BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 25 – Taking Care of Myself

Week 25 – Taking Care of Myself

I lost monetization on my YouTube channel yesterday morning. I still don’t know the exact cause, as the “Support” team refuses to elaborate beyond telling me it was revoked for “Duplication”, but I’m without revenue on the channel for at least a month. That, combined with the reemergence of a certain lunatic making accusations on my channel, plus the technical issues I had with Sunday night’s stream, sent me into a really scary downward spiral that I don’t want to describe here. I’m seeing my therapist on Thursday, and I’m hoping he will put me on more stable ground.
All streams and YouTube videos are on hold for at least a week. I’m probably going to take the week off my other pursuits as well to try to get my head together.
This morning, I took down the Precure Library archive project I’ve been working on since February, as that was probably what got my monetization yanked… and to be on the safe side, I took down everything else that got flagged. I hated to do this, but since the alternative was almost assuredly losing it for good, I decided that I’ve put way too much work into Silent InvenTOYry to have all the episodes lose their revenue. There’s a message on my channel about the removal, one part of which says that since the PL was drawing the vast majority of my traffic, I expected mass unsubscriptions to follow. To my surprise, I’ve received many kind messages from my viewers offering support and assuring me that they’ll stick around. Thank you, guys. I don’t think I deserve such kindness, but I’ll try to repay it in turn.
  • Tasakeru  Book IV: Twilight’s Dreaming, Chapter 2: 0.25 pages done
  • Tasakeru Patreon: 4 Patrons
  • YouTube Sub Count: 3,402 subscribers
  • Book II Appendix: 2 pages done
  • Shattered Skies, Chapter 37: 1.5 pages done
  • Shattered Skies: Viluy’s Database Chapter 3: 3 pages done
  • All YouTube projects and LPs on hiatus

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BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 24 – Writing in Recursive

Week 24 – Writing in Recursive
Thank ArtIdiotGuy222 that you’re seeing this go up tonight. The Blogress Report completely slipped my mind until just now, don’t ask me why.
I warned people that Shattered Skies Chapters 35 and 36 were going to be big ones… now you see why. 36 in particular has gotten me more feedback than any other chapter of late. I’m kinda thrilled, because the events of said chapter have encouraged a lot of people to seek out more information on “the entity” and where it comes from. I chose not to use its name in-story to give it a sense of unspeakable horror and mystique, and it looks like that was the right call, but several people noticed the clues and managed to figure out exactly what it was. Since its source material is criminally overlooked and underappreciated, I consider myself to be doing a good service by pointing people in that direction. Fun fact: I’ve had portions of this chapter where the entity attacks written out almost two years in advance, because I’m crazy that way.
Guesses are also trickling in as to who exactly Fantine is. As with the entity, I don’t want to outright reveal her actual name, but there are more than enough clues already if you know where to look. I’ve promised several people that if no one’s guessed correctly by Chapter 42, I’m going to devote a special scene and/or a short chapter to dropping a big hint as to her origins.
In other Shattered Skies related news, there’s now a recursive fanfic in the works! VDrake’s The Changeling of the Guard has been honored with a few of these, and now it’s my turn. I’m limited as to what I can say at the moment, but the author and I are communicating closely in order to make this thing happen. It’s a neat little experiment, and I look forward to sharing it once it’s done.
So, Cardcaptor Sakura: The Clear Card Arc is now over. I haven’t seen the final episode for myself yet, but I’m hoping the finale is at least as satisfying as the last endpoint for the anime, that being the Sealed Card movie. As of now, my feelings on Clear Card are sort of mixed. I absolutely love seeing Sakura and co. again, of course, and the series has been wonderful to look at and listen to, but… well, assuming the explanation as to where the Clear Cards came from is accurate, it feels… sort of underwhelming, to be honest. Like it makes the whole arc less of an essential continuation of CCS and more of a postscript season. Don’t get me wrong, watching Clear Card every week has been one of the highlights of the year so far, but it hasn’t left the kind of indelible impression the first anime did. As I said, though, I still have yet to see the finale, so I’m hoping I’ve just made a snap judgment.
Anyway. The next project in the queue is Twilight’s Dreaming Chapter 2, which is overdue. That’s going to be my primary focus for the next week, or however long it takes to get done. I’ve also kicked off production of Episode 08 of Silent InvenTOYry, for an episode that I’ll have out in early August at the earliest. Thanks for your patience.
Please remember to call your Representatives, and keep calling, so that we have a chance to reverse Shitbag Ajit Pai’s overturning of Net Neutrality rules. Go to for all the details you need.

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BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 23 – Hello Anxiety, My Old Friend

Week 23 – Hello Anxiety, My Old Friend
Well, I tried.
I was on a roll on Sunday, well into Chapter 36 of Shattered Skies and on track to finish only a couple days later than I said I would. I stopped when I noticed the time, around an hour before I was supposed to start my Sunday night stream of Tales of Symphonia. Over the next half hour, I put out my promos and set up all my streaming software. I was about to head upstairs to eat a quick dinner before the stream… and then I noticed the little red dots on the floor beneath my chair, right where our dog had just been lying. There was fresh blood all down her back legs, and it wasn’t stopping.
What followed was a series of frantic calls to the regular vet, the emergency vet, and the second emergency vet before I reached someone who could see her immediately. My family and I drove her out to the city limits to the only place that was still open, and then spent an excruciating forty-five minutes in the waiting room. All the while, I was in crisis mode and barely holding it together, convinced she was going to bleed out while we were sitting there. When the doctors finally took her in, I was already bracing myself for the worst. Annie’s going on ten years old, and we lost our last dog at about that age… and suddenly passing blood was what led me to have to put my last cat down.
Long story short, Annie’s okay, thank god. There was an abscess in her glands, but the vet took care of it and gave her some meds to clear up her inflammation. I’m relieved, of course, but I’ve been an emotional wreck since last night.
Chronic anxiety is something I would barely wish on anyone… certain conservative/fascists (same difference) being the exception. One minute you think everything is fine, the next you’re convinced your world is about to end. It’s not a question of “just calm down and think rationally”; your mind starts conjuring the worst possible outcome of every situation before you, and it’s like a TV on full volume that you can’t shut off. In my experience, cognitive behavioral therapy and other similar techniques only work when you’re confident in yourself and you have faith that they’ll be effective, and during my anxiety attacks, I can’t manage either. It’s always a little slice of my personal Hell when it happens, and I hate it… which is why I don’t talk about it most of the time.
As if that ordeal weren’t enough, there was what happened to another family while we were in the waiting from. A lady and her young daughter or granddaughter brought their dog in, wrapped in a towel, and the older lady said “She [the daughter] was taking her for a walk, we think she had heat stroke…” They took her into the back, the family followed a few minutes later… and then, perfectly audible even through several solid walls, we all heard the daughter make the most disturbing sound I’ve ever personally heard in my life. I can only describe it as a primal howl of grief. She was hysterical, sobbing “It’s my fault, I took her for a walk, it’s my fault!” over and over and over. When I saw her again as she and her family left, she was all cried out, and she looked… empty. I thought about saying something to her, but I didn’t. I was too afraid that I was going to be the next one grieving.
I mention this not to bring you all down, but to try to exorcise it… to get my feelings out in words so I can move past it. The sound that girl made is going to haunt my nightmares, because as much as I know all to well how hard it is to lose a pet… I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve never felt at fault for it when it happens. This girl was young, maybe thirteen or fourteen by the look of it. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she’s going to blame herself for a long time, maybe the rest of her life. Things like that can put years on you. Whoever she is, wherever she is, I can only hope that she finds peace and comfort.
Anyway. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t get much done between then and now… I’ve been emotionally and physically exhausted all day. We’ll see what I can do over the rest of the week.

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New Artwork: Nadeshiko, by thesilvergoddess

Nadeshiko - thesilvergoddess

Nadeshiko, by thesilvergoddess


Due to various factors, I unfortunately don’t have a chapter ready for this month… but here’s something of a “down payment” on the next one. This the first official design for our favorite grumpy Vice-Mistress, Lady Nadeshiko Argenteus! I commissioned this piece from the very talented thesilvergoddess, who has an incredibly appropriate name for the task, and who was unfailingly patient as we hammered out the details of Nade’s sword and armor. Please go check out their artwork on their Tumblr at, and maybe commission them or buy them a coffee!



BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 22 – Pet Parade

Week 22 – Pet Parade
First of all, have your cute/funny animal video for the day:

This happened on my petsitting job this weekend. How it happened, I still have no idea, but getting this on camera was almost worth as much as my wages. Almost.
SO. Chapter 35 of Shattered Skies is up. I told you all it would be a doozy… and there’s more coming. As I said last week, 35 and 36 are essentially a two-parter, and there’s more huge plot developments yet to come. I got a significant head start on 36 already, so you all shouldn’t have to wait much longer for the conclusion. There was a minor issue with quite a few people misinterpreting what actually happened at the end of 35… but a quick rewrite of a couple lines fixed that, hence the “EDIT” in the title. That was entirely my fault; I made things too ambiguous, and I once again offer my apologies.
Anyway. Since I couldn’t stream this past Friday or Sunday night, I’m going to be doing some extra long streams this week to make up for it. I’m pondering giving up Fortnite because it’s just a bit too dependent on random chance for my tastes, so this coming Friday’s stream will probably start something new. It won’t be as alliterative as “Fortnite Fridays”, but eh.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s been a very long and busy weekend, and I need to pass out. Thank you.

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BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 21 – Incoming Doozy

Week 21 – Incoming Doozy
This week I did a ton of work on the next chapter of Shattered Skies. It’s looking like 35 and 36 are going to essentially be a two-parter, but if that’s the case, 36 will definitively end the “Rescue Arc” that’s been in progress since last January (!!!) I have something huge in mind for finishing off the arc, something I’ve been looking forward to writing for a long time… now the question is, where do I put the cutoff point? I’m thinking it should be right after Joker reveals that the mysterious artifact first mentioned in Chapter 29 is actually the [REDACTED], but we’ll see.
Minor changes to my Patreon: I’ve introduced a new $2-per-chapter reward tier, which gets you access to my private Discord server with an associated role. You also get this reward at the higher tiers, of course. Signal boost, please!
Some of you may have seen that I started a new LP on my YouTube channel last week: I’m doing a full playthrough of Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time. I would have announced this in advance, but until last Tuesday I wasn’t sure if the game was actually coming out on Steam on time or not. Bamco, I’ve noticed, has a really bad habit when it comes to their smaller releases: they don’t get pages on digital distribution services until the actual day of the launch. The same thing happened with Accel World vs. Sword Art Online last year, so I should have expected this. Sigh. Anyway, what I’ve played of the game so far is really fun, and it’s great to see Akko and the gang again. I’ll be playing every Wednesday night until I finish the game, which puts the Overwatch OverWednesday streams on hold for a while. I’ll miss the new anniversary event, but eh.
And speaking of streams on hold: sorry, but there will be no streams this Friday or Sunday night. I have a job coming up this weekend which promises to be taxing, so I won’t have the time or energy to give streaming my all. Many apologies; I’ll do longer streams in the week following to make up for it.
That’s about it for me. Please remember to go check out LeiLani’s The Depths and vote for it on by clicking the link.

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BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 20 – Plumbing “The Depths”

Week 20: Plumbing “The Depths”

First off: new Silent InvenTOYry! A full-length episode! Go watch it! As many times as possible! It was expensive to make!

Anyway. The runner-up title for this week’s Report was “Spectacularly Poor Timing”. Immediately after I finished griping about a slow week, Steven Universe dropped two episodes that… well. Far be it from me to spoil them for anyone who hasn’t seen them yet, but goddamn.

So. I decided to change the title in order to better plug The Depths, an up-and-coming anthro webcomic by LeiLani and ABD with coloring by Kino Jaggernov. I’ll just go ahead and drop the header here:

The Depths is already one of the best-looking webcomics I’ve ever seen, taking place in Tahiti and the surrounding oceans in 1938. It’s still in its first year-plus, so the plot is still developing, but the story revolves around a female otter named Leilani Perierre, and her burgeoning romance with the start of World War II in the background. Underwater scenes are difficult to do for even the best artists, but The Depths has them on nearly every page so far, and Kino Jaggernov’s colors and details are stunning. Seriously, it’s like looking at a Cousteau documentary. If you like furry comics of any stripe (heh, stripes), please visit The Depths and the other series on Dark Blue Comics, which you can find here. Caution: The Depths features mature and NSFW content, and is not intended for persons under 18 years of age. That said, said NSFW content is so far much more romantic than explicit, which is something rare in furry works, and I have to respect that. Props to LeiLani and company for class. I give The Depths a hearty recommendation, and ask that you consider supporting the series via Patreon or by voting for it on

Full disclosure: I’ve been in contact with LeiLani herself (the artist, not the otter!), and we’ve agreed to a sort of mutual plugging of our works. If all goes well, I’m hoping both The Depths and Tasakeru will get more readers. Fingers crossed.


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BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 19 – Oh Look, A Tumbleweed

Week 19: Oh Look, A Tumbleweed

On the productivity front, this past week was mostly about Silent InvenTOYry. I shot about 80% of the episode on Thursday, as I thought I would be occupied all weekend with a series of jobs… but the most difficult of my three clients canceled at the last minute, which meant that I had a lot more time than I thought I would. Of course, I ended up spending most of that extra time playing Fortnite instead of working, but eh. Anyway, all the footage is shot now, and tomorrow I’m going to make an effort to get most if not all of the editing finished.

After the SI episode goes up, I may just kick myself until I finally make significant progress on the Book II Appendix. Either that or I’ll just crash for about a week.

With the official start of summer just around the corner, my petsitting business is bound to pick up again. I really hope I don’t have an insane workload like I did last year, though… all the extra money was great, but by September I was flat-out exhausted. If it gets to be too much, I may put several of my lower-priority projects such as my Twitch streams on hold for a while until things settle down. Fun’s fun, but work has to come first.

Sorry for another mundane Report, but they can’t all be action-packed…


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BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 18 – A Certain Movie You Might Have Heard About

Week 18 – A Certain Movie You Might Have Heard About

Surprise! Book IV of the Tasakeru relaunch is officially underway! The tagline “Everything changes” in regards to it is not hyperbole, and I have some substantial revisions planned for this book in particular… starting with a lengthy new scene in Chapter 1 that I’m quite proud of. I hope you enjoy it. I also have a new piece of art coming that will be added to the site’s Gallery soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

I now have everything I need for the next Silent InvenTOYry episode, and filming is underway! More updates are to come as I progress.

So I went to the movies on Friday, to see an obscure little film called Avengers: Infinity War… in short, I liked it. It was cute.

No, seriously, holy shit. Even for Marvel, the odds were against anything living up to six years of hype and ten years of development. I’d rather die than spoil anything, but I can say that somehow, miraculously, they did it. I’m impressed as all hell.


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Chapter 1

As dusk is falling

Dreams are dark and filled with dread

Debts must be repaid

“Long, long ago, when the world was wild, there lived a samurai of great renown. Some called him the Shogun reborn, others called him a demon in mortal flesh, but all lands knew his name: Hayaoh! His eyes were steel, his heart a stone, his sword an eternal razor edge that cut through the wicked as easily as air. Few approached Hayaoh and lived to tell the tale, for he was known to be as merciless in wrath as he was in resting. Like the wind, he seldom stayed in one place for long, wandering the hills and valleys in search of his next battle and his next worthy opponent…”

[Excerpt from The Legend of Hayaoh, a collection of squirrel folklore, circa Year 500]

At twilight, she wanders through a darkened forest, naked and afraid. When the hour slips between day and night, the ancient woods are cast in an eerie glow of dying orange light that chills her to the bone, for reasons she cannot understand. Nothing is familiar; even her body feels like that of a stranger. This hair, this fur, this tail, all wrong… she feels a powerful urge to tear at herself, at the flesh that slowly suffocates her like a living, breathing prison.

I should not be here. The thought trails behind her as part of her shadow, whispering to her the same words every time: I should not be here. No matter how she tries to shut it out, the thought oozes into her ears and sinks into her skull all the same.

Faces loom ahead out of semi-darkness. Awash with belief, she runs for her friends, calling out their names, desperate to escape the whispers and the night she knows is coming, closer and closer with each passing second, inexorable, unstoppable. They are her everything, they can shield her from the dark before it falls.

The first is a huge but gentle presence, forever on hand with wisdom and understanding, safe and comforting as the fires of a hearth. He smells of iron and embers, of ink, paper, and leather bindings.

The second is a bright light and a mischievous smile, sharp and daring, often teasing but always well-meaning, a source of laughter even in troubled times, always an adventure waiting to happen.

And the third… the third is dark and mysterious, but she feels for him as she does for no one else. He is her rock. A noble heart for one so troubled, one who faces pain and overcomes it in ways she knows she never can.

She calls their names, but there is no sound from her lips. No matter how she tries to shout for them, they cannot hear. In desperation, she throws out her hand. The flower she wears behind her ear twitches… Thorned vines creep down her neck and shoulder and snake around her arm, coiling tight. The thorns break her skin and draw blood… and the vines sail out through space and plunge themselves into the hearts of her three beloved friends.

Her blood turns to ice. She screams, but there is no sound.

Their chests burst in crimson fountains. Their eyes grow wide with shock and betrayal as they frost over like clouded glass. She can only watch them wither as the life drains from them, bit by bit. It seems to take years before they fall the forest floor… when they do, they strike the loam with impacts that sound like distant thunder.

It’s my fault. In the ringing silence that follows, she knows with absolute certainty that that thought comes not from the shadow… it is her own.

It’s my fault. I hurt them, just like I hurt everyone. They’re dead. They’re dead. They’re dead. They’re dead, because of me…

I should not be here.

The thorns dig deeper into her flesh, and as she howls soundlessly in the twilight, they spread their poisoned roots through her every vein, growing, growing, unstoppable. Her nerves burn like the sun as a thousand thorns erupt from inside her flesh, tearing her apart—

Hanami sat bolt upright in her bed, every inch of her fur standing upright and her heart pounding a drumbeat in her breast. The last, fatal scream of her nightmare was still upon her lips. Heaving for breath in the darkness of her bedroom, she clutched herself tight, expecting to feel the prickling, burning sensation of the thorns erupting at any moment. Another dream. Another horrible dream. This was the fourth time in a week. And yet again, the thought chased her from the realm of sleep and lingered in the back of her mind:

I should not be here.



“Takky,” said Faun Muranaka in a hushed tone that was quite unusual for her, “this is insane.”

“It’s a debt,” said Zero Takaishi. One did not need to look at the buck’s bloodshot eyes to see the great weariness that clung to him like clouds. It was all there in his words, low and leaden with sorrow. “Debts need to be repaid.”

Faun’s gloved knuckles rapped gently against his skull. “You get us caught by the tin cans while you’re half-asleep, see if they care about your debt. We should come back when you’re not dead on your feet.”

“No.” Zero shook his head. “We’ve come this far. It’ll be one less thing to worry about.”

They crouched together behind an immaculately trimmed hydrangea shrub in the eastern courtyard of Aedis Centralis, the holiest temple of the Silver Order. Located at the heart of Unify, Aedis Centralis was a sprawling, majestic structure, resplendent with white marble and alabaster columns, spotless walls free of the accumulated grime of the rest of the central city, and clean-scrubbed ebony floors polished to an almost mirror-like sheen.

At least, that was how it was supposed to be. Three weeks after the Soulsnatcher’s terrible rampage through their most sacred grounds, the Order sistren and brethren still struggled to restore Aedis Centralis to its former pristine glory. It was an expensive and laborious process; scores of those beautiful ebony floorboards had to be torn up and replaced, for they were soiled by the blood of the three dozen that the Soulsnatcher murdered on that night. The Order’s edict for their temples demanded that any surface touched by unjustly spilled blood was forever desecrated and must be disposed of with fire. Squirrel temples had similar edicts, but the sight of piles and piles of floorboards stacked up to be burned on the way inside struck Zero as an awful waste.

A waste. That was what the last three weeks had been for him in most part. Though he searched day and night throughout all of Tasakeru for any sign of Naole, there was not so much as a brick-red hair. His little sister was nowhere to be found. If she was even still alive, she was out there somewhere… cold and alone in a hostile forest that even he, a resident of nine years, could barely survive sometimes. Hopelessness crept up on Zero like some insidious disease; it was only his unflagging determination (or stubbornness) that kept him going.

The trip to Unify to repay his debt was a diversion as much as anything. It was a way to keep himself going, to relieve himself of at least one burden. Faun insisted on coming along, telling him repeatedly that his constant worry and lack of sleep would lead to his getting caught without her help.

At last, after twenty minutes, the Order knights assigned to patrol the grounds left their routes to change shifts. Seizing the opportunity, Zero and Faun dashed across the lawn and pressed themselves against the temple’s eastern wall as if trying to melt into it. They were blocked from view for the most part by rows of flowering hedges, but both knew that it was best to never underestimate an Order knight.

“I think it’s this side,” muttered Zero to Faun. “From what I remember, Naole usually worked here, in the East Wing infirmary.”

Faun blew air through her lips, causing her auburn bangs to flutter with the draft. “You really think Little Lady Sunshine would be convalescing with the rest of the mortals? Takky, you are crazy. She’s probably got a private wing of her own, and a silver-gilded chamber pot or something.”

Zero blanched. “I really needed that image, Faun, thank you. Honestly, she’s not nearly as haughty and stuffed-up as you think she is. She gave me the dagger of her own free will, when she had no reason to. Against Lady Lily’s wishes, even.”

“I still don’t like her. People that rich make my fur stand up.”

“You don’t have to talk to her if you don’t want to,” said Zero. “All I need you to do is stand guard.”

“Fine, fine.” The vixen waved a hand. “Just get it over with so we can go back home and you can get some sleep.”

From inside there came a war cry, muffled by the thick marble walls but still sharp. It was shortly followed by another, and another, in a regular sequence with precise timing.

“That’s her,” said Zero, inching along the wall. “Keep watch, and swish your tail if you see anything.”

“Will do.”

Moving carefully, Zero stood to his full height and peered into the infirmary’s window. He could not help but grin and shake his head at what he saw inside.

Truly, only Lady Nadeshiko Argenteus, Vice-Mistress and Field Commander of the Silver Order, would practice her swordplay in her infirmary room instead of getting the rest prescribed by her healers. A savage bite wound to the shoulder? To her, that was an annoyance at best. The healers would not allow the young skunk to wear her full armor while she practiced, of course, but Gods help anyone who tried to take her greatsword away from her. Zero watched her run through her form with some admiration, thrusting and weaving the massive silver-edged slab like a weapon a quarter of its size. Her piercing green eyes were set, her breathing even, her striped tail with its single wide white bar held high like a banner. It amused Zero to see that even when under the healers’ care, Nadeshiko took pains to not let a single platinum blonde hair escape from her braid. If it were not for the infirmary gown that Zero was quite sure she was being forced to wear, one might think she had never been injured at all.

That impression lasted until one high swing pulled a muscle in her bad shoulder the wrong way. Nadeshiko’s face twisted, and the greatsword fell from her grasp and clanged against the floor as she clutched the bandages on her shoulder. Something that was close to an obscenity formed on her lips, but with the effort of a lifetime of noble upbringing, she suppressed it.

As good a moment to interrupt as ever, Zero supposed. He knocked on the window pane.

Nadeshiko’s ears perked. Pain or no pain, she scooped up the greatsword and rushed to the window, holding it in a defensive stance. “Who’s there? Show yourself, coward!”

Zero tilted the pane inward. “Easy, Milady. It’s me, Takaishi.”

“Ta…” In a moment of genuine surprise, Nadeshiko’s bearing slipped. “Takaishi…? What in the Goddess’s name possessed you to come here? Need I remind you that you are forbidden from setting foot in—”

“I’m well aware.” Carefully, Zero slid the silver dagger through the window. “I’m returning this.”

It took a moment for Nadeshiko to register what she was seeing. It was her family’s blessed silver dagger, the one she gave to Takaishi three weeks ago as she lay wounded. The weapon bore a few scarce spots of blood that had not been there before, but someone had made an impressive effort to clean it. “You… you came all this way to…” She took the dagger and held it to her breast as if cradling a child. “Then… you did it?”

Zero nodded grimly. “Stalker’s dead. The dagger helped. Thank you.”

Conflicting feelings swam inside Nadeshiko. In truth, she never expected to see Takaishi or the dagger again… giving it to him was an uncharacteristic act of optimism on her part. Yet here he was, victorious, having braved arrest once again to return her family’s heirloom. A small part of her was touched. “I…” Her face grew warm, and her ears swiveled back. “I thank you, Takaishi, and I commend you for slaying that beast.”

“It was my pleasure.” Zero’s voice turned cold and hard as the marble wall he leaned on.

Nadeshiko inched closer to the window. Now she saw the redness in the squirrel’s eyes, and she knew that all was not well. “Your sibling, Sister Naole. Did you—”

Zero cringed as if struck. “No. I’m still looking for her. Stalker wouldn’t tell me where she was, what he did with her… or if she’s even still alive. I’ve searched everywhere, but…” His sentence trailed off.

She understood. Three weeks lost in Tasakeru with little food and little fresh water. The odds were not in Sister Naole’s favor. To her astonishment, Nadeshiko found herself hurting for Takaishi. Family was sacred to her kind, and he had been arrested dozens of times trying to care for his sister in her infirmity. She should know; many of those times she had arrested him and thrown him in prison herself. After checking to ensure no one was watching, Nadeshiko crouched down lower to the window and whispered, “I apologize, Takaishi. I truly hope you find her.”

“Not to put a damper on things,” said another voice, “but can you two hurry?”

All of Nadeshiko’s sympathy evaporated like morning dew, and her tail fur stood up until it resembled a bottlebrush. “You—” she sputtered. “You brought that guttersnipe with you?!”

“And good morning to you too, Milady,” said Faun, with a hard point on that last word. “Come on, Takky, finish up.”

Zero glanced to his right. “Do you see the knights coming back?”

“No,” said Faun. “We’re downwind, and I’ve got a sensitive nose.”

“Why you—” Nadeshiko sounded like a tea kettle as she hissed through gritted teeth, searching for an insult strong enough. “You harridan! How dare you say such foul things within my own home!”

“I’ll mock you wherever I please, thanks,” said Faun, flashing a savage grin. “Easy, Ginko. You’ll burst a blood vessel.”

Nadeshiko bristled and drew herself to her full height. “My name is Lady Nadeshiko Argenteus, daughter of the Argenteus House and—”

“And rightful bearer of the divine branch up your divine hind.” Faun made a show of yawning. “Takky, really, we should go.”

Zero rather thought they should. Faun and Nadeshiko had developed a profound mutual loathing of each other from the moment they first met, and if they stayed in each other’s vicinity any longer, things were likely to turn violent. “Right,” he said. “Milady, thanks again for the dagger, and I apologize for Faun. If I do find Naole… I’ll send her back to you as soon as I can.”

With considerable effort, Nadeshiko pushed aside her detest of the vixen to finish things properly. “S-she will be welcomed back with open arms, Takaishi. Good luck.”

There were no further words. Two shadows, one black and one orange, raced across the grounds, up the boundary wall, and out of sight. A great urge rose within Nadeshiko to call the knights to arms, if only to find and punish Muranaka for her rudeness… but then, she considered, they would catch Takaishi too. Just this once, she felt she owed him a clean escape. Debts had to be repaid.




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