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120476 No. 120476
...thread two?

Man, I don't even know how.

---

X What the hell, Kirikami can come too.

You leave Kirikami in the car, but the boy is only briefly deterred--you barely push the front door of the coffeeshop open, and there he is, bounding after you like some kind of overly friendly Labrador Retriever.

Fine, you decide, even as you feel your molars grinding. That's fine. If he's going to act like a dog, it's all the better to keep him on a leash, anyway. All the better to ensure he doesn't piddle on the seat.

Fortune balances out: the line, this morning, is mercifully short. You're a regular, too, so all you need to do is grunt, "The usual," and the girl behind the counter nods, fixing your drink in seconds.

It's not difficult to serve black coffee. Still, you appreciate the quick service.

"Boss wants to talk to you."

You take your coffee, cast an eye warily over the rest of the shop. There's no one else here, save a woman in the far corner folded up in her newspaper and Kirikami smiling vapidly out the window. "Back, huh?" you mutter.

"Yeah, just last weekend. She said she wanted to talk to you, if you came in. Something about..." she trails off, uncomfortably. "You know."

Yeah. You know.

The door to the back room is unlocked: a makeshift manager's office, with overflowing writing desk and metal folding chair serving as an impromptu workspace. The corkboard hanging in the back wall is probably supposed to help keep things straightened out, but the million different-colored papers thumbtacked by no identifiable method only add to the strange, organized chaos plaguing the room.

And in the middle of it all, Shannon sits backwards in the folding chair, glancing at you over the top of her handheld game.

"Yo," she says.

The high-cheekboned man standing stiffly beside the chair says nothing.

"Ignore him," Shannon snaps, following your gaze. "He's just a stooge, anyway." And then, much cheerily: "How are you? Sorry, did I get you at a bad time? You usually stop by for coffee, either you or Terrence, and--look, you're my brother's partner, right?"

Following a conversation with this girl is a little like trying to bat a knuckleball. It's all you can do just to keep up. "I am," you say, unsure of where all of this is going.

"Right, right, right. of course you're his partner. I just said, didn't I? Didn't I? Don't answer that." Shannon turns around in her chair and yanks open the desk drawer violently. You don't flinch, but the high-cheekboned man does--and then, almost casually, he begins to lean towards Shannon trying to look over her shoulder...

You scowl.

"Here."

Something small and dark traces a slow, lazy arc towards you--you catch it, instinctively. It's a wallet.

"My brother's," Shannon says, facing you again, her expression neutral. The man, too, is back in his original position.

As if he never moved at all.

"I can't trust me to keep it--I'm too busy counting my spoons," Shannon says. "You, on the other hand--you're my brother's partner, and maybe I don't know you all well otherwise, but you look a weed and singular knife kind of person--you understand?"

You don't.

"Forget it. It doesn't matter, really. Now--" Shannon makes a shooing gesture with both hands, a blatant dismissal. "I've got a lot of nothings to do, so I won't keep you any longer, okay? Feel free to show yourself out whenever you feel like it."

Shannon spins about in her chair one last time, grabbing at the corkboard--a large novelty tack goes skidding nosily across the floor, and it suddenly occurs to you that this entire room might qualify as a workplace hazard. You make to leave, quickly, before you become a statistic.

"Oh, and Valentin?" Shannon calls out as you lay your hand on the doorknob. "When Terrence gets back, let's the three of us go for tom yum, okay? He'll be dying for that, what with eating nothing but Japanese in the meantime. He hasn't had that since his last birthday, you know?"

"Sure," you say. "No problem."

You grab Kirikami roughly by the shoulder, drag him away from the counter. "We're leaving."

"What? Dude, I just ordered a latte. Gimme five minutes."

"We're leaving. Now." You don't let go until you're both clear of the coffeshop, and even then you shove Kirikami at the passenger side door.

"Get in."

Kirikami grumbles indignantly, but complies. "Look, man, you didn't tell me you were gonna stay that short," he whines as he buckles up his seatbelt. "If we're partners, we gotta communicate, y'know what I'm sayin--"

"Shut up." Maybe you're reading into something that isn't there, but...ignoring Kirikami, you open up the wallet and look inside.

Money, money, old receipts, couple of coupons...

"What're you lookin' for?"

"Shut up."

Ancient bus passes, business cards, gift card--

Wait.

Hold on.

"You know Japanese?" you ask Kirikami.

"What?"

"Kirikami. Sounds Japanese." You look at Kirikami, pin him to the window with a glare. "So, do you?"

Kirikami fidgets. "Well, yeah, sure. I mean, I'm not a language...history kinda guy, but I think I know enough to figure out what people are sayin--"

"Good." You toss the small, neatly-printed note in his direction--it flutters through the air, just through his fingers. He picks it from his lap, reads it.

"This is just...this is just a buncha names. Like, pronunciations and everything. What am s'posed to do with a buncha names?"

What, he can't figure it out? His generation's the one that's supposed to be hooked up twenty-four seven. "The internet," you growl. "Look it up."

The ignition drowns out the sound of his sniveling.

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

"I'll take him," Cottage Girl says.

Yara recovers first--he's been here longer, so he's probably used to this woman showing up out of nowhere dressed like something out of Brothers Grimm. You, on the other hand, totally forgot she existed. "What?" he asks.

"I'll take him." Something alights on her shoulder--a tiny person. no, not a tiny person, a doll. A doll, holding a coin purse.

...What the hell?

"The usual amount." The woman tilts her head--the doll on her shoulder, surreally, does the same. "It should be sufficient, I believe."

"Uh--you, uh--" Yara stammers, his mouth opening and closing and opening again, like a fish out of water. "Hold on a second. Uh, the boss--"

"I understand. This will diminish your company." Cottage Girl closes her eyes for a moment, as if deep in thought--and another doll lands on her other shoulder, this one clutching another little coin purse. You're not the only one seeing this, right? "As such, I am prepared to double my payment."

And Yara, to your horror, actuallyseems to consider the offer. "Well, uh--that might be alright. I mean, I should probably ask the boss if its okay, but I don't see any reason that it shouldn't be--"

Traitor. Scum. Bootlicker!

"What Yara means," you quickly interrupt, "is 'no'."

Yara chuckles quietly to himself, like he didn't just nearly sell you off to some woman he barely knows. "Yeah, it really wouldn't be alright, I guess. Sorry." Ugh. What the hell is he apologizing for? At least his spinelessness ended up working in your favor...

Cottage Girl, meanwhile, looks a lot less pleased with the outcome. "I'm being perfectly reasonable here," she insists. "He's not much in the way of manpower besides--anyone can tell that just by looking."

"I'm right here, you know," you say crossly.

The woman ignores you. "What little energy he has would be better served indoors perhaps, and I do need an assistant. Really, I'm doing you a favor, taking him off your hands."

The desire to slap this woman across the face rises, sharply--you only barely manage to drag it back down. "Look," you say, with infinite patience. "Even if your offer were reasonable--which it isn't--the decision wouldn't be his to make. It's not this guy who does the money stuff, it's the boss."

"Damned right it's the boss!"

...and speak of the devil: it's the old yokel himself, flaring nostrils and all. Nice timing! There's no way that crooked cottage chick's going to drag you off now, not with your boss this spitting mad. Heck, she'd have to be utterly devoid of tact and common sense to even consider pressing the issue--

"Mr. Hake. I would like to hire one of your number for some time."

...Wow. This lady's just totally missing her survival instinct, isn't she?

You suppress a slight smile as the boss' face starts to go all red around the edges. "You--you stiffed me, and now you're comin' here and talkin' 'bout 'hirin''? You got a lotta damn nerve--"

The woman's face jerks a little at the word "stiffed", but otherwise, the reaction is minimal. "Mr. Hake--If I did cheat you, it was wholly unintentional. That said, I am willing to pay you double the usual amount. That should more than cover what you didn't receive last week, should it not?"

Ha. Haggling won't do any her good--you haven't been here more than two weeks, but even you've seen how difficult it is to calm the boss down when he gets into one of his little fits. Does this lady honestly think she can pacify a month's worth of smoldering rage with just a little extra cash?

"...Deal."

...Apparently she does.

Can.

What the hell?

No, seriously, you think, as the woman grabs you by the arm and frog marches you away from the half-finished house. What the hell?

_ Go quietly. It's an honest transaction, after all.
_ Scream for help. Kidnapping's against the law, right?
_ Break free and run away. You can outpace her, easy.
_ Other... (Specify)

>> No. 120483
[x] Go quietly. It's an honest transaction, after all.

Votes where?
>> No. 120486
[x] Go quietly. It's an honest transaction, after all.
Be a man.
>> No. 120488
[x]Go quietly. It's an honest transaction, after all.
>> No. 120492
[x] Go quietly. It's an honest transaction, after all.
>> No. 120512
[x] Go quietly. It's an honest transaction, after all.

Where is he going to run to?

He has nowhere else to go but with her.

...Kind of looking forward to Terrence's reluctant admission to Alice that she was right, and maybe an apology for blowing her off and thinking of her as a nut, too.
>> No. 120860
[x] Go quietly. It's an honest transaction, after all.
>> No. 121462
File 128101363894.jpg - (141.58KB , 320x320 , MakeItDeliriantLeakageFromTheExoticUnderstructure.jpg ) [iqdb]
121462
X Go quietly. It's an honest transaction, after all.

You're in such a daze that you don't snap out of it till Cottage Chick shoves you from behind, nearly sending you tumbling into an empty wooden cart off the side of the road. You catch yourself before you slam into the side, but only just. "Hey, what the hell--"

"Load it up." The woman snaps an order, cutting your indignation off neatly at the neck. You look at her pointed finger--back at the cart--back at her pointed finger--

Wait.

...Seriously?

"You want..." You gawk, disbelievingly. "You want me to..."

"Load it up, yes." There's a strain of irritation readily apparent in her voice--as if she's a grown-up stuck lecturing a very dull child. You feel your hands twitch at your sides as she continues talking. "Load the cart up with wood and tell me, once you've finished--I assume you know where you'll be taking it afterward?"

"You assume I'll be taking it anywhere at all."

The words are out of your mouth before you can stop them--but in all honesty, you barely care. You've already called this lady a nutjob, after all. There's no point in putting on that mask of geniality if nobody's going to be fooled.

Something like excitement runs up your spine, sears itself into the base of your brain. You smile.

You can hate openly, now.

...but epiphanies aside, Cottage Girl is clearly unimpressed with your one-man revolution. "I don't see why I shouldn't assume that," she retorts. "I purchased your services, so I should at the very least expect the illusion of deference--shouldn't I?"

Still grinning cavalierly, you lean against the end of the cart. "Maybe," you admit. "But my services were never up for purchasing anyway, so the point's moot."

There's a lull.

And a strange expression passes across Cottage Girl's face, and you think--maybe I shouldn't have said that? Maybe I shouldn't have said that--

"Moot?" Her voice is controlled. Toneless. "And what, precisely, do you mean by 'moot'?"

She's speaking in English now. No, you've both been speaking in English. You only just noticed, that's all--

"Are you using that term in the context of economics? Or something more profound, perhaps--liberty? The social contract? What you perceive as your own natural rights?" She's mocking you, now, and now you know--you shouldn't have said that, whatever it was that you said--

"Or do you even understand what I'm speaking of? Appearances may deceive, but I can tell just by looking--you are no learned man."

Now, that's just harsh. "Hey, I went to school long enough," you protest, weakly.

"Well, perhaps you ought to return, then--but never mind. Allow me to educate you, instead." Cottage Girl draws nearer to you--and suddenly the dolls are back again, hovering close to her shoulders like some sort of guard. You'd find the sight funny if it weren't somehow so intimidating.

"Mr. Hake," the woman says, "is your employer. Correct?"

"If by Mr. Hake, you mean that big idiot who's always shouting at everything--then sure." You're no longer smiling, but you can keep up that irreverent attitude of yours, at least. Crazy broad and her crazy dolls (crazy floating moving dolls) don't deserve any less.

"And Mr. Hake has placed you under my care for the time being--isn't that also correct?"

Oh, you get it. "It doesn't matter what Mr. Hake's done," you maintain. The dolls move forwards, closer to you--you do your damnest to ignore them. "I'm the one being handed around like a piece of meat--if anyone should have a say in this, it's me."

"And I suppose," Cottage Girl says, "that you have no wish to cooperate."

One of the dolls brushes against your arm--the other, the one in the darker bow, simply hangs in front of your face, blocking off most of your vision. You could swat that one out of the air right now, if you wanted to. Grab it and dash its little wooden brains out. You can see it now--the neck would be the first part to break, and then you'd toss the head away--splinter the body at the joints--

"Damned straight," you grunt, and Cottage Girl frowns.

"Well, then."

And the dolls pull away--no, are pulled away, like a pair of marionettes--back to Cottage Girl's side.

"If you have no desire to assist me, then there's precious little I can do."

It takes a couple of seconds for the meaning of those words to sink in--and then a grand smirk creeps up the side of your face. Ha! So she's just giving up, then? You figured she was more bark than bite.

"However," Cottage Girl continues, "to pay for services unrendered would be foolish. I suppose I'll have to petition Mr. Hake for proper recompense--don't you think?" The woman folds her arms, looking up at you expectantly, as if to view the awesome and monumental aftereffects of her words.

"Yeah, sure," you say. "Good luck with that."

...This, clearly, is not the correct reaction.

Cottage Girl's eyes narrow dangerously. You've heard that poetic crap about "eyes aflame" plenty of times before, but this is the first time you've actually felt it. Well, felt it from somebody other than your sister, anyway. "Perhaps you are unfamiliar with your employer's usual reception to ill tidings?" she asks, through her teeth.

"A lot of screaming, right?" You roll your eyes. "Don't worry. I don't plan on being anywhere close by when you break the news to that ape." You'll probably still hear him, though. Guy's got vocal chords like an ox.

...Funny thing, your assurance doesn't seem to settle Cottage Girl's nerves any. "And your livelihood?" she hisses.

...What? "Livelihood?"

"Yes. Your livelihood. The means by which you support your existence. Surely you bear some concern--"

"Wait, wait," you interrupt her. "You mean...this? This woodworking thing?"

Cottage Girl shoots you an awfully easy-to-read look.

You snort. "What are you, stupid? This crappy job? Hell, hunt me down after you get me sacked--I'll thank you even." You're not sure if all that you're saying is getting through to this chick, but you barrel on, nonetheless. "Look, do you want me to be honest? I don't care about this job, or Apeman, or even that idiot Yara over there. I don't care about this town, or even Japan--and I certainly don't care about you. This job was just something to do until I figured out a way to get back to California. As soon as something opens up, I'm gone. You get it?"

If anything ever does open up, an ugly thought pipes up, and you choke it down with a devil-may-care smile.

"Besides," you continue, "what the hell were you gonna have me do, anyway, huh? Hike back and forth between here and your cottage every time you needed the shopping done? That's just stupid crazy. Maybe if you actually lived in the village, I might consider taking you up on that assistant job--what do you think of that?"

Cottage Girl does not answer you, not at first. Just stares, fiercely, with that carefully blank face and that look in her eyes like she wants to rip your spine out.

And then:

"I think you're trying my patience," she says, and raises her hand towards you.

Your head explodes.

---

...Okay, maybe not.

It feels that way, though. One millisecond you're standing there, staring at Cottage Girl and her outstretched arm, wondering what the hell she's doing now--

And then something snaps inside your brain.

Tangrams, you remember, as the sky falls away, as the ground fades into static (you pay it no mind).

Tangrams. Stupid thing to distract yourself with now. Six or seven or eight little pieces, wasn't that right? You put them together and got a man, turned sideways, his stomach swollen, his arms held out as if to beg--and then you took him apart and did it again, and he was the same man, but now he had feet--

You never realized he was missing his feet, not before you saw the second silhouette.

It's perspective, man-woman-all whispers at your ear. Young to old, and hare to fowl--fly neither too low, nor too high, and all the space in between is yours. Understand?

You don't understand. Understanding is beyond you. Thinking is beyond you.

Thinking isn't necessary. Also, jump--

You jump. Five silver-spun spiderthreads miss you, but only barely: you can feel the air disturbed as one of them streams past your face, grazing your cheek. You follow the threads to their source, see them tied behind Cottage Girl's fingertips--

They're not dolls at all, comes the thought--or is it whisper? They're not dolls, in any case--they're--

You land.

Your legs are stiff when they hit the ground, and the shock travels up your knees, all the way up to your head, and maybe that shock knocks together whatever it was that fell apart in your skull because suddenly the last second and a half catches up to you with all the force of a bullet train and you think, what the hell was that?

Cottage Girl frowns.

"I missed."

"...Yeah," you say, because you don't know what else to say to that.

There is something in Cottage Girl's expression, something like surprise, and annoyance--but also grudging respect. "Not only that," she says. "I missed completely--out of the five strings I sent to catch you, not one of them hit its mark. Tell me, are you truly a normal human?"

Funny thing--up until about five seconds ago, you would've answered that with a clear-cut "yes". As it is, you're forced to suffice with a shrug.

"Ah. Well, no matter." And again, Cottage Girl raises her hand towards you. "I missed, once--but I will not miss a second time. Prepare yourself!"

The back of your neck breaks out in cold sweat. You tense your leg muscles--

---

...As it turns out, she was right.

"I'm not hiking back and forth every time you need the shopping done," you grumble, miserably. Cottage Girl's wasted no time in putting you to work--and so here you are, hours later, surrounded by trees, tugging a heavy cartload of wood along an old dirt path. Lovely!

You need to throttle somebody.

To be fair, you're not actually pulling all of the weight here. In fact, you're not even pulling half the weight, not since Cottage Girl wised up to the fragility of the human body and decided to lend you a hand. That girl's stronger than she looks. Nicer, too, if you ignore the fact that she's literally been manipulating you like a full-sized marionette since you left the village.

...You're not that generous.

"Seriously," you insist. "You send me out here, you're never gonna see me again. Guaranteed."

"Oh? You managed to make it through last time."

"I managed to get to the shrine last time, not the village. And then some crazy witch-woman tried to strangle me and I barely got out alive. I'm not exactly eager to repeat the experience--"

You stop. Or rather, Cottage Girl stops you. It's bizarre, having someone else controlling your limbs. Everything's out of your hands--you definitely don't like it.

Cottage Girl's voice has a hint of curiosity in it. "Witch?" she asks.

You'd nod, if you could. "Yeah, sure, witch. Six foot tall, blue robe, called herself Mima. You know her?"

...Oh, wow, you know that look.

"Yes," Cottage Girl answers, very carefully, very evenly. "I know her."

And if you're hoping for exposition, you're right out of luck: those two little floating puppets of hers go spinning 'round your head again, and onwards you go.

"...Well, anyway, I'm seriously not joking here." You return to more important subjects. "You try to send me into the woods, I go on strike. Immediately. You understand?"

Cottage Girl is unfazed. "You act as if you've made any headway," she points out. "All of your efforts so far have been fruitless--somehow, I doubt you'll break new ground any time soon."

Damned forest skank. "Well in that case, you'd better keep me strung up twenty-four seven, because the moment you set me loose I'm gonna slit your--"

"We're here."

"...What?"

You turn your attention down the road. Indeed, just around the next curve is an outline of a small house that looks like something ripped out of a Dutch storybook. A familiar-looking house--and why not? You've been here before, after all, though it's not like you went out of your way last time to savor the atmosphere.

"Oh," you mutter. "Huh. What do you know."

...At least you won't have to carry this damn cart much further.

"Take the wood to the workshop. You should be able to manage that on your own, shouldn't you?" You nearly fall over as the strings at your limbs recede and feeling flows back into your limbs. "I expect to be woken by seven-thirty, with a full breakfast prepared in advance; high tea should be served at five, alongside the evening meal. Lunch is unnecessary. In the event of emergency, I am to be alerted immediately unless I am in the workshop, in which case I am not to be disturbed under any circumstances whatsoever. Do you understand?"

You make a break for it, and get about fifty feet before five needlemarks stop you in your tracks.

"A valiant attempt," Cottage Girl says.

You swear.

"Now, come. You will need to familiarize yourself with the larder before evening."

...Rotten forest cow.

---

"What is this?" Cottage Girl asks.

Suppertime, and the plate in front of her is steaming softy. It took you a bit of looking around in the basement, but eventually you found something you were certain you could make--and with the energy that can only come from a man who wishes to forget his surroundings, you threw yourself feet first into the task.

"It's your high tea meal," you answer, grinning the kitchen doorway--and it's not a bad meal, if you do say so yourself.

"It's bread."

You nod. "Yeah sure, it's bread. What, you don't like bread, or something?" She should like bread. You don't see why she'd keep it in her basement if she didn't like it.

Cottage Girl's eyebrows tighten. "I am saying," she clarifies, "that it is just bread."

...Ah.

...Well.

"It's buttered."

"Whether you have spread butter or marmalade is of little concern!" Cottage Girl pushes back her chair and stands, amping up her glare. "What foolery is this? Do you truly expect any man could rest soundly with such a pittance of a meal in his stomach?"

Yeah, you were hoping maybe she wouldn't notice. "Funny story, actually," you mutter.

"Oh? Pray tell."

"I can't cook."

There is a moment of silence, during which you continue to stand awkwardly in the doorframe, Cottage Girl continues to glower in your general direction, and the butter continues to melt.

"...And you did not consider this pertinent information?"

"I did, actually. But then I figured, you know, it's not like I'm getting paid." And thus you come to the crux of the situation here: Cottage Girl, for whatever mysterious, ulterior motive, has decided to drag you along as her sparkling new manservant, and you're most certainly not down with that.

This, of course, means war.

And to tell the truth, you're feeling pretty confident here. Sure, Cottage Girl's got the string thing, but there's no way she can keep that up forever, not before you drive her off the deep end. It's civil disobedience in spades. You heard about that whole jazz in school--great men along the annuals of history have achieved great things just by being overly passive-aggressive.

And if that doesn't work, you've still got the buttering knife.

"And where is the tea? A high tea meal, yet it consists of buttered bread and no tea--"

You grin and shrug and grin some more. "I don't know how to make tea, either," you say, and pull out the chair opposite your host to take a seat of your own. "Are you gonna eat that? 'Cause if we're talking about food here, I haven't had much myself."

Cottage Girl shoots you a look that could kill a moose at thirty paces. You take this as a yes.

_ So, who are you, exactly?
_ So, what's with the whole puppetmaster deal, exactly?
_ So, how the hell do I get out of here, exactly?
_ Screw this question and answer crap. The time to strike is now!
_ Other (Specify...)

Alice might not get through all of your questions if you just tack the whole list down here.
...Then again, maybe she will. Who's to say?
Nothing wrong with voting for more than one choice, but you'd better put the question you're most interested in first, just in case.
>> No. 121467
That wasn't exactly "going quietly".

[X] So, who are you, exactly?
[X] So, how the hell do I get out of here, exactly?
[X] So, what's with the whole puppetmaster deal, exactly?

Names first, then the goal.
>> No. 121488
[X] So, who are you, exactly?
[X] So, how the hell do I get out of here, exactly?
[X] So, what's with the whole puppetmaster deal, exactly?
>> No. 121491
[X] So, who are you, exactly?
[X] So, how the hell do I get out of here, exactly?
[X] So, what's with the whole puppetmaster deal, exactly?
>> No. 121541
[x] So, who are you, exactly?
[x] So, how the hell do I get out of here, exactly?
[x] So, what's with the whole puppetmaster deal, exactly?

I hate to pick at a small detail lke this, but it was actually kind of a problem this update:
Could you please start significantly separating scene breaks in a noticeable way?

It's way too easy for someone's eyes to skip right over "---". A longer, solid line of them or something would be better (You did a longer line of them in the previous update, but it was broken up, and that took away from its ability to separate).
>> No. 121566
I do love how you portrait Harker. Too long have MCs have been goody-two-shoes or just schizophreniacs.

Finally we have an indignant and passive-aggressive MC, one that I can identify with!
>> No. 122149
File 128244675916.jpg - (131.82KB , 352x350 , Frida.jpg ) [iqdb]
122149
X So, who are you, exactly?
X So, how the hell do I get out of here, exactly?
X So, what's with the whole puppetmaster deal, exactly?

"Ah, well. Suit yourself, then." You lean back, sighing dramatically. Too bad. That wasn't even a lie there, you being hungry: between the lack of microwaves and you scoping out the larder, the most you've put into your stomach since you got here is a slice of bread and a handful's worth of nuts. You're not starving, by any means, but you'd chow down pretty happily on what Cottage Girl's got now if your places were turned, no two ways about it.

...Ungrateful witch.

You fix a plastic grin, urging down your quickly mounting blood pressure. "So," you say, "seeing as you've got me trapped here, maybe we oughta make introductions, you think?"

Cottage Girl pauses sawing off another piece of soggy bread, eyes you--and then, very deliberately, sets aside her knife. "I was unaware," she says, hands steepled, "that I needed to call you anything other than 'Servant'."

You choke down your rage, but only barely--it tears from your throat, a harsh, humorless bark of laughter. "And I was unaware," you say (your fingers brush against the handle of the knife), "that I would be sold off to the highest bidder! So I guess that makes the both of us unaware, doesn't it, Cottage Girl?"

She says nothing, only looks at you. Stares at you, like you've suddenly got a screw loose. What the hell? You're not crazy. You've seen crazy people before--crazy people, throwing things, yelling things--and you're nowhere in the area of that kind of crazy. You're just a little excited, maybe, that's all. High blood pressure. Heart beating overtime. Red in the face.

Besides, if anyone's crazy here, it's this chick, with her crazy magic strings. Magic? Ha! You can't count on magic. Magic's not real. She thinks it's real, because she's used it before--used it on you, before--but it's no more real than she is, and she's only a hop-skip-jump away from being not-real herself. Heck, all you've got to do is reach across the table and--

You take her hand. Hold it, in something like a limp handshake. "Harker, Terry Harker," you say, pleasantly. "See, easy as pie. Your turn."

Cottage Girl swiftly disentangles her fingers from yours, her upper lip curling into an expression of disgust--nevertheless, she follows your play. "Margatroid. Alice Margatroid," she sniffs. "Now, will that be all, or is your curiosity still unsatisfied?"

"Actually, that sort of does raise more questions." Yeah, you know the question was sarcastic--but you don't really care. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but 'Margatroid'...that's not exactly a Japanese name, is it?"

"No. It isn't."

You wait a second for Cottage Girl--Margatroid--to explain further, but of course she doesn't. "Well, what kind of name is it, then?" you end up prompting.

"English." The woman sinks her fork into the last piece of bread--and then that is gone, and she pushes her plate away almost daintily. "Wash up the dishes and cutlery," she orders you. "I shall be at work till late, so you may consider yourself free from duty once that task--"

"Hold up." First of all, screw duty. Second of all, the lady just said something really important there. "English, did you say? Like, England English?"

Margatroid looks at you as if you've just said something amazingly stupid. "Yes," she says.

"Like Bangers and mash English? Shepherd's pie English?" You lean forwards, your voice becoming excited. "We wish you a figgy pudding and a happy new year--that kind of English English?"

There is a moment of hesitation on Margatroid's part. "Yes," she says.

"Then, in that case--"

And you stand to your full height, nearly tipping your chair over behind you, barely noticing.

"In that case," you crow, "you're from the outside--just like me!"

Something in Margatroid's face twists. There's a grimace there, like you've just touched something you shouldn't have. "That world was left behind years ago," she says, slowly, carefully. "If you're hoping some likeness might endear you to me, you're going to be sorely disappointed."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah--that's not the point." Ego-swollen high-horse witch. "What I'm saying is--you got in here somehow, right? So maybe you also know how to get out!"

You stare down at Margatroid. Raise your eyebrows expectantly. Feel something form in your chest--a spot of hope.

Margatroid shakes her head.

"I'm sorry," Margatroid says, and the funny thing is--she actually does look sorry. There's a strange expression on her face. You've seen it before.

"Even six months ago..." she says, and her voice is strange, too. Different, all of a sudden. Not as sharp. "Even six months ago, and there might have been a way. But now..."

Her eyes are focused on something that isn't there. Her hands, perched against the edge of the table like two small birds, curl into fists.

You don't know why, but you can't stand seeing this. It's embarrassing.

"But now?" you ask.

Your question seems to jolt Margatroid out of her stupor--that sad, sympathetic look drops from her her face, replaced once again by that familiar haughty attitude. "But now," she says, simply, "there isn't."

She stands. This time, you don't interrupt.

"Wash the dishes and the cutlery. And do not disturb me," Margatroid orders. You watch her receding back, watch it until she turns the corner, and still afterwards you continue to run your thumb and index finger over the handle of your buttering knife.

==

You take the guest bed. Don't bother to set the alarm clock. Sleep till noon. Stumble into the kitchen fully expecting a lecture, pleasantly surprised when all Margatroid does is glare at you and then look away. Huh, maybe even she can tell that you've been dumped on hard enough for one week. Witch has a heart. Who knew?

And then the puppets start circling your head like a pair of gaudily dressed flies and you think: Oh, never mind.

"Go to the village and purchase these items," Margatroid says, and pushes something to your chest--a large woven basket, followed by a strip of paper, and then some coins. "I will expect you to return within two hours, and no later."

You scowl. "I already told you I'm not doing your shopping. I barely got to the village alive, last time--you don't pay me enough to get me to go out there alone."

"Then it is fortune that you will not go out there alone." Margatroid's tone is impassive. "Shanghai will accompany you."

"...Who?"

Margatroid points above your head. You look up. One of the dolls is holding the blade of a straight razor.

_ What. No.
_ Yes, that is surely sufficient protection for the journal I am going to make!
_ STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER
_ Other... (Specify)
>> No. 122159
[x] Yes, that is surely sufficient protection for the journey I am going to make!
>> No. 122160
[x] What. No.

What the fuck are you doing, woman?

Also...

>Besides, if anyone's crazy here, it's this chick, with her crazy magic strings. Magic? Ha! You can't count on magic. Magic's not real. She thinks it's real, because she's used it before--used it on you, before--but it's no more real than she is, and she's only a hop-skip-jump away from being not-real herself.
This part is weird.
>Mocking magic
>Accusing magic of being dodgy
>Magic isn't real
>Magic is only real if they think it's real like when she used it on you
What.
>> No. 122161
[x] Yes, that is surely sufficient protection for the journal I am going to make!
>> No. 122162
>journal

Mother of

I corrected that typo, then rewrote that choice and ended up making that same typo AGAIN. I ought to have my head shoved underwater for half a minute or something.

Well, maybe only almost half a minute. Twenty-five seconds, maybe. Still, what the hell.
>> No. 122163
[x] STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER

I say we stab her.
>> No. 122173
File 128247361321.jpg - (630.80KB , 2592x1944 , MujEn.jpg ) [iqdb]
122173
I'm not calling it yet, but barring a sudden flurry of votes in a certain direction or other, I guess we know what I'll be writing.

Damn shame. None of the other choices would've led to a direct bad end, and I say that without any double-meaning or trickery whatsoever.
>> No. 122175
>>122173

...

[x] STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER
>> No. 122178
[x] Yes, that is surely sufficient protection for the journey I am going to make!
>> No. 122195
[x] STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER
>> No. 122199
[x] STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER
>> No. 122200
[X] Yes, that is surely sufficient protection for the journey I am going to make!

A man chooses, a slave puppet OBEYS!
>> No. 122202
[x] STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER
>> No. 122203
>>122173
just poorly veiled manipulation.
>> No. 122204
File 128259951893.jpg - (224.21KB , 510x750 , 9604461.jpg ) [iqdb]
122204
>>122203
I was going to be all indignant, but I guess you're right, huh.

Now I just feel bad.
>> No. 122363
File 128296530591.jpg - (44.00KB , 377x375 , God'sLastGift.jpg ) [iqdb]
122363
X STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER

"...You're kidding me."

"I assure you, I am doing nothing of the sort."

She says that, but of course she's joking. Has to be. It's all one big sadistic joke. You've been telling yourself that ever since you first arrived in this damned wonderland--

"No," you say. "I refuse. Maybe you kidnapped me, marched me here on my own two feet, but that doesn't mean I have to go on your suicide run, and especially not with that doll as 'protection'. Hell, look at it! It's smaller than my head, even. That thing couldn't guard a wallet, let along a regular human being, and--hey, are you even listening?"

She's not. "Please give Mr. Hake my regards," Margatroid says. And, clearly considering the conversation over, she turns away.

You drop the basket and stab her.

It's funny, actually. You don't even realize what you're doing until you yank the knife out of her neck. But the blade is in your hand, and it is red, and there is a matching red where the tool has gone--

"You--"

Margatroid turns around, slowly. Stiffly. Sees the knife. Understands at once, but brings her hand to the back of her neck anyway, as if to make sure.

"You--"

"You shouldn't have done that," she says.

You stab her again, this time in the chest.

You push her to the ground, feel an odd satisfaction as her head cracks against the wooden floor. Crawl on top of her. She raises her arms against you, trying to fight you off, but you grab one of her wrists with your free hand and yank it to the side, stabbing her through the opening--the chest again, and then the neck, and then the chest and the chest and the chest. You keep stabbing her.

Eventually, she stops resisting as much, and you're able to work more comfortably. Your strokes become more focused, more precise. With the diligence of a man cleaning his teeth, you work the knife into a variety of places--into the gut, between the ribs, one eye and then the other. She must be dead by now, you know, but you can't take that chance. You're a murderer now, after all.

You're a murderer.

The realization is sudden--so sudden, you nearly drop the knife in shock. What the hell are you doing? You've--you've killed this woman. You've actually killed her. Your hands and clothes are covered in her blood. What the hell is wrong with you? For a second, you stumble, dizzy, feeling your gorge rise, fighting the urge to vomit--

And then, like a summer storm, the guilt passes away harmlessly.

Yes.

That's right. You've killed this woman. There's no denying that.

But you're not a murderer.

It's self-defense, so you're not a murderer.

You were kidnapped, weren't you? Kidnapped, and forced into slavery by this crazy magic woman. You were kidnapped, and forced into slavery, and you did your best to fight back without being so overt, but she caught on (or maybe she was just sadistic, you don't know) and decided to kill you. And so she told you to take a trip through the forest, and she threw you a doll and said it'd be your bodyguard, as totally impossible as that would be--

You would have had to go out into that forest. You would have gone out, and never have been seen again.

Killing her was the only choice.

You feel better, once you figure it out. A lot better. Your legs are still unsteady, but you're well enough to hunt down that damned doll (across the room, for some reason) and take its blade for your own. It's a dangerous-looking thing, the straight razor, especially without the handle, but it's better than a freaking buttering knife. Though, if a buttering knife can do this sort of damage...

You steal a glance at Margatroid's body. Deliberate making a slice, ear-to-ear--but no, that's probably overkill. She's done.

Done.

_ Well, might as well stay here.
_ Better run for it.
_ Other (Specify...)
>> No. 122365
>Damn shame. None of the other choices would've led to a direct bad end, and I say that without any double-meaning or trickery whatsoever.
That word.

"direct"

It seems so innocuous.

And yet, so story-ruining.
>> No. 122366
File 128296735694.jpg - (8.58KB , 154x155 , 1203646548265.jpg ) [iqdb]
122366
Ha ha, what?
>> No. 122367
File 128296828595.png - (152.84KB , 300x382 , RitchieValentin3.png ) [iqdb]
122367
>>122365
Don't worry. I don't plan on pulling any of that text adventure-style nonsense.

You'll just have to live with the consequences of your actions.
>> No. 122370
>>122365
Why do you think I dropped this story like a hot potato when I found out what won? And you honestly believed that?

Well here's a fitting video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDthMGtZKa4
>> No. 122372
[x] Welp, time to commit ritualistic suicide.
>> No. 122373
File 128297125436.png - (130.25KB , 285x350 , GroverMaxim3.png ) [iqdb]
122373
For Pete's sake, you are not spiraling towards an inevitable bad end.

Don't be paranoid, okay? I don't lie.
>> No. 122375
>>122373
It's not so much considering you to be a liar, just a person with a messed up sense of good or bad.

And having a Gensokyo where terribly shanking Alice has no nigh-fatal consequences is a terribly messed up Gensokyo that no one'd want to read about.

[x] Look into making the scene look like a berserk doll attacked.
-[x] If that fails, fall on the sword.
>> No. 122378
[x] Better run for it.
>> No. 122380
[X]Okay, now we are stuck in a forest. With no protection. This is better how? Maybe I am an even worse murderer then cop.

Okay lets clean up. I can do this. First we need to get rid of the body, even if it was in self defence...I doubt her friends would care. If she has any, and I bet forest monsters love dead people.

So cut up and burn? Won't get rid of the bones. Maye dig a grave in the front yard. Okay yea bury her with that doll, its the least you owe the bitch.
>> No. 122399
File 12829976796.jpg - (442.68KB , 1400x1001 , 6965d13ce6cb33a8804c8ace404697bc.jpg ) [iqdb]
122399
Okay, so that's one vote for ritualistic suicide, one vote for faking a tragic puppet incident and then maybe ritualistic suicide, one vote for skedaddling, and one vote for, uh...ruminating? Ruminating and clearing the crime scene, it looks like.

So far, you guys seem most in accord with Terrence offing himself. You'll understand if I hope that doesn't win.

I mean, I'll write it, if it does win. I seriously will. But I hope it doesn't.

...That isn't manipulation, is it?
>> No. 122401
[x] Better run for it.

Fuck you fucking faggots, Terrence might be a passive-aggressive idiot but he wasnt a murdered.

I will fucking kill you.
>> No. 122407
[x] try to make the scene look like a berserk doll attacked.
>> No. 122423
[x] Well, might as well stay here.

He was just getting freaked out about having to go into the forest again. Why would he choose to run off into it?
>> No. 122424
File 128304234786.jpg - (31.11KB , 378x372 , 1260377924423.jpg ) [iqdb]
122424
I would just like you to consider that there may be a reason for these latest plot developments besides "you voted for it".

Current as-it-stands:
Ritualistic suicide: 1
Faking an incident: 2
Running for it: 2
Burying the body: 1
Nondescript "stay here": 1

More votes seem to indicate we should stay here, though they tend to differ on what we should do once we decide to stay here.

So I guess we're staying here.
>> No. 122432
File 128305502569.png - (76.40KB , 512x384 , these votes have left me in despair.png ) [iqdb]
122432
Murdering the most major-character touhou with a butter knife. Wow, I thought this kind of plot-derailing out-of-character nonsense only happened through write-in votes. Should we confess our undying love to Shanghai next? Burn down the house in a fit of insanity?

>Don't worry. I don't plan on pulling any of that text adventure-style nonsense.
>You'll just have to live with the consequences of your actions.
>NO BAD ENDS

Oh ho ho ho ho. No, I've played this game before, I'm not taking the stupid train to snowtown again.

[x] Press S to SUICIDE
[x] Back 2 choices
>> No. 122434
x] Press S to SUICIDE
[x] Back 2 choices
>> No. 122435
File 128306418425.jpg - (365.32KB , 905x1220 , 1b6edbc1cf81171a60556db40fd34f8a.jpg ) [iqdb]
122435
>>122432
>I'm not taking the stupid train to snowtown again.

It'll be okay, just bring a scarf this time.
>> No. 122436
[x] Well, might as well stay here.
-[x] Lock the door and shutter the windows.
-[x] Isn't she some sort of magician judging by those dolls? Keep her corpse under observation until you're certain she's dead. Maybe she'll get up... or something.

Wouldn't want anyone walking in on us. Also, I'm not too sure about whether or not the MC knows that Alice is a "magician" outright, so I phrased it as a guess.

Man up and live with the consequences, Anon.
>> No. 122438
>>122370
>>122372
>>122375
>>122432
>>122434
Jesus, people settle down. I don't like the current situation, either, but let's ease up for a second. Unless things in Gensokyo are so bad that youkai now die when they are killed, Alice will be coming back, sooner or later, so that's (hopefully) going to resolve itself, one way or another.

As for Terrence flipping the fuck out, We've just been given a hint that implies something was going on that made him do this. There have already been some weird bits in the story already concerning Terrence, and they may be worth looking over again.

But don't just go OH NOES THIS IS TERRIBLE I WILL DROP IT. Look at it this way:

You didn't drop Tsukihime when Shiki stalked Arcueid to her place and cut her up, did you? No, you went "WHAT THE FUCK?" and kept on playing (Unless you already knew what was going to happen, but pretend you didn't, for a moment).
>> No. 122440
>>122438
But then we knew not much of the world at hand while here we know a good deal of Gensokyo, and generally reviving or not, royally stabbing someone like Alice generally doesn't end well for the stabber.

>>122432
Yeah no bad ends generally translate to "unlimited shark jump works" Yet people went for it; what idiots.
>> No. 122442
>>122438
because with a VN you don't expect a Snow end.

But I get your point.

I'll trust the writefag and decided not to suicide
>> No. 122444
[x] Well, might as well stay here.

Interesting choice guys, could you explain why you voted for stab her?
>> No. 122447
>>122375
Actually, Alice would be one of the safer people to murder.

She lives alone, is a loner, and her house is isolated. If the body is hid well, it could be months or even years before anyone suspects foul play.

[x] Hide the body

Does Terry know enough about Gensokyo to know that he could feed a corpse to youkai?
>> No. 122448
>>122447
Marisa's a friend of hers and in typical Marisa tradition drops by rather often. When she drops by and finds Alice missing or dead, she'd go about resolving the incident.
>> No. 122479
>>122444
Probably because they conveniently forgot that the protagonist is a police officer, the kind of person who understands killing someone who wasn't attacking us is essentially murder. Make no mistake this was a murder. This wasn't killing her in self-defense as she wasn't attacking us. Because they forgot that convenient fact, it allowed those voters to go and have the protagonist act in a manner that he normally would not act in. Some would claim that the protagonist acted in a manner that is OOC.

As for those who said that this might not be the protagonist acting on his own initiative, couldn't he have resisted that temptation since at least two of the options did not require the protagonist to act like a criminal.
>> No. 122487
Well could have, and does are different things.

But yeah he seems to have veered off from cynical to psycopathic..even before the murder.
>> No. 122488
File 128323710474.jpg - (34.81KB , 480x364 , internetguy.jpg ) [iqdb]
122488
>>122479
>Some would claim
will you please stop talking like this
>> No. 122489
>>122488
Sure. Sorry about talking like that.

It's just strange he goes from being cynical to psychopathic in a very short amount time. There's no buildup, foreshadowing, or anything. One minute he's grumbling about being an errand boy, the next he's stabbing Alice. There was nothing about this in his background, which is the case since he's a police officer. In the flashbacks with his partner there was nothing that related to this kind of behavior. All those flashbacks showed is that his partner felt he was goofy or something. Were the people who voted thinking he was Dexter or something?
>> No. 122490
I think you are over thinking the thought, they probably just thought it was "cool" or something.
>> No. 122495
I'm a little worried that many people have missed or ignored this line from >>122424 :
>I would just like you to consider that there may be a reason for these latest plot developments besides "you voted for it".
If the option was made available, then according to this, there was something previously unknown lurking in Terrence's head which made this an action he would potentially consider.

And by the way it appears, it definitely sounds like this wasn't even a conscious choice on his part.
>It's funny, actually. You don't even realize what you're doing until you yank the knife out of her neck. But the blade is in your hand, and it is red, and there is a matching red where the tool has gone--

Consider that not every choice may be about determining what the character chooses to do, but that sometimes they may be presented in order to determine a certain turn of events beyond the character's direct control. There has been at least one of those already in this story (choosing who Terrence met in the woods), and I suspect a few more besides.

Let's think a little more productively, and see if we can't figure out (or at least, start being aware of) what in hell was going on in his head that suddenly flipped the kill switch. This is not normal. Something very weird is going on with Terrence:

-His sudden, unexpected (even to him, it seemed), perfect evasion of Alice's doll-wires, earlier.
-His ability to completely overpower a youkai-- even a magician youkai --and take her out with nothing but a butter knife.
-The mere fact that he flipped out and killed Alice at all, when his person and his history indicate he would never do such a thing, normally.

I'm probably missing a few, so don't think I'll catch everything.
>> No. 122535
File 128347193542.jpg - (20.65KB , 500x500 , FourThree.jpg ) [iqdb]
122535
Short update.

---


X Well, might as well stay here.

...So now what?

You sit on your haunches, peering over the kitchen, cooling corpse and all. You can't go out, obviously--that was the whole point behind sticking her in the first place. Hell, if anything, you're less defended than before, what with that doll out of the way. So going out is thoroughly a bad idea.

But staying here isn't too smart, either. Sure, maybe if this were some relatively unpopulated area you might risk it, but this woman has a footpath leading up to her front door. A footpath! That suggests high traffic, which suggests some friend of the broad's stopping by for a visit and catching you red-handed--and that, needless to say, doesn't really appeal to you.

...But hold on, you aren't exactly helpless here. There's no rule that says you've gotta stick around with your pants down till the mailman arrives. So think straight for a moment. Take this in from a different angle.

Look around, Detective Terrence Harker--what do you see?

You take a deep breath, hold it. Let it out through your teeth. A dead body, obviously. There's a dead body on the kitchen floor--somehow, you don't think it something anybody would fail to notice.

...And beyond that?

...Caucasian female, about early twenties. Blonde. Might be a looker, if she didn't have all those stab wounds in her.

Wounds are localized mainly over the chest and abdominal areas, but it's a pretty mixed bag: sure, most of it's all over the place--the sort of thing you'd expect from a bunch of senseless hacking--but there's no way that knife got between every single rib on either side by complete accident. Add that to the gouged eyes and the slit stomach and you start to get the idea that someone was a bit mad at this chick, maybe.

There's no sign the body was moved, so she probably died here in the kitchen. That's important--it means the killer was most likely somebody she knew, somebody she felt comfortable enough to let in her house. The next step (if this were your investigation) would be to go down the list of this woman's associates--see if anything unusual happened lately concerning this chick. Say, for example, the purchasing of a young man from the village for use as slave labor--

...Breathe in, breathe out.

See, Terrence? No point in running, you're suspect numero uno either way. Spend your energy doing something useful instead, like fabricating evidence so they don't hang you in the middle of town square. Maybe if you say the doll did it?

You go as far as putting the buttering knife in the doll's tiny little doll hands before you realize that it stopped moving as soon as Margatroid did--which, unfortunately for you, rules it out for the more elaborate slices.

...Nuts.

And then there's a knock at the door.

_ Hide!
_ Open the door. Casually, now.
_ Escape out the back door--is there a back door?
_ Other (Specify...)
>> No. 122536
_ Open the door. Casually, now.
>> No. 122539
[x] Open the door. Casually, now.
>> No. 122558
Isn't Terrence --or shouldn't Terrence be-- covered in blood, right now?
>> No. 122560
[x] Hide!

Hopefully we aren't tracking blood around, either.
>> No. 122561
>>122558
Oops. Retracting vote.

[x] Hide!
>> No. 122562
File 128356564332.jpg - (104.85KB , 1000x694 , 1274595714243.jpg ) [iqdb]
122562
Oh, a tie.

Alright, next tiebreaking vote decides it. Fingers on your buzzers, ladies and gentlemen.
>> No. 122563
[x] Open the door. Casually, now.
>> No. 122569
>>122539 here

can't delete it, so i'm changing it to

[X] hide
>> No. 122584
File 12836512121.jpg - (314.37KB , 560x981 , img_3134.jpg ) [iqdb]
122584
>>122569
Sorry. Five hours too late.

Better luck next vote.
>> No. 122807
File 128398783055.jpg - (838.30KB , 1428x1422 , TheTrigger.jpg ) [iqdb]
122807
X Open the door. Casually, now.

You don't panic, oddly enough, even though you've got every right to. Hell, panic would be the normal reaction, wouldn't it? But no--all you feel inside is a resigned sort of annoyance.

You knew someone would come calling, sooner or later, but you hoped you'd have more time than this.

"Alice! Hey, Alice!"

A woman's voice. More knocking, harder this time. Seems somebody really, really wants to drop in. "Friend of yours?" you ask Margatroid wearily.

Margatroid does not reply.

"Hey Alice! Alice! You in there?"

The knocking changes to an outright banging. You grit your teeth, feeling a headache coming on. Maybe if you're very quiet and very still, you think, whoever it is will just give up and shove off.

"Well if you're not home," the voice shouts, "I'm comin' in anyway!"

The doorknob rattles.

...and maybe, you hastily reconsider, you're just unbelievably screwed.

Well, that's it then, huh? Looks like you're getting a noose around the neck, and Shinomiya's getting away with murder. You wouldn't mind so much if you could take the bastard with you, somehow, but that's a little beyond your means at the moment. If anything, you'll have to settle with knowing you made Hicksville a better place, getting rid of that blonde-haired doll-pulling English-tea harpy.

Sorry sis, you think, and then, with the dignity of a man on his last mile, you walk into the foyer and open the door.

"Ha! I knew it!" The woman at the door points her finger into your face triumphantly. You blink stupidly towards her knuckle, follow it backwards to an impossibly tiny woman in an impossibly large witch-hat.

"What?" you ask, rather ungracefully.

"You're a shut-in, so of course you'd be here--" Witch Girl stops mid-sentence, blinking up at you like she's only just seeing you now. An offended expression settles over her face. "Wait a minute...you're not Alice."

"Yeah, I'm not." it's pretty obvious you're not, actually. You don't see how she even made the mistake in the firs--

Your train of thought is thoroughly derailed by a broomful of bristles to the face. You try shoving the dusty thing away, but this girl must take fencing or something because you can't duck it. "What the--" you sputter.

"Don't 'what the' me. I'll ask the questions and you answer, got it?" Another swipe of the broomstick. You're reminded of something important, just for an instant, but then a twig catches you across the eye and the memory is gone. "Who are you, huh? And what are you doin' here? And what's with all the blood?"

You manage to pin the tail end of the broom against the doorframe for a second or two, just long enough for you to sputter out "what blood" before you lose your grip and go back to being a human piñata.

"'What blood'?" Oh, hell. Judging by the increase in volume, that was not the answer the woman wanted. "'What blood'? What the hell do you mean, 'what blood'? Look at you! You're covered in it!" Witch Girl punctuates the sentence with one final jab to your chest and then steps back, peering up at you with a critical eye--almost like she's appraising the beating she's just finished giving you. You take the opportunity to do just as she suggested, and look down at your shirt--

...Oh.

...Oh wow.

...You totally forgot about blood transfer. That's kind of stupid of you, to be honest. You were practically lying on the girl--there was no way you were going to come up looking fresh as a daisy. Hell, you probably left a trail of footprints over to the doors, even--

"Oh, sorry. I didn't notice," you admit honestly.

"You didn't notice? How the hell do you not notice?" And she's back to shouting. Apparently she doesn't like that answer, either. "And you still haven't told me who you are and what you're doing here--where's Alice? Is she in?"

Witch Girl leans to the side, as if trying to get around your shoulder--You raise your hands in mock surrender, and she steps back, all the better to keep her face from being smeared with blood. "I'm Terrence, that's all--just some guy who happened to get himself kidnapped."

You say it jovially, as if the fact has nothing to do with the dead woman in the next room.

"As to why I'm here, I'm here because I've been kidnapped. It's been a pretty terrible day."

Witch Girl cocks her head like some sort of small dog. A Spaniel, maybe. "Who's been kidnapped?" she asks, carefully.

"I've been kidnapped."

"You?"

"Yeah."

Her brow furrows. "...Why would anybody bother to kidnap you?"

"I don't know either." And, as it seems that Witch Girl might be losing interest, might be looking into a way around you again: "I'm free now," you assure her. "It was difficult, but I freed myself, in the end. Though I did have to kill my kidnapper. That's why my clothes are covered in blood--"

You spread your arms wide, straight out wide, like a stage magician eager to show his audience that a stay in the twenty-sword coffin hasn't harmed him one bit. The corner of your lip quirks in something almost but not quite a smile.

"See?"

Witch Girl's face is a pale, unhealthy color. Like spoiled cream. "Sorry," she says, and you can see the gears in her head, going click-click-click, "but who did you say kidnapped you?"

"Oh, I didn't say." And this time you do grin, merrily, all the way to your molars. "Strange woman. Blonde-haired. Bunch of dolls--"

Witch Girl rushes your arm. You lift it, let her through--watch her run into the house yelling.

You're still laughing when she returns. You're still laughing even as she pummels you into unconsciousness.

=== === === === === === === === ===

Kirikami says nothing for days about Shannon's note--only some vague brush-off about "working on it". You're just about ready to throttle the boy when he finally makes good.

But of course, he can't just spell it out for you. No, he wants to impress you, really set himself up as your new partner. So you get the whole damn presentation.

"Right, so yeah." Kirikami has his laptop out, opened up to a page of blue-tinted text. Probably makes sense to him, but it's absolute Greek to you. Damned internet generation. "I didn't really know what I was lookin' for--I mean, that lady just gave you a buncha names, y'know? Shinomiya, Hakurei, Kumiko...I ended up playin' mix-and-match 'til I stumbled on this girl's page. Check this out."

Click. New page. Japanese text, and an ugly man in a vomit-green trenchcoat. He's looking away from the camera. Must've been a candid shot.

"This dude, right?" Kirikami says. "He's Koutarou Shinomiya. Used to be some big-time lawyer or somethin', but now he just works for the Hakurei family. Uh, not that there's lots to do, I mean."

And as he's an idiot, Kirikami drops you right in the plot without even a paddle. "Hakurei," you prompt.

"Oh, right." Kirikami's face goes red--at least the kid's got the sense to know he's a mess. "Hakurei--some family, livin' up in the mountains. Kinda like the mafia, only without the illegal stuff--I think, anyway." Click. Another page. More Japanese text, and a sea of black and white unsmiling faces. "These guys were pretty influential. Not 'cross Japan or anythin', but they could throw their weight around the neighborin' towns and stuff, if they wanted to."

Something important there. Something very important. "'Were' influential, you said."

"Yeah." Kirikami looks up at you, ever-eager for approval. "Here's the kicker," he says, and--

Click.

You frown. The uniform on the man in the shot is unfamiliar, but you know another cop when you see one. And more than that, you know what that rust-brown stain trailing across the wall signifies.

Nothing good. Nothing ever good.

"Fourteen dead in one night, and that's just countin' the family," Kirikami says. "All of 'em. Seems to me like someone was out for blood."
>> No. 122809
File 128398842960.jpg - (4.57KB , 320x240 , 090810_16211.jpg ) [iqdb]
122809
And I think I'll cut part three there.

It seems like a good place.
>> No. 122821
FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF
>> No. 122826
FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

Good update though
>> No. 122841
>>122826
>> No. 122860
fuckin good
>> No. 122864
File 128411100713.gif - (90.30KB , 341x504 , I love these so much.gif ) [iqdb]
122864
>>122860
Well, yes, these chips most certainly are. But let's not get sidetracked into food.

How about the update? ...And for that matter, any semblance of an actual sentence.
>> No. 122904
File 128419806761.jpg - (32.61KB , 400x400 , TooSoon.jpg ) [iqdb]
122904
"I understand now."

The words are softly spoken, but you jolt upright in your seat anyway, instantly awake. For a wild, panicked moment, you can't remember where you are--

But then you relax. Right, right--of course.

You're in the bus.

You've been riding along for a while, so the inside of the vehicle has quickly become a familiar sight--not that there's much to look at, between your seat, the seats in front of you, and the window that you still can't see out of.

Damn bright lights.

Seriously, did someone buy the wrong kind of bulb? Well, this place doesn't look like the middle of a car accident, so you guess it's alright.

You shift, settling into your seat for another nap. This bus'll get to the end of its route sooner or later, and when it does, you want to be well-rested, even if it doesn't really make a difference--

Someone pokes you in the side of your arm. Hard.

"Hey. Don't fall asleep, okay? I understand now, I said."

"What?" You squint one eye open and look up, drowsily. It's the woman in the purple dress again, of course. She's been sitting next to you since your ride started--it only makes sense she'd still be here now. "What do you want?"

The woman in the purple dress smiles. It's an odd smile, you think. Excited. Doesn't fit this bus at all. "I understand now," she says, "but I can't know for sure. I want you to tell me if I'm right."

"If you're...right?"

"If I'm right."

...You have no idea what this woman is talking about. Before you can tell her this, however, she continues.

"You're different. From the first moment I saw you, I could tell. You're a little more free than I am--"

_ Changing shades appear
_ Granite over flesh
_ Fiend-haunted fells
>> No. 122918
[x] Fiend-haunted fells
>> No. 122919
[[]] Fiend-haunted fells
>> No. 122926
[x]Changing shades appear
I don't know what I am voting for here. Oh well!
>> No. 122942
[x] Changing shades appear

Prismatic!
>> No. 122957
[x]Changing shades appear
>> No. 122972
[x]Changing shades appear
>> No. 122975
[x] Fiend-haunted fells
>> No. 122991
>_ Changing shades appear
Okay this is the Prismriver sisters.
>_ Fiend-haunted fells
Yokai Mountain I think.

>_ Granite over flesh
This though..not sure.
>> No. 123213
>>122991
Underground.
>> No. 123293
>>123213
Yes that makes sense.
>> No. 123592
File 128511393321.jpg - (28.21KB , 300x300 , Silver.jpg ) [iqdb]
123592
X Changing shades appear

===

The Japanese room is low-lit--you can barely see the ceiling, even staring straight up from your futon. You sit up to investigate further--

And hear the telltale clink of handcuffs around your wrists.

...Huh.

"Oh, don't worry--it's only your hands."

You turn your head at the voice--and stare, just for a bit. Sitting in the darkest corner, legs folded neatly underneath, sits...

"Writer Girl?"

Writer Girl smiles. "Mr. Head Wound."

She greets you casually, as if all of this is perfectly normal, and then goes back to whatever she was doing before you woke up--which, apparently, consists of making marks with an ink brush down another piece of parchment.

...It all leaves you feeling a little out of the loop, really.

"What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?" Writer Girl parrots the question back to you, not even bothering to look up from her paper. For a moment you're pretty sure you're being mocked--

But now that you think of it, it's actually a pretty good question.

What are you doing here, anyway?

Heck, where is "here"?

...Well, that's okay, Terrence. No need to lose it. Just pick up the thread and follow through till you get to the end. What's the last thing you remember before you woke up in this dump?

"Margatroid," you mutter.

"Mm-hm. Margatroid." Writer Girl looks up from her writing. Her eyes, you think, have an odd gleam to them--though it's probably only a trick of the dark. "You did a very terrible thing to Miss Margatroid--at least, so Miss Kirisame claims. Do you have anything to say in your defense?"

"...Kirisame?"

"She's the one who hit you."

"Oh." Now that she mentions it, you do remember something like that happening. "Hit" seems like a bit of an understatement, though. "Girl's got a nice right hook."

Writer Girl's smile becomes a touch wan. "Yes--you're lucky she used her fists instead of her magic. There might have been very little for Miss Kamishirasawa to apply salve to, otherwise."

"Salve, huh? I'll have to thank her." Yeah, definitely. Your face hurts, but there's nowhere the pain there should be, given the level of beatdown you incurred. Maybe you can get a list of ingredients--Shannon'd love that sort of stuff. "So I've been returned to the village, then?" you guess.

"That's right! You're really very clever, Mr. Head Wound."

...And now you know for certain she's mocking you. Great.

"Well, this is where I wanted to go, anyway, so that's alright." You shrug. You handcuffs jingle in your lap. "If I'd known killing that woman would have gotten me here sooner, I wouldn't have wasted so much time."

Writer Girl raises her eyebrows. "So then, you admit it?"

"She tried to kill me first. It's self-defense."

"Is that so."

...You're sensing Valentin-grade skepticism here. What did you do to deserve something like this? "Hey, do I look like a liar?"

Writer Girl's smile drains away. "I know what a liar looks like, Mr. Harker."

"...That doesn't answer my question."

"No. It doesn't."

"Oh." Well, that conversation became very awkward very quickly. Time to change the subject. "So, now what?" you ask. You raise your arms, jangle your chains a bit. "Is this my jail cell? Nice place, but I don't want to live here."

"Hardly." Writer Girl turns her attention back to her parchment, moving her ink brush in tiny, graceful strokes. "It's too soon for you to go to jail. You haven't even had a trial yet."

Now it's your turn to raise your eyebrows. "I get a trial? I figured you just threw people like me underground and forgot about them."

"Yes, that's how it usually works. However..." She grins cheekily. You can see it, even with her head bent down like that.

"However?"

"Your circumstances are particularly...interesting."

And then the door slides open and the light hits you like a sledgehammer and they drag you out of the room by your arms.

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

There must be a hundred people packed into this tiny room. Two hundred people, each and every one of them intent on staring you down. It's enough to turn a man's knees to jelly.

Luckily, your sister always said you weren't much of a man.

"Well, now that everyone has finally arrived, perhaps we might begin." One particularly stuffy-looking individual folds his hands in front of him, and the whole place holds its breath. Must be somebody important. "You are the accused, correct?"

"...Maybe? I don't actually know what I'm accused of. I wish somebody would tell me already."

He's got your life in his hands, and you're practically twisting in the wind already. Pissing him off is the smart thing to do.

Luckily, even with the crowd murmuring up a storm, Mr. Important seems unfazed by your behavior. "Somehow, I doubt that, eh--" He pauses. Glances left, right, across the throng.

"Terrence Harker," someone offers helpfully.

...Oh, hey, it's Kami-something-sawa. Flanked by Witch Girl Kirisame. Didn't expect to see them here, let alone together. This has the potential to become interesting. Probably won't, though.

"Yes. You are from the Outside, aren't you? Terrence Harker." The judge, or prosecutor, or whatever he is pronounces your name carefully, r's included. It's pretty impressive, all things considered. Or maybe your expectations have just been dropping since you got here. "I don't pretend to know how trials work where you're from--Harker--but things work a little different here. If you hold any small fondness for your own skin, I would recommend you rein in that attitude of yours."

"A threat?"

"Purely a recommendation. It's not me you have to worry about." A thoroughly bitter smile. "Now, to the accusation of injury against Alice Margatroid: what say you?"

_ I didn't do it.
_ I did it.
_ I did it, but it's not my fault.
_ What are you talking about I have no idea.
_ Other... (Write-in)
>> No. 123594
[x] I did it, but it's not my fault.
[x] ...wait, 'injury'? Isn't she dead?

THE TEMPORARY INSANITY PLEA WORKS WITHOUT FAIL IN FICTION.
>> No. 123595
[X] I did it, but its not my fault.
>> No. 123599
[x] I-- wait, injury? I heard she was dead.

I wonder when it's going to strike Terrence that even if he says he did it in self-defense, that the level of violence with which he responded to this supposed threat seems way the hell over the top.

It doesn't seem like that little bit of information has clicked inside his head, yet. And as a cop in the US, he should be VERY aware of staying away from the use of excess force. I imagine police departments are probably mandated to tell their officers that frequently (kind of like getting a lot of mandatory safety training after stupid workplace accidents, or sensitivity training after somebody is reported for dropping the N-bomb.)

In the mean time, the best plan is to avoid appearing to be a lunatic who can't control his own actions, and who must therefore be either locked away forever or killed so as to keep him from becoming a danger the public.
>> No. 123604
[x] I-- wait, injury? I heard she was dead.
>> No. 123607
[x] I-- wait, injury? I heard she was dead.
>> No. 123609
>I-- wait, injury? I heard she was dead.

Why do you think this is a good idea?

It's like admitting we intended to kill her.

Terrence needs to argue along the line that he was acting in self defense but was unaware as to the level of force necessary against a youkai.

so

[x] I had reason to believe Margatroid meant me harm and knowing the difference in our capabilities deemed it necessary to strike first. When the first strike seemed only to anger Margatroid as opposed to removing the threat I became uncertain as the physical capabilities of a youkai and acted to neutralise the threat.
>> No. 123644
[x] I had reason to believe Margatroid meant me harm and knowing the difference in our capabilities deemed it necessary to strike first. When the first strike seemed only to anger Margatroid as opposed to removing the threat I became uncertain as the physical capabilities of a youkai and acted to neutralise the threat as quickly as possible.

You got us into this situation anon, and you're getting us out. Suprisingly, even though we sorta "snapped" and killed someone, KChasm is doing a fantastic job at keeping us in character. Bravo. Also, added something to the end theres since I'm a picky mother-fucker.
>> No. 123645
>>123644
Dis. Very much dis.

[x] I had reason to believe Margatroid meant me harm and knowing the difference in our capabilities deemed it necessary to strike first. When the first strike seemed only to anger Margatroid as opposed to removing the threat I became uncertain as the physical capabilities of a youkai and acted to neutralise the threat as quickly as possible.
>> No. 123646
>>123609
>>123644
>>123645
Guys.

You guys.

You're doing that thing where you know something that you shouldn't really know about. Pay attention.
>> No. 123648
>>123646
Next time just say "Hey guys, Terrence never knew she was a youkai, so that vote is probably going to be discounted," rather than getting smart about it.

That said, the people mentioned might want to think about voting differently, since using metaknowledge is not good, even when unintentional.

>>123609
It's fine. Getting them to see it in terms of "wait wtf" rather than "damn, I slipped up" will be the trick here.
>> No. 123651
>>123646

Terrence is however aware that Alice has powers beyond that of a human.
He is also aware of her response to getting stabbed.

>"You shouldn't have done that," she says.

No human could shrug off a stab wound to the back of the neck, ergo Alice isn't human.

In that case replace youkai with (unhuman with superior physical capabilities as well as magical capabilities).

so

[x] I had reason to believe Margatroid meant me harm and knowing the difference in our capabilities deemed it necessary to strike first. When the first strike seemed only to anger Margatroid as opposed to removing the threat I became uncertain as the physical and magical capabilities of the obviously non-human and acted to neutralise the threat as quickly as possible.
>> No. 123652
[x] I-- wait, injury? I heard she was dead.
>> No. 123653
[x] I had reason to believe Margatroid meant me harm and knowing the difference in our capabilities deemed it necessary to strike first. When the first strike seemed only to anger Margatroid as opposed to removing the threat I became uncertain as the physical capabilities of a youkai and acted to neutralise the threat as quickly as possible.
>> No. 123676
File 128526145791.gif - (1.54MB , 640x274 , ZoCDO2.gif ) [iqdb]
123676
>>123609
>>123644
>>123645
>>123651
>>123653
Your meta is showing.
>> No. 123680
It's not really meta, is it? We've been there for a week or so and should by now know what the hell a youkai is and how to tell it from normal people. If we didn't know that, then just ignore those votes.
>> No. 123690
>>123676
Terrence investigates homicide cases.

He should have a fair idea that anyone who's first response to get stabbed is "You shouldn't have done that" is not human.

Terence has also seen Alice use magic which from his knowledge is impossible for a human.

It is reasonable for him to believe Alice to be nonhuman with an unknown but high threat level.
>> No. 123722
>>123690

>He should have a fair idea that anyone who's first response to get stabbed is "You shouldn't have done that" is not human.

You're jumping to conclusions a bit there. The first thought that should go through his head is that she's either on drugs or her body is in shock.
>> No. 123781
[X] Wait assult? Isn't she dead?

Our MC is cool but not that steel cold.
>> No. 123812
File 128552411187.jpg - (171.95KB , 500x500 , BerlinByOvernight.jpg ) [iqdb]
123812
Shock is kind of funny; see:
http://bit.ly/9GCT1M
http://bit.ly/9w7IsR
And most significantly:
http://bit.ly/ao9fHD

...I don't know where the heck you're getting "magic, therefore non-human" from, though.

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

X I did it, but it's not my fault.
X I-- wait, injury? I heard she was dead.

...Injury?

"If it's self-defense, am I still guilty?" you ask. There is another wave of murmuring, rudely interrupted as Witch Girl Kirisame screams and leaps for your throat. She has to be wrestled to the ground and dragged out by the same pair of guards who dragged you in, which you find oddly poetic. The Law has to pound his hand on the table to get everyone to shut up.

"If you acted solely to defend yourself, you would be innocent. Is that your claim, Harker?"

"Yeah. It was self-defense."

...Seriously though. Injury?

"Self-defense, then," The Law intones. "So, Mr. Harker--if you would tell us exactly what happened between you and Miss Margatroid--"

You give him the truth. Which is to say: You give him a carefully edited version of the truth, one open to interpretation in the right direction. You don't resort to lying--you'd need more context to pull that off and you'd rather not brush up on local perjury laws from this side of the table, thank you very much--but you do editorialize, just a bit. Editorialize on things that can't be easily double-checked, like emotions, or intent. You were scared. You were confused. You'd been in the forest before. You stopped thinking, and when you started again the knife was in your hand--that sort of thing.

You give him the truth--and all the while, that one word is running circles in your head:

...Injury?

Did she pull through, somehow? She couldn't have. You know she couldn't have. She wasn't breathing; she had no heartbeat. She couldn't have come back, not from the extent you put her in. It would be impossible. You'd need some sort of miracle--and not just the figurative kind, either, but an honest-to-goodness miracle.

Like magic, maybe.

Maybe death is cheap here, you think, and you can't tell whether the idea excites or terrifies.

"An interesting account, Mr. Harker," The Law says. His voice thick with skepticism, but you can't blame him. Truth is pretty easily twisted, after all. "I suppose that's enough for today."

And then the man says something which very nearly ruins your posture:

"We'll return here, once Miss Margatroid is ready to deliver her testimony."

Your blood freezes.

"Oh--but one more thing." The Law's voice rises, but you barely hear him. How the hell is that woman still alive? It's impossible--completely impossible--but this guy here, he's saying--

"When was the last time you saw Hake Fukutarou?"

You shove the panic under the rug, leap over to a different train of thought before you fall apart. "What?" you say, and hope that none of the weakness you feel is evident in your voice.

The Law smiles almost kindly. With that half-grown wisp of a mustache, the image is almost grotesque. "When was the last time that you saw Hake Fukutarou?"

"Mr. Hake? My boss?" Pull yourself together, Terrence! "The last time I saw him was...right before Margatroid took me. He was angry. Margatroid cheated him, he said, but I don't know what happened."

"And this was the last time you saw him."

"Yeah."

...What the hell is this about?

"And Yara Yoshihito?"

Eh? That idiot? "The same time. Before Margatroid arrived, I was talking to him." And if you'd known you were going to get kidnapped, you would have listened to all that blathering about wood.

"And Tachiki Junsuke?"

...You don't recognize that name, actually. "Who?"

"Tachiki Junsuke." No reaction from you, because you've honestly never heard the name before. "Mr. Tachiki was also a member of the carpentry team," The Law explains.

...Really?

You shrug, doing your best to look apologetic. "Sorry, I don't know who that is. I didn't talk to many people, just Yara and the boss--uh, Hake."

"I see."

In the corner of your eye, Kami-something-sawa hangs her head. That's not really important at all, though, so you dismiss it.

"I suppose that's enough for today," The Law says for a second time. You see him glance towards the fringes of the audience, as if daring anyone there to object. "As I said: we'll return here, once Miss Margatroid is ready to deliver her testimony. And as for you, Mr. Harker--"

He gestures. A woman in a flower-marked kimono steps towards you, reaching between your wrists. Your restraints fall away with a clatter.

"You may leave, but you will remain under strict observation by Miss Kotohime. If you even begin to act suspiciously, she has the authority to leave you in a very small jail cell and forget about you until the next session. Do you understand?"

"Yeah," you say, flexing your wrists. "I understand."

"Good. Now--go."

And with that magic word, the entire crowd seems to disperse all at once, spilling out into the hallway like the fizz from a bottle of soda. Or maybe it just seems that way--you don't know. You're not really paying attention, after all--

You're free, but you won't be for long.

Alice Margatroid is still alive.

_ Are you really that much of a draw?
_ Better get back to the daily grind...
_ A breath of air would do you some good.
_ You're feeling more like a criminal than a cop.
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 123814
[X] Are you really that much of a draw?
[X] A breath of air would do you some good.

>"When was the last time that you saw Hake Fukutarou?"
This was an odd line of questioning. It sounds like the team is missing and they think Harker had something to do with that as well.
>> No. 123815
File 128553028858.jpg - (44.92KB , 160x168 , Feels Bad Man.jpg ) [iqdb]
123815
> You're feeling more like a criminal than a cop.
>> No. 123820
[x] You're feeling more like a criminal than a cop.
[x] A breath of fresh air would do you good.
>> No. 123858
>_ Are you really that much of a draw?
What does this sentence even mean?
>> No. 123860
>>123858
It's wondering about why a large crowd of people came to the trial.
>> No. 123861
>>123860
Oh... Well, that makes it make a bit more sense. Thanks.

[x] Are you really that much of a draw?
[x] A breath of air would do you some good.

>>123814
I think pretty much everyone is thinking that, at this point. It's not like a modern courtroom where they ask weird, irrelevant questions before getting down to business.
>> No. 123971
X A breath of air would do you some good.
>> No. 124663
File 128634305053.jpg - (13.51KB , 300x297 , Grounded.jpg ) [iqdb]
124663
X A breath of air would do you some good.

...Hell.

You ought to despair at this point. You ought to sit in the corner of a room and jot out your last will: to Shannon, my faithful electronic digital alarm clock radio; to Shinomiya, a swift kick in the nads. Of course, it's not like anyone here has the power to carry your wishes out--and if you could send out mail to the real world, you wouldn't be in this kind of trouble in the first place.

Maybe if you make it into a paper airplane...?

The thought's so stupid it nearly makes you laugh. You can't get out of this hellhole, so there's no chance some dinky little airplane could. Besides, you'd have to have something wired wrong in your brain to follow instructions off a piece of origami.

The room's next to empty at this point, just a handful of people talking quietly amongst themselves. One young woman keeps peering warily in your direction every now and then--on a passing whim, you bend your neck forwards, baring your teeth, and are rewarded with a full-body flinch. This time, you do laugh.

...Well, up until you feel the finger at the back of your skull.

"Suspicious."

The voice is little more than a slight murmuring, but you almost jump out of your shoes anyway. Spinning around, you find yourself face to face with the woman in the flower-marked kimono.

"What?" you sputter.

The woman smiles. There expression is impossibly gentle. "Suspicious," she says again, and then, "Doubly suspicious."

"What is?"

"You are." The woman--Kotohime--traces a small circle in the air in front of your face. You have to clench your hand into a fist to keep from smacking it away.

"Spinning around so quickly," Kotohime explains helpfully. "That's suspicious."

"You poked me in the head, so of course I spun around."

"You were suspicious, so of course I poked you in the head," Kotohime says. That gentle smile becomes irritatingly more gentle. "Being argumentative is suspicious."

You refuse to dignify that with a response on the grounds that this conversation is killing your brain cells. Instead, you change the subject. "So, you're going to be watching me, huh?"

Kotohime nods. "Mm-hm."

"Fine," you say. "But I'm not going to slow down for your sake. Even if it's only for now, I'm still a free man."

And you toss the sliding door open and follow the hallways out into the early falltime humidity and the smell of dust.

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

You see Akyuu at one point, walking in the opposite direction, but she does not say anything and neither do you.

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

"You won't get away with this."

Witch Girl is leaning against the wall by the front doors, arms crossed, another unwelcome surprise--this time when you spin around you nearly clip Kotohime in the ribs (but only nearly--Kotohime steps backwards just in time, and that gentle smile of her doesn't even twitch, not that you care).

"You surprised me," you say, because there is no chance of hiding that, and put on a devil-may-care grin. "Sorry, I don't think I know you very well. 'Kirisame', someone said...?"

Witch Girl Kirisame scowls, like she's just smelled something distinctly rotten (and seeing as you don't know how long you were cooped up in that little room, that might very well be the case). She marches up to you one-two-three, a woman on a mission, sticking her pointer finger right in your face. Why the hell is everybody poking at you today?

"You listen to me," Kirisame grinds. "You won't get away with this. Alice'll wake up, soon, and when she does, she'll let everyone know what kind of a creep you are. Do you know what we do to criminals around here?"

"Indian burn?"

Kirisame ignores you. "We exile them," she says. "We banish them from the village, and send them into the forest to die. Usually, they don't last even a week before some passin' youkai finds them and picks them off."

And then without warning, Kirisame reaches up and yanks you by the collar, down to her level, until the two of you are as close as you can get to face-to-face. You flail ingloriously, just a little, and glance the best you can over your shoulder in Kotohime's direction. No dice--idiot woman's watching the scene with that gentle vapid smile on.

"I want you to remember this," Kirisame hisses. "When you're dyin', and someone's riflin' through your guts, I want you to know that I'm watchin'. You understand? From the moment they toss you into that forest to the moment you finally bleed out, I'll be watchin'."

And with that, Kirisame releases you from her hold, almost sending you tumbling to the ground, and spins on her heel and strides away. Smooth, strong steps. You watch her until she's only a speck in the di--no, actually, that's not what you do at all.

What you do is wait until she's about ten feet away, and then you shout: "Hey!"

Kirisame stops. Turns. Looks at you.

"What's a youkai?"

...and somehow, this question seems to piss her off the most you've managed since you started talking, because this time she doesn't march towards you, she stomps, and the second she reaches you she hauls her fist back and hits you in the stomach, hard.

"You damned outsider!" And you are bent over, clutching your stomach, and thank goodness you haven’t eaten in a day, really--

"You damned outsider! Alice helped people like you--people who landed in the middle of the forest and didn't know how to adjust. She wasn't outgoin', and she wasn't friendly, but she helped people! And what did you do? You stabbed her! I saw the body--I saw what you did! She helped people, and you were and did all of that--all of that!"

"She didn't help me," you gasp (and at the same time a little voice in your head goes: wait a minute, wait a minute).

"She would've helped you. She--damn it, let go of me--" You look up. Kirisame is twisting and jerking, trying to break Kotohime's grip. Guess your guard isn't as idiotic as you thought. "I saw what you did--I saw--you put out her eyes, you bastard, there was no need to do that, I saw--"

"Please stop struggling," Kotohime says, cheerily. "You'll only hurt yourself."

"Bastard," Kirisame says again, but she does relax, stumbling a couple of steps away once Kotohime releases her, looking towards you once she's reclaimed her dignity. "You didn't need to do it," she says--a parting shot. "She was tryin' to help you--you didn't need to do something like that."

And then she turns and strides away and she is gone, for real this time. And you?

You are lost in thought.

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

You don't have anywhere you can go, not really. Before the incident with Alice, you shared a modest shack with the rest of the carpenters--nothing fancy, but enough to sleep in, if nothing else. Now though, you suspect your comrades would be a lot less accommodating if you showed up.

Which is why you ended up leeching off Kotohime instead.

...Luckily for you, she doesn't seem to mind. Heck, she was even decent enough to offer dinner or a bath the moment you stepped in. And thus, here you are: facing down some stew-looking thing, the mealtime lull giving you more than enough time to work your brain over what Kirisame said.

She was tryin' to help you--

"She didn't help me," you mutter into your bowl. Across from you, Kotohime briefly pauses mid-slurp.

"Mhh?"

"Nothing." Stupid. Letting your mouth run. If you're gonna think things over, think them on the inside. You let your mind return to Kirisame's tirade:

She was tryin' to help you--

She didn't help me, you think, and then you think: She did help me, once. Remember, Terrence? Remember when Shinomiya hit you over the head, and you went stumbling through the forest? Margatroid saved you, then. She let you into her house and you called her a nutjob, and she was right about everything. How could you forget?

"I didn't forget," you mutter. "I just didn't think of it."

"Mhh?"

"Nothing." Well, at least you're letting your mouth run in English. You doubt this woman understands. If you're going to say something that sounds incriminating (even if it isn't), English is the way to do it here.

You think: You put out her eyes--

You think: Now, why did I do that?

You didn't want to go into the forest. But even if you killed her, there was no reason to go to that extent, was there? Speaking as a guy who's hawking an explanation of self-defense, there was no real reason to stab out her eyes or do out her throat once she'd already fallen. At that point, you should have been safe enough (even if this Margatroid woman does apparently regenerate). So why did you do what you did?

Because it felt right.

It felt right. Like everything suddenly just fell into place. At that moment, when you'd slit open your stomach, you'd thought something like--

I could do this for the rest of my life.

Or maybe--

This is where I belong.

You thought that, didn't you? Maybe not in those exact words, but you thought that.

You push your bowl away. "I'm not hungry."

"Mhh?" Kotohime finishes off a stray--whatever it is she's finishing off and looks towards your side of the table, concernedly. "Are you not feeling well?"

"I'm alright."

"You're not eating as much as you usually do."

"I'm alright." Wait. "How would you know? Maybe this is as much as I usually eat."

"Is this as much as you usually eat?"

"No."

"Well, there you go, then."

...Is this what Valentin has to go through every time you play wise guy? It almost makes you regret your behavior towards him. Almost. "Do you want my leftovers?"

Kotohime's eyes gleam. "Can I really have them?" she asks.

What the hell is she asking you for? Isn't this her home?

"Go ahead," you say. If she gets mono, it's her own damned fault.

You watch as Kotohime chows down on her whatever-it-is, an activity she performs with relish. Funny--that's another thing that's reminded you of Valentin. At least Japanese food looks edible, though, unlike that Thai crap.

Kotohime looks up and catches you staring. "Mhh?" she asks.

"Nothing," you say.

Nothing at all.

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

You sleep uneasily, that night--maybe. Or maybe you don't sleep at all. Who can tell? All you know is that there are no streetlights here, and in the darkness it becomes very easy to believe that you are never going to get out of this place--

And then someone is banging and yelling and your eyes snap open.

Great.

Your covers are small. Pulling them over your head leaves your feet unchecked, but you do it anyway. It doesn't help.

"Kotohime!"

Shut up, you think. Shut up.

"Kotohime!"

Shut up--oh, hell, you recognize that voice. It's the Kirisame woman.

What the hell does she want now?

"Kotohime!"

The woman's knocking an unholy storm up on the door. If there was a bell, she'd probably be ringing it nonstop, too--guess that's one advantage of getting stuck in the boonies. Honestly, you wish Kotohime'd do you favor and open the door and let her in already. It doesn't seem like you're going to get any more rest until she does.

Assuming you've had any rest at all.

"Koto--"

You hear the sound of something sliding, and the shouting stops. Thank goodness, you think, and close your eyes...

"I see, it's Marisa."

"Don't 'I see, it's Marisa' me! I've got a lot of things to say, and I'm not leavin' until I say them. Now where's that bastard you've got hidden, huh?"

You groan.

"Who?"

"You haven't got more than one, have you? That bastard--that Harker bastard! Where is he?"

"Oh, him. He's in a futon." Pause. "I think."

"You think?" And the shouting starts again. "What the hell kind of cop are you? Aren't you supposed to be watchin' him?"

"Defender of the Village Police Officer Kotohime is supposed to be watching him, yes. However, right now, only Superbly-Refined Princess Kotohime is in."

There...

There is nothing that can possibly be added to that sentence to make it any crazier.

"Would you like to leave a message?"

And again, you are proven thoroughly wrong. Damn.

"Well, if Police Officer Kotohime isn't in right now, I suppose Princess Kotohime won't mind if I just go and drag him out myself--"

"Sorry. Diplomatic immunity."

"What the hell kind of joke--"

_ Try to get some shut-eye.
_ Confront this noise directly.
_ Get out of this place.
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 124665
He doesn't like Thai food.

His life is worth nothing!

[X] Listen in
>> No. 124667
[x] Try to get some shut-eye.
>> No. 124672
[X] Listen in

Use of stealth is required
>> No. 124673
[X] Listen in
>> No. 124685
[X] Try to get some shut-eye.

If she's so certain Harker's going to be exiled and she barged in with a foul mood, she has nothing worth hearing.
>> No. 124690
[x] Confront this noise directly.

Whatchoo want, lady?
>> No. 124702
[X] Listen in
>> No. 124779
[X] Listen in
>> No. 124794
[X] Listen in

Tempted to vote for confronting but this is safer. I do so enjoy some well written rage and Marisa's this update was quite nice.
>> No. 124879
[x] Confront this noise directly.

Listening in is kinda stupid, doesn't really seem like Kotohime and Marisa are gonns get anywhere with their argument.
>> No. 125257
File 128704261885.jpg - (76.78KB , 500x500 , OShot.jpg ) [iqdb]
125257
X Listen in

Damn it, you aren't going to get any more sleep with this noise on. Tossing aside your blanket, you stumble to your feet...and after a moment's thought, press your ear flat against the bedroom door.

You're awake, anyway. You might as well try to collect a fact or two, while you're at it. And besides, there's no reasonable expectation of privacy, what with all that screeching from the Kirisame chick.

Speaking of which:

"--a murderer," You hear Kirisame saying. You roll your eyes. No points for who she's referring to there, right? "Why are you protectin' him? Just let me have him for an hour--"

"I'm not protecting him. Defender of the Village Police Officer Kotohime is protecting him," Kotohime interrupts. "If you want to offer her a bribe to let you through, you'll have to talk to her, not me. As a princess, I have access to the treasury, so anything you could bribe me with would probably be miniscule in comparison. I do hear that police officers' salaries are quite low, however..."

"I'm not bribin' anybody!"

"That's good. I also hear that bribing police officers is against the law. I would hate to have to bear witness at your trial--the word of a princess is awfully weighty, you know."

"I--"

You grin as you listen in, despite yourself. Kotohime may be a nut, but she's pretty good at giving unwanted visitors the runaround. Or maybe she's good at giving unwanted visitors the runaround because she's a nut. You're not sure.

Either way, it seems like Kirisame's stuck in a stalemate. Hopefully she'll give up and go away--maybe then you might be able to catch some shut-eye. Ears poised for the sound of retreating feet, you lean further into the door--

And discover a squeaky floorboard.

You curse, and then immediately feel like twice the idiot for doing so--even if Witch Girl missed the floorboard, there's no way she missed that. Sure enough, in a second's time you hear Kirisame's voice through the walls, offended:

"You two are bastards."

Well, no point in hiding now. You slide the door open--slam it open, actually. "Oh, I'm sorry, I was sleeping. Did I inconvenience you somehow?"

...Wait, does sarcasm translate into Japanese?

Ugh, whatever.

Kirisame gets the gist of it anyway, folding her arms across her chest and glaring in your direction. "Did I wake you up?" she says. "I'm sorry. I'll try to be more quiet the next time you stab my friend in the chest."

"Why are you still harping about that? She's getting better, isn't she?"

"No."

There's an awkward silence.

"Oh," you say. "Huh."

And it's funny, really, how you don't feel bad about this at all. Why's that? You probably should feel bad, shouldn't you? Maybe it's because you already thought you killed her before, but that explanation doesn't feel right--why's that? Why's that?

"You told the judge it was self-defense," Kirisame says, coolly. Why's that? Really, there's got to be a reason--

"You told him you didn't mean to do this."

You nod, stiffly. Tell your body to loosen up. It doesn't listen. "Yeah," you say.

"I don't believe that."

...Of course she doesn't, but you couldn't care less. In fact, why the hell are you still talking to this person? "What's your point?" you ask, cutting right to the heart of the matter.

"My point?" There's a flicker of a half-smile, and suddenly you know full well Kirisame's leading you to something. She can hide it the best she can, but that face is one that's badly in need of a fist. "My point is this: You're sayin' you're innocent, right? So prove it."

You raise your eyebrows. "And how would I do that?" you ask.

"Come with me to the doctor's."

...What?

"What?"

"Come with me to the doctor's. Come with me and tell the doctor everything you know. Everything you did. You say you're innocent--so there's no reason you shouldn't want to see Alice get better, right?" You look into Kirisame's eyes. See the sparks there. Understand.

It's a test.

_ Help Alice. After all, It's just her evidence they're waiting on before they send you to the chopping block.
_ Rebuff Marisa. After all, why leave any lingering doubt that you're guilty as sin?
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 125259
[x] No
>> No. 125260
[x] Help Alice. After all, It's just her evidence they're waiting on before they send you to the chopping block.
>> No. 125261
[X] "...you think I'd fall for that? I know what "entrapment" is."
-[X] "If the doctor really can't tell what's going on, then they aren't a very good one."
>> No. 125267
[X] "...you think I'd fall for that? I know what "entrapment" is."
-[X] "If the doctor really can't tell what's going on, then they aren't a very good one."
>> No. 125268
[X] "...you think I'd fall for that? I know what "entrapment" is."
-[X] "If the doctor really can't tell what's going on, then they aren't a very good one."
>> No. 125274
>>125261 here.
>entrapment
Oh hell, this is why I shouldn't make write-ins when I'm tired. We're not being coerced into commiting a crime. Change the second sentance to "I know all sorts of tactics used to get a confession."
>> No. 125277
There's more than one way to intimidate a witness.

[x] "I've been advised by the judge that any suspicious behavior, like heading off into the forests with disreputable witches, would put the peace officer in the uncomfortable position of having to put me in lock-up."
-[x] "I am hoping Margatroid pull through. As the actual victim and innocent party, when the charges against me are dropped I'll be pressing my own, for kidnapping & assault with a deadly weapon. She does indeed have a right to see her accuser. But in a courtroom. In manacles."
-[x] "As for you Kirisame, if you're thinking of testifying as an eyewitness, I'll remind you that you initially mistook a grown man covered in blood for a little girl. You then beat that unarmed man into unconsciousness and now you're trying to lure him out of protective custody into a thicket in order to silence him after you learned he plead self-defense in the pre-trial hearing. I've worked a lot of homicide cases, and sometimes the most reliable testimony is the one that isn't given, savvy?"

A big part of defending yourself in cases like these is to show you accuser/plaintiff just how much goddamn work and hardship it will be for them if they decide to carry the case forward. It's why almost all civil suits end in settlement and prosecutors love to plea bargain.

But most of all we have the impossibility defense. In that it is a factual & legal impossibility to kill a youkai with a butter knife. If the self-defense argument falls through, this will prevent you from being convicted of attempted murder or assault with a deadly weapon (because it's not deadly to youkai), and instead relegate it to, at most, aggravated assault.
>> No. 125279
[x] "I've been advised by the judge that any suspicious behavior, like heading off into the forests with disreputable witches, would put the peace officer in the uncomfortable position of having to put me in lock-up."
-[x] "I am hoping Margatroid pull through. As the actual victim and innocent party, when the charges against me are dropped I'll be pressing my own, for kidnapping & assault with a deadly weapon. She does indeed have a right to see her accuser. But in a courtroom. In manacles."
-[x] "As for you Kirisame, if you're thinking of testifying as an eyewitness, I'll remind you that you initially mistook a grown man covered in blood for a little girl. You then beat that unarmed man into unconsciousness and now you're trying to lure him out of protective custody into a thicket in order to silence him after you learned he plead self-defense in the pre-trial hearing. I've worked a lot of homicide cases, and sometimes the most reliable testimony is the one that isn't given, savvy?"
>> No. 125285
[x] "I've been advised by the judge that any suspicious behavior, like heading off into the forests with disreputable witches, would put the peace officer in the uncomfortable position of having to put me in lock-up."
-[x] "I am hoping Margatroid pull through. As the actual victim and innocent party, when the charges against me are dropped I'll be pressing my own, for kidnapping & assault with a deadly weapon. She does indeed have a right to see her accuser. But in a courtroom. In manacles."
-[x] "As for you Kirisame, if you're thinking of testifying as an eyewitness, I'll remind you that you initially mistook a grown man covered in blood for a little girl. You then beat that unarmed man into unconsciousness and now you're trying to lure him out of protective custody into a thicket in order to silence him after you learned he plead self-defense in the pre-trial hearing. I've worked a lot of homicide cases, and sometimes the most reliable testimony is the one that isn't given, savvy?"
>> No. 125287
>>125277
So hows marathoning Law & Order working for ya? DOINK DOINK
>> No. 125294
x] "I've been advised by the judge that any suspicious behavior, like heading off into the forests with disreputable witches, would put the peace officer in the uncomfortable position of having to put me in lock-up."
-[x] "I am hoping Margatroid pull through. As the actual victim and innocent party, when the charges against me are dropped I'll be pressing my own, for kidnapping & assault with a deadly weapon. She does indeed have a right to see her accuser. But in a courtroom. In manacles."
-[x] "As for you Kirisame, if you're thinking of testifying as an eyewitness, I'll remind you that you initially mistook a grown man covered in blood for a little girl. You then beat that unarmed man into unconsciousness and now you're trying to lure him out of protective custody into a thicket in order to silence him after you learned he plead self-defense in the pre-trial hearing. I've worked a lot of homicide cases, and sometimes the most reliable testimony is the one that isn't given, savvy?"
>> No. 125299
[x] Help Alice. After all, It's just her evidence they're waiting on before they send you to the chopping block.
-[x] Whether it felt right or not doesn't discount the fact that you killed someone on the flimsiest of provocations. You made the bed, now sleep in it.
-[x] Ask if Kotohime would come along, because you don't trust Marisa not to attack you once you're out and away in the slightest.

I cannot believe how horribly those two write-ins suck, especially that long one. I mean, for christ's sake, are you serious? When did Terrence turn into a sharp, smooth-talking, super-confident trial attorney? That's just... no. And don't use the excuse that his personality has changed dramatically before (Alice-stabbing). It's pretty clear to anyone reading this story that, crappy reader decision initiating it aside, there's definitely something going on there.
>> No. 125311
[x] Help Alice. After all, It's just her evidence they're waiting on before they send you to the chopping block.
-[x] Whether it felt right or not doesn't discount the fact that you killed someone on the flimsiest of provocations. You made the bed, now sleep in it.
-[x] Ask if Kotohime would come along, because you don't trust Marisa not to attack you once you're out and away in the slightest.

Yeah this is more like the snippy but ultimately good person he seemed at first.
>> No. 125314
>Terrence turn into a sharp, smooth-talking, super-confident trial attorney?

During the trial itself. If you're reading the same story, you'll see much of his dialogue is unvoiced. He knows what to say:

>You give him the truth. Which is to say: You give him a carefully edited version of the truth, one open to interpretation in the right direction. You don't resort to lying--you'd need more context to pull that off and you'd rather not brush up on local perjury laws from this side of the table, thank you very much--but you do editorialize, just a bit. Editorialize on things that can't be easily double-checked, like emotions, or intent. You were scared. You were confused. You'd been in the forest before. You stopped thinking, and when you started again the knife was in your hand--that sort of thing.

And during the interview he showed us he can gauge fairly well what's going on in the heads of the people he's talking to:

>...You're sensing Valentin-grade skepticism here. What did you do to deserve something like this?

So he's neither mute nor autistic. He definitely knows how to speak to people, even if we don't hear all of it.

And any writer who has a strong sense of characterization is capable of turning a cumbersome write-in into his characters' voice. If I were the writer (and I'm not), I would be offended by the notion that I couldn't write my own characters and had to rely solely on the word of the voter.
>> No. 125349
[x] Help Alice. After all, It's just her evidence they're waiting on before they send you to the chopping block.
-[x] Whether it felt right or not doesn't discount the fact that you killed someone on the flimsiest of provocations. You made the bed, now sleep in it.
-[x] Ask if Kotohime would come along, because you don't trust Marisa not to attack you once you're out and away in the slightest.
>> No. 125675
[x] "I've been advised by the judge that any suspicious behavior, like heading off into the forests with disreputable witches, would put the peace officer in the uncomfortable position of having to put me in lock-up."
-[x] "I am hoping Margatroid pull through. As the actual victim and innocent party, when the charges against me are dropped I'll be pressing my own, for kidnapping & assault with a deadly weapon. She does indeed have a right to see her accuser. But in a courtroom. In manacles."
-[x] "As for you Kirisame, if you're thinking of testifying as an eyewitness, I'll remind you that you initially mistook a grown man covered in blood for a little girl. You then beat that unarmed man into unconsciousness and now you're trying to lure him out of protective custody into a thicket in order to silence him after you learned he plead self-defense in the pre-trial hearing. I've worked a lot of homicide cases, and sometimes the most reliable testimony is the one that isn't given, savvy?"
>> No. 126596
File 128824599475.jpg - (43.19KB , 580x580 , Shipwreck.jpg ) [iqdb]
126596
X Rebuff Marisa. After all, why leave any lingering doubt that you're guilty as sin?

If you're innocent--and you are innocent, no two doubts about it--then you shouldn't mind helping out here. After all, not only do you get to undo your terrible mistake, but you score brownie points with whatever little circle of friends Witch Girl here is part of.

On the other hand, suppose, hypothetically, that you were guilty. In that case, you wouldn't want to help Margatroid at all, since every word out of her mouth once she was up and running might very well be incriminating evidence. No, in that case, you'd be downright crossing your fingers for a flatlining--not that they have ECGs here.

They probably don't have ECGs here. You need electricity for one of those, you're certain.

Anyway, what ifs aside, you're definitely the innocent party here. And being the innocent party, there's really only one answer you can give Kirisame, which is--

"Go away."

"What?"

"Go away."

Some ugly triumphant expression starts to show on Kirisame's face--obviously, she thinks she's smoked you out. "Ha," she says. "So that's how it is."

"I don't know how you think it is, but you beat me into unconsciousness once already. You tried to do it again, too, at the judge's place--after that, there's no way I'm going anywhere alone with you." You shrug. "Not my fault."

Kirisame's face darkens, all that triumph swamped by the usual rage. "So it's my fault, then? Is that what you're sayin'?"

"I didn't say that." But you can't deny it either. "You're just not trustworthy, is all."

"So it is my fault."

"...Yeah. I guess it is."

Kirisame glares up at you, her hands twitching. You, meanwhile--you just stand there, feeling awkward.

"Alright, listen," Kirisame says. "Come with me. This isn't a request, okay? I'm tellin' you to come with me. Now."

"No."

And with that, you close the door to your bedroom.

And then open it again.

"By the way," you add, "if Alice does get better, can I take her to trial? I mean, she kidnapped me. That has to count for something, right--"

Kirisame charges. You close the door, quickly, and hear a slam, a scuffle, a thump, and a yelp, though not necessarily in that order.

"Hey--damn it, let go of me--" Kirisame's voice seems to fade away, just slightly. You keep your door closed anyway. "Stop! I said stop, you stupid fake policewoman! Let go of me, damn it!"

Another thump.

And then silence. Sweet, blissful silence.

You breathe out a ragged sigh of relief and settle yourself back into your futon. You're not as tired anymore, but maybe if you close your eyes you can still get another hour or so of decent rest--

And as soon as you consider this, of course, the banging and yelling starts again, even louder than before. You cover your hands with your face and groan--louder this time, a sound of genuine anguish. Damn it, won't she just go away?

"Kotohime!"

Apparently not.

"He'll kill you! He'll kill you too! Can you hear me? He'll kill you too!"

...That's a new one.

"He's already killed Hake, and the other guy! You stay with him, and you're next!" And then, fainter: "I warned you!"

And fainter still:

"I warned you!"

And then finally, finally--and this time you're absolutely sure--silence.

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

"What was she talking about?"

Lunch is light: some sort of soup, with vegetables on the side. You recognize tofu, which you don't like--but it's not like you're getting anything else, so you choke it down anyway.

"She was talking about many things," Kotohime says. "First she said that you were a murderer, and then she said that you were a murderer, and then--"

You cut Kotohime off before she can fetch a notarized list. She's just loopy enough to have one on hand, you know it. "Not that. What was she saying, after?" About the boss guy. What's-His-Name. "Hake. She said something about Hake, right?"

"Yes."

You wait for Kotohime to explain. Watch her slurp her soup. Feel like an idiot after you realize you've fallen into this pit a second time. At least this time it's sheer obliviousness instead of total lack of social skills.

"What happened to Hake?" you ask.

Kotohime pauses. Puts her bowl down.

"He died," she says.

"Died how?"

"Sorry, investigative confidentiality."

And it's right back into the soup for her. Damn it, you feel like you'd get more results bashing your skull into a wall.

...It's kind of ironic, you think, biting dejectedly into another block of bean curd. Kotohime may be the friendly one, but all in all you've gotten more information from Witch Girl and her incontinent rage. If only Kotohime wasn't so hung up on proper police procedure...

...Wait.

"So..." you say, slowly, "Police Officer Kotohime's come back, huh?"

"Did she ever leave?"

Kotohime doesn't look up as she picks off her veggies, but you can still see her smiling.

"Well, you know..." And you hesitate here because you've got a massive internal argument going on and there's no way this is going to fly, "I'm also a police officer."

Kotohime stops eating.

Kotohime looks up.

"Really?" says Kotohime.

"Really," you say.

"Honestly?" says Kotohime.

"Honestly," you say. "So, if you tell me about what happened to Hake, it should be alright--"

"That's wonderful!" And anything you were intending to ask is swept away as Kotohime leans across the table on her elbows with a shining smile and excitement blazing in her eyes. "Do you do a lot of work as a police officer? Is it very hard work? Do you solve murder cases?" The questions come a mile a minute. You batter down the urge to flee. "Do you fight criminals often? Is there very much crime? I'd heard there's very much crime."

"Well, there are more people on the outside, so there's more crime," You manage. You've dropped your chopsticks. Your tofu, too (no big loss). "More importantly, what Kirisame said--"

"Ah-ha! I thought so! You must be busy all the time. People must be dying around you every day!"

...And she sounds so delighted, too. Sheesh. Where does she think you're from, Detroit? It's not that bad.

"Yeah, well, what about you?" you shoot back. "Are you saying this place isn't violent? I've been here less than a month and I've been knocked unconscious twice!"

"Oh, yes. It's very violent here, isn't it?" Kotohime admits this cheerfully, like she's discussing the weather. "There isn't very much crime, though--that's the difference between Gensokyo and the outside, I've heard. The outside world has crime and violence, but we only have violence! That's what makes Gensokyo so much better than the outside world, don't you think?"

Kotohime settles back into her side of the table. You spy your lost tofu, next to your feet. It's still good, three-second rule be damned--and damn this woman's crazy brand of logic, too, while you're at it. You know there's nothing to be gained, but you can't help nibbling the bait. "But...people get killed and beaten here, too, right?"

Kotohime nods serenely. "Mm-hm."

"...That's crime, isn't it?"

"Crime is for humans."

...That sentence just implied a whole mess of things you don't want to think about, so you don't. "But you're human, right?" you say instead.

"I'm definitely human," Kotohime agrees. She looks thoughtful for a moment. "I think."

Kotohime picks up her bowl and goes back to slurping down her soup. You pick up your tofu and put it to the side--you're suddenly not hungry.

"So," you mutter weakly, "not a lot of crime?"

"Not until you appeared. You've made things very exciting. This is the first time in a very long time that I've been me."

"...Sure." Yeah, whatever that means. You quickly change the subject. "So, what happened to Hake?"

Kotohime puts her bowl down.

"He died."

And you're back here again! Brilliant. You'll end up dead from frustration yourself if this keeps up. "And what," you say, very very patiently, "did he die of?"

"...Are you sure you're a police officer?"

You make a sound through clenched teeth that might pass for "yes".

"I see," says Kotohime. "Youkai."

..."Youkai". There's that word again. You heard it from Margatroid the first time you ignored her, you heard it from Kirisame while she was throwing her hissy fit, and now you're hearing it from Kotohime. It means something, obviously, but you don't know what. "What's a youkai?" you ask.

"A youkai? A youkai is..."

Kotohime stops. Squints into her soup. Seems to mull over her answer.

Starts again.

"A youkai is...hm."

"Hm?"

"Hm." Kotohime closes her eyes. Visibly concentrates. "A youkai...is..."

"You actually do know what a youkai is, right?"

Kotohime looks over at you, not annoyed, but almost apologetic. "I know what a youkai is," she says, "but I can't tell you what a youkai is."

...Right.

"I can tell you what a youkai isn't, though." And that irritating peaceful smile slips back onto her face. "A youkai isn't something crime is for. Does that help you?"

You thank Kotohime for the meal and retreat to your room for a nap.

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

Fish, rice, some foul-smelling pile of beans and that tofu-infested sludge again: all the staples of the traditional Japanese dinner.

You're being unfair, you know. The beans are strong, but they aren't bad if you eat them quick, and even the soup's pretty tasty just as long as you drink around the tofu. Still, your homesickness has made a nice home for itself in the pit of your stomach, and you're quickly reaching the point where you'd strip if it got you a honest-to-goodness porterhouse.

Hell, rare or well-done, you don't even care anymore. That's a sign of desperation right there, isn't it?

It doesn't help either when you consider all you've accomplished today, which is basically nada. Murder and intrigue aside, you're no closer than you were this morning to finding a way home, and the fact that you've spent the day alternatively snarking, eating, and sleeping when Shinomiya's got the full run of your sister's life is enough to send you into a bout of self-loathing twenty times over. You don't even want to think about his son, the creepy blank-eyed...

"So, you're a cop," you say, more for the sake of distraction than conversation. "Are there a lot of other police officers around here?"

Kotohime thinks for a second, then shakes her head. "I'm the only one, I think."

...She thinks?

"It's a very heavy responsibility, but there isn't much crime, so I don't get to put people into jail anymore. Hakurei--"

And you're all set to interrupt Kotohime then and there (and maybe pin her against the dinner table and throttle her and tell her to shut up about the damn crime rate already) when somebody with a sharp knock and an impeccable sense of timing beats you to it.

"If that's Witch Girl," you mutter as Kotohime rises to let company in, "please tell her I'm not here."

Kotohime smiles gently. "Trying to escape? That's quadruply suspicious," she says, and then she opens the door.

...It's not Kirisame, it turns out. It's much too tall for that.

_ Historio
_ Medicino
_ Teologio
>> No. 126597
X Medicino

Shady new truth serum
>> No. 126600
[x] Teologio

...Byakuren?

That would actually maybe be a really good idea.
>> No. 126601
[x]Teologio
One I'm least sure about, so why not?
>> No. 126604
[X] Teologio
>> No. 126610
[x] Teologio

Teleology?

Could be Keine if Historio is Akyuu.
>> No. 126626
>>126610
>Historio is Akyuu.
>...It's not Kirisame, it turns out. It's much too tall for that.
Unless Akyuu had a really big growth spurt in the span of the day, I'm gonna say no.
>> No. 126629
X Teologio
>> No. 126641
[x] Teologio
>> No. 128026
File 128912209452.png - (598.97KB , 600x600 , Atlas.png ) [iqdb]
128026
X Teologio

The woman is six feet and counting, with short, dirty blonde hair that almost curls around her cheek, wearing some kind of...hoodie, you think, and then it occurs to you how stupid the thought is, so you look again.

It actually is a hoodie.

It's a fancy hoodie, admittedly--like something you'd see if street gangs had priestesses, maybe--but it's still definitely a hoodie, and that's just strange. Did Japan have hoodies before it made the jump technologically? Somehow you doubt it.

Then again, three months ago you would've also doubted the existence of witches and magic and tall women with the ability to go incorporeal, so maybe you aren't the best authority here. You go back to your soup.

"Good afternoon!" Hoodie says, brightly. You don't look anywhere but your tofu, but you can hear her smile perfectly well.

"Good afternoon," Kotohime responds.

"It's evening."

The voice belongs neither to Hoodie nor your host, and you swivel your eyes away from your dinner and towards the door again. There's another woman at the door with your newest guest. This one, however, looks significantly less cheerful, frowning up (and you mean "up") at her companion, who...

...Wait.

Hold the phone.

Are those...ears?

Hoodie and Kotohime begin to chatter away happily. Neither of them seem put off at all by the the correction, which is just as well, because you barely hear them--you're too busy as it is staring at the shortest member of the group, whose crossed arms and deep scowl give evidence of a bad mood that is rapidly becoming worse. Also, she has ears on her head. Literally, on top of her head. Ears that are round, and furred, and clearly not human.

She has a tail, too.

Really, though, it's the ears that are sending your brain into a tailspin. Those ears. Those freaking ears! You look at the woman, and you can take her in, easy--understand she exists, that she's standing there in the doorway--all up to the point where you try to comprehend the fact that her hearing's a great deal more north than what any Los Ojosian would consider normal. Maybe it's something in the human psyche, or more likely maybe it's your own private breakdown, but you just can't accomplish it. It sends your brain on a loop, and any second now you're sure smoke will start pouring out of your ears and your eyes will catch on fire.

You hope it burns the building down. You hope it burns the whole damn town down.

...And just as you're thinking that, Ears wises up to the laser beam someone's staring into her skull and lifts her head ever so slightly to look you straight in the eye.

'Yo,' you don't say. You can't be sure, but calling all the way across a room seems like the sort of thing that would be a big no-no as far as Japanese etiquette is concerned. Plus, your gullet's seized up. You go for a curt nod.

Ears doesn't nod back. Instead, her gaze on you steady, she nudges Hoodie with the joint of her elbow.

"--don't expect any violence, but Hijiri believes that your presence would provide a calming effect just in case of an incident. After all, nothing exceeds taking caution--"

Hoodie doesn't notice. Ears nudges her again, harder this time.

"--and being a figure of authority, if you were to show it could lend an air of credibility--" Hoodie finally notices the munchkin sticking her in the side and breaks off. "Eh? Nazrin? What is it? Did I goof up again?"

Nazrin (and what kind of name is Nazrin, anyway?) says nothing, only tilting her head lightly in your direction.

Hoodie looks at Nazrin confusedly.

Nazrin's scowl seems to contract further upon itself. "Look," she hisses and tilts her head in your direction again, a little less subtly.

Hoodie's expression is one of total incomprehension.

Nazrin dispenses with the sneakiness entirely. "The guy," she whispers (in the loosest sense of the term). "Sitting over there--the guy."

Hoodie follows Nazrin's line of sight--and starts as she notices you. "Oh!" she says, and turns to Kotohime. "Were you entertaining guests? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt--"

"No," Nazrin whispers. "Look at him."

"Huh?"

"Look at him!"

Hoodie looks at you.

...And then back at Nazrin.

"I don't get it."

Nazrin makes a sound of utter exasperation in her throat. You're not sure whether to feel sympathetic or revel in the schadenfreude--luckily, Kotohime comes to the rescue before the woman can blow a gasket. "That's Terrence Harker," she provides helpfully. "He's here because he's suspicious."

"Terrence Harker, huh?" Hoodie rolls the name on her tongue, mangling it in the way only the Japanese can. "The name sounds familiar..."

"The trial," Nazrin mutters, her head in her hands. "Alice."

"Oh yes--Alice."

...You don't need to be a brain surgeon to realize she still doesn't get it.

Alright, this was funny at first, but now it's just all kinds of sad. Time for you to step in. "I'm the guy who's been accused of slicing Margatroid up without good reason to it," you say, much louder than you need to. Nazrin flinches (Kotohime, of course, stays smiling).

Hoodie nods thoughtfully. "Oh," she says, and then her eyes go wide. "Oh," she says again, but louder and more panicky. "Er, you're..."

You grin. "Yup."

"Oh." Hoodie glances between you and Kotohime, looking downright uncomfortable. "Well, er--as I said, you--uh, the two of you--we humbly invite both of you to a gathering tomorrow night that will be hosted by the Myouren Temple. We hope to see you there--let's go, Nazrin!" And like a localized hurricane of sheer awkwardness, Hoodie all but bundles up her tiny companion in her arms and skedaddles the heck out of there.

"Huh," you say, eying the still open door dubiously. "That was a bit strange. Right?"

Kotohime nods. "Not at all."

You roll your eyes and drink your soup.

_ Go to the gathering
_ Decline
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 128035
[x] Go to the gathering

Slightly unsafe, but not as unsafe as rotting in a jail cell alone the night of the celebration.
>> No. 128054
[x] Go to the gathering
>> No. 128062
[X] Go to the gathering

Real smooth there, Shou. Harker's on his way to being the boogieman to youkai.
>> No. 128113
[x] Go to the gathering

Sure Marisa might jump Terrence, but scoping out the locals is always entertaining.
>> No. 128131
_ Go to the gathering
>> No. 128241
You know, I want to vote for him to go, but I can't figure out why he would really want to go.

...No, scratch that, I can. Kotohime is fine company, no question of that, but sitting around is kinda... boring.

[x] Go to the gathering.
>> No. 129206
File 128960053481.jpg - (22.28KB , 500x500 , TheWell.jpg ) [iqdb]
129206
X Go to the gathering

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

You go to the gathering the night after, of course. You don't want to--you'd rather sit in-house and make plans about how you're going to kick a certain sniveling Shinomiya's head in. But Kotohime's already made up her mind, and you don't want to spend the evening locked away where you can do no harm, and besides, "refusing to socialize is suspicious".

So that's that.

At least it isn't a fancy dress dealie, you think, picking at the belt loop of your trousers. These leggings have served you well enough since you arrived in Gensokyo, and damned if you're gonna let anybody take them away and replace them with a Japanese dress-for-men. You did have to borrow a shirt, though--the one you were wearing around Kotohime was a bit too dingy, even for an event like this (and of course the one you stumbled into this place with has long since devolved into scrap cloth).

"This...Myouren Temple," you ask, for the sake of not walking all the way there in silence. "Are they that important around here?"

Kotohime is wearing a kimono, but she's always wearing a kimono. "No, not really," she says. "They're very popular, though." And then, almost as an afterthought: "They're Buddhist."

"Huh." All the things you know about Buddhism you can count on one hand, and that includes how to spell it. You change the subject. "So then, you like going to these kinds of gatherings?"

"Mm-hm." Kotohime nods, the dreamlike smile spreading slowly across her face. "I like gatherings. I always get to arrest somebody."

"Huh."

...Right.

The route Kotohime's leading you on seems to go straight through the heart of the village...and then right back out again, with no rhyme or reason in between. You distinctly remember squeezing yourself into an alleyway a dachshund would have trouble navigating at one point, only for Kotohime to grab you by the wrist and pull you into a field of ankle-high grass less than thirty seconds later, which, as it just so happens, is the amount of time you manage to last before becoming totally, astounding lost. Seriously, there's no way all those twists and turns are all necessary. Any moment now, you're sure, you'll swing around another sharp corner and see home-sweet-home and Kotohime will say she did it all on purpose--

Or maybe you'll stumble headfirst into a festival and nearly concuss yourself on a food stand.

"What the hell are you doing, you idiot?" The proprietor--a long-haired woman in a greasy shirt--snaps at you.

"Sorry."

The woman snorts. "'Sorry'. Idiot kid nearly makes a hole in my living, and he thinks that's fixed by 'sorry'. Try that again, and--" She stops, suddenly.

This is because she recognizes you.

You recognize her, too. It's the woman from the yakitori stand, the one you tried to score a freebie from right before Mima decided to crush your throat and she had to come in for the assist. Ms. Pants. You remember her, don't you, Terrence?

You strongly suspect that this is not your week.

Ms. Pants is the first to recover, fixing you with a glare she could probably roast her own birds by. "You," she says. "Didn't expect to see you again so soon. Aren't you supposed to be locked up?"

You raise your eyebrows in mock surprise. "Me? No way--I'm innocent. Innocent people don't get locked up, you know."

Ms. Pants' eyes narrow. Oddly enough, this makes the glare worse. You're reminded of something Shannon was trying to tell you, once, something about flow rate and cross sections. "The way I heard it, Marisa found you standing over Alice's body," Pants says. "In bloody clothes."

"Like I said, I'm innocent. The story doesn't even match up to reality--I was at the front door, and Alice was in the kitchen. Two totally separate rooms, see?" You make a great show out of appraising the foodstuff that Pants has spread in front of her. "More importantly, I see you're still making those stick-things. Finally manage something edible?"

Ms. Pants looks at you levelly--no more of that glaring, just a flat, dull look--and then, to your mild surprise, settles her weight on her heels, sighing. "Try them out yourself," she says. "It's all free, anyway."

"Free?"

"I volunteered."

You catch the tone on the last word. Yeah, you know this routine. "You're not the one who came up with the idea, though, I'm guessing."

"You're a genius. Here." One of the chicken-on-a-stick things comes at you like a lance. "Take one and leave, already. I don't like having to look at your face."

_ Check out that Whatchamacallit Temple
_ Hang out with Ms. Pants
_ Is anyone else giving away free food here?
_ Maybe you'd better sit down for a bit...
_ ...Where the hell did Kotohime go?
_ Other... (write-in)

(There is no "right" choice, here. Please feel free to choose what you want, as no choice is a wasted choice. Do not feel the need to bandwagon.)
>> No. 129217
[X] Check out that Whatchamacallit Temple
>> No. 129259
[X]Check out that Whatchamacallit Temple

Harker ate not long ago, though I'm primarily interested in what the temple gathering is about.
>> No. 129267
_ Is anyone else giving away free food here?
>> No. 129279
[x] >>129217

I'd like to meet a group that isn't pissed as fuck at him. But I bet at any rate, Terrance would have all of Gensokyo pissed off at him.
>> No. 129287
[x] Maybe you'd better sit down for a bit...

Take it all in.
>> No. 129335
>"Like I said, I'm innocent. The story doesn't even match up to reality--I was at the front door, and Alice was in the kitchen. Two totally separate rooms, see?"

ahahahaha

[x] Check out that Whatchamacallit Temple

Reverent, law-abiding members of society visit temples.
>> No. 129410
[X] Is anyone else giving away free food here?
>> No. 129520
Is it too late to vote?
[X] Check out that Whatchamacallit Temple

-------
>>122495
>Let's think a little more productively, and see if we can't figure out (or at least, start being aware of) what in hell was going on in his head that suddenly flipped the kill switch. This is not normal. Something very weird is going on with Terrence:
>[a list!]

I've been thinking about this a bit and I am not wholly convinced that his sudden ability to evade Alice's doll-wires is related to his subsequently flipping out and murdering her. Terrence is a descendent of the Hakurei bloodline so it is possible that during his time in Gensokyo we may start to see certain abilities awaken in him. I'm not saying that he's going to start being able to danmaku or anything crazy like that. But maybe something that would give him a bit of an edge that normal humans wouldn't necissarily have.

As for flipping the kill switch, it looks to me like there has to be some sort of external influence. Whatever it is is taking advantage of his irratation caused by being attacked by Shinomiya, learning he's trapped in Gensokyo, and that his sister could possibly be in danger. I'm not suggesting names here goddamnit. It's so cliche that if she was involved that I'm not sure if I'd be dissapointed. I'm open to other theories here!
>> No. 129522
>>129520
>enxternal influence

You mean anon being a dumbass?
>> No. 129524
>>129522
Yeah, sure. I think anon was being a dumbass when choosing to STAB HER STAB HER STAB HER. That the option existed at all though I think is a bit telling.

>I would just like you to consider that there may be a reason for these latest plot developments besides "you voted for it".

There's a plot reason for it and I hope the story doesn't stall before we get to figure it out.
>> No. 129534
>>129524
Point taken.

Forgot my vote last time,
[x] Check out that Whatchamacallit Temple
>> No. 129535
Blame me being a dumbass, put the sage in the subject field by accident.
>> No. 130298
File 129033561479.jpg - (24.51KB , 340x336 , EntreDosAguas.jpg ) [iqdb]
130298
X Check out that Whatchamacallit Temple

Well, insult or no insult, you're not one to turn down free food. You gracious accept Ms. Pants' offering, taking a bite as she looks away to deal with another hungry customer--and what the hell, it's good! Really good, in fact. "What do they put on this, anyway?" you ask Kotohime, wiping the juice from your lips.

The empty Kotohime-shaped space beside you does not answer.

"Huh," you mutter. You look to the left, and then to the right, and then around you, the same way you'd look for a lost coin. It doesn't work, of course. Policewomen tend to be a lot more mobile, even if their brains aren't full of air. "Kotohime?" you call out. "Kotohime!"

No dice. Your voice is quickly swallowed up by the wave of festival-goers surrounding you. She could be five feet away and she still wouldn't notice you yelling.

"...Crap."

Funny thing is--under normal circumstances, you'd be all for losing your tail. Right here and right now, though, all you get out of it is lost. And maybe locked up, too, if you're especially unlucky and someone high up thinks you intentionally gave her the slip. So really, it's in your best interests to find the woman whose thumb the village has you under. You just haven't a clue how.

Unless...

...What the hell. It's a long shot, yeah, but it's the only shot you have (or at least, the only shot you have that leaves you with your dignity). You lean in towards Ms. Pants again. "Hey--where's the temple?"

Ms. Pants smirks. "I don't think you'd make a very good monk. Maybe if you shaved your head..." Yeah, she's a regular laugh riot. You try again.

"The temple?"

A couple wisecracks and a barrelful of patience later, Ms. Pants reluctantly provides you with some rough directions. You don't bother thanking her before you hoof it.

Idiot fry cook. She's not as funny as she thinks she is.

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

The temple is a short, squat thing that looks like it was put together on the fly. The steps are irregular, the walls uneven.

In short, you're utterly unimpressed.

Seems like you're the only one, though, if the steady stream of public wandering up and down the steps is anything to judge by. It's probably a Buddhist thing, or a religious thing. Or maybe a Japanese thing. You don't know. There are too many subjects here in which you've got absolutely zero experience, although if you want to be technical "Buddhism" should really be a subsection under "religion" or something--

The feeling of something soft under your heel, followed by a yelp of pain, yanks you out of your musing so suddenly that you're sure you've just gotten whiplash. You take a quick stumble backwards to see what's been stepped on--though you have your suspicions, given the reaction. Indeed, crumpled against the ground and nursing her hand with an expression of vague offense on her face is a short, young woman.

You weren't expecting the sailor uniform, though.

...Is this place even near the sea?

"Sorry," you say, with what you hope is a disarming smile. "I didn't see you there. Totally my fault." You hold your hand out and wait for the downed woman to take it. She doesn't, choosing instead to squint sullenly at your generous offer. Ungrateful jerk. "Are you okay?" you ask.

"...Hand."

Yes, you've established that already. Clumsy you. "Sorry?"

"...You broke my hand."

...Broke her hand?

You spare a quick glance at the part in question. It doesn't look very broken. Heck, there's barely a shoe print. "Are you sure?" you ask.

"Yeah." The woman looks up at you, directly. Blearily. She's drunk, you realize, drunk as a glass of water. "Hand. Hand's all numb. So I know. It's broken."

Well, at least she isn't one of those angry drunks. "It'll be okay," you reassure her. "Just wait a bit." You turn to head up the stairs, to the temple. Maybe Kotohime will check there and find you--

"No!" the woman shouts, and you stop despite yourself. "No," she says, softer. "It's numb, so. So. You stay. Right here." She pats the ground next to her, or at least tries to--it comes out more as an oafish swiping motion, like the ground moved out from under her at the last second. She does that sullen squinting again. "Right here," she mumbles. "Stay."

_ Okay
_ No way
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 130304
[X] She's just going to get stepped on again if she stays here. Move her to a spot out of the way of the traffic and stay with her.

What do you do with a drunken sailor? What do you do with a drunken sailor? What do you do with a drunken sailor, ear-ly in the morning evening?
>> No. 130315
[X] She's just going to get stepped on again if she stays here. Move her to a spot out of the way of the traffic and stay with her.

Begrudgingly helping.

Now I wonder if Kotohime intentionally left Harker alone or actually got lost. The mysteries of a princess I guess.
>> No. 130321
[x] She's just going to get stepped on again if she stays here. Move her to a spot out of the way of the traffic and stay with her.

Should not have admitted liability.
>> No. 130333
[X] She's just going to get stepped on again if she stays here. Move her to a spot out of the way of the traffic and stay with her.
>> No. 130352
[x] "Your hand isn't broken, or else you would be yelling about it. If you were drunk enough not to feel it, you'd be passed out."
[x] "At least have the decency to tell a good story if you're this wasted."
>> No. 130415
[X] She's just going to get stepped on again if she stays here. Move her to a spot out of the way of the traffic and stay with her.
[x] "Your hand isn't broken, or else you would be yelling about it. If you were drunk enough not to feel it, you'd be passed out."
[x] "At least have the decency to tell a good story if you're this wasted."

Vote combining games.
>> No. 130822
File 129099589290.jpg - (133.81KB , 540x540 , SkinnyLove.jpg ) [iqdb]
130822
X She's just going to get stepped on again if she stays here. Move her to a spot out of the way of the traffic and stay with her.

...Oh, hell.

You ought to just ignore her and leave--you know full well you ought to just ignore her and leave--but even as you stand, indecisive, you can feel your occupation as an honest cop reasserting itself. Not so much the "protect the weak and downtrodden" bits--you've never been entirely at ease with those bits, neither figuratively nor literally--but the "responsibility" bits, as in, "this is your responsibility".

As in, "this is what you're supposed to do".

As in, "this woman is drunk in public, and you don't have the authority to toss her somewhere for the night, so maybe if you get her out of the public's way that'll be enough to appease your sense of duty which, incidentally, only seems to pop up at inopportune moment like this for some damned reason".

You grit your teeth.

"Don't touch me," the woman mumbles as you pull her up by her arms. She doesn't try to break away, though, so maybe she hasn't lost all of her sense just yet. Or maybe she's just that plastered. "I have feet. I can walk."

"Doubtful."

"I can walk." And, apparently suspecting that her word isn't going to be believed here (and ignoring the firm grip you've got on her), she actually tries to prove it to you.

She slips, of course, leaving you to take all the weight for a moment, and you grunt--but it's more like a surprised-grunt than anything of actual exertion. This woman is light. Like, marshmallows and feathers light. Seriously, you'd expect some weight, what with these muscles you're feeling--but hey, you know what they say about gift horses, right?

There's a grassy knoll, just off the roadside (for a given value of "road", anyway). You drag her over and let her go--she drops like a sack of potatoes, mid-protest, her mouth flopping open with the impact. "There," you say, wiping your hands. "If you're going to be drunk, don't be in the way."

The woman stares up at you with a measure of muted astonishment. "You dropped me," she finally manages to articulate. "On the ground."

"Yeah, sure, right, on the ground," you confirm tonelessly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a shrine to visit." And hopefully a police officer to meet up with, you think as you turn away. Maybe she'll find you there, if you wait long enough. After all, a shrine's important, right? Sort of like a social hub--

"No!"

Oh, for goodness' sake--is this woman trying to delay you? Seriously, you're rapidly losing your patience here, and that expression of stupid drunken belligerence on that woman's face isn't helping matters one bit. "What?" you snap right back.

"Ship!"

...Ship?

Did she say "ship"?

What the heck is "ship"?

"What?"

"Ship!" And she tries to stomp at you, but she can't seem to find her feet, so she settles for shuffling on her knees indignantly instead. "Ship! It's my ship! So. You're not allowed!" And having accomplished this, the woman shoots you a cocky, self-satisfied smile, as if to say, 'beat that, if you can, you blubber-headed nit'.

"...Right." You give the woman's proclamation the respect it deserves, and turn away for the third time already--screaming or no, you're skedaddling, and no stocky swab in a sailor suit's going to stop it. Certainly, Kotohime's a few bricks short of a proper wall, but if there's one thing you can say, it's that she's far more pleasant than the present company.

Now, you've just got to climb all those stairs. Why the hell do shrines always have so many stairs, anyway? All those old people--it can't be good for their ankles--

And speaking of ankles, it seems that this woman's finally figured out how to use hers, just in time to take a flying leap onto your back and commence with some clumsy hammering around your braincase.

...You're getting really sick of this.

"Ack, get off!" You try, unsuccessfully, to dislodge your unwanted load. Maybe you'd have more luck if you asked in Japanese, but you doubt it--she doesn't seem likely to listen either way. "Get off, you--you freakin' jerk--"

The woman wails something about boats and shrines and before. You don't follow. Her hands beat at your face.

"Ow--freaking hell--you don't let go this second, I swear I'm ramming you into a tree--"

"Break it up."

The voice is unexpected (though familiar, a small bit of your mind interjects between blows). Still, you don't complain, especially after wheover's there is nice enough to pluck the seafaring parasite off of your back. You smooth own your hair and take a look at your savior--saviors, actually. It's Nazrin and...

Er, Nazrin and...

Hands on her hips, wearing a thoroughly unamused expression: it's Nazrin! And, holding your attacker by the collar of her uniform: it's...the other woman! The other woman who was with Nazrin, the night the both of them stopped by. What's-Her-Name. The annoyingly tall one.

Hoodie.

Yeah, okay. You'll go with "Hoodie".

"Thanks," you mutter, and what the hell, you actually mean it. "Man--what the hell's up with that chick, anyway?"

Hoodie smiles unabashedly. "Ha ha, yeah," she says. "Murasa gets like that when she drinks, sort of..."

Wait. "You know this person?"

"Yeah, she's a resident of the temple. Though she doesn't usually get so violent. I mean, she drinks a lot, and she gets drunk a lot, but this is the first time I've actually seen her going around and hitting people--ow." Hoodie stumbles a bit as Nazrin generously lends an elbow to the explanation, which of course gets Murasa all riled up again, and the drunken air boxing continues. You've never wondered before how the Three Stooges would do in the clergy, but you've suddenly got a very good idea.

"Anyway, you're in luck," Nazrin says, once the sailor-suited lush has settled into what is apparently acceptable levels of alcohol-fueled mumbling. "We came here looking for Captain Murasa," A glare towards the woman in question, "but we found you, too."

You blink stupidly. "'Found' me, you say?"

"Yes," Nazrin says. "Found you."

And she steps forwards, towards you, with iron in her eyes, and somehow just for a second you forget she's a good head shorter than you are.

"Hijiri Byakuren requests your presence."

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

Your first response ("Hijiri Byakuren is who now?") comes back with an easily digestible answer: she's the head of the temple, the priestess in charge. Fine. That's fine!

Your second response doesn't go over quite as smoothly.

"I can't go with you. I'm waiting for somebody."

"Kotohime, right?" Nazrin says. "We'll take the blame for your disappearance."

And, excuses exhausted, you reluctantly follow.

_ Really, this isn't too bad!
_ You'll listen to what she has to say, but that's it.
_ Getting dragged around is enough to irk anyone.
_ You're pissed.
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 130826
Why does drunken Murasa make me smile so?

[X]You'll listen to what she has to say, but that's it.

More in-character choice. They are covering for his disappearance from Kotohime, or visa versa, so no need to be too belligerent.
>> No. 130832
[x] Really, this isn't too bad!

Better to have someone in Gensokyo that isn't interested in kicking Terrance's ass for what he did.
>> No. 130833
[X] Really, this isn't too bad!

After two days with a ditzy policewoman wannabe, a polite, intelligent conversation would be a breath of fresh air.

>wearing a thoroughly unamused expression: it's Nazrin!
You see this, Terrance? This is her default expression. Get used to it.
>> No. 130834
[X]You'll listen to what she has to say, but that's it.

Least it doesn't seem like they want us dead. Not as far as we know, anyway.
>> No. 130840
[x] Really, this isn't too bad!

We did want to see the temple.
>> No. 130857
>>130832
>>130839
Except, of course, we don't actually know whether she wants to kick our ass or not because we haven't actually met her yet.

You meta-playing bastards.
>> No. 130858
>>130857
Statistically speaking there' a high probability of foot to ass encounters.
>> No. 130861
>>130857
Well. Color me embarrassed and humiliated. Vote deleted.

...Damn, I'm usually a lot better about these kinds of things. I feel dirty, now.

Hey KC, is this just for his initial mood going in? Like, it's not necessarily going to be maintained rigidly throughout?
>> No. 130862
_ You'll listen to what she has to say, but that's it.

That was the point of comming here right? Or something..
>> No. 130887
[x] Really, this isn't too bad!
>> No. 130927
[x] Really, this isn't too bad!
>> No. 131829
File 129249288761.jpg - (99.57KB , 500x500 , Zebra.jpg ) [iqdb]
131829
X Really, this isn't too bad!

The inside of the temple looks a lot better than the outside, in the same way that even an extreme case of shingles looks a lot better than having the majority of your skin burnt away. You follow behind Nazrin, Hoodie bringing up the rear.

You don't know where she put Murasa.

"In here," Nazrin says, stopping suddenly before a doorway that is totally indistinguishable from any of the other doorways you've passed so far. "Hijiri is waiting."

"Is this necessary?"

Nazrin gives you a look of impatience. You sigh, and pass through.

The room is wide, but lit only sparsely, with minimum of candles. Still, you can see easily enough the figure sitting on the floor--a woman, long-haired, in a dress.

And a cape.

What the hell, you think. Outwardly, you smile. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes. You are Terrence Harker, aren't you?"

The voice is quiet and peaceful, with an odd sort of cheeriness that doesn't fit the dark atmosphere. You try to catch the expression that goes with it, but your eyes haven't finished adjusting yet. You keep your own tone unconcerned as you speak. "Yeah, that's me. More importantly--you got any lights in here? Place looks like a tomb."

The seated woman does not answer. Does not say anything, in fact--just sits, and looks at you, with a gaze so deliberate you can feel it on your skin. Past your skin. Somewhere in your rib cage, maybe.

"That shouldn't be there," she finally says.

The words come out softly--and, you suspect, on accident. You raise an eyebrow.

"What shouldn't be where?"

"Did Shou and Nazrin trouble you?" And you can see well enough, now, to catch the veneer of pleasant formality as it settles over her eyes--as she not so much sidesteps as totally ignores your question. Something hot and quick pumps through the vein in your neck. "I did tell them I wished to speak with you, but they can be direct, at times."

"No," you hear yourself saying. "They were kind." And it is true. Forceful and pushy as they were, they were also kind. "So, what did you want to see me for?"

"Won't you have a seat?"

Hijiri Byakuren gestures, both towards your feet and the utter lack of proper cushioning. You glare over that unquestionably Japanese arrangement she's got herself crammed into and reluctantly follow suit, hoping the conversation doesn't take too long--you like having feeling in your legs.

"So what's this about?" you ask. Same question, different words.

"First of all, how has your stay in Gensokyo been so far?"

Hijiri asks you this very peacefully, very calmly, like she doesn't know that in the month you've been here you've been beaten across the head, strangled, overworked, kidnapped, and beaten across the head again. There's a funny taste in your mouth, like blood. Or rage.

You smile.

"Just a little trouble," you say. "Nothing too serious."

"Ah." And Hijiri smiles back, expression benevolent. "You mean Margatroid."

...Well, if she already knew the answer, why the hell did she ask?

"That is what I wanted to speak with you about, actually," Hijiri says. "What were you thinking? Ah, excuse me." Your lack of amusement must be clear, because Hijiri clarifies. "I'm not trying to lecture you. I'm sincerely curious. Please tell me--as you attacked Alice Margatroid, exactly what were you thinking?"

"I wasn't thinking anything at all," you say. Thinking--like you had time to measure the pros and cons beforehand. "It was a reaction. My life was threatened, so I reacted. That's it."

"That's it, you say..."

Hijiri looks away from you, gazing quietly into the darkness, her smile fading. It's silent now, save for the noise of the crowds outside, and you can't help but wonder why you're here. If this woman wanted some answers, couldn't she have made a house call? Was the summons to her chambers really necessary? Apparently she's some important religious figure, but this whole scene seems suspect, like something out of a mafia film.

She looks back at you. Looks back into you, just for a second, before her eyes slide to yours. She does not smile.

"You stabbed her in the neck," she says, levelly.

You shrug. "Self-defense."

"You stabbed her in the chest."

"Self-defense."

"You sliced her stomach open."

"Self-defense."

"You put out her eyes."

You do not immediately answer.

"You put out her eyes," Hijiri says. "Don't you understand?" And it's strange, because it's almost like she's pleading with you, but what does she have to plead about? "You put out her eyes--"

You shake your head. "Self-defense," you say, and perhaps Hijiri understands that you will brook no further argument because all she does is look at you with an expression somewhere between concern and pity, neither of which you feel you particularly need.

"Is that it, then?" you ask. "Can I go?"

Hijiri purses her lips, and for a second you think she's going to make you stay longer, but then she sighs. "Very well," she says. "You may go...but please, promise me you'll think about what I've said."

You grunt as you stand up. That means, "don't bet on it".

"Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Harker."

You're just at the doorway when Hijiri springs the epilogue at you, close enough that you can see Nazrin and Hoodie (or Shou whatever her name is) feigning disinterest. "Yeah?" you say back, over your shoulder.

"Just because Alice Margatroid was a youkai, that doesn't mean you were in any danger."

And you look at Hijiri, and Hijiri looks at you, and she's still not smiling but you can see something in her face that's at odds with her expression. Like pride, almost--like she's proud she got that last bit off before you left.

She probably expects it to mean something to you.

Well, it doesn't.

"I don't know what a youkai is," you say, "and it doesn't matter. Human or youkai, I'd treat her just the same."

Hijiri's face goes strange, but you barely see it--you're too busy leaving this dump. Through the hallways, down the front steps, and into the busy night. Going, going, gone.

Good.

=== === === === === === === === ===

The streetlights throw a glare across your windshield, every speck of dust highlighted in sharp relief. It's been forever and a day since the last you handled a washcloth, and you mouth the usual line as you maneuver suburbia: when you have time, when you have time...

More broken promises.

Take tonight, for example--or "today", to stick with semantics. In a departure from the norm, you assured the better half you'd be home with your coat off by the time dinner rolled around. Unfortunately, fate saw fit to deal you a bad hand in the form of a droopy-eyed kid skulking around in an alleyway, the smell of weed clinging to him like cheap cologne.

He was too stoned to resist arrest. Small comfort, considering the paperwork. That's what you get for keeping your eyes open.

You pull yourself out of your musings and back into reality as you take the turn up your street. Here it is: Casa de Valentin, your middle-class palace. From the lack of lights, you'd guess that Sandra's stopped waiting for you and gone to bed--just as well, given the way she sounded on the phone. You'll be facing her cold shoulder soon enough, but you'll be able to manage a good four hours of sleep first.

...Or maybe less, if the man with the camera standing in your driveway is any clue.

Sometimes, a bad day sneaks up on you. Live through enough of them, and you can sense them right before the jaws close around your leg. "Strange man playing stalker in the dead of night" isn't at the top of the list of giveaways, but it qualifies. "Hey!" you shout through the gap at the top of your window, just as the man bolts.

You yank your seatbelt out of the way and kick the door open, already knowing it's too late--the guy's got a thirty foot headstart, and you're not as young as you used to be. Put that on top of the smoking habit you only recently kicked, and the only way you're catching this creep is if he suddenly forgets how to put on foot in front of the other. A miracle, in other words, and you're not a praying man.

Well, maybe the gods are gracious.

The man takes a step off the curb, making for the next intersection, and slips--you see it happen, and you don't believe it. Hell, you can't believe it. Good luck coming out of left field like this? That's something out of comic books and kid's novels.

But maybe you're finally getting back that karma you're long overdue, because the guy's still on the ground when you get to him, rolling back and forth over his spine and clutching at his ankle. You consider telling him not to move, but at this point it seems like overkill--you just cuff him instead, and head off to dial up whichever poor sucker's still on duty.

They say a policeman's work is never done.

...You'll see if you can't dodge the paperwork on this one, though.
>> No. 131830
File 129249297012.jpg - (1.59MB , 2560x1920 , 2010-12-16 01_43_33.jpg ) [iqdb]
131830
...That took a lot longer than it should have.

End of part four.
>> No. 131834
>"I don't know what a youkai is," you say, "and it doesn't matter. Human or youkai, I'd treat her just the same."

>Hijiri's face goes strange, but you barely see it--you're too busy leaving this dump. Through the hallways, down the front steps, and into the busy night. Going, going, gone.

Oh the irony. This update was worth the wait if only for that interaction.

A question though why did we stab Alice in the chest, slice open her stomach, and cut(gouge?) out her eyes?
Did she make an overly hostile move toward us?
>> No. 131857
>>131834

Alice didn't do anything too terrible, and although she did "abduct" Harker, he's been playing it up to make it sound worse than it really was. It's sort of hinted that he's not quite right in the head, or something along those lines.
>> No. 131880
>>131834

As I read it there was kidnapping and threats that lead to a real fear of life and limb, and he acted in self defense. But he had been living in Gensokyo without a real understanding of youkai nature (he still doesn't), so when she didn't die right away, he freaked and started hacking at the body. Cops are trained in that once lethal force is required, it must be applied with prejudice until the target is completely incapacitated and the danger is past. That kind of situation with a youkai is probably similar to actual cop horror stories where they empty entire magazines into suspects high on angeldust with stopping them.

This is not to say Terrence is a pillar of humanity. He probably joined the force as an excuse to run stop signs and be rude to people. Just that he has an alibi.

Can't wait for more.
>> No. 131886
>>131880
>has an alibi

No he does not
>> No. 131887
>>131886
Technically, you're right. But I think we can all understand what he meant.

An alibi specifically refers to defense by proving you were somewhere else at the time
>> No. 132069
File 129292233910.jpg - (0.95MB , 900x900 , ArchaicSmile.jpg ) [iqdb]
132069
"I have a friend," the woman in the purple dress says, quietly but still excited. You can feel her energy just beneath the surface, showing through in the way she smooths out the cloth over her knees, the way she smiles.

You remain silent. Somehow you feel you'd miss something if you interrupted now.

"She warns me sometimes," the woman says. There's a ribbon around her neck, now, colored dark. "She says I trust too much. I wanted you to talk to her--to tell her something, from me."

The woman reaches into a pocket with one hand, coming back up with a thin, sleek-looking cellphone. She flips it open with the same hand, showing you the background image: two girls, shoulder to shoulder, smiling for the camera. The one on the left is squinting, her grin crooked--with that white dress shirt and striped tie, she looks almost as if she's ready for a day at the office.

The other girl is much less reserved, beaming broadly. You've seen her before, framed against the mansion wallpaper, purple dress and all.

You see her now, sitting right beside you.

"Her name's Renko," the woman from the photograph says, and closes the cellphone with a snap. "She does physics, and a lot of other things that I don't understand. But she's smart, so I was hoping you could talk to her..."

That's impossible, of course.

There's no way you can help this woman. Right now, you can barely help yourself--

=== === === === === === === === ===

They bundle the man into the back of a car, and you pretend to forget about him until you arrive at the station the same morning with too much coffee and too little sleep behind you. Maxim is there, waiting.

From the way he keeps smoothing own the end of his mustache, you'd guess he's got something to say.

"Maxim."

"Ritchie." Maxim smiles at you, relaxing slightly. The smile's genuine--they always are, with Maxim--but there's a shade of something else in it. Apprehension. "How are you? Heard you chased some guy down last night. You holding out good?"

"Good enough." If Maxim wants to think you managed that one on your own, you're fine with keeping it that way. "Talk."

"About what?"

You don't bother glaring at Maxim. You don't need to.

"Yeah, yeah, okay." The smile fades, but the apprehension does too. Maxim seems more relieved about being caught than anything else. "The guy's name is Makoto Nakamura," Maxim says. And then leaning forwards, voice low, eyebrows raised, like he's letting some big secret slip: "He's Japanese."

"...Really."

Maxim flushes slightly. At least he realizes when he's said something stupid. Puts him ahead of a few people here. "Japanese-Japanese," he says, quickly. "I mean, he's from Japan. Literally. He came in about a month ago."

A month ago.

Suzuki Apartments.

A dead body. Entrails across the floor. An investigation cut off before it could begin. It might be a coincidence, but you wouldn't bet your paycheck on it. "He had a visa," you say. It's not a question.

Maxim nods.

"Yeah."

"What class?"

Maxim tells you. You rip open another packet of gum.

_ Counter-offensive
_ Reconnaissance
_ Withdrawal
>> No. 132071
[x] Reconnaissance

Stake out?
>> No. 132075
>>132071
>Stakeout?
...But there's no place to stakeout, so that's not really likely.

My take:
>Counter-offensive
Interrogate Makoto.

>Reconnaissance
Watch interrogation from the other side of the glass.

>Withdrawal
Give no fuck about the interrogation and do something else.


[x] Reconnaissance

We're involved with the case, so maybe it's best just to watch.
>> No. 132116
[X] Counter-offensive
Answers needed.
>> No. 132117
X Counter-offensive
>> No. 132134
[x] Reconnaissance
>> No. 132517
File 129368183156.jpg - (92.56KB , 348x348 , CanIKickIt_.jpg ) [iqdb]
132517
X Reconnaissance

Another Japanese national, another conspiracy, one right after the other. You don't know what these people are doing over here, but they're not very good at covering it up.

Or maybe they don't care.

"I did some asking around," Maxim mutters, fumbling with the tape on the front a box of pastries. It sticks to his fingers and he shakes his hand, trying to get it off. "The guy's quiet. He pays his rent on time. Other than that, though..."

"Unremarkable."

"Yeah." Maxim smiles apologetically as he finally gets the box open. "Cruller?"

You eye the powered sugar with distaste. "How about you tell me more about Nakamura. They questioned him?"

Maxim shrugs, picking an oversized donut for himself. You don't know what shop he gets these from, but it's a surprise their entire customer base hasn't gone diabetic--you've seen less glazing in insulated windows. "Yeah, sure, they talked to him. Nothing useful, though. Just your friendly neighborhood architecture geek out for a midnight stroll--that's his story, and he's sticking to it. And we couldn't even get that much out of him until we got a translator in there."

"Architecture geek."

"Yeah, you know, like Frank Lloyd Wright and stuff. You sure you don't want something?" You shake your head wordlessly, and Maxim shrugs again. "Your loss."

Another pastry, this one smaller at least: donut hole.

"Anyway, they'll get this guy," Maxim says. "They'll figure it out. Everybody knows you, so don't worry about it."

"I'm not worried."

This time, you do glare. Maxim looks away.

"Yeah." His voice is quiet. "No. Sorry. That's not what I meant."

You know what he meant.

But he's not supposed to say it.

=== === === === === === === === ===

You expected morning in Gensokyo to be different, somehow. More strange, or at least foreign. But the sun is up and the sky is blue, and already you can hear the beginning of the early day commerce. Morning in Gensokyo, it turns out, is just the same as morning elsewhere.

What a letdown.

Seriously, you should've just stayed in, maybe looked for your caffeine fix. You aren't even supposed to leave Kotohime's place unsupervised, so wandering around the village like this is just a bad idea overall. The sane thing to do would be to wait until the trial's over--

Well, no matter. With the blood and the "circumstances" the way they are, you're probably guilty in the eyes of the public anyway. Just another reason to find a way out of this craphole.

Yeah.

Speaking of which, you've still got no idea on how you're actually going to accomplish that. You'd think after a month stuck in this place you'd at least have a plan or something, but apparently the best you have at the moment is "walk down the road and hope something interesting happens to you". That's not a plan, that's wishful thinking. And obscenely unlikely wishful thinking, on top of that.

Maybe you ought to head back to Kotohime's after all. You're not sure you checked out all the cabinets yet. Or maybe you can try some tea. Tea has caffeine, right? It'll be a little experiment. See how a piddling morning tea compares to the tried and true method--

"Hey."

Of course, it's not like you don't know the result ahead of time. Tea is tea, but coffee is coffee, and there's no possibility a cup of murky liquid is going to measure up to a finely prepared cappuccino, sculpted milk foam topped with a sprinkle of shaved chocolate--

"Hey."

Oh, you're salivating just from the memory--

"Hey!"

And just like that, someone pops your daydream like a balloon, leaving you standing in the middle of the street and wondering whose day you're going to have to make significantly worse now.

That man who's been doing his utmost to stay on your heels for the last three blocks seems like he'd be a perfect subject.

"Hey--you--you're Harker, right? Harker?"

And do you hear that? He's volunteering, too! You paste a big ol' friendly smile on your face as you turn around. "That's me, alright. You need something?"

The man's eyebrows scrunch up. With that balding head, and face like a road map, he looks like an alien puppet from some ancient sci-fi flick. "You're Harker, right?" he asks again.

"A man for all seasons! Winter's cold, though. Winter comes, I'd rather not be here." And that is true. "You need help with something? Delivery? Protection? Directions, maybe?"

"But...you are Harker, right?"

...Like a freaking broken record.

"Sure," you say. "Sure. I'm Harker."

"Ah," the man says. He licks his lips nervously. "That's good."

And then he leans in close. Real close. Uncomfortably close. His breath stinks, and you wonder when the last time he brushed his teeth was.

You wonder when the last time you brushed your teeth was.

"How'd you like to get out of Gensokyo?"

You stop wondering about teeth.

_ This is a discussion that needs to be followed up. Right now.
_ Alright, this you've got to hear. But not yet. Later.
_ This guy's only bad news.
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 132522
X This is a discussion that needs to be followed up. Right now.
>> No. 132523
[x] This is a discussion that needs to be followed up. Right now.
>> No. 132529
[x] This is a discussion that needs to be followed up. Right now.

By all means, Mr. Suspicious Individual, elucidate.
>> No. 132539
[x] This is a discussion that needs to be followed up. Right now.

This is exactly what Harker's been hoping for, a chance to get out of Gensokyo. Not taking it would be stupid.
>> No. 132581
[x] This is a discussion that needs to be followed up. Right now.

I Left My Incredulity in El Segundo.
>> No. 132783
File 129434188397.jpg - (108.57KB , 500x500 , BusToBeelzebub.jpg ) [iqdb]
132783
X This is a discussion that needs to be followed up. Right now.

"Tell me, did they take you to see somebody, after you dropped in? That Kamishirasawa woman, right?"

Thirty seconds later, you're huddled in the shade of a nearby alley, dodging the man's saliva. Already, you're starting to regret promising to listen to him, and not just because he spits when he talks--his insistence on hosting the conversation somewhere secluded is setting off alarm bells, too.

Still, you'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's just paranoid. And if he can get you home, then...

"Yeah," you say. "Kami-something-sawa Keine. I saw her. What about it?"

Road Map grins, displaying his swollen gums. "Of course--of course you saw her. Everyone sees her. And she always says the same thing, right? You can't get out." You don't respond immediately, and he does that whole leaning-in thing again, ever deepening your appreciation for mouthwash. "That's what they say to us--that's what they say to all the Outsiders. You can't get out. Very sorry. Now go away."

"But you've got your own idea."

You get to the crux of the matter quickly, if only so that Road Map can pull away and allow you a breath of fresh air. The man nods happily, eagerly.

"Yes," he says. "Well, no. It's not my idea. But I can help. We can help--all you have to do is meet us, here, tonight, at midnight. Or around midnight. Whichever is better for you." His hands are twitching at his sides. You detect something very much like desperation. "So will you be here? Will you come?"

You think of Shannon, and you know that you can't possibly refuse. "Unless something happens, I'll be here," you assure the old man.

This, unfortunately, sets off another cheerful presentation regarding the non-effects of Gensokyo dentistry. You offer your own token smile in return (albeit close-lipped), and quickly excuse yourself.

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

For the first time since you got stuck in this place, you're actually feeling almost...optimistic. Sure, it's more than likely that this is a scam directed towards some unlucky foreigner, or simply the ravings of a madman, but still--there's a chance that this is real, that you might be able to get home. And if there's a chance, you're going to grasp at it.

The only problem, of course, is that midnight is so far away.

Well, that's no real problem. You've already spent a month in this pit, haven't you? You can certainly weather one more day.

_ Head towards the east side of the village--courtrooms and village guardians.
_ Head towards the west side of the village--Outsiders and half-finished houses.
_ Head back to Kotohime's--catch a nap.
_ Other... (Specify)
>> No. 132789
[x] Head towards the west side of the village--Outsiders and half-finished houses.

Maybe we'll see some of the people we'll be meeting tonight.
>> No. 132796
[x] Head towards the west side of the village--Outsiders and half-finished houses.

New people.
>> No. 132862
[x] Head towards the east side of the village--courtrooms and village guardians.

Obligatory dick vote, as if Terrence needed any help being one.
>> No. 132897
File 129452091936.gif - (54.18KB , 320x240 , 1268693909251.gif ) [iqdb]
132897
>>132862
>Obligatory dick vote

...okay, I give up. What's this supposed to mean?
>> No. 132904
_ Head towards the west side of the village--Outsiders and half-finished houses.
>> No. 132908
>>132897
Is that even supposed to means something? Because as far as I see, it's even hard to look if it's making in the name of the sanity, said sanity who's now completely lost in this post.


_ Head back to Kotohime's--catch a nap.
Because Kotohime. 'nuff said.
>> No. 132948
File 129462548088.jpg - (25.23KB , 480x640 , 4aRP1.jpg ) [iqdb]
132948
>>132908
I don't know what you are, but you are the very last that should speak harshly against incomprehensibility.
>> No. 132972
>>132948
The joke... you missed it.
>> No. 132977
File 129468579399.jpg - (352.90KB , 600x764 , tumblr_l40v9utqxu1qzlfumo1_1280.jpg ) [iqdb]
132977
>>132972
Alternative interpretation: you aren't nearly as funny as you believe you are.

Good day, sir.
>> No. 132978
File 129469196596.jpg - (10.92KB , 424x335 , 68.jpg ) [iqdb]
132978
>>132897
>>132908
>>132948
>>132972
>>132977

Wut. No, really, I either missed the joke, or you're all idiots.
>> No. 132984
>>132978
...Apparently this is all my fault, as I'm the one who wrote >>132862. However, this is my first post in here since then.

First: There is no joke, and never was. I shall explain.

See, Terrence is kind of a jerk. I'm sure many of you have picked up on this by now.

>[x] Head towards the east side of the village--courtrooms and village guardians.
>courtrooms and village guardians
Terrence has not been the most helpful or regretful-seeming around either of these people/locations. Or around anyone/anything else, for that matter, but he flaunted it at the courtroom in front of lots of people.

I can't imagine that him going to hang around either or both of these will result in him suddenly being able to perceive events from outside his own asshole mind, or even, at the bare minimum, keeping himself from digging his hole any deeper. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So, yes. It is a "dick vote" because it a) would have, I believe, probably ended up making things worse somehow, and b) was a vote to make things (possibly/probably) worse made with full awareness of the potential effects of such a choice, combining both the essences of "dick move" and "tide-pissing vote" into a new, breathtaking synthesis of mild malicious intent and immature, reactionary rejection of the current majority opinion for little more than reasons of low-level spite, which I chose to dub the "dick vote." ...Was it really that hard to decipher?

In the course of writing this post, I have become slightly ashamed about the whole thing, and regret doing it.
>> No. 132985
File 129470197738.jpg - (104.05KB , 400x400 , Use if Anon is saying nonsense.jpg ) [iqdb]
132985
>>132948
Alternative version of the same post:
"Has anyone really been as far as decided as they even wanted to do look more like?"
But I wanted to be original, and to write my own non-sense.

Saged because not voting.
>> No. 132987
File 12947037825.jpg - (116.46KB , 405x540 , 1258186268742.jpg ) [iqdb]
132987
>>132984
It's alright; don't apologize. You're definitely not the target of my ire here--I was just wondering exactly what you meant by "dick vote", and then someone else chimed in with some mess of idiocy, and then everything got out of control.

As for your concerns--would it suffice to say that there are no "right" or "wrong" choices in this story?
>> No. 133037
File 129477328041.jpg - (106.39KB , 680x680 , ElectricEyes.jpg ) [iqdb]
133037
X Head towards the west side of the village--Outsiders and half-finished houses.

All you've got to do is kill some time...

And so, you turn your mind off as your feet carry you westwards, towards the...less pristine portions of the village.

The sights here are recognizable to you--of course they would be, seeing as you lived here for a month. A night of sleeplessness as you wrestled with Kamishirasawa's speech about Gensokyo and borders and never-go-home-again, and then bam, relocation. Employment, too--got to make those Outsiders useful, after all, if they're going to just fall in like that--

You shake your head, dislodging that particularly ugly thought. What's the matter with you? You might finally be out, this time tomorrow! If anything, you should be cheerful, or at least cautiously so. But somehow, all you can think of is how rotten your experience has been--it's like your brain wants to fit in one last hurrah of sheer bitterness before you've got nothing to complain about. Quickly, you look around for something to distract yourself with.

You find yourself looking at a half-finished building.

There's a moment before it all clicks, and then you realize that you recognize this, too--pile of wood, lack of floorboards, and all. It's building you were "working" on, with Yara and Hake and everybody else, right before that Margatroid woman showed up and your life descended even further down the crapper. With your head distracted, your feet must've decided it was a good idea to lead you down towards this familiar place.

Well, thanks a lot, feet. That's just what you need, a reminder of a time when you were just as miserable as you are now.

You stand there for a while, looking upwards--looking up at the roof, with its tiling, or whatever they call it in Japanese. They finished the roof first, maybe even before you joined them--you can't really remember. You didn't care enough, not to bother to take it into your memory, and to be honest, you still don't. All you do remember is Hake, and how he would stand on the scaffolding and yell down at everybody else, like some sort of angry primate.

Hake's dead now.

So you've heard.

You can't imagine it for some reason. You can't imagine him dead. Not that you're being sentimental or anything--you can't imagine him alive, either. You were never really able to see him as a person, Hake; he was never anything more to you than another obstacle, another annoyance to contend with while you waited for a chance to escape. Even Yara, in all his spinelessness, seemed human enough in your mind.

But Hake's dead now, so you've heard, and try as you might, you just can't bring yourself to care.

Not to mention that other guy. What was his name? You didn't even know him. Takagi, or something like that--

The thought dies midway as you catch the movement of something by the foot of one of the support beams. Your entire body tenses up, all at once, as your brain goes on a spree of paranoia: is it Kotohime, perhaps? Did she trail you all the way here, ready to turn you in for evading her surveillance? Or maybe it's one of those other hoity-toity higher-ups, just looking for an excuse to send you to hang. It might have been a mistake, coming here alone; you need to come up with an excuse, now (but not a lie, never a lie, not unless there isn't any point)--

Stop that, comes the message from the bits of your brain that take pride in rationality over all else. Stop that. It isn't Kotohime, and it definitely isn't one of those bald-headed old men. Does that look like an adult to you? It nothing but a kid, sitting against one of the posts. A kid.

A kid.

Heck, he's curled up so small, you could probably put the flooring in without him disturbing your work anyway. Well, if you knew how to put flooring in. And if you did that sort of work. Mentally, you heave a sigh of relief.

And then the kid lifts his eyes up from the ground and looks at you.

"Hey," you say.

The kid says nothing.

In fact, not only does the kid say nothing, but he's on his feet and in the opposite direction faster than you can say "suspicious individual".

_ Give chase.
_ Don't spend the energy.
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 133038
>>133037
Although it would be a good idea to give chase, I can't shake the feeling that this will end up in one of those awkward moments where we end up looking like the bad guy. I.E villager sees us and think were attempting to catch or kill said child and we get lynched or worse.

So rather than just leave it, as this may be an important clue I propose this:

[X]Follow trail left behind using your tracking/scouting skills learned at the academy

He was a police officer(or was it detective?) so he should have had some form of training in this field.
>> No. 133042
[X]Follow trail left behind using your tracking/scouting skills learned at the academy
>> No. 133047
File 129479876199.jpg - (11.16KB , 244x220 , ASLwhat.jpg ) [iqdb]
133047
>>133038
>>133042

May I be frank here?

I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, or how you expect this to be executed.

Clarification and/or revote, please?
>> No. 133049
[X] Don't spend the energy.

Kid's probably scared of "Harker the murderer". And running after him is more likely to get Terrance caught for evading his keeper.
>> No. 133050
[X] Don't spend the energy.

Maybe the building meant something to the kid? Or a worker's relative.

Either way, Terrance will look rather suspicious chasing after him.
>> No. 133052
[x] Don't spend the energy.
>> No. 133057
[x] Don't spend the energy.
>> No. 133078
[x] Give chase.

The innocent have nothing to fear.
>> No. 133116
[x] Give chase.

We are a former investigator, it is our duty to investigate the suspicious happenings going on around here.
>> No. 133196
[X] Don't spend the energy.
>> No. 133205
[x] Don't spend the energy.
>> No. 133862
File 12963083958.jpg - (768.81KB , 1024x1024 , Archaeopteryx.jpg ) [iqdb]
133862
X Don't spend the energy.

...Well, hell. Something you said, maybe?

You don't lift your feet, though. While the sound of rapidly fading footsteps, in another world, would be a potential suspect getting away, here you don't bother. You've got no authority, after all, not in this excuse for a Japanese fantasyland, so what's it matter to you? Your duty was left behind at the Los Ojos city border when you agreed to hop continents and take a look at a dead woman's affairs.

Not one of your most fruitful decisions.

Instead, you look at the familiar structure. And if your contemplative gaze seems not so much "contemplative" as "utterly frustrated", well, that's not important. You're getting out in less than twenty-four hours, aren't you? It isn't worth getting worked up, not over inconsequential stuff like this.

Shinomiya. Yeah. Think about him.

You'll have his head in a bucket.

You sit under the edge of the roof, half in and half out, not really feeling any difference with the sky as overcast. For a full second, you consider resting against a supporting beam, a little like the kid was, but you nix the idea, quick--with how sparsely the framework's been built, you wouldn't be surprised if that little jostle sent the whole mess falling down on your head. Crazy Japanese architecture, with its houses on sticks and its paper walls--what's the secret for keeping the roofs up, huh? The wood looks the same as any other, cut into posts and fit into--

Is that blood?

Wait, wait, hold on--is that blood?

You lean in, looking closer at the one particular wooden beam--at the dark color dried across the grain. That almost does look like blood, you think. And as the neurons in your skull begin to fire: it splashed here, you think, and then it dripped, and then it dried, and here, too--

It really does look like blood, you think.

It really, really does look like blood.

And then you realize that Hake died here.

"Admirin' your handiwork?"

You jerk back to panic in a moment flat--and seriously consider following that kid's lead when you see who's stumbled into the scene. It's that Kirisame chick, of course. Second-worst person you could imagine bumping into at a time like this, so of course it'd be her. That's Murphy for you. "Hm?" you say, willing your air of disinterest to hold. "Did you say something? I can't hear you."

"You heard what I said."

"Maybe."

Kirisame scowls. Or rather, her already existent scowl deepens. It's an expression that shouts "I'd kick you, if only you were within kicking distance", which isn't a problem except for the fact that suddenly you are. You wince despite yourself and prepare yourself for trouble. Kotohime won't save you this time, it seems--looks like ditching her really was a bad idea.

But oddly enough, Kirisame doesn't try to beat at you, not today. Instead, she runs her fingers over the beam of wood--over what you're all but convinced is a remnant of some gruesome violence, and sighs.

"What's your motive?" she asks.

Her voice sounds tired and strong, both at once, as contradictory as you'd expect that to be. And maybe there's something you can respect there, because when you answer you keep sarcasm out of it.

"I don't know what you mean," you say.

"Motive." She turns to fix you with a look, and again you sense it, this time in her eyes--that strange impression. "You're in with the youkai--that's clear enough, so don't bother denyin' it. While you were attackin' Alice, the youkai were attackin' Hake and all the rest. We're not stupid."

You bite your tongue.

"The problem none of us can figure out," Kirisame says, "is what you're gettin' from it."

"I'm not getting anything. Haven't you noticed?" The words come out before you can stop them, and you look away from Kirisame and back at the bloodstain. That ape--what kind of funerals do they serve in a place like this, anyway? Well, it's not like you need to worry about that anymore, right? You look at Kirisame again. "I got dragged to a trial. A few days ago, some priestess in a cape decided I needed a lecture. That's the opposite of 'getting something'."

Kirisame snorts. "Hijiri."

"Yeah, that was it. Hijiri."

It becomes very quiet.

You look at the bloodstain again. For a second you consider touching it, following this Kirisame chick's lead--but why bother? Just like the running kid, it's nothing worth you worrying about. You stretch your legs and look up at the sky instead, trying to gauge the sun's movement through the clouds.

It's going to be forever before midnight.

"Did they promise you something?"

And you can't get two seconds of you-time, no matter how hard you try. "What?"

"The youkai," Kirisame says. "Did they promise you something? Did they say they'd get you home if you helped them out?"

...Ugh. She's still on about that. Crazy chick. You didn't have anything to do with whatever happened here, but let her think what she wants to think. You don't care. You'll give her this much, though: "You're bothering the wrong person."

Kirisame looks at you skeptically. "Is that right?"

"Yeah," you say. There's a gap in the clouds, and the sun shines through, but only for a moment. It's gone again, before you can even think to draw in your legs. "Before the trial, I didn't know what a youkai was," you say, "and I still don't know. You should find someone who can understand what you're talking about."

"...And how long have you been here?"

"A month, maybe?"

Kirisame doesn't say anything, just keeps looking at you with what is clearly disgust and disbelief. You shrug, and go back to studying the bloodstain. Again.

"Look," you say. "You don't like me. That's fine. But I don't have any interest in causing trouble, okay? You don't have to worry about me. Not anymore."

"Yeah, we'll see."

She doesn't leave, after she says that. Just props herself against another damn beam and watches you like a hawk.

You definitely won't miss her, once you're gone.

What a day. And it's only barely started--

=== === === === === === === === ===

Yamamoto. Apartments. Visa. Government. Japan.

Another jaunt through your files. And once again, nothing to show for it.

You shouldn't even be bothering, you know. The case is closed--as far as the taxpayers are concerned, Yamamoto was a recluse who considered himself a tamer of dangerous animals, and paid for it out his bowels. Never mind there wasn't a sign of any such animal in the apartment. Never mind that any such animal couldn't have escaped so cleanly.

Never mind, never mind. Go back to your TV and video games. And if a man with a "claw-like object" shows up at your window, what the hell, let him in! It's not as if he's a murderer, right?

You bite down on another stick of gum.

Back to the picture of the deceased: Mr. Kensuke Yamamoto, laid out in full glory, guts and all. There's no reason for you to be looking at this picture. Everything that can be analyzed out of this picture already has. You grunt, and shuffle it between the neighbors' statements.

It pisses you off to admit it, but maybe you're too close to this. What you need is two cents from someone else--someone else who hasn't already stuck their fingers into this case, someone else either brave enough or stupid enough to speak their mind with hesitating. Someone else like--

No.

No. Never.

He's out at that coffeeshop, anyway, drinking that milk swill. But even if he were here--

"Hey, Ritchie. What are you doing here, huh?"

And with that, luckily enough, you're saved from having to consider the idea. "Maxim," you respond. You don't bother lifting your eyes.

"That's me!" You hear him chuckle. "Seriously though, what are you doing here? I figured you'd be at the coffeeshop, but it was just Kirikami. You working on something?"

You can feel him leaning over your shoulder, invading your personal space. Normally you wouldn't make a big deal out of it--but today, the movement reminds you too much of Shannon, and the man with the high cheekbones. You turn the stack of papers in your hands over. "No," you say.

Maxim, thankfully, doesn't press the issue further. "Well, fine," he says, "but if you're not busy, maybe you can take a look at these copies I borrowed..."

"Copies."

You look at Maxim. He's grinning like an idiot. He's also waving a large, beige-colored envelope in your direction.

"Copies of photographs," he says. "I'm probably not supposed to have them."

Maxim drops the envelope on your desk, right across a bundle of receipts. You pick it up and turn it upside down, scattering the contents. Photographs. Eight-by-ten glossy blow-ups, to be precise, and you don't need three guesses to figure out whose camera these came from. Here's a picture of your house at night--maybe even the same night you caught the guy. And another picture of your house, but during the day, from further back. Another night shot.

And here's the back of your head through the coffeeshop window.

You look at yourself. You look at yourself, cup in one hand, crumpled newspaper in the other, head turned towards the front counter. You remember this. This was a few days ago. You gave Kirikami something to keep him busy and went to the coffeeshop, just for a quick drink. You weren't there long. You ordered your coffee, took a look at the front page, and left. You didn't even drink your coffee, not until you got into your car. You couldn't have been there for five minutes.

This guy hasn't just been staking out your house--he's actually been stalking you.

Maxim coughs, and you realize you're chewing your gum with your mouth open, slinging flecks of split onto your own image. You dial it down, but the old familiar rage is burning in your veins. If you see Sandra, you promise yourself. Even a hint of Sandra. You'll break his fingers, and work your way up to the spine. If you see Sandra...

You leaf through the photographs, searching for an excuse.

But it's all you. You, from far away, talking to Kirikami. To Maxim. Nodding at Graham. Buying coffee, drinking coffee. Opening your car door. Your front door. It's all you.

Why would this Nakamura person fixate on you?

Wait.

You pick up one photograph hanging off the edge of your desk. It's a picture of an apartment building, or something similar--you're not in it, and obviously it's not your house. It's the odd piece out in this puzzle, but there's something in the back of your skull insisting you know where it fits, that you've seen this building before. A crime scene? It's not the Suzuki place. Or somewhere else you've been? When's the last time you were at an apartment, off the job?

Who do you know who lives in an apartment?

A memory rises--he went on and on about what a cook his sister was, all the way up the stairs, and then when you got there you found out she'd cooked tacos, store-bought cheese but shells and meat on her own, and she called them Japanese tacos and he called them half-Japanese tacos and pointed out that it wasn't a Japanese word anyway, and then she started talking about where the word came from of all things--

"Ritchie?"

You stuff the photographs back into the envelope, along with the rest of your files. "I'm taking these."

"You're welcome?"

You ignore him.

_ A personal investigation
_ A discussion with Shannon Harker
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 133867
[x] A discussion with Shannon Harker

I don't remember hearing a lot about Shannon after she came back from Japan, but if there's pictures of her apartment, she's probably getting stalked too. We could also get more info on her brother's dissapearence.
>> No. 133868
[x] A discussion with Shannon Harker
>> No. 133873
[X]A discussion with Shannon Harker

I'm quite interested in what she'll have to say.

I think Terrence is starting to put to much stake in the strange guy's promise of getting him out. Of course currently he's screwed as far as looking innocent and lacking motive goes.
>> No. 133875
[X] A discussion with Shannon Harker
>> No. 134905
File 129816276058.jpg - (17.36KB , 400x400 , TheEternal.jpg ) [iqdb]
134905
X A discussion with Shannon Harker

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

You're a regular at the coffeeshop. The girl behind the counter knows you. Knows your order.

She also knows you never come in this late, not after sunset, and you can see her eyebrows rising in curiosity the moment you step through the door.

"The usual," you say.

To her credit, the girl asks no questions as she does her job, filling up another paper cup with the usual darkness. You take the drink once she's done with it, downing half of it in one go. It's as good as always--so you almost feel bad at what you're about to do.

"What the hell is this?"

The girl blinks against your outrage, the movement tiny beneath her horn-rimmed glasses. "Pardon?"

"Don't you know the first thing about coffee? This is garbage!" You make your move quickly, before she can collect herself: "I want to see your manager!"

Hopefully Shannon will understand, you think, as the girl takes refuge in the back of the shop. It's not your habit to terrorize waitresses, not unless there's a good reason.

Your hand wanders to the side of your coat, feeling the edge of a large envelope.

This is a good reason.

"Yo, Valentin!" Shannon grins at you like you didn't just send her employee fleeing, her handheld game close to her side. The Asian man with the high cheekbones trails her every move. "How are you, huh? Catch something lyssaviral?"

"No," you say. You don't know what "lyssaviral" means, but you're not sick, so you'll take your chances. You glance at the specter over her shoulder. He regards you disinterestedly, and of course says nothing. "Actually, it's about your brother."

The change is startling. The cheeriness, the mania--it all slides away in an instant, revealing the true face underneath. Her eyes are burning. "Leave," she says, and you nearly take a step backwards before she specifies, "No. Not you. You. Stooge."

For the first time, you see the man with the high cheekbones form an expression: surprise.

"Are you waiting for a reason?" Shannon says. "Leave."

The man departs reluctantly. Shannon waits until the door to the back room is shut before speaking further. "Do you know who that is?" she asks.

"No," you say again.

"Tsutomu Shinomiya."

Shinomiya.

"Related to Koutarou Shinomiya?" you ask.

Shannon's face twists into a wry smile. It almost hurts to look at it. "You've done your research."

You contemplate your coffee. Take another swallow, even as you know you'll regret it. You won't catch a wink of sleep tonight.

"So, Tsutomu Shinomiya," you prompt.

"Tsutomu Shinomiya, son of Koutarou Shinomiya," Shannon says. Her tone is empty, her smile frozen. "After Terrence disappeared, Koutarou, our concerned host, suggested I return home. Tsutomu came with me. For my protection."

She shows her teeth.

"Protection from whom, I wonder?"

That's your cue. You thought you'd start with the photographs, but those can wait--you've carried these other spoils for days, now, folded over against the lining of your pocket. You can't read Japanese, but Harker can. Maybe his sister can, too.

"I'm told this says something about a Hakurei family," you say, and leaf past pages of lawyers in green trenchcoats and girls in purple dresses until you get to the important part. Hopefully, Kirikami was accurate enough when he translated the contents for you--if you're made a fool of here, you'll make his life a living hell.

Apparently, though, the kid isn't entirely useless, because Shannon's smile collapses onto itself, into a thin, grim line. "It does," she says.

Well, that's half the delivery.

You've got the other half out--the envelope with the photographs--and you're just about to leave that on the countertop and get out of here when Shannon says something else.

"Hakurei was my mother's maiden name."

Sandra's going to be angry tonight, you think, as you settle into a chair for a good explanation. It's going to be late-night microwaved pasta for the rest of the month. You're sure of it.

=== === === === === === === === ===

Kirisame doesn't leave you alone, of course. You get tired of introspection and decide to wander the village a bit more and still she follows, a constant presence over your shoulder. Making sure you stay on the right side of the law, obviously. Not that you have any intention of tripping that line--but you never had any intentions like that in the first place, and things turned out like that anyway, right?

You seem guilty, to an uneducated party. She thinks you're guilty. Hell, everyone in this little town probably thinks you're guilty. So you can understand her point of view a little, even if she is a quarter-brained yokel witch with a tendency for violence.

That said, understanding only goes so far. Soon you get a little tired of this, too--the black hat bobbing in the background, the eyes etching a mark in your head whenever you turn your back on her. You end up heading back to Kotohime's--trading one warden for a slightly less obnoxious one. You have to weather a lecture thread with more of that suspicious-suspicious-suspicious, but at least you know for sure you won't end up sucker-punched when it's finished.

Well, you nearly know for sure, anyway. You can't trust these villagers, any of them. Probably inbred. Which is why it's a good thing you're getting out. All you have to do is wait a little longer. There's a sunset, so you know it's coming soon. And then a supper, with the usual inane chatter, while you do your best not to look at the clock. And then--and then--

A half hour till midnight.

It won't take you thirty minutes to get there, but there's nothing wrong with getting there early. The sooner you see what plan Road Map's got cooked, the sooner you can make it back to Los Ojos. Maybe.

You hope.

You really, really, hope.

Even in the daylight the alleyway was dim. Now, in the dead of night, it's both dim and grim, like the kind of place you'd hold a clandestine meeting. Which is exactly what this is, you suppose. Road Map's already there when you arrive, nervously bent, the limbs on his thin frame twitching. Best not to startle him. He might bite it from fright alone.

"Hey," you call.

And he jumps. Just as you suspected--wound up tighter than a spring. "You came," he chokes out, once he regains a rough semblance of dignity. And then, as a smile of relief cracks across his face: "You came!"

You raise your arms before the guy can hug you--because that's seriously what he looks like he wants to do, hug you, maybe pat you on the back and give thanks at your feet. "You said you knew how to get out of Gensokyo?" you ask, reminding him of the reason for your reunion.

Road Map is little perturbed, however, that fool's grinning bright enough to serve in lieu of a streetlight (something else you'll be glad to see again). "Of course!" he says. "Yes, of course! But now we wait--it's no good if we don't wait until the rest get here."

"The rest?" Come to think of it, he did make it sound like it was more than the two of you in this little operation.

Road Map nods. "The rest. They'll come soon, so don't worry. They won't be late. They're never late."

"Yes," says a voice out of the darkness. "And sometimes we're even early."

The voice is male, rich with age. There's a nasal twinge to it you can only describe as "weaselish", though the man it belongs to doesn't seem to resemble a weasel at all, physically speaking. No, if anything you'd say he's a different species altogether--gorilla, judging by the thick, stocky arms and the protruding brow. He's also balder than a boiled egg, but that doesn't enter into it either way.

Well, he may not win any beauty pageants, but if he can get you home he'll have earned your admiration nevertheless. You smile, ignoring the sudden paranoia bubbling in your veins. "So, you're the one who can get me out, then?" you say.

The man smiles back at you. There's something unnatural about the way his expression forms--but it's night. Everything looks a little unnatural at night. "And you are Terrence Harker," he says, unceremoniously leaving your question by the wayside. "We've been searching for you for some time."

...Searching for you?

You open your mouth to ask what that's supposed to mean, but Road Map steals your opportunity. "Where's Tategami?" he asks, head twisting frantically from side to side. "Did something happen to Tategami? She didn't get caught, did she?" His voice begins to approach a keen. "She did get caught, didn't she. She got caught, and now you're here to tell me it's off--"

"Nobody got caught," the newcomer interrupts Road Map before the man can work himself into a seizure, patting him reassuringly on the shoulder. "Tategami is simply scouting the area, making certain our friend here wasn't followed. No offense," he says to you.

You nod, stiffly. "None taken," you respond. Your eyes haven't entirely adjusted to the dark, anyway, so whoever this Tategami person is, she can probably see miles further. "Who are you?" you ask.

That strange smile makes a reappearance, and again you think--unnatural. "If you're looking for a name, Mr. Harker, I'm afraid you won't get one," the newcomer says. "A name is the last thing to give freely in a place like this. A name draws interest--but I suppose this advice comes too late to be of any benefit to you. In any case, 'Tategami' isn't Tategami's real name, either."

Aliases. This person is really going for a "cloak and dagger" mood. "Alright," you say. "What should I call you, then?"

"'Shikkou' will suffice."

_ Questions? (write-in)
_ Other... (write-in)
>> No. 134913
[x] "So, uh, how're we supposed to get me out of Gensokyo, anyway?"

I honestly have no idea what to ask besides the obvious. Also,

>A name draws interest--but I suppose this advice comes too late to be of any benefit to you.

makes me wonder what he means about giving away your real name, and how it could've helped us if we didn't tell people it. I phrase it as a question, but I don't really know how I'd go about it.
>> No. 134914
[x] "So, uh, how're we supposed to get me out of Gensokyo, anyway?"
>> No. 134915
[x] "So, uh, how're we supposed to get me out of Gensokyo, anyway?"
>> No. 134916
[x] "So, uh, how're we supposed to get me out of Gensokyo, anyway?"

There should be something better to say than this since I doubt they just up and say something so important. I can't think of it though so might as well keep the train rolling.
I have feeling that this is going to get bad. It's just way to shady.
I'm worried about both of the Harkers.
>> No. 134933
[x] "So, uh, how're we supposed to get me out of Gensokyo, anyway?"
[x] "Why are you helping me do this? What's in it for you?"
[x] "Why the need for secrecy?"
[x] "Who are you afraid of being caught by?"
[x] "Does your organization have a name?"
[x] "Have you helped a lot of Outsiders this way?"
>> No. 134938
>>134915
Changing my vote to:
[x] "Why are you helping me do this? What's in it for you?"
>> No. 134951
[x] "So, uh, how're we supposed to get me out of Gensokyo, anyway?"

>>134933
All good questions to ask, but unfortunately Terrence isn't exactly Gabby McGee. Or Giveafuckbeyondselfinterest McGee.
>> No. 136572
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136572
Okay, right.

So I've got the next update ready (finally, I hear you muttering) and I'm just about ready to put it up except for one or two cosmetic issue. Nothing serious. It is more or less ready, though.

Still, as an apology for leaving you high and dry for so long--feel free to ask me some questions. Not about the plot, necessarily, because I'm not going to give things away so easily, but about the characters or the settings or whatnot. And when my update's ready, I'll start a third thread.

How's that?
>> No. 136592
Reread the entire thread, would of reread the first one too but it's not on the archive yet apparently. I'm glad I did since I noticed more things this time through. I have plenty of questions but they are all plot related. I think I enjoy exploring your characters and setting through your writing more than just asking questions since I don't have any specific questions about them.
I love your portrayal of Gensokyo because it feels "real". It's gritty and typically getting sucked into it means manual labor for the rest of your now shorter life. It's a nice contrast from the more pastoral interpretations.

I really want to see how things will continue, never stop writing.
>> No. 136594
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136594
>>136592
I'm glad you enjoyed reading this story. Really glad. I mean, really, seriously, extraordinarily glad.

That said, I feel like I ought to warn you in advance where the first thread is concerned. To be specific: it sucks. It sucks a lot. I really wasn't sure what I was trying to do when I first started out writing this story, and it shows; the plot sort of stumbles around in every direction at once, and not in a good way. It wasn't till the very last bits of part two that I finally figured out what kind of story I was writing, and even then it took me far too long to get myself in the proper sort of...rhythm? Mood? Atmosphere? Something like that, anyway.

Speaking of manual labor--if there's one thing I regret, it's that I didn't show more about the Outsiders living in Gensokyo. Take Road Map, for example--there's a story behind him. Then again, there's a story behind everyone. What's that glurgy saying? Something like, "everybody's the protagonist of their own story"?

Even that barista at Cafe Dream's got her own troubles. They just don't intersect with Gensokyo in any way.

...I'm not sure where I was going with this. Sorry.
>> No. 136597
>>136594
I also enjoy your version of gensokyo