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[10:36] <Minaplo> "Anyway, thanks again for lettin' me come. Nice to stretch my legs," Said Roy, his little cat head peeking out from her school bag.-
[10:37] <Minaplo> In the distance she saw Rio and Evripidis, waiting on the curb. Rio was silent and still, basking in the sunlight, gleaming with the promise of triumph over rivals.-
[10:37] <Minaplo> Evripidis was pacing back and forth, on the brink of nervous collapse, fiddling with his umbrella, glancing upwards constantly at the grey clouds that threatened to rain on his extremely sad parade.
[12:03] <Sachiko> Sachiko had been quiet on the way over. Some of that was practical - she was reviewing notes on her phone, for one thing - but some of that seemed to be basic uneasiness. She hadn't spoken to Roy much at all since their contentious lesson on the history of his old band of Evokers.-
[12:03] <Sachiko> But he'd asked, and she didn't have a great reason to say no ("I feel uncomfortable around you but I'm too proud to apologise" didn't count). Worst case scenario was that people'd think she was weird for lugging around a cat, but people tended to think that anyway.-
[12:03] <Sachiko> She raised her head, realised she was within spitting distance of their pickup spot and pocketed her phone.-
[12:03] <Sachiko> [Alright.] Even she had to concede to the social norms of not carrying on a conversation with her cat in public. [Praise The Sun over there is Sakuma, the one working on his stomach ulcer is Andreas. Really gonna have to try and calm him down…]
[12:05] <Minaplo> [Wow. I'd been told that your debate team was a bit scrappy but hoooo boy. This gonna be good.]-
[12:08] <Minaplo> "Our fearless leader is here." Said Rio, turning around and giving Sachiko a pair of gun hands. "Ready to clown on some Kirishitan nerds, Kurata?"-
[12:08] <Minaplo> A school mini-bus was already starting to pull up for them. The fact that their debate team had managed to get motor pool assistance was a testimony to the glory it once had.-
[12:09] <Minaplo> Evripidis groaned.
[12:45] <Sachiko> Sachiko returned a single gun hand, but she turned it sideways because she was a cool debate team nerd. "That's the plan. Andreas, are you still verbal?"
[12:51] <Minaplo> "Yes." He grumbled. "Yes, of course."-
[12:51] <Minaplo> [That's some nasty stage fright. He knew what debate club was before he joined, right?]-
[12:52] <Minaplo> "You can't repeat 'oh God, oh God' over and over if you can't speak, after all." Said Rio cheerfully.-
[12:52] <Minaplo> The bus pulled up and Rio jumped inside before the doors had even finished opening, startling Ms. Smithson, the debate club teacher supervisor something fierce. "Yeek!"-
[12:52] <Minaplo> "Sorry Teach!"
[01:03] <Sachiko> [He's in it for Sakuma. The tragedy of being a good guy…]-
[01:03] <Sachiko> Sachiko reached out to steady Rio when she rocked back on the top step, split between amusement and apology. "She's very excited to brawl in the marketplace of ideas."
[02:13] <Minaplo> "Hell yeah, boiiiiiiii." Rio springboarded off of Sachiko's hand and twirled on the top step, her long ponytail whipping out to smack Smithson square across the face.-
[02:14] <Minaplo> "Gonna put some Kirishitans in the grouuuuuuund! Sophia REP-RE-SENT!"-
[02:14] <Minaplo> [Hahahaha this girl rules, can we trade Dinah in for her?]-
[02:15] <Minaplo> "Sakuma, I know you're excited, but please refrain from talking about 'putting some Kirishitans in the ground' too loudly around people outside of this bus." Said Smithson with grim resignation.-
[02:16] <Minaplo> "Sorry Teach. You know I don't actually mean it." Rio flopped into the window seat of a three-seat row, and patted the seat next to her aggressively whilst eyeing Evripidis. "I don't hate Kirishitans. I mean, Evripidis here is one of those weird Kirishitans that look like Dungeons and Dragons wizards, and he's fine."-
[02:17] <Sachiko> Sachiko was laughing under her breath by that point.
[02:17] <Minaplo> "You're taunting me. I'm not going to fall for it." Evripidis slumped glumly into the throne prepared for him.-
[02:18] <Minaplo> "Hey chief, think we can get Evripidis out of his stage fright in the fifteen minutes we have to the venue?" Asked Rio.
[02:22] <Sachiko> "Gonna have to try, I guess," she shrugged. She had paused ever so slightly as she passed Smithson to mime a suplex and grin.-
[02:23] <Sachiko> She took a seat on the single row next to the other two. "Is this better or worse than usual?"
[02:23] <Minaplo> "Worse. Definitely absolutely worse." Said Rio immediately.
[02:26] <Sachiko> "Good to know." She moved to sit her bag down between her ankles and paused at the last moment.-
[02:26] <Minaplo> [Ain't seen me yet 'cuz I'm a goddamned ninja.]
[02:26] <Sachiko> "… hey Andreas, you like animals, right?"
[02:26] <Minaplo> [ah, you bitch.]-
[02:26] <Minaplo> "I like birds, sure."
[02:27] <Sachiko> "What's got four legs and is definitely a lot like a bird?"
[02:27] <Minaplo> "A lazy man's avian take on the human centipede?"
[02:30] <Sachiko> "Sounds right. Anyway, in unrelated news…" She set the bag back on her knees and unzipped it juuuust enough to reveal its occupant.
[02:31] <Minaplo> [Goddamnit, you're such a punk.]-
[02:31] <Minaplo> "… That's a cat." Said Evripidis.
[02:32] <Sachiko> "You are correct. 'Birds' Best Friend', they call them."
[02:33] <Minaplo> [I am strictly a fish cat. I do not eat birds. Not like, birds in the wild. They're dirty.]-
[02:33] <Minaplo> "Why do you have a cat in your bag, Kurata?" Asked Evripidis.
[02:35] <Sachiko> "It's our… I don't know, dorm cat?" she shrugged. "He finds his way into my bag sometimes, and I was in a hurry today. Didn't realise he was there until I got to the school."
[02:35] <Minaplo> "Dorm cat. That's cute." Said Rio. "Do you want him, Evripidis?"-
[02:35] <Minaplo> "I'm good, thanks." Said Evripidis.-
[02:36] <Minaplo> "Can I have the dorm cat?" Asked Rio.-
[02:36] <Minaplo> [Yesss]
[02:37] <Sachiko> "Sure, apparently." She handed the bag across Andreas' lap.
[02:37] <Minaplo> "Sup, dorm cat?" Said Rio, taking Roy out and placing him on her lap, where he curled up.-
[02:39] <Minaplo> [Sup, Not-Dinah?]-
[02:40] <Minaplo> "Hey, you brought a cat?" Said Smithson, eyeing the trio in the rear view mirror. "He looks kinda mangy."-
[02:40] <Minaplo> [Piss off, ginger. Turnin' 30 soon, I bet, you're gonna be fuckin' mangy yourself.]
[02:47] <Sachiko> "He's pretty placid," Sachiko said, ignoring quite a lot. "I'll make sure he won't be a problem."
[02:48] <Minaplo> "Ah, so he's lazy, too." Said Smithson.-
[02:48] <Minaplo> [You're a bad teacher.]-
[02:49] <Sachiko> "Seems unnecessary," she said. It wasn't clear what she was directing it at.
[02:50] <Minaplo> "Oh no, it's totes necessary. Kitty's gotta conserve his strength so he can prowl the night later." Said Rio, running her hands across Roy's back. "The dorm must be cleansed of rodents!"-
[02:50] <Minaplo> [Ahhh… She gets it. Now this is the best way to travel.]-
[02:51] <Minaplo> "I'll overlook it, but only because I'm a cool teacher." Said Smithson. "Don't forget it."-
[02:51] <Sachiko> "Uh-huh."
[02:51] <Minaplo> They were driving for a minute or so in mostly amiable silence when Rio's eyes suddenly snapped wide open.-
[02:52] <Minaplo> "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. This isn't stage fright at all." Said Rio the eureka-moment on her face giving way to a very catlike grin. "You're thinking about her."-
[02:52] <Minaplo> Evripidis went paler.-
[02:52] <Minaplo> ['Her'?']
[03:02] <Sachiko> "… yeah, I was wondering when to bring this up," Sachiko muttered. [Kimiko Miyamoto, we're pretty sure she's on the other team.]-
[03:02] <Sachiko> "Gonna need you to not look directly at her, Andreas. I watched her do the same thing to a different guy the other day, it's possible she's some kind of sorceress."
[03:03] <Minaplo> [Oh, she cute?]-
[03:03] <Sachiko> [Yeah, I can see it.]
[03:07] <Minaplo> "I can try." Muttered Evripidis.-
[03:07] <Minaplo> "She's deffo a fox spirit." Said Rio. "She goes to a religious school because she thinks Jesus will stop her fox soul from being sent to hell."-
[03:07] <Minaplo> [Most of the fox spirits I've met have been cool, to be honest.]
[03:12] <Sachiko> [Huh! Good to know.]-
[03:12] <Sachiko> "All kidding aside, maybe we should… like, say hi before we start?" Sachiko suggested. "She's actually pretty nice, it might break a bit of your anxiety."-
[03:13] <Sachiko> "I mean, not in the short term. For the debate itself, though!"
[03:13] <Minaplo> He looked undecided. "I, uh…"-
[03:13] <Minaplo> Rio leapt in to help!-
[03:21] <Minaplo> "That'd be best. Oh, but." She said cheerfully. "Don't look at her bright, starlike eyes, though, or you'll get lost. And best not to look at those soft, pink, sweet lips either." She said, nodding. "Oh and if I were you, try not to think about how smooth and fresh and warm her perfect skin is, or how fair and pure it looks, especially how it must beneath her clothes. And definitely do not think about how long and elegant and perfect her legs are, or how much like sea silk her brilliant hair must be. You absolutely must say hello to her whilst staring at her feet and nothing else. Take it from me, her shoes are entirely average."
[03:21] <Minaplo> A cursed silence fell.
[03:25] <Sachiko> "… you're killing me, Rio."
[03:26] <Sachiko> "Updating my 'think we can get Evripidis out of his stage fright' answer to 'no'."
[03:27] <Minaplo> "Well it's not stage fright anymore, is it? Now it's just regular boy lust, and he can fix that after five minutes in the venue bathrooms."-
[03:27] <Minaplo> [Found the fox spirit! Yes, officer, right fucking here! Holy shit!]
[03:27] <Sachiko> A pained sigh.
[03:27] <Sachiko> "I guess?" she hazarded. What other answer was there?
[03:28] <Minaplo> "Miss Smithson, can you hear us?" Whispered Evripidis.-
[03:28] <Minaplo> "Every word, Andreas."-
[03:28] <Minaplo> Evripidis covered his face with his hands and slumped forwards.-
[03:30] <Minaplo> …-
[03:30] <Minaplo> The venue, as it turned out, was not on neutral ground.-
[03:34] <Minaplo> Saint Catherine's All Girls Catholic School was an institution based in Little Lisbon, a feature obvious when the local architecture shifted subtly but firmly away from a modern Japanese to a motley mix of continental European styles.-
[03:43] <Minaplo> The school itself had been built around a church, and it was this building- a large, stately sandstone building with a marble statue of the Virgin Mary outside- that drew the eye when one arrived on its grounds. The buildings around it were much more practical and not-stony-looking. More like a school, except there were crosses in the classrooms.-
[03:44] <Minaplo> They got off the bus. Smithson whipped out her phone and brought up a map. "Now let's see… Where do we go?"-
[03:45] <Minaplo> "Wait, our venue is the school?" Said Rio. "Oh no. We're screwed."-
[03:45] <Minaplo> "What? Why?" Said Evripidis.-
[03:45] <Minaplo> "My plan didn't bank on all the bathrooms being girls' bathrooms!"-
[03:46] <Sachiko> Sachiko pushed both index fingers into the bridge of her nose.
[03:47] <Minaplo> [There'll be bathrooms around for dudes. Like, this isn't a girl-only space. Some of the teachers will be dudes. There'll be priests and shit around, too. The church should have-
[03:47] <Minaplo> [Ah, no. Shouldn't suggest he tug one out in a church. That'd make some Shadows angry.]-
[03:49] <Minaplo> Smithson ignored all of this. Her face was a mask of composure. She tried very hard to maintain it. She was extremely composed.-
[03:50] <Minaplo> And so they walked. There were a fair few students still around, attending to clubs or just… hanging out. And it was never just one student studying by herself. Always at least three of them it seemed, one for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.-
[03:50] <Minaplo> More than a few of them seemed to start giggling as they passed, and it was impossible to determine whether or not they were giggling at the Sophians.-
[03:50] <Minaplo> They weren't. Schoolkids giggled all the time. They definitely weren't giggling at the Sophian debate team.-
[03:51] <Minaplo> "Heeeere we are!" Said Smithson, turning a corner-
[03:51] <Minaplo> Into an entirely empty and extremely locked classroom.-
[03:52] <Minaplo> "…"-
[03:52] <Minaplo> [Haha. Dumb motherfucker got us lost.]
[03:55] <Sachiko> Sachiko hid a yawn that looked suspiciously like a smile.
[03:56] <Minaplo> "Wow, someone's composed." Said Rio.-
[03:56] <Minaplo> "S-Should we ask someone?" Said Smithson. She flipped her phone upside down.-
[03:56] <Minaplo> Since this was 2018, the map just rotated too.-
[03:56] <Sachiko> "Seems like the thing to do."
[03:57] <Sachiko> If only they had some sort of…
[03:57] <Minaplo> "If only we had some sort of practical yet stylish shirt!" Said Smithson furiously.
[04:02] <Sachiko> "… Wait, are you a map shirt defender?" She sounded outright aggrieved.
[04:02] <Minaplo> "I'm the map shirt designer."
[04:03] <Sachiko> Sachiko gasped in horror.
[04:07] <Minaplo> "What? Shut your face. That was one of my greatest achievements as Student Council President, and it's a time-honoured, ten-year tradition that has brought delight to thousands of students!" Said Smithson, spinning so sharply on her heel that a shard of gravel broke off the concrete and skipped across Rio's shin. "Every year, new students are welcomed with a shirt that proudly declares their school and allows others to help each other find their way around. It's about community and harmony!"
[04:12] <Sachiko> She still looked betrayed, but she also stared at the new gouge in Rio's leg with some amazement."Okay, but you know what also promotes community and helps people find their way around? Talking to another person."
[04:16] <Minaplo> "And the shirt helps with that. It's stylish and inviting! It draws the eye, and soon the wearer is made aware of the querant's wishes! It makes Sophia Academy approachable!"
[04:25] <Sachiko> She looked around at the other two. Was she out of touch, or was it the shirt lovers who were wrong?
[04:26] <Minaplo> "It's a super comfy shirt, and seeing people wear it makes me feel more at ease." Said Rio with a shrug.-
[04:27] <Minaplo> "I never even unwrapped mine." Said Evripidis. "I mean… Let's be real. I'd wear it for halloween, as an ironic joke."
[04:33] <Sachiko> She began a 'see?' gesture towards Andreas, only to pause and look at Rio.-
[04:33] <Sachiko> "… how comfy are we talking here?"
[04:34] <Minaplo> Rio was about to respond, when-
[04:34] <Minaplo> "Oh, I've finally found you!"-
[04:35] <Minaplo> Whilst they had bickered, Kimiko Miyamoto- the fox spirit herself- had arrived on the scene undetected.-
[04:35] <Minaplo> How long had she been there? Who could say? She moved with quiet, elegant grace. Also, they had been super fucking loud.-
[04:36] <Minaplo> "I'm so sorry." She bowed deeply, her silky brown hair spilling down around her face as she rose. "I only realised ten minutes ago that I sent you the wrong directions, Smithson-sensei. I take full responsibility…"-
[04:37] <Minaplo> "Oh! Er, no, of course, it's fine. Haha! I'm always getting lost, I don't even know how to get to my own home properly!" Smithson laughed and rubbed the back of her neck.-
[04:38] <Minaplo> "ₒₕ ₙₒ" whispered Evripidis sotto-voce.-
[04:39] <Minaplo> "That must be because you work so hard for your students. I can tell that they adore you." Said Kimiko warmly.-
[04:39] <Minaplo> Smithson beamed.-
[04:40] <Minaplo> "It's good to see you again, Sachiko." Said Kimiko. She turned to the two others. "Oh, I remember you two. The smoke bomb girl. And… Ah, the cute, shy one."-
[04:40] <Minaplo> Evripidis died.
[05:05] <Sachiko> Sachiko heroically grabbed him by the back of the collar to stop him toppling like a fainting goat.-
[05:05] <Sachiko> "You know if you want to hang out you can just call me, Miyamoto," she said cheerfully. "We don't have to keep bumping into each other like this."
[05:06] <Minaplo> "Okay. I'll do that after."
[05:10] <Sachiko> She laughed.-
[05:10] <Sachiko> "Go on, you two. You're gonna have to introduce yourselves."
[05:11] <Minaplo> "I'm Rio Sakuma." Said Rio, throwing her thumb out at Kimiko. "Sorry about the smoke bomb, haha! Let's be friends!"-
[05:11] <Minaplo> "Of course!"-
[05:12] <Minaplo> At some point, the wires in Evripidis' head sparked together. He turned his head and resolutely said "I'm Evripidis Andreas, the debate club leader. I-I'm pleased to meet you," to Kimiko's shoes.-
[05:14] <Minaplo> "Well I'm pleased to meet you too, Mr. Andreas." Said Kimiko. She casually crossed one foot over the other, and like a sheltered Victorian gentleman, the meeting of those two stockinged ankles seemed to crumble his resolve.-
[05:15] <Minaplo> But his motor functions were still extant enough for him to walk.-
[05:15] <Minaplo> "Please, allow me to lead the way." Said Kimiko, bowing again.
[05:18] <Sachiko> Sachiko let go of the back of his shirt, but seemed ready to retake it at a moment's notice. "So I guess you're on the Catherine's team, then?"
[05:25] <Minaplo> "This is my second year as a member." Said Kimiko, nodding. "I've had to quit many of my other hobbies due to my training-" a slight nod, Sachiko knew what she meant- "But debate was the one I kept."-
[05:27] <Minaplo> And so they walked. The giggling trinities became warm and welcoming as they passed, waving at Kimiko, who returned their affections sincerely.-
[05:28] <Minaplo> The venue was an ampitheatre at the back of the school. It was on the clear opposite side of the grounds. Smithson could not have gotten more lost if she had driven them to a different municipality whilst singing the unlucky hippo song.-
[05:29] <Minaplo> Six desks, grouped in opposing trinities, sat in the middle, whilst up in the stands were motley collections of students or the odd faculty.-
[05:30] <Minaplo> … In the front row was a vaguely familiar looking man. Devastatingly handsome with blonde hair. A circle of ten girls sat two rows behind him, ensuring nothing he did went unwatched.
[05:59] <Sachiko> Sachiko had kept up a pretty consistent conversation on their way over. Kimiko remained fun to talk to, and she was clearly enjoying herself. Once they reached the ampitheatre she even (Whether alone or with the rest of the group) walked over to introduce herself to the Catherine's team and exchange a few pleasantries.-
[05:59] <Sachiko> If anyone was watching super closely they might have seen her make a stealthy gesture towards the man in the girl panopticon as she said something that made one of the girls she'd met at the park that day cover her face and the rest of them laugh.-
[05:59] <Sachiko> But eventually she'd given Andreas as much time to recuperate as she could, and she went to set up her space at the trio of tables.-
[05:59] <Sachiko> [Hey, Roy, you still in there?]
[06:02] <Minaplo> [Sorry, I'm too busy wondering how I can convince that fiiine girl to take me home. Hot damn.]-
[06:02] <Minaplo> [Haha, fuckin' zing. Roy don't fuck with no schoolgirls, just because his youth was stolen from him by the Sea of Chaos don't mean he's a sick fuck. Whatcha need, Sachi?]
[06:03] <Sachiko> [Good recovery.]-
[06:03] <Sachiko> [Anyway, avert your eyes. We're about to lose and it's gonna be gruesome.]
[06:04] <Minaplo> [Oh yeah, no, you're absolutely fucked. I'm gonna watch it happen and record it in my Tome so I can fucking watch it again and slow it down to the exact moment the last picolitre of blood drains out of your boy's goddamn brain and he dies of dry greymeats.]
[06:15] <Sachiko> [He's gonna collapse on stage looking both mummified and really excited.] Sigh. [What a dope.]
[06:18] <Minaplo> [Girls, man. They're something a lot of boys can't opt out of, even when they really want to. Or really should. When you're his age, it's too raw, too easy to get carried away with the fantasy.]-
[06:19] <Minaplo> [And that girl is good. She makes that fantasy come to life real easy- all in a pretty subtle way. I think a lot of boys know they should opt out when they see her, but they also don't want to.]-
[06:22] <Minaplo> [But I wouldn't say she's specifically good at dealing with boys. I think she just has a knack for people, nothing malicious at all. Call me crazy, call it some wildcat intuition or whatever, but I feel like she's pretty nice. She's actually pretty sincere in a lot of what she says and does, I think.]-
[06:22] <Minaplo> [… She's just self-aware enough to realise the power that sincerity gives to actions.]
[06:23] <Minaplo> [Or I'm psychoanalysing a total stranger because decades in the Sea of Chaos broke me as a human being, who the fuck can say? Ye who are about to die, salute us.]
[06:53] <Sachiko> [(Unnerving emotion-sound of someone uncomfortably shifting in place) She's good, we definitely agree on that.]
[06:55] <Minaplo> [Aight, now remember. Have fun, desu yoooo.]
[06:57] <Sachiko> [Of course.]
[07:19] <Minaplo> …-
[07:21] <Minaplo> 'Fun' was a malleable word. Even if you were living la vie boheme and casting your spiritual weights to the deep blue, maaan, it was hard to release yourself of the material plane when this was happening.-
[07:23] <Minaplo> Reality was like a gravitational object, and the heavier and more crushing the defeat, the harder it was to escape its grasp, the more it pulled you back into the present and forced you to watch it happen like the child you were.-
[07:23] <Minaplo> For an excruciating half hour, Sachiko's soul was weighed down by gravity.-
[07:26] <Minaplo> It all started with Andreas. He was first. He had to start the Sophians off by presenting the opening statements of the affirmative side- that nuclear power was good, actually.-
[07:26] <Minaplo> And it seemed to start okay. He cleared his throat, faced toward the judges and the audience, and began to speak…-
[07:27] <Minaplo> Kimiko watched attentively. She was genuinely interested.-
[07:27] <Minaplo> Then it happened. She smiled and the smile had a sound like steel rasped with silk, and then Sachiko swore she heard the shattering sound of the dice of God, Andreas's God, rolling snake eyes. She could do nothing to stop Andreas's eyes from turning towards Kimiko's face.-
[07:28] <Minaplo> The moment it happened, she leaned forward slightly, tucked her left hand beneath her chin in interest, and widened her eyes. They pierced him, and he nearly reeled as though smote by an arrow.-
[07:29] <Minaplo> It took him ten seconds. Ten long, terrible seconds to rediscover his composure. By which point Sachiko realised that he, like the Dungeons and Dragons wizards his clergy allegedly resembled, had unmemorised his notes. By casting them and failing, he had burned the slot.-
[07:29] <Minaplo> "Uh. Er…"-
[07:30] <Minaplo> "… And that is why… Nuclear power… Is good. Actually." He ended, like a fucking idiot. Someone in the audience actually laughed, and it might have been God.-
[07:31] <Minaplo> The opener for the negative side didn't even need to spend more than twenty seconds dismantling his argument, namely because there was nothing to dismantle. He had started speaking, stalled like an Iron Curtain automobile, and now Negative Side Opener was the tide of the free market dismissing him like an insect.-
[07:32] <Minaplo> Negative Side Opener's arguments were concise and well organised, and she'd clearly been bolstered in confidence by the handfuls of pork mince she had been handed, but she wasn't that polished and she didn't quite deliver her arguments with enough conviction. They sounded a little too much like she kept trying to glance at her palm cards.-
[07:33] <Minaplo> Furthermore, Sachiko's experience with her family had prepared her for some of the obvious arguments and she knew how to rebut them. It was her time to shine, Affirmative Side Middle.-
[07:33] <Minaplo> It wouldn't be long into her piece when she felt something tingle on the back of her neck. Something was… Off. There was something here…-
[07:34] <Minaplo> And her eyes would be drawn, like eyes drawn to steel rasping on silk, to a discordant figure in the crowd, who dared to stand out by being a schoolboy.-
[07:35] <Minaplo> Sitting in the back was Caolan Choi, watching the proceedings with grim determination. When Sachiko caught his eye, he threw out an incredibly firm thumbs up.-
[07:35] <Minaplo> Revealing his practical, yet stylish, Sophia Academy map shirt.
[07:05] <Sachiko> As the car crash of the first speakers went on, Sachiko could be spotted paying increasingly more attention to some furious notetaking. At one point she reached over, grabbed Andreas' notebook and started rapidly copying his notes. Speed did not improve her already lousy handwriting.-
[07:05] <Sachiko> The problem with Andreas being first speaker (Well, one of them) was that they were in a battle to dictate the very terms of the argument. "Nuclear power is good, actually" while arguably true, ceded all ground for negative first speaker to define 'nuclear power' and 'good' were, and even 'actually' if they had half a mind to.-
[07:05] <Sachiko> So she was left to argue her case in the opponent's language, unable to relitigate it without losing yet more points. She made the best of what she had, finding those gaps where the opposing first speaker had stumbled or been thin in her explanations and using it to gradually pry the entire edifice apart.-
[07:05] <Sachiko> … and she was in the process when she got the prickle on her neck.-
[07:05] <Sachiko> Aside from a slight widening of her eyes she seemed to be ready to play it off, but the thumbs up really sideswiped her. She desperately tried to smother a smile, her first 'uh' disrupting her rapid fire delivery as she recentred herself.-
[07:06] <Sachiko> And then she went on like nothing happened. She kept sweeping her gaze over the crowd as she spoke, but it always seemed to juuuuust circle around Caolan until she was off the podium. At the very least she'd constructed enough of a scaffold for Rio to work with.
[08:20] <Minaplo> Roy just shook his head, and thought to someone- not to Sachiko, for sure- [ Boys. Sometimes girls just can't opt out, even when they want to.]-
[08:24] <Minaplo> Sachiko's answers were well-received. She could tell by the reactions by the judges and by Kimiko's teammates.-
[08:29] <Minaplo> They had… If not momentum back, then they had something that meant just as much on hallowed ground: gravitas. They were no longer a joke to be dismissed.-
[08:36] <Minaplo> In his seat, Caolan leant forward and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, catching the light momentarily.-
[08:38] <Minaplo> It was Kimiko's turn next. She had listened attentively to Sachiko, respectfully, her expression sincere, warm. Not amused or entertained. Appreciative.-
[08:38] <Minaplo> And then it was her turn to speak.-
[08:44] <Minaplo> Even the way she rose out of her chair and tucked the left side of her hair behind her ear was precise. No, precise made it seem mechanical. What was this? Delicate, natural yet purposeful, deliberate, guided. The hairtuck was elegant and attractive, but the audience was to her left- it let them see more of her face.-
[08:44] <Minaplo> Kimiko was composed.-
[08:46] <Minaplo> When she stated her arguments, they were clear, concise, and illustrative. It was obvious to Sachiko that a good deal of research had gone into them. Kimiko had memorised terms and expressions that for a moment, allowed her to borrow the authority of a nuclear scientist.-
[08:46] <Minaplo> (A nuclear scientist who hated nuclear power. She was still on the negative side.)-
[08:47] <Minaplo> When she made her rebuttals toward Sachiko, she didn't go for the throat, didn't try to be aggressive or pushy. There wasn't anything to latch onto- Sachiko's arguments were too firmly grounded- so Kimiko didn't try.-
[08:49] <Minaplo> Then something curious happened. Most of Kimiko's arguments were rock solid, but near the end she made a few weaker ones. Not unusual in debating, perhaps the result of someone who was trying to pack the kitchen sink in and figured you'd get points for quantity.-
[08:50] <Minaplo> The turn changed to Rio. Sachiko would see Rio stand up, her expression bold and confident.-
[08:50] <Minaplo> And suddenly Sachiko would feel lightning strike.-
[08:52] <Minaplo> Rio was a reactionary. (Not in the sense that she wanted to shoot communists, the other kind.) Her modus was to watch her opponent and analyse it, looking for weaknesses. And she had found them.-
[08:52] <Minaplo> But only because Kimiko had intended for Rio to see them. They were bait.-
[08:53] <Minaplo> Rio's statements were delivered with utmost conviction, which helped, and they were delivered very fast, which also helped make them seem dazzling, but she had lost her one advantage: she wasn't unpredictable. The critiques she was making had been expected. Engineered.-
[08:53] <Minaplo> And she overreached.-
[08:54] <Minaplo> The final speaker clicked into place. For all of that, Rio put up enough of a fight to leave a mark, but considering that it was dishonourable for the final speaker to introduce new content, all she had to focus on was rebutting Rio.-
[08:54] <Minaplo> And in the following minute or so, she did exactly that, dismantling large parts of Rio's arguments in front of the audience to see.-
[08:56] <Minaplo> Rio's expression had been fierce at first, then it had morphed into one of outrage. And then something twisted as she realised what happened.-
[08:59] <Minaplo> "Both teams have argued well." Said the head adjudicator. "If this is how they are at the start of the season then we expect great things by the end of the year. A round of applause for our speakers from Sophia Academy and Saint Catherine's Girls Catholic School."-
[08:59] <Minaplo> "After deliberation, we grant victory to Saint Catherine's-"- a chorus of cheers and whistles caused the adjudicator, an older man with bifocals, to scowl- "… for their polished and well constructed…"-
[08:59] <Minaplo> …-
[09:00] <Minaplo> Evripidis slumped his head into his hands.
[09:17] <Sachiko> Sachiko clapped him on the shoulder. It was brusque, but if he looked at her he'd see she taking the effort to smile. "No point dwelling on it. Particularly not in public."
[09:18] <Minaplo> "Castrate yourself." Said Rio bluntly.
[09:18] <Sachiko> "See? You have a variety of options."
[09:20] <Minaplo> [That could've gone worse.]-
[09:21] <Sachiko> [Yeah…]
[09:21] <Minaplo> Rio abruptly jumped out of her chair and stormed away.-
[09:21] <Minaplo> Evripidis slumped.
[09:21] <Minaplo> [Oh, dang.]
[09:22] <Sachiko> She kept one hand on his shoulder, but she was also looking around to try and spot Caolan in the crowd.
[09:25] <Minaplo> He was still there, in his shirt. He hadn't yet rose from his chair, but as she looked at him, she saw him shift his posture in a way that made it obvious that he could leave real quick if he had to.
[09:26] <Sachiko> Yeah. She made a quick gesture, making it look more friendly than concerned.
[09:28] <Minaplo> And he rose immediately and casually left.-
[09:28] <Minaplo> "I fucked it." Muttered Evripidis.
[09:32] <Sachiko> "Look, I'm not going to say you didn't, but we all slipped up. So spend your moping energy on working out what you can build on it."
[09:34] <Minaplo> "Yeah, but Rio… she was relying on me!"
[09:38] <Sachiko> "And she'll be relying on you next time. You're gonna have a mental block to beat when we do this again, and this-" An exasperated gesture towards his everything, "- Is not helping."
[09:39] <Minaplo> "I'm sorry, I can't turn it off! I'm not that kind of person!"
[09:45] <Sachiko> "Have you tried?" she snapped.-
[09:46] <Sachiko> But help was arriving. As soon as he was close enough to speak without raising her voice, Sachiko was gesturing. "Choi, Andreas. Andreas, Choi. Do me a favour, get him off the damn stage and see if you can talk some sense into him? I need to go."-
[09:46] <Sachiko> And then she was off as fast as she safely could, headed in the direction Rio had taken.
[09:48] <Sachiko> "OH, AND TAKE CARE OF MY BAG."
[09:56] <Minaplo> "Of course."-
[09:57] <Minaplo> Rio, as it stood, was easy to find- she'd found the first tree- a huge persimmon- and had his amidst its roots, essentially snuggling against it.
[11:29] <Sachiko> Sachiko had to double-take on the glimpse of her she could see through the roots, almost power-walking right past her.-
[11:29] <Sachiko> "So…" She was obviously out of breath, and had to take a second to gather herself. "Can I get in there too?"
[01:23] <Minaplo> Rio was not especially big, but right now she looked extra tiny. "Oh. S-Sure." She budged over. There was more than enough room for Sachiko to sit.
[01:32] <Sachiko> She carefully lowered herself into the gap with a relieved sigh, her shoulder only barely in contact with Rio's. "Do you want to talk, or should we just sit?"
[01:34] <Minaplo> "Talk away."
[01:40] <Sachiko> "Ah. Let me clarify: Do you want to talk?" she said. "I'm not much of a pep dispenser, but I can listen. And if you don't, we can hang out here until you're ready to go back."
[01:49] <Minaplo> "…"-
[01:52] <Minaplo> "I'm not angry at Evripidis. I mean I am, he has a dumb stupid penis, but I'm more mad at how stupid I am and how easy I got played."
[02:03] <Sachiko> "Yeah, I know."-
[02:03] <Sachiko> "Look, for the record that's not just on you," she said as she adjusted her weight to avoid an errant branch that was jabbing itself into her shoulderblade. "We weren't communicating, and if we had been we could've caught that."
[02:06] <Minaplo> "We're not a very good team, huh?"
[02:06] <Sachiko> "Not yet."
[03:20] <Minaplo> "How do we become a good team?"
[03:53] <Sachiko> "How do you get good at anything?" she shrugged. "You screw up a bunch, adjust as much as you can and then try again."-
[03:53] <Sachiko> "We've already cleared step one, so that's the good news!"
[04:36] <Minaplo> "Fine. Then how do we become a good team in time?"
[05:10] <Sachiko> "Fine." Sachiko exhaled, and this time it sounded more than a little frustrated. "Alright, here's the honesty: We're not in that bad a position, not individually. You argued well, I know Andreas is capable of it if we work on him."-
[05:10] <Sachiko> "But that's not what you're asking, right? How do we become a better team… Well, we share the emotional burden of screwing up instead of partitioning it. Andreas is back there looking like his dog got run over because he thinks he failed you. You, for understandable reasons, reinforced that feeling because you feel like you failed yourself."-
[05:10] <Sachiko> Something seemed to occur to her, and for a moment she looked genuinely annoyed.-
[05:10] <Sachiko> "… Anyway," she began again, shaking her head. "All that actually happened is that we lost one debate. We assess the damage objectively and then carry it together. Makes it easier to win, and a lot harder for losses to snowball."
[05:25] <Minaplo> Silent. Not sullen- well not as much- more contemplative.-
[05:25] <Minaplo> "… He's really that sad because he let me down?"
[05:26] <Sachiko> "Inconsolable, last I saw."
[05:27] <Minaplo> "…"-
[05:27] <Minaplo> "You know, he's pretty sweet, huh?"
[05:29] <Sachiko> "Yeah."
[05:29] <Minaplo> "I didn't really mean he should castrate himself. I was just being sulky."
[05:31] <Sachiko> "You should probably clarify that with him instead of me. I left him with Choi, but life finds a way."
[05:38] <Minaplo> "I mean. He should know I didn't mean it. I quite like it after all. Then again…"-
[05:38] <Minaplo> Sachiko was spared having to answer that properly by the approaching sight of Kimiko, concern on her face.
[05:46] <Sachiko> For the record, Sachiko appeared amused by the diversion.-
[05:46] <Sachiko> She started to pull herself up once she saw Kimiko approaching, only to realise her legs would need some focused cajoling to make the trip. She settled for waving cheerily from the ground. "Hey, Miyamoto. Congratulations on the win."
[06:16] <Minaplo> "Thank you, Kurata." Said Kimiko; her smile was heartening, but it faded a little. "I heard that there might have been some fallout so I thought I'd come around and see if everyone was okay."
[06:26] <Sachiko> "I think we might be," she said, bumping shoulders with Rio. "What do you think, Sakuma?"
[06:31] <Minaplo> "I think I'm okay." Said Rio. "Don't think being nice doesn't make me not hate you though."-
[06:33] <Minaplo> Kimiko laughed. "This is my third year as an active debating member of the Saint Catherine's team. I'm the only one left from my first year. Too many losses. We lost to Sophia last year and we were the only ones who did."-
[06:34] <Minaplo> "I've nursed my fair share of grudges in my time. I'll take yours as an accomplishment. A hard-earned one." Said Kimiko. She held her hands out to Sachiko and Rio, inviting them to stand.
[07:30] <Sachiko> Sachiko winced at the note about losing to Sophia. Whether it was because of sympathy or hearing about last year's win/loss record was hard to say.-
[07:30] <Sachiko> But she grabbed Kimiko's hand and gradually worked her way upright with a bit of additional help from the tree.
[07:39] <Minaplo> Not that Sachiko was asking (unless?), but in case she needed to inform Evripidis later, like a handy kill-switch: yes, Kimiko's skin was very soft.-
[07:39] <Minaplo> "Hup." She pulled Rio and Sachiko up. "If everything's going ok, I should probably…?"-
[07:40] <Minaplo> Caolan was walking across the field, Evripidis behind him. Sachiko saw Evripidis visibly falter once he realised that Kimiko was there; Caolan did not stop.
[08:13] <Sachiko> Her gaze unconsciously flickered between the sorceress and the boys a few times, before it snapped properly back to Kimiko.-
[08:13] <Sachiko> "Understood," Sachiko said, dusting off her pants. "But really, thanks for checking. I'm really sorry we didn't stay long enough to congratulate the rest of the team, you all did great."
[08:18] <Minaplo> "Thank you." Said Kimiko. "Your sense of composure was lovely to see. Oh, hello." She said to Caolan and Evripidis. "Thank you for coming today, Mr. Andreas. It was good debating with you- I hope to see you again!"-
[08:18] <Minaplo> "Mmm. You too."-
[08:19] <Minaplo> "And…" She turned toward Caolan. "Thank you for joining us today. I'm honoured that the President of Lion Hall himself came to watch."-
[08:20] <Minaplo> Caolan looked at her. Very quickly, he took a measure of her- a quick flick up and down. "Mm. Caolan Choi. Pleased to meet you."-
[08:20] <Minaplo> "Kimiko Miyamoto." She bowed.-
[08:20] <Minaplo> "Congratulations on your victory."-
[08:20] <Minaplo> "Thank you. That means a lot, sir." She said.-
[08:20] <Minaplo> "…"-
[08:20] <Minaplo> Caolan adjusted his glasses. "You could've done better."-
[08:21] <Minaplo> Kimiko almost flinched. "Pardon?"-
[08:22] <Minaplo> "You didn't give it your all. Were you even testing yourself? You beat Lion Hall, but how will you fare against Aichi High? Don't underestimate them, they're redoubtable. You'd know that from first-hand experience, wouldn't you?"-
[08:22] <Minaplo> Kimiko stared at him.-
[08:22] <Sachiko> Even Sachiko looked a little wide-eyed.
[08:23] <Minaplo> "You can't coast on decent chemistry and rhetorical trickery against Sakura Sakamoto. She's a genius. When you face her, give it your all, or watch Lion Hall take her out from the bleachers."-
[08:23] <Minaplo> Rio was barely disguising her glee.-
[08:24] <Minaplo> "You have talent, I'll give you that, but you were holding back today, and trust me, Ms. Miyamoto-"
[08:24] <Minaplo> "No one half-asses Lion Hall twice and gets away with it."-
[08:24] <Minaplo> "…" She bowed. "Yes, sir. I'll keep that in mind. Thank you."-
[08:25] <Minaplo> "See that you do." Said Caolan. "Now, debate team. Miss Smithson is waiting in the bus. She's going to take us to an ice cream parlour. You have ten minutes."-
[08:25] <Minaplo> "Miss Miyamoto." He nodded at her and walked away.-
[08:25] <Minaplo> Kimiko stared at his back as he went. "Wow."-
[08:26] <Minaplo> Evripidis was crying. "Oh captain! My captain!"
[08:41] <Sachiko> When Sachiko remembered to pick up her jaw, it clamped closed so quickly that her teeth clacked together. Hopefully nobody noticed it'd fallen.-
[08:41] <Sachiko> "… well." She laughed, and it sounded like she had to work for it.
[08:41] <Sachiko> "You heard the guy. Ice cream, the runner-up prize of champions."
[08:57] <Minaplo> Kimiko saw.-
[08:57] <Minaplo> "I wish I could come." Said Kimiko, and she meant it. "I promised my team pizza, though…"-
[08:58] <Minaplo> She flashed them all a radiant smile. "Until next time. It was great meeting you both properly, Ms. Sakuma, Mr. Andreas!"-
[08:58] <Minaplo> "Is it ok if I text you tonight, Ms. Kurata?"
[09:02] <Sachiko> "Absolutely. You did get my number, right? My memory is mostly about the smoke bomb at the end there."
[09:03] <Minaplo> "I did."
[09:07] <Sachiko> "Great," she grinned. The Caolan thing might as well have never happened. "You can get a hold of me whenever."
[09:11] <Minaplo> "Thank you!"-
[09:11] <Minaplo> ("C'mon, Kicchan, we need to get to Byz!")-
[09:12] <Minaplo> "Sorry!" She laughed. "See you later…"-
[09:16] <Minaplo> …-
[09:17] <Minaplo> Caolan's big-man-on-campus power walk lasted for a solid ten minutes before he finally stopped and glanced at a nearby window.-
[09:18] <Minaplo> He relaxed and fistpumped, the reflection in the window turning into a grin. "Ha! Damn I feel cool. Absolutely kickass. Still got that strut, baby. Yessss."-
[09:19] <Minaplo> He basked in the moment before realising that he'd been so hellbent on Kicking Ass that he'd forgotten to give Sachiko her bag back.-
[09:20] <Minaplo> "… Well, giving it back would ruin the moment." He decided solemnly. "I'll just have to put it on the bus."-
[09:21] <Minaplo> [This motherfucker.]-
[09:21] <Minaplo> …-
[09:22] <Minaplo> The Sun Arcana strengthens…
[09:22] <Minaplo> The Hanged Man Arcana strengthens…
[09:23] <Minaplo> Thou art I; I art thou.
[09:23] <Minaplo> Thou hast glimpsed a new path of thine heart, with which to rewrite your story.
[09:23] <Minaplo> The first draft of the Temperance Arcana has been written; its refinement will bring you new power in the world to come.

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