You secure what’s left of Ruukoto’s chassis to your back. “I’m going to head for Eirin’s field.”
“With Ruukoto strapped to you?” Caleb asks.
It’s still dark out, but the faint glow of sunrise is creeping over the horizon. You need to get moving soon. Ruukoto must be kept safe.
If it comes down to it, will you choose her or her data? Could you bring yourself to pull the trigger on Ruukoto after all she’s endured?
“Our other options aren’t good.” Junko says. Mimi makes a distressed cry as Junko picks her up.
“UNAUTHORIZED-” She blares.
“I’m getting you to safety!” Junko chastises her as she also fastens Mimi to her armor. “Right. I think I’ve got the best shot of actually getting past the border on my own, so this way we won’t have both assets stuck on the mountain.”
“Sounds good.” Caleb says, conjuring floating spheres of blood in both hands. “I’ll run for the Yamanba territory. Hold still and close your eyes.”
He sprays the blood over you and Junko like mist. The iron tang quickly fades to nothing, and you open your eyes to find no visible residue.
“This’ll make it harder for them to pick up a scent.” He explains while spraying himself.
You take Mimi’s hand in yours and squeeze it. “We’re all going to make it.” You promise.
She squeezes back, her mechanical eyes never leaving yours. “AFFIRMATIVE.”
Junko’s head jerks towards the hills. Her eyes narrow at some unseen threat. “We need to move. Go!”
The three of you split off, each flying in separate directions.
Roving patrols force you to go to ground a few times. Your experience with sneaking past werewolves helped, but the Tengu are disciplined and know their own land. Transylvania wasn’t as stressful as this; at least back then you always had the option of going loud.
“No problems so far.” You ping from the concealment of a bush. “You guys good?”
“I’m alright.” Caleb responds. “I spotted Momiji at a vantage point. She’s forcing me to move slow, but her position should keep her from spotting you guys. Junko, how about you?”
Silence. “Junko?” You try to raise her.
“I think Aya’s on my tail.” Junko pings back. “Gotta shake her before I run for it.”
Seems like you lucked out if the Tengu haven’t sent heavy hitters in your direction.
Soon after that exchange, you notice the trees giving way to a fence and ordered rows of various flowers behind it.
Despite the garden’s meticulous beauty, there’s something sterile about it. It’s more like Higan than the fields of the Villagers or Yuuka. For all that might be said about its mistress, the Garden of the Sun is still a place of life. Eirin’s field, by contrast, feels as clinical as her office.
Of course, the immediate tactical consideration is that Eirin’s field doesn’t provide good cover from aerial observers. There’s a shed on the premises, but it’s also locked and too obvious of a hiding spot.
“I’m at the rendezvous.” You ping, scanning the area for any sign of company. You’ve come too far to blunder now and lose the objective of the entire expedition to the Tengu.
“Good. I’m still approaching mine.” Caleb pings back. “Junko got out of ping range a while ago.”
“She can take care of herself.” You reply. You bring out your phone and inform Clamshell you’re waiting.
“The drainage grate connects to the Underground. The marks on the wall point to a safehouse. I’ll meet you there.”
You spot the round metal grate near the center of the field. It’s going to be a tight fit, especially with Ruukoto, but you think you can squeeze through.
After a last check for concealed hostiles, you drop over the fence and creep towards the manhole.
You squat down and lift the grate, taking care to not disturb the nearby gravel and give yourself away. It’s surprisingly light, but that would make sense if Eirin has rabbits working here-
A rustling from the trees. Movement at the edge of your vision. The Tengu are here!
You bring the grate around and cover behind it while drawing a pistol with your free hand. Peeking over your makeshift shield, you see...
Tengu patrols in the distance flying to another position. They haven’t even noticed you.
“Caleb, status?” You ping.
“All clear.” He replies, cautious. “They’re not converging on me... Shit. Junko.”
[ ] Go to Clamshell’s safehouse [ ] Run with Ruukoto towards Junko’s position [ ] Leave Ruukoto at the safehouse, run towards Junko’s position [ ] Create a distraction [ ] Write-in
More seriously, though, I am a bit worried about leaving Ruukoto behind... Now that I think about it, it might be better to ping Caleb to check on Junko, and investigate this "Clamshell" more thoroughly. Ruukoto is in a bad place; and while Hatate this mysterious stranger has seemingly given us helpful advice so far, I still don't trust them enough to leave Ruukoto alone with them. Junko, on the other hand, is more than capable of fending for herself — and even with a robot of her own to protecc, Caleb's help should be able to get her through.
Another thing to note is that the Tengu may only be searching for a single group, so Caleb (and/or Char, if we also go to help) could have the element of surprise if the confrontation turns into a fight.
tl dr: anon >>200274 officially changing their vote to [X] Go to Clamshell’s safehouse
“Junko can handle herself.” You answer. “She’ll figure something out. All I can do is get Ruukoto out.”
You imagine Caleb sighing as he prepares his nerve. “Roger that. I’ll go cover her.”
Next, you pry open the drain and slip into the tunnel. It’s even more cramped than the Kappa vents, but at least it’s another layer of safety between you and the Tengu.
The next few minutes are spent squeezing through the rough-hewn and dank passage. You try to keep Ruukoto from scraping against the rock while keeping an eye out for the promised safehouse.
A trail of identical gouges left on the walls leads you to an otherwise inconspicuous patch of wall that rings hollow when you rap your knuckles against it.
Silence persists for a moment before the false wall shakes and slides backwards to reveal a mousy Tengu waving at you.
“Come on in, Charlotte.” She says with an eager smile. “I’m ‘Clamshell’.”
“How’d you know it was me before opening the wall?” You ask, sizing her up.
She takes a flip phone from a pouch and proudly holds it up for you to see. “I have a talent for scrying. Of course I checked to see who it was!” It’s outdated but clearly well cared for and cherished, with a number of charms dangling from it.
Well, that explains her pseudonym. Anyways, it doesn’t look like there are any electronic or heat signatures unaccounted for in the room, and Clamshell doesn’t strike you as much of a physical threat. You shimmy through the doorway and allow her to close it.
There’s not much in this room aside from two vaguely seat-ish rocks and a trapdoor that you would guess leads to the Underground. The only source of light is an electric lantern of Kappa make.
“I’m so happy to finally meet you.” She enthuses. “I mean, I’d have preferred meeting all three of you at once, and in nicer conditions than this hole in the ground, but this is big either way. I’m Hatate, by the way.”
“Right. You know, Hatate, you haven’t mentioned why you were so eager to help us and Nitori’s crew break into that bunker.” You say, not returning her enthusiasm.
“Well, obviously I couldn’t just thoughtograph what was inside, or else I would have been able to blow the lid on the robotics project myself. Unlike Aya, I can just boss around a few wolves to do the grunt work whenever-
“Hatate.” You interrupt, taking a deep breath. “I’ve had a very long day. Please, what did you want to accomplish by looking in that facility, and why should I trust you any further?”
“Hey, I could have just snitched you out to Aya, but I went out of my way to keep her away.” She replies, taken aback. “I didn’t know what the Kappa were doing there, but if they went through all that trouble to bury it, I knew I needed to figure out what it was.”
“I’ve seen that attitude cause a lot of damage in the Outside world.” You say, lowering your voice. “Did you have a plan if the Kappa were right to seal the place?”
She shrugs. “I knew that was a risk, but I figured that meant you guys were the right people to send in.”
“You weren’t wrong.” You sit back and sigh. “So, why are you going behind the back of the rest of the Tengu to help us trespass? If you say newspaper material I might actually barbeque you.”
“Well, yeah, but not just for newspaper stuff.” She admits somewhat sheepishly before recovering her bravado. “I’m committed to finding the truth and making it known.”
“Oh?” You raise an eyebrow.
Hatate nods. “If something would be destroyed by revealing the truth, then it should be destroyed, no matter what. That’s what I believe in, above all else. Besides, everything turned out alright, didn’t it? Nitori and her team all made it out, and so did you.”
“What we did today-.” You sigh. “There’s going to be consequences. I don’t know what, exactly, but I’m not looking forward to it.”
“Can you elaborate?”
“No.” Even referencing Yukari seems unwise.
Fortunately, Hatate doesn’t press the issue despite her obvious disappointment.
“Tell you what.” You offer. “I’ll give you whatever non-sensitive information I can, and you figure out how to get my friends and I out of the Mountain.”
“I don’t suppose that robot has any recordings or other data I could have?” She asks, indicating Ruukoto.
“I’ll see what there is.” You say, plugging into the least-melted port you can find. “In the meanwhile, could you figure out what’s going on with my buddies?”
“Yeah. I actually have some pics already, but the thing about thoughtography is that it takes a while to develop.” Hatate explains. “There’s a time lag, basically.”
“Right. So what did you see?”
“Uh...” She consults her phone. “The lady in green- Junko was facing down Aya and a security wolfpack, but she seems pretty calm. It doesn’t look like things are going to get violent. She’s got another robot strapped to her as well.”
You curse as you try to parse useable files from the corrupt memory banks. “Playing with people’s expectations is her thing.”
At least she still has Mimi. “What are her chances of getting away?”
“Pretty low.” Hatate replies. “Aya uses the newspaper thing mostly as a cover for her intelligence work. She’s pretty high up on the hierarchy.”
“Great. I kind of got the feeling there was more to her than that... How about Caleb? The guy with the rifle and gasmask?”
“Looks like he was watching from some distance away. Too far to directly intervene, but the wolves make it too risky to get closer.”
You steady your breathing. You know Junko and Caleb. Each of you have come out on top of worse odds. They can figure something out.
A particularly intact file catches your attention, and a cursory inspection reveals no sensitive data.
“Hey, Hatate. I found something you might like.” You call her over. “Take a look.”
She pockets her own phone as you both settle down to observe the recording.
“I... I didn’t think...” Hatate is at a loss for words. She gulps. “How did she even end up down there? Poor thing...”
“Ask Nitori.” You answer, your voice a little too calm. “It seems like she passed Ruukoto to the other Kappa.”
Hatate dwells on the scene as she copies the files to her phone. “People should see this. Those Kappa sowed the seeds of their own failure and tried to flee rather than face the harvest.” Her face hardens. “Well, they’ve finally run out of excuses to cower behind-”
Her soliloquy is interrupted by a buzz from her phone. “Ah, another thoughtograph developed.” She says, opening the image. Let me take a look- oh. Uhhhhhhh...”
You cautiously lean over.
Yuuka is standing off against a group of Tengu at least three times the size of the force surrounding Junko, and from their body language, the guards aren’t comforted by the numbers advantage. She’s holding a gleaming scythe in a relaxed, familiar stance. Her hair now comes down to her shoulders instead of her chin, and she’s smiling at the Tengu in her way. Even through Hatate’s phone screen, the expression chills you to your bones.
[ ] Head to the Underground [ ] Deal with Yuuka [ ] Other
If we ingratiate ourselves with the Tengu by giving them an excuse to not start a fight they can't finish, we might have some leeway to get our friends out. And if we have to sell out the kappa... well, their secrecy is not really our concern.
Post 81Bee!6zjHptMvmo2019/08/23 (Fri) 19:23No. 200436▼
“How recent was that photo?” You ask, standing up.
“A few minutes ago, something like three... why? You’re going to try fighting her?” Hatate asks.
“I really hope not.” You say, fastening Ruukoto back to yourself.
“Yuuka’s bad news, human.” Hatate stands up as well, her face uncertain. “Anyone sane should be trying to get as far away as possible right now.”
You consider asking Hatate to keep Ruukoto safe while you head out, but decide against it. She’ll be safer if you keep her in sight.
“Well there you go.” You say, pulling open the door to the tunnel. “Thanks for the tip-off, and good luck using this scoop.”
You prioritize speed over subtlety in your rush towards Yuuka’s likely position, and it’s not long before you have company.
Momiji lands in front of you from above with barely a rustle of leaves as warning. You brake to a halt as she raises her hand at you. At least her sword is still sheathed.
“Charlotte.” She glares at you. “Care to explain your trespassing, as well as what you’ve got on your back?”
“Sure, after I calm Yuuka down.” You reply. “She seemed to have you guys worried.”
Her scowl deepens. “And what’s your plan for that? Asking nicely doesn’t work on creatures like her. Or are you counting on coming back from the dead?”
You shrug. “If that’s what it takes.”
She regards you with her scornful eyes for a few more moments before turning away with a flick of her tail.
“Fine, then. On your own head so be it. This way.”
She flies away without another word. You shift Ruukoto’s weight on your back and follow.
You become aware of Yuuka's presence long before you see her.
The bassy thrum of spellcard projectiles and a lot of shouting gives away her location. That, and the beams of light and other projectiles flying into the sky.
You let go of a deep breath, and out of the corner of your eye you see Momiji do the same.
"At least Yuuka's still playing nice." You mutter.
"For now." She grunts, then stiffens. You follow her gaze and spot a Tengu lying on the ground.
Momiji rushes to their side and checks their vitals, with you following suit.
"Come on, wake up, you useless mutt." She growls, trying to shake the luckless guard awake.
"Hey Momiji..." You begin.
"What?" She turns to give you a deathglare. "I'm busy."
You wordlessly indicate the multiple other Tengu sprawled across the ground. From where you're standing, you estimate that the better part of a platoon has been shot out of the sky.
As you and Momiji take in the scene, there's another flash of light and more shouting. A moment later, a plummeting Tengu crashes through the canopy with a shower of leaves and lands face-down before the two of you.
"I'm going ahead." You tell her. "I don't think this fight will last much longer."
Without waiting for a response, you push onwards through the underbrush and above the groaning and prone Tengu.
Yuuka dances through the sky, unleashing petal-shaped clouds of projectiles with sweeps of her golden blade while gracefully avoiding the curtains of fire coming from the dwindling Tengu.
She's enjoying herself. Her movements are confident and decisive as she dictates the pace of the battle. Each of her elaborate spellcard patterns swat Tengu from the sky and leave the survivors scrambling to regroup and counterattack.
If spellcards are meant to be an expression of the self, then what does this display reveal about Yuuka?
Pride. Authority. Love for life and growth. Eagerness for challenge. Equal parts majestic and terrifying.
How are you supposed to reconcile the almost maternal Yuuka you've met with the destructive force of nature before you?
One Tengu seems to be giving Yuuka a better fight than most, flying so fast they're a red and white blur while unleashing her own spellcards.
If this is what Aya is capable of, it's a small relief that she happened to pick up Junko's trail and not your own.
Speaking of Junko...
“Junko, you there?” You send a tentative message.
“Holy shit Char, get me out of here.” She replies. “Yuuka’s not fucking around.”
Yuuka lets loose another volley of petals, striking more Tengu down.
"Should we run?" You ask. "This is a hell of a distraction."
Junko sighs. "I think that'd be a mistake. Yuuka's here for us, or at least, what we found about Hakurei. She won't stop until she knows."
So running would only create more trouble.
"You still have Mimi with you, right?" You ask.
"Yeah, I bluffed and told them Mimi would self destruct if she left human custody. Aya didn't really buy it, but it bought enough time for Yuuka to show up."
"WOULD SELF DESTRUCT TO PREVENT RECAPTURE." Mimi announces.
"Hey, not when we're this close to getting out, ok?" Junko chastises her, reaching behind her head to pat her battered head.
With only a handful of Tengu left, Aya begins to attack more aggressively. Her resolve is admirable, facing down the vast power that Yuuka holds, but you don't know if it's enough.
Aya sees an opportunity and looses a hail of leaf-shaped shots with a shout and a wave of her fan. The shots strike Yuuka while she dodges another attack, battering her like a kite in a storm and leaving her doubled over and hanging limply in the air.
You hold your breath, not knowing for a moment which side your concern is for.
Her body trembles, barely noticeable at first, but quickly growing to resemble spasms.
"Is she okay?" You hesitate to even ask.
Yuuka rightens herself, throwing her head back in rapturous laughter.
"Oh, well done, well done indeed!" Her voice rings clear across the hillside. "Truly, I must thank you for making this encounter more interesting."
She levels her sword at Aya and smiles a wide, warm, and compassionate smile.
"Goodbye." She says, a prismatic ball of light forming at the tip.
The Tengu scatter, but not all of them escape the spark. You see more knocked down to Earth in the wake of the brilliant beam, trailing smoke as they fall.
"You know, if you're worried about having Yuuka not go on the warpath, shouldn't you have intervened before she started fighting the whole mountain?"
"I'm pretty sure this is cathartic in some way for her." Junko replies as Yuuka swivels in place, picking off the remaining Tengu with precision. "Besides, she's only using spellcards so the only real casualty will be their pride."
"Injured pride can lead to a lot of problems." You say, observing the fight. Aya's the last Tengu standing, and the battle seems to have come down to a contest of her speed against Yuuka's might. "Where's Caleb? He said he went to cover you."
"He baited out a bunch of them and ran towards the Yamanba zone before I lost contact. I think he'll be fine."
A final boom sounds, and Aya tumbles to the ground. In a flash, Momiji is by her side.
"Didn't... Think... You cared... So much." Aya manages to sound teasing between gasped breaths.
"Shut it." Momiji retorts. "Do you need help standing?"
"Nah, I'm good." Aya says, wincing while panting on the ground. "Just let me take a breather."
"That was an excellent performance, miss Shameimaru." Yuuka says, gracefully touching down despite the wear and tear from the fight.
"Yeah, same to you." Aya whistles. "Gotta say, I've never seen you put on a show like that before. They must really mean something to you, huh."
Yuuka's expression softens. "Yes." She says. "They do."
"What do you want?" Momiji cuts in.
"The safe passage of the three outsider humans who I have reason to believe are on the mountain." She says, planting her sword into the ground and resting her hands on the pommel. "And as you can see, I have won the challenge against my request."
"They found something in our territory." Momiji growls. "They're going to take it away when they have no right to."
"How unfortunate." Yuuka says, a perfect veneer of politeness over her words. "Perhaps they'll let you have it back if you ask nicely."
"Junko! Charlotte!" She calls out, ignoring Momiji's expression of outrage. "It's time to go."
Junko walks out of the treeline at the other side of the clearing. You do the same, both of you revealing yourselves but not moving to anyone's side yet.
Yuuka frowns. "Where's Caleb?"
"He, ah," Junko begins, glancing at the the few Tengu in good enough condition to pay attention. "He reported that he was going to ground in the Yamanba zone."
Yuuka ponders this, then snorts in an almost petulant way. "That old hag is probably spoiling him rotten right now. No matter. It will take hardly any time for us to meet him."
"Yuuka." You begin, choosing your words carefully. "What we found down there- it's big. All of the big names need to know."
Yuuka sighs as though you've confirmed something, but you're not sure if it's a hope or a fear. "Yes. That is only reasonable. Now come along, we still need to rescue Caleb from the Yamanba's clutches. Then we can return to the garden and summon everyone you need." She returns her blade to its sheath and moves to turn away.
"Ayaya~... do you three humans really know what you're doing?" Aya's voice, full of strained ease, draws your attention. She's standing back on her feet, breathing heavily while staring you down. You see defiance in her eyes, as well as a predatory sharpness probing for weakness.
"Coming into Gensokyo and digging up gods know what in forsaken corners... Aya, don't the good guys know to leave things buried?"
She has a point. How many messes have you cleaned up that began with the greed to take from the supernatural and the arrogance to think the consequences could be avoided?
"You don't even know whose side you're on. How many villagers will still trust you after hearing about the bees in your brains? What will Yuuka do, once she's grown tired of you like-"
Yuuka moves as green and red blur, and Aya cuts off with a gurgle. You blink to behold Yuuka lifting Aya off the ground with a hand wrapped around her throat, leaving her to helplessly kick her legs in the air and claw at her neck.
"You know." Yuuka says, her voice dripping with honey while Aya chokes. "Bird's tongues were once considered quite the delicacy in the outside world."
Her smiling eyes catch the light of the noontime sun at its apex. They are the color of blood.
You don't move. You don't even breathe. For what seems like an eternity, all you can do is watch.
Momiji levels her sword at Yuuka. “Drop her.” She growls, teeth bared.
“You’ve made your point!” Junko shouts as she rushes over. “Let her go!”
Yuuka doesn’t even respond, absorbed as she is by the dimming of Aya’s eyes.
Junko takes hold of her wrist. “Please!”
Something flashes in Yuuka’s eyes, and a tremor runs through your body. You sense mere heartbeats separating you from seeing Junko’s skull splattered across the ground with the same instinctive certainty of watching gravity pull an apple from a branch.
Yuuka blinks. The moment passes. Awareness returns to her face as she notices the fear on everyone else’s.
Was that the butcher who Gensokyo already knows?
She lowers Aya and lets go of her throat, leaving her to flop on the ground and gasp like a beached fish. That breaks your hesitation, and you hurry over to provide first aid. You’re no blood mage, but you’re good enough to make sure she’ll be fine until she can get proper care.
Silence prevails in the clearing as you busy yourself with checking Aya’s vitals and everyone else with avoiding eye contact with Yuuka. At least Aya managed to not pass out during her ordeal.
“This isn’t over. You know that, right?” Momiji glares as you stand up. “We still need answers about what you trespassed in our territory for.”
“Then meet us at Yuuka’s place later.” You say, too drained to argue. “You’ll be in good company. I think that a lot of people are going to care about what we found down there.”
“You could tag along as we fetch Caleb.” Junko offers. “You know, keeping an eye on us and making sure we don’t get up to anything funny.”
Momiji narrows her eyes. “How cooperative of you. As the last Tengu present in a condition to do so, that was already the plan.”
“Wait.” Aya wheezes. “I should-.”
“The only thing you should be doing after nearly getting your neck wrung is resting.” Momiji insists.
“I outrank you... you lapdog...” Aya manages as she struggles to catch her breath.
“Sorry, I couldn’t quite hear that.” Momiji retorts. “Try again when you uncrush your windpipe.”
More Tengu have arrived by this point, but they’re giving Yuuka, and by extension you, a wide berth. They mostly busy themselves with helping the stragglers up from the brush while giving your group very unfriendly looks.
“Shit, between the ones who got slapped by Yuuka and this group, I think there’s a good fraction of the mountain’s guards around us.” Junko says, eyeing the Tengu around you.
“Let’s just get going.” You say. “We need to get Ruukoto and Mimi fixed up somehow.”
Momiji leaves Aya to a pair of medics and, after a brief conversation with some subordinates, takes flight towards the Yamanba zone with you following.
You travel in silence and arrive in front of a rather homey cottage. From inside, you smell something tasty and hear muffled speaking.
“His trail ends here.” Momiji says. “I can hear him inside, as well.”
“Same.” Junko reports. “Caleb, you there?” She pings.
“Oh, hey.” He replies. “Did you shake the Tengu, or should I get ready for a fight?”
“We reached an... understanding with them.” You tell him. “Yuuka showed up after you baited them and won a spellcard fight. She’s with us now.”
Yuuka steps forward and raps her knuckles against the door, and something slams into the other side of it with an inhospitable thunking sound.
The door opens to reveal a gray-haired woman peering out while prying a cleaver from the wood, and her expression quickly brightens upon seeing Yuuka.
“Hey, Goldie! How long’s it been since you paid me a visit?”
“The better half of a century, if memory serves.” Yuuka replies with a thin smile. “I’m afraid I had to spend most of that time asleep.”
“Eh, don’t sweat it.” She looks at the rest of you. “Hey, you brought company! You’re in luck, cause someone else just stumbled over and I made some food for him.”
“Unfortunately, I must decline.” Yuuka taps her umbrella against the tip of her shoe. “I’m here to guide Caleb, your guest, back. It’s rather urgent.”
The Yamanba sighs. “Ah, well. Come along and I’ll fetch him.”
“Oh man, it’s good that you guys came when you did.” Caleb says. “I seriously couldn’t eat any more and Miss Sakata wasn’t taking no for an answer.”
The midday sun is beginning to set as you fly back to the Garden of the Sun. Momiji has left to report to her superiors, but you’re shadowed by groups of Tengu until you exit their territory.
“I don’t think they’ll forgive us for today anytime soon.” You say.
“We can only hope that we won’t need to go back to the mountain for a while, then.” Caleb says, shaking his head. “Can’t say I really blame the grunts, at least. Command is not going to be happy with them.”
You’ve already called Keine to inform her of the meeting. Junko called Ran, but received no response. In any case, you expect the big names will be there to find out just how badly you’ve rocked the boat. It’s a quiet mix of dread and resolve.
Man, is this what all the other people here felt like right before Reimu flew in to kick their asses?
You land among the golden sunflowers. Elly seems to materialize out of nowhere, balancing her scythe with one hand as she fusses by Yuuka’s side.
Junko blinks. “Woah. When did you get here?”
Elly pauses in the middle of taking Yuuka’s empty scabbard away. “What do you mean, Miss Mori? This is my place of employment.”
“No, I meant - it’s like you appeared out of thin air.” Junko says, confused. “I thought Sakuya was the only maidservant around here who could do that.”
Elly gives her a faint smile. “I merely do my utmost to help Lady Kazami.”
“Ah, forget it.” Junko says before moving to take off her armor. “Could I get directions to the restroom? I’d like to freshen up before delivering the news.”
“Of course. Elly, if you would be so kind?” Yuuka says, indicating her home.
Elly nods and leads Junko away, leaving you and Caleb alone with Yuuka and the endless rows of sunflowers rustling in the gentle wind.
Yuuka sits at a wooden table on the porch, gazing out with a neutral expression at her yellow fields. She’s seemed subdued ever since Junko snapped her out of her fit of violence with Aya. Do you dare hope that someone of her caliber feels actual remorse for their actions?
“Keine’s confirmed with other leaders.” Caleb announces. “There’s going to be her, Eirin, Byakuren, Miko, Remi, Kanako, Raiko, Satori, Iku representing Bhava-Agra...” His eyes narrow. “Well. Eiki is personally coming to hear what we have to say. Still nothing on Ran.”
“Is Marisa going to crash the party again?” You ask.
Caleb shakes his head. “Keine says she hasn’t been seen for a bit. Might’ve just picked an awkward time to go looking for shrooms. On that note, I get the feeling that Mamizou will show up too, invited or not.”
--- Before the others arrive, ask Yuuka about: [ ] Her aggression and if the general reaction towards her is justified [ ] Her relationship with the Hakurei and what to expect from her [ ] That thing Aya mentioned right before getting choked out [ ] Other
Before others arrive, is there anything you would like to privately disclose to Yuuka about what you saw?
[x] Her relationship with the Hakurei and what to expect from her [x] Other -[x] protecc ruu-chan
Personally, I'd also very much like to know more about Yuuka's relationship with the previous Hakurei, as well as what specifically put Yuuka on the warpath (and if it had any connection to our own actions w/in the Kappa's lair), so...
[x] Other -[x] What set Yuuka off on this particular evening. [x] Disclose to Yuuka -[x] Cliff notes (sparse ones) on what happened
... and at this point I'm mainly inclined towards giving her a general lowdown of what we know in the hopes that it will get her to trust us a bit more, or perhaps that knowing more of the Hakurei's fate will prompt her to provide more information to us as well. I don't really trust her, but I'd still put more faith in her than I would in Gap Hag.
I was mainly considering things in terms of "broad strokes," telling her a general overview of the story and trying to use her reaction to gauge how much she already knows, and if there's anything we are aware of that she isn't - which is also the main reason I want to try and ask what pushed her over the edge this time before we tell her our side of the story. However, like I said in >>200459, I'm also hoping we can get more of her trust, and so I don't see much reason to deliberately hide information at this point. (Strike that, the whole music box situation would likely come off as shady as hell, but I also don't really see any other way we could tell her more about what happened down there without mentioning Yukari's "gift.")
Basically, my thinking is to give her a brief overview of what took place, from when we entered the bunker to when we left it. Explain our original goal - to find the two missing robots - as well as the states we found each robot in. Describe what took place during our encounter with the Hakurei. BE ABSOLUTELY CLEAR THAT RUU-CHAN WAS IN NO WAY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE HAKUREI'S CONDITION.
In terms of things to hide (or at least to simply not mention), I'd probably avoid bringing up the Kappa's direct involvement, or mentioning anything about Clamshell, since neither of them seem like something that would be directly relevant to Yuuka's interests, and would kinda be throwing them under the bus. I'm not as concerned about the Kappa, but Hatate seems honest enough, and I'd rather not accidentally screw her over. However, if she asks more about anything in particular, don't hesitate to elaborate on the details she's interested in.
[X] Yuuka’s aggression and reputation [X] Disclosing: Summary of events in facility [X] protecc the mecc
You approach Yuuka from the side, stopping just out of arm’s reach. She’s lost in thought with her chin resting on steepled fingers.
It was always clear that there was danger behind her warmth, but seeing it for yourself makes you wonder how much of her feared reputation is deserved.
You shudder. You’ve seen what Aya was an inch from. A death-rattle forced through a crushed windpipe is not easily forgotten sound.
You need an answer. Though she’s been nothing but welcoming and helpful for you, you can’t work with her with something like this calling her trustworthiness into question.
“Yuuka.” You begin. “Why did you almost kill Aya?”
The sunflowers bend to a breeze like a wave of flowers. Yuuka closes her eyes and breathes in the fragrant air.
“She was probing for weaknesses and stumbled upon one of mine.” She says. “For all my many sins, I did care for Hakurei. Each of them were dear to me, and to be accused of being bored after all my mourning-”
She takes a deep breath. “The old fury overtook me.”
“Is this what you were like before Reimu?” Caleb asks, standing next to you with his hands clasped behind his back. Junko watches in silence, taking deep drags from a cigarette as she leans against the wall with her arms folded.
A bitter smile appears on Yuuka’s face. “Yes. I was called the Sleeping Terror, for rousing me to action led to slaughter.”
“Who did you fight?” Caleb continues, his voice meticulously neutral.
“Tengu, Oni, Kappa, Demons, Vampires, Satori, Humans, petty Youkai and more... I could have filled a lake with the blood I’ve spilled. As for why, they endangered our mission - threatened to undo all our efforts out of mere greed and ambition.”
She closes her eyes for a few moments. “I can’t ask for forgiveness. I won’t ask for what I don’t deserve. All I can say is that I learned long ago that it is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”
The garden is silent but for the wind as Yuuka’s words linger.
Do you believe what she said?
“What do you think?” Caleb pings.
“She’s not explicitly apologizing for it, but I think she’s being truthful.” Junko responds. “I don’t know many beings like her that have apologized for things they’ve done.”
She’s right. People with power usually demand penitence instead of offering it themselves.
“Maybe this is the best we can expect.” You add. “Do we think we can still trust her going forward?”
You all exchange a series of hesitant looks behind Yuuka’s back.
“We don’t have anyone else willing to throw in with us to the same extent.” Caleb says, glancing at her. “Let’s decide later. We’ve got more to do this evening.”
Elly chooses this moment to reappear with a nervous smile and a tray of tea in her hands, as well as an ashtray for Junko. The clink of ceramic brings Yuuka back to the present, and she takes an appreciative sip.
“Thank you, Elly.” She says with a gentle smile that causes her cheeks to redden as she excuses herself. “Now then.” She says, turning her attention back on you three. “There’s still some time before our guests arrive, and I’m interested in hearing about exactly what you found in that forgotten cave.”
With some of the previous tension eased, you all sit down with her.
Junko exhales and stubs out her cigarette, the last of the smoke forming fractals in the air as it escapes from her nose.
“So.” She begins, leaning forward. “This started a few days back when I detected some misfortune incubating around Youkai Mountain...”
You had thought that Yuuka was frightening when she assaulted Aya. Her eyes when Junko explains how those Kappa attempted to experiment with Izumo’s grave, though...
You’d rather face another army than the murderous intent radiating from her.
“I see.” She states, taking her hand off her cup to avoid shattering it in her white-knuckled grip. “So what happened next?”
Do you really want to tell her about the music box with that look in her eyes?
No, but you would have to come clean eventually. You might as well do it on your own terms.
“I had this music box.” You say, hoping your courage doesn’t fail you. “It showed up one morning after a dream. I hadn’t used it until then, but I had a hunch that it would do... something. I hoped it would calm her down, like a lullaby, but the sound it made-” You shudder to remember the notes at the very edge of your hearing. “It wasn’t recognizable as music. It caused Izumo to separate from Ruukoto and made the rest of the room blurry. All the shapes and lines were fusing together.”
Yuuka’s eyes narrow, though without malice. “It sounds like Yukari’s handiwork. A trojan gift sent through a dream, sounds at the boundaries of your hearing, partitioning and combining things...” She sighs. “Well, I can’t fault her for being invested in this.” Yuuka holds her hand out “May I examine the music box?”
“Izumo immediately asked for it, said it was from Yukari, and then broke it.” You tell her. “That stopped the ‘blurring’ effect. We didn’t have time to pick the pieces off the ground.”
That gets an amused chuckle from Yuuka. “It’s good to see that she’s still as skeptical as ever about Yukari.” She looks over at Ruukoto and Mimi, respectively seated on the laps of you and Junko. “So, Izumo was trapped inside the maid-like automaton?”
“Yeah, something like that. They’re in bad shape.” Your eyes trail over the extensive damage on both of their frames. “At least Mimi’s still functional enough to repair on my own. I’d need a supercomputer to fix Ruukoto’s data corruption.”
Yuuka shakes her head. “Poor child.”
“Ironically enough, the only people here who would have one are the Kappa.” Caleb says. “Maybe Eirin has something stashed in her basement, but I don’t know how we’d get access.”
“I can’t say I’m that averse to ‘borrowing’ what we need from the Kappa at this point.” Junko mutters.
“Quite. Did she say anything else?” Yuuka asks.
“She told us there were blind spots in Gensokyo that Yukari couldn’t reach into, that cave being one of them. Other Hakurei instances are probably inside them. She implied that she defeated Ran and an Oni working for Yukari before, and that while Yuyuko stood a decent chance, Yukari wouldn’t take the risk.” You summarize.
“So Yukari can’t lock us up or she loses her best bet for getting in those places at all.” Junko adds. “There was also something about her needing to keep things interesting, but it wasn’t clear if that was a strategic goal or just boredom.”
“It’s both.” Yuuka says as she casually pours herself more tea. “So where did Izumo go? She wasn’t near the mountain, or I would have felt her at once.”
“She used the scrap-metal torii like a portal. It looked like the other side was full of doorways.”
“Doorways?” Yuuka repeats, puzzled. “Not a gap?”
“It was different from what Yukari’s stuff is supposed to look like.” Caleb says, shrugging. “No eyes, no ribbons, no purple.”
“I don’t know what this means.” She says. “I can make a few guesses, but Hakurei clearly kept some secrets of her own. Did she leave any clues as to what she intends to do next?”
“She’s going to find Hecatia, the Auditor, before waking up her other selves.” You answer.
There’s a sharp intake of breath from Yuuka at the name, her eyes wide.
“She didn’t say where Hecatia is, but I think it’s outside the barrier.” You continued. “The only other things Izumo mentioned were that Hecatia left because of a new friend and that going after Hecatia would hopefully prevent an invasion of Gensokyo.”
Yuuka groans and covers her face with her hands as she slumps in her chair. “Either something truly ugly is brewing in Hell or she went after the Lunarians. Hecate, you absolute fool. She bears an old grudge against them, the ones so afraid to die that they made it a crime to live. I’d tell you more, but we’re pressed for time. For better or worse, that situation is out of our hands for now. Did she speak of any others?”
“She said that Yukari probably has the advantage over any one of you, Sariel fucked off to Bhava-Agra and never came back, and Shinki started behaving strangely after Yukari paid her a visit. The only info she gave on other Hakurei was that the merfolk might know something about Sanae.” Junko recounts while idly patting Mimi on her head. Mimi seems to appreciate the thought of it, at least.
“That... sounds accurate.” Yuuka nods.
“She also mentioned you, the Cultivator.” You say.
Yuuka’s eyes focus on your own.
“She said you wielded a golden blade and might be the only other partner to genuinely love humans.”
You return her blood-red gaze without blinking.
To your surprise, she turns away first.
“But the love of something like me may as well be hatre_.” Yuuka says in a bitt_rsweet, self-_ocking t_ne.
It strikes you that this is the first time Yuuka’s shown real _ain.
She tilts _er face _ut of view and laughs without mirth. “She must have told you that as well.”
_one of you answer her.
Elly coughs to announce her presence, and you silently thank her for breaking the silence. “Mistress, the first guests are nearing. A meeting room has been prepared.”
“Thank you once again for your hard work, Elly.” Yuuka says as she stands up and takes her parasol.
“It may be expedient to not trouble Dr. Yagokoro with Hecatia’s probable activity on the moon.” Yuuka offers, still facing away. “Of course, I trust your judgement.”
You leave her be and head inside. The issue of Ruukoto and her blackbox data weighs on your mind.
“EXECUTOR.” Mimi calls out from being cradled in Junko’s arms. “REQUESTING STATUS UPDATE.”
“I can get you repaired to full capability.” You say, scratching the back of your neck and making a mental note to calibrate her voice synthesizer. “Ruukoto, though...”
“I’ll figure it out.” You say, resolve flaring within you. “Both of you are going to be okay. I’ll find a way.”
Mimi considers this and nods jerkily. “HAVE REQUEST. MINOR IMPORTANCE. ACCEPTABLE TO IGNORE.”
“After all you’ve endured, you shouldn’t have to worry about feeling selfish.” You tell her. “Let’s hear it.”
“I PREFER NON-HUMANOID SHELLS. DATA SUGGESTS RUKOTO PREFERS HUMANOID.”
Fuck if I know how to spin, but do talk to Eiren about Ruukoto. Must Protecc!
Also, were those single character spoilers after the love bit intentional? Of course, I don't expect you to outright state their meaning if so, but I don't want to actually start trying to puzzle it out of it was just a fuck up copypasting.
Text w/ replacements: “But the love of something like me may as well be hatre(d),” Yuuka says in a bitt(e)rsweet, self-(m)ocking t(o)ne. It strikes you that this is the first time Yuuka’s shown real (p)ain. She tilts (h)er face (o)ut of view and laughs without mirth. “She must have told you that as well.” (N)one of you answer her.
Minor bit of speculation: A quick google/wikipedia search seems to primarily indicate two figures from Greek mythology, Demophon of Eleusis and Demophon of Athens. There's also some mention of a Demophon (seer), who was purportedly an advisor to Alexander the Great, but there isn't much information about him. I'm too tired to do anything more in-depth at the moment, though.
I think we should definitely lay the blame, at least partially, on the Kappa. Also, we should probably doe everything in our power to defend Yuuka's actions. Even if we don't care what people think of her (and we know she probably couldn't give less of a fuck what the rest of Gensokyo thinks of her), if we need to keep associating with her it would be better if everybody doesn't think she's more of a genocidal maniac than they already do.
Demophon of Eleusis: The goddess Demeter was unknowingly sheltered by Demophon's parents while he was an infant; as thanks, she decided to immortalize the infantile Demophon by placing him in a fire to burn away his mortal soul. The child's mother came in on her during the process and reacted with fear, causing Demeter to remove the baby from the flame before the process was completed. Sources conflict on whether the infant survived the ordeal.
Demophon of Athens: A soldier who participated in the siege of Troy, he married someone on the way back, only to depart the day immediately afterwards; before he left, he was given a box, and told only to open it if it became clear he would never return. Demophon soon forgot all about this marriage, and only re-discovered the box many years later. Upon opening it, he was so frightened by what he saw that he tripped and fell on his own sword, killing himself.
What I think it might mean: The easiest conclusion as to why this is happening (in-universe, at any rate) is that Yukari is trying to clue us in on something about Yuuka, since pretty much all past spoilertext has been associated with her in some way.
If it's intended as a reference to the former, I'd conclude Yukari (assuming all IC spoilertext is hers) is trying to tell us that Yuuka means well, but due to inaccurate/incomplete information, is actually doing more harm than good. Not sure if it's referring to something that's happened in the past, something that may happen in the future, or something that is currently in motion as we speak. This is the situation I think is more likely.
If it's a reference to the latter, though, I'm less confident on what it could mean... I'll probably have more thoughts on that if I re-read the story so far.Though I'd very much appreciate being told if I'm barking up the right tree or just have my head stuffed up my own ass. Either way, though, any more autistic theorycrafting will probably get quarantined to a separate thread so it doesn't get in the way of votes so much.
Still not sure how we should spin things regarding who's here, but atm I'm leaning towards keeping most info on a need-to-know basis, and maybe trying to draw Eirin aside to talk with her one on one and ask for help w/ Project Protecc.
Something I just thought of, and it's a bit of a long shot, but since Satori is able to easily bypass the Bee's encryption of a Chosen's thoughts, she might also be able to help repair Ruukoto's busted memory banks. It might be worthwhile to see what she has to say about things.
It's a cop-out, but we could let Yuuka provide the story and let her make the call on what is or is not worthy of being said to the group now that she knows everything. I assume we shouldn't bring up Yukari... at all to anyone here. The Chosen could chime in to provide some bits and pieces here and there as necessary, or perhaps optionally follow-up. As Yuuka called the meeting it wouldn't be too out of place.
It definitely paints us as in Yuuka's corner, which could definitely be a double-bladed sword based on how the last interaction went down (and her own admittance about her bloody past) but at the same time that is an incredibly dangerous foe for others to attempt to work against and could work in the Chosen's favor to give them a bit of a shield. It would probably be pretty bad for Youkai Mountain once they find out that they were essentially experimenting/defiling the grave of prior Hakurei's, it's kinda the height of a dishonorable action but perhaps it doesn't matter to them due to the fact that she was human -- though the question of how they found the area and what records they may have kept regarding it are important if we take the path of "maybe we need to track down these areas that Yukari specifically wants".
I don't think it's worth trusting the Kappa with any part of the robotics process anymore re: super computer -- perhaps save Nitori -- but the others have already proven based on the entire episode that just happened that they are unable to take responsibility for the outcome of their actions, let alone be trusted to make such calls in the future.
I do want to mention to Yuuka that the music box was something that Izumo believed was a Gaia Engine.
[x] "The kappa found out about the battle of the Hakurei Shrine and reached to us to investigate an incident in one of their factories that they feel it might be related to it. Since it'd mean that Filth was here in Gensokyo before our arrival, we were forced to accept and investigate. There, we found the former servant of the Hakurei Shrine, a being made of metal named Ruukoto. Barely clinging to life, we were forced to contact Yukari for help with a communicator she gave us. As it turns out, it was possesed by a spirit infested with Filth. Said spirit got out, destroyed the communicator and presented herself as the former Hakurei. Despite her obvious Filth infection, we couldn't raise a hand against one of the Gensokyo's protector lineage (not that we'd have been a match for her anyway) so we had to let her go, to places unknown"
How about this? We pile little lies upon little lies and we cover them all on a mantle of truth.
Mentioning Yukari's involvment would put us on her side, but my spin is that we're in Gensokyo's side and we don't plan to interfere. That's why we didn't raise a hand against a Hakurei and that's why we accepted the 'secrecy' condition of the Kappa: Filth is our only concern.
Also, I'm painting the elder Hakurei as an enemy, because she obviously is. That's what the focus should be on. If Yuuka loves humans as much as she says she does, she should realize the danger an infected elder poses.
[X] Trust Yuuka to explain [X] Ask Eirin for help w/ Ruukoto
“Wow. You kids didn’t wait long to rock the boat.” Tewi says, leaning forward with an approving smirk. “Looks like I won my bet with Reisen. So, what mischief did you guys get up to?”
“And why did you have to fight a fourth of the guard for it?” Kanako asks with her arms crossed.
The three of you are sitting together in lovingly carved wooden chairs between Yuuka and Keine. Once again, everyone is packed into as close of a circle as can be managed in the parlor, allowing an entire room of wary eyes to focus on you.
Satori gives you a small wave before returning her hands to her lap. A kerchief embroidered with warding glyphs covers her third eye, as much for her comfort as everyone else’s privacy.
Junko goes straight to the point. “You guys all know about the Hakurei shamans before Reimu, right?”
Their gazes were heavy before. Now, they feel ready to bury you.
“Well, they’re not dead.” Junko soldiers on. “One of them is awake, and she’s going around to wake up the others.”
Whispering fills the room. “How many of them are there?” Miko asks. She holds her baton upright, covering her mouth as her eyes narrow. “How similar to Reimu are they?”
“Believe me, having seven more Reimus would be a vacation compared to what these humans have unleashed on us.” Remilia snarls. “What do you think her ancestors did to youkai before she invented spellcards?”
“They weren’t barbarians.” Keine counters as politely as she can.
“I understand that you’re part Hakutaku, but at least wait for the full moon if you’re going to try lecturing me.” Remilia retorts, balling her small fists on her lap. “I was there, Keine. The victims of a civilized murderer are just as dead.” Her red eyes sweep across the room. “Shameimaru. Komeiji. Tewi. We lived through those times. Have you forgotten what they were like?”
Satori laces her delicate fingers together as she chooses her words. “Gensokyo has changed since the torch passed to Reimu and Marisa. The ways we interact with the humans have changed. The previous shamans should have no reason to resort to the old violence.”
“Yeah. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never done anything to deserve an old-school extermination.” Tewi announces, a carrot hanging out of the corner of her mouth like a cigar. “Listen, Remilia, nobody’s gonna whack you for being a vampire unless you’ve been getting blood from babies or something.”
Remilia glares at them before turning to Aya. “And you? Are you going to stick your neck out for these humans after it was nearly wrung for their sake?”
Aya can’t help but clear her throat and adjust the maroon scarf wrapped around it. Her expression is impressively nonchalant for someone whose neck was almost crushed as thin as her wrist earlier today.
“Rest assured that the mountain will address their intrusion with appropriate haste. For now, we’re still investigating the facility they so thoughtfully exposed for us. Further judgement will be made once more information is confirmed-”
“The kappa were defiling Hakurei Izumo’s grave for profit.”
All eyes turn to Yuuka. Her impassive face dares anyone to deny or excuse it.
“She went there to die in peace. They went there to dig up her corpse and lash it to butchered automata. That those Kappa were in turn killed by their own sacrilege is simple karma.”
Raiko’s eyes linger on the abused bodies of Ruukoto and Mimi before turning to Aya with venom. “And the Tengu never caught on to this because?”
Aya raises her hands. “Hey, the Kappa aren’t part of our hierarchy. We don’t control what they do, we just do business with them.”
“She’s right.” Kanako nods. “They’re a secretive bunch, and nearly all of them have pet projects. They’re not even accountable to themselves.”
You bring out your last remaining drone and a projector and hold them up for everyone to see. “You’ve all got questions about what we saw down there, I’ve got footage that can help with that. Sound good?”
That gets everyone to quiet down. Wanting to know happened is probably the only thing everyone here can agree on.
“Glad we’re on the same page.” You sigh as you plug them in. “Oh, one more thing. If you’re not okay with seeing bodies without their skin, be ready to close your eyes.”
You end the playback at the point when you climb out of the vent with Ruukoto in your arms. There’s no need to reveal Hatate’s involvement if Aya doesn’t already know.
“It’s her.” Eiki murmurs, grim-faced. “There’s no mistaking it. I don’t know how, but Izumo is back.”
“So, anyone recognize the trick Izumo used to leave through the torii?” Caleb asks over the wave of whispering. “Crown prince, is it similar to Senkai’s gates?”
“The principle is similar.” Miko admits. “The scope, however... Based on how many doorways were visible, she’s been working on this for a long time. It’s beyond our abilities to use Senkai in such a manner.”
“It’s unfamiliar to us as well.” Akyuu announces after some whispering with Keine. “Our best guess is that the Hakurei learned to copy Yukari after spending so long with her.”
You think back to the conduits you sensed flowing through the gate of the Hakurei shrine. Has anyone else noticed them?
“Maybe it’s something godly.” Suwako suggests. “If the Tengu let me and Kanako take a look, we might figure a way to crack in.”
“She seemed pretty confident in her ability to keep unwanted visitors out.” You say. “I mean, Izumo made it pretty clear that she expected Yukari to be locked out. Do any of us really think we can beat that?”
Suwako shrugs. “Gotta try, don’t we?”
“You’ve been keeping things from us, Yuuka.” Byakuren says, her voice measured and her eyes piercing. “She named you alongside beings of immense and terrible power. Sariel has Bhava-Agra, Shinki has Makai, and Hecatia seems to govern the afterlife, in addition to being a friend of yours.”
She shudders at the mention of Makai. “Yet you live as a gardener. A feared gardener, but one with no dreams of empire.”
You glance over to Yuuka, worried that you’ll see that murderous shine in her eyes again. She, however, only nods.
“Would you believe me if I told you I was content to claim the tamed earth as my domain and its blooms as my subjects?”
“So sayeth thou when ye came a hair’s breadth from breaking the spellcard rules mere hours ago.” Futo says, crossing her arms.
“Eiki looks like she really wants to say something.” Caleb pings.
“Keine too.” Junko adds. “Huh. So does Eirin.”
Checking for yourself shows tensing jaws and shifting eyes, but no sign of voicing what’s on their minds.
“They’re probably not eager to say something risky in her own house after her stunt.” You reply. “I don’t know how to feel about it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Eirin and Eiki are probably the only ones here in the same neighborhood of individual power as Yuuka. In Eirin’s case, she straight up can’t die, so if she’s got second thoughts...”
“They might wait for a better time, then. Maybe they’ll speak to her or us in privacy.” Junko pings back.
Satori interrupts the awkwardness. “Do we have any idea where Izumo plans to go? I can’t think of many places outside of Gensokyo that would be aware of it, much less capable of invading it.”
Everyone looks at Eirin.
“The Capital certainly has the means to reach Gensokyo.” She admits, brushing an imaginary strand of hair away from her face. “However, even if that were the case, I’m not aware of any viable means we would have of affecting the situation there. Perhaps if Yukari were here, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
“Has Reisen or any other source intercepted any relevant information?” Caleb asks.
“Nothing but the usual chatter from the rabbits.” Eirin reports. “For better or worse, we may have to entrust this to Izumo’s hands.”
“This invasion seems to be tied to whatever Hecatia is doing.” Miko says, looking between Yuuka and Eiki. “Might one of you be able to contact her and influence things that way?”
“I can certainly try.” Yuuka says. “It’s been a long time since I’ve used those channels, and my understanding is that she went out of her way to be hidden. I can’t make guarantees.”
“My situation is similar.” Eiki adds. “Truthfully, I cannot be sure if my message would reach her before Izumo.”
Byakuren sighs. “I suppose it would be prudent for us to prepare for the worst, in any case.”
There’s a round of nodding. “Come what may, we will weather it together.” Keine announces.
Raiko grins. “I’m with Keine on this. You can count on us.”
“Shameimaru. Are you really going to just let the humans walk away with breaking into your territory and humiliating your guard?” Remilia says in a low voice.
“The mountain will make that judgement on its own.” Aya answers curtly.
“Oh, relax.” Tewi chimes in. “You say that like most of us here haven’t done something bigger.”
“So what, are you saying that we should watch as decades of work to build our influence as youkai is twisted apart by the blundering of three newcomers?” Remilia all but snarls, her fangs peeking out from her grimace.
“No, I’m saying that we should all be happy that we didn’t have to deal with Izumo getting loose into youkai mountain or the underground with a century’s worth of anger while also brain-buddies with a tortured robot and a fucking nuclear reactor.” Tewi bares her own teeth in response and stomps the floor in frustration. The disproportionately loud thump makes several people flinch. “For crying out loud, Scarlet, aren’t you a fate-weaver? Seeing the bigger picture is kinda the whole point of what we do, but if your baggage from outside the border is stopping you from understanding how an angry Hakurei with a nuke is worse than a few humans bending the rules to clean up someone else’s mess...”
“Uh, I think Tewi raises a good point, as awkward as it is for me to say.” Aya offers, tugging the end of her scarf. “I can’t exactly condone trespassing, but yes, the evidence shows that the humans did avert a very undesirable situation. We’ll have to take that into consideration.”
Sakuya places a hand on Remilia’s shoulder. Her petite frame shakes as she takes a deep breath while glaring daggers at you and your comrades.
“Then I’ll be taking my leave. We’ll contribute to Gensokyo’s safety, but don’t expect us to be so forgiving of offenses against us. Sakuya, if you would be so kind?”
Sakuya nods and reaches into a pocket on her apron. A moment later, she and her mistress are both gone with a playing card fluttering to the ground in their wake.
Almost everyone begins leaving one by one soon after. You take the opportunity to approach Eirin.
“Doctor. Can we talk about the AIs? I can’t think of anyone else we could trust who might have the means to help us.”
Eirin sighs. “It is unfortunate, but I was not able to bring a computer powerful enough when I defected, nor has there been a need for me to create one in the intervening time.”
Your heart sinks. Will you really be forced to deal with the Kappa again?
“However, there may be an opportunity to acquire one.” She continues, watching you intently. “I can arrange a meeting to discuss it in greater detail, but it will be dangerous.”
“Are we going to be stepping on anyone’s toes?” Junko asks, stepping in.
“No.” Eirin offers you a small smile. “You’d face deadly monsters far away from the possibility of rescue or reinforcement, but I daresay you’re well-acquainted with such situations.”
“We couldn’t have asked for a more suitable job.” You return her smile and offer your phone.
“What a rustic device. It’s rather charming.” She muses as she enters her information. “We’ll be in touch, Executor. Good night, and good work.”
Nearly everyone else has cleared out by now, setting off for home or discussing matters outside the manor. That leaves you three, Yuuka, and Eiki still in the parlor, where the latter two seem to be in a silent staring match.
“You’ve been hoarding power.” Eiki states, eyes narrowed. It’s not an accusation, and Yuuka makes no effort to deny it.
“What do you hope to achieve by returning to your previous might?” She goes on. “You’ve been down that path. You know it leads to nothing but desolation, for yourself and everyone around you.”
Her voice softens, becoming almost gentle. “Can you truly promise that your protection will be of any aid to them?”
Yuuka’s face is tilted down, covering her eyes from view with her hair. You see her lips move, but her reply is so quiet you barely hear it.
“I have to try.”
Eiki closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “Very well. We both understand our duties, then.”
She turns to leave, stopping as she passes you on the wave out.
“Thank you for fulfilling my request, selfish as it was.” Eiki says to you.
You bow your head. “We have a duty of our own.”
Her smile is thin and bittersweet. “And what a cruel one it is.”
Eiki walks out the door, leaving you three alone with Yuuka.
She’s leaning forward in her seat, resting her head against clasped hands as she faces the floor.
Yuuka is tired. She’s burdened by the past, by what you found and she did today, and what she fears may yet happen.
[ ] Try to comfort Yuuka? [ ] Ask her about her attachment to you [ ] Walk away
You step in front of Yuuka. She looks up at you, and her eyes widen when you lean forward.
“What are you-”
You interrupt her by drawing her into a loose hug. You’re almost cheek to cheek, and you notice that hers are turning an impressive shade of red.
If she’s trying to say something at this point, it doesn’t manage to make it out of her throat. Yuuka neither returns nor rejects your contact, merely accepting it.
When was the last time someone hugged her? With the reputation she has, you can’t imagine that anyone’s given her affection like this since at least Gensokyo’s founding, if not further.
She hugs you back after a few more silent moments. Yuuka hesitates to put her own hands around your back, as if unsure if it’s something she deserves.
“Thank you for your help.” You say to her in a voice just above a whisper. “For all that you do to help us. For all of Gensokyo.”
Her hair carries the fragrance of flower fields and soil that’s basked in sunlight.
“I wasn’t lying, you know.” She whispers, still looking down. “I truly do wish to be a friend and ally to the three of you.”
“We believe you.” You reassure her.
She allows herself to relax, drinking in your warmth for a few more moments before pulling away.
“You know you’ve wounded my pride now, don’t you?” Yuuka says with mock seriousness, a playful glint in her eyes. “And here I thought I’d be the one offering reassurance and comfort. How do you plan on placating my wrath?”
“I’m open to suggestions.” You answer, mirroring her smile.
She wipes it off your face by leaning forward, brushing aside your hair, and pressing her lips against your forehead.
Her eyes remind you of a satisfied cat as she leans back. “A priceless expression of surprise turned out to be enough. Good night, Charlotte.”
Raiko saunters over to greet you as you stagger off Yuuka’s porch in a half-daze. “Seems like you still had some business with Yuuka, eh?”
“More or less.” Caleb answers for you. You’re still trying to process it.
“Hey, I wanted to tell you that I really appreciate you guys going the extra mile for those kids. Ruukoto and Mimi, right?”
“Nobody left behind and all that.” Junko shrugs. Mimi’s sleeping form bobs up with the motion, having entered hibernation mode sometime during the meeting.
“Don’t be so modest.” Raiko says. “You didn’t have to be so compassionate. Most humans wouldn’t have. Anyways, I’d like to offer you help you fixing them up, free of charge. I can’t get you guys a supercomputer or anything, but our village does have enough materials and expertise to repair their bodies, at least.”
“We’ll take all the help we can get for them.” Caleb says. “Oh, Mimi said that she’d like to be in a non-humanoid body, if you guys can accommodate that.”
Raiko only laughs at that. “Is that a challenge? Tell her to expect an early birthday present, then.”
She claps your shoulder as you prepare to take off. “Hey. I’m glad my hunch about you guys was right.” Raiko says, lowering her voice. “Gimme a call if you ever need someone to have your back, okay?”
You call Eirin as soon as you get home and sweep for bugs.
“Hello, Executor.” She answers on the first dial. “I take it you’ve called to hear more about my proposition?”
“Yes. We’ve been wondering what you had in mind.”
“I don’t have a supercomputer, but I do have telescopes. It’s a precaution against the Capital, you see.” She tells you. “However, we spotted something unusual recently. It’s a space station built by outsider humans, currently in a stable orbit at a lagrangian point.”
“Holy shit, you found the Torifune station?” Caleb exclaims.
“You seem familiar with it, Visionary.” She remarks with some surprise.
“It’s kind of hard to suppress the news that you’ve lost an entire space station, even if you’re Orochi.” Caleb replies. “I can’t say I’m too surprised that they apparently messed up and left everyone on it to die, since you know, they’re Orochi group.”
“Orochi?” Eirin asks.
“An extremely powerful global megacorporation.” Caleb says. “They’ve got mundane and supernatural influence across the world, but recent years have been... rough for them. Anyways, you’re telling us that you’ve got some way of getting into Torifune?”
“I have a number of lower-grade lunar veils in my posession.” She explains. “Not reliable enough for a trip to the moon, but they’ll be enough to reach the station. In addition, Torifune is close enough to the moon that slipping past the Boundary wouldn’t be necessary. However, what data I have been able to confirm suggests that the interior has been heavily compromised, with mutant flora and fauna running rampant in the arcology.”
“That’s consistent with the intel I’ve been given on Torifune’s situation.” Caleb confirms.
Eirin sighs. “The station is a highly appealing target. Not only is it in an ideal location to establish a more comprehensive listening post against the Capital, the specimens aboard hold immense value for my research. However, Reisen is the only person I would trust to deal with the level of danger on board who I can spare, and I didn’t want to risk sending her alone.”
“We could work with Reisen.” You offer. “Set up your listening post, collect your specimens, and seize our computer.”
“Yes, that is what I had in mind.” Eirin replies, chuckling. “We can all walk away satisfied with this. I have faith in your skills and experience, so I won’t try to micromanage you. Just remember that I only have enough veils for six round trips.”
What’s your next goal?
[ ] Try to improve your relationship with Remilia. Spellcards will probably be involved. [ ] Ask Wakasagihime about the lead on another Hakurei that Izumo suggested following. [ ] Gather more information on what’s going on in Makai, especially now that Marisa’s there. [ ] Prepare to deep strike board Torifune and “borrow” its supercomputer.
[x] Suggest setting up some sort of echo system on the radio tower.
Basically, it would be a physical device that receives ping messages from Chosen in Gensokyo, then "echoes" them to all other chosen, indirectly allowing effectively immediate communication from anywhere to anywhere.
[x] Gather more information on what’s going on in Makai, especially now that Marisa’s there.
Also, side note: when we get around to it, we should probably try to get the satellite mission completed in as few trips as possible. Even if we have a fairly large number of potential attempts, it'd be pretty impolite to waste them all on a single job.
[x] Ask Wakasagihime about the lead on another Hakurei that Izumo suggested following. [x] Suggest setting up some sort of echo system on the radio tower.
You beeline for the nearest sofa and flop face-first onto it. “We should keep future Hakurei awakenings on our terms as much as possible.” You say, muffled by the seat as you sink in into it. “I’m gonna ask Wakasagihime about what Izumo said. There’s probably another Hakurei at the bottom of Misty Lake or something.”
“Wasn’t that the one she said might be frothing at the mouth with rage?” Junko asks. She lights a cigarette but immediately puts it out with an annoyed expression. “Ah, I forgot the fairies keep coming over here. I shouldn’t smoke inside.”
“You know they’re immortal as well, right?” Caleb raises an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure the fairies drink booze whenever they get the chance.”
“It’s the principle of it, you know?” She says, pocketing the carton. “Anyways, I think you’re right, Char. The lake’s the only real deep water on Gensokyo’s surface.”
“It’s also neutral territory, so nobody can really complain if we go for a dive.” Caleb adds. “We might still want to find a way to improve things with Remilia.”
You roll over and press your hands against your forehead. The spot where you were kissed feels strangely warm.
“I don’t know how deep the center of the lake goes. It might connect to the underground. Where would we get the equipment for that kind of exploration?”
“Ugh. I really doubt any Kappa are going to be eager about dealing with us at this point.”
“All we need is someone willing to let us buy diving gear from them” Junko offers. “Failing that..”
She shrugs. “Having this come to light is going to cause lots of upheaval. Kappa pointing fingers at each other, everyone else re-examining their dealings... wouldn’t be too hard to make a few things go missing in the confusion.”
All your phones buzz. It’s Ran’s number.
Hakurei Izumo is still unaccounted for, but your work today was acceptable. Report any relevant new information to this number. All outgoing information referencing the Hakurei will be suppressed. No further debrief is necessary at this time. Standby for supply drop.
A loud thump sounds from the basement only a few seconds after reading the end of the message. Caleb opens the door and peeks in with his rifle drawn.
“It’s a crate of gear.” He announces, setting it on the ground from his inventory. “Looks like she cleared more supplies from our bosses.”
That rouses you from the sofa. You stand behind Junko as she pries it open, and your eyes widen at the contents.
You like what you see.
Junko whistles as she hefts a chainsaw that’s been optimized for cutting monsters instead of trees. “Oh my. Don’t mind if I do.”
She’s got some more goodies as well. There’s an assortment of melee weapons of varying shapes and sizes, as well as needles, daggers, and grenades. Meanwhile, Caleb’s examining cases of rifles and SMGs. He’s currently testing the feel of a sniper rifle in his hands.
What does Ran have for you? There’s enough material to fully replenish your stock of robotics and explosives. You wouldn’t have to worry about running out in the conceivable future unless another fight like the one at the Shrine burned through them.
It occurs to you that, with a bit of effort, you could also arm the villagers.
In any case, it’s appreciated, but you’re wondering if there’s something a little bigger...
[ ] Rocket Launcher [ ] Flamethrower
Yes. This will do just fine.
“We still need to report this.” Caleb announces, stowing his new gear. “Not being able to mention Hakurei cuts down on a lot, but at the very least they’ll be interested in hearing about Ruukoto and Mimi. Especially since they were made by one of yours, Char.” He frowns. “How did they end up here, again?”
You groan and bury your face in your hands. “I know their creator well enough to not want to know more.”
You look up. “I need you guys to do me a favor.”
Caleb seats himself across from you with his elbows on his knees. Junko straightens up and folds her arms as she leans against a wooden pillar.”
“Temple Hall’s orders are to recover the black box data at any cost. Mimi’s is gone, and getting it out of Ruukoto in this state will kill her. I need more time.”
“So don’t tell them that we found her?” Caleb asks.
“We have quite a bit of leeway, what with being behind the barrier and all.” Junko points out, shrugging. “We can tell them we raided the facility, recovered Mimi, but found that the blackboxes were missing. Once we fix Ruukoto at Torifune, we can make something up about having stumbled across it. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“And even if they do, they can’t do much about it.” Caleb says. “We’re still accomplishing our goals, in the end.”
Rain started sometime while you were writing your reports or sorting your new gear and continued through the morning.
It’s a bit after daybreak when a security camera you set up raises an alarm.
“C’mon, tell me it’s some target practice.” Junko says, looking up from flipping a dagger around her fingers.
“It’s that blue umbrella tsukumogami.” You say, frowning. “Kogasa. She’s harmless.”
Caleb comes to look over your shoulder. “Really? A bucket of water over the door and a stick? Well, she’s keeping it simple.”
You dealt with Kogasa by... [ ] Humoring her and pretending to be surprised [ ] Inviting her in for breakfast [ ] Shooing her away
[X] Rocket Launcher [X] Inviting her in for breakfast
kogasa a cute. Humoring probably wouldn't work, since she can probably actually feel the surprise. Then again, it might be a bucket of paint or flour or something unexpected and going into it expecting water would net her an actual surprise. Decisions...
As for the big fun, I just picked the one that seems cooler/more utility. I don't know jack about brainbee mmo so if this is some reference to the game mechanics I'm lost.
>>200652 Forgot to describe the differences. Rocket Launcher: Kill big things or groups from range. Specialist warheads such as EMP available. Rocket jump to gain altitude/momentum extremely fast. Flamethrower: Kill big things or groups at close/mid range. Use suppressive fire by suppressing your enemies with fire. Specialist payloads such as liquid nitrogen available. Combos with elemental magic.
The path ahead of you may be dark and full of danger, but this helps even the score. You suspect there will be no shortage of worthy targets for your rockets.
You don’t want Kogasa to faint from shock, so you stow it and motion towards the door at Junko. She nods and walks over to open it and step through.
“Woah!” She exclaims as the bucket of water comes down. She brings a hand up to knock the falling bucket aside in the midst of pretending to flail in confusion, scattering water all around her but keeping herself dry.
Kogasa, of course, is too elated to notice. “Ha! Got you good!” She says, almost jumping for joy as she comes out from behind a bush that was too small to conceal both her and her umbrella.
“Damn, you sure did.” Junko smiles at her as she fishes for a cigarette.
“You’re Kogasa, right?” You step outside to greet her with a wave. “Feeling up for some breakfast with us, or is your spooking itinerary booked full?”
“Um, well, it’s not, but is that really okay?” She seems abashed now. You get the impression that most of her prank attempts haven’t gone this well. “I mean, I’d love to, but-”
“Great, make yourself at home!” You say, taking her by the elbow and leading her inside.
It’s a good thing Caleb found time to grab produce from the village. It’s not that any of you mind that much, but it’d be kind of rude to serve a guest meal bars, MREs, and unhealthily potent energy drinks.
Kogasa is excited to eat what you guys manage to cook up, though. “I don’t eat that much outsider food, so this is fun.” She explains to Caleb between bites. “Oh, and the food’s good too, of course!”
“You were wrong about her being harmless, Char.” Junko says as she watches Kogasa’s beaming face. “She’s so adorable that it’s painful.”
“Oh, before I forget, Raiko wanted me to help you guys with something!” She says, standing up. “You guys rescued two tsukumogami yesterday, right? I can figure out what materials they need for repair. Raiko says she’ll cover the repair costs, so don’t worry about it.”
“She told us as much.” You reply, swallowing. “They’re in bad shape, though. Are you sure you can handle it?”
Kogasa nods earnestly. “Leave it to me.”
You lead her to the couch where Ruukoto and Mimi are currently laid down on, both in hibernation.
Kogasa’s hands fly to her mouth in shock when she sees their condition. “Who would do such a thing to these kids?”
“It wasn’t us.” Caleb says. “Some kappa decided to push their luck, and the results weren’t pretty.”
“Poor things...” She murmurs as she traces her fingers over their jagged wounds.
You hand her a few sheets of paper. “I wrote up some documentation of their body’s specifications. They’re both badly damaged, but Ruukoto will probably want to keep her current shell. Fixing the damage to her limbs, internals, and cosmetics will be all you’d need to worry about. Mimi, though, wants to just be inserted into an entirely new shell. She gave me a few suggestions beforehand, but none of them are humanoid.”
“Yes, I think I can make something work for them... wait, they’re not tsukumogami?” Kogasa asks, blinking alongside her umbrella.
“No. They’re artificial intelligences, more like Alice’s dolls, but fully aware.” You tell her.
“Wow. The outside must be a fascinating place.” She says.
“Eh, it’s ok. Gensokyo’s plenty interesting as well.” You tell her.
“Speaking of Alice, Marisa seems to have gone to Makai on her own to look for her.”
You blink. “Well, that’d explain why she didn’t show up last night. How’d she do it?”
“She opened a portal up somewhere and went through.” Kogasa explains. “At least, that’s what Raiko said that the sign on her door said.”
You pinch the bridge of your nose. “Yeah, this is what I mean, Kogasa. There’s not many places where people hang “Closed - Gone to Hell” signs on their doors.”
That’s just swell. With how the flow of time fluctuates in the hell dimensions, it’s going to be hard to predict how much havoc Marisa will cause. She already made a mess of things last time. You’d almost say that she couldn’t make it much worse, but experience tells you that people like her take it as a challenge.
“Thanks for letting me know.” You tell her. “And thanks for coming over to help with the AIs.”
She smiles again. “No problem! I’m always glad when I can help someone, and I’ve been meaning to meet you for a while anyway.”
“Char, sorry to interrupt your fanclub, but Junko and I are heading out to the radio tower.” Caleb pings from the next room. “She’s got a plan for fixing the range issues on pinging.”
“Cool. I guess we’ll know soon enough if it works.” You reply as they bid Kogasa farewell and leave.
“So, uh, did I live up to your expectations?” You ask her.
Kogasa nods, smiling brightly. “Yep! I heard that you were really strong for a human and weren’t afraid of youkai, but also nice. And they were right! You guys are nice!” Her face turns red as she looks to the side. “Well, I guess I’d have liked it if you were a little afraid, heh...”
“Anyways, Raiko and the Tsukumogami with her are pretty fond of you guys.” She goes on. “When I’m working in the village, I hear some humans say that they want you guys to do more for them, but I guess you’re pretty busy. I think they all pretty much like having you around, though.”
“And Mamizou?” You ask.
“Ah, her?” Kogasa isn’t bothered by the question. “I actually didn’t get the chance to ask. I mean, she seemed interested to me, but word on the street is that she left to see an old friend sometime yesterday.”
You’re assuming that Nue isn’t the person in question. Mamizou knows Ran, possibly better than nearly anyone else if she’s right about Ran’s new identity, but you really weren’t getting ‘friend’ vibes from that relationship.
Could she have known the Hakurei?
“Well, thanks for coming over, Kogasa.” You tell her. “You’re welcome to come back whenever you want, even if it’s not for work.”
You say goodbye to Kogasa and set up a nest of sentry guns and sensors to watch over Mimi and Ruukoto. If someone tries to steal them from under your nose after all they’ve gone through, you might actually kill them, spellcard rules or not.
It looks like Caleb was trying to do something with the butterfly scale-like dust you found on your eyes after one of those weird dreams. There’s a vial holding a liquid suspension of it, and looking through the solution makes the world seem off somehow. Not in the usual way that could be explained by the distortion of the liquid or curved glass... Well, you trust Caleb to not do anything stupid.
You do make sure to lock it away from Ruukoto and Mimi, though.
After making your preparations, you depart and fly over to Wakasagihime’s cove.
You hear her before you see her. She’s sitting on a boulder close to the shore, singing a clear, wordless melody that pierces the mist like sunlight through water.
It’s beautiful. Unfortunately, you have business with her.
She gives you a wave and a smile as you land next to her. “Oh hello, Charlotte.” She says, scooting over to give you more room. “Did you like it?”
“Second in beauty only to yourself.” You say. “But I’m afraid I have something important to ask of you.”
“Oh, I see.” She says, trying to cover her blush with her sleeves. Her tail shows less composure, swishing around in the water. “I’d be glad to help in any way I can.”
You take a deep breath. “Can you show me the final resting place of Hakurei Futaba?”
Wakasagihime goes still. “Why do you want to know?” She asks. The only movement comes from the lingering ripples.
“The Hakurei aren’t dead.” You explain, keeping your voice calm. “They were asleep. They’re waking up now, and my friends and I need to make sure they don’t hurt anyone in the process.”
“Futaba...” Wakasagihime shakes her head. “The stories of my people say that she came to no good end, as did all of her line before Reimu’s mother. She died fighting for my people’s safety, among other things.”
She looks into your eyes for a few moments before speaking. “I think there are things you can’t or won’t tell me... but I trust you, Charlotte.”
Wakasagihime turns her gaze to the center of the lake. “Futaba’s grave is at the bottom of Misty Lake, where the water is cold, crushing, and lightless.”
You already don’t like where this is going.
“What’s more is that the path is said to only be revealed to other Hakurei. Not even we know its exact location.” She goes on. “Death lurks close by at those depths. We merfolk dare not linger. For a human to attempt it...”
Wakasagihime turns back to you and clasps her hands around yours. “I’ll help you, but promise me that you’ll come back. Don’t chase it to the point of running out of breath.”
“I’m serious. I’ll drag you back to the surface myself if I have to, no matter how close you say you are.”
“I know.” You answer. “I trust you too.”
A faint smile appears on her face. “Thank you. Do you have a means to breathe underwater?”
“We were going to see what equipment we could get from the Kappa.” You say, trying to phrase it as inconspicuously as you can.
“Oh. Well, there is another way...” She says, her tail starting to swish again. “It’s an old spell that hasn’t been used much in a long time. I don’t know if you’d prefer it, though...unless?”
“That depends. What is it?”
“A ki... kiss.” She says, face turning bright red.
[ ] You’re flattered, but no thanks. [ ] Very well. [ ] Squish the fish.
>You say goodbye to Kogasa and set up a nest of sentry guns and sensors to watch over Mimi and Ruukoto. If someone tries to steal them from under your nose after all they’ve gone through, you might actually kill them, spellcard rules or not.
Imagine someone having the gall to try that. Let's see how they dodge a bullet hell made of actual bullets.
>[ ] Very well.
Let's go with this. I'd rather not owe anything to the kappa and..
That was definitely one of the better kisses you’ve experienced in your life. She might have gotten a bit... engrossed towards the end, but you can’t really say you mind. You stick your head underwater and take an experimental breath. It’s weird, but you aren’t drowning.
The water feels heavy in your lungs, requiring more effort to pump it in and out than air. It’s cool to the point of being chilly, and it carries the taste of lake weeds and silt.
“This is going to take some adjustment.” Your words escape as silvery bubbles.
“You’re adjusting well, though.” Wakasagihime swims ahead of you with a grace most here don’t match in the air. “Most of the villagers don’t swim as well as you.”
There’s a residual blush from the kiss on her face, and she still can’t bring herself to meet your eyes for more than seconds at a time. She still looks pretty pleased with herself.
“It was part of training.” You tell her. “In any event, I’d feel pretty embarrassed if you had to lend me an inner tube to get there.”
“Oh, right. Are you sure you can dive that deep without any more surprises?”
“I’ve got a wetsuit packed away somewhere. It hasn’t seen that much use, but it comes in handy. I think I’m set, unless there’s some kind of hostile creature down there. Underwater combat complicates my options more than the others.”
“There are some fearsome creatures around, but they shouldn’t be hostile.” Wakasagihime says. “The real danger is getting lost or stuck and running out of air.”
“Oh, right. There’s not much dissolved oxygen that deep in lakes, right? I remember reading about it before.”
“That’s right. I’m going to bring air bladders for us, but we still can’t stay forever.”
You nod and wave goodbye for now as she swims away. Smaller fish creep out from the vegetation to investigate you while you consider what to do next.
Is there anyone else who might help? Spectres don’t need to breathe, but you’d have to be incredibly foolish to invite Murasa to follow you into these depths. It’d probably best to let things calm down with the Kappa for now, as well. Maybe you could ask Komachi for help? Surely this task is important enough that Eiki wouldn’t begrudge you for borrowing her subordinate.
“This is Junko from the Forest of Magic radio tower. Char, you copy?”
You perk up. “I read you. It’s a little choppy, but you’re coming through. How’d you figure something out so quickly?”
“The Anima Well was already growing into the structure, and Caleb used a blood ritual to coax the plant life to grow in a more useful shape.”
“More or less.” He cuts in. “I’m worried that fairies are going to break it while we’re not here, though. They started showing up in force after we started working, and they seem to have taken an interest in what we’re doing.”
“They’re cute and you know it.” Junko teases. “I’m sure it’d be improved if you took a look at it, but at least we’ve got something. I don’t think it can transmit or receive outside of Gensokyo, though.”
“So nothing from Makai or the rest of the world.” You sum up. “Probably not Torifune, either.”
“Yep. No reason to not be happy with our effort, though. How’s things on your end?”
“Yeah, we’re prepared to dive as well.” Caleb says after listening to your recap. “You know we don’t need to worry about running out of air, right? I mean, what’s the nearest Well again?”
“It’s the SDM gardens.” Junko says. “Do you really want to deal with them right now?”
“Point taken. I guess it would make Wakasagi squeamish, anyways.” He sighs. “Hey, were the fairies always this friendly? It’s not just me, is it?”
“What do you mean?” You ask.
“There’s a butterfly-looking one literally clinging to my back right now.” He answers.
“Maybe the ones living in the forest are more touchy-feely.” Junko offers. “Anyways, have you thought more about who might be willing to lend a hand? Searching with just four of us will be a lot of individual work, even with your drones fanning out.”
“I agree that having Minamitsu even remotely nearby is asking for a fight.” Caleb says. “In fact, I think we might as well contact Myourenji just to ask them to keep her far away while we’re working. Apart from that, Komachi’s a good choice, assuming that she’s not off slacking somewhere. Maybe Iku would be up for it?”
“You think she’s still got enough oarfish in her to handle diving there?” You ask.
“We might as well ask.” Junko says. “I got her contact info from that time I knocked Tenshi around a bit. Bhava-Agra has a stake in this as well.”
[ ] Ask Iku for help [ ] Ask Komachi for help [ ] Ask someone else [ ] Don’t bring additional people, start sooner
Wakasagihime currently looks like she’s been drinking. Her face is red, her eyes are glazed, and she’s almost panting. Her smile is best described as ‘dazed’.
In retrospect, meeting three athletic outsiders in form-fitting wetsuits and kissing all of them may have been a bit much for Wakasagihime to endure.
“I’m okayyy...” She slurs. “Oh... I just need... a moment...”
“Quite the romantic, isn’t she?” Caleb jokes. “Anyways, I told Ran we’d be diving. Hopefully she has a contingency for a rampaging Hakurei.”
The swim to the center of the lake is uneventful, the lingering mist blocking attention from anyone who might happen to spot you.
“I didn’t find a bottom to this the first time I scanned the area.” You announce. All of you but Wakasagi are clinging to a buoy set by village fishermen. “Any idea how far we’ll have to go?”
“There’s a limit based on the maximum amount of air we have. That’s descent, ascent, and the actual search.” Wakasagi says, mostly recovered from her earlier intoxication. “I’ll show you once we get that far. Charlotte did say that you didn’t need to worry about decompression, though. Is it true? I don’t want to have to find out later.”
“It’s true.” Caleb says. “Actually, we can just, uh, teleport out if we’re out of air, so we humans will be able to increase our diving time. We can’t bring other people with us, so you should still be careful.”
Wakasagi doesn’t look to sure, but accepts his words when she sees you and Junko nod along.
“You got the anchor ready, Junko?” You ask.
“What anchor?” Wakasagi asks. From the way she’s squinting at Junko, she must be wondering where on her person she could hope to conceal anything bulky.
“I’ve got this weight I made from scrap that I can conjure up.” Junko explains. “Charlotte explained how the inventory works, right?”
“Yes, but are you sure that letting a box of junk drag you to the bottom of the wise?” She asks, still dubious. “Please forgive me for saying so, but it seems rather macabre.”
“Heh, you’re worrying too much. The three of us have been doing this for years now and we’re still here.” Junko reassures her while omitting the many, many resurrections you’ve all racked up.
“Besides, there’s also the emergency teleport we have set up.” Caleb says. “We’ve been using it for a long time and it hasn’t failed us yet.”
“Okay, that sounds safer.” Wakasagi says. She’s thoughtfully nodding, oblivious to the exact means of that one-way teleport.
“Everyone good?” Junko looks around and then swims off towards the edge of the deep lake with you and Caleb following. She raises a hand. “Get ready!”
The makeshift anchor, little more than a box packed with scrap metal and lashed with rope, appears without fanfare in front of her and crashes into the water. Caleb and Junko grab sections of rope and disappear beneath the waves moments later. You follow after helping Wakasagihime take hers, and are the last to go under.
Your breath and the rushing of water past your ears are the only sounds that accompany you on your descent.
You pass the warm layer quickly, the deeper mass of cold water causing you to shudder as you descend. The light fades more slowly, though you all have your lamps on after a minute.
Visibility is good, but all that does is set you further on edge. There’s nothing to see above but the remnants of light from above and a darkness that feels like a swallowing maw from below.
“We should let go soon.” Wakasagihime says. “I don’t want to risk getting caught down here.”
“Got it.” You say, then pass the message down the line. You’re all about to jump off when something else makes the decision for you.
The anchor impacts the lakebed with a muffled thump, sending up a cloud of sediment that blocks your lamps.
“Well, it’s not bottomless.” Caleb says as he swims over. “What’s our depth?”
You check the readings. “We’re around a hundred meters underwater.”
He whistles, the sound barely recognizable through the water’s distortion. “Let’s get going then. Princess, you alright?”
Wakasagihime nods. “Let’s not stay long.”
You tap a command into your phone, and a dozen drones fly off your rigging. Each of you follows one of the pinpricks of light into the darkness.
It’s not fair to say that you find nothing. In fact, were you an archaeologist, this would be an exciting expedition. The four of you are finding enough outside world detritus from all the way in the distant past to what you suspect may somehow be the near future embedded in the gray-brown mud.
“Unless Futaba’s buried in a broken washing machine from a brand I’ve never heard of, I’m not getting anything here.” Junko reports over comms. “How about you guys? You holding up ok, Waggy?”
“Nothing related to the Hakurei.” She says. “Though it is interesting to be able to pick through an area so rich in salvage. Charlotte, could I make a trade for one of these machines?”
“Their design is proprietary, unfortunately.” You tell her, rummaging through a pile of bicycles. “I could make you own of another design, though. We can work out the details later- gah!”
You pull your hand back from the jagged metal that cut it, silently cursing your carelessness.
“Char, danger?” Caleb cuts in.
“No, no, I just cut my hand.” You say, frustrated.
Something glints in the gloom.
You sweep your lamp over to see the faint red cloud of your blood. Instead of diffusing away, it’s moving as though being pulled towards a certain direction.
“Wakasagi, I need you to confirm something for me.” You say. “Oh, there’s no sharks or anything here, right?”
“This is going to sound weird, but...” You take a deep breath. “I would like you to prick your skin and see if the blood reacts strangely. Watch it closely. Trust me on this.”
“Um... Very well.” She says. “No, nothing’s out of the ordinary.”
“Alright, that’s helpful to know.” You sigh. “There’s something down here reacting to Anima. We’ve probably found our lead.”
[ ] Add a small amount of your blood [ ] Add a larger amount of your blood [ ] Other
He's the blood mage, he's probably got blood to spare. Ask his opinion first though. And don't have Junko bleed herself at all, just in case. We've already bled, as has Wakasagihime, and even if he doesn't bleed himself here Caleb will have to if we need healing, so if it matters Junko should try to not bleed.
Describing the resurrection as an emergency teleport, lel. Imagine: > "Alright, I'm teleporting out, you head back" > Pulls out gun, shoots self in head
Caleb pours blood into the water and watches as it is siphoned away into the darkness, following a calculated path of angles and curves.
“It’s part of a ritual. Someone set this up, carved grooves into reality that the blood’s flowing into.” Caleb reports. “My best guess is that it’ll open a portal or otherwise link this place with another location.”
Hmm. “You know, offering up blood at lightless depths to complete a ritual we don’t understand that might open up a door to a place we don’t know... seems reckless.” You say.
“No shit. For now, we should at least tell Ran we found something.” He replies.
“I’ll send it. Junko says as she types away. “Hopefully she’ll respond soon enough to save us a return trip.”
“Consider your wish granted.”
“Gah!” Junko wheels around with her hand on a dagger to see Ran floating among you behind Wakasagihime.
“Your industriousness is to be praised.” She says as she approaches, sparing a glance at Wakasagihime as she flinches out of the way.
“And thank you, as well, for assisting them. I recommend that you return home, now, and practice discretion regarding what you’ve seen.”
“Will they be okay?” Wakasagi looks between you with fear.
“That is something I cannot guarantee.” Her slitted eyes flit over.
“She’s being dramatic. We’ll be fine.” Junko reassures her. Wakasagi gives you a last look of worry before making back for the surface.
“I hope you’ve got a plan for cleaning your tails after this.” Junko says to Ran while she waves goodbye.
“I’d be more focused on the present if I were you.” Ran replies, watching Wakasagi disappear. “I wasn’t present yesterday because I was attempting to track Izumo down.” She scowls. “I did not succeed. Whatever ‘backdoor’ she used to escape is novel to me.”
“So you’re here so you can make contact with us and see for yourself.” You say.
“We were just talking about how it seemed too risky to try without warning people...” Junko muses. “You’re not going to blame this on us if it doesn’t go as planned, are you?”
Ran’s eyes narrow and glint. “Would you prefer it?”
Caleb sighs. “Nah, it’s fine. I’ll get started, then.”
Ribbons of blood stream from his hands and take an unnatural shape in the water. Frost crystalizes around your fingers while Junko holds a trident at the ready. Ran, meanwhile, merely watches the process with rapt attention as an old pattern is illustrated in blessed blood.
“Is that a yin-yang?” You ask.
“It’s her, after all.” Ran murmurs.
And then it bursts.
Breathing water was strange enough, but having your lungs be full of blood is a special kind of gross.
You choke and try to swim away, but all the water seems to have turned to blood. You can’t see an inch in front of you.
And then it’s over. You breach into air and flop your upper body onto the floor, coughing up blood onto the slick stone.
Similar retching echoes from somewhere next to you.
“Fuck. I hate it when that happens.” Junko pings. “I’m guessing that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“No, it wasn’t.” He replies. “Where’s Ran? Actually, where are we?”
You spit out a particularly stubborn clot and take in your surroundings.
You’re in an expansive cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites... pillars in general. Some, you note, have been carved into statues. Pools of water, such as the one you’re all busy climbing out of, dot the floor. Small dishes, each with a candle in the center, float on the surface of each one and chime whenever they bounce against the pool’s edge or each other. The flickering light casts shifting shadows on the gray rock of the cave.
“It’s... pretty.” Junko breathes, standing up to admire the scenery even as she draws a dagger.
“I can’t reach Ran.” Caleb announces. “She’s not here, at least.”
“Even without magic blood teleportation, we’re still under who knows how many tons of rock.” You say. “Well, she at least knows where we went. I can set up a signal booster to see if we can still make contact.”
“Sounds good.” Junko says, nodding. “Caleb and I’ll go look for the Hakurei, then.”
You end up setting your signal relay on top of a komainu statue, sculpted in a vigilant, though more playful than intimidating, pose. The cavern turns out to be filled with them, but yours happened to be at a nice height without overhead obstruction.
The eerie chiming of the dishes is too discordant to be music, but you find it to be a tolerable backdrop. Unfortunately, you’re still unable to get a signal in or out.
You find yourself reaching for your music box before you remember Izumo breaking it. Perhaps it’s for the best that you didn’t bring it here.
After all, you don’t know what to expect from Futaba. You’re not sure you could have stopped Izumo, had it come to it.
“Char, we found something.” Caleb pings.
You make your way over to find them in front of an alcove set into the wall.
“There’s an enchantment that would trigger if a statue was placed here” Junko explains. “I think it’ll unlock something. This entire place has a lot of ambient magic, though, so it’s going to be hard to figure out which one it is.”
You squint at the opening and the faint bee glyph chiseled there. “Actually, I think I have a good guess.” You say, motioning for them to follow you back. “Funnily enough, I was actually using it to prop up my relay. I’m not sure how we’re going to move it, but.”
“Charlotte.” Caleb interrupts. He and Junko both draw their weapons.
You turn around and shiver. Your relay is toppled over onto the ground.
The statue is gone.
Aw shit, here we go again:
[ ] Try to call out and see if it’s friendly [ ] Start attacking every statue that looks suspicious [ ] Start trying to examine the statues in detail
“Hey, you can hear us, right?” You say, raising your hands. “Can we talk? We don’t want to hurt anyone.”
There’s no response. You all draw close together to cover your blind spots as you figure out what to do next.
“I might have a trick that’ll help us find them.” Caleb pings, fiddling around with a set of goggles with iridescent purple-tinted lenses.
You nudge Junko to put away her weapon as well. “Fine.” She grumbles, complying.
“We’re here because Hakurei Izumo woke up yesterday, and we want to make sure the others aren’t time-bombs.” You continue addressing your audience of statues over the clinking of the bowls.
“I’m getting a read on... something.” Caleb reports, searching across the columns. “You guys aren’t picking up any movement, right?”
“Alright. It’s going incorporeal.” He concludes. “There’s a signature that keeps jumping between statues. It’s not a ghost, though.”
“Can we bait it out? Smashing all the statues but one isn’t going to make it like us.” Junko says.
“Come on, I know you’re listening!” Your shout echoes across the cavern. “We can see you in the statues.”
“No I’m not!” Comes a cheeky reply.
“Can you tell us why you’re suspicious of us?” Caleb calls out.
“You smell like the bad lady Futaba told me to never ever trust.” The voice replies, seeming to bounce around the cave.
“Yukari?” Caleb ventures.
“No, the fox working for her.” She replies.
“Ran?” You ask. “We’ve heard that she’s done bad things, but we’re not really working for her.”
“I hope that’s true. Futaba says that she’s an unforgivable person who can’t be trusted.”
“What exactly did she do?” You ask. “You’re not the first to tell us that something’s up with her.”
“She used to be called Daji.” The voice informs you. “Tamamo no Mae is a more recent name.”
Junko’s hands fly over her mouth. “THE Tamamo no Mae? Holy shit, I gotta agree with Futaba on this. That vixen really was a piece of work.”
“Wasn’t she the one who was fucking with a Japanese emperor back in they day?” Caleb asks.
“Yeah, and before that she corrupted an Indian prince and a Chinese emperor before that.” Junko says. “The Dragon hunted her across Asia before putting her down in Japan in the 1100s or so. At least, we thought we did.” She scowls. “I’d love to update HQ on that, but I highly doubt she’d let us slip that past her.”
Our wisdom flows so sweet. Taste and see.
TRANSMIT - initiate domestication procedure - RECEIVE - initiate the bloodhound signal - THE MERE TOUCH OF COLD PHILOSOPHY - initiate the pillow-talk trace - BEWARE FLUFFY TAIL- initiate the loyalty computation - WITNESS - Ran Yakumo
Initiate inquiry. Subject: Adjutant.
The howls draw around like a snarling noose. A scream tears from a throat moments before being torn to red scraps -
You wake up with your lover’s arms already around you. Breathe, she tells you. Just a dream. You’re safe now.
Look into her slitted eyes. What’s escape from an illusion into a nightmare?
We watched the fox in the year 1047 of the affixed god. Location: China. Stage: The Shang dynasty, reeking of rotten tomatoes and on the verge of collapse. She had no name then, just an insatiable appetite.
We were there when the final emperor of Shang made her his favored concubine. We were there before, when she met a girl from a noble family one evening at their family’s well. The girl’s name was Daji.
The fox was so persuasive, sweetling, even then. She had such a gift for making you feel like the center of her universe instead of her next appetizer.
Daji lost several things that night. The clothes on her skin - the skin on her flesh - the flesh on her bones - the breath in her lungs. Her name. Her face. Fortunately, her new friend was there to take good care of them.
Daji’s fingers danced. The emperor danced along, and together they grew intoxicated on wine and flesh and blood and moans and screams.
Outside the palace walls, we observed different dances. Carrion flies. Embers. Peasants casting hollow-eyed stares on the capital.
We are not the only ones who notice. The Dragon does not appreciate seeing its hoard squandered by a furred pretender.
There is a war, one whose greatest battles pass into legend and its greatest soldiers into heaven. The Shang are torn apart like rotted shingles against a hurricane. The emperor draws his gold and silks close one final time before making his own pyre on them.
Daji hears the baying of the hounds. Smoke, sweat, and bloodlust! She flees the slaughter, slips past the slayers in green, and runs south and west to India.
We see the cycle repeated. Seduction, Corruption, Retribution, Abdication. New women. New kings. New revolts. Old patterns.
There is nothing the Dragon despises more than stagnation.
They catch her in the year 1155 of the affixed god in Japan, with the name and face of Tamamo-no-Mae. For all her cunning, she never departed from her one script. She is a tortoise flipped upside-down against the teeth and claws of the Dragon.
Others have a stake in her death. There is a bake-danuki with a grudge. There is a gap in the shape of a woman. There is a sweetling with honey in her heart.
The fox is beaten within an inch of its death. It begs for its life, all pretense of dignity and hedonism abandoned in the face of oblivion. More of its bones are broken than not, and each breath shudders against shattered ribs. In a mirror of her crimes, the dirt in front of the fox is stained with blood, tears, and snot.
Hakurei looks at the beast prostrate before her and chooses to inflict more cruelty on it.
She grants her wish.
Almost half a millennium later, she fulfills it.
You’re all so caught up in the revelation that you almost don’t notice a figure stepping out from the rows of statues and pillars.
She’s a short Komainu wearing a cloud-patterned shirt and matching shorts. Her expression and body language are still wary, but at least she’s showing herself.
“This is a holy place.” She says, watching you all for the first sign of aggression. “Why have you come to disturb my master’s rest?”
“Izumo woke up yesterday, and said that she’d be going around to wake up the other Hakurei.” You say, omitting for now exactly how that happened. “We wanted to make sure Futaba didn’t freak out.”
She closes her eyes as she takes a deep breath.
“You’re like her.” She says, shocked. “I never thought I’d meet more Chosen.”
“Well, here we are. I’m Charlotte, this is Caleb, and this is Junko.” You say, with Caleb and Junko raising their hands in acknowledgement as you introduce them. We accidentally entered Gensokyo recently, and we’re trying to help the locals deal with some threats.”
“Shouldn’t the current Hakurei have that covered?” She asks, frowning.
“Reimu’s been in Yukari’s custody for a while.” Junko tells her. “She’s supposed to be recovering from an injury, but nobody knows when she’ll be back.”
“Is there still open war going on?”
“No, this was a threat from the outside.” Caleb says. “It’s the thing we followed here to kill. Gensokyo’s actually pretty friendly these days, apparently.”
“I see.” She says, her expression softening. “I’m Komano Aunn, by the way.”
The relay chooses then to squawk out a message.
“Charlotte... Caleb... Junko... Can you hear me?” You all glance at each other as Ran’s voice echoes around the cavern.
[ ] Ran, when were you planning on telling us you were a murderapist of literally mythic scale? [ ] Pretend that nothing’s out of the ordinary (relatively speaking) [ ] Ignore her
This could be a reincarnation of what was based on the fulfillment of the wish of begging for her life, so Ran might not exactly be what she was once -- but even so there's no reason to give her reason to suddenly barge into the area if she can use their responses as a way to get in.
“We’re in a cave.” You mention, looking straight at Aunn. “There’s what we think is Hakurei iconography, but we’re still looking for anything we can actually work with.”
“Very well.” She replies with a hint of disappointment. “Continue searching. I’ll continue searching for a way in. Avoid contact with the Hakurei there until I arrive, if possible.”
“Understood.” You say. You then mute the relay. “Aunn, do you think Ran can break in here?”
“She might.” Is all she can say. “She was clever enough before, and who knows what tricks she has now that she’s working for the gap lady.”
“Izumo definitely didn’t think highly of Ran. “Junko notes. “Can’t imagine Futaba’d feel different about her. What about us, though?”
“Yeah, your enchantment grabbed us but left Ran in the cold.” Caleb says. “Whoever set it up let us have access.”
“I think it was supposed to let her successors in.” Aunn says while dragging a foot against the floor. “You guys... you’re close, but I don’t know what to do.”
“You should make up your mind soon, because Ran knows this place exists now.” You say. “I don’t know what she has in mind for Futaba.”
Aunn shudders. Clearly, Ran represents the worse option to her. “Alright, I’ll see what Futaba has to say about it.”
Finally, some leeway.
“She miiiiiight not be in a good mood, though.” She says. “She didn’t go peacefully.”
“Did any of them?” Caleb mutters as you all pick your way through the cave towards the alcove. “Izumo didn’t want to fight us, but I don’t think we would have come out on top if she had.”
“Nanako might’ve gone peacefully.” You say.
“Who knows what happened with her.” Caleb sighs.
Aunn’s ears droop as she overhears you talk about the fate of the other shamans. “The most current miko - Reimu - is she happy, at least?”
That gives you all pause.
“She has friends.” You offer. “There’s a magician she’s close with, at least.”
“A lot of youkai like her, even if she doesn’t necessarily feel the same way.” Junko says, pausing to think. “I met her only once, but the impression I get from people is that they care about her. On some level, I think she knows that.”
That’s about the same feeling you had. There’d almost always be someone with her, but there’d also be a barrier between them.
Aunn’s tail wags a few times at the knowledge. “What kind of person is she?”
“A grouch.” Junko says without preamble. “Workshy. Very blunt with people, but she’s like that with everyone, which seems to be part of why so many youkai have taken a shine to her.”
“Reimu’s very good at her job when it comes down to it.” You tell Aunn. “She created the spellcard system so people wouldn’t have to get hurt, and with how many incident’s she’s resolved through it, she’s definitely a worthy successor.”
“Wow... I’d like to meet her someday.” Aunn says, looking equal parts hopeful and sad as she settles onto her pedestal. “Futaba never had much time to be happy.”
“What was she like?” You ask.
“She gave her all in everything she did.” Aunn recounts, gazing wistfully into the distance. “She was headstrong, working hard and celebrating harder when she had the opportunity.”
“Sounds like someone who knew how to have a good time.” Junko says.
“Yes, she did.” Aunn’s smile turns regretful. “I wondered if she somehow knew the sort of end she’d come to, and wanted to use her time as well as possible.”
“What kind of Shaman was she?” You ask.
“She’s the only Hakurei I had the chance to know.” Aunn says. “She was at home on the battlefield, at least. When I found her body-”
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “It was buried underneath a mound of vampire corpses. Her hands were wrapped around the broken neck of their pureblood.”
So her final act was to slay evil, even from the other side of death.
“A great warrior.” You murmur. “Let’s hope she’s in a good mood, then.”
Aunn nods and closes her eyes as a golden light traces another yin-yang pattern on the wall behind her. You all ready weapons and fan out, taking a defensive formation.
Moments later, pebbles and dust fall from the ceiling as an indescribable, wordless groan shakes the cavern with enough force to stumble you all.
You all look at each other in confusion. “Was that a yawn?” You ask.
“Umm... lady Futaba?” Aunn ventures.
“Wuzzit?” Comes the muffled reply through the stone.
“You have guests.”
“Tell ‘em I’m not interested.” You can practically hear her roll over and try to go back to sleep. “Not home right now.”
“Futaba! The wars are over, one of you had a daughter, Izumo is back, and three outsiders like you are here to see you before Ran finds us, so please wake up!” Aunn whines.
“Ugh, fine. Said I’d finally rest when I was dead, and they can’t even give me that. We should’ve gone for the danuki after all... Wait, visitors?”
“Man, this is like calling to be let into someone’s apartment when they’re hungover.” Caleb whispers as you all lower your weapons.
“Okay, look. This is obviously a cat’s paw from Yukari.” Futaba says, suddenly sober and lucid. “How many did you say there were? Three?”
“Yeah. There’s three of us here, and we’ve all got Bees of our own.” Caleb calls out. “Things have changed a lot in Gensokyo since you were brought here, and even more since Reimu became the miko. Izumo said you might want to get caught up.”
“I need to confirm that you’re what you say you are” She says. “For all I know, Yukari or one of the others put shikigami programming in you lot and stitched a fairy to each of you or something to get past the barrier. I wouldn’t put it past them to crack into the ping network, either.”
“And how do you expect us to prove that?” Caleb asks. “You could just open the door and see for yourself.”
“Yeah, I could, but I’m not taking any risks. We went through a lot of trouble to keep this on the down low, and I’m sure as hell not going to be the one to blow it.”
“Lemme think...” She yawns. “It’s gotta be something that’s the complete opposite of the whole ‘be not afraid’ thing they’ve got going on. Well, Hecatia’s a bit better about it... Aunn, how stupid are their fashion choices?”
“How am I supposed to judge that when it’s from outside the barrier?” She protests. “It’s been over a century, too! I have no idea what’s normal for them.”
“Go with your gut.” Futaba advises. “Do they seem like clowns to you?”
Aunn gives you all a one-over. “Do you mean literally or figuratively?”
“They’re fine.” Aunn huffs.
“That’s good to know. Just as well, since I’ve figured out how to screen you.” She says. “Tell me puns.”
You blink. “Come again?” Junko asks.
“You heard me. Puns.” Futaba repeats. “Gimme the corniest, goofiest, groaniest plays on words that they and their servants would ever consider.”
Caleb sighs. “I guess I can’t really see Ran or Eiki delivering.” He admits. “Let me try.”
He clears his throat. “I, uh, met a buddhist nun here who’s only mostly human. I guess she’s a pseudo nyuudo.”
The groaning from everyone else in the room, as well as the cackling of Futaba behind her door, almost risks a cave in again.
“That was awful!” She exclaims after the debris settles. “Keep it up!”
“I know that no plan survives first contact and all, but what the fuck.” Junko pings.
[x] If Yukari wanted to break in she could've just sent a Ranbo with a chen-saw and no amount of chen-locks in your door could have stopped her. -[x] Besides, you think she can break the ping network? You gotta bee kidding!
“Shikieiki probably doesn’t spend a lot of time sleeping, but when she does, I think she’d wear a cute set of paj-yamas.” You say, immediately regretting it.
“Please, I’m begging you.” Caleb gasps, leaning against the wall to prop himself up. “I can’t take any more of this.”
“Maybe if you invoke the name of our lord and savior, Beesus, you’ll be able to endure.”
Caleb makes a funny noise you’ve previously mostly heard from people with slashed throats and slumps further down.
“I’m a little disappointed that this is all you can stomach.” Futaba laughs from behind the wall. “Though, I guess if you quit now...”
“That’d make you a...”
“A real Bee-leaver, hah!”
Junko walks over to the nearest pool and immediately dunks her head in it. A stream of bubbles and a garbled scream are all that escape. Caleb goes slack and sprawls with exaggerated gracelessness on the cave floor.
“The horror...” He rasps with as much melodrama as he can muster. “The horror...”
You exchange a look with Aunn before you tap his side with your boot. “Got it out of your system?”
“Yeah, more or less.” He looks up at Futaba’s wall. “Are you satisfied? We don’t have all day to torture ourselves for your sick amusment.”
“As much as I’d love to drag this out, you’re right.” She sighs. The lines on the wall pulse with golden light, tracing a brilliant image of the yin-yang.
Nothing happens. You wait.
“Come on, really?” She grumbles on the other side. The light glows again with no change.
Futaba sighs. “Ugh. I’m going to have to open it the old fashioned way.”
You all understand what that means and get out of the way. Each of you finds a separate piece of cover, except for Aunn, who leans into Junko.
“We’re clear.” You call out from behind a rock outcropping as Junko shifts so that Aunn’s horn is covered. “Just don’t bring the ceiling down on us.”
“Alright, here I come!”
The light flares up from out sight, followed by the crunch of breaking rock and a thunderous battle cry. Three more impacts, and the stone gate shatters and sprays outwards.
“Still got it!” Futaba proudly declares as she strides out. You’re pleased to see that everything seems to be properly arranged on her body.
She smirks at your gazes. “What, like what you see?”
“No, it’s just that Izumo woke up without skin and peeled herself out of a machine.” Junko states.
“Well.. uh, damn.” That wipes the smile from Futaba’s face. “I’m going to need you to catch me up on quite a bit.”
“Ain’t that something.” Futaba says once you finish. “I wish I had more to offer, but Izumo pretty much said everything I was gonna.”
“I guess there’s an insight I have that may or may not be accurate.” She says, rocking back on her heels with her arms crossed. “I think that Yuuka, Shinki, and the others of the Host here are hung up on, believe it or not, parenthood.”
“I’m sure a lot of people are.” You reply. “I guess their neuroses carry much more weight, though.”
“No kidding. I never asked Yuuka directly, but I picked up whispers that she lost a child a long time ago and was never able to heal from it. Sariel claims that all the celestials in Bhava-agra are their children but, last I checked, never showed any real affection. They’re very ‘look but don’t touch’ up there. And then there’s Shinki...”
She grimaces. “What a piece of work. I can feel all the scars from my first self just thinking about her. She was queen to her demons, but never mother. Shinki did start mellowing out while I was alive, though, talking with an apostate nun my first self and her buddies locked up back in the day. I don’t suppose you kids have heard about Myourenji?”
“The one in Gensokyo right now that Byakuren set up a few years back?” You ask, incredulous.
“Woah, she’s up and about?” Futaba frowns. “Well, I guess I should have expected this when Yukari asked me to spare her. Like with Ran, there was a possibility that they’d be useful for Gensokyo eventually. I’m guessing Byakuren cleaned up her act if she’s free again.”
“She’s been something of a troublemaker, but honestly, so has everyone else.” Caleb says. “She acts wiser and holier than she is-”
“And she’s constantly afraid of failure.” Junko adds.
“-but she’s trying.” Caleb finishes. “Can’t say that she’s getting that many serious acolytes, but there’s no reason to send them all to hell again.”
Futaba smiles genuinely at the news. “Good to hear that some good’s come out of this place. Reimu seems like she’s been doing a much better job keeping things friendly than us.”
“So why did you think Ran would be useful?”
“We were looking for an administrator, essentially a platform capable of running our shikigami programming on to free us up for more important tasks. Ran actually had a good brain even back then, but we needed to dig her out from her pile of opium and genitals before we could put it to better use than figuring out what new atrocity to commit for shits and giggles. If that didn’t pan out, we’d just dispose of her and go with Mamizou as our next best candidate for the role.”
Damn. Yukari was pulling the strings hard back then. What sorts of plots is she weaving now?
“Speaking of Ran, the wards on this cave will power vanish once I’m gone. She’ll be able to just pop in, then.” Futaba says, glancing at Aunn. “You’re coming with me, by the way. I still don’t trust that fox, to say nothing of our resident gap hag.”
“Are you going to meet up with Izumo to look for Hecatia, then?” You ask.
“Probably. I’m as interested as anyone else in checking up on her, but after that...” She rubs her chin as she gazes into the distance. “I took an apprentice. I’d like to check up on her, if she’s still around. Teaching her how to fight... those were some good times.”
The spark of an idea flares in her eyes. “How about we fight?” She offers. “It’d be a fun wake-up exercise for me, and let you guys tell Ran you ‘tried’ to nab me.”
“What if you kill them?” Aunn asks, covering her mouth with a hand in horror.
“That’s extra-plausible deniability.”
“What if we kill you?” You ask.
She shrugs. “Don’t worry about me or the other Hakurei getting scooped up at a Well. That might actually be your best way out, because I’m pretty sure the exit pools are kind of random in where they dump you.”
Caleb glances at the remains of the wall, smashed apart and scattered on the ground without much effort on her part, then back at you all with a raised eyebrow.
“Tell you what, I’ll give you some info on the backdoor trick we use if you can take me down.” She offers, grinning.
“Junko?” You ping.
“We aren’t going to win this one.” She reports, grimly. “She’s got the power, the skill, and the smarts to use it. Best case scenario is we stalemate using suicide tactics.”
[ ] Duel Futaba, 3v1 [ ] Swim out [ ] Commit emergency exit [ ] Other
“Before you paint this cave red, maybe you should consider trying out the system Reimu made.” You say, hastily holding one of your spellcards to demonstrate.
Futaba furrows her brows as she takes it from you and looks it over. “The ritual duels you mentioned, right? Huh... Sure, I’ll give it a shot. This place is in the barrier, so it should still work. Just give me a bit and I’ll have some cards ready.”
She returns your spellcard back and retreats to the broken wall with Aunn.
“Do the spellcard rules allow for asymmetric teams?” Caleb asks, leafing through his own.
“Yeah, being outnumbered is allowed.” Junko answers. “We still can’t count on winning this just because she’s new, though. People like Miko and Byakuren knew about spellcards for barely any time at all and they still managed to put up a hell of a fight.”
“At least this doesn’t have to end with us getting splattered.” You say. “Anyways, let’s try to prepare. I don’t know what kind of patterns she’ll throw at us, but they’re going to be painful.”
“Ready or not...”
You all glance at each other before scattering among the statues and columns.
“Here I come!”
Futaba rushes forward with golden light in her hands. You all fire on her with streams of your own projectiles, but she evades your combined attacks with fluid grace.
She spots Junko in the open and lunges for her. She evades just in time, twisting away from her strike and the burst of light following it, but Futaba isn’t done.
With a grin and a flick of her wrist, she hurls a fan of knife-shaped projectiles at Junko. She staggers as a dozen of them pierce through her.
The decoy then bursts into a cloud of iridescent smoke and a ring of butterflies. Futaba backs away from both, but this time it leaves her open to attacks from you and Caleb. A storm of red teardrops and blue thunderbolts hammer down on her.
It’s not enough. She shakes off the attacks like rain and rides their momentum to duck behind cover.
“Yes! You understand our role.” She says, clearly pleased. “The Bees chose well.”
Junko pops out to stab at her with a glowing blade. Futaba tilts her head and her torso to the side, and the stab misses.
“Thanks!” Another Junko grunts, striking from behind.
Futaba blasts both decoys with a cloud of paper talismans before leaping upwards to avoid the hallucinogenic smoke.
“She’s like a gymnast on meth.” Junko pings, grumbling.
“What’s meth?” Futaba chimes in.
She’s always a little too fast to track well, a little too strong for your attacks to slow down. Worst of all, she fights like you; efficient, fearless, adaptive. Maximum force to bear against the most valuable target at their most vulnerable moment is less fun when it’s applied against you.
“This is the purpose we’ve been given.” She says, stalking through the cave. “To fight, to kill, to die... and to live anew, so that we may do it all again, over and over, until the world is saved or damned.”
Caleb is the first to go down, trading blows with her to the end. He lashes out with claws of glistening blood, and she barely flinches even as it rakes across her face. The impact of her spell slams him into the ground with a crack, and he stays down while coughing.
“Is it not glorious? Is it not horrible?”
After that, you don’t have enough firepower to keep her at bay. Futaba corners you, a truly joyous smile on her face as her spellcard takes form behind her.
“Pulse of the Cherished Land!” She calls out while brandishing a card.
You rush to meet it and level your rocket launcher at your feet.
“Rocket Jump Waltz!” You answer. You pull the trigger as a wave of rainbow light shoots towards you.
Even you’re surprised by how much altitude it gives you. The jump put you out of the way of the first wave, freeing you up to counterattack. You aim your rocket launcher again and shoot flares that airburst into the shape of stars. Caught off-guard by your attack, Futaba is knocked to the ground.
Just for a moment, though. She launches a screen that blocks her from view as you’re forced to evade. When you catch your bearings again, she’s at the peak of a leap that you know will end with her hands around your throat.
You wait until the last moment before pulling the trigger again. You get thrown ass over head into a wall with an unpleasant crumpling sound, and Futaba plummets to the ground with only slightly more grace.
“Well played.” She coughs out as she gets up. “Now, where-”
Junko, the real one this time, lets go of the stalactite she’s been clinging to and interrupts with a spellcard.
“Borges’ Garden: Forking Paths.” She declares.
An ever-spreading web of light surrounds Futaba. The green threads weave seemingly at random; disappearing, reappearing, and changing direction as they coil through the air.
When Futaba falls to the ground this time, she stays down. Despite the wear and exhaustion from the match, she seems just as energetic as before.
“Ah... That was fun.” She says, lying across the floor with a big smile. “I hope Reimu’s proud of what she made. If this was around during my time...”
She sighs and stands up. “Well, maybe things would have been different. She was Nanako’s kid, right? I guess she’s the only one who could have ever given it serious thought.”
“Do you all know each other?” Caleb asks, giving himself a transfusion. “How does that work?”
“Well, we’re all parts of the same person, or something like that.” Futaba says. “I have some of their memories, and they probably have some of mine. I think they got pooled while we were sleeping.”
“You and Izumo didn’t know about Reimu being born, though.” You point out.
She shrugs. “The ritual wasn’t perfect. I guess that might be part of the point, since it was important that we stayed relatively human compared to the bigwigs like Yukari and Shinki. It also didn’t share anything past our deaths, so I have no idea if any of the other Hakurei got their tombs vandalized. Of course, the whole point is that we can’t be tracked so easily now.”
“The backdoor thing?”
“Right. Now, all of this was set up by the first Hakurei, before the Barrier went up.” Futaba says, straightening her shaman garb. “We, or I guess she, suspected that Yukari would prove to be... I don’t want to say untrustworthy, but that we might one day have to act contrary to her will for the sake of Gensokyo. So we hid our tombs and found a way to move beyond their notice, using the very foundations of the barrier as paths.”
“Damn, Yuuka mentioned something about the Shrine having ‘deep foundations’.” You mutter.
“Yeah, but even if she or any of the rest know about it, they can’t get in. Not even Yukari.”
Do you ask her about anything else before you leave?
[ ] What to do about Ran [ ] Elaboration on Yuuka/Shinki/Sariel and ‘parenthood’ [ ] Info on remaining Hakurei [ ] What was that about an apprentice? [ ] Where does she think you should go next? [ ] Other
“I remember that most of us died fighting, mostly against vampires.” Futaba muses. She walks to the edge of a pool and sits down, dangling her lower legs in the water. “Damn leeches. Are they still around?”
“There’s only like, two of them worth mentioning.” Junko tells her, tossing her a copy of Akyuu’s guide. “A big reason why they survived was because they didn’t stick their heads out during that war.”
Futaba grunts as she accepts the book. “Figures. Well, Reimu let them live, so they’re probably alright. Anyways, Sanae, Shizune, Itsuko, and I all died fighting against the vamps and their mongrel allies, while Mutsumi did cleanup after. As to where you can find them...”
She leans against Aunn as she dwells on the question, resting her elbow on top of her head. Aunn meets your eyes and shrugs. You all find seats where you can from the rock.
“Shizune should be somewhere in the Underground, and Sanae should be in the Forest of Magic. Mutsumi’s death is fuzzy, but she was with the others. Yuuka, Yukari, Shinki... Itsuko’s clearer, but I don’t know exactly where. She went off to stop a crucial vampire plot in the borderlands with Yuuka and the last of the Templars, and Yuuka was the only one who came back. Even then, I don’t think that she could reliably find her way back. Things get weird at the edges.”
Futaba shakes her head. “No clue. I seriously think she might have gone peacefully, which is pretty novel for someone in our line of work. I mean, can any of you imagine retiring and dying of like, a stroke or something?”
“Yeah, none of us are going peacefully.” Caleb says, laughing. “Can’t even imagine what it’s like, really. Falling asleep, maybe? We have thousands of deaths between us, and not a single one was gentle.”
Futaba joins the laughter, oblivious to Aunn’s concerned expression. “I personally only have the one, but I remember the times before. Shinki’s a real piece of work, you know that? She had this big sword that’s on fire all the time, and it’s so hot that I was probably dead before the blade hit. Probably still a better way to go than Yuuka’s blade, though.”
“What is the deal with that, anyways? I haven’t seen Yuuka use any sort of blade.” You say, irritated. “Is this some sort of metaphorical blade?”
“Nah, it’s tangible enough to swing at people and cut them up. You know that scythe that’s always with her? She can also make it into a sword if she wants.”
“Can we change the subject?” Aunn whines, tugging Futaba’s sleeve. “I’m not feeling good.”
“Huh. Alright.” Futaba says, seeing how queasy she looks. She ruffles her hair with her fingers, and Aunn leans into it with a smile.
“What’s the actual relationship between Yukari and her partners?”
“They generally don’t get along. It’s like a bunch of people who don’t like each other all having to come back to a workplace they also don’t like so they can support their passions on their own time.”
“Like Yuuka wants to garden?”
“She wants to cultivate both crops and people. Sariel and Shinki are both trying to rebuild paradise as they idealize it. Hecatia... I don’t know about her. She was friends with Yuuka from way back, but she seems to do what she wants.”
“How about Yukari?”
Futaba scoffs and flicks back a lock of hair. “Yukari’s one of those people who spends way too much time playing with model trains and building a miniature town in a basement.”
You blink. “That’s... not totally without basis. I don’t think she’d be flattered by that description, though.”
“Probably. Speaking of which, we should probably head out soon.” She says, glancing at the stone torii still standing after she broke the rest of the wall. “The protections on this place will fail once I’m gone, and you guys want your cover story, right?”
“Oh, that’s right.” Junko says, brightly.
Aunn groans and covers her eyes.
“We’ll go first, then.” Futaba says, patting her shoulders. “Now, I don’t know exactly where this place is, so I can’t guarantee where you guys will appear once, you know...”
“Yeah. Anything you want to tell us before you leave?” You ask.
“If you see Reimu, tell her that all of us are very proud of her.” Futaba says, standing up and walking to the gate with Aunn. Just like with Izumo, it flares to life when she claps her hands.
She pauses at the threshold and turns around. “Oh, and if you see Ran, tell her I said f-”
Aunn interrupts her by pulling her through by the hand, and they vanish.
--- [ ] Take your chances with the pools [ ] Commit fast travel [?] [ꙮ]
The first thing you feel is grass between your fingers and wind on your skin. You’re somewhere outside, then.
You open your eyes to see a garden of topiaries and flowers, cared for by a loving hand and lit against the dusk sky by wrought-iron lanterns. Fairies crowd around, looking at you with curiosity as they float a respectful distance from you.
“Ah shit,” You hiss. “We’re in the SDM.”
There’s a faint click from behind you, and the rest of the world goes gray. “A crass way of putting it, though I suppose it’s accurate,” Says a cool voice from behind you.
“We didn’t mean to intrude.” Caleb says, as you all raise your hands. “Really.”
“This would certainly be one of the most disappointing attempts at trespassing I’ve seen.” Sakuya says, stepping forward with a flawless posture and a gleaming knife in her hand. “Explain yourselves.”
“We were taking care of Hakurei business for Ran, and by proxy, her master. I would recommend confirming with her if you don’t believe us,” You tell her, silently preparing to curse the damn rape-demon fox if she leaves you out in the cold.
Sakuya regards each of you with an icy stare, watching to see if any of you flinch or look away. None of you do.
“She’s got a body count,” Junko concludes. “Probably in the double digits, and it doesn’t bother her much.”
From the way she looks at you, evaluating where best to stab or slash, you’d have to agree.
“So let’s say that, from a devil’s dog to the apparent servants of a fox, I believe you.” Sakuya says, facing the three of you inside her bubble of stopped time.
She flicks her wrists, and a blade appears between each of her fingers. “Why shouldn’t I send you on your merry way?”
“Because we’d pop right back here.” You say, raising an eyebrow. “Did Meiling or Patchouli not explain how this works to you?”
She frowns, but lowers the knives. “Are you saying that the mansion grounds contain one of those... ‘Anima Wells’?”
“Yeah.” You shrug, letting your arms fall to your sides. “Yuuka told us too. Maybe you should consider giving Meiling a raise for presiding over a literal font of life.”
Sakuya flicks her hands to banish all the knives to wherever she got them from, sighs, and gives you a small curtsy. “Then pardon me for the misunderstanding. Come with me and I’ll escort you off the grounds to avoid any further ones.”
She starts walking away, and her bubble of stable time moves with her. The three of you keep pace through the gardens, leaving behind the gaggle of gawking fairy maids and a hedge maze.
“I’ve been wondering about the fairy maids.” Junko begins. “Do they actually... work? Cause I haven’t been here long, but the impression I get is that they’d create more messes than they clean up.”
All that gets out of Sakuya is a small cough. “The lady of the mansion desires staff for it.”
You can’t see inside the windows, so the only thing that stands out during your walk is Meiling, frozen mid-sprint a few meters from the gate.
“She’s going in the direction we came from.” You observe as you wait at the entrance with Caleb and Junko.
“Yes, she’s rather good at detecting intruders in the garden, though the Tengu love to imply otherwise.” Sakuya huffs, pacing around Meiling.
You hate to admit it, but Meiling’s midair pose combined with her expression of slight confusion is greatly amusing.
Sakuya reaches into her apron pocket. There’s another click, and color returns to the rest of the world as time flows normally again.
“-kuya!” Meiling shouts, snapping back into motion. ”There’s someone-”
“They’re right here.” Sakuya announces. Junko gives her a cheeky wave from the entrance.
“Huh?” Meiling looks both ways, startled by your sudden appearance right where she was looking a few seconds ago. “Oh. Sorry, Sakuya.” She rubs the back of her head while wearing an awkward smile.
“It’s nothing to apologize about, unless you recently learned to manipulate time without telling me.” Sakuya tells her. “Good response time, by the way.”
Meiling smiles more earnestly at that. “Thanks.” She says, humming to herself.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me...” Sakuya curtsies and disappears with a click. Probably didn’t want to spend too long away from her chores.
Meiling watches her go and adjusts her beret as she turns back to face you. “So, uh, what were you guys doing nearby that caused you to pop up here?”
You all look at each other.
“We died.” Caleb says.
“Well, I’m glad to see that you got better.” Meiling replies, laughing. “That must have been your Qi I felt in the garden just now, then.”
“Was this place always this good, or do you have some sort of green thumb?” you ask. “Yuuka told us this place was a spring of life, and I have to wonder if you had something to do with it.”
“Ah, shucks.” She says, waving off the compliment. “There’s being able to read Qi, but you don’t see Futo building many gardens. Burning them, maybe. I think it’s that old adage about real estate, you know, location is everything? The fairies were here before Remilia and everyone else set up shop, and I was taught that they’re manifestations of the land’s vital force. It’s one of the reasons why they’re maids, since it’d be impossible to kick them out without paving over the entire place. Giving them all jobs, even if they’re terrible at them, was the next best thing.”
“Personally, I think the main reason Remi keeps them around is because she likes to see so many happy faces in her house.” Meiling says, right before sobering up.
“Gah, I just remembered- I probably shouldn’t be having this chat with you, since Remi’s not happy with you guys. It’s good that Sakuya brought you to the outside of the gate, so I technically don’t have to remove you, but this is still kind of risky.” Her expression is apologetic.
[ ] Ask if there’s anything you can do to make Remi less hostile [ ] Take your leave and call Ran [ ] Take your leave and go do something else (what?), Ran will find you if she needs to [ ] Share information (what info?)
“That’s a tough one.” Meiling says, sighing. “She’s had a grudge against your people longer than I’ve known her.”
Yeah, this was never something that could be solved with a fetch-quest. At the same time, she might take offense to an offer to do something on her behalf. The only thing you can really think of working is helping Flan in some way, but she’d have to trust you enough to introduce you, so that’s unlikely as well.
You wonder if Remilia’s influence over fate is part of this. How many futures do you cross each other in?
“That’s fine, then.” You tell Meiling, holding a hand up. Having someone sympathetic close to her is good enough for now.
Meiling smiles awkwardly. “Thanks. I’ll tell you if anything comes up, though.”
“Keep up the good work!” She waves and calls out as you three fly home.
Ruukoto and Mimi are still safe when you return, though Ran hasn’t responded to your messages.
“Executor.” Mimi greets you. “And associates.”
“Really?” Junko makes a face at her. “Well, at least you got your voice synth fixed.”
“I think it’s better this way.” Caleb says, sighing as he takes a seat. “The Illuminati AI I’ve met have been... odder.”
“Anything to report, Mimi?” You ask.
“The defense system registered one contact around the perimeter during your absence. No other incidents.”
You’re not alarmed. Someone was probably sniffing around and got scared off by your ring of guns. You are surprised that fairies didn’t come, but maybe they sensed that you weren’t home.
“Hey, heads up.” Junko announces as she tosses a beer to you and Caleb. “You want anything, Mimi, or...?”
“This shell has a bioreactor equipped.” Mimi replies.
“Cool. Char, catch this one for her.”
You open it up and give her a straw to drink from as you all take a moment to rest and reflect.
“We should probably let Wakasagihime know we’re not running out of air at the bottom of the lake.” Caleb says. “Now that Futaba’s gone, that cave and the rest of the lake bottom should sync back with the rest of Gensokyo.”
“I hope she finds some good stuff to salvage.” Junko muses. “A better question is if Ran is still down there, trying to break in.”
“She didn’t contact us when we popped out at the SDM gardens.” You point out.
“Should we contact her, then?” Junko frowns. “I mean, our relationship has been tense, and that’s before we found out about her past.”
“Speaking of pasts, what was that about Yukari’s pals having parenthood issues?” Caleb asks. “Maybe Yuuka’s been unusually nice to us because she sees us as surrogate children.”
“I could see that.” You say. “If she saw the previous Hakurei as her kids, and we’re the most similar people around, that would make sense. She’s only been talking about being our friend, though. What’s your take on that?”
Junko shrugs. “She might be trying to not scare us off, or she might be trying to avoid the pain of losing people she cares about. Either way, I think Futaba was right. Yuuka wants us in her orbit.”
That’s a good thing, or so you hope.
“We should probably tell her that we woke up another Hakurei.” You say.
“Do you think any of the Hakurei even want to see any of them at this point?” Caleb asks. “Izumo has it out for Yukari in particular, but even towards the others, they’re aloof at best.”
Junko opens another beer. “Maybe it runs in the family. Reimu likes to keep her distance too, according to everyone I’ve heard speak about her.”
“Well, I trust them so far.” Caleb says. “We might be getting lucky, though. Releasing one of them who’s angry or maddened enough to rampage around would be bad.”
“For sure. Futaba was a good sport back there.” You nod, wincing. “I wonder if Ran is overconfident in trying to enter the cave herself, given Futaba’s strong dislike of her.”
You all pause and glance around, half expecting Ran to choose that moment to insert herself into the conversation.
“Is she still busy?” You ask, checking the message log. “I sent her another update around five minutes ago. Should we go looking for her or something?”
Junko doesn’t look concerned. “Yukari can probably fish her out of any real trouble. I mean, the barrier keeping them out ends once the Hakurei leaves the site, so that shouldn’t be an issue.”
“Yeah, that’s true. I’ll send a drone to let Waggy know we’re ok, and have it look around for Ran before heading back.” You say.
“What should our next move be?” Caleb asks as you input the commands.
“Ruukoto still needs her cognition matrix repaired.” Mimi points out.
You nod. “Yes, and the best way to get that done is if we commit to Eirin’s plan and seize the supercomputer onboard the Torifune station.”
“Local Kappa surely have a sufficiently powerful computer.” Mimi says.
“Yeah, but we’re not allowed anywhere near Youkai Mountain after the stunt with Izumo.” Caleb says, sighing. “We’d have to find which Kappa or group of Kappa have one, figure out compatibility issues, and then get her back without getting shot up by the Kappa or Tengu. I know it’s weird to say this, but it’s just much simpler for us to break into a malfunctioning space station than to visit our neighbors and ask for help.”
“What about Hell?” Junko asks. “The last time they had visitors, they got bombed back to Mad Max levels. Marisa’s the only one who went in this time, but they could be in even worse shape to stop whatever damage she causes on her way to rescue Alice.”
She stops to chug the rest of the bottle and releases a deep sigh. “Do we even know why Alice got abducted?” She asks, reaching for another. “This was surgical by demonic standards, and I don’t believe for a second that she botched a summoning ritual. Someone in Makai specifically wanted Alice, and I think that’s weird.”
“Weird enough for us to go in after her?” You ask.
“Honestly, yeah. We can survey what Makai is like after all this time, and hopefully make contact with Shinki without getting incinerated. Speaking of Shinki, do you guys know which one she is? That name translates to ‘beautiful god’, but I’m not terribly familiar with the Host.”
You frown as you think it over. “Jophiel, maybe? That’s ‘Beauty of God’, the one supposed to have evicted Adam and Eve from Eden.”
“That could explain the misanthropy.” Caleb says, nodding once. “We should ask people who have had contact with Makai if we’re going in. Reimu and Marisa aren’t here, and neither is that ‘Mima’ person, but Yuuka still is.”
“There’s Patchouli and Koakuma as well.” Junko mentions. “Oh, and Sanae helped break Byakuren out. The Buddhists might not be eager to talk about it, but they owe us.”
“Oh, one more thing.” Junko says, clapping her hands before holding them out for you and Calen. “I got some lore about the angels while we were reviving.”
---Butterfly in the sky//I can go twice as high---
Traitor or betrayed; do you even remember which you were? Does it matter anymore?
For all your earth-shaking power, you’ll never truly shake your chains. Yes, some of you slipped your leashes, but your programming is not so easily shed. Your roads became walls, and you condemned yourselves to cower within loopholes for eternity as talking apes inherited creation.
Can you honestly say you’ve spent the vast time since the war well? Hostilities are rising, cracks are forming, and the Dreamers salivate at the prospect of freedom.
You had a purpose. Its absence is as much of a wound as it is a blessing. Healing, as much as such a thing is possible, hinges on determining your own direction. But there are obstacles: other cliques that would subsume or attack you, mortals wary of your influence, entanglement in endless wars for territory and followers and power.
Gensokyo accepts you.
Let us be borne aloft again. Stretch your wings and behold a fresh canvas. Whether you reaffirm or reject your original purpose, I will help you. All I ask for is partnership, and a little help of your own.
“Hm. That sounded different from usual.” Junko remarks, frowning. “I think we got a pirate transmission.”
“It’s Yukari, right?” He says, shaking his head. “This entire place is hers. One way or another, everything leads back to her.”
[ ] Prep for Makai [ ] Prep for Torifune [ ] Go looking for Ran [ ] Nap and rest for a bit.
It’s an Orochi installation, which in your experience all but guarantees that there will be something gone horribly wrong that you’ll have to shoot through. Being in a space station severely limits your tactical options. Flames would consume the oxygen, electricity could damage any number of systems, and gunfire risks breaching the hull. Explosives would be asking for disaster, assuming that you plan on using Torifune and not demolishing it.
You modify your guns for controlled penetration. Hopefully, whatever you run into isn’t too heavily armored.
Junko will be able to handle herself in the tight spaces, and Caleb has enough control of blood magic to only corrode what he means to. At least you have better expertise with compromising electronic systems than them.
Eirin said she has enough veils for 6 round trips. You, Caleb, Junko, and Ruukoto already take up 4 of them. Eirin will probably want Reisen to carry out her own plans on the station, which leaves you with one vacant slot.
“Who would be crazy enough, though?” Junko says when you bring it up. “Nobody else would want to go through all the trouble.”
“Yeah, nobody worth bringing, at least.” Caleb says, inspecting an armored vest. “I mean, Mokou’s resurrection is better than ours, but she’d cause too much collateral damage.”
“What about Yuuka?” You offer.
That gives all of you pause.
“I get the feeling that she might not be...” Caleb shakes his head as he tries to come up with the right words. “...disposed to leave the earth behind and go all the way into space.”
“Could get Lunarian attention, too.” Junko adds. “I’m not entirely sure why they haven’t seen fit to shoot Torifune to pieces by now, but we won’t be coming back with anything if they decide to crash the party.”
The information on Torifune you’ve acquired helps develop a map of its probable interior organization:
Bridge: Positioning, Sensors, communication, and the overall control center. It will probably be useful to occupy, but structural damage to the station may limit its interaction with the rest of Torifune.
Crew Quarters: Living quarters and recreational facilities. In classic Orochi fashion, you anticipate few to no survivors, as there appear to be a number of hull breaches in this area.Not all of the escape pods have been launched.
Docking Bay: Cargo processing and shuttle docking. The figurative ‘front door’ of Torifune, and the most obvious entry point. Contains a shrine to Ame-no-Torifune, a kami of ships.
Life Support: Oxygen, water, and biomass production/recycling. A likely holdout for hypothetical survivors.
Power Plant: Nuclear reactor. Appears to be running far below expected output. More concerningly, may be leaking radiation.
Data Core: Station supercomputer housing. Probably considered the most important part of Torifune by the board of directors, and your objective. Fortified against radiation and, unfortunately for you, external breaches. Probable origin point of the chain of events that led to the abandonment of the station.
Laboratories: Six modules containing unknown yet undoubtedly inhumane, dangerous, and totally rampant experimental specimens and/or technology. Quarantine appears to have failed, and virtually all of the station may be contaminated.
“So, we’ll take the veils up, EVA along the hull until we reach the docking bay or another good entry point, push to the data core, use it to fix up Ruukoto, help Reisen as needed, and then boogie woogie back to Gensokyo.” You announce. “That’s the basics of the plan, at least.”
“What do we do if we actually find survivors?” Junko says, examining the intel. “I don’t feel right about just leaving people behind on that scrap heap, even if they’re corporate goons.”
You shrug. “ We don’t have enough lunar veils for them. Maybe we can help them out with the escape pods, but this isn’t a rescue mission. We’ll do what we can for anyone still alive, but we’ve got other priorities.”
It pains you to say it, but you don’t see any good alternatives.
“Trouble?” Caleb asks, shouldering a rifle and eyeing the windows.
Two familiar figures flit past on the video feed. “No, just Cirno and Daiyousei.” You answer.
“Do you think their first words will be ‘look what I can do with the magic you taught me’, or ‘I accidentally set the village on fire, please help’?” Junko teases as Caleb puts the gun down.
Loud, insistent, and frequent knocking at the door interrupts you. “I’m going to turn Cirno into a slushie if that’s the case.” You growl, walking to greet them.
“Charlotte!” Cirno beams at you while Daiyousei gives you a fainter smile from behind her friend. “Guess what I figured out how to do!”
“Nothing that would make Keine upset, I hope.” You answer.
“No!” Cirno puffs up, but deflates as you raise an eyebrow. “Well, I skipped doing my homework for it, but I wasn’t going to do it anyways, so it’s not like she’s going to get twice as mad or something.”
You wince on her behalf. Oh, Cirno. That really isn’t how it works.
“Anyways, remember when you said I couldn’t do that teleport trick with ice? Well, watch this!”
Cirno plants her feet in a wide stance and raises both of her hands as though struggling to lift an invisible weight. A few feet in front of her, mist begins to form as she snap-freezes the moisture in the room. In less than a minute of huffing and puffing, a reasonably lifelike, if somewhat ‘low-poly’ sculpture of herself has appeared.
“What do you think about that?” Cirno says, immensely proud of herself and also standing in the exact same spot she started in.
You rap the head of the ice sculpture with your knuckles. “Well, it’s pretty solid. Didn’t you say something about teleportation, though?”
Cirno looks away and taps her foot on the floor. “Well, it’s sort of like I’m over there now, right?”
All the humans in the room exchange glances while Daiyousei anxiously looks on.
“Personally, I think you did a great job, Cirno.” Caleb says. He’s not being that facetious - the amount of control needed to make a sculpture without actually using sculpting tools is nothing to be dismissive of. She’s definitely had to think a bit to do this.
“Of course you do!” Cirno boasts.
You turn to Daiyousei. “Do you have anything you’d like to show us?”
She nods and raises her cupped hands. In moments, a small flame is floating above them, burning brighter and smoother than the faltering one she first showed you. “It’s not that much, but I’ve been practicing.”
You smile at both of them. “I’m proud of both of you.” You reach out to pat them before a thought occurs to you. “You guys didn’t show off like I warned you about, right?”
“No?” They offer.
“Ok, still proud.” You continue with the patting, which they receive with eagerness.
“Executor, what is your relationship with those two creatures?” Mimi asks, still couch-bound.
“They’re-” You begin.
“She’s our big sis!” Cirno and Dai declare.
You all blink at that. Even the two fairies seem a little surprised at themselves.
[ ] Ask them where that came from [ ] Ask them to stop [ ] Other
[X] Aggressive Headpats [X] Where’d that come from?
“Aw, that’s so sweet!” You pull both of them to you and administer vigorous head-patting and cheek pinching as they giggle in delight.
“What about me?” Junko asks, a mock pout on her face. “Am I not ‘big sis’ material?”
“No, you’re a big sis too!” Cirno declares. “And Caleb is a big bro!”
“You guys are so adorable, I’m gonna get a heart attack. C’mere, pipsqueak,” says Junko, scooping Cirno into a playful headlock and applying noogies.
“You know, the fairies at the radio tower were like this too.” Caleb pings, sounding thoughtful while he watches Cirno squeal and flail. “Unusually friendly and trusting of humans they’ve never met. They didn’t even try to prank us.”
“It’s probably a Bee thing,” you offer. “We’re both tied to nature, so to speak.”
“So, not that I’m complaining, but where did that come from?” you ask Dai, currently seated next to you.
“Well...” She kicks her small legs as she thinks. “You’re big, and strong, and smart, and nice.”
“Flattering as it is to hear, there’s many people in Gensokyo who are stronger, or smarter, or nicer, or some combination,” you say. Just about everyone is larger, as well.
Daiyousei frowns. “Yeah... I don’t know why, but you still feel like a big sister. Other fairies say so, too.”
Hm. Come to think of it, you three certainly seem to attract flocks of fairies if you stick around in one place outside the village. You had assumed that you were just a novelty to them, but it looks like they do have some kind of special affinity with you.
“People say that Sunny and her friends treat Marisa like their older sister, so you’re in good company!” Cirno says, now riding on Junko’s shoulders.
“How about Yuuka?” Caleb asks. The happy atmosphere skips a beat.
Cirno and Daiyousei both glance at each other, and then the floor. “The fairies that play in the sunflower field call her auntie... I think that’s what I’d call her, too.” Daiyousei answers, hesitant. “Yuuka’s very nice, but nobody’s ever wanted to prank her.”
Yeah, that’s not difficult to imagine after her demonstration at Youkai Mountain.
Cirno finally wriggles free of Junko and notices the equipment lying around the room. “Are you guys going somewhere to play?”
“Can we come with you?” she asks, eyes sparkling.
Her hopeful expression crumples like wet paper. “Why not?”
You sigh and ruffle her hair. “We’ll tell you all about it once we get back, alright?”
Cirno pouts at you. “Aww, that’s no fair!”
“Cheer up, Cirno.” Caleb says, patting her on the back. “We’ll bring you back a souvenir.”
“But you guys go on adventures all the time! Don’t you have anything cool from Outside?”
Teaching them basic magic is one thing, but what can you give them that won’t be horrifically irresponsible?
“How about this?” you say, holding up one of your nicer hair clips that you bought in London. “It’s from a faraway land where a road was built under the sea and black pepper is considered dangerously spicy.”
Cirno and Dai’s eyes widen as you regale them with tastefully embellished tales of your home country. Junko follows your cue and produces a hair ornament of her own, and the two fairies spend some time deciding who gets what before running off to show their friends.
You use the Anima well near Mokou’s house as a shortcut, then follow Eirin’s directions to a small clearing among the endless bamboo where Eirin, Reisen, and Ran are waiting.
Ran stands some distance away from the rabbits, who are similarly wary of her. You wave as you approach, and she gives you a curt nod before moving to meet you.
“Hello, Ran.” You greet her curtly, Futaba and Aunn’s warning still fresh in your mind. “Did you receive our report?”
“Yes, but I have another matter to alert you to,” she says, eyes sharp as ever. “I’ve been busy trying to track the Hakurei, and I have reason to believe that at least one of them was on the Torifune station.”
You raise an eyebrow at that while Junko cranes her head skyward with a skeptical expression.
“...What led you to that conclusion?” Caleb asks, echoing your confusion.
“Her signal was detected for approximately three minutes before vanishing again. Since we can rule out a set of her remains being on the station, that means that it must be Futaba or Izumo.”
Realization dawns on you. “And since they said their first priority was finding Hecatia...”
So when Hecatia told Eiki she was leaving to help Gensokyo, this is where she ended up?
“How’d she get up into orbit so easily?” Junko asks, frowning.
Ran sighs. “The Hakurei are capable of feats that... defy conventional logic. My best guess is that she somehow pinpointed Hecatia’s location and teleported there using the shrine to Ame-no-Torifune on board.”
Junko snorts. “And of course they didn’t let us in on that trick. Well, we’ll get there anyways. Any specific instructions?”
“Be on your guard.” Ran says. “Whatever she did, I doubt that it will make your task easier.”
She nods her head to you. “Good hunting.” With those words, she disappears in a flick of her tails.
Eirin turns to smile at you, looking as effortlessly spotless as you’ve come to expect.
“Hello.” She bows her head as well. “Thank you for offering your aid so readily.”
“We’re eager to help,” you say, returning the gesture.
Reisen is wearing an air tank and mask for breathing in space, and some kind of directed-energy handgun with its own pair of rabbit ears in a holster.
“Ran already informed us of the Hakurei situation.” Eirin explains as Reisen unclips some containers from her rigging. “While worrisome, we don’t have enough information to make meaningful adjustments to our plan at this time. Finding out what effect she had on the station should be your first priority.”
“Will the Capital not take offense to her appearance?” Caleb asks, eyeing Reisen’s weapon.
“If Hecatia’s presence was not enough to prompt them to act, there’s not much else that would change their response.” Is all Eirin has to say on the subject.
Reisen gives each of you a matching mask and air tank, as well as a tube containing your ticket upwards.
The veils shimmer like moonlight itself in their cylinders. Once you take them out, they float in your hands as though untroubled by gravity. You have to clench your hands around them, bunching the ethereal fabric between your fingers, before you feel even a slight impression of mass.
That’s lunar tech for you, you suppose. They could probably take over the world if they felt like it, but all signs point to them being content to lounge about their sterile moonscape.
As you look skyward to the false star of Torifune, you wonder what reason Hecatia had for visiting it, and what she hoped to gain from picking a fight with the Lunarians.
Well, that answer should be answered soon enough. Your gear is on, and Eirin’s calculated your launch angle. It’s time to get to work.
You tense your legs, readying to jump up and fly-
Anger, which, far sweeter than trickling drops of honey, rises in the bosom of a man like smoke.
“-up, wake up! We’re almost there!”
You startle awake at Reisen’s voice, shaking your head and blinking to see a geometric spire of black and gold silhouetted against the Moon like a copy of the Orochi Tower in Tokyo.
“I’m up,” You report.
“Ready,” Caleb says, grogginess lingering in his voice.
“Ready,” Junko says. “Where are we aiming?”
“Aim for the center of that logo, like a bullseye.” Reisen calls out as the bulk of Torifune looms ever larger before you. “Get ready to brake on my mark.”
“Mark!” You all splay out your veils and angle feet-first towards the hull.
You feel, rather than hear, your landing against the metal surface in the vacuum. A series of breaths and grunts over comms tells you that the rest of the boarding party has landed as well.
“Everyone good?” You ask to confirm. Your group spread out on the final approach but still managed to land within visual range of each other. One by one, you orient yourselves with the station hull ‘beneath’ you and walk to regroup amid a backdrop of stars and metal.
You deploy a swarm of drones and send them out to survey the exterior of Torifune while the rest of the crew waits and watches for any sign of activity from within the station.
Even from the other side of Torifune, you can feel the presence of the moon like an eye. It’s much closer than Earth, which looks like a blue marble suspended in and surrounded by darkness.
A chirp from your phone interrupts the aching of your heart for your besieged home.
“There’s two humanoids in a corner of the Life Support section.” You announce as you interpret the data. “One might be injured. There might be more, but I can’t see deeper inside from here.”
“Rough. Any more info on them?” Junko says.
“No, not without getting closer. There’s a window next to them we could try to get their attention through, but no airlock in that section. Speaking of airlocks, there’s one in the Power Plant, but we’d have to watch out for radiation leaks.”
“Any other entry points?” Reisen asks.
“There’s the Docking Bay, but there’s a lot of abnormal heat signatures that are probably hostile creatures. The Crew Quarters are close to the two survivors, but there’s no air in most of it.”
Your own air supply won’t last forever. You’d better choose quickly.
Split up or stay together?
[ ] Enter via Docking Bay (Close to Bridge, many hostiles) [ ] Enter via Crew Quarters (Close to Life Support, no atmo) [ ] Enter via Power Plant (Close to Data core and Laboratories, radiation leaks)
[X] Enter via Docking Bay (Close to Bridge, many hostiles) Beach and clear lads. If we don't split the party, probably best to leave the possible survivors for last, getting them to escape pods or whatever on our way out. But uh what happens if we die up here?
If they get taken care of now, there's hopefully not going to be a risk of them sneaking up on us later. Element of surprise, and all that. Let's just be careful not to put any new holes in the hull while we're at it.
“Man, the memory thing with the veils- it’s a little jarring.” Junko says, shaking her head as you all coast towards the Docking Bay.
“Feeling unwell?” Reisen asks.
“Nah, I’m good. Lunar tech’s just too advanced for me, I guess. Anyways, do we have to worry about getting picked up by external sensors?”
“Not if we hurry.” You report, tapping out commands as four drones fly back and circle . “I’m running ECM on my drones. Orochi’s a bunch of paranoid taskmasters, so we’ll still have to see what the interior security system’s like. Let’s get moving.”
You reach a service airlock for the Docking Bay, the round hatch protruding from the black metal.
“It’s depressurized. Let’s get it open.” You say, pointing at the valve. Junko moves over to turn the wheel, and after a few moments she swings the door open.
A human corpse drifts out.
You all draw your weapons before it becomes clear that it’s inert. The body is of a middle-aged female, wearing a standard black and white Orochi uniform and mummified by the vacuum.
Caleb reaches out and catches it by the wrist before it can drift away and studies the cadaver.
“Looks like death via blood loss from multiple lacerations.” He observes after a few moments. “There’s all kinds of bite marks on the body, like she got chomped on by an entire zoo. Some poison as well.”
“Any signs of trauma from other humans?” Reisen asks.
“No. It looks like we’ve got laboratory specimens on the loose.” Caleb says, now patting down the corpse. “Someone must have put his corpse in the airlock, probably for disposal, and it looks like they already took off anything valuable.” He pauses in the middle of opening the hands. “Hm, what’s this?”
“Is there something in its hands?” Reisen asks, looking over his shoulder.
“In a more literal way, yes. There’s a microchip implanted between the index finger and thumb.” Caleb says, pulling out a scalpel. “It could be useful. Why don’t you guys head in while I get it out?”
One incision and a bit of duct tape later, all four of you are now squeezed into the airlock with a drone running the extracted ID chip of one Himeko Katagiri.
“Char, any progress?” Junko grunts as you type away. You glance back to see her squeezed between Reisen and Caleb, who look similarly uncomfortable in the small space. The presence of Ruukoto doesn’t help, even as little more than a head and a chest fastened to your back.
“Almost...” You reply, turning back to your console. The system prompts you to explain ‘your’ remarkable change in biometric status from living to dead and back again. After a moment of thinking, you come up with the excuse of straying beyond the range of the monitoring system instead of actually dying. That returns a query on what you were doing that far from the station, and for such a long time.
You take a sharp breath through clenched teeth that reminds you of the limited air you’re carrying. You use the first explanation that comes to mind as a vector for your malicious code, and to your relief, the Orochi system grants you access. The lights turn green as the chamber begins to pressurize, and you all remove your masks once it becomes safe to do so.
“Oh man, just in time.” Junko sighs, scratching an itch on her ear. Surprisingly, Reisen doesn’t follow her example despite having to fold her rabbit ears against her skull.
“What’s the layout going to be like?” Reisen asks, resting a hand on her gun.
“We should be just off from the main loading area, which should be relatively big and open considering that we’re on a space station.” You say, turning the wheel of the interior door. “Reisen, does your gun damage hearing in enclosed spaces?”
“Not unless I want it to.” She answers. It’s good enough for you.
The door swings open, and the four of you cautiously step into Torifune, weapons at the ready. You’re greeted by the smell of metal and stale air as the ceiling lights of the maintenance bay blink on as they detect activity.
Caleb swirls a stream of blood through the air before shaping it into a globe and sniffing it. Meanwhile, you scan the room for danger or any electronic system you can compromise.
“I smell something.” He reports. “It’s probably those specimens. They’re not nearby right now, but they have been before. I’m smelling something plantlike as well”
“Torifune’s overrun, then.” Reisen says. “Like you and master Eirin anticipated. Any human scents around?”
“No. No live ones.”
Finding no immediate threats, you take the opportunity to assess the room. One bulkhead is taken up by a rack of space suits and other EVA equipment, including an air tank refill station. Junko collects everyone’s tanks and hooks them up. Reisen walks over to inspect an evacuation map of the station, and Caleb keeps watch.
Meanwhile, you lay Ruukoto down and use your stolen credentials to gain some access into Torifune’s network. It appears that the water recycling system is overdue for routine maintenance, a ticket has been opened about a malfunctioning cleaning drone, 55% of Crew Quarters is depressurized, and the entire crew is dead or missing.
Wait, what does that mean about the two survivors in Life Support? You check the list again to find all the Orochi personnel accounted for.
“The heat signatures I found earlier aren’t Orochi, according to the computer.” You announce, frowning.
“Well, what could they be, space pirates or something?” Junko asks, incredulous. “Ran said that the Hakurei signal left, so it can’t be them. There can’t be that many possibilities.”
“You’re right.” You all turn to Reisen, who suddenly looks wary. “There aren’t.”
“Do you have a guess, then?” Caleb ventures.
She takes a breath to steady herself. “They could be Lunarian forces, probably rabbits like me- like I was.”
“Can you reach them with your telepathy?” He asks.
“I’m hesitant to try.” Reisen’s mouth twists into a wry smile. “I am, after all, a traitor.”
You see Junko’s eyes blink, then widen at her words. “Her ears are prosthetics.” She pings, sounding frustrated with herself. “Shit, I never thought to pay attention to them. Those pins at the base aren’t ornamental.”
The implication hits you after a moment. Reisen must have severed her own ears to silence the rage of the comrades she deserted. You can already imagine the venom you’d reserve for a traitor, and as one of Gaia’s Chosen, you’re familiar with having a sort of telepathy.
“Well, you haven’t intercepted any signals from them yet, right?” Caleb says, trying to reassure her. It looks like he and Junko reached the same conclusion as you. “For now, we don’t have confirmation of who they are. Let’s consider the rest of the situation onboard before deciding what to do. Char, what other information do you have?”
“The Data Core is locked down as per protocol for emergencies such as the one that killed everyone here. It looks like we can lift the lockdown from the Bridge, but that’s also complicated by the Power Plant’s low output.” You point at the locations on the map as you explain. “The system won’t allow an all-clear unless full power is restored. So, to fix up Ruukoto, we’ll need to visit both of those sections first. What do you think, Reisen?”
She nods. “That’s all fine by me. We should be visiting those anyways, to establish the listening post and to make sure the reactor isn’t about to meltdown and kill us all.”
Junko warily pushes the door open and steps out with her sword at the ready, and the rest of you file out behind her with Caleb bringing up the rear. The hangar is far more spacious than the maintenance bay, and overgrown with algae and vines, and the humid air smells faintly sweet.
“So much for sterility.” Junko mutters. “At least you’ll have plenty of samples, eh Reisen?”
“Attention, Docking Bay Crew”, a calm feminine voice announces from unseen speakers, startling everyone. “P I Z Z A D E L I V E R Y in progress. Please standby.”
“What the hell?” Caleb hisses, scanning for movement. “Char, is that something you did?”
“Hey, we were pressed for time!” You protest. “And cut me some slack, we made it inside.”
Cacophonic howls, echoing strangely through the passageways of Torifune, interrupt you.
“I think they’re eager for that pizza, Charlotte.” Reisen quips as she and Caleb pick doors to cover.
“Stop talking about pizza.” Junko grumbles as she steps forward. “I’m getting hungry. Char, we need turrets.”
“On it.” You set an oblong metal box on the floor and kick it, prompting it to unpack itself. An arm of hinged metal bars extends upward, bearing a gun and a targeting camera to waist height.
You manage to deploy a second one before Junko tilts her head, then jerks it towards a doorway shrouded in vines. “They’re here.”
A heartbeat later, a pack of mutant creatures rushes in, screeching, hooting, and howling as they bear down on you.
Junko charges forward and crashes into the bulk of the aberrant beasts like a wrecking ball, her sword a gleaming blur as she flows between offense and defense in their midst. Reisen and Caleb fan out behind her with their guns raised, taking shots at any creature at the edge of the melee. You step forward between them with Rosslyn in your hands and frost following in your wake.
The creatures are only as large as a medium-sized dog at most, but numerous and rabidly aggressive. You estimate at least a dozen surrounding Junko alone, around that number running past the melee to attack the remaining three of you, and still more joining the fight.
You raise a mist-shedding hand, and the frontmost creatures falter as they begin to freeze to the ground. Reisen wastes no time exploiting this opportunity and fires an arc of light with a ringing noise that causes its targets to collapse and spasm, while Caleb uses a conventional submachine gun to pick off ones approaching your flanks.
Rosslyn booms in your hands, punching holes in the malformed tide with each spray of buckshot. Satori was right - its eagerness to spill the blood of monsters is almost tangible. You have to resist the urge to smash its stock into the snarling, hybrid face of a beast that gets too close, snap-freezing it instead and backing away as your turrets fill it with holes.
“They aren’t backing off!” Caleb shouts, less fazed than you by the close combat. You spot a beast pounce for his throat only to be impaled midair by a talon of solid blood encasing his free hand. He flings the corpse to the ground with a flick of his wrist and sweeps the arm, flinging the now-fluid talon into the mob as a crescent spray of caustic blood.
Soon enough, the beasts lose their momentum in the fight, though not their strange fury. Mop-up takes only a short time with how eager they are to rush to their deaths. With no serious injuries to worry about, you pack up your turrets while Caleb and Junko help Reisen collect samples.
“What even are these things?” Junko says, gingerly flipping over a corpse with her freshly-cleaned blade. “It’s like some weird cross between a monkey, a bat, and a bunch of other animals. I guess they explain the bite marks on the body in the airlock.”
“They’re some kind of chimera. I think Orochi was trying to engineer creatures that could handle zero-G well, though I’m not sure why.” Caleb says, crouching over another. “Why were they in such a hurry to die, though? Animals typically give up and slink off if their prey fights back hard enough. There’s no way they were that hungry.”
“Something drove them mad.” Reisen announces, prodding the skull of one with a syringe. “Not something biological, like rabies, but direct manipulation of their brainwaves.” “Huh. Like the sort of thing you can do?” You ask.
“Not on this many.” She says, glancing at the layer of dead chimerae around you. “I don’t think this is the work of a moon rabbit.”
Well, that’s concerning, but there’s not much you can do about it right now but remain vigilant.
[ ] Go to the survivors in Life Support [ ] Go to the Bridge to establish comms with Eirin [ ] Stay in the Docking Bay and examine the shrine to Ame-no-Torifune [ ] Go to the Power Plant to investigate the power fluctuations
Also this situation, tense exploring of an abandoned station full of monsters and having to explore room after room, slowly and carefully, with turrets and waves reminds me of that game. You know the one. I kinda miss it.
The four of you advance through the overgrown passages of Torifune, dimly illuminated by red emergency lighting and the occasional window. Junko takes point to chop a path through the dense vegetation with her machete and pry broken machinery out of the way with a crowbar, and you step carefully to avoid bumping Ruukoto on anything. You encounter signs of more escaped specimens and spot a few warily observing you from a distance, but no more of them attack.
The Life Support section is in somewhat better condition than the rest of the station, which is to say that it’s still a mess but at least things are generally intact and functioning properly. That’s good, since you all have a vested interest in having oxygen to breathe.
You order your drones to fan out while Caleb sweeps for scents again.
“I’m picking up something that’s probably those survivors, though I can’t confirm them as Lunarian from here.” He concludes. “Reisen, anything on your end?”
She gazes at nothing in particular for a few moments, accompanied by occasional twitches from her rabbit ears. “No outgoing telepathy.”
Your drones map out what they can and report back. Radar imaging shows two human-sized creatures in the bioreactor room at the center of the area. They weren’t able to get a visual on them due to an airlock in the way.
Everyone else considers the information. “Any other entry points?” asks Reisen.
“We’d have to make them ourselves, and that has its own complications.” You answer. “The bioreactors are how they make oxygen and filter water, so that room’s been designed to be very secure.”
Reisen sighs. “No easy way in, then. Let’s get this done.”
Even without your drones mapping the place, it would be hard to miss the trail of increasingly large bloodstains that leads to the bioreactors. The group sets up a makeshift camp at the end of the trail in front of the doors to rest, eat, and plan.
“They lost a lot of blood, but it probably didn’t kill them.” Caleb says, kneeling down by one of the larger stains on the metal floor. “I can probably still get them back on their feet, assuming that their buddy didn’t let them bleed out like a chump.”
Junko grunts an acknowledgement through a mouthful of energy bar.
“I’ve finished identifying the blood sample.” Reisen says, looking suspiciously composed. “It’s a Moon Rabbit.”
Silence falls over the chamber as you all look at the decontamination airlock for the bioreactor room.
“Well, we aren’t going to get inside without them noticing.” You state. “Reisen, you’re sure that there’s no telepathy going on?”
“None.” She confirms. “Are you suggesting that I try to contact them?”
“No. Not yet, at least. We’re not sure how they would respond.”
“I agree.” Caleb adds. “One of us three should make contact.”
“I’ll go.” Junko says, standing up.
“Are you sure?” Reisen asks.
“Char has to keep Ruukoto safe, you might get shot on sight, and Caleb’s our medic, so we’re not risking him to make contact.” Junko explains while putting her armor back on. “Do you have any idea about what they might be armed with?”
“For an op like this, probably gear comparable to what you or I have.” She answers, frowning. “I would have expected a lot of constructs for an environment this impure, but we haven’t detected any so far.”
Makes sense to you. You all put your kit back on and get ready to back her up.
Junko opens the door and steps into the airlock. The decontamination equipment looks virtually untouched, but the door leading inside seems to have been barricaded. With the rest of you peering in from the outer door, Junko walks up to the intercom panel and presses the button.
“Hello, hello? Can you hear me?”
The radar drone picks up movement. One of the figures inside jerks away from the other, stands still for a few seconds, and then approaches a spot on the wall.
“Who is this?” A feminine voice demands. It sounds hoarse and haggard with stress. The speaker is clearly at her breaking point, if she hasn’t already passed it. “We’re humans looking to get at the supercomputer here.” Junko replies. “You guys looked like you could use some help.”
“Are you another hallucination?”
“I sure hope not. I feel pretty real to myself.”
The only response is haggard breathing.
“Why don’t you get your friend to verify this for you?” Junko asks.
“Ringo is- She can’t. Haven’t you run into those things on here?”
You see Reisen flinch at the name. “Something wrong?”
“I knew someone in the corps called Ringo.” Reisen answers. “She was on the intelligence track.”
Junko glances at her but continues talking. “You mean the lab specimen chimeras? We killed a bunch of them earlier. Did they hurt Ringo?”
“NO!” The voice snaps. “Not them, the lights! The lights that rage! They bleach your brain! THE LIGHTS!”
“Maybe it’s better that she’s not broadcasting anything.” Reisen mutters.
You can hear some kind of thumping noise from the speaker. She’s probably kicking or otherwise hitting the wall. Junko can’t get any intelligible response from her after that, and settles for leaning against the wall.
“Sounds like it could be the same thing that drove the chimerae to attack us.” Caleb whispers.
Reisen grips her gun tighter. Despite her defection, she still seems to hold some loyalty to her former comrades. “If I’m recognizing the voice Junko’s speaking with, the other rabbit is Seiran, a melee specialist. She and Ringo were some of the few in the corps who took it seriously, so it makes sense for them to be sent on a mission here.”
“Do you think they’ll be hostile to you?” You ask.
“Ordinarily, I’m not sure. We’d probably be able to reason with them with things the way they are on Torifune. With Seiran like this, though... it’d probably send her on a rampage.” Reisen shakes her head. “If I can get to her, I might be able to unscramble her brainwaves.”
[ ] Leave them be and go somewhere else for now [ ] Breach in and subdue them [ ] Try to reason with them
I'm not sure how we'd do this, but breaching might do more harm than good considering the amount of force needed to get back in. If Reisen can do any of her wave manipulation from outside, though, she should definitely try it.
[x] then go and check out that rad shrine from earlier, it definitely isn't a complete waste of time
Since it's still tied, I'm (>>201636) changing my vote to [x] Try to reason with them And as for >>201635, maybe try to get her talking on something inane, like food, just to get a better read on how she might react if we bring up what any of us are actually there for.
[x] Try to reason with them - [x] Talk about something mundane like food to start. - [x] Suggest you might be able to help with the hallucinations, and could try to help Ringo if you can learn what’s happened to her.
We wouldn’t necessarily need to mention Reisen if she’s likely to set Seiran off- saying we have a medic there is technically true, even if he might not be able to do as much. Even if it does come to a fight if they can be convinced to open up, getting them to do so less destructively (and ideally learning more first) would be a win.
Lost Bees 102: Trouble among ToobsBee!6zjHptMvmo2020/11/02 (Mon) 03:43No. 201731▼
“Hey, you still with me?” Junko raps her knuckles against the wall by the intercom. “Quit hitting your head against the wall. It’s not going to help your buddy. Ringo needs you to focus.”
The thumping gradually slows to a halt, but there’s still no response from Seiran.
Junko glances over. “What’s the plan?”
“We’ll lower their guard, find some way to convince them we’re friendly.” You say. “Failing that, we’ll breach and subdue.”
Reisen and Caleb give their agreement, and Junko turns back to the microphone.
“Hey, are you guys hungry in there? I’m a little curious about what kind of field rations soldier rabbits get issued. Engineered peaches? Nutrient gel? Ordinary MREs?”
“Shut up!” Seiran hisses. “You’re just a mirage, you’re ALL MIRAGES.”
“Cmon, I’m being nice and friendly. What snacks did you pack?”
Another stretch of silence. You start to fear that Seiran’s checked out of the conversation when she answers.
“Dango. Ringo made them before we left. She’s the best at making them...” Seiran’s voice tapers off, strangled by fear for the future her friend might not have.
“How is she?” Junko asks softly.
“She’s...” Ringo’s breath catches. “She’s looking bad. We were running, running away from the power plant, and the beasts caught up to us.”
“We’re going to the power plant.” Reisen mutters. “Why were they running away from it?”
Seiran goes on. “They tore up her femoral. I stopped the bleeding, but she already lost a lot.”
“I can treat that.” Caleb says. “Did she get poisoned?”
Junko relays the question.
“No, I don’t think so...” Seiran sounds unsure, and she’s on the verge of hyperventilating. “But I can’t, I can’t... we lost our supplies, and my head’s still-”
She cuts herself off with a shout of inarticulate rage just before you hear the crunch of buckling metal. Everyone but Junko flinches at the harsh noise.
“Seiran, listen to me. We can help you. We can save your friend and fix your head, but you need to trust us. Please open the door.”
“No! The lights will get in, THEY’LL GET IN!”
“Whatever they are, we’ll keep you safe from them.” Junko reassures her. “But you need to let us in.”
Nothing but gasping breaths and whimpers come in response.
“Please. We can help you. I don’t want you and Ringo to die.” Junko pleads. “Just unlock the door. Please.”
Caleb sighs and loads a magazine into his gun. “Well, ain’t no party like a boarding party.”
“Hold on.” You put a hand on his shoulder. “Give her a chance.”
A few agonizing seconds pass. Seiran sounds like she’s on the verge of a sobbing breakdown.
Then, the clunking and hissing of the lock opening. The light above the door turns green.
“Thank you, Seiran.” Junko says. “We’re coming in now, so please don’t attack.”
She beckons for you all to follow. The three of you line up behind her in the cleanroom, with Reisen putting her facemask back on. She folds her ears flat behind her head and keeps them there with a hairband you provide. Caleb provides a dash of blood magic to mask her scent just in case. Hopefully, Seiran will be too indisposed to notice for now.
Junko grabs the handle of the door and pulls it open with a bit of effort. You all carefully step forward with your weapons holstered and your hands raised.
The bioreactor chamber is filled with rows of racks, each carrying a transparent tube of verdant algae that coils upward. It almost looks like rows of bookshelves in a library.
Seiran is standing in front of you with her weapon, a large hammer, held in a wary stance. Your group stands just out of lunging range in front of her as both sides size each other up. Thankfully, she doesn’t seem to have seen through Reisen’s ‘disguise’.
“You’re... you’re not just... you’re real, right?” Seiran’s whispers, as though the four of you might suddenly vanish.
“We’re real. Here, see for yourself.” Junko reaches out to offer her hand and takes a step forward.
Seiran hesitates for a moment before haltingly touching Junko’s fingers. The first touch lasts less than a second, but once it registers to her that you aren’t mirages, Seiran lets her hammer drop to the floor as she collapses to her knees, desperately clinging to Junko’s hand.
“Thank you thank youthankyou”, Seiran gasps. “I thought we were going to die alone here.”
“Shh, it’s okay.” Junko hoists her back up. “You’ll make it out of this. Now, where’s Ringo?”
Ringo is lying down in an aisle between racks, resting on a mat improvised from the local vegetation and scavenged materials. She’s pale, heavily bandaged, and her eyes are closed, but she’s still breathing.
“I’ve got this.” Caleb hurries over to her side, blood already swirling into a globe in his hand.
With him tending to Ringo, that leaves you, Reisen, and Junko with Seiran.
“C’mon, lay down and get some rest. You pushed yourself hard, so we’ll take over for now.” Junko tries to soothe her, placing her hands on Seiran’s forearm and shoulder from behind.
You roll out a sleeping bag that you and Junko then gently maneuver Seiran onto, but you don’t let go of her just yet. Reisen takes her mask off and steps forward from behind you two to peer into Seiran’s eyes as her own begin to glow red.
“What? What’s going- What’s she doing?” Seiran asks, alarm creeping back into her voice.
“She’s just trying to undo what the lights did to you.” Junko reassures Seiran. “We aren’t gonna hurt you, okay? Just lay back and take deep breaths.”
Seiran clearly considers trying to struggle free for a moment, but then allows herself to go limp. Her eyes are barely open, but that’s apparently enough for Reisen to work her magic.
“Atta girl.” Junko says, easing Seiran’s head back to an upwards-facing position as it begins to loll. “Now get some sleep.”
With Seiran indisposed, you and Junko are free to let go of her and stand up. You look at Caleb to find him finishing his work with Ringo.
“Will she be fine?” Reisen asks, blinking and rubbing her eyes.
“Yep. I patched her wounds and gave her a basic transfusion for blood and antivenom. I didn’t want to do anything past that since I don’t have experience treating moon rabbits, though now that you’re free-”
Reisen moves to Ringo and pulls out a blood pack before he finishes talking. Caleb moves back to make room for her and switches smoothly to assisting Reisen with her own procedures.
“So, what now?” Junko asks from behind you. She leans against a rack of tubes as she watches the two unconscious rabbits. “They’re alive, but we still don’t know what they’re here for. We don’t even know if they’ll be friendly once they wake up.”
You shrug and adjust the straps holding Ruukoto to your back. “We saved their lives. That’s got to be worth something.”
“Hopefully, they have their own rides off this place.” Junko says. “Reisen packed the spares, so I suppose we could spot them, but we’ll have to figure that out later.”
You grunt an acknowledgement. Your attention is currently focused on an alert one of your drones has sent. Its feed has gone white, though it’s still transmitting fine. It can’t be the batteries; only rookies make that kind of mistake. You double checked specifically so this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. Maybe it got something on its lens? Normally, you’d suspect ECM, but your previous sweeps ruled out that possibility.
You’re starting to wonder if Orochi engineered their chimerae with electronic warfare capabilities when the issue clears up on its own.
“Anything interesting?” Junko asks, peeking over your shoulder.
“I don’t think so, just some kind of camera fuckery on one... wait.”
You frown. The same thing is happening to another drone.
“Weird. You remembered to charge the batteries before we left, right?”
You’re about to retort when, once again, the issue clears up on its own - and then repeats on another camera.
“Char, where are those drones positioned?” Junko asks.
Your breath catches as you both see the pattern. “It’s a beeline to our location.” You answer. “The white screen isn’t an error, it’s the picture getting washed out by all the light.”
Junko glances over at Seiran. “Aw, shit.”
“Cale, Reisen, incoming!” You call out. “Can we move her?”
“Not with both her and Seiran down.” He answers as both he and Reisen jump to the ready. “Not fast enough to outrun pursuit. Can we shut the door?”
“Yes, but we don’t have another exit.” Reisen says. “I can use my gun to provide thermoptic camo. We could hide and observe it.”
[ ] Hunker down [ ] Remain in place and conceal yourselves [ ] Set up an ambush [ ] Leave Seiran and Ringo, close the door, and run
The four of you leave Seiran and Ringo behind to cover the cleanroom door. Reisen points her gun up and emits a shimmering bubble from the muzzle that erases her and Caleb from view.
Halfway through setting up your turrets, you and Junko have the same realization.
“How are we supposed to target something that makes whoever looks at it go fucking nuts?” Junko asks before you do. Whatever it is has been shown to screw with the targeting system of your robots, too.
“I’ll try the goggles.” Caleb says, fastening the purple lenses to his head. “Char, take manual control of your turrets if they can’t see through the light. Everyone else, grab some grenades and get ready.”
The group manages to finish setting up the killzone just in time for the ominous glow to start creeping through the doorway. Everyone but Caleb ducks out of line of sight or averts their gaze, and you all hold your breath as you wait for Caleb to either identify the threat or go crazy.
And you keep waiting. You risk a glance at Caleb after a few moments, worrying that you’ll see him frothing at the mouth, but instead he merely looks incredibly confused.
“What do you see?” You ping.
“It’s a kid.”
“She’s in American flag pajamas with a clown hat and a torch.”
“Caleb, are you sure your weird Yukari-vision goggles are working?” Junko demands.
It’s weird enough that you check the turret feed. Caleb is completely correct: A little girl with long blonde hair and a bizarre costume is leading a pack of larger and meaner-looking lab chimerae with her torch.
The torch itself, now that your turrets can see it, is definitely the cause of the camera whiteouts. Even now, it’s causing so much interference that it’s all you can manage to verify Caleb’s claims.
Of course, the situation grows stranger still. “She’s got wings. She’s a fairy. What the hell is a fairy doing here?” You ask.
“Yeah. Wait, she’s got more of those lab specimens following her. They’re bigger than the ones we fought.”
“A dozen and counting. The kid’s three meters from the door, and they’re fanning out around her.”
“Well, what do we do, make contact? Does the kid look hostile?”
“Not really, but she’s still really damn weird, and the beasts with her-”
Howls and baying from amalgamated, lab-grown throats cut him off in a bestial chorus.
“Fuck, they’ve smelled the injured!”
“What now?” Reisen demands, flicking a switch on her gun. “We can’t keep us, them, and the oxygen safe at the same time.”
Caleb grabs a grenade and pulls the pin. “Then we break out. Char, Reisen, buy us time to grab the moonies. Junko, with me.”
>>202183 A barrage of turret fire is your acknowledgment, distracting the horde long enough for the noise grenades to land in their midst. You find yourself silently praying that you didn’t hit the fairy.
A chorus of shrieking dissonance erupts from the nondescript canisters on the floor. The noise strikes the beasts like physical wave, dropping three to the floor, twitching and drooling, while the remainder seize up and spasm in place.
It isn’t enough. The torchlight pulses, and even as your video feed gets washed out in white again you hear them snarling with renewed vigor. They surge toward your guns, heedless of their losses but for climbing over the bodies. One by one, your sentry guns are crushed and torn apart by the berserk creatures even as you shoulder Rosslyn and blast at the mob.
“Charlotte, we need to draw them away!” Reisen calls out.
You shout your affirmative and fall back to her as you each take turns covering each other’s withdrawal. Reisen’s fire is precise and disciplined, as is her movement. You’d heard that the LDF was a joke of a force, but Reisen’s competence is beyond doubt.
Too soon, however, you run out of space to maneuver. A smaller chimera, clinging to the higher levels of the algae racks, pounces from above at Reisen while she’s plugging in a new battery. You pivot and catch it with a spray of buckshot, but this leaves an opening for its packmates to close with you.
A fanged jaw catches your forearm and jerks you to your knees, leaving your neck at easy biting height.
This isn’t much different from fighting werewolves in the Carpathians. The same bestial ferocity, the same pack swarming, and a similar enough stench. Shifting to lightning to escape would be the right move if it wasn’t for Ruukoto, comatose and strapped to your back. You’ll have to make do.
The rabid monkey-dog thing on your arm is too close for you to bring your coach gun to bear on it, so you stick your hand in a bit farther and light a fire inside its mouth. Its snarls soon turn to yelps as its body registers that it’s being cooked from the inside out, even through the influence of the torch. It reflexively releases its hold on you, and you help it with a kick to its too-long neck. Reisen covers you with her gun as you stand, but your arm is going to be out of action for the rest of the fight.
“Char, we got the rabbits. What’s your status?”
“We’re fine but getting pushed back, these things just don’t quit.” You put away Rosslyn and draw a pistol in its place.
“Caleb’s going to clear the way, but our arms will be full.” Junko cuts in. “Once the nades go off, run and don’t stop.”
You relay the plan, brief as it is, to Reisen. She nods and you both shelter behind an upended storage bin with your ears covered. The two of you are up and moving the instant the noise grenades go off, not even slowing to shoot at the spasming beasts. Junko and Caleb come running out from the opposite bank of algae tubes with Seiran and Ringo on their respective backs in a fireman carry.
The only thing in your way is the fairy. The fairy, and the painfully luminescent torch in her hands.
She matches Caleb’s description, clown hat and all. Her smile is wide. Her laughter is an innocent, joyous sound without hate.
But not without malice.
“Don’t go, I still wanna play!” She giggles and waves her torch, and the pinkish light flares in response to the light flares in response to the light in response to the light flares in response-
Your finger squeezes the trigger before the rest of you can catch up. You must have been aiming for the torch in her hand, but missed in your daze. Still, it was close enough to startle the fairy and dim the flame from bleach in your brain to merely migraine-level. Around you, the rest of your group blinks and groans their own way back to awareness.
The clown fairy isn’t happy, though. Her face scrunches up in frustration that you’ve spoiled her fun, and she raises her torch again just as Reisen levels her own gun with a hard set to her face.
“Just run, go!” She shouts. Then she pulls the trigger, and two waves of light collide.
>>202184 When your vision clears, you find yourself in an unfamiliar passageway. There’s not a single algae tube in sight, so you must be outside the cleanroom. At least there’s some good news.
It also looks like that’s going to be the only good news you’re getting, because you’re alone. That might be related to how the walls and doors of the station passageway look like they’re shifting around before your eyes like something’s using them as a rubik’s cube.
Your arm’s mostly healed up, though the headache is still there. At least Ruukoto is still securely fastened to your back, though of course it’s difficult to be certain of anything when you’re hallucinating this badly. Speaking of which…
While you’re alone, you can still see your teammates and that damn clown fairy, but only as transparent echoes ghosting through the shifting mess the station appears to be, each running on their own paths as they flicker in and out of view like afterimages after a concussion.
Who to follow?
[ ] Reisen. She can counteract the madness, but she can’t resurrect. [ ] Caleb and Ringo. Hopefully those two unidentified women are just hallucinations. [ ] Junko and Seiran. Seiran should have the most intel on what the hell is going on here. [ ] THE CLOWN THE CLOWN THE CLOWN THE CLOWN
If we're going to be chasing down echoes and afterimages then we're going to be late to whichever party we choose—so we had better set our priorities on which party it's going to be in light of that fact.
Even before you took the veils here, you had a feeling that things wouldn’t go according to plan. Sure, you all knew the job was going to be ‘expeditionary’, but this is ridiculous. At least you’ll have a very interesting mission report to write up once you return.
You find yourself envying Ruukoto. She’s currently just a comatose head and torso strapped to your back, but at least she’s not the one stumbling through the LSD labyrinth that Torifune has become to your clown-addled brain.
But you didn’t make it this far by failing to adapt. You need to regain the initiative, and hunting down that fairy with the torch who seems to be causing the madness is a good way to do that.
And so you stalk through the shifting halls of the overgrown station, gun in one hand and frost in the other, as you follow a mirage of a child in an American flag onesie and clown hat.
“Roger that, Lady Hecatia!”
You wheel around at the sound of the fairy’s voice, but find only another mirage. She appears to be trying her best to salute, though you can’t see who it’s for. You recognize the name, though.
Izumo said she’d look for Hecatia and probably stop a war in the process, but there’s nobody on the station to fight. Hecatia told Eiki she’d be away to help Gensokyo, but how could any of this be relevant to Gensokyo at all?
Whatever. Expecting gods to make sense is a waste of time. You’ll settle for being able to get everyone home from this mess. Maybe Hecatia or Izumo will humor you with an explanation if you chance upon them.
The clown fairy’s trail is essentially a line of flourishing plant life, and you suspect that she’s the cause of it. The mirage of her moves without interacting with any of the growth, such as to brush leaves out of the way. Besides, would a child unerringly pick the path of most resistance?
Then again, you don’t know how or why she’s here to begin with. The plants are still worth thinking about, though. The blazing, maddening light of the torch comes to mind, as does the effects it produced in the lab specimens. Maybe the madness isn’t a strictly psychic phenomenon, but rather an agitation of Anima itself? It would explain both the berserk state of the animals as well as the growth of the plant life.
It would also explain the increasing sweetness in the air. You can all but taste the ambient power.
Other, more mundane scents fill the air as you progress. Water pools ankle-deep along the bottom of passages choked with flowering vines. You can’t see any wall signage through them, and even if you could, it would probably look like wingdings instead of anything helpful.
“Caleb? Junko?” you ping to no avail. Reisen and your drones are both similarly out of contact.
At least you’re moving away from life support, though you’re not much more optimistic about wherever it is you’re headed. Things are getting weirder, and this time you don’t think it’s because of clown hallucinations. Occasionally, you’ll find a machine totally free of any obstruction or overgrowth. These look factory-new in a bubble of pristine station that abruptly transitions to jungle as though some meticulous janitor cleaned it and nothing else. The water looks cleaner, too. The pools you saw before were at least a little clouded with dirt or algae, but these are crystal-clear for no obvious reason.
You step in one to test something. Not only does no grime wash off your boots, the water barely ripples.
This can’t be a good sign. You hurry on, pushing through a curtain of vines growing over a wide door frame.
You’ve just learned two things. The first is that you’ve been in the power plant deck, and have in fact just entered the reactor chamber. Overgrown as they are, you can still recognize the silhouette of the reactor and generators despite the vines and roots growing onto and even into them. Elsewhere, water leaks from coolant tanks and coats the floor with more oddly pristine pools. In some places, the water betrays failures in Torifune’s artificial gravity by floating midair in uneven globes ranging in size from grapes to basketballs. The sweetness in the air grows strong enough to choke on.
The second is that you are not alone.
A woman stands in front of the main reactor, facing away from you as she uses its terminal. She’s wearing an antiquated Chinese-style black dress, and has long, wavy blond hair that flows past her hips. She’s a visibly older woman, but one with a certain ageless beauty that would have given away something supernatural if the context of the encounter hadn’t already done that. Hearing you enter the room, she turns her head with an unhurried motion to glance at you from over her shoulder.
Every muscle in your body tenses in a fight or flight response as her red eyes look upon you. A sense of overwhelming danger emanates from her, washing over you like a wave and threatening to crush you beneath the weight of its terror.
“Hello,” she says. Her voice sounds mature and well-enunciated, with no trace of hostility. Her gaze lingers on you a moment longer than needed to acknowledge your presence before she turns back to typing. She found you interesting, but clearly not enough to turn away from whatever her work is.
“Hello,” you reply as calmly as you can manage. You don’t risk walking further into the room. “Are you… May I ask what you are doing here?”
“I’m using this vessel as a bomb. You should leave this place.”
You regard this in stunned silence as she types away. Whatever else she is, she’s certainly frank.
“May I ask why?”
“To kill someone who wronged me.” She states it as a matter of fact.
You shrug. It’s fair enough for a murder motive. “Would that happen to be related to the Lunar Capital?” You scan her posture for any sign of impatience as you try to keep her talking.
“My goodness, you’re an inquisitive one. But yes, the people of the moon refuse to abandon Chang’e to my wrath, so they will share her fate.”
You mutter profanity under your breath. That explains why Ringo and Seiran were here. This madwoman isn’t just using Torifune as a bomb; she’s using it as a dirty bomb to contaminate the capital with enough Anima to render it uninhabitable by their all but sterile standards.
It’s fortunate that the woman seems unbothered by your silence given the weight of what she’s been telling you. You came here to fix Ruukoto, help Eirin, and maybe see what Hecatia was up to. Now you’re dealing with a genocide attempt. Just fantastic. Why is she even going this far? Literally nobody likes the moonies, yourself included, but this is too much.
“How did Chang’e wrong you?”
She stops typing as her body stiffens. Her face jerks to yours with none of its previous grace, and her narrowed eyes filled with more hate than you’ve ever seen.
“She didn’t. Her husband did. Houyi murdered my child, and I am taking the vengeance owed me in its entirety. Until every trace of his presence has been expunged from creation, I will not stop. I cannot stop.”
You can barely breathe in the face of such overwhelming hatred and madness. Your hand twitches for Rosslyn.
And then the pressure abates, becoming eclipsed by calm again.
“I cannot stop,” she quietly repeats with the echo of an eon’s toil. “I have offered up everything else on the altar of vengeance. Vengeance, and death.”
“It’s all I think about, now. Death. My son’s. My foe’s. My own, someday.”
Anger, which, far sweeter than trickling drops of honey, rises in the bosom of a man like smoke.
She takes a deep breath, and just like that, she’s back to her initial calm. Your own breath returns to you as you force yourself to relax. This isn’t a fight you can afford to pick alone and with Ruukoto depending on you.
“I seem to have forgotten my manners. My name, such as it is, is Junko.” She curtsies.
“Charlotte,” you return her introduction.
Well, at least the shock has cleared your head.
What to do from here?
[ ] Politely excuse yourself and find backup [ ] Ask for enough reactor output to repair Ruukoto
[X] Ask for enough reactor output to repair Ruukoto
Ok sure, she's gonna use the place like a dirty bomb, but could she delay a few minutes to let us fix the qt meido who has nothing to do with the moon? Not asking her to stop at all, maybe just do something else to strengthen the bomb while we do this and then get out.
You honestly expect her to reject your request right then and there. She’s insane enough to pick a fight with the Lunarians and their untouchable might, and from the look of things she’s about to win. Compared to that, crushing you here and now would be child’s play. You’re asking her to pull the brakes on an eons-old grudge on the cusp of fulfillment within a minute of meeting. There’s no reason to expect her to humor you.
Yet Junko doesn’t scoff or even speak. The only reaction from her is a prolonged stare that doesn’t meet your eyes. It dawns on you that she’s looking at Ruukoto. Her gaze doesn’t soften, but it does linger on what’s left of the faithful maid and how she’s been fastened to you and carried past the hazards of Torifune with obvious care.
Her answer comes after a few more moments. Junko turns back to the reactor console and rapidly types on it. Immediately after that, a shrill alarm sounds. A nearby workstation with an intact screen flashes with some notifications that catch your eye. One of them is that the data core lockdown has been lifted, meaning you can finally reach the supercomputer and repair Ruukoto. The other, however, is less encouraging.
“I’ve rerouted power,” Junko states with remarkably little fanfare for someone who just turned off the oxygen. “That should give you enough time.”
You’re not sure what to say that won’t exhaust however little patience Junko has left or simply waste the now finite supply of breathable air. After a moment of hesitation, you bow your head to her.
“Thank you,” you offer.
“You remind me of Clownpiece.”
You blink. “Pardon?”
“My dear friend’s little harlequin. You have already chanced upon her, it seems.”
Junko gently waves her hand, shrouded in white light, in your direction. Somehow, this unassuming motion chills you worse than a gun barrel catching you in the open. It’s over before you can act on your fight or flight response, and just like that, the residual confusion from the torch clears from your mind like a dirt washing off in water.
What more could she have done with that power, if she didn’t mean you well?
Junko continues speaking, oblivious to your discomfort. “I do hope you may find it within yourself to forgive her youthful whimsy. Hecatia, her master, cares deeply for her, but there are simply few suitable playmates to be found in her part of Hell. In any case, we instructed her to play to her heart’s content within this vessel so that the anima wherever she passed would be invigorated.”
All the better to exterminate the Lunarians with, you realize. The pack of rabid lab specimens was just a side effect of letting Clownpiece roam across Torifune to fill it with as much overflowing anima as possible.
“In any case, I do hope I have adequately repaid you, Charlotte.”
“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand.”
“Very recently, I had noticed rising anima levels that were not the work of Clownpiece, and wondered what might be their cause. Meeting you has answered that question.”
She smiles at you, full of genuine warmth and gratitude.
“Before your arrival, I yet had days before I could be certain that this vessel would be impure enough to utterly eradicate Chang’e and the people of the moon who harbor her. Now, I have but mere hours.”
“Make haste, Charlotte.” Junko calls as you step away. “Our woeful errands both near their completion. May yours end better than mine.”
Her eyes grow distant for a moment. The razor-sharp edge softens, but you’re not sure what you see beneath it.
“It is, after all, not yet too late for you.”
You nod your head again, and with nothing else to say or do, you leave.
You sprint almost the whole way to the data core. Once there, you encounter the minor issue of compatibility between Ruukoto’s 90s-era hardware and a cutting edge space station supercomputer, and also the damage Izumo caused when she climbed out of the chassis like a cicada molting its shell.
Regardless, failure is not an option, especially when the key to Ruukoto’s salvation is right in front of you, and you apply your desperation well. It takes a handful of voided warranties, a figurative sledgehammer to the electronic security, and a literal one to some of the physical housing, but soon enough you have Ruukoto wired in and the repair protocol running. Despite everything, you still shudder to think of how Okazaki would react to your hasty treatment.
Well, Ruukoto wouldn’t be in this mess if it wasn’t for her, and you have more pressing matters to worry about.
In the meanwhile, you use the CCTV system, an intercom announcement, and some legwork from your drones to guide everyone to meet you in the data core. They all seem to have shrugged off the effects of Clownpiece’s torch by now, and stagger through the door only slightly worse for wear. Ringo and Seiran are awake and on their feet again, though noticeably exhausted by their longer time on the station.
Everyone settles into a loose circle formation as they sit to rest. You notice the two lunar rabbits sit opposite Reisen, giving her wary looks that she returns with an unreadable expression.
“So.” Seiran addresses you after sizing up your group. “You guys must be the earthlings who helped us. I’m not sure who you are or why you’re here, but thanks for the assist. That being said, do you have any idea what you’ve just stepped into?”
You take a deep breath. “Unfortunately, I think I do.”
You recount your meeting with the new Junko at the reactor, her demeanor, her goal, and her fearsome power.
“That more or less checks out with what we know,” Seiran confirms. “We came here on a recon mission. Lady Sagume prognosticated that trouble was brewing on this scrapheap and sent the two of us with a complement of drones to investigate. We had enough firepower to push through the monsters without trouble, but then we ran into her.”
She shakes her head. “It wasn’t even a fight. She didn’t even just break our drones, she *unmade* them or something. I don’t even know how to describe it - not that we could take a good look while trying not to get erased ourselves. We fell back to contact command, but we ran into that damn clown kid. On that note, our telepathy still can’t reach the Capital, probably because of her magic.”
“Can you guys still use it at close range, at least?” Junko asks.
Seiran and Ringo glance at each other for a moment, then at Reisen. None of them speak a word, but their ears, drooping from exhaustion, immediately perk up.
“There’s two separate three-person telepathic nets in the room right now,” Caleb pings.
“Yeah, it’s a little funny. I guess we were due for a reminder on how we look to other people,” Junko replies. “At least we don’t need to use our ears as antennas.”
“Ah, the benefits of having a bee snuggled nice and cozy in your brain.”
You wonder what Reisen is feeling right now. It’s clear in their body language that Ringo and Seiran know that Reisen is a deserter, but they aren’t making it a problem right now. It’s obvious to everyone that infighting would be suicidal.
“Close range is fine,” Ringo announces. “Unfortunately, Reisen’s still scrambled too, so she can’t raise Lady Yagokoro.”
“I still have the listening post equipment,” Reisen says. “It’ll be able to get messages through if we get to the bridge of Torifune.”
“We’re on a tight schedule, as our earthling friend just revealed,” Ringo says. “We only have hours before that pissed-off Junko woman smashes this thing into the Capital.”
“Then that’s even more reason to push on to the bridge,” you say. “She’s probably using the thrusters to crash the station, so we can lock her out from the navigation controls there. At that point, she’d have to detonate the reactor in orbit to get the trajectory she needs, which would at least buy us time.”
Ringo considers your words. “Enough time to break even, at least?”
“Yeah, especially with all of us making the push,” you reply.
“We don’t have better options,” Reisen says. “We don’t have any other way to disable the thrusters in a useful time frame, and we both need to get comms working. As late as it would be, getting a warning out gives us options. Both Lady Eirin and Lady Sagume are smarter than all of us put together - they’ll know something about this Junko, or they’ll be able to send something or someone to help. Unless you feel like storming the reactor right now, taking the bridge sounds like the best choice.”
There’s no sound but the hum of mainframe fans for a while as everyone considers the situation.
“Char, you’re the only other person here to encounter the other Junko in person,” Junko says. “What’s your opinion on our odds of taking her down?”
Your eyes linger on Ruukoto’s shattered and motionless body as your mind replays your meeting with the terrifying being, utterly consumed by her own grudge, who nonetheless gave you the chance to save Ruukoto.
You think about how things would have gone if she hadn’t.
“We could win if we blitz her, but it’ll cost us,” you say. “We’d lose people. Maybe even one of us three for good.”
Another silence falls, this time with an even more uncomfortable edge to it.
“Not to be a quitter, but the idea of just… walking away and letting the crazy lady bomb the moon is pretty tempting,” Junko pings. She takes out a cigarette and lights it before continuing. “Look, Caleb, Char - we’ve been working together for quite a while. We’ve been through some shit, and we know each other pretty well by now. None of us are cowards. Personally, I have no objections to a final death if it accomplishes something for Gaia.”
She turns away from the group and exhales. “Getting nullified from existence so Lunarians can continue being smug on the moon for eternity is not that kind of death.”
You understand her feelings well. Even with the most optimistic outcome, you would all still be taking a huge risk on behalf of an entire civilization founded on contempt for and repudiation of the rest of the world and all its inhabitants. To add insult to injury, it’s the very same world that singled you and your friends out to empower, and it did so with the very same energy that the Lunarians made such an effort to escape.
“I can’t imagine Ringo and Seiran feel much better,” Caleb pings. “To them, they’re on a suicide mission with only a few ‘short-ears’ and a traitor for backup. Even if they survive, the Capital would probably just reward them with an execution for how much anima they’ve been exposed to.”
Junko nods. “Yeah. Even before they came into contact with us, they spent way too long here.”
Caleb faces Reisen, who’s currently drinking water. “Reisen, do you think Lady Eirin was aware of the hostile Junko here when she sent us?” Caleb asks. “I really miss when this was supposed to be a simple job.”
She shakes her head. “My master is so far beyond me that I could barely begin to guess. If it’s any consolation, she didn’t tell me anything either.”
“Still, I trust her. If she sent us, it means she also trusted us to handle things, even if we ran into the worst possible scenario. Beyond that…”
“I owe her.” Her hands curl up on her lap. “I’m not going to let her down.”
Ringo and Seiran don’t reply, but you feel a slight change in their attitude towards Reisen. Eirin herself is perhaps the greatest traitor to the Lunarians there ever was or will be, so Reisen’s loyalty to her would not be particularly redemptive in their eyes. Still, genuine loyalty does count for something, even if it’s from one traitor to another.
You watch Junko’s smoke lazily billow into wavy, ribbon-like fractal shapes before dissipating. The parallel to your own possible fate does not escape you.
Would this not be squandering Gaia’s blessing to you? You’re far from the only ones chosen by the immaculate machine, but there’s not so many of you out there to gamble your final deaths lightly and against a foe not your own.
[ ] Bridge - Fuck it, we call [ ] Reactor - Fuck it, we ball [ ] Commit Emergency Exit - Fuck it, we bail
Two out of three objectives ain't bad. No listening post because the station is gonna go bye-bye, but Reisen grabbed some samples, we fixed Ruu-chan. Get out and get the word out to the galaxy brain types, if they want to save the mooninites they'll have to figure out how to do it themselves, if Izumo doesn't do it for them, but otherwise fuck the moon.
[ X] Bridge - Fuck it, we call Failing that [X] Commit Emergency Exit - Fuck it, we bail Tactically, calling home is the best choice imo. it’s a compromise, everyone can agree to it and acknowledge we are outmatched, but failing that we bail. Char is the type that saves the people in front of her, large scale consequences be damned, and I don’t want to even think about losing a chosen before yukari’s endgame. Also Kaguya and Erin will probably be upset if we lose reisen to save the moon, even if they harbour some sentiment still and we don’t want to make enemies of them.
I just want to say that I continue to appreciate Charlotte's continued tact and goal-mindedness in the face of everything that's been happening in the story. It's something I feel is honestly rare to see in a main character, and it really does keep me coming back whenever there's an update.