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File 140547728689.jpg - (68.59KB, 614x750, image.jpg) [iqdb]
60695 No. 60695
Thread One: >>54922
Thread Two: >>58538
__________

"Oh, for fuck's sake," you snap, your frayed temper breaking in twain.

Remilia doesn't falter so much as tilt her head a fraction of an inch. "I beg your pardon?"

"You want the truth? You want all of it? All right, fine, I'll tell you why I'm here." Your hand clamps around the spear's shaft in one blindingly fast motion, and Remilia nearly flinches. "But I've had my fill of people trying to kill me today, so get your goddamn spear away from my throat before I shove it down yours."

Remilia stares at you, just stares, for ten straight seconds before the tiniest of smiles crosses her face, and the spear disappears as fast as she had summoned it. "So you really are capable of getting angry."

You scowl deeply, which only seems to amuse her more. "Are you schizophrenic? Because you sure as hell act like it."

Remilia plunks herself down on the nearest free piece of rubble. "Oh, get on with it before I change my mind."

"User!" says the AI, its tone urgent. "You will be violating directives from Headquarters if you proceed with this course of action!"

"It's either this or we die," you say, more testily than you had perhaps intended, but damn it all if you're going to be second-guessed by your own armor.

Remilia clenches a fist one finger at a time, popping knuckles as she goes. "He's right, you know."

The AI falls silent, no doubt weighing the merits of living versus following orders. It takes roughly four seconds before the machine speaks again. "Termination at this juncture would be a waste of resources."

"Is that the go-ahead?" you ask.

"Affirmative."

You take a deep breath, willing your frustration and anger away. It takes you a short while, but when you speak again, your voice is steady and measured. "I did not come here solely to meet with you, Remilia. Primary objectives were to assess the numbers and capabilities of the mansion's inhabitants, as well as measure their potential worth as Coalition assets."

She makes an intrigued little noise. "So what you said when I had you first tied up, that this is what you were made for-"

"I'd normally slap this line of questioning down for being irrelevant to my goals, but it's not, as you'll see in a minute." You lean closer. "Cloning technology is one hell of a thing."

Remilia claps her hands together, smiling in vindication. "So that's how it is with you!"

You nod. "I won't get into details, but when you can make bodies on demand, people get squeamish about sending 'real' people to fight."

Remilia interlaces her fingers, studying you from behind them. "You don't mind that kind of life?"

You respond with a shrug. "I like my work. Besides, it's all I've ever known."

"That doesn't quite seem-"

"Ethical?" you interrupt, and she nods. "That's a good one coming from a vampire."

Remilia frowns. "I make very sure to drink lightly, thank you."

"I'll give you that. But, before we derail this into an ethics debate, let's move on." You straighten up. "My primary objectives met with success; I was able to engage all unique Mansion personnel in combat and gauge their strength accordingly. Threat levels fell on the high ends of the expected ranges, save Flandre, who didn't exceed the threat ceiling so much as break it into millions of little pieces and try to stab me with them."

"That is usually what happens with her, yes," Remilia says, the corner of her mouth twitching up just for a moment.

You sigh, readying yourself for an immediate resumption of hostilities. "On that particular note, we reach my secondary objective. The capture of Flandre Scarlet."

Remilia stops moving, stops breathing, lips parted ever so slightly in surprise, eyes focused unerringly on your own. She doesn't so much as twitch a single muscle, and the fact you're conversing with someone who is very much not human has never made itself so readily apparent. The seconds tick by, one by one, and you don't dare do anything else but breathe shallow breaths, any motion a potential trigger for her to murder you.

A whole minute has passed when she takes a deep, shuddering breath, closing her eyes and jerking her head away from you with visible effort. "Go on," she says, voice hoarse.

"I don't know the specifics behind the order," you say, speaking with great care. "But if I had to guess, I would say that Command wants to make use of her powers. Can you imagine it? If we had Flandre's genetic information, maybe even managed to work out her mental instabilities, we could have an army of women with horrific destructive potential. Slap some armor on them and we wouldn't even need to worry about sunlight."

"You're madmen," Remilia says, her voice quavering. "Utterly mad, every last one of you."

You pause. "I agree."

That gets her to look back at you, her expression one of surprise. "What?"

"There's too many unknowns with Flandre. Even if I managed to bring her with me of her own will, the possibilities for disaster like what happened in our attack on that base are too great, and that's not even mentioning the logistical nightmare of supplying troops that survive on blood."

"Is that all?" Remilia asks. "Is that really all there is to it?"

"Well, she'd also put me out of a job," you say, only half jokingly. "Taking that into consideration, as well as the mansion's aid in severely damaging a force hostile to my own, I'm going to do my best to get HQ to scrap any future plans for your sister."

Remilia stares at her feet as she mulls that over. "And if they don't?"

"Then one of us dies the next time we meet. Simple as that."

Remilia makes a noncommittal noise, but says nothing else for a few moments. "So, why change your mind about your orders? You hardly seem the type for such flagrant disobedience."

"I made the mistake of getting to know Flandre," you say. You look up at the ceiling, debating whether or not to say your next words, and decide to go for it. "Besides, I'd feel bad if I kidnapped her. She's pretty adorable whenever she isn't breaking my bones."

She looses a short bark of laughter at that one. "On that, we are agreed."

The two of you spend a handful of seconds in silence before you breach the topic looming overhead. "So," you say, pushing yourself to your feet. "You still want to kill me? Because right now is probably going to be the best chance you're ever going to get."

Remilia's expression is solemnly contemplative, the vampiress idly tapping a foot as she speaks. "Considering that if I end you, I would then have to scour Gensokyo for your allies and destroy them as well, not to mention any other potential intruders, I have to say letting you go back and smooth things over has a certain appeal to it." She allows herself a smile. "Plus, I'm curious to see where things might go between you and Meiling, no lie."

"Yes, because a relationship founded upon mutual punches to the face is bound to last."

"I don't see you denying it."

"Granted, granted." You gallantly offer her your good hand. "I think it's past time we see to Flandre, however."

Remilia daintily accepts your hand, and you pull her up with a grunt of effort. Her nose wrinkles as she first looks you over, then herself, her lips curling downward in distaste at her ruined dress. "God, we just look awful, don't we?"

A mental image occurs to you of Flandre going into a blood frenzy the moment she lays eyes on you and Remilia, and it isn't utterly terrifying only by virtue of you running out of fucks to give after the day you've had. "Maybe it would be a good idea to wash off all the blood first before we meet her, yeah?"

"I'm sure Sakuya has already handled Flandre's needs, so we should be safe as it is." She looks you over again with an appraising eye. "Although I suppose it wouldn't hurt to shove you into a tub and clean you off."

You mock gasp. "Lady Scarlet! But we've only met this morning!"

"Not like that, you moron," Remilia says without rancor. "Besides, I think Meiling would declare a blood vendetta if I moved in on you."

"You're threatening to kill me one moment, and now you're speculating on what would happen if you tried to seduce me," you say flatly.

"Oh, don't you know? Crippled men in mangled suits of armor are the subjects of my darkest fantasies." She delivers those outrageous words in an understated, dry manner, an arched eyebrow her only change in expression.

To be perfectly honest, you're not entirely sure she's joking.

She looks you over once again, and shakes her head disapprovingly. "We're not getting anywhere in a timely fashion with you like that." Her wings contort and lengthen, stretching out several feet behind her, and she grabs you by the arm. "Shall we?"

"Don't I get a say in this?" you ask, dread already mounting at the inevitable answer,

Remilia shakes her head, baring teeth in something not quite a smile. "After what you did to Patchy, consider this some well-deserved vengeance."

With that she kicks off the ground, gigantic wings beating the air with great leathery flaps, and flies. The two of you soar towards the main doors, you waving behind Remilia like cloth in the wind, and she smashes the doors aside without stopping, bowling the unfortunate Karin over with a shout of dismay. As the fairy hollers curses about your parentage after you, Remilia waves back, holding you by one hand without any noticable strain.

You don't scream as such, but you do emit a strangled noise of panic as Remilia bobs and weaves through the corridors so fast that the air whistles past your ears. The vampire, for her part, just looks to be enjoying herself way too much at your expense. The both of you continue hurtling through the mansion, scaring the daylights out of any fairies unfortunate enough to be in your path.

You continue on like this for only a short while before all the cries of surprise attract someone's attention. You're hurtling down an especially long hallway when it happens, one of the doors at the far end of the hallway opening up for a blonde head to stick out.

"Oi!" Marisa shouts, shaking a fist. "Get down here, you assclowns!"

Remilia decelerates with gusto, flinging you past her as she brakes on air. Once you're done being flailed about, she gently spins around and touches down, and you all but fall down as you pull free. Your world stops spinning after a handful of seconds, and a few firm shakes of your head dispels the rest of the dizziness. Once you're all right, you give Marisa your best glare.

It doesn't work, given how she's already staring at the two of you with eyes very, very wide and her mouth hanging open. Her expression is one of muted horror as her gaze alternates between you and Remilia. She's hatless, and her torso is bare save for a large number of bandages swathed over her chest, but at least she still has her skirt on so this isn't unbearably awkward.

"Savor the moment," Remilia says, looking unbearably smug. "She's never speechless."

Outrage briefly crosses Marisa's face, but it flees the moment she takes a closer look at you, to be replaced by dull horror. "Normally, I'd disagree, but ho-lee shit. What the hell did I miss?"

"You didn't hear the explosions and artillery and gunfire?" you ask, glaring skeptically at her.

She scowls. "Hey, getting shot takes a lot out of a girl, I'll have you know!"

"I was shot and electrocuted and crushed by a giant rock," Remilia says primly. "Piddly bullets are an invalid excuse, my dear."

Marisa wheels about, repeatedly jabbing her finger into the vampire's chest. "Well, not all of us have turbo vampire bullshit to keep us going, so shaddup."

You roll your eyes. "Look, we're busy, so if you would just-"

Your words remind Marisa of your existence, a fact she acknowledges by whirling on you and producing that strange octagonal focus from her skirt in a remarkably swift motion. "And you! I got shot 'cause of you busting in, jackass!"

"That was technically the Koakuma woman's fault, not mine," you say. "Remilia, come on, back me up here."

Remilia gives Marisa a contemplative look, then you, before she sidesteps out of the line of fire. "I'll just let you handle this, shall I?"

"You traitorous wench."

"Oi!" Marisa snaps her fingers. "I ain't finished with you, McHuge!"
__________

[X] "I apologize for any injuries you sustained during our previous encounter. It was entirely accidental on my assistant's part, and reparations will be made after all this has been dealt with."

[X] "I have had a long and trying day, there is a scared girl in the basement who thinks she's responsible for killing one of her family, and she is certainly guilty of killing a large number of men just recently. Shut up and go away."

[X] Punch her. Just... punch her.

[X] [WRITE-IN]
Expand all images
>> No. 60697
[X] "I apologize for any injuries you sustained during our previous encounter. It was entirely accidental on my assistant's part, and reparations will be made after all this has been dealt with."

I barely even remember that incident happening. How long ago was that?
>> No. 60698
[X] "I have had a long and trying day, there is a scared girl in the basement who thinks she's responsible for killing one of her family, and she is certainly guilty of killing a large number of men just recently. Shut up and go away."

It has been a long day, and Marisa cares about Flandre.
>> No. 60699
[X] "I have had a long and trying day, there is a scared girl in the basement who thinks she's responsible for killing one of her family, and she is certainly guilty of killing a large number of men just recently. Shut up and go away."
>> No. 60700
[X] "I have had a long and trying day, there is a scared girl in the basement who thinks she's responsible for killing one of her family, and she is certainly guilty of killing a large number of men just recently. Shut up and go away."

Eh, Marisa doesn't strike me as the type to care about professionalism.
>> No. 60701
[X]" You want reparations? Fine. Go to the front of the mansion and find the guy with the spider looking robot and ask him for the AE Special. He'll give you something worth your time." ( Enough seditives to keep me out for a day, which is more than enough to keep you out till I'm gone.)
>> No. 60708
[X] "I have had a long and trying day, there is a scared girl in the basement who thinks she's responsible for killing one of her family, and she is certainly guilty of killing a large number of men just recently. Shut up and go away."
- [X]" But if you want reparations? Fine. Go to the front of the mansion and find the guy with the spider looking robot and ask him for the AE Special. He'll give you something worth your time." ( Enough seditives to keep me out for a day, which is more than enough to keep you out till I'm gone.)

Combining these two votes into one.
>> No. 60731
[X] "I have had a long and trying day, there is a scared girl in the basement who thinks she's responsible for killing one of her family, and she is certainly guilty of killing a large number of men just recently. Shut up and go away."

If she's still raising a stink afterward then we can punch her.
>> No. 60751
[X] "I have had a long and trying day, there is a scared girl in the basement who thinks she's responsible for killing one of her family, and she is certainly guilty of killing a large number of men just recently. Shut up and go away."
[X]" But if you want reparations? Fine. Go to the front of the mansion and find the guy with the spider looking robot and ask him for the AE Special. He'll give you something worth your time." ( Enough seditives to keep me out for a day, which is more than enough to keep you out till I'm gone.)
>> No. 60772
[X]" You want reparations? Fine. Go to the front of the mansion and find the guy with the spider looking robot and ask him for the AE Special. He'll give you something worth your time." ( Enough seditives to keep me out for a day, which is more than enough to keep you out till I'm gone.)
>> No. 60816
File 140738021797.jpg - (236.92KB, 587x1000, image.jpg) [iqdb]
60816
"Marisa," you say. "Marisa. Listen to me very carefully. Shut up."

Marisa bristles. "Don't tell me what to-"

"Shh, shh, shut up," you say, making little stabbing motions with your good hand. "There is a terrified Flandre down in the basement who is responsible for all this blood on me."

Marisa's face goes blank. "What's this about Flandre, now?"

"Furthermore," you continue, shutting her out with sheer volume. "She was very, very recently filled with so many bullets she lost limbs, and then went into a blood frenzy and murdered all the men responsible. She followed it up by trying to kill me and, in the process, definitely killed Meiling."

Marisa jerks back, eyes stretched wide open. "I- China's what?!"

"We do not have time to waste bickering over you taking a few measly pistol rounds when Flandre is hurting far worse right below us," you say, glaring at her so hard she takes another little step back. "If you want reparations, there's a man toting a little crab robot around here somewhere. Go ask him for the AE special and leave us alone, because we've got someone who's actually important to take care of."

You turn to leave Marisa, her wooden focus dangling loosely at her side in a slack grip as she stares at you, her face near-bloodless.

"Wait," she says, uncharacteristically softly, and you pause half-turned, looking at her across your shoulder. "I- I didn't know, all right? About Flandre. Or Meiling. I'm... sorry."

"Good," you say. "Stay out of the way."

Her gaze hardens. "Screw that noise, I'm going with you."

The gall. "Why?" you ask, more levelly than you feel.

She scowls, folding her arms over her bandaged chest. "What, I need a reason to be concerned 'bout Flan?"

"Yes."

Now it's her turn to make jabby motions at you, although her jabs have more weight by virtue of how she could melt you with a doom-laser. "Why do you care, huh? You come in here fixing to kill Remilia-"

"That was actually a lie on his part," Remilia smoothly interjects. "He told me his actual reasons and, well, I prefer keeping them close to my chest."

Marisa's eyes narrow until only tiny slices of eye glare out at you. "So, you two are friends now or something?"

"Oh, don't get me wrong, we're merely allies of convenience at the moment," Remilia says, laying a grip on your arm that could deform battleship plating. "He does me wrong and I'll stab him in the neck."

You spread your lips open in a grim smile. "And if Remilia does me wrong, my people blast this place into rubble as vengeance. It's a lose-lose situation either way."

Marisa's expression brightens as she nods, far more accepting of this explanation. "Right, that kind of friendship, I gotcha. So, again, why do you care so much about Flan?"

You grimace. "I may have taken her along with me to help wreck the home base of those people who attacked the mansion, and she may have been horribly maimed as a result."

Marisa blinks.

Her hand flies up as if it was spring-loaded, her focus rapidly gathering energy as she trains it on your head.

"You son of a bitch," she says, teeth clenched hard enough you're surprised nothing chips off. "I should blast you right now, you miserable-"

"Ahem!" Remilia says, swiftly interposing herself between the two of you. "I would prefer him alive, thank you! He's why my entire fairy staff haven't been kidnapped and hauled away to who knows where."

"It's also thanks to me Meiling is alive in the first place," you add.

Marisa blinks, an insulted scowl coming to bear as she lowers the weapon. "But you said-"

"Flandre thinks she killed Meiling," you say. "I lied so you'd feel how she did. That's the important part."

The blonde's expression grows a shade less irritated. "That's clever, but disingenuous."

Remilia arches a brow. "You never struck me as the especially wordy type, Marisa."

Marisa growls. "I read plenty of books, you prissy little-"

"Books that you steal," Remilia interrupts.

"I'm sure the word you mean is borrow," Marisa says, her voice dangerously low.

"Steal," Remilia corrects, still in that gratingly polite fashion.

"Borrow," Marisa insists.

"Steal."

"Borrow."

"Steal."

"Christ alive, no one gives a damn!" you snap, cutting Marisa's reply off. "Do you people go off on these moronic tangents every times something serious is happening, or is it something you do just to screw with me?"

"You're one to talk with all of our earlier banter," Remilia casually points out, and though your teeth grind together, you're forced to acknowledge her point.

"Oh, I can tell sticking with you two is gonna be fun," Marisa grumbles. "All right, you dopes hold on a minute, I'm getting a shirt on and then we're visiting Flandre."

"Very well," Remilia says agreeably. "We'll be waiting right here."

Marisa's brows furrow as she looks between you two, but after a moment she huffs and returns to her room. The moment she shuts the door, you lean over to Remilia.

"We're leaving her behind, right?" you ask.

"Oh, totally," she says. The way the vampiress sweeps you off your feet leaves little time to protest. She bounds into the air and rockets down the hallway, dragging you with her and leaving you with an excellent view of the area behind her. Marisa pops back out of the doorway, only to see the two of you tearing away.

There's a very faint "Damn you!" from the witch before you're out of sight, which feels immensely good and makes this whole diversion worth it.

-----

You touch down in front of the basement entrance a scarce minute later. The simple steel door has been bound with great lengths of chain all around, a new addition since you first came from this way. Remilia lays her hand upon the centerpiece, a massive lock, and shuts her eyes. A soft grunt of effort is the only warning you get before the chains dissolve in one bright flash of golden light.

"Shall we?" she asks, moving aside as the doors swing open on their own.

Any reply is stolen from you as Sakuya is revealed by the opened doors, leaning against the wall at the top of the stairwell. Fresh blood is smeared across her haggard face and torn clothing. She's bearing a fresh number of gashes that were decidedly not inflicted by man or machine, most of them shallow save for the wound on the left side of her neck, the details obscured by the blood-soaked handkerchief Sakuya keeps pressed against it.

Remilia exhales sharply at the sight. "Sakuya, what the hell happened?"

"I made a mistake," Sakuya whispers, her voice shaking as she pushes herself away from the wall. She produces another handkerchief from a dress pocket and swaps it with her current one, briefly revealing blood flowing freely from a pair of deep, deep bite marks before she staunches the wound. Only then does she deem fit to continue. "I'm so sorry, Mistress, but I made a mistake."

"What happened?" Remilia reiterates, a hard edge to her voice.

"I- Flandre was just crying and crying and crying, and I was there for her like you wanted, and-" Sakuya cuts off abruptly, sagging down. "She just wanted a hug, she said. God, she got her arms so tight around me, I thought my spine was going to break."

You look her up and down. "And judging from all the blood you're leaking, that hug lead to her chewing your neck up," you say. "Do I got that right?"

She nods. "She- she stopped herself. Barely. It's the reason I still have a neck." She takes a deep, shuddering breath, and dabs at her eyes with her free hand, wiping away sweat and- By God, she's crying. Not big, melodramatic, blubbery tears, but a small, steady stream drip down her face. "She pushed me away and told me to run, and - I did. I'm sorry I made such a mess of things. I'm so sorry."

"Sakuya," Remilia says, her voice soft and commanding all at once. "You didn't do anything wrong. Now, he and I"-she nods toward you-"are going to see Flandre. You should go find Meiling and bring her here."

The order gives Sakuya something concrete to focus on, and the fright and pain on her features diminish. She walks through the doors with only a little wobble to her step. Your lips purse as you watch her improvised bandage steadily darken red. "You're not going to bleed out on us, are you?" you ask.

Sakuya shakes her head. "Well, I can't see my intestines, so it's not the worst I've ever had." She smiles just a little at her morbid criteria.

Remilia harrumphs in disapproval. "I won't have you dying on me over something stupid, Sakuya. Here, let me see what I can do."

Sakuya waves her off. "Save your energy for Flandre, milady. You'll need it, and I'll manage." She shifts her gaze from Remilia to you, and her eyes widen as she takes her first real look at you. "You, meanwhile, look like-"

"Ass? Shit? Hell? I've heard them all," you say. "But I'm not the one with a nasty neck wound. You're sure you're all right?"

She doesn't answer, instead staring over your shoulder with an expression of dismay. She quickly rubs at her eyes, trying to dry her tears with limited success.

"Yo!" shouts a familiar voice. "Don't think you're going down there without me!"

"Meiling," you say in greeting, somehow not surprised as you turn to face the woman still flanked by your entourage.

"Hi again!" Meiling says, making her way to you on her own power, if admittedly on unstable legs. "I see you lot had the same idea to go meet Flan, huh?"

Remilia nods. "Excellent timing, Meiling. I was just about to send for you. How did you get here so quickly?"

Meiling shrugs. "You two were talking long enough to gimme a headstart. I powered through the rest of the way thanks to grit and enough painkillers to make an oni find God."

"Her tolerance is frankly worrying," LG says.

Meiling plants her hands on her hips, turning her nose up at the trooper. "Dragon blood cares not for your puny drugs!"

Sakuya blinks, so taken aback that her earlier distress falls by the wayside. "Meiling, are you high?"

"Maybe! What about-" Meiling's carefree attitude falters the moment she gets a good look at the maid. "Oh, Sakuya, no."

Sakuya flinches. "It's not fatal."

Meiling shakes her head, her expression serious. "Why are you still here? Go get that fixed up!"

The medical drone, previously hiding behind LG's legs, skitters over to Sakuya. "Emotional distress detected. Physical damage detected. Treatment requested?"

Sakuya carefully steps back, not taking her eyes off the machine. Remilia halts any further retreat by laying a gentle grip on the crook of her arm, and merely shakes her head when Sakuya looks askance at her. "You could use it, Sakuya."

"I... suppose so," Sakuya says. Remilia releases her, and the maid takes a deep breath. She looks down at the little machine, her expression distant. "All right, I accept."

"Apply the heal juice!" HK commands, and the little mech dispenses a burst of misty medication.

Sakuya flinches again as the mist washes over her, and immediately stiffens when she actually inhales a portion of it. Her eyes slowly open a few moments after she does so, and the corners of her mouth lazily quirk up as the tension flows out of her body. Her visible cuts and bruises are already sealing up and fading, respectively, and the hand holding her makeshift bandage drifts down, baring her neck; the bites are near-mended, only little trickles of blood flowing from them now.

"My goodness," Sakuya says, every word coming out slow and heavy. "I see why you like it so much, Meiling."

"Sakuya, where is Flandre now?" Remilia asks pointedly, redirecting the maid's attention.

"I... Hold a moment, please." Sakuya blinks slowly, brows furrowed as she tries to remember. A second later, she raises a finger, "Flandre is... she is in room two-B." She smiles beatifically at Remilia, her expression dreamy. "Happy to help, Mistress."

"Thank you," Remilia says, donning a gentle smile. "Go take a break, Sakuya. We'll handle the rest."

Sakuya curtsies, the motion a fair deal jerkier than the immaculate grace she'd displayed in your earlier encounters. Her watch slips into her hand a moment later, and she shimmers away into nothingness.

HK looses a whistle. "All right, gotta admit it, that's a cool trick."

"Was it all that smart to sedate her?" Meiling asks, directing the question at no one in particular as she makes her way to Remilia.

Remilia huffs, folding her arms as Meiling stands at her side. "She could use the break after all this. Besides, I've been handling Flandre on my own longer than I've had anyone work for me. If I can't fix this by myself, I deserve whatever she'll do to me."

"About that!" LG says, shuffling aside so the drone can hide behind him again. "I take it we're all going down there?"

You shake your head. "No. Let me take the mech, and you two can just stay up here."

"What, you think we're scared?" HK asks.

"I sure as hell am," you say. It's the truth, too; you're not terrified, but you know full well that, with Flandre in her current state, there's a good chance you might not come out of that basement again. You'd be lying to yourself if you didn't feel this (absolutely justified) fear, but you're not going to let it control you, either. Your admission knocks 'em quiet: even Remilia and Meiling give you curious looks, presumably taken off guard from the man of steel admitting he gets scared.

HK takes a step back, eyes fixed on the doorway. "Yeah, if you're spooked, I ain't going down there. You can have it."

"Agreed," LG says, tapping away at the mech's controls before gesturing towards you. Orders received, the machine trundles over to you and nuzzles up against your leg. "Return him in one piece, all right?"

"No problem," you say. It's a bitch and a half to get the little thing hauled up and held underneath your good arm, but you manage it. The drone's cylinder of a body swivels about, its optics watching everything.

"Any orders, or do we just stand around here like a pair of jackasses?" HK asks.

"That sounds like an excellent idea, actually," you say. "Consider guarding this door your job until we get back. If you hear laughter or screaming coming up the steps instead, run."

"Or we die?" LG asks.

"Or you die," you agree. "Also, if you see a blonde in witchy clothing, let her through, or you'll get lasered."

"We always get the fun jobs, don't we?" HK says.

You shrug. "Hey, if you want to go down there instead, then by all means go ahead."

"Gentlemen!" Remilia says, a touch louder than necessary. "We're wasting time. Listen to your superior and let us get moving."

With that, she heads through the portal, swiftly followed by Meiling. Your men take positions on either end of the doorway, and it's only with a little trepidation that you follow the two women down. They slow to accommodate you, and soon enough you're only lagging slightly behind the silent women.

Once you reach the ground floor, as it were, the stairwell opens up into twisty passages, and Remilia immediately takes a right. You follow her, sticking close; the labyrinth is incomprehensible to you, but Remilia navigates it with ease.

"So, Flandre, huh?" Meiling says. "Do we have a plan for this one, or are we just going to go in and hope for the best?"

"The extent of my plan is hoping painkillers work on vampires," you say.

"Well, we're about to find out, aren't we?" Remilia says dryly.

The drone's legs kick in robotic excitement. "This unit has not medicated undead entities before! Calculating dosages..."

Your group advances at a steady rate, and soon enough Remilia leads you to a dead-end corridor. The walls here are sheer metal, with five sets of matching doors on each side of the hall and one at the far end of the corridor, reminding you more of a prison than anything else. Thick chains are fitted over each cell, although the set on the second door from the right are applied more sloppily than the rest, as if someone had hastily rigged them up.

"We're here," Remilia says, stopping in front of that particular door. Nothing can be heard from within, and that lack of noise causes her to frown. She leans in close, pressing an ear against the metal. "Well, at least she isn't screaming and smashing the walls. That's a good sign, I hope."

"You sure do have a lot of backup rooms, huh?" you say, gingerly setting the drone down.

"There are repair times involved whenever something like this happens, yes," Remilia admits, pulling back from the door. "Granted, we've never really needed more than three rooms in total, but it never hurts to prepare for the extreme worst cases."

"If we ever needed more than that, I think we'd be having bigger problems anyway," Meiling says. She interposes herself between Remilia and you, and shoots you a self-assured smile over her shoulder. "Now, you let us go in first and test the waters. Then, if we're not busy fighting for our lives, you come in and let that little thing work its magic, all right?"

Remilia gives Meiling a mildly irritated look. "I would thank you to let me make the plans in the future, Meiling. Still, it's sound enough." She turns to face the two of you, hands clasped together. "Everyone ready?"

"You know it!" Meiling says.

"Affirmative," you say.

"Ready to give medical aid!" chirps the drone.

"Very well!" Remilia says. She forces her expression to something carefully neutral as she turns back to the door and lays her hand on the chains, and a whispered word of power dispels them with a bright flash of light. The door swings open, revealing a room dimly lit by a single lantern affixed to the ceiling. You can't make anything else out from here.

Remilia steps through first. After a moment, Meiling follows.

Maybe ten seconds later, you enter.

It takes effort not to whistle at the carnage.

This is a smaller room than the one you initially tunneled into, the walls gunmetal grey and dented in nearly every conceivable spot. Wood splinters and pillow stuffing coat the floor, the remnants of an ill-fated bed and dresser, and every step crushes splinters beneath you.

At the center of it all sits Flandre, arms wrapped around drawn-up knees, her face buried in her skirt. She's still bloody, still ragged, but she only deigns to look up when your plodding footsteps catch her attention. Her cheeks are stained with tears, but her eyes, sclera and all, are that same deep, deadly crimson as before. Her gaze sweeps across your entire group, and settles on one in particular.

"Meiling?" she whispers, staring unerringly at the woman.

Meiling smiles, raising a hand. "Easy, Flan. Easy. I'm not, y'know, dead."

Flandre shakes her head. "You shouldn't be here." Every single word she says shifts in cadence and enunciation, like a foreign drunkard operating on a half-remembered translation booklet, although she maintains the same utterly flat tone the whole time. "I'm gonna hurt you. You shouldn't be here."

"You won't get rid of us so easily, Flan." Remilia speaks so softly, so gently, as she approaches Flandre, you feel out of place intruding on this moment.

Those words redirect Flandre's eyes towards her sister. She keeps staring, just staring, for at least half a minute, Remilia steadily matching her gaze, before she shudders and jerks her eyes away. "You can't help me, Remilia."

Remilia doesn't flinch, but hurt flashes across her face. "Flan, I-"

"You can't," Flandre says, her voice quavering. "Meiling tried. Sakuya, too. Even AE, and I- and I-" She starts tearing up, and quickly hides her face in her hands. "I'm so tired of hurting everyone."

"Flan," Meiling says, clearly desperate to head this off before it explodes into something much worse. "Look, I'm fine, all right? AE's fine. Sakuya too. None of us are angry with you, we're all fine. It's okay."

Flandre's up faster than Meiling can react, hovering in the air inches away from the gatekeeper's nose, her face twisted in terrified anguish. "It's not okay!" she shrieks, shaking Meiling about by the shoulders. "I nearly killed you! I would have killed you! I would have killed everyone, and you're trying to tell me it's fine?! Just because you're okay with it doesn't make it any better!"

"Flandre!" Remilia says, her voice lashing out with thunderous effect. "Unhand her!"

Flandre freezes, some part of her still responsive to Remilia's authority. Meiling is rigid, wide eyes locked on Flandre's own. You stay very still, unwilling to tempt Flandre's wrath and unsure of what you can do in the first place. Flandre and Meiling stay locked together, motionless, for the barest handful of seconds, before the blonde darts back as if Meiling's mere touch burned her.

"You all should go," she whispers, touching back down on the floor. "Leave me alone."

The moment that last word leaves her lips, all the fire goes out of her, and she falls to her knees, her legs splaying out to the sides. The tears still flow, and she doesn't bother trying to hide them.

"Flan," Remilia says softly, her expression lost and helpless.

"I don't want to be a monster," Flandre says, so quiet you have to strain to hear it. "I don't want everyone to be so scared of me. But you all have to go, or I think I'm going to kill you."

Well.

What can you really say to that?
_____

[X] You don't know Flandre well enough to help her with this, but there's still one thing you can do. Sedate her and let Remilia handle the rest; maybe she'll be in a better state when she wakes up.

[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.

[X] A hug might be dangerous and foolhardy, but - hell, she needs it, and damn the consequences.

[X] [WRITE-IN]
>> No. 60817
[c] A hug might be dangerous and foolhardy, but - hell, she needs it, and damn the consequences.

Very, very tempting. Let's do this.
>> No. 60818
[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.

>>60817 Seems overly risky. Flandre seems to be inches from of a complete meltdown emotionally, and as shown by Sakuya doesn't seem to be in full control of herself. If she accidentally hurts us, it'll probably send her right over the edge.
>> No. 60819
[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.
[X] A hug might be dangerous and foolhardy, but - hell, she needs it, and damn the consequences.

Why not both?
>> No. 60820
[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.
[X] A hug might be dangerous and foolhardy, but - hell, she needs it, and damn the consequences.

I have to go with what my heart tells me on this. Even though my mind is telling me it will destroy Flandre if she kills us.
>> No. 60821
[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.
[x] Offer drugs and medical treatment.
[x] IF Flandre calms down, THEN offer a hug.

Yeah, hugs are not the way to go just yet. First, we need to gently talk some sense into her. Once she's settled down a little bit, let's introduce the nice mister drug-bot, and offer some painkillers, and possibly pulling out any of the bullets that are still in her, and which set her off to begin with. Then we can think about hugs.
>> No. 60822
[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.
[x] Offer drugs and medical treatment.
[x] IF Flandre calms down, THEN offer a hug.

Drugs: the solution to most of lifes problems
>> No. 60823
[X] A hug might be dangerous and foolhardy, but - hell, she needs it, and damn the consequences.

Will she hurt us? Maybe. But she won't kill us, because that'd hurt her. We are not allowed to do that.
>> No. 60826
[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.
[x] Offer drugs and medical treatment.
[x] IF Flandre calms down, THEN offer a hug.
>> No. 60827
>>60823

We're not worried about Flandre killing us (much). The problem is her mental state. Flan's right on the edge of a complete breakdown, with her lack of control being one of the key issues in her mind. Hurting us would prove to _her_ that she's right about having no control, and potentially being a monster as well.
>> No. 60829
[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.
[x] Offer drugs and medical treatment.
[x] IF Flandre calms down, THEN offer a hug.
>> No. 60985
[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.
[x] Offer drugs and medical treatment.
[x] IF Flandre calms down, THEN offer a hug.
>> No. 60986
>>60985
I hate you
>> No. 61075
[X] Would a monster feel like this about herself? She's already set herself up for it; this might be the best chance you've got to talk some sense into her.
[X] A hug might be dangerous and foolhardy, but - hell, she needs it, and damn the consequences.
>> No. 61077
File 141165174499.jpg - (102.78KB, 800x798, image.jpg) [iqdb]
61077
>>61075

While I appreciate that you want more of the story, I still have to ask what makes you think it's a good idea to lob a vote at a thread that hasn't updated for the better part of two months. I mean, I've got an update ready to go barring a proofread, but still, come on. S'not cool, man.
>> No. 61080
File 141165648854.jpg - (1.23MB, 3508x2480, image.jpg) [iqdb]
61080
No matter how badly you feel for Flandre, the important thing to keep in mind is that she could easily slaughter everyone in this room with all the effort it takes you to breathe. One misstep in what you're about to do could be fatal.

Not that that's going to stop you from trying.

Sometimes you wish they'd spliced compassion out of your brain when you were born, because it's damned inconvenient.

You plunk towards Flandre one slow, dragging step after another, and only when you pass Meiling by does anyone remember you exist.

"What are you-" Meiling starts, only for you to hold your hand up in her face.

"You two back off," you say, all gravel and irritation. "Let me do this on my own."

"You'll not tell us how to handle my sister!" Remilia says, scowling heatedly at you.

"Oh, shut up," you say, and with them thrown for a loop at your rebuttal, you trudge towards Flandre, stopping just out of arm's reach. Remilia and Meiling make no moves to pull you back, evidently deciding that, comes down to it, they'd much prefer having that extra second or two to get away in case you screw it all up.

"I said go away," Flandre murmurs, her head bowed as though someone had attached a great weight around her neck.

"Flandre," you say, gently. "Look at me."

She swallows, and slowly, jerkily looks up at you. "Why don't you listen?"

"I'm not sure how much this is worth, coming from me," you say. "But what happened earlier wasn't your fault."

And then she, of all things, edges away from you. "How can you lie to me like that?" she whispers, those blood-red eyes fixated on your own.

You take another step, and she pushes herself further back. "Would a monster feel like this about itself?"

A bitter, strained little laugh leaves her. "You don't know what it's like," she says, her fists clenching tight enough to pop cartilage. "How much this hurts. How... how thirsty you get."

"...So do you get blasted apart often?" you ask. "Because if this is a common occurrence, then you might actually have a point."

"That's just it, isn't it? If- if I can't even control myself when it matters..." She hugs herself, shaking all the while. "I'd never have stopped. And it felt right. Everything felt so right."

You take another step, forcing Flandre to scoot back further. "So?"

"I... I want to do it again." She giggles, the noise horribly broken. "Just tear and rip and smash and kill and-" Her hands fly to cover her mouth, her eyes stretching wide as they possibly can, and a wretched little sob wracks her frame.

You grit your teeth, the sight before you firmly outclassing any platitudes you could come up with. Instead, you take another step towards her. She whimpers, skittering away from you fast as her feet can push her, hands still clamped firmly around her traitorous lips. She shakes her head as you approach, but you still follow her, step by painstaking step, until she backs up against a wall, shivering at your approach. Her hands slip. "Stop it, stop it, go away go away please don't come any closer I don't want to hurt anyone else I'm sorry please-"

What you're about to do next is incredibly stupid, even by your standards.

You drop to your knee, flinching as a jolt of numb fire surges up your mulched leg, and gently grab Flandre's wrist. She abruptly falls silent, her whole body motionless as you guide her limp fingers towards your neck.

She whispers, "Don't."

"I trust you"-a weary little smile is all you can offer her-"to do the right thing."

You let your hand fall, leaving hers around your throat.

Her fingers begin trembling first. The shakes work their way down the arm and through the rest of her body. "But- but I-"

Shaking your head seems an appropriate response, so you do. "If it's so easy for you to lose control, then I should already be dead."

A muted whimper slips through her lips. "Why? You're not family. You don't know me. Why do you care?"

You lay your hand on her shoulder. "Why shouldn't I?"

She doesn't say anything else, still shuddering, still staring at you through teary eyes.

"You said I couldn't help you. Let me prove you wrong." You squeeze her shoulder. "Please."

You can feel everyone else's eyes boring into you as they wait to see whether or not Flandre's about to use you to paint the walls. Even if she does, well, you can't say you regret trying.

She hiccups.

Her fingers slip from your neck, and she clenches them into a fist, bringing it to her mouth so she can bite down on her knuckles. "How?" she asks, her words muffled. "How can you help?"

The tell-tale pumping of pneumatic legs is the only warning you get before the little medical mech edges into view on your right, even that machine smart enough to understand that maintaining a healthy distance between itself and Flandre is a good idea.

"Hello!" it says, and you could almost swear you hear trepidation in its childish voice. "Ready to dispense medical aid!"

"Let this little guy do his job, Flandre, and you'll feel much better," you say. "That's a promise."

Flandre looks so very small. "Y'mean it?"

Memory of your first meeting with her strikes like lightning. "Cross my heart, hope to die, remember?"

And she smiles, just the tiniest bit. "Yeah." Her wavering hands reach up and pull yours off her shoulder, the better to tightly intertwine her fingers with your own. She swallows, then screws her eyes shut. "Do it."

"Dispensing product!" chirps the mech, ambling closer before it sprays a burst of mist over the two of you. Flandre tenses up, a shocked little gasp escaping her at the sensation of the mist flowing over her, before she abruptly sags against you, her head coming to rest against your chest.

"It doesn't... hurt?" she mumbles, her speech thick. "It doesn't... it doesn't hurt."

You throw your other arm, broken hand and all, around her back, and pull her close. Her voice comes out softer than velvet. "I'm sorry. I messed everything up for everyone. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Flandre," you whisper. "You're better than you think you are."

She doesn't respond, but her grip on your hand tightens to the point it's painful. Her erratic breathing grows slower, more stable, with every passing second, but her steely grip doesn't slacken in the least.

You don't care to jostle her, and are content to stay like this until Remilia approaches, her footfalls light enough you only notice her when she steps into view. She kneels next to you, her lips pursed as she looks Flandre over. Then she leans in, awkwardly reaching around you to hug her sister.

She doesn't say anything.

There's no need.

The last of the piano-wire tension in Flandre's body fades away, her painful hold on your hand fading with it, leaving her completely limp in your and Remilia's arms.

"Well," Remilia eventually says, her voice tinged with the kind of awe that only comes from observing something spectacular at an age where you think you've seen it all. "I think you've just saved us from an incredible mess." Her eyes flick mechward. "What is in that spray?"

"Classified!" says the mech.

Remilia rolls her eyes. "Of course it is."

"What isn't classified," you say, "is that, unless the dosage was horribly miscalculated, Flandre's not waking up any time soon. But you wanted to see to her injuries personally, right, Remilia?"

Remilia smiles, just at the corners of her mouth. "Oh, you know me too well. However, I think I'd rather operate in peace." She glances at Meiling, who'd sidled up during your conversation. "Would you mind escorting him outside?"

Meiling taps two fingers against her forehead. "Gotcha covered, boss."

You grunt. "Not sure if anyone's noticed, but I'd rather not just drop Flandre. Help?"

Remilia huffs in mild amusement. "I'll simply assume you forgot to say please."

You release Flandre, and in the brief moment before Remilia smoothly takes up your slack, you get a clear look at Flandre; tear streaks may stain sleeping face, but her expression is as peaceful as when you first saw her asleep. Remilia cradles the sleeping girl close to her chest, her expression unreadable as she threads fingers through her sister's hair.

"I think we should maybe get going?" Meiling cautiously suggests, her firm grip on your arm belying her words.

"Wait." Remilia's command stops you before you could even start. "Before you go, AE... Why?"

There's many, many ways you could reply to that question, but in the end, there's only one real answer. "I've been brought low in my life before," you say, softly. "Maybe... maybe I just didn't like seeing someone else in that state when I could do something about it. Is that so terrible?"

Remilia's expression is chilly. "Considering what you initially came here to do, I'd say it's at least extremely odd."

"I'll give you that one." You fix Remilia with a grim stare. "Take care of her."

She looks vaguely insulted. "That's what I intend to do. Now away with you, I've work to do."

Meiling nods before hauling you to your feet. She starts pulling you along as fast as one dares with a cripple. The medical bot trundles after you, and your little group makes it to the door in relatively good time, considering. Just after you step outside, Remilia raises her voice. "Ah, AE, one last thing."

You look over your shoulder. "Yes?"

Her answering little smile has just the barest trace of warmth to it. "It would be... regrettable, if I had to kill you after all this."

She breaks eye contact, and Meiling takes that as her cue to shut the door. The three of you, man, woman, and mech, stand in silence before Meiling elbows you in the side. "I think she likes you."

"It's a sight better than her trying to slay me," you say.

"Uh-huh." She folds her arms. "By the way, thanks for what you did for Flandre. Even if you were a big idiot with how you did it."

You squint at her. "Excuse me?"

Meiling starts waving a hand about for illustrative purposes, although what, exactly, she's trying to illustrate in the first place is beyond you. "What were you thinking, getting into maiming range like you did?"

"It worked!"

"And you're still an idiot!" Her condescending expression softens. "But, granted, you're a living one, so I'm willing to cut you a break."

All her waving brings to your attention a nasty, jagged red line across her arm where it was previously severed, and a spring-loaded question fires before you can stop it. "That does not look like it's holding steady."

She pats the point of severance. "Oh, this is just Remi's patch job. I'm gonna need a proper stitch-up from the folks at Eientei 'fore I trust myself to punch anything with it, or I think it might just fall off on me again."

"And this is the same woman we're letting operate on Flandre, because...?"

Meiling quirks an eyebrow. "Flan still has all her limbs intact, it's different. But, if you want to go in there and tell Remilia what she can and cannot do, be my guest."

You raise a hand, before pausing to really think hard on that, and then sheepishly lower said hand. "I see your point."

"That's cuz I'm smart, see?" She taps her forehead. "Not like the big meathead standing before me who came in punching people and blowing everything up."

"Madame, I have had enough of your insults," you drawl. "However, I've got one last job to handle and then I'm officially bugging out. You can make up for your rudeness by tagging along, if you like."

Meiling smiles, her playful condenscesion fading. "Then I would be glad to accompany you, sir."

"Everyone is happy again!" says the mech.

"NEIGHTOACHFOUR!" Marisa bellows, charging into the room with broom held high.

"Motherf-!" you say, lurching aside with a cripple's gusto, which is to say, not much. Even the mech scuttles away much faster than you, which is severely demoralizing.

Meiling springs forward, catching the witch by the throat and slamming her to the floor, sending the witch's broom flying against a wall. She swiftly follows it up by planting a foot on the blonde's chest.

"Marisa," Meiling says, looking coolly down on the witch. "You really have to stop barging in everywhere. It's really rude."

"Meiling," Marisa replies, surprisingly calm given her current predicament. "You look... not dead."

"Eh, I'm pretty tough." Meiling removes her mighty foot, allowing Marisa to sit up without fear of her sternum being crushed. "Anyway, you're officially too late to do whatever it is you came here for."

You nod. "While I'm going to assume the best-case scenario here and say your concern for Flandre is admirable, I'm certain Remilia would twist your head off your shoulders if you interrupted her right now."

The witch sags, slapping a hand against her face. "Aw, nuts, this is just not my day."

"I don't think it's anyone's day, honestly," you say, "although Flandre and I are certainly competing for the worst-off."

Not counting the dead, of course.

God, that's sobering.

"So... Neightoachfour?" you ask, desperately searching for a way to buoy your mood.

Marisa sheepishly rubs the back of her neck. "Hey, it has a bunch of syllables and everything, it's a good war cry."

"Presumably because it confuses your enemies long enough for you to beat them up?" you venture.

She shrugs, then hops back to her feet. "That too."

"Pfah!" Meiling thumps a fist against her chest. "You obviously haven't heard of ancient Chinese battle cries, Marisa! They could go on for days!"

Marisa's eyes narrow into little lines. "You bullshittin'."

Meiling holds her pose for a few seconds more, maintaining an admirable poker-face, before she starts sniggering. "You're damn right I am."

As Marisa begins bickering, very much one-sidedly, with Meiling, XJ's voice crackles over your comms. "Sir, we have confirmed contact with the target. Escorting her to the drop-site, over."

"Wilco," you say, immediately regretting it as Marisa hears you and decides to switch targets.

"So what was that all about?" she asks, giving you a hard eyeball that would impress the most grizzled of veterans. "What're you plotting now, eh? Eh?"

"It's a long and complicated story," you say, and carefully push her away to a distance where she isn't breathing up your nostrils. "Suffice to say I'm on a mission of peace, and let's leave it at that."

"I don't believe you," she immediately declares, still matching that maddening stare with your own; you refuse to blink, but your eyes are starting to water.

"How about instead of bothering me over things I'm not doing, you go help someone who actually needs it," you say, your patience thinning. "Go find Patchouli. She's got a broken wrist and also I electrocuted her."

Marisa slowly blinks. "Y'did what."

You sigh. "Just... just make yourself useful and go help her out, would you? I'm sure that'd get you some goodwill with her. I'll even tell you where I hid her body."

She rubs her chin as she considers this, then nods. "A'ight. Well, let's get movin', buddy, I don't got all day here."

"And I have a leg that could be spread over a sandwich, but you don't hear me telling everyone to slow down, do you?"

"Kids, please stop fighting," Meiling says, laying a hand on each of your shoulders and giving the two of you a good shake. "Don't make me give ya a whipping."

The little medical bot trundles past while you're all tangled up, and heads straight out the door.

"...Did my robot just give up on us?" you ask.

-----

The four of you, mech tucked underneath your arm after a short chase, emerge from the stairwell into the mansion proper, and find your men still in position.

"Sup, blondie?" HK says, straightening up from his slouch. "And also hello to you too sir," he adds hastily upon seeing your glare.

"Sir," LG says, standing at attention. "We moving?"

"You know it," you say, setting the mech down before you trudge onwards. "Fall in on me."

"They're very friendly sorts for a couple of faceless goons," Marisa idly notes as they get into position behind you.

"Hearts and minds, ma'am," LG says. "Hearts and minds."

"Hmph. Well, if sticking with you guys means I have to go at the speed of slow, I'm not buying it." She flips her broom up into the air and hops aboard it, which is an impressive feat considering it was hovering at eye level. "I gots me a witch to find. You lot do... whatever it is you do! I honestly don't care."

With that and a whoop of excitement, witch and broom rocket down the hallway, trailing stars as they go.

"Surprisingly chipper for all her earlier complaining," you muse. "Well, it doesn't matter. Let's get this over with."

-----

You leave the mansion through the same hole you entered, emerging into the welcoming summer heat. In the time you've been gone, the Valkyrie has acquired a cadre of curious fairies crawling all over it, eagerly inspecting the machine with all the glee that comes from something new and technological showing up unannounced, and the pilot is impotently shaking his fists at them from the safety of the cockpit.

More important are the two of your men milling around near the ship, accompanied by both Kyouko and Mystia. The latter has certainly seen better times, her dress now covered in dirt and twigs sticking in her hair, while the former is busy nervously shuffling back and forth. The moment she spots you coming, however, she brightens up enough to put gigawatt bulbs to shame.

Kyouko bounds over to you at the speed of holy shit she's fast. "You got it back!" she squeals, fists balled up and pressed against the bottom of her jaw even as she bounces on her feet; just the giddiest girl you ever did see. "Come on, come on, let's go!"

"Aren't you giddy," you say, lightly as can be managed.

She starts tugging on the mech, which has dug its feet into the dirt. "No talk, just move, c'mon!"

So focused on pulling the machine along come heaven or hell itself, Kyouko completely fails to notice Mystia stumbling along until she's standing right behind her.

"Kyouko, please stop bothering the huge man and his robot friend," Mystia says, causing her friend to nearly trip over herself as she turns around.

"Hey! Mysty! This is-"

"I know what it is." Mystia looks at you with dull eyes. "She hasn't stopped talking about your little wonder bot ever since she found me again."

"Well, it is really good stuff," Meiling says, nodding to express full confidence in your medical equipment.

Kyouko blinks, then smiles a big, toothy grin as she wheels on the redhead. "Ah! You're looking a lot better from before, miss!"

Meiling smiles, but otherwise remains silent. All the better, given how Mystia is now leveling a finger, chipped nail and all, at you.

"Hey," she says, squinting so deeply you're surprised she can see anything. "You... you got Kyouko out from that one place, huh? She told me all about it."

"Where else would I go to be grievously maimed?" you say. "I certainly didn't get it from this place."

She smiles, sickly but genuine. "Heh. You're all right." That smile capsizes quicker than a canoe with a you-sized hole in the bottom. "Now give me a dose of your techno-future magic drug bullshit or I will tear your face off."

"That's... certainly one way of asking," you say, leaning back in case she actually goes for it. Kyouko's mouth is hanging open as she stares at Mystia in genuine horror, and everyone else tenses up in case the birdie tries something. "But I completely understand where you're coming from." You pat the top of the mech. "Permission granted. Dispense at will."

"Hooray!" it says, and immediately sprays Mystia down.

The moment the mist wafts over her, Mystia's knees give out, the goofiest smile imaginable taking control of her face. "Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii~"

Everyone present is struck dumb by her reaction, which lasts until she topples onto her back, giggling like a moron.

"Um," Kyouko says, frowning worriedly as she holds her hands palms-out in an apologetic gesture. "Sorry she threatened to kill you?"

You wave her concerns off. "I don't mind. Anyway, it's been real, but I have to go."

She lowers her hands, looking like you just punted her in the kidney. "What, just like that? You're leaving?"

Even as she says that, the four of your men head for the Valkyrie's passenger compartment, LG carrying the mech along. As they get to work evicting the fairy stowaways, Meiling carefully steps around Mystia, the better to stand ahead of you.

"Well, for one, I desperately need proper medical treatment, instead of relying on first-aid spray," you say. "Unless you can offer me something better, I'm afraid I have to leave."

"But I-" Kyouko shuts up and breaks eye contact, finding the dirt at her feet a much better target to stare down.

"But you what?" you press, and she shrinks down on herself further.

She fidgets for a few seconds before she takes a deep breath, clenches her fists, and looks you eye-to-eye, her expression resolute. "Well, I... I wanted to spend a bit more time with you before you had to go. I don't know when you might come back around, you know?"

How can one girl be so cute. How.

"I gotta admit, that was a question I was going to ask," Meiling says, pausing to swat at a fly before she continue. "Not often we get people quite like yourself around here."

Mystia giggles. "The sky is so pretty..."

"Leaving aside your high-as-a-kite friend," you say, firmly redirecting Kyouko's attention to you, "I can't put an exact time-table on when I might be able to get out again." You gesture at yourself. "I mean, really, look at me. This doesn't fix itself, you know!"

Kyouko sighs, deflating before your eyes. "I get what you mean."

"Well, hey, cheer up," you say, laying your hand on her shoulder. "I'll be sure to visit you first thing."

Meiling clears her throat.

"Still first thing," you say, refusing to change your mind for the big reason of Meiling repeatedly punched you in the face.

While Meiling scowls, Kyouko's face scrunches up as she tries to suppress a laugh. "All right, I'm glad to hear it!"

"Sir?" LG calls, leaning out of the ship. "I appreciate that you want to talk, but we really should be going!"

"Well, that's my cue. Kyouko? Meiling?" you say, and both women perk up. "It's been horrible, with the exception of you two."

Meiling coughs meaningfully.

"And also Remilia and Flandre, I suppose," you say, shrugging. "Even with all the murder attempts."

The redhead gives you a thumbs-up.

"And now I'm afraid it's time to leave you all behind." You pat Kyouko on the shoulder. "Try not to get kidnapped again, would you? I don't want to get maimed further breaking you out."

She merely smiles. "I gotcha. Stay safe, you hear me?"

"I still have to beat you up in a fair fight!" Meiling says, working her knuckles over. "Don't go dying from medical complications or some other crap until I get that much from you, you got me?"

"I'll try to avoid the pitfalls of the dangerous warzone that is the medical ward," you reply, dry as sand. "Now, ladies, if you'll excuse me?"

They step aside, leaving you a clear path to the ship. Both stay quiet as you trudge past them and climb aboard, helped in by LG. You sit down in the spot closest to the door, buckle in, and look back outside. With Mystia zoning out and Meiling and Kyouko watching, you take off; Kyouko waves goodbye as you rise up, while Meiling merely folds her arms and nods when your eyes meet hers.

They stay like that until the ship door closes, leaving you and your men in the dim red lighting of this compartment. Finally, finally, you're able to relax. You sag back in your seat and release a breath you didn't realize you'd been holding.

The exhaustion follows in quick order, the knowledge of your safety at last tearing down the walls that adrenaline had erected. You allow your eyes to drift shut and take simple comfort in the motion of your flight.

Christ Almighty, it feels like you've been doing this for years.
__________

Fast forward!

[X] One hour: emergency treatment completed, leg amputated, suit footage reviewed, initial debriefing.

[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.

Cannot fast-forward any further at this juncture.
>> No. 61081
[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.

It updated! Goddamn being Flandre is suffering.
>> No. 61082
[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.
>> No. 61083
[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.

Man, poor Flandre. That girl needs all the hugs in the world.

Provided, y'know, she wouldn't explode the people hugging her.
>> No. 61084
[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.

Glad to see ya updating again. Also, this vote cause this guy is pretty fucked up right now and he needs as much treatment as he can get.
>> No. 61085
[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.

Glad to see you back. Also, ow poor Flandre.
>> No. 61086
[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.

I didn't cry, I just had some shrapnel in my eye. Yeah.
>> No. 61088
[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.
>> No. 61091
[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.

It's back!
>> No. 61093
Well, that seems fairly conclusive! We're speeding towards the ending, folks, just a few updates more to go.

Also, sorry about the delay between updates! I wrote an entry for the writing contest, and that took quite a bit out of me.
>> No. 61095
>Christ Almighty, it feels like you've been doing this for years.
Eh, one year and sevenish months. Close enough.

Bloody good job, Clear Your Sights. Bloody good job.
>> No. 61100
File 141213895799.jpg - (22.14KB, 519x259, image.jpg) [iqdb]
61100
ONE DAY LATER

-----

You finish adjusting your dress uniform's collar, then give the man in the mirror an approving nod. You look charitably roguish at the best of times, but there's something about the uniform that takes a man that extra distance. Sadly, you had to shave off the spec-ops stubble you'd so lovingly cultivated, but better to look your best, especially when you might be getting your ass court-martialed to the moon for the orders you disobeyed.

You give yourself two thumbs up, both hands back in action thanks to the wonders of proper medical care. "Knock 'em down, chief, or you're proper fucked."

Sadly, your first step towards the door out of your quarters nearly spells disaster as you stumble over your new leg. A day spent in Medical does wonders for the body, and this prosthetic replacement leg is great and all, but you're still not quite used to it yet. Granted, this was also how you felt after the landmine incident, but you grew accustomed to the prosthetics after that easily enough. Still, it'll be a good day when you can get a flesh-and-blood-and-bone leg, that's for damn sure.

The walk through the grey corridors that make up your base of operations isn't tense, exactly, although the men you pass by are hardly talkative. Perhaps this pall of doom hanging over your head is visible? Or maybe it's the fact you're in dress uniform that tells everyone you're not to be bothered right now. Everyone else is in varying degrees of casual military wear, with the exception of the guards in full armor, which means you stick out like a man wearing snow camo in the desert.

You decide to swing by the repair bay first; you've got some time free before you need to meet the Commander.

Considering how you have to duck a thrown spanner the moment you enter the mechanic's shop, you realize this may not have been the best of ideas after yesterday.

(The crew chief's expression when you hobbled in with your suit wrecked was legendary. His face turned a horrifying shade of purple usually reserved for plums as you listed all the suit's issues, and his verbal reaction, which you will cherish always and forever, went like this: "YOUR SUIT HAS A FUCKING SMARTLINK. FOR SMARTGUNS. THAT SHOOT BULLETS. SMART BULLETS. AT RANGE. BECAUSE THAT IS THE SMART WAY TO FIGHT. YOU STUPID FUCKFACE. STOP PUNCHING ASSHOLES OR I'LL SHOVE THIS WRENCH UP YOURS.")

"So, does yesterday's threat still stand?" you ask, and immediately sidestep another flying wrench from the jumpsuited mechanic in charge, his face hidden by a welding helmet.

"You're a genuine dicksucker," he replies, his voice muffled.

"I'll take that as a yes, then." Despite your words, you amble genially towards him, hooking your thumbs into your pants pockets. "So, how's the damage?"

He gestures towards your suit hanging on the wall, its grey-black armor cracked and dented and busted up horrifically, despite his best efforts to rectify those issues. "How you manage this much damage every single goddamn time you sortie is beyond me, you stupid bastard."

You shrug. "If I didn't, it wouldn't be me."

The suit's helmet tilts towards you on its own. "Greetings, Operator."

The mechanic hefts a drill, looking the armor over with what you can only imagine is an evil gleam in his eye. "And the damn thing's been criticizing how I've been repairing it, too. It's like you infect everything you touch with your sarcastic bullshit."

It looks back at him. "When it concerns my body, I reserve the right to be critical."

"And when it comes to me," says the mechanic, "I'm going to work on you however I damn well please. Don't make me engrave a dick on your forehead, cuz I'll do it, swear to God I will."

"Isn't it boring in there?" you ask the AI.

Hoorah, now it's swiveled back to you. "Negative, Operator. Currently reviewing your previous mission logs. I am glad I was only installed here recently, because you are terrible."

The mechanic cackles. "Finally, some sense!"

You fold your arms and lean back, squinting at the machine. "I thought my name was User?"

It raises and lowers a shoulder. "Operator sounds more professional."

"Right. So," you say, redirecting your attentions to the mechanic before he gets any ideas about striking while you're distracted. "Did you know Command put that thing in there?"

"The way you shit yourself when you found out made all my effort installing it worthwhile, yes," he says, head bobbing as he looks the suit over.

"Huh." You have to think for a moment to find a proper insult. "You're a cockjuggling f-"

"AE-51262 to the Commander's office," blares this room's loudspeaker. "AE-51262 to the Commander's office."

"Ah, damn it, I gotta go," you say. "Don't screw things up too badly, will you?"

The mechanic freezes in place, then begins turning to face you so slowly you half expect his feet to leave deep scrape marks across the floor. "...The balls on you to say that to me could capsize battleships, AE."

You flee the room before he attempts to murder you.

-----

After a refreshing sprint for your life, you stop in front of the Commander's office, the metal door all that stands between you and your fate. You don't bother taking a deep breath; your nerves are steady already. After knocking, you step into the room with the man who will decide your immediate future. He is seated across a wooden table, dataslate in hand, but turns his full attentions towards you once you're inside.

The Commander, of course, looks immensely familiar, given he has your face, albeit with maybe three extra decades tacked onto it. Sharp features, piercing blue eyes, black hair flecked with grey, and immaculate in his uniform, he stares you down without a trace of pity. His name, ML, is stitched over his breast pocket, next to the dazzling array of medals pinned to his chest.

"AE." His voice is like your own, with a touch more gravel.

You nod. "Sir."

He sets the dataslate down, then folds his hand atop each other. "You have demonstrated questionable judgement during your latest operation. I've called you here to hear what you've got to say about it." He gestures to the chair opposite his. "Please, sit."

You do, finding the thing to be singularly uncomfortable. You interlace your fingers, hoping it makes you look appropriately solemn. "Where do we start?"

He taps a button on the slate and sets it flat on the table; a holographic screen emits from it, hovering like a pane of glass between the two of you as it displays your suit's footage. "I've already reviewed the initial operation log, of course. We'll only go over the parts I'm curious about."

He slides a finger across the slate, and the footage fast-forwards to your first meeting with Kyouko. He gestures towards the screen. "Kyouko Kasodani, low-level Myouren associate. What is your opinion of her?"

"Girl has a good heart and a voice that can shatter eardrums," you say. "Besides that, well, I wouldn't say no to working with her again."

He nods. "So you took her, a civilian, into a combat situation. What is your reasoning behind that?"

"Local support useful for distracting the enemy, as well as being a potential intelligence asset. In addition to seeing what she was capable of, of course."

"I see. However, this association led you to retrieving Mystia Lorelei, distracting from your main mission."

You nod. "That is correct."

"Just wanted to be sure we were clear on that point." He rewinds to your initial attack on the mansion. "Now, as for Hong Meiling."

"What about her?" you ask.

"You know damn well what," he says, and you blink at the sudden vehemence. "Your friendly relationship with a woman who was trying to break your neck baffles greater minds than mine, I'm sure."

"In all fairness," you say, "she only tried that twice. Also, she's a quality fighter. If anything, I recommend her for acquisition."

"She was never the objective."

"I stand by what I said, sir."

"Hmph. Well, it's not an important matter, anyway. I've a more pressing question." He skips the video to when you broke into Flandre's room. "Flandre Scarlet."

Of course.

"What about her?" you say.

He fast-forwards through every single meeting you had with Flandre, up to the point where your visor was shattered; video footage ends there since your camera was linked to it. "You passed up numerous chances to capture her. Why?"

Right. Time to make your case. "Sir, with all due respect, and considering you've seen her combat footage, are you mad?"

His brow wrinkles. "Excuse me?"

"You saw what she did to everything in her way," you say. "Especially what happened when she was mortally injured. It is my firm belief that any potential use we could get out of her is far outweighed by her instability."

"Regardless, you still refused to follow orders, even when her emotional distress gave you a prime opportunity to capture her."

"Sir, she is a child," you say, slowly so he can get every word into his evidently thick head.

He quirks a brow. "At five-hundred years old?"

"Physically, maybe," you admit, "but certainly not emotionally. This is not-"

"Ethical?"

Stole the words from your mouth. "Yes."

He shakes his head. "War rarely is."

"Have we really gotten to the point where we abduct little girls and force them to fight our battles for us?" you say, frowning at him.

He frowns right back, and does it better to boot. "That 'little girl' slaughtered her way through an entire garrison like they were armed with t-shirts and flashlights. You should know; you were there."

"She would also slaughter friendlies, sir, in case you hadn't noticed her attempts to murder me."

The Commander's hands clench, his knuckles popping. "I don't appreciate that tone, AE."

You press on, only mildly deterred. "That is an unfortunate downside of making my point, sir. What good is a soldier that kills everything around them when they're injured, friend and foe?"

"Useful as a tactical nuke, perhaps." He rubs his chin, brows furrowed in thought, and is silent for around five seconds before he looks you in the eye. "But I see your point. Her capture was an optional goal, as well, so I'm willing to cut you a break."

His expression hardens to stone.

"But then you try my patience with your flagrant disregard for direct orders when you returned to the mansion. You deliberately informed Remilia of your objectives. Why?"

"The spear she held at my throat had something to do with it," you say, mildly. "I meant to both ingratiate Coalition forces as a whole to her and prevent the loss of myself and my suit when I told her my goals."

His glare could curdle milk. "You mean to tell me you wanted to get us on her good side by telling her you planned to kidnap her sister? Now it's my turn to ask you: are you mad, AE?"

You lean back by inches, unwilling to chance his wrath. "The woman has a damn good head on her shoulders, and I'd rather have just gotten it out in the open then instead of risking her finding out later. Besides, it worked."

Yep, he's still glaring. "Provided we swear off any further actions against her, of course."

"Of course."

The Commander releases a hefty sigh, sagging back into his chair. At least he's stopped trying to manifest eye-beams to kill you. "I hope you realize this has compromised my plans."

"At the time, I was more preoccupied with surviving. Besides that, my actions have gained us a powerful regional ally-"

"Who happens to be an arrogant vampire," he points out, his tone cold. "There's already reports circling Gensokyo of what happened at the mansion, although they're generally inaccurate. You, and by extension the rest of us, feature prominently in all of them."

You shrug. "If my assault on the mansion didn't alert everyone to our presence, those pirates would have ensured our exposure, if only through Gensokyo's manic search for them. Better to be friends with one group than have them all assume we're hostile. Failing that, I was also responsible for discovering and crippling an enemy stronghold before they could do great harm to both us and Gensokyo's inhabitants. I would say that should help everyone's opinion of us, especially given the Mansion's and, perhaps more importantly, Myouren Temple's testimony for my actions."

The Commander's stare could chill Satan to the bone. Given this is Gensokyo, you're pretty sure you could arrange a meeting between them. "Do you think you can sway me with a few pretty words, soldier?"

You shrug again, spreading your hands apologetically. "If not, then I am in some serious trouble, sir."

He actually smiles at that, just the barest flash of teeth. "Of course. Putting that aside for the moment, let's turn our attentions to the pirate outpost itself. I have no issue with anything you did there save, perhaps, your unwillingness to attempt a capture of the vampire. However, you're unaware of what our salvage teams discovered, correct?"

You nod, so he continues. "When they breached, they met with little resistance. The remnants of the base were mostly unsalvageable, with the exception of a damaged titan found amidst dozens of wounded enemy personnel. Most of the captured mercenaries have been uncooperative, but one in particular has been especially forthcoming with information, since you saved his life from the vampire."

Ha ha, karma!

"Well, sir, what did he tell us?" you say, more calmly.

The Commander allows himself a small smile. "He had intel on where they deployed their Outside gate, and from what I've heard, our Outside forces are set to raid the place in short order."

"I... don't see how this is relevant to me, sir," you say.

"I'm weighing the upsides of your actions yesterday versus the downsides," he says, leaving the implied 'you idiot' unsaid.

"Ah." You lack any other response, so you straighten your posture and wait for him to continue.

He's quiet as his eyes bore into yours. A quick little gesture on his part shuts off the holo-screen.

"Is there anything else, sir?" you ask, matching him without blinking.

"I'm just thinking of what I'm going to do with you," he says. The man shuts his eyes and leans back in his chair, tucking folded hands beneath his chin. "On one hand, you failed in the majority of your objectives, intentionally sabotaging your primary goal in the process, and apparently went out of your way to befriend the people you were sent to fight.

"On the other hand, you successfully eradicated a potential future threat to our base, and have somehow managed to get us on friendly terms with a vampire who was set on killing you when you first met her, in addition to making us blitz onto the local political scene as big goddamn heroes, even if our reputation is tainted by our association with the Scarlets."

You blink slowly. "...Big goddamn heroes, sir?"

"It's a good phrase, AE." He opens his eyes again and straightens up, his expression one of utter calm. "I could have you shot for what you did, you know."

"Believe me, I'm well aware, sir," you say, grimly contemplating your odds of successfully escaping if he does give the order. They don't add up to much.

"So, with that in mind, let me ask you one last thing." He locks eyes with your own. "Why did you go out of your way to aid Flandre Scarlet?"

You're quiet for a few moments before you speak again. "...She's a little girl, sir. A monstrously powerful one, I'll give you that, but still a little girl. You can't honestly expect me to look an emotional wreck of a child in the eyes and blast her with a tazer, do you?"

"I can honestly expect you to follow orders," he retorts.

"But where does that get us if it's wrong?" you say, rising from your seat. "Who are we to force these people to fight for us? In the end, we're made for this. Not vampires or youkai or whatever else there is in Gensokyo, and sure as hell not Flandre." You plant your hands on the table and lean towards him until the two of you are inches apart; he doesn't so much as twitch. "This is not a child's job, sir. It's ours. Let's keep it that way."

The Commander scowls, leaning back into his chair. You sit back down a moment later.

"Well, taking your dramatic plea into account..." He pauses for effect, the bastard. "...I'm going to let you off the hook this one time."

"Ah, shi- what?" you say, the crushing gloom of an imminent court-martial lifting off your back. "Can you explain yourself? Sir?" you hastily add.

He interlaces his fingers again, using them to shield the lower half of his face. "The younger Scarlet is too volatile to prove a useful asset, and the elder is potentially more useful friendly to us than hostile. In light of your previous service, what your gathered intelligence revealed, and your actions taken in eliminating a hidden threat to our continued operations in Gensokyo, I find it unnecessary to subject you to disciplinary action." His eyes narrow. "But I will eat you alive if you disobey orders again, you understand?"

You're not sure he's exaggerating. "Understood. Thank you, sir."

He smiles, all teeth and no mirth from what you can see past his fingers. "Oh, and AE? I seem to recall you being armed with three of our Eviscerator bombs, yet the mission log only shows you using one. When you returned, you didn't have any."

"I-" you start, and immediately shut up.

Oh, shit, you forgot to get your bombs back from Remilia. Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

Your face must tell him all he needs to know. "Well," he drawls, "let's just be glad you brought back the detonator. We'll send someone to get the bombs later. Now, go on, you're dismissed."

"...Really, sir?"

"Really." He pulls open a drawer and retrieves another dataslate. "Get out of my office. I've got to figure out what our next move is."

You're more than glad to awkwardly shuffle out of the room, leaving your CO to his work. Only once you've left the office out of sight do you relax.

Thank God that's over.

Now that that's not hanging over your head, you're going to take the natural course of action and get absolutely drunk off your ass.

-----

COMMENCING EPILOGUE

[X] Cheerful Echoes.

[X] Burning Dragon.
>> No. 61102
[X] Burning Dragon.

For me there is no other choice.
>> No. 61103
[X] Burning Dragon

WE MEILING NOW!
>> No. 61104
[X] Cheerful Echoes.
>> No. 61105
Quick note! This vote merely affects the order AE visits folks in during the epilogue. It's not a route-lock vote or anything.

PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE MENTIONED THIS BEFORE THE VOTE ITSELF, HUH. I AM SMART.
>> No. 61106
[X] Cheerful Echoes.
>> No. 61107
[X] Burning Dragon.

I have to know.
>> No. 61108
> This vote merely affects the order AE visits folks in during the epilogue.

oh thank god

[X] Cheerful Echoes.
>> No. 61110
[X] Cheerful Echoes.

As promised
>> No. 61111
[X] Cheerful Echoes.
>> No. 61112
[X] Burning Dragon
>> No. 61113
[x] Cheerful Echoes.
>> No. 61115
[X] Cheerful Echoes.

We did sort of promise to visit her first thing.
>> No. 61119
[X] Cheerful Echoes.

Well, we'll likely have bruises after visiting Meiling, so let's see Kyouko first.
>> No. 61120
File 141221276229.jpg - (49.65KB, 500x500, 4e81836f10552b50e424fcdc9420e413.jpg) [iqdb]
61120
>>61115
>>61119
On one hand, you both make decent points.

On the other hand, fuck that Meiling time.
>> No. 61123
[X] Burning Dragon.

Romance by fisticuffs is best romance.
>> No. 61124
[X] Burning Dragon

Remilia/AE lemons when CYS?
>> No. 61125
[X] Cheerful Echoes.
>> No. 61126
[x] Cheerful Echoes.

Promise first, punching later. I mean, what's Meiling going to do, punch us harder? Never mind.
>> No. 61128
[X] Cheerful Echoes.

A promise is a promise and it's not like it's a route-lock anyways.
>> No. 61129
[X] Cheerful Echoes.
>> No. 61130
[x] Cheerful Echoes.

Might as well do this before the Great Punchening occurs.
>> No. 61131
All right, I am calling the vote here, everyone! AE is off to Myouren Temple to catch up with everyone's favorite echodog, which makes me happy because I also want to write more Kyouko.

She is the best. The best.

Now, time for some shameless self-promotion! For those who haven't been checking /gensokyo/ at all, I'm free to say I wrote Entry Team for the vets section of the site's annual story contest. If you want some more TACTICOOL SDM ACTION to tide you over until I update again, give it a read, but let me warn you folks right now that there isn't any Meiling. This is my greatest regret in hindsight, right next to the bloated opening.

>>/shorts/1758 And have a link to the story while I'm at it! Please do not post anything in that thread itself, however, because that's just tacky.

>>61124

NEVER by which I mean maybe eventually

>>61130

Let me just save you and everyone else some heartache right now, buddy. Sage goes in the email field, not the subject. You can tell it worked if your name is black instead of blue when you've posted (assuming you're using the standard site theme, anyway.) Saging correctly will prevent people from lynching you for resurrecting threads that have been silent for a while when you're not the author! It's something that gets people riled up, and for good reason.
>> No. 61149
File 141254777636.jpg - (150.94KB, 995x1200, image.jpg) [iqdb]
61149
THREE WEEKS LATER

-----

Gensokyo is under the dreary thrall of grey skies and chill air, a far cry from the warm summer day when last you left base. It's unseasonal is what it is, and you're of the firm opinion that whoever decided the weather should be so dull on the first day you're allowed out of base can go choke on some sewage.

You plunk across the dirt path to the temple one relaxed step at a time, walking at a easy pace so as to not aggravate your new leg - after all the physical therapy you had to undergo to get it up to scratch, you'll be damned if you're going to screw it up by tripping over yourself like an idiot.

Before you get too close, you draw your cloak's hood closer around yourself, concealing your face; you want to keep the element of surprise as long as you can. The rest of your clothes are as painfully generic as you could muster, baggy local wear masking your appearance as best it's able. Granted, there's only so much you can do to blend in when you're permanently standing two heads over everyone else. Such is the curse of being huge.

The path stretches on and on, gently curving through the light forest that surrounds you. It's a peaceful walk, and even on such a dreary day it feels good to be outdoors. It's only a short time before you reach the end and the trees open up, and even though you're familiar with the place through pictures already, seeing even part temple ship in person still causes you to come up short.

Myouren Temple, home to youkai of all stripes ostensibly seeking enlightenment, even if they seem to be perfectly fine drinking and partying it up. You personally suspect it's for people just looking for a place to eat for free, but who are you to judge? Plus, there's the novelty factor of the temple being a huge boat, which you doubt many people here have seen before.

You can't see all of the temple from here, what with the walls surrounding the complex. Dirt gives way to a tile pathway leading to the temple itself, shoulder-high stone pillars with inactive lanterns strung up on them flanking the path at short intervals. The gates are open, but at the same time, with this area entirely deserted, you're unwilling to simply barge straight inside uninvited and be branded an intruder. You lean against one of the pillars, your back to the temple, shut your eyes, and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Maybe you should have brought a book to read? Hm. Damn hindsight, making you feel like an idiot.

Just as you're thinking that, sandals sound off on the tiles from the temple gate, gradually closing in on you. They stop maybe a dozen feet away.

"Hello, mister!" says an unmistakable Kyouko, and it's a pleasant thing to hear her again after these past few weeks, make no mistake. "Havin' a good old time loitering, ain'tcha?"

You smile, but don't respond, merely bowing your head.

"Are you waiting for someone to show you in?" she asks, more uncertainly. "I mean, I can do that, if you want."

You shake your head.

"Huh." She sounds puzzled, which means your ruse is working.

Her footsteps resume, and she veers wide around your position before stopping a short distance in front of you. Keeping your head down prevents her from identifying you, but you can still see enough of her to conclusively decide that the pink dress is a cute look on her, much nicer than that goth-rock outfit you met her in. The broom she holds makes for a good makeshift pole for her to lean on.

"So... are you just going to stand there, then?" she asks.

You nod.

"Why?"

You shrug.

"Well, I kinda have to sweep there. Please move?" You shake your head once again, and she huffs in irritation. "In that case, I'm gonna have to push you."

True to her word, she sets her broom against the pillar behind her, then gets on your left and starts pushing; even though you'd braced yourself beforehand, she very nearly dislodges you.

"I cannot be moved," you say, doing a passable imitation of a car with a busted muffler to mask your voice as she strains to prove you wrong. "I am too heavy."

"Gotta agree with you on that one, sir," she soon admits, stopping her attempt. "What's up with you? Are you trying to be annoying?"

"I am trying to surprise you, actually," you say, turning to face her before you throw back your hood.

Kyouko's look of complete, wide-eyed, open-mouthed shock is something you'll savor for some time to come.

"I think it was a success," you say with no small amount of satisfaction, reverting to your normal voice. Any smugness you may have been able to wring out of this is promptly crushed, along with your ribcage, when she pounces-

OH GOD, SHE'S GOT YOU IN A BEARHUG

A GIRL THIS PETITE SHOULD NOT BE SO STRONG, WHAT THE CHRIST


"You actually came!" she squeals, burying her head against your chest. "You did! You really did!"

"Oh my God, please help me," you wheeze. Kyouko's too busy going 'eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee' to notice.

This is your karma for messing with her, isn't it?

Eventually, she stops trying to make your ribs puncture your lungs, releasing her hug and stepping back to give you some space. The big doggy-dog grin spread across her face diminishes when you sag back against the pillar.

"Girl, you could squash watermelons doing that," you say weakly, and give your chest a few solid thumps to get the air flowing properly. She looks like she just accidentally kicked a puppy.

"Er, oh man, I'm sorry!" she says, burying her fists in her skirt and bowing until her eyes are firmly on the ground. "I just- you really surprised me, and everything, and I overreacted, and-"

"It's fine, Kyouko, it's fine," you reassure her, straightening up. "Just a bit more enthusiasm than I expected, is all."

She rises up as well, biting her lower lip. "You're sure you're okay?"

"I'm alive to talk to you, aren't I?" you say.

Her lips briefly twitch up before settling back down. "I'll give you that." Now that she isn't feeling guilty, that frees her up to look you over with a critical eye. "So, why the whole 'big and spooky' act? Why didn't you just tell me immediately?"

"I wanted to observe the yamabiko in her natural environment, what else?" You sigh, holding a hand against your ribs. "Truly, she is a terrifying beast."

Aha, you got her smiling properly. "And don't you forget it, or I'll clock you on the nose." And just like that, she shifts back to neutral. "So, you're looking pretty good after... everything."

"That little med-bot you saw was only the tip of things, kiddo," you say, then shrug. "But I didn't come here to talk about me. How have the past few weeks treated you?"

"Oh!" She rubs one sandaled foot against her opposite ankle as she thinks. "Well... After I got back here in the state I was in, everyone was really worried. You know, what with the blood on me, and my torn clothes, and the state Mystia was in and everything."

You fold your arms together and lean back against the pillar. "You brought the birdie with you?"

The look Kyouko gives you is flatter than a week-old can of soda. "As opposed to leaving her 'high-as-a-kite'"-she even does the finger-quotes thing-"at the mansion?"

You shrug. "All I'm saying is that it must have taken some effort to move her, but I see why you did it. So, what happened next?"

"We, uh, got lectured. A lot." Her eyes flick up in thought, resting there for a few seconds before they're back on you. "That only happened after everyone was sure we were all right, I mean. It would've been a jerk move for them to start yelling at us immediately. But then we got to the subject of you, and Byakuren got a weird look in her eye and stopped lecturing us and everything went much better after that."

A pervasive sense of dread seeps into your soul. "Dare I ask why?"

Before she can answer, an older woman's voice pierces the air. "Kyouko, dear, who is that?"

"Ah!" Kyouko waves at the source of the voice behind you. "Lady Hijiri! What are you doing out here?"

"You were exceedingly loud just a short while ago, remember?" 'Lady Hijiri' says, her implied chastisement gentle.

Kyouko smiles, albeit sheepishly, as she ruffles her hair. "Oh. Right. Sorry!"

You step away from your post and turn to face the newcomer, to see-

Gradient hair, purple at the roots and shifting to blonde at the ends.

How is that natural.

Once your initial disbelief is dealt with, the rest of Byakuren Hijiri is markedly less ridiculous. The black-and-white dress works well on her, although the cape is a bit over the top. She strides towards you with purpose, all smiles, and stops just out of arm's reach. "I don't believe we've met, mister...?"

"AE," you say, bowing your head in greeting. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss Hijiri."

Her hazel eyes widen, and the smile fired at you could power solar generators. "So you're the one!"

Oh God, here we go. "Excuse me?"

"Oh, Kyouko's told us so much about you!" Hijiri steps closer, all enthusiasm. "Please, come with me a moment! Kyouko, stay there, would you, dear?"

"Um, okay?" Kyouko says, sounding as helpless as you feel before the might of Byakuren's gigawatt smile.

"Don't I get a say in this?" you ask, even as the monk grabs you by the hand.

"No!" Byakuren says, before she drags you stumbling towards the temple. Once you're past and around the temple gates, Byakuren lays her other hand on your shoulder, holding you in place with a very, very tight grip. "I am aware and very grateful for what you did to help Kyouko before, sir."

"Um," you say, not liking where this is going. "Thank you?"

"But," she says, cheerfully ignoring you, "if you ever get her caught up in something dangerous again, and she gets hurt as a result, I will exact vengeance upon you that will make your ancestors weep in agony."

"One, I don't really think that's applicable, and two, if it weren't for me, you wouldn't have her here in the first place," you say, mildly fazed but determined not to show it. "Besides, I thought you were supposed to be a peaceful monk."

She shakes her head, her smile fading. "Alas, I am not a very good Buddhist. You may have heard about it from everyone else in Gensokyo: 'Ooh, that Hijiri is a hypocrite! She lets her disciples drink alcohol and eat meat! She's a witch! She keeps meddling in our fun!'"

"I admit I have heard all this and more," you deadpan.

Byakuren scoffs. "Well, just because they're right about everything past the first doesn't make it any less hurtful, you know. But that doesn't change anything. Kyouko gets hurt, I hurt you. Anyone else here gets hurt because of you, I hurt you. Are we clear?"

"Lady, you're not even half as scary as my CO." You raise a hand, palm out. "But worry not, I have only good intentions for her."

She somehow manages to beam even wider when she smiles again, releasing you and clapping her hands together. "Perfect! I'm glad we understand each other!"

"You can stop trying to spook him, Mom," Kyouko says, popping her head past the gates, her sardonic tone still carrying fondness for the older woman. At least, you think Byakuren's older. Gensokyo is tricky like that.

"I'm merely telling him to be on his best behavior, Kyouko," Byakuren replies.

"By threatening pain unending on the guy who's responsible for saving my life?" Kyouko sidles past the gate, broom in hand, and then manages to make leaning on it look casually stylish. "I'm offended on his behalf, I really am."

Byakuren deflates as surely as if Kyouko jabbed her with a pin. "Well, when you put it like that, I suppose I might be overreacting."

"Just a little," Kyouko agrees, demonstratively holding thumb and forefinger about an inch apart.

"Well, anyway, mister AE?" Byakuren says, turning back to you with that smile back in place. "Would you want to come inside?"

"Actually, I mainly came here to visit Kyouko," you say. "Promised her, sorry."

"Ah." Byakuren purses her lips as she appraises you. "Well, just so long as you don't try anything untoward, I suppose I'll allow it."

"...Untoward?" you say.

"Don't stick it in her," she says, matter-of-factly. "Although, far as men go, you seem as good as any."

Kyouko falls off her broom, flushing bright red. "What!?"

Byakuren waves Kyouko off. "Oh, hush, dear, I know you were thinking about it too."

"I was not!" Kyouko sputters, propping herself up on her elbows.

"My intentions are entirely pure!" you add, holding your hands palms-out in a desperate attempt to placate Byakuren.

"If they are, then you'd best be marrying her before you try anything," Byakuren says, managing to give you an impressive Evil Eye without actually changing expression. "If you don't, believe me, I'll know."

"Byakuren!" Kyouko whines, covering her face with both hands.

Byakuren just keeps smiling as you reel mentally in horror. "Kyouko, I'm officially giving you time off for today! Play nice with your friend, and stay out of trouble, won't you?"

Kyouko's reply is a drawn-out groan of despair. Byakuren, still beaming widely without any trace of malice, takes that as her cue to flee the scene, leaving you flustered and Kyouko ready to die from an overload of embarrassment.

You turn back towards Kyouko, hands still raised, and try to work through your thoughts. You give up in short order. "I- I don't know what to say, really."

"That woman is an evil genius," Kyouko moans, pushing herself back to her feet.

"Let's just... take her up on her offer and go," you say.

"Well, I know a place nearby that we could visit," Kyouko says, deliberately avoiding your face, even as hers makes strawberries seem dull in hue.

"Perfect!" you say, your cheer brittle. "Let's get out of here before she comes back, for the love of God."

-----

It's only a few minutes of trekking through the woods until you hit a clearing, a sizable fallen tree and its corresponding stump claming the center.

"This the place?" you ask, even as Kyouko takes a seat on the log.

"You know it!" she says, idly tracing circles across the grass with her foot. "It's usually pretty quiet, so I like coming here when I want to think."

"Good a place as any," you say, and seat yourself a comfortable distance away from Kyouko. A sudden, terrifying thought strikes you. "Byakuren doesn't know about this spot, does she?"

"Oh, no!" Kyouko says hurriedly. "At least, I don't think so."

"Good enough for me." You shake your head. "That woman is something else. Is she always like that?"

"Not really, no," Kyouko says, looking away from you. "That's the first time she's ever gotten so horribly embarrassing."

"But she cares, doesn't she?" you say.

"Of course she does!" Kyouko says, all outrage at Byakuren's values being questioned. The girl sinks down immediately afterwards, her expression frustrated. "She's just a bit... stifling, at times. You know how it is, right?"

"I'm military, so of course I do," you say.

She side-eyes you, bringing her fists up and resting her chin atop them. "This is a bit of an abrupt question, I know, but after everything that happened at the mansion, I was wondering something, and it's been nagging at me while you were gone." She takes a deep breath, then looks you right in the eye. "Did you really go there to kill Remilia?"

"No, actually," you say. "I lied about that. Sorry."

Kyouko smiles again, and swings one leg over the log so she's facing you as she straddles it. "No, no, I'm glad to hear it! That's certainly better than you getting caught up in more fights because everyone wants you dead."

You lean back in your seat, eyes on the sky, Kyouko in the corner of your vision. "Well, far as things go, I'd say I'm on decent terms with most of the people at the mansion."

Kyouko cocks her head sideways. "Most?"

You sigh, bowing your head. "I am not going to lie to you here, Patchouli has me fearing for my life on my planned return trip."

Kyouko scowls, scooting closer to you. "Well, she's just a big ol' jerk, so she can get stuffed."

You think it's time for a change of topic, before this gets derailed into a 'Patchouli is awful' rant. "So, how's Mystia?"

Kyouko's face breaks out in a big grin. "Better! We've decided that sticking with our music is the best way to change things around here, not breaking into places to express our displeasure with the bourgeois."

Hah, she actually said it right this time. "And Byakuren had absolutely nothing to do with this change of heart, I'm sure."

Kyouko nods, her expression growing sober. "Right, she certainly didn't tell me that I'd be cleaning the entire temple for months if I pulled something like that again." She shudders. "Toilets included."

"I can see why you'd change strategies, if that were the case," you say, dryly.

"As do I!" Kyouko says, swinging her leg back over the log to sit normally.

The two of you sink into silence, both watching the clouds shift through that endless gray expanse of a sky. It's nice to do something other than the whole SEE MAN PUNCH MAN routine every now and again, you gotta admit. Doing it with someone else does help.

Eventually, Kyouko speaks up again, much more quietly. "Hey, AE?"

You glance towards her. "Mm?"

"I know you probably have all sorts of things to handle in your job, and we don't actually know each other that well, but, um..." She slowly, hesitantly lays her hand flat near you. "Can... can we be friends?" she whispers.

Oh, man, she's thinking you might say no. That's just adorable.

You lay your hand atop her own, finding it to be warm and soft. "Thought you'd never ask."

When the two of you look at each other, her answering smile is small, but ever so genuine. "I... thank you. Really."

"Any time," you say. A thought occurs to you, and you almost squash it for being too personal before deciding that, honestly, there's nothing to lose. "...You know you're the first girl I've made friends with in a long time?"

She whistles. "Oh? Why's that?"

"You're the first one I've met in a long time," you say, sheepishly. "Without me immediately getting redeployed elsewhere, that is."

"Are you getting at something here?" she asks, brows raised.

"If you had waited a second, I'd have said I'm a happier man for having met you," you say, shaking your head and mock-scowling. "You ruined the whole moment, woman."

Her smile is all too knowing. "Well, if it helps, I think that's really sweet of you to say?"

"It really does," you say, dropping the grump act and smiling.

"Well, good!" She edges over until she's practically on you. "You don't have anywhere else to be any time soon, do you?"

"My schedule is free," you admit.

"Right!" Just like that, she's resting her head against your arm, looking back at the sky. "So... what do you want to talk about?"

All sorts of things, as it turns out.

And you enjoy every minute of it.

-----

KYOUKO FRIENDSHIP ROUTE COMPLETED

COMPANION AVAILABLE FOR BURNING DRAGON EPILOGUE


[X] A Clone And His Yamabiko

[X] AE Rides Alone
>> No. 61154
[X] A Clone And His Yamabiko

So I'm guessing we would have gotten Meiling as a companion for a Cheerful Echos epilogue then?
>> No. 61155
[X] AE Rides Alone

Yeah, lets totally bring another girl with us. There's absolutely no way that could possibly go wrong...
>> No. 61156
[X] A Clone And His Yamabiko
I want to see what happens
>> No. 61157
[X] A Clone And His Yamabiko

Byakuren please. Kyouko remains cutest.
>> No. 61158
[X] A Clone And His Yamabiko

Echodog is wonderful.
>> No. 61159
[X] AE Rides Alone
>> No. 61162
[X] AE Rides Alone
>> No. 61163
[X] A Clone And His Yamabiko
>> No. 61167
[X] A Clone And His Yamabiko
>> No. 61168
[X] AE Rides Alone
>> No. 61169
[X] AE Rides Alone
How much of a surprise will it be if a random man, together with a Yamabiko (yeah I wonder who that guy is...), in comparison to going there alone?
>> No. 61170
[x] A Clone And His Yamabiko

Never enough Echodog.
>> No. 61171
[X] AE Rides Alone
Sorry Kyouko but there's some thing's a man must do alone.
Some of those things are getting into fights with dragon waifus because we can and because said fight will be awesome.
Said fight will most likely also our echo-dog friend from the resulting property damage and have Byakuren on a murder-spree for our head.

These are all just excuses for me to vote for "Meiling time"
>> No. 61173
[X] AE Rides Alone

My god, it's really ending, isn't it?
>> No. 61176
[X] AE Rides Alone
it would be rude to make Kyouko feel uncomfortable as a third wheel.
>> No. 61177
[X] AE Rides Alone
>> No. 61178
Voting ends at 6PM CST, which is a little more than four hours from now. The votes currently add up 9 to 7 in favor of AE riding solo. To anyone who hasn't voted yet, you should! It's still close enough to be anyone's vote right now!

>>61154

Yep!

>>61173

Also yep! I'm gonna miss this when it's gone, but it's been a fun ride all the way through. Even if rereading the early parts make me feel physically ill at how bad my technical writing was.
>> No. 61179
That's normal. Start worrying if you ever stop being horrified at your old prose.
>> No. 61180
[X] A Clone And His Yamabiko

Hopefully I am in before the deadline for I cannot perform basic time zone calculations
>> No. 61181
>>61179

Better to have improved from when I started than to look back at the beginning and go "HMM YES THIS IS FINE I SEE NO PROBLEMS," after all.

>>61180

You actually came in about fifteen minutes after I announced the deadline, so you're in good shape.

That being said, I didn't account for certain variables with my previous deadline, so, to give all the stragglers a chance to vote, I'm extending the deadline by another three hours. Votes close at 9PM CST, or 02:00 in site time. Sorry for not thinking it through last time!
>> No. 61183
[X] A Clone And His Yamabiko
>> No. 61184
File 141264758263.jpg - (30.50KB, 451x237, image.jpg) [iqdb]
61184
Well, it seems that extension was entirely unnecessary. In any case, votes are tied! Pic related.

To settle this, we're going into Tiebreaker mode. First vote decides whether AE's trip to the SDM is a solo mission or if he requests backup.
>> No. 61185
[X] AE Rides Alone
>> No. 61186
>>61185

THERE ARE NO HEROES LEFT IN MAN

BUT CONSIDER IT CALLED ANYWAY
>> No. 61205
File 141281415237.jpg - (91.76KB, 548x800, image.jpg) [iqdb]
61205
ONE DAY LATER

-----

It's funny that you finally get your much-wanted sunshine when you go to visit a vampire, but you're not going to complain. While you had been sorely, sorely tempted to ask Kyouko to accompany you on this trip to the SDM, both to help get her on better terms with the Mansion's inhabitants and to serve as moral support, Byakuren's warning is still fresh in your mind. Best to play it safe and do this solo.

The mansion itself is looking much better than last time, although there's still the occasional scaffold and other remnants of construction work scattered about the most damaged zones. You stride towards the main gate, sleeping keeper and all, your every armored step sinking deep into the grass. The patrolling fairies above watch you nervously, in sharp contrast to your unnoticed approach the first time around, but they make no moves to assault you.

You come to a halt a safe dozen paces away, well out of immediate punching range. "Hong Meiling!" you shout in challenge. "I have arrived!"

Meiling lifts her cap up with one finger, and the corners of her mouth quirk up in a lazy smile once she spots you. "Finally decided to show up, huh?"

You saunter over to the side of the gate opposite hers and lean against it, folding your arms and relaxing as though you had every right to be there. "I figured it was about time, yes. How've my people been on their visits?"

She steps forward to get some space, then stretches her arms above her head, her whole body straining in an intensely fascinating manner in the process. "Polite enough, though a lot more stiff than you were."

"That's good to hear," you say, quietly grateful she cannot see through your visor. "How's everyone else holding up?"

She settles back against the wall, folding her arms behind her head to cushion it against the brickwork. "Remilia's doing well, Sakuya and the maids are in good order, and Patchouli hasn't stopped screaming ever since she saw what you did to her library, which is both really impressive and kind of terrifying!"

Oh dear. "That doesn't sound healthy."

Meiling's smile is a vague shade of worried. "Not going to lie to you here, I think she might actually kill herself through sheer, incandescent hatred of you."

"What a shame," you say, not really feeling it. "But leaving Patchouli aside, I think you missed someone earlier.

"No I didn't," Meiling replies, entirely too quickly.

Oh, enough stalling. "Just tell me how Flandre's doing already before I force my way in and find out the hard way."

Meiling's expression flattens, her lips drawing into thin lines. "...Okay."

"That's it?" You frown, pushing off the wall to face Meiling directly. "You're going to have to give me more than that after all I did for her."

"She's doing okay," Meiling says, matching you scowl for scowl. "That's the best that can be said for her. She's not leaving her room, but she's not wrecking everything either."

You tsk thoughtfully, looking past the gates. "Well, I'd still like to go visit her, if that's all right."

Meiling's mood undergoes such a drastic one-eighty you're surprised she doesn't get mental whiplash. "Ha, but to do that, you need to get past me!"

"Which, of course, means we need to fight," you say, already resigning yourself to a pummeling.

"Exactly!" Meiling holds up a finger to forestall you. "But first, hold on! Lemme get Remilia this time, okay?"

It's all you can do to simply blink. "All right?"

"Thanks you're a champ see you soon you can wait in the garden!" she says breathlessly, then bounds through the gates and into the mansion in quick order.

Huh.

Well, guess you'd better hurry up and wait, then.

You sidle through the gates and loiter near the center of the garden, taking time to admire the scenery. You were in a bit of a rush last time you were here, but now that you've got some time to actually appreciate the scenery you're more than happy to do so. A sizable circular stone fountain serves as the garden's centerpiece, white tiles snaking around it and leading both straight to the main doors and around the mansion's sides. Whatever ground isn't claimed by stonework is covered by flowers and the occasional strategically placed bush. What Meiling does with the place is really something else, so many different varieties of flowers spread around you're surprised none of the different breeds have overwhelmed each other and claimed ownership of all the realm.

That's how flowers work, right? You're not a horticulturist, you don't know for sure.

It's a few minutes before Meiling reappears, striding out the mansion's main doors. "Boss'll be right out!" she says, stopping within arm's reach.

As cued, the balcony doors above the mansion's main entrance open, and Remilia, flanked by Sakuya, strides out wielding a parasol to shield herself from the sun. The vampire leans over the railing, twirling her umbrella as she goes. Her bright smile when she sees you is sharply contrasted by Sakuya's utter lack of expression.

"Hello again, sir!" Remilia calls, giving you a mock-salute with her free hand. "I had been wondering when you planned to return!"

"I only got clearance a little while ago," you say, folding your arms as you look up at her. "Everything going well here?"

Before Remilia can reply, a blur of flailing purple bursts through the doors behind her, leaps over the balcony, lands in a flower patch, clambers up, and lurches towards you, all the while screeching "KILL MAIM BURN KILL BURN MAIM KILL BURN" at an astounding decibel level.

And then it bursts into flame.

Holy Jesus, Patchouli.

Meiling has already flung herself aside when the burning, screaming witch raises a flaming hand to, you don't know, launch a fireball at you or some shit. You're about to copy Meiling's idea when a figure in full armor charges through the same door Patchouli did, sprints past a reeling Remilia and Sakuya, executes a magnificent swan dive over the balcony, and lands atop Patchouli to slam her against the tiles.

"While I absolutely understand where you are coming from," Karin says, pinning the witch down without regard to the flames engulfing the both of them, "this is still no way to behave!"

"KIIIIIIIILL" Patchouli shrieks, trying to dislodge the fairy and failing miserably. The fires around her are, you note with some alarm, spreading to the outskirts of a flowerbed.

"If you're going to be so unreasonable, then fine!" Karin hooks an arm around Patchouli's neck and applies a textbook chokehold, strangling any further outbursts. The two roll around like that for a few seconds before Patchouli's struggles begin to slow, which the fairy takes as her cue to push off the witch. "Sakuya!"

The maid appears in a flash, then abducts Patchouli in another shimmery-shiny time-stop teleport. As Karin pats herself out, Meiling rushes past you, watering can in hand, and sets to extinguishing the flowers before the fires can spread.

"What the hell was that?" you ask, numbly.

The fairy pushes herself upright, then stands at attention, only slightly charred. "As it turns out, Milady Patchouli has been plotting vengeance against you for some time, sir. You were fortunate Mistress Remilia asked for me to arbitrate your fight with Meiling."

"Has Patchouli been practicing that... thing she just did?" you say.

Karin, this close up, looks indescribably weary, the bags underneath her bloodshot eyes a deep purple. "The self-immolation? Yes. The screaming? Yes also. And I'm stationed near her at all times." She rubs at her eyes. "I have not been able to sleep for a week now. It's awful and I hate you for making her so angry."

"I'm sorry?" you say.

Her glare is almost deadly enough to lay you flat out on a slab. "Shut the hell up."

You do so.

Sakuya appears back on the balcony, Patchouli soaking wet and firmly restrained with copious amounts of rope to a chair you were certain was not there before. The maid waves at you. "The problem's over, sir! You can get beaten up by Meiling without any further interruptions, if you wish!"

Patchouli is much less unhinged now, which only means she's straining against her ropes like a madwoman instead of trying to murder everything around her. "Break his bones, Meiling! Make him suffer! I want his tears to sweeten my tea!" The witch is silenced when Remilia bops her on the head, then leans in and begins heatedly, if quietly, chastising her.

"Life here never stops being exciting, does it?" you ask; Karin merely nods, massaging her forehead in disgusted acceptance of her role in life.

Meiling heaves a sigh of relief as she also heaves the watering can over the gate. Imminent threat to her flowers dealt with, she's markedly more relaxed as she turns to you. "Well, that's been handled. You still game for us to pummel each other?"

You reflexively clench and unclench your fists. "Thought you'd never ask. Anything goes?"

She nods, baring teeth in what could innocently be called a smile, provided you'd never seen a genuine one in all your life. "Anything goes."

"Milady!" Karin says, "they're ready to go!"

Remilia spins on a heel to face you, and she leans over the railing. "Right! Call it!"

"Combatants, ready yourselves!" Karin says, raising a hand overhead.

You steady your footing. Hunching down, fists held near your face, you're the image of a classic prizefighter. Meiling's stance is markedly more fluid, the woman bouncing from foot to foot as she waits for the match to start.

"Begin!" Karin bellows, slicing a hand through the air and immediately throwing herself back as Meiling lunges for you.

One jab, two, three, all from her right hand, come for your head in rapid succession, and all of them are nimbly avoided through casually effortless leaning on your part. A response jab of your own flies true, but her free hand bats it aside before it can land. You both hop back, the first probing encounter completed. You're not in the mood to drag this out, however; time for a repeat of your first meeting.

Boosters kick into overdrive as you launch yourself at her, arms cocked back, but this time Meiling's in top form, the slightest widening of narrow eyes the only sign of her alarm as she brings her arms up to shield herself. Your first strike lands hard enough to drive her back. The second is narrowly avoided by a sidestep, but the pace of your blows just keeps increasing as you hit her guard four, five, six, seven eight nine ten eleventwelvethirteenfourteenfifteensixteenseventeeneighteennineteenTWENTY TIMES

EAT A ROUNDHOUSE


She lowers her guard the moment you stop punching, which leaves her critically open for your roundhouse kick to nail her full across the head, sending her pirouetting head-over-feet-over-head-again through the air towards the mansion's walls. Of course, it could never be that easy; she rights herself in-transit, landing on the walls feet-first and kicking right back off, flying towards you at terminal velocity.

Hunkering down and disengaging boosters is what saves you from a fist to the nose, your suit automatically venting a cloud of steam as she flies just overhead. Meiling sails through the mist like it wasn't superheated death, landing in a crouch and springing into a front-flip, tumbling through the air until she lands facing you; an impressive display of acrobatics, you have to admit. Her skin is reddened from the steam, and she's clearly feeling it if that grimace is anything to go off of.

"Dirty trick," she growls out.

"Anything goes, right?" you say.

Her sudden, manic grin promises nothing healthy for you. "Right!"

You're already charging her when she claps her hands together, and she burns golden as chi explodes outwards from her body. Your desperate punch is easily batted aside by one hand, and then her other fist darts out, faster than lightning, to catch you full in the chest.

Holy God, that's a Magnum punch, aaaaaaaaaagh.

She doesn't slow, her lone fist striking at you so fast it's as if she just grew a dozen new arms, all made for the specific purpose of beating your shit in. Every hit that connects sends out a small diamond-shaped crystal for the briefest of moments, the projectiles exploding through your armor with tank-shell force. The last of her flurry has her spin around and ram her entire arm into your face, knocking you stumbling back. She follows it up by jumping high, her whole body twisting as she spins through the air, her leg aglow with rainbow-colored chi as it comes for your head -

And you catch her by the foot.

The explosion of chi rocks you down to your bones, working its way down your arms and spreading through your whole body in a split-second of magical might, but you hold your ground with grit teeth and a strangled growl, and with a great heave of effort throw her back.

Meiling lands with her feet on the rim of the fountain, which she uses as a launching point to fly at you (figuratively) and pound your face in (literally). Reeling from her first barrage, all you can do is watch in horror as she closes the distance, her fist snaking out towards your face.

She connects.

Everything goes white for a second.

...

Huh.

You're pretty sure you were standing upright before, not sprawled out on the ground with an excellent view of the sky.

It takes another second to brush away the mental cobwebs and hop upright, just in time to see Meiling grimace as she shakes her hand. At least she's not glowing any more.

"You'd think I'd learn, shiiiiiiiit," she hisses, flexing her fingers to work some of the sting out.

You lunge for her again before she can recover, bringing a hammer blow down on her head, only for her to catch your hand with one of her own. Repeating the attack with your free hand yields the same result, but you unclench your fingers and interlock them with hers, shifting your blocked punches into a grapple.

The two of you pour as much grit and strength against each other as can be mustered, sweat beading down her forehead as she pushes against you, your suit's boosters providing just enough of an edge to keep you holding steady with her.

"Hey," you grunt, straining what feels like every last muscle in your body to hold Meiling at bay.

"What?" she says through grit teeth.

-----

[X] "Turnabout is fair play, right?" (KISS THE DRAGON LADY)

[X] "Got your nose!" (HEADBUTT THE DRAGON LADY)
>> No. 61206
[X] "Got your nose!" (HEADBUTT THE DRAGON LADY)

When courting a hilariously violent dragon, it is important to remain similarly violent in order to gain her respect. When not courting a hilariously violent dragon, it is important to remain similarly violent in order to not get smote too one-sidedly.
>> No. 61207
[X] "Got your nose!" (HEADBUTT THE DRAGON LADY)

So, Patchouli seems upset.
>> No. 61208
[X] "Turnabout is fair play, right?" (KISS THE DRAGON LADY)

Odd. I only see this option.
>> No. 61209
[X] "Got your nose!" (HEADBUTT THE DRAGON LADY)

I like this Echodog more.
>> No. 61210
[X] "Turnabout is fair play, right?" (KISS THE DRAGON LADY)
>> No. 61211
[X] "Turnabout is fair play, right?" (KISS THE DRAGON LADY)
>> No. 61214
[X] "Got your nose!" (HEADBUTT THE DRAGON LADY)
>> No. 61215
[X] "Turnabout is fair play, right?" (KISS THE DRAGON LADY)

Indiscriminate grappling is the way forward.
>> No. 61218
[X] "Turnabout is fair play, right?" (KISS THE DRAGON LADY)
YES
>> No. 61220
[X] "Turnabout is fair play, right?" (KISS THE DRAGON LADY)

A MAN WHO FIGHTS FAIR HARDLY FIGHTS FAIR AT ALL. THE GENERAL WHO FIGHTS DIRTY GETS THE LATE CHEESE!

SUN TZU SAID THAT, AND MEILING KNOWS SUN TZU. WE FOLLOW SUN TZU, AND WE BEAT THE DRAGON LADY.
>> No. 61222
[X] "Got your nose!" (HEADBUTT THE DRAGON LADY)
>> No. 61223
>>61220

This man is wise

[x] KISS THE DRAGON LADY
>> No. 61224
[X] "Turnabout is fair play, right?" (KISS THE DRAGON LADY)
A true gentleman knows that it's natural that you pay back your earlier favours. That's why this is the least we could do, to show our perfect manners

>>61220
And what the hell? xD
>> No. 61225
[X] "Turnabout is fair play, right?" (KISS THE DRAGON LADY)
>> No. 61227
Yeah, this vote went about as I expected. Calling it here to kiss the dragon lady, folks!
157posts omitted. First 100 shown.
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