Description: in the aftermath of the the King of Fighters Tournament, a student and master hold discussions with one another. The inklings of a reality once forgotten begin to come to light. As well as the growing arcane darkness on the horizon. Amid that, feelings of helplessness and a struggling fugitive has to learn from a more experienced wanderer.
"It ain't gonna be that bad."
The samurai cat winks his one eye back to his companion. Oversized paws plant themselves down on the ends of the armrests, allowing him to pull his haunches up and into the seat. His whiskers twitch with the favorable aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
"Even if they did wanna finish the job here, it'd be a PR debacle to blast us out of the sky, yeah? Let's just... kick back and enjoy the moment we done earned for ourselves, yeah?"
Jubei had mentioned he'd be getting the tickets back to Metro City, sure. But he had quietly left off the fact that the tickets were designated as first-class -- a far cry from the route that led the two to Belgrade in the first place.
The cat makes a show of luxuriating in the excessive comfort, as cats do. His purr itself might not be audible, considering the ample space between his seat and the one across the aisle set aside for Clio, but it's there all the same.
"... Life's way too short to spend it all lookin' over yer shoulder."
Sullen, pensive silence for the most part. That has been Clio St. Jeanne since the post fight high from her match in the Belarusian quarry. Reality is setting in and, despite the helpful and caring words from Jubei, the weight on the young woman is palpable.
She's sat, pushed back against her seat, head turned to the side and looking out the window. Her hands tap at something in the pocket of her coat, the flat knock off mask she wore as cover. Cover that was blown. Cover that means her friends will now likely be sent after her to hunt. Ones she knows won't want to do that, but all the same will be expected to do so.
"I'm a witch, Jubei," she says, turning and leaning toward the cat. "Being blown out of the sky is the least of my worries." Her head hangs. "I just. I'm not you. I don't think I've got the luxury of surviving what you can."
She pulls back and pulls out the mask, looking at it. "I barely did anything. I could barely do anything. I don't know what that darkstalker girl that was backing Hazama up can do. And if she was with him, she'll probably be at me at somepoint."
She drums her fingers on the mask, a stand-in since her chain isn't around and she needs to fidget with something. "I don't want to have to hurt people I care about."
Settled properly within the chair, Jubei takes a moment to free his forepaws from the confines of their overly large sleeves. Fidgeting about for a moment in the folds of his jacket, he soon produces a spool of goldenrod-colored thread. And then he turns his attention to the rather large rents in his jacket, winding thread around one of his needle-sharp claws.
"Survivin's the easy part. All it takes is just bein' too dumb to know when to give up."
Jubei stabs the cloth beneath him, once to make a hole, and the other to shove the thread through. He's made due without a needle enough times to prefer using his own claws for the mending task. Claws pluck the thread from beneath the fibers, pulling it through and preparing for the next pull.
"I mean, yeah, I get it, blissful ignorance ain't yer thing. You wanna be prepared."
Jubei was happy to cede the window view to Clio. His feline sense of balance plays enough havoc on him as it is without the addition of visual stimuli.
"So don't hurt yer friends. Run. Take it from a samurai, 'honor' is just a fancy way of baitin' other people inta being the shield for your getaway."
His whiskers twitch upwards as he grins -- eye still focused on his mending.
"Still. Don't sell y'self short, Clio. You did great out there, you moved -faster- than most of 'em. Took that Renka to find someone what could move faster. And Hakumen, hell." Jubei's eye half-closes in memory of the painful strike that put an end to their clash. He soldiers past it, forging a reassuring grin. "I 'on't know if you realize how close you were to puttin' him over."
"I'd still be in uniform if I didn't want to know things," Clio says, eyebrows raising to a half-lidded challenge to her teacher. It has a distant smile, but a smile nonetheless. She knows where she'd be if she hadn't wanted to know more or to be certain. She knows she might even be happier that way. But she knows it wouldn't be the right way of doing things.
"I don't like that guy," Clio says, thinking to the Avatar of Order. "Spouted a lot of crap. And I think he bought into it, too." Her lips purse, cutting downward as she thinks. "Reminded me of the NOL's lines. Order, but what kind?"
She sticks her legs out as far as she can, considerable given First Class accommodations and her overall short stature. Crossing at the ankles, she stretches and yawns. "Did hurt though. Better than the other times."
"Naturally," agrees Jubei after a pause, with a fatherly smile. The focus of the elder cat upon his task might make it difficult to connect his statement to any of Clio's -- or it could simply mean that he's responding similarly to all of the above.
Thread is wound into the inner lining of the jacket with surprising deftness. Lack of opposable thumbs isn't quite the black mark that the primate hegemony might suggest. "Yeah. You did good, Hakumen's one of the best on the planet. Some people call him a 'Legendary Hero.' Yeaaah... Hakumen and me, we go waaaaay back. Won't find a better stick in the mud than that guy."
The cat pulls the thread tight, cinching up the fabric. He looks over to Clio. "What're you sayin', then? It's fine to spit out a mantra about bein' the White Void, the Cold Steel, an' the Avatar of Order if he -didn't- believe it?"
He flashes a toothy grin -- just before tilting an eye to the flight attendant nearing him. One who seems terribly amused to meet a talking cat. The toothy grin turns to the new arrival.
"If you got any sake, I'll take a cup." He glances sidelong to Clio, curiously. "Order whatever you want? It's all part o' the deal here."
She had seen the two fight. She knew she was witnessing something akin to the fight with the Phantom. Not as bonded. Not as personal. Not as frightfully present, but something held between two people that knew each other well. She suspects, she knows, that she may yet face similar fights ahead of her with her friends.
Clio's not looking at Jubei, she's more focused on playing with the mask in her hands. "I believe in the NOL's mantra. I think it's a good thing. But some people who buy into it that much? It's scary. They don't waver." And she sees ugly reflections that go unspoken. Some part of her knows that, in another situation, she might have been the one facing down friends for 'betraying' the NOL.
She shakes her head and brings herself to reality again. "Coffee," she says, "Please." But after, she laughs and taps the mask. "Good thing Tao is off doing, uh, wherever she gets off to. I think even First Class has limits to how much they'll give you."
Jubei nods in response to Clio's order -- the coffee, not the NOL. Within a moment the flight attendant nods in understanding, moving on to take the next order.
"She's not much for confined spaces, nah." Besides, the old cat reassures himself, the Kaka Clan's defender had some more training of her own to carry out. "It's more peaceful this way, I reckon."
Claws take up the thread once more, jabbing into the outer layer of the jacket this time. "And Hakumen is undoubtedly scary. That sort of singular focus makes for a nearly unbeatable warrior. And... we needed that, to save the world that one time."
Thread is wound into the zig-zag pattern spanning a wide chasm. He seems undisturbed by much else, even as a shudder rolls through the plane. Lights flicker on and off as the vehicle is switched to its own power source, but still he sews away.
"I remind myself before every descent into the battle trance of what matters -- my friends, my enemies, my goals. And Hakumen is much the same."
Stitching stops; a crimson eye pans over to regard Clio.
"Surely you've been considered 'scary' by your juniors, though, hmm? Ones who haven't studied 'witchcraft' to the same level as you?"
Clio considers the reality of having Taokaka on a plane. The horrors of conflict and war pale in comparison the havoc wreaked upon an unsuspecting planebound populace. She shudders to herself, nodding in agreement with the very diplomatic way that Jubei put the potential situation. "Peaceful," Clio repeats, exhaling.
She looks down, watching the grinning face of the mask look back up at her. Her eyes narrow, she frowns. "You needed that, to save the world?" she asks, uncertain. She looks the cat over. She thinks on him and what she's learned. She knows what the NOL has given her for information, and she knows of some things that suggest his power. But there's a blankspot there. Something she isn't seeing.
"I guess," Clio says, looking back out the window of the plane. Her thoughts drift. She looks back to Jubei time and again, wracking her brain over what to do or say.
"Before the tournament," she starts, quiet, leaning closer for conspiratorial purposes. "Two Darkstalkers came to me. A vampire, and a woman that I helped fight Mab with. Both wanted to recruit me to a team. But the woman, Morrigan, she gave me a bag of coins."
Clio leans back into her chair. "I don't have anyplace to study them right now, but she implied it was something to boost my abilities. Now, I've fought enough Darkstalkers to know a play when I see one, but still, I got those and don't know what to do about them."
"We did," agrees Jubei. "The enemy we were fightin' had no trace of what you'd call 'humanity.' Against such a foe... time was a luxury we didn't have. Instinct, reflex... this is what worked. It ain't the right way for everyone, or every fight, but that one? Yeah. Damn sure of it."
Jubei pulls his focus away from the task of mending, addressing her squarely as she explains the value of the coins. "The only thing I got to tell you there is... the only way to sort out good from bad is your own experiences. I can ramble on all night about one thing or another -- but you've gotta make up yer own mind about what's right and what's crap."
Jubei glances down at Clio's armrest -- for nothing else but to signal that he's thinking for a moment. He glances up again, with a brief shrug of his shoulders: "Did'ja happen to bring 'em? I could take a peek."
He pauses for a moment, and adds with a twitch of his twin tails, "Could just be coins for the Metro, right?"
Clio's eyes, downcast, distant in thought and considering a number of things. "The database didn't mention that," she tells Jubei. "You were a terrorist with a weapon. Are, I guess, that part hasn't changed. It just didn't say anything about saving the world." Then again, did she save the world? She didn't think so. It was a fight, she was just along for the ride and running from her army. She just happened to walk after Leo into a bigger fight than herself.
"I'm just doing what I think is right, Jubei. And sometimes I wonder about things, but yeah, I've got them." They never went far away, always tucked inside of her pouch pocket. She never knew if she was going to go for them in the heat of the moment, or even if she know how to use them at all. She just carried them, a small pouch filled with gold coins given by one of the Makai nobles.
"If these are for the MTA then they're from a century ago. Ain't used coins since before I was born," Clio says, offering over the pouch to Jubei. "Know anything about this sort of thing?" she asks. Jubei is, by all appearances to Clio, a Darkstalker after all.
Jubei offers a mirthless chuckle in response. "I can't imagine it did. The NOL was created in the wake of the victory. Out of a need to ensure... 'order,' in a sense. And as I was beyond their 'order...'"
His voice is low -- loud enough to carry across to Clio, but only just barely. "Never saw a place to brag, Clio. But since you asked... yer database tell you anything about the Black Beast?"
He slips a paw into his jacket, so that he'd have the reach to accept the pouch of coins in his surrogate paw. Once claimed, the old cat leans back in his seat, pawing over the coins with curosity.
He raises one to his good eye, turning it over in the muted ambient light. "I ain't much of a coin collector. But I don't -feel- anything out of place about 'em. I could take a closer look once we're on the ground and away from, er... civilization."
And as if on cue, the plane begins to taxi. Jubei looks up to the front, expectantly -- only to be placated when he sees the flight attendants sit back down in preparation for flight. "Mm." No spills till after takeoff...
Clio knows why Jubei is on the NOL's vaunted Bounty List. She knows the listed reasons and the more important unlisted ones. She imagines a matter of time before she findes herself on such a list. She knows they want his Nox Nyctores. They want whatever weapons they can get to impose their order and secure their power.
But she doesn't recall a Black Beast. The world she knew seemed blank on that regard. But something doesn't seem right about that. She remembers learned the Ikaruga conflict, she remembers it as a lesson in the Academy. But something doesn't fully feel there. Curiousity piqued, she leans closer to Jubei and scrutinizes him. "I don't. Brag. Because something tells me I should know about this."
The coins have shifted to afterthought. They're a magic artifice she can study at her own time. While she's a soldier, a fighter at heart, she is still her mother's daughter, and the pull of curiosity and discovery calls to her.
Now she faces a pair of interests, and she focuses down on the most immediately gnawing question: what is this Black Beast?
Jubei nods pensively, as Clio shows a growing interest in the tales of his past. He allows the coins to fall back into the pouch with a jangle, settling the sack on the armrest nearer to Clio.
His voice remains low in volume, more out of concern for others' sanity than any particular need of secrecy. "This story, I'm about to tell you... I don't got proof for any of it." He raps a feline paw against his hooded skull: "It's all in here."
His twin tails dart back and forth as he considers where, exactly, to begin. And he finds that he needs more of a preface. "... You see, we defeated it. Once. But that time... that -place-... it don't exist any more. Records, gone. Memories..." Again, he raps his paw against his head. "All I know is, if it was a dream, then there's almost a dozen people with the exact same dream."
His mouth opens as if to continue -- but right then, the plane begins to shudder from the sounds of final preparations for takeoff. Jubei smiles, pressed into the back of his seat from the Air Serbia plane vaulting skyward.
When the ambient noise quiets, he continues -- just as quietly.
"The Black Beast is a creation of pure Seithr, as raw and unknowable as the Azure itself. Black, of course -- like an eight-headed hydra, made of solidified -darkness-. Mash up every nightmare into a stew, stir it up good, and out would pour the Black Beast."
The old cat shivers, as if from a chill. "It don't care if yer human or machine, friend or foe -- the Black Beast don't give a damn. It's got one purpose -- to destroy everything. That's its function."
He grows silent, iris growing as he focuses on Clio.
"Hrmmm... What'd your teachers tell you was the source of seithr, anyway?"
Clio takes the bag and slips it back into the pocket of her hoodie. In with the Kaka Clan mask to keep safe and protected. She remains close in to Jubei, listening, eyes bright and cutting with her curious interest.
"Even if you don't, the NOL might have something." She pauses and shrugs with a shake of her head, "Not like that matters now. Do you, do you remember the others that might remember all of it?"
She has to wonder what sort of thing would be so great and terrible to completely remove itself from existence and memory. It isn't as though Clio disbelieves the very notion, or that something like that might happen conceptually, she just knows that she literally cannot think of a thing in particular.
She leans back and listens, crossing her arms as she thinks. She scratches at her cheek. She stares. "Seithr is energy from The Boundary," she says, "Safer to use than raw energy because chi from Earth modifies it. And the symbology and hermetics binds and restrains the entropic effects to fixed outcomes." She looks to the cat, addressing the things she learned in the Academy. The ties everything had and how the destructive power held within things like the Nox Nyctores would degrade the soul and mind.
"But it's just an energy field. There's more than one realm beyond earth," she says matter-of-factly. She herself has faced down Fae and demonic entities. She knows what is out there. "Like the Makai, or Outworld."
But if this Beast is pure. . .that, then it means a far greater threat. Maybe it could have been something akin to the degrading effect of the Nyctores, but on a grand scale. Clio has to close her eyes to consider the potential. "If, if no one remembers, that could happen again, or something similar."
To ground herself, Clio looks out the window to see the sky. "But it makes me think about Metro. . ."
"Yeah. Seithr comes from the Boundary -- a realm where damn near anythin's possible. And I've heard it told the Boundary is older than Earth itself. Might even be -responsible- for Earth -- and some say the Boundary even has a will of its own."
A warning tone sounds. And almost immediately, an attendant emerges from the galley with the drink service. A saucer with a piping hot cup of coffee is placed before Clio -- along with any sweeteners or additives she might desire. And a narrower cup is placed upon Jubei's tray, with a small ceramic bottle labeled in Japanese calligraphy.
The old cat nods amiably at the attendant in thanks. And before long, he slips his feline paws back into their sleeves so that he can pour the sake into the smaller cup without making a mess. Which he does -- seeming to space out momentarily as he treks through his memories.
"I remember the ones who helped. For a time, we were called the 'Six Legendary Heroes' -- Valkenhayn R. Hellsing, Platinum the Trinity. Myself, and Hakumen."
He pauses, despite having named only four of said six. He stares at the cup for a moment, deliberating. He decides to hold off.
"Nine of the Ten Sages. Who you've met. And... Yuuki Terumi."
He makes it about three more seconds before downing that first cup of sake in one draw.
Drawing in his breath, he nods. "Nine was... instrumental in orchestrating the plan. You see, none of the other so-called 'heroes' -- myself included -- recognized the Black Beast as the world-devouring threat that it was. Takes extensive study in the Boundary to even -realize- the potential. Nine knew what it would take -- and it meant hitting it from multiple vectors, multiple -aspects- simultaneously."
Jubei looks back over to Clio. "But Terumi took a bit more convincing. Y'see, he was working on other things at the time. He an' Seven -- another of the Ten Sages -- created the NOL to manage the flow of seithr. A, to ensure no one else got hold of it... B, because the Black Beast was drawn to large concentrations of seithr."
Clio would likely recognize Jubei's 'serious' face. "The NOL calls those places 'cauldrons' or 'kilns,' yeah?"
She hadn't considered the creative potential of the Boundary. All Clio had learned about in her time was the entropic destruction and deleterious effects it could have on the user. And as she herself felt such a pull from magic and could use it so readily, she had always wondered in some way if that meant her time with everything was limited in that way. The idea that it could've had a hand in the development of the world itself was, well it was unthinkable.
Her existential moment derails when the the attendant arrives. She takes the coffee with a nodding thanks before doing her best to lap prepare the cup to her admittedly sweet tastes. Her eyes go from coffee to cat from time to time as she doesn't feel right interrupting his story. So she sits in silence.
But her mind is loud with thought. While the Wheel of Fate turns on.
She had met some, she didn't know most of them. Hakumen, apparently, Jubei. Jubei's wife. All heroes. And while she did not know the lengths they could go or the things that they've suffered, she can believe that each of them were capable of great things. She had see Nine fight Jubei. She had fought the pale shell of Hakumen. They were, each of them, devastatingly powerful. And if there were others. . .
"Legendary, and I don't know if anyone knows the legend," Clio says, more muttering to herself and wondering the whys and the hows of everything. How much she doesn't know, and how much may have been lies and twists of the truth. After all, she had seen what the NOL did with no less than two of these heroes.
She looks distant, dark in her way, as she listens to Jubei addressing Yuuki Terumi, and the creation of the NOL. That she didn't know. And she didn't know exactly why she didn't. "What about the Imperator?"
Question hanging, she does nod at the serious question following. "Yeah, it's in the high concentrations that serve as liminal space. Not necessarily exactly like a Leyline, but close enough. Things might deteriorate or break down there."
The old cat snorts at Clio's question. "I ain't met the current Imperator. I'll just go out on a limb and guess she's descended from one of the Duodecim -- damn near every other officer in the NOL seems ta be."
Almost imperceptibly, Jubei's hood shifts as unseen ears fold back. "The NOL's definitely grown larger over time, yeah. I don't know how the current power structure works, but when the bounty got posted, it was run by the Duodecim. Wouldn't be surprised if they're bein' played by someone else by now though."
The cat sniffs lightly, breaking out of his sullen reverie. His crimson eye lights up as he turns back towards Clio. "So yeah. Leylines an' Cauldrons are where the Boundary and other realms intersect with our own. And once people found out about the existence of seithr, and how useful it could be, groups like the NOL became... kinda essential in keeping the public safe. Can't just have seithr spillin' about uncontained an' all."
The black and white fur of his forehead furrows as he leans on the armrest of his seat.
"The place we just fought -- Belgrade Fortress -- was where we lured, fought, and defeated the Black Beast."
He remains silent for a few moments as the import of the statement sets in.
"So it -is- a legend. To -someone-, 'cause I don't put much stock in Belgrade bein' a random off-the-wall pick. Because it sure does seem like whoever was runnin' this tournament was -hoping- all that seithr flying about would trigger another Black Beast to come about."
Jubei frowns for a moment, his gaze casting downward. "I'm ramblin' all over the damn place, sorry. I can try and tell my history from beginning to end if you want. Or I can just stick to the Black Beast I s'pose."
The Duodecim. It's a thing Clio knows about, but it was never in her interest to look too much into. There were families that ran the show, that was just something she grew up accepting and expecting. But she was now thinking and wondering on their connection to one of these Six Heroes. What does that mean, why were they chosen? Does this information allow for more or less believability of Jubei's tale? The questions ran rampant while Clio keeps sipping on her too-hot coffee.
"I don't really know either, too many people. I just did what I needed to," Clio admits her somewhat laissez-faire approach to her position.
She didn't know the spot in Belgrade was important. Not to that degree. She chews on the notion and her expressions lips to thought. "I wish I had a map," she mutters, "I want to track these locations. Belgrade, Illyria, Metro, that city around Italy," Clio says, "And I was seeing in the news about a Darkstalker embassy in Japan? Does that have anything to do with what happened on Mt. Fuji during the invasion?"
She leans toward the window. "No, no, no, Jubei please go on. I, I think you're right."
Clio turns back to Jubei, shifting in her seat. "You've, uh, you've basically taken me in. I do want to know about this. All of this. Because it might all just lead up to something big."
There is much of Jubei's past that he remembers. And there is much -more- of his past that he'd forgotten due to Terumi's manipulations. It's easy to think that he understands everything, to be sure, but without an outlet, without a -person- to share his discoveries with, it's quite possible for these memories to just fade away.
Jubei's heart is warming up from the conversation, and not -just- from the sake he's pouring himself. "All of it, huh? Careful what you wish for, heh." The cup is filled a second time, but as long as he doesn't mention that person's name, he might not be tempted to drain it as quickly this time.
Somberly, he tilts his head to the side in thought. "Nnnh... I was thinkin' they'd be connected, yeah. But I tend to lose any maps I end up makin'. ... They got a map in the back of the inflight magazines, don't they?"
The ancient cat slouches back in his seat, considering. "... I appreciate you givin' me the opportunity, Clio. Ain't... really been anyone else I feel comfortable talkin' to about this. Lot of baggage to carry around, and it can be tough to sort through sometimes. So let's see here..." The cat raises his paws, tapping pads against one another as he pieces the story together in his mind.
Jubei's eye closes as he sinks into the seat cushions. "So let's start with the -first- real problem. You know Carl Clover. His daddy, Relius, along with Nine's dad, Shuuichirou, worked together to create an... artificial human out of seithr."
Jubei's nostrils flare. And it's a good few minutes before his eye blinks open in recovery. "... Sorry. Easiest way for me to remember this is to remember Nine chidin' me for not understanding the basics." He takes a breath, smiling to himself, and continues. "This... artificial human became what's known as the Origin. And the first attack of the Black Beast was right then and there. Blew up the cauldron. Relius, an' Shuuichirou... both got caught up in the chaos. And before long, the Black Beast started tearing up most of Europe and Asia."
Jubei reaches forward, taking a sip of his sake. "Folks who lived through those next few years called 'em the Great Dark War. Half of the Earth's population would get wiped out from that. You'd think that'd make it into the history books, yeah?"
There are many things that Clio has forgotten, never had the chance to forget, and never should or would ever know in the first place. Things that are not, never were, and would never be are as jumbled up as the things that could and did, or can and will. All she can do is collect and build and try to figure out what it is that she can figure out and cleave to it as it comes.
"Jubei, look at me, have I ever been careful with what I wish for?" she asks, looking and thinking of all the things that have happened to bring her here. "And this map is too simple, just shows where they fly. I'll have to get a better one when we land." For now, the oral history of Jubei the One-Eyed Lotus would suffice.
"I know Carl. Relius still owes me money for beating him up," Clio adds, most likely not entirely helpfully, but that is money she is owed and she will not forget that.
"Artificial human. Sort of like the robot things they have? I thought they were some sort of simple Gear," Clio's mostly talking to herself, her words falling in line alongside Jubei's so she can mesh the ideas together. But it does make sense Relius would be involved with somehow triggering a world ending event. He did put a bounty on his child, after all.
But now Clio is suspect. "Yeah, that kind of thing would be in the books, I would think. I mean, the NOL lying is one thing, but that's a lot lot to keep hidden."
Jubei's response to Clio's insistence on more information is a simple grin. Clio's determination to charge headlong into danger is one of her most endearing traits -- and in its own roundabout way, reminds him of his brother...
Clio may have been mostly talking to herself, but Jubei doesn't mind adding: "... yeah, I'm sure that the -reason- those robot things they act so dumbed-down is because of the mistakes they made with the Origin. So it's quite possible they -are- just a simple Gear...."
Jubei stares at the sake in his cup, swirling it around for a few moments as he considers. "... As ta why we -don't- remember it, it all took place in a different... -reality-, really. This world ain't the same as the one I remember -- it's close, and a lot of the people are similar, but it *is* different. The real danger is in the folks who remember what -could- and -did- happen."
Shrugging, he goes back to his story: "Six years pass. An' the reason I know about other -realities- is because someone from another reality -- Ragna, the Bloodedge -- popped up. And it was him fightin' the Black Beast that knocked it into a year of hibernation. The world got the time it needed to reconsider and rebuild. The NOL got started then. And Nine started creating grimoires, and the Ars Magus."
Jubei grinds his teeth slightly. "I kinda make it sound like these are -short- time periods. But the fact o' the matter is... fightin' the Black Beast was something that took -years-. We had plenty of opportunities to try out strategies. Most of 'em failed. But Nine was never one to give up. The Earth lost millions, -billions- while we were tryin' and failin'..."
Jubei looks down at the floor of the thrumming aircraft, nostrils flaring as he breathes in. "I never wanted to know the specifics. Nine handled it. But suffice to say... the Nox Nyctores were ultimately born from those sacrifices. So that's one reason you'll never see me dishonor my blades. Their power came at a great price."
It's a lot of information. In many ways it is too much. Clio nods and considers and she pieces together things she has. It's too easy, she thinks, but maybe some form of quasi memory is what lead to that copycat Bloodedge she fought some time ago. She remembers Ragna's name on the Bounty registry. About his involvement with the Chain Man case. And several other incidents. Maybe, in some way, they are connected. But it's all conjecture she can't rely on.
Clio finally has to reach a notion when she considers realities and memories. She stares for a long time into her coffee. She taps the side, drumming and watching the ripples bounce and echo off the sides of the cup. "This could be explained as the nox nyctores," she admits a possibility. "They are supposed to break down the mind and spirit. It could cause delusions."
She doesn't look at Jubei as she ponders the fact, but she could not keep it to herself. If the swords are producing delusions of heroism, then they could be very dangerous. And all this she's hearing is a very, very hard to believe thing.
"I guess none of that matters too much," she says, looking to the window, away from Jubei. "We're here, now, and this is what I know. So, I don't know what to do with what you're saying other than I guess we can't screw up another chance?"
Now she looks back to Jubei and shrugs. "Doesn't seem like billions of people have died around here lately. Maybe we can keep that up."
Jubei's first impulse is to reject the conjecture. The very notion that his memory is little more than a delusion is unthinkable -- for he remembers everything now. If it were not for his devoted training, he might have evidenced a bit more than an arched eyebrow from that suggestion.
But really, what if Clio were -right- about that? That everything he knows to be true... never happened at all?
"I ain't gonna write that off, Clio. It's totally possible that I'm just a ravin' lunatic ranting about the End Times." From his broad, toothy grin, it seems clear he's at least somewhat amenable to the possibility. "But when I thit comes to what I know, what I can -do-... one lifetime ain't enough. Fact o' the matter is, if yer curious enough, maybe one day we can go talk to Rachel. She likes talkin' in circles even more, though."
Jubei takes another sip of his sake. The notion that he -could- have made this up. That maybe Terumi -could- have put these thoughts of another world in his head. There's no point in ruminating upon the possibility -now-, but...
"... Ain't sayin' that at all, Clio. Just sayin', you don't gotta paint a picture o' me and Hakumen bein' anythin' more than folks willin to spend about a decade trying to beat an ultimate badass. Jus' wasn't somethin' we could even -do- by ourselves. An' hell -- stands a good chance we might even need the NOL's help to defeat the next big bad."
Jubei sets the sake cup back down, raising a paw to scratch at his fluffy cheek. "... At any rate, yeah -- folks survived. Aftermath of the Black Beast's rampage was a death cloud of raw seithr chokin' the whole surface of the planet." He grins faintly. "Humanity survived. Long enough to build cities that could rise above the seithr. Long enough to forget about the Great Dark War. Long enough till, y'know, another war came along, because no one wants to be happy forever."
Jubei smiles, contentedly. "It'll be nice to keep that up, yeah. The... not-having-billions-of-deaths-on-our-collective-consciences thing." The One-Eyed Twin Lotus snorts in old-man laughter. "But my one take-away from that whole deal? It ain't any one person that can save this planet. It's all about workin' together, as a team. With a good group of folks workin' together, you can beat anythin'."
Clio did not want to broach the subject the way she did. She didn't want to bluntly say that the world as Jubei knew it seemed very at-odds with the world all around them. To think that she broke from the NOL, from her home, from her friends, partially because of a mad Darkstalker with delusions of grandeur would be a tragic reality, indeed. And were that the case, then Clio would have to turn herself in and return to protecting the world and people she loved as she knows.
"Even if you were, Jubei, you haven't done anything to deserve the bounty on your head. So, maybe there's more to you knowing what you know," Clio admits the crux of her reasons in supporting Jubei. There would simply be more information than what was given if there were a reason at all.
She drinks her coffee now, faster than before. She has to scoff at the notion of the NOL needing, or even accepting help. "I'm not you, Jubei, I don't think I could help them out with anything without risking being dragged in myself now. You saw how little I could do against Captain Hazama. And that's not counting the Darkstalker recruit that he had."
She settles to listen after that, the rest of the story as unbelievable as the lead up. But one that is there and stated. Even then, with memories of Justice, with memories of Illyria and the battle against Fae incursion, the Black Beast wasn't such a stretch to consider.
"Never just one person. One person eventually gets beat. I learned that when I was a kid. Then, I got sent to learn from the NOL. Now. Now I got you." She sighs, thinks and nods. "And the Order, I think Leo can help. And Abigail was nice enough to let me crash at his place. I don't know if I can count Taokaka."
Jubei grins broadly at the suggestion that he hadn't done anything to earn the bounty on his head. He smiles in a way that only a cat can. "Oh, I dunno, Clio... I knew of a ton of Cauldrons that were just -beggin'- for unwanted houseguests over. And the NOL was likely none too happy to see 'em go." His eye twinkles with amusement as he presses back against his seat. "Both in the other world and this one, I'll note. But there's some things I wouldn't just up and admit to an active officer, yeah?"
He takes a sip of his sake. He's cognizant that despite the accomodations, someone -could- be listening in. But the old cat also doesn't care -- for anyone that -wants- to turn him in to the NOL is more than welcome to try.
But when Clio insists she can't help out, Jubei expresses disbelief with a raised brow. "That's crap and you know it. How many times have I asked you for help on magic, or seithr? It don't always make sense to me. I can do what I practiced doin', and that's it, really. Not to mention, I saw what you -did- do against Hazama. You threw his words and his deeds back in his face on a live mic. You took a chance in this tournament, and you showed the world what life after NOL looks like."
Jubei wrinkles his nose, looking about the cabin for a moment. "You can count on Taokaka havin' your back, as long she's in the same zip code. She's a good kitten, just a bit... unfocused."
Jubei scratches the bridge of his nose. "So, with all that boring history... does that change your read on the connection between the tower in Southtown, and Illyria an' everythin' else?"
Wrecking stuff, even a Cauldron, doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that deserves a bounty that high. She still thinks that, more than anything Jubei has done, that the NOL wants their hands on the Nox Nyctores. Not for safety, but to exploit for their own bids on power.
The sort of thing that threw the entire bounty system up for question. Even if Clio knew some of those on it were deserving.
The coffee's gone, Clio looks at the bottom of the cup and wonders if she should've gone for tea instead. "Coffee wasn't very good, but, airplane," she surmises, throwing down a clever verbal smokescreen to avoid the praise coming from Jubei. Praise that, to Clio, rings hollow as Hazama didn't seem to care much about her survival, and swiftly brought to her attention how little she matters. And despite that, there were no feelings of relief that she might matter so little as to be left entirely alone.
Thankfully, things do eventually get around to arcane matters. Something more comfortable and intriguing. "Maybe," Clio says. "I don't know." She drums the side of her now empty cup. Her brow furrows and she leans back and looks up at the ceiling to think. "I need to go home to Metro again. I want to see the scars from the Majigen Incident. And do you remember that place in, um, Italy was it? That also had an incursion. Then Illyria. Then Southtown. It might make things easier to see from each place."
Jubei may have his own problems to deal with, but that doesn't mean he's blind to those of others. When his well-intentioned compliments are deflected with a throwaway non-sequitur, the old master is reminded of his past students, and their similar approaches to such things.
He could acknowledge the deflection.
But what would be gained?
His whiskers twitch, and his fur bristles.
And then he grins.
"Can you even call it 'coffee' after dumping in all that sweet stuff?"
He'd meant well. The tournament visit itself was suggested as a lark, to give Clio an opportunity to see her own skills on the big stage. To bolster her own self-image. To -succeed- on her own merits. Perhaps it didn't go as well as he or she had hoped.
But there's little need to dwell on it now, with bigger issues on the horizon. The cat's tails swish back and forth as he nods with enthusiasm. "There's a good chance you'll be able to sense somethin' no one else has, yeah." He pauses, prone as ever to tangents: "... it was Celle Ligure. Near Genoa, in Italy. Stopped there once, before the craziness happened. They use a lot of pesto sauce in their food. Good fish fries, too."
He hums a few notes, adding, "The stuff you saw in Illyria... have you come across anything like it since? Or the people?"
Every moment not dwelling on the overall failing upwards that has been King of Fighters. She never succeeded in the ways that she wanted to. She only saw how very far she had to go compared to many of the fighters in the world. And through that, she figured, the capabilities of the NOL. She didn't want to be reminded, or patronized to. And where normally she would quip, or snark at the target that poked at her, she respected the cat too much. He was her teacher. She couldn't be catty with him.
But he could with her. She laughs off his insult on her sweet and blonde coffee preference. But she shrugs, and answers, "It's better this way. Get to be awake, and it tastes good."
Sweet. The word sticks with her. It lingers even as Jubei asks more about her thoughts on the matters of magic and connections. And what she has seen already. Sweet. The word sits in her mind as she considers and then she nods.
"Yes, somewhat. Gears, Darkstalkers, that German guy. I ran into a few. But non of them were like the faeries. And none of that was quite like whatever was going on at that Golden Angel Tournament. But," she leans closer to Jubei, "But they're kind of the same. It's like ice cream. You have strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla. They're all sweet, they're all the same, but they're different flavors. It's like that."
She cues it easily, the simple sparks of arcane power that is always there inside of her. "Darkstalkers, Gears, The faeries, Ars Magica, it's all a lot alike. But not." She looks excited, her dark eyes large and reflecting the sparks she's made. "But it isn't exactly the same. And with magic, that can make it the difference."
The samurai cat is used to haranguing his students -- mostly because his previous students were brash enough to -need- the lessons in humility. Old habits die hard, it would seem. It's not that he's especially trying to be rude in this case -- the drifter has been separated from others long enough to have forgotten some of the soft skills needed for socialization outside of combat.
But he's reminded of that, when his sour tone is met with saccharine sweetness. Which... serves as its own lesson, stirring a bead of sweat on the back of his head. "Y-yes, I s'pose so." He doesn't need to explain further -- his own preference for black coffee (in lieu of tea or sake) is just that, after all.
He remains a bit reticent, resolving to pay a bit more attention to his prodigal student's moods for the moment. He is, after all, interested in her take on these strangely similar magical cataclysms. "... Flavors." An interesting analogy -- he's not sure where she's going with it at first, but he's willing to be the student in magical studies for the time being. Particularly with the sparks of energy lighting up the cabin.
"... With different points of origin, come the distinct and unique flavors, then? Hmm. I tend to forget the difference between flavors when I go a few weeks between tastin' em. Is it like that?"
The cat's whiskers twitch, along with his nose. Apparently the analogy is firing -other- synapses in the feline brain aside from the purely intellectual ones.
Verbal taunting parried with a degree of politeness only learned by a Metro City girl that went to a formal Military Academy, Clio is more than pleased with herself at succeeding against Jubei in at least one realm. She can smile at that at least. A smile that has a great deal of metaphorically sharp teeth.
"Flavors," she repeats her analogy, sticking with it. "It's like one big thing, sweet. There are a lot of different kinds of sweet. Like there are a lot of different kinds of bitter." Clio's doubling down is not without merit, she can see that food talk is something to keep the cat's attention for a moment or more. "Vanilla isn't chocolate isn't banana. But they're all sweet. Faerie isn't Outworld isn't Makai, but there's something similar about all of it."
She crosses her legs at the ankle and kicks her head back again. She blinks and thinks and considers. Then she yawns the moment a sunbeam breaks the window and hits her. "But I don't got a clue about what it all is. And what it has to do with Siethr, the Boundary, or your Black Beast. Maybe nothing. Maybe it's all just flavors that are what they are and I can't see the sundae for the toppings."
Clio shrugs. "Maybe I just want ice cream."
Research suggests that cats lack the physical capability to respond to sweetness. Vanilla, chocolate, banana... it's true that the feline samurai would be able to discriminate between the three tastes, but he'd likely be leaning on other factors than sheer sweetness. For one thing -- he likes eating. And as a partial response to that, he's also learned to cook fairly well.
He does allow himself a feral grin. "... Yeah, none of those smelled particularly -sweet- to me, but I take yer meanin' there."
He listens a bit more, nodding attentively. Certainly, he's thinking about sweets, and the thought about ice cream -does- get his mouth watering. Though, as he notes, "I can't vouch for the quality of the ice cream -here-. Can't imagine it'd be much better than the coffee, but y'never know."
Drawing the sake cup close to him, he asks, "So is there... a way you can -measure- these flavors? Like a measuring cup...? If I were to follow your analogy down a dark alleyway and rough it up a bit, heh."
He shrugs helplessly: "I mean, there's writing stuff down in a journal, I s'pose, I just don't know if there's any, uh... -device- for measuring how vanilla-ey one disruption might be, or how banana-ey another one could be. Some way to -quantify- what you can sense?"
Clio does not know any particular catfacts other than she finds cute cats to be cute. Clio's mother is the biologist, not Clio. She doesn't know what to say on the matter of cat taste buds. However, the very fact that Jubei would have to rely on other factors besides varying degree of sweetness inadvertently hits exactly where Clio's point lay.
She leans forward now, wistful ceiling looking passing for an intensely flat expression. Because, the more she thinks on her analogy, and what the end results mean, she has to come to a very annoying conclusion that Jubei wanders into. "No," she admits, staring at nothing. "No, I don't know how to measure the differences. It's not really what I'm good at it." She snorts and crosses her arms on her knees. "I'd have to find someone better at the data bits. Or with some way of recording it all. I feel it, I know it, I can control it. That part is all easy. But I'm not real good at teaching it."
She hangs her head, her food flops awkwardly so Clio just flips it up over her head. The two pointed leather ear shapes stick up in a mimicry of Jubei's own, more necessary, pair.
Jubei falters, to some degree -- on seeing his enterprising student, fluctuating between feelings of empowerment and despondence. His ears droop; his tails dip downwards into candy-cane hooks.
"... Hey, I ain't tryin' to put ya on the spot or nothin', Clio. You're the only source of info I got on how the NOL trains recruits, regardin' magic and seithr and whatnot. So there's bound to be stuff you know that I don't, yeah?"
Jubei looks forward, paw rubbing the back of his head -- a nervous habit he acquired from hanging around humans so much. He starts to gaze at the cup of sake, but when he hears the folds of fabric, his ears twitch sideways to follow. And he finds himself snorting in tacit approval.
"Anyway," he resumes, with a more jovial tone, "Now that you're a member of the Kaka Clan... There's somethin' to be said about trustin' your senses. This is a good opportunity for it, and there's a good chance we could -both- learn somethin' by tryin' to figure out the flavors. Me? I'd figure you're close to the mark -- flavor is -closely- tied to scent." He grins, with a wriggle of his nose.
"All I was gettin' at was this. Writin' things down -- even if they're just words or pictures -- can help jog yer memory when you go from one site to another. Sense memory is a -huge- benefit for us cats, to be sure -- and taking notes is just a way to help lock those memories in."
Jubei looks thoughtfully at his student, considering. "Mm. ... So I was thinkin'... What do you know about the demon lord in Southtown?"
It's a wild back and forth. This looming frustration of knowing something can be figured out, of seeing parts and pieces, and ultimately also being painfully aware of shortcomings. She's a soldier, a fighter, a knight. She fought. She hurt and she got hurt for the better of others. She was not, is not the scientist or witch that she needs to be to figure out what's in front of her.
She rubs the sides of her head, groaning, eyes close. "It's just a disguise," she says, sitting back up. Truth is, the ear caps are modifications that long predate the Kaka clan disguise, that was more her own tribute to her teacher. "But my senses are still telling me that Metro might have the information. And I want to help there. I couldn't during the Majigen, and that's never sat well with me."
She was learning, training, being kept to the NOL's reach at the time her city was engulfed in horrors. That failure on her count drove her insistence in the Gears invasion. Moreso in her time in Illyria. But now she's separate. She has a lot in front of her. "I don't know a lot, to be honest, but I know he has enemies. Vampire named Demitri is one. And the woman, Morrigan, that fought with the fae and gave me those coins. And his hand was in Metro. And he has a tower in South Town that I think he's doing because of the NOL. There's interest there. Be close to your enemies and all that." She pulls out the mask and runs her fingertips over it. For a moment she places it back on now with the hood. "And the succubus thinks he's clever. I think he's playing it smart and biding time."
For an eternity, he knew only the life of an itinerant swordsman for hire, an easily-overlooked cat with a goofy arsenal. But then his memories returned -- memories of a blissful honeymoon, an idyllic domestic life. Life with his perfect complement -- utter mastery of the magickal world paired with incontestible iaijutsu skill.
There's no doubt about it.
Nine would know what to do in this situation.
She would know who was responsible.
And she would have an unbeatable plan for eliminating them.
But she's not here. What's left of her, enslaved to the same fel Mind Eater she'd found necessary to coax Terumi Yuuki into slaying the Black Beast. Without her, Jubei is as one staring at a half-complete puzzle, with no idea where the remaining pieces might even lie.
And all he has to offer is feline analogies.
Jubei feigns offense at the dismissal of the Kaka heritage, snorting lightly. "It's a path, if you ever wanna walk it. Hell, I'm sure the kittens would love someone new to train with."
Jubei knows he has about as much hope of Clio joining the Kaka Clan as him spontaneously being good with magic. Which is why he doesn't belabor the point too much longer. "We'll start with Metro then. Find out what we can there -- turn over points that this Morrigan lady and the, uh... whassis-name, Demitri?"
He shrugs lightly. "In my experience, folks who get that ancient get locked into modes of thinking, where they can't see the forest for the trees and whatnot. So there's a good chance your earnest questions'll shine a light on somethin' they ain't considered. Or maybe Morrigan's got somethin' figgered out already, who knows?"
Clio doesn't remember a different world. She doesn't remember a different time than the one she has. There might be other times like that. And many more where she may not be at all. She knows the possibilities, she's not someone that hangs herself up on the arcane potentials. Because, she asserts, even if things were different in some other version of events, that is not where she is right now.
Right now she sits on a plane with her target turned teacher.
Right now she looks at a problem potentially world spanning and shaking.
Right now she's wearing a mask and a hoodie to mimic the Kaka Clan.
Clio tucks her hands up inside of her sleeves and she leans back against her seat. She doesn't actually think she belongs there, or at least doing more than looking like it. She hasn't earned that. She's just a student. Though, she does recall at least one Kaka Clan girl back at the academy.
"Bitey creep, nya," Clio mimics Tao with a light laugh. "He said it was Demitri. I want to say I recall something about a Maximov, or Maximoff family of vampires in a Makai debrief. But that was a while ago and I wasn't paying much attention because they had to do it in the middle of the day."
Maybe Clio just might have more in line with the clan than she knows.
"The coins might help me get into contact with Morrigan again. She was helpful once, she may be useful again a second time."
Jubei has spent a great deal of time watching humanity from a distance. He knows what makes people laugh, he knows what makes them angry. But building and sustaining a relationship? In one way, it was something of a curse for him to fall in with Nine -- someone who was so not shy about pushing against his gruff tendencies.
The old cat glances over towards Clio. Body language -- yes, he understands how to read it. But with a brief twitch of his whiskers, he realizes that -- yet again -- he's confused.
His expression lightens, briefly, upon recognizing the callback to his daughter-of-sorts. "Sounds... about right, yeah. I can't say I know much about 'im other'n what I read in the King of Fighters fight cards. Except that I'm... a little unnerved. Can't help but wonder what happened to his darlin' little teammates. 'specially knowin' he's a vampire."
He wriggles his nose, at that, tails poofing out just past his hood. "I got nothin' against folks with the curse, but he don't strike me as someone to fight it much."
He glances sidelong at Clio, crimson eye showing no dearth of concern. "So I really just got two questions, Clio. First'un: You want me by your side when you talk to either of these two?"
And the second, addressed with a neutral expression. "An' the second: Sometimes you're pretty walled off, Clio -- I can't always read you right. Is there anythin' on your mind? Anythin' I've been doin' that's drivin' you up a wall? I figure it'd be better to ask now before we get too much further into the flight, heh."
Clio sits quietly, sleeve covered arms in her lap, hood up, mask on. It always smiles, rather than the expressions of the clan members. It hides a lot. Something that Clio doesn't mind in this moment. She thinks about the vampire that had the girl around him, and that he had asked for her. That didn't bode well, but Clio wasn't NOL anymore, not really her deal to launch an investigation request or lead a squad to take him down.
She was on a plane, in a Darkstalker cat's knockoff outfit.
"Demitri, maybe. I don't know about the Morrigan. Not. . ."
Quiet again. And the mask stares forward. Maybe, just maybe, there's something about the anonymity, false as it may be, that helps in this moment. But her body sags forward. "I don't know what I'm doing Jubei. I don't know and I feel like I need to, but I don't. I'm not like this. I want to just help people, and I want a fight. I want my friends. I want someone to point me at something and say 'kick the shit out of it'. I wasn't put in charge of many groups for a reason."
Clio's covered hands go to her head and the muffled groan of frustration lasts a long, long time. "I am a knight of the blue flame," she speaks softly to herself.
The One-Eyed Twin Lotus has decades of experiences to share.
And right now, he remains as still and quiet as a church mouse.
For her silent gestures speak volumes.
And then the tome's cover opens, words flooding outward.
Jubei listens in attentive silence, nodding his head. No judgment in his expression, just open reception. For he wanted to hear -her- words, not to impose a master's experience.
He listens for a good, long while. Long beyond the oft-repeated mantra, the only soundtrack the thrumming engines of the aircraft surrounding them.
Finally -- after he'd been so quiet that Clio would have to turn her mask to confirm he wasn't already asleep -- he speaks.
"... What about some 'me' time? Y'know -- settle down for a bit. Focus on your flame -- purifyin' the blight in yourself. Tell the rest of the world t'buzz off. Just you and your home. And if anyone wants to fight about it, you kick the shit out of 'em."
He bumps his shoulder lightly against Clio -- reasonably enough that it could be construed as the old cat simply stretching his limbs a bit.
"Your friends'll be able to find you. You'll find the old wayposts -- and make new ones. And you'll be responsible to no one but yourself. Till you're good an' ready for changin' that. Mm?"
Silence again in the wake of the opening. Clio remains in the crash position. Behind her mask, her eyes shut, she hears only her breath. No response. Nothing coming. No goading. No asking her what she wants to do. She had done that already. She had been riding and running off the outcome of doing what she wanted and all it got her was doubt.
It had been so much easier to take assignment and to attend to the assignment. Even then, it gave her enough direction that she could sate whatever she was interested in on the side. It was easy. It was obvious. It was comfortable.
In her state, she couldn't move, words were coming from Jubei, but she didn't know, she couldn't tell. She was locked. She was in the dark.
A touch broke the moment. Clio's head lifts and she looks to the Darkstalker's light touch. The mask comes off. "Home?" she asks. "I don't really have one. Not anymore."
It's only a moment of doubt before she has to admit and amend that, "Well, no, a lot of people have given me a place when I needed. Or offered. Abigail. Leo. There's some places I can go. I'll be okay."
She laughs, weak as it is, and rubs at the dark lines marred under her eyes. "Shit," she mutters at the smudging, but that too is laughed off. "Sorry, Jubei. I've been up too many days, I think. I just need some time to sleep."
Once upon a time, Tomonori and Mitsuyoshi were the same. Brothers, mercenaries, carrying out the tasks they were paid to do. Never had to give much thought to the job -- until morals and values started creeping into the periphery.
An eternity later, both brother's eyes can lay sight on the grey, muddled reality that lies between extremes. Jubei has constantly chosen the path of greater good, even when that meant sacrificing the easy life, the utter lack of accountability. And he is, naturally, glad that Clio has chosen to walk a similar path.
A thousand words, expressed in the fatherly smile he returns to Clio.
"Home is wherever you make it."
To Jubei, a hero is a hero no matter how many people they help, whether that be oneself, a local community, a nation, or even an entire realm of existence. Dithering over shades of meaning isn't -pointless- per se, but what's to be gained, by ranking one hero above another? He considers Clio may be overthinking things just a smidge... But saying so, that's offsides at the moment.
"It's a good thing time's on our side, for once." He chuckles softly, reaching up to pull his own hood down a bit, deflecting the ambient overhead light from his black-and-white fur. "I think it's fair t'say you earned some sleep, Clio. Rest well."
And with a serene smile on his face, he crosses his paws across his lap, nestling into his seat. Cats are really good at naptime, after all.
Log created on 09:48:05 01/03/2020 by Clio, and last modified on 10:29:42 01/16/2020.