Cherry Blossom Procession 4 1 7

[16:17] <Minaplo> [It has been a… Long few days. A tiring few days.-
[16:18] <Minaplo> [They had evaded Phantoms and radiation storms in Iran, trusting to a small Stealth VTOL to get them to safety.-
[16:18] <Minaplo> [Then they had worked in Kolkata-2 on the feverish writings Yanmei had written down, working on cracking the strange puzzle… To find some sort of clue, even the barest of guidance for what seemed like a very vague task.-
[16:19] <Minaplo> [And that puzzle had led them to these mountains, where they had evaded murderous feral carp and giant tigers, then traversed the nerve-wracking gallery roads to arrive here, in Sweet Valley…-
[16:19] <Minaplo> [And now they stood at the top of a hill, a hill crowned with a sturdy, neat house.-
[16:19] <Minaplo> [The house of the Simurgh.-
[16:20] <Minaplo> [The windows and front doors were open, presumably to let in a breeze.]
[16:24] * Yanmei peered down at her body armor and weapons, suddenly self-conscious from the villagers' wary reactions to them. She didn't want to make this guy nervous as well. -
[16:25] <Yanmei> Still, she couldn't exactly disrobe and there was nowhere to place the weapons if she unstrapped them from her person. She approached the open door and, glancing behind herself at her exhausted group, knocked lightly on the doorframe.
[16:30] <Minaplo> [A young girl appeared. She would've been about 13 or 14; she had a wide, honest face, round rosy cheeks and long black hair tied into a ponytail with a kerchief. She wore a simple linen dress and a pair of sandals; she held a broom in her hand.-
[16:30] <Minaplo> [She eyed Yanmei with large brown eyes. She then looked over at Isaiah, Go, Hachi and Asuka, then back to Yanmei.-
[16:30] <Minaplo> ["Oops." She said slowly.]
[16:35] <Yanmei> "Oops?" Yanmei echoed in confusion. "What's wrong?"
[16:35] <Minaplo> ["You're here for the Master." Said the girl. She shook her head. "Guess he was off by a bit."-
[16:35] <Minaplo> ["I'm afraid the Master is out."]
[16:38] <Yanmei> "Oh." This was weird. He was named the Astrologer. Did he… use astrology to guess that there would be people here to see him? "He went into the village, right? We could wait out here until he returns."
[16:42] <Minaplo> [She shook her head. "No, he went… Somewhere else. I don't know when he'll be back. Could be tomorrow. Could be a month."]
[16:45] <Yanmei> "W-what?" A flicker of genuine panic crossed her face. "How could he even leave this mountain? There's that road… and that massive tiger, and those fish and…" She took a deep breath. -
[16:46] <Yanmei> "I don't suppose he was carrying a cell phone with him?"
[16:47] <Minaplo> ["Hahaha."-
[16:47] <Minaplo> ["Why don't you come back tomorrow? You can probably find lodging in the village."]
[16:50] <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei tried rather hard to not pick up on the reactions of her teammates. Especially the ones who were prone to angry outbursts. "We'll try that, Miss…?"
[16:53] <Minaplo> ["Ma Yue." She said with a girlish bow.]
[16:55] <Yanmei> "Ma Yue." Yanmei politely reciprocated with a nod and a smile. "I'm Zhang Yanmei."
[16:56] <Minaplo> ["The Master has told me all about you." She said with a smile.]
[17:01] <Yanmei> "Is… that so? Did he mention what I came here to talk about?"
[17:01] <Minaplo> [Ma Yue smiled. "Tomorrow, Madam Zhang."]
[17:04] <Yanmei> "All right," she sighed, and backed off. "Tomorrow, okay?"
[17:06] <Minaplo> [She nodded, then gently closed the door.-
[17:07] <Minaplo> [The second the door closed, Asuka piped up. "We came all this way and he's out?"]
[17:08] <Yanmei> "Allegedly?" She glanced to Go. "Is the girl really alone in there?"
[17:08] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Go.]
[17:11] * Yanmei grit her teeth. "Damn! We really are stuck?"
[17:12] <Minaplo> ["Do we even need this loser?" Said Hachi with a scoff.-
[17:12] <Minaplo> ["I need to meet him just so I can give him a punch for that bullshit with the stupid demon carp." Muttered Asuka.-
[17:12] <Minaplo> ["There's nothing we can do now except get some lodging in the village and come back." Said Isaiah.-
[17:13] <Minaplo> ["Oh great, spending a night on some hay in a tiny little time warp village who probably still worship Mao Zedong." Muttered Hachi.-
[17:14] <Minaplo> ["Someone will need to set up watch for the night in case they try anything weird." Said Asuka, to which Hachi nodded firmly.-
[17:14] <Minaplo> [Go just gave Yanmei a helpless shrug and a cringe.]
[17:17] * Yanmei sighed again, loudly. "Not wrong about the watch, at least. I'll take the first shift, so let's just go."
[17:19] <Minaplo> […-
[17:21] <Minaplo> [A sunny day, just like yesterday. At least Go had had the wherewithal to shoot a telepathic message off to an agent in Chengdu, so the Federation didn't go into panic stations.-
[17:21] <Minaplo> [Up the hill again. Back to the house. This time Ma Yue was outside, fixing up the wooden fence with a hammer and some nails.]
[17:30] * Yanmei waved at her as the group strolled along as casually as they could possibly be in their armor and weapons. Yanmei wore a bright smile that hid the continued exhaustion she'd been feeling. "Good morning?"
[14:29] <Minaplo> ["Hello." Said Ma Yue. "Sleep well?"]
[14:31] <Yanmei> "Of course?" Yanmei tossed her hair. "The villagers are surprisingly laid back."
[14:32] <Minaplo> ["Mmm." Said Ma Yue with a small smile, before she returned to her hammering.]
[14:33] <Yanmei> "I don't suppose your master's returned?" she added, raising her voice to be heard above the din.
[14:34] <Minaplo> ["Ah…"-
[14:34] <Minaplo> ["Excuse me." Said a new voice from the doorway.-
[14:35] <Minaplo> [It was a man. A tall, well-built man of at least 6'1. He was very handsome, with bright eyes and golden-brown skin and a strong jawline and cheekbones. He had light brown hair, tied up into a bun, and he wore a long white robe tied with a blue sash.]
[14:42] <Yanmei> "Ah. Aha~ So you are here." Yanmei briskly walked toward him, one hand on her hip, the other gradually becoming extended for a handshake as the gap between them shortened. "I'm Yanmei. Although I suppose you already knew that?"
[14:52] <Minaplo> [He took Yanmei's hand and gripped it firmly. He smiled.-
[14:52] <Minaplo> ["I'm so sorry. I'm Dariush, his big brother. I'm afraid you must have passed him on your way up here."]
[15:00] * Yanmei stiffened ever so slightly, and so did her grip. She seemed to be scrutinizing him carefully. "For his sake, I hope not? There were all sorts of annoyances on the way up. Not that we couldn't handle them, of course, but single traveller might have some trouble."
[15:13] <Minaplo> ["So sorry." Said Dariush again with a small bow. "You must've passed a shrine on your way up the hill. He went to visit it. He should still be there."]
[15:30] <Yanmei> "Oh." She blinked at him a few times and turned her head to peer over her shoulder at the path they'd taken to reach the house. "…". -
[15:31] <Yanmei> She cleared her throat. "You meant… well, of course, I knew what you meant! How long has he been there?"
[15:38] <Minaplo> ["He would have left an hour ago."]
[15:40] <Yanmei> "Gotcha. We'll come by again after we've had a talk with him, okay~? Thanks for the help."
[15:40] <Minaplo> ["You're welcome."-
[15:41] <Minaplo> [Of course, they had barely left the house when Asuka began to grumble. "This guy is just annoying."]
[15:42] <Yanmei> "But he's actually here." Yanmei pointed out, and then preened. "Not that I had any doubt it would all work out. Don't punch him, unless he punches first, okay?"
[15:43] <Minaplo> ["That true, Isaiah?" Said Asuka immediately.-
[15:43] <Minaplo> ["Mmhm." He said automatically.-
[15:44] <Minaplo> ["Mph. Oi, Go, do your weirdo mind powers sense to lies as well?"-
[15:44] <Minaplo> [But Go wasn't listening; her face had gone beet red.-
[15:44] <Minaplo> ["Gawd…"-
[15:44] <Minaplo> […-
[15:44] <Minaplo> [They arrived at the shrine.-
[15:45] <Minaplo> [It was a lovely place. A large granite obelisk-like tombstone stood in the middle with it, inscribed with small, intricate characters that were too far away to read. A photograph or perhaps a painting had been embedded in glass at the bottom.-
[15:46] <Minaplo> [The ground was paved with smooth marble and ringed with a small stone wall. It was practically lavish next to the rustic simplicity of the village below.-
[15:46] <Minaplo> [… But it was also apparently deserted. The only thing of note here was a large bundle of dirty rags lying in front of the tombstone.]
[15:51] * Yanmei squinted around them suspiciously. "Keep an eye out for traps, ok?" she warned, before moving forward for a better inspection of the rags.
[15:52] <Minaplo> [As Yanmei approached, the whiff of a repellent, salty-bitter and pungent odor reached her face.-
[15:52] <Minaplo> [… It was then that she realised that the rags were moving.-
[15:53] <Minaplo> [It was, she realised, a person. A short, skinny, very dirty person with long, greasy black hair, matted with mud and dirt, with a dusky face made darker by yet more streaks of muck.-
[15:54] <Minaplo> [He rolled over to face Yanmei- but he was asleep.-
[15:54] <Minaplo> ["… Oh fuck off." Muttered Asuka.]
[15:57] * Yanmei … briefly covered her mouth and nose with her sleeve and took a step back. "Surely not," she muttered, looking around desperately. "Go. There has to be at least one other person here."
[15:57] <Minaplo> ["I-I'm sorry." Said Go with a squeak in her voice. "That's it."-
[15:58] <Minaplo> ["That damned bastard on the hill's just dragged up a village drunk and passed it off as who we're looking for, I bet." Said Hachi scornfully.-
[15:59] <Minaplo> ["Seriously." Muttered Asuka. "They're toying with us. We should fire a few bolt rounds, that should get 'em in order."]
[16:05] <Yanmei> "Ugh, no. Look, ok, we actually need the guy's help? Here's what we'll do. We grab the vagrant, march him up to the top of the hill, have him sit in that house with the girl and the real sage and see how long they can keep it up while we ask questions and stuff. Even if they don't break character, we'll still be getting our point across to the guy we need." A short pause. "Anyone who can't
[16:05] <Yanmei> take the smell, of course, can hang out outside of the house while this goes down."
[16:08] <Minaplo> ["Sounds good." Said Asuka.-
[16:08] <Minaplo> ["…" But Isaiah frowned. "Yanmei, look at those robes. Notice anything about them?"]
[16:14] <Yanmei> "Yes, they're in appalling condition! But…" she frowned. "I guess wearing those means he's in mourning?"
[16:17] <Minaplo> ["And this is obviously a memorial to someone passed." Said Isaiah. "I'm sorry, but that paints a certain picture."-
[16:17] <Minaplo> ["Someone in grief." Muttered Go.-
[16:18] <Minaplo> ["Exactly. I don't feel comfortable waking a grieving man and trooping him up to face questions." Said Isaiah quietly.]
[16:21] * Yanmei grumbled. "Then what? You want us to talk to him here?"
[16:22] <Minaplo> ["Why don't we just wait for him to wake up, then we can talk?" Said Isaiah gently.]
[16:27] <Yanmei> "That's quite generous after everything we went through to get here," Yanmei grumbled. Nevertheless, she backed off a bit, physically, with a few backward steps. "We'll give him a half an hour."
[16:28] <Minaplo> ["After days of travelling, what's an hour here or there?" Said Isaiah. Nonetheless, he sat down and waited.-
[16:28] <Minaplo> […-
[16:29] <Minaplo> [29 minutes after Yanmei had proposed her time limit, the dirty, ragged man finally stirred.-
[16:29] <Minaplo> [He rolled back over to face the shrine, then slowly rose to his knees. He bowed once to the shrine, then stood up.-
[16:30] <Minaplo> [He let out a long, deep yawn and stretched a pair of thin, scratchy arms above his head.-
[16:30] <Minaplo> ["After such a long and arduous journey, you still let me finish my nap."-
[16:30] <Minaplo> [He turned around. He was… Short. So short! He looked like he might've been 14 or 15, and even petite Go was taller than him.-
[16:31] <Minaplo> ["I'm humbled, Lady Zhang." Said the boy with a smile.]
[16:33] <Yanmei> "Nothing to it," she said breezily. At some point she'd ended up sitting next to Isaiah, leaning wearily against him, but now she was on full alert again, hastening to her feet. "You're… the Astrologer?"
[16:35] <Minaplo> ["That's what they call me down in the village, at any rate." He said. "But before that, I was known as the Simurgh, and before that I was just plain old Kourosh Rustami, or Kou for short."]
[16:37] <Yanmei> "Well, it's a pleasure to meet you at last." Assuming he was who he said he was. "I have to wonder how you know so much about our journey, though."
[16:40] <Minaplo> ["Well, I planned it." Said Kourosh. "Ever since I sent you that piece of jade, I've been planning the steps of that journey."-
[16:41] <Minaplo> ["Admittedly, it seems you arrived a few days earlier than I'd expected, but no harm done, here you are, and our lives have crossed once again. I am, as I have been so many times before, at your service."-
[16:41] <Minaplo> [He fell into a deep bow.]
[16:43] <Yanmei> But deep confusion flashed across Yanmei's face. "This is the first time we've met, isn't it? Um. Also, there's no need for formalities like that. Please just relax."
[17:04] <Minaplo> ["As you will, my lady." Said Kourosh, rising. "And yes, it is, face to face, the first time we've met… In this life. My abilities make me sensitive to the paths we've taken in previous lives, and ours have crossed many times."]
[17:12] <Yanmei> "Your abilities? Could you please elaborate?"
[17:14] <Minaplo> ["After you've come so far, my lady, it would be wrong of me to elaborate on myself before offering you hospitality." He said. "Please, follow me."-
[17:14] <Minaplo> [And with that he walked past and up toward the hill; Asuka, Hachi and Go all recoiled away from him at his smell.-
[17:15] <Minaplo> ["Oh, one note." He said, stopping. "Asuka, the doorjamb's a little higher than you think it is."-
[17:15] <Minaplo> ["What?"-
[17:15] <Minaplo> [But Kourosh was already off again, walking quite quickly up the hill.]
[17:16] * Yanmei followed… at a distance. Pausing to poke Asuka as she walked. "Why are you thinking about doorjambs, anyway?"
[17:17] <Minaplo> ["I wasn't." Said Asuka with a glower. "He's just trying to show off that he knows my name, like a creepy stalker would?"-
[17:18] <Minaplo> [By the time Yanmei's entourage reached the house, Kourosh was already inside. "Yue, Dary, I brought them back! Yue, can you prepare the spare bedroom? Dary, can you prepare lunch?"-
[17:19] <Minaplo> ["Please, come in." He said to Yanmei as they arrived.-
[17:20] <Minaplo> [The door led right into a kitchen and living room both. It was cozy and cool inside, in contrast to the warm, muggy air they'd waded through ever since arriving in Sichuan. A well-made round wooden table sat in the middle of the room, with eight chairs around it. The kitchen seemed well-stocked, although there were no electric appliances.-
[17:21] <Minaplo> ["Please, take a seat." Said Kourosh. "Sit wherever you like… Go, watch your back."-
[17:21] <Minaplo> ["Huh?" Said Go as she walked. She turned suddenly-
[17:23] <Minaplo> [Asuka had misjudged the doorjamb and caught her foot on it. She splayed forward gracelessly, her arms flailing; Go sidestepped at just the right moment to avoid going down with her.]
[17:28] <Yanmei> Yanmei's eyes widened slightly, and then darted around the room. Had that really happened? Were there cameras involved? Wires? Wordlessly, she moved to offer Asuka a hand up.
[17:28] <Minaplo> [Asuka was red-faced and angry; she took Yanmei's hand and rose up, grasping a little too tightly.-
[17:30] <Minaplo> [Kourosh was sitting, now. Asuka quickly took the seat farthest from him.]
[17:33] <Yanmei> And Yanmei took her own seat. One maybe a little closer than she would have liked. "That just raises further questions, you realize. There's no way astrology is that powerful?"
[17:35] <Minaplo> ["Of course not. Astrology only works if you're really vague and broad so that it can be interpreted in any way the listener likes." Said Kourosh. "Pretending to be an astrologer is just a good cover, plus the wise astrologer living in seclusion is a romantic image, don't you think, Go?"-
[17:35] <Minaplo> ["I, er…"]
[17:36] * Yanmei gave Go a quick disapproving look.
[17:38] <Minaplo> ["I wasn't-"-
[17:39] <Minaplo> ["Don't let him tease you, Miss." Said Dariush in his deep, pleasant voice, who was currently busy chopping up a broad spread of vegetables; next to him, a wok sat over a flame.-
[17:39] <Minaplo> [Go flushed a deep red and buried her face in her hands.-
[17:39] <Minaplo> ["Not astrology." Said Kourosh. "Not telepathy, either." He added.]
[17:43] <Yanmei> "What, then? It's not like you see visions, right?"
[17:51] <Minaplo> ["Premonitions? No." Said Kourosh. "I don't see the future. Rather I construct it in my head."-
[17:51] <Minaplo> [Isaiah frowned.-
[17:57] <Minaplo> ["Let me explain." Said Kourosh. "I have the ability to… uh, create mental copies of individuals and events in my head. I can then predict how a situation might play out. The more accurate the copy, then the more accurate my prediction… In the days before Impact, I used this ability to predict when and where people would be reincarnated." Said Kourosh. "I was a lot more powerful then, though, so I was able to predict huge sweeping things, like the exact circumstances in which a soul like yours would be born and where… Basically I was tasked with tracking the births of the four thousand ancestral souls. Including yours, my lady."]
[18:00] <Yanmei> "But you would've been just a kid then? It's pretty hard to imagine someone so young handling such a thing so easily."
[18:02] <Minaplo> [He shrugged. "I only gained a single power, which was to completely alter my brain's makeup in order to do these things. It wasn't that hard."]
[18:04] <Yanmei> "Your brain…? So that's why you're still able to do it now."
[18:10] <Minaplo> ["Yes, but with time the changes have slowly been reverting, which is why my abilities are much more limited." He said. "But don't worry! I've spent that time studying lots of things in order to make sure I'm useful to you."]
(22:12) <Yanmei> "Hey. Um. Not that I'm not grateful? But why is being useful to us so important? You said that you served me in the past, but what exactly was our relationship? And is this attitude now because of that past or because of something we're likely to do based on your predictions?"
(22:15) <Minaplo> [He laughed. "Just like my lady. She's wonderful, isn't she, Isaiah?"-
(22:15) <Minaplo> [Isaiah coughed. "Er… Yes?"-
(22:20) <Minaplo> [Kourosh turned back towards Yanmei, a knowing smile on his face. "A lot of questions. Let me start with the first."-
(22:21) <Minaplo> [He reached up to scratch at his top lip; only now would Yanmei realise that he actually had a thin, pointy moustache across his upper lip. It blended in too well with his dirty face.-
(22:25) <Minaplo> ["My lady, you have a plan for this world." Said Kourosh. "Like you have had for so many, many years. In all the years we have been together on this earth, though, only a handful of times have you died content."-
(22:28) <Minaplo> ["Far, far more often, your dream is dashed, and you die defeated, or unfulfilled." He said with a shrug. "Yet I believe in that dream… I suppose I always have. By now, it's as personal for me as it is for you. I… Uh, I'm pretty deep into a type of thinking that sees me flit between previous lives. There's a lot of my own regrets in there as well. I… Have a habit of dying first."-
(22:29) <Minaplo> [There was a clatter from the spare bedroom.-
(22:29) <Minaplo> ["That girl's hearing is too sharp to be good for her." Muttered Dariush over in the kitchen.-
(22:30) <Minaplo> [Kourosh pushed on. "So that also partially answers the last question too, right? And the middle one."-
(22:30) <Minaplo> ["I'll fully answer the last one now…" Kourosh shrugged. "Do you understand why I put you through such a rigmarole to find me?"]
(22:34) <Yanmei> "I assumed it was because you didn't want to be found by just anyone. Seems like you've got an okay life in this village, and I can understand not wanting to be pulled into a war."
(22:37) <Minaplo> ["Mm, fair." He said. "I only wanted you to find me, which is why the challenges you faced were ones I designed so that only you would solve them."-
(22:37) <Minaplo> ["Took him four years to source that obelisk." Said Dariush. "I don't suppose you were able to salvage it?"-
(22:38) <Minaplo> ["Sorry, it broke." Said Asuka flatly.-
(22:38) <Minaplo> [Kourosh winced. "Damnit."]
(22:43) * Yanmei frowned a bit. "It wasn't exactly a gentle way to convey information. That said, I'm sure our scientists would love to figure out how you even managed that."
(22:45) <Minaplo> ["I had to play Rosaria Alves at poker to get that damn obelisk." Muttered Kourosh.-
(22:45) <Minaplo> ["Did you win?" Asked Hachi.-
(22:45) <Minaplo> ["I won the game, sure." Said Kourosh. "Didn't care for the post-game celebrations, they involved a lot of hammers-"-
(22:46) <Minaplo> ["Shootouts," Added Dariush.-
(22:46) <Minaplo> ["Car chases,"-
(22:46) <Minaplo> ["Car wrecks-"-
(22:46) <Minaplo> ["And a lot of sweary Portuguese." Finished Kourosh.]
(22:51) <Yanmei> "I…see. For a sage, you certainly lead a wild life. Sorry about the obelisk."
(22:52) <Minaplo> ["Mrph."-
(22:52) <Minaplo> ["Kou, be cool." Said Dariush.-
(22:52) <Minaplo> [Kourosh shot his big brother a look to match his face, before he continued.-
(22:53) <Minaplo> ["Anyway. Ahem. It was a matter of making sure the right people found me and the wrong ones didn't. Specifically, Mary and Ephraim."]
(22:59) <Yanmei> "You have a relationship with them too?"
(23:00) <Minaplo> ["Well yeah, of course I do…" Said Kourosh, scratching the back of his head. "Ephraim and I are Shangri-la. Mary was too… For a little while. Before Elisha made it all bad."]
(23:03) <Yanmei> "W-wait. What?" Yanmei sat up a little straighter. "I never heard about the Caines going to Shangri-la. What the heck happened? How'd it go bad?"
(23:03) <Minaplo> ["… The fuck is a changriller?" Said Hachi. "I am so fucking lost."-
(23:04) <Minaplo> ["Nothing, don't worry about it." Said Kourosh hastily, flapping his hands at Hachi. "Elisha went wrong. I'll tell you later."]
(23:10) <Yanmei> "Mm." Yanmei didn't look satisfied, but she left it alone, leaning back in her chair a little. "In any case, we made it. And unless we've been followed, your plan to get only me and my group here was a complete success? Can you guess why we wanted to talk to you?"
(23:14) <Minaplo> ["Yep."]
(23:20) <Yanmei> "Let's get down to it, then? What advice do you have on how to deal with Mary Caine?"
(23:22) <Minaplo> ["It's been a lot of years since I've known Mary." Said Kourosh. "My simulacrum of her is… Practically a different person. I'm afraid I can't help you."-
(23:24) <Minaplo> ["Not unless you help me first." Said Kourosh, leaning forward (Hachi leaned back almost instantly). "To a certain extent, so long as I know some important things about a person, I can extrapolate and fill in the blanks. But I already know a lot about Mary, and it isn't helping. I need to be able to create a new simulacrum of her. And to do that, I need to know certain things about the new Mary."]
(23:31) <Yanmei> "What do you need to know, exactly?"
(23:33) <Minaplo> ["The first thing I need to do is figure out how much of the old Mary's still in the new." Said Kourosh. "I'm good at reading people; if you bring a certain thing up to her, even if her reaction is only a split second long, I can tell if she's affected. How much she's affected will tell me how much of the old's still around."-
(23:34) <Minaplo> ["If only we'd found you before the Japanese enthronement." Muttered Isaiah. "I dunno when we'll get another chance to talk to Mary face-to-face. She prefers to-"-
(23:35) <Minaplo> ["Right right." Said Kourosh hastily, speaking over Isaiah. "She won't go to summits when she can send Ezra in her place… We could remove him, of course, but… Hrm…"-
(23:36) <Minaplo> ["…"-
(23:36) <Minaplo> [Kourosh was staring off into space with a blank look on his face.]
(23:44) <Yanmei> "We could try to compile information from people who have interacted with her," Yanmei suggested. "It won't be perfect, but it would be a start."
(23:45) <Minaplo> ["…" He was still staring off into nothing.]
(23:47) <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei blinked at him, followed his gaze, and then glanced back at him. "What are you…?"
(23:48) <Minaplo> [Dariush quickly walked over and whacked Kourosh across the back of the head.-
(23:48) <Minaplo> ["Ow!"-
(23:48) <Minaplo> [Kourosh rubbed his eyes; Dariush was already heading back to the kitchen.-
(23:49) <Minaplo> ["He does that sometimes. Loses himself in possibilities." Said Dariush. "Just smack him on the head a bit and it clears up."-
(23:49) <Minaplo> ["… Like a tv set?" Said Hachi.-
(23:49) <Minaplo> [Go's eyes narrowed.-
(23:49) <Minaplo> ["Yes, like a tv set." Said Dariush with a laugh.-
(23:50) <Minaplo> ["Sorry." Said Kourosh with a sigh.-
(23:51) <Minaplo> ["Anyway, leave that aside for now." He said, physically moving his hands as though he were pushing a box to the side. "The next thing I need is someone who knows the new Mary well. Someone who's been with her for awhile…"]
(23:53) <Yanmei> "We have a few people who have worked under her who are now working for us. Alternately, we could try to capture someone a little further up on the chain of command, like von Brandt himself."
(23:55) <Minaplo> ["Yeah, nabbing ol' Ephy would be the best thing." Said Kourosh idly. "Then after that, I need to find where she's lived for most of the time since Impact. A person's living space can tell you a lot. We get in there, give the place a good casing, that'll tell me a lot."-
(23:55) <Minaplo> ["It also lets me know how Mary's changed since the old days." Said Kourosh. "She was every so slightly untidy, back then…"]
(23:57) <Yanmei> "Getting to a place like that would be difficult?" Yanmei said slowly. "She had a mansion, but it's in enemy territory right now. It would require some kind of spy mission."
(23:59) <Minaplo> ["Sounds great. I'll grab Raphael for it."]
Session Time: Sun Feb 14 00:00:00 2016
(00:04) <Yanmei> "I don't know how you know about him too, I'm sure he'll be thrilled," Yanmei muttered. "There was a butler there too, the last time I visited. If he's still alive, maybe we can use him."
(00:14) <Minaplo> ["Maybe." Said Kourosh, although he didn't sound convinced. "Anyway, that's the major points. Oh, I'll need one other thing from you, my lady."]
(00:14) <Yanmei> "Yeah?"
(00:15) <Minaplo> ["I'll need authority." Said Kourosh. "We don't have time for me to do this the way I usually do- with years of awesome service- so if you could just bump me up to something big and powerful, that'd be great."]
(00:26) <Yanmei> "Er." Not what she was expecting. She took a second to roll that around in her head with all of her many suspicions. "I don't know what it is yet, but we'll give you a position within reason. Actions will still have to be approved by me personally or one of my generals before you can play them out, but you should still be able to get resources and so forth for your plans. Also, you'll have
(00:26) <Yanmei> to pass a security screening."
(00:26) <Minaplo> ["You know what's a cool title?" Said Kourosh quickly. "Prime Minister. Make me Prime Minister again."-
(00:26) <Minaplo> [He leaned back in his seat. "Prrrrime Ministerrrrr~"-
(00:27) <Minaplo> [… This was it for Go. She folded her arms on the table and buried her head in them; her shoulders were shaking, either from tears or from laughter.]
(00:34) * Yanmei tsked at Go. This was supposed to be serious! "So you're coming with us. Your family too…?"
(00:35) <Minaplo> ["Doing their own thing. I'll bring the bird, though."]
(00:38) <Yanmei> "Bird? Wait. There was one flying around here yesterday. He's your pet?"
(00:43) <Minaplo> ["No. He's family." Said Kourosh. "No one owns him."]
(00:45) <Yanmei> "Hmph. Like Marianne's bird," Yanmei grumbled. "Well, that's fine."
(00:47) <Minaplo> ["Well, you need Feng to guide you through the secret passage to and from Sweet Valley…"]
(00:49) <Yanmei> "I knew it! I knew that couldn't be the only path!" She scowled and folded her arms. "You had us take the hard way up!"
(00:50) <Minaplo> ["Well, yeah…"]
(00:52) <Yanmei> "Asuka almost fell off the mountain, you know."
(00:53) <Minaplo> [Asuka scowled. "Yeah! You rat-bastard!"-
(00:53) <Minaplo> ["Feng would've caught her." Said Kourosh idly. "Be cool."]
(00:54) <Yanmei> "…just how big is Feng?"
(00:54) <Minaplo> ["Later." Said Kou. "Food time. YUE! FOOD TIME!"-
(00:55) <Minaplo> ["Coming."-
(00:56) <Minaplo> [Yue took a seat, whilst Dariush placed food down in front of everyone: a bowl of steamed rice and colourful, vigorous vegetables with a drizzle of a spicy sauce over the top.-
(00:57) <Minaplo> [Hachi took a taste- she paused, grinned, then began to dig in. Go's first taste, however, ended in her wincing and waving at her mouth.-
(00:57) <Minaplo> [Kourosh… Ate. He ate fast and messily, rice and bits of vegetables flying everywhere.]
(00:59) <Yanmei> Yanmei ate too, albeit more slowly and with more care. Was it tasty? It looked tasty.
(01:02) <Minaplo> [It was tasty. The rice was fluffy, the vegetables full and ripe, and the sauce was… Well, it reminded her of home.]
(01:08) <Yanmei> Perfect~ She made a mental note to work on Kourosh's presence and manners while he was a guest of the UEF, and then contented herself with finishing the meal. "Thanks for that," she said once her bowl was empty.
(01:11) <Minaplo> ["You're welcome." Said Dariush with a smile. He collected the bowls up and went to wash them.-
(01:11) <Minaplo> ["Now." Said Kourosh. "Did you have a date in mind of when you wanted to leave?"]
(01:16) <Yanmei> "It has to be in the next day or two. The rest of the UEF is completely lost without me, you know~"
(01:17) <Minaplo> ["Yeah yeah." Said Kourosh lazily.-
(01:17) <Minaplo> ["Alright. We'll go tomorrow. Tonight, I'll observe the stars and you can all meet Feng. And I'll tell you what happened, nineteen years ago."]
(01:19) <Yanmei> "Yeah. That sounds ok to me?"
(01:21) <Minaplo> ["Cool." Said Kourosh. "Your bedrooms are over there, and there's a bathroom off to the side. Don't worry, Dariush won't peek, he's a gentleman." He said to Go, who quickly reddened.-
(01:21) <Minaplo> ["So… You actually have a bathroom?" Said Asuka, her eye wide.-
(01:21) <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Kourosh. "Don't most people?"]
(01:31) * Yanmei cleared her throat. "Yeah. I think she was wondering because it still kind of looks like you just got back from a long journey yourself."
(01:34) <Minaplo> ["Oh. Yeah. I don't do baths."]
(01:34) <Yanmei> "Why not? Baths are nice!"
(01:36) <Minaplo> ["Have you ever tried to predict water?" Said Kourosh darkly. "To chart the possibilities of water? It's not easy. A lot of them end up grisly. Drowning. Falling asleep and drowning. Slipping on soap, cracking your head and drowning…"-
(01:37) <Minaplo> ["He only bathes once a year. That's the best we can do." Said Dariush.-
(01:37) <Minaplo> ["And then he refuses to bathe alone." Added Ma Yue, who had eaten much more slowly than the others, so still had her bowl.]
(01:41) <Yanmei> "We have some communal showers," Yanmei offered helpfully.
(01:41) <Minaplo> ["Nah."]
(01:48) <Yanmei> "Plus it's easier to predict streaming water than it is standing water. Right, Isaiah?"
(01:49) <Minaplo> ["Right…?"-
(01:49) <Minaplo> ["Nah." Said Kourosh. "Anyway, I'll go finish my nap now."-
(01:49) <Minaplo> [And then quite abruptly, he got up and left.]
[10:50] <Yanmei> "…"
(01:56) <Minaplo> ["I'm… Sorry about the way he acts sometimes." Said Dariush. "That's just how he is…"]
(01:57) <Yanmei> "Did we offend him? With the shower thing, I mean."
(01:57) <Minaplo> ["No." Said Dariush. "At least, I don't think…"-
(01:58) <Minaplo> [Dariush placed the last bowl upside down on the sink and took a seat. Unlike his brother, he had a rather pleasant fragrance. "Kou doesn't trust water. He-" Dariush sighed.-
(02:00) <Minaplo> ["I was away at the time, but… Our mother drowned after she tried to bathe herself and him together in a lake. Kou's never been one for water, but ever since then he's completely distrusted it."]
(02:06) <Yanmei> "Oh," said Yanmei quietly. "I'm very sorry for your loss."
(02:07) <Minaplo> ["Don't worry about it." Said Dariush gently. "Everyone at this table's lost a parent, I'm sure. And…"-
(02:07) <Minaplo> [Dariush smiled, a little wanly. "It is hard to be his brother sometimes. The loss was painful for Kou, but… He sees the world differently to you and I."-
(02:08) <Minaplo> ["'I won't see mother again for 20 years', he would say." Said Dariush. "Twenty years… When she reincarnated, I suppose."-
(02:08) <Minaplo> ["According to Kou's schedule, we'll see her again next year. But you and I both know that there's no hope of her reincarnating at the moment."]
(02:12) <Yanmei> "That just means we have to stop Caine before the end of the year, right? Then it should work out."
(02:12) <Minaplo> ["That's right."-
(02:12) <Minaplo> ["But, I'm afraid I have a bit of work of my own to do." Said Dariush. "Please, make yourselves at home."]
(02:21) <Yanmei> "All right. Thank you. We'll just talk among ourselves in the meantime?"
(02:23) <Minaplo> [Dariush nodded.-
(02:23) <Minaplo> […-
(02:24) <Minaplo> [Back behind the Rustami household was a small shrine. It was really little more than a bronze brazier upon a granite pillar.-
(02:25) <Minaplo> [A fire burned within the brazier, a cheery and bright flame born of a fragrant wood that made the air smell clean and sweet; Kuroush's foul odor was easily hidden by it.-
(02:26) <Minaplo> [Kourosh stood now before the brazier, eyes closed, hands clasped together.-
(02:26) <Minaplo> [He didn't look up as Yanmei and the others filed out into the backyard.-
(02:26) <Minaplo> ["You've seen one of these before."]
(02:30) <Yanmei> "A shrine? A fire? Yes to both."
(02:30) <Minaplo> ["A fire shrine, I mean." Said Kourosh. "You saw it in Yazd, in the temple."]
(02:32) <Yanmei> "Oh. Yes. But that was much bigger and much darker at the time we visited it."
(02:34) <Minaplo> ["It didn't used to be so dark. Once, the flame within that temple burned, as it had burned uninterrupted for over a thousand years."-
(02:34) <Minaplo> [Kourosh turned. "My mother was Chinese, but my father was Iranian, a man of the old faith- a Zoroastrian."-
(02:36) <Minaplo> ["After the Muslims came, Zoroastrianism faded- but it still lived, in western India, in parts of Iran, elsewhere."-
(02:37) <Minaplo> [Kourosh turned back to the fire; he stoked it slightly. "But then Elisha came, and Impact came, and the rockets wiped out Iran, and most of India, and my father's people are dead."-
(02:38) <Minaplo> ["Under my namesake, Kourosh the Great- under you, my lady- Zoroastrianism became the mightiest faith in the world, dominating the heart of civilization."-
(02:38) <Minaplo> ["And now my brother and I are the last of the Zoroastrians."]
(02:45) <Yanmei> "I don't know… er, that is, I don't remember very much about that faith," Yanmei admitted awkwardly.
(02:49) * Reiska (ten.tsacmoc.ac.1dsh.65-91-281-76-c|aksieR#ten.tsacmoc.ac.1dsh.65-91-281-76-c|aksieR) has joined #nervfrance
(02:50) <Minaplo> [Isaiah glanced at her.-
(02:50) <Minaplo> [Hachi, meanwhile, just frowned in bewilderment.-
(02:51) <Minaplo> ["I suppose you don't." Said Kourosh.-
(02:52) <Minaplo> ["So." He turned back toward Yanmei and sat down on the ground. "What do you want to know?"]
(03:01) <Yanmei> "Would it be possible to build it back up again after the war?"
(03:04) <Minaplo> ["Maybe. Unlikely." Said Kourosh. "It depends on how you end the war… And whether people care for it."]
(03:09) * Yanmei nodded thoughtfully. -
(03:15) <Yanmei> "Why this village? How did you find out about it and how did you end up living here?"
(03:26) <Minaplo> ["This village because it's secluded. Feng led me here- I would never have even thought this place existed, but Feng can fly pretty far."]
(03:32) <Yanmei> "Have you and Feng been here the entire 19 years?"
(03:34) <Minaplo> ["No. I spent a few years with Dorian."]
(03:37) <Yanmei> "Oh, that's right. He's the one who recommended you. You planned that too?"
(03:42) <Minaplo> ["More or less. Although it wasn't my decision to go with him in the first place."]
(03:47) <Yanmei> "Yeah, I guess not. How did it happen? Caine?"
(03:48) <Minaplo> ["Yeah."]
(03:50) <Yanmei> "Do you resent her for that?"
(03:56) <Minaplo> [Kourosh shrugged. "No."]
(03:58) <Yanmei> "What about Elisha?"
(04:01) <Minaplo> ["I never liked him in the first place." Said Kourosh. "And then he… Well."]
(04:05) <Yanmei> "Well…?" she pressed, cocking her head a bit in spite of herself.
[14:08] <Minaplo> ["He decided he'd find Lilith."]
[14:11] <Yanmei> "W- oh. And that played out badly?"
[14:13] <Minaplo> ["Elisha… Had the power to make things happen." Said Kourosh. "A terrible power. If something could happen, even if the chance was remote, he could force it to happen."-
[14:13] <Minaplo> ["Wait." Said Hachi. "So-"-
[14:14] <Minaplo> ["Yes. If he rolled ten dice at once, he could make them all ones." Said Kourosh.-
[14:14] <Minaplo> ["… Huh."-
[14:16] <Minaplo> ["Elisha discovered that Lilith was buried deep, deep beneath the earth. Beneath France." Said Kourosh. "But it was so deep that it was impossible to force it to emerge."-
[14:16] <Minaplo> ["So he had to create that possibility." Said Kourosh. "He had to create a situation where a violent earthquake driving Lilith's egg up out of the earth's mantle was a possibility…"]
[14:17] <Yanmei> "No… That would have killed thousands. Maybe millions!"
[14:18] <Minaplo> ["Try 'three billion'."]
[14:18] * Yanmei visibly cringed.
[14:18] <Minaplo> ["Impact." Murmured Isaiah. "Elisha-"-
[14:20] <Minaplo> ["Yes, he triggered Impact." Said Kourosh. "He visited the Katsuragi Expedition in Antarctica and he sabotaged it. Then he left for Paris, where he…"-
[14:20] <Minaplo> [Kourosh bowed his head; he lifted a hand to rub at his face. "Did it."]
[14:25] <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei stared blankly at nothing for a few moments, her eyes glazed over. Her hands were clenched in her lap.
[14:29] <Minaplo> ["I still don't know why he went so far." Said Kourosh quietly. "Maybe Lilith was in his head, pushing him toward that action. Not even the Libido Effect can shield one from Destiny."-
[14:31] <Minaplo> ["But shortly after he triggered it, his madness passed. He was- horrified with what he had done." Kourosh shook his head.-
[14:34] <Minaplo> ["The powers we possessed did not come from Lilith, as Elisha and Mary had been led to believe." Said Kourosh. "They were stolen from Adam by Lilith during their war, who then invested those energies into the four thousand souls she harboured."-
[14:36] <Minaplo> ["Using his ability- the power of Low Destiny- Elisha caused those energies to finally return to their rightful owner, who had just awoken. The surge caused Adam to go into overdrive and produce the Angels… Then the Katsuragi team were able to destroy Adam with the Lance of Longinus."-
[14:36] <Minaplo> ["In doing so, he stripped the people of Shangri-La of their abilities, leaving it open to devastation- although by then he'd already torn the town apart in his own way." Kourosh shook his head. "The Russians just finished the job."]
[14:43] <Yanmei> "Goddamn him," Yanmei hissed, her voice tremoring with rage. "He cost you everything. Not just you. Everyone."
[14:45] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Kourosh. "Including…"-
[14:45] <Minaplo> [Kourosh went quiet for a few long seconds.-
[14:46] <Minaplo> ["Including the girl I was betrothed to." He said. "Someone who was very dear to me…"-
[14:46] <Minaplo> ["… And to Mary."-
[14:48] <Minaplo> ["And now we are left to clean up the mess." Said Kourosh. "And in her own way, Mary is charged to bear the burdens of those who died. To take responsibility, even if it is through the Eternity Drive. It is up to Mary to bear the lonely legacy of the dead."-
[14:48] <Minaplo> ["I had no idea." Said Isaiah; his mouth had hung open in shock for most of the story. "I…"-
[14:49] <Minaplo> ["Did you really think it was coincidence that Elisha deliberately took on the role of Hindu preserver, creator and destroyer?" Said Kourosh, a little sharply. "What did you think the 'destroyer' part was in reference to? It wasn't to something in the future. The destroyer burns away the old world. That's what he did."-
[14:50] <Minaplo> ["The whole world now sits like putty, waiting to be shaped, and for the last 18 years, it's been stretched in every which way by those who want to use that potential. By Lilith, of course, and Adam, but also Azariah, Seele, Mary, and Elisha."-
[14:54] <Minaplo> ["Lilith wants to exterminate us. Adam wants to annihilate us. Seele wanted to obliviate us. Azariah wanted to make man rule God. Mary wants man to become Gods."-
[14:55] <Minaplo> ["And that leaves Elisha." Said Kourosh. "If you haven't realised it before, you do now: Elisha's path is the hardest path."-
[14:55] <Minaplo> ["Elisha intends for man to be redeemed. But first, we must redeem him."]
[15:02] <Yanmei> "By what? Going along with his plan?" said Yanmei bitterly. "Luckily, for him, we've been dumb enough to get all wrapped up in it all along."
[15:22] <Minaplo> [Kourosh smiled a little. "Quite right."-
[15:24] <Minaplo> ["The reality is, though, that the power to carry out his plan still lies with you, not with him. The plan revolves around him, but he has carefully ensured that other people must permit it to happen, not himself."-
[15:25] <Minaplo> ["And so Elisha is, so to speak, putting himself in the dock. Throwing himself at the mercy of others. Letting them decide his fate."-
[15:26] <Minaplo> ["He's saying to you, my lady: here I am, in all my ugliness, with all my sin. With me who has made so many mistakes. Can you trust me with the power of God, even for a second?"-
[15:28] <Minaplo> ["And you can say no. You can look at him and say, 'you had your chance, and you screwed it up, why give you another'?" Said Kourosh. "In fact, there will be some who judge you less for saying anything but no."-
[15:32] <Minaplo> ["But, you could also say yes. You could give him your trust. You could redeem him in your eyes." Said Kourosh. "And if you do, he promises a future… A humanity redeemed."-
[15:33] <Minaplo> ["Forgive him, and he will in turn allow humanity to be forgiven for its many mistakes. Cruelty, poverty, disease, war, hatred- he promises to free humanity from that. A kinder, nobler humanity, a humanity that can sleep soundly at night."-
[15:34] <Minaplo> ["It's a lovely future." Said Kourosh. "It's what awaits us, should both you and Elisha choose the nobler path. But first, he must be forgiven."]
[15:45] <Yanmei> "Mrph." Yanmei looked away, still fuming. "That's going to be hard to do. It's probably hard for you too. You even like Mary Caine better on a personal level, but you're still sticking it out with us."
[15:46] <Minaplo> ["No, my lady. I'm sticking it out with you." Said Kourosh, and he finally smiled. "As is good and proper."]
[15:55] <Yanmei> "You're a strange man, my friend. But thanks?" She folded her arms. "You sound like you already know everything that's going on with us already, but if there are any questions about our organization that you might have…"
[15:56] <Minaplo> ["How likely is your command to accept me?"]
[16:02] <Yanmei> "Not too likely at first. You pretty much came out of nowhere, and they're a suspicious lot for a very good reason. You'd probably get your foot in the door more easily as some kind of advisor or contractor instead of as a general. Plus, if I explain how I found you, that would help. They… really respect Colonial Lachapelle."
[16:03] <Minaplo> ["Mmm."-
[16:03] <Minaplo> ["I have two ideas on how to fix that."]
[16:03] <Yanmei> "Yeah?"
[16:04] <Minaplo> ["The first is you make me Prime Minister."]
[16:05] <Yanmei> "Ok, see, our organization doesn't actually have a position like that. Also, wouldn't that make them more suspicious?"
[16:07] <Minaplo> ["Exactly. You show me special favours, give me a special position, and they'll be extremely-"-
[16:07] <Minaplo> ["Pissed off." Said Asuka.-
[16:07] <Minaplo> ["Yes-"-
[16:07] <Minaplo> ["Think Yanmei's gone loco." Tipped in Hachi.-
[16:07] <Minaplo> ["Right-"-
[16:08] <Minaplo> ["And you look like you're 14, so they'll all feel talked down to." Said Asuka.-
[16:08] <Minaplo> ["Y- well."-
[16:08] <Minaplo> [Kourosh rubbed his moustache wryly.-
[16:08] <Minaplo> ["The thing is, my lady, is that we want them to be a little angry at me, so we can prepare for my second idea."]
[16:09] <Yanmei> "And that would be…?"
[16:10] <Minaplo> ["A secret."]
[16:13] * Yanmei frowned, deeply. "How can I be sure the payoff will work if I don't know what it is?"
[16:15] <Minaplo> ["You're here, aren't you?"]
[16:18] <Yanmei> "Yes, but taking a chance and seeking your help is a little different than intentionally alienating my entire command."
[16:26] <Minaplo> ["This wasn't just about hiding, though, my lady. This was also like… A proof of my ability. You have to be impressed by now, right?"-
[16:27] <Minaplo> ["Just trust my ability, and this will all go fine, even if it's a secret.-
[16:27] <Minaplo> [Asuka rolled her eye; Isaiah was frowning too.]
[16:37] <Yanmei> "Let me think it over," she sighed. "If I do go through with it, I want some conditions to go along with it."
[16:37] <Minaplo> ["Conditions?"]
[16:44] <Yanmei> "Like, you can't commit any atrocities with the power you're given. Don't piss people off by recklessly risking their lives or money. Also, you need to clean yourself at least once a week via spongebath at the very least. The battleship we're staying on is pretty closed off, so you're going to freak everyone out if you don't do at least that?"
[16:46] <Minaplo> ["Once a day." Said Asuka sharply. "Once a week'll still make him smell."-
[16:46] <Minaplo> [Kourosh shot her a hurt look.-
[16:50] <Minaplo> ["I won't commit any atrocities, and I won't waste lives or money." Said Kourosh, turning back to Yanmei. "And I told you, I'm- willing- to bathe, you know… Recklessly often… So long as someone's with me."-
[16:50] <Minaplo> ["Go volunteers." Said Hachi.-
[16:50] <Minaplo> ["I- I do not." Said Go, going scarlet. "Shut up, Hachi, you volunteer."-
[16:50] <Minaplo> ["If I did that I'd end up drowning the little rat."-
[16:50] <Minaplo> [Kourosh eyed them both cautiously.]
[17:00] <Yanmei> "Tell you want. You're now both in charge of finding and hiring a personal bath attendant for him. Check medical. It has its fair share of shellshocked nurses who could probably use a break."
[17:14] <Minaplo> ["I can do more than that. Go's trashy books are full of steamy bath scenes; she's perfect." Said Hachi smugly.-
[17:14] <Minaplo> ["You-"-
[17:14] <Minaplo> ["Nah, it's not Armin, so it doesn't count." Said Asuka airily.-
[17:14] <Minaplo> ["Grrr!" Go's hands were balled into fists. "You… You both suck! I hate you both!"-
[17:14] <Minaplo> [Kourosh had turned back toward Yanmei. "Are those all your conditions?"]
[17:16] <Yanmei> "There's one more, although it goes without saying. Don't be a spy and don't leak our information to anyone."
[17:20] <Minaplo> [He gave her a flat look.]
[17:22] * Yanmei stared firmly back at him.
[17:22] <Minaplo> ["Who would I leak information to, exactly?"]
[17:23] <Yanmei> "Mary Caine, of course. It wouldn't be the first time it's happened to us."
[17:24] <Minaplo> ["Please. Give me some credit."]
[17:28] <Yanmei> "I'd love to, but we absolutely cannot afford another betrayal? Just tell me you understand."
[17:28] <Minaplo> ["Of course I understand. I'm not going to betray you after all we've been through."]
(17:32) * Yanmei nodded again. "All right. We're on the same page, then. Before we get picked up, we'll have to outline the duties of your new position."
(17:32) <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh."]
(17:40) <Yanmei> "Are you actually interested in approving military operations as a Prime Minister, or are you happy being a figurehead?"
(17:41) <Minaplo> ["I was actually planning on leading them, yes."]
(17:44) <Yanmei> "How much do you know about our current position in the war?"
(17:44) <Minaplo> ["I know Juno's driving a rod of Krupp steel up France's hindquarters as we speak."]
(17:45) * Yanmei grimanced. "That's a blunt way of putting it."
(17:46) <Minaplo> ["I also know China's close to starvation." Said Kourosh. "And so on and so forth."]
(17:47) <Yanmei> "You have any plans to address those things?"
(17:48) <Minaplo> ["That's a secret."]
(17:56) <Yanmei> "That's not exactly inspiring confidence, you know."
(17:59) <Minaplo> ["It could be worse."]
(18:00) <Yanmei> "Oh?"
(18:02) <Minaplo> ["At least I'm being up front about everything else." Said Kourosh. "It'd really suck if you ended up trusting my plans before you learned I'd done something terrible in the past."]
(18:04) <Yanmei> "Yeah." Her gaze sank slightly, the little flicker of rage from before sparking back to life in them. "That would totally suck?"
(18:05) <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Kourosh.-
(18:06) <Minaplo> ["Look, my lady, I don't want to be pushy." He got to his feet. "But I want you to come see this."]
(18:10) <Yanmei> "Hm?" She stood up as well, dusting off her pants idly.
(18:11) <Minaplo> [Kourosh led her over towards the edge of the hill. Although the path up to Kourosh's house was forested, up here they had a wide view of the valley. Beneath them, nestled between the mountains and the river, the village of Sweet Valley slept.-
(18:12) <Minaplo> ["I've lived here for over ten years." Said Kourosh. "Hidden from the outside world. Engaging in it only when I had to. This place is quiet, it is beautiful, and the people respect me."-
(18:13) <Minaplo> ["Yes. Even though I smell and look 'dirty' and all that, even to them, they respect me, because they trust me to tease out the riddle of the stars above."-
(18:14) <Minaplo> ["Even if there's no riddle hidden in them, I still give them their answers and the answers are right." Said Kourosh. "Now to help you, I need to leave my home and my family, to engage in something extremely dangerous- because whilst I'll be a leader like you, Mary knows who I am and no doubt will try her best to take me out of the picture."-
(18:15) <Minaplo> ["Yet despite all of that I'm willing to leave with you, literally tomorrow if you want, and follow you without a second thought, because I trust you. But that trust has to be returned, and it has to be returned right now. Right this second. If you can't bring yourself to trust me fully, then I'll let Feng lead you on your way, and I'll return to my stars and my little farm."]
(18:26) <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei struggled for another second or two, and then nodded, shutting her eyes briefly. "I understand? I'm going to trust you. You know me more than I know you, so it's difficult, but…"
(18:27) <Minaplo> [He smiled. "Then no more questions about my plans until we arrive in France."]
(18:30) <Yanmei> "Fine, fine. No more questions."
[14:56] <Minaplo> ["Very well, my lady."-
[14:57] <Minaplo> [Kourosh turned his back on the view. "There is one other thing, that I'll tell only you."]
[14:58] <Yanmei> "Oh yeah?" She peered at him cautiously.
[14:58] <Minaplo> ["Isaiah. E-Types. You know what an E-Type is? Or rather, what they're meant to be?"]
[15:04] <Yanmei> "Yeah. They're 'proto-seeds'. Like, they could potentially replace Lilith if something happened to her?"
[15:05] <Minaplo> ["That's right. And all of these proto-seeds have a special companion?"]
[15:07] <Yanmei> "Yeah, most of them right now, anyway. That seems to be how it goes."
[15:09] <Minaplo> ["Do you think those companions would stick around once the proto-seed became a full seed?"]
[15:13] <Yanmei> "Why wouldn't they?"
[15:19] <Minaplo> [Kourosh nodded.-
[15:19] <Minaplo> ["Then, where is Lilith's?"]
[15:34] <Yanmei> "…dead?" she hazarded. "I don't know."
[15:37] <Minaplo> ["Dead?" Kourosh shook his head. "No, not dead. Lilith's companion would enter the cycle of reincarnation along with everyone else… Perhaps, without knowing it, acting as an agent of her will. Such an individual could be empowered to act as a viceroy, ruling the species in Lilith's stead."]
[15:44] <Yanmei> "That's… unsettling. I don't suppose you have any hints about where he actually is?"
[15:45] <Minaplo> ["How many people have you run into who can safely control the souls of the dead?"]
[15:47] <Yanmei> "Oh god."
[15:57] <Minaplo> ["Mary's abilities made her sensitive to the emotions of others, but it took training for her to realise she was able to influence those emotions right back. Over time she gained the ability to compel emotion and obedience. Unlike my abilities, these came from Lilith, not Adam, so she still probably possesses them in some form or fashion."-
[15:59] <Minaplo> ["The question, though, is that Mary's goals seem different to Lilith's. Has she truly broken free, or is she being tricked into following Lilith's plan without her intent?"-
[15:59] <Minaplo> ["Lilith is a dangerous opponent…"-
[16:10] <Minaplo> [Kourosh's gaze focused on the Ayanamis. Go had telekinetically snatched a bundle of detritus- rocks, pebbles, little bits of wood- and was pelting Hachi with them.-
[16:12] <Minaplo> ["We always knew there were twelve who had been kept back from the cycle, sealed along with Lilith by the Lance of Longinus. But why these twelve and not Mary, the companion? It's very suspicious… The best thing to do would be to keep them away from Mary if at all possible."-
[16:12] <Minaplo> [Kourosh sighed. "It doesn't look like Feng's interested in saying hello, tonight. You should all go to bed."]
[16:18] <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei too was now staring at Go and Hachi, her forehead crinkling. He was insinuating a lot of things that she didn't have an answer to herself, but that was nothing new. -
[16:21] <Yanmei> Eventually, her forehead smoothed out, and she shot him a half-grin. "I get it, I get it. You're probably used to peace, quiet, and the absence of aggressive sisters - and Asuka - griping at each other? I'll put the kiddies to bed before they make even more of a fuss."
[16:22] <Minaplo> ["Hahaha. They're definitely a rowdy bunch…"]
[16:27] <Yanmei> "Please. This is them when they're being mildly well-behaved. Nothing's on fire, and no one's trapped in a dreaded headlock yet."
[16:28] <Minaplo> [He laughed.]
[16:33] <Yanmei> "On that note, have a good rest of the evening? We'll see you in the morning." With one last head-bob, she marched toward her squad, clapping her hands together sharply to get their attention. "Alright you two, break it up. Time to get back to the house!"
[16:34] <Minaplo> ["You're not my mother-"-
[16:34] <Minaplo> […-
[16:35] <Minaplo> [The beds were at least more comfortable here than what they'd had in the village.-
[16:37] <Minaplo> [Breakfast had been served by Dariush, and Ma Yue had given them special packs filled with various treats and useful goods. Hachi, not satisfied with her breakfast, had already unwrapped one of the treats- a sweet dough-pastry filled with rich, spiced meat- and was chewing into it.-
[16:37] <Minaplo> [They now gathered outside the house, waiting for Kourosh. Only…-
[16:37] <Minaplo> [They hadn't seen him at all today yet…]
[16:40] <Yanmei> "He might've fallen asleep at the shrine again," Yanmei muttered, raking her hands through her hair. Her gear was all ready to go, and of course, she was dressed in her fine UEF armor.
[16:41] <Minaplo> ["Or maybe he ran away." Said Hachi.-
[16:43] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, maybe he realised he'd have to spend time with you and bolted." Said Go darkly.-
[16:44] <Minaplo> ["Ooooh." Hachi smirked. "Maybe he just didn't want to trust his hygiene to someone with their nose in a book all day-"-
[16:44] <Minaplo> ["Or maybe he was just busy." Said Kourosh.-
[16:45] <Minaplo> [Kourosh stood at the front door… Although it'd take Yanmei a moment to adjust to the sight.-
[16:46] <Minaplo> [Gone was the raggedy, dirty mourning robe; in its place was a clean linen robe of lavender, overlaid with a shawl of royal dark blue. A series of colourful bead necklaces were worn around his neck.-
[16:47] <Minaplo> [But the most notable change had been that he had washed; his hair, although still shaggy and tangled, was now mostly clean, and he had drawn some of it into a bun. His face had been scrubbed to the point where his cheeks were pink and raw, and he'd shaved along his jawline and neck.-
[16:49] <Minaplo> [His scraggly little goatee and thin, half-hearted pointy moustache remained however.-
[16:49] <Minaplo> ["More like the sage you were hoping for, yes?"]
[16:54] * Yanmei grinned broadly and clapped her hands. "Looks like someone wants to make a grand impression. You look great!"
[16:58] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, seriously." Said Isaiah with a smile.-
[16:59] <Minaplo> ["Good." Said Kourosh happily. "Now. Are we ready to go?"]
[17:02] <Yanmei> "Looks like it! No one's forgetting anything behind, right? Asuka?"
[17:03] <Minaplo> ["Nope. Nothing."-
[17:03] <Minaplo> ["Well then."-
[17:03] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[17:03] <Minaplo> [Kourosh stared at them for a few seconds, before he turned away toward Dariush and Ma Yue.-
[17:03] <Minaplo> ["… I'll be gone for awhile." Said Kourosh, and all of a sudden his voice started to waver. "Once my work is finished, I'll come back."-
[17:03] <Minaplo> ["Alright, Master." Said Ma Yue.-
[17:04] <Minaplo> ["Watch the house, alright?" Said Kourosh, reaching out to give Yue a big hug. "Let me know if there's any trouble…"-
[17:04] <Minaplo> ["I will." She whispered.-
[17:04] <Minaplo> [Kourosh then turned to his brother- and hugged him just as tight. "You know what to do, Dary."-
[17:04] <Minaplo> ["Of course, Kou. Take care of yourself." Said Dariush, rubbing his brother on the head.-
[17:05] <Minaplo> [Kourosh slowly, reluctantly, pulled away. He turned back to Yanmei, and she'd see now that his face was wet with tears; he rubbed at them with a sleeve.-
[17:05] <Minaplo> ["One more visit to the shrine, and then we can go."]
[17:06] <Yanmei> "Ok," said Yanmei quietly. "You can take your time."
[17:10] <Minaplo> [He nodded; he slung a bag over his shoulder and, with one final look at his family, began to walk down the hill.-
[17:11] <Minaplo> [He stopped at the shrine for fifteen minutes, ignorant of Hachi's chafed impatience. He knelt in front of it, and what he said or did there is known only to him.-
[17:12] <Minaplo> […-
[17:13] <Minaplo> [Kourosh led them away from the village, deeper toward the source of the river, which inevitably meant going deeper into the mountain thicket. Before long they were within a maze-like formation of rock and valley, full of twisting narrow passages which not even Go could slip through abreast. Furthermore, the area was dense with foliage, making it hard to see.]
[17:16] <Yanmei> Yanmei clutched her weapon tightly as they moved along, ready to thrust it at the animal or human ambush that was bound to spring into their path at any moment!
[17:17] <Minaplo> [All of a sudden, Kourosh came to a stop in the middle of a clearing; there were at least seven rocky paths leading away from here…]
[17:19] <Yanmei> "Which way?" she muttered, still peering around on high alert.
[17:21] <Minaplo> [Kourosh didn't answer.-
[17:21] <Minaplo> ["He doesn't know. We're totally lost." Muttered Hachi. "Maybe he has a gang of cruel bandits waiting to ambush us-"-
[17:27] <Minaplo> [A sound cut Hachi off- the sound of a bird's song. Yet, it was like no song Yanmei had ever heard- it sounded out clear as a bell, the notes sweet and airy and almost ethereally light. In the sky above them was a bird, bright red against the blue sky. It circled the air once, twice, then swooped-
[17:27] <Minaplo> [Hachi, Go and Asuka all let out cries of alarm, but Kourosh didn't move.-
[17:28] <Minaplo> [It flew out wide, turned in, and then went to land. Yanmei would see now how massive it was- the wingspan was wider than her VTOL-
[17:28] <Minaplo> [The bird landed.-
[17:30] <Minaplo> [It would've been at least five metres from tailfeather to head. The wings were huge, easily capable of enrounding the entire group if the bird so wished. Its talons were each as big as Yanmei's entire body and then some, and she could easily see it grasping a sheep, cow, or… person… In them. The claw itself was black and looked wickedly sharp.-
[17:32] <Minaplo> [The bird's plumage was a vivid red, becoming lighter and more yellow the farther away they were from its chest; the pinions were like the tongue of a flame. Its head was mostly yellow, with an eagle's beak and bright green eyes. It had a crest of purple, and purple also were its long and elaborate tailfeathers, which fanned out behind it in a great and somehow elegant tumble. It looked like a massive, colourful eagle- with perhaps a bit of peacock.]
[17:46] <Yanmei> Yanmei's hand was shaking… suddenly her sword felt woefully inadequate, and she was filled with the raw, primative urge to run, screaming, back the way they had come. Indeed, she started to even edge backward. "H-hey. Mr. Rustami?"
[17:48] <Minaplo> ["Yes, my lady?" Said Kourosh, who was staring up at the bird unflinchingly.]
[17:49] <Yanmei> "You don't seem to be freaking out."
[17:50] <Minaplo> ["Of course not. This is Feng." Said Kourosh; with a smile he reached out a hand and began to stroke along Feng's powerful beak.-
[17:50] <Minaplo> [The bird let out a quiet… Purr.]
[17:53] <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei peered nervously back at the rest of her team.
[17:55] <Minaplo> [Hachi and Asuka were the farthest back- Hachi had even readied her bolter.-
[17:55] <Minaplo> [Go was a little closer… And edging a little farther every second. "It's big. But… It is a gorgeous bird." She murmured.]
[17:56] <Yanmei> "Y-yeah. Stand down, Hachi. It's not going to attack us?"
[17:59] <Minaplo> ["Geez." Muttered Hachi, a hard edge to her voice.-
[17:59] <Minaplo> ["Geez is right. Dropping this big bird on us without warning?" Said Asuka, giving Kourosh a dirty look.-
[18:01] <Minaplo> ["Feng will lead us out of the maze." Said Kourosh. "So-"-
[18:01] <Minaplo> [But Feng had suddenly brushed past him; the great bird was ambling toward Yanmei.]
[18:03] <Yanmei> "Wha-wh-" Yanmei backed up even further, her mouth suddenly dry. "What's your problem, bird?!"
[18:06] <Minaplo> [The bird was close enough to practically touch her, now… It was then that she'd notice something in its beak.-
[18:06] <Minaplo> [It dropped it on the ground.-
[18:06] <Minaplo> [A clump of lilacs.]
[18:07] <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei stared at the flowers in confusion. Then she stared at Kourosh, as though accusing him of being behind this somehow.
[18:11] <Minaplo> [Kourosh shrugged.]
[18:13] <Yanmei> "…" A little nervously… a lot nervously, she patted the giant bird in gratitude. "Th-thanks?"
[14:21] <Minaplo> [Feng felt lovely and warm to the touch; what would it be like to be bundled up against him on a cold day?-
[14:29] <Minaplo> [He let out a low trill; then, taking a few steps back, he beat his wings (the force of each wingbeat threatening to topple Yanmei backwards) before shooting off into the air.]
[14:30] <Yanmei> Still staring up at the fleeing bird, wide-eyed, Yanmei stooped and grabbed a few of the fallen (and now scattered) flowers. "God. Remy's going to freak out over this?"

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