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Literature / The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

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"Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house."

September, terribly bored of her mundane life in Omaha, is delighted when she's visited by the Green Wind and the Leopard of Little Breezes, who spirit her away to Fairyland. There, she takes on a quest for a witch to take her magical spoon back from the terrible Marquess, ruler of Fairyland. She gains great friends and allies in A-Through-L (a half-wyvern, half-library crossbreed), a blue marid named Saturday, and many other residents of the land, both friendly and dangerous.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a children's and young adult fantasy novel by Catherynne M. Valente, with illustrations by Ana Juan. The novel started as a book within a book in Palimpsest. It was originally published for free online, but was finally put onto paper in May 2011. It deals with the adventures a young girl called September has in Fairyland. That Sounds Familiar, but the book provides a broad knowledge on folklore, and reads like a love letter to those odd Victorian classics with a twist of sardonic humor to them (such as Alice in Wonderland).


The book has spawned a series, which is projected for five books in all. A sequel called The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There was published in October 2012. A second sequel The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two was published in October 2013, and a third, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, in March of 2015. A prequel, The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While, tells the story of the young girl who became Fairyland's Queen Mallow (and is full of Major Spoilers for the first book, so only read it after that one). The final book, The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home, was released in March 2016.


The Fairyland books contains examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: The Marquess. Everyone is too afraid of her power to do anything.
  • 100% Adoration Rating: Queen Mallow is universally known— even by those too young to remember her firsthand— as a kind, intelligent, gracious queen.
  • A Friend in Need: September risks the Marquess' wrath to free Saturday from a lobster cage. Gleam the lantern forsakes her community on the island of the tsukomogami to accompany September, even to the very depths of the Lonely Gaol.
  • Abdicate the Throne: Prince Myrrh opts to roam free and live for himself instead of taking the throne of Fairyland Below when freed from his curse.
  • Absurdly Cool City: So many, including Pandemonium (which is made of cloth), Westerly (made of clouds and paper), Mercurio (made of bread), Almanack (inside a giant snail shell, on the moon), Tain, and many others.
  • Abusive Parents: Maud's father.
  • All Just a Dream: Averted. Everything that happened to September in Fairyland really did happen, although many characters say it feels like having been in a dream in the end. But September still knows it all really happened when she returns, because her shadow is gone.
  • Altar Diplomacy: In The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, September meets the Duke of Teatime and the Vicereine of Coffee. They tell her the story of how the tea and coffee clans were Feuding Families until the two of them fell in love on the battlefield and married, ending the wars. They are Happily Married with five children, but aren't immune to old couple bickering.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: The Winds are each colored and dressed in their respective colors.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • In the second book we learn that shadows are intelligent creatures with their own wants, personalities, ambitions, and so on. Until Halloween took over Fairyland-Below, they were trapped attached to the denizens of Fairyland-Above, unable to speak or move independently.
    • Subverted for Prince Myrrh: Being in a deep sleep for years because he was technically never born may sound pretty horrific, but the baku eating his dreams describes his experience as an overly long nap. He is no worse for the wear after he's woken.
    • In the third book, there is a new law stating Tools Have Rights. September believes this is completely silly, though she begins to wonder if tools can have wills when her Model-A sometimes runs and sometimes doesn't. As it turns out, the tools of Fairyland are the fairies that we haven't seen much of through three books, trapped as inanimate objects.
  • And the Adventure Continues / Bookends: The last book has an epilogue where the Green Wind (now September herself) invites a new child to Fairyland.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: September accepts most of Fairyland's strangeness (witches, fairy gold, flying leopards, you know), but when A-Through-L tells her his father was a library, September's suspension of disbelief runs out.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Queen Mallow rose to her throne when she defeated the cruel King Goldmouth. She ruled exceptionally well, but was kicked out of Fairyland through no fault of her own. When she returned as the Marquess, she became cruel and despotic herself.
  • Black Magician Girl/Lady of Black Magic: The Marquess combines elements of these, having the body of a child but the manner of someone much older.
  • Blood Magic: The Tithe.
  • Body Horror: As far as you can go in a children's novel when September begins turning into a tree.
  • Broken Bird: The Marquess, who became a beloved Queen of Fairyland with a husband and a baby on the way, before she was suddenly ripped back to being a child on her abusive father's farm.
  • Came Back Strong: In the fifth book, when September dies taking a bullet for the Green Wind, she comes back to life as the new Green Wind.
  • Came Back Wrong: A variant. The death involved is more metaphorical than literal. Mallow originally came to Fairyland an ordinary little girl who grew up to become a queen. When forced to leave, she desperately looked for another way in, despite no such way existing. It was only through turning her clock back—not at all unlike cheating death—that she could come back. As a very angry, bitter woman in a twelve-year-old girl's body.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The narrator comes right out and tells the reader that the shoe September lost will become a plot point later.
    • Chekhov's Gunman: In the fourth book, the narrator very casually mentions that the baby Hawthorne is replacing will show up again in a later chapter.
  • The Chosen One: The story flirts with this concept, but ultimately subverts it. The Green Wind points out that it was September herself who decided to go on a quest for Goodbye's spoon and all the adventures that followed; she could have done what other children do in Fairyland and had fun, but she didn't.
  • Classical Mythology: The Ravished—those who come to Fairyland by being stolen away and bound to Fairyland by eating the food—are covered in Fairyland's laws under the Persephone clause.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: September is right on the verge of puberty. Over the course of the books she grows up and grows a heart.
  • Creepy Child: The Marquess, who has no problems killing and threatening others and is physically twelve.
    • Halloween, September's shadow, who becomes Queen of Fairyland-Below.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The Marquess's Backstory is awfully sad and touching. In her life in the human world, her mother died when she was eight and she was abused by her alcoholic father. Then she stumbled into Fairyland, lived there for many years, fell in love and became a queen, and not by marriage, and became pregnant. And then she was snatched back into her dull world, all the ones she loved and who loved her in Fairyland gone, stuck with her abusive father and in a twelve year old's body, no husband, no child, nothing. Doesn't really surprise one that she became so bitter and full of hatred for Fairyland, first giving her so much love, and then taking it away again.
  • Deal with the Devil: September is tempted by a pair of shoes offered by the Marquess as thanks for going on a quest for a magical sword.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: September meets her Death in the Worsted Wood. Death appears as a small, gentle creature, who tells September she will slowly grow bigger and more menacing the closer September comes to the end of her life. Death is tormented by the regrets of the dead, and September sings her to sleep with her mother's lullaby. A much larger Death appears again in the final book, to witness September transform into the Green Wind.
  • Distinguishing Mark: The mole on September's cheek. This is how people recognize her relation to Halloween and how Saturday recognizes their daughter.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: The whole reason for Mallow's Face–Heel Turn. When she returns to Fairyland, she finds that Fairyland has moved on and forgotten her.
  • Dumb Dodo Bird: Subverted in the second book. As related by Aubergine, a particularly quiet dodo, the dodos were a peaceful race who just wanted to be left alone, but were hunted even in Fairyland for their skill as racers. Aubergine is the only dodo we meet— all the others of her kind have gone deep into hiding.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: In the final book, one of the participants in the competition to decide the next King of Fairyland is Thrum, the Rex Tyrannosaur. Possibly a Genius Bonus, as "Tyrannosaurus Rex" translates to "tyrant lizard king" in Latin.
  • Exact Words: In the first book, September attempts to invoke this, rationalizing to herself that, for example, popcorn bought from a dryad is "dryad food", and will not have the same effect as fairy food. She's wrong. It's all fairy food, because it was grown in fairy soil.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: The witches Hello and Goodbye are both married to the wairwulf Manythanks.
  • Evil All Along: Not exactly evil, but the shadows of Ell and Saturday were always loyal to Halloween, not to September.
  • Ex-Big Bad: Mallow/The Marquess, the villain of the first book, reappears in later books, and is finally fully redeemed in the last.
  • The Fair Folk: Interestingly lacking from Fairyland, though there are a few. "Fairies" as a species proper are in short supply in Fairyland, while witches, spriggans, trolls, and all other creatures abound. In the third book we learn a bit more of Fairyland's history, including that Fairies were not above stealing a Yeti's paw and using its time-bending powers to their benefit, even as a weapon that only they (immortal) could survive.
    • In the fourth book, they return. And clearly have learned nothing, after their long stint as inanimate objects.
  • Fallen Hero: The Good Queen Mallow became the Marquess due to her anger at being returned to the mundane world. She still considers herself the hero.
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Marquess can be all sweetness and light, but once you displease her she's going to hurt you.
  • Food Chains: September is warned not to eat any of the food in Fairyland, or else she risks becoming like Persephone. She fails to properly heed this warning, but it ends up working out for the best.
  • Forceful Kiss: Saturday's shadow does this to September in the second book, establishing how unlike the real Saturday he is.
  • Forgetful Jones: The kangaroo-like Järlhopps are a whole species of this. All their memories are stored in gems they mine, and only in gems for holding those specific memories. Without them, they forget who they're talking to.
  • Freudian Excuse: The Marquess lived unhappily as a girl in the real world, but found joy, love and a kingdom as Queen Mallow. Then the laws of Fairyland forcibly evicted her at the height of her power. Small wonder she'd be so resentful after clawing her way back.
  • Gender-Blender Title: The Marquess. Technically a woman would be a Marchioness or a Marquise.
  • Genre Savvy: Most of the inhabitants of Fairyland have lived through or studied stories for so long that they recognize patterns long before September does, and even have formulas for conceivable plots. This results in frequent Lampshade Hanging to the point of Affectionate Parody.
  • God Save Us From the Marquess: The Marquess has no problem killing her subjects, stealing their possessions, forcing them to wear Cold Iron chains around their wings (which, for the fey, is very painful) or splitting Fairyland forever from the human world).
    • Played with in regards to Halloween. She does some cruel and terrifying things, and her non-shadow subjects are terrified that she'll send the Alleyman after them, but she is adored by her shadow subjects for giving them their own lives. The ending hints that with a way devised for the shadows and regular people to co-exist, Halloween can be a better ruler for everyone, and is left in power.
  • Golem: Lye is a golem made of soap, tending magical baths and eagerly awaiting her mistress. Her mistress was Queen Mallow/the Marquess.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: Many of Ell's relatives, especially the Great Grand Library in the center of Fairyland.
  • Growing Up Sucks: According to September. She is afraid that when she grows up, she will not be able to come to Fairyland anymore.
  • The Hero's Journey: September's path through the first two books, though her journey each time is very different.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: September sacrifices her shadow to save a Pooka girl's life.
    • Giving your life to protect the Green Wind turns that person into the Green Wind.
  • Here Be Dragons: Invoked by the narrator in The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, adding "And, occasionally, humans"
  • The High Queen: Mallow is remembered as being this.
  • Hybrid Monster: A-Through-L and his siblings are wyveraries— their mother was a wyvern, their father was a library. September doubts the veracity of this... but it's the truth!
  • Ignored Epiphany: Being cursed into being inanimate objects taught the fairies absolutely nothing. After the curse is lifted, they refuse to accept changes to Fairyland government and imprison September and all but enslave changeling children to ensure that no changes happen to their society again.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: How Thomas/Hawthorne feels in the fourth book, whenever his troll heritage causes him to act unusually for a young boy.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: September is afraid she isn't special enough for the Green Wind to bring to Fairyland. Through the rest of the first book she wonders if she is brave enough to be a proper heroine.
  • I Know Your True Name: Knowing someone's true name gives you power over that person. September wasn't suppose to tell anyone her true name, though she never lied about her name when in Fairyland, until she finds out that the true name is actually a person's full name, which in her case would be September Morning Bell. She also finds out the Marquess's true name.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: with chapters like "In Which a Girl Named September is Spirited Off By Means of Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle."
  • Insistent Terminology: Everywhere in Fairyland. Different creatures correct September constantly as to what they are and what they do.
    • September argues that witch food and dragon food is not the fairy food that she should beware. She's wrong.
  • Interspecies Romance: The Good Queen Mallow (human) and Mr. Map (who has wolf ears), September (human) and Saturday (a Marid), and Ell's parents (as he is supposedly a Wyvern/library hybrid).
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Many things that Marquess says are logical, including the fact that taking away one's father, is much worse than taking away one's spoon.
    • While Halloween does many unsavory things (steals shadows from Fairyland Above, cuts shadows off of her own people, plans to force Fairyland Above to join the human world, etc), she does have a point when she argues that the shadows deserve to have their own lives, independent of the people they mirror.
  • Jumped at the Call: September happily climbs out of her window when the Green Wind comes to take her to Fairyland. In the sequels she not only continues to do this, but gets impatient for the way to Fairyland to open.
  • Kaleidoscope Hair: The Marquess uses magic to change her hair color at will.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Being put in an And I Must Scream situation via transformation into inanimate objects is a horrible fate, but the fairies who undergo it weren't exactly nice and the fourth book reveals that even after their punishment, they remain vain, snobbish, controlling, and continue to try to force the king to make Fairyland the way it was when they first were around.
  • Land of Faerie: Obviously. It's called Fairyland, it's a separate magical dimension from Earth, there are fairies though there used to be a lot more of them, and most of the monarchs we see or hear about are queens. However, it still feels rather more like The Wonderland, partly because fairies are so thin on the ground.
  • Legacy Character: The Winds operate by this principle, though how their replacements are chosen vary from Wind to Wind. To succeed the Blue Wind one must steal something of theirs, to succeed the Red Wind one must defeat them in single combat, and to succeed the Green Wind one must save their life.
  • Legend Fades to Myth: No one knows quite what happened to Queen Mallow. Her reign ended so long ago that reports vary as to whether she died or disappeared.
  • Lemony Narrator: Common in Valente's work, but this is the most Lemony one of all.
  • Loners Are Freaks: September didn't have any friends before going to Fairyland, and going only makes her stranger to the other kids.
  • Malaproper: The Alleyman's name is a mangling of the phrase he kept repeating: Les Allemands viennent, French for "The Germans are coming".
  • Missing Mom: Maud's mother died when she was eight.
  • Mythology Gag: In a dream, Ell calls September "November" instead. He goes through October and December as well, but November is still his first effort.
    • The kingdom of Buyan makes a peace treaty with Fairyland in the first book.
  • Narnia Time: No time passes in the Human world for a Human in Fairyland, with occasionally cruel results like growing to adulthood in Fairyland and then being thrust back into an abusive family as a twelve-year-old. Adds a serious element of Fridge Horror to the more famous example of the Pevensies returning to England and becoming young again. The third book ends on a cliffhanger where it seems this has not happened and September's mother finds she is missing.
    • The fourth book continues to play with it, in that September spends an unspecified but presumably lengthy period of time in Fairyland (she has enough time to learn equations and laws for the country). Her family does realize she's gone, but they only think she's been missing for three days.
  • Nice Hat: The Marquess has a very fine hat.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: September trading her shadow for the Pooka girl did in fact save that girl's life. It also later ended up putting Fairyland in great danger.
    • Bringing back the fairies doesn't do much good either, since they revolt against the king and want King Goldmouth back.
  • Not So Different: September and the Marquess/Mallow.
    • In the sequel, Halloween argues this of herself and September. A specific example she gives is how both of them desperately want to save their father and bring their family together again. It makes sense, seeing as Halloween is September's own shadow.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mallow, the name Maud Elizabeth Smythe assumes in Fairyland.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Ell is a wyvern. And half a library besides.
  • Our Genies Are Different: Marids. Djinni are creatures of the air, but Marids are creatures of the sea, and they can only grant wishes after they lose a wrestling match. Marids also have to deal with the pesky problem of constantly running into past and present versions of themselves.
  • Panthera Awesome: The various great cats that the Winds ride, all of which have Shakespearian names. The two most significant are siblings Imogen, the Green Wind's Leopard of Little Breezes, and Iago, the Marquess's (formerly the Red Wind's) Panther of Rough Storms.
  • Parents as People: More serious, less zany. September comes from a loving home, but her father is away fighting in World War II and her mother works long hours in a factory. September holds it against them enough that she doesn't wave goodbye when she goes to Fairyland, though she regrets this later.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Glashtyn. The Marquess forced them to pull the ferry under the river, but once free of her they are really nice.
  • The Quest: September sends herself on a quest for the witch Goodbye's spoon, and finds herself going on a much bigger quest for a magic sword and to save her friends.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Ell and Saturday, which is reflected in their coloring. Ell is loud and quick to threaten to burn things down if he thinks harm may come to September. Saturday is soft-spoken and gentle and hates granting wishes, because he might harm someone in the ensuing wrestling match.
  • Rightful King Returns: This is what several denizens of Fairyland-Below believe will happen if Prince Myrrh awakes from his sleep. Subverted when the prince wakes up and, as September warned, he has no idea if he wants to be a king of anything.
    • The newly-returned fairies hope for this in the fourth book. Although considering how Mallow earned the undying love of Fairyland for overthrowing their king and how the previous lifestyle of the fairies lead to their lengthy imprisonment as household objects, this isn't treated as a good thing.
  • Sacred First Kiss: The value of a first kiss is lampshaded in the second book, when a goblin elaborates on their stock prices. Played with when Saturday's shadow steals September's first kiss, because she is more upset how it did not feel like what a kiss should be than that it was her first.
  • Seasonal Baggage: Different parts of Fairyland are ruled by different seasons, but the most significant reoccurring seasonal motif is that of autumn. September is named after the month that contains the autumnal equinox (despite having been born in May). She loves the color orange, her shadow is named Halloween, and she's frequently associated with autumnal imagery in general. Both autumn and September herself represent change in-universe.
  • Sequel Hook: On the last page of the first book, the narrator tells us:
    "All stories must end so, with the next tale winking out of the corners of the last pages, promising more, promising moonlight and dancing and revels, if only you will come back when spring comes again."
    • The third book ends with September's mother realizing that her daughter is missing and the fourth ends with her aunt telling her mother that she knows where September is and how to find her.
  • Shadow Archetype: Quite literally when Fairyland's shadows come to life. Shadows are the darker, hidden parts of the people they come from. Particularly Halloween to September.
    • In a less literal sense, The Marquess/Maud to September. Like September, Maud was a little girl who came to Fairyland for adventure and became a hero there. September could easily become just like her if pushed too far.
  • Shout-Out: The narration mentions an orange book of Greek mythology that September is fond of. This is undoubtedly D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, which Valente has mentioned as one of her inspirations.
    • September fondly remembers a film where a dark-haired princess runs through a terrifying forest. She liked that part, but found the princess's singing annoying.
    • Another little girl who Stumbled into Fairyland found the way through an armoire.
    • September's mother is reminded at one point of a man in a green smoking jacket she met when she was a small girl.
      • Possibly a further reference is made in the fourth book, where September's aunt seems to know how to reach Fairyland and her name is Margaret - the name often attributed to Wendy's granddaughter.
    • In The Girl Who Raced Fairyland, the weapon used by one of the future-tense Latin knights Ell summons appears to be the autonomous dart used by Yondu in the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: The Stumbled—human children who find their way into Fairyland through side doors—are not allowed to stay. Eventually, whether after an hour or a lifetime, they have to go back to the human world and adjust to life there. Mallow did not take this well.
    • The Ravished—human children who are stolen to Fairyland—are not allowed to leave. Not forever. They make periodic trips back. Either way, there's secrets to keep for the rest of your life.
  • Someone Has to Do It: The winds. It's possible for the winds to be replaced, with different requirements for each one - some involve trickery, some involve saving the wind's life, some are the standard "defeat in battle" route.
  • Sorceress Queen: Queen Mallow was quite the skilled magician.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Jenny Chicory and Mabry Muscat, the former and current Green Wind.
  • Take That, Critics!: The first book was criticised because the Big Bad ruler of Fairyland in it, the Marquess, is a woman, and Marquess, despite common misconceptions, is the standard English spelling of Marquis, and not its feminine version. At the beginning of the final book, it's revealed that she intentionally took a masculine title, and the characters who criticise her for it are depicted as smug, obnoxious snobs.
  • Taking the Bullet: In the fifth book, September takes a blow meant for the Green Wind... but she soon gets better.
  • That Man Is Dead: Mallow/Marquess. Though for a change, it is not entirely her fault. Rather the fairyland rules literally made Mallow disappear, though what happened afterwards is another story.
  • Theme Naming: The cat steeds of the Winds are named after Shakespearian characters, including Iago, Imogen, Cymbeline, and Banquo.
  • Threshold Guardians:
    • The Sibyl in the second book guards the way to Fairyland-Below. However as September knows what she needs to accomplish instead of going on a grand adventure to prove something, Slant ushers September right on through.
    • In the fourth book, postal workers all are in charge of directing mail and packages to and from Fairyland.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: September has a weakness for pumpkin.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: A-Through-L explains that Pandemonium, the capital of Fairyland, comes to people whenever it likes; therefore, people quite literally travel at the speed of plot, no matter what.
  • True Companions: Played straight: September makes fast friends with A-Through-L ("Ell"), a wyverary, and Saturday, a shy marid. Later in the first book she befriends Gleam, a lantern who has earned a soul after a hundred years of good use. September's loyalty to her friends motivates her throughout the series.
    • Subverted in the second book. First, Gleam has no interest in rejoining the adventure, because they've found a new calling in life and a place to call home. Secondly, September journeys with Ell and Saturday's shadows, but they betray her in service of their true companion: Halloween, September's shadow.
  • Twist Ending:
    • It turns out that the Marquess wants September to lock the portal which connects the human world to Fairyland, supposedly so that no child can get lost again. To persuade September, she shows her a watch with September's name on it, which determines the time she stays in Fairyland. Then it turns out that it's the Marquess's watch, whose true name is Maud Elizabeth Smythe, and that it's she who doesn't want to return or let any other child come. Then she reveals her backstory.
    • In the sequel, the sleeping Prince Myrrh, who September had been hoping could overthrow Halloween, is actually the unborn child of Mallow/the Marquess, allowed to grow up after his mother was taken from Fairyland and forced into a child's body. It also turns out that the Alleyman is the shadow of September's father, who Halloween brought to Fairyland so she could protect him.
    • In the fourth book, September is chosen as the queen of Fairyland, when a spell is cast to reset everything in the kingdom. Meanwhile, September's aunt seems to know how to bring September's mother to Fairyland to retrieve her.
  • Underground City: Tain, and the entirety of Fairyland-Below
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Maud, whose life as a hero and a great queen in Fairyland was cut short when she was sent back to the real world and her abusive family, so she sought revenge after being pulled back to Fairyland by her friend.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: September thinks she knows what to expect of Fairyland, but she is constantly proved wrong. This is lampshaded early on when she tries to figure out what sort of story she is in, and can't decide.
  • You Must Be Cold: September is given a velvet smoking jacket by a Green Wind in the form of a fine gentleman. The jacket is very eager to please and fits her immediately. Throughout the course of the story it becomes various things, mainly waterproofing for the titular ship, and lengthens into a dress when September loses hers.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Mallow became queen by overthrowing King Goldmouth.
    • Also inverted with the Green Wind: Someone can ascend to becoming the new Green Wind by saving the life of the current one.
    • And downplayed with the Blue Wind: to become the Blue Wind, you need to steal something from the current one.
  • Youkai: Fairyland residents include tanuki, as well as tsukumogami, who have their own island.


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