KOF 2017 - Duty Calls

[Toggle Names]

Description: At last, after long days harried by her superiors, Noel Vermillion chances upon one of her mission targets. Her path intersects with Alma Towazu's when she returns to his apartment searching for clues and finds him preparing to leave Southtown. He explains his plan: to strike at the Illuminati infiltrating the United Nations while he is still believed dead. Noel must decide if she will report the MIA Sacred Order agent or join him -- or neither.

SouthTown Village North - Evening
<<-All your searches will be for naught. The seeker will be the one sought.->>

Nothing. Days. Weeks. The man seemed to have vanished entirely. Nothing she would do could possibly bring him back into existance, it seemed. No rock she turned over showed signs of addressing he once existed. No intel provided shedded any light upon his where-abouts. If he was still about. She would have to return to the beginning - his apartment - to see if there was something more. Something. Anything. It was almost as if ... did not want to be found.

Or if he could be found at all.

The cloak of night was beginning to overtake the brilliant lights in the sky, making her approach a bit less conspicious. As inconspicious as a woman dressed in a heavy blue, gold, and white coat could be. Yet it was enough. Just enough for her to make her way to the apartment. Already she had been found, accosted by one of the Ikari warriors as a friend. A friend that attempted to only answer and not ask a single thing of the other woman, almost as if she didn't care for her.

Yet that had been a day or so ago. Forever, when each day marks another stride towards the destruction of an entire city. How much time could she waste attempting to find Alma? Yet it remained a mission for her. A mission provided from above - that they, strangely, did not deter from. Even with the hidden gear somewhere in Southtown.

The heavy coat swung back and forth as she grew close to the apartment, her mind yet again wandering. For her role, it seems it happens more often than not.

Alma Towazu, Missing in Action. Though an independent operative drawn from the public and not the Sacred Order's own rigorous internal selection process, he had proven instrumental in the safe capture of dangerous Darkstalkers and had assisted in foiling the plots of rival organizations bent on distorting the boundary between the magical and the mundane worlds. His high profile and international traveling served as a cover for globe-spanning missions, and his infiltration of the King of Fighters tournament had been wildly successful, with Team Balance reaching the finals.

But during the semifinals of the tournament, he disappeared in the wake of an attack upon his hotel and did not show up to the match. Soon after, Japan descended into chaos and the priorities of the Sacred Order shifted along with the balance of power within the United Nations. But Alma's recovery remained a priority for Kliff, sometimes to the confusion and consternation of other members of the Order. Whatever the artist was doing and whoever attacked him, it must have been important. But now he is gone.

Or perhaps he is closer than he seems. High above Noel, on the roof atop an ajoining apartment building, a tall figure stands clad in earth tones, only the tips of red-tinged blond hair flashing beneath a lowered hood. He glances over the ledge of the roof and then silently leaps, seeming to glide across the distance to his own apartment building's roof. When he touches down, faint sparkles indicate a telltale ethereal sign of Soul Power in use. He does not hesitate and moves quickly toward the roof's edge, glancing down toward his apartment's balcony below. He glimpses a figure in a bright coat walking across the street but judges that he is sufficiently disguised by shadows and that few would look up to see his unconventional approach, and takes the plunge, slipping off the roof to fall toward his own balcony, decelerating as he approaches until he lands lightly as though upon a cloud.

He is no ninja, though he keeps their company, and stealth does not much become him, but time is of the essence. As swiftly and silently as he can, he lifts up his own living room window and steps inside, shutting it behind him. Lowering his hood, Alma sighs softly at the unusual habits he's picked up. He'd checked to ensure there were no spies posted upon the rooftops and could detect no violent intent in the vicinity. It was exceedingly likely the Illuminati thought him dead. But he could take no chances. With the good sense not to turn on the lights, he quickly moves from the living room to his bedroom to begin gathering a small collection of belongings for the trip to Metro City.

The sister organization to the Sacred Order may not be as righteous as it is known - though the Sacred Order priorities shift, the Novus Orbis Librarium's writhe. A metaphorical collar about Noel's neck is pulled tight. The commands were given. There was only really one result.

As much as she was trained, Noel was still 'average' in her trainings. They did not promote her due to things she could control, things she had worked to master herself. As such - things were still a bit of a struggle. The woman doesn't see the man as he stood atop his roof. Did not see the movements. No enhanced hearing pinpoints his position. No ability to 'feel' another to identify he is close. The sparkles twinkle above, Noel's eyes catching them to smile - winking stars as she shimmer above before vanishing in the blackness above.

Amazing, to see them so early.

It due to having exhausted every other choice, every other attempt, that Noel found herself returning to that apartment that Alma now slides into. Just as he would begin to gather his belongings, the chilling sound of metal rubbing, then entering metal, rings through. Mechanical devices so common during the day capable of instilling fear upon use. Light, however dwindling, would enter into the apartment, scattering the darkness back to many hiding places.

The bright colored outfit, and woman inside, stride in as she sighs once more - blocking some of the uninvited light in. "There has to be something in here..." She laments, at the end of her rope. Every search has resulted in the same, but perhaps there was still hope! That was, after all, why she was there now.

Striding in, each step would bring her unknowingly towards Alma, a man currently uninterested in being found.

Alma freezes halfway through packing his satchel at the sound of the door. His eyes grow sharp though he gazes at nothing, a hint at he is focusing an extrasensory perception. A single aura, nonthreatening but unfamiliar. It is unusual how few details he is able to read regarding the person's temperament, but there are those who train to reduce their psychic footprint. Besides, one does not need psychic powers to determine that whoever is entering his apartment is unlikely to be an enemy. What foe would be so careless when invading his home, even if they did not expect him to be there, or to come alone?

A young woman, from the sound of her voice. Alma straightens then with faint relief, setting down his half-packed satchel upon his bed. This is a stroke of good fortune. It's just too bad there's probably no way to do this without startling her.

"Pardon me."

The living room is illuminated as Alma, having emerged from his bedroom, flips the switch by his door, revealing himself to Noel. His hood is pulled back, revealing feminine features belied by a solemn voice.

"Am I the object of your search?"

He matches the description she was given in appearance and in manner -- mild-mannered, formal, a little peculiar -- for the most part, though he seems particularly grave and oddly unsurprised and unconcerned by her presence.

"You must have had a difficult time. My apologies."

He sounds sincere, if restrained, as he meets her eyes. He's never seen this woman before, but he can infer that she's most likely affiliated with the Sacred Order and has gotten the unfortunate job of chasing him down, though of course he can't be certain. If she is, this may be an opportunity to finally report without risk of being intercepted. He keeps his gaze trained on her green eyes, studying her expression. Her eyes. He doesn't know this woman.

"Would you like some ... tea ..."

He doesn't know this woman. She sho u l d n ' t b e h e r e

A void. Around him, the silhouette of a cityscape. At first it seems as though a glaring light has painted the skyline black. And then, that rather the buildings have been cut out like shapes from paper, leaving not shadows but emptiness, pure emptiness. This is no-city. He is no-where. He is

oh, no

but that's

not right

there's no such feeling as



Alma gasps for breath suddenly, staggering against the wall, his previous composure fractured, looking wide-eyed at Noel. His sudden change in expression is bizarre, but it is he who looks at her with shock. That was--

"Who ... are you?"


It is an entirely different reason that her temperament is difficult to read, or how scarce it is. None of it is due to Noel's own training, unlike Alma. Two different existences. A man so careful, so focused now - tempered by circumstance and will, unwavering, and a woman so waifish and shy that she simply suffers her Majors cruel declarations, apologizes for the smallest things, and cannot stand up for herself. Perhaps she was kind. Perhaps she was friendly. What good did it do, really, in such a world?

The door is closed behind her, carefully, a single limb extending out of the odd heavy coat, as bright as it is. The limb extends outwards, bending a fold outwards between two sheets of material, just under the odd belt. It turns the lock, recoiling in to bash against belt and material as the words come from the blackness of the apartment. Her mind blanks for a moment, empty, in her surprise. The hand clasps against her chest, green eyes darting about in the darkness, body whirling around. The coat clatters somewhat, metallic bits striking other bits before they come to a rest.

"Ah..!" She gasps, light drawing the green eyes wide, back striking against the door, bouncing the frame and giving her what little room she has. A hooded figure! The hand reaches out towards him, fingers bending slightly as if to grasp air. The instinct to call Bolverk halted as the hood comes down. The green eyes, iris' already wide, continue to stare. "Y-you're...!" She can't forget that picture. Tucked in a pocket, it's wrenched out with the hand that wasn't already out of the coat, held out to compare. "N..no! Don't apologize!" She requests, "Mr. Towazu - a..ah, a little." Noel manages to respond, gaze sliding downwards to the ground, "I m-mean... sorry! I meant to say that it's my duty, no matter how difficult it is, as a knight." Or so she proclaims.

Her own green eyes meet Alma's. Her words continue to come. She steps forwards a little, more reassured now. Calmed, perhaps. The blue beret bobs as she takes a step, "If it wouldn't intrude on you... I'll have to report to Major ...." Her words would likely fade away. An explanation of her mission. A brief explanation of what she has encountered. A few friendly remarks.

None of it would reach Alma.

A woman who did not exist. Not truly birthed. Who knew not why she was erased, or the reason for it. Nor what it was she would have lived for.

The latter, despite the drastic redirection of her status of existence, has not changed.

"... and Kliff - !" Noel cries out in surprise as Alma gasps for breath suddenly, staggering back to the wall. Wide eyes stare at Noel, the woman shivering now in uncertainty. "A-ah... W-who am I?" She asks, now apprehensive. Was he okay? "I ... I'm Noel Vermillion... but are you okay? Is something wrong?" A step is taken forwards again, both arms held upwards, fingers splayed in a trained fashion. Attempting to signal she's no threat - especially as Alma towers over her.

The cognitive dissonance between what Alma experiences now -- his familiar apartment and the earnest young woman asking after his state of mind -- and the cataclysmic vision that moments before beset him is stark. But the psychic is trained to deal with such phenomena, and he has had such visions before. In fact, they were the cause of his seeking out psychic training in the first place, long ago. Yet he has never experienced one so brutal or so eerie. And it breaks the pattern of his deja vu because--

"I ... I am fine now, thank you."

It didn't seem to have anything to do with him. The visions are almost always triggered by a person, and there is some implication that he knew this person in a past life. But Noel is entirely unfamiliar. Somehow, that unfamiliarity itself seems to have been the trigger. That is the limit of Alma's understanding for now.

"Please pardon my loss of composure," he manages, steadying himself. He does seem to have mostly recovered from whatever just happened to him. There is a faintly dazed look to his eyes as he busies himself moving toward the kitchenette along one side of the living room. Tea-brewing protocol, activate. "I have been on the run for some time and may still be a bit fatigued. It will not happen again." He shouldn't unsettle her. Her words are beginning to sink in.

"May I call you Noel?" He glances back to her in the midst of measuring tea leaves and setting water to boil in an electric kettle. "Allow me to explain why I haven't reported to the Order. Before my King of Fighters semifinals match, my location was pinpointed by a high-level agent of the Illuminati and I was attacked and severely injured. Immediately upon recovery, I was located and attacked by some predatory and cybernetically enhanced creature called Riptor. I suspect that the organization behind Riptor is retaliating for my involvement in a recent mission for the Order in Appalachia, in which a monstrous specimen of theirs is thought to have been destroyed." He speaks calmly, a little like all these bizarre events happened to someone else, or maybe like he assumes Noel won't find these events bizarre. "I further believe that the most plausible explanation for the intersection of these events--" He considers explaining his discussion with Fei, and decides it would unnecessarily complicate things. "--is that the Illuminati and its allies aim to usurp control of the United Nations and neutralize or eliminate rival covert organizations."

Including, obviously, the Sacred Order and its affiliates.

"That is why," he concludes, turning back with two lightly steaming cups of gyokuro green tea, "I have refrained from reporting. Despite my desire to warn the Sacred Order of this threat, I believe that Commander Kliff must already know of it and that he allowed me to infiltrate the King of Fighters tournament with the aim of rooting out this plan. My greatest advantage now is that the Illuminati likely thinks me dead. But if I were to carelessly announce my presence and alert their spies, I would do no good and much harm. I trust--"

He reaches out to offer Noel one cup, expression mild and relaxed.

"--that you are not a spy."

Her unusual aura aside, that would have to be very deep cover indeed.

"But I request that you do not report meeting me to your superiors," he continues quietly, now carefully maintaining eye contact, "and that if you are able to suspend your current missions, you accompany me to Metro City to counterattack the Illuminati and protect the Sacred Order, the United Nations -- and by extension, the world -- from their machinations."

His gentle tone and demeanor softens but cannot disguise his arresting and unflinching conviction. But no amount of sheer charisma can persuade someone to act against her own interests -- unless she decides those interests have changed.

"If you're alright... take it slow just in case, okay?" The woman asks of Alma as he struggles to make sense of his visions. In truth, even if he was to realize in full what purpose the visions may show, it would unlikely make any sense. He is spared that for now. A violent past dimension that marked so many terrible things. He was familiar with that.

The warm smile, the gentle-kindness that the woman seems to give off as she kneels a bit to assist Alma.

May it help soften the harsh reality that her existence promises. Certainly, the word 'trigger' is apt. Small parts in her life had already been modified, changed, to lead her here now. Likely to continue forwards. The dimension simply bending to change what was necessary. She was no Observer.

"N-no, it's my fault. I ..." It really wasn't her fault, and as she struggled to find a reason that it was, the woman watches Alma steady himself. To stride across his 'world' away from the outside and begin to make tea. To apologize and to explain what he had been through. "Ah? I've been looking for you for a week or so... if you've been on the run for longer... why couldn't y-" As she rises, eyes sweeping over to Alma, he begins to explain. Carefully, Noel strides over, closer, to listen. "Certainly." She answers, bobbing her head and smiling. "Please do." He continues on, and Noel stands nearby a chair. Hands rest atop it, though Noel does not sit. She listens.

It is a story that leads up to an obvious conclusion. Her face changes with each new bit of information, the attacks, the wounds, the attempts on Alma's life. All of it simply too much. A look of concern and worry is plastered upon her face as she, sadly, continues to listen. A chair screeches out from the table as she sits, sitting upwards as she listens. Her head, and beret, bob together once or twice. The conclusion comes. Kliff likely knows.

That cup is extended out towards her, Noel clasping it as it is provided. "A spy..." Noel shakes her head afterwards, "I - I mean... I'm not a spy." Quite smooth. With a heavy breath, her eyes close as Alma asks of her the first request. "Major Kisaragi entrusted me with the task of looking for you. If it was Kliff's original intent to find you, then... I'll be able to claim I couldn't find you." 'You worthless...!' She can already hear those words. It does not get any better.

Suspend her ... current missions? Eyes open once more, green focusing upon Alma's form. "I ..." She glances away, finally finding the ability to continue, finger tracing the teacup. "Novus Orbis Librarium has requested my presence to search for the fallen Gear." Her head shakes again, gaze moving back to Alma. "If I was ... I ... I can't suspend any missions." It isn't feasible. What she'd give up - no, not with everything she's already done. This can't be what severs the string holding the blade.

"I'm so sorry... If I can complete it... or maybe it's completed by another! But I ... I can't unless..." Her grip about the teacup, weak as it was, still intensifies.

The fallen Gear ...

Alma thinks carefully. A trusted ally committed to the Sacred Order would be valuable to have with him on his dangerous quest, no matter how little he knows of her. But with the world in chaos, there are many quests worth completing. He has no desire to manipulate Noel to fulfill his goals at the expense of her own. But it may be that their goals align more than is apparent.

"I see. So you were to search for me and for the Gear." He pauses briefly. "By the 'fallen Gear,' are you referring to the 'Command Gear' that the Gear called Justice referred to in her broadcast?" The Gear in Japan to be captured and handed over. Alma has caught up with much of the news he missed during his recovery. "If so--"

He may not be able to persuade her, but he must try.

"Defeating the Illuminati at the United Nations may take precedence over capturing the Command Gear in Japan. If Justice receives her orders from the United Nations, then halting the takeover of the United Nations should lead to Justice standing down and the deescalation of international conflict." Assuming that the Illuminati is entirely behind the UN's aggression. Alma sees no reason to believe otherwise. Fei's warnings about the UN could be explained by long-term Illuminati manipulation. "That could lessen the urgency of capturing Japan's Command Gear and buy more time to seek it out before disaster strikes Southtown."

The tall man takes a contemplative sip of his tea. His argument might be a bit of stretch when it comes to reinterpreting Noel's orders. But he sincerely believes that the Sacred Order's highest priority should be taking on the Illuminati, as he judges it the quickest way to forestall the apocalypse. Still, it may be a bit surprising how cavalier Alma seems toward their hierarchy, considering that his record shows consistently dutiful completion of missions. Only a closer look at his mission reports would reveal his tendency to reinterpret orders to suit his moral code -- neutralizing by capturing or negotiating rather than killing, for example -- and getting away with it by getting satisfactory results.

"I understand if you cannot compromise your current mission any further," he adds softly, lowering his cup. He continues to gaze into her eyes, having grown accustomed to the somewhat unsettling vagueness of her aura. He thinks he senses fear and trepidation when she mentions Major Kisaragi, a familiar name, though his empathetic abilities are limited both by her spiritual obscurity and by the complexity of the emotions seemingly involved. Alma thus judges that she is already taking a risk for his sake. Under any other circumstances, he would not ask for more.

"But in a time of crisis, I believe we must each think independently to do what is right, for the Order and for the world."

If it were only the case.

A trusted ally of the sacred order, the Novus Orbis Librarium is not as it may seem on the outside. His goals are one thing. His plans are another. What he does not see, what he does not know, is what hangs above Noel's head. What NOL requires. Requests. Demands.

"Yes, that exactly." She answers, nodding her head and sipping the tea after gently blowing on it. It's a tad hot still, her lips pulling away at the end of it. "...Yes. The one that Justice referred to. It's somewhere in Southtown, and I've been looking all over for it." She answers, her head bobbing.

Alma speaks then. Of the Illuminati. NOL know of what they have done, likely. Noel's head bobs once more, the woman sipping her tea. "Ah...that's true." Is her answer, before Alma continues. He attributes it to the potential compromise to the mission. The gaze is met back, green eyes averting after a glance. To act independently to do what is right. For the Order and for the world. The tea is held, the woman silent under the beret.

'Lieutenant Vermillion. You have accepted your position with the Novus Orbis Librarium... and it is with this acceptance that you undertake the duty of a member of the Order. To stray from your mission, to stray from NOL, will not be tolerated...'

It was not just the threat, however real the veiled threat is, that the NOL did not simply excommunicate those who actively disobeyed them. It was something more. With growing intensity, Alma would find resistance to the idea. A mixture of agreement and disagreement. Even if she would want to help Alma, she simply could not. Something she felt strongly about simply would not let her.

"I... I believe you are correct, Alma. That you want to help everyone and everything. That we might have luck going to halt the take-over..." Noel places the tea down, sighing a bit as she glances downwards, "But I ... please find someone else. I... I am really sorry. Since I didn't see you... no one will ask what we talked about but... I.. I can't..."

A blossom of hate blooms in her chest, a flicker of blue in green eyes, that exists only between moments. It is terrible. To choose between such things. To decide between family and friends, however new they may be. Yet this is the world, isn't it? This is what the world is. Has become.

Sliding out of the chair, Noel stands nearby it. "You ... aren't going alone, are you?" She asks, turning back to Alma.

Alma smiles gently. His serious countenance softens as he witnesses the dilemma play out on Noel's troubled features. Her aura is difficult to read, but her expressions seem often unguarded. She's taking his proposal seriously. But one does not need to be a psychic to tell that she won't join him.

Which drives her more, duty or fear? Duty to what and fear of what -- or whom? Alma wishes then that he had the time for a peaceful conversation with Noel, that the both of them could relax and come to understand each other better. And perhaps this banishes the last of the lingering suspicions from his eerie flashback before. He wants to know what that strange vision was, of course, but whatever it meant, surely this young woman can't be implicated in it. His empathetic abilities may be malfunctioning, but--

"I understand."

He believes, from what he sees now, that Noel is a good person.

"You are already doing much for me by not reporting our encounter. I won't forget that. Thank you, Noel," he adds, tilting his chin down, "for trusting me." Maybe she is a good gauge of people, maybe she is naive, or maybe she simply caves to pressure too easily. But whatever the reason, Alma quietly vows, he will not let her sacrifice for his sake be in vain.

"I wish you luck in your search for the Command Gear, and I apologize for not assisting you myself. When all this is over--" His smile broadens. "Let's work together on our next mission."

A confidence born of faith, not certainty. It may reassure regardless.

Alma blinks at her last question, pleasantly surprised at her solicitude. "I will be alone when I leave this city," he states, leaving no question as to whether or not he'll escape the lockdown. "But I know I will not be alone when I arrive. The Illuminati infiltrators have made many enemies. My fellow members of Team Balance have ninja allies that I am certain will join the fight against those manipulating the United Nations into war. So--"

He tilts his head to the side, smiling warmly again.

"Please don't be concerned."

He pauses.

"And you? You will have allies in your search, I hope."

It would not matter what words she would have spoken. In the end, the chain of events must follow in one direction, like a river downstream. To assist Alma would break that chain and deter from the chosen path. A path that Noel, herself, does not forge. It is in her half-hearted explanations, declarations of inability and reactions to Alma that she grows frustrated with her position. Untenable as it is. She does not forget the day she stood with the others. The day she was pulled aside and provided her orders.

Nor does she forget the near daily berating that her Major provides.

"It is ...only because..." But she doesn't continue, words catching in her throat as she bites her lip. Trusting him. Does she? Or is it more of a self-serving protection. No, this time she doesn't wish for harm to come to him. That he goes unreported ... it's a small white lie. His actions would report his status anyhow. Kliff would get his answer.

It's certain, after all he suffered. He didn't need to suffer greater pains.

Green eyes wordlessly rest upon Alma once more as her grip on the chair relaxes. "Please... don't apologize," The woman hypocritically declares, "You've been through enough." She's no saint... but she is a wet towel when it comes to helping people. What resistance others may have simply doesn't exist - save for what Alma asked of her. "I'd like that. I'm sure there'll be plenty." Perhaps the world wouldn't end yet.

His words give her hope, but in the end... "Good." Her response to his status, "For something so dangerous..." Please, do not be concerned. Ah. A simple answer. Yet a pause causes her to take a step back before answering. "...I don't believe I was the only one given this task, but it is possible." She fixes her beret, tugging on it idly. "I haven't had much luck as of now - but if I find it, or it is found... I will report immediately."

Alma is concerned by Noel's uncertainty regarding reinforcements, but he finds it hard to believe that the Sacred Order and its affiliates, however overstretched or beset by rival factions, would send only one agent in pursuit of the Command Gear. There's no way that Noel will be allowed to fight alone. That wouldn't make sense strategically. So that won't happen.

He's got to believe that, or--


He echoes her reply upon hearing her conclusion. As long as she prioritizes reporting the Gear's position, she shouldn't have to bear the burden of this battle alone.

"The Order will definitely back you up on such a high-priority mission. Once I defeat the Illuminati leaders at the United Nations headquarters, I'll report to the Order. If I am able to do so faster than you are able to find the Command Gear, that should buy you and our allies some time." The second is presented as a conditional, the first as a certainty. But of course Alma is not certain he will succeed. He simply won't allow anything else, not with so much at stake. "So I must move quickly."

Despite that conviction, Alma hesitates for a moment, glancing in the direction of his bedroom where his bag remains half-packed before glancing back to his ally.

"Noel... whatever happens..."

Alma cannot be driven by fear. His resolve to fight for peace and justice is absolute. Self-sacrifice is effortless for him, for myriad reasons. But he and Noel have something in common.

"...Don't sacrifice yourself. Stay safe."

Alma can also be hypocritical.

It is not incorrect in Alma's assumption. Noel would not be alone. She would likely have at least one other to assist her. Yet it wouldn't really matter, provided she found them. Noel would likely barely remember the encounter. Just like the last. The one before that... and on. It is arguable if she has remembered any such encounters. Yet she does not dwell on it. Regardless, it is her duty to go there.

So she shall.

It would be likely that she would not find them. Unlikely more-so that Noel would directly engage. The woman isn't sure what the command Gear is like, or is - or what it might be. It didn't need to be reported directly. Save a frame 'human like'. How odd. Alma's words reach her and the woman bobs her head once more. He talks as if he was already victorious.

Noel smiles. How courageous - and how hopefully Alma is, compared to the situations she usually faces. "Alright. I think you can. I'm sure of it, actually." Noel remarks. Yet Alma glances away and back to her, pausing in his words. Maybe one of the few times. It is not easy for Noel to recognize. She isn't as well versed. "Ah?" Don't ... sacrifice herself? "I... I'm sorry if I made you worry somehow. It won't come to that." Noel claims.

Indirectly, she may be right. It would not be a sacrifice. In the future, they would both be. It would be no sacrifice. It would be something else entirely.

"Ah... I .. better go then. If I stay too long here..." Her steps take her to the door, Noel glancing back to Alma as she reaches for the handle. "You better be back after as well, Alma. If you don't, I'll have to come get you." Then, perhaps, it may be a sacrifice.

However much a lie it is. That would not follow the desired path.

Upon reflection, Alma is puzzled at his own strong choice of words. Why did he think she might go so far as to sacrifice herself in battle? It seems that he can still experience intuitions about Noel, but because her aura is indistinct, he's less sure about why he is having them. All he can say is that something about her seems, for lack of a better term, spiritually frail. Like fear might break her. Like some part of her has already given in to despair. Like--

"Yes, of course."

She might just fade away.

"You're right."

If only Alma could explain why he feels that way.

But he grins this time at her parting words, a hint of good humor joining the kindness in his eyes before he too turns away toward his tasks.

"Understood. You can count on me."

Deception and hypocrisy. It is a cruel world that turns two good people to such acts. But however the two of them should be judged in the end, these acts -- these little lies -- are at least born of kindness and hope.

In the coming days, they will need all the hope they can get.

Log created on 23:38:22 10/30/2017 by Alma, and last modified on 00:49:12 11/10/2017.