Sincerely, Blooming Thistle

Disclaimer: Kagepro franchise belongs to Jin. Spoilers to the Novel-Route, specifically Book 7.

"Azami": Japanese for thistle flower, consists of a prickly stem and fluffy, purple petals.

Someone was knocking on her front door. This should be impossible considering how not only was Tsukihiko's house located on a tall, steep hill amidst a dark void but no one should be in the Kagerou Daze.

Azami squashed the hope of Shion waiting outside the door. She was an awful mother for having to choose between the lives of her family members; she wouldn't blame her daughter for never wanting to see her ever again.

But what-if it was Shion in that one-in-a-million chance? If she really was out there in the dark with her warm smile, then Azami couldn't be a monster and keep her waiting in the cold.

Azami tentatively opened her door and promptly slammed it shut, the squawk of indignation behind it definitely not coming from her daughter.

Well, it looked like she finally lost her sanity to her loneliness. How else would it explain the stranger outside? A prime example of a hallucination that affected her sight and hearing.

…She could pretend to forget about the entire encounter, but what if it was a murderer outside of her house?

Just in case she should check again.

Luckily, the young girl outside was neither a hallucination nor a murderer. Tsubomi was a very polite human (There was a human girl in her vicinity!) dressed in a proper attire that did not match her slightly singed jade hair.

And after establishing that yes, Azami was not a human, anyone with eyes could see her scales and serpentine hair; yes, she created this world but was not really the master of it, it was complicated, it became apparent that Tsubomi had been well on her way to her death. Emphasis on the past tense because the girl was also the new vessel of the Concealing Eyes and was breaking down in front of her.

"Just... why me? I don't deserve another life, not when I killed my own father. Someone like you or Rin should live again, there's no point in me going back," Tsubomi sobbed, her face blotchy and her voice raw. After her own recount of her tragic past to the kid, Azami was speechless on how to reassure a kindred spirit.

Because when Azami looked at the girl in front of her who could be no older than seven years old, Tsubomi did not act like a cold-blooded murderer. Instead, she saw a sad reflection of herself back when she heard Tsukihiko was injured by the villagers. When Azami flew into a murderous rage to protect her family, and once alone in the grim aftermath had thought about why her existence had to bring so much unnecessary turmoil.

She sighed. "Kid, I'm not a saint myself having killed those who had seek me harm, but circumstances do not dictate who you are. There's no use wallowing in the past when you could live to see another day around people who can understand and love you for who you are."

After all, if Tsukihiko could love a monster like Azami despite existing for millennia, surely a sweet girl like Tsubomi could find just as bright people to keep her company.

Tsubomi seemed to be calming down and was debating on saying something so Azami added, "You said you have an older sister. Rin, right? You must love her a lot for being so worried about her." The girl was still silent so she promised, " I'll make sure to keep an eye out for her, but I'm sure there would be many people who would treat you just as well."

Having settled whatever was going inside her brain, Tsubomi steeled her resolve.

"C-could I stay with you for a bit? I'm not trying to run away or anything, but I don't want to deal with the mess just yet." Seeing the Medusa's growing frown, Tsubomi quickly added, "Not for too long. I won't be a burden, I swear!"

A long time ago, Azami had made the decision for her family with her best intentions but look how that turned out. She was in no position to force a girl who needed a friend to support her, and it was better for her to gather her bearings together with some time off. Surely, it wouldn't hurt for Tsubomi to stay a little while?

"I-I see. We'll talk more about this later, but I guess we could settle on a nice meal before addressing the matter in greater details." A small smile was on Tsubomi's face, and Azami realized it was the first time she saw a positive emotion throughout the whole interaction. Maybe she finally did something right after all.

Just when she thought the issue was finally resolved, there was another knock coming from her door. It was with growing horror that Azami was experiencing a sense of deja-vu.

She opened the door and saw two boys huddled together, one with hair as dark as the night cowering behind the other one with hair as bright as the sun. Both of their eyes shined like polished rubies.

"Um, so we heard how you might let someone stay for a bit and please-don't-kill-us-we're-too-young-to-die-again," squeaked the blonde, his friend vigorously nodding his head.

Azami could feel a building headache, her anxiety having long vanished after dealing with a day that seemed to never end.

"Come in children, don't make me repeat myself twice."

If she could handle one human child, surely three wouldn't make much of a difference?

The kitty boy who held the Deceiving Eyes was called Kano Shuuya and he literally transformed into a black cat whenever he had the chance. He was especially a menace when he would impersonate herself, although a quick glare would solve that. The puppy boy was a shy one who was apparently scared of using Stealing Eyes. However, he perked right up when Azami taught the children how to master their abilities using Favoring Eyes.

All three children unanimously agreed that they wished to stay with Azami no matter how much she begged and bargained with them. It was summed up being how there wasn't anyone important to them outside the Kagerou Daze, the slim chance of seeing their lost ones, and ooh Azami, please tell us more about the secrets of the universe...

Some time later, another girl appeared at her front door dressed in a pink bathing suit and sopping wet. After Azami conjured up more suitable clothing for her, the vessel of Drawing Eyes loudly declared herself as "Kisagargi Momo, twelve years old primary school student!" and self appointed herself as the big sister of the group.

When asked why she wasn't returning to the outside world, Momo flippantly mentioned how her big brother was more than enough of a hassle for her now single mom. She didn't want to add to the financial burden, so she might as well treat the whole experience as a vacation while keeping an eye out for her dad, and hey, now she was in the position to bully others!

Momo was the best older sister the younger trio could ever ask for and the rambunctious sound in their house continued to grow louder.

And so time continued on in their little house in the middle of nowhere. Azami had established the routine of cooking breakfast for the children, then teaching them suitable school work ranging from algebra with increasing difficulty to history such as her first person account of the Meiji Period. The children alternated in pairs for their cooking lessons during lunch, and they continued their schooling for a few more hours before someone would start craving a dish and Azami would make dinner. Finally, the day would end when the children wished to rest their minds and the cycle repeats.

No one aged in the never-ending world, but every day was such an adventure that not even Azami was aware of how much time had passed. She knew in her heart that it was unhealthy for keeping all of them with her in this world, but what could she do against puppy eyes?

(It was a toss up between Shuuya's sparkly façade and Kousuke's natural puppy eyes but all of the children were dangerously crafty in pulling on her heart strings.)

One day, Azami will fade away when all of her Snakes are distributed among their vessels and then the children will have to return home. But just for today, she will continue to be a little selfish and let these children enjoy their youths.

Still, she drew the line when a scruffy bearded adult knocked on her door and she blasted him out of her world before he could even say a word. Prior experience with adults taught her nothing good comes with them, and when she felt the Snake of the Clearing Eyes trailing after him she knew she made a wise decision.

Good riddance on that.

Azami should have known that Clearing Eyes leaving was too good to be true when the knock on her door bought her three strangers which she almost slammed the door shut against them. Then, she was outnumbered by the people in her house and reluctantly welcomed the new guests in.

The most normal one, a teenage girl wearing a uniform, informed Azami of how her father who was possessed by Clearing Eyes threw her off of her school's roof. Apparently, he was also the teacher of the other two members and had cheerfully killed all of them on the same day.

Still, was Azami so out of touch with the norms that apparently humans who looked to have appeared out of fantasy novels were considered normal in human standards? The albino boy had to be six foot tall and the other girl was glowing blue!

It was much reassurance from everyone that no, they do not know why their appearances changed into their "videogame" avatars and not even Azami with all her knowledge was sure on how to solve that. That conversation helped her understand that Kokonose Haruka "Konoha" had Awakening Eyes, Enomoto Takane "Ene" had Opening Eyes, and Tateyama Ayano had Favoring Eyes.

This posed an inconvenient problem as already Azami could feel her control over Opening and Favoring Eyes weakening, and at this rate her projected consciousness was going to be less than a speck of dirt. She called for a house meeting because she had to address the growing issue.

"To bluntly put it together, the guests had brought to my attention that without Opening Eyes I do not have much time left existing on this plane of reality." Hearing the protests coming from her charges, Azami bowed to hide her teary eyes. "It has been a pleasure staying with everyone for so long. With my remaining strength, I will project all the required information to the remaining members and send you guys all outside."

"W-wait, what do you mean you don't have much longer to live because of me?!" Ene asked in a panic. Beside her, Ayano was frowning.

"Is it because we're here that your family has to split up?" There was no confirmation but she could read between the lines. "Oh, we're so sorry!"

Azami shook her head. "No need to apologize, this was bound to happen later. Come here, the least I can do is show you how to use these powers."

For Konoha she taught him the principle behind recreating his body and for Ene she taught her how to astral project her consciousness while remaining awake. Once she reached Ayano, she had a special request for her.

"When you guys return outside, please protect my granddaughter Mary," Azami asked. At Ayano's confused expression she continued, "The evil presence out there will do anything to harm her, but I am useless in the condition I am in now. I will project my entire knowledge to you in hopes you can stop him.

"That's why… please forget about me and live happily together!" she cried, trying to project all the love, gratitude, and happiness to her friends (at what point had she started to view these children as her friends?) and preparing to see them off.

"Wait Azami, stop I think I have a plan!" The Medusa rubbed her eyes and turned to Ayano whose eyes were now a brilliant red.

"Hear me out, the Clearing Eyes wanted us to come back, that's why he was so desperate in making the Snake vessels. So why should we listen to him and return?"

Shouldn't this be the part where Azami left a teary farewell and everyone went back to their daily lives? "Did you forget about my existence coming to an end? It's safer for you guys to get out before the Kagerou Daze gets out of control!"

"Which requires you to wield the Opening Eyes ability, right? Then, maybe we can replicate it as best as we can!" Shuuya said, starting to see the appeal of the idea, but then slumping in defeat. "But how do we do that?"

"Tsubomi! Please create a forcefield that will make this house undetectable!" Ayano directed, a general ready for battle. "Momo, please use Drawing Eyes and keep Azami anchored here."

"What—" Already, Azami could feel her whole being being attracted to Momo and she hadn't realized her body had settled down from an unknown pull. "I-I feel centered?"

"If Azami's body is calling for her consciousness, then we'll just make it undetectable and unable to return to its source. It was a gamble but looks like it paid off," Ayano declared happily. She posed and struck out a thumbs up.

"I call this, Blindfold Complete!" There was cheering from everyone but Azami just couldn't comprehend, why were they so happy?

"I think I should be thanking you except YOU IDIOTS!" Azami yelled, her hands cradling her scaly cheeks. "Aren't you guys just delaying the inevitable? Now Tsubomi and Momo have to always activate their powers, when they don't even like them to begin with! Stupid, idiotic, brainless morons…

"...why do so much for me? It's all my fault that everyone is stuck here to begin with," she trailed off in a soft voice. Someone was pulling on her sleeves, and she turned her direction to Tsubomi whose eyes were glowing red.

"S-someone once told me the circumstances do not control our faults, but true friends would understand and help you through the hardships together."

The nerve of that girl, using Azami's words against her! Surely their encounter felt like yesterday, so why was she trembling?

More hands were gathering around her, and Azami realized she was in the middle of a group hug from little children.

"Besides, sleep is overrated. Not like we ever needed it to begin with," Momo said amidst all of the fleshy bodies.

"Yeah! We could do so much together during this time! You'll be complaining after dealing with us 24/7!" Kousuke tacked on.

Shuuya snorted. "What do you mean, Kousuke? We're already driving her crazy, then let's do it to the max!"

"Azami, you seem like a wonderful person and I really don't want anyone I just met to die when you're loved by so many," Konoha said from the sidelines.

Ene grimaced. "I also do not want any of us near our murderous homeroom teacher, and you are clearly the better alternative." She tried to casually shrug, but there was a gleam in her eyes. "I could teach you guys about videogames, those are pretty fun."

Ayano was smiling, and oh, so this was how it felt for Azami to be on the opposite end of feeling platonic love.

"Azami, no one deserves to be alone and you did so much for us strangers. We're all in this together, and I swear we will do our best to free you from this world." Her innocent smile shifted a tad devious. "Besides, it would end on a sour note if you were to disappear on your birthday."

Gasp. The group hug broke apart.

"Azami, it was your birthday?!"

"Why do you never tell us these things? This whole time we could have another excuse to eat cake!"

"Wait, we still have time, right? Hustle gang, we need to plan a party!"

In the end, Tsubomi was in charge of the cake while the rest of the kids chipped in on drawing Azami a cute celebratory card with everyone on it. They had a nice dinner introducing the newest three members and by the time they would usually sleep, everyone continued to celebrate by listening to the older ones' tales. It was with the reminder that school was still in session later that the younger ones cheered in excitement and left the newcomers confused.

Azami shouldn't have been blessed with moments like this when her heart was giddy on happiness and her shoulders light without burden. Shion and Mary were waiting for her somewhere and she swore to protect them from the upcoming dangers.

But if she could be honest, Azami hoped they could all be happy today, tomorrow, and all the days to come.

Shintaro was hopelessly confused. The one time he tried acting like a Good Samaritan in saving a pair of kids from an incoming truck, and the next thing he knew, he was in a creepy world in front of a deceptively innocent looking house, and said kids were just as clueless as he was.

Did, did he get Isekai-ed like how all of his light novels went? Was this his time to shine in saving a gorgeous princess from an evil dragon while acquiring an overpowered ancient power?

"Well, this is two more people than I expected."

While Shintaro was daydreaming, one of the kids had knocked on the door, revealing the cause that made his day drop from Worst to Hell.

Why was there a lady with hair full of snakes? There was a little girl with orange hair that really resembled his dead little sister, and that was definitely his friend Ayano who was said to have committed suicide.

What the hell was going on?

There was also a feminine voice laughing in his brain, and Shintaro resigned to the fact that maybe he died and was going crazy.

"Hmmm, well you don't appear to be one of mine. I can't imagine Focusing Eyes being compatible with you," the Medusa mused. Hibiya yelped in horror and accidentally activated his power, providing him the full view of the indoors. "Ah, well that answered that question."

"Azami, that should make eight out of ten Snakes and complete the set," Ayano said. "What do you think is going to happen now?"

"At worst? Clearing Eyes may try to return to confront us although we have the upperhand in numbers. Until then, I guess we can relax."

All of this made no sense to Shintaro, but suddenly he could hear a dark rumble that sounded like, "AZAMI, STOP DEVIATING FROM THE SCRIPT! I HAVE YOUR PRECIOUS GRANDDAUGHTER HERE!"

Azami looked up in alarm, but he was more concerned about the swirling mass of darkness that was sucking up the roof and the people under it. It was in vain effort when Hibiya slipped from his fingers and was also vacuumed into it.

"You bastard, DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HER!" Azami screamed, and that was the last time Shintaro saw her as she was the last one to get sucked inside, leaving him alone by the ruined house with a little girl beside him.

"Um, hello? Did you forget about us? Hey magic portal, come back here! Please get us out of here too!"

In the aftermath, Clearing Eyes had tried to kill Mary only for her to accidently project her grandmother's spirit and summon the Snake holders from the Kagerou Daze. Among the chaos, maybe a person or two died, but after the enemy was taken care of and Mary reverted back to herself, Azami's existence had certainly faded away, and there was no other way to save her.

It was agreed by everyone that the timeline would be reversed. A life built on other's sacrifices was not one they wanted to live without their loved ones. Plus, they had a promise to keep with Azami even knowing that she would have berated them for their decision.

Once again, these memories became lost to the Kagerou Daze and were never perfectly replicated again.

Except, someone did remember a bit, and somewhere unknown the Snake of the Retaining Eyes laughed. This route may have also ended but this was definitely in her Top 10 Routes.

She couldn't wait for the day when she could show this to Shintaro and laugh together with everyone.



A/N: Anime/Music!Azami: Angst, angst, angst; Manga/LN!Azami: It's not like I like you or anything, baka!

Is this considered crack? Writing this while interpreting headcanons felt like a fever dream to me. Finished the LN, 8.5/10 stars because we stan for Kagepro and happiness but the -1.5 literally comes from the last book that once again offered many contradictions. Like Tsubomi's exclusive tea party and Mary's possession, yes let's pretend none of that is relevant for the other routes! Fluffy Azami deserves more despite the idea literally keeping my sleep hostage which is why I produced this wacky material in one go while my WIP, 1st POV story is judging me silently. I'll get to you this month, geez!

Thank you for your time in reading, feedback is always appreciated! Fun fact, I always thought the Trio were orphaned at age 10 but suddenly Yobanashi Deceive makes sense and wow they are seven years old! Haha, I hate you numbers and ambiguous facts. Stay safe and have a nice day everyone!