The dead can never return to life.

It's a fundamental law of reality. There isn't a way to bring back those who have died. You'll get miracles, narrow evasions of the Grim Reaper, but the dead can never return to life. The dead and the living are fundamentally different.

And yet, I knew a 'ghost'. A walking spirit, a phantom.

In the original Yotsuya Ghost Story, the woman Oiwa, wife of Iemon, was horribly scarred by a topical poison disguised as a face cream, sent to her by a woman who had feelings for her husband. Oiwa's scarred countenance led Iemon to wish her dead, and Oiwa is accidentally killed on the blade of a mutual acquaintance in horror of what has occurred. She curses Iemon's name, and her desire for vengeance brings her back as a spirit who haunts Iemon. Nearly everyone in the story, even those unrelated, die—and Oiwa's desire for vengeance hangs over everything, eventually dragging her former husband into madness.

Oiwa is buried in Sugamo. Her grave, amazingly, still stands. When putting on the Yotsuya Ghost Story, it's considered proper to make a pilgrimage to her grave and ask her for permission to portray her. After all, her grudge has not disappeared.

A woman who had returned from hell... clawed her way back out to enact vengeance...

I didn't think Youka Fudoji was quite the same. Yet, even still... 'a woman who had returned from hell' seemed the best way for me to describe her. The way she moved, the way she acted...

—Was Youka Fudoji alive, or dead? Was she a woman who had defeated the reaper—or a corpse that had forgotten how to stop moving? Was the Ghost of Yotsuya's spirit that of an indomitable human, or a furious, unstoppable phantom?

These were the questions that I asked during our fight in Yotsuya.


----------------------------------------

Part 20: Demon Ruination





It had been some time, again, since the incident in Ikebukuro. Things had returned to normal again, for a time—with the Clinic installed, treatment of the injured went by much easier, and the mood in City Hall had begun to trend towards a cautious hopefulness.



I opened my eyes, for once unplagued by nightmares.

Mmhm?

There's a new Imperial Dragon in Yotsuya. Please come to the Meeting Room.



I was out of my bed in a second, rocketing up fast enough that I worried a bit about the noise.






...It took her this long to send an apology?

don't look a gift bento in the mouth

Oh, Satsuki. When did you get back in?

Aw, you know, last night, after you went to sleep. There's something funky in Shibuya, for sure, but I wasn't able to tell where it is.

Thanks for indulging me.

No prob, no prob at all!



Over in the corner, Youka was nursing a bento that was far below her usual standards.



Youka? Are you still sleepy?

Oh, uh. No. No, I'm not.





Then, Mio came in and placed another gift-wrapped bento on the table.

Are we doing bento handouts? Here's some from Major Dojima!

This was about when Koron stirred awake from within her cape, which while asleep really rather resembled a bat's wings.

What... *yawn* are we getting bentos for?

She feels good enough to make bentos, I guess.



Kirino had very sternly ordered Richter to take the night off, so he was last to awaken.

W... wait... *snore* I'm coming, Captain...

Chipper Worker: Yoooooo, Unit 13! No rest for the wicked popular! I'm gonna work day and night too, cuz I want a private room too! Right now all I get is a li'l mat in the hall!



Which one. There are six.

Chipper Worker: ...There are six??

Which one.





Someone seems energetic.

It's kinda what I do! If we've got another important assignment today, then it's important to get PUMPED!

YEAH

Aoi gets it. LET'S GET PUMPED.

YEAH!

GO TEAM!

...Youka, are you okay?



Huh?

Oh. Sorry, I was off my game today.

As long as you're alright. Seeing you space out is kind of weird, though.



I know how to wake you up.



Sharon had put up a specific quest listing with a paper heart on it.

Now, Sharon-chan knows what Taichou-san is thinking, ne? She's thinking, "YO! Nani the heck's with this cute little kokoro?"

I will admit I was wondering that!



I've got a cho, super-mega Tomodachihood Sensor in my atsui heart, hero-tachi and Richter!

Thank you, Sharon.

This is your Big Chance, ne? Do these ones and you might just make a heartfelt nakama!

oh we don't need those, koron and her new bestie have been getting on great

What? Don't be ridiculous. She is not my 'bestie'. I don't have a 'bestie'. If you want me to talk about my best friend, sure, but don't act as though I'm the sort of woman who says 'bestie'.

sure thing, bestie

Ah, so your standards are so low you consider me your 'bestie'?

yeah













Damn it, Satsuki, what the fuck!

How high is Satsuki on your list, Koron?

I don't know! I don't catalogue these things! I don't have enough friends to catalogue these things!

You have at least six friends in the immediate vicinity.

*sigh* I'm not dignifying this with an answer even if you make me catalogue this frankly absurd subject. Ask me again once we've liberated Tokyo and I might have an answer for you.

Wow, Satsuki, you're at least top five!

Hai, hai! Like that, ne?






To reiterate in plain English, quests marked with a heart icon will usually revolve around one of the major portraited characters, and can, once we unlock a later facility, lead to some really good rewards for getting in their good graces. Obviously you should be being a good person and doing the quests anyhow, but these are the ones you really wanna do.



Ya interested! You should be, hey! Kitte kudasai!

If it's in Shibuya, then it seems like we should handle it.

Oh, I know the requester. Forty-something, tons of makeup?

Mio-chan's got the knowhow! She was kinda talking my ears off, so I had to ask her to yametekudastop. Res A! Gather your ganbatte and let's go!



Oh, no!

What?

A green book with a hard cover, you said? That's very important. We need to get that back for Mr. Ayafumi posthaste.

You know what it is?

He had the misfortune of misplacing it the day after the initial attack, and I had to search every nook and cranny of the Shelter to find it. I certainly do know what it is.



Today, Quest-sensei is at the clinic. Oodles of meds, and tons of injured. But if we're out, just make more, right?

Lemme look around in our inventory to see if we've got two of those. How does a rabbit's tooth work for that, though?

Is it Chinese medicine? Ninja medicine? It's a suteki Eastern mystery!

(...Should I feel offended?)

(It's Sharon, she's just speaking nonsense.)






Carefree Woman: Is... w-which floor?! Lemme check my ticket, it probably says... oh no, it was in my pocket, I swear it was...



Yup yup! Two Red Rabifangs, right here.



Hi, Nami. We've got a delivery to make!



Nami: Wha—are you kidding?! I never could've guessed Unit 13 would handle my request!

This is the largest company of do-gooders in all of City Hall. It's not that unlikely.

Nami: Well... our stores of medicine were getting really low, so... you really helped us! Everyone was getting anxious... oh, but this may only keep us going for a little bit. Who knows when the war is going to end...

...

Nami: ...Oh, what am I saying?! Thank you so much! Here's a first aid manual—I know you know how to do it already, but I thought it might help.



This doesn't actually overwrite the Small version—we have them both separately, so our tank of out-of-battle healing has increased significantly. We also get an SP Up 100.

Nami: There must be something else I can do, though... Would a checkup be okay? I don't usually give them, the doctors do... How long has it been since your last one, Koron?

I'm not that frail. It's been two weeks.

Oh? Who complains about being put through the wringer all the time, again?

I'll burn you to cinders, Akaneno.

Okay. Do it. I dare you.

...Grf.

So we'll get Koron in for a checkup once we've finished today's business.

Nami: Okay.



...And here I am in a T-shirt from basic. This is mortifying.

It's okay, Major Dojima. We're all just glad you're recovering well.

-----------------------------



It's a Makunouchi. Can never have enough.

Alright, being that I'm a mom, I have an in-built radar for lost objects.

You do?!

Would I lie to you?





Oikawa: But detecting them beforehand is hard... it's more of an exception that proves the rule than something we can search on.

You'd think it would be easier, considering how flashy they tend to be.



Now, then...



Aha! A mom's radar never fails.

Oh, thank goodness. Mr. Ayafumi loses his mind without his diary to write in.

Wait. This is Kirino's diary.

Yes.



GIVE

Satsuki, please!









It continued in the same vein, mostly about work, at great length.

I can't believe this. You invaded his privacy, Satsuki.

Richter. Look at this. Is this really privacy worth keeping.

Please remove this information from your brain posthaste! Koron, help!

What? How?

I don't know! Reach inside her brain and grab the memories out?

Well, looks like a good time to go to that meeting.



Mr. Ayafumi is going to be so mad.

I feel pretty bad about it, too.

Oh, come on, you two. You find a guy's diary and you don't immediately look in it? What are you, people who didn't immediately get a Game Over in that one bit of Paper Mario RPG?

...Which one? A-aren't they all RPGs?

That's 'Thousand Year Door'.

Oh, I like that one quite a bit. Which part?

The one with the ghost guy's diary in the train!

You can read his diary?! Why would you do something so horrid?!



...So, that was how we actually entered the meeting.






Yes, ahem. The subject of today's discussion, obviously, is the new Imperial Dragon found in the Yotsuya area.



Private Kamachi: As the night went on, what we heard pointed conclusively to an Imperial.

And what exactly did you hear?



...I see.

Much like Warcry's inversion of gravity, we've confirmed that this distortion is due to the Imperial Dragon's aura. However, we're currently getting radar interference in the area, and can't confirm other details.

So, we're sending a team to Yotsuya. I want them to investigate in person—Unit 13 will do the heavy lifting, with assistance from SDF regulars... if they're up to it.

Private Kamachi: Sorry. We'd do anything to cooperate, but... almost none of our troops are combat-ready right now.

I see. You shouldn't overexert yourselves, then. However, this is a heavy risk for Unit 13 to hazard on their own. I wonder what can be done...



Kirino?

I want to place some probes in Yotsuya to investigate the anomalies in detail. Plus, engineering backup may help.

...Alright. I can't say I'm not uneasy about sending someone with zero combat experience, but this isn't the time or place to be held back by qualms about potential casualties. Kirino can be relied on.

T-thank you very much! I'll accompany them as a technician, then.



Yeah, leave it to me!

As for Unit 13, I expect exemplary service from you in particular, Agent Fudoji. In placing the probes, your knowledge of the area should be quite helpful.

Youka clicked her tongue.

...Home turf advantage doesn't mean much when an Imperial Dragon is concerned. I'll just punch the bastard like I always do.

With that said, meeting adjourned.

Meet me outside once you're ready, Unit 13.






I'm very sorry, sir.

Did... you need something?



T-this is...?!

Kirino broke out into a cold sweat.

Why do you have this?! O-oh, wait, you... must've taken the request... I mean, if it were me I'd just rest whenever I got the chance, but, um... thank you. It's thanks to you this book's been returned, I... suppose.





I tried to stop her, sir! I tried!

Tha—That's very wrong, Satsuki! To read someone's private diary!



Take your reward, a-and then forget everything you read! A-and... ground her, Richter! Put her in the doghouse!



We also pick up our second conveniently-timed Blind Cut.







We don't know the situation in Yotsuya this time, though. You can protest all you like, but in times like these agents like yourselves are imperative, Agent Fudoji.

Yeah, yeah. I heard you the first time.

Feeling a bit churlish today?

...Toward you, maybe.

Well, I hope you direct that attitude towards the Dragons before you direct it at me. I'm aware you might still have some misgivings about Ikebukuro—

Oh, it's not that in particular. I just don't like you, Hikasa. Listening to you talk outside of a business context is exhausting.

Oh? Well, don't let me tire you out, then. Do hurry.

Mmhm.



What was that?

What? I got it out of my system and now I'm fine.





No thank you, ma'am, I'm in a committed relationship. Yes, we are.

MANIC Manager: Yay, good to see ya! I'm the manager of the MANIC club, YOSHIKI! I heard from the ABC owner that you guys were the ones who brought all those manga and games from Shibuya? The ones that made the kids happy?

Well, they were. I'm just their fun mascot with the nice face.

MANIC Manager: To be honest, I wanna be happy, too... What if I told you I had a wish I wanted granted?

We wouldn't be here if we weren't here for that.

MANIC Manager: You know my place in Shibuya, right? The megaelite club? You know what? Even with Shibuya a mess like this, I still worry about my place, right? I'm a club owner! What do I do with my place in ruins? That's life as a small business owner. But I didn't call you here to chit-chat—let's get down to business. Shibuya. I own a club there. Do you think I'm impressive?

...Why do you ask?

MANIC Manager: So like, yesterday, I went there, but something super weird happened. Must be some kinda hawk breeder over there—I mean they were all over the place. I mean, it was so outta control that I freaked and ran. I've been thinking, how do I fix it? What if they come to City Hall, eh? So there's my wish—you Murakumo folks are super strong, yeah? Lemme pay you an appearance fee—my club's in the Dogenzaka area, right? Someone's breeding hawks around there. Thanks bunches!

...So there are hawks. Okay.

-------------------------








We'd wiped out all the Dragons in Ikebukuro, at least for the time being.





Sorry, Kirino, Aoi! We've got one more errand to take care of before we're ready!

Aww, don't worry. I can just chat about manga and stuff with Mio-senpai!

That you can, my dear. I'll even indulge Kirino in a bit of talking about work.

I have other interests!

Such as?

--------------------------






SKY seems to be doing okay these days. I popped in for a visit the other day.

You visit them?

Well, sure. They're a ramshackle operation—sometimes they can use the help. Most of the younger kids started off pretty scared of me, but they're coming around.

That's good. And Takehaya?

He hasn't shown up in a while.







I've cross-referenced the data. She was right—they are breeding rapidly. Let's, like, give 'em a piece of our—

Pause.

...A-ahem. Let's wipe them out right away.

Gyaru speech patterns are cute on you, Jeanne.

If you've ever heard the sound of an audible blush, please imagine it here.








Richter, you know what to do!

Yes, ma'am! Satsuki!



'Well, sir, it was like shootin' wild turkeys back home.'







Nice!



Most likely, it's the leader of the flock. Take it out and they should scatter!



Quite the coloration.



Owwwww!!

Satsuki, triage! I'll handle the offense!

Got it!





As the pavement cracked under the weight of her foot, Youka stepped forward and grabbed the bird by the tail out of the air, slamming it down onto the ground and shattering some of its bones.



...then, as it bounced up from the inverse force, she came in with what looked at first like some sort of lariat—but no, she was clotheslining the thing, sending it careening further back. The hawk looked rather more like a punching bag at this point.



So, when Satsuki shot it down, it probably welcomed the death.

Another midboss enemy. Bolt Wing does a lot of damage and can inflict Paralysis, but that's the Hawk Chief's only real trick. On the other hand, check out that debuff list. Youka fucked this bird up.



Phew. That bird was pretty fast.

Um, Miroku is saying, 'That was the coolest thing I've seen in like, ever!'

I have my comms off for a reason, Jeanne!

She knows you think she's really cool! What's the problem?!

You just don't get it! Ugh!

Mirokuuuu, tell your sister about your feelings, sweetie.

*mumble mumble* Makes me feel like a dork.

It's okay, Miroku. I... think the ways Chisa swings her katana are really pretty.

Geh?!

Like a work of art, Captain.

--------------------------



MANIC Manager: C'mere and give me a kiss!

No thank you, ma'am.

MANIC Manager: Jeez, you're seriously done already? You got that done lickety-split, huh? Without you, I'd have been a club owner in name only! But where'd they all come from? I'm not a worrywart, but you've gotta wonder.



MANIC Manager: Did they suddenly mutate or something? Is this a terrifying omen of more to come? This is a disaster, what a freaking disaster...

Ma'am—It's the fucking apocalypse! The mutations aren't new! What the hell are you talking about?

MANIC Manager: Oh, my b! I should pay your fee, right?

Don't dodge the question!

Some people are just off in their own little world, Koron. Trust me. I've known Homura Akaneno for almost a decade.

MANIC Manager: You seriously helped me out this time, so serious thankies! I guess we're pals from now on, huh? When my place opens back up, look forward to drinks on the house! Thanks bunches!



She handed us all membership cards to MANIC.

Sure, sure. I could always use a drink.

We also get two SP Up 100s. And... that's actually all the quests for Chapter 3!





And a Fried Bento from Kirino. My duuuude!



We took a van to Yotsuya, bidding Mio farewell as we did. It wasn't too long before the day instantly turned to night above our heads, and the moon began to glow with an eerie purple light, hanging large over the sky. And... I saw Youka's fists tighten.



Yotsuya Evernight, the game's fifth area.

Bone.

Great bridges wrought of bone and claw connected the tops of the Yotsuya skyline in a dark, ghoulish maze. There was a foul stench in the air, as well—something murky and oily. It didn't seem we'd be touching the ground any time soon.







Huh? Mr. Kirino, are you shivering?

Wha—nonsense! What an inane comment to make. I'm a scientist! My motto is that nothing in this world defies scientific explanation!

Okay, okay~ I get it, Mr. Kirino. Oh, are you hungry? I've got half a candy bar left—

Now is not the time!

Richter had started nervously fidgeting with his Gauntlet.

...Interference is right. Jeanne, what's the situation on your end?



I can't even pinpoint your location, much less the Imperial Dragon's... Mapping will be impossible. Are we really going to try and execute the mission with no data like this? I... I have to protest—

There's no need to worry, Jeanne.

Youka gave a little fistpump.

Sitting outside and gathering data isn't going to do much for us, so we've just gotta get in there and make it work. How many are we placing, Kirino?

Covering the entire dungeon with no gaps will probably take four, spread at regular intervals. I'll analyze the data here before sending it off to Jeanne and Miroku.

So we're just calling them dungeons now, huh

What else do you want me to call it, Satsuki?





But, senpai, be careful out there, alright? We'll have the map up and running in no time.

It's finally my time to help. I'll need to have my full concentration on this analysis...

This isn't the first time you've helped, Kirino.

We can discuss his low self-esteem later.

Mr. Ayafumi, Aoi, we're counting on you. Oh—but please do ring me if you need my help. I'll turn right back around!

And leave the front lines? I'm not that helpless! ...Especially without Dr. Akaneno hounding me.

Where is she, anyhow?

I don't know and I really don't care. Okay, I need to concentrate now.

Right, sir. Sorry, sir.





Even for someone like you, Senpai, exploring a creepy place like this by yourselves has gotta be nervewracking, right?

...I can't believe it's my second time.

Oh, man, what? Here, take these with you.



Aren't these your share?

Once is bad enough!



...If even a grain of dirt is out of place...

Mama Fudoji, are you good?

Fine, fine! No worries, Satsuki! Let's rock their socks and clean their clocks, I say!

Next time, Phoenix Down! Where is the Phoenix Down?!

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