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[EV-22] Tanabata Celebration!


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Now that her Tanzaku had been hung, all she had to do was to join the crafting portion of the event. Looking to the booth where they were building the railway, they still needed some of the cook related items. Interestingly enough, they were little Konpeito stars. Pretty cute honestly, but literally anyone could make these things. They're just balls of sugar.

Using some of the facilities provided, the paladin would get to work cooking up some of the necessary foods that they would need to complete the event quest and get all the rewards. It wouldn't take long at all for her to have made all the konpeito necessary to finish it off. Laying them out on the table with the rest, she looked to the boys that had asked for her help and smiled. "Unfortunately, this is all I can do for you, but that should finish up everything you need for the Konpeito. I hope that you get the rest of what you need!"

Spoiler

Item Name: Starry Konpeito
Profession: Cook
Rank: 10
Quantity: 46
Craft IDs: 163777; 163776; 163775; 163774; 163773; 163772; 163771; 163770; 163769; 163768; 163767; 163766; 163789; 163788; 163787; 163786; 163785; 163784; 163783; 163782;  163779; 163778; 163993; 163992; 163991; 163990; 163989; 163987; 163986; 163985; 163984; 163983; 163982; 163981; 164006; 164005; 164004; 164003; 164002; 164001; 164000; 163999; 163998; 163997; 163996; 163995; 163994
Post Links: [Here] and [Here]

 

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Up on the twenty-second floor again. She had only been up here to investigate the floors and what they were like, but this time, she was here for the event. It was going to end soon, but she should easily be able to do some of the event stuff before it all ended and gain some extra experience to get a head start for the Beginner's Quests. Weaving through the crowd of people admiring the fireworks, she would soon find herself at the tent where people would write down their wishes. Although she didn't have very many wishes of her own, it would still be fun to write them down on a paper. A good way to start her adventure.

Picking up the papers on the table of the booth, she grabbed a pen got took a moment to read all the prompts that were given if you weren't sure how to start. It couldn't be too difficult to come up with some wishes.

[Receives Tanzaku]

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There was nothing better than this. Not only had she gotten the chance to relax a little after several weeks of grinding non stop to make her way to the end game, but she had spent some well deserved time with the one that she loved. The two of them only got personal time when they went home for the night to eat and sleep so going out and actually doing something fun was great. This was probably one of the best experiences that she had since she started leveling up.

Walking next to Crozeph through the festival grounds, she happened to notice one more attraction that she passed up when she was making her way to her fiance. Taming of the Magpies. Why not give it a try before the festival closed up? Walking up to the booth, she smiled to the bird keeper. "Yo, wanna give it a shot before I close up?"

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Once she acquired everything necessary to write down her wishes, Shirayuki took a moment to find a bench and start writing them down. This spot would be a nice place to watch over the fireworks while she did her writing.

These were the sort of things that those who were too afraid to break their barriers missed if they didn't do something about it. Every low leveled player in the Town of Beginnings was missing out on such a beautiful event. Though she despised Kayaba for forcing her into this situation, at least his ruthlessness seemed to have bounds by allowing the players to enjoy their time in this prison.

Thoughts could be distracting, she needed to write down these wishes before everything ended. Adjusting her seat to use the bench as a platform to write on, she focused in on those, trying not to let the beautiful display distract her too much as she wrote.

What would you wish for the rest of your stay in Aincrad?

Spoiler

Never expecting to have stayed here as long as she had in the first place, it was difficult to think about such a question before being asked. In other situation, this question could be read as "What would you wish for the rest of your stay in prison?" Though maybe she was being a little bit too harsh. The world might be a prison down to its core, eating away the sanity of it's tenants, but at least it was a beautifully designed one. As someone who has worked in gaming, she knows how difficult it could be to design such a thing. 'I want to learn more about this world so I can create my own.'

What would you wish for the better of people around you?

Spoiler

Nothing struck her harder right now than the realization that she had absolutely no friends in this game. She had spent most of her time in the Town of Beginnings and if she ever interacted with anyone, it was short lived, or they were an NPC. How was she supposed to know what the better of people around her were supposed to be? Perhaps it meant the people of Aincrad in general. That was the best assumption that she had for this prompt. 'I think people really want the front lines to win, so even if I'm not there to help, I'll put faith in them.'

What would you wish for someone you care about?

Spoiler

Well, this question was even more difficult than the last. These prompts were extremely hard for her specifically. Since she didn't really have anyone to wish for here in the game, the best she could do was wish for her family. It had been years since she had seen them. Hopefully they haven't given up hope that she would get out of here, cause no matter what stands in her way, she'll see the bitter end of Aincrad. 'I hope my family is living well without me for now.' Her hopes would be well founded when she wakes up from this living nightmare.

What would you wish for someone you would like to know better?

Spoiler

Definitely the hardest of all of them. There wasn't really anyone that she could wish for on this prompt that she knew enough. Though actually there was one person: Kayaba. Most people would probably just like to take a dagger to his chest, but honestly, she wanted to understand him more than anything. Game design was something she specialized in, she had to wonder why he would want to leave such an awful impression on the people who were so excited for the game only to found out they would be die in if they weren't careful. 'I want to understand Kayaba's reason, and maybe have him understand it just as much.'

What would you wish for yourself?

Spoiler

The easiest of the them all, obviously. Wishing for what others want when you hardly know them was a herculean task in and of itself, but when it came to your own desire, wish didn't seem so difficult. The length it took her to think on such a thing was nothing compared to the other wishes. 'I want to learn everything about this world so that I can use it for a game that I make outside of Aincrad.' This was her final wish, on that she had since she first entered Sword Art Online. It was the entire reason that she bought the game in the first place.

 

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Yuki nodded to the woman. "Sure, I can give it a shot. Might as well." Walking into the tent with the Magpies. The birds were spread around everywhere waiting for someone to come in. While some stayed on their branches, there was a single one that flew down to greet the pink paladin. She held out her hand to the little bird and smiled. "Oi, you gonna fetch me something cool?" The magpie simply chirped at her and flew off away from her hand. It disappeared for a moment, only to return with a vial of tense red liquid. She reached out to take it from the creature, but it flew past and placed the item atop her pink nest of hair. Yuki simply laughed, "Thank you." She giggled, letting the bird return to it's friends.

"Well, that was interesting. Looks like I have an extra consumable now. I can't use this for the boss raid though. I need something that's food so I can use my kitchen benefit."


image.png

CD Sum: 5+4+12 = 21
Acquired: Blood of the Defensive - T3 MIT III Potion

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Now that everything was completely finished off, Shirayuki reviewed the writing she had made to make sure that they were all correct. With everything done, she would get up from her seat on the bench and hang the wishes up on of the bamboo trees where everyone else had already hung all their their's. It was a marvel, honestly, to see all of these wishes hanging. Thinking about just how many people were here to wish tonight was overwhelming. There were trees as far as the eye could see where one could spot a wish hanging from. Tonight, everyone's wishes could come true and they could all relax for once.

Making her way through the carnival of booths filled with mini-games and foods, she ended up finding a new booth. The sign out front was written simply: Taming of the Magpies. Her train of thought was interrupted by a voice. "Hey, wanna be my last customer for the night? I think I'm about to wrap it up for tonight."

[Hangs Tanzaku]

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Two more questions to go. These remaining prompts were more difficult than Lessa had expected, and she spent a few minutes simply studying the words on the page. An occasional glance toward Alkor revealed that the masked man was still diligently chipping away at his own wishes - he would be of no help. Instead, the blonde would be forced to dig deep for her answers. Alright, she thought to herself, pen scratching little doodles in a spare piece of paper, I can figure these out. The Celtic knot that formed from her hurried scribbling was her go-to, the familiar lines and curves as easy to follow as a well-driven road. Surely, when her father had taught her the shape at nine years old, he never could have predicted she would draw it while trapped in a death game. It's a weird world we live in, Lessa thought, a wry smile curling her lips.

Spoiler

What would I wish for someone I'd like to know better? Absently, Lessa ran her fingertips over the purple paper's sharp edges. The first step was determining who it was she wanted to know better. Though her friend group was small, she thought she knew everyone fairly well. Maybe she could choose someone from Sanctuary, because that was a large group, and - Her fingers tightened around the pen, her stomach dropping like the trap door beneath a hanged man. Pinball. Of course. Though she would never admit it, especially to Bahr, a part of her remained sympathetic. And curious.

Clarity

Spoiler

What would I wish for for myself, then? The questions had come full-circle, and now she had to make a call about herself. There was no question that she was in a much, much better place than she had been a year ago. She now had a guild filled with people she loved. She'd met Cordelia, and NIGHT, and Oscar. Alkor had come back into her life, in a way she never could have imagined. And then there was Bahr. Lessa turned to watch the festival-goers, the laughter, the color, the joy. But they were all still prisoners. As happy as she was, as happy as they all were, Aincrad was still a jail sentence. And she'd find them all again out there, right? Nothing would change. Still, her hand trembled as she scribbled in her final answer

A Way Out

[Wishes 4,5]

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Shirayuki debated her options for a moment, surmising that there was no reason that she shouldn't. Perhaps the magpies would be generous to her. The snow-haired girl nodded to the bird-keeper and headed on into the tent where the birds awaited. They fluttered around without a care in the world, much like she had up until this point. There were so many things that she needed to do now that she working her way through the ranks of the game.

Stepping up the tree the birds rested on, she was quite as a fox. Most birds would get scared of the woman, flying a way the instant she got close. They didn't seem to like her too much. Regardless, one would fly by at some point and place a bottle of something in her hand. Though she didn't get a chance to see which one had done it, it was still nice to have gotten something.

Her appearance in the cage seemed to be agitating the birds more than the keeper had accounted for. They fluttered around everywhere. The door was closed, as the black haired girl subbing in tonight was determined not to lose another bird to on-goers. Gramps would kill her if too many got loose. "All done in there? I can open the door when you're ready, just try not to let any of them out."

Shirayuki clicked the window on the item that she had received from the birds. Even though she had cause them to go wild, her eyes widened when she looked at the item description. 'Unique Item'. Was her luck already turning around for the best?

"It begins here." She whispered, transferring her item to her inventory and heading to the gate.


image.png

CD Accumulation: 7+6+10 = 23
Acquired: Cold Shoulder - Unique Salve | Freeze I

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So that was it, all five questions answered. Lessa shuffled the five papers into a pile, tapped them on the tabletop to organize a neat pile. Then she gave a small sigh. "That was a whole lot of reflection," she mused aloud, glancing up toward Alkor with a small, strained smile. "It's sort of weird. On one hand, the whole point of this is to inspire hope. Isn't that what wishes are all about?" The woman loosed a quick, one shouldered shrug. "But on the other hand, coming up with those wishes requires a person to think about their current situation, and it isn't always great." The blonde tugged a pen closer, flipped it between her fingers like a tiny baton, then dropped it again. "It's all good though. I should probably focus on the good stuff, because yeah, there's a lot of it." She carefully unfolded herself from the table, then collected her wishes and gave Alkor a smile. "I'm going to go string these suckers up. Join me when you're ready?"

With that, the woman drifted to the towering bamboo stalks, and began to hang her wishes.

[Hang Tanzaku]


Item Name: Rail Tracks
Quantity: 8
Evaluation Link: http://www.sao-rpg.com/topic/4954-wild-rose-forge-crafts/?tab=comments#comment-617361

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Alkor stood quietly after finishing his last wish and going over the lot of them several times. It was almost like a homework assignment: no matter how small of a percent of your grade it was, you still wanted it to be perfect. Excellence defined the little things: anything less than your best meant nothing to the one grading the papers. 

How would Aincrad respond to the things in his heart? 

The system could trace their thoughts, but feelings? This was an opportunity for the system to recreate something more visceral, and perhaps destroy the players a bit more completely. He welcomed the challenge that it inferred, even if everyone else dismissed it as entirely aesthetic.

Though, a part of him couldn't help but to hope that the wishes might come true in some way. He'd left it to more abstract concepts, things that Aincrad couldn't necessarily give: but the universe might see fit to deliver, if it was feeling kind.

He moved to where the Tanzaku were being hung and folded his paper neatly into place. A fitting end to his festival adventure.

[Five Tanzaku hung]

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Hidden looked at the woman without a hint of understanding. Her words were even less understandable then Raidou. "Umm yeah, sure." Hidden looked away and pondered what to do in this situation. 'Perhaps the solution to these kind of people is to push them down. It worked on Raidou, maybe it will work on her.' It would prove difficult to push her off since they were not in the same boat. 

However, another idea would strike her mind. She would turn and mutter something that the girl wouldn't be able to pick up. "Umbra, push her boat away," and then the shadow fox slipped through the shadow casted on by the lanterns. Within moments, the girl's boat would slowly float away from Hidden's own boat. There was no way she was going to have her head hurt when she could instead be enjoying the night's solitude. A smile played on her face as she faced away from the girl who was slowly drifting away. 

 

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| ████: you'll do great!
| ████: if there's anyone who could win at that game, it would be a certified bird tamer, right?

she'd seen the stall for herself; she doubted it had anything to do with skill. she'd thought he would hold the same opinion too. but as he dragged her along by the hand, she somehow couldn't bring herself to dampen his enthusiasm. 

| Arabelle: alright. but i bet against myself.
| ████: ...sure, but isn't it normally the other way around?

except she wasn't very affectionate with her crow in the first place.

the familiar had quite literally fallen into her lap.

| Arabelle: take it or leave it.

they weren't holding hands anymore when they reached the stand. Mishiro wished her good luck. so did he. she thought her companions both looked too interested in the outcome of her game.

she strolled up to the NPC.

| Arabelle: i'm feeling confident, so please choose for me!

--insert magpie taming fluff here.

moments later, she exited the stall. she triumphantly held up a [stick].

he handed her a chocolate coin.

| ████: you didn't even try.

the smile dropped from her face when Mishiro grudgingly drew a dessert ticket from her pocket and offered it to him.

| Arabelle: wait--

Spoiler

a/n: couldn't make it. have an outline instead.

Taming of the Magpies
ID: 166885 | CD: 3
ID: 166886 | CD: 3
ID: 166887 | CD: 4
Total: 10

Quote

Stick
Tier 1 Uncommon Weapon of Player's Choice | TAUNT
That’s just a stick. But a bird gave it to you as an offering of their friendship. It must count for something.

 

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The strange girl, now a good distance away would hopefully not make her way back to Hidden. The shadow fox left only a ripple as it bounced back towards her and sat in her boat. She supposed the fox had other uses then just fighting. In fact, recently she had started to think to use the familiar like Raidou used his as a shield. Of course, the problem was that the shadow wasn't think enough to stop a blade. In fact, the body would hardly slow it down. 

"Wonder how they're going to kick this event off. I'm going to assume they're going to have fireworks. Now, if they have it over the lake, I am front and center to the show." She smiled. She had found herself in a convenient. Perhaps she should have found Ayame and brought her along with her. The small girl would have most likely enjoyed such a show. 'I wonder where the girl scuttled off to. Probably food or to start some mischievous endeavor. She always seems to get into trouble when I am not keeping an eye on her.' 

Hidden laid back in the boat once more, waiting for the fires to light up the sky. 

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Perched precariously on the heavy outrigger timber beam forming the roof ridge of one of Coral’s few permanent buildings, Freyd sat silently.  From there, he watched the bustle below him with casual disinterest.  The festival had thoroughly drained his limited tolerance for social interaction.  Better to be up high, watching things unfold from the concealing darkness.  It was quieter here, and the incessant noise of crowds had left a droning hum in his ears that echoed down to the darkest recesses of his mind.  This was peaceful – almost serene.

Countless couples walked the streets below, holding hands or in pressed caresses better left for lewder eyes to monitor and assess.  He cared nothing for such affections.  They simply confused him, making his feigned responses seem more awkward.  The normal level of pretense he sustained was already exhausting.  These gatherings made it worse.  

The shining array of stars above summoned his attention.  There, overlaid upon faint pockets of the darkest indigo and a backdrop of blackest possible night, was a true masterpiece.  Someone must have been a true astronomy fan to have put so much care and detail into the false sky’s magnificence.  A moment’s scan was all he needed to find the two notable patrons of the festival: Rigel and Betelgeuse.  He vividly recalled his father’s drawling lectures on the subject when he was a child.  The man could ruin anything.

Freyd’s eyes drifted slowly downward, settling onto the lantern-studded Lake of Reflections.  From this vantage, it could not be more aptly named.  

“That is our true world,” he told himself, his voice empty and cold.  “We live in the mirror of what should have been marvelous.”
 

Edited by Freyd - The Whisper in Shadows
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Tanabata 2020 has reached its conclusion. Thank you for participating!
Please look to the following for your individual thread rewards. We hope you've enjoyed the festival!

Spoiler

Thread Summary

#please contact @NIGHT for discrepancies in rewards.

  Final SP Reward Post Count Wishes Answered Farewell to [v2.6] Bonus! Taming of the Magpies Additional Rewards
Alkor 7 7 4 1  
For the completion of the Milky Way Rail, all players will receive the following:

Galaxial Water Snake x1
Tier 1 Unique Consumable
Provides +1 CD when rolling to train familiars in <<Taming your Friend>>. Can also be used to change a familiar’s appearance to a starry sky’s form of itself. Single-use item. CD buff lasts for one thread.

Gold Star Stickers x1
Tier 1 Unique Consumable | Charges: 3/3 | Untradable.
+1 DMG, +1 LD or +15MIT for one thread. Stacks on top of other food/alchemical consumable buffs, but does not stack with Scent of the Wild totems.

Milky Way Rail Blueprint x1
Tier 1 Unique Consumable
+1 CD to a day's worth of crafts or item identifications.

Amenity Unlock:
Potted Tanabata Bamboo Tree
+1 CD/LD to a combat roll once per thread. Can be applied after a roll, but not after the combat turn to apply the CD/LD bonus has passed.
Andromeda 0 1     Bird Seed (5) | Tier 1 Rare Snack | VITALITY II
Assassin 7 3 5 1  
Basuke 7 4 5 1 Reroll Ticket (1)
Calrex 7 3 5 1  
Cordelia 0 2      
Crozeph 7 8 4 1  
Freya 7 4 5 1 Bird Seed (5) | Tier 1 Rare Snack | VITALITY II
Griswold 7 4 5 1 Bird Seed (5) | Tier 2 Rare Snack | VITALITY II
Haine 7 3 5 1  
Hidden 12 18 5 1 Stick (1) | Uncommon Weapon | TAUNT
Kasumi 7 4 5 1 Weather the Storm | Unique Salve | PARALYTIC IMMUNITY
Katoka 2 3   1  
Kiluia Seiko 7 4 5 1  
Lessa 7 4 5 1  
Mari 10 13 5 1 Nebulae Yokan Block (1) | Perfect Dessert | PROSPERITY III
Mishiro 0 1     Cold Shoulder (1) | Unique Salve | FREEZE I
Ruler 0 2      
Sam 7 4 5 1 Blood of the Offensive | Perfect Potion | DAMAGE III
Shiina 7 4 5 1 Stick (1) | Uncommon Weapon | TAUNT
Shin Kagami 7 4 5 1 Burning Determination | Unique Salve | BURN I
Shirayuki 7 4 5 1 Cold Shoulder (1) | Unique Salve | FREEZE I
Shirogane 8 7 5 1  
Simmone 7 4 5 1 Bird Seed (5) | Tier 2 Rare Snack | VITALITY II
Vie 7 3 5 1  
Arabelle 0 2     Stick (1) | Uncommon Weapon | TAUNT
In addition to the rewards listed above:

Handwritten Letter of Appreciation x1
Tier 1 Unique Consumable
Allows its user to change the name and/or description of an equipment piece.
Astralin 8 7 5 1 Nebulae Yokan Block (1) | Perfect Dessert | PROSPERITY III
Bistro 2 3   1 Bird Seed (5) | Tier 1 Rare Snack | VITALITY II
ChaseR 8 6 5 1 Cold Shoulder (1) | Unique Salve | FREEZE I
Dazia 8 8 5 1 Burning Determination | Unique Salve | BURN I
Elora 9 9 5 1 Burning Determination (1) | Unique Salve | BURN I
Eruda 9 9 5 1 The Rising Sun | Perfect Crystal | MASS HEAL
Freyd 9 11 5 1 Reroll Ticket (1)
Gaius 8 6 5 1 Stick (1) | Uncommon Weapon | TAUNT
Krysta 8 7 5 1 Cold Shoulder (1) | Unique Salve | FREEZE I
Macradon 7 5 5 1  
NIGHT 10 12 5 1 Supernova Yokan Block (1) | Perfect Dessert | LOOT DIE III
Nisahime 8 6 5 1 Nebulae Yokan Block (1) | Perfect Dessert | PROSPERITY III
Oscar 7 5 5 1 Stick (1) | Uncommon Weapon | TAUNT
Raidou 9 11 5 1 Iron Will (1) | Unique Salve | BLOODCLOT
Setsuna 8 6 5 1 The Rising Sun | Perfect Crystal | MASS HEAL
Shay 8 6 5 1 Blood of the Offensive | Perfect Potion | DAMAGE III
Vigilion 8 8 5 1 Supernova Yokan Block (1) | Perfect Dessert | LOOT DIE III
Zajcica 8 6 5 1 Blood of the Defensive | Tier 3 Perfect Potion | MITIGATION III
Zandra 0 1      

 


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Tanabata Celebration: Day 7

All was quiet through the house. Only the faint chatter of the crowd around Taft could be heard, alongside the light breathing of the boys scattered across the living room. The hour was late, the children asleep in makeshift forts made out of pillows and blankets. Each of them wore a contented smile upon their tranquil faces.

It was a similar sight in Shoji's bedroom; his closest friends were sprawled across the floor in mattresses, the youth only keeping a lion-bust night light on to keep vigil. Moonlight still poured onto the bed from a corner, curtains only cracked open halfway. Two boys were kept wide awake by the events of today; Masaki tucked away snugly under the blankets upon his friend's bed, and Shoji seated right beneath him, silent by the side of its frame.

Shoji listens, diffident, to his friend speak from above him, back pushed against the drawers of his cabinet. "I really appreciate it," comes Masaki's soothing words, slowly untangling the knot of his worries. "The paper train you all made for me." Gentle, responsible and earnest Masaki beams just as the moon does, visible through his window. The young host smiles back at him when he catches his comrade's grin, stopping his fidgeting fingers.

"I'm glad! It was a rushed job at the end, but I hope everything stays in tact."

The paper model sits still on the other corner of the square room. It's large in comparison to the rest of the little space; nearly enough to stretch from wall to wall, but their group found a nook to fit it in, sandwiched between the closet and the nightstand.

"It doesn't seem rushed," the bedded boy returns, matter-of-factly. "Really, it looks all intact."

"Then that's good news then," Shoji comments. His muscles loosen as his head meets the wood behind him, knowing full well that he can afford to relax.

"Say."

"Hmm?"

His darkened eyes meet Masaki's own black. "Why a train, anyway? I appreciate the model work, but I thought that was kind of weird."

"Eh?" Shoji jumps, balking at the unexpected response. His voice dwindles down to as best a whisper he can manage, though his excitement hadn't seemed to stir his sleeping friends. "Oh, um... Didn't you tell us a story about a train once?"

"I did?"

"Uh-- yeah!"

It was strange to hear his mature friend forgetting, though it was hard to fault him for his loss; after all the stories he'd find to share with them, perhaps it was something only locked within his original team that collectively decided to cherish this one tale. "It was about this railway in the sky," the boy recalls, eyes reflecting a passing cloud from overhead. "And there were cranes, and swans sailing around each station, the stars clusters as river foam you could reach out and scoop up with your hands..."

"And the bells?"

"And the bells," Shoji continues, "you'd described it as a haunting melody at first, one the passengers were once afraid to hear. But it was calm and sweet all the same, like a tender embrace from someone you'd lost. As the songs went on, they eventually relaxed, and continued on enjoying their ride."

Masaki hums. Against the midnight sky, Shoji finds it hard to read his expression. He hopes in his heart the boy isn't cross with him for nearly mentioning their friend's demise, but Masaki shifts to right himself out from the bed -- he's not upset, rather amused, eyes lit up with curiosity.

"Ah," he replies, after a moment of contemplation. "I can't remember it at all..."

"That's okay," Shoji answers. "Do you want to see the train fly?"

"Wait--"

The comment completely catches Misaki by surprise. He jolts awake completely, nearly falling off the edge of the bed. "It-- It can fly?"

"Maybe!" His friend remarks. Then he feels a cold uncertainty creep in. "Probably." The recipe hadn't been of their own making completely; rather, it was given to one of their friends by chance by one of the strangers arriving in town, just before the festival. "It's not like we've tested it yet, but we can give it a shot--"

"--I do." Misaki replies. His eyes twinkle like the stars in the night sky. "I do want to see it fly. Let's try it out!"

Shoji is stunned by his enthusiasm, but when he recovers, he gives the other a nod. "Yeah. Okay -- let's do it."

Misaki almost bounds out of bed just as Shoji picks himself up from the floor. They rush over to the train in silent, small steps. Right underneath the table was where they'd set up their stash of gravity defying dust, and Shoji pulls out a smaller package after crouching down and searching in the dark, unraveling its outer shell in his hands.

"Here," he offers, two hands holding up the opened paper. In the shadows, the powder is coated grey, but small grains of unbelievable white seem to peer through from within the folded pile. "Take a pinch of it. I heard that that's enough for a small run."

His friend complies, three fingers picking up a somewhat solid mush in his hands. It feels like wet sand, but coarser; if he rubs it between his index and thumb, the boy is certain the contents he holds would give way.

"Just sprinkle it on top," Shoji orders. Misaki follows them, only loosening his grip when he stops above the train model itself. Like magic, the sand crumbles at his touch; what once felt thick only now trickle down to a fine few bits of starlight, dissipating upon the paper construct after a few seconds of lingering.

Nothing happens as Shoji folds up the package. Then, the show continues. The model rail levitates, taking on a gentle, iridescent glow. A mix of golden hues envelop it for a beat before it rises up into the air. The boys hold their breath, stepping backwards -- the rails that were once stacked up in a pile by its side take on a red and white tint each, starting to float and line up in midair as well, creating a winding passageway around the room.

It's hard to keep still with the disbelief and wonder in the air. As Shoji and Misaki start to giggle, glancing between each other before returning their gaze to the paper craft, the train begins to glide along the route made for it, faux machinery on its design starting to move and bend out of its still shapes. A real train; that's what the toy could be mistaken for, miniature and minute, chugging puffs of cold vapor into the air. Its journey is accompanied by the shouts and excitement of the two boys as its sole audience.

--Not any more. Their cheeriness finally starts to wake the household up, the group specifically in their room coming to stir from their slumbers first. The moment their blurry visions rest on the colorful lights or catch sight of the snapping tracks and the snaking train, their hollers join the choir of excitement, adrenaline pumping through their veins. It doesn't take long for the door to fly open, the Milky Way Rail greeting the rest of the pack of children, and together as one unit, one fraternity, their ardor and vivacity for the unbelievable fuels them into the new dawn.

On their living room wall, the clock strikes twelve, and a surge of fireworks light up the pitch void outside their window. The stars twinkle with mischief and warmth for their new era, and for a moment, in Aincrad, all was right with the world.


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Spoiler

Bamboo Wishes: An Aincrad Showcase

1. What would you wish for the rest of your stay in Aincrad?

Spoiler
  • >[To see it all.]
  • >[To stay alive.]
  • >[Contentment.]
  • >[For it to never end.]
  • >[Keep everyone safe.]
  • >[Stop messing with us.]
  • >[Safety for me and Shay.]
  • >[For it to be as short as possible.]
  • >[To experience many new things.]
  • >[Less pain and suffering all around.]
  • >[Enjoy playing this wonderful game.]~Kayaba Akihiko
  • >[No more torturous quests, please! >__<]~Basuke
  • >[That every day is as beautiful as this one.]
  • >[To have whatever it takes to survive this hell.]
  • >[I wish I keep on finding things to write music about.]
  • >[I wish, I continue to grow and excel at what I do best.]
  • >[I want to learn more about this world so I can create my own.]
  • >[That every day provides me with something new and fun to do.]
  • >[I wish to learn all I can and be the best of whatever I chose to use.]
  • >[For my temporary life to serve a purpose for those I fight to protect.]~Vigilon
  • >[For the strife to end, for our freedom to be achieved with our victory.]~Krysta
  • >[For it to end as soon as possible, with the least bloodshed as possible.]~Astralin
  • >[An easier time that allows more carefree days without the need to survive.]
  • >[That I continue to have a purpose with this little group of strong willed kids.]
  • >[For those to oppose travel to feel the swift guidance of fate to an early tomb.]
  • >[To spare others the pain of loss and grant peace and comfort to those who must already endure it.]
  • >[That this place keeps giving me more to fill my store. And that I can continue working with those that aid in those efforts.]
  • >[I wish only to be strong so that I can stand with the people I care about and know that I can keep them all safe from any danger that has yet to come into play. To prove that I can be the shield when no one else can. To become the person that I couldn't be in the real world. To Protect.]
  • >[That people around me were nicer, I can't help the way I am and the way I think. I barely can control the things I say which makes a lot of people find me annoying. I wish that people would see the good in me and like me for me. People hate way to easy and I hope that somewhere along the way of me being here that they will treat me as a person and not as a invalid that has not a clue what I am doing or even aiming for. This is what I wish for, for the rest of my stay in Aincrad...]
  • >[My wish for the rest of my stay here in Aincrad is to be with the people who have made me happy. Hidden and Ariel have helped me be such a better person than I really was before. They have helped me not worry about the dangers of the world while I learned to actually be a somewhat normal person. I hope that I can make them just as happy as they have made me. Maybe I can become as strong as one of them. That would make me really happy. I just want to enjoy my stay for now, and worry about everything else later.]
  • >[For no new names to be drawn upon on the monument and that it would stay dormant and forgotten. That the lost are returned to those they were taken from so that a somber rest may fade and it would become easy to shut ones eyes. I wish for petty squabbles to become faded the same, stricken from the page of time and no longer used as an excuse to hide from the glaring problem: the army we face that holds us in seclusion in an unceasing nightmare under a bloodthirsty monarch attempting to bury us in an early grave.]
  • >[I wish that for the rest of my stay, my friends, comrades, and loved ones may stay by my side. I wish for a bright future, where bloodshed is not needed; where arguments don’t have to end up in assassinations and murder. I wish for safety, that not only I will be able to prevail in this wretched place, but that everyone will be able to escape. I don’t need to be protected by some force field of plot armor, I don’t need to be protected from ever needing to fight, I just need the safety in knowing that everyone in here deserves and will attain their freedom.]

2. What would you wish for the better of people around you?

Spoiler
  • >[Serenity.]
  • >[Don't do stupid things.]
  • >[For everyone to be safe.]
  • >[For them to all stay alive.]
  • >[Success and togetherness.]~Vie
  • >[That they get what they give.]
  • >[Whatever makes them smile.]
  • >[Don't be a bunch of half-wit dumbasses.]
  • >[To find peace and happiness, at long last...]~Astralin
  • >[A swift return back to the real world for the better.]
  • >[To find peace and happiness in their circumstances.]
  • >[I want to get stronger so I can protect my companions.]
  • >[The peaceful sleep of an unburdened soul, every night.]
  • >[I wish that when things get tough that my words will be heard.]
  • >[I suppose I would wish for them to continue to grow and succeed.]
  • >[That you find acceptance, and the strength to face what you must.]
  • >[I wish that Eruda stays living and stays the person she has become.]
  • >[I wish they hold strong and together, It is much harder to work alone.]
  • >[Waste not fortune, for it becomes you should you embrace its grasp.]
  • >[I hope they stop suckin', I don't really care but other people get all miffed.]
  • >[Learn that this game is a virtual Garden of Eden away from the real world.]~Kayaba Akihiko
  • >[To have hope and happiness despite the strife, and to be able to rise above.]~Vigilon
  • >[I look to them to enjoy the bonds they have made and heed to safety above all else.]
  • >[I think people really want the front lines to win, so even if I'm not there to help, I'll put faith in them.]
  • >[That they would gain courage and strength, and that no blade or monster forged against them would remain.]~Krysta
  • >[That they heed the warnings they were given, work together without failure, and strike true and cause fear as I will.]
  • >[I would wish that they learn to live and let live, they get so hung up on hurting everyone's feelings they forget their own.]
  • >[Does that mean the people around me as in my friends? Ariel and Hidden are a big part of my life right now, and I'm really glad to have them in my life. I think if I was going to wish for something specific for them, it would have to be to have their wishes to come true. Even if it means that I wasted my own wish, if they get whatever they want, then I would be happy. They are really nice people who take care of me, so they deserve to have their wishes come true more than anything.]
  • >[I hope for everyone to get along. Hope that someday people or players will stop killing each other off for their own personal reason. We are all human and this game has made some nice people killers and it is a shame to think that if we actually get out of the game, that no one here will be the same person they were. Good or bad, we are only human and people should start figuring that out before it's to late. This is what I wish, that people will start being nicer to others given a chance to do so.]
  • >[For them to learn from the mistakes I have made and from the roads I travel, to love who they are and fret not on an appeared facade to which they may be judged. To band together on the same stage against the flames of war and fight prepared with every advantage the world allows them to take, to rise against all tyranny and run those they face to pieces. To find the fields that have been pressed into a memory once more, instead of living on an imitation where at any moment they could find an edge of a blade.]
  • >[I wish for the struggles of people's lives around me will settle. I don’t need them to just end abruptly, but I wish for everyone to come out happy and sated. People I have met all had their own problems, and those problems are usually problems I have no say in, nothing I can do for them other than to give comforting words of “wisdom”. I want them to fall at ease and attain peace of mind with their struggles. I want them to be set free from the shackles that hold them down, the shadows looming behind them, and the darkness that fills their life. I wish for a light in their lives to show up, a glowing stone that will give them more purpose to their existence.]

3. What would you wish for someone you care about?

Spoiler
  • >[The world.]
  • >['Take your time.']
  • >[Don't forget about me.]
  • >[To be together forever.]
  • >[Give up on the real world.]~Kayaba Akihiko
  • >[For him to succeed without me.]
  • >[Achievement in their endeavors.]~Vie
  • >[Keep Yuki safe for my sanity's sake.]
  • >[That they stop slacking or being idiots.]
  • >[Stay safe in the real world. Wait for me.]
  • >[I hope that Eruda can find love and friends.]
  • >[I hope my family is living well without me for now.]
  • >[Find your happiness, free from your past and your sorrows.]
  • >[I hope you can find someone that can truly make you happy.]
  • >[That they do the things they want to, they are all so motivated!]
  • >[That they live and love and find someone as special as they deserve.]
  • >[To live among the players, and no longer be branded for past mistakes.]
  • >[To find your path and pursue it, regardless of whatever happens between us.]~Astralin
  • >[I hope that they do not die before I do, and I bring pride in my actions and not discomfort.]
  • >[My wish for you is to always find joy and happiness, and to make it out of this mess alive.]~Vigilon
  • >[My wish for you is to remain resolute in what you stand for, and to survive this virtual prison.]~Krysta
  • >[That they learn to embrace confidence without fear or the fickle sting of pride and bitterness.]
  • >[Life doesn't need to be so damn difficult, let people support you and pull those panties out of your a**.]
  • >[To stay strong, and never give up hope...true hope, and to never forget, that someone cares about you immensely.]~Dazia
  • >[I wish for them to live a full life without regrets. Enjoy life as they grow stronger and not just focus on the bad things.]
  • >[Should you wish it, then so it shall be. Fret not on if it's grantable if you should be dissuaded from carving your own path.]
  • >[That he does not die protecting us or the ideals he has set, that he would learn to rely on others as he expects them to rely on him.]
  • >[I think that means I would have to pick a single person to write about. That would probably be Nee-san in this case. She always seems like she is in a bad mood, or like she just isn't happy at all. I want her to find some way to be happy with what she has so that she wont ever be sad. I think specifically, I want every single one of her wishes in this festival to come true. As long as they made her happy, that would be amazing and make me happy. I think she deserves to smile a lot more.]
  • >[I hope that I can change for the better good. Everyone around me are changing, getting stronger, succeeding and I well am not. I want to get stronger and be of help for the players...my guild...who want to get everyone out of this Hell. I want to help when it matters instead of being a veggy about everything and I want to make something matter...I want to make a difference in something like everyone else has. This is my wish, I want to be all around a better person, someone that matters to another. I want to matter and be liked.]
  • >[True happiness and sanctuary from the hardships of this figment and the fangs of an opposing force that would see them harm, through paled reflections produced with this sole intention. To see that strength comes from within and that clarity overshadows physical bounds and a level is just a number, and that all have a part to play against the flames which aim to consume them. That the metal vice of wiring in an electric current locked on to their head becomes dislodged and would disconnect from this nightmare without threatening their life, to wake to a world before it forgets them for good.]
  • >[For Kairi, Ashley, my love. I wish that her courage will bring her far. That her judgement will be backed by those she trusts. I want her to grow up through this game, through the ranks, through her life, deserving the best of praise.
    For Mari, my best friend. I wish that her self-judgemental self would try to look past her past and not be caught up by it as she once were. I want her to feel more confident in her worth, that people would look more up to her as a person who has gone through a lot, trying to atone for the mistakes she made in her past.]

4. What would you wish for someone you would like to know better?

Spoiler
  • >[Truth.]
  • >[Clarity.]
  • >[To not be afraid.]
  • >[To be closer to them.]
  • >[To keep moving forward.]~Vigilon
  • >[That he would find peace.]
  • >[Confidence and happiness.]~Vie
  • >[That he continues to walk on.]
  • >[Why do you all hate this game so much?]~Kayaba Akihiko
  • >[Never forget what you fight for, and why.]~Krysta
  • >[Stay safe out there. DM me once in a while!]~Basuke
  • >[I hope she feels comfortable with me around.]
  • >[Grow a brain and use it, the rest will fall into place.]
  • >[That I will be of use to them instead of a hindrance.]
  • >[Know her without cooking up a recipe for bad moods.]
  • >[Continue to find the strength to keep striving forward.]
  • >[To never give up, to always be in pursuit of happiness.]~Astralin
  • >[I Wish he keeps on being awesome, awesome WEINER boi.]
  • >[I hope you can find that which you are truly looking for in this world.]
  • >[I wish Beat would stop analyzing everything and live more frivolously.]
  • >[I want to understand Kayaba's reason, and maybe have him understand it just as much.]
  • >[I wish that my sister continues to change for the best and that the person with the other ring is safe.]
  • >[Hearty strides toward the path drawn upon history, it will come to an end should you continue to press on.]
  • >[That you figure it the hell out and did give that necklace who deserved it, that you are not still stuck on that s***.]
  • >[I wish that they would learn to let their feelings pass and let them out instead of bottling them up, no good will come of it.]
  • >[I wish that Raidou would open up to me. Let me know him...The real him... Open his heart to let me love him the way I want to...]
  • >[That one gets it through his thick skull he can't bully everyone into submission. And the other does not hate me for being gone for so long.]
  • >[That they have the courage to share their pair, trials and tribulations, for such things addressed alone can only lead to suffering in the darkness.]
  • >[I wish that every in Firm Anima would give me a chance to prove myself. That they see the real me and not just some weirdo. I care for everyone in my guild and I hope that they eventually do the same toward me.]
  • >[That the past was equally laid to rest no longer predatory on their minds like a wolf in the brush, they could move forward without chains to hold them back and drag them to their knees. For them to see that problems are as a soul, carried by all but different in shape or flavor and their is no heroes in this world but simply a difference in choice. That they would chose to stand with one another in arms, wash their hands of their torment and pull up blades and shout the same cries of victory and success with their peers.]
  • >[Ariel would fit best for this question I think. She seems like a person who was really lonely until she met me. I hope that she finds a way to be happy with her life. It seems like she has had a pretty rough one like me. Well, maybe not exactly like me, but I think it would be best to wish that she has better life from now on. It feels like I'll write a lot of the same stuff on here, but I guess I'm a much more simple person than I thought. I don't think my wish can come true just from hanging it on a tree, but at least I'll remember its there and maybe it'll happen.]
  • >[For Zandra, a comrade I barely know but still put my trust into. We trust each other while not even knowing who the other part is, a blind trust that I want to strengthen for the better. I wish Zandra would understand me some more, and likewise for me to understand her.
    For Bahr, a friend I’ve met only a handful of times, that misunderstanding has to come to an end. I want him to settle at a less edgy place where we can talk things out, where he wouldn’t turn to sudden arrests without proper insight of what the situation would be, even with rumors and bounties.]

5. What would you wish for yourself?

Spoiler
  • >[A way out.]
  • >[To be whole.]
  • >[To be accepted.]
  • >[To find belonging.]
  • >[To have more faith.]
  • >[For people to enjoy my game.]~Kayaba Akihiko
  • >[To be accompanied by others.]~Vie
  • >[That I will continue to walk tall.]
  • >[To be ready for what lies ahead.]~Vigilon
  • >[Freedom. Understanding. Agency.]
  • >[To find happiness within my journey.]~Krysta
  • >[To find out the secrets of Unique Skills.]
  • >[That I become swole and can go to more battles!]
  • >[That I don't starve to death when I get lost again.]
  • >[One foot in front of the other. To get through every day with a smile!]
  • >[Clarity to see the best path forward, and the strength to move down it.]
  • >[To stay alive until the last boss. So I can help everyone leave this place.]
  • >[That I do as I must, and fill my cousin with pride of my accomplishments.]
  • >[To learn what it means to feel again, and how to appreciate the simple pleasures in life.]
  • >[Fleeting fondness, should you go so soon? A hearth and a home provided, may you stay a while longer?]
  • >[I want to learn everything about this world so that I can use it for a game that I make outside of Aincrad.]
  • >[That I continue to be a man strong enough to carry them on my shoulders, like the rock of the earth below them.]
  • >[That I do as I was taught and shown, that I do as my master would wish. That Sam was right and I belong with Firm Anima.]
  • >[I wish to have all that I am after, and to those who would offer a coin to the Black Odyssey would find what they need for a price.]
  • >[Pursue Happiness and Freedom, never back down from the path I walk. If I cannot walk it exactly, I will get as close as I possibly can.]~Astralin
  • >[I wish that I can be Eruda's everything again. Fight with her in battle when I'm needed and a shoulder to cry on if she is sad. I will be Eruda's person again.]
  • >[To survive, to always keep pushing through, and never let anyone stand in my way...and to find some way to deal with my undying hatred and fury without becoming hated and feared myself.]
  • >[I wish to better myself, to fight against the extreme and to know myself better and everyone around me so that I can do what I must with nothing but safety behind each action. To help lead everyone out of this game while thinking rationally with each decision I make. To make a difference...]
  • >[I wish to know everyone in my guild better including Setsuna. I hope that one day my group will come around and want to know me better as well. I hope that everyone in Firm Anima will allow me to know them better so I can get a better understanding of why they do what they do for the roles that they were set as. I hope that our guild succeeds as a team to help get everyone out of this game like it should have been in the first place.]
  • >[That when the fire burns its brightest and threatens to sear my back in its heat. When blood salts the earth painting it crimson and thick I would be present and hold my ground. When this time comes that I am crossing swords with a titan and all seems lost I hold strong, That I will not fall from the flats of my feet until those at my back return safely. That they will not mourn me, but look to this robe in remembrance and a reason to keep going with no tears. That my words will still carry in their ears, and they escape this world.]
  • >[For...me? I'm honestly not sure. There's a lot of people who are taking care of me in Aincrad that really had no reason to. I tried to make Hidden look like a fool when I first met her and she only got mad at me. Now she's become my greatest friend in the game. I don't know what else I could wish for... I guess, if I had to wish for anything for myself, it would be that I got adopted soon after leaving the game. I have everything that I need right here, so I'm only worried about what happens when I leave. I guess that means I won't be able to take my Tanzaku down when it comes true then...hunh?]
  • >[I want to get stronger, I want to reach new heights. My strength has plateaued with these levels that I cannot go beyond. I feel like I am staying stagnant for too long, and there isn’t much I can do for others that haven’t reached my level yet. These numbers mean nothing, so I plead for something to help me gain strength, be it mentally or digitally physically. I need this strength to fight for the citizen of Aincrad, for the people that want freedom but are trapped in despair. Let me be a light, let me be a beacon, or at least a catalyst for a beacon to rise, for a symbol of hope and peace to shine for everyone.]

 


"Hey did you hear? They're about to start the fireworks show!"

"Eh?!"

The woman finds herself astonished by the passing discussion, held by two partners walking side by side one another. Was it that late into the night already? She eyes the passing players by her post as they start to trickle out of her vicinity, some of them leaving behind unfinished materials and unsigned papers in the mix. When no one else is present, her gaze rests upon the entrance to the bamboo forest.

--She should probably go; it would be hard to find a good vantage point to watch the closing ceremony if she'd stuck around too long at her stall. But the thought of the wishes going unnoticed, abandoned by their original authors did not settle well with her, in the young woman's heart. So it was with a begrudging sigh and a quick shuffle of her feet that she got to cleaning up the area at lightning speed, picking up the leftovers and building a small pile on a table to the side.

"Hey."

The voice that prompts for her attention shocks her, and she whips around in a spirited manner. The one who stares back at her is a raven-haired youth, too, her eyes a sleepy crimson as compared to the stall owner's cherry reds. On the stranger's back is a black guitar case, hands in their dark jacket's pockets as she shuffles towards her in a stoic manner.

"You're cleaning up before you head over to the fireworks show, aren't you? I'll help."

"H-hey, wait--"

Too late. Their advance quickly takes them towards the table furthest away from her post. She watches them pick up the pamphlets and the litter strewn across the field. With a second exhale, she lets their odd kindness go and continues to pick up her paces herself.

It is within minutes that they accomplish their janitorial task. With the piles of papers filed and kept away in a drawer by the tanzaku desk, the stall owner huffs with two hands on their sides. "Thanks for your help," she offer to the other, who nods back at her with little remorse.

"It's not over yet, though," the musician returns, picking up a paper from the pile of lost wishes. "We still have to hang these up first, don't we?"

"That's my job. You should head down to the lake instead."

The store owner attempts to refutes the stranger's generosity with a wave of her hand, but before she could continue, her company had already set off to the forest with the waxed tickets in hand.

"O-Oi! At least listen to me before doing things on your own!"

"It's fine," she returns, pulling a handful of thread from her pockets. Her voice is kept monotone, still, as the brunette races to catch up with her. "I know you're worried we'll miss the show too. But if we get through this together, we should be able to make it in time."

The stranger turns her head as she finishes knotting a wish, towards the halted lady, who shoots her a curious look in return. "C'mon, there's no need to put your time on the line."

"Don't worry about it. Store owners like us have to work together sometimes."

"Eh?"

A curious comment. The tanzaku expert tilts her head to the side just as her acquaintance offers her a set of papers to hang up herself. She takes them, hesitant, but carries on with her job, listening to her newfound companion while fumbling with the strings in her hand.

"Mariette. Birdkeeper," she introduces herself. "On the other side of town. Just because I'm new to the job doesn't mean I haven't seen you around before."

"Then how come I didn't recognize you at first glance?" Surely she'd been present at other Tanabata festivals before too, hadn't she?

"I'm usually walking around in a hoodie. Don't like to be seen very much."

The woman snorts in response to the youth's comment, stopping her work for a moment. Mariette returns a light smile to her amusement. "Hey. It's not exactly that funny."

"Yeah, yeah you're right." She picks up her pace after taking a glance at her company's near-depleted pile. "--Chiharu, by the way. That's my name, since you gave me yours."

"Chiharu," her companion repeats, hanging up the last of the wishes on a low bamboo branch. "Got it. It's nice to be working with you, Chiharu."

"Likewise."

They both take a step back from their work when Chiharu is done, taking in the forest view, now decorated with a variety of different colours. "I should make my wishes here next year," Mariette comments, as her company nods to her with confidence.

"Yeah. It's fun!" The tanzaku keeper stretches, arms behind the back of her head. "A good mental exercise, and a way to get your feelings out."

"Aye."

Without missing a beat, a crier calls from behind them. "Five more minutes! The display will be live in five more minutes!"

Chiharu grins, a sparkle in her eye. "Looks like we still have time after all."

"Looks like it." Mariette tilts her head towards the exit of the forest, as nonchalant as ever. "Shall we go?"

"Yes!"

The two women leave the forest behind with quick shuffles and agile steps. As they exit the scene, the bamboo stalks sway delicately with a light gust of wind, turning the dangling wishes around in place. Gentle and animated, colours catching the light of the moon, even the cosmos which watched over their offered collection were exuberant for the final shower of lights.


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Down by the lake, a few minutes away from the event's completion, a group of middle-aged men gather with a number of crates laid on the dirt beside them. It's a scenic sight, the lake of floating lights, and they look out towards their work at the festival with grins that push the edges of their faces. This year had happened without incident, thankfully, and the townsfolk seemed to be recovering from last year's unfortunate accidents, lending the star festival some of its necessary light-heartedness for the tradition's rejuvenation. 

And now all that was left to wrap things up was the final fireworks show.

Their mortars lay dormant, set by the frontier of the lake. Large, dark barrels of gunpowder and explosives, the heavy metal pipes were of no short work to set up. One of the men eyes the crowd gathering by the shore in the distance, right by the entrance to town. A shadowy figure approaches them from the darkness, jogging; when their image catches the light of the passing lights, the leader of the pack identifies them with a shout. "Nice work Yamamura!"

"Thanks!" Yamamura's smile is a brilliant fire, teeth bared with pride pushing through each dimple marked on their expression. "I hope that's enough people for now. I bet there'll be more trickling in once they catch sight of the sky above. Are we ready to begin the show?"

His senior snorts, arms folded and wearing a smirk to his question. "We've been ready for days by now. I know the heavens will smile upon us, and grace our families with a sight they've never seen before." The racing in his heart was powerful, confidence growing with each thump. "It'll be amazing. I just know it."

Yamamura nods to his answer, checking on their audience once more. Several handfuls of players alongside Taft's citizens, the latter outnumbering the amount of the former. "Mind if I have the honors, captain?" He asks with a turn of his head, his voice sweetened with a gentle eagerness.

"Hah!" 'Captain' sets his hands upon his hips, chuckling with joy. "You're years too early to be the one behind the fuse, kid!"

Still, when he calms down from his laughter, he signals two of his men to make the final checks on their equipment with a gesture. They pace forward, careful in their work, as the senior returns a look of smugness to them, fidgeting with the toothpick in his mouth. "But Tanabata is all about wishes, isn't it? And you've been working hard the past couple months."

"Aye, sir!"

"Then." A hand lands on his shoulder, the grip firm in its hold and tender in its meaning as the two exchange a glistening determination, locked away behind their sights. "My young protégé, Yamamura. Out of everyone around us, I can think of no one else better to usher in a new era of hope. On this year, on this night."

They share their excitement with a smile. When the team's inspection is complete, he hands Yamamura a match box.

"Strike it hard and fast, my boy." He does so, kneeling over their thread. The blaze that he lights is strong, unwavering, unmalleable against the gentle breeze that sways the scene around them. When he dips its red onto the greys, the spark trails rapidly towards their equipment, Yamamura taking a step back as he hands his captain the rest of his box.

Each member holds their breath in anticipation. In the distance, some of the players point towards their location, beaming to each other before looking to the skies. Others, the lucky few settled in their dinghys for a much wanted heartwarming mood, hold a few lanterns and snacks vigil in their hands, gaze already trained on the starry abyss above.

The first shell is launched. It is loud, and the workmen lighten up as the ground rumbles from beneath them. An explosion in the air causes the crowd to erupt into cheers and excited hollers. As more follow, the night sky is filled with a variety of lights, and its audience begins to grow.


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[♩]


As the minutes begin to pass, there is a quake that occurs, one of the men notices. Just at a moment when it shouldn't have. He passes it off as a trick of his imagination, until another tremor, harsher this time, is felt from below him. Behind their little gathering, the vegetation rustles uncontrollably, leaves drifting off from their branches in tandem. 

"Hey," he turns to one of his comrades. "Is it just me, or--"

--He never gets to finish his sentence.

The players at the heart of the lake are the first to experience the distortion. Their boats start to catch water, the waves growing violent, sinking their vessels in a matter of seconds. Then, through the surface, a shaded form erupts.

One scaly, craggily claw. It eclipses the moon, the outline of its ridges stealing its light completely. Its emergence sends rain pouring down from above and cloaks the citizens below in an eternal darkness.

With one fierce slam, it crashes into the lake it disturbs, nails sinking deep into the dirt underneath the bed of the water. All at once, there is a void that is formed; the liquid cosmos, the stars that litter its presence rush to fall victim to the empty space, vanishing into the hole that was freshly torn open. A torrential waterfall forms, life and light and hope now lost to the gaping maw of the floor below them. Vanishing into the abyss.

That darkness, it is hungry. A festering of deep rooted anger burns bright within the crevice, that black hole, a blood red glow piercing into the skies above as the eyes of a god cuts into the hearts of its onlookers. The few who still stand, caught off guard, find themselves teetering on the brink, struck unmoving at the precipice of death.

[TIER ONE] | [TIER TWO] | [TIER THREE]

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