- [Settings] [Home
[Show or hide post box]

[Return] [Entire Thread] [Last 50 posts] [First 100 posts] [Bottom]
Posting mode: Reply
Name
Email
Subject   (Reply to 29430)
Message
File
Password  (for post and file deletion)
  • First time posting? See our frontpage for site rules and FAQ
  • Further overview of board culture in this thread.
  • Supported file types are: GIF, JPG, PNG, WEBM
  • Maximum file size allowed is 4096 KB.
  • Images greater than 200x200 pixels will be thumbnailed.
  • View catalog

File 144641223565.gif - (52.08KB, 374x807, humanised koyomi.gif) [iqdb]
29430 No. 29430
The window didn't make much sound beyond a patter when I drummed on it, like unsteady rain. My gloves, besides being a showy part of the uniform, were good at dampening those sounds. It still would have annoyed anyone around -- if I wasn't the only one in that lonely sweatbox of a patrol station. As it was, I was free to drum away, ready to slide the window open if somebody did show up. If only I'd brought a book.

My ears drooped as I gave a sigh. Half a bloody week since I received orders to report to my new outpost. Nevermind that I lived in a settlement on one of the furthest (and cheapest) peaks. No, Koyomi, you're needed for the "good of Tengu Society". That's why I joined up with the guard officially out of academy, of course. My definition of doing good for society, however, must have been different from theirs.

You see, while this merry band of castoffs that I belonged to was officially called the Mountain Outpost Peacekeepers, meant as a way for the higher-ups to maintain a certain presence in what would otherwise be the outlands, we were functionally little more than a tourist information booth. Not a decade ago, this whole area was an unfarmable mess. Now it was a gathering spot for humans and youkai alike. We barely had any jurisdiction over the place, considering it was between us, the kappa, and the humans in terms of territory, and that was probably what made it popular. Any political fallout from our actions, and we'd be without recourse; angry humans and kappa breaking down our doors wasn't something we really wanted to deal with. That's why our everyday role was a safe one: finding and returning lost property, giving directions, promoting businesses by distributing fliers and vouchers, picking up trash...

I wasn't fond of it, but I could do it. The part that chafed me most was the short notice, which left me without much time to find a place to sleep or store my belongings, which were still in a shed back on the furthest peak.

One thing to know about this outpost is that few people lived here. From the constant stream of faces that you could see every night, it may have not seem that way, but this was essentially an entertainment quarter. Merchants, restauranteurs, craftspeople, thieves, ladies of the night, and those that they catered to -- all of them came in during the night time and left by daybreak. It was a relatively new development besides.

So there I sat, not even a fan to cool myself with, staring out the window that no one was appearing at. To add to the misery of the heat, my stomach complained at me. Boredom made me hungry. I eyed the culinary guide sitting on the counter. In lieu of better reading material, I'd brought it to leaf through to give me an idea of the sorts of hidden gems this outpost might hide. It'd only make me hungrier, but maybe I could at least get an idea of what to get after my shift.

Just as I reached for the dog-eared magazine, there was a tapping on glass. My ears stood on end. It wasn't the sound of gloved fingers. Peeking through the closed window, I saw a blur of pink and a raised hand still touching the glass.

I jumped to my feet and slid the window open with a hasty salute. "Y-Yes? How can I help you?"

I opened my eyes to see that I was talking to the outstretched hand. Poking my head out the window, I could actually see its owner. A pink-haired girl with a Noh mask on her head was staring up at me with very bored eyes, her face almost a mask itself.

"I lost one," the girl said. Even seeing me there, she poked me on the nose with her hand. I grabbed it and put her arm down.

"Er, one what, exactly?"

A pair of masks materialised behind her, a kitsune and a monkey, wreathed in a ghostly glow. Even in my short time at the outpost, I'd seen some strange things. I was almost foolish enough to think I'd seen most of what there was to see. This was a new one, though. I wondered for a moment if this wasn't part of some new urban legend that just spread around. My coworkers loved them, awful gossips that they were.

The girl pointed to the masks. "I counted them, so I know one's missing. You can help me find it, right?"

"One moment, please."

I shut the window and strolled over to the cabinet that served as our lost-and-found. Nothing but a couple of unclaimed wallets and stacks upon stacks of fliers that we had yet to distribute. That explained why Sumida's shifts were so short. I slammed it shut and went back to the girl.

"I'm very sorry, but we don't have anything like that in our lost-and-found, so..."

Her eyes narrowed at me. "That's not what I asked. For a wolf tengu, your ears don't work very well. Are they broken?"

I had to force my ears not to flatten out, putting on the best smile I could. "I assure you, miss, they work fine."

"Oh, so you're just dense. Okay." The corner of her mouth bent up in a weird imitation of a smirk. "Let me say it again: You--" She pointed at me. "--can help me--" She pointed to herself. "--find my missing mask, right?"

My left ear twitched. No, Koyomi, don't throw your career away this early!

I stepped back from the window, massaging my temples and taking deep breaths. This was the last thing I needed. The heat and my empty stomach were already getting to me. Any more and I might have burst through the roof flying back home, duties be damned. I shook my head.

Getting flighty wasn't going to do me any good, nor was it going to make me any less hungry. Much the opposite, the sooner I helped this girl, the sooner I'd be rid of her. I nodded to myself. Yes, I needed to take a more proactive approach. Get this day over with as soon as possible.

I poked my head back out the window. "Alright. I can't be gone long, but I guess I can at least help look. No promises on finding it, though."

The girl clucked her tongue, making a displeased face.

I rifled through the drawers to find the "Please come back later" sign, hung it on the door, and stepped outside into the searing brightness of day. This wasn't going to be pleasant at all, but I was going to make it short. Then I could... do whatever. After getting something to eat.

"So," I said, turning to the mask girl, "when did you last see this mask?"

"Last night. I was putting on a play over there." She pointed to the empty square in front of the station.

For once, maybe the day shift had its benefits. "And what did you do after that?"

"I don't remember. That's why I need help looking."

I groaned. "Great."

So she was leaving me to shoulder the entire search. No leads and probably no real assistance. I needed to think quick. What would be the most likely place for missing items to end up? Given our current situation, I was limited to the area of the outpost. I muttered a silent prayer to Tenma that this wouldn't drag on into the night.

[ ] Put on your patient face and ask the night shift. Surely, they might remember the play.
[ ] Check the restaurants and inns around the 'theatre' -- and maybe grab a snack while you're at it.
[ ] Just wander around and hope this weird woman gets bored and gives up.

-------------

>>/gensokyo/13978

I wasn't really planning to, but I'm participating in the November storyfest. Let's see how long I last.
163posts omitted. Last 50 shown. Expand all images
>> No. 30094
That's a lot to read before the next voting opportunity. Especially in the context of a mystery-esque setting where small details or inconsistencies might be important.
>> No. 30095
>>30094
Think of the votes like coming to a fork in the road. One path sends you down a straight road that eventually winds around. The other sends you on a twisting and careening journey with some amazing views, and eventually winds around as well. From the fork in the road, you might worry that taking either route might diverge greatly from the other, possibly taking you away from where you want to be, and that could be the case in many instances. However, in this case, though they may look like they diverge, the roads will eventually meet back up somewhere.

In much the same way, the idea here is that Koyomi is the one solving the mystery. Our (that is, your) choices control how she chooses to do that -- and the resulting shenanigans. Otherwise, the mystery will be solved in some fashion. If it seems like I'm overloading you with information, it's only because I'm trying to point you at a particular vista, as it were.

So, don't worry too much and enjoy the view.
>> No. 30096
File 150530479379.jpg - (180.21KB, 807x800, Crappily drawn Koyomi.jpg) [iqdb]
30096
So I drew this thing.
>> No. 30097
>>30096
Oh, shit, nice. The funny thing is that I was considering trying to produce some character art myself, but, uh... well, I can't draw at all, so that wasn't happening. Seriously, that's better than what I could produce. Good on you.
>> No. 30098
>>30096

You've perfectly captured Koyomi's "I wish I could just say 'fuck this and fuck you'" expression
>> No. 30101
File 150576035767.jpg - (197.93KB, 850x1133, meonbottomwhenthefamisinvolved.jpg) [iqdb]
30101
I didn't want to do this, but I figured I might as well give a head's-up. Last minute family plans are dragging me out of town by my ear, so part two of the update is going to be delayed a bit more. Best effort estimation for a finished update is late this weekend.

Your patience is appreciated.
>> No. 30114
File 150630467171.jpg - (446.12KB, 2048x1365, whatspillsoutofkoyomispockets.jpg) [iqdb]
30114
This was the part I had been dreading most since before I took a single step away from HQ. Every attractive bargain came with some drawback. For instance, my apartment was ‘free’, but I was one of the few permanent inhabitants, crammed into a room by bureaucratic decree. Though the manager-cum-owner was civil, I was more of nuisance than anything, taking up space that would be better used lent to short-term visitors. My reward for this dubious achievement was having to hear all sorts of unmentionable sounds coming from all corners of the block. I felt much the same being there in the soba shop.

Karen had been nothing short of accommodating, but I could tell it was to one end: prying privileged information out of me. Every morsel of soba was kneaded and massaged with her hands for that purpose alone, and her every expectation was that I would oblige her in return. Of course, this thought had been furthest from my mind as I ate. Now that I was at least fed, and not beholden to my belly’s demands for the moment, the reality of it all had slowly seeped in.

I sat ramrod straight in my seat, eyes trained on Karen as she hook a leg over the counter. My ears stood erect, my tail laid down in back. I had adopted the classic formal seated pose of the academy, in short. That was the only way I knew to steel myself for what I had to do. Even so, I had to swallow my tension as Karen finally sat on the neighbouring stool, facing me eye-to-eye, my wolf sensibilities telling me it was aggression even when I knew it was attentiveness.

A moment passed in silence with Karen’s attention remaining unwavering. When it became obvious that I wasn’t going to speak first, she smiled nervously. “So, uh, I think you said something about facts?”

“Yes,” I said, my ear twitching, “I did, didn’t it? Pardon.”

Digging in my pocket, I found the notebook I’d got at the start of training, partially filled with notes I’d yet to consult, along with a pen. Karen seemed to be fidgeting in her seat as I flipped through the notebook and found a blank page. I set it and the pen down on the counter and jumped from my seat to give a steady, professional bow, holding my hat abreast.

“While it’s a bit late, I ought to formally introduce myself. My name is Iwabori Koyomi, Officer of the Amaden Mountain Outpost Peacekeepers, Junior Patrolwoman, Fifteenth District. As a servant of the public, I vow to help how I can.” I squared my hat as I sat back down.

Karen broke into giggles at my introduction, only catching herself when she noticed I didn’t share her amusement, at which point she bowed from her seat. As an afterthought, she reached up to undo her kerchief. Her earthen hair spilled free with a gentle shake of her head, falling down around her shoulders. With the way it framed her face, the freckles on her cheek, like flecks of buckwheat, stood out a little more. More than that, there was a greater sense of youth in her face; thoughts of my sister bit at the back of my mind.

“Beg your pardon,” she said, flashing a smile while smoothing her hair out. The stool creaked a little as she sat up to give me her full attention. “You already know this, but I’m Karen. Tomari Karen, if you need my whole name. Pleased to meet you. Again.”

My ears twitched again. Reminiscing would have to wait until later. “Likewise. Now, let’s start from the beginning. Would you mind talking about your reports? I’d like to hear about the circumstances around them.”

Karen leaned forward. “I’m sorry?”

“In other words, the story of this crime. What exactly happened, Miss Tomari? That’s what I’m asking.”

“The file should have everything, shouldn’t it?”

“The most general facts, yes.” Somewhere deep in my gut, a knot was forming under growing tension. I tried to keep any trace of impatience out of my voice. Pushing things along was a matter of picking my words carefully. “For instance, you testified that something was stolen from your father. That much I’m clear on. But a second-hand statement only goes so far. Especially when there are still some points left unclear.”

For a moment, I almost thought that Karen had stopped responding altogether. Her eyes were still trained on me, but she had gone still, no sign that my words had reached her. It was only when her eyebrows made the slightest movement, sliding closer together, that I knew she was still with me.

“I’m not sure I get what you’re implying,” she said, her voice shifting up a fraction, a subtle notion of disbelief coating her words. It was far from an explosive reaction, but the same danger lurked underneath.

“What I’ve seen suggests you’ve reported your father dead by foul play. If you could explain that a bit furth—”

The tension in the air was cut apart by a horrendous noise, like soup slurped from an empty bowl. Its source was obvious enough but I turned to look anyway.

Not a foot away, Kokoro and Hinawa were hunkered down over the table, their faces practically buried in their baskets of noodles. Their chopsticks raced up and down, carrying unbroken chains of soba straight into their mouths, their mouths too busy to allow more than a quick gasp for air every few seconds. The air around them was a storm of heavy nose-breathing. Kokoro’s eyes shimmered, the normal dull pink brightened by some spark. It was the look of competition in her eyes.

Hinawa looked to be less involved in their little race. Despite putting up the appearance of keeping pace with Kokoro, the lack of green onions and seaweed dotting her face, not to mention the fact that she was chewing her food, made it clear she was purposefully lagging. I even noticed the slightest trace of smile aimed my way. My ears were less inclined to stay standing. This was exactly why Hinawa and alcohol were never a good mix.

The last strand of soba vanished. Chopsticks clattered, dropped on the table. The race was won. Unchewed bits of noodle littered the table like debris in the wake of a storm.

Kokoro jumped up, fist held in the air, her face as placid as ever. Flecks of seaweed fell off of her cheek. “Told you I’d win!”

Seconds late, Hinawa finished her share, beaming in spite of her loss. She didn’t even wait to confirm anything before reaching over for the flask of shochu. Her right ear sagged in a lopsided gesture of cheer. “Oh, dear, dear. You’re just too strong for me. I guess I ought to hold up my end of the bet, then!”

I felt like heaving a heavy sigh as Hinawa quaffed straight from the flask, emptying it almost immediately. Her face a bit rosier, she looked to Karen, raising the empty flask.

“Karen, dear? Another, if you would,” she cooed.

Compared to her rather severe look from moments ago, Karen shared Hinawa’s loopy grin. She laughed, clapping her hands at the spectacle before leaping from her stool, collecting the flask from Hinawa, and zipping back into the kitchen. I took the opportunity to shoot Hinawa a look of disapproval. Naturally, she waved it off.

Though it had erased some of the tension, the sting of embarrassment at my senior’s antics made me all the more eager to get back to talking. My tail twitched as I saw patiently, wondering when Karen would reappear from the kitchen. I wanted one of us to keep our dignity, so I kept my pose and didn’t let my tail move an inch, which only made it want to move more. By the time Karen’s smiling face poked over the counter again, my backside felt like it was on the receiving end of a thousand pinpricks.

“Shochu, hot water!” she sang, bestowing an eager Hinawa and Kokoro with a new flask. I silently hoped it might occupy them enough to not bother me, but I knew that it wouldn’t last.

With a glance my way, Karen found her seat, saying nothing right away but taking her time to find her discarded kerchief and fold it into a square. A quiet hum resounded from her like she was mulling something over. All the while, I kept my decorum and tried not to let my discomfort show.

“Right, well,” Karen said after some time, “I can’t say I really get it, but it sounds like you’ve got doubts. That right?”

I nearly burst into a defensive bluster, but I took a sharp breath instead, letting it seep out through my teeth. “Not doubts as such. It would just be… well, helpful to know more. In order to pursue an investigation.”

She twisted the corners her newly-folded kerchief in her lap. Though she was wearing her customer service smile, it seemed a lot more hollow. “All I have to do is tell you my story, then?”

“If you would,” I replied with a measured nod.

“That so? In that case…” She leaned back in her seat, letting her short legs stick straight out, leaning her head to one side. Then, she leaned her head the other way. It was hard to not watch the way her hair waved. “Lemme start by asking: The name Meguro Kashou mean anything to you?”

I shook my head. I’d never heard the name before. A quick look at Hinawa, who had one ear perked up, seemed to say she had.

There’s some nostalgia. Been years ago now, back before Amaden was even a thing!” Hinawa butted in. The drink was already working well enough that she didn’t even care to keep the veneer of politeness to her speech or actions. “I was working the frontier, you know. Loads of humans running around even in those days. Mostly humans, in fact.”

I tried to seize the reins of the conversation before Hinawa derailed things any further. “Meguro Kashou, yes. I take it that’s supposed to be a noteworthy name with humans. Is that someone famous in the Human Village?”

“Ah, I wouldn’t call him famous so much,” Karen said, laughing. “And he’s been dead for some years.”

“Eighteen years, in fact,” Hinawa chirped.

Karen giggled, about to respond when I stopped her. I shot Hinawa another disapproving look. “Hinawa.”

“Koyomi?”

“Let me handle this, please. You can talk to Kokoro if you’re that desperate for a conversation.” I pointed at Kokoro, who was poking at the incapacitated Utsuwa’s face, seemingly oblivious to his groaning.

She gave a pouty look far from appropriate for her age but complied anyway, joining Kokoro in the Utsuwa poking. I really needed to hurry this conversation up so I could get him into safer hands, even if the only ones around were mine.

Turning my ears to ignore Hinawa starting up her own conversation, I cleared my throat. “Alright, so who is this Meguro Kashou, and what does he have to do with you?”

“I’m getting there, don’t worry,” Karen said with a carefree wave of her hand. “Meguro was a… can’t say he was ‘big-name’ so much as just well-liked. Had a bunch of fans. His little old soba shop did pretty okay business, and he was happy with that. And he had some students, too. Three of them.”

“So it was soba,” I muttered. Remembering my notepad, I took the opportunity to scratch out a note about Meguro Kashou, drawing arrows leading to the words ‘soba’, ‘Human Village’, and ‘three students?’ I circled the last word. “Having students makes it sound more like a dojo than a shop.”

“I guess it is a little weird, isn’t it? Still, Meguro didn’t have any family. Never married at all, either. I think that’s why he took on students. The soba was supposed to be his legacy.”

“You make it sound like you’re awfully familiar,” I remarked, drawing an arrow between Meguro and Karen.

Karen chuckled, fiddling with her apron in back. “Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve never met him myself. This all just came from my daddy.” She looked at me head-on. Her eyes glowed with a note of pride. “Daddy was one of those students. In fact, he was the one who got everything.

My pen stopped mid-stroke. I hastily struck out the original lines I put down and interposed Karen’s father between her and Meguro. A student with an inheritance. New facts were scuttling out from the cracks for once.

I adjusted my glasses while I thought of how to push on. “Alright, that establishes your father. What about the other party? The man named Shinbei.”

The mention of Shinbei’s name sapped most of the cheer from Karen’s expression. Her brows knitted together in a look that tried to show contempt but fell short thanks to her half-smile. Regardless, the name was no doubt a negative in her mind.

“He was another one of the students. A worse one,” Karen said, playing with her hair. “He was stupid jealous of Daddy because he was younger and more successful.”

“Is that based on what your father said or…”

The facade of strained cheer finally broke, turning Karen’s face into a full-on scowl. “If only. I got to see it first-hand. I got to hear him say horrible things to Daddy. Stuff like ‘I wish I’d stuck your coward head in the pot and boiled you to death when I had the chance.’ Absolute son-of-a-bitch.”

I caught a sigh trying to sneak its way out my nose, turning it into a quiet huff. It was obvious that I needed to tread carefully or risk setting Karen off. With what I’d seen of her temper, dealing with the fallout had the potential to outdo the trouble of dealing with Utsuwa, though there were deeper and much worse problems there. In that sense, it made me wonder why I was still here and not trying to work things out on that front instead. Public safety trumped personal drama any day.

Shaking my head quietly, I noted the conflict between Shinbei and Karen’s father. What I needed to establish quickly was an intent to harm and a credible motive, assuming an assumption of murder held up. “Now, Karen, I can tell this is a hard subject,” I said, pulling from the field manual’s phrasing, “but I’d like to press you a bit further on that. Please tell me about what happened between your father and Shinbei.”

Karen’s head sank. My ears pricked up. The only sound in the shop was Karen’s co-worker chopping away. I looked to the side. Hinawa and Kokoro were watching us. I already didn’t like the pressure being put on me.

Karen reached up to run her fingers through her hair, propping herself up on the counter, her eyes on the floor. “It was already bad, but it got worse when Meguro died. He named Daddy as the successor on his deathbed. Then, that man—” Her eyes narrowed. She clearly meant Shinbei, though she was avoiding his name. “That man started trying to claim everything was his because he was the oldest student. The fussing got bad enough for the local council to step in. Even then, they couldn’t get him to shut up, so they called in the Hakurei maiden instead.”

As if the atmosphere wasn’t heavy enough, the shop went dead silent. Even the sound of chopping ceased for the moment. A low groan emitted from Utsuwa broke the painful silence, Hinawa setting her glass down to stroke his arm. Kokoro stared at the table in front of her, not unlike what she’d done yesterday. I took the liberty of noting the shrine maiden in my notepad. It probably had nothing to do with Karen, but it was something I wanted to remember later.

“What then?” I asked, tearing my eyes from Kokoro.

“To her, the problem was about the shop, so she got rid of it. They had to watch while she tore it up.” Her scowl softened into a deep frown. “After that, each student got a share of the profit left over, minus her cut. Plus, Daddy got the other piece of his inheritance. Meguro wrote himself a little journal. Daddy said it had all the secrets of his soba in it.”

“The stolen writings.”

Karen’s eyes shut. She breathed in deep, letting out a loud sigh, preparing for the most painful parts ahead of her. “Mm-hmm. That man wanted them bad enough that he… Oh, that sack of filth. I could just wring his wicked neck right now.”

“Something else happened between them,” I prompted.

“A lot of things.” She took in another deep breath, shuddering this time. “That goddamned slug haunted my Daddy to the end. Daddy was such a gentle man that he never fought back. Not a single time. Not even when he got hit.”

Suddenly, I noticed that Karen had gone from leaning on the counter to burying her face in her hand. Even as unreliable as they were, had I not had a wolf’s ears, I wouldn’t have heard the sniffle she was trying to hide. She was just holding back a torrent that would inevitably break out. I sat frozen, terrified of the idea of what that might look like here and now. Through the slit of her fingers, a trace of bloody red gleamed.

Another sniffle came. Her whole body jerked once in a poorly-restrained shudder. A tear rolled down, falling off of her chin and staining her kerchief. Many more came after it.

“Daddy. Oh, Daddy,” Karen croaked. Her hand fell aside, showing a face twisted in grief. A shrieking sob ripped from her throat. “Daddy was so bloody. That bastard. That bastard walked out. With the journal. I ran in. He was on the floor. I-In a pi—”

“Oh, dear, dear,” came Hinawa’s voice.

Hinawa slid out from under the low table and shuffled over, completely ignoring her discarded shoes. I barely registered what was going on as Karen was wrapped in Hinawa’s arms, her sobs quickly muffled in Hinawa’s collar as they grew even louder. It was so far and away from what good decorum would demand, yet I couldn’t raise any objection. I could only watch while the unease of watching someone wail in front of a virtual stranger with no inhibition gnawed at me. Even averting my eyes felt like a breach of etiquette — for as much as etiquette applied here.

The moment stretched on as I sat locked on Karen and Hinawa. By the time I even noticed time had passed, I caught Hinawa looking at me over Karen’s shoulder. I stopped restraining my ears and let them fall flat as they wanted to. Silently, I pleased to Hinawa for some swift resolution. Her answer was a shake of the head while she patted Karen’s back.

“It’s okay, dear. You’re doing good,” she whispered

The cries trailed off into sniffling. Karen’s face gradually emerged from Hinawa’s embrace, peering up at Hinawa like a child might look at its mother. She sniffled again, rubbing her reddened, puffy eyes. “Really?”

“Mm-hmm. It’s all okay.” She gently stroked Karen’s hair. “You’re safe here.”

Karen nodded in acknowledgement and wiped her eyes again, sitting up, still leaning against Hinawa. “S-Sorry. I think I’d like to finish what I-I was saying,” she said through a fit of sniffles.

Hinawa’s eyes flicked to me. I nodded.

“Whenever you’re ready,” I muttered.

“Um, so, I guess,” Karen began, stopping to dig a handkerchief out of her pocket, “I never really explained this because… I was a little afraid. Maybe you guys wouldn’t call it a crime. Even if it was.”

Reassuring her, Hinawa stroked her hair again, giving her shoulders a squeeze. Karen’s cheeks reddened a little, but she looked determined to press on. I readied my pen.

“My dad died because he caught sick. It was right after that man beat the daylights out of him and stole the journal. Me and Mama kept watch on him while he healed up. Except he never did.” Her face fell and she gave another loud sniffle. “It was like he gave up. Then he was gone, just like that. It’s been a couple of years now, but that was like yesterday for me.”

I stared at my notes. There was the admission I had been waiting for the entire time. I’d had my doubts from the beginning, and the files had done nothing to change that. This entire time, we were looking at what amounted to a years old case of theft. Any deaths occurred were incidental.

My eyes drifted over to Utsuwa. He was the only real case worth pursuing here, and this was the confirmation. With his vengeful spirit possession, we were talking a potential public safety risk. We didn’t need to be wasting time and resources on anything else. It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t do anything without approval from above. A sigh crept through my lips as I shut my notes.

“And that’s it?” I asked, adjusting my glasses.

“More or less. Thanks for listening to the end.” She nodded, an expectant look in her eye. It was a tacit signal that she hadn’t forgot the terms of my free lunch. My turn to talk had arrived.

I cleared my throat. “Right. Well, if you’re ready to hear it, then I suppose I should speak my part.”

“Please,” Karen said.

Doing my best to be quick about it, I recounted what I’d read from the case file, omitting a few details such as the various notes; I didn’t want to worsen the already bad impression that the Guard had made. Considering much of it was merely about Karen’s various reports, she didn’t seem particularly impressed. The most marked reaction from her was a bitter smile when I brought up the lack of cooperation from the districts.

As soon as I’d come to the end, Karen jumped up from her seat and stormed past, up a flight of stairs, her footfalls heavy on the steps. I glanced at Hinawa, who shrugged her shoulders in response. Above us, loud rustling sounds came through the ceiling. Karen was digging around frantically from something. I could faintly hear her muttering and cursing to herself.

“Pardon me,” said a voice next to me.

I whipped around to see Karen’s co-worker standing behind the counter, a tray with a wad of coins in his hand. He slid the tray over, picking up my dirty dishes. I flicked between him and the coins with a questioning look.

“Ah, your friend just left a moment ago. She said she was paying for all three of you, but she didn’t take her change, so…”

I looked over where Kokoro had been seated. Sure enough, she was gone.

“Incidentally,” the bony man added, “I know it might be troublesome, but if you could handle Karen’s troubles, we would all be grateful. The girl tries her best to be cheerful, but she carries a real burden.” He bowed solemnly. “Please consider helping her.”

Having spoken his piece, he retreated back into the kitchen with the dishes, leaving me with Kokoro’s change. Soon after, the sounds of footsteps ringing off the ceiling turned into footsteps on the stairs, and Karen came rushing back down, a folded piece of paper in hand. Compared with minutes earlier, some of her old cheer had come back.

“Sorry about that. I had to find this,” she explained, holding the paper out to me. It looked like some kind of letter. The faint smell of buckwheat and some other unidentifiable scent came off of it.

I flipped it open without much enthusiasm. The hand was uneven. Whoever had written this letter had awful handwriting, and that was saying something considering my hands were far from dextrous. I couldn’t help wondering if whoever wrote it hadn’t been caught in an earthquake. Then again, there hadn’t been many quakes in Gensokyo in quite some time, so that couldn’t have been the case.

Taketo, my dear friend,

I know it’s been ages. Just so you know, I’m alive. I went to Amaden after Master died. Shinbei might have told you. He says you’re in a rough spot.

Let me know if you need help. I’m pretty hot on the dice these days. I’m thinking about taking my earnings and opening my own shop now.

I’ll help you out like you helped me, so don’t hesitate to rely on your old pal.


Instead of a signature, there was a crude picture of a dog drawn in. Apparently, this author fancied themselves above a simple stamp.

I started to hand the letter back to Karen, but she pushed it back into my hand. “What exactly is this about? I see the mention of Shinbei, but that’s about it.”

“It’s a letter from my uncle to my dad. Or, well, that’s what Daddy called him. He also seems to have been Meguro’s third student, going by this,” Karen explained.

“I’m not sure I get where you’re going with this.”

Karen grumbled. “I’m not sure either myself. What I know is that Daddy told me that my uncle knew that rat better than he did. I only met him once when I was a little girl, and they weren’t both there, so I don’t really know. Anyway, I’m sure if anyone knew how to find that bastard, it’d be him.”

I blinked at Karen. It was clearer now what she was pushing towards, but I decided to try and confirm it anyway. “So, you’re saying you want us to help you find Shinbei. And this uncle of yours is a possible lead.”

“Exactly! You can do that, right? I know it sounds like small potatoes, and the everybody’s brushed me off about it, but it’s real important to me. I need to give that man a piece of my mind. You’re the only one that cared enough about that file. That’s why you can help!”

“I’m still not sure—”

Karen grabbed the letter from me, opened it, and pointed to the picture of a dog. “Just look for a dog-faced man. I mean, a guy with a really sharp face like a dog. Got that?”

The same familiar twinge stabbed me in the skull. If all she had to offer was some vague information about a long-lost uncle in Amaden, I was pretty sure this was a waste of our time. We were only Patrol, not a couple of detectives.

Still, there was a hopeful look in Karen’s eyes. Some part of me knew that if I extinguished that hope, I would feel guilty about it later. Even if the guilt didn’t come from me, Hinawa would be happy to provide it. A lose-lose situation, in other words.

“Got it, a dog-faced man,” I conceded. My eyes fell to the change left by Karen’s co-worker. “If that’s it, then we have to go catch Kokoro.” I nodded to Hinawa. “Right?”

Hinawa flashed a doubtful smile. “Yes, I guess she probably won’t be waiting around forever.”

I got up and made my way to the door. Karen’s co-worker gave me a nod as I passed by, which I returned. I had little intention of abiding by that requestion, but I wasn’t about to start any more drama over it. The best thing I could do at this point was get back to helping Utsuwa.

“Take care!” Karen called from the back.

“You too, dear. Chin up. We’ll get this all figured out,” Hinawa chimed back, coming along with Utsuwa slung over her shoulder. I was surprised she wasn’t waving his arm at Karen.
>> No. 30115
I all but yanked Hinawa out the front door before she could promise any more. Kokoro was standing outside, her arms folded. She was wearing her classic scowl of impatience. I ignored it and shoved the change into her hand.

“You left something.”

“You really didn’t have to,” Hinawa chided.

Kokoro grunted ineffectually, dumping the change in her pocket. She mumbled something about us being slow.

Ignoring her complaints, I turned to Hinawa. “What now? I guess we can’t do much about him,” I said, pointing at Utsuwa, “until we see the liaison.”

“You’re still on duty, remember?” she said.

“Ugh, I really hope Sumida hasn’t shown up. It’d be just my luck.” My ears sunk just thinking about it.

With our next destination pretty much decided by default, we headed out from the soba shop. The way back to the Fifteenth District was straightforward from here. We just needed to get back out to a main road. Figuring it was easy enough to follow the alleyway through, we took the straight way past the three-way corner.

The stretch that we walked into was a lot less populated than back the way we came. It was almost desolate, in fact. It felt a bit creepy. Kokoro didn’t pay it any mind, walking ahead of us. I stuck close to Hinawa. My ears were up in hopes of catching anything suspicious.

I nearly jumped when I heard what had to be a rubbish bin tipping over. Then, there were footsteps.

A pair of figures came busting out of the side alley, almost shoulder-checking Kokoro but not really. It was more like they walked her over to the wall and boxed her in. It was those two humans from before.

“Hey, pinky,” said the manic one with the buzz cut.

Kokoro glared at him. She looked like she wanted to be anywhere else but here.

The bandanna man looked back at me and Hinawa. He tapped his friend on the shoulder and jabbed his thumb at us.

“Be quick about it. Even if they can’t touch us, they’ll probably get the district guys out.”

“Aw, that means we can’t play. Well, right now, anyway,” buzz man said to Kokoro before bursting out laughing.

Kokoro growled, looking like she was about to knee him in the groin. “You heard your handler.”

“Alright, alright. You’re no fun.” Buzz man cleared his throat. “Boss’ boss says come to the place tomorrow night. There’s something to talk about. And somebody.”

A look of horror flashed across Kokoro’s face. The fight was gone from her, replaced with numbness. It was the first time I think I’d seen anyone able to leave her dumbfounded like that. I didn’t like it for some reason.

I started to step forward to confront them, but I heard a click and saw a flash. The two looked our way, and there was another click-flash. The bandanna man knocked his partner in the head and made him hide his face. They took off back down the side alley.

Hinawa was standing there with her phone out. She must have taken pictures of them. I knew that phones could do that.

“Aren’t we going to go after them?” I asked.

“What could we do? You know tengu against humans isn’t going to look good. Besides,” she showed the screen, blurry pictures of the two humans, “we’ve got a good idea of what they look like. We can get help from other Patrol stations to find them. Also, how’s Kokoro?”

I looked at Kokoro. She hadn’t moved from the wall. In fact, she was sort of slumped against it.

“What on earth was that about?” I asked her.

She looked up at me. I felt a bit of a chill. Her eyes were full of malice and anger and bad stuff. She shoved me back because I was standing too close.

“If it wasn’t your problem then, it’s not your problem now!” she hissed.

Before I could say anything, Kokoro took off in the opposite direction. I was too shocked to even yell after her. I looked at Hinawa.

She had apparently caught the whole thing. “Let her have her space.”

I recovered quickly. Frankly, I wasn’t that concerned about her, especially after she reacted like that. She could go run off wherever for all I cared. I mean, I was a little bit worried. She was somehow connected to those guys and obviously messing with some kind of organised crime. But I wasn’t going to go chase her down.

I scratched my head and grumbled. It was one of those situations where I didn’t like it but there wasn’t anything I could do, and that was a little frustrating, even if I didn’t really care.

“So what do we do now?” I asked Hinawa.

She looked up from her phone. Her ears were cocked. “We go our separate ways here. I’m going to track down the local Patrol office. You should get back to the station. Here, take Utsuwa with you.”

She pulled Utsuwa off of her shoulder. He gave a weak groan but still flopped around limply. I grabbed his arm to hoist him onto my back. It’d been a while, but I’d remembered how to give a piggyback ride. Not that I particularly felt all that happy about it.

“I really don’t like this, you know. We’re getting no answers to anything and making no progress.”

“That’s how it is sometimes, Koyomi. Don’t worry about it for now. You’re still on duty, so don’t slouch. Don’t forget, you’re still new here.”

I sighed. “Right. Anything else?”

Hinawa hummed, her ears twiddling in thought. Something dawned on her. “Oh, yes, actually. Get the poor dear to the clinic.” She pointed at Utsuwa’s gouged arm. The sight of it was still cringeworthy. “It’s really not right of us to be pulling him around in that state.”

“Agreed,” I said quietly.

“So be quick. Meanwhile, I’m off. Give me a—” She paused, her tail falling. She gave me an annoyed look. Oh boy, here it comes. “That’s right, you still need a phone, Koyomi. Especially in times like these.”

“Later,” I said, avoiding eye contact.

“Let’s make ‘later’ this weekend, alright?” she grumped. Not even waiting for an answer from me, she scampered off.

I really hoped Hinawa got wrapped up in work and forgot all about this weekend. Maybe I could avoid the subject by inviting her out drinking; it worked every other time.

At any rate, I didn’t really know what else to do, but it felt like Hinawa probably had the situation handled better than me. Even if I had to cart around an unwashed human, who smelled a lot like blood still, I couldn’t complain a whole lot. There was nobody to complain to, anyway. I was left all by my lonesome.

So I pulled Utsuwa along with me all the way back to the Fifteenth District and away from the station, down an alley, and to the small clinic. It was a dinky, run-down place that had apparently been around since before Amaden was a thing. Kind of a dingy little station where some human frontiersmen had camped out. The doctor said he was the only one left from the original camp; he never said what happened to the others, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. He was a bit of a crank and more than a little creepy, but he worked with us for practically free and that was the important thing. Most of us never needed to be patched up aside from a couple of really nasty injuries, but it was important that we got humans who ended up with us cared for in some way. I remember reading a book on human bodies out of curiosity and found that I couldn’t understand most of it. What I got was that humans are wimpy. Also, I hoped the doctor never asked to dissect me to know how youkai work. He’d asked a few people.

Inside the clinic, I had to tell the person at the desk that Utsuwa was unconscious and that I’d have to speak for him. It didn’t faze them at all, and they called the doctor out. He took a quick look at Utsuwa before pulling us into the office in back. Because the doctor didn’t have any nurses to help out, I had to help with the cleaning and bandaging. Part-way through, Utsuwa woke up. He was disoriented at first but seemed to recognise what was happening quickly. The doctor was glad we didn’t have to restrain him.

When that was done, the doc asked Utsuwa a lot of general questions about his injuries but didn’t press real hard. Utsuwa didn’t look real eager to start talking about it anyway. We got out of there in a couple of minutes, and he asked me to take him to the station. I did without saying much of anything. Everything was still locked up. Thank Tenma.

There wasn’t much of anywhere that I could sit him, so I got him back in the questioning room, which was still kind of torn up. He helped clean up and took a seat. He asked me to cuff him, and I decided it was probably better to, so I did. I didn’t know what else to do about him, so I went out and tried to figure out what needed to be done. I remembered the incident paperwork that we hadn’t filled out and found it. Maybe it wasn’t the right form, but I guessed I needed to fill out something. It was tedious work but not too big a deal.

After that, I didn’t have anything left to do. I sat around at the window, twiddling my thumbs. I eyed my culinary guide to Amaden that I’d left sitting on the window sill. Nobody had touched it, strangely. I didn’t really feel like reading it right now, though. I was bored.

I thought of Utsuwa sitting in the questioning room like in a holding cell. He must have been absolutely bored out of his mind. Not to mention it couldn't have been comfortable in there. It didn’t sit right with me to leave him in there. I went in and convinced him to come out to the front for the time being. He was reluctant but did it anyway.

We both sat there at the low table without saying anything. I made some tea but remembered that his hands were tied, so I was the only one who could really drink. I helped him drink. It was a little awkward, but I wasn’t going to let him dehydrate on my watch. Humans were a bit of a pain in the butt.

No matter how much time passed, it didn’t look like the minute hand was going any faster. I thought about trying to read my culinary guide again. No, I really had to do something about Utsuwa.

“So, are you feeling okay? Nothing weird going on?”

“It’d be hard for me to know if… that’s happening again,” he said with a sad smile.

I scratched my neck. “Well, those cuffs might help anyway,” I said, laughing but not feeling any sense of joy.

He bowed his head. “Thank you.”

“Ah, no, no. It’s-- I mean, I was just doing what I thought was a good thing!”

And just like that the conversation died. Boy, I sure sucked at that when there wasn’t some kind of business. I drummed my fingers on the table. Seemed like I was doing that a lot these days.

“Hey, so…” Utsuwa spoke up after a lot of fumbling.

[ ] He asked about what happened.
[ ] He talked about his job.
[ ] He asked about me.
[ ] He was curious about Hinawa.

-----

Sorry about the roughness this time. I've run up against my absolute deadline, and I'm not of a mind to start breaking promises again.
>> No. 30116
[X] He asked about me.

I'd love to know more about Koyomi.
>> No. 30117
[X] He asked about me.

I second this.
>> No. 30118
[X] He talked about his job.

Something that's familiar to him is the best option here, since he seems a little on edge.
>> No. 30119
Right, I probably should have mentioned this before:

Votes will be open for six days, starting now. I wouldn't call this a particularly difficult choice, nor is it all that necessary to follow what's going on, but giving everyone time to read is the nice thing to do, especially when it took this long to deliver.

Thank you for your continued patience.
>> No. 30120
[x] He was curious about Hinawa.

Because Hinawa is a sweetie-pie sugarplum.
>> No. 30121
Just a reminder that the votes will be closed later today. If any of you are straggling, get those votes in soon!
>> No. 30122
Alright, I guess that's that. Utsuwa may be able to accomplish what others have failed at, considering the winner is...

[x] He asked about me.

See you next update!
>> No. 30123
File 150922723245.jpg - (57.78KB, 640x424, the setting of our conversation.jpg) [iqdb]
30123
[x] He asked about me.

Looking at Utsuwa, his eyes locked straight onto me, I could tell there was something he wanted to ask. Every part of him was tense as he tried to find the words. His hesitation lent a weight of its own to whatever he was about to say, which only worsened the tension I was trying to hide. My fingers stopped their slow patter on the table surface.

I nodded despite my misgivings. The sooner he spoke up, the sooner the suspense would end, and the better I would feel.

Growing tired of his own spluttering, he took a deep breath, preparing to let loose with something. His face was red all of a sudden. “I’m sorry,” he blurted out, his voice rising to the breaking point, trailing off into a squeak, “I don’t remember your name.”

“Koyomi. Just Koyomi is fine,” I responded after a pause. Of course there would be gaps from a possession.

“Koyomi.”

Muttering my name to himself, he stared into the sheen on the table’s varnished surface. His face was like someone trying to smile to hide their reaction after swallowing something bitter. I’d made that face more times than I could count — creeping thoughts of the academy lurked nearby. While I was tired of playing support for the day, seeing Utsuwa make that face brushed against a nerve.

“We weren’t properly introduced,” I said plainly.

Utsuwa’s eyes followed the lines in the wood grain like he was tracing them with his fingers. “N-No, we weren’t, were we?”

“There wasn’t much time. Not your fault at all.” I was pulling out the kid gloves for him, speaking as calmly and reassuringly as my work-frayed nerves allowed. “So, was that all you wanted to ask?”

His head pivoted up. “I was just curious. I mean, I don’t want to be too much trouble, but… would you mind telling me—” Suddenly, he shook his head. “No, wait, never mind. It’s a dumb question. I don’t want to bother you.”

My ears fell lopsided. “It’s no bother. Ask me whatever you want,” I said, putting on what felt like a smile.

Judging from his grimace, it didn’t quite pass muster. His eyes drifted up to my ears and back down to my face. A panicked voice in the back of my head said he could read my expression. Then again, the notion of a human reading a wolf’s true expression was ridiculous. He was probably just trying to find somewhere to look.

“A-Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” I answered, “ask away.”

He gave his own awkward smile. “Can you stop showing your fangs like that? It’s a little s-scary.”

It was a deflating remark, but I gladly relaxed my expression. Some of those muscles hadn’t been exercised in ages. While I massaged my aching face with one hand, I gestured for him to go on with the other.

“Oh, uh, so how did you start doing what you do?”

My limp ear perked up. “Pardon?”

"I was just hoping to hear how you got your job. I was, erm, curious. About your job, I mean.”

Utsuwa turned his head like he’d be scratching his neck if his hands were free, trying to find anywhere to look except at me. He seemed to be expecting me to snap at him. Meanwhile, I pondered his question, turning my teacup around in my fingers. Maybe a simple answer would suffice. There was at least one fall-back that I could cull from my early policy lectures.

“Guard positions are reserved for wolf tengu by right of heritage,” I recited. I wasn’t certain that meant ‘no humans ever’, but I could have sworn it was the case. Any human in a tengu institution would have been notable enough to cause a stir in the ranks if it ever happened.

Judging from Utsuwa’s blank look, that was the wrong answer. I sighed.

“You’re absolutely sure you want my story?”

He nodded without any hint of hesitation.

I was afraid of that. Relaxing my ears, I tapped my nail on the table, leaning back while I tried to figure out where to begin. The ‘beginning’ was the exact last place I wanted to go. The safest start I could think of was still the academy. This was going to be a little bit of trouble to explain.

“I’m going to guess,” I began, “that humans go to school like us; I remember hearing something about a teacher in the village. Well, wolves go to school twice. Sort of. We have to train to be guards before even joining the Guard. I guess it’s kind of weird hearing it out-loud, but that’s how it is.”

“It’s only once for us,” he said.

“And I imagine it’s like the school we go through for a few years. The big difference is that we have to go through ten years of training afterwards.”

Utsuwa gaped. “Ten years?”

“There’s a saying about a human’s decade being a tengu’s minute. That’s what it’s referring to. They love trotting it out in training.” I propped myself up on my elbow. The memories of my instructors were already starting to flood back. “The important thing is that I spent my ten years in the academy. I don’t want to get into it too much, but just know that it’s not the regular training. Most guards aren’t trained there. At least, not if they’re in the rank-and-file.”

“Where would you have been if not the Guard?” he asked. The look on his face said that he found it hard to imagine a wolf tengu who wasn’t a guard.

There was just a hint of aggravation clawing at me from that question. He didn’t know any better, so I knew to cut him slack, but it still dug in. I bit my lip. “That doesn’t matter much, does it? I made my choice a long time ago, which was to join the Guard.”

Deterred from digging further, Utsuwa stared down at the table again. I gave a quiet sigh to myself. Losing my patience would do nothing to help me and everything to hurt me. I took a slow sip of tea to relax.

“Anyway, I managed to finish at academy, but placements were… hard to come by for me,” I said, going back to drumming on the table.

“Just so you know, the Guard is a job path we can choose now. It was different in the past. We all used to be in it. However, these days, we enlist directly in places where there are openings. The better the placement, the more the competition.”

“Sounds tough,” Utsuwa said, starting to match my lack of vigour.

“Academy graduates get some guarantee of a placement, but…” I fiddled with my glasses. My next few words would make me sound terrible if poorly picked; who could trust anyone who admitted to barely graduating? “There was a placement picked for me, and I wasn’t too fond of it. Let’s just say that. The reward wasn’t matched to the work.”

Even as I said that, lingering memories of leftovers gathered on rounds surfaced in my mouth. Considering how far removed the settlement was, every vegetable and herb was gathered right on the peak, which made for hearty, rustic meals. Plus, I never had to worry about figuring out what to eat. That didn’t make up for the thorny bushes everywhere and the fact that my closest neighbours lay a good half-hour hike away. Besides that, all my neighbours near and far were old crows who saw me as a helper they paid with food.

Utsuwa’s head drooped in a nod, more a signal that he’d heard than of comprehension. “I’ve had a lot of jobs like that.”

“Jobs, plural?” I asked in an off-hand way.

Whether out of shame in admitting to a number of positions lost or because he believed I was digging into him, Utsuwa’s cheeks reddened. He shook his head. I probably wouldn’t hear any more than that.

I shrugged. “It took a couple of months, but I convinced the local command to look into getting me moved out. The weird thing is that I got a response just a few days later. There was this letter saying to come to Amaden.”

“That fast?” Utsuwa recovered the courage to look me in the face.

“It’s a little stranger than that. I’m probably making it sound like they’d found me a post, but it was actually more of a draft notice. I was being pulled out to serve in the Patrol. No choice on my part.”

“Oh.”

I sighed. “Yeah, so that’s how I got here.”

My eyes drifted to the culinary guide that sat abandoned at the window counter. That had been the final push to get me going, though I wasn’t going to admit it out loud.

Nothing left to say on the subject, I was more inclined to get back to the paperwork in front of me than draw the conversation out any longer. However, it looked like Utsuwa had something to add; going by the expectant look on his face, he was just waiting for me to ask. I set down my pen, trying not to show any more impatience with him.

“Er, so, if I may ask, what’s your interest? We’re not worth a thought to humans. Most of the time, anyway.”

Utsuwa sat up, frowning at me. I suspected he would probably have had his arms crossed if they were free. “How can you say that? I admire what you do. You help people like me who are in trouble. There’s no reason people shouldn’t look up to you, human or youkai.”

My tail fell over limply as I stared at him blankly.

“This may sound really dumb,” he went on, “but I really like detective novels. They’ve gotten real popular in the village, and I like reading them. Lots of people like stories like Agatha Chris Q where it’s always a youkai’s fault, but not me.” His fists were balled behind his back. “My favourites are stories where people like you guys make a difference. People who stick up for the little guy. We don’t have anyone like that in the village. Yeah, we’ve got guards, but they don’t stop bad guys. They haven’t even stopped a youkai in a century.”

“I… I see,” I said, not sure what to say in response and not particularly wanting to argue the point.

Realising that he’d become a bit heated, his face sunk like he was trying to hide behind the table. To be honest, I felt like hiding as well.

“Um, I’m sorry,” Utsuwa muttered.

“It’s okay. I get what you’re saying.” There wasn’t much enthusiasm in my words, but I felt like he deserved some form of positive response. Even if it was lifted from the field manual.

His hopeful look hit me like a slap. “Really? Well, um, that’s good. I wasn’t sure. I tend to go on and on sometimes. My grandma always said I have a full mouth to match my empty head. Though I guess that’s not what she meant. She said a lot stuff I didn’t— Um, wait, I did it again.”

I couldn’t hold back a snicker at his awkward, fumbling anecdote. He flinched but laughed at himself as well. It was a small relief that we could both recognise how futile talking was for either of us. The fact that we’d managed to have something resembling a conversation was probably a small miracle.

Our laughter faded quickly, leaving us in a comfortable silence. We both knew there wasn’t much else to say.

I picked my pen back up, getting back into my paperwork. The claims forms for settling the damages to that stand were lengthy, on the order of thirteen pages for the incident account alone, not to mention everything was going to at least three different departments that I could distinguish. Instead of talking, I needed to pour my efforts into making sure every box was marked and every line filled correctly. Whether I was a real guard or not, this was the reality of working in this field.

As I kept on whittling away at the stacks, my thoughts swung back to the question that had got so deep under my skin. What would I have been indeed if not in the Guard? It was hard to deny that somebody had to be doing my current job, but I couldn’t help wondering why it had to be me.

All I’d ever known was that guards were the top of the top no matter what their rank. They upheld the peace of society, helped others in need, and were dependable. Ever since I was a pup, after a brush with danger, I knew that I had to join the Guard so I could be like them. To not be allowed in the ranks was like saying I wasn’t able to live up to the standard, which meant my entire time at academy had been for nothing.

Even setting that aside, I’d never made any enquiries about the Patrol before that letter came — I didn’t even know they existed. As far as I knew, I’d never made anyone important angry in my brief time with the Guard either. Being pushed out like that felt so unfair. Out of all people, it just had to be the academy graduate who didn’t aim for the indolent paper-pushing life. Maybe it was another example of how old prejudices died hard, and how envy pushed wolves of lower bloodlines to spitefulness when given power, raged some inner voice of mine.

Or perhaps, countered a calmer voice, this was all just chance. Somehow, I still didn’t want to believe it, but maybe this was all beyond anybody’s control.

I shook my head and picked up the pace on filling in the lines. If I thought that way, getting out of here would be impossible. If no one could control where I ended up, then there was no out. However, that was just an insidious whisper in my ear trying to dissuade me with sweet nothings of comfort and stagnation. I wasn’t going to listen to them. I was going to be a real guard again.

Sometime later, I stamped my signature onto the last form. Standing up, I stretched and yawned, letting my tail swing free to shake out the pins and needles. I was about to ask Utsuwa if he wanted another cup of tea when I noticed that he was fast asleep, leaning on the table. No wonder everything was calm for so long. For some reason, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling seeing him slumped over, sleeping half-upright. I went off to the back to dig up a blanket.

A door slid open right as I stepped into the back. I looked over my shoulder to see one of the night shift officers at the shoe rack.

“Good evening,” she called, saluting briskly.

I stared for a moment before remembering I was in the middle of something. My return salute was quick and lacking in coordination. “Good… evening?”

My fellow officer’s ears drooped a little, an unspoken question on her face. Wordlessly, she drew a phone from her pocket, pressing a button to display the time to me, undoubtedly into the evening hours.

“Ah,” I said dumbly and walked back over to the low table.

I flew into a scramble right away to get all of my paperwork tidy and ready to hand over. As I shuffled around, fixing every out-of-place thing I could see and chasing fallen papers, I noticed for the first time just how much the light through the frosted windows had dimmed. Time had slipped through my fingers as easily as money on a payday restaurant crawl. Here I was caught with a mess left in the front and a detainee napping at the table. I may as well have slept in for work.

Remembering that I had to clock out, I ran to retrieve my logbook from the back. The moment I re-emerged from the back, I came just short of running face-first into Sumida. Although, what stopped me was his hands clapping down on my shoulders.

“Careful there, officer,” Sumida said, flashing his typical grin, which left me feeling like I’d been coated in slime. “Good work last night, by the way.”

Peeling his hands off me, I saluted Sumida. “Sir, I’ve got several reports to file.” I glanced toward Utsuwa. “As well as a detainee to inform you of. Forgive me for putting him in the front.”

Sumida glanced at Utsuwa for a moment, shrugging his shoulders and giving a cavalier flip of his tail. I tried to keep my ears upright with all my might. He was, for better or worse, my immediate superior. More than that, I wanted to be out of here before he could shove some other work onto me.

“Officer Aiba’s come through on the matter already.”

My tail stood up. Hinawa must have reported to command. Maybe it was to speed things along, considering it would take forever for Sumida to take notice if I reported it. For being different ranks, she and Sumida were more like equals, which was strange, considering there seemed to be no love lost between the two.

“Surprisingly well-connected and efficient, that girl. Not that it’ll do much good,” Sumida added. His ears relaxed. “Command’s still not got confirmation from HQ, nor have they secured permission to investigate. Bad luck, officer.”

“What does that mean for the human, then?” I asked, ignoring the growing urge to box his ears.

He shrugged again. “Command will figure it out, I’m sure. My only orders were to oversee his transfer.”

“Transfer? Where?”

“D14’s station.” He grinned again, even wider, showing the edges of his fangs. “Unless perhaps you’d like to stay and watch him? It’d be just as easy to send the word now.”

I turned my glare at the floor, growling under my breath. If I didn’t leave soon, there was no telling how I’d respond. There would probably be a few things broken for sure. “As you say, sir.”

Sumida laughed, a loud, resounding belly laugh, slapping my shoulder. “Now, now, that’s just official talk. I don’t know what all the implications are here, but good job pulling in such an interesting case. Not too many newbies are as lucky as you!” His face had a curious sparkle around it. He looked like he was savouring his arch-nemesis getting dumped by the love of their life. “Why, it’s been ages since I’ve seen any of the lieutenants get so worked-up. Much less all of them!”

He stopped to hassle one of the other officers coming in the door, sending them right back outside. Probably to buy him a coffee or some other menial errand, knowing the typical Sumida work ethic. Wiping his eye and giving a contented sigh, he turned back to me.

“Anyway,” he sang, “if that’s all, head on home. Your paperwork and your human are in good hands. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be calling you Detective Koyomi soon!”

“Thank you very much, sir,” I said through gritted teeth.

Pushing past Sumida, I retreated to the front to fill in my logbook. In Utsuwa’s place at the table was the first officer from earlier, who had wrapped herself in the blanket I’d got out for Utsuwa. I poked my head out of the counter window and saw that two officers were already leading Utsuwa out the door. Looking my way for a brief second, he gave a meek smile. I waved before shrinking back inside.

On one hand, I couldn’t help feeling a little worried for him. I was one of a couple of people who really knew what his deal was. If something went wrong, it was anybody’s guess how the Fourteenth District station’s officers would respond. He was totally out of my hands now.

Then a wave of exhaustion washed over me, reminding me of just how busy the entire day had been. Much as I wanted to be Utsuwa’s lifeline, there were limits.

I hurried to fill in my logbook entry and get it re-filed. After that was done, I remembered to grab my culinary guide before leaving. Bowing to the early officer and the few who’d come in after her, I saw myself out of the station. I could have stayed and chatted, but I didn’t know anyone particularly well. Without Hinawa there, I was just ‘the girl from the day shift’ anyway. Besides, I needed a warm bed more than a chat right now.

My stomach, having been quiet this whole time, decided to speak up as soon as I stepped out into the warm evening air. Enough time had passed that it was yearning for at least a late snack.

Since the sky was still in that hazy purple stage, just before it started turning officially evening, staining it orange, the usual fun seekers had yet to come rushing in, leaving the streets feeling sparse. It was the perfect time to stroll leisurely down the road and watch the laborious work of making Amaden come alive. As a pedestrian, I barely existed to the number of tradespeople who concerned themselves only with getting their stands and shops set up. Employees swept and threw water on the ground. Carters yelled and barrelled their way around, too worried about making their deliveries in time to care about safety. Signs and banners were being hung up, lit up, and propped up everywhere I looked. The uncountable number of restaurants and bars lining the street, not even counting the mobile, unlicensed versions of the latter, were in their awkward in-between period, too.

Passing them all by knowing that I’d be asleep before they opened was a touch frustrating; I envied people with the free time and money to enjoy them. Still, at the very least, whether it was morning or evening, I’d be able to catch one of the stands in the building site. That in mind, I hurried along in fear of my stomach’s chastising voice. Finer dining would come another day.

Nearing the camping spot for my usual morning haunts, I was struck by how quiet the surrounding atmosphere had become. Not that it was ever roaring except in peak times, but it wasn’t uncommon to overhear night-shift workers catching up with their fellows before work. Patrolmen were no exception, and I half-expected to run into more than a few, some having taken the liberty of dosing themselves with a pre-shift drink. However, that sort of scene was curiously absent tonight. In fact, I saw no one at all.

A sign was parked at the head of the building site: Due to recent events, all stand activity will be suspended for the duration. We apologise to our loyal customers for the inconvenience. Please consider visiting us at the following shops…

Tugging at my hair, I groaned seeing the sign. Apparently, all it took was a single morning visit with Kokoro to become a jinx for my favourite eateries.

A gentle nudge to my side broke me from despairing for too long. I looked down to find the older kappa gentleman from the steamed buns stand regarding me with a look of both curiosity and impatience. Saying nothing, he raised a piece of paper and nodded toward the sign. I stepped out of his way to give him room, and he fixed the leaflet to the sign, just under the list of restaurant locations. He stepped back to survey the placement before giving a satisfied huff.

Turning to me, the look in his beady eyes softened a note. “It’s disappointing, I know. These are the circumstance we must deal with,” he said, his voice like well-worn leather dragged across my ears. He bowed. “You’d be most welcome if you paid a visit, young miss.”

Having said all he intended to, the kappa gentleman ambled off out of sight. It was only after he’d gone that my ears sprang up in realisation: I’d never once heard the old man speak before.

I looked over the posted announcement, curious to know what restaurant he was attached to. No name was provided anywhere. The only thing besides a drawn map was a notice that the steamed bun operation was on hiatus. Curiously, the location indicated was in the Eighth District, where I’d been earlier. Something about that fact nicked at the back of my mind, but I cast it aside as a thought for later. Figuring out what to do about sundown eats was more pressing.

Another sudden intruding thought was that I ought to check on Hinawa. She’d run off so suddenly to chase Kokoro or whatever it was she’d decided to do — and on her day off, no less. Chances were good she’d be worn down afterwards, so a social call was probably necessary to cheer her up. Moreover, there was a convenient stop for food on the way over.

Remembering that morning’s events at the bathhouse, I hurried off back to my apartment in search of my wallet. A split-second look around the room later, it turned up on the floor next to the table, probably knocked off when I got my startling wake-up call. I gave a bitter laugh. Kokoro was causing trouble for me even when she wasn’t around. I checked to be sure she wasn’t hiding somewhere in the room, but that was just idle worrying on my part.

Even so, I made sure to lock my window this time along with my door. If she wanted to break in this time, she’d have to slip under the door or find some other improbable entryway.

The next thing for me to do was to head for the Twelfth District. Criss-crossing my way through the alleys, I dodged the main thoroughfares up until I was just outside the district. Emerging right across from the garish Chinese zodiac themed district gateway, I made a sharp turn left and went down to the corner. Despite the dark theming in their logo and colour scheme, Yodooshi Market was always a brightly lit place and very hard to miss. I had no idea how many existed in Amaden, but this one was mine. Whether it was visiting Hinawa or just stocking up on snacks in general, there was no alternative for me; my working hours didn’t help matters either.

Parked outside was a group of crows. Well, it would have been more accurate to say they were loitering. They carried loudly without any regard for anyone coming or going, adding drink cans to a growing stack next to them, conspicuously not in the bin nearby. I glowered at them to no effect as I shoved my way through their gathering.

A burst of cheery music hit me from above as the automatic door opened. I could only imagine how sick of it the employees must get after the hundredth time hearing it. With a silent apology to them, I stepped inside.

“Welcome!” came the cheery call of the employee manning the counter, a human to my surprise. She looked to be a new face, and uncomfortable in the company uniform, but wore the obligatory plastered-on smile well enough.

Nodding, I picked up a basket and made a straight course for the snack foods. It looked like I’d just come in after the shelves restocked, so I had a full selection to pick from. Scanning the various bags and boxes, I mulled over what sounded best. Most of the candy was right out. Something with a bit more bite was in order. I almost wandered past the crisps, but I saw a bag boasting about a new ‘Face-Numbingly Spicy Habanero!’ flavour. Intrigued, I grabbed a bag, along with a couple of bags of the more pedestrian aonori flavour. Thinking that Hinawa would probably also want something sweet, I turned around and found a bar of decent looking chocolate to add to the cart. That’d do for light snacks.

Turning my attention to drinks, I made for the back. There wasn’t any hesitation in my choice: a bottle of lemon tea. The light citrus taste with the caffeine perk made it my go-to pick for a drink after a long day. My first thought for Hinawa’s share was something from the canned cocktails, but then I considered that she probably had more than a fair stock of the stuff. Besides, she’d drank plenty today, and I didn’t need to enable her further. The safer choice was obviously something on the sweet and slightly heavy end. I settled on grabbing a carton of coffee milk.

Something a bit heavier was in order next. However, before I could wind towards the boxed lunches and breads, somebody with a magazine in their hand caught my eye. I wasn’t particularly rushed for time, so I could afford a stop off at the rack.

Alongside the two or three major newspapers that dominated Amaden’s readership, numerous Amaden- and mountain-focused publications lined the shelves. Curious as I was about events on the mountain, the word ‘scandal’ showing in most of the headlines made me tense up. I’d seen that once too many times to feel safe flipping through without running into a certain someone in the news again. Doing my best to ignore them, I found some more local affairs sorts of magazines.

TA Deliberates on Guard Resolution! TM’s Eyes and Hands in AD or Our Shield?

Judging from how text almost spilled out of the front page, the journal bearing that headline, Weekly Heaven, was undoubtedly a tabloid. Of course, it was still intriguing, reputable or not. Various whisperings and rumblings had been running around about one of the top human representatives of the Trade Association losing his temper with a Guard official at a recent meeting. He’d even claimed that the Guard was ‘Tenma’s barking lapdogs in Amaden’, if any of it was to be believed. Even so, I never imagined such an outburst might turn into a resolution.

I almost flipped the tabloid open right there but thought better of it. There was plastic wrap around it to prevent casual browsing anyway. If I was so curious, I’d just have to buy it. I had just set the issue in my basket when another headline caught my eye.

Amaden Land Policy Straining at the Edges: Developers Pushed to New Lows

Land policy. I’d read something like that somewhere recently. In fact, it was reading over one of those files. I picked the tabloid up from the basket and compared it with the other magazine.

The AmaBiz Focus, as this magazine was known, looked more sober and legitimate next to the Weekly Heaven. It wasn’t my usual sort of subject matter, but things like land development were key issues to Amaden’s politics. There was no doubt it played into things that the Guard would have to investigate. If nothing else, it’d be a good sleeping pill.

They were both the same price. Funny how the publishing industry worked.

[ ] Weekly Heaven
[ ] AmaBiz Focus
>> No. 30124
> TA Deliberates on Guard Resolution! TM’s Eyes and Hands in AD or Our Shield?

Hmm, 'TA' is probably Trade Association... TM = Tenma and AD = Amaden?

So, if I'm reading it right, sounds like the tabloid's questioning whether or not the Guard is just taking orders from Tenma about what to do, and might not have everyone's best interest in mind.

That's just ridiculous! Koyomi knows that working in the Guard means that you uphold truth and justice and honor and save kittens from trees.

[x] AmaBiz Focus: Amaden Land Policy Straining at the Edges: Developers Pushed to New Lows

Let's see what tengu Bernie Madoff is up to.
>> No. 30125
[X] Weekly Heaven
Juicy juicy gossip.
>> No. 30136
Just so you know, I'm calling a week from posting, i.e., Saturday evening. Please try to break the tie before then.
>> No. 30154
The coin speaketh!

And the result was tails. That means the winner by nondeterministic decision is...

[x] AmaBiz Focus

Get ready to delve into the exciting, high-stakes world of land development in a trade outpost with no true law* to keep everybody sane.

(*) An exaggeration. This will be explained in due time.
>> No. 30340
File 151286428144.png - (349.84KB, 740x399, I miss these so much.png) [iqdb]
30340
[x] AmaBiz Focus

Gossip wasn’t my style, so the tabloid was out. Back that one went while the business magazine flopped into the basket. Who knew if either were that entertaining, but I needed some reading material for waiting on Hinawa. In any case, the most important business at hand was dinner. My basket was loaded with snacks, drinks, and a magazine, which left the stuff of real substance as my last grab for the night.

My next stop was the aisle with the boxed lunches and breads, where I didn’t even stop to look before grabbing three sausage rolls, reserving one for Hinawa. I threw a chocolate cornet in as well, just in case she’d rather have something sweet. Worst case scenario, I’d have a third sausage roll.

Perusing the boxed lunches was just as easy: if there was katsudon, I bought it. This time, an employee was just finishing up stocking the case. My darling pork-and-egg bowl, freshly placed, was waiting for me towards the register-bound end of the aisle. Two of them went into the basket. Having beaten out the masses before everything was picked over, I hurried through the checkout and out the door, tail waving, exhilarated enough by my purchase to run a victory lap.

The night air warmed me up a little as I stepped out, a nice break from the frigid air inside. What wasn’t as nice was the rabble that hadn’t moved from out front. I took a deep breath, preparing to elbow my way past the gathering of young crows without any apology. The way opened when several of them went scrambling around to get a better look at something. Stepping through, thankful that I didn’t have to waste energy ramming into them, I stopped to see what was drawing a commotion.

Up ahead, a young crow woman made for the Yodooshi Mart to catcalls and cries for attention. I almost dismissed their fawning over her as the antics of overgrown schoolboys until I took a second look. There was something a bit different about this woman, whether it was her effortless, gliding walk or the fact that she had a naturally bright complexion in spite of not wearing any make-up that I could notice. Something about the style of her clothes was eye-catching as well, a casual skirt and blouse that had just enough flash to dazzle any onlookers.

While none of the boys managed to grab her attention, she was quick to look my way. I stared back in awed confusion, only snapping back to my senses when she smiled and waved, convincing me to throw a limp wave back as she disappeared into the mini-mart.

“You know her?” asked one of the crows.

I shook my head, adjusting my glasses. “Can’t say I do, no.”

There was a collective groan of disappointment from them. Not particularly sympathetic to their hopes and dreams, I only offered a shrug as I took off. My katsudon was getting colder every second I lingered.

Past the gaudy main gate, I glanced around the street as I reached one of the main stretches of the Twelfth District. The whole area retained an old red light district feel even after being repurposed as a residential area, from the walls around the district bounds to the side entrances on the houses. Since it was early, there was a calm over the street, like the cries of the cicadas had made everyone around drift off to sleep. Within minutes of sundown, though, these narrow streets would fill with women heading out to work and the vitality that they brought. I’d been here enough times to have witnessed the scene — the calmest work rush imaginable.

Somewhere down the main drag, a thought occurred to me about what had happened at the mini-mart: That girl had to be one of the hostesses from the district, out doing her shopping before work. Given Hinawa’s gift for making friends with her neighbours, she was probably among my local friends-of-friends. I just didn’t recognise her because she wasn’t completely made-up for work.

In light of that, I supposed it was a shame that I’d likely miss seeing the district’s residents in their full splendour as they hurried to their respective bars, filling the air with their musical chatter. However, it wasn’t like I couldn’t appreciate the peaceful atmosphere of the early evening. The lack of people gave me more time to stroll along the street, taking in the cheaply built houses with their patched-up paper doors and their oddly slanting roofs. Of course, the street itself being as short as it was, I came to my next turn within moments.

This was the alleyway where Hinawa’s apartment building sat. As part of the haphazard construction of the area, it had been thrown in behind a number of old houses — whoever was building had decided to start straying away from the traditional style before exiting the market entirely, or so Hinawa told me. The building’s presence was one of the few stains on the district’s face, with its concrete boxiness and air of ‘modernity’.

I strolled to the side and went up the stairs until I hit the third floor. Much like me, Hinawa lived on the end of the row, furthest from the stairs, her door impossible to miss with the colourful flower-shaped sign hanging from the postbox. This month’s design was a sunflower. The idea that she changed them so often baffled me, not to mention where she got them was a total mystery. Then again, I supposed I had no place to talk either when I spent most of my earnings on eating out. At least my habit made for a full belly most of the time.

Whatever my thoughts on her decorations, the place was certainly Hinawa’s. My ears perked up in relief at seeing a friendly sight as I reached out to knock.

A faint, scratchy mew from nearby startled me enough to send me stumbling over my own feet, a lucky catch saving my bags from a spill. Standing underfoot at Hinawa’s door was a pure white cat: one of Hinawa’s strays. I heaved a sigh and squared my glasses.

“Don’t scare me like that, Yuki,” I groused. The sound of something clambering off the railing made my ear perk up, and I caught sight of another cat, this one also white but with a brown ‘island’ on her back. “See? Your sister knows how to act. Right, Shima?”

Shima, Yuki’s litter mate according to Hinawa, greeted me with a drowsy mew and a yawn, stretching before taking her place at Hinawa’s door, watching me expectantly. I laughed to myself. Demanding as ever, I noted as I knocked on the door.

Despite waiting a minute or two, there was no answer from inside. I tried the door only to find that it was locked. My ears drooped. Hinawa bothering to lock up was rare enough that it annoyed me a little when it did happen.

“Come now,” I grumbled, setting down my bags to open up the post box. Just through the slot, there was a spare key taped to the top of the inside. Thank Tenma she’d told me about it.

The key had a bit of trouble fitting into the lock, much to my further annoyance, requiring a bit of forcing before it finally clicked in place. Meanwhile, the cats gathered underfoot to hurry me by scratching at the door. I undid the lock and opened the door, letting them slip in ahead of me. It wasn’t too long afterwards that I heard them mewling.

Once in the entryway, I let go of a breath I didn’t know I was holding. Even if it was a little dingy — Hinawa said the building was at least five years old — seeing the room put me at ease. Compared to the cramped, nigh claustrophobic shed that was my apartment, this was a space for relaxing.

Another much louder mew from the kitchen drew my attention. “Yes, yes, coming,” I called as I slipped into the house slippers. “Pardon the intrusion.”

Shuffling to the fridge, I was greeted again by Yuki and Shima pacing circles, now too impatient to calmly wait for their meal. On the top shelf of the fridge sat a packet of dried fish, which I quickly retrieved along with a couple of small plates. I took great care not to set them too close together. Shima was more akin to a pig than a cat, and she would gladly attack her brother for his share. While she went to work on her fish, Yuki nudged his and looked at me, wondering why his food wasn’t broken into pieces as per usual. I grumbled before obliging his pickiness.

“You really ought to learn from your sister,” I opined.

Not that I didn’t respect his healthy sense of distance and relative quietness, but sometimes I felt like I had more in common with his litter mate, though that was restricted largely to her appetite. Looking at how round she was, it was hard to believe that she’d been emaciated when Hinawa took her in. I recalled Hinawa declaring her mission in life to be fattening the poor stray up. Knowing that made me wonder if she didn’t have similar intentions for me. With my metabolism and protruding ribs, there wasn’t much hope that she’d meet with success on that front.

Either way, Yuki and Shima had eaten their fill and were preoccupied with finding a place to perch and be quiet. I noticed that Hinawa had left her futon laid out, tutting to myself. She had to know that was the first place they’d settle. For the sake of my tired feet, I pulled my bags over to the unstowed kotatsu and drifted underneath it. Things may have been a touch warm, but it was still the most comfortable option. Now all that was left was to wait for Hinawa.

I reached into the bag to pull out my lemon tea and a sausage roll. It was only a couple of bites in that I remembered the magazine I’d bought and picked it up out of the other bag. Normally, I’d never even look at a business magazine, but something about the tagline on the front caught my attention. I almost felt like I might learn something useful from it. Or, at the very least, I wouldn’t be too bored waiting for Hinawa.

I licked the last crumbs of sausage roll from my fingers, took a sip of lemon tea, and opened the magazine to the table of contents. It looked like the bit about land policy was an editorial, dropped before one of the main articles. Opposite the article was a full-page picture of an unfamiliar building in some corner of Amaden that I’d never visited. If the caption was to be believed, it was an unfinished project in the Twenty-third District.

The Problem of Policy and Building in Amaden

Amaden, this contested little outpost, is well known for being robust in the face of conflict. Anyone who isn’t a recent transplant can remember what it was like at the start: the near-constant skirmishes, the arson, the factions that shifted by the day, and countless other examples. Once we’d got our craw full, those of us in business came together with the intention of protecting our interests by protecting each other. That was the beginning of the Trade Association and of the first semblances of law and policy in this outpost.

With stories like this, all the average reader ever hears about is our collective triumph over adversity, and yet nobody talks about the source of the conflicts. Has it all largely been about the mountain and the spectre of Tenma? Many would say yes, and we have no authority to deny them that. That said, we also believe that the cause went beyond the classical struggles between youkai and human. After all, there was a great deal of fighting amongst tengu in all the trouble. The more one looks into the situation, one finds that one of the root causes is at once simpler and more complicated.

The Amaden of today is headed back towards being the Amaden of yesterday because the land development situation is abysmal. Back then, the question was of being able to obtain land, and that issue has assumed a different form but has remained virulent as ever. This time, however, it’s the very Trade Association we placed our trust in that is to blame. While we risk our reputation as a business publication in Amaden, we must speak up against the building freezes enforced by the Association and the harm they bring to business.

A great illustration of the toll of these now meaningless policies is the Eleventh District. Just recently, the tenants of an entire street found themselves ejected from their spaces and their businesses condemned. Everywhere on the now barren street, notices are posted on every door, proclaiming the authority of a certain local land developer. The district council says the rights to develop were obtained legally and voluntarily by the developer from the residents. The former residents tell a different story.

“There were probably four or five of them. All hired muscle. It was obvious,” says the man who ran a cafe on the street. He claims that a representative of the developer paid him a visit one evening with an ultimatum: leave immediately or face their wraith. Handed a pithy wad of cash, the owner says he pulled his family out of the back and fled. “Those guys were deadly serious. They’d probably have killed us.”

“You wouldn’t believe some of the things they pull. Everything from hiring vagrants to yell, scream, and piss everywhere to just pulling up and beating the hell out of everybody,” reports another ousted business owner, an elderly man who ran a tobacco shop.

In the middle of the street, a soba shop called Yattsuyo-an stands, gutted and covered in tarps. No one claims it at first, almost too afraid to talk about it. Then, a sharp-eyed man mutters that he’s the one who used to run the shop; he refuses to identify himself, saying to “stare at the sign” for his name. “It’s about how much vacant land’s left here. There ain’t much from what I hear. Maybe a couple of tsubo left empty in all. Makes it real attractive to grab land by other methods,” he volunteers, though he stops short of saying the same thing happened to him.

Those are just a sampling of the casualties of shady tactics being pulled by land developers in the district. In addition to business owners, even other development companies are finding themselves drawn into struggles. Some months ago, an incident occurred just a block away from the shuttered street. The same developer behind the evictions nearby were reported to be eating a street stall when people on the payroll of another company provoked a fight. Witnesses to the scuffle say that everybody was led away but were seen walking the streets within hours. The district council declined to comment on the matter.

What does the Trade Association have to say on this, then? Not much, as it turns out. We reached out various councilmen and heads of committees and received no answer. The single answer we did receive was from a source who commented on condition of anonymity.

“Of course, we understand the fears people have. We’re business owners, too. However, I think that’s precisely why many are reluctant to make a move on this question of land policy. There’s a real fear that if the development freezes are rescinded all at once, we’ll end up right back in the land war days. That’s why we’re largely pursuing a policy of granting permission to build district by district. It’s unfortunate what happens in some of these districts who haven’t got the go-ahead yet, but we have to maintain a certain pace in the name of stability.”


The rest of the article was a call to pressure Trade Association representatives to talk about the idea of undoing the building freeze. I’d never even heard of such a thing in the first place, which showed how little I knew about Amaden as a whole.

Setting the magazine down, I opened my second sausage roll. Mid-bite, my eyes fell back around the quotation from the nameless man with the soba shop. I’d just had soba and yet another few platters sounded good about now. Along with the taste of buckwheat, I remembered Karen all of a sudden.

Our little meeting had left me without much to go on regarding her problem. Just like the man in the article, Karen’s ‘uncle’ was a nameless mystery. The only clues I had were a letter and a vague description; I wasn’t even sure what a ‘dog face’ would look like at this point. It was enough to make me laugh at myself, jokingly wishing that it turned out the uncle and the mystery man with the soba shop were the same person. With a sigh, I concluded that I was still stuck in work mode.

The rest of my sausage roll disappeared in a single mouthful, and I decided it was time to break open the katsudon. Right as I started digging in the bag for it, the door came flying open, hitting the wall hard enough to startle the cats and send them careening outside.

I struggled to wrench myself out of the kotatsu. By the time I got to my feet, I could see that whoever had opened the door was already standing in the entryway. Thankfully, it wasn’t an intruder.

Wheezing and panting in the entryway, covered in sweat, was Hinawa. It looked liked she had run from one end of Amaden to another. Even the hair on her ears looked dishevelled. Catching her breath, she threw me a look that was equal parts stern and afraid. A nervous buzz ran through my tail and up my spine.

“W-What’s going on?” I asked.

Hinawa’s ears pointed straight forward. “We need to go. Utsuwa needs help. Now.”

-----

You have no idea how much I shaved off of this update.
>> No. 30343
Shameless bump because I'm sure someone missed this update.

This story updates once per month though, so not calling him MIA just yet.
>> No. 30344
File 15145755531.png - (16.78KB, 600x600, koyomi after work.png) [iqdb]
30344
>>30343
>not calling him MIA just yet
Hey, I'm pretty much always around, updating or not. I'm not always the most communicative about what's going on, of course, but you can rest assured I'm here somewhere.

>This story updates once per month
While a factual statement, I would object... except I got a job and am only just fumbling my way back into the back-and-forth of work and home life, so that is going to be a fact of life for the next little bit. As we speak, my shift has beat the life from me and I'm losing consciousness rapidly. The best news I can deliver in terms of updates is that I've got a rough-rough draft for this story done. How long it'll take me to turn it into something less rough? Don't count on it being within the next couple of weeks.

And I've still gotta update my Nemuno story. Shit.
>> No. 30346
File 151622943627.jpg - (441.27KB, 1024x768, nicer than this but yes.jpg) [iqdb]
30346
The twilight behind Hinawa cast a shadow over her face. No glimmer in her eyes came through the darkness to soften the crazed look showing in them. A bizarre feeling washed over me, blurring the edges of my consciousness. This couldn’t be real. I was looking at a waking nightmare.

No matter how much I blinked, the nightmarish shape didn’t vanish from the doorway. Try as I might to tear my eyes away, I was locked in my own body, unable to make even the slightest movement. Hinawa said something that didn’t register to my ears.

“Wha…” I said dumbly. The sounds from my mouth felt alien, like they were coming from somewhere far away.

Noises like shouting roared from Hinawa. She came stomping at me, and I lurched forward, pulled by an arm that didn’t feel like my own. It was only when I hit the floor that I felt the moment rushing back to me. All at once, the air felt heavier than before. My lungs strained to keep hold of anything in them. The lingering buzzing just after the sting of impact rippled through my cheek.

“—ld be happening to him, so get up!” Words finally came through to me, the noises arranged to where I could understand. Hinawa’s voice was a ragged parody of its usual self.

Even though I was ‘back to reality’, there were still gaps, for lack of a better word, in what I could perceive. Entire moments vanished. Time became discrete flashes: I picked myself up off the floor. I ran out the door. I called to Hinawa. I took to the sky. Streaks of neon light flew by.

Conscious thought came back to me with the feeling of being jostled. Someone’s shoulder collided with mine. A crow tengu scowled at me, shouting curses that faded into the noise of hundreds of others talking. I wasn’t even walking on my own. A hand tugged on mine.

Clearing the crowd — when did we get there? — I could see that it was Hinawa leading. Her face was stony and unyielding to anything. In that moment, if I’d have asked her anything, I felt like her ears would have rejected it.

I looked around me as we kept walking, surveying the area in an attempt to figure out where I was. All I knew was that the buildings were clearly tengu-built and tall. This had to be the eastern end of Amaden. Not a precise location, but it was a small comfort to my dazed mind. The haze lifted gradually while Hinawa pulled me from street to street. For the sake of ease, I let her keep leading me by the hand.

In the middle of an alley, we came to a building that was shorter than the others and made of some dark, imposing material, as if it was made to hide itself by absorbing all surrounding light. No sign or placard named the building itself, leaving it as just an anonymous piece of architecture, uninteresting to anyone who didn’t know its purpose. Hinawa’s focused glare at the facade said all that needed to be said. With a moment’s hesitation, I pulled the darkened glass door open and walked in first.

What greeted me was a room with cold grey walls, absent anything but a few chairs, a reception window, and a heavy door in back. No one manned the window, but a guard greeted us from a chair perched by the door. Her ears fell flat in a confused look at the two of us.

“I’m sorry, but visiting hours are—”

“Business,” Hinawa interrupted. The pin on her gleamed in the light as she held it out in a very deliberate show of telling the guard we were patrolwomen.

The guard visibly scoffed but kept her a rigid expression, a slight downward twist of her lips being the only change. “That tells me nothing. Patrol doesn’t normally come around here.”

“And the Guard doesn’t normally step on the Patrol’s toes, but some of yours sure did now.” Hinawa stabbed the air with an accusatory finger at the heavy door. “Right now, our suspect in our investigation is lying around in there. I shouldn’t have to say any more.”

A stifling silence hung in the air around the two of them, making it harder to get a word in to soften Hinawa’s rough approach. The guard looked me and Hinawa over with a look that clearly questioned our integrity. I lowered my ears in a quiet show of deference.

With a screech of shoes on polished floor, the guard made a crisp turn on her heel and disengaged the heavy door. It closed with an echoing slam behind her. With her gone, I allowed myself to breathe again. Hinawa stood there glaring at the door, as if following her through the walls.

“Did you have to be like that?” I forced out, finally having just enough leeway to talk.

One of Hinawa’s ears made a wiggle of acknowledgement, but she didn’t bother looking at me. “Now’s not the time. We need Utsuwa back ASAP.”

I grasped for anything to say back, but I couldn’t argue. No matter how I felt about decorum or civility, that didn’t change the fact that Utsuwa was out of our hands, which was a scary place to be.

“I just don’t like it,” I muttered.

Hinawa took a sharp breath, tensing up like she was about to tear into me. I took an instinctive step back. However, she didn’t say a word, only balling her fist. Noting her tail hanging low, I felt myself tensing up a little too. She was as nervous as I was, if not moreso.

These moments were rare for me. The Hinawa I was used to seeing was a lot more in control and certainly less inclined to start shouting — at least, when she didn’t have too many drinks in her. Of course, I’d only known her for a few weeks at best.

The soft rustle of plastic made me notice — only now — that I was carrying my stuff from the mini-mart. Somewhere in the rush to get out, I must have grabbed it. I didn’t know whether to laugh at myself or just feel stupid.

Remembering Hinawa’s coffee milk, I fumbled around for the carton and held it out for her. Some naive thought in the back of my mind told me it would make the situation better. “Here, something sweet.”

Hinawa’s ears fell back, but her tail also curled up slightly. She threw a look at me over her shoulder before jerking around to face me. Her face was stony, impossible to read, but something was alive in her eyes. With a muttered thank-you, she took the carton, looking at it without opening it, turning it over in her hands. They trembled a little.

“I didn’t know what’d be good.”

“Thank you,” Hinawa repeated.

“You’re welcome,” I replied dumbly.

At that moment, the heavy door came careening open again. A heavyset wolf, greyed around every possible edge, leaned out without actually stepping through. He stood watching me and Hinawa, and a rumbling hum came from him, the sort of sound someone made when they doubted something was worth their time.

“You guys wanted to talk? Break room’s this way,” said the grizzled wolf, his voice uncharacteristically clear for a battle-torn face like his.

Neither I nor Hinawa responded. The greyed wolf scratched at the messy remainder of hair between his ears, looking like he’d rather be many other places than here.

“No? Your loss. I was thinking about heading home.”

“You’re the one in charge of this mess?” Hinawa asked at last.

He made a noise from the back of his throat that could have just as easily been a cough as a laugh. “You could say that. As much as they let me be in charge of anything. Honestly, it’s like they want to drive out their old-timers. Nothing like the mountain administration. Makes a guy wonder why he ever transferred.” Catching himself, he cleared his throat, gesturing at the door. “But I think we’d be better off talking in the break room. These chairs out here hurt my ass.”

Hinawa gave a weary sigh, twisting her braid in her fingers. I sympathised. Still, we had no other choice, and so we followed the heavy door, down a sterile-coloured hall, filing into a pristine break room. He swaggered in ahead of us, snatching one of the padded chairs and flopping down in it with his arms crossed.

“Now that’s more like it. Been on my feet all day, you know? These damn leather pieces they make us wear…” He tapped his shoes on the glossy tiled floor.

“You still haven’t introduced yourself,” Hinawa said with a unmissable note of irritation as she took a seat.

Ignoring Hinawa, the grey wolf grunted and pulled himself up from his chair, sauntering over to the coffee-maker on the nearby counter and filling three paper cups. Two of them went on the table while the last one was handed to me. I didn’t quite know what to say in response, so I settled for nodding. The coffee was too hot for me to drink, but it felt nice to have something warm in my hands.

Back in his seat, he leaned back and took a long, loud sip of coffee. His frayed tail flipped happily as he enjoyed his hot drink. Likewise, Hinawa drank from her cup, though with much less humour. She set down her cup first, clicking her claws on the tabletop.

“Sir?” I asked hesitantly.

“Hmm?” One of his ears cocked as he looked up from his coffee. “Oh, right, names. Ishigamori. I’m a detective. Or that’s my title, anyway. These days I’m more of a bench-warmer. Nice to meet you all the same.”

Detective Ishigamori turned to Hinawa with an expectant look. She sat up straight, giving a reluctant bow from her seat.

“Aiba Hinawa. Patrolwoman, Fifteenth District.” The last part was spoken with a distinctive clip at the end. She wanted to be clear that she wasn’t about to add a ‘Pleased to meet you.’ If Ishigamori noticed, it didn’t show in his loose smile.

Feeling the detective’s eyes on me next, I fumbled to find the right words. I shuffled into a chair, throwing my shopping bag on the table to hide behind. “I-I’m Iwabori Koyomi, sir. Same as Hinawa.”

“Iwabori and Aiba, huh? Interesting combination of names there,” he mused with a scratch of his stubbly chin. “Real interesting. Especially you. I’d figure an Iwabori would be— Ah, wait, I got it. Don’t tell me. You’re one of the branches, right? The ones without the fortune?”

I winced. Any number of stock responses rushed to my mouth all at once, getting into a collision mid-way and spilling out in fragments. Of all my hated subjects, that had to be the worst to be ambushed with.

“My co-worker’s ancestry doesn’t matter. We’re here to talk about a case,” Hinawa interjected, to my relief.

“And you,” Ishigamori went on, pointing to Hinawa, “are a legend in the ranks. Or an urban legend. I forget which. Depends on how far down the ladder you fall, I reckon. Anyhow, I’m impressed to be sitting across from you. Damn shame you left us with your record.”

I looked at Hinawa aghast. Never once had she said a word about being in the Guard. Not even a hint. The way Hinawa’s ears flattened at the mention of such a past told me that was on purpose. She bared her fangs at Ishigamori.

“Forget about me,” Hinawa growled.

I grabbed Hinawa’s shoulder. That feeling of unreality was starting to hit me again. “Hinawa, what’s—”

“Later!” She slapped my hand away with a force that looked to surprise even her. Still, all of her attention stayed aimed at Ishigamori.

There was a twinge of something in the detective’s eye. His lip curled, uncovering a long but broken fang. He tutted at Hinawa in disapproval.

“Really, Miss Aiba? You say she’s just your co-worker, but I see a friend. You really shouldn’t treat a friend like that. Like… an underling, wouldn’t you say?”

The words hit Hinawa like a slap across the face, but she didn’t retaliate, looking a bit deflated. She looked at me, ears low, and muttered something. Maybe it was an apology. I was having a hard time comprehending words again. More automatically than anything, I nodded and muttered back.

Ishigamori looked my way too, smiling with the nonchalance of an irresponsible father. His voice came out soft and placative. “This girl here. So nervous. I bet nobody’d envy her right now.”

“I-I’m fine,” I sputtered.

I fiddled with the bag before remembering what else I’d brought. The pair of katsudon and a chocolate cornet were all that was left. Looking up, I noticed Ishigamori’s ears perking up at the sound of rustling plastic and sheepishly showed off my dinner.

“Katsudon.” The whole situation had me in such a state that I could barely manage a single word.

Ishigamori licked his lips. “Looks good. You know, I’ve been working all day, so I haven’t even had a chance to get lunch…”

I covered Hinawa’s katsudon protectively. Hinawa eyed it herself and reached over, but her hand grazed past in favour of the chocolate cornet. Her eyes flicked to the detective and back to me. The slightest lean of her ears substituted for a nod. I stared at her for a moment, as if to ask if that’s what she really wanted, and received no other answer. She nibbled at her cornet without any further comment.

Turning attention back to Ishigamori, I pushed the other katsudon forward along with a pair of disposable chopsticks. He accepted it gladly, his ragged tail flapping as he popped the plastic lid off.

“Look at that. Guess there are some swell kids in the Patrol. Hell, we could use a few of you in the office.” He looked up from breaking his chopsticks apart. “You probably wanted to be in the Guard, right? There’s something in your face. Something a lot like her. Kids like you that got some spunk. I like that.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. My eyes fell to the table, and I broke apart my chopsticks, picking at my katsudon. The detective laughed and took a bite of pork cutlet before going on.

“Yup, you look like Guard material. A little rough, but you gotta be, coming in. Otherwise you’ll never find your footing. Of course, that Patrol business’ll file off your rough edges. Shame, too. I bet someone like you’d be a great fit for a case like this. But I can’t share anything real deep. Too bad.”

“You… You make it sound like something big is going on,” I commented while trying to get my hand to cooperate with the chopsticks.

Ishigamori tutted, wagging his finger at me. “Rascal, trying to be all precocious and interrogate a detective like that. But I can’t say I hate that.” He leaned back, continuing to shovel food into his mouth. Swallowing, he wiped his mouth and shoved the half-empty bowl aside. “Alright, how about a little guessing game? Your friend’s in a detention centre. They’ve called in a detective to deal with him. Tell me what you think’s going on. No hints, now.”

“Are you seriously going to start playing games?” spat Hinawa, crumbling up her cornet wrapper.

“Give me one reason to be serious, Miss Aiba. Otherwise, let your friend answer the question.”

I looked to Hinawa. Her mouth opened like she was about to counter Ishigamori, but her voice faltered before anything came out. Annoyed, she clicked her tongue and quietly nodded to me again. There wasn’t much choice but for me to keep playing along.

Thinking on his words, something hit me. “Detention centre?”

Scanning the cold walls of the break room, the fact that I didn’t even know where I was standing only just seeped in. I’d never seen the inside of a detention centre, so I could only trust that he was telling the truth. From Hinawa’s lack of a reaction, it had to be true. I gasped softly. I’d failed to notice something so simple.

“You— The Guard is holding Utsuwa. He’s here in this building.”

“I’d say it’s obvious enough,” said Ishigamori with an unimpressed hum.

“And you’re here to talk with him.”

“Because…”

I squinted, pushing my panicked brain as hard as I could to come up with something to finish that sentence. All that was coming to me was that morning.

My ears sprang up with another sudden realisation. “Wait a minute! You’re not saying—”

“Took you a second. But it’s exactly what you think. Paperwork’s been filed, signed, and sealed for hours.” The detective gave a weary sigh like he knew first-hand about the paperwork.

Hinawa looked like she’d come to the same conclusion, if slightly faster than I had. A flush of anger had coated her face, and she sat gritting her teeth, eyes cast down at the floor. Her fangs gleamed in the cold light of the room.

“What for? We were in the middle of an investigation. I was going to… I was going to help him. We were going to help him.” I wanted to share in Hinawa’s outrage, but I felt myself faltering. My words were losing strength as I spoke them.

A bit of a smirk lifted the worn-in grooves of Ishigamori’s face. “Oh? If you’ve already made up your mind about him like that, maybe it’s for the best. Biases and all.”

I fell quiet. The will to argue had already left me.

“Any rate, you should know Guard trumps Patrol any day. That’s Amaden’s rock-paper-scissors. Except there’s no paper to the Association’s rock. Or whatever. Bad metaphor.” Ishigamori picked up his coffee and took a drink, swishing it around in the paper cup. “I can’t say much about charges. All you need to know is that it’s part of a price-fixing investigation. And it’s a doozy. We’re talking deep in the shadows of Amaden.”

Hinawa’s chair screeched on the floor as she stood up. “They fingered him as part of that investigation. He’s supposedly involved, and that’s why he’s been arrested.”

“In so many words,” the detective concurred. “Though I can’t help noticing you sound surprised too, Miss Aiba. Surely, someone like you would’ve noticed something.”

“I… didn’t think things would get this far,” Hinawa growled. Her fists were clenched. Though it was subtle, I could see them trembling.

[ ] The Utsuwa I know can’t be a criminal!
[ ] All things considered, maybe…

-----

Think about the choice a little bit, but don't think too deeply.

Also, hello, it is your boy. This update should have conceivably been done weeks ago, but alas and alack. The upside is that I'm back in the game and trying to be more 'in' than the previous year. That's why you should yell at me if more than a couple of weeks passes without an update. Let's make 2018 the awoo-est year yet!
>> No. 30347
>The Utsuwa I know can’t be a criminal!

No police officer should ever say this.

[X] All things considered, maybe…

I really want to give a good reason, but I can't remember what happened before this update, or why the stuff in this update matters. I do remember Kokoro was somewhere in this story, and her scenes were great.
>> No. 30348
[x] The Utsuwa I know can’t be a criminal!

Was he possessed by a loan shark? Can you even be held accountable for crimes you committed while possessed by a malevolent spirit?

>I really want to give a good reason, but I can't remember what happened before this update, or why the stuff in this update matters.

No offense but the previous updates are literally right here if you want to know what's going on
>> No. 30349
>>30348

I tried reading through a few before this one, but it was all a bunch of OCs and talking heads, so I kinda lost interest pretty quick.
>> No. 30350
File 151645685792.jpg - (262.31KB, 850x1077, halp me kaynay.jpg) [iqdb]
30350
I probably ought to just nip this in the bud before my story points get any more muddled.

Taking a look backwards, I realise that I've tread on my own toes. That's why I'm gonna go ahead and call a retcon on the use of the word 'arrest' before the most recent update. Now, it sounds like a trivial thing, but it's an important one for the setting. Originally, I gave the impression that the Patrol has the ability to make arrests. That has since changed. Only the Guard can make formal arrests in the setting, leaving the Patrol limited to short-term detainment; imagine the Patrol as like the Tourist Police of Bangkok. If you happen to go back to refresh your memory of what happened, please mentally replace the word 'arrest' with 'detain' or 'detainment'.

Hopefully, the fact that this retcon was even necessary doesn't alarm anyone too much. Amaden as a setting wasn't something I gave a whole lot of thought to when I started out, so it's inevitable that there might be a few inconsistencies. Please understand.

Also, I may as well just go ahead and officially state that I'm returning to my Best Effort Policy™ of two weeks per update; I was unofficially following it for a bit before falling off the wagon. Like I said before, if more than a couple of weeks passes without an update, consider prodding me.

P.S. Kokoro will be returning. Just hold onto your dongers.
>> No. 30351
[x] The Utsuwa I know can’t be a criminal!

BELIEVE
>> No. 30352
Alright, just gonna call it here since there's a simple majority and time is short if I'm going to stick to my schedule.

In spite of all the trouble he's caused, Koyomi has found herself attached to Utsuwa somehow. It flies in the face of being a patrolwoman to insist on this, but she's convinced that...

[x] The Utsuwa I know can’t be a criminal!

Two weeks.
>> No. 30355
I almost forgot how quickly two or three weeks can disappear when you're working. Really drives home how you're trading your life for a bit of coin. Of course, that's neither here nor there.

You'll notice that there's not a shiny new update sitting in the thread after that oh-so-impressive two weeks I promised. Or maybe you haven't noticed. Maybe I'm just a hack rambling to himself in a void. I really don't know anymore. Which brings me to the heart of the matter.

The future of Don't Call Me a Glutton is in jeopardy. Now, I don't mean that I'm pondering pulling a repeat of Fame and Misfortune; outright cancellation isn't in the cards. However, what I can say for sure is that my confidence in the story itself is deeply shaken. Where the story's going and even where it is have stopped feeling like solid concepts. I don't feel I'm exaggerating when I say I'm in a bit of a bad way creatively. Let me break down how we got here.

Don't Call Me a Glutton -- the title itself was a total last-minute decision -- began its life as an entry in the Carnival of Updates in late 2015, very different days from now. I was working full-time, living in an entirely different city, and having an awful time of it back then. As you might know, FaM was still alive at this point, but I was already struggling with it pretty deeply, much worse than anyone knew since I wasn't talking about it. Wanting to push me through my slump, Sage-King, of Kinu Yasumi's Almanac fame, nudged me into entering the Carnival. It was a move mean to energise me, much like the event itself was supposed to energise the site.

Given the "free from constraints" theme of the Carnival, you can imagine that I approached my new story with little planning. My only outline going into the first update was a couple of comments about the characters and a sentence about what I wanted to happen to them. In truth, I wanted to be finished with the story within a month. However, a number of plans shifted and changed, and I eventually tossed it all aside in favour of rounding out the "story arc" of the moment. The fact that I'd left off on such an open-ended note should have alarmed me at the time.

It followed that I needed to start a new story arc after the end of the first. Luckily, I'd come up with a vague concept already, so I leapt right into it. Just the idea carried me a few updates in, up to the questioning room sequence at the station. About that point, I had a bit of a panic and realised that I needed an actual plot. I'll spare a lot of the details, but the point is that I came to regret starting this most current plot arc. Nonetheless, after gritting my teeth and lashing together a large-scale outline of the story, I decided I was going to make the best of a bad situation and push myself to continue.

That doesn't mean that I haven't put quite a lot of myself into writing. In fact, I've probably put more into some recent updates than ever before. On the flipside of that, though, the rather tepid response is made all the more disheartening by that effort. It's obvious to me that overall investment in the story has dwindled, which only underscores the regret I feel about everything.

What does that mean going forward? I don't have an easy answer to that. Some perverse part of me says pulling the plug would make for the most satisfying rebuttal, but I can't let myself destroy every creative outlet I have left. After tamping down that impulse and doing some thinking, about the only course of action I could come up with was taking time to re-think this story. It's hard to say what that'll entail or how long it'll take, but what else can I do? If I don't work something out, this story will inevitably succumb to inertia anyway. I don't want that to happen. If there's anyone left who shares that sentiment, then I suppose there may be some hope. As always, please understand and please wait warmly.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go help a familiar friend get one of his wayward crafts back in the water. Don't be a stranger, THP.

TL;DR: I've written myself into a corner and need space.
>> No. 30356
>>30355

> tepid response

FWIW I think you've been doing a great job. It's a lot of work to write something like this, and I respect you immensely for even attempting it.

It's just not my speed. I grew up on a diet of B-grade police procedurals and it kind of spoiled the genre for me. I got distracted, fell behind on my reading, and here we are.

That's all on me though. I'm trying to catch up and get voting again. The fact that it's taking me so long just shows how much effort you've put into this thing.

> written myself into a corner

As a fellow (former) Mask, I know exactly how you feel. Flying by the seat of my pants for four weeks worked wonders for my writing ability, but left the plot in so many pieces I cringe just thinking about it. Take all the time you need. If it really isn't your thing, and you can't duct tape it back together again, it may be better to just pull the plug and start over with something you're more comfortable with.

But I will say this: toughing it out and beating your word-demons into the ground feels damn satisfying.
>> No. 30357
>>30356

>how much effort you've put into this

I'm sorry, but I really did come here just to laugh at you. Three years and still on thread one is fuckin disgraceful my dude. Which is a shame since I like this story.

>>30355

Hey at least you gave us a heads up before heading off to rejoin your corporate wageslave brethren. That makes you OK in my book.

>Maybe I'm just a hack rambling to himself in a void. I really don't know

Please be at ease my friend, for I come bearing gifts from the Tree of Knowledge. Your statement is 100% true. Infinite Hiatus Works definitely killed the strong following you had.
>> No. 30540
Hello. All of the following would have been embedded into a giant rant, but I've opted instead to limit myself to this:

The update is something like two-thirds through a second draft. ETA is 'when it's done'. Also, after Tenma knows how much struggle and drama, there's an actual plot with concrete plans rather than the wobbly, bare-bones scaffolding that originally held everything up.

Thousands of apologies for long silences. Please continue to understand and wait warmly.
>> No. 30561
>>30540
I love when I open my big, fat mouth and shove my own foot right in. All I'm going to say this time is that the update is coming. Just know that all the restarts are because I care about the end result. And don't ask me for a TBA.

sage and tripless for whining
>> No. 30562
>>30561
fuck me

*ETA
>> No. 30599
Wednesday Report

Inspired by my friend Mask of gold, I feel like I ought to at least show that I'm alive and that something is happening, even if it's not necessarily happening quickly. And I should really bring some kind of positive news in general, instead of bitching and blogging every time I have something to say. Why Wednesday? Because I do most of my work in bursts over the weekdays, and then I tend to devote the weekend to a bit more serious work if I can; most of the true progress happens during the week, though.

So, with that said, for my first mid-week report, I'd like to give an idea of where I'm at with the coming update. However, to talk about that, I first have to kind of explain my general process for approaching updates:

The very first thing I do is set down what the goals are for the update. If I know nothing else, I at least know what the ending of the update is supposed to be. Working back from that, I then try to suss out some "objectives", events or conditions that lead to that ending state, if you'd like. From there, the next step might sound a bit silly to some, but what I do is write what happens in the update in a very on-the-nose style, essentially creating an outline narrated by Koyomi. The result is often rather lacking good taste, but it serves its purpose.

Once I've got the general who-what-wherefore established, I move on to the hardest part of the process, i.e., the rough draft. This is the part that often takes me a while to get done, if only because it's a bit tedious. After knowing what happen, now I have to set it all out in some semblance of prose. It doesn't have to be good prose at this point. It hardly even has to be coherent as long as I know what I meant to do. Still, this is the hard labour part that requires "just doing it". Because of that, I try to work in quick bursts. How much happens in any given session is kind of down to how much patience I have after work.
Which brings me to the current phase of things. This is where I have a full rough draft from start to finish, complete with choices, and now I have to start appraising it and figuring out what needs fixing. At this stage, I'm making plot-level fixes, trying to make sure things work out sensible, and so forth. If there's anything that I or my editor feel is missing, this is when it gets added, ideally. The idea is that, once everything looks square in terms of happenings, the sentences and their intended meaning are more or less "frozen", and I can move onto just making them sound prettier.


I'll talk more about what follows in coming reports, but that stage is where I'm at now. The draft's just been recently finished, so I had to get a read-over from my editor. We had a reasonably quick discussion, with a couple of sticking points brought up. The next thing to do is for me to give it another comb-over of my own and make any sort of broad-stroke decisions that might need making. As of today, I'm about a quarter of the way through re-treading the update and making my notes. I think I should be finished or close by the time of the next report.

Anyway, I hope showing little peeks behind the curtain at least show that I'm not doing nothing. Let me know how you feel. Until next Wednesday, my dudes.
>> No. 30601
>>30599

Greatness!

What level of retcon should we be expecting? Is it like "reorder the timeline of events a little" or more like "ending of the JoJo's Stone Ocean arc"?
>> No. 30603
>>30601
Hello, Unofficial THP Discord.

I don't recall (on here, at least) mentioning retcons specifically, but I suppose you could say that's in the cards. Given the time I've taken to go back and actually craft a plot for the entire story, I'll bluntly say that in essence it'll probably work out more like the latter than the former.

However, I can say, without spoiling much of anything, that the events starting from the beginning of this thread all the way to Koyomi getting the mask from the black-haired kappa will still have happened. That's what I term the "first arc". Everything afterwards, well... we'll have to see, now, won't we?

Oh, and regardless of what happens after that, I will say that all of the stuff with Utsuwa will very likely still happen. It just might not be right now, and it might not happen in the way it happened over the past however long.

I'm not sure what I else I can say without spilling everything, so I hope that answers your question in some way. And thank you for asking!
>> No. 30609
>>30599

Thanks for the update. I too feel like Mask of Gold is setting a great example here.

I think you shouldn't have saged that post though. Giving people a change to catch up with the story before the update goes live could possibly increase your following.
>> No. 30611
>>30609
Not much to catch up with in order to be current with what comes next. Trust me.

Re: sage, I figure those few who still care will inevitably check on their own. Otherwise, it's just shoving irrelevant news into uncaring faces.

Which is to say, thank you for caring.
>> No. 30624
Okay, I should probably say that, any time I say "I might be done with x by y", just mentally append a note that that is an optimistic projection, unless explicitly noted otherwise.

That disclaimer out of the way, I'll come right out and say that the projection of second-drafting work being done today was manic period optimism. I won't get into all of the circumstances with work and identity fraud that are part of life's campaign to keep shitting on me. Rather, I'll focus on the fact that I was not counting on having to rewrite things. That sounds scary, but it's not uncommon in the early-to-middle process of writing an update. Of course, it can also happen late into the process if you're sloppy about it -- something that used to happen to me all the time.

The fact of the matter is that I had some further discussion with my editor after last Wednesday's report. We came to an understanding that the early parts of the draft were okay but kind of flimsy. As such, it became necessary to take stock, make plans, and start to redo those bits. That is, of course, pretty normal. This step of the process is one of continual "fixing". If there's something that just isn't up to snuff in some way, then it has to be redone, and that'll keep happening until there's nothing left to have qualms with. The bad part of this is that this redoing work amounts to the first one-third of the update.

The good news is that I'm very, very close to the halfway point on getting that done. The even better news is that very little beyond that has shown a need for extensive work. With diligent work, I can likely move on to the spit-shining phase of things. Not to understate that work, but if I've done everything right here, then there won't be any reason to do anything more involved than changing words here and there.

Sometimes I'm a bit confused if I'm making progress myself. That said, I think things are proceeding at a reasonable clip, all things considered. It's my biggest hope that you'll all be staring at a shiny new update soon. Just... don't ask for an exact date or anything. The answer is going to be more optimistic than I can bear to recall later.

Until next Wednesday, my dudes.
>> No. 30639
Wednesday Report

Despite increasingly shitty encounters with identity theft, I've just pulled through the rewrites-and-additions phase and moved into touching up the prose. In other words, we're getting a whole lot closer to a finished update.

As I've only just gotten into it, I don't want to be too optimistic and say I'll be done before next Wednesday. I'd like to think that all of the previous rigmarole basically front-loaded a lot of the work for me, but there's always those bits where it's hard to find the get the right feeling across. Plus, there's always bits where the prose is left first-draft-tier skeletal for reasons of pragmatism, leaving the work of adding meat for this present moment. That said, I feel like this is the part where I feel most comfortable working. Something about having the clay already shaped into something resembling the final piece makes it easier to let one's thoughts run free.

So, not much else to say, unfortunately. I've just got to play with words until they resemble an update. With any luck, that won't be much longer. Until next Wednesday, my dudes.

Unsaged for reasonably positive developments.
>> No. 30642
>>30639

Told ya you shouldn't sage ya dope. Anyway, thanks for the update.
>> No. 30686
Wednesday Report

Mixed news this week. The downside is that I need to extensively rewrite a whole section of the update -- again -- to make it work. The upside is that, aside from that bit, most of the tweaking and improving is simple.

I don't want to get too into it, but I might as well say that, despite all good intentions, sometimes things don't follow a methodical procession of steps. In this case, I thought that the second draft had made for a working scene, and yet here we are. The true fact of the matter is that I tried to force it to work. Look you well and learn by my example why that creates pains.

Still, as I say, the rest of the work looks to be fairly simple. I've run up and down the draft de-clunk-ing things here and there, and have covered a good three-quarters of the update just pecking at it at random. Most of it comes down to word choice. Occasionally, a sentence or two needs moving and maybe a little extra spice added to it. The big thing for me is deciding how to break up paragraphs; it's surprisingly important for flow. Thankfully, nothing of that sort's presented much trouble.

If I can get my closest partner in crime working with me on the difficult bits this weekend, I'd be optimistic about a finish next week. That said, it's still done when it's done.

Until next Wednesday, my dudes.

P.S. Tenma help you if you're getting your news from me, but if you somehow haven't read it yet, go support my main man Mask of gold and his NaNoWriMo entry, Rural Concord in Small Scale. It's good.
>> No. 30723
Wednesday Report

Remember when I said that things don't necessarily go smoothly despite all good intentions? That applies to this week.

The long and short of it is that the particular scene that needed help worked alright for what it was, but it really needed something more. As it was, it didn't feel like Dacmag, and getting that feeling across is important to me, considering this is supposed to be busting a hiatus. If I can't give the readers a good sense of the story now, well, that's just robbery.

As such, in consulting with my editor, it quickly became obvious that I couldn't just fix up some words here and there and call it done. This called for a complete redo. That meant creating an outline of the scene, treating almost like its own update, and poking out a skeleton draft for it. Thankfully, that part of the work didn't take too long.

Where we stand right now, I've been working on fleshing out the draft of the scene, trying to work in a slightly abbreviated fashion while maintaining the integrity of everything. How long will it take to finish? It's honestly hard to say. At the rate I'm going right now, it could take what remains of this week, possibly running into the weekend.

What does that mean for the rest of the update? Hell if I know! All I can say for sure is that, once this scene is tricked-out, what remains is still a good chunk of an update to fit around it. I feel good about the overall integrity of the rest, but I'm not going to get complacent.

In short, no optimistic projections here at the moment. You still get it when it's done.

Until next Wednesday, my dudes.
>> No. 30741
Wednesday Report

It's late and I am seriously tired, so I'm going to make this simple:

I created more work for myself. That work is not proceeding very quickly. I'm still finishing the rewrite of that scene. I don't know when I'll be done. It is frustrating.

Sorry, my dudes.
>> No. 30809
Wednesday Report

Spoilers: This is another short one because it's late. Also, no ETA still.

Work was still slow because of the same scene. I managed to get some triage discussion in with my editor despite NaNoWriMo. IRL issues briefly forced me out of my house. Building or maintaining any kind of momentum was difficult until just now.

I'm getting back into it, but there's no talking around the fact that I've lost time. All I can say is that I'll try my best not to lose any more. As with everything else, no promises.
>> No. 30852
Wednesday Report

In a positive turn, I broke through a fairly difficult portion of the scene, greatly improving it and generally making it more sensible than it has ever been. That does still leave the remainder, but it's a short remainder. I'm almost certain I can clean it up in the next day or two.

As to the rest of the draft, we'll see how that proceeds. I feel pretty good after clearing up this particular stretch of prose, so maybe I can harness that feeling and turn it into momentum.

By the way, if there's any particular point you'd like me to clear up about any of this, feel free to ask. Otherwise, I'll probably just keep it short and sweet. Or as sweet as the moment warrants, anyway.
>> No. 30884
Just in case anyone doesn't notice somehow: The story continues at >>30879
[Return] [Entire Thread] [Last 50 posts] [First 100 posts] [Top]


[Delete or report post]
Delete post []
Password  
Report post
Reason  


[Switch to Mobile Page]
Thread Watcher x