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??? — Ruined Inn

As the pair who had entered the cellar resurfaced from it's depths, they—and those still waiting above—would be met with the sound of something that would feel quite out-of-place for what little they had seen of the town.

The sound of a bell tolling could be heard from somewhere off in the distance, and each ring seemed to echo throughout the otherwise-empty town. A cursory glance out the window would show that the otherworlders were not the only ones to perceive the sound; it would have been difficult for anything not deaf to not, after all.

The undead that had been milling about the shattered glass earlier, however briefly, seemed to slowly be moving towards the bell and away from the entrance, leaving the path more or less clear if the group wished to explore the area outside the inn.

The cause of the event remained to be seen, of course, but that didn't change the opportunity that had been so fortuitously presented to them.

@VitaVitaAR@RolePlayerRoxas@Aku the Samurai@SilverPaw

??? — ??? Forest

Though the massive bird seemed to be content simply drinking water for a while, the continued discussions of the group took long enough for it to finish what it had initially come to the lake to do. After straightening it's body back up, the avian creature slowly turned itself towards the four that were still busy debating their options.

Whatever their choice would have been seemed to matter little as it let out a cry and flapped it's massive wings towards them. With that came a strong gale that, even from this distance, could be felt.

Doubly so, now that the bird had lifted off from where it had been standing and began to fly at the four.

There was some time before it drew close enough to do whatever it planned to do, but any opportunities to plan seemed to be very quickly running thin.

@Crusader Lord@Thunder999999@Crimson Paladin@Expendable
Richard Evans
Route 5

"Ah, crap."

Richard swore lightly under his breath as the battle began to unfold in front of him. The Sneasel's taunt was, unfortunately enough, the exact thing to stop his and Luna's standard strategy in its tracks. The Grass Snake Pokémon floundered about for a brief moment as it's flow was disrupted, but it didn't take long for it to her back up with what felt like a rare desire to repay it's aggressor in kind.

For what it was worth, the situation wasn't wholly out of his control; losing access to his primary strategy just meant having to improvise a new one on the fly.

"Focus the Sneasel? Sure, I can work with that," the Trainer remarked before calling out to Luna. "Luna, Vine Whip into Wrap! Aim for the limbs!"

Without so much as a sound in response, two whiplike vines shot out towards the Sneasel from Luna's body. The Pokémon seemed wholly intent on repaying what damage had been done to its still-burgeoning pride, though to what extent it could improvise remained to be seen.

Kochiya Sanae

While she had expected questions more directed towards her ability to summon deities, Sanae found herself being questioned about the presence of the Moriya Shrine in Gensokyo period—and by a resident of the place, no less! Given all the things in the last few years related to them (and her own efforts in the Human Village side), the young woman rather baffled by having to answer the question before doing so regardless.

"How? Uh... I don't think I could tell you how, but it's on the top of Youkai Mountain now, lake and all. Heavens know how much faith Kanako-sama and Suwako-sama had to use for that, but what's done is done, right?" she responded, only for Remilia's assertion to not use her abilities for anything but breaking so that they still had a line home. "As for that... Well, there's always the possibility of gathering some up here. I can't guarantee I won't use that stuff in an emergency, though, but I'll do what I can to keep from losing too much in fights."

Rayne's own attempt at optimism soon reminded the young woman, though, that theirs was now the only group who had a method of reaching home, no matter how limited. To that, all the young woman could provide was a nervous smile. She had no knowledge of other worlds outside of what media she had consumed while on the Outside World, and her own limited abilities meant that offering her own help outside of what she was already doing for the group wouldn't have amounted to much at the end of the day.

With her explanation for what had transpired now left to the others to interpret, Sanae's focus quickly shifted away from that to handling whatever else it was they needed to do, if only because of Anne's prompting her to do so. To be quite frank, the thought of setting up a defensive barrier had not crossed the young woman's mind; it wasn't her realm of expertise, after all, and the most she had done outside of combat in the past was spiritual barriers.

...That didn't mean that she couldn't do that now, though.

"Um... I can do spiritual barriers for sure, but nothing selective," she replied after producing a few ofuda from her sleeve. "A proper defensive barrier might interfere with the townsfolks' daily lives, so warding off the supernatural's the best I can do. The others who chose to stay behind should be enough to handle anything physical, though. Hopefully."

Discussions regarding any last-second preparations for the protection of Aventon and it's residents otherwise, however, was rather brief; none of the others seemed capable of leaving any lingering protection, which meant that once she was done and Mr. Hest had finished talking the merchants into letting them along, they would all be capital-bound.

Not that they couldn't follow from a distance anyways, but with half the group traveling on foot and the other half capable of just flying along, there were bound to be some logistical issues if they chose to split up.

"If that's how things are, then, I'll be right back!" the green-haired girl called out as she floated into the air. "I'll go set everything up and be back here in a moment."

By the time that Sanae had returned to the southern gate, the merchants and their entourage were all ready to head out. With the state that the town had been in when they had arrived, it seemed that the men of coin had deemed it proper to simply sell what they could in the day before heading out. Quite frankly, the shrine maiden couldn't blame them for their choice of action; it was difficult to sell things to people if there weren't many people to sell to, after all.

Hopefully, though, the town would recover well enough in their absence.

Millie and Alvin had initially wanted to join along with the rest of the group as they traveled the world, but with Ywain acting as their guardian (and the merchants' own insistence that bringing children along could be dangerous), the siblings eventually stood down... If only on the condition that Anne and her friends come back at some point to tell them tales of what they had seen.

It was as good a compromise as any.

With everything more or less settled as best they could be for the moment, the merchant caravan soon set off southbound, now with a few more people in tow. Slowly, the town began to shrink over the horizon as the forests began to give way to wide, rolling plains. The beaten dirt path they trod upon now was the only thing indicating any sense of direction, though it was another question entirely when they would find another town to rest at or if they would need to set up camp for the night instead.

At the very least, travel provided ample opportunity for the otherworlders to speak with one another or with the natives of the world. A trip like this meant that this would be the only company they had for a while, for better or worse.

@VitaVitaAR@EchoWolff@Izurich@Lugubrious@Drifting Pollen@Raineh Daze@DracoLunaris@Rezod92
Tachibana Masaru
Branch-092 — Records Department

With the matter regarding the samurai settled, Masaru felt it perfectly reasonable to consider the mission resolved. The young man felt as if he hadn't actually done much in the grand scheme of things—if only because he was used to being the big playmaker when it came to hunting most days—but whether or not that was true would be left to the people reviewing footage of the incident to decide. What he felt and what he knew[ were two different matters altogether, though; at the end of the day, cleaning up trash and keeping them off of the people who could actually land meaningful blows on their enemy was what he was here to do.

In that sense, he had done his job exactly as he should have... But that didn't mean that he couldn't do more next time.

Rather than going back to the simulators and exerting any effort there, the Agent had instead elected to go and review the VODs of the last incident.

Thankfully, nobody seemed inclined to stop him when he walked in with a bowl of ramen and took a seat in front of a computer. Watching videos and eating food at the same time was nothing particularly groundbreaking, but that didn't mean it wasn't worth doing anyhow.

Hopefully nothing would spill, though, else he would've been left on the hook for cleanup...
Steven Yu
??? — Dirt Road

Luckily for Steven and his companions (well, mainly the maid that had taken charge in the application of first aid), it seemed that the woman on the carriage and her entourage had sufficient medical supplies to go about treating the injured maid. It was absolutely a hack job, and the young man surmised that even if he had sufficient experience in something like a trauma center—in other words, maybe some seven-odd years in the future—the outcome here might have only been slightly better.

Even if something like healing magic did exist within this world (and that was a big "if"), the kitsune silently reasoned to himself that trying to study things like that would be equally important to him as learning how to use his sword properly. He had gotten away with literal murder by copying the motions of mass media swordfighters, but nothing guaranteed that he wouldn't run into someone who actually knew what they were doing at some in the future.

So much for any hopes of a simple isekai life where stress didn't want to make him inject caffeine into his veins.

"Unfortunately, we don't have the tools-or expertise-to suture the wound, so it would probably be ideal to continue to apply pressure and not move too much so as to not reopen the wound," the kitsune remarked as he stood back up and brushed some of the dirt off his clothes—away from the patient and her current overseer, of course. "I don't think it needs to be said, but walking back to... Whatever town you were traveling to or from is very much out of the question."

That statement was more a reiteration of the obvious, but given how insistent the maid had been that she had been okay when she had clearly not in any condition to move, it probably wouldn't hurt to use her employer as leverage to make sure that she kept from injuring herself.

Any further discussion of the matter was promptly thrown out the proverbial window, however, when the young woman's righteous fury met his ears. With a barely-concealed grimace on his face as he listened in on the conversation, Steven glanced around at the others before scratching the back of his neck. As things were, the kitsune felt that among their group, he was probably the least qualified to speak about matters related to what seemed to be an attempted assassination attempt.

...But if he left things as they were now, there was no doubt he'd at least feel some sort of regret if things went badly.

"...My apologies for interrupting," he chimed in, eschewing the expected deference towards the young woman who very clearly had enough influence to warrant such tactics to begin with, "but I would recommend not lingering too long out here in the open. I have, admittedly, no clue as to who might have targeted your life in such a manner, but I would assume that they would expect some message after the deed has been done... And, if not, there is a non-zero possibility that there might be another group sent out to finish the job if they expect to encounter a weakened entourage if not."

Such formal dialogue coming from a man who looked like he had lived a few years on the road might have been odd, and the possibility that he was placing his life on the line sort of incidentally by speaking without being prompted, but there was no world in which fussing over the outcome in the wilderness as opposed to somewhere safer was the way to proceed.

@Raineh Daze@Sir Lurksalot

Neir — Guardhouse

With a somewhat inquisitive gaze, Meira calmly poked her head into Cassius' room. The catgirl grimaced upon noticing what had happened to him in her absence, and almost as if by instinct she moved to pick his body off the ground and, at the very least, place him back on the bed where he had awoken. But without much of a chance to ask him how he was feeling—though the answer to that question was fairly obvious—the young woman instead found herself being questioned first.

"Locked up for now. Guards have been taking turns watching over the thing, and I've been here the whole time as extra insurance," she responded, taking a deep breath before ducking out for a brief moment and returning with a rag to clean up whatever had been evacuated from the elf's stomach mere moments before her arrival. After quickly wiping off what had left itself on his face, the catgirl lobbed the cloth onto the ground and pushed it around with her boot to soak up whatever little it could.

"...Sorry for getting you wrapped up in all that," she remarked as she kicked it off to the side. "Those guys are, uh... Well, I guess calling them 'priority targets' is the best way to put it for now. It's... Complicated."

There was a brief pause as she waited for any sort of response, but Meira continued speaking soon thereafter.

"Do you want some water? I can go get some for you, if you want."

Kochiya Sanae
Aventon — Southern Gate

Once the goddess had said her piece, Sanae took a deep breath and turned around, only to see that both Rayne and Anne had chosen to intervene. The mage's barely-trembling hands as she gripped at her staff caught the young woman's gaze for but a moment, and ultimately the suggestion of resolving this match as a draw was enough to simply call the matter here. While the other non-mercenary duelists seemed rather unfazed by the spectacle—half of them in part probably due to being used to such spectacles as a daily occurrence—the rest...

Well, to say that they were on guard after Suwako's little show of pressure might have been a bit of an understatement.

"...Ah, this is going to be a problem, isn't it...?" the shrine maiden asked under her breath as Suwako, who was still able to maintain her corporeal form, was promptly accosted by Remilia.

"Eh? Oh, Miss Scarlet, you're here too?" the blonde girl responded, the terrifying presence she had been presenting disappearing into her usual nonchalance. "So it's you, the half-ghost gardener, and, uh..."

The mention of Mokou's name took the goddess a few seconds to process before she opted to simply fly a bit higher into the air for a brief moment to look for any slightly more familiar faces. Of course, as someone who didn't really handle all the front-facing tasks that Kanako did, recognizing the Hourai immortal took a bit longer than it should have.

Luckily, the way that she looked was distinct enough to have made an impression when they had gone with Sanae to Eientei during that Lunar invasion incident a while back.

"Oh, that lady! Right, I'll go tell Kanako to notify everyone that you're safe... Which probably means getting the Hakurei shrine involved, huh? I don't think anyone but Yukari can get to Yuyuko anyways, and if there's anywhere I'd find her..."

The goddess continued to ramble for a little bit before the brief miracle began to finally give way. With a sigh, Suwako floated back to the ground and placed her hand on Sanae's shoulder before it faded completely. A small glow briefly surrounded Sanae's body, and Suwako made sure to slip in one last set of words before leaving.

"I've added a bit more onto your blessing, so your frogs should be a bit more suited to handling the type of battles you're probably going to see here. If that was a duel, I've got to do my part to make sure your danmaku's strong enough to protect you, right? Anyways, like I said: make sure to call us when you've got enough faith!"

And with that, the frog-hatted goddess had disappeared into thin air, leaving no trace of her presence beyond the torn-up earth and the memories of what had just transpired in front of them.

There was a lot that Sanae had to say now, especially given how she basically hadn't been provided a chance to get a word in edgewise, but there was one thing that took priority right now, even above Rayne's hasty attempts at questioning her.

"I'm very sorry for the trouble I've caused!"

With a deep bow towards the mage who Suwako had scared into submission, Sanae clutched her gohei in front of her with her eyes squeezed shut. There was no reply, and the worry that the mage was taking the rapid escalation of what should have been a fun duel as an attempt on her life was quickly beginning to take root in the shrine maiden's head.

Luckily for her, though, it seemed that the mage wasn't anywhere near as spiteful as some of the more egotistic mercenaries looked to be. After feeling a pat on the shoulder, Sanae looked up for a moment from her bow to see that the mage—who had still not spoken a word—had chosen to simply nod her head in acceptance.

With a sigh of relief, Sanae stood back up and glanced towards Anne before nodding her head.

"...Yeah, my match is probably the only one that's invalid now, huh?" she sighed before glancing at the other battlefields. It had been clear that the other mercenaries had been thoroughly outmatched by their opponents, which made their display of power all the more evident... "Ah, that's frustrating, but I don't think there's going to be any chance of a redo after that one. Uh... Rayne, I'll answer your questions once everyone's gathered up. I'm pretty sure you're not the only one who wants to ask."

But even if they were technically at four wins and a tie, being the only one to not have a clear victory under her belt did bother the young woman a bit.

Just a bit.

With all five of the matches settled now and Remilia's blood magic healing the wounds of the injured (but not, notably enough, their bruised egos), the groups soon reconvened back near the gate where the spectators were watching. It was hard to describe the atmosphere of the crowd, though; a mix of fear, awe, and frustration could be felt from both the mercenaries and townsfolk alike, and it was difficult to gauge if this had, in fact, been a terrible idea to begin with.

"What the heck was that, little miss?!" the mercenary who had gone along with her provocations to begin with finally asked with a half-smile on his face that seemed to run contrary to the mood of the crowd. "You and your friends are really something else!"

"...Eh? What do you...?"

Sanae's response of complete confusion did nothing to stop the mercenary from continuing to speak, regardless of the sentiments of those around him.

"Well, I'm the leader of these guys, sure, but leading doesn't just mean that I'm pointing them at problem and telling them to kill. Sometimes, people get a bit too full of themselves, so they need a little taste of reality to put them in their place. Honestly, I thought that the ones who might have needed that were your group, but it's pretty clear that my folks were the ones who need a bit of modesty!"

The middle-aged man let out another laugh as the embarrassed losers were walked (or dragged) back to the rest of the group.

"...Ah, shoot, I forgot to introduce myself before all this started, huh? My name's Syldon Hest. As for your offer... I think we might be able to work something out. Nothing formal, of course, but I'm pretty sure the client would be safer with you around than not... Though honestly, I don't think we could stop you at this point even if we tried. Gimme a bit to go drill some things into these idiots', though, since it sure seems like they need one."

With Syldon dragging his own people away after coming in like a storm, Sanae took a deep breath and turned to the group that had since reconvened nearby. While it seemed that he had his own things to explain, she wasn't in any better of a position.

"Erm... Right. Where to begin... So, um, like I mentioned before back when we first met, I'm more or less a shrine maiden," the green-haired girl began, "but to be more specific, I'm a shrine maiden at a shrine for two specific gods—Yasaka Kanako-sama and Moriya Suwako-sama. One of the things I learned as a shrine maiden is how to take in the power of a god and... Uh... I guess 'channel' their power? In my case, though, that means I can use their powers or summon them for a little bit, but only if they accept. That also means making that connection to begin with, though, and—I'm going to be completely honest here—I didn't think that I'd get more than a little barrier during that fight if at all. Suwako-sama showing up and summoning the mishaguji was, uh... I didn't think she'd get that mad after showing up..."

Hopefully that would make it clear the whole incident had been a massive set of coincidences that incidentally chained into one another and not anything intended to leave lasting harm, but at this point, Sanae simply left the judgement regarding her explanation to her peers.

@VitaVitaAR@EchoWolff@Izurich@Lugubrious@Drifting Pollen@Raineh Daze@DracoLunaris@Rezod92
??? — Ruined Inn

In the midst of the group's exploration of the cellar, the presence of a pair of objects that most certainly did not belong in the cellar would eventually be uncovered next to one of the barrels of alcohol. A simple leather journal, bound and left untouched since the room had been sealed, and a nearby burnt-out lantern would seldom have been kept in a place to store goods like these, which meant that the undead here had to have brought them down before becoming what they were now.

Or, well, what they had been. It was hard to call them undead when they were most certainly little more than a dried-out corpse now.

Perusing the journal, however, would at least provide some more interesting information. Though the entries, penned by someone by the name of Byron Tere, provided mostly mundane accounts of life as an innkeeper's son, the steady progression of the events that followed were... Less than pleasant.

@VitaVitaAR@RolePlayerRoxas@Aku the Samurai@SilverPaw

Neir — Slums

With the matter of the very unconscious attacker handed off to the odd young man, Meira began to bound off back towards where she had left Cassius. It took less than a minute for her to close the distance, and less than that to understand what had transpired.

It had been a mistake, in a sense, to expect that only one person would try to attack her and only her. By some miracle, the elf had survived—and slain his own assailant besides—but that didn't mean that they were out of the woods quite yet.

"Sorry, that was my mistake," the catgirl apologized as she approached, only to see that the elf had passed out next to the corpse of the one he had just killed. With a grimace, the young woman knelt down for a moment before slinging Cassius' unconscious body over one shoulder and grabbing the now-damaged packace with her sword.

The bad feeling she had been getting from it had only seemed to intensify now that someone's blood was on it, but that was all the more reason to get it checked out than not.

Assuming that the other man had followed her instructions, she would meet him either at the guard station or en route to it; ultimately, where they met mattered less than the fact that he was listening to begin with.

At the guard station, Meira wasted no time in making sure the guards—who seemed rather taken aback by the trio walking in—had the incapacitated assailant bound up and tossed into a musty cell for later questioning before securing somewhere for Cassius to get examined and rest. One of the guards had run off to call for a healer to attend to the elf's wounds (and to make sure that their suspect didn't die before they would squeeze any information out of him), but that meant that the group was also very much stuck here until the guards had received their account of the situation.

The package, of course, was placed into a box and left off to the side for further examination. The contents were unstated and Meira had essentially brought it in without so much as a glance inside, after all, but mentions of "cultist activity" and "smuggling" would make it clear to any who happened to overhear the discussion that whatever was inside was not something to be trifled with on a whim.

Of course, this situation meant that Connor was free to stay and ask questions of his own... Or leave as soon as the interrogation was done. None of the guards would stop him if he left, nor would anyone really wish to given where they presumed he was from.


??? — ??? Forest

Traveling alongside the cliff face would lead to much of the same scenery that the group had seen—or, well, so it would be for a decent while. The route that they had chosen to take seemed to curve around, leading the group out of view of the path they had taken to leave the cavern from earlier and away from the forest that only now seemed to thin.

Around the bend, however, the group would find in front of them rather rugged plains that seemed to slope upwards at a gentle incline. Compared to where they had emerged, the area seemed to be far more open.

That alone would make it nearly impossible to miss the river that was feeding into what seemed to be a lake that had been just out of the group's vision earlier.

Before the group could make any hasty decisions, though, a massive shadow seemed to pass overhead, crossing the skies overhead before the source of it—a large bird whose body seemed to be plated in metal—slowly settled on the ground near the lake. It had not yet noticed the ragtag group of explorers at this point, of course, but whether or not that was the truth or if it was simply ignoring their presence for the moment remained to be seen.

@Crusader Lord@Thunder999999@Crimson Paladin@Expendable
Kochiya Sanae
Aventon - Southern Gate

Sanae took a deep breath as she stared down the mage opposite her, gohei at the ready as the other girl readied a staff of her own. The tension in the air wasn't anywhere near as tense as it had been before, but while the mage looked worked up, Sanae...

Well, she looked somewhat nonchalant in spite of what was technically at stake here. While warzones and giant monster (and bug) hunting was out of her usual realm of expertise, the green-haired girl was now on home turf. A duel, regardless of if it involved spellcard rules or not, was still a duel.

The staring contest between the two seemed to hold for a few moments, but ultimately it was Sanae who first chose to break the silence.

"Aah, this is way too high-tension for a duel! If you're not going to start, then I will!" she declared before pointing her gohei towards the mage. Immediately, a stream of ofuda rushed out from it's tip, catching the other young woman off guard as she hastily constructed a barrier to ward the blows off. The steady barrage of attacks upon the barrier was somewhat expected, given what she had experienced in fighting that mage a few days prior, but that didn't mean that Sanae had any reason to give up then and there.

That was something she would have to overcome eventually, after all, and if this was a common fighting style for the mages of this world, doing so now would save her more headache in the future.

When it was clear that ofuda alone weren't chipping away at her defenses particularly quickly, though, the green-haired girl moved quickly to change tactics. The moment that she lowered her gohei, though, the other mage swiftly aimed her staff towards Sanae and fired a bolt of electricity from it's tip straight towards her.

Dodging such at attack at near-point-blank range was a simple feat for Sanae, of course, but the mage—and a few of the spectators-seemed quite shocked that she was able to do so without so much as a hint of anxiety.

Or maybe it was the fact that she had simply chosen to fly into the air to dodge it. Either way, though, that surprise seemed to be rather short-lived as the mage begab to fire off more lightning bolts at Sanae.

"Oh, you're not going to try leading your shots?" the shrine maiden asked as she casually weaved and slipped through the electricity arcing through the skies. "You need to do more than that to catch me!"

Her (accidental) provocation, however, seemed to have touched a nerve. With tensed hand and gritted teeth, the mage held her aim towards Sanae as she floated about and took a deep breath.

It was no Master Spark, of course, but Sanae could feel the energy in the air building—and rapidly, at that—which meant that a rather large attack was on the way. With the rather telegraphed way the mage had been casting her spells until now, Sanae felt rather confident that this would be much of the same. But...

"...That's a pretty long charging time, huh...?" she asked out loud as she hovered in the air for a moment. Was this supposed to be some sort of special attack of some sort? Maybe this girl was used to being protected while slinging her spells around...

Regardless of the reasons behind it, though, Sanae found the whole matter fairly unimpressive. Maybe the standards of Gensokyo had warped her sense of danger a bit, but the young woman had certainly faced far worse and with far less time to react on the fly.

The sudden explosion of energy at the tip of the mage's staff quickly spiraled out into dozens of streams of lightning—a sight more familiar to Sanae than the singular bolts she had been dodging until now—and began to chase after Sanae. Without missing a beat, the green-haired girl flew off to the side, allowing the bolts of energy to chase after her. Between those and the other bolts bring fired towards where she was going, the shrine maiden was at least somewhat engaged in the fight now...

If only because it was less boring than it had been until then.

As she continued to fire ofuda towards the mage as she flew about, though, Sanae had noticed that the magic chasing after her was slowly speeding up, and that it was only a matter of time before it made contact. Constructing a barrier to block would take precious seconds that she didn't have, if only because she wasn't as proficient in so doing as Reimu was. That left three options, then: eat the attack head-on and likely leave the fight with singed limbs at best, keep dodging in hopes that the attack would eventually peter out, or pray for a miracle to block the attack.

The first option, obviously enough, was the dumbest of the three and thus the first to be discarded. The second was banking on a possibility that might not have existed, which meant it was less favorable than not. But the third...

Well, miracles were called miracles for a reason, and if she was good for anything, it was those.

With her choice now made, Sanae calmly prayed to herself—and to both her patron deities, whatever they were now—before a surge of familiar magical energy surged through her.

"That connected?!" she cried out involuntarily as she turned around and turned her gohei towards the magic chasing her and———

In the middle of the sky, a large plume of black smoke from where the magic had made contact bloomed upwards. There was a pause as those watching stared, waiting for the green-haired girl to become visible...

Only for a ball of rocks to appear from within. Sanae was floating nearby, seemingly unharmed by the attack, but more shocking was the presence of someone else there as the stones began falling towards the ground.

A blonde girl wearing an oddly frog-themed hat and dress floated in the middle of the skies next to her, arms extended out in front of her as she glanced around in mild surprise.

"Suwako-sama?!" Sanae blurted out, at which point the blonde girl turned to face the shrine maiden and hugged her. "How are you even——?!"

"Kanako and I have been trying to reach you for days! It's good to see that you're okay!" the goddess replied, taking a few seconds to savor the moment before letting go of Sanae turning towards the rather confused-looking mage on the ground with a cold fury in her eyes that the shrine maiden had never seen before.

"...But clearly, someone needs to know who they were trying to kill..." Suwako spoke coldly as a chill ran through Sanae's spine.

Slowly, the shorter girl descended to the ground as suffocating, miasma-like dark energy began to churn around her. Immediately, the mage raised her weapon in a panic—as did a few of the bystanders—before six massive snakes, all as white as marble and with eyes red as blood, burst from the earth and readied themselves to lash out at the girl.


Sanae's shout rang out as she shot towards the ground before promptly placing herself between Suwako and the mage.

"A duel! This was a duel! Suwako-sama, please, calm down!" the shrine maiden cried out, waving her arms as the tried to dissuade the goddess from doing anything that might make the rapidly-escalating situation any worse. "We just got a bit excited, that's all!"

The tension in the air was suffocating in the few seconds before Suwako sighed and took a step back. Slowly, the six curse gods sank back into the earth, and the energy that had gathered in Suwako's body—and Suwako herself—were beginning to fade away.

"Mmm... I suppose I'm at my limit here anyhow," the goddess spoke before walking up to Sanae and poking her chest. "It was next to impossible to find any trace of you until now, though! I can't stick around for much longer, but try to connect with me or Kanako when you get a chance and explain what's happened since you got kidnapped, okay? Gensokyo's in an uproar, and every little bit of information helps so we can try and get you home safely."

As things were right now, though, it seemed like Suwako hadn't noticed the other residents of Gensokyo nearby... Nor did Sanae quite realize that Suwako's presence and choice of actions mean that her duel was more than a little invalid by now.

@VitaVitaAR@EchoWolff@Izurich@Lugubrious@Drifting Pollen@Raineh Daze@DracoLunaris@Rezod92
Richard Evans
Route 5

"Well, can't say I didn't try."

With a shrug of his shoulders as negotiations broke down, Richard calmly took a few steps back to position himself at Laurel's side as he began to consider his to handle his first multi battle. The young Trainer had expected a double battle to be his first foray into the format, but given the situation, it really couldn't have been helped.

"Right. Luna, you're up," he called out, at which point the Snivy gave a cry of acknowledgement before hopping over to Verdue's side.

It didn't really need to be said, but the two Pokémon their aggressors had sent out were very much not ones that Richard would have liked to face; not with either of their current teams, at least. Being at disadvantage that they were, though, meant that they needed to fight smarter.

Luckily, he and Luna had plenty of practice with their opener, and he didn't even need to openly telegraph anything about it with a verbal command!

"Luna, let's start with the usual. Prioritize that Sneasel for now, but get them both if to can to make things easier," Richard declared before the Snivy threw out a Glare towards the Pokémon in question.

Control was the name of the game right now, and the less that the enemy was allowed to act, the more leeway they had to chip away at them.

Anything after that, though, would have to wait until the enemy made a move of their own.

Kochiya Sanae

A big, showy match between a bunch of mercenaries and the people who had saved the town of Aventon (or those who had joined a bit later besides) was more than enough reason for a few of the more excitable townsfolk—Millie and Alvin included—to want to watch the spectacle play out. News spread quickly when a majority of the town was shopping around, and with everything still not quite sorted out after the Raven Heralds' attack, a bit of grandstanding like this was sure to occupy those who hadn't lost the taste for martial skill in the wake of the battle.

Even if they didn't, though, the respect for those who had fought to protect them meant that there were those that wanted to watch their skill on the battlefield present regardless... And that made it ever so slightly disappointing when it was made clear that among those that had saved the town, only one wanted to fight.

But maybe that was for the best.

By the time the otherworlders had made their way to the south entrance as directed, the mercenaries had prepared the area more or less as directed. Some had made sure to clear a large enough space—one that, in Sanae's opinion, might need to be expanded sooner rather than not—while others seemed to be simply eyeing them for a distance.

"Glad to see you didn't back out," the older mercenary from earlier remarked as the group approached. "If you're all ready, then let's get started with the rules here."

"Well, I'd have thought we would've sorted things out before preparing the area, but I don't mind if it's a bunch of duels or a free-for-all," Sanae replied, at which point the man simply shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know what you're used to, but duels make sense if you're trying to gauge the strength of the individual. While I could go on about how a group should cover for their teams' weaknesses, that's not the point of this exercise. You understand?"

"Uh... Yeah. Then about how we should be conducting things..."

The back-and-forth between Sanae and the mercenary went on for a few minutes; given how quickly the young girl had gotten used to spellcard rules back in Gensokyo, establishing what limits existed and how they should be enforced was fairly simply. It wasn't like there needed to be anything overly specific, either; a simple match, nothing lethal, and the first to surrender would cede.

Given that there were five people on their side—herself, Mokou, Youmu, Joker, and Fran—wanting to fight, the mercenaries agreed to send five of their own to match.

Before long, the pairs had all scattered about the area, preparing to fight their opponents.

To Sanae, a young woman in the quintessential mage's outfit, large-brimmed hat and all.
To Youmu, a swordsman wielding a simply bastard sword and a shield.
To Mokou, a rather burly man donning a pair of knuckle dusters.
To Joker, a lithe lady wielding a pair of daggers of her own.
To Fran, a stout dwarf brandishing a hammer of his own.

While the duelists all gave their introductions to one another and handled the usual pleasantries (and trash talk), the remainder of the mercenaries—the man who had started all this up included—had congregated off to the side near the other townsfolk and otherworldly travelers who opted to act as referees instead.

"Miss Anne," Millie began to speak as she tugged on the older woman's coat to grab her attention, "aren't you going to fight, too?"

"Yeah! If anyone should be out there, it should be you!" Alvin chimed in, which seemed to draw a few furtive glances from the other mercenaries present with them.

For what it was worth, the two siblings had good reason to play up the person who had saved them, but whether or not it was a good thing or not was a different question unto itself.

Either way, those who chose to remain on the sidelines were free to speak among themselves or even ask the other spectators questions of their own... Provided they didn't accidentally stir the pot a bit more.

This bunch, at least, seemed to be enjoying the spectacle more than they were directly antagonistic towards what could easily have been misconstrued as grandstanding.

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