Description: The Scar at Metro City Park is a long-standing problem with no clear and easy answer. As part of those with ties to magic, Clio St. Jeanne and her mentor, The Twin-Tailed Lotus, venture to one of the few contacts that Clio can think of that may help. Despite fears, great absences, and the fact that she hasn't informed her that Clio is in fact alive, Clio does what she must. She takes Jubei to visit her mother. In turn Jubei discovers there may be something cold and calculating behind a supportive parent's persona.
Night time. The shimmering lights of Downtown Metro City may drown out the night stars, but only do so by bringing them down to mankind's level. Here is where the center sky scrapers give way to lower rooftops and tighter streets. Where row houses cluster against one another, standing shoulder to shoulder as their occupants do on the subways that run under their feet. Night here is active, Metro City never truly sleeps, but it is a more relaxed and comfortable activity. Late night restaurants, watering holes and coffe shops that cater to clientele not yet ready to rest. And while here, the scars of Manigen still linger, the people and places where their experience with dignity and tenacity that a tough old town like Metro should.
Above all this, looking down from the flat tar roof of a row house at the corner of an avenue and alleyway, Clio St. Jeanne stands and looks over the edge to the brick and cobble below. Hood up, grinning Kaka Clan mask hiding her chewing on her own lip, she rattles a trio of vials in hand. Each one filled with samples taken from the Park. Dead earth, wizened plant life, scraped samples kept secure from the scene of the crime.
Part of the young woman didn't want to be here. She hadn't wanted to call in contacts. She hadn't wanted to make herself known. But Metro was more important. Her city was more important. She could handle what may come.
At least, she hoped she could.
Her teacher is not far behind her. He'd noticed her looking up -- and he knows she'd rather have seen stars up there, a celestial skydome rather than a featureless one. One that inspires hope, rather than dread and endless ennui.
"You're doin' the right thing for Metro," he insists, padding quietly across the tarred roof. He takes special caution of the three vials -- their jarring a small sign of the anxiety hidden behind the mask.
He stands alongside her -- the Kaka progenitor, next to the Kaka adherent. His swords remain in their scabbard, slung about one shoulder. His tails swish back and forth, responding to the light breeze in the night sky. The lingering scent of tar in the air, remnants of a warmer daytime.
"It probably ain't in their best interest to see me at first glance. How far back do you want me?"
The cat's whiskers flick about in the wind, a sign of his twitching nose. The master is happy to let the disciple call the shots, on this mission.
And yet. He is also here to ensure that she has the courage to complete what needs to be done. And that she knows he has his full support.
"I never told I was alive."
Distant words behind the mask. She knows it was a selfish act that lead her to this point in her life. She knew it was all due to her wanting to live her life by the morality she defined. Her justice had taken her from her life, to being on a rooftop with a fugitive. One she knew, and knows to not deserve that title.
She points to the fire escape clinging to the side of the old brick. "Second down is my old room," she tells the cat at her back. "I'm not going to go in through the front." She leans over the edge, her smiling mask shining off the ambient glow of a million lights. Looking back, she adds, "I never did when I lived here," as though it were some balm for her master's sense of right and wrong. They aren't breaking in, but returning home.
The drop is quick, soft pats on a metal grating. The escape is narrow, the turning of the stairs tight and winding. Down a floor, to where a window is. A window covered by a mesh screen. One that Clio peels back at points cut only a few short years ago, but a lifetime in Clio's mind.
She feels the frame of the window. Her fingers fall into familiar places. She's done this hundreds of times before. The window slides up and a sterile scent rolls out into the night. But there Clio stops, she hesitates and she looks back to Jubei. "She's a scientist. She was never part of the infantry," she tells Jubei, almost defensive, almost covering other uncertainty. But it is too late, and she knows she has to slip inside. r
She falls into a room. One familiar and not. The underlying artifacts of childhood are there, but so is collected detritus of a very busy scholer. Banker's boxes of books and research papers stack on bed frames and jostle for position amid plush toys and plastic figures. There, Clio stops and looks around, an alien to a familiar landscape.
She makes a candid statement. One that the old cat hadn't fully realized the implications of until now.
"Mm." Not judgment, not analysis; simple acknowledgment.
His smock flaps softly in the breeze. The cat stands a foot shorter than her, and before long, he stands only one foot behind her as well. Perhaps she didn't answer, but the master has fought alongside his disciple long enough to have learned her preferences. When she looks back at him, he offers a faint smile, and a nod. Enough of the game plan has been communicated for him to follow along.
The old cat wouldn't want to risk making a truly silent descent, as seithr manipulation might affect the samples. Or, it might trigger a perimeter alert. He opts to descend in kind; Clio's soft footfalls are followed by even softer ones and the sound of flapping cloth. The landing is navigated quickly and silently.
Clio looks back -- and Jubei nods quietly, keeping her unspoken implications in mind. The path opens, and Jubei steps inside -- finding himself surrounded once again by the majestic colors he's avoided for much of his life.
The colors of his enemy.
He should be on edge. And, as he looks back to Clio, he knows that 'on edge' is something she could use less of.
He opts to smile. And if Clio happens to look back, she would see his lone eye wandering towards the plush toys -- and a -tease- of a smile on his feline face.
Blue walls. What isn't a brilliant shade is white and further accented in golden yellows. It is a brjght room, even in the dark of night. Brilliant azure all around, all reminding. Something that Clio stands among and seemingly unaware of the lifelong connotations. The room itself is neat and well kept if not for the current storage use. Whether or not that remarks on the child that lived in it is another story; it has been years since she slept there. And while Clio is silent, stepping with catlike tread herself over the fleur de lis patterned rug that dominates the floor, Jubei gets to spy on old toys.
A plush dragon sits looking back from Clio's bed. It's a deep violet color, standing out against the brighter backdrop. Alongside is a black and brown stuffed dog. Nearby an array of knights with banners, small figures take up a shelf on a wall. Books of folklore and legends, but curiously, no signs of any electronics in the room. If there had been any at all, it looked as though they were long removed. A bureau and a desk rounds out the remainder of the obvious furniture. Most of it all is now being used as storage. Standing out is one book, the binding written on in Japanese: Roku Eiyuu
Clio is already at the door. She does not care to linger here. Not yet. She isn't surprised at the use of her room, but it makes it more distant than she had hoped to feel. Her shoulders bent, she removes her mask and lowers her hood. With a tremor to her hand, she takes hold of the door knob.
And promptly releases her grip to turn and place her back against the door and place her face in her hands.
The room is well-kept. Storage, to be sure -- but a shrine to a childhood past all the same. A window into an earlier, more innocent time in Clio's life.
Jubei is strictly observing a self-imposed rule of look, but don't touch. His sleeves drape low to the fleur-de-lis rug, but never touch it. His eye scans the storage containers, the bookshelves, the tale of six Heroes, of which one bears only passing resemblance to himself.
But his attempt at levity in the face of Clio's duty goes unnoticed. It's not important -- not so much as Clio stepping beyond that threshold. He remains quiet, and still, in the dim room.
And he looks up to find a distraught, trembling Clio. He does not stare -- he does not wish to put more weight on her shoulders.
But that is when his own shoulders lighten their burden -- as metal paws lower to the rug.
One crimson eye, glancing up -- without judgment. Without analysis. Just sheer, simple acknowledgment.
"Take your time," he whispers.
And he leans against a storage container. Present -- but not staring at her. Ready to lend a paw -- but not to dictate a plan of action. Ready to lend a shoulder -- should she want someone more substantial than a plush toy.
The boxes are labeled with number strings written in a neat hand. Serial numbers, ID numbers of a sort, official looking more than sentiment, organized more than cared for. A matter of practicality. Their off-hand distance and officialness are lit in a a sudden violet light. Clio, palms now open and up, watches the fire dance with light, but no heat. "Dispatched in mankind's darkest hour, we are knights of the blue flame." Words spoken quietly, words that aid even now. Clio closes her hand over the eldritch fire and she stands up. Despite Jubei's caution, Clio in that moment seems to not hold the same consideration. But whatever may have been done, she appears steadfast once more as she rises, turns, and breaks the threshold.
Tock, tock, tock. A large grandfather clock dominates the dimly lit hallway. It's sound heavy and thudding. A narrow place that shows the home's age, the deep colored wooden walls are a serious and soberly muted affair contrary to Clio's room. The clock standing out as an ornate oddity to the understated monochromes and cold lighting of the ball. Frameless pictures hang, mostly landscape photographs of Paris and Southtown. But a few are of a younger Clio. Including a line up of four friends in their Military Academy uniforms. Clio stops at that one and has to stifle a laugh when she sees herself with a waterfall of ink-ribbon hair reaching to her backside. So amused is she that she silently points to the picture for him to see.
The One-Eyed Twin Lotus is patient. He wouldn't be alive if he weren't. And he gives Clio as much time as she needs -- until that sudden flare casts an odd pallor onto his brightly colored smock.
Those words, oft repeated. The ritual that summons strength borne of rigid discipline. The cat grins a lopsided smile as he nods with approval. It's -on-, now. And he lifts his claws, already knowing what's to come next.
The hand closes over the fire -- and the threshold is breached.
Cat paws tread after boots, the cadence similar but out of phase with the beating of a grandfather clock. Clio may turn one way -- but Jubei turns another, straining his crimson eye as he gazes into the darkness, through the tock, tock, tocking soundtrack. He turns back -- just in time to notice Clio's candid impression.
The cat steps close, rising up onto his toes -- and smiles broadly at the picture, enough so that his nostrils flare from a light snort of amusement. He recognizes the friends, if from reputation and not by name.
"Tough to decide which I like more," he says, diplomatically; the hint of mischievousness is just a given for the old cat.
That moment of mirth from her master and the spell of the moment is broken. The fear has left. The Lieutenant is back and the uncertain dead girl is gone. She pulls the vials from her sleeve and looks at them, and she heads down the stair.
The child's room to the upper hallway was a shift, the stairs to the lower foyer is a dimensional rift. Gone are sentimental photographs, instead replaced by abstract art paintings and expressionist pieces in frameless glass. Lighting shifts colder and brighter, casting aside most shadow for the pale bluish white of its glow. Walls are gray with a cold tone, while minimalist shelves jut from walls to hold well trimmed bonsai. The floors are polished to a shine, rarely walked on or serviced with meticulous hand. Moreover, difficult to be quiet upon.
But a voice from just off the foyer speaks loud and clearly enough to cover the sound. A distinctly contralto voice with a restrained French accent speaks out. Most of it obtuse instructions to a subordinate on how to operate some form of laboratory equipment. But the voice is enough to get Clio to stop by the door and stare.
A woman some inches taller than Clio with a similar build. She wears a pristine white suit cut with distinct flare at her ankles, sleeve, hip and collar, including shimmering gold patterning at those flares. She speaks into an earpiece, while a tablet is cradled in her arm for visuals. Unlike her daughter, this woman's hair is a sheer blonde. And though it is equally close cut as Clio's, this woman's hair is neatly oiled and sprayed to a wave style. She turns as she talks, her face imperious with a pair of half moon spectacles hanging low on her nose. Her wine dark eyes look across to see the her daughter, presumed dead.
"Hattori, I will call you later," she states, calm and cool. She removes her earpiece. Her chin tilts upward in the same was as her daughter's does when thinking. And she smiles.
Clio's an endless source of fascination for the old master. He hadn't, for one, expected her to don the garb of the Kaka Clan, let alone a mask to conceal her identity. He hadn't expected the young woman who'd spoken so openly with him before to have grown so quiet and introspective as of late. And yet -- he is glad to see signs of the lieutenant he'd once known return, just upon setting foot in this former home. To see her smile, just as she had upon showing the major constellations to him on a lonely, war-torn night in Southtown.
She's found her will. Her determination. And Jubei nods back, restraining himself from stating what should be plain as day on his face: admiration. Not pride -- for he can claim little credit for the brave warrior of the Azure Flame ascending the stairs above him.
She steps upstairs into a new color palette -- free of the primary colors, free of the aged monochrome. An inversion, an inspiration -- the realm of someone uniquely poised to unweave the tapestries of reality itself. And the voice of such a person, resounding clearly and crisply off the polished surfaces.
He grunts, softly. Again, an acknowledgment, free of judgment and analysis. A statement of readiness, nothing more.
Jubei's ears swivel sideways. His tails shuttle back and forth -- sensitive hairs to detect any minute changes in the airflow that might suggest a shift more drastic than color. Mechanical paws are drawn close, clasping and unclasping.
He draws in his breath, as Clio steps into the next floor. And he remains down some four steps -- not hiding, per se, but remaining close. And listening.
This is Clio's moment to step into the next world. No longer as a child. No longer as a woman reported dead. But brave and steadfast, a knight of the blue flame.
The two stand silent and still, neither bringing up the energy to break the inertia of the moment. In the end, it's Clio that takes the first move. She steps forward, in her hand are the vials of samples. Like an offering to old gods, she holds her hand out. She knows her mother, she knows her own feelings, and she knows the best way to go is to present the tantalizing offer of research and discovery. "I've been trying to save to Metro Park," she says. One sentence. And she looks up at her mother, and lifts the vials higher.
A silent conversation, one made with presumptions and calculated guesses, had occurred in that moment. 'I didn't die', 'I faked my death', 'I abandoned the NOL'. All things not needed to be said at risk of pointing out the obvious. Things that could be seen by the appearance of the girl in her mother's study. But it couldn't be said that the mother was obviously cold. She takes the vials from Clio in her free hand. She places them down on a granite desk, near both a computer and a silver bowl of water. The older woman then turns and takes her daughter in her arms, pulling her close.
"You are doing nothing less than what I'd expect of you," she says, clearly, perhaps a little more loudly than she needed for talking to a person in her arms.
The embrace ends, and Clio's mother puts a hand to her daughter's chin and lifts it to look her in the eye. "Ma petite chevaliere," she says, "Welcome home." She slips past Clio, moving with long legged strides toward the doorway. "Wait here," she insists, "I will get coffee. It's late and I wish to be awake for you."
She is shortly out into the narrow foyer and quickly passing the base of the stair to enter another room off the small hall. She stops for only a moment to say, "Shall I make a third?" before she slips into a small, but meticulously clean, kitchen.
Clio, in the study is left to stand alone. She looks at her surroundings. The arcane and scientific artifacts held by her mother, the order in this place, and she pulls her hood back up.
Ears swivel, beneath their fabric tents, towards the two speakers. The auras of two powerful individuals press together, displacing the currents of chi between them. Unspoken words do nothing to discharge the tension, leaving an unsteady suspension of two different colors of chi.
And then words are offered, floated upon the unsteady surface. The bows of two boats press down into the surface -- adding more tension to the system. And somehow, instead of reacting, the reagants neutralize one another, their colors blending in hue.
The less familiar voice speaks out. Less -- in that there are some familiar elements, a shared legacy, recognizable to those who listen closely. And yet ... loud. Unusual, and yet, not... unwelcome.
The feline master releases a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. The swishing of his tails slows to a more casual pace. The mechanical paws remain taut, all the same -- the sense of danger has not -fully- subsided. And yet, with each word of the matriarch, the cat's ears swivel to follow.
Until the figure comes partly into view. A crimson eye widens; whiskers twitch.
The cat finds his voice -- albeit a bit more gravelly than usual.
"It'd be appreciated, ma'am. Thank you."
The lesser-known of the two vanishes into the kitchen -- and the discovered master pads his way up the stairs, claws clicking ever so slightly on the stair treads. He passes over to Clio as he ascends, offering a reassuring smile as he moves to stand beside her -- as before, one step behind.
A reassuring presence comes on catspaw. Clio looks over, and she smiles. The black at her eyes has run some, but she's smiling to the presence of the teacher that has helped her since the battlefields of Illyria claimed one of her lives. "She can help. This is the kind of thing she does. Somewhat," she tells Jubei, looking back to the desk and around at the study. "I never came here much. She always had the door closed."
In the kitchen, working a small single press maker, the woman in white considers her situation. Her nail tick-tack on the counter top, tapping a rhythm to keep her mind in locomotion. A conclusion she comes to is met with a nod to herself alone. And in short order, she has assembled a tray with three very small cups upon it. Small cups, with potent drink, black as night and free of sweetness.
Clio looks over at the bowl, she tilts her head when she looks into the still waters. She holds a hand over it, and starts to draw a hesitant circle when she can hear the echoing sound of her mother's heels coming from the other room. A brief flicker of iridescent magic and Clio snaps her attention over to the doorway and the woman gliding through.
"Do not disturb that, Clio, I have not finished with it," the woman chides gently as she makes her way to the desk to place the silver tray. "Here, here, occupy your hands," she insists, quickly slipping the piping hot and tiny cup over to Clio. She is just as quick to offer the same to Jubei. "Forgiveness, please. I do not often have guests with your unique morphology."
Offering made, she is quick to stand tall and gesture to herself. "Let us not waste time with discoveries. I know well who you are," she addresses Jubei, "You may call me LeBlanc. I am Clio's mother. And no, it does not suit me to betray my daughter's trust to the NOL at this juncture. Shall we skip the unpleasant uncertainties?"
The One-Eyed Twin Lotus nods in reply to Clio. His tails bob about in animated fashion. "Some doors are meant to stay closed," he muses, a mechanical paw raising to scratch at his cheek. "Others ain't," he concludes, with a note of optimism.
His feline ears can hear the tapping in the kitchen, though it does nothing to disturb the pace of his swishing tail. What does -more- to disturb him is the small eddies of chi he can sense stirring beside him, centered upon his student. And while he may have been guardedly optimistic earlier, there is nonetheless a low grunt from the back of his throat. An acknowledgement, not going -quite- so far as rebuke. But it seems the matter resolves itself, as LeBlanc enters the room with a tray. He steps back to allow Clio to receive her cup -- and just as politely, he raises his right paw inverted, his left paw sideways to suggest he's held such things before -- despite the inherent awkwardness of a 'paw' almost half again as large as a human's hand. He accepts the cup with a bow of his head, drawing it close to himself to minimize the chance of spills.
As his presence as a surrogate guardian is acknowledged, Jubei offers as civil a smile as can be expected from a furred feline predator. "Of course..." he says, nodding down to the cup in his hand. "... Wouldn't wanna make a mess." He offers a mild, neutral chuckle; the urge to break the proverbial ice is one he can't -always- keep at bay. "It's a pleasure to meet you, LeBlanc."
He sniffs briefly at the cup of coffee, blowing a quick puff of air across its surface. "We appreciate your help. Figurin' out what's going on with the soil has been... a challenge."
To the surprise of absolutely no one, he drinks coffee like any other cat. Morphology being what it is, and all.
Dark, sharp, a faint hint of berry, the espresso is hot and Clio holds the cup at a cautious distance to allow it to cool down. "We know the source of the problem. But there's some properties we can't figure out. It's active in ways I don't get," she explains, looking at the vials and their withered, blackened state.
LeBlanc, stoic but for the moments of warmth she has given her daughter, nod a single time as she brings the still steaming drink to her lips. A quiet sip and she gives her piece. "I remind you, Clio, that my field is neither botany nor geology. I prefer my subjects to be animate," she says. "However, I do have the equipment at my disposal to attempt to diagnose the situation more accurately than otherwise."
Clio smiles. "Thank you. I know how dangerous it is to keep this a secret. I didn't want to pull you in, but we've only got so much we can do." Clio finally goes for hers and downs it quickly, grimacing as the bitterness washes over her. "I haven't had this in so long. Do you still have any. . .?"
"Yes, gelato is in the freezer. Help yourself. And of course, Clio, what kind of mother would I be if I endangered my own child? I did not leave my home with you to come to this city for nothing." LeBlanc smiles before she takes another dainty sliver of a sip, watching not Clio, but the cat.
Clio puts the cup down on the tray, "Thank you," she adds to her mother, before she's off at a clip to get into the kitchen. She's moving lightly, airily, enjoying the growing return of familiar feelings.
Clio's departure brings the temperature of the room down several degrees. There's a cold, calculating, fractal aura about LeBlanc. One that hardens when her daughter is gone. "Challenges, old master, is what life exists for," she says, "I welcome it. And I welcome you for encouraging my daughter to take on higher ones. I was fearful that I had made an error in her development."
Jubei nods with his disciple, having nothing in particular to add. The grizzled cat is more intrigued by the application of magic formulae than the development of such, and he is pleased to know that his input might not be required for the moment. As before, there is little need to restate the obvious.
Jubei, for his part, has never been one to rush the experience of drinking, whether the drink is hot coffee, cold beer, or anything in between. Especially not when they come from a new source -- or a homecoming of sorts. That, and the old cat would undoubtedly make a mess if he'd tried to chug it. He smiles as Clio falls back into comfortable patterns -- and likewise, as she trots off, his eye lifts to meet LeBlanc's.
The shift of temperament is not unnoticed. And nor is it particularly unwelcome to the veteran of countless battlefields. A direct confrontation is vastly preferable to prolonged subterfuge. And he meets LeBlanc in similar fashion -- without much of a change to his calm demeanor.
He speaks slowly, and crisply -- pushing the roughness out of his Kansai-accented speech. "Mm. Perhaps there's truth in that. In my view, however... Life... prospers in /spite/ of challenges, not because challenge it its end goal." He pauses to savor the aroma of his coffee -- and his smile shows that he appreciates it.
"A sword dreams not of the forge, LeBlanc... but of the battlefield. Forging, tempering -- these are a means to an end. Do you hope, then, that she can help you in your ends? Or that she leave the forge to cut her own path?"
#t LeBlanc's eyes read deep the wells of chi that pool in Jubei's aura. She can feel it in her home as a spider feels vibrations on its web. And she has an analytical mind that surpasses her more brash daughter. She sips her tea, and she makes mental note of the moments that Clio is gone. She is on a time limit, and while she knows she has cards to play to give her more time with the Twin Tail Lotus, she does not yet wish to play them.
She has one of the largest bounties for the NOL in front of her. Even larger is the research potential within his Grimoire. Damn the destructive capability, if understood, such ability could be parceled and reproduced. But more to her tastes, she wants to know the secrets of his body.
"That is what I wish to determine," she claims. "How is a hero made? Is it genetics? Is it the world around them? A combination? Can it be enforced, or is it a matter of circumstances?" She sips the finale of her doppio and moves to place the empty cup alongside Clio's. She braces herself, hands on her desk.
"The world has always needed those to save it. I wondered if it were possible to hone the circumstances that made people like yourself. If it were a process, it could be recreated. And if anyone would be able to do it, I determined it would be me," the older woman explains, and then turns around to face the door.
"Clio!" she calls out, "Be a good girl and make enough for all of us. Not too much now!" She buys time with a polite request and a smile more at than toward Jubei.
"If I may build upon your analogy, as the blacksmith, my only end is that my sword cuts better than any others. Because when another thing from the Boundary arrives, it may serve its purpose."
Jubei is not pleased with the direction that the conversation is headed. And yet, he knows the role of a guest. And he knows that, however dark a path the train of conversation might take, the fact of the matter remains that LeBlanc may have answers that both he and Clio seek. It is incumbent upon him to adhere to the principles of politeness, so that both LeBlanc and the party of the Kaka might benefit.
And yet, this coffee is taking much too long to consume. As LeBlanc speaks, Jubei brings his right paw down, lowering his left all the way to the floor. And, after a moment, a little furred paw wiggles its way through the clasps of his smock, placing a metal tube into the cup with a small clink.
He sips the liquid through a straw, considering for a moment.
"A young person, as you know, becomes a soldier through training, through experience. A prize fighter can train -- or maybe they're just in the right place at the right time. Whereas Gears get to sidestep this process, gaining prowess through... genetics. Through science, or magic." His shoulders shrug loosely -- the details do not matter much to the old cat.
The cat pauses to sip at his straw. He's still got a lot of catching up to do on his coffee.
Jubei turns his eye back to LeBlanc. "The condition for the creation of a -hero-, though, is always the same. Evil."
He sips at his coffee. The call to Clio was not accidental -- he knows this. And he understands that, to LeBlanc, time is of the essence. And yet -- by enjoying his drink, he is expressing just how much he -values- his time.
The old cat gathers his breath. And speaks. "A weapon's legacy is born in the heart of battle. There are no shortcuts. For even the sharpest blade may be found lacking, if rushed to the battlefield without proper tempering."
"Okay!" comes a too-happy call from the kitchen. It's been too long since Clio could relax and let a guard down. Not training, not struggling, for now she is back in a place and in an emotional calm that she hasn't felt since she was with her friends again, post assignment to Southtown. Before it all happened. Before she 'died'.
LeBlanc rests her backside against her desk and crosses her ankles. "Precisely. And then there are your kind. Seemingly born gifted with a higher baseline of capabilities. I always wondered if those capabilities were something that could be born into humanity."
She smiles at Jubei. "Much of it is thanks to you and my discoveries of your progeny. I would have not thought things possible without you and yours." She looks to the entrance, boot heels are loud on these floors, and if she cannot hear them, then she knows she has time.
"This is a theory that is twenty years in the testing. Do you believe I am the one taking shortcuts?" she asks. "I share your philosophy, why do you suppose I put it into practice?" A flitting look from the entranceway to the cat. "But I could never have expected that one of you would aide me so very much."
Jubei register's Clio's call without needing to look. The predator's ears can tell where she is at all times without the need for visual confirmation, after all.
And it's possible to listen for Clio without taking his eye off LeBlanc. For the more she speaks, the less the One-Eyed Twin Lotus can rest easy. He sips from his coffee, aborbing her words as best he can. He chose to walk the world as an itinerant wanderer, in part because of the people who would, as LeBlanc seems to, twist his skills into a weapon. Or worse -- a forge for more weapons.
He sips. He considers. And his brow lowers in consternation, as his -progeny- are brought up in such a casual, indifferent manner.
He sips. Knowing his words will be picked apart, he chooses to employ as few as possible. "I wouldn't call it a gift." His jaw tilts; a lopsided grin. "The Kaka are strong, but it isn't just because of their birthright."
It is then that she boasts. That she speaks of -aid-.
And that causes Jubei's eye to narrow. "Aid you?" He mulls that over, while sipping the remainder of his coffee. Jubei sets the cup alongside the other two, stashing his metal straw back inside his smock.
"Be mindful, LeBlanc. In my experience, you can tell the best blacksmiths by the scars they bear."
"Don't fear for them. They were simply my proof of concept that humanities capacity for genetic acceptance was broader than initial expectations," LeBlanc dismisses presumed concerns. "Once I determined that it was possible, it allowed me to focus my attention on appropriate doners."
She moves aside to allow Jubei to the tray. "I had hoped the mission and objectives of the Librarium, or the Sacred Order, would focus my child's potential in the mold I sought. I should have expected her to not be so obedient. But that she fell into the sway of one of those whose example I used to mold her, well I could not have asked for greater aid. Don't you agree?"
She takes up the tray, "I understand you may be familiar with conspiracy, but I assure you this not one. This is serendipity of the highest order. And one I intend to take advantage of." She heads for the entrance, knowing she may have pushed buttons, and fully intending to place herself in the room with her daughter as momentary decorum shield.
Jubei wasn't particularly -afraid- for the Kaka, so much in that they're already a self-governing body that can take care of themselves. And yet, the way LeBlanc talks, it is as if she herself was the one responsible for their creation.
Which Jubei doubts.
And yet, his heart tightens with apprehension.
"Oh. See, it was my understandin' she made those choices herself." The Twin Lotus hasn't loosened up on his skeptical appearance, nor has he stopped projecting a gravelly tone that might suggest he's more world-weary than he truly is. For in words, much as in battle, there is a certain economy in saying more with less. Perhaps, if this woman would boast some more, she might reveal more hidden truths.
Alas, Jubei's concerns are addressed in a more point-blank fashion. Serendipity, she says. That thought -- and the notion that Clio might be emerging soon -- provides him the opportunity to lighten his expression. "Of course," he comments, his voice a dull, unpolished neutral as he follows along behind.
His tails pull back at an angle. His eye remains following LeBlanc, warily. For though she's claimed to be neutral in this regard, she's already given him reason to question that claim...
He raises his voice, so that Clio could hear if she chooses to. "The coffee was an interesting taste, LeBlanc. Honed to perfection over the years. Some sort of... berry flavor?"
"Oh, you're coming in here?" Clio blinks in surprise when her mother whirls into the room. She has before her an array of three glasses with orange and pink balls of ice cream each. And spoons balanced well across the tops. Careful laying out rather than her usual post fight affair where she opts for whatever she can get. But she doesn't want to use too much of her mother's supply and she is just dropping in. She's trying to do things her way.
Which is really been the expectation of Clio her entire life.
"Yes, hints of blackberry," LeBlanc is still host enough to boast on her selection of drink even as she storms the kitchen. She stops and quickly switches the stemmed glasses of gelato for the spent cups of coffee. "Go, go, go, I will follow."
Removed from the duty she had, and no longer allowed to take several extra bites before coming out with the treat, Clio walks back into the study with a puzzled expression. She looks to Jubei and her head tilts. She opens her mouth to talk, but stops when her mother comes from behind. "I could have carried that," she protests.
"Nonsense, you are both my guests," LeBlanc cuts the protest down quickly. "Now then, it's been so very long." She passes one glass of gelato to Clio. The second goes to Jubei, and with it comes a pointed look of a hungry academic, "Tell me about my daughter's progress since she left behind her friends?"
Jubei's nose enters the kitchen before he does. Twitch, twitch, twitch. His keen sense of smell lets him know -something- yummy is in the kitchen, and the very thought of it being Clio's creation has the feline master intrigued.
Jubei nods, fascinated. "It adds a very distinct taste. I admit, I ain't much of a coffee drinker, but that might could change." He smiles comfortably, as if the previous, colder conversation had never even taken place.
But, as the two ladies start to proceed back into the study, Jubei stops short in his tracks and backpedals out. His twin tails splay out to either side, ensuring he doesn't bump into anything. And in response to Clio's quizzical look, he offers a lowered brow and a one-sided shrug. More to tell, but not here?
And before long, everyone's back in a comfortable, conversational triangle. Jubei lets his paws sink to the floor, while two furred paws reach out to latch hold of the stemware. He glances sideways to find a small table and chair, and -- pulling out a chair with his foot -- he clambers up to provide himself a place to sit. The trials of being both (a) short, and (b) a cat.
With his gelato prepared, the One-Eyed Twin Lotus begins, "Clio started with a solid foundation, and near complete command of her magic abilities -- I can't take any credit for those." He smiles proudly, glancing over to Clio with the most charitable of looks -- knowing she -might- be bashful over the praise. "With her chain shattered, she was able to work with a smith to forge a new weapon, better than the last." No need to mention the NOL, as both already know what happened there.
But, there are those accomplishments he -can- take credit for. He momentarily lifts his large paws again, gesturing to accentuate his words. "Physically, though? If Clio's Academy friends haven't been training hard, they're gonna have a hard time dealing with her now. Her speed and agility have improved considerably. And her new chain techniques are... impressive. Been snared up in those more times than I can count." He adds a chuckle, before easing his paws back to the floor.
He refrains from digging into his gelato. Because this is more of a Clio celebration than a Jubei one.
It's no secret what LeBlanc is doing; controlling the flow of people and the flow of attention on her swift command of a situation. Acting immediately, acting decisively, expecting others to fall in line is a good way to get the very results that one wants. She has not gotten to where she is in the world through obedience and obsequence. She's more than aware she still has filial control over her daughter, and she estimates the old cat is willing to play along with social niceties and allow her the moment to stay one step ahead.
Not all social engineering, however, as she is genuinely interested in the direction of Clio's development. She has genuinely been in the dark, and while she is not lacking in confidence in regards to her work, she still appreciates knowing. The glowing praise is almost amusing.
The close buy Clio eats her ice cream with the stoic dead face of a soldier at attention combined with the distinct desire to be anywhere but in this moment.
"Physically she should be more than capable. I would have hoped she had such challenge against the incursions of Metro City, and of Southtown, but alas it seems timing was not with her," LeBlanc laments the lack of opportunity for her own daughter to put her life on the line. A sideways look to her child. "Hopefully you have not been neglecting field applications of yourself? That debacle with Golden Angel was an insult to your abilities."
"I made my chain from harbor anchor. Taking advantage of sympathetic connections to the geometric leylines of my home," Clio states. A small inclination from LeBlanc is her reward. "I'm not as far as I should be. I can survive, but if I'm going to help, I'll still need to improve."
LeBlanc's smile is feline as Jubei, one that holds a paw over a squirming canary. Shared goals instilled are as good as directing things herself. "You are a great figure in history, even if many are not as aware as I," she says, turning once more to Jubei. "Here's to creating more."
Jubei might be aware of what LeBlanc is doing, but, short of an unwelcome interruption to the family reunion, his options are limited. At the crux of the matter is not any of the topics under discussion, but Clio's feelings and sense of family. That, and despite the words said to the contrary, this feels like a trap. Exactly like when he'd brought a Phantom to his daughter Kokonoe. His tails relent from their high-alert status -- but only with conscious effort at shielding Clio from his own apprehension.
The Legendary Hero offers a faint snort in reply. "Let's not mince words, Golden Angel was an insult to -civilization-. That wouldn't even be a decent test on a good day."
Jubei looks between Clio and his ice cream, making every effort to copy her steps. When in Rome, eat gelato as the Romans do.
Still, though, he's able to see that Clio isn't... -entirely- happy with the line of questioning, now that his own report is being questioned. "Bein' a great figure in history ain't all it's cracked up to be. You get a price on your head, condemnation pretty much wherever you go, and they don't even give you discounts on groceries."
He lifts a spoon of his ice cream, first to Clio, and then to LeBlanc. "If you're lucky, though, there's people who care for you despite all that. So here's to a loving family."
"I don't think water guns were supposed to test my abilities," Clio says, "I did meet some nice people. And I got to work with Makoto!" Clio's face falls. "I hope she's okay. I hope they're all okay."
LeBlanc gives a noncommittal hum of acknowledgment. She seems mostly focused on Jubei's physical demeanor. He is, to her, the only potential catalyst in the moment. "The life of a hero is such. To live grander and to hold ambition is rarely appreciated in its time. But they are still necessary." She takes a dainty spoonful, letting the flavors settle and melt as much as she does her statement.
"I do hope you do not mistake my prudence for callousness," she says, "I can assist with this, but inasmuch as I can write it off as my own research. I already have a considerable body of material to work with post the Majigen, it will be easy to hide a few more samples among them. But no matter my love for Clio, I am not immune from persecution."
She looks at Clio for a moment. "I am not unaware of what it means to run from authority when it comes to maintaining your ideals."
Clio's concern is met with a slow nod. He, too, hopes that Clio's friends are well, even if they do happen to be cogs in the NOL machine. "I'm sure they are," he comments.
When LeBlanc speaks on the 'live grander' and 'hold ambition' parts of heroism -- he wonders to himself just what that -means-, exactly. The Legendary Hero is homeless, and his ambitions are simple ones. His good friend Valkenhayn is a servant to one of the most powerful vampire lords in existence. Hakumen has all but lost his mind. Nine is a zombie tool of the NOL, Platinum is gone as far as he knows, and Yuuki Terumi...
Jubei focuses on his ice cream, for the moment. For as frustrated as he may be, he's not in the mood to share such experiences with LeBlanc. A little hero worship is allowable for those who are not already living the life.
And what's more... LeBlanc -is- putting a considerable strain on her own working relationship with the NOL, as is made clear. Temperament chilled, his tails swish into motion once more. "Really appreciate the help. I'm hopin' we won't cause too much trouble for you in that regard, ma'am."
He glances over to Clio. He may have... differences with LeBlanc, but he hopes -- as she likely does -- that his protege can appreciate just what LeBlanc has put on the line for something as meaningful as this simple conversation.
"It'll probably take some time, though, yeah?" Jubei has no idea how long this 'research' could take. And it shouldn't hurt to ask.
For all she says and knows, LeBlanc sees in a very narrow scope. She sees results. She sees what has been done and what is now as two different things. Failures to continue to grow. Failures to compensate for the changes in the field. Current existence does not undo heroic action in the past. For LeBlanc, she simply cannot care how the heroic feel about their current status. There is a fundamental disconnect in the parts of her that would find herself caring; because results matter more than the test subjects.
"Of course. Moving forward on the lingering results of Majigen on area ecology will be a boon." She finishes the third little ball of ice and places the thin stemmed glass aside. "But moreover, it has been wonderful to learn about your progress, Clio. I know you will accomplish great things. I expect as much. Do me proud."
Clio, who has been done, nods. "I will. I may not be with the NOL, but that doesn't change who I am. Thank you for helping. I didn't know who else to turn to for this." She looks to Jubei. A silent request for assistance in socially guiding herself out of the home.
Where LeBlanc sees a long-running experiment, Jubei sees a young woman hoping to make good on this whole "hero" thing. Jubei knows that to people like LeBlanc, he and Clio and the Kaka Clan are little more than guinea pigs. But in the same token -- if it weren't for people like her, perhaps the world would be much worse than it already is.
The old cat looks back and forth between LeBlanc and Clio, while finishing off what's left of his ice cream.
And it happens that he has one bites left, before Clio gives him a desperate look. His eye widens; he holds up his ultimate spoonful. "This is fantastic. I really am glad for the opportunity to try it." Down the hatch it goes.
The stemware is a -bit- too unwieldy for his clumsy paws to handle, and a bit too heavy for his feline paws. So he opts to leave the glass in place as he climbs down. "Much as we appreciate the hospitality, we should probably get movin'. Ain't no tellin' how long this quiet will continue."
He bows properly, arms at his side, to LeBlanc. Once he bobs up, he starts for the stairway. "Thanks for takin' on this little side project for us. We'll stop by again when we can. You take care, ma'am."
Clio has her signal to leave. She nods toward Jubei and makes quick step toward her mother. "Thank you, mom. Knowing you, you'll find a way to contact us. So I don't think I want to ask you. Secrets and all. But really, thank you. And. I love you."
LeBlanc smiles and gently pats Clio on the top of her hooded head. "You're welcome, Clio. I'm happy you were brave enough to consider me. And for allowing me a moment to see your mentor in the flesh." She looks over Clio, toward Jubei, adding, "And thank you as well. I know how pressing it must be to expose yourself like this."
Clio turns from her mother, out from under the hand and takes a breath. "We'll leave the way we came. No front doors," she says. A few steps away, Clio has her mask in hand, she stops and looks back. "I don't know how long it'll be before I can see you openly again. Good bye."
"Farewell, my little knight. Go off and save lives. I will be here, finding solutions for you." LeBlanc waves her fingers at the parting young woman. Though palmed in her other hand she has the earpiece all ready to place back so that she may return to work.
Jubei has no nostalgia for Clio's memories; he makes his way through his protege's former home at a nimble pace. Though, as any cat on a mission might, he pauses at the corners to make sure the human is still following him. And like a -civil- cat, he doesn't rush the human in question.
The One-Eyed Twin Lotus does, however, pause as he enters Clio's old bedroom. His nose wriggles and his whiskers twitch, as he verifies that the room smells exactly as it did when they left it -- no sign of alterations or further intrusions. His tail swishes warily back and forth as he paws forward. He stops at the window, craning his head outside, looking left and right, up and down.
A light 'harumph' escapes his lungs. Satisfied, he climbs up onto the windowsill, making his way onto the fire escape. His outdoor scan is a little more cursory -- out here, at least, there are more options for flight.
It wouldn't be long before he allows Clio to catch up, or to outpace him if she so chose -- he'd be walking on fours along the railing, after all.
"It's been a lot to take in, hmm?"
She could do this when she was a child. She can certainly do so now. Through the old room, out to the fire escape, up to the roof. A hop, skip, and jump and a whole view of the downtown hub of Metro City shining. Stars burning on earth, it's where Clio sits at the edge, letting her feet kick over the edge of the building. As comfortable as the old cat on the ledge with nothing but the air below.
It was easier leaving than it was going in. The pull of the bandaid makes the sting go faster. She keeps her mask off for now, but she holds it in her hand, held at her lap. Sitting, she doesn't answer much. There wasn't a feel of breached magic in leaving. She wasn't capable of knowing when she was younger, but now is different. The fractal web was something she was certain of coming in.
"She's doing more with magic," Clio says, the first words found. One of many things that can be defined as 'a lot to take in'. "The scrying bowl was new. I don't ever remember seeing something like that before. Makes sense though, now that I think about it."
To the old cat, it's truly a thing of wonder to see Clio bounding stairs with such a blend of grace and enthusiasm. It warms his heart to see a human climbing with as much ease as one of his kind, to have conquered her fear of heights to such a degree. Tut-tuts of a straw-haired mother aside, that is one of Clio's gifts he's always pleased by -- and a necessary gateway for her to fight with tenacity like he himself does.
Tails curl about him, then jerk aside with a hint of playfulness. White-furred feet kick over the edge, lightly. He doesn't look at Clio directly; he doesn't need to. Better to share her gaze, to see the situations as she sees them.
"... Nine did that, yeah. She'd learn everything she could about one field, then move right on to the next. All meshed together in her head. At least I hope it did." He laughs, softly. "So, uh.... What's a scrying bowl do, again?"
Clio crosses her ankles and looks down. She thinks back to being younger, how only a few years feels so very far away. She doesn't recall a fear of heights. It was never a thing to her, always just a draw to move and up meant staying ahead and out of sight of bigger people. It just felt right. Then as it does now.
"Specifically I don't know. I was trying to figure that out when she came in. But you use them to look at things, watch them from far away. I don't think most people use them nowadays, even if you know how, because a phone or a drone'll do the trick." She answers, and falls backward into a roll upon the roof. A handstand, a roll and she's back on her feet. She slips her mask on, the grinning face looking back at Jubei. But it's just for a moment before she slides it up atop her head.
"It was awkward in there, but it felt nice. Guess I'm just glad she's not against me in all this. Even if she should've been a little upset." She shrugs, and holds up pinching fingers, "Just a little."
Jubei had been looking off in the distance. But when Clio explains what the -general- purpose of a scrying bowl is... he turns askew to get a better look at Clio.
"But you'd -know- if a drone was being used to spy, because you could see it." Jubei says this matter-of-factly, because -- well, to the predator's senses, it's not much of a feat to detect such things.
His whiskers twitch, as Clio rolls back to her feet in dramatic fashion. He has ideas on -why- LeBlanc would have wanted to get into scrying, based on her earlier conversation with him.
And that brings out a growl, as he plants his paw on the edge of the building, and pushes himself back to a standing position.
"Nah, you're right," he comments.
The cat looks down in the general direction of their flat.
"She didn't seem upset at all."
"Sometimes," Clio asserts, "Drone cameras can work far away. And there's always spying. Scrying had limitations, though. Nothing's ever perfect." She meanders, toward the edge of the building. Opposite her old window, she looks away toward the harbors.
"She never got worried for me going out on my own, either. But she did put me into the academy. So I guess she knew I needed something. Maybe that's just how she cares," Clio holds a glaring blind spot in her loyalty there. But it has kept her sane, and it has kept her friendship with Noel, Mai, Makoto all through what she has done. She might doubt the direction of the NOL, but she still holds trust in its people.
And LeBlanc is her people.
"Probably should warn Brandon. Or at least tell him we have someone looking into analyzing the soil from a scientific perspective," Clio says. It's a suggestion to work, to do things, to avoid saying that mostly she just wants to leave this place and focus on problems she can solve than reminders of broken bonds.
The One-Eyed Twin Lotus briefly considers asking what sort of limitations might exist, but that urge subsides with the possible connotations. As much as Jubei might like to give Clio a warning, he fears that, ultimately, it might work against his student's best interests.
In the end, Jubei's decided that it doesn't matter if LeBlanc is scrying on her, or guiding her path. For the Wheel of Fate brought Clio to him, and it's his ardent belief that the Wheel of Fate will serve her best in the long run.
Jubei comes up alongside Clio, looking off into the distance in an attempt to see what she sees. The harbor's nice -- it's got plenty of fish.
Jubei takes a breath of the night sky. Not as clean as he'd liked -- but his soujourn in Metro City has grown on him. "She wants what's best for you, that much is plain to see. And I'm happy that she approves of me as your teacher now."
A paw reaches up to clap down on Clio's shoulder. It's not as warm and fuzzy as his own, but the thought and intention are there.
"You're improving more than you might think, just so you know." He chuckles, at that.
His eye blinks, as Brandon is brought up. He hums two notes to himself, considering -- and then agrees, "Yes. Perhaps a text -- or if not, I'll likely see him at the Rosalia. Though..."
Jubei grunts. It's not an unusual sound -- just a sign that something occurred to him that hadn't before.
"... It might be time for me to introduce you to someone."
Log created on 19:07:18 05/08/2021 by Clio, and last modified on 20:55:22 05/11/2021.