Illyria - Illyria Finale - Hand In The Puppet Head

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Description: The NOL and the SO are at their throats, the only thing keeping an all out war is the final surge of faeries armies, and the restraint of the leadership. And during this paranoia, there is a single suspect. Renka tastes the blood on the uniform, and finds it not of the humans, but of the sheep. Entering the hidden retreat in the valley, she pierces through the sheep in search of the instigator of this entire backlash: Whitney Saulder.

A plan come to fruition. Two armies ready to rise against each other. Taking up arms to draw blood, settle debts and declare justice over all. To cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war for the right and the righteous and the safety of humanity, the world, and all right thinking people. Clash and crash of arms and fist, of soul and flesh, tearing at each other as two nascent world protectorates jockey for their place in the almighty sun.

Nascent? Or was that nescient? Whitney Saulder sometimes confused one for the other, though the two were often closer in meaning than not.

A hidden valley. A field of green grasses, rolling hills, dotted stones left in the foothills of the mountain ranges all over. And sheep. Many, many sheep fill this valley. Eating, herding, wandering around and living their sleepy sheep lives.

Among the flock, standing in his rumpled business wear, mostly unchanged and unkempt in his time in Illyira, is the instigator of a war, Whitney Saulder. A man standing in a field with his hands in his pockets, surrounded by sheep, and just looking up at the clouds rolling across the sky. Sky sheep shapes to match the ground based sheep that flock about the Illuminati killer.

A cigarette hangs from his lips, it burns, but he hasn't actually taken a drag, just lets it hang and smolder. The overcoat of one NOL officer, the blood of the lamb, and a war is bubbling to the surface. Given the right information, a world will tear itself apart. A pair of world powers was almost easy.

And yet, Whitney Saulder finds no joy in his work, no satisfaction. Not that he ever does. He just finds himself standing in a field, surrounded by sheep, staring at the sky, and waiting. Waiting for something to come. Something that has to come. Or else he'll be terribly bored with the sheep.

The NOL base camp was in tatters. Bears. So many bears had torn it to pieces. The casualties were non-existent but the injuries were high. In the end, one of the mercenary recruits - a huge beast of a man - had wrestled the champion of the bears - another meat miracle, and somehow, an armistice was reached. The Shadow Bears had withdrawn leaving the harried NOL to regroup and reorganize.

Many of the NOL soldiers are out of commission from injuries sustained in the bear invasion, but many are not. And even though it was /bears/ that attacked the camp, it is others' blood the soldiers are beginning to hunger for.

Two major events had the NOL men and women riled up. An attack on the NOL Detention Center only a week before had resulted in the release of not just one dangerous Gear but many. The death toll was significant. Almost everyone knew someone who knew someone that had been stationed there and lost in the assault by the as of yet unnamed terrorists. But while high command had yet to declare culprits, many were starting to suspect the Sacred Order complicit in the act. After all, hadn't they been accused of harboring the very Gear that was broken out of Max Security?

And then there was the event closer to home - a bloodied NOL uniform of an officer had been discovered not far outside the camp. An assassination in Illyria. It was too clean to be the work of a savage beast. It had to be murder, by someone skilled. At least, that was the word going around the foot soldiers.

Private First Class Kaneko didn't know what to think of the brewing tensions. Was the Sacred Order taking advantage of NOL's assistance to stab them in the back? What was their play here? She did know that one only need look toward the officers in command to see their pensive expressions, the burning indignation behind their eyes, the desire to seek revenge...

Revenge was a common topic throughout the devastate camp. It had to be the Sacred Order. Maybe the officers weren't saying anything, but the troops knew. And they were itching to be unleashed to tear across the land, to attack the betrayers, and to reduce their ranks to ash.

Normally, the darkstalker Private would have had no insight into the cause for the officers' tight lipped concern. But since being transferred to being First Lieutenant Shimotsuki's personal assistant, she often found herself accompanying the severe, spoiled, impossible young woman behind closed doors, carrying her belongings for her, or being close at hand so that she could be sent on errands to fetch whatever things the fussy, overly demanding noble would want.

It was in one of these closed door meetings that she got to see the uniform jacket in question - blood stained evidence that NOL officers were being hunted. But her nose told her otherwise. That blood didn't belong to any human. Waiting until the meeting was adjourned, she had tried to bring her concern up to the Lieutenant herself, but Katarina was, as ever, not interested in a word she had to say.

She would have to investigate this herself.

The NOL soldier slipped free from the confusion of camp a little while ago. While she wasn't completely certain, she suspected she knew the origin of the blood. She would know for certain upon making it to the sheep filled valley in the hills high above the NOL outpost. It was a sight she had never seen for herself, but sometimes at night, when she would slip off on her own, she would smell traces of its scent in the breeze moving over the land.

A swift hike later and she crests the ridge of the valley, stepping down into the sheep-paradise with a slowed, cautious step. Emerald green eyes look around widely as she swallows. She may not need meat anymore like she once did. She can't even live off it, really. But that doesn't mean old habits have entirely died, old instincts demanding satisfaction of running down the prey animals and finding the young or weak to pounce starting to bubble up in her mind.

Focus... focus... she reminds herself, gritting her teeth as she presses on down into the valley. Lambs blood. And traces of this verdant meadow. That's what was on that jacket. It was... a setup?

Twin tails swaying at her back, Renka moves through the field, her left hand gripping the shaft of a long naginata with a sharp bladed on the end.

And then she comes to an abrupt stop. The breeze shifts then, bringing with it the hint of ashen tobacco. A second scan of the livestock and then her attention falls on the lone man.

"Excuse me!" Renka calls as she draws closer. Her two large fox ears are visible from some ways off, poking up out of the mane of strawberry blonde hair that spills down over her head. She wears the overcoat of a NOL foot soldier, an azure blue thing with ornamental buckles and clasps on the sleeves and front.

She shouldn't jump to conclusions, she reminds herself. Maybe it's just some guy. In a suit. In the middle of no where. Doing perfectly innocent things.

Closing in, she studies him further, breathing in more of the air around him. Wait - were there traces of his scent on the jacket?

"I'm going to need you to identify yourself, sir." the NOL foot soldier declares, trying to make her voice sound businesslike and serious. "And please explain what you're doing here." She can start with 'please' for now. Sometimes being nice up front works out better.

A sniff. Whitney Saulder scratches at his nose. His eyes close and he waits. Oh he's waited for so long. Somewhere inside of him he had hope. A twisted form of hope that dared to wonder if there were any at all among his targets that had a lick of sense and sensibility. And today that hope is answered. Answered in the form of a big eared, two tailed fox girl from a half a field away.

"You're not her," Whitney says, speaking in a quiet, conversational tone. Not without reason, but to see if she responds. To see what level of hearing this apparent darkstalker is capable of. "I was hoping it would be her."

The gunslinger. How she interested Whitney. How stern she looked. How that simple-minded facade melted away to show the cold, unfeeling machine underneath. She was magnificent and Whitney ached to know what her eyes would she when he squeezed the last bit of air out of her lungs. The coat was hers, after all. He had such hope that she would come racing in with her guns blazing and ready to kill. That would've made so much of this trip worthwhile.

But instead he gets a fox girl with a spear. Not ideal, but something he can work with. Whitney considers himself nothing if not an adaptable person.

He waves his hand and beckons the woman to come closer. Now he calls out to her in a louder, clearer voice. "I can explain things much much better if you were closer! Can you walk through the sheep? I understand how they can get in the way, but give them a little push with your walking stick and they'll move along."

He turns back to looking up at the sky, hands behind his back, clasping behind him. He begins to hum to himself. An off-tune version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic as he watches the clouds drift by. A placid, plastic, beatific smile of contentment on his face.

NOL, a darkstalker, carries a weapon, terribly polite. Vulpine. Big ears and nose. If they work as well as he guesses, the sheep bleats and stench could be used against her. Little notes formulate in his mind. What can he do, what can he say?

Whitney Saulder licks his teeth and waits. Yes. He knows exactly what this woman should hear.

He answers her projected shout with quiet words and she blinks, pausing on the other side of the thick horde of distractingly helpless, unwary, plump sheep. She tears her focus from him long enough to sweep her gaze around the valley before her eyes return to the strange man, clearly making sure that there isn't a second person in sight.

"Sorry!" she replies. Wait, what is she apologizing for, she asks herself silently. For not being who he was hoping for? She opens her mouth as if to follow up with a question, but the calm man asks that they converse closer together rather than shout over the backs of the herd before turning away. Even if she was perfectly fine communicating across the distance, his body language suggests that he'll simply wait until she gets closer.

Well, fine. She didn't push herself through the training courses just to be thwarted by a bunch of herd animals!

Sucking in a breath, the NOL foot soldier glances down, attention coming to rest on the upturned face of one of the valley's grass chewing residents, her emerald eyes meeting its dark, dewy eyes. It bleats at her with a conversational 'Baaah!' and her expression twitches slightly. She can't escape the thought that these things should be running from her. Traces of memory from a far more feral age slip into her thoughts until she consciously pushes them back out.

"Awh... Don't make this difficult, move aside," she complains to the herbivore only to get another 'Baaah!' in response. All the while, the humming sound of the strange man drifts across the way, discordant with the sheep noises and not quite in tune with the original piece.

"Guh." She grips her weapon with both hands then, bumping the shaft of the naginata against the side of the first sheep, jostling it a little until it moves aside. "Excuse me," she murmurs awkwardly, squeezing between two more sheep standing butt to butt, and then using her polearm to pry space between two more that would rather just continue eating grass where they were standing than give her the time of day.

"Coming through... oh come on."

The scent of the flock had been something she had picked up traces of all the way down the hills near the camp. Here and now, it's overwhelmingly concentrated. She can still pick out hints of the cigarette, but anything about the man himself is lost in the storm of smells.

Drawing nearer in her belabored path through the sheep, she looks back up toward Whitney, "Hi there." She'll declare to his back if he hasn't turned around. "Private Kaneko, of the Novus Orbis Librarium." she even introduces herself. She isn't pointing the spear at him, but her hands are gripping it tightly now, using the blunt end to keep a large grey sheep from leaning against her as it seems wont to do, much to her discomfort.

"I'm following up on an investigation. Maybe you could help me."

Not another sentient soul for a great distance. The valley of the sheep quiet and secluded with nary an intrusion from the outside world save two. And they share the field together, one waiting for the other to close the distance between them. Renka is correct, Whitney will not make motion to communicate until Renka closes in on him. He has nothing to gain from talking at distance, and no reason to give up his position of control over the social fabric of the situation. And so he stands, feet planted, occasionally taking glances to watch Renka's troubles with the sheep.

He waits, and holds, and bides his time for the moments that come. He takes his cigarette from his lips, holding it in an overhand pinch. "That's the thing about sheep," he says, sniffing and looking down at the bleating clouds. "Small, and fluffy. As a one, not terribly demanding or difficult. But then they crowd, more and more. Numbers in an apathetic tide that nevertheless can stall the most driven shepherd."

He points the dogend of the cigarette toward the oncoming Renka. "Tap the ankles. Give them a bit of a pain. That's how a sheepdog does it. Remember, no matter how tall you walk, sometimes you got to get low to get the herd moving to where you want them to."

The cigarette goes back in his lips and Whitney waits more. His hands slip back into the pockets of his khaki slacks. He nods to her when she introduces herself. "My name isn't all that important," he tells her. "But I can help you with your investigation. I can certainly help you."

He looks away from Renka and takes a long drag of his cigarette for the first time. Ash falls and fades, dropping from the end of the cigarette. Whitney exhales the smoke through his nose. Filling the air with the acrid stench of the tobacco. And just when Renka gets close enough to talk. Pity.

The pause is not without purpose. The man frowns. He looks away. He stares to the middle distance for a long moment before up to the sky. "I can help. But I think you really ought to consider if you want help at all."

It's those complex unspoken rules of social interaction that are lost on her. Humans make talking so complicated. Even living among them, she struggles to pick up on the clues and cues that legislate how interactions are supposed to play out. But she presses on, undaunted, persistent, just like she's being with the uncooperative sheep.

Now and then she glances up, as if to gauge distance, but also just to make sure the man hasn't done anything else that requires a change in tactics. But when he speaks up, the only sound other than her quiet complaints and the bleating sheep, she pauses, taking the advice to heart.

And afterward? "Ah- Thanks!"

She becomes an ankle tapping machine, the blunt end of her weapon prodding and poking at their ankles, forcing them to respond or risk more annoying pokes.

It works. The second half of her approach less painful or exasperating than the first. Guess those sheepdogs know a thing or two about corralling these things.

He doesn't offer his name, but that doesn't bother her as of yet. Given who she works for now days, her bar for getting annoyed at people has been raised exceptionally high. Still, there's something off, her mind racing at trying to anticipate what this man might do next.

He speaks of being capable of helping her before filling the air with a not very helpful plume of burnt tobacco. One sniff of the stuff straight from the source and her eyes begin to water. Smoking is certainly one of the human habits she has no understanding of. Fire is a thing to be avoided, smoke a warning of calamity not a recreational past time.

Fortunately, she can deal with this. Just like when she was sealed in the catacombs with the blood weaving crazy woman in uniform, she can simply opt out of breathing. It will cost her a portion of the soul energy she's been gathering, deny her any sense of smell, and she still needs air in her lungs to speak, but for now, she'll get by without taking in any more breaths.

He'd notice her breath in deeply, lungs expanding, chest rising. And then... nothing. She's just holding the air in while her eyes continue to water from the first allergy-provoking breath.

She keeps looking where he looks. He gazes off to the side and she turns her head to look that way. He looks up and she does too, the tears finally slowing now that she's no longer taking in air. She blinks a few times at the sheep-shaped clouds overhead... nature really wants her to kill a sheep today, doesn't it.

Still gazing up at the sky just because the man in the suit is, Renka responds to his cryptic statement, "There is a uniform jacket," she states. "With the blood of a lamb on it. I'm pretty sure it was stained here. It seems an intentional attempt to deceive and..." She pauses. Full lungs are good for a surprising amount of talking if one doesn't try to project overly loud.

"It's working. It's got the troops really riled up." A pause, finally lowering her face, eyes on him now. This is where exchanges can get tricky.

"I think you can explain it."

"Satisfying, isn't it?" Whitney's question of Renka when she's managed to push and manipulate the herd of sheep out of her way with her little applications of appropriate force. The woman with fox ears listens well. A curious thing, but then again, the more she talks and reveals of herself, the more Whitney Saulder can start to piece together something of an understanding as to what makes Renka tick. And in doing so, just how he can construct an opinion on her. A man without most emotions has to determine opinion with more than his gut.

He takes a second drag from the cigarette, studies Renka's behavior and her resolve. Her breathing going, then stopping, holding breath and steadying. Copying his motions. Interesting quirks and habits he's seeing. And as he sees them, he calculates.

The ash gets flicked aside. Whitney looks back up to the sky to exhale the next billowing plume of tobacco smoke. He licks his fingertips to pinch the dog end and save the remaining tobacco for later, tucking it behind his ear.

He smiles, predatory, when Renka uses an 'I statement'. It reminds him of the degree of professionalism he's come to expect from law enforcement negotiators. And yet this girl referred to herself as a private. "You're bothered by my smoking," he says, adjusting the wrinkled sleeve of his blazer, looking down at his hand, directing line of sight. "But you don't say anything toward your own benefit. At the same time you're questioning me about your investigation." He hums and settles his distant blue eyed stare at Renka's, locking and unwavering even as he has to look down to see her. "Why is it you put your own comfort behind a line of questioning that may not bear fruit? Do you feel it's less likely that I will put out a cigarette than I will have information about your problem?"

He leans back on his heels, slouching, hands slipping into his pockets. "Or is Private Kaneko more confident in her position among the Novus Ordo Librarium than she is about her worth as a person? Maybe it's reflective of your thoughts on humanity. That I would favor an officer of international protectors over the health opinions of a darkstalker. So there's no reason to bother asking me to put out my cigarette." He rubs his chin, the languid motions seeming as though it takes effort to even do that level of physical motion. "So many different reasons, ones that may not be true, more than one that aren't mutually exclusive. But I suppose the most important question is does any of it matter in the long?" He looks toward Renka, humming, eyesbrows raising. Expecting her to answer. After all, she never did ask him a question, she just started that she thinks he can explain her puzzle. He doesn't need to volunteer that information just yet.

The dialog, such as it is, goes a completely different direction than the seemingly unconfrontational NOL soldier was expecting as evidenced by the blinking of her eyes. Her right hand lifts to brush away the moisture that had pooled at the corner of her right eye, then her left, making no effort to discretely hide the gesture like most people might.

Her attention snaps from his face down to his hands as he focuses on adjusting his sleeve, a curious attention to fashion when everything about the condition of his suit suggests he doesn't really care all that much.

When he resumes staring down at her, she's looking up at him, mouth closed, breaths stilled. At the questions, however, she finally breaks eye contact, glancing to the right. He continues conjecturing at her priorities, her self-esteem, or her opinion on how people are likely to behave in the face of a polite request to be treated with a modicum of respect.

Her behaviors are generally in line with what a normal person would do, but they often seem just a little off kilter as well. It might be a bit like taking a country bumpkin out of the rural Nowheresville they grew up and dropping them into the dense urban environment of Metro City. In many ways, they would pass as being as normal as any other person, but there would be those differences, those cultural norms, those learned societal behaviors that just wouldn't quite match up right.


Renka leans her head to the side, turning her focus back to him, glancing up into his face once more though her line of sight is just off from his eyes, centered closer to his mouth it would seem.

"See, the thing is."

She definitely had not expected that the tall man would accommodate her if she had asked. Why did she think that of him, she wonders. He had been very helpful about navigating the field of sheep, after all. He hadn't said anything outright rude, as far as she could tell. Did she assume the worst of him unfairly? Maybe because he's an unknown human? Maybe because her thoughts are occupied with the broiling unrest back in the camp?

"Ha ha," she laughs a little, the sound forced and awkward, "You sure are curious." Her hands remain gripped to her spear, the weapon held upright and back against her shoulder. At six feet from butt to blade tip, it's only taller than he is because she's holding it up off the ground a little.

With the tobacco smoke clearing, he'll notice she resumes breathing with the same, comfortable rhythm, as if she hadn't been holding her breath for the last minute.

"Sir," a neutral title to offer in lieu of knowing his name - professional, to the point in nature. It will do for now. "Did you put the blood on that coat?"

Whitney is a man capable of violence. Capable of a great deal of violence. But he is not a man that enjoys the violence he commits. He doesn't enjoy much of anything, and the violence is no difference. A conversation can be just as useful, many times more useful, than fists or blood. Whitney understands the basic notions therein. In reality, he is just a man that knows many people don't see the verbal solutions and simply want a much more immediately gratifying one.

Those people also give Whitney money for violence. And Whitney believes in the adage of never doing for free what you can be paid for.

Whitney Saulder turns his ear just toward her, knowing he can make her look that way, so he can hear her stumbling over the apparent tiny steps of thought that might be chipping away at the Great Lie of how this small fox woman lives her life. Baby steps. And when he looks back at her, she's complimenting him. Or maybe she is just stating the very obvious about a man that asks a lot of questions. Yes, he is curious, in all senses of the word. As such, he affirms her with a simple, "Terribly so."

His hands come from his pockets, he unbuttons his cuffs and rebuttons them. Playing with things. Fidgeting. Giving the woman something to focus on, to hold attention, to think is a quirk or habit. One that he will drop the next person he speaks with. An adaptation in the moment.

"What coat?" he asks. But then he shakes his head. "I won't insult your intelligence. You and I both know what you talk about. You could smell it, couldn't you? Enhanced senses from your heritage. You sussed the source well, Private Koneko. I should applaud you, but I only feel sorry for what you now know."

He shakes his head and puts his hands in his pockets. "In some sense, I suspect you're more keen to the reality of your situation than you might care to admit. You've come here alone. The sheep stick to people, they would've drifted to any backup you brought. It's not any supernatural capabilities on my part, I just observe things. But you came alone, and I suspect you haven't told your superiors much in regards to your suspicions." He looks back toward Renka. "But that makes me wonder why."

He sniffs and stretches his back before slouching once more. "But yes, I bloodied the coat." Simple, succinct, and true.

"I killed the lamb, as well. If that's a concern. It was good. Tender." He swallows and breathes deep, turning from Renka to look out over the field of bleating sheep. "When you look out here. You see the placid animals. You see those trees in the distance. You see the bright sky above. The relative quietude of this natural surrounding. What do you feel emotionally when you see all this? And what sort of things does it make you think about?"

As expected, Renka temporarily glances off to the side as if to see what has caught his eye over there, only to look back up at him when he looks back down at her, maintaining that same slightly off-centered focus on his face. His hands are followed next, emerald eyes blinking as he goes through the exercises of unbuttoning and buttoning the cuffs of his sleeves.

When he speaks in response to her question, she looks back up, mouth already opening when he asks what coat, as if perfectly happy to explain in detail. She ends up not saying anything at all as he continues, however, his next question regarding her sense of smell answered with a slight nod. It still often surprised her what people didn't seem to smell. How had such a blind species become the dominant force on the planet anyway?

This one, though? This one sees more than most. He calmly explains how he knows that she alone climbed up to this hidden valley to investigate, deduced that it was her keen senses that clued her in, but also explains that it isn't by virtue of any supernatural capabilities that he knows as much. Logic. And attention to detail. Then again, what did she expect to find here? It was certainly no dullard who saw the opportunity to capitalize on the potential for tension before even the NOL boots on the ground realized just how volatile the situation was.

"My commanding officer isn't the easiest person to talk to." she comments as if that explains everything about why she's out in the field alone, perhaps verifying indirectly his suspicion that she didn't tell anyone what she thought.

"And because people aren't in a listening mood right now. It is like..." her voice trails off, replaced with a 'Mnnnn' before she continues, "Powder keg, that's the phrase. The situation is about to explode, no one cares about one little detail."

She adjusts the grip on her spear, resting the butt of it against the ground now, looking back up at Whitney's face as he confesses to the act she all but openly accused him of.

She swallows like he does when he talks about the lamb itself, looking a touch distracted, but when he looks out over the sheep that he towers over far more than she, the fox-eared Private does likewise. A breath is taken in then exhaled slowly, a quiet sigh of contentment in spite the fact that she's standing next to someone who may be on the verge of sending two wound up forces at each other in open violence.

"Dinner," she states simply and abruptly. A few seconds later she adds, tone softer, "And home..."

Fingers tighten on the shaft of her spear as she lifts it slightly off the ground, shaking her head quickly. Renka then looks back up at the curious man. "I have to convince them of what I know. But without any proof, that's going to be really hard." She blinks once before continuing, "I don't suppose you would come back down to the base camp with me peacefully, hm?"

She follows so well, Whitney Saulder thinks of the fox woman. She follows, looks for lead, follows other's control and yet clings like a drowning kitten to a rock that are the notions she's adapted for whatever her purposes may be. Such a curious thing. So well buried in the lies of meaning and point. But so earnest about them. He smiles. He's supposed to smile when something is a positive. He has learned well to mimic humanity.

"You will make someone very happy some day," he judges in a warm tone that bleeds into a sigh. "And you will be happy."

He takes a deep breath and his face returns to its neutral, tired eyed, weary and distant stare at the world around him. He takes a hand from his pocket and waves it toward the distant tree line. "And all of that trouble and all of that noise. The tensions. Fighting. Blood and death. None of it touches this place. Not today. Because, to the world around the one you normally surround yourself in, none of it matters one bit."

Whitney shakes his head and lowers his gaze to his feet for a long moment. "Allow me to quell any fascination you may have with me," he states, flat, looking back toward Renka. Cold blue eyes staring without a whit of care into Renka's own. "I am not a good man. I am not a kind man. But today I am going to be a very merciful man. Because I find your situation interesting."

He straightens up, cracking a pop in his back breathing deeply. "Private Koneko, you are someone that seems to care a great deal about truth. So today I want to introduce you several. You see, I may have planted an apparent seed of deception, but from the soil sprouts a tree bearing bitter, bitter fruit."

Whitney slips his hands back into his pockets, slouches, looks physically languid, and yet his tired eyes don't waver or blink when he speaks with Renka. "The Order and the Library are two beasts that share the same territory. Both are hungry. Both wish to grow fat on the spoils of their domain. But both cannot endure the other's company. One is ambitious, spouting their intent to the world while the other is idealistic and fervent in their righteousness. Both are foolish, but for their own reasons."

A hand appears again, gesturing with plaintive palm up and open toward Renka. "A war between these two starving beasts is inevitable. They both desire the same place in the sun. They cannot coexist. By act, I delivered laundry. Your superiors turned a soiled jacket into casus belli. And now they fight. And then, should they win, they will have their powered and have earned it justly in the eyes of their public."

The upturned hand shifts to scratch at Whitney's neck, his head tilting just to the side, eyes not leaving Renka's. "And just how will your difficult superior react to learning the cause for their fight. The purpose for their righteous rage. That which will propel them to a singular spot on the world stage. That all of that is built on a trumped up mistake created by someone returning a cleaning rag. What will happen to a Darkstalker among humans who has robbed them of their purpose. Gutted their very souls?"

And so the two stand close together in the valley of sheep, both putting on airs of humanity. When he speaks of making someone happy, Renka's eyes widen a little, her normally sharp focus seeming to fade a little. "I-..." she starts then stops, a hint of blush in her cheeks that lingers for some time.

He waves his hand toward the tree line that runs along the crest of the valley and she looks to study once again the natural sight that seems to hold his attention so. He is right in that the valley seems curiously tranquil in light of the turmoil brewing back down the mountainside. It's been some time since she left camp now. It's possible fighting has already broken out. She... should be there for that. Not that she will be readily missed, she's considered. In the turmoil going on, details about exactly who is and isn't in fighting condition are blurry right now.

She look s back toward Whitney, mouth pressed into a thin lipped line. He speaks of her situation being interesting enough to prompt a rare flash of consideration from the world-weary instigator and the declaration seems to provoke no escalation from her. Beyond lifting her spear slightly, she's not even made the slightest hostile indication. Did she really graduate from combat training or did she somehow end up mired in diplomacy courses?

He observes her interest in truth and she nods her head slightly, ears leaning forward just a little as if focusing even more on every word coming from his mouth, every audio cue about how he speaks and moves. Is she trying to hear his heartbeat to try and detect that telltale sign of a liar's nervousness? Is she trying to perceive the slightest tonal shift between declarations she knows to be true and ones she is less certain about?

He slouches like a man without a care in the world even as war threatens to break out in the land below. And then he speaks of the power struggle he observed, moving carefully on its borders, identifying just how little it would take to ignite the conflict that both sides clearly wanted in the first place...

He gestures toward her and she stares at his hand before shifting her eyes back up to his mouth, neck craned slightly as even with his slouch he towers over her. "Casus... belli?" she asks back, mouth sounding out the words with a curious tone.

He did just deliver laundry - a bloodstained uniform of a NOL Lieutenant. And look what happened? Sure, the rumored prison breakout might have laid the groundwork for him, but just that extra bit was enough to spark an inferno of anger and contention?

She meets his eyes again at last as he scratches his neck and poses a question back to her. Renka opens her mouth as if to answer right away, perhaps jumping right toward the most sincere or optimistic conjecture possible given the circumstances. But she pauses and then leans back just a little, the blunt end of her spear thumping against the dirt, eyes drifting down from the mysterious man's face to end up looking more toward his dirty shoes.

She swallows then, eyes not focused on anything at all. She's clearly able to follow the picture he paints with his setup, framing, and slow pitch of a question with all the implication and insinuation one could ask for. At her back, her tails droop a little, the tips not quite reaching the ground, and atop her head, her ears seem to lose some of their spring as they partially slump forward.

Shoulders fall. He can imagine the answer she came to - he paved the way for it perfectly, after all. She never gives it voice however, glancing up, eyes finding their focus again, but now they seem to be searching, wondering, and confused.

"Please just tell me one thing. Why... did you do it? People will die. Humans, like you. A lot more will be hurt. You knew what was going to happen."

Her brow furrows, her voice sounding a touch shaken, "Yet you have waited here, calmly and coolly, knowing what you put in motion. Why? How could you do something like that?"

Close together, worlds apart. The sheep are ties that bind. Whitney's judgment of the woman seem's to be mostly intact as he notes the color in her cheeks, even if he barely registers the emotion on his face. He expected her to be as prone to the want for companionship as any other person. Her present company excepted.

To study Whitney's emotions is to stare into the void. His heart doesn't beat quickly or slowly unless forced by motion and exertion. He lies as smoothly as he speaks truth. He does not fear, feel happy, or exist in much of anything other than his awareness of his physical state and comfort. He is aware of this. He has always been aware of this. And he has studied and watched hard to motion his way through humanity.

And in that study he has learned a great deal of how human he really is. It was only that he was unable to lie to himself that truly made him different from the others.

He liked that she wasn't hostile. If a situation needed violence, or if he felt interested in the outcome of violence, he would commit to violence. But in this case, the outcomes would be much more interesting if he spoke simply and let the woman figure her own way. There was already difference between officer and soldier, how much would it really take, how much truth would there need to be before they removed each other from the board is Whitney's ultimate curiosity. Could this darkstalker girl be able to realize the truth of her position?

She asks him questions. Questions similar to those he used to ask of the world. Before he learned. Before he came to terms with the fact he could never understand humanity, but he could know humanity. And in most cases, that was simply good enough to get to the bone even if he could never touch the heart.

"I was paid to," Whitney explains. "And a Casus Belli is a term, it means 'a cause for war'. You see, even when humans want a war, they tell themselves they don't. Unless something happens to make them feel justified. To give them meaning. That is meaning beyond the frightening truth that they are animals driven by need and greed and desire. They don't want land or power or resources, they want justice or duty or god."

Whitney Saulder once more gestures out to the sheep all around him. "People will die, but they will always die. People will die because you came here and did not stay to help fight or to talk or to run with friends to a safe place. People will die across the world because despite what you might think immediately, what we are all doing here has not a single impact on the state of things. It just will happen. Time will go on. Different people will do different things."

"There is no greater reason to my actions. I was offered money. I took the money. Your superiors will send human and darkstalker alike to their deaths, and like me, they will not do so without pay." Whitney reaches down to pat a passing sheep.

"But I remained here because I had hoped the owner of the coat recognized it. You have a very fascinating person among you. Wonderfully honest young woman with yellow hair." He looks to Renka, eyes having drifted to the middle distance. "Keep an eye on her. She is a wonderful weapon."

Her expression is torn, inquisitive. He would detect without issue the war within, the conflict between proscribed duty and self-interested survival, the difference between finding truth for herself or discovering it for the organization who's uniform she wears. His behavior clearly confounds her for she cannot fathom what motivates him. Stirring the two tense organizations into conflict did not seem to be a matter of survival for him... so what, then, could compel him?

He answers simply, initially with just two words, and eyes the color of the field they stand in blink in surprise. Paid?

She might not even fully digest the clarification he offers regarding the slip of Latin he had used when enlightening her as to the small act he did, a tiny thing, really, compared to the ramifications that were to follow. But the focus in her eyes return before too long, her mind rapidly trying to spin back up to being on track with what the enigmatic man has to say.

"Greed... desire... is that what drove you as well?" she asks, the words voiced as if she's still clearly trying to think her way through the very idea of what he is expressing. She turns her head to glance toward the indicated sheep, the bleating animals milling about without a care in the world, even as two apex predators stand in their midst, capable of killing them all should the desire occur to them.

Her shoulders fall as he continues to speak, touching on the futility of action, her mouth forming into a tiny frown, her hands clenching more tightly the shaft of her weapon.

"No," she protests, shaking her head, "That can't be. People must be able to make a difference," her tone is insistent as she looks back up at him.

People will die this day, he suggests, the same as any other day, and Renka recoils from him. The soldiers, the Sacred Order knights, the mercenaries... they're just doing what they're paid to do, then? There's nothing more than that? No ideal? Empty beliefs? Her mouth closes again, her eyes flicking down as the adjacent sheep enjoys a nice pat from the instigator.

He speaks of another woman - the owner of the coat. She remembers the scent, the one apart from lamb's blood, or a life-filled valley in the mountains, or of tobacco. She would recognize her again if she found her. Yellow hair, he says, but it's the hint of smell that marks the hoped for officer as distinct in her mind.

"I w-" Private Kaneko replies before cutting herself off, seeming to change thoughts mid-sentence. She takes a half step back from him, tails brushing against a sheep pressing in close for a specific flower it= hungered for. She has to get away from this man. She has to go back - back where she's needed. He says none of it matters, but it matters to her. There will be someone she can save, someone she can defend, or someone she can find and aid. None of which she can do standing in this peaceful vale high in the European mountains. But first-

"What would you have said to her if she had come?"

Quiet, tired and worn. The man looks at the woman. The human at the darkstalker. How long had she lived and how long had he? What worlds had they each seen and to what understandings of it did they reach. The expression in her face. Whitney Saulder reads it. He reads it like a book. And that is why he rages internally. Academic. Comparative. Cold and distant. Not a shred of concern or warm discomfort from a logically attractive woman appearing emotionally vulnerable. Every objective detail and their summary subjective potentials written in front of him and not a damn bit of it felt.

Whitney's teeth itch.

She asks a question. The sound of drums and blood in his ears wash away. She wants more of his motivation. He wonders why she cares so much. He answers. Clarifies. "We are the products of our environment. I'm not making moralistic excuse. We are all shaped by what we are around. By how it comes to us. I am a reflection of the wants and needs of the world. One that, by most pluralistic philosophies, represents the darker side of existence. Many men will talk of value and needs. They talk of love and joy and family. Of duty and justice and honor. We need food. We need water. We need air. We need money. The first three to function, the last one because society demands it."

He looks away and snaps the buttons on his cuffs. "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" A look back to Renka. "A poem. Great kings and leaders rise and rule. They claim greatness only for time, the conqueror worm itself, to raze it all to the ground. And the Earth spins on. Society plays its tune and we all move on and wonder."

And now Renka cares to want to know about the blonde woman. To ask what he had hoped. The question gets Renka a cold, honest, steady, distant stare. "I want to know which of her is real. The wolf or the lamb. I want to know, at the last moment, when there is nothing left but the darkness, which eyes will look out at the world and be the last of her to see. The last of her to breath."

There seems to be no shame in this one, no remorse, no thought that what he has put in motion is right or wrong. It's his environment, he is merely a reflection of it, of the state of the world, of the things he grew up around or individuals that intersected his life at one time or another. The grip on her polearm relaxes slightly as she looks up into the face of the incomprehensible man.

Basic needs she understands, the concept of money she understands well enough. Her live was driven by those needs for the longest while, all other considerations a distant second to the need to eat, drink, and breathe. It was the quid pro quo nature of money that took the longest to understand. A very human idea to exchange a tangible thing for something only valued because people said it was.

He snaps his cuffs and she looks to his wrists as he continues. By the time he looks back at her, she's staring at him with widened eyes, perhaps thinking the strange man had snapped all together only to relax slightly as he explains the lines came from a poem and goes on to touch briefly on its meaning.

"So even great human rulers don't matter over enough time..." she murmurs, chewing on the implication. "Yet some have left their mark on your society for hundreds of years after they are gone. Sometimes even thousands." She closes her eyes briefly, mouth closed, seemingly lost in thought for a lingering moment.

Her attention is back on him when he speaks of what he would want to know of the gunslinger, however, sharing openly his morbid fascination of what her dying moment would reveal. Baring grit teeth, the fox-eared NOL soldier balks, taking another step back, starting to put distance between herself and this man.

"You aren't human," she declares as if finally coming to an irrefutable conclusion. "Y-you're nothing like them!" She exhales, shaking her head then, another step taken back. "I'm needed down the mountain. I need to go make a difference however I can."

She swallows, shaking her head again, "Maybe this is something you can't understand."

Renka's right hand comes away from her chest to point at him, "But you are responsible for the suffering that happens between those two groups today. Maybe it would have happened on its own someday, another way, because of someone else... but today is your fault. And someday I will find you again, and make you stand accountable for what you've done!"

Whitney Saulder feels no shame or remorse. That is a burden that he simply cannot bear. What happens is what happens. A qualitative morality, to Whitney, is a lie that is told simply to bolster the crushing notion that the lives of humanity mean nothing to the universe. And that if the rest of humanity means nothing, then even you mean nothing.

He watches Renka. Her grip on the spear, her wide-eyed confusion slipping toward revelation. "I had asked you if you really wanted to know the truth," he tells her, softly, as if speaking to a frightened child. "I don't hold it against you if it's too painful. In time, I can only hope that it won't be. That you will use what you have to think about in a way that is yours."

He clasps his hands in front of them, opens them again. Tightens his fingers as though gripping the air. Tendons, strong and well worked bulge outward from the back of his long fingered hands. "Have they? Truly? Or perhaps a more fitting reality is that their image and their myth is propagated like a corpse-puppet to dance and justify the fat bellies of their descendants?" There is no anger or malice in his words, steady sedate calm. He could be explaining painting or ship-in-a-bottle construction by his vocal demeanor.

And then she calls him inhuman. And that makes Whitney Saulder smile. "You have no idea how right I wish you were," he tells her. "Because either I am broken, or every other person is. And I cannot figure out which of those is more terrifying."

His hands go back into his pockets. He stands up tall. "Private Koneko. I'll remember your name and your face. I'm going to be very interested in you. I don't think you'll disappoint me."

He did warn her about the risk of knowing the truth. She had indicated that the truth was important to her. And then he went on to speak, conveying none of the normal tells she was able to detect in people, those little nuances imperceptible to most yet plain as day to her. While her mind rebels at this 'truth' he has spoken, she cannot deny that he believes it full well.

It is his creed. His empty, lifeless ideal.

He expresses a hope that she will come to understand what he has been explaining in that calm, controlled manner of his. She wonders if that is the more appalling thought - that in time, she might come to think like this one. Unless she falls by the sword or spell of another, does she not have the potential to evaluate the truth of his words in a much, much longer perspective? Can she imagine coming to sound like him someday?

He suggests that the only reason humanities greatest names have seemed to survive the test of time is because it has been convenient for others to propagate their myth and it is clear in the look she gives him back that she has no answer to such an idea, eyes flicking from one point of focus to another, on the front of his suit, his wrists, up at his face, at the sheep at his side. There is no answer to be found in any of those locations.

She sucks in her breath as he speaks of the great question - is he the flawed one, or is he the rare one that can see everything for what it is while all around him, humanity bumbles about in blindness.

Finally he stands up to his full height, hands back in his pockets. She doesn't even know his name. She has a an idea of his scent, tainted as it might be by the smell of sheep wool and tobacco smoke. It isn't a lot to go on. Yet she declared, knowing so little, that she would find him again. She would make him accountable.

The determined fire in the darkstalker's eyes suggests she has no doubt regarding this course of action.

Her resolve shifts to wariness as he responds in turn that he will be keeping her name and face in mind, that he is interested in seeing what comes of her. Lowering her spear against her left side, she nods her head back at him, as if accepting their mutual agreement to encounter one another again someday... wherever the future takes them.

"When I find you next, you can tell me then whether I have disappointed you or not." There is a conflicted, wistful look to her features then as if struggling to reconcile the repulsion she feels at his lack of humanity with the allure of intrigue that he encircles himself with.

"Until we meet again."

She springs backward then, pivoting into a half-circle spin in the air, her feet coming down on the back of a sheep as the small NOL officer turns to speed back across the back of the sheep in a show of flashy dexterity she had not exhibited in her initial approach.

With her left arm out at one side, spear in hand, her right hand extends out the other way for balance as she leans forward, her tails whipping back and forth with each step as Renka Kaneko skips along the backs of the sheep, barely applying the slightest pressure to any of them.

Landing on the far side of the sea of wool, she takes one last look over her shoulder, before turning to resume her full on sprint back toward the crest of the hidden valley!

Log created on 22:42:09 05/05/2018 by Renka, and last modified on 13:30:08 05/10/2018.