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File 167782914513.jpg - (96.60KB, 640x512, the_wild_east.jpg)
The sun gives a blinding welcome as you emerge from the train car, landing onto beaten boards of the platform with a thump. A good stretch and a few paces shakes off most of the stiffness from hours of uncomfortable sitting.

Framed by reddish foothills, the town sprawls out before you. It has the chaotic arrangement typical of a gold-seeking surge and the usual decay after the rocks had been picked clean. Painted, worn facades define the uneven contours of the main street. Overlooking this central axis is a prominent peak-roofed building that you’d guess would be the town hall, but even this monument reveals fading colors and lost shingles. Further away from the center, the structures dwindle, houses giving way to shacks, giving way to boulders and sand. A narrow stream glimmers its way between the mountains, through the town, vanishing under a bridge supporting the tracks. Spindly trees and mats of grasses huddle by the precious water and you can imagine the find it was for the first arrivals in the area. Hanging off the station is the name of your destination: Sage Springs.

All in all, you must admit the view was nicer through dust-coated windows.

A wagon-scarred road parallel to the raised railway separates you and the station from the main body of town. It joins the main street almost perpendicularly, forming a bent “T” shape. The handful of passengers who had also gotten off are already dispersing across it, leaving you alone on the platform.

The train’s bells and impatient whistling slice through the air and you give the machine more space. Turning your head to follow the departure, a few bored faces can be spied through open windows and underneath, cast iron wheels turn as mechanical might heaves against its own weight. The gust from the rolling mass ruffles your clothes and forces you to intercept your hat before it can take flight, but it also feels pleasant against the late morning heat.

The train slides away to continue its eastward journey, leaving behind a backdrop of pasty dryland and scraggly bushes. The flatter land allows the valley’s mountains to circuit the horizon unimpeded. The train leaving also means you’re now officially stuck here, no choice but to continue with your job as a(n)…

[ ] Red-White Ranger
[ ] Ordinary Bounty Hunter
[ ] Half-Phantom Ranger
[ ] Medicine Seller
[ ] Wind Priestess
[ ] Ice Fairy
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[X] Ice Fairy

The strongest around!
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[X] Ordinary Bounty Hunter

Can't get enough of Marisa, I want Marisa, give me more Marisa please. That said, I will also gladly vote for

[X] Half-Phantom Ranger

if OP would prefer a change of pace from their previous story.

Very glad to see you back in the saddle. Warmly waiting for more updates.
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[X] Ice Fairy

She seems like a good protagonist for a not-too-convoluted plotline.
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[⑨] Ice Fairy
I'm legally obligated to pick the ice fairy. If common consensus is a slightly more serious character though that's fine.
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Welcome back, cunnyform.

[x] Medicine Seller
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[X] Ice Fairy

You slap your cheeks to fully wake up. That's right, you’re on a grand quest so there’s no time to be stalling! First, get away from this awful sun!

You burst into the station building. A very empty but well kept waiting room greets you. The rows of benches are spotless and brightly lit by the weird lamps with the flames that look frozen, but still burn on touch. The artificial glow mixes with sunlight from the windows on the sky-blue floor tiles. One of the windows is blocked by a small peach tree living in a square vase. It’s still a little warm, but most of the heat doesn’t seem to penetrate the sturdy brick walls.

“Oh, what an energetic one. Can I help you?” Maybe not so empty then.

The serene voice directs your attention right and up where an indigo haired woman draped with red-frilled silks mans a counter in the corner. A round black hat hangs on the wall next to a few informational panels and there’s one of those beeping machines behind her. How the heck she doesn’t melt under all those layers you can’t understand, but there’s been a lot of baffling things you’ve encountered this far away from home. Heck, home itself was pretty baffling too, these days.

“Lady, you can help me fix this weather! The sun out here’s broken or something, it shouldn’t be this hot!”

“Indeed, even in spring, the temperatures here can get ferocious,” the woman chuckles. She studies you, briefly glancing downward at the condensation that’s already dripped off your wings. “No wonder you’re bothered, it’s rare to see a fairy far from their element.”

“That’s because I’m on a really important mission right now. I just thought things would be getting cooler eventually, but the further I go, it only gets worse!”

“Hmm… if you’re lost then maybe I can help you. Is there somewhere in particular that you are trying to reach?”

You hesitate. You’ve been careful up to now to not let anyone else know your true destination, only asking about intermediate locations, but that’s going to be tricky being this close to the finish line. The woman must be the stationmaster, so she definitely knows her geography, and she seems friendly enough.

“I’m not lost, but okay. Just… please keep this a secret?”

“Of course,” she smiles before giving you an elegant bow. “Keeping information safe is a key part of my duties.”

You’ll trust her, after getting so far, it would be silly to lose your way now. You nod as you search through the pockets on your blue dress. A candy stick snatched at another town. A small bomb that Dai had learned to make from the nice “Red-o-Lute-Shun-Airy” girl with two little horns. Some pieces of string and cloth scraps, a spare button… There, you hand her a crumpled little pamphlet. You are taking no chances of being overhead.

You watch impatiently as the stationmaster reads it. Your feet itch and you’d rather be wading in cool lake water than in poorly fitted beat-up boots. But you’ve made it this far and the reward at the end would make the troublesome journey worth it. If only it weren’t necessary in the first place.

See, as far as you could remember, you, Dai, and a whole forest of fairies lived around the great blue Misty Lake, playing games with each other and pranking the occasional passerby. Life was good.

But then some bat youkai moved in, building an enormous and ugly red mansion. She couldn’t be pranked thanks to her guards, the red-green goon and the blue-white terror, both of whom were so unbelievably strong, even you couldn’t beat them! They were troublesome, but the lake was big and things settled down.

Then a bunch of humans appeared, digging the marshes and chopping the trees. A quarter, then half, then the entire shore was soon dominated by their rigid blocky houses. It became hard to sleep when the nights blazed like day, the soft swish of leaves replaced with gruff voices and clopping horses. The streets were so straight and so empty, it was impossible to sneak up on anyone without getting chased by the mean men with the batons, or crushed by a wagon. Even later, the tireless goblins arrived, who built absolutely huge houses with towering chimneys which, like the biggest cigarettes you’ve ever seen, belched foul scarlet smoke into the sky. The pretty morning mists on the lake became tinged bloody crimson, and not a frog could be found among the discarded tins and bottles littering the muddy banks.

Most of your friends had submitted to the invader and had claimed it wasn’t so bad, that they could run around the endless halls, dress up in the comfiest clothes, and eat baked sweets. But you, Dai, and a few others held out, unswayed by the devil’s temptations. Still though, things were becoming unbearable.

One winter day, while sweeping the snow clean of the dangerous salt the humans kept carelessly spilling, you found a curious pamphlet. You would’ve ignored it since reading is boring anyways, but a picture on the open page caught your attention: a lake like your own, but next to a mountain so grand, its white summit pierces above the clouds!

You took the soggy paper back with you and, overcoming the best efforts of humans and youkai to make up long words just to confuse things, you managed to decode what would become the hope for you and your friends. Apparently, some people liked to walk so much that they would end up in places no one had seen before, discovering places like that of the picture, the newly christened Whiterock Mountain! Untouched woodland, resplendent valleys, pristine lakes, and lovely, brilliant, year-round snowcaps! And most importantly, anyone willing to stay and live on the land gets to keep it!

This was it: if deprived of your old home, get a new one! The others thought it was a good idea too, but everyone was scared of going out so far, of being eaten by the fire and metal contraptions. So it was up to you, the strongest and bravest fairy of the Misty Lake, to venture out, to seize the future for your beleaguered people!

The plan was for everyone to scrap together enough money to send you first. Once you had successfully navigated the “civilized” world and staked the claim, you would then pick up some of this silver everyone seemed to be so excited about to buy passage for the rest of the group. Silver was claimed to be plentiful near the mountain. Finally, you and your friends would be free of the scarlet menace. The thought makes you sway a little in excitement.

The stationmaster is taking a while to finish with your pamphlet, but that was because she had pulled out a map, criss-crossed with more styles of lines than you thought possible. You stand on your tiptoes to see over the table, but she holds the map up instead.

“I’m deeply sorry, but your destination would be better reached on a different line. We are here at Sage Springs,” she points at a small black dot with a finger. It is indeed labeled Sage Springs. “Which is on the Union Celestial Railroad Southern Line. Instead, the Northeastern Line will take you to the trails that lead to your goal.” She traces the movement across the line with many bars crossed through. That northern route ends at a blank part of the map while the southern is surrounded by drawn desert. “You likely got on the wrong train at Gensokyo City, our regional hub.” It’s a large square near the middle.

“But I got directions to travel this way from there!” You complain.

She sighs. ”Unfortunately, there are some people who like pulling terrible jokes on the unsuspecting. People who should know better, I mean.”

That purple lady at the Gensokyo City station must’ve lied to you! You thought she had saved you from going the wrong way, but instead she… argh!

She continues, while giving you back the pamphlet and putting away her map. “Don’t you worry. The northbound train will show up tonight, at 10:00.”

“I-I don’t have money for another ticket…,” you admit.

A second sigh. “I suspected as much. Very well, I shall pay your fare for you.”

“Really?!” your face lights up. “You would do that? Thank you! Thank you! See, I need to get out there fast to claim the land, but once I’m ready, I’ll make sure to send you enough loot to fill this whole room. Twice, no, three times over!”

Strangely, the stationmaster’s smile stiffens, then she decides to let out an open wince.

“Oh dear, if that’s why you traveled so far… it might be better for you to read it yourself. Can you read?” she awkwardly asks.

“Yep!” You answer proudly. While the others had gathered dropped coins or sold mushrooms, you worked hard practicing your letters, picking newspapers from the trash, stealing kids’ homework, surviving teacher’s headbutts, listening to teacher’s lectures, acquiring as much knowledge of the world as possible.

She rolls out a newspaper printed on a silk scroll and hands it to you. The fabric is really soft and quite nice to touch.

The Heavenly Times

Remilia Scarlet, Vampire Noble, Banking Tycoon, and Industrialist, purchases Whiterock Mountain and surrounding territories for $6.5 million dollars, largest individual land purchase in history by area and value.

The youaki’s familiar face stares outward, a sly grin on her face, inked narrowed eyes boring into your wide ones. The date shows this had happened only yesterday, while you were still on the train. In horror, you can’t help but to keep reading. One passage sticks out.

“-they say that a record silver deposit sits under that mountain. So I thought to myself, why shouldn’t I simply pay for that silver to not be mined?’
When asked if she had sent anyone to physically stake her claim in the area as following the original policy, Lady Scarlet responded:
‘I’ve already arranged it with the government, and I will ensure the homesteads already there will be fairly compensated. I also want to add one thing: that I have heard the grumbles, those questioning why a lone lady should have the right to deny so many others opportunity? I think in our much vaunted age of republicanism and with the frontier so open to all, many believe just by being quick, by working hard alone, anyone might make something of themselves. This is a fatal misunderstanding of the nature of the modern world. Today, the real power is in wealth. Only money can change fate.
Now of course, money doesn’t enforce itself, but I was thinking that my dear little sister needed some practice running a little estate of her own. She’s a bit of a homebody, but we’ll drag her out within a few months or so-‘”


You can’t keep going, not just because of the tears blurring your sight, but also because your heart is shattering like an icicle falling on a stone below.

You ignore the stationmaster’s voice and dash out of the building. Curling up against the unyielding wall, cold tears cover your face, soaking your arms and dress. Was this devil impossible to escape?

You had once seen the vampire visit a clearing by the lake for a picnic with her lilac friend. Her guardians were there too, on shift with one serving and the other sleeping. The lilac girl seemed to be engrossed with a book thicker than her torso, but the short vampire constantly badgered her, having a good time, laughter on her pale face.

You imagine yourself coming home to tell Dai you failed. That all your friends would have to give up their freedom, their dignity to the scarlet conqueror, all because Cirno the dumb weak ice fairy’s dumb plans always fail. Because she couldn’t save either their old home or their new one.

The vampire’s face laughing, laughing at you.

Dai and the rest of them, comforting you, but disappointment obvious in their eyes.

“Only money can change fate.”

Only money can change fate, huh? It’d be great if you had any money, but you couldn’t even afford a way out of here. It really is hopeless. You sobbing slows, then stops as a haze wraps you. Sitting in the yellow dirt, there’s nothing else but to stare into space.

A lone tumbleweed skips across the street.

A group of tan-cloaked youkai carry boxes into an alley, one of them dropping something and getting shouted at.

A pair of figures wearing poorly drawn red wolf masks sauntering into a saloon.

Something close enters your vision:

[ ] The stationmaster’s black dress
[ ] Green hair and gray horn
[ ] A giant butterfly
[ ] Calico patched trousers
[ ] A stringed instrument
[ ] Green swirl on red
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[X] Calico patched trousers

Our poor fey needs some luck.
We gotta dry those tears. There's gotta be a way through.

>sweeping the snow clean of the dangerous salt the humans kept carelessly spilling

>That purple lady at the Gensokyo City station must’ve lied to you!
Time to develop an irrational hatred of purple. She's going on the grudge list, though our fey might forget the list even exists.

So our hero's goal is to find a new untouched place for her and her friends to live. But Remilia bought Whiterock Mountain. Freaking rich people.
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I really like this! This set-up definitely feels like something that could be found in a Western setting. Let's analyse the different options here:

> The stationmaster’s black dress
Iku. She already offered to help Cirno pay her fare, so she seems friendly and could help her more going forward. She might have useful connections with the Union Celestial Railroad, but I also feel like those corporate folks may be more likely to side with Remilia.

> Green hair and gray horn
Aunn. She's the kind of individual to be friendly to everyone around her, so she'd probably be willing to help Cirno. The particular usefulness of talking to her would be to have Cirno's case catch the attention of the Red-White Ranger.

> A giant butterfly
Eternity. She's a fellow fairy and, in canon, an acquaintance of Cirno, so she would likely support the other fairies' cause. She might have a lot of hidden power, if she is indeed Tokoyo no Kami. She is also a character that, to the best of my knowledge, has not yet been featured significantly yet in any fics on this site, despite debuting over five years ago, so that also makes her an interesting choice.

> Calico patched trousers
Mike. She's a newhu, so that could make it interesting to feature her. As a saleswoman, she could help Cirno get useful items, and her luck could help Cirno gain money.

> A stringed instrument
(One of) the Tsukumo sisters. They have this "rebel against the powerful youkai" vibe about them, so they would likely be sympathetic to Cirno's cause, and may be involved in some kind of revolution of their own, given that Seija's also around and apparently grooming fairies for some kind of violence. They're also not featured very often in fanworks.

> Green swirl on red
Hina. She could help Cirno by "taking away her misfortune", though I'm not sure what she could do for her in a more direct way.

It's a tough choice for me between Eternity and the Tsukumos. For now I will go with the following, but I'm open to changing my mind if others have suggestions.

[X] A giant butterfly
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Thanks for the analysis of the choices. Your examination has convinced me to change >>68838, [X] Calico patched trousers to [X] A giant butterfly.

One fairy, two fairies, maybe we can get a third fairy, and then a fourth, assembling a force of nature to rail against the upper class. Cirno already has a bomb in her pocket. Maybe a torch can be found to set this cause ablaze.

Perhaps Eternity can be the deuteragonist to Cirno in this story? Or maybe that is already taken by Dai, but she's so far away currently.

>you worked hard practicing your letters, picking newspapers from the trash, stealing kids’ homework, surviving teacher’s headbutts, listening to teacher’s lectures, acquiring as much knowledge of the world as possible.

Cirno's got an authentic pull yourself up by the bootstraps backstory, which I find fitting with this story's genre. And we also got a western hero's goal: a better life and a new land.

Don't suppose we could ply Cirno's ice ability for some money. It is a hot, dry desert, so cool ice could attract suffering residents.

Does make me curious about what the other heroes we could have chosen goals would have been, but perhaps that will crop up if we meet them.

On a side note, though, I've noticed from cuneiform's previous story that they tend to have this list of choices of what 2hus to meet with. Which I find interesting but makes me fear ending up with a four-way tie like the last one, that darn train choice, because all the options are compelling.
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[X] A giant butterfly
Long live the fairy Red-o-Lute-Shun!
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[X] A giant butterfly

Fairies unite!
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I've realized this is a fairy tale.
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[X] A giant butterfly

A pair of sandals tied from wild grass step into the shade with you. Then as the being kneels down, a patterned lime dress, the distinct yellow spotted wings of a butterfly, before finally, a concerned face comes into view. A yellow antenna-thing and a ring of leaves decorate her turquoise hair. She sets down a straw basket tall enough that you can’t see within.

“Um, hello! Are you okay?”

She’s odd looking with a surprisingly rich voice, but certainly a fairy. You simply aren’t in the mood for playing right now, however.

“Are you hurt? Or hungry?”

“Leave me alone.” You grumble. Even your plan to indulge in self-pity gets disrupted.

“Hey. I’ve never seen you before, but you’re a fairy too, aren’t you? Shouldn’t we be friends?”

You pretend she doesn’t exist. After a minute, she sighs. She hops back up and, observing from the corner of your eye, she reaches into the basket and pulls out a round red object which she places next to the wall. Then after picking up the basket, the fairy is gone.

You mentally count up the seconds in a minute and then, satisfied at reaching ten, allow your hand to bring the mystery object closer. It feels solid and slightly smooth and bringing close for inspection, you discover that it is a small and tough-looking apple

It’s also crunchy and quite tasty. The tart sweetness returns a degree of clarity to the world and it also doesn’t hurt having some real food in your belly. It’s almost as good as the ones back home and you wonder how the fruit can be so fresh considering the desert landscape. You carefully balance the remaining core on the ground.

Pitter patter, rapid and growing, from the left. It’s that fairy again, who closes the distance before your head can fully turn.

“HA! I caught a thief!!” Suddenly, she yanks you upward and you before you can react, feel yourself grabbed around the arms and torso.

“H-Hey! What are you doing?!” Struggling, unable to break free, you are surprised to find that this weird fairy is somehow more than a match for you.

“Ouch! You’re freezing cold!”

“Then get off!” you shout, wiggling as you sense her grip weaken.

“Not until you apologize for stealing my apple!” Her resolve stiffens and your progress is undone. The struggle takes you outside, but you can only focus on wrestling a way out.

“You clearly left that there for me!”

“How greedy! It was mine all along,“ she says before she giggles. “I… I was going to use it as a snack later.”

“There’s no way that can be true!”

“Maybe this misunderstanding could’ve been prevented if a certain stranger properly introduced herself and learned a little about the locals.”

“Why didn’t you just keep it in the basket?” You keep straining and try to get a better footing, but she squeezes harder.

“Because what’s in the basket is for someone else. You’ll see.”

You can’t keep your balance after a poorly aimed kick. You attempt to fall over backwards to maybe squish your assailant, but she pushes forward first. Dry and chalky dust sneaks into your mouth and now you’re completely pinned.

“Fine! I’m sorry for your stupid apple! Now let go!” You stop squirming.

She does get off and you are able to roll over, panting. At least the other fairy is shivering a little. The only reason she was able to handle you like that was her sneak attack on top of your weakened state. You’ve never lost to another fairy in a fair fight before.

“Whew….“ She recovers before making her demand: “Now that I’ve won, you have to help me with my delivery!”

“What! Why?”

“To pay for that apple, of course. Also I’m tired now since I usually don’t play around like that in the town.” She crosses her arms.

“I already said I’m… fine.” Maybe going along with her would let you get back to being sad and alone sooner. You slowly get up and dust yourself off. She beams at you.

“Okay, let's start over. My name is Eternity Larva, but the others just call me Larva.”

“I’m Cirno.”

“Okay, Cirno, the cargo is over there. You’ll help by carrying it.” She points to the side of the station where the basket from before is leaned next to a pile of wood. You can see now that it is full of fruits and vegetables.

“Aww, really? What’ll you do then?”

“I know where to go. Don't worry, I’ll hold the basket after we're done!” she replies.

The produce in the loaded basket makes it quite heavy, forcing you to shuffle grips until the container is stable to move with, but you make no complaint. You hope Larva understands that you’re normally very strong, it’s just today wasn’t the day. Larva leads the way forward while chatting.

“Why do you feel so cold? You’ve got weird wings too.” She pokes one of the crystals, her finger slipping on the wet ice.

“I’m an ice fairy, duh. And who are you to talk about weird wings?” you rebut.

“Rude! There’s nothing wrong with my wings!”

“Nothing wrong with mine either!”

“If you’re an ice fairy, are you really okay here?” Larva asks.

“Nah, this weather is nothing to me! I’ve survived hotter!” You leave out that the worst summer days at the Misty Lake were ideally spent under your lakeside igloo, shaded by a dense canopy of foliage. The way too hot weather around here is another reason you were weakened. In the future, it might be better to fight in the buildings, or wait if the wispy clouds in the sky here ever do their job right.

You’re starting to feel a burn in your arms, but thankfully Larva stops in front of a building and announces, “We’re here!”

Seeing over the basket is hard and you can only make out a pair of swinging doors, but looking up, you can read the sign of the façade:

[ ] The Blinding Ballad
[ ] The Sand Whale
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Nice update! Let's look at the choices again.

> The Sand Whale
A whale-themed established seems like a reference to Miyoi and the Geidontei bar (and in fact, the pre-edited version of the update said as much), who also appeared in Starry Desert Sky.

> The Blinding Ballad
This is most likely a reference to Mystia's power to cause night-blindness with her songs, and her food cart.

In terms of how useful they would be as an ally, both are mildly but not overly powerful, so I don't think there is much of a difference there. However, given that this is a Carno-focused story, there is definitely one of these characters that I think fits the best, so my choice is pretty clear this time.

[X] The Blinding Ballad
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[X] The Blinding Ballad

That certainly rolls off the tongue easily enough.

A fellow winged compatriot and a working-class member! After losing to another fairy, Cirno must regain her ego by proving her superior literacy skills.

>satisfied at reaching ten
I can't say I'm entirely surprised at this development, but I am surprised it wasn't nine.

>In the future, it might be better to fight in the buildings, or wait if the wispy clouds in the sky here ever do their job right.
That's a hint if I've ever seen one. And proof we've chosen dummy strongest mode. Need a cowboy hat for this baleful sun.

>you before you
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>Carno-focused story
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Damn it, autocorrect…
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[X] The Blinding Ballad

>satisfied at reaching ten
My disappointment is immeasurable, and my day is ruined.
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[X] The Blinding Ballad

We've committed crime, now we should invest in trying to create frozen chicken.
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[X] The Blinding Ballad
I really like this setup, feels a lot more inspired and heartfelt than the bounty hunter stuff we saw earlier.
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[x] The Sand Whale
Whales; oceans; tides; piss... something like that, anyhow.
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