What do you mean she wasn't real?!

The night before the mission to Daiba, I finally found time to talk with Mio.

The voicebank was all that existed. Before I left for Iorys, Miku was entirely a virtual celebrity—there was no 'real Miku'.

But how can that be?!

You're preaching to the choir here, Chisa.

I shook my head and tried to digest this idea.

And you never said anything?

It wasn't all that was different, but I didn't want to disturb you. It was all minor things—like this game series I liked didn't exist anymore, or Miku was a real person, or all of a sudden my mom didn't button up her labcoat when she went out.


Yeah, that was a new habit to me.

You didn't want to... disturb me?

Even before the whole thing with the Inomikos, I mean... you were having enough trouble adjusting as it was. And like I said, it was all minor stuff. But, yeah, it's always seemed pretty strange.

...But how could that be? I—

Hold on a moment.

She'd come in so quietly, I hadn't realized she was there. I jumped. Mio didn't.

Whoa?! Koron?

My apologies for butting in on your private conversation, but I couldn't help but overhear. The idea is simple to me, at the very least.

Well, lay it on us, then.

There are two possible explanations I can see, depending on the way you consider multiple worlds theory. The two are mutually exclusive, but given the limited amount of information present, both are plausible. The first is that within the singular timeline we exist in, your actions in allowing this Archon and your guildmates to reach Earth altered the timeline of our world such that these differences occurred.

...And... the second?

Simple. Allowing for the existence of parallel timelines, Mio leapt from one timeline in which these events did not occur in this form into one in which they did occur. The difference, of course, being whether Mio's 'original' Earth still exists in some form or no longer exists.

If you consider the simple fact of causality in addition to the information presented by this Iod character, these are the simplest explanations.

Now... let me ask you something, Mio. What day was it?


When did you arrive back on Earth?

It was... I think it was March 1st, 2012?



What's wrong?

That's... of course it would be that day.

That's the day that the first cases of Akaneno's Syndrome appeared.


Part 39: dry fish

There was no grand fanfare upon our trek to Daiba. People were far too busy for that. For this final trek of the seven struggles, we were going to fight by our lonesome.

Daiba Icepack, the game's seventh area.

The great Daikanransha ferris wheel, toppled and frozen over—that was what first greeted us upon our arrival at the artificial island. From its peak, you could enjoy particularly lovely views of Mt. Fuji, but those views were now a thing of the past. The ice had frozen it within the crest of a raging wave.

Quite the tragedy, isn't it? It wasn't that long before this whole business that I last visited.

Yeah, no kidding.

By the way, me I get. I'm better with cold than I am hot. How are you not freezing?

This body of mine has many disadvantages, but I am capable of keeping myself warm.

Calling Unit 13. Are you cold? This place is making me cold just looking at it.

I'm very cold!

Ah, and here's our patsy for the day.

If I may make an observation, I believe it would be best to attempt to find an entrance near the entrance of a shopping outlet. Staff would likely have kept the heat on for as long as possible, meaning that—


True to Richter's word, underneath the ferris wheel led to a hole in the ice—I'd been here once before, but Satsuki recognized it more obviously.

Yeah, this is the entrance to VenusFort! We're in Promenade Park right now.

'VenusFort'? I'm not familiar.

The 'VenusFort' shopping mall, opening in 2000, was a building intentionally meant to mimic the Italian city of Venice in its architecture and style. It was situated right near the ferris wheel. Now, of course, it was filled with freezing vapor and shining crystals of ice, and before us lay a small layer of running, ice-cold water.

So this used to be a shopping mall?

A pretty cool one!

It's not often we get to visit an actual landmark that's still standing in these places.

That's true. Often they're twisted beyond recognition.

Then perhaps we should savor our shopping experience.


...Watch out, everyone.


But the formations of these crystals are really rather beautiful, aren't they? It's quite impressive.

I concur, but shhh.




...I'm not used to just clubbing things.

Youka, Satsuki, you two handle the back this time. Koron, you ready?

Am I ready? Of course I'm ready.

Goodness, I think it's sizzling!

Koron, watch out! It's attempting to establish biokinetic feedback!

It's what?!

Wow, that's cute. Isn't that cute? Aren't Enshentas cute?

...They have attacks, Freeze Breath and Headlong Charge, they do about what you'd expect, but Chisa and Koron are here.

Oh, dear! There's someone under there!

No, no. We're here to save you.

Soldier's Son: Oh—oh, wow, you are? You're here to save me? I—I made a promise to my father! You've gotta get me out of here so I can help people!

Good news, kiddo. Back at City Hall we're in need of some go-getters like yourself.

There's another Enshentas on the other side of the room.

Excuse me! That is my trick!

Woodwind Duet does less for the lack of Attack Booster, but the luvshock makes up for it. Lol. Lol. Lol

All of a sudden, an unexpected voice came on the intercom.

Masaki: Unit 13! U-NIT THIR-TEEN! Can I get you back here on the double? Pronto, ASAP?

Mr. Masaki—

Masaki: Listen, it's important! Tell them that I've got documents!

We can hear you.


Unit 13.

Did you manage something with what we've just sent back?

We've finished work on the HQ. It should be as best as it can be. Masaki was overjoyed, even if it was something of a rush job. Unit 11 are still clearing out, but he wanted you immediately.

Masaki: Ah, incredible! Unit 13! You read my mind!

...We could hear you.

True to his words, beyond Sengoku, Kawakami, and Masaki's aide, there were a few more people rustling about. I hadn't run into Unit 10 much, but apparently this was the intent—their role, according to Richter, was to keep background operations running as smoothly as possible without being intrusive.

Masaki: Where's the box, where's the box... Which one of you has the important box?

The members of Unit 11, who all had boxes in their hands, looked at each other, but one—a young girl about Koron's size in a... well, a particularly ornate dress—was the one who looked down at her box and then brought it over.

Here you are, sir.

Masaki: Ah, thank you, Chelsea.

...I know I shouldn't be surprised, but why's a kid like this on the manual labor division?

I have particular skills, ma'am.

The girl curtsied in my direction.

I haven't made my direct introductions, and I'm very sorry about that, Captain Inomiko. Chelsea Toranosuke, acting head of Murakumo Unit 11. We haven't spoken, but given the opportunity, it would be remiss of me not to express my gratitude for you and your unit.

Oh! You're the, uh... You found that note. Right? With the teddy bear? The one Koron's been carrying around?


She turned to Koron and put her hands on her hips, leaning forward, her lips in a little huff.

I'm surprised at you. You haven't even told them his name?


I still wasn't very used to seeing Koron sputter.

In case you haven't noticed, I've been busy! It came at an awkward time! It's been a tumultuous week, Chelsea.

I suppose that's fair.

Sorry, is there a history here I'm missing? Do you two know each other?

It would be to her benefit if she didn't know me, but yes.

That sounds like bullshit. Is it bullshit? Are you two friends?

If you're asking that, then it seems she hasn't changed a bit. Yes, we are.

Ugh. Your loss.


Oh! I get it! I bet she's one of the—

It was at that point that I stopped myself.

I'm going to keep this observation to myself.

Thank you. At least someone here understands me.

Masaki: Much as I appreciate the drama of young women, this box is what I have gathered you for! For you, Richter. This is about the most hardware your Gauntlet can get applied with in its current state, but it should be able to run at least a few of those theoretical routines of yours after a bit of jiggering.

Ah, thank you, sir!

Masaki: As for young miss Satsuki, Dr. Akaneno finally finished tuning up that little toy to drain enemy lifeforce for you, and iiiiin addition here we've got some attachments for your guns—managed to make 'em full auto! Makes them chunkier, but here you are.

awww yiss

Masaki: I don't really need to read the fine print on this document, because I can tell you the gist, Ms. Fudoji. You're in the clear. With the creation of that 'Skyhigh Meteor' technique of yours, all bets are off, so feel free to use all of your physical capabilities, destructively brutal supermoves and all.

Ah, finally. Took you long enough.

Masaki: And, uh... Okay, I'll be honest, I have no idea what this is. Is this a business card? By all rights it's probably for Nagataka, considering there's never anything for Inomiko in these, but if there's a significance here, it's lost on me.

It was a business card for a clinic in the Tottori prefecture.


You have a referral. He'd like to prove you wrong.

Whoa!? You're still here!

Blending into the background is a skill I've long practiced.

So, what? You're here to deliver a referral?

You likely wouldn't accept it if I wasn't here to foist it on you directly. That was what my personal judgment dictated, at any rate.


Are you joking? I'd love to be proven wrong. And if it's been delivered so bluntly, I can't exactly turn him down.

...It seems you have changed in some aspects.

Is being cryptic and heavy-handed just how all of Koron's friend group is or is it just you?

Just me, ma'am.

It's the twintails. No doubt. Gotta be the twintails.

Masaki: Well, whatever works for you! Psychics operate strangely. At any rate, this is about all the help we can offer you. Get out there and do whatever is happening in all that ice!


Yes. It's over in Daiba, it's all frozen over.


Won't you be cold?

Say that again. I dare you.




Her surname. 'Toranosuke'. It's familiar, but I can't quite place it, and I'm sure that wasn't her surname before. Was she adopted?

As I understand it, she was taken in by her half-brother's family a few years ago, yes.

Half-brother, eh? ...Paternal or maternal?


...What a coincidence.

As interesting as all of these scattered looks into your backstory are, eyes forward, kids. We've got a—

At Youka's command, our eyes turned forward, and we all froze in unison.



Oh, couldn't wait, huh?


I threw up my arms to stop Koron and Youka from charging forward.

...Natsume. What are you doing here?

Am I not allowed to go where I please? To greet my good friends in Unit 13?

You're on thin ice, bitch.

Ahahahaha. How literalistic of you.

Answer the question.

Oh, don't worry your pretty little head. I'm not here to kill you. I wouldn't come all the way out to this cesspit of tourism and capitalism for anything so tedious as that.

Do follow me. I hate to be kept waiting.

Fuck you!

Eloquent as ever, Nagataka.


...What do you suppose she means?

Whatever it is she means, it's bullshit. We would be best served by burning her to a crisp where she stands.

We don't have a guarantee that we even can. This might not be the 'real' her, or it's possible that energy barrier is still protecting her. We need to be cautious.

...This place is lousy with the Bloom.

I guess that's how it goes when it takes so long to get here.

Miyoshi: If only Akino were safe too. That idiot, why did she run off?!

Miyoshi: ...Wait, aren't you guys, like, Murakumo?

Yeah, hi. Name's Youka Fudoji. We're Murakumo Unit 13. Takehaya likes us. Gonna be seeing a lot of me going forward.

Miyoshi: Did we get, like, a second mom?



Murderbear? Murderbear. Murderbear. Northcrowns are just like the old Ropers, but ice, and Murderbears can big chompy and self-buff. They are also all very weak to fire.

This is a Blizzasaurus.

They are weak to preemptive attacks.

Alright, be careful.

Come and get me, you lumbering oaf!



Hey, I said come and get me!

Blizzasauruses are pretty simple. Ice Cannon can freeze, Tumble does more damage. It's also got the standard Gather Power self-buff. They hit quite hard.

Motionless Fire Woodwind Duet.

Ughhhh. Let me guess, we've gotta find some way to melt the ice and then come all the way back here so we can keep going this way.

ssshhh shhhh mama fudoji it's okay it's the second-to-last dungeon shhhh

Pisses me off. Why can't there just be a straight line.

Because this is a mall.


This is a Snow Boar. It has an all-target attack called Rush.

It is weak to Chisa Inomiko.


It's alright, Youka. I'm sure these will serve as shortcuts, rather than mandatorily making us retrace our steps.


There you are! Don't you run from me, you—!

Please, Nagataka. There are two smaller dragons in this room. Do you really want to have a conversation with me while those are still there?



It's like, they have attacks, but these guys are such clowns toward this team that they just don't get to use them. They just get flattened. Woodwind Duet + Ifritbane just melts these guys until they die. Once Chisa gains one more level they don't even get the second turn, and on their first turn they just use a debuff and a buff.

There we are.

What do you want, you old bag?

Have I even managed to get you to spit venom at me? Here I had thought you incapable.

...But I digress. This concept of the 'hunter'—I'm sure that the woman of Hypnos has already discussed it with you, those fated to be born as warriors with surpassing ability. Brute strength and fortitude unlike any other, agility and scent like a queen of beasts, intellect to manipulate the fabric of information, a cursed mind that can manipulate the elements to your whims... and the overpowering capability found at the apex of humanity.

Granted this power, your purpose is to struggle, then fade away. Your moment of glory is fleeting, ephemeral.

Don't you find that just ever so tedious? Constraining, even?

Oh, shut it. You were never any good at villainous monologues, Hikasa.

Oh? But I would think you, of all people, would understand what I mean.

But instead, you are bound to the possibilities granted to you by this planet. But I—I have the key to unlock that cage and the true possibilities of such awesome abilities. It's just ahead! Welcome, my dear hunters.

Ma'am, please forgive me if I do not find your words particularly alluring after you enacted a mass murder.

Ever the proper one, aren't you.

Didn't you say you didn't have time for any more 'scintillating conversations'?

I am allowed to be a bit fickle. At any rate, I've unbarred a path in the previous room. Please do follow me.


Oh, I'm so sorry. I forgot about your pet peeve.

Not about that, just fuck you!


Jeanne, are you there?

Yes, I am. I... um, I just didn't have... much to say.

That's fine. Can you determine if this ice is natural from the cold?

It's definitely not. It's being generated by an external force somewhere else in the mall.

So that's the game we're playing.

C'mon, guys.




Flying Sharks are honestly pretty damn tough. 800 HP is an unusually high amount for a random enemy—it's the third-toughest maingame random enemy, and the fourth-toughest in terms of HP is actually the Magnetic Golems from Shibuya 2 with 450. A chunky 120 PDEF and 110 MDEF aren't bad, either—both are actually higher than the Imperial Dragon here. Ice Drill is a five-hit physical that can inflict Bleed for 18/21/22 damage. They aren't too dangerous, but you do have to consider them.

Alright, no more Ms. Nice Chisa!

...This makes more sense with a katana.


Unluckily for it, Chisa has just obtained her ultimate Iai attack skill, Mate In 16. Starting at 550% damage and reaching 650%, it's tied with Woodwind Duet at max level for Chisa's highest damage regular skill, though it reaches high damage much quicker. While it has no riders or special abilities, it doesn't need them—it just does a truckload of damage, and doesn't require an elemental skill from Koron to use. It's a bread-and-butter killbot skill, that can obliterate enemies without elemental weaknesses or go on the offensive. It's simple, but deadly, much like Chisa.

I was wrong. I'm sorry, Youka.

It's okay, not your fault.

...Oh, this cardigan is... damp.

It's repairable, but woof.

I'm not one to be outdone.

Prepare yourself.


Koron's Concentrate is the same idea as Motionless, but without the status ailment rider. Unfortunately she only gets it now, which means Chisa has a head start on leveling Motionless, but it's still Concentrate, a free double-plussing of damage.

...Nothing in the game actually directly says this dungeon is supposed to be VenusFort, but I made an educated guess based on the decoration. Aqua City, the more primary mall, is not only further away from the ferris wheel, it's also much more chic and modern in design.

VenusFort is actually closing down this year, 2022. They're having a presentation every day called the 'Thankful Carnival' for it. It was a bit bittersweet to realize that that was going to happen right as I was writing this update.

Ah, hold on a moment. If we jump down from here, we'll be able to reach the first floor, past a wall of Bloom. I'll cushion our falls.

Please tell me there's no vacuum.

Okay! No vacuum!


...These feel so passe now that we have this Ariadne Thread.

ohhh but this doesn't. ohhh yiss.

Diiiiid someone order a Bloom wall Dragon? You may recall Granderodons from back in the Kokubunji subway. These are like those.


Really, this just feels odd.

Koron, you ready?

As ever.

Hey, watch out. It's calling in a cold front.


Not to worry. Please continue.

Burn, frozen relic!/Your moment to shine is here—/Your funeral pyre!


Woodwind's Duet!

How was that?

Great. You've got a knack for it, I think.

Oh, this path is also open.

Ah, easy prey.

Really tearing it up out there today, team!

Big boy around the corner.


Does seeing Chisa obliterate these guys for this absurd level of damage get old to my viewers? I hope it doesn't. It never gets old to me. I love every single time it happens.

! This is quite the blade. Does anyone mind if I use this?

Why would anyone mind if our katana-wielding coworker wielded a katana?

Ah, thanks. This feels much better.

It's nothing special, but it's +8 number. And +8 number means the Woodwind Duets get bigger.

Miserly Man: I'm a very important man! Save me and I'll give you prime real estate!

My man, are you serious? You'd have to give me at least two piles of buried loot on the real estate to tempt me.

Miserly Man: Well, I do have a piece that a famous warlord once called home—


Eyes forward, Satsuki.

Right, right.

Just slightly bigger Singing Frogs, still the same 25% chance on all targets Sleep skill. No problem at all.

...when I even have to input a command.


Ahhh, much better.

This is with Attack Booster, but no Motionless.

Missed a spot.

Ah, another place to jump.

More running around. Grumble, grumble.

Sorry. We have to be thorough.

Oh I'm not mad at you.

Akino: I have this boyfriend named Miyoshi, and we were on a date outside Shibuya, and we had this fight, and we got all wrapped up in this—

Already taken care of. He's waiting at City Hall for you.

Akino: Oh phew, that's a load off my back.

Akino: ...wait, City Hall?

Yeah, there've been some complications. I'm Youka. I've forcibly installed myself as a helper for you and your little ragtag gang.

Akino: ...Green coat, your name's Youka... are you the Ghost of Yotsuya?!

Yup, that's me.

Akino: O. M. G. You're like, my hero!! You're the coolest!! I didn't think you were real!!

Huh? Oh, well—

Akino: The lady off the street who took down gangs with her bare hands, saved the downtrodden, fought the yakuza... You're the coolest!! That's all true, right?

Well, yeah. I mean, I like to think so.

Sorry, I'm just... not used to having fans.


i knew it. i knew you and daigo would react like, the same way to this kinda thing.

Well, glad to meet you, kiddo!


Well, we found another path this way.

Hey. You guys. Unit 4 said they wanna see you.



Welcome back again.

I guess we've been sending back a lot today, huh?

That you have. Another tune-up for the Industrial Area got finished.

i mean do you want it to be or

Oh, Satsuki! Even if I was serious, I know your heart's set in its path, just like mine in hers~ LOCK-ON! KABOOOOM!


One day, I'm going to figure out what any of the words you two exchange mean.

Upgraded armor for everyone but Koron in this one. Koron, well, we already got the Fuma Jacket.

Just let me know right now which of you guys don't need anything! Do not break my heart!

Most of them are good,

but give me a goddamned claw.

Finally! I swear half the time you pull something new out of nowhere!

Koron, who didn't get a Colorful Set upgrade, really appreciates this one. The Colorful Set outstrips the rest of the L6 weapons, but the Insect Talon, which can cause Stun, gives Koron a sizable boost. That's worth the 10 Dz by itself, tbh.

Even I'm getting a bit fired up after that business with that big bug.

Happy to help as always.

Waji now sells Miracle Meds and Heal Aero 4s.


Calling Unit 13! Around the corner there, the temperature drops to -18 degrees Celsius! Please be careful—I don't know why.

Likely something we'll handle by ourselves.


At least my sword can light on fire. Brrrr.


No yelling?

i'm keeping myself to a minimum so as not to inhale too much freezing air.

This place really is lovely. It's a shame.

Hey, maybe we can fix it up afterwards. Get it running again. Or if not, hell, maybe it'd make a good water park with all the ice melted.

Haha, maybe.


Ah, you've made it. Your habit of doubling back on yourself remains strong, Chisa.

Be quiet. Don't joke around with me like we're friends.

Friends, no—it's clear to see how much you all despise me. But you and I, Chisa, I think that there is more we have in common than you think.

Not this tired old trope.

Must I avoid any unoriginal thoughts if voicing an observation? ...We, the Hikasa family, have watched over those with great talents for generations, over a millennium as heads of the Murakumo—but the world's true nature was not what we thought.

We, I, believed that those with power possessed rights to and stewardship of this world. For decades I toiled under that assumption.

Trifling and hollow, granting no freedom in life or death. A sad sort of power, it is, that human 'heroes' possess.

What's your point? How does that make you anything like me?

Beholden to the chains set forth by our families and made subservient to the whims of Homura Akaneno... I'm more surprised that you don't see it.


I'm not here because of Homura. I'm my own person!

You get back here!

...Um, the temperature anomaly is centered on that dragon! You should hurry and defeat it!

Wyvern! Sorry!

Thank you.

With 5200 HP, the Freeze Dragon is no joke. Much like others of its ilk, it has a breath attack, Sonic Boom, and a self-buff.

Not to worry! While it was being kept at bay by Natsume, I've managed to route in!

Ready to go, you two?

That's what I'm talking about!

Go down!

Nice one, kids! Hardly even need me out there.

Naturally. It's a palace of ice. What better to burn?

Or Richter could get Quick Hack off and make it a resistance-free mulching.

It's—It's a threatening fight if you don't, I swear.

How's the ice wall in the main road looking?

Looks like it's... partially melted! Good job!

Alright! Looks like we're doing well. Let's keep going.

Damn Hikasa. I'll show her 'trifling and hollow.'

Next time, more cold dragons die.

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