Cherry Blossom Procession 4 2 35

[13:36] <Yanmei> Zhang Yanmei's first choice for dinner on the Promenade turned out to be a bust. It wasn't because of the service or the food - which she knew was absolutely delicious - but the estimated wait for an open table. Despite not having the flashiness and scantily-clad servers that certain other competitors had, Restful was getting better at drawing in a crowd with each passing day. And so, after
[13:36] <Yanmei> a chat with the wait staff, the Chancellor ushered her party over to her second pick and peeked inside. Today she was dressed down, in a rare pair of dark jeans and ruffled bright red blouse. Clearly this wasn't a work event… or was it?
[13:40] <Minaplo> [Blue's had a fairly reasonable crowd today- more tables were occupied than not, but there were still a smattering of empty ones.-
[13:44] <Minaplo> ["Good evening, Chancellor~" Came the voice of a waitress- but not just any waitress. It was Sophia, looking alluring in her high stockings, her short skirt and her curvy corset. "Are you looking for a table for your…" She peered over Yanmei's shoulder- and her eyebrows rose.-
[13:44] <Minaplo> ["… Curious group?"]
[13:47] <Yanmei> "Yes, please. Someplace off to side, if you don't mind? Ah… but first, maybe some introductions are in order."
[13:51] <Minaplo> ["No need." Said Sophia quickly. "Do you want our private parlour?"]
[13:52] <Yanmei> "That would be great!"
[13:52] <Minaplo> ["Right this way, then."-
[13:54] <Minaplo> [Sophia led them through the restaurant, toward the back of the room. As they went, curious eyes looked up at Yanmei's guests as they passed.-
[13:54] <Minaplo> [Behind Yanmei was Freya Solheim, wearing a clean white linen shirt and a pair of black trousers, her expression open, her eyes taking the place in.-
[13:56] <Minaplo> [Behind Freya was Serafina Raskova, wearing a black coat over a dark blue shirt and jeans. Her expression was quietly cool.-
[13:56] <Minaplo> [Finally there came Gilles de Orleans, wearing his trademark suit; he had a genial, friendly expression on his face.-
[13:57] <Minaplo> [But the crowd wouldn't have much time to gawk- a minute later, Sophia had safely sequestered them in the private parlour.-
[13:57] <Minaplo> ["I'll be back soon to take your orders." She said, before leaving the four of them to the quiet.]
[14:02] * Yanmei beamed at them. "The food here is pretty great? I'd recommend the grilled mushrooms. The eggplant is nice too."
[14:28] <Minaplo> [Yanmei's guests sat and began to take up the menu- all except Serafina.-
[14:28] <Minaplo> ["You come here often, then, Yanmei?" Asked de Orleans.]
[14:30] <Yanmei> "Every now and then? The owner's pretty loud, but like I said, the food is good. This meal is on me, by the way."
[14:32] <Minaplo> ["Thanks." Said Freya warmly.-
[14:32] <Minaplo> But Serafina still sat still, her arms folded.]
[14:33] <Yanmei> "…is something wrong, Raskova?" Yanmei asked innocently.
[14:34] <Minaplo> ["Let's skip to the meat." Said Serafina. "What are your plans for us?"]
[14:35] <Yanmei> "Yet to be determined? But speaking of meat, that's one of Blue's specialties."
[14:37] <Minaplo> [Serafina's expression withered into ice.-
[14:39] <Minaplo> ["Your plan is to kill us, is it not?" Said Freya, her tone politely warm by contrast.]
[14:44] <Yanmei> "…!" Yanmei glanced around the table in alarm, picking up the reactions to that.
[14:45] <Minaplo> [de Orleans was relaxed, still flicking through his menu. This would not really be a surprise, of course, considering that de Orleans had been the one to tell Yanmei she should kill him.-
[14:46] <Minaplo> [Serafina's expression was still icy. Freya's was open and almost curious.]
[14:46] <Yanmei> "Freya. How much did Sera explain to you?"
[14:50] <Minaplo> ["He explained that I'm a Pillar of the Drive, that my mother made me into one, and that the destruction of a Pillar can disrupt the Drive." Said Freya, her tone almost light. "And that if you destroy three Pillars at once, you could cause such a disruption that it might never recover."-
[14:50] <Minaplo> ["He also said that de Orleans was a Pillar, as were the Devas."-
[14:50] <Minaplo> ["And that since the Devas, de Orleans and I make three Pillars, you have all you need." Said Freya.-
[14:52] <Minaplo> ["And that the plan was indeed to destroy me along with the other two in order to make my mother vulnerable. That is the case, isn't it, Yanmei?"]
[14:56] * Yanmei sighed, deeply. "Yes."
[14:58] <Minaplo> ["I'm afraid I can't approve." Said Freya.]
[14:59] <Yanmei> "No kidding," said Yanmei dryly. "But seriously, I heard you were working out some kind of plan to find alternatives."
[15:01] <Minaplo> ["Let's look at the facts." Said Freya. "Number one: it's possible to release souls from the Eternity Drive, either through intent or by accident. Thus, it's possible to find a way to release all of my souls without killing me."]
[15:03] <Yanmei> "That's true, but we don't know how it's done. Mr de Orleans, would that be enough to weaken Caine the way we were hoping to?"
[15:05] <Minaplo> ["Of course not." Said de Orleans, whose relaxed tone had gone in a hurry. "Mary Caine gains some of her power from the souls, yes, but the integrity of the Eternity Drive relies on the -Pillar- being alive. Releasing all the souls would not automatically make Athena stop being a Pillar!"]
[15:12] <Yanmei> "If we do want to change the current situation, I believe our best chance to do it would be uncovering or eliminating other Pillars? But that's going to be challenging to say the least."
[15:18] <Minaplo> ["I hate to be negative," Said de Orleans, "But I know of no way to stop making someone a Pillar- and all Pillars must be destroyed to destroy the Drive."-
[15:18] <Minaplo> ["But I thought my mother was the core of the system? Surely destroying her will collapse it?" Said Freya.-
[15:22] <Minaplo> ["She controls it, and manages it, and yes, upholds it. If you destroy her, the Drive will be irreparably damaged- it'll struggle to absorb new souls, and the remaining Pillars won't be able to focus the power like she did." Said de Orleans. "But the Drive will still be able to absorb some souls, and furthermore some will still be trapped within the living Pillars… Except without
[15:22] <Minaplo> Mary's control, the souls will go berserk and overwhelm the minds of each Pillar."-
[15:22] <Minaplo> [Freya stared at him, her expression crumbling.]
[15:27] <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei said nothing. She eyed the tablecloth, clearly troubled.
[15:32] <Minaplo> ["I sympathise with your plight, Athena." Said de Orleans, his tone settling back down to gentle, "I truly do. But your only options are to die for the good of humanity, or live as a puppet of the Drive. The noble thing for you to do would be to do your best to help find other Pillars in the time you have left."-
[15:34] <Minaplo> ["…" Freya looked away too; for a moment her lip trembled, but then it stilled. "I wish my sacrifice needed me to make the choice. Then it'd feel noble."-
[15:34] <Minaplo> ["But all I really have as a choice is to either let myself die willingly, or let myself be executed unwillingly."-
[15:35] <Minaplo> ["We make do with what we have. There's no point being selfish now." Said de Orleans.]
[21:44] <Yanmei> "I'm very sorry, Freya," was all that Yanmei could think of to say. "I still think we should try to come up with alternatives, but things don't look great right now."
[21:54] <Minaplo> ["A-Are you kidding me?" Said Freya, her expression faltering. "C'mon, don't be ridiculous. We can turn people into Pillars, use soul powers to turn the world into LCL and back again or all kinds of things, but we can't undo Pillars? That's where the line is drawn?!"]
[22:21] <Yanmei> "Stop that. I did just say we should try to think of alternatives? But if we are being realistic, there's a chance that we might not be able to come up with any that we can use, especially when we only have a few months to act on them. There's also the chance that our solutions will also be unpleasant." Yanmei took a deep breath. -
[22:28] <Yanmei> "For example, using soul division. Or retrieving your soul after it slips into the Drive. Or Evafication. Or blocking you off in such a way that you're effectively removed from this whole Eternity Drive system."
[22:32] <Minaplo> ["I don't think any of those will work." Said de Orleans.]
[22:44] * Yanmei sighed. "I guess that you, more than anyone, have already thought a lot about the alternatives."
[22:46] <Minaplo> ["Of course."]
[22:53] <Yanmei> "I realize it's probably sensitive, but could share some reasons about why the Drive was even created? Or… why you've come to accept your role as a Pillar? If you've indeed accepted it, that is."
[22:58] <Minaplo> [De Orleans nodded slowly. "Alright."-
[23:08] <Minaplo> ["The Drive was originally conceived of as a control for Instrumentality. The idea was that the Drive would monitor Instrumentality and induce the great mass to reform into individual human beings when the time was right." Said de Orleans. "But as Caine rejected Instrumentality as a plan, the Drive was reconfigured into a method by which Caine could take control of the cycle of reincarnation
[23:08] <Minaplo> whilst also granting her a powerful source of information and awareness. It also features into her long-term plans… I believe one of her ultimate goals was to rebody the Pillars as Evangelions, then seal Lilith within the Drive. The Evangelions, bolstered by the subjugation of humanity, would be able to compel Lilith to do whatever Caine wanted."-
[23:10] <Minaplo> ["I've come to accept my role as a Pillar because I knew from the outset that I could not defeat Caine by myself, so the most useful thing would be to join them and act as an ally." Said de Orleans. "Of course I never intended to support her long term, just support her long enough until the situation was right, when I could oppose her and destroy the Drive." Said de Orleans. "So I chose
[23:10] <Minaplo> to become a Pillar to give us the best chance to destroy Caine."]
[23:21] <Yanmei> "Thank you for telling us that, and also for your very difficult sacrifice," Yanmei said after a quiet moment of letting it all sink in. -
[23:30] <Yanmei> "It brings up a lot of questions. I guess, as Freya said, it all does come down to choice. She never volunteered the way you or von Brandt or some of the other Pillars probably did. It's a lot like what happened to the NeoSpartans or the other child soldiers."
[23:33] <Minaplo> ["I know. And I think that's very unfortunate." Said de Orleans. "I wish the circumstances were different, but they aren't, and this is the hand we've been dealt."-
[23:34] <Minaplo> ["Make no mistake." Said de Orleans. "You were right, Freya. Either you can let yourself die willingly, or we can execute you. That's really the only choice you have."-
[23:34] <Minaplo> ["But…" Freya rubbed at her face; suddenly she seemed tired, her eyes starting to droop. She kept her hand over her face for a rather long pause.-
[23:35] <Minaplo> ["But I don't want to die."]
[00:08] <Yanmei> "Freya," said Yanmei quietly, "Do you have any dreams for humanity's future after the war?"
[13:15] <Minaplo> ["What do you mean? Like Instrumentality or something?"]
[13:18] <Yanmei> "No. Like world peace? Or there not being any starving kids around? Or if you even want to bring it down to a more personal level, the hope that your friends and fam- friends will live out the rest of their lives happily."
[13:20] <Minaplo> ["W-Well, all of those things sound good." Said Freya.-
[13:20] <Minaplo> ["… But I've always dreamed of a world where I could go wherever I wanted to, without being afraid of being hurt or there being a war on. Travel as I liked, find new friends along the way and always have old friends waiting for me on the way back."]
[13:32] <Yanmei> "I think that's a wonderful dream." Yanmei smiled. "I can see why you'd fight really hard to see it one day? It has value, and it's important, and I don't want you to feel like we think it comes second to anyone else's dreams for the future, even ours."
[13:34] <Minaplo> ["But…?"]
[13:48] <Yanmei> "No 'buts'," she said firmly. "No one's dreams for the future are more important than anyone else's. It's just that some people in positions of power act in ways that are contrary to this? Do you know why?"
[13:50] <Minaplo> ["Why?"]
[13:52] <Yanmei> "Well, some of them are just dicks," said Yanmei flatly. -
[14:03] <Yanmei> "But I think, more often, they're weighing the dreams and futures of a few against the dreams and futures of the many. Yeah, that kid might be the next big Olympic sprinter, but if we stick her in a giant monster and have her fight other giant monsters that are threatening Paris-2, then we can make sure that at least some of the kids in that city survive. And one of those kids might
[14:03] <Yanmei> turn out to be the doctor that cures all human illnesses, or the next big film star, or hell, even a proper Olympic athlete a couple of decades later. It sucks for the girl in the giant monster, but her dreams don't exactly outweigh the dreams of all those little kids." -
[14:07] <Yanmei> "Maybe she'll piece together a new dream that will make her happy. And maybe, if she dies, she'll take solace in the fact that she saved people." Yanmei was frowning deeply now, her brow crinkling. "I'm sorry. This was supposed to be an apology but it… kind of got away from me."
[14:16] <Minaplo> [As the story was told, comprehension dawned on Freya's face: her eyes widened and her mouth formed a small 'o' shape.-
[14:16] <Minaplo> [After Yanmei was finished, Freya sat back in her chair, her expression downcast.-
[14:18] <Minaplo> ["I'm… Sorry." Said Freya quietly. "You didn't have a choice either, and here I am…"-
[14:21] <Minaplo> ["… You say no one's dream is more important than anyone else's." Said Freya. "But no matter how I choose, someone's dream is going to shatter. Even if I choose to die, I'll be hurting other people close to me."-
[14:22] <Minaplo> ["What do we do when there's no right answer?" Murmured Freya.-
[14:23] <Minaplo> [Serafina was sitting back in her chair, her arms folded. She was frowning pensively down at the table.]
[14:28] <Yanmei> "I don't really know the answer to that either?" Yanmei admitted. "I think… people just end up picking what looks or feels like it will work out the best. It's hard. I don't think we need to come up with an answer right this minute."
[14:44] <Minaplo> ["Did you end up piecing together a new dream?" Asked Serafina.]
[14:52] <Yanmei> "Sort of. It's more like I found myself on an unexpected path. If I make it to the end of it, I think I'll be in a happy position… and that's good enough for me."
[14:57] <Minaplo> ["… Mmm." Said Serafina. "So you didn't choose this life, but you're making the best with what you have?"]
[14:58] <Yanmei> "Yeah. I guess you could say that."
[15:04] <Minaplo> ["Hrm."-
[15:08] <Minaplo> ["Everyone has dreams." Said Serafina. "From the time we're children, we all have things we want to achieve. But how many people really manage to fulfill those dreams? Most of us don't."-
[15:13] <Minaplo> ["Sometimes that's pure chance, or sometimes it's something we never had much hope of achieving." Said Serafina, placing her hands downwards on top of the table. "The truth of the matter is that nothing we do can guarantee that another will achieve their dreams- it's just out of our hands. Perhaps those children would've died anyway, or even if they live, maybe they'll just fail their
[15:13] <Minaplo> dreams, too."-
[15:24] <Minaplo> ["… What we're really fighting for is possibility." Said Serafina. "We can't give people success. All we can do is ensure that it's not impossible to achieve that dream. So long as people feel that that possibility exists, even if they eventually fail, they can keep going, creating new hopes. And maybe, whether they succeed or fail, they make it easier for others to reach their
[15:24] <Minaplo> dreams. And maybe, over time, little by little, we start to see a world where more people fulfill their hopes than not."-
[15:24] <Minaplo> ["At least, that's what I want for the world." She said quietly.]
[15:35] <Yanmei> "That's… really nice," Yanmei said with a little surprise. "A world where everyone helps each other one way or another?"
[15:48] <Minaplo> ["That's right." Said Serafina.-
[15:49] <Minaplo> ["…" Freya lowered her head. "Then the choice is obvious, isn't it? Even if I stay alive, I'm not going to see the world I want to see."]
[12:33] * Yanmei gave Serafina a cautious little glance and then slowly, without making any sudden movements, moved in to give Freya a hug.
[12:44] <Minaplo> [Freya grasped Yanmei tightly around the waist and pulled her in close. "T-Thanks."]
[12:49] <Yanmei> "Sure. I'm just… very, very sorry," she muttered, giving her a small squeeze.
[12:52] <Minaplo> [Serafina stared- then moved toward them. She put her own arms around them both, ruffling their hair with her hands.]
[12:54] <Yanmei> That earned a slight reaction from Yanmei, but she settled down soon enough. After a moment, she glanced in de Orlean's direction with a faint air of expectancy.
[12:59] <Minaplo> [De Orleans remained firmly in his corner.-
[13:00] <Minaplo> ["You're a good person, Yanmei." Said Serafina. "And you, little owl- you mean the world to me."-
[13:00] <Minaplo> ["… So I have an idea of my own."]
[13:00] <Yanmei> "An idea?" Yanmei pulled back to face them properly again.
[13:01] <Minaplo> ["The Eternity Drive can't, apparently, be removed." Said Serafina. "Or destroyed without killing the host. But can a Pillar be transferred? Could someone else become a Pillar in the little owl's place?"]
[13:03] <Yanmei> "I don't know," Yanmei admitted, looking to de Orleans again. "I thought the process for becoming one was pretty intense? It seems unlikely, doesn't it?"
[13:05] <Minaplo> ["I… Never considered it." Said de Orleans quietly. "I doubt it would work, but I don't know if it's impossible. I'd need more information."-
[13:05] <Minaplo> ["But I suspect that if it was possible, the recipient would need to be prepped as per a usual Pillar- meaning they would have to be immersed in LCL for long periods of time over weeks or months, and they must be an A-Type at least."-
[13:06] <Minaplo> ["I volunteer, then." Said Serafina. "Even if it's impossible, I can start preparing right away."-
[13:07] <Minaplo> ["S-Serafina, wait…" Said Freya haltingly.-
[13:07] <Minaplo> ["Chancellor, I'd like to make a formal request." Said Serafina.]
[13:12] <Yanmei> "Wait. Wait a minute." Yanmei held up a hand. "You must think about it, and you must discuss it with Freya first? You both have to be absolutely sure."
[13:13] <Minaplo> ["Freya wants to live, and I'm prepared to die. What discussion is there?" Said Serafina.-
[13:13] <Minaplo> ["B-But Serafina-"-
[13:14] <Minaplo> ["I probably don't have very long to live anyway." Said Serafina. "As you yourself once told me, Chancellor, my combat drugs have rotted away my insides- I'll probably be dead in a decade."-
[13:15] <Minaplo> ["No," Said Freya urgently, grabbing Serafina's arm.-
[13:16] <Minaplo> [Serafina grabbed Freya by the shoulders and mussed up her hair again. "I'm sorry, little owl. It makes me happy that you want me to live, but… Something has to give, here. The Drive has to be destroyed. And I'd rather you live and experience the world. Leave it to me."]
[13:21] * Yanmei was quiet, watching Freya, waiting for a final sign of agreement.
[13:22] <Minaplo> ["Now you're making me feel even more selfish." Mumbled Freya. "Taking your life…"-
[13:23] <Minaplo> ["You can't take that which I've always given freely." Said Serafina. "This is as much my choice as it is yours."-
[13:23] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[13:23] <Minaplo> [Freya's shoulders slumped, and she- nodded, the tears starting to bubble in her eyes.]
[13:26] <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei nodded along too, mirthlessly. "Okay, then. If you're absolutely sure… we will attempt it."
[13:28] <Minaplo> ["Good." Said Serafina. "But I don't intend to just marinate uselessly in Lilith's blood. If I'm doing this, I want to be useful- to you, as a thank-you for looking after my little owl."]
[13:30] <Yanmei> "What do you have in mind?" she was adopting a slightly more cautious tone now. How many jobs could be completed while immersed in LCL?
[13:32] <Minaplo> ["If you configure an AC Suit's chamber for liquid breathing, then I can pilot one and thus, pilot a Superheavy into battle." Said Serafina. "I'm a skilled pilot and fighter."]
[13:38] <Yanmei> "I guess that would work," Yanmei said slowly. "Thank you. I'll ask Technical what they can do?"
[13:38] <Minaplo> [Serafina nodded. "Thank you."]
[13:43] * Yanmei nodded again, glancing around. "Maybe we should order something. Again, anything you guys want… it's on me?"
[13:46] <Minaplo> ["We can split the bill between yourself and myself, Yanmei- I'm sure we can accomodate for our two brave young women." Said de Orleans.-
[13:47] <Minaplo> ["In that case…" Freya offered them both a small, watery smile- then picked up the menu, sharing it with Serafina.]

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