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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.



I wasn't really planning to, but I'm participating in the November storyfest. Let's see how long I last.
Expand all images
>> No. 29431
[x] Check the restaurants and inns around the 'theatre' -- and maybe grab a snack while you're at it.

We're going to need a lot of snacks to put up with Kokoro's shit. Might as well get started early.
>> No. 29432
[X] Put on your patient face and ask the night shift. Surely, they might remember the play.

More information!
>> No. 29433
[x] Put on your patient face and ask the night shift. Surely, they might remember the play.
At least make an honest effort. Though I'm tempted to just go for food.
>> No. 29434
[x] Check the restaurants and inns around the 'theatre' -- and maybe grab a snack while you're at it.
>> No. 29435
[X] Check the restaurants and inns around the 'theatre' -- and maybe grab a snack while you're at it.
>> No. 29436
[x] Put on your patient face and ask the night shift. Surely, they might remember the play.

Pushy eh?
>> No. 29437
[x] Put on your patient face and ask the night shift. Surely, they might remember the play.

Might as well start off strong!
>> No. 29438
[x] Check the restaurants and inns around the 'theatre' -- and maybe grab a snack while you're at it.

Time to fuel up before really searching, it will only be a bigger distraction later.
>> No. 29439
Alright, guys, I'm cutting the vote off here. I flipped a coin to break the tie. I hated doing it, but I am on a schedule here.

So, without further ado, Koyomi is about to gasp talk to her co-workers, because the winner is...

[x] Put on your patient face and ask the night shift. Surely, they might remember the play.
>> No. 29440
File 144652123114.png - (135.57KB , 600x700 , koyomi fuel.png ) [iqdb]
[x] Put on your patient face and ask the night shift. Surely, they might remember the play.

Sweat beaded on my brow. I was wracking my brain for any way to handle this case that had just been dropped in my lap. What little training I'd received never talked about this. Especially not the part about inconsiderate, dead-eyed mask creatures. I mean, one thought had occurred to me, but I was desperate to not even entertain it. It was just hard to come up with any other options with those dead eyes boring into me, unblinking.

"Well?" the mask girl prodded.

I held down another groan. Keeping up a customer service smile was getting harder and harder. "I just need a moment to think, ma'am."

"My name's Kokoro." Her face remained as blank as my head.

"Give me a minute, then, Kokoro."

She shut up and stepped back a pace or two. I scanned the square. With it being this early, even the stools and tables were missing, to say nothing of the tents. A few people slinked around in the distance, probably making their way home after a night of Tenma-only-knows-what, though I could never be sure.

While I said that the outpost was nocturnal, that wasn't strictly true. There were businesses operating during the day. I hadn't yet acquainted myself with all of them, but I knew at least a few restaurants served stragglers from the nightly revelry and others who I guessed had legitimate business. Since I was in the process of moving, I hoped there would be more.

My stomach jumped in to remind me that I was on its clock. Kokoro's gaze flattened. "You're just thinking about what's for lunch, aren't you?"

"Maybe you'd like to look for your mask yourself."

"I'm being serious," she said, her cheek puffing out. It might have been funny if I were in a better state of mind. She honestly looked like a pouting child. She was even about the right height.

I adjusted my glasses. As much as I hated to admit it, she was right. Half of my bad mood was me being hungry. Looking at it that way, I felt a bit ashamed of myself for losing my calm over that. I had a long way to go as--

"Wait a minute!" I said, a thought coming to me all of a sudden, and looked over my shoulder at Kokoro.

She raised an eyebrow. "I'm already waiting."

"No, no, I mean... urgh." I waved towards one of the nearby alleyways. "Come with me. I just had an idea."

I started walking down the alley, stopping to look back. Kokoro hesitated.

"Your idea isn't knocking me unconscious and leaving me in the alley, is it?" she asked.

"It's not. Now, come on." I normally would've laughed at the thought, but it was tempting.

She stood in place for a second like she didn't believe me, but then quickly got to walking. With her in tow, I made my way to the east, through the narrow strip of buildings that stretched on for several blocks. I was pretty sure this was the way my coworkers had led me the other night.

Sure enough, the alleyway dumped us off into a main street that I recognised as being close to the main red-light district. Thankfully, nothing was open this early, though the signage made it obvious what was on offer when it was. I could see Kokoro giving me a sideways glance. I ignored it and kept on down the block. Unknown except to those who wandered this area, a restaurant with only four tables operated out of the back of a building on a side street here. I only knew because this was where I'd celebrated my entry into the patrol.

It wasn't a showy place, for sure. The only sign that it was open was a propped open door -- and the smell of kimchi wafting out. I'll admit I was sceptical the first I saw and smelled the place. The pungence of cabbage pickling isn't for everyone. That said, in the half-week since I started, I've been back twice already.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to see the door open when I poked my head into the side street and rushed over to greet the owner. The balding human got up from his seat and waved.

"Officer Koyomi. How strange to see you alone!" he called, shuffling over to clear off a table.

"Er, well, I'm actually not." I peeked back to see Kokoro not behind me. "One second," I said to the owner.

Kokoro was still standing outside, at the edge of the alley, holding her nose. I waved for her to come inside, but she didn't move.

"First your ears don't work, and now your nose is broken? What kind of failed excuse for a tengu are you?"

"For your information, my ears and nose work perfectly fine," I huffed. "Now, if you want your mask to be found, I suggest you get in here."

Her face scrunched up in displeasure, but she knew I was serious. She plodded her way inside and took a seat without a word to me or the owner. With any luck, she'd keep that quiet for a while longer.

I pulled out a seat and sat down, careful to put my tail to the side. "Just a normal order for me. I don't think she's going to want anything."

Kokoro shot me a look, her mouth half-open. The owner laughed.

"I'll double your order of mandu free of charge. How about that?"

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Yes, he's sure," Kokoro snarked.

The owner laughed again. "Ah, you got a good friend there, officer. That's two orders of mandu and a large kimchi stew, then."

With that, he disappeared into the billowing steam in the back, hollering to someone. Kokoro shot me another look as soon as he was out of sight. I got up to fill a glass of water for both of us, which she took in spite of her sour face.

"I know it doesn't smell great. You eat it for the taste. Though I guess it kind of depends on whether or not you like strong tastes."

She sipped her water in silence.

"I thought I didn't care for spicy stuff until Hinawa -- oh, she's my coworker, by the way -- introduced me."

"You never told me your name," Kokoro cut in.

I pulled my gloves off, fetching a spoon and a pair of chopsticks off of the nearby counter. "Koyomi. Iwabori Koyomi."

"Well, Koyomi," she said, clawing at some chopsticks for herself, "I appreciate being treated to lunch, but I can't help but notice we're not looking for my mask anymore."

I waved a hand in the air. "And you say I'm not listening. I told you my coworker showed me this place, right?"


"And that same coworker is on the night shift. I'm the only one on the day shift right now, so they're more likely to know something."

Her eyes narrowed. "Still not following."

I sighed, scratching my head. This was why it was a bad idea to talk to anybody while I was hungry. "Look, I'm a new officer here. I don't even know where the night shift guys are during the day. I do know that some of them know this place. That means at least one or two might come here from time to time."

"Oh. I think I get it now."

"Well, good." I stared off at the back, wondering when the old man would be back. The smell of frying mandu was starting to drift over. I could practically taste them already.

"So what you're saying is that you're totally unreliable as an officer."

My ears flattened. I opened my mouth to say something back when the owner came strolling out of the kitchen, two plates of mandu in hand. Anything I might have wanted to say to Kokoro disappeared from my mind as soon as he got close enough to set them down.

"And the stew's coming up soon," he said, bending down to light the burner on the table.

My chopsticks were half-poised to grab a mandu when I remembered what I'd come here for. "By the way, you haven't happened to see any of the other officers around today, have you?"

The old man thought for a second, rolling a burnt-out match in his fingers. "Come to think of it, Officer Sumida stopped by for a minute. Said he was going somewhere, though I can't rightly say where. Sounded like he might've been talking about that kappa bazaar. It's going on today, you know."

"I... I see." Hearing Sumida's name, I couldn't help feeling disappointed. I'd really hoped Hinawa or anyone else might have been through. If I had to rely on him, things might get even more annoying.

The owner nodded and excused himself again. Kokoro cocked her head. "Problem?" she asked.

I smoothed my ears back. "You could say that. I... don't really like dealing with Sumida."

"Did he grab your tail or something?" She leaned in.

"No, he's jus--"

"HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!" came a screech from somewhere nearby.

I jumped out of my seat on instinct, peering out of the doorway to see if I could spot the source. As soon as I did, someone came hauling tail into the alley. Judging from the height and lack of wings or tail, he had to be a human. I couldn't see his face for what looked like a faerie gripping onto his head. Not too far behind him was a kappa wielding some kind of toy.

There was a gust of air next to me, and then I saw Kokoro taking off after the fleeing human as well. Of course she would throw herself into a troublesome situation.

[ ] Time to dash. An officer's duty is to keep the peace, and this isn't shaping up to be peaceful.
[ ] Help without moving. A well-aimed bullet might stop the runner in his tracks. Assuming that's who you want to stop.
[ ] Forget it. Your mandu are already getting cold, and you'll be damned if you're missing out on kimchi stew.
>> No. 29441
[x] Time to dash. An officer's duty is to keep the peace, and this isn't shaping up to be peaceful.

Please do not hurt the human (you can give Kokoro some good bops though).
>> No. 29442
[x] Time to dash. An officer's duty is to keep the peace, and this isn't shaping up to be peaceful.

Got to get a good workout, standing around in a box all day can be tiring. If only Koyomi just took a bite of her food earlier. It's never too late though, eat on the go!
>> No. 29443
[x] Help without moving. A well-aimed bullet might stop the runner in his tracks. Assuming that's who you want to stop.

This Kokoro expresses way too much. Which is hilarious (except for the MC, I guess)
I guess she lost her patience mask or something?
>> No. 29444
[x] Time to dash. An officer's duty is to keep the peace, and this isn't shaping up to be peaceful.

This is turning out to be a busy day.
>> No. 29445
Okay, this is as good a point to cut off votes as any. The winning choice is...

[x] Time to dash. An officer's duty is to keep the peace, and this isn't shaping up to be peaceful.

Terribly sorry about yesterday's late posting. I'll try to pick up the pace as much as I reasonably can.
>> No. 29446
File 144659434176.jpg - (610.89KB , 1000x1129 , not really an outpost alley but hey.jpg ) [iqdb]
[x] Time to dash. An officer's duty is to keep the peace, and this isn't shaping up to be peaceful.

I glanced back at the table in apology to my lunch, grabbing a (still quite warm) mandu and holstering it in my mouth before taking off out the door. The human and faerie pair were already half-way down the alley, and Kokoro was nipping at their heels. Their kappa pursuer lay bowled-over not too far from the door. I vaulted over her as I sprang out at my top speed.

One thing to note here is that I didn't make it out of academy through my athletic prowess. Compared to my fellow guards, I was (mostly) trim but wanting for musculature. This naturally put me at the bottom of my class when it came to physical exams. It suffices to say that I was far from fit to chase anyone.

That said, my kimchi stew was coming, and I was not going to miss it for the world. That sole thought propelled me forward down the alley. I was still trailing, but I could make out the human's strained breathing now. His endurance had to be approaching its edge. One second longer, and I'd overtake him.

The faerie attached to him poked her head up and saw me getting closer. She slapped her mount frantically on the shoulder. "Shit! Hurry, Iwao!"

"What now?" snapped a muffled voice from under her.

"Doggie guard at back o' clock!"

The human gave a panicked wheeze and poured even more strength into his legs. I pushed myself even harder, too caught up in the chase to even be offended by the faerie's remark, but I still couldn't make up the distance. A wave of panic ran through me when I saw the end of the alley up ahead.

Then my second athletic failure overtook me: my lack of balance. The other thing that kept me locked in an endless cycle of drills in academy was the fact that my feet liked to entangle themselves at the worst moments. Somehow or another, I forgot to pick up one foot, subsequently tripping myself. However it happened, I toppled over, just barely managing to pull myself into a roll as I hit the ground, and skidded to a stop. I sat up in time to snatch my mandu out of air with my teeth.

The faerie cackled. "Good girl! Now, roll over!" She punctuated her insult with barking noises, throwing her head back and crowing with laughter.

I bared my fangs in the faerie's direction, grinding my teeth in frustration. One simple job and you screw it up, Koyomi.

Just then, I realised that I'd lost sight of Kokoro. There weren't any side paths to duck into, so it wasn't like she was circling them. That's when I heard a yell and looked up. A streak of pink-and-blue came crashing down from the rooftops, right on top of the human, knocking him and his faerie rider to the ground.

I got to my feet and limped my way over to where Kokoro was now standing triumphantly over the human, holding the strawberry blonde faerie up by the scruff of her neck. The faerie's wings buzzed as she flailed in Kokoro's grip. "What in the hell is your problem, lady! You could have killed Iwao! You know how hard it is to find a human this gull--"

Kokoro shook the faerie. "Shut up."

The faerie glared at Kokoro, crossing her arms. "Hmph."

Before I could say anything, the kappa from before came scrambling to a halt, out of breath and dirty-faced. She wobbled like she might fall over again, so I offered a hand to keep her stable.

"I'm fine," she snarled between breaths. "Just hurry up and arrest those two."

Kokoro frowned. "I have business with this faerie, so you're going to have to wait."

"Yeah, she--" The faerie shot Kokoro another dirty look. "Wait a minute, I don't even know you, lady!"

The kappa adjusted her slicked-back hair, which had a sheen like was some kind of costume piece. "I really don't care." She turned to me, pointing to the human, who was still writhing in pain on the ground. "That faerie has sticky fingers, and the human is probably her mule. I told them repeatedly to stop handling the merchandise, and you know what she did? She chucked a toy gun at me! You think I'm going to stand for that?"

"What! You're the one who threw it at me, you dumb... turtle thing! You with your big, dumb bald spot!" shouted the faerie.

The kappa made like she was going to throttle the faerie, but Kokoro put her arm out. "Hold on just one minute. I haven't even got my revenge yet," Kokoro said.

"Who cares? You're not the one who has to worry about a bottom line."

"Worry more about your ugly turtle face!"

Just like that, things broke down into indiscernible squabbling between the three of them. I rubbed my temples, feeling that headache coming back. Conflict resolution was never my specialty. Sure, I was the top of my class in it, but that was purely academics. Now that I had a real live situation in front of me, all I could tell was that it was a mess.

I thought back to what I'd learned. If I wanted to get anywhere, I was going to have to sort through it piece-by-piece.

[ ] Start with Kokoro. She's the most pressing matter at hand, considering she's the one who dragged you out of the station. What's the deal with her and that faerie?
[ ] Start with the faerie. You can't spell trouble without faeries, and they cause plenty of it around here. She could use some straightening out.
[ ] Start with the kappa. Kappa merchants are never fun to deal with, but they're an inseparable part of the outpost. Tenma only knows what a hacked-off kappa is capable of where money's involved.
[ ] That human looks awfully injured. A youkai injuring a human is never a good thing to deal with politically. Doubly so if he happens to be an outsider. Try making sure he's okay.
>> No. 29447
[X] Start with the kappa. Kappa-pa, kappa-pa juuust shut up. Kappa-pa, kappa-pa fuuucking breath. Now, explain.

[spoiler]I had to. Every fiber of my being had to. Forgive me. (/spoiler)
>> No. 29448
[X] That human looks awfully injured. A youkai injuring a human is never a good thing to deal with politically. Doubly so if he happens to be an outsider. Try making sure he's okay.

Oh shit, it's you. I thought you fell of the earth.
>> No. 29449

Actually, he's a friend who asked if he could use the characters. Rest assured that the Yasumi almanac will continue to the end. I'm plotting out updates in advance so that once I get the next update out, it won't have to be months and months before the one after it.
>> No. 29450
[ ] Start with Kokoro. She's the most pressing matter at hand, considering she's the one who dragged you out of the station. What's the deal with her and that faerie?
>> No. 29451
[x] Start with Kokoro. She's the most pressing matter at hand, considering she's the one who dragged you out of the station. What's the deal with her and that faerie?

The source of all the problems.
>> No. 29452
[x] Start with Kokoro. She's the most pressing matter at hand, considering she's the one who dragged you out of the station. What's the deal with her and that faerie?

We got some details on the kappa incident, but this is a total mystery. Get all the pieces first.
>> No. 29453
[x] Start with Kokoro. She's the most pressing matter at hand, considering she's the one who dragged you out of the station. What's the deal with her and that faerie?

The kappa has no real hurry (despite what he may think) and the human is not going anywhere.

Let's help Kokoro so she'll shut up and let us arrest them both in peace.
>> No. 29454
Gonna cut it off here. Just a heads-up to you guys: I've got work for the next four days, so expect updates kind of late. If I can push 'em out during work, I will. Anyway, the clear winner is...

[x] Start with Kokoro. She's the most pressing matter at hand, considering she's the one who dragged you out of the station. What's the deal with her and that faerie?
>> No. 29455
File 144669958928.jpg - (591.87KB , 787x930 , ten minutes into interrogation and chill.jpg ) [iqdb]
[x] Start with Kokoro. She's the most pressing matter at hand, considering she's the one who dragged you out of the station. What's the deal with her and that faerie?

I looked over at the kappa and the human, Iwao, according to the faerie. The former had taken a seat on the ground to have a smoke and scowl. My nose didn't appreciate the odour, but I could bear with it for now. Likewise, the latter was finally sitting up, clutching his side and complaining. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief that Kokoro hadn't mortally wounded him. As it was, I could have a look at him back at the station if need be.

However, my biggest concern at the moment had little to do with them. Kokoro and the faerie she'd apparently recognised were seated facing away from each other, hands kept in the air like I'd told them. That didn't stop the two from taking occasional peeks back at each other. As soon as Kokoro looked back, the faerie held her middle fingers up.

I rapped the faerie on the head. "Any more of that and I'll drag you to the station to fill out paperwork by yourself. How about that?"

The faerie gave me a look that was half afraid and half disgusted. I crossed my arms, my gaze unwavering, my ears low to show I was serious. She tsked and stopped making rude gestures. "Fiiiiine," she whined.

"Very good."

If there was anything that crossed the species line, it was the fear of the bureaucracy which extended its roots to the deepest reaches of tengu society and into the very soul of the mountain. Even the most defiant of creatures quaked in fear of its labyrinthine presence. It'd been an effective method of straightening out troublemakers since its installation. I had to admit deep down being thankful for being insulated from most of it since I kept my head down and my nose clean.

The last distraction taken care of, I turned my attention solely to Kokoro. She was the prime reason I was even standing in this alley, and I'd barely found anything out about that situation either. No, I couldn't leave it alone any longer. I was going to hit as many birds with one stone as I could.

"Kokoro," I said.

"Koyomi," she said back.

"And I'm Fuku!" piped the faerie. I shot her a stern look and cleared my throat.

"Now that you two are behaving in some sense, why don't you start by telling me why you thought it was a good idea to interfere in this situation? Especially considering you injured someone in the process."

"Actually, about that," the human chimed in, "I kind of got hit in the back, which is--" He gave a long, wheezing grunt of pain. "Did I mention it really, really hurts? Because it does."

I held up a hand. "Sir, I'm sorry about your injuries, but I have to ask that you not interrupt my questioning."

"Oh, okay. That's fine. Ignore the squishy human. I'll just keep hurting and wishing I was kind of dead over here." He slumped against the closest wall, curling up on his side to punctuate his complaint. It was obviously an act despite the injury. I adjusted my glasses and made a mental note to walk him to the clinic at the first opportunity anyway.

Kokoro looked up as if asking if she could go on. I nodded.

"In my defence, you weren't doing a great job of catching them," she said.

"Leaving that aside, if you'd please."

She flipped her hair back and crossed her arms. "Like I said, I wanted my revenge. That faerie over there has no appreciation for a real performance."

"Performance? You call a boring fan dance while making warbly noises a performance?" Fuku interrupted. "I could make music with my butt and draw a bigger crowd than with that."

"Listen to that. That's the sound of somebody with no culture."

Fuku pulled her mouth completely straight, rocking side-to-side in place. "Wooooo! I'm the freaky mask woman. I'm boring and suck at acting, so I make stupid noises and dance like an idiot. People only pay attention to me because I'm not wearing any--"

A fan materialised into Kokoro's hands, and she promptly knocked the faerie on top of the head. Fuku shielded herself by hunkering down and curling into a ball. I grabbed Kokoro's wrist and tugged her up to her feet.

"Focus. What did she do back then?"

Kokoro's face soured. "Tell me, have you ever had somebody so devoted to heckling you that they spent an hour and half spitting cherry pits at you? That's what she did. Not only that, but she made noises over my chanting and tried to trip me more than once. My performance isn't a comedy routine. It's a serious drama, and that faerie made a mockery of it the whole way."

"So you gave that human a flying kick and..." I glanced back to the sullen kappa, who had a few noticeable bruises now. "You also knocked over that merchant in your mad scramble to get to that faerie, I'm guessing. And that was all over her being a heckler. You really thought that was a reasonable thing to do?"

The kappa stubbed out her cigarette and pulled out another. "Damn right, she knocked me over. Walked on my back, she did. You can bet I'll be lodging a complaint to the association about this."

Kokoro snatched her wrist from my grip, glowering at me and rubbing her arm. "Did I say that's all she did? I didn't even get to the worst part."

I waved for her to continue.

"I'll admit, my performances draw a lot of people who aren't all that interested in the arts. There's always the ones that come up to chat afterwards. They seem to think I'm desperate for money." Her lips drew up in a poisonous smile. "Anyway, I had plenty of them after last night's show. Well, as you know, I'd dealt with her for most of it and fended her off as best I could. Giving me a hard time wasn't enough for her, though. She had the nerve to try and make off with one of my masks while I wasn't looking. Trying to take a mask from a menreiki. Such an idiot."

I bent down to coax Fuku out of her defensive position. "Is that true?"

"N-No! What would I want with a dumb mask?" she growled.

Iwao half sat up. "Fuku, don't lie. You were bragging about it."

"Shut uuuuup, Iwao," she replied through gritted teeth.

"A kappa, a human, a faerie, and..." came a voice from behind.

My ears stood up only to droop all the way back down after realising who it was coming from. I turned around to find the first and last person I'd wanted to talk to today calmly walking his way over. Reluctantly, I threw a salute his way. It was Sumida. I'd have recognised the pencil moustache anywhere.

"Looks like quite a little mess you've got here, Koyomi. Not bad for your first week on the job," he called.

I cleared my throat. "I was just in the middle of questioning everybody."

"Which was interrupting your lunch, right?" He motioned back towards the restaurant. "I don't know about you, but I'd hate to leave a good kimchi stew unattended too long."

I stared Sumida down. He flashed a vacant smile. This was how he opened every conversation. It never meant anything good. A knot of dread was forming in my stomach, just big enough to make me forget my hunger for the moment.


Sorry, guys, no choices this time around. I had to hurry this one out on even shorter notice than usual, hence the very late post. More questions will be answered next time with any luck.
>> No. 29456
Oh damn. Just as we were getting somewhere
>> No. 29457
Hey, guys, I'm really sorry to do this, but managing daily updates is just not possible with my work schedule the way it is. I work long hours and get home late at night with scarcely enough time to eke out some words before I have to fall in bed. As you can imagine, this makes things a little hectic. I'm not quitting as much as giving up my claim to the crown, though, and that's fine. I never wanted that as much as I just wanted to write and have a good time.

With that said, the update schedule is shifting from daily to every other day. I've already got the makings of another update going, but I'd rather it be finished, so it won't be up until late tomorrow. Please wait warmly.
>> No. 29458
Oh well, it happens.

Just remember that we don't mind short updates!
>> No. 29459
Well, I'm not planning on making any updates longer than they need to be. I just need breathing room to figure out what I'm trying to do. I kind of ran into this with a vague concept and some borrowed characters (Koyomi is technically a character in The Kinu Yasumi Almanac for Outsiders), and nothing feels cohesive still, even four updates in. Thinking on my feet is not my greatest skill, so I need every bit of space I can get.
>> No. 29461
File 144687225662.jpg - (161.16KB , 1200x824 , did i mention holy shit i want korean food now.jpg ) [iqdb]
With the six of us seated in the restaurant, it felt much more cramped than I ever remembered. Sumida insisted that we talk there. I knew there weren't any good intentions behind it, but I couldn't exactly go against my superior, even if he was off-duty. The way he sat beaming at me from the other table, his tail waving behind him, said that much. According to Hinawa, it was a hobby of his to bully newcomers. I found out as much when I ended up sitting in the station at night dealing with the fallout of a brawl at a nearby bar my second day. He showed up at dawn with nothing but a glib apology to see me off.

I'd heard he held a fairly high rank at one point on the mountain but had fallen out of favour. It wasn't hard to see why with his propensity to shove work onto others. If there was anything I couldn't stomach, it was flippancy with duty, and his neverending well of cheerfulness along with it just added a layer of irritation.

Needless to say, I didn't return his smile as I sat across from him, still waiting on my kimchi stew. Even enjoying my mandu was hard with him around. Kokoro, on the other hand, didn't share this difficulty. "I've never liked meat, but these are good," she said, gnawing away at her share of the pile.

"Aren't they?" Sumida chimed. "Why, I was the first of us to find this place. That handsome young fellow is kind of an old friend, you know. We met a while ago before this place was even thought of. That was back when all those territorial disputes were still breaking out with the kappa."

He glanced between me and the kappa merchant, who looked up from shovelling down every side dish on their table to frown at him. "I imagine it was a little before your times," he said, grinning.

The kappa snorted and went back to chasing the side dishes with rice. I set down my chopsticks with a sigh.

"This is probably the furthest from professional I've ever seen you," I said.

Sumida pursed his lips, pinching his pencil moustache between his fingers and twisting away at it, ears half-cocked. "What a cold thing to say, Officer Koyomi! And a hypocritical one, if you don't mind me being a bit critical. Going off to have lunch with a friend while on-duty like that."

"Ah, she's not my friend," Kokoro said before I could open my mouth. "I couldn't be friends with somebody that bad at doing her job."

Fuku and the kappa both laughed at that. Iwao seemed less amused, thumping the faerie on the head with his spoon. Sumida sucked his teeth, shaking his head at Kokoro's appraisal.

I cleared my throat. "I'll admit that I might have got sidetracked, but I can't say you have admirable hobbies commandeering an investigation in progress." I jabbed a finger at Kokoro. "The entire reason that I'm here is because of her. She only happens to have involved herself in this other little debacle because she recognised that faerie."

"It's rude to point," Kokoro deadpanned.

"Oh, yes, you did say that," Sumida said, perking up in his seat. His chair made an ear-stabbing screech scraping across the floor towards me. "I have to say, I'm a tad curious as to what sort of case would take a new girl out of the station."

"To put it in short, we came searching for someone from the night shift. Kokoro over there has some missing property. A mask. She was putting on an outdoor play near the station last night, and that's the last she's seen of it. Nothing of the sort turned up in the lost-and-found." My ears flattened remembering what I found earlier. "Speaking of which, I notice last night's fliers were sitting in neat little stacks in there."

He laughed. "Oh my. I guess a certain Nankotsu is going to get written up."

"And you want to question my professionalism!" I adjusted my glasses, narrowing my eyes at him. His smile faltered ever so slightly. "You shamelessly pawn your work off on others."

Sumida held his hands up in surrender. "Now, now, now. I have my reasons. Though I do tend to pass up the boring jobs," he said with another shameless laugh.

I crossed my arms, letting my disdain seep into the atmosphere. Noting this, Kokoro gave a snicker. Sumida leaned back in his chair after a moment and started picking at his nails.

"This all seems like a bit of an annoyance getting in the way of your search, then."

I kept my guard up. "Yes?"

"So!" He sat back up. "Tell you what I'll do. You'd like this little mess--" he waved to the trio at the other table, "--to go away, right?"


"And you need the night shift to help with your investigation."

I waved him on. "Get to the point."

He lost his smile, scratching the back of his ear. Score one point for Koyomi. "Fine. I'll take the three over here down to the station and get some paperwork ironed out. In return, you get to take my shift." His eyes flicked up to me, his smile creeping back up. It was less good-humoured than before. "Again."

I bolted up from my seat, ready to protest. However, I couldn't get in a word before the old man finally materialised from the back with my kimchi stew. Sumida smirked as if he'd timed it everything for this very moment.

"Don't forget, officer. You did technically slouch off on some of your duties. That's something that the command might like to hear about, don't you think?" He shrugged his shoulders.

"Ooh, this guy's good!" said Fuku, nudging a bemused-looking Iwao.

I said nothing and sat back down, deflated. The old man set my kimchi stew on the burner, quickly retreating back to the kitchen. He could tell I wanted to throw the bubbling red broth on Sumida. Not that I was about to do that, of course, but the thought was there.

I settled for sighing again. "I'll do it. Just... get out of here."

"Say no more. I won't trouble you any further. Enjoy your lunch," he said, patting me on the shoulder as he rose.

Sumida gathered up the others except for Kokoro, filing them out the door. He stopped in the doorway on his way out and turned back. "And, please, don't hate me for this. I know it seems I'm just fobbing off work, but I do have my reasons. I've heard chatter from the mountain about something going on. Something possibly big."

"What sort of big thing?" Kokoro asked, half-way poised to take a bite of stew.

"Can't say for sure." He flashed a full-on grin. "But, you know, they say it could involve the Hakurei Shrine. The Hakurei Shrine! Isn't that just interesting?"

Kokoro froze mid-bite. She seemed like she wanted to say something but chose not to. Instead, she just nodded. Sumida stroked his moustache, his tail perking up behind him.

"Anyway, I'll see myself along now. Take care!"

With that, he was finally gone. I half-way slumped back in my chair. Such was the joy of dealing with Sumida. If I was lucky, I might end up slipping back to my room for some sleep by the time I was done working. And all for the good of tengu society, Koyomi.

At least it was out of the way and I could get back to lunch. Even with Sumida's appearance, I managed to keep an appetite, if not get even hungrier than I already was out of sheer annoyance. I didn't bother to spoon out the stew into a separate bowl as I dove in. The slight sourness of the kimchi and the spiciness of the chili in the broth reawakened my tastebuds right away. If there was anything more comforting, I had yet to taste it.

"I'm not sure I like that guy," Kokoro spoke up.

I paused for a drink of water. "Tell me about it. Be thankful he's not your senior."

Kokoro stared down at the table. It was a bit strange seeing her being so quiet. I'd have expected her to be kicking me while I was down.

[ ] Check.
[ ] Complain.
[ ] Continue.
[ ] Consume.
>> No. 29462
[x] Consume.

>> No. 29463
Kokoro's being a dick too. Poor guy.

[x] Consume.
Eat up!
>> No. 29464
[x] Consume.

Liking this so far. Wish you'd have been able to keep up with the daily updates so I could vote for you at the end of the month.
>> No. 29465
Whoops, meant to close votes a couple of hours ago. It's pretty clear what the winner is anyway.

[x] Consume.

By the by, I can't help noticing that votes have sort of dried up. This worries me a little. As such, while we're between updates, I'd like to take this opportunity to hear your opinions on everything thus far. I can't promise any major changes, but if there's anything that's driving people off, I'd like to know.
>> No. 29466

>>29464 here.

I just started reading today based on a recommendation from an IRCer, and he may not be reading right now because of midterms and all that noise. I figure that may be the same for some of your other readers, so I wouldn't sweat it.

If it's any help I don't see anything wrong with the story so far, and I'm really enjoying it. Even if I was your only voter I'd really want you to keep at it, if for no other reason than my own selfish desires.
>> No. 29467
Noooooooooooooooooo. I really like this story. I've been really busy the past few days but please continue! I promise I'll vote faster.
>> No. 29468
Worry not. I fully intend to continue. That said, I'm glad there are people that like this story, especially when I've personally felt like my writing style is hit-or-miss. Your enjoyment warms me like kimchi stew in my gullet.
>> No. 29469
It started a bit slow, but it's getting good: I like it. I'm kind of curious about the title though.

Guess we'll see.
>> No. 29471
File 144703214045.png - (1.52MB , 920x1300 , something like this.png ) [iqdb]
[x] Consume.

Then again, I wouldn't expect anyone to be in a talking mood after that. Even the owner was back in his chair, sitting with his arms folded, not nearly as jolly-looking as before. If I were a much pettier person, I'd almost be glad I wasn't the only one who felt the atmosphere being drained by Sumida's presence.

My stomach helpfully pulled me back into focus by gurgling. No time to ruminate, it said, for it is time to consume. The pangs of being separated from lunch so long were too strong to ignore anymore. Listening to my stomach, I dipped my spoon back into the stew, taking another spicy mouthful. The warmth spread through me, making me feel as if I could melt in bliss.

Revelling in the feeling, I took one bite after another, only pausing every once in a while for another bite of rice. It took the sound of my spoon scraping the bottom of the hotpot to notice that it was all gone.

Kokoro was looking right at me open-mouthed as I set my spoon down. Her rice bowl had barely been touched. "She really did it," she muttered.

It was only then that I understood just how quickly I'd finished. I had gone at it with such gusto that the stew had disappeared in minutes. I groped for my napkin, my cheeks flushing in self-consciousness as I wiped my mouth. Maybe it was a bit silly on my part, but I disliked the idea of being seen eating in a way that resembled some kind of wild animal. The way I inhaled the kimchi stew was no doubt that unsightly.

To make matters worse, I still felt like I could go for more. Not to mention Kokoro barely got in a bite for herself before I snatched the rest away.

"Sorry." I pushed the half-empty plate of mandu over towards her. My apology barely seemed to register.

Just then, I turned to see the owner at the tableside. He collected the empty pot with a good-natured laugh. Before he could scoot back to the kitchen with it, I waved him down. As much as pride would normally restrain me, hunger always won out in the end. "Erm, could I... get another?" I asked.

The old man's expression perked up. "Liked it, did you? Must've if you put it all away like that. Sure, we can do that. No problem."

"T-Thank you."

He made his way towards the back yet again. I took a long drink of water, slouching back in my seat and feeling even more ashamed of my appetite getting the best of me. Kokoro finally noticed the mandu in front of her and took one.

"That's pretty amazing, though," she said through a mouthful of dumpling. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone put away a hotpot full of that much food in one sitting. And I've seen a starving person at a banquet."

"Thank you?"

She stood up, jabbing her chopsticks at me. "Seriously! I wouldn't have guessed it from how bony you look, but you can really pack it away."

I fiddled with my tail, unable to say anything back.

"I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm no slouch myself. That whole stew in that amount of time, though? I'd burst. What sort of training does it even take to get a stomach like yours?"

I sat up, waving my hand. "It's nothing like that, really. I just... got hungry enough, that's all."

Kokoro blinked. Then her face fell. "So, you're saying it's a natural talent, then."

"What? I-I don't even know," I sputtered. "Why does it even matter?"

"I thought it was cool."

I stared at her. Of all things, my ability to pack food into my stomach was the last I expected to get complimented on. I adjusted my glasses, fumbling for some kind of response. My face felt hotter than after a bite of stew.

"I don't know if it's all that relevant, but I used to do something similar at the academy," I said after a while. "Sometimes people wouldn't finish their lunches, and I would still be hungry. All those drills and such are pretty tiresome, you know? I asked other cadets for their leftovers once and got a mountain of food for my trouble. Well, I didn't want to waste something that others worked to prepare."

Kokoro cocked her head. "So you ate it all."

"Exactly. It was hard, and my jaw cramped badly by the time I was done. I managed to make it in time for the end of lunch." I scratched my cheek. "Somebody was watching me the whole time and told me how amazing it was. I ended up getting leftovers from everybody no matter what meal it was from then on."


From there, Kokoro peppered me with questions about my days as the academy's number one leftover dispoal. It was a bit awkward to dig up old memories like that with somebody I barely knew, but it was a nice change of pace from worries about work. It'd been a while since I'd sat and reminisced like this. None of my fellow cadets worked with me on the far peak, nor were any of them assigned to the outpost, so it wasn't like I got any chances.

Somewhere in the middle of talking about my sixth year, the owner came back with the second kimchi stew. The pot barely had any time to sit on the burner when Kokoro scooped up a spoonful and popped it in her mouth.

She immediately started coughing and scrambling for a drink of water. "Too hot," she said, panting.

"Is it too much to handle?" I asked.

"No, no! I need to pace myself, that's all!" She ladled out a heaping portion into another bowl, letting it sit for a minute before even attempting to taste it again. This time, she managed to not cough, though her nose was running and her eyes were watering. "I can handle this easy. I bet I could go spicier if I wanted to."

I got up and refilled her water for her. "Don't push yourself too hard. Enjoy it."

She levelled a flat gaze at me over her water glass. "Says you, Koyomi the Glutton."

"H-How did you know my nickname from...?"

Kokoro gave a crooked smile. There was the Kokoro that I'd been talking to not an hour or so ago. Although her sass definitely rubbed me the wrong way, I couldn't help feeling better seeing her back to what counted for normal with her.

The rest of lunch passed by with a lot of amicable chit-chat. It felt good to share a meal and stories about my time on the mountain. For her part, Kokoro didn't say much about herself, but she listened intently to my own anecdotes. The few times I did ask about her, she insisted on hearing about me instead, so I let the subject drop altogether. The rest of our stew disappeared soon after.

As I got up to pay, Kokoro stopped me. "I've got this."

"Oh, no, I couldn't. Especially not since I haven't--"

She fished out a brand-new, very large bill from inside her shirt, more than enough to cover our relatively cheap lunch, and slid it across the counter into the old man's eager hands. Seeing my shock, she shot me an amused look. "What, you thought I was a struggling performer or something?"

"You might not be struggling, but this is the wrong town to be carrying large amount of cash around like that," I said.

"I'm worried less about money and more about masks if you don't remember, officer," she replied, stuffing a fistful of change back into her shirt.

A glance up at the clock on the wall told me that daylight was dangerously close to giving way to evening. I slapped my forehead. I'd got so caught up in food and conversation that the chase for Kokoro's missing mask had slipped my mind entirely.

We stepped out into the dusty street, which was a lot more alive than when we first came down it. Various neon signs were already lit up, and people were streaming into patronise the numerous salacious businesses lining the strip. Touts were busy jostling passersby in their attempts at pulling them into said businesses. Here and there, people were setting out tables and chairs, converting stretches of the path into streetside bars, not entirely legal but tolerated for now. In short, it was looking much more like a typical outpost scene now. Unfortunately, that meant my unofficial night shift was starting soon.

Kokoro looked up at me and shrugged. "Well, I can't say you were much help, but at least it was sort of fun. I guess I'll go keep looking for it myself. Thanks, though, Koyomi."

"Hey, um," I said, catching her as she turned to leave, "I'm sorry that I couldn't do much. Please, if you haven't found it by tomorrow, come back to the station and find me, okay?"

"We'll see."

It didn't take long for her to vanish into the mass of bodies crowding the street, leaving me by myself again. Reluctantly, I made my way back to the station, cutting through as many alleyways as I could to avoid the rabble. I was soon back towards the front gate, near the formerly empty square, which was now similarly crowded with vendors and unlicensed bars. A few of my fellow patrolmen had taken their posts. I threw a wave as I approached the station.

The lights were on inside and could be seen from the windows, and I could hear some chatter. I braced myself and slid the door open. A handful of ears perked up as I walked in. I bowed sheepishly to the officers sitting around the low table, one of which happened to be Hinawa.

"Evening, Koyomi. You're here awful late," she jibed, her tail swishing left and right.

[ ] Open up the floodgates and complain about Sumida.
[ ] Change the subject and gush about lunch.
>> No. 29472
[X] Change the subject and gush about lunch.

I've been enjoying this story so far. It's got a nice pace and I want to see where you take it. So good job.
>> No. 29473
[x] Change the subject and gush about lunch.
Complaining? Nah. Food discussion.
>> No. 29474
[x] Change the subject and gush about lunch.

Happy thoughts. Got to make it through the whole shift after all.
>> No. 29475
[x] Open up the floodgates and complain about Sumida.

That's what partners are for
>> No. 29476
[x] Change the subject and gush about lunch.

Best not to dwell on awful coworkers.
>> No. 29477
[x] Open up the floodgates and complain about Sumida.

Better to not bottle it up.
>> No. 29478
After all that, it's understandable that Koyomi might not want to let loose. That's why she's going to...

[x] Change the subject and gush about lunch.

Thank you for your comments, by the way. I really get a kick out of people telling me they like it. If there's anything specifically that you really enjoy, feel free. Other than that, please wait warmly.
>> No. 29479
I really enjoy Kokoro being a dick. It's great.
>> No. 29480
It'll make it all the sweeter when she finally changes from being a dick to being a dick tenderly.
>> No. 29481
I can't wait for her to become flaccid.
>> No. 29482
File 144720943810.jpg - (199.38KB , 500x500 , guess who.jpg ) [iqdb]
[x] Change the subject and gush about lunch.

The temptation was there to let loose about the injustices of being forced to cover others' shifts, and I was sure all others present would agree. Looking at the mostly convivial atmosphere around the table, however, my more reserved side took over.

"Standing in for someone else," I said guardedly as I set down a cushion and took a seat next to Hinawa.

Looks were exchanged, followed by bitter laughter. One of the officers poured me a cup of tea and slid it over, ears lowered in a pitying look. It was obvious in present company who was being talked about, of course. I accepted the tea with an obliging nod. "Ah," I jumped to add before anyone else could speak, "but it's no worry. Nothing that can be done for it."

"It's still awful. That man..."

"He certainly misuses his time and energy."

Hinawa patted me on the shoulder. "Nevermind him. I guess your first week's been treating you alright regardless, right?"

"Mm-hm," I replied through a sip of tea. I nudged Hinawa. "No thanks in small part to my knowledgable and attentive seniors showing me right from wrong."

She laughed, scratching at her neck. "Hey, it's not our fault you picked the deadest hours to work."

"Well, if it's any consolation, you've at least managed to show me a great lunch spot. I went back for the third time since my welcome party. I've yet to be let down. Thank you sincerely."

"I'll take it as a complement." Hinawa grinned. "It's hard not to put away a potload of the old man's kimchi stew, am I right?"

There was a collective laugh. My cheeks reddened. I should have expected such a jab from Hinawa. She'd been the first amongst my colleagues to be amazed by how much I could eat in one sitting, and she took great pleasure in pointing it out to others. Not that she meant anything by it. Her demeanour was just more sanguine than mine could ever hope to be.

The moment gone by, things went silent while cups were passed around and refilled. Soon enough, the others kicked up their own bit of conversation, leaving me and Hinawa to talk.

I adjusted my glasses before resuming speaking to Hinawa. "It's not hard when I'm hungry enough. But, yes, I enjoyed some kimchi stew and mandu for lunch. I was even lucky enough to have some conversation to go with it."

"Really?" Hinawa asked, her ears propping up partway. She leaned over, lowering her voice somewhat. "Sumida didn't... invite you out, did he?"

"No! Oh, Tenma, no. I'd never accept an invitation like that. No threat would be harsh enough." Both of us peeked over at the other conversation going on. Thankfully, they were too busy laughing away to notice us.

Her expression turned stern, her grey eyes looking me over. "Just so you know, if anything like that does happen..."

"I'll let you know!" I said, waving my hand.

Satisfied with that, Hinawa brightened back up, her tail resuming its happy swishing. "So, you found yourself a new friend?"

"Er, no, not exactly." I hesitated for a moment. For some reason, Hinawa seemed to deflate. "I'm being serious here," I huffed. "It's related to something I needed to ask you about. In fact, that was the whole reason I was even there in the first place."

She cocked her head. "What do you mean?"

"To put it short, someone lost something -- a mask, specifically -- last night. Said someone is a self-described street performer of some sort who was putting on a play last night in front of the station. I was hoping those of you on the night shift might know something about it."

Hinawa straightened up, batting at the loose ponytail she kept her hair in as she thought back. Her lips fell into a frown after a moment. "Wish I knew what to tell you there. That was a real slow night. No missing property, no reports filed, no arrests or anything. And you know I'd have known otherwise since I spent all that time sitting on my butt in here."

"Did you at least see the play going on?"

"Nope. Can't see a thing when a crowd gathers over there."

I heaved a sigh. Hinawa being as trustworthy as she was, I could believe that I'd hit a dead-end. That made a whole day spent chasing a lead I never had. "Well, if you say so," I concluded.

I drained the rest of my tea and got back to my feet. It was about time I started on the less-than-enviable task of distributing fliers. If I started this soon, I could probably still catch most of the initial influx of visitors. Hinawa followed me to the lost-and-found cabinet where the fliers were still waiting for me.

"Hey, don't look so down," she said with a squeeze on my shoulder. "It's good that you're dedicated to this. If it helps at all, I'll ask around about it, alright?"

I managed a smile. "Thanks."

Leaving the matter at that, I threw on my overcoat, slipping my 'Mountain Outpost Patrol' armband over it, and gathered up my fliers. Outside the station, lanterns were already aglow in the settling dusk. The front gates were already inundated with an inflow of visitors come to seek their nightly amusements. Steeling my nerves, I went to take my place at the head of it all in the square.

Handing out fliers was a task that few enjoyed, if only because it ran contrary to our nature as wolf tengu. Though we were a social race, we tended to maintain a polite distance and not trouble others. This job, on the other hand, was a matter of violating that distance and intruding into someone's space for the sole purpose of troubling them. If I stood by idly with a flier held out, no one would once think to take it. Hence, distributing these troublesome sheets of paper involved catching passing visitors' attention by any means necessary and all but forcing it into their hand before they could refuse.

I set about it with as much enthusiasm as I could manage, which was not much. More often than not, I would end up jostled and shouldered aside when I tried to stop someone. It didn't help that my height put me at a disadvantage for being noticed in a crowd. Still, persistance was the key. Abandoning my duty would be more shameful than anything I could hope to accomplish in carrying it out.

Pausing to catch my breath from the shouting I had to do, I happened to notice a black-haired kappa standing a ways away looking squarely in my direction. She looked away nervously as soon as she saw me looking, but I could tell her gaze was flicking back to me from time to time. As I carried on with the fliers, I saw her creeping closer out of the corner of my eye. Even being noticed, it seemed she was intent on getting near me.

The next time I spotted her, I turned and called out to her. "Can I help you, miss?"

The kappa's eyes went wide, her face turning bright red, and she fled back into the crowd, her cap pulled low. I sighed and shook my head, going back to my work. Moments later, I saw the kappa's black hair in the edge of my vision again.

[ ] Be direct and confront her.
[ ] Maybe there's some sort of bait that will lure her in.
[ ] Wait her out and try to grab her when she gets close enough.
>> No. 29483
[X] Maybe there's some sort of bait that will lure her in.

It's a decent plan.
>> No. 29484
[x] Maybe there's some sort of bait that will lure her in.

Since Koyomi's such a glutton foodie she should know where to get the best cucumbers. Guaranteed kappa lure!
>> No. 29485
[X] Maybe there's some sort of bait that will lure her in.
>> No. 29486
[x] Maybe there's some sort of bait that will lure her in.
Cucumber lure where?
>> No. 29487
Considering it's pretty much unanimous, I'm going to call it here. Looks like Koyomi's about to do some fishing, because the winner is...

[x] Maybe there's some sort of bait that will lure her in.
>> No. 29488
File 14473896687.jpg - (254.04KB , 583x750 , unrelated nitori.jpg ) [iqdb]
[x] Maybe there's some sort of bait that will lure her in.

I had little reason to try capturing her. It likely wouldn't have ended well anyway. Even assuming I didn't end up letting her slip at an inopportune time, I could only imagine the reaction from the other kappa. There were a few unfortunate cases already where patrolmen were accused of treating kappa rudely. As a result, our already questionable level of trust sunk that much lower with them.

The kappa as a whole were an impenetrable network of rumours, disinformation, and secrets. They wanted to be left to their business, and they didn't appreciate others bothering them about any of it. More than that, they stuck up for their own, even if a wrong was actually committed. If we tried confronting one with an accusation, within minutes we would be inundated with all manner of hostility from a whole crowd. This, along with their continually questionable status amongst the mountain administration, made things that much more complicated when it came to dealing with them in the capacity of a guard or a patrolman. Even so, I couldn't help feeling that I needed to talk to the black-haired kappa stalking me.

If I couldn't go to her, then all I was left with was making her come to me. I scanned the crowds for some possible option. The old stereotype was that kappa were fond of cucumber. I'd never confirmed such a thing myself, but occasional anecdotes from others suggested it was more-or-less true. Unfortunately, I saw nothing even related to cucumbers within reach.

I gritted my teeth. As if the stress of distributing fliers wasn't already enough...

The scent of sweet red beans stuck out to me all of a sudden. Looking around, I spotted a vendor at his makeshift stand selling manjuu not too far into the rabble. I threw a look over my shoulder at the kappa, who had only moved a couple of paces closer again. It was a long shot, but sweets did sound like a tempting bait for anyone -- kappa, tengu, human, or otherwise. A snack this long after my lunch sounded agreeable to my stomach anyway.

That in mind, I found an empty bench closer to the stand to park my stack of fliers and casually made my way over. The faintest trace of a lump of black moved through the crowd as soon as I took a step away. Confident she was still following, I approached the stand with a wave to the older crow manning it. He ensured me with a kindly smile that they were fresh and very generous with the bean paste as I dug a few coins out. I nodded and walked back to the bench with four manjuu in hand.

I plopped down on the bench, giving some sorely-needed relief for my feet, and had a bite of a manjuu. Like the vendor said, it had the warmth and softness that only a freshly-made manjuu could have. The bean paste wasn't sugared to excess, the natural sweetness of the beans being allowed to come through on its own. There was enough of it between the two pancake-like layers that I had to lick some off of my face after a single bite. I wouldn't have put them on the level of something I'd tasted on the mountain, but they were certainly serviceable for the price. In spite of myself, I let my tail wag freely as I took another bite.

I almost didn't notice when the sound hesitant footsteps drew close. Unwrapping the second manjuu, I placed the other two where they would prominently show on top of the stack of fliers, careful to not look in the direction of my shadow.

Before I had time to get more than a nibble in, the kappa was closer than she'd dared to get before. Slowly and casually, I turned to look at her. She stood still within arm's reach, her dark eyes glistening at the sight of the manjuu that tantalised her. A second passed before she realised she was being watched, but she didn't retreat. Her eyes flicked between me and the manjuu, and she tilted her head quizzically.

I gestured to the empty spot next to the fliers. "You want one? Have a seat."

She froze in place. The same look of panic flashed across her face, but the need for one of those manjuu kept her rooted in place. I gestured to the bench again.

"Go on."

Unable to hold out anymore, she tip-toed her way up to the bench and set herself down on the edge. Her hand was at the ready to take a manjuu. She gave me a pleading look. I nodded.

Like a squirrel being offered a treat, she snatched one of them up and tore open the wrapping in one jerky, nervous motion, halfway stuffing it in her mouth like it might vanish. I let her take a few more nibbles at it before saying anything else.

"So, er..." I cleared my throat. "I can't help noticing you looked like you had something on your mind back there."

The kappa paused mid-bite to stare at me, face smeared with bean paste.

"Was there something you wanted to talk to me about, maybe?"

Her eyes flicked away, and her mouth opened like she was about to say something. However, she only nodded.

"I'm listening." I pointed to my ears, which were up at attention. That got a half-smile out of her. Then her face went serious again, and she shook her head. "No?" I asked. "Didn't you have something to say, though?"

She nodded more definitely.

"So, go ahead."

Another head-shake.

I held back a groan. "Well, why not?"

She bit into the manjuu again, wolfing it down with a certain urgency. Then, she pointed to herself and made an X with her hands over her mouth. Her eyes were cast down in embarrassment.

When it finally hit me what she was getting at, I jumped to apologise, but she held her hand up, reaching into a satchel that she'd been carrying with her. The majority of it was taken up by a sketchbook, which she pulled out along with a pen. She flipped it open to the first page and held it up for me. A mess of words were scribbled on it, small and messy enough that I had to adjust my glasses and lean in. She pointed to a line with the pen.

'Hello. My name is Kuriko.'


She pointed to herself and nodded. Her pen moved over a notch. 'It's a little inconvenient, but I cannot speak. This book is my only means of communication.'

"I... see."

She flipped a few pages over, finding a certain line and pointing it out. 'Writing out a full conversation is awkward, so I may have to resort to pictures to explain. Please forgive me if it's hard to understand. I'm limited by space and ability.'

"Ah, no, that's fine. Please, tell me any way you know how."

Hearing that, she smiled a little and made her way towards the back of the sketchbook to what looked like a blank page. Her face sobered again, and she wrote out the word 'discretion' and put a finger to her lips. She tapped the nib of the pen on the word and circled it.

I scratched my ear and looked around before nodding to her. "If it's a secret, you can count on me. I won't breathe a word to anyone."
>> No. 29489
Forgive the cliffhanger tonight. Work's gearing up to be a bitch-and-a-half tomorrow, so I frankly couldn't make it through the whole thing in time. I'll make every attempt to get it in order tomorrow. Heck, if it's ready by then, I might even post it. Anyway, please wait warmly.
>> No. 29490
Not the best choice of words, but I'm sure she's used to unintentional puns.

That said, it has been a long time since we have seen a mute character. Interesting.
>> No. 29491
In a shocking display of the regularity of my irregularity, I'm not going to be able to get the rest of the update out tonight. I'll spare you my whinging, but work has been an even bigger mega-bitch than anticipated and I'm honestly feeling like I've been kneed in the nuts repeatedly at this point. To make up for it, I will push out two updates over my weekend. Please wait warmly.
>> No. 29492
File 144764400798.jpg - (45.61KB , 1023x614 , nighty night wulf.jpg ) [iqdb]
Kuriko looked me over for a minute. I wondered if my answer had been too emphatic and made me look suspicious. Or maybe she could perceive my relative inexperience as a patrolwoman and was having second thoughts about my trustworthiness. I flinched under her gaze. I'd have done okay in the questioning room back at the station. That was familiar territory with little chance of screwing up. Sitting on a bench outside, however, was not a scenario covered in training.

She eventually nodded, more to herself than me, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Her pen got to work right away, scratching out long, flowing lines on the paper. Lines turned to shapes. Shapes formed features. She apparently wasn't kidding about resorting to pictures. It was obvious she had more than a little practise at it from how deftly she worked. Only a couple of minutes had passed when her pen scraped to a stop and she whipped the sketchbook around to show me a finished drawing.

I nearly dropped my manjuu once it was clear what I was looking at: A sketch of me, reclining on the bench, half-way into a bite of manjuu. She'd even gone to the trouble of including the small -- but visible -- scar on my left ear that I did my best to draw attention away from.

"Me?" I asked, pointing to myself. She held up her hand and started on a second drawing.

This one came a lot slower than the last. Kuriko paused for a moment mid-way, her face scrunching up as she thought about something, tapping her pen on the page. Coming to some conclusion, she raced through the rest of the drawing and showed it to me.

It was a much rougher picture next to mine, and only from the waist up, probably because she didn't have a model handy. Even though the shapes clearly formed a face and other features, they didn't look entirely accurate compared to something you'd see in a photograph. The clothes didn't have any real detail to them either. It was more a vague representation of a person than anything. I tilted my head in an attempt to make out who it was supposed to be.

Suddenly, a jolt of recognition hit me when I looked between the circle drawn in the long hair and the flat lines with half-circles that stood for the eyes, and I jerked upright. "The street performer?"

Kuriko nodded and circled the mask on Kokoro's head, drawing an arrow from it and a note reading 'Dropped, picked up'. She patted herself on the chest for emphasis.

"Wait, wait, you're telling me, you hav--"

The kappa's face reverted back to that same look of panic from before, and her finger jerked up to her lips sharply. Her head jerked around this way and that, looking to see if anyone had heard anything before wiping her forehead and breathing out sharply. "You could have just brought it by the station and saved a lot of trouble," I said, leaning in and keeping my voice as low as possible.

She frowned and shook her head.

"Why not?" I prodded.

Her eyes flicked down to the sketchbook, her pen hovering over it. After thinking for a moment, she wrote, 'Kappa-tengu relations' followed by 'accusations of theft' and 'don't want to be arrested'. She pointed to herself and shook her head again.

I smoothed out my ears. "Well, I can't exactly blame you on the first point, but it's not like there's any reason to arrest you or even think you stole it."

'Friend wanted to sell it,' she scribbled. 'She tried to and we had an argument. I ran off with it.'

I wondered what an argument with her must look like. She looked back up at me. Her deep blue-green eyes were dewey.

"Oh. That's..." I couldn't think of anything to follow up with. There probably wasn't anything I could say if she'd had issues with her friend over it. Our own links ran deep as wolf tengu, but I imagined something like that would hurt a kappa even more. I leaned down and wrapped an arm around Kuriko. She seized up but otherwise didn't move. "It's okay. Nobody's going to hurt you, and you're not going to get in trouble," I said quietly. Words copied almost straight from our training manuals, but they felt right for the situation.

When I pulled back, her face was bright red, though she looked a little less like she wanted to burst into tears. She mouthed the words 'Thank you'.

"So, does that mean you're going to give it to me?" I asked after a pause.

Kuriko looked over her shoulder. 'That depends. Promise two things,' she scrawled. She held up a finger and tapped her pen on the paper. 'No report.' She held up two fingers. 'Give it straight to her.'

I felt my ears drooping. "That's shirking my duties as an officer."

She shook her head. 'Officers help.' She underlined the word 'help'. 'Please,' she mouthed.

I sunk back on the bench, clutching my head. She had a point. She had more than a point. It was just that point conflicted with a lot of things I stood for in my service as a patrolwoman. Even if it was never what I wanted to be in the first place. There were reponsibilities and obligations I had to abide by. Not doing so was failing myself and the people I served.

And yet, looking down at the dark-haired kappa, who was risking friendships to do what she thought was right, I couldn't help feeling like I was in the wrong. If my duty stood in her way, how could I say I wasn't just failing in another way? More than that, there was also Kokoro. I thought about her wandering these streets looking for her lost mask.

I sat back up, cleared my throat, and took a deep breath before I spoke. Kuriko was watching me intently. "Alright," I said, "I swear that it'll go straight back to its owner and that no report will be filed."

Kuriko smiled and held up her hand, little finger extended.


She jabbed her pinky at me insistently. With a groan, I mirrored her, and we locked fingers. The deal was sealed.

Assured that I'd keep my promise, she flipped open a compartment hidden inside her satchel next to where the sketchbook had sat. Inside was something that distinctly did not look like a noh mask. For starters, it was made of plastic. As she handed it to me, I turned it over to check the design on the front. Whoever had designed it decided that an intensely bright shade of yellow was appropriate. Two dots and a curved line served as a representation of a smiling face, the only other decoration it had. It radiated a certain quaint cheeriness, though it managed to be more obnoxious than anything.

"Are... Are you sure this belongs to her?" I asked.

Kuriko puffed her cheek out indignantly and nodded.

"Well, if you say so." I sighed and stowed the mask inside my jacket, careful not to bend it too much. Getting it back to Kokoro would be the next big problem, but at least I'd got ahold of it. "Thanks for returning it, at any rate. That's very thoughtful of you."

Kuriko beamed.

I half stood up, ready to get back to my post, when I thought of something. "By the way, how exactly did you know to find me?"

She held up her sketchbook and circled the two pictures she'd drawn. 'Friend of a friend of a friend saw earlier. She complained about dealing with patrol.' Another win for the kappa information network -- and it'd worked in our favour for once.

With a yawn and a stretch, I got back to my feet and thanked Kuriko. She gave a quick bow before scampering away, looking back for a second to flash me her pinky finger again. I returned the gesture and waved goodbye. Before long, she'd vanished back into the mass of bodies, no doubt heading back to the valley.

Stuffing the rest of my last manjuu in my mouth, I dusted off the crumbs and picked my stack of fliers back up. The moon had barely peeked above the horizon, and the stack still felt heavy in my hands.

The night shift dragged on until the crowds were out in full force. In that time, I had managed to push only a fraction of the papers into somebody's hand. I should have been in bed at the time. The fatigue was wearing on me, making it hard for me to get in front of anyone without being immediately shoved aside. I was rocking on my feet when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

"Good work," came Sumida's voice from behind.

I whipped around. "Oh. I didn't expect I'd see you back."

Sumida didn't look much better off than me, his eyes bloodshot and his tail dragging along behind him. Even though he had on a smile, it was far from a happy one or even a glib one. If anything, he was only hiding how tired he was. "Yeah," he said, sounding agitated for some reason, "I didn't either, but here I am. And now you can go home."

I blinked. "I'm sorry?"

"You heard me. Your shift's over." His ears were lying back half-way.

"What about the rest, though?"

He took the stack from me, his smile faltering. "Don't worry about it. I'll figure something out. Just go home and get some sleep. You look like you need it."

"Alright, well, thank you," I said with a weak salute. With the weariness catching up to me, I could barely question such a windfall.

Before I could walk away Sumida caught me on the shoulder again. "Some people are useless, Koyomi, absolutely useless. Untrustworthy, too. Remember that. Don't become one of them, you hear?"

"I, uh... I guess?" I made a half-hearted attempt at a smile. "What exactly is that all about?"

He laughed bitterly. "Oh, nothing. Just a lot of empty talk running up and down the mountain these days. Don't worry about it."

"Alright, um, well, good night."

"Good night, Officer Koyomi."

I hurried away, a bit bothered by Sumida's manner. As soon as I was back in the station, Hinawa leapt up from her seat to fuss over me, offering me her scarf and a cup of tea, both of which I declined. I assured her I was fine and that I would be going straight home to get some rest. Despite my protests, I still left the station with Hinawa's scarf wound around my neck -- it did keep me warm during my walk home.

The accumulation of stress seemed to wash all thought from my mind as I shambled my way to the western quarter of the outpost. In spite of what I might have said earlier, there were, in fact, people living here. That said, it was not quite the typical sort of lodging. As you can imagine by now, the oupost was where people in Gensokyo came for various indiscretions. Some enterprising kappa seized on the opportunities such a market presented and started propping up various buildings with rooms for rent. These rooms were mostly the sort that visitors would rarely return to, but there had been a growing market as of late for those who stayed around at least part of the time. My room was one of those.

On the second level of the drab building, about the middle of the run of doors, I was renting a plain six-mat room, as-of-yet undecorated and unfurnished. At the nearest opportunity, I'd need to run back to the far peak to retrieve all of my belongings. Such a chance probably would not be this week. In the meantime, I made due with my futon, my low table, and my small chest of drawers. It wasn't particularly like I needed anything else anyway.

The futon had been left out when I got up that morning, luckily enough. I stripped off my work clothes, hung them up, and promptly slid into the futon without even bothering to change into sleeping clothes. A bath would have been nice, but it could wait until tomorrow. My eyelids slammed shut like windows left open in the rain.

I sunk into peaceful sleep, hoping the craziness of the day was done. Unfortunately, I couldn't have been any more wrong.
>> No. 29493
No choices tonight either because that's basically the end of the first little story arc. Be back tomorrow with another update.
>> No. 29494
File 144771830041.png - (809.90KB , 1023x723 , wake up see this wat do.png ) [iqdb]
One thing I could pride myself on from my academy years was my highly regulated internal clock. No matter what condition I was in, once the sun reached a particular position in the sky, I would stir right away from my sleep. It was hard to say why exactly. Part of it was most likely an inherent sensitivity to the time of day. The other component, in my mind, was my own will to be up and doing what I was supposed to, something many of my fellows lacked. In any case, I'd had no need to struggle with an alarm like others. To someone like myself, it was a blessing in many ways.

Or so I'd have normally thought. When my eyes opened themselves with the sunrise, the sluggishness that hit me in the aftermath of my extra shift made me curse everything. I turned over in my futon, trying to force my eyelids back shut to no avail. Finally, I gave in to my body's insistence and sat up, rubbing my eyes and yawning.

The sound of someone stirring beside me made me snap awake completely. I sprang to my feet, almost kicking over the low table in the process. A pair of limbs flailed from underneath the covers I'd just thrown over the intruder.

"Hey, woah! Easy there, Koyomi!" said a voice from under the sheets. It was familiar-sounding, but the post-waking haze in my brain kept me from placing it right away.

"You've got some nerve coming into my apartment, whoever you are."

The ball of sheets untangled itself, and a blur of pink emerged from under it. I took the opportunity to grab my glasses off of the table. The blur focused into a face recognised much quicker. "Kokoro," I corrected myself.

"You sure are chipper in the morning," she griped, straightening out her hair.

"Forgive me if I'm not thrilled about someone coming in uninvited and sleeping next to me."

She rolled her eyes and pointed to the window. The few bright streaks of the early morning sun shone in from the wide open window. "Serves you right for leaving it unlocked," she harrumphed.

I groaned. Of course it'd be the one way no sane person would try.

"Alright, well, now that you're here, what do you want?" I asked.

"You've got my mask, don't you? I want it back, for starters." She looked around the room.

I found my jacket, digging the mask out of it. Kokoro's roving eyes immediately snapped to me when I held it up, and she scrambled over for it. I pulled the mask up out of her reach as she made a grab for it.

She jumped up and down in a feeble attempt to snatch her mask back. "C'mon, give it!"

"First, explain how in the bloody hell you found me," I said, pushing her back. "Two, you're going out as soon as I give it back, got it?"

Kokoro's cheeks puffed out. "Is that any way for an officer to help someone out?"

"You're lucky I haven't dragged you to the station," I shot back. The word 'help' made me recall the conversation with the kappa last night. The slightest tinge of guilt hit me. I took my hand off of Kokoro and lowered the mask where she could reach it. "Okay, maybe it's just because I didn't sleep well. Anyway, go on."

"Thank you," she said, grabbing her mask. It took on a blue-ish glow in her hands, floating into the air and winking out of sight. She flashed a smile. "As to how I found you, well..."

She pointed to my ears. I instinctively covered them. Too many curious humans and others had tugged on them for me to trust anyone.

She snickered. "Your ears really must be broken. You walked by me last night, and I called and called, but you never looked back.

"I was tired after working part of a night shift, thank you very much." I crossed my arms.

"Well, whatever the case, I followed you back and came in the window when I couldn't find a spare key."

I levelled a hard look at Kokoro. She averted her gaze as if she was casually looking across the room. "I take it you make a habit out of breaking and entering," I said.

She stood there looking around for a moment before clearing her throat. "Maybe I was in the wrong there. Still, I, er..." Her face straightened up. I drummed my fingers on my arms impatiently. "I maybe wanted to ask for you help. Again," she said quietly.

I scratched my head. It didn't look like she was lying to save face or anything. Still, with it being this early, and the fact that she came into my room without permission, I was hardly in a mood to hear her out. I ran my fingers along my arm. There was a layer of grime and sweat that I desperately needed to get rid of first. About that time, my stomach also decided to remind me that it was now awake too.

"Alright, look," I said, holding up a hand, "how about this? Save it for after I've had a bath and breakfast. After that, you can ask me all you want."

Kokoro pursed her lips. "Fine. But you'd better help me."

"Watch it."

I glanced over at the clock on the wall. It was still decently early, though it was honestly later than I'd prefer to be getting started. Usually, I'd be dressed and out the door by now, but unexpected visitors tended to get in the way of that.

[ ] Getting a quick scrub-down is top priority. Then a nice, big breakfast for keeping my gut quiet for a while.
[ ] Grab something fast and easy for food. I need a leisurely soak to start off the day.
>> No. 29495
[X] Grab something fast and easy for food. I need a leisurely soak to start off the day.

Yay, updates. Your story is really enjoyable.
>> No. 29496
[X] Grab something fast and easy for food. I need a leisurely soak to start off the day.
>> No. 29497
[X] Grab something fast and easy for food. I need a leisurely soak to start off the day.
>> No. 29498
[x] Scrub down.

Since you insist. I won't call you glutton... But you are.
>> No. 29499
Alright, calling it here. Koyomi's not quite ready to tackle the day ahead of her, so...

[X] Grab something fast and easy for food. I need a leisurely soak to start off the day.

Sorry about all the delays and voteless updates recently. It's been one of those months. I'm gearing up to work a lot of overtime around the Thanksgiving holiday, so they're likely to continue for a bit. Please bear with me and continue to wait warmly.
>> No. 29500
I'll spare you the whinging and grovelling and just tell you that tonight ain't a good night for updates. Waiting, warmly, etc.
>> No. 29501
Alright, guys, I'm not going to keep jerking you guys around, so I've decided to just make this an official thing. Instead of following an 'every other day' schedule, I'm going to relax it to one update during my regular work week (Wednesday to Saturday) and two updates during my weekend (Sunday to Tuesday). I love working on this story, but I stress myself the fuck out trying to drop out updates after I get home and barely have four hours to myself before I have to go to sleep. To tell the truth, I was planning on moving over to a weekly schedule after the Carnival was over anyway, but I'm going to try this out for now. If I can, I might sneak in an extra update or two where possible. Just bear with me.
>> No. 29502
Whatever, dude. It's not a problem. If you have a system for maintaining regular updates at a sustainable and can reliably keep up with it, do it. You can only apologize, apologize for apologizing, and talk about how you'll skip apologizing so many times.

I've been there and done that. If you got a thing, do the thing. We'll be here and waiting.

Also your story is good and I like it, especially for imagining other towns and settlements beyond the uncreatively named Human Village.
>> No. 29509
File 14480799811.jpg - (2.69MB , 1812x1200 , git clean.jpg ) [iqdb]
[x] Grab something fast and easy for food. I need a leisurely soak to start off the day.

I looked over at Kokoro, who was bouncing on her heels. Whatever she had to say, it was probably only going to lead to more trouble at some point. Just thinking about it made my shoulders feel like they were made of lead. I wasn't ready to take on this day just yet. And my skin felt gross all over from a late night with no bath.

Set on getting clean as my next objective, I dug out a small tub and put together all of my bath necessities. Kokoro craned her neck to peep into my bath kit.

"Bath, then?" she asked.

"That's the plan. Now, if you'll excuse me..." I draped a clean, folded-up uniform over the bucket and made for the door, waving for Kokoro to follow me out. She glanced at my bath kit and back into my apartment before finally stepping outside so I could shut the door.

We made our way downstairs, out to the street, when Kokoro spoke up. "Where's mine?"

"Your what?" I snapped.

She frowned, holding her arms out. "I don't have any bath stuff, so..."

I paused mid-step, and Kokoro ran right into my back. When I whipped around to face her, she was holding her nose, frowning even harder. "You're misunderstanding something here. I'm going for a bath and breakfast. Whatever you do is up to you, but your business can wait until I'm at the station, got it?"

Kokoro stopped rubbing her nose to stare at me open-mouthed. She started to say something several times but gave up halfway through, ultimately deciding on silently glaring at me.

Satisfied that she'd given up on any foolishness, I turned around and started off down the street. Her gaze seemed to prod at me as I walked along. I glanced back over my shoulder and saw her standing a few paces back, her face stuck in that sour look.

"Following me isn't going to change my mind," I said.

"I'm not following you. We're walking in the same direction," she harrumphed.

I walked a little faster. "I don't see any difference."

"Maybe I wanted a bath too! You ever think of that?" She picked up the pace, though she faltered behind a bit, getting hung behind others walking the streets.

"The same exact bath?"


I stopped again. Kokoro managed to not run into me this time, though she stopped more than a few paces shy. She didn't move from her spot, carefully watching me for any reaction, until another pedestrian jostled her, followed by several more. I heaved an annoyed sigh and yanked her by the shoulder.

"Alright," I huffed, "if that's what you want, feel free. Don't think this is going to do you any favours, though, because it won't. Also, you pay your own way for everything."

She folded her arms. "What do you take me for, some kind of broke tengu guard?"

There was a split second where I considered shoving Kokoro backwards into the mass of pedestrians and walking off. Sadly, my conscience decided to shout above my stomach and self-respect, and I took my hand off of her. I continued on without another word. Kokoro followed alongside me, flashing a victorious smile -- it looked ridiculous with her flat, unexpressive eyes.

In silence, I walked with Kokoro in tow the rest of the way down the street and around the corner. The public bath I used wasn't too far up the next street, a squat building between a bar that was known for padding bills and a restaurant that was a gambling front. This morning, like most, there were a few patrons of both stumbling their way out of the bath, having slept off their wild nights there. Timing was everything when visiting the bath because of them. The very first time I went, I was horrified when I got an eyeful of many things I only wished I could remove from my memory. A couple of them waved at Kokoro as we made our way in.

"Do I even want to know?" I asked.

"Just repeat watchers." Seeing a sceptical look forming on my face already, she waggled her finger at me. "Anyone can be a patron of the arts. Even fat, hairy, booze-swilling gutter crawlers like them!"

One of the men filing out gave a hearty laugh and slapped her on the shoulder, almost knocking her off-balance. "Thank you, ma'am!"

I shook my head and opted to drop the subject altogether. Whatever company she kept, it obviously was not the sort I'd ever willingly associate myself with.

When we got to the attendant to pay, I reached into my pocket only to grasp lint. I froze and rifled through my other pocket. Still nothing. My ears stood up as I realised that, to my horror, I'd completely forgotten my wallet. Somewhere between Kokoro's intrusion and my hurry to get clean and fed, that one vital step in my morning routine slipped from my mind.

Kokoro looked down at the floor and back up to me. "Step on a thorn?"

"I..." My face felt hot. Kokoro raised an eyebrow. "I... may have left my wallet," I said hesitantly.

She snorted loudly. "Great work, officer."

"I-I was working late, okay!"

"Alright, alright. I'll let you owe me this once. That's what friends are for," she said with that irritating smirk from before.

Before I could say anything, her hand crawled underneath her shirt and pulled out a few bills, which she passed along to the attendant. The attendant boredly looked us over and passed two tickets along to Kokoro without saying anything. Kokoro held out my ticket.

I stared at it. Even though reason and dignity dictated that I should have refused, punctuality shoved them aside, reminding me how little precious time there was for me to unwind before work. Mortified as I was, I took the ticket from Kokoro. Maybe I could clean it from my memory.

We walked through the curtained entrance and to the dressing area. Thankfully, with the morning migration of the drunks, there were very few people left inside. I shook out of my clothes, set my glasses with them, and covered up with my towel, plopping myself on a stool at the faucets. There was the clacking of a stool setting down next to me as I got to scrubbing.

"Shove over a little, would you?"

It was Kokoro, standing stark naked right behind me. I quickly turned back to the half-fogged mirror in front of me, scooting my stool over a bit.

"There are plenty open," I said.

She sat down on her stool. "Is that any way to treat a friend?"

"Who said you were a friend?"

Cold water splashed me. I shook it off, making my hair stand up, and glared at Kokoro, who was giving me a testy look of her own.

"I did," she grumbled. "Besides, don't forget who paid your way in."

Not wanting to take the discussion any further, I turned my attention back to getting clean. I made quick work of it and rinsed off. The water only ever came out cold, which was a bit of an annoyance, but that was what the bath was for. I got up and strolled over to the steaming waters, dipping half a leg in to adjust before sliding all the way in. Kokoro followed behind soon after.

"Okay, thanks. Is that what you wanted to hear?" I asked as she repeatedly dipped her foot in and yanked it back out. "By the way, the trick is to just put your leg in and get used to it."

Kokoro puffed her cheek out at me. "I was just testing it out."

Slowly, she submerged her leg under the water, grimacing the whole way. After a minute, she slipped in over the edge and sat down. It took her a bit of fidgeting and griping about how hot it was to finally get used to it.

"And, yes, that's what I wanted to hear," she groused as soon as she was comfortable.

"Great. Now can I enjoy my soak for a bit?"

"Sure." She hugged her knees, watching me over them.

I tuned her out, leaning back against the edge. This was one of the few pleasures of life after moving to the outpost. The water was a perfect temperature for relaxing. The only thing that might have made it better would have been some anpan. Or maybe some senbei. Either one sounded good about now.

[ ] Make small talk about your mornings.
[ ] Prod Kokoro a bit about what she does.
[ ] Prod Kokoro a bit about who she is.
[ ] Splash Kokoro.
>> No. 29510
[x] Prod Kokoro a bit about what she does.

So... what kind of plays do fat, hairy, booze-swilling gutter crawlers enjoy?
>> No. 29511
[X] Splash Kokoro.
>> No. 29513
[x] Prod Kokoro a bit about what she does.
>> No. 29514
[X] Prod Kokoro a bit about what she does.
>> No. 29515
[x] Prod her about who she is
>> No. 29516
[x] Make small talk about your mornings.
>> No. 29517
Koyomi just can't help wondering about the sort of company Kokoro keeps, so she's going to...

[X] Prod Kokoro a bit about what she does.
>> No. 29521
File 144841717563.jpg - (1.16MB , 1200x1600 , sadly no hecatia included.jpg ) [iqdb]
[x] Prod Kokoro a bit about what she does.

Even as nice as all this was, even leaning back with my eyes closed didn't feel fully relaxing. Normally, I walked in with nothing on my mind but gearing up for the day ahead. Additional worries had decided to tag along this time. Besides having to hear her out on more problems, on top of owing her for paying entry to the bath, Kokoro herself was a walking headache. I had told her so much about my time at academy, but I knew almost nothing about her.

More than that, the thought of those men -- a shudder ran through me remembering them specifically -- being at least somewhat familiar with Kokoro wouldn't leave me. How on earth would a girl like her know people like that? Something about it just felt... off.

I opened my eyes and sat up. Kokoro had given up on staring me down and instead was making mini-jets of water with her hands.

"So, er..." I started to say. Now that the words had almost left my mouth, I realised I had no idea how to approach this conversation. "Say, Kokoro, I forget if you've told me this before, but, erm, what exactly is it that you do again?"

"I'm talking to you right now, I guess," Kokoro said, leaning her head onto her knees.

"I mean, what do you normally do when you're not talking to me?"

She sat up, shaking her head as her hair fell across her face. For keeping her hair so long, she didn't seem to know how to deal with it.

"Hold on a second. Come here," I said and pulled Kokoro over by the shoulder. I bunched up her hair and began working out the tangles. "You ought to take better care if you're going to leave it this long."

She grumbled. "I don't want a short fluff head like y-- ow! Watch it."

"Hold still," I said, trying to get a particularly bad snag. The knot came undone with a little nail-work, making Kokoro flinch and whine. Despite her grouching, I went on. "Anyway, go on. What brings you to a place like this?"

Kokoro went still. It took a closer look to convince me that she hadn't stopped breathing. "Uhhh... well..." She tried to run her fingers through her hair, her hand jerking back as soon as she remembered I was holding onto it. "I like putting on noh performances. It's kinda, well, part of me."

"That doesn't tell me much about why you're here, though." With the kinks worked out, I started on gathering her hair into a loose ponytail. My hand slipped and part of her hair fanned back out.

"There's lots of people here. And they all like fun things. What's more fun than singing and dancing?" A note of agitation was creeping into her voice.

"Those men who were waving are fun-seekers of a sort, I'm sure."

Once again, she fell silent. I took the opportunity to try my hand at making a ponytail again. "They're not bad people," she muttered after some thought, not sounding utterly convinced herself but not wanting to admit anything either.

"Sorry," I said with a little laugh, "maybe I just worry about silly things. You just... well, seem like trouble won't leave you alone. Especially when you have to come asking me for help. Can't help wondering."

Kokoro grumbled but nodded. Both of us stayed quiet for a bit while I kept working on her hair. It had been so long since I'd had so much hair to play with like this. Mine had only touched my shoulders at its longest, so it wasn't like I could ever do much with it, and I tended to keep it short nowadays. My little sister's, on the other hand, had grown almost to the middle of her back last I'd seen. During those brief visits while I was still at academy, I would brush and braid her hair while we talked. It was my way of doting on her even when we never got to see each other much.

I let out a small sigh through my nose. Thinking on it, the last time I'd even seen my sister was just before my induction. Her school years were wrapping up at the time, so she stayed busy. Then I moved to the far peak, and didn't get so much as a visit from my parents. Just before I got called to the outpost, I received a letter from them. It was still sitting somewhere in my kitchen back on the mountain, unopened. I could only guess they said something about my sister entering the academy too.


Kokoro was looking up at me, a hint of concern on her face. My ears were flopped over all the way like they'd given up on standing.

I waved a hand. "Ah! It's nothing. Just... thinking about... some things."

I hurriedly finished rolling Kokoro's hair into a makeshift bun. If anything, it was at least more manageable in the bath. Even she seemed happier without all that hair in the way.

"By the way, don't mind all the things I said," I added, going back to leaning over the edge. "I don't mind helping however I can." I smiled. "Especially if you treat me to lunch."

"Which reminds me!" Kokoro stood up in the water, almost pressing her chest in my face. There was a weird glimmer in her eye. "So I'm working on this entirely new play myself, right? In between performances, I write down stuff I thought of. It's been a work in progress for a while, you know."

I scooted away. "Um, okay?"

"Anyway, I've got ths idea in my head," she continued, seemingly not hearing me at all. "It's a tale of a young man defendng his village from a hideous beast, an incarnation of pure greed and desire!"

"And what does that--"

Kokoro held up her hand. "I'm getting to it!" She cleared her throat and went on. "Okay, so, the beast not only smashes things and kidnaps people, but also eats up everything it sees. This gives the hero an idea. When it comes to the final act, where he rescues everybody from the beast's lair, he uses its own greed against it by baiting it with a giant stewpot..."

Seeing where she was going with this already, I stood up and started to get out of the bath. "Nope!"

"What do you mean 'Nope!'" she shouted, tugging on my towel.

"This is all about the kimchi stew, isn't it? Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but I'm neither an actress nor a food disposal for hire."

I climbed out and made my way back to the dressing area. My skin was starting to feel wrinkly anyway. Kokoro came hustling in behind me just as I was towelling off. "What if I told you you'd get a ten-gal-- wah!" She slid on the wet stone floor, tumbling into the dressing area and only just avoiding landing spread-eagle.

"Don't run," I said.

As we got dressed, Kokoro continued to pester me with her unfinished play idea. The gist was that watching the 'ravenous beast' devour loads of food right there would be the draw for the crowd. A massive pot of kimchi stew would be prepared for the beast to inhale. The role of this horrible creature was, of course, inspired by and meant to be played by me. It was almost insulting enough to make me take back what I said about helping her.

"And that's what you needed my help with?" I asked as soon as she was through. We were walking back down the street by then, headed off toward the main gates. I was sorely tempted to try losing her in one of the alleyways nearby.

Kokoro puffed out her cheek. "No."

"Well, good, because I'm not helping you with that."

"Fugh!" she groaned, throwing her hands in the air.

Continuing on, a number of smells floated through the street that woke my stomach from its bath-induced slumber. The biggest perk to living in the western quarter of this outpost was that I was a lot closer to breakfast heading to work. Out a little ways from the main gates, in the outline of a large building that had yet to see any construction going on three years, a number of food stalls had set up shop. They had originally been located further out, but the mass of construction workers camped around drew them in. The building itself never got built, but increasing numbers of people lingering around the west end kept the area alive. Or so Hinawa had told me.

All I knew was that these stands and their contribution to the street food culture of the outpost were a boon to me in the mornings. When I was in a hurry, there was one particular stand that I tended to look for. Its proprietor was an older kappa gentleman, a strange rarity around here. He kept to himself, like most kappa, which made him hard to find at times. Some mornings, he might simply have not shown up. It was always a disappointment if he did.

Luckily, his stand was parked right up front when we approached the open square. Spotting it lightened my spirits to the point that I forgot about Kokoro's nonsense immediately.

"You've got to try this," I told Kokoro, who was lagging a step or two behind.

Noting the tall racks of steamers and signs declaring that the stand sold steamed buns, Kokoro threw me a puzzled look. "For breakfast?"

"You'll see. Now, come on."

"Good morning!" I called over the noise. The proprietor croaked out a greeting without looking up from chopping a cabbage. The mingling smells of meat, red bean paste, and other things stoked my hunger. I licked my lips at all of the steamers on display. However, there was one in particular that I had my eye on.

I pointed to a single steamer set towards the front. "I'll take the whole thing, please."

The grizzled old kappa set his cleaver down and yanked the steamer off, tossed it up where I could reach, and whipped out an abacus, tallying up the cost and standing it up next to the steamer with his hand out. I was about to reach for the food when I remembered my missing wallet and nudged Kokoro.

"You still haven't told me what I'm buying," she groused.

"It doesn't smell like kimchi, does it? Just trust me. I'll listen to whatever else you have to say after we eat."

Still looking unconvinced, Kokoro drew out enough to cover the buns from her shirt. The kappa nodded after receiving his payment and waved us away. I grabbed the steamer, pulling Kokoro over to one of the nearby makeshift tables. She watched closely as I pulled the lid off, fanning off the plume of steam that rose up.

I handed one of the piping-hot parcels to her. She squinted at it, turning it over in her hand. "They just look like regular steamed buns to me."

"Taste it."

Kokoro dug her finger into the bun like she was about to tear it open. "Wait, wait, wait! Not like that," I warned. "The filling will spill out everywhere."

She huffed at me like a child being told not to touch a paper door. Blowing on the bun, she took a delicate bite out of the side. At first, she didn't seem to get what she was supposed to be tasting. However, after a bit of chewing, her eyes opened in surprise. "Miso soup?"

"I know, right!"

"How? I mean... in a bun?" Kokoro stared at the bun in her hand incredulously.

"I don't know exactly how he does it, but that old guy is the only one I know of. He doesn't make many in a day, but I always--"

There was a jarring crash followed by several indistinct screams and shouts. Some of the vendors were getting up from their stands to rush over to the source of the commotion. Just as quickly, though, a couple ran back under a hail of something being thrown at them. One of the unidentified missiles strayed wildly, flying close to me and Kokoro, thudding against a sign for one of the stands. I got up to inspect it. Splattered over the announcements was a wad of mochi.

[ ] Rush in and try to apprehend whoever's causing trouble. A bit of damage is easy to shrug off when more damage can be averted.
[ ] Approach calmly and be ready to take on the instigator. Things might get uglier, but it's better to avoid busting up anybody's stand if I can help it.
>> No. 29522
[X] Rush in and try to apprehend whoever's causing trouble. A bit of damage is easy to shrug off when more damage can be averted.
>> No. 29523
[X] Rush in and try to apprehend whoever's causing trouble. A bit of damage is easy to shrug off when more damage can be averted

Do NOT interrupt a date. Ever.
>> No. 29524
[x] Approach calmly and be ready to take on the instigator. Things might get uglier, but it's better to avoid busting up anybody's stand if I can help it.

Don't let your badge go to your head, Koyomi!
>> No. 29525
[x] Approach calmly and be ready to take on the instigator. Things might get uglier, but it's better to avoid busting up anybody's stand if I can help it.

Better that the trouble maker causes the damage. That way the anger is directed at them and not us.
>> No. 29526
[x] Approach calmly and be ready to take on the instigator. Things might get uglier, but it's better to avoid busting up anybody's stand if I can help it.
>> No. 29527
Calling it now. Whoever's busting things up better get ready, because Koyomi's about to...

[x] Approach calmly and be ready to take on the instigator. Things might get uglier, but it's better to avoid busting up anybody's stand if I can help it.

Pardon this week's schedule slips. They're going to continue into this weekend since my workdays have been shifted over on account of these damnable holidays.
>> No. 29529
Update coming Monday (CST). That is all.
>> No. 29530
File 144893813158.jpg - (326.05KB , 600x861 , this guys ghost is not as soft unfortunately.jpg ) [iqdb]
[x] Approach calmly and be ready to take on the instigator. Things might get uglier, but it's better to avoid busting up anybody's stand if I can help it.

Years of training at academy had taught me better than to charge anything head-on. Even with my beloved street food potentially facing danger, that lesson hit me like an instructor's slap, jolting me out of assuming a full running position. A deep breath brought me back to myself. I turned to Kokoro, who was staring off at the chaos with a bun in her hand.

"You wait here," I commanded.

She finally remembered to take a bite and shrugged. "Call me if you need backup."

"And save me at least a couple."

"You got it."

With that, I strode over to the pair of vendors hiding off to one side of the square. They peeked around the side of their cover, ducking back behind as another volley of mochi flew close.

"Did you see who it was?" I asked the calmer of the two.

"Looked like a human. Right, Ichi?" He turned to his friend, who was trembling enough that I couldn't tell he had nodded at first. "Though he was mighty strong. Started tearing that damn stand apart with his hands!"

I nudged them aside and leaned over to survey the havoc. Off a few stands over, a loose circle of people was gathered around the torn-up stand in question. There was a guttural roar, followed by another round of mochi streaking out.

"Yajiroooooooooooo! You dog!"

The circle broke, people either diving out of the way or bowled over by the projectiles. That was when I caught first sight of the perpetrator.

Dark-headed, average height, gaunt but slightly muscled build -- he fit the profile of a typical human construction worker. Judging from the headband tied on his head and the crest on his sleeveless jacket, carpentry was his trade. His face was pale, cold sweat beaded on his brow, and his eyes were unfocused. A number of recent wounds dotted his chest, arms, and face like he'd already been fighting before this. Most disturbingly, he was now hoisting a full-sized mortar above his head like an empty barrel.

The onlookers backed away as soon as he lifted it. He snarled at them, turning in a circle to glare at all of them. Someone amongst the crowd was being held back, seemingly ready to rush the human as his back was turned. Likely the one who had sunk his money into the mortar that was about to be smashed.

My target well defined for me, I moved out from under my cover, still partly crouched. Swift and low-profile was the goal. I gently elbowed people in the diffused crowd and made my way through them. Many offered me concerned looks as I passed by. Others muttered their hopes of me knocking the instigator's teeth out.

The moment I closed in, the human whipped around like there had been a string tied to his shoulder. One eye rolled in place, fixed squarely on my approach. "It’s your fault! You let this happen!" he bellowed.

"I don't know what you're talking about, sir," I said calmly, standing up.

"Oooooough! Murder. Dead." His head flew back and jerked around randomly. The mortar dropped from his hands, landing with a hollow thud on the ground. "Murder murder murder. Grargh!"

"Please calm down, sir. I'm trying to underst--"

I didn't have time to say another word before he was charging me with the long-handled pestle in hand, wielding it like a makeshift spear. Seeing an opportunity, the onlookers took off running too.

I took a deep breath as I watched the human running towards me. His speed was nothing spectacular, even for a human, but the force of his movements promised something more than human in the strength of the oncoming blow. My muscles tensed. I took a step on my right foot.

And tripped.

My shoulder collided with the ground first, and I went into a roll, too panicked to notice the pain. Right as I came to a stop, something hit me in the side and toppled over. There was a thud and a pained growl. I scrambled to my feet.

Lying splayed out on the ground, spasming like an eel on a cutting board, was the human. The pestle lay underneath him, broken.

Coming to my senses all at once, I threw my arms around his neck, pushing my knee into his back as hard as I dared. His eyes were rolled into the back of his head, and he was gibbering unintelligibly. What felt like several minutes passed before he stopped shaking. With a wheezing groan, the blood returned to his face and his eyes came back into focus.

"Augh. Watch the back," he whined.

I let up just a tad. "Mind explaining why you destroyed a food stand and terrorised everyone here?"

"W-What?" he sputtered. He stared at me agape before something clicked into place. His face went pale again. "Oh no. Not this again."

"Again? Don't tell me you've done this before."

The human shut his eyes and shook his head as much as he could in my hold. "It's hard to expl--" His eyes snapped back open. "You deserve to join me, Yajiro! Do you hear me? You deserve to--" He shook his head violently, nearly headbutting me, then went still again.

"He's possessed," came Kokoro's voice.

I looked up. Kokoro was standing over me and the human, looking down boredly and munching away on another bun. "These are pretty good, by the way."

"I told you to wait there," I said.

"You were taking too long. Any real officer would have this guy down in a second." Kokoro shoved the rest of the bun in her mouth.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence." I took my knee off of the human and slowly pulled him up to his feet. "There's a pair of handcuffs in my pocket."

Kokoro stared at me, still chewing.

"So please get them for me," I added with an irritated sigh.

"Okay, okay. Hold your horses." She fished her hand into my hakama pocket, pulling out the pair of cuffs I kept on me. Her mouth quirked into a half-smile at the jingling of the chain. Saying nothing further, I took them and cuffed the human with minimal trouble.

The next hour after depositing the captive human at a nearby table -- with Kokoro ready to give him a flying kick if necessary -- was a tedious but necessary string of statements taken from all who had remained present. The general picture was that the human was indeed a carpenter employed on a local building project who had stopped in for breakfast. At some point, he got up and walked over to the now-destroyed stand where the two proprietors were preparing mochi. He then proceeded to scream all manner of profanities and threats at them while dismantling their stand. Several others tried to get him down as soon as he started rampaging, but he showed 'no response to force or pain', according to those witnesses, who were subsequently thrown to the ground.

After repeatedly assuring the livid proprietors of the mochi stand that command would see to some sort of compensation, I plodded back to the table where the suspect waited. Kokoro was drumming her fingers on the table. There were no buns left in the steamer. I shot her a glare that she answered with a snort.

"Has he said anything else?" I asked.

"'I'll kill you,' 'Yajiro, you scum,' and such," she said with a shrug. "He sure loves going on and on about that Yajiro guy. Or, well, his ghost does."

The human sat still in his seat, avoiding look at me or Kokoro. I adjusted my glasses. "He's not talking now," I said.

"Maybe he's tired out. I dunno. Ghosts are weird."

"Um..." the human spoke up suddenly. He was looking up at us now. "I'm really sorry about all of this. I just... I can't control him."

Looking at him closer, I noticed a ring of food residue around his mouth and a few new bruises on his arms. I looked at Kokoro. She shrugged again.

"Okay, maybe I had to wrestle him to the ground and force-feed him a bun. Or two. Or three."

I pinched the bridge of my nose. The day had already started poorly, and now I was feeling a headache start to creep in. It didn't help that my breakfast had been crammed down this human's gullet. My stomach joined in to protest.

It was obvious this day was going to be another long one.

[ ] I'm no expert, but I need to find my own footing here as an officer, dammit!
[ ] Time to rely on my trusty senior once more and cling to Hinawa as my rock.
[ ] I could go to command with this -- though that runs the risk of Sumida poking his nose into it.
[ ] Maybe there's someone else amongst my seniors who can help?
>> No. 29531
So, it's the end of the Carnival, for better or worse. As such, I decided I'd just go ahead and unmask myself.

I didn't even think I was going to participate at first. I mean, I've got Fame and Misfortune to work on -- which is still coming, so please don't worry. That said, it's been a lot of fun. I'm glad a friend nudged me into doing it.

The story will continue after this, of course. So please keep waiting warmly, okay?
>> No. 29532
[x] Maybe there's someone else amongst my seniors who can help?
>> No. 29533
[x] Time to rely on my trusty senior once more and cling to Hinawa as my rock.

Hinawa dotes on us and seems like a sweetheart.
>> No. 29534
[x] Trust your seniors

Nice work! Looking forward to the rest!
>> No. 29535
[x] Time to rely on my trusty senior once more and cling to Hinawa as my rock.
>> No. 29536
[x] Trust your seniors

Nice work! Looking forward to the rest!
>> No. 29537
[X] Maybe there's someone else amongst my seniors who can help?
>> No. 29539
Going to need clarification before I can call it. Is this a vote for the Hinawa option or the last option?
>> No. 29540
Okay, I can't wait any longer for an answer, so I've reached a decision on my own. Koyomi's going to need some stable help, so it's...

[x] Time to rely on my trusty senior once more and cling to Hinawa as my rock.

Expect an update Friday-ish.
>> No. 29541
>> No. 29542
[x] Time to rely on my trusty senior once more and cling to Hinawa as my rock.

"Right, so," I said, rubbing my temples, "the first order of business is processing our perpetrator here."

The human's shoulders sunk. Now that he wasn't in a blind rage, his emaciated shape managed to make him pitiable looking. "There goes another job."

"Then we get to my problem, right?" Kokoro asked, a note of hope in her voice.

"That would be nice. As would another order of miso soup buns." I narrowed my eyes at her. She grumbled, fiddling with her hair bun. "But, no, that's not the end of it. The thing is... I don't know. I've never made an arrest before," I said.

Kokoro's face went completely blank. "You're kidding."

"It's my first real week on the job!" I snapped.

"So more time wasted looking for your friends?"

I opened my mouth to reprimand Kokoro, but seeing the human lowering his eyes stopped me. My ears were lying flat, and my fangs were probably showing. I was getting more annoyed by all of this than I had any right to. More than that, as much as I didn't want to admit it, Kokoro was right. This was already out of my league.

Pinching the bridge of my nose again, I let out a long sigh. "Yes. I don't like it any more than you do. That's just how it is being the rookie on the day shift."

Kokoro threw her hands up and stood up from the table. Figuring it better not to engage her any further, I got the human up to his feet and started down the street with him in tow. His steps fell lightly on the ground, and his head hung low. Though I doubted he could hear them like I could, the whispers of people as we walked by no doubt stung.

"I'm so sorry," he whimpered.

A number of rather harsh words came to mind that I had to push down. If anyone was to blame, it was myself for thinking this day would go any better. I settled for simply saying, "Don't be."

The rest of the way to the station was mercifully short: down the street and a jog to the left. I'd found my key when I noticed the door was already unlocked. Clicking my tongue, I made a mental note to give the night shift a piece of my mind.

Until I saw a tail sticking out from under a blanket and a familiar flower hairpin. I kicked off my shoes and walked over to the low table, lightly nudging the sleeping figure. The tail stood up immediately. I tugged the blanket off to find a half-awake Hinawa looking up at me. Seeing that it was me, her ears righted themselves lazily.

"Morning, Koyomi," she said with a yawn.

I crossed my arms. "I'd have sworn the night shift are gone by daybreak."

Hinawa stretched, her shoulders popping as she rolled them. Sleeping at the low table had to be uncomfortable. Nonetheless, she smiled. "Yes, I would be home by now. I wouldn't be able to check up on you as easily, though."

"W-What gave you the idea I needed checking up on?"

"Hmmm, well," she said, tilting her head, "nothing in particular. It just felt like you were having a rough first week. That's all." She shrugged.

I sat down on the floor, slumping over the table. "You have no idea."

"Don't forget you've got a possessed guy out here who wrecked a mochi stand bare-handed," monotoned Kokoro from the doorway. She leaned in, looking at Hinawa and then at me. "This one of your guard buds?"

Spotting Kokoro, Hinawa's ears perked up all the way. Her smile grew so sunny that I almost squinted on reflex. "And here I was worried about Koyomi not making any friends!" she chirped.

Kokoro covered her mouth, letting out a snort. I threw her a hard look and stood back up. She turned to give Hinawa a low bow.

"I had no idea you worked with your mom," Kokoro said, still having a hard time keeping her snickering in check.

Hinawa joined her in laughing. "Oh, no, no! Though I don't blame you for thinking that. Koyomi's my precious trainee, no matter how long she works with me." I frowned at her, but she waved it off. "It's only true!"

"I'm not her friend," I muttered and slipped back out to walk the human inside.

Hinawa looked like about to launch into more ribbing when she saw the captive human and reverted to a more sober expression. His eyes flicked up at Hinawa and back down to the floor.

She eyed him carefully, her tail flipping from side-to-side. "He certainly doesn't look that dangerous to me," she joked.

"He is, and that's why I need your help."

"First arrests, huh? That takes me back," she remarked with an almost wistful sigh. She stood up, strolling over to look at the human closer. He flinched under Hinawa's gaze. "I can't say I know much about ghosts and possessions, but I'll help out however I can."

Hinawa opened the door to the room we used for questioning. The lack of windows made the closet-sized room that much more uncomfortable. Even when Hinawa flicked the lamp on overhead, I couldn't help feeling that it was a bit eerie. The human gave a shudder, looking at me apprehensively.

"Questioning--" I turned to Hinawa, "--right?"

"Correct. All official business for the paperwork. And speaking of which..." She darted over to the filing cabinets. Thinking for a second, she pulled open one fully-stuffed drawer and started digging. "You can go on ahead. I'll just be a minute," she called without looking up.

I nodded to the human, who obediently stepped into the questioning room and sat down at the table. Kokoro came walking up like she was about to step inside with him, but I held her back. "Involved parties only," I said.

"When was I not involved?" she huffed.

"When you showed up after everything was over and done with. Now, wait here." She said nothing as I steered her toward the low table. There was a sharp yank on my sleeve as I walked back.

Kokoro's eyes were drawn into a flat stare, the sort that said she was long past the point of impatience. I wrenched my sleeve from her pincer grip. "We'll talk after this," I said coolly.

"We'd better."

I closed the door to the questioning room, taking my seat across from the human. He sat with his hands crossed in front of him, the pitiful look of a scolded child still on his face this whole time. As much as I wanted to say something reassuring, he was a suspect in a crime. I had to conduct myself as professionally as possible, even when I didn't know what that entailed. That's why I opted to stay silent.

Several tense moments later, the door opened again, and Hinawa came in with a stack of papers under one arm. "Sorry!" she sang, strolling into the room. "It's been a little while since I've had to dig some of this stuff out."

The paperwork made a hard thud hitting the table. The human stared at it blankly, the colour slowly draining from his face. He looked up between us. Hinawa flashed a smile. He stared back at Hinawa for a moment, then his eyes unfocused and he slumped forward.

"We understand that this is an unusual situation, so--"

Hinawa was interrupted as the human gripped the table and flipped it. The papers scattered inside the small room, and Hinawa and I reeled back in unison.

"Yajiro! I’ll have your head for this!"

Hinawa's hand went to her handcuffs on reflex, but the human didn't make another move. He stood still, panting loudly, eyes darting back and forth even though there wasn't much to see.

"I'm afraid Yajiro isn't here, but if you cooperate with us for a few minutes, we can help you."

"He’ll pay for this! I'll stomp his head flat!"

He ranted and raved for a minute, gnashing his teeth and pounding his fists on the floor. But even a posessing ghost could recognize when he couldn't do anything. After his venting, he sat back down, swollen hands bleeding into his lap.

He twitched, his head hanging sideways. "Help me make Yajiro regret that he was ever born."

Not the best opening for questioning, but it was a start.

[ ] Who are you?
[ ] Why should we help you?
[ ] What does Yajiro have to do with this?
>> No. 29543
[X] Who are you?
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