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[09:03] <Minaplo> Persona: A Study in Velvet, Chapter Two: The Curious Case of the Schoolboy in Space. Week Six, May 15th.
[10:31] <Minaplo> The television in 5 Soejima's ground floor commons crackled. "Tensions at Sophia Academy, one of the largest and most prestigious high schools in Aichi, continue to run over into disorder, with students now organising…"
[10:31] <Minaplo> In a sense, the school had started to calm down in the last few days. Or rather, not so much calm down as focus its aggression. Walking to and from classes felt a little safer now and classes were less disorderly, mostly- there were fewer fights. But every day…
[10:31] <Minaplo> "Starting last friday, roughly a third of the middle school students at Sophia have gone on what they describe as a strike, occupying the assembly hall and refusing to move and attend classes…"
[10:31] <Minaplo> Roy writhed a little on a cushion, trying to get comfortable. His injuries were slowly improving. "What a mess."
[10:31] <Minaplo> Roy eyed the coffee table. It was laden with food, standard Asahina fare mixed in with easy, simple comfort food. "Yo, Hideki. Get your man a chicken wing."
[10:40] <Hideki> "Hm?" Hideki had been watching the news curiously, but now he moved on a sort of autopilot, setting both a wing and a coveted drumstick on a plate and setting it in front of Roy. "Those kids sure are organized," he muttered.
[10:53] <Sachiko> Sachiko hadn't announced her return, but by the next day most of them had seen her around the dorm. She hadn't seemed happy about it, but she'd returned to her normal routine and by the end of that weekend the library had been repaired of the damage Adrien had done to it. The majority of his thefts were catalogued as well.-
[10:53] <Sachiko> She'd taken a chair to herself, and like Hideki her attention was focused on the report.
[10:57] <Ai> Ai had been around, here and there. …She actually seemed to be in something passing for higher spirits, now. She was even entering the room with what looked to be a personal beef bowl with egg, and while she had been humming earlier? She quieted down when she took command of a recliner, quickly peeking at the report.
[10:59] <Dinah> Of the lot of them, Dinah was likely the one that they saw the least of in the days since the blow up. If she was in the dorm, she was in her room and if she wasn't in the dorm…well, who knew where she was. Most attempts at conversation made, if any, were met with a silent glare before she was gone.-
[11:00] <Dinah> Today likely seemed no different as the doors opened to reveal her form as it stepped in. She only briefly cast a glance to them gathered before closing the door and making her way toward the stairs.
[11:01] <Minaplo> "Hold up, Dinah." Said Roy.
[11:02] <Dinah> It didn't look like she was going to stop but she did at least slow in her movements, still not casting a glance their way. "What."
[11:03] <Minaplo> "I want to talk. Together."
[11:05] <Dinah> More steps. "And?"
[11:07] <Minaplo> "We need to fix this dynamic." Said Roy. "And we're not gonna do it without you. Be part of the conversation. Try and make things better for all of us."
[11:09] <Sachiko> Sachiko had turned in her chair to watch by that point.
[11:10] <Ai> Ai was… watching cautiously, as well.
[11:11] <Hideki> Hideki was moodily silent.
[11:13] <Dinah> She actually made it to the steps, her foot on the first one before she stopped. It was like you could almost see the gears in her head turning, debating on what to do and, more importantly, how to do it. Eventually, with a slight tick of annoyance, she moved back to the room, pointedly remaining standing as she crossed her arms, her expression saying, 'Start talking'.
[11:23] <Minaplo> Roy sighed in relief.
[11:23] <Minaplo> "Aight." Roy started. "I think all of us can agree that how we are right now sucks. The people in this room represent the sum total of people who understand what we're going through. We're the only people all of us can rely on fully, and right now it feels like we're scrapping like wild dogs trapped in a cave. This place should be somewhere we feel physically and emotionally secure. But we fucking don't. Here's what I think."
[11:23] <Minaplo> He paused to nibble on a bit of chicken, and let people wait on him for a moment.
[11:23] <Minaplo> "I don't think we're bad people. I think we've all got shit going on in our lives, fault lines running through our hearts or brains or souls or whatever, and the last five weeks have been stressful as shit, it's split those fault lines apart, and we're finding ourselves taking it out on the only people we can properly take it out on. There's reasons for what we do, and it's stuff we don't always know about, and it can just seem like we're being assholes. But I think everyone is trying their best."
[11:23] <Minaplo> "So I think we should do something. I'm gonna talk about me and my actions and my stuff. And I'm gonna try and explain myself, and then people can react to me. Tell me what I've done to piss 'em off or get their backs up, or about my weaknesses or my cons or whichever. And the stuff I can explain I will, and the stuff I can't I'll apologise for. And then once that's done, someone else does as I've done."
[11:26] <Ai> …It was at that time that Ai spoke up. "…I can go after you if you want. …And I've written a… a document on the subject, actually? I can transfer it to the tomes of anyone that wants it." She did flush in sheepishness, though.
[11:27] <Minaplo> "Sure, okay."
[11:32] <Hideki> "Seems fair, if everyone's doing it."
[11:32] <Ai> …Soon enough, the document would register as received. "State of Evoking Address.txt".
[11:33] <Sachiko> Sachiko looked profoundly uncomfortable with what Roy was describing, but she didn't second-guess it. "I'll look at it when I have a chance, Ai."
[11:36] <Ai> "Of course, it's for more than just this." She said, still… a little nervous. Yet? …It really did sound like she was talking without any disheartening at what was about to happen.
[11:47] <Dinah> Dinah didn't give an answer, choosing instead to look at her tome as the document came through, beginning to skim through it.
[11:50] <Minaplo> Roy eyed the group, and then struggled to sit up.-
[11:56] <Minaplo> "So. Me." Roy sighed. "Here goes. You kind of know a lot of this already. I'm 46 years old, and for 30 of those years I've been fighting to keep the Sea of Chaos under control. It started when I was 16, me and eight other Evokers. Not all at once, we got more members as we went on. But I was one of the early ones. We… Didn't do so well. The truth was, we were powerful enough to handle basically anything in the Sea. The only thing we couldn't handle was ourselves."
[11:56] <Minaplo> "I guess I should talk a little more about that. My codename in the group was Young King. It's because my name is Roy, obviously, meaning King. And because my Persona is Black Panther, the King of Wakanda. But it's also kind of a joke, because I was the least kingly person you could find." He said, and he actually chuckled a little to himself. "I was timid, pretty shy, hella nerdy. Not confident at all. I felt frustrated all the time, like I wasn't measuring up. Like if you could weigh my soul with the soul of someone else, my soul would be less, like parts of it were missing. I really just didn't have… Presence, or power, or something."-
[12:02] <Minaplo> "I joined Fiend with 22 Faces for a few reasons. The first one was that it felt like having friends." Said Roy. "The second reason was, I wanted to feel like a super hero. Yeah, I'll admit it. It was dangerous as shit, but it was also cool, going to school by day and fighting monsters by night. You'd go to school exhausted, and people would be like, 'Roy, why are you so tired'? And you couldn't tell them why. And some people would be so frustrated by that, but me, I'd just go, man, if only you knew the badass reason I'm so tired." He snorted. "It felt powerful. For the first time in my life, I felt like I really existed, like my soul had weight. And I remember feeling… Is this how it feels for other people all the time?"
[12:02] <Minaplo> Roy nibbled on the chicken a little more. "Which isn't to say I was cool. I spent a lot of my time in combat being either a total chicken or completely reckless, and it played hell with the group. I often got called a scaredy cat because I ran more than once." He shook his head. "But I had friends, and they were good people. They were the best. And even though I nearly died a dozen times, and it ended so badly, that year was the best year of my life."-
[12:15] <Minaplo> "I've spent the rest of my life protecting the world, trying to honour their memory by making it all worth something." Said Roy. "Thirty years. Long years, lonely years in a body that's not my own. I'm not a wild card like Adrien. Or even a half-wild card like you guys. I'm just a dude in a cat body with a Persona, doing my best. And doing my best meant giving up a lot of things and opportunities. I learned early on in my solo career that I didn't have the power to do it by myself. I tried, I did, but it wasn't working out. So I turned to Krishna and the Fairy Queen for help. And… I've never found anyone in the Sea who'll give you power for free. There has always been a price. And when you deal with Krishna, at least you can see the end of the deal. Not always true for the Fairy Queen. So I began to give away my memories."
[12:15] <Minaplo> "… The truth is, those friends of mine. I loved them, but I really struggle to remember them these days." Said Roy dully. "I had to sacrifice a lot of my memories of them just to make things work. They were my friends. And I can hardly remember anything. I've given up everything to honour their memory, including my memory of them. Most of the happiest year of my life, gone. And that hurts, because the years after that were terrible."
[12:15] <Minaplo> "I'm tired." Said Roy, and he hung his head. "I've given almost everything I can. It's so demoralising just waking up sometimes. I don't… I don't have anything. I can't go home to my mom, because I'm a cat. I can't make friends, because I'm a cat. I'm almost unable to remember the friends I used to have. I want to go home but I don't have a home. There's nowhere I really belong, except here, as an Evoker. That's basically all I have left of my identity, and you guys are the only people I have left, and I don't want you all to hate me."-
[12:18] <Minaplo> "You all came along so suddenly, and I wasn't ready for it at all. I've never been a leader. And you were all asking things of me, and I was just trying to keep the ball rolling whilst figuring out my own memories and my own feelings, and I was trying to do that after that punk Black Hat fucked up my Persona and busted me down to little baby levels. I was desperate. Desperate for a break, for friends, for a team again, to just feel something good, and I didn't want you guys to leave, and I was terrified that if I told you everything that had happened, you'd just… Leave, and I'd have to keep doing all the work again."
[12:25] <Ai> …As Ai listened, she was beginning to frown, shaking her head slowly…
[12:29] <Sachiko> Sachiko had listened to all that with her eyes focused on her shoes, but she'd listened. "I don't hate you, Roy," she said after a sigh. "And I'm sorry all that happened to you, I really am."
[12:33] <Hideki> Hideki had heard parts of this before, but not all of it. Now, he was trying to reassure him. "We wouldn't have just up and left like that…"
[12:34] <Ai> And Ai spoke up too, after them. "…That's… that's … I h-had no idea how bad it really was. …God, uh. …" She bit her lip. "…I already knew you were tired. But, h-holy shit."
[12:41] <Dinah> Dinah's expression stayed mostly the same as she listened, having put her tome away after a sharp glance toward Ai. But it didn't seem like she was going to explode. Yet. The only time that her expression softened was when he mentioned giving up his memories, moving almost into a wince that saw her look away.
[12:42] <Ai> Ai did notice. But looked away.
[12:48] <Minaplo> "Yeah, Ai. It's been pretty bad." Said Roy. "30 years has been a lot longer than I thought it'd be when I was 16."
[12:48] <Minaplo> "Thanks, Sachiko. I don't hate you either." He said. "And Hideki… I dunno, desperation and… Exhaustion do a lot to you. So yeah, I acted like an idiot. I should've trusted you all more than I did. It's obvious I'm nowhere near the guide I should be. Sorry, everyone."
[01:03] <Hideki> "Without you we wouldn't have been able to make sense of any of this at all. Even if you weren't perfect, you probably did the best you could, right? Given the circumstances."
[01:06] <Ai> "…Yeah. Even with some bits you held back, we got a lot more than if we were blind?"
[01:06] <Sachiko> "Trust being conditional is fine, that's human. Just don't hold back the information we need to function and survive."
[01:10] <Minaplo> "Yeah, I'm not planning to." Said Roy. "I appreciate it."
[01:10] <Minaplo> At this point, a door on the staircase creaked, and Ji-Hu came down to join the group.
[01:18] <Hideki> Hideki brightened, and waved to her, gesturing toward the chicken.
[01:26] <Minaplo> And she sat next to Hideki with a smile, putting a hand on his knee.
[01:30] <Sachiko> Sachiko looked uncharacteristically uncertain in the lull that followed Roy's speech. She gave Ji-hu a nod of hello and then started filling a plate just for something to do.
[01:31] <Minaplo> "Well. Anyone has anything they want to add about my weaknesses, or the shit I do that pisses them off, now's the time." Said Roy.
[01:35] <Sachiko> "I'd rather you were a little less willing to get yourself killed in the line of duty, for a start."
[01:41] <Ai> "I'm gonna second that, and technically already did." Ai said gingerly. "…Do you need something? Anything? …Like. Breaks. Good food. A chance to hang out. …Computer time with someone helping as your hands? I have a laptop a-after all…"
[01:45] <Dinah> Dinah was uncharacteristically silent through it all, though she finally did resign herself to sitting down. Glancing to the other two as they spoke, she turned her look back on Roy, her frown not really changing through it all.
[01:46] <Minaplo> "… I'll try." Said Roy. "And honestly, Ai, the best thing I want is good times."
[02:02] <Hideki> "Hey, um. What about… y'know. Reversing the cat thing?"
[02:10] <Minaplo> Roy sighed. "Yeah, that too. I want something. I want to get a human body, and I want… I wanna go home."
[02:11] <Ai> Ai furrowed her brow. "…Maybe if we got TWO eggs, and used one to fix the fallout from the other…"
[02:13] <Sachiko> "We can research our options," Sachiko said. "But I'm in favour of it, definitely."
[02:17] <Minaplo> "Thanks, guys."
[02:17] <Minaplo> "Aight, Ai. Now your turn."
[02:31] <Ai> Ai took a deep breath. "…I almost cheated with that textfile, but an agreement is an agreement? Let's just. Say it." She shifted her legs one over the other.
[02:31] <Ai> "The first thing you have to know is… I've been hurt. Badly. I'd be really surprised if anyone hasn't noticed by now, but. …I'm gay. And that. …That caused trouble. Two years ago was when I first started realizing it myself. Tried to get into a relationship, it… Neither of us could tell if it was 'real' or if it was just how girls uh, more like me (ahem, vulnerable!) made friends in junior high." She pursed her lips, kicking her legs a bit. "…It started to fade, she thought it wouldn't work. …And she had a reason beyond just thinking it was a phase." Ai noted, sighing. "We got bullied. Kids in junior high were the worst, but I guess they thought we were easy targets. Weirdo, nerd, too girly? Take your pick. …It started with insults. It… escalated to shouting. Shoving. I was scared, she was too. …That's sorta why she started to break it off. A-at the time I thought it might be safe to, too."
[02:31] <Ai> Ai's breath seized in her throat once. "…But I made the mistake of uh. Trying to report the bullies to the wrong kind of teacher. …And uh. …Well uh." Wiggle. Wiggle. She was trying to desperately hold emotions back. ["He raped me."] After saying that telepathically? She managed to get her wits back, though with flushed cheeks of shame. "A few times. Forcible. …Sometimes just taking advantage of me. He wanted to punish me for what he knew was more than just girls being friends, for me being a 'deviant'. Or maybe he was opportunistic. Or … It. It doesn't matter. Neither of us got help and my first girlfriend just faded away to a transfer out of the junior high just a month later over the harassment. The guy eventually got fired the next year, b-but…" -
[02:32] <Ai> Ai coughed. "…It doesn't matter. That fear's stayed with me. It's why Asaka gave me nightmares, made me do insane things to avoid him when he didn't seem to even notice me all the way to the end. And why I act like an idiot who cries and screams whenever anyone even looks mad."
[02:32] <Ai> Beat. "So, now for my actions." -
[02:41] <Ai> "I'm sorry, for acting really manic, being into all the crazy theories - then acting weird and ashamed over them. I already know a ton about this from pop culture, and I. …When things didn't add up, when they felt magical, but more than just a dream? I had to believe, it gave me life to believe. And I guess I was right to, even if what I was believing in turned out to be a lot bigger and scarier than I'd ever have guessed."
[02:41] <Ai> "I mean, yeah, after that? I'm scared, traumatized. Call it hiding under diagnoses and analysis and stuff if you have to, but that's the truth! It's. It's as if anything and everyone that could hurt me, may well when my luck ran out. …And making people upset sounded like it'd make them angry." She tried to hum, then remembered she was talking. "…And I don't wanna be a problem, either. I. I don't know what else to blame it on, but it really hurts to realize I did something wrong, annoyed someone enough that they felt it, or god-forbid cause real tangible harm. It just hurts inside and makes me feel small and alone. …And eventually it gets hard to tell if I'm being bad, or if I just think I am."
[02:41] <Ai> "…Directly: Dinah, the first time I tried to analyze you, I was honestly worried, and thought you needed it. But it must really, really offend and piss you off to do. …I'm sorry for that, too. I mean it. But at the playground?" Her voice firmed.
[02:41] <Ai> "I didn't actually care about getting in your head. You were just killing shadows because… I dunno, you did. Even if we just assume little shadows like that don't matter - and uh, I have trouble really holding in feeling bad for hurting them when they're not trying to kill us? - they belonged to a Baron who could and would play us like a violin if he got mad enough. And it was someone else's game, too." -
[02:47] <Ai> "Idraceyl is. …Complicated. I know he wants to mess with us, but it's. In his nature. I think… I think I might be able to actually help him, maybe… Make up for some of this. And I did give him my word - feel free to get a bit annoyed, it was a chance encounter trying to shop and I played it as safe as I could - I'd advocate for him as far as I could justify. …And fact of the matter is, smug fae bully or not, there's something weird about him that might be able to redeem him. But. That's getting besides the point."
[02:47] <Ai> She folded her legs again. "I falsely called all that out because you weren't listening to anyone. I don't care enough about poking into your secrets to do it for anything but 'maybe if I get her mad, she'll try to fight someone who can run and not annoy someone else into using horrible Baron powers on everyone.'. …I apologize. It was manipulative and …shitty, even." She seemed to struggle to cuss, a bit.
[02:47] <Ai> "Otherwise? It explains itself. I want to know and believe that there's something out there about the Sea. I don't care how naive it sounds, I want to save the world and know we're technically actually in a position to. I'm really scared of hurting people or being hurt by a person. Monsters don't stack up to human cruelty, after all. Everything came from those motives."
[02:47] <Ai> And she finally slumped back. "Everything."
[02:56] <Dinah> Despite all that Ai said, Dinah felt somewhat as if all eyes were on her when she was called out as she was. Glancing to the lot of them, she looked to Ai last, looking like she was trying to summon the will to be angry at her, though right now, she couldn't even do that. Even she did feel bad for the girl.-
[02:59] <Dinah> "I was mad." It seemed like it went without saying, really, like she was just pointing out the obvious. But it was worth stating. "Really mad. Doing that…memory thing, it really fucked me up. Because the worst part is you just…don't know what memory you don't have anymore. So it makes you start feel like you're losing the rest of them. I can't just sit here and say, 'Oh, I lost the memory of the time I did this' or, 'I lost the memory of the time I spent with this person' because I just…don't know." She shifted a little in her seat, crossing her arms again. "So I got pissed off. I left. I wanted to think about the future instead of what happened, so I talked to the guy about the playground. And when he showed me the Mothman wing…..that was it."-
[03:02] <Dinah> She shrugged, throwing a hand as if to say it was out of her hands. And really, it kind of was. "I just wanted to beat the shit out of something. Anything. Mothmen worked. It was better than starting to beat the shit out of the first thing that looked at me wrong in the Market."
[03:07] <Minaplo> Roy looked away for a second, and if anyone glanced at his eyes they would see, for a moment, that he wasn't looking at anything at all- just staring into a distance. "When it's an important memory, one that others are hooked to… Yeah. It makes your whole chain weaker. You know something's missing. You just aren't sure what, only that it was important, you're less than you used to be, and you're not going to get it back."
[03:09] <Ai> Ai lowered her head, as if… thinking? Affirming. "…And I almost did it too. …I didn't realize how much it messed you up from even… reminding yourself you forgot. …I really underestimated it. That just sucks, Dinah."
[03:11] <Dinah> "I'm not doing it again. If we can help it, none of you should do it either."
[03:13] <Ai> "And if we can't help it, we trade stupid stuff, as much as possible." Ai added.
[03:15] <Hideki> "Problem is, he's the one who sets the prices. It's better if we don't go to him at all unless it's a very last final resort with no other possible solution."
[03:16] <Ai> "…Yeah. Hence uh. If we can't. …It's gonna take some hard looks on what we need if it ever comes to it." She did seem to mutter something about 'no-good greedy butter thieves'.
[03:18] <Minaplo> "A difficult request, but… We can give it a shot." Said Roy.
[03:29] <Sachiko> "Ok," Sachiko said. She'd been watching, but she looked a little like a kid trying to avoid being called on in class. "I'm not about to force anyone to do it."
[03:30] <Minaplo> "Agreed." Said Roy.
[03:30] <Minaplo> "Ai, I do have something that worries me about you. You take to the Metaverse well. Really well. You feel really… Credulous about it, like it all seems natural to you." Said Roy. "That can be useful, an asset… But I just don't want you to end up taking to the Sea more than you do reality. That leads to… Bad things."
[03:31] <Ai> Ai pouted, but nodded. "…Believe me, I know. After these Barons…" She let it trail off.
[03:31] <Minaplo> "Yeah. Just keep it in mind, s'all I ask."
[03:36] <Sachiko> "I feel weird giving constructive criticism given the rest of what you said, Yoshino, but…" She looked sincerely apologetic. "Look, you think deeply about stuff, and that's great. But you don't think widely, and you've got blind spots you can drive a truck through. So you talking to the elves? That's… not great."
[03:40] <Ai> "…I'm not thrilled with it happening, no." Ai said lamely. "And I did my best to just handle it and hope I made it through diplomatically? Whatever the case, uhm. Regardless. …I put some bits in the doc about more than one leader, more than one strategist. I meant that. …I think you can cover those blindspots."
[03:44] <Sachiko> "Alright. That would make sense," she nodded. "I'd like to talk more about the Idraceyl stuff, but we can do that later."
[03:50] <Ai> Another nod. "…Anyone else, or is it time for next in line?"
[03:53] <Minaplo> "Nothing from me." Said Ji-Hu.
[03:56] <Hideki> "Same," said Hideki. "Although I'm sorry about the stuff you talked about before we wrapped around to Schreier and the metaverse and everything. It's… heavy."
[03:57] <Sachiko> Sachiko nodded.
[03:57] <Ai> "…I know." Ai said. "It feels weird to go into heavy stuff, sometimes. Feels like an excuse. …But the present is where we are, y… yeah?"
[04:02] <Hideki> "Totally," Hideki nodded. "Finding a balance between the present and the past, and the future. That's where it's at. I think."
[04:03] <Ai> Another nod. "…Alright then."
[04:10] <Minaplo> "Alright." Said Roy. "Who next?"
[04:16] <Dinah> Glancing around, Dinah made it fairly clear that she wasn't next with a look toward Hideki and Sachiko.
[04:20] <Hideki> "I'll keep talking, then," said Hideki. "Which is a weird thing to say when I don't know how to start." -
[04:27] <Hideki> "So I'll start with the basics. I grew up in Nara, with my folks, grandfather, and brother. I've been at Sophia for five years now, and it's been pretty fun. Metaverse stuff has also been pretty fun. Well… it was at first. Lately, I've been pretty frustrated, but that pretty much goes for everyone here." -
[04:33] <Hideki> "Some of it's self-directed. Like, 'Why didn't you anticipate that the whole Lost Playground brawl might happen, when Schreier was in a weird mood after Krishna's memory thing?' Or 'Why didn't you talk to people more and figure out how to bridge the rift that happening in the group?' Or 'You could've done better in that last battle.'" -
[04:41] <Hideki> "And other things are more outward. Like all the energy spent on constant internal fighting. Or… well, mainly just that." He paused, glancing around the lobby at all the others, and then sighed. "Someone ask me some questions."
[04:49] <Sachiko> "What do you want to happen going forward" Sachiko asked.
[04:50] <Ai> Ai was … actually lagging behind to figure out what the hell to ask. Sachiko was a relief.
[04:54] <Hideki> "Short-term: just demonstrating some faith in each other, yeah? That'll make things go much more smoothly. Long-term: for the world not to end, and for everyone's loved ones to say safe, including my own! I'm guessing that's what we all want, deep down. Longer term: Everyone gets a happy ending." -
[05:00] <Hideki> He paused, and carefully chose his words without looking at Roy directly, "And by 'happy ending' I mean that everyone's out there, doing all the fun, cool shit that they want to do, without anything holding them back. Living the good life. That includes Delacour and any other folks we're going to be clashing up against in this journey. I dunno if I include shadows in that, by the way. Some of them are alright. Not all of them are, though."
[05:01] <Ai> Ai paused, and then looked to Hideki. "…Can I ask one, then?"
[05:04] <Hideki> "Yeah, go for it."
[05:07] <Ai> "What I don't get is …" Ai paused again, turning her tongue around in her mouth in deep thought. "Sometimes it feels like you don't really care, because you play it all off? It's c… clear you do, now more than ever, but it's really messing with us." But then she closed her eyes. "A… and another. You also uh. Sometimes feel a bit clueless? And again, I don't think you naturally can't get a clue, but it's like you're choosing to ignore getting one. …It doesn't make much sense to me. But maybe that's why I got the card I did."
[05:14] <Hideki> "Clueless?" A wounded note crept into his voice. "Come on. Am I really that bad?" He looked to Ji-Hu, as if for confirmation.
[05:15] <Ai> "I s-said it's put-upon! When you actually pay attention you don't look dumb!"
[05:28] <Minaplo> Ji-Hu frowned slightly, but remained silent for now.
[05:28] <Hideki> "But I do sometimes, huh?" He folded his arms. "Look. Your second question is difficult. From my perspective, it's sometimes easy to get lost in the details, so sometimes I just… opt out in favor of -other- details. Or I'm thinking about something else at the time. It happens." -
[05:33] <Hideki> "And when you say it seems like I don't care about stuff because I play it off, it sounds like you're asking me to be more upfront about what I'm feeling. Is that right?"
[05:36] <Ai> Ai nodded slowly. "…Yeah. I analyze because I have to know. Without the truth being obvious, I have to guess. It took way too long to realize you… hid it. You seem so chill that I didn't think you had any big dark sad/angry reason to!" But then she became more nervous. "…Though just having different priorities answers question two pretty uh, well. Sorry about that."
[05:43] <Hideki> "No worries. This is like one of those extreme cases of different work styles bumping up against each other. Also, I'm working on the 'upfront feelings' part, at the request of someone close to me. It's not easy though."
[05:44] <Ai> "…Thanks. Sor- …Nah. Just uh, thanks." She turned to the others, expectant of any other Hideki-questions.
[05:45] <Minaplo> "You were the closest to Adrien, Hideki." Said Roy. "I know that relationship seems to be a cause of friction with folks."
[05:47] <Hideki> "We talked! Although it ended up being too little too late… What do you want to know?"
[05:47] <Ai> …Expectant gaze on Roy.
[05:47] <Minaplo> "I don't have anything I want off the top of my head, but I figured other people might want something to say about it."
[05:50] <Ai> "…So." Ai said in response, now sssslowly swiveling back to Hideki. "I already wrote it, but. …Whatever went down with Adrien's second big persona, it scared me. I won't bore you with the metaphysics, but I'm worried he tapped something… wrong. And the Egg stuff was creepy, too - ignoring for a minute the Indrid stuff." But she held out a hand. "I don't know what he said that explained him so well, but it's kinda scary that you - as good as it is to kinda, not stab him in the face like we've BEEN doing? - …almost ignored that 'cause of how raw we all gave it to him."
[05:50] <Ai> "Something's wrong. And it might be hurting him, not just him being him?"
[05:53] <Sachiko> "What about the persona bothered you so much?"
[05:57] <Ai> "Two things. One, it's just awkwardly edgy, more than some of ours - …which get pretty edgy. For him to pivot from wildman jungle lord to psychotic anarchist is a bit much, and makes me worried about why the change. …That's not the really scary part." Ai said, clasping her hands. "I got a good look from the height advantage I had. …When he pulled out the quill? …It broke apart into pieces. I have no idea if that's just a full Wildcard thing we missed? Or if… Somehow, him digging it up after getting exploded by Shadow Asaka made it go… sideways."
[05:57] <Ai> "The Sea likes omens. It's a bad omen. …I regret being so weird to Hidecchin about it, though."
[06:00] <Sachiko> "The Sea likes omens, but so do you." The way she phrased it was careful, not quite a rebuke.-
[06:01] <Sachiko> "There's other explanations. Delacour was always hiding stuff about himself, I said as much to Roy. I think the stress of the hit, combined whatever he was planning with the Egg, just knocked the mask loose and the Wild Card responded in kind. That's what it does, right?"
[06:02] <Ai> "…Hence the theory of 'something we missed'." Ai said in now, a much smaller voice.
[06:03] <Sachiko> "Right. I see where you're coming from, I just don't want to leap to the most extreme conclusion. You might still be right, you've been right before."
[06:07] <Hideki> "I can't tell you what he knew about the Egg. It seemed like he knew something, although that could have been from the notes or whispered to him by Cold or someone else. All I know is his past, and that he was fighting against some rough stuff for his entire life up until this point." -
[06:10] <Hideki> "Which is why it's hard for me to believe he'd just give in to some inner evil, or whatever it is you're imagining. Guy has an iron will. It's just wrapped up in layers and layers of outer insecurity."
[06:10] <Sachiko> "I may not like him, but I can buy that. Matches up with what I saw."
[06:12] <Dinah> "I think he knew he could do it and was gonna do it to get the Egg." Dinah sniffed some, the terse tone returning to her voice. "He knew about the Egg beforehand. Knew what it could do. Wanted it for some reason. Maybe it's 'cause of that shit. I dunno. But he went into that encounter expecting to get the Egg. The only thing he didn't plan on was not wantin' to fight us for it."
[06:13] <Ai> Ai slowly nodded. "…From the rough past, iron will? …That actually makes it sound like V is another mask deeper down the… …totem pole…" Ai was obviously letting her wheels turn. "Oh god. No wonder he's the only whole wildcard this time. He's made himself be everything."
[06:14] <Sachiko> "Yep."
[06:16] <Ai> But the she looked to Dinah. "…Maybe Hideki has an idea, but. He really, really wanted to use it. And probably didn't think the risks were worse than the… possibilities."
[06:18] <Hideki> "Could you guys wait and listen a little bit before jumping to all sorts of conclusions? I'll even give you the abridged version of his backstory. It's just that the whole 'made himself be everything' schtick? Sound like the exact opposite of what he was trying to carve out for himself." -
[06:20] <Ai> "Y-y-you sounded like you weren't starting, H-Hideki…!" Ai (obviously) stammered real fast, before she fell quiet again.
[06:20] <Hideki> "He was adopted and raised in a household that actively discouraged him from making his own decisions. Like, his parents literally taught him to leave it up to chance. Roll the die, flip a coin, whatever."-
[06:24] <Hideki> "This screwed up his sense of identity something bad, not to mention his entire view of right and wrong. At some point, he caught wind that this wasn't exactly normal, forced his way out into the world, and forged an identity for himself." -
[06:26] <Hideki> "So. He chose to go from a life where anything was possible at any moment, so long as the die said so, to, basically, the guy we knew. He chose this." -
[06:27] <Hideki> "It doesn't make sense for him to give that up, even under the strain of that fight."
[06:28] <Sachiko> Sachiko hadn't looked bothered when Hideki cut her off, but she did shut up. He didn't do that much.-
[06:29] <Ai> Ai's face was twisting in disgusted dismay the more she heard, but when she saw Sachiko moving to reply? She held off.
[06:31] <Sachiko> She was frowning by the time he was done. "A lot more extreme than I expected," she admitted.-
[06:35] <Sachiko> "I'm not trying to say he's giving that up, Nakajima. All I'm saying is that maybe there was a facade between us and who he was deeper down, and the Persona change represents it." She shrugged. "If you tell me that's wrong, well… you knew him best, I guess."
[06:37] <Dinah> Dinah sniffed, a sharpness coming into her eyes then. "Whatever he grew up as or whatever you guys got to see him as, I only knew him as an asshole. I know him as an asshole. He didn't pull any punches when I saw him last."
[06:38] <Ai> "V… uses chaos. That's what uh, I remember from the movie synopsis and… other certain uh, web assets…" She said ever-more-sheepishly. "It still fits, other than what's under that mask. And, well, 'being everything'? …That's what he's running away from, not becoming, then? …There's just not enough to keep any theory better than spitballs… I'm doing my best to try but he's bloody confusing."
[06:39] <Ai> Beat.
[06:39] <Ai> "…Also that. That was horrifying. And constitutes child abuse. Maybe his parents need to start trying to steal Eggs from us if it means they get in Montag range. Not that I really want to kill them but…" She made a fake retching noise. "They still sound insane."
[06:40] <Minaplo> "I get it." Said Ji-hu. "Tarzan. A wild man, abandoned in a wild and left to be raised by the law of the jungle, who has to teach himself how to be a good human being."
[06:43] <Sachiko> "Hm. Checks out," Sachiko said, nodding a little. "And for what it's worth, I think he agrees with us on that being the source of his Wild Card."
[06:46] <Hideki> "Haven't had the time yet, but I actually want to look into who his parents are. Not that'll help us find or reason with him much. Seems to hate them pretty badly."
[06:49] <Ai> "…They're rich, too." Ai said. "Rich, powerful, and abusive for crazy parenting experiments' sake?" She frowned. "That honestly sounds actively threatening to some part of the world, right now."
[06:53] <Dinah> For a moment, Dinah just looked at them all, as if she expected something. A brow lifted, a slow bit of confusion crossed her face and she sat up a little straighter. "You guys haven't seen him since he left, have you?"
[06:54] <Ai> "Nnno." Ai said, almost blissfully ignorant.
[06:54] <Hideki> "Of course not."
[06:54] <Sachiko> "Nope. Heard you did, but you've not been very conversational."
[06:55] <Dinah> A growl rumbled in her throat as she sunk back into the couch. "Of course it was just me."
[06:55] <Minaplo> "What happened?" Asked Roy.
[06:59] <Dinah> "I went to Wushu Club. Chang was late, so I started leading the class in throws. Demonstrated on one kid, then put it out there for another volunteer. He steps forward, comes up and sucker punches me. I didn't even see him move. Then he dodges everything I throw at him and starts running. Hidin' in the halls and still tormenting me. Pissin' me off. Teacher came up, tried to calm me down but I think she saw him, so I run off after him. And I just….kept running." She trailed off a little at that, still a little fuzzy on what happened then.-
[06:59] <Dinah> "Main point was that he showed up just to piss me off."
[07:01] <Ai> "Wow. He … really is that dedicated to fighting like an internet troll." Ai said with a vague note disgust. …Yet. "…Also proves Hideki and Sachiko are probably more right than 'something horrible happened'."
[07:02] <Dinah> "Or I'm right that he's just an asshole."
[07:02] <Ai> "Both can be true."
[07:02] <Minaplo> "He has an especially large reason to go after you, Dinah." Said Roy.
[07:03] <Dinah> "Yeah. And he better watch his ass next time."
[07:04] <Hideki> "Did he say anything? Was it just, punch-dodge-run?"
[07:04] <Ai> Ai sighed. "If you don't learn his tricks, he's gonna watch it better than you'd like, too."
[07:05] <Dinah> "Just stuff to taunt me."
[07:07] <Dinah> She fished out her phone to bring up the text that simply said "lol", showing it off to them. "Like texting me this shit when I'm standing in the halls, yelling for him to come out."
[07:09] <Ai> "Internet troll." Ai simply said. "Not even the most toxic. Means something different when he's got all this history with serious stuff to back it up, though."
[07:10] <Ai> "The egg junk, I mean."
[07:12] <Sachiko> "Can I ask something? Why would you think you shouting at him to come out would work?" Sachiko seemed interested in the answer, but it was clinical at best.
[07:13] <Dinah> "Because I made it very clear that it would be worse for him when I found him if he didn't."
[07:14] <Sachiko> Sachiko laughed, but left it at that.
[07:14] <Ai> Ai's head began to cant down the tiniest bit. She, too, left it at that.
[07:20] <Sachiko> "Anyway. I expected him to go to ground, but it looks like he'll just show up when he feels like it. If anyone aside from Dinah meets him, at least try to get some information."
[07:20] <Ai> Then Ai had the least safe smile. At Sachiko.
[07:20] <Ai> "Remember how tomes log audio?"
[07:21] <Ai> She let a beat pass, but it was clear she was gonna reply. …After a reaction.
[07:22] <Sachiko> "… heh. Sure."
[07:23] <Ai> A nod. "It's creepy as all get-out, but it should have exactly what he said. But uh, he probably did mostly just screw around with her. Sssso I don't blame you if you don't wanna take a trip down how alarming your tome-phone is, Dinah."
[07:31] <Dinah> Despite that, Dinah did pull out her tome-phone and looked through the logs of that day, trying to hide the surprise from her features at some of the information that was there. Information that really just started to solidify in her head now after the fact. "Hamasaki was the first volunteer and Miss Smithson was the teacher. But, yeah, all just taunts. Like talking about how he's not even in Wushu."
[07:32] <Ai> "…What a waste, Adrien." Ai said with mild disappointment. "Don't even slip up trying to taunt her."
[07:35] <Hideki> "At least it means he's doing well. For now."
[07:38] <Minaplo> "Yeah." Said Roy.
[07:38] <Minaplo> "Aight. Let's leave 'em for now. Who next?" He eyed Sachiko and Dinah.
[07:40] <Sachiko> "You don't want to hear me being honest. Ask Schreier."
[07:40] <Minaplo> "Aight. Dinah then Sachiko."
[07:41] <Ai> Ai… gave Sachiko a look. A sort of sad puppy version of 'really? really?'. …Mercifully, no telepathy after it.
[07:44] <Dinah> Dinah glared at Sachiko somewhat for a few moments until she must have decided it was for the best. Like ripping a bandage off. She wasn't happy about the whole 'sharing' business, though considering some of the things that had been said, maybe she could say a little bit. "Ain't like it's hard to figure out my deal. You can just do a web search on me. Dad used to be an Actor. Mom still is. Dad broke his back on a movie shoot and Mom decided that it was time to marry someone less injured." Shifting a little bit, she crossed her arms and threw her legs up, feet dropping hard on the table in front of her.-
[07:45] <Minaplo> Roy swore sympathetically.
[07:45] <Ai> Ai's dirty look soon became an eyescrunch of 'wow, rude' at her mom.
[07:47] <Dinah> "Pissed me off. Pisses me off every break we get and I have to fly home. Whole thing was the reason I get sent here in the first place. Started punching out kids at my school when they talked about my parents. Mom thought if I went half-way across the world I'd…stop punching people who talk about my parents." She held out her hands in a shrug. "Mom ain't the brightest person in the world."
[07:56] <Sachiko> Sachiko's reaction was muted enough to say that she'd heard of some of it, at least. She did look broadly sympathetic, especially to the part about her dad.
[07:57] <Minaplo> "I guess not many people here would know your parents that much." Said Roy. "That was the hope, I guess."
[07:57] <Minaplo> "… Maybe we should focus on healing your dad instead of restoring my body."
[07:58] <Dinah> "No."
[07:58] <Minaplo> "No?"
[08:00] <Dinah> "You heard me." She bristled instantly, turning her gaze away. "He's fine now. Married his live-in Nurse. Last time I went back, he started to walk again."
[08:01] <Minaplo> "Oh. Well, that's good." Said Roy awkwardly.
[08:01] <Ai> Ai frowned. "…Was it more how raw a deal it was, then?" Ai asked. While looking at Roy and stage-whispering. "Do we need to make a swear jar for martyrdom, Roy?" …The brief awkward wink meant she had… allegedly intended it as a joke.
[08:05] <Dinah> "It's been years." She grumbled, obviously not wanting to explain it all. "He broke his back and all Mom could do was complain that her income was paying for everything. His tests, his surgeries, his therapy, all that. He never fought back. Didn't even fight when she gave him the divorce papers. Didn't even fight when she wanted custody of me." Her fists started clenching reflexively as she continued. "Just moved out. Got a shitty little condo with the settlement money from the production company. Hired his Nurse. Worked with everyone he needed to, got all his shit taken care of. His life just…went on."
[08:07] <Dinah> "So he's fine."
[08:12] <Sachiko> "Good for him." She said, even as she continued to watch Dinah.
[08:13] <Dinah> "Yeah." Bitterness clung to her words. "Good for him."
[08:24] <Minaplo> Roy sat back and waited for someone else to continue. There had to be plenty of things people wanted to say to Dinah…
[08:27] <Ai> Ai waited. When someone else didn't step up… "So. Just gonna ask without any junk around it."
[08:27] <Ai> "What keeps you so mad you can't even hear anything? God knows I think I get why you get mad now…"
[08:29] <Dinah> "It's just what happens." Again, she shrugged as if just saying it was what it was. "Last few times I went back….there was a girl that kept trying to push my buttons. Specifically came after me. Tried ignoring her. It didn't work."
[08:31] <Ai> Ai nodded. "…It's like. …Like when I get so upset and scared my voice doesn't even work. I… I get it now." She offered a hand, though …sort of lowered it when she realized the gesture didn't make sense in arm's reach.
[08:31] <Ai> "Got a hunch whatever tricks'll make me less of a crybaby might make your red haze a bit thinner too, if you change them up a bit. I'd try to share tips if you're willing."
[08:32] <Ai> A soft chuckle. "…I mean, anger's there to be used, yeah? Can't catch yourself a fresh Adrien if you're so mad you can't 'see' him."
[08:32] <Dinah> "I caught that girl easy enough."
[08:33] <Ai> "Think of this as stage 2, then." A …brief wink.
[08:36] <Sachiko> Sachiko just shook her head, though whether it was about the comment or something else was unclear. "No questions."
[08:37] <Hideki> "I've got one!" -
[08:38] <Ai> Ai visibly flinched.
[08:39] <Sachiko> A small smile touched Sachiko's lips, there and then gone.
[08:41] <Hideki> "I mean. It's an actual -question-, question. I'm stealing one from from before. What exactly do you want out of all this? It can't just be fighting Shadows for the sake of fighting Shadows."
[08:46] <Dinah> "Sure it can. Shadows exist and before we get to the end of this, I'm going to have to tear a lot of them apart." She eyed him, lifting a brow with a slight lift of her shoulders. "I'm stuck in it. Didn't ask for it. Wouldn't volunteer to save the world if anyone offered me the chance. But I can deal with it."
[08:50] <Hideki> "Followup question. Why do Mothmen piss you off so badly?"
[08:50] <Ai> Ai did not flinch. She seemed expectant with a ghost of a smile instead.
[08:51] <Dinah> Her eyes flicked somewhat, though she simply firmed her jaw a little. "When I got my Persona, they were the things I had to fight. They pissed me off."
[08:53] <Hideki> "But you fought them and won. I'm not saying to let bygones be bygones, but… clearly they're not a threat, right?"
[08:54] <Ai> "Makes my experience all the more unusual…" Ai muttered half-audibly. But when her body tensed as if to dump something else? She stopped hard when Hideki continued.
[08:55] <Dinah> "I did fight them and I did beat the shit out of them. If you don't think they're a threat, you don't remember the one that went off and found fuckin' Bigfoot."
[08:59] <Hideki> "Yeah, the Bigfoot who was trying to hold you down instead of stomping you to death. He was nice to Yoshino too."
[08:59] <Ai> "I remember that!" She blurted out! As if you could just see 'I'm a helper! :D' radiating off of her.
[08:59] <Dinah> "The Bigfoot that could've snapped us all in half if he wanted to." She narrowed her eyes then, dropping her feet to the ground so she could lean forward.-
[09:02] <Dinah> "You need to get a fuckin' grip on things sooner rather than later. Mothmen are the exact kinda thing we need to worry about. You see one or two here and there, doesn't matter. They think they're safe in groups, so they like to talk shit and fuck around, thinkin' nothin's gonna happen to them. That pisses me off." Sitting back again then, she rolled her neck some, fidgeting a little. "It's only when you put the fear of death in them that they fight back. And they fight back hard. That's why you worry about the Mothmen."
[09:03] <Sachiko> "So maybe don't put the fear of death into them, Dinah."
[09:03] <Minaplo> "It sounds like picking a fight with them is more trouble than it's worth." Said Ji-hu.
[09:05] <Dinah> "They ain't the only things like that. Chances are, we're gonna end up fightin' things like them, if not them. Just actin' like we're not gonna have to ain't helpin' anyone."
[09:06] <Ai> Ai …raised a finger.
[09:06] <Ai> "You ever consider why people use power for things other than fighting and killing people?"
[09:08] <Dinah> Her gaze moved to Ai, hardening some. "Just get to your point, Shrink."
[09:23] <Ai> "Can do." She said plainly.
[09:23] <Ai> "You sure look like three quarters of anyone you haven't gotten to know enough to think otherwise? Either is going to talk shit and get hit, or is gonna screw you over somehow. …Paranoia can keep you alive."
[09:23] <Ai> "But damn if it isn't a waste to me to beat up a bunch of dumbass mothmen that talk shit and don't know better. And one day that instinct's gonna get you punching someone who could've done you a big solid favor."
[09:24] <Ai> Ai pursed her lips, hard. "Roy'd die for us. I talk a lot. Hideki's super chill." And then just, sighed hard.
[09:24] <Ai> "There's more to it than just who's gonna be annoying or threatening, yanno?"
[09:24] <Ai> "There. That's the point."
[09:29] <Dinah> "It ain't paranoia." Her voice didn't raise much but there was a noticeable pitch lift there. "It's all about wantin' somethin'. Like JC's said from the start, nothin's free when it comes to the Sea. They all want a piece of us. I just give them the piece they didn't want."
[09:30] <Ai> "…Sometimes they do. And sometimes it leads to bruises you didn't need. I at least like being less sore in the morning?"
[09:31] <Ai> "…Also I was thinking a bit of real humans, too…"
[09:34] <Sachiko> Sachiko let out a deep, anguished groan. "Can we stop circling? Schreier can't admit when she's obviously wrong and Yoshino can't stop tugging at loose threads of logic. It's a feedback loop."
[09:35] <Hideki> "Agreed. Besides, we have one more person to ask a lot of questions to!"
[09:38] <Ai> "Okay, yeah." Ai said. "…And let's ask one right off." …Head nearly whipped to Sachiko. "Is it sparing you or us your past? Or sparing us your criticism." Despite the lack of a solid questioning tone? Ai was more tired than anything. Not angry.
[09:52] <Sachiko> "The latter. I've been trying to be a team player and keep things polite." She sat up a little straighter. "But if that's the game, fine."-
[09:52] <Minaplo> "I did say this was the chance, Sachiko. Politeness is done with, we need truth." Said Roy.
[09:53] <Ai> Ai simply nodded once. "I expect you to be really savage. …But I think writing 'if I get chokeslammed into the wall, hopefully at least the conversation's started' means I'll make an exception to my weeping terror just this once? …Y…yanno?"
[09:56] <Sachiko> Sachiko seemed to ignore her.-
[09:56] <Sachiko> "In 2016 I nearly died in a housefire. I fought through…" She bit her tongue and backed off. Tried again. "I fought through a lot to earn my life back, and within a week of finally getting it I'm given the magic ticket to do it all over again. To maybe do it forever."-
[09:57] <Sachiko> "So no, Yoshino, I'm not feeling savage. I'm feeling scared to death."-
[09:57] <Sachiko> "You know what? I watched Schreier strangle Yoshino in front of me and for a minute there I thought I might need to actually kill somebody. And this is how we're handling the easy part, it's all uphill from here." Sachiko shook her head. "All our predecessors died or got something even crueller. And sure, I 'could' quit but all that does is raise the chances I die horribly anyway when the entire world falls into the Sea."-
[09:57] <Sachiko> "I made the choice to stay but I feel like a dumbass for it. Fuck this job. Put that on my tombstone if I bite it."
[10:01] <Ai> "…You didn't need to hide that, Sachiko." Ai said. And she wasn't tired, or upset, or anything like that. It was like… melancholy. Empathy.
[10:21] <Sachiko> "Sure I did. Nobody was asking, and it didn't change the necessary facts."-
[10:22] <Sachiko> "But now you are and I got tired of spinning my wheels, so do with it what you will."
[10:25] <Ai> "Okay. I will." …And Ai stood up. Walked over to Sachiko. For a good few seconds, she stared right into the other girl's eyes. …Ai's eyes were, unsurprisingly, watery, both in tone and in actual suppressed tears. She opened her mouth. Closed it. "I gotta say." Hands on her hips. -
[10:26] <Ai> "You're guilty of certain things that honestly Roy is too, and I have half a mind to-" …And then she just stopped. And moved with frightening speed. -
[10:26] <Minaplo> Ji-hu reached out and grabbed Ai.
[10:26] <Ai> By the time Ji-Hu tried? …It was at least clear that Ai was going to hug Sachiko.
[10:27] <Ai> "…Hug you to death and back to life." she muttered in that grip. "…You silly old kid."
[10:28] <Sachiko> Sachiko looked like she had absolutely no idea what to do with this information, and she was unequipped to try and solve the puzzle. "… Thanks," she attempted.
[10:31] <Ai> …She did lower her arms. "It's okay. It's okay to need some kind of break! Or even like. Talking about it?! I'm so scared too. And I'd gladly pay out some of the meaning this gives me to let you have a little bit back of what it's taking away from you!"
[10:32] <Minaplo> Ji-hu was frowning thoughtfully as she looked down at Ai in her grip. She sort of gently pulled Ai back, patted her on the head and sat back in her seat.
[10:32] <Minaplo> "I… Kinda have something to say too."
[10:32] <Ai> Ai accepted this. "…Ah…?"
[10:35] <Sachiko> Sachiko seemed to be attempting to merge with her chair. The distraction was welcome.
[10:40] <Dinah> Dinah watched the exchange, confusion on her face as Ai moved to Sachiko, feeling a somewhat sympathetic relief for her when Ji-hu intervened. In the silence that reigned, she just shrugged. "At least she gets what we're looking at."
[10:42] <Ai> …Ai didn't reply, but she did just. Sigh. Sigh very, very hard.
[10:54] <Minaplo> Ji-hu rubbed the tops of her thighs and glanced around a little fretfully. "So… You guys all know who I am, obviously. I don't really… Have any big trauma in my past. Maybe a few deaths in the family but nothing close. My family and I are pretty okay. I have Hideki." She smiled at him, little dimples in her cheeks coming out when she did so. "… Some of my family might not approve of him- my grandma- well, my great grandma, but everyone just calls her grandma- she was taken by the Japanese army as a sex slave during the war, so there's plenty of resentment going on over that, but things are pretty okay. My live has been pretty happy."
[10:54] <Minaplo> "… My goal this year was to have a really idyllic final year of school before I go off to university and start thinking about jobs." Said Ji-hu. "Get good grades, time with my boyfriend, enjoy all the big festivals and just live that kind of year that you wanna live when you see overly sweet YA dramas or anime or whatever. But… This thing with Asaka got in the way, and I don't really remember everything, but I got entangled up with him and because of that, I was targeted by the Black Hat… Twice. The first time, I would've died if it hadn't been for Roy, and the second time I would've died if it hadn't been for all of you, with warning from Indrid Cold, seemingly."-
[10:56] <Ai> …Some of that got Ai to stare wide-eyed.
[10:58] <Minaplo> "So… My dream year's already been ruined." Said Ji-hu, chuckling nervously. "Not that that really matters. Um… But I am scared. I don't have any Persona or powers or anything. All I have are my research skills, and I guess… My own perspective. I can't really describe to you guys what that's like. I stay here, and everyone leaves to fight, and when you all come back you're exhausted, or bloodied, or angry, a-and I don't have anything, and I don't know how I can help, and I went off and wrote a bunch of notes and now I'm afraid I'm helping Adrien make his own team of Persona people…"-
[11:02] <Minaplo> "I don't really have that much power to change anything. I feel helpless, and it's all up to you guys and I dunno how to help." Said Ji-hu, her voice dwindling into smallness as she went. Her eyebrows downcast sidewards and her gaze dropped to her fidgeting hands. "But selfishly too, I need to rely on you guys to protect me. I don't think any one can fight Black Hat without a Persona."-
[11:05] <Minaplo> "I guess… All I can really do now is keep supporting you guys. And maybe here is a good time to tell you all what I think about all of you, and what we should do…"
[11:08] <Ai> Ai… just nodded. "…Er. Yeah, you can go ahead."
[11:11] <Sachiko> "Sure," Sachiko said, sounding intrigued if nothing else.
[11:12] <Dinah> Dinah simply shrugged. If everyone else had a say, she might as well, too.
[11:31] <Minaplo> "I think when it comes down to the serious things, everyone is usually on the same page. When you fought Asaka, you guys… Won. You got a bit beat up, and Roy…" She eyed the cat. "I mean, it sounds like you kinda didn't need to do what you did."
[11:31] <Minaplo> "Ah, fuck you. Weren't even there." Said Roy, knowing that Ji-hu couldn't hear his cat-speak, only his telepathy.
[11:31] <Minaplo> She reached over and flicked him in the head nonetheless.
[11:31] <Minaplo> "Ow! Motherfucker!"
[11:31] <Minaplo> "I feel really embarrassed about you, Roy." Said Ji-hu.
[11:31] <Minaplo> "Eh?"
[11:31] <Minaplo> "When I first came here, I didn't realise you were a person. I thought you were a cat, and I love cats, so I took you everywhere. I said a bunch of things around you, not realising you could understand what I meant. And of course, you know, I made you watch all those videos. And you saw me change." She reddened, but pushed forward nonetheless. "I just kind of assumed a lot of permissions because I didn't know what you were. And now I know you're a person, and I can't help but imagine how many times people've assumed permissions from you just because of your form."
[11:31] <Minaplo> "I… Kinda think that goes for most of you guys. All of us have our own consents and boundaries and they're different, and we're bad at communicating it, and we aren't good at dealing with it when we overstep the mark." Ji-hu took in a deep breath.
[11:31] <Minaplo> "Ai."
[11:32] <Ai> …She turned to look at her. …Despite how much Ai probably normally looked at Ji-Hu with no fear? There was some in her eyes. "Yeah."
[11:49] <Minaplo> "You're smart, Ai." Said Ji-hu, smiling. "I don't think anyone can deny that. You're also inquisitive and you're attentive, and you… Adapt, I think, to uncanny situations really well. To that end you're actually kind of like Hideki a lot. I think you're both fairly laid back in certain ways, although around different things."-
[11:52] <Minaplo> "You're perceptive. But I think you're aware of how perceptive you are, and how you've come to be that way, and I think… You might trust your sense of perception more than you should. I think snap judgments are something you've used to protect yourself in the past, and right now it's an adaptation that you're trusting a lot, but with sensitive people like us, it's… Well, there's a lot of noise, and it can be dangerous basing things off of noise. It can make you a little… Judgmental. Sorry."
[12:03] <Ai> Ai slowly nodded. "…No, I get it." God, she was slowly nodding a lot lately. "I've already started finding out the walls I'm running into. And if nothing else today I got called out on it… what… 4 times? More?" That merited an awkward chuckle.
[12:03] <Ai> "It's fine. Better than actually messing up for keeps."
[12:04] <Minaplo> "Yeah." Said Ji-hu. "I know what you mean. It's kinda rough to hear all at once, I know."
[12:04] <Minaplo> "But I think there's a flip side to that as well. You… I think you assume people judge you more quickly than they really do."
[12:05] <Ai> "Why yes." Ai said. …Quickly. The irony wasn't lost on her, if how her cheeks colored was any hint. "And judge harshly. …From evidence they might not even see. Let alone care about."
[12:07] <Minaplo> "Yeah, but the thing is I don't think they actually do that."
[12:07] <Ai> Ai took a second to just, stare at Ji-Hu. "…Sorry, that's what the bit about the evidence was supposed to mean. That it's actually nonsense on my part to think it?"
[12:09] <Minaplo> "Yeah, sorry, that's what I mean." Said Ji-hu. "I get you now."
[12:11] <Ai> "…Any uh, other insights? I don't wanna eat too much time being self-demonstrating…"
[12:13] <Minaplo> "Nothing that hasn't already been said. Thanks for listening."
[12:15] <Ai> "Thanks…!"
[11:03] <Minaplo> Ji-Hu nodded a few times at Ai, took a breath and pivoted toward Dinah.
[11:03] <Minaplo> "Dinah. A lot of people have said a lot of things to you recently, so I'll try and get to the point." Said Ji-hu. "You're terrifically strong and you're not one for indecision. Crises call for immediate reaction and that's exactly what you do. So that's, you know. Great."
[11:03] <Minaplo> "Lots of people want to call you angry. I don't really think that's true. It's true that you feel angry most of the time, but you don't enjoy being angry. If you did, you wouldn't be trying to vent it all the time. It looks like the only reliable way to vent for you is either isolation or violence, and I don't think either of them leave you feeling happy, just kind of… Neutral."
[11:03] <Minaplo> "At the same time, I don't think it's really a case that lots of different things make you angry. I think…" She paused, her eyes searching her hands for a moment before she looked back up at Dinah. "I think your anger's old, like a sore, and you cover it up with bandages, and people don't so much as make anger for you as they do rip that bandage off and expose it. And you just want people to leave it alone, but they keep poking it, even accidentally. And something's made it really hard to resolve or address it."
[11:03] <Minaplo> "I guess… One of the things people get mad at you about is that you don't apologise for your actions, even when they have obviously negative consequences. You just flatly justify or stick by them and you don't take ownership of the bad that goes down. You haven't actually apologised yet for running off and killing those Mothmen, and I'm not going to ask you to." Said Ji-hu. "I think… That that kind of self-reflection isn't something you're ready for yet. And being forced to do so just keeps ripping off that bandage and exposing that weak spot."
[11:30] <Dinah> Dinah's face twisted a little bit here and there as she was spoken to, not exactly betraying what she thought about what Ji-Hu said, not really letting them know if she was right or not. Perhaps it was simply an actual moment of restraint. There wasn't a whole lot that she could say to it all, at least in her mind.
[11:30] <Dinah> By the end of it, she looked away for a moment, shrugged and simply gave a sort of non-committal grunt of acknowledgment that something had been said.
[11:52] <Minaplo> Ji-hu let the silence hang in the air for a little bit. Perhaps she was waiting for a blow-up of some kind, and sighed a little when it didn't come- maybe out of relief.
[11:52] <Minaplo> Then she turned toward Sachiko. "Okay. Here goes."
[11:52] <Minaplo> "No one needs to tell you that you're smart, Sachiko. You've been the one organising the library and our knowledge on the Metaverse. You're also good at defusing people and reading them. I think… You're probably pretty good at picking out weaknesses in people. But I don't think you want to know that to control people. Out of everyone here, I think you're one of the most empathetic people going. You get that other people have stuff to deal with. I think you find weaknesses because it makes them less chaotic to deal with."
[11:52] <Minaplo> "You want to engage with things on your own terms, and I think it's rattling for you when you can't." Said Ji-hu. "Which is why that chaotic element in people is something you try and reduce down. But…" Ji-hu sighed, and wrung her hands a little.
[11:52] <Minaplo> "I feel a little exhausted around you, a lot of the time. You have this kind of distant, aloof persona that I can't relax around. I dunno if it's a deliberate thing or not, trying to keep people at arms' length, or you're trying to appear unaffected by things, but honestly… To me, you just come off as being profoundly uncomfortable, all the dang time, but won't say why, and I feel paranoid trying to figure out how I can make things more accommodating for you, or if I'm somehow provoking your discomfort. Which kind of brings me to my next thing."
[11:52] <Minaplo> "You said you're scared, and I can understand that." Said Ji-hu, her eyes wide. "You've seen what the Sea does to people and you're trying to reject it and being an Evoker, to compartmentalise it. But to me, you just… Remind me of Roy. I think that attitude is exhausting you and making you more closer to that abject exhaustion more than anything else. You're treating it like an obligation, and not an opportunity."
[12:21] <Sachiko> "I don't want what it's offering," she said curtly. She'd listened patiently, but there wasn't a lot of it in her voice. "Besides, it's safer for everyone if someone here treats it with a little bit of distance."
[12:23] <Minaplo> "Do you even know what it's offering?"
[12:29] <Sachiko> "Depends on what you mean. Do I know the full scope personally? Nope, can't know that yet. But I know what it's offered so far, what it's taken in exchange, and what it's looked like for every old-timer Evoker we've heard about."
[12:29] <Minaplo> "What do you mean by 'it'?" Said Ji-hu.
[12:31] <Sachiko> She shrugged. "Life as an Evoker."
[12:45] <Minaplo> "You know, the old Evokers we heard about? The 1988 Evokers? They didn't get killed by the Sea of Chaos or even by being Evokers. They were winning. They lost because they couldn't trust each other and differed over, I dunno, philosophy or ideology. That's not an Evoker thing, Sachiko, that's… That's just a thing that happened." Said Ji-hu desperately. She waved a hand at the television, which was still talking about the school. "We have people fighting over different beliefs at our school. The Sea didn't make them do it, either. It's just tensions that've always been there getting their chance to bubble up. And it's a good thing it's happening at our school because that's the only way things change for the better. The 1988 Evokers had problems that they didn't address, and that's why they died."
[12:45] <Minaplo> "You've been an evoker for about six weeks, give or take." Said Ji-hu. "And how much of that time have you really explored it beyond finding and eliminating threats or speaking to the same dang people the last group spoke with? You seem terrified of ending up like the last people. You were the one who found the inner child, who discovered a better way of doing it. Why have you become discouraged all of a sudden? Why don't you keep thinking in that way and find a way to make being an Evoker benefit you?"
[12:49] <Ai> …At that last set of sentences, Ai couldn't resist very firmly nodding. …The inner child.
[01:24] <Sachiko> "Like I said, treating this like work is safest. Having a team full of people who need this life in big ways or small is dangerous, I don't understand how nobody seems to get that!" She looked around the room, checking for any agreement at all.-
[01:24] <Sachiko> "It disincentivises taking actions that might conclusively end things, or even to make big changes to the way it's done. It's no accident that I was the one to find the inner child. Everyone's happy about it now, but did anyone but Nakajima give a damn when I raised my concerns in the first place? No. Because that's just how it 'had to be'."-
[01:24] <Sachiko> “Questioning the ‘had to be’s is a lot harder to do when you want what comes before and after them.”
[01:29] <Ai> "…Did you just forget me helping you sort things out in the library, Kurata…?"
[01:29] <Minaplo> Ji-hu wrenched her fingers in frustration. "You're not treating it like work, Sachiko! You get paid for work! You're letting the Sea take from you without taking anything in return and it's no surprise that it makes you miserable. You can take from the Sea without becoming dependent on it!"
[02:10] <Sachiko> "No, I didn't forget. You helped me with the library and I appreciate it."-
[02:10] <Sachiko> "But look, Ji-hu, if you want to be an Evoker so badly maybe you should just do that. Then when you've pushed that boulder uphill for a month and a half you can tell me how I should and shouldn't feel about all this. Deal?"
[02:21] <Minaplo> Ji-hu's rage exploded.-
[02:22] <Minaplo> She shot out of her chair, her hands balled into fists. Her anger was almost a palpable force.
[02:22] <Minaplo> Maybe it was.
[02:22] <Minaplo> "You obstinate, fucking assholes! I was just waiting for someone to pull rank. Well you know what? Deal."
[02:22] <Minaplo> Ji-hu stormed up the stairs. A minute later she flew down them, a book under her arm. She kicked the front door open with enough force to send it rattling on its hinges.
[02:22] <Minaplo> "I'll become an Evoker! And I'll do my goddamned best at it! And then you can fuck your memories of it off and go back to working uphill for everything instead of taking edges when offered, you fucking cowards!"
[02:22] <Minaplo> SLAM. The door shut behind her.
[02:31] <Hideki> Hideki had stood up alongside her without missing a beat. Almost as if he'd anticipated the outburst. What he hadn't anticipated was all the stuff that came after. -
[02:31] <Ai> Ai audibly whimpered at that, and she opened her mouth as if to protest… and just made a little croak of words not working.
[02:32] <Hideki> When the front door slammed, he stood there, awkwardly for a moment, and then rubbed his face. He walked after her at a slightly less hurried pace. "Thanks… for that," he muttered, as he left the room. "I'll be back later." -
[02:33] <Hideki> The door closed a second time.
[02:51] <Ai> "…What the fuck, Sachiko." Ai said, finally. And then she stood up. "We can talk this over later. I just don't wanna get yelled at now a-after it was going pretty smoothly. I'll keep in touch by texts."
[02:51] <Ai> …She was moving to leave the dorm.
[02:56] <Sachiko> Sachiko gave away very little. She took all the words without comment or apparent reaction, but when Ai's back turned, Sachiko shut her eyes for a moment and seemed to just sag. Then she brushed her hair back behind her ear, stood and headed for the elevator.
[03:02] <Dinah> Almost ironically, Dinah probably expected the outburst the least, her brows lifting in surprise when Ji-Hu got up suddenly and yelled. Watching her head for the stairs, she gave a look around as if saying, 'What's her problem?' until she was back just to leave out the front door. In the unease that followed, she sniffed and watched Ai leave.
[03:02] <Dinah> "Didn't seem that bad to me."
[03:08] <Ai> Ai … then stopped. She hadn't seemed to hear the yelling for saying it that she must've expected. …So instead. when she made it to the foyer, she stopped… And turned to go up the stairs.
[03:56] <Minaplo> "Jesus Christ." Roy shook his head. "You people…"
[03:56] <Minaplo> … as the elevator doors opened, Sachiko would see a blue butterfly streak out and through the front door.

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