All right, everyone, welcome back to Closer to the Rising Sun! This chapter's got a significant drop in quality-and wordcount-but what're you gonna do, we're at that point where we're finally getting to the good parts. I'll give you all a hint: as soon as True Orochi's Fire Head is cut in half, we're going to get to the best-and wordiest-part of the story. If we're on schedule, the third volume of this series will be over by the end of April, leaving summer break as the time for Eye of the Storm and Back to Reality to be completed over the second half of the year.

This plan is totally foolproof.

But you don't care about all of that-you care about your sparkle filled plot holes. Back by popular demand (and pitchforks and torches outside my house), iiiiiiiit's Waka!

And before we forget-thanks to Daughter of Kabegami, OkamiAmaterasu2015, TheManWithBacon, ShunpoGekigami, and Spirits and Shadows for reviewing! HAVE SOME OROCHI SCOUT COOKIES 8D

Lilac: Senom299 doesn't own Okami/den or its corresponding characters. She only owns her OCs and the ridiculous subplots she keeps coming up with. Extra disclaimer: Google Translate was used in the making of this chapter.

Issun: I HEARD THE PROPHET'S BACK AND I'M SELLING HELMETS.

Senom: ... I'll buy thirty.

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Akuro's portal wasn't very forgiving with where it dropped us-a good five feet in the air above the slope of a hill.

And guess who twisted her ankle again.

"Why does it keep happening..."

Kurow glanced around through a thin fog that veiled the general area. "Where... and when, are we?"

It looks familiar. Chibi tilted his head, staring around. Have we... been here before?

Kurow shrugged and caught sight of an old man mumbling to himself. "Yo, dude!"

"Of all the fraggin'... now, of all times..." The senior citizen was busy griping before taking notice of the three of us. "Hmm? Haven't seen your faces around these parts before."

"Yeah, we're new here. What's this place called?"

I resisted the urge to smack my forehead. "Kurow, you're doing it wrong."

"You really are new to these parts, ain't ya? This is the town that lives under the cursed Orochi-Kamiki Village."

Chibi gasped quietly. No wonder it looked familiar... But if it's still under Orochi's curse, then WHEN are we?

"Hold on a second, dude. I thought Amaterasu and Susano took care of that problem." Our partner blinked dumbfoundedly. The old man just sighed nervously.

"Again this year another victim for the sacrifice has been chosen. If only Nagi would actually do something about that Orochi...!"

"Hold up, did you say Nagi? Duuuuude... we must be a hundred years in the past!"

"Great. More time travel," I muttered, as if it hadn't been obvious before.

"And to top it all off, that dang dog Shiranui has been running around again... you kind of look like Shiranui, now that I take a good look at you." The old man remarked, turning to Chibi. Something seemed to click in his brain and he leapt back. "Y-you're not one of his kids, are you?"

"Wouldn't the appropriate term be pups?"

Kurow cut in quickly. "Dude, that's ridiculous."

"... you're right. And now here I've gotten myself into a pickle with this thing..." The old man sighed. "I got this sapling here to give hope to the people, but it won't take root. This entire town and the ground it sits on are cursed."

And he shuffled away.

... He reminds me of Mr. Orange. Chibi commented blankly.

"Probably an ancestor, seeing as how our Kamiki is technically history being relived," I pointed out. Kurow took out Issun's history scroll.

"According to the scroll, people in this time thought that Shiranui was just another one of Orochi's goons."

That's not true! He's part of the Okami family! Chibi burst out. Kurow blinked.

"It says here he was the first Okami."

No, he wasn't. Momma told me that the Okami family has dated back to the dawn of this earth. Chibi puffed up his wolf chest proudly. Kurow shrugged and pocketed the scroll.

"Whatever. We should go hide out at the Moon Cave before the festival begins."

"Do you guys really think Akuro's going to fall for the same trick twice?" I asked doubtfully as we headed down the path that wound down Kamiki Village. "I doubt he's that stupid."

"Do you have any better ideas?"

I just sighed, then glanced up at the stairs leading up to what would be Sakuya's tree.

"That's not right." I finally muttered.

"Huh?"

"There's the Spirit Gate right behind Konohana. Amaterasu and her two Celestial Envoys-err, one Celestial Envoy, I guess I was just a tagalong-came through that gate around this time. But there was a younger Sakuya by the sapling."

You think she just needs a little help blooming?

"C'mon, let's go bring Miss Sakuya to life." I nodded, and up the stairs we went. Chibi painted Bloom around Konohana's sprout, and 'Shakuya' came into existence. She yawned like a toddler waking up from a nap.

"I'm finally free... and you must be the ones who released me!" Her childish slur seemed oddly absent.

And then Mr. Fruit (because we can't just call him 'the old man' anymore) shuffled up. "The seedling has sprouted! My prayers have been answered! Our village will be free of its curse!"

"Oh, I get it. He can't see the spirit in the tree," Kurow muttered. Shakuya tilted her head at us.

"Hello! Where are you three from? I've never seen such an odd person atop such a cute god."

Chibi actually looked as if he would be blushing if he could while Kurow snorted. "Odd? Guess a kid like her can't tell how cool I really am. C'mon, you guys, let's go."

And we took our leave of spirit of Konohana. I let out a breath of relief.

"That should fix a little bit of history." I nodded. "I can't see anything else that looks out of place here in the timeline..."

"Then let's get going to the Moon Cave, already." Kurow rolled his eyes impatiently.

And so we headed all the way out to Shinshu Field.. to meet Nazo.

How did I remember his name? I had no clue.

"Hey, dude, what are you doing all the way out here?" Kurow raised an eyebrow. Nazo jumped at the sound of his voice.

"Ah! I'm... I'm not too scared to move! I'm just... taking a break... yeah... ... My pet dog is sick and I need an herb from the cave in Shinshu Field. But there are monsters everywhere!"

"Okay, okay, no need to shout." Kurow sighed. "... What do you guys wanna do? Look for this herb of his?"

"We might as well. I think we have time to spare." I thought a moment. "Chibi... remember where Yakushi is in the future? Let's try there."

Sounds like a plan.

After ten minutes of surprisingly no event as far as demons went, we came back with a fresh sprig of... something in tow. Nazo's face lit up.

"That's the herb I was looking for! Can I really have it? Oh, thank you!" He paused. "By the way... I saw someone heading to the Moon Cave earlier. I hope he's all right..."

Something in my brain clicked. Nagi was back in Kamiki, but the alliance of Shiranui had definitely been aiming to strike tonight. So who was it that had been moving toward the Moon Cave? My grandfather, or Waka?

"Well, I gotta go take this medicine to my dog!" Nazo paused. "... Yeah, about before? I was too scared to move. Anyway, thanks! Oh, and you can have this. I thought I'd spending more time out here-I don't need it now, but maybe you can use it!"

And he handed us... a slab of meat?

... Uhhh... that's an odd way of thanking someone. Chibi blinked. Guess we can save it for later. Y'know, as a victory snack after we defeat Akuro.

I shrugged. "Unless you want to eat it now."

Nah, I've got my Holy Bone stash.

"... Wait, you found that?!"

As we continued our trek through Shinshu Field, something caught my eye-no, someone. A shock of white hair, and-

Suddenly, I found myself giggling weakly. Kurow and Chibi both turned to stare at me as I shook my head.

"... Uhh... guys..." I racked my brains for some sort of excuse. Any excuse. "... well, when a girl's gotta go..."

Kurow resisted the urge to smack his forehead. "We passed some bushes a while back. Hurry up, okay?"

Chibi nodded as I whirled around and darted back across the field. Strains of a new conversation began-one that, thankfully, I wasn't a part of.

It was too late to think about it now.

... Mimiru.

What.

How many hours do we have left?

Four and a quarter.

... I want to challenge you.

There was a brief moment where everything seemed to stop and go cold. The air seemed to freeze, and yet the wind ceased its passage. The only sound on the open plain was that of singing cicadas.

There was a moment before the manifestation laughed softly. Are you so desperate for a diversion? Or just a fool?

Both.

The freezing sensation lifted slightly as I fell back into my own mind. Mimiru stood before me, looking almost expectant.

"I'm not one to turn down a challenge," She commented lightly, snapping her fingers. An axe materialized into her waiting hands, shining with an eerie blue light reflected in the steel. "You won't have time to regret this."

I gave her a hardened stare and slid Dreamcatcher out of its loop, expanding the spearblade. "Maybe I will."

"Mortals. False hope is one of the things you all have in common." The manifestation sighed and shook her head. "Another is how easily broken you really are. I don't need this axe to eliminate you-there's a much more enjoyable way to do it."

And she let the axe clatter to the floor. Somewhere in the distance, a bell tolled once. A smirk danced across the executioner's face.

"When the clock strikes three, under the axe you shall be," Mimiru giggled like a small child before disappearing.

[Play Umineko no Naku Koro Ni BGM - The Executioner]

My grip on Dreamcatcher tightened as I forced myself not to look around for her. She'd turn up again, somewhere, but I still had the slight advantage of an open battlefield with no obstruction to vision. She hadn't pulled a trick with mist yet, so I would be able to see her wherever she turned back up...

... as long as it wasn't behind me.

I stood, eyes half-closed and listening intently. Her childlike laughter echoed throughout the arena all around me-there was no way to directly pinpoint the source.

So there's going to be another way. There's always an opening.

Just as I was getting ready to turn around, I heard it-the sound of footsteps against the tile from my left. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her silhouette growing closer, until she vanished again.

"Shit," I muttered, finally dropping my concentration and glancing around. This time, three shadows began stepping toward me and dissipating. From them came five, and from those fifteen. "No clear target..."

The shadows finally broke whatever barrier held them back the first few times and sept into the floor to form one. It slipped under mine, and an earsplitting scream echoed through the expanse of my mind.

It was my own scream, but no sound ever left my lips.

I stepped back as my shadow on the floor was absorbed by the mass, writhing against Mimiru's power and fighting to escape it. After a moment, it rose back up and my own face grinned demonically at me.

"You're your own worst enemy."

"Good!" I lunged forward, slicing into my 'double''s arm. "Because luckily for me, I've got enough problems with myself to enjoy this!"

Black blood sprayed across my face, but Mimiru didn't move. She just continued grinning as her wound repaired itself.

"You enjoy hurting yourself? That makes it easier on me."

Suddenly, I felt my own arm rip itself open, and my own blood spilled onto the tile in a flood. I shrieked, collapsing to my knees.

"Any wound that you try to deal to me, I can repair. But it'll also be dealt right back... and you can't regenerate as quickly." My double stood over me, looking completely hollow except for the grin splitting her face. "If you had gone for a fatal blow, you would have killed yourself in the act. I'm glad you didn't-I had another card up my sleeve to play before we run out of time."

I gritted my teeth, trying to cover the wound with my free hand as the other lay limply at my side. The liquid spilling from my arm wasn't completely black, but somewhat peppered. It ran freely, sliding through the gaps between my fingers and sticking to my skin.

Mimiru vanished again, dissipating into the tile. When she reappeared, it was in the form of the first partner Chibi and I had been stuck with-the one we'd been searching most of this joyride for.

I was staring down a copy of Kuni.

"Don't you think I would've come looking for you guys if I didn't know what you are, Li? Can't believe I was helping a defect."

"Kuni!" I reached out for him blindly, instinctively, but my hands cut through wisps of black smoke as Mimiru stepped out of my reach and cackled. She disappeared and reformed again. This time, Nanami just shook her head, looking disappointed.

"I should have never taken your hand, Elza..."

"But you did!" I stumbled, my breath catching in my throat as the black and red blood seeping out of my arm began to boil. Nanami's form flickered and reformed as Kagu.

"You're a pretty good actor." The Miko-in-training aimed an Exorcism square at my chest. "I wish we'd all seen through it sooner."

The slip's energy hit my in waves, knocking me back so I was splayed on the tile-in the pool of blood. Kurow stood over me, his flute pointed straight at my heart. His eyes were cold as...

Frostbite.

"Dude," he stated, "news flash? We're nothing alike."

My vision blurred as Mimiru reverted to her original form and raised her axe to strike.

"I'm done playing games with you." Her voice was sickeningly sweet. "Don't hold your breath-you won't have time to scream."

She swung the axe in an arc above her head and aimed a swing for my throat-

-and a streak of green light sped in from behind me, slicing into the agent of fate's side. She let out a howl and dropped her axe, stumbling backward as a hand rested on my shoulder.

"Am I late, ma fleur?"

[End song.]

I'd never been so happy to hear a French accent in my life.

"I'm not going to flatter you, Waka. You already know you're right on time."

The Moon Tribesman just chuckled lightly and helped me up, examining my arm. "Injuries sustained here disappear when you enter the reality plane. You'll be the same as how you left when you reenter your full form."

"Good to know." The blood flow had slowed down to a trickle, and the wound was already trying to repair itself here. Must be the black blood-I just don't have enough of it. "Sorry for bleeding on you."

Waka rolled his eyes and retrieved his flutesaber, withdrawing the light inside so it resumed its usual disguise. "I think it's time we left, songbird."

Mimiru was still writhing even though her flesh regenerated much faster than mine. She glared up at us, gasping for breath.

"How did you get in here?" She hissed. "This isn't your place to interfere!"

The prophet shrugged. "You left a door open."

The manifestation let out another shriek as Waka placed his hand on my shoulder. Within seconds, we were standing back on Shinshu Field in the middle of the night.

"Thanks." I breathed out. The blood had all vanished, just as I was when I'd descended. "If you hadn't been there-"

"You shouldn't have challenged her." Waka interrupted. "You were lucky this time, but you don't have the power to fight the gears of fate on your own. Going up against one is sealing your death warrant, and you practically did."

As the cicadas rang their cacophony, he continued. "When someone fights a gear of fate without knowing what they're up against... C'est la bravoure et la folie."

"... I only ever took Spanish, not French."

"It is bravery and foolishness," the prophet translated patiently. "Often the two walk along the same line. One can hold hands with both, but also lean toward one side. You, ma fleur, are leaning dangerously on the side of foolishness."

He gestured off in the distance, toward the Moon Cave. "You have a duty to carry out that's been given to you-the duty of protecting Chiisaki Taiyo, the Dawn of the Little Sun. Your fates have been intertwined. If one were to break, so would the other. If you had died due to that mistake, Chibiterasu eventually would have failed in his quest to save Nippon."

I stared at the grass as Waka paused mid-lecture. "... I didn't know what I was thinking." I admitted softly. "I thought-I thought I could take care of this."

There was another pause.

"It's unfortunate that I don't have a prophecy for you."

"Good."

"But that doesn't mean I won't tell you not to fool yourself. Never once since you entered the 'old world' have you walked alone." Waka stepped back. "Unfortunately, trouble is calling my name. I'm afraid the rest of our conversation will have to-"

"Wait." I snapped. "Are you... from this time, or from ours? A hundred years in the future from this moment, or from this moment itself?"

A smirk played across the prophet's lips. "Time isn't a boundary to all of us, ma fleur. Now you see me, now you don't-au revoir!"

And he vanished in a flash of sparkles, leaving me alone in the middle of Shinshu Field and utterly lost.

"... now what?"

There was a pause.

"... Ammy dammit, I forgot about the Moon Cave, didn't I."

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And that's a wrap for this chapter! Not one of the longer ones, but hey, it's better than ALBN volume I.

Next time on Closer to the Rising Sun: Unexpected Meetings!

Waka: Review!

Issun: ... what's he doing back onset. SENOM, WE HAD A DEAL.

Senom: Last time I checked, we never had any deal. I told you he'd be out of your way for most of this volume, not all of it. You're still near the set.

Issun: ...

Lilac: Told.