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As the shadowy boy quipped at the hedgeman and stalked off onto the bridge, Lilann was glad for her mask. Something told her he wasn’t fond of being grinned at, and as fun as it could be to tug someone’s strings, she wasn’t exactly eager to provoke him. It came as no surprise that he was familiar with—and the word he’d used was—ambushes, but the wild theories began to bloom nonetheless.

What did surprise her was Kyreth snagging her by the arm and marching them right past Jenson. It had taken restraint not to yank herself away, but even radiating anxiety she still didn’t get the sense that she should be afraid of him. He moved with all the clamor of a mouse across cotton, and though she was no stranger to soft-stepping, she felt like a stumbling oaf in his wake. How fascinating, was this some sort of mystical talent? Or was it simply practice? When it seemed they were far enough for his comfort, he hunched low—something that, once, she would have taken for a slight—and explained himself. He was worried, rightfully, but also concerned for her. Sweet boy.

Alas she saw the lights beneath the murky water and, like a light beam in a room full of mirrors, her attention bounced again before she could manage a thank-you. Letting slip a little gasp, she scooched over to the jut of one of the bridge’s balconies

“Something off indeed! Look here, Kyreth, do you know what those are?” she asked, of course, rhetorically. Wander’s Warning. Pretty things, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an omen so ill as these. Heralds of death. Vows of vengeance so furious they transcend the realms of the real and the ab-real.”

Lilann stared down, but for as much vigor as she put into her words, she couldn’t find it equaled within her. If Wander’s Warnings really were the cries of the dead, she figured there’d be far too many angry Tainted spirits for it to have remained a sailor’s tale. By design, Lilann didn’t think much of the ‘after’—by all accounts her kind didn’t really get much of one. Her mind tended more towards the present, and the union between the two: legacy.

Nonetheless, she turned back to Kyreth as the crotchety gateman briefly, albeit loudly, awoke from his slumber. When that was done, their just-as-grumpy companion marched right on by them. She exhaled, relieved; with any luck their little journey together was over, and they could put enough distance between them that it wouldn’t matter what he told the officials.

They. She caught herself, amused.

“Perhaps he was right to be so on-edge. Perhaps you’re both right,” she said softly, looking back to the grim boy and the elf. “At your lead, Kyreth. Safety in numbers and all that. Though…” and she gently took her arm back, giggling beneath the mask. “I believe we’re safe enough from the brute, now. Thank you, for looking out.”
@Obscene Symphony, Everyone.

Mods, Asura is pickleposting in the time-bar again.

A lot happened at once. Her plan had failed—oh well, them’s were the breaks, it was Shiori she was trying to reason with after all. Totsuka finally chimed in too, and he wasn't too happy either; in fact he made his unhappiness abundantly and pointedly clear. He said some pretty harsh things, things that, once, would have struck pretty deep and hurt about as much as she imagined Sakaguchi's face did. Some of those things might have even been true. But true or not, they didn't phase her like they used to anymore. The reality was that Totsuka wasn't saying anything she hadn't heard before; it was the same song and dance she got from everyone who was mad they got caught doing fucked up shit. 'Vulture,' 'weasel,' attacks at her character followed by the exact same things that drew her in in the first place: threats, then probably violence. Sprinkle crude remarks to taste, demand compliance for garnish—same dish, different chef.

“Yeah man, I understand,” she said dryly, and maybe she meant it, but likely she didn't. Honestly, she hardly knew the answer herself. It did make her sad when Shiori was mad at her, but at this point it was what it was. “Easy it is.”

Then, just as she’d prepared herself for a good few thwacks to the face, fucking Yun, beautiful angel Yun with his ridiculous fucking phone and his live stream nonsense, showed up, and all the anger funneled away from her and right on to him.


Kanna had the reflex to brace herself, but Shiori was tough, and that knee was strong. She held on to some of her wind, but the rest went rushing right out of her mouth. She fell to her knees while Totsuka’s threats found the same new target Shiori did.

It didn’t take long to wrestle her composure back. The beatdowns weren’t new. Knees to the stomach hurt, but she’d taken those before breakfast some days and still gone to school whistling. By the time Shiori had Yun on the ground, she was already back on her feet.

Damn, poor guy was in a bad way. Yun had an…energy to him, but he was probably mince meat by the time this was over, and there wasn’t much she could do to help him. Not short of—

Kanna felt the disposable around her neck. Suddenly the pain seemed oh so distant.


Click. Click. Click.

She bolted across the park, getting as many snaps of Shiori and Totsuka’s assailing Yun as she could. Disposables didn’t have the best quality, some would definitely be better than others, but she was certain there’d be plenty of usable material here.

Mods, Asura is pickleposting in the time-bar again.

Still conscious. Wow. Kanna might have lost that bet, all things considered. Shiori usually wasn’t one to wait, and honestly she’d prepared herself to bob and weave and just talk through the pain if it came to it.

Okay, still alive—capitalize.

“Shiori, if I wanted to blackmail you, I wouldn’t have kept the original photos off the school computers. Got those right here,” she slowly reached into her pocket and retrieved a flash drive, dangling it in front of Shiori before tossing it into the grass near Totsuka. “I got nothin’ on you. And as fun as it would be to spend the rest of the year dodging beatings, I don’t want anything on you. All I want is a good story, and right now, that’s you two. Well, more him than you. Not that you aren’t interesting, but—okay, never mind, not the point.”

She pointed to Totsuka. “You and slugger over there are in the public eye now, and we can stand here debating who put you there and who deserved what, but none of that matters, and no matter how hard you hit me, I’m sorry, even I can’t change that now. What I can do is try and help ease things along until the next big story breaks. But, you don’t want that either—wanna know why? Opportunity.” She grinned, but figured waiting to see if they caught on would likely just lead to her getting her face cracked in.

“Look at it this way: things started…bad. And yeah, maybe you guys don’t have the best reputation right now—or, like, worse than before. But what if we could turn that around? What if we could spin this whole unfortunate accident into a win for everyone? Boxing club, right? Been on the downswing a while, and your only decent fighter is on his way out the door. But here you are,” she looked back over to Totsuka. “Big ass motherfucker with a strong arm and a lot of attitude, dropped in out of nowhere. What else is that but a miracle? You know what people love more than villains? Redemptions. Now I’m not saying you guys put on your Sunday best and sing Hail Mary’s or whatever, but, I mean, you’re already stuck in that club. If you actually put some effort into it, you could mop the floor with just about any asshole dumb enough to get in the ring with you. You could drag the Utusbyo boxing club out of obscurity and into greatness, and if that doesn’t get the public back on your side, nothing will.”

She looked back to Shiori, who Kanna felt pretty confident in saying wanted out of this town more than most. “And think for a minute about how good it’d look on a transcript, being the manager of a team like that. It might not be a full-ride, but I bet that looks pretty shiny to the college admissions boards.”

“Look, Totsuka, I don’t really know you. But Shiori, I’m genuinely sorry you got caught up in this the way you did. So while I get the desire to just take the easy way and kick my teeth in and call it a day, I am imploring you to take this olive branch and let me make this up to you in a way we can all benefit from.”

Mods, Asura is pickleposting in the time-bar again.

Totsuka’s comments bought her a few extra moments to think, but she wasn’t so good at thinking with her mouth closed.

“Okay, in my defense, you have a really thick accent, and it was kinda hard to tell what you said.” She wouldn’t have listened anyway if that had been the case, but, that was besides the point. Totsuka seemed eager enough to participate vicariously, and Kanna got the sense her moments were running out.

“Waitwaitwait—wait,” she refocused on Shiori, her vision finally stabilizing, which didn’t matter too much because without her glasses everything was still just a smidgen fuzzy. “Okay. Look. I could stand here and try to appeal to your better natures, and be reasonable—you know, you did beat the hell out of a dude for what any well-adjusted person would recognize as no reason—but let’s face it, we’re not reasonable people. And Kenzo kinda deserved it anyway.”

She let go of Shiori’s arm, put her hands up in surrender. She still had to get on the tips of her toes to touch the ground, but it wasn’t like she was gonna be able to get away. Kanna felt pretty confident she could outrun two people with lungs twice their age, but even if she was faster, Shiori was bigger, and stronger, and had her like a vice. There weren’t a lot of options here short of slamming her cast in Shiori’s face, and that might not even work. Besides, she didn’t want to hurt Shiori.

“Shiori, we’ve known each other a lil’ while, and, hey, I messed up not blurring you out as well as I should have. My bad. I’m sorry. You want to beat the hell out of me, fine. Whatever, I squared myself with that when I came over here, and it’ll just end up in the paper anyway. If that’s what you want, go ahead, I’m perfectly fine to keep the paper’s selling on that, but I’m getting the sense that both of you want out of the spotlight, right? Or at least maybe you want it treating you a little less harshly? Because if that’s right, I think we can do that, but you’re gonna have to work with me, which means I’m going to need both of my arms, and all of my teeth, Shiori, all of them.”

Kanna looked between them, briefly trying to gauge if she was getting through before giving up. If it didn't, she'd be made very well aware.

“Despite what you might think, I came over here to help. All of us."

Mods, Asura is pickleposting in the time-bar again.

To be entirely fair, yes, she probably could have been more thorough with the blurring.

Kanna reeled, pain exploding from her forehead, vision swimming with stars. Her glasses flew from her face and landed in the grass, miraculously unbroken. Right, probably should have bagged those, too. She would have fallen to the ground, but Shiori had her shirt in a death grip, and was already yelling in her face like she hadn’t just used her own head like a battering ram. Damn girl must have had the skull of an ibex.

Weren’t headbutts illegal in boxing? Where the hell was the ref?

“Ghhaaoooow. Shit. Wow.” She let go of the hold she’d reflexively taken on Shiori’s arm, moving it up to pat her bicep. “You been working out? I thought you were just managing that club.”

Okay, great—more avoiding imminent death.

“Listen, listen, before you kick the shit out of me—I came here on purpose. Just wanted to…” she blinked hard, more pain between her eyes. “Talk! Y’know, just see what’s up. Week might’ve started out rocky, but it seems like it’s not goin’ so bad now, right? Ah?”

Mods, Asura is pickleposting in the time-bar again.

One could be forgiven for looking upon the dreary sprawl of Utsubyo, with its abundance of quarantinable buildings and seemingly perpetual overcast, with just a little bit of despair. It was justifiable, after all, considering nothing happened ever and that, for most of the poor bastards living here, the prospect of ever getting the hell out was abysmally low.

Really, it was no wonder so many of the kids were clawing each other apart. Highschoolers were animals, and Utsubyo was too small of a cage for all of them. Kanna didn’t blame people like Totsuka for lashing out any more than she sympathized with people like Kenzo for falling victim to it. Being lawless was not the same as being unlawful, and for as boring as this place could be, it was also honest—mostly. Sure, there was a wonderful tangle of intrigue and dirty secrets beneath the surface, but they were all buried in the same soil of listless melancholy. Like scandalous seeds. And that was great. Some of Utsubyo’s tallest trees had the deepest roots, and digging them up was part of the fun.

And speaking of, as she made her way into the convenience store, she saw a gigantic maple waiting in line. Actually, Genkei Tatsumoto was more like the scion grafted onto the maple. His wife was principle of the high school, and already had her hands in the affairs of the regional schoolboard. She was as fixed to the Utsubyo locale as its unyielding cloud-cover, but not as reviled—in fact, most people seemed to admire her, Kanna included. She was hard-working, driven, and though they’d hardly ever interacted, she got the sense that Ms. Tatsumoto was an honest woman.

Genkei worked in real estate, and was involved enough in the community that most people knew him. Despite coming from money, he seemed friendly and down to earth.

Kanna’s mom was fucking him.

She meandered amidst the bentos and mochi until he paid for his shit and left. They’d yet to speak, and Kanna was intent on keeping it that way for as long as was humanly possible. When the coast was clear, she bought a berry ramune and a small tin of tuna and shuffled out into the alley, where she was met by a three-part chorus of meows. A trio of cats emerged from their hidey-holes, crowding around her as she opened her bag and produced a few paper plates. Finagling the can open with one hand was tough, but she managed, and scooped helpings out onto each plate as equally as she could. As the cats dug in, she scratched their ears, and backs, then hopped up onto one of the dumpsters.

“Rammstein, hey, you share that with Mastodon, he looks like he lost a few pounds. Thundersteel must be out hunting. Jokes on her, huh? She can eat weasels while you guys get the gourmet shit.”

Normally she would have flipped through her notebook until they were done, then gone next door to the laundry mat to brainstorm for an hour or so—the near-constant coming and going of people was exactly the kind of comforting white noise she needed. But out of the corner of her eye, she spotted something in the park across the street. Rather, someone—someones.

Shiori and the Ogre.

Wow. Utsubyo was small, but that was still a hell of a coincidence. On instinct she pulled the digital from her pack, but as she sighted the pair of them on the screen, she stopped. Shoichi’s warnings returned to her, and with them, a slight tremor in her casted arm. She took a sharp breath, forgetting for a moment that it was daylight, and this was not an alley in Sendai. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe she was crossing a line.

Then she thought about Genkei Tatsumoto, and the stories she would never write about him, and she decided that if there was a line, she wasn’t anywhere near it yet.

Kanna stuffed the digital back into her pack and replaced it with a ratty old disposable, hanging it from a lanyard around her neck. She gave the cats farewell scritches, tossed the empty plate in the dumpster, and then struck out of the alley, across the street and into the park. Before she got too close, she swapped out the scowl on her face with a winning smile.

“Heh-hay! Wow, if it isn’t the school celebrities! Shiori~i—lookin’ good. Totsuka, howdy, almost didn’t recognize you without the lil’ black bar. Hah.”

So we’re nixing the dates now? We’re nixing the dates? That’s what we’re doing?
No more dates. Why the fuck is there weather? Do we need weather?

Shoichi said something, and it was probably at least a little sensible but Kanna had checked out by then. Besides, Umeko had her back, and when the other boy glared at her, Kanna shot her a reassuring grin and a wink. At least someone else in the club had a little fire in them.

“See? Umeko gets it. No one’s getting in trouble,” she said, slumping in exasperation when Shoichi warned her about the potential consequences. “If I had a fuckin’ yen for every time—look, I haven’t exactly made myself scarce this week, and no one’s done shit. And if something does happen, who cares? Worst case, I get my ass beat. Whatever, nothing I’m not used to. At least he’s out of your hair, and I get another story out of it.”

Kanna hopped down off the desk, snatching her bag back up. Meetings here were always quick affairs—her job was to be out of this room as often as possible.

“Anyway, back to the grind for me. Pinky promise I’ll have somethin’ juicy for y’all on Monday!”

With that, and a theatrical bow, Kanna took her leave of the room, and shortly after, the school. The boxing club wasn’t meeting today, so there wasn’t anything for her to find there, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t dig something up in town.

So we’re nixing the dates now? We’re nixing the dates? That’s what we’re doing?
No more dates. Why the fuck is there weather? Do we need weather?

Kanna listened dead-eyed while Shoichi went about his usual song and dance. ‘You’re going too far,’ ‘you’re harassing people.’ Considering what she’d seen happen to Sakaguchi’s face, it didn’t seem to her like harassment was a particularly critical concern for the parties involved.

She sat down on the other side of his computer desk, peering at him over the monitor.

‘Obsession,’ ‘punishment,’ blah, blah, blah. Guys, c’mon, you’re coming at this all wrong, you’re thinking like readers. This isn’t about Totsuka, it’s, like…” she snapped her fingers, eyes rolling. “Like we’re a pond, right? Lil’ tiny pond, y’know, fish and all that. Well when something gets thrown in, it’s all nice and good to look at the pretty ripples, but if you don’t actually follow it down, get a lil’ wet, you’ll never know what it is. Could be a big, dumb rock with a hick accent and anger management problems, or it could be a shiny coin. With a hick accent and anger management—never mind, you get what I mean. Maybe. Don’t worry, I’ve got a feeling in my guts. That’s worth something, right?”

She craned her head over, scanning the tame articles Shiochi was dutifully editing. Good guy, hard-working, and so was Umeko. But where was the spark?

“Don’t you want a little excitement? A little fun? C’mon guys, be ambitious!”

So we’re nixing the dates now? We’re nixing the dates? That’s what we’re doing?
No more dates. Why the fuck is there weather? Do we need weather?

As the halls flooded with students off to enjoy their weekends or forfeit their childhoods to yet more extracurricular activities, one girl was still riding the high of a very good week. She shimmied through the rush of bodies as deftly as a salmon cuts a current upstream, and she did it twice as stylishly. The headphones around her neck left an aural miasma of heavy drums and wicked sick guitar in her wake, and those who caught it shot her odd looks that she was too absorbed to notice or care about.

The door to the newspaper club burst open, and the room was filled with the sounds of very angry German metal music. Kanna slid in, head banging, hand pumping devil’s horns. As the song came to a close, she put one foot up on a chair and absolutely shredded the paint off her air-guitar.

Concert finished, she slid her phone into her pocket with all the smoothness of a cowboy returning his pistol to its holster.

“Do you hear that?” she asked to no one in particular. “That is the sound of the most successful opening week this club has ever seen. ‘Dangerous new guy clashes with local ne’er-do-well! Snatched from the jaws of the administration by the desperate boxing club! Justice? Or a cruel joke of opportunity?’”

She hopped off of the chair, snatching up one of the test-copies from a table and smacking the beautiful words on its pages. She’d even managed to snap a few pictures from training—good for one or two slots, but there were only so many ways to cook: ‘Big guy punches the air,’ before it risked going stale.

“I’m tellin’ you guys, we’ve struck fuckin’ gold here with this dude. I’m talking out-of-stock all the way to his first match—if he doesn’t, y’know, like, kill someone first or something. If he bombs, great, we ride that momentum into the next big thing. If he wins, we’ve got a whole semester’s worth of content. God. Where would we be without delinquents?”

Akari, Junko, Ichika, even her own club members had tried to dissuade her from following this story. But Kanna had instinct, she knew potential when she saw it and she refused to be scared off by broody glares and empty threats. Or filled threats, for that matter.

“Thinkin’ about doing some, uhh, preemptive reporting this weekend. See if I can’t get us primed for Monday. How about you all?”
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