February 28th, 06:40, 2013.

Ergh...

Why did that message had to pop up in the way back? It was annoying enough to escort Yukimura back to Nagano, but this? This was the crowning moment of annoyance...


I apologize in advance for not telling you this in advance. You were kind of occupied with your associate when he fell off.

I have some information concerning your quest in relation with some sort of white box. Well...more like information concerning the Foundation.

...A word of advice, since you have helped me. Cease your pursuit. It won't do you good in the long run. After all, you seem content with your current lifestyle. Why risk it all?

...However, after seeing your personality during your brief visit to Takagamahara, I believe you will not waver from your decision. And, even if you change your mind, I'm certain that those humans are aware of you, but not in complete detail.

Remember this. Ever since you brought Gensokyo into reality with the help of the fallen one and my brother, several actors have started appearing in Tokyo lately, without a doubt being attracted by the sudden burst of magnetite emerging from Nagano when it happened. So they will most likely find you first instead of the other way around. Prepare yourself for that...and when you bear witness of its existence with your own eyes, I'll submit a job request to your box. For now, it is not needed.

Take care.


Take care? You don't seem to realize, but you made my worries even worse.

Urgh. And I still have to deal with that being inside the forest and the case concerning the sudden stone skin disease that occurred as of late.

...Hmm, I guess that, with this job out of my mind, I can focus on solving them. Now that I know that they'll eventually find me, I guess I should at least aim to resolve these before things get even worse.

"...? What's wrong?"

"Eh?"

Reimu is really getting good at noticing my woes. Or am I getting sloppy around her?

"It's nothing." I yawned as I moved towards the box once more...

Hmph, empty. Well, more reason to search the village for information. But...

"...Hm? Ooh!"

I really regret giving her some manga to read. She can't stop now. Oh good god, what I have done?!

"Reimu."

"..."

"Are you even listening to me?"

"..."

Argh, it's a lost cause.

"Whatever. I'm going to the village for a while. Watch the box while I'm out."

"...Whoa, he can do that?!"

I guess I'll have to find a way to fix that...


...Nn, okay, fund management is proving hard to do with Reimu constantly asking for more food.

And balancing both yen and ryo in my wallet is kind of annoying.

In any case, I moved towards the village to ask for some more information, either to humans or youkai. In the way, I heard an...interesting conversation.

"Hey, don't you think that there has been more attacks as of late?" A young woman gossiped with some of her friends.

"Hm, yeah, now that I think about it, even if youkai frequent the village even more, the attacks did rise too."

"When did all of this started though?"

"...Actually, my mind's fuzzy about that. I think, out of the sudden, the shrine maiden was revealed a fake and then...I dunno."

I really don't need to hear this...

(THUD)

"Hm? Oh, sorry."

"...Oh, it's you."

Youmu. Ngh, she still sees me as a hostile. Can't blame her.

"What do you want? Or are you just going to nag at me?"

"...I only came to get some supplies, nothing else."

Hm, guess that bag is for that. Still, I wonder if she knows something.

"Hey, do you know something about the forest that appeared out of nowhere? I heard some sort of monster lurks there..." I said, hiding the fact that I knew about it. After all, if I revealed I knew about it already, she wouldn't tell me anything.

"...! I-I think it's just gossip, that's all."

"Then why so nervous all of the sudden?"

"Yeah, that's fishy indeed."

"But it seems that this thing has been attacking unknown bystanders. I really can't afford to lose potential clients, you know?"

"..." Youmu is pondering. Good. That's a good sign. "Actually, I have been also told to look after that thing from Yuyuko-sama..."

So she knows, and, by extension, Yukari too.

"Why?" I asked further.

"...Why do you care? It is not your business, after all."

Okay, pressing for answers now would be pointless. Dammit, I think she isn't willing to tell me. Hmm...

"Oh? Afraid we'll leave you out of your job?"

"...Hanta." She glared at me.

"Hey, why look at me? I still can't control what Lemat says."

This is getting me nowhere. It seems the only info I would get is about things I already know about.

"You know what, forget I aske-"

"Oh, funny finding you two around here."

Someone decided to cut the tension.

"Oh, a pervert appeared." Youmu said in the most blunt way possible.

"Ouch, you really are direct, don't you?"

"..."

"So...what are you doing here, Kihara?" I said.

"Come on, we know each other already. What's wrong with calling me Kyoji, eh?"

"Okay, fine. So, Kyoji, what are you doing here?"

"I could ask the same to you. Normally, you are hanging around with Reimu-chan, so it is unusual seeing you alone."

"Well, she's just being Reimu."

"Eh?"

"And that's the punchline." I sighed. "Anyways, seriously, what are you doing here, Kyoji?"

"Well..." His tone became somewhat more serious. "I have heard some startling facts. About this...new forest thing."

...!

"You too?" Youmu said.

So he might know more!

"Kyoji, tell us more."

"? Okay, sure." He started, although he was surprised by my eagerness. "Well, the info I have is sorta fuzzy too. From what I know, there is some sort of monster inside that forest. And that this certain forest just appeared out of the sudden, which is the biggest mystery of them all..."

"Don't make it look so dramatic..." I said.

"*sigh* You really take the fun out of everything."

And you really love playing around.

"Okay, so...do you wanna go there and check it out?"


I followed Kyoji to the Forest of Magic. Youmu also tailed along, for who knows what reasons.

Still, this is odd. The entrance of that forest is near the Human Village, not near the Forest of Magic. So maybe that forest is connected to this forest too.

The implications of this really doesn't make me feel good. That thing is able to sneak into both of these places. So not only can he target humans. Youkai too are not safe.

Hmm...

"What's wrong?" Kyoji asked.

"Eh? Ah, it's nothing." I said. "So, there's an entrance to that forest through this forest?"

"Yeah, like it or not." Kyoji said, with begrudging acceptance. "That explains the rumors about youkai too getting missing."

I knew it.

"So it is not only humans?"

"Yeah, for some reason. I still don't get why this thing does that. Or even if it has a purpose."

...


L...e...ve...p-p...ce...don...come...back...


I dunno, but it seemed awfully protective about something, if that thing decided to warn me. Still, just the fact that it managed to emulate speech amazes me. The damn thing is also smart, so, even if it seems unlikely, I doubt we can find clues of its whereabouts inside the forest.

"..."

"Hm? You seem lost in thought? Huh, I thought he was right when he said you had potential. Maybe he was wrong?"

...! That voice!

"Who's there?"

"If you want to know, come inside. You seek knowledge about this foe, do you?"

That tone of voice... Why is Loki here?!

"Get back here!" Youmu rushed inside...hey wait!

"Youmu-chan, it's too dangerous to go alone!"

Well, I can at least hope to get some information out of him...that is, if I can.


When I entered the forest once more, I found myself inside a thick fog, unlike with the other entrance, which lead to a small open field, with less dense fog. It's safe to say that I can't see at all.

"Hey, anyone out there?"

"Hanta, over here." Kyoji's voice came from the middle.

I moved forward, being careful with my footing since I can see shit.

"Oh good, you are here. Youmu-chan is also here, thankfully."

"..." Youmu really didn't seem pleased we followed her. "You guys better go back. This being seems powerful and I doubt you guys can handle it."

"Don't tell me what to do. Besides, I have some things to ask him." I told her. "Besides...you? Handle that trickster alone? You'd have better luck having him making fun of you."

"...! You...!"

"Hey hey, now young girl. You better listen to the Hanta a bit more. After all, he is still alive after going through several ordeals. Which is more than your accomplishments...if you have some."

"Speak all you want. You won't be tricking me any time soon." Youmu stated.

"Trick you?" Loki said, still hidden in the fog. "Nah, it'll be too easy. What I want, though, is to have some fun, you know?"

"Enough. You will cease your chatter!"

(SLASH!)

She did a swift, clean slash into the fog. Then another with the same speed and strength, until the fog began clearing due to her actions.

"*whistle* Not bad. Unnecessary, but not bad."

"Hmph." She withdrew her blades. "You have nowhere to hide..."

Er...Youmu, please look behind you and stop making yourself look more stupid.

"Youmu-chan, the-"

"Shh! Don't ruin it."

"Seriously, this'll be golden."

Youmu noticed then that something was wrong. Her fears were confirmed when Loki said the following...

"Ghost right behind ya."

"AAH!"

(SLASH!)

That...was a violent reaction. Actually, her face was one of fear and shock. Hm, does she fear ghosts so much?

"G-G-Ghost? ...No, t-there's no one here! ...Huh? You! You tricked me!"

"See? It's too easy that it's boring. Still, that's a nice reaction." Loki said, as he let go of the blade he just grasped in reaction.

"Rrrgh!"

Loki, as always, was wearing a different set of clothes...complete with a ridiculous hat. I think I have seen that hat in some of those western movies...

"Hey, calm down." I interrupted. "Besides, we want to find information, right? Fighting him would be pointless if that's our goal."

"See? Listen to the Hanta. At least the head over his shoulders is brighter than the average."

Hey.

"Hm? Why the frown? I'm all compliments today. You really take the fun out of everything, you know?"

"Seconded." Dammit Kyoji, whose side are you on?

"Ah, it seems he understands. Good! Good..."

"If criticisms about my mood are done, how about giving us some answers while at it? You know what the hell is that thing, correct, and what is his purpose?"

"Ah ah, one question at a time...and after you humor me, that is."

Grr, what the hell does this guy want?!

"What must I do to shut your mouth already?" Youmu was really getting impatient by Loki's nonchalant attitude.

"Oh? So you really don't want to know anything? Geez, I guess I must have misunderstood humanity's drive for knowledge, it seems..."

"Youmu, please just remain quiet. Let me handle this."

Even though I don't know how to make him cooperate. The guy seems to have some loose screws, after all...

"...Okay Loki, what do you want?"

"As I said, I want you guys to humor me...somehow. Come on, humanity has always been creative for many things, like finding new ways to grow, develop technology, kill each other and to waste time over and over again. I'm sure you can entertain a god."

He does make a good point. Still, I believe he expect us to suggest something.

Okay...maybe I should...

1) Suggest a contest of wits.

2) Suggest a play.

3) Do nothing.

Doing nothing would be stupid, as he can prove to be a good source of info. And I don't like acting as something else so...

"Hmm, what if we make some sort of contest?"

Contest? The things that pop in my head...

"Huh? What do mean by a contest?" Kyoji asked.

"Oho! I see!" Loki exclaimed. "A contest of wits then."

...Yeah, sure, let's go with that. I really want to get this over with.

"Contest?" Youmu apparently though the idea was ridiculous. "Look, we want answers. Not-"

(POOF!)

"Eh?"

The area in front of us turned into something out of a game show. Each one of us was standing over a game stand, with appropriate colors and all of that crap. Behind us a panel emerged, with the words "Exciting! Trickster's Grand Prix – 1!" plastered over it, again with the bombastic colors.

"Er, can I suggest something else?"

(APPLAUSE!)

Oh goddammit...

"Where is that applause coming from? Just what kind of trick is this?!" Youmu said, exasperated.

"Welcome~, lady and gentleman!" Loki, however, seem to be enjoying himself. "I am grateful to be the cunning, good-looking, graceful and lucky host for this once in a lifetime (possibly!) exhilarating event! It will be only 5 questions...and guess what, I'm feeling generous today! If you can answer 3 out of my 5 questions, you win!"

Good god, does he eat ham a lot?!

"What is wrong with you...?" Youmu, I think we are in synch about that thought.

"Now, to the subject of the contest! Let's go, baby!"

...To be fair, I kind of expected Loki to be this kind of wacko...

"Question number 1!" Loki proclaimed.

(DRAMATIC DRUM!)

Okay, where the hell are the sounds coming from?

"Do bat-eating spiders exist? Yes or no?"

...

(DING!)

"That's ridiculous." Youmu touching the buzzer and getting surprised by it. She collected her thoughts and explained. "A bat is way bigger than a spider. I really don't think that..."

"That's not right...!" Kyoji blurted out, slamming the buzzer and...doing an Objection! pose...

I believe you really don't have any dignity.

"W-What? You really believe that there are spiders that can eat bats?"

"Of course I don't. That's because I know already that spiders can eat bats! Hell, spiders have been eating bats all around...well, except in the poles, for obvious reasons."

"The poles?" Youmu, being ignorant about the outside world beyond of Japan, said.

"Well, you know, the poles." Kyoji said as if he expected her to know already.

"I think you have to illuminate her on that subject..."

"You'll have time for that later, little man, but, yes, you are correct!"

(APPLAUSE!)

(RANDOM DING!)

Seriously, where the hell is that coming from?

"Ah, don't bother, Hanta. Besides, you are two answers away in order to ask me anything."

"I guess so..."

Still...spiders are eating bats...hmm...

"Alright~! Here's comes question number 2!" Loki exclaimed. "Alright, are japanese swords better than european ones, and why?"

Huh? ...Okay, I really have no clue about that.

"...Ngh. I think...japanese swords are..."

"Hold it there." Youmu objected. Interesting. "Even though I handle them, I really cannot say the overall quality of our swords compares to the western ones..."

"Oh? And why's that?"

"...The iron we use isn't that strong...well, it is not that pure as we needed. For their usual manufacture, several foldings of the iron has to be made to even develop a well made blade. The process takes quite some time and it has to be done very carefully. And even then, it is quite a delicate process..."

Ah, interesting. I never knew she was knowledgeable in that subject. And, the way she is speaking about this subject, it seems she is somewhat of a fan of forging japanese swords.

I mean, speaking about them with that gleaming face is a very obvious clue...

"Hmm, nice trivia, but you aren't answering my question."

"I was getting to that...hat-san." Youmu said, apparently ticked off because Loki interrupted her. "I have to say...that no, they aren't better. However, they aren't worse either. The myths behind the folding of the japanese swords are way exaggerated. It doesn't make it better...it just makes it equal to the other blades..."

There is some disappointment in her words...

"But still, the art of making one of our katanas is something to behold." Youmu finished that statement with a lot of pride.

"...Meh, it's passable. Correct!"

(APPLAUSE!)

(DING!)

Okay, last one. Let's just get this over with...

"Alright, one more! Heh, this has been easy overall..." Kyoji shouted.

"Oh really?"

Uh-oh.

"Heh...don't get so cocky, boy." Loki said. "But, if you consider this difficulty setting way too easy, maybe we can go to Lunatic right away."

Lunatic? What the hell do you mean?

"Huh? N-No, wait, I..." Kyoji realized his mistake way too late.

"Alright, since popular demand of one demands it, I'll change the last question to something more...challenging."

Screw you, Kihara.

"Okay, hope you are ready~! Here it is."

The next question was one I really wish I could avoid answering... I mean, it is just so...dark...

"How would you kill someone without raising suspicion over yourself? And with an example, please~!"

I...

"Wha-?!"

"H-Hey, you are kidding right?" Kyoji, he's not joking at all. Ironic, I know.

"Nope! I really want your possible methods of doing so. Don't be shy! I won't tell anyone. Truuuust me...besides, humanity has been killing each other in a daily and worldly basis! What are you so surprised about?"

You really aren't making this easier!

"...Hey, I'm waiting for your answers, you know?"

Nobody dared to speak. I mean, who could? He's basically asking us how we can kill. Do you know how messed up that sounds for people who haven't committed murder before?

As for me...

...No, I can't say it. Not if they are hearing. I really wish I could still live here and not be looked at as a murderer.

"How...how can you be asking about such topics with a straight face?" Youmu was losing her cool, as she began reaching for her swords. "That's just wrong! I shall judge you myself!"

(FINGER SNAP!)

"Eh?"

Youmu tried drawing her blades once more. However, as we soon realized, the swords were encased in ice, making her efforts to draw them out useless.

"Hey now..." Loki sighed. "I never said you could attack me. After all, you really don't want to fight me and, let's face it, I'm giving you a really good opportunity to get information. You just have to answer my question, okay?"

The attack didn't seem to tick him off, thankfully. I can't say the same for Youmu, which was still trying to draw her swords.

"This is...impossible...!" Youmu, this is your fourth try. Give it up already.

"Please, I'm being kind today. Just answer the question and you'll win." Loki said. "What else is there to understand."

"...Ngh...!"

The silence lingered. Youmu couldn't help but feel frustrated by all of this. She attempted to say something to answer, but retracted herself.

"It's not honorable...it's not honorable...ugh...!"

"Upupupu~" Who laughs like that? "What's wrong? Come on, your time is running out..."

"I...I...!"

(BZZT!)

Ah!

"Oops, times up." Loki declared, sighing while making a shrug. "Well, you still have two more tries, so keep it up. However, I guess there should be a penalty of sorts, don't you think?"

(FINGER SNAP!)

"...Nughk?"

Kyoji and I both were shocked to see that Youmu's mouth and ears were gone! She also noticed and panicked due to her state.

"Nnhh?! Nngh!"

"...! Hey, turn her back to normal!"

"Okay...just after you answer the question. After all, you were the one that wanted to be more difficult."

"I just said it was being too easy!" Kyoji argued.

"And I agreed! So I decided to spice it up a bit! After all, it if continued like that, the conclusion would've been boring."

...From your point of view, that is.

"Shit...!" Kyoji cursed under his breath. "Well...I...I think I have an idea..."

"Really?"

"Oh, really? Then tell us. I'm eager with anticipation."

Kyoji bit his bottom lip. He really doesn't have anything to say. He just want Youmu to be turned back to normal. Like it or not, the only way to do so is to answer his damn question.

"Tick-tock, tick-tock..."

"Grr...!"

The time passed, without both of us saying anything...

(BZZT!)

"Wait, hang on-mmph...!"

And he had no mouth, but yet still screamed...

Well, shit.

"Oh. Too bad. Time's up again. Now...Hanta, I hope you have an answer...that is, if you really don't want to have your mouth and ears removed."

"...If I answer right, will they get them back?"

"Sure. After all, I'm feeling nice today. Don't worry, I'm a man of my word." He said.

...Yet you are more famous by being a troll, in many ways than one. And, as much as I hate it, it was my fault to be stupid enough to ask information out of you.

"...Although, you can always go back and forget everything, leaving them like that and sparing yourself..."

I know...but...

*sigh*

I guess, since they can't hear me anymore, I can speak normally, right?

"Loki, a question. Are they...?"

"Yeah, I can assure you that they can't hear a thing. Why don't you test it out?"

Fair point.

"Kyoji, you are a massive pain in the ass sometimes and I really wish you get more stable around women. And Youmu, face it, I kicked your ass."

They only had puzzled looks, but they didn't seem offended.

"Sold." I sighed. "Okay, but if you tell anyone..."

"My lips are sealed."

"More like one is scarred, but whatever..." I commented.

...It is a cruel memory I have to recall if I really want to make him spill the beans. Well, life isn't easy, so what am I whining about?

"...This is somewhat long, so I beg you be patient."

I cleared my throat as the memories flooded my head, making me recall a lot of unwanted stuff...

"Three years ago...wait, no, forgot the time skip. Ahem, eight years ago, there was a time in which I wasn't as lenient as I am right now, and that fact wasn't helped by the fact I have such recently started as a cleaner. At that point, I really didn't mind if I cut someone down or anything. I felt no sympathy for my targets."

"But that's not the focus of the story, right?"

"Of course." I stated dryly. "As a cleaner, I had one rule...or more like a policy. 'Leave no trace behind that might lead to the client.' Since I depended on that money to subsist, I really took any measures possible to fulfill my contract under that condition. This leaves us to one specific event that risked that..."

It has been so long.

"It was my third job. I had to go to Shibuya to find some loan shark that, ironically, owed us quite an amount of money. The deadline had arrived so I was sent to retrieve our share...and to get rid of the nuisance in the way."

"Ooh~, interesting! Go on, go on!"

Dammit, it pisses me off how giddy he's about this subject...

"Ugh, according to the info I got that day, I found out that the target recently moved near Udagawa-cho, so I decided to move about 2 hours before midnight. Even if Shibuya is more active at nighttime, it is still hard to identify people in the dark." I paused for a second, then continued. "When I got there, I found my target, about to sleep. He was intoxicated, lucky me, I thought back then, so I moved in for the kill."

"And things went smoothly?"

"...Things never go smoothly." I stated.

"Of course. Geez, it seems you have good and bad luck mixed in a bag that is yourself."

"You see, I messed up. There was someone else in there. And it was a brat, a bit younger than me. I think it was his son."

Loki's eyebrows, instead of rising up with interest, lowered when I said that. Apparently, it seems he really didn't like where I was going.

"Wait, what?"

"Yep. Poor kid looked destroyed, as if his world shattered in front of him. I think he didn't know what kind of business my target had, and was shocked by his death. I had no compassion for that kid. And I considered killing him too, since I didn't want any witness. But..."

"Things never go smoothly?"

"Of course..." I sighed. "Apparently, that bastard was expecting getting killed, don't even ask me how the hell did he predict that, so he set up a trap. I could hear siren getting near the apartment, so I had to run, but the poor kid saw my face and could possible identify me. *sigh* What I did next was one thing I really not proud at all to have done...I...rigged the scene so that it looked that the son killed the father."

"What?!"

Even him? Urgh, I feel so...disgusted of how I was.

"Well, it isn't that hard, after all. But I really needed for it to be convincing, so...with the knife I was to slit his throat...I stabbed myself.

"...Okay?" Loki's face actually seemed to say "Were you insane?!".

"And I forced the knife in the kid's hands and jumped out of the window, crashing two stories below over some trash bags. I left no fingerprints, since I always wore leather gloves in the job. I had an emergency exit planned beforehand, so I escaped...and I guess the japanese law did the rest for me, while I went to Sadoku's clinic in Shibuya. Not enough evidence...and the fact I pretended to kill myself, left the kid to be the only suspect .. those were enough for making me go away undetected... Are you happy now, Loki?"

"..."

His face basically told me that he didn't expect my tale to be so...cruel. And both Kyoji and Youmu just looked confused by his reaction.

"...Correct. And, my goodness, how did you mellow down from being like that?"

"Well, after that whole fiasco, the higher ups began to see me as a teen psychopath, so they assigned Yukimura to be my partner, whether I liked it or not. And, to be fair, I also didn't feel good doing that deed. I really couldn't rest well with that face of horror popping up every time I saw a child like that. It was stagnating, and it made my performance at work very low. That's where I drew the line when dealing with targets with children."

"Hmm, so you had some sort of conciense back there. Interesting to know."

"Huh. Well, that was surprising."

"Shut up." I grumbled. "So, that's that. And as a bonus, I revealed to you I was more of a jerk than I am right now. And, I expect you keep your word and not tell anyone of this. Especially Reimu. I really don't want to disappoint her with my past..."

"Huh. You are also a hypocrite."

"Excuse me?!"

"Weren't you the one that told the phoenix girl that the past was not important? And yet, here you are, disappointed by your previous deeds. Either you are more complex than I imagined...or you are very used to lying...buuuut, to be fair, that makes you much more fun to watch."

"...Well, if you believe that, then I suggest you tread lightly around me..." I said. "Besides, you had your fun, didn't you? Then I expect you fulfill your part of the bargain."

"Oh, sure."

(FINGER SNAP!)

Both Youmu and Kyoji's faces returned to normal. They let out very long sighs of relief. However...

"How could you...?!"

"Hey hey, easy there! It's over!" I reassured her before she did something stupid. "Calm down."

"Don't you order me around..." Geez, Youmu, I know you hate me, but really? "Thanks to you, now I have a very, very traumatic experience in my mind! Please, just...don't talk to me."

"*shrug* Suit yourself."

"Brr, still, that was...scary..." Kyoji commented. "Still, what did you answer?"

"...I'll tell you later." I lied. "So, Loki, the info, please."

It seems they really couldn't hear anything. What a relief...

"Alright, alright..." He sighed, snapping his fingers once more.

(POOF!)

The ridiculous stage vanished, leaving us around surrounded in the dense fog. However, Loki was still visible.

"Here's the thing about the thing. See? That rhymes. Haha, but seriously, I would tread carefully if I was a human like you. That being is not natural, after all."

"You are telling us stuff we already know..."

"Hmm, then how about this?"

(FINGER SNAP!)

"Receiving data..."

Huh? The iPhone is...

(DING!)

I checked again. The screen showed now a complete map of the forest, including every little detail I wanted to know about the forest. Details like pathways, distance, hell, even humidity and temperature...I think those were unnecessary.

Hmm? It seems there's an exit about 3 miles to the north from here. There is no data about those parts, though.

"I will tell you, that being hasn't gone out of the forest. In fact, it seems it went further in, apparently deciding that it wasn't safe anymore. It seems you did a very good job back then."

How does he know that? How is he, along with Louis, keeping track of me?!

"You haven't told me about its purpose."

"...Well, the only fact for certain I know is that, whatever it's goal is, it requires flesh and blood, it doesn't even matter from who it belongs. You could argue that it might be building a body. For it or someone else, who knows? I, for sure, don't have the slightest clue."

So he doesn't know either? Great, there goes my luck.

"Wait, you fought it?!" Youmu said in surprise. Oops.

"Cat's out of the bag. I had help from Reimu and the reporter, though."

"Geez, man, but still, you managed to drive that thing back. That's amazing on its own right!"

"Hmph. Skilled or not, you still fight with no honor."

"But it's practical." I countered.

"If that's all, I'll be leaving now. What you do with this info depends on you. Bye-bye!"

And he vanished into the fog...

...

...Maybe I should check where does this place lead too...

"You are coming?"


"Ooh, it feels like exploring a dungeon in Dragon Quest!"

"Quest of what?" Youmu asked.

"Ignore him." I said. "Actually, it is surprising you decided to follow us."

"...I just want to end this quickly. That's all."

Fair enough.

The fog was getting thicker once more, but I still knew we were on the right track. Leaning to the west, we took the passage there and moved forwards, turning to the right on the next bifurcation, until...

"Huh? Hey, there's supposed to be an exit in front of us."

Instead, only a massive wall of thorns stood in our way. And, checking the ground, I noticed...blood, dropped in such a way that it seems like if someone forced itself through...

Did that thing cross through?

"So...we're stumped. Great (?)."

"Hey, leave the snark to me."

"If you think an obstacle as this will stop me..." She said, brandishing her swords. "You are very wrong!"

(SLASH!) (SLASH!)

The vines were ripped apart by the swift and deadly strikes of our resident samurai gardener here.

"Geez, if that's how you treat your plants back in Hagyasomething, I really don't want you to help getting rid of the weed near the shrine."

"...I am more used to practice my skills with the blade than gardening, yes..." Youmu seem a bit embarrassed about that subject.

(RUMBLE!)

...!?

"Is it me or is the ground shaking?"

"It's not only you, man." Kyoji reassured me.

The mist also began getting thicker, if that's even possible. The next we heard what the sound of...timber and leaves rustling.

"...I think you shouldn't have cut them down." I said, taking some steps back out of precaution. "I suggest you move."

"Huh? Why?"

(SLASH!)

"...ARGH!"

As an answer to that, a vine filled with thorns lashed from the quickly regenerating wall, assaulting Youmu's arm, so that it made her drop one of her swords. The vine quickly grabbed the wakizashi and pulled back.

"No! Give it back...ugh!"

"Hey, you are bleeding from your good arm. I think you better leave it for now until you have a good plan to recover it." I said. "Besides..."

(CRACK!)

They all realized what was I talking about when the earth tore open and a mass of thorny vines began to fill the small open field we were just in, and in a really alarming rate.

"I don't know you guys want to stay here and be flayed by those things, but I think it is better to fall back for now."

"Seriously? Come on, partner, grow a spine already."

"I'm not being a coward. I'm just being cautious."

"..." Youmu didn't say anything, as she clutched her bleeding arm. "You know where the exit is, don't you?"

She came to her senses.

"Alright...follow me, quickly!"

We turned tail and began running to the opposite directly, avoiding the attacks from the vines. The ground still shook while we were running away, though...


*pant* *pant*

I...think we are okay. I recognize these trees here. We made it back to the Forest of Magic.

"Hey, Youmu-chan, how's your arm?" Kyoji asked with concern.

"A wound like this won't drag me down...ngh..."

She winced.

"I guess your mouth betrays you on that regard."

And looking directly at the arm, I have to say that is really cut deep in.

"We need to disinfect that. Kyoji, do you have medical alcohol by your house?"

"Sure! Let's go there quickly."

"I don't need your help. I can take care of myself. I'm not a child!"

You do realize you are basically throwing a tantrum about not getting treated, you know?

"Alright, fine. I don't see any problem leaving you to bleed out and possibly collapse due to infection and blood loss."

"Cruel. Nice, I like it."

"..."

Any second now...

"Just take me there."


Kyoji's house is still a mess to behold. Frankly, it isn't as bad as Marisa's, but still...

"I'm going to get the medkit. Hang on a sec."

Kyoji moved towards another room, leaving me with Youmu.

"..."

"Still angry about the aftermath?" I said. "Look, I know Yuyuko handed you a mission, but..."

"No, it's not that." Huh? "I...just dislike the fact that you, of all people, helped. I don't get it. You are someone with no honor, and yet..."

"Look, the fact that I like pragmatism doesn't mean I am a bad person."

Granted, I'm not a completely nice guy, but still, I'm trying to at least be somewhat...social.

"Okay..." I began. "You have your cut-it-all blades, I got this...bokuto. You have ridiculous foot speed, I...lost mine. Honestly, the only way I can still be efficient is by doing foul play or outsmarting them."

"A fight won like that is not of value to me."

"But at least let me live for another day."

She looked at me quizzically.

"Well, you do look kind of weak now. I think without your spell cards...along with the spell card rules being useless, you are basically a normal human."

"Tell that to Marisa."

She held her laughter, as she noticed the joke. I guess she does have her funny side.

"Haha, you are right. She isn't normal, even if she says otherwise." She added.

"Still, I kinda wonder why does she steal so much? I mean, why have too much if you are not going to use it?"

"I can see the point there, but seriously, it's how that magician is."

...Still think there is something, but oh well, it's not my problem.

"Alright, I'm back." Kyoji said. "Hanta, could you help me?"


It seems Youmu's can't stand getting her wounds sterilized like that. For much bravado she has, it seems she's sensitive about many small things, like ghosts, for example.

"Ouch, it's stings...!"

"Hey, don't touch it!"

Youmu's arm was finally bandaged and I realized I haven't actually started thinking about what to do about that wall of thorns.

Cutting it is out of the question, since it apparently only makes it angry. Hmm, what about burning it down? ...Then again, the prospect of being flailed by burning vines is not pretty at all.

If I really want to do that, I'll need a meat shi-

Oh.

I wonder if Mokou feels like helping next time.

"Still, you guys are wondering what's beyond that wall of vines? If the trail of blood is to be trusted, that thing went through it...somehow."

"Hmm..."

I checked the iPhone once more, much to Youmu's confusion.

"I have been wondering about what exactly is that thing. Mind explaining?"

"It's an iPhone."

"...What?"

Ugh, why do I have to explain everything?

Basically, I gave her a small rundown of what the iPhone was and how useful it is. She still seemed bamboozled by it.

"I still don't get it."

"Nevermind that." I sighed. "Anyways, I'm really trying to check if there isn't another way to pass through."

"...Hm, I kinda doubt that. See here? The only exit is through that wall of thorns, whether we like it or not."

"Besides, I have to best the wall if I wish to recover Hakurouken. I just can't leave that blade."

She seems determined to recover her weapon. Hm, is it some sort of extra importance about it that I am not understanding here?

"Well, seems you are better now. In celebration to that, I guess we should eat something, you know?" Kyoji said.

No, it is obvious you are the only one who's hungry here and just want us to keep you company. Still, I guess I put you in that mess with Loki, so...

"Yeah, sure, why not? I'm up for some grub."


"Oh, welcome!" Mystia seems to always be glad of having new customers.

"I want the usual." I told her.

"If you have some miso ramen, I'll be delighted."

"...Some green tea would be nice." Youmu said.

"Alright~. Just wait for some minutes, okay~?"

She sure is getting better at greeting and retaining customers.

"*sigh* It sure is nice to enjoy some warm ramen after such a messy day." Kyoji said, laughing a bit. "Haha, kinda funny, right?"

"...If that's an attempt to start a conversation, you are seriously falling at it." I said, trying to mess with him for the lulz.

"Hey."

"What I think we should be talking about is how to get through that wall of thorns. I really want to get rid of that thing as fast as I can, so that I can get customers normally."

"How pragmatic. Didn't expect anything else from you." Youmu said.

Was that a criticism or a compliment?

"Anyways, any ideas?"

"Cutting it is out of the question" Youmu said. "Maybe burning it?"

I was thinking something similar, but...

"I see your point, but suggest how. I don't think it is not going to let itself be ignited. Well, I was thinking something along the lines of getting Mokou to help, but I'm not sure if she wants to help."

"I can summon Cerberus and try to burn it down." He said, taking his custom revolver out.

"Ah, that's right. You had some sort of familiar with you."

"Demon."

"Does it matter?" I tried to drive the conversation back on track. "We could try doing both, but then, we would still need some sort of attack plan. I mean, I'm not even sure if that wall of thorns can control the trees around that area, since the earth shook too when we attacked it."

"Haven't thought of that." Youmu added. "If that's the case, then we are in a dire disadvantage."

"Hmm..."

We let out of a collective sigh.

"Oh dear, your sigh is contagious!" Kyoji, focus.

"Hm? Raim, you were hungry already?"

I turned around to see Reimu and Marisa, greeting us while sitting next to us. Apparently, she decided to hang out with Marisa out of boredom and got hungry.

"Don't tell me you want me to pay for your food too?"

"If you don't mind~." Both Reimu and Marisa said at the same time.

Crap.

"Urgh."

"I take that as a 'yes'."

She's getting more cunning the more time it passes.

"Anyways, you were talking about something. Come on, spill the beans! I'm eager to do something, you know?"

"Yeah, since that thunder guy in the SDM really doesn't let you invade that easily."

"Hmph!" Marisa scoffed the other way, muttering something under her breath. Guess Narukami is doing something good worthwhile. "I'll get him eventually. Just you wait!"

"Sure. And I'll be here playing the world's smallest violin..."

"...I don't get it."

"Whatever." I sighed. Then again, Marisa herself is useful in these kind of situations... "Actually, if you wanna know what we were talking, I can fill you in. It is for both of our interests after all."

"Eh?"


"So, that thing went through a wall of thorns and you want to get through it, right?" Marisa repeated what I said. "Haven't you tried blasting it?"

"I was expecting you to suggest that. And no, we didn't."

Face it, I'm not as trigger happy as you.

"Aw, why not?!"

"Because we don't share your penchant for...explosive tendencies." Youmu finished. "The safest thing we came up with was to burn the field down, along with the wall."

"Would that cause a forest fire?"

"...Our goal is to kill that thing, not secure the forest." I said bluntly.

"..."

"..."

Oi, why are you looking at me like that? Can't I just focus our task on what's prioritary?

"Dude, that's cold."

"Urgh, fine! We'll try something more conservative then!"

"No, I did not say that!" Marisa quickly said. "At least we can try only igniting the wall, you know?"

"Whose side are you on?!" I snapped.

"Enough! We are losing track of the subject in hand." Thank you, Youmu. "In any case, the fact is that we need to get through that wall and get back my wakizashi."

Now who's losing track?

Hmm, so a solution that doesn't create a full blown forest fire... Maybe concentrated fire in one spot.

If that's the case, I can...

"Hm, that could work."

"What are you talking about?"

I finished eating my food, stood up and prepared to leave.

"Hey! Where are you going?"

"Just preparing some stuff for our little operation here. Don't worry, I won't take too long, maybe a day or two."

"H-Huh?!"

I gave Mystia her pay and left.

...After all, I have something to build.