Description: With the Phantom defeated, and Jubei desperate for some way of keeping his resurrected wife from turning murderhappy again, the samurai cat hails a taxi and beelines away from major population centers. Along the way, the two rekindle their love for one another and even begin the process of healing the rift with their estranged daughter Kokonoe, because MotM is all about happy endings.
Konoe wasn't delusional.
She was -dead-.
The old cat had plenty of time to think things over while fireman-carrying the homunculus body housing the soul of his dead wife over the hills and valleys just outside Southtown. He'd taken preparations to keep the Phantom's body safe from the rain, wrapping her up securely within the folds of his futon mat. With his poncho and the satchel back in place, he had once more hefted the Phantom onto his back, reassured for the moment that her breathing had fallen into a restful and regular pace.
About ten minutes after parting ways with Clio St. Jeanne, the grizzled old samurai had fished out a beat-up smartphone -- wrapped thoughtfully in a waterproof storage bag -- from the folds of his robe, and placed a quick call. He managed to convey the key details to the taxi company before the operator hung up in frustration, eager to go back to a night of dealing with other people stuck in the freakish rainstorm.
Jubei was of mixed emotions over the fact that he could feel every heave of her ribcage over his rain-soaked back. On the one hand, it was reassuring that she continued to breathe after such a thorough battle. But on the other, he harbors no illusions that a few simple turns of twine could keep the Phantom bound, should she come to her senses and decide to renew her attacks on the weary samurai. It's true that he had the -means- to escape a conflict, if one were to be renewed... but to do so would mean losing out on an enormous opportunity to catch up.
It was another twenty minutes of walking before the cat would encounter the highway stretching to the northwest. A long street, with many winding turns, and many blind spots in which to disappear entirely into the night. His form was silhouetted by the headlights of some two dozen cars, but in such a storm, not a single one would stop to offer shelter or assistance to the pair.
And who could blame them for wanting to ignore the sight of a nekomata carrying a satchel, a sword, and what appeared to be a dead body wrapped in a futon?
Luckily -- the taxicab that was summoned -did- stop, after another ten minutes or so of walking. A weary Jubei placed the curious wide-brimmed hat atop the Phantom's head as he eased her into the back seat of the vehicle. Meeting the uneasy stare of the driver -- obviously not one used to servicing cats -or- people carrying sleeping bodies around -- the cat reached out and placed a firm 10,000-yen note in the driver's white gloves.
He flashed a warm and kindly smile at the man.
The wily cat can play the elderly card when he needs to.
With his satchel, his hat, and the Phantom's hat stowed in the boot, he finally, -finally- allows himself the comfort of sinking into lace-doilied taxi's back seat.
"Where to?" asked the driver.
"... Anywhere but Southtown. It don't matter much t'me."
As the taxi speeds off into the distance, he spends another few minutes luxiriating before reluctantly pulling his smartphone out. He pushes the solitary button on the phone's face, narrowing his eye at the dripping-wet bag -- and then stabbing the microphone with his paw.
"Turn on location tracking. Yes. Start a search: Sector Seven," he speaks into the phone.
The driver looks back at him through the mirror, though he is focused entirely on the phone display as it updates with his words.
"Cancel. Start a new search: Kokonoe."
He closes his eyes for a moment, his feline nose twitching as he takes a long draw of breath.
"Cancel. Start a new search: Current activities of Sector Seven in Honshu."
He sighs, shutting down the phone interface for a moment, looking over at the quietly slumbering homonculus.
The cat rests a paw on the creature's shoulder. This would have been easier if the Jubei of the past had thought to record a simple phone number. As it is... he has only a prayer of finding the secretive society. He clings to the hope that his estranged daughter is -half- as paranoid about being sought out as he is -- that the automated security practices of the elusive organization would red-flag the anomalous data stream. That they would send someone to investigate the taxi as it sped away from Southtown.
Nine was sleeping still despite the conditions she was under. Stuffily warm yet damp, contorted into a vaguely awkward shape and all rolled up in a futon as though she were a burrito with her bared shoulders emerging above the top and uppermost edge.
With even these weak bindings most anything she did was going to be of a large and destructive style, tuning herself into fire or summoning a massive fire elemental in the path of the vehicle. No subtle gestures allowed for few subtle magics.
Gradually opening her eye as discomfort overcame exhaustion. It's a different kind of spell from the one she focused on all her life and efforts in pursuit of. Intoxicatingly pretty she still wielded some charms though her look had changed dramatically since her death. Her hair was thicker, spiking and curling more like waves in a wind tossed sea that the long flaccid length and untameable flares she had often tired of trying to brush. Now it grew wild and behaved as it wished. Her outfit? Nine was always derisive and dismissive of those who could not stand on their skill or words of merit. Having to punctuate what was being said with periods to appreciate their revealing form, flouting of charms or nearly absent outfits was wasting her precious time, irritating her no end.
The hat on her head had a torn and shredded brim and was scarred where his blows had landed. The fabric was not repairing itself without conscious effort from the wearer. In this position it would be clear and easy to mistake her for a bounty captured.
The temerity involved in thinking something like this could or would stop her.
Her chin turning down and eye falling closed again. Amusingly, it WAS stopping her from trying anything specific or targeted. If it were Phantom or Nine sitting across alongside Jubei, he would have hundreds of times the time he needed to separate her head and shoulders before she tried anything but a timely escape. Head held upright instead of at an angle that was no longer canting to the side while in a deep sleep.
She didn't ask any questions though was clearly digesting the visuals and listening everything going on around her. When Nine got quiet and passive she was completely out of her element and running extra cycles of thought to predict or catch up to everyone else.
As the suburbs of Southtown race by, signs of the Gear attacks are everywhere. Pock-marked buildings are lit harshly by street lights, raindrops casting otherworldly shadows upon the streets. Disabled vehicles are parked alongside the road -- service crews are stretched far too thin to take care of the manifold offenses against civil order and cleanliness.
Jubei's half-lidded eye takes in the sights with only passing interest. His paw remains pressed against the Phantom, though it does drift from her shoulder to her thigh -- tacit acceptance that this homunculus harbors enough of his wife for him to express, while also serving as a reminder that the weapon of his destruction is not the -only- one in standby mode.
Silence -- for a good eight or ten minutes.
And then the vehicle lurches to a stop, the inhabitants shoved abruptly forward by inertia.
%r That paw is pressed firmly against the Phantom's breastbone -- a preventative measure by a startled-awake husband. The samurai cat's jaw hangs open, his crimson eye fully alert.
In front of the stopped taxicab is a sight the driver had only a moment's warning to react to -- a dead Gear in the middle of the street, its body ruptured by a cannon mortar. The taxi's flickering headlights show no sign of motion, the creature's cold grey skin hiding no surprises -- it's been dead for several days, at least. The taxi driver shifts into reverse, slowly backing up, and then changes lanes to get around the creature.
Settling back into his seat, the feline captor looks down at his cellphone, and wakes it from idle. "New search: Sector Seven Branch Office Locations." Only then does he withdraw his paw, taking a moment to look pensively at the... the woman-shaped form beside him. The lack of comfort -- and the alert angle of someone predisposed to thinking.
"It's been fifty years, give or take, since your last memory."
Jubei's paw rises up, tiny claws tracing tenderly through the pink bangs obscuring a long-ruined eye.
"Since you warned me. Since I couldn't beat him..."
He runs his claws through her hair softly, a sigh escaping him.
"I fought him to a standstill."
The paw slips down -- and falls to rest upon the crook of the Phantom's arm.
"I never thought I'd talk to you again. And now..."
The crimson eye looks up, welling with moisture again.
It can't be rain -- not inside the cab.
This was the future of the world she knew? Battle scarred streets, magical constructs still draped over the scenery or splattered across and melted into the walls themselves as if some horror. Everywhere she saw was rain slick ground and empty vehicles, mostly when suddenly exposed at a distance by a flash of lightning. The interior of a mostly depopulated and empty seeming city had been a shock to the system, but this? A future where this silhouette of the massive hulk lay across their path, she was clearly stunned initally and appearing to be getting riled up at the existence of such a thing. At this range she could tell for certain there was magic in that creature's making. Some 'Giant-type' chassis equipped with large scale weaponry she didn't even recognise. These sights were fuel for her nightmares.
The massive paw laid against her breast earns Jubei a fiery glare even if it was for her benefit.
The small size and scope of the technology in the taxi dash, tiny device that Jubei kept going back to and illuminated the area so despite it's small size. She didn't pick up on any magic's involved but technology had clearly come aways from what she was used to. In fifty years.
She turns her eye back forward as the taxi passes by the gear corpse. Not reacting overmuch to having her hair stroked she continues on through the line of thought that was bothering her most. Not even when the hand settle sinto the crook of her elbow. Dear...
"That's not quite the whole story. Is it?"
A sharp and forceful tone, if it were just he and Terumi. Jubei was strong!! However, neither his skill nor those blades were predisposed to fighting a ghost. Lack of guts to have spilled made it a one sided matchup.
"You could have fought him to a stalemate for a time... but being flesh and blood you would eventually have lost to him."
Something else had happened or someone else intervened, after it was already too late for Nine. Her husband was saved at least but something had happened during that fight. Her questions mattered; she couldn't look at him or allow sentiment or emotion to interfere with learning WHAT had stopped Terumi?
Jubei closes his eye, shaking his head slowly.
He can't hide from the truth -- not when so plain a question is asked.
Her words sting like the crack of a whip -- that even the Legendary Hero would have fallen to the shade of Terumi on a long enough timeline. Only magic would have sufficed -- a point which was proven to him only a few days prior.
But that was before he was gifted with the Sekigan.
The incredible gift.
The terrible weapon.
That allowed him the edge against the Phantom herself.
He looks away, his tails flicking about before settling comfortably on his lap.
He won't be mentioning the Sekigan. Not now. If she remembers it from the fight, that's one thing, but now...
"He stole my memories from me."
The cat looks down at the very real paw in his lap -- the Kaka clan augmentations sagging limply to the seat beside him.
"Specifically, my memories of you -- and my memories of Kokonoe."
Jubei remorsefully avoids the Phantom's one-eyed gaze as he looks up, beyond the cab driver.
"And my memories of -why- I was even fighting him to begin with. He knew that I would keep trying my best. Keep hounding him endlessly. And you know..."
He expels his breath, lips curling into an asymmetric smile.
"The thought of a never-ending battle bored him. He knew he couldn't beat me in a fair fight. Honor -- such a foreign, distasteful concept to that devil."
Jubei squeezes the Phantom's arm lightly -- reassuringly.
"And in the past four days, two things have changed. One -- he restored my memories."
He taps at the phone, his voice modulating into a more clear, less Kansai tone.
"New search: Sector Seven is a menace to society that must be stopped."
He chuckles softly to himself, as he sets the phone down. He's bound to arouse -some- kind of suspicion -- or so he hopes.
He turns back to the Phantom, still resting his paw on her elbow.
"And then, two: you came back. Wanting to kill me. I can't help but wonder if the two are related."
He squeezes her arm again.
"I always joked that you'd be the death of me."
She wasn't plying any strength or effort into freeing herself. Instead analysing and incorporating all these facts about a new world and the inherent changes she was apparently fifty years out of date on. Some things hadn't changed, Terumi was a sadist who loved to inflict pain, though now he had a physical body she could at one point injure.
Yet, in a curious out of place moment he'd chosen to return memories to Jubei. Perhaps not all and certainly in a manner that suited his interests, t'was promptly before her appearance as the Phantom. She was certain of something. Either Jubei or Termi was obfuscating something important having happened.
It fit with what she knew about the Terumi of now. That slouched posture and describing anything that didn't expressly interest him as a hassle or boring. He would have put in the extra effort into avoiding having a legendary hero constantly nipping at his heels, but why not kill Jubei. There were three possibilities, he was unable or lacked the power to do it. He wanted Jubei to stay alive in order to torment him, or something she had not considered had prevented him.
The timeline on having his memories returned to him.
"And it seemed he was looking for you...?"
Going out of his way to look for Jubei, or was this 'unscripted opportunity' to do something malicious. At four days, it was before her resurrection as Phantom had moved into the final phase. Perhaps this WAS all for his sick pleasure and enjoyment, Terumi watched this unhappy family reunion play out in a manner she could not detect while bound. Her talons rasp against the interior or the futon.
"Oh Dear! ...Instead, you were the death of me."
Honey drizzles from the sweetness in her voice. A callus jest on her part while deliberately twisting a knife in the gut. Her lips quirking into a bitter-sweet smile, now she could appreciate all this delectable irony after being reminded of that. Perhaps the focus of the joke was her entire family in one cruel grand theatrical event.
"When you say... he took all of your memories of us. (..of our Daughter) Fifty years ago. What became of our 'family'?"
She had seen her sister murdered Terumi gloated in showing that to her, but was she alone as well?"
Nine's voice broke as she asked. Her infant daughter had never hurt anyone but was born with parents who cared about her. Celica had no-one else, had she stayed all alone at that ramshackle little church until her murderer came a-calling.
Jubei has the good graces to smile in return, but the way he draws in his breath so sharply...
She's -wrong- of course -- if it weren't for Nine distracting him by telling him things he already knew, she might still be -alive-.
Yeah. But he's not here for an argument. He already won the one that mattered.
His snout lowers, the angle of his feline face making it difficult to parse the actual expression on his face.
"What's done... is done," he admits with a sigh. It's something he's had to live with, and ascerbic jokes about the past won't change the fact that it -happened-.
And yet, Phantom isn't done driving knives into her dear beloved. She asks questions he has no good answers for -- prods through a fog thickened by dozens of years of confusion and neglect. Answers that weren't as easily stitched together by the capricious whims of a God of Destruction.
The snout droops lower.
The crimson eye closes.
And the samurai's cat raises, once again, as he draws the phone closer with his left paw.
"New search: Sector Seven Silvervine Candy Resources."
The phone is lowered back into his lap, as the cat turns his face forward again, sinking into the lace-covered seat cushions.
His right paw leaves the Phantom's side, brushing through the tangle of matted fur at his temple, while his twin tails flick in frustrated fashion upon his lap.
He will be silent for a good four or five seconds before providing a response.
"There's a reason I'm taking you to see Kokonoe right now, my beloved."
His eye opens again, half-lidded.
"I got a lot o' regrets, these past years. And you deserve to see hear how our baby's grown up without me screwin' up the story."
He smiled when she accused him of doing the very things she perceived him guilty of. His cheeky and galling response triggering a narrowing of eye as the waterworks dry up and she begins to seethe. She was a hundred percent correct. He then has the audacity to claim the argument was done and all in the past. She knew that look on his face. When the going gets tough the tough -- make tea, or segue out of the conflict entirely.
If she were free she might have lightly grilled him with a fireball before calling the argument quits, now and in the past.
She turns her head away in disgust and back to the reflection in the window, definitely in a huff. If he didn't want to bother with repercussions of angering her then she should have avoided doing so! This Kokonoe he mentioned though, she did not know them. That girl's Mother had never been looking down from heaven at her. If both her parents had been lost then would have some answers about what happened to the one remaining person in her family she had left.
Nine herself did not know if she could care about the fate of some woman stranger and that might be mutual between them, or if there really was some kind of supernatural bond or tie between parents and children... nonsense!
Ties of blood alone weren't enough for her to care about someone she hadn't even gotten a chance to know. She had raised Celica while forever on guard to protect her little sister form all those who would use or abuse her, family included in that. Celica was Nines metric for someone being cute, adorable or stubborn.
The fact that they'd named their daughter 'Child of Konoe' was most laughable and arrogant. Nine was against it from the start but too soft to say no, she hated her given name and giving it to the child seemed a curse. Konoe was a name bestowed by a man she hated, Nine was a name she earned and was recognised and respected for.
"Was that ...because you want them to focus on the undead parent instead of the deadbeat one?"
She had plenty more acerbic humour left in her and --HE STARTED IT--.
That miserable comment that she'd be the death of him. She was angry and taking dig at him though instead of continuing to tear up. Her emotions were unstable, she knew Celica had been murdered -- but did she at least have something to her life, some happiness before that ending?
"Is it related to why you keep looking at that small device?"
Now she was giving him grief for always being on the phone while they were arguing.
Jubei is patient.
He has to be -- he's been wandering the world for years without any real aim, taking up odd jobs here and there for the occasional expense -- like ten thousand yen to keep a driver from questioning the lover's quarrel that's unfolding in the passenger seat.
And now... the huff. The irritation.
He continues staring ahead with a half-lidded eye, perfectly mindful of each and every motion his dearly beloved is undergoing in the seat beside him.
At least he knows it's really -her- inside that body.
She calls him a deadbeat -- the cat who's been wandering around with a fractured memory.
He doesn't respond to the jab. The Empty Mind's good for more than just fighting.
He also doesn't respond to the quip about the small device. He just raises it up -- as if she was doing little more than reminding him of its existence.
"New search: Sector Seven Kokonoe Top Ten Favorite Gadget."
He quietly sets the phone back onto his lap, sighing.
Each second that passes in silence seems like an hour.
But then the whiskers move again.
"Nine, you're askin' an amnesiac what happened to the people he cares about. Whatever you wanna call me, go right ahead -- it ain't half as bad as the names I called myself the past few days."
He pauses, just one second this time.
"This box is how I'm talkin' to our daughter. Since I don't know her number, I'm shoutin' into a storm in hopes she notices, figures out someone's tryin' to send her a message, and sends her best guy over to kick my ass."
He turns back to her, holding up the phone for her perusal -- and all of his search requests show up on the screen of the smartphone.
"So yeah. Maybe with us all together we can fix this mess. Till then? Hell, I missed the abuse."
He shrugs his shoulders. But it's not that he wasn't listening -- he just has nothing more to say in his own defense.
Between dealing with the angry specter of the woman he used to love and the distraction of his own melancholy thoughts, Jubei might not notice the small green light that blinks to life at the bottom of his phone. Within its nestled glass enclosure, the camera lens silently spins and adjusts, drawing the scene within the cab into slow but steady focus.
Several seconds pass as the person on the other end of the remote transmission takes in the sights presented to her by this small window into another part of the world. Her hands fold together into a loose bridge upon which she rests her chin, leaning forward in an ergonomic chair to peer intently at the display. For several minutes now /someone/ has been tripping the phishing net she'd uploaded to the internet, seemingly putting in every single key word related to herself or Sector Seven that they could manage. It wouldn't be the first time some low-level flunky at some random law enforcement agency or NOL base had tried to scour the deep web for information in an attempt to earn brownie points but it has been a long time since anyone used her name specifically and that piqued her interest.
It had been a simple matter to hack the phone's software. Most governments had invested in spying technology since the advent of mobile devices and even the companies that had managed to evade the allure of those juicy payoffs had backdoors programmed into their protection systems for emergency purposes. She had cracked those systems easily with a little bit of work and kept an updated database that she modified every time a new security patch was released. Ofcourse, since most of that work was done by corporate monkies, she barely had to put any effort into keeping her crypto-keys up to date.
Within moments of firing up her hacking software she has full control of the device and now eavesdrops on the conversation through its eyes and ears. One person she immediately recognizes and her eyes narrow slightly behind the thin rims of the pince-nez glasses sitting loosely on the end of her nose. A few dozen possibilities flash through her mind in a whirlwind as she tries to consider why this particular person might be trying to get in contact with her, especially now after all this time.
Does he want something from her? A favor? Her assistance? A place to hide? He certainly had quite a few enemies of his own, perhaps even more than she has accumulated in her long career of stepping on big important people's toes. But no one has heard from the famed 'legendary hero' for decades. So why now?
The camera's eye pans around somewhat as the taxi rumbles down the road giving her only brief glimpses of the other passenger. After one particularly decent pass, the woman reaches out and taps the holographic display, pausing the image and then rewinding it until Nine's somewhat blurry image is frozen in view. She studies this person for a few moments, though no recognition is forthcoming and in the end she's left with just one more unanswered question.
That leaves her with three options:
A) Turn off the camera and pretend like she never noticed. Jubei isn't the kind of person who'd likely need the assistance of anyone for anything simple. The fact that he'd be willing to try and seek his estranged daughter's aid makes her even more wary.
B) Watch quietly and listen in to see if something of interest is said. Tempting but there are two problems with that. One, her father probably isn't dumb enough to talk about anything sensitive with a phone in his hand. Two, she doesn't have the time to waste on voyeurism. Celica's strange healing magic had saved her a lot of work on fine-tuning Minerva but it had created an equal amount of extra work she hadn't expected in trying to figure out how precisely her aunt's powers influenced and interacted with the Idea Engine.
Letting out an irritated sigh, Kokonoe runs her hands through her hair and leans back in her chair and goes with option C - just find out what the hell he wants. Might as well pull off the bandaid quickly and get it over with. Her fingers dance across the glowing squares of light that serve as her monitor's keyboard interface and within a few moments the screen of Jubei's phone flickers and shifts as the face of the catgirl scientist replaces the internet browser. She scowls at him, her glasses shining with the reflection of her own monitor in sharp contrast to the shadows that cling to her features in the dim light of the shut-in's lab. Her fingers lift to grip the slender white stick protruding from her mouth, pulling a bright red cat-earred silvervine candy from her mouth with a noisy pop.
"This better be good, old man."
She follows the movement in a mirrored reflection. Bright severe lighting for such a tiny little handheld device, it illuminates the rear seat of the cab in a manner. Wife leaning away and closer to the window while husband fiddled with a device, she was faintly curious as to whether it was closer to a radio or a beacon. She fractionally turns for a second to explore that interface when offered. The worlds he's spoken all written out but some misspellings related to his accent.
Perhaps it was too harsh to have expected him to ensure their family were looked after. That there would be some tie he would have investigated or shred of evidence he could have found leading back to the family who needed him. Perhaps she should have enacted her little plan to save the world alone and not risked both thier lives
Meanwhile this whole time he's been calling her by a name she has always disliked.
"And you finally call me Nine."
Almost spoken under her breath it carries, mostly because of how quiet things have gotten. She forges ahead allowing little time for her words to linger or a reply before shoving back with a riposte and keeping up her momentum and the distance between them.
"Now you have a right to complain about what I'm calling you."
Maybe she'd finally broken him down enough that he'd accepted that she was 'Nine.' What the device did and what little lights should blink or noises made, she had no idea. But she was willing to bet quite heavily that it wouldn't reply suddenly with a woman's voice and impolitely ask what he wanted.
Shifting and sitting up straighter in her seats causes them to creak. Not enough that she was repairing her cloak or hat in order to make a better first impression. But that just might be her daughter speaking though that device, the reception was tinny sounding and distant, aimed at Jubei.
She looks concernedly towards Jubei wondering how or what he could even say to a daughter he'd know about for 4 years. Was she eating well? Cute or strong? What kind of person came from their union then subsequent absence of their parenting?
Jubei knew a little about how computers worked; just enough to be dangerous. The mental block placed by Terumi may have kept him from remembering anything discrete about Kokonoe and Konoe themselves, but Sector Seven... he's been there before. And he knew they were powerful enough to tap into just about any information network. It was reasonable, then, to call attention to himself, to stand in the open so that the secretive organization would be tempted out of hiding, and with hope, make contact.
He just had no idea that hacking a phone to gain access was even a possibility. So he isn't paying attention when a light turns green, and he isn't paying attention when the camera's eye whirrs into motion; he's focusing more on how to keep his wife from fireballing him clear out of the car.
Finally...? The feline samurai slaps himself in the head. Jubei -had- tried to call her Nine when she was in earshot, but he always remembered the name he learned first... Old habits die hard, especially the ones from decades past. Calling her Nine was, if anything, a happy accident, but one that he's grateful for as he draws in his breath with a content sigh.
Looking up to the cab's headliner with a self-deprecatory smile, he nods slowly: "... No wonder you were so mad at me. Sorry about that..."
He never did understand why she liked being called a -number-, when she had a perfectly beautiful name -- but that's one of many mysteries he had never managed to solve about his wife.
Now he has the right...?
Luckily, he doesn't feel the need to counter -every- word tossed in his direction.
Because he would have missed Kokonoe's statement -- and the angry scowl leveled in his direction.
The old cat is surprised, his eye and mouth both open wide. Seeing Kokonoe was what he wanted, to be sure -- he just expected a more costly and explosive entrance.
"It's... good to see you again! You're looking lovely, as always...!"
It can be easy to misread geniality as condescension, especially when it's not intended.
"I... I have so much to say to you, but first..."
He angles the phone to his side, so that Nine can see the screen a bit more clearly -- and the camera can see -her-.
"Say hello to your mother, Nine."
The crimson eye turns reluctantly away from the screen -- as if his progeny would to close the connection entirely! But it falls upon Nine, as he addresses her next.
"And Nine... this is Kokonoe."
He smiles -- hoping to gloss over the preceding argument entirely.
Jubei tilts his head back towards the screen, smile diffusing slightly.
"You see, Kokonoe... We really would like to meet you in person. I'll understand if you want to keep the both of us at swordpoint. Me, for... understandable reasons."
He pauses deliberately before adding a thought.
"And Nine, as she's already tried to kill me tonight. ... This might sound normal to you, but please hear me: it's not."
There is a long period of silence as Jubei rambles at the phone before turning it to face the bound woman on the other side of the seat whom she'd had gotten only a blurry glimpse of before. The camera takes a moment to adjust but eventually brings the image into proper focus allowing the scientist to stare into the face of the revenant.
Kokonoe's eyes narrow visibly, her slender brows furrowing even deeper as she takes in the image, quietly processing the claim that this face belongs to her long dead mother. The resemblance is there, if somewhat muted. Similiar hair colors, but that's hardly proof of anything. She certainly seems to have the outfit down. That much she had been able to see from some old black and white photographs. The quality was quite poor, as expected from the technology of that time, but it had given her a vague visual reference to compare.
Ofcourse, the idea that her mother was somehow still alive all these years is beyond ludicrous. Is she supposed to believe that Terumi gave them both amnesia? He'd gloated about killing Nine openly and she did not see him as the sort of person to take such pleasure from an empty claim. No, whoever that person is, it isn't her mother.
Kokonoe sighs in annoyance as she sits back into her comfortable chair, popping the sucker back into her mouth.
"Did you finally go senile, old man?"
When the camera is turned toward her a second time and she is introduced to this stranger as her mother. Blade sharp tie and blouse covering her neck and breastbone them woman in question does resemble very old photographs of her mother. Embers and still glowing edges burn away patches of nothing and thin air to heal and fill scratches and tears in her hat, until it is restored to pristine condition. Her hair still wild and untamed, eye closed more as though she were resigning to the changes in her attire happening than controlling the change.
When the eye snaps open it retains the black coloured sclera and gold iris. Nine stares at the image on the tiny tablet with an intensity that might eventually cause it to fail.
They didn't share much in terms of features, barring the hair colour it was difficult to accept or process that woman being depicted was her child. Resigned to being part of the spectacle she clearly wasn't happy being introduced with 'Say hello to your Mother.'
Nine refrains from saying a word, what could she say? Hi honey, hows life? Don't be mad at me I've been dead and your father has had amnesia.
Her gaze eventually drifts up the image away to the pink kitten ears with little tufts of white. Colour drains a few degrees from her face. Those ears were something she recognised as belonging to her baby.
Nine turns her head toward her husband addressing him instead of the image of Kokonoe. She wasn't entirely sure how that device worked but it hand been angled at her to 'see' her and everyone was speaking a little louder and more clearly. She had puzzled out some of what the device was capable of, but this was a snub. Nine was suddenly and equally invested in not recognizing her daughter.
"Just see if she knows anything about what happened to her Aunt."
Urging Jubei to switch topics, forget about describing this absurd situation at length. If anyone would know what Celica's life was like it'd be the one person who Terumi hadn't gotten to. Being so disrespectful to her father she didn't necessarily agree or disagree with, that was between father and daughter. You earned how you were treated in your family, same as every other relationship. The 'girl' (she looks like she's two or three times my age!) could have done a lot worse for parents but being bitter toward them was entirely her right.
Jubei's brow rises as he takes note of the manner in which the mage restitches her clothes together. He harbors no illusions that, at any point, Nine =wouldn't= be able to destroy as easily as she is creating -- which puts all the more urgency on actually -resolving- the situation rather than continuing to bicker at one another. His gaze goes to the window, where an illuminated street sign whizzes by -- and in his mind, he spends a moment reckoning exactly where the pair is now.
Kokonoe's teenager-like frustration draws his eye back to the screen, the sucker going back to his mouth. And Nine, for once the -less- adapted to a new technology than the Luddite cat with two swords. If he smirks -- and he does -- it's at the juxtaposition of the two more than anything either of the two ladies has said.
That smirk becomes a smile, though, as he closes his eye momentarily, bowing his head to the screen. "Nine, this is a cellphone -- a device that allows us to talk instantly from one place to another. Our place, for instance -- we're almost in the city of Saitama. Your mother's soul has been... placed... into a new body. And Kokonoe, I just know you'd be able to tell us more about her. Can you tell us which direction we should head?"
He shrinks back slightly, trying to angle the phone to include both himself -and- Nine.
Was that another flinch from Nine when he called her 'mother' again? Tch...
"... That said... I've a terrible memory. And Nine doesn't remember anything from the moment she fell into a Cauldron. So... could you enlighten us? Where's your Aunt Celica at?"
Kokonoe says the word matter-of-factly without a hint of empathy in her voice. She continues to stare at the screen as she pulls the sucker from her mouth again, not even breaking eye contact with the camera for an instant. As with all of her so-called family, she had never had the chance to meet the woman, or she doesn't remember it if she had. Any such interaction would have happened decades ago when she was still a child and those memories have long since faded to the realm of fuzzy blurs and forgotten fragments.
"She died quite some time ago. Nearly two decades, if I recall right. I sent someone out to investigate but they didn't come up with much, the church where she was hiding out was burnt to the ground. Not much in the way of evidence left."
The scientist lets out a soft exhale and the annoyance seems to leave her expression, if only momentarily.
"Sorry. I don't know much more than that."
Ofcourse, she doesn't bother to mention that she's gone and pulled the ghost of her aunt out of the Boundary and stuffed it into some temporary body for the sake of using her as a weapon against the NOL. Seems like sort of an insensitive thing to reveal at the moment. On top of that, she doesn't trust this situation one bit. Terumi lets it slip by 'accident' that he's the one responsible for destroying Jubei's memories and now suddenly her 'mother' is there, waiting to take advantage of that? Suspicious doesn't even begin to describe it.
On the other hand, there's potential for an opportunity here. Perhaps she can play this situation to her advantage with a bit of calculated risk.
Kokonoe's face tilts away from the camera, the sucker vanishing into her mouth again as she brings up a map of the countryside through which the taxi is currently travelling. She doesn't even need to bother with the locational references that Jubei offered her, the GPS on his phone providing far more accurate data. She studies the area for a few moments, her eyes flitting across the glowing display until they come to rest on a location that suits her purposes.
"Tell your driver to go to this address," she says.
The picture of Kokonoe's face slides sideways and is replaced by a digital map with a small blue dot at the center. Even for someone as technologically challenged as her parents, a quick glance at the topography of the map should make it clear that the point she has chosen is well secluded from the general public. Only a single road leads down to the glowing marker some several miles into a dark green blob that is likely an indication of forested terrain.
"I'll meet you there in two hours."
Her eye falls closed and screws down tightly against the pain blossoming in her chest. Her 'daughter' confirms it in the most clinical and uncaring manner. Not even her niece had found Celica out at that blasted church in the middle of nowhere. No-one was even looking for her until after the fire that had been present in Terumi's vision. Her selfless and incomparably cute little sister.
She turns her head away from the conversation taking place and lets her head thunk against the glass for good measure. Between that and the hair falling in front of her left eye it's all the privacy she can manage as she hides her face away. A familiar sense of panic and a choking the crawls up from her chest.
"She's gone?! Where is she?! ...No way! You've got to be kidding me! W-where is she?!" *I panic and run around looking for her*
'Oh, hi sis! You're finally awake. Good Morning!'
"D-Don't you 'good morning' me! Where did you go?" *Or scare me like that!!*
'Um.. I woke up really early and you were still sleeping... I thought I'd surprise you by making breakfast today! ..so I went shopping ehehe.'
The store had eggs on special today, so I'm going to make friend eggs! Please be excited!
'Huh? Wh-Whats the matter?'
"WHY DID YOU GO OUTSIDE WITHOUT PERMISSION?"
How many times have I told you to not go outside without permission!
'B-but... you're always doing the cooking so today I thought that I could do it and you could sleep in and--'
"Stop making exscuses! *sigh, my poor heart I'm just glad you're safe.* "What am I going to do with you!!...?" *I just have to hug her and make sure she's okay* "Are you hurt? Did anyone suspicious talk to you?"
'nuh-uh, I'm fine.'
"I see, That's a relief. However!! Don't go outside without asking permission!" *I have to be strict, or else it might happen again* You're still young, If you go off on your own without saying anything someone might try to kidnap you. Understand? *I can't explain it better to you yet. You're special. My special little sister and people will try to take you away from me.*
'But I want to go shopping on my own, too. I want to be like you!! ... I want to be able to go out and do things on my own!
"I don't want to hear it! It's too dangerous out there! Just be a good girl and stay at home. Okay?" *Please, understand I'm just trying to protect you.* "You got lucky this time, but there's no guarantee that you'll be so fortunate in future."
'But! But...! I can shop all by myself though! I want you to be able to relax and have fun!'
"Wha-" *You're worried about me?*
'You're always trying to protect me!.. You never get to do anything you want!
"Don't worry about me! As your big sister, it's my responsibility to take care of you and make sure you're safe."
*Don't lose confidence in me, Celica I can always be there-*
'NO! I want to help you! I don't want to be a burden to you anymore!'
"ABSOLUTELY NOT! If something were to happen to you I... I... don't know what I would do."
*I'm sorry Celica! I'm sorry! Just stay a child for a little bit longer*
The patter of droplets falling on the futon was the only sign she was letting this upwelling of grief out. Ha! Ahahaa. You win Terumi, you promised you would show me despair. This world seemed a ruin, as did her family. Her endlessly bright little sister was gone and the choker and chains around her neck were reconstituting themselves at a brisk pace. What hope she once held was like a guttering candle. Things really had turned out for the worst with war machines made with magic and the 'gods' of this worlds she had already seen.
This whole world has gone rotten.
The word is delivered so abruptly, so cold.
The samurai takes it much, much better than Nine does. His twin tails bat at the fabric of his poncho, just out of view of the camera -- and aside from setting his jaw and lowering his head in acknowledgment of Nine's worries... that's all he's going to share.
Death is a constant, in his world.
If Kokonoe didn't soften the expression with an apology, he might have had more to say than just that. As it is, well -- the old cat just nods his head. "Thank you. Perhaps, in time, we will find out more."
He has so little faith in others, and yet complete and unabiding trust in the girl on the screen whom he barely even knows.
He turns away from the screen for a moment while Kokonoe pulls up her figures. He turns towards Konoe -- who has presented him with only her back and shoulder. Deadbeat dad -- and now? What do you call a person who lets your sister die? Any number of insults run through his mind for a moment...
Luckily, Kokonoe -does- present a glimmer of hope. A map, in this case.
He puts particular stress on his next words, knowing that while her face has vanished from his screen, the camera and speaker are probably still on. He bows his head as further punctuation.
"Thank you, Kokonoe. We'll see you then."
... And then he totally forgets for a moment that she is probably still listening, as he leans forward to show the map to the white-gloved driver.
Sinking back to his seat, the phone all but forgotten in the front seat with the driver, he leans one paw, resting it calmly, reassuringly -- or perhaps frustratingly and annoyingly -- on Nine's thigh, beneath the layers of futon padding.
"I'm sorry, Nine."
He knows how much Celica means to Nine -- how much she meant, and always will.
But no words suffice, no words avail themselves to the samurai.
He's committed to remain silent for the rest of the trip to the indicated location -- unless, of course, Nine chooses to accept the comfort of her husband's companionship.
One awkward taxi ride through the backroads later...
Night has fallen in the two hours since the conversation with her parents had ended, or atleast, her part in it. Kokonoe had listened in for some time after it became apparent that the phone had been passed off to the driver hoping for some glimmer of useful information to present itself that might aid her in figuring out how to approach this situation but all she'd gotten was stuff better relegated to a late night soap opera. It scratched a mild itch of curiosity but was otherwise useless to her.
The next step in this plan was to make sure that she had all of the resources she would need at her disposal. As seemed to be the case rather often of late, Tager was away on another deployment in the field and it would jeopardize that mission to recall him now. Her work on Lambda was proceeding, albeit at a snail's pace, some fundamental aspect of the Murakumo unit's design eluding her ability to properly replicate. She'd figure it out eventually. Minerva was available but untested and she wasn't willing to risk the guardian of her secret weapon on a blind gamble, particularly when it wasn't even field tested yet.
It would seem that her only choice was to go herself.
The meeting point marked out by the scientist proves to be an old lumbermill. A large chain-link that might have once served as sufficient protection against nosy wanderers has long since fallen into disrepair, thick patches of dull red rust marring its interwoven iron wire. The gates to the primary building hang wide and open, a long length of chain dangling loosely from one side. Should either of them care to pause an inspect the chain, they would find that it was not age which saw it rent asunder, a sharp clean cut having severed one of the links neatly in half with the precision afforded only by high-grade tools or perhaps a laser.
Though the sky continues to rumble in disgruntled annoyance the rain has ceased to fall leaving only the darkness to obscure their vision beyond the small globes provided by a pair of street lights that seem to still be functional. The air is laden with a mixture of quiet tension and the insistent droning of insects as the atmosphere of the forest engulfs the unusual pair, welcoming them into the bosom of slowly recovering nature.
And there, within the light of one of those oddly functional street lights, stands Kokonoe herself.
No longer confined to the dimensions of a small screen, her full attire and cat-like features are now clearly visible in the bright halogen light. Twin pink tails tipped with white fur swish lazily in the air to their own mellow rythm, protruding from the loose Kaka Clan jacket which she wears in the same fashion as a labcoat, allowing it to drape off her shoulders in a comfortable manner. A pair of red capri pants hang loosely from her hips, the front unfastened and the zipper loose, showing off the pair of high-cut blank panties she has on underneath, which sit noticably higher on her waist than the pants themselves. A pair of white mules complete the outfit, likely chosen for the ease by which she can slide in and out of them.
The cat-woman watches the taxi approach with the same look of casual disagreeableness that she presented on the screen, her brows furrowed slightly, the corners of her lips turned downwards into an unpleasant expression which had been notably coined in the recent past as 'resting bitch face'. While others might have been unjustly saddled with this terrible burden, Kokonoe is someone who wears the look naturally and has the sandpaper personality to back it up when feeling particularly disagreeable. Her stance is likewise one that speaks of marked disinterest in the matter at hand, one hand resting on her hip in the manner of an annoyed highschool counselor while the other hangs loosely out to the side, a fresh piece of candy clutched between her narrow fingers, which she brings up to her face to lick idly from time to time.
Nine didn't refuse her husband's comforting so much as hardly notice it was happening. It's only a small mercy that she has time to let the grief reign and then still have a timeframe where she needs to pull herself together. It helped when there wasn't time to cry forever, it was weak to think that accomplished anything or would even make her feel better. She would grieve for whatever length of term of her revenant like state allowed but it could not consume what she was.
When the taxi rolls to a halt Nine pulls her own arm free none too gently and reaches for the door handle on her side. Shuffling over and out still as an awkward human burrito she sinks her fingers into the material and yanks it wider and up to allow her feet to work to take four or five paces away from the taxi.
Nine incinerates the bedding in an instant.
After the flash and roar of everything being burned away heavy motes of ash larger than the field insects are circling her in a conical updraft she's created. Scattering sub-par restraints no one /really/ expected could hold her to the four winds (and out of her presence.)
She was already interlacing her fingers and stretching arms out in front of her to audible cracks and a sensual long moan punctuated by an exhalation of breath. A heavy leather belt tugging against the small of her back and out to both metal cuffs surrounding her wrists as she stretches, she fans and wiggles her fingers in the air, still wreathed in and warmed by intense fire.
The fire lingers around her body. The mage burning away like a torch until she stands in the night dressed in a two layered long purple cloak. The blouse and jacket both leaving her shoulders bare, a straight purple tie almost lying horizontally flat on top of a wealth of buoyed up bosom. Nines folding arms responsible for that while adorned with magecraft-style big sleeves and solid gold-metal cuff around the forearm close to her wrist (attached to that belt strung between and encircling her body.)
The jacket a double breasted affair all in black excepting where the purple collars are highlighting and wide enough to encircle her bicep. Gold etching traces from the sides of her miniskirt and follows on to the stocking in a single curling stroke of the pen that's leaving her inner thigh bared skin but otherwise professional looking stockings. Those high heels she's wearing have unpolished and functional toe caps of grey steel.
There was no incantation in what 'Nine' the pretender was doing. She destroyed with a whim and scattered the ashes because she had been inconvenienced and annoyed. Her mood was foul, her mind wavering and unfocused despite championing the act of not giving in to grief. She wasn't reshaping anything into her attire rather than recreating it wholly out of flame while already on her body.
The skill of a magician, highest or lowest could be best gauged by their casting time rather than the size and scope of the 'miracles' they could perform.
She was a little refreshed. There was no longer more than a hint of redness in her eye and her skin was radiantly pale and tear streak free. The woman reaches up a hand to pinch tweak the brim of her hat and seat it just right on her head. The character for her seat as one of the canonized Ten Sages of her time emblazoned across the front of cone of the witches hat.
Only when it was all complete did Nine feel relaxed enough to lean on her back leg, lift and settle the other foot behind her heel and turn her attention to her 'daughter.'
Between the two, who would suspect which was the others mother? A perk of dying young perhaps.
"Kokonoe... Mercury. It has been a while."
She struggled with the first name, Kokonoe: Daughter of Konoe. It seemed such arrogance to even say aloud though there was hubris to that as well. The name didn't belong to just her parents anymore, it was hers. Her child had always been the 'the baby' or 'akachan' ... 'the little one' on occasion. Standing there in her kaka jacket and slurping on a lollipop Konoe was having some difficulty in taking the 'child' seriously. Was it impossible to act her age in even the slightest with that outfit and the lolly?!
After a few minutes of trying to reach Konoe through her many layers of grief and padded futon, the cat had realized it was of little use. Curling both of his feline paws into his lap, he pressed them against one another, and slipped into a state of reduced awareness, only peripherally aware of the passing of streets.
The fun thing about meditation, Jubei learned a long time ago, is that a proper meditative stance is practically indistinguishable from falling asleep while sitting up. The three times the cab had hit a bump in the road, or had to swerve to avoid another dispatched Gear in the road, his eye had popped open nearly instantaneously, only to shutter after a brief assessment of the situation. But for the most part, the weary cat is able to glean a partial measure of restfulness on the long cab ride, now that he's reasonably assured that the mage will want to see the trip through to its rewarding conclusion.
It's only when the cab begins to slow down that the cat begins to stir back to full wakefulness, drawing in breath through those tiny feline nostrils. He is pleased to take note of the lack of rainfall, though his soaked fur will likely take another hour to dry even still.
His eye makes contact with Kokonoe. His head gives a simple bob of approval.
This could have been a trap.
And this could still -be- a trap.
But he will play his part all the same.
When the car pulls to a stop, he -would- have exited the car first -- but for Nine's hasty departure, noted with a snort. He taps the cabbie on the shoulder with another bill, trading it for his phone -- and then slowly steps out of the vehicle. The cabbie hurries out, to retrieve the possessions from the trunk.
The cat stands just under five feet. He pulls his poncho off, shaking the remaining beads of water off of the garment before rolling it up tightly. And, as can be clearly seen, his orange Kaka clan coat is still wet, particularly at the joints.
He saunters up to Kokonoe, giving her a second nod.
And a wrinkle of his sensitive nose, just in case there are signs of foul play that -wouldn't- be so obvious to the eyes and ears.
I don't expect forgiveness, but it's only fair that I ask, Kokonoe."
He stops well within range for her to take a swing at him with whatever weapon she chooses. Maybe even those Kaka claws.
"Please forgive your foolish father."
And only then does he turn to see Nine -- in all her resplendent glory.
Nine, as never before -- reborn as a phoenix, and not as some faceless, wrapped-up plaything.
His twin tails raise up high, lilting quietly from side to side as if catching some unseen wind.
"Nine, I must say, you look as radiant as ever."
He tilts his head, indicating his voluptuous wife -- as he turns his eye back towards his daughter.
"Your old man ain't senile, girl. That's your mom, I've got no doubt of it."
He'd rate her a ten if it wouldn't get him fireballed.
Kokonoe watches the pair of strange figures remove themselves from the taxi cab, her golden eyes following every movement with quick flicks of motion behind the clear lenses of her glasses, studying them with scrutiny of a researcher conducting a sensitive experiment despite her outwardly relaxed appearance. The flashy entrance of the woman claiming to be Nine earns a briefly quirked eyebrow of mild interest but her gaze turns towards Jubei after a moment as he is the first to approach, meeting his gaze with that cold and calculating stare.
It the past, she might very well have acted in the manner he seems to expect, lashing out in a fit of uncontrollable rage at the very sight of his face. She had blamed him for a great many things over the years, placed the fault for all of the suffering and bigotry she had faced at the hands of the corrupt NOL at his feet. Perhaps she had been right in doing so. Perhaps her anger was righteous and just. Even though Terumi had been the one responsible for his loss of memory in their current world, she had seen through the Boundary into the myriad of possibilities and in every single one of them the outcome had been the same. She had been abandoned, left to fend for herself while good old Dad ran off to play hero.
The contempt in what remains of her hardened heart shows through only a little, taking the form of an increase in the speed and vigor at which her twin tails flick back and forth with angry little twitches and a minute shift in the positions of her folded ears that any cat would immediately recognize as an unfriendly reaction. But, she doesn't allow it to go any further than that - for now. Getting into a shouting match with someone she hasn't seen in literal decades in the middle of a forest won't accomplish anything. Perhaps if the circumstances had been different, if he'd come to her alone seeking reconciliation she'd have unloaded her frustrations on him in the way he fears; right now all she cares about is sorting this mess out.
Jubei's exploratory sniff would reveal naught of any interest save that which belongs within the depths of a forest. The musty scent of rotting lumber and rusty metal blends with that of the wet grass and healthy trees to create a clash of nature and artifice but beyond that there is nothing that might give his sensitive nose cause for alarm, though the recent rainfall also makes it difficult to pick out specific things.
"That'll be close enough."
Kokonoe's hand leaves her hip as she straightens to her full height, plunging it into a small circular void that appears out of thin air beside her and when she withdraws it a moment later it is no longer empty. The scientist levels what appears to be a small gun at Jubei, though its outwards appearance is somewhat unusal compared to the modern-day idea of a firearm. Sleek and curved, it looks like a prop that would be likely to wind up on the set of an old 50's era science-fiction show back when humanity believed that the future would be filled with flying cars and bottle-shaped rockets and everything had rings and fins on it for some reason. Regardless of how silly it might look, she wields it with the confidence of someone who believes that the weapon poses an actual threat.
"You might not have any doubts but I've got plenty. Two days ago, you couldn't even remember you /had/ a family and now you think you've found someone who's been dead for over fifty years? Let's just say, I'm going to need a little convincing."
She shifts her aim, drawing the pointed tip of the weapon up away from Jubei to settle on the woman instead. Her expression shifts to one of mischievous amusement, the corners of her lips raising up into a smirk.
"As you know, I'm a woman of science. I put my faith in the evidence. So how about we start with a simple test?"
Without waiting for a response, her finger depresses on the trigger and a soft hum fills the air for a split second. A thunderclap rings out as the tiny ringed diode suddenly emits a brilliant burst of light and noise as a stream of electricity cleaves the darkness asunder. Sparks dance out to tickle Jubei's fur with spindly fingers as the hot white lance zips past his shoulder by only a few inches, seeking out the slender form of his beloved with such speed that even he likely cannot hope to intervene in time.
Jubei is tired. Like, really freaking tired. He could have used another half-hour's nap in the cab, -at least-.
But in the back of his mind, he was also prepared for a trap. Like, perhaps Kokonoe sending a doppleganger of herself. Or a mechanised warrior to apprehend him and turn him into NOL for the bounty money. Or -any other possibility-.
The sniff was to confirm that the reality reflected what he saw. He wanted no trickery -- just the cat, the resurrected wife, and the daughter.
Because, as far as his family was concerned, the old cat trusted no one else. He'd been shown a glimpse of Valkenhayn having a -huge- disagreement with Nine. And Rachel... Well, on whose behalf does Rachel Alucard -really- work towards?
But then he realizes that while he can smell his own damp fur, and he can smell Nine -- he doesn't really smell anything that would be a mix of the two.
Nothing that reminds him of his daughter.
And then he's told that's close enough.
His twin tails puff out, droplets of water spraying in every direction. In the list of rude things Kokonoe's said this night, that was one of the ruder ones. Why wouldn't she want him getting any closer, unless...
And then a portal spawns -- a trick he might expect of Nine, but not of this scientifically-minded child. His right Kaka paw leans curls in front of his chest, as he adopts his iai draw stance.
The Kansai accent has never been thicker than right now.
"Kokonoe, I'm warning ya right now. I've had a -real- long day."
But the changing of her aim, and her explanation, give him pause.
It -is- awfully suspect, isn't it?
That everything is happening at once?
And still, his tails spring outwards, twitching with anticipation as his claws clamp down upon the hilt of his blade.
He growls -- "NOOO!" -- there isn't time for much else.
And then the sparks fly out from the mouth of the gun, electrifying his fur. The draw stance had been meant to deflect a shot aimed at -him-. He didn't adjust yet...
One of the Dream Blades cleaves through the air, blurring into a solid arc of light. The cats hind paws both leave the ground, so dedicated is he to the task of pouring very fibre of his being into deflecting the shot away. Tendrils of lightning fly in every direction, racing down the edge of the blade.
Impossibly... the swing gave no satisfying feedback, just the prickling across his skin.
He stares, slack-jawed, at the shot as it continues flying towards Nine.
Either he missed -- or there was nothing his sword could hit at all.
Will the result be the same as if he never -tried- to intervene?
There is no room for regrets in a samurai's mind.
As long as he did everything he could...
The roar of a cat is enough to split the air, rivaling the thunderclap itself in its bass intensity.
The beam of light refracting off a truncated dodecadeltahedron shaped plate in the air between mother and daughter. Translucent purple and ringed top and bottom by a shell of smaller hexagonal shields, the black iconography similar to a tribal tattoo and featuring a skulled face with spike adorned shoulders and horns atop it's head. It distorts her view of her daughter, as much as having some kind of ray gun pulled on her did.
Those kinds of things were all over movie posters and brandished by square jawed heroes with damsels hanging off them, available as kids toy her daughter was far too young for. Absurd foreign and alien gadgets, rockets and far off planets in sci-fi movies -- escapism was not for her, at most it impressed on her by culture and talk surrounding her juniors and interns. She had seen occasional splashes for upcoming films, but never made time for that frivolous stuff.
Standing behind the mirror Nine's shoulders slump. *My poor heartless little kitten, what did being our child do to you?*
Pursing her lips as though whistling she blows a long stream of her breath down toward her hand, which fans a growing conflagration of ice and fire that was being woven together at knee level, it roils and rages as she hands mix it. Locks slamming and clicking into place all around her as self-defence mandates and programming dictated she defend herself with all appropriate skill while eliminating every threat.
"...Jyuuuu-bei!" *I can't stop this! I can't stop Me!*%She had seen him trying to protect her, that unsheathed blade gleamed brightly and her lips pull back into a cruel smile that matched in intensity. Standing tall and throws her arms out left and right to disperse it. The earthen boulder overhead was forming out of nothing! Growing into a heavy, gravity warping and shadow casting mass with shards of ice crystals pulsing out protrude further and grow sharper. Nine plunges her hands down toward the ground to trigger the descent, wrists crossed and fingers spread like claws of her own.
A maniac striking a killer chord on a gigantic organ the rock similarly groans under the weight of its own mass, succumbing to new pulls of gravity as she releases her hold to dunk it.
"Such disrespectful and mistrusting children. It's a blessing we never had more." *Please! Look away... Don't watch your parents kill one other.*
Phantom was back and more than willing to use the psychological advantages her appearance as Nine might give her over her target. There was the opportunity to perhaps have taken two criminal at once, settling for one since the other had failed to appear was no huge loss.
Everything he had done in the past four days had culminated in this one moment. Since regaining his memories, Jubei was filled with the sorrow of knowing that he had failed his daughter, and failed his wife -- sorrows that were blissfully absent thanks to the machinations of the God of Destruction. And these sorrows were burdens above and beyond the moments of apparent senility -- the moments where he -had- met Celica, -had- met Kokonoe, only to seem distant, confused -- playing the field as if he -did- know the important people in his life.
All to be ruined in the drawing and firing of an overly convoluted, overly complicated weapon.
He's looking straight at Nine when the mirror forms.
And he lands in a low crouch, one sword drawn in a warding gesture, while his other sleeved paw stands at the ready to draw the second.
"I hope you got an insurance policy on that ray gun o' yours."
Called to the figure pretending to be Kokonoe from over the Kaka progenitor's shoulder.
A gale of wind blasts outward, blowing Jubei's hood off his head. An unruly mane of bicolor fur flares out from the gust. Fire and ice swirl around the maelstrom, reflecting in Jubei's eye as he holds his position, sword outstretched.
And he looks up -- seeing the boulder as it begins to form.
He looses a low growl under his breath, as his crimson eye singles out a point in space. An instant afterwards, an burst of jet black chi erupts from the point of focus, blossoming into an inky spot before finally solidifying into a discrere hexagon. In the center of the hexagon is an splotchy pawprint.
He looks up, over Nine's head -- and a second hexagon squirts into view.
He looks high in the air above him, as a third springs into existence.
He casts his eye left, but his target is not readily obvious.
His eye then focuses upon the boulder, as it threatens to crush him utterly beneath its mass.
And then suddenly Jubei springs into motion, his form blurring into no more than a series of lines.
His path is etched into the air -- an invincible line carved between his standing location and the first hexagon, the sound of the infinitely sharp Dream Blade carving through otherwise impregnable rock not occuring until a split-second later.
A second stroke follows from a separate diagonal, as the samurai cat thunders forward at improbably rapid speeds -- cleaving through the maelstrom of fire and ice, slicing it into fourths.
The primal forces commanded by Nine require the rock to act as an anchor -- that solitary force is torn asunder by the third incision, as the rock begins to collapse into its own oblivion, with the reckless gravitational forces tearing the assemblage apart. Individual rocks will be left to smash into their impact point, but their momentum is stochastic, erratic -- the rocks will fly apart without any rhyme or reason.
And the fourth point....
A sound echoes from atop the lumber mill's roof, a quarter second later.
"Hope your testing was worth it, Kokonoe!"
The wandering samurai hops off the side of the building, letting the lumber mill itself be the shield for his escape.
Kokonoe watches this drama unfold with the same casual detachment that she's shown throughout the entirity of her interaction with this pair, though her focus remains quite fixated on the massive display of power that comes to pass in the wake of her little 'experiment'. In truth, the flashy blast of energy had been little more than an over-charged taser. Even if a normal person had taken it square in the chest it wouldn't have done much more than paralyze them or knock them out for a short while. She might be callous but she's not evil.
The massive build up of magical energy is not quite what she had expected though Jubei's overreaction to her unprovoked assault was about on point. Whatever she might think, he was clearly convinced that this woman was his long dead wife; which is precisely what she had been counting on. That emotional panic at seeing his loved one under threat, the snap-judgement rendered in the heat of the moment with no time to think or react was precisely what she needed to give her bluff just that little bit more gravitas to make it seem like a credible threat. She had taken advantage of her father's love in the most cold and uncaring way and without batting an eyelash as she did it.
And, as usual, she was right.
The scientist remains stationary as the true face of the revenant reveals itself, seemingly unconcerned by the danger posed as she gathers primal elemental power into a terrible mass of destruction. She doesn't bother trying to intervene - it wouldn't do any good and she knows it. That level of magical power is simply beyond her ability to counter without significant preparation. Her father is left to fend for himself, a somewhat ironic juxtaposition in their case, but not one she is overly worried about. Jubei isn't known as a legendary hero simply because it sounds impressive.
As the shattered and slashed bits of rock crumble to the ground, Kokonoe tosses the ray gun aside and lifts the bright piece of candy back to her mouth, taking a nice lazy lick just before one of the larger pieces of debris crashes into her like a ton of bricks. Dirt and dust fly into the air in a small geyser upon impact filling the once brightly lit circle with a cloud of obscuring dust. By the time it has settled, Jubei is long gone, leaving only the Phantom and the destruction she had wrought.
"Well, that was a bit of an overreaction. But atleast it confirmed my theory."
The matter-of-fact tone of the voice that floats out of the slowly settling cloud has a strange hitch to it as it wafts up into the air and once the dust finally clears it becomes obvious why. Kokonoe stands in the middle of the fallen boulder, her torso protruding up from its center at the waistline. Her form appears not quite as consistent and solid as it had before, her body flickering and shifting in random intervals like the image of a poorly tuned tv station. Beneath the rubble, several large clusters of metallic wreckage can be seen jutting out from underneath its ragged edges and half buried in the small crater it has created. While the majority of it is unrecognizable junk and twisted sparking wires, the unmistakable form of a robotic hand can be seen thrust up into the air, its slender fingers whirring softly as they clench and unclench at sporatic intervals.
The scientist peers at the shade with those predatory inhuman eyes, the lenses of her glasses shimmering with the reflection of the remaining functional street lamp in a way that seems to enhance the menace of her already unsettling mien. There is no mistaking it. That kind of magical power is too rare, too difficult to control by any but a few individuals in history. It is certainly possible that someone new had been born with the sort of once-in-a-generation talent that would be needed and attained that sort of skill through long and rigorous study but to do so while also avoiding all knowledge of their existence... unlikely doesn't even begin to cover it.
Which means that this is, infact, Konoe A. Mercury, ninth Sage of the Mage's Guild... and her mother.
"I'm not sure what sort of force it was that managed to draw someone like you back from the other side but it's clear that you aren't the person you used to be. That old fool was blinded by his attachment to your memory. Fortunately, I have no such issues. So don't go expecting me to treat you like anything other than what you are - a monster masquerading in my mother's skin."
Streaking and cutting through that rock like it was air. The crumbing mass trigger an irritated smirk. She can't be angry at that! She challenged and he rose to meet it. How strong and wonderful her was in action, appreciable when those blades weren't tearing into her.
The resulting and expanding dust cloud is thick enough Phantom lifts her forearm to ward against being overwhelmed by it. That Cat! He always had to go completely overboard and try to one-up her whenever the stakes were raised. Her vision lacking and sense filled with the sound of rocks falling and pebbles rolling she starts moving, walking quietly and occasionally teleporting to ensure she wasn't going to find the dust clearing... and be confronted by that binding technique once again.
By the time she adapts and the levels of dust and particulate in fall enough for her to go on the offense, she teleports to the mill roof and has no line of sight on Jubei. The long grasses parted as though something had recently passed through but her chances of tracking him when he did not want to be found. Frankly, zero percent. She could spend hours walking around out here and find shed crossed a border inadvertently or been walking in circles. A clean escape.
From below she can hear her daughter patting herself on the back.
"My... how lonesome. That's the first chance you've had to call me Mother."
The voice rings out and reverberates around the clearing since Phantom was calling loud and distantly through the still settling dust cloud. The next instant she was dropping into place in front of Kokonoe out of a cloud of purple flame, another visible atop the lumber mill. It was sad, tragic really! Her daughter called her with such a cold and unfamiliar tone. Phantoms eye crinkles with amusement.
"Said with such Insolence and egotism! Since you freely admitted you don't know... and are unsure."
The assumed guise of Nine melts away like falling sparks, leaving the scantily clad Phantom freed of those trappings and stuffy clothes.
"It's not like you squandered a chance to deceive 'Me' and learn more."
A half-hearted shrug before talons reaches out and cups gently as though she thought she might touch the projection of whatever kind and tip it's head back to inspect the face.
"An uncute child. You would have thought the daughter of the Great Sage Nine would have learned to accessorize better."
A flair for her dress or better expression and mannerism... something cuter or smarter to cover up the absence of her shadow. So drab a woman, dressed purely for her own comfort, sporting a personality and emotional range that would probably be best expressed and captured in a 'yes' or 'no' questionnaire. Standing, dramatically and unmoving under a streetlight in the middle of nowhere and not moving from the spot.
The breeze from the created updraft hadn't touched her, her father had been told to stay away, she constantly and openly licked a lollypop rather than leave it in her mouth, all to draw attention away from her feet.
Adoreable levels of misdirection, Her child's first card trick or preschool magic show.
"I have high hopes for you. Kokonoe! There were two reasons I played along with this charade! The first was a good opportunity to catch two criminals. The second..."
Her finger touches to her lips shushing and silencing any chance of spilling the secret. The smile was insufferable, insolent and egotistical a gesture like-parent, like-daughter/like-parent like-daughter.
**You hate me, or are at least indifferent enough to do it. I see that in you. You and your father together should have been strong enough to destroy me. I wish you had been.**
That "old fool" is still listening, his feline hearing more than adequate for the task with his hood down. A paw combs through his unruly bicolored mane, as he presses his back against the building.
He needs the distance.
He needs time to catch his breath, to sort his thoughts into order.
And all he hears is the two women in his life he loves most... failing to communicate with one another in the same manner they failed to communicate with him.
He needs time, and distance. For in his weakened state, he would not be enough of a challenge for the revitalized Nine, who had spent the entirety of the cab ride relaxing, rebuilding, readying.
And it's become patently obvious that he cannot rely on Kokonoe to aid him in subduing Nine any further.
Jubei's satchel is right where the taxicab driver left it, before he got back in the car and drove away, before violence spasmed into existence at the abandoned lumber mill. Inside are nothing more than a spare set of clothes and a loaf of stale bread. Neither that nor the tattered, incinerated remains of a futon are worth retrieving. The two treasures he -would- go back for... They'll have to wait.
The path of a samurai is paved with regret.
And he will not add another stone to that path by re-engaging now.
"Hmph. I have better things to do with my time than play some sicko's twisted games. If you honestly thought that this wasn't an obvious trap then I may have vastly overestimated your cleverness. Don't think because that dottering old fool was willing to throw himself at your feet that I'll be such an easy mark."
Kokonoe idly licks the sucker in her hand again, showing no concern for the insults hurled at her nor the threat that the woman poses. Unlike her father, she wasn't foolish enough to simply show up in person due to some wild story; she is thousands of miles away, safely within the confines of her lab. Jubei had acted like a complete idiot, blinded by his desire for this spectre to be the real deal. The sage's mastery of magic would have allowed her to teleport away any time she wanted - or teleport someone else in. Infact, it is somewhat surprising that the Phantom had failed to do so. If the person behind her revival as this hateful revenant is who she thinks it is, then they would have practically tripped over themselves at the chance to see the despair and anger such an encounter would inevitably have created.
"As for learning more, I already know more than I did before - mainly, that you exist. That's really all I need. You're on my radar now, lady."
The scientist's mouth twists into that cat-like smirk again, an expression of pure distilled smugness and anticipation the likes of which only those of the feline persuasion can accomplish. Her tails flop back and forth in jauntily little flicks of motion behind her, dancing in and out of view as the hologram projects their image through the rubble.
"I think you'll find that you're the one who has played their hand far too soon. Be seeing you. Ta-taaa."
The image of the cat-woman blurs, ripples, and then shrinks in on itself, vanishing in a brief flash of light. The street lights overhead likewise seem to suddenly lose power, flickering for a moment or two before their illumination fades completely, leaving the mage alone in the darkness.
Log created on 22:47:28 01/02/2018 by Jubei, and last modified on 21:07:44 01/06/2018.