Hello, one and all, and welcome back to Closer to the Rising Sun!

In this chapter, we have... uh... for the most part unplanned plot exposition.

Whoopsies.

But there's a twist that makes it different from every OTHER time: This is stuff you guys wouldn't have been able to figure out yet! 8D

*smacked with frying pan*

Lilac: ... I'll take charge of thanking reviewers if you do the disclaimer.

Mimiru: Deal.

Lilac: Ahem. Thanks to Daughter of Kabegami and TheManWithBacon for reviewing, your support is appreciated, etc. etc. etc. Mimiru, let's start the show.

Mimiru: Senom299 doesn't own Okami/den and owns only her own OCs.

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It ended as quickly as it had begun, according to Emil.

The inferno, the twisted shrieks of agony, the black blood sprayed all over the ground... it all gave way to the mists of time, regaining its hold over Kaihinmura. I almost fell back against him from exhaustion, somehow staying on my feet and then just collapsing on my knees.

"Is it over?" I groaned, turning and laying back on the sand. Emil sheathed his scrimitar, letting out a long breath.

"Yeah. Fun times, eh, Frostbite?"

"Whatever."

He shook his head and knelt down next to me. "You held up pretty well, Frostbite. Not bad."

"I've been hardened by adventure." I glanced at my left arm, bandaged and bloody. "So this form I have in Kaihinmura is from right when I left Nippon, right?"

"Assumedly." Emil shrugged. "I didn't know you then-you tell me."

"This cut on my shoulder. I got it from Oni Island, which was about a day or two before the end." I traced my fingers over the source of the bleeding. "It feels like it's still healing again."

"Sorry to hear that. You'll live through it." The village guardian extended a hand. "Well, Frostbite, get on up. I think you're due back out of here."

"Chibi and Kurow can not be done yet." I rolled my eyes, accepting his hand and getting to my feet. Emil shrugged.

"Maybe, maybe not. I'm just praying Sayuri's nightmares don't come back around here while you're in the area. I can handle it here, but you'd best be getting out before you get hurt."

"Get out and then do what?" I sighed.

Emil threw his hands up. "Don't look at me. Go train with that new spearblade of yours."

My eyes snapped up to him. "So it's mine now?"

"Sayuri's to yours." He nodded. "Take care of Dreamcatcher, you hear? You handled yourself pretty well with it, but-"

"I'll be fine." I shook my head and slid the spearblade through my belt loop where Third Tempest had been. "I guess I'll just follow your advice, then."

"Good plan." Emil gave me a thumbs up. "See you around, Frostbite."

I waved and then hightailed it out of Kaihinmura, through the cave and out into Ryoshima Coast. The air felt heavy somehow, like something was coming.

"The boys can't be back yet." I muttered, slowing my pace considerably. "Maybe I'll go hang out on Watcher's Cape or something..."

And so I did.

As soon as I hit Watcher's Cape, I caught a glimpse of something on the horizon. Clouds, swirling around... something.

"Holy crap, so that's what a storm looks like from a distance... Small storm," I realized, squinting out at it.

Wait a second.

A storm?

Heading for Ryoshima Coast?

I crouched down, blocking the sunlight out of my eyes and trying to get a proper glimpse of it. Yeah, that was a storm all right, but it also didn't look like one.

There's a storm headed straight here.

And suddenly, it clicked.

"Oh, shit." I swore, ignoring all the work I'd done trying not to, and leapt to my feet.

The two in Kaihinmura were calling up a storm.

For the love of the Great Storm-

What they called a 'Great Storm'.

That didn't mean anything good.

I turned on my heel to dash back to Kaihinmura, and made it all the way to the cave-

-and it was blocked off.

"What the HELL!?" I slid to a stop. It was as if rocks had fallen in front of the entrance, but when could that have happened?

"He blocked me out of there on purpose." My hands curled into fists. "Fantastic."

It wasn't about your safety. Mimiru seemed to be in a good mood. It's about their plan.

"Sayuri and Emil are not the villains." I snapped out loud. "That's a load of crap is what it is!"

I felt myself being pulled down into her domain and didn't even fight it. The manifestation looked wraithlike, powerful, but made no move to injure me or start a fight. She had no weapon but her words.

"Then you tell me what the Great Storm is, Lilac." Mimiru stood up, crossing the chessboard floor and standing a space away from me. "Oh, wait, you wouldn't know, would you?"

She summoned a tome into her hand and flipped through it, then smirked.

"But I would. A shame that the Storm Tribe tool wouldn't."

"Tool?!" I snatched for the book, but Mimiru held it out of my reach.

"An agent of the Sisters Fate knows." She let go of the tome and it hovered in the air, flipping through pages on its own. "The Great Storm. That hasn't happened in centuries, has it? Six, I think."

I paled as the manifestation folded her hands behind her back and recited off history I hadn't even known existed.

"The Great Storm was a hurricane raised by the People of the Storm, who dwelled on the Northern half of Ryoshima Coast six hundred years ago." She began. "They had one pact with the other people of South Coast, and one pact only-once a year, every July, in your months, one child would be sacrificed to the gods to make up for their sins against each other. There was a catch-each tribe chose that child and gave them to the other tribe to murder in the dead of night."

I felt my breath catch in my throat, but Mimiru went on.

"Now, the Great Storm... oh, that was a special occasion. The Great Storm occured only thrice in Nippon's history, and every time it struck the coast, it obliterated Kaihinmura. After the first time, they rebuilt in the same place, but the second... they made that pact to switch territories with South. It didn't work, because the third time came and went... and the village was set aflame before the raging storm struck. It was never rebuilt, for without being able to escape their village first and not knowing until then that the storm would follow them... everyone was lost."

Mimiru paced back and forth, ignoring my expression. Or maybe savoring it. Probably the latter.

"But why would the Storm Tribe call such a storm, and how could they when there are none left?" Mimiru pretended to think about it. "Oh, wait... there is."

I backed up against the curtains, which abruptly became wall.

"You, the Storm Tribe tool." The manifestation took the book back into her arms. "Marked by their symbol on your eye. You exist to serve one purpose to them. Sad, isn't it?"

I gritted my teeth. "You're full of shit."

"Oh, a mark on the eye... doesn't that sound familiar?" Mimiru paused. "The Moon Tribe boy must be a tool of theirs, too."

Something tightened in my chest and without thinking, I rushed forward and tried to hit her. Mimiru stepped back, and I collapsed on the floor. Damn her...

"Two tools of the tribes. Isn't that dramatic? But I know what happens to tribe tools, because they do happen more often than you think." Mimiru leaned over. "Do you want to know?"

I glared up at her, teeth still gritted.

"A tool's task is to do what someone else cannot be wasted for. They choose the least valuable being available, and if there are none... they create them. Or, in this case, choose one from much later in that Parallel's timeline. Who's going to care about someone from a different part of the timeline, someone who no one knows?"

"So Kurow's from later in this timeline?" I raised an eyebrow.

"Or the first option. Interesting how that works." Mimiru shrugged. "But the beginning doesn't matter, because at the end, every tool meets the same fate. They are chosen for their duty because when it ends, their lives cease to be."

My heart stopped in my chest. But for some reason, I didn't feel fear. No shock.

Just... rage.

I pushed myself back to my feet, the words leaving my mouth before I knew they'd formed. "So why are you out after me if I'm destined to die to begin with?"

Mimiru scowled. "Sayuri didn't just bend the rules-she shattered them. You were never supposed to exist to begin with. In every other Parallel, it's the same thing... Your grandmother jumps off the train with no god in shining armor to sweep her off her feet. In this Parallel, she survived and made it back to the new world to carry on the bloodline she'd been injected with."

My eyes narrowed as Mimiru gestured to the mirror. "Lily didn't even look the way she did in this timeline in the others. She was a mostly-innocent girl of Spanish descent who didn't even believe in the gods of this world." Sure enough, an image of a teenager with curly black hair blurred into view, throwing herself off the cliff edge.

It blurred again, and refocused on her corpse, sprawled across the bottom of the valley with unblinking eyes and blood coating the rocks. I felt like I was about to throw up as it misted back over and the manifestation turned back to me.

"Why would Sayuri choose her? Because she would be forgotten. Because she would serve no purpose after a certain number of years had been spent in her life in the new world. Maybe she thought she was doing your grandmother a favor." Mimiru crossed her arms over chest. "But Lily served her no purpose. All she did... was hang back in the shadows and acquaint herself with the goddess and her companions."

My eyes widened as Mimiru pressed a hand against the glass. "The master plan wasn't even complete then. No, Lily wouldn't still be an ally, be so invaluable to them if Sayuri hadn't intervened further. The Great Storm wasn't to strike for another hundred years. So a future event was locked into motion... the event that would revive her so that she could go back in time and convince the goddess's alliance to accept Lily like an ally. But that deal also included one thing... a tool of the Storm Tribe would be chosen from a descendant of Lily's. A close descendant. Not the child, so that the bloodline could continue in the new world after all, but rather one of the two grandchildren.

"The deal," the manifestation continued, staring me dead in the symbol-embedded eye, "stated that the aforementioned descendant would be watched over by the goddess's alliance so that she would survive long enough for the Great Storm to strike. And upon that time, the body of the tool would be stolen. That tool would cease to be."

The twisted haven she had built in my mind fell silent. Surprisingly, I didn't feel shocked. No wonder my body had altered to Sayuri's appearance. No wonder Ammy and Waka had been so open to me joining the party, that I'd been practically babysat the whole way. No wonder that the miracle had occurred... Lily and I hadn't been brought to Nippon by some sort of chance. It hadn't been Lily who convinced Waka to help her bring me here.

Sayuri, imprisoned in her crystal form in Kaihinmura, had organized everything from the future. And at the same time, she'd been behind it from the start.

"And your job is to kill me before that happens." I finished. My throat felt dry and my heart was beating to get out of my chest with a sledgehammer.

"Half right. I have two choices." Mimiru's eyes were hazed over emotionlessly. "I can eliminate you before Sayuri takes over, or after and wipe her out with it. The second would be preferable, although originally I was intended firstly to kill you."

"So you're choosing to spare me until Sayuri takes over."

"Maybe. I'm still thinking about it." The manifestation shrugged. "But the interesting thing is, they made it work in a way that you really do serve a bit of an interesting purpose. You manipulate emotion and turn it into energy, and the little sun god personally looks up to you like an older sister. He's grown attached to you, and you to him."

I felt my arm shaking and steadied it with my other hand, leering into her cold gaze.

"Don't you dare even try to bring Chibi into this, because he has nothing to do with it."

"And the fact that you crossed paths with the Moon Tribe tool, who Chibiterasu claims as his brother." Mimiru tilted her head. "I wonder what his purpose is?"

"You are going to shut the hell up. Now." I took a step back.

"Either way, you're both destined to die."

"SHUT UP!"

Mimiru finally fell silent. Black blood dripped from the ceiling, pooling on the floor.

"How does it feel to know you've been betrayed this whole time?"

And just like that, I was standing in front of the blocked-off cave again. Mimiru didn't say anything else, and I quite frankly had nothing else to say to her.

I pressed my hand against the wall of rocks, teeth gritted. I felt something warm slide down my face. Tears.

"You didn't tell me one thing," I said softly. "Why is she trying to come back to life to begin with?"

But there was no answer.

For the first time since I'd come to Nippon nine months ago, I felt really and truly alone.

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AWMAHGAWD THE SUSPENSE AND DRAMA HOW WILL YOU EVER LIIIIIIIIIIVE?!

Lilac: Shut. Up.

Fine, whatever.

Next time on Closer: Racing Against Time! We take a step back into the actual plot for a bit to wrap up our business in the Underground Ruins Depths, albeit not without being under pressure.

Chibi: I haven't been around for a chapter in a half, so REVIEW! 8D

Lilac: ... at least it wasn't Kurow this time.

Kagu: LITTLE HELP OVER HERE?

Lilac: Nah, she's fine.