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(Sorry, I couldn't resist with the thread name.)


The trip back to the village had seemed markedly different compared to yesterday, and it took a few moments for the realization to sink in. Inexplicably, I had lost my Moses effect on the general populace. The few villagers I happened to cross paths with no longer seemed as eager to retreat into whatever pits they crawled out from the mere sight of me but instead, did little more than give me a wide berth as they milled past quietly, eyes carefully avoiding my discreet gaze. Their sudden change in demeanour was a surprise, as was their continued presence above-ground. It could only mean Screeches had failed to convince the villagers in abandoning the surface, or had never tried to do so in the first place. The numerous ignorant souls attending to their morning tasks and setting the village up for a new day looked to be no more informed about their danger than they were yesterday. Not that it would make much of a difference now given the fact that Byakuren’s circle was essentially worthless to me at this point.

I spared little thought over the matter, being far more preoccupied with where the flaming sea ghost had disappeared to after failing to turn up at our agreed rendezvous for hours on end. Instead of wasting more time waiting around for her much-delayed arrival, I opted to return to the village to see what I could possibly procure for my inevitable confrontation with the three-armed freak. Marching into his camp with nothing but Yukari’s defunct abilities as back-up would be a poor lapse in judgment. He would have to be confronted with a show of power and authority as appropriate for elders speaking on equal terms, two key things I was lacking and had no way in imitating. If he was to be suitably impressed or threatened enough into reconsidering his custody of Short Stuff, it would have to be done through more conventional means. But how, I had to wonder?

Towards that end, I decided to risk visiting the Hieda manor once more despite having outstayed my welcome there the day before. Screeches was my primary source for information and the resources I desperately needed, a fact I would have to exploit regardless of my current standing with the villagers. Making use of her connections once more was a regrettable but necessary course of action, something I was a lot less inclined about doing in light of all the assistance she had provided thus far. Endlessly hounding her with unrequited expectations wouldn’t exactly endear me to her, especially at a time when I had so little to rely on. Still, her wrath would be the least of my concerns now and in extension, hers, when faced with a problem of a far greater magnitude that was the impending death of the false sun.

Many of the nameless villagers who had happened upon me during my little walk to the Hieda manor didn’t seem to harbour the same unfounded terror in me as they previously had, although the heavy atmosphere of being unwelcome remained prevalent everywhere I went. Aside from a few hostile glares the more hardy souls managed to dart at me when they thought I wasn’t looking, the people as a whole seemed to have come to an acceptance of sorts in terms of my presence. Perhaps that was due in part to the Hieda family’s counsel over the people; I was relatively sure the villagers would have no shortage of debates during their nightly retreats on what to make of my unexpected stay in their homes. Regardless, they probably decided it was far better, and safer, to just generally treat the presence of the golden wonder and her oni as nothing more than an unusual episode of youkai haunting until we would presumably grow bored enough to leave just as harmlessly as we had arrived.

In a stark contrast to the agitated adults, the children treated my presence as a welcome distraction from the drudgery of their routine lives. Instead of a deep-seated fear of the unknown, they looked to be exhilarated by my solitary passage through the village streets. I gave the first of the juveniles little more than a disinterested backward glance on noticing his tailing after me, a mistake I would soon regret as more of his ilk found a break in their games and uneventful lounging to chase after the curious oddity prancing through their village. A mob of the little demons had practically gathered around me before I could even reach the village square, gasping and chattering excitedly as they encircled me. Tiny hands tugged away at my clothes inquisitively before the hell spawn focused their attention on Yukari’s tresses, playing with the golden locks as they laughed aloud before hefting them above their heads. Like a mockery of attendants and pages of times medieval carrying their sovereign’s opulent cloaks above dirt-ridden streets, more and more of the other juveniles proceeded to follow suit.

With a few irritated tugs, I managed to snatch most of the locks of hair away from their grasping hands followed by an annoyed grunt, hoping it would be enough to warn them away. Unperturbed, they kept up their relentless attack, obviously ignorant to what constituted as common sense towards youkai. Their elders blanched visibly at their antics, some venturing forth to tear the juveniles away from my vicinity before hurrying off with a cross scolding at the children in their arms, probably fearing that I would have exacted some form of retribution on the youngsters. As much as half of me wanted just that, the other half was resigned to their abuses, recognizing the need to remain civilized to these people. Enduring the endless poking and tugging of the remaining children, I made it to the Hieda manor at last, still in one piece and no less irked by the remaining devils treating me like some rare pet freshly dropped from the heavens.

My entrance this time was far less impressive this time, an understandable handicap in light of the noisy juveniles still attached to parts of my hair and clothing. A familiar looking man of goodly build strode out to investigate the rowdy visitors, followed by his flock of servants as per the norm. Even from a distance, I could already see the bewildered expression he wore and as the lord of the Hieda household stopped before me at loss for words, the rest of his servants did likewise to cast curious glances at the spectacle before them. With a girl barely ten in her years happily hanging off of my right sleeve, I gazed at the huge man in a silent plea for assistance. Like, help me out here?

He recovered well enough to gesture sharply at the children and his servants animatedly went into action, dispersing the juveniles, leading and pulling them out of the manor away from us accompanied by the usual chiding. I let loose an accidental sigh of relief at the rescue, eliciting a strange look bordering on amusement from the current lord of the Hieda manor before he cleared his throat self-consciously. ‘Well… that was… I mean…’ he stopped trying as his well-maintained demeanour fell apart. A slight smile twitched in the corner of his mouth and he abandoned all pretence of formality or royalty. ‘Quite an unexpected sight, Lady Yukari. Certainly, it’s almost otherworldly to see human children take so kindly to you.’

‘I didn’t really pick the strays up for fun,’ I returned in a noncommittal tone, straightening my sleeves back into place. ‘Look, I-‘

He cut me off with a quick shake of his head. ‘Save the theatrics. I know why you’re here.’ Taking a step back, he turned to address the two closest servants remaining behind him. ‘Leave us, and clear the servants attending to Fumika out of the study now.’

The attendants, dressed markedly better in comparison to their menial brethren, nodded once before going off in their separate ways. A sharp cry from each of them had the returning servants fall into file and the two groups filtered back into the manor quickly, returning to their interrupted tasks as well as the Hieda lord’s instructions. I gave the looming figure a curious glance, and he replied with a raised eye, reading my unspoken question. ‘The unpleasantness of our previous meeting notwithstanding, Fumika has requested for you to be brought to her should you return, something I do not pretend to understand. I may not trust one such as you, but I do not choose to question the wisdom of the Child of Miare.’ Stepping to one side as a gesture of passage he added formally, ‘Come.’

Falling into step beside the towering figure, I accepted his invitation with little thought and nothing more than an absent-minded nod. Taking us through the garden of the Hieda manor, very much unchanged since my first visit here except for the fresh hedges he started in a conversational tone, treating me as if I was nothing more than a typical guest, an ingrained habit of his perhaps. ‘It gladdens me to see you exercising such self-control over the children’s behaviour, Lady Yukari. That is highly unusual. No youkai, much less yourself, would allow themselves to be degraded as such, history tells us well enough.’

Probably because I wasn’t technically one, I thought silently to myself before turning to address my annoyance. ‘I thought I said before to stop calling me that. It’s giving me goose bumps.’

He froze momentarily in the middle of our walk down one of the more sparsely decorated corridors, a ripple of surprise passing through his features before he resumed his steps. ‘My apologies for my lapse of memory, but it would be most awkward to address you without an honorific or by name.’

You and your formalities, I muttered to myself, wondering if Screeches was subject to such stringent conduct of self and mannerism for her every reincarnation. If she wasn’t bored or irritated enough by centuries of acting like a nobleman’s porcelain doll, she must have a screw or two loose in her head at the very least. ‘Then go with Hey. Or Whatever. That sounds neat, whichever strikes your fancy.’

‘Very well, er… Whatever,’ he began experimentally before reaching up to massage his forehead at the absurdity of it all. ‘At any rate, I would very much like to remind you to retain such civility in the presence of my daughter, something I am sure is not too demanding a request,’ he warned neutrally without rancour as he took us down an intersection and past some of the guest rooms of the manor, one of which I instantly recognized as the same room where I had conked Screeches out before stealing her away so many months ago. The reminder did little except to resurface my guilt over her manhandling, prompting me to glance away quickly as I tossed the memory into an appropriately murky corner of my mind with all the other unglamorous things I had done before.

He wasn’t expecting an acknowledgement of any sort and we left our unspoken agreement at that. It wasn’t as if I was planning on going physical on her again anyway. Instead of carrying on with the dire warnings, he launched into a dull narration of the numerous pieces of art dotting his little palace during the remainder of our walk to his apparent study, blithering away in his concise elaborations of their practical value and history. Soon noting my complete lack of interest in his endless commenting about the various heirlooms and priceless décor, he gave up entirely at maintaining some semblance of a conversation and led me the rest of the way to his study in silence.

The entrance to his retreat hardly displayed any signs of his wealth apparent, guarded by a set of crude sliding doors which had bore witness to the passage of years. They opened up to yield an equally unimpressive room, lined with nothing but shelves and shelves of scrolls and oriental paper. This could only be where the Hieda family’s centuries-long recordings of Gensokyo are stored. The only furniture in stark contrast to the rest was a utilitarian desk of sorts, where a charming adolescent clad in her usual furisode glanced up from her writing at our intrusion, somewhat surprised at being interrupted. Her surprise soon turned into something far more indistinguishable at the sight of me behind her father, a mixture of unidentifiable emotions she struggled to control as her dinosaur of a parent stepped back to close the sliding doors quietly before slipping past me to stand by her side guardedly.

Screeches stood just as her father stopped next to her, the man dropping a protective arm over his daughter’s shoulders before pulling her closer to him, the two of them facing me as one. I gave Screeches a warning glance before shifting my gaze to the taller figure that was her father. ‘I need to talk to her alone,’ I started simply.

Instead of him answering, it was Screeches who would unexpectedly challenge my demand. ‘No, he’s staying. What I need to hear, so will he. It’s time you let your little secret out for more than myself, nee-chan.’

I squinted at her in anger before darting a panicky look at her father, feeling a wave of uncontrollable fury wash over at Screeches’ crude disregard of my trust, punctuated by a moment of betrayal as she threatened to dislodge my well-preserved anonymity. Clearly she spared no second thoughts about undermining my need to remain hidden. In a similar display of shocked surprise at her use of such an intimate term to address me, the disbelieving man gave his daughter an unfathomable glance before his attention riveted back to me in alarm, alerted by my sudden lurch towards them with an outstretched finger pointed at Screeches. ‘Shut your mouth! You have no right-‘ I hissed at her in a low voice before she cut me off in a louder one.

‘I have every right to be honest,’ she began passionately, her father drawing her closer in a shielding gesture on seeing my abrupt wrath. ‘I gave you so much and asked for nothing in return, nothing except for a little understanding and compassion for us. And yet, you couldn’t even spare such a small thing for me. You endanger the whole village with your reckless plans! Why?’ Drawing closer in her father’s embrace, she went on in a voice close to breaking due to her effort in confronting me, forcing the words out, ‘I’m tired of being your stepping stone! Do we really mean nothing to you? Why do you hold our lives with such careless disregard?’

Seeing the two gradually back into a corner of the study as I advanced towards them unconsciously, I finally realized how much they truly feared me. Her father in the youkai he saw and Screeches in the true self that was me within Yukari. I ran a hand through my face, feeling the muscles contorted in a mask of unfamiliar rage. Abruptly, I forced myself to halt my threatening advance and turned away to massage the corded muscles, easing the frightening expression away as I breathed in a deliberate, controlled manner. Behind me, the father-daughter pair’s tension deflated somewhat but their air of wariness remained still as they stood as one to regard me silently, waiting for some form of response. I didn’t need rear eyes to see that they feared moving from the spot while I was between them and their only exit.

Finally deeming I had regained enough self-control to face the two again, I spun about slowly to meet their collective gazes. Amidst the terror her father struggled to control in him and Screeches’ flush of shame at the outburst, I found reason enough not to antagonize them any further, opting to instead leave the two of them. ‘Forget it. It was a mistake in coming here,’ I muttered with a cool glance at Screeches before turning for the sliding doors. ‘Sorry.’

‘Sorry?’ she shrieked hoarsely to stop me from opening the sliding doors. ‘Is that all you can say? So now you’re just going to put all of us at risk with your damnable plans? Was that what you said to Keine before you killed her?’

The name froze me as much as her accusation and I worked my hands into the handles of the door, feeling the urge to snap back at her in reproach. Nevertheless, I found myself coming to understand her outburst in part, for she was as much a victim to me as I was one to Rilofene. Spurred into a role we had no wish to take part in for the sake of some unknown design, always following the words of one as truth and gospel without question or doubts. It led me to my sorry position in life today, and I could admit in part that it was what I did best to people as well; never truly caring about how much it could change their lives.

Wordlessly, I pushed the left door ajar before slipping through quietly. Behind, Screeches dropped into a little sob as her emotions flowed free. Her quiet cry didn’t last long, drifting into silence as I strode away from the study. I harboured little sympathy for her breakdown. We may have both lived through lifespans far removed from typical humans, but hers was one born into a comfortable life with every reincarnation. She never had to make the hard decisions required for survival, never understood the necessity of equivalent trade and the fact that most times, nothing is gained without losing something else in return, be it our humanity or lives. She would never understand the sort of sacrifices I had to make or the more than dubious moral decisions I had to live with in order to survive the passing of centuries in a world far harsher than her paradise Gensokyo. Insofar, the only difference between the two of us was the fact that I had to fight to live. She lived by merely being alive.

My mind went blank as I shoved the thought into its customary closet, unable to think of anything else but to leave the manor accompanied by the urge to be spared more of anyone’s tasteless and remarkably pointless wrath. Increasing my pace as I hurried past the adjoining corridor, I was instead interrupted by the sound of feet pounding on the wooden floor before someone intercepted my flight with a hardened grip on my arm. Somewhat displeased, I turned to regard Screeches’ father once more, his face slightly pale from the unaccustomed exertion. ‘What now?’ I muttered to him before extracting my arm from his hold.

‘Wait,’ he grunted breathlessly. ‘I think we have to talk. The three of us. Whatever connections you have with my daughter, I care not for now but I demand to know why we’re “at risk”. If there’s any danger to us from whoever or whatever, I have a right to know.’ Dropping the regal expression he wore almost habitually he stared down at me, eyes clouded with concern both for his family and the well-being of the villagers.

I gave him a bland reply before turning to leave once more, not wishing to divulge too much. ‘I’m sure you do, but you’re all going to be just fine.’ Not that I could be entirely sure about that, but as long as it satisfied him enough to not turn the villagers into an angry mob in order to forcibly drive me out I couldn’t care any less.

The meaty hands drew me to a stop once more and this time, I gave the man a hard glare. He paled visibly as his frustration withered underneath my annoyance. Caught in his internal conflict, he made no further attempts at stopping me and I went back on my way, hoping he wouldn’t turn desperate and entertain the notion of having me physically restrained. Instead, he tried another tack in hopes I would reconsider, breaking out in a harsh and accusing voice. ‘I said to you yesterday that it is a human notion to protect those that we love and you agreed with me then. Was that just a diplomatic lie?’

It did stop me this time, due to the corniness of the line instead of any real hesitation over his accusation. I glanced back with a humoured expression to address the somewhat desperate figure, ‘That’s a piss poor attempt at getting me to feel guilty, your lordship.’

If he was stung by the crude remark, he did a good job at hiding his anger. Even so, he pressed on awkwardly, hurrying past me to block off any further attempts at my walking away. ‘I have a family here, people I love and care about,’ he started in a subdued voice, planting himself squarely in the middle of the corridor before me with arms pushed out to brace against the opposing walls. ‘It may not be something you youkai understand well, but we care deeply for our own. If there’s any danger to Fumika or the villagers then I need to know. Please, I know you have the same inclination to preserve human lives as well. It was evident in you and the children just now.’

His pleas looked to be visibly distressing to him, almost physically so. For a man obviously accustomed to being treated as lord and king, having to sink to such a dismal level before a youkai must be a serious blow to his pride but he was wise enough to understand that his ego was of minimal importance compared to what he perceived to be an unknown threat. Still, enlightening him to the current events in Gensokyo could bring about unforeseeable repercussions to my welfare. The less anyone knew about me and what I intended to do in the days to come, the better.
I gave in with a small groan, reasoning that having one less person in direct opposition to me would be far more preferable if I was to be spending an indeterminate amount of time in the village. And if he refused to see reason like Screeches, no one could fault me for not having tried to make them understand. Looking up at the expectant figure, I received an eager stare in return as he caught onto my change of heart. ‘We’ll talk, on two conditions. One, no questions about me and your daughter. Two, you keep this to yourself and provide me with whatever I ask for in the future. Equivalent exchange of information, I’m sure you can understand.’

It didn’t look like he minded or cared much about the latter, but he stiffened visibly at the former despite his earlier claims of indifference. The man was obviously deeply curious about my relationship with Screeches. Nevertheless, he chose not to argue against it for now, being far more concerned with what I had to say. ‘That is acceptable as long as you can guarantee your honesty.’ Slowly, he took his arms away from the walls and moved aside warily, as if fearing I would bolt out of his manor given the chance. ‘We can talk in the inner garden. This way.’

Retracing his steps back to the study, he glanced back frequently with a worried expression to ensure I wouldn’t sneak off when he wasn’t looking. Half expecting him to take us into some richly-decorated hall leading up to this garden of his, I was instead guided back to the study and I had to suppress the urge to exhale out loud in resignation at the prospect of confronting Screeches once more. This would probably be the third time I would have to put up with her outbursts in less than a day.

The twin doors slid open once more to reveal a disconsolately sobbing Screeches seated at the desk, face buried in her arms as she quietly stained the vellum sheets on the table wet. On hearing our entry, she looked up quickly with red-rimmed eyes, confusedly wiping away the tears with her sleeves before standing up hastily only to accidentally knock her chair down. ‘What…?’ she asked simply in a choked squeak as our eyes met.

Her father moved in quickly once he was sure his inner sanctum had been securely sealed, walking up to the rear end of the study before pushing a revolving shelf open to reveal an enclosed garden beyond. Charming. He made a curt gesture for me to follow before taking his daughter’s hand to guide her along, which she meekly allowed despite her ongoing confusion at the sudden turn of events. As the pair stepped out into the brightly-lit enclosure outside, I took a moment to glance at what Screeches had been working on prior to my interruption before following them out. On the relatively spartan desk, a single vellum scroll lay open to one side, an archaic script I could recognize neatly written on it with careful brush strokes. I had thought she was chronicling Gensokyo’s latest developments but it turned out to be nothing more than boring poetry along with something out of place at the bottom. Craning my neck over the desk to peer at the random smudges, I realized they were fresh doodles of my likeness next to hers, or at least those of my long-gone human features anyway.

Maybe she does have a few screws loose after all, I thought humourlessly before advancing through the opening in the wall, blinking at the open roof above. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the change in ambient light and as it did, the sight of a small garden with a single maple in the middle resolved into view. Small cushions ringed the sapling, probably serving as comfortable seats when the occasion called for it. Screeches had picked the nearest one to collapse onto, assuming a proper pose reminiscent of Short Stuff’s maddening predisposition for such rigid formalities. In contrast, her father remained standing slightly in front and to her right, obstructing any attempts at getting to his daughter directly. Understandable I suppose, after what had transpired a short while ago.

‘Now speak. What’s all of this talk about a threat to us?’ he started in an almost-commanding voice before toning it down with a small cough, aware of whom was allowing a concession to whom now. ‘I have a right to know,’ he added with marked humility.

I gave him the short version, tired with repeating everything after the lengthy explanation I had given to Screeches the day prior. If he wanted details, he can query Screeches for them. ‘Gensokyo’s artificial sun is dying. Not years; possibly months or even weeks from now. Pretty sure I don’t need to remind you what happens then. The Hieda lineage has kept enough of the histories from the time when you lost the original sun to know. Chaos and insanity will be the least of your worries compared to the permanent loss of life-nourishing light. Widespread famine would come in less than a year before humans and youkai turn into scavengers and cannibals like-’ I broke off before I could mention similar conditions in the Outside world resulting from the cataclysmic displacement of Gensokyo’s true sun. ‘Like events in past human history.’

He regarded me in stunned silence, allowing a full minute for the revelation to sink in before glancing up quickly at the ominous eye in the skies. ‘That’s impossible. False Dawn has never failed us all these years. We were assured that the obsidian sun would continue to burn for scores more centuries to come.’

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at him, a disparaging gesture he was sure to be offended with. Not that same reaction again. Were all these people living in denial despite the blatant signs lately? If the increasingly regular recurrence of missed daytimes wasn’t obvious enough, then they should have at least some inkling to something being wrong with the sightings of the Visitors around False Dawn. Or were they refusing to look up and see any problems with it, conveniently deluding themselves into complacency? ‘You can think what you want. You’re running out of time happily believing otherwise,’ I scoffed out loud before leaning into the walls surrounding the small enclosure, picking away at a nail as I waited for his shock to pass.

‘She’s right,’ Screeches ventured forth in a calmer voice, careful to keep her gaze to the ground lest our eyes met again. ‘As much as I want to disbelieve her, Gensokyo’s age is drawing to a close. I fear there won’t be a next generation in wait for us.’

Any semblance of self composure crumbled in the stoic figure and he propped himself against the sapling for balance, looking down at Screeches before turning his gaze upwards at me, almost pathetically beseeching. ‘But you can do something about it, can you not? You had a hand in putting that thing up there after all, according to written lore.’

‘No,’ I replied shortly, dashing his sudden surge of hope. ‘I could have delayed the inevitable for a month or two but not anymore. What’s going on with it is beyond me, beyond the village and beyond the control of the youkai who created False Dawn. There’s a larger force at work here and the best thing you can do for yourselves now is to take shelter in the grotto and stay there until the end, whether you like it or not. At the very least, you people would be spared the hell the surface would soon turn into.’

‘Delay the inevitable? How?’

‘By forcing a rebound effect on the Visitors with the blessing of the sole surviving Hakurei. Don’t ask me how I planned on doing it or what the Visitors are; it’s a moot discussion and the means to do so is lost to me now,’ I muttered as I thought back to the incomplete glyph girding the valley. Glancing briefly at the partially hidden Child of Miare, I added in a thinly condescending voice for her sake, ‘So you see, you don’t really have a reason to get all pissy on me anymore, Screeches. The nun’s circle is practically worthless as far as functionality goes. Your people remain safe, for now.’

‘W-what? I thought…-’ she leaned to one side to afford herself a better view of me, her pent-up anger dissipating as she spoke quickly before her father launched into his own stream of babbles.

‘The Hakurei girl still lives? We had thought she suffered the same fate as the nun caring for her,’ he blurted quickly before sinking into the adjacent cushion, reaching up to massage his forehead. ‘So there is no immediate threat to us now?’

I waved aside his concerns idly, pushing myself away from the wall to pace around the tiny garden before venturing to give an answer. ‘None which would stem directly from my actions anyway, no. So do yourselves a favour and start telling that tub of lard for a village chief of yours to pack up and hide everyone in the grotto before something worse than me happens to the village.’

‘What good would that do?’ he sighed disconsolately, making a move to draw his daughter towards him comfortingly. ‘All it would accomplish is send the people into a frenzied panic if they knew the truth. The situation would hardly be any different compared to what awaits us in the end.’

‘True enough,’ I conceded after some thought. The lot of them going into a mindless panic as they huddled together for months in the claustrophobic tunnels of the grotto would be no less of an improvement compared to them losing their humanity as their only source of illumination died out. It was another stark reminder of humankind’s fragile state of mind. All they needed was a simple prod by a proper crisis of sorts or an earth-shattering realization of impending doom before they descended into madness. I shook the meandering thoughts away, not wanting to dwell on such useless thinking for now. ‘Decide for yourselves whatever needs to be done then, it matters not to me.’

‘And what of you? What are you going to do?’ Screeches spoke up in a calmer voice as she turned slightly to trace my little walk, far less distressed now that she knew I wouldn’t be bringing any direct harm to the villagers.

‘For now?’ I could only afford her an ambivalent shrug in reply instead of anything concretely reassuring. ‘Get the kid back. There may still be a way to salvage this debacle we’re in and the Hakurei kid could turn the situation around for us.’

‘But she’s nothing more than an infant,’ she argued back softly, pulling herself free from her father’s clasp. ‘Yuhiko’s biological mother never passed on the shrine maiden’s heritage to her and there’s no one left to teach her. I don’t see how she could possibly deal with Gensokyo’s crisis.’

Opening my mouth to counter her statement, I found myself temporarily tongue-tied as a sharp sting bit into one of the stitched wounds in my abdomen. Pulling my collar wide and glancing down curiously at the raw bumps of flesh, I managed a worried thought at what that might have been. The sensation gradually vanished and I forced the thought aside for now before carrying on, ‘That’s already covered, and she has potential. The kid is related to a lot of the stuff going on around here lately, more than she suspects but she won’t do Gensokyo any good as long as she’s stuck with the three-armed freak. It’s chiefly why I’m here. I need whatever help you can provide in dealing with him.’

‘Three-armed what?’ the two seated figures echoed as one.

‘Uh…’ I groaned as I tried to dredge up the name.


‘Iyen-Shuren,’ I repeated after the unexpected flash of his name across my mind. Curiously, as I focused on the name, I found more of the alien memories tumbling all about my thoughts incoherently, images of the many meetings Yukari had with the elder decades ago during the initial days of Gensokyo’s permanent twilight. Before I could hold onto any one of the cascade of foreign flashbacks, the last of them slipped back into the depths of a mind far removed from my own. I dwelt little on it, treating it much like any of the other unexplainable phenomena besieging me since I had awoken in the youkai’s body. The sound of Screeches’ soft voice snapped me out of the trance, forcing me to return my attention to her.

‘iyen-Shuren, supposed progenitor of the satori species,’ she intoned flatly for the benefit of her uncomprehending father, as if reading from one of her written chronicles. ‘First came into a position of power during Gensokyo’s formative years before vanishing into obscurity around two centuries later. He re-emerged shortly after the events with the lost sun, what the youkai collectively call “First Darkening”, sharing leadership of the non-humans with two other individuals.’

The older Hieda stirred in his seat, somewhat perturbed by the flow of unanswered questions. ‘A youkai holding the Hakurei against her will? Humans and youkai have been keeping clear of one another for years now. Why would this Iyen-Shuren threaten to change the status quo?’

‘Because he realizes the same thing I see in the kid, a means to an end or a solution to the crisis.’ Completing my small circuit around the garden, I picked the elevated floor of the entryway to rest on instead of the remaining two empty cushions before prodding at the raw stitches through the yukata, a gesture Screeches observed with sudden concern. ‘Except he’s going to try to deal with our problem by killing her.’

Alarmed, Screeches shot both her father and me a deep frown, the mask of anxiety returning to her face. ‘That’s reckless insanity! Everyone knows the Hakurei priests are closely tied to the Hakurei Border. Removing the last of their heirs would have unforeseen consequences on Gensokyo!’

I drew an idle foot through the soft earth of the garden, wondering if that was really true. Not once in Gensokyo’s long history had the Hakurei lineage ever terminated to put that assumption to the test. ‘Maybe, probably. Who can say for certain? The freak obviously knows the legends well enough and either he has a contingency plan in case the border separating the outside world and Gensokyo does fail or he plain doesn’t care. Either way, his designs for the kid remains unchanged.’

Our subdued discussion died out as the father-daughter pair lapsed into silence. Screeches hung her head, a distant look in her eyes as she tried to process the new information regarding Short Stuff. Her father simply slumped comfortably against the tree, drawing a deep breath before exhaling long and loud, similarly lost in thought amidst everything I had revealed. It struck me suddenly that there wasn’t a lot Screeches could do for me, if anything. At the very least, they had an idea about what was to come instead of remaining ignorant until the end came; one less thing which would bother me in my sleep.

Stamping on the rough doodle I had been drawing with my foot, I returned to my legs with an off-handed glance at the elder Hieda. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to give the two of them some privacy and time to digest the revelations. There wasn’t much of a reason left to stick around, at any rate. ‘So,’ I began shortly. ‘Not much fun being a doomsayer after all. I suppose if you have gods you believe in, now would be a good time to start praying to them.’ Almost unconsciously, I was reminded of Kanako and her ignominious end at the ruined mountain shrine. ‘Though I wouldn’t put much stock in them seeing the state of deities in Gensokyo as of late,’ I muttered more to myself than to them.

The two hardly acknowledged my words, absorbed as they were in their thoughts. It didn’t matter; I picked my way through the revolving bookshelf and out of the study inconspicuously, retracing my steps outwards. A brief glance behind showed both father and daughter drawing each other into a silent embrace. With careful hands, I slid the doors close before making my way out, thinking that they probably wouldn’t want the servants seeing them in such a vulnerable state.

So much for my hopes of finding something helpful, I thought darkly in my winding walk through the manor, almost colliding with a surprised servant hauling a bundle of clothing as I rounded a corner of the hallway. Profusely apologetic, the young man bowed several times before darting off into the adjacent corridor, leaving me to the relative company of the manor’s subdued hustle and bustle and a small silken cloth he had apparently dropped. I watched him go for a while before snatching up the forgotten article, his good-natured demeanour reminding me much about the airhead working on his illogical flying boat until the thoughts drew me back to Murasa. Now would probably be a good time to head back to the temple; hopefully the sea spirit would have made good on our rendezvous by now.
The return trip up to the plateau saw a sudden change in the weather. Even before I had left the village, crackles of thunder and lightning in the far-off skies already heralded the coming of a storm. By the time I had advanced halfway up to the plateau, the rapidly darkening clouds grew heavy enough to begin shedding their cargo of water and moisture, showering the valley with droplets of cold dampness. No doubt the rain would grow torrential from the looks of the black clouds stretching all the way past the distant Youkai Mountain.

Despite the light drizzle and impending storm, I took the short hike at a leisurely pace, mostly unbothered by the cold and gradually soaking clothes as my thoughts drifted elsewhere. The rain reminded me about the night I had almost lost Short Stuff and for a long while I had to wonder how she was holding up now. I could only hope that no matter how dire her situation may become, there was at least someone on her side should things take a turn for the worst. At the very least, the gold-black punk Murasa called Shou would do whatever she could in her limited powers to prevent any harm from befalling Short Stuff, but it was a far-fetched hope in light of her enslavement to the three-armed freak of nature. Any sort of direct intervention would have to come from me and for once, I could admit that I had no idea on how to go about accomplishing something like that.

As much as I was worried by the thought, I knew that it was the usual standard fare of having no choice in the matter. Somehow, I would have to steal her away one way or another, regardless of the method. What was the worst that could happen anyhow? I was already messed up beyond belief in my current state with no semblance of a future to call my own.

Gradually, the climb up the muddy incline petered off and soon enough, the familiar sights of the temple grounds came into view. The airhead was missing and had most likely taken shelter from the rain. Used to the constant and endlessly annoying hammering noise, it was a jarring sensation to return to the temple greeted by nothing but the sound of water droplets striking the damp earth and the surge of stormbound wind ruffling my ears.

Picking my way through the haphazardly-littered grounds, I went straight for the partially dismantled temple, finding relief from the cold and wetness as I passed through the former archway that made up the entrance of the temple and into the belly of the incomplete ship. The droning rain faded into muffled thumps as I navigated my way deeper through the half-assembled curiosity, coming across the airhead at last in what should technically be the hold of the ship. The boy tended to a small fire quietly, drawing what little warmth he could from it. My sudden arrival caused him to look up sharply, and his expression stiffened somewhat on seeing me.

‘Starting a fire inside a wooden ship? That’s a bad idea,’ I remarked lightly before dropping down into several sacks of what appeared to be sealing resin judging from the smell wafting out of them.

‘It’s just a tiny-‘ he muttered with a brief look before his gaze widened considerably with a loud exclamation. ‘You’re bleeding!’

What? I frowned hard as I looked down at the splotch of dull red spreading through my clothes. In alarmed haste, I peered through my collar at the stitch work holding what should have been bound wounds together, noticing the mess of youkai blood seeping through it for the first time. Was that what the earlier sting of pain was? The injury should have clogged up long ago, I thought confusedly, unless something was wrong.

Flynn shot to his feet before hurrying over, somewhat at loss as to what he should do. Kneeling, he extended unsure hands towards the splotch of red before I noticed his presence. Flushing slightly, I drew the stained clothes closer before batting aside his hands. ‘It’s nothing,’ I managed through my worry, crossing my arms to hide the stain from him before resting against the sacks of resin tiredly.

‘Maybe I should go get the healer,’ he suggested warily, unsettled by the sight of blood.

‘No, I said it’s nothing,’ I repeated sternly. ‘Besides, he wouldn’t be able to do anything with all the trembling in his hands anyhow. Is Murasa back yet?’

‘Y-yes. She went looking for some dry branches.’ Seeing my uncomprehending stare, he added as way of explanation, ‘For our fire tonight. You know, since it’s raining and all…’ he trailed off.

‘Talking about me behind my back?’ came the quizzical reprimand. Emerging from the small passageway behind, the sea spirit stepped into the light with a somewhat humorous glance at the two of us. ‘Wow, am I interrupting anything intimate? Sorry.’

Flynn grew scarlet at the tease and withdrew hastily from our close proximity with some incomprehensible mumbling. Grinning helplessly, Murasa went up to a pile of stacked provisions to drop the collected wood before glancing back idly. She turned away momentarily, only to return her gaze at the sight of my somewhat pale face pinched by worry. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing except for the fact that you’re half a day late,’ I returned acidly as I discreetly rearranged the folds of my clothes to hide the blood stain. ‘Where the hell have you been? We were supposed to meet up at dawn.’

‘Attending to other needs,’ she replied mysteriously, straightening and dusting her hands off before moving over to an overturned bucket near me. Next to the fire he was attending, Flynn gave us a curious glance, uncomprehending but interested in what we were talking about. In contrast, Murasa ignored his presence as she plunked down hard on the bucket, drawing several scraps of yellowing paper out to spread on the space before us. I gave the top parchment a quick glance, recognizing the numerous curves and lines on it as a topographical map of sorts, well drawn and down to scale depicting the valley and the areas beyond.

‘Maps, from Gensokyo’s more peaceful years,’ she explained before removing some coins from a pocket to weigh down the four corners of the parchment, confirming my assumption.

Increasingly curious, Flynn drew closer for a look. ‘That’s amazing. Mapmaking skills died out in the village ages ago. Where did you get these?’

‘Why, drew ‘em myself of course,’ she threw Flynn a wink, taking pride in his praise. ‘You see plenty from the air, especially when you spend all your time sailing the clouds. It’s a far more efficient method in charting the land compared to doing it on the ground.’

More than anything else, her denotations of scale and use of contour lines indicated a good amount of mapmaking knowledge, a curious sort of skill for one such as her to possess. ‘That’s a pretty remarkable understanding of cartographic relief depictions you’re making use of there. That sort of knowledge passed out of use almost six centuries ago in the human world,’ I commented wryly, peering at the section where the three-armed freak’s purported camp was supposed to be in.

Inexplicably, the two grew still and stared at me in goodly silence. I returned their stares with an uncomprehending look. ‘What?’

‘You know an awful lot about alotta weird human stuff, don’t you?’ Murasa said at last, still peering at me with that strange look. ‘If you have to ask, this was something I learned when I was still a human myself.’

Seeing Flynn turn to her with a questioning face, I cut him off before he could launch into one of his relentless stream of inquiries. ‘Enough about that. Now what did you find?’

This time, it was Murasa’s turn to dart a hasty glance at the nearby Flynn. Her warning glare didn’t perturb me in the least, nor did Flynn’s presence. Even if the boy knew what we were up to, it was highly unlikely he would want to involve himself, much less intervene. The knowledge itself wasn’t something particularly useful to warrant secrecy at any rate. ‘It’s fine. Let him stay,’ I muttered tiredly. ‘Go on.’

‘Riiight,’ she returned unconvincingly. ‘I went over quite a bit of ground with no results,’ she started before tossing several coins on the region of thick woods beyond the valley, marking the spots she had scouted from the air, ‘Here, here and here.’ Flipping another coin over to the far edge of the forest, she added, ‘And here for good measure. That’s where I got your fried sparrows,’ she snickered to Flynn, receiving a paled face in return.

Leaning closer, I reached out to finger the coins, tracing an area through them. ‘Awfully large area you combed. And nothing?’

‘Nothing’ she confirmed, drawing closer to the map as well. ‘If he’s anywhere in there, either he’s remarkably well hidden or just plain absent.’

Her report was promising at least, if uneventful. It only served to reinforce my own findings that the three-armed freak’s actual location was somewhere in the north-eastern region of the forest. Pulling in two of the discarded coins with a finger, I flipped them towards the general vicinity of where I suspected his actual camp was in. ‘That narrows it to here and here. We’re going to need some hard eyeballing to be sure.’ Glancing at the rain falling outside of the ship through the missing segment of hull, I wondered if it would be possible with the incoming storm. Seeing anything past five yards would be a feat in itself, even when done from the air. ‘Storm’s not lightening up anytime soon. You’ll need to do it after it clears up, assuming we still have time before dawn after that.’

‘Wha-? Me?’ Murasa exclaimed with dismay. ‘Why can’t you just rip a border there to check it out yourself now? It’s going to take far longer to comb through by flying.’

Except I can’t, I thought silently, forcing my expression to remain neutral. ‘Look, I can’t explain now and we’ll leave the discussion of “what-ifs” for a better time. The sooner we get all of this over without constant questions, the better.’

‘Bah. Fine,’ she gave up shortly with a snort. Next to her, Flynn remained quiet, a hard glimmer in his eyes as he shifted his gaze to me from our map. I caught the boy’s look before he averted his eyes, and I knew he was beginning to suspect something regarding my true nature. Nevertheless, he gave his suspicions little thought to warrant actual questions, probably still finding whatever conclusion he was coming to practically absurd. Unaware of the exchange between the boy and me, Murasa settled back before posing another question, one I was hoping I wouldn’t have to answer. ‘And what’re we going to do when we finally find out where he is?’

‘Talk to him,’ I stated simply.

‘Talk to him!?’ she riveted her gaze at me in disbelief. ‘You think he’s just going to welcome you into his home and host a friendly tea party for you after what you did in spiriting the Hakurei away from the shrine?’

Heaving a small sigh, I drew back to recline on the lumpy sacks of resin, fully aware of how absurd it sounded. ‘I’m open to better suggestions if you have any. What, you think we can just ride in on shiny horses and save the kidnapped princess? His motley army of freaks would rip us apart or put glowing holes in us before we can even get close enough to fart at them.’

Flynn snorted curiously as he struggled to control his laughter at the crude paraphrasing before catching Murasa’s annoyed glare. Clearing his throat self-consciously, he made a brief apology to her. ‘Sorry.’

‘Still, what good would talking to him even do? It’s not like he’ll actually listen to what you have to say,’ she went on, failing to find fault in my argument.

‘A couple of things, actually,’ I shrugged as I explained. ‘If tea talks don’t work out, I get a good look at the layout of his camp all the same and hopefully, would be able to work out where he’s holding the kid. Plus, establish some sort of contact with your punk-for-tiger-youkai buddy there, but that’s a slim hope at best.’ I remembered my failure at the subterranean city well. This time, I would proceed cautiously and make sure Short Stuff was really where she was before making a move.

At the mention of Shou, she stiffened considerably, drawing forth her dreaded ladle to gesture at me in a vaguely threatening manner. ‘And you’re going to help Shou as well. That was our agreement.’

‘Right, how could I forget? Sure,’ I mumbled noncommittally amidst her unconvinced stare. Truth be told, I barely gave her friend more than a cursory thought, even more clueless as to how she could be freed from her shikigami contract compared to stealing Short Stuff away. I could only hope the sea spirit wouldn’t be completely incensed at me at my typical failure in keeping promises.

With a knuckle propped against her face, she returned dishearteningly with a groan, ‘Why do I get the feeling none of this is going to turn out well for me?’

‘If you’re looking for absolutes and guarantees, then I’m afraid it’s come down to “screw it all”,’ I replied with an off-handed gesture at her. ‘You have any better ideas, then go ahead, let me know. Otherwise, we do it my way.’

‘Fine,’ she muttered exasperatedly, resigned in my inevitable confrontation with the three-armed freak. ‘We do it your way.’

‘See, it’s not hard to get along, hold hands, sing songs together and be happy as hell,’ I sighed to her, returning my thoughts to the wounds underneath the yukata, trying to work out an explanation on why even natural healing was failing.

Assuming our discussion would be over, she added in a somewhat surprised tone as she remembered something, ‘By the way, that oni friend of yours? She came up here a while ago looking for you.’

I felt my guts constrict at the mention of the oni. I was able to hide most of my distress on other matters from showing, but not in this particular case. ‘Where?’ I queried nervously.

‘Behind the temple, at the chopping block,’ Flynn ventured helpfully next to his fire. I had completely missed him extracting himself from our discussion to return to his cheery blaze, probably having given up on understanding what we were going on about. ‘I could smell her boozing outside.’

‘Maybe you should go see her before she gets drunk enough to start tearing things apart,’ Murasa suggested tactfully, leaning against the hull to peer at the rain. ‘Bet Flynn would be none too happy with that, or me for that matter.’

With a light groan, I tore myself away from the comfort and warmth of my comfy little retreat, regretting the loss of a few minutes of rest. Flynn gave a sharp whistle before I could step into the wooded passageway, tossing me an oiled umbrella as I turned inquisitively. ‘Worst thing you could do is leave a girl out in the rain,’ he remarked mildly as I caught his gift. ‘And you should probably stay out of the wet I guess,’ he added with a meaningful glance at my hidden wounds.

‘Awfully considerate of you, boy.’ I gave him a short nod for his kindness and he blushed slightly, returning to his fire to poke at it furiously. Like Keizo, this one was apparently quite easy to fluster, I thought bemusedly before leaving the two to their own devices, dreading what was to come next.
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Much like what Flynn had mentioned, the air actually stank of alcohol even with the breeze carrying the fumes away; a fact which would have gone largely unnoticed if was still confined to my sense of human smell. I found the oni soon enough by following the occasional hiccup or sob, huddled against a tree in plain view. She looked to be unconcerned by the rain, probably the least of her worries in light of her inebriation. With umbrella in hand I approached her warily from behind, trying to rake my mind for something appropriate to say. Maybe I could start with something inane like “Nice weather we’re having here”. Ironic.

She made no indication of having noticed my silent approach, half buried in her arms as the rain continued to splatter against her small frame. Only the abrupt cessation of raindrops splashing on her caused her to look up at the umbrella I held above her in wonder, and she turned back with red eyes to regard me, letting loose a hiccup reeking of booze as she did. Frowning, I braced myself in case she had any intentions of launching herself onto me again. Fortunately, she caught onto my look quickly and decided against it, probably thinking better than to risk my ire any further.

‘Still bawling your eyes out? You’re going to get sagging bags in the morning,’ I started almost conversationally, moving around her to afford the two of us better shelter with the umbrella.

‘I wasn’t crying,’ she sulked, turning her gaze back to the ground.

‘Sure you weren’t.’

‘I wasn’t,’ she insisted in a quiet voice.

‘No, you weren’t. You were simply exercising your tear ducts,’ I remarked down at her with a raised eye.

She managed a choked chuckle despite herself, caught between a sob and a laugh. ‘I never thought you could be this smarmy.’

Looking for a dry spot to relax on, I found one in the form of an outcropping root well above the muddy ground serving well enough as a makeshift seat. I gave her horn a small prod, prompting her to tear her gaze off of the ground and back to me. ‘You came all the way up here to tell me that?’

Her expression grew worried, thinking she had mouthed something she shouldn’t. ‘No. I-‘ she started hastily.

Animosity notwithstanding, I managed a wry grin for her all the same. ‘Relax. I thought you oni were carefree party-lovers. It was just a joke.’

‘Can you blame me? You haven’t been exactly nice to me lately, Yukarin,’ she muttered between her breaths, playing idly with the gourd between her feet. ‘What happened to you back in the underground city? It’s almost like you’re a completely different person now.’

Close enough, I thought to myself. ‘Many things, most of it bad. Everyone changes, even the best of us,’ I managed a suitably ambiguous answer.

She might be slightly drunk, but it seemed she wasn’t entirely in orbit yet. ‘You’re evading the question,’ she grumbled with a quick glance sideways. ‘I never liked how you loved being cryptic in your answers.’

I couldn’t resist the urge to take a poke at her. ‘You might be able to understand if you ever took a break from being drunk all the time.’

She threw me an annoyed look for the remark, tossing her head with another unintelligible grumble. ‘I hate you sometimes.’

‘I’m sure you do,’ I shrugged ambivalently. ‘Is that why you’re still around?’

‘No! I didn’t mean-‘ she spun around quickly only to catch my deadpan look before looking down glumly, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. ‘You’re teasing again, and I’m not going to leave. Not just yet.’

‘Here,’ I proffered the silk cloth I had snagged back in the Hieda manor to her, holding the article carelessly to one side. ‘Keep wiping at them with those grimy hands and you’re liable to catch an eye infection.’

She took the cloth from my dangling fingers slowly, peering up meekly with an all too apparent hesitation over the unexpected gesture of kindness. Finally deciding there wasn’t really any ulterior motive behind the simple offering, she pulled the cloth free only to stare down at them. ‘So you… you don’t hate me anymore?’ she murmured softly, fingering the silk softly.

Did I really hate her? Certainly, her repeated actions thus far were aggravating to put it lightly. Then again, her intentions weren’t really malicious regardless of how many times the oni had almost gotten me killed. In her eyes, she probably couldn’t understand why I was taking such efforts in distancing the two of us, attributing it to hatred more than a logical move in keeping her out of harm’s way in the long-term. Oh, to hell with it I guess, I thought as I reached out to fiddle with her little horn-ribbon. ‘No. No, I don’t,’ I managed a small smile at her with a brief ruffle of her hair. As artificial as it was, the oni found it plenty enchanting all the same as her face practically lit up.

‘I’m happy,’ she muttered huskily, dabbing her eyes with the cloth at last. ‘I sort of thought… that was the end of our friendship.’

‘I wasn’t really telling you off for fun,’ I explained wearily, spinning the umbrella idly above us. The oni followed my movements, watching the droplets of water fly off as she waited for the rest of my words in silence. ‘You knew what happened back in the subterranean city. The nutcase is going to be hounding me now on top of another problem I’ve had with Iyen-Shuren. There won’t be anywhere left for me to hide soon enough. That, and an entire slew of other stuff doesn’t really make sticking with me a smart move. Further away you are from me and all that junk, the better.’

‘Why are you doing all this?’ she queried in confusion. ‘Let’s just go home and forget all this.’

You would do it too if you wanted to keep living, I thought silently to her. ‘Too late for that. I’m already well beyond knee-deep in this mess and if you still have half a mind to you, you’d do well to listen to me and go back to Yuugi.’

Regardless, she remained insistent and for a moment, I wondered if all her kind was ingrained with the same stubbornness. ‘Can’t you tell me about what’s going to happen at least?’

‘No, not now,’ I cut off any further questions with a stern wave. Surprisingly, the oni complied obediently, clamping her mouth shut. Seeing her downcast expression, I had a small change of heart. What would be the harm after all that we’ve been through? Sliding a finger up her neck, I drew her gaze back to me, ‘Stay if you want. Just don’t come looking for me if I go missing soon.’

‘But where are you-‘ she piped up almost instantly before I gave her a soft head shake.

‘If. If.’ I emphasized to her once more before the distant clouds lit up in a bright glow. Additional crackles signifying the skies’ intensifying fury flashed in the horizon. I felt a tug of guilt at the thought of leaving the oni out here in the storm and I held a hand out to her. She snapped her gaze to it, uncomprehending once more. ‘Let’s go. Going to get awfully cold out here soon. We have a nice fire going on in the ship, assuming the idiot hasn’t torched it by now.’

Thoughts about sleeping out in the damp cold probably prompted her to take my hand and I pulled her to her feet lightly, pretty sure now that she was bothered by the temperature after all. ‘S-sorry for being a bother,’ she stuttered as she followed after me.

‘Share some of that booze and you’re forgiven,’ I remarked to her without looking down, privately relishing the thought of having an endless flow of ambrosia tonight. Some rest at long last would be good, made even better with a drink or two as we awaited the passing of the storm. There probably wouldn’t be a chance for something as simple as that soon enough.

And that’s assuming I could live that long.
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Finally, a meaty update.
The best read to finish the weekend and the holidays at the same time.
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A happy Suika is all this story needed.
Most excellent update. I love these little moments of peace, even more so since it's almost certain the next few updates are going to bring plenty of excitement.
Something that bugs me though: are we really to believe that the protagonist herself doesn't realise that whatever's left of Yukari is trying to slowly take over. With Kanako's last warning and all the hints like suddenly remembering names it should be pretty clear to her. Really now, the protagonist is at least supposed to be competent and smart, or is it just one of those things she can't do anything about and has resigned to either let it happen? If so, why haven't the readers been brought up to date on this? Or are we supposed to buy that it's just one of those plot devices that are to be allowed to fester until it's most dramatic from a storytelling perspective to deal with it?
The MC has mentioned that several times before.
It's pretty obvious that Emperor's Color's body is trying to take her out but she can't really do anything about it. Anything other that hurrying the hell up, that is.
It was one of the first things the MC mentioned about being in her body.
Obviously a giant oni distraction is exactly what the protagonist needs to secure the Hakurei
>Emperor's Color
I don't know if I should be frowning or pleased that my names for characters seem to have supplanted their actual names in your head.
Well, it is awfully easy to mix up names from two stories where the MCs have a naming issue, though why you would remember Emperor's Color over Sunshines is beyond me. We have been using her actual name an awful lot lately though.
>Obviously a giant oni distraction is exactly what the protagonist needs to secure the Hakurei

My thoughts exactly. Why the MC who is a confirmed opportunist would hesitate to use her for purpose I have no idea, unless it's some of Yukari's 'humanness' or sensibilities seeping into the MC's thoughts. Obviously in this story Yukari and Suika were quite close.
He's getting more human-like, which is a good thing in my book.
One little oni is no match for an army of youkai. Probably even with her powers, which our MC doesn't know about, except for changing into mist.

Pretty sure the Wanderer's a chick.

She fended off an instantly resurrecting Elder youkai who was more powerful than Yukari was in her prime. That's got to count for something.

Now how our Wanderer thinks she's going to bluff her way through dealing with the progenitor of an entire mind-reading race is much more curious.
I was almost thinking maybe just be honest. Let I-Y and the others know what fate awaits them outside if the Border goes down (because of the last Hakurei dying), what awaits them here in Gensokyo if they do nothing, and so on.

...The problem with that, of course, is that not only is the wanderer's cover as Yukari blown, but Yukari's position itself and any power afforded the wanderer by being her will be history. So... that's probably right out.

A question: Who are the other big cheeses, again, and what are they? Vana (ur-tengu or something?), Iyen-Shuren (satori racial progenitor), and... who else? I remember hearing one or two other names, but we've seen little or nothing of them, I think.

Also if our plan to storm I-Y's place doesn't involve an aerial raid with Murasa's boat, I'll buy a hat so I can eat it (Or at least consider it).
The third of member of the Triumvirate is Enka, mother of Yukari and thousands of other youkai. But she's disappeared and Yukari has taken her place while making it look like Enka is still in power.
I kind of assumed that the boat was for flying to False Dawn at the climax.

Enka is actually Yukari pretending to be her own child. It's mentioned by herself during her fight against Vana.

Well, Vana did defeat Yukari throught SURPRISE BUTTSECKS a surprise ttack using her own gap. And, even so, probably with some help from the Visitors.

She is. And acording to Suika, she also had some nice breats. Does that mean the Wanderer was a loli? After all, the only good chest is the DFC
>Enka is actually Yukari pretending to be her own child.
Um, what? Nue talked about Enka and Yukari as separate entities back in >>3079. I doubt Yukari could fool a master shapeshifter like that. And Yukari didn't state that she was Enka, but was using a doppleganger that looked like her.

Not the author.

Yes she did.

>No, he couldn't possibly suspect she was Enka all along.

The doppelganger is probably a doll to replace her (Enka), giving her freedom to do as she pleases.

Also, let me fix my error.
>Enka is actually Yukari pretending to be her own child.

>Yukari is actually Enka pretending to be her own child/Yukari.
Reiji's death; she feels guilt over how she lead him to it. And thus she hesitates with another little oni, not knowing her full power. That and she doesn't want to drag Suika into whatever mess is about to go down.

Not sure if Yukari was even at her prime at the moment, but Vana only won due to turning the gaps against her. The Wanderer? She's the Goddamn Wanderer (Combination Batman/McGuyver)

Vana isn't a tengu but some soft of illusion Youkai that the Tengu and Tenshi rallied under. unlike Three Arms, who is sane but terribly misguided, Vana is insane and very likely corrupted by the visitors. Tenshi's also in league with the big bad goddess and the visitors.
Updates soon.

Lost my reading glasses (i.e. someone sat on the damned thing at the coffee shop). I wasted the rest of the Sunday mucking around the house with a WTF look on my face searching for the old pair instead of getting any real writan done.
> Updates soon.

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I eagerly wait the return of celestial conspiracies.
I know you need time to build walls like these, but I miss this story.
Sorry about that.

Shit hit the fan just when I thought I was finally freed up. I'll try to work on a bigger update to compensate for all the delays. Can't promise when it'll be up this time though, so I'll hold off on stating an actual time-frame.
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“Our time ends; the era draws to a close. As we surrender ourselves back to eternity, I look back at the world and wonder if the sun will ever shine on Gensokyo again like the days of old. Perhaps, in some ways, the world had decided enough was enough. She would soon draw her children back into her fold and return to a time beyond primeval, where legends would once more be rewritten in the stars to herald a new beginning.

But it is in our nature to fight the inevitable. Perhaps the world’s greatest mistake was her act in giving the gift of thought to humans and youkai.”

-Suwako, conversations with Kanako

They could smell the stench of battle even before they had cleared the last ridge hiding their homes from the prying eyes of those undeserving of such grandness below the mountain. A cloying smell of ionized air intermingled with emotions far from benevolent, almost a killing intent in its intensity. Alarmed and spurred by her guardian instincts, Momizi broke off abruptly from their paired flight to hurtle past the thick mists, assisted by gravity in her forced descent. Aya managed a quick warning shout but the inu was already well beyond earshot by then.

She followed suit without a second thought, silently cursing at whatever it was that had decided to invade their homes with such impeccable timing. Things were bad enough after the first siege by creatures unknown; they did not need another threat out of the blue to antagonize their weary people.

Breaking through the moist veil obscuring her sight, she came to hover before a mountainside-turned-battlefield, eyes widening at the small fracas below. A solitary figure zipped through the rugged mountain landscape, sending up a trail of dirt in its passage followed by a few tengu. The close pursuit would occasionally end abruptly as the figure barrelled straight into boulders the size of their typical dwellings, imploding them with sheer force of strength before sending waves of stony fragments spiralling backwards as deadly shrapnel, forcing the small group of converging tengu to rapidly disperse from the cloud of death.

Two scattered quickly while the rest executed quick turns to head straight back for the rampaging figure, only to be greeted by hurtling rocks twice their size the figure would send in their direction as it spun in a deadly whirlwind of gravel. Caught off-guard in their momentary overconfidence, the majority of the pursuing tengu were gradually picked off by the catapulting boulder fragments, brought crashing from the air to roll down the steep terrain in a small avalanche of earth.

Seeing Momizi angle directly towards the centre of the fight heedless of the danger from the sustained hail of rocks, Aya took a quick dive towards her as well. A few yards short of reaching the inu, she caught the sound of a muffled grunt as one of the remaining tengu from the duo dodged too late, receiving a goodly-sized fragment straight in the face before careening out of control to crash downwards in an eruption of gravel. The last tengu turned quickly to note the loss and Aya recognized Tenma’s familiar features in him as the dim moonlight illuminated his strained face.

Momentarily surprised by their presence, Tenma spun to face the two new arrivals only to shout a quick warning to them before going into a rapid spin mid-air to evade several more of the arcing missiles. Spared from the attack but unable to break his momentum from the forced aerial acrobatics he crashed into the ground hard, temporarily disabled by the impact as he struggled to shake loose his dazed senses.

The remaining earthy hail continued in their deadly trajectory towards both Aya and Momizi, several which went wide but one cloaked by the heavy fog managed to catch the inu unexpectedly and she disappeared instantly as the boulder slammed into her, sending the two hurtling as one in the direction of their mountain home. Only the small impact on the far-distant outpost walls marked the site of the inu’s crash. ‘Momizi!’ Aya’s scream ringed loud and clear in the still mountain air.

Her voice caused the whirring figure to come to a complete stop, and for the first time Aya could see who their antagonist was between the gaps of the settling debris. A grim face focused on her suspended form in the air, the alabaster features punctuated by a single horn rising from her forehead.

‘Yuugi,’ Aya breathed with a catch in her throat as she watched an ugly grin spread on the oni’s face.

In an expanding shockwave of force, Yuugi ripped off of the ground to hurtle straight towards Aya. The tengu tore a veritable tunnel in the mist-laden air before coming to a perfect stop mere inches away from where Aya hovered in confusion. The grin had quickly taken leave to be replaced with a contorted face staring down on Aya impassively. A dull fire in her eyes spoke of a fury beyond ken. Almost withering underneath the intense heat of her masked hate, Aya backed away slowly with a hiss at the oni, ‘What do you think you’re doing!?’

Yuugi gave her downed fodder nothing more than a cursory glare before focusing her cool hostility back on Aya. ‘You worry much? Fear not, they’ll live. I do not take lives as idly as you do. It’s the only reason why I resorted to such crude, physical attacks instead of something far more lethal, a courtesy you never bothered to extend to Reiji.’

At loss for words, she halted her gradual retreat, vaguely thinking about a way out of their confrontation even as she tried to work out Yuugi’s anger. Glancing back at the dead cold expression the oni wore, Aya finally understood why she was here amidst a sinking feeling in her heart.

Yuugi had most likely found out from the witch. She was here for the dead boy from that night.

‘You came to kill me,’ Aya answered her own question, her confusion clearing and voice growing steady in understanding.

‘Kill? Kill you?’ Yuugi repeated harshly, her forced composure breaking at last to reveal the distraught oni underneath. ‘I didn’t come here to kill you. I came here to tear your wings off and ensure you would never fly again, pound your bones into powder so never again would you lift a hand to kill another innocent boy. No, death would be too easy for you.’ She edged closer, brimming with anger as she spat the rest of her words at Aya, ‘I’m making sure you spend the rest of your pathetic existence as nothing more than an empty, paralyzed shell with barely any life left in it.’

‘Yuugi! Stop!’ Tenma roared from the ground, hobbling over from where he had hit the ground. Aya darted a quick glance at the felled tengu, noting the hand he held braced against his other with concern. His crash had probably dislocated his left arm.

Yuugi gave him nothing more than a pointed finger followed by a hoarse warning, not even bothering to look down at the other tengu. ‘Stay out of this Tenma, if you value your life.’

‘I never meant to harm the boy,’ Aya stated coolly, forcing herself to remain calm despite her apparent danger. She was no stranger to the wrath of the normally jovial oni and the fact that when one was incurred to such heights, the only outcome would be the least pretty one. Nevertheless, she saw no other choice at the time but to confront Yuugi, knowing full well they could barely match the oni in an actual battle, much less in her unhinged state.

‘Ahh! The obligatory excuse!’ she sneered in return, reaching out suddenly to grab Aya by her arm in a violent shake before drawing the tengu towards her harshly. ‘If only life were that simple, where the dead would return over the power of some half-hearted words spoken out of fear! It’s easy to say it’s an accident when you’ve already killed him, isn’t it!?’ the oni spat into Aya’s face with undisguised ennui, the vise-like grip hardening with her breaking voice.

Aya bit her lips to fight back the pain of the constricting hold, praying the oni wouldn’t give a strong enough tug to rip her arm right off as she closed her eyes against the mask of hate before her. Far below, Tenma decided to take a risk seeing the oni’s unquenchable fury, launching himself into the air and into Aya, barely managing to tear her away from Yuugi before spinning back to face the unmoving oni some distance away. ‘That’s enough! The boy’s death wasn’t something we ever wanted!’

Regaining her composure, Aya pushed herself away from Tenma, not wishing to deflect the overflowing hate towards her love. Steeling herself, she lifted her head to meet the oni’s wilting glare, numbly bracing herself for the inevitable. ‘I regret the boy’s death. Call me a liar if you will; I can see no amount of explaining would satisfy you but his senseless death is no less sad to me than it is to you.’

‘Regret!?’ Yuugi howled in return before blurring once, slipping into a speed impossible for the naked eye to follow. Tenma recognized enough of the tell-tale signs to know the oni was barrelling straight towards them and he lifted his arms up too late to ward off the attack. With a single blow, Yuugi struck him with a downward swing as she broke to a stop before them, instantly separating the two tengu as she returned Tenma to the ground in an unceremonious cloud of dust. She spun back to face Aya once more, forcing the word through her gritted teeth like jagged glass ripping through tender throats. ’SAD!? You know nothing of my sorrow, murderer!’

The sight of a battered Tenma finally undammed her pent-up emotions over the past few days and she broke out in a hoarse shout of her own, throwing some distance between her and Yuugi with a hard push on her. ‘The boy was never supposed to be involved! If you have to have someone to fault then blame the witch who was with the boy! The only reason we were there was to retrieve the Hakurei girl the witch stole from us, not to indulge in the murder of innocents!’

‘”Stole from you?”’ the oni chuckled humourlessly before fixing a disparaging glance on her nemesis. ‘You really don’t know what’s truly going on, do you? You’ve been following that monster for so long you can no longer tell right from wrong. If you lot ever bothered to open your eyes to see what the world is really like now instead of hiding behind that tyrant to survive, then perhaps the tengu would still be the proud race they once were in the past!’

Her words almost forced a flinch from Aya, but she steeled herself against the painful scrape of the ignoble fact nonetheless. ‘What right do you have to pass such judgment on us, oni? We do what is necessary to live, to survive like anyone else and unlike you we choose to do so no matter how distasteful. If you people had actually bothered to resist Vana’s initial incursion underground years ago then perhaps all of you wouldn’t be doomed to wander Gensokyo as homeless nomads to slowly wither away in your solace.’

Yuugi recommenced her advance threateningly, forcing Aya to adopt a counter-stance as the two circled each other. She directed her broiling ire at Aya with a raised finger, meeting the edge of Aya’s retort with her own. ‘So speaks the one who took the underground city away from us. The Komeiji sisters wouldn’t need to turn to Iyen-Shuren if we had been left to ourselves! You forced them out just as much as you did to the rest of us underground. Why do you think they turned so bitter and willingly opposed Vana alongside a creature they hated just as much for taking Utsuho from them? The Komeiji sisters were good people once, until you lot robbed them of the place they belonged to, and Orin as well.’

‘We-‘ her reply caught in her throat and she swallowed hard, trying to say something equally forceful in return only to find herself at a complete loss for words. She was unwilling to admit to herself that the long-buried guilt had resurfaced, much like the bleached bones of past sins finally revealing themselves after the torrential rains of reality washing the earth and mud of reason away. How did we ever end up dirtying our hands so? Trying to achieve a greater good? The broken thoughts ate away at her as she unconsciously bit her lower lip.

‘Stung by the truth?’ Yuugi sneered at the tengu in vindication, her hands closing into hardened fists. ‘Thought so. Be freed from your worries; like I said I won’t kill you. You can reflect on your sins as a cripple for the rest of your sorry life.’

Aya saw no way out of her predicament now and even less of a chance in talking the oni out of her rage. She realized rather belatedly that Yuugi was beyond reasoning at this point; the only thing in the oni’s mind now was to carry out her act of judgment, screaming in its vengeful insistence. Briefly, the thought that she could simply outrun the oni had crossed her mind but she discarded it just as quickly, not wanting to risk abandoning Tenma to the oni’s company. There was no telling what she would do to him in order to get to her, or even her people.

Guardedly dropping into a braced stance, she tried one last time to talk some sense into the oni with a voice cracking in her anxiety, ‘Damn you, I don’t want to hurt you, Yuugi!’

Yuugi’s response was as swift as it was wordless, her form briefly rippling in the still air as she spun to one side, scattering more of the still fog in her sudden lurch. Aya turned instantly to mirror her manoeuvre almost reflexively, half expecting the oni to assume the customary confrontational position in a classical spellcard duel. Instead of putting some distance between them, Yuugi dropped her altitude before arcing back towards Aya in a feint, catching her by surprise as the oni slipped past her side before she could turn to follow her blurring silhouette.

‘You think you can?’ the oni whispered into her ear before latching onto her collar, breaking into an abrupt spin to gain some momentum before Aya could counteract the hold. The warm furs of Aya’s clothing snapped back instantly from the oni’s revolution and for the next several seconds she fought ineffectually against being swung about, flailing her arms breathlessly as the world was thrown out of balance. Dimly, she realized what the oni was trying to do; disorient her before flinging her towards an appropriately hard surface. It was all too apparent that the oni was making good on her promise to cripple and not kill.

Her merciful release came at last as the oni finally let go. For a moment her swirling view steadied into a single frame before receding rapidly from Yuugi in the involuntary flight. Forcing her eyes shut to ignore the maddening tumble her senses had temporarily descended into, Aya went into a series of clumsy somersaults, trying to turn the momentum she had gained from Yuugi’s throw to her advantage. The desperate move succeeded to a degree, leeching off enough of her uncontrollable momentum for the ensuing impact against the hardened mountain earth to be tolerable instead of crippling. In crashing bounces, Aya ricocheted off the ground several times before flipping painfully into a guarded crouch, instinctually bringing a sweeping hand up to fill the skies with a tidy spread of annihilating light before she stopped herself with a short curse.

The incomplete barrage provoked an unexpected reaction in Yuugi. Fully anticipating Aya’s reversal, Yuugi was instead caught off-guard by the messy counter-attack, pausing in her charge through the maze of streaming light. Letting the last of the heated bits of air tear harmlessly past the space she had stopped in, Yuugi gave the grounded tengu a disparaging glance in their brief lull. ‘Guilty conscience working against you? Don’t go easy on me, by all means, because I guarantee you won’t get the same treatment from me.’

Aya fell to one knee before righting herself once more, pressing a hand down on her right tibia as she swayed unsteadily. The sharp pain was evidence of some internal damage sustained despite her earlier manoeuvre. Fixing her glare back on the oni she gritted the words through her teeth in desperation, repeating her earlier plea, ’Enough! I don’t want to have to hurt you, Yuugi!’.

The oni treated her words as nothing more than an annoying breeze, scattering uselessly as it impacted her unyielding frame. Yuugi allowed a moment of silence to pass before dropping down to the earth in an easy motion. She closed the distance between the two of them in several strides, forcing Aya to steady herself before drawing away from the oni’s intimidating approach. She wouldn’t get far; a quick sweep from Yuugi’s foot tripped her retreat and Aya found herself flat on the ground once more. This time, her antagonist stopped any further attempts at an escape by reaching down and twisting hard on her right leg in a single, fluid motion.

Her scream resonated in the surrounding rocks as joints dislocated. Aya would have kept her cry of agony ringing if it wasn’t for a sandaled feet slamming into her chest, cutting the outburst short as all the air went out of her lungs. She stared back at the oni’s grim face leaning down to confront her pain before her body went slack from the stunning blow. The oni’s once-elegant features blurred through the tears washing down Aya’s vision. Dimly, she felt something wet splash against her cheek and for a moment, she thought the oni had spat on her as she felt her left arm being lifted free of the ground. Pinching her eyes shut, she braced herself against the incoming agony and waited helplessly for the oni to wrench her arm loose from its bodily mooring before the rest of her limbs followed suit.

Nothing. The pain never came. Tense seconds crawled by before another wet splash ran down Aya’s cheek. She barely registered the oni’s curiously ragged voice. ‘… just… boy…’

Unexpectedly, the pressure on her chest lessened somewhat. Aya took the opportunity to draw in a quivering breath even as she strained to listen to the rest of the oni’s suddenly repeating mantra. A third splash, warm and heavy, ran down her lips and she tasted the salty flow dimly before realizing what it was.

Tears? The oni was crying.

All the force pressed against Aya drained away abruptly as she stared listlessly at the oni, who loosened her grip on the tengu’s limb before staggering back a step, collapsing into an awkward sitting position next to Aya to bury her face in one open hand. Her sobs mingled freely with her words now, repeating in their rote sorrow as the oni seemingly lost all sense of her surroundings.

‘Reiji was just a boy… why must you take everything away from us?’

She tried to reach out to the oni in futility, only managing to twitch her fingers as she did. Swallowing the growing lump in her throat, she tried to speak to her instead. In seeming defiance, the only sound which she could utter was an incomprehensible gurgle instead of the pent-up feelings she had wanted to word to the oni. The only thing she could do was stare at Yuugi’s disconsolately sobbing form before another set of desperate hands latched on her to drag her away. Her tear-stricken vision focused on the frantic and battered face of Tenma as he altered his gaze between Aya and the oni. In a series of bobbing wrenches, she felt herself pulled away amidst the heaving grunts of a breathless Tenma.

Disturbed by the sudden noise of shifting gravel, Yuugi looked up quickly in time to catch Tenma escaping with the fallen Aya. The gesture did not miss the frantically crawling Tenma and he froze instantly at the oni’s lifeless glare, glancing fearfully at her as he pulled Aya’s inert body close to him in a semi hug. For a moment, he looked down at the tear-laden eyes blinking up at him before returning his attention to the unmoving oni who was inexplicably still bound to the ground some distance away. ‘Please,’ he rasped hoarsely to her in a desperate plea, ‘Please stop this. She’s in enough pain already.’

Yuugi allowed her gaze to linger on the couple for a full half minute, watching Tenma fidget about as he tried to shield Aya from her wrath. Wordlessly, she returned to her feet, once more reassuming her imposing posture as she cleared away the last few streaks of her own tears before moving towards them in halting steps, whispering to Tenma harshly, ‘Why? Why protect a murderer?’

Tenma gave no answer beyond a quick glance up at the oni. Stopping just before the two tengu, Yuugi alternated her gaze between a recovering Aya and Tenma, who continued to keep as much of Aya out of her view as he could. ‘Why?’ she repeated softly to the cornered pair.

‘Because she’s the only thing I have left,’ came Tenma’s answer in a low voice, carefully keeping his head averted from the oni standing before them. Aya reached up to caress his face weakly as their eyes met.

Aya watched the oni’s face dissolve into a stoic mask, perhaps falling into some sort of internal debate with something. Much of the rage drained away from Yuugi’s face in the full minute of silence which had proceeded to settle over them. She caught a brief twinge of regret in the corner of the oni’s eyes before she abruptly turned away from them, walking away from the entwined pair with faltering steps speaking heavily of resignation. Above her, Tenma breathed a sigh of relief at her sudden departure, not understanding but choosing well not to question Yuugi’s sudden choice in sparing Aya any additional torment.

‘Wait,’ Aya forced out a croak, ignoring Tenma’s warning hand pressing her back down. ‘Yuugi, wait.’

The oni grounded to a halt, the only indication of having heard her broken voice. She made no attempt to turn back to face them or offer words of any kind.

She tried to push herself up as she murmured to the oni’s back, ‘Vana never had the Hakurei. The child was with Iyen-Shuren all this time.’ Tenma glanced down at her in alarm, the unspoken words clearly echoed in his widening eyes. Shush!. She ignored the warning, not understanding why she was telling Yuugi that herself. ‘The witch came to the underground city looking for her and disappeared afterwards. If there’s anything I know about her, it’s her persistence. She will go for Iyen-Shuren next, and she will find a way in stealing the Hakurei away from him.’

Yuugi broke her silence with a sideways glance, ‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘You said I know nothing about what’s really going on. Perhaps I don’t; I no longer care now.’ Tiredly, Aya allowed herself to lean into Tenma, feeling the strong arms brace her in a comforting cradle in return. ‘We cannot trust Iyen-Shuren, for he means to harm the child. Siding with Yukari would be a foolish mistake and Vana’s intentions are no longer entirely clear as well. If we have to choose the lesser of evils, then I’ll damned well cast my lot with the witch and you instead of the elders.’

Yuugi drew a disgusted snort before throwing back her retort, ‘Is this your sorry attempt at atonement? You’re sadly mistaken if you think telling me all of this would somehow right your wrongs.’

‘You’re right, it won’t,’ she admitted with a sigh, closing her eyes. ‘We’ve done things you claim to be questionable, things I won’t bother to deny. The tengu can no longer turn back to the ways of old and if there’s one last thing we can do of our own free will then let it be my request to you. Vana will strike at Iyen-Shuren by the next moonflow. Take the Hakurei away before he does and keep her safe. There is no sanctuary for her here anymore. If you won’t do it for me then do it for my people and Reimu’s memory at least. With the Hakurei gone, Vana loses his reason for using us in the senseless raid as well.’

She had barely finished her words before the oni returned to her silent departure, disappearing into the soft embrace of the settling mists. Aya had no way of telling if the oni had discarded her words just as easily as she did earlier, but there was at least one reassuring thing she could sense about the oni before her silhouette vanished into the mist-laden darkness.

A small sense of purpose perhaps.
“I’ve been going through the files like you asked, dating all the way back to the conception of Project Lemegeton and you should probably be made aware of a discrepancy between the bridging of the original Ignis Arcadia Plan and Project Lemegeton.

Your suspicions that Unit Seraphim’s derailment was an act of sabotage may not be entirely unfounded. Several names have popped up in the R&D wing of the initial development group, names which could be traced all the way back to Izumo Han’s original staff list, all leading up to the same person with a false name. What makes this all the stranger is the fact that the trail of aliases stretches all the way from there to today. The implication of this is that we’re essentially looking for someone who may be more than two centuries old, unless the saboteur includes several people over a span of time.”

-Col. Enoch Eldwood, security memo to Director

The tiny flames provided next to no warmth, a fact which did not elude Flynn as he probed away at the ineffectual fire. Next to the inexorable cold seeping through the very wood of the ship they huddled in, a curious sort of lethargy ate away at the remaining inhabitants within the partially assembled hold, threatening to rob whatever awareness they had left for the remainder of the stormy evening. Flynn gave the other two occupants a sparing glance, noting the presence of the curled up ball next to him that was the oni before shifting his eyes over to the larger silhouette near where they stored most of the temporary provisions. She was almost stone dead in her deep sleep; in the past six hours he hadn’t seen Yukari stir even once.

Of Murasa there was no sign, the sea spirit having decided to chance her outing to the forest beyond the valley despite the abysmal weather hours ago. Drawing the ragged blanket closer, he felt an involuntary shiver course through him, leaning backwards to drag a few more of the damp branches over to the makeshift fire-pit. Even with fresh wood added to the frugal fire the heat could barely be felt. Flynn gave the open segment of hull a cursing glance as he did, grumbling silently to himself. Maybe he should have patched up the ship’s belly instead of focusing so much on reinforcing the exterior. The cold dampness would at least be manageable without a damnable hole in their shelter.

The rift in the ship afforded Flynn a nice view of the roiling waves of rain beyond. He gave up poking away at the fire in boredom to stare at the hypnotic cascade of water outside, feeling his thoughts turn inward at the developments as of late. Another youkai in his presence and one of the oni’s of legend to boot. He couldn’t find it in himself to be surprised anymore, not after Murasa and Yukari’s barging into his life. Still, what were the odds of having three visitations in a single lifetime? He snorted to himself bemusedly, unsure if meeting a ghost, gap demon and an oni in a row was to be considered a misfortune or a cosmic stroke of luck. Once more, he found himself desperately wanting to know what brought them all here.

Next to him, the oni tossed about for half a minute before coming awake gradually, disturbed by the noise of popping wood as the moisture within escaped under the flame’s smothering embrace. Turning one last time, she came to rest on her side as the two of them exchanged a brief stare. ‘It’s not morning yet,’ Flynn remarked conversationally to her, idly prodding away at the fire pit with another branch.

Her voice was light, laced with the typical drowsiness from sleeping overlong. ‘I can tell. The smell of dawn is hard to miss.’

Flynn felt a grin come on at that, somewhat surprised at the methods these fey creatures used to mark the passing of the day. ‘You’re probably the first person I know who can tell the time of the day by smell.’

His words caused her to pause slightly and she turned her eyes back to him with a curious glint. ‘And you’re probably the first human in a very long time to actually call me a “person”.’

Was she offended? It wasn’t really anything intentional, he thought with a shrug at her. ‘Why, what do humans usually call you?’

She returned her gaze to their fire, drawing her ever-present gourd out from her side to rock it before her gently, eyeing the shadows it casted. ‘Monster. Freak. Cannibal. Fiend-spawn. Demon. The list is kinda long; I doubt you’d want to hear it all.’ Her eyes moved over to where her unmoving friend lay, adding in a subdued voice, ‘And I’m not the only one humans view as such.’

Flynn missed the gesture, but read well enough from her sad tone to know who she had meant. He wondered what it must feel like to be abhorred so; aside from the unnatural feats they could accomplish time and again, the three whose company he had been keeping were quickly proving to be no different from any other human female. Feeling his gaze drawn back to the slumbering figure in the shadows, he started somewhat curiously, ‘Does she always sleep like that? She looks almost lifeless.’

Another slight pause before the oni deemed to answer. ‘Usually. There are times when Yukarin would sleep for long months, longer still on occasions. These past few days have probably been the longest she’s been awake in many years.’

‘No doubt,’ he commented softly, instantly reminded that the golden youkai had pretty much kept going for more than a day since waking up as a wreck in the grotto. If she really does sleep as much as the oni indicated, then perhaps her deathlike and much-deserved slumber now wasn’t that inordinate after all, he mused privately. ‘We hear plenty about her, even in the village. The stories are never short, even more so when it comes to the legends of Gensokyo’s olden times. Her exploits with the shrine maiden Hakurei Reimu are one of the few tales the elders still pass along to their children on a generational basis.’

‘There were many more of us who shared those lost years with Reimu,’ she murmured nostalgically, almost a whisper and Flynn automatically leaned closer to catch her words, his insatiable curiosity once more overcoming any sense of caution. ‘Some friends, some rivals, some enemies for a short time. Most of them are gone now, consumed by a turbulent age but we were happy in our own respect back then. Life was far simpler when the only thing that mattered daily was how to have fun, even when it was the violent kind most of the time.’

Flynn cocked his head at her slightly, absent-mindedly stirring the fire-pit as he did. Enjoying life? That was almost a contradiction to the infamy commonly attributed to youkai. ‘Funny thing there. Humans call you youkai “monsters” when they speak of you. I can’t really see the three of you like how they picture you people to be no matter how I try to.’

The oni rested her head on an arm, glancing up to give him a little grin. ‘You just called us “people” again.’

He reciprocated the gesture with a questioning eye raised in humour. ‘You prefer “baby-eater”?’

‘Nah,’ she grinned before offering the simple reply. The oni settled back into a prone position, glancing at the other youkai as she did. ‘That’s not too far from the truth; being “monsters” that is. You’re fortunate to have missed the times when our kind preyed on yours, something which has gone out of style a long time ago.’ She waved aside further words, not wanting to dwell too much on a past long gone. ‘How long has she been asleep?’ the oni asked with a light gesture at their mutual interest.

‘Who?’ Flynn started in confusion before the oni drew his attention to the silhouette with a nod. ‘Oh. Not long I guess. Shortly after you hit the ground like a stone.’ Reflecting on the reminder, he had to suppress a snorting laugh. ‘You sure can drink a lot considering your size.’

She drew an indignant sniff at his remark before guffawing. ‘Now that, I haven’t heard in quite a while.’

Their idle conversation lapsed back into silence as they went back to their individual thoughts, sharing a common bond in the fire for several long minutes before Flynn got over his reservation to put forth his question, ‘So the two of you know each other well?’ he started curiously.

She thought for a bit before replying. ‘We’ve known one another for so long I stopped counting the years ages ago. When you live as long as we do, it’s natural to forget that time even exists for some of us.’ Her soft expression clouded somewhat as she went on, slightly hesitant. ‘Lately though… I don’t know. Saying she’s not herself would be an understatement. Yukarin’s almost like a veritable stranger to me now.’

‘Why?’ he pressed on in a low voice, throwing the slumbering figure another quick glance, fearful of being overheard.

The oni went quiet for a while before heaving a shrug. ‘She’s completely changed. The way she talks, her mannerism, even her attitude. I could count the number of times she had been kind to me with two fingers since we’ve met and that’s still less than how she’s treated me these past few days. Whatever happened to her back in the underground city altered her psyche greatly.’

Flynn had to wonder how that could be such a bad thing for her. ‘It’s natural I suppose. People sometimes go through drastic changes when subjected to life-threatening stress. You don’t like how she is now?’

‘I-it’s not like that. It’s wonderful to finally feel like the friendship isn’t one-sided most of the time,’ she stumbled over her words slightly. ‘I can admit that this is the sort of Yukarin I’d love but it’s not easy accepting her sudden change of behaviour. Take your mother out and replace her with an unknown woman with a devil-may-care attitude and you’d find it jarringly out of place too.’

Flynn rasped a series of hiccups in an effort to keep his laughter down, causing the oni to stare at his outburst oddly. ‘Sorry,’ he managed at last. ‘That hit me in the perfect place. Anyway, I never really had a mom so I wouldn’t be able to say if that’s good or bad.’

Suika sighed low, balancing her gourd on the uneven wooden floor below them before gingerly releasing her supporting fingers from it. ‘I doubt I could too. Yukarin keeps a lot to herself and she’s not likely to make an exception for me this time.’

Almost like a certain someone else too, Flynn thought once more with a frown as he looked back at Yukari. Mere coincidence or was there truly something unique about the enigmatic youkai? He shook the thoughts away, returning his attention to their neglected fire. Once Yukari finished whatever she came here to do, he vowed he would get some long overdue answers about the purportedly dead wanderer from her one way or another.

Further conversation was cut short by a wet bundle of horror bursting into the hold from the only passageway into the ship’s hold. Human and oni quickly turned as one to confront the intruder, only to face a loudly grumbling Murasa casting aside her soaked cloak before hurrying over to the dismal fire they had going. Catching a quick look from Flynn which he darted towards the corner their remaining companion slept in relative obliviousness, she quieted down with a sigh, giving the oni nothing more than a cursory glance as she crouched and shivered slightly before the fire.

In contrast, Suika looked to be fascinated by her display of human traits as she commented innocently. ‘I thought ghosts weren’t supposed to be able to feel cold, much less a sea spirit at that.’

Murasa turned stormy almost instantly, mirroring the tempest blowing outside as she shot Suika a hard glare. ‘Shut up! I know well enough what I am!’ Noting the startled reaction she invoked in the other two before their fire, she fought visibly to calm herself before continuing in a subdued voice, averting her eyes quickly. ‘Don’t ever tell me that again.’

The oni drew back slightly at her unexpected display of animosity, never expecting such a reaction from what was by all means an innocuous remark. ‘Sorry, no offence meant,’ she sulked, going back to her game with her gourd. Next to her Flynn cleared his throat nervously, trying to deal with the awkward atmosphere, privately wishing for Yukari to just wake up and defuse the sudden burst of hostility. He could understand Murasa’s anger a bit after the days he had spent with her, having formed the impression that the sea spirit didn’t really take lightly to the fact that she was essentially dead and no longer human. In all honesty, he supposed it was a hard enough thing to live with for anyone, much less one of her seeming age.

“Live”, he thought suddenly with no small amount of irony. Perhaps being a human himself allowed him to sympathize with her plight. Watching the world move past her while she remained observing in a solitary stasis of soul must be a sad and lonely fate.

A slight rustling breaking their stark silence drew their collective attentions, and the long-slumbering figure finally roused herself from her fitful rest with a small groan before pushing herself up into an awkwardly seated pose. ‘Gods. Can’t you people keep quiet enough for me to catch five minutes of sleep?’

Thankful as he was for the timely interruption, Flynn exchanged befuddled looks with Murasa as the same thing crossed his mind. “Five minutes?” they both thought incredulously. ‘Try six hours,’ Murasa remarked back at her dryly.

‘Huh.’ It wasn’t a question. ‘Oh, right. ‘Scuse me while I sober up then,’ the sleep-addled figure muttered briefly before collapsing back into her spot like a felled log, dead to the world once more.

‘Give her half an hour,’ Suika ventured knowingly seeing their expressions. ‘She takes a while to wake up.’
All my life I never felt like I wanted to go back and sleep as much as I just did, but the lethargy from sleep deprivation persisted even after an entire hour. Getting up had been a monumental feat in itself; it had almost felt like trying to pull free from a slumber so dead I could no longer feel any awareness for the world or myself. All my time in Gensokyo I had heard bits and pieces about the golden wonder’s tendency for sleeping away entire months on end but it was far too apparent that hearing about it and experiencing it firsthand was worlds apart in difference. The long period of sleep did provide an unexpected benefit; my numerous injuries no longer threatened to break open and had dulled considerably in terms of manageable agony, indicating healing of some sort had taken place regardless of Yukari’s rejection of me.

A quick glance around the hold of the ship revealed a discordant sight; a motley collection of ghosts and demons with a human between them. Or was it technically two humans? I had no idea what the hell I was now and had even less inclination to ponder over it. A bastardized hybrid of a parasitic soul infesting the golden wonder would be a fair enough label for now. My head still swayed lazily from side to side no matter how much I tried to slap some feeling back into Yukari’s cheeks. I gave myself one more for good measure before surrendering groggily with a shiver. Maybe the accursed cold could do a better job at that.

Murasa turned sharply at the noise of palm meeting flesh before rolling her eyes, ignoring me for the moment as she busied herself rummaging through a pile of carelessly discarded articles near the fire-pit. Perhaps exhausted from his endless working on the ship or from the cold of the abating storm outside, Flynn had finally fallen asleep in an uncomfortable looking position, hands splayed out at an odd angle. In his place, the oni had taken over the task of tending to the fire, now contained in an appropriately sensible bronze dish to avoid any danger to the tinder all around us just waiting for the right ember to jump into them. Watermelon gave me a little grin and a brief, careless wave before taking a swig from her gourd, going back to watching her fire with undisguised fascination. The sudden parched sensation in my throat told me how much I could use some of her sake right now.

Giving the whole pile of assorted objects a small kick to sweep them back into place Murasa straightened with a soft groan, effortlessly vaulting over the fire as she made her way towards me. Flynn stirred slightly at the ruckus before mumbling something, turning away from the source of the annoyance and back into his own sleep. Mildly intrigued herself, the oni watched the sea spirit warily from behind. Something in Watermelon’s eyes told me she desperately wanted to join in on the impending conversation between me and the sea spirit but was looking to be somewhat uncomfortable with Murasa around. I let my eyes wander between them, wondering what had transpired during the time I had been blissfully detached from the world earlier. Maybe that noisome argument had something to do with it.

She came to share the comfy alcove I had claimed, sinking down with a dull thud before pressing herself against a bundle of canvassing. Peering hard at the oni who quickly averted her stare, she spoke softly to me, both to avoid disturbing Flynn and being overheard by the oni next to him. ‘I followed the signs you left. You were right.’

So he was there after all. ‘How far?’

‘A few more miles to the east, towards the rugged side of the forest. Cunning bastard picked the perfect spot to hide in; he’s practically smack in the centre of miles of undercut cliffs and steep ravines. He could keep an entire village hidden from the air if he wanted to.’ Murasa extended one of the water gourds she had extracted from her pile of curiosities to my side, wordlessly waiting for me to accept her generosity. Swallowing the parched dryness with anticipation, I took the offering from her hands, momentarily brushing her skin as I did. The cold was almost icy. A bit too hastily, I snatched my hands away along with the gourd.

If she was offended or even took notice of the gesture, she made no indication of it. Instead, she went on to reiterate her finding, fixing her stare on the oblivious oni in the distance as she did. ‘I can show you on the map.’

Watching her hand drift towards the cylindrical tube she kept to herself almost constantly, I made a quick move to intercept it, ignoring the uncomfortable cold from our contact this time. Surprised, she turned towards me slightly, wondering what was wrong as she caught sight of my furtive head shake. ‘Not now, not in front of her,’ I whispered without looking.

Murasa understood, easing her hands back to her side. Reassuming a comfortable position against the canvas, she let her gaze fall to the ceiling, a blank look coming across her face as she did. ‘You’re really serious about meeting with him?’

I gave the gourd an experimental shake before popping the cork to sniff at the contents. Plain water, I thought with some disappointment. ‘Not exactly my first choice as well, but yes.’

‘You’re crazy,’ she muttered lightly.

‘I’ve been called a lot of things in my life and “crazy” is actually quite the compliment,’ I snickered back at her softly. ‘But there’s one thing I’m not, and that’s being foolish. I know what I’m getting into.’

‘Oh, I don’t doubt that for a second,’ she remarked while fixing a piercing stare at me from the side. ‘I’m just wondering how you’ll be getting out of it.’

‘That’s where you’ll come in.’

‘What?’ came her worried exclamation before she forced her voice down, noticing the oni glancing our way. ‘You’re expecting me to bail you out of trouble? What am I, some sort of miracle worker? I still don’t understand why you won’t bother to work up a sweat and expect me to do everything for you.’

Wordlessly, I reached up to pull the folds of my clothes apart, bearing my chest to her before hissing to her impatiently, ‘Because I can’t! Look at me!’ Having averted her eyes in haste at being afforded an unexpected view of Yukari’s body, she glanced back reluctantly and her shame turned to mild horror at the sight of the clumsily-patched wounds, barely healed in their ugly network of raw stitches. At the fire, Watermelon looked up at us in confusion, not knowing what to make of our exchange.

Murasa reached out slightly in disgust before withdrawing her hand to fix an uncomprehending stare at me. ‘I don’t understand. There shouldn’t even be a scar left by now.’

I allowed her a glimpse of the worst of it, directing her attention to the partial mess that was my abdomen. ‘Yeah well this certainly looks nothing like a scar,’ I groaned sarcastically. ‘Enough with the twenty questions. Believe me, if I could do this by myself I would but I need your help. Now are you with me, or not?’

She eased off quickly now that she understood somewhat, muttering back in a subdued voice as she settled down to avoid attracting the oni’s attention any more than we already had, ‘I’m with you.’

I shoved myself back into the bags of resin as I pulled my clothes back into place, hiding the frustration behind a show of physical discomfort. By the gods, I could almost choke myself at the amount of badgering it took to get these creatures to do the simplest of tasks. Bad enough that the sea spirit continually insisted on explanation after explanation for every single little thing, she just had to top it off with incessant questions on whys and whats as well.

‘So… um, what’m I supposed to do then, o’ fearless leader?’ she came back in a quiet voice tinged with her own brand of sarcasm.

‘Leverage,’ I answered after a short pause, letting her words pass unchallenged. Murasa stirred slightly in her place. I caught her frown as I downed the contents of the gourd, feeling the refreshing liquid course down in a cooling stream before setting the gourd down in a little thump next to her. ‘Insurance,’ I added slowly, emphasizing each syllable to her increasing mystification.

Her face held a daft look as she queried strangely, ‘I’m not following. The heck are you talking about? What insurance?’

‘It means you’re going to help me procure leverage against Iyen-Shuren, insurance for my safe passage out of his territory when I drop by for my social call,’ I explained to her with a light slap on her cheek.

‘Oh,’ she muttered, looking slightly relieved that there wouldn’t be any direct danger involved with her. ‘And just what is your supposed leverage supposed to be then?’

I sat forward to massage Yukari’s feeble legs, feeling the sluggish blood run through them with a wince before deeming to answer the sea spirit’s question. ‘Not what. Who. He has some sort of protégé or favoured daughter thing with one of the satori close to him; the one with the third eyeball hanging out. That’s my leverage.’

‘Soooo….’ she drawled in confusion, trying to work through my suggestion in her head amidst a rising anxiety that maybe she would be subject to some degree of danger after all. ‘You’re saying we abduct and use this satori of his as a hostage? That’s kinda stupid. Why not just use the satori as an exchange for both the child and Shou if she’s really so valuable to Iyen-Shuren?’ She added quickly as an afterthought, ‘And that’s if we can even snag this satori in the first place.’

Murasa took no notice of my displeasure as I sighed at her. ‘More questions? Because she’s not valuable enough to justify the exchange for the Hakurei. He values his offspring decently, but he’s not stupid enough to lose the kid in exchange for his little baby, much less an easily replaceable shikigami. He’s not even batting an eye at the impending death of his freak army; what makes you think he’ll do any different for the satori under him? On the other hand, he would view me as a manageable threat compared to Vana and not something to risk losing his protégé over. See now?’

‘Makes sense, I guess,’ she finally conceded after some thinking. ‘But kidnapping someone to cover your behind? That’s pretty low.’

Perfect, a dead girl who used to drown humans in their sinking ships was lecturing me on morals. I had to suppress the urge to groan out loud. ‘Actually yes. I sort of enjoy being a complete dickweed every now and then,’ I muttered back in mock cheerfulness. ‘I find it helps a lot with certain things like… you know, staying alive.’

Murasa raised one hand in surrender. ‘Okay, fine,’ she groaned. ‘Not saying it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s just… uh… not right?’ Her quizzical gaze met mine and I rolled my eyes at her roundabout reasoning.

‘Right. Everyone else is playing dirty. You want to be the only one left out? Leave your conscience at the door because the only way anything’s getting done around here is the hard way.’

Thankfully, Murasa chose to suspend her incessant questions after that, allowing us to drift back into relative silence as her thoughts turned inwards to consider my distasteful plans. From her spot next to the fire, the oni sat spread legged as she shifted her gaze to us intermittently before looking away uncomfortably. It wasn’t hard to see she was desperately curious about what was transpiring over at my little sanctuary here. The only thing keeping her from marching over to demand answers was probably the fact that she did not want to risk another bout of my ire in light of the peace we had made. I found myself praying hard to no particular god that the oni would never find out for obvious reasons.

Half-thinking about going over to Murasa’s pile of knick-knacks to acquire something appropriately filling to stave off my growing hunger, the sea spirit piped up before I could even pull myself up. ‘Hey, what about-‘

‘What about nothing?’ I grumbled before she could finish her question. Now appropriately silenced, I turned slightly to peer at her with a dull face. ‘Look, I’m starving, dead tired and probably have a very, very, very long day ahead. I have holes where my torso should be and I’m sick of being cold. I just crawled out from a bloody cave escaping a ranting lunatic and I would greatly appreciate not having to put up with the Question-and-Answer quiz any more than I have to.’

If she was stung by the barrage of retorts, Murasa did a good job in keeping her composure. Seconds slipped through in silence as she kept her impassive expression riveted on me, biting on her lip. Despite her efforts, the hurt glint in her eyes betrayed the fact that the words had struck her somewhere inside. Some distance away, Watermelon no longer tried to hide her furtive glances and stared openly at the two of us in our voluble exchange. Even Flynn had momentarily roused himself to take note of the disturbance, rubbing at his face dumbly before wisely going back to the floor to sleep through the brief altercation. I found a moment to puzzle over my temporary loss of temper. Yukari’s inherent youkai impulses were quickly proving to be more of a hindrance than I had bargained for.

This time, it was Murasa who would choose to let the issue slide, offering me nothing more than a subdued apology as she got up quickly to put some space between the two of us. Silently, I cursed myself for the stupid move. I still needed the sea spirit for now. ‘Hold on,’ I muttered hastily as I stopped her with a hand on her shoulder, forcing her to swivel around while leading her back to the alcove. Mutely, she allowed herself to be brought back looking none too pleased herself. ‘Listen, it’s just a very bad time for me now and the sooner we can get things done the better. Questions will only waste more time I need to devote to thinking.’

That wasn’t entirely true, naturally. The only reason I didn’t want her to ask so much was because sooner or later, she was bound to pop the one question I couldn’t answer satisfactorily, one which could change her mind about our supposed alliance.

Despite my fondest hopes, I felt a slight lurch in my stomach as she chose to ask just that. ‘Then just answer my last one. What about Shou? You keep going on and on about the Hakurei and you never even mentioned Shou once.’

I fought against any hints of my desperation or falsehood from slipping through the careful mask of indifference I wore. ‘You said earlier that you were with me. Just keep that trust in me and it’ll work out for the two of us in the end.’

She held a sceptical look at that. ‘If there’s anything we learned from our time in Gensokyo, it’s not to trust the Phantasmal Sunshower but it’s not like there’s any other option now anyway.’ Her gaze turned hard as she wrung her shoulder free from my hand. ‘You swear you can help Shou?’

I shrugged inwardly. I never really had any intentions whatsoever of “saving” her friend from what was essentially an unbreakable bondage, a fact I had kept hidden from her since the beginning. The notion that these people kept insisting that I had to “help” or “save” them from the injustice of their lives was amusing at least, annoying at most. Did they really expect I could fight their inevitable fates with nothing but a body which didn’t even belong to me in the first place? It was far too apparent that they were looking at the absolute worst person for their hero. ‘Yes,’ I answered as neutrally as I could. Small misgivings regardless, the lie was necessary to secure her help for now.

Looking no more convinced than she was earlier, Murasa chose not to press the matter any further instead. She had probably decided it was a good enough answer from someone who didn’t exactly have a proven track record in honesty. All in all, it didn’t look like she had much of a choice anyhow. As long as she still believed I was the golden wonder herself, she would have some faith in me at least. She sighed out loud, followed with an empathic headshake. ‘Fine. Let’s just get this all over with as soon as possible.’

Disaster averted, I slid back to my makeshift bed, watching the sea ghost make her way through the hold towards the dying fire. A muted exchange between the oni and her ensued before Watermelon passed over the task of tending to the fire, lounging back on her elbow to proceed with the arduous task of getting drunk. Briefly, I toyed with the idea of getting some more sleep before kicking it out of the door. For all I knew, I could very well end up sleeping until summer the next time I closed my eyes.

Three and a half hours until artificial dawn breaks over Gensokyo. I gave the abandoned water gourd a light prod, tipping it over as I pondered on how I should get back to the spot Murasa had scouted out. The day would provide a measure of safety as the dwellers of the forest returned to their rests, giving us ample freedom in our ensuing visit to the three-armed freak’s sanctuary. With some time left, I turned to poke around in the sacks of goods for a bit, trying to find something edible before the curious thought suddenly occurred to me.

I could tell the exact time of the day without any references now.
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So I managed to squeeze in a brief update after all. Still going to work towards that other update as well.

On a side note; http://3-me.net/flashdir/hopten/

Play it for the somewhat amusing death scenes. Hop Tenko, hop!
that implies that she'd die even if she was killed. She'd just be out cold for a day.
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The game and palingenesia, oh boy!
I just feel worried about Suika's reaction when she finds that Sunshines' death.
To be honest it's hard to tell what's going on with Yukari; other than the Heroine is borrowing her body, and both her and it are getting used to one another.

Three maxed out posts. Coming from you, yes, this is a brief update.
>two-hundred-year-old saboteur
Ahh, that was, once again, magnificient.
Superb. This update was superb. I was a little depressed that The Game was over, but then I saw this.

>All my life I never felt like I wanted to go back and sleep as much as I just did, but the lethargy from sleep deprivation persisted even after an entire hour. Getting up had been a monumental feat in itself; it had almost felt like trying to pull free from a slumber so dead I could no longer feel any awareness for the world or myself.

>my numerous injuries no longer threatened to break open and had dulled considerably in terms of manageable agony, indicating healing of some sort had taken place regardless of Yukari’s rejection of me.

>I could tell the exact time of the day without any references now.

The Yukari issue might never come up given the Wanderer's proclivity to lie and that Yukari's abilities, sleeping habits, and possibly her cognition are now melding into—rather than rejecting—the Wanderer's own. However...

>‘She’s completely changed. The way she talks, her mannerism, even her attitude. I could count the number of times she had been kind to me with two fingers since we’ve met and that’s still less than how she’s treated me these past few days. Whatever happened to her back in the underground city altered her psyche greatly.’

The personality change from anti-heroic to good-intentioned being seems entirely the Wanderer's own. I posit that this has more to do with Rilofene's departure rather than the acquisition of Yukari's body. Spontaneous character growth due to pressing circumstances—conflict with Akyu, having to rely on Flynn & Murasa, Suika's very vocal affections, and most importantly risking everything to save the Hakurei child—is also a very good explanation.
I think she was talking about how "Yukari" seems to have changed. The Wanderer is trying to keep the fact it's not Yukari behind the wheel a seceret. It seems while Suika considered Yukari a friend, Yukari didn't show her much affection.

The Wanderer has started to become more kind, the change isn't complete. There's the Shou matter though if Yukari's body is starting to accept the Wanderer, she might just have a solution.

I do wonder how she'll deal with Ran, since all her activity in the village won't go unnoticed.
Could you not sage your updates? It's kind of counterproductive.

I would say it's the regular size for Palingenesia. 5 posts is big.


He probably just forgot to remove it.
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fallout updated that means you should update right?
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Phew, just caught up. I think this is the most I've read in a while (what's the word count at now, 350k?).
I love you Palingenesia anon, don't ever change.
The massive walls are also awesome, the story's very well written and never in my marathon through the story did I ever think that any of the posts are "too long".
I also want to mention that I particularly enjoyed the post with Yuugi's internal struggle between avenging Reiji and forgiving Aya: I was worried that Tenma might cliche'dly turn Yuugi into a beehive while she was wide open, and I am glad such thing did not happen.

warmly waiting for the next update.

PS: IMO, Yuyuko will make a great ally, as being a ghost, she is much less vunerable to death compared to an oni(personal interpretation), if at all, and one as powerful as her will definitely be helpful in the Wanderer's struggle against Iyen-Shuren.

Yuyuko hasn't been mentioned in the story yet, only that her property (not hakugyokuro, though) has been abandoned, or something.

>I found a brief moment to wonder about the cheerful spirit. Would she still be there, living out her cold eternity throughout the troubled times Gensokyo had gone through? Most likely.

She was also mentioned at least once more.

Is Yuyuko even still there though? Heck, is there a way to Yuyuko's place anymore? And is it still the same?

Assuming this is all true, Yuyuko will almost immediately pick up that Yukari isn't acting like Yukari, due to being her closest friend. And I highly doubt that The Wanderer will want to tell Yuyuko anything.
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20 hours in ms paint
Noted. Auto-complete add-ons tend to make me forget sometimes. Plus I prefer not to bump non-voting threads when possible(though I guess it doesn't matter /underground seeing the frequency of updates around here).

Writing at the speed of light as we speak! As soon as I get some time off from flying halfway across the planet, that is.

Much appreciated; glad you liked it so far. Kinda wish I could just sit down and finish the chapter off in one shot for the next update but things just keep getting in my way. It's sapping my enthusiasm, to say the least.

At any rate, I still can't promise a deadline as previously mentioned but updates should be coming soon barring further interruptions. Can't say the delays are all that bad though; it gave me the opportunity to finally indulge in some of the other writefags' works once more, especially our neighbors here /underground (hey glasnost).

> updates should be coming soon barring further interruptions

>Plus I prefer not to bump non-voting threads when possible
Uh, no. THP does not work that way.
If you want to sage a status update, fine (Although I'd rather you not do that, either, but okay, whatever).
But if you've updated, I'D LIKE TO KNOW THAT YOU DID.
That "Non-voting update" thing is bullshit in all cases, but especially in your case, given that that's what most of the damn things are.

So, it doesn't really matter what you prefer, kindly don't do that. It only makes things worse, and nothing better.


Thank you.

And if you don't cut it with the saging of updates, I'll make sure to post as soon as I notice you've updated, thus negating any mistaken and misdirected efforts at politeness.
Also note that I am not complaining about the lack of voting updates. I trust you just fine to guide the story to a satisfactory end.
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If HY can come back, I'm sure you can too!
I wish to see another wall of this before my tests eat me alive.

Palguy has never 'leaved'.
Still in transit till next Monday or Tuesday. Update should be up by then.

I'm all over it. Yeehaw!
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Warmly waiting.

Smashing his skull in then smacking the resulting mess into the ground isn't 'waiting,' that's 'trying to make him stop.'
“The attenuation device was as much a success as it was an affront to the very nature of humanity. I can hear the eerie hum of the probability field and for the life of me I can’t decide if it's merely a by-product of a technology shrouded in secrecy, or the lingering screams of millions of dying human souls we've forcefully funneled through The Sift for the past three years. As much as I had been assured that the so-called “souls” are nothing more than released energy collected from the decay of our once-populous species, I find myself losing that belief bit by bit with the passing of our dreary days.

We sold ourselves to the devil and chose to sin against the world. I cannot justify what we did by denying the human race their final rest. And yet, what am I to do except pray that hell does not have a special place for me for my role in creating this abomination?

It is a necessary evil we are forced to undertake for the sake of our children. We encroach on God's territory for our future. He would understand; He must.”

- Masayoshi Han

Something was amiss. She didn’t need the facilities of her third eye to tell her that there was something lurking in the peripheries of the encampment, whispering their indistinguishable thoughts secreted in some faraway hiding place. Images incoherent and lacking a classical sense of logic assailed her wakening mind. Stirring slightly in the wooden bower, her eyes flew open as the tendrils of mental susurrations brushed her senses once more. There was something which didn’t belong out there, obliviously patient and waiting.

Pushing herself up from the comforting bed of stacked pine needle, she was forced to abruptly shield her sensitive eyes from the uncomfortable glare of dayglow before attempting to still the internal turmoil emanating from the screaming minds of hundreds of youkai in their daytime rests. Being in such close proximity to her progenitor’s fanatical worshippers inevitably carried the discomfort of the endless clamour of their collective thoughts as well, something Satori had to deal with on a maddeningly constant basis. She brushed aside the irritation as she had so many times before. It was a small but necessary price to pay.

A quick scan of the glade revealed the absence of Iyen-Shuren, something which didn’t come as a surprise to her in the slightest. It could only mean the elder was with his infuriating shikigami somewhere or wasting his time taunting the Hakurei meat into submission, a task formerly overseen by the taciturn tiger youkai. The increasing frequency in which he took over the cumbersome endeavour was a clear indication of his rising desperation at the Hakurei’s inability to exhibit further signs of her link to the divine sphere, a crucial requirement for the inevitable purging of the Visitors she was to be used for.

The ripples of detached thoughts briefly washed through her once more, a collection of jumbled and incomprehensible images of endlessly flowing water coupled with a maelstrom of a stormy sky. She had to strain her mind to focus on the source of the broken thoughts trickling forth from somewhere above the forested ravine. Almost immediately, the suspicion that the Ardent Trickster had somehow sniffed them out occurred to her, only to be quickly dismissed as she realized that there was only one foreign mind simply sitting immobile beyond the ravine, broadcasting the confusing thoughts. Whoever it was, she deduced that it was a lone intruder, and one that had to be dealt with on the off chance that it happened to be of Vana’s lackeys.

Her brief and languid flight took no more than the passing of a few minutes, long minutes filled with more of the incessant din from the cauldron of screeching brains she had to grit her teeth to ignore. The invasive thoughts cleared up somewhat as she passed the lip of the ravine, her ever-increasing distance from the camp gradually dispersed most of the overlapping mental chaos. In a flutter of loose clothing, she chose a small break in the greenery below to drop through down to the waiting forest earth. At least here, the disorganized barrage of shouting minds in the hidden ravine had died down to a far more manageable state for her.

She had to wait for a few moments before the distorted images of a torrential lake without sight of land flashed at her in its mysterious beckoning once more. This time, she could read it well enough to tell from where it was coming from; nothing more than a stone’s throw away in terms of aerial travel but she chose to make the cautious approach on foot instead, not wanting to chance bungling into a trap of some sort. Pausing momentarily to gather her thoughts, she took the opportunity to check for the presence of other thoughts before proceeding, finally satisfied that the intruder was truly alone.

Her passage through the greenery was well masked by nature’s atypical bustling, a fact she could only half-appreciate given her discomfort in being above-ground. The unnerving sense of dislocation was something she could never get used to given how much time she had spent underground in years past. Pushing her way forward towards the scintillating trail of thoughts, she felt her nose wrinkle at the unfamiliar smell of wet earth and a forest blooming in life after the storm last night. Moving about in bright light coupled with the hemmed-in trees almost triggered a sense of agoraphobia in her.

Gradually, her pace evened out and slowed as she broke through some brushes only to come face to face with something starkly out of place with the woods. The sight of a solitary girl in her dull travelling cloak turning instantly to note Satori’s sudden appearance momentarily threw her off guard as well. The stranger breathed a sharp exclamation the same time Satori let loose a silent curse. They reacted almost simultaneously; the intruder lifting up both hands in a placating gesture triggered a knee-jerk response in Satori. In response, she brought her arm up a threatening manner, ready to deal with anything coming her way.

Something else thundered and crashed through the bushes from the side before she could turn to face the new threat. Leaves and branches cracked in quick unison at the passage of a seemingly ponderous body tearing through the overgrowth. There was only enough time to glance to her right sharply before her sight went black as what looked to be a rotted log suspended by a series of hemp ropes slammed into her head. All her senses dulled considerably as she hit the earth hard following a brief aerial twirl. Whipping and tearing noises followed the passing of the log overhead and her already-swimming vision turned upside down with the world. A constricting sensation bit into her legs before she felt herself torn off the ground into a suspended position. Desperate to regain her balance, she shook her head hard to clear her disorientation and tried to pull into a low hover when the rotted log came barrelling back in its pendulum motion.

Unable to shake herself loose from the crude trap, she watched in trepidation as the length of wood made its inglorious return before the ensuing impact violently sandwiched her between the log and a nearby tree, showering the area with a rain of dead leaves in a tree-shaking rattle. Her sense of foreboding lasted only a fraction of a second before the blow rendered her completely insensate this time.


Caught by surprise by the rapidly unfolding spectacle before her, Murasa was as much in a daze as was the unconscious creature dangling upside down in the crude weaving of ropes, suspended in an odd posture with one leg hanging loose and arms obliviously limp. She took halting steps towards the jumble of hemp and the lithe figure caught in its midst, unsure of what had just transpired other than the fact that several minutes ago, Yukari had merely asked her to stand here and think of the most boring thoughts she had as hard as she could.

Her gilded companion soon emerged with a grumble from some bushes. The Phantasmal Sunshower’s entrance was a stark contrast to the trees all around her, momentarily splashing the dull green a brilliant gold in her clumsy passage through her hiding place. Murasa alternated her gaze between Yukari and their nameless victim, questions hanging unspoken on her lips as she stepped back slightly from Yukari’s approach. Several stumbles and a curse or two about cramped legs later, her companion finally joined her to watch the helpless thing rotating slowly in the snare-like contraption.

‘Damn. Can you believe she actually fell for something this stupid?’ Yukari commented with a soft snicker before reaching into the adjacent tree to tug loose a hidden coil of hemp.

Putting two and two together, the realization slowly dawned on Murasa. Face growing stormy she felt the heat of her anger gradually building as she stomped back to Yukari to give the much-taller figure a hard shove in her arm, eliciting nothing more than an annoyed glare in return. ‘It’s a trap? You used me as bait!’ she grunted with an infuriated wave at the contraption.

‘Keep it down. We’re practically next door to the camp,’ came the sordid reproach. She took no interest in Murasa’s displeasure, opting to continue working on the knot instead. The rope finally came free in Yukari’s hand and the two of them watched the unmoving sack of flesh crash into the ground as the suspended log balanced against her weight fell earthward. Murasa found herself wondering when her companion had managed to set the whole thing up. Probably when the creep had asked her to keep watch at the far end of the ravine an hour ago, she thought in disgust before turning her attention to their prey.

The third eye dangling next to her chest was an unmistakable trait, a veritable advertisement of her importance and identity. Murasa wouldn’t need to assume that it was the satori Yukari had talked about. The relative ease in which they had procured their prize was a surprise to her, but being used as bait without her knowledge still rankled her to no end. ‘You could have at least told me about this,’ she grumbled in a subdued voice as she bent low to help her companion untangle the creature.

‘Then it wouldn’t have worked. She’s a mind reader,’ Yukari grunted back in tandem with her effort in dragging the out-cold body to a small open space of ground. They let go of the satori’s limp arms together, heaving a final gasp simultaneously.

Some sort of psychic? She found the notion ludicrous as another thought occurred to Murasa. ‘How come she never realized you were around then?’

‘Because I like to keep my naughty thoughts well-hidden.’ Without warning, Yukari moved away from her side to straddle the unconscious satori, clamping one hand down on her mouth while using the rest of her body to pin the satori to the ground. Amidst a growing feeling of unease in Murasa, she watched Yukari glance up to issue a short command.

‘There’re some wooden stakes behind you. Grab one and skewer her heart. We need to bleed her dry.’

She could barely comprehend what Yukari had just said. Her mouth hung open as she queried blankly. ‘… Say what?’

Yukari’s typical exasperation made an abrupt return to countenance Murasa’s pinched face. ‘You know what. Kill her. And make it quick; I don’t think I can hold her down for long if she starts flailing about too much with a stick in her chest.’

Murasa gulped hard at the suggestion, feeling beads of sweat break out from her clammy forehead. ‘I thought we were just going to abduct her! She’s defenceless. I- I don’t think I can do that.’

The figure sprawled over the satori sighed hard before rolling her eyes in consternation. ‘Come on. She wasn’t even going to hesitate in pumping you a full dose of good news earlier. She’s too dangerous to be left incapacitated.’ Wriggling slightly in her absurd position, she added in an impatient voice, ‘Now hurry up before she comes around.’

The cold had spread to her hands as well. Her throat grew dry with the light-headed sensation flooding her now at the thought of seeing a fountain of the satori’s blood. For a singular moment, the rustling leaves above her scraped together in a cacophony of screeches as the world suddenly seemed too loud to her ears. Murasa bit down hard on her lip before taking a step back to shake her head hard in refusal, hands clenching beside her.

‘Oh for the love of- !’ her irate companion banged the earth in frustration before climbing off the felled satori. Yukari flung her several displeasured glances before moving past to swipe up some of the wooden implements she had secreted behind a small clump of grass. ‘Fine. You hold; I’ll stake Cupcakes.’

Murasa fought ineffectually against being propelled towards their insensate prey, breaking out into a protest at Yukari’s cold-blooded indifference. ‘Wait, wait! We don’t need to kill her! We can just hide her somewhere or something!’

‘Like where?’ Yukari cut back heatedly. ‘In the middle of nowhere where she can just fly back and give us a piece of her mind? Back in the village where all the defenceless villagers are?’

The reasoning was infallible, but the moral behind it was just something she couldn’t agree to. She didn’t want to return to the days where she had indiscriminately taken lives, nor could she find it in herself to defy Byakuren’s teachings about the value of all life. Next to her, Yukari crossed her arms expectantly as she eyed Murasa, the glint in the golden pupils betraying her growing impatience at all the delays. ‘I can’t. I just can’t,’ Murasa finally muttered in a low voice, looking away from the Phantasmal Sunshower’s piercing stare.

Regardless of her refusal, her companion tried again in a soft, wheedling tone this time. ‘Look, we’re not really killing her, just putting her out of commission for a day or two. She’ll be all hearty and hale again after that.’ Against her will, she felt herself pushed down onto the satori and she hastily looked away in panic as her gaze fell across the bloodied head. The closed eyes almost echoed their accusation of impending murder at her. Yukari’s voice floated down to her in a soft placating tone as the gap demon gently guided her hands into position, almost like a mother comforting her distraught child, ‘She’s bound to trash around a bit but just hold her down like this and keep your eyes away. Make sure her arms are clear of us when the shock wakes her; I’ll handle the rest.’

Desperately, she tried to shut out the noises around her as Murasa reluctantly complied. She forced her mind to drift to a happier place, thinking of the lighter days of her past in the airship with the others before the rustling of dead forest litter spoke of Yukari bending into a half-kneel. Once more, she tried to detach herself from the reality of the murder they were about to commit, mentally reciting the litany of prayers she had been taught in an attempt to shut out the impending muffle of the satori’s screams as their captive endured the numerous staking she would undoubtedly receive before finally expiring. The slight fluttering of Yukari’s sleeve as a random breeze tore at it told her the stake was now lifted, ready to take its first plunge into the still-heaving chest she could feel beneath her arm.

That would be her breaking point. Unable to endure the burden any longer, Murasa lashed out with her arm and intercepted her companion’s descending blow, liquid smooth with strength born from her conviction. Hand locked on the Phantasmal Sunshower’s arm, their eyes met as well. Momentary surprise gave way for confusion before the glare she received turned frigid. ‘What-‘ was all her companion could utter before Murasa broke out in a short babble.

‘I can’t let you do this! Not you, not me,’ she started desperately, fighting against her hold being shaken loose. ‘This goes against all of Byakuren’s teachings, my involvements implicit or not. I can’t just watch and let you kill the satori.’

Yukari ripped her arm free of Murasa’s grip before flinging the stake away in disgust, throwing her arms wide in a gesture betraying both anger and frustration. ‘What are you, some kind of a part-time moralist all of a sudden!? ’

‘No. Just someone with a conscience,’ she whispered back calmly. In the ensuing silence of their conflict, Murasa returned to her feet amidst the distasteful looks Yukari darted her way for all of five seconds before the fuming figure forced herself to calm down with visible effort.

Letting loose a resigned grunt, Yukari paced about impatiently before picking one of the innumerable trees to lean against. She was unmistakably deep in thought, but Murasa knew the abrupt calm stealing over the Phantasmal Sunshower was a mere front to disguise her frustration at their derailed plans. Throwing a glance down at the infrequently twitching satori, Murasa finally ventured to break out her suggestion with a shrug, hoping it could placate the Phantasmal Sunshower somewhat. ‘Maybe we could tie her up somewhere…?’

Her companion shot the words down with barely-veiled acid. ‘You think some poorly-woven rope can keep her down? Seriously now?’

‘I guess not,’ Murasa admitted reluctantly before turning back to the satori, dabbing away at the profusely flowing blood streaming from the gash in her head. ‘But killing her won’t help with anything. Look, just leave her with me and go ahead with the meeting.’

The condescending tone in Yukari’s voice was well complemented by her derisive snort at the continual absurdity. ‘And let her wake up, read your head and find out where exactly we’ve been hiding out in? That’s as bad as any idea can get.’

Murasa turned slightly to view the obstinate figure, looking to be somewhat nettled by her attitude. ‘I’m not saying I’m going to watch over her after she wakes up. I can just bring her over to the ruins of the Scarlet Mansion and lock her up in the catacombs or basement. It won’t stop her but it’ll still buy you a good day’s time or so until she manages to break out.’

Despite Murasa’s earnest reassurance, it didn’t look like her companion was anywhere near convinced. ‘Uh-huh. And iron bars would be a better substitute for rope now?’

Running thin on patience herself, Murasa gestured backwards irritably at the source of her annoyance before exclaiming loudly, ‘For Pete’s sake, if that place can keep Flandre Scarlet locked up for five centuries, you could at least have some faith in its reliability regardless of its state now.’

Surprisingly, her sudden outburst struck home. Half expecting a customarily smarmy retort from Yukari, Murasa was met by silence instead. She knew well enough that the Phantasmal Sunshower wouldn’t be so easily convinced but it was evident she was at least weighing the risks of her suggestion now rather than rejecting it outright. Momentarily, she recalled Yukari’s ghastly scars. Her companion obviously still needed or wanted to use her somehow, probably the only reason why Yukari had bothered to consider her suggestion instead of outright stabbing the satori to death by now. Once more, Murasa couldn’t help but wonder how the exasperated figure could lose so much of her purported prowess.

‘Fine, you win,’ Yukari sighed in defeat at last following another lengthy period of silence between them. ‘Dump her in the dungeon and make sure you seal that place up nice. I don’t fancy her returning to the camp prematurely to turn me into a beehive.’ Pushing herself away from the tree, she kicked a measure of the discarded hemp towards Murasa before nodding at the fallen satori. ‘Keep Cupcakes bound while you take her there. If she does wake up before the two of you can get there, you’d have precious time to take her out at least.’

‘I said I’m not killing anybody,’ Murasa grunted back. Nevertheless, she did as she was told, reasoning that the bonds would at least slow their satori down enough for her to execute a pre-emptive head butt in the worst case scenario. ‘You’d better get going before dayglow dies away. Good luck and come back in one piece,’ she muttered half-heartedly as she bent low for their soon-to-be captive.

Slightly distracted by her work in trussing up the satori, Murasa repeated her words once more before looking up to wonder why Yukari hadn’t bothered to reply. The answer came in the form of the forest minus a Phantasmal Sunshower. Shaking her head softly, she heaved the lithe figure up easily and whispered a small prayer for her vanished companion, undoubtedly circling the lion’s den now searching arduously for openings and weaknesses which could be exploited in a pinch.
“I was always a scientist before a man, my faith built on the deep belief that everything which exists always have logical explanations reinforcing their existence. These days I find myself frequently reminded of a quote by an author long gone; that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It rings true for our conundrum now, a tasteless irony that we have to resort to something akin to “magic” in order to save our species after centuries of scientific advancements escalating humans from Neanderthals to dominators of Terra.

My beliefs notwithstanding, progress in our interpretation of the Lemegeton scripts continue to bear fruit. Transitioning archaic knowledge bordering on the esoteric into hard science would require a quantum leap in our understanding of the world, an astounding feat our benefactor seems to have little difficulty in demonstrating time and again. At this rate, the attenuation device could actually be matured from its conceptual phase to a functional prototype in a matter of weeks instead of years.

In that respect, the UEN has finally convened yesterday and the result was unanimous; a historically unprecedented 433 to 0 vote in favour of scrapping the Ignis Arcadia Plan to divert all remaining resources into Project Lemegeton. Good news for us and an expected result I would say; they no longer resemble anything like the leaders of nations they were supposed to be. Nothing more than a bunch of old men and women fearful of the inevitable left grasping at straws. They would sell their own mother at this point.”

- Orwell S. Theimer, Probability Field Development and Advancement

Having survived yet another harrowing session of prodding and goading from her captor, the caged child seemed no less happier at the departure of Iyen-Shuren than she was in the brief period of peace she had been granted. But the two of them knew their respite wouldn’t last long. Trapped in a rut of unsuccessful cold threats and subliminal conditioning, Shou could recognize the signs of growing desperation in her unwanted master’s now-personal attention to the Hakurei. Whatever he required from the Hakurei was obviously eluding him, greatly aggravating Iyen-Shuren in the process. At least in that, Shou could derive a small measure of comfort and satisfaction from seeing the elder blunder about like a headless chicken without a solid plan.

Ensuring none of the elder’s lingering senses remained in the clearing, she threw her caution to the wind and moved over to the sole distinguishing feature of the area, a disjointed mass of interlocked metal bars both keeping the Hakurei in and safely out of anyone’s hands. The occupant seemed to have weathered her latest bout of suffering well, as evident from the brief smile she flashed at Shou during her approach before the child went back to her gloomy game of tossing pebbles against her unyielding prison. A pang of regret tinged with anger ate away at Shou. Her inability to effect any change on the child’s welfare rankled her.

Filth-ridden and heavy with the odour of an unwashed body, her spirit was still good at the very least as Yuhiko remarked to Shou with a brief but humourless grin. ‘He didn’t seem all that calm this time. I guess I’m running out of time, huh?’

Shou didn’t want to think about the vanishing sand in their unseen hourglass, much less the child’s predicament when her time finally ran out. Bending close to the bars, Shou kept her hands away from them with a nervous caution. The last time she had tried to physically force one of the impaled steel bar loose, it had fused much of her hand to the metal before she could rip the rest of her palm away in horror, leaving an ugly viscera of ruined flesh to serve as a reminder not to tamper with the cage. Forcing on a reassuring smile of her own for the child, Shou tried to sound likewise, ‘Don’t say that. We’ll work something out, I promise.’

The dull glaze in Yuhiko’s sweeping glance told Shou just how much she believed that to be possible. Shaking her head, she drew closer to Shou in a small skitter of loose pebbles. ‘It’s nice of you to say that, but you don’t really need to lie to make me feel better.’ In a light shrug, she managed a grin for Shou in a joking lilt, ‘Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe splattering me on False Dawn would fix some of…’ a pause as she waved an arm carelessly to encompass everything, ‘…this.’

Perhaps the words were meant to cheer her up somewhat, but they had the complete opposite effect on Shou as she quickly averted her eyes from the child’s unconcerned gaze. The guilt returned stronger than ever, and she cursed herself in silence before willing for a miracle to happen once more. Losing Yuhiko would complete Shou’s chain of failures, a remissness she did not want to come to pass. Collapsing down into a seated position, she slapped the ground hard in dejected silence.

Noting Shou’s depressed and glum face, Yuhiko cleared her throat slightly before pushing her face and arms through one of the openings in her cage, waving a hand at the figure plunked down before her. ‘Sorry, I just wanted to lighten things up. Didn’t mean to upset you.’

Reaching out to take the child’s hand in her own, Shou could feel a natural smile come about this time. Such small hands, she thought to herself as she found the courage to stare the child in the eyes. The Hakurei did not deserve her ugly fate. More than ever now, she wanted to find the strength to fight against the odds arrayed before her but another part of her recognized her determination as nothing more than a mere pipe dream. She had been locked in a checkmate since the day she was bound to Iyen-Shuren, pawn servant and slave in one convenient package. ‘You have Byakuren’s fire in you,’ Shou spoke briefly as she caressed the child’s forehead carefully, wiping away some of the grime on her messy head.

‘Oh,’ Yuhiko murmured in return before her face scrunched up slightly. ‘What’s that mean?’

Despite their situation, Shou could chuckle at her for a bit. ‘It means you have the spirit to deal with hardship, child.’

She echoed Shou’s chuckle with a short laugh. ‘There you go again, speaking in metaphors. I never really liked her lessons about how stuff is always not supposed to be stuff and water representing the flow of life and all. So dull.’

Her caressing hand fell away as she neared the edge of the iron bars, taking great care not to brush against the black metal as she pulled away lightly. Recalling her younger days with the Buddhist nun, Shou snorted at Yuhiko good-naturedly, ‘To tell the truth, neither did I. There’s only so much boredom one can tolerate in hearing about reincarnations and acts of worldly tolerance being repeated for years.’

Cocking her head sideways, Yuhiko peered at the reminiscing figure, unused to seeing Shou’s cheerier side. ‘But you still loved her.’

‘I did. As did you.’

Her face grew thoughtful, relaxing. The time they had spent together had bonded them well. In each other they had found mutual comfort, a temporary escape from their respective distresses. In some ways, it felt a lot like being a condemned prisoner awaiting her execution who had found a kindred soul to share what little time she had left with. ‘If False Dawn turns normal after he kills me, you should probably just leave that old man. You’d be a lot happier I guess,’ Yuhiko muttered serenely to Shou, apparently far more accepting of her fate now that she had given up on the improbable hope of escaping.

‘No!’ she snapped back at the child urgently, closing both her hands over the Hakurei’s outstretched one in a tender clasp, wanting nothing but to draw her in and reassure her that everything would be fine in the end. The mostly lifeless look Shou had sported almost constantly dispersed in her passionate reassurance as the fires of determination flared in her gaze. ‘You’re not going to die, do you understand? I’ll be damned before I let that happen.’

Yuhiko gave her nothing more than an amiable shrug in response, having resigned herself to the practical rather than the optimistic side of their situation. ‘Thank you, but we both know there’s not much we can accomplish. Don’t waste your life fighting the impossible. I’m sure Byakuren wouldn’t want that as well.’

Her clasp grew earnest, bringing the child’s attention back to a chiding Shou. ‘Why can’t you at least hold onto hope? Your death will solve nothing, girl.’

‘Because maybe Iyen-Shuren’s right? Maybe I could give False Dawn a new lease of life? At this point I’d rather chance the possibility I could make a difference compared to being a burden to people I hardly even know.’ Yuhiko brought her other hand up to rest over Shou’s, feeling a warmth steal over her in their shared hold as she thought back to the night she had been taken away. ‘I’ve already gotten Byakuren and the wanderer killed so far. I don’t want to see the same happen to you.’

‘You don’t seem particularly depressed over the human’s death,’ Shou murmured to her gently, careful not to provoke an emotional response in the child.

‘I don’t know,’ she admitted hesitantly. ‘I’ve seen enough deaths to last several lifetimes now. I just can’t find it in me to grieve for anyone anymore.’

An automatic psychological defence, Shou thought to herself sadly. The child’s words may seem indifferent but the slight wavering in her tone betrayed her true feelings. She knew the child did want to mourn, but the greater part of her had simply shut down the excess of emotions in order to better deal with the more immediate threat of slaughter by Iyen-Shuren’s hands. ‘You’ve grown strong from your time with Byakuren, girl,’ Shou patted Yuhiko’s hands warmly.

‘Well,’ she chuckled softly at Shou’s praise before correcting her with a grin, ‘I sort of got that from someone else actually.’

Yuhiko hadn’t named anyone specific but the implication was obvious to Shou. The child’s temporary guardian had influenced her much before her untimely death, merely one amongst the hundreds of things Shou could only regret losing at this point. The wanderer hadn’t really given Shou any sense of reassurance or confidence in entrusting the Hakurei to her, but a small part of Shou had earnestly hoped the human would grow into the child’s proxy mother with time. It was a moot point now; and that hope had died along with news of the wanderer’s death at any rate.

Momentarily lost in her reverie, Shou had failed to notice the child detaching herself from her clasped hands. Yuhiko hugged the bars with an idle air now, rocking her head slightly in boredom before she queried Shou conversationally, ‘Where will you go after I die? Like, I mean when things go back to normal and that man finally releases you from your shikigami pact someday.’ To Shou, it didn’t look like the child was that concerned when she spoke of her impending death. It was almost like they were having a casual chat about the weather, the food they had eaten yesterday. Mundane, irrelevant and immaterial.

The question caught Shou by surprise. At loss for answers, she realized that she had never really thought about her own future beyond the now and then. Would there be anything left to live for in Gensokyo after all of this? Her servitude was bitter, but it had purpose at least. The thought had her mulling over her predicament momentarily before she shook it away. It wasn’t something she had wanted to consider now, a potentially fatal distraction during the time she needed her mind at its sharpest. Nevertheless, she attempted to answer the question as best she could, hoping it would be a small bit of comfort for the child to indulge in another topic other than her impending doom. ‘Who knows? Look up some old faces or go back to the temple perhaps, though I suppose that wouldn’t be such a good idea with the human-youkai hostilities these days.’

‘Old faces? You mean friends and the like?’

She spoke of their names with some measure of pride and joy, happy herself to be reliving some of the fond memories. ‘Indeed. Good old Minamitsu and her tomboyish antics. Soft-spoken Ichirin’s insightful anecdotes she never fails to deliver. Even Nue, who had mellowed out so much after her days spent above-ground in Gensokyo.’

The hazel eyes drew upwards as she straightened somewhat in surprise. ‘Nue? Nue Houjuu?’

‘The very same one,’ Shou confirmed with a brief smile. ‘I heard about what happened at Eientei and the Komeiji sisters’ intervention. I had always thought her consumed by the chaos from losing our sun. Nue’s return was both a surprise and a fortunate turn of events for you.’

Yuhiko paused briefly in reflection as she took in Shou’s words. ‘I guess. I’d probably be back here a lot earlier if it wasn’t for her help then.’ Breaking out in a short, childish giggle, she went on, ‘Pretty small world we live in after all. I liked your friend Nue. She was cold, but playfully so.’

Shou nudged the child’s cheek teasingly. ‘You should have tried asking her for stories about her younger days. She was the classical example of a youkai in human perceptions.’

‘Do you think the rest of them are still alive?’ she queried at length, having finally worked up the courage to ask Shou and in extension, herself.

Her companion’s response was immediate and far too quick, an all too clear indication her words were meant to comfort instead of reassuring the child. ‘I wouldn’t know about the other human male you spoke of, but the rest would not fall easily. They are after all, very much youkai to begin with.’

Silence fell across the two as their idle talk drifted apart, each returning to their dreary reality with great reluctance. Glancing up at the streaks of orange arrayed against the distant clouds, Shou noted the dispersing dayglow giving way to night’s reign. Another reminder of precious time leeching away. The thought gave her a healthy dose of fear and anxiety. The impending moonflow would come in a matter of days, signifying the Hakurei’s end.
When Murasa had described the region shielding the encampment from sight, I had imagined and even expected more of the infamous rugged landscape of Gensokyo to show its hidden face. As I knelt low to reduce my silhouette against the dying glow from the artificial sun I found myself awe-struck by the spectacle before me. Far below in what was essentially a natural chasm, a rocky outcropping sprouted forth from its western wall, almost a ledge half the size of the human village bursting with local flora. The opposing walls of the chasm narrowed considerably from bottom to top, greatly camouflaging the split in the earth from cursory aerial inspections. At the base of the stomach lurching drop, a river coursing through the geological oddity gave the illusion of stillness from the distance it was viewed from. Condensed water vapour from the churning serpent gave rise to columns of mist on all sides of the walls, providing an ethereal feel to the entire place. It would have been a pretty sight to enjoy in another lifetime ago.

Once more touched by my phobia I felt my guts tighten at the sight of the far-distant river and the considerable drop to reach it. Thankfully, I needed no additional prompting to pull away from the precipice. I had already seen everything which was of any importance and value thus far, limited information but something usable at the very least. Somewhat grudgingly, I found myself applauding Murasa’s efforts in being able to sniff out the three-armed freak’s sanctuary, doubtless due in no small part to her cartographic skills. Anyone else would simply have overlooked the uneven terrain and missed out the well-hidden chasm amidst the network of undercut cliffs strewn all around.

The better part of dusk I had spent pacing up and down the edge of the chasm, determined to make full use of whatever dayglow was left to map out possible escape routes from the elder’s sanctuary. Having Cupcakes alone as insurance would never be enough to reassure me; I needed secondary plans to fall back to should things turn out ugly with the tea party. In terms of a way down it necessitated no practical consideration. There was only one path leading to the ledge, one I had picked out during my earlier observations. My only problem now was just as Murasa had candidly put it the night before; getting my ass out of the lion’s den in one piece regardless of my proverbial ace in the hole.

Growing slightly nervous as the light of day gradually took leave, I plunked down on a slab of rock overlooking the chasm before extracting the shabby length of blade I had used to construct Cupcakes’ welcoming surprise earlier. The article was Flynn’s makeshift racing knife before I had appropriated it without his knowledge. It was a comfort to realize that I was still quite the kleptomaniac even now, one thought which continued to remind me who I really was underneath the golden wonder’s skin. Though almost worthless in terms of self defence, it would serve me far better as my only means of doing bodily harm than it did Flynn as a shipbuilding tool.

Time seemed to flow at a far slower rate now that I was patiently awaiting nightfall, tense and nerve-wracking hours which drifted by at their own leisurely pace along with the shift in ambient noise as the nocturnal fauna hailed the arrival of twilight. Huddled against the rapidly cooling rock with nothing but the clammy humidity as my companion, I wanted nothing more than to go somewhere far more comfortable than this damp, bone-aching hell-hole. At this point in time I had grown heartily tired of jungle trekking and trees in general. Even the decaying remnants of concrete ruins and permanent daytime in the outer world seemed far more preferable to the insufferable forests of Gensokyo. Misery notwithstanding, the uneventful wait still gave me plenty of opportunity to reflect on every aspect of the upcoming confrontation at length.

Fighting against my need to fidget about nervously, I tried to put up a far more presentable image as befit of the golden wonder. Since my time in the underground city all the way up till now I had completely neglected on even the remotest semblance of personal hygiene and presentation. A heavy musk wafted forth from Yukari’s unwashed body, something I couldn’t deal with presently but I hoped the smell would be the least noticeable thing to the elder. I tried to straighten out and comb through much of her hair using nothing but my fingers with aggravating difficulty, now a tangled mess from my time spent sleeping and bushwhacking. Of my gaudy clothes there was even less I could do except hope for the best. All in all, it didn’t seem like imitating Yukari’s charms in front of the elder would work out well at all, not with the fact that I looked far more like a hobo than the legendary gap demon. Silently, I wondered to myself if Ran would kill me for neglecting her master’s body this much.

Gradually, yellow flickers of light shone through the dense, green canopy on the ledge below. It was a clear sign that the congregation of youkai nestled there was coming to life as night took over from day. Slightly curious, I tried to access Yukari’s extended senses once more despite the head-splitting headaches it gave me every single time I inadvertently triggered episodes of it. Experimentally, I reached out with a thought, trying to touch the encampment below to see if the three-armed freak’s presence was there tonight as I waited in trepidation for the wave of agony that was sure to follow.

Nothing. Rubbing my scalp in puzzlement I wondered about it momentarily. Maybe it didn’t really function like that.

Relieved at being spared the anticipated pain but somewhat disappointed that it didn’t work as well, I discarded the fruitless attempt before vaulting over the slab of rock to better hide myself, awaiting the inevitable outflow of inhuman creatures from the hidden campsite. They did not disappoint. Drawn towards the lure of night, numerous insubstantial shapes both drifted and crawled up from the ledge to indulge themselves in their new day. A few chose to take the sole path leading up and down the ledge. The number of silhouettes in their temporary exodus suggested to me that tonight wouldn’t be one of the nights the elder hosted the rallying sessions Ice Cubes had described to me. More good news to me; that would imply less possible threats to deal with when I stupidly marched straight into the three-armed freak’s humble abode later. I gave myself a mental slap for bringing it up again before going back to my quiet observation.

In time the stream of migrating silhouettes finally petered out. As the last of the indistinguishable youkai merged back into the darkness of the forest all around, I spent more time than I had planned on doing there, huddled behind the rock and fighting the temptation to go back to the village to rethink my course of action. The incessant buzzing of mosquitoes and nightlife offered no insights or support whatsoever in that respect. Abruptly, I darted several glances at the ledge before returning to my feet in a sweeping move, tossing caution to the night wind with a low grunt. I would waste time regretting whatever mistake to come from this debacle later.

The presumably short walk down to the broad ledge wasn’t as short as I thought it would be. From my earlier vantage point it had seemed no longer than a three quarter of a mile but now that I was traversing it, the distance had seemingly multiplied threefold. A trick of the mind perhaps? Optical illusion or mere youkai trickery? My new height? I had no way of telling and finding out the reason behind it wouldn’t make the walk go any faster.

Constantly, I had to worry if another one of the camp’s inhabitants would make its way up the path and come across my solitary march, thinking about what they would do to me until it occurred to me that I wasn’t really my old self anymore. Discovery would be a far more inconsequential issue at this point; no lone youkai in its right mind would want to tangle with the golden wonder even if they had found her presence unwelcome. Recalling the events underground and my time in the fringes of the camp with the juveniles and ferals reinforced that belief. It was a small but reassuring thing to know I held the illusion of power regardless.

At long last I found myself standing on even ground instead of having to deal any further with the steep declining pathway, somewhat grateful to be spared any further hiking down the cumbersome trail. Hesitant and unsure for the first time from what seemed to be lifetimes ago in a far-removed body, I took slow steps through a natural archway formed by two trees joined into one some distance above, warily scanning the darkened interior between the abundant trees growing recklessly throughout the ledge. Guttural voices filtered past the innumerable growths, punctuated by an occasional hoarse laugh or a boisterous shout from somewhere. Amidst a rising fear I struggled to squelch, I realized too late that the camp wasn’t quite as empty as it should have been. There were some stragglers left behind; guards perhaps or merely some lazy youkai lounging about.

Such as the disembodied head hanging upside down in front of me, staring at me pensively before I could begin moving into the cover of the nearby trees.

I barely had room to think; my body had reacted almost instinctually from the sudden appearance of what I recognized to be a distant offshoot of the tsurube-otoshi, freaks of nature with prehensile necks. Drawing the racing knife out, I dropped into a quick lunge and launched myself directly into its elongated neck before it could do anything to alert the camp. The look of what appeared to have been surprise on the creature’s face drew into a quick pained rictus as I tore the rest of its body down from its perch somewhere in the canopy to the ground in a rain of broken branches. Entangled together with the creature, I fought momentarily against its trashing for some space to work my arm. Before it could howl out a warning or a protest of pain, I had drawn the carving tool twice across the soft flesh of its neck. Still pinned and trashing the thing stared at me with an unfathomable expression, eventually growing feebler by the second. Twitching and gurgling quietly as it drowned in its own blood, the nameless youkai was unable to utter its last words with his voice box and trachea sliced open to the cool night air.

Getting back to my feet did little except to bring me down again as I doubled over in a retch. Beyond my control, Yukari’s body went into a quick convulsion before a tide of vomit exploded forth from our shared mouth. I spent the next several seconds puking my guts out, uncomprehending as to why I was undergoing such a reaction. I could only assume that it was a response on her part to the brutal murder of the unnamed creature, unused to my casual disregard for such things. Trying to ease up on the retching, I pulled the rest of the lifeless corpse and nudged it into some bushes before leaning against a tree, both to catch my breath and stay in cover. Somewhat uneasily, I pondered briefly as to what had just transpired as I wiped away traces of bile from my mouth. Yukari’s body had reacted to the killing, implying that the golden wonder was perhaps not quite as gone as I thought her to be after all.

Just another mystery I would have to work out in due time, I muttered silently as I rubbed the wet blade against the tree before rotating it under my palm with a flip.

Forcing deep breaths, I kept low for a minute or so to ensure I had nothing left to expel before slipping through under the cover of shadows, tree to tree. A part of me inside held a satisfied air knowing the killing instinct hadn’t dulled with my bodily transition, but an equal part was strangely nauseated and disgusted by the ambivalent indifference in which I had taken a life. More thoughts I would shove into a corner of my mind as I drew closer to what appeared to be the heart of the camp. I played the part of a ghost, taking darting steps as I tried to stay hidden while keeping a cautious eye out for any additional unwanted surprises hanging in the canopy above. Despite the risk of discovery, I wanted to make full use of my infiltration. There would be no second opportunity to poke about the elder’s sanctuary like the one I had now.

Melding and moving about in the darkness wouldn’t have been too taxing a physical effort if I was in any semblance of a good shape, which I wasn’t, regrettably. Nevertheless, I managed to keep a low profile as I slipped past assorted groups of inhuman beings who were none the wiser to my presence. Immaculately combing through the forested ledge, I was no closer to finding Short Stuff’s accommodations than I was back underground, a growing frustration which continually pushed me to the edge of reason amidst the strain of remaining cool and calm. At length I had probed the entirety of the campsite fruitlessly, failing to turn up anything in my stealthy search and almost bumbling headlong into a group of youkai on one occasion, a near-fatal mistake I had obstinately cursed under my breath. I knew well enough my chances on taking on an entire group of them were slim to none.

Pausing briefly at the other end of the ledge, I stopped to consider my options. The elder had apparently decided not to keep his valuable prize so close to where he perpetually spent most of his time, admittedly a wise decision on his part. Unfortunately, it only made my life even more difficult than it already was. There was now no other option than to chance meeting him in person in order to get him to reveal where Short Stuff was, a confrontation I wasn’t keen on having in the first place. It was now two hours before midnight. Unexpectedly, I found myself worrying over Murasa as I moved back to the middle of the forested ledge, hoping she would be able to come through with her promise. If Cupcakes somehow escaped her and made it back tonight, it was essentially checkmate for me, an ignominious end to my remaining escapade in Gensokyo.

This time, I was able to proceed relatively unmolested as I slid up to a final line of trees ringing the sizable clearing I had slipped past much earlier at where the centre of activity in the elder’s sanctuary would most likely be. The open area beyond my hiding spot was a huge contrast to the rest of the camp so far, a pavilion of some sort with numerous blocks of earth raised straight from the ground. Off the centre of the pavilion a single elevated platform sat against a backdrop of trees, supported by a wall of solid rock towering behind it. All around a few groups of Gensokyo’s atypical youkai huddled together exchanging banter, caught up in their own little worlds. Almost immediately, I felt my attention drawn to the single hunched figure seated cross-legged on the platform as I roamed my gaze over the clearing. Leaning out slightly to peer at the unmoving statue, I could make out the trademark stump along with his three other arms.

My old friend from Moriya shrine.

Heart hammering hard in my chest, I fingered the racing knife nervously as I drew back into cover, mentally bracing myself for what I was about to pull. Drawing another deep breath to calm myself and keep my head clear to ensure he wouldn’t be able to blatantly read me and my adventures with the jolly little doorman I had murdered earlier, I stepped out into the light and broke through the shrubs with steps radiating confidence of the false sort.

True to their nature the disparate groups of freaks automatically sprang up from the sight of my intrusion. Several hung back uncertainly as the rest drew closer warily, snapping an occasional grunt or bark in my direction. I kept my eyes on the raised dais ahead as I marched towards it, not bothering to spare the creatures gradually hemming in on me even a cursory glance in my faked bravado. Fervently praying they wouldn’t be able to smell my fear or hear the thumping racket in my chest, I closed my hand over the racing knife furtively as I hid it from their view, the only thing protecting me from death by dismemberment if the still-seated elder ahead let the mob spring onto me.

Moving closer to the earthen platform, I could make out another solid shadow standing close to the edge of the dais, partially hidden in the darkness unreachable by the few bonfires blazing in the clearing. It stirred sharply at the sight of me and took one step into the light, instantly illuminating the all too familiar features of the same youkai I had asked to stick a sharpened pole into me weeks ago. Murasa’s playmate, Shou. A ripple of expressions ran through her otherwise stony face as she stared at me, eyes almost glowing with life. A flicker of hope? I couldn’t tell for certain what it had been, but it was there before her expressionless mask returned. Next to her, the elder remained stone-like, seemingly oblivious to my presence.

Inactivity on the three-armed freak’s part notwithstanding, most of the youkai ringing me had stopped short of reaching me, perhaps still wary about going anywhere near the golden wonder. As weakened as most youkai were today, Yukari would still be widely regarded as a force to be reckoned with by the locals. Their confidence may spring from having Three Arms in close proximity to them but their common sense still held equal rule in their fear of Gensokyo’s elder youkai. Taking one final step towards the platform, I stopped and stood straight to regard Three Arms followed with a brief glance at Shou. Around and behind me, his motley party of freaks backed off considerably as the elder finally opened his eyes.

Outwardly, he exhibited no signs of surprise but I could tell from the quick wavering in his gaze that he had been caught off guard, momentarily unable to deal with my unexpected and unannounced intrusion. Indecision regardless he finally stood, threw all three arms and a wrinkled stump wide before allowing a smile to steal across his face.

‘Welcome, scion of the Grand Boundary.’
talk about a cliffhanger.
especially considering we will wait another 20 days for an update...
Looking forward, as always, to more!

Also, what's a "racing knife"?
oh god he knows oh man why would you do this IT WAS SO GOOD BUT I WANT MORE.
awesome stuff

>Also, what's a "racing knife"?

a race knife, apparently used for shipbuilding
so this

Otherwise, an awesome update!

I honestly do not know why I decided to go with that image.
>I needed secondary plans to fall back to should things turn out ugly with the tea party.
Also, nice cliffhanger, dude.
>>Also, what's a "racing knife"?
Oh good, someone's going to answ--

>a race knife

You do not define a thing by restating its name in a slightly different way.
>You do not define a thing by restating its name in a slightly different way.

Did you miss the part about being a shipbuilding tool entirely?

'Racing knife' is a typo. 'Race knife' is a word. And once you know you have a word, you're pretty solidly in the the territory of Just Fucking Google It.

If a man starts throwing around 'rerod' in the context of construction equipment, and you ask out loud 'what the fuck is a rerod?' I can answer 'hey guy, he probably meant rebar'. Now if you then go on to demand that this isn't enough of an explanation, then I get to ask you 'what the fuck you are doing on a construction site without a hard-hat?'

I can't help but feel your metaphor ran away from you a bit there.
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My apologies for the slip-up. It's been years since I last used the words.

In retrospect, maybe I should have gone with "sharp, pointy object" instead of a race knife.
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Just to piss off >>5071 , this is allegedly a race knife.
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I can't believe you deleted everythiiiiing
Let's hope he can remember enough possibly by rereading.
Knowing that it wasn't some accident makes it worse. I went on a table-flipping spree at my local Starbucks before randomly punching people there to let loose some steam.

Well, not really. But I raged. Hard.

Thanks for those who had suggested data recovery applications. Unfortunately, I performed a low-level format on the HDD of the old laptop precisely because I didn't want all the unneeded junk I had left on it to be recoverable by someone else using such utilities. Being the idiot I am, I had failed to extract my accumulated writan materials from said junk. I pretty much dug my own hole this time.

The general picture is still more or less in my head as someone had said, but it's not enough to get back on track. It's like losing the metaphorical photo album of people we loved who had passed on. We won't remember all the details in it, especially the ones we need the most. Weird analogy, I know.
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b-b-b-but you'll still update this right
Try to reread this and see if the gaps are filled in. I'd hate to see this story die after so long.

And next time try to save your story stuff on a USB in addition to the hard drive. That or used an online storage place.

Or you could give a copy of all your new notes to me! Just joking, of course

But man, one way or the other...if you decide to try and recover/remember Palingenesia; if you decide to focus on the new story (ISTH; interesing choice of letters); even if it takes you a long time for any of the two, don't worry man. We will wait/read.
>if you decide to focus on the new story
>We will read.
speak for yourself

Don't lie, buddy. YOu know you will read it. It has the Palfag Seal of Quality, you know it will be good.
>You know you will read it.

Sure, when palingensia is finished

I want to ask you why you are being such a dick, but nothing good will come from arguing over the internet. You do whatever you want. Just don't fag any thread up.
I've invested too much work to chuck Palingenesia away, but at the same time it does take effort to get back on track, so no, I'm planning on coming back to this once I've overcome the loathing over myself reorganized my thoughts.

And yes, I've read the replies in the other thread. Can't say I'm not exactly dejected, but it's ultimately the reader's choice to give this up or not. A writefag amounts to nothing without readers, after all. As usual, I'll leave it up to you people.

Feel free to toss the rotten tomatoes now!
Very hooray!
the problem isn't readers giving up on this; but if anything readers not bothering with your second work due to the perceived giving up on your end.
That had crossed my mind, so I suppose I'll try to make some things clear for those in doubt. <ISTH> is meant to be something written out to pass time at work instead of a considerably invested effort like Palingenesia. It was never intended to be a replacement for Palingenesia, it's merely a byproduct of boredom and restlessness during long meetings or consultations.

All the same, it's pointless to try and justify my direction because people would read whatever catches their fancy at arbitrary times. I'm just here to try and make sure those that happened to pass through have a somewhat enjoyable reading experience when they do.
You want opinions of your readers? this is mine:
I realy like to see this story ending.
In the beggining I don't like it and see me now, i'm a complete fangirl who never gonna lost the hope to see this finished.
I have fun with your other story, true, I want to translate it too, but this comes first, this one, is the ONE.
And if you decide to continue this, I'll be waiting warmly.
But after all, you have the last word and if you decide to stop here, I'm going to respect that decision, you will never lost this reader, no matter what happen.
PD: sorry if the english is a bit bad.
>people would read whatever catches their fancy at arbitrary times
...It's not like we're a chaotic mass with constantly changing tastes, and what we like today may be hated tomorrow. We might learn to like new things, but we don't get tired of the old things.

If you write more Palingenesia, we'll be reading it, believe you me.
The facts you have fans that would want you so much never to give up on this speaks alot. This isn't so much CYOA but novel
I don't care what you write, just as long as you write, man.
Good to hear that. Out of curiosity, what language are you planning on translating to?

Hmm yeah, my bad for over-generalizing. I tend to stereotype audiences based on observable trends in other places; a bad habit I need to learn to kick someday.

No real updates as of yet. I've been juggling with some stuff IRL but at the same time I've been thinking "Oh hell, why not just try to pick up from where I left off? Screw the lost groundwork."

Can't make any promises, but I'll be getting back on track nevertheless.
Thank you Pal-anon.

Tears of joy are flowing.
Great! that's a very good new.
About the translations. It's in spanish, my home language. It's simple another way of enjoy the story. It's a exercise more than anything else and another way to have fun with it.
I hope to have the "first book" and the "second one" for september. I'll keep the translation for myself, unless you say otherwise, so don't worry.
See you next time in a cibercafe.
Hooray!! I'm reallt happy you decided to try to continue Palingenesia, though I do feel a bit sad SPTH will be paused, if not discontinued, for that. Both stories are great, and SPTH has an interessing plot too.
All of these say what I want to say and express, right now.

Especially >>5177.
I finally caught up with this story after being distracted with real life stuff for a while (Stopped reading just after the battle where Reiji died) I have to say that I'm disheartened with the whole situation but I'm very glad that you're going to continue Palingenesia.

Rock on.
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We must await the day until it returns. And then that day will be glorious.

Happy, Madine? Now we have nothing.
yes it's completely his fault!!
Bump to keep this where everybody can see it.
Hi, I'm new here. Loved SA, love post-apocalyptic stories, so when I found a post-apocalypse story in Underground I had to stop everything and read it from the beginning. Confusing enough to make me feel smart for getting most of it, and Satori taking an RPG to the face in the Eientei encounter was just plain awesome.

One quick nitpick for the last update: "tsurube-otoshi" is Kisume's species, the bucket-dropping youkai. The youkai with the extending neck is called "rokurokubi" on Wikipedia (not known for accuracy).

God damn you I thought there was an update.

Also,LURK MOAR! Post when it is appropriate, not as a necro.
How ironic, we don't say that around here.

However, I also thought it was an update, goddamnit. I check /underground/ everyday to see if Palingenesia has been updated. ;_;
Have the decency to sage your posts then, you dipshit.

It's unsaid but understood rule of all image boards.
Can we get a status update? Please.
y-you monster, toying with a maiden's heart like that. ;_;
just caught up, this is an awesome story

1.) Don't use a name when posting unless it's a story post.

2.) Fuck you for making me think this was back up and running

Why do you bring tears to my heart? I too thought that this story had somehow updated. Now, I am only in pain. The good stories never last...
>Italics, to signify he is "special"
>Bumping this thread. This fucking thread.

I had a smile on my face when I saw this being bumped. A large, content smile, signifying that everything was right in the world. It was wiped clean off my face when I saw your fucking post. Fuck you.
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Well, shit.
Another bump, another disappointment.
I'll never give up hope.
Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
I wish this would come back...
Forever unupdated.
Why did I have to read this?.

Waiting warmly in despair.
>2~ years since the last update and still wating warmly in despair
Just give it up kid, you're gonna have to carry that weight. I-it's not like I just checked back to see if there was anything new posted here at all in desperation, or anything! B-baka!
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