argue with Mima — and somehow you get the feeling that no matter what you say, she's going to do whatever she wants. In the interest of possibly having some influence over her actions, you accept her offer. And if she really is a magician, her magic could be a great asset in keeping you and Mori safe.
"If this is going to work, I'll need you to do two things," you tell the excited ghost. "Stay close to us, and don't do anything loud or 'flashy' unless I say so. Understand?"
Mima places her hands on your shoulders. Where her pale fingers lay, a chill sinks through your clothing and down into your skin. She's probably one of the few women in the world you wouldn't want to be intimate with on a cool autumn night like this. "Don't worry," she assures you with a not-so-reassuring grin. "I'm here to help, nothing else."
You can only hope. You break away from the ghost's icy grip and towards the entrance to the forest. It only takes a few seconds for the chills to subside once you're separated.
Mori catches your eye as she follows along — looking uneasy and a bit downcast. Was she really that dead-set on the two of you going into the forest alone? This is an investigation, not an adventure or whatever the hell she wants this to be. You should have sent her home. But here you are, stuck with not one, but two strange girls. At this rate, you might as well count on Minoriko Aki wanting to join your cadre as well — if you can even find her.
Unlike the hike you took this morning, this path into the forest is pretty worn — no ducking branches this time. Mima floats right at your side as you walk, while Mori lingers slightly behind on your other side. You glance at Mima. "Would you happen to know where this path leads? It seems too traveled for this forest." You keep your voice down, but Minoriko Aki is probably so far ahead it doesn't matter.
Mima moves ahead, facing you while effortlessly hovering backward. As expected of a ghost. "This is one of the main paths the youkai take to move in and out of the city," she answers. "But you'd only have to worry about that when the sun goes down."
You look up at the sky through cracks in the canopy of leaves overhead. There's maybe an hour or so left until sunset, give or take. "Wonderful," you remark with a groan. The info makes you all the more curious about Minoriko Aki, but you're definitely worried about the danger now.
Mima rises upward, looking down at you with a confident smirk. "Oh, don't be so concerned. It just so happens that my magic's stronger at night, so even a horde of youkai is no match for me."
You let a dry chuckle slip. "If that's the case, then how did you die?" She looks to be in her thirties, like you — too young to die of natural causes in any era.
Mima grins mischievously and wags her finger at you. "Ooooooh, I'd be careful," she warns. "You can't ask a spirit how it died, Shinichi. Much like you can't ask a woman her age."
Not that you plan on making a habit of casually conversing with ghosts, but you suppose it is a good tip. Of course, upon hearing that, you feel inclined to ask something else. "How old are you, Mima?"
"Hah!" She swats at your shoulder, but her hand passes right through it and leaves you with a chill. "I'm still a woman even if I'm dead, I'll have you know." Then she floats over you and addresses Mori. "Is he always so irreverent towards his companions?"
Whatever apprehension Mori felt earlier seems to melt away at the chance to make fun of you. "Ever since I've known him," she answers with a smile. It hasn't even been a day, you misleading brat. "But he can be sweet enough."
"Oh, so you two are an item!" she chirps. "That's adorable." She takes another look at Mori. "And slightly scandalous."
"Nothing like that," you claim, avoiding Mori's gaze. "I saved this crazy girl from a youkai attack last night. Since then, it's been one ridiculous thing after the other." Now for the reversal. "What about you and Reimu? Probably a lot of sexual tension there, I imagine."
"None whatsoever," Mima answers flatly. That doesn't really surprise you, but you would've liked a better reaction than that. "I'm into men, and Reimu's into money." She pauses. "So you're available, you say?"
This ghost certainly likes to stay on the offensive. "Maybe some other time." You can't say you reject women often, but this isn't really the time to set up a date — not to mention you have some serious misgivings about Mima in particular. How would you even have sex with a spirit — especially one that doesn't have legs? She's probably just toying with you.
Mima shrugs. "Can't blame a woman for trying." At least she's graceful in defeat. "Keep me in mind if you're feeling lonely one night." She winks at you, and then returns to floating at your side. How very forward of her. Can't fault her for it though — modest women were never really your type.
Mori's still staring at you. When you resign to meet her gaze, she stares into your eyes. Then she laughs. You don't know what she's thinking, and you shouldn't care. "Let's just stay focused," you say. Of all the topics you could be distracted by, your relationship status is the least desirable.
After walking for several minutes without much change, you remembered that someone in your group isn't limited by the shackles of gravity. "There's a pretty substantial clearing over that way, off the path," Mima reports as she floats back down towards the ground. "Shouldn't take long to reach it."
That's good — you were starting to worry about time. The spirit can boast all she wants, but it really would be better if you at least made it back to the city before nightfall. "Thanks, Mima."
She smiles. "You're more agreeable than Reimu, at least. Just don't make it a habit. I'm technically your elder, you know."
"I thought I wasn't supposed to talk about your age?"
"That's correct," she replies smugly. "I can talk about it, though. Especially when it's to my advantage."
Of course she can. You let it go in favor of starting off in the direction she pointed out. There is no trodden path here, so you're pulling away branches and squeezing between trees. At least the bugs and other pests are mostly gone by this time of year. You can't help but notice Mima looking relaxed in the air, floating carelessly through the tree limbs. Apparently there are pros and cons to being dead.
It doesn't take long to break into the clearing, and when you do it's something you've never quite seen before. You were raised in the Central District — so when someone brings up farming, the first things that comes to mind are the little gardens some people kept in your suburban neighborhood. These acres of land cut into the forest put them all to shame. Rows of tended earth beget wild clusters of green leaves, all framed by the shedding trees and setting sun above. If there was ever a picture of autumn, this is probably it.
But all it takes is a finger in your side to snap you out of it. "A bit entranced, aren't you Shinichi?" Mori reproves you. "Better look sharp, she's spotted us."
Indeed, Minoriko Aki is approaching you from the other side of the field, walking through the plants. That probably isn't good for them, but obviously she knows more about agriculture than you.
Mima floats back. "Good luck on whatever you want to do here. I'll be waiting."
That certainly strikes you as odd. "You came all this way because you were interested in what we were doing, and you don't even want to hear the conversation?"
"Oh, don't worry about that," she assures you. "This place just doesn't seem very... welcoming to me. I'd rather not linger nearby."
Very suspicious of her, and a bit cryptic. It's impossible not to accuse her of any wrongdoing. "Aren't planning on leaving us high and dry, are you?"
Mima places her hand on her breast in mock offense. "I'll have you know that I have some sense of obligation," she claims. "Besides, you amuse me. It would be a shame for you to perish in this forest."
How comforting. Since she's basically immortal, entertainment must be a valuable commodity. "I can't stop you if you want to wander around," you tell her. "I'll call for you when I'm done here."
"Yes, yes," she replies, fading back into the trees. "Take your time."
That leaves you, Mori, and the approaching Minoriko. You noticed this earlier while following her, but Minoriko seems to have some difficulty walking. Every so often she'll stumble and awkwardly right herself. She must not have a very good sense of balance. When you feel that she's close enough, you call out to her. "Miss Aki! Good evening."
Minoriko smiles, but it isn't the same as the one she gave you back in the city. Even you can tell that you've taken her off-guard. "Good evening. It was Mister Tsurugi, wasn't it?" She looks down at Mori, who is standing beside you quietly. "And good evening to you, Mori. What brings you out here?"
She's asking Mori, which is kind of strange to you. Mori looks up at her, with her own forced smile. "I'm only here with him."
Minoriko turns back to you. "Oh? Did you have some kind of business with me, Mister Tsurugi? I hope you enjoyed the food."
You nod. "I did, thank you. But I was more worried about you. I saw you enter the forest, and thought you might be in danger," you lie. "It isn't safe to be out here at night."
Minoriko laughs. "Worried about me? I don't have anything to fear from youkai. They leave this place alone, for the most part."
You wonder if that has anything to do with what Mima said about the fields not being very "welcoming" to her. Are ghosts that similar to youkai, though? Maybe someone like Mima is.
"I do worry more about you, coming all the way out here for me," Minoriko continues. "I'd love to have you as company, but I have to take care of the crops. If you left now, I think you'd be able to make it back to the city before nightfall."
Seems Minoriko doesn't want you around. You could take her advice and return to the city. You've already found out a lot today, and there's no need to rush. Now that you kind of know the way out here, you can come back anytime to try and find out more about Minoriko. It's definitely the safest option, and you could take the time to speak with Mima some more.
On the other hand, you could probably get Minoriko to talk right now if you told her the real reason why you followed her. She probably doesn't know that she's attracted some attention, and not necessarily the good kind. It isn't your style to reveal yourself in the middle of an investigation, but it may be the best option if you want to get the full scoop for Hatate. Of course, you'll be going against your job from Q by tipping off Minoriko.
You glance over to Mori, only to find that she's no longer standing next to you. Obviously not interested in Minoriko, she's walked over to the plants and knelt down, observing them. You still aren't sure why she's so adverse to Minoriko, but it probably has something to do with the missing Shizuha. Maybe there's something you could do to give you an excuse to stick around and find out more about what's going on between the sisters...
 If she doesn't want to talk, leave her be and return to the city. You can decide how to proceed later.
 Tell Minoriko the truth: you were hired to investigate where her supply comes from, but you'd like to hear her story.
 Offer to assist Minoriko with the crops. Make Mori help too.
> How would you even have sex with a spirit — especially one that doesn't have legs? Well, Davesprite has a ghost butt, so... it's reasonable to assume that a ghost without legs has a useable pelvic region?
[x] Tell Minoriko the truth: you were hired to investigate where her supply comes from, but you'd like to hear her story.
[x] Offer to assist Minoriko with the crops. Make Mori help too. (While you're at it, rope Mima into helping.)
[x] Offer to assist Minoriko with the crops. Make Mori help too.
If you're going to stay, you'll have to be useful. With so many plants growing here, there has to be something you can do. But whether Minoriko's sincere about her concern or not, you need to address the issue of your return home this evening. "There's no need for me to return so quickly," you assure Minoriko. "Mori and I will be fine. We have an escort floating around out there somewhere. How about I help with some of the crops?" Mori jolts upward and looks back at you. Seeing her surprised expression, you take the opportunity to add, "And I'm certain Mori would like to help too. It's the least we can do as thanks for the food."
Minoriko looks just as surprised as Mori. Then she smiles. "It's been so long since anyone's offered to help that I can't find it in me to refuse. Have you ever harvested potatoes before?"
You shake your head. "No, but they grow underground, right? Wouldn't I just pull out the plant and pluck the potatoes?"
Minoriko recoils with horror. "Goodness, no! You have to use a spading fork to dig the plant up, and collect the potatoes that are fully-grown. I'll show you, just let me get what you'll need out of the shed..."
Minoriko hurries off to the small shed on the edge of the fields. You can see a well next to it — which explains how she keeps all these plants watered. As you watch her leave, Minoriko's bare feet catch your eye. You didn't notice it when she was walking toward you, and even now you have to look closely to make sure you aren't mistaken, but Minoriko Aki has two left feet — literally. That would certainly explain her balance issues. You can't even imagine walking with a foot so misaligned. Was she born like that?
Before you can ponder too deeply, something small and angry steps in front of you. "Enjoying the view?"
You weren't really checking Minoriko out, but you get the feeling Mori wouldn't believe that. "Can't see much through that dress," you claim. "I was more interested in her feet."
Mori narrows her eyes at you and frowns, unamused. "PI, what are you trying to accomplish by volunteering us for manual labor?"
You shrug at her. "I thought you looked interested in the plants. Do they have farms like this in the Outside?"
"Of course they do!" she snaps. Then she pauses. "Well, uh, maybe not like this. There's no chemicals here, or heavy machinery..." Then she remembers that she's supposed to be angry. "But that doesn't matter!" she whispers. "Why are we helping her?"
It isn't surprising that she's against the idea of helping Minoriko. Mori told you herself that she doesn't like Minoriko — or rather, Mori doesn't think Minoriko likes her. But none of that matters to you. If Minoriko does have some grievance against Mori, she doesn't seem to show it. "She's the best source of information about herself," you explain. "And don't you want to learn more about what happened to Shizuha?"
"Maybe, but..." She lowers her head. "Ugh. Fine. You're the master, I'm the apprentice. I'll watch and learn."
You nod, happy she remembers her role. "That's right. But I won't ask your questions for you. If you want answers, put in the work yourself."
She crosses her arms. "Okay okay," she grumbles. "Man. First Mima, now this. Thought we'd be sneaking around doing dangerous, exciting spy stuff. Not chatting with a ghost and helping out on a farm."
Of course, she's in it for the excitement. You sigh. "I've had enough dangerous excitement for one day. What happened last night and this morning are outside the normal for me, I'll have you know."
Mori groans but doesn't say anything else, because Minoriko's back with a basket and two large gardening forks. You've seen small forks that fit in one hand before, but these are the size of a full-fledged shovel. They're for true farming — not quaint window gardening.
Minoriko beams a smile at you — very cute, or at least a lot cuter than your displeased companion. "Alright, just follow me!" She starts off across the field with a lot more energy than when you first arrived. It takes some effort to keep up with her, while Mori lets herself lag behind.
As you walk with Minoriko, you notice the great diversity in the plants that are growing in the field. Most you don't recognize, but you can clearly see bundles of tomatoes, stalks of corn, and rows of wheat. But the plants Minoriko stops in front of don't seem to be growing at all. The leaves are withered and turning black, and the stems limply sag to the ground. In fact, they look pretty damn dead. These can't be—
"Here they are. These are the potatoes I've been growing for the soup." Minoriko stands over the decaying plants proudly.
But her pride elicits only confusion in you. "Really? I think these plants look a bit... sick."
Minoriko looks back to you, and laughs. "Sick? This is what potato plants are supposed to look like before you harvest them!" She kneels down — with complete disregard for the cleanliness of her dress — and shows you a strange, white growth hanging off a sad-looking stem. "This is the actual fruit of the potato plant, but it's toxic. What we're looking for is underneath." After setting the basket down and grabbing a pitchfork, she jabs its pointy ends into the dirt about a foot away from the plant. Then she places her left foot — the one that's actually on her left side, you should clarify — on the fork and uses her weight to push the prongs deeper into the earth. Finally she scoops the dirt up, toppling the plant and exposing the roots — along with the potatoes themselves. "See? Now all you need to do is pull them from the roots. These plants have been like this for a while, so they should almost be falling off on their own."
Doesn't seem difficult at all. And since there's several potatoes under each plant, it won't take many to fill the small basket. This is definitely something you can do while talking to her. "Looks simple enough to me," you say.
Minoriko giggles. This stuff must really put her in good spirits. "It is, isn't it? And if you poke a potato by accident, don't worry. I'm cooking with them right away, so it's fine." You weren't actually worried, but it's a relief nonetheless. "Now, if you and Mori could fill this basket with potatoes, take it over to the well, and use the water in the bucket to rinse them off, that would be a lot of help."
That doesn't sound like she'll be sticking around. "You won't be with us?" you ask her.
Minoriko shakes her head. "I need to check some of the other plants. But don't worry, I'll just be on the other side of the field. Thank you for doing this, Mister Tsurugi!" Then she's off, practically skipping away.
Unfortunately, without the opportunity to talk with Minoriko, none of this helps you. Mori's quick to pick up on that. "'What a 'source of information', huh?" she remarks.
It's not a big deal, though. You're here and in her good graces, and that's all that really matters. You toss the other pitchfork Minoriko left at Mori's feet. "If we finish quick, we'll have more time to talk to her," you tell her. You bend down and start picking the potatoes from the roots that Minoriko already exposed. She was right — they really do fall off. "Let's get to work."
Maybe you were a bit optimistic. After close to an hour, you rinse off the last potato and put the wet spud back into the basket with the rest. It's starting to get pretty dark, and soon you'll need a source of light to see properly.
Mori is sitting nearby on a low stump, looking out at the fields. You're not really sure what to do with the bucket of dirty water or the basket of washed potatoes, so you leave them by the well and walk over to her. She's humming a peppy tune you don't recognize — probably something from the Outside. Sounds catchy. Her mood's definitely improved since she started working — kind of like Minoriko's did. Might as well ask her about it. "You actually like doing farm work, don't you?"
Mori stops humming, but doesn't turn to face you. "Maybe. It's relaxing. The soil feels nice, y'know?"
She's been digging her feet into the soft dirt, coating them in soil. "You're not walking around in my apartment like that," you tell her. Your apartment isn't the cleanest, but you like to at least keep the floors from getting dirty.
Mori looks up at you and grins. "Just carry me to the bathtub, then."
Yeah, right. "Actually, there's a hose outside that should still work. We can use that."
"No way!" she cries. "That'd be so cold!"
Honestly, bathing in your apartment wouldn't be much better. You're lucky if the hot water heater works half the time. But it's free utilities, so you can't really complain — not that Hina seems like the type to know much about plumbing.
"Oh, are you done?" Minoriko approaches both of you with a smile, her hands looking almost as dirty as Mori's feet. The bottom of her dress and apron aren't any better. "Where are the potatoes?"
You point back over towards the well. "I left them over there, all washed."
"Oh, that's good!" Minoriko bows to you and Mori. "Thank you so much, both of you. Ever since Shizuha left, it's been difficult managing the field and cooking."
You glance at Mori. If she misses this cue, there's no hope for her.
She doesn't. "Um, about Shizuha," Mori begins. "Why did she leave? I know you two were fighting, but how did it get that bad?"
Minoriko sighs. "We've had disagreements in the past, but this is something else entirely. You know some of the details, but..." She looks at you. "Does he?"
"No, he doesn't know anything," she answers quickly. "Nothing at all. But he might be able to help look for her."
Minoriko stares at Mori for a moment, before smiling at you. "Is that so? Would you help find my older sister and bring her back, Mister Tsurugi? She's a tough girl, but she doesn't think things through sometimes. I worry about how she's doing."
Older sister? You never would have guessed Minoriko is the younger sister, by the way she acts. But this is a difficult request. "I can keep an eye out for her," you reply, "but if I don't know why you two are fighting, I'm not sure I can persuade her to come back with me. Could you fill me in on some of those details?"
"I can't," Minoriko answers. "It's somewhat... personal." Her focus turns to your apprentice. "But Mori, you could convince her."
Mori doesn't look too enthused about that. "I can try," she says. "But I want to hear Shizuha's side of things, too."
Minoriko's smile fades. "Alright. I guess that's all I can ask."
It's getting cold, and you're not talking about the weather. Looks like it's up to you to keep things moving. "Do you have any idea where she might be? People she could stay with, places she likes to go, things like that?"
Minoriko thinks for a moment. "No, I don't think there's anybody she would be staying with. We don't associate much with other people. She likes to stay in the forest, more than anywhere else. She hates the city."
This is starting to sound odd. You're getting some good pieces of info here: the way Minoriko talks about her elder sister, their seclusion from others, the reluctance to share just what exactly is causing this. If you can get Mori to spill about what they were fighting about, you should be able to start putting something together. "You don't seem scared of youkai," you continue. "I suppose Shizuha isn't, either?"
"No, youkai don't bother us, as long as we don't bother them," Minoriko explains. You've never heard of that being the case, and it makes you wary of the sisters' origins. That talk with Reimu and Mima about the sisters being youkai themselves sounds more and more likely.
"I see." You'll leave it at that. "Well, I'll certainly keep my eye out, Miss Aki."
She bows again. "I'd be grateful, Mister Tsurugi. Now, it's really getting dark. I'll have to go get my lantern. I've got some tea I can serve you as thanks for helping, but maybe it would be better for you to go back before all the youkai come out?"
 You'll stick around and talk to Minoriko about the crops, even if you'll have a rougher time getting home. Mima can wait a bit more, right?
 Better leave and head back now. But since you'll be out in the city with some time to spare, you can stop by your favorite bar for a drink.
[x] Better leave and head back now. But since you'll be out in the city with some time to spare, you can stop by your favorite bar for a drink.
A warm cup of tea is tempting, but the looming threat of night is far more of a concern. After all, you have a different sort of drink in mind once you get back into the city. "Thanks for the offer, Miss Aki, but I think we'll be leaving."
Minoriko smiles. "Then be safe, and good night to both of you."
After bidding her farewell, you and Mori head back into the trees. No sign of Mima.
"Well shit," you remark. "Where is she?"
"Try calling out to her?" Mori suggests.
You'd rather not draw any attention, but without her the two of you are probably screwed anyway. So, you suck in air and then call for Mima as loud as you can. Your voice goes through the branches and leaves, and the surrounding birds and insects fall silent. A few moments pass. No answer.
You can't even find it within yourself to be angry. It's fucked up when getting ditched in the forest isn't the worst thing that's happened today. All you can muster is a sigh. "Well, let's go back to Minoriko Aki before—"
Suddenly a missile of white light erupts from the ground right in front of you, whistling up into the sky at a pitch high enough to rattle your ears before bursting apart with a flash and a loud crack. In its wake are only flakes of light that gently float downward.
You don't know what the hell is going on, but Mori's watching with awe. "Was that a firewo—"
Several more missiles shoot up from the ground around you and Mori, whistling and bursting just the same. Who knows what's found you, and the only thing you can think to do is grab Mori and hold her close as you dive to the ground. Whatever's going on, you'll have to wait it out before you can figure out what to do next. Between the flashes, you can see the grass, and the top of Mori's head. You'd ask her if this was the excitement she was craving, but she probably wouldn't hear you.
It doesn't last long — maybe ten seconds. When the flashes stop, you jolt up from the ground and take a look around.
Oh, there's Mima.
"Hey hey!" she greets you with a big grin. "I'm glad my little light show worked."
Okay, now you can feel the anger. "You mean that was your doing?"
"Well, I had some stuff to do out here too," she explains. "So I left a little spell that would be activated once you called for me. That way, I'd know to come back. Like a flare."
"That wasn't 'like a flare'," you argue, "that was half a festival's worth of pyrotechnics! Every youkai in the forest is probably awake now!"
She shrugs. "I told you my magic was flashy. Now, should we really be bickering here? That scared off the weaklings that prowl around these parts, but give them enough time and their curiosity will get the better of them."
Of course it will. But she's right, it's time to leave. You look over at Mori. She's rubbing her chest where you grabbed her — not that you grabbed her there on purpose. With the height difference, that's just how it happened. "You alright?"
"Yeah," she answers with a sheepish grin. "I don't mind forceful men, but please try and be gentle next time."
You're so glad everyone's taking this dangerous situation very seriously. "Let's just get out of here!"
Between last night, this morning, and just now, you could go a while without stepping foot inside a forest. You hold yourself up on the side of a building and try to catch your breath.
Mori, on the other hand, is totally fine. "That was a good jog," she remarks. Must be nice to be so full of energy. "I wish some of those youkai would have bothered to chase us, though."
"Yeah, it is a shame," Mima adds, floating effortlessly between the two of you. "Like I said, there are only weaklings around here. When they see a strong magician like me, even a couple of tasty humans like yourself look a lot less appealing."
"Please don't call me tasty," you ask as your heart starts to settle down. "I, for one, am glad they left us alone."
Mori ignores you and turns to the ghost. "Say Mima, I was wondering, what were you doing back in the forest?"
You weren't really thinking about that while you were running for your life, but now that she mentions it, it probably should be addressed.
Mima coyly floats upward into the air with her hands together, and a smug grin. "Oh? It was nothing important, I assure you. I was just looking for someone. Obviously it would be nothing you'd be interested in."
That is so blatantly bait for another job that you want to ignore it out of principle and a touch of spite. Unfortunately, you can't feed yourself on principles — or spite. It is without any enthusiasm that you ask, "Who might you be looking for?"
"Oh, if you're interested," she goes on, "a teenaged girl with blonde hair, lots of energy, and a habit of getting into trouble."
You take one look at Mori, then push her in front of you. "Here you are," you tell Mima. "Is there a reward for her?" Actually, you could probably be persuaded to let her go for free. Giving her up for nothing right away isn't in the spirit of a good haggle, though.
Mori turns back and looks up at you with concern. "H-hey, PI. You aren't serious, are you?"
Unfortunately, you can't be. Regardless, Mima laughs. "No no, not her. Someone specific."
"A name would help," you tell her.
Mima thinks it over, for whatever reason. "I suppose it would. But where's the fun in that?"
Of course. As expected of a ghost that needs something done. They have all the time in the world, so why wouldn't they make it difficult? But that's okay — you make sure to charge them everything they have. "Alright then, what am I getting for all this 'fun'?"
"I don't have any money, but I have a magical mirror in mind that I think you'd enjoy. It's quite enchanting — perfect for a man who has trouble with women." She laughs.
A mirror? That's still too cryptic to know if it's anything of worth, but it's not like you need to make this a high priority. "I'll keep an eye out."
"Excellent," the spirit replies. "I'm sure I'll be seeing more of you both soon, then. But so long for now!"
Then with a quick wave and an infuriating wink, she's gone. Lovely. You're glad that's all over.
Well, some of it's over. Mori's giving you a pretty nasty glare. "PI, I'd be very interested to know why you tried to pawn me off to some spirit."
"It was a joke." Let's go with that. You reach down and pat her on the head, using your fingers to rough up her hair a bit. Kids like this, right? That's something you've heard. "Don't worry, for better or for worse I'm stuck with you. For the moment."
You somehow get the urge to smell your hand, and you catch the strong scent of earth. She's one of those tomboys that loves dirt or something, isn't she? "You're definitely getting the hose when we get back to my apartment," you add.
She looks dumbfounded. You'll consider that a success. "Is this really your idea of comforting a girl?" she asks you.
"It's my idea of comforting a brat."
"Ha ha, very funny." She sighs. "So what now, are we going home?"
"No, we're not going back to my apartment just yet," you answer. "I need a drink."
It's your favorite building in this god-forsaken city: small, quiet, and secluded. The outside is just as desolate and unkempt as any other building in the city, but the inside is smooth and refined. There's wood floors, a nice bar, and a back wall stocked with spirits — the good kind. There's no booths or tables, because this isn't some tavern for groups or partying. All there is, all you need, are a few stools. You don't know how the owner got this place and fixed it up, but you appreciate the atmosphere he's cultivating.
"Woah, this feels more like an underground ramen shop than a bar," Mori remarks as she takes it all in. It's understandable, since that is what it used to be.
You ignore the kid and sit down at your usual seat — one from the right. It's always available because there's never anybody else in here. You're convinced that only you know this place exists, and that's just fine. "Good evening to you, Lucky," you greet the bartender.
The giant behind the counter narrows his red eyes at you. The veins in his bulging muscles pulse slightly with each beat of what must be an enormous heart. Two long horns curve up from the sides of his bald head, each sharpened to the finest point. Most would cower in fear from his looks alone, but you've drank with him enough to know that his appearance is the meanest thing about him. As for Mori, well, you're starting to think the kid's too dumb to be scared by anything in Gensokyo, because she beams the brightest smile in the world at the hulking mass as she sits down next to you.
Lucky doesn't return it, however. His smiles are few and far between, but you like that because you know it's sincere when it happens. "Back again tonight, PI? And you've brought a young girl as your date. I'm not surprised."
"A few things," you start right in with the oni before Mori can get any ideas. "I'm not dating a kid. That's wrong." Whatever face Mori is making right now, you don't want to see it. "And if for some reason I did come here with a date, that's not at all what you should greet me with. That makes it seem like I'm bringing girls here all the time!"
Lucky grabs a little notepad off the counter — at least it looks small in his hands — and starts scribbling something down. "So she would be considered a child? That's odd. She's old enough to breed, isn't she? And you're the one who told me to 'get a catchphrase'. Is it a problem if women assume you have many relationships? Wouldn't that make you more desirable?"
You brandish a finger at Mori. "Nothing out of you yet," you warn. She grins, but nods. Then you turn back to the frowning oni. "It has nothing to do with 'breeding'. There's more than that to consider when it comes to the difference between a child and an adult. And I was drunk when I told you to start using a catchphrase. If you're going to say something like that, at least save it for people like me who know what your ability is. Last but not least, it is a problem if women think I'm dating a lot, because there's a certain social stigma attached to someone who sleeps around like that."
Lucky sighs. "So that's how it is. You humans have all these rules and traditions and taboos. I'm starting to think I'll never fit in." He won't fit in a lot of places because of his size and his horns, but you're not going to tell him that now.
Mori looks confused. "I'll let that other stuff go for now, but seriously, what is this ability you're talking about?"
Lucky is still huddled into his notepad. "Let me explain for him," you begin. "Lucky can't be surprised by anything. It's his ability. His unique power."
Mori blinks. "Really? Isn't that just being apathetic? Seems like an underwhelming power for such a big guy."
Lucky puts the notepad back down and finishes explaining for you. "It may not sound like much at first, but it means I know the future enough to never be surprised."
Mori perks up. "Holy shit, really? Does that mean you know everything that's ever going to happen?"
"But only right before it happens," you cut in. "Just soon enough to not be surprised by it."
That deflates Mori a bit. "So like a few seconds before, then?"
Lucky nods. "About, yeah. Those few seconds can be very important — in fights, for example. I used to be called the best fighter in the underground oni village. I could also dodge the collateral damage from other brawls that went on. That's how I got my name."
Mori leans in on the counter. "So what happ—"
"Before we get into any potentially long stories," you interrupt, "I'd like some of the usual, Lucky."
He turns and opens a small — again, compared to him — steel door, releasing a wave of cold mist. "Of course. Since I knew you were coming, I put a few bottles in the freezer."
"A freezer?" you repeat. "That's a freezer? When did you get one of those?"
Suddenly you hear a high-pitched groan from inside. "Could ya leave me alone for the night? I'm tryin' to sleep!"
Lucky sighs, places a few chilled bottles of your favorite beer onto the counter, and then reaches back into the freezer and grabs something that squeaks like a mouse. He pulls it out and lifts it up to the ceiling, revealing a little blue fairy with crystal wings wrapped in his great fingers.
"H-h-hey, hey!" the fairy squeals.
But Lucky obviously feels no remorse for the tiny thing squeezed in his hand. "I told you that you owed me big time for stealing those bottles of Hoshiguma sake from me. So either you do your job without any lip, or I'll crush you. And I'm going to keep crushing you every time you come back to life."
"B-b-but I'll always keep comin' ba—"
Lucky brings her down to his face, his mad eyes burning into the sweating fairy's face. "That's the point."
The ice fairy laughs, but it just comes out as a strained gasp. "I was j-just jokin'! I'd be happy to keep ya drinks cold, sir! I'm just re— I'm uh, re . . . re . . ."
"Repenting?" Mori suggests.
"Y-yeah, that! I'm a re-pent-ing fairy! Happy to serve! Really!"
"Then act like it," Lucky tells her before throwing her back into the box and closing it. He sighs once again and shakes his hand. "Little thing about froze my fingers solid. I don't mind the backtalk normally, but it's different when I have customers!" He grabs one of the chilled beers and pops the cap off of it with one thumb. "Damn the pests. And I thought they were bad underground." He slides you the bottle, and you accept it with gratitude. "There's less of them here in the city, but they're somehow smarter. It's the most frustrating mix of stupid and clever."
That's pretty damn accurate way to describe fairies. However, you still can't help but feel a bit uncomfortable after witnessing the giant Lucky threatening a fate worse than death to what is — in all appearances — a small child.
But if Mori's uncomfortable, she sure doesn't show it. "So that was a fairy, huh? Aren't they supposed to be beings of nature? What are they doing in the city?" As inquisitive as ever. Worthy of being your "apprentice", even.
You shrug. "Who knows? Guess some elements of nature can persist even in a city."
She doesn't seem convinced, but you really have no idea. Maybe the forest is enough nature for them? You don't really want to think right now, though. It's time for drinking!
But before you can bring the bottle to your lips, you catch Mori staring at the bottle longingly. "Hey PI, let me have one!"
"No." Your response couldn't have been any quicker.
"Come on, are you really going to drink all of those?"
"I was planning on it, yes. Besides, kids can't drink. It'd just taste like bitter piss to you."
"Kids can't drink?" Lucky asks, reaching for his notepad. "Is that a law?"
"It is," you answer. "Lucky, please tell me you haven't been serving to minors." Not that there's any police that would bust him for it, but out of principle . . .
"No," he responds. "Children run away when they see me." As they should. Fear and discretion are pretty good ways to stay alive in Gensokyo. Mori should not be the norm.
Speaking of whom, she's still on about it. "Come on, one taste!" she begs. "I've drank before, y'know!"
You sigh. That doesn't make it right. For some reason, your thoughts turn to the fairy locked in that freezer.
 Ignore the fairy, you have enough to worry about. Get Mori to shut up with a taste. One taste.
 Maybe fairies should suffer to an extent, but you should try teaching Lucky about something humans call "fairness."
 Wasn't Lucky going to tell a story? That'll distract the both of you.
[x] Maybe fairies should suffer to an extent, but you should try teaching Lucky about something humans call "fairness."
All the begging in the world isn't going to change your mind. "If I give you this bottle, I won't be getting it back. I know how it goes."
Mori raises her eyebrows and feigns surprise. "What? I wouldn't drink it all. Who would do something like that?"
"A lot of things have happened today," you go on, leaving out any specifics for your own benefit, "but I'd like to at least keep you from getting drunk. You have promise, so don't ruin it by killing off half your brain. Do that after you get married and have kids or something."
Okay, there wasn't actually a noise like that. But Mori deflates instantly, and her dim blue eyes become far colder than the sweating beer in your hand. You definitely stepped on a land mine. "Have children?" she murmurs. Then she turns away. "Well, I'm definitely not a mother."
No, she isn't. But those words definitely had a weight behind them — some meaning you sure as hell don't get. Whatever it is, it bummed her out in a second flat. This isn't the proper mood for drinking.
"Hey Lucky." You get the oni's attention. "Do you have any soda or something?"
"Soda?" He scratches his bald head. "That sweet stuff that's bubbly like beer, right? Let me get it out of the back."
Lucky moves out of the bar and into the storeroom. Mori looks at you. "Is it for me?" she asks. "Or are you going to drink that all, too?"
"No, it's for you," you assure her, ignoring the jab. "It's a bar. You should drink something. Just not alcohol."
Lucky comes back quickly, holding a brown bottle between each finger on one hand, and a large jug of something in the other. He sets the bottles down in front of you and Mori, but keeps the jug — probably sake — for himself. "There you are," he says. "Root beer, it's called. I bought it on accident. Tastes kind of like medicine. I wasn't surprised, though. Humans drink some weird things."
Root beer is actually pretty popular in Gensokyo, amongst the soda-drinking crowd anyway. You turn to Mori, who's watching the bottles with indifference. "Good enough for you, Mori?"
She grabs one and pops the cap open with a single turn of her wrist, causing it to hiss. "I guess."
"I guess"? Ungrateful brat. You're the one paying for it — or at least, it's going on your tab. But you get over it and turn your attention to the oni bartender and his jug. "So you're drinking too, Lucky? We should do a toast."
Lucky pulls the cork out with his teeth, exposing his sharp fangs. Then he spits it out on the floor. "As expected. To what?"
You have just the thing. "To Mori," you declare, raising your bottle. "For surviving this long in Gensokyo."
"To Mori!" Lucky raises his jug and roars, causing the girl to jump in her stool. You're used to it.
The startled Mori looks from Lucky to you, confused. "For surviving?"
"Reimu and Mima said that Outsiders who get lost in Gensokyo end up dead," you remind her. "And I consider surviving an accomplishment even for us natives. So yes, I think it's worth celebrating that you're still alive. Don't you?"
"I suppose so." Her eyes fall back down to her bottle, and the dark liquid inside. Then she looks up at you and smiles. "You're awfully quick to please, aren't you? Thanks, PI." She raises her bottle, with a big grin. "To me, then! For being the greatest Outsider in Gensokyo!"
You don't know about this "quick to please" business, but you're grateful things are back on track. The three of you tap your drinks together, then you turn yours up and down it goes. About halfway through you have to stop. Having chilled beer for once is nice, but it does hurt your throat when you're trying to drink a lot at once.
Mori seems content with her root beer, licking her lips. "You know, a lot of people in the Outside hate this stuff. I don't really understand why, though. Tastes sweet to me."
"I prefer tea to soda," you reply. But it does make you wonder: how much overlap is there between Gensokyo and the Outside World nowadays? You've heard that before the tengu came to power, there was quite a disparity in technology and culture. Now, someone can fall right in and almost be at home, it seems like, so long as the dangerous youkai are avoided. Then again, Mori seems like a special case. Maybe the average Outsider would have more difficulty adjusting.
Lucky finally slams his jug down on the bar counter and takes a deep breath. "Good, but not as good as the Hoshiguma sake." He shoots a nasty glare towards the metal door. "Little cretin's getting what she deserves."
"About that," you begin. "Is it really such a big deal? Stealing is wrong, but is the Hoshiguma sake worth being locked in a freezer for the rest of her days on threat of multiple deaths?"
Lucky's glare shoots straight to you, which makes you regret your words. But then he sighs. "I'm not surprised you don't know. Hoshiguma sake comes from the Hoshiguma Dish, a masterwork among oni. Any sake that goes into the dish becomes so pure and refined that it tastes like you're drinking out of a mountain stream. I had two bottles when I was banished from the oni village, and they were the only things I brought with me when I came aboveground. I had been saving them for a special occasion." His grip tightens, and the handle to the jug shatters. "Now they're gone. I had my back turned for one moment, and that little runt snuck in there and drank both the bottles in one night! The finest sake in the world, wasted on a fairy!" Lucky picks up the jug with two hands and tips it back, flowing clear sake into his great maw.
"A travesty!" Mori declares. "I wish I could have had some."
"It'd be wasted on you all the same," you mutter. But she's right: it's hard to withhold your sympathy for Lucky. This Hoshiguma sake sounds like great booze — and you might have been able to convince him to share some with you eventually.
But you also remember the sight of that fairy squirming in Lucky's grip, stammering and quaking under his glare. "Believe me, I've learned how much the oni treasure their alcohol since meeting you," you tell the distraught giant. "But there's room for clemency, isn't there? Keeping that fairy locked in the freezer for stealing two bottles of booze she couldn't have known the value of is a bit harsh, isn't it?"
The oni puts the jug down, and you notice how light it's become — near empty, probably. "It isn't harsh to me," the oni replies. "Stealing alcohol would be punishable by a brutal death underground."
"But this isn't the Underground," you argue. "In human society, the punishment must always fit the crime. That's what justice is. And aren't you trying to fit in?"
Lucky's face sours, but you know that's because he agrees with you. "What do you suggest, then?"
"Have her work it off. She can stay in the freezer to keep drinks cool, but take her out every once in a while. If she doesn't get a dose of nature every now and then, she'll probably get weak and die off — permanently."
"So she'd be like a pet?" Mori pipes up.
You narrow your eyes at her. "Not exactly. She's still a human...-ish creature."
Lucky doesn't seem convinced. "She'd run away if I let her roam free."
"Your ability means that you should always be one step ahead of her, right?"
The oni shakes his head. "It doesn't work like that." Then something comes to him. "Actually, I do have something that might be useful."
Leaving his jug, Lucky goes back into the storeroom and leaves you and Mori alone. You take a long drink of your beer, intent on letting the time pass in silence.
Mori has other plans. "Any reason in particular why you're doing this?"
You set your bottle down. "I don't know a lot about them, but fairies are important to Gensokyo," you explain. "Even if they're annoying as hell. And Lucky's trying to acclimate to our society, so he should learn about what a fair punishment is."
She grins at you over her bottle. "Are you absolutely sure you don't have a thing for little girls?"
Dammit. Before you can defend yourself, Lucky stomps back into the room. In his hand is a long chain attached to a manacle. "Something like this would work, right? As long as I have a hold of the chain, she won't be able to get away."
You keep staring at his face to see if he's joking or not. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like he is. "Lucky, my friend. Even if she is a fairy, you can't just put her in chains."
"Why not?" Mori butts in. "Even if she's working it off, she still committed a crime. Prisoners have shackles."
Lucky nods. "Exactly. And it's only for when she's out of the freezer.
So she really is going to become like a pet. "Why do you even have something like that?"
"It was a... fashion statement of sorts in the Underground," Lucky answers. "Don't worry about it." You'll try not to. He holds up the chain and the manacle, looking it over with a careful eye. "I think the length of the chain is fine, but the manacle's probably too big for her arm."
"Her ankle then?" Mori suggests. She's getting into this a little too much, you think.
Lucky takes a second look at the manacle. "Yeah, that's probably the way to do it." Then he opens the steel door, releasing a white mist. Manacle in hand, he reaches back into the freezer.
"Aren't you done abusin'—" you hear the fairy begin, but then her tone changes quick. "W-wait, what is that? What are you doin'? Stop! Let go!"
When Lucky pulls her out, the cuff is locked around her ankle, and Lucky has the chain in his hand. The fairy doesn't seem to know what to do. Her wings buzz as she tries to fly around, but very quickly reaches the limits of her chain. "What the heck is this?" she cries.
"This man here argued that I give you some better terms," Lucky begins, his tone already hard. "So I'll give you a chance. You'll still be keeping drinks cold in the freezer, but I'm going to let you out at times to get some fresh air."
"Let me out? You got me stuck on this chain!" she whines. "How am I supposed to move around like this?" If you were in her position, you would not be arguing with your big and angry captor.
Sure enough, Lucky yanks on the chain, pulling her in hard and getting right in her face again. "Don't complain," he warns her. "It could be around your neck."
Fear returns to her face once again, and she swallows hard. "T-that's right. It could be around m-my neck. Thank you, sir."
Lucky pushes her away. "Don't thank me." He motions to you. "This is his idea."
"I never said anything about a chain," you clarify immediately. You want that to be perfectly clear.
Regardless, she bows at you while floating in the air, making no attempts to hide a wicked glare. "Thanks for allowin' me to live on a chain, dear sir."
Oh, please. This is so wrong, but to steal Lucky's shtick... you can't be surprised it ended up like this. Maybe you should have let her stay in the freezer and fade away.
Mori brings the heat — chill? — off you. "What's your name?" she asks the blue fairy.
"Cirno!" she declares. "I'm the strongest fairy in all'a Gensokyo!"
Mori cocks her head. "Really?" Then she turns to you. "Is that supposed to be impressive?"
You shrug. "It probably means she's too dumb to be clever, so she has to rely on brute strength."
The ice fairy, Cirno, flutters angrily in front of you, almost knocking over your beer. It's obvious why Lucky uses her to chill drinks, since you feel your nose getting numb just from being near her. "Nuh uh!" she cries. "I'm the strongest, and the best! If I was at my full power, you'd all be sorry!"
Lucky yanks her chain again, pulling her away from you. "Yeah, yeah. Settle down or you're going back in the freezer." Then he reaches down and sets a pair of shot glasses on the table. "How about some shots, PI? If you can match me, they're free."
It's a little early for the hard stuff, but screw it. It's drinking time, after all.
You stumble in the door to your apartment and barely manage to catch yourself on the wall. Drinking two nights in a row was not a good idea. You're just glad you had the foresight to stop before it got completely out of hand. Your tab's heavier for it — not that he ever calls it anyway — but you're glad you still have most of your wits about you. You're just having some balance issues in the darkness.
"Mori!" you call out. "Where are you?"
"Right behind you," she replies dryly. "Look, if you're gonna make me hose my feet off, at least get your drunk ass out of the doorway before I freeze!"
Rude, but probably justified. You shuffle forward in the darkness and stand still because you're not really sure where you should go.
Then the lights flicker on, and you hear Mori sigh. "You're not as bad as last night, at least. Come on, let's go sit on the couch. Need me to hold your hand?"
"I got it," you assure her. If only you could assure yourself. Things are a little blurry even in the light, but you manage to successfully dodge a corner of the coffee table and flop onto the couch.
Mori sits down next to you and turns on the television with the remote. "You got any movies here in Gensokyo?"
"Some fall in," you mutter into the cushion. "They're usually pretty bad. Dunno if they'd be on television. Mostly reruns and commercials."
Mori groans. "Not much different than the Outside, then." You hear her grab something else. "Hey, what's your password?"
You separate your face from the couch and sit up to find Mori with your laptop. Suddenly, you get your second wind. "No way. Gimme that."
She picks up the laptop and holds it out of your reach. "Only if we can look at it together."
"Fine," you agree. "How about we chat up the people on KRC?" It's something that'll keep her occupied until she gets tired, at least.
"Sounds good to me!" Mori puts the computer in your lap and sidles over to you. Close. Her knees are tucked in to her chest, and her bare feet are curled into the cushion.
"I can't move my arm very well like this," you tell her. "Scoot back a little."
She digs herself even deeper into your side, rubbing her blonde hair on your arm with a smug grin. "No thanks. I'm pretty comfortable. Aren't you?"
You refuse to answer that, and switch over to the KRC window. It's automatically reconnecting you to #kakashi since you didn't actually close out last time. How convenient.
*** reconnected *** now talking in #kakashi *** topic is Official Channel for Kakashi Spirit News THE TRUTH | SEND NUDES TO firstname.lastname@example.org | SHAMEIMARU TERROR LEVEL: ~GREEN~ *** set by ~internethatatemachine on Sat Sep 29 21:01:53 2008 *** channel #kakashi mode is +nrst *** channel created at Sat Jul 23 23:31:01 2005 <internethatatemachine> i just don't understand the appeal <Lucy> All I'm saying is, give tentacles a chance! <PI> what the fuck am I walking into <Lucy> PI! <3 <3 <3 <internethatatemachine> dumb shit <AgentQ> Hello, PI. <Lucy> I'm trying to broaden Hatate's horizons <internethatatemachine> i don't need to be broadened like that <Lucy> If you were a little more open, maybe you wouldn't be single. <internethatatemachine> i'm not opening myself for a fucking octopus demon monster <internethatatemachine> and you're single too, firecrotch <Lucy> Nope! I have PI. :D <PI> haha <AgentQ> PI, did you need to talk about anything important? <PI> No, just drunk <Lucy> Yay! Drunk PI is best. :P <internethatatemachine> did you bring home another little girl? <PI> I brought home the same little girl <PI> because that's what you told me to do, you damn crow <Lucy> Ooooooooh <Lucy> Be careful, PI! She'll probably try to take advantage of you. <Lucy> Pouring alcohol down your throat until you're delirious, then milking you dry like some kind of trashy succubus! <internethatatemachine> the kettle called <internethatatemachine> it wants you to stop
Mori pokes you in the chest. "PI, what does "milk you dry' mean?"
Maybe this was all a mistake.
Then she laughs. "I'm just messing with you." You should have seen that coming — heh. But you're glad you don't have to end this awful day by explaining ejaculation to this kid. "They seem pretty lively," she goes on. "So what's your plan? We aren't just going to watch them screw around with us, are we?"
 Engage in some banter with Hatate and see if you can get her riled up about something.  Flirt shamelessly with Lucy for everyone to see. It wouldn't be the first time.  Q is always quiet when more people are on. Call her out, because you feel like it.  You don't really want to type anymore. Let Mori take the wheel.
>>63853 >>63861 Nicknaming her Chibikko isn't nearly condescending enough. We've got to be clever about this. Since we are nicknamed "Private Investigator" or PI for short, she would be our "Private Understudy" or PU for short.
[x] You don't really want to type anymore. Let Mori take the wheel. -[x]nickname her PU first
[x] You don't really want to type anymore. Let Mori take the wheel.
She wants to know what your master plan is. But here's the thing: you don't have one. The alcohol has numbed your body to the perfect state of comfort as it sinks into the couch, with Mori nestling herself into your side. It takes all your energy just to keep the laptop from falling off your knees. Shooting the shit with Hatate and them is more trouble than it's worth to you.
However, Mori's eyes shine bright with ideas of serious chatroom warfare — the kind that people's online identities thrive or die over. She's followed you around all day, led you to Minoriko's secret shop, and even watched you get drunk. She gave you some trouble here and there, but what kid doesn't? Nothing can really invalidate the fact that she saved your life. Maybe it's time to let her unwind a bit herself.
"It's simple," you begin. "I'm not going to do a damn thing."
Mori's expression falls flat. "What?" Then her eyebrows narrow. "Lame! You know, in the Outside World, we have this thing called 'trolling'. Why don't we—"
"Let me clarify," you interrupt her. "I'm not doing anything. Mori, I think I can trust you with some computer privileges."
Her face lights up again. "Really? You mean it?"
You do. But you need to give her a name. Calling her your "apprentice" is a bit stale, at least on the web. It makes her sound like she's aspiring to be a smith or a carpenter. What's a good word for someone a detective is training? And you use the words "detective" and "training" loosely.
It takes a few moments, but something comes to you. Mori reads the nick-changing command as you're typing it and frowns. "Understudy? What's this all about?"
"It's your chatroom name," you reply, "at least for now."
She pulls on your sleeve in defiance. "Why can't I just use 'Mori'?"
"You wouldn't want to use something like your real name on the net," you explain. "Unless you lied about your name to the man who took you in out of the goodness of his heart."
Mori laughs. "The goodness of your heart, huh? A pretty perverted heart you have there." Yeah, you walked right into that one. "Well Mister Good Samaritan," she continues, "I never lie. I said that name was close enough, didn't I? But I'll make you a deal: if you tell me what your name is, I'll tell you mine."
Easy enough. "PI is the only name I have."
She blinks. "Oh, really? I just thought everyone was referring to you as a private investigator. So it's your initials or something?"
"No, you were right. I'm called a private investigator, 'PI' for short."
She sighs. "Alright, smartass. You expect me to believe your parents named you 'Private Investigator'?"
You may be drunk, but you're not laying bare your shitty life. Some things should lay dead and buried, not even worthy of being history. "Look, you can believe it or not. But if you don't drop it, I'll change your handle to 'brat'."
Mori looks hard into your eyes for a moment, like she's trying to read something in them. Then she gives up and leans back. "Fine. Sorry. 'Understudy' or whatever is fine."
Good. You hit the enter key, and the name on the KRC client successfully changes. Then you grab your computer and shift it over to Mori, who sits up so that she can receive it properly. The two of you are still connected at the hip, but at least she isn't using you like a pillow anymore. While you both had that little exchange, the chat went on without you.
<Lucy> You can tell the kettle to fuck off. <Lucy> But PI, all I'm saying is that you shouldn't be tempted. <Lucy> Be patient and wait for me to get a day off from this slavedriver. <Lucy> Then I'll make you forget all about the little girls. ;) <internethatatemachine> little is literally in your name though <Lucy> I'm little in status, not in stature. :> <internethatatemachine> uh huh <Lucy> Lot of lip from some scrawny bitch. <Lucy> I've scryed on you before. <Lucy> Gaining a little weight since becoming a shut-in? >:) <internethatatemachine> in all the right places <internethatatemachine> when I'm not questioning my existence or cursing Shameimaru's name <internethatatemachine> I'm squeezing my own ass in the mirror <Lucy> TMI D: <internethatatemachine> right back at you, tentacle rape enthusiast <Lucy> It's entirely consensual. <Lucy> I'm just saying, if you ever get off your giant ass... <Lucy> Come to the library and I'll let you check out one of my favorite "books." ;) <internethatatemachine> no thanks <internethatatemachine> keep your devil magic away from me and PI *** PI has changed nick to Understudy <Lucy> Never. <3 <internethatatemachine> wait what <Understudy> yoooooooo <Understudy> hows everyone doin <internethatatemachine> is this the little girl? <Understudy> yep yep <Lucy> YOU. :< <Lucy> Why are you here? >:( <Understudy> woah <Understudy> take it easy on the emoticons <Understudy> you type like a spastic preteen <Lucy> What did you do to PI? <Understudy> i took over for him duh <Understudy> hes grooming me to be his partner <Understudy> so i think i should get to know you guys <Lucy> NOOOOOOOOOO <Lucy> HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE GROOMING ME <Understudy> wow thats not creepy at all <Understudy> you have problems <internethatatemachine> just to be clear, he's grooming you as a detective and a lover, right? <Understudy> im not a chatty gossip like he is <Understudy> ill never kiss and tell <Lucy> You bitch. <internethatatemachine> well, PI always told me he doesn't work with partners <internethatatemachine> so I'm a bit suspicious to be honest <Lucy> Yeah, PI wouldn't trust some little whore off the street like that! <Understudy> better than a tentacle loving stalker <AgentQ> Why don't we all calm down? <internethatatemachine> no <Lucy> NO. <Understudy> nah <Understudy> im having fun <Lucy> I hate this girl! <Lucy> Why can't I go on sexy adventures with PI? ;_; <Understudy> uh you work or something right <Understudy> just quit <Lucy> I can't do that, idiot! <Lucy> If I break my contract, I'll be cleaning bones out of the lava pits for the next century! <Understudy> thats hardcore <Lucy> It isn't, I assure you. X_X
It's pretty entertaining to watch, though you could certainly do without the idea of you "grooming" Mori being thrown around like that. Lucy definitely seems to be taking the brunt of the abuse, and you can't help but feel some sympathy for her. Normally you have your suspicions about her, but the alcohol dims those considerably.
"Hey, go easy on Lucy," you tell Mori. "Give the poor girl a break."
Mori takes her eyes off the screen and puts them on you, along with a smug grin. "Aw, are you protecting your cyber-girlfriend?"
"Very funny. I'm just looking out for her a bit, is all."
"By serving as the object of her sexual fantasies?" she fires back. "And how do you know she isn't trying to trick you?"
That Lucy said the same thing about her is not lost on you. "I don't," you respond. All you have is Hatate's word for that, which is dubious at best. You're not really sure what the relationship between her and Lucy is.
Mori nods with a satisfied smirk. "That's what I thought. So let me rip on who I want, alright?"
You groan. "Already you're abusing your computer privileges." Then you think of something that might persuade her. "You know, Hatate's the one in charge. If you'd rather pick on some hopeless romantic instead of trading jabs with the boss, then becoming my partner is out of your reach."
She frowns at you. "Be patient, jeez. I was getting my feet wet. Working my way around, y'know? I didn't want to just go straight for the head. A detective should know what she's getting into, right?"
Theoretically that's true, but often enough you don't have time to do the smart thing. Sometimes you have to be really, really dumb. No risk, no reward. Of course, you sure as hell aren't going to tell Mori that. She already has a big head because of what's happened so far. Last thing you need is her rushing off into danger at the drop of a silly hat. "Yes, you should always be smart," you answer vaguely.
"Exactly!" she remarks with a bright smile. "See, I know what I'm talking about. Don't underestimate me!" Then she returns her focus to the screen.
Maybe that backfired.
<internethatatemachine> well, if you two are done slapping each other around <internethatatemachine> I want to know your plans, Mori <Understudy> your a reporter or so i hear <Understudy> i aint sharing any plans with you <internethatatemachine> I'm not a reporter <internethatatemachine> I'm a sage <internethatatemachine> a servant of wisdom and THE TRUTH <internethatatemachine> probably close to becoming a full-fledged hermit, really <Understudy> well you apparently dont leave your house <Understudy> so thats like being some withered old hermit i guess <Understudy> kudos <internethatatemachine> I didn't mean like that, you dumb kid <internethatatemachine> and I'm a tengu, I don't age <internethatatemachine> I probably have a better complexion than you <Understudy> i bet your all pale and sickly like a ghost <Understudy> i thought tengu were supposed to be revered <Understudy> but you just sit around trolling chatrooms all day <Understudy> are you a troll tengu <Understudy> is that a new kind of tengu here in gensokyo <internethatatemachine> there's no such thing as a fucking troll tengu <internethatatemachine> I'm a crow tengu <Understudy> oh so your like one of the ones looking for me <Understudy> no way am i going to tell you anything <internethatatemachine> fuck that noise <internethatatemachine> I hate the other tengu <internethatatemachine> they shouldn't be revered <internethatatemachine> damn totalitarian bureaucrats <internethatatemachine> they control everything <internethatatemachine> they read our fucking minds <internethatatemachine> they killed the gods <internethatatemachine> I stand for Gensokyo <internethatatemachine> and I risk my life doing this vigilante shit everyday <internethatatemachine> they could come in my nest anytime they want <internethatatemachine> but they don't <internethatatemachine> because I'm so fucking powerful <internethatatemachine> cowards <internethatatemachine> they'll rue the day they didn't lock me away <AgentQ> Hatate, you're rambling again. <Understudy> i think you did a good job of locking yourself away you nutcase shut-in <internethatatemachine> fuuuuuuuuuck you <internethatatemachine> and fuck you too little girl <internethatatemachine> what kind of shit did you go through to latch on to an emotionally-distant middle-aged alcoholic? <internethatatemachine> shouldn't you be worried about your family? <Understudy> i dont care about them <Understudy> pi is mine <Understudy> get over it <Lucy> This is actually kind of great when it isn't happening to me. <Lucy> I had to conjure up some popcorn. <Lucy> But come on kid, but PI back on. <Understudy> no <Understudy> hes like half asleep anyway <Lucy> Take a picture. <Understudy> your a creep <Understudy> and i dont have a camera <Lucy> Really? <Lucy> Or are you hogging the pics for yourself? >:( <internethatatemachine> is PI really asleep? <Understudy> are you okay now birdbrain <Understudy> have you come back in the world of the sane <internethatatemachine> I'm always sane <internethatatemachine> I might be the only one who is sane <internethatatemachine> but I have my search for THE TRUTH <internethatatemachine> and I have this computer <internethatatemachine> so no matter what you say I'll be fine <Understudy> im entirely convinced good job <internethatatemachine> the question still stands <internethatatemachine> is PI asleep?
Might as well be. The strain of focusing on those little lines of text racing up the chat window is getting to you. It feels so good to keep your eyes closed, even when you know they're going to talk about you. It's not like you'd miss anything. Those three will have some laughs at your expense until Mori gets tired and decides to try looking for your porn or something stupid like that. Too bad for her: you never save anything and you always clear your history.
As the last bits of tension drift away, you hear Mori's voice. "You want me to turn the light off?"
You grunt in the affirmative. The ceiling light suddenly goes off, but you never felt Mori get up.
"Good night, PI."
Your eyes shoot open, and the darkness is gone. Morning light filters in through the curtains, painting your disorganized living room in shades of blue and gray. Instantly you feel several things. The first is a headache, which you can't really do anything about. It's a mild hangover, but at least you didn't black out like last time.
Next is the blonde head of Mori on your thigh, snoring lightly. What an idiot. If you passed out here, then she should have taken the bed. Slowly you slip your leg out from underneath her, letting her head fall gently enough into the cushion. She doesn't stir — good.
After that is your mouth, which feels like sandpaper. You get up, shamble into the kitchen, and grab the one plastic cup you use off the counter. After half-heartedly rinsing it out in the sink, you put it under the faucet and lick your lips while you wait for the cup to fill with water. Then you turn it back and drink it all in one go. Tastes bitter like chemicals, but it's better than going without.
Finally there's your stomach, which is now filled with water but nothing else. You didn't eat much yesterday, so you're really feeling the hunger pains this morning. You probably have just enough money to head into the less-shady part of the slums and get some breakfast for you and Mori at Kappa Burger — even though you hate fast food.
But besides feeding yourself, there's other errands to take care of. For the unforeseeable future you'll have two mouths to feed, so going to the grocer is a must. You need to restock your kitchen with the essentials: milk, eggs, bread, fruit, vegetables, rice. Maybe some cheap curry mix or something. Then you need to go by Kourindou and get some ammo, if you can afford it. Even if you can't, he's usually good about lending some stuff out — though he's not easygoing like Lucky is with his tabs.
Compared to yesterday, it should be a relaxing day of upkeep. Of course, there's no telling who will find you and complicate matters.
 Hina's at the door. She has an errand of her own, but it's a little disturbing.  Something red and white is snooping around outside, looking for you.  Nothing? Really? Looks like it's just you and Mori, then.
You usher Mori out the door, close it behind you, and then lock it with your key. A thick layer of clouds casts grey light down on the slums, bringing out all the drab and melancholy of the concrete. It may rain. A dreary day for a bunch of dreary errands. At least you're feeling refreshed after taking a mostly-warm shower and getting a change of clothes.
Mori, in contrast, is asleep on her feet. Despite many attempts to get her going and give her a chance to freshen up, she refused to budge until you picked her up and shook her. Now she's leaning on the wall with her eyes half-open, muttering something under her breath. Her stupid hat is clutched to her chest, and her blonde hair is scattered and messy — though it was pretty much the same yesterday.
She starts to nod off, so you decide to gently get her attention by pulling her hat out of her hands and tossing it out into the street like a frisbee. It spins through the air beautifully until it lands upright in the middle of the vacant road. The large, blank eyes stare back at you with great disdain — except it's just a hat, so that's crazy talk.
Mori feels around her chest, then her eyes shoot upon with alarm. When she notices what's happened, she yelps. "Ah! What the hell did you do that for?" She quickly trots over to the hat, picks it up, dusts it off, and puts it on her head.
"Good to see you're awake," you remark as she walks back toward you. "Are you ready to go eat?"
She rubs her eyes and yawns. "Is that where we're going? What's the rush? Let's go back in and sleep a few more hours."
You flick the hat off her head, and it floats back to the ground behind her. "Not a chance. I'm hungry, and there's no way I'm leaving you alone so you can pilfer what few valuables I have."
"Really?" There it is, that damn smug gleam in her eye. "Then how come you fell asleep all cozy-like right beside me? That's a pretty vulnerable position for someone who doesn't trust me with their belongings."
You thought you would have the advantage by engaging her right after she woke up. You were wrong. "Nevermind what happened last night. Look, you're awake and you're out here, so you're coming with me. Or do you not want to see where I get all my cool gear?"
She blinks a few times. "You mean the gun and the shitty laptop? Is that what you call 'gear'?"
You sigh and run your fingers through your hair — your receding, graying hair. "Look, it's more than most have. So be quiet and follow me." You walk past her and start down the street.
"Okay, okay." She turns around and scoops her hat off the ground, slipping the string in front of her neck so it hangs behind her. Then she quickly catches up to you. "Do you think we'll have to worry about tengu patrols?" she asks.
Normally you wouldn't discuss this kind of stuff out in the open, but there's nobody around. As long as you keep your voice down and you're a bit vague, there's no reason to be concerned. "Probably not," you answer Mori. "I didn't see any yesterday after our little encounter. They might only be searching in the forest right now, and that will take them a while to cover. The tengu are a small, insular community, and they have their own bureaucracy to keep themselves busy. I wouldn't be surprised if that crow was the only one searching this far out. Regardless, our inside woman would tell us if we were in any imminent danger."
"You trust her a lot more than you let on, don't you?"
Trust is a strong word for someone like Hatate, but you'll go with it. "She may goof around a lot in chat, but she takes this kind of stuff very seriously."
She nods. "I see, I see. So, you ever meet her in person?" A playful grin spreads on her face. "Anything passionate between the two of you?"
The shit this kid thinks of. "Changing the subject," you continue, "it seems like you handled the chat pretty well last night. How did things go after I fell asleep?"
"You're no fun," she pouts. "But nothing much happened after you conked out. Our inside woman, as you put it, just asked me for a favor — a little secret mission."
Dammit, Hatate. You just somewhat-praised her, and it turns out she went right behind your back to give Mori some dumb errand to do because she's a lazy shut-in. "Nothing sounds good about that," you remark.
"It's nothing important or dangerous," Mori claims. "And it won't interfere with what we're doing."
"I wonder about that," you mutter. "And for future reference, it's called secret mission for a reason. You shouldn't go blabbing about it like that. Especially if it's something I tell you to do."
Mori slips her arm around your wrist and links herself to your side as the two of you keep walking. "Oh, I know. I just thought that since I kind of live with you now, it would only be fair to tell you that much."
How very grateful of her, but that isn't actually helpful at all. "You might as well just tell me what it is, if that's how you're going about it."
"Hmm, nah." She grins up at you. "If you knew what it was, then I'd fail the mission."
Wonderful, so it does have something to do with you. No use dwelling on it, then. It's a waste of precious time and energy to indulge Hatate and her stupid antics. You'll just take Mori's word that it won't mess with anything you're doing, and if it does you'll raise hell then.
"Looks like you two are having a cheerful morning," a disgruntled shrine keeper's voice remarks behind you.
You freeze and pull yourself away from Mori before turning around to confirm that it is truly Reimu behind you. She's wearing the same dirty red-and-white outfit, but today her face is extra mean-looking. Heavy bags hang under her eyes, and her frown looks like it was chiseled into her face.
"Good morning!" Mori greets her with incredible cheer, completely ignoring Reimu's gloom. "How's it goin'?"
Not one muscle in Reimu's face moves as she acknowledges Mori. "Bad." Then she turns to you. "Where's Mima?"
"Mima? We haven't seen her since yesterday evening."
"I know she went to stalk you yesterday," Reimu says, "so I thought she might be with you again today."
Stalking sounds about right. But as far as you know, she hasn't been around this morning. You shake your head. "Sorry. Just Mori and myself today." Then you pause. You don't like to get involved in others' problems unless there's the possibility of recompense, but Reimu looks too miserable not to ask. "Is something wrong?"
She sighs and massages her temples. "Just the usual. Up all night working on the Barrier. When I finally made it to bed this morning, a fucking tengu showed up to chew me out about not doing a good enough job. Then she asked me if I'd seen a young blonde girl around the shrine." She glances hard at Mori, then you. "Now why would they ask about something like that?"
Shit. Was it that tengu from yesterday, or are more scouts buzzing around than you thought? Regardless, the trouble right in front of you is Reimu. What's her relationship with the tengu? From yesterday's conversation and now it doesn't sound like she's too happy with them, but apparently they regard her as a source of information.
You try to match Reimu's scowl with one of your own, but it's difficult. "I don't know why the tengu would be interested in Mori," you tell her, "if that's what you're implying." It isn't really a lie, since you have no clue why they're after her, exactly.
"Oh." Reimu glares at you. "That's good, because you see, I decided to telll them how there was a blonde girl all over the place a few days ago," Reimu says. "An arm in my front yard, a leg in the back, the head on my doorstep. And if they wanted to see her, they could borrow my shovel and head on over to Muenzuka." Her glare continues to bear down on you. "As far as I'm concerned, you owe me."
You're pretty surprised Reimu didn't talk — but then again, you also don't know if that tengu offered her any money or not. She probably figured it would be easier to get you to cough up some kind of protection money. Too bad for her. "Look, I still don't know how this applies to me or the kid, so as far as I'm concerned, I don't owe you a red yen, nor do I have any more to spare after seeing you yesterday."
Reimu shakes her head. "I'm not looking for money this time, jackass. I just want to know what you two are up to."
"What, so you can sell us out down the road? No thanks."
"If that's how you see it, then I'm going to sell your shady asses out either way. Why not explain things so I have a chance to sympathize with you? But you know, my patience is wearing pretty fucking thin this morning. Maybe I'll walk right out to the mountain and flag down one of the white wolves."
Shit, this early and you're already in a hole. Reimu does have the leverage, but in the end this is Mori's story. You don't want to force her to trust Reimu. You glance at Mori, and she's staring at you. She smiles and nods.
It's settled, then. "You've made a compelling argument," you admit to Reimu. "Fine, it wouldn't hurt to have a talk. But we were on our way to Kappa Burger for breakfast, so—"
"Alright then," Reimu cuts you off, before starting down the sidewalk. "Let's go. You can buy me breakfast, you ungrateful prick."
Mori was right, you both should have just stayed in bed.
"Here's your food, sir."
The purple-haired young woman in Kappa Burger's blue uniform sets a tray on the table. There's a great deal of tension in her body as she steps back and bows. "Please have a Kapptastic day, honored customers." She rises, and her dark eyes skitter between the three of you before she retreats back to the counter.
You watch her go, and it isn't a bad sight — firm, like there's some muscle there. She was also oddly polite for a fast food worker, so she must be new.
Mori nudges your side, sporting a sly grin. "So what do you think? Gimme a number, 1 to 10. 1 is like you'd only tap it if it was the last keg on earth, and 10 is like 'damn, I could worship that booty every night.'"
You frown at her. "I think it's weird that a young girl is so quick to catch me checking women out." And it was about a seven, but you aren't going to tell her that.
"It's not a subtle gaze," Reimu remarks from across the table as she hovers over the tray. "So they got everything right, didn't they? Sometimes they screw it up and I have to jump back there and beat the hell out of them until they give me free stuff."
So that's why the worker looked so nervous. Can't blame her, but you really hope they didn't spit in your food by association. "Looks like everything here," you assure her. "Kappa Biscuit with sausage for me, a Mega Kappa Biscuit for you, and Kappa Cakes for the brat."
"Sweet!" Mori cheers as she takes her wrapped bundle of greasy flour patties, topped with syrup. Some of her chocolate milk is stuck to her upper lip.
You turn your attention to Reimu, who has wasted no time in gnawing at her giant stack of breakfast food smashed between two flat biscuits. Does she eat this much food usually, or is it because you were the one paying? Her large coffee is still untouched, far too hot for consumption.
Then there's your own meal, like Reimu's but much smaller. You can feel the grease through the wrapper as you peel it apart, take a deep breath, and start inhaling it. It really doesn't taste good, but it's convenient. You'd rather make your own food, for sure.
As you eat and take occasional swigs of your orange juice, your eyes wander out the window to the street. Since you're closer to Central, the buildings don't look like ruins and there's quite a few people out walking around. Many of them are probably headed to their jobs in Central, where they'll work in construction or factories managed by tengu or kappa. They're well-kept despite looking pretty miserable — just honest people stuck on the poor side of town. Hence why they have to eat shit like this. But it's better than starving or being some youkai's shitty food, you suppose.
Reimu eyes you warily as she chews. "Well Satsuki, are you just going to sit there eating with a sour mug, or are you going to get busy talking?"
"It was Shinichi," you correct her. "And this is really Mori's story, so—"
"No, go on," Mori interrupts with her mouth full of hotcake. "I wanna hear what you think."
Both Reimu's and Mori's eyes are locked on you. This is somewhat ideal at least, since you can be in control of the flow of information. You don't have a good read on Reimu yet, but she seems pretty nosy and impulsive — definitely a wild card. If you tell her everything, you'll probably see a lot more of her, for better or for worse. But you could also just tell her exactly what she wants to know and nothing else, which should satisfy her and keep her at arm's length. Then again, you could always try spinning some fantastic yarn to throw her off completely and see how she takes it.
 She only wanted to know why the tengu were asking about her, right? Tell her about Mori coming from the Outside and the shrine that's appeared on the mountain, but leave out everything else.  Lie through your teeth. Mori is the runaway daughter of a distinguished city official, and the tengu are worried she knows their secrets.  You're just going to have to trust Reimu in a big way. Tell her everything that's happened so far concerning Mori, that you can remember. 
[X] You're just going to have to trust Reimu in a big way. Tell her everything that's happened so far concerning Mori, that you can remember. -[x] But spin it as follows:
"Well, Mori here was in a shrine when it inexplicably jumped the border from the Outside, and I assume she's one of the staff there, and must have escaped the shrine. I guess the tengu hate whoever's associated with that shrine, or they're holding the shrine's employees hostage at the shrine and are trying to bring Mori back to the shrine for something. Probably torture or somesuch."
[X] You're just going to have to trust Reimu in a big way. Tell her everything that's happened so far concerning Mori, that you can remember.
You peel back the greasy wrapper on your Kappa Biscuit™ and take another bite. Reimu's brown eyes drill into your face as they take in everything: your mouth chewing, your nose sucking in air, and your eyes returning the look. It's like a standoff, but she brought the bigger gun — and she has Mori in the sights. You wish you had a better read on her. But, thus far she's been nothing but blunt. If she wants a reason not to turn you both in to the tengu, then it's probably a genuine gesture.
"Mori's from the Outside," you begin. "She ended up in Gensokyo about a week ago when a lake and its shrine were transported through the barrier and ended up on Youkai Mountain."
As soon as you mention the shrine, Mori nearly chokes on her chocolate milk. She turns to gape at you in shock. Is she surprised you're being so direct about this? You kind of have to be, given the situation.
"A whole lake just fell into Gensokyo? And a shrine, too?" Reimu asks skeptically. Then she thinks about it. "That... actually makes sense." Suddenly something seems to click, and she turns to Mori sharply. "Wait a minute. Did you have anything to do with it? If what he's saying is true, your lake punched a giant hole in my barrier and quintupled my work load!"
Mori regains her composure and shakes her head. "Nope, it wasn't me. I didn't have a clue what was going on. I just woke up and I was in Gensokyo, alone. Took me a while to get the hang of things. Shizuha helped with that."
So that explains some of Mori's attachment to the elder sister. Shizuha must have found her in the forest and led her back to the city. "Why didn't you just stay with them?" you ask her.
"Shizuha was alright, but Minoriko and I didn't get along," she explains. "But you already knew that, didn't you?"
Yeah, you did. "So that's it? That's why you decided to stay on the streets?"
Mori swallows a bite of hotcake and shrugs. "I was curious. I wanted to explore."
"Of course you did," you remark. Are all Outsiders like that? If they are, it would explain why so many of them end up dead when they drift into Gensokyo.
Reimu sips some coffee after a big bite, and then clears her throat. "So she's here in Gensokyo for a while," she says to you, bringing things back to the topic at hand. "Then what? How do you factor into all of this?"
"Well, a couple of days ago I got really drunk," you explain. "I don't remember much, but apparently when I stumbled home the landlady told me to go into the forest because someone was in trouble. Turns out it was Mori being attacked by a youkai. I scared it off and brought her back to my apartment."
"You scared off a youkai? While you were blacked out?" Reimu asks, more skeptical of this than anything else that's been said.
"I had a weapon," you tell her, leaving it ambiguous on purpose. "But the next day — that was yesterday — I was really confused. So I tried to retrace my steps, and in the forest a tengu found us. She was looking for Mori. Said it was the chief's orders. I told her no, and my weapon came in handy again." You look at Mori. "With some help." No matter where that bullet came from, you have to give credit where credit's due.
Mori doesn't seem to care about your consideration. It looks like she's more focused on her Kappa Cakes™ than your recap — spacing out at her discs of fried batter. But she quickly notices you looking at her. "Oh, uh— yeah. No problem. Did what I had to."
Reimu's just staring at you blankly, in utter disbelief. "So a tengu, one of the most powerful kinds of youkai in Gensokyo, flies down to you and tells you to give up a girl who you barely have any recollection of. You could have just handed her off and forgot about the whole thing — maybe even weaseled yourself into some kind of reward — and instead you stand in the face of death."
You didn't need to think about it much then, and there's certainly no reason to do so now. The tengu took everything away from you once, and they're not getting a damn thing from you ever again. "That's right," you affirm Reimu.
Reimu massages her forehead with her fist and sighs. "You're an idiot, but at least you're the better kind of idiot."
"I'll take that as a compliment," you say. It's not like you can deny it. If you were smart, you never would have fallen into this line of work to begin with.
"So what you're telling me," Reimu continues, "is that this is some kind of damsel-in-distress kind of situation."
You look at Mori, who's paying more attention now. She smiles with a full-blown chocolate milk moustache, a mouth filled to the brim with hotcakes, and syrup drizzled on her chin. Then you turn back to Reimu. "She's a little young to be a damsel, wouldn't you say?"
Reimu lets out a dry chuckle. "On the outside, maybe. But she's latched on to you like a full-grown woman. You two even live together. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe she's taking advantage of you?"
"First off, Mori's just staying with me," you argue. "It's different. And I don't care what you think about how she's 'latched on' to me. She's a kid. Kids should be able to rely on adults."
There's a palpable weight of guilt in your stomach after you say that, since you probably violated this girl in a drunken stupor the first night you met her. You ignore it by staying locked in to Reimu's face and disregarding Mori's gaze.
Reimu shrugs. "Well, if that's what you think. I'm not going to try to change your mind." Then she turns to Mori, who has somewhat bettered the condition of her face with a napkin. "You know, I am pretty surprised. So this whole time you were an Outsider, just trying to make the best of it?"
Mori thinks for a moment, then smiles. "More or less, yeah."
Reimu doesn't seem very amused, though. "Well, I still think it's suspicious." She turns back to you. "Has she mentioned anything at all about the Outside World? Who she might be looking for?"
"Well, no," you admit. There's a lot of things you really don't know about Mori. You aren't even sure what happened while you were drunk. There was never an adequate explanation for that blood on your shirt, after all. So maybe you have been a bit lenient with her. Are you sympathizing with her too much because you have your own past you can't elaborate on?
Both you and Reimu end up looking at Mori, who is finishing off her last hotcake. She swallows and then grins at the two of you. "Like she said, I'm just trying to make the best out of it." But when you and Reimu aren't dissuaded, she sighs and darkens a bit. "There's two people I was... close to, and they're probably still at the shrine, which would be on the mountain now. But it's dangerous because of the tengu, right?"
"That's right," Reimu says. "The tengu are very protective of the mountain. But what worries me is that they're going out of their way to search for you. They're not so kind as to bring you back just so you can be reunited with your friends. There's something in it for them. And since it's a shrine, I assume it concerns a god."
"A god?" you ask, now with your own brand of skepticism. "So you're saying there's no gods in Gensokyo, but somehow there was one in the Outside World?"
"There was a shrine, wasn't there? And we have someone here who can elaborate on that," Reimu says, directing her curious eyes at Mori. "Well?"
Mori's squirming in her chair, looking awfully uncomfortable. "Well, um... there was an earth goddess who was enshrined there. But she left. The shrine maiden should still be there, and there was... someone else who watched over her. She's probably still there too."
"So it's a similar situation to Reimu?" you ask. "A shrine with no god in it?" You notice Reimu shoot you a nasty glare, but she doesn't say anything.
"Um... kind of," Mori replies. Then she looks at Reimu. "Well, maybe not."
"Don't make comparisons like that. It just makes things confusing," Reimu snaps at both of you, before turning back to Mori. "So was this shrine maiden your friend? Did you ever talk to the goddess?"
Mori seems even more hesitant now. It's the first time you've seen her so bothered by something. "Friend is— um..." she mumbles, struggling to find the right words. "I don't know if I would call her a friend. And the person that watches over her, she's... unpredictable."
"And the earth goddess?" Reimu presses.
Mori smiles weakly. "I can't say much about her. Sorry."
Reimu sighs. "So you really don't know that much about them at all, is what you're saying?"
Mori frowns and looks somewhat downcast as she answers, "I guess not."
Reimu leans back and takes a big drink of coffee, finishing it off before slamming it down on the table and moving her glare back to you. She's frustrated, but it seems more directed at the situation than the two of you. Gradually the hostility she exuded earlier is vanishing. "Well then," she continues, "keep talking. What happened after your little run-in with the tengu?"
"Eventually we decided to go to the soup kitchen to eat," you tell her. "You remember what happened there, right?"
She takes another bite of her Mega Kappa Biscuit™, which is about half gone. "Yeah, I do. I'm shtill not shure why you're sho intereshted in the Aki shisters. You find out anything worth making me privy to?"
You just got sprayed with wet crumbs of her biscuit, egg, and sausage — quite a feat considering there's a whole table between you. Perhaps there's some pride in being the only one at the table with manners, but really you just wish that Reimu wouldn't talk with her mouth full. "We tracked Minoriko to her farm," you answer, reaching for a napkin to wipe your face. "Mori and I helped out a bit, then she asked us to find Shizuha. Turns out she ran off, and Minoriko hasn't heard from her since."
The shrine keeper swallows her food and cocks an eyebrow at you. "Huh. Do you think it's related to any of this?"
You shrug. "At this point, it's hard to tell." But you know it very well could be. It's obvious there's something between Mori and the sisters, and it's a pretty big coincidence that Q asked you to investigate around the sisters while all of this is happening. But maybe it's unrelated. Mori could have just been caught in some drama while ignoring her own. Sounds like something she'd do.
Reimu lets it go with a quiet "ugh" and keeps going. "So after I left the free food kitchen, Mima said she was going to follow you because it seemed interesting. That's what you three ended up doing?"
It's distressing that Reimu refers to Minoriko's charity work like that. Watching her so sloppily eat the food you paid for, it occurs to you that Reimu may not be as destitute as she looks, and is really just a mooch. "Yeah," you answer. "Mima uh, helped in her own way."
Reimu rolls her eyes. "I know that feeling." She pauses and looks at you. "So is that it?"
You think about it. No point in mentioning anything that happened afterwards, and there's nothing you really want to ask Reimu about at this point. There's already a lot going on, and the last thing you want to do is involve yourself with the details of the barrier itself, which even Reimu herself doesn't seem apt at elaborating on given her awkward description of its purpose yesterday. If you need to learn about it at some point, you're certain this won't be the last you'll see of the shrine keeper. "I guess so," you conclude.
With that, Reimu stands up, holding the rest of her Mega Kappa Biscuit™. She gives you and Mori both wary glares. "Well, I won't turn you in — but only because the tengu are even more suspicious. Just so we're clear, I'll be watching you. If I find out had a hand in it, I'll punish you along with the tengu." Then she stuffs the rest of her biscuit in her mouth and mutters "Thanksh for the food" before heading straight for the door, leaving her trash on the table. What a class act.
"Dammit," you grumble. "I should have made her give me 10000 yen for that talk." You turn to Mori. "Well, are you fini—"
Then you nearly jump out of your seat, because Mori's face is right in yours. She's kneeling on her chair to be eye-level with you, and there isn't one bit of jovial facade on her face. She regards you with nothing but a piercing, stony gaze as she asks, "How did you know about the shrine on the mountain?"
That's an odd question to act so strangely about. "What are you talking about? I knew because— uh..."
You freeze. Didn't Hatate tell you? Or was it Mori herself? You think over your conversations with Hatate. She mentioned the lake that appeared on the mountain, but nothing about a shrine. And Mori only said she lived near a lake. In fact, there was no mention of a shrine on the mountain, ever.
So how did you know about the shrine on the lake?
"...the clothes," you finally say. "Your old clothes looked kind of like robes. And you seemed to know about shrines when we talked to Reimu yesterday, so I figured you worked in a shrine that was on the lake. Don't most lakes have shrines?"
Mori looks at you, and it reminds you of when you first brought up the lake with her while you were chatting with Hatate. It's a deep, unsettling concern that goes far beyond her apparent age.
Then suddenly it's gone and she's all smiles. "Oh, I get it! That's a pretty bold assumption, but you're right — I did work at that shrine. That must be why you're an investigator, huh?"
"It's called a hunch," you correct her. But that's a lie. You'd never stretch so far for an assumption. Not to mention, the idea of Mori working in a shrine never even occurred to you before you tried to justify it. It's like something was planted in your head while you were talking to Reimu, and it took root quickly and silently. If Mori hadn't pointed it out, you probably wouldn't have given it a second thought.
"Either way it's pretty good," Mori says. "But yeah, I'm done. Let's get going!"
As Mori tosses all of her trash on the tray for you to throw away, you swear you hear a hissing noise close behind you — almost on your neck. But when you turn around, you don't see anything.
Once more you're staring at a green wall of trees at war with the shattered concrete of the city slums. This is the Forest of Magic, and the little shop of oddities called Kourindou lies at the end of a large dirt path snakes through the dark woods.
"So we're going into the forest again?" Mori whines. "I like a good adventure, but this is getting a little extreme. Are you sure you're not some kind of masochist?"
"You weren't paying attention while we walked," you scold her. "It's not the same forest we were in yesterday. That was the forest around the base of the mountain, which is known as the Great Youkai Forest. This is the forest that goes away from the mountain, called The Forest of Magic. Completely different."
"Is it though? What makes it so different?"
"It's more magical," you answer.
Mori frowns and her tone goes completely flat. "No shit."
"How about this:" you continue, "there's so much residual magic in the air that it chokes humans like you and me. Hence the name."
"Like you and me..." Mori ponders. "But we're not actually going inside, right?"
"Not into the forest proper," you explain. "Morichika's shop is right on the edge of the dangerous stuff. We'll be safe."
She shrugs. "If you say so. I hope it's worth it, since it's such a long walk."
"Yeah, it will be," you grumble. What else would she be doing? There's only been one thing on her schedule since you met: following you around. And what you buy here at Kourindou will probably save both of your lives, if recent events are any indication.
Mori goes quiet as you both start walking down the trail, and you see fit to address something. "So what have you been thinking about?" you ask her.
She puts both of her hands behind her head. "Hmm? What have I been thinking about?" She casts her eyes down the trail with a generic smile. "Nothing, really."
"Don't play stupid with me," you say. "This is the first time we've talked since we left Kappa Burger. That whole time we were walking through town you were staring at either the sky, your feet, or at me when you thought I wasn't paying attention."
She puts her hands back down and sighs in defeat. "You're better than I thought. But you know, I'm tired of talking about my problems." She looks at you. "What about your problems, PI? What's on your mind?"
"My problem is that you're trying to turn this back on me," you tell her. "Just answer the question."
She crosses her arms defiantly. "I don't want to. Not until you tell me about yourself."
"What, you want to hear stories about the cases I've worked on? They aren't very interesting, but I can—"
"That's telling me about other people," she cuts in. "I want to hear about your life. Stories about you."
You're not sure what the hell she's trying to get out of you. "What do you want me to say? I like taking walks. I screw around on the net. I drink a lot. You've been with me for two days straight, so you've pretty much seen the entirety of what I do."
"But that can't be it," she keeps on. "What about your family? What did you do before you were PI?"
Oh, so that's what she was driving towards. But those are the kinds of questions you can't answer. "I've always been PI," you affirm her, yourself, and Gensokyo itself. "There's nothing else."
Her curious look turns into a fierce glare. "That's what's annoying me! Don't expect me to share everything when you won't tell me anything about yourself."
Is that what she's thinking about? Does she expect some kind of equivalent exchange? Well, it's not going to happen. "Look, I have very good reasons for not sharing my past with some brat I met two days ago," you tell her firmly. "And that's just... how it is."
Mori looks away from you, back to the trail. "Fine. Then I also have very good reasons for not sharing my past with some old pervert I met two days ago," she replies. "And that's just... how it is."
"Okay then," you conclude. "Back to silence."
"Sounds good to me," she says, taking a few steps away from you.
And so, quiet settles in. It lasts only a few moments, until a black-and-white blur erupts from the brush ahead and stumbles out onto the path.
You tense up for only a second, before you recognize who it is. It's that blonde girl who wears a ridiculous witch's outfit, complete with a black pointed hat. You've seen her in Kourindou a few times before; Marisa is her name, if you remember correctly. You don't know the story, but her and Kourindou's owner, Morichika, are close.
Marisa doesn't look very good, though. She's swinging and swaying her body around, and you can see all kinds of leaves, thorns, and cuts on her body. She must have been running through the woods, but why?
Mori makes her presence at your side known. "PI, what the hell is that?" she whispers.
You observe Marisa some more. She's delirious, mumbling to herself, and barely seems to be in control of her body — almost like she's sleep walking. Looking closely, you can make out an assortment of colors sparkling in her eyes. Yeah, you've seen her like this before. "Looks she's tripping on forest mushrooms," you answer.
Mori stares blankly at you. "Tripping on... what?"
"Don't worry about it." You have no desire to teach Mori the intricacies of drug use in Gensokyo. "The point is that she's out of it, but mostly harmless."
Then you hear something else. "Marisa!" a shrill feminine voice calls from a distance. "Stop hiding and come out! If you keep this up, I'll really hurt you!"
That doesn't sound good. It sounds like it's coming from above, so you keep your eyes on the sky until you see her: a woman floating above the trees. She's blonde, and wearing some kind of blue-and-white dress. Even though she's flying, she looks so much like a human that you're wary to call her a youkai.
Regardless of what she is, she's definitely looking for Marisa. You have the impression that Marisa is often sought out for some misdeed she's committed, and maybe you should just ignore her and move on. But, there might be something in it for you if you helped her out. Morichika would probably consider it a favor if you brought her to Kourindou with you. Then again, helping this woman out might also have a reward.
Right now the woman's back is turned to you, but if she's looking around, she'll spot the three of you on the trail eventually.
 You're not in the mood for this shit. Leave Marisa to her fate and continue walking to Kourindou.  Grab Marisa and hide until the flying woman is gone, then carry her to Kourindou.  Alert the flying woman to Marisa's location. 
Hmm. I'd love for us to meet Alice, but in-character I don't think PI has much reason to trust a youkai stranger, or want to confront one without a usable weapon. Might be less of an issue since he knows Hatate and such, but...
[x] Grab Marisa and hide until the flying woman is gone, then carry her to Kourindou.
Not surprised Mori acted so cagey about the shrine. That's...interesting how PI knew about it, though. There doesn't seem to have been a single mention of a mountain shrine in-story until just now.
Welp, we didn't learn anything with Reimu, unless you count the knowledge that the go's of courses is onto PI. The 'idea implanted' on his mind seems to be more of a repressed memory than a trick. This non-poor Reimu may be suspicious, but I don't think she was responsible for that.
At least the PI definitely learnt a few things. The shrine, the present God, the one who left and the Shrine Maiden. All in all, things are definitely moving forward.
[x] Grab Marisa and hide, then back to korindou
Maybe he'll give us a discount on bullets? Besides, Damsel in distress, duh.
[x] Grab Marisa and hide until the flying woman is gone, then carry her to Kourindou. -[x] Watch and listen to the flying woman if opportunity presents itself: if you get some indication she's not malevolent, first come out from hiding by yourself to ask what's going on.
[x] Grab Marisa and hide until the flying woman is gone, then carry her to Kourindou. -[x] Watch and listen to the flying woman if opportunity presents itself: if you get some indication she's not malevolent, first come out from hiding by yourself to ask what's going on.
[x] Grab Marisa and hide until the flying woman is gone, then carry her to Kourindou. -[x] Watch and listen to the flying woman if opportunity presents itself: if you get some indication she's not malevolent, first come out from hiding by yourself to ask what's going on.
[x] Grab Marisa and hide until the flying woman is gone, then carry her to Kourindou. -[x] Watch and listen to the flying woman if opportunity presents itself: if you get some indication she's not malevolent, first come out from hiding by yourself to ask what's going on.
Seems in character. Plus the fact that the youkai is calling her by name shows that they know each other so the possibility of non-malevolent is there
[x] Grab Marisa and hide until the flying woman is gone, then carry her to Kourindou. -[x] Watch and listen to the flying woman if opportunity presents itself: if you get some indication she's not malevolent, first come out from hiding by yourself to ask what's going on.