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By the miracle of his superhuman durability, Klein’s fingernails weren’t torn off as he jammed them into stone, but the pressure he put upon them was still enough to cause him to squirm. Physically strong as he was, the man had neither the power nor the technique to push holes into stone, and had settled for bracing himself against it instead, using his strength to anchor both himself and Amulak in place. But his fingertips were getting awfully sweaty, and the natural wetness of the rock wasn’t doing him any favors, after all.

The mage’s response, thankfully, was swift. The three-meter long Spirit Divider sliced through the air, part of it breaking against Klein’s body as it fell. A twang sounded, and an instant later, the pressure on his leg disappeared. Before anything else could happen, the two scrambled up after, assisted this time by Raime, whose own strength, while nothing compared to Klein’s, was still enough to expediate their ascent. And as for Ames and Magpie?

They were already waiting out at the top.

When the three men finally crawled out of the steep tunnel, their clothes soaked and their bodies heavy from fatigue, the relative dampness and cold of the rest of the Blasphemed Tunnels was almost a blessing. Some ice cold Nuka Cola would’ve been amazing; even just ice water would do. But there was nothing there, and there had been nothing there within the underground cave as well though. Whether that meant it was time to call it quits or that their quarry was somewhere else in this subterranean network, however, was still up to debate.

Amulak would note, as the numbing exhaustion wore off, that something tight was still wrapped around his ankle. Without any steam stinging his eyes and obscuring his vision, it was clear what this material was: spidersilk, sticky and strong.
@Shovel@Searat@Psyker Landshark@OwO@Yankee

With a final glorious swing of his sword, Vator ended the remaining phantasm, cleaving its fat head off its shoulders. The rest of the body dissipated soon after, and the swordsman fell into the furry embrace of the bear underneath, who unceremoniously pushed him off and shifted back to Droko. Checking over their bodies for any broken or damaged equipment and finding none, the party headed back off to the wagon, where Man Joji sat. The merchant had obviously accrued some experience with roadside troubles, his countenance unflappable despite the supernatural chaos that the gyuki had wrought, and with a slow clap, he addressed the party, "Well done indeed. A truly good show, and one that I hope is indicative of your future endeavors."

"Yup," Vator said eagerly, "that's us! Always normal!"

Droko crossed her arms. "Get back to scouting."

"No break?"

"100% looked like your DPS was shit. Didn't even bust out your skills, right?"

Bortz guffawed. "Wow, V. What're you even saving SP for?"

"I mean,"
the swordsman shrugged. "Just forgot, y'know?"

The shaman narrowed her eyes. "Get running."

Vator's puppy eyes weren't enough to get him the support of Bortz, and after a longing stare at Ari, he ran off again, leaving smouldering footprints in his wake. The remaining party kept apace with Man Joji's old steed, opting to walk in front rather than remain at the sides. Though the merchant had called this a relatively quiet road, caution rather than comfort may be the better choice after all. They were lucky enough, after all, that the breath attacks of the two gyuki never extended far enough to strike the wagon itself. A party composed largely of melee or mid-ranged physical fighters didn't exactly have any ways of crowd controlling or defending, beyond murder and martyrdom. As a comfortable rhythm of travel smoothed out the last tensions remaining from the battle, Bortz spoke up again, his eyes sliding over amiably towards Ari.

"So, that thing was your Nuclei, ey? What's it do? Give you Matrix shit?"

"Auto-evasion capabilities," Droko supplied. It seemed she was bored enough with the quiet to join in this time. "That's what he means by the Matrix."

His luck was turning around, that was for sure. Otis looked at the spherical pendant he held in his hands as it practically pulled at itself until it was parallel to the ground. A powerful reaction for sure, and the location…the Strigidae closed his eyes and cupped his ears, listening carefully to the world around him. There was commotion, chattering, all just a couple blocks away, through the gaps between buildings and intersections, he saw the low-lying walls of Nijo Castle. A small crowd had formed at the gates, and more people were evacuated from within the premises as well. That castle…he recalled that it was one of the World Heritages Sites, as well as its history of being a project conceived by the first of the Tokugawas, but other than that, nothing in particular stood out. No terrible murders, no gloriously supernatural incidents, nothing that the public would be aware of.

Otis grimaced. Once again, public knowledge was found lacking. But there was one thread worth considering, at least. Nijo Castle was where authority was restored to the Imperial Court. Seirin was connected to that same royal lineage in some way. What associations were there?

Low-lying as the walls were, the Strigidae sprung up the side of one of the buildings adjacent to it, scrambling over patios and leaping off emergency stairwells until he pulled himself up onto the roof. From there, he had a clear view of what was within the walls, and Otis sat himself down, slinging his backpack off his shoulders and patting his sidepouch to ascertain its contents. Good, he was prepared. Better, he had brought his gun this time. Breaking it open, he loaded the chamber with deliberation, envisioning the best order of bullets that would work to cover the widest variety of situations.

Now, the only question…what was this? A monstrous incident, or a portal to another world?

He propped his offhand on his bent knee, then rested his revolver on top, watching carefully from a distance. The first bullet was a Vorpal Warp. Whether it was best for him to escape or to charge right in, Otis would be able to do so at the speed of a bullet.

Now, what answers could be uncovered here...
Still out there enjoying the normie life, Ink?

If she wasn’t going to ask, Isidore found no need to answer. Rather, he raised an eyebrow at Leuca’s insistence of a weapon large enough to slay massive beasts in a single blow. He had seen the results of her martial capabilities back against those armored centipede, of course, so she couldn’t have been lacking too much in terms of physical capability, but still, the presumption that only a large weapon could down beasts of prodigious sizes was going to be a…teachable moment.

All it took was a piece of metal smaller than one’s thumb to kill a bear, after all.

Still, if the ore used was of a superior quality to steel and could slice through bone without chipping, perhaps larger weapons did have their uses after all. Rubell Ore, hm? Certainly, judging by the Dirithen’s own overprotectiveness of their personal mines, it made sense that the Urutha would seek out their own ores for their own weapons. Isidore gazed at his own axe, wondering how they compared in terms of quality. No point in thinking too much about it though. Waste not, want not. He had a longsword, a dagger, and a halberd already. He had a form of ‘armor’ as well, and magic was indeed the answer he utilized for ranged attacks. The man paused for a moment, then remembered the face Augusta made.

“This one as well,” he said, pointing at a rapier. Isidore had the feeling it was the type of weapon she’d enjoy. Light and pointy seemed to work well with how she had been concentrating her magical attacks recently. “And two questions. Do you know magic that enhances the body? Do you know of any restaurants that specialize in less…aromatic cuisine?”

Isidore was feeling like he could go for something savoury himself, but Leuca would likely appreciate something lighter. A shame, really. She wasn’t going to grow up well if she didn’t eat something heavy.
The magma continued to churn, and after coming to the swift decision that no one wanted to die for Lugh, the party quickly organized their ascent up the treacherous slope. Magpie’s efforts, crude as they were, helped them get a headstart, everyone benefiting from being able to ascend one foot up easily. But the slog that was a climb through a small, cramped, slippery sauna-tunnel remained slow going. If they rushed it, their hands could slip and they could fall back. If they were too slow, then the eruption that Raime predicted would swallow them whole and all the END and HP in the world wouldn’t save them from death by flesh-melting. So, with varying degrees of success, the party negotiated the tightrope of too slow and too fast, pressing upwards and outwards.

Ames undoubtedly had the advantage of proper footwear, quickly taking the lead as he scrambled up the slope. The soles of his sturdy sandals managed to grip to the slick stone where others slipped, and the red-haired warrior ascended swiftly. Klein found success as well, even if he willingly took on the role of the rear guard. Descents may require technique, but ascents were all about endurance and strength, two things that a Mountain Man had plenty of. His Traveller’s Proficiency kicked in this time around, and was actually useful: planting his arms against either side of the narrow tunnel, Klein functionally became a safety net for the others, tough enough that he wouldn’t have fallen even if another person crashed into him. Between Ames’s trailblazing and Klein’s safeguarding, the three in the middle were able to climb safely as well, even as their hands became hot and damp from grabbing at handholds, even as their backs became more and more sweaty from exertion. Raime felt the toll of climbing the most. He had scrambled up as efficiently as any Scout could’ve, but after the initial burst of speed, was finding that his limbs were being to slow. He was certainly tiring, and it didn’t help that he was scrambling up with only one arm. Magpie was fine herself; monstrous strength befitting of a devil-horned brawler helped her prevent any falls. There were a few dicey moments, of course, but she could arrest her descent with the strength of her fingertips alone…even if those fingertips ached afterwards. It was Amulak, decked out in boneplate and a thick coat, who had the most difficulty. Whether it was due to some unseen modifier affecting his physical capabilities or just due the fact that Klein kept on awkwardly bumping into him during his climb, the necromancer wasn’t making nearly as much progress as he would’ve liked.

Beneath them now, the party could hear the rising of magma, splashing against rock with an almost geyser-like hiss. Shrill cries sounded, like the broken glass against chalk, before the cracking of stone resounded in quick succession. The chamber rumbled, echoes of the shockwave reaching the near-vertical slope they were in. A great mass of something was approaching from beneath. The party was a good thirty meters up now, but was that distance safe from the prophesized eruption? From within the thick steam, it was hard to see down below, but steam itself seemed to be rising up towards them, red-tinged and much hotter than before.


Something whistled through the air, snagging onto Amulak’s ankle. With a sudden jerk, the necromancer was pulled back, his foot wrenched from its hold and his nails scraping futilely against stone as he freefalled…right against the Mountain Man’s brick wall-like body. Klein was the rear guard after all, and this reversal of roles meant that he was able to stop Amulak from plummeting down the shaft, if only barely. But whatever had snagged Amulak did not stop just because Klein held on. The pressure upon the necromancer’s ankle increased, and slowly, Klein’s own hands and feet began to slip from the rocks that he had anchored himself onto.

It would be easy, to flip Amulak off like Magpie did to himself. It would just be like cutting loose deadweight, so the rest of the party could continue on at a faster pace. And if he did it quickly enough, it could be framed as an unfortunate accident.

But would Klein do it?
@Shovel@Searat@Psyker Landshark@OwO@Yankee

The world around her went dark, and then lit up in a phantasma of chromatic brilliance. Xu Fu, settling over Ari’s eyes, gave the catgirl insight once more on all identities around her. Bortz and the rest of her party members glowed blue and the frame of the gyuki that was still sandwiched between Vator and Droko oozed with a malevolent red. Where was the one that disappeared though? She whipped around, her sealed gaze turning all around as she tried to prepare herself for an ambush. Virtual energies continued to drain from her body, causing her mind to being light, airy, but the immediacy of the danger around her kept Ari focused. All it’d take was a single hit, and she’d die.

And then, she saw it. A fine red mist, once dispersed into near-imperceptible particles in the air, was now coalescing to her right, behind Bortz who was charging through the poison blast now to end the one gyuki that could be seen. Intangibility and invisibility then. Practically cheating. But let it be known that no phantasm could hide their form from the great seeker. Ari’s blades spun through the air, striking the half-tangible form of the monster and tearing great chunks out of it. The bleat of surprise, of rage, drew the hammer-wielding warrior’s attention behind him as well, and with a ferocious shout, he smashed the insect-bearing amber into the monster’s semi-formed skull. Upon contact, the hammerhead buzzed, vibrated frenetically, and the gyuki’s form was shook apart, viscera and blood blasting outwards, only to instantly evaporate.

"Nice fucking shit, Ari!"

Incorporeality, it seemed, had made it much more vulnerable to damage.

With only one gyuki left, the fight became a foregone conclusion, one in which Ari’s party had no chance of failing. That was good then. Very good. As Bortz laughed, swore colorfully, and joined in on the brutal murder of the remaining gyuki (who no doubt regretted grappling that giant bear), Ari could think on something else.

Within the unerring gaze of Xu Fu, she could see the merchant, Man Joji, exuding red fumes. And deeper in the wagon he used to transport his goods, rows of blue frames were stacked upon each other.

Isidore was just as surprised as Augusta when Leuca spoke up, though his own expression didn’t change when the small Sirithen decided that she wished to head for the smithy. It was a misinterpretation of his own intent: he had planned on scouting out Gloomhaven after the business with Sorcha, the Urutha queen, and the rest of the politics was concluded, as Sorcha had already proven herself…less capable of easily locating her charge. The cavern was large, and the people were many; he had been prepared to simply wait where the Fae-blessed swordswoman had left them. But Augusta already had plans to split off, and now Leuca was feeling antsy too…

It was unfortunate, that he ended up winning a fight he hadn’t even intended to pick. The man shrugged slightly as he caught Augusta’s eye, before saying, “Don’t get lost on the way back.”

And with that, he took Leuca by the hand and brought her into the heat of the smithy. The savoury aroma of cooked food fused with the stink of sweat and the sting of heated metal, reminiscent of the industrial area that bordered the home of his childhood. No oily fumes to choke out the throat though, nor any fat-fuck security guards to spit in your direction. Charming, that such a homogeneous society didn’t immediately treat foreigners with suspicion. Or perhaps in a world with such extremes of beauty and ugliness, these slight differences weren’t all that significant?

Nothing within the smithy particularly called out to Isidore though. Already armed to the teeth as he was, the man came here with the gaze of a fence, trying to gauge the value of the goods while masking his own relative ignorance with a veneer of calculating cool. Shields didn’t gleam, and there were no sign of projectile weapons. Swords mostly, and mostly of a uniform size as well. The armor looked to be of a sparser construction compared to the Apostles, but it could be worth considering regardless. He glanced over at Leuca again. She would’ve been frozen if not for the fur cloak, and even then, her outfit was hardly presentable.

Well, considering the state of his own clothing, bloodied and cut up as it was over the course of three days of rough travel, Isidore shouldn’t be too judgmental about it.

“We’re here for trade,” he spoke, retrieving the hunk of silver from his backpack. The ore settled on the counter with a definitive thunk, Isidore’s hand still resting over top. “Give us a fair price for this, and there will be more in the future.” A pause, a crick of the neck. He couldn’t fault her for wanting a weapon of her own; the longsword didn’t suit her frame. “And Leuca, pick whatever you’d like. From my experience though, a knife has more use than a sword, especially when you’ve two.”

One to throw, one to stab. One to attack, one to defend. And both for cutting up anything from wood to meat to vegetables. Small as she was, the Sirithen may be better off point-blank than in one-step.

“And, miss, I must ask. Why are blades red here?”

There were two things that Otis disliked: bullshit and defeat. Right now, this Kyoto trip, educational as it was, seemed to be featuring plenty of both. And he would not let this stand.

After returning to the hotel and having committed everyone’s faces to memory, from the older Yatagarasu member to ‘Shinzou, high ranking member of the yokai group Sennen-no-Matsuri’ (curious, that an assassin group would be named after a festival meant to celebrate scholarship), Otis promptly wolfed down his food and went up into his room. His empty room. No Tsurara, no Koyuki. Three separate futons, but only one that’s in use. Eiseikato. He’ll bother the teachers about it in the morning. Maybe prod them with questions until they get him the exemption he wanted. Call it scientific curiosity, but it’s mostly just stubbornness at this point.

With a thump, he sat down cross-legged in front of a table and swung his window open to let in the night air and the moonlight. It was warm and humid still, a summer heat made pleasant by a cool breeze. Good conditions. The Strigidae turned his head 180 degrees to the right, then 180 degrees to the left, plopped open his pouch full of magecrafting tools, and got down to work.

The most transferrable concept he learned today was the Seimei Star Talisman, capable of turning a magical effect into one that pervaded the area around the charm with a simple circle. Elegant design, one that ran counter to Otis’s own philosophy of concentrated micro-inscriptions.

Next, he pulled out one of his bullets, an Invoke: Phoenix cartridge. With a chisel, Otis carefully knocked open the base of the bullet and let the catalysts within out. Invoke bullets allowed for instantaneous firepower beyond what the catalysts for summoning an entity usually would allow, but that didn’t change the fact that these were still the proper catalysts for summoning a Phoenix. With practiced strokes, the tawny-haired youth drew out a small summoning circle.

Icarus was a Phoenix, and that gave him the classification of ‘yokai’. Otis was a Strigidae, and that gave him the classification of ‘beast’. What was the difference, and how did one tell that difference?

He slapped down a notepad, whispered the words to complete the summoning ritual, and in a poof of smoke, a small phoenix the size of his hand popped onto the circle. It chirped charmingly at Otis, who tossed it a slice of salmon from dinner. “Just stay still,” he said, allowing his mana to slide into his nerves and eyes. “Scan.”

Irrelevant information that he could’ve grabbed from any Arcanis encyclopedia flooded into his vision, but rather than read what he already knew, Otis tried to slow down the processing of the spell itself, carefully breaking down each individual component of the spell as he sussed out the specific magical formulation that scanned one’s race. If something could be cast, something could be magecrafted. He turned it on himself next, recording details again of what exactly the Scan spell was reading, and then, from his notes, figured out the differences.

There was an x-factor here, a factor that separated the spirits from the beasts, and the more accurately he could narrow down that factor, the more efficient and precise the magecraft he was trying to make would be. He cast and analyzed the fire element to remove that from the equation. He baited and scanned an actual bird to remove that from the equation. Immortality was unlikely to be scannable, but considering how Koyuki, Tsurara, and Icarus all naturally had the ability to live forever, that could be a factor worth looking into actually. Otis let out a breath, didn’t even want to look at the clock, and got back to work.

The construction will be a pendulum. Spherical in shape to multiply the effectiveness of the Seimei Star Talisman’s ‘circular’ enhancement. Demons were always of the night, so he’ll coat the inscriptions with moondust. The guiding function will come from his Fairy Bolt – Seeker design, efficacy reduced so that it didn’t snap the cord. The Scan inscription will be specialized to only search for the specific trait of ‘immortality/spirituality’, supported by the energy-reading function that came with the Eyes of the Dead talisman from the Tsuchimikado craft.

Otis poured over his outline carefully, simulating each step within his head. He popped open his tin can of sweets and mindlessly crunched down on a handful of jawbreakers. The baby phoenix, bored of a summoner that told it only to stay still, had long disappeared, but Otis didn’t mind. With hammer, chisel, and amber eyes that never blinked, the Strigidae began to carefully carve away, one gentle tap at a time.

A night slowed down into hours slowed down into minutes slowed down into seconds.

But the Strigidae continued to work, with a focus that crushed all worthless thoughts to dust.

All worthless thoughts, save for one.

Fuck these adults.

Otis did not sleep. But he was fine. He didn’t need sleep so long as he had a steady supply of sugar and caffeine. Convenience stores sure were convenient! And when the sun finally rose, he rose with it, dust off a night’s worth of labour and marvelling the craft he had committed himself to. Everything was pain, and he’d still have to do some trial tests, but for now…

Actually, no! He can do everything else on the fly, but he definitely needed to test that out now!

So, grabbing bread from the Lawsons that he had become very well acquainted with over the last night, he brought the pendulum with him to the scene of the crime: Kiyomizu Shrine. It was both a spiritual place AND a place where some yokai did some shit. Definitely a place to start, and more than that, a place to rest!

Because after his twenty minute brunch break, Otis was going to go on a tour of all the power spots in Kyoto, collecting data on the efficacy of his new device, making adjustments where he needed to.

Time for Round Two with Eiseikato.
Mm, not really vibing too much, so before I start holding people up, I'll just drop. Good look with the RP and I hope y'all have fun exploring!
Gonna throw words about the torii, or we keep vibing, Ink?
Magpie messed around (it was only funny if you were into boomer movies). Klein checked himself for hickies (there were none, thank god). Amulak offered to stick a centipede up in his friends’ spine. A few seconds elapsed since Ames pressed his hand against the white shell and felt something push back. And then, he saw an indentation push outwards from that oval-shape. It was small, perhaps even pointed, the protrusion that emerged from the white surface. The limb of a small child, or the tail of a lamia? Or something else entirely? Would monsters capable of what amounted to organized crime be so willing to leave their children or the fruits of the labor alone, with nothing to guard or protect it?

Raime, crouched by the grooves still, heard something. A high-pitched whining sound, needling into his virtual skull. Almost imperceptible vibrations, increasing in frequency. Not from below, but from around.

The magma from the singular pit in the room made its presence known aurally for the first time. It bubbled and boiled, molten rock frothing and hissing as it moved about.

What was happening?
@Shovel@Searat@Psyker Landshark@OwO@Yankee

“Umph!” Bortz grunted in response, his knees bending. As Ari grabbed on, primed to kick off, the warrior hopped up as well, ice cracking off his body as he sent his upper body up out of the stream of ice, just in time for Ari to clear it as well. Even with the combined maneuver, however, the cat girl’s strength was not enough to meet her aspirations. At only twice the physical strength of an average adult human, she had hardly any airtime at all. A mere second, enough for her Maneater’s Sickle to reach the gyuki but not enough for her to survive the vestiges of the icy torrent.

The sickle sliced against the right eye, unable to pierce, but able to bludgeon. The gyuki let out a bleat of pain, rearing back as the last surge of icy breath blasted out. And Ari began to fall.

Into the flesh-cracking ice below.

But from within the torrent of ice, an armored hand surged out, palm up! Ari was no titan of might, but Bortz, even as a second stream blasted him from the other side, was no bitch! The weight of a single catgirl was not enough to cause his arm to even quake as she landed upon the rock-solid platform, granting her safety from the toxic breath of the beast that wrestled still with Droko. She had avoided damage still, but out in the open like this, with only a hand-sized platform to dance around in, Ari would have no safety, and Bortz’s own HP was continuing to drop from the sequential elemental breaths that he’d endured. Vator and Droko looked to be doing a number on the gyuki that breathed out the toxic torrent though, the bear-woman biting into the soft meat of the cow-demon’s lower jaw while the firestepping swordsman made swiss cheese out of its back. If they finished off the creature in time, then the four of them combined should make quick work out of the remaining gyuki.

As such thoughts passed through Ari’s mind, however, the ice-spitter’s form dissolved and disappeared, like a mirage evaporating once temperatures chilled.
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