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Previous thread hit sage limit, but I also forgot to post the update to a new thread, so an accidental double post it is.

[x] Cirno the ice fairy

“… Cirno the ice fairy,” Patchouli answers.

“Alright, then let’s train her up to fight Meira,” I continue naturally for a moment. My brain does a double take and I realize what was just said, pondering, “Wait… what do you mean Cirno won?”

“It was rather startling, but yes, she won,” Meiling confirms. “Shameimaru didn’t seem to put in much effort, and underestimated Cirno.”

I cajole with a wave of my hands, “I still don’t think I understand how that’s supposed to happen. I see it everywhere that fairies are supposed to be the bottom rung of Gensokyo, but she won against a tengu?”

“Nominally, you would be correct,” Patchouli notes, seated lamely waiting for her next chance to read. “Cirno is an odd fairy, however. You studied her, I imagined you would understand her potential better than I.”

“Don’t be a bastard,” I spew. “I knew she was strong, but I thought Shameimaru was some kind of famous tengu?”

“Famous for annoying others,” Meiling touts. “She taunted Cirno before turning her back to her opponent. Cirno grabbed her chance to show Shameimaru how foolish that was. She stabbed Shameimaru with one of her icy wings.”

“It was only happenstance that it pierced the tengu’s spinal chord about the small of the back,” Patchouli annotates. “Not to apologize for that nuisance, of course. Some might observe it as the purview of divine judgment given her grandstanding.”

I parse this information and find myself at an odd conjecture, “So… what? You’re saying that Aya was being a dumbass and lost for her hubris? But back on the point, do you both think that Cirno could be trained to take out Meira?”

“I can be trained,” Cirno affirms. “I’ve been training a lot lately.”

“Thank you, Cirno, but I do need an outside perspective to the match up,” I settle the girl.

“…” Meiling and Patchouli stare for a moment that I might assess what’s happening.

I turn on Cirno and start questioning, “Cirno, what are you doing over here? I thought you were wandering the festival after the primaries.”

“I had a feeling my subjects needed me,” Cirno declares. “A strong leader listens to their people!”

“Do you mean we are your ‘subjects?’” Meiling asks with a giggle, kneeling down to Cirno’s toddling height.

“Of course!” Cirno proudly puffs with a pound to her chest. “All of my friends are subjects.”

The green haired fairy presents herself next to Cirno, and continuing to act as the interpreter, says, “She saw the old guy and Chen playing earlier and got jealous.”

Cirno decidedly ignores the comment, but a twitch in her haughty demeanor is evidence enough to what Dai said.

I decide now’s a good chance to ask something on my mind, crossing my arms and asking, “Cirno, do you think that acting like nobility makes you stronger?”

“What?! No!” Cirno defends herself with a swift turn of the head.

“Cirno, I’m not going to scold you. You know that, right?” I press.

She sheepishly looks at me, answering, “Yeah… yeah, being a leader means you’re strong, right?”

“What’s this about?” Meiling chimes in out of curiosity. “Cirno doesn’t often act like this.”

“It’s almost become customary that every time I see Cirno we talk about what makes someone strong, or why being strong is considered good,” I explain to the guard.

“Why being strong is good? It’s never crossed my mind to ask a fairy that,” Meiling admits. “What is your answer, Cirno? Why is being strong good?”

Cirno stands to attention and answers with a wise look, “Being strong means people see me as Cirno and not a fairy. I can make friends like that and protect them.”

“Well, I’m glad you remembered that much after a month…” I sigh. “You’ve gone quite off route of what being stronger means, though.”

“What do you mean?” Cirno asks. “Leaders are strong. Dai told me. Other fairies agreed. Then we all agreed that I would be the best leader.”

“But would those fairies be willing to do things if you asked?” I retort. “Would they fight for you if you asked?”

“Uh…” Cirno thinks on the question.

“Little green one, Dai,” I address, “would you fight for Cirno if she asked?”

“Well…” Dai pauses. She nervously answers, “I don’t want trouble, but I’d help if she needs it.”

“That doesn’t mean you’d fight if she wanted you to, though, does it?” I point out.

Dai screws her face over trying to argue the point.

“Alright, let’s try this, then,” I start. “Meiling, would you die for your master Scarlet?”

“In a heartbeat,” Meiling answers without a second thought. “Well… unless she’s the one trying to kill me,” she gives a second thought.

“I think that goes doubly so for Remilia,” Patchouli addends. “She would die for each of her servants, much to their displeasure.”

“Right, so that’s probably the right grounds for what a strong leader is,” I conclude. “If your ‘subjects’ don’t share that level of trust, you may want to pursue a different means of strength, Cirno.”

Cirno nods to herself, contemplating the meaning of the discussion. Thankfully, the obvious takeaway isn’t the most present thought for her, as she says, “So instead of being a leader, I should be stronger as a person. Right. So what was that you were talking about with the angry woman with a sword?”

“Meira?” Meiling picks up the conversation. “We’re worried for her because she’s gotten stronger as well. We only sort of know why, but we can’t convince her to be helped.”

“We want her to lose the next match,” I divulge the curious fairy. “If she loses she won’t have a reason to hold onto her newfound power. The problem is we need her to actually lose, so that would currently be up to you.”

“So? She’s not that strong, right?” Cirno blusters with an air of overconfidence only she can muster.

“She’s very powerful,” Meiling does not mince words. She puts a finger to Cirno’s neck and continues, “Any wrong move and she takes your throat.”

Cirno frowns at the accost in a sense of disbelief. She asks, “So how do I fight her? I’m the strongest, but I don’t know anything about swords.”

“Come, I’ll show you how to take her on,” Meiling commands the fairy.

Cirno remains totally obedient to the order, too interested in beating a tough opponent to notice her sudden shift to subordinate. That girl, I swear. Sometimes she’ll take out someone leagues above her, other times she’ll play pretend.

With their departure, Kasen, Patchouli, and I are left to spectate the end of the exhibition matches. Chen continues to rise through the ranks, a fairly large pool of participants to go through. I check my watch. 4:01PM. We’re closing in on the later part of the day, and the exhibitions are still trying to finish up. But even so, I decide that I need to tackle the problems as they come up, and I haven’t gotten back to the other one at hand.

I pull Kasen away to a different corner so that we might talk. She seems somewhat concerned that I’d take interest in her problems, but doesn’t mind my earnesty to try and understand the immediate issue. She almost seems to have expected that I’d follow up on my word from earlier, and that it wasn’t platitudes. They weren’t, mind you, but they sounded a lot like they were.

I start as I did before, “Sorry for how things went during your match. I said it before, but I’ll say it again to make sure you know that I didn’t expect any of that.”

“It’s fine, Tanner,” Kasen states, hands defensively waving me back. “And I’m telling you, you don’t need to worry about Ibuki and I. We’re able to handle our own problems.”

“That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t offer you any help that I can give,” I upturn.

“That’s… haah…” she sighs. “I think that a certain someone’s nosiness got to you. I doubt you’ve even met her and yet you’re so much alike.”

“Who do you mean?” I ask.

“Never mind that,” Kasen quickly deters the conversation. “Give me your honest opinion. What did the end of my match look like to you?”

I think on my answer, attempting to not jump to conclusions from the onset. “I’d say it involved two friends, maybe two close friends, but I don’t want to assume anything.”

“Do you think your assumptions are wrong?” Kasen coerces.

“No, not necessarily. It’s more like it’s a foolish thing to try and even approach a problem with assumptions unless you know you’re allowed to make them,” I argue.

Kasen observes the confidence I say that with, cupping a hand over her mouth and saying, “Maybe you’d be fine…” She lowers her hand and continues, “What do you know about Ibuki and I? Ran must have told you some when you visited me.”

“What? No. Ran told me next to nothing about you. She didn’t even mention that you’re an oni.”

“Yet you know?” she interrogates.

“Patchouli told me at the end of your match. It didn’t sound like any secret to her, so I didn’t figure it was… or maybe is?”

“Is,” Kasen confirms. “I would like less people to know whenever possible.”

“So that’s what Ibuki was talking about in your conversation,” I infer. “But that really shouldn’t matter between the two of you. Even if you’re living different lives that shouldn’t mean you can’t be friends.”

Kasen winces a slight amount at having to tell me, “Well… it’s a little more than that.”

“No…” I gasp, realizing that I’m stepping somewhere I really ought not to be. “Oh, geez. I didn’t think it was like that.”

Her eyes shoot to me in horror, flailing her words, “No, no, nothing like what you’re thinking! I was her subordinate, once. I mean, we maybe had that sort of partnership off and on, but we’re big enough to move past it.”

I groan, understanding the depths of my mistakes when involving myself. This is not the direction I want to take this conversation, so I return to the original topic, “Do you think that you would be able to patch things up in the right setting?”

“What would you think is the right setting?” Kasen asks with a gesture for me to share my mind.

“A lot of things would be better than an arena,” I conjecture. “Better question is do you know of a way to get her in person?”

“Sadly, not really,” Kasen informs me, shying away to hold her arm. “I would have left to contact her if I could. If I had to guess, she’s hiding in her mist form to avoid people. She acts like she uses it for nefarious purposes, but really she feels comfortable in that form.”

“She feels comfortable being mist? That sounds like an acetic thing,” I josh. “But, wait, if she’s everywhere at once as mist… does that make her omniscient?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Kasen confirms with a hint of surprise. “She’s not going to listen to what either of us have to say, but she can hear everything. She probably didn’t even wander far before disappearing, so she hears this area better.”

Is that how that works? Ibuki can become part of the very air and listen in to everything people say. What an absurd power. But at the same time, that means that she’s technically not hidden, doesn’t it? An idea strikes me, something just as absurd, but maybe possible.

“Kasen, come with me, we need to find Meiling,” I wave her beside me as I make for the door.

We go down the stretch of halls back outside. The fair grounds is a tad more open now that the villagers are starting to thin out. Night is still some ways out, but the walk home can take time. Not to mention how tired they’ll be after an outing like today’s.

“Where do you expect to find miss Hong? And, for that matter, what did you need to ask of her? If it was so pressing you should have mentioned it earlier,” Kasen nags, not unlike a certain someone I know.

As we continue walking further to the corner of the mansion I placate the hermit oni, “No, listen. I just had an idea while we were talking that maybe we’d be able to drag Ibuki out of hiding if we were to try and net her.”

“What?” Kasen asks, baffled by the assertion. “In what sense do you think you can cast any net that could contain Ibuki? She’s an oni that has turned into the atmosphere. You may as well attempt to grasp at the aether.”

“Funny you should say that. That’s about what I was thinking to do. Well, not me, but maybe Meiling,” I springboard from Kasen’s exaggeration.

Kasen stutters her step to stare at me, and says, “You’re serious about this? You want to grab magic and that will be the same as grabbing Suika? I can’t say I know what you’re thinking.”

I explain myself, “You said before that Ibuki has turned into mist. In my mind that would mean that she’s as small as particulates in the air, if not smaller. So if we can think of something that might normally effect her, we now need to do the same at a lower power for a greater volume.”

“So you think that you can have Meiling manipulate life energy to drag Ibuki back to one spot? I want to say I don’t follow, but I think I do. It still doesn’t sound like the correct conclusion,” Kasen mulls over.

“That’s the hypothesis. If Ibuki is small enough she might be approximated as part of the empty space much like a field. That’s only a guess on my part that something like life magic would be akin to electromagnetic fields,” I expand on my previous point.

“How many guesses are you making to create that ‘hypothesis,’ exactly?” Kasen questions. “No, before that, you’re assuming that I’m okay with informing someone of my personal affairs.”

“Ah, well…” I utter, trying not to get ahead of myself. I decide to add on, “I can always ask Ran instead. It will have to wait until after the tournament’s over for today, though, since she’s heading the match rulings.”

Kasen doesn’t respond for a few moments. I pass over my shoulder to see her deeply concentrated on the suggestion before answering, “While I have my withholdings, I also know that time is important. That’s assuming she’s still here; she normally hides when I’m around. I need a moment to think on it…”

We’ve rounded a few corners at this point, finding ourselves at the back of the mansion and away from nearly all of the crowd. Only some drunkards looking for a quiet place to sleep are stationed on various outdoor furniture where they can be, but not a sign of Meiling or Cirno yet.

I beeline to a gazebo over by the mansion’s edge. This portion of the grounds is quite strange, sporting no external wall along the edge. During the summer it seems nonsensical, only separating the manse from the forest by a stone’s toss of short grass, but in the winter the lake’s waterline rises and fills the space considerably. Coincidentally this makes the mansion technically an island in that case. Meiling has complained about forest animals that occasionally approach this time of year, but nothing major.

On approach, I spot Meiling and Cirno in practice. Meiling’s taken a hands on approach to training Cirno. She wields a wooden katana against Cirno’s odd icy mimicry of the same weapon. She drills strikes for Cirno to guard against, but her movement isn’t usual. They aren’t methodical and disciplined like I’d expect of the gatekeeper, but use momentum to get around the opponent.

Meiling seems to be familiar enough with Meira to copy her style, using her sword in a reverse grip and showing Cirno where she might strike with her hook.

They haven’t paid us any mind as we’re watching.

Kasen stands by observing, then quietly says to me, “I’ve made up my mind. You can take the chance to let Hong know if you think its necessary, but my opinion stands that I want less people to know. I’m giving you a conundrum, I know. There may be no way to help me right now, anyway.”

So she’s offloading the choice to me so that it’s my responsibility. She doesn’t seem to do it consciously, but it’s an easy enough ulterior motive to weed out.

I can’t hold in an amused sniff while shaking my head, and reply, “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

[x] Resolve to let Meiling know about Kasen’s issues and seek her assistance on this matter as well.

[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.

[x] Come up with a different idea. (Write-in)

You’ll get a bit more of Meiling and Cirno training next update, but we’re soon approaching the next rounds, so I expect things to ramp up as we thin out the contestants. As for the beginning of this section, I think I may have had a bit too much fun, but I can’t get enough of philosophical corner with Cirno. It strikes my fancy.
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[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.

I think we shouldn't spread ourselves too thin.
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[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.

We're not in a rush anyways...
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>"...She stabbed Shameimaru with one of her icy wings.”
>"...it pierced the tengu’s spinal chord about the small of the back..."

That's hilarious. She tried to give Aya a Wario style shoulder bash and stabbed her instead. That or she copied the Spy.

Also, I like philospohical corner wirh Cirno, personally.

[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.
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I don't see any reason not to at least inform her.

She was there when Patchouli dropped the truthbomb, so it's not like she doesn't already know.

And it's not like she can't infer what's going on after seeing the fight, knowing that they're both oni.

So, basically there's nothing to lose.

[X] Resolve to let Meiling know about Kasen’s issues and seek her assistance on this matter as well.
-[X] "She probably already knows, anyway."

(Unless I'm remembering horrifically wrong.)
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[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.
It's better to put this up for later
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[x] Resolve to let Meiling know about Kasen’s issues and seek her assistance on this matter as well.
-[x] If its privacy you're worried about, you could just ask Meiling to plug her ears and turn around during the conversation with Suika.

Just because Meiling gathers up Suika doesn't mean she has to pay attention to the conversation.
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[x] Wait until after the tournament for Ran to be available to help.

I walk over next to Meiling and Cirno, minding my spacing from their blunt weaponry. While a stray swing wouldn’t cause any flesh wound, it’s still idiotic to get hit at all.

“Meiling,” I address the woman a few paces away.

She lifts her wooden sword away from Cirno, the fairy holding her icy facsimile in a high guard. Perhaps Meiling was in the middle of explaining how to block from that angle.

“Tanner, what have you come here for? The exhibitions haven’t ended already, have they?” Meiling asks of me, sword unnaturally held upright. Her eyes drift to my talking partner and greets, “Ah, Kasen, hello. Did you have interest in my training after all?”

Kasen remains quiet as I answer, “We came by to check on how you’re doing training Cirno. It’s a very short amount of time before she needs to be ready. Is training her with a sword advisable?”

“I thought it would be cool!” Cirno gleefully announces, brandishing her weapon above her head.

“She insisted,” Meiling replies, tossing in an amused shake of her head. “I’ve had a long time to learn that Cirno learns only what she wants.”

“I can’t say I envy the task, admittedly,” I concede. Cirno ruts an undictioned complaint my way at that.

“Is that enough to help her fight someone skilled with a sword, though?” Kasen questions, intentionally letting our previous topic go undiscussed.

“Hmm…” Meiling ponders her explanation. “From what I could tell before, Meira is a lot like Youmu. We saw them match speed and strength.”

“Meira was lucky that Youmu didn’t go all out, though. Had she used her more impressive moves we might not be talking about this,” Kasen criticizes. “That doesn’t mean I expect someone that doesn’t know how to use a weapon to defeat her, however.”

“Hang on, you’ve grabbed my attention,” I interject as I hold Cirno’s head an arm’s length away. “If Youmu could do more, how much more are we talking?”

Meiling illustrates for me, “Youmu is fast. Fast enough for a human to not find by eye. Faster than I could possibly halt from passing me. She could put more power to her strikes, but in speed I disagree with Kasen’s thought. Youmu went the speed she meant to. Meira still caught her and stopped the passing movement.”

Kasen appraises, “I can’t argue with your judgment. I’ve not fought the Konpaku girl before, myself. Only witnessed her lose to liquor.”

I dismiss Kasen’s off comment to continue picking Meiling’s brain, “If you mean they’re on equal footing, just how fast would that make them?”

“From what you said earlier, you know about Shameimaru’s speed. Imagine that on the ground. That’s their speeds,” Meiling concludes.

“So are we expecting Cirno’s swordsmanship to counteract that speed in some way?” I drill on the main subject.

“No,” Meiling simply answers. “I expect Cirno to do what she wants.”

I run my fingers over my forehead in thought.

“I believe you’ve lost us,” Kasen notes, deadpanned.

“Ah, well, Meira seems like Youmu,” Meiling defends her position. “If someone fights her that does not have a style or tactic it will throw her off.”

My fingers stop as I focus on Meiling and complete her thought, “Because she’s trained against you so much. She only fights wild Youkai near the village. Normally fighting animals she doesn’t have a real method for fighting people, only countering calculated actions.”

“Uh…” Meiling emptily replies. “I’m not sure I understand you. Something seemed to make sense, so that’s fine…”

“I see you’ve saved me the trouble of finding Meiling as well,” a voice comments next to Kasen. The sharp and cold tone makes it easy enough to guess who it’s from.

I turn around and ask the maid, “Is it really already time?”

“Time?” Izayoi enunciates. “I suppose it is so. How unfortunate that you have not way to accurately tell the time. Oh, no, I forget myself, as you surely have that wrist bound time keeping device. But, then, why are you surprised by the time? Had you not heard the announcement from Milady that the exhibitions were finished and required a fifteen odd lapse before the second primary rounds?” she ends, shying behind her hand in presumption.

“Are you finished?” I show no mirth. “I left the room again, I know, but there’s things happening that I can be there for.”

“Things such as the winner of the exhibition rounds? Whom you now have no idea of their identity? Those such things?” Izayoi retorts, enjoying herself in this vitriol.

“Enough!” I relent. “Let’s head back, then.”

“With the three of you as well,” Izayoi notes, looking between the other women present. Well, other women and Cirno, anyway. “I trust you know the way to return, as there is still more of the ring to repair on my end.”

I grunt in affirmation. The maid pops out of existence from where she was standing. Meiling pats my shoulder as she passes by and states, “She seems to like you.”

Whether she’s being serious or not is beyond me. Does every member of the internal mansion outwardly torment people they are fond of? I guess it’s about the same as a certain someone’s proclivity to rest atop my shoulders when she’s around.

“Cirno, can’t you just fly?” I bicker.

“That’s no fun!” Cirno pouts, holding her crown in place as she bends into view.

Kasen giggles with a knuckle to her mouth at the opening of the gazebo.

“Kasen,” I address.

She checks over her shoulder to make sure Meiling has walked far enough, and turns back to say, “You didn’t need to stay quiet about that idea of yours. Still, you considered my wishes, so, thank you.”

“We’ll get back to it after all this. I’ll have to explain the idea to Ran and brainstorm if it would even work,” I inform the hermit. Cirno shakes around on my shoulders begging to be part of the conversation, to which I grapple her from knocking me over.

We walk back to the waiting room to some mild chit chat about Cirno’s current thoughts for beating Meira. I can’t say I have any real expectations in this scenario, after all I didn’t really think Cirno would make it past the first round in this ruleset, but she’s a bundle of surprises. Her confidence can’t be taken at face value, though, so her bluster only really falls on deaf ears.

The waiting room has been largely emptied out now that the exhibition matches are done. Only the odd Youkai hangs around to keep watching, the rest losing as some point in their independent brackets. Biten still sits close by Meiling, for whatever attachment the Youkai monkey found. Nobody else stands out as the winner from the exhibitions, so they’ve probably left to enjoy the festival themselves while the primaries are happening. The lack of conversation leaves a placid air as the remaining competitors size each other up.

A member is missing from the group, though. I can tell at a glance because her presence was by and large… larger. Hoshiguma isn’t here yet. Everyone else is: Chen, Cirno, Meiling, Jo’on, Kasen, Reisen, even Meira. I’ll have to ask Patchouli what that’s about.

I initially go to where the primary brackets were posted and see they’ve gone missing. I stroll up to Patchouli and find the sheet on top of a pile of books to the witch’s side. Left unguarded save for the attendant keeping watch on all of miss Knowledge’s literature. I thank the demonic redhead to no reply and turn my attention to the group. They’re all anxious in their own ways for things to get started again.

“I’m sure you all remember the order that you’re up next, but I’ll briefly list it off right now,” I start. “Meiling, Jo’on, you’re up first. Soon as Izayoi is here you’re going. I don’t think I have anything I need to warn either of you about, unless there’s any questions.”

I pause to give them a chance for exactly that, but neither vocalizes. Meiling shakes her head confidently, Jo’on… looks like she wants to say something on her mind, as is often the case, but recognizes now isn’t the time for that.

“Alright, moving on,” I proceed with the spiel. “Kasen, Reisen, you’re after them. Then we go Hoshiguma and Chen… oh boy, alright…”

“And what do you mean by that?” Chen perks up in contest.

“Nothing!” I insist. “But, where is Hoshiguma? If Izayoi found everyone she should be here too.”

“Shelve the thought for a moment,” Patchouli advises. I glance beside me to see if she’s properly joining the conversation or merely chiming in. Hopefully she means to talk about it after I’m done.

“Fine…” I stuff the topic and look back over to Chen. A passing thought escapes my lips, “Wait, I just realized, didn’t you also sign up for the exhibition matches, Chen?”

“Uh,” Chen intelligently mutters, looking away while playing with her fingers.

“There… was no rule against the idea,” Kasen ponders. “I wonder if those knocked out from the first round thought the same.”

“Never mind, it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things,” I deflect the discussion. No reason to clue everyone in that I don’t know the victor. “Anyway, Cirno and Meira you’re up last. I’ll talk to you all briefly before you go. Other than that, I’m right here for the time being. Dismissed.”

I added in a little habitual piece in the end, but nobody noticed the oddity, so I let it pass. Meiling and Jo’on approach, still waiting for Izayoi to come grab them.

“Like I said, you both heard the rules last round, and I don’t think you two are in danger of killing one another by accident,” I brief. It may have come off as dismissive, but I’ll live with it.

“I know,” Meiling agreeably states, “I thought Sakuya would know to look here first.”

“Ugh,” Jo’on gags. “I didn’t realize how bad she would be. The voice alone is grating like the grasshead’s sunny airheadedness.”

“What?” Meiling recoils in shock. She stares aghast at Jo’on for some semblance of a reason that the goddess is so volatile. She’s leans forward and cautions, “Have we met before?”

“No, but I’ve heard a thing or two about you. I can’t believe that a Youkai like you even exists,” Jo’on accuses.

“Ha?!” Meiling squeals. “What did I do?”

“Nothing, and that’s kind of the problem,” Jo’on persists.

I get my arms between them and shove the two apart. A moment longer and they would have actually been in each other’s faces. “How many times do I have to say it. Save it for the ring if you want to pull smack talk or whatever this shit is,” I command to Jo’on specifically. She clicks her tongue at me, but that’s about it.

In the next moment the doors fly open as Izayoi struts in to quickly collect the competitors. Without a word or a moment to question she drags the two off for the first round.

“Damnit, she probably knows where Hoshiguma is,” I gripe.

“The large oni left earlier,” Patchouli speaks up without glancing from her book. “She made mention to me that she was going out to find Ibuki. As you were not here at the time, she felt the need to report such to me. Thank me for doing your menial work.”

I heave a disgruntled tone from the back of my throat, cross my arms, and say, “Thanks and screw off.”

Hoshiguma left? How would she even find Ibuki? Damnit, I guess I really did miss something important. I didn’t think I would be jumping the gun so dramatically, though.

One problem at a time, Tanner. I’m coordinating the rounds and a contender left, forfeiting her place in the bracket. Chen’s not going to be mashed into roadkill, so that’s good.

… Gotta make sure that thought never slips out.

Now how to approach this upset in the bracket… I take a glance at the roster in my hand, inspecting the names as if they would have some sort of answer lying within. Overall it’s gotten to be one hell of an eclectic group, that’s for sure. If it’s already this strange, then…

“Hey, Patchouli,” I address the witch. She doesn’t vocalize a response, but circles her hand for me to continue. “Think we could use the winner of the exhibition matches as a replacement? I mean, assuming it wasn’t Chen.”

“I believe it is your responsibility to make that call. You were the one to set up the exhibitions in the first place. Whether they arbitrarily go at the end or now won’t be very different in Remi’s eyes. Now cease your prattle. I am not your coworker,” Patchouli assesses, being surprisingly helpful.

I consider her response, and decide that it would be best to do that if Hoshiguma did in fact suddenly leave. The replacement would make more sense in this context than to simply skip Chen forward in the brackets. Albeit, it might be someone that Chen fought in that same group. Would be quite comical, even if unlikely.

I return to the discussion with Patchouli, and emphatically spout, “Oh, wise and most beautiful magician, might you grace me with the knowledge of who won the exhibition matches?”

In an absolute show of discipline, the witch remains silent. Not even a budge to her exterior can be seen as her might of will does not allow any lightened mood to present itself from my exaggerations. I remain utterly ignored, without the grace that I might banter with someone while she turns a page.

“Was that too much?” I ask.

“Entirely. I can’t say I understand what you were even attempting to emulate,” she leaves the thought out to hang.

“Sorry…” I respond with an embarrassed scratch at my cheek not kept in check. “So, could you tell me who won the exhibitions, please?”

She points to the paper in my hand. I pass it to her, expecting her to write the name directly, but instead she turns it over in front of me. I lean in to find small and nearly illegible script in a corner of the sheet with the name...

[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion. (Write-in)

[x] Yes, anyone that hasn’t been discussed already.

[x] This isn’t limited to being sensical, either. Just don’t make it a noncombatant.

So, next update will not be where this choice becomes notable. I plan to make next update be very centered around Meiling vs Jo’on because despite appearances, this is still a Meiling chapter at the core. As for this choice, this is very much intended to be for fun. I really do want to see you all might agree on in more of an ‘anything goes’ sense.
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Kaguya (?)
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- [X] Reisen II
(Don't ask how I decided that...)
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-[x] Kaguya (!)
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>[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
>-[x] Kaguya (!!)
Kaguya is my favourite so I can't help myself but to vote for her.

It's Tsukihime time.
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Drunk Reimu

Tsukihime? Screw that noise, THIS is where we're at
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Kaguya

I wonder if there are special rules for fighting Hourai immortals given that you literally can't kill them no matter how hard you try.
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I was thinking one of the moon people but this is better.

[X] Reisen II
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[X] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion
- [X] Keine
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Drunk Reimu

Yeah! Drunk Reimu!
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[X] Reisen II
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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Kaguya

Let's see how skilled Kaguya after all those death matches with Mokou
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[x] Sukuna
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Seeing Shimmy fight does sound pretty funny
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[X] Reisen II

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[x] Pick anyone to be the exhibition champion.
-[x] Kaguya

… Kaguya. Kaguya? As in… Kaguya Houraisan, one of the moon people? I didn’t peg her as a very fisticuffs oriented person. Or trained in any martial practice at all, for that matter. She’s a princess who had legends made about her supposed transcendental beauty, so it’s odd to even imagine her throwing hands with the… well… ‘pro brawling’ collective here. I could be less nice in that thought, but at least half of them are alright.

“How did Kaguya rise through the ranks?” I ask Patchouli. “I can’t even fathom the way she must fight with these rules.”

Patchouli lowers her book momentarily, thinking back on the matches she sat around for, and interprets, “It was much like a military’s close combat techniques. The lunarians have their own methods of combat, and it seems efficace enough to take armed opponents bare handed.”

I scratch at my temple attempting to parse the visual of an immortal girl in noble dress performing soldier grapples. I come up short and comment, “What? She fights bare handed? I thought that even though lunarians aren’t human they still had a lot of the same physicality.”

Patchouli raises her book once more, reproaching my assumption with, “Grossly inaccurate. But given, it is correct to assume their physical strength is much the same as that of a human’s. It is also impossible to tell what the years spent on Earth have done to Kaguya and her retainer.”

“Oh yeah, we haven’t seen miss Yagokoro,” I state. “You don’t think Kaguya snuck out of their mansion, do you?”

“Don’t you have enough concerns at the moment?” Patchouli retorts my passive curiosity.

The mirror cackles to life with vicious giggling. The sound of a child taking pure joy in doing something they shouldn’t be. Scarlet’s merriment takes over the waiting room and the arena, and with it all eyes are on her.

She stands from her honestly gaudy throne and begins to announce, “Welcome one and all to the next rounds of the Scarlet Tournament! I know that you have all been waiting keenly for our greater chosen fighters to come around once more, and be not afraid to say so, for I have too! Let them know that you are ready to receive them with boundless excitement! Make yourselves loud enough that they might hear you from where they wait!”

She crescendos the last sentence and swings her arms open to the crowd, signaling a warhead of cheers greater than the start of the tournament. People are settling into Scarlet’s corny persona as the host.

“Scarlet Tournament?” I hear Chen stifle a giggle next to me.

“I sincerely hope that that isn’t the name she’s going to feed to the tengu,” Kasen coincides.

After a few moments Scarlet levels her hands and slowly lowers them to silence the crowd. She giddily retracts them as she continues her speech, “Yes! I think they heard that! The first two for the round probably felt that! It is my pleasure to reintroduce the first contestant to this lineup! The Scarlet Devil’s own personal guard, the mystical master of martial arts hailing from the Chinese nation! Hong Meiling!”

A few seconds pass as Meiling ducks under the rope netting to enter the ring, attempting to shirk off a roaring crowd. She stands tall but eventually gives in, her posture loosening and a hand bracing the back of her neck as she waves back to everyone around her, appealing to the image of a humble warrior bowing. The crowd loves her. The first performance she put on with Biten was spectacular in a very straightforward way so it’s no surprise that the spectators think highly of her.

God forbid anyone find scraps of the old eighties-nineties pro wrestling scene. Gensokyo strikes me as somewhere that would latch onto that shit like crack. Ah, but, there was also really real wrestling in other countries, too. Oh gods, what if they find the Mexican luchadors? Thoughts of these brightly colored lunatics in equally bright leather masks is disquieting, and I should heretofore never address this thought again.

“Tanner, is something the matter?” Kasen asks from across the group watching the mirror.

“Nothing, was just thinking about how much I dislike scripts,” I scowl away the erstwhile thought.

“Oh, uhm, alright?” Kasen confusedly replies.

Scarlet clambers the room to once again silence themselves as she invites in the next person, announcing, “Her opponent for this round will be the insidious troublemaker. The disastrous god of wealth. A public enemy who would claim her own bounty given the chance! It is Jo’on Yorigami!”

Jo’on enters to nothing but jeers. Whatever she did to Ichirin in the last rounds put a real target on her back. Despite this, she enters the ring with a smile, standing proudly with the rancor around her. She clasps her hands together and congratulates herself. The disdain only fuels her arrogance. It doesn’t take a keen eye to see she’s full of so much hot air that she should be floating off.

I’ve not properly seen Jo’on in a fight. She was ganged up by Sanae and Mokou when I last had the opportunity. I still remember the welt that grew from the bridge of her nose, but it was a two on one fight and I doubt that she was sober for it. Here today she’s out to break faces.

She stands opposite of Meiling, not preparing for any sort of combat and instead settling into a contrapposto. She’s outright relaxed looking, as opposed to the more high strung view I have of her. Some of that view may be my own fault, but I shouldn’t defend her too much. That smug grin is worse than shit-eating.

Scarlet lets the crowd have their fun putting down the clear antagonist of the bracket, and raises both of her hands high to shout, “FIGHTERS!”

Meiling lowers into a side position with most of her weight put onto the back knee. Her hands are offset towards her opponent, perhaps to prepare for an instant strike like with Biten. Jo’on remains casual, but eyes Meiling closely. She must want to make sure Meiling isn’t going to feint her stance into an attack herself.

“BEGIN!” Remilia shouts with more might than her small frame could muster, opening her arms as wide as possible. Her sheer presence sounds over the crowd, taking their attention. Everyone is quick to shut up and watch. Scarlet as well takes her chair, interested in how the round will play out.

No movement happens to start. Both women stand motionless, waiting for the other to do something. I catch Jo’on’s eyes narrowing, but that might be my imagination from the mirror’s distance.

“You know,” Jo’on starts, whipping a folded fan out from one of her coat pockets and pointing it to Meiling, “you’re something of a wimp, aren’t you?”

Meiling stares in disbelief at her opponent. She may be in her readied stance but it appears more like she’s frozen to the position.

“Hah?” Meiling utters with a questioning sideways look to Jo’on. Her tone screams how stupid she thinks the comment was.

Jo’on shrugs nonchalantly, “Well, just look around you. A cheering crowd, bunch of people wanting to fight, an arena built just for the whole thing. This tournament is for your little vampire to prop you up as some serious powerhouse when really you’re nothing to write home about.” She drops the smile as she finishes, “That cheerful attitude of yours throughout this is just disgusting.”

“I think I heard enough,” Meiling retorts.

She dashes forward out of her guard to rush Jo’on with several punches. Jo’on takes them directly, making no attempt to block the hits. The last hit strikes Jo’on straight in her nose, whipping her head back. Meiling retreats to a different guard with a hand forward and the other balled at her waist, Jo’on eases her head back down. A supple drip of blood comes from her nostril. After a heavy breath out she smiles. A nasty, insidious smile meant to scare children into listening to their parents.

She swings her folded fan from the side into Meiling.

Meiling slides below the strike, knocking away Jo’on’s hand upward by shooting the fist at her waist. This stops whatever the fan would have accomplished. It may have not been much in the first place, though. Meiling doesn’t notice as she draws back her guarding hand, seeking to hit Jo’on center mass, but a fist coated in golden flames rams into her jaw from below, clenching her teeth as an unwanted courtesy.

The sheer force imparted is enough to straighten Meiling’s knees, lifting her nearly to full height. Jo’on follows through with a returning punch, ducking her head to the side as Meiling tosses in a counter jab to no avail. Jo’on’s flaming hand folds Meiling into the ground, and I can see that it wasn’t just a punch, but a grab at Meiling’s throat. Jo’on looks down in satisfaction at the winded martial artist. No sooner does she let go that she adds in a soccer kick to Meiling’s ribs, separating the two once again.

Meiling staggers to her feet, blood coming from her teeth and broken skin around the neck.

“Pathetic,” Jo’on insults. “It felt like you were trying to love tap me. What kind of Youkai are you, anyway? Using the fancy practices of humans, not very Youkai-like by my standards. You know what, don’t answer that. You’re just comedic relief here. Some idiot that stands in front of a gate asleep. Everyone knows you don’t actually do your job.”

Meiling stands upright, returning to her first guard position, ready to accept Jo’on’s next assault should it come. She stares with a fire in her eyes, teeth still clenched from being hit.

“Do you have nothing to say for yourself? This is gonna be boring if so,” Jo’on taunts.

Meiling does not respond to the prodding, but it does seem to have an effect on her as her brow continues to furrow in rage.

Jo’on dashes forwards in a blur. Not the lighting speed that Youmu and Meira have achieved, but fast enough that you can react but not might act. Meiling is better than that, though, deflecting a low punch from Jo’on’s charge and opening the girl to a massive blow that Meiling twists her arm and body into. Her hand shoots out a brilliant rainbow, a consistency like pressurized water, sending Jo’on spiraling across the arena into the net. She falls back to the ground on her feet, limp but standing.

She bends up and makes a show of cracking her neck. She slowly walks forward and says, “So there is some bite to this dog. Honestly, what is your deal? You’re docile to humans and serve under a different Youkai. Isn’t that, like, opposite of how Youkai are supposed to act?”

“Please stop talking and fight,” Meiling asks of her opponent. While her words are still polite, you can hear she is not at all taking to the hostility.

Jo’on stops walking a couple paces from Meiling and puts her hands in front of her face, what would be expected of a boxer. Meiling starts to pace about her as she bobs in place, waiting for the chance to strike. Jo’on reaches a fist out several times, Meiling lightly swatting them away. The exchange brings to mind a cat pawing a toy.

A swiping kick to Meiling’s front leg does nothing to her balance, the leg returning to position relatively quickly. While it’s possible for Meiling to have capitalized on Jo’on’s wide motion, I could spot the moment that Jo’on was planning to block with her available arm and retaliate. I’m sure Meiling noticed it, too.

Jo’on pirouettes into her guard, bouncing as she waits for Meiling to advance. The guard stalwartly remains on the defensive, leaving the first action up to Jo’on’s whim.

This seems to be clear to Jo’on, as she slows for an instant before belting out a left and right jab inside Meiling’s guard. Meiling sweeps an elbow at her opponent, but Jo’on rotates her head with it, causing it to scrape across her scalp. She crosses above Meiling’s strike with her own. A left hook coated in blinding light lands square on Meiling’s jaw, sending her reeling. Jo’on sticks to the retreating Meiling and sends a few extra straights into her abdomen before being pushed away. She waits out Meiling’s next move.

Once again Meiling bends over, not fatigued, but certainly winded by the intensity that Jo’on flaunts. She coughs up more blood between breathes. She pauses upon seeing the blood on the ground, unconvinced that that’s her own.

Jo’on relaxes and continues her taunting, “You protect this place? You don’t even look like you can protect yourself from me. And we’re in a fucking favorable match for you.”

Meiling refuses to show any emotion over the provocations, slowly returning to her guard, but it’s clear she’s losing ground like this. Jo’on remains unimpressed by the display of determination and glances around the crowd. She settles on Scarlet, the little vampire looking more than unhappy with the way things are going. However, it isn’t Jo’on she’s directing her eyes to, but Meiling.

Jo’on points to Scarlet and presses her luck further than I thought it could go, saying, “Oh, you agree with me?” Scarlet looks to the fool, bewildered by her forwardness. Jo’on offers a hand in Meiling’s direction and happily asks, “She’s probably never won a fight when it mattered, has she?”

Scarlet crunches her hands into her chair before standing up. Her wrath is now turned to Jo’on with unsuppressible rage. The blood in her eyes can be seen from our perspective in the mirror. Her wings unfurl and beat. She leans in to–

“Stop!” Meiling cries. Scarlet whips her head back to her subordinate, remembering where she is presently. She relaxes her bat wings and releases the tension in her face. Jo’on’s grin stays plastered as she looks over to Meiling, who continues, “If you want to fight me, then fight me!”

She wipes blood from the corners of her mouth and puts up her guard. It’s different than the times before, though. Now she’s put her hands into fists and stands a bit higher, weight centered further forward, and bouncing from the balls of her feet. Jo’on sees the adjustments Meiling is going for and her smile turns from wicked to vile, teeth displayed like she’s ready to bite.

“How cute, you’re trying to copy me?” she concludes as she approaches once more. Meiling holds a fist forward, to which Jo’on stares for a brief moment before bumping with her own, quickly crouching into her comparatively brutish form. They begin to circle one another cautiously.

When the caution gives way they trade blows, and I quickly realize how Meiling’s adapted. She’s fighting with some fluidity, the motions on occasion recognizable to the tai chi that she often performs, but the strikes are more akin to what Jo’on does. Punch, and punch hard. Punch so hard that the only way to make them harder is to put magic into the punch.

They go ballistic, firing cannons for arms into one another at every open second. If they aren’t swinging they’re blocking the other person’s swing. The colors they emit shine in hundreds of mixtures, splashing every which way as some impossible liquid and plasma combination. Their forearms rapidly develop bruises and cuts from the constant shearing and compressive forces applied. They snap into each other’s hold at one point, their arms locking against one another as they punch in unison, identically ducking their heads to the side. In a snap reaction, Jo’on uses her opposing hand to hook Meiling’s cranium, while Meiling herself launches a knee into Jo’on’s gut with her back foot.

Jo’on’s hook misses Meiling’s head by a literal hair, but her upper arm sails into Meiling’s face, clotheslining her. Combined with the motion of folding atop Meiling’s charging knee, they fall onto one another in an exaggerated twist. Meiling, pinned under Jo’on, pushes the girl’s lighter frame from her.

Jo’on tumbles back to stay on her feet after landing. At some point, Meiling knocked the smile out of her. Not to mention a tooth. She added some swelling to her left eye, too. Meiling drags herself off the ground, looking no better, honestly. Swelling on an eye and her lower lip, the upper lip torn open and bleeding, and that’s just the damage to her face. She took far more hits to her body.

Looking at each other in a brief spell of silence, they wind up matching fists and clash. Their fists, one of golden light and the other a rainbow, become energetically volatile, shaking each woman as they try to overpower the other. This energy compresses further, and further, soon they both put what they were fighting with all into a singular point in front of them, creating a point mass of magical energy emitting strobes of light. If I had to guess, they want to make the mass turn supercritical and explode on their opponent. Meiling shouts and pushes their fists together with the mass of torrential light squashed between them.

In the next instant, a flash occurs, and dust from the arena’s recent construction flakes up in a dense cloud around a central fireball.

Next to me, Patchouli holds a hand up from her book toward the mirror, a faint energy alight under her palm. She lowers it again when the cloud starts to dissipate.

Beneath the dust, Meiling lies on her back. Her hat flew off and her clothes are in tatters but she’s still consciously breathing. Heaving, rather. On the other side, Jo’on tumbled into the dirt, launched out of the ring entirely and draped with the outer netting. The thing must have stopped her from flying into the stands. And it may go without saying, but there are scorch marks against her arms where even the sleeves have burnt off.

The crowd lay silent, taking in the scene.

Meiling uses whatever muscles or tendons still work to force herself up. She struggles to do so, her arms giving up midway, and so she relies on her legs alone to do it.

With worn out, maybe even broken, arms unable to raise, she instead raises her voice up to the ceiling, declaring, “I PROTECT THIS HOME!”

Everyone explodes. The audience, the waiting room, everyone. The only sound that exists is cheers for Meiling. Whether it be for defeating the bastard of the bracket, putting on the most impressive match yet, or for showing an indefatigable love for her duty.

She looks around, taking in the sound, trying to control her breathing despite numerous internal injuries. She turns to Scarlet, her master, who gives a standing ovation for her. Scarlet smiles genuinely for what feels like the first time that I’ve met her. I can’t see Meiling’s face at this angle, but I’m not very worried about that.

She collapses to her knees and keels over, coughing blood onto herself.

[Please wait warmly for fighters to be carted back to the waiting room...]

That one felt pretty good. I actually studied a very specific match from straw weight female MMA to get an idea of how Jo’on might fight to keep things grounded. At first I had her do a Shoryuken, chuckled to myself, and immediately said, that’s not really this cutthroat bitch, is it? I worked toward a more ideal fist fight scenario that while not as magical captures the identity of these two outside of danmaku rules. To my wants, anyway.
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Ending felt too climactic imo. Was expecting Joon to start getting punched mid sentence before getting the idea to shut up.
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You know, after giving it some thought, it is a bit silly, isn't it? I notice myself sometimes burrow into the campy attitude of writing where things are given and story beats just come naturally, but that doesn't always work. While I was doing this update I was hyper-focused on trying to make the fight itself read like an intense brawl that I neglected a few things surrounding its context such as,
Why would they not be moving around more at their level of strength?
Why are they getting so injured when I hardly noted major injuries in Meiling's first fight (which was a narrative mistake, mind)?
Does it make sense for things to pick up so fast in this moment when I've set myself up to still be only around midway through this chapter?

Moral of the story, don't do tournaments where you're looking at every fight, it takes a lot of fluff to get through to the story parts that you intend to write. It can also cause a scope creep like no tomorrow.

Also I took Ran out of the fucking story and I miss her.
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Oh. I was under the impression we were just shifting gears to make the Meiling arc Meiling's Arc™️
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[… Continued]

“Well that was dramatic,” Chen comments. “I kinda wish that idiot god kept going with the insults. She kinda stopped before they were getting good.”

“You should let the gate guard have her moment of glory,” Kasen admonishes.

“Oh come on, the vampire was even smiling weirdly. I bet the witch agrees with me,” Chen persists.

Patchouli raises an eyebrow and replies, “Those two read too much childish fiction. It might be rooted in their heads to act like buffoons.”

Chen nods vindicated, continuing, “See? It was dumb. Two against one on this.”

Kasen rolls her eyes up, shaking her head to show her distaste in the argument. I grab Chen’s hat and lean her this way and that.

She groans in distaste but still allows me to speak my piece, “Feel free to think that, but for the love of the gods don’t tell Meiling that to her face.”

She ducks under my hand in means of escape. With a smirk and wagging long nail, she retorts, “I’ll make sure to let the vampire know, then.”

“Do what you want you little imp,” I refuse to play along with her empty nonsense. Turning to the rest of the group I call out, “I need Reisen and Kasen up here for the next match.”

“Yes, I’m here,” Kasen notifies me from the side. I didn’t expect her to have walked off or anything, but I felt the need to get a direct callback.

“Alright, and where’s Reisen?” I ask no one. I search the current members at the mirror, so few as they are. Reisen’s gargantuan rabbit ears are not among them.

I look across the room over to the improvised first aid station from hours ago to see Reisen doing something with her stuff. Her back’s turned away, but she holds what she’s working on up to the light of the chandelier and I can see the pistol from the first round. A little excessive to be cleaning it between matches, but I can’t knock ‘over’ caring for a weapon as opposed to the opposite.

“Reisen!” I call across the way. She whips her head back from her weapon and realizes that it must be time to get moving. She carries the gun in one hand and her box of medical supplies in the other over to the mirror.

She sets down the box on one of the small round tables littering the room, probably covered in dried alcohol still, and makes a show of taking out numerous supplies from ointments to salves to gauze. Clearly intended to treat the previous competitors of their likely wounds in a fist fight. I don’t think she knows the extent that they were going at it, though.

“They’re gonna need more than that, mind,” I openly comment.

“Why? What happened?” Reisen asks looking over her shoulder, confused by what that should mean.

“They decided to go nearly all out from what I witnessed,” Kasen elaborates.

Reisen scrunches her eyes at the statement, inferring, “You don’t mean one of them split the other in half, do you?”

“No, but their arms have seen better days,” Kasen morbidly chuckles.

“We can continue this part of the discussion when they’re back,” I redirect the two. “First we need to talk about any specifics for you two fighting.”

“I don’t believe I have anything to ask,” Kasen opens, gesturing for Reisen to take over the discussion.

“Ah… well… there is one thing,” Reisen alludes.

She turns to Kasen and steps close before quickly rounding her pistol on the woman’s gut with a loud bang piercing the room. Everyone jumps in anticipation, most ready for combat. I for one only freeze momentarily, as does Kasen, for that matter. She looks down at her red tabard to see a gaudy mark left of the fabric, but not much other damage visible.

She brushes the spot tepidly before asking Reisen, “What was that?”

“That…” Reisen begins, searching the ground for the projectile she fired. With the dark red carpets, draped across the ground in various patterns and embroidery, finding anything small would be a chore. She instead pulls out the magazine from her ancient looking pistol, revealing the black bullet tips and explaining, “Was a rubber shot. I wanted to test if it would do anything at all to you, but it seems not.”

“Ah, because you need to be able to damage me with your attacks. That much makes sense,” Kasen concludes. A sound reason, albeit hasty and could have been explained upfront.

Reisen stows the black bullets in her blazer and unsheathes the real deal. Silvery bullet tips that are very obviously live ammunition. “Would you mind if I tried this on you? I think you’ll heal it off before the match if I shoot you somewhere like your thigh,” Reisen makes a perfectly reasonable request of her opponent.

“Reisen, what even are those bullets,” I ask, thinking on how their shape is loosely nine millimeter rounds but they’re pointed at the end like a rifle round. Some kind of abomination for what pistol rounds are usually used for.

“Penetrating rounds,” Reisen tells me, handing over the clip for me to get a better look. “Even for riot control we ended up using them due to the amount of armor people would wear… don’t tell master I said that, actually.”

She steals the clip from my hand as I process this madness and loads it to her weapon. Her opponent is confused at first when Reisen gestures to her firearm, but realizes soon after that the rabbit wasn’t making idle chatter before. Kasen looks over my way for some opinion on the matter.

“I mean… she’s got a point, as stupid as the point itself is. If her bullet can’t hurt you, then she’s at a major disadvantage in these rules. Up to you if you take her up on it,” I answer, trying to stay neutral to the subject. Also being hypocritical of my earlier enforcing, but I’m not going to mull on it. Perhaps I’m giving my own nurse the benefit of the doubt.

Kasen sighs, “Fine, if you must know, then I’ll let you test.”

She lifts her leg in a striking stance as Reisen lines her up in front of the closest empty wall. At this point the room’s doors finally swing open. I turn from whatever madness is happening next to me to see the previous contenders. First in is an unconscious Jo’on carted by Izayoi, looking just as ragged as I expected. I wonder how much her outfit cost in total, considering that she’ll probably need a whole new set. Meiling, however, walks without any assistance, surprisingly. Her arms seem to trail behind her, so I don’t think they’ve gotten much better since she left the ring.

Another gunshot goes off. I whip back around to see what happened and find Kasen clutching her leg. She winces at the pain but doesn’t seem to be worse for wear asides from that.

“Yes. Yes, I think that hurts a lot,” she admits through thinned lips.

“S-sorry,” Reisen apologizes in earnest. “Do you need me to wrap that? Blood is coming out.”

Kasen declines, saying it will heal quickly, and they share a quick back and forth as Izayoi wheels Jo’on over, but I’m focused on something else. There doesn’t seem to be any mark in the wall behind Kasen. I expected a bullet hole from a gods damned full metal jacket rifle round even if it was fired from a relic of a pistol like Reisen’s. That really puts into perspective how tough an oni is, I guess.

“And what might be happening now?” A voice asks, tone sharp enough to raise hairs on the back of my neck.

“They’re doing some prep work, miss Izayoi,” I answer the maid’s question. Whether I sounded confident or not is up to her to decide.

I turn to see her glancing from me to Kasen and Reisen and back. She doesn’t state her disappointment in our conduct, at least not in words. Instead she chooses to close her eyes, lift her eyebrows, and take a lengthy breath through her nose. In similar annoyance she pushes Reisen and Kasen towards the doors out of the room, apparently knowing explicitly who was going next. Reisen weakly protests that she should perform some preliminary treatments on Meiling and Jo’on, but Izayoi doesn’t comply any such suggestion. They flee the room before Meiling even has time to strike up conversation.

She stares at the doorway that Izayoi scuttled through, before turning to us and asking, “I wanted to ask her, but she was deathly silent on the way back. How was my match?”

Getting a good look at her arms, I can see why she isn’t even attempting to move them. She might still be recovering the basic functionality for everything that isn’t her upper arms. Her hands are charred like burnt wood. Her forearms look like a single, continuous welt more than they do usable muscle. I can only imagine the labyrinth of micro and macro fractures her bones have suffered during the bout. I instinctively busy myself by retrieving some of the supplies Reisen fetched and hovering about Meiling, doing what little I can of first aid against the flood of wounds she has. Whether I’m applying any of the liquids correctly is a moot point with how bad this is.

How Meiling can casually stay conscious let alone hold conversation with the likely pain is beyond me.

Patchouli cuts directly at the earlier question, “Could have done without the end.”

“Patchouli!” I pause to bicker at the witch for her tactless behavior.

“Ehehe,” Meiling weakly chuckles. “It didn’t feel weird in the moment but I guess I understand.”

“Do not pass the subject off entirely, yet,” Patchouli warns. “Why do you even question yourself as the one to win? Did you fight purely to satisfy Remi’s desire for base conflict?”

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” Meiling denies. “Why did I ask? I don’t think I know.”

I wrap some bandages to at least convince myself I did something, and look Meiling in the eyes to follow her thought with, “Did you maybe think about some of what Jo’on was saying out there? Forgive me if it’s not my place for saying, but at least some of it didn’t sound superficial. Or not meant to be, anyway.”

“You’re quite correct, it isn’t much of your station to say so,” Patchouli mocks my passive tone.

“No, no, I think I know what he’s thinking,” Meiling halts Patchouli’s berating. “Maybe. This time. I haven’t before.”

I feel something internal crack at the added note and concede, “Maybe I’ll just be quiet…”

“Finally,” Patchouli sighs in relief.

Meiling frets about as I step back over to the medicine box for more supplies. She is quick to apologize, “Ah, I didn’t mean to be rude… Did you not have enough wrapping for my hands?”

“Reisen didn’t take anything out for the burns,” I curtly reply. Opening the box is akin to opening an entire lab of chemicals. As I suspected, it’s somehow deeper inside than outside, and contains a dizzying amount of chemicals the like that I would have no hope of finding what I need. I calmly close the box and set it down in front of Patchouli, stating, “You’ll have better luck with this than I will.”

She opens the box and immediately counters, “This is all labeled in outside world chemistry nomenclature. In what way will I have an easier time than you?”

“I’m not a chemist. You kind of are,” I inform the temperamental magician.

She mumbles some obscenity or another to herself, but figures arguing would undermine her own vaunted position of being more knowledgeable than the layman. She leans over and starts digging through the endless bottles and packets.

“Tanner, about what you said,” Meiling chimes in from the side, “I don’t think Jo’on’s insults meant anything.”

An attention grabbing shout comes from the mirror. Seems it’s time to start the next match.

“We’ll come back to this conversation,” I tell Meiling.

Patchouli still sifts through the box, attempting to find something to use on Meiling’s burns. And Jo’on’s, for whatever that’s worth.

“How many of those jars do you think shrink appendages?” I joke with the witch.

She looks closely inside and guesstimates, “At least two. No, given that moon doctors propensity for the odd, three.”

“FIGHTERS!” Scarlet sounds in the mirror. “BEGIN!”

We direct our attention to the arena. Kasen and Reisen size each other up. Wait, not quite. Kasen isn’t circling Reisen directly, so there must already be illusions on the field to confuse Kasen.

Kasen sports a new accessory. The chain with attached tetrahedron Ibuki left behind is wrapped on itself, secured to Kasen’s unbandaged arm. It doesn’t appear to have any practical application in mind, only a memento Kasen wanted to hold onto.

Reisen stops being careful as they wind around each other, instead skirting to Kasen’s left side and firing a bullet to the ribs. Kasen evades further shots by diving back, rolling her right shoulder to fling her bandages in the direction of the shot. Reisen sprints forward and beats aside the grasping hand with her baton, attempting to duck into Kasen’s blind spot, most present from where she jumped. While it might seem like Kasen would be in short range to engage Reisen, she’s still turned around after throwing her arm. All Reisen needs to get out of close track is the second that Kasen uses to turn her head to her opposite side.

Sure enough, as Reisen passes directly behind Kasen, the hermit pivots from a hand to face her. She’s escaped Kasen’s sight. Reisen has almost full reign to move around as Kasen searches a fake crowd. They’re back to the slow engagement. It’s strange that Kasen is being pushed back like this. I figured she would have some kind of trick to engage in this fight.

“Closing your eyes? Really?” Reisen legitimately questions Kasen’s next move. “You understand that blocking your senses doesn’t mean I can’t target a different sense to confuse you, right?”

Kasen stands firm, eyes closed, posed similarly to how Meiling would, though leaning forward instead of back. Reisen takes the chance to fire upward, testing Kasen’s awareness. Kasen looks around without a focused point, having no idea where the sound originated.

“What happened?” I ask aloud.

“Reisen made the bang happen all over,” Meiling answers. “A scary power, she has. But I thought Kasen was focusing on Reisen’s qi, not noise.”

Reisen takes a few pot shots in Kasen’s direction, one of them landing true. A similar bout to before takes place and they’re back to the slow pacing. Ready for the other person to move at any time.

Kasen opens her eyes and comments, “I still need more practice sensing qi. It’s easy to lose focus.”

Reisen furls her brow at Kasen’s levity, and calls out, “Are you still out of it, Kasen? You’re not normally this passive.”

“And if I am? Doesn’t that mean an easy win for you?” Kasen questions.

“I don’t really care to fight. My master told me to, honestly,” Reisen shrugs, weapons in hand. “But this is just kinda sad. I’m really hitting you while you’re down.”

Kasen chuckles without enough push to sound convincing, saying, “That’s big talk for the middle of the match. Do you think you can keep that up?”

Reisen stows her baton, declaring, “I think I can do better than that.”

She brings the free hand to her eyes and stares in Kasen’s direction. Kasen staggers from… something. Reisen isn’t directly attacking her with magic, I don’t think.

“I wondered if she would use that part of her power,” Patchouli commentates. “’Parlor tricks’ she said. When she can do that.”

‘That?’ Whatever it is, it’s worrying.

Kasen shakes her damage off and stands back at the ready. She picks a direction, and flings herself at it. Despite Kasen running at open air, the very real Reisen jumps at the sudden shift in pace, moving to keep up her illusions. Suddenly the two are in a cat and mouse game. Kasen picks a direction and recklessly blasts towards it with whatever means available: jumping, running, grappling the netting with her bandaged arm, even flinging herself from the cracks in the arena’s stonework.

What would I call this attitude? Feral, maybe? Not something I’d associate with the polite woman Kasen usually is. If Reisen manipulates insanity, does that mean she can enrage someone like this? Is it truly an on-off switch in the mind? Terrifying.

Kasen runs rampant for a few dozen seconds, tearing across the arena faster than Izayoi did. Reisen does her best to pepper bullets at her opponent while only barely escaping the oni’s grips. It doesn’t work out in every trade, though, as Kasen sometimes forgoes the attempt to grapple and instead throws her arm like a wrecking ball. She tears through the net at one point in her haste.

After her blitz, Kasen stalls out, walking along the ground to catch her breath.

Reisen does the same, panting on one knee, and saying, “See? You can be more active if you try. Did you get what was bothering you out of your system?”

“No,” Kasen focuses on her arm with the chain, unfurling the fashion statement and grabbing the end. Several bullet holes dot her body, blood dripping onto her clothes, only leaving the red tabard largely unaffected.

“No?” Reisen repeats with more than a hint of concern.

“If I’m going to get worked up like this I should focus on winning the fight. So far you’ve hit me a lot more than I have you,” she blandly states, trying her best not to smile in her madness.

It is at this moment where Reisen realizes that making an oni as mad as possible was maybe not the best idea. The next moment Kasen swings her bandages and chain in tandem, trying to hit everything around her, while Reisen looks to be running for the hills.

Reisen is struck in the side, launching into the netting. A terrible situation for her, as I’m not sure if she could manipulate the ropes traveling in a wavelike motion. It leaves an obvious indent in the otherwise stable wall. Kasen seems to agree, as she looks at her exact position and rounds on the rabbit faster than a bullet.

Grabbing Reisen with her bandages, now larger than their torsos, Kasen drives the rabbit into the bottom of the arena. Reisen is given no quarter, as without even a moment to get away Kasen cycles her ornament and fist down into the ground on the spot. For about five straight seconds Kasen shakes the earth. After the first few I realize that we can feel the vibrations from here. Kasen smiles with sinful joy in her eyes.

A crater is left in the spot where Reisen lay. Her front side is a bloodied mess, bad enough that it’s hard to see her outline. If she plans to get back up, that would be the biggest surprise today. I don’t say that lightly.

Kasen breathes heavily, her rage waning in the passing seconds. She leans back, looking down at her display of violence, and not too proud of it. However much of the blood covering her is hers or not is a question I think I’d rather not have answered.

“Yeah I’m glad I didn’t fight that thing,” I can hear Jo’on comment from the wheeled table.
[Please wait warmly as Sakuya retrieves another body…]

There will be votes, I promise. Maybe not now, but at some point. I pigeonholed myself this chapter by giving Tanner so little agency throughout. With votes up to ‘ask someone to do something’ or ‘token response just to generate votes’ it’s not so interesting for me to think through the consequences.

You know what, instead of a normal vote, how about this: who do you all think is going to take the tournament at this point. You could either argue canonicity of the achievement or worm your way into my mindspace to try and predict me. That should give you all something to really think about.
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>> Who do you all think is going to take the tournament at this point.

I’d say Meiling. It may be my bias towards her talking, but the way I see it, this whole tournament is basically just one big training session for her.

I dunno, like I said in a previous post, I just really want to see that epic showdown between her and Kasen before this whole thing ends.
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Meiling is probably going to win but I'm cheering for Kasen
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I don't care about who wins, but Remi rigs it so the final match is Sakuya vs Meiling
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Kaguya will win and when she does, she will evolve from Princess of Eientei to Queen of Martial Arts.

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