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Thread: Shinkai

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    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    Shinkai

    They said, within the Onikurayama Shrine, there resided a god.

    Normally, such a thing wouldn’t be noteworthy. A god within a shrine was practically a tautology, redundant. Gods were immaterial. They lived within the stones and rivers, the forests and mountains, ethereal beings bound to the land. Even if they couldn’t be seen or touched, humanity believed in them regardless. The shrine formed the gate, through which they descended from the world of gods to the world of men— but this one lived not with the gods.

    It could be seen and touched. It lived and breathed. It was bound not to the land or the sea or the relics of the past, but to flesh— a god in human form, dwelling within the shrine. It began as a rumor.

    Like most rumors, how it began had long been forgotten. They said, that through the offering hall screens, silhouetted figures could be seen. Voices could be heard. That within the closed-off sanctuary lived a girl of peerless beauty, clad in snow-white robes.

    Some said that she was bound to the sanctuary, never to leave that room. Others said she wandered the forests, only descending to the halls to receive her worshippers behind the screens. One had even claimed that come nightfall, that once all the worshippers had gone and silence had fallen upon the grounds, she could be seen wading among the shallows. Not one had doubted that she was the god of the shrine.

    So Akagane had heard, at least, from the other travellers at the inn. He and the escort had been travelling for— how long, now— six days? Seven? He had lost count of the time, his journey with the severe-faced guards proceeding in relative silence. They had not opted to make conversation, and he, in turn, was not in want of it. He was left alone, to mull in his thoughts.

    He didn’t understand, and no one expected him to nor had they explained; what, really, could a child understand? On a day like any other, these men had arrived at their doorstep, exchanging grave words with his father that he did not catch, only their expressions visible to him— his father sorrowful, his mother resigned. He remembered, at the time, his sister had cried. And like that, he was gone, taken by those men. It was the last time he had seen his parents.

    The men told him little, when they deigned to speak. That he committed no crime, nor was his family being punished. That their destination was in Nagaoka, the Onikurayama Shrine. That, upon their arrival, he would become a priest— a servant of their god, and a member of the Asagami family.

    He didn’t quite fathom what they meant by that, but what he got out of that was adoption. Why him, he didn’t understand. They had no answers for him. Be it that they weren’t telling, or simply didn’t know, he hadn’t a clue.

    And when they would arrive at the shrine, he would discover, then, that the rumors of the woman were true. That there really was a flesh-and-blood god, enshrined in the sanctuary. That he really was to become her servant.

    That all gods needed a sacrifice.


    Shinkai
    神界


    0/The Vagabond

    On Sundays, she would buy dried persimmons.

    It was a routine that Tsubaki had fallen into one day, though she couldn’t remember when or why it had started. Down at the markets, there would be street vendors along the riverside, hawking all varieties of wares and snacks— fried tofu and mochi cakes, fish tempura and buckwheat noodles— none of which she could buy.

    She was here running errands, after all, and money was not infinite. The shrine sent her down to buy groceries, not snacks. And so, it broke her heart, as much as a heart could be broken by a world of snacks just out of reach, but she always had to abstain.

    The tempura would just get cold by the time you get back, anyway.

    Sunday was the exception. For whatever reason, on Sundays, they would always give her a little extra money for her own use— perhaps a show of gratitude, or generosity on their end. Money, which could be spent on snacks.

    The vendors in the commercial districts changed day-by-day. Mondays through Thursdays, an old man would sell grilled eel by the entrance; she liked to amuse herself watching the eels swim about in the buckets. On Wednesdays, a bearded man would set up a stall for soba, and the days afterward, an old woman would set up her stall straight across the street from him; the two of them would exchange glares throughout the day, through the crowds of street goers.

    On Sundays, they would sell persimmons. She found herself here again. The stand was run by a restless youth about her age, perhaps a bit older, alongside his aging mother. He was a boy with a jaunty smile, who dreamed of making it big, opening his own business in Edo. But until then, he sold persimmons.

    How exactly he planned to make his dream come true, Tsubaki hadn’t a clue, and neither did the boy, she suspected. He wasn’t exactly making a fortune at his fruit stand, anyway.

    An eager smile. “Back again, Yamanoue?”

    Yamanoue. A nickname that had stuck, though she didn’t like it very much. She nodded, as she fiddled with her coin purse. She had forgotten his name.

    Hopeless dreams aside, visiting the stand became a habit of hers, even if, she realized, she probably would’ve rather had something other than dried fruits. Today, she found herself craving tempura, but found herself buying persimmons— as usual. By the time she left the market, she had bought two packs. One for her, and one for Seidou.

    The walk back always took a while; the shrine was a good distance away, hidden within the mountain forests. Her only solace was that the path was well-maintained for such a far out landmark, as the Onikurayama often received visitors. That, and that the long walk gave her time to work on those persimmons.

    The sound of clashing blades from the road up ahead broke her out of her reverie.

    She blinked. Froze. She strained her vision, her eyes darting wildly to find the source.

    It was coming from a short distance away, on a small clearing on the forest path, where several men stood, and how many more lay on the ground, their bodies limp and bloodied— clearly dead.

    Most of them men wore tattered robes and worn armor, their battered bows and blades drawn with unsteady hands, visibly unsettled. She recognized their kind and some of their faces, a band of outlaws recently made wanted by the local lords, who threatened the city outskirts. One of them stood taller and prouder at their forefront, his armor a bit more elaborate, a short sword and longsword sheathed by his side, one hand gripping each. Among them all, utterly surrounded, stood a single enemy, his face pristine and eyes calm, the paired blades slung by his waist. They were both sheathed. His hands were bloody.

    He took a step forward. They took a step back. A second passed. The swordsmen gripped their blades. Two. The sun beat down, a breeze rustling through the forest leaves.

    Three.

    A piercing yell echoed throughout the clearing— perhaps one of them had lost their cool— as one of the bandits charged in, his blade brandished wildly above his head. His comrades deigned to follow; the leader stood rooted to the spot, wary.

    The first one took a wild swing, as the man dodged it easily, landing a kick in his stomach, the sound of crunching bones audible throughout the glade. Another slashed at him from behind, only to have his arm grabbed, his body thrown to the ground, his head crushed by another blow. Several archers fired at the man in vain, as he grabbed a third by the neck, the bandit-turned-pincushion his shield as he charged into their ranks.

    The leader stepped back, panic in his voice. “Cut him DOWN!”

    The archers tossed away their bows and unsheathed their blades, the rest charging in all at once, all in vain. He weaved through them, his movements fluid and graceful, a short sword in one hand to block and parry, the other empty, his punches landing like sledgehammers. They fell, one-by-one, their organs crushed and bones broken, bodies crumpled on the ground, dead or soon-to-be dead. Dying cries echoed throughout the glade.

    Tsubaki was reminded of a memory long past, when they would play by the shallows of the lake by the shrine as children. She remembered— when a crane had landed nearby, and Seidou had tried to scare it off with a stick. Every swing he took, every strike he made, no matter what he tried, the crane would weave through the attacks unscathed.

    Like him.

    The storm settled. No one else stood alive in the clearing, but the man and the leader, a dead silence taking over the forest. The man sheathed his blades, and spread his arms wide open. His face was marred by a tinge of arrogance. “Well?”

    They stood motionless, staring each other down, for seconds that felt like eternities. With a desperate yell like that of a beast, the leader charged, his blade gleaming white in the sunlight, primed to slash at the man’s throat—

    It hit nothing but air. The leader’s eyes had widened in shock. With a single motion, the man’s hand had deflected the sword arm, almost gently, directing the blade out of the way. With a second motion, the bandit was on the ground, thrown over his head as the man grabbed him by the arm. A final blow to the chest caved it in, blood expelled from his throat. It had happened so quickly, she could barely make out their movements, the battle over in barely a second.

    A lull settled over the forest, the man gazing over the bodies of the dead, seemingly lost in thought. Slowly, he raised his head, only just now noticing Tsubaki watching him in the clearing, his eyes, widening, meeting hers. They held their stares, the forest utterly silent.

    Behind him, she had suddenly noticed, the bandit leader had gotten back on his feet, his gait unsteady, his hand grasping for his sword. He raised the blade above his head with a yell, a desperate, last attempt at the man’s life. The man had no time to react.

    On the hilt of his blade, a blue lattice formed across its surface, like a spider’s web.

    Sear.

    The bandit howled in pain, dropping his sword, cradling his hand as if he’d been burned. The man turned in alarm, and unsheathed his sword in a single motion, a single slash to take the leader’s head. The body crumpling over, the throat slashed, finally dead.

    The man held his stance, even after the deed was done; his hands were slacking, his grip weak.

    He slumped over and collapsed onto the ground.

    ◇◇◇

    When he came to, he found himself in the room of an inn.

    By the bedside sat a girl, a camellia adorning her hair, nibbling on a dried persimmon. When she notice that he was awake, she offered him one. “Here. Eat.”

    “You—”

    —Were that girl from the forest, the ronin was about to say. He remembered that final attempt on his life, how the bandit had suddenly dropped his sword in agony, as if cursed. The unasked question gnawed at him, but he thought better of it. “No thank you.”

    She almost snorted “That wasn’t a request,” she said, as she brandished the fruit at his face. “You didn’t collapse out of injury; you were barely injured at all. You collapsed out of hunger. Eat.” Grudgingly, he took a persimmon and took a bite. He had only just now noticed the ache of hunger in his stomach, almost wincing at the fact. She watched him, until she was sure he had eaten the whole thing. He ended up wolfing down half the pack. She looked somewhat annoyed at this.

    “Thank you. You saved my life.” His eyes darted around the unfamiliar room, the noise of the streets audible from just outside. It was still bright outside. “How long have I…?”

    “Been unconscious?” A shrug. “Not long, I suppose. Maybe an hour or two.” She shot him a scrutinizing stare. “Considering your state, I was surprised you could fight like that. After all that, I thought you’d be out for, hmm… a few days?”

    A short silence. She took that as her cue to continue. “What happened?”

    “I was traveling. To Nagaoka.”

    “Nagaoka?”

    He nodded. “To visit a friend, yes. I’ve been on the road, travelling for quite a while, and, well… I was attacked, as you saw.”

    “Well, then, I suppose you got here in one piece, haven’t you?” An unfamiliar voice, from right behind him. He hadn’t noticed the man standing there— a local samurai, from the looks of it. His swords were slung by his side, but from the looks of his robes, his general air, he seemed to be more the bureaucratic type.

    “This is Nagaoka?”

    The girl nodded. “You were almost there, by the time you collapsed. Only perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes away. The local samurai were alerted of a commotion nearby, but instead, they found you.” She got up from her seat, picking up her groceries from the floor. “Now that you’re awake, I’ll take my leave. If you’ll excuse me—”

    “—Wait.”

    “Hm?”

    A moment of hesitation. “What’s your name?”

    She stared at him for a moment, eyebrow raised, but decided it wouldn’t do any harm to answer. “Tsubaki. Yamanoue Tsubaki.” And with that, she left the room, disappearing around the corner into the hall, back into the streets.

    He found himself gripping the sheets, his knuckles white, at the sound of her name.

    He and the official watched her leave in silence. When he was sure that she was gone, the official turned to him. “She told us your story, swordsman. That she found you among the bodies of the dead. Dead by your hand.”

    “I… see.”

    The official seated himself directly across from him on the table, hands folded over his mouth, all business. He leaned in towards him. “You will tell us what you know.”

    What followed was a barrage of scrutinizing questions; he asked of him his name, his hometown, his lord, his story. The ronin pursed his lips. Regardless, he could not conceal the fact that he was without a master. He decided to call himself Yoshirou, and bureaucrat had not questioned it, though the man still seemed wary of him.

    He wondered what state they had found him in— among a blood-soaked glade, broken bodies, all dead by his hand? Perhaps the scene of the battle was all the convincing they needed, official measures aside? Whatever it was, it seemed to be enough to inspire fear in the man, however ill-concealed. He seemed eager to finish this as quickly as he could. The official asked of him the details of the encounter, nodding along as he listened, as if finding it satisfactory. He seemed in no mood to question him further, and just as well, Yoshirou was in no mood to answer. He fought an oncoming headache.

    Finished with the interrogation, the official withdrew a small bag from his pocket, and placed it on the table, the sound of clinking coins audible as he set it down. Yoshirou raised an eyebrow. “And this is?”

    “The bounty,” he said shortly. “Those outlaws you killed were a wanted band, a recent emergent threat to the town, and you wiped them out in a single battle. So the girl said. Well, who knows if there are any remnants, but the leader, at least, was killed. Consider it our lord’s sign of gratitude to you.”

    He was taken aback. “I… thank you.”

    The official gave a stiff bow, as he turned to leave. “A pleasure doing business with you.” The tone of his suggested it was anything but.

    And with that, he was alone again. He looked at his hands; they were shaking. He couldn’t forget that name.

    Yamanoue Tsubaki— a mountaintop flower.

    Could it be…?

    ◇◇◇

    To Seidou, dried persimmons were the last strands of spider’s thread, connecting him to his past.

    It brought back memories of his childhood. They used to own a persimmon tree out back, under whose shade they would take refuge as they played there during the summer. Come autumn, they’d harvest the fruits, bright and plump, eating half, and stringing the rest up to dry out in the sun. In the winter, they’d snack on them by the fireside as they took refuge from the cold. They had been Takara’s favorite food.

    For whatever reason, Tsubaki liked to buy him some on Sundays.

    Father liked to send her to do their shopping, sending her to town. It was a lowly task, he was told, but he almost envied her.

    She’d tell him stories of the city, of swordsmen and artists performing in the streets, of the kabuki theaters and the yakusha-e plastered to the walls, of hawkers and street vendors selling every kind of food imaginable by the riverside. He was never allowed down there. He had a duty to the shrine. As children, they had once whispered to each other in secret, as she conspired grander and grander plans to sneak him out for a night, for him to see the city with his own eyes. Alas, such plans never came to fruition, they could only dream of it, eventually being forgotten as the days passed— but she’d still tell him stories.

    He had concluded his duties for the day, as he sat on the shrine’s gate. He rubbed a small scar on his neck, taking care not to ruin the healing charm plastered on his skin, still feeling a little lightheaded. He always did, after the goddess took his offering.

    Tsubaki should’ve been back by now.

    It wasn’t dark yet, but it was about to be. The summer days were forgiving like that; he supposed there were a few more hours until nightfall. Seidou couldn’t help but worry. He heard rumors from the shrine’s visitors, of a band of outlaws preying on the roads that led to the mountains, of missing travelers and victims held for ransom. The local authorities were having trouble rooting them out. She had come back late before, and yet…

    She should be able to defend herself. There’s no way she would’ve—

    His ears perked up, as he heard footsteps in the distance. He stood up, eyes darting, and saw her, running up the steps. She looked tired, nearly out of breath, but she was smiling. Her arms were laden with groceries, a small package of persimmons on top. As usual.

    He couldn’t help but return her smile.

    “Welcome back, Tsubaki.”




    AN: Insert copyright disclaimer here-- but you already know that, no?

    Huge thanks to Frostyvale and Dullahan for betaing this, and helping me work out some of the kinks for the time-period. Long story short, this is a story about the demon hunter families in Edo period Japan, around the 1700s; that being so, it's heavily (probably entirely) OC based. The name "Shinkai" refers to a sort of hidden world in which kami reside; though admittedly the only source I can find that actually says anything about that is the Wikipedia page for kami. Welp.

    Oh, and that first fight was inspired by that first one from Sword of the Stranger, here.
    Last edited by Kirby; June 26th, 2016 at 02:06 PM.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

  2. #2
    死徒 Dead Apostle
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    Well this looks fun.
    Quote Originally Posted by You View Post
    Achilles = You were forced to read the Iliad in high school. Oddessyus was cooler. You still cannot spell Odysseus.

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    Eightfold Blessings of Smug Superiority Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    Nice to see something like this every once in a while.

    You definitely figured out how to fill silence like you were asking about; the fight scene was wonderfully tense and visceral.
    Supports:

    English FGO: 793848092

    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

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    TATARI Heiress ItsaRandomUsername's Avatar
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    I have no idea where this could possibly go, so more of this, please.
    * Dullahan 12/13/16 9:30pm
    there is an important difference between bullying and mindbreak
    * ~Keo 12/13/16 9:30pm
    one makes her cry and in one, she stops crying eventually

    McJon01: We all know that the real reason Archer would lose to Rider is because the events of his own Holy Grail War left him with a particular weakness toward "older sister" types.
    My Fanfics. Read 'em. Or not.



  5. #5
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Alternative Ice's Avatar
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    It's an amazing start, can't wait for more.

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    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    1/Princess of the Shoals

    In the summer, the waters of the shoals were mercifully warm.

    That wasn’t quite right, he supposed. The water wasn’t really warm, but it was the warmest it’d get for the rest of the year. Seidou guessed it must’ve been the mountain’s altitude that always brought a chill to the lake. That it was still the early morning didn’t help much either; the sunlight had yet to warm the grounds.

    The lake was a beautiful thing— encircled by a garden of mossy stone and mounds of land, of lotus blossoms and water lilies, a garden meticulously tended to and cared for by the shrine, like a world of its own hidden within the mountain, encircled within the trees. The hand-cut rocks formed the mountains, the flowing waters formed the seas. A stream, redirected from the mountain’s heart, flowed down one of the rock forms like a waterfall, and the lake emptied down into a small creek, flowing towards the city. At the lake’s center, a pavilion stood barely visible, shrouded by the trees. They said that it was this very building that formed the gateway between the world of gods and men.

    No matter the season, the flowers here were always in bloom. They said this was the blessing of the goddess.

    “...Harai-tamae… Kiyome-tamae…”

    Enchanting, yes, but it wasn’t something he’d want to bathe in. The water was always cold, and the lake bottom a pain to walk on, the pebbles poking at his skin, the silt catching his steps like mud. For some reason, it reminded him of mochi. Sometimes, the fish would swim by to nip at his skin. He found it novel the first time around, but it quickly grew to be a nuisance; he didn’t like fish, not unless they were grilled or fried. Even so, he endured it. A little chill and the occasional nibble was a small sacrifice to make.

    “Kiyome-tamae... rokkon-shōjō……”

    He was used to it by now. Seidou washed himself in the shallows of the lake, two priests standing sentinel by the shore, overseeing his purification, waving their wands above his head as they chanted their prayers, the paper streamers playing in the breeze. The waters of the lake cleansed him of his impurity.

    It wouldn’t do for the offering to be tainted.

    He finished his bath, and awkwardly climbed up the rock back to land. A servant of the household came to his side, handing him a cloth with which he dried his body. The warmth of the sunlight came as a relief, as he tried his hardest not to shiver from the chill of the lake. If he shivered, they would notice; if they noticed, they would ask. He didn’t need them to coddle him, after all.

    He donned a fresh set of robes as the priests led him back to the main temple, sprinkling salt along the path as they walked, the voices of their prayers mingling with the sounds of the mountain, of cicadas and birdsong and running water. In his arms, he carried a small bowl, and a bottle of sake. They came to a halt in the oratory hall.

    The priests stopped just outside the doors to the main sanctuary, the doors to open for Seidou alone.

    The sanctuary was a large hall, the wooden surfaces lacquered in black and vermillion, the walls adorned with glistening relics, the building itself segmented into four sections like rings. The outer ring was a corridor, leading to the middle ring through stairs on the front and sides, and the middle led to the inner sanctuaries, its stairs arranged like the level below it. The inner sanctuary was divided in two, separated by sliding doors, the stairs of the level below leading only to the entrance half. Beyond this doorway laid the very heart of the temple, closed off to the outside world. Her silhouette was visible through the paper screens.

    She seemed to be sleeping, or resting at the very least, lying on her side facing away from the entrance, as if lounging. Silently, he opened the doors, closing them behind him, his head bowed all the while. He knelt on the floor and, with a learned hand and delicate precision, filled the bowl with sake, the faintly sweet sting of alcohol playing in the air. He bowed without a word, his hands held out, the wine the first offering. Moments passed in silence. She stirred.

    Slowly, she raised herself up from the mat and turned to face him, long hair and layered white robes draping her body. Her hands on his, she took the bowl of sake, taking a single, long draught, her eyes closed, finally setting the emptied bowl to the side. Her face was slightly flushed from the alcohol.

    For a moment, neither of them stirred, her expression expectant, his reserved. Seidou took a deep breath. He undid his robes, leaving them to fall to the floor.

    Her eyes lingered on the scar on his neck.

    She climbed onto him; he made no effort to resist. They played their parts like actors, practicing a well-rehearsed routine. He was on his back now, her body against his, as she loomed above him on all fours. She bit into his neck.

    A sting of pain shot through him, as she drank from his body, the familiar iron tang of blood in the air. He felt himself grow weak and lightheaded; his vision began to blur. A weak laugh. Even if it hurt a little, to serve the goddess was his purpose, his highest honor— a small price to pay. It didn’t bother him, nor did he find any reason to be. He had gotten used to it all.

    What was a little pain, anyway?

    She drew the blood from his body, the greatest offering of his own he could give her, through which they shared their life. As she drank, he felt his strength leave him, as his eyelids grew heavy and muscles weak. Seconds, minutes, eternities, he hadn’t bothered to count; such a thing didn’t matter to him, and then she stopped, drawing her body from his with a tinge of reluctance, perhaps having drunk her fill. He slumped onto the floor as she set him onto the mat, kneeling by his side, her expression hidden to him from the weakness of his vision. As he fell into the darkness of dreamless sleep, he felt a hand against his cheek.

    ◇◇◇

    When he came to, he was back in his room.

    He found himself laying on his back on the futon, staring at the ceiling. Sunlight filtered through the windows; from its direction, he supposed it was probably still only morning. He winced. Seidou still felt lightheaded and weak, though a little better than before.

    I fainted again, didn’t I?

    Tsubaki was there by his side, intently grinding and pounding at something in a pestle and mortar. She liked to wear a different flower in her hair every day; usually she plucked them from the lake garden, whichever suited her fancy. Today, something white. He couldn’t see from this angle. A kettle of hot water sat beside her, boiling away on a small, portable brazier. Instinctively, he reached for his neck, feeling for the paper of the charm plastered to his skin. Almost instantly, she caught his hand, sending him an admonishing glare. Almost as quickly she let go, her expression sheepish, though still scolding.

    “Don’t touch it. You’ll ruin the charm.” Her eyes drifted to his hand. “And the futon, too,” she added, as she wiped the ink off his hand with a cloth.

    She sighed, and peeled the charm off his skin, the ink on it now somewhat smudged, and set to work on her new one. She retrieved a slip of paper, and with a fine brush and small pot of ink, she wrote upon it the characters:

    Tōasa-hime

    With a recited prayer, the ink began to rapidly dry. Gingerly holding the charm in the air, so as not to ruin her work, she brushed the other side with plaster, and with a delicate hand pasted it onto his bare skin, at the site of the wound on his neck.

    With a huff, she returned to her work, and Seidou turned under the sheets, half in part to watch her, and half so that he wouldn’t accidentally rub the charm again, lest she have to make yet another one. The steady, methodical rhythm of the pestle pounding in the air, stone against stone, mingled with the sounds of the morning. Rubbing her eyes, nodding at the mortar as if deeming her work sufficient, she emptied its contents— a coarse speckled powder of herbs both dried and fresh— into an empty vessel. She filled it with the water, hot from the brazier, swirling all the while as it steeped.

    They waited in silence for the medicine to finish steeping, Tsubaki staring at the vessel, and Seidou watching her. After perhaps a minute or two, she poured the vessel’s tea, clear and deeply brown, into a small bowl. It smelled faintly bitter— as usual.

    Seidou tried to raise himself up, but nearly collapsed back down as he tried, leaning on Tsubaki for support. With a sigh, she took the bowl into her hands, and raised it to his lips.

    A sheepish smile. “You don’t have to feed me.”

    She huffed. “And have to make another batch, if you spill it?” She nearly brandished the bowl in his face, as much as one could brandish a bowl without it spilling. “Here. Drink.”

    He sighed, but didn’t protest any further. Once she got like this, there was no convincing her. She held the bowl of his lips, as he took a long draught, as quickly as he could without having to taste the bitterness of the medicine. He downed the entire bowl, and coughed, grimacing. Tsubaki handed him a cup of water, which he accepted with a muttered “Thanks”, to cleanse his palate. If there was one thing he never got used to, it was the taste of his daily medicine, even if it was necessary. He felt a little less sluggish than before.

    When he regained his bearings, he noticed Tsubaki staring at him with an odd expression.

    “You were unconscious for a while. Longer than usual.”

    “Oh…” He stared absently out the window. The shrine seemed to be getting more visitors than usual today. “I’m sorry.”

    She shook her head. “Don’t apologize.” She sighed and leaned in, scrutinizing his condition. “Are you feeling well?”

    “I’m fine, really,” he said, though she looked unconvinced, as usual. “I’m just tired today.” A silence fell upon the room, as he tried in vain to evade her glares. “What time is it?”

    “It’s nearly noon,” she said, as she examined his face. She put a hand to his forehead. “You’re usually not out this long.”

    She wasn’t wrong. The lightheadedness or the sluggishness weren’t unusual, but it wasn’t often that he fell unconscious. Even then, it would only be for an hour or so; by the time he’d wake up, it’d still be morning.

    “...I haven’t got to finish my morning duties—” He made a move to rise from bed, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. A pause. He relented, and looked away. “Are they angry?”

    “No. Worried.”

    He slumped back into the futon. “I’m sorry.”

    Another sigh. “Again, with the apologies.” Her voice trailed off into silence, as she set her hands on her lap; whatever she was doing, she seemed to have finished. “Master Asagami says you should rest up today. It wouldn’t do if you injured yourself during your duties,” she said. She looked sullen at this.

    She’s still not allowed to call him ‘father’, isn’t she…?

    Seidou nodded. It wouldn’t do, indeed. The goddess needed his offerings, and if he fell ill, he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his duty to the shrine, to her. He felt a pit form in his stomach at the thought, and pushed unpleasant memories to the back of his mind. And yet…

    “But really, I’m fi—”

    Rest. At least until noon,” she added, as he opened his mouth to protest. “They’re not asking for you to stay in bed all day. They just want to make sure you’re fine.” Seidou couldn’t tell what kind of face he was making, but Tsubaki seemed to find it amusing. “Come on, just this once. They’ll chew me out if they see you up and about like this. For me?” A wry smile.

    He sighed, and laid back down. “Fine, fine. Just wake me up once it’s noon.” Was he smiling? He could never tell.

    She breathed a sigh of relief, and got up to pack away her tea set. At long last she finished, and made her way to the door. With a bow, or at least as much as she could bow with her arms laden with bowls and pots, she took her leave. By his bedside, she left her flower, a snowy white gardenia.

    ◇◇◇

    Outside the living quarters, a man in slate-gray robes waited, watching the shrine-goers from the veranda. He leaned against the pillar, lazily cooling himself with a paper fan, as the summer sun beat down upon the grounds. He stirred, as she approached.

    “How is he?”

    “Fine, he says. Just give him some time to rest.”

    “I see.” The man nodded, and did not deign to speak any further. Tsubaki took that as her cue to seat herself beside him, and the two watched the various visitors to the shrine milling about the grounds. It had been a week since the arrival of the vagabond that had killed that band of outlaws, and the shrine had received more visitors as of late. She supposed, with the bandits gone, the roads to the shrine were safer now, and travelers could visit with more peace of mind.

    “That swordsman…”

    “Hm?” The man looked up from his reverie.

    “Have you still no—” She caught herself, and admonished herself. He wasn’t Seidou. She couldn’t speak to him like that. “Do you know what became of him?”

    “You know better than we do. You alone met the man himself.” He kept his expression neutral and tone formal, though she knew him well enough to know that he was inwardly laughing. He noticed, didn’t he?

    “He has not yet visited?”

    “No.”

    “Surely?”

    He nodded. “After his… deed, he is not unknown in these parts. The townsfolk seem to have taken an interest in him— as much interest anyone would take in a vagrant, anyway,” he said, gesturing towards the main grounds, from which the bustle of the shrine goers could be heard. “If he had visited, you would hear it from them.”

    “They speak of him as if he’s some hero.”

    “Oh?”

    “Like the Musashi of our generation.”

    “Do you disagree?”

    “I—” She hesitated. What was she getting so worked up about? “I don’t know.”

    “You alone saw him fight—”

    “Haven’t some other local swordsmen challenged him to duels, already?”

    “—Fight to kill, anyway. There’s a difference, you know,” the man said with a shrug. “I saw one of the duels in town. The challenger couldn’t even lay a finger on him; he just dodged blow after blow. Your friend here simply knocked him to the ground in one strike, with his hand.” He laughed. “Like he got bored.”

    She nodded. She could believe that. “Have you heard anything else?”

    “Nothing much. Though he’s apparently seeking employment and residence in the town now— not as a caravan bodyguard, as they travel— but perhaps as a bodyguard. Maybe for a merchant, or even the local lord.” He looked to her. “Does he concern you?”

    A slow nod. He shrugged. “Don’t be. We have greater worries on our hands than just the travelers that visit the city.”

    Indeed, they did. Seidou had been sickly as of late, though she hadn’t a clue why— not that he was completely healthy before, as he had always been a bit frail; his offerings to the goddess had weakened his body, even if he liked to put on a brave face and insist he was fine. And yet, even before, he would have had enough life in him to perform his daily duties just fine.

    As if he read her mind, or perhaps it was just written all over her face, he answered her unspoken question. “We don’t know exactly what’s wrong with him, though whatever it is, it shouldn’t be too serious. He displays no other sign of illness. The usual medicines should be enough.”

    She had already noticed that, too. No cough, no fever, just a fatigue and lethargy that drained his body. No, this wasn’t an illness. Only a few ideas that came to her, that his offering to the goddess was starting to take its toll on his body, or that she had, for some reason or another, deigned to take more of his life than usual. She felt a lump form in her throat at the thought, almost taken with anger, yet the feeling had gone as quickly as it came, leaving nothing but the weight of her guilt, her helplessness.

    The man glanced her way. “Worried?” He lowered his voice to a hush, his tone softer.

    She nodded. “Was it that obvious?”

    He almost laughed, his voice gruff. “You’re an obvious person, even if you like to make yourself out as otherwise,” he said, as he watched the shrine grounds. “Don’t worry about it, Tsubaki. He’ll be fine, once he rests up.” With a pat on her back, he got up leave. “Look after him, okay?”

    Her eyebrow twitched, but she nodded and got up to take her leave too, to return to her usual duties. As she passed him by, she heard his voice, barely above a murmur, words that only she could hear.

    Tonight. In the forest behind the gardens.

    With one last nod, they parted ways. On her way back to the main grounds, she gripped a folding fan concealed in her sleeve, her heart steeled with resolve.

    ◇◇◇

    They said, within the Onikurayama Shrine, there resided a god.

    So Yoshiro had heard, from the townsfolk of Nagaoka. It was a legend native to this region, dating back to the town’s origins, back when Nagaoka was but a collection of humble villages by the shores and rivers, rather than the castle-town it was today.

    There were many spins on the legend he had heard, be it from the vagrants from the seedy pubs, the merchants from the market, the samurai stationed at Zaodo, some takes more embellished than the others. But no matter the teller, when it came down to it, they all told the same tale— of a goddess born from the sea foam.

    Demons once dominated these islands, feared and revered in equal measure— aspects of the world given form and life, fickle as the earth they lived on, perhaps bringing fortune and bounty one day, and disaster the next. Generations of labor and toil could be crushed underfoot in a single night. Villages could be shielded from calamity by mere whim. Fear and awe of the world gripped the humans; as if to placate these chaotic forces, they began to worship them.

    The people of the villages that would one day become Nagaoka once worshipped a demon god.

    It began with the attacks from the demons of the mountains, their leader a monstrous oni, his eyes like burning coals, his stature towering over buildings, his club the size of a full-grown tree, said to be able to strike up a storm of flame with a single swing. These villages were not strong. Their defenses could not hold. When faced with certain destruction, they sought to delay it, to cling to life, to strike a bargain with the demon god: that the village should be spared, in exchange for a sacrifice.

    And so, each month, for years and generations to come, they would select a villager to send to the mountains as an offering to the demon god, their fates unknown, better left unimagined. Even so, they resented this fate.

    Be it a response to their pleas, a whim of the earth, or sheer coincidence, their prayers were answered.

    A goddess was born from the sea foam, from the shoals of the seaside— and that is where all the tales’ similarities end. Some said she was born in answer to the villagers’ prayers, and rose to do battle against the demons of the mountains, one force of nature against the other. Or that she was mistaken for a simple village girl abandoned by the shore, who came to live with the villagers as one of them and was fatefully chosen one day to be the sacrifice, a choice that ended in the demon god’s destruction. Or that she struck up her own bargain with the demon god, a plea to spare the village and take her instead— the final sacrifice.

    Like the very sea foam she was born from, her life was fleeting, fated to end as quickly as it came; most versions of the tale ended with her death. Most versions that he had heard also liked to embellish her life with romance, as such legends like to do. That in her brief life as a human, she fell in love with a man from the village and fathered his child, who would continue her legacy in both duty in name, a legacy that survived to this day.

    They called her Tōasa-hime.




    AN: Thanks as usual to Frostyvale and Dullahan for betaing.

    "Harai tamae kiyome tamae rokkon shōjō (祓い給え清め給え六根清浄)" is a chant in misogi purification, usually performed under a waterfall. No waterfalls here, though. The literal meaning is "Exorcise me, Purify me, Purify the Six Roots of Perception" (-Dullahan).

    The temple structure described in the first scene is based off of the honden section of this layout. Zaodo, Onikurayama, and so on are actual locations in Nagaoka. Zaodo is no longer standing, though. The goddess's name is written with the characters 遠浅姫. The legend about her is purely made up and fiction.

    Oh, and that medicine described is based on something I've actually had, supposedly a cure for a chronically weak stomach. No clue if it actually helped, though.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

  7. #7
    白猫 Frostyvale's Avatar
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    The little legend sets the tone just right. Should be fun to see what's coming.

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    Eightfold Blessings of Smug Superiority Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    I wonder if the vagabond is a demon hunter sent to kill his way through the other protagonists and everyone they know.
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    English FGO: 793848092

    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

  9. #9
    Unpromised Victory, isn't it sad? CG-3m1y4's Avatar
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    I like where this is going. Continue Kirb.
    Quote Originally Posted by My F/GO Collab Dream Never

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    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    2/A Servant’s Duty

    The clashing of steel against steel echoed throughout the forest.

    They ran, each circling around the other, weaving through thickets and tree trunks, twigs snapping and earth crackling beneath their feet as they dodged, leaped, bounded. Only a few slivers of moonlight filtered through the treetops to light the grounds. Their faces faded in and out of sight like ghosts.

    The scent of woodsmoke hung in the air.

    With a single motion, she flicked open her fan, a lattice spreading across its surface, a brilliant blue spider’s web. A faint red glow of steel.

    She detected movement from the left, blades flying from the bushes. To begin, a rhythm.

    One. She felt the heat in her blood. She flicked her wrist; she felt three impacts. Contact.

    Two. Blood, receding. She caught them in her sight, gears switching in a split second. The lattice spread, like ink in water.

    Sear.

    Three. She followed through on her motion. The blades were sent flying. Two into the bushes, leaving burnt foliage and ash in their wake. One at the attacker. It missed its mark. She could see them on the forest floor, red hot glows fading into black.

    Repeat. A rhythm like clockwork, blood ebbing and flowing, bluebell lattices and flame twinkling and fading like stars. He sent the blades to her; she sent them back. Her eyes hurt from the strain.

    There. An opening. A slight stall in his movements, a fraction of a second lost. Her blood grew hot. The earth cracked beneath her steps. She folded her fan back, primed like an iron baton, brandished to strike—

    For a second, she saw a bluebell lattice on slats of the fan.

    Ah.

    Splitting pain, like her eyes had been set aflame, like the blood had been turned into molten lead. With an ungraceful crash, she tumbled into a tree.

    ◇◇◇

    When she came to, she found herself lying on a tree stump.

    The man sat across from her stargazing, his slate-gray robes untouched. He lazily fanned himself, though a night like this wasn’t quite hot to need it; come to think of it, she was missing her fan. He sighed.

    “It happened again?”

    Tsubaki felt heat in her cheeks. She averted her gaze, giving only a slight nod.

    Another sigh. “That won’t do, you know. You can’t use your blood and your eyes together like that, no matter how much you try,” he said, weariness tinging his voice.

    “I know. I wasn’t trying to do that. I—” She sighed. She palmed her head, both from the pain in her temples and the embarrassment of her mistake. “It… was an accident.”

    “Oh?”

    “I got excited. I fired it by mistake.”

    “And had I been a demon, a mistake like that would have cost you your life.”

    A sullen silence. She muttered under her breath. “I’m not a hunter.”

    “Maybe not. But you still have a duty,” he said.

    “To what? Buying your groceries? Sweeping the grounds? The shrine is peaceful.”

    He raised his eyebrow. “And you think it’ll stay that way?”

    “Why would it change?” She glared at him, and he returned her stare impassively. They passed a few seconds like that in silence, and he sighed.

    “...You really know nothing about Seidou, don’t you?”

    What does—” A cut herself short. Did she lose her cool? She felt herself gritting her teeth, and lowered her voice. “What does he have to do with this?” No answer. He continued to fan herself under the moonlight, his expression utterly unconcerned. He folded back her fan. Her heart was racing.

    Without a word, he lifted himself up from his seat, and tossed her back her fan. A dry smile.

    “If you can land a hit, I’ll tell you.”

    ◇◇◇

    In the end, she never could land a hit.

    The next morning, she found herself nursing a bruised arm, probably owing to her misstep in their last bout, which resulted in her taking a direct blow. A quick charm plastered over it took care of the pain. It wasn’t really necessary, honestly. It would be healed by midday. Such was the goddess’s blessing.

    In the end, he never told her what he meant.

    That day she first met the boy— how long ago was it? Nine years? Ten? She only saw him from afar, of an outsider brought into the shrine. They did not speak of him, or tell her why he was here. All they did was give her a duty. A purpose where there had been none before.

    “—Protect him.”

    From what, she hadn’t a clue. She tried to fulfill her duty, but there had been little duty to fulfill. They passed their days in the shrine in peace.

    It was nearly noon. Seidou had recovered from his weakness from the day prior, and finished his ritual duties with the goddess for the day. Some days they’d find him lying in the sanctuary, unconscious or sleeping, weakened by his offering. On others, and they’d find him wandering about the shrine, or perhaps the garden; those days he’d just be lively enough to need little more than just the usual charm. The latter was rarer than the former, but today, he pulled through. Today, perhaps, was a good day.

    She found him outside near the main grounds, taking refuge from the sun under the veranda. In his left hand he held a wooden plaque; in his right hand, a small brush. Several tools— inkstones, plaques both blank and finished, bowls of water, carving knives— laid haphazardly scattered around him, a little studio of his own. He was absorbed in his task, his brow furrowed, painting over the plaque with quick, deft strokes. What exactly he was painting, she couldn’t see from her position. Several of the visitors— children, from the looks of it— watched him work with interest, peering over his shoulder, sitting cross legged by him as he worked.

    She watched him from afar, lest she disturb him, though the children seemed to be doing that job just fine already. And yet, he noticed her watching, and waved to her from a distance. Smiling, as usual. Tsubaki hesitated. She had been tasked to sweep the grounds, and she wasn’t keen to neglect her duty.

    But, if a master of this house orders me to come, who am I to decline?

    As she approached the veranda, she could hear their voices more clearly now, of the children running and playing and telling him their wishes, their messages to the goddess, as he wrote them down on the ema.

    “I wanna to grow up to be rich—”

    “I hope Uncle Kenta stays safe in Dejima—”

    “Please, help my sister get better—”

    “I want to marry Hanako when we grow up—”

    And so on. And here and there one of them would tug his sleeve, or stare at him all puppy-eyed, and have him paint a little extra on their plaque. And he would oblige them, of course, every time; with a few skilled strokes, he’d jot down maybe a galloping horse, or a curled up cat, or a flower, or a bird, or a woman. A short distance away, a stall sat, with blank plaques next to a donation box. Some wrote their own wishes, but the others who couldn’t write came to Seidou.

    Well, the shrine had to make money somehow.

    He finished his work, and motioned for her to sit with him, and so she did. They watched as the children, with their plaques all painted and wishes all written, left for the wall to hang up their wishes with the rest. Some of the shorter ones had their parents hang up their wishes for them.

    The shrine was busy today. It was to be expected; the festival was coming up soon. Nagaoka tended to get more visitors around this time of year— merchants to expand their businesses, performers and artists to attract new audiences, or simply just visitors here to join the festivities. The Onikurayama, likewise, got its fair share of the crowd too. Foreign monks conversed with the shrine staff. Some artists, both locals and strangers, gathered around the kagura hall. A priestess led a ronin to the worship hall. All in all, more life here than she was used to, though it would pass come a few days or weeks.

    A brief moment of respite. Seidou absently worked on an empty plaque.

    She looked over his shoulder. It was a simple painting, black ink only; literati-style, she remembered it being called, from the painters in town, though she supposed he never would even have heard of it. Three strokes in the background formed the mountains, two softer strokes just beneath formed its reflection in the waters. A few lines in the foreground formed the branches, blots along the edges suggesting foliage, and small dabs at the sky suggested a moon hidden by clouds. In the middle of it all, a girl in the lake shores— a single, smooth stroke forming her hair, faint lines the edges of her robes.

    He noticed her staring. “Do you want one too?”

    She was taken aback. She almost laughed, and put a hand to her mouth to stifle it. “No. I was just looking, that’s all. You’ve improved, you know.”

    “What, nothing to wish for?”

    It was his turn to laugh, and she glared at him. “Of course I have wishes. I’m just not telling them to you.”

    “Why?”

    “Because you’ll know!”

    “Those children didn’t seem to mind, telling theirs to me.”

    “But you’re only a stranger to them,” she said, “So it’s not like you’ll see them again, or remember their wishes?” He stared at her slack-jawed, clearly not convinced. She continued. “It’s a secret, alright?”

    Seidou sighed. It wasn’t often she found him disappointed. “I suppose.” He looked at the plaque he was working on with a frown. “It’s kind of a shame to waste this one, though.”

    “Then why did you draw it, in the first place?”

    He held up the plaque, as if scrutinizing it. He was still frowning. “I don’t know.” He fell silent.

    They sat like that in silence, the buzz of shrine visitors and cicadas in the air. “Well,” she said, “Why not write yours, then?”

    He didn’t answer her.

    They fell back into silence. In the distance, they could see the children from before, still running, still laughing, still playing. Their parents came by and took them by their hands, leading them out of the shrine and admonishing them, their exciting chatter fading into the distance. Seidou seemed lost in thought; he wasn’t smiling anymore.

    After what seemed like an eternity, he took up his brush, and wrote down a few words on the plaque.

    Tsubaki didn’t know what they said; she couldn’t read. She looked at him inquiringly, her unspoken question clear on her face. He only smiled, the same smile as always. But if anything, he seemed almost sad.

    “Well, it’s a secret.”

    ◇◇◇

    In the end, more visitors arrived, and Seidou returned to his task of writing their wishes.

    She left. Tsubaki warily watched the other priests, in case one of them would have seen and admonished her for leaving her job like that, but no one came. She breathed a sigh of relief. Supposedly, they would excuse such a thing if it was just for Seidou.

    By now, it was already a bit past noon. She finished her task of sweeping the grounds, and the pain in her arm had mostly faded.

    Tsubaki wandered over to the office near the residential quarters. It was busier there today, more than she’d expect from just this level of activity. She raised an eyebrow.

    As she approached, another servant took her and dragged her on over by the arm.

    “We have guests,” the servant said, almost apologetically. She looked worried. “A little help?”

    She sighed. Of course. And from the looks of it, they were important ones, and a lot of them. While the family hadn’t asked of her to help serve them, she supposed there wouldn’t be any harm to it. After all, such was a servant’s duty. They probably would end up asking her eventually.

    The other servant led her to the kitchen, and in the end, she ended up being tasked with making tea. When she moved to bring her tea equipment to the room, the other stopped her. Perhaps they wanted privacy, or would rather that a servant such as her not be present for their meeting.

    And so, she prepared the tea in the kitchen. She supposed they’d rather have sencha, anyway.

    Tray in hand, laden with teacups, a full teapot in the center of it all, she made her way to the meeting room. Sheathed swords laid outside in the hall, another servant standing guard.

    She excused herself as she entered, and she felt the stares of the visitors of the room. At the table, she could see Jun’ichirou, the Asagami heir, at its head. The rest of them seemed an odd bunch, not the important sort she’d expect, like the castle samurai or the government officials, though she thought she saw the local lord’s emblem on one of their robes.

    Some looked like monks, the others vagabonds. She saw an Asagami priest by the heir, as well as what seemed like some foreign priests. The ronin from the other day was there too, and looked at her with a raised eyebrow. She set the tray down onto the table. When she moved to pour the tea, Jun’ichirou stopped her.

    “Thank you. We can pour the tea ourselves.” She gave stiff nod in response. “You are dismissed.”

    She bowed, and took her leave. As she made to exit the room, she bumped into another man.

    “My apologies—”

    A reflexive response. She only just now had a chance to look at him; a giant of a man, with a stern, stolid countenance. He wore the attire of a monk. The man looked at her for a second, as if regarding her, and gave a wordless nod. He didn’t seem to take any offence. As Tsubaki left to exit the hall, she could hear Jun’ichirou’s voice from the other room.

    “—Welcome, Master Kishima.”




    AN: As usual, thanks to Frostyvale and Dullahan for betaing.

    Literati-styled painting refers to the ink-wash style that originated in China, often practiced by the scholar-gentry wenren class, also known as the literati. This style of painting spread to the neighboring countries, and so is called "sumi-e" in Japan. Generally, it's that type of Asian painting that generally only uses black ink and relies on negative space and the like.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

  11. #11
    Eightfold Blessings of Smug Superiority Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    And the tot plickens with a meeting of esper and demon hunter. Also Asagami? I thought it was Asakami at this point, though that's probably my shoddy memory at work.
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    English FGO: 793848092

    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

  12. #12
    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    Probably, but by the time I posted it all I didn't feel like changing all the -kamis to -gamis in all the chapters, though -gami is still a valid way to pronounce the character: for example, in inugami (犬神) and shikigami (式神).

    In the novel of part three, I don't think they made any specific phonetic distinctions other than the differing characters, anyway.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

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