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There’s been an idea bouncing around in my head for a while, and I’ve decided to try it out. It’s a test run, really. If I hit a brick wall or it just doesn’t become fun anymore, I’ll stop.

It’s going to be a little bit…focused, I think. You won’t be able to just wander wherever you like. I’m trying to structure…

Never mind. It probably won’t get that far, anyway. I’ll be surprised if it gets to thread two.


There’s too much light on the inside.

You frown, your face all but pressed against the glass. Your reflection frowns, too. Annoying--you shouldn’t be able to see your reflection at all. It’s a window, not a mirror. Windows are made for looking through.

Frustrated, you take the palm of your left hand and wipe it back and forth across the glass in mad strokes, smudging it.

Well, what did that solve?

Nothing, you think, and feel silently ashamed.

Trying to ignore your hasty actions, you look towards the front of the vehicle--towards the windshields. They’re similarly affected, rendered useless by the bright, tubular bulbs that run the length of the bus. How can the driver even see?

Maybe he can’t, comes the mad thought. Or she, even. You don’t know which gender the driver is, or even what he or she looks like. There’s a barrier blocking him or her from your view: the usual black partition. At least, you assume it’s “usual”. You haven’t had much experience with different sorts of buses.

They only use one kind of bus in Los Ojos, after all. So maybe it’s not usual. You wouldn’t know either way.

The bus is packed, you notice. Filled up to what you’re sure is its maximum capacity. A person filling every seat--including the one next to you.

You peer confusedly at the profile of the woman’s face. When did she get here? You don’t remember her sitting next to you at all. But you’ve got the window seat, so she must have come in after you--

You don’t remember getting onto the bus, either, you realize, and the hairs on the back of the neck prick up.

No, that’s ridiculous. You’re here, so you must have gotten here at some point. That’s only logical. How could you have gotten on the bus if you’d never gotten on the bus in the first place?

But you can’t remember the bus ever having stopped, either. Doesn’t the driver have to pick up new passengers every now and then? Instead, the whole vehicle just lumbers forward, smoothly, at a constant speed. Too smoothly. That’s not right, either. There should be traffic lights, or stop signs. Traffic lights and stop signs. The bus should be accelerating and decelerating, not--gliding forwards like this.

Maybe someone else knows?

“Excuse me,” you say to the woman next to you.

She’s wearing a tasteful, purple dress, sitting with her hands folded in her lap. She turns her head to acknowledge you, smiling.

“Yeah?” she says, cheerfully.

“Do you know where this bus is going?”

“This bus?” She’s speaking Japanese, you realize suddenly. It’s not like you can’t understand Japanese--your mother funneled the language into your head when you were a kid--but for some reason the fact seems--significant.

“The same place it’s always gone,” she says. “For--”

The lights go out.

Someone screams.

There’s the sound of something shattering, and wind suddenly cuts into your face.

The woman grabs onto your upper arm, yelling. You can’t hear her. There’s roaring in your eardrums, and your head is going to split apart. She pulls you onto your feet and into the bus’ aisle, still uselessly saying something, her expression panicked, and brings her face close.

“It’s breaking!”

Her voice is there now, but only barely. There’s too much shouting and howling--something into the background sounds as if it’s being torn in two--

“It won’t last much longer!” she says, her eye lit with an almost haunting determination. “Listen, you’ve got to--”

“--old Iron Cross, me old Iron Cross, what a waste, I do declare! Over there in Germany they’re giving them away. You can have a dozen if you shout ‘hooray’! The Kaiser shouted ‘meat, meat, mea--”

You sweep out your arm blindly, hitting one of the buttons on the top of your clock radio, cutting off the Cockney accent before it can wake your sister.

Iron Cross? What’s that, World War II?

Wiping at your eyes, you kick the covers off your feet. Through your blurred vision, you read the digital display: five o’clock. Of course. That’s when you set your alarm for, so that you’d wake up now is…


You totter about the kitchen, still yawning, you mind still not up to anywhere near its normal speed. You need a pick-me-up, and fast. It won’t do you any good if you doze off in your car while waiting for the stoplight to turn green.

Stoplight, you think. That reminds you of something. Something important. Stoplight. Spotlight. Top lights.

_ Forget about it. The ‘siren song’ of employment is calling. Hah!
_ Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some breakfast.
[X] Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some breakfast.
[x] Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some REESES FOR BREAKFAST?!
_ Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some breakfast.

I work outta the home.

± Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some breakfast.
[X] Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some breakfast.
[X] Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some breakfast.
[X] Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some breakfast.
[ze] Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some breakfast.

Is this by who I think it is?
Write more, dammit.
File 124297615798.jpg - (47.46KB, 500x500 , Forgotten_Tomb_-_Springtime_Depression.jpg) [iqdb]
Yeah. That's as good of a spot to stop as any.


X Maybe you ought to think about it a bit. Sit down. Have some breakfast.

It’s useless, trying to figure out your own head when you don’t have an ounce of caffeine in you.After all your years of school, coffee’s practically a necessity. Yes-siree, nothing brightens your mornings like a good strong cup of joe.

You open the refrigerator door and take out the carton of orange juice.

You’re thankful towards your sister, really. You needed a place to stay, and she let you move in with her. All you have to do is pay half the rent--well, that and obey her totally arbitrary rules.

‘No coffee in the apartment’. Pfft. That doesn’t even make sense, coming from her.

Well, orange juice isn’t too bad. It gives you a bit of a ‘sunny’ feeling, in fact, although that might just be because you watched too many commercials when you were a kid. What’s the connection between orange juice and sunshine, anyway? Other than the fact that orange trees need sunlight to grow, there doesn’t seem to be one.

‘Oranges are round like the sun’.

It’s probably something stupid like that.

Well, now that you’ve quenched your morning thirst, it’s time for breakfast. What’s the fridge got in the way of that? Sausages? Or bacon, maybe?

An obscene image comes to mind: you striding into the kitchen with your jowls grotesquely fattened and your stomach straining from beneath your shirt, pouring the entirety of a greasy plastic bottle of cooking oil onto a frying pan and watching it sizzle.

Maybe not meat, then. What else is there? Eggs? Fried eggs. Those are actually a little healthy, aren’t they? Maybe you should have a fried egg or two.

Or cereal. That’s healthy, and simple in the way of preparation. Just pour, add milk, and consume, hopefully without dripping it all down your chin.

You take the jug from the fridge, eye the prancing cartoon cow on the label with distaste, and set it aside to retrieve all else needed--a bowl, a spoon, the cereal itself. Soon enough, you are staring downwards into a white pool, filled to the top with can’t-pinch-an-inch.

You lift the spoon and begin to eat.

Your mind wanders, as it always does whenever you start carrying out repetitious action. Your thoughts are unsettled. Maybe I’m taking advantage of my sister’s generosity, you think, and then: The bus, the people on the bus were all alike, and then:

Cereal gets soggy quick.

You put the empty bowl in the basin of the kitchen sink, nearly, but think better of it at the last second, and rinse it out and put it in the dishwasher instead.

Outside the window, the sun is only starting to show itself over the horizon, adding a deep blue tinge to the morning sky.

You yawn again, and wipe at the sleep in your eyes, and stumble back into your room to change clothes. First your trousers, then your shirt, and then, in the middle of your jacket, one arm through an emblem-adorned sleeve, the other out the unbuttoned front, you lose interest and decide that it might be alright to stare at the wall for a little while.

You’re kind of tired.

Why are you tired? You went to sleep at a decent time--beyond decent, in fact. Early, if anything. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be dancing through the kitchen and singing “Good Day Sunshine”--well, other than the fact that you don’t know how to dance, and you don’t know the words, and besides, singing would wake your sister up.

You should be downright peppy, but instead it feels like someone’s opened your head up and filled your skull straight-up with mothballs.

It’s the fault of that dream, something in your mind concludes, and you’re inclined to agree. Your after-waking clarity has been fading fast, all through breakfast and after, but you do remember (between fleeting images of buses and purple) that there was…something exhausting about it. Not the sort of exhaustion you get from running, but a sort of…mental exhaustion. Like it was one step closer to real than most of your dreams, and…

But these thoughts are worthless. Dreams are nothing more than dreams, after all, and dreams are just involuntary sensations caused by your brain when you sleep.

You break your gaze suddenly, eyes flickering towards your clock radio’s display. Five-forty, it reads. That’s forty minutes since you woke up. How in the world did you whittle away that much time without noticing?

You fix your arm into its sleeve proper as you march unsteadily towards the bathroom. You haven’t got a lot of time left, especially if you want to be gone by the time your sister is awake.


You grind your teeth as you pull into the department parking lot. You’re late. Not terribly late--only by ten or fifteen minutes at the most--but late nonetheless. It’s not actually likely that you’ll actually get into a significant amount of trouble because of this, but…

You groan. He’s right there--right outside the front entrance, waiting for you, staring off into the distance with a scowl on his face, his jaws working furiously as he works his gum. Then his eyes meet yours through your windshield, and the scowl deepens impossibly further.

Oh, shoot.

He’s at your window even before you get your car keys out of the ignition.

“You’re late,” says Ritchie Valentin, your partner on the Homicide Unit.

_ Defend yourself.
_ Come up with an excuse.
_ Take full responsibility for your actions.
_ Change the subject.
_ Other…
_ Come up with an excuse.
>Well, orange juice isn’t too bad. It gives you a bit of a ‘sunny’ feeling, in fact, although that might just be because you watched too many commercials when you were a kid. What’s the connection between orange juice and sunshine, anyway? Other than the fact that orange trees need sunlight to grow, there doesn’t seem to be one.
>‘Oranges are round like the sun’.

I can see why she keeps the coffee away from you.

>“You’re late,” says Ritchie Valentin, your partner on the Homicide Unit.

This is the straight man feeding you the line.

_ "And you ate all the Boston creme! Must we do this every morning?"

You are the comic. You are unorthodox and excitable.
I tried to do something clever, and it didn't at all work.

You've probably figured out what it was and started laughing at me. That's okay. I'll take your scorn gladly, because I deserve it.

If you haven't figured it out, don't worry about it.
It's only 2 updates long so far, but I love this story so fucking much.

Too late. Story already saved as "Fleet Fox."

Are you >>87035 or the author? And if the latter, are you going to keep writing?
Please say yes.
Yes, I'm the writer.

Of course, I'll keep writing.
It's only until I crash headfirst into a wall that I'll write.

Incidentally, each picture is the album containing the song I listened to in order to "get me into the mood" for my writing each piece.

That sentence is awfully convoluted!
[x] Come up with an excuse.

>Your mind wanders, as it always does whenever you start carrying out repetitious action
I feel your pain.
[x] Come up with an excuse.
File 124329316081.jpg - (73.34KB, 953x953 , Rodrigo_Leao-Cinema.jpg) [iqdb]
X Come up with an excuse.

His voice is muffled and hollow through the glass, but you can hear his words clearly. He must really be irritated at you this time.

You open the door, slowly. The second it’s ajar, Valentin grabs the edge of the metal panel and flings it open all the way at once. The door bounces back on its hinges and slows just in time to not crush your arm as you step out of your vehicle.

“Sorry,” you say, and then, “You know, you could’ve taken my whole limb off there.”

It’s an unnecessary statement, but you need time to think up a good reason for your tardiness. Valentin will be mad excuse or no, but it’s probably better for you if he at least thinks it isn’t your fault.

His molars are beginning to work at a frenzy. Any moment now his gum will simply give up the fight and fall to pieces.

“Anyway,” you continue, “it’s not my fault. Some unlucky kid ahead of me at the coffeeshop kept dropping his change all over the place.” You grin, tilting your head and looking to the side as if remembering some vaguely amusing memory. “The guy at the cash register looked like he was going to blow a vein in his neck.”

Valentin looks into your face, eyes narrowed, as you try your best to look as relaxed as possible. Finally, after what seems like a year, his chewing slows.

“I see,” he says. He turns away, to the department building, and you allow yourself a second’s smile before you trail after him.

Valentin opens one of the glass front doors and steps inside. You expect him to do what he normally does--give the door a good push behind him so that it just happens to close right in your face--but today, he takes a break from the routine, holding the door open so that you can walk in without even a pause in your stride. How unusually kind!

You’re halfway across the lobby floor when Valentin, still standing next to the entrance, calls loudly towards your back:

“So, where’s the coffee, then?”



You don’t understand why Valentin is so uptight all of the time. It’s not like this job is particularly demanding or anything. Now, if this was New York, or something…

This isn’t New York, though. This is Los Ojos, which only sees an actual murder about once every two weeks. Not a bad rate. Not a bad rate at all.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe Valentin wants to see more homicides and less suspicious deaths that ultimately turn out to be heart problems. Maybe he’s the sort who wants to go out there and grab some actual scumbags instead of perusing a coroner’s report for the umpteenth time.

Or maybe it’s not the murder count at all and Valentin’s just naturally pissed at everything. You don’t know.

Well, if it is the former, maybe Valentin’s bloodlust will be sated for today.

The buildings at the corner of Suzuki and Campen aren’t the first sort of things that come to mind when you think “apartment”. Tall, made of brick, with a rusty fire escape zigzagging down the side--These buildings aren’t like that all. They look just like something straight out of suburbia, except for the size: each of them is about two times as big as the usual house. They’re built wide, not tall, in other words. And the light peach paint is a nice touch.

“Suzuki Apartments.” Valentin pauses, reading the cursive script on the wooden sign that looks like something yanked straight from the countryside. He shifts his sight to the street sign hanging from the gantry nearby. “Yeah, that’s real creative.”

“Well, at least they won’t forget where they live, right?”

You watch as he fumbles in his coat pocket for another rectangle-shaped piece of gum to pop into his mouth, and then the both of you are inside, and heading up the stairs, flocks of officers in uniform passing you in either direction.

There’s a smell here, faint, but becoming ever stronger as you approach your target. It’s a terrible, terrible smell. Valentin makes a low sound in the back of his throat, but says nothing. You don’t say anything, either. If you talk, you might vomit.

You squeeze yourself through the crowd of policemen huddled around the apartment room door, and then you see the body.

There’s no nice way to put it: the man on the floor looks like he’s been torn apart. Or maybe ‘torn open’ would be a better description. Yes--his stomach has been slit--has been torn open, vertically, and all his blood and meat and organs seem to have fallen out, and a lot of that seems to have been torn apart and open as well.

The man’s face is frozen in a rictus of agony. A quiet, morbid voice in the back of your head wonders how long he lived after his stomach was split.

“Hey,” says a familiar voice from behind you.

You turn around, grateful for the excuse to look away from the mangled corpse. Grover Maxim stands there, clutching a notepad in one large hand. “Sorry about that,” he says, his face twisting apologetically. “If I’d seen you coming, I would’ve warned you.”

You think of saying something in response, like ‘no problem’ or ‘that’s alright’ or something, but all that comes out of your mouth is a cough. You pull the collar of your jacket against your nose, feeling tears gather at the inside corners of your eyes. Next to you, Valentin takes out a packet of gum, and, as you watch with a degree of envy, begins feeding the chunks into his mouth, one by one, until nothing is left.

“A couple of the neighbors complained about the smell,” Maxim says. A hint of joviality that flickers for a moment on his face, and then it is back to business. “Guy’s name is…”

Maxim squints down at his notepad.

“Kensook? Kensook Yam-a-motto?”

You lean forwards, stealing a peek at Maxim’s handwriting. “Kensuke Yamamoto,” you correct, uncovering your face only momentarily before taking refuge behind your makeshift filter once again.

Maxim nods. “Right. Kenskay Yamamoto.” You don’t correct him. It’s close enough. “Thirty-six, ish, thirty-seven. This all, uh…” Maxim gestures, a wide sweeping motion with his arm that includes all of the room, blood splatters and everything else. “This, all of this probably happened to the guy about…maybe two days ago, I’d say. Well, that’s what I think, but nowadays they’ve got these forensics guys, right? Probably one of them can tell you better.”

Valentin mutters something from underneath his coat. It sounds like, ‘Yeah, we’ll wait’.

“Well, that’s about all we’ve got--oh, hold on.” Maxim leafs through his notepad briefly before continuing. “This guy--it turns out he’s from Japan. I mean, he’s got a visa tucked away in his passport. One of the guys found it looking through his stuff.” Maxim nods sideways, towards a nearby counter, upon which some helpful officer has begun laying the deceased’s personal possessions, all out in a row. “Interesting, huh?”

It is, admittedly, a little bit interesting. You nod your sentiments, and hope Maxim understands.

_ Look through the victim’s possessions.
_ Look around the apartment a bit.
_ Ask the neighbors a few questions.
_ Other…
[x] Look around the apartment a bit.
_ Look around the apartment a bit.
_ Ask the neighbors a few questions.

These two we can do here, the rest we can do back in the office without the stench
[x] Look through the victim’s possessions.
[x] Look around the apartment a bit.
[x] Ask the neighbors a few questions.
[x] Gods... Carefully check the body for any unusual signs.
[x] Get a list of phone records and places he was last seen; this doesn't look like just your average murder.
[x] Scotch, cigarettes; our lunch for today.

>“So, where’s the coffee, then?”
Traffic, detours, little old street-crossing ladies, stupid children and animals playing in the road. Drunk it all on the way here, especially since the idiots at the coffee shop didn't refill the cup dispenser, and all they had were smalls.
[d] Look through the victim’s possessions.
[a] Look around the apartment a bit.
[-] Ask the neighbors a few questions.
[z] Gods... Carefully check the body for any unusual signs.
[e] Get a list of phone records and places he was last seen; this doesn't look like just your average murder.
[~] Politely delegate or ask about these as necessary. Also get some pictures of his belongings once all of them are laid out.
File 124346889078.jpg - (155.14KB, 571x518 , AftertheLegions.jpg) [iqdb]
X Look through the victim’s possessions

“Hey,” you say, your voice muffled from underneath your jacket collar. “You don’t mind if I take a look, do you?”

Maxim chuckles. “What are friends for? Look all you want. Couldn’t read half the stuff, anyway.”

You turn your attention to the objects on the counter of the small kitchen nook. Out of the corner of your eye, you see Valentin shrug, then wander towards the opposite corner of the room, looking for you-don’t-exactly-know-what. Not that you exactly know what you’re looking for yourself in these piles of papers and important looking documents.

You pick up the passport that tops the small pile, flipping through the pages curiously. Your first impression is that the victim did a lot of traveling--but no, it’s mostly the same two stamps over and over again.

United States, Japan, United States, Japan. He must’ve had some sort of regular job or something here.

You flip through the passport, stopping when you reach the small, white card near the front cover.

“Victim was admitted into the country about two months ago,” you note your observations out loud, more for your benefit than Valentin’s, though you won’t ever admit that to anybody. “Stay valid until…” You trail off, then read off the two letters, loudly and slowly in Valentin’s direction: “D/S. What’s D/S?”

“’Duration of status’.” Valentin doesn’t even look up from where he’s rummaging noisily through a series of desk drawers. “It means he doesn’t have to leave until his business is done with. You usually see it with foreign students. Exchange programs. Stuff like that.”

“So this guy was still in school?” It’s a little strange, but you’ve heard stories before of elderly men and women who went to college and graduated in their seventies--or later, even. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a good education, right?

Valentin grunts. “Well, if it says ‘J1’ on it, then that’s it.”

“Huh,” you mutter, and look back down at the little white card.

It doesn’t say ‘J1’.

“It doesn’t say ‘J1’,” you say.

From across the room, the sound of someone shifting a drawer full of loose items around stops.

“It doesn’t say ‘J1’, huh?” Valentin remarks, trying very hard not to sound interested. It’s only the telltale quavering at the very end of his sentence that gives him away. “What’s it say?”

“’A2’,” you answer.

It’s not like the entire room plunges into a sudden silence, or anything so clichéd as that. There’s an entire party of policemen in the apartment, after all, none of whom are paying more than passing attention to either of you.

But, from the way Valentin says nothing, only staring into space for a good second before marching in your direction with a strange light in his eyes that scares the bejeezus out of you--

He tears the passport from your hands.

You don’t make a sound of protest. Not a yelp. Not even a squeak.

Yeah, something dramatic might’ve happened, just now.

“’A2’,” Valentin confirms, and tosses the passport towards you. You fumble it, barely catch it just by the edge of one ink-stained page.

“That’s what I said,” you mumble, and then place the passport, gently, back onto the counter, before saying, “Now, what exactly does that mean, ‘A2’, then?”

Valentin’s response is two words:

“Government job.”


The two of you split up there, at the apartment. You’re not sure if it’s the best of ideas, and you’re ready to tell Valentin that up to the moment that he shoots you a look that says he knows exactly what you’re thinking and that you’d better not do anything more than think it.

Valentin takes the neighbors and the landlord. You return to the office, your coat folded over your arm, and begin making the necessary phone calls.

It is later--much later, or at least that is what it feels like--when Valentin returns to the office as well.

He pauses in the doorway, looking down at a particularly sorry sight--you, tipped backwards in your cheap, uncomfortable chair, your feet on your desk, your chin on your chest, and your jacket crumpled into a ball on your lap. Your head is tilted painfully to the side, holding the phone secure against your shoulder, or as secure as can be, under these circumstances.

“Still not done?” he asks, draping his own jacket elegantly over the back of his chair before sitting down himself.

You barely hear him. Hours (it feels like) of hearing the same tinny muzak repeat itself over and over has effectively burnt out your eardrums. “No,” you mumble.

Valentin reaches over and wrenches the receiver from the crook of your neck, depositing it in its cradle before you can even think of a proper protest beyond shouting ‘hey’ indignantly.

Well, best to go with what you’ve got, right? “Hey!” you shout indignantly.

“You’ve been on hold all that time?”

Valentin, of course, completely ignores any displeasure you might have. Well, that’s about par for the course, you guess. “Yeah,” you answer. “Well, no. First I was put on hold, and then I got to talk to someone, and then I was put on hold, and then I got to talk to someone else, and then I was put on hold--”

“Shut up.”

You shut up.

Valentin breathes out audibly, a drawn-out, painful sound, and rests his head in his hand. “Mr. Yamamoto appears to have been a very reclusive individual,” he mutters, not looking at you. “Neighbors never saw him. Never heard him. He paid his rent on time. No credit cards, no mobile phone, not even a little black book.” He looks at you, visibly frustrated. “Clean as a whistle. If you caught even a hint of something, that’ll be more than on my end.”

You didn’t catch anything at all.


“Sorry,” you say. “I got when he entered the country from the consulate--”

“We already have that!” Valentin roars, slamming his hand onto his desk. Pencils and papers jump, just for a moment. You flinch.

“They weren’t open with anything more than that,” you say, apologetically, and then “Sorry,” again, for good measure.

The two of you sit at your desks, quiet, heads bowed, stewing in your respective failures. Finally, Valentin sighs and rises, grabbing his coat. “Forget it. We’ll do something tomorrow. Let’s get something to eat.”

You nod. “Be right there, just let me make a few--”

Valentin is already out the door.

“--notes,” you mumble to yourself, dejectedly. Well, alright then. An early dinner does sound good, after all. Something light, so that it doesn’t hurt the wallet too badly when you split the bill--though it’s probably best to make sure you’ve got money at all before you reach the restaurant. You don’t want to go through a repeat of what happened last time.

There’s a buzzing noise in your head, muted and familiar.

_ Follow Valentin, and hope he doesn’t pick Thai again.
_ Wait, what was that?
_ Other…
[X] Wait, what was that?
[X] Wait, what was that?
[x] Wait, what was that?
[x] Follow Valentine. The Thai restaurant was closed today, wasn't it? That's right. Voice this to him. There's a nice bar and grill that just opened up.

Casual-liar anon.
[x] Wait, what was that?
[x] Follow Valentine. The Thai restaurant was closed today, wasn't it? That's right. Voice this to him. There's a nice bar and grill that just opened up.
[x] ¿Espera, que estan esto?
File 12438895908.jpg - (13.68KB, 300x300 , Wieder Ein Tag.jpg) [iqdb]
X Wait, what was that?

You freeze in your chair, your limbs locking themselves, your joints cracking under the sudden tension. You know that buzzing. That’s…

That’s your mobile phone, isn’t it?

For just a moment there, you thought the sound was coming from inside you. Absurd. What did you imagine it was? A tag the aliens injected into your spine to track your movements or something? Of course it’s not coming from inside you. You’re just tired and cranky and your mind is taking the opportunity to play stupid tricks.

More importantly, that’s your mobile phone isn’t it?

Where exactly is your mobile phone?

You pat down your pants pockets, and, when that fails to produce anything, unfold your balled up jacket. Still--zilch. Did you even bring your phone with you when you came to work today? You don’t remember doing so--which means maybe you actually left it in the office yesterday, or the day before, or maybe even some day before that. You hope you haven’t missed any important calls.

It’s a good thing you rarely use your mobile phone at all--it was your sister who insisted you get one, curiously enough. ‘So I can reach you when you’re out in the field’. Nobody else calls you on it (though you do have a pager for work-related issues).

Well, the most likely place for you to have left it is your desk, and your desk is only so big, right? All you have to do is wait for the sounds to start up again, and--

There. Four sharp, high-pitched buzzes. It’s coming from the inside of the drawer. You pull the compartment open and plunge into the sea of loose papers you promised yourself you’d sort out months ago--but there’s no time for that now. You’ll do it tomorrow, maybe.

And there, beneath a photocopy of an old report, a roughly sketched floorplan, and a grocery list is your mobile phone.

You recognize the number lit up upon the small windowed screen. It’s your sister’s own mobile phone, of course--one of the only two numbers you ever receive calls from (the other being the phone at the apartment). You flip your phone’s cover open and press it to your ear hurriedly. Valentin has probably left without you by now, but if you make this quick, you can catch up. You know exactly where he’s going--the same Thai restaurant he always goes to. The man has no taste. Or taste buds, for that matter.


“I’ve been trying to call you for the last hour or so.” Your sister’s voice is cool and steady. This means that she’s irate and considering dismemberment.

“Oh, hey, Sis,” you say cheerfully. “Sorry. I’ve been out, and it looks like I left my phone in my desk overnight.” You don’t mention the few hours during which you were sitting at your desk and should have heard the phone buzzing--you blame the music on hold. If you hear “The Girl from Ipanema” one more time, you just might kill someone.

“So, what’s up? Forget how to work the coffee machine again?”

You wait for the usual counterattack, but the only response to your goading is an uncomfortable silence.

“Listen,” your sister says. All the ire has disappeared from her voice, and the suspicion that something at home has gone terribly wrong doubles. “I got a phone call.”

You expect her to explain further, but what you at first think is nothing more than a momentary pause lingers on and on and on until you can stand it no more and pick the first dumb line running through your head to displace it.

“What? Did you win a trip to Barbados or something?” It is a stupid and juvenile thing to say, but it will, at the very least, jump-start the conversation.

And indeed: “No,” your sister says. “Mom’s family called.” She says it fast, as if the very act of saying those words leaves a bad taste in her mouth. “Someone died. They want us to go over.” She stops there, her discomfort readily apparent, clearly hoping that you’ll connect the dots on your own and she won’t have to clarify the situation any more than she already has.

You do understand, though. “They want us to go over? What a joke. I didn’t see any of them at the funeral,” you mutter. “I mean, yeah, it’s a fourth of the globe away, but the least they could do is send a consolation card.” Something occurs to you: “Aren’t we personae non gratae, anyway? What changed all of a sudden?”

Your sister makes a short, derisive sound over the line. “Beats me. I tried to ask, but the guy on the other end clammed up pretty tight once he realized I wasn’t a secretary.”


“By the way, I think the guy thought I was your secretary. Or maid, or something.”

Oh. “Why would he think I have a maid?”

“He probably comes from a rich family that’s never not had maids, and finds the idea of living without one utterly inconceivable.”

“What would I do with a maid, anyway?”

“Have a torrid affair. Isn’t that what maids are for?” You sister sounds a bit livelier now. Thank goodness. Nothing cheers her up more than the opportunity to snark. “Anyway, the guy wants you to call him up. Have you got a piece of paper?”

Your sister recites a number, and you jot it down on the back of an old hot dog wrapper (another reminder that you really need to clean out that drawer). Then, once your goodbyes are put in order, you hang up.

You stare at your now silent mobile for a long time, just thinking.

You hold no great love for your mother’s side of the family. From the bits and pieces of conversation you’ve overheard, you know that they severed all ties with your mother as soon as it became apparent that her engagement to your dad wasn’t just an empty show of rebellion.

They disowned her. And yet, now, they’re willing to acknowledge your existence. Why? Is this an attempt at reconciliation? Was she named as an inheritor in someone’s will?

If you don’t call, you’ll never find out.

_ Call the man who contacted your sister
_ Don’t call the man who contacted your sister
_ Call someone else entirely…
_ Other…
[x] Catch up with Valentine and steer him away from the Thai restaurant.
[x] You'll call this mystery man tomorrow.
[z] Catch up with Valentin and steer him away from the Thai restaurant.
[e] You'll call this mystery man today, after lunch.
File 12441766815.jpg - (24.72KB, 500x500 , IRememberClifford.jpg) [iqdb]
I won't lie. This part might be a little tough.

Time to play detective...


X Catch up with Valentin and steer him away from the Thai restaurant.
X You'll call this mystery man today, after lunch.

But that doesn’t mean you have to make a decision right now, you think, putting the phone in your coat pocket, and then the coat itself over your shoulders. You need time to think of this. And maybe some advice.

Where’s Valentin? For a guy who’s constantly trying to get on your case for something or other, he’s really never there when you do need him.

Oh, that’s right, Thai. At this point, Valentin’s probably sitting at a corner table, scowling at the opposite wall as he waits for his food. You use that term loosely--“food”. You know what food is, and you know what food isn’t, and the stuff Valentin usually eats isn’t.

Your estimate, it turns out, is somewhat off. Perhaps the service at the restaurant is especially prompt today, because when you pull up outside, you can see your partner through the plate glass window already chowing down on some vile-looking meal.

“You’re late,” Valentin says as you approach his table, not even bothering to look up from his plate. “I didn’t order for you.”

You didn’t really expect him to. “No appetite,” you say, and pull up a chair.

You don’t say anything else to Valentin, and Valentin doesn’t say anything else to you, and you allow yourself to be dragged into another bout of uncomfortable silence--

Well, silence from your side of the table, anyway.

Valentin, on the other hand, makes all sorts of obscene smacking noises as he greedily scoffs up mouthful after mouthful of his culinary abomination. It’s not something you wish to view, not at all-but despite your ever-mounting horror and disgust, you cannot tear your eyes away.

Finally, though, the food is all gone, and as Valentin wipes his lips on the corner of a napkin (as if that instance of grace can erase all that you’ve seen!) you dare to make a sound, leaning forwards and clearing your throat in a pointed manner.


“Valentin.” You look him straight in the eyes, trying to impart exactly how serious you are at the moment, but the other man just finishes wiping his mouth, discarding the dirty napkin onto his plate.

“Could I ask for your personal opinion on something?”

“Do what you want.”

That’s probably the best you’ll ever get, so you continue: “I have these relatives, right?”

Valentin grunts.

“And we’re not on good terms with them. Or maybe they’re not on good terms with us.” You try to explain. “We parted…well, I didn’t part with them, but they left us. Not me, specifically, but…”

Maybe it’s better to just get to the meat of the issue, you think.

“Recently, they contacted me. Us,” you say. “Someone died, and they want us to go over now. For the funeral or something, I guess.” Saying all this all out loud makes you suddenly realize how little you know about this entire situation you’re in. You probably should’ve at least contacted the guy and asked for a few specifics before getting someone else’s opinion. “And what I’m wondering is…should I? I mean, these people aren’t my friends. They’re barely family. And then one day, out of the blue, they call and say they want us again.”

You’re beginning to sound bitter, and that fact surprises you. It’s not like you to get angry. Why would you be angry? You never even knew these people. They’re nothing to be concerned about. Do you get so indignant over every little wrongful death?

Of course not. But while you know this in your mind, your emotions are another matter altogether. You conclude, quickly, seeking to dam up this stream of irrational response. “So? What do you think I should do?” you ask.

For what seems like an agonizingly long time, Valentin does nothing and says nothing to indicate that he’s been listening to one word of your rambling monologue, instead electing to pick his teeth as he studies the pattern of the tablecloth. At long length, however, he sighs loudly, opens his mouth, and says--

“Do what you want.”


“What?” you blurt out. “What do you mean by ‘do what you want’?”

Another sigh, this time accompanied by a roll of the eyes. “Which part don’t you understand?” he mutters, irritatedly. “Do what you want. If you don’t want to see them, then don’t see them, and if you’re interested enough, go.” He glares at you. He always glares at you after he’s done giving you advice or instructions, as if to ask--‘why are you still here?’

The bill comes. Valentin digs around in his pocket for his wallet, withdrawing his payment one note at a time, with great deliberation.

“Done?” he asks.


When you drive off, it’s in different directions.


You lean back in the driver’s seat and close your eyes.

You’re nervous. Mere hours ago this might have also surprised you, but by now you have managed to move past surprise and instead settle firmly upon annoyance. It’s a matter of convenience, you reason: annoyance is easier to handle than anger. Annoyance is easier to handle than anger. Annoyance…

You run the phrase, again and again until you’ve chopped off all the unnecessary letters.

Annoyance is easy to handle.

It’s not true, but if you let the statement reverberate through your head a few thousand times, it just might take.

You open your eyes and begin once more the decipherment of your messy handwriting. You should have folded the hot dog wrapper neatly before you put it in your pocket. The wrinkles crookedly crisscrossing the stained scrap of paper do not improve the legibility of your penmanship, but eventually your memory and intuition win out, and you carefully punch the numbers into your mobile phone.

If he doesn’t answer within five rings I’ll hang up, you promise yourself. I’ll just hang up right there at the fifth ring, and I’ll never talk to him. I won’t even learn his name if I can help it. And I’ll be perfectly alright with it all, just as long as he doesn’t answer within five rings--

He answers before the first one has finished.

“Hello,” he says, his voice remarkably clear over the long distance line. You don’t respond, preferring instead to entertain a wild hope: maybe if you stay quiet, he’ll end the call on his own, and--

“Hello,” he says again, and this time follows the greeting with “This is Shinomiya.”

_ Hang up
_Don’t hang up
_ _ Talk to/Ask Shinomiya about… (Specify)
_ _ Think about… (Specify)
_ Other… (Specify)
[X] Hang up

[x] Don’t hang up
[x] "...my sister gave me this number, something about the death of an estranged relative?"
[x] Hang up.
[x] Turn off your cell and go for drinks. You'll call this guy tomorrow.

Murder case headache, rude partner, family problems, empty stomach... We're in a bit too pissy of a mood to talk sensibly right now.
[d] Don’t hang up
[a] "...my sister gave me this number, something about the death of an estranged relative?"
[z] Think about what you know of your mother's family.
[e] "Why did you want to talk to me? You barely know us, if at all, and suddenly you want to talk with me, specifically? It sounds dodgy as hell."
[x] Don’t hang up

come on you pussies, we called for a reason
File 124462658355.png - (20.85KB, 339x421 , Valen.png) [iqdb]
Sorry for still not having the next part up. I've been unable to work on this for a while, swamped as I was with all sort of other things. At my worst, I had about a night's worth of sleep in three days.

Anyway, you're not hanging up, and it seems some exposition of some sort might or might not be coming forth. So wait for that, okay?

Oh, right, and there's a bit of plot I need to hammer out with...hm.

As recompense, here's a picture of your senior partner, Ritchie Valentin. Well, it's as close as I could get with the face constructor I found. I don't have a scanner, you see.
He looks way younger than I imagined. I was picturing that one guy from NYPD Blue.
File 124479251077.png - (75.97KB, 338x251 , phpR5Emlc.png) [iqdb]

I didn't want to do it, but it seems it can't be helped.

Anon, name your character.

[_] ...
[x] Jim Kurring
[O] Juarez Kawabe
[ze] Terry Harker
[x] Toni Cipriani
File 124494488172.png - (43.58KB, 338x251 , MrHarker.png) [iqdb]
Alright, looks like "Terrence Harker" won out. I flipped a coin, you see, and, well, there you go, and there I do.

Update later today, I hope.
File 124497361388.gif - (121.30KB, 400x391 , watchtheworldcavein.gif) [iqdb]
X Don’t hang up
X “...my sister gave me this number, something about the death of an estranged relative?”
X Think about what you know of your mother's family.
X “Why did you want to talk to me? You barely know us, if at all, and suddenly you want to talk with me, specifically? It sounds dodgy as hell.”

You can’t put it off forever, you know. If you try, it’ll just get worse.

“Hello.” You speak into the receiver and hope that your reluctance isn’t obvious. “This is Terrence Harker. I believe you called my sister earlier?”

There is a pause as this Shinomiya runs that sentence over, and then a sudden flustered stammering. ‘Oh--your sister? Of course, I see! Yes--well--I believe, then, that, uh, your sister already--that is to say, she told you about, uh--”

There’s a part of you that can’t help but relish this man’s struggle to tactfully deliver the bad news without actually delivering the bad news. You take pity on him, though, and interrupt. “My sister told me that somebody died, but I’m afraid I didn’t get any of the details.”

“Oh. I see then. Well, right--” Shinomiya clears his throat, and begins speaking in a businesslike tone, no doubt attempting to regain control of the conversation. “I’m very sorry,” he says, “but as assistant to Mrs. Kumiko Hakurei, it is my sad duty to inform you that she and her husband have passed on.”

‘Mrs. Kumiko Hakurei’. He says the name with great gravitas, almost reverently. You don’t recognize it at all.

“Who?” you ask.

Your unaffected reply knocks Shinomiya off his pedestal and sends him stumbling over his words again. “Um, you, uh--” he mumbles. “That is to say that, uh--”

There is the sound of shuffling papers.

“Kumiko. Mrs. Kumiko Hakurei, and her husband, Mr. Hiroshi Hakurei,” Shinomiya tries. Poor man. All of this has gone terribly off-script for him, hasn’t it?

“I’m sorry. I don’t think I know a Kumiko.” You don’t think you know anyone from your mother’s family, but that’s beside the point. “Er, how did you say she was related to me again?”

“Oh. Um, sorry--Kumiko and Hiroshi Hakurei. Those would be your, um, grandparents.”

Your mother’s parents. What do you know about your mother’s parents? You cast your thoughts back to your childhood years, trying to dredge up a memory, any memory. Surely, your mother must have mentioned something at some point, like their personalities, or their jobs…

All that comes to mind is the story of how she and your dad met. Her parents disapproved when they learned she was dating him, she told you. And they about blew the roof when she broke off the engagement that had been hanging over her head since she’d been a kid. And then she was disinherited. Which brings to mind the question:

“Why are you telling me this?” you ask, perhaps sounding a bit more irate than you mean to.

“Sorry? Er, well, these are your grandparents, right? It’s only expected, I mean--right?” Shinomiya begins to sound a bit panicked, so you quickly lower your voice.

“Not particularly,” you respond. “This is the first time we’ve been contacted by your people. In fact, we were under the impression that you would all rather we not exist. So, why is it that all of a suddenly you want us to come over?”

“Well, um, you don’t have to come over, if you don’t want to. I mean, actually, it’s only you that we--they want coming over. There’s a bit of, uh, property that seems like it might pass into your hands with the death of Kumi--er, your grandparents,” Shinomiya coughs, lightly. “And, well, we’d like you to come over, just so you could clear it up--sign some things, er, you know. If you don’t want it, it’s fine, but we would like to see you, at least once, so you can just take a look--”

You cut him off when he begins to repeat himself.


“Er--ah--fine?” Shinomiya exclaims, surprised. “You’ll come, then?”

You groan internally at your poor word choice. “No. I mean--fine, I understand what you’re saying. I’ll make my decision, and then call you back, alright?”

“Oh. Alright.”


“Sorry I’m late.”

“Oh, hey.” Your sister nods her head at you in greeting as you walk through the door, then turns back to watching her pitifully small television set. That’s her television set, not yours, as she fond of reminding you. It even has a label across the top reading ‘Property of Shannon Harker’, from that time she bought a label maker on a whim.

The TV is set up on the end of the table so that Shannon can comfortably watch her shows and eat dinner at the same time. “Don’t step on the wires,” she calls out, not lifting her eyes away from whatever program is on at the moment.

“Yeah, I won’t.” You cross the room, throwing your coat onto the couch. “Got any extra ramen in there?”

“I think so. Check the cabinet.”

On the screen, a stubbled man with a pair of black wings folded over his back is hiding from a troop of faux Russian soldiers behind a conveniently placed mound of snow. He’s also otherwise completely naked. It’s probably something that would make sense if you’d caught the beginning of the episode instead of walking in partway through like you are now.

In any case, there are indeed a few ramen packs left in the cabinet. “Mind if I reuse your pot?”

“Sure. Not like I drank out of it.” Saves on the washing, too.

“By the way,” you say, aside, as you pick the cookware out of the sink. “I talked to that guy.”

And the TV goes black.

Oh dear, you think, and turn your head.

Your sister--no, Shannon stares at you with a sharp intensity, like a hawk eyeing a mouse. “I see,” she says, her voice a complete monotone. “Did he say who it was that died?”

It takes a bit of effort to choke down your fight-or-flight reflex, but you manage: “Yeah. Grandparents, apparently,” you mumble, avoiding all eye contact.

But then you blink, and your sister is at once back to her usual self, her grin welcoming and her eyes shining with laughter. “We have grandparents?” she says, putting a hand to her chest and tilting her head in an imitation of astonishment. “And all this time I thought someone sculpted Mom out of clay and wrote the name of God on her forehead!”

You are used to this by now--the tendency of Shannon’s to suddenly transform into a figure of cold wrath before just as quickly returning to earth. And so you return the jest: “Clay?” You say, shaking your head. “That’s silly. It’s obvious that she was sewn together from a pile of stolen cadavers.”

“That’s not how it goes. Zeus had a headache, so he had someone crack open his skull, and she sprung forth full-grown.”

“An old couple found a giant pomegranate floating downriver, and when they cut it open, they found her inside.”

“Eh? Pomegranate?” Your sister breaks the back-and-forth rhythm, neatly tossing you from your stride. “Hold on, which one was the one with the pomegranate?”

“You know, that Japanese folktale. What’s-his-name. That one guy who teamed up with a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant.”

A wadded up napkin bounces off your forehead. “Wrooooong!” intones Shannon, like a game show host from Hell. “That’s Momotarou. Peach-Tarou, not Pomegranate-Tarou!” Another napkin.

“Hey, quit it!” You cover your head with your hands, but your sister is better at shooting than you are at defending, and the next napkin rolls through the air lazily just above your crossed arms, bouncing off your crown, just like the others. “Agh, cut it out!”

“You fail folkloristics forever!” your sister laughs, and the barrage continues.
File 124497413560.jpg - (19.01KB, 301x300 , usedtobeasweetboy.jpg) [iqdb]

“So, are you going to go over, then?” your sister asks you as you scrub the few dirty dishes in the sink. Shannon’s made you wear the pink apron as you do so, as a penalty for messing up the Momotarou reference: ‘We’re half-Japanese, so you should be extra ashamed, you know,’ she said before throwing the accursed garment over your head and going back to her television program.

You shrug, even though she’s not looking. “Well, I don’t know. I told him that I’d think about it, and then get back to him.”

Shannon hmms in response, and you begin on the last bowl. Hey, do you really eat this much ramen? Maybe you ought to cut down…

“You know,” says Shannon slowly, hesitantly, “I kind of want to go.”

You pause.

“Seriously?” you ask.

“Well, yeah.” She turns her head to look straight at you. “I mean, aren’t you the least bit curious about what these people are like?”

They’ll probably all do the public shunning bit.” There. All done. You heave the apron off yourself and hang it over the nearest chair.

“Well…we can take a vacation at the same time, can we?” Shannon changes the channel a few times, before settling on what looks like an interesting horror flick. A hand approaches from the darkness. A woman screams. “I mean, it’s Japan, right? Thank about it--real Japanese sushi!”

_ Alright. It does sound like it could be interesting.
_ No. I’m sorry. I have no interest in these people, or Japan.
_ Other… (Specify)
[x] No. I’m sorry. I have no interest in these people, or Japan.

Yukari express?

>On the screen, a stubbled man with a pair of black wings folded over his back is hiding from a troop of faux Russian soldiers behind a conveniently placed mound of snow. He’s also otherwise completely naked.
I see what you did there... I think. Could be wrong.
[x] Alright. It does sound like it could be interesting.
[x] And if there's property involved the worst that will come of it is that you could sell it.

Everyone likes money. Everyone.

Also, your sister is nice; you will do what she tells you to.
[z] All right. It does sound like it could be interesting.
[e] And if there's property involved the worst that will come of it is that you could sell it.

>Also, your sister is nice; you will do what she tells you to.
Wrong story.

I can't think of any stories that would apply to.
[x] No. I’m sorry. I have no interest in these people, or Japan.

Ignoring plot devices~
Lighthouse story in /others/, which sadly seems to have stalled.
[x] Alright. It does sound like it could be interesting.
[x] And if there's property involved the worst that will come of it is that you could sell it.
[x] Alright. It does sound like it could be interesting.
[x] And if there's property involved the worst that will come of it is that you could sell it.
>Lighthouse story in /others/, which sadly seems to have stalled.

And just when it was starting to make sense, too.
File 12455534737.jpg - (11.59KB, 340x340 , ABoltOutoftheBlues.jpg) [iqdb]
X Alright. It does sound like it could be interesting.
X And if there's property involved the worst that will come of it is that you could sell it.

“’Japanese sushi’? Isn’t that redundant?”

It’s a poor attempt to change the subject, and Shannon catches it at once. “California rolls. Now, answer the question.”

The horror movie turns out to be a commercial for laundry detergent, which is followed by a woman in a bad suit hawking pet medication. Shannon ignores her, waving the remote control in your direction instead. “Vacation?” she asks, “Or no vacation?” And then, when you hesitate, “Here’s a hint: pick the one with the vacation.”

You sigh, and turn away from her to safely roll your eyes--but even at this point, you know how the conversation is going to end. “Oh, hell,” you groan. “Sure. Why not?”

“Yes!” Shannon jumps from her chair, pumping her fist with such a rapturous display of enthusiasm that you feel kind of rotten for rolling your eyes just moments ago--so you do it again, deliberately, with an exaggerated tilting of your head that ensures its detection.

Shannon throws her seat cushion at your head, you don’t even try to dodge.


It’s dark.

It’s really dark.

You’d always thought that the old phrase about not being able to see your hand in front of your face was an exaggeration. Now, though, it describes your situation perfectly.

It’s dark, and there is something like a sharp, cold wind blowing into your face. Is there a fan somewhere nearby? An open window? You wonder…

Directly overhead, a light flickers on and stabilizes, settling on an uncomfortable dimness that is still far better than the darkness you were immersed in seconds before.

That’s much better, you think to yourself. You can perfectly well where you’re sitting, now. You can see where you are--in one of the many rows of seats that make up the interior of the bus.

And the wind isn’t a fan at all--it’s actual wind, blowing in from the broken window. Yes, that’s much better than before.

How odd, you think, and turn your head to ask the person sitting next to you if she finds that odd, too.

It’s that purple woman again--but of course it’s that purple woman again. People don’t usually change seats for no reason in the middle of a bus ride--not before at least reaching a stop, first, which you haven’t.

She’s looking away from you, into the aisle. You can’t see what she’s looking at, and it would be rude to climb over her just so you could take a peek, so you don’t. You lean back in your seat, and say, loudly, “Excuse me.”

The woman jerks as if shocked, and then, slowly, stiffly, swivels her head to meet your eye. Her mouth moves, but no sound comes out.

“Excuse me,” you say, as politely as you can, “but do you know what’s wrong with this window?”

The woman does not respond.

You wait a moment--perhaps she is pondering the matter--but it soon becomes clear that she doesn’t plan to answer anytime soon, so you speak up once more. “Excuse me--”

“Sorry.” Her voice is low, almost choked. She smiles. It’s a terrible smile, unbelievably kind and unbelievably sad all at once.

“It’s okay,” you respond more out of politeness than anything else, and then return to your original question: “Do you know what’s wrong with this win--”

Her head falls off.

“Sorry,” she says again.


You wake up. Over the radio, Ella Shields is gravely informing you that she is Burlington Bertie from Bow. It is five in the morning, and you thank her earnestly.


The dream puts you in a lousy mood, not helped by the autopsy report that Valentin deliberately tosses on top of your puffed rice cake (you’re late again, but this time you really did get something from the coffeeshop).

You sigh to yourself, then separate the report from your breakfast, glancing over it casually as you finish off your meal.

When you reach the end of the report, you start from the beginning again, this time paying close attention to the report’s contents.

Then you read it a third time, just to be sure.

“A claw?”

“Oh, no. Not a claw. A claw-like object. That makes all the difference, you see.” Only a fool or an idiot would miss the sarcasm in Valentin’s voice.

Luckily, you’re only pretending to miss it: “Actually, it sort of does. If it were a claw, that means we’d be looking for a single-clawed animal of some sort that apparently dispatches its victims with a single downwards slice, then leaves without disturbing the resulting corpse or any of its surroundings.” You beam at Valentin like a schoolboy who’s successfully completed a difficult problem at the blackboard.

Valentin scowls. “Yeah? And how many animals fit that list?”

None, you think, and slather a disgustingly naïve smile across your face. “Well, an animal like that would have to pret-ty rare! Sure would cut down the list of suspects!”

The glare you receive could probably be used to burn bread. You cough uncomfortably, and dispense with the hijinkery forthwith. “Er, but they didn’t find any bloody claw-like objects at the scene of the crime, huh?”

No, says Valentin’s expression, they didn’t.

“Great.” Now you feel a little like scowling, too. “So that leaves us with nothing.”

_ Go back to the apartment. Maybe there’s something you missed.
_ Make small talk with Maxim. There’s nothing else you can do, anyway.
_ Hey, while you’re at the office--why don’t you talk to your boss and secure that time off?
>Luckily, you’re only pretending to miss it: “Actually, it sort of does. If it were a claw, that means we’d be looking for a single-clawed animal of some sort that apparently dispatches its victims with a single downwards slice, then leaves without disturbing the resulting corpse or any of its surroundings.” You beam at Valentin like a schoolboy who’s successfully completed a difficult problem at the blackboard.

[x] "There is still the velociraptor theory, unique among the dinosaurs in that they oftentimes hunt only for sport, eviscerating their prey with a single downward swipe of the scythe-like claw on their second toe, without touching the remains. Or at least that's how they presented it in Jurassic Park. So as for a murder weapon, maybe it's an actual dinosaur bone?"
[x] "Our lead here is that it's possible we have some nutjob running around who thinks he's a dinosaur. I'm going to go to the natural history museum to talk to a curator about getting a cast made of one of those gigantic toenails; forensics can decide if it's something that could used as an actual murder weapon here, rather than a sickle or a sword or even some purpose-made tool."
[x] "You get to call up the asylums and ask if they've ever had any inpatients who thought they were 'thunder lizards'."
[x] Hey, while you’re at the office--why don’t you talk to your boss and secure that time off?
[x] Go back to the apartment. Maybe there’s something you missed.
[x] "There is still the velociraptor theory, unique among the dinosaurs in that they oftentimes hunt only for sport, eviscerating their prey with a single downward swipe of the scythe-like claw on their second toe, without touching the remains. Or at least that's how they presented it in Jurassic Park. So as for a murder weapon, maybe it's an actual dinosaur bone?"
[x] "Our lead here is that it's possible we have some nutjob running around who thinks he's a dinosaur. I'm going to go to the natural history museum to talk to a curator about getting a cast made of one of those gigantic toenails; forensics can decide if it's something that could used as an actual murder weapon here, rather than a sickle or a sword or even some purpose-made tool."
[x] "You get to call up the asylums and ask if they've ever had any inpatients who thought they were 'thunder lizards'."
[x] Hey, while you’re at the office--why don’t you talk to your boss and secure that time off?
[d] The only thing you can think of is one of those velociraptors, and that sure as hell can't be it, right?
[a] Maybe call up the natural history museum really quick, and just check.
[z] Go back to the apartment. Maybe there’s something you missed. Be ready for that smell, though.
[e] Hey, before you leave the office--why don’t you talk to your boss and secure that time off?

I'm trying my best, but to be honest, I don't know if I can work this velociraptor thing in.

I just can't seem to make it fit. I'm going to keep at it, but I figured you all deserved an explanation for why I haven't updated by now.

Just wing it.

Eh, finesse it.
File 12465623473.jpg - (6.40KB, 200x196 , WerewolvesofLondon.jpg) [iqdb]
I took a while.


X "There is still the velociraptor theory, unique among the dinosaurs in that they oftentimes hunt only for sport, eviscerating their prey with a single downward swipe of the scythe-like claw on their second toe, without touching the remains. Or at least that's how they presented it in Jurassic Park. So as for a murder weapon, maybe it's an actual dinosaur bone?"
X "Our lead here is that it's possible we have some nutjob running around who thinks he's a dinosaur. I'm going to go to the natural history museum to talk to a curator about getting a cast made of one of those gigantic toenails; forensics can decide if it's something that could be used as an actual murder weapon here, rather than a sickle or a sword or even some purpose-made tool."
X "You get to call up the asylums and ask if they've ever had any inpatients who thought they were 'thunder lizards'."
X Hey, while you’re at the office--why don’t you talk to your boss and secure that time off?

Valentin agrees, and you know he agrees because what he does next is something that he rarely does.

He doesn’t do anything at all.

He doesn’t throw a half-used styrofoam cup at your head. He doesn’t kick your chair, or pound his fist into the surface of your desk, or grab your collar or scream or yell or even glare.

Which means…he agrees.

There’s nothing left, no leads to follow. You’re at a dead end, and somehow, the fact that Valentin isn’t coming down on your case like an angel of judgment makes it a million times worse.

Your little corner of the office is sour with the stench of resignation.

What a terrible day.

What a terrible case.

“Security cameras? Did the place have security cameras?” And you’re picking at straws, now. Do you really think Valentin neglected something as elementary as security footage? There’s a reason he’s senior detective--other than the fact that he’s older than you.

But you are desperate for anything, and just maybe, possibly…

“No tape.”

Valentin neatly dashes your hopes.

Of course. This is Los Ojos, after all. There were security cameras in the apartment because apartment buildings are supposed to have security cameras, but anything more than that--

Why bother recording anything if nothing’s ever going to happen?

You mentally catalogue the little information you do have: the murderer entered Mr. Yamamoto’s apartment and slit open Yamamoto’s stomach. The murderer then left the building. Somehow, nobody saw a thing.

Nothing was stolen or disturbed, suggesting malice aforethought, but you can’t investigate Yamamoto’s past because he apparently doesn’t have one--at least, not one the Japanese government would like to talk about.

Useless. No matter which angle you look at it from, nothing is still nothing is still nothing.

“Maybe it was a velociraptor,” you muse.

Valentin doesn’t say anything, too busy counting out his handful of gum tablets to pay attention to your babble.

“No, no, don’t interrupt me! Hear me out!” You hold your hand into the air, palm out, a physical ward against the waves and waves of protest. “Think about it: what animal do you know that’s got a claw for slicing people open and can open doors?”

Silence, except for the sound of heavy chewing.

“Exactly! Velociraptors! Kensuke Yamamoto was killed by a velociraptor.”

Valentin still doesn’t say anything. You peruse the autopsy report for the nth time as you listen to his question.

“That’s very good. I’m glad you pointed that out. In hindsight, though, you may find that the answer is obvious. These velociraptors are not any ordinary velociraptors, oh no no no. These velociraptors are part of a superintelligent velociraptor mafia! You know, with trenchcoats and everything. That’s why nobody saw anything out of the ordinary--the velociraptor was wearing a trenchcoat, and everyone knows that reptiles wearing trenchcoats are indistinguishable from normal human beings.”

You pause for breath, eager to detail Yamamoto’s secret mission to summon Godzilla and wipe out the evil velociraptor mafia once and for all, but Valentin very rudely shuts off your spotlight: “Are you done?”

“Yeah, sure.” You collapse inwards on yourself as you return to Earth, letting your head fall into your hands. “We’re both done, really,” you mutter. “I don’t know what we’re going to tell the captain…”

“Think quickly.”

Valentin is looking away from you. You follow his gaze, and immediately wish you hadn’t.

Speak of the devil.


Captain Graham is a man who looks as if he has no business being in charge of a police division. His limbs are too thin, his face too mousy. Give him a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and a soul patch and he would look right at home hosting a modern art exhibition.

He’s straight to the point, as always.

“We’re off the Yamamoto case.”

You gape, dumbfounded. Beside you, Valentin tears open a packet of chewing gum.

The captain’s smile is a touch too thin, too stiff. “Chief Modeste called me up personally,” he says. “Wanted me to know that I was doing a perfectly fine job, and by the way, would you mind closing the Yamamoto case as quickly as possible?”

“Close it?” you protest. “It hasn’t even been a full day! We’ve barely opened it!”

“You think I don’t know that?” Graham sighs, massaging the bridge of his nose wearily. “Apparently, though, the guy’s been put under a lot of pressure all of a sudden by people very adamant about ‘death by misadventure’.”

He lets you chew over that point for a moment, then continues.

“I don’t suppose either of you managed to find anything interesting?”

Valentin grunts. “Define ‘interesting’.”

“The guy was here on a visa. He had a job with the Japanese government.” You shrug. “But other than that, nothing. We haven’t really had the time to find anything else, and the consulate’s been kind of uncooperative.”

Graham looks at you sharply. “Uncooperative? How uncooperative?”

You shrug again. “Well, they put me on hold for a long time, and then they were very adamant about the information being private. I don’t know. Isn’t that normal?”

“You call the consulate with a case, and suddenly someone else wants it dropped?” Graham raises an eyebrow skeptically. “Doesn’t sound like a coincidence to me.”

And when he puts it like that--no, it really doesn’t. Some detective you are. You should have been able to figure that out by yourself.

But self-flagellation can wait until later. Right now, you’ve got a case to solve. “Alright, then,” you say. “What’s our next move?”

Graham and Valentin both stare at you incredulously.


Valentin breaks the awkward silence: “The chief wants this case to be closed,” he explains to you, his voice thick with condescension. “Closed. Finished. Over. That means that we don’t work on it anymore. Do you understand?”

_ Oh. Crap. You really can’t do anything, huh. That’s seriously messed up. Seriously messed up.
_ I’m sure there’s something we can do, right? (Specify)
_ Other (Specify)
[x] "He was mauled by large animal of some sort. Like a tiger. Probably came into the country for that very reason--importation. Guy wants to play a little Sigfried & Roy, but kitty doesn't take too kindly to his new owner. I think that qualifies as 'death by misadventure' doesn't it? Not that you could charge him anyway, but illegal importation of exotic animals is customs, and the tiger itself is an issue for animal control."
[X] "Yeah, well, nothing working on was ever easy, eh? I had planned to ask about getting a vacation, but this seems like a prime opportunity."
[X] Explain how you and your sister have business in Japan, and see if you can get Graham and Valentin to try and help you get just a little more information on the vic. It's a long shot, but since you had planned to head there anyway, why not spend a little of your time in Japan snooping?

Why not? If we're over there on family business, we might as well take care of some other business too.

Then we can fool around with our sister.
>“Think about it: what animal do you know that’s got a claw for slicing people open and can open doors?”

I see what you did there.
>I see what you did there.

That's good, that's good!

I, uh, don't, though. See what I've done there, I mean.

This should be out overall plan of action, but the problem is that we probably shouldn't bring that up at all, given how hard they're pushing the "it's closed" bit.

However, asking the chief in private about that might be worth it. who knows?

Although not directly referencing the film title "Jurassic Park" as the write-in did, you did reference a relevant scene. The comedy is that the character presents 'velociraptors being able to open doors' as if it were a commonly known and accepted fact.

Did you write the Lighthouse story?
Then you used the meme wrong.

And I asked him myself about that last, and he didn't know which one I even meant.

now i'm confused
[d] "Of course I understand, no matter how incredibly suspicious and weirdly wrong the whole thing is."
--After/If Valentin goes, Or at least whenever you can get a word alone with the Chief:
[a] "It's sort of funny, though. I was going to ask you at some point for time off to fly to Japan. Apparently they're asking I come up there for a reading of a will or something. They were really vague about it, but seemed very nervous and desperate."
[z] "...Wow, even my personal life is sounding like work. How creepy is that?"
-(e) At some later point: Swing by the Yamamoto house again ASAP and take another look around the place; maybe ask the CSIs if they found anything new. After all, you won't likely get another chance to be there without trespassing anytime soon.
Come to think of it, rather than just noting anything new, we should probably make a list of all the strangest aspects of the murder scene for our own later use. If conventional investigative techniques don't seem to work well, try the unconventional - we should go in while we can, and instead of looking for the usual signs of a crime, look for odd details and anomalies. The other investigators could have overlooked something during previous examinations of the crime scene, simply because it wasn't something that they would normally look for.

Never know what kind of information could be of use.
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X "He was mauled by large animal of some sort. Like a tiger. Probably came into the country for that very reason--importation. Guy wants to play a little Sigfried & Roy, but kitty doesn't take too kindly to his new owner. I think that qualifies as 'death by misadventure' doesn't it? Not that you could charge him anyway, but illegal importation of exotic animals is customs, and the tiger itself is an issue for animal control."


And you do understand.

You’re not stupid. You know the bad guys get away with it, sometimes. That’s something you accepted in your teenage years, long before you even considered this line of work.

But this time’s a little different, isn’t it? A lack of evidence is one thing. The chief of police phoning your supervisor and ordering him to drop the case--

That’s just weird. Really weird. Conspiracy theory weird, even.

Now, if you were some sort of action hero, you’d refuse to let the matter rest. You’d head back to the apartment to search it again, only to find the entire building on fire, and the arsonist still at the scene of the crime. He’d try to kill you, but you’d manage to get him first, and on his body you’d find some clue pointing you in the right direction.

But after all that violence, the shadowy figures in charge of the whole cover up would recognize you as a serious threat to their evil plans and send someone to assassinate you. You’d survive that too, though, and beat up the would-be assassin until he revealed who he was working for.

And then you’d become a one-man army of justice.

Or something.

Oh, and maybe there would be a cute girl mixed up in the mess somehow, like a reporter or something. And in the end the Valentin would turn out to be a bad guy, because that’s the sort of last-minute twist you’d expect from an action movie.

Except this isn’t an action movie, and you aren’t anything close to an action hero. No super strength, no laser vision--you’re just some guy who happened to become a cop.

There’s nothing you can do.

“Oh,” you say, and you look very carefully at the wall behind Graham’s head and tell yourself that you aren’t a bad person.


The captain gives the both of you a week off. You don’t even have to ask.

Maybe it’s a standard thing, you muse as you wait for the light to turn green. An unwritten rule, or something like that--a week off for whatever poor schmuck gets himself caught up in the government’s dirty laundry. Or whoever’s dirty laundry it is. It’s probably the government’s, anyway.

Traffic moves. You move with it.

“Don’t think about it,” you mutter out loud. Think about something else. Anything else.

Japan. You’re going to Japan, aren’t you? It’ll be your first time out of the country. That’s cause for celebration, right? Except it isn’t, since you’re going there to mourn the deaths of your grandparents. Dead people. Dead people you didn’t even know--

This is not a preferable train of thought.

By the time you arrive at the apartment, you’re feeling cranky and downright miserable. Luckily, there’s a cure for that.

You lug your sister’s tiny television set onto the floor of the living room and turn it on, switching from channel to channel until you reach your target: a particularly soothing nature documentary. Or, rather, it’s the voice of the narrator that’s soothing, regardless of the actual content. It could be about the heat death of the universe and you’d watch it gladly. Well, without really watching it, anyway.

You lie down on the living room couch, already feeling your eyelids begin to droop--another narration-induced side effect.

By the time a commercial comes on, you’re fast asleep.


The first thing you notice about Japan as you stumble out of the airport terminal, your luggage dragging behind you, is how annoyingly bright the sun is.

You did some quick calculations on a napkin--a good way to eat up thirty seconds of a fifteen hour flight. If you counted your time zones correctly, back in Los Ojos, it’s just about one in the morning.

In Japan, it’s five PM.

You did nap for a while on the plane, but it was about as comfortable as you’d expect. Not very, in other words. Your back aches, and you’re pretty sure your eyes are red.

“Check it out!” Shannon catches up to you, her own luggage bouncing haphazardly along, and sticks something in front of your nose. It takes you a moment to refocus your eyes and see what she’s so excited about.

“Tea,” you note, blandly.

Shannon corrects you, smiling. “Tea in a can. When’s the last time you saw tea in a can?”

“I don’t drink tea.”

“Alright, fine. But if you did drink tea, I seriously doubt you would have seen tea in a can before.” And, as if to make a point, Shannon pops the top of the can open and chugs down its contents, tilting her head backwards to an almost grotesque degree. In no time at all, the can is empty, and Shannon crushes it in one hand before casually tossing it into a nearby trash receptacle. “So, when’s your Shinomiya guy coming to pick us up?” she asks, wiping her lips with the back of her hand.

“He’s not ‘my Shinomiya’,” you mumble. “And he didn’t say. Sort of. I just told him what time the flight would come in, and he said he’d be there.”

There’s a taxi here, all but parked, the driver waiting for somebody to name a destination. A line of people inch forwards, climbing one by one into the body of a vividly colored bus. A man and woman embrace, then try to help each other into the back seat of a compact--neither of them wants to go in first, though, so they both end up milling awkwardly around the open car door.

“So,” says your sister, “did your Shinomiya tell you what he looked like?”


Okay, don’t panic, don’t panic. This guy, Shinomiya--he seemed pretty much on top of things when you talked to him over the phone, right?

No, actually, he sounded like a nervous wreck. Okay, Terrence, think. Think. There’s got to be some clue Shinomiya dropped when he was talking to you, something to help you Sherlock Holmes this out. He called Shannon up, then he called you up, and then he told you your grandparents were dead, so…


Shannon points.

“That’s him.”

“Who’s him?” You step behind Shannon and peer over her shoulder, hoping the new perspective will help. It doesn’t. “The guy with the sunglasses?”

“No, not that guy, the other guy.” Your sister motions impatiently. “See? The one that looks like Spalding Gray.”

“Who’s Spalding Gray?”

“Jun’ichirou Koizumi, then. You know, grey hair, all sort of swept back?”

And now you do see who she’s looking at: there’s a figure leaning unsteadily against a white sedan who keeps twisting his head back and forth, back and forth, as if desperately looking for something, an action that sends his hair flying all over the place. It’s kind of funny and kind of sad at the same time.

The large placard he’s holding in front of his chest reads ‘HARKER’.

_ Well, no time like the present. Let’s get this show on the road.
_ _ Oh, is there anything else you’d like to ask this guy about? (Specify)
_ _ Or maybe some sort of conversation you want to make? (Specify)
_ Other (Specify)
[O] Well, no time like the present. Let’s get this show on the road.
[x] Well, no time like the present. Let’s get this show on the road.

Fucking A
[ze] "I understand you want to talk about some dead people?"

This is a horrible idea and I don't even know why I'm writing it in.
I should probably mention that if you ask him any questions or make conversation, it'll all occur while the guy's driving you. So, uh, you won't be awkwardly standing around the terminal or anything.

And you don't have to be specific, either, really. Just sort of..."Ask about X", or "Talk about X", where "X" is...I dunno. "Mother". "the Shinomiya family". "Property". "History". Don't worry, alright? If you come up with a noun I haven't got anything for, I'll just turn it into idle small talk or twist it around harmlessly or something.

So yeah.
[X] "So what can you tell me about these deaths in the family?"
- [X] Subtly probe for weird circumstances surrounding the deaths. Something about them must have been odd if your so-called "family" called you up here.
>“Kumiko. Mrs. Kumiko Hakurei, and her husband, Mr. Hiroshi Hakurei,” Shinomiya tries. Poor man. All of this has gone terribly off-script for him, hasn’t it?

[x] Well, no time like the present. Let’s get this show on the road.
-[x] Oh, is there anything else you’d like to ask this guy about? (Specify)
--[x] Ask Shinomiya some questions about himself.
---[x] His full name.
---[x] How he came to be employed by your grandparents.
---[x] How long he as been employed by them.
---[x] He said 'assistant', what is that exactly? Caretaker? Accountant? Attorney? Executor?
---[x] Ask who he is in the employ of now, being that your grandparents are deceased, and in what capacity.
--[x] Ask questions about Kumiko and Hiroshi.
---[x] What were the circumstances of their deaths?
---[x] What were their professions, assuming they were retired by the time of their deaths.
---[x] Did they have any children from prior marriages?
---[x] Did they leave a will?
---[x] Ask if they they ever spoke of your mother, or of you, her children.
--[x] Ask questions about your other relatives in Japan.
---[x] Are or were there any other children of Kimiko Hakurei and Hiroshi Hakurei beside your mother? That is, do you have any aunts or uncles?
---[x] Your grandparents did not attend your mother's funeral; you had understood this to mean your mother had been disinherited. Is this not so? Legally, at least?
---[x] Did your mother have any other relatives in Japan that you don't know about? An ex-husband? An illegitimate child?
---[x] Who are the relatives who he said wanted you to come to Japan? Wouldn't it be better for them to let your claim as heirs lapse, so that they would legally retain all the inheritance?
--[x] Ask about the property itself.
---[x] Did the Hakureis acquire some kind of large debt that would fall on their heirs?
---[x] Is the property structurally unsound or would otherwise leave the owner with some kind of legal liability?
-[x] Or maybe some sort of conversation you want to make? (Specify)
--[x] Talk to your sister about how she feels about the situation, about your grandparents, the property, and these other relatives in the shadows.
--[x] Talk to your sister about what sights she'd like to see while here. You could ask Shinomiya for suggestions if she can't think of any.

yeah it's a lot of questions, but the writefag made it explicit that we'd have a lot of time to ask them
[x] Well, no time like the present. Let’s get this show on the road.
-[x] Oh, is there anything else you’d like to ask this guy about? (Specify)
--[x] Ask Shinomiya some questions about himself.
---[x] His full name.
---[x] How he came to be employed by your grandparents.
---[x] How long he as been employed by them.
---[x] He said 'assistant', what is that exactly? Caretaker? Accountant? Attorney? Executor?
---[x] Ask who he is in the employ of now, being that your grandparents are deceased, and in what capacity.
--[x] Ask questions about Kumiko and Hiroshi.
---[x] What were the circumstances of their deaths?
---[x] What were their professions, assuming they were retired by the time of their deaths.
---[x] Did they have any children from prior marriages?
---[x] Did they leave a will?
---[x] Ask if they they ever spoke of your mother, or of you, her children.
--[x] Ask questions about your other relatives in Japan.
---[x] Are or were there any other children of Kimiko Hakurei and Hiroshi Hakurei beside your mother? That is, do you have any aunts or uncles?
---[x] Your grandparents did not attend your mother's funeral; you had understood this to mean your mother had been disinherited. Is this not so? Legally, at least?
---[x] Did your mother have any other relatives in Japan that you don't know about? An ex-husband? An illegitimate child?
---[x] Who are the relatives who he said wanted you to come to Japan? Wouldn't it be better for them to let your claim as heirs lapse, so that they would legally retain all the inheritance?
--[x] Ask about the property itself.
---[x] Did the Hakureis acquire some kind of large debt that would fall on their heirs?
---[x] Is the property structurally unsound or would otherwise leave the owner with some kind of legal liability?
-[x] Or maybe some sort of conversation you want to make? (Specify)
--[x] Talk to your sister about how she feels about the situation, about your grandparents, the property, and these other relatives in the shadows.
--[x] Talk to your sister about what sights she'd like to see while here. You could ask Shinomiya for suggestions if she can't think of any.
[ze] >>90887
(Can't delete >>90431 .)

You guys know that a bunch of these won't even be asked, right?

If it's a car ride of any substantial length, then I don't see why they couldn't.
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I'm sorry. I'm a little late.

By the way, I'm always looking for ways to improve my writing, so please pepper me with criticism and point out the bits that fall short of snuff. It'll hurt me, but it'll be the good sort of hurt.


X Well, no time like the present. Let’s get this show on the road.

“Huh. I guess that’s us,” you mumble, a bit embarrassed. How the heck did you manage to miss that? You keep this up, and you won’t even be fit for traffic duty.

Shannon appears to be thinking along the same lines. “Well, you’re the detective,” she says, smiling smugly, “so I’ll take your word for it.”

It’s a comment just asking for a roll of the eyes, but you haven’t got the energy. Instead, you make your way towards the man in question, your feet feeling unpleasantly cumbersome. If you don’t watch out, you’ll trip over the curb and knock yourself unconscious on a fender--what a first impression that would make, huh.

“Excuse me,” you say, your voice sounding dead to even your own ears. “Are you Shinomiya?”

And apparently the man is, because at the sound of his name he jerks his head in your direction so hard you swear you hear his joints crack.

“Oh! Er--” He seems to recognize you on sight, or at least understand who you’re supposed to be. “Yes. Ah…that’s me. I’m Shinomiya--you’re Harker, correct? Terrence Harker?” He begins to bow, then cuts the motion off abruptly and extends his hand instead.

You shake it. It feels like a limp fish.

“Yes, that’s me.” You stretch your lips in what you hope looks like a particularly friendly smile, and continue. “I’m not too late, am I? The transfer in Los Angeles was a bit delayed…”

“Oh, no, no, er, not at all. I was just, uh, just…” Shinomiya trails off, looking more than a little awkward, and you can’t help but suspect that you are, in fact, pretty late, and that Shinomiya has been waiting here for a good while but is simply too polite to admit it. “Well,” he changes the subject, opening the front passenger door of the sedan--his, it appears. “If you’ll, uh…I’ll drive you to the, um, my…the Estate. The Shinomiya estate.”

You nod, and step into the vehicle. It’s surprisingly roomy--looking at the car from the outside, you figured you’d have to tuck in your knees or something, but there’s nearly enough space in here for you to stretch your legs. Well, maybe not that much space, but it’s still pretty nice. You settle into your seat and pull the door closed--


There’s a distinct lack of snark here.

“Where’s Shannon?”

Shinomiya freezes halfway though turning the ignition. “Wh-what did you say?”

The rear passenger door flies open, and a whirlwind of sound and movement tumbles nearly head over heels into the back of the car. “Hey, you guys weren’t trying to leave without me, right?” your sister laughs cheerfully.

Shinomiya’s mouth opens and closes a few times as he fixes Shannon with a wide-eyed stare, but he doesn’t seem to be actually saying anything.

Oh, that’s right. Shinomiya and your sister haven’t really talked to each other--well, except for that one phone call when he thought she was your maid or something. You wonder if he remembers that. “Sorry, I haven’t introduced the two of you. Shinomiya, this is my sister, Shannon. Shannon, this is--”

“I know who he is.”

Well, Shannon remembers.

“Oh,” says Shinomiya, and then perhaps he senses that keeping his mouth shut is the better part of valor, because the car is stone quiet as it pulls away from the airport.


Idle conversation, you know, has never been your forte. In fact, it would be pretty accurate to say that you suck at it.

Oh, sure, you can manage to develop some sort of patter if it’s your sister or Valentin that you’re talking to, but that’s the exception, not the rule. You’d trust either of those two with your life. Still, you’re going into this situation with a lot less information than you’d like--you need to rectify that, stat. So says your detective instinct.

“So,” you start, slowly. “Shinomiya--it’s okay if I call you Shinomiya, right?”

Have you mentioned that you’re not good at idle conversation? Because you’re really not good at idle conversation.

Shinomiya, though, is gracious enough to ignore your sheer inanity (or maybe he doesn’t even sense it. You can’t quite tell, with this guy): “Well, uh, yes, you can call me Shinomiya. Mister Shinomiya or, uh, Shinomiya, or--well, actually, you can call me by my given name, even, if you want to.”

You feel a little bad. Like you’re forcing him to pander to your strange American ways, or something. “No, it’s okay, I’ll just stick with ‘Shinomiya’. I don’t even know your given name, actually.”

“You don’t?” Shinomiya sounds embarrassed. “I, uh…it’s, um, Koutarou. Shinomiya Koutarou. Uh, Koutarou Shinomiya.”

“Oh,” you say. “Alright.”

And back to silence again!
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Okay, okay, try number two: “So, you said you were my grandmother’s assistant, right?”

Shinomiya frowns. “Well, er, I was, but…” There’s a significant pause after that ‘but’.

“I suppose, ah…technically speaking, that is, I guess I…wasn’t.”

You hear a loud exasperated breath from the backseat.

“It’s not that I was under her employ--um, b-but it’s not that I wasn’t, either,” Shinomiya hastily tries to explain. “I mean, I have drawn up legal documents for her--for the whole Hakurei family--it’s just that, um--”

He stops blubbering for a moment--to regain his composure, it seems, because when he begins speaking again, it’s at a much more normal pace: “The Shinomiya family and the Hakurei family have always been very…er, socially intertwined. We’ve always been partners--their partners. Partners to each other. That is--we, uh, we naturally help each other out when--I mean, if one family is in trouble or having a little bit of trouble--something like that.”

When he puts it that way, it almost sounds like the mafia.

“What I’m--what I’m doing right now, you see--I’m not doing it as a lawyer, or, um, as an employee of anyone, really. I’m doing this as--as a Shinomiya.”

That’s interesting, you think, but to be honest, you really can’t relate. Your family only ever consisted of four people, after all: your mother, your father, your sister, and you. No grandparents (the ones on your dad’s side died before you were born), no uncles or aunts.

Or rather, none that you knew of.

Now, though…

“Hey, could you tell me a little bit about my family?” you ask. “Like, say, my grandparents--what were they like?”

“Er, what were they like?” Shinomiya looks almost surprised by the question. “Well, uh, your grandmother looked after the shrine--er, the family shrine, you see--and, uh, your grandfather…um, he worked with metal. Until he retired, I mean.”

You wait for him to continue, but he doesn’t. Looks like you’ll have to do all the prompting here…

“And the rest of the family?” You don’t quite feel comfortable calling them ‘your’ family, yet. “Did my mother have any siblings? Any other relatives I might want to know about?”

Shinomiya glances at you, almost nervously. “Uh, no, no siblings. But, ah, the Hakurei family is, uh, pretty wide. I mean, there are a lot of them. Hakurei, uh, I mean. Relatives.” His hands, clenching the steering wheel, are turning white around the knuckles, you notice, and you decide that maybe it would be best to stop asking questions before you send the guy into a paroxysm.

The rest of the drive is spent in silence (sullen on the part of your sister), and by the time the car shudders to a final stop, you’re more than eager to stretch your legs.

Opening the car door, the first thing you notice is how clean the place smells. Fresh, almost. It looks clean, too--you thought Los Ojos was pretty leafy, but this place has it beat by far. Or maybe it’s just that there’s less pavement: there don’t seem to be any sidewalks, and even the roadway’s more of a ‘path’.

More obvious than all of that, though, is the giant stone-laid stairway.

“Huh,” Shannon mutters, lifting her eyebrows. “That’s pretty tall.”

You smirk. “Now who’s being the detective?”

“Oh hush. A bit of astonishment every now and then is good for the soul. Anyway, even you have to admit: that is pretty tall.”

Yeah, it is, actually. “Hey, is this the way to the shrine?” you ask Shinomiya, pointing towards the stairs’ apex.

Shinomiya shakes his head. “No, I’m sorry--I’m afraid not. This is the main house. The shrine is, uh, further down the road.”

“Ah.” You got it wrong. But how were you supposed to know, really? It’s not like you’ve ever seen a Japanese shrine before.

“Actually,” says Shinomiya. “If it’s not too much to ask, could maybe, uh, the two of you wait here, just a--just for a little bit? I’ve got to, uh, check on something before I can let anybody inside.”

“’Check on something’?” Shannon frowns. “What you do mean by ‘check on something’?”

Shinomiya doesn’t answer. That’s because he’s already a good distance up the steps, his arms and legs flying about in an almost comical manner as he makes his getaway. You consider shouting something at him, like ‘hey’, or ‘wait a sec’--but in the moment you open your mouth, the man is already out of sight.

Your sister sums up your feelings best as you stare dumbly up the incline.

“Gee. That wasn’t suspicious at all.”

_ Wait here. Shinomiya has to have a good reason for acting so strangely.
_ Follow Shinomiya up the stairs. Maybe you can meet the rest of the family.
_ Take a look at the shrine. Further down the road, right?
_ Other (Specify…)
[O] Take a look at the shrine. Further down the road, right?
[9] Follow Shinomiya up the stairs. Maybe you can meet the rest of the family.

I'd rather do this than wander to the shrine, or something like that.
[x] Follow Shinomiya up the stairs. Maybe you can meet the rest of the family.
[x] Follow Shinomiya up the stairs. Maybe you can meet the rest of the family.
[ze] Wait here. Shinomiya has to have a good reason for acting so strangely.

Shinomiya is tense and worried as fuck about something. If he's wanting check on something, maybe it would be smart to let him.
[x] Update here. The author has no good reason for writing so slowly.
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X Follow Shinomiya up the stairs. Maybe you can meet the rest of the family.

“You know, there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation.” You decide to briefly play devil’s advocate. “I mean, maybe there really is some urgent matter he has to take care of.”

“Like what?”

“Like…” Er, like what? “Maybe…he left the stove on?” you offer weakly.

Shannon begins up the stairway after Shinomiya, choosing not to dignify you with a response. You follow.


The stairs really don’t go on as long as you thought they would. You had the impression that you’d be puffing and wheezing by the time you reached the top--but it barely takes you twenty seconds before you’re there.

Now that you can actually see the building, though, you feel sort of silly for even imagining that the shrine might be this way. You never studied architecture, but even you can tell that it’s the wrong sort of regional style--more Mr. Boddy than Mr. Musashi.

Or is that ‘Mr. Miyamoto’?

Ugh. Maybe if you were more than half Japanese you’d be able to tell…or then again, maybe not.

There’s something like a fancy cobblestone path leading to the front door, which stands ajar--as if, perhaps, someone in a terrible hurry forgot to close it behind himself. You and Shannon take a cautious peek around the doorframe, but there’s nobody immediately inside.

Shannon wordlessly flashes you a grin before slipping indoors, holding herself with a manner of grace that looks more odd than anything else, considering the combat boots she’s wearing.

As a policeman, you should probably say something about the possible illegality of her actions--but if there’s one thing you’ve learned in the past, it’s that those combat boots are really good for kicking in shins. So, you quietly tag along, and hope that this whole thing doesn’t end with the both of you spending a night in jail. That sort of thing could put a serious crimp in your career as a police officer, after all.

“I can’t imagine living in a house like this,” you whisper to Shannon (because if you’re going to tip-toe around someone else’s property, really, you ought to go all the way and keep your voice at a whisper, too). “I mean, you saw the size of the place. There must be a million rooms in here.”

It’s only hyperbole, and Shannon knows this. However, she chooses to follow the idea anyway: “Ha, only if they built most of the rooms in the fourth dimension. Actually, that’d be a pretty good idea.”

“Building rooms in the fourth dimension?”

“Yeah. Think about it--it’d be a pretty neat solution to urban crowding, right?”

You pause next to an expensive-looking end table. “Wait, so you’d have people travel back in time to when cities weren’t as crowded--”

“Not time,” Shannon interrupts. “Spacetime’s a Minkowski sort of thing. I’m talking about a Euclidean--” She catches sight of your utterly perplexed expression and stops short. “This is all going over your head, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” you admit.

“Never mind, then.” Shannon shrugs--and then suddenly tenses. “Hold on--do you hear that?”


“Quiet. Listen.”

The seriousness in her voice is enough to make you freeze instantly and prick up your own ears--and what do you know, you do hear something.


That’s Shinomiya. The voice is muffled through the walls, almost impossible to hear, but that’s Shinomiya, alright. That stutter is unmistakable. Funny, he stutters even in Japanese--you’d assumed it was a language thing, but apparently it’s not.

“…complication, Father?”

That voice, on the other hand--that’s a new one. Shinomiya’s…son?

That’s funny, too. The voice is…clear. Strong. Unhesitant. Heck, while you’re pulling out all these descriptive words--regal, almost. In other words, it’s nothing like Shinomiya’s voice. If this really is Shinomiya’s son, he must’ve had one axe of a mother.

“…a-appear…guest…b-bring his sister…” Shinomiya again. It’s difficult to make sense of the words, but you definitely heard ‘sister’ in there. You and Shannon exchange a glance.

“…sister…quiet…out of the question. And…cannot…both of them…”

“Hakurei…mu-must not be…”

The voices stop.

You flinch, momentarily panicking--did they hear you, somehow? Are they coming? Crap, are they going to catch you? But then the voice of the son returns, and you manage to relax--it’s no louder or quieter than before. He hasn’t moved. It was just a harmless lull in the conversation.

“…is a complication...believe, Father…able to turn…after all, imperative…sister…it not?”

There’s ‘sister’ again.

“…she were…member of the Shinomiya…”

Another pause. And then, suddenly:

“...m-may regain a m-measure of the respect it once had.”

Suddenly, Shinomiya’s voice is a lot louder. No, not louder, not exactly--closer. Much closer.

This time, you panic for a little more than just a moment, the fact that you somehow manage to do so in complete silence your only saving grace. You frantically grimace in your sister’s direction, sending an unspoken message somewhere along the lines of ‘oh crap oh crap what do we do what do we do’.

Shannon shrugs.

_ Just burst through the door and confront them with, uh…whatever they were doing. Ah-hah!
_ Take a seat in one of the nearby armchairs and do your best to look casual.
_ Hightail it back towards the front door and play it like you just got in.
_ Other (Specify…)
[x] Take a seat in one of the nearby armchairs and do your best to look casual.
[ze] Take a seat in one of the nearby armchairs and do your best to look casual.

Confrontation probably wouldn't help.
Or maybe it would.
Either way, it'll be clear that T&S were just running if they scamper back now.

Here's a thought: Given how much the issue of family has been a part of this so far, maybe "sister" doesn't necessarily refer to Shannon.
[x] Take a seat in one of the nearby armchairs and do your best to look casual.
File 125200134891.jpg - (11.81KB, 245x367 , Chris Hansen.jpg) [iqdb]
[x] Have a seat.
>Here's a thought: Given how much the issue of family has been a part of this so far, maybe "sister" doesn't necessarily refer to Shannon.

Given that he referred to Shannon as the protagonist's sister earlier in the conversation, and that this was the apparently 'complication' they're discussing, I think that's rather unlikely.

>“…a-appear…guest…b-bring his sister…

Moreover, the son refers to the 'sister' as if she were not a member of the Shinomiya family.

>“…is a complication…believe, Father…able to turn…after all, imperative…sister…it not?”
>“…she were…member of the Shinomiya…”

To which the father responds:
>“…m-may regain a m-measure of the respect it once had.”

That is to say, if your sister married into their family, it would regain a measure of respect it once had. That itself is enough reason to hate the sorry bastards.

[x] Take a seat in one of the nearby armchairs and do your best to look casual.
[x] When Shinomiya returns, off-handedly mention that you're officer of the law stateside, moreover a homicide detective, and are required to carry your sidearm with you at all times (even if you don't actually have it). Tell him that you mention this so that he doesn't misunderstand in the unlikely event you have to respond to a crime.

The father at least sounds as craven as they come. Lean on him the slightest bit and he could crack, or just get so anxious that he starts slipping up.
I wrote that roughly three weeks ago, and right after I read the update.

Which brings up another thing:

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X Take a seat in one of the nearby armchairs and do your best to look casual.

Well, that’s just great. The one time you actually need her to be too clever by half--

Okay, okay. Calm down. Calm the heck down. This looks pretty bad, yes, but you losing it isn’t going to do anything but make it a whole lot worse. So take deep breaths--no, actually, you haven’t got time for deep breaths. Take short, albeit full breaths instead. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Alright. Now: heart beat back to normal?


Of course not. You’re steps away--actual, literal steps away--from Shinomiya catching the both of you playing Hardy Boys at the doorknob. In a situation like that, a quickened pulse is the least anyone would expect. So, you can be excused for feeling a bit nervous.

But all the excuses in the world will be worth full nada if you don’t come up with a solution, and fast.

Now think, Terrence! Take a look at your surroundings: what have you got here? Living room, very nicely furnished--Couch, end tables, armchair--two armchairs--a larger table set against the wall--a vase and a couple of picture frames--a few doorways, including the one you originally came through, but it’s much too late to retreat now--the sound of shoes on hardwood is much too loud to go unnoticed--

Stop. Stop.

Go back.

Doorways--pictures frames--armchairs. Armchairs.

“Sit,” you hiss, and nod towards the couch.

Shannon shifts, looks at the couch, looks at you. “What?”

“Just, uh--” Oh, this is never going to work. “I don’t know. Sit, okay?”

Despite the skeptical look on her face, she follows your instruction, stumbling hurriedly backwards into the couch. You take a seat as well--if you can call hastily flinging yourself into an armchair cushion “taking a seat”--and just in time, too, because a door at the side of the room swings open, and there in the entryway stands your host, Mister Shinomiya himself. He gazes towards the two of you, his face utterly blank--

And then your presence actually seems to register, and Shinomiya freezes in mid-step, making a low-pitched choking noise in the back of his throat.

His Adam’s apple bobbles.

The look on his face is absolutely fantastic.

The look on the other man’s face, though, is a lot less fantastic. In fact, it’s kind of creepy, the way he’s just sort of staring at you without single trace of emotion whatsoever. That’s not a normal expression. The high cheekbones and sharp eyes (heck, are those glowing? No, it’s just your imagination) don’t help.

But you can’t afford to people-watch. You had a half-baked plan whirling around in your head, didn’t you? Time to put that into effect.

“Oh, hello!” you yell cheerfully, smiling so hard that it makes your cheeks ache. “We let ourselves in! I hope you don’t mind!”

Your sudden overeagerness catches Shinomiya off-guard. He blinks at you for a second, almost dazed--and that second is all you need to press on the attack.

“I have to say, this is a really nice house you’ve got here.” You stand up, making a big show out of turning your head and around and around and around, your eyes lit with sheer wonder. Exaggerated movements. Exaggeration is key. Like you’re on stage--not that you’ve ever actually been on stage. “It sure must’ve cost a bit of a pretty penny!”


“Oh, I’m sorry--I haven’t met you yet!” You take great striding steps towards Shinomiya--then reach past him (he flinches) to grab at the other man’s hand and pump it up and down in an energetic handshake. “I’m Terrence--and this is my sister Shannon--”

Shannon smiles, waves awkwardly.

“--and it’s a pleasure to meet you, you know! It’s not often we get to travel--well, travel anywhere, so this is almost like a vacation for us, even though it’s business, you know what I mean?” You keep shaking his hand, up and down and up and down as you talk.

Shinomiya looks distinctly uncomfortable, which is a good thing: it means that you’ve adequately pulled off this playing of the fool, at least as far as he’s concerned. Hopefully, he’s put down your invasion of his living room as another example of eccentric American behavior.

Those Americans. Always shouting and hugging and opening doors and being in places where they aren’t supposed to be. It’s only to be expected of you, having been raised in America, right?

“Oh, I’m sorry!” you chirp. “I just realized that I haven’t even asked you for your name yet!”

The man you’re all but assaulting, on the other hand (and speaking of your other hand, you add that to the handshake as well), still hasn’t said anything, or done anything, or even seemed anything, and that’s a bit worrying. It means he can keep a cool head under pressure, which means that he might actually have a functioning brain, unlike his father. Speaking of which--

“Er,” says Shinomiya, “I--er, this is my son, Tsutomu--”

You interrupt Shinomiya’s valiant attempt at defusing your buffoonery with a loud bout of laughter, clapping this Tsutomu heartily on the back. “Tsutomu, huh? Well, hello, Tsutomu. I’m very glad to meet you. I hope we’ll become good friends!”

The man named Tsutomu eyes you impassively.

“I see.”


The dinner that Shinomiya’s got prepared for you is good. Very good. Some sort of bird--chicken, maybe, or duck, or something else, golden-brown and roasted with some sort of spice or seasoning.

Delicious, probably, but you can barely taste it, what with Cheekbones sitting across from you and sending highbeams into your skull.

You haven’t even seen him eat. Oh, surely he is eating--you’ve snuck a glance at his plate every now and then, and the amount of food’s disappeared over time--but you haven’t actually seen him put food in his mouth. Or chew, even.

Instead, every time you lift your head, the guy’s just sitting there in his chair, utensils in his hands, staring at you. Staring directly at you. Staring, and not even bothering to try and hide the fact that he’s staring.

What a creep.

The other Shinomiya, meanwhile, is more or less oblivious: he’s too busy regaling your sister with the rich history of the Hakurei family, and how so-and-so married such-and-such and moved here and did something, and begat Tomoyuki, who begat Kumiko, who begat yadda yadda blah blah yakkity smakkity. The guy’s an exercise in tedium. How can Shannon stand it?

Oh, wait--she isn’t actually listening at all, you realize. She’s just cheerfully nodding and interjecting at all the right intervals. No wonder, then.

Shinomiya’s knee-deep into a side-story about Shannon’s first cousin twice removed traveling to Europe and meeting her future fiancé when the telephone in the next room suddenly cuts him off. “Oh! Um--” the man mumbles. “Er, please excuse me f-for a moment. I’ve been, uh, expecting--expecting a phone call. Tsutomu--um, c-could you answer any questions that our guests m-might have? Just--just while I, uh, take care of this.”

Shinomiya’s son finally, finally shifts his gaze away from you. “Yes.”

“Good! I mean, uh, fine. Th-thank you.” And with that last bout of nervous stammering, Shinomiya quickly departs.

The moment he’s gone, Tsutomu resumes his usual stare. You do your best to ignore it, but in the end, most of your food goes uneaten, your appetite having undergone a painful death under so much pressure.


Shinomiya returns a few minutes later with a worried-looking frown on his face. His voice is remarkably steady: “I, er, s-sincerely apologize, but certain t-testamentary complications have unexpectedly arisen. It’s probably nothing, but I’m afraid that, uh, it may t-take a little time before these issues are resolved.”

‘Remarkably steady’, of course, is a relative description.

You’re still not exactly sure why Shinomiya wanted you to travel all the way to Japan--you were kind of hoping he’d pull the big reveal after dinner. Or before dinner. Or before you got on the airplane.

But now it seems you aren’t going to get any answers even tonight.

Shinomiya’s nice enough to mention the fact that he’s got two vacant guest rooms, though--an implicit offer that Shannon gleefully jumps at before you can refuse: “Come on, think about it! Haven’t you ever wanted to sleep in a real Japanese house?”

No, actually. And you’d rather not spend a single night under the same roof as that Tsutomu guy. But the idea of leaving your sister to deal with the two Shinomiyas on her own is even worse--and so you soon find yourself tucked uncomfortably underneath a pair of expensive-looking sheets.

They’re rich-people sheets for sure, you think to yourself. Silk, maybe. It feels wrong to even touch them. Sort of like taking a piss on the Mona Lisa.

But despite your reservations (and your jet lag), you soon feel yourself drifting off into another night of slumber--


The doors on the bus slide to a close. They’re automated, of course. Everything’s automated, bus doors especially. There’s a hissing sound, and then a gasp, and then--

The bus lurches forwards, and you are on your way once more.

“They fixed the lights.”

You don’t mean to say it out loud, but it slips out anyway, before you can stop yourself: they fixed the lights. They’re shining brightly, every one of them--just as bright as they were the first time you were here.


You stiffen in surprise, your back straight against your seat--and then relax. You remember that voice.

Yes, of course. It’s the purple dress woman again. Or, to be more precise, it’s the purple dress woman still. Apparently she hasn’t reached her stop yet. Of course, it doesn’t look like you’ve reached your stop, either…

“I’m sorry,” you apologize. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

The woman shakes her head embarrassedly, her hand at her cheek. “No, no, it’s not that,” she says quickly. “It’s just that…”

She trails off, frowning.

“I…didn’t see you get on?”


The guest room doesn’t have an alarm clock. There’s a regular clock, hanging on the wall, wooden, with actual hands and even a pendulum--but it doesn’t have an alarm.

That’s fine. That was fine, really. You figured that your sister would wake up first (like clockwork in the mornings, that girl), rush over to your room, and make various loud noises until you couldn’t stand it any longer and got out of bed. The normal weekend routine.

It never occurred to you that you might actually wake up before her.

Fifteen minutes to six. How the heck did you manage that?

Actually, you know full well how you managed that. It was a choice between waking up earlier than usual or dying of suffocation with your face buried in your pillow. Waking up won--not that you’re disappointed or anything. Speaking as a cop, not-dying is a condition you can totally get behind.

Well, it doesn’t look like you’re going to fall back asleep anytime soon, so you might as well get dressed and do something.

_ Wake up Shannon. Turnabout is fair play.
_ Bumble about downstairs and see if you bump into either of the Shinomiyas.
_ An old house like this must have some history to it, right?
_ Take a walk over to that “family shrine”. You know where it is, don’t you?
_ Other (Specify…)
[~] Wake up Shannon. Turnabout is fair play.
[ℤ] Bumble about downstairs and see if you bump into either of the Shinomiyas.
[ℯ] Take a walk over to that “family shrine”. You know where it is, don’t you?

In that order of priority.
[x] An old house like this must have some history to it, right?
[x] Wake up Shannon. Turnabout is fair play.
[x] An old house like this must have some history to it, right?

Any of the given options seem reasonable, but there's no way I'm leaving my sister along in this house.
[x] Wake up Shannon. Turnabout is fair play.
[x] An old house like this must have some history to it, right?
[x] Wake up Shannon. Turnabout is fair play.
[x] An old house like this must have some history to it, right?
[0] Wake up Shannon. Turnabout is fair play.
[1] An old house like this must have some history to it, right?
File 125514470062.jpg - (1.14MB, 900x900 , castlelight.jpg) [iqdb]
This was difficult. You can't really tell, but those two choices you picked are opposites.


X Wake up Shannon. Turnabout is fair play.
X An old house like this must have some history to it, right?

Actually, this is the perfect opportunity for a bit of revenge, isn’t it?

Throwing on a pair of trousers and a short-sleeved dress shirt, you push your door open and peer into the hallway. There’s nobody there.


Your sister may be unpredictable, but she’s predictable in her unpredictability--hence the comparison to ‘clockwork’. You’ve gone through enough unpleasant crashings and boomings and bangings to notice that her morning performances always start off at exactly the same time: six o’clock. Which means, probably, that that’s the time that Shannon wakes up.

You can’t be a hundred percent certain, of course. For all you know, Shannon rises at four and spends a couple of hours staring quietly into a corner before she breaks out the cymbals. But the theory fits with the information you already know--such as her job hours.

There may not be a Café Dream here in Japan, but human beings are ruled by their habits--and you know that Shannon’s got plenty of those.


For example, there’s your sister’s tendency to transform into a walking maelstrom of violence and fury. Funny, how you always forget about that one. You can remember all her other bad habits easily enough (she always slams your bedroom door open), but the violence thing…

Maybe it’s because that behavior is such a far cry from her usual personality. You wouldn’t suspect such a cheery, energetic girl to go all Hannibal Lecter in the space of a minute, right?

Or maybe it’s just denial. Either way, the end result is the same.

Tottering down the hallway, you touch at the side of your face, wincing at the short flare of pain that you feel. That’s a bruise in the making, alright--if it isn’t one already.

You should probably find a mirror and check that out. The last thing you want is Shinomiya and son asking some funny questions you can’t answer. Well, not that you can’t answer those questions, technically speaking. It’d just be really awkward, airing your private matters in front of your hosts like that.

‘Homicidal somnambulism’? Yeah, that sounds real and not totally made up.

There’s a medium-sized picture frame hanging on the wall. If you tilt your head just right, you can catch the sunrise in the plastic film protecting the photograph. The cover’s just glossy enough to reflect your face--you squint, checking the side of your face for any marks from your sister’s attack.

Huh. Nothing yet. Looks like you’ve got time to come up with a good story--something better than ‘I walked into a door’. Nodding grimly, you turn your head, more than ready to continue your unplanned exploration of the house--

And then stop.


Even when you were ducking around, trying to find the right angle for a reflection, you didn’t pay any attention to the actual photograph underneath of the plastic screen. You looked at it--right at it, sure. But you didn’t actually pay attention to it, too preoccupied with your looks as you were.

There’s nothing particularly special about the photograph itself. It’s just a normal photograph (probably taken by digital camera) of a woman--a young woman. Her hair is light, so much so as to be almost blonde, and there’s a wide grin across her face, an expression of merriment so totally unreserved that you can’t help but immediately contrast it against the anxious civility that seems to be the norm in this country.

Her dress is a deep, dark purple.

“Oh--I d-didn’t expect you to be up so soon.”

You start, guiltily, and spin about. “Oh,” you blurt stupidly. “Uh, good morning, Shinomiya--Mr. Shinomiya.” You correct yourself, half-frantically gesturing towards the wallpaper: “I was just looking at these pictures here. They’re very nice.”

That’s a very bland, very idiotic statement you’ve just made. ‘These pictures are nice’. What are you going to talk about next, the weather?

Shinomiya, though, seems to have missed your instant of utter banality. “These p-pictures?” he parrots, the corner of his face jogging oddly.

“Er, yeah.” You run with it. “Family photos, right? Are these relatives of yours?”


Even though it’s only one word, the sudden curtness is actually kind of surprising, especially coming from this guy. For the very first time, Mr. Shinomiya nearly looks annoyed --but the change is only momentary, and in the space of a second, Shinomiya is back to his usual stammering self.

“Y-yes,” he clarifies. “The Shinomi--the Shinomiya family is, t-technically speaking, distantly--um, distantly related t-to the H-Hakurei. Family. Er…”

Your host swallows, audibly. There is a faint, red splotch, beginning to form a ring around his neck.

“Thus, I can--that is--these w-would, technically speaking, b-be, ah, r-relatives of…ours. Mine. May I discuss something with you?” The last sentence is said in a single rushed breath--an obvious attempt by Shinomiya to change the subject. You seriously consider pressing the matter, before you remember that you’re off-duty, and Shinomiya isn’t some perp that you’ve got boxed into an interrogation room.

You shrug, smiling. “I don’t see why not.”

Shinomiya seems to regain a little bit of his composure. “Ah. Um, g-good,” he mutters, and begins stumbling down the hall away from you before abruptly remembering that you can’t read his mind. “Uh,” he adds over his shoulder, “if we could--if we could t-talk somewhere private…”


“Er…thank you.”

_ Hmm...you can fit in some questions before you get there, right? (Specify…)
_ _ (You won’t have time to ask all the questions in the world, of course--better put the questions you definitely want answered at the top. Though, there’s no guarantee you’ll get any answers even then…)
_ _ (Some suggestions: Your grandparents. The inheritance. Shinomiya. Tsutomu. The picture.)
_ It looks like Shinomiya’s got something important to say. You’d better let him relax--just for now, of course.
_ Other? (Specify…)
[x] "Something's been nagging at me: I've always has the impression that my family wasn't thought of too highly back here. Why the sudden change of heart?"
[x] "What's up with the private talk all of a sudden?"
[x] "Who was that blonde lady in the photo?"

[x] Keep an eye out for other such unusual pictures if you have a few moments.

This is probably not a good vote. I don't think he'll answer a damned thing, but fuck, I don't know what to ask that'd be useful that he WOULD answer.

I've a bad feeling he's not going to answer anything and this is going to just be awkward.
[x] "Something's been nagging at me: I've always has the impression that my family wasn't thought of too highly back here. Why the sudden change of heart?"
[x] "What's up with the private talk all of a sudden?"
[x] "Who was that blonde lady in the photo?"

[x] Keep an eye out for other such unusual pictures if you have a few moments.
Vote, god dammit.
[x] "Something's been nagging at me: I've always has the impression that my family wasn't thought of too highly back here. Why the sudden change of heart?"
[x] "What's up with the private talk all of a sudden?"
[x] "Who was that blonde lady in the photo?"

[x] Keep an eye out for other such unusual pictures if you have a few moments.
[x] "Something's been nagging at me: I've always has the impression that my family wasn't thought of too highly back here. Why the sudden change of heart?"
[x] "What's up with the private talk all of a sudden?"
[x] "Who was that blonde lady in the photo?"

[x] Keep an eye out for other such unusual pictures if you have a few moments.

you know some folks would be happy to get two votes.
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Sorry. I couldn't fit all your questions in.


X "Something's been nagging at me: I've always has the impression that my family wasn't thought of too highly back here. Why the sudden change of heart?"
X "What's up with the private talk all of a sudden?"
X "Who was that blonde lady in the photo?"

X Keep an eye out for other such unusual pictures if you have a few moments.

You fall into step behind Shinomiya as he makes his way through the mansion’s corridors, his stride surprisingly brisk--purposeful, even. You half expected the guy to start bumbling about, making wrong turns and leading you into closets and the like, but no--apparently, he knows where he’s going. It’s almost enough to make you take him seriously.

In any case, it’s pretty fortunate that Shinomiya wants to talk to you all of a sudden. You want to talk to him, too. You may have only spent a day in this house, but a couple of questions have occurred to you already--you’ll have to bring them up, once Shinomiya gets to wherever he’s going.

Or wait--you don’t really have to wait at all, do you? Shinomiya may want some privacy (for whatever mysterious reason he’s got), but you’re perfectly fine asking him your questions right here. It’s not like you care if the guy’s got a mike in his lapel pin or anything. What have you got to hide?

“Mr. Shinomiya, do you mind if I ask you some rather...blunt questions?”

You decide to be nice and polite. Being a detective isn’t just bursting through doors with your gun out, after all. Sometimes, you need to use tact.

“I s-suppose,” Shinomiya murmurs towards his feet. He doesn’t turn to face you, but you can’t exactly blame him--these hallways all look the same, down to the floral-print wallpaper. If he stopped paying attention to the way he was going, even for a second, the two of you would probably end up starving to death in this maze of a mansion. “I’ll, uh, d-do my best to, um, answer any questions that you m-might have.”

“Really? Thanks!” You smile warmly before remembering that Shinomiya isn’t looking at you, anyway--there’s no need to go that far into the good cop routine. “Well, to start with--my mother was disowned, wasn’t she?”

Shinomiya makes a small noise that sounds something like a ‘glick’. Okay, maybe you were a little too blunt, there.

“I’m just saying,” you continue, “shouldn’t Shannon and I also not be considered part of the family, then?”

You can’t help but think that you may have spooked Shinomiya a bit--it takes a few seconds before he even answers (by which point the two of you finally make it to the front entranceway. Finally. If you see another fancy brass wall lantern, it’ll be too soon). “Mrs. Hakurei--your grandmother, th-that is--was a very, ah…powerful woman.” Shinomiya props open the grand front doors and motions you to step through--looks like his super secret place is somewhere outside. “Your, um, mother’s choice to, er, reject the arranged m-marriage that had been set up for her was, uh, n-not received k-kindly…”

He trails off, looking uncomfortable as you slip on your shoes and follow. Oh, you’d forgotten about all those stone steps. Hopefully, you’re going to the backyard or something--but no, it seems that you’re going to have to go all the way down these stairs. And then, once this talk is over, you’re going to have to go up again! That’s just great.

“However, w-with the death of your grandmother, your, ah, mother’s p-place in the family has now b-been, er, restored.” Shinomiya’s explanation ends just as your hellish descent begins. It sounds good, but you can’t really tell--it’s not like you know anything about how Japanese families operate. Well, you’ll assume he’s telling the truth for now.

“Alright.” You nod, more from the rhythm of your footsteps than any sort of gratification. It’s a relief when the stairway finally ends--though, come to think of it--

“Hey, is all this really necessary?” you ask. “Taking such lengths, I mean. Couldn’t we have talked in the house?”


And there’s that weird curtness again.

“N-no. Uh…no. We c-couldn’t. This is…” Shinomiya hesitates, but only for a moment. “This is a matter of your inheritance. Th-there is a certain…er, position that you have received, as part of your inheritance.”

He’s stuttering, same as usual, but his voice has gone stone-dead serious.

“Not even my son m-may know of this.”

That’s pretty deep--and pretty worrying, too. You think of asking Shinomiya what might happen if you refuse this ‘position’, but you figure you might as well hear what it is, first. Informed decision, and all that.

You drag your foot alongside you as you walk, sending a small cloud of dust into the air. Hey, isn’t this the way to the shrine? You almost considered checking it out, yesterday, but you got caught up with Shinomiya and Tsutomu and everything and never got the chance.

It’s almost regrettable. You’re in Japan, aren’t you? You’re supposed to sightsee the shrines when you go to Japan--that’s what Shannon would say, anyway. You wonder what she’d be doing, right now, if she were in your shoes and faced with all this…this strange behavior. This secrecy.

You’re so caught up in your musing that you nearly miss it when Shinomiya walks off the dirt road, ducking into a random gap between a couple of tall trees. You chase after him quick, hoping not to lose him in the foliage--that’s all you need, a Blair Witch reenactment.

You needn’t have worried, though--a couple of steps in, the forest abruptly clears, and there, in front of your eyes, is--the shrine.

Uh, the shrine.

The shrine?

“Th-the Hakurei Shrine,” Shinomiya intones, with a great deal of gravity.

The Hakurei Shrine.


It’s a dump.

The shrine’s practically standing there in pieces. The hole in the roof is the most obvious defect, but there’s also the broken beams, the splintered pillars, the torn walls--even saying this place is dead seems too nice. It isn’t just dead, it’s decaying.

“I hope you’re not going to ask me to renovate,” you jest, trying to break the awkward silence. Shinomiya does not respond.

That is because he’s no longer there.

You goggle dumbly at the empty air, as if perhaps Shinomiya will reappear, any second now, if you just stare long enough.

He doesn’t.

“Mr. Shinomiya?” you call.

“Mr. Shinomiya!” you call.

“Hey! Mr. Shinomiya! This isn’t funny! You said you wanted to talk, didn’t you? Well, let’s have a talk, then!”

Your voice echoes in the morning air, gradually fading away into nothing. Somewhere in the distance, a bird trills.

“Forget it,” you mumble to yourself, thoroughly annoyed. If Shinomiya’s going to play these games with you, you’re leaving. Shannon ought to be up by now--maybe you can catch breakfast with her and go out to visit some tourist sites. Take a few photos--stuff to show to Valentin when you get back to work. He won’t be interested, of course, but it’ll be fun to annoy him.

Chuckling quietly to yourself, you turn away from the old shrine--

“I’m sorry,” says Shinomiya.


The piece of lumber smashes against the side of your head with a deafening crack, and everything becomes dark.
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And that's the end of episode one.

Any questions?
Well, shit.

Well said, though it's interesting to see how there's a branch of Hakureis living in the real world. Sooner or later those two will encounter their distant cousin Reimu. (Though Reimu's temper would be no surprise.)
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It suddenly occurs to me that my "any questions" may have come across as a bit...flip.

I apologize if this is the case--I really am interested in hearing any questions you might have. I'll do my best to answer (as long as it won't give away the plot in the process).

Learn english you you fucking idiot.
>you you

Sorry, couldn't resist. Also? You're an idiot. Just saying.
I wonder if Shinomiya wasn't stuttering anymore at the very end. Too short a sample to tell.

I wonder if his stutter was constant, or because the whole time he was thinking "Man, I'm going to have to take this guy out" over and over and getting nervous.
Also, Yukari's name has been mentioned in ONE post in this thread, and yet she herself has shown up three times in-story.

What the fuck? No hypothesizing?

This story deserves your crazy ideas, goddammit.

But not yours.
Whoops. I confused you with >>98703 , who had the decency to delete his post. But he probably still slums around on these boards, and that's a bad thing.
Thanks for the tip. It's good to know that this board doesn't really need my ideas.
I'll try to ask you everytime I want to express a question, an idea or any kind of opinion ever again, 'kay?
Shut the hell up and quit pissing and moaning, both of you. Or all of you. I can't tell how many people are squabbling here and frankly, I don't care.

I have a question, too:
How the hell did a nervous wreck like Shinomiya raise such a cold fish like Tsutomu?
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Unfortunately, there weren't any questions that I could answer without giving anything away--for that, I apologize.


You’re running.

You’ve been doing that for some time, you think, but you’re not sure. You can’t quite remember. All your memories are hazy--unclear. Fragments of sight and sound, and no matter how many different ways you put them together they don’t make any sense, not at all.

“Think, then, instead of running around like an idiot,” Valentin snarls, and turns away, clearly irritated.

You should, you know, but you can’t--you can’t think, and you definitely can’t stop running. It’s important, in fact, that you not stop running. It’s very important. You know that, too.

It’s the most important thing in the world.

The Captain stares at you sternly from across his desk, his eyes glowing in the darkness. “Get your priorities in check,” he orders. “You’ve got a job to do.”

That’s wrong, though, for once. You may be a detective, sure, but your authority doesn’t extend anywhere past the Los Ojos city boundaries, and it certainly doesn’t extend all the way to Japan. You know this, and Graham should know this too, so what’s he talking about?

You don’t understand at all.

“That’s because your noggin’s all out of whack.” Maxim grins, pointing at the side of his head, and cracks a sunflower seed between his teeth. “It’s a common symptom, you know, among fellows who’ve had their heads smashed in. Right?”

Valentin’s face twists in disgust. “I’m not going to repeat myself.”

Shut up, shut up, shut up, you scream (but only inside your head, because these are people whom you work with and respect dearly, and you know they all mean well, even Valentin). Shut up, shut up. I am busy. I am running. I can’t think and run at the same time! I can run, or I can think! I can’t do both.

“Well, at least you can chew gum,” Shannon says, smiling impishly. “Oh, wait, no. That’s this guy over here, isn’t it?” You turn to look where she’s pointing, but Valentin has disappeared into the trees, and Maxim has faded into the night sky, and Graham is simply gone. There’s only Shannon left. Shannon--and you, running through the night in your bloody tennis shoes.

Shannon, you say, or maybe you only imagine you say it. Shannon--

Your sister smiles again, and this time her smile is kinder, gentler. “I want to go home,” she whispers, and she’s not Shannon, but the woman in the purple dress. “But we can’t go back, can we?”

There’s a light in the distance, flickering through the leaves.

_ Your legs are burning.
_ Your palms bleed.
_ The morning seems so far away.
_ Other? (Specify…)


This, perhaps, is the heaviest decision you've had to make so far--and yet, also the most irrelevant.

I recommend you flip a series of coins and vote based on that. It's your choice, though.

(By the way, I'd like to offer my sincere thanks to my excellent proofreader volunteers--without them, this CYOA would have died months ago.)
[x]Your legs are burning.

I wonder how Terrence will react to meeting Yukari.
[ℤℯ] Your palms bleed.

How would a series of coins help? I need a 3-sided coin. Or a d3.
[x] Your palms bleed.
[x]Your palms bleed.
>Palms bleed.
So, do we have stigmatas now? Are we Jesus or something?
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Don't read too much into it. It's meaningless. I wanted something a bit more interesting than "[ ] 1 [ ] 2 [ ] 3", that's all.

Sorry for the confusion.

...You probably want to change your vote, right? Tell you what: I'll go to bed early today and hold off writing for about...I dunno, let's say thirteen hours. Yeah, that's a good prime number. Thirteen. More than that, even, since it'll take me a while to formalize it in my head.

Okay then?

I probably should've gone with my other idea:
_ Hie, set north.
_ Figure north.
_ Ah...leg it north.

Well, too late now. And it's not like it makes a difference, anyway. Ha.
Relax, 'twas a joke.
'sides, what's the point of changin' a vote if the result is random?
[x] The morning seems so far away.
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Well, er...
Maybe somebody likes blood, but really hates the number two?
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This isn't an update. In fact, it is very much the exact opposite of an update, because I've written next to zip. The reason I'm making such an annoying bump is pretty important, though.

Basically, I want you to criticize me. I want you do tell me which parts of my story suck. I want you to rip the narrative asunder in pursuit of some flaw to hammer me over the head with. Go on a friggin' battering spree, alright?

Heck, I wrote this thing and there are a bunch of parts that didn't turn out a fourth as well as I wanted them to. All awkward and crap. Crap especially.

So tell me what you didn't like. And while you're at it, tell me what you did like, too. You're the test audience and the real audience, all at once. And I read all those little evaluation cards.
I like the parts where you write, and I hate the parts when you don't write.
Seconded. Although the parts that really could use some work are those when you say that you'll update but then it doesn't happen.
You know, man, I think KC thinks we're joking.

I'm sure as hell not.
Yeah? Oh well, I figure it's my fault for being a crappy and biased critic.
I dunno, I like it so far. The introduction has suspense for once, much different than 'Yukari appears gap scream curses yukarin lol' and the third choice has velociraptors on it so...
Then again, the story is just starting. Kinda early for this kind of thing.

Yes the story is just starting, and there's been a few small hints planted, and how things come into play in Gensokyo will be an interesting matter.
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Useless post. Just making sure I'm still here.
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I nearly killed myself writing this update, which is doubly disappointing because this update is crap.

I'm sorry.


X Your palms bleed.

Sure, you mumble through your teeth, and it occurs to you that you might not be loud enough for her to hear, but you don’t even care anymore. There’s a light, after all, and light means people. People can help you. They have…hospitals. Police stations. Beds and bedcovers.

Just keep running.

The woman who isn’t your sister closes her eyes, absently running a fold at the side of her dress between her fingers. “It isn’t my fault, you know.”

You ignore her. You don’t need to hear her--it’s only a few more steps. You’ll be there in the light by the time she can say anything, anyway.

Still, the woman goes on: “It looks like it should be my fault,” she says. “But it isn’t. I didn’t even know, at the time.”

A stray branch is in your face. You push it out of the way, but miscalculate, and it leaves a long, ugly-looking scratch down the length of your arm.

When did you lose your sleeve?

You’re almost there. It’s getting closer. Just keep--

“That’s all I wanted to say,” the woman says. “I had nothing to do with this. All I ever had was--”

You never do find out what all she ever had was, though, because at that moment your foot hits something--a log, or a rock or something else you can’t see in this darkness--and folds beneath itself with a small but audible--


And then you fall.


The pain is something of a blessing in disguise. It’s pain, obviously--crippling, agonizing pain--but the sheer shock of it clears the haze from your eyes. Jump-starts your consciousness. You’re quite thankful, really, once you’ve fought down the urge to vomit.

You lift your head and open your eyes and look.

The light’s still there, of course. You can see it easily through the treeline, even prone on the ground as you are. It’s brighter, now, too--though, of course it would be brighter. You’re closer, after all.

How much distance did you manage to cover before you fell? You don’t know. Your mind is too tangled up right now for you to make any sense of the last--the last--

You can’t tell how long you’ve been running, either.

Stretching your hand towards the light, you try to judge the remaining distance--about two hundred yards, maybe, you guess. Two hundred fifty at the most. You can’t tell for sure, of course--it’s still much too dark--but even a casual estimate is enough to motivate you.

Grimacing determinedly, you push yourself back up to your feet, and--


Huh. So that’s what that pop was.

This time, unfortunately, your nausea wins.


You went to the boardwalk, once, when you were a kid. Dad took the two of you there, you and Shannon, and Shannon held you by the wrist and took you to the log flume and the carousel and the Giant Dipper, and by nightfall you were wet and dizzy and sick and you loved every minute of it.

There’s nobody here now, though. The piers are all empty, the amusement rides unlit. You’re absolutely alone, and all you can hear is the sound of the waves, crashing against the beach like the ocean’s pulse--

And so, you spread your arms and let yourself fall and when you hit the water you sink like a stone.

The water becomes darker and darker the further you descend--not murky, but pitch black, too far for the moonlight to reach. There’s no difference, whether your eyes are opened or closed, so you keep them closed.

The seawater stings.

“I’ve done everything I can,” somebody says from very far off.

‘Done what?’ you ask, only you don’t ask that at all, because the moment you open your mouth the entire ocean rushes in to fill it, and suddenly you are drowning, your throat closing up and the water settling in your stomach like a lead weight, dragging you downwards no matter how hard you flail--

And then you awake with a gasp, your face flushed in a cold sweat, your eyes staring uselessly as the world roars around you in an incomprehensible steam of color and sound. There is a shrieking in your ear--or maybe that is only in your head again--or maybe it’s everything, air and earth and all the other elements rushing by, leaving you far behind--

But no: slowly but surely, like a top losing its momentum, the universe eases itself, pieces falling into place here, and here, and floor here, and wall there, and window, and sunshine, and blanket, and somewhere along the way the shrieking turns into birdsong (was always birdsong, you correct yourself) and you realize that the shapes and outlines and textures you are staring at are called a ceiling.

It’s a ceiling.

You are…

For a second--a brief, foolish second--you allow yourself to believe that everything was a dream--that Shinomiya never led you to an abandoned shrine off the beaten path, that he never tried to smash your head in with a plank of wood. You never spent the night running mindlessly through the forest, skinning your palms and smashing your knees against every errant branch. For just one second, you allow yourself to believe this.

But this is not the guest room at the Hakureis’ mansion. And these are not the fancy sheets your bed was covered in.

And, most damningly, your head still hurts where Shinomiya hit you, a dull aching that doesn’t go away no matter how long you stare up at the ceiling’s wooden grain.

So this isn’t a dream.

Which raises an important question: if this isn’t a dream, and if everything you remember really did happen--

Well, then, where exactly are you now?

_ You’re a detective. Do your job and investigate!
_ Well, it doesn’t seem like whoever’s in charge is trying to kill you. Let’s just rest a bit.
_ Hold on--you’re alive, but maybe it’s a temporary thing. Better escape while you still can.
_ Other? (Specify…)
[X] Well, it doesn’t seem like whoever’s in charge is trying to kill you. Let’s just rest a bit.

Curious about that woman.
X You’re a detective. Do your job and investigate!

Do iiiiit.

Unless it hurts.
[x] You’re a detective. Do your job and investigate!

Sister is in grave danger!
[x] You’re a detective. Do your job and investigate!
We can't help Shannon much if we're stuck in Gensokyo.

And it's hard to investigate reeling from the various injuries.
[x] You’re a detective. Do your job and investigate!
[x] You’re a detective. Do your job and investigate!
[0] You’re a detective. Do your job and investigate!
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Useless post. Just making sure I'm here.
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X You’re a detective. Do your job and investigate!

You sit up.

A bad idea, you realize as the mild ache in your skull progresses into a full-fledged pounding. You should have taken it a bit slower than just doing that all of a sudden--maybe propped yourself up on your elbows first.

Too late now, though--all you can do is bury your head in your hands and try not to think of loud bangy things. Like hammers. Or gongs. Or the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth.

Oh, too late.

Well, you might be in terrible pain, but that doesn’t mean you can just laze about, no matter how utterly tempting the notion is. You’re a detective, after all, and as a detective, it’s your duty to be properly observant, even off the clock. And that usually requires that you keep your eyes open.


“Right,” you mumble, and take your hands away to peer into the empty (albeit brightly daylit) room.

It really is empty, too. Sure, there’s a bed (you noticed that first, what with you being on it), and there’s a bedside table, with a half-melted candle (complete with one of those little brass candle-stands that went out of vogue with the advent of the electrical grid), but other than that, nothing. Nothing at all--bare floor, bare walls, a bare minimum of furniture. Seriously, there isn’t even a bookshelf, or a dresser. What’s up with that?

Sure is clean, though.

Too clean, actually. Much too clean, for a room with so much nothing in it. The totally dustless tabletop isn’t the sort of thing anyone would notice at first glance, but you’d have to have your head full in the clouds to not see the gleaming wooden floor. Seriously, you’re pretty sure you can see your own reflection from here.

In other words, whoever’s in charge must be a bit neurotic when it comes to cleanliness. Or maybe he isn’t neurotic at all, and there’s a perfectly rational explanation for all this. You can’t come to any conclusions just yet, not without any corroborating evidence. What else is there to see around this room?

How about your blanket?


Oh, right! Your blanket. The blanket, which you are underneath. How’d you miss that? You can’t help but feel a bit stupid, especially after that whole thing about heads and clouds. Plus, it apparently isn’t even a blanket at all: it’s a patchwork quilt--similar, but it’s the little differences that count.

It’s a pretty fancy patchwork quilt, too. Not “five-star hotel” sort of fancy, all stuffed shirt and serious, but more like--little frills. And lots of colors. And flower patterns, running all the way down the hem. That sort of thing. You don’t really know a lot about sewing--you buy all your clothes--but it all looks very, very impressive.

So, in conclusion, the room’s almost totally empty, yet somebody not only went crazy with the Mr. Clean, but broke out the good bedsheets as well. You run your thumbnail against your chin, thinking. Whoever’s in charge here, it seems, wants to look good. But for whom? Not just guests, possibly?

You don’t know, and it’s clear that there’s nothing else in this room to help you find out. You’ll have to do some more searching--and not just with your eyes, this time. Throwing the bedcover off yourself (you’ll straighten it out later, honest), you roll nimbly out of bed, and--

Land directly on your twisted ankle.

“Fhhhhh,” you note, from your crumpled heap on the floor. Unfortunately, that bit about cloud-heads is looking more and more descriptive all the time--you’d totally forgotten about your ankle. It doesn’t hurt as much as before--not even with you putting the weight of your entire body on it all at once--but it’s still a lot more painful than a bruised shin.

And more importantly, that loud ‘thump’ you made, hitting the floor just now--there’s no way that whoever lives here didn’t hear that.

_ Ah, what’s it matter? I’m just going to sit here.
_ Okay, let’s giving standing another go. Carefully, this time.
_ Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap--hide!
_ Other? (Specify…)
[x] Okay, let’s giving standing another go. Carefully, this time.
x Okay, let’s giving standing another go. Carefully, this time.

I seen the whole dropping to the floor thing coming.
_ Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap--hide!

Because I think it'll be amusing.
[x] Okay, let’s giving standing another go. Carefully, this time.
[0] Okay, let’s giving standing another go. Carefully, this time.
[x] Okay, let’s giving standing another go. Carefully, this time.
Damn, look--I'm going to level with you. I've been working on this near every day, and of yesterday I'd managed to get about one and a half pages done--only I read it over and it sucked. Like, grade-F sucked. I was trying to be a dramatic and steely, and--shoot, I don't know what to say. It didn't fit, not at all. It sucked.

So, I'm practically starting from the beginning of this update, now. I've got a third of a page written out, but I don't know how soon it'll be before I've got anything good ready.

I'm sorry.

I feel bad about this. I don't know what to say.
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I already told you how I tortured a page and a half out of myself, only to realize that what I'd written was utter garbage--

So here's something you might prefer seeing--an actual update!


X Okay, let’s give standing another go. Carefully, this time.

That might be worth some concern.

That might be worth a lot of concern, actually.

The beginning of a panic attack itches in the back of your skull, and for a second, you earnestly consider just giving in to it--but no. You shove that notion as far away from you as you can, quick. If you’re going to go into a mental tailspin, you’ll wait until after you’ve gotten back to California, thank you very much.

In the meantime, you’ve got something much more important to mull over, namely--how are you going to get out of here now that your captor knows you’re awake?

Admittedly, you’re assuming the worst case scenario. You don’t know how big this place is, after all. It’s entirely possible that this room’s tucked away in a corner somewhere, and your banging’s gone by totally unheard--swallowed up by the floorboards. That’s possible, isn’t it?

Or maybe there isn’t even anybody home to hear you. Yeah--that’d be kind of funny, actually. Maybe your captor went out to visit relatives or pick up groceries or something, and you’re all alone in this house, quietly going nuts over the fact that you’re louder than a pin-drop! Wouldn’t that be a laugh and a half--if that turned out to be the case? Wouldn’t that be a relief?

Yes, you think as the sound of footsteps comes steadily closer. Yes, it would.

You stand, slowly, carefully--not that it makes much of a difference, now. You’re a bit too utterly screwed for anything you do to matter in the slightest. Like a rat in a cage, maybe. A rat in a cage, and the cage doesn’t even have any closets to duck into as a last-ditch resort. Not that you’d make it to the closet, anyway--not with this dead leg of yours.

It’s sort of funny, in a way. You always figured that if you were murdered, it’d be because of your job--some desperate criminal trying to escape, or something. Instead, you had to travel halfway around the world before you found somebody who wanted to kill you. How’s that for irony?

Or is that even irony? You don’t really know.

Shannon is alright, isn’t she?

You square your shoulders, and set your jaw, and wait for the end.


The end, it turns out, is a blonde-haired woman in a pretty dress carrying a small tray of fresh fruit. “Ah,” she says. “You’re awake.”

You goggle.

_ You’re…not going to be killed? Thank goodness…
_ What’s going on here? You’d better watch your six.
_ Don’t give anything up. This is your enemy.
_ Take her out.
[X] You’re…not going to be killed? Thank goodness…
[X] You’re…not going to be killed? Thank goodness…
[x] You’re…not going to be killed? Thank goodness…

What a wonderful way to start the year~
[x] What’s going on here? You’d better watch your six.
[x] You’re…not going to be killed? Thank goodness…
[x] You’re…not going to be killed? Thank goodness… wait, what’s going on here? You’d better watch your six.
[X] What’s going on here? You’d better watch your six.
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Update. Any criticism so far? Anything iffy about the writing?


X You’re…not going to be killed? Thank goodness…

Luckily, the woman doesn’t notice. At least, you don’t think she does--not that it matters either way, seeing as you’re too utterly gobsmacked to form anything near an intelligent response. She could be blowing you a raspberry and you’d still be standing there with that same stupid look on your face.

“Er,” you finally manage, “What?”

The woman regards you coolly. Very coolly. “I said,” she carefully enunciates, “’Ah’. ‘You’re’. ‘Awake’.”

She’s mocking you, and under different circumstances you’d rise to the challenge, snark back--

But now’s not the time.

Dispensing with all politeness, you go straight to the point: “Am I kidnapped?”

Something like bewilderment flickers across the woman’s face, but only for a moment.

“No.” She answers, curtly.

“Are you with Shinomiya?”

You try to look threatening as you ask this, or at least gruff, but the bad cop routine was never your shtick. The most you can manage is an unfocused, sullen stare that completely fails to affect the woman at all: she effortlessly returns the look a hundredfold before sighing audibly and crossing the room swiftly towards you.

You flinch, but all the woman does is set her tray down on the bedside table before picking the bedsheets up off the floor--the bedsheets you must have dragged with you when you tumbled out of the bed. You lean a little on your ankle again, testing it out.

Yeah. Still sore, of course. You’re not sure what else you expected.

The woman lays the bedsheets out over the bed with a meticulousness you haven’t seen outside certain high-class hotels--a task that requires that she turn away from you for a minute or so. It occurs to you as she works that you could take advantage of the distraction and hit her, if you wanted to. Or kick her or trip her or anything else like that.

You earnestly consider it, you really do--but in the end, you doubt you could actually knock her out, at least not with your bare hands. And with your foot the way it is…

The woman herself derails your ghastly train of thought. “I found you unconscious some distance from the forest path,” she says, dispassionately. The whole near-monotone voice thing is kind of grating on you, to be honest. You can’t really tell if this woman cares that you’ve been hit over the head or not.

Well, obviously, she must care a little if she took you in, but--

“You did take me in, right? Uh, I mean--you’re the one who took me in, right?” you ask.

The woman nods, tucking in one last corner of the bedspread.

“And, uh,” You pause. It’s a really stupid question, but still, you might as well: “You’re not with Shinomiya, right?”

The woman draws herself to her full height, looking you straight in the eyes. You flinch. Again.

“No,” she says, brusquely, deliberately. “I don’t know who that is.”

“Yeah, okay.” Well, innocent until proven guilty, as they say. Sure, it’s the wrong country, but you’ll stick with that philosophy until you come up with something better. “Look, could I use your phone?” you ask. “I need to--”

You hesitate.

_ Tell her--you got hit over the head, and now you need to call the police.
_ Tell her--you need to call your sister, so she knows where you are.
_ Don’t tell her anything.
_ Other (Specify…)
[x] Tell her-- you need to call your sister so she knows where you are.

This seems to be the most likely thought one would have in such a situation, even he it's not going to do him much good.

And even more than just letting her know where he is, he'd be more likely to call her simply to let her know he is all right, and that something has happened to him.

...And then, as the wheels in his head turn, he would want to make sure -she- was all right, too, because who knows why the hell Shinomiya did this.

Of course, that'll all come after he finds out that there is no phone. The whole welcome-to-Gensokyo thing is probably going to set that back a bit, too.

...This is all speculation, though, so who knows what's really going to happen?
x Tell her--you need to call your sister, so she knows where you are.
[x] Tell her—you need to call your sister, so she knows where you are.

how did this get lost?
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Hullo, all of you who read this story. Could you do me a favor, real quick?

After you reach this update--describe Terrence for me. From all what I've written, I'd just like to have your impression of his personality, his character. It doesn't have to be deep or anything--even just a few broad strokes would be good.



x Tell her--you need to call your sister, so she knows where you are.

"I need to call my sister."

'And the police,' you very carefully don’t tack on at the end there. This woman isn't exactly worth your trust, after all--at least, not yet. Sure, she's said she's not one of Shinomiya's goons, but you've been a cop long enough to know what words and promises are worth: somewhere in the vicinity of all that and a bag of chips.

You'll stay quiet for now, about cops and kidnappers and things like that.

Well, unless you need to goad this woman into something. Like letting you use her phone. Smile, Terrence.

"I don't know how long I've been out," you say, the very model of a cheerfully disoriented vacationeer. Smile, smile. “If my sister doesn't hear from me soon, I'm worried she might--I dunno, call the FBI or something.”

This is a lie. Shannon's more likely to form her own bureau of investigation and track you down herself--but this woman doesn't know that. And if things go smoothly, she never will.

"So, if you could just let me use your phone--"

"You won't find any phones here," the woman interrupts, her voice even.

Wait--seriously? No phone? Well, it took you years to get a cellphone yourself, so you suppose you can't really say anything. "Uh. Huh. Well, do you know where I could find a payphone, then?" you try. That might work. Calls to the police are usually free--or is that only in America? Either way, it's worth a shot...

But that bewilderment breaks across your new host's face again, followed by something else--annoyance, you think. And frustration. And a little bit of...pity?

"You misunderstand," she says, and you hear the odd timbre and think to yourself--this means something.

"I'm sorry, but I don't think you'll be able to talk to your sister at all."


And so it is that you find yourself sitting at the kitchen table, the false smile long since passed from your face as you listen to this woman prattle on about youkai and borders and the Hakurei Shrine and goodness knows what else. You don't know. You stopped listening closely when she asked you if you believed in faeries.

If it was just a religion thing, it'd be easy enough for you to ignore. This woman, though--she seems convinced that there's some kind of impassible boundary around this place, keeping the inside things in and the outside things out. How the heck are you supposed to respond to that?

"You're a nutjob."


Yeah, straight-up, unfettered honesty is probably a bad move. But you can't unsay what you've already said, so you might as well go the full nine yards.

"I said, you're a nutjob." And then, when that shocked, angry look fails to leave your hostess' face, you continue. "Look, tell me if I'm getting this right," you say. "More than a hundred years ago, man and monster had this cool little ecosystem thing going along, right?"

Oh, that "angry" there's undergoing multiplication. "That's a gross oversimplification, but yes," your hostess affirms testily.

"But then, people stopped believing in monsters, so someone up high decided it would be a good idea to set up a little monster nature reserve thing. With a wall, so nothing could get in. Or out."

"Not a nature reserve." Wow, if looks could fry. "Just an enclosed area, with a large amount of faith."

"And somehow," you go on, "in all this time, the place has gone completely overlooked. Despite all the aerial photography and satellite imagery that's going on these days, no one's noticed this area in the middle of Japan and gone 'Hey, check it out! these dudes have been socially isolated from the rest of us since the late nineteenth century! Maybe one of us ought to take a look-see!'"

The woman doesn't answer. There's a slight tensing in her fingers. You know what that means--she wants to strangle you. And you know what? You're perfectly alright with that. It's not like you're staying in Japan, anyway. You're not here to make friends.

Still, you are kind of being a dick unnecessarily. Might've gotten a little carried away there. This isn't an interrogation room, after all...

See? This is why you don't like being the bad cop. It sticks with you.

You test your legs under the table. The twinge is still there, but it's feeling a lot better than it was before, especially now that the morning stiffness is gone. "Look," you say, apologetically. "Don't get me wrong. I appreciate you taking me in like this instead of just leaving me unconscious on the roadside--actually, I really, seriously, unbelievably appreciate that, so thanks, really--but now, all of a sudden, you're all insisting that me talking to my sister goes against your religion, and...

"Well, I'm just not really down with that."

Well, that ended a lot less dramatically than you imagined it would. Grumbling at your monologue of mediocrity, you stand from your chair, putting your weight back on your feet--which of course causes your ankle to--

But this time, you're expecting the pain--and somehow, that makes it all manageable.

You carefully separate your teeth.

"How do I get to the Hakurei Shrine from here?"

"That won't work," the woman snaps, nearly cutting you off.

Her eyes are ice cold. That's understandable, what with you having spent the last minute or so insulting her. You scowl back at her anyway.

"Look, I've been to the Hakurei Shrine," you say (not snarl, really). "I know how to get back to the Shinomiyas from there. So if you can just tell me how to get to the Shrine, I'll be out of your hands. I promise."

"That won't work," the woman says again, and you are just about to consider becoming violent when she sighs, her face suddenly weary with resignation.

"Very well, then."

Ah, victory. You immediately brighten, if only ever so slightly (no use in actually smiling just yet--wait until you're out of the woods, so to speak).

The girl, meanwhile, looks almost exactly your opposite: straight-laced and straight-faced as ever, but with an expression like she's got a live frog halfway down her throat she doesn't want you to know about.

"You'll need to return to the path, first," she says. Mumbles. Speak up, will you? It'd be ironic if she finally told you how to get back only for you to miss out on some ultra-important bit. "It is straight ahead from the door--after you exit the house. You should see it, if you walk a little."

Path? Must be that forest path she mentioned earlier. You consider interrupting, mentioning to her that you weren't on the path in the first place--but every second delayed is a second longer you don't get to beat in the kidneys of Smarmy Git One and Smarmy Git Two. Better just listen, and listen close.

"Follow the path to your right. Then, when you reach the fork, take the leftmost route," the woman continues. "The path goes straight to the shrine. However--"

A note of caution enters her voice.

"I must warn you. The forest is dangerous, even for those who stay on the path." Her voice has been very serious. Well, more serious. Serious-er. "You shouldn't travel alone--it would be best if you let me escort you to the village for now, and perhaps tomorrow--"

Okay, now you can interrupt. "Yeah, yeah. Sure. My shoes are by the door, right?"

The woman would like very much to say more; that much is obvious. But she only nods, her mouth thin-lipped.

"Alright." You allow a faint smile (an honest one, this time) to slip across your face, and, remembering what little you know about Japanese courtesy, bow briefly in your hostess' direction. "Thanks," you say again, this time with a good amount more friendliness attached.

The front door is just past the kitchen, down a short hallway. You slip on your shoes and open the door, squinting your eyes into the hazy sunlight. Apart from the small clearing that surrounds the house, the forest outside looks...well, like you'd expect a forest to look.

You take a step outside, and then another.

Trees and dirt, and brown and green. Yeah, that's a forest, alright. Now, straight ahead, she said?

You pull the door closed behind you--

And then stop, catching it right before the latch clicks.

"Oh, and uh--sorry about that whole 'nutjob' thing. I didn't really mean it," you call backwards, your face pressed next to the thin gap between the door and the frame.

"I'm just under a lot of stress right now. Sorry."

And then you shut the door all the way and you're off.


Odd religious beliefs aside, the woman's directions were accurate enough, though you nearly tripped over the dusty groove in the ground before you realized what it was. There was also the moment of curiosity, when you reached the fork--where did the path on the right side go, anyway? Maybe that village the woman had mentioned? Or perhaps somewhere else?

No matter--your sister's health was much more important than anything a bunch of old buildings could offer. You took the proper path, leaving the other possibility resolutely behind you.

However, you don't walk long before the road begins to curve sharply inwards, almost as if trying to loop back upon itself. A thought crosses your mind--perhaps that woman gave you the wrong directions after all; perhaps she really is working with Shinomiya. You begin to make promises: she didn't mention another fork, did she? If I come to another fork, I'll assume that's the road running onto itself, and I'll turn back--or maybe I'll just take that road back, and grab that woman and resort to breaking fingers--funny that, a policeman breaking fingers--

And then, all at once, the trees in front of you seem to part, like some kind of leafy curtain, and it's there, rising towards the sky, right in front of you.

The shrine.

_ You know where the shrine is. From here, you can make your way back to the Shinomiyas, easy!
_ Well, you won't have time for sightseeing after you beat their brains out, so just real quick...
_ Other (Specify...)
[x]Well, you won't have time for sightseeing after you beat their brains out, so just real quick...
[x] You know where the shrine is. From here, you can get back to the Shinomiyas, easy!
[x] Well, you won't have time for sightseeing after you beat their brains out, so just real quick...

As for Terrence, I wouldn't say he was really being a dick. Actually, I think he did remarkably well at keeping himself calm, considering his situation. He reacted as a normal person still bound by logic would, and his rudeness is not at all unexpected; after all, he's been assaulted, he's lost in an unfamiliar area, and his sister may be in danger, while this is going on a strange woman is suddenly sprouting what seems to him non-sensical BS.
[x]Well, you won't have time for sightseeing after you beat their brains out, so just real quick...
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[x] Well, you won't have time for sightseeing after you beat their brains out, so just real quick...

We don't seem to like having to do homework. Do we lose marks if we give bad answers? I'm terrible at this, but I feel obligated to write something.

I'd say Terrence handles stress better than most people would. I like that he seems more realistic than other protagonists. Keep up the good work.
Oh, no, no, there aren't any "wrong" answers. Rather--I've been trying to give Terrence a personality, rather than have him be a "blank slate" sort of protagonist.

To see if I was doing well at that, I was trying to get you to describe Terrence. I figure, see, that if you can describe a character without referring to his or her profession or role, then that character's pretty-okay portrayed.

Well actually I stole that whole idea from a YouTube vid, but it still stands.
You're doing just fine, trust me.
This isn't an update, but it's pretty important. At least, I think it is.

Sometime during the next month or two, I'll be trying out an increase in my medication. Now, I'm already taking this stuff, and it doesn't seem to have affected me in a bad way so far, buuuuuut...

I guess what I'm saying is this: if either I or this story start to get kind of...messed up...then, tell me. Stat. Alright?

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>I guess what I'm saying is this: if either I or this story start to get kind of...messed up...then, tell me. Stat. Alright?

You want us to trip-sit for you?


However, if things start to get 'messed up' in what is perceived to be an awesome way, I can't in good conscience promise that Anon will tell you to stop.

Just as there are lines that should never, ever be broken, and there are lines that should also probably not be broken, but if they were to be broken, then hypothetically the only way to right things would be to continue said line breakage, or some other metaphor analogous to 'the die is cast'.
What is it supposed to do? If It helps keep your mind on track I don't expect much trouble. But I'm sure your loyal fans will bring it up with you quickly.
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This ended up shorter than I wanted it to be.


X Well, you won't have time for sightseeing after you beat their brains out, so just real quick...

The Hakurei Shrine.


It's a neat little visual illusion you've got here.

You know full well that the Hakurei Shrine's a wreck: you saw the place yourself, right before Shinomiya decided to knock your head in with his stick of firewood. But now, as you gaze upwards towards the shrine grounds, you can't help but mistrust your memory--

Was the paint really ever cracked and peeling? Or was it simply worn away by the passage of time?

The steps leading up to the shrine grounds are narrow, treacherously so. More than once, you can feel your bad foot begin to slip beneath you, nearly sending you backwards into an early grave (or at the very least, another inconvenient bout of unconsciousness). Still, you soldier on, now genuinely curious--what will you see when the stairs end, you wonder?

Will the ground still be littered with fallen leaves? Will the fenceposts still stand askew? Will the wooden structures that once saw faithful maintenance still stink with the stench of mildew and rot?

Well, yes. Of course they will. This isn't exactly Oz, after all. Even a football team's worth of mops and plasterers couldn't put the mess you saw back together again--of that you're sure.

Still, when you do see that the shrine is just as crumbling and decrepit as you remember, you can't help but feel a certain odd comfort. Or maybe it's just relief that you're aren't going senile.

Not yet, anyway.

But enough lollygagging about. You didn't climb all those stairs just to mock the historic monuments of Boonieville (bonus though that is). No, all that upwards trekking actually had a point--the point being the upwards trekking you didn't have to go through the first time you came around this way, remember?


No, not really. All you can recall is Mr. Shinomiya leading you down the road, and then Mr. Shinomiya leading you off the road, and then--whammo, shrine. That's not a very detailed recollection, no matter how you look at it. Still, you're reasonably certain that the word "stair" doesn't belong anywhere in that summary, and never did (excepting, of course, the stairs in front of the main house. That's different kind of beans altogether, so you're ignoring them for now).

So, to recap--Shinomiya leads you to the ol' shrine grounds: no stairs. You get hit in the head and wander around the wilderness for a while: yes stairs. Surely this is a mystery to merit the investigative prowess of Terrence Harker, Master Sleuth!

Probably, Shinomiya brought you in through a side entrance or something.

Case closed!

If only all mysteries were this easy to solve.

You got a quick eyeful of the shrine before Shinomiya smashed your head in. If you can match that view then with a view now, you just might be able to find the mysterious side entrance of mystery. And if you can find the mysterious side entrance, you just might be able to find the road that's supposed to be next to it.

And if you can find that--well, then, you just might be able to find Shinomiya.

And when you do, you'll give him such a beatdown he'll have to pull his toenails out through his nostrils.

_ Eighty-five is a lucky number.
_ Who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor?
_ The stars are lit for my delight.
[x] Who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor?
Self delusion is a strange thing.
[x] Eighty-five is a lucky number.
[ℤℯ] The stars are lit for my delight.
[x] Who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor?
[x] Who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor?
[x] Or whichever vote leads to the use of excessive force on Shinomiya.

That son of a bitch.
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_ Who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor?


Hours later--or at least, what feels like hours later--you collapse, thoroughly exhausted, against the back of the main hall.

You're not getting anywhere.

You started your search in this area here first--behind the shrine--hoping that perhaps Mr. Shinomiya had been simple enough to put his super-secret path as far away from the main one as possible. Tough luck--though there were bits and pieces of scenery that superficially resembled the shrine that you remembered, digging through the brush nearby netted you nothing but nettles.

It was the same with the side, and the other side, and even the front --though your search there was a lot more unfocused, admittedly. A lot more frantic, since you started panicking when the dizzy spells hit.

Speaking of which--

You tuck your head between your legs, groaning as your stomach flops over.


You're an idiot, Terrence, you know that? A grand old idiot. You should've been able to finagle at least a breakfast out of Little Miss What's-Her-Name there in her cozy cottage home. Maybe even a lunch, given a bit of luck. But no--you had to go and fly off the handle like that, and look where you are now: no breakfast, no lunch, and it becoming very increasingly likely that you aren't going to have a dinner, either.

Oh, what you'd give for a decent-sized sandwich. It wouldn't even have to have any meat in it, or anything fancy--just a bit of cheese, a bit of lettuce, and two healthy slices of whole wheat bread. Or just the bread, by itself--you're not picky. You'll settle for gobbling down plain bread, whole wheat or white, if it'll settle your stomach. A slice of bread, and while you're dreaming, maybe a shot glass of tonic water...

"It's a lot easier to pray in front, you know."

The voice, unexpected, slices neatly into your self-pity. You whip your head upright--and immediately bang the back of your skull against the shrine wall.

"Ow," you yelp.

Well, actually, you say a few words that are a lot stronger than "ow", but the general idea's the same. You're getting real tired of this head injury routine. One more nasty knock, and you're liable to drop yourself into a coma--

Wait a minute.

Was that Japanese just now?

You look upwards again, this time making sure to avoid anything blunt on the way. "Sorry," you say with what you know is piss-poor pronunciation. "Could you repeat that, please?"

The woman standing over you smiles--or maybe she's smirking, you think. It's hard to tell for sure either way. Not only are you at a rather low angle at the moment, but this woman--well, she's tall. Really tall. Taller than you, you'd estimate. Maybe even taller than Valentin, back at the station. Or maybe she just looks tall because of the pointy hat.

Wait, pointy hat?

"Ah, I see," the woman says, threading her fingers together (and acting like you didn't just ask her a simple question). "I suppose that they must not have shrines where you come from. Not foolish, then--just ignorant."

You blink away the dust in your eyes, but the image stays the same. In other words: yeah, that's a pointy hat, alright. A tall, brimless pointy hat, shaded bright blue like something straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. It's the same color of her robes, which raises a whole 'nother set of questions, namely:

Who the heck wears robes?


You know perfectly well what a kimono looks like, and that's no kimono. That's robes, plain and simple. Like something you'd find on a secondhand wizard. Or maybe...a children's entertainer.

"Are you a new addition to the village, I wonder? Or perhaps some kind soul has taken you in as a guest?" Bozo's protege laughs softly to herself, then actually looks straight at you for the first time since her little monologue began, and...

Says nothing.

Just stares at you, silently. It takes you a moment before you realize she's waiting for you to answer.

"Er--" You flounder, slightly. "Well...I'm staying with the Shinomiya family, but I think I've become a little lost."

You pause for a moment, fully expecting this lady to go right back to her self-absorbed speech--but this time, she actually seems interested in what you have to say, so you continue.

"I headed out in the morning, but I'm pretty sure I took a wrong turn. If it's not too much trouble, could you please tell me how to get to the mansion?"

You didn't lie just now. The morning you're talking about was an entirely different morning than today's, and the wrong turn was down the departure terminal of a California airport, but it still isn't a lie. It's...a statement that's open to misinterpretation, that's all.

Which is different than a lie, as you know perfectly well.

The woman taps her chin and rolls her eyes skyward, as if taking great effort to rack her brains. The gesture is almost exaggerated, and you can't help but suspect that she's doing it mostly for show. "Shi-no-mi-ya..." She repeats the name carefully, then shakes her head, that irritating smirk still fixed upon her face. "Well, I'm afraid I can't recall anybody by that name ever stopping by--but a mansion, you say?"

You nod. "Yes."

The woman's smirk seems to widen, just a little. "But you know," she lilts, her voice saccharine-sweet, "you don't seem to me quite the mansion type. Are you absolutely certain you'd want to go to that sort of place?"

What the hell? Is this woman playing with you? "Yes," you reply evenly. "I have to return to the mansion. I don't live there--I was just staying there for a little while--"

You cut yourself off there, sensing that you're about to get a bit surly. Sarcastic. You don't want to ruin things like that, not when you're finally this close to your goal.

You can maintain civility for now. Just for a little while longer...

"Well-then!" the woman exclaims happily. "I suppose that it's up to me to serve as your guide, seeing as you're bound to die alone in the wilderness if you try to make it on your own. Your kind shake hands, don't they?"

She lowers a hand down towards you. You take it, and choke back a yelp as she pulls you to your feet, quick--so quick you swear for a second you feel your arm coming out of its socket. You do manage a limp, jerky handshake, but only for the sake of politeness. Actually, though you won't admit it, you're kind of relieved once you've got your hand back--hers was freezing. Like ice cold freezing. Jeez.

"Ah," the woman says as you make sure your fingers haven't dropped off or anything, "By the way--I would like to know the name of the person who shall be accompanying me on this pleasant journey."

She gazes at you, tilting her head--still smirking. Yeah, yeah, you get it.

"Harker," you offer, tersely.

"Just Harker?"

"Ah...Terry. Harker." You're kind of hesitant to give out your name, but it's not like you can really hide out effectively in the boonies, anyway. This isn't your ground. "And you are?"

The woman's smirk softens, momentarily. "I suppose," she says, "I'll allow you to call me Mima."

"Just Mima?"

And there's that smirk again. "Just Mima. Now, do follow--the forest is treacherous, and it would be a shame if you were to lose your way and perish."

She turns--a light, airy motion--and almost immediately seems to melt into the forestland at the edge of the shrine, leaving you standing there alone, dumbly.


"Well?" her voice comes echoing through the leaves. "Are you coming or not?"

Oh, so she's not exactly going to wait up for you, huh. Well, she may be a crap tour guide, but you haven't exactly got a choice here, have you? "Sorry, sorry. I'm coming!" you shout, following her into the woods.

Of course, you can't exhibit anywhere near the amount of grace your new friend's got--it's barely seconds before your arms are all scratched up from the twigs and branches. Still, you're closer to the Shinomiyas' mansion than you were before.

Things are quite definitely looking up.


You look down at your stomach, feeling perfectly wretched.

Hell, but you're hungry.

The complete lack of food was bad enough, but you could ignore that--provided you kept your movement to a minimum, anyway. Only, now, with this tromp through the forest, you're beginning to become a bit--

Well, to be honest, you're just about ready to sit down and die right here. The only thing keeping you going is the thought of your sister, and if you don't get something in your belly in the next couple of hours even that may not be enough.

Part of you really wants to ask your new guide where the nearest place is to catch some grub, but you're afraid it might come across as rude. Not that you mind being rude. It's just that--this lady's the only lead you have towards your sister right now, and you don't want to alienate her.

You've also considered being passive-aggressive, maybe--walking right up next to her and then making a big dramatic scene the next time your stomach rumbles, or something like that--but every time you pick up your pace and try to get closer, she speeds up too. And then you become fatigued, and slow down, and only then of course is she gracious enough to cool her march--

It's not the fact that she's doing this on purpose that's pissing you off. It's the fact that she's doing it so effortlessly.

Alright, Plan C then. Something a little more roundabout, a little more direct. "Excuse me--Miss Mima," you call, trying not to sound too desperate.

The woman in question pauses midstride and turns her head ever so slightly to look at you out of the corner of her eye. "Yes?" she calls back sweetly.

You heave a silent sigh of relief. You don't know what you'd have done if she'd just kept on walking--probably all alone in the wilderness, without even a halfhearted backyard burial to cover up you up. Sheesh.

"Oh, I was just wondering--" You gesture towards a largish shrub with a couple of respberry-looking things hanging from it. "These berries here--are they alright to eat? They look safe, but..."

You trail off. Come on, come on--pick up the hint already. If you don't get something in your stomach now, you're going to straight off drop--

"Could it be," Mima says, as if only wondering incidentally, "that you've become hungry?"

_ Yes yes yes yes yes
_ Oh, just a wee peckish, is all. Don't mind me. I'll just sit here in the dark, alone.
_ Other... (Specify)
X Yes yes yes yes yes
[x] Yes yes yes yes yes
[x] Oh, just a wee peckish, is all. Don't mind me. I'll just sit here in the dark, alone.

I hate that word

[x] Yes yes yes yes yes
A Mima is added.

[x] Yes yes yes yes yes
File 127165905457.jpg - (38.45KB, 600x544 , Dreamhours.jpg) [iqdb]
I would just like to sincerely apologize for taking as long as I did to hammer this out. There's no excuse. I should have finished this update a long, long time ago.


X Yes yes yes yes yes

'Yes! Yes! Yes, for goodness' sake!'

That's what you don't say.

What you do say is this: "Well, now that you mention it, I am a little bit hungry--do you know any good restaurants, Miss Mima?" Somehow, miraculously, you manage to keep that naive, vaguely clueless expression on your face, even as you look Mima straight in the eye.

Meanwhile, you discreetly pocket a few of those raspberries. Even if they are poisonous, you're sure you can find a use for them somewhere--maybe slip a couple into Shinomiya's soup and hope he ends up with a bad case of diarrhea. Well, if you ever get to Shinomiya's anytime soon, that is.

Mima, apparently, is reading your mind: "There is a restaurant or two along our path," she admits, "but surely, it should be no trouble at all to endure for a little while longer?"

She sounds disappointed in you. You don't need the guilt--you're disappointed in yourself already. Your sister's been kidnapped, and here you are, whining for a cheeseburger. How disgusting.

"Maybe we could stop, just for a little bit?" you plead regardless, cheerful smile carefully affixed to the front of your face (you feel like you might retch). "This is my sister's first time here, and I want to be able to recommend something to her when we meet up."

You recommend something to her? Maybe if she gets a degenerative brain disease, you think, and immediately feel guilty, guilty, guilty--

Mima sighs, theatrically. "Very well," she consents. "I suppose certain allowances must be made. It would be terribly irresponsible of me to expect perfection, after all--especially from your kind."

The nonchalance she insults you with is more than a little irritating. Instinctively, you scramble for some sort of retort--but by the time you've opened your mouth, she's already continued.

"Tell me, Mr. Harker. Have you ever had...yakitori?"


Actually, you haven't. In fact, you don't have the foggiest idea what a yakitori is--not that Mima needs to know that, of course. You're more than a little relieved once you arrive at the small, ramshackle stand and take a quick look-see over the counter:

Turns out "yakitori" is just Japanese for "chicken-on-a-stick". Who knew?

"Smells pretty good," you say (hoping to get on the cook's side), and point towards one of the meatier skewers. "How much is one of these?"

The cook behind the counter--a long-haired woman in a ratty, grease-stained shirt--rattles off some figure distractedly, not even bothering to look up from her meatwork. It's too high, of course--but right now anything would be too high, seeing as you left your wallet in a certain western-styled mansion somewhere.

First thing you do when you get back: ruin Mr. Shinomiya's testicles. Permanently.

Well, it doesn't look like you have much of a choice, then. You hate to resort of this kind of behavior, but it is, after all, for times like these that your skill was refined. Silently, with your cheerful smile steadfast, you call upon the blood of your ancestors to infuse you with a power that has not in ages seen the light of day: the power...of haggling.

"That's really expensive!" you exclaim brightly, doing your best to exude an aura of absolute naivety. "Is it really that much money just for one of those little stick-things?"

The woman behind the counter pauses in her frying--but only for a second.

"Take it or leave it."

Huh. Okay, that... that wasn't the desired result, there. You must've come across too strong. Or maybe too week, one of those. You can still salvage this, though--all you've got to do is play it cool, play it cool...

"I dunno." You muss your hair absently, taking on a bashful expression, like some sort of well-meaning yokel from the outskirts of civilization. "I mean, I'm not really an expert on cooking, and stuff like that and such, but I'm really pretty sure no one's gonna pay that much money just for a little bit of--"

"Take. It. Or. Leave. It."


Okay, you know what? Screw this nice guy crap.

Letting the smile drop from your face (and boy, is that a relief and a half), you place the palms of your hands firmly upon the countertop and lean forwards.

Irritatingly, the woman still doesn't look up, even when you're grossly violating her personal space. You could probably mess up her hairdo with a stiff breath, bows or no bows (and she's certainly got bows in spades), so the least you'd expect is a proper reaction. But no--she just goes on, turning yakitori. Just as if you aren't even there.

You lick your lips. Your head is pounding, just a little. When was the last time you had a drink of water?

"Can I come clean, real quick?" you ask.

The woman still doesn't respond. But she doesn't snap at you to back the hell off, either, so you continue.

"I haven't eaten," you say, tersely, "in two days."

"If you wanted a handout, you should've said so in the first place." Pow. Instant return. Smash ace, or whatever they call it.

She still doesn't make eye contact, of course.

"Yeah, maybe." You'd argue, but that'd take more energy than you've actually got. "Look--I don't have any money. Someone tried to kill me, so I didn't remember to bring any." That's a little bit out of order, you think, but honestly, who cares? Not you, certainly. "I can't pay, but I'll make it up, somehow."

The woman doesn't say anything--but you can see her frown. Which means you're finally having some sort of effect. Just a little bit further...a little bit further, and...

"Please..." you you beg, whimperingly, disgustingly, and you think: This is as far as I'll go. This is as far as I'll go--I have my dignity, you won't get me to go any lower--

And finally, finally, the woman looks up.


Her eyes are sharp--that's the first thing you notice. Sharp, almost impossibly so. And somehow--regal?


You're stunned silent. The bad kind of stunned silent.

"If you're strong enough to carry your pride," the woman behind the counter says, "then you're strong enough to walk."

Wait, did you say "stunned silent"? Sorry, what you really meant was "rendered inarticulate by rage". You're more than willing to tell this second-rate chef what she can do with her little book of proverbs--

Only before you can get a decent shot off, her eyes slide off you, off to the side, and she says: "Mima."

And Mima says: "Mokou."

And you don't say much of anything at all, because Mima's hand is suddenly around your throat.

The chef reacts even faster than you do, her entire body tensing instantly into some sort of stance. "Drop the kid," she growls. "Now."

Mima only laughs. "No sympathy, Mokou dear? How very heartless. Poor Terry hasn't had a proper meal in days, you know." Her tone of voice is perfectly amicable, as if she is simply catching up with an old friend, and the fact that you are clawing desperately at her bone-cold fingers is largely inconsequential. "At the very least, I'd expected you to spare a few scraps--or have you finally abandoned that silly hobby of yours? Playing savior to the lost and the damned?"

The chef--Mokou--does not rise to the bait. "Drop the kid," she says again. "That's your second warning, Mima. There's not gonna be a third."

"Oh? Resorting to threats, are we? And I was under the impression that your kind lacked a resilience to fire." Mima's grip tightens, ever-so-slightly, and you gag as the world around you begins to blur. You're passing out, you realize. Losing consciousness. And maybe it is only the lack of oxygen talking, but there is a dull, sickening certainty, screaming in the back of your head--

If you're swallowed up here, you'll never find Shannon.

"Such fragility--dying so easily, and through so many ends. Thirst, starvation, broken hearts..." Mima laughs again, a low, mocking sound. You can hear it clearly, even as the darkness begins to creep up the edges of your sight. "Of course, hearts are the least of things that can be broken. That's another shortcoming I'll have to rectify, once I'm in a position to do so. But for now, Mokou dear--if you might afford a proper last meal for poor Terry here, I'll be sure to grace your little franchise with a glowing commendation--"

You bring your foot down hard, digging your heel with no small violence into Mima's instep.

You're expecting--hoping--that Mima will scream. That the hold around your neck will loosen, just a little--enough for you to slip away and respond with a proper counterattack, maybe.

You're not expecting that Mima's foot will be intangible.

There is a instant of utter confusion as you try to understand what you have just seen--because surely, this is impossible. You can't just go through people, not without causing serious injury. You can't just...be gone through. It's impossible, and therefore--therefore, this woman has to be something else. Mirrors, or smoke, or something.

Which fails to explain, you think feverishly, how she is touching you at all--and then a voice whispers next to your ear, and you cease to consider the matter at all--

"Didn't your mother ever teach you," Mima hisses, "never to reward kindness with enmity?"

Her voice is ever-sweet.

"How disappointing," she says, and lifts you by the throat.

The black fog rushes in, and you struggle to stay afloat--but it is a battle you lost the moment Mima first began to strangle you. You never really had a chance. This woman--now that you're going to die, you suppose that you can admit it.

This woman isn't human.

Maybe, you imagine, as the thoughts come slower and slower--maybe, maybe, just maybe--maybe that cottage lady wasn't as nutzo as you thought she was--

"Hey, Old and Creaky! Let's rumble!"


There is a feeling like wind and fire and force passing by--all at once, and all too close--and the fingers fall.

You crumple into a heap the moment you hit the ground, your face throbbing--a side effect of oxygen starvation, you'd guess, if you cared to guess, which you certainly don't. Right now, the only thing you want to do is lie here on your back in the dust and wait for your muscles to start working again.

"...bite my hand, it seems. Now, whatever could I have done to deserve such a fate?"

"You mean you haven't figured it out yet? It's because you're a witch, obviously."

That's Mima's voice. Mima, and...somebody else, someone whose voice you don't recognize. Close by. Too close.

On second thought, forget relaxing--it's probably better to get out of this place, ASAP. Carefully, but with no small degree of urgency, you open your eyes--

_ Just observe, for now.
_ Let's get the hell out of here!
_ Now's the perfect time to strike!
_ Other... (Specify)
[c] Just observe, for now.

I don't know what to do, to be honest.
[X] Just observe, for now.

I think it's Reimu to the rescue, only she would go about mouthing off like that. Marisa would still speak somewhat reverently to her.
[x] Just observe, for now.
>Marisa would still speak somewhat reverently to her.
What are you mentioning Marisa for?
[x] Just observe for now.

One could argue that this is not very in-character for Terrence, but as he's recently come to terms with the fact that Crazy Shit Is Real here. If he runs off now, he'll probably tell himself he was imagining it. Watching what sounds like a danmaku battle is a good way to make sure that he -knows- that these things are, in fact, really happening and really real.
His job has given him a useful outlook on life and investigative mindset, both of which will serve him well in Gensokyo, once he manages to incorporate alongside them an acceptance of the weird shit here.

A brief, suicidal moment of awe is worth the foundation of belief that it will (hopefully) build.
Mima was the one who taught Marisa magic. Don't start on that "PC-98 never happened" drivel.
Just now reread your post, and I think I misunderstood what you were saying from the start. I think I thought you were saying Marisa was there or something, when she hadn't been mentioned at all.

Sorry about that.

And "PC-98 never happened" isn't quite drivel so as much it's just bullshit.
[x] Just observe, for now.

Shit is getting serious. I wonder if this is really the Gensokyo we all know and love. Seems a little more... harsh.

Then again, Mima IS an evil spirit, so...
[x] Just observe, for now.

Sure I'll board this train. Good to see this story hasn't died.

Could you not use The Game style options? It's not much fun trying to figure out what each one means.
I don't know what to do, honestly.
I feel like--if I make my choices more clear-cut, more easily understood, I'll simply turn this part of the story into a popularity contest.
I don't know if it's true or not, but that's what I feel.

Tell me if I'm wrong. Or tell me if I'm right, but I should make my choices more transparent, anyway. If that's the way you, the readers, want it, I'll do that.

But please, tell me something.

Please do so. But if possible try to make them reflect your own style.
>popularity contest
This makes it sound like it's a "who are you meeting next" sort of thing, and I can understand not wanting to have people choosing purely on the basis of "This one is my favorite touhou, so I'll pick that choice."

The way around that is to have your choices be about actions taken. Even if the choice effectively IS "Who does he happen to meet?" you should still have the person met differ depending on the action taken (or in some way have the action taken prime the character for meeting the touhou in question).

...However, the current situation doesn't seem to be something requiring a bunch of people-related choices, so maybe that doesn't fit here at all.

secondly, these are even more confusing than "The Game" style choices; at least those ones made some kind of sense, or could be figured out eventually.
The choices given here make no sense at all and seem to have less than zero relation to what's going on.
Seriously, I can't even hazard a guess. You have to have your options make some kind of sense, because otherwise we'll just be choosing at random, and that is not how a CYOA should work.
Right. In that case, I shall delete and repost that segment.

Please stand by.

(As for the choices' understandability--I figured you'd at least run them through Google or something. I dunno.)
File 127335824843.jpg - (35.86KB, 500x491 , Komodo.jpg) [iqdb]
X Just observe, for now.

--and forget about escaping entirely.

"Oh? How very interesting," Mima says. "Then what do you call yourself, I wonder?" Her tone is snide, but you hardly notice--the fifty feet of air between her and the ground is providing a wonderful distraction.

At least she has wings, you think. As if that makes it all okay.

The other woman in the sky makes something like a shrugging motion, though you can't tell for sure--you're looking from beneath, after all. "That's different," she says. "You're a bad witch, so it only makes sense that you'd die before I do--"

Mima makes a wide, sweeping gesture before the woman can finish--and instantly, the sky is filled with hundreds of glowing things--you can't describe them any better than just "things"--all hurtling towards the newcomer at a breakneck speed. It's only in the nick of time that the woman manages to get out of the way, pressing herself close to the handle of her broom and pulling into a steep dive--

Wait a minute.


You rise unsteadily from the ground (that's as close to the action as you'll get, thank you) and squint.

Yeah. That's...that's a broom.

The woman who saved your hide, the woman fighting Mima--she's definitely riding a broom.

"Like I was saying," the woman says, as the glowing light-things fly into the distance, "You're a bad witch, so it only makes sense you'd end up all bruised and battered and stuff. Me, on the other hand--"

And she makes a little gesture of her own--

And suddenly there are stars, a million shining stars--five-pointed and every color of the rainbow, screaming in Mima's direction. Mima dodges, weaves--returns fire with more of her own strange light. In no time at all, the entire sky is a blazing mess of fire and lightning, and you can't even see the real stars anymore.

It's beautiful, in an odd sort of way.

It's also, frankly, a little terrifying.

You're just about to get back to that original plan of yours (something about getting out while the going's still good, remember?) when a hand clamps onto your shoulder and spins you roughly around.

It's the cook. "Let's go, kid. You wanna waste a perfectly good distraction?"


There are a million questions dancing on the tip of your tongue, like "who are you" and "what do you mean" and "what the hell is going on here", but the woman doesn't actually need an answer at all--and unceremoniously, you are yanked off of your feet and into the brush, on the run again.

Hell's bells.


"Kids--feh. Kids are idiots."

If there's one thing you hate, generally, it's being led around. Nothing personal to whoever's doing the leading--you just hate it. It's pretty undignified, and if there's one thing you value highly, it's your dignity.

"Idiot kids, thinking they can handle the wildlife--thinking they're little hotshots, of course--and then they start blubbering as soon as they skin their knees, and who do you think's got to go and pick them up? Yeah, yeah, no problem, I'm right on it--"

Right now, though, you're too exhausted to even care about your dignity, let alone reassert it. That can wait until later--like after a good night's sleep, maybe. Or once you've gotten something to munch on. Which reminds you: you still haven't had anything to eat yet.

Man, you knew you should've picked those raspberries. Or even better--you should've grabbed a couple of those yakitori on your way out. It's not like it wouldn't have been justified. Anyone who abandons her stand in the middle of nowhere like this is just asking for some hooligan to make off with it.

"--shouldn't even be doing this. There are enough idiots stumbling into the bamboo thickets as it is, and now on top of that--yeah, I get why, but it's still too much. I can't believe--and how the hell does anyone manage to land in the middle of the garden, anyway? That isn't even near the Border at all--"

Well, maybe you'll luck out yet. This woman, with the iron grip on your wrist--she's dragging you somewhere, isn't she? Maybe that "somewhere" has a warm bed. Warm food. Electricity.

Or maybe not that last one, if Cottage Girl was any kind of right.

"--the edge? Yeah, that's fine. It's out of my way, sure, but it's fine--it's really fine, but now they're dropping in through the holes--I can't take care of the whole damned land, and that damned witch can't be counted on, but at least she's better than--"

Because if Cottage Girl was right, with all her ranting and raving about living in a magical Japanese wonderland--

If Cottage Girl was right, that meant that this place stopped advancing technologically sometime in the late eighteen hundreds. Exactly when in the late eighteen hundreds? Now that, er--that, you're not precisely sure. Which is kind of funny, because Cottage Girl was kind enough to give you a specific year, only you dumped the info as soon as you heard it because you thought the woman had too many nuts in her soup.

Out of the two of you, you're the crazy one. How's that for bogus?

And now here you are, with Suspenders And Red-Hot Pants taking you for a ride, whether you like it or not. At least she's kind enough to slow down whenever you start tripping over things. Which is pretty often, considering you haven't had a proper meal in who knows how long.

You're hungry. You're hungry. You're really, really, really hungry.

"Hell," you mutter to yourself, "I don't care about lightbulbs--I'd give my life away for a decent meal right now, stove-cooked or no--"

Red-Hot Pants swivels her head in your direction for just a moment, and you're suddenly very, very glad you were speaking in English and not Japanese just now. Either way, you shut up.


"Kids. Feh! Kids--"

You barely notice when the trees begin to thin out around you--night's fallen, and even with all the (real) stars in the sky, your vision's stuck fast at nothing to rubbish. The only thing keeping you from hitting your head on some low-hanging branch is Red-Hot Pants here, who's nice enough to punctuate her old-man grumbling with the occasional "duck" or "look out". Still, even you catch the hint once Red drags you around another hairpin turn and you nearly lose your balance sliding on a patch of gravel.

Hey, what do you know? A road! An honest-to-goodness road. You're so happy you could kiss somebody (not Red, though--she'd probably knock your block off).

"How the hell she does it I don't even know--I'd be crazy by now, going over the same old spiel day in and day out. Or maybe she's already gone crazy--ah, damn, that'd be the last thing I'd need. Maybe if I can get her to take a break--"

And from the honest-to-goodness road to an honest-to-goodness...village. Funny, you've never actually had to use that word before, village.

But there's no other word you could have used. This is a village, all right--wooden buildings and everything. Heck, there aren't even any telephone poles, although you do see the occasional flickering light here and there.

Also, the occasional bystander, more often than not gawking at you.

You are quite the sight, after all. Some stranger in torn clothing being all but frog-marched through market square? Hell, you'd take a peek, too, if this was happening in your city--

Red comes to an abrupt stop in front of another old Japanese house, her grumbling dying away as she slides the front door open with her foot and drags you into the entrance. "Close the door behind you," she snaps at you, over her shoulder, and then shouts further into the building:


She pauses, listening for a response, and then shouts again.

"Hey, Keine!"

_ Turn up your ears--listen for footsteps.
_ Is that a light coming from that room?
_ Wait a bit. You can't do anything else, anyway.
X Is that a light coming from that room?

I thought he learned Mokou's name...
[x] Is that a light coming from that room?
[x] Is that a light coming from that room?

No one would leave a candle or lantern burning unattended for too long. It's a waste of candles (or oil), which are/is probably at a premium in pre-industrial revolution Gensokyo and would also be a fire hazard, something especially dangerous because of the all-wooden Japanese construction.

Maybe she's passed out drunk? Or maybe she's just hoping Mokou will leave if she doesn't answer?
>I figured you'd at least run them through Google
Yeah, but KC... you're you, man. Half of what you say is bizarre, anyway. I think a lot of us just figured it was you being strange, rather than references (especially since none of them seemed the slightest bit familiar).
Well, that's three votes for the same choice, and nothing else, so I guess that's what I'll be going with.

Whoever >>117405 was is right, incidentally--it was a "which character are you going to meet" choice. >>113027 was the same. I mean, in case anyone was wondering or something.
>Well, that's three votes for the same choice, and nothing else, so I guess that's what I'll be going with.

File 127391015948.jpg - (21.59KB, 300x300 , Rewrite.jpg) [iqdb]
For anyone who missed it, the original choices for the last bit were "I often wonder, I really do, why we sing", "I have the doctor’s permission to live till Tuesday", and "This meanness must come to an end". If you stay up half the night pondering the significance of those quotes, tell me and I'll let you know.


X Is that a light coming from that room?

No answer.

The woman--what's her name--makes a huffing sound, frustration clear on her face. Whoever this "Keine" person is, it doesn't look like he's here. Or "she", possibly.

You've never been able to tell, not with Japanese names--

A flicker of in the edge of your vision pulls you from your thoughts, and you turn your head to squint down a long hallway. You're not sure, but you think you can see something a short distance away--a faint glow, maybe, coming from around the edges of one of those Japanese-type doors.

..."Japanese-type doors". You don't know the proper name for those, either.

You've been led around for a while (first by Mima, then by this person), so it almost feels awkward, raising your voice on your own. "There's a light," you cough out.

Red-Hot Pants turns to look straight at you, a thick scowl etched onto her face. "What?"

"There's a light," you say, louder this time. "Over that way." For a moment you consider rubbing it in--making a point about poor, hungry you--but hell, you already know that alienating Cottage Girl was a bad move, even if it hasn't come back to bite you just yet. Probably best to extend the peace pipe for now. "I'm Harker, by the way," you add. "Terrence Harker."

"Yeah, alright."

...And there she goes, stalking off towards the room you ever-so-kindly indicated. No thanks, not even a how-d'you-do. Well, fine--she can go burn, for all you care. And see if you bother putting her out when she does, the ungrateful, snot-faced--

"You sleeping, Keine?" Red throws the sliding door open with a clatter, and you roll your eyes--if he was, he certainly isn't now. "You're overworking yourself, you know. If you don't be careful..."

Your guide trails off--and then deflates, glumly.

"Oh," she mutters. "It's just you."

"'Just' me?" The girl sitting behind the low table looks up at Red with an impish smile. Judging by the brush in her hand and the bowl of ink nearby, you must've interrupted her in the middle of writing. Or, rather, Red must've interrupted her in the middle of writing. Though you don't know how this girl's managed to write anything at all, not with only a single lamp in the corner as her light source. High-carrot diet?

"I'm hurt, you know," the girl continues. Her voice is soft, but clear--and imbued with a current of amusement. "I thought you valued our relationship more than that."

"You're the only one who thinks we have a 'relationship'." Red glances around the room, then back down the hallway--probably hoping for another telltale light. There isn't one. "Where's Keine?" she asks.

The clamor having finally settled, the girl returns to her piece of parchment. Her characters are neat and precise. "Miss Kamishirasawa went out an hour ago. The Kenzaki family's child went missing, so naturally she decided to help with the search."

Red sighs. "I see. Bad timing, huh."

"Mm-hm." Nodding, the girl puts her brush down...and adjusts her gaze slightly, her eyes meeting yours. "I haven't seen you before," she says.

It is not a question.

"New kid," Red cuts you off, even as you open your mouth to introduce yourself. "I was hoping to check him in with Keine--get him set up, and everything--but I guess I'll have to wait." She takes a seat herself, against the side of the room--then shoots that sharp look in your direction again. "Sit down, kid. We're staying right here--just till everything gets cleared up."

_ Sit tight and talk to Red.
_ Sit tight and talk to the writer girl.
_ Sit tight and shaddap.
_ Screw you, I'm outta here.
_ Other... (Specify)
[x] Sit tight and talk to whoever seems more willing to talk.
[x] Confirm what Cottage Girl told you and and what you've seen with your own eyes.
[x] Sit tight and talk to whoever seems more willing to talk.
-[x] Try to find Writer Girl's name.
[x] Confirm what Cottage Girl told you and and what you've seen with your own eyes.
[x] Sit tight and talk to whoever seems more willing to talk.
[x] Confirm what Cottage Girl told you and and what you've seen with your own eyes.
...did you know how the ancient Japanese lunar calendar works? It's a bit odd. I don't think you can just pull up a chart or a formula or anything like that. You'd think it'd be the same as the Chinese lunar calendar, but Japan actually used a slightly different calculating system.

Now, the Gregorian Calendar was adopted by Japan in 1873, but I reasoned that an area of Japan sealed away very soon afterwards would quickly revert to traditional methods.

A lunar month is roughly twenty-nine and a half days, so the Japanese lunar-solar month was divided into twelve months of either twenty-nine or thirty days. That's easy enough. However, the pattern of long and short months differed every year, often for religious reasons.

(And I should mention now that I have no idea what the Chinese lunar calendar is like, or how exactly the Japanese lunar calendar differs, so it's entirely possible that I'm making a fool out of myself right now and giving you the workings of the Chinese lunar calendar by accident.)

Okay, so--short months, long months, and it's sort of random, sort of not. That's a bit iffy, but I'm not panicking just yet. Read on, right?

Months start on new moons. Easy. Just look up a moon calendar for whenever your adventure takes place and mark off the dates--oh, no, wait, hold on. What's this about...

Huh. The...the Japanese lunar calendar wasn't really adjusted to the solar year or anything. Solar year--as in, the seasons and such. So every three years or maybe less or maybe more they'd put in intercalary month to bring the whole thing back into phase. Now, each solar year can be divided into twelve solar months by marking off the twelve "solar points", i.e., the solstices, the equinoxes, and two points equidistant between each of those major points. Now, because the lunar month is twenty-nine and a half days, while the solar month is thirty and a half days, occasionally a twenty-nine-day or thirty-day lunar month will fall entirely between a pair of solar months, and those are where you put your intercalary months.




You know what? Fuck it. Yukari maintained the Gregorian Calendar with her magic gap voodoo prowess. I'm going back to my update.

(Wait, the Japanese age reckoning system didn't get changed until 1902! How the hell do you reconcile a Gregorian Calendar with an age reckoning system wherein you add a year to a person's age every Lunar New Year?! Noooooooo...)
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This update took too long.

Much too long.


X Sit tight and talk to whoever seems more willing to talk.
X Confirm what Cottage Girl told you and and what you've seen with your own eyes.

Ugh. Yeah, sure, why not? It's not like you've got any choice, after all.

You sit yourself across the table from the writer girl, and try not to look too bitter about it.

Really, you'd like nothing better than to just hoof it (if only to spite Ms. Pants here), but you hold no illusions: that sort of behavior's liable to get you sent home in a box. Or a bag, even.

Normal Boonieville hostility towards stranger? You can weather that, no problemo. Every other person you meet actively trying to do you in? Not so much. But for whatever reason, your skull's apparently worth bonus points, and every hick from here to Hokkaido is itching to collect. You've already had two close shaves--you won't come out unscathed from a third.

Hell, you think, feeling at the bruise already spreading across the front of your throat, you didn't even come out unscathed from the first two.

Your only saving grace is that there appear to be just as many people willing to save your butt as there are people trying to obliterate it. Of course, that's only an assumption--for all you know, Ms. Pants brought you here with something nefarious in mind. Or perhaps Writer Girl is hiding a storeroom of knives under that fancy dress of hers. You don't know. It's all possible, which is why you can't afford to trust any of them.

It's a callous policy, to be sure, but it's also smart. You've always prided yourself on playing smart.

"I apologize for the wait," Writer Girl says, smiling warmly. "Miss Kamishirasawa should return soon. In the meantime, would you like some tea?"

"Tea, huh..." Aw, how precocious. She's playing hostess! Time to switch on the pleasant again. "Well, I'm not very thirsty, but if you have something I could munch on, I'd be very grateful..."

Yeah, grateful enough to not rearrange her face when you break out of here. Damn fun-sized brat. Who does she think she's fooling, anyway? Kid probably hasn't even started on her training bra--

"Unfortunately," Writer Girl says, "all I have right now are some crackers. Is that alright with you?"

--holy crap you think you're in love.

Writer Girl turns out to be either modest or mathematically challenged, lucky you: she says "some", but she actually has a whole freaking boxload, with which you happily stuff yourself. Sure, they look positively ancient, and they have the consistency and flavor of containerboard, but hell--you haven't eaten in two days. At this point, you'd guzzle sawdust if it'd fill your stomach.

So focused you are on your windfall, you almost don't notice that Writer Girl is talking to you.

"...interested in hearing..."

"Whugh?" You look up from your already half-emptied box, swallowing your mouthful of crumbs. "Urgh--sorry. What did you say? I wasn't listening."

Writer Girl does that perfectly sweet kind lovely nice smile again (the one that makes you want to remove her molars) and repeats herself. "I said--I'm interested in hearing about your circumstances."


Your confusion must be clear, because Writer Girl continues: "I'm sorry--that must sound over-presumptuous of me. It is true, though--I am interested in hearing about your circumstances." She plucks a cracker from your box and bites into it, still smiling merrily. "It's a...hobby of mine."

"Hearing about other people's circumstances is a hobby?"

You realize too late that you're saying that out loud, but Writer Girl doesn't seem to take offense. "Learning as much as I can, about as many people as I can--" she says, "that is my hobby."


Color yourself impressed, then. That's a pretty heavy philosophy, especially coming from a ten-year-old girl. Most days you'd break your own arm if it got you out of babysitting duty, but tonight you'll make an exception. "I don't think my circumstances are very interesting, though," you muse. "There's nothing particularly interesting about my life."

"But you're here now, aren't you?" Writer Girl steals another cracker. "Some people might find that interesting--I've heard."

"Yeah, well--last time I checked, 'some people' might prefer their skulls intact, me included." You pause as you realize that Writer Girl is staring up at you, her cracker in hand forgotten, paused halfway between the table and her open mouth. "What? Did I get some crumbs on my face or something?"

"Ah, no." Writer Girl recovers. "It's just that--that's interesting, isn't it?"

You snort. "No, it's painful. And inconvenient. There's nothing 'interesting' about it." Your mouth is dry--all those crackers must have sucked the moisture right out. Tersely, you summarize: "I got hit, I came here, and I want to go home. That's it. End of story."

"End of story, huh?" Writer girl looks up at you--and then that expression of amusement flits over her face again. "Are you sure? I think there's an important part or two you might have missed."

"Yeah?" You run your mind back over the conversation, but come up empty. You covered it all, didn't you? Sure, there was Mima, and before that Cottage Girl, but that's just filler. Insignificant in the long run. Little worth mentioning. "I give up," you finally relent. "Which part are you talking about?"

"The part with the beautiful young lady who selflessly entertained you."

And there's that sly, impish grin again.

"But more importantly," the girl continues, "you forgot to tell me your name--unless, of course, you want me to refer to you as 'Mr. Head Wound'."

The kid's got nerve. You might like her, you decide. Just a little bit. "Well, I don't know. 'Mr. Head Wound' seems like a perfectly respectable name. It's certainly a lot catchier than 'Writer Girl'--don't you agree?"

The girl's eyes are laughing. "Well then, Mr. Head Wound," she says, voice brimming with false gravitas, "I am Hieda no Akyuu."

"And in that case, Writer Girl," you respond, "I am Terrence Harker. It's very nice to meet you."

And you realize, with something like shock, that it is true.

That's odd. When did you let down your guard? It's dangerous, especially in a place like this--

The sliding door flies open with a bang. You're instantly on your feet again, ready to deal with the latest threat--but the figure in the door isn't Mima, or even Shinomiya, but a tired-looking woman in a rumpled, dirt-stained dress.

"I'm back," the woman murmurs wearily, clearly operating on autopilot. "I'm sorry--I didn't think it would take that long. Mouru found Kaito out near the north end of the village--I've told him before not to wander into the forest, especially when it's dark, but..."

She trails off. Blinks. Actually notices you. Probably because you're standing in the middle of the room like some sort of idiot. Time to play nice again.

"Good evening."

"Good evening,," the woman answers, more on reflex than anything else. You've caught her off-guard--she probably wasn't expecting anyone to be in this room other than Akyuu. Whatever the case, you take full advantage of her confusion to eye her figure discreetly.

Unfortunately, you glean nothing from her appearance other than the faint desire to firebomb the nearest clothes shop.

Seriously--there's lace, and then there's lace. And you're not even gonna get started on the hat.

"Pardon me," you offer humbly, pretending to hold an iota of respect for this walking eyesore. "Your acquaintance kindly led us here, but you weren't, so we decided to wait. I apologize for intruding."

...wow, now that you're doing your best to look prim and proper, you realize how badly your Japanese skill's lapsed. That's what comes of quitting cold turkey, huh? You make a mental note to thank Shannon once you get back.

Miss Laces doesn't seem to notice, though. She's just too out of it. "I'm sorry. My...acquaintance?"

"Yes." You make a casual gesture towards Ms. Pants--who apparently dozed off at some point without you noticing. Well, that explains why she didn't make an immediate return to raucousness once her friend arrived. Not that it matters to you, anyway. "I didn't catch her name, but..."

"Oh." Laces' face (Shoot, what was her name again?) lights up in understanding. "Oh! I see. You were led here by Mokou, then? I hope you haven't been waiting long." Long enough, you glassy-eyed bint. "You're from the Outside, then--has Akyuu told you about the history of Gensokyo yet?"

In the corner of your eye, you see a strange expression pass over Akyuu's face--as if she's just bitten into something extremely foul. "No--'Gensokyo', did you say?" you ask, tilting your head, doglike.

"Yes, Gensokyo. Though perhaps I should introduce myself first." Laces shakes off the last of her dazedness, bowing politely (if a little hurriedly).

"My name is Kamishirasawa Keine. I'm the village schoolteacher."

"My name is Terrence Harker. I'm lost. What's this about 'Gensokyo'?"

You can hardly be blamed for being a little bit rude under such unfortunate "circumstances", right? And besides, it's high time you found out just how off-rocker Cottage Girl was, exactly. Though at this point, you figure the worst.

Please don't be a supernatural region of Japan kept deliberately isolated since the nineteenth century, please don't be a supernatural region of Japan kept deliberately isolated since the nineteenth century, please don't be a supernatural region of Japan kept deliberately isolated since the nineteenth century...

"One hundred and twenty-six years ago, in the face of an increasingly skeptical and scientific culture," Kami-what's-her-face recites, her speech long-practiced, "the decision was made to entirely separate Gensokyo from the influences of the outside world."

You do some quick mental calculation. Modern day--minus the tens--take the other--subtract the obvious--equals--

Late nineteenth century.


Unaware that you've already had one earful of this tale, Kami-something takes care plugging up the other. "To this end, the 'Great Boundary' was erected, ending migration--but ensuring Gensokyo's surivial. In short, none are allowed in (barring unusual circumstances) and few can survive out."

That's all very well and interesting, except for one little minor issue: "None are allowed in, you say..."

Kami-something has the good grace to look sheepish, at least. "The Boundary is...not perfect," she admits. "For those who know what to look for, there have always been methods of bypassing it. Still, for a person to slip through entirely by accident, especially from the outside..."

She pauses.

"It is a...highly unusual occurrence."

Akyuu lets loose a single explosive cough. In the corner, Ms. Pants scrambles to her feet, her fists held ready--the very model of a belligerent drunkard. She relaxes instantly once she notices Kami-something, though, leaning against the wall and avoiding eye contact.

Kami-something herself, meanwhile is fixing a glare you could cook omelets by. "Do you have anything to add, Hieda?"

Akyuu smiles serenely. "Sorry, Miss Kamishirasawa! These crackers sure are dry, aren't they?"

There's nothing you'd like better than to take the backseat for a while and watch this confederacy duke it out, but there are much more important portions on your platter right now, so you kindly run interference: "Okay, so, about the history of Gensokyo--I think I understand what you're saying here..."

Mostly because Cottage Chick already filled you in.

"....but, what I really want to know is," you say, "how do I leave?"


"I mean, how do I get out of here? Back to my outside world?"

Silence. Kami-something's face goes very carefully neutral. Ms. Pants turns her face inwards to the wall.

You already suspect--no, you already know the answer, but you look at Akyuu anyway, just hoping--

She smiles.

There is no joy in it.

"Welcome," she says, "to Gensokyo."
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Aaaaaand episode two.

Any questions?

I was grinning like an idiot throughout much of this update, and especially the last quarter or third. You do an excellent job of characterizing Terrence, and making the story fun and amusing to read. Yes, this took a long time for you to write, but you wrote quite a bit, too (or at least, it felt like quite a bit).

As always, I am eagerly looking forward to more. (I don't have any questions yet, though. I'll try thinking of some later.)
Glad this is alive.

>Any questions?


What are the odds of our 20th century detective meeting up with a 19th century constable impersonator?

Does Terrance possess any notable capacities other than devising outlandish explanations for crime and a tolerance for the bizarre?

How are things in Gensokyo going to affect the Outside (i.e., Shannon, Shinomiya) if at all?

What is Mima's problem? Non-specific misanthropy?

How long is the time skip (if there is one)?

And when does the next episode start?
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Questions 3, 5, and 6: That depends entirely on the results of this poll, right here:

How would you like to take a detour to the magic-less, Terrence-less outside?
_ No, dammit. I want to see Gensokyo. And Touhous. Not your sparkly-special NPCs.
_ I wouldn't mind.
_ I wouldn't mind--but only if it takes place in Japan, okay? Near the Border.
_ I wouldn't mind. Heck, go back to Los Ojos, for all I care.

P.S.: I would like to extend my most heartfelt thanks to the people reading this, even the ones who never voted. If it weren't for you all, I probably wouldn't be here. So--thanks.
[x] I wouldn't mind in the slightest. Los Ojos, Japan, any other relevant places, whatever! Show me everything!
[x] I wouldn't mind in the slightest. Los Ojos, Japan, any other relevant places, whatever! Show me everything!
[x] I wouldn't mind in the slightest. Los Ojos, Japan, any other relevant places, whatever! Show me everything!
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It's still dark when you leave your house, of course. That's the way it's been for years. All those white-collar workers, with their expensive ties and nicely-pressed suits--they wouldn't know a real "morning commute" if it jumped up and hit them in the face.

But you know. You know what the streets are like when the city is still sleeping, when the roads are clear and quiet and even your junker of a car can glide along at whatever speed you like because there's no one there to complain. You know what the world looks like in murky streetlight-yellow with the headlights off. It's an entirely different world than the one John Q. Taxpayer sees with the sun.

You wouldn't call it beautiful. You wouldn't even call it peaceful (there are far too many shadows for any man to be at peace). And yet--the familiar sight of these old, faded buildings never fails to instill within you a certain sense of pride.

This is your city. You help protect it, as minimal as your contribution may be. And if that isn't something to be proud of, then what is?

The police station is illuminated from the inside, an oasis of light in a concrete wasteland. You've skipped your usual coffee. It's a foolish decision, you know, but there's a pale manila folder at the bottom of your desk drawer, and you need the time to give it another thorough read-through before your workday begins. Maybe there's something important there that you missed the last time you read it--as well as the time before that. And the time before that. And--

And someone is leaning against the front of your file cabinet.

What the hell?

"Yo, you're Valentin, right? Ritchie Valentin?" The kid is tall and thin, with shock-black hair. His smile is gleaming. "I'm Shin--Shin Kirikami. Lookin' forward to workin' with you from now on!"

...What the hell?

"What the hell?"

Captain Graham glances up as you burst through his door, then returns to his reading, thoroughly unimpressed. "I see you've met Kirikami," he says.

"Met him?" An ember of indignant rage begins to burn in your chest. "Met him?" you sputter. "You didn't warn me you were sticking me with some--some bottom-of-the-barrel rookie!"

Graham smiles amusedly, but does not look up from the editorials. "Oh? Would you like someone older, then, perhaps?"

"To start with, sure!" There's a sound in your head: warning bells. You ignore them and barrel full speed ahead. "Have you seen this kid? He can't be more than twenty-five, twenty-six. Thirty, maybe. Cocky little kid like that, he's going to get me killed. Killed."


"Yes, damn it. Killed." He's not taking you seriously. You want to rip that newspaper in half. Tear it into little strips, like confetti. You reach into your pocket instead, fumble for the packet of cigarettes that you know isn't there.

You suddenly feel very tired.

Very old.

"I know those kids," you say. That small flame of anger has burnt itself out, left nothing in your heart but a withered husk. "I know those kids. Hell--hell, I was those kids."

Graham nods, his expression grim. You pop a gum tablet into your mouth and bite down, hard. It tastes of blood and cherries.

"If I'd known you were going to saddle me with a kid like this," you muse mournfully, "I would have settled with Pham."

"Instead of ditching him on the median strip?" Graham says.

"Instead of ditching him on the median strip, sure." You smirk. "I'll talk to you later, Graham."


You both know you won't. Not about this, anyway. It was never really about Kirikami, after all.

The newspaper rises between the two of you, a curtain to the end of this farce. You exit stage right.

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

The thing about modern conveniences: they're convenient.

The other thing about modern conveniences: they're absent in faux-ancient Japan, painfully so. Looking back, it never occurred to you that you might end up without your toothpaste.

Or your toaster.

Or your electronic digital alarm clock radio.

Say what you will about 1910s music hall--it's loads preferable to a foot in the gut.

Speaking of which--

_ Dammit, why would you ask to work in the fields? You're gonna get sunstroke. And who gives a newbie a blade right off the bat, anyway?
_ You've never been much of a tool guy, but that's okay. You're mostly just fetching stuff, holding other stuff down. It's not too bad.
_ You shouldn't be here in the first place, so you refuse to be pressed into labor. What are you, some sort of indentured servant? Forget about it.
[x] You've never been much of a tool guy, but that's okay. You're mostly just fetching stuff, holding other stuff down. It's not too bad.
[x] You've never been much of a tool guy, but that's okay. You're mostly just fetching stuff, holding other stuff down. It's not too bad.
[x] You've never been much of a tool guy, but that's okay. You're mostly just fetching stuff, holding other stuff down. It's not too bad.

Fuck, meant to vote earlier.
[x] You've never been much of a tool guy, but that's okay. You're mostly just fetching stuff, holding other stuff down. It's not too bad.
[x] You've never been much of a tool guy, but that's okay. You're mostly just fetching stuff, holding other stuff down. It's not too bad.
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Before this update, a message to my most-appreciated readers:

If I ever write up a plot hole, or hand someone the idiot ball, or just wrangle a character out-of-character, please feel free to tell me. Please feel free to criticize, to chastise, to beat my knees with steel-tipped sticks. Alright?




X You've never been much of a tool guy, but that's okay. You're mostly just fetching stuff, holding other stuff down. It's not too bad.

"...You okay?"

You look up from the dusty ground and your worn-out shoes. "What?" you ask.

"Are you okay?" Yara frowns, looking towards you with a concerned expression. "You keep holding your side like that. Do you need a break? I can cover for you, just for a bit..."

Any other day, you'd take the offer. As it is, though, you've snuck in too many breaks already--any more, and you're sure to be caught. "No, I'm alright," you say, smiling wanly. "I just didn't sleep well, that's all. It's nothing to worry about."

"If you say so..." Yara looks doubtful, but it's not like you're lying, or anything--you really didn't sleep that well last night. In fact, you haven't slept soundly at all, not since you arrived in Gensokyo. You blame the futons--after a childhood full of western beds, sleeping on a hard wooden floor is sheer torture.

Though, having a clumsy oaf of a boss accidentally trip over you doesn't help, either. Seriously, if you'd known helping out with the carpentry was going to be like this, you'd have taken the fieldwork instead--summer sun be damned. Whatever company the harvesters have, it can't be worse than these bunch of yokels.

"Hey--Yara, Haakaa!"

...And there's the head yokel now, standing at the edge of the scaffold and waving his arms like some Japanese fitness guru. Idiot still can't pronounce your name right. Why the hell is he yelling at you, anyway? He's only five feet overhead, for goodness' sake.

"Take 'bout half the leftover wood out, will ya? Today's the pickup."

Yara nods, smiling cheerfully. "Got it."

"But don't let that guy just leave!" the boss booms, squinting down at you. "Keep talkin' or stallin' or somethin' till I get there. I got stiffed last time, and I ain't gonna let that happen again. You got that?"

Yara nods again. "Yeah, sure," he says. "Got it."

'Got it,' Yara says, but the whole job's a lot more difficult than it sounds. Sure, plenty of the beams are light enough to simply carry underarm, but most of them are longer--some of them more than ten feet. Getting those ones outside requires significantly more effort, and even with Yara's assistance, you're sick, tired, and thoroughly miserable by the time the job is through.

"So," you gasp, sprawled limply against one of the house's half-finished walls. "What's 'the pickup'?"

A sharp contrast to your picture of agony, Yara stands in the sunlight, an absent smile across his face. Slowly, comfortably, he turns to look at you. "...Hm? What did you say?"

Ha. Bastard. He can act so carefree, of course--he's used to this Japanese humidity. "'The pickup'," you groan, "'The pickup', 'last time'--what was that all about?"

Yara looks confused, just for a moment, and then that irritating lazy smile is back. "Oh, right," he says. "Sorry. I forgot you've only been here a week. Probably nobody's told you yet, right?"

...Of course nobody's told you yet, damn it. If somebody'd told you, you wouldn't be asking.

"Right, right, so--" Yara nudges the scattered pile of wooden beams the two of you have just finished making, and finally launches into his explanation: "These, right? About every month or so, we get an order for spare wood. All the spare wood we've got, I mean. It's always the same person--comes up the road tugging a big wooden cart, loads it full to the top, and then goes back--I don't know where."

Oh, so it's just some weirdo, then? "So what happened last time?" you ask.

Yara shrugs. "I dunno. It's the boss' business, right? I don't ask the boss about the boss' business." A good principle to live by, admittedly: don't annoy the guy who can make your life hell.

"But--" Yara lowers his voice, conspiratorially. "You know what the weird thing is?"

You grunt. Yara takes this as a sign to continue.

"Nobody knows what all that wood is for."

...this is what passes for mysteriousness around here? Magical Japanland is surprisingly banal. "Burning," you guess.

Yara shakes his head. "It's not firewood. If you want firewood, you can get that elsewhere, and at a cheaper price. So it can't be firewood. See?"

Well, sorry if you're not up-to-date on wood-based economy. Twit. "If you want to know what all the wood's for, maybe it'd be better if you just asked," you kindly suggest.

In response, you get an embarrassed, sheepish smile. "Yeah," Yara agrees. "You're right. I probably should just ask. It's a little difficult, though. That woman--to tell the truth, that woman's a little bit--"

"A little bit what?" a sharp, female voice asks.

Yara's eyes go comically wide. You'd laugh, but yours are doing the same. You recognize that voice.

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

"So, I guess we're partners, huh? Awesome. I tell you, I was totally lookin' forward to playin' in the big leagues--

Kirikami's smile is wide, his eyes shining. There is a sincerity there, and it seeing it fills you with a strange, conflicted emotion, like disgust or nostalgia or maybe both at the same time.

You don't like it. With a fire like that, it's only a matter of time before someone gets burned.

"--plus, I gotta tell you: just actually having a partner, someone to watch my back--leaves me pretty psyched, y'know? I mean, it musta been a bummer, gettin' left in the dust after your last dude got moved to Japan or whatever, but--"

The satisfaction of seeing Kirikami nearly slam his face into the dashboard as you apply the brakes is all too fleeting. "We're here."

If you have to put up with this crap, the least you deserve is a decent cup of coffee.

_ Get it yourself, but tell Kirikami to stay in the car
_ Tell Kirikami to get it
_ What the hell, Kirikami can come too.
_ Other... (Specify)
x What the hell, Kirikami can come too.

let's make sure the newbie doesn't do something stupid.
[x] What the hell, Kirikami can come too.

more the merrier
[it's all 'p' and no 'h']What the hell, Kirikami can come too.

Keep the kid on a leash.
[x] What the hell, Kirikami can come too.
[x] Get it yourself, but tell Kirikami to stay in the car.

Fucking rookies.
[x] What the hell, Kirikami can come too.
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Don't mind me, I'm just getting this past the bump limit.
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And if anyone is reading this, I'd like to stress one more time that I can't write worth a damn. Somehow I've managed to do what I've done so far, though.

And I'd like to think I've learned a little bit. About writing, I mean.
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But most importantly, I'd like to thank you all once again for reading my story.

I mean that. From the bottom of my bottom, I do, I do.
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Oh, and--I suppose "Fleet Fox" ought to be the official title of this story, since that's what everyone calls it anyway.

It's kind of funny. If I'd chosen a different picture, I'd have ended up writing "Grand" or "The Walking" or "White Album" or something. But now, it's "Fleet Fox".
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That's about it, I suppose?

Well, see you next thread.
And one for luck.

Thread Watcher x