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File 137662398222.jpg - (231.07KB, 1280x960, 94ef01165ac03499c156dfc4e4b358f5.jpg)
Today, you received a letter. While getting letters isn't rare at all, there is something different about this one. Perhaps it's because of the red splatter on it that looks like blood. Or perhaps it's because of the stone that's inside. Hopefully, the stone won't turn out to be a shard of poison. They've done that before, and you had to spend several hours in a trance to cleanse your body and the air around you. All because your mother happens to be a youkai, and some people think that makes you a man-eater.

Regardless. The letter. You slide the blunt edge of your knife into the envelope, tear open one side and peek inside. There's a gemstone in there. Still doubtful, you turn the envelope around and tap the bottom until the gem falls onto the table. Deciding it's not poison, you pick it up for a closer look. It's an irregularly shaped, smooth and generally round black gemstone with a speck of light suspended inside. Odd, but perhaps the letter will explain.

“Greetings,” reads the letter, “Lately I have been hearing rumors of something powerful being scattered around Gensokyo in pieces. I thought it was only rumors until, by chance, I found one piece myself, included with this letter, and did some... research. It seems as if there are nine pieces in total. Your job, Seimei, is to gather them.
According to everything I've heard about them, they are the pieces of some item of immense power. If we ever want to fulfill our dream of equality, we need this power on our side.
Below is everything we know about the possible locations of these pieces:
-It seems like the Hakurei shrine, the Moriya shrine and the Myouren temple each have one piece.
-This is also true for the Scarlet Devil Mansion and the Eientei.
-The sixth piece is rumored to be somewhere underground.
-We know nothing of the remaining two pieces.

PS. I cut myself while writing this. Sorry.”

Haaah... You sigh. Looks like she's landed you in a fine mess once again. What the hell is she thinking?
Your stall is waiting downstairs.

“Shirou, go get some more rice from the store room. It seems like we'll run out soon. Aya, you prepare the tables. I'll get the fires going.”
The siblings, aged 12 and 14 respectively, nod and get to work quietly. You hired them a week ago after their parents died of an illness despite your best efforts. They're efficient workers and good at cooking, capable of running your stall even while you're gone.

“Thanks. Now go help your sister.”
Shirou leaves quietly, leaving you alone into the rapidly-heating kitchen. They're a sad case, really. No-one wanted to take them in due to the harsh winter, and they're not quite old enough to survive on their own. You couldn't just sit idle, so you did what you could and hired them. Now they help you run the stall while you take care that they eat and have everything they need.

It's a rather quiet morning, probably due to the cold keeping people inside. It's not like there are no customers at all, just that there's more than a bit of idle time. That is, until a kyuubi decides to grace your stall with her presence.

“Hello! How may I help?”
You happen to be closest to the door, so you're the one to greet her.

“I heard you have some excellent fish in here. Could I have some?”
Ran Yakumo takes off her coat and looks at you with her most impressive yellow eyes.

“Of course. Sit anywhere you want and I'll go make you some.”
You make a sweeping gesture towards the nearby table and head back to the kitchen. Ran does not respond, so you assume she sits down to wait. Shirou and Aya are in the kitchen, having lunch while you rapidly prepare a meal.

“Looks excellent.” The kyuubi sniffs the food and nods approvingly as you set the bowl before her. “Would you mind sitting with me while I eat? I abhor eating alone.”
She once again looks at you, this time wearing the sweetest of smiles.

“Fine.” You sit opposite to her, wondering if she wanted you to have a bite as well. “Aren't you bothered by the cold? It seems unnatural for it to be this cold for this long.”
You haven't met her before, despite knowing her name.

“Oh, I don't mind. The Hakurei maiden, however, insists that I should supply her with firewood. Apparently, she's already beat up some people only to find out that they're innocent.”
You had your suspicions, but it seems like she just wants to chat while eating.

“I've heard as much.” There's a short silence as Ran begins to eat. “Do you like it?”

“Yes. It's...” You continue talking of mostly nothing until her bowl is empty.
“So, that was that.” She looks at the bowl, perhaps a little sadly, then at you. “I know you got a letter his morning. Was there a gemstone inside? One that looks like this.”
She takes something from her pocket and places it onto the table next to her bowl. It's a gemstone, like the one you got this morning, black with a light inside it. As soon as she sees that you've recognized it, she pockets it again.

“Um... yes.” No point in lying to her. “What of it?”

“Would you be... willing to sell it?”
Her question sounds innocent, but something about her suggests there's more to it than just that.

“It's not for sale. Sorry.”
A silence. Ran glares at you from under her brows.

“Fine.” She pushes back the chair she's sitting on and gets up. “If you change your mind, you know who to contact.”
Throwing on her coat, she leaves without another word. The echo of the bell attached to the door rings in your ears for a while after the actual sound is gone. She... is after them too?

[] Go after her and propose a deal. You'll work together.
[] Looks like you have to come up with a way to get her piece somehow.


Still with me?
The difference between these two is that I've changed the plot completely. If you want to read what happened two weeks ago, in-story time, read that. It'll also reveal who the MC knows and why.

My goal is to write weekly updates. More if I'm bored.
Warranty void if author is struck by another bout of depression or other severe RL issues.
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You may, at any time, request a character profile or information about a certain location. Two examples below.

Kitsune archives, authorization level 3.
Accessible items: Location data, Character profiles, Personal file

Seimei Modoru
The main character
Age: 23
Sex: Male
Species: Human/Kitsune crossbreed
Ability: True Sight; immediately sees through any illusion.
Characteristics: Wears spectacles. Dark brown hair. Brown eyes, with a something inhuman in them. Slim. Average height. Has a tattoo covering his back which acts as a seal to his animal form.
Alignment: True good
Known powers: Is a healer of some renown. Can transform into a fox at will. Very good at creating illusions. His offensive powers are a little lacking.
Lewd resistance: high

Ran Yakumo
The minion of Yukari Yakumo
Age: Over 800
Sex: Female
Species: Kyuubi
Ability: Unknown
Characteristics: Yellow eyes, blonde hair, fox ears and nine tails. Slightly taller than average.
Alignment: True neutral
Known powers: Has some sort of control over borders, as proven by Yukari sending her to maintain the Hakurei border. Has a minion of her own. Can transform into a fox. Possesses extreme magical powers, both offensive and defensive. Do not attempt to battle her; you will lose if she's serious.
Loneliness resistance: low
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>Lewd resistance: high

[X] Go after her and propose a deal. You'll work together.
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[X] Looks like you have to come up with a way to get her piece somehow.

Eventually. Better to keep our options open in the mean time.
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[x] Go after her and propose a deal. You'll work together.
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[x] Go after her and propose a deal. You'll work together.

Perhaps it would be easier... if you worked together? Would she be-
You get up and dash to the door.

“Wait up!”
You catch Ran at the end of the alley, having sprinted outside without even stopping to throw on a coat.

“Hm? Changed your mind already?”
She turns around with a smirk on her face.

“In a way. Would you mind coming back inside? It's cold in here.”
You're not lying – it's balls-freezing cold; it actually feels like the hairs in your nose freeze whenever you breathe in.

Her smirk fades into a smile as she begins pacing back towards your place, the downtrodden snow crunching beneath her feet.

“Shirou!” The boy appears shortly after you call for him from the door. “Keep an eye out for customers, won't you? I'll be upstairs for a while.”
He nods for an answer and sits on the stool behind the counter.

“So you're the one who's taking care of them now? I thought it was someone... more normal.”
Ran has taken off her coat and is looking at Shirou.

“They work and eat here.” Shirou notices her and stares back as if looking at something inanimate. “Anyways, let's go upstairs to talk. I believe you'd prefer privacy in this matter.”

“Indeed.” She glances at you again, then at the stairs. “Shall we?”
You nod, and she goes first. You follow her, pointing the door to your study to her once its visible. Once there, you take out the letter you got this morning from the drawer where you put it.

“So. Here it is.”
The gem rolls out of the envelope as you drop the letter onto the table.

“I see.” Ran reaches for her pocket and places her gem next to yours. The lights inside the gems move a little closer to each other, clearly attracted by each others presence. “Interesting. Seems like yours is the real thing.” She looks at the two stones for a moment, lost in thought. “So, you had some sort of a proposal?”

“Yes.” Pausing for a moment, you try to come up with a way to say it. “Since we're working towards the same goal, why don't we work together?”

“Together?” Ran glares at you. For a while, it seems as if she isn't looking at you anymore, but rather directly into your soul. Then she blinks. “And who'll get the finished product? You?” A silence. She looks at you, seeming hostile and making you wonder why you thought she'd accept in the first place. “Hmph!” She suddenly smiles. “I accept.”

“Great.” You flash a smile at her. “So, we have two pieces out of the total of nine. I assume you know what we're after?”

She doesn't seem to be lying, which means you'll have to get her to tell somehow – without letting her know that you don't know.

“Okay, and what would you suggest we do to get our hands on the rest of these?”
Better make sure she knows something before telling everything; otherwise, she'll just disappear once she's got what she wants out of you.

“I suppose we could convince Reimu to trade hers for something... as long as we don't let her know it's worth something, of course.”
Ran absentmindedly taps her chin, then nods in approval of her own words.

“We could also try to convince her that they're very valuable or dangerous and have her get the ones from the Moriya shrine and the Myouren temple...”
The shrine maiden is a somewhat simple person so that should be doable, if not very nice.

“We could do that, but I wouldn't suggest it. Reimu can be quite competent if she just feels like it.”
She looks around the room, most likely looking for something to sit on. However, the only chair is the one behind your desk.

“I'll go get a chair for you, just a moment.”
You head towards the doorway to do just that.

“Oh, you don't need to. I can't stay for long; there's still something I need to do.”
Her words cause you to stop and turn on your heels, only to see that she's already pocketed her gem and seem to be preparing to leave.

[] You'll let her read letter before she leaves.
[] You won't let her read letter before she leaves.


Behind the scenes, Gensokyo's game of power is not a pretty thing.
Do you trust her?
If you choose to trust everyone, you will be hurt badly when someone backstabs you.
Not everyone is the kind of a person to do that to you, but some are. Is there any way to tell who will, who may, and who won't?
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[X] You won't let her read letter before she leaves.

Ran hasn't yet shown herself to be an enemy, but she hasn't shown she can be trusted either. Her loyalties ultimately lie with Yukari and there's bound to be some conflict between us in the end. Better to keep things on a need-to-know basis.
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[x] You won't let her read letter before she leaves.
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[x] You won't let her read letter before she leaves.

Don't know enough about this Ran yet. Additionally, she's bound to Yukari, who's friends with Yuyuko, and we've yet to get description of actions and goals for both of those powerful entities.
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[x] You won't let her read letter before she leaves.

“All right, then. I'll be here, keeping the stall for most of the time.”
You slip your gem back into the envelope and place it back into the drawer while Ran looks the other way, most likely on purpose to gain your trust.

“I'll be going now. See you soon.”
You wave your hand as a goodbye as her tails brush the frame of the door when she leaves the room. Not following her immediately, you move the letter from the drawer into a small box on your desk, just in case.
The bell on the door rings just as you're done.


“Thank you, come again!”
The last customer leaves into the slowly-dimming evening, leaving behind only the cheerful chime of the bell – and his payment, of course. Aya and Shirou left already, so it's up to you to close the stall. The fires in the kitchen went out already, and it's time to light the fire in your bedroom. Or actually, that can wait. You could visit Kourindou to say hi to your friend. Perhaps he could shine some light on what you're actually trying to gather.

The last rays of sunlight are still lighting the roofs of some buildings as you leave, giving the now quiet village its final share of light for the day. Only some youkai still walk the streets, not one of them giving you more than a passing glance. The cold starts biting through your thick layers of clothing at the edge of the village, so you speed up a little despite the fact that it'll soon be too dark to see properly.

Knock knock.
At least Rinnosuke has some sort of a light in there, so he should be home.
Knock knock.
This time, the door opens, revealing your silver-haired, bespectacled friend.

“Hi. Come in.” He makes room for you to squeeze in and closes the door immediately behind you. “I'll go make some tea.”

“Thanks.” You begin removing the outer layers of clothing. It takes a while before you're down to something that's more manageable in a heated building. “Did you have a busy day?”

“You're actually the first one who visits today.” You hear some clanging caused by him moving the kitchenware. “So I wouldn't say so.”

“I had a quiet day too. Barely any customers”
You finally take your shoes off and head further inside, to the kitchen where Rinnosuke is.

“At least you had some.”
He's managed to put the kettle on and is now scouring the mess which he calls his kitchen in search of some tea.

“So. How's life?”
You'd help him, but you'd only be in his way. Besides, he probably knows where the tea is. He's just got his own way of doing things.

“Like always. I make enough to get by and keep myself warm, but that's about it.” He takes a large kettle off a shelf and peeks behind it, spotting something that causes his face to brighten. “Ah! There it is.”
Grabbing the can of tea, he throws it to you before placing the kettle back to where it was.

“I've got two kids running around nowdays. Have you heard of them?”
You look for some place to set the can on, but decide to hold it for a while.

“Yeah. A sad case, really, but I guess we can't really blame people for not wanting any more mouths to feed on a winter like this. Hell, even I can't remember the last time it was like this...”
The water begins boiling during the short silence that follows, so he opens a nearby cupboard and takes out two cups.

“Oh. I didn't know it was all that special.”
You follow him out of the kitchen and into the small living/dining room which has nothing but a table and a very comfy-looking armchair in it.

“It's possible that something like this has happened before, but not in the last 20 years at least.” Placing the cups on the opposite sides of the table, he returns to the kitchen to fetch the pot while you dose a pinch of tea leaves into each mug. “I wonder if it has something to do with the outside getting warmer.”
He returns from the kitchen, holding the pot with a thick towel covering his hand. Seems like he forgot that kitchenware from the Outside doesn't get too hot to touch.

“Could be.” Rinnosuke pours hot water into the cups and then places the pot onto the table with the towel in between to prevent the varnish from going bad. “Anyways, I had something to show you. I have no idea what it is, so I thought you could help.”
You take the letter from your pocket, turn it upside down and tap the bottom until the gem drops onto the table.

“Hm. Looks like nothing more than a pretty pebble to me.” He reaches for it regardless. However, as soon as his fingertip touches it- “Ow! It shocked me.” Shaking his hand lightly, he glares at the small item. “It isn't whole so I can't say what it is or what it's used for.”

“A pity. It would be helpful to know what it is.” You glance out of the window, but only see darkness – and a single, moving point of light. “Someone's coming.”

“It's probably Reimu, coming to bug me for some clothes or food or something. If that-” He nods at the stone. “-is something precious or sensitive, you should at least hide it. Though if it's Reimu, she can probably sense it if it's nearby.”
Damn... You wanted to stay for a cup of tea, at least. Things will be easier if Reimu doesn't know anything just yet, though.

[] You'll slip out through the back door.
[] You'll stay.
-[] Pocket the object.
-[] Let the object remain as is.
-[] Other, what?


Again, has not been proofread.
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[x] You'll stay.
-[x] Pocket the object as nonchalantly as possible.
-[x]Ask Rinnosuke to keep quiet about the gem. Client confidenciality and all that stuff.

We should pay attention to what Reimu has to say. Chances are she'll ask to Rinnosuke the same thing we did.
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[x] You'll stay.
-[x] Pocket the object as nonchalantly as possible.
-[x]Ask Rinnosuke to keep quiet about the gem. Client confidentiality and all that stuff.

I hope she won't see right through that.
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[x] You'll stay.
-[x] Pocket the object.

You remain where you are, but quickly snatch the thing and pocket it. Rinnosuke looks at you with a serious expression; you nod at him. He looks away, which you interpret as understanding.
A moment passes with you two just quietly sipping tea before someone knocks on the door. Glancing at you, he gets up.

As you hear the door opening, you get a weird feeling that you've forgotten something. It has to be something small and self-evident, like... like... what?

“Yes, wh – what happened to you? Come in, I've got some tea ready.”
It's impossible to make out what the answer to Rinnosuke's words is, but it's definitely said in Reimu's voice.

The girl who comes in is not the shrine maiden you know. True, she has Reimu's brown-bordering-black hair, her brown eyes, hawk-like cast and lean figure, but she's lacking one crucial thing – Reimu's determination. The miserable girl who came in looks at you with wide eyes, shaking visibly.

“S-s-someone thought it w-w-w-would be a good idea to f-f-freeze shut my chimney...”
It's nearly impossible to make out what she's saying due to her shaking.

“I'll go get some hot water for you, go hug the heater or something.”
Rinnosuke follows immediately behind her, pointing towards the heating unit at the corner while your mind wanders back through time...

It was a chilly day of spring, and you were about to visit your parents who lived near the village, on the other side of a low but rather steep hill. Not long after you had reached the ridge which marked the highest spot and halfway point of the journey, you heard something whining somewhere nearby. Deciding to investigate, you headed into the underbrush to look for the source. You found it after a while of searching: a young vixen with a ragged fur, shivering of cold and so thin you could count her ribs.

“Tyrande...!” Both Rinnosuke and Reimu look at you, surprised by your sudden outburst. You realize that you nearly shouted. “Oh, sorry... I just remembered that there's something I need to do. Sorry, I'll see you later.”
Rushing out of the room without any further explanation, you dress as quickly as possible and head back home. Usually, the first thing you do in the morning is to let her out. She's typically back before you close, but today she was late and you had the letter to distract you.
There will be a vixen waiting at the door, shivering of the cold, and she won't last long in this weather.

As you step outside, you immediately understand why Reimu was like she was. The temperature has dropped even lower now that the sun has set, and there's a hint of a wind blowing from the north. Pulling up your scarf to cover your face, you head into the night. The moon has not yet risen into the cloudless, star-specked sky, but there's just enough light for you to follow your own tracks though the dead-silent night. Your toes and fingertips soon start feeling prickly, but the feeling fades after a while. That's when you know that it's time to hurry.

Sure enough, Tyrande is waiting for you at your doorstep. She has curled up and fallen asleep – in the lap of Ran Yakumo, who is sitting in front of your door and has melted the snow in a small radius around her.

“Good evening. I knew you wouldn't be gone for long. Shall we go inside?”
Scooping the sleeping fox onto her arms, she stands up while looking at you.

“Sure.” You fumble around in your pocket until you find the keys and open the door. Letting Ran and Tyrande in first, you follow them and close the door. “So, what brings you here?”
Ran sets Tyrande down onto the floor, which wakes her up.

“I thought you'd want to know that I'm heading underground first thing in the morning. Care to join me?”
She smiles, but it does not reach her eyes. You get a feeling that she's testing you.

“I may be interested. What can we expect?” Dropping onto your knees, you ruffle your pet's head as she comes to greet you. “Sorry for forgetting about you! I promise not to do it again.”
She licks your fingers. You think she forgives you.

“Darkness, autumn-like temperature and the unknown. It seems like we're going into a part of the caverns which hasn't been fully explored, or if it has, no-one remembers it.”
She tucks her hands into her sleeves while watching you.

“A mystery, eh? Well, I suppose I have no choice but to follow you.”
You're getting unbearably hot due to resembling a ball of fur and fluff despite it not being terribly warm inside. Letting Tyrande go, you start stripping.

“I'm glad you're interested. Two people search better than one, especially in the dark.”
Ran turns around and is about to leave, but pauses to pet the fox for a moment.

“If you think it'd be easier, you could sleep in here. I always have a room prepared, for patients. You could use it if you want to.”

“I suppose that would work. Just make sure you pack your equipment now so I won't have to wait for you in the morning. We'll be there for around a week, so make sure you get everything.” She hides her mouth behind her sleeves. “Due to above-ground youkai being forbidden from entering the underground, I won't be able to use my magic freely. Prepare accordingly.”
You think she smiles, but can't be certain of it.

Later, after you've shown Ran her room and made sure that there's enough wood in the fireplace to prevent you from freezing during the night, you take out your backpack and think about what to pack. Food's a given, but you'll have to ask Ran about that in the morning.

What'll you pack? The heavier the backpack, the slower you'll be.
Food (1kg/day) {compulsory}
Clothes (2 sets, 2kg) {compulsory}
Backpack (1kg) {compulsory}
Total: 10kg
10-20kg:easily bearable 20-30kg:Somewhat encumbered 30-45kg:encumbered 45kg+:heavily encumbered

Choose as many of the following as you like:
[] 15m of rope (2kg/rope)
[] Specimen containers (6kg) {for magical or medical ingredients}
[] Sleeping bag (3kg)
[] Lantern + oil (3kg)
[] Water (1.5kg/l) {comes with a bottle, consumption 3l/day, it's possible that you'll find some in the caves}
[] Empty bottles (0.5kg/l) {for water or other liquid found in the caves}
[] Field shovel (3kg)
[] Hammer (5kg)
[] Steel-shod quarterstaff (3kg)
[] Hand pickaxe (3kg)
[] Climbing pegs, hooks and clips (5kg) {these will let you climb up/down vertical walls, but only if you have a hammer and a rope}
[] Food for Tyrande (3.5kg) {Foxes need to eat and drink too.}
[] Healing set (2kg) {Bandages, alcohol, stitching kit, painkiller... You know, healer stuff.}
[] Beer (1.5kg/l) {6%}
[] Spirits (1.5kg/l) {35%}

What'll you do with Tyrande?
[] Leave her inside, making sure Aya and Shirou fill her water bowl and feed her.
[] Let her outside, reminding Aya and Shirou that they need to let her in.
[] Take her with you.
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This here could be an update...
But it isn't. You know why.

Don't think too much about the equipment. It affects very little. The purpose of it was to throw you off. Why? "If we keep taking her with us, maybe she'll eventually shift to human form. And then they will fuck!

By the way, I don't write this story for myself. If no-one reads this, there's no reason for me to keep writing.
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[x] Lantern + oil (3kg)
[x] Water (1.5kg/l) {comes with a bottle, consumption 3l/day, it's possible that you'll find some in the caves}
[x] Empty bottles (0.5kg/l) {for water or other liquid found in the caves}
[x] Steel-shod quarterstaff (3kg)
[x] Hand pickaxe (3kg)
[x] Healing set (2kg) {Bandages, alcohol, stitching kit, painkiller... You know, healer stuff.}

[x] Take her with you.
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Choose as many of the following as you like:
[X] 15m of rope (2kg/rope)
[X] Sleeping bag (3kg)
[X] Lantern + oil (3kg)
[X] Water (1.5kg/l) {comes with a bottle, consumption 3l/day, it's possible that you'll find some in the caves}
[X] Field shovel (3kg)
[X] Hammer (5kg)
[X] Climbing pegs, hooks and clips (5kg) {these will let you climb up/down vertical walls, but only if you have a hammer and a rope}
[X] Healing set (2kg) {Bandages, alcohol, stitching kit, painkiller... You know, healer stuff.}
[X] Beer (1.5kg/l) {6%}

[X] Leave her inside, making sure Aya and Shirou fill her water bowl and feed her.
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[X] 15m of rope (2kg/rope)
[X] Sleeping bag (3kg)
[X] Lantern + oil (3kg)
[X] Water (1.5kg/l) {comes with a bottle, consumption 3l/day, it's possible that you'll find some in the caves}
[X] Field shovel (3kg)
[X] Hammer (5kg)
[X] Climbing pegs, hooks and clips (5kg) {these will let you climb up/down vertical walls, but only if you have a hammer and a rope}
[X] Healing set (2kg) {Bandages, alcohol, stitching kit, painkiller... You know, healer stuff.}
[X] Beer (1.5kg/l) {6%}

[X] Leave her inside, making sure Aya and Shirou fill her water bowl and feed her.

Here, have a tiebreaker.
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[X] 15m of rope (2kg/rope)
[X] Sleeping bag (3kg)
[X] Lantern + oil (3kg)
[X] Water (1.5kg/l) {comes with a bottle, consumption 3l/day, it's possible that you'll find some in the caves}
[X] Field shovel (3kg)
[X] Hammer (5kg)
[X] Climbing pegs, hooks and clips (5kg) {these will let you climb up/down vertical walls, but only if you have a hammer and a rope}
[X] Healing set (2kg) {Bandages, alcohol, stitching kit, painkiller... You know, healer stuff.}
[X] Beer (1.5kg/l) {6%}

[X] Leave her inside, making sure Aya and Shirou fill her water bowl and feed her.
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[x] Something
[x] Something else

The following morning...

You wake up while it's still dark, feeling like you have barely slept at all. Laying still for a moment to fall asleep again only makes you feel more awake.

“Mrrph...” You stare at the unpainted ceiling. It does not react in any way. “Gah. Such a dream, and now of all times...”
Doing your best not to disturb Tyrande, who's still asleep, you slowly slide out from under the covers and fumble for your clothes. It's completely dark, and somewhat warmer than last night.
But the dream...

You suddenly woke up as someone lightly brushed your hand. The night was at its darkest and it was impossible to see, but you were immediately filled with an overwhelming feeling of serenity. The voice was soft, no more than a whisper, yet explicitly clear.
“Watch out for what's forgotten... It has not forgotten you.” At that point, you were shown a vision of... of... of what? It was something soothing. “Remember me in the darkness.”
Then it was over and you woke up.

“Cryptic messages, bah.” You finally manage to find and light a candle, which provides enough light for you to get dressed. “I haven't even offered anything at Inari's shrine.”
Grumbling a little more, you quietly sneak downstairs and light the fireplace. Light and warmth soon fill the kitchen, along with the crackling of fire and the faint sound of you making some breakfast.

The horizon is still completely dark when the breakfast is done. You sneak into the ascetic guest room, furnished only with the bed, a table near the window and a single chair, only to find a soundly sleeping Ran. She seems so peaceful, lying on her side and her chest slowly, rhythmically moving. You stop for a while, watching her and listening to her steady breathing. A warm feeling develops inside your chest for some reason. It causes you to smile. A peaceful moment passes in silence. Then Tyrande peeks into the room, notices you and comes over to beg for some attention.

“Hey there.” You whisper to her as you pet her head. “Want to wake her up?”
You don't think she understands, but lift her onto the bed anyways. After sniffing Ran for a moment, she goes over to lick her face.

“Mmrph!” The kyuubi suddenly jolts into life and pushes Tyrande a little farther before opening her eyes. “Oh, hello.” The fox slips from between her hands and licks her face some more. Ran giggles. “He-hey! That's enough.”

“Glad to see you survived the night. Come downstairs when you're done, I've made some breakfast.”
You lift Tyrande off the bed and onto your shoulder. She proceeds to lick your ear, which causes you to smile again.

“Oh. Okay, I'll be right there.”
You turn around and leave the room to let her dress.

Aya and Shirou come in as you and Ran are eating. They wordlessly take some of what you made after you tell them to, and then proceed to eat it equally quietly while casting poorly-disguised sneaky glances at Ran.

“Hey, miss.” Aya finally breaks the silence. “Who are you?”
Her tone is very polite, but you get the feeling that she doesn't like her presence.

“I am Ran Yakumo. What could your name be, little miss?”
Ran nods as she greets her, and glances at her brother.

“I'm Aya.” The girl stares quietly for a moment. “Did you have fun tonight?”
Both Ran and Aya glance at you during the silence that follows, Aya a little angrily and Ran with an enigmatic expression.

“Ah...” The kyuubi lets her pupils turn into slits before looking at Aya again. “We did... in a way.”
Her tone is threatening. You can feel the girl's fear.

“Ran. You shouldn't scare them. They've seen enough already.” You reach out and touch her wrist. She looks at you, and her eyes mold back into normal. “Shirou, I'll be gone for a few days. Could you take care of Tyrande for me? You don't have to let her out, just make sure she has something to eat and drink.”
Shirou doesn't say anything, only nodding in response.

“Are you done packing, by the way?”
Ran sets down her bowl, done with the rather sizable breakfast you made.

“Yes. I have everything ready in my room.”
You're nearly done eating, too.

“Are we ready to go, then?”

[] Yes.
[] Wait until dawn.
[] Tell her of what happened to Reimu last night and suggest that you go help her out.


So tired...

If there's something you don't like with what I write, do tell me. I have a policy of "if it's not broken, don't fix it"
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[x] Tell her of what happened to Reimu last night and suggest that you go help her out.

Might as well go fairy hunting for a bit.
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[x] Tell her of what happened to Reimu last night and suggest that you go help her out.

As a newcomer to the story, it's really hard for me to pick this up since there's a couple of characters that I have no idea about. I can learn about the MC, but I have no idea who Aya, Shirou, or Tyrande is. So far, I haven't learned anything more than "The siblings are orphans" and "Tyrande is a fox." I think it might be a bit much for me to read through the previous version to know the characters if the plot completely changes.

P.S: It's really hard to disassociate Aya from Aya Shameimaru, Shirou from Fate/Stay Night, and Tyrande from Warcraft. This just might be me.
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Sorry for being a worthless piece of shit who gets nothing done.
Here's a picture and a promise to not do anything about anything for however long.
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Sorry to hear that, I like the story, before and after the reboot.
The pic is nice though.
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[x] Tell her of what happened to Reimu last night and suggest that you go help her out.

“We are, but I thought we could do some sightseeing first. I saw Reimu last night, and...”
You quickly go over what happened last night at Kourindou. Ran remains silent for a moment after you finish, quietly looking at you with narrowed eyes.

“Hmm.” She stares at you some more. “So you're suggesting we go to the shrine and then what? Steal the piece she has in there?” She shrugs. “Hmph. That's not a bad idea.”

“That's... not exactly what I had in mind. I thought we'd just help her out and-”

“And what?” Ran interrupts you. “Tell how pretty she is and hope she has some tea to share with us?” She looks at you mockingly. “Do you want to gather these things or not? Because if you do, you'll have to face the fact that you'll either have to buy them or steal them.” A silence ensues. It feels especially deep because Ran raised her voice a bit. “Leave a donation or something if it makes you feel better. Because I'm going to do this even if you're not.”
Back to her normal voice, she looks around and only now seems to realize how loud she was. A hint of redness rises to her cheeks.

“Okay, okay, I'm coming. Just... let's go, OK?”
You get a feeling that Ran isn't too happy with what she did, but she does have a point. You can't just assume that people will just give potentially dangerous or valuable things to you.

“Are you going to leave now?”
Aya, after taking Ran's bowl, stops you for a moment just as you're about to get up.

“Yeah. I'll be gone for a while, will you two manage?”
You suppress an urge to pet her head.

“We will. Don't worry about us.”
She scoots off towards the kitchen after piling your bowl on top of Ran's. You believe her, but suspect that she'd prefer it if you stayed.

“We should get going.”
You glance at Ran before heading upstairs to get your gear.

The village is still and silent in the pre-dawn gloom which is slowly spreading across the sky and drowning out the stars. Ran leads the way, moving rapidly to keep warm in the breezy weather. It is a little warmer than yesterday, but the wind seems to be picking up and you think you see some dark clouds on the northern horizon, hinting that the coming day will be snowy.

“Hurry up. I want to be inside the mines before the storm front arrives.”
Ran stops to urge you onwards, disregarding the fact that you're carrying a lot of stuff and she hasn't got anything but what she's wearing.

“Easy for you to say when you aren't carrying anything.”
Her face, just like yours, is covered in a scarf which leaves only the eyes and the nose visible.

“My stuff will be waiting near the entrance.” Regardless of what she says, she waits until you pass by. “Wait a moment.” She takes the backpack off your back and swings it onto hers like it weighted nothing. “Come on now.”
She heads off again, not letting the heavy backpack slow her down in the least.

Dawn breaks before you reach the shrine. Your hunch was right and there are dark clouds at the horizon. The wind also seems to be picking up, moving around loose snow and threatening to turn the tolerable morning into a survival exercise.

Eventually, the shrine lies before you, bathing in the morning sun. It's immediately clear that no-one's around as it's totally silent and the most recent footprints are slowly being covered by the wind.

“You check the main building, I'll see about the store room.”
Ran hands the backpack back to you and heads towards the buildings without another word. Seems like she's determined to do this.

You drop the few coins you happen to have with you into the box in front of the shrine in an attempt to make up for what you're about to do. Apologizing silently, you push open the door and step into the building. It's only a bit warmer inside than it is outside, confirming what Reimu said last night.

“Hey, I found it!”
Ran's voice interrupts you after only about 15 minutes of searching, hinting that she knew where to look. You go outside again, finding Ran with a small clay jar.

“That's it?”
The jar looks very plain. It's made from unfired clay and has a wax seal.

“Yep. It may look simple, but Reimu has sealed it so whatever's inside can't get out.” Well, Reimu isn't known for caring about the small details such as warning signs. “So, are we done here?”

“Are you just going to take that and leave?” Ran nods. “What about the chunk of ice in the chimney?”

“She can take care if it herself.” For a moment, it seems like that's all she has to say. Then she lifts up one hand, removes the glove and snaps her fingers. You hear a cracking sound, followed by the sound of something hard falling. “There. Feel better now?”
Pocketing the jar she's still holding, she puts the glove back on.

[] You're done here. Time to get going to make sure Reimu won't catch you.
[] You should wait for Reimu to get back to make sure she doesn't get mad for you stealing something.


Abandoned mines
Threat level: low
History: Ages ago, before Gensokyo was sealed away, a warlord used to hold the lands. Around the same time, a deposit of iron was found. Mineshafts were rapidly dug to extract the then-precious metal. Some of the shafts encountered natural caverns. As the workers tried to explore the caverns, they found out that some unnatural power caused even the bravest of them to be so afraid that they couldn't continue. The warlord commanded priests to seal the caverns and to continue mining. It was done, but the deposit was soon depleted and the mines were abandoned.
Now: Few people know about the mines. The natural caverns they found were connected to the then-active part of Hell, which was the source of the fear. The priests' seal still holds, providing a moderate level of safety to any explorers.


It feels relaxing when the tests are behind you.
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[x] You're done here. Time to get going to make sure Reimu won't catch you. 
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[x] You're done here. Time to get going to make sure Reimu won't catch you.

>It feels relaxing when the tests are behind you.
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[x] You're done here. Time to get going to make sure Reimu won't catch you.
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[x] You're done here. Time to get going to make sure Reimu won't catch you.

“Not really, but I suppose that will have to do.” You look at the shrine again. The tracks in the snow make it clear that someone's been there. “Anyways, I think we should get going.”

“True.” Ran gazes at the sky for a short moment. “Coming here may have been a mistake, I'm not sure if we can make it in time now.” Glancing at you, she heads towards the stairs which lead off the hill. “Come on. We better hurry.”

At first, it is just some light snow falling from the clear sky. Then it's light snowfall dancing in the air. The wind turns gusty as you're traveling in a dense forest. The rustling above grows louder and at some point you notice that the trees are visibly bending. You reach the edge of the forest at some point in the early afternoon. It's snowing heavily, but the wind doesn't seem to have gotten any harsher.

“We're almost there and it seems like storm wasn't all that bad after all.”
Both of you are worn out by the long walk in the snow, even more so due to the grueling pace that Ran insisted on.

“We haven't seen the worst of this yet, but I hope we'll reach the mine before we have to.”
Ran looks around, trying to find out your exact location. “Okay, we're about half an hour from there. Let's hope the weather remains favorable.”

Twenty minutes later...
The world has turned into a white plateau under you and a swirling vortex of snow everywhere around you. The wind bites through your clothes as if they weren't there in the first place. Every snowflake feels like a tiny needle pricking your face, making it nearly impossible to keep your eyes open. You're following Ran without the slightest idea about where you're going.

“Where are we going?”
You have to lower your scarf to reveal your mouth, and even then you aren't sure if she heard.

“I have no idea!”
Perhaps it would have been better not to ask. Then you could have at least hoped that you're going to get somewhere soon.

Another twenty minutes later...

“Look! It seems like we made it!”
Ran points at some weird-looking mound. As you look closer, you realize that there's a small, rectangular black hole on the side.

The entrance is mostly covered in snow, but there was enough room to get in. Inside, you find a single shaft dug directly into stone. The shaft is only about as wide as you are tall, and goes straight into the darkness at about a 10 degree angle. You think you can just about make out a branch near where the darkness overpowers the light coming from the hole. The still darkness feels oddly relaxing, and even the sound of the wind coming from outside has a certain cozy feeling to it. That is, until you sit down for a moment and start to feel the effects of the cold.

“Great, it seems like everything's here.” Ran's voice carries from the darkness ahead. You hear her lift something heavy. “Oof. How are you feeling, by the way?” You start shivering just as Ran comes back with an enormous rucksack. “...oh. You've got some frostbite on your cheeks.”

“I do?”
You take off your glove and place your palm on your cheek. Sure enough, it feels cool. Ran watches you silently for a moment as you warm up your cheeks.

“Dig up your sleeping gear and eat something, you're not going any further today.” She drops her backpack. “I'll take the first watch, you get some sleep and try to warm up.”


We will now leave the duo alone into their dark cave to let them do their spelunking without interference. Which of the following would you like to follow while the main duo is lost in the dark?

[] Aya
[] Shirou
[] A 20something on the outside

Aya and Shirou you already know, they're the the orphan siblings working at the shop.
As of the last guy? Well, the state of the outside is reflected into Gensokyo, sometimes with a delay. Gensokyo is at the brink of conflict. What would that mean the outside is like?
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[c] A 20something on the outside.

I'm curious.
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[x] A 20something on the outside
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Gif unrelated.

[x] A 20something on the outside

That's what it says.
You press the button again, just to make sure you got it right.
Should you get up or try to sleep some more?
It's still dark, but you aren't tired anymore.
The screen's light turns off. You set down the phone and stare at the ceiling. It soon gets boring. Seems like there's no other choice than getting up. Throwing off the covers, you ignore the assault of chilly air and push yourself up. A ray of light shines into your eyes. You look at the streetlamp through the gap between your curtain and the window. A car's headlights faintly shine through the curtain. Then it's gone, and you reach for your shirt and socks.

Cast over, relatively warm and green skies seems to be the weather today. The greenness should fade into greyness once the sun rises and the streetlights get turned off, though. Some people are still at the street, heading for the 08:15 lectures and classes. You won't have anything until 12:15, so you lean back and press the power button.

Some domestic politician is accused of borderline bribery. The Euro isn't doing well. Some other politicians disagree about something. China disrespects human rights. Study: video games don't cause violent behavior. US deports a Chinese diplomat. A celebrity in a bold outfit – see pictures! US politics: Republicans disagree! Russian politics: Putin agrees! A ship crossing the Atlantic disappeared.
You open the one about games and scroll down to the comments. Some people who haven't read the study are arguing about why the results are wrong.

It slowly gets lighter as you waste your time. Your connection seems slow today, and your favourite imageboard is down so you have to browse some other sites for your daily dose of cats and general weirdness.
It's some ads, the paper and a large letter with your name and address on it. Setting aside the rest, you seek scissors, cut open the envelope and take out the contents. A red tower, olive print...

You slowly go through the top half of the paper, making sure you don't misread anything.
Additional military refresher course order
Conscript: Name Goes Here
Rank: Private
Unit: Signals platoon
It has been deemed necessary to arrange an additional refresher course due to...

No, you had to misread it.
Additional military refresher course...
There it is. Looks like you have to go examine dirt and mud in detail again. And you thought you did enough crawling for a lifetime already. And this doesn't even count towards the maximum amount of refresher course days of allowed by the law.

The rest of the letter has a lot of §'s and fine words. What is says that you'll be considered a deserter unless you appear at a specific place at a specific date. The date happens to be next week. On the flip side of the paper is a TL:DR version of it without all the §'s and fine words. Be here at this date, or... And don't tell anyone, or...

Wait. The date. Next week? Yep.
You stare at it for a moment. A half-formed thought goes through your head. What did they say about warning times when they sent you home...? A moment later, and you've found the info on the Internet. “A conscript must be informed of refresher courses at least three (3) calendar months prior to the beginning of the course.”
The clause sends a chill down your spine. You scroll down a bit and find something interesting. “The president may, in an abnormal situation, give the army the rights to order additional service to conscripts without following § cited above and § something else...”

You have to read the letter a dozen of times before finally believing that it isn't a scam and that it's a direct violation of the law regardless. The signature seems real enough. The fact that it exists coincides with some facts, such as the recent lack of domestic news and a slight decrease in people on lectures and classes. You stagger around in your room for a while, until you run into a box you haven't opened for a while. The contents are a card, a strip of velcro and a small metal plate. Military pass. Name tag. Identification plate. They should be memories, not a necessity. Yet a single word is making them something that they shouldn't be. It means the military pass will be checked again. It means you'll have to attach the name tag to an uniform again. It means that the identification plate...
...may get used for the purpose it was created for.
And why is that one word so important?
Of course, you hope that “ Additional military refresher course” will be just that. A refresher course. Military refresher courses aren't anything out of the ordinary.
Additional military refresher courses are, though.
And now you're worried because the words “Additional military refresher course order” were last used in 1939.

Fast forward:
[] One week
[] One month
[] Some other time


I wrote this nearly a week ago, and then decided it's so bad I don't want anyone to see it. I still think it's bad.

Oh, and we just leaped backwards in time. The times of the two realities aren't always synchronized.
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[x] Some other time 
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Shameless self-bump.
This time, I'd actually want to write, but the vote is for the write-in option. I'm not sure whether I should call you stupid or a jerk.

Is it because nobody cares or is it because I hate myself and only rarely update?
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[X] One week
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Combination of all three?

I won't speak for the rest of the site, but personally, if the writer lacks confidence then I will lose interest. I also don't check with stories unless they have a regular update schedule. The two of those lead to me being apathetic to the story.
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>>37228 Just not following this story, and it also looked sporadic.
Generally that will throw off readers, especially those who don't use the follow function. Give me a day or two.
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Time is a very large if you have nothing to shoot for.
[X] One week

You could have just said "That was a write-in option so you need to specify a time. Also, a few more votes would be nice, though I'll call it in X days regardless." Negativity for the sake of negativity is hard on the eyes, imo.

Write-in options are often labelled anyways. [] Some Other Time could have been some covert author-determined time period.
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[x] One week

You drop your bag onto your bed and go over the contents in your mind. Phone, charger, e-book full of literature, charger, cards, a mostly-empty notebook and a pencil case. Not a whole lot of stuff, but nothing's really needed – the army will provide full upkeep. Well, apart the whole rest & relaxation part. And lighters, knifes and flashlights. Those five things are surprisingly hard to get your hands on when they're really needed, so better pack your own. Your book, cards and notebook will take care of the first two, and your bag soon holds three additional items in it.

Tee tee tee tee...
Tee tee tee tee...
Mfpgh. Slam. The alarm goes silent. You really, really want to sleep some more, but it really, really isn't possible today. They called you last evening after you were done packing, ensuring that the letter had arrived and reminded that being late will make you a deserter. Right now, the sentence of desertion ranges from a fine to ten years in prison. During peacetime, it's nearly always a fine. But now? Well, during WW2 and under martial law, the sentence ranged from front-line service to death for those who were caught.

The computer whirrs to life once more as you sit down to eat your breakfast the usual way, browsing the Internet. A smile forms on your face. During the week, you've gathered a lot of... interesting information regarding the situation, and none of it comes from “official” sources. On their own, none of it would make you worried. But all together?
Well. 4Chan is unreachable, as are some other large imageboards. On more than one of the smaller ones which still work, you found a thread about people asking each other if they're the only ones who got those course orders. Online games, forums, IRC: same story. Everyone has the same question: “Am I the only one who got this order? Is this for real?”
You're now fairly certain that this will be your last meal at home. The final supper, except it's breakfast.

You slam shut the door, checking it's locked before heading down the stairs. Everything feels a fair bit slower than usual, even opening the door out of the stairwell. The walk to the bus stop lasts for an eternity. Then, all of a sudden – or at least it feels like it – you've changed to the underground and then to another bus. Even that journey comes to an end when the bus stops at a beam and a military police officer comes in.
“Everyone who's coming for the additional military refresher course, please exit the vehicle now. Everyone else, please remain seated and present your clearance.”

Nearly everyone, including you, gets up and exits. Outside, there's another MP officer, a Sergeant, to direct you. He orders everyone into a row and then orders a count. It's immediately clear that everyone's done this before. Meanwhile, the higher-ranked MP has checked the clearances of the few who remained in the bus.
“Sir Lieutenant, the conscripts on that bus. The count is 19.”
“At ease. Go back to your post.” The sergeant nods and heads towards the hut that oversees this hole in the chain-link fence. The lieutenant turns at you. “Do you all have your orders? I'm going to check them now, so fish them and an ID from your bags.”
It seems like nearly everyone was prepared for this, and only two take more than 30 seconds to get theirs. The lieutenant checks that the name on the order matches the one on the ID as he passes by you.

Afterward, another bus comes to pick you up and drives you to a building where a very annoyed checks your name from a computer and then tells you to go through a doorway into a basic health checkup consisting of measuring height, weight, pulse, blood pressure, eyesight, hearing and a very short quiz about mental health and motivation. Since you made sure to be here well before the time on the order, it doesn't take all that long – one hour compared to three - and soon you and three others are being led to a barracks where you'll be sleeping. The corporal who's leading you gives you a quick tour of the building before asking another corporal for a list of where everyone's sleeping. You get sent upstairs, and the others remain downstairs. Apart the few NCO's, the building is nearly empty. You were among the first ones to arrive, but you're not the first one in the room of 12. Someone's already there, sitting at the table and reading a book when you get in.
“Oh, hello.” You look at each other for a moment. “Hensen?”

“Yep. I was already worried that they'd shuffled the squads and put me with some strangers.”
The guy, Hensen, served with you when you went through conscription two years ago. He's a decent pal.

“Seems like they didn't. Have you heard anything about why we're here?”
You throw your bag on an unoccupied bunk far from the door, near where the lockers are.

“Not really. I heard the colonel is going to speak in the evening once everyone's here.” He shrugs and puts down the book he was reading. “I suppose we'll have to wait until then.”

You chat about what's happened since you last met, and people slowly dribble in. About four hours after the deadline specified in the order, even the last of the 12 bunks is taken and your platoon leader, 2nd lieutenant Kovorsk, comes in. Silence falls immediately.

“Thank you. I'm just here to tell you that the colonel is going to speak in about 30 minutes and that you have 5 minutes to get yourselves ready. When we get back form there, we will no longer be friends but rather a commanding officer and his platoon. You should mentally prepare to take orders, and physically prepare by doing whatever you have to do.”
He nods and leaves. You soon hear him say the same thing in the neighboring room.

30 minutes later, and the whole company is outside, standing on the field in front of the barracks, mostly in formation and waiting for the colonel to show up. He does show up, and only 10 minutes after everyone's ready.

“Good afternoon, ○○○ company. I'm certain you're all anxious to know why we're all here.” He checks his watch. “But I'm afraid we have to wait for a few minutes before that information becomes public and I can tell you. Meanwhile, I'll let Captain Johnson explain what will happen next.”
The captain walks to where the colonel is and clears his throat.

“Right. After this, you're going to get your equipment. First, the XXX platoon will...”
He goes over every platoon's general timetable for the rest of the evening. It's mostly eating and getting equipment.
“... and finally, we'll hopefully get to sleep around 22:00. We'll start the training tomorrow.”
He falls silent and the colonel checks his watch again. The tension builds as Johnson walks back to his spot.

“I hope everyone now knows what he has to do today.” His gaze slowly rolls from left to right, checking every officer. Then he checks his watch. “Right. You have been invited here today because our intelligence has uncovered several signs that our national security and sovereignty may get compromised by YYY. I would like to remind everyone that we are not, I repeat, we are NOT at war and are doing everything we can to avoid it. And that is why you are here: as a sign that this nation is not going to just watch form the sidelines as others prepare to do harm to its people and property. As of today, the president is traveling to YYY in an attempt to find a diplomatic solution, and while we all hope he'll be successful, we can't completely rely on it. That is another reason why you are here. In addition...”
His speech lasts for a while, and you can clearly detect the intent to awake patriotic feelings to improve your morale.

[] Back to Gensokyo.
[] Continue on the Outside.
-[] But skip {X} days.


There. We have now "caught up" with the current events.
Did you find that interesting? Let me know.
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[x] Back to Gensokyo.

Kind of interesting but I feel like letting it simmer for a bit in the background. I'd like to get back to it after we make more headway into the story first.
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[x] Back to Gensokyo.

I can't say it was interesting as it was aside from a slow paced story to cover something currently irrevelant to the story.
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One word:

You'll have to wait a little longer.
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If you're feeling stressful, just remember:

If you fail, you'll die!
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You find it very odd when someone prods your side while you're talking to Aya in the kitchen. There shouldn't be anyone but you and her in here.

“Wake up.”
Ran gently prods you again as you try to remember what you talked about in the dream. You can't remember and find that surprisingly annoying, as if you were talking about something very important.

“I'm awake.” Rolling around in your sleeping bag, you turn to face her. The tunnel, dimly lit by the lantern, is as dark as ever. “What time is it?”

“It's nearly nine, and time for us to go.”
Placing her hand on the stone floor, she pushes herself up from the kneeling position she'd taken to wake you and stretches. You wonder how long she's been awake.

“Nine in the morning or nine in the evening?”
You lost track of the time of day during day two while you were still in the mines. According to Ran, it has now been four days since you last saw daylight – a fact supported by your dwindling food reserves. Water was starting to be a problem until you found an underground river yester- two sleep cycles ago.

“Um...” You stop putting on your sock, only now realizing that she's been completely still after you asked the question. “Evening. I think.” Ran looks at you, averting her eyes as soon as they meet yours.

“Are you still certain we're going to find what we're looking for?”
During the last few sleep cycles, you've found out a bit about her; she dislikes failing and being alone.

“Yes.” She sounds a little shaky. “We're close. I'm certain of that.”
She seems to regain her confidence.

You decide not to mention about the need to also find a way out. More than half of the food has already been eaten and she knows it. You can only trust her now.

The daily(?) routine starts with you both waking up, getting dressed and eating something. Then Ran heads off to some unknown destination and you follow her. That goes on until she decides it's time to stop for a break, usually after four or five hours. Then you eat, walk some more and finally stop to rest when you're tired enough to sleep. The darkness isn't good for either of you; lately you've been sleeping for 12 hours a day, at lest according to the watch Ran has. Yet you still feel tired all the time.

You reached the seal which marked the end of the iron mines some time ago. You've forgotten how long it's been. That marked the end of man-made tunnels, and a change into tunnels shaped by the hands of the Gods of Hell. They're much wider than the hand-dug tunnels, branch in a more predictable pattern and have occasional carvings to break the monotony. The carvings, more often than not, depict suffering humans.

“Hey Ran.”
You just stopped for a break, and are both leaning against the same wall to relax.

It's the first break of the day, and you've noticed that Ran stops at the junctions more often than before.

“Is it just me, or has it been getting hotter?”
You've seemed to notice a slight rise in temperature as you've progressed today.

“It's not just you. We've been descending this whole time and now we're getting close to the still-burning fires of the former hell.”
She lifts the water bottle she's been carrying to her lips and drinks.

“Is that where we're going?”
You look at the carving of a man that you stopped at. The man is burning and screaming. Ran doesn't answer, so you look at her instead.

“I'm not sure. We're getting so close that it's getting difficult to tell which way to go.”
She looks directly into your eyes. You take it as a sign of honesty.

You rest for a while longer before eating some of the remaining food and continuing. Ran stops at the first branch for nearly a minute before finally nodding and heading off. The corridor she chooses turns out to be very boring and straight for a long time. That is, until it's nearly time to sleep. You stop at a split, and Ran looks one way and then another. Then she sighs, drops her backpack and sits.

“How much food do we have?”
Her question surprises you: it's unlike her to worry about supplies.

“A bit more than a day's worth. How come?”
Glancing at her, you notice that she's looking at her feet.

“How long could you last if I won't eat?”
You blink, then close your eyes to calculate for a moment.

“Three days if I ration it, I think. Why'd you ask?”
You raise an eyebrow and look at Ran.

“I have no idea where to go.”
She stares at you. It takes a while for the full meaning of her words to register.

“So... what now?”
You stare back at her, trying to think of why she'd tell you now and not earlier.

“You decide.” She opens the flap of her bag and rummages for a while before finding a metal can. She looks at it. “This is my emergency ration. With this, you should be able to get back home if you go back to the last junction and go the way we didn't come from. That tunnel will take you to the Palace of Earth Spirits in about four days.”
Silence. Nothing else needs to be said for you to understand.

“What's going to happen to you?”
It's not really a question that needs asking, but you ask it anyways.

“I'll die. Hopefully after I find it so I can come back for it.”
Of course, she'll be reborn – eventually. It could take anywhere between a day and a year depending on the mana flow spot she dies at and whether her master is awake or not. Above ground it would take no longer than a week, but the area of former hell is nearly devoid of natural mana.

[] Continue alone
-[] To the Palace of Earth Spirits.
-[] Down the tunnel with hot air flowing from it.
-[] Down the steep, damp tunnel.

[] Continue with Ran
-[] Down the tunnel with hot air flowing from it.
-[] Down the steep, damp tunnel.


It's nice to be home again for a change.
However, I'm leaving again today. Only for a week instead of two this time, though.
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[] Continue alone 
-[] To the Palace of Earth Spirits. 
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[X] Continue with Ran
-[X] Down the tunnel with hot air flowing from it.
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[X] Continue with Ran
-[X] Down the tunnel with hot air flowing from it.

could have serious consequences but I don't think we should leave her alone.
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[x] Continue with Ran
-[x] Down the tunnel with hot air flowing from it.

“We've come too far to just turn back. I'm ready to go all the way if that's what it takes.”
Your first thought is that she just wants to get rid of you in order to claim the piece for herself. However, you start to doubt yourself as you watch Ran slowly open and close her mouth, as if about to say something but then deciding not to, during the following silence.

“Well.” She pauses for another while. “Well. I suppose I can't prevent you from following me if you want to. It seems likely that we'll both starve to death, but let's hope we'll find something to eat.”
She turns around to face the tunnel from which hot air is flowing.

“Let's hope we do.”
Heaving the backpack onto your shoulders, you move next to Ran. She doesn't react in any way, but continues staring down the tunnel, completely still.

“You know...” Her voice is silent. Turning to face you, she does something she hasn't done before and touches you, stroking your unshaven cheek with her fingers. “I'm sure you're questioning my motives and everything, but starving to death is something I'd rather do alone.”
An image appears in your mind. It is from a story: a ship sunk in the Pacific but the crew escaped on a lifeboat. Until the food ran out, that is.

You look at Ran. Her eyes seem to be slightly damp around the corners, and she's smiling a forced smile. Opening your mouth, you attempt to say something but the words die at your lips. What you remembered was a story, but you've read a certified report of the sole survivor of such an incident. Humans may seem different from animals – but even they will resort to any means necessary to stay alive, however savage it may be.
If she wanted to kill you, you would already be dead and no-one would be the wiser about how you died. Perhaps her concern is real and she actually cares for her kind, be it that you're only a half-breed.

“There are some lines even I am prohibited from crossing. Please, don't force me to risk the most sacred one.”
Her whispers are barely audible as she turns away.


“Hey Shirou.”
Your sister calls for you from downstairs. Setting down the curio-in-a-jar, you leave Seimei's study before answering.

She's at the bottom of the stairs, visible the moment the door closes enough to not be in the way.

“One of the guests is asking for you.”
How weird.

Hopping down the stairs two at a time, you pass Aya as she's about to start stirring whatever she has in the pot again. It's been unusually quiet lately and she's been handling the stall alone.
There's only one person in the small room which has the few tables for customers. A purple-haired woman who you haven't seen before is petting Tyrande while gazing absentmindedly out of the window. She uncrosses her legs when she notices you.

“Ah. You have to be Shirou. I'm Iku Nagae and I was looking for Seimei, but it seems like he isn't here at the moment.” She smiles at you and pats your head as you get close enough. “Perhaps you could tell me where to find him?”
You glance at the fox lying comfortably on the table in front of her; a sign that the two have met before and are in good terms. The animal knows how to find him... as do you, at least probably. You had the weirdest of dreams last night where your mother showed you an entrance into some sort of forgotten caves. It was immediately obvious, for reasons unknown, that that's where Seimei has gone. Yet you have a feeling that he doesn't want anyone to know where he is.

[] You don't know.
[] Let Tyrande out and tell her to follow.
[] Tell her of the dream and the odd cave.
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[c] Let Tyrande out and tell her to follow.
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[x] Let Tyrande out and tell her to follow.

Which would take too long to save any of them but worth a try, Where are the juicy spider youkai when you need them. Honestly I hope the sman stones are worth it.

Does this Iku met Senmei with the same circumstances as last time?
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[x] Let Tyrande out and tell her to follow.
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[x] Let Tyrande out and tell her to follow.
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I wish to enquire about profiles of the dramatis personae we have encountered thus far:

Shirou and Aya
Reimu Hakurei
Iku Nagae
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I am currently busy trying to integrate/derivate fourdimensional hypersurfaces in 5-space. I'm also busy trying to figure out wave-particle dualism and the inaccuracy theorem.

I shouldn't have to say that I'm a "little" busy, and probably will be for the entire spring term.

Multivariable calculus, quantum physics, C programming and a lab course.
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I liked this story too, tragic.
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