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Somewhere in the southwestern district of a city, derisively called the Human Village by its less-than-human visitors and inhabitants, where willows grew along the canal, there lived a terrifying youkai. She stalked the canal's banks, her long neck's grip breaking not one bone, her many heads not letting anyone she met escape her nightmare-inducing gaze!

She was...! She was... bored out of her mind.

"What a waste of time... Where is everyone?" Sekibanki said, irritated, to no one in particular, leaning on a tree, arms crossed.

This week was truly the worst she had in her recent memory. It started, like always, with the worst torture ever created - part-time work in the service sector. Well, alright, it wasn't usually that bad. The cafe was in a nice neighborhood, the family that owned the place were nice enough not to bother her with pleasantries, and the pay was good for a waitress.

But it seemed that everyone was out to get her that week. Whiny brats that kept spilling tea on her work clothes, nagging grandmas that would talk all nine of her brains out, meatheaded ronin that kept trying to add her to their bodycount one way or the other, barely disguised hick youkai that kept breaking dishes with their totally well-hidden tails and tentacles, barely sane hick humans that kept unnerving the customers with their nonsense about the staff at Yagokoro Clinic injecting the newborn with tiny metal bugs that only they could see, dorky wolf-women trying to get her into their secret sewing club or whatever, and so on! Made her blood boil just thinking about it.

As she wasted every last mon of her hard-earned pay drowning her sorrows in food and drink, she got an idea. She would end this week on a good note, and do so in a way that was proper for the Rokurokubi Horror - going all out in her horrifying glory! Sure, it would be a few weeks ahead of schedule, but Sekibanki has done this before and rarely got into trouble for it.

So, when the Rat's hour came, she got to her favourite spot under a large willow tree, just some forty ken to the north from her house, and waited. And waited. And waited...

Nearly two hours passed since she started her haunting, it was almost dawn. And yet no one worth scaring has appeared in all this time! No lovers trying to find a romantic place, no wannabe exorcists to challenge her, no thieves on the roofs, no one!

Well, there was some shambling drunk on the opposite bank, but before she could act on the chance, he entered a house, to the audible displeasure of a woman's voice inside. Now there's a fate worse than death.

As she lost the remains of hope for this outing, One of the rokurokubi's heads hidden in the tree's crown saw someone moving fast toward her from the north. She quickly tried to figure out whether he was going to be a good victim: average height, brown short hair, no visible weapons, black haori with some white sym-not quick enough! It was now or never! She:

[] Stuck to the usual plan. She'd walk out into his view, stopping him in his tracks, and would shock him with a choir of her many heads' laughter!
[] Tripped him. Before he got up, she would twist and turn her neck around him!
[] Ignored him. Too much risk, not enough time.
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[X] Tripped him. Before he got up, she would twist and turn her neck around him!
Scaring is so last century. What happened to that dumb umbrella youkai who used to do that? Need to get physical.
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[X] Tripped him. Before he got up, she would twist and turn her neck around him!
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[X] Tripped him.

That would be freaky.
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Hmm, black and white?

That kinda of symbolry reminds me of something...

Something orb-like and the cause of many, simultaneous headaches...

Nah, it's probably not important.

Even youkai have to innovate with the times; flexibility in hunting techniques is basic to survival!

[X] Tripped him. Before he got up, she would twist and turn her neck around him!

Give him the ol' Necktie.
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[x] Stuck to the usual plan. She'd walk out into his view, stopping him in his tracks, and would shock him with a choir of her many heads' laughter!

Stick to the plan, chums.
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[X] Tripped him. Before he got up, she would twist and turn her neck around him!

Humans nowadays don't take Youkai seriously anymore unless they get physical.
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[X] Tripped him. Before he got up, she would twist and turn her neck around him!


This was an opportunity to try something new! Hidden by the tree trunk, Sekibanki grabbed onto the railing with both arms and legs. When her prey was close enough, she leaned back and rapidly extended her neck across the road, sinking her teeth into a house's support beam. This kind of tripwire would stop a horse, a human had no chance!

Or so she thought.

She must've miscalculated the height her neck would be at, because instead of two smaller impacts, she felt one large, delivered with such force that her teeth couldn't hold. Sekibanki found herself flung through the air, screaming incoherently. She saw the canal's railing pass right by her nose. This ball on a chain would've rolled the willow her body was next to up in a rokurokubi giftwrap if not for the sacrifice of a few brave heads flying in its way. That, and a couple of branches.

When the world stopped being upside down and full of leaves, Sekibanki could finally see the result of her work - the man was down on his back, clutching his gut. Seizing the initiative before he could recover, she wrapped his limbs and body tight, preparing to make a slight weakness in the arms for when she would have her fill. Moving her head closer to his face, she bared her fangs. Yes, this was it! His rapid breathing, his eyes darting between her heads, his panic-stricken face!...

...that soon let out a relieved sigh. "Oh, thank goodness.", he mumbled. What!?

"Whew, and 'ere I thought those bastards caught me. Hehe.", he said, mirthfully chuckling. "Now that was a scare! Ya must be famous 'round 'ere!". Annoyed at his sudden nonchalance, Sekibanki squeezed tighter, making him let out a gasp that didn't stop his laughing fit. Her body, no longer holding the railing in a vice grip, walked toward this ball of yarn, hands on hips.

"Shut it! What the hell is going on!", she shouted right to his face. This did nothing to sour his mood. "Ya can let me go,", he said, "I ain't no human.".

In disbelief at this whole situation, she took a good look at him. He looked average for a well-off villager, a bit plump, which his baggy clothes had hidden well, but his face betrayed it. She could finally see that the white symbols on his haori were some familiar-looking kanmon - a vertically positioned leaf with a bit of it missing near the stem. In fact, now that he was closer, she could see on him a similar leaf - in his hair.

A wave of disappointment hit Sekibanki as she groaned in a choir. A tanuki. You've got to be kidding.

"Now now, no need to get all down.", the tanuki continued. "This 'ere is a good opportunity for ya, girl!", he said in a tone of a carnival barker. At least half of rokurokubi's eyes were on him in a questioning stare.

"Ya see, I'm in a bit of a rough spot right now. Some goons are after me, and I need to get out of town. Can ya help a guy in need?". He squirmed a bit, and Sekibanki heard the sound of coins ringing. A lot of coins. "And that's just what's upfront.", he continued his sales pitch, "What do ya say?".

She decided to:

[]Help the tanuki. She was broke and needed some cash.
[]Squeeze him for more info. He didn't say nearly enough about his situation to trust him.
[]Let him go. The less she had to do with tanuki yakuza, the better.
[]Help whoever chased after him. Whoever that was, they were probably less shady than this guy. Probably.
[]Shake him down and throw him into the canal. This prick was getting on her nerves.
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[X]Help whoever chased after him. Whoever that was, they were probably less shady than this guy. Probably.
Fuck this dude he probably doesn't even have a long-term human alibi.
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[X]Help whoever chased after him. Whoever that was, they were probably less shady than this guy. Probably.
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[X]Help whoever chased after him. Whoever that was, they were probably less shady than this guy. Probably.

Fuck tanuki.
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[x] Shake him down and throw him into the canal. This prick was getting on her nerves.

Cough it up, pal.
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[x] Squeeze him for more info. He didn't say nearly enough about his situation to trust him.

While I am happy with the anti Tanuki sentiment, no reason to throw him to the wolves just yet.
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[X]Help whoever chased after him. Whoever that was, they were probably less shady than this guy. Probably.

I’m not trusting a tanuki to truthfully explain anything.
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>Taking a bribe from a tanuki

>Money from a tanuki

As real as the Hakurei Miko's wealth, I'm sure.

Fuck tanuki. But also: this feels like too much of a headache to get involved in.

Not really sure what to pick, actually; anything but helping him.
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[X]Help whoever chased after him. Whoever that was, they were probably less shady than this guy. Probably.
Total tanuki death
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[x]Help whoever chased after him. Whoever that was, they were probably less shady than this guy. Probably.


Sekibanki didn't even think about it, how obvious the choice here was. Who was this guy fooling? His cash was guaranteed to be flat, yellow-green and bendy, and not the ten thousand yen kind. With this kind of attitude, he likely just swindled some blokes, possibly some youkai bigger than him, seeing how scared he seemed. So she would hold him here until his victims catch up for a "talk".

One thing caught Sekibanki's attention - despite being disguised, he wore his clan colours! He was right, this was a good opportunity - she could publicly embarrass a whole tanuki yakuza clan! This wasn't exactly the kind of reputation she wanted for herself, and it could lead to trouble, but from what she understood, the clan would rather attempt to maintain face by getting rid of him, rather than her. All in all, it was a risk she was sure would pay off.

"Hmm, that sure sounds like a lucrative deal.", Sekibanki slowly said with a mock pondering, "But I have a better idea. Why don't I ask the other guys first?"

"Woah, woah, 'ey, wait a minute.". His voice retained the same salesman qualities, but his smile looked a bit strained. "They're not the kinda guys you'd wanna deal with. There's no need for that."

"Exactly what a conman on his last leg would say.", she shut him down with a smug smirk. "Why should I trust some tanuki to tell me the truth?"

"Whatever ya think of me, those guys are ten times worse!". The tanuki now began sounding really nervous, "Don't do this to yerself, they'll kill ya! Slowly!". He was thrashing in Sekibanki's grip frantically.

"Yeah, yeah, keep on yapping, dog. Should've stuck to bothering farmers." Her head on a nearby roof brought something to her attention. "Oh, I think I see some lanterns! They're getting... close...", she said with dying confidence, that was rapidly replaced with worry.

Sekibanki's train of thought crashed with no survivors when she realised what she saw. There were twelve men in total. Six of them were in simple clothes, some with lanterns, and all with shimenawa-adorned mancatchers. The other four wore dark-colored haori, the Hieda kanmon displayed proudly on them. Two men were in front of the group. One of them wore an expensive-looking beige haori and a round metal helmet, and waved his jitte around, shouting orders. The other man...

The other man made Sekibanki feel fear for the first time in a long time. They brought an exorcist with them, and he looked like the sort of guy red-white would call if she ever got into actual trouble. With his tall stature, long grey hair and beard, and a yamabushi garb, complete with a tokin and a shakujo, one could easily mistake him for a tengu. And his hard gaze was fixed on where the two youkai were.

Pulling herself together, Sekibanki screamed her lungs out. "Why didn't you say you got the fuzz on your tail!?".

The tanuki was unprepared for this assault. "Agh, my ears!"

"What did you do!?", she asked, shaking him for a good measure.

"Nothing, I did nothing! It's just a misunderstanding, that's all!" Somehow she didn't believe him.

This was bad. She could try to untie the tanuki in time and make a break for it, but the cops would still see her and give chase, taking her for an accomplice. And if they didn't, she was haunting out of season, they'd definitely give her crap for that. They were both screwed, one more than the other.

There was no getting out of this unscathed, she just had to bear with it. The police squad has finally arrived. Shouting orders to stand down, the men surrounded them, weapons at the ready. The frightening exorcist's gaze became quizzical as it focused on the rokurokubi.

The man in a helmet pointed his jitte at Sekibanki. "You! Youkai! Hand over the suspect, immediately!" Must be the yoriki.

"Alright, alright.", she said, her body's hands lifting. "He was getting annoying anyway. Fair warning, his hands will come out first."

A few patrolmen came closer to the yarn ball, the tanuki was getting nervous. "'Ey, I've told you already, chief! You've already got yer man! Or woman. Whatever, I've got nothing to do with this!"

"Shut up already!", simultaneously rang from both Sekibanki and the yoriki, eliciting a mutual stare full of confusion and, somehow, understanding.

This moment was all the tanuki needed. Feeling the grip on him loosen a bit, he suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke, emerging from the neck coils in his true form of a small, fluffy animal, dashing between the cops. Sekibanki quickly got knocked to the bottom of this moshpit.

"He's getting away!"

"Nab 'im!"

"Gotch-Ow, he bit me!"

"I think I got him!"

"That's my leg, you moron!"

Making it out of the pile of bodies, the tanuki soared into the air, heading toward the houses. The exorcist's shakujo was shining brightly. "Most unwise, Honma.", he said to the floating beast. "I might just leave nothing to arrest."

The tanuki turned to the yamabushi, and as he was about to reply, several lasers shot from nearby roofs and trees hit him in the back. He fell to the ground like a rock.

The exorcist and the yoriki both looked up from the unconscious furball to see Sekibanki's heads floating down from hiding.

The officer, now a lot less agitated, spoke to the closest head to him. "I'll admit, that was good work."

The head was not amused. "Yeah, sure, whatever, now can you order your men to get off my body?"

A bit annoyed at her lack of tact, he nevertheless told the rest of the squad to stand up, revealing a girl's body with a several ken length of neck. It stood up, and the neck began to shrink to a normal, for a human, size, with a fresh head replacing the previous, beaten-up one.

"Alright,", the yoriki called out, "let's get this scumbag to the slammer. Yoshinaga, cleanup duty." One of the officers fixing his disheveled coat waved to a few common-clothed patrolmen to get to him, and they started looking for something in the vicinity. "Everyone else, follow me.". He looked back one last time with a weary expression. She could've sworn she heard a quiet "fuck them tanuki" as he went.

The exorcist lingered a bit longer, the tanuki on his shoulder, barely recognisable under a layer of ofuda. He walked closer to Sekibanki, making her step back a little. His weathered face in combination with his long white hair and beard made him look beyond time itself. Forget mistaking him for a tengu - he was as if Soujoubou himself had a shorter nose. She couldn't help but feel nervous. "It's best that you stay at home for a while.", he said in a low, even voice, and walked away to join the rest.

Letting out a breath she didn't know she held, Sekibanki turned to finally get out of this crazy place, only to be greeted by the officer that stayed for "cleanup". He looked rather typical for a samurai policeman - dark hair tied in a topknot, black haori that made his shoulders look broader than they probably were, brown, dust-covered hakama, a pair of swords and a jitte on his belt.

"Hold on, miss, I've still got some questions for you if you don't mind." he approached her with a polite smile. "Sorry, part of the procedure, nothing I can do about it."

"Well, I do mind.", she said, and went past him.

"Alright, I won't take your time." He said in something of a wistful tone. "You'd have to get rest for tomorrow's community service. Strange, the youkai are more docile than ever, and yet I hear the haul is getting heavier lately with all the feral maulings."

That stopped her. He continued, voice hiding slight condescendance. "After all, that's what youkai citizens who misbehave out of season usually do, they aid their community with the mourning for the senseless loss of life, no?". Sekibanki turned to him, the anger on her face contrasting his polite expression. "Come on, it's obvious what you've been doing here at this hour. Now, yoriki might've let that slip for helping the case, but he's usually a bit more by the book, so to speak. You won't be this lucky again."

"What do you want?"

"Nothing much. Just aid me in this investigation, and I'll cover your tracks for this month. Maybe longer."

Sekibanki considered her options. If he's telling the truth, working with him would only be beneficial. Fear wasn't something you could save for a rainy day, this was a golden opportunity! On the other hand, if he was lying, she'd just do his work for him, for free! But then again, was what he said about the community service true? She never got caught, and thus never knew what it entailed.

At this point, she just wanted to go home. "...fine."

"Great! You won't regret it, miss..?"


"Yoshinaga. Now, what can you tell me about what happened here?"


"What an awful beginning to a Sunday."

"Ehh, I've had worse. Remember that time fifty years or so ago when I got chased out of that inn?"

"So much blood..."

"Can you keep quiet? Noisy..."

Sekibanki was lying in her futon, trying to not self-brainstorm what just happened. She still had an hour or two to rest before work. But her mind was just in too much turmoil, the heads around her house wouldn't shut up!

"This whole deal stinks, that copper was no less shady than that tanuki."

"Yeah, and I still don't know what that prick's deal was. 'confidential House Hieda business' my stump. I don't know if meeting him this Monday night is such a good idea, might just scam me."

"And that exterminator! Did you see how he looked at you? Was he even human? And what with that cryptic warning? Or was that a threat?"

"Ugh, enough already!", Sekibanki in futon shouted, dispelling the other heads. Enough! She had to come to a decision or she would never rest!

[]Go to work. Aside from some meager savings, she was broke. Sunday tips alone could provide her with for a whole week.
[]Stay at home. The work's part-time anyway, she could just laze for a day, definitely not scared of that exorcist, nope!

Monday (night):
[]Meet with Yoshinaga. He was rather shady-looking, but being able to haunt whenever she wanted was just too good to pass up.
[]To hell with Yoshinaga. No human threatens the Rokurokubi Horror!
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[x]Go to work. Aside from some meager savings, she was broke. Sunday tips alone could provide her with for a whole week.
Money good.
[X]To hell with Yoshinaga. No human threatens the Rokurokubi Horror!
Cops bad
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[x]Stay at home. The work's part-time anyway, she could just laze for a day, definitely not scared of that exorcist, nope!
[X]Meet with Yoshinaga. He was rather shady-looking, but being able to haunt whenever she wanted was just too good to pass up.

Safe word is "exterminator brutality"!
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[x]Go to work. Aside from some meager savings, she was broke. Sunday tips alone could provide her with for a whole week.
[X]To hell with Yoshinaga. No human threatens the Rokurokubi Horror!
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>Picture from a Zounose doujin.

Well, That man is certain to live a long and happy life, I'm sure.

[X]Go to work. Aside from some meager savings, she was broke. Sunday tips alone could provide her with for a whole week.
[X]To hell with Yoshinaga. No human threatens the Rokurokubi Horror!
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[X]Go to work. Aside from some meager savings, she was broke. Sunday tips alone could provide her with for a whole week.
[X]Meet with Yoshinaga. He was rather shady-looking, but being able to haunt whenever she wanted was just too good to pass up.

Don't wanna be Hungrybanki
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[X]Go to work. Aside from some meager savings, she was broke. Sunday tips alone could provide her with for a whole week.
Monday (night):
[X]To hell with Yoshinaga. No human threatens the Rokurokubi Horror!


With silence finally taking over after her heads babble died down, Sekibanki looked over her house. It sure wasn't a cozy countryside minka, just a single multipurpose room she rented in a one-story rowhouse, as cheap and cramped as one should expect it to be for being in the tail-end of the Village, but it wasn't like she needed more.

After a moment of deliberation, Sekibanki got up from the futon and went to a corner of her sleeping area. There she lifted a floorboard to reveal a paper package. She oppened it, taking a look at it's contents: one shu, fifty-ish mon on a string, around two thousand Outside yen... all in all, not good enough to be called savings. Curse those jumping tobacco prices! This sight was enough to put away the image of that menacing exorcist out of her mind.

As for Yoshinaga... eh, screw him. She helped him enough with his stupid questions she didn't even bother to remember. And his attempts to scare her into helping more were pathetic - what idiot tries to frighten a youkai with corpses? So, with that out of the way, she could finally get some shuteye.


Kanfukutei was having a great day. The customers were aplenty, and the orders were expensive. The same couldn't be said about its owners.

"Welcome, welcome! Please have a seat!" It was only an hour past noon and Saburo was already tired of saying it over and over again. How did Naomi and Oseki keep up their cheer all day long was beyond him. He led the new customers to the recently freed table.

"Honey, the manju!", his wife called to him across the hall.

"Wha- oh dammit!..." He quickly ran back to the kitchen to watch the manju. Boiling fine, just in time. He had to relieve his wife of at least some of her duties, lest she collapse onto the ongoing birthday party, but he was already at his limit. Where was Oseki? Sure, she could work whenever she damn pleased, but she never skipped Sunday, and now she was needed more than ever!

Speak of the devil, a red blur entered his vision, moving through the kitchen to the changing room with what sounded like "SorryI'mlate!", nearly knocking him onto the oven.

In the changing room, Sekibanki quickly put on her apron over her kimono, lightly slapped herself on the cheeks, made the best smile she could fake, and recited the holy mantra to the head she was using as a makeshift mirror. "Welcome to Kanfukutei! I'm Oseki, can I take your order?"

"So sweet I'm gonna puke.", a male voice behind her commented.

"Perfect, now I'm rea-eh?" Wait, that wasn't the head in front of her. She turned around to face her disappointed boss. He was around his early forties and somewhat thin. He stood in the doorframe, arms crossed and foot impatiently tapping on the floor. His cap was in his hand instead of on his head, dripping with water.

"Uhh... Sorry for being late, had some trouble this morning.", she said in her best attempt at being sheepish. She decided against mentioning how she overslept.

Saburo lifted a brow. "Is this what you should be apologising about?" That wasn't it? What was? She retraced her actions up until this point. She ran to the cafe, entered through the curtains, ran through the kitchen, bumped into something there, got into the changing room... oh.

She sighed, repeating the apology that was getting worryingly usual, at least to the owner. "I'm sorry for acting recklessly in the kitchen, I promise I will be more responsible in the future."

With a smile, he nodded. "That'll do. Now come on, Naomi needs backup."

She picked an empty tray and sent some heads into the hole in the ceiling. "Aye-aye, sir." Leaving the room as quickly as she could without getting a lecture on workplace safety from Saburo again, she looked over the dining hall.

The stars had aligned, and now three simultaneous birthday parties were celebrated in the cafe, which, of course, meant wave after wave of children running around the tables, threatening to knock the tray and its contents onto her. Add to that the unusually high client rotation, and it was a miracle that Naomi could stand at all. Speaking of, there she was, running between tables with enviable energy like she was sixteen, her apron dirty from all the times she inevitably bumped into a toddler.

This sure still was this week alright.

A few more customers arrived, and Sekibanki, as usual, directed her heads above where Naomi sat them. Two pairs of men, the first ones in simple garbs and with some carpentry tools on their belts, likely on a break from work, while others wore nice-looking kimono, perhaps merchants. Right after them came one shady-looking blonde girl in outsider clothing. She was wearing pants so short they were hidden behind that soft-looking jacket sort of thing she had, a bit heavy for the heat, with a hood and a hat with one of those stiff brims in front, like a duck's bill, and her eyes were hidden by a pair of dark-tinted glasses. Sekibanki decided to watch her for now from the ceiling, using a cut some meathead once made to spy on her.

While Naomi served the shady girl, Sekibanki listened to the conversations of the new arrivals, just to be sure they weren't trouble. First, the carpenters.

"Hope we can finish early, I've got some plans for the evening, if you catch my drift."

"What plans? Knowing you - oh, don't tell me..."


"Sankichi, I was joking back then. Going to that youkai-only bar will get you killed!"

"Exactly why it'll work out, they like brave ones! Besides, like you wouldn't try!"

"Well... Are they at least cute?"

"That's the point - they can't not be!"

Ugh, enough of that. No harm here, only idiocy. The shady girl seemed to just lazily eat her youkan and sip tea. Waiting for someone? While taking the carpenters' order, she overheard the merchants' talk.

"Well, what's up? I've got good and bad news. You?" It was a smoker's voice, low and in a good mood.

"Only bad ones." And this one was a singer's voice, clear and in no particular mood.

"I'll start then. We've got the scholars and the old man under our thumb."

"So it worked? Won't they break out without us looking?" Break out? Sounded suspicious. She couldn't look at them right now, as she walked to the counter to get the tea and manju, so her head above them moved the ceiling board just enough to make a peephole. They were at a four-seater right next to a window. One was closer to the entrance, to the left, a bit taller than average and with a well-groomed beard and mustache. The other sat opposite, a young man with a ponytail, looking somewhere past his companion, to the counter.

"Nah, the boss brought the old crew from Aikawa, real pros. Tofu munchers got nothing on them." So the smoker was the taller one. Aikawa? Never heard of that place. Some kappa outpost? "So now our friends're so scared of what we might do, they keep hush about it. The problem's that people got paranoid, so instead of thinking it's just her, they think it's all of us."

"I figured. Boss won't come to the meeting."

"What!? Damn, how so?"

"I saw him with our friends. Barely recognised him behind all that paper."

"Good thing he left us instructions. The evidence will lead our misguided friends to the truth."

"Shame about what will happen to her."

"Well, that's life in a big village."

"There's something else." He jerked his head slightly up as if to point to something. The other one turned around.

As Sekibanki finished collecting ordered sweets on her tray, she turned to deliver them and froze. She saw the guy with a ponytail looking right into her eyes with an inviting gaze. Yeah, it was obvious what he was trying to do, so she ignored him and continued her work. What did he expect? That she would throw her tray away and run off with some dodgy thugs? What a loser. She thought she saw the shady girl stealing a look toward those guys as well, but she was sitting close to them, so it could be a coincidence.

"Haha! And here I thought you just wanted to share some of that gold! Is she trouble?" Yep, just like she thoug- wait, trouble?

"Back then I saw a goon talk to a redhead at the scene. Couldn't get close enough to hear them."

"Heh, well, I'll just leave this to your magic, she should serve us soon."

Great. Just great. That whole escapade did make her a target for tanuki after all.
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Right as Sekibanki finished her round and went toward the tanuki to show them the exit, the outsider girl stood up and walked up to their table, arms in the pockets of her jacket.

"Oi, should you really be talking about that kinda stuff here? There're kids here, ey?", she asked them with a wide, bright smile not fitting her words.

The younger tanuki's face barely betrayed annoyance. "None of your business."

His companion was a bit less reserved. "Yeah, get lost!"

"Is something the matter?" Sekibanki asked as she walked to the commotion.

"Oh, nothing. Just some crooks who mistook a 'sweets' shop' for a 'tea house'." The said crooks looked mad, but she shut them up before they could say anything. "I just wanted to offer 'em to go someplace more fitting, say...", she took her glasses with her left hand and put them back into her pocket "...prison?" Her yellow eyes started to look familiar...

Less than a second later. She quickly pulled out her hands toward tanuki's faces, holding an octagonal box to the beard on her left and a couple of vials between her fingers to the ponytail on her right. Sekibanki could not believe it - black-white witch was about to make a shootout in the cafe! Just her luck!

There were gasps and whispers throughout the hall. Some customers chose to leave while they still could. "Hey! If you're gonna fight - do it outside!", shouted Saburo while hiding behind the counter with his wife.

"There won't be a fight if these legitimate businessmen will go with me to the precinct! Now get up, nice and easy."

It happened in an instant. The bearded tanuki grabbed Marisa's hakkero hand and tugged it up. In a rush, Marisa fired the furnace, its two ken wide rainbow beam annihilating most of the ceiling and four of Sekibanki's heads. Her right arm jerked toward the ponytail tanuki, breaking the vials with his face. What followed the sound of cracking glass were sun and thunder up everyone's eyes and ears.

The one head that was outside quickly flew into the newly-made entrance in the roof. All of the customers who didn't leave were on the floor, screaming in confusion as they lost their senses. The ponytail tanuki was adding to the chaos, shooting danmaku blind, breaking walls and furniture. Marisa and the bearded tanuki were still struggling for her hakkero - no wait, he picked her up with his other hand and threw her out the window! What a savage!

It was time to show these barbarians where their place was! Dropping her deaf and blind head, Sekibanki replaced it with a fresh one. Then, she smacked the tanuki closest to her upside his ponytail with her tray, breaking it in half. "Get out! Out!" she screamed while grabbing onto his clothes and adding him to witch's company - out the window!

She turned to the one fluffy prick left. He was rubbing his eyes, blinking rapidly. Good, he ought to be just as easy! As she tried to repeat the feat, he, quite deftly, knocked her arms from him and created some distance with a straight to her chest. He got up from the seat, his eyes looking in her general direction, unfocused. He extended fully his left arm, presenting a spellcard with only his thumb and index finger holding it - two card duel, melee allowed.

"I saw your neck was bandaged. Good! Makes ripping your head off so much easier!"

Sekibanki got a card out of her pocket, repeating the gesture. "Be careful of what you wish for..."

[]Take the fight outside. She couldn't risk more damage to the cafe! Oh, and customers, but who cares about those?
[]Fight inside. With these holes, they were pretty much already outside, it would be best to finish this here and now to not attract more cops to her.
{Write-ins for tactics welcome}
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[x]Take the fight outside. She couldn't risk more damage to the cafe! Oh, and customers, but who cares about those?
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[X]Fight inside. With these holes, they were pretty much already outside, it would be best to finish this here and now to not attract more cops to her.

Don't want them to escape.
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[x]Take the fight outside. She couldn't risk more damage to the cafe! Oh, and customers, but who cares about those?
delet tanuki mafia DELET TANUKI MAFIA
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Think of it this way: the more money it costs to repair the cafe, the less money they have to pay us!

Less salary = bad.

I like the Marisa drip, very cool.

Less cool that she blew up our workplace.

Anyway, I doubt we should really throw out all our heads in full view of the public; but all the space outside allows some hidden heads to take cheap shots at him, especially if he's occupied by the melee he himself stipulated.

Shooting into a melee would normally be risky, but we're a rokurokubi. We're all hand-eye (head-eye?) coordination, baybee!

[X]Take the fight outside. She couldn't risk more damage to the cafe! Oh, and customers, but who cares about those?
-[X] Guerilla tactics: Hide heads amongst the rooftops to shoot at him from ambush angles; retreat heads after shooting to avoid detection (especially by the public).
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[X]Take the fight outside. She couldn't risk more damage to the cafe! Oh, and customers, but who cares about those?
-[X] Guerilla tactics: Hide heads amongst the rooftops to shoot at him from ambush angles; retreat heads after shooting to avoid detection (especially by the public).

Urban warfare.
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[X]Take the fight outside. She couldn't risk more damage to the cafe! Oh, and customers, but who cares about those?
-[X] Guerilla tactics: Hide heads amongst the rooftops to shoot at him from ambush angles; retreat heads after shooting to avoid detection (especially by the public)


"...you might just g-WAH!" A fist grazed Sekibanki's ear, ruining her perfect comeback. The bearded tanuki rushed toward her with a flurry of punches she barely managed to dodge, moving deeper into the ruins of Kanfukutei's dining hall. Large clouds of steam were emerging from the kitchen, meaning that the next batch of manju was gone-woah, enough distractions, these swings were no joke! Not like anyone here cared about sweets at this point, lack of hearing and eyesight were much more pressing concerns. The crackling of burning furniture and children's crying were blending into the background, with her attention now being entirely on the beast.

Allowing hand-to-hand in a two-card duel (Two cards! The nerve of this dog!) made him look rather sure of his jiujutsu, and now she could see that it wasn't just bravado. His strikes had great form, speed, and power, but his brown eyes weren't on her. From how her less lucky head was feeling before she hid it, after that light from Marisa's vial he likely could only see a vague shape instead of the youkai waitress in front of him and was punching blind.

A weakness that proved to be more difficult to exploit than expected.

Sekibanki thought to throw him off balance, and with the help of a bit of a flight, made a good kick to his shins without changing her posture much. That backfired nearly immediately, with the tanuki pushing that foot up and then forward, hooking her other leg, forcing her to retreat. She saw an opening when he readied his right hand for a punch and tried to launch some point-blank danmaku to his side, only to almost get clocked by his left fist - a strike way too accurate for someone with the sun up his eyes. He kept pushing, not giving her a single chance to counter, and soon her defense started showing cracks, as she missed a blow to her abdomen. The punch felt barely within dueling limits as it knocked air from Sekibanki's lungs, making her take a few steps away. His missed left hook turned out to be a feint, as she failed to stop his sudden roundhouse kick to her temple from sending her crashing onto a table.

The world was hazy and upside-down, and the tanuki towered over the beaten rokurokubi. "Betcha thought you were real clever.", he mocked with a wicked grin, hand on his beard. "Nature has more tricks than a city slicker like you can imagine, and they're all up my sleeve!" His eyes regained his focus, just how did he recover so quickly? Weren't they also brown, not gray? And what were those black spots on his cheeks? They weren't there before...

Overall, this was looking bad. She couldn't keep up with this guy, she would be out before the first spellcard was played! The cafe was too cramped, she couldn't make any distance, and even if she could she didn't want to ruin the cafe even more with her bullets, not to mention Saburo's ire if she'd hit any clients. Oh, and the clients themselves wouldn't be glad, she guessed, but no one asked their opinion.

Still, even if she pushed him outside, she would be at a big disadvantage. For all the reputation the tanuki get, those hicks didn't need to care about subtlety as much as everyone thought - they could always just change disguise and get away scot-free after causing a ruckus. Meanwhile, Sekibanki was out of moves - all of her spellcards required unnatural positions of her neck, including a lack of it. And she wasn't going to give up decades of hard work just to wipe out some thug! What he knew of her efforts, her precautions, the lengths she took for the general populace to not know that she was the dreaded rokurokubi?! Yes, of course, go on! Just throw it all away! Fly instead of walking! Ask around the human markets about blood supplements! Flaunt your stupid ears! Screw you, Kager-alright, she was getting off track. That kick almost sent her poor head to the clouds.

The beast drew his right arm up, ready for a finishing blow. "What, no witty retorts? Hah! All bark, no bite. Nighty-night!" She tried to think of something, but it was a bit hard to do upside down, with her head spinning...

"Why you bastard!"

A sudden shout from the hall brought some respite. One of the carpenters lunged at the bearded tanuki, grabbing onto him.

"Oi, we're dueling here! Get offa me-ow!", the tanuki exclaimed as the human's elbow connected to his nose. "That's it, I'm kicking your ass next!"

He punched, kicked, bit, and cursed at the beast for a solid minute, not bad for a simple human, giving Sekibanki some time to recover and think. With how crowded it was, tying him with her neck was out of the question, and she couldn't summon her heads to multiply her firepower either. Unless...
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With the tanuki distracted, she sent all of her heads sans the one on her shoulders up the hole in the ceiling, hoping to hide them among the rooftops. This would be difficult - roofs in this district were more tile than thatch, but they'd have to do. Remembering how she finished off that tanuki this morning, a plan was forming on the go.

By the time she got up, the brave and foolish carpenter was flying through the wall near his table. The crash woke up his partner. "Sankichi?! Shit, not again!", he shouted as he got up and went to fuss over him through the man-shaped hole. Foolish humans.

Feigning nervousness, she looked back to the tanuki. Credit where credit was due, he did sport some bruises and a dislocated nose that he was in the middle of fixing. "Gah... Back for more? No worries, I'm not done with you yet!"

She allowed herself to be shaken off his side by his sudden kick, flying into the window, right into a crowd of villagers gawking at the duel above them. The black-white witch and the ponytailed tanuki were going at it about a chou high in the sky, dropping enchanted rice and star-shaped pastry below, with the onlookers moving aside from the danmaku falling near-harmlessly beside them, trying to stop their children from catching some.

Seeing her dynamic exit from the half-ruined cafe, the crowd gave Sekibanki some berth. Good, she needed that thug to see her to lure him. She also needed a place to lure him to. Her heads flew from roof to roof, hidden from the view of those below, trying to look for a good spot. She was hoping that they would be distracted enough by dueling above and below to notice them.

Soon enough, the bearded tanuki jumped from the window, all smug and with a card in his hand. "And just where you're going? Givin' up already? We're just gettin' started!" She retreated to the middle of the street, with the crowd dispersing even more, parents hiding their overjoyed and cheering children.

"Sharks've gifted me with sight without eyes." Sharks? The hell was he talking about? "No need to leave you out of their generosity!"

"Transformation [Shark's Crocodile Tears]!"

Out of a sudden puff of smoke emerged the tanuki, a bizarre variant of his previous, more human form. He no longer had any hair on him, his skin became a smooth gray-white gradient, and on his neck, a few protrusions appeared, almost like gills.

He fired streams of danmaku, a mix of shining blues and reds, like sapphire and ruby teardrops. They flew in horizontal and vertical arcs, forcing Sekibanki to stay within one area or be hit, with every third or so red sphere bursting into pellets upon hitting the ground, keeping her on her toes. Was this an attempt at sophistication? To make matters worse, he seemed to be closing in, slowly picking up speed. Never mind then, he was still a brute.

She needed to avoid friendly fire on Kanfukutei, any mon that could saved by not hitting it counted. Thankfully, the space here was just right to avoid collateral. Figuring the right amount of power needed for them to dissipate around three ken away from her, she fired off short, wiggling, spine-like strings of danmaku, forcing him into a corridor to make him move slightly at an angle, finally making them parallel to the cafe. Add to that triple shots of bullets about one shaku in radius, and she could keep the tanuki off her long enough for her heads to finish their search.

"The main street? No, too crowded, same with the market square."

"Shame, the angles near that pawn shop looked good..."

"What about this garden? I could make potshots from the trees, and-"

"No, you talking manju! Can't you see it's in the back of this manor? Do you want to get in trouble with a noble?"

"Keep quiet! The humans might hear us!"

"Hmm... This residential backyard seems empty..."

"Let me see... it's rather close too, good."

"And the closest path there is through this zigzag of an alleyway... Perfect."

Now she just needed to lure him into the ambush. The tanuki was getting close, prepared to jump at her, but Sekibanki got ahead of him and leaped through the wall of danmaku to the northern alleyway, narrowly avoiding bullets to her neck and three rows of teeth to her leg (In the middle of a crowd? Was he nuts or something?), pulling out her card as she landed. Her heads were in position on two corners, hidden in the shadows made by the roofs' dormers and valleys. She would have angles on him on every turn, and even if he would make it through, the backyard would be his doom.
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With everything set, Sekibanki declared her card.

"Flying Head [Seventh Head]!"

She could see his face change to confusion for a brief moment, trying to mouth out "se" and "be". Just perfect, he was ignorant of what was coming for him. Her English skills were finally of some use!

She then flew backward, following the path to the yard, goading him to follow with some shots from her eyes, to which he obliged with enthusiasm. The trap was sprung.

As they flew to the first turn, Sekibanki stopped right at the wall. When the tanuki was about to grab her neck, she saw him through four angles - most of them above. That was a signal, there was no escape. Hearing the sound of beams sizzling in the air, he just barely managed to dodge lasers shot from the front and left sides of a roof's valley of a row house making the corner, jumping away, only making himself an easy target for the head looking down from a roof's hip to his right. A direct hit to his side launched him right through a wall, with screams coming from the inside, a resounding success! Using that, Sekibanki rushed to the next ambush spot.

"Hiding familiars?" He peeked from the hole he made to the roofs surrounding them, his hair having returned and his sharkskin now absent. "Clever, but not enough." He threw some danmaku onto the spots he thought the shots were coming from, and for that, the unseen heads rewarded him with a shower of blue spheres. "Ah, shit!", he cursed as he jumped away from the bombardment.

Recovering from his sudden dodge, the tanuki saw his target running to another corner. Thinking himself clever for not getting fooled by the same trick twice, he flew higher, pelting the rooftops with danmaku. Sekibanki judged his joyful expression as him finding that ensuing explosions of blue spheres left nothing but scorch marks on tiles. Good, he must've not noticed the heads getting away, and thought that he got rid of all her familiars. She cemented this illusion with a look full of worry and bolted straight to the finish line.

The yard was just a few ken away when she heard a shout behind her. "You ain't getting away!"

"Transformation [Tsuchinoko's Lies]!"

Running past some drying racks full of wet clothes, Sekibanki saw herself from above, moving closer to the center of the yard, which would be fine if there also wasn't something long and dark brown moving quickly from the tanuki's right arm towards her. She tried to dodge it while turning to face him but suddenly saw how it wrapped around her back and stuck to her right arm. A jolt of sharp pain went through her, as she realised what it was - a big, fat snake had it's fangs in her shoulder, her red kimono becoming a bit darker. What the hell?

"Come 'ere!", the tanuki shouted as he pulled his snake-arm-thing. Sekibanki tumbled to him with a spin and soon was nearly completely bound with a snake. Thug's left arm added to it, grappling her neck in a chokehold. This was it, now he'll force a surrender, or try to knock her out... Only instead he suddenly started to painfully pull her head up, forcing a choked cough out of her! What was he doing? With an effort to keep her neck the same length, she tried to turn her head to get a look at him, and found him with an evil smile and murder in his eyes.

"What, ya thought I was joking? About your head?", he sneered, straining from effort. "Ha! That was our wager! Boss'll have a snitch's noggin for his head-viewing ceremony!"

Oh really now? Was he hoping she would get somewhere isolated to assassinate her? Or was this some pathetic tough guy act? Sekibanki couldn't help but chuckle.

"Wh-What the hell?! I'm killing you right now, you know!" His murderous facade crumbled, and the chuckles became harder to resist. "That's no laughing matter!". That's it, the dam was broken. She was now howling with laughter.

"Ahh... Sorry, but you're going to need more than this head for your rank, you two-bit hatamoto!"

It was time to finish this. Her many angles on him confirmed it - he was in the middle of a perfect killbox. It didn't matter if he was going to kill her or not, for that snake bite she wasn't going to spare him. All she had to do was to pull the trigger. And, with some struggle, she pulled the card out of her pocket and spoke its name through her teeth.

"Glinting Eyes [Hell's Ray]!"

With the declaration finished, she bit his left hand as hard as she could, there was no escaping this. Tanuki's cry of pain was silenced by the cavalcade of lasers shot from the rooftops surrounding them. They filled the air, most of them hitting the tanuki in the back, she felt every impact.

By the time she ended the spell, his back was a mess of small burns and bruises, his fine kimono totaled. His grip was nonexistent as his arm was no longer a snake. Sekibanki slipped from under him, and he fell like a cut tree. His ears and tail were for all to see, just as messed up. She felt a foul taste in her mouth and spat out a tiny piece of flesh she had bitten off his hand. Disgusting.
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The bearded tanuki was finally finished. Sekibanki relaxed, perhaps too much, since she fell to her knees and let out an exasperated exhale. She didn't risk getting one of her heads close, but even from here and afar she could see how messed up she was - torn apron, dark spot on her shoulder, disheveled hair. She could only imagine how her face must've looked...

Something in the air caught her attention - or rather someone. Kirisame Marisa flew toward the yard, with an unconscious body in tow. "Oi! I see you're done having fun!", she called out. Lowering down, she dropped herself and the beaten-up ponytailed tanuki off her broom. Now that the fight was done, Sekibanki recognised her getup as a "hoodie" in her usual colour scheme, along with a "baseball" cap. Barely a scratch on her...

"Pushover, right?", Sekibanki asked as she got up.

"Oh yeah, complete amateur, didn't even get to use my Spark!" The witch's smile held for a second or two but got a bit strained when what she said sunk in. "I mean-"

"Didn't get to use, huh..." Sekibanki's face was blank, an eye twitch betraying her state of mind.

"Now hold on, I didn't-guh!" She pulled the magician off the ground, to her eye level.

"Didn't get to use!? What the hell do you call that then!?" She just let it all out, not bothered by something octangular pressing against her abdomen.

"I didn't think they'd be crazy enough to actually start a fight there! Relax, or I'll relax ya!"

"Relax?! Kanfukutei's in shambles! Where do you think I'm going to work now?!"

"Uhh..." Marisa lifted her eyes, was she actually thinking of something? Oh, don't tell- "The fire department?" Yes, that again.

"So you have an employment agency now? 'Kirisame's Reliable Freaks', right?" She let go of the witch, turning around and crossing her arms.

"Ow!" Marisa did not expect to land on her behind but quickly recovered. "So, how about it?"


"Oh, come on, you'd do well on fire watch-"

"Do you even realise what nonsense you're suggesting?"

"You had no trouble with Saburo, what's the issue?"

...Really now? What's the issue? She couldn't be this ignorant, could she? "I said no, and that's final."

"Alright, alright. Jeez, you're always this difficult? Barely got you to work here..." Marisa got up, dusting herself.

"And now you got me back to the streets again, thanks a lot! Now I can return to the good old days of stealing from people I scare half to death, happy?"

A sigh from Marisa interrupted the pause before it got too heavy. "...Nah, you won't. Cafe's gonna be fine, I'm paying."

"That's what I thought, no better than a tanu-eh?" She turned her head to the brightly smiling black-white.

"I said I'll pay for the damages." She prodded the unconcious youkai with her broom. "These two will nab me some good bounty. 'Sides, not like I want to throw Saburo and Naomi under a cart, they got nothin' to do with this."

The bounty:
[]Trust Marisa with the tanuki. If she was lying she'd kick the money out of her later, with blood as interest.
[]Accompany Marisa to the precinct. She'd just run off with the money otherwise. Hell, she might even be a tanuki trying to fool her. Better safe than sorry.

The tanuki:
[]Interogate them before leaving. She has to know how deep into this mess she was.
[]Leave them be. Ignorance is bliss.
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[X]Accompany Marisa to the precinct. She'd just run off with the money otherwise. Hell, she might even be a tanuki trying to fool her. Better safe than sorry.
[X]Interogate them before leaving. She has to know how deep into this mess she was.

We're already involved. Might as well find out what they're up to.
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I'm sure that bite won't be too poisonous for a youkai of our caliber.

Anyway, we're trying to stay off the cops' radar.
Waltzing up to the precinct now wouldn't be great.

I was worried that this Marisa might be another tanuki, but she's been saying pretty personal things.
It'd be surprising if they had her cased so much already as to know that Marisa got her the job, for example.
As for her running with the money: that's not gonna happen.
If this Marisa is real, (and she likely is,) she is going to keep her word about this.
Even if we put aside the fact that she'd be hanging innocent people out to dry because of her doing, it'd do wonders for her standing in the village.
I don't think it'd be wise for her to become a persona non grata in the village.
Besides, if we tell the boss what Marisa promised, she'll look even worse if she doesn't keep it.

Getting into this any deeper with those tanuki by interrogating them doesn't sound great.
But to be honest, they already decided to attack us in broad daylight, so just trying to ignore it now would be unwise.
As much as I would like to.

[X]Trust Marisa with the tanuki. If she was lying she'd kick the money out of her later, with blood as interest.
-[X] Tell Saburo & Naomi about Marisa's promise.
[X]Interogate them before leaving. She has to know how deep into this mess she was.
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[X]Accompany Marisa to the precinct. She'd just run off with the money otherwise. Hell, she might even be a tanuki trying to fool her. Better safe than sorry.
[X]Interogate them before leaving. She has to know how deep into this mess she was.

It's the end of Gensokyo. One of the two incident solvers has actually offered to pay for something.

Screw it, we have to see how this plays out.
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[X]Accompany Marisa to the precinct. She'd just run off with the money otherwise. Hell, she might even be a tanuki trying to fool her. Better safe than sorry.
[X]Leave them be. Ignorance is bliss.

Marisa is more duplicitous than tanuki. Also didn’t want anything to do with this shit the first time we caught someone, don’t want anything to do with it now.
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[X]Accompany Marisa to the precinct. She'd just run off with the money otherwise. Hell, she might even be a tanuki trying to fool her. Better safe than sorry.
[X]Interogate them before leaving. She has to know how deep into this mess she was.


It wasn't Marisa being reasonable that surprised Sekibanki, it was that it wasn't the first time that happened.

Ever since she started working in the youkai hunting scene alongside the Hakurei miko, she had to keep her eyes on the witch, if only to avoid her better. Thankfully, eavesdropping came to her naturally, and with tales of her prowess both in and out of danmaku, a most unflattering profile was coming together: burglar, liar, swindler, charlatan, vandal, even heard someone call her a wannabe once, the list went on. Of course, none of those epithets came from the villagers, but she was sure that if she found the right discussion among the more knowledgable of those hypocrites she'd find charges far worse.

Yet ever since Marisa got her the job she started seeing another part of her. Whenever she was at the cafe, it was always on some errands for the locals, from advice on mushroom picking to finding someone's lost outsider friend before they were gone forever, and no one seemed to complain about the prices of her services either. Hell, she even took commissions from some of the local youkai - the same ones that would talk behind her back when they got what they wanted. She always stopped by for a chat with Saburo and Naomi, asking them about the day. Even offered Sekibanki some coupons from the kappa market, "in case you'll need a drink". It was almost suspicious, how different she seemed from when they fought.

And here she was, paying for the damages she caused. So that a family that owned the place could have something to eat. So that a youkai could have some semblance of an honest life and work instead of causing trouble. It was still somewhat in line with what she heard of this half-pint menace, and yet-

"Oi, anyone home? Or do you need a change of brain?"

Getting out of her little daydream, she shook her head and looked down at the magician. In a way, Sekibanki was glad Marisa interrupted her mind-wandering. What was she thinking? Truly, a saint she was for blowing up half of Kanfukutei! Not to mention allowing her and other infamous youkai to go on with their life of terrorising people unimpeded! Rubbish, all of it. To think that this pathetic opportunist was anything other than self-interested was foolishness. Should have spent less time listening to that mermaid, this optimistic naivete was unbecoming.

Marisa proudly stood beside the pile of unconscious youkai, broom in hand. The new arrival, the ponytailed tanuki, now had his hair loose, trading the ponytail for a bruise on his jaw and burns all over his clothes.

It looked like the oddly dressed witch realised at last that a thick hoodie wasn't the best choice for this heat, her sleeves were rolled up and she was fanning herself with her other hand. Her smile was still wide but got a bit undermined by her quizzically raised eyebrow. "You should get that looked at.", she said as she pointed to the rokurokubi's right shoulder.

Sekibanki checked the wound. Two holes in her kimono and a bloody spot would be annoying to get rid of, it also still stung a little, but otherwise, it wasn't that bad. "I'll manage. Tsuchinoko aren't that venomous, right?"

"Actually, they're- wait, that was supposed to be a tsuchinoko?" Marisa broke into laughter like it was the funniest thing she heard that day. "What a riot, it looked nothing like it! Plump, sure, but they're never that long, and their snouts are much shorter."

"Yeah, great, still doesn't answer my..." Wait a second, she saw the snake? When did Marisa see how she got bitten? "...Just how long have you been here?"

"Uh, got here right before you sent this guy to Mount Kachi. Thought it was a python..." That was... quick. Perhaps a bit too quick. She was unscathed too... Didn't she blind herself? Something didn't add up.

Marisa crouched over the tanuki. "Well, time to pack up! Be sure to tell Saburo the good news!" She rummaged through her big front pocket and pulled out two vials. "Just have to give 'em a sleeping mixture. Couldn't bring any chains in this disguise."

It would be so easy to just let her take the thugs away and forget that all of this happened, but this attack troubled Sekibanki. How much did the tanuki know about her? They came to her cafe, but did they know about her home? Would they continue to stalk her? "Not yet. I have some unfinished business with them."

"Ya sure? The sooner I get them caged, the sooner you'll get your money."

Sekibanki gave her a stern look. "You sure you don't mean 'your money'?" That made her smile a bit less wide. "Don't pretend the thought didn't cross your mind."

"Oh, come on, what did I do to deserve this? When was the last time I swindled anyone?"

"When was the last time you've exhaled?"

Marisa was silent for a moment. "...Shoulda added 'from the Human Village'.", she quietly said, as if that changed anything.

"That's not my only concern, anyway. They didn't come to Kanfukutei just for a business meeting with a cup of tea. You heard what they said about a redhead?"

"Well, you do look pretty good in that outfit." Sekibanki's stare became steely. "Kidding, kidding. I've heard. Pissed them off real good, yeah?"

"Good enough for them to try and kill me in broad daylight. Not that ripping my head off could do me in. Got one of them arrested this morning. By accident, mind you. They could be out to get me."

The witch chuckled. "Oh, don't be ridiculous. I know their oyabun. She might let them teach you a lesson, but killing? Not her style. Sure, he bit you, but that happens in melee duels sometimes. Don't tell me ya actually fell for their 'tough yakuza' schtick."

"Oh, so it was just a schtick? What's next, do they give to charity?" This farce was leading them nowhere. "Whatever, enough wasting time with your jokes. Now wake them up, we need to talk."

Marisa scratched the back of her head. "Well, sure, but..."

"'But' what? Is there a problem?"

Black-white just looked at the captives. What's with this odd hesitation? The pause was getting long, but soon enough, she sighed. "...No, let's get them somewhere quiet."
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They decided to get the tanuki into an alleyway to the east of the one Sekibanki turned into an ambush spot. That way they wouldn't be seen by any gawker who decided to follow them from the cafe. Not that it mattered - with her heads on the rooftops they would know of any passerby. The unconscious beasts were sat on a bench against a wall of some machiya. It took some attempts - their tails made it harder than it seemed.

Marisa pulled out two pieces of cloth, throwing one to Sekibanki. "Tie it over your nose and mouth.", she said as she did so. "We're gonna deal with stuff dangerous for human health." Now that was just low. Still, bearing this mockery, the rokurokubi obliged - any small detail could give her away. The magician crouched over the tanuki, pulling out a... salt shaker? It was full of some glittering powder. "Nice, didn't melt. Whew, this heat's killing me." Letting the shaker down on the bench, she pulled out and uncorked a vial. "First, let's paralyse them neck down. Open wide!" She made them gulp down some murky liquid. They stirred, ready to wake up. "Now, to block any spellcasting..." She picked up the shaker and started peppering their magic leaves.

The bearded tanuki sneezed something powerful, then looked up to his captors groggily, his slightly charred ears twitching. His long-haired companion jerked his head up from the sudden noise, hitting it on the wall. "Argh... Wait, I can't move!"

Both thugs looked around themselves, desperately trying to find out what was happening to them. "Gah, something's wrong, I can't... Why can't I change?", the bearded one seemed especially distressed. "What have you done?!"

The puny human stood over them, chuckling, hand on the brim of her cap. "Trade secret! Might sell it to ya for, hmm... thousand ryo?"

"Why, you! I'll get you for this!", he screamed, futily jerking his head, as if trying to bite.

The rokurokubi decided to put him in his place again. "That's if you live through the boiling."

That got his full attention. "T-the boiling?"

Sekibanki noticed that she still had some of the tanuki's blood on her mouth from when she bit him. She pulled down the cloth and licked her lip, suppressing a grimace from how awful it tasted. "Ugh. Needs some ginger."

"Garlic and pine needles.", Marisa played along. "It's the only way to be sure."

"Say, did the cops need them dead or alive?"

"No clue, but I'm sure the yoriki will appreciate some tanuki-jiru right now."

The future soup ingredients exchanged a look.

"They can't scare us with this, right?", the larger one said, his voice a bit shaky.

"No, they can't.", the other replied, devoid of worry.

Then they declared nearly simultaneously:

"We won't talk 'till court!"
"We'll tell you everything!"

The bearded tanuki looked at the calm long-haired one, surprised and betrayed. "A-aniki, how could you?! After all we've been through!"

"I'm saving us, this whole gig was doomed from the start."

The larger thug closed his eyes. He could do nothing but mutter a few unintelligible swears, and lower his head in defeat. The attention turned to the long-haired tanuki, Sekibanki gazed down. "Talk. Don't bother lying, we've heard your conversation in the cafe, all of it."

A heavy sigh escaped him. "...Alright. But before I begin I want you to promise something."

"Oh, that's rich. You're not in a position to bargain."

"I'm not bargaining, this is for your benefit as well." He leaned in and continued, lowering his voice. "Promise that you won't involve the Hakurei in this."

At that Marisa covered her mouth, suppressing a laugh. "Won't need to! I'll deal with you before she'll finish reading that new novel!"

"You'd better." The tanuki's eyes narrowed. "We've got hostages. If there's even a word of the Hakurei miko investigating this, they're as good as dead. And if they die, the Human Village will collapse."

That's... No, it had to be a bluff, it had to be. Some gang of trash eaters couldn't threaten the Village's stability that easily! But back then, they did mention having someone under their thumb, someone they were afraid of breaking out...

Both interrogators had the idea of sharing a look. Sekibanki was sure she would find nothing but mockery on Marisa's face, an eye roll, something, anything that would tell her that it was a lie, but behind a veil of confidence she found fear in her eyes, thrice as big as her own. Worst of all, it didn't look like a shock from a sudden reveal. It was more like a terrible premonition she had got confirmed.

She was in neck deep, she could tell. What she couldn't tell was the neck's length.

They turned back to the sitting crooks. The bearded tanuki was clacking his teeth in rhythm of some tune, making the ears of both beasts twitch periodically. "Cut it out!", Marisa snapped at him, then pressed on. "Y-ya sure talk big, got anything to back that up?"

"Nothing. I don't even know how we got them, nor am I supposed to. I was there to cover the retreat in case the plan failed." He lowered his head, his ears drooping forward somewhat. "It almost did. No one was supposed to know about it, but they had exterminators ready. Someone must have told them about our plans." Then, he brought his eyes back up, straight at Sekibanki. "Someone like you."

That almost made her step back. "No way, I just found out about all this! And I don't deal with you yokel yakuza types anyway!"

"I can see that now. But I've already made my report to most of the family, what will happen to you is out of my hands. They know you as a police informer, some even suspect you to be a full-time okappiki."

What was he talking about? The great Rokurokubi Horror? A youkai okappiki? "They're all nuts! Go tell them I'm not, then! We'll let you go if you do!"

Before Marisa could object, the tanuki shook his head. "Pointless. After you've got us, it'll be too suspicious if I'll tell them you're not a snitch. Besides, the lieutenant will want his revenge for getting him jailed. He's vindictive like that, and I don't think oyabun will mind much. You've painted quite the target on your back, it seems."

So that's the length of it. An entire yakuza family on a hunt for her heads, exactly what she wanted for her day off.

"Oyabun...", the magician said to no one in particular. "Crap, so it is Mamizou's gig?"

"You know any other big tanuki in Gensokyo? Of course it's oyabun's plan."

"That just doesn't make sense..." Marisa stepped aside, lost in thought.

"By lieutenant, you mean that 'boss' you've mentioned? What's his name..." Sekibanki was sure she heard that creepy yamabushi call him by a name, what was it... "Right, Honma?"

A barely noticeable twitch went through his face. "That was our boss, yes. But I've never heard of anyone named 'Honma'."


Marisa pushed her way back into the interrogation. "Wait, who're the hostages? Whatchu done to them?"

"The big ones. We've got the guilds' representative, I believe this time it was Ki-"

"Nah, nah, the important people! Who did you get?"

A hint of a smile went through his lips just as quickly as it disappeared. "How is he not important?" The question put a frown on Marisa's face, she was now staring daggers into him. "He's the head of one of the biggest mer-"

Suddenly she grabbed the tanuki by his kimono and started shaking him. "Are you deaf? Who do ya have?! The Hieda?! Answer, dammit!"

Now that was out of nowhere, not once did she see the magician this mad! The beast proved to be clever, pushing her buttons like that, though it could be something else, her behaviour has been odd through this entire day... "Let him speak then!"

"He's hiding something!" Marisa got up right into Sekibanki's face. "Tryin' to distract us with useless crap!"

"Are you sure that isn't just you? He was fine spilling his beans just now."


A long, almost whistle-like piercing whine interrupted their bickering. They turned back to the captives and got an odd sight - the bearded tanuki's face contorted as if spelling out words with great effort, but instead of speech that bizarre drone came from him. The long-haired tanuki sighed. "Guess that it's time to say goodbye..."

"He's tryin' to escape!", Marisa shouted and, like on instinct, they both kicked the thug's head from the sides, clamping it between their shins. As he fell face first, the witch pointed her hakkero to his head, shooting a small laser point-blank for good measure. "Well, not like he could do anything. Throat singing could use some work if you ask me." Sekibanki nodded, it was getting on her nerves. Marisa turned her head to the one dog still in his place, pulling her leg up to rub her shin. "Now, go on, you were sayin'?"

The sitting tanuki just stared at the opposite wall, silent and motionless.

"So you are deaf, huh? I said keep talking!" The witch was getting impatient and gave him a light kick, but didn't even get a grunt out of him.

"...The hell?" Sekibanki snapped her fingers and waved in front of his face. No response whatsoever.

Marisa kept jumping between them, doing whatever she could to get them out of this trance: checking on their pupils with her furnace lit up, making them smell some grass from her pocket, stepping on their tails... All useless. "Dammit, how, why?..."

The human and the youkai turned to each other, one's worried fussing tested the other's patience. "You said you've blocked them!"

"I did, I really did! You'd have to be a god to break this, and even some of those failed to do it!", Marisa replied, desperation clear in her voice. She poked her finger into the bearded tanuki's hair, studying the glittering dust she sprinkled on him.

Sekibanki couldn't help but be put off by how Marisa had been acting throughout this ordeal. Her scoring an easy victory despite being blinded, her strange reluctance to even do this interrogation, and finally her sudden outburst right before the moment of truth that gave those dogs a chance to silence themselves... She didn't want to consider it, but high chance the magician wasn't who she appeared as.

"Alright, Kirisame, if that is your name." Sekibanki tried to crush the shorter girl with her gaze. "Take off your cap."

Marisa's confused yellow eyes met her crimson ones. "What?"

There was only one way for Sekibanki to bring her true identity to light - to carefully mention one thing she was certain only they both knew. Black market items had to be exchanged in secret, after all.

"Take it off right now, or you'll be the one giving me that drink, no kappa involved, no coupons wasted."

A flash of recognition in Marisa's annoyed glare was all that she needed. "Oh, the things I do for..." She took off the baseball cap and ruffled her hair, but even without that Sekibanki could tell - standing before her was the real Kirisame Marisa. Oddly enough, it felt like this wasn't the first time she was doing this kind of demonstration. "See? No leaf, no ears, braid on the left, not a tanuki, alright?"

And there really was no leaf there. So- Wait, braid? What did it have to do with anything? No matter, the witch had more than enough to explain.

"Let's say I believe you're not one of them. Why'd you butt in and mess with the questioning?", she asked, arms crossed. "Made me think you were biding for time so that these two could do... whatever it is they did."

Marisa looked ill at ease, constantly dropping her eyes to the ground as if to avoid Sekibanki's gaze. "Look, that guy he mentioned? I already knew he was in trouble 'cause of tanuki mischief."

"You knew they had hostages!?", the youkai exclaimed, grabbing the human by the shoulders.

"I didn't! His household donated money to the police to pay bounties! I thought he fell for a scam, made a bad loan, anything but this!" Despite everything, she sounded genuine. Reluctantly, the rokurokubi eased her grip. After a deep breath, Marisa continued. "But really, if you know how the Village works, he's not as important as some might think. If they thought they could wreck the place, then they must've kidnapped someone actually big! I needed to know, so I-"

"So you blew it right when he was this close to telling us everything!" Sekibanki exploded in her face. "Now you won't know anything!" She then sat on the bench, right above the bearded tanuki. She needed a moment, or else she'd go through with that demand for a drink, so she cupped her face with her hands. If only she could do it with all of her faces, but alas, hands didn't grow on trees as far as she knew. Local comunity of dryads aside. "I should've just let you take them to the cops..."

She had no choice but to follow Marisa to the precinct now, didn't she? Forget about making sure she would get her share of the bounty, after this blunder she couldn't trust Marisa with tying her own laces. Sure, she had plenty of reasons to avoid that place: the yakuza goons hidden in the crowds on the way there, the cops that could recognise her, that shady doushin who 'offered' her some work... But Kanfukutei needed that bounty, just like she needed the cafe to be safe and prosperous. She wouldn't give it up because of someone's trigger finger.

Now mostly calm, Sekibanki got up, her hands on hips, and exhaled slowly. Time to get this over with. "Get your broom. I'm going with you before you lose one of these mutts." She gestured to the tanuki, making circles with her hand. "Load them up, I don't want to drag them around."

The witch didn't protest. She got her broom hovering in front of her. Not the best cart, but it was either that or hauling the captives on their shoulders. "At least it wasn't a total waste of time.", she remarked.

"Oh, shut it, you're giving me a migraine." Sekibanki massaged her temple, wishing once again she had more than two hands. "Make that three."
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Marisa, hoping to avoid more hassle with the tanuki, decided that going through a side street parallel to the main one leading to the precinct was the best way - not too large a crowd for other yakuza to hide in, but if they were jumped, others would notice and call for help. She was pulling her broom forward, with the thugs hanging on it like fresh pelts, while Sekibanki limped behind, playing the poor damsel who barely got out alive from the claws of monsters. Well, in a way, she was one, but she doubted a damsel would fight a beast youkai hand to hand, let alone get off with just a few cuts and bruises.

Sekibanki's heads followed, flying rooftop to rooftop discretely, watching the crowd from above for anyone suspicious. The sight below was a common one for the lively weekends in the Village: merry bands of drinking buddies shambling about, singing bawdy songs; kids begging their parents for a pinwheel from a peddler, or dragging them into the evergrowing line of a dango stand; couples window-shopping or just strolling about... To most people, the cacophony of the streets seemed as natural as the soft murmuring of a stream. Murmuring so hypnotic, it was no surprise that these fools would lose themselves in this false paradise, not giving much thought to the terror walking beside them. See no evil, hear no evil... How pathetic.

"We're almost there. First right, then straight, and that's it.", Marisa quietly noted, as if Sekibanki hadn't lived in this Village for a century.

As their little convoy turned to the precinct proper, a sudden crash punctuated by cries of surprise and pain made them stop and look back to the junction. Several people were lying on the ground, covered in tofu and miso. Beside them, near a ramshackle mess of a cart lied the supposed culprits behind this traffic accident. The rokurokubi noticed them running toward the crossing when checking the crowd earlier but lost track of them after figuring they weren't after them.

A tofu seller was running behind them then, from the south. Large basins full of the stuff on both sides of a yoke were straining his shoulders. Now their contents covered everyone involved, and the poor man himself was torn between fussing over the fate of his wares or his hurt left arm and leg.

At the same time, from the north, a courier was moving with immense haste, shouting for all to step aside. While she had a traditional strongbox hanging on a pole on her shoulder, her clothes were anything but: a blue jacket and trousers along with a flat, top-wide cap with a small brim in front, making her look like a postman from the Outside World. The strongbox was the only thing unaffected by this accident, the courier lying on the ground in a puddle of miso, trying to get out of the pile of people that suffered the same fate.

But, no matter how odd that person looked, it paled in comparison to the owner of the cart - a redhead with two pigtails that was rushing from the west. Her greenish-black dress in that foreign style that refused to die even after about a hundred years seemed far too elaborate for her to work with that cart, not to mention her unhidden cat ears... Now she recognised her - during those times that umbrella dragged her to haunt the temple's cemetery she often thought she saw a kasha with a cartful of haul. It seemed she was correct back then - the cat was loading whatever fell out of her cart back into it. Most of it seemed to be all kinds of accessories: hairpins, earrings, bracelets, trinkets one could probably find in a grave. However, one thing stood out - a torso-sized piece of flesh, with ribs sticking out of it. How careless of her to haul something like that right through the Village. Not that anyone here had the guts to do something about it.

As she finished putting belongings, though likely not hers, back into her cart, the cat turned to the man she crashed into, scratching her behind her ears. "Ahh, sorry there, mate. I know, I know, 'eyes on the road' and all that. Can I make it up for you?" She pulled out a wallet out of seemingly nowhere. "How much did all this cost?"

"N-no no, it's fine, really.", the deliveryman stammered. One could mistake it for polite refusal, but Sekibanki knew better - she recognised a tinge of desperation in his voice.

"That expensive, huh." She got three gold coins out of the wallet. "Don't worry about it, I'm not the type to leave debts unpaid."

So that's what this is about. Whatever money this kasha gave, there was an additional price attached to it, a price the human was rightly afraid of. But now that she presented her 'generosity', he had no right to refuse. The classic 'it's you or your firstborn' blackmail.

"Ah, thank you!", the man accepted all too eagerly. The fool. "Now I only need to worry about the restaurant, the chef will kill me for not getting his miso in time."

The courier, now standing, walked up to the duo, now laughing. "You won't be alone in that!"

They all laughed. The courier, the kasha, the folks around them, Marisa, even the man who just sold his afterlife for a bunch of fermented soy. Only Sekibanki didn't feel like it.

Here she was, hobbling on her completely fine legs, clutching her slightly hurt shoulder as if mortally wounded, making each unbothered breath seem like her last, trying to look like any villager would be like after almost meeting their end. It wasn't easy to fake the subtle trembling of broken limbs, or not exaggerate her breathing too much, but the few concerned gazes she got from the villagers told her that practicing was time well spent.

And yet whenever she found youkai in the Village it didn't feel like they ever bothered with not being found out. Two arms and two legs - that's the limit of their effort, and sometimes not even that. And it wasn't just their looks either - these brazen antics should have them chased out of Village at the very least, but they never were and never will be, and they had full confidence in that fact.

One day, this arrogance would be their downfall.

Were all the youkai blind to how fragile their dominance truly was? To the potential consequences of such permissiveness? Sure, they could afford to have the villagers ignore the occasional wing or tail out of fear right now, but it was a mistake to think that this would last forever. Fear, the same thing keeping youkai alive, was a double-edged sword that could easily be turned against them. The moment the humans would understand just how cornered they really were they would turn the Village inside out, and no youkai would be safe.

They were too obvious, too complacent. She wasn't. Not anymore. They would suffer greatly for this folly. She wouldn't. Never agai-

"Ya know, you're overdoing this."

Marisa's sudden remark made Sekibanki turn from the commotion to her. "H-huh?"

The witch looked at her with a smile, her eyes giving off an odd sense of weariness. "No, really, there's no point in it. First off, your legs are fine, so quit slowing us down. Second, you don't look hurt enough to breathe like that, you're not even pale. Third, your..." She swatted her hand through the air and resumed her walk. "Ah, forget it, do what you want, I don't wanna deal with this right now. Not like you'll listen to me anyway."

Was Sekibanki overplaying her act? It didn't seem that way to her, it was well practiced... well, it was twenty or so years ago. And Marisa was a human, she had a different perspective on someone trying to act like one. She didn't like it, but she had to admit, her words did make sense. Overdoing a disguise was just as dangerous as not having one, especially when you don't have all that much to hide. For all her talk, it was exactly what Sekibanki was becoming - complacent and obvious. She could add inattentive to that, too - she almost mistook the corpse that kasha was hauling for pork ribs, that's a new low! If she was as sharp as she had once been she'd be resting tomorrow without any fear of being stalked by a bunch of talking dogs. She's had it too easy for a while.

However, this also made the old question rear its head again. Why is Marisa trying to help her blend in better? What did she gain from it?

The answer to that would have to wait, the precinct was already in sight. An old office complex of some long gone shogunate official, surrounded by a wall. If you looked closely you could still see the outlines of the triple hollyhock behind the Hieda kanmon. It was always somewhat multipurpose - even after it was turned into a full-time police station the notice boards remained beside the gates, full of ads for public events. The most noteworthy change from the old times, however, was its bell tower - or rather a clock tower, as some decades ago the bell ringer got replaced with a huge mechanical clock, a pet project of some merchant trying to suck up to the House. Sekibanki remembered when it was just a bunch of springs and gears lying beside the tower. Wonder before which youkai did they have to grovel for those parts...

As they got closer, a small squad of patrolmen, led by a doushin, ran out of the gates to the main street. They could already hear them shouting among themselves.

"Man, more youkai ass to kick? Lucky week!"

"Shut up already! You've talked about nothing but youkai these days!"

"Getting soft, eh? Go marry one if you love 'em so much!"

"Well, my wife might as well be a youkai..."

One of the komono turned around as if to cover the squad's advance, only for his eyes to go wide as they met the little convoy. "Guys, aren't those the ones we're looking for?" The rest of them turned around.

The eager patrolman's enthusiasm quickly dissipated, replaced with anger. "Damn it, every time!", he loudly swore and threw his sasumata to the ground. What a baby. The others ran toward them, not giving that tantrum much notice. Sekibanki decided it would be better not to be the center of attention here, and stepped behind the floating pile of bodies, her back to the cops. Hopefully, they would think she's too shocked to talk.

Marisa whistled. "Rapid response, ey, officer?"

"Flying everywhere's a bad habit, Kirisame. Makes you impatient.", the officer in question rapidly responded.

Sekibanki twitched. She glanced from behind the unconscious youkai, and yep, it was that cop from this morning, Yoshinaga. It just had to be him, didn't it? He tried to look authoritative and confident, one hand on his hip and a jitte on his shoulder, but all it did was make him look overworked and tense. Strands of hair broken out of his topknot, dark circles under slightly red eyes, a light twitch in his sword arm - he likely hadn't slept since the last time Sekibanki saw him, maybe even longer.

The doushin stepped beside Marisa and began checking out their cargo, prodding the tanuki here and there with his baton and opening their eyelids. If he saw Sekibanki, he didn't show it. "Five and six... Let me guess, they started chanting something strange, and now they have achieved Zen."

"Heh. 'Course you'd be in on this." Marisa waved around the crooks. "So what's this, then, a common practice?"

Yoshinaga nodded. "All of the Futatsuiwa boys and girls we've got shut themselves up, yeah. If only that bigwig we nabbed this morning did the same. Kept yapping about his rights all day. But in general?" He shrugged. "First time any of us has seen anything like this. Exorcists are stumped as well. They say that it's almost as if this isn't a spell. Worst of all-", he stopped for a deep yawn, "Worst of all, I have a hunch that the higher-ups aren't telling us everything. Hell, I have no clue what did they even do..." He glanced at Sekibanki, as if waiting for her to join the conversation. "Their charges are pretty severe, however. That I know for sure. And now we can add assault to that, too. Youkai hunting people in broad daylight, and within the city walls too..." He tsked while shaking his head. "Surely you'll want to press some... additional charges?"

The point of the seemingly innocuous question was obvious - making sure her decision to meet him tomorrow night would stay the same. Her frown and her silence were answers enough.

Yoshinaga sighed wearily, like he was keeping it in for a while. "Now look, Se-"

"Just Seki.", she interrupted with quiet frustration. Almost blew her cover, the prick.

"Right, Oseki-san. I know we haven't begun off the right foot. I wish to apologise for that." He suddenly bowed, waist-deep. The patrolmen behind him started whispering among each other. Marisa stepped aside, wide-eyed. "This case has us all on edge, and I said some things earlier today without thinking them through. Now, I can see that you don't wish to have anything to do with us. It's... fine. But even if you've made up your mind, please hear me out. You might still be in danger. Just follow us to the precinct, I'll explain everything as we book our guests."

[]Follow inside. Not like it could get any worse, might as well enter the belly of the beast.
[]Wait outside. No way she would go into the precinct. If he wanted to talk, he would have to do it elsewhere.
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[x]Follow inside. Not like it could get any worse, might as well enter the belly of the beast.

We are good citizen.
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[x]Follow inside. Not like it could get any worse, might as well enter the belly of the beast.
We're already neck deep inside a conspiracy, might as well.
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[X]Follow inside. Not like it could get any worse, might as well enter the belly of the beast.
Just to make sure tanuki won't do anything.
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[x]Follow inside. Not like it could get any worse, might as well enter the belly of the beast.


The miserable and the insignificant, if given even a tiny bit of power, will always pull those above them down by what little means they have. In Sekibanki's eyes, the police of the Human Village were the prime example of this axiom. With them being 'backed' by House Hieda, she had no doubts - they must know that they were there just for looks, for without that veneer of safety the villagers' panic would bring an end to this cursed place. So, of course they would enforce what little 'law' they could on the youkai who had to live here: surprise inspections of youkai-run businesses, made-up licenses that humans didn't need, stalking 'potential perps', that damn arbitrary haunting schedule "to decrease stress on the populace", she could go on. Sekibanki could count herself lucky that she didn't have too many run-ins with the cops in her decades - most of their puny tyranny remained rumours to her. The little adventure this morning made her certain of this truth, Yoshinaga being exactly how she imagined a cop would be: sly, condescending, one could even say cruel if such a thing applied against youkai.

And now, just a few hours after threatening her with the nastiest of community work, he was... apologising for misconduct.

That felt wrong to even think about. She was a youkai, for crying out loud! Wasn't he going to abuse his authority? Make Sekibanki do his job for him? Release his frustrations over being nothing but a glorified herder?

Of course, she could easily explain Yoshinaga's unadherence to the stereotype. The first one was simple inexperience - he did look in his early twenties. He must be only a rookie. Give him a couple of years and he'll be abusing his station just like everyone else. One does not need absolute power to be corrupted absolutely, especially people this small.

But that would be then. Perhaps he still hasn't gotten over his reservations, his conscience, his honour, if he believed in such a thing. So, when he thought he had gone over the line, he bailed, pointlessly trying to save face for doing his job. Perhaps even his promise to cover her hauntings was genuine. How chivalrous. It was as if he was begging her to abuse this chivalry of his.

The other possibility was even more banal, if troubling - this was just an act. While she couldn't see any signs of him faking it, it wasn't a guarantee that he wasn't. And if he was then she would not even notice if she was being played.

Still, while she could just wait for Marisa outside, with yakuza on the hunt staying alone wouldn't be the best idea. And if she was being played, it was probably too late to change that. She'd have to push her worries about law enforcement aside. Hopefully, it would be quick: answer a question here, put a fake signature there, refuse medical attention everywhere...

"Fine then." Sekibanki pointed a finger at the officer, who now stood straight as a stick. "Just don't think you're off the hook yet. Doushin or not, you don't just throw these kinds of words around."

Her words seemed to put some life into the tired officer. With a determined face, he turned to his squad and started shouting orders. "Alright, enough gossip you hens! Show 'em their room!" The rabble was as if replaced with seasoned soldiers, who, with a thunderous "Yes!", quickly got to work, dragging the tanuki inside. He gestured to Marisa and Sekibanki. "Follow me. We'll talk at my desk."

Going through the gates, Sekibanki couldn't help but notice Marisa's odd look jumping between her and Yoshinaga. What was it? The cops in the inner yard looked at them as they moved by, some bored, some jumpy, most coming closer to see what's the ruckus all about...

Or was it something else? The walls didn't allow her heads hidden on the nearby rooftops a good view of the yard, but from what she could see, it looked awfully like they were cutting off escape routes...

No, how could she be tricked so easily!?

Marisa led her into a trap!

That look - she was preparing to pull out her hakero on Sekibanki! Was her share of the bounty not enough for that thieving wannabe witch?

She knew this would happen, the only way she'd ever get inside the police station would be in chains, beaten halfway to the Sanzu by sainted weapons wielded by cackling cops, eager to 'get even with their oppressors', then thrown someplace damp and dark, waiting for someone to seal her in a jar for a century or two... Ah, how could she be this careless? A child could see this coming! And now it was too late, a single step and she would be inside! She braced herself, ready to bolt out of there the moment anyone moved toward her and-

She felt Marisa bump into her back. "Hey, why'd you stop all of a sudden?"

-and there was nothing?

Sekibanki cautiously looked around the busy reception area of the precinct: officers and patrolmen arguing among themselves, running about with reports, some grannies complaining about their neighbours to the receptionists... It felt not that different from Kanfukutei.

The cops that followed them went past Sekibanki and Marisa, all to pepper Yoshinaga with questions, and quickly dispersed when he waved them off with a short answer that had everyone groaning: "Two more, same thing, got bounties to pay." They gave a stinkeye to Marisa, her only answer a sly smirk. The only attention the secret rokurokubi got were a few concerned glances at her bloodied shoulder. At least the disguise still held.

But it wasn't like she felt completely safe here now that the immediate danger passed by. She noticed a few of the 'customers' on the benches: about twelve youkai of all shapes and forms, all in restraining ofuda. The line to the torture chambers, surely. And she could join the line at any moment. Good thing no one outside of (probably) Marisa noted her healthy dose of caution.

As they moved into a corridor, Marisa looked back to the lobby. "Man, what is this, a market? What's with the crowd?"

"It's those damn tanuki! Couldn't just play crooks like the rest, no! Now we have to jump through hoops, blind and tied!" The floor creaked from the sudden power Yoshinaga gave to his steps. "Their's a sneaky lot. We barely managed to get the ones we could. They got us so confused we couldn't tell what was a red herring and what wasn't. A sake merchant with a leaf stuck in his hair, a nekomata, a normal cat-"

"Get out!" Marisa jokingly brushed him off. "You guys can't be that bad."

"That's what the yoriki said. The first part, that is." He pulled his sheathed sword from his belt. "This is clearly something major, yet we got almost no help from any specialists! And not a word from the Hakurei! Useless bastards..."

They arrived at the main office area. It had personal knee-high desks of each officer in two rows across from each other. The policemen inside were too busy filing reports and arguing to notice them coming in. There was a larger table on the far side of the room, separated from the rest by paper dividers and a half-open door.

"Ah, the yoriki left." Yoshinaga noted as he put his katana onto the common weapons rack. "Must be an emergency meeting with the head of the House, he's been having a lot of those lately." He sat behind his desk. It was a mess, she couldn't see it behind piles of documents and notes. Even his name plaque was buried - she barely noted the character for 'Yoshi' on it.

"I'll fill in the form for your rewards, better to do this now before I get called away again. Where was it... " He started rummaging through the pile. It was a miracle that it didn't instantly collapse onto them. "Now, about what I wanted to mention. If it's true, we're all in a lot of trouble." He pulled out a form and looked at them as severely as his condition allowed him. "Their oyabun might still be at large."

"What, did you expect her to come to you on her own?" Sekibanki mocked, arms crossed, "She's a mob boss, of course she'd be working far from her underlings."

"You don't know Mamizou, that's not her style.", Marisa interjected, looking more confused than anything before turning to the doushin. "Might?"

Yoshinaga checked his colleagues. After making sure that no one was listening in on them, he quietly continued. "I was told by the yoriki that we got her, but none of the officers I've asked could remember that, and she's not in any of the cells." He pulled out a pen, his exhaustion didn't seem to affect the speed or quality of his writing. "Someone overheard that the exorcists are keeping her someplace else, some private prison, but that might be just bull to not lose face." The doushin exhaled through his teeth. "The tanuki's recent attacks have been too organised, we were lucky you weren't the only 'concerned citizen' who happened to help us."

"Great, even shmucks who don't know what they're getting into are more competent than our brave boys in black. Maybe you should hire them and retire."

The officer chuckled at Sekibanki's scoffing. "Oh, we'd love to, but our policy doesn't allow hiring youkai full-time."

Now that got her attention. "Youkai?"

"Yes. And from what I've heard, they were targeted this morning, just like you." He pulled out two sketches out of a pile of them, both of them face down. "There was a karakasa who decided to break haunting regulations at a rather unfortunate time..." Could it be...

Sekibanki looked down at the pictures as the officer turned one of them around. There were two portraits on it. A young girl with short hair, a small smidge of light blue paint to show its colour, and a goofy-looking umbrella with a single eye and a tongue lolling out.


"...and a visitor from the Bamboo Forest, ambushed on her way from the inn she was staying at."

He turned another sketch, again double. On both halves was the same young woman with long, dark hair and a calm look in her eyes, the only difference between the pictures being a set of canine ears.

Oh no.

They're trying to get her through the Network. Why did she even keep in contact with them, this was exactly what she feared!

Yoshinaga stopped writing and looked her in the eyes. "Do you know them?" Sekibanki maintained a neutral expression as best as she could, shaking her head slightly. His gaze lingered on her for a moment, eyebrow raised just slightly. He knew. Crap. "If you say so..." He checked some other records, then continued writing. "However, she really could be behind bars now. That is, if... that thing turns out to be real."

There was a chance that this 'Mamizou' was in the hands of those psychos? Not enviable, but well deserved. "What thing?", Sekibanki asked.

"Well... You didn't hear me say this, but there are rumours of the Hieda Estate having some... hidden cellars. Sign here, please." He gave the paper to Marisa, who quickly scribbled her signature and slid it back. "And, this might just the nobles being overcautious, but I did hear that the security of the Estate got increased somewhat, maybe even with some help from the exorcists."

The witch turned her gaze to Sekibanki, the question clear in her eyes, but right as she decided to object, Marisa spoke up. "They have, uh, other reasons for that."

"What would those be?"

Marisa went around the desk, leaned in, and started whispering something to Yoshinaga. At some point he closed his eyes in a pained expression, grumbling something. When Marisa sat back in her place, he leaned his elbow on the desk, propping up his face. "Well, shit. At least that explains why they left us in the dark. Was the yoriki to know, he wouldn't leave a single stone in the city unturned."

There could not be a worse scenario for Sekibanki. The cops would use this to make the lives of all city youkai hell, she knew it! She could probably handle that, she prepared for this possibility her whole life, but what about the rest? Knowing their arrogance, it would be a bloodbath...

"In any case, it would be for the best for you to not stay alone.", Yoshinaga said. "I doubt you'll join our witness protection program, though it's there if you want to." Sekibanki would've laughed if it wasn't dire. He still didn't get how you don't need to treat a youkai like a human. Seriously, witness protection?

"So, we done?", Marisa asked, "We have a lot of work to do now."

"Right, right." Yoshinaga gave her the paper. She looked through it and whistled. "You know who to give it to. The cash is yours."

The girls stood up to leave, but it seemed that the officer didn't finish. "And, Oseki-san, if you change your mind about tomorrow, you know where to find me."

Sekibanki did not respond and headed out. Marisa asked her some trivial questions on their way back, but they too were all ignored as they left the building.
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"...so he turned right, big mistake - the window between stars is deceptively small, I've only ever seen Reimu try to dodge through that! And so, he fell onto a roof, where I nabbed him!"

Marisa got to retelling the account of her defeating the youkai with great enthusiasm. Sekibanki, or rather Oseki the poor, overworked waitress, wished she put more of that enthusiasm into her sweeping. It didn't look like she used that broom of hers for its intended purpose too often.

Kanfukutei was in ruins: most of the roof was gone, many chairs and tables got smashed, burnt decorations littered the floor, and the only thing left beautifying the pleasant light green wall was a man-shaped hole. Ironically enough, the manju didn't get overboiled - she saw some kids leaving the cafe with some as compensation for their ruined holiday.

Naomi didn't look too amused. "That's great, honey, but that still doesn't explain how you got all this money."

"I was getting there, actually. Those youkai got a huge bounty on their heads for, uh, robbery, yeah.", Marisa quickly made up something believable. Were she in her place, Sekibanki would try to avoid calling the thugs youkai, but everyone here was in the know, so it wasn't that big of a deal.

"Would be funnier if it was vandalism, don't you think?", Saburo said, annoyed at the girl's nonchalance. "Well, can't get too mad now that you're paying, but still, we'll have to close for this week."

"Yeah, my bad. But, look to the bright side, there's two fewer criminals in the city, and those two will be getting some work!", she gestured to the carpenter duo, sitting on one of the intact tables. The one who was thrown through the wall was wearing nothing on his well-built, bloodied upper body, his companion was rubbing some Yagokoro balm onto his wounds, and a small handful of bloody splinters was near them.

"More work's good." He nodded, looking at Sekibanki. "I'm really glad that everyone's fine. Hope you kicked that tanuki real g-GAH!"

The other carpenter laughed as he added another splinter to the pile. "'Scuse me there, Sankichi, missed one. That should be all of them."

Sankichi turned his head to him, face red. "That's what you said the last ten times, you butcher! Gods and Buddhas, if only I had eyes on the back of my head..."

"Oh, quit whining. Have you ever seen anyone in the crew complain about splinters?"

"Of course not, I'm always the one pulling them! I could be a physician, you know." He turned back to the 'waitress', now calmer. "Speaking of, you sure your shoulder isn't hurt, Oseki-san?"

She let out a tired sigh, trying not to look at him. Not this again. "It's fine, just a scratch."

"Even scratches can kill, you know. Let me dress it, I've dealt with with similar injuries. Might also need to tighten those bandages on your neck as well."

The hell was he thinking about, playing doctor? There was no need to do anything with her bandages, they were still in... place...

Sekibanki stopped as she felt something she shouldn't have while double-checking her neck. The bandage seemed to slip just slightly on the left, and now she felt her fingers on her neck seam. Just how long has it been like that, since her fight? How many people could've seen it, then?

And now one of them was not-so-subtly hinting at it, for whatever nefarious purpose he had in his head. What was he trying with this? Extort her? Rat her out? Something worse...?

"Uh, you alright there?", his seemingly confused question followed.

Alright, no time to panic. The rokurokubi decided on the approach. Slightly scowling, she threw her broom to him. He caught it, just like he caught her gaze full of (played-up) scorn, and followed her with his eyes as she headed for the exit. She threw her apron to Saburo. It was good that he was surprised - he and Naomi likely paid more attention to Marisa's tall tale than to the carpenter's scheme. They would surely mistake it for Sankichi offending her in a more mundane way. No need to involve them in anything - not in the tanuki mess, not in this.

As Sekibanki heard everyone in the cafe call her out, she picked up the pace, running behind the corner and into an alleyway. Here she would wait for Marisa to come. She still had one head rolling around on what remained of Kanfukutei's roof, and while she couldn't look inside without being found out, she could still hear whatever was going on inside.

"Alright, mister. What did you do to Oseki-chan?" Naomi's voice was as ice.

"Nothing, I just offered some help, and she just ran off!", Sankichi stammered. "What's up with that?"

"Wait a sec," Marisa said calmly. "Is this about..." She couldn't hear the rest of it, the witch got too quiet to hear through the wind up there.

She could only assume Sankichi nodded his answer, as the witch whispered her explanation. He suddenly interrupted her. "T-that's not how I meant that!"

The other carpenter was having a blast, judging by his laughter. "Congrats, man, you blew it!"

Marisa spoke before Sankichi could snap back. "Now, I'll be busy this week, but after it..." She heard the rustling of paper. "Here. Just be sure you're serious about this. Tough customer, if you catch my drift." There was no question as to what it was - she was advertising her youkai extermination skills. Sekibanki would need to be careful in the future when dealing with this loose end. If he wanted her gone, he would not be alone.

Regardless, it at least seemed to have made him reconsider his earlier plan. "I-I'll think about it." She hoped that he wouldn't act before she did.

Now that Marisa bid everyone farewell the head could take its leave as well. Sekibanki called out the witch as she passed by. She approached the alleyway with a frown. "Now, can you explain what the hell was that all about?"

Sekibanki wasn't about to divulge anything to the potential future threat. "This is none of your concern, unlike the tanuki business."

Marisa's annoyed gaze made her look ready to mouth Sekibanki off for her caution, but she then calmed herself with a deep breath. "Fine, whatever. What now? You're not gonna stay at your place, right?"

Sekibanki loathed the lack of privacy that came with cohabitation, but staying alone really wasn't safe. She couldn't stay vigilant for the entire night - she did need to sleep at some point, even if it was less than a human would need. So, she considered her options.

She could stay with one of the members of the Grassroots Youkai Network who was attacked today. She was... acquainted with them enough to trust them somewhat, and they could help with the investigation in their own way. However, there would be a very real chance of information leaks - the whole point of the network was seemingly just gossip. And that's not taking into account individual problems they could bring along.

Of the Grassroots members, Kogasa was the only other youkai in the Village whom she could both trust and had a house. Too bad it was in Kimon District - the most wretched hive of scum and villainy one could find this side of the valley, which is precisely why that silly umbrella chose to live there. No doubt the Futatsuiwa had a business or two there, so she would have to hide in plain sight, and she wasn't as familiar with that part of the Village, but at least it was still home territory... somewhat.

The other options would have Sekibanki leave the Human Village for a while. There was a big issue with this. She didn't know how exactly it worked, but it seemed that all the locales in the valley... drifted away from each other very slowly over time, something to do with 'additional landmass brought in with forgotten places' or something like that. If she were to travel back to the Village she'd have a lot less time to spare during the day because of this 'forgotten landmass'.

The closer one was Kagerou's place. Living in the Bamboo Forest of the Lost, it was well hidden from anyone who couldn't follow the bizarre logic of that cursed grove, and the wolf-woman could share some insights on how to deal with fellow beasts. The issue, again, was the place itself - she would not be able to enter or leave without Kagerou's guidance. And getting lost there could mean a fate worse than death, even for a youkai.

Lastly, she could go with Marisa. There was no need to involve anyone else in this sensitive case, and she felt that she could end it all quicker that way. Ironic, but her place was also the furthest from the Village - a third of the day just to get there on foot.

[]Stay in the Village...
-[]...with Kogasa in Kimon District. That fool of an umbrella chose the worst place in the Village to live, but it could be a boon now, as could her skills.
[]Stay out of the Village...
-[]...with Kagerou in the Bamboo Forest of the Lost. She had to know more about the beast youkai and had the best place to hide. Travel time: 2 zodiacal hours by foot, 1 by flight, guide required
-[]...with Marisa in the Forest of Magic. If she was going to get involved, she was her best bet at ending this quickly. Travel time: 4 zodiacal hours by foot, 2 by flight
{Write in if you think other places work best, or if you want something else to be done before traveling}
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[X]Stay in the Village...
-[X]...with Kogasa in Kimon District. That fool of an umbrella chose the worst place in the Village to live, but it could be a boon now, as could her skills.

Would be bad if the perpetrator escapes while we're getting to the village.
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[X]Stay in the Village...
-[X]...with Kogasa in Kimon District. That fool of an umbrella chose the worst place in the Village to live, but it could be a boon now, as could her skills.
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[X]Stay in the Village...
-[X]...with Kogasa in Kimon District. That fool of an umbrella chose the worst place in the Village to live, but it could be a boon now, as could her skills.

Best umbrella time. Besides, if it comes to combat Kogasa is either a minor speedbump or the best combatant in the entire Grassroots Youkai Network. No in-between.
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[X]Stay in the Village...
-[X]...with Kogasa in Kimon District. That fool of an umbrella chose the worst place in the Village to live, but it could be a boon now, as could her skills.

She is the best fighter, which is quite surprising.
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