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Fandom Soul Eater: F.A.T.E



Adrian Hackney

"The Maiden"

Species Human
Partner None
Rank Fate Agent

Location Russia, Republic of Karelia, Valaam, small airport
Mission The Waking Forest
Status Calm, alert


Contrary to his gamer-nature, Adrian did in fact enjoy the environment that surrounded them. It was clean. It was fairly cold, sure, but nothing he couldn't handle. If anything, it meant he could have went for a hard run without worrying about overheating like back in Death City. Most notably, though, was that he enjoyed the air. It was cool and crisp. It felt cleaner. It tasted different. Once his lugs got accustomed to the feel of the colder air, each breath in felt like a burst of freshness inside of him.

Adrian really didn't wear much different than his normal attire. He did bring a small backpack with an assortment of minor clothing changes if necessary and some supplies, but he tended to travel light. His clothing was longer and slightly thicker with elastic around his wrists and a thin jacket thrown over it all, but most notably were the heavy, treaded boots that changed from his typical footwear. Given the environment, he assumed his normal shoes would hardly be suitable. Still, even with the minimal changes, the near-freezing temps didn't bother him too significantly. His body radiated heat like an oil-heater.

Much like Dani, he found the fact that Irina, their escortee, looked like a mini-Nadia entertaining. Adrian bet that if Nadia were a more normal height like Irina, Gauss would have had a much better dance. Regardless, he still preferred his own.

Adrian was quick to jump in alongside Nadia, Dani, and Irina upon the invitation. It was, without a doubt, a relief to not risk the chance of driving. At least, not when it might have mattered.

Believing Nadia to simply be referencing places for after the mission, Adrian just shrugged in response. "Your country. You pick the place," he said, showing total indifference to where she would like to go. "I guess if you were asking for input, I'd rather learn about the uh... music and philosophy. Not the drinking or the wars," Adrian tacked on, offering his preference to the great minds of Russia, not the vodka or its role in the wars.

"I am a Void Witch," Irina responded flatly, "which is a more polite way of saying I don't have a specific type of magic. Not all Witches are born with something innate or some affinity. You normally see it in the lower classes, but I am in fact of royal blood... just unlucky, I guess." Her explanation was simple and succinct, very matter-of-fact, and while it might have came across as sullen or somber, she truly did not mean it in such a way.

"Don't waste time placating me. Not having an affinity led to me becoming a Research Witch with the DWMA, which is a role I'm quite fond of. I might not have gotten out of the Witch Realm had I inherited my family magic," she added, quickly too, her tone much more stern than with her flat explanation. elected to take the passenger seat beside Nadia given the Meister was driving, putting Dani and Adrian firmly in the back. She didn't discuss it, either. She had intended to drive, but Nadia beat her to it, and she wasn't about to commandeer the wheel if only to avoid any hostilities.

"I don't believe I have any particularly offensive magic, by both meanings," she explained, again simple, and again directly answering Nadia's question.

"The forest in this area was once a Fae Gate some thousands of years ago. When it was sealed by Oberon, it was done so with a magical barrier. Because of that, magic has always been a little more abundant in the area," Irina explained to them, simply spitting out facts. "Sometimes, a few Fae slip through here, but mostly magical creatures just tend to occupy it due to the high relative mana. That's why you see plenty of religious sites; local superstition thought prayer might be of some use," she told them, now just seemingly like an encyclopedia for the area. Which, itself, made sense given she was a research witch.

"I couldn't pinpoint where the mana is the intense or where the Fae Gate once was, but the worst of the recent activity has to the Northeast. There is some to the South, too, but that appears to just be a few minor creatures reacting to what's going on. Concerning, but not dangerous. To be blunt, what I've seen and the reports in total seem more like records of mythology than they do normal natural phenomena. I don't rightfully know what could be causing it. Perhaps some powerful magical creature, perhaps an escaped Fae, or maybe some type of undocumented anomaly. I doubt it's Fae as I can sense the mana in the area; Witches can't do that with Fae Magic. But, that doesn't rule it out," Irina told them, providing as much information and insight as she could despite her ultimate answer of not really knowing what was occurring.

GM Note: I was not aware how similar Irina and Adrian's color codes were til this post. If anyone finds it problematic, tell me and I'll change Irina's.

Maria Mayer - Dall Island

Somewhat surprised by the industrious nature of the spiders, and with the prompting of Rand and further revaluations and changes to the plan, did she follow Rand up alongside of and into the Dall Oak, which wasn't a single tree, so much as a small forest, twisted and contorted, with layers of visible damage and change. Had only she knew more of nature to be useful here. Studying what they came across in passing, the Sap was altogether something else, and samples of it must be collected. There were plenty of things worthy of consideration. Traveling up and alongside it, Rand was quick to order the spiders to halt, it seemed something had caught his eye.

A large crevasse was the next destination, after a handful of minutes their ride was reoriented and the spiders carried them there. "Rand, is something wrong?" She said, not getting an answer as his intention seemed to focused solely on this location. Getting off at the improvised step within the might Oak, Maria was at a disadvantage in the pitch black as she accepted Rand's hand to cross over. A problem he soon fixed via a spell. Winding and twisted paths brought them deeper and deeper inside, Maria silently hoped he remembered the way out.

Upon reaching the "end" remains of bodies were strung about, how the tree, the changes or the DWMA killed them? Either way Rand did not seem concerned with them, and a few dead bodies did not bother Maria, if anything she felt a morbid acceptance for them, as if such things formed the earliest core of her memories. A ghost from afar, a strange comfort. It was as they entered into what seemed to be a lab that Rand stopped and spoke. Maria for her part was eager to look around, but it seemed the mostly intact, if not decayed or decaying bodies were of a sentimental value to him. Of course, they were the missing agents from before.

Still, she didn't blame him for wanting to remove them, however, to do so would be very messy. Not too mention unhygienic. Though there was a possibility he seemed to not consider, reaching into her belt pouches Maria pulled out a pair of black leather gloves and a few small blocks of wood. Given they were at the end of it all, this soft wood she used for crafts would now be repurposed.

"I can imprint bite marks into these for dental records, and with the aid of Raph or Ark we can burn the bodies, cremate them and take the ashes with us. I suggest getting some of the spiders to help move them. We can borrow one of the crates. Those enemies of yours won't need them. Mayhap you can do a sweep of the room for useful items while I collect the bite marks. Do keep in mind in some cases, this will be messy. Unless you wish I do not do these things."

Merciless Medic Merciless Medic The Regal Rper The Regal Rper Sir Les Paul Sir Les Paul


Rand Mabason

"Soundwave Sorcerer"

Species Witch
Partner N/A
Rank Two Star

Location Dall Island, The Dall Oak
Mission Excursion to Dall Island
Status Slightly excited, hopeful


Rand agreed to the plan Maria had set forth. Enacting it would be as simple as an extra set of instructions for Raph and Ark. It didn't wash away how he felt about seeing those corpses, but being able to bring something back to the DWMA and the closure it might get a handful of families meant something to him. There was a part of him ashamed that he hadn't formulated the plan Maria did. He was supposed to be the leader. The one that came up with the plans or that had all the answers. Ruminating for a moment on the issue, he realized that he was perhaps a little too absorbed in the somber moment to think clearly. Cremation would hardly afford the agents a proper burial, but there had to be someone out there that would rather have cremated remains over nothing.

With the area explored as much as they realistically could, the two set back out to the lift. This time, they could see blow them another large assortment of spiders already scaling upwards with assorted resources that Maria had outlined, several more with various size eggsacs no doubt containing the eggs the queen had mentioned, Raph overseeing Chanterelle as those two were hoisted up, and Ark maintaining the few more delicate parts Maria would need--to avoid them being damaged in transit. The excursion into the crevice most certainly consumed some time, but given the productivity of the spiders, that wouldn't ultimately prove to be an issue.

The top most plateau of the Dall Oak was found atop the largest limb that had splintered off, itself being massive in size and while it was on an uphill slope, still remarkably flat for being a natural area. Creating the balloons would be possible here, inflating them would require some ingenuity as their expansion would get caught in the tree limbs above them as is. There were several ways to circumvent this with the simplest, least destructive method involving the spiders creating netting to avoid that very issue.

Rand used the network of webbing to relay down a message to Ark to make a pitstop for the bodies. It would take some amount of time, but the directions were simple enough and each of the cremated bodies could be carefully separated into sacs created from the spiders. Raph on the other hand would be more necessary for the initial construction with his chains, so his arrival with Chanterelle was not delayed.

Once top the Dall Oak, the realization of just how tall it was really sank in. Hundreds of feet into the air with hundreds more above them in sprawling branches. The leaves, veins, and magical properties of the tree were more obvious than with any other tree on the island. Where the webbing was thinnest nearer the peak of the trees, the coloration could only be described as a spectrum of ever-changing rainbows that glittered in the sun. It was surreal, as if every leaf was a perfectly cut LCD panel from a phone screen. The mana that coursed through the tree was more apparent in the thinner upper branches, too, as there was less raw material blocking any of the group from feeling it. The mana that coursed through parts of this tree exceeded any of them in places, meaning even a chunk of this wood perhaps contained more mana than even actual Witches and Sorcerers. The Dall Oak could honestly be considered a magical wonder of the world. In a way, it was unfortunate that the island could only be visited once every three to five years, and even then only for a handful of days.

However, the experience of getting to do so was definitely worth it--for those that survived. Lake Nordall possessed the single largest Ley Line in the world, and the mana it emit had no equal in the known world. Not the Witch Realm. Nowhere on Earth. Not even in the Fae Realm. This truly was the pinnacle. Even other Ley Lines oft paled in comparison to the impact this one had on its environment.

The spiders got to construction of the woven silk material needed to make the balloons. They yet again proved their industrious nature by creating more silk and weaving it faster than Rand and Raph could even have attempted to do so with the reeds. By the time Raph had arrived to help with construction, they had not only met their quota for material, but nearly exceeded it twice over. They proved useful in the construction of the baskets necessary as well, assisting Raph with his chains by acting as anchors or supporting structures while Maria put them together. As long as the instructions given to them were simple and clear, this proved effective. More importantly, the queen mother had suggest a different, even more effective means of communication with them. By envisioning a very specific action they wanted the spider to do through the webbing, the spider could replicate it. This was hardly effectively for spells, but for use as construction aides, it proved much, much more effective than ever expected.

Even before this construction took place, though, this top platform proved interesting. It was most definitely a base of operations with old, decrepit tents and fireplaces scattered around the top. Unfortunately, there was little else present for them to investigate. On the otherwise of the plateau, there was a similar lift constructed--much larger--that had all but been destroyed by the ravages of time. Some random clothing and name tags generally used for DWMA agents were found and collected, and more of this egg sacs were present but these all empty. The only other notable item found was a large, cracked ball of some type of crystal or mineral. It had scant traces of mana infused into it, so perhaps it served some function years ago. As it stood now, it was all but useless.

With construction now largely underway, the timeline of leaving tomorrow and arriving at the designated pickup window by the DWMA wasn't just looking possible, but likely enough, they would have ample time. The spiders proved a greater boon to them than they could have ever anticipated. The construction efforts Maria employed could have been scaled up, even, if she saw fit and others would journey down to collect more materials. The spiders, too, had the natural advantage of not tiring or complaining, like ungrateful, unpaid interns. Ark was merely needed for assistance with loading and when his fire would be necessary for the purposes of helping Maria. Aside from that, he simply had to train a few spiders. This was slightly time-consuming as when it came to spellwork, they learned best one-on-one, but far from impossible.

Each had their role to play.

"It looks like we'll easily hit the deadline," Rand informed them once the majority of the plans were underway and the progress had went on long enough that he could determine a timeline from it. He raised his eyebrows and looked over to Raph, "Pretty sure we'll save over a thousand eggs, by the looks of it," he informed him, knowing how adamant Raph was about the eggs.

He then looked over to Ark, "and, we won't have to exhaust you with multiple magic circles. The practice may be good, but I'm sure you'd rather not spend hours focusing on that one task." In this time, he looked down to Chanterelle. She was solidly asleep. Which was an actual improvement. Prior to this, she was restless. Tossing, turning, something groaning out in what he assumed was agony. With his eye, he could see how many of her body's internal systems were at one point failing. Now, it seemed, the mana-rich atmosphere had brought that to an end, and the rest she was getting now was more peaceful. He wondered if part of it was something akin to a hibernation. Something about the plant or fungal part of her body that required the deep rest to really, truly recover.

Ark was also the last to return with the five bags of cremated remains, all labeled with the runes he left behind which matched the corresponding dental imprints Maria made. Them being runes wasn't really necessary, but no one had a sharpie on them, and the runes glowed in the dark. All it truly meant was that they could identify which set of remains belong to whom, and that was the real important part. Rand hoped Ark would take some pride, as a soldier, in returning the remains of fallen agents home.

Rand finally turned his attention to Maria, the ever-diligent builder. "We should have some time before we head off... if there's anything anyone wants that they can do in an hour or two, I'd suggest you figure out what it is and get it started as soon as the balloons begin inflating," he informed them, though now more focused on Maria. "I'm sure you or Mirai might want some samples or portions of the Dall Oak... it looks like our capacity will exceed your estimations, so if you would like," he bashfully offered. Not so much embarrassed as much as his round about away of attempting to be apologetic in regards to their interaction earlier, "I can cut out any section you may want, so long as it fits."

GM Note: This will likely be the last round of posting before they leave the Dall Oak, in which case we're going to transition into the post-mission debriefing scene. Do/say what you want to do now; there won't be more chances.


The Faint Smile of a Subtle Mask


April 4th, 2067

04/04/67 1930
MMS: K, Elly Peace offering below, before you block me. I’ll be at the Jitterguise at 9 to reconcile, if you’re interested.

04/04/67 1935
H, Midori You had my interest. Now you have my attention. I'll be there.

The inside of the Jitterguise was illuminated. There were still plenty of people inside its dimly lit walls, many dancing in the central open area. It was a very geometric space. Sharp corners made of materials that reflected the bright lights that reflected off the massive disco ball. Servers bouncing from table to table, though there were few of them. Refreshments and food here were meant to be brief breaks between the dancing and music. Not that one couldn’t enjoy it here, if they were so inclined to the night life atmosphere.

Midori knew this place well enough. Not that he was a frequent here, but he had hit plenty of places just like this when he was on his spree years ago. It was decent enough. A little small and not the most popular, but that actually worked to its advantage. It was a club of convenience, so often those that did opt to go here weren’t so invested in the scene that they would travel half the city or spend the entire night out.

Plus, the food was decent and there was always someone that had some X if you really wanted a good time.

Now, he was the one waiting on Elly. He had arrived early, transitioning to on time, and now she was late. Not only were the roles reversed, the entire situation was a flip from their last meeting. Whether she did this intentionally or not was beyond him, and he wasn’t quite at the point of frustration yet. If her change of attitude in person matched what it was in text, this perhaps might still be worth his while at this point.

“Keep you waiting~?” Elly suddenly chimed as she approached him from his flank. A sing-song tone not unlike when they met, however far more noticeable and upbeat. She was sure he noticed her approach, but the plan was to just act normally, and why would she pass up the opportunity to sneak up on someone?

When he turned to look at her, Midori would see that the text wasn’t doctored or exaggerated. Elly had dolled herself up quite a bit past their last meeting. This included a dark violet dress that hugged her form with a sheer material connecting the chest to her neck. It reached to her thighs and below that were a pair of nylon stockings and red pumps. Her makeup was done to be noticeable yet not ostentatious. However, most striking was her hair, which was wavy with dyed crimson tips.

“I guess I must have made quite the impression with that photo~,” Elly hummed in satisfaction.

Midori was, in a word, impressed. A part of him hardly believed the current Elly was the same bland girl he met at Hallowed Grounds. Then again, another part of him knew the extreme power of make-up. Not that Elly necessarily needed her face resculpted with a dozen palettes of mineral-based products to have some beauty to her, more just that a little seemed to go a long way with her, and some vibrancy definitely changed her entire vibe.

”Well, all I’ll admit is it’s even more eye-catching in person,” he responded to her, his demeanor entirely different than it was in their initial meeting. He even allowed her flank, finding it quite the interesting approach given their last meeting.

”Now this is a trap worth walking into,” he told her, acknowledging that there was still a lack of trust there and perhaps even some awareness of her in general. Yet, his tone lacked no animosity in it. If anything, he had a boldness to it that perfectly embodied the blind waltz he would have made into speaking to her–this time.

Laughing a bit at that, Elly seemed content with his compliment. “Thought I’d try a bit of the red you suggested,” She said, tilting her head a bit to jostle and emphasize her hair. Perhaps this would work after all.

“A trap is it?” She replied with a hum, not affirming nor denying the observation. “What’s the worst that could happen, hm?” Leaving that as a rhetorical question or for him to answer, she took his hand and tugged on it lightly. “Then, drinks then dance, or vice verse?”

”Well, miss Keegan,” Midori responded with a tone that painted him as a new man, ”If you keep this up, the worst case scenario might be a wake-up with a tinge of regret and a lost dress.” He stood up from his seat, his eyes gazing over her now dual-colored hair. In the dim light of the room, it was hard to tell, but he most certainly could make out the difference.

After that, his smile shifted into a more mischievous one, and he offered her his other answer, ”You lead; drinks or dance, whatever you prefer. If it’s a trap, I might as well enjoy the sight of it in front of me.”

“Your regret or mine?” Elly retorted with a smirk. She could play that game all day or night, though she didn’t have any intention of giving him any such favors. That didn’t mean she wouldn’t humor him or let him try. “And what might I ask is the best case scenario if that is the worst?”

Letting out a terse chuckle, she nodded with her head and lead him to the bar. Normally, Elly preferred abstinence when it came to drugs, including alcohol, due to her past. This was both from a good professional habit of not indulging in the merchandise, and also as she had plenty of experience seeing its adverse effects. Some she never saw a dark side to, while others she saw destroy themselves.

There was also the much more simple fact that Irish or not, alcohol clouded the mind and Elly was one who liked to maintain control or, at the very least, awareness. However, all the same, she could handle a few drinks.

“Think I’ll have a whiskey. You?”

The shift in her demeanor and approach was beyond obvious. Red flags everywhere, in an even deeper shade than that hair of hers. Not that he was outright complaining, but this was certainly more enjoyable. Even if she was going to play the exact same game with him, at least it would be fun. Those cute chuckles. The forwardness. Even the more sultry behavior, though it didn’t quite cross into that territory–yet.

There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that this was still a game to her. Even if she was somewhat rehabilitated, Midori knew her type. To her, everyone was a pawn. It was a giant game and her whole life a board. People only existed to further her goal, whatever that may be. He wasn’t sure if she was so far gone that she couldn’t even fathom human attachment. He had seen it before. He had been its victim.

He wasn’t about to allow it again. And, if she was going to play the game, it wasn’t going to be entirely on her terms. Seeing the effort she put forth into this explained the lengths she would go. Furthermore, if he was going to entertain the idea of dancing with the devil, he wasn’t going to do it silently with her sitting across a table quietly measuring his value. If she wanted to play her game, she best make it fun for everyone involved.

Midori smirked at her question, but elected not to answer it immediately. Even in this dim light, the faint shadow of his dimples appeared along his laugh lines, and the stern nature of his face vanished entirely. There was a type of fun in dancing with a she-devil that he couldn’t ever quite find elsewhere.

He didn’t immediately answer the question. At least, not about the best case scenario. Instead, he allowed his hand to glide down to her wrist and gently tugged on it before letting go, urging her to follow him to the illuminated bar near the back, beyond the dancers and other tables. He was a much softer soul than he was last time, using very little force, and even allowing his fingertips to just barely graze the skin of her wrist after he released her–if one could even call the meager force he used a grasp.

After guiding her there, he took a seat one one of the chic, overly tall stools and knocked on the countertop to call the bartender. Raised eyebrows from the bartender initiated the question of their order, and Midori answered without missing a beat. ”A California Dreaming, if you guys still make it. No whipped cream, though,” he said, giving the bartender his order. It was something he knew this place served a few years back, and based on the nod from the bartender, it seemed they still did.

Once Elly had put in her request as well, the bartender got to work and Midori finally offered her a sideways glance and a half-huff of acknowledgement. “I guess I should answer your question, no matter how disappointing it is,” he told her in an almost sullen voice, as if he was sure the disappointment he was referring to was a sure thing.

”But.. I suppose the best case scenario is a lot like the worst case one, with just one exception,” he told her, intentionally dragging this out with a fluffed up answer if only to continue to increase any amount of anticipation it might have had.

”That difference being you make it a habit,” he finally told her, with a dramatic pause thrown and a slightly lowered pitch if only to emphasize it even more.

Glancing back at him as she felt the tug, Elly didn't give any particular sign of displeasure like their last meeting. Instead, she merely hummed and followed behind him until they reached the bar and took a seat on the stools.

"A whiskey smash, please," She added after his own order.

Leaning against the bar, she eyed him as he intentionally and exaggeratedly dragged out the answer to drum up suspense. Again, her smile broke into a soft giggle as he brought the sentence to a close. "Should a mentor be so ambitious with their protégés?" She cooed in response, lacking a definitive answer.

Often so much time was spent by Elly analyzing the best way to respond, however it seemed the trait of non-committal responses was a natural one. Humoring, but never entirely accepting. The question was, how far would Elly go for her goals? Would she play the part of a seductress if it meant accomplishing them? The answer was perhaps unsurprising. Yet that didn't make it a tactic she often employed. Strings made it easier to get tied down by and, in Midori's case, it wasn't a resource he could not obtain elsewhere, making it unreliable.

She was sure he was still skeptical if she was some unfeeling puppeteer or not. However, Elly was not immune to attachments, and while rationality always overtook empathy in the end, it still made things--complicated.

That was neither here nor there, though. Elly was not treating this with any sort of itinerary. The bridge was already burned. It either toppled or it didn't, so this was just a fun excursion.

"If I were so bold, I would say you seem to be the one with the plan now…" She said with an accusatory hum.

”Not. In. The. Slightest,” he responded to her, almost whimsically. It was off-the-cuff. Not terribly unlike what Ulysses might have said, albeit much more brooding and lacking in his suave, lackadaisical nature.

His drink arrived. Bright and fruity, intentionally mixed so that it had a distinct color pattern to it, though lacking the detail of the clouds that the whipped cream would have made. He pulled it to himself and took a quick sip from the straw that protruded from it. The drink and its contrast to him mirrored the contrast his attitude did from their last meeting. The look of delight on his face once he finally got some of the thick mixture through the straw only exaggerated that further.

The bartender in the meantime was quite attentive to the drink Elly ordered. While she couldn’t make out the whiskey used, it was certainly dark enough to be a bourbon. Proper lemon slices being used, even some spearmint leaves that seemed to be stashed in a cooler, and of course, the basic dollop of simple syrup. He wasn’t much for measuring it, but he did go as far as a good smash with a metallic arm of some kind inside of a metal shaking glass, and then a good shake. The sound of bits of ice clanging in the aluminum container was familiar.

”I’d hate to ruin a night so early, and… I do admit I like this version of you more,” Midori said after having finally appreciated his drink to its fullest. He was calm and collected, his voice soft and even somewhat reluctant–as if he was hesitant to bring up a topic that could ruin this excursion.

”But, a leopard can’t change it’s spots. Can dye their hair, though; I’d like to see that in the daylight,” he mused.

”Mentor, protégé, Hoshi, Fate Agent–all just labels. Sometimes, we overthink things,” Midori told her, still musing his thoughts, but mostly just expressing his opinion here, ”for example, my age. Am I just three years? That’s when Kidd freed this body from Eros,” he explained to her, though he left a slight gap before he transitioned to the next option, ”or, am I seven? When this body was made.”

He hummed slightly, looking up at the colorful lights and wondering about the thought himself. ”Or, am I twenty-six–what my total age would be if you counted the original Midori,” he posed, ”if you really think about it, would I be the one creeping on you as a mentor, or you for cradle robbing?” he asked, and while it was most definitely a bold claim, it held an odd merit given he was a synthetic being. His tone, mostly, conveyed an odd top of scrutiny to the whole ordeal.

”Thinking too much, like you do, like I just did, it ruins the fun of things. We’re not a mission. We’re not training yet. You’re no danger,” he told her, letting a chuckle escape him as if such an idea was ludicrous.

”Can I not just be a guy at a club, talking to a beautiful girl? Can it not just be a moment of enjoyment? Does it have to be that little dance?” he proposed to her, quite genuinely. He even dropped his soul suppression some time ago, intentionally, as to give her the opportunity to actually see what he felt inside. And, really, that soul of his reflected that same yearning for simplicity.

”At worst, you could just be laughing back to enjoy a free drink,” he told her, mulling over what this moment would mean if they were normal by any means. ”And, I’d be fine with that,” he told her, again quite calmly and sincerely, ”but, I don’t have it in me to do another song and dance, or an impossibly tall mountain to climb ‘cause of trust issues, or whatever.” While dismissive of why she was the way she was, and at risk of being demeaning due to it, his words outlined his precise issue here.

To Midori, Elly was the type to absolutely have to evaluate every possibility. Check every street for danger, secure the alleys, find assurance in every avenue. Nothing was done without a purpose. Every word had an ulterior meaning. Everything about her, from her dossier to their first interaction, gave him the impression that working with her would be a constant state of researching a target as if he was to assassinate her, except he was supposed to be partnering with her. That was too much work for him, plain and simple. If working with her meant never escaping to some peace of mind, he didn’t want it. Sometimes, he just wanted to get lost in the moment.

Elly hummed with content as her drink was placed on the countertop, she took it up to her lips and sipped from the edge of the glass. Refreshing and not too overpowering. Just perfect for her tastes.

She looked over to Midori as he began to speak, leading on with some honesty of his own. Elly noticed the moment he let go of his Soul Suppression, allowing his soul and wavelength to ignite in vibrancy compared to the dim shadow it usual was, veiled by the suppression. She let him speak fully, mulling it over before responding in kind, first with a bit of levity.

“Well, the dye will be there for a while longer… I suppose whether or not you see it in the day is determined by if you want to stay,” Elly mused in turn, idly twirling her index finger along the cusp of the cup. “You want honesty, yes?”

Posing that rhetorical question, she looked him in the eyes. He had said as much. “My trust issues as you put it will not be going away. Were it only so easy to rewire ingrained habits,” She stated rather blatantly. “However, I tried to plan. I tried to analyze you. I tried to tailor our interaction to what I believed would work best and achieve results. That did not work.” Again, she spoke it rather bluntly. “I will not be doing that. Perhaps you can believe it, perhaps you can’t. Perhaps you won’t think too deeply about it, as you said.”

Pausing at that, she took up her drink again and took a sip. “I’m treating this–You, as a boy, whether you end up despising my personality… or become completely smitten,” She stated with a small shrug. “So as you say, don’t overthink it and I won’t… Or, at the least, I’ll make it entertaining for you.”

Providing what seemed to be some sense of genuineness, one of course could not confirm given her wavelength was a natural deflector against peering eyes. However, her mannerisms and speech were significantly different from usual. Calm, terse, with a slightly deeper voice that lacked the sing-song and bubbly affectations. Then, like a switch, the upbeat energy returned. “Oh! But I will be going with twenty-six. I don’t need a charge that says I tried to get a little boy drunk,” She said with a small smirk.

He chuckled slightly at her last answer. It was admittedly the most farcical of those he brought up. Given his history before entertaining the Paean Program, he knew certainly it was a non-factor. The way the DWMA and most others saw it, he was an adult mind put into a synthetic body. There was no real reason to consider him otherwise. As unique of a situation as it was, it had never come up as problematic.

”Of all things,” he started quite jovially, ”that is the one you should worry least about. Most consider me twenty-six; those that don’t put me at nineteen–when my soul was first put in a golem.” He smirked and simply watched her for a moment, letting those minor yet perhaps important-to-her facts settle in. ”Suitable for even your most devious of intentions,” he told her, though his lowered, almost raspy tone came across as more of a seed to be planted or an invitation.

He then returned to a sip from his colorful drink. At this point, the sugary smell of it was pretty obvious. A sweet rum, dragonfruit in there, it wasn’t overpowering, but it most certainly wasn’t her refined Whiskey Smash.

He hummed aloud now, enjoying his drink and taking into consideration what she had said. ”Perhaps,” he said, reverting back to imitating her own tone when she listed off all her possibilities, ”you should consider a compromise somewhere in the middle. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it also doesn’t happen without a little bit of effort. I may be convinced to settle for your unnecessary analysis and observations if you in turn decide to let that guard down from time to enjoy a bit of life.”

It was a simple suggestion, although it might have been a big ask for someone that spent most of their life looking over their shoulder. Then again, it did hold many merits. Even if she couldn’t trust most people, learning to trust her partner held some benefits. Beyond that, it had to be draining to always keep up that front. Midori rationalized it had to be at least slightly appealing to have a night here and there where she relaxed and enjoyed herself as any one else might.

”Maybe I should say… do what you want to do, not just what seems like the safest choice,” he told her, simplifying all his advice down into the most succinct way he could. His words and his soul were sincere. It was perhaps alien to her, but Midori didn’t really want anything from her. He knew she put her safety above all else, really, but he didn’t want to be the be the ‘safe’ choice. He wanted to be the choice she made of her own desire.

“Good, let’s stick with that story,” Elly remarked in turn with a smirk.

She didn’t much care—in this case. Though, it was a nice little bit of levity to tease him on. Though it wasn’t long before it segwayed to a request of his, one that was perhaps a bit unrealistic for her. Nonetheless, Elly hummed, taking her glass and swishing it back and forth slightly as if pondering the suggestion. Then, she let out a long sigh with a feigned expression of disappointment.

“Only the second date and you’re already trying to change me…” She said in jest, bringing the cup up to her lips to taste the drink again. Then, as she set it down, her hand returned to loosely lay against her chin while the index finger tapped against her lips as she pondered it some more. “So, I indulge in myself once in a while, and you’ll be willing to duo with me?”

Mulling that over some more, her hand moved back to idly tap against the cup in front of her. “Hm… Well, I suppose if I have a master ninja protecting me, I can afford to relax a tad,” She mused with a smirk.

Midori watched her expressions, but there was a keen difference in how he did so. He did not analyze her. He did not possess those cold, cutting eyes of an assassin. He watched only to take in her theatrics, caring less about the truth behind her mannerisms and more that she was still using them. It was a bit of a disappointment, but not the worst. Old habits die hard. Besides, she either had to want to pair with him fairly bad to tolerate how she had been treated and put up this front, or deep down she had some modicum of guilt over their last encounter.

It was truly hard to tell and he had honestly given up trying.

His eyes looked down, slightly sullen, as he stared down into his now melting glass of frozen drink. He knew it didn’t last long. All its components froze at different temperatures, it was warmed by his hand, all sorts of factors he could consider. Though, those barely crossed his mind as he thought about his situation. He could only trace circles around the ever-changing swirls of colors in his glass–changing even more so due to the lights that shifted in color from above.

Was this really what he wanted? He had done this dance before. A few too many times. His years as a double-agent for Eros were somewhat of a blur at first. He traveled the country acting as a playboy under the mask of heartbreak over Ao, only in fact spying from facility to facility for his false master. He did in fact still feel that heartbreak. Thrice now since Ao, he had lost a partner or someone close to him in some capacity or another. No one ever seemed to stick around–he remained Autonomous for a reason.

And, here she was. Eloise Keegan. Every red flag imaginable wrapped up in a file. Aside from a few gifts and her mild to moderate combat potential, she failed every single test he set out to avoid that same pain and disappointment. Even now, he had absolutely no doubt in his mind that she would feign a few nights of enjoying herself if it meant placating him. He couldn’t bring himself to trust her.

Something in his very core wished he could do better. That was his story since Ao, really. He was never good enough for her. She was the prodigy, he was just a lovesick puppy willing to put up with her eccentric demands and refusal to kill unless absolutely necessary. She could have had next to any of the actual elite Hoshi weapons. Those memories weren’t really his though, were they? They were those of the original.

Still… still he knew that at one time, his blades could stay sharp for someone that wouldn’t kill. Something about that girl from a random-ass Mitsuki name caused a Hoshi to go against every killer instinct they had engraved in them since birth. Even if that wasn’t who he was now, it was who he was designed to replicate. Midori knew, at core, that he was an absolutely shitty Hoshi.

A snapback to reality. Frost from the edge of his glass trickled down and ran over his thumb. It was cold. It wasn’t expected. He had lost himself in thought, as he did often.

He didn’t really want this. He didn’t want Elly. He was sure of what would happen. He would want to save her from herself. She would fake and feign and flirt her way through it all. She would get what she wanted until her falsehoods came back to haunt her. Her history would catch up to her and instead of having a single moment of refuge where he or anyone else could say they knew the real her that was worth protecting, they would only see the girl that played them all along.

The issue with that was how the Hoshi were raised. The type of girl she was happened to be the type of girl every Hoshi was raised to be. He knew the abuse. The shitty childhood it came with. How could he ask her to enjoy herself when she probably didn’t have a moment in her life where she knew what the fuck that meant? Could he really fault her for being the product of the environment she was raised in? He was a shitty Hoshi. He fell behind as a Demon Weapon years ago.

Somewhere in that descent, he found his humanity–and he had to die twice to do so. He couldn’t just ask that of others.

He finally looked back up to her. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. It might have been a few seconds, it might have been a few minutes. It all became a blur there for a moment as he was trapped in his own thoughts. It was dim, the lights were everywhere, and telling how somber he was through his eyes alone was difficult. His soul, though, it read plain as day. There was a sadness welling inside him and more so an empathy. Or, perhaps sympathy. A type of hurt he felt by proxy for this girl in front of him that she perhaps didn’t even realize.

He inhaled deeply, thinking of what to say next. Trying to piece together a witty remark or flirtatious comment. He tried to keep the energy going. He tried to keep this from going South again–she at least deserved that.

It was futile. He couldn’t answer her questions. He couldn’t match her energy. His porcelain face just reflected the lights from the ball above them, and his features became stone. He didn’t mean to ignore her questions, but the truth was, he did.

”Elly…” he said, his voice a near-tremble once he said her name.

”...do you ever get sad?” he asked her, this time without that tremble, but possessing a soft, high-pitch that seemed like it could break up at any moment.

”Eh…” he let out, not quite a sigh, but a short exhale, as if trying to capture his own breath and failing.

”I can’t… bring myself to believe you would enjoy my company,” he admitted, though with no signs of being insulted by the notion.

”And, I can’t help but believe you would pretend to–for whatever reason. I don’t care what it is,” he continued. There wasn’t judgment in his tone, nor the animosity that was present during their last discussion.

”It’s just… we weren’t always this way, you know,” he told her, though now shifting to the word choice of including them together. ”There was a time we could trust–before it was broken. In a different world, we might have been people that could be ignorant to the world. Blissfully unaware of its ugly side. If our stories had different authors instead of the cruel, twisted fucks we were given, happiness might not be so out of reach. You know… a world where asking you to just enjoy yourself wasn’t some absurd request,” he explained to her, ranting on about the exact idea here that brought forth the melancholy that was inside his soul. And, worse, that extended to the sympathy he felt for her. Something he couldn’t hide and something that she could only miss if she closed her eyes to it.

”...does that make you sad? That we live in this world instead of that one,” he asked again, his voice still just on that fine, taut wire of breaking and only offering more clarity because of the soliloquy of exposition surrounding it.

As silence filled the exchange, Elly’s smile faded to a more neutral, inquisitive expression. She watched as he averted his gaze and stared down at his drink, tilting her own head slightly as she did so. However, then she felt something welling within him. Sorrow and melancholy, mainly, though it was in part directed toward her, or for her rather.

The blatancy of it took the meister aback. There was no suppression and the emotions were so strong one would have to be blind not to feel it. Elly was used to bravado, or deceit, or masks like hers, but not this honesty. Her heightened senses for such things didn’t help matters either. Then, there was his voice.

If Elly wasn’t staring at his soul, she would have presumed he was trying to fool her or jesting. However, her perception into the prior verified that it was very real. For the first time since they had met, she was unsure of what to say. Not like before where she held her tongue to allow a rant or retort, but genuinely wasn’t sure what to say.

She turned her gaze to her own drink and sighed through her nose, pondering, once again.

“...Technically… I answered that during our last date,” Elly stated without any affectation to her tone. It was stoic and calm, but still smooth and soothing as it usually was. “I’m not unfeeling, I simply act in spite of my feelings. Even I loved my parents.”

She could stab a friend in the back if there wasn’t any other option and it meant survival, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t feel like shit for it. Happiness, sorrow, guilt, pride, she still felt them all, the same as any other. Elly was just very good at forcing those emotions into a backseat with rationale at the helm.

“...If I allowed myself to dwell on that, I fear I’d sink,” Elly admitted as she took another drink. “Focus on what can be done, not on what has already been done… That sort of thing. Though…” Pausing, she looked over to him again. Once again, she tilted her head slightly to get a better lock on his eyes with her own. “You should know that, even if you can’t believe, I can still have some enjoyment even with my guard up.” Her voice was soft, an awkward attempt at providing consolation for his self doubt.

He mulled over what she said. She acted in spite of her feelings. He was taught to have none. Still, he did, so it’s not like he was really any different. She loved her parents. He wasn’t really sure if he could say the same; the Hoshi were raised as a commune. He had respect and admiration for his clan. The two he knew as his parents, they welcomed him back with open arms despite knowing he was just a golem.

He guessed he couldn’t say he was without love. He had known it.

He sat his glass down, causing beads of condensation to stroll down its sides leisurely, then pushed it closer to the bartender. The bartender eyed him and he nodded. The bartender took the glass. Midori then made another request, ”A John Collins, please,” in his somewhat defeated tone.

Once the bartender started his mix, Midori finally decided to reply to Elly again. He was teetering on an edge. Somewhere between sympathy and frustration. This girl, she seemed so close, yet so far away. It was a simple understanding. To be sad about the hand they were dealt. The realization that they didn’t have to be this way. The reality that it kinda sucked that they were.

She was right, though. If one thought about it too much, they would drown. Midori knew that feeling. To drown. To feel so overwhelmed by emotions and circumstance that even breathing seemed impossible. Well, she said sink. All the way to the bottom. His brain processed that as drowning, but sinking was just the first step to that.

”I guess I’ve been sinking for a long time,” he admitted, his tone lacking any clear sarcasm. Mostly, it was self-reflection. ”Or, maybe I was,” he added, realizing he didn’t quite agree with it. He didn’t always feel this way. Even though things with this last team weren’t perfect, his small victory in saving Zosar alongside his repaired–if only slightly–relationship with Adra had value to him.

”They say you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain,” he told her, finding a way to piece together his thoughts. ”I don’t think that’s true–not entirely,” he explained, ”I think most of us find ourselves dwelling on exactly what I said. We stare into the abyss, knowing full-well what happens if we stare too long. We try to avert our gaze, like you do. But, eventually, we get caught staring. Maybe we can’t resist the urge or maybe it just hits us in the face so hard we can’t look away–I guess it doesn’t matter.”

”The point is, it’s what you do after that. Go mad? Maybe. Become that villain? It’s possible,” he mused, throwing out those very possibilities that he was sure Elly either feared or refused to consider to avoid processing her actual guilt.

”You can get stronger from it. Steel your resolve, promise to do better, repent. That’s what I did. That’s why I wanted to become a mentor,” he told her, ”to show people just like you that it can be done, and you can come out on top. You might sink for a while, but you don’t have to hit rock bottom..”

He sighed. The bartender sat his drink down in front of him and this time, Midori took a larger, longer gulp from it. He wasn’t playing around with the sweet drink like he was a moment ago. His soul, black as the very abyss he spoke of, still ached out with that melancholy. That odd sympathy that seemed to be projected onto Elly, as if he was feeling something for her that he thought she ought to be feeling.

”You haven’t really asked for my honesty, but I’ll give it to you anyway,” he told her, being quite aware at this point, he was imposing his opinion onto her. ”You’re afraid to sink and afraid no one will throw you a lifeline if you do,” he told her, the strong smell of lemon now coming from his breath followed only by the alcohol that was with it.

”If you don’t ever process those things, you won’t move past them. You won’t find happiness or really ever be content. They eat at you over time, either making you the heartless monster you say you aren’t or bringing you down to something even more miserable,” he told her, proposing what he saw as the option if she never faced her demons.

He then looked over at her, locking eyes with her, a more serious look stretched across his face and his eyes having a fire in them that had been absent for quite some time. ”I don’t want that to happen to you. Or anyone, really.I have been there. I know it’s not easy, especially when you feel alone,” he told her, ”and, maybe it’s just some ridiculous hero complex, but I want to save you from that life.”

”You have a lot of potential,” he told her, half-smiling in direct contrast to the tone he was speaking with. ”When I see you, I’m certain you can become something incredible,” he added, almost complimenting her.

”But… I also see a chance for a failure of my own making. It is not your smile, your intellect, your beauty, or your wiles that terrify me, Elly. It is the pain that would come if I fail again,” he admitted to her, bouncing right back to that somber tone of his.

”If you could see the world without your guilt, it’s like seeing color for the first time. Trusting again, living life without the filter of a constant guard. I can’t even open your mind to that idea…” he said, essentially mumbling at this point. ”...so I think my reluctance here is understandable.”

As he spoke, Elly spent more time looking at his soul than him. Reading him as his words and tone shifted and teetered. Speechlessly watching him.

His self-reflective words and speech of encouragement for her, worries for his failure, were as with the rest just words. However, while the honest sorrow present in them was surprising, the reflection of his spirit only made it more troubling for her to retort. It was pure. It was just like when she read Stein’s. He spoke a lot of pretty words, but his soul spoke to the veracity of his intentions. Here it was the same. Midori genuinely felt bad for her and wanted her life to be better; wanted her to be happy.

’Oh… you fool… She mused internally.

With a long, drawn-out sigh, she took another drink from her glass, mulling over how to respond to it all. “Well…” She began so they didn’t sit in silence, however paused to choose her next words. “I suppose… if I was going to do that with you, then I would do so without you as well… In which case I was always doomed to drown,” She stated, up front about the potential morbidity of her future. “Few things are certain… However, I have heard similar speeches from others. Albeit I have the fortune, or misfortune, of seeing if their soul agrees. It never does. Or rather, I had only seen it once before now.”

Setting her glass down, Elly straightened her posture in her chair. “You are perhaps one of the larger benefits to agents in this program, as you genuinely care. I guess my point is, regardless of whether it’s with myself or another, you are a significantly better option than their other available ones,” She stated, a seemingly genuine compliment based off the honesty of his soul. “You know… After the whole massacre here, Death’s Deathscythe sang our praise and apologized, or admitted some kind of prejudice. Now, I’ve only just gotten here, so it isn’t as if I had the chance to catch any such prejudices, whether he was open with them or subtle. However, he’s the head of the program, and he doubts—doubted, no likely still doubts somewhat, us. Meanwhile the assassin is concerned that he could not do better for us.”

Looking at him, her face wasn’t exactly somber, however it had dipped below neutral. No affectations, no mannerisms. It was almost blank. “You will never be certain that you can prevent any of us from drowning. However, when there exist others in the program who are supposed to be helping us, who don’t all have our best interests at heart, I ask whom specifically would be better?” Letting out a slight scoff, she continued. “I mean, I wasn’t present, but even I saw that little stadium tournament. Surely that was not for their benefit, shoveling them in a coliseum for the public to spectate not long after the program even started… If I did enjoy gambling, I would wager that if you left, they would be worse off for it.”

Was this her compassion? He listened to all of her words. She had a unique soul.Hard to read, but not impossible. Easier now that he had some exposure to it. Still, unlike those gifted eyes of hers, he did not have perfect clairvoyance into her innermost feelings. Even if he wanted to gauge her mannerisms, she was skilled enough that he could garner little from it–unless she did slip and allow herself to shine through.

Midori could not cheat the system like she could. Her words of encouragement were not lost on him, but he had to actually evaluate the situation. To think logically. To consider the possibilities. To do the thing he told her not to, really. A hypocrite at heart, perhaps, but if there was any chance at success–for either of them–he had to make a correct decision.

He swirled the glass in front of him. He had drunk enough of it now that the light brown liquid could swirl freely without spilling. Occam’s Razor. He thought that to himself. The simplest solution was the most likely. So he took in what she said. Every word as if it were gospel, then compared that to the context of the situation.

There were two, maybe three outcomes here, that he saw as viable. The first was that for some unapparent reason, she wanted him and specifically him to be her partner. There were others. He wasn’t that strong. She could likely find someone stronger. He was the lowest ranking of the Hoshi, hardly a mentor at this point. His reputation was tarnished in every way. She honestly stood very little to gain specifically from him. He only had one secret that he was absolutely sure she knew nothing of as only a handful in the DWMA even did, so that couldn’t be factored in.

Still, there was the chance she was just a sociopath set on pairing with him. To what end, he wasn’t sure.

There was also the chance that after their first encounter, she was genuinely apologetic. As smooth as she was with words, she may have taken to adjusting her appearance and behavior as part of her act of forgiveness. It wasn’t terribly uncommon. A little toxic, sure, but not uncommon. Perhaps something he had said reached out to her and she at least wanted to make some type of amends here. Or, perhaps, she just wanted a reliable partner, and the idea of being alone didn’t suit her. Of course, some of those thoughts might also explain her motives if she was a sociopath, too, so attributing them to compassion might be a pointless venture.

The last is that she expected none of this, came here blindly or on a whim, or perhaps actually with some intent to apologize and get on good grounds. There was a chance something he said or did, the honesty he provided her, the knowledge his main concern was her long-term well-being, was something she had issues parsing. Something that might have touched her in a way to make that rigid heart of hers a little softer, show some kindness when there might have been no benefit.

Honestly, the more he thought about it, the more the complex network of logic he created started to overlap. He wasn’t any closer to the end result he wanted. Three possibilities really weren’t three, but a million. At the end of the day, this was truly a binary decision. Was she the sociopath just playing the cards to get what she wanted or did she have a heart under there that was at play in her decision?

He wanted to believe in her. He wanted to believe that if everyone had someone to believe in them just a little, they could do better when they might be at their worst. She had went through therapy, too. Been evaluated by professionals, made her way into the program, stayed this far, fought when the odds were against her and she was disarmed. The chances of her doing all of that and remaining that impossible-to-save soul were fairly low.

The simplest solution was most often the correct one. Was she just stubborn and self-centered on her road to redemption or was she truly this mastermind of manipulation that was able to get through all the hoops and red tape that the DWMA put in her way to get here? The more he considered it, the more he sided with the possibility that her head and her heart were just a little too hard for her own good, and that’s why she was the way she was.

She also brought up a point he couldn’t deny. Even those within the program questioned its value. The Fate Agents were put under intense scrutiny. While some of that was lifted, they were still hardly universally accepted. There was prejudice and mistreatment around plenty of corners. Midori knew what it was like to feel ostracized because of Paean. He knew worse what it was like for everyone to think he was a monster–even though in his case, he was.

What she told him, that it seemed like to her so few had their best interests at heart, it stung. He only wanted them to succeed, really. He knew some of them wouldn’t. He knew some of them were too far gone. Not everyone could be saved. No matter how well funded the program was or the support, or even the mentors in it creating the best environment–they couldn’t save everyone.

But, for her to feel like so many didn’t care if she was saved… that hurt. At heart, all Midori wanted was for each of them to have the chance he didn’t, and an easier time achieving it.

”Fine,” he told her, his voice still soft but far more composed than it had been previously. ”If you want this pairing, then you’ll have it,” he told her, ceding to her desire–for whatever reason it was she wanted this so bad.

”But you can make a promise to Death himself that I won’t let you become some villainess on my watch,” he told her. Stern, honest, empathetic as he had been the whole time far more akin to the confident one he debuted in Hallowed Grounds. ”It may not be today, tomorrow, next week, next month, or for years, but there will come a day you have to face the darker parts of your life, and you may sink,” he said, speaking to her as if this comeuppance about her former life of a criminal was written in stone to come full circle.

”But I will make sure you come out of it, even if I have to get waist-deep in your drama, trauma, and karma to pull your ass out,” he followed up. And, again, not a fault in his soul. The assurance of what he said resonated deep down in the most core parts of himself, perhaps even dauntingly so given what he was implying Elly would eventually go through.

Elly could see the conflict in his soul as he mulled over her words. She really wasn’t cut out for this. This, being consoling others. She could play the nurturer, however she was very unfamiliar with people showing themselves in such vulnerable positions willingly. People didn’t have to be as messed up to her to at least hide some of such feelings.

She considered just giving up. She could see now he was like Stein, albeit perhaps a bit more innocent in a way, less in others. Admittedly, Elly preferred that he wasn’t. It would make it easier. Even if she wasn’t planning some manipulation for some grand scheme, she knew he would get hurt down the line. At least if they were a bit of an asshole, that made it easier to write off. If it were the Midori from a day ago, that wouldn’t be an issue. Not this one though.

Yet, just before she called it, he conceded. “...I will?” She confirmed upon hearing it, honestly a bit surprised.

Then came the rest. Some hero, it made sense why he and Stein got along so well apparently. Elly didn’t doubt his words. Perhaps she would receive some comeuppance, or her past life would come back to haunt her. That was why she was with a different name now, in part. Perhaps she would just falter, break, and corrupt. However, that also wasn’t the part that concerned her. She was starting to feel as if Ulysses had played her in all this.

’Yes… Loyal and pure, like a puppy,’ Elly mused in her thoughts.

“Then… I suppose I’ll be relying on you, henceforth,” Elly mused in response.

”You will,” he confirmed, answering the question she asked. Perhaps she had already given up, based on the surprise that came from her when she asked.

While she was coming to terms with their new situation as partners, he took another gulp from his glass, nearly emptying it. He wasn’t sipping like her, and while he enjoyed his drink, it wasn’t solely for the flavor. He enjoyed the burn, and the bravery that came with it while it went down. Of course, just these two drinks weren’t enough to affect him considerably. His tolerance to liquor was quite high due to his upbringing.

”I fully expect to have to save you from yourself at some point, you know” he told her off-handedly. He sat his glass down and slid it around the countertop for a moment, mostly playing with it. He was debating on finishing its contents or just asking for something else. He was notorious for never ordering the same thing back-to-back, a trait Elly would soon stumble onto.

”You see, the battle with me won’t just be resisting my good looks or silver tongue,” he told her, now clearly changing his tone to a facetious one of self-grandiosity, ”and, it’s not like you have a henchman that blindly follows your instructions, or just wants a piece of ass.”

He then opted to down the rest of his drink before setting it back down. There was hardly enough left for an actual gulp, but it did create at least somewhat of a histrionic effect. ”You just decided to fight a whole war against someone insisting you’re a better person than you are, guilt-tripping you when you aren’t, and doing his best to make that little voice in your head that urges you to do shitty things for your own gain… extremely fucking angry,” he explained, completely forthright in how he intended to sculpt her into a better version of herself.

”Vodka spritzer, just strawberry,” he then said, having the attention of the bartender. He was quite attentive in making sure they were topped up, specifically Midori, throughout the night. He’d earned the tip Midori intended on leaving him.

”And of course, I’ll be doing all that while putting a silly smile on your face you’ll get frustrated by every time you catch,” he told her, his confidence bordering into arrogance and radiating off of him in a way that even Ulysses didn’t possess–mostly because the latter knew how to moderate that trait into more manageable chunks of suave comments.

Elly stared at him, almost in a deadpan. He had gone from arrogant in the past day, to fuckboy, to depressed, and now back to arrogant and suave. Even with Annika’s eccentricities, it was at least consistent. However, this had her wondering exactly what she had walked into. Perhaps he was just tipsy. He was starting to ingest rather than drink at this point.

“Do tell,” Elly urged him on, propping her chin with her forearm which sat on the bar counter as she listened to his statements of grandioseness and self-importance.

“Will you now…” Elly hummed at his last promise, swirling the remainder of her drink that was still in its cup. “So… You’re going to be my Jiminy Cricket that also wants a piece of arse?” Elly summarized with raised brow, though ultimately let out a bemused huff. “Perhaps I’ll need to do as that ice giant and carry alcohol with me from now on.”

”Well now if my presence drives you to drink, I think we’re in for a whole world of problems,” he responded. He was quick and sharp. Despite his ingestion as she called it, nothing about his mannerisms indicated he was actually inebriated. Truth was, he was hardly feeling it. The first drink was next to nothing. The whiskey had a burn, but not in the volume necessary. A touch of vodka now meant he was mixing his liquors, but that was only the beginning for him.

Besides, he knew full well that even if he got plastered, one transformation could effectively fix that. Not that he was terribly concerned about that possibility regardless.

He smiled at her. It was pleasant. His soul reflected his current shift to a more jubilant attitude. His emotions weren’t as extreme, his attitude wasn’t as directed. There was little to be gained from watching him closely now. Not that he somehow feigned how he was before, simply that he had a knack for theatrics, and made sure that was put to good use.

He received his vodka spritzer and took a drink from it. More normal. Neither a gulp or a sip, but a respectable drink. It was decent. Not too sweet, not overly complex like his last few. It was his flavor of the moment. Once the glass left his lips though, he chuckled slightly and raised his eyebrows. He had entirely forgotten for a moment her other comment.

”Oh no, don’t think of me as the little angel on your shoulder,” he told her, ”I want you to be your best self–not become a nun. Let’s be realistic.” He tilted his glass over just slightly, not spilling it, but an odd gesture to acknowledge what he considered the fact of the situation.

”Hmmmm, and while I certainly wouldn’t reject your late-night company–it might even make our partnership all the more deadly–I wouldn’t exactly put it terribly high on my priority list,” he told her, being quite whimsical in how he chose to word his clarification on his desires.

”A moment of fun? Sure, if you’d be so hedonistic,” he told her, though mostly musing to myself, ”if somehow you caught some feels, still maybe, though I’d be a little cautious,” he went on, ”but, I’m not such a weak man that it would be a bargaining chip.”

He then leaned in slightly, his body closer to hers, his breath now close enough that it’s warmth was present and the scent of his strawberry-flavored vodka was obvious, though not overwhelming. ”A little secret about the Hoshi. Some are courtesans, go through plastic surgery time and time again to get close to targets… they’re trained by the best Oiran in Japan to please men. But, us men? Well, we get the same training in adulthood–we’re just in lower demand,” he half-whispered, offering her what was an actual Clan secret masked as an enticement–or perhaps the other way around.

“Oh, of course it wouldn’t actually. Just a bit of jest… Wouldn’t be very fun if I went and made it easy for you,” Elly teased again as she finished her own drink, tapping the edge of the glass as she nodded to the bartender. “Another of the same, please.”

Letting out a short chuckle as the man took her empty glass to replace it with a new one, Elly straightened herself once again. “My best self, hm?” She repeated, as if challenging what that may be.

She was brought another drink while he began speaking of hedonistic pleasures, and Elly brought the cup up to her mouth to take another drink as her eyes scanned him from their corners. She chuckled again as he suggested her getting a crush. “Oh, but a casual fling is quite different than a serious date, is it not~?” She cooed in response to it. A crush usually didn’t only extend to wanting a one-night stand.

As she set the glass down, Elly tilted her head slightly to hear what he intended to whisper. In response, she hummed in acknowledgement, as if intrigued by this information more than amused or flustered. “All of you, or some of you?” She pondered his insinuation. “Though I suppose I would be disappointed if they didn’t know how to make use of that pretty face.”

He chuckled at her conservative response. He expected it, but he thought she would glean some amusement out of it nonetheless. He returned back to his original stance leaning upon the bar, though he was still closer than he was originally. He looked to his glass, but opted not to take another drink. Not yet. Instead, those dual-colored eyes darted right back over to Elly to continue offering her some due attention.

”Our faces are only a small fraction of what we’re taught to use,” he answered her, doubling down on the impact of this unorthodox training he had informed her of. ”Not all Hoshi become assassins, and some don’t focus on the covert, so… I guess the answer to your question is just some of us,” he answered her, ”the lucky ones, like myself.”

Then he finally opted to take another drink from his glass, allowing himself a longer moment to enjoy it. He found that the syrup was becoming slightly gritty against his teeth, so he was already deciding his next drink would be something a little more clean and neat. Perhaps bitter, or something else straight. He didn’t like the feel.

That train of thought didn’t bleed over into his conversation with Elly, however, as after his drink, he transitioned back into addressing what she said. ”Between partners, something casual can become habitual… convenience does make for solid foundation, even if shallow,” he told her, ”though in my experience, if it has real value doesn’t show itself until after the fact. Perhaps you miss it more than you thought you would, or perhaps hindsight gives you clarity you didn’t have in the moment.”

“Haha, the lucky ones. Yes, I’m sure,” Elly remarked with a soft giggle. “Though I am surprised to hear that somewhat. Your family is most known, after all, for such things… Then again, I suppose every gang member doesn’t need to shoot someone.”

Not everyone in her family got their hands dirty, and some were dirtier than others. Some were in production, some muscle, Elly more often than not was in what they liked to call “marketing”. Still, she was already getting information it seemed, though she certainly wasn’t expecting those facts.

“Hm… but by that point, is it not already gone with the wind?” Elly inquired. What he spoke of, to her, sounded like simple complacency rather than anything else. Get used to things around you and it becomes frustrating or depressing when they change, however, once you adjust again such feelings go away.

Of course, while it may seem untrue, she was likely a poor source of information in this matter. She said she loved her parents, however love in this regard was something she knew naught of.

”I suppose I shouldn’t reveal too much of my Clan on only the second date Midori told her, mimicking her own consistent referral to their meetings as dates. Truth was, his Clan had a variety of specialists all trained in different methods. Not all killers needed to be Meisters. Not all Meisters needed to be assassins. The Hoshi only allowed the outside world to see what they let them–they had created an illusion over the centuries that was only partly true.

”No,” he answered her simply. Flatly, even. ”If someone really matters to you, they leave an impression in your heart that you can’t ever get over,” he explained, his face and soul returning to a slightly sullen look.

”Reality is, I never met Ao. Not ‘Midori-the-golem’,” he told her, going off on an explanation. He didn’t just assume Elly knew who she was, either. The database for agents–the one that contained information on Ao–tracked when it was accessed and by whom. He knew long before this visit that Elly had dug up some information.

”If she was just in the wind now, the soul inside me wouldn’t burn to avenge her,” he admitted, shifting from sullen to a type of passion that was rarely present in his voice. ”I know it’s stupid, and that greater men have tried, but I want to kill Eros for what he did,” he told Elly. His eyes weren’t glossed over, his soul wasn’t cold and still. There was a fire inside him.

”For her. If I could trade my life to end his, I would,” he said, demonstrating a conviction that was rare even in some of the most hardened men she had met in her life.

“You’re the one that started gushing dear. Everyone knows you’re supposed to wait for the third date at least, but I wasn’t going to stop you~” Elly chimed back. Of course she wouldn’t decline information if given to her, though that was less drunken loose lips and more trying to coax her into such a ‘habit’ as he said earlier. Well, she was sure he was at least a little bit drunk too.

However, when he spoke of Ao, Elly rose a brow. Somehow she wasn’t surprised that he knew about that, but he also didn’t seem pissed off about it which was good. “Well… I more of meant that if you wait until after you separate, then the relationship is gone. Not the feelings of course,” She clarified with a sigh as she took her glass. “You would have to find him for that first… then there’s the difficult part.”

Finding him would be difficult enough. Her emphasis of such insinuated that killing him or attempting to was indeed a foolish task. However, she wasn’t going to argue with him with that vigor burning within him. “...Actually… You probably know more about him than most. All public records basically treat him like a boogeyman. Recall anything specific about him?” She asked taking another modest drink from her cup.

”We may have to agree to disagree,” Midori muttered at her opinion of the relationship being over. He continued to swirl his drink, not quite ready to take another sip. ”The relationship is still there. I can remember when the first Midori admitted his feelings to Ao. She told him he didn’t earn hers yet. She told him that he would have to be ‘more than just another Hoshi’ for her to consider. But, they kissed, once. I think she had some type of feelings for him, too. I don’t know…” he explained to her, giving her some facts about a past he didn’t really live.

”When Eros controlled my soul, I remember constantly wishing I would have done more. That maybe if I had convinced her to slow down, or if she said yes to just one date and missed that mission, she’d be alive,” he went on, ”but that wish faded away when Lord Kidd freed me. I can see now that the first Midori did his damnedest.”

Then, then he downed the entire cup he was just swirling, finishing it off in one go and leaving it there on the table. He didn’t slam it. Nothing grandiose. He just finished it, wanting it gone. Wanting another thing out of his hands and to move on to the next.

”Ao and that Midori are gone. But, I remember, and it’s still part of me,” he told her, this time quite sternly. He wouldn’t be moved on the topic. ”Their relationship exists. Your parents are gone, but your relationship with them exists. You are here sitting beside me, the fruit of their love. You say that kinda thing can disappear in the wind, but I say we can still see the leaves it blows,” he told her.

He then turned his attention to the bartender and this time asked for tequila neat. A simple request and a quick turnaround for his next drink.

”As for Eros… he’s not a boogeyman. He’s not scary. He’s the fucking devil,” Midori told her. He wasn’t getting aggressive, but his passion was certainly spiklng. The melancholy in his soul was shifting to a more and more energetic form, and while it wasn’t anger, it was full of spite and disdain.

”He can take on any form or even be a weapon for someone else. He uses magic and madness together, but that’s not really even the worst part,” Midori told her, ”he knows your deepest desires. He whispers sweet things into your ear, promises of whatever you want. Twisting what you want. He shapes your perception of the world until what you want is what he wants you to do, then shows you just how to get it. He is a cancer, feeding of the wants and desires of others, and one that no one is immune to because they all want something.”

His dual-colored eyes then looked over to her. He was serious. Serious as a heart attack. As serious as a knife to your throat. Intense, even. His soul only reflected that. ”Even you could not hide what you want from him. You might be able to play me like a fiddle–maybe you are now. But, Eros? You would fall to him just like everyone else. You would become another pawn in another scheme for reasons no one fucking knows but him,” Midori told her.

”That’s also why I want him dead,” Midori told her, finally softening both his voice and showing some semblance of compassion inside his soul once again. ”Let’s say I get my way. You open up, you feel a glimmer of happiness without your guard up, you see the colors in this beautiful world without that monocolor filter of self-preservation you’ve kept up all these years,” he told her, tossing out some hypothetical, ”maybe, you even find your own Ao.”

”Eros could ruin all of that for you,” he told her, ”and I simply won’t allow that.”

“The leaves, yes,” Elly said, swirling the liquid in her class before taking another drink. “But not the tree.” He was right in a sense, but so was she. She would never forget her parents. However, what she meant is that if he waited too long to determine if a relationship was deeper than a shallow one until the relationship was over meant it was unlikely to repair.

Moving onto the topic of Eros, Elly rolled her eyes when the description of him was vague. “Shapeshifting. That makes everything pleasant…” She remarked sarcastically. “Quite foolish to trust anything he said… Then again, if he can shapeshift he would be a fool not to use that to his advantage. Easier to trust the wolf when it looks like the sheep I suppose.”

She didn’t seem wholly concerned by this information, though it wasn’t because Elly disregarded the threat. He was a massive threat, another reason for her guard to be up. However, the information available didn’t very well allow her to come up with any kind of safety measures. It was fortunate that she was in such a position as she was now. As it stood now, there was little reason for such a person to take an interest in he, a problem to hone in on closer to when she became an actual agent again.

“I’m sure he can be stopped,” Elly commented in an odd moment of what appeared to be optimism. Perhaps she was trying to console him or just express her thoughts. “For all his power, he isn’t challenging Death to a duel. That would be foolish, of course… if you weren’t invulnerable. He is vulnerable–in some way. That much is evident by how careful he seems to be.”

Changing the subject suddenly, Elly smirked at him, eyeing the empty glass that was replaced with a new one. “Also, are you planning on me carrying you home, or are you just showing off now?” She teased.

Midori raised his eyebrows and peaked down at his glass. He shrugged, both externally and internally. ”It’s just a little liquor,” he told her, ”doesn’t matter.” He pushed his glass back to the bartender and simply told him he’d like another, as if only to emphasize the point. It was the rare occurrence he ordered two of the same drink, but he was sure Elly could piece together that rum, bourbon, vodka, and two glasses of tequila should be affecting him at least slightly.

”Well, not entirely true. It’s not great for my wallet,” he told her. He then sighed, drawing it out and even letting it become theatrically exasperated.

”I mean, I do feel a real strong buzz, but I’m far drunk,” he told her, ”and, even if I got drunk, a fact you’ll eventually learn as my partner is that I can turn into a literal clay golem. Not a lot different than those dolls you fought. When I do, pretty much any toxin is nullified.”

He received his next drink and took another sip of it, slowing down with it, but still proving his point that he could keep going. ”Trust me, it’s ruined many a great adventure,” he admitted without an inkling of shame.

”Oh, and one other thing to consider, since you sounded a little judgmental about those that fall for Eros,” he perked up, shifting the conversation right back to where she had so intentionally veered it away from.

”It’s not just skill, Elly. It’s Madness. The Madness of Desire. That’s why it’s so damn powerful,” he explained to her pretty matter-of-factly. ”We all have a little Madness inside us, and we all desire something. It’s a nasty combination, so don’t think that stubborn head your pretty face is attached to is going to do a whole lot to impede him,” he told her, not lacking any confidence in his claim. His soul reflected that, too. His experience only further confirmed it to himself.

Everyone wants something. The buddhists say that to desire is to suffer, and with Eros, that was a cruel, hard truth.

“Famous last words~” Dani chimed back, finishing her second drink.

So he could nullify toxins, how handy. Unfortunately, that meant less likelihood of drunk Midori saying something he otherwise wouldn’t. A pity.

“At least you’ll be able to skip the hangover. Though it seems a bit counterproductive if you’re trying to relax,” She mused. “Bailey’s please,” She requested, switching her drink choice for the first time in the night.

Unlike Midori, she could not turn into a golem and nullify the effects of the night prior, so she wouldn’t be mixing very much.

Chuckling a bit at his warning as the bartender prepped her next drink, Elly hummed inconspicuously. “Not judgemental… Unless he approaches would-be pawns in broad daylight and introduces himself as Eros. But, like you said. Anything, anyone. Then there’s the madness. It’s no wonder he isn’t caught or dead yet.”

As the bartender placed the darker coffee drink in front of her, Elly took a moderate drink from it to perk up. “Mm. Also, my point still stands. Perhaps not me or my pretty face–I surely hope not, but someone.”

”Alright, enough about Eros and how pretty your face is–we’ve beat that horse to death twice over,” Midori said, his tone possessing a bit of snap to it, like a bow flinging its arrow. He then opted to lift up his drink and down the rest. It wasn’t a direct chug, but considering that was his second one back to back and he just cleared out the glass, it was notable nonetheless.

”You, miss Keegan,” he said, now turning to her, his entire body facing her from his stool and offering her his full, undivided attention. Unlike before, his body language was slightly more open and his attitude more energetic. ”Pulled me out to this little club, convinced me against all reason to partner with you, have let me drink a shelf of liquor,” he listed off, ”and not to mention, decided to doll yourself up and show off that stunning dress.”

He then elected to pause, if only to add dramatic, ”and have yet to once ask me to dance. I’m getting a little impatient.” Another one of his quick shifts in attitude, not quite enough to give one whiplash, but difficult to consistently predict nonetheless. He did sound quite jovial, and his comment about impatience carried a more light-hearted tone of humor than it did any actual frustration.

“Oh no, by all means, you can keep going on the latter,” Elly teased with a smirk, not at all put off by the change in tone.

Pulling her drink to her, Elly turned slightly to face him as well as she took another drink from the glass before she sat the cup down. “Yes, yes, who am I to stop you, and yes,” She answered to each of his accusations in playful manner. “Well, actually I did. I offered you to start with a dance or a drink, and you deferred to me. I thought maybe a few drinks would make you less shy.”

Though she sounded sincere, this was obviously another jest given Midori was hardly what one could describe as timid.

“Now then, think you can keep up without losing your liquor?” She challenged with a cheeky smile, offering her hand for him to take. Midori did in fact take her hand, but his mouth stood half-open at one of her comments. The audacity of this woman.

”D-Did you just… call me shy? Midori asked her, as if appalled.

“Aww, dear~” Elly cooed, losing the smirk only momentarily to feign one of comfort. “I’m sure you’ll grow out of it,” She said, the grin returning, a reference to their previous conversation regarding his age.

’You bitch.’

Midori was in fact slightly inebriated, and his decision-making may have been slightly affected, but he was in fact partly offended by that comment. Not overly so, but enough that he would definitely address her claim.

He smirked. Wide. She already held his hand, and he moved over to guide her to the dance floor, only to stop abruptly, turn around, and lean in to plant his lips quite firmly on hers after the twist, taking full advantage of his ingrained coordination and lack of shame.

Through their new additional physical contact, he established the same mental link any Meister and Weapon could solely to ask her a simple question while he planted his kiss, ’How’s that for shy?’[/b]

Elly’s triumphant smile remained. She couldn’t read his mind, but the look on her face almost made it seem like she could. However, she also knew from his look that he was planning something, tipsy and not shy as he was. The alcohol was taking effect and he was much less guarded and deliberate. Still, what he inevitably went with was still somewhat of a surprise.

Nonetheless, she didn’t pull away, and even returned the kiss somewhat. ’So immature. I’m sure you’ll grow out of that too,’ She jested in return. ’And here you didn’t want to be my partner.’

Pulling away finally, Elly gave him a cheeky smile again. ‘Now, you going to prove you can keep up with a dance too?’

Midori returned her cheeky smile with his own devious grin and simply chuckled. ”You overthink it yet again,” he told her teasingly, ”for all you know, I might have wanted to taste those lips even without partnership.” Flirtatious. Sweet, almost, and a complete change of tone from a moment ago.

Then he turned back around and returned to pulling her to the dance floor, and while it was hardly as populated as a packed rave, the two were far from the only individuals there. Midori heard the beat of the song finally pick up from something vintage, and started bouncing along to the beat, lifting his arms beside his chest and swinging his hips back and forth to the beat in rhythm, proving the assassin had a few dance moves hidden up his sleeve. Or, at least, a basic sense of rhythm.

“I’m sure,” Elly hummed back. “Who knew all along you were an admirer.”

Following his pull to the dance floor, Elly matched his movements, swaying and bouncing her weight from one leg to the other. Her arms traveled from near her waist to beside her torso and raised above her head, cycling as she moved to the energy of the music. Her head flicked every once in a while, tossing her hair a bit as she danced.

“And are you self-taught or does your Clan have a dance corps as well?” She spoke partway through the song.

”Oh, Elly, you don’t even know,” Midori responded, his tone clearly facetious, ”we have a whole branch dedicated to Flamenco dancing. We wear our little sombreros and ponchos and just dance ‘til the floor gives out,” he added, only compounding the ridiculous claim.

He was enjoying the dancing before that. The silence. The music. The buzz. Once the beat picked up, Midori even became more flamboyant with his arms, and lost himself body and soul with the music. It might have been hard, at least in that moment, to ever guess he was a cold-blooded killer. That said, he couldn’t deny the fiery tips of her new hair flowing on the dance floor didn’t have their own appeal.

This could work. It was already growing on him.

The dancing continued for some time, going through nearly a whole set list, and even working up a sweat before Midori opted to pull her away, back to the bar, and take a seat. Words exchanged, though by now of lesser value. A quip here, a flirtatious comment there, nothing that held the same depth or gravity that their previous conversation did. As exhausting as it might have been, it was just what Midori wanted. Some mindless fun.

Back at the bar, Midori pulled out his phone and covered both their tabs. He had sobered up plenty while dancing, though not before getting just a little extra buzzed from the exertion. It had worn off. It was also quite late. Probably later than Elly had anticipated the evening going.

He sighed, shaking his head disappointedly. ”It’s always like this, you know. The morning turns into our enemy as it brings our night together closer it’s end,” he told her with a mix of nostalgia and sorrow in his tone. Perhaps a touch theatrical, but that was his nature.

”Before we go, let’s play a game,” he suggested, ”Two truths and a lie. We keep going ‘til one of us answers wrong, and if we both answer wrong at first, we go until someone gets it right.” He smirked, then added, ”and you said you don’t like to gamble, but I think we can add some stakes you might find agreeable. If I win, I get one more kiss before we go our separate ways. You win, I’ll answer any one question you want honestly–if I can. Hell, if I can’t, I’ll let you ask another.”

Elly let out a giggle at his ludicrous claim, not speaking much more for the duration of the dance until she felt a tug urging her back to the bar. She finished her drink through the next series of conversations. A verbalized ‘thank you’ for the covered drinks, before standing from her seat. “Oh don’t worry dear, you’ll be seeing plenty of me from now on,” Elly said, reaching out to give a gentle caress followed by a playful tap against his cheek.

Then she paused at his invitation for a game. With a pondering hum, Elly seated herself back on the stool, side against the bar so she faced him. Anything I want?” She repeated with emphasis, followed by an exaggerated hum, and then an exaggerated tone of being put out. “Oh, fine. I suppose I can humor you… Then ladies first.”

Elly paused for a moment, leaning against the bar with her arm as she thought. “Let’s see… I have to think of something that won’t be so easy to guess off my little record… I had braces from 11 to 13, I grew up with a pet Dobermann name Coco, and I received vocal lessons since I was 7 to about… 14 or so.”

Midori hummed audibly, listening to the options presented. Braces from 11 to 13 made sense. One normally only had them for a for years, and that’s when they had them. Unfortunately, she was too old for him to deduce if she would still have a retainer. Some kept one well into adulthood, some had their teeth settle and be fine. He did not her teeth were marked straight during their kiss. Well, any time she smiled, too, but he preferred the former.

Vocal lessons were feasible. The way she trailed off gave him pause. She was either recollecting the fact or creating it. He hadn’t ever heard her sing, though, but she did have a remarkable ability to control the pitch of her voice with her sing-songy attitude. That might have played a role in it.

The odd one out to him was the dog. Not having a dog nor the name, but because she listed the ages of her other truths. Typically, when playing this game, there were trends in speech one could pick up on. The truths often mirrored each other in how they were said while the lie lacked something as it had to be created. That said, the lie was also often either the first or last thing said, but Elly was used to lying–so he assumed–so she could probably do so without giving it a second thought.

”I’m going to say… you didn’t have a Dobermann named Coco,” he said, then quickly lifted up his finger, ”and, in the sake of fairness, let me tell you my three now for you to guess before you tell if I was right or not.”

Eyebrows raised and a devilish smile on his face, Midori started listing off his own potential facts, ”My older brother, Minato, refuses to have anything to do with me because he doesn’t think I’m his actual brother; I was once wielded by Fredrick Stein in a DWMA archery contest, which we didn’t win; or, I once slept with Astila Stein before she went rogue, which I guess falls into the realm of don’t stick your dick in crazy.”

Elly tilted her head a bit with a soft smirk as he mulled over the options. She didn’t give him any facial shifts to judge if he had chosen correctly or not. Only when he listed his own three did her expression change to one of consideration.

The first was plausible. He was fairly contentious from what she knew, and even though he had mentioned that his parents welcomed him back, he said nothing for his brother, or even if he had one. So, he could be lying, but that was just as easily a truth.

The second was interesting, though through her conversations with Ulysses, she felt such a thing was likely to have come up someway. Still, it was just as capable of being true.

Then there was the last one. This one was quite believable. He could turn on the charm as Elly had seen and, more pertinently, rather than red hair it was more apt to say he had a thing for red flags, at least from what the meister had seen and heard.

“Let’s see… I’ll say… You didn’t lose an archery contest with Franklin Stein,” Elly chose after an adequately suspenseful delay. “Now then, for your choice. Coco was a very real, and very good boy. However, I was fortunate enough to not need braces.”

”Well, I’m quite glad that your teeth are as perfect as the rest of you,” he remarked, still grinning. Not quite at his comment, but at the fact this game would go on a while longer. ”Minato is in fact very real, and he doesn’t accept me at all since I came back as a golem… but he is my cousin, not my brother,” Midori informed her, mimicking her approach to informing her of her incorrect guess. He did quite enjoy turning her wordplay on her.

”Another round then, it seems. Surprise me,” he told her, ready to try again with her next three potential facts.

Elly smiled at the compliment. “I was a tad split between those two,” She admitted, leaving out the third.

With another hum and a sigh, Elly pondered a bit more. “Mm… Okay. Out of my three partners in Ireland, I’d become entangled with two of them, I received the vaccine prior to it spreading to my area so I’ve never at any point been infected with MIBVI, and I’ve never used, outside of alcohol, any narcotics despite having marketed and overseen the production of many."

Midori could rationalize that she slept with her partners. Not hard. Midori didn’t believe she had never tried any narcotic ever. It was nigh-impossible to sell a product that you hadn’t at least experienced once. If you weren’t willing to test it, you had no business selling it. Pre-emptive MIBVI vaccines weren’t uncommon. The thing about receiving a vaccine beforehand was that it happened to be a protocol unique to MIBVI specialists and responders. It wasn’t common for normal agents. It wasn’t impossible, but he deemed it the least probable of the three.

”My guess goes to the vaccine,” he told her. Not that his deduction did him any good in the last round. He did wonder, at least, if she would change the order of her truths.

”As for mine… I was once knocked unconscious by a Meister well over a century old, I have fought a Bloodsucker who found it funny to make me slip on ice as her primary means of attack, and I once dueled Solaria☆Star while being used by a cousin of because she thought she could beat two Hoshi using Bond Resonance,” he said, offering her his own selection. He then grinned, pondering which of these three events from his life she found least believable.

Elly let out a drawn-out hum at that, pondering the options. None were particularly far-fetched. Midori was strong, but he was still a weapon and a one-hundred-year-old meister would certainly be a match for any veteran or elite. The second was also plausible. She was sure they would be amused especially after Midori displayed that competitive confidence of his. The last also didn’t strike her as strange. The Stars and Hoshi were close yet rivals in many ways, so such a challenge surely had occurred before.

“Hm… century-old-meister,” Elly answered, for no other reason than that it was the most vague statement. Then she smirked. “And sadly, you are wrong again. Interesting bit of info that is…” Reaching out, Elly laid her hand upon his to speak more privately ’See, when the outbreak happened, The Loch readjusted itself and its facilities to aid the DWMA in the manufacturing and disbursement of the cure, so I actually received it quite early on, before I was ever infected in fact.’ Allowing him to process that, Elly retracted her hand. She supposed that was a testament to how under wraps the whole collaboration was.

“No, the lie was the first. I did date a partner, though. He’s where I got the complex resonance from,” She revealed, then waiting to see if she had chosen correctly or not.

”I’ll have to keep that in mind,” he replied, quite jovial despite being wrong and more so in line with his next comment, ”that you have a preference for men with complex resonance.” He chuckled, a reminder that his bow form required that very skill.

”I did in fact slip and fall for a bloodsucker, and I did duel Solaria☆Star… but, on Dall Island, I was in fact knocked out by a Meister known as Shihan–and given she trained Franklin Stein, she’s well over a century old,” he explained, almost as if to tell her all three were true, ”the caveat is that I beat Solaria, and did so alone. So, it seems another round is in order,” he told her, growing quite fond of these back and forths between them as they went on.

“Mm… No comment,” Elly said with a smirk, neither confirming nor denying his observation. “We are quite terrible at this, aren’t we?”

The result was interesting. Elly expected a Star to have an upper hand in a frontal fight, however, she supposed in hindsight there were no details regarding context. Part of her, though, was glad that the bloodsucker bit was truthful for no other reason than it sounded amusing.

“Okay, let’s see…” Humming as she thought again, she was sure he was getting quite a bit out of this. However, so was she. Most of it were miscellaneous facts, however there were also some more important tidbits of intel in the prompts. “This may be fun for you. Prior to the Fools Festival, I went with Annika and we laid confetti mines disguised as stones and part of the walkway, I once frightened a paranoid boy into thinking I was a serial killer just by flirting with him, and my name is as it is because my parents couldn’t agree to one they both liked, so they decided on one they could call me different things on, hence Elly and Eloise.”

”The last one–about your name. I’ve overthought the last couple of guesses, this time I’m going with my gut instinct,” Midori said, answering her question and giving her an insight into his logic–or in this case, lack thereof. He simply chose the one that his instincts told him was least-likely to be true.

He inhaled deeply, trying to think of another set of factoids for Elly. It took a moment, and his eyes darted around the room as he contemplated, but he did finally select a few options for her to guess from. ”Every single member of the Hoshi are urged to marry outside the family–specifically to cultivate good genetics. Like yourself, for example. When branch members of the Hoshi are no longer seen as useful to the Clan, they are stripped of their name and often become Hoshino. Or, are the Hoshi actually secretly romantic and we often marry solely for the sake of love?” he asked her, this time trying to make it easier–or perhaps at least more interesting–with two diametrically opposite answers.

“Hm… Gut feeling it is, then,” Elly mused with confidence. “I’ll say the last one and that you are an exception, not the rule.”

Smirking at him afterwards, she revealed the correct answer. “My parents actually did name me for that reason. They squabbled about it forever apparently, too prissy or tomboyish, so they settled on this. Dad, Elly, Mama, Eloise,” She revealed. “And I was accused of being a serial killer, just this week actually—That was fun.” She paused, her grin growing as for this one she had taken a page out of his own methodology in that the statement was mostly true, albeit with one detail misplaced. “And Annika and I did go around and set mines prior to the Fools Festival, albeit with this special resin and glitter that stuck to everything when it exploded. No confetti. Sorry~” She said, playfully sticking out her tongue at him.

“Now was I right or did you get me with a red herring?”

Midori chuckled a bit after hearing her escapades. Of course, he actually knew about one of them. What made these two believe that two Fate Agents could go around setting mines without someone spying on them was beyond him. That alone narrowed down his options, which felt like cheating, but he wasn’t known for playing fair.

”Well, my serial-killer vixen, I’ll list them off for you just as you did me,” he told her with a sly smile, ”it’s true, our elders do want us to marry outside of the Clan–for obvious reasons–and they do want us to pick partners with good genetics. The thing is, even we’re not so heartless. Most Hoshi find someone they love just like everyone else, and then they decide if they want to leave the clan or if their spouse can tolerate the communal raising we do there.” His explanation gave a somewhat human side to the Clan. Of course the elders want them to do things a certain way, but then the younger generation doesn’t necessarily abide by it. Even these killers sought to be loved.

”We never force the family out. The Hoshino are a large group that left amicably, changing their name, adopting new customs, and forgetting some of the old ones. It’s not uncommon for Hoshi to find a partner and request to join the Hoshino. Our culture isn’t for everyone, and the Hoshino almost always agree. It’s mostly just a change of name and scenery,” he explained to her, outlining how the Hoshino weren’t some ostracized branch of the family, but instead an alternative to the strict regime the Hoshi had.

”Thus far, I’ve learned your whole family ignored MIBVI protocol, you enjoy not-so-practical jokes, you’re a dog person, and apparently a serial killer that goes by two names,” Midori commented, now sticking his tongue out at her, mimicking the energy she shot out at him. ”I wonder what I’ll learn this round, and how I might use it to melt that heart of yours someday,” he commented, encouraging her to go on to the next round.

“A serial-killer, druggie, and brothel worker, to be specific,” Elly corrected him with a soft chuckle.

“And I’ve learned for assassins you’re a bunch of softies,” Elly cooed. Even if some did, she didn’t expect that most looked for love considering how stringent everything there was. She was probably learning more about the clan this way than most did.

“Let’s see, what can I give you to help with your chosen crucible…” Elly trailed off, aptly dubbing his challenge to ‘melt her heart’. “Now then, that weapon I had dated in Ireland, I broke up with him because he fancied a night with a meister from another class, I threw a hammer at my cousin when we were li’ll because he decided to cut my hair with scissors, and alongside the vocal lessons, I also did some gymnastics for a few years as well.”

Midori mulled the options over, at least trying to give this set more thought than the last. More accurately, diving into the options to evaluate the tactics she had been using up until now. He was aware now that she would tweak small portions of her statements to make them untrue. Two of her statements could qualify for a tiny twist like that. Her Irish beau could have been with a weapon, or a civilian for all it mattered, or perhaps they were of the same class–any alteration to that statement could make it untrue. In a similar vein, she could have thrown anything at her cousin–not just a hammer. Or, factually, it could have been a different reason. The statement about gymnastics was more cut and dry.

That, for Midori, narrowed it down to two options. He squinted his eyes, letting the cogs in his head churn and churn, now using a different approach. At core, which of those two statements fit Elly better? He assumed if she dated the man and had some actual semblance of feelings for him, cheating would be a logical end. She might not care if he was a tool. However, the idea of her throwing a hammer just didn’t sit right with him. The cousin part, the hair-cutting–all of it. In what scenario would she have a hammer to even throw? More so, while he was sure she could be lethal, would she lash out with such anger?

He didn’t think so.

”While I would be heart-broken to see your hair cut–hell, I might even murder a man myself over it–I just can’t see you throwing a hammer at someone,” Midori told her, giving her his answer in a tone of admission, as if he was at some fault for not seeing that potential.

He then hummed, wondering just how to word this next round. He had already considered what he wanted to say, he just needed to tailor it to fit the conversation.

”Despite being Japanese, I have never been to Tokyo,” he offered as his first first option. ”I have never purchased the services of a brothel worker–or anything akin to one, nor would I–even if she was as attractive as yourself,” he said, this time slyly trying to slip a flirtatious compliment into his potential fact.

”This last one requires a piece of background information. Out of curiosity, the DWMA tested if I still had viable little swimmers despite being a golem. Turns out, I do. And, someday, despite the controversy it may cause, I would like to actually settle down and have my own little family,” he told her, going into some pretty significant length for that last one, and notably suppressing his soul for this last set of three so she couldn’t glean any information from it.

Elly considered with keeping her thought process simple or analyzing the next set. The first sounded a bit odd, but was plausible. Plenty of people hadn’t been everywhere in their country, even tourist hotspots. The second caused her to think, given he had spoken about courtesans and Oirans before. Still, he was what, twenty-six or so and prior to his death he spent his time pining after another. He also had a pretty face and smooth moves, so he could just as easily meet a woman at a bar or used any of the numerous internet apps for something casual. Then there was the last, which also gave her pause. Elly didn’t doubt that he would like to find someone and settle down. More so, the question was if he wanted to still considering his trauma. He lost his love once and, from his own verbiage to her, he was still worried about Eros ruining his and others' lives. Though, he did say someday, which could infer after Eros was dealt with and he could have some peace of mind, which meant as long as he would ever want to settle down, that statement was true.

“Number two,” Elly stated finally. “And I don’t appreciate you hiding your soul so I can’t cheat as easily,” She added.

“Now, it’s quite sweet that you think I wouldn’t lash out like that, but I never said what kind of hammer, just that it was one,” Elly said with a smirk. “It was a toy hammer. A hefty little thing that gave him a bump on the head. I did do a bit of gymnastics as well and remain quite flexible as a result. However, while I did break up with my first partner, in both faces of our relationship, it wasn’t because he was unfaithful. Rather, the opposite. He was sweet and genuine, and a bit too perceptive. I felt it was better that he didn't get dragged into all my drama…”

”Awweee, so wee little Elly had a temper,” Midori responded, almost gushing over her story. He then chuckled again and shook his head teasingly, ”good thing that cleared up before you grew into the serial killer-druggie-brother worker, else that could have been bad.”

”Your soul has that distortion, so all things are fair,” he then added, making sure to comment on his use of soul suppression. ”besides, between your eyes and your guile, you could have just held my hand to get through it. I doubt even I could hide from your perception while in direct contact,” he informed her, ”though, that will end going both ways. It’ll only take me a short time to get used to your own soul, y’know.”

He then sighed. Lengthy, drawn-out, dramatic. ”I do have to have the unfortunate displeasure of informing you that–unless you’re ever-so eager for them–you won’t be burdened with these lips again tonight,” he announced, admitting his defeat and twisting it as if it were her loss and not his own.

”While I am no stranger to courtesans and Oiran, I have never paid for their services,” he informed her, then offered her a soft clap as congratulations.

”I suppose if I have to lose, doing so to you is far from the worst thing in the world,” he admitted to her, proving himself hardly to be the sore loser, ”and, I am a man of my word, so I will answer–just tonight–one question you ask, no matter what it may be. Please do be gentle on me, Cyrus will be ever so angry if you force me to disclose something we bought know that I ought not,” he added, effectively informing her that he would, in fact, cross boundaries if she asked.

“Maybe it didn’t. Why else would I be one?” Elly teased him back with a wink. “And I suppose I could have, though I don’t think even you could crack it in one night.”

Then came the question. She could ask him anything she wanted, presumably including things that could get him in trouble. She smirked at the suggestion. “That’s only if he finds out, no?” However, that presented an issue. Obviously she couldn’t ask about anything she didn’t even know existed. “Perhaps you should tell me some things he doesn’t want discussed. So I could avoid asking you about them, of course.” With a snicker, it was obvious she was joking, though she wouldn’t complain if he went ahead and did so. “Then, what if anything do we know about the nature of the Fool’s Festival attack? You can hold my hand if you’d rather not talk about it.”

Midori became serious for a moment. It was a serious question. He doubted he even knew half of what had actually happened during the attack. It was also an obvious question, which he didn’t expect out of her. It seemed too simple. Regardless, it was one he was willing to answer, but as he started to think it over, a certain realization occurred to him.

”Now, miss Keegan, I did say I’d answer any one question honestly,” Midori told her, raising his eyebrows and flattening his lips as he tried to put his twist on this. ”That answer… is quite lengthy. And while I’m hardly against holding that hand of yours, I might be of the opinion that question is worth more than just one,” Midori told her, which itself was quite the honest interpretation. Should he actually tell her what he knew, their midnight excursion might turn into a one or two AM excursion–which he wasn’t against in and of itself, he just wished it was under more interesting circumstances.

”I dunno… it sounds like a raw deal to me. You won one game, you didn’t fuck my brains out,” he told her, putting the scale of things into context. That wasn’t exactly an offer in his mind, either, as even if she tried sleeping with him to get intel, he wouldn’t fall for that. Really, it was meant to be a turn of phrase, but the point still stood.

“Is it?” Elly chimed back smugly. “You did get to eye-fuck me in this dress all night, you tasted a kiss, you learned quite a few things about me in the meantime as well…” She trailed on, listing some of the things he did get to experience despite it not being a direct result of the game. “And I don’t believe taking off this dress would get me an answer, despite your given example.”

”Elly, had you offered me that when I was a bit more buzzed on the dance floor, I might have taken it,” Midori responded quickly, laughing at the notion. More so, laughing at the fact it was true. It wasn’t that she couldn’t have seduced that answer out of him, just that her timing was off.

”I’ll make you a deal. Easy one. If you can, with just one guess, tell me one thing you could do tonight to convince me to answer that question, I’ll answer it in full–and you don’t even have to do the thing,” he offered, then lifted up his finger and matched it with a smirk. ”But, if I don’t think that it would have convinced me, you change your question–and I’ll still answer it–but you bid me farewell with that kiss I wanted once we part ways.” The entire time, he was playing Cheshire cat, spitting out this offer in his own musical tone.

Elly pouted at that. “But you already made me a deal…” She said with a disheartened tone. “You also just answered your own question. Apparently, get you buzzed, we’ll use your term, and fuck your brains out,” Elly mused, repeating the information he himself had provided whilst leaning the side of her face against her propped up hand.

Midori stared at her for a moment. He hadn’t thought that one through. He gave her an answer that he already confirmed, so he couldn’t just weasel his way out of it. Now he pouted, realizing his fun just came to an end. He sighed. He wasn’t even trying to imitated her this time, the unintentional parroting was just a reflection of his own actual disappointment.

He decided, at the least, he wouldn’t let that exchange go entirely to waste. ”See, that wasn’t so hard,” he told her, ”there was no reason to ever let that pretty face pout,” he added, trying his best to sneak in another compliment.

”Though, I suppose now that you’re aware of that tactic, I’m going to have to be on guard,” he commented, somewhat whimsically, more so sarcastically, as if he was making fun of himself. It was a rather stupid slip to make, given all his training and experience. Perhaps he let himself enjoy her company just a touch too much.

As he stared at her, Elly smirked as that look said it all. Perhaps the alcohol hadn’t fully worked its way through his system. “On guard? Around me?” She questioned with a false, aghast tone. “No need to pout yourself, I won’t tell Cyrus you told me. Now then, my reward? Perhaps if you’re a good sport I can give you a consolation prize.”

Midori just shook his head, realizing now that Elly didn’t realize something about this exchange. He wasn’t going to just keep a secret from Cyrus; that was a terrible idea. He was going to tell her, and face whatever repercussions came from it. He would be in far worse trouble if he kept a secret from Cyrus than if he just outright told him. ”Nah, I’ll be reporting to Cyrus what I divulge to you. Trust me, it’s in my best interest,” he told her begrudgingly, ”but I am a man of my word, so I will do it despite the ass-chewing I’m sure to get.”

Midori then offered her his hand, knowing full-well what he was about to tell her wasn’t something meant to be said out loud. ”I’ll share what I know and hope it satisfies your curiosity he told her, still teasing, but sure she would get the point of the gesture.

Elly took a bit of pause with that. Realistically, they had no need to take issue with her unless she started squealing about it to everyone and their mother, which she was unlikely to do. However, she was here precisely because she couldn't be trusted. Would they wait and see and take the chance she would, even with Midori as her partner to watch her?

She hesitated.

"Is this going to get me thrown in a dungeon after your arse-chewing?" She asked with a whimsical tone, though clearly she also didn't want a target on her back for her curiosity.

”Ehhh, I doubt it,” Midori responded nonchalantly. It was an honest answer as he couldn’t be absolutely sure, but he didn’t believe Cyrus would throw her up and lock away the key. He certainly hoped not. That would be such a shame after she finally became even remotely fun.

”You are listed amongst the heroic Fate Agents that saved Death City–though most know how little you did comparatively,” Midori explained to her in a tone just flat enough that it came across as more matter-of-fact than directly insulting. ”More so, the curiosity behind the question is logical. While you could leak some details for whatever nefarious reasons one might, you also were there firsthand,” Midori continued on, rationalizing why this particular question wasn’t as dangerous as others.

”Any of your comrades would be curious, too. Hell, half the country is curious. And, if we assume that your ambition of self-preservation is your true end-goal, then knowing what threats are around you is logical,” he told her, outlining again why this question was remarkably normal. ”In short, it’s a pretty mundane question even if it is a well-guarded one. Compared to what you could have asked, a mundane question like that is a relatively safe one,” he added, if only to propose that there were definitely more dangerous questions she could ask.

”If you want to change your question, that’s fine,” he informed her, ”but that would be like me turning away your kiss after working so hard to earn it.”

Elly listened to him, absorbing his justifications as her lips pursed in an expression of genuine contemplation, a rarity since most of her faces were exaggerated or upbeat. Perhaps the alcohol was indeed taking some, albeit a lesser, effect on her as well as a depressant.

They all made sense, to her anyway. However, they were potentially a case she would be pleading to another. Supposedly, many in the program who had doubted it had reversed their beliefs at least somewhat. However, their opinion generally being positive didn't mean there weren't specific beneficiaries they didn't care for. Perhaps she was just being paranoid.

She exhaled a bit through her nose before reaching and taking his hand.

'Mundane yet well-guarded. I hope my expectations aren't too high,' She spoke to him through the connection.

’Have a little faith, Elly,’ Midori responded to her from within their shared connection. ’My hopes weren’t terribly high for this meeting, but now here I am wishing I could whisk you back to my place. I have my own little house near the Hoshi Embassy, if you were curious,’ Midori explained, slipping in his ever-present flirtation.

’Where to begin… well. It’s all but confirmed that there was no one attack, but a half dozen or so. Rogue Witches, a new faction called Lunatics, Fae from what we assume is the Unseelie Court. For all we know, every group posed against the DWMA could have been involved in one way or another. Magitech components had been tampered with, computer systems hacked, magic we had never seen before, Madness we can’t explain conventionally. Not to mention, the DWMA wasn’t the only place attacked. When I told you this was a big question, I meant it.

He took a deep breath externally. Even explaining this to her through their connection, it was clear there was some anxiety behind it all. With their touch, he couldn’t hide his soul from her if he wanted, so he dropped his suppression only confirming how he felt. Anxious. Concerned. Confused. Even the tiny kernel of his attraction to her paled in comparison to the rest of what he felt.

”It was all planned. Incredibly well, it seemed. They assassinated Tsubaki, which is common knowledge, but they also sent mercenaries to the rest of the Nakatsukasa Clan to wipe them out. They’re not extinct, but it will be generations before they can pass down their weapons forms to one individual, and the Will of the Nakatsukasa will take decades or more to regenerate before it reincarnates in another host. Black☆Star went on a rampage, and they matched that with Lunatics that just kept regenerating after being destroyed–like Clowns, if you know your history, he explained to her, only to emphasize how orchestrated the attack was.

’Fifty-some odd prisoners were broken out of the DWMA Prison with another twenty or so intentionally killed. Rogue Witches to traitors to even high profile prisoners. They managed to break out some high-profile Fae terrorist. I don’t know much about that. The Fae haven’t been a problem in centuries. They tried to destroy the Magitech Labs, but only managed to damage some of the ground floor. The Wiccan Embassy was destroyed, but it’s almost already rebuilt. They tried to steal as much data as they could and make off with some books from the DWMA Archives, but I believe all the books were recovered. Data was lost. Potentially the worst is that they broke into the first layer of the Death Vault. Now I won’t tell you what’s in there or how it works–in part because I don’t rightfully know–but the first layer alone has some pretty important artifacts, he went on, explaining every little thing that he could recall from the massive list of events that occurred within the DWMA proper. Death City, as it had been established, was merely a distraction.

’Fae Magic is not the same as regular magic. An Anti-Magic Wavelength does nothing to it and it’s all fucky. We do have a few consultants from the Fae Realm, but not nearly enough to stop them all around. These Lunatics are… absurd. Witches cast a spell that tore a hole in the sky that showed the moon, and from what I’ve been told, dozens of people turned into some type of human-clown hybrid due to it. Not only that, Corrupted Souls from centuries ago fell from the hole. In just a few minutes, the DWMA went from peacefully celebrating the first to a war including the Corrupted, these Lunatics, and Witches–all while whole other teams were infiltrating. It was distraction after distraction after distraction that only ended when the casters of the spell were finally killed,’ Midori explained to her, giving her insight as to some beings that seemed impossible. Lunatics were entirely new, the Fae were rare, and Corrupted Souls shouldn’t be able to return once consumed.

’I told you, it’s fucky. All that we can determine is that multiple threats ganged up on us to hit us and chances are, they all did it with their own end-game. We don’t know what all they wanted. Some might have just wanted the chaos. Some might have had specific goals in mind. It’s a mess and the DWMA is increasing its security tenfold due to it. Other branches are already pre-emptively increasing their defenses based off the attack on us. If they could do it once, no reason they couldn’t again somewhere else, he told her. His face somehow looked more pale than normal. If time hadn’t sobered him up, that explanation certainly did.

Elly looked at him as he went through everything. What seemed too convenient to be coincidental was in fact not a coincidence. Still, it was much worse than she thought, with many details that didn't seem real. The Nakatsukasa Clan was crippled, many fugitives escaped custody, data and intel was stolen, devoured corrupted souls had come back to life, and the Death Vault was broken into. Too bad the three witches were all dead and unable to be interrogated. Though, since they were part of the distraction team, it was likely that their knowledge was kept to a minimum.

Elly didn't show much of a reaction, just keeping that pensive expression. Though she could still feel how this was affecting him. He had the red pill while most others had the blue, not realizing how deep the vein ran. And now, it could take a turn for the worse. Heightened security or not, they had intel, artifacts, and more bodies. What a mess.

Standing up, Elly leaned forward and planted her lips on his cheek for a few brief moments before pulling away. "Consolation prize, dear," She said, calm as ever, though it lacked the bubbly chime from before. Not quite sad, more so solemn. Elly wasn't really a nurturer and, being who she was, it was hard to tell if she was even trying. Perhaps it could simply be chalked up to the booze. "You could use a bit of color on those cheeks," She justified her actions nonetheless, though it was hardly a reasonable rationalization. "Walk you to your door?"

There wasn’t much more to be said. While Midori wasn’t opposed to more shallow flirtation, it was just that: shallow. Elly got her reward, though being enlightened to the grave situation of things likely did nothing good for her personal feelings of security. Midori knew that. If anything, it was why he attempted to steer her away from the topic. Not that there was any place in the world that would have been more safe during that attack, but it wasn’t the point. The illusion of safety that Elly craved so much wasn’t as tangible as she might have hoped, and Midori feared the worst would come of that.

There existed several embassies or otherwise important complexes near the North Side of the DWMA. They were closer to the center, and were quite far separated from either the normal housing complexes on the West Side or Entertainment Districts on the East. These buildings almost hugged the castle walls of the DWMA, and many in fact had backdoor entrances to the DWMA through long, somewhat perilous walkways. House Yngling was one of these embassies, but there existed complexes for every major branch of the DWMA to stay at, as well as one for the United Nations, and several other assorted countries.

It only made sense that the Hoshi had their own. And, of course, it would be thematic to the Hoshi. Japanese-inspired architecture and relatively simplistic in design. Unlike the more gaudy approach the Amazing Star Dojos used, this complex was more understated. Still, eloquently built. Impressive craftsmanship all around, each building nearly seamless in terms of its jointry and the only places where wood didn’t just seem to flow together was there it was intentionally laid to look so. Upon entering the gated complex, the walkways quickly transitioned to a fine dirt that had been grated consistently to keep it pleasant to walk on.

Midori stayed in a house here. To that end, he was completely forthright. That said, his entire house wasn’t massive. Impressive and beautiful though it may be in its construction, it was still easily smaller than something like the suite that Gauss had at the Lush Coffin. Still, it was a step above the apartments that most younger Agents stayed in, and it was completely disconnected from any other housing. Unlike such a large estate like what Reiko owned, it was also slightly more modern. Normal doorbells and an internal architecture, if Elly ever got to see it, more akin to more modern houses, making better use of the space inside. It was traditional on the outside and modern on the inside.

Midori walked up the wooden steps that lead to his front door, then turned around to face Elly. Pleasantries aside and after the description of the complex, which basically just went to explain that most Hoshi Agents had the option of staying in one of dozens of identical houses like this, their short walk through the grounds had come to an end.

”You know, it’s normally the guy that walks the girl to their place,” he said, his tone a little more dull, some sarcasm tied into it, but by the time they had arrived, it was closer to the wee hours of the morning. He then sighed and looked up at the sky, seeing the laughing moon surrounded by a blanket of stars. The Hoshi complex specifically didn’t have a lot of light around it, though the rest of the lights of Death City most certainly polluted the sky. It was nothing like the crystal clear, mountain views he could get back at home.


”The morning really is the enemy, you know,” he told her in his own somber tone, ”it brings all great things to an end.”

“I do,” Elly replied simply. It was an odd, impromptu decision on her part, but it wasn’t the only out of character one for that night. It was strange of her to have provided more than half of the information he shared with him. She had acquired information from him as well, a trade one could say. However, he also seemed more demoralized than she did by the intel he provided.

Elly’s impression of Midori had shifted. She formerly took him to be a threat to her, but no longer. Rather, at times like this, he almost reminded her of a puppy. That also played a part in her decision to see him home.

“No need to be so dramatic,” She replied with a calm smile. “Then again, this was your last day of being a single man, so I suppose you aren’t incorrect.” A play on words, referring to him now being her partner for the foreseeable future. “You will have to mourn your autonomous status for a while and, worse yet, you’ll have to put up with myself on a consistent basis.”

”Interesting perspective,” he replied softly, mostly still staring at the sky, those dual-colored eyes of his much more pronounced not only in the more even light sky but the soft warm lights of his home that turned on automatically once he walked up the stairs. Nothing fancy, standard motion sensors, but slightly out of place in such a traditional-looking building.

”I won’t mourn anything,” he added, smiling slightly and still peering upwards. ”Being autonomous… wasn’t my decision. Remaining that way was just… happenstance. Truth be told, I miss having a partner,” he explained to her, electing no longer to suppress his soul around her, firstly thinking it would help with establishing trust, but also to show her just how honest he was being with her.

He then finally looked down from the sky and back onto Elly. The same soft smile, the same lit eyes, though now darkened as the light was facing away from her. Honestly, Elly, if not for the program…” he mused for a moment, ”...or really, if I wasn’t just invested in your success… I wouldn’t have been so harsh, and you wouldn’t have ever seen that side of me.”

”Your history and defenses aside… you are funny, beautiful, witty, charming, and a dozen other things that make you as fun as you are dangerous,” he told her, admitting some final truths of the night, and dropping all the games he played earlier for a more serious, yet lighthearted conversation. ”I believe we are both the mask we wear and the face we hide underneath it. So even if some of those things are a mask, they are still remarkable–as is the person wearing itEro,” he added, giving her some insight as to how he really saw things.

More importantly, how he really saw her. She hid herself behind a mask, a thousand impermeable walls of self-defense to both protect herself and others. Perhaps, he pondered, she didn’t even know or recognize the real self under that mask. Perhaps she had worn it for so long, the two had truly become one in the same. Even still, there was a resounding truth to what he said: he could appreciate her, both at face value and what was beneath, should she ever show it.

He then cracked a real smile. Authentic, as if it had just rolled off the end of a joke that had caused a room to explode in laughter. After a night of tests, games, questions, and dancing, he was offering her a genuine moment. ”I suppose if you liked me enough to take me off the market, I might as well announce to the world that the Eloise Keegan was so smitten with me that she just had to scoop me up and make me all hers,” he said in a tone that came across as both a jest and a challenge.

”Unless, that is, you object,” he added, now more directly inciting that jovial challenge.

She wore a soft smile, though as he spoke it flattened to one of neutral curiosity. The compliments came out of nowhere, and they lacked the seductive flair that had been present in anything of similar subject that was said that night. His soul was unprotected, testifying to his genuineness. Loyal and honest, like the puppy comparison Elly had found.

She processed that honesty somewhat slower, as if every pitch prior had been straight but this one was curved. However, then she gave him her own smile that seemed soft and genuine, but who could really tell with her?

“Water under the bridge,” She told him. “I would agree with you. The mask after all isn’t a separate persona, simply the suppression and accentuation of various parts. At least, that’s how I see it. There’s some truth in everything…”

Snickering a bit at his last comment, Elly clasped her hands behind her back and tilted her chin ever so slightly. “If you feel so inclined. Though perhaps I should be gloating having ensnared the Midori Hoshi. I don’t think my name is so worth bragging over.”

Midori chuckled lightly at her last comment–about him being a Hoshi. It was a touch bittersweet, to think his value came from his name. She may not have known it, but that comment indirectly stung a little. Still, not enough to get him derailed. ”A rose by any other name is just as sweet–isn’t that how the cliche goes?” Midori asked rhetorically. ”Your name is hardly what I would be proud of–with you on my arm. It’s everything else about you,” he added, pouring on just a sprinkle of his flirtatious charm while still remaining just as genuine.

Elly let out a bemused huff, straightening her posture. “Your name doesn’t just refer to your Clan, you know.” Soul Perception was hardly mind reading, but from what she knew of him and how his soul hitched, she could make an educated guess. “I would have made do with any weapon, or no weapon even. But, I am a little glad it turned out to be you,” She told him with a small smirk. “Sleep tight, dear.”

It seemed she picked up on the distaste he had for that last comment about his name, being quick to correct it. Midori noted it. He had stopped using his own Soul Perception up to this point, instead opting to maintain the conversation normally. Organically. Without the additional insight. He didn’t know if she was using hers due to that, but he assumed she was. That correction felt a little too on point.

”I have turned quite a few before you,” he admitted, then scoffed slightly. ”I won’t say you were the most determined, but you certainly were the most difficult to decline,” he added, the latter half of his statement being intentionally left open and ambiguous.

He pulled out his keyring, sliding the metal circles that contained various keys through his hand, until he slid one off. He then tossed it to Elly with an easy-to-catch upwards throw. ”Oh, yeah… one last thing. Here’s a key. Feel free to come in any time you want,” he told her, offering her a fairly large leap forward–especially given she hadn’t disclosed where she lived yet, or even offered something similar.

”Including now,” he tacked on with a smirk, raising his eyebrows at her before he turned around to unlock his door and head in for the night.

Elly hummed in question at that, though it didn’t seem he would be elaborating. Seeing him fiddle with his keys, she watched him toss a key towards her and waited to catch it. She chuckled a bit at his invitation. “I think you’ve had enough fun for one night,” She teased him. It was somewhat more comforting for the flirtation to have returned over the somberness. “Perhaps another time,” She said, turning to make her own way home.

Midori let out an almost disappointed hmph as he unlocked his own door, hearing her declination of his invitation. There was a small glimmer of hope in him that she might have been just charmed enough, or curious enough given what he teased her with earlier, that she would have considered it. As she walked out of earshot, he said just a final reply to her open-ended farewell, ”then I’ll suppose I’ll just have to languish ‘til such an occasion.”

With that, he entered his home and slid his door shut behind him, leaving it unlocked just in case she changed her mind.


Noah Wiley1685085924740.png
April 11-12, 2067
Location: DWMA, Nevada, US -> En route to Deda Commune, Romania
Interactions: Gauss, Arkayis, Annika, Elly, Midori, Romanian Civilians
Mentions: N/A
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The next day was the announcement, and Noah was glad V had told them earlier what was going to be said. There were so many other members of Fate, Noah hadn’t even noticed until now just how many cases there were. And honestly? They were the best behaved of them all. All those groups lacked discipline - enough to make his mother curse their entire family lineage with a wooden spoon - and he was thankful that Arkayis got to hear the news before he blew up half the stadium. But at least he wasn’t alone in his hate for the Witches.

Still, it didn’t make Noah feel any better about it, and he still reflexively went to calm Arkayis with a hand on his shoulder and a healing zap.

But the mentors were interesting. Of them, he recognized Zelda, Starwulf, and Midori. Nobody else was familiar to him, but he assumed the ones standing nearest to each other were partnered.

Noah wasn’t particularly close with his mentors, so the dissolution didn’t bother him, yet he understood why it did with others. But they were assets. It wasn’t right to keep the other mentors away if you had a pair assigned to you. If they wanted a mentor-agent relationship, they could get a close one with a mentor-student relationship instead. It wasn’t like they were missing out.

It was curious as to why those watching the commemoration - the one Gauss and Nadia had to go up to the front for - had stormed out. He wasn’t going to ask any of them, sure, but he was very intrigued as to why that bothered them so much. Were they butthurt that they didn’t get recognized for their actions, or did they just not like those who were selected?

He found it funny those people left because they didn’t get rewarded with something like this. It was much like children crying over their siblings getting something cool that they didn’t get either. He didn’t really give much of a fuss, just politely gave a half-hearted smile and a nod of approval to those who looked back up at the audience and happened to lock eyes with him. He gave a fuller smile to Gauss, even extending out a hand for a high-five or a fist bump as he came back to his seat near him. He wasn’t blind to the thousand-yard stares that were shooting towards Gauss or Nadia, however. While Nadia was scary in and of herself, it was Gauss he was more worried about.

Then, there were the missions. He was surprised to see Annika in the same group as Gauss, but when he heard there was also going to be Elly, he wanted to become the shadows and disappear. Why her?

For the first time, Noah got to see Az and Reiko. An interesting lot, the weapon reminded him of a saint or a priest, but it was calming to be around her. Az felt like a tamed gremlin in all honesty, but that was by first impressions. Their mission was honestly really weird. Go to Romania, find out about who’s been causing the disappearances of not only civilians, but police officers and mercenaries, as well.

Noah didn’t exactly have a clue as to Romania’s relationship with the DWMA. He didn’t know if it was DWMA’s inaction again or if it was Romania’s lack of wanting help from the DWMA. That was when he was told of such existing, and he sighed. Of course, he should feel like he was gathering with his own people in that regard, but being on the other side of this distrust didn’t sit well with him.

Hm… Was this supposed to be a learning experience?

He made sure his newly sharpened knife and comms was on him, as well as his watch and a backpack that had an additional set of clothes, rations, a flashlight, extra batteries, a map of Romania, and anything else he should bring. He also brought another knife that sat on his other thigh. He didn’t feel the need to change out his money for local currency because of Gauss’s bottomless wallet, but decided to do so anyway to get into the habit of it - and he got a second wallet for this foreign currency. He made sure he, Arkayis, and Gauss had completed a list of things they needed so as to not be woefully unprepared.

For the first time in a long time, Noah actually got a full decent night’s rest.

The flight over to Romania was met with a bouncing leg and a bored, tired gaze out of the window, trying to will himself to sleep through the rest of the flight even though it wasn’t that slow. In fact, he was amazed at the supersonic technology coupled with the sound dampeners. But he didn’t let that distract him too much.

With Gauss’s pockets saving them again, they got two vehicles and escorts to take them to the village they had to sadly be some seventy miles away from or however far away their target destination was. However, Gauss’s bottomless wallet seemed to have bought some interest from the escorts.

While Noah didn’t suspect this as they took a detour and parked, his eyes immediately bore into the head of the driver he was seated near, as if trying to sus him out. Freaks?

As they stopped, there was a mob of armed thugs just in front of them. Talk? With a metal pipe?

These guys were no better than the homeless back at Death City.

They turned off the cars and took their keys, but Noah grinned. They didn’t take into account his lightning. Sighing, he heard Elly and Gauss talk, but decided to speak to them in a hushed whisper. Honestly, this all felt like a video game to him and given his indestructible weapon traits, he felt like he had a solid plan for diplomacy and a backup plan if that failed. Of course, he expected it to fail. “First, turn on yer comms just in case ‘n’ leave the doors open. Second, I’ll see if I can’t talk some sense into ‘em, but I doubt it’ll go well. If things go bad, I’ll help Gauss take their guns ‘n’ zap the cars to start ‘em.”

With that, he got out of the car by opening the door and leaving it open as a sort of shield just in case, staying within range of the vehicles and Gauss so as to not single himself out and be close enough to transform, but to show he was willing to talk.

“Talk, ey? Then let me start things off.” He eyed the man in front of him with the bat and he pursed his lips, his hands where they all could see them. He made sure he was less lazy in his accent so they could understand him, his movements slow and measured so as to not spook them, and his serious expression didn't show a hint of how nervous he was. If he could talk to Gav and get the guy to like him, a gun wasn't going to scare him... In theory, at least. “I get that some of ya peeps don’t like the DWMA ‘n’ its agents. But we’re here to find yer missin’ people. Ya wanna stall us even more ‘n’ let more of yer people go missin’ or ya willin’ ta let us help? Besides, I don’t think it’s a good idea to threaten us all friendly-like when we’re gonna go huntin’ fer whatever’s out there. Whatever’s out there takin’ countless of your people’s likely more dangerous than all of ya combined, ‘n’ that’s what we’re here to find ‘n’ get rid of. If we’re chosen to get rid of somethin’ like that with our powers ‘n’ all, then I dunno why yer tryin’ to talk to us this way. We’ll be gone before ya know it, whether we succeed ‘n’ get yer people back ‘n’ kill the thing doin’ this or we fail ‘n’ ya can continue yer hate unimpeded. Either way, ya don’t have to hear from us ever again after it's all said 'n' done.”

Honestly, he hoped that was enough, but he doubted it and got ready to transform, his soul vibrantly readying his lightning to start the cars and aid Gauss in taking their weapons if things go south.

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Sara MiddletonTexas snow2.png
April 11-12, 2067
Location: DWMA, Nevada, US -> Mount Yeleon, Russia
Interactions: Nadia, Dani, Adrian, Eva, Irina
Mentions: N/A
Sir Les Paul Sir Les Paul RedArmyShogun RedArmyShogun EmperorsChosen EmperorsChosen Mook-LandStrider Mook-LandStrider

Sara was amazed at how many people were there at the announcements. She wanted to see if she could make friends with all those tough-looking guys, but as the announcements went on, she soon felt more and more like she should isolate herself within her own group. She just about had to stop herself from waving to the mentors she knew - mostly because of how serious Starwulf looked and she didn’t want to disappoint him. But she at least knew Zelda, Starwulf, Midori, and Beatriz, as well as having heard most of them by name but she was unable to guess which names belonged to which face. The pros and cons of living mostly in the grapevine. Got names mostly, but no faces.

She was actually more excited for the mentor-agent dissolution, because that meant she was able to feel like she could talk to the other mentors without feeling like she was wasting their time they could be training the agents under them.

Then, the pungent smell of wavelengths flaring of all kinds of smells hit her nose and she scrunched her face up. She stared warily over at the others who - frankly - overreacted. She could guess as to why, but since she already figured she wasn’t going to meet them later, it wasn’t exactly pertinent information. Still, what V said had been spoken of as Cyrus stated. The integration of Witches (honestly, how can people be so racist?), harder missions, the leaders coming up and receiving their commemorative brooches (really? More upset over something so trivial? This is supposed to be something happy!), then they were to meet with mentors for their next mission. Confused at how quickly they were offered a mission, she noted that she was going to be with Nadia, Dani, and Adrian. Going with people she knew was always fun, but when they were told of the mission they were to go on, she felt equal parts nervous and impatient.

Honestly? This felt like one of their traditional hunts, just with a more dangerous creature than the normal animals and sometimes magical creatures they hunted back with her family. Apparently, they had a witch going with them - Irina - to a Russian island with a mountain. When told of the changing forest, her mood immediately became pensive. That didn’t sound normal, and she felt her skin crawl. As they were told more of the information, Sara hadn’t realized that fae actually existed. The Fae Realm was a thing??? How long had it been a thing?

She hoped it was some tree fae thing just wanting to party and have fun with the forest, but something told her it was far more sinister and it likely hurt people. Their reward was to have a stay in Russia for a while and go to a place Nadia would pick. At least Russia was on their side. She wondered what Noah’s mission was…

She got her things ready and made sure Eva’s was all set up, too. With survival equipment, chalk, their comms, her now sharpened knife and having gotten another knife just in case, rations, a spare change of clothes, a thick blanket that repelled water, and she made sure her winter clothes were all set up.

Her eagerness to get ready and cook food for everyone ended up making her lose sleep.

Sara woke up dazed and a bit out of it, but she went through her routine as normal, then remembered they needed to bring her things. Once she remembered everything, she came by with Eva to the private jet and was amazed with its technology. Having made herself and Eva rations, she felt like she should’ve made others rations, as well. Either way, she gave herself way more rations than necessary just in case someone got hungry.

Of course, sitting in a plane with nothing to do had her wandering around the plane to socialize with others, and listening to Nadia’s speech before they landed. Who knew how big Russia was! And they were going on an island to boot? Weiiird. At the question of where to go, she shrugged, then nodded at Adrian’s statement. “Yup, wherever you choose to go, I bet it’s better anyway.” When they finally landed, Sara - dressed in a thick black shirt, a dark blue sweater over that, a thick fleece-lined white coat over those two, thick white and grey pants, white and black snow boots, and grey gloves - was already staring around at how pretty everything was. She wanted to meet the werewolves who lived in Russia now!

As they met Irina, Sara immediately thought of her as a witch-version of Nadia. Almost the complete opposite in species, but practically super similar, it was rather hilarious. She watched in awe as she changed her clothes right then and there, but wondered if it was all cold or if her clothes kept her warm.

Keeping her mouth shut, she listened to Irina and nodded over the things she said. Movement in the northeast, trees changing more frequently, and- THEY GET JEEPS!

Sara sort of knew how to drive. She shook her head at Irina’s assumption. She was honestly glad Arkayis wasn’t here. As Nadia spoke to Irina and finished, she waved to the witch with glee. “I’m Sara, and this is Eva. Glad to be working with you.” She gave her a polite bow. At Irina’s explanation of her being a void witch, her eyes widened. That was a thing? That’s so cool!

Listening with rapt attention, she found that all fascinating. Well, morbid fascination. Considering this place was a tourist attraction, having fae act up like this was likely not a good thing.

Sara looked to Eva, questioning if she wanted to drive the jeep despite being at the door to the seat already. Then she laughed and stuck her tongue out. “You get shotgun.” She then hopped in and started the jeep, waiting for Eva to get in and blasting the heat so they could warm up while they sat in idle and listened to Irina's theories.

For all she knew, the forest fae were likely acting up and could be a potential risk. As she listened in on Irina’s information, she relayed it for Eva to have a gander at, too. Sometimes, talking verbatim, other times with a quick summary to catch up. Otherwise, they both came out of it knowing as much as Nadia did. That there was a Fae Gate there, that it was sealed by Oberon with a magical barrier, there’s abundant magic in the area, and that few Fae were starting to slip through, with a lot of magical creatures living there due to the magic. Their target was in the northeast, and that it could either be an escaped Fae, a powerful magical creature, or an undocumented anomaly, but Irina guessed it might not be Fae considering Fae can’t use that mana the Witches can use.

It didn’t really answer the question of ‘if it’s dangerous’, but it also had Sara wonder just how worse off the natural environment could be if it continued without anyone checking it.

She looked over at Eva, her body - while buckled in - leaned against the inside of the door casually. “Well, your thoughts?” She asked, wondering if she had any insight.

Once Nadia started moving, she'd follow close behind.

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The news hadn’t come as a shock, the meeting and event the day before had made sure that none of it hit too hard. Still, it wasn’t exactly a good feeling. She wasn’t a fan of ‘magic’ or its users. But, she realized that the DWMA had the magic users for a reason and their inclusions only meant that things were going to become as dangerous as they let on. In the end she was just happy they weren’t getting chewed out for something… or more specifically she wasn't.

The next day came in a flash, she had finished the first combat prototype after having spent the night following the party and the announcement. She knew that she was cutting it close when it came to downtime by the time she was getting ready for the mission. She always kept a bug out bag/mission bag packed in case something came up. Grabbing that and making her way onto the flight.

The plane was a marvel, something she wished she had time to tear down and learn how it fit together. She knew that she would never be allowed near such an expensive piece of machinery on her own. Even with her new broach she wasn’t entirely sure she could reel herself in if given free reign. Despite the amazing internals of the aircraft Annika quickly got herself strapped in as tight as she could manage without it being uncomfortable. She looked around to her team members and counted herself rather lucky she was paired with those she at least recognized.

“Hey uhhhh… could one of you wake me up when we land? I had a long night making my clothing and uhhh… yeah… cool? Thanks.” and as if a switch was flicked she tightened her grip on her bag before suddenly passing out as if dropping dead. It was a particular talent she had, a carry over from her childhood where she got rest when and where she could. It served her well even into adulthood despite Starwulf warning against it. She knew it wasn’t healthy but it produced results.

Hours passed and Annika suddenly sat up, her eyes looking around quickly before she seemed to fully come back from the relatively deep sleep she was in. Blinking several times she left the aircraft and got into the car. It was rather difficult for them all to squeeze in and eventually she ended up passing out and falling across Elly, Gauss and Arky.

Feeling the vehicle stop Annika opened her eyes and sat up like a robot. “Car stopped.” She said suddenly. Rubbing her eyes she let out a groan at the sight and broken English of the bastards surrounding their car. Wiggling into the front of the vehicle and into the driver's seat she prepared to hot wire the car. Producing a flat head screwdriver from her belt she immediately set to work. Stopping for a moment she waited to see if Noah’s idea would work. “I'm always up for a fight but fighting the locals may not be a great way to get things started.” Annika noted on Gauss's plan. “Great plan B. Knocking the weapons away could send enough of a message. If this doesn't work. Just buy me like... 45 seconds and I can get this thing running." She added.
While the rest said their words or in one case brazenly got close, the central speaker crossed his hands in front of himself, resting them atop the pipe he had for a weapon, though the team did not know it, the pipe man was an enforcer for one of Romania's far right parties, or rather the public face, a politician of the movement, the AUR. Laughing at part of Noah's speech, he translates it for the rest, whose knowledge of English was limited.

"Vrea să vorbească, spune că poporul nostru va dispărea ca toți ceilalți, că amenințarea este mai periculoasă decât noi. Ei își pot face treaba și, dacă nu reușesc, ne putem întoarce la ură din nou." (He wants to talk, he says that our people will disappear like everyone else, that the threat is more dangerous than us. They can do their work and if they fail, we can go back to hating again.)

This garnered a chorus of laughter from the others, who were masked to one extent or another, be they males or females judging by the voices, a mix thereof. Some of them seemed more eager for blood than others, checking their weapons or finger on the trigger...

"Dreptate pentru România!" Says one of the masked men, leveling his pistol towards Noah, as the cross handed man reaches his hand up to stop it. For now he seemed agreeable with talking. If only to give his ultimatum.

"Bucharest may have held their hands up and stayed on their knees, but your DWMA has never done anything good for Romania, no outsider has and those idiots that may control the policy of our nation have forgotten we Romanians solve these issues in our own way. We have learned about this operation of yours and the previous failures, we have narrowed it down, and we shall do what is needed for all Romani. This is not your soil; this is not your ancient enemy. Now leave, I do not wish to kill you all, but if you insist. We shall take care of our own land. You have three seconds to walk away, then we will bury you."

With that, his had went back onto the pipe as a simple command was given, "Gata, ia scop..."

Whatever this gang of men were, from the sounds of it political extremists, they did seem well coordinated as the gunmen in unison lifted their arms taking aim at those readying the cars as a couple of the melee men went low, swinging their bats and pipes to knock Noah back.

The final command in this series was to be processed. "One-"

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Thaddeus Thales


Species Human
Partner Noah Wiley, Arkayis Misonuka
Rank Fate Agent

Location Romania, en route to Deda Commune
Mission A Bloody Investigation
Status Slightly irritated, focused


"That's a-fuckin'-nough," Gauss announced, not bothering to hide his frustration or frustration, in part at the thugs, but primarily at Noah. His idiot of a partner created the exact scenario that he was attempting to avoid. He didn't even stop to discuss it. Thank fucking Death Nadia wasn't around to see this shit show.

At least Annika had some type of initiative. Prior to this, she was just... laying across them. Gauss had no idea how to process that initially, but eventually got used to it. He wasn't accustomed to that type of contact outside of... more intimate--even if casually intimate--endeavors. It felt unprofessional and out of place, but everyone else just hand-waved it away, so he elected to as well. Granted, it might have been moderately more difficult for him given his past, and the fact he actually found Annika markedly attractive.

Midori seemed calm and collected, as if indifferent to the situation. Made sense. Gauss speculated that he was analyzing the leadership skills at play. That, and he didn't have to worry. He was the only one there to whom small arms fire was no actual danger. Elly might as well have been eating popcorn watching things unfold. For a brief moment, Gauss felt sympathy for the mentors that came before him; Emmett and Zelda must have had a hell of time tolerating this.

Despite the thoughts flooding into his mind, action came first. He quite quickly and even somewhat harshly grabbed Arky by the forearm, pouring his wavelength into him solely to empower his own. He needed it to have any profound effect with his magnetic fields at this range. Arky may not like it, but after the training they had went through, Gauss was certain the weapon would be well-aware of what he was doing. And, to protect Noah, why he was doing it.

Just moments after, every single metallic item, weapon, adornment, and even just discarded waste in the area was suddenly and violently pulled to a center point a few feet above the bulk of the mob. Those with pipes and metallic weapons were thrown off by the sudden pull, those with guns had them ripped out of their hands entirely. This did cause accidental misfires, but even the bullets did not escape the pull of the field. The car itself was tugged by it, though to heavy to move from its parked position. Still, it rocked. Tin cans, wallet chains, even buttons from jeans and other assorted garments were ripped off from the thugs, creating a ball of magnetized metal floating above them.

Gauss darted his eyes over to Midori and barked orders, "knock out the ones by Noah, then a few by the one speaking."

Midori sighed and opened the door, being gone in a flash directly after. He was able to intercept any wooden bats headed towards Noah, splintering them in simple, clean hits, then knocking out the thugs with quick chops to the back of their necks. Not long after, he appeared behind the once-arrogant extremist that believed he could make demands of the agents, throwing the unconscious bodies of two of his henchmen in front of him to the dirt.

"Eloise," he said, now slightly more softly but still sternly giving her instructions, "scare them. Do some cutesy little act, then show them that cute is deadly. Make them rethink ever crossing us again."

Annika was still hotwiring the car, and Gauss elected to give her more instructions, if only because he was becoming paranoid. "Annika, once you finish, check vehicle for any bombs, bugs, trackers--anything detrimental or dangerous, basically," he instructed her, this time even more calmly than he did so for Elly. Whether that was him just calming down over the transition or his slight preferential treatment towards her was uncertain.

Daggers. Daggers as sharp as Dani and precise as the ones that Nadia threw. Those were what his yellow-orange eyes appeared as when he finally darted them back over to look at Noah. "Get the fuck back in the car while they clean up. You and I are gonna have a little chat about teamwork--ya fuckin' idiot," Gauss demanded, his tone shifting right back to harsh, easily the most aggressive it had been during any set of orders. It was like the spirit of Nadia possessed him following his colossal fuck up.

Nadia Semyonov - Valaam Island, Russia
Not really surprised or caring that Dani had invited Adrian to ride with them, that left Eva and Sara in the second vehicle. Everyone seemed in good spirits at least, even if Dani was shivering. "Heh." Amused by this, her attention shifted to the witch who looked only a little like her.

It seemed her own position was unstable as far as witches went, with her magic being what it was, it would mark her as a commoner, which was damning as she was a royal. Nadia was a bit curious, but With world politics belonged there, rather than on a mission. "No, your Magic does not bother me. We are here to guard you... Which is a bit different from my normal role. Ah, on that note, should the DWMA have not told you, I have Ice blood as they term it. I am not sure how being in proximity to me will affect you. Though it should not prevent your use of spells."

Then there was the theories Irina held, or rather the lack of information, or general what ifs and maybes. "Hmm, Mana but not a Witch, possibly a Fae but very much unlikely. A natural creature that has an affinity with the forest. Some form of Trent maybe, at least no one has been harmed yet... Still there are but so many creatures of Slavic folklore it could be. Especially with the Komi People of the area. Course it could be unrelated or something more generic."

Pushing down on the gas the group were soon flying down the dirt roads leading deeper into the island forest, the group was off with the jeep being driven by Sara close behind, it wouldn't be too long till they were at the point where they most walk, and such a landscape may be far different than some in her company were used to, there would be some basic rules to be covered once they arrived.

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Eloise Keegan - Romania
"Several, though I don't need Super Soul Perception to tell you that," Elly replied simply to Gauss's inquiry regarding their sobriety. A few flushed faces, glossed and reddened eyes, unnecessary swaying and choppy movements and gazes. Plus, they already seemed to make poor decisions quite often so why wouldn't getting wasted during the day be one of them?

Next, Noah opted to speak up and attempt a parley with them which caused Elly to smirk. If the end of their last encounter didn't give her confidence that he wasn't actually onto her, this would. It was clear Noah wasn't familiar with these types of people. He was naive, in a way. Nonetheless, they had the magnetism man and Midori here, plus the infernal scythe and Annika's craziness, so Elly wasn't all that worried.

She knew how this would go the moment he stepped out of the car. Unsurprisingly, the thugs disregarded what Noah said and gave them an ultimatum. They had grown cocky dealing with unpowered mercenaries and One-star equivalents likely at best. How unfortunate for them.

Then Gauss ordered an end to the situation. The thugs were disarmed, Midori knocked several others out.
"Very well, my turn to parley," She chimed as she pushed open her door and stepped out. Elly made her way around the vehicle casually and without haste until she reached the front of the speaker. "I am so sorry for the behavior of my friends and hope yours are alright~ The boy is quite cute, but I think there's a few points he didn't raise that may be of importance to you, love."

Looking up at him with a sweet expression, Elly was smaller compared to most others in the party, paired with her looks she was probably the least physically intimidating. "We were asked here by your country because you didn't fix the problem. This isn't a case of the DWMA sticking its nose where it pleases, we are being paid to do a job and intend to do so, nothing more nothing less. If you could fix the problem, then you certainly would have and we wouldn't all be here, mm?" Elly said with a subtle tilt of her head, still maintaining that sweet tone despite the sharp words she said. "And, most importantly, there was a fact my dear friend didn't stress enough--"

With that said, Elly reached up and, likely to the surprise of those around her, pinched the man's two top front teeth with her thumb and index finger before yanking him down to her height level with ease. "That point being that we aren't hodgepodge gunslingers or vagabonds. There isn't a single thing any of you or all of you can do to stop us. I am the least physically apt present and I could pluck out each of your teeth like flower petals or batter a stone wall using your body as the ram until you're a red paste. We hunt century-old witches, monsters, and men-turned monstrosities that would wipe out a village of you for a snack~. So, we're not asking you for permission or tolerance anymore, 'kay?" Saying this all as if she were having a friendly chat, Elly released her grip, smiled at him, place her foot flat against his chest, and then pushed with great force sending the man off his feet and colliding with several of his background posse.

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Maria Mayer - Dall Island

Carefully using her gloved hands, Maria took one by one and opened each mouth and stamped an impression into the wooden blocks, being a soft wood, it was crude, but effective. In some cases she may have pierced the skin with her gloved hand, in some cases teeth were stuck into the wood. All in all it was a dirty job that needed doing and Maria seemed impassive about it all, finishing up the job, she laid each block on the chest of each body, studying what details she could about each corpse, making subtle notes about what did or did not seem right. Clearly more than confinement had taken place, the documentation long gone. Still a manifest with cargo shipments had been found on one of the containers.

Ships tended to not have places to store bodies, burials at sea being a thing for that reason. So, reporting all she had discovered here and now would be problematic. And with as advance as the decay was, without a proper autopsy not much could be confirmed or learned. It was a frustrating position to be in.

"Um, the bodies show some cases of Trauma, but I fear the heat and just the process of moving them will cause too much further damage to be useful at all. I'm not a doctor, but I try and model my creations closely... Either way, I've made notes that I attached to each dental record block, maybe someone will make sense of them."

As the bodies were finally moved and what scant proof or samples were collected, she made sure to explain to her two teammates to place each block with each matching sack, with the notes and to be sure the fragments matched. She was not sure what effect dealing with the corpses would have on Ark and Raph, chiefly as such a thing never occurred to her.

As time advanced and Rand made his offer, it was one small highlight of the day, that and their leaving. Her Master, no, her Mentor, Mirai would indeed like a sample of this wood, as would she, not wanting to be too greedy or imposing upon Rand and the spider workers, she picked out a rather decently sized chunk an off shoot branch, roughly the size of a large refrigerator, it should not be too much trouble, it had dried sap coated like resin, the bark partially exposed. "That one, I'll cut away the excess material myself. I should get a few good chunks out of that, some for the DWMA and for Mirai." Walking up to mark the areas to be cut away, she nodded, next came the challenge of where to load up the few hundred-pound slab.

It was a shame Chant was still out, this whole thing was more her territory.

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Arkayis Misonuka

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Arkayis had slept on the whole plane trip to Romania, being sure to sit near Noah as he felt most comfortable around them. Though once they had landed, Arkayis quickly woke up as if programmed to wake up the moment they arrived at their destination, as Arkayis left the plane they stretched their limbs out letting out a slight whine as they did so. After taking a deep breath in and out, they were led to their second mode of transport, a vehicle that was driven by one of the locals, no doubt ordered by Gauss.

They were caught a bit off guard by Annika laying across them, Gauss and Elly but they didn't really mind it all too much and instead focused on resting their eyes in a half rest, still aware of what was going on, but still trying to gain a bit of sleep. When the car finally stopped Arkayis opened their eyes to see their driver and a bunch of men with weapons surrounding their vehicle. Arkayis wasn't all that worried or didn't care too much as they were still a bit dazed from having to deal with the whole thing, he wanted to yawn but he figured it probably wasn't the best time to do that. If Arkayis was with his sister, they would likely already be using force as soon as she realized it was a trap. Though with Gauss and Noah, it was a different story, Noah had opted to try to negotiate without much prompting, something that made Arkayis flinch seeing that negotiating without having a clear advantage or edge over your enemies to not one of the best ideas. Still, Arkayis was silent as they watched events unfold, and things went over pretty much as expected an utter failure, Gauss was clearly agitated by how Noah was playing it and went on to roughly grab him as the men started counting down.

As Gauss poured their wavelength into them, Arkayis knew exactly what they were trying to do but didn't really make any effort to stop it and remained pretty calm throughout the entire ordeal. Arkayis wasn't all too thrilled with the rough treatment but he didn't fight against it nonetheless and allowed himself to be the instrument that Gauss needed to amplify himself and allow him to take all the weapons away from the men and then order Midori to take them down. Arkayis couldn't help but be a bit surprised by his speed, as he took down their assailants quickly and effectively. It seemed a bit daunting, but Arkayis soon shrugged it off, while Gauss harshly told Noah to get back in the car, likely to scold him. Arkayis couldn't help but flinch as they replied to Gauss saying "Zu laut." it was pretty obvious that Arkayis was going to back up Noah if he needed it, and remained in his seat next to Gauss adding on "Not like anything bad happened, everyone is fine and no one got hurt, besides I'm sure he had a back up plan in case things went wrong." while Arkayis didn't exactly agree with Noahs tactic on his negotiation attempt, he figured he at least knew what he was getting into and had himself a plan up his sleeve in case things went south, and perhaps would have acted on it if Gauss hadn't been so quick to take it into his own hands.

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