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"The fact that you're even bothering with this at all seems absurd," spoke a rather well dressed man. His brow was furrowed, and his jaw was set as his mouth was curved down in a disapproving frown to the decision. He was poorly dressed for the scenery around himself and the shorter woman he walked several paces behind. A suit vest over top a dress shirt and tie, with a fancy leather belt that held his pressed slacks securely against his hips, and polished black dress shoes. Surely there had been other options out there for traversing a misty forest.

However, the woman that walked rather briskly ahead of him donned clothes that seemed a little less out of place, but still very fashionable for what was less than a casual stroll through the forest. She had a light, creamy brown dress coat with darker brown leggings, and boots with laces tied taut. She had elected to ignore the person behind her, her phone held out in front of her. On the screen was her GPS tracking, except that it was spiraling out of control, with the marker moving in different directions like it had no idea what was happening.

"... Looks like whatever's going on here doesn't affect just compasses..." the woman said, turning off the screen of her phone and looking around. "It's interfering with the signal for my phone to tell me where we are or where we're going."

"Oh, great. So the mayor of this small town you took an odd interest in sent you somewhere to die to sate his curiosity of what happened to his daughter?" the man asked.

"I'd tell you to piss off if this was so troubling for you, but we both know how that would go," the woman said with a bit of a sneer as she put her phone into her purse. "Besides, it's good money to find out what happened to this mayor's daughter."

"And I told you that you shouldn't trust that mayor. Whatever is happening out here..." the man trailed off for a moment, looking off into the distance as what sounded like a girl crying could be heard by both of them. "... Whatever's happening out here, Manaka, feels much different to what we've dealt with back in Japan. I say quit while you're ahead. Go back to the town, tell them you don't couldn't find anything."

"It's cute that you want to prevent me from ceasing to be your source of emotional snacking, Shou. But I have plans, and you're dying before me," Manaka retorted with her ever present soured expression of a face. She then took out some ofuda talismans from her purse, holding them just in case things were about to get out of hand. "Plus... saving the town from the thing that's bigger than the missing mayor's daughter is the end goal here."

Shou's face scrunched up with further disapproval before he turned his head rather suddenly in a different direction. Lowering his voice, he spoke to Manaka; "right, well... I don't mean to alarm you, then... but it seems like we might have a bit more to deal with than whatever is going on in this forest. Someone else is here."

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Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

Never the one to truly take a break from work, even while on holiday, Kiran was out in the woods herb hunting. Apparently this area was quite well known for them and they carried a steep price with them. The locals however hadn’t stated why there was no regular people out here harvesting them.

Sensibly kitted out for the job in sneakers, hiking pants with hundreds of pockets and compartments within pockets. A superhero hoodie and a backpack carrying enough supplies for a days trek with space for anything he could find.

He hadn’t bothered to check his phone or the fact that it was acting funny and the signal had died long ago. So focused on finding the herbs that were drawn on the scrap of paper he held out in front.

“Plus……town form…….bigger than….end goal” he could hear someone talking in the distance but not catching the whole thing. Then…a girl crying?

Kiran froze on the spot as the vague shape of others could be seen. He wasn’t going to be a bother but he wasn’t from around here so didn’t know if they’d be friendly or not. Staying low he’d make his way over to a fallen tree and crouch down to watch and wait.
Manaka Shimizu (played by FreeJayFly) Topic Starter

Manaka had known better than to dismiss Shou outright when it came to his abilities to tell when other entities were around. Pausing in her tracks after a moment, she looked around. Without her phone's GPS working as intended, the forest looked very much the same no matter where she looked, especially with the misty fog that hung between the trees. It was not super thick by any means, but it did mean that there was an over-reliance on landmarks to help guide.

Without knowing who might have been around, Manaka was hesitant to speak. Her lips pursed into a thin line on her face before she called out: "I'm looking for a girl, thirteen years old. She comes from the nearby town. Are you, or do you know, Isabella Valentini?"

Manaka fished in her purse, only glancing at it briefly before pulling out a photo that was given to her for reference. It was of the girl.

"... Wavy brown hair, falls just past her shoulders?" Manaka continued, giving details in hopes that even if it was not who she was looking for, maybe knew someone of the descriptors she was giving. Slowly stepping a couple paces forward while keeping her eyes peeled, Manaka continued: "green eyes and light freckles? Wears a ginko leaf necklace?"

Shou followed along after Manaka, brow furrowed, and his eyes looking in the direction of the shape of something large enough for someone to hide behind. Narrowing his eyes, he then looked to his spiritual partner before the sobbing of a little girl sounded once more. A strained sigh left his nostrils if only because the nature of this trip seemed more foreign than dealing with other yokai back home.

"If you are Isabella, or if you've seen her," Manaka went on to say, "Mayor Theodore Valentini is very worried."

"So he claimed..." Shou muttered under his breath.

"He would like nothing more than to see his daughter back home safely if found," Manaka continued, ignoring Shou's pessimistic comment.
Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

He could hear them a bit more clearly now but still unable to pick them out visually. The fog wasn’t doing him any favours which he frowned at. When the voice of a woman came out through the trees he was curious, her accent wasn’t exactly from around here either. She was looking for a kid? was that the child he could hear crying?

The description of the kid was processed, he couldn’t remember seeing anyone like that. In fact, he hadn’t seen anyone in these woods all day long..nor where there any hiking trails. It was as if no one came here at all which was strange he thought.

If they were looking for a kid he’d take his chances and make himself known, but not before removing his mini letherman multitool from his pocket. Something sharp just for safety sake.

“I’m not the kid nor have I seen anyone like that…” the Englishman called out into the forest, hoping he could be heard as well as he heard them. “I’m out here collecting plants…”
Manaka Shimizu (played by FreeJayFly) Topic Starter

"'Plants'?" Manaka repeated in question. It was not as if she did not think that was a valid reason -- even she had to resort to some form of botany or mycology knowledge and methods when fending for herself when she first started her journey. However, with news from the mayor, she had been a little bit sceptical.

"The mayor said no one comes to this forest," Manaka went on to say. "I'd ask if you were a local... but it sounded like the people believe this forest to be cursed. People have been going missing -- coming to this forest, never to return."

Manaka put the photo of the girl back into her purse as she turned her attention toward the direction that she heard the most clarity in the other person's voice. Adjusting the strap of her purse on her shoulder, the miko also went to pocket the ofuda talismans she had still been holding. All things considered, she often did not like answering questions relating to them, or what she often did.

It was unwanted effort.

"So... if you are a local, you either don't care, or are very desperate for those plants. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you aren't a local."
Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

“Yeah I got that too, it was hard to get someone to show me this place…None of the locals seem all too pleased about it..” and what this woman’s voice said confirmed his suspicions. The herbs were valuable because it was danger money “Dammit…” he cursed to himself.

“Nope, not local! just on holiday…” and then she goes and tells him that people never come back from this place, just peachy. But he did have magic that could teleport him out of places, could just use that if he got stuck. Unless this place messed with magic as well…saying that most cursed places did.

“Your accent isn’t exactly local yourself! where you from? and why you looking for a kid?” still remaining in hiding for now.
Manaka Shimizu (played by FreeJayFly) Topic Starter

"Rather odd place to have a holiday, if you don't mind my saying," Shou said, making himself a little more known in that moment. He slowly walked over to Manaka, standing a couple metres away from her side. "I certainly wouldn't have chosen it. Though, were it up to me--"

"I do mind you saying, and no one cares where you would find yourself on holiday," Manaka sharply said to Shou, cutting him off. Going back to the comment on her accent, Manaka just shook her head -- not necessarily for her interlocutor -- but more because she felt it obvious that she was not local.

Manaka, folding her arms over her chest, scanned the area once more, taking note of anything that seemed well enough to have been used as a waymark. There was a tree that looked to have been struck by lightning, part of its trunk had a crack running down along its trunk. It would have to be a suitable point of reference for now.

"Doesn't really matter where I'm from. What matters is that I get this job done for the mayor of the nearby town and get the reward money for it," Manaka spoke up. "Mayor wants his daughter back. I need to find her to finish the job."

"Ah, way to make an impression. Cards on the table, the selfish bounty hunter," Shou commentated, resting his hands in his pockets lazily. There was a hint of a smile on his face, giving him a smarmy demeanor as he stood there. Of course, this again went ignored by Manaka.

The smirk from Shou's face faded away, and Manaka's attention had been torn away as the sound of a girl crying started once more. It sounded close, but Manaka's brow remained stony. Any time she had called out before when she heard the crying, she had been met with no response. It did not help that the crying sounded as if it could have come from anywhere around them.

«Any read?» Manaka asked Shou in Japanese.

"The answer is no different than before. And just what happened with 'speaking the local language to keep one's self sharp'?" Shou chided.

«We can announce that we're actually spirit hunters. That'll go over great.» Manaka's use of iyami was not lost on Shou as she spoke. Though he could really only shrug off the ire from her.

Between the bickering, however, the rhythmic thumps of hooves against the ground could be heard, growing closer and closer. Two dark figures in the fog just west of the people bolted through the clearing that they were in. The creatures were deer with dark pelts, and bounding through the forest in a hurry. Shou had barely managed to grab Manaka's arm to pull her out of the way of their path.

Something about the deer felt... off. Their eyes were clouded over, and it looked like thick moss had clung to their hides, the fur beneath it a dark grey. In a way, they seemed almost ethereal. If it were not for the fact that they very much had corporeal bodies, one might have thought them spirits themselves.
Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

A bounty hunter out for a kid? wasn’t the strangest thing he’d ever heard and he’d slowly shift to stand by the still upright part of the fallen tree. Remaining as low as he could despite being so tall and sporting dark red hair, he wasn’t designed to blend in much to his displeasure.

That girl’s crying started up again, was that the kid they were looking for? in a foggy wood where no locals chose to go. Things were slowly starting to fit together that everything wasn’t so hunky dory. He could vaguely hear…Japanese? that explained the accent. He couldn’t understand a word of it but it gave away their were possibly two people present or she was talking to herself. Not the weirdest thing he ever came across.

Then the thumping sounds started and he peered around the corner of the tree stump and saw the beasts. They were HUGE! Easily three times his size and weight if not more, barrelling through the trees. Kiran quickly backed up and dived to cover even more ground. The beasts ran past and he got a glimpse of their coats, it was obviously unnatural. Flicking his Leatherman open to the knife tool he prepared incase anything got dicey or they would just carry on running.

But why were they running in the first place? to what or from what?
Manaka Shimizu (played by FreeJayFly) Topic Starter

The deer disappeared back into the mist past everyone. If there was anything that had been chasing them, it did not make itself apparent.

Stepping away from Shou after the deer were gone, Manaka brushed her arm with her hand -- seemingly trying to get rid of his touch from lingering. All whilst dismissing Shou's rolling of his eyes at her response. With all things considered, she had to make a decision that meant progressing in some fashion.

"'Thank you for saving me from getting trampled, Shou,'" Shou mocked, before responding to himself normally, "it wasn't a problem, Manaka."

"I would suggest going back to the town if home isn't exactly an option," Manaka said, addressing the other known being in the forest that was not Shou. "But unless you've been keeping track of your own landmarks, I'm afraid I can't exactly suggest that in good faith."

Manaka's hand had gone back into her pocket, her fingers taking hold of her talismans once more.

"Either way, sticking around here to look for whatever plants are on your agenda might not be the best way to spend your morning," Manaka continued, walking closer to the lightning struck tree.
Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

Kiran dusted himself off and stood up once more, not hiding this time but the fog obscured most things including the others.
They were alive he could hear someone talking and then the female voice addressed him again.

“And why would I do that? A couple of deer aren’t exactly enough to make me turn tail and leave…” he huffed. Tracking landmarks? what was she on about? Pulling out his phone to look at the map he frowned, the tracking system wasn’t even working, this was useless to use to try and get himself out. “The signals all screwed here!”

Looking up at the sound of steps coming closer to him he approached to meet them. Once spotted his first thought was ‘dam, she short’ but he was used to that by now. He gave the guy a decent up and down look. “You make this place sound all spooky…relax I ain’t gonna steal your girl money…”
Manaka Shimizu (played by FreeJayFly) Topic Starter

For a brief moment, Manaka's nose scrunched up with some annoyance at the comment about the bounty. Her expression became more of a gently disgruntled when Kiran made his appearance. She then pointed to his phone, going back to the prior exclamation on the signal.

"I'm guessing no one told you that this place messed with compasses. Though, the fact that it also messes with the GPS tracking system is something I wasn't made aware of till not too long ago myself," Manaka commented. "Like I said, I can't recommend going back to town in good faith unless you've been keeping track of notable landmarks."

The flapping of wings could be heard before an albino crow descended. Holding out her arm, Manaka allowed the unusual corvid to perch. It clicked its beak a couple times, its red eyes glaring in a particular direction past where everyone stood. Like the deer, however, the crow had the beginnings of what looked like moss starting to cling to his feathers. However, the crow looked much more alive and well compared to the deer prior.

"Nishi. Nishi," the crow spoke, though only repeated that word a few more times before saying and actual sentence with pauses between each syllable. "Ki. O. Tsu. Ke. Te."

Manaka murmured a "thank you" in response to the bird before pulling out a bag of raisins from one of her pockets and fumbling with it momentarily to reward the creature. Once the reward was accepted, Manaka sent the bird back off. That one would not have been as easy to explain, that was for sure.

Pocketing the bag of raisins, Manaka turned toward where the crow had been looking.

"Go back to the town. Or don't. I suppose I certainly can't make you," Manaka said without looking back to the tall man.

"Don't you just love spitfire strangers?" Shou asked, the sarcasm evident in his cheerful tone. Though it seemed he was more addressing Kiran than Manaka in that moment.
Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

“No they didn’t…” But at the same time he didn’t want to listen to their warnings. “Thing is I haven’t been keeping track of landmarks it’s all moss, trees and rocks.” he shrugged and put his phone away.

Kiran closed his eyes for a moment and concentrated, his focus turning into a frown. He couldn’t use magic to portal out from where he wasn’t either..weird…He wouldn’t mention anything just in case they were the funny type around magic.
Opening his eyes again to the sight of an albino crow which tiny lady seemed to own or so he assumed. It could talk? that was something he’d never seen before.

“So….bounty hunter chick with mysteriously tall gentleman wandering around the woods with her pet white crow….I’ve seen enough anime to know where this is all going.” he circled an index finger in the air in their direction then snickered at Shou’s sarcastic comment.
"How on earth do you get on with her?” he said in jest. Probably the same way he survived living with Shiv, by ignoring her most of the time.
Manaka Shimizu (played by FreeJayFly) Topic Starter

"Oh, I wouldn't call it 'mysterious'," Shou said in jest. "I just believe I happened to get some of the best genes my parents had to offer."

«If by that you mean you were created in a feudal era septic tank and then released into the world....» Manaka bitterly remarked. It seemed both of them were ignoring the 'anime' comment. It was hard to say for Shou overall, but Manaka had heard enough from people in the west that thought it was 'relatable' when interacting with her.

"Ah... well..." Shou started, clapping his hands together once and glancing in Manaka's direction. "You can say we share a rather... long history."

While they spoke, the mist started to swirl and coil, weaving between them as a gentle breeze flowed through the area. Few leaves were rattled forward against the ground, creating the only other sound in the area besides the group's talking.

"I'm Shou, by the way," the well-dressed individual introduced himself to Kiran, holding out his hand in more traditional western greeting fashion. "My tunnel-vision partner there is Manaka."

«We're far from partners.» Manaka commented in response to Shou, looking over her shoulder at Kiran. "But I suppose if the two of you are getting friendly enough, I might as well just leave you here and continue with the search."

There was a slight wince from Shou at the statement, though he said nothing on it as the two of them lingered.
Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

Kiran nodded to Shou’s comment about getting all the good genes, he stared at the woman speaking another language in front of him but couldn’t exactly stop her.
As the other man held out his hand he’d take it and shake, firm but not crushing “Kiran, nice to meet you I guess…now stranded in the woods…” He looked over to the lady “Is she always this charming?” he snorted and laughed while glancing over to Shou.

Staring at the floor for a moment he frowned and wandered why his spell earlier didn’t work. “Neither of you do magic do you?…. Mine wasn’t working…or at least one of them…"
Manaka Shimizu (played by FreeJayFly) Topic Starter

Shou's own handshake was rather firm, though it seemed somewhat evident that it was still more of a foreign concept, as Shou offered just the slightest of bows along with it. Though, it was when Kiran mentioned magic and addressing both his and Manaka's potential use of it that the disguised karasetengu looked back to the woman he shared his spiritual bond with. It seemed that she was thinking along the same thing, as she had also turned her attention back to both of them.

Manaka seemed to give Shou a shrug and then a look that just said, 'go on, I guess'.

Shou opened his mouth to say something, a finger extended upward for a moment. Now that he was being put on the spot, he seemed a little less wanting to say too much. Though, he cleared his throat and muttered, "well, where to really start. That's a bit of a loaded question."

Brushing off whatever anxiety that was there, Shou's face went to being more content than anything before he went on to say: "us knowing that you were there wasn't exactly by chance, if that's what you'd like to know. I can read auras -- emotions, mostly. But beyond that, we haven't tried much."

Manaka reaffirmed his statement and continued; "indeed. I don't think I would have been talking out into the forest fog if he didn't tell me someone else was here since he can't sense the girl we're looking for when we hear her crying."

Taking out one of the slips of paper from her pocket that had intricate designs and some kanji on it, Manaka sighed, "I haven't had a reason to waste one of my ofuda. But... I suppose a warding one wouldn't be terrible just to try."

Turning toward the tree, Manaka peeled the adhesive strip off the back of the talisman and stuck it against the trunk. The symbols lit up in a bright pink before emitting a soft magenta glow. A wailing moan was heard around the group, almost as if it were in pain, before the mist within a thirty foot radius dispersed.
Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

More magic users, that was a relief at least. “I just tried to teleport out of here…which ain’t a good sign if I’m still here right?” now sounding more concerned.

He’d watch as the..what did she call it?…was stuck to the tree and lit up bright pink. Stepping back slightly and flicking out his tiny pocket knife again at the sound of the wailing, watching the fog retreat from around their legs.

“Bugger…we’re already in the thick of it….Thanks for that” he said to Manaka. His senses, while not as sharp as Shou’s seemed to clear as the fog retreated. He didn’t want to risk trying his teleportation spell if it was just going to land him in more fog.

With the fog cleared however he did spot one of the plants he was looking for “Oh hey, come ‘ere you!” reaching down to grab it.
Manaka Shimizu (played by FreeJayFly) Topic Starter

"No... no, I don't imagine that it is," Manaka replied, keeping her hand on the tree trunk for just a while longer before thinking to check her phone's GPS. Flicking through it for a moment, she frowned and looked up. The GPS was still on the fritz.

"Whatever's causing this, it's certainly laying out a large area of effect," Manaka commented. "My warding ofuda only goes as far as roughly nine metres in any direction. That includes above and below us like a bubble."

What she neglected to mention was that this was now a guaranteed safe zone, but that being the case also meant that she only had three more warding talismans that she could use. That meant she had to think about how and when to use them later pending on how long she was going to spend in this forest.

"I do hope that doesn't mean we'll have to potentially set up camp out here," Shou said, frowning at the thought. It seemed that the person they had met had become distracted by the plants that had revealed themselves with the warding talisman.

«As if you actually care,» Manaka replied with no hint of amusement before putting her phone away.

«What? I've grown quite used to today's modern high-class fashion. I'd say I even pull it off quite well compared to the peasantry of old kimonos.» Shou protested.

«You literally stole someone's look from the cover of "Men's Non-no" magazine, you creep.» Manaka flatly responded. Sighing she furrowed her brow and went back to speaking English; "regardless... there is a possibility of needing to camp for the night. I hope we don't have to, but it is always going to be a possibility for now."
Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

“Well that’s better than nothing….I do wonder if whatever happened to those deer was because of the fog…Did you see all that moss on them?” He said while retrieving one of the plants on his list. “I rather not end up like them…” Pocketing the herb in his backpack before standing up again to face the pair arguing in Japanese.

He waved as if to say 'Yes hello, I am still here’ “Well…I caught the first bit and I’m good for a least a day or two with whats in my bag…though water might be hard to come by later….Rather spend as little time out here has possible but we now appear to be trapped in the middle of murderous crying fog….” Said in a completely calm, matter of fact tone.
Manaka Shimizu (played by FreeJayFly) Topic Starter

"It's quite possible..." Manaka replied, mulling over some of the evidence that had been revealed to her through the albino crow. "My familiar, Toshi, had some moss stuck to them when they told me which direction I should be going and to be careful. I don't know how much of the fog's properties will end up affecting him, but I suppose I hope his aspect of being a familiar wards him better than non-familiars."

"He should be fine," Shou said with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "At least I don't sense anything amiss with him."

"Still... if you're unable to 'teleport' like you claim, then having set up the warding ofuda would have been ideal for my camping supplies," Manaka commented, turning her attention to Kiran. Neither she nor Shou had anything bulky on their persons that indicated they were packed for camping. The most Manaka seemed to have was a light brown suede purse that accompanied her ensemble.

"If the cat is out of the bag..." Manaka continued, "then you can at least know I'm not just here for the girl. I'm here to help rid the forest of its curse. Or at least whatever might be causing it so that it's safe for the locals again. I have little hope for the girl -- the mayor said she had been missing for over a week before I showed up to take the job."
Kiran (played by Leighoflight)

Kiran crouched down on the floor then moved to sit, glad to be out of the fog. He listened carefully to Manaka and nodded. If she had a familiar being affected and it could fly above the fog his own familiar would be a useless scout.

They may not have been prepared for camping but he had enough for himself which could stretch a few days. He’d been rough camping before. “It’s been pretty dry so as long as it doesn’t rain we should be pretty good…” hoping he didn’t jinx it.

A curse? He looked around them “Yeah…makes sense.. The curse and the girl…If thats the voice we keep hearing then that’s probably the mist using her voice…” having already condemned the kid to death by pure assumption.

“So how are you going to get to the core of this curse? Can’t go strolling through the fog and have it take you…”

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