Chapter 39: Crash and Burn
When the light finally faded, only Shirou was still standing. Everyone else had been blown away to the far corners of the room. Even Shadow Kanji was forced to kneel and raise his arms to buffer the worst of the explosion of raw power.
Standing over Shirou was a Persona more fearsome than any they had ever seen before, one that could almost be mistaken as a Shadow. It was masculine in form, and only visible from the torso up as an endless cycle of flames erupted from below like a turbine engine. Charcoal black covered every inch of the giant's body, with specks of black ash fluttering off his body as if it was decomposing. He was illuminated with molten red flames that lit up crack-like veins. All the veins connected to the center of his body, where a blood red circle was visible, pulsing with each breath like a heartbeat. The arms were as long as boa constrictors, topped off with sharp obsidian-shaded nails. The face was the only body part not obscured in any black, and rather was like looking directly at the sun. Bright, pulsating orange-red light with flames swirled around the rim of his "face" in a clockwise fashion, with a yellow gold sheen in the middle from a metal, angular face. It was more of a mask than a face, lacking any facial features, but it managed to express hostility just through body language.
Shadow Kanji forced a laugh as he pushed himself up. "Tehehe~! Oh, you think you're so cute getting a surprise power-up after a near death experience! You're barely standing over there, and you want to tussle with me again?"
Shirou didn't answer back. The Shadow had a point that he shouldn't be anywhere close to fighting fit, but it wasn't normal to just summon a new monstrous Persona, much less a flaming arm where the last one was cut off.
"Oh, the silent treatment, huh?" Shadow Kanji spat when it was clear that Shirou wouldn't reply. "Fine! I'll tenderize you just like I did your little friends! Heeeeere I~!"
A barely audible command was the only warning before a column of flame exploded just behind the Shadow, with the force and shock of a cannon. He was frozen stiff in fear; even if he couldn't see it, he could feel the flames lick dangerously close to his back. The heat was enough to wilt some of his roses and thorns growing from his upper body.
Just as quickly as the attack came, it went away, and only then did Shadow Kanji look behind his back to see the attack's aftermath. A punctured hole in the wood, followed by very darkened char and still crumbling ash was the only proof that an attack had happened.
He then turned back to Shirou and Kagutsuchi. Where the hell did that firepower come from? He didn't even see that big flaming Persona move any more than a finger flick!
Still, Shadow Kanji felt some hope and glee shine through with an uproarious laugh. All that power and he missed?! "What did I tell you, hun?! You can't even aim right with that sorry excuse of a genie! Did you lose your cool along with all that warm blood earlier?"
"T̴̩͉͕̞͛̈h̴̼̒͘á̷͙̜t̴̳̗̥̐͛̅͛ ̶̘͍͊͠w̴̧̡̹̓̊ͅa̶̲̱͉̪͑̌͘ś̵͕͖̤̀͌̿ ̵̢̧͝͝ȃ̸̟͚̾ ̷͎̩̺̆̈̈́w̷̻̕a̸̦͋̑ṙ̸̪̊͂͑n̵̛̫̿̽̍i̵̧̱͓͉̍n̵͕͝g̶̹͈̩̈́̆̿ ̶̡̣̆̈́͗̃ş̶́h̵̰̥̓o̶̮̲͕̅̓͝t̵̟̥̫̄̌̊, ̵̗̙͐̈́"Shirou told him coldly, his voice still vibrating with an ethereal tone. "T̵̳̤͉͆h̷͔̏e̷̯͒̄ ̶̧͍̩̂̓͊͠n̷̨̼̖̅ę̶͂̀̊ẍ̴̖̹̠̼́͐̉͠t̵͚̫͇̱͠ ̸̮̣̍̑̈́̀ö̴̱͉͉̬́̀̓̆n̸̢̡̯̼̈́e̸͎͎͂ ̵̘͕͝ẉ̵͍̬͆͌̑ö̶͚͕̘́͜n̴͎̰̯̜̂͂̽̎'ţ̸̜́̉ ̶́ͅm̵̛̥̪̺̳͊̿̈̓i̸͍̍̇͆̌͠s̷̻͉̯͑̈̅̋̕s̴͙͔̥͐̍̈́̀̈́͠.̸͍͓͍̲̓̓̈́͝
The next one won't miss.
The next one won't miss.
That single sentence circled in Shadow Kanji's mind like a mantra of madness, eating away at his confidence. His smile stayed, but only a shell of its former mirth as his face turned sickly blue. He meant those words.
No… this bastard had to be bluffing! And why wouldn't he? Bluffing was expected in high intensity fights, when someone was on their last legs!
"You sexy, insufferable asshole!" The Shadow yelled. "You're going to regret not finishing me off when you had the chance!"
Shirou lifted his stub, and the flaming arm gestured to come closer. Kagutsuchi mimicked the action. "T̴̘͕̼́̍͐h̷̬͈̮̖͊̃̔e̴̥͑̈́͒̉ǹ̵͇̮̪͑̓̋ ̷̳̩͖͛̈́̃͝g̶̼͉̳̾̍ò̶̪ ̶̥̗̓̓ä̸͈̪́h̶̯͖̆ͅe̴̡̖͎̱̔̈́a̸̲͍͗d̷̹͙̓̌.̸̻͔̮̹͆̒ ̵̳̍͋̉T̸̨͍̥̣͒̈́à̶̢̘̻͊̄k̵̘̟͗ë̴͙͇̫̩̐͂̍ ̷̗̆͊́͝ÿ̷̳̳̜̫́͐ȍ̵̞̝̲̔͌̆͜ǘ̶̗̯̳̿r̸̡̗͉̝̍̋́̉ ̷͈̖̇̃͠f̵͈͒͋̉͗r̴̢̰̈ȅ̶̡͚e̴͙̼̜̙͗̑̔ ̸̧̨̘̮̏ş̶̛̠̗̾͝h̶̡͙͊̀͒o̵̝͒̕͜͠t̴̢̮̰̑̐͠.̸̢̠͉̫͋́̄̕ ̴̯̳̙̈́̑̀E̸̛̫̳̯̋͌̑v̶̨̐̍͝ė̸̯̉ŗ̶͙̣̦̂̒y̵̛̰͚͍͈ö̵̧̝́n̷̥̜͈̎̿̚͝ě̸̖̠̭ ̶͍̮̐̅̍̌g̷̩̜̤̻͆e̶̠̲̳̅̓̏t̷̞͇̩͉͂̿̌͝s̵̼͌͂͗̿ ̸͚͇͎̾̍̇̑͜ȏ̸͈͍̆ņ̷̠̥̪̔e̴͔̫̋͂.̶͙̺̲̐͑͜"
Oh, that was it!
Shadow Kanji roared as he broke into a sprint. His monochrome feet cracked the wood with each step, reminding everyone just how much power was in his bulk.
Shirou made no move to dodge, but his new Persona hovered down to intercept. To further mock the Shadow, Kagutsuchi spread its arms open.
Shadow Kanji threw a heavy punch forward, strong enough to crack apart bones and stone with ease. And Shirou himself should know, given what happened to him just five minutes ago.
But when the punch connected, it hit Kagutsuchi like a soft clap. No power, no tension… just a casual impact. Everyone stared with astonishment.
In awe, Chie voiced her thoughts out loud. "What the hell…?"
Shadow Kanji was frozen in fear. His quivering eyes looked up to the fire god Persona before him; if he had a face, it would probably be sneering at his feeble punch.
With a panicked snarl, Shadow Kanji punched with his other arm, equivalent to a rifle shot in speed and power. Despite having a body made of charcoal and ash, the hit bounced off of Kagutsuchi as if hitting rubber. He simply tried again with the same arm.
"GRRAAAAAAAAGH!" Again and again, the Shadow unleashed an onslaught of punches. Every hit connected to Kagutsuchi's body, but he showed no signs of pain.
Eventually the assault stopped, with the Shadow forced to catch his breath and notice a numbing burn on his large knuckles. Kagutsuchi's body was like molten rock, but so hot to the touch that the constant friction had set his arms on fire. It was enough to make him panic and try to snuff them out with fanning and slapping.
In desperation, he quickly followed up with another move. "Fanatical Spark!" The flames in his enlarged hands were quickly extinguished as electricity flew out in curving arcs. Wood cracked, water splashed, the room shook as thunder itself struck inside. And with such close proximity, the Shadow was confident that it would be the killing blow.
But… nothing followed. His move was enough to mow down the rest of the team, yet the floating, flaming Persona didn't look phased at all.
"I̵̦͒s̷̠̑̕ ̵͎̍ț̶͌h̷̨͍͔̔a̸̛̤͌t̸̘̽́ ̴̰̫͚̋̑̀ǐ̵͙͍t̸̰̩̩̓̋?̸̯͗" Shirou asked in a bored tone. Shadow Kanji flinched, involuntarily taking a step back.
"Why… why am I scared?" he asked himself aloud. "You may be tough and can take a hit, but you're nothing, you hear?! I knocked you down once, and I can finish the job! I… I'm the man of the house! The manliest thing to ever shit out pure rugged, meaty beauty! What can a poser like you possibly do to me?!"
As if to challenge his taunt, Kagutsuchi finally moved his hand. It was a slow action, watching the long fingers flex to reveal his palm, and a spark of flame started to spin in place. It looped once, glowing in a bright circle. It spun again, but slower as the epicenter was longer now.
Shadow Kanji knew that if he finished charging that attack, it would be over. The deciding factor came down to whether Shirou would pull the trigger in time or not. And yet that Shirou bastard stood there, staring at him with those scornful eyes. He had changed ever since his near-death experience, as if his Persona gave him assurance in his victory. It was infuriating to admit too, but nothing Shadow Kanji had could possibly kill him at this point.
Well, if he couldn't hurt the Persona itself, might as well nip the bud at the source.
"So you're finally going to try and attack me, huh?" He crackled. "Too bad you seem to be using all your energy on your Persona…"
With surprising strength and speed still in his legs, Shadow Kanji leaped like a cheetah to close the distance between him and Shirou, arms raised high for an electric-charged haymaker. "BECAUSE YOU'RE WIDE OPEN!"
The onlookers gasped at the danger their leader was in. From that angle he would be lucky if his spine or brain didn't crack like a watermelon. It looked like this time that Shadow Kanji's blow would be for the kill. A good thing too as the third cycle was just being marked.
"SHIROU-SENSEI!" "GET AWAY!" "EMIYA-KUN!"
But Shirou did not move back. He did not react. He simply leveled his flaming arm and…
An endless stream fanned out as if coming from a flamethrower.
In midair, Shadow Kanji couldn't follow through with his attack. The flame instantly burned his eyes, and his rose bush burned all the way to the roots. His arms swung down, but the pain and blindness made his action sloppy, missing the mark entirely.
In fact, the flames were so intense that they had the force of air behind them and managed to push the giant back to his starting position, give or take a few extra feet. Even from his distance he could feel the heat scorch with the intensity of a summer day – no, a burning building.
It was no mere flame. It was the gale of an inferno. That boy literally had that power in his fingertips, when by all accounts he shouldn't. Or maybe… it wasn't him at all?
"Who the hell are you?" Shadow Kanji asked in horror.
"Ý̸͎́͋͠͝o̵̧̼̻͛́͠ü̶̖̮̜̺̓r̵͙͎̭͋́ ̸̟͚̭͈̜̦̇̈́̀̋̈́́r̷͉̮͚̆̆e̸̹̭̪̙̣̿̓͂͝c̷̮̰̟̈́͌̈́̌̆̕k̵̟̓̍̚͜o̷̞̓͑͗n̸̡̰̫̤̑̎͋͒͜i̶̢̮̜̟͛͐͊͠n̷̒͜͠ͅg̵̜͙̏͗ͅ," Shirou told him, as his Persona's fire spell finished engraving the final glyph. "F̵̘͚̭̞̞̱̘̒ͅį̶̱̫̀̆̈́̉͋̚͝f̶̫͔̝̳͍͙̍̓̀̅́̉͝t̴̬̼̘͒͂̂̎͝h̸͕͛̈́́̇͂̌ ̸̡̮̜͍͇̖̄͋̽̋̋̉͝͠C̸̮̮̘̄͗̌̊̇̄͊̐y̸̫̲̤̒̎̓̇c̶̫͔̪͖͒ḷ̴̡̯̲̥̤͙̂é̴̦͐̂̎̀!̶̪͓͍͍̮͚̃̋͆͊͘"
The glyph in the air shimmered brightly, almost as blinding as the sun. And then the heat expanded as if the sun itself magnified its rays to where Shadow Kanji stood.
His body was consumed in a fiery conflagration instantly. The rose bush wilted away into ash, his white half body charred to a darker shade than his other side, and he even decomposed on the spot.
When the fires finally subsided, Shadow Kanji's muscular body was no more, and he had returned to his loincloth-clad form. Ash and burn marks marred his skin, and he leaned over on all fours with a raspy cough clearing out the smoke he inhaled.
It was over. He was thoroughly, brutally beaten down, and struggled just to keep from collapsing to the ground.
But the look in Shirou's eyes was not one of mercy. Without much prompting, Kagutsuchi channeled his prana again in the glowing glyph attack. While Shirou's conscious friends wondered in mute horror what was going on in his mind, the downed Shadow felt the pressing urge of self-preservation to run away. However, he had no feeling in his legs after riding in his giant form for the entire battle. The most he could do was drag himself back.
"T̶̡͈̜̯̼̣̪̃͂̎ͅh̷̞̹̥̜̪̽̀é̸̹̩͂͐̆̍̿̉̕r̶̡͌͂̆͒̃̉̓͗͆͘ĕ̶̢̜͔̭̞͕͈̗̇̔̋̏̽̐̾̋̕͜ ̷̣̰̝̩̜̳͈͎̇̋̈́͑̒͘į̸̙̬͛̾̽̀̅̇͋̒͝s̷̛̱̻͈͈͈̪͈̲͕̀̆̈́̔͜͝ ̷̡͖̟̙̫͎̠̜͊̐̎ń̵̻̜̟͉̞͓̮̈̀o̶̠̾͂͠ ̶̤͇̜̜͔̬͓̗̂͂̐͛̂̀̒͌̚̚ę̷̛̦̗͕̞̀̓͜s̶̛͈͇̦͇͖̜̉̊̔̉͝ć̵̡̛̰̝̩̦͎̮̓͌͂̏a̷̢̡̘͔̟͉̞͉̍p̷̨̙̻͍̑̇͌̆̄͒͊̾̕͠ͅȅ̸̠̇͑̄̓̀̆̈͝," Shirou told him, and Shadow Kanji believed his apparent executioner. Already the first circle was complete.
"N-Now wait a minute, hun! I know when I've been licked! I surrender! See? Look, I'm waving a white flag and everything!" Shadow Kanji proved his point by grabbing and waving his loincloth flap in front, for lack of any proper substitute.
Shirou was undeterred. The second circle was glowing now.
"Okay, I get it! You're pissed off about the whole 'me cutting your arm off' thing! Want to beat the pent-up rage out of your system! Well, message received! Good job! You deserve a bout of manly applause for that!" Shadow Kanji clapped for effect, straining a smile as he did.
Third cycle. Everyone watched on bated breath at what was going to happen. The tension in the air was literally growing as the build-up led to another inferno attack. Even in a sauna, Shadow Kanji felt a different kind of perspiration form from his head.
"But, seriously! I give up! I can't even hurt you anymore if I tried! You… you don't have to go this far, don't you? One of those was more than enough for me, thank you!"
"Ÿ̷̟̯ͅỏ̷͔̥͖̮̝̥̬̟̏̏̎̌́͒̈́́̄͜u̸̢͋͊̐͒͊̀̊̽͠͠'̷̛̣̤͎̥̫̤̩̭̺͒̍l̵̨͖̼̝̳̣̮͓̖̏̈́̇̅̅͐̈́̂̆̆ļ̴̮̱͈̻͕̎̈́͊͛̈́͜ ̴͙̲̞̹̺̯̆̕n̴̨̝̥̺̉̈́̒̀̚ͅe̷͔̟͠ę̶͎̦̼̍͌̉ḏ̸̡̧̥̥̤͕̟͂̂̿͊͝ ̷̺̹̣̻͎͑̏̐́̈́̎̈a̴̧͖͕͍̯̤̥̅͝t̷̯̼̪̹̽̽͂̿́̒͘͝ ̴̫̻̺͒͐̓̀̈́͋̚̕l̸̨͖͖̣̙͕͍̅͑̽͊͝e̵͈͕̎͛̀̈́̋̿̕a̷̗̙͚̦̘̙̻̼͐̈́̂́̓̂s̷̗͚̹̦̗̆̏̋̓̋̈́t̴͉̭̪̥̰̒̔͗̾̿̚͝ ̷̣̟̘͍̻̙͙͋̀͐̿͒f̸̨̟̪̠͔̫̉̾͋̀͌̏͂͜͝õ̴̲͍̰̲͙͙͍̮̽͛͌̓̀̓u̴̮̙̮̭̪̾̇͐́̏̀̾̕̚͜r̶̭͍̈́͜ ̷̨͙̥̦̗̣̪͔̃͋̏̾͐̎̈̉͠ͅm̵̳̜̳͓̫͎͌̓̾̂͐̌͛̒̀͐o̵̮͋̊r̸̨̳̜̼̓̔̅̉̓̅̔̚͘͜è̵̢̲̳̻̦̫̐̓͛͊̎̂̋͘͠.̴̳̇͒̃̈́͆̊̓͘̕" Fourth cycle… and many more to go if the threat holds true.
Chie finally found her voice in time to reprimand him. "Emiya-kun, that's enough!" She started to run towards him, but a wall of flames erupted in front of her, almost catching her by surprise. She flinched back and fell flat on her back, staring at the fire with a mix of horror and bewilderment.
"Sh-Shirou-sensei?!" Teddie cried in disbelief. This couldn't be the same kind sensei that wanted to save his home, was it?
"My god, he's serious," Rise whispered. This wasn't like him at all from her place. Was it because of that Persona?
"This… this isn't how I wanted it to go! I didn't care who, or why! I just wanted to fit in! Someone, please…!"
Fifth cycle was now complete, and Kagutsuchi was already moving his ghastly limbs to finish the spell.
Shadow Kanji couldn't bear the pressure anymore, curled up in a feeble position and clawing at his bleached hair. "JUST ACCEPT ME FOR WHO I AM!"
For a moment, Shirou's hand faltered, and a strange look in his eye showed hesitance. But that moment was gone in a blink, hardened by the determination to follow through. "Ş̸̺̘̜̬̱͔͛̚͜ó̴̢̡͔̝̟̣ͅr̵̢̨̫͕̞̻̀̾̋͒̀́̚̚r̸̢͚̫̫͓̯̓͂͆̃͂͒̾̐͛ý̸̻̎͒̔̕͝,̶̨̣̖̗̮̪̬̜̃͛́́͋̈́͂̾ͅͅ ̷̡̲́̊̐̎̏͂͊̔̚b̷̧̊̔͒͝ư̴͇̝͙͉̪͉̳͈ẗ̶̢͍̖̼̻̲̺̬͇̊͆̀͠ ̷̞̗̗̖̰͎̙͇̓͌͆͗̎͒͜͝Ĭ̸̡̱̣̥̺̌̈́̐̅̊̒ ̷̡̱̠͕̊̔͐ḓ̷̨̢̦̙̘̩͍̹́̓͜ó̵̬̣͊͊͆̐͒̉̈́̚n̴̡̢̻͖̼̱͚̳̺̤̔̋̏̊̓̓̕̚̚͝'̷̨̭̙̌͌͆͑̋̆̆͗̕͝t̵͎͎͙͚͙̄̂̿̇̍̒̈͝ ̷͙̹͇͎̣͓̠̌͐͗͋̂̐̽̌͘͠s̸̠̤̱̠̬̒̈́w̴̮͆̑̈́͆̄͑̉̃͑̌ĭ̷̢̢͎̫́n̵̳̬̄̐̇͑ͅg̶̛͙͚̠̤͕̼ ̶̢̬̺̋ẗ̴̨̮́͆͑̉̈́̓̚h̶̢̯͕̬̰̦̹́ͅͅä̶̢̛̖͕̤̙̰́͆͂̊͑͆͠ẗ̵̨̆́̍̕͠ ̶̧̰̩̬̻͗̈̒̔͘͝w̴̺̗̼̿̔̀̕ḁ̵͓̫̰̗͔̂̈́̀͌̆̚ͅý̸̧͖͇̃͂͛̓̕̚.̶̬̠̩̹͙̄̌" he scoffed, ready to recant the spell.
Finally, Shirou turned his attention away from Shadow Kanji. His surprise was short-lived as he saw a singed fist coming right at him.
In one blow, he was out like a light. The flames from his severed arm, the wall of flames, and even the Persona Kagutsuchi faded away right after.
Kanji Tatsumi spat on the floor, and idly snuffed out the lingering embers on his jacket and pants with palm pats. He could admit not being the smartest student in his class, and it felt weird having to save some pansy poser with his face, but he knew he just had to save him… or himself, whatever.
The Shadow slowly receded from his position, staring wide-eyed at his other self. "You… saved me? But why?"
Honestly, running headfirst into the fire and punching Emiya out cold was the easy part. He didn't want to acknowledge this Shadow thing and hoped that if he kept putting it off in his mind then it would go away. Except that wasn't how life worked. And at the end of the day…
"I've… always known."
"I've always known you were inside me, alright?! Or at least, something like you…" he stammered with a scowl and flush. God, it felt so embarrassing saying this out loud, especially now that Rise and Satonaka-senpai were watching him. "But you weren't the only one scared out of his mind. It was never just about guys or chicks… it was getting rejected. It's easier to just get everyone else to hate you right from the start than to screw it up being yourself. Being someone no one knows how to react to."
He stared at his hands dejectedly, trying and failing to form fists. "Now look at me. Been calling you a pansy the whole time, but deep down I'm the total pansy picking fights just to look tough…"
"So… you really don't hate me?" he asked hopefully.
"I'm not that self-loathing." Kanji huffed. Yeah, he knew he was a problem student and a punk, but if guys like Naoto and Emiya gave him the time of day for his wellbeing, there had to be something in himself worth saving.
Shadow Kanji stared at his real self silently, no longer his haughty vile self. He felt a strange sense of peace and humility now, and it was almost perfect to turn over a new leaf. Almost. "…say it."
"You know~. That promise?"
Kanji scowled, memories of the deal suddenly coming up. "Seriously? Right now? You're still hung up about that?!"
"It has to be now!"
"Please? For me?"
"Oh, for the love of… fine! But I'm only going to say this once!" Kanji groaned with crossed arms. If only to get his inner bastard to shut up. "I love doing knitting and sewing with ma! I like home economics shit more than sports shit! I apparently have a feminine side because you exist. So, you're me, and I'm you, dammit! Happy now?"
It was a loud, angry admission but one spoken from the heart and heat of the moment. Shadow Kanji started to glow in a blue light, and a serene smile graced his lips. "The happiest," he said, a sentiment Kanji surprisingly felt mutual about.
The Shadow transfigured briefly into an intimidating black giant modeled like a bulky action figure. White paint was itched onto the design of a skeleton in an overlying pattern where each main bone part was supposed to be; skull on the head, ribs for the chest, and so on. Leather fiber connected each main body part for flexible movement, with red and blue wires faintly visible on the segments between the shoulders and arms. Finally, gripped in one of its white plastic gloves was a large gold-bronze blade shaped like a thunderbolt. A moment later, the newly formed Persona flickered away into a card that melded into Kanji's subconscious.
"Take-Mikazuchi, huh?" Kanji smirked. "That's a badass name…"
He felt a sudden urge to fall over and collapse, as if the adrenaline of being stuck in this bathhouse for so long was finally catching up to him. But he held on, if barely. Palming his face to try and starve off the headache, he now became aware that Emiya's arm was losing blood again, and the peanut gallery was still staring at him while waiting for something to do, even with Amagi and the other guy starting to get up.
Angrily, Kanji pointed to the bleeding student and yelled at them, "What the hell are you guys waiting for?! He's down an arm, dammit!"
Eight of Cups, upright…
You feel something is missing. By all accounts, you should be happy and content with your life. Loving family, caring friends, strong support… but it was a lie. No, more like a replacement, meant to hide away your scars.
You do not know what it means to truly be happy, to act on your own accord. The best you can do is help others experience their happiness and share in the accomplishment. You never walk away from a person in trouble… but you can walk away from your own problems. They do not matter.
"Sh███u, c█me ██, ███e up! We won!"
"█e's not █oving. █s he…?"
"He'█ going ██ be if we don'█ d█ someth███! Just… pa███ the arm ███ now, to sto█ the bl███ing!"
Knight of Pentacles, reversed…
Your life was stagnant, seclusive. You took the pursuit of hard-work and diligence so far that you missed out on the world around you, trying to prepare for a world deep down you knew that you weren't ready for. You couldn't cope with normality after your scarred past, but you couldn't hope to survive the horrors in the Moonlit world, either.
You excuse your lack of experience to perfect your talent, but do perfectionists ever venture boldly into the unknown? Not unless they are ready, they would insist… but when is anyone ever ready?
"Man, his un██ is goi██ to █ill us ██en he f█ds █ut that his ██phew's down an █rm."
"███t's the least our ██ries!"
"Wh█t a███t the le██es? They'██ a sort ██ mira███ cure, righ█?"
"Wait, ██w a█e le███s suppo███ to help th guy ██ his a███k?"
Six of Swords, upright…
You have changed, that much is certain. You have fought against the change when you first came, stubborn to stick to your old ways. But now you see how important it was to come here, to see others struggle in their own hardships.
You feel so much weight of your past bearing down, almost suffocating just to remember. But they do not feel as restraining anymore. Not with the future looking so bright, and the burden made lighter.
"H█s ar█… ██ere is ██?"
"██h? ██… o██r █here I ███ss."
"So███ne g█ and ge█ ██. R██ht ██w!"
"█ sa██ ge█ m█ his ███damn a█m!"
Nine of Wands, upright…
Even with death imminent, you will get back up again. Courage, persistence, resilience, all of these are necessary for your dream, and if you can't handle every setback you are not worthy to pursue your dream.
It has not been easy, as every step outside your comfort zone feels like a misstep. But you are not alone. You have comrades by your side.
"H-He██ █t is."
"Do yo█ ██ally th███ th█s █ill wo██, ███iko?"
"No, █'ve ne█er ███ed th██ b██ore. B██ if th███'s ev██ a ██ance i█ █ou█d save █im…"
"…it'█ █ll █ou ██en."
"██ght. Ph██… ██carm!"
The sudden emersion of light broke the darkness in his mind, and a sensation unlike anything he had ever felt before enveloped his body. It was like being submerged in heated water while tasting and smelling the most succulent of fruits at the same time. Even the once-numbing phantom pain was ebbed away in a feat best described as miraculous.
Shirou Emiya shot upright from the floor with a sharp intake of air. And then he gasped and choked as his lungs worked overtime to provide oxygen to his battered body. He patted his chest to steady his breathing with both arms.
Wait. Both arms? He looked down to his chest, seeing both arms attached and none the worse for wear. The only difference was a faint scar line circling the cubital area and the outer joint of his right elbow. Had everything been a dream? Did it really happen?
The fight… Kanji! Everyone!
Shirou finally looked up, just noticing he was surrounded by his friends. They were battered, bloody and tired, but alive. There was a calm in the room now that there were no Shadows left.
Yosuke was clutching his shoulder, a smile slowly forming on his face. Tama stared at him intently as always, her tail faintly wagging now that he was awake. Kanji was with them too, standing aloof and looking away from the circle around him.
But what really floored him was seeing the girls. Chie had collapsed to her knees on the ground, having lost feeling in her legs and couldn't properly sit down. Yukiko was just pulling her arms back as the faint silhouette of Konohana Sakuya faded into light. Rise's voice choked, her hands clasped over her mouth and fighting back hiccups. Each one of them stared at him in disbelief, worry, and relief… through puffy, tear-filled eyes.
They were all crying… for him? They were all certainly waiting on him to say something, at least. "…Is everyone o—"
The first one to react was Teddie, bawling as he lunged toward the magus from behind (where he couldn't see). The impact nearly toppled him over forward. The bear couldn't reach his arm fully around to hug him, so he flailed and rolled his head back and forth, tears flying out of his eye ducts like sprinklers on full blast.
"You're back! You're really back! I knew you'd come back around, but I was so worried with the bleeding, and the fire, and then the bleeding again! You scared me and Tama-chan and everyone we're just glad you're okay! WHAAAAAAAhahahaAAAAAAA!"
"G-Geez, Teddie, you're such a crybaby," Yosuke chuckled… before wiping his eyes with his arm and sleeve. "You-you gotta play it cool, man."
"It worked," Yukiko murmured. "Emiya-kun, your arm… it's okay now, isn't it?"
"Y-Yeah," he rasped out, looking down at the scar line again. "As good as new, even. Did you-?"
Yukiko smiled, nodded, and brushed the tears away from her eyes. "It actually worked. I'm so relieved."
"Whaaaaaaa!" Rise's emotions poured out, lunging forward to hug his abdomen. "My Shirou-kun's aliiiive!"
"H-Hey! Not so rough, Rise-chan!" Chie scolded… with a pout and blush? "He just came to, you know."
The former idol sniffled, unable to form a coherent reply. She merely settled for hugging him tighter, crying with the bear.
It still felt so surreal. He'd had a few close calls dying in this world before, but to come out of it in a true miraculous fashion was… well, no words could describe it. The emotion high was certainly evident in how everyone was reacting though.
"Guys," he started. "I understand that you're relieved I'm okay but… could you let go so I can stand up?"
"Can you even stand?" Chie asked as Rise and Teddie reluctantly let go. "You got it worse than the rest of us, and then that fire Persona you called…"
"What fire Persona?"
The question their leader asked threw them for a loop. They exchanged worried glances, weighing what they should tell him. "You… don't remember?" Yukiko asked.
It was spotty, but he remembered how painful it was losing an arm. How he tried to stay conscious when the fight was turning for the worst. How he heard surreal, ethereal voices. After that it was a blur, but given how severe the aftermath was, that might be a blessing. "…the things I do remember I'd rather forget, honestly."
Another tense silence followed, as no one knew what to say to that.
"But really, it's fine," he continued. "It was my fault getting blindsided like that. And it's not that… strenuous…" He was all but grunting now trying to push himself off the ground, and then winced when his arms gave out. "Haha… nothing a little rest can't fix."
The Investigation Team all turned to Kanji. He still stood aloof from the conversation with a scowl and arms crossed. When he turned to look at Shirou, it was with a determination he'd never seen in the young man before.
"It's like what my old man said once: 'A man shouldn't make a girl cry in worry for any reason'," he recited. "'And in the chance that he does, he works to make them feel better yesterday.'"
Rise pouted through her tears and stamped her arms down as she yelled at him. "Shut up, Moronji! It was your fault that Shirou-kun got hurt, you know!"
Kanji looked taken back and snapped right back. "D-Don't call me a Moronji! It wasn't my fault with the arm, either! It was that other me who… said was just like me… I mean… dammit!"
Yukiko puffed her cheeks to fight back giggles, a sentiment shared by the others. After everything that had happened, a little levity was greatly appreciated. Whether Kanji realized it was light teasing or not, he was not laughing.
"W-Whatever! Point is, you need to take better damn care of yourself, and I'm not standing by to let you stand on… well… well you know!" Still fuming, Kanji didn't give the others to argue a counterpoint before he leaned down to pick Shirou up. "Now are we getting out of here or what? Just point us to the exit and I'll handle the rest."
It was a surprisingly thoughtful gesture from the delinquent, one that no one would expect given his former hostility. On the other hand, it was an awkward sort of problem that even Shirou noticed.
"Uh, I appreciate this offer Kanji, but…"
Yosuke finished the question no one else could. "But are you sure you want to carry him like that?"
Kanji's arms were supporting Shirou's legs and upper back and held him close to his own body for balance. It was a more familiar way to carry a loved one, hence the name "bridal carry".
"Hey, this is easiest to hold him without straining himself!" Kanji argued. "You got a problem with that?"
"Oh no, by all means go ahead. If you want to get hitched with Shirou here, I won't stop you."
Kanji blistered, almost dropping Shirou from his arms outright. He kept looking around, suddenly aware how no one but a confused bear and smug-looking teen was staring at him. "What th-HITCHED!? That's not—I'm not a— I'm just helping! It's not what it looks like, okay?!"
"Dude, it's totally okay if you're into your feminine side." Yosuke grinned. "I mean, you accepted your big burly Shadow so that means you must totally be into dudes! Hell, weren't you going on about Na—"
"Yosuke," Shirou spoke suddenly, slowly wrapping one arm around Kanji's neck. "Could you come over here for a second?"
"Sure, what's up part—?"
"GRAAAH!" Yosuke was punched so hard in the face that he hit the floor in a whiplash spin. He barely registered the punch, the water that he hit, and who'd done it. "What the hell, Shirou!?"
"Just testing the reflexes on my arm," he said, clenching his fist. "And while it's still sore, I'm satisfied that it works well. Thanks again, Amagi."
"You didn't have to hit me, though!"
"And you didn't have to be an ass to Kanji, either."
The biting remark was enough to surprise Yosuke, and it was only then he realized that the others were all giving him disapproving looks. "Uh… sorry, man."
Kanji grunted with his head whiffed to the side. "First Moronji and now jokes at my expense… what the hell did I ever do to you guys?"
"You mean besides always blowing us off when we tried to warn you weeks ago?" Chie asked snidely.
Kanji flushed, too proud or embarrassed to move from his defiant pose and justify a proper response.
Despite everything, Shirou gave a relieved smile that the worst was behind them for now. "Let's all just go home."
July 2nd, Shopping District
Mitsuo was panicking. Just as he was walking back from cram school for the day, he saw him, being lugged around by his sister's boyfriend no less. He followed at a distance just out of earshot to be sure. Maybe the foggy weather was playing tricks on him.
But when he got to the textile shop, there was such screaming emotion when the Tatsumi matriarch yelled with tears and the boyish cop reprimanded him. He acted so out of character just taking this in stride but there was no doubt.
Kanji Tatsumi was back.
He somehow survived and was back at his house. But how…?!
Unable to watch this anymore, Mitsuo ran back home and locked the door behind him. He collapsed by the door and curled into a ball, not bothering to take off his shoes.
Eventually his brown-haired, rusty-eyed angel of a sister noticed and kneeled at his side. "Mitsy, what's wrong?"
Mitsuo could almost cry at the unfairness of it all. "We're screwed. We're so screwed! That punk-asshole is still alive!"
"You mean Tatsumi-kun?" Sacchin asked, surprised. "Are you sure?"
"I saw him get escorted back to his home!" he wailed. "The police are going to question him, and then they're going to come knocking on our door and get us! We can't do this, nee-san! If he talks, we're through!"
"Mitsy, it's okay, calm down," she told him.
"No it's not! Everyone is going to be out to get us now!" he cried hysterically. "They're gonna find out—"
"Look at me, Mitsy." She told him firmly. He snapped at her gaze, ready to yell that things were so bad, but almost immediately the rage and panic was gone. Her soothing eyes quelled the despair in his heart, and he finally calmed down.
"The truth is, I never actually sent Tatsumi-kun away," said Sacchin, much to her brother's surprise. "I was scouting on how to do it based on what the serial murderer did, but that same night he finally showed up and did it himself."
"Then… that means—"
"They can't connect us to being guilty of a crime we didn't commit," she told him. "I doubt he would have any memory on who actually did it either. Otherwise the cops would have found the real killer by now after he failed with Yuki-chan and Kuji-chan."
Mitsuo felt a surge of relief. They weren't guilty after all. They won't be questioned or arrested for attempted murder. He wouldn't have to leave his sister's side, where he felt important and wanted after all.
And yet, at the same time, there was a bitter knot in his stomach. That Kanji was alive at all felt like a perversion of justice. He was clearly a jerk nobody liked, so why did he come back like Yuki-chan and Risette? Why wasn't he dangling from a telephone pole instead?
Whoever this serial murderer was, he was losing his touch if he failed three out of five times.
"So now what?" he asked numbly. He felt so lost without his sister's guidance and allowed himself to be pulled up from the ground in her firm hands.
"What else?" she asked back. "Clearly, we both know that the serial killer is failing, unable to kill even the most unpleasant of delinquents. I say it's our turn to tip the scales a bit."
"Do you… really mean that?" The last time she said they'd go after Kanji Tatsumi it had been a false start. In fact… "You lied to me before, saying you'd take care of him."
"I know, and I'm really sorry Mitsy," she told him with a pleading look in her eye. "It happened before I even realized, and I just wanted to make you happy knowing your big sis was reliable."
"Well, I guess I understand," he admitted. He just couldn't hate his sister even when she lied. At least she cared. "But I want in, next time."
"I want to be a hero, like you said. I can't be one if I'm scared all the time."
"And you won't, Mitsy," she patted him firmly on the shoulder, comforting. "We'll pull off a caper so flawless that they'll believe we're the true culprits unless the real one dares to stand up."
Mitsuo smiled with an unnatural, giddy glee inside. Sacchin licked her lips and smirked, picking up her umbrella by the door. "Let's do some recon before dinner, shall we?"
Evening, Dojima Household
Fortunately, after reaching the exit, Kanji relented in letting Shirou walk the rest of the way. Though that was only due to his own fatigue finally setting in. Yosuke was all but volunteered to bring the bleached teen back (though to his credit he shrugged his shoulders and carried him back). With a successful rescue, and a promise to Teddie to check up on him more, he went home to try and relax.
He just hoped Dojima didn't notice the now ring-like scar around his elbow. It would be kind of hard to explain exactly what had happened if hard pressed. If Doji-nii asks, I'll just say there was a soldering accident at the gas station when I was trying to work a welding iron. And that… I was too occupied to notice the pain. Gah, that will never work.
He tried to preoccupy his thoughts with cooking spare ingredients for lunch tomorrow; a sort of "cooking date" with the girls to help with their culinary talents (or rather lack there-of). It was meant to be just Satonaka and Amagi, but Rise heard about it the other day and wanted in, especially to unwind from a successful mission.
His worries and musing stopped as soon as he heard the door open. Nanako, sitting by the kotatsu in front of the TV, also perked up. "Dad's home!"
Dojima slipped his shoes off at the front door but he didn't come inside right away. Instead, he ushered in two more guests. One of which being his partner on the murder case, Adachi.
The cop noticed the two kids and waved. "Oh, hey there! Dojima-san's family I take it! I'm Tohru Adachi, a friend of your dad's! Pleasure to meet ya!"
Truth be told, this wasn't the first time Shirou had met Adachi, but it was the first time they were formally introduced. It was more for Nanako's sake than him, as she was now hiding in the back staring at Adachi. Or rather, at the other guest, who happened to be…
"Shirooooooou! Get me something good to eat! *hic!*"
-a wailing woman in a tiger-striped shirt slumped in the rookie cop's arms. Shirou froze, mentally processing what he saw and heard, dropping the spatula and ladle in his hands from the shock of it all. "Fuji-nee?!"
Slumped over Adachi's shoulder, Taiga Fujimura groggily raised her head up and gave a wide, flushed smile and slow wave. "Hiiiiiiiiiii! I want a dinner, and a bath and yoooooooou—" she slurred with a deliberate poke. The implications startled the men, especially Shirou, as he froze again upon how to respond to that.
"—to make it for me."
A wave of relief combined with exasperation engulfed Shirou as he struggled not to collapse and figure out what to say to her. He settled for the obvious. "You're drunk, aren't you Fuji-nee?"
"A very good question!" Taiga said with a grin. "You're smart like that, Shirou! And the answer might surprise you!"
"So you are," he deadpanned.
She pouted back. "I said might. Party-poo-poo-poo-peeeeer*hic*!"
"So, Fuji-nee huh?" Adachi asked. "Cute pet-name. All this time I've been calling her Fuji-cake."
The definitely drunk Taiga Fujimura giggled, nuzzling her head closer to his neck and chest area. "Aww, because you want to eat me aaaaall up, dont'cha?"
Shirou's eye twitched, and everything around him was drowned out to white noise from Cu Sith's roaring. He had an idea on why that was the case, and he didn't want to think about it. Not with how happily flustered Adachi was right now with his guardian.
Dojima was just as disgruntled, pinching his nose as he pointed over to the living room. "Just set her down at the couch without flirting, please. Nanako, set it up if you could."
"O-Okay," Nanako replied. Confused as the young girl was, she did as she was told by fetching some spare blankets as Adachi lugged Taiga over.
"Sorry to have sprung this up last minute," Dojima said as he meant it. "I tried calling your cell earlier, but you weren't picking up."
"I-It's fine," Shirou stuttered. He didn't think being in the Bathhouse dungeon for so long could make them miss calls as they never took stock of their time before. "But… why is Fuji-nee here in Inaba?"
"You got me. I only found out after my partner started bragging about meeting her at a hidden pub in the shopping district. Shiroku's, I think."
Shiroku's? The drug store next to Rise's tofu store?! Why was that a pub?! No, why was Fuji-nee at a pub to begin with? AND WITH ADACHI?!
"Shirou, calm down! You're hyperventilating!" Pixie's words were the needed rock for his emotional high. Perhaps the near-death experience had shaken him more than he thought. He didn't need this right now.
"I was just as surprised as you are, of course," Dojima added. "Not just her being here, but him finding a date? He couldn't get one after—" he stopped and shook his head. "Nevermind, it's work-related, and we're not at the station. Anyway, since Adachi lives on the way here, he came over to help us bring her here for the night."
Taiga was laid on her side on the couch, saying sweet nothings to Adachi and Nanako both. "You have such a comfy home, Nanako-chan! You're so luckyyyyyy! *hic*"
"Fuji-nee, why are you here?" Shirou asked her as he and Dojima walked over to the living room.
She started to frown. "You don't want me here?"
"I… am happy to see you again, really," he admitted. She was one of the bright spots of his normal routine back in Fuyuki, one of the two people that knew at least a part of his guarded self, and now among those that knew his real self. "But what about Sakura? Don't you still have a class at Homurahara High to teach? Or run the Archery club?"
Taiga's frown turned to a scowl. "Oooooh, that place? I quit."
"You mean you were fired?!" he cried out. Dojima and Nanako were just as alarmed. They all knew she had a habit of overreacting, but not even Shirou expected her to lose her stable teaching job! Already he was dreading the fact that he would have to support her night and day with cooking as she continued to get drunk, treating the whole house as a mess—
"No no no!" she whined. "I meant I took a break! Whazzit term again? A fur-*hic*… fur-*hic*… fur-loooooow. And Ayako-chan's watching Sakura-chan now, don't worry!"
"O-oh." A furlough. A leave of absence. He didn't think she could cash that in with how often she was late to her own classroom at the start of each day. And he could trust Mitsuzuri to watch over Sakura… or at least keep Shinji away from bothering her. That was all relieving, but… "But why?"
The somber topic made her frown grow and somewhat more lucid. "After Golden Week, I've been trying to change myself for the better. But it was hard when everyone at the school didn't take me *hic* seriously. I was able to block out all that out before but not anymore. Not when I realized I wasn't… happy with myself."
"I'm happy with yourself, Tiger-nee." Nanako said.
The small comment made the drunk woman smile for a moment. "Thanks, Nanako-chan." Then she scowled again. "At least she's considerate."
Shirou was taken aback by the remark aimed at him. "Huh?"
"I wanted to check up on how you were doing in Inaba, maybe relax down here too with you and Nanako-chan. I got down to the station as a surprise and called you today for you to greet your favorite big sister figure!"
A sense of unease filled Shirou's being. "Today?"
"Today! Otherwise it wouldn't be a surprise! But you didn't answer any of my calls! You were so embarrassed that I was coming that you blew me off entirely!"
Again, with the missed phone calls. That fight with Shadow Kanji must have taken longer than he realized. "B-But Fuji-nee, I didn't even know you were coming!"
"That's even woooooorse!" she bawled comically, hiding her face on the cushion.
"Cu Shirou, we really need to work on your foot-in-mouth disease."
He so didn't need this right now, but he sighed and asked her, "So then you got upset, wandered around the streets, and found a bar, right?"
She shifted her head back, barely a nod.
"And then you met Doji-nii's partner here who tried to bribe you with sweet-talk and food he'd pay for." Another nod. Adachi himself looked pretty proud of himself and happy of this, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"…and he didn't have enough money to get you all the food you wanted, right?"
"Right," slurred Taiga through the cushion.
Adachi flinched, and Dojima chuckled. "Heheh. That sounds about right."
"Only because you slave-drive me with barely any pay," the rookie whined.
"I can give you a raise, you know," the older cop reminded. "I'd also have to work you harder, too."
"…my current wage is fine, thanks."
Shirou smiled, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Fuji-nee. I'll make it up to you right away."
He then stood up and addressed his uncle. "Is it okay if I go out real quick for shopping?"
"Huh?" Dojima blinked. Where did that come from?
"I've been thinking since there's five of us tonight that we should have a big meal for everyone involved. You're staying, aren't you Adachi-san?"
"Well, all I have left back at my place is some cabbage casserole," he admitted. Then he stammered, looking back to Dojima. "Oh, uh… of course I'd leave if I'm imposing your hospitality, sir."
"No, it's fine I suppose," Dojima answered to both questions. If they were going to have a bigger gathering tonight, then who was he to argue Shirou's judgment? He was kind of in the mood for his nephew's cuisine anyway.
"Shirou's cooking~!" Taiga giggled, turning to look at him with tear-filled eyes of joy. "You really do love meeeeee!"
Shirou let out an embarrassed grumble. Growing up with her meant he had put up with more than his fair share of teasing and annoyances on her end. But the kiss back from Golden Week popped back into his head and left him conflicted. Whatever, it was a few months since they saw each other, and he was making it up to her with his food anyway. He'd allow her this pleasure for tonight.
"I guess the only place that would be open right now is Junes," Adachi said. "You could probably get there faster if you take Dojima-san's old scooter."
"Junes?!" Nanako latched onto Shirou's shirt and tugged it rapidly. "I wanna go! I wanna go!"
"Nanako, it's late," Dojima told her. "The only places that would still be open are groceries, and Shirou is only going there for a food run."
"And I'm not allowed to carry passengers on my scooter," Shirou added.
"I don't care! I still wanna go!" she whined. "I never get to go there…"
Dojima opened his mouth to argue against the contrary but realized he never actually did take her there. He was rarely around at home as it was, especially with the murder cases. Shirou also winced, realizing that he never got the time to take Nanako there at all either. He was swamped with schoolwork and Persona fights but to anyone else, he had less of an excuse.
"Besides, they have the pickled radish that you like. I was going to get it myself."
As her father felt a sense of guilt and warmth of her selfless request, Shirou brushed the hair on her head affectionately. "I don't mind if she comes," he said, subtly asking for permission.
Dojima really didn't like the idea of his daughter going out of the house late at night. His first response was to try and convince her to drop it tonight so they could go another day, on more ideal conditions. But that wouldn't be fair, and he knew it. Shirou was the surrogate brother that Nanako looked up to, and Taiga being here reminded him of their argument on their hands-off parenting.
Nanako deserved more trust. They all did, really. "…thirty minutes."
"You two can go to Junes for thirty minutes tonight, and then come right back. Just as long as you're safe and you keep your phone on this time."
Nanako's smile blossomed almost immediately, and Shirou's relief was just as rewarding. "Yay!" "Thanks, Doji-nii."
"Yeah yeah, just don't have too much fun," Dojima joked with a smile. "I'd go with you two myself, but someone has to watch over Taiga."
"Hey! I'ma plenty okay to take care of my-*urrp*!" The drunken tigress' weak argument (and weaker burp) only earned beads of sweat from her onlookers, less than impressed with her condition.
"I can watch over her, Dojima-san!" Adachi insisted… a little too enthusiastic.
Dojima gave him a long stare before adding, "But then someone would have to keep an eye on you too."
The kids were already on their way out the door. "Get your coat, Nanako. We're going to have to take a bus over."
"~Everyday's great at your Junes!~" And with that they were out the door.
"Huh, nice kids," Adachi said with a smile.
"Yeah," Dojima agreed, before kneeling down to the kotatsu. He turned the news on, just in time to hear the meteorologists bring up the weather forecast.
"And it's a good thing Kanji-kun was found too. With so many students coming back from kidnapping, maybe the murderer will stop targeting them. You wanna know what I think?"
"No. Now wash your hands and then set the table."
"We're off the clock and I don't want you talking about the case when the kids come back," he said in warning. "Besides, you want to impress Taiga, don't you? The fastest way to her heart is to cater to her stomach."
"That's no different from how you boss me around everyday…" Adachi grumbled but complied and headed over to the sink.
Truth be told, Dojima did hope that the cases would end soon. Adachi's conspiracy theories were welcome compared to the rest of the police department trying to put it off if possible. The stress and tension of unanswered questions was enough to make even the most stubborn officer throw up their hands in defeat.
Taiga's visit was a welcome surprise with how much her persistence made things better in the Dojima home, but the timing couldn't be any worse… or perfect depending who you asked. He looked over her sleeping form in concern. "I just hope you being here isn't an omen of things to come."
The only appropriate response, fitting for Taiga, was a loud snore.
A/N: I feel bad that it almost took me a whole year to get a new chapter done. I don't have much excuses other that writing original stuff kind of burned me a bit and I took time to unwind doing gaming stuff. And then the whole COVID-19 thing happened and I hope that the day comes that we can look back on this as a funny, if kind of morbidly sad memory. Hope you are all safe and clean!
Playing games and reading books is always a fun pasttime when waiting for other fanfics to update. I beat FFVII remake the other day and really enjoyed a lot of parts (the ending was exciting. the ghosts not so much).
Anyway, I guess all I have to say is that I almost wrote myself into a corner with Kagutsuchi's appearance here and changing things so drastically. In fact the plan of how this was going to go was a lot different than the end result. His appearance had more gravitas and impact than Shadow Teddie sadly but don't worry, he'll get his moment to shine. As will Taiga of course who is finally in Inaba herself.