Cherry Blossom Procession 4 3 A

[21:04] <Minaplo> […-
[21:12] <Minaplo> [Kou's vision swam as he opened his eyes. The harsh light only made the blurry sight around him swirl.-
[21:29] <Minaplo> [And so for a few minutes he closed his eyes again. Gradually he opened them, little by little, letting his sight adjust.-
[21:39] <Minaplo> [His mind felt raw, his body leaden. Nonetheless he slowly pulled himself up.-
[19:47] <Minaplo> ["'Bout time." Came a wry voice. "Thought you were dead a coupla times, way you sleep."-
[19:47] <Minaplo> [Kou was sitting on a bed- a hard, uncomfortable one at that. One that looked dimly familiar. He took in the rest of his surroundings.-
[19:48] <Minaplo> [He was in a surovite cell.-
[19:48] <Minaplo> [This cell had little more than a single toilet, two beds- and double the number of people. Sitting opposite him was Mr. Blue.-
[19:49] <Minaplo> [Mr. Blue's clothes were dishevelled and dirty, but he didn't look injured- not that that mattered, considering.-
[19:49] <Minaplo> [Sitting next to him, cross-legged, wearing a white prison jumpsuit, was Ritsuko Akagi- her eyes dark, tired, downcast. She glanced at him and said nothing.-
[19:52] <Minaplo> [And at the far end of the room, sitting on the floor against a wall, wearing his own jumpsuit, was Prefect Han.-
[20:05] <Minaplo> ["How long've I been out?" Asked Kou.-
[20:06] <Minaplo> ["Just over 40 hours or so." Said Mr. Blue. "Did you get a bop on the head or something?"-
[20:07] <Minaplo> ["I don't… What did happen?" Kou frowned, and tried to organise his discordant thoughts, pushing through the odd pulsating in his mind as he did so.-
[20:08] <Minaplo> ["Coup." Said Blue. "Give it a sec."-
[20:08] <Minaplo> [Kou thought…-
[20:08] <Minaplo> […-
[20:11] <Minaplo> [The sound of Asuka's jerky shrieks had been heard across the bridge.-
[20:11] <Minaplo> ["My console! It's not responding!" Shouted Sophie, slamming her hands down on the inert console to no effect.-
[20:12] <Minaplo> [Kourosh jerked toward her. Cyber attack? No, the Russians aren't equipped to hack the Dorian…-
[20:13] <Minaplo> ["It's trying to shock Yanmei!" Said Sophie. Marianne and Kou turned to look at each other.-
[20:14] <Minaplo> [Then a sudden hum trembled through the room, a very particular sort of sound; they all turned toward Archibald.-
[20:16] <Minaplo> [She shook her head. "AT Cannon charging up on its own!" She said; as she spoke, she crouched beneath her desk and pulled out a bolt pistol. "All cannons and missile batteries are orienting themselves toward Moscow-"-
[20:16] <Minaplo> ["A cyber attack?" Said Marianne, her eyes wide.-
[20:16] <Minaplo>["We don't-" Began Sophie.-
[20:17] <Minaplo> [At that moment the bulky blast door that sealed the bridge's entrance from the rest of the deck split, cracked and exploded inwards, sending gouts of smoke into the room. The crew jerked to look-
[20:18] <Minaplo> [Barely visible in the haze was a shape, human, but much larger and bulkier than normal. As the smoke filtered away, Kou's suspicions were confirmed- an Iron Guard.-
[20:19] <Minaplo> [This one wore gleaming golden armour and an ermine cape that flowed from his shoulders; in his right hand was an ornate golden staff, and his head, which went unhelmeted, was handsome and cold, long blonde hair flowing behind it-
[20:20] <Minaplo> ["What the-" Kou coughed. "You?"-
[20:20] <Minaplo> [Archibald was the first to respond. She raised her pistol and fired at Albus's head.-
[20:22] <Minaplo> [Albus didn't move; the bolt round bounced harmlessly off his AT Field.-
[20:22] <Minaplo> [He smiled slightly, raised his left hand, and flicked his pointer finger upwards sharply.-
[20:23] <Minaplo> [Archibald was thrown backwards, smacking into the bulkhead with a sharp crack- she instantly slid down, leaving a trail of blood on the wall.-
[20:25] <Minaplo> [At that moment, Kou's panel, as did the others, suddenly went blank, as though turned off.-
[20:29] <Minaplo> ["Tsubaki." Said Marianne, rising to her feet as she eyed Albus. "Take him down."-
[20:30] <Minaplo> [Nothing happened. They all stood still, silent, except for Archibald, who was shakily jamming a packet of biogel into the breach at the back of her helmet.-
[20:32] <Minaplo> ["Tsubaki, come in." Said Marianne. "I know you can hear me. Tsubaki!"-
[20:33] <Minaplo> ["T-Tsubaki…?"-
[20:33] <Minaplo> [Albus smiled and shook his head slightly.-
[20:34] <Minaplo> [Marianne shook, just a little; then steeled herself and balled her hands into fists. "Ezekiel!"-
[20:35] <Minaplo> [But there was no reply.-
[20:35] <Minaplo> ["Ezekiel? Ezekiel! Come on! Vercingetorix? Please?" A quaver had entered Marianne's voice. "Fuck- Liberte! Can you hear me? Anyone-"-
[20:36] <Minaplo> ["Your pet gods are no longer able to hear your prayers." Said Albus softly. "And those of us who can… Will no longer answer them."-
[20:37] <Minaplo> ["What did you to do Tsubaki?" Said Frederic; he'd had time to pull a positron pistol, and was pointing it at Albus; but if it worried the Iron Guard, he did not show it.-
[20:38] <Minaplo> <do to Tsubaki*>
[20:39] <Minaplo> ["Is that the question you settled on?" Said Albus, shaking his head mournfully. "The real question is what you all didn't do for Tsubaki… Not that it matters. As of now, this ship and all of its occupants are under the command of I, Albus Mortens, and the Greater Sol Co-Prosperity Sphere." He said. "You are all now prisoners of war. Resist if you like, but you'd save yourselves some biogel if you didn't."-
[20:40] <Minaplo> [There was a dull booming- the sound of the missiles and the main guns firing, sending little tremors through the hull. Kou ignored them.-
[20:47] <Minaplo> ["What a ridiculous name." Said Kou.-
[20:48] <Minaplo> ["I really care more about whether or not you submit willingly." Said Albus lightly.-
[20:49] <Minaplo> ["And if we don't?"-
[20:49] <Minaplo> ["Then you'll submit unwillingly, I suppose." Said Albus. "Or die."-
[20:52] <Minaplo> ["Then kill me and hurry up with it." Said Kou, rising to his feet. "I for one will never allow even a single breath in my chest to submit to something with such a rubbish name. I'd never live down the shame."-
[20:53] <Minaplo> ["Rustami…" Said Marianne, an expression of shock on her face.-
[20:58] <Minaplo> [Albus waved his hand dismissively. "I'll deal with you later. As for you others-"-
[21:00] <Minaplo> ["I thought Azariah's legacy better than this." Said Kou. "Or is that why I hear him weeping every time you open your bloody mouth?"-
[21:00] <Minaplo> [Albus paused. He turned back toward Kou slowly.-
[21:02] <Minaplo> ["God… You're more like a golden buddha." Said Kou darkly. "They sit in a temple and take offerings, but everyone knows they're dull and hollow inside."-
[21:02] <Minaplo> […-
[21:02] <Minaplo> [Kou didn't remember much after that.-
[21:05] <Minaplo> ["Last I remember was Albus jacking the bridge." Said Kou. "I take it from our surroundings that he's still in control."-
[21:05] <Minaplo> [Blue nodded. "Yep."-
[21:05] <Minaplo> ["Damnit."_
[21:06] <Minaplo> ["I can fill you in on some shit that happened." Said Blue.-
[21:06] <Minaplo> ["Please." Said Kou.-
[21:07] <Minaplo> ["Albus took over the ship, but now the Iron Guard follow him as well." Said Blue. "They were pretty fuckin' hard in laying down their law, too. More'n a few dead marines around. A few techies, too. The survivors've been rounded up and put into these little boxes."-
[21:07] <Minaplo> ["Every so often, a guard comes a-walkin', takes a bunch away. None of 'em come back."-
[21:08] <Minaplo> ["… Did they take someone from here?" Asked Kou.-
[21:10] <Minaplo> ["Isabelle Bellamy." Said Ritsuko quietly.-
[21:10] <Minaplo> ["… Damn." Said Kou; he closed his eyes.-
[21:12] <Minaplo> ["And a good thing at that!" Said Prefect Han cheerfully. "Creepy witch gave me the hardest time. It was an utter besmirching, I'll have you know. It's not my fault she ate her hubby like a twin in the womb and no one else'll have her."-
[21:12] <Minaplo> ["Shut up, Han." Said Kou wearily.-
[21:16] <Minaplo> ["I don't know what they want with Isabelle, but the fact that they want her at all is, uh… Bad." Said Blue.-
[21:17] <Minaplo> ["No kidding." Said Kourosh; he sighed, pulled one leg up against his chest. "I'm useless."-
[21:17] <Minaplo> [Blue quirked an eyebrow.-
[21:17] <Minaplo> ["I am." Said Kou. "I should've seen this coming from a mile away."-
[21:18] <Minaplo> ["Well. We all kinda suspected Albus was shady." Said Blue. "You get raised a templar, you get a little suss around excess gold, y'know what I mean?"-
[21:22] <Minaplo> ["Sure." Said Kou with a shrug. "But we had contingencies. Safeties. He was dangerous, but we had bigger guns…"-
[21:24] <Minaplo> [Akagi shook her head. "No, Rustami. It was my fault." She said. "I should've seen the signs. Should've understood what I was looking at."-
[21:26] <Minaplo> [Kou and Blue turned toward her.-
[21:29] <Minaplo> ["She's always been a little temperamental." Said Ritsuko quietly. "A little… Moody, unpredictable. Childish. She's been worse recently, but I figured it was a phase, something that happened because she was free now. I knew she'd had a bad scene with Sera, but who hasn't? Those two'd patch it up eventually. It was all just part of growing up, being a teenager… So I overlooked some of it. Gave her a pass- it's not her fault. I didn't want to do anything that might be seen as punishment just because she was a little unused to being… Being free."-
[21:32] <Minaplo> ["… But all I did was lie to myself." Said Ritsuko. "Once you start making excuses, it's easy to just kind of pile them up… I just kept back and let things happen. I didn't step in to stop it, but I didn't step in to help, either…"-
[21:33] <Minaplo> [The room fell silent for a few moments, Ritsuko's words hanging in the air.-
[21:33] <Minaplo> [Mr. Blue shook his head. "I'm sorry."-
[21:34] <Minaplo> ["But you're pretty much right. You dropped the ball on this, doc." He said with a sigh. "Fuckin' up, having arguments, fallings' out, heartbreaks, whatever, that's all part of growing up. Having unlimited power over the lives of a few thousand people isn't."-
[21:38] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, I know." Said Ritsuko softly. "… I never thought she'd side with all this, though."-
[21:38] <Minaplo> ["Albus must've done something." She said, a raw harshness creeping into her voice. "We should never have let him on."-
[21:39] <Minaplo> ["You're probably right." Said Blue thoughtfully. "… But y'know, in my own dumbass way, that's kind of the thing I like about this lot."-
[21:39] <Minaplo> ["What do you mean?" Said Ritsuko.-
[21:41] <Minaplo> ["Well. We let a lot of shady fuckers on. I mean. Look in this room. There's me, there's tiny tactics over there, then there's the sentient mound of chlamydia o'er there," he said, thumbing at Han-
[21:42] <Minaplo> ["Your hat is trash," Said Han-
[21:43] <Minaplo> ["-And that's not including the fuckin' scores of others. Some folks've already turned coat- like Edgar and some of the other Neos. It seems we're constantly runnin' into people we really shouldn't trust, then we go "Sure, whatever."-
[21:43] <Minaplo> [Blue quirked a little smile. "And then they turn out okay. Like me, I hope."-
[21:45] <Minaplo> ["… The thing is that sometimes a shady fucker isn't a nice guy underneath all that shade. Sometimes they're a prick." He said. "So you gotta ask yourself: is rolling the dice and hoping it'll be someone like me or Minerva or Ban-Ban… Worth the risk that we'll be an Albus instead?"-
[21:46] <Minaplo> ["To be fair, none of you can take over a battleship like Albus did." Said Kou.-
[21:46] <Minaplo> ["Well, true. But Minerva -did- once take over the United States, that's gotta count for something." Said Blue.-
[21:47] <Minaplo> ["Not as much as it used to." Said Ritsuko ruefully.-
[21:47] <Minaplo> ["No, true." Said Blue. He took a big, deep breath and breathed out slowly. "I'm pissed."-
[21:48] <Minaplo> ["That's really what I'm fuckin' saying, I guess. I feel angry as hell. Angrier than I can remember bein' in a good long time."-
[21:48] <Minaplo> ["… Guess I'm scared beneath all that." He said.-
[21:48] <Minaplo> ["Scared to die?" Asked Han.-
[21:48] <Minaplo> ["Nah, not really." Said Blue. "Scared I'll lose my home."-
[21:50] <Minaplo> ["I like bein' here." Said Blue. "I've got friends here. A life, even. Some days I wake up and my biggest concern is that Roku Ayanami's competin' with my dumbass shop, and then it's like, whoa, when did my life get to that point? When did my concern stop being keeping my headspace all in tight and start being normy bullshit like that?"-
[21:51] <Minaplo> ["I don't want to lose that." Said Blue.-
[21:51] <Minaplo> [He coughed slightly and wiped a hand across his eyes.-
[21:55] <Minaplo> [The silence remained in the air for a minute or two, until Kou finally clapped his hands together.-
[21:56] <Minaplo> ["Alright. Enough self-pity and fear." Said Kou. "We need to take back our home. Let's get to work."-
[21:56] <Minaplo> ["You know we're in a cell, right?" Said Han.-
[21:57] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, but being stuck with you'll make me bust out sooner rather than later." Said Kou. "Let's go over the situation. First question: why did Albus stage a coup now instead of earlier?"-
[21:58] <Minaplo> ["Consider this: he's staging this when the UEF is at the peak of its power. The best time would've been awhile ago." Said Kou. "We're a lot stronger now- even losing this battleship is merely a significant setback than a killing blow. So why now, fighting some pushover Russians?"-
[21:59] <Minaplo> ["The obvious answer: he didn't have her on his side until recently." Said Ritsuko.-
[21:59] <Minaplo> ["Is there a reason you're not saying her-"-
[21:59] <Minaplo> ["Yes," said Blue and Ritsuko simultaneously.-
[22:01] <Minaplo> ["… Okay, right." Said Kou quickly. "Yes, that's true. But it's also timed so that a lot of the dangerous threats weren't around to stop him- Isaiah could've taken over his Iron Guard, but he's not here. The Empress is in Brazil… So on and so forth."-
[22:02] <Minaplo> ["Weak UN, too." Said Han. "No point taking the bow if you can't kill the tiger. But now…?"-
[22:02] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, uh, he should know better to think Mary Caine's gonna fold that easy." Said Blue.-
[22:02] <Minaplo> ["True, but nonetheless…" Kou shrugged.-
[22:04] <Minaplo> ["That answers the past pretty succinctly, nonetheless." Said Kou. "What I need to know now is the present. It'd be great to know where we are, exactly."-
[22:04] <Minaplo> ["Space." Said Blue.-
[22:04] <Minaplo> ["… How can you tell?" Asked Ritsuko.-
[22:04] <Minaplo> ["Uh, it's the air." Said Blue. "The whole taste of it changes in space. Can't exactly filter it in from the outside, y'know…"-
[22:05] <Minaplo> ["Space is smart, though." Said Kou. "Hard to get in or out, hard to detect… Has the ship opened fire recently, Blue?"-
[22:06] <Minaplo> ["No." Said Blue.-
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["Curious." Said Kou. "See, if it were me, I'd have taken the Dorian to Berlin and glassed the city flat. It'd be the perfect attack- it completely spoils the German alliance and no matter how you look at it, it harms the UEF's prestige. Once it happens, the UN could even mount a counter-attack, striking Paris, leaving the UEF off-balance…"-
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["… So why hasn't he attacked yet?" Said Kou quietly.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> ["… Her." Said Ritsuko. "He has to rely on her to control the ship and its crew. So she has some say- and regardless of what's going on, she's not going to agree to glassing a city. At least not yet."-
[22:11] <Minaplo> ["True. Which brings us to the future." Said Kou. "Any plan to take back our home has to rely on cancelling her out. So what do we know about her, uh, situaiton?"-
[22:18] <Minaplo> ["… She's hurting." Said Ritsuko. "I don't think she wants to do harm to people. She's a sweet kid, you know? But she's… I don't know. She's hurting, something's frustrating her, and she's screaming right now trying to be heard, to fix the problem. I think she's following Albus because he promises to do just that."-
[22:20] <Minaplo> ["Also, Sera." Said Blue.-
[22:20] <Minaplo> ["Yes, Sera seems wrapped up in this somehow." Said Ritsuko.-
[22:21] <Minaplo> ["Great." Said Kou. "What a surprise. What else? What's with not saying her name?"-
[22:21] <Minaplo> ["… Well." Ritsuko coughed. "She has a weakness. It's one we don't talk about very often. Basically, we try to keep it under wraps."-
[22:21] <Minaplo> ["What is it?" Said Kou.-
[22:22] <Minaplo> ["She has perfect perception of the battleship and its surroundings, and can sense thoughts, but she doesn't actually have the ability to sense all of it simultaneously at once. She's still only human." Said Ritsuko. "So she cheats."-
[22:22] <Minaplo> ["How?" Said Kou.-
[22:24] <Minaplo> ["She creates alarms in her senses, so that when something trips one, her eye's drawn to it." Said Ritsuko. "One of those is her name. There's a bunch of others- our family name, for example. The name of our mother. A murderous sense of emotion or maliciousness. General emotional distress, someone in a lot of pain, the use of an AT Field…"-
[22:24] <Minaplo> ["Oh, that makes sense." Said Blue.-
[22:25] <Minaplo> ["But does that mean that some of her alarms would be overwhelmed right now, too?" Said Kou. "Sensing emotional distress, pain or malice right now and tying it to an alarm… Seems kind of pointless."-
[22:25] <Minaplo> ["You're right." Said Ritsuko. "She turns some of those off during some battles, it makes sense that she'd do it now with everyone so miserable."-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["Then so long as we don't trip an alarm, we should be able to plot in peace." Said Kou. "Unless she's deciding to look at us of her own volition."-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["We can't know if she's doing that for sure, though." Said Blue.-
[22:28] <Minaplo> ["No, but I can assume her attention'll be divided putting out spotfires. Furthermore, if you tell me as much about her as you can, Ritsuko, I'll try to compile a simulacrum of her." He said. "It won't be perfect, but I might be able to predict when she's likely to be looking at us."-
[22:28] <Minaplo> ["Alright." Said Ritsuko. "I'll do that later."-
[22:29] <Minaplo> [Kou nodded. "Sounds good. But let's talk about Albus. His plans… Well, judging from the stupid name of his new state he's probably intent on conquering the solar system, but let's think about the next two weeks or so."-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["Okay, so my first instinct, bein' a proprietor of edibles and all, is that at some point Albus'll need to scrounge up some food." Said Blue.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["Iron Guard don't need to eat, though." Said Han.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["Firstly: there's a lot of non-Guard on the ship, you know." Said Blue. "Second: Not actually true."-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["No?" Said Han with a frown.-
[22:34] <Minaplo> ["I mean, it's kinda true. Iron Guard physically don't need it. They won't die of starvation." Said Blue, nodding his head. "But there's still a bit of human in 'em, and their stomach still gets shitty if it ain't full… and there's a mental element, as old as fuckin' time, tellin' em to eat."-
[22:35] <Minaplo> ["They tried to compensate by conditioning Guard to practice subconscious meditation, similar to some hunger-strike meditation stuff." Said Blue. "That can keep them satisfied for a week, but past that they start to go insane with hunger."-
[22:39] <Minaplo> [Ritsuko frowned. "There was an Iron Guard in the grotto they found Cassius in. Been locked in a square room for awhile. Apparently she was near feral and on running into food, went berserk…"-
[22:39] <Minaplo> ["And then we brought her back, 'cuz she was one of the Wizard Guard!" Said Blue. "What a fucking joy it is to be on this side at this moment, whoo-ee."-
[22:44] <Minaplo> ["She's small fry compared to Albus." Said Kou. "Nonetheless, soon enough he'll want to steal some food, probably in bulk… And harm the Federation in the process."-
[22:46] <Minaplo> ["Obviously, he'd want to go after the Canadian shipments to China." Said Han.-
[22:47] <Minaplo> ["It makes sense." Said Kou. "I mean, there's a fair chance he might not…"-
[22:48] <Minaplo> ["Thing is, I actually want him to." Said Kou. "So we need to find a way to rig the game in our favour…"-
[22:49] <Minaplo> ["… I have a plan." Said Kou eventually. "But I won't tell any of you all of it. You'll be told instructions and nothing more."-
[22:49] <Minaplo> ["Why not?" Said Han.-
[22:49] <Minaplo> ["Because if your minds get read, then the plan'd be discovered." Said Kou.-
[22:49] <Minaplo> ["What about your mind, tiny tactics?" Said Blue.-
[22:50] <Minaplo> ["My mind's special." Said Kou. "She is the only one who could really do it properly, and if she does, I'll just show her the exact way her previous incarnations died for the last two thousand years and see how she likes that."-
[22:50] <Minaplo> [Ritsuko winced.-
[22:51] <Minaplo> ["Well, alright then." Said Blue. "Fair 'nough."-
[22:52] <Minaplo> [Ritsuko nodded as well.-
[22:52] <Minaplo> [Han shrugged. "I'm defecting the instant it suits me, by the way. No point risking my neck."-
[22:53] <Minaplo> ["Good." Said Kou. "That's what I want to hear."-
[22:53] <Minaplo> [Han frowned, but Kou ignored him.-
[22:53] <Minaplo> ["Alright." Kou nodded. "This is step one of Operation: If You Meet Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. Han?"-
[22:53] <Minaplo> […-
[22:55] <Minaplo> [The Guard loomed over the transparent cell door, his hand making the cradled phone receiver look tiny. "Freya Solheim?"-
[20:34] <Minaplo> [Freya looked up at the Guard. Her expression was blank.-
[20:36] <Minaplo> ["You are summoned," said the Guard. He placed the receiver down and opened the door, overseen by two other Guards, their bolters ready.-
[20:36] <Minaplo> ["Afraid I'll overpower you?" Asked Freya, eyeing the backups as she stood.-
[20:40] <Minaplo> ["Lack of caution is a Federation failing, not ours." Said the lead Guard. "Hurry up!"-
[20:53] <Minaplo> [And so Freya was marched out of the brig, past cells of other hapless prisoners- mostly people she didn't know, but a few she did. She tried to commit them to memory.-
[21:01] <Minaplo> [They marched her across the ship, through areas she did know- corridors, some still splattered with blood; elevators, the filtered breathing of the Guard behind her filling the tight space…-
[21:01] <Minaplo> [The promenade, now empty, its shops dark.-
[21:04] <Minaplo> ["Where are we going?" Said Freya.-
[21:07] <Minaplo> ["To Consul Mortens." Said the lead Guard.-
[21:14] <Minaplo> ["Consul." Said Freya to herself.-
[21:15] <Minaplo> [The Guards brought her to a room.-
[21:15] <Minaplo> [As Freya walked through the large blast doors, her eyes widened.-
[21:15] <Minaplo> [It had probably been nothing more than a humble warehouse at some point.-
[21:22] <Minaplo> [Now it was an audience hall.-
[21:25] <Minaplo> [At the far end of the room was a glittering golden throne, sitting upon a brilliant white marble dias. Etches of manticores and griffons had been inscribed and carved into the throne, the back of which terminated in a griffon's head, wings rising behind it to a span of four metres.-
[21:26] <Minaplo> [Sitting in this throne, her slight frame looking even tinier within it, like a doll placed in a grown up chair, was Tsubaki Akagi. She wore a simple white kimono, her hair done up in a bun.-
[21:27] <Minaplo> [She barely looked up as Freya entered.-
[21:27] <Minaplo> [There were others around, though, with their own chairs. Sitting in a high white chair at the foot of the golden throne was Albus Mortens, smiling slightly as Freya entered.-
[21:28] <Minaplo> [Sitting on Tsubaki's other side was Ezekiel, but it was obvious at a glance that something was wrong with him. He sagged in his chair, his already light skin now waxy and pale; he barely had the energy to lift his head.-
[21:29] <Minaplo> [The reason for this was obvious- it hung over the entire room, bathing it in an angry red glow. Attached to the roof was the Philosopher's Stone; a silver double-helix bident, a replica of the Lance of Longinus, had pierced it through the middle. As the stave of the lance hung toward the ground the two strands opened up, framing Tsubaki as though it were an arch.-
[21:32] <Minaplo> ["Athena Caine." Said Albus; he rose and gave her a low bow. "Welcome. It is good to see you in health."-
[21:33] <Minaplo> [Freya tore her gaze away from the red orb. She snapped her mouth shut and her eyes grew icy and flint as she looked at Albus. "I'd be lying if I returned the sentiment." She said coolly.-
[21:33] <Minaplo> [Albus let out an indulgent little chuckle. "Naturally."-
[21:34] <Minaplo> ["Why am I here?" Said Freya.-
[21:35] <Minaplo> ["I want you to help me end the war." Said Albus.-
[21:35] <Minaplo> ["I refuse." Said Freya instantly.-
[21:35] <Minaplo> ["Oh?" Albus's smile widened. "And if I said the war could be over in two weeks without a shot being fired?"-
[21:37] <Minaplo> [Freya's eyes narrowed.-
[21:38] <Minaplo> ["And I mean end the war. All of them. Bring peace to the earth, humanity united, brave new worlds- utopia realised." Said Albus.-
[21:38] <Minaplo> ["… How?" Said Freya.-
[21:40] <Minaplo> ["Let me explain." Said Albus. "So much of the detail of this war is essentially a sideshow. The soldiers, the fighting over land, it's nothing more than a game designed to set up opportunities to land a decisive blow- but the blow isn't destroying your enemy. No matter how florid or pretty the parties put it, the goal is the same: to create a god-tier entity that can be controlled."-
[21:41] <Minaplo> ["Another one of these." Said Freya, her voice tight. "I'm sorry, but I don't trust you with that power."-
[21:41] <Minaplo> ["That's fair." Said Albus. "Really, you shouldn't trust anyone with that power."-
[21:42] <Minaplo> ["Then why do you think I'll help you?"-
[21:43] <Minaplo> ["Because our god is not just anyone. She is pained, and she has bled, and has shed so many tears. She is made kind by this pain, and wishes to remove it from the world." Said Albus. "Simply put, I am charging humanity to once again renew the promise of a god who has suffered."-
[21:43] <Minaplo> [Freya turned her gaze toward Tsubaki, who remained silent.-
[21:44] <Minaplo> ["How do you intend to achieve this goal, then?" Said Freya.-
[21:44] <Minaplo> ["By reunifying Lilith." Said Albus. "Lady Tsubaki has half of Lilith's soul, but the other half resides with Mary Caine- within the Eternity Drive."-
[21:44] <Minaplo> [A sudden chill ran down Freya's back.-
[21:45] <Minaplo> ["T-Then it's out of reach." Said Freya. "Even if it weren't, you couldn't be so arrogant as to think you can control her?"-
[21:46] <Minaplo> ["I can't- but Lady Tsubaki can." Said Albus. "Do you think my father left me nothing more than a pale imitation of his aegis? He knew many ways of emblazing a soul."-
[21:46] <Minaplo> [A sudden light shone from Tsubaki as she lifted her hand.-
[21:47] <Minaplo> [A dazzlingly bright shape appeared in the air, shedding burning white light. Freya squinted and held a hand up to cover her eyes.-
[21:48] <Minaplo> [It was… Difficult to describe. In some ways it reminded Freya of a magic circle or a mandala, a series of repeating geometric patterns within a circle, but there were unpredictable areas where it reminded her of an old imperial seal, signatures made from merged characters- of a language she could not read.-
[21:51] <Minaplo> ["The Multi-Layered Circle Seal Within Which is to be Found a God Enchained, my father called it in his notes." Said Albus. "I call it the Apotheosis of Azariah. I like being on theme."-
[21:52] <Minaplo> ["It took a great deal of power." Said Albus. "More than I could provide. But someone as powerful as Lady Tsubaki- and of course, a gift from our Emissary friend- was just enough to forge it into Lady Tsubaki's very being. Her soul, already a prison for souls, can now fully tap the power of those within without risking that soul waking up or taking over the host. It is… Perfect."-
[21:53] <Minaplo> [The seal vanished; Freya lowered her arm, her eyes already watering. "How're you gonna get the other half without fighting Mary, then?"-
[21:54] <Minaplo> ["Mary's not an idiot." Said Albus. "She would've kept that half of Lilith within Aline Blanc, then kept Blanc's soul within her part of the Eternity Drive. A prison within a prison. Fortunately, we can overpower Blanc's soul… And we already have the key to the prison itself."-
[21:55] <Minaplo> ["No." Said Freya curtly.-
[21:56] <Minaplo> ["Yes. You will become a bridge, through which our power will be channelled. We'll seize Blanc's soul and pull Lilith out." Said Albus.-
[21:56] <Minaplo> ["… So it's that again." Said Freya. "The pillar of the Drive within me. That's all you seem to be interested in."-
[21:57] <Minaplo> ["Yes. Trust me, if I could use de Orleans, I would." Said Albus. "But we only captured the other two Seele members, unfortunately."-
[21:57] <Minaplo> ["Alright." Said Freya tightly. "Then what? What happens when your plan succeeds?"-
[21:58] <Minaplo> ["Then Lady Tsubaki becomes a god." Said Albus. "Reunifies humanity, heals the damage to our land, ends the war. Those who resist will simply decide to stop resisting."-
[22:00] <Minaplo> ["Mind control." Said Freya flatly. "You're going to brainwash the world?"-
[22:01] <Minaplo> ["Hardly." Said Albus. "People will still be able to live their lives. We'll just make sure they don't screw it up. I'll take control of the politics of world government, whilst Lady Tsubaki handles the spiritual needs of the population." He shook his head.-
[22:03] <Minaplo> ["You act as though I'm crossing some boundary. Societies have tried to enforce their will on people from the inception of history. Do as you will, but if you break the rules, we will force you to obey them or you'll die- that's essentially what the social contract is. The only difference is that where others use armies, police forces, media persuasion, we just go right to the source." Said
[22:03] <Minaplo> Albus. "You recoil from it because it sounds transgressive, but is it any worse than a truncheon to the head?"-
[22:04] <Minaplo> ["You sound like my mother." Said Freya. "Don't you people get it? It's only a contract if people willingly enter it. You're seizing control and calling it a concord."-
[22:04] <Minaplo> [The smile fell from Albus's face.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> ["Tsubaki?" Freya turned toward her. "I don't want to hear from this guy anymore. Tell me what you think. Please. You can't really be going with this…"-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki remained silent.-
[22:06] <Minaplo> ["I… I don't know you very well." Said Freya. "But I know you're a kind person. A good person. People respect you for that. I don't think this is really you. Is it?"-
[22:07] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki's silence continued for a few seconds- before she shook her head.-
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["People are dying, Freya." She said quietly.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> ["W-What?" Said Freya. "Well, I know-"-
[22:08] <Minaplo> ["You should know better than anyone else." Said Tsubaki. "You can hear their voices growing in number day by day."-
[22:09] <Minaplo> ["That's- true." Said Freya. "But that doesn't make this right-"-
[22:10] <Minaplo> ["You're only saying that because you've always been safe." Said Tsubaki. "You've been sheltered. You've always been able to rely on yourself or others to get you out of trouble."-
[22:10] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki shook her head. "There are millions of people out there who have no one to rely on. Every single day is a roll of the dice for them, to see if they live or not."-
[22:11] <Minaplo> ["Is giving those people protection from that worth less than your ideals?" Said Tsubaki. "And if your ideals can't give them that, then what are they for?"-
[22:15] <Minaplo> ["I was sacrificed for the good of humanity." Said Tsubaki, her voice low. "Where was that idealism of yours then? No one stepped in to stop that. If ideals can't prevent humanity's demise, then they must give way to something that can- that was the logic. Still is the logic."-
[22:17] <Minaplo> ["Humanity wants this." Said Tsubaki. "For thousands of years, they've called for someone to take the danger away, to just- care about them. To know something powerful cared about them enough to stop it. So that's what I'm going to be."-
[22:17] <Minaplo> ["…" Freya turned her face away. "Tsubaki… I'm sorry. Even so, I'm still not going to help you."-
[22:19] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki remained silent for a while- then she shook her head sadly. "You're as pigheaded as Sera." She said sadly. "I guess he gets that from you."-
[22:19] <Minaplo> ["Regardless." Albus smiled. "Your consent is desired, but not necessary."-
[22:20] <Minaplo> [The Guard behind Freya placed his hands on her shoulders- before she could respond, she was being shepherded roughly toward the golden throne.-
[22:20] <Minaplo> ["Get off me." Snapped Freya. "No! I won't do it-"-
[22:20] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki rose from the throne. "I'm sorry." She said quietly. "I'll try to keep you alive."-
[22:21] <Minaplo> [Albus's smile widened as Freya was pushed to the throne, made to kneel before it.-
[22:22] <Minaplo> [The marble dais up close was covered in small engravings, overlapping circles with geometric shapes within- a pattern of seals.-
[22:22] <Minaplo> ["Please forgive me." Whispered Tsubaki as she placed her hand on Freya's head.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> [Freya's vision went dark.-
[22:24] <Minaplo> [She felt and heard a sharp keening through her mind, a powerful magnet sucking her towards some unseen vortex… It was incredibly powerful, and fighting against it was like a leaf trying to resist a storm gale.-
[22:24] <Minaplo> [She screamed, but it sounded distant in her own ears.-
[22:25] <Minaplo> [Faces started to flash before her eyes- the faces of those within her pillar. Strangers, no one she'd ever met, yet somehow knew intimately, knew in ways she never ever asked for or wanted.-
[22:26] <Minaplo> [The very strength in her soul was giving out. She was crumbling…-
[22:26] <Minaplo> [Things started to go quiet. The wail was muted; she didn't even feel the pressure of the Guard's hands on her anymore.
[22:27] <Minaplo> [At that moment, a quiet voice, clear as a bell, spoke within her mind: Are you going to give up?-
[22:27] <Minaplo> [What else was she supposed to do? There was nothing she could do here.-
[22:27] <Minaplo> [You know that isn't true. You know what you could do.-
[22:28] <Minaplo> [She recoiled from the suggestion. She would never use it-
[22:28] <Minaplo> [If you give up, they win. They do exactly what they said. You didn't want that to happen, so why aren't you fighting for it?-
[22:29] <Minaplo> [I never wanted the Pillar!-
[22:30] <Minaplo> [I understand. Using it or not is a choice you have, the only choice. But what do you do when choosing not to use it means choosing to condemn humanity to a fate you don't believe in?-
[22:30] <Minaplo> [She didn't know.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> [It's time to choose who are more important- the dead or the living.-
[22:32] <Minaplo> [Freya looked up- and her gaze met Ezekiel's. His eyes were burning with an intensity she'd never seen before.-
[22:33] <Minaplo> [Slowly the sensation began to creep back into Freya's body. The painful grip, the wail…-
[22:33] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki's mind was like a tendril, boring into her soul, using it as a bridge.-
[22:34] <Minaplo> [I'm sorry, Freya said to herself.-
[22:34] <Minaplo> [Desperately she flicked through the faces- the lost ones. Untold millions of them, suddenly open to her, receiving her touch. She ran through them, until she ran into one.-
[22:35] <Minaplo> [A man. Late forties. He had a cruel face. It suited him well.-
[22:35] <Minaplo> [He wore the uniform of a NeoSpartan instructor captain. A memory surfaced- a black gloved hand holding a fistful of pure white hair.-
[22:35] <Minaplo> [I'm so sorry, Tsubaki.-
[22:36] <Minaplo> [Freya plucked the soul from the pillar and shoved it straight through the connection.-
[22:36] <Minaplo> [Suddenly the pressure was gone from Freya's mind. There was a scream- but it wasn't her's.-
[22:37] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki was shrieking; she'd collapsed against the throne, her hands over her eyes. "No! No! Get out!"-
[22:37] <Minaplo> [A second later, the world itself trembled. The Guards behind her suddenly collapsed, screaming, overcome by a wave of psychic backlash- even Albus stumbled.-
[22:39] <Minaplo> [But when the wave hit Freya, she formed a wall of faces in her mind- the shockwave smashed into it and dissipated.-
[22:39] <Minaplo> ["I'm- I'm allowed to be out-" Shouted Tsubaki, her voice half a curse and half a plea. "Don't put me back in! No!"-
[22:39] <Minaplo> [Freya stood up.-
[22:40] <Minaplo> ["It's better this way." She murmured. She focused her thoughts on one face- a tall, powerfully built man wearing a pair of red boxing gloves-
[22:40] <Minaplo> [She jabbed Tsubaki twice in the face before smacking her head against the throne with an uppercut. Tsubaki crumpled, her eyes brimming with tears.-
[22:41] <Minaplo> [The entire ship started to shake, now. Freya turned to run- but suddenly gravity itself seemed weaker- every step took her farther than she'd expected.-
[22:42] <Minaplo> ["No!" Roared Albus, pulling himself up to his feet, leaning on his staff. The other Guards were still on the ground.-
[22:42] <Minaplo> [He raised his hand toward Freya.-
[22:43] <Minaplo> [Suddenly she felt it in the back of her head, a mighty bolt of psychic power, enough to near kill any normal human being.-
[22:43] <Minaplo> [Freya dispersed it across a million minds; she didn't feel a thing.-
[22:43] <Minaplo> ["Damn it!" Albus staggered after her. "CAINE!"-
[22:44] <Minaplo> [As Freya tore out of the room, Ezekiel gave himself the luxury of a small smile.-
[22:44] <Minaplo> […-
[22:44] <Minaplo> [Freya didn't know the layout of the battleship too well- she'd spent most of her time on it confined to quarters.-
[22:45] <Minaplo> [Fortunately for her, Mr. Jonathan Potts, Starfleet Marine, knew the battleship like the back of his hand.-
[22:46] <Minaplo> [With Potts's thoughts running through her own head, Freya beelined for the armoury. As she went she passed more Guards, all of them still prone. A few tried to crawl after her blearily.-
[22:47] <Minaplo> [There weren't enough Guards to cover the entire ship, that much Freya knew; so naturally they'd recruited- or brainwashed- marines to do the job for them. Five of them had been guarding the armoury, and all of them were on the floor, a few throwing up into their helmets.-
[22:48] <Minaplo> [Freya moved as quickly as she could. She plundered the gun stores, grabbing a pair of positron pistols and a positron gun, as well as a positron sword- the thing felt heavy and clumsy in her hands.-
[22:50] <Minaplo> [After that, she pulled on a suit of power armour. It took her about ten minutes, and her hands were trembling as she did it, afraid that any second now, the marines would stir, or Albus would burst through the door…-
[22:50] <Minaplo> [But they didn't.-
[22:50] <Minaplo> [She grabbed a spare suit, then went to the very back of the armoury.-
[22:51] <Minaplo> [Here sat the AC Suits. She approached one- a Strike Raphael. Her thoughts turned towards a technician named Li Xie.-
[22:51] <Minaplo> [She entered the maintenance override command into the Strike Raphael's cockpit control. It obediently cracked open, and she hopped in.-
[22:53] <Minaplo> [Xie's face faded, replaced by an AC pilot named Etienne Grenadier.-
[22:53] <Minaplo> [Freya grabbed the controls and piloted the suit confidently out of the bay.-
[22:53] <Minaplo> […-
[22:54] <Minaplo> [The Guard on duty in the brig had managed to get back to his feet. His bolter was raised to his shoulder-
[22:54] <Minaplo> [Freya's suit burst through the door, shoulder-first. The guard fired out of pure reflex, the bolt shells bouncing off the armour.-
[22:54] <Minaplo> [Freya turned the suit's momentum into a spinning kick that took the Guard's head clean off his shoulders.-
[22:55] <Minaplo> [As the Guard toppled, Freya lowered the suit's hand over the brig controls. A pair of prehensile jacks shot out of the hand's wrist and plugged into ports just below the main panel.-
[22:56] <Minaplo> [Potts worked a lot in the brig; he knew the commands here. She punched in a command designed to open doors-
[22:56] <Minaplo> [ACCESS DENIED, she read, flashing in red letters across the screen.-
[22:56] <Minaplo> ["They changed the codes." Said Freya to herself. "Fair enough…"_
[22:59] <Minaplo> [Freya tore down the nearest brig corridor, hacking haphazardly at the doors as she went with the Raphael's positron sabre. After one such swing nearly killed a highly alarmed Zhang Zhengsheng, she decided to keep the sword to herself after all.-
[23:02] <Minaplo> [Freya passed the cell that had been hers- then onwards, to a cell she'd seen on the way…-
[23:02] <Minaplo> [She stopped, carefully cut the door free, and opened the hatch.-
[23:03] <Minaplo> ["… Little owl?" Said Serafina, her eyes widening. "What-?"-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["No time to explain." Said Freya, leaping out. "Here, put this on," she said, tossing a suit of power armour at Serafina's feet.-
[23:16] <Minaplo> [Serafina had not been alone in the cell- space was at a premium. Sharing the cell were Casey Cole, Doctor Tenma- and Eevi. Eevi had been wrapped up in a thick fabric cocoon, bounded with silvery-white metal rings, including one around her forehead and a gag around her mouth, then thrown into a corner.-
[23:23] <Minaplo> ["Whoa." Said Casey. "I didn't know you were a pilot!"-
[21:53] <Minaplo> ["I'm not." Said Freya. "What'd they do to the little girl?"-
[21:54] <Minaplo> ["Do you remember Eevi?" Said Serafina. "She's augmented- they don't trust bioexotics they can't control. They wrapped her up and bound her in metal rings not even she can break."-
[21:54] <Minaplo> ["Jeez."-
[22:02] <Minaplo> ["Alright. I'm going to try to escape." Said Freya. "Serafina, I need you to help me."-
[22:03] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Serafina, who was strapping on the power armour chestplate. "Did you have a plan in mind?"-
[22:04] <Minaplo> ["We'll need a Superheavy." Said Freya. "I figured we'd split up, you grab the super and I pull their attention. They'll be after me for sure, so they might be too busy to notice you."-
[22:08] <Minaplo> ["Not a bad idea…" Said Serafina slowly.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> ["We should take Eevi with us." Said Freya. "I don't like leaving her like this- and we could try to free some other people, too."-
[22:09] <Minaplo> ["… Eevi, fine, but I'm not so sure about the others." Said Serafina.-
[22:09] <Minaplo> ["Why not?" Said Freya. "There are important people on board- Rustami, and Marianne, the Ayanamis, the Pope…"-
[22:10] <Minaplo> ["Do you know where any of them are?" Said Serafina. "Even if we did, we can't rescue them all. Who do we prioritise? If we go looking randomly, we'll lose what time advantage we have."-
[22:18] <Minaplo> ["… Ugh. You're right." Said Freya. "Alright. But if you run into someone by chance who you think should be rescued…"-
[22:18] <Minaplo> ["I'll see what I can do." Said Serafina gravely.-
[22:21] <Minaplo> ["Do you two want to go with her?" Said Freya, turning toward Tenma and Casey.-
[22:28] <Minaplo> ["She makes good points- it's not exactly roomy in one of those things, so ye'll be better off saving it for someone more important." Said Casey.-
[22:29] <Minaplo> ["I don't like ranking people like that." Said Freya. "But it's kind of hard not to when a specific person in the wrong hands means the end of the world…"-
[22:33] <Minaplo> ["Unfortunate, but true." Said Tenma. "Good luck, Freya, Serafina."-
[22:39] <Minaplo> ["You too, doctor." Said Freya.-
[22:40] <Minaplo> [Serafina finished putting on the helmet of her armour; she picked up Eevi, climbed into the AC Suit and sealed the hatch. "See you soon, little owl."-
[22:40] <Minaplo> [And then she was off.-
[22:40] <Minaplo> […-
[19:47] <Minaplo> [There was an Iron Guard in the promenade, along with four auxiliaries- marines toting bolters.-
[19:54] <Minaplo> [Freya watched them intently. She was crouched behind a pillar, one of two that framed the entrance to 'Forum on the Promenade', an Italian-style restaurant that had opened barely two days ago. It formed a triangle with two other restaurants: Roku's own Restful, and Blue's Bar, Grill and Tailoring.-
[20:02] <Minaplo> [Her eyes were mostly on the Guard; a behemoth of black armour and malevolent red helmet lenses, a bolter the size of a large dog in his arms.-
[20:06] <Minaplo> [She focused on the faces, and one came to mind- a Doctor Hine, who'd worked in the Iron Guard programme. Who recognised the markings on this suit of armour- almost instantly, information about that armour's weak points and the gaps in the guard's fighting style flowed into her mind.-
[20:11] <Minaplo> [Freya tapped her temple for a few seconds, then glanced up the pillar.-
[20:12] <Minaplo> [It was about five metres tall, and ended at the base of the second storey platforms.-
[20:12] <Minaplo> [She wouldn't need the faces for this one.-
[20:20] <Minaplo> [The instant the last marine's gaze had turned far enough away, Freya dove out of cover, coiled, then leapt up as high as she could. The armour and low gravity both helped propel her up a good few metres- enough so that she was able to run up the rest of the pillar, grab the bottom of a balustrade on the second storey, and slowly pull herself up and over.-
[20:26] <Minaplo> [She ran from a crouch along the platform, keeping an eye on the Guard below. As she drew level with him, she readied her positron gun and, with a twinge of guilt, plucked a face from the crowd.-
[20:29] <Minaplo> [Natasha Volkova's expertise filled Freya's mind, reaching to an unconscious level; almost instantly, Freya's grasp on the gun became more at ease, the hands and stance resting into casual familiarity.-
[20:48] <Minaplo> [She pulled herself up onto the railing, counted to three- then fell forwards.-
[20:48] <Minaplo> [She fell slower than she'd expected, which was just enough time to aim the gun, line it up- and squeeze the trigger.-
[20:50] <Minaplo> [The resulting flash lit up the whole promenade in blue; a streaking positron bolt tore through the nape of the Guard's helmet, collided with the connector between suit and power pack, and promptly tore it apart.-
[20:51] <Minaplo> [The explosion sent the Guard flying wildly forwards; it also slowed Freya's fall to a crawl. She had enough time to drop her gun and pull a pistol. One of the marines had dropped his bolter in his shock; one squeeze of her pistol's trigger and the gun was blown to smithereens.-
[20:54] <Minaplo> [Freya came to a gentle landing, which she held for a moment before ducking into a roll, seconds before the three other marines began to fire.-
[20:57] <Minaplo> [As she rose, she drew the other pistol as well as the sword. Natasha's face vanished, replaced by another, one that bore their own twinge of sadness: Niles Windsor-Yamato.-
[20:59] <Minaplo> [The sword suddenly felt as though it belonged in her hand. She looked up at the four marines- and couldn't stop a grin from crossing her face.-
[21:00] <Minaplo> [In a flash she was among them, her sword swinging out, cutting through two more bolters. A firm pommel-crack to the back of the head downed the third marine, who hadn't even had time to turn.-
[21:17] <Minaplo> [She turned her pistol on the nearest standing marine and fired. The bolt caught him across his left side, searing away flesh and armour- but not enough to kill him. Nonetheless he screamed and stumbled.-
[21:19] <Minaplo> [Freya charged him, leapt, kicked him in the chest, then used his falling body as a springboard, launching herself at the last guard; she swung a swift kick square between his eyes, before falling right on top of him, knee at his throat; she struck him in the head two more times with her sword pommel before he went limp.-
[21:19] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[21:20] <Minaplo> [Freya rose, her own panting sounding loud in her helmet. "How did you do that in normal gravity?" she whispered as Windsor-Yamato's smirking face faded back into the host.-
[21:28] <Minaplo> [She looked up in the corner, where a security camera was tracking her intently.-
[21:28] <Minaplo> [She smiled, clicked at the camera, shot it out, then bolted toward the fore of the vessel.-
[21:29] <Minaplo> […-
[21:33] <Minaplo> [Albus Mortens marched through the corridors of the Dorian, a band of Guard behind him. He'd put on his helmet and fetched his bolter in the time since Freya's escape.-
[21:36] <Minaplo> ["Has Akagi revived?" He asked of the Guard following to his right.-
[21:38] <Minaplo> ["Not yet." Said Euphemia One. "I'll notify you-"-
[21:39] <Minaplo> [Albus let out a low growl from the back of his throat; Euphemia shut her mouth.-
[21:42] <Minaplo> ["Such frailty." Said Albus. "Still, I suppose I should be grateful that she's not her mother- Caine could've ended this all then and there. Tsk."-
[21:42] <Minaplo> ["Yes, sir." Said Euphemia.-
[21:45] <Minaplo> ["Consul, all cohorts reporting in- orders to take Caine alive have been acknowledged." Came a voice over their comm channel.-
[21:45] <Minaplo> ["Good." Said Albus. "We're still tracking her location?"-
[21:47] <Minaplo> ["As best we can, but she moves faster than we expected." Said the voice. "Even a Guard would be hard-pressed to keep up."-
[21:48] <Minaplo> ["Indeed?" Said Albus. He raised his hand; a holographic map of the ship appeared in the air, with Freya's sightings listed as red dots.-
[21:49] <Minaplo> ["Moving diagonally across six decks in three minutes without a lift?" Said Euphemia, her eyes widening. "Not many biotypicals could manage that pace."-
[21:51] <Minaplo> ["Many bioexotics would struggle as well." Said Albus. He tapped his chin. "I wonder. She must be using the secret passages."-
[21:51] <Minaplo> ["The… Secret passages?"-
[21:53] <Minaplo> ["Yes. Of course this battleship is riddled with secret rooms and passages." Said Albus. "Silas was an indulgent fellow, and becoming an Angel only worsened his tendencies. That said, the passages serve a purpose- they're extensive, difficult to find, good for hiding- ah- sensitive materials, and are tremendously resistant to tracking from psychic sources. In truth, I find them somewhat disorientating…"-
[21:57] <Minaplo> ["Are you going to follow her?"-
[21:57] <Minaplo> ["… Yes, I think I might have to." Said Albus.-
[21:57] <Minaplo> [There was a moment of silence.-
[21:57] <Minaplo> ["Not going to offer to follow me?" Asked Albus sleekly.-
[21:58] <Minaplo> [Euphemia's expression hardened.-
[21:59] <Minaplo> ["Hm." Albus smirked. He walked a few metres forward then, as casually as anything, turned and walked straight through what seemed to be an extremely solid and hard bulkhead.-
[21:59] <Minaplo> [Euphemia walked over to the very same spot. She pressed against the utterly undamaged wall.-
[22:00] <Minaplo> [It remained unyielding.-
[22:00] <Minaplo> [Euphemia sighed and turned away. "Consul, huh. I hope Isaiah and the others return soon…"-
[22:00] <Minaplo> […-
[22:03] <Minaplo> [Freya climbed the ladder as quickly as she dared. The walls kept changing around her- a fact she desperately tried to ignore.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [At first, the walls seemed like normal surovite, but over time they'd gradually started to shift. They became walls of sandstone, accompanied by a gust of hot, sandy wind that Freya felt despite her armour; then they became blocks of ice, and Freya felt her joints freezing shut.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [Still, she continued to climb.-
[22:06] <Minaplo> [Then the walls disappeared.-
[22:07] <Minaplo> [All of a sudden, Freya found herself hanging from a lone tree branch above what seemed to be an endless plain of rolling green grass… About a hundred metres below. The tree to which the branch belonged was old, colossal and covered in knotty bark that seemed to stare at her with contempt.-
[22:09] <Minaplo> [Freya broke her own, unspoken rule: she looked down, treated the image as though it were real.-
[22:10] <Minaplo> [Almost instantly the branch began to crack beneath her weight. Freya yelped and scrambled, only for the branch to crack further.-
[22:11] <Minaplo> [How was this happening? Was it Tsubaki, somehow?-
[22:13] <Minaplo> [She struggled to recall her current face, the face of Doctor Penday- an LN designer turned- unwillingly- Brother, he'd been in a sickly fortunate position for her needs.-
[22:24] <Minaplo> [It was the material. It wasn't surovite…-
[22:24] <Minaplo> [Something he modelled after the Dead Sea Scrolls…-
[22:29] <Minaplo> [In the sea of faces, one stood out. He looked somewhat familiar- he had the jawline, the blue eyes that could be icy or ever so gentle, and the blonde hair of a Caine.-
[22:30] <Minaplo> [Mad Ezekiel Caine, the first man to give his life trying to decipher the Scrolls.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> [The instant she drew his face forth, the whole world around her shifted so violently that Freya almost threw up.-
[22:32] <Minaplo> [The elysian view below was struck from view, becoming like red, erratic static. She averted her eyes away, upwards- and saw a ladder. The very ladder she was grasping.-
[22:36] <Minaplo> ["Illusion. It's only an illusion." She muttered to herself.-
[22:36] <Minaplo> [With a timid hand she reached up, grabbed the next rung- and tightened her hand around it. It was pleasingly solid.-
[22:37] <Minaplo> [A few seconds of careful climbing- and Freya was done, over the edge and onto an open platform. She ran over to the wall, pushed a hand through- and walked right out into a blessedly normal corridor.-
[22:39] <Minaplo> [Freya took a deep breath- that instantly caught in her throat. At the end of the corridor was Albus Mortens.-
[22:41] <Minaplo> ["Tricky." Said Albus; he hovered his staff in the air, clapped his hands slowly, then took his staff back. "You threw my soldiers into disorder- they had no idea how you were moving so fast!"-
[22:42] <Minaplo> ["Still, you were only delaying the inevitable." He said; he began to walk towards her. "You would've been better off hiding in the tunnels- well. Physically, at least."-
[22:43] <Minaplo> [Freya backed away. She raised her positron gun and fired.-
[22:44] <Minaplo> [With a flick of his hand, Albus deflected the positron strike into a nearby wall. He then made a sharp grabbing gesture- and her gun pulled itself free of her hands.-
[22:44] <Minaplo> [Within a second, Albus caught the gun, crushed it and threw it aside.-
[22:45] <Minaplo> ["You're a talented young lady. Having access to so much varied expertise- the sum of sacrificial humanity- makes you particularly dangerous." Said Albus. "Unfortunately, none of them seem to grant you an AT Field. More's the pity…"-
[22:46] <Minaplo> [Albus's staff suddenly twisted its shape into a long, eagle-winged spear. He threw it at Freya, the edges bursting into flame.-
[22:46] <Minaplo> [Windsor-Yamato's face floated back to the surface. Freya rolled to the side and struck the spear mid-air with her sword, knocking it off-balance and sending it careening into the wall.-
[22:51] <Minaplo> [Albus made a fist; the spear tore itself free and launched itself obligingly back into his hand. "It doesn't have to be like this, you know. There's still time to recant your resistance."-
[22:51] <Minaplo> ["It's not happening." Said Freya firmly.-
[22:52] <Minaplo> [Albus shrugged. "So be it. There are others on this ship who can take your place."-
[22:53] <Minaplo> [Freya froze. "What? That's ridiculous. I'm the only pillar on the ship-"-
[22:55] <Minaplo> ["Having a pillar is advantageous, not necesssary." Said Albus flatly. "There are others we can sacrifice. And it will be others. Unless- you're willing to take their place? Avoid having those deaths on your conscience?"-
[22:55] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[22:56] <Minaplo> [Freya, after a few seconds of silence, shook her head. "No. No- that's not going to work. You don't get to do that. I'm not going to let you being a dickhead sit on my conscience. Own your own crimes."-
[22:57] <Minaplo> ["So be it." Said Albus wearily.-
[22:58] <Minaplo> [Albus suddenly staggered forwards. His voice gave way to great, heaving, gasping breaths; he hunched over, his hands squeezing into the tightest of fists.-
[22:58] <Minaplo> [The air in the corridor grew incredibly hot, enough for Freya to feel through her armour. She stumbled- and started to back away. "What-?"-
[22:59] <Minaplo> [Albus let out a deafening roar- and two bright ribbons of light burst from his back, gouts of blood splashing the corridor and his armour.-
[22:59] <Minaplo> [A few seconds later the ribbons formed into two broad, white wings, glowing softly with light.-
[23:02] <Minaplo> [Freya reflexively threw an arm up, deflecting a gush of blood. A moment later she cried out- the blood was hot. Boiling hot.-
[23:06] <Minaplo> ["You're going to die in this corridor, Athena Caine." Said Albus, his voice echoing painfully through the hall. "Are you ready to die? You weren't ready to die for those souls you now so eagerly use, after all!"-
[23:07] <Minaplo> [The very air around him shimmered with rainbow light.-
[23:07] <Minaplo> [The corridor buckled.-
[23:08] <Minaplo> [Freya didn't know what he'd done, or where- all she felt was a tremendous explosion behind her, bending the air and causing her very bones to vibrate. She'd screamed-
[23:08] <Minaplo> [And a moment later was being hurled through the air.-
[23:08] <Minaplo> [Albus had blown a breach into the very hull of the ship.-
[23:11] <Minaplo> [Freya screamed and waved her arms, as though trying to swim- nothing happened, until with the sheerest of luck she smacked her shoulder into an exposed girder. She desperately scrabbed onto it, wrapping her arms against it tightly, tucking her head down as the air flushed into the void.-
[23:12] <Minaplo> [Before her lay- everything. The Earth shone a bright blue and green, dominating most of the view; beyond that were endless stars and the swirls of gas clouds.-
[23:12] <Minaplo> [It turned her stomach in terror.-
[23:16] <Minaplo> ["You'll slacken eventually." Said Albus softly. "And when you do, the void itself will take you. Your suit will keep you alive for awhile- a week, maybe two. Slowly you'll pass, like microdebris, circling the world, unable to do anything. You might even go mad before your body starts shutting down."-
[23:17] <Minaplo> ["And at that moment, I will find you and reappear before you- in a form you're more comfortable with. By then, you'll be beyond eager to work with me, and everything will be- alright."-
[23:17] <Minaplo> [She could feel his smile beneath his helmet.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["Or we could skip all that, and you come back with me right now. The result is the same, the only difference is whether you spend two weeks in orbit first." Said Albus. "Why don't we put all this behind us and start again, Athena? What do you say?"-
[23:20] <Minaplo> [Freya was silent. A minute passed. Two. Her grip on the girder started to slacken. She caught herself and tightened it.-
[23:20] <Minaplo> [Another minute.-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["… Alright." Said Freya. "I have your answer."-
[23:22] <Minaplo> [Freya carefully let one hand go; she reached into the back of her armour, grabbed something, and pulled.-
[23:22] <Minaplo> [It was an object, small and black; it was beeping with red light.-
[23:22] <Minaplo> [Albus tilted his head. "A Federation standard armour tracking beacon. What of it?"-
[23:23] <Minaplo> [Freya let it go; it vanished into the void.-
[23:24] <Minaplo> ["My name is Freya." She said softly; and then let go.-
[23:24] <Minaplo> [Albus's eyes widened.-
[23:24] <Minaplo> [Within seconds, Freya had been sucked out of the hull- and into the expanse beyond.-
[23:25] <Minaplo> ["What?! What are you doing?!" Albus shouted, stretching a hand out towards her. "You imbecile-"-
[23:25] <Minaplo> [A shadow crossed the hull of the Dorian Lachapelle.-
[23:26] <Minaplo> [Albus leaned forward, his eyes suddenly narrowing.-
[23:26] <Minaplo> ["A D-Titan-?"-
[23:27] <Minaplo> [The Titan flowed deftly through space, maneuvering itself around Freya. It stretched a hand out towards her, moving only slightly faster than Freya herself- a few seconds later, Freya was safely within its palm.-
[23:29] <Minaplo> ["All that posturing and I can still walk out with a D-Titan like it's a firesale at a dollar store," came the voice of Serafina Raskova over the comms. "Sorry it took me so long, little owl."-
[23:29] <Minaplo> ["No shit you're sorry!" Shouted Freya. "I was in space! And Mortens is going berserk! Where have you been?"-
[23:30] <Minaplo> ["Shaking pursuit." Said Serafina drily. The front hatch of the D-Titan opened, as did the AC Suit; Freya clambered quickly into the cockpit and, words aside, threw her arms tightly around Serafina's neck.-
[23:31] <Minaplo> ["Ow- hey, too tight!" Said Serafina- but she couldn't keep the laugh out of her voice.-
[23:31] <Minaplo> ["He blew out the side of the ship-"-
[23:31] <Minaplo> ["I could do that with an old battletank." Said Serafina dismissively.-
[23:32] <Minaplo> ["He has wings-"-
[23:32] <Minaplo> ["So do we." Said Serafina. "Take a seat and I'll show you how to use them."-
[23:33] <Minaplo> [Freya sat aside- and not a moment too soon. Albus hurled a lance of energy their way.-
[23:33] <Minaplo> [Serafina jinked to the side, evading the blast- but it still cut close enough to sear the metal plates on their left shoulder.-
[23:34] <Minaplo> ["That's no ordinary level." Said Serafina. "He's throwing out blasts at Eva-tier level. How on Earth-"-
[23:34] <Minaplo> [A broadside of AT blasts burst from the breach, spraying toward Serafina in a wide sweeping killing arc.-
[23:35] <Minaplo> [But Serafina was already away, thrusters burning at maximum, beelining away from the Dorian.-
[23:36] <Minaplo> [Albus growled.-
[23:36] <Minaplo> [He reached up and grabbed tightly at his right wing- it began to shine ever brighter.-
[23:36] <Minaplo> [He leaned back and swung toward the D-Titan as though he were throwing a javelin.-
[23:37] <Minaplo> [The wing slashed forward, a wide arc of light burning its way toward the D-Titan, turning into an outstretched hand- one made of lightning.-
[23:38] <Minaplo> [Serafina strafed away, but the hand turned course to chase her. She twisted again- and the hand pursued. No matter how she turned, it kept going.-
[23:38] <Minaplo> ["Ugh."-
[23:38] <Minaplo> ["I really hope Guillory forgives me for taking his only spares." Said Serafina, reaching up into her right wing dock. She took out a small cylinder, barely larger than the D-Titan's hand.-
[23:39] <Minaplo> [She switched it on.-
[23:39] <Minaplo> [A beam of positron light burst from the hilt, a stick of blue fire in the D-Titan's hand.-
[23:41] <Minaplo> [Blade struck that gleaming hand- and both were blasted away from the other. The D-Titan spun away wildly, whilst the hand flailed madly for a few seconds- then seemed to lose its lustre. It slowed, then began to fade, then dissolved into a million shimmering lights.-
[23:41] <Minaplo> [Albus sank to one knee, his wings dissolving into ash.-
[23:42] <Minaplo> ["I should've expected trouble from a Caine of this pedigree. More fool me." He muttered wearily to himself.-
[23:44] <Minaplo> […-
[23:45] <Minaplo> ["We're not home free just yet." Said Serafina, eyeing the scanners, which showed three incoming red dots. "Looks like Iron Guard prefer D-Titans…"-
[23:46] <Minaplo> [Eevi, stuck in the corner, mumbled something behind her muzzle.-
[23:46] <Minaplo> ["If you say so-"-
[23:47] <Minaplo> [At that moment, Serafina convulsed into coughing fits- violent, ugly fits that at one point sounded like a rattling gurgle.-
[23:47] <Minaplo> ["H-Hey. You ok?" Said Freya urgently, her hand on Serafina's shoulder as the fit subsided.-
[23:47] <Minaplo> ["I'm fine." Said Serafina. "Don't worry about me."-
[23:50] <Minaplo> ["The real problem is getting back to Earth." Said Serafina quietly. "D-Titans are built for atmospheric re-entry, but if we go in at max speed then we'll probably spin out of control at best- at worst, destroy ourselves in the process. We need to go slow, but that lets them catch up…"-
[23:52] <Minaplo> ["What do we do?" Asked Freya.-
[23:52] <Minaplo> [Serafina was silent for a few seconds- then she nodded. "I have an idea. It's stupid and might get us killed, but it'll make for a good story if we survive it."-
[23:54] <Minaplo> [She pushed down on the throttle- the D-Titan sped towards the Earth at ever faster speeds.-
[23:54] <Minaplo> ["W-Whoa, what?!" Gasped Freya.-
[23:54] <Minaplo> ["Just trust me." Said Serafina.-
[23:57] <Minaplo> [The three Iron Titans sped up as well.-
[23:58] <Minaplo> ["As I expected." Said Serafina with a smile.-
[23:59] <Minaplo> [She turned the D-Titan around abruptly, then cut the thrusters. The Titan's other hand went to a wing dock and pulled out a pulse sniper rifle.-
[00:01] <Minaplo> [She aimed up the first shot, fired- and struck the first Iron Titan straight through the left side of its head. A second later the head detonated, sending the now-blinded Titan spinning off into the distance.-
[00:02] <Minaplo> [She lined up a second shot, but the Iron Titans had instantly grown more cautious- they began swaying and weaving, and each shot she made went wide.-
[00:07] <Minaplo> [Serafina hit the retrorockets, slowing the Titan- but not completely. As the Iron Titans closed, they started to fire- one with a bolter, the other with a tactical bazooka.-
[00:10] <Minaplo> [The bolt rounds detonated against the Titan's right leg, buckling its armour. Serafina raised her beam sword and spun it in a wide circle. It shore the bazooka missile in half.-
[00:11] <Minaplo> [The explosion send the D-Titan hurtling backwards, but caused little damage to the Titan itself.-
[00:12] <Minaplo> [At that moment, Serafina launched a pair of smoke grenades from the Titan's arms, hitting the retros at the same time.-
[00:12] <Minaplo> [The Iron Titans slowed, unwilling to enter the cloud. They trained their weapons and waited for Serafina to emerge…-
[00:15] <Minaplo> [And emerge she did, beelining for the bolter Titan. Both sabres were out now, and she was spinning as she hurtled toward her enemy, the blades whirling around her as she went.-
[00:16] <Minaplo> [The bazooka fired again; the missile streaked toward Serafina, who scythed it out of the air. The explosion sent the Titan hurtling away- which also meant it missed another spitting of bolt rounds.-
[00:19] <Minaplo> [The spin and the explosion both had sent Serafina moving in a wide rotating arc- another missile was fired, and this one sailed right past, not threatening her at all.-
[00:20] <Minaplo> [The bolter Titan fired more desperately now, hoping to strike at all as Serafina closed on it. No luck.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> [In one smooth flow of movement, Serafina stowed her second blade away and pulled free her rifle. She slashed the sabre clear through the bolter Titan's midsection, pivoted on the point and fired her rifle straight down the barrel of the bazooka, a second before its firing. The weapon detonated, scorching an entire side of the Titan and destroying its arm completely.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> [Serafina hit the thrusters, the drag and inertia sending her Titan spinning wildly for a few long, painful seconds.-
[00:24] <Minaplo> [The last Iron Titan withdrew a bolt pistol from its remaining dock and began to fire, firing its rear thrusters at full burn- sending it toward the earth.-
[00:24] <Minaplo> [Serafina charged. She had the higher acceleration-
[00:24] <Minaplo> [One sweep of the blade cut the pistol-arm free. Another tore through its head.-
[00:25] <Minaplo> [She reversed the blade and plunged it straight through the Titan's cockpit. It burned right through to the other side.-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:26] <Minaplo> [Serafina stowed the beam emitter away, then plunged both arms into the Titan's hulk. They were now both speeding irrevocably toward the earth- but Serafina had the benefit of a shield, now.-
[00:27] <Minaplo> [Within the AC Suit, Serafina leaned back in her chair and let out a long, tired sigh. She took off her helmet and wiped the sweat from her brow. "I'm spent."-
[00:27] <Minaplo> ["You did really good." Said Freya glowingly, squeezing Serafina's arm tightly.-
[00:27] <Minaplo> [Eevi mumbled in agreement.-
[00:28] <Minaplo> ["We should be home free for now- I don't think any Superheavy would risk a full fight in the Earth's atmosphere." Said Serafina.-
[00:28] <Minaplo> [She could barely get the words out before her scanner started to wail. Six new red dots appeared, approaching fast.-
[00:28] <Minaplo> ["Not D-Titans." Said Serafina quietly. She turned on the visual image-
[00:29] <Minaplo> [E-Destroyers, six of them. Painted with the same colours and bearing the same badge.-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["… Isn't that Fox Squadron?" Whispered Freya. "… The Guards must've stolen their units."-
[00:30] <Minaplo> [But Serafina's expression was much more grim. "No, judging by how they fly, that's definitely Fox."-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["But-"-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["I know." Said Serafina. Her eyes narrowed. "Let's see if Horaki's stupid enough to play chicken during earthfall…"-
[00:36] <Minaplo> [Fox closed in, their formation loose. They were coming within range, now…-
[00:36] <Minaplo> [Seconds passed. Serafina didn't move to release her heat shield.-
[00:36] <Minaplo> [Fox kept pursuing.-
[00:37] <Minaplo> ["Break off." Muttered Serafina. "Destroyers don't do well here, you know that."-
[00:37] <Minaplo> [Serafina finally started to pull an arm free, to grab her rifle- when Fox slowed, then broke off.-
[00:37] <Minaplo> [Serafina sighed. "Finally."-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["Scanner looks clear to me." Said Freya. "No other contacts… Does that mean we're good?"-
[00:39] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, we're good." Said Serafina, rubbing at her eyes. "Once we're through reentry, I'll set a course for Paris- I think the Federation will be very happy to get some word on what's going on up here."-
[00:39] <Minaplo> ["… Yeah." Said Freya quietly, leaning back against the wall of the cockpit.-
[00:39] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, I think so too."-
[00:39] <Minaplo> […-
[21:33] <Minaplo> ["Move it."-
[22:06] <Minaplo> [Rei shot a look up at the Iron Guard above her. Grudgingly, she stepped out of the cell- which now stood empty- and tried another little shake of her manacles.-
[22:06] <Minaplo> [They remained as rigid as ever.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> ["Go on, shake them a little more." Said the Guard. "One of your sisters did. They say it took hours for the twitching to subside."-
[22:13] <Minaplo> ["Which one?" Said Rei.-
[22:13] <Minaplo> ["Shi."-
[22:14] <Minaplo> ["Then you must've heard wrong." Said Rei coldly. "It'd take more than these to take down Chii."-
[22:17] <Minaplo> ["Don't oversell yourselves so much, Ayanami." Said the Iron Guard; he gave Rei a firm shove in the back. "Move!"-
[22:17] <Minaplo> [Rei stumbled forward, nearly falling to her knees- they'd chained her feet as well as her hands.-
[22:18] <Minaplo> [Slowly, she regained her balance, straightened her back, and began to walk.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> [At the end of the hall was another Guard- Euphemia One.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> ["Thank you. I'll take her from here." Said Euphemia.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> ["Understood." Said the Guard, who gave Euphemia a curt nod before marching away.-
[22:25] <Minaplo> [Rei stared up at Euphemia, her eyes wide; then she looked down at the floor.-
[22:25] <Minaplo> ["What's the matter?" Asked Euphemia as they set out.-
[22:25] <Minaplo> ["I didn't think you'd be here, Euphemia." Said Rei. "You always seemed like a good person…"-
[22:28] <Minaplo> ["… I suppose this means I'm not a good person anymore then?" Asked Euphemia quietly.-
[22:28] <Minaplo> ["Maybe you are." Said Rei. "But I'd have to know your reasons first."-
[22:30] <Minaplo> [Euphemia chuckled.-
[22:32] <Minaplo> ["Maybe the person you think I am doesn't really exist." She said. "Why do you think I joined the Federation, Rei?"-
[22:36] <Minaplo> ["I don't know. Why?"-
[22:40] <Minaplo> ["I didn't have the option not to join." Said Euphemia. "Eugenia Ranvier bade us follow Weaver wherever he took us, and her orders were absolute- it is part of our conditioning. Something I suspect you understand better than most."-
[22:45] <Minaplo> ["When Weaver joined with the Federation, we followed because those were his orders." Euphemia shook her head. "We never had the choice. When the Federation established the Wizard Army as a separate state, they still negotiated with Weaver instead of an Iron Guard."-
[22:47] <Minaplo> ["… In truth, I suspect many within the Federation really think of us as a strategic resource instead of actual people." Said Euphemia.-
[22:49] <Minaplo> ["… I understand how alienating it can be to be managed as a resource first and foremost." Said Rei.-
[22:51] <Minaplo> ["But… Was this really the best way to get what you want, Euphemia? Hijacking the ship, hurting and killing people, chaining us up…?" Rei shook her manacles a little. "There were lots of people on this ship who never hurt you, or intended to hurt you. You must've formed friendships with a few of them, right? What about those friendships? What about Zaizai?"-
[22:55] <Minaplo> ["You're wrong if you think I wanted this." Said Euphemia bitterly. "I never intended for things to become violent like this… But before I knew it, the Wizard Army was following Albus's lead, where once they'd followed mine."-
[22:56] <Minaplo> ["You have to understand that we Iron Guard are not like normal people, not even like yourselves. We're the pinnacle of a fallen empire, and so in our own way, we exist entirely in a space between massive entitlement and immense insecurity."-
[22:59] <Minaplo> ["We expect victory and conquest like people expect water." Said Euphemia. "We expect to win. At the same time, we're ultimately the greatest losers of the LN War. We have very little that is really ours to own and to keep- if we possess land, then it's only as warlords. We integrate poorly into most societies due to our aggressiveness and clannish natures…"-
[23:01] <Minaplo> ["What do we have, really? We have our reputations. Even if all it does is make us valuable mercenaries." Euphemia shrugged. "Everyone wants an Iron Guard, and thus do Azariah's Immortals become the muscle for petty criminals and mob bosses all around the world…"-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["We were promised everything, once, when the Liberated Nations seemed likely to conquer the world. We would be the valued agents, an elite order within a world-spanning empire. Now we beg for scraps from biotypicals eager to use our muscle."-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["… Or so Albus says, at any rate." Said Euphemia. "In all honesty, I don't think coexistence is impossible. I think given time, an Iron Guard can reintegrate into society."-
[23:06] <Minaplo> ["… But the idea of going against my people, my- my family, my brothers and sisters in blood… I can't bring myself to do it. As much as I hate this, there's something- perhaps simple conditioning- that makes me stick with them."-
[23:08] <Minaplo> ["… I'm not an idiot, Rei. Albus's plan hasn't worked so far, and my gut says it won't work in the end. Once that happens, the Federation will strike back, and we're all going to die." She shook her head. "Another little ember of the LN going cold."-
[23:09] <Minaplo> ["It… Makes me sad, yet at the same time, the idea of that battle, of facing the Federation's fiercest soldiers, its most terrible weapons- of crossing swords with Savage, or defeating Guillory, or even beating Yanmei- makes my heart beat faster than it ever has before."-
[23:10] <Minaplo> ["I'm sorry." Said Euphemia softly. "I don't think this is the answer you were hoping to hear."-
[23:11] <Minaplo> ["I think I get it." Said Rei. "I'm sorry, too."-
[23:12] <Minaplo> [Euphemia nodded. "I'll try to do my best to keep Albus in check, however. As much for the sake of my family as for you all- in truth, I think he's gone bloody insane, but he's mightier than ever."-
[23:15] <Minaplo> ["Thank you." Said Rei.-
[23:16] <Minaplo> [Euphemia escorted Rei across the battleship.-
[23:17] <Minaplo> [Before long, they arrived at Tsubaki's malevolent throne room. Rei gasped on entering it, her eyes lingering on the Philosopher's Stone- but all too quickly her gaze was torn away. Her sisters, all of them, were sitting on the floor, all cuffed as she was.-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["Rei!" Said Julie. "Oh my God, you're alright- everyone else's here, I was worried-"-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["I'm okay." Said Rei quickly, joining her sisters. "Are you all…?"-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["Hungry and tired, but I'm okay." Said Julie.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["Yep, fine." Said Hachi, rubbing at a massive bruise on her face.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> [Rei eyed her critically.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["You should see the other guy." Said Hachi, her voice edged in feral cheerfulness.-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["… Mmm." Said Rei, turning toward Chii. "I heard you got shocked by your manacles. Really badly…"-
[23:20] <Minaplo> [Chii scoffed. "Yes, I've heard what they're saying. It was really not as bad as it sounds…"-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["They said you were twitching for hours, though-"-
[23:21] <Minaplo> ["It was really closer to minutes." Said Chii.-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["Really? How many?" Asked San.-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["About fifteen, maximum." Said Chii, tossing her head proudly.-
[23:23] <Minaplo> ["Or 1.5 Makotos, then." Said Roku with a small smile.-
[23:23] <Minaplo> ["S… Shut up."-
[23:23] <Minaplo> [Go let out a cough that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.-
[23:24] <Minaplo> ["I'm pretty sure," Said Juu tonelessly, "That they're going to kill some of us today."-
[23:31] <Minaplo> [The sisters fell quiet.-
[23:34] <Minaplo> ["I wonder what it'll be this time." Said Juu; she shook her manacles. "I just wish they'd get it over and done with."-
[23:35] <Minaplo> ["Juu…" Said Rei softly. Juu just shook her head.-
[23:36] <Minaplo> [At that moment, the doors opened again.-
[23:36] <Minaplo> ["The consul has returned!" Said Albus cheerfully. His armour was still splattered with blood.-
[23:36] <Minaplo> […-
[23:36] <Minaplo> ["Consul?"-
[23:37] <Minaplo> [Kou had spat the word as though it were rancid cheese. "Are you for real?"-
[23:37] <Minaplo> [Albus stood at the open door of the cell, his fingers tapping his staff gently. "Don't waste my time, Rustami."-
[23:40] <Minaplo> ["That's my line, clown shoes." Said Kou as he stepped out of the cell. "How does it feel to no longer be the most preposterous thing in the room, Han?"-
[23:41] <Minaplo> ["Don't bring me into this." Said Han, who was now lounging across Kou's bed.-
[23:42] <Minaplo> ["As funny as this all is, I'd really rather we kept moving, Rustami." Said Albus. He closed the cell.-
[23:42] <Minaplo> [They made it to the brig reception before Kou spoke. "Consul, though?"-
[23:45] <Minaplo> ["Why are you insulting my title choice?" Said Albus, a little sourly. "I like the name consul."-
[23:47] <Minaplo> ["Does Tsubaki like it, though?" Asked Kou. "I mean, if I were Tsubaki, I'd find it a little obvious, if you know what I mean."-
[23:47] <Minaplo> [Albus arched an eyebrow, but remained silent.-
[23:50] <Minaplo> ["Well, maybe Tsubaki isn't as into European history as she is Japanese." Said Kou. "The Roman Consuls had almost unlimited power, but were theoretically kept in check by the conventions of Roman law… So it sounds nice and regulated, but at the end of the day you're still running the show."-
[23:52] <Minaplo> ["It's a pretty ambitious setup you have running, though. Tsubaki controls the world, you control Tsubaki… To think that Azariah's god machine plan was still in play, this late in the game." Kou shook his head. "Middle brother was underestimated, I think."-
[23:53] <Minaplo> ["Strange. I don't remember telling you about my plans, Rustami." Said Albus.-
[23:54] <Minaplo> ["It's rather obvious, isn't it?" Said Kou. "It's what I'd do if I were in your spot."-
[23:54] <Minaplo> ["Mmm."-
[23:55] <Minaplo> [They ran into another few Guard in the promenade- these ones bearing their own prisoners.-
[23:56] <Minaplo> [Nigel Shardlake, Vladimir Romanov, and Pope Pius.-
[23:57] <Minaplo> ["What are you all still doing here?" Said Albus, tilting his head. "I thought I asked you all to go ahead."-
[23:57] <Minaplo> ["We did, sir." Said the lead Guard- one that Kou recognised as Duncan. "But this old fellow here seems to be unwell…" He gestured toward Romanov.-
[23:57] <Minaplo> ["He's just stalling for time." Said Albus. "Ignore him."-
[23:58] <Minaplo> ["Are you… Sure, sir? I mean, look at him." Said Duncan, gesturing to Romanov's face.-
[23:58] <Minaplo> ["He always looks like that. Now hurry up." Said Albus. "Just having these four in the same space is making me twitchy."-
[23:59] <Minaplo> [Duncan gave Albus a dubious look, but nonetheless turned and led his prisoners away, keeping a steadying hand on Romanov's bony shoulder.-
[00:00] <Minaplo> ["Shadow Seele and the Pope?" Said Kou wonderingly. "I wonder where exactly you're taking us, Albus."-
[00:07] <Minaplo> ["You'll see."-
[00:07] <Minaplo> […-
[00:08] <Minaplo> [Kou, like the others, looked up at the pierced Stone, hanging in the air- and then back down at the band of Ayanamis.-
[00:09] <Minaplo> ["Kou!" Shouted Go. "You're ok-?!"-
[00:10] <Minaplo> ["Go!" Kou's eyes widened and, before he could stop himself, he smiled. "Yeah, I'm okay. It's good to see you…"-
[00:10] <Minaplo> ["We have everything we need." Said Albus, addressing Tsubaki, who remained quiet on her throne.-
[00:11] <Minaplo> [Kou's gaze turned toward Tsubaki- and then toward her raised throne. His smile instantly faded.-
[00:11] <Minaplo> ["I don't believe it." Murmured Kou. "… You utter, absolute imbecile. You have no idea what you're doing at all, do you?"-
[00:12] <Minaplo> ["I'm tiring of your attitude, Rustami."-
[00:17] <Minaplo> ["Albus, listen to me." Said Kou. "Do the smart thing: take that throne and throw it away."-
[00:17] <Minaplo> ["Why?"-
[00:22] <Minaplo> ["I get why you thought using it was a good idea." Said Kou. "You're using it to amplify Tsubaki's consciousness and power."-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["It's smart. Seriously, it is. You're binding crewmembers to it, cementing your control- but you're actually creating your own worst enemy here. Trust me on this."-
[00:27] <Minaplo> [Albus glanced over at the throne. "I don't follow."-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["I haven't seen anything like this before, myself." Said Shardlake, rubbing his chin. "What is it, exactly?"-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["Is it some sort of Ancestral artefact?" Said Romanov. "Although they're not usually that gaudy."-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["It's manmade, although not by a biotypical. It was made a long time ago, by- someone pretty clever and pretty desperate." Said Kou. "You know how A-Types and all that had special powers before Impact? The throne was designed to mimic a very specific, very dangerous type of power."-
[00:33] <Minaplo> ["I thought it'd been tossed out somewhere, but I suppose Azariah dug it up somehow." Said Kou.-
[00:34] <Minaplo> [Albus's expression was serious. He made a sharp gesture to Kou and the old men of Seele, pulling them away toward a corner. "I was under the impression it tethered souls to the throne. I don't see the problem."-
[00:35] <Minaplo> ["It does tether souls to it, yeah. And anyone who knows how can use the throne to boss those people around or draw on their power." Said Kou. "Or, as I think you're doing, having Tsubaki borrow the 'processing power' of other people, expanding her awareness…"-
[00:35] <Minaplo> ["Quite, yes. As you said, a clever approach." Said Albus.-
[00:36] <Minaplo> ["Waiting for the shoe to drop…" Muttered Shardlake.-
[00:36] <Minaplo> ["The throne's… Addictive." Said Kou.-
[00:36] <Minaplo> ["There it is." Said Romanov.-
[00:37] <Minaplo> ["Addictive?" Albus frowned.-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["Once you start using the throne, it becomes hard to stop. Eventually you start using it more and more, and eventually that tether becomes a drain." Said Kou. "Eventually, the throne's user will start sucking the thralls dry of everything- until they die."-
[00:39] <Minaplo> ["In which case the user would require more thralls…" Murmured Shardlake.-
[00:41] <Minaplo> ["Quite." Said Kou. "But that's only half the problem. The tether the throne makes is powerful. In some ways, it's similar to an E-Type soul's seal, or a Libido bond. Not identical, but…" He shook his head. "It's enough that, when the person dies, the throne takes their soul."-
[00:46] <Minaplo> ["…" Romanov chuckled. "I understand. The throne has a mind of its own by now, doesn't it? A conglomerate of berserk, trapped souls. Like an Eternity Drive that's been taken out of the oven too early."-
[00:48] <Minaplo> ["Not inaccurate." Said Kou. "With Tsubaki using it, it'll only grow stronger with time as she grows more dependent on it."-
[00:49] <Minaplo> [Albus's expression was pained as he bent down to look Kou in the eye. "Are you telling me that I took Tsubaki from a position of being addicted to the rotten love of her mother, took her to freedom, only to plug her into an addictive throne?"-
[00:49] <Minaplo> ["Yeah…"-
[00:49] <Minaplo> [Albus sighed.-
[00:50] <Minaplo> ["That wasn't my intent." He said. "But I need the power…"-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["Very well. I'll take your advice." Said Albus.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["Thank you-"-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["After today." Said Albus. He straightened up and walked back toward the group.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["Hey! No-"-
[01:00] <Minaplo> ["Ayanamis." Said Albus.-
[01:04] <Minaplo> [He looked down on the twelve of them- and shook his head lightly. "To think that Silas sought so deeply to control you all, and here I am, having achieved what he so desperately wanted with a minimum amount of effort…"-
[01:07] <Minaplo> ["How sad." Said Albus. "Nonetheless, it is time for some of you to fulfill your destinies and become part of something greater than yourselves."-
[01:08] <Minaplo> ["What are you going to do?" Asked Rei.-
[01:10] <Minaplo> ["My original plan was to use Athena Caine- or Freya, as some of you know her- to connect to the Eternity Drive, batter apart its defenses and steal that half of the soul of Lilith, then combine it with Tsubaki's- and under my watch, create a new and beneficial god of humanity." Said Albus, his tone magnanimous.-
[01:11] <Minaplo> ["… But Caine refused, and seems willing to let that burden fall on you in her place." Said Albus, his expression darkening.-
[01:12] <Minaplo> ["Nonetheless, you will do. You all have connections to Mary Caine in some way, and to Lilith's soul as well- you will be our bridge and anchor. Meanwhile, I'll use the old men and the little boy, who all know Mary Caine so well, to outthink her and thwart her defenses."-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["There is a… Small chance of harm being caused to the participants." Said Albus. "But that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make."-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["You son of a bitch." Said Chiisana bitterly.-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["I never had a mother." Said Albus cheerfully. "Nonetheless, the good news is I won't need all of you. Six should suffice…"-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["No." Said Kou.-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["No?" Said Albus. "I don't think you really have a say here, Rustami."-
[01:15] <Minaplo> ["You don't need six, Albus." Said Kou. He looked back over at the Ayanamis- his eyes locked with Rei's, and then Go's, before turning back toward Albus's. "If all you need is a bridge, then won't one do?"-
[01:16] <Minaplo> ["But that's not enough sheer power." Said Albus. "One can form a bridge, of course, but the other five must be there to charge the connection…"-
[01:17] <Minaplo> ["One should be enough, if you and Tsubaki are joining the connection, too!" Said Kou. "Besides, I'm frailer than I look- you really think I'm going to be able to handle six? Especially not willingly."-
[01:17] <Minaplo> [Albus eyed him coldly, then glanced back at the Ayanamis. "Very well. Five."-
[01:18] <Minaplo> [Please forgive me, Rei, Go…-
[01:18] <Minaplo> ["Still too many. I'm willing to go as high as two." Said Kou.-
[01:19] <Minaplo> ["Two? Do you really think two Ayanamis can defeat Mary Caine?" Albus shook his head. "Four. Four is a good number, I think."-
[01:20] <Minaplo> ["Four's not a lucky number, you know." Said Kou. Behind his back, his hands clenched together. "Think about it, if you had to deploy Evangelions against something like Caine, how many would you use as a minimum? Remember, you might… Need more later on."-
[01:21] <Minaplo> ["…" Albus rubbed his chin. "Three, then. Three and no lower."-
[01:21] <Minaplo> [Kou turned his gaze back over toward the Ayanamis.-
[01:21] <Minaplo> [Twelve sisters, their expressions varied- some defiant, some scared, a few sad, one or two simply resigned to their fate.-
[01:22] <Minaplo> [Rei's expression was gentle, but her eyes made Kou want to cry.-
[01:22] <Minaplo> [Go looked frightened. She seemed to be holding it together, but Kou wanted to say something to her, something encouraging, something brave.-
[01:23] <Minaplo> ["Fine. Three it is." Said Kou. That would have to do instead.-
[01:24] <Minaplo> ["Very well." Said Albus; he turned back toward the Ayanamis with a flourish. "Three, then."-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["I'm not a cruel person." Said Albus.-
[01:27] <Minaplo> ["So I'll choose three Ayanamis who won't be missed, just in case."-
[01:29] <Minaplo> [There were roars of outcry from the Ayanamis, but Albus simply shook his head.-
[01:29] <Minaplo> ["Let's see!" He said. "We'll take… You."-
[01:30] <Minaplo> [He reached down, grabbed a flinching Kyuu and pulled her from the pack. "The strange, stunted Ayanami twisted over someone she was never supposed to have. I'll be honest: I'm doing everyone a favour."-
[01:31] <Minaplo> [Kyuu shrieked. "No! No, please, let me go-"-
[01:32] <Minaplo> [Albus pulled her up with one hand and thrust her into the arms of a waiting Iron Guard. Kyuu twisted away quickly.-
[01:33] <Minaplo> [Her manacles locked together; a second later, pulses of electricity flooded her body. She let out a series of jerky squeaks, then collapsed back into the Guard's arms, her eyes unfocused.-
[01:33] <Minaplo> [The Ayanamis howled.-
[01:33] <Minaplo> [They were, as a group, struggling to get to their feet, to move away- bar one.-
[01:34] <Minaplo> [Albus grabbed Juu and pulled her free. "The fallen Ayanami, dead, dead, and dead again- honestly, you're too qualified not to choose. Doing this can hardly be worse than being alive, can it, Juu?"-
[01:35] <Minaplo> [Juu didn't even struggle. She simply stared up at the Philosopher's Stone.-
[01:37] <Minaplo> [Albus handed her off- and then he was back amongst the crowd.-
[01:37] <Minaplo> [He reached down- and pulled away a struggling, panic-stricken Go.-
[01:38] <Minaplo> ["You have a great deal of potential. But it never quite managed to click for you, did it?" Said Albus gently. "Overlooked and underdeveloped- well, at least now you'll be serving a greater good, alive or dead."-
[01:41] <Minaplo> [Kou's eyes widened.-
[01:42] <Minaplo> [Go jerked away, carefully keeping her arms close to her chest nonetheless. "Get away from me- I don't- I'm not helping you-"-
[01:42] <Minaplo> [Kou took a step forward, even though he didn't know what to do. Anything seemed appropriate, but nothing seemed possible.-
[01:43] <Minaplo> ["Help me-" pleaded Go. "Help-"-
[01:43] <Minaplo> ["Let her go."-
[01:43] <Minaplo> [One of the Ayanamis had climbed to her feet- Hachi.-
[01:43] <Minaplo> [Albus paused. "Oh?"-
[01:44] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. You heard me." Said Hachi. "Get your hands off her."-
[01:44] <Minaplo> ["Or… You'll what?" Asked Albus softly.-
[01:44] <Minaplo> [Hachi shook her head. "No, it ain't like that. Take me in her place."-
[01:45] <Minaplo> [Albus tilted his head. "You're really offering? Why?"-
[01:45] <Minaplo> ["That's my sister you have there." Said Hachi. "I'll do anything to keep her away from you. I can't break your jaw right this second, so this'll have to do, huh?"-
[01:46] <Minaplo> [Albus eyed her for a few seconds- then shrugged and tossed Go back into the group. "What do I care? Come, then."-
[01:46] <Minaplo> ["H-Hachi-!" Go squeaked. "Hachi, wait-"-
[01:46] <Minaplo> [But Hachi walked out of the group, her head held high.-
[01:47] <Minaplo> [The three Ayanamis were herded toward the throne, as were the old men and Kou.-
[01:47] <Minaplo> [At that moment, another Ayanami rose, slowly and painfully- Sho.-
[01:47] <Minaplo> ["Tsucchin…" She said. "Are you really gonna let this happen?"-
[01:48] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki looked at Sho, but said nothing.-
[01:49] <Minaplo> ["C-Come on, Tsucchin. I know you're not like this." Said Sho. "Do you even want to become a god? The Tsucchin I know is kind and and unconditional with her affection. She doesn't hate people, she doesn't want to hurt them. She just wants to be happy- and this isn't going to make you happy!"-
[01:50] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki frowned, glanced away.-
[01:52] <Minaplo> ["Don't you remember us? You, me and Shin-chan, we used to hang out. We went through the same things- training with Misa-bachan, synch tests, school lunches with just the three of us… We trusted each other, didn't we?"-
[01:53] <Minaplo> ["You can trust me now, right?" Pleaded Sho. "Don't do this. I-I know you're suffering. Trust me, we know better than most-"-
[01:53] <Minaplo> ["Be quiet…" Said Tsubaki.-
[01:53] <Minaplo> [She rose.-
[01:54] <Minaplo> ["You Ayanamis are always so quick to parrot on about your miserable lives."-
[01:55] <Minaplo> ["How terrible to be clones of one another, to be expendable, to be interchangeable. To not be respected as people. To just be weapons- so what?"-
[01:56] <Minaplo> ["How is anything you've suffered any worse than what we went through?!" Shouted Tsubaki. "Your earliest memories are taken from little Rei Ikari, so happy and loved. At her age, I had to watch friends kill each other for the luxury of food!"-
[01:57] <Minaplo> ["You think it's so terrible to be manufactured people?" She shook her head, her expression twisted with bitterness. "Gendo Ikari was my father, same as all of you. Not once did he treat me like a daughter. Not once did he ever treat me as anything more than a useful ally."-
[01:58] <Minaplo> ["Any affection he had, it all went to you- the only reason I exist was to prove a hypothesis he had!"-
[01:59] <Minaplo> ["He took my mother and he used her up. All I was to her was a reminder that someone had once loved her- or so she thought."-
[02:03] <Minaplo> ["And then in the end, they hooked me up with her and left me so addled I could barely think outside the plug." Said Tsubaki. "Did you never hear me scream, Sho? Week in, week out, as they pulled me from that thing? Where were you then? Where was anyone when I called for help?"-
[02:06] <Minaplo> ["You Ayanamis have ally upon ally falling over themselves to help you. The whole core of the entire Federation will roll over and do anything you want. When Alphonse campaigned in England, where were you, Rei? Right along side him, his faithful girlfriend, wooing the crowds with your ingenue act. I sure didn't see rejection there."-
[02:08] <Minaplo> ["… Everyone loves all of you." Muttered Tsubaki. "Anything any of you want, you get- whether it's fame, influence, lovers, help, the best positions…"-
[02:09] <Minaplo> ["I'm supposed to be your sister." Said Tsubaki; she wiped a hand across her eyes. "We share a dad, but not once have any of you ever bothered to invite me in. I've kept you all safe, but how many of you spared real thoughts for me?"-
[02:11] <Minaplo> ["Now that you need me, you're willing to play up our old connections- and you can't even mention anything except hanging out with stupid Tsubaki back in Tokyo."-
[02:12] <Minaplo> ["… Don't make me laugh." Said Tsubaki, sitting back in her throne.-
[02:13] <Minaplo> ["You're just like everyone else: I'm not important until you need me for something." Said Tsubaki. "Well, I'm not going to be used anymore."-
[02:13] <Minaplo> ["I'm worth more than that. I'm worth something…"-
[02:14] <Minaplo> ["I'm more than just what I can do for people…"-
[02:14] <Minaplo> [The room was quiet.-
[02:15] <Minaplo> [Ezekiel, pale and weak in his chair, looked up at Tsubaki, a strange expression on his face.-
[02:15] <Minaplo> [Sho shook her head. "I… I'm sorry, Tsubaki." She said quietly. "I didn't mean…"-
[02:15] <Minaplo> [Sho fell silent, then sat back down and hung her head.-
[02:17] <Minaplo> ["Tsubaki Akagi…" Said Pius. "I know it doesn't mean much at this point, but I wish I'd known you earlier than this. I wish I'd been able to help you."-
[02:21] <Minaplo> [Pius knelt down in front of the throne and bowed his head. "Forgive us."-
[02:21] <Minaplo> ["I don't want your remorse." Muttered Tsubaki.-
[02:21] <Minaplo> ["With all due respect, Tsubaki Akagi… I wasn't talking to you." Said Pius quietly.-
[02:22] <Minaplo> [Albus scoffed. "Let's get moving."-
[02:23] <Minaplo> ["Well, then." Said Shardlake as a Guard forced him to his knees next to Pius. "I can't believe this is how I'm probably going to go- being soulsucked by a lonely teenager next to Mary Caine's baby-daddy."-
[02:23] <Minaplo> ["You really think this'll kill us?" Said Romanov conversationally.-
[02:24] <Minaplo> ["He said a small chance, so we're almost certainly dead." Said Shardlake.-
[02:24] <Minaplo> ["Hm. You're quite right." Said Romanov. "I wish it weren't such a tacky place for it."-
[02:25] <Minaplo> ["I agree." Said Shardlake. "The mood lighting in here is awful. Everything is so… Red."-
[02:25] <Minaplo> ["Shouldn't you two be taking this more seriously?" Muttered Hachi.-
[02:26] <Minaplo> ["We're taking it as seriously as it deserves." Said Romanov. "We spent years ruling the world, trying to make it a better place, and now we're being sacrificed on the orders of Azariah Caine's final plan."-
[02:26] <Minaplo> ["What a fucking joke." Muttered Shardlake.-
[02:27] <Minaplo> ["Shardlake." Said Romanov.-
[02:27] <Minaplo> ["Mmm?"-
[02:27] <Minaplo> [Romanov held out an arm- hesitated- and then put it around Shardlake's shoulders. "You know you weren't my favourite Seele member, correct?"-
[02:28] <Minaplo> "You weren't mine, either." Said Shardlake. "I always did like Mary more than you."-
[02:28] <Minaplo> ["Hmph! Well, I'm much the same." Said Romanov. "Still… You're all that's left now. So I guess I just made do."-
[02:29] <Minaplo> ["That's what we've always done." Said Shardlake. "Make do with what we have."-
[02:29] <Minaplo> [Shardlake, his hand trembling, reached up and took off his glasses. "It's time for us to bow out, I think, Romanov. Let the young blood take our spots for now."-
[02:30] <Minaplo> ["Yes, I agree." Said Romanov.-
[02:31] <Minaplo> ["I don't think we were very good at it, in the end." Said Shardlake. "I hope they do better than we do."-
[02:31] <Minaplo> ["So do I." Said Romanov.-
[02:32] <Minaplo> [Behind the old men, Kou knelt down- facing away from Tsubaki, and toward the three Ayanamis.-
[02:32] <Minaplo> ["I'm sorry." Said Kou. "I tried, I really did. I wish I could've done more, I wish I could've seen this coming-"-
[02:33] <Minaplo> ["You did all you could." Said Hachi. "Don't worry about it…"-
[02:33] <Minaplo> [Next to her, Kyuu started to sniffle- then large, fat tears started to roll down her face.-
[02:34] <Minaplo> ["H-Hey." Said Kou.-
[02:35] <Minaplo> ["I don't get it." Said Kyuu miserably. "Tsubaki's wrong!"-
[02:36] <Minaplo> ["She makes it sound so easy, but it wasn't! It hurt, spending every day wanting him to look at me." Said Kyuu; her hands were trembling. "He was the only one I-I could trust… No one else seemed to care, I-I don't know what I did wrong…"-
[02:37] <Minaplo> [Kou put his arms tightly around her shoulders; he kept his eyes tightly closed. "It wasn't your fault."-
[02:39] <Minaplo> [Kyuu leaned into the embrace, her cries redoubling. "I… I feel so lost. Like I never really knew what I was doing, and now I'm never gonna find out…"-
[02:39] <Minaplo> ["I… I think I feel the same way." Said Juu quietly. "I feel like a waste."-
[02:41] <Minaplo> ["I… I don't think I ever found any meaning to this." She said. "I think I just kind of took up space, and then died, and then died again…"-
[02:42] <Minaplo> ["What… Was I supposed to be doing?" Juu hung her head. "I don't understand. Every day, going through the motions, and here I am again… And I'm still scared to die-!"-
[02:42] <Minaplo> [Kou put an arm around her as well, even as the tears began to run from his own eyes.-
[02:44] <Minaplo> ["I'm sorry." Said Kou. "I wish I had answers for you, but I don't. I'm just some weird hermit they dragged out of the mountains."-
[02:45] <Minaplo> ["But… I wish you all had more time." He said. "I'm nearly thirty years old, and sometimes I still don't know what it all means, what I mean in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes I look too close and all I see are gears…"-
[02:46] <Minaplo> ["… All I can say is think about what made you happiest." Said Kou. "You're about to die, so what would you do if you weren't? What would you choose to do…?"-
[02:46] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[02:46] <Minaplo> ["Mr. Kourosh?" Said Kyuu smally.-
[02:47] <Minaplo> ["Yeah?"-
[02:47] <Minaplo> ["Would I have made a good doctor?"-
[02:47] <Minaplo> ["Of course you would've." He said quietly.-
[02:47] <Minaplo> ["Okay."-
[02:48] <Minaplo> ["… I still don't know." Said Juu quietly. "Am I really going to die not knowing…?"-
[02:48] <Minaplo> ["Hey, Kourosh." Said Hachi roughly.-
[02:48] <Minaplo> ["Y-Yeah?"-
[02:49] <Minaplo> ["You're not allowed to die." Said Hachi. "I need you to live. I need you to look after my baby sister, ok? And to be honest, she needs to look after you."-
[02:49] <Minaplo> ["… ALright, I promise." Said Kou.-
[02:50] <Minaplo> ["Good questions, you know." Said Shardlake. "I don't know if we ever found the answers ourselvs, did we, Romanov?"-
[02:50] <Minaplo> ["I don't think so. But we muddled through somehow, I suppose." Said Romanov.-
[02:51] <Minaplo> ["Yes. We did at that." Shardlake sighed.-
[02:53] <Minaplo> [And then he began to sing: "Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown…"-
[02:53] <Minaplo> [Romanov shook his head and rolled his eyes, but he too joined in: "Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you'll never walk alone…"-
[02:54] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki stood up, held her hand out-
[02:54] <Minaplo> ["You'll never walk alone," Sang Pius.-
[02:54] <Minaplo> [A bright light shone from Tsubaki's hand, quickly filling the entire room, blinding everyone within-
[02:56] <Minaplo> […-
[02:57] <Minaplo> [Rei averted her eyes.-
[02:57] <Minaplo> [Albus was shouting something. A gale was blowing through the room, pressing her against the ground.-
[02:59] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki was screaming-
[03:01] <Minaplo> [And then all of a sudden the light was gone.-
[03:02] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki was sprawled against the throne, her eyes dazed; Albus was on his knees, a pair of angelic wings having burst from his back, covering him and everything around him in blood.-
[03:02] <Minaplo> [The old men, the Ayanamis and Kou were still there…-
[03:03] <Minaplo> [But only for a moment. Within the space of a few seconds, Shardlake and Romanov- smiling, their eyes closed- turned grey, then crumbled into ashes.-
[03:03] <Minaplo> [Shortly after, Hachi went as well, then Juu, then finally Kyuu, leaving Kou's hands full of white ash.-
[03:04] <Minaplo> [Pius fell backwards onto the ground- his eyes closed.-
[03:04] <Minaplo> [Albus pulled himself to his feet, breathing painfully.-
[03:04] <Minaplo> ["A-Albus." Mumbled Tsubaki. She pulled herself up. "W-What happened-?"-
[03:04] <Minaplo> ["It failed!" Shouted Albus.-
[03:05] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki flinched away with a squeak.-
[03:06] <Minaplo> ["We broke through the Drive, we pulled Lilith free, but… Something interfered." Said Albus.-
[03:06] <Minaplo> ["I don't know where Lilith's soul is now. It's… Out in the wild, however that works." Albus shook his head.-
[03:06] <Minaplo> ["Not only did it fail, but we can't even try again!"-
[03:07] <Minaplo> [He smashed the butt of his staff into the ground, cratering it.-
[03:07] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki looked down at the scene in front of her- at Kou, hands full of ashes.-
[03:07] <Minaplo> [She let out a little cry and covered her mouth. "The Ayanamis-"-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["I don't know what could've gone wrong. If we had enough force, we should've been able to draw the soul to us. Why did it reject its attraction to Tsubaki…?!"-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["A-Albus?" Said Tsubaki. "What happened to the Ayanamis-"-
[03:08] <Minaplo> [Albus froze- then turned on Tsubaki. "You devoured them."-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["W-Wh-?"-
[03:09] <Minaplo> ["You didn't listen to my instructions." Said Albus. "You became greedy, and in your greed, you burned them from the inside out."-
[03:11] <Minaplo> [The blood drained from Tsubaki's face. "I-I did listen-"-
[03:12] <Minaplo> ["No, you didn't." Said Albus. "And now they are gone. Gone, their souls lost to us. As we speak, their Evangelions are going inert, the very flicker in their cores going dark."-
[03:12] <Minaplo> ["N-No…"-
[03:13] <Minaplo> ["You did this." Said Albus.-
[03:13] <Minaplo> ["I-I didn't mean to-!" Shouted Tsubaki, tears pouring down her cheeks. "I didn't! I swear… A-Albus, what do I do? How do I…"-
[03:13] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[03:14] <Minaplo> [Albus turned away, his feathers moulting and turning into ash. "Only someone with the power of Lilith could bring them back."-
[03:14] <Minaplo> [He waved a hand toward the Ayanamis. "Take them away!"-
[03:14] <Minaplo> [ANd then he was gone.-
[03:14] <Minaplo> [Tsubaki stared at Albus as he went- then collapsed back into the throne. "I-I didn't… I didn't mean to kill them…"-
[03:15] <Minaplo> [Rei wasn't listening. She looked down at her hands, already feeling the splash of tears. She quietly mouthed the names of her sisters.-
[03:17] <Minaplo> [Her sisters around her grieved as well, in their own way.-
[03:17] <Minaplo> [Chii had struggled to her feet and thrown herself at the nearest Iron Guard, only to be knocked to the ground for it, followed by a swift kick to the side and the sound of splintering bone- she screamed-
[03:18] <Minaplo> [Nana was looking around desperately, as though hoping someone would sweep in and fix the problem-
[03:19] <Minaplo> [Ni was holding herself- "Kyuu… Why…?"-
[03:20] <Minaplo> [Julie was staring at Hachi's spot, her eyes wide, a horrified grimace on her face. "Idiot…"-
[03:20] <Minaplo> [Roku and San were both sobbing, each holding the other as best they could.-
[03:20] <Minaplo> [Sho simply stared at Tsubaki- then buried her head in her own arms.-
[03:20] <Minaplo> [Go crawled over to Kou.-
[03:21] <Minaplo> [Kou was staring down at his hands, a look of utter thunderstruck horror on his face. Ever so slowly, he held the ashes to his chest- and broke down completely.-
[03:22] <Minaplo> [Go didn't so much as hug him as nudge her head through his arms. She took one of his hands and squeezed it, even as he squeezed back.-
[03:22] <Minaplo> [An Iron Guard came to drag Go and Kou away- but Euphemia stopped him.-
[03:23] <Minaplo> [Rei stared at Euphemia, stared until Euphemia had no other option but to look back at her.-
[03:23] <Minaplo> [The two held their gaze- then finally Euphemia looked away with a pained expression.-
[03:23] <Minaplo> [Rei bowed her head and cried.]

[21:01] <Minaplo> [Albus had taken Pius and Kou to the medical ward; he left the two- the survivors- under heavy guard.-
[21:11] <Minaplo> ["Notify me the second Pius awakes," said Albus to the chief Guard. "Assuming he does, of course…"-
[21:11] <Minaplo> ["Yes, sir." Said the guard. "Where will you be in case comms are blocked?"-
[21:12] <Minaplo> ["I'll be in my quarters."-
[21:12] <Minaplo> ["Yes, sir."-
[21:12] <Minaplo> […-
[21:26] <Minaplo> [Despite the gildedness of Albus's general appearance, his quarters was quite modest.-
[21:36] <Minaplo> [There was a bed, and a little kitchen with a pantry; a series of bookcases, a desk with a very large computer.-
[21:37] <Minaplo> [Albus entered. He waited for the door to close behind him before he raised his staff and tapped it gently on the floor.-
[21:39] <Minaplo> [The bed, the desk and the kitchen all vanished like a mirage.-
[21:51] <Minaplo> [There was a squeak as the bed vanished- sitting behind it, cradling a positron gun, was Maya Ibuki.-
[21:52] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[21:53] <Minaplo> ["How did you break in here?" Said Albus.-
[21:55] <Minaplo> ["I-I…" Maya shook.-
[21:55] <Minaplo> ["Actually, how did you break out of your cell?" Asked Albus, stroking his chin.-
[21:57] <Minaplo> [Maya looked frantically around the room, as though hoping to find a secret exit. Instead, all she saw was herself.-
[22:04] <Minaplo> [In the place of furniture, a ring of mirrors sat around the perimeter of the room.-
[22:04] <Minaplo> [The mirrors were varied in size- some were long full-length mirrors, others dominated their wall, others were little more than hand mirrors on stands.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [In the very centre of the room was a single, simple rug of red, the edges of wihch lined with a pattern of yellow fires.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> ["W-what-"-
[22:16] <Minaplo> ["Think about it. What do I need with such a small bed?" Said Albus, chuckling lightly. "Or a computer?"-
[22:20] <Minaplo> ["I do read books, but I keep them with me," he said; a book suddenly appeared in his hand.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> ["So what are you doing in here, then? Is that intended for me?" He asked, pointing at Maya's gun.-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["Uh…" Maya stared down at the gun. She pointed it awkwardly at him-
[22:28] <Minaplo> [And the gun instantly flew out of her grasp and into Albus's. He grasped it with both hands, bent the gun into a pretzel-shape and threw it into the corner.-
[22:30] <Minaplo> [His armour vanished, replaced with a sturdy, thick white robe. Albus sat in the centre of the rug- Maya saw now that the mirrors were positioned so that they all reflected him.-
[22:30] <Minaplo> [Many of those reflections were still wearing armour.-
[22:32] <Minaplo> ["Alright, I want the entire story." Said Albus. "How did you- someone whose combat aptitude tests report merely 'is at least a skilled technician', escape your cell, steal a gun and make it to my quarters unharmed?"-
[22:35] <Minaplo> ["I-I don't want to say." Said Maya quietly.-
[22:35] <Minaplo> ["No? No matter. You can tell me or I can rip it from your mind, I don't care which." Said Albus with a shrug of his broad shoulders.-
[22:39] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[22:40] <Minaplo> [Maya squirmed. She sat down and tucked her knees up to her chin. "I was never in the cells to begin with."-
[22:40] <Minaplo> ["No? I find that hard to believe." Said Albus. "Your presence was recorded in the database."-
[22:59] <Minaplo> ["You're still using the MAGI." Said Maya with a shake of her head. "The MAGI are more than just computers. They possess a sort of intelligence of their own. I've been working with them for years- there aren't many who know it better than I do."-
[23:00] <Minaplo> ["So you evaded capture and simply added your own record to the database. Makes sense, but we verified the records twice, visually." Said Albus.-
[23:04] <Minaplo> ["Tsucchin's control over the systems aren't absolute. The MAGI can still make changes if they're small enough." Said Maya. "I used holoemitters to fool the visual checks."-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["An irritating oversight, but no matter- chances are that you would've been caught by a patrol." Said Albus.-
[23:06] <Minaplo> ["I guess I was just lucky." Said Maya.-
[23:06] <Minaplo> ["Liar." Said Albus lightly.-
[23:07] <Minaplo> ["…" Maya shook her head. "I used the holoemitters to distract the patrols at each step."-
[23:09] <Minaplo> ["…" Albus rubbed his chin. "That's kind of an annoying answer, but I could see it working. Very well. You've done rather well to make it here… But I can't say I'm impressed by this. What was your plan? To shoot me as I came in? Did you think I wouldn't detect you with my senses?"-
[23:12] <Minaplo> ["… I couldn't stay hidden forever. Eventually I'd be found, but… I wanted a chance, however small, to take you down." Said Maya.-
[23:13] <Minaplo> ["Well, that's courageous, but foolish." Said Albus. "You would've been better off trying to free someone more capable."-
[23:16] <Minaplo> [Albus sighed. "No matter. You're here, now, and I'm impressed with your aptitude, if not your decision-making skills."-
[23:21] <Minaplo> ["No one told me leading a rebellion was so tiring." Said Albus with a laugh. "How does Zhang do it for so long without cracking? I'm seeing her in a whole new light."-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["… Surprised to hear you admit it." Muttered Maya.-
[23:25] <Minaplo> [Albus chuckled. "I suppose you see me as some treacherous rogue and ruthless dictator both? Not surprising, having imprisoned and harmed your friends…"-
[23:28] <Minaplo> ["Still, that isn't how I would describe myself." Said Albus.-
[23:29] <Minaplo> ["How would you, then…?" Said Maya.-
[23:34] <Minaplo> ["I would describe myself as misunderstood." Said Albus indulgently, "Even by myself."-
[23:36] <Minaplo> ["What does that mean?"-
[23:53] <Minaplo> ["Look at these mirrors." Said Albus. "Notice that none of them reflect me as I am…"-
[23:57] <Minaplo> ["Y-Yeah, I noticed." Said Maya, eyeing the mirrors. One of them showed a laughing, armoured Albus; another showed a naked Albus, his expression blank.-
[00:14] <Minaplo> ["My father could be difficult to read." Said Albus. "Many people talk about him as a megalomaniac, the insane ruler of the LN who became a twelve foot tall monster before he was put down."-
[00:16] <Minaplo> ["Others talk about the kind and gentle man he was before all this." He shook his head. "They always paint him as this defector, this sensitive soul thrust torturously into the blood sport that was the Caine family…"-
[00:40] <Minaplo> ["I sensed neither gentleness nor monstrosity from him, though." Said Albus, frowning at the ground. "To me, he was a mystery. I never really knew how he felt about me. Or indeed, what he intended for me."-
[00:41] <Minaplo> ["It is terribly disorientating to be uncertain as to whether your actions are your own, or were planned for by an instigating party." Said Albus. "I suppose the fact that I'm in such doubt suggests he's a better player of the game than many believed."-
[00:42] <Minaplo> ["He never told you why he made you?" Asked Maya.-
[00:45] <Minaplo> ["Oh, he told me that much, although how trustworthy that is remains to be seen." Said Albus. "Nonetheless, I filled many roles for him. I was a diplomat when he needed one, a killing machine otherwise."-
[00:48] <Minaplo> ["I am not very old." Said Albus. "In biotypical years, I would be a toddler, still occasionally stumbling when running, still crying when separated from mother. Yet in that short amount of time, I have filled so many roles, so many of them variable…"-
[00:48] <Minaplo> ["At the risk of sounding maudlin, I don't really remember who I'm supposed to be." Said Albus, rubbing his brow.-
[00:52] <Minaplo> ["So you're like an actor who gets way too into it?" Muttered Maya.-
[00:57] <Minaplo> ["Something like that." Said Albus. "It's likely that I never really had a chance to form my own ego, considering I was so busy being many things to my father. It's difficult to define yourself when you don't have a sense of stability in at least some way."-
[01:01] <Minaplo> ["The Ayanamis, by contrast, seem to have had that." Said Albus. "Or at the least, normal social situations unhindered by duty or other such expectations."-
[01:02] <Minaplo> ["I was kept a secret from the LN itself, my travels monitored." Said Albus. "So no such options opened themselves up to me…"-
[01:06] <Minaplo> ["Make no mistake, I'm not expecting pity or some such reaction." Said Albus with a smile. "I consider the question of my identity to be an intriguing conundrum. One which your assistance would be welcome, if you so choose.
[01:06] <Minaplo> "-
[01:08] <Minaplo> [Maya shook her head. "Really…? Well, shouldn't the obvious answer be to look at your actions? Actions count for a lot- what someone's willing to do or not do defines them a lot, don't you think?"-
[01:08] <Minaplo> ["That much is true." Said Albus. "But there's a problem there as well."-
[01:08] <Minaplo> ["What do you mean?"-
[01:09] <Minaplo> ["Hmm. Do you like hurting people?" Asked Albus.-
[01:09] <Minaplo> ["No, of course not." Said Maya.-
[01:09] <Minaplo> ["But have you hurt people regardless?" Said Albus.-
[01:09] <Minaplo> [Maya squirmed. "Yes…"-
[01:09] <Minaplo> ["How do you feel when that happens?" Asked Albus.-
[01:10] <Minaplo> ["W-well, I feel awful. Guilty, ashamed… My face gets hot and my stomach churns and my heart beats faster." Said Maya.-
[01:11] <Minaplo> ["You see, therein lies the problem." Said Albus, his frown deepening. "I've done many things in my life, but I've never felt like that."-
[01:12] <Minaplo> ["W… What?" Maya said, her eyes widening. "W-What about when you kill people? Don't you feel anything?"-
[01:12] <Minaplo> ["Nothing like what you're describing." Said Albus. "And I've killed hundreds of thousands, so I imagine it would've kicked in by now…"-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["So you see, therein lies the problem with your admittedly good idea." Said Albus. "I simply don't know what I wouldn't do."-
[01:13] <Minaplo> [Maya's pulse started to race.-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["Oh, I see. You didn't like that answer." Said Albus with a laugh.-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["It's a terrifying answer." Murmured Maya. She clasped her hands tightly behind her back.-
[01:17] <Minaplo> ["I suppose for someone trapped in a room with such a powerful person, knowing that person is capable of anything would be rather scary." Said Albus, shaking his head softly.-
[01:19] <Minaplo> ["Maybe I really am a bad person. That would be interesting." Said Albus. "That I'm really not bound by any degree of morality or ethical considerations…"-
[01:22] <Minaplo> ["I feel anger when I am thwarted, pleased when I succeed. Perhaps my true self is nothing more complicated than someone who seeks victory and gain." Albus shrugged. "It fits, but it's not a very interesting answer."-
[01:23] <Minaplo> [Maya slid away from him slightly. "A-Anger at failure, pleasure at success… What about disgust? Has anything ever made you disgusted?"-
[01:24] <Minaplo> ["Of course. Seeing people do a poor job of something disgusts me." Said Albus. "I cannot stand the Federation's lax security, fo example…"-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["What about sadness…?" Whispered Maya.-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["Sadness?" Albus murmured in surprise. "Hmm…"-
[01:32] <Minaplo> [He stared down at his own hand. "I suppose I felt sad when I learned that my father had died. I think I was surprised at the sensation… Although it makes sense. After all, he was the only family I had left."-
[13:32] <Minaplo> ["Otherwise, there was one other time." Said Albus. "I was on mission once, hadn't eaten in over a week and the cravings were becoming tiresome. So I visited a town and bought myself a type of pastry, filled with spiced meat."-
[13:35] <Minaplo> ["I took a bite. It was good." Said Albus. "Then as I was leaving, I was hit by a car…"-
[13:36] <Minaplo> ["I dropped the pastry, and it became all dirty. I was angry- but also very… Emotional. Actually, I started to cry." He rubbed a long finger up and down his nose. "The locals thought it was the car that did it, but the car took far more harm than I did. But losing the pastry…? I was inconsolable."-
[13:37] <Minaplo> [He laughed. "Isn't that pathetic? I don't know what came over me. Nonetheless, I didn't eat for another two weeks."-
[13:47] <Minaplo> [Maya stared at him. She tried to speak, but her lips merely trembled.-
[14:00] <Minaplo> ["Well, enough about me." Said Albus. "We should decide your punishment."-
[14:18] <Minaplo> [Maya was suddenly pulled towards Albus, as though yanked by a great invisible hand. She sprawled at Albus's feet, and hurriedly tried to stand. She managed to get to her knees before Albus grabbed her head with his hand.-
[14:37] <Minaplo> [His hand, even without the armour, was huge: his palm was over her face, and his thumb and forefinger were still able to meet on the back of her head.-
[14:57] <Minaplo> [Maya felt the pressure of his fingers against her skull, the way it was slowly growing tighter-
[15:22] <Minaplo> [And then he shifted his hand to the top of her head, where he ruffled her hair; Maya's head jerked back and forth.-
[15:23] <Minaplo> ["As it turns out, ten Tech Guard does not a technical crew make." Said Albus. "And you're more useful to me working on the MAGI than you are dead."-
[15:39] <Minaplo> [He let her go.-
[15:39] <Minaplo> ["Oh, and Tsubaki will be keeping watch on you 24/7 now. No more sneaking about for you." Said Albus.-
[16:11] <Minaplo> [Maya sat there for another long few seconds- but Albus had closed his eyes.-
[16:11] <Minaplo> [She hesitantly rose.-
[16:11] <Minaplo> [She made a few timid steps toward the door- but Albus didn't respond.-
[16:12] <Minaplo> [Her steps became a run- she bolted out the door and was gone.-
[16:33] <Minaplo> [Albus didn't move.-
[16:33] <Minaplo> [Instead he sat and listened to this whispering glass of the mirrors around him…]

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