Part 69: The Returner

Looks like someone wants to play.

For some reason, Blackhorns are immune to Lightning. Beats me why. Past that, they're physically frail but magically sturdy, and have traded out the all-target Paralysis and Power Slash attack from the Twinhorns for an all-target Sleep and a melee attack that has a Paralysis rider.

You ready back there, Sumie?

Heck yeah I am!

Watch out! It's attempting to induce unconsciousness!

Eh, no worries!

Counters.Party is on the job!

Tch. These ones are sturdier than I'd like.

Speaking of nice things for Gun Trickster, Hiding actually now also increases Evasion.

Watch out! It's about to—


haha ow

Piss off!

Shit... fuck...

Don't worry, give me just a moment.

You good, babe?

I'll be fine. I'm just angry now.

You! Get over here!

Yeah so I don't get the Knee Break Stun here and Youka gets paralyzed instead of busting out Parry Shield here

but Koron kills it at 6 HP remaining.

Perfectly balanced, as all things should be, yo.

May we please practice a touch more caution when dealing with those?

This one oughta be easier.

It's very funny you can say that about a tyrannosaurus, isn't it?

We've got Earth's apex predator right here, what's this guy got?

Claw Smasher turn 1, Fang Breaker turn 2 is my usual strategy for these guys. It pretty much works. Past that it might get a bit dicier but it's still Youka versus these guys.

...why did I turn around here? Did I want that chest that bad? I knew I was coming back to this screen, right? Early 2022 me, what are you doing, girl?


Use them faster if you want to pick them all up!

Ah, here's something we can chew through with ease.

Kehahahahaha! Crumble to dust before me!

Shockingly, the second one doesn't do much better.


The Sleepy Hollow sailed above our heads, and thankfully we were able to take cover without incurring its ire or falling prey to its toxins.

Yeah, we're good! Everyone in SKY's okay, too!

But we can't handle this forever. Pick up the pace, Neko.

Now my nose is all stuffly. Gimme a sec. I miss that chest? Early 2022 me! Look! Look over there there's a chest! There's loot! You could have Satsuki make the funny face and say 'loot!' Look over there! KINU YOU NEED TO TURN AROUND

In lieu of my being observant in the past, I actually just loaded up the game and went to check. It's three Nano Fixes. Also, that chest before was four Heal Aero 3s.

Wait, I go back now? The Bloom Wall in Upper Dogenzaka goes back here, I could've just done that... Okay. I guess we're here now.

Ah, here's the position for our third Confusion Cutter.


That's the third, right? Just one more left! Good luck, you guys!

Hey, Jeanne. Does Youka break the T-rexes' jaws like this, or like this?

The second one.

Thanks, gotta make sure I get it right.

Okay. Now we can progress with the dungeon.

Please, for my sake, practice a touch more caution with this one.

Since these guys are sturdy enough to last this long, I set up a Mine Toss on the first turn, and it actually explodes for maximum damage! This gives me enough damage tooo...

Oh, thank goodness.

I can't smell her around here anymore. I hope she's okay.

Is it weird to be fretting this much over a girl whose name I don't even know?

A lesser woman might get jealous, you know.

Ah, as if. You and I both know you're not the type.

Anyhow, if she's anything like you, she's probably rather squirrelly. Let's worry about clearing out Shibuya before worrying overmuch about her.

Hey, Mama Fudoji, look! A T-Rex! Your favorite!

Since when are they my favorite?

She said, while tearing off two of its fangs to grab the ends of its jaw and split it wide open.

You're right, Sumie. For all that we are in danger, this feels strangely low-stress. Relatively speaking.

It's the first thing that feels like a normal day on the job we've had since waking up. Makes sense to me.

This guy actually gets a pre-emptive on me, but I manage to pull it out by using Parry Shield successfully this time.



This guy manages to avoid the siren call of attacking Youka, so it takes a bit longer, but it's not that big of a deal.

We're almost back to the Scramble.

How convenient. It comes to roost right where we'll arrive to kill it.

Hey, you two. A fight's about to break out, so you might wanna get scarce.

Ino: Yeah, that's kinda your job.

Guchi: We wanted to come bust some heads, but... us second-stringers leave that to you guys!

You have a secret weapon?

Guchi: Maybe you'll find out someday, grasshopper.

Aw, nice! We're on our last one over here, too, we good, Daigo?

Installation's complete. We're okay over here!

Installation confirmed! Activating Confusion Cutters at 100% output! Three, two, one...

Aww yeah, baby, we're the best!

The plan is now to join up with SKY. Please head to the Station Crossing!

We're likely going to enter battle when we arrive. Are you all ready?

please, chisa. do i look like a girl who isn't ready.

I'm still raring to go, honestly. All this was pretty easy.

I would love to burn that stupid bug a second time.

Here it comes, guys!

Confusion Cutters at maximum output! They'll stop the Imperial's mind control!

You don't have a shot in hell, big guy!

You don't even have a gun!

Please remain cautious! It's still an Imperial Dragon!

Eh, we got this.

It's time to put Sleepy Hollow back to sleep. His weaknesses have become less stark, but with barely more HP than Oceanus at 5110 and relatively low defensive stats, Sleepy Hollow still doesn't have much staying power. However, since we've removed his ability to inflict Chaos, he needs to adopt new tactics—Madness Flight still exists but now has a 0% chance to inflict it, and Confusion Scales is just not present anymore. Sleepy Hollow has become much more aggressive as a zombie, and switches up to a new status gimmick.

Without its ability to drive us into frenzy, it's liable to go for more direct tactics once it realizes. All yours, Youka.

You got it!


Tch! Bastard.

Double Claw is a much more noteworthy attack these days. It's actually got a 1.5x base accuracy, so it can slash through evasion buffs, and hits two random party members, so a Destroyer's counters can't totally eat it.

Ahh, listen to that sizzle.

Not a scratch on me!


Yeah! Go, team!

It's going for a flyover!

Ah, thank you.

Everyone get behind me! I got this!

...Wait, what?

That's a soporific! It's attempting to capitalize on rendering us unconscious!

I got totally juked here. Sleepy Hollow's new strategy is to attempt to use Sleep React to get extra rounds off of putting people to sleep. I'm pretty well-equipped for Sleep, but not perfectly—I got lucky here, and if you aren't, Sleep Scales is guaranteed to inflict Sleep. It's not insurmountable, but it's nasty.

Get the hell over here!




Oh no!

Whaddaff... Owww.

With his extra turns, Sleepy Hollow will use Sleeper Lock-on, then focus in with Venomous Scratch, a double-hit that when used this way is guaranteed to hit the sleeping character. It's near-guaranteed to inflict Poison, and while its hits usually have low accuracy, if you're Sleeping you can't do much dodging, so... yeah.

Hey! Cut that out!

Okay, now I'm mad.

After Sumie shot the Sleepy Hollow that time, while its wings continued keeping it aloft, the motions of its body became stiff and jerky, almost as though she'd stuck it in place.

nice. please get my girlfriend up.

Oh, yeah, fun fact—Bush Trap actually has a Stop rider now. The chance isn't very high, but completely stopping an enemy's action for two turns if you get it? That's kino.

Holy whoa, what?

Damn, that's a hell of a trick, Sumie.

I concur.

So let's press the advantage and put it in the dirt!

Be careful! Its movement is back to normal!

Ehhh, nbd

Get back in the dirt!

With a decisive strike shattering its already cracked flesh, Fomalhaut's risen beast...

once again vanished from this world.

To think Fomalhaut seriously believed that would pose a serious obstacle. How laughable.

You did get knocked out, Koron.

Oh, be quiet. It happens to the best of us.

Whooooo! I'm the best! I'm the best!

(dang right you are! you go, girl!)

Uh-huh, uh-huh, ain't no zombie dragon gonna survive when the beautiful Satsuki's in town!

That was quite a feat.

Whaaaat?! You guys beat it before we even got here?! Come onnnn, I wanted to curbstomp it myself! I'll forgive you 'cuz we're besties, but geez!

And so once again, the safe haven of SKY was cleansed of the Bloom.

"Arms Fabrication" available at HQ!
"Skill Lab" is available at HQ!
"Terminal Dev Lab" is available at HQ!
"Diva Room" is available at HQ!
"Research Ward Lv.3" is available at HQ!
"SKY Hangout" is available at HQ!

c'mere you. yeaahhhhh, get in the bag.

You all completed this operation in record time. Please return to the Diet Building with the specimen and SKY!

(Man that was cool. That was so cool, right?)

(Yes, it sure was!)

Maki and the hurt kids need a doctor, though, so staying here'd suck, too...

Yeah. With Dragons running around like they own the place, we can't just hole up here.

Yeah, yeah, I know...

So, you guys're coming with us, right?

...Sorry we need your help again.

It's alright. We'll be counting on your help again, too.

Heh... really? Fine, we'll get on your nerves like before.

Let's go, kids! No sense sticking around here!

From the noise I thought it'd be little, but that one was a right bastard. And they wasted it like it was nothing... Murakumo Unit 13. These guys are really no joke.


...Must've run from this thing and moved somewhere else. Looking anymore here would be a waste. I'm going home.


Let Ms. Emille blow an artery looking. If we're searching, they sure as hell are.

What the hell is going on here?

Welcome back, you guys. Congrats on downing a third Imperial, but... This revival business is giving me a bad feeling. I'll take a look at the specimens and see if I can figure something out.

President Emille has already dispatched reconaissance teams to Ikebukuro and Kokubunji to monitor them for Imperial Dragon activity, so please don't worry about that.

If we have to go back to that fucking factory, I swear to god.

From what I saw, you two have gotten a lot tougher.

We're just focused on beating these Dragons. We'll be counting on you guys.

?! What's wrong with her? It's not some kinda crazy disease, is it?!

The opposite?

What's the opposite of a crazy disease?

Ah, yup. I got the feeling while we were carrying her in.

...Whoa, wait, you don't mean—?!

Just so. She's already three months along.

Oh my gosh, no way!

That's incredible!

Not now, Neko! I'm gonna go pay her a visit.

Yeah! Yeah!!!

...Haha. Yeah. And with quite the good news, too.

It's a good thing we found out now. No offense to those kids, but none of them know the first thing about delivering a baby.

Can you imagine them trying to care for her in the later stages? That would be tragic.

Oh! Um, President Emille gave me a message to deliver to you, she's sequestered in the lab again, let's see...

She's liable to find it soon, so just make sure you're in fighting shape when she does. Let's call it quits on field work for today, team.

To the Conference Room!

...So, let's satisfy Masaki, shall we?

Oh, no.

Oh, yes.

That was quick.

Well we were gonna go, but then we saw you've got this swanky conference room?! And we had to come see!

Yes, this is where we discuss updates to the Diet Building.

Well, hurry up and do it!

Sure, sure. Let's get to work, then.

Mr. Akira wanted to see you, but he seemed rather reluctant about it...

We'll head to the Skill Lab first.

Masaki: I've been waiting, my friends! Shall we begin? The long-awaited skill extravaganza?!

Hi, Masaki.

Masaki: Richter Esslinger! My main man! We've gotten the noiztank, Firewall, and Icebreaker routines working for you again, and that thoery you were working with to deter attacks? It works better than expected! Take the firmware update, sir! Take the RAM! I'm giddy with glee!

Thank you, sir.

Masaki: Agent Kazuki! We've got the Venom Booster working again, and I would be remiss to not mention that I was able to get that request of yours surreptitiously approved.

oh ho ho ho.

Masaki: Behold! Dynamite!

You're giving her dynamite?!

Masaki: In this business we don't have time to worry about safety concerns! Now, Ms. Fudoji, your 'Homicide Hold' technique has been legalized, thank you for the prompt submission, and I meant to tell you we had to give the other one a snappier name, but that one's good, too.

What do you do in this one?

I thought I'd give kicking them a try.

...K-kicking them?


That's a terrifying prospect.

Masaki: Mio Akaneno! Mio! Mio, my main woman, my vampire queen, my beautiful, inscrutable research subject! I'd like to outfit Saingreed's pop-out wire with the capacity to summon infophysical speakers to bolster your offense! As well, I've been studying the lost art of disco dancing to inspire your movements! Consider: moves so powerful they can inspire your allies to instant action, or improve the power of 119's regenerative qualities! What's more, I have remodeled forms of your fog machines with research from the Imperial Dragon Lore-A-Lua—

Whoa whoa whoa, Masaki, slow down, that's a lot.

Masaki: I can't help it! I'm on the precipice here! If your groove is powerful enough, you may very well be able to resist death itself! Use your temporal distortion ability to extend effects on your informational field! I'll make Saingreed more powerful! Nay, I must! I must skyrocket your arsenal to perfection! Study my moves!

Frankly, Masaki was a genuinely impressive dancer by this point, jumping up on the various tables for an eye-catching routine. His determination to reach the idol sphere was rather admirable.

Masaki: Remember, everyone! Your hellaciously handy, nearly necessitated React skills! It's time to start using them!

Then he stabbed me.

That's not faiiiiir!

Masaki: Surprise injection, hahahahaha!

Oh, hey, Emille.

Shizuka told you what I said, didn't she?!

Fine alright gosh

Kirino was cowering.


Ahahahaha! Oh, I'm sorry, but the look on your face! "Where do babies come from? How are they made?"

Jeanne did you play a funny ha-ha on our boy Kirino.

Yes, ahahaha... I couldn't help it.

It was a pretty good one.

good. it's good to prank kirino gently.

Richter, help me. Please.

Unfortunately, I can't help you this time, Kirino.

Huh. The place is looking pretty nice.

Akira: Okay, then... I gotta say something to thank you. Cuz I lost the rock-paper-scissors for it... again...

Akira: Thank you, Unit 13!

Akira: ...God damn it, why do we always have to play for it?

Your services are appreciated.

The Argus Medal is a very solid accessory, giving +7 ATK and MAT and +5 SPD. Real nice.

Tao: Oh, gawd, we've gotta team up again? Maki's pregnant, though, so I guess we gotta...

Guchi: D-don't look at me like that please you're scaring me

Sui: Neko's pupils are a smidge blurry... Even moping, she's seriously cute.

Sou: Man, Sui just will not shut up, will he?

Down bad.

Down bad.

Maki's having a baby, still can't believe this shit. But I'm so freaking happy! Babies are frickin' cute! I ain't letting a damn thing happen to it!

If you say so.


She's not much of a babies person.

It came as a pretty big surprise, though. I hadn't even heard those two were together.

Don't ask me why the kids do what they do. Beats me.

Ako: Maki and Shino, huh? Yeah, I guess it's good they're happy. I don't care about real couples, though.

And that's everyone.


ah, a job well done and a satisfying bento payday

Babe can we please go to the Shelter now I NEED to check on my cats.

Fine, fine, just give me a moment. I need to hydrate after all that work.

Ah, before you go, Sumie... regarding the girl in the hood.


Oh, right. I kinda got totally interrupted, huh.



Argh, dang it! The words were all set to come out earlier and now they're just not coming out!

You did a ton today, Sumie. I don't think anyone would be surprised if you're a bit scrambled.


My mom... I never... met my mom. I always heard she died from postpartum complications. And my dad died pretty early, too. I didn't really have anyone for a lot of my life, nobody I could rely on like family. I kinda... I donno. I'm happy for Maki, obviously. That's a good thing. But I was already feeling kind of weird and now I've got that to think about, and...

My hair isn't dyed.

I'm very sorry to hear all that, but... what?

Yeah, uh... what's that got to do with anything?

...Wait. What do you mean your hair isn't dyed?

I mean what I said. I used to be a brunette. That's true. Sometimes I tell people my hair is dyed. That's a lie.

My hair changed color when I was sixteen, when I was starting to get better at smelling people who were in trouble and finding hidden treasure. I didn't... question it much at the time. I had a lot going on and questioning stuff like that really couldn't have been further from my mind. I knew I was psychic, but I wasn't really concerned with getting diagnosed or anything.

I've... I... When I—When the—the, uh—my, my, my—bbbuh, buh—



Please take a breath. Your brain is starting to max out. Let's go see your cats.

But I. But I. I, I. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Can't. I can't. Head. My head. Ow.

Just take a minute to breathe. We don't need to hear it right now.

They left quickly to stop Sumie's hyperventilating, and while I couldn't help but be curious, when Sumie started stammering like that, it was a terrible idea to push her.

Her mind... simply couldn't take it, I don't think. It was too much, too quickly. She really was trying. So we left her to herself, and went about the rest of our nights, getting as much rest as we could.

September 14th was a rapid battle that ended as quickly as it came, but it ended well—our allies returned, and the undead Imperial slain again. The next day, September 15th...

...There would only be one battle, on September 15th. One conflict, on the Shuto Expressway.

Next time, the last little bit of Chapter 3.

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