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Greetings, I'm Takaru. That is all.

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Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Kotori could not have said how long she was standing there, adrift in her own thoughts as she tried to navigate them - but before she could come to any kind of conclusion, she was brought back from her reverie by a sudden touch upon her shoulders. Blinking in surprise at being brought back to reality so unexpectedly - and even more so in an unexpected manner, Kotori looked momentarily confused before she realised that it was Rui who was now standing right before her. At that point, she noticed a couple of things - for one, they were still standing amidst the crowd, which was slowly moving around them. Second, his hands felt warm to the touch, even though the evening had not grown very chilly yet.

Furthermore, he had fixed his eyes right on hers, which was strangely uncomfortable - yet also not, all at the same time. Still, it did make it hard for her to look away when Rui started speaking - even if she did find herself wanting to, the further he went. Her first instinct would have been to apologise - for causing a scene in public, for putting this on him and without any forewarning no less. But between the relief she felt at having finally spoken up about what had been preoccupying her mind for the longest time and the fact that Rui did not waver for even a moment as he spoke his reassurance that she need not keep going it alone, she couldn't help but feel that it just wouldn't be the right thing to do.

Neither averted their gaze as silence fell at the close of his words - but this lasted only for a brief moment before Kotori remembered where they were and what the warmth on her shoulders was due to. "Uhm," was the first thing that came out of her mouth, unsurprisingly. Returning ever more from the depths of her own mind, her usual mannerisms seemed to be returning - for instance, her fingers were rather restlessly playing over her skirt whilst her eyes were darting about. But then, with a deep breath, at least a small change could perhaps be seen when her eyes found Rui's once again from behind her glasses and, finally, she said: "Thank you."

And for a brief moment, her words were accompanied by a small smile that somehow found its way onto her face - and not the usual half-hearted attempt, but rather one stemming from genuine relief and gratitude as she continued: "I... I think I need... a little time first. But... thank you. It means a lot to me." Having spoken, there was brief moment of silence - which was just enough time for Kotori to slowly realise that they were, in fact, still standing in the middle of an ever-moving crowd. And that she could still feel the warmth of Rui's hands upon her shoulders. And that these realisations were rapidly making her cheeks feel at least as warm if not more so.

"Ah, for the moment, shall w-we, uhm, continue on o-our way?" Kotori finally suggested; the belated embarrassement all to obvious in her voice and upon her face - both in the far redder shade than her usual pale self and her futile attempt at finding anywhere to look which somehow didn't including either Rui or anyone in the crowd.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Kotori glanced over at Rui when he took a thoughtful moment before answering her question; the subtle motion being betrayed by her need to slightly turn her head to actually be able to see his face through her glasses. When he did answer, however, she quickly averted her gaze again with what almost looked like a small smile. The odd twist that he would wish for precisely that which she had too strange for her not to find it weirdly funny - even if he had done so unknowingly.

At least, that's what she thought until he added another two words. These caused Kotori to briefly pause mid-step, blinking in surprise and look at Rui; the surprise written as clearly on her face as it was heard in her voice as she perfectly enunciated her thoughts on the matter: "Eh?" Barely catching herself from staring, Kotori hurriedly returned to the previous walking pace with her eyes most definitely fixed on some non-descript point on the ground before her. But before she could rack her brain over just what he meant with that, Rui spoke up once more.

As he did, Kotori seemed to shrink under his words as she bit her lip. This... had been exactly what she had always wished to avoid. She'd never wanted to burden anyone else with worries about herself - she'd have much preferred to silently let the events come to pass, however that may transpire. Yet here Rui stood, stating that in keeping so silent, she had in fact only managed to achieve the opposite. That he believed her to be well was only a small consolation as she almost reflexively opened her mouth to say: "Uhm, s-sorry..."

But as she did, her steps once more slowed and the inner conflict that was so evident upon her face seemed to come to an equally slow and confused halt. As she'd apologised for being such a burden, Kotori had found herself remembering the aftermath of her kidnapping in May. Then, too, she had apologised for having endangered those that had come to save her of - unbidden and of their own volition. But she also remembered the words that Rui had said after the fight - how sad it was to hide away. And she remembered how she'd resolved to stop doing that; to face the world with courage in her heart - no matter what that may incur.

Yet here she was, back to her old ways of trying to hide herself away. And with that realisation, Kotori took a deep breath before she raised her eyes up from the floor once more. For months she had known that the surgery was soon going to come to pass - and for months, she'd kept her own worries and fears about it to herself. She'd hadn't told anyone else about it- though obviously, it was impossible to hide from the whole Investigation Team after she'd announced it for all to hear back then. She'd tried to keep things under wraps - but even as she tried to be as rational about things as she could, Kotori had still felt a deep-seated fear over what might happen if things went wrong. The fear of causing the very same sadness that her father had three years ago.

But she'd kept all this inside - not even to her mother had she spoken about things, much to her own increasing worries about her daughter. She'd thought that if she just kept up appearances, then things would go smoothly - or if they didn't, then at least she wouldn't have caused any additional worries beforehand. But in doing so, she'd really only achieved the opposite - and, she was starting to realise, keeping her thoughts and feelings on the matter bottled up was only making things worse.

It was with this realisation that Kotori finally spoke up - and, for once, fixed her bespectacled gaze directly on Rui's eyes. "Actually, that... is something I would like to talk about." Equally unusually, the usual quiver or uncertainty was lost in her voice - though still quiet, she spoke steadfastly. "I... truth be told, I don't think I've been doing all that well recently." She realised a moment later how that must sound without any context and thus hastily said: "Ah, not physically or anything, everything's fine. Well, mostly. As can be, really. But... it's just..."

Kotori's voice trailed off - but this time, not because she'd lost her confidence mid-sentence, but rather because she simply didn't know how to put her own thoughts into words. Nonetheless, she tried but a moment later: "I'm... afraid. Scared. Whenever I think about it, I... I can't help but think... what if? If I... if something... I mean, what then? I mean, I know, everything should go fine. I know that, but... what about my mother? And... and all of you, and... but... really, I... at the end, I... I'm just..."

Once she'd started talking, it all just came flooding out - and once it had, Kotori finally managed to arrive at that which lay at the very centre of it all. Because underneath all her worries for others and all her attempts at keeping them safe from any consequences, there was one very simple truth: "Shinichi-san, I... I'm afraid of dying." And having spoken those words aloud, Kotori fell silent. At some point, much like her mind, her eyes had begun to wander; ending up at an all too familiar patch of ground as she contemplated her own realisations in her own little world.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Once they were under way, Kotori soon found herself easily distracted from her thoughts by the various sights and sounds of the festival. Lanterns hung all around, warding off the encroaching night with their warm orange glow. The crowds gave off a persistent, indistinct murmur - always lively, often joyful yet never quite too loud. Once they reached the stands, Kotori occasionally briefly paused to look them over. Even if she had no immediate intention of buying anything just now, it was still interesting to look nonetheless. Occasionally, she was even stopped or waved over when one of the stall owners or fellow visitors happened to recognise her - unsurprisingly, these turned out to mostly be neighbours, given that she lived in the shopping square.

After each of the many regards she was to give to her mother or wishes for her to enjoy the festival, Kotori apologised to Rui for the brief holdup - even though he didn't seem to particularly mind. Without further incident, they managed to reach the shrine itself. It was quite a popular spot - several festival-goers too had taken the opportunity to give their thanks or prayers. However, few stayed for too long and as such they didn't have to wait too long before they too could step forward toward the shrine. As she did so, Kotori paused to think on what she should pray for.

Success with studies? Should she really pester a deity with such simple matters? Perhaps assistance in the mysteries of the Mirror Realm? But with no clear idea in mind, she wouldn't feel particularly comfortable with that either. Maybe she should just try for good fortune in the future - at which point a thought crossed Kotori's mind that caused her to briefly pause in the last last step toward the shrine itself. She managed to stop herself from instinctively raising her hand toward her chest - though the same could not be said for her bespectacled gaze that turned downward, if only for a heartbeat.

With all excitement that had been going on recently, she had almost managed to put it out of her mind - but only almost. Perhaps this might be something that she could ask of the gods - and almost as if he'd been waiting for it, Rui chose that particular moment to speak up, asking her what she would be praying for. "Eh?" was Kotori's immediate response, given her surprise at the particular timing before quickly recovering - and then realising that this wasn't exactly something she could or even wanted to just say out loud.

"Oh, uhm... good fortune, uhm, i-in the future... maybe...?" It wasn't hard to see that this wasn't really what she wanted to say. Between the unconvincing tone, the way she averted her eyes and how her fingers were nervously playing with the strap of her handbag before she reached inside to pull out some money as well, it wasn't hard to see that there was something else on her mind - but this time, it didn't seem to be the usual attempt at wrapping her head around the strangeness that was the Mirror Realm. Instead, Kotori's mood seemed heavier than that - but lasted only for a brief moment longer before she took a deep breath.

With a half-hearted attempt at a smile restored, Kotori would make her prayer in silence; her eyes closed all the while she stood there with her hands together. She even gave a small bow toward the shrine before she would vacate the spot together with Rui for the next in line - and though they hadn't taken any longer than those before them, Kotori still felt apologetic for holding them up. Still, they had only gone a few steps when Kotori glanced over at Rui - this happened a few times before she finally managed to speak up: "Uhm... what did y-you pray for, Shinichi-san?" Whilst the question was posed mostly in an attempt to avoid an awkward silence, there was a certain amount of honest curiosity in Kotori's voice.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Having spoken, Kotori took the brief pause as Rui thought on his answer to calm herself. If she thought about it rationally, there really was no need to be so nervous. Sure, it had been a bit unexpected that the others hadn't shown up yet, but it was still a normal group outing. They'd gone to the beach before and that had been even more embarrassing to her - but even still, she had enjoyed it. So really, she just needed to take a deep breath and remind herself that this was quite the normal festival and-"Well... I guess you in a yukata for a start."

Despite the orange shading of the festival lamps in the dusk, the rapid flushing of Kotori's cheeks was undeniable as she stared at Rui wide-eyed for a full second or two; an incredulous blinking behind her glasses being the only motion to be seen. It wasn't hard to see that whatever train of thought she may have been on before, it was completely and utterly derailed beyond all hope of rescue. "I-I, ah, m-eh? Tha-, uhm..." Once she managed to recover, her thoughts were going a lot faster than her mouth could keep up with and little more than an unintelligible mess could be made out - which only added to the heat she could feel all across her reddened face, leading her to instead bite her lip rather than dig herself even deeper.

Kotori's mind, meanwhile, was racing with a dozen different thoughts. Had she maybe just misunderstood him? Or was Rui addressing someone else? No, a quick glance around confirmed that he was very much indeed speaking to her. Did that mean he actually would have wanted to have seen how she might look in a yukata? That did seem the most obvious, given that it was exactly what he'd just said - but did that mean... he wanted to actually see her? Oddly quickly, Kotori explored the other options in her mind. Perhaps he simply liked the traditional atmosphere of the festival and felt like a yukata would perfectly fit - or maybe he was quite simply just joking. Without reaching a definitive conclusion, Kotori decided to leave it at that - particularly after her cheeks briefly deepened in their shade for a moment there - before finally glancing back at Rui.

It seemed that he had been waiting for just that - as in the very next moment, he spoke up once more; not missing a beat after his previous and most outrageous statement to instead suggest a visit to the shrine itself before heading back to the meeting spot. At his words, Kotori looked over to the shrine. There was already a crowd lazily moving to and fro with much the same idea in mind; various people stopping at the food stalls or amusements along this main path that the festival took.

"Uhm..." Kotori started, almost hesitantly after the previous mess she'd made when she'd opened her mouth, before redoubling her volume - which is to say, almost reaching a normal speaking voice. "That, uhm, I... I'd li-, ah, I-I mean, that sounds nice," she said, trying her best to put her embarrassment behind her with a smile - though it ended as a slightly awkward half-smile. As such, Kotori was only too eager to quickly turn to face the way they'd decided to head - particularly when she also felt a brief resurgence of warmth across her face as they began their walk.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Having finally spoken, Kotori glanced up at Rui, who was still standing beside her with his gaze focused off in the distance. He seemed to muse over her words for a moment - which gave Kotori just enough time to wonder just how the others, such as Leiko or Chiaki, managed to effortlessly keep a conversation going when she was already all out of ideas what to talk about. Hence, her aforementioned suggestion - which doubtlessly would be a preferable outcome to the inevitable awkward silence that would otherwise follow.

As such, Kotori wasn't surprised when Rui agreed to her words. At least, not before he spoke on. As he casually suggested she accompany him, Kotori blinked in surprise. She repeated the words in her mind - but no, she wasn't somehow misunderstanding. "Eh?" was the most eloquent response she could manage at such a short notice as she looked back at Rui. She had expected him to either agree with her and perhaps ask her to let him know when the others arrived. Or perhaps refuse to go alone, without the company of the others; even if it meant standing around at the designated meeting place longer yet.

Thusly unprepared, Kotori quickly glanced about in the vain hope that perhaps someone else would happen to arrive just in time - but alas, it was not to be. "Uhm..." she said, her eyes finding an apparently most interesting spot on the ground before her feet. Her mind was rapidly going through the options - they were already at the meeting point, yet it was already past the time. Shouldn't she stay here? After all, if she were late, she'd probably appreciate it if the others waited for her. Yet at the same time, she'd probably feel even worse if they had to wait around doing nothing because of her. Still, that wouldn't bother her too much, seeing as it was a pleasant evening and even just the atmosphere was quite enjoyable.

Realising that she wasn't coming to any kind of conclusion very quickly - and that she was leaving Rui waiting for an answer for what felt like ages, despite just being a scant few moments in reality - Kotori finally just made a quick decision. "I-if that is fine with, uhm, y-you, then..." she practically mumbled from the start, leaving any others word to be drowned out by the surrounding summer festival noises. Realising as much when she, if only for the briefest of moments, glanced back at Rui before returning her bespectacled gaze back to the ground, she added an empathetic nod - or at least, her attempt at one, given that all that could be seen of it was the barest of movements.

Kotori's mind, meanwhile, was rather jumbled mess as she somehow simultaneously tried to think of how to keep an eye on the meeting place and her phone for when the others showed up, what stands she might want to look at - she'd tried to memorise the festival layout the day before, but it was sort of hard to recall the details - and how to keep a conversation going so as to avoid long stretches of uncomfortable silence.

With her eyes darting about and her fingers idly picking at the cloth of her skirt, now that she wasn't actively keeping her nervous habit in check, Kotori finally managed to come up with a brilliant solution - or at least, it seemed to be one in her mind at that moment: "Is... is there anything y-you, uhm, would like to look at, Shi-shinchi-san...?" Kotori asked, her voice fading about as quickly as her confidence in the supposed brilliance of just asking Rui about the very topic on her mind.

Even as she briefly glanced back at him, Kotori mentally berated herself for the rather apparent lack of confidence she must be exuding; having been thrown for a loop by even just a small unexpectedness such as another's slightly belated arrival.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Despite the low volume of her voice as it trailed off towards the end of her words, it still seemed to carry far enough over the general hustle and bustle of the festival, as Rui explained that he'd simply been about already and had just headed here rather than hang around elsewhere. "Ah, I... I see..." Kotori quickly said after glancing over to him; quickly shifting her eyes back to some unspecified point between the ground right in front of her feet and the occasional festival-goer that happened to walk close by.

In doing so, she did recognise the occasional face. The familiy from across the street went walking past, the attention of the parents obviously far too preoccupied with their two elementary school-aged kids to notice her. She saw a few boys and girls of her own age, too - even a classmate or two - who were already gathering in groups of varying sizes. Several girls - and even some of the boys, too - were wearing yukatas of various styles and colours. Some seemed quite comfortable and fit right in with the festival atmosphere - whilst with a small, sympathetic smile, she also noticed the occasional slightly discomforted looking individual who was clearly more used to lighter garments. Still, they did undoubtedly manage to pull off the look a lot better than she would have been able to in their shoes - or sandals, more likely.

Either way though, after stealing a glance at her watch, Kotori did notice an absence of any of the faces she would have expected - namely, just about anyone involved with the whole Mirror Realm expeditions. She wondered if perhaps she'd misread the message about the time or place of meeting - but quickly put that thought to rest when she saw Rui too giving the occasional seeking look; expressing the sentiment in words just moments later when he noted the lack of any arrivals. Peering around fully for once, Kotori couldn't help but agree: "Uhm, yeah..." she said, not quite managing to hide the quizzical and ever so slightly worried tone in her voice.

Fishing out her phone from her handbag, she made sure to check both the time and whether she'd missed any incoming messages - but on both accounts, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe they'd missed a bus? Or perhaps met some other friends on the way here? Or maybe some poor fellow had come down with a cold and had to stay home? Or maybe they just wanted to visit the festival in some livelier company? At that thought, Kotori glanced back over to Rui, who seemed ever as unflappable as ever - considering how he'd arrived so early, he was probably looking forward to the festival but was now stuck here waiting with her.

After mulling over the situation for another few moments, Kotori finally spoke up. "Uhm... Sh-Shinichi-san?" she said, her bespectacled eyes once more fixated on the ground before her. "If y-you want, uhm..." she continued after a brief pause, only to go into a slightly longer one as she briefly glanced over at Rui.

"...I could, ah, wait for the others if, uhm, y-you would like to go around the festival?" she finally suggested - and quite reasonably, considering that she knew that she probably wasn't exactly the most thrilling of company to have around on her lonesome.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Deep in her thoughts as she was and with her gaze fixed on an indeterminate spot somewhere just before her feet, Kotori failed to notice Rui's approach until he spoke up. She almost jumped when his familiar voice spoke up and interrupted her thoughts by speaking her name. Kotori's eyes shot up from the ground and fixed themselves on the unexpected owner of said voice; confusion quite evident upon her face - only to slowly fade into embarassment when she realised that, once again, she'd been too preoccupied to even notice her own surroundings. Her gaze wandered right back down to the ground at that - necessitating a quick adjustment of her glasses due to the sudden head movements slightly displacing them.

Having been thusly caught not paying attention, she managed to miss his next word at first, causing her to glance up when she realised that he had in fact just asked her a question. "Eh?" was her first response, evidently still a bit flustered when she blinked in slight confusion. "Ah, n-no, I-I mean, yes, err..." she tried and, evidently, failed to somehow enunciate that she was only so early on accident but still looked forward to the festival itself. Biting her lip in embarassment, she was just about to go on yet another mental tirade toward her proclivity for miscommunication when Rui spoke up once more.

Evidently, he was far less bothered by all this than her. Kotori blinked slowly in surprise when he said he'd noticed her being lost in her thoughts more often recently - surprise not only because she hadn't noticed that she'd been doing it more often recently, but also that it had apparently been rather evident when she was doing so. In fact, she seemed to have been so unsubtle about it that he'd even noticed exactly what she was thinking about when he mentioned the things that had transpired in the Mirror Realm. Embarassment was mixed with an almost guilty look at being read so easily.

However, her face soon showed surprise, mixed in with brief confusion, when Rui instead suggested she hold off on those thoughts until at least after the festival. Of course, he was entirely right - for all the thinking she'd done, she had not gotten anywhere whatsoever. Yet at the same time, Kotori knew herself well enough that even if she resolved to follow his advice, she'd sooner or later be dwelling on it once more.

Still, hearing him say as much was at least a little reassuring in knowing that a similar voice of reason in her mind, though oft-ignored for the far more pressing concerns of thinking through unsolvable problems or mulling over past mistakes, was not completely alone. In fact, listening to said voice did tell her that there really was no point in losing sleep over the strange Mirror Realm - and that she really should listen to it more often. Realising that repeating a task with no change in outcome was really just a waste of time, Kotori couldn't help but think how silly she was for doing so - even though she knew that, sooner or later, she'd probably be right back at it again.

Either way though, putting her mind in order would at least last for a little while - which would be enough to, as Rui suggested, enjoy the festival. As such, his reassuring smile was met with a smaller, less confident one on Kotori's lips as she almost apologetically nodded her belated agreement. "Uhm, r-right," she said, though she immediately doubted whether it sounded convincing when she hadn't truly convinced herself of it.

Nonetheless, she fully intended to follow through on her words - which, after all, was the very reason for this meeting in the first place. A quick look around, however, did not reveal the immediate arrival of the others just yet - a glance to her watch, in turn, confirming that she had definitely arrived a bit earlier than anticipated. As such, that would mean that she'd be waiting here for the other to arrive together with Rui - which could quickly turn into awkward silence if she didn't come up with anything else to say.

A thoughtful look crossed her face - though not to the same degree as just shortly before - until Kotori finally came up with something. "Uhm," she began; almost immediately losing the brief confidence she had in her idea. "S-so... why are, uhm, y-you here? Ah, I-I mean, this early, not, uhm..." she said, her voice trailing off in equal measure to her eyes shifting downward as she combined the returning of his initial words with the satisfaction of her curiosity but stumbling over the phrasing half-way through.

Kotori inwardly gave a mental sigh - for all she thought she may have improved over the last few months, it seemed she was still quite terrible at handling spontaneous situations for which she hadn't been able to think of things to say in beforehand.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Shopping District: Shirohane Flowershop | Wednesday, July 13 2015

"Kotori?" Tsubame called out, peeking her head out from the storeroom in the back of the shop. "Yes?" the girl spoken to looked back from the door that the most recent customer had just left through. "When did you say you were meeting up with your friends?" For a moment, Kotori's expression became puzzled before she shifted her gaze to the clock mounted on the wall - and paled. "Ah! I forgot!" With the summer festival now in full swing, there had been an unusually high number of customers in recent days - and with how Kotori was as nervous as ever when dealing with them, she had completely lost track of the time.

She almost immediately felt guilty when she realised that she'd have to just up and leave her mother to tend the store alone if she wanted to make it in time. But even as Kotori's eyes darted to the door from behind her glasses whilst she deliberated on what to do, she felt the green apron loosen and then get pulled up over her head. Turning around, she was greeted with her mother's wide smile - evidently more than a little bemused by her daughter's antics. "Hop along now. Don't want to keep them waiting, do you?" She said, making a shooing motion with the apron she now held to speed her along. "Ah, r-right, sorry. I mean, thank you," Kotori said as she headed up to her room to grab her things. As she did so, she failed to hear the chuckle of a knowing mother reaching to shift a clock back a few minutes.

Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

More than a little out of breath, Kotori managed to make it to the meeting place in time - in fact, she was even a little early, strangely enough. Still, that did at least give her a few moments to catch her breath. Thankfully, at least she didn't have to keep an eye out for shadow creeping around like the last time when Rui had led the latest expedition into the Mirror Realm. Less thankfully, that single stray thought sent Kotori's mind into thoughts of that strange place - and its mysteries that were stranger yet. Absent-mindedly, Kotori shifted her handbag that she had slung over the shoulder of her pale yellow blouse into a more comfortable position.

'Did the places mean something? Were they perhaps one of those strange dungeons that had appeared without fail whenever any of the investigation team had been abandoned to the Mirror Realm? No, there was always someone at the center of them, that couldn't be...' Kotori's lips made the barest of movement as if to silently articulate her thoughts. Left unchecked, her nervous habit of picking at her skirt - a careful eye might be able to pick out her favourite clothes just by the small marks she'd left at hand height - resurfaced once again. Left alone to her thought that never led anywhere, Kotori was only aware of her surrounding in passing and, as such, only noticed the others arriving when they willingly made themselves known - much to her bewilderment at being snapped out of her musings.
Kotori Shirohane - Seto: Village by the Valley | Friday, July 8 2015

Kotori had barely a moment to catch her breath as the next assault began. Rui and Ryan led this one, making full use of Ayano's predictions and striking the Shiki-Ouji with a twinned barrage of both light and dark attacks. And once more, the Shadow struggled - but ultimately, its wards failed and one of the attacks send it crumbling to the ground. This was not to be the end, however. Even as Kotori gathered her strength to use the Shiki-Ouji's momentary weakness for another bolt of lightning, Ryan was already leaping into action as Geraint went for a heartstrike.

But neither was that the end of his attack, for in the next moment, Kotori had to bring up a hand to shield her eyes from the sudden intense beam of light that erupted from the piercing laser blade of Ryan's persona. Blinking behind her glasses and between her fingers as the light faded, Kotori could see neither of the two figures standing; a swirling mass of torn paper instead remaining where Geraint had before struck his deadly blow.

Yet even tearing the Shiki-Ouji to shreds would not suffice as a light, faint at first but rapidly growing into a shining beacon, began to emanate from the blade of Geraint, who had taken to the skies in the momentary blindness that had afflicted all onlookers. And just as the intensity of the glare threatened to become painful, the persona swung its weapon downward - and immediately followed through with a mighty flap of its wings; accelerating at a pace too fast for any eyes to comprehend. He seemed to transform into a beam of light that mercilessly bore down on the tattered remnants of what had once been the Shiki-Ouji - and upon impact completely vaporised every last scrap in a radiant explosion of light and grand display of power.

With their foe so thoroughly annihilated, Kotori quickly made sure that everyone was unhurt before turning her attention to the second group who'd kept their backs clear of the swarms of smaller Shadows that the strange mirror people had transformed into - but as it turned out, they seemed to share the fate of their larger companion and began to scatter back into the shadows. Whilst everyone remained on guard for a few moments more, Kotori could soon breathe a sigh of relief as no more shadows surged forth to attack; using the welcome break to actually catch her breath as everyone gathered around.

Before long though, Kotori perked up again when she began hearing sounds - and not those of conversation between her fellow Mirror World explorers. It was a different voice - stranger, as if coming from far away and... long ago? She blinked in confusion at the thought, but it seemed the most apt way to describe the sheer otherness of the experience before she managed to recognise the words as those of a marriage vow. Despite the strangeness of the situation, a brief smile lit up on Kotori's face - only to vanish as quickly as the voices did with the sound of shattering glass.

Almost immediately, the only remaining voice took on a tone of desperation that left Kotori frozen - for she had the misfortune of having heard it before, if in a different voice. She barely even realised that the cracking glass had been very real as shards were slowly floating all around them, at times giving off brief reflections of a man unknown to her. One such reflection might show him in anger, another huddled down whilst at other times he pored over something - as his voice returned once more, speaking words stranger yet.

Kotori's thoughts were racing. Was that... the leader of the Junsei Sekai Tensei cult? Was this the reason for it? Trying to somehow bring back his wife from the dead? But that was impossible - it had to be. And what did she - or for that matter, everyone gathered around - have to do with all of this? But... resurrection? What made him think that it could be done?

Unmoving and utterly lost in thought, Kotori didn't even notice that, upon Rui's suggestion, the group began heading back to the entrace - only snapping out of things with a bewildered look upon her face when a hand was placed on her shoulders. "Huh? Wha-ah! S-sorry, ye-yes, right," she managed to say when asked if she was coming back too, hurriedly following in the footsteps of the others - but not without the occasional searching glace back at the village they were leaving behind. She was even more quiet than usual and merely gave a weak wave in goodbye when, upon returning to the warehouse that had become their base of operations, the group began splitting up as that had been more than enough Mirror World exploration for one day for everyone involved.

It was a long and uneasy time before Kotori would manage to fall asleep that night.
Kotori Shirohane - Sadaomi Beach | Saturday - Evening

Sat at the seaside restaurant table, Kotori stifled a yawn - and not for the first time that evening. As they day had carried on - and particularly once the excitement and energy of the afternoon had started to fade much like the sunlight, the tiring effects of her rather fretful sleep the night before were making themselves known once more. With the rather cozy post-dinner atmosphere in the still-warm night, it didn't take long for Kotori's mind to wander as she thought about the events of the afternoon whilst only listening to the ongoing conversations around her with half an ear. For despite the pleasant ongoings, she couldn't help but worry about her fellow two Agriculture Club members.

As such, she'd only half-heartedly participated in most of the events of the afternoon - deigning to sit out on the fishing on account of having no knowledge thereof and not being all too eager to acquire it; even if she was somewhat surprised that someone actually managed to fish up an old boot. She declined participating in the volleyball match, too - though that was unsurprising, given that she wasn't exactly the most sporty person even if she didn't end up out of breath after just a few minutes of strenuous activity.

Still, she did enjoy the watermelon that had been brought along - even if she ended up getting some of it on her jacket in the process, albeit that not being of her own fault. She didn't blame Ryan for it either though - he seemed most surprised of everyone that his swing ended up sending watermelon bits flying all across the beach and in no small part over himself, too. Not wanting to leave her summer jacket in such a state, this did force Kotori to reluctantly doff the thin yellow garment as she gave it a quick rinse under the nearby showers. On account of it being soaked through, it left her little choice but to return without wearing it - and instead, much to her self-conscious dismay, wearing only the swimsuit she'd worn beneath all this time.

Ultimately, Kotori was almost glad for it - after all, she'd probably just been mentally beating herself up if she'd actually bought a new swimsuit and furthermore even gone to the ocean and then proceeded to never actually dip as much as a single toe into the wide blue sea. Besides, she told herself that everyone else was wearing their swimwear too, so there was nothing to be embarrassed about - though telling and believing were two different things entirely.

Still, whether true or not, she couldn't help but feel like she was drawing more attention that she liked as she quickly made her way back to the towels to let her jacket dry on the nearby warm rocks in the sun. As such, Kotori soon hurried over to, for the first time ever, actually feel the ocean waves curl around her legs - and most definitely not using the opportunity to hide herself beneath the water's surface, clear though it may be and thus doing little to actually conceal the light blue and white colored pattern that rose into a multitude of blooming summery floral prints that made up the upper half of her swimsuit. And with her glasses ever firmly in place, she didn't submerge herself any lower than her neck - though that hadn't stopped her long black hair from rising up and floating behind her.

It was quite a while yet before she actually headed back out of the surprisingly warm ocean waters, as she told herself it was purely because she actually enjoyed the gentle motions of the waves and the feeling of the sand shifting beneath her feet and most definitely not because it took her that long to work up the courage to do so.

---

With her hair long-since dried - though still feeling a little funny after both only getting partially wet and also having been in the salty seawater for some time - and once more wearing her trusty summer jacket, Kotori's thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a rather unexpected sound. Blinking rapidly, her tiredness was forgotten in an instant as she locked eyes with the source - and her face grew paler yet when she confirmed for herself that someone had, in fact, just suggested a test of courage. Luckily, and to her great relief, it quickly turned out that there simply was not enough time left before the train they wanted to catch left - and as such, Kotori was unusually enthusiastic in nodding her agreement when it was decided to not conduct it after all.

After that brief shock, Megumi showed up - and once again, had managed to acquire a whole host of things from seemingly nowhere. This time, the objects in question were a few small boxes of fireworks - which were soon handed over to Rui, Ryan and a few others who began setting them up. It wasn't long before they called everyone else outside - and to the sight of neatly prepared sparklers which were soon thrust into any unoccupied hand. Kotori was no exception to this and soon found herself grasping an unlit firework. One by one, the others lit theirs and quickly the sound of spraying sparks filled the air. The flickering lights illuminated the faces of their holders, showing smiles almost all around.

But even in all the merriment, Kotori couldn't help but glance around in worry - the sun had set, yet there was still no sign of either Shizuka or Matthew. She was growing slightly restless, even though they still had more than an hour before their train left. So in thought was she that she didn't even notice someone offering to light the firework in her hand - and taking her silence as a yes. Preoccupied as she was, Kotori almost jumped at the sudden fizz coming from so close; eyes wide in surprise behind her glasses at the sparks flying off into the night and vanishing after just a heartbeat.

Her surprise softened into a more relaxed state after a mere few moments more. Watching the small motes of light break off in all directions reminded her of shooting stars, glowing brightly in a dark night's sky before vanishing forever - even if she'd never actually seen one for herself. The thought almost brought a smile to her lips as she realised how silly the comparison was - but it stuck with her nonetheless. So much so, in fact, that she tentatively wondered if someone had perhaps thought of wishing upon a sparkler before.

Shaking her head, Kotori reprimanded herself for such silliness - but that didn't stop a small voice in the back of her head being more true to herself: "I hope those two come back safely soon..." Her voice was even more quiet than usual - and thus completely drowned out by even just the single firework in her hands. Hearing the others all around her being far more joyous - and, as she noticed after looking up from her own sparkler, sporting a lot heartier smiles - Kotori sighed at herself for always being such a downer; even if she couldn't help it.

Still, having looked for so long directly at the bright sparks that were being sprayed in all directions, Kotori fruitlessly blinked a few times to try to rid herself of the bright spot in the middle of her vision that was being rather persistent about not going away - only for her to suddenly stop mid-blink when a voice spoke up from the light-blinded darkness: "I-I apologize for my absence bu-but I do feel better now, thankfully. May we join in the festivities?"

Finishing her initial blink, Kotori followed it up with a few more as she turned to face the source of the sound - and once her eyes had adjusted to the actually still-light evening instead of the glowing fireworks, managed to recognise her for who she was: Shizuka. But not only that - beside her was the other missing member in the form of Matthew. Glancing between the two, relief slowly brought a smile onto Kotori's face as she nodded. "Of course, Otonashi-san, Harvester-senpai. Welcome back," she said, this time at least loud enough to be audible.

And though she didn't realise it herself, Kotori's smile grew softer and more heartfelt when she slowly realised that the strange and subtle mood that had been plaguing the two seemed to have finally been lifted. Perhaps, Kotori thought, there was actually something to those shooting stars.
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