Frei - The Listener at the Gate

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Description: "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; / The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, / Hath had elsewhere its setting / And cometh from afar; / Not in entire forgetfulness, / And not in utter nakedness, / But trailing clouds of glory do we come" -- Wordsworth, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"

The Southtown NOL Base is one of the larger footprints the Librarium has established in countries around the world. At a glance, it has everything you'd expect from a military base. The perimeter is surrounded by a fence with periodic elevated guard towers encompassing the entire four square mile military site. There are several low, long buildings that are likely bunk houses for enlisted troops, other buildings that appear to be more like austere office buildings where logistics and administration can likely be found, and one large building that stands out as looking more like a large embassy mansion where the Japan command and control structure is located.

Naturally, it was quite secure.

During the day, access to the base is possible via the main gate where visitors will have their identifies verified and quick background checks ran. Access to the public will generally be limited to a few of the administration buildings and perhaps the central Command Center. During the night, the base is locked down and only NOL personnel should be anywhere within the fenced in base. A mostly regular military base, albeit with a paramilitary support force. This was more than a military base, however.

It was a prison.

When the Novus Orbis Librarium captures a person of interest on it's bounty list, it processes and inters them at their Detention Center. Situated underground beneath the NOL base outside of Southtown, the Detention Center can only be accessed via the highly secured Command Center structure. A pair of elevators will take one deep into the ground from the surface. The primary operating area for the underground complex, whether an employee or 'guest,' is all in the blend of offices and jail cells. On the actual administrative side, it's fairly ordinary for most police offices. Senior management get their corner offices, while the rest get cubicles and computer systems on an isolated network not accessible from the outside world. Here is the nitty gritty of processing and filing paperwork dealing with the countless inmates within the prison, and potential 'guests' and their respective bounties.

It was where Daniel was brought to. Captured in an ambush, the spectre was sealed in a magic orb. He was dragged to the base. For interrogation, for experimentation. And when it was all done? Daniel would be locked away for a very, very long time, no longer a harm to others. It was not only boring, but painful. He was pushed to his very limits by the endless prodding and jolts and horrific magic.

But there were others who wanted to push the ex-human more.

It might be easy to miss, when the surge of shadowy chi could be felt, an imprint. Just a flash of it, a single, painful jolt. A cry for help, a scream in the leylines. Daniel was, after all, a mix of spiritual and physical together. Most wouldn't notice it. Why would they? Why could they? It was deep underground, secured past checkpoints and watchful guards.

Who would even care?

"Well," Rei had been unable to keep himself from saying. "That seems bad."


At the time, he'd been standing in a graveyard at dusk, which in and of itself is already kinda weird if you're not visiting a loved one's grave. The fact that he'd been there expecting to find a live (sort of) person was, on the average, even weirder. But the *height* of weird would be the fact that not only was said person not there, they'd left something significant and important behind.

The tiny, wrought-metal lantern dangled, on its cord, from Rei's outstretched hand, spinning back and forth erratically as the cord wound and unwound. A piece of discarded jewelry is, again, not necessarily weird in and of itself. But *this* one was glowing a full, rich blue, and that fact IS a little weird. Especially if you know what that blue glow means: the residual energy of souls has suffused this mystical item.

'It is a gradual but not entirely slow process for it to build up,' Ayame Ichijo's voice says in Rei's memory. 'You will know it is filling as it begins to glow a light shade of blue as it nears capacity...' So if it's now glowing quite brightly, and Daniel's not here...


The popular concept of a dowser is a water-witch, using a forked stick; it appears in cartoons and old fantasy stories. But in truth, dowsing as a mystical practice has a long history all over the globe, and in some cases, it uses a pendulum; when swung on a cord, the pedulum supposedly pulls in the direction of the object to be found. Whether or not this is the case is a matter for some debate, but in Rei's hands the amulet that Ayame made for Daniel is about as good: his use of it means that metaphysical traces of Daniel Little are connected to it, meaning all Rei needed to do was reach out and try to sense that energy, follow that thread.

It meant a lot -- a LOT -- of walking around Southtown with the lantern around his neck, sometimes with his eyes closed, getting a lot of weird looks.

But ever so slowly and surely, he made his way in the right direction... or at least what Rei HOPES is the right direction. As he walks, the city's buildings thin out. Then it's warehouses. THEN it's the edge of the city. And at last, he finds himself within a few blocks of--

When the pulse happens, a combination of proximity and the presence of the amulet means he notices it. Someone out there heard it. Ducking down, he closes his eyes, pressing fingers to the pavement, letting his awareness follow the stone, the water, the earth under his feet. And he stays that way for a few long moments before opening his eyes and looking in a certain direction.

The Southtown NOL branch looms before him, security fence and all.

"Oh, god," the sennin mutters. "What did you *do*."

There's enough time left in the day that he is, in fact, entirely able to walk in the public entrance, though he makes damned sure to put the stupid amulet in a pocket, hoping that it won't be too conspicuous. Rei doesn't know much about the NOL... a nice change, in his eyes, considering all the unpleasant reminders he's had that all the bad stuff in his previous life is alive and well in this timeline, too.

But to say they do not inspire trust is the understatement of the year.

Stopping at the administration desk, he gives the jaunty little wave that everyone gives when they're next in line at the DMV. "Hello. Do you have, ah, a lost and found?"

At the public entrance, Rei might notice a little 'ping' that turns up when he comes in.

Whatever that ping was, it definitely got the secretary's attention. The fellow is a young man, dressed in the NOL blues. Keeping a hat off indoors, the blonde haired man puts on a smile towards Rei for a split second, before falling it into stern forced grimace. "Ah um.... Yes?" He states, trying to give an air of authority well beyond his position. He was expecting some kinds of things.

But Lost And Found?

You could see the gears turning as he stares at the man before him. "Lost And... Found?" He blurts back. He looks around at the other guards on standby, who seemed to be watching the encounter warily. Nothing hostile yet. But Rei earned their attention. The secretary turns bright red, and he looks back at Rei.

Trying not to sweat.

"Are you, uh, a former detainee?" The secretary repeats back. "The NOL is not liable for any missing items lost during detainment; due to the circumstances we have lawful right to withhold any suspicious magical artifacts for an indeterminate time. But um..." The secratary pauses a moment. "Uh, what are you looking specifically?" The young man pulls his own hair a bit, looking at Rei's own.

"Like a hat?"

How to explain this.

The BIG problem is that while Rei is an extremely bad liar, he is usually very good at telling when people are lying TO him. Mostly because he is very observant when it comes to people, and most folks don't understand the huge place that body language plays in conveying information. Most of what humans say is delivered through tone, eye contact, cadence, pitch, and gestures. The words are just sort of along for the ride. And it is really, REALLY clear that Minor Functionary #640 sitting in front of him is Nervous About Something.

The red-haired sennin, despite that fact, seems relatively calm.

"No, not a... hat?" he says, somewhat incredulous at the idea that this kid thought he'd WEAR a hat. "Also they uh... you got that speech about artifacts on a post-it note on your monitor or something?" Yeah, keep joking with the international inquisitorial bureaucracy, Rei. That's a great plan.

A pause goes by, considering this guy probably does not have a sense of humor, and devoid of any other, more devious tactics, the sage does the only thing he can think of in these sorts of situations:

The truth.

"No, it's actually a person? About yea high," he adds, holding his hand up a couple inches over the top of his own head. "Bad attitude, probably a little cranky, very definitely might have tried to, uh, devour the soul of a living person?"

There's another pause, before Rei adds, with a surprisingly guile-less expression, "Answers to 'Daniel'."

"Why! Yes I do!"

The young man blurts out, as he fumbles around for some documents. "Um, we actually, we actually have it as an official document, signed by the Imperitor herself! It's really- we actually are required to explain it, I mean, talk about it with artifacts! You are turning in an artifact!" He seems to be struggling to process basic human language. "It's very, very serious!" He finally pulls out the paper, and staring at it with bleary eyes, he attempts to repeat it back.

"As a byproduct of aggressively acquiring all magical knowledge we can find, is that the NOL is in possession of the largest collection of arcane devices, artifacts, and powers in the entire world. Promising various governments that they will 'fight fire with fire', the NOL troops are trained in the use of Ars Magus, devices that the NOL is proficient in creating to empower even ordinary foot soldiers to contend with supernatural threats- Oh I should skip that, um"

There is a burst of cackling from some of the security guards, as the secretary turns a brighter shade of crimson.

"T-t-to the everyday citizen of a nation, the NOL are a peacekeeping force, there to protect people from supernatural threats that normal law enforcement agencies are ill equipped to handle. Predatory darkstalkers, magic-abusing witches and warlocks, and- And Warlocks and... Oh, you are... you asked me about a person! I am sorry, I just, I mean-"


"That's Sergeant Biggs to you, Private." One of the standby security guards states aloud, striding past his team who was struggling to keep a straight face. The taller man is blonde haired and green eyed, with a somewhat chubby face with his muscled form. "But yeah. I'm Daniel. Well I don't know if I've had any history sucking souls, but I've been told I'm cranky." The fair-haired, fat-faced man smiles down at Frei with a leer, as the other Private looks like he kind of wants to just bury himself and die. The security guard hangs over Frei, looking down at him a bit. "So you wanna keep chatting? Maybe you were looking for me?"

"Or you got some artifacts you want to hand over to me?"

So, Rei Hazuki is calm, by nature. Most things don't ruffle him which, given his life experiences at this point, is pretty easy to understand. He's seen it all, more or less. But just because he is calm doesn't mean he can't be surprised, confused, or weirded out, and Private Desk Clerk is absolutely accelerating quickly over the horizon of Being Weird into Being Suspicious. Yet the redhead weathers the non-stop barrage of NOL public relations material about artifacts and peacekeeping with good-natured aplomb... more or less. One scarlet eyebrow is raising progressively higher as the 'quick explanation' accelerates quickly to 'keynote address' levels.

And then, 'Daniel' in some pretty heavy air quotes decides to make an appearance, putting the private at the desk to shame in a way that, in the back of Rei's mind, immediately suggests that this lumbering toolbox deserves no mercy. Being a functionary in an international organization determined to control 'magical' resources with an iron fist is one thing, but making a hostile work environment for a flustered co-worker is an entirely different one.

Plus, Rei Hazuki is functionally impossible to intimidate, so there's that.

Tilting his head to the side a little bit, Rei looks up at the muscle-y, chubby-cheeked guard. After the perfunctory questions have been asked, the sennin puts one elbow in the opposite palm, and taps a finger against his chin. "Okay. So. We can do a whole bunch of fact-finding banter or whatever and probably waste everyone's time," he says, in a slow and careful tone. "But I'm gonna make a few observations. One is that you guys have been watching me since I walked in the door. The other is that our friend over here," he says, inclining his head toward the private, "started talking about artifacts again after we established that was not the purpose of my visit, and you are DEFINITELY trying the..." And here, Rei's voice drops in pitch, taking on a very (poorly) affected 'tough guy' voice. "...'heh heh this guy won't know what hit him right boys dur hur hur' schtick."

There's a brief pause, and Rei brushes lint off his shirt with both hands. "All of this leads me to believe that you *think* you know something and are trying to be clever and make me nervous so I'll do something stupid but *the fact of the matter is* that I know you've got Daniel Little locked up in some ultra sub-basement or something, unless he suddenly acquired the mole-like ability to burrow into the earth, which seems REALLY unlikely."

Having delivered that incredibly long sentence, Rei pauses, taking a slow breath, and then gives Daniel Biggs (no relation) a pleasant enough smile. "So let's try this again from the top: where is he?"

Rei's savviness might be his undoing.

As he stands up to the sergeant, his faux affable demeanour slowly fades. It seems the little hazing game fell apart. And as Rei snarks back? A grimace becomes a sneer. "So you think you can come in here, and start something?" Three more of the security guards surround Rei. It's more attempts at intimidation. He even puffs his chest out at Rei, trying to push him around. "I think we might need to have a little chat with you in the holding cell until you learn some manners-" The Desk Clerk blurts out. "N-no! It's was just- I mean- I was just- It is my fault, I-"

And suddenly he snaps to attention, hand flying up to a salute.

The sergeant holds, looking over the Desk Clerk, the gears turning. And then, he tilts his head to the side. In tandem, he snaps to attention. The other three men follow suit, as the whole bear comes together. "Colonel Clover!" The sergeant pipes up. "I didn't see you there!" And yet, there he was, standing... right next to all of them. With hardly a warning, a sound, as if he just appeared in.

Relius Clover, smiling gently at the display before him.

The blonde-haired man is dressed in a gaudy purple and white ensemble, trimmed with gold in case it didn't look loud enough. Billowy white pants tucked over purple boots, with a billowy purple shirt over it. In case you didn't think there was enough purple, a grandoise purple cloak hangs over his shoulders. Upon his face is a golden mask. Where his eyes would be were covered by the mask, where a faint white glow flickered out of the eye holes.

He was looking at Rei directly.

A palm up in the air, he was fixing that stare at him. It's like he was picking and prying Frei with his very gaze, a kind of invisible grip normally reserved for doctors upon their patients. Pulling and... picking at something at the surface, trying to peel at it. It does not linger long as he shifts his attention to his companion: a kind of human-sized, blond haired mechnical doll, garbed in a metallic dress. It's hat, collar, and dress are a deep red color. Her soulless eyes are blue in color, even having iriss, and lines run down her face. It has sharp, hooked protrusions on the fingertips, demonstrating a kind of lethal force. The man doesn't turn back to Rei, as he inspects his doll.

"Oh, are you looking for Daniel Little?"

The man's tone is light, as the other men continue to hold their salutes. "How fortunate for you!~" Relius Clover states brightly, gently running a hand on the shoulder of the metal construct, down her arm. There was an uncomfortably strong aura around this man, a kind of darkness. As well as... a familiar aura lingering around him. One similar to the shadow-stuffs of Daniel. "I was just making my rounds across the complex, and to my surprise, I happened to detect, well, I don't think that really matters right now. I couldn't help but overhearing your conversation." He pauses a moment, looking at the enlisted men, still holding their salute. He looks back at Rei, that smile showing teeth now as he nods aloofly. "In any case, yes, he is currently being held here."

"Would you like to come see him?"

It would be difficult to call Rei Hazuki an arrogant person, but if one were observing his exchange with the desk sergeant, they could be forgiven for thinking he is. Despite the NOL officer's puffing up of his chest and intimidating physical presence, the red-haired sennin looks more... incredulous than anything else. "Did you really say 'start something' like this is some C-grade manga?" he asks, genuinely curious. "I feel like you might not be a good choice for this public-facing work. You seem like kind of an a--"

The conversation is brought to an abrupt halt by the people standing around him suddenly shutting up and saluting, but the truth is, even if they hadn't done that, a presence like Relius Clover's does not enter a room unnoticed by anyone with any degree of supernatural sensitivity, and Frei is more sensitive than most in that regard. But for the sake of drama, he is the last to turn and take in the appearance of the man whose entry into the room was like dropping a lead weight into a small pond.

For a moment, all Rei does is meet Relius's piercing gaze with his own... or, at least, he does so to the extent one can when the other party is wearing an eye-concealing face mask. But even the surprisingly showy outfit, the -- robot? android? cyborg? clone? Rei's seen all of these in his lifetime and the feeling of 'presence' the clearly-not-a-human-being possesses is almost unsettling -- companion, are not the things that draw his attention. Instead, it is the man's aura, and the overwhelming feeling of both power and malice.

In fact... no, Rei corrects himself internally. Not malice, which is a force of destruction. Something else... something that reminds him uncomfortably of that brief burst of Daniel's aura that he sensed before coming in here at all. That clawing sense of...

Rei has no poker face, and thus in the silence, Relius may have the satisfaction of watching the sennin blink in surprise, as he realizes the answer:


Rallying as best he can, and trying to decide what he's going to do in this situation, Rei puts on a pleasant enough smile and bows his head slightly in acknowledgment. "I'd be grateful if you could make that happen... Colonel, was it?" he says. And then, adding after a beat, "Especially since the Treatment of Prisoners Act from 10 years ago has pretty strict rules about solitary confinement of prisoners in Japan."

If that law didn't get passed in this timeline, he's going to feel REALLY stupid.

It was the worst kind of hunger.

Relius was calm, collected, and presently detached. He was almost not even there, as his head was off somewhere else. Already, the enlisted men were swaying side to side, waiting for the Colonel to release them. Relius did not seem to notice them anymore, his focus solely on Rei. "Colonel Clover, yes, you would be correct. Naturally, of course the NOL works hard to follow the regulations in the safe, humane treatment of it's prisoners! Though it favors International Law over Japanese law; fortunately I believe that the jurisdiction on the international courts outpace the local legal requirements, but naturally, you can make your own judgement! I would be delighted to take you to visit Daniel." The man's skin looks almost wax like as he leans forward at Rei.

It's well enough that he needs a visit from a familiar face..."

Relius gives an agonized sigh, as he strides off in a direction, hand in air, his doll suddenly disappearing from sight. He heads to a doorway, before stopping. "Oh!" He strides back to Rei, as the guards stand fast, suddenly straightening their backs to attention. Returning back to Rei, he stops.

"Come this way!"

With that said, he turns back to the locked door. Striding with pompous grandeur, he reaches the door as he continues his conversation. "You are probably well aware of the tragic situation of the poor man." Man, not Darkstalker? "It's a common condition we find here. Body and soul irreversibly corrupted, and ultimately a danger to themselves and others. We are doing our best to give him humane holding conditions, but with him being such a danger to other prisoners." A danger? Relius touches a hand on a panel. It hums, as the door unlocks. And there, finally, he turns around, returning a salute to the guards.

"How familiar are you with his condition?"

Translation: we don't recognize local laws at all largely because we don't think we have to.

There's a slight tilt to Rei's head as Relius shares that fact, wrapped up in diplomatic language; the sennin lowers his head slightly, one eyebrow rising just a tiny bit. But considering Rei is getting what he wanted -- a chance to see Daniel and find out what the hell is going on -- he isn't inclined to press the issue. "That would be nice, thank you," he says, simply, in response. He is the very picture of polite calm and, weirdly enough, it's not an act. He is more or less okay, right now. Well...

The literal vanishing of Relius's gynoid-looking companion is hard to ignore, but for Rei it's just one more sign in an entire BUILDING of them. A tiny part of him -- the part that's constantly, on a low level, harmonizing with his environment -- feels distinctly unsettled by the Librarium's facility. The feeling of energy tightly controlled, packaged, even stifled for some purpose is unavoidable, making the sennin wonder what exactly is going on here, and someone like Relius using a teleportation ability offhandedly doesn't help that any.

But... he won't find anything out standing here.

"Familiar enough," Rei says, following his newfound NOL guide into... wherever they're going. He can't argue with the idea of Daniel being a danger to others, considering he's seen firsthand what he's capable of. "Though I haven't known him long. I'm a... colleague of his primary care provider," the redhead adds.

Why lie when the truth is perfectly good? It might be weird to call Rei and Ayame 'friends' in the traditional sense, but the two are of very long acquaintance, at this point, and it definitely seems as if the miko is the only person on Earth right now who's actually willing to give Daniel serious care with an eye to his future well-being.


Relius states almost distractedly, as the pair pass through the first security checkpoint. Beyond the front entrance, through the hallways, they eventually reach the open jails, the holding pens of the NOL. These were relatively lightly populated at the moment; maybe half a dozen for the size. Relius is brisky leading the way. "I'm apologize for the guards, by the way. Private Gustaf has a thing for red heads, which Sergeant Daniel and Corporal Little picked on. It a nasty piece of hazing, of course, I made sure they were stationed in the front today; but it seems that the whole display fell apart." Another sigh, Another palm, another check point, another magically infused lock is bypassed. A small team of guards watch the pair warily, avoiding getting too close. They didn't want to get abandoned on a saluting deal.

Or worse.

Relius continues to speak as they enter the medium security holding areas. Here, the character is quite different from the traditional jail cells. Sealed doors, fortified with glass, and now-overwhelming presence of magical barriers were all around. Rei could peer into some of the openings to peek in should he desire, though that sense of hunger was... intensifying. "Yes, yes, but we are not here about you. You know him well enough to visit; I'd had hope to speak with this primary care provider! She has been slipping. From what I was told, he was caught in a graveyard... stimulating some of the locals." There is a hissing sound as the door behind them seals shut. The presence of Daniel was building, as the pair comes closer and closer. Relius doesn't even look over his shoulder, as his stride comes to a stop.

"Of course, you have more optimistic ideals on his future, do you not?"

%gThis trip sure is throwing up a lot of red flags.

It's little conversational things, really, and Rei is making sure to walk, observe, listen, and most importantly *not speak*. Relius appears to enjoy talking, it would seem, and the sennin is content to let him do so, for the most part. But there's so many tiny things, little things, that Rei keeps noticing and hearing that he can't separate out, that replay in his mind even after Relius has stopped talking. 'I made sure they were stationed in the front today'... but why would he do that? And who exactly was getting hazed in that situation? The poor kid behind the desk... or Rei himself? It's not as if 'Rei Hazuki' as an identity isn't easily discernible in the public eye. Even rudimentary security technology would have been able to ID him. Still...

Did Relius know he was coming?

As the pair walk through the medium-security detention block, Rei finds himself glancing at the doors, head swiveling to and fro lazily to take in various cells. He doesn't stop to look inside, despite wanting to; something tells him that he won't like what he sees, and being compelled to act on that right now isn't in anyone's best interests, including the people he might be trying to 'save'. Instead, he tries to keep his equilibrium settled. It's almost certain that something bad is going to happen, really. It's just a matter of time, after all. "It's a very complicated situation," is all Rei will offer, on the subject of Daniel's graveyard 'haunting'.

Relius used 'she' confidently, off-handedly. And Frei, at no point, used either Ayame's name or any pronouns for her. Not entirely unexpected, since it's very likely that Daniel had a 'chat' with, if not Colonel Clover himself, then some functionary in the NOL hierarchy, at some point. She probably came up. Daniel's not exactly the most discreet person when it comes to personal details.


"I have the luxury of taking the longitudinal view," Rei says slowly, in response to Relius's question. "I think there's multiple paths forward for him. Which one he follows is largely for him to decide."

Relius's diplomatic air is almost poisonous.

Stopping before a door, he focuses at it, carefully. The presence of Daniel was strongest here; the poor creature's cell. Relius smirks softly, as he motions for Rei to peer in. "I, too, was optimistic of his future. The interview process was very robust, he told me all about you, Rei, about Ayame, about his time in Interpol, about Dr. Tessitore, about Jedah, about Dahlia being Honoka, all kinds of fascinating details. He was enormously cooperative, especially around some of our more... feminine guards. He even confessed to a number of his crimes, which were far less disturbing than we imagined for a so-called Lady Killer. He almost had an opportunity to join the ranks of the NOL!" Relius gives an operatic bellow, as he recounts the terrible 'but' to the story of rehabilitation.

And the howl comes.

The door does not shake when the full force of Daniel Jack slams into it. The window reveals blackness, sheer abyssal darkness. And from it, a pair of burning yellow eyes, and rows and rows of razor white teeth. The darkness lashes against the door, the barrier, trying to surge through the cracks. Relius shakes his head calmly.

"Alas, he became hungry."

Relius gasps lightly, and steps at Rei's shoulder. "A small deviation on the treatment of prisoners, I must apologize. But Daniel Jack seems to have an addiction of souls. It's not actual hunger." Relius explains brightly. "For hunger implied a need to feed. Daniel will not die if he does not eat. But as you can see, the diseased state of his mind has consumed and convinced him. He actually believes he is starving, and sadly... it seems that he lacks the willpower to keep himself from turning into a rabid, feral monster. If there was only a way to keep control him, why, he might have an opportunity to live a long, fulfilling life, on one of those many paths, Rei." Relius's focus seems to be transfixing hard on Rei, now, the invisible fingers of his gaze probing around lightly at Rei's mind... and soul.

"Of course, you have a small, magical, artifact that can help him, yes?"

According to the very ravening beast that's being held behind that locked gate, Rei Hazuki has an incredibly pure soul. Whether or not that's what Relius's probing gaze -- on any level -- finds or not is largely up to the Grand Puppeteer to decide. After all, in two lifetimes, or one and a half lifetimes, or whatever he's up to now, Rei has not been free of sin. But even a casual look at him by someone who understands the metaphysical workings of the universe can see that the redhead's unassuming surface appearance is largely that: an appearance.

Something burns, warm and bright, at the very core of Rei's being, now. A tiny star, in its infancy, but with all the time in the world to grow into its light.

He can't keep an expression of dismay off his face at the condition Daniel appears to be in. Relius's blithe rundown of all the information the imprisoned PI revealed sure contains some interesting tidbits, however. It's the 'all kinds of details' bit that gives him momentary pause, because Rei can't remember if this Daniel is 'that' Daniel, or it's just a coincidence of some kind. But that's not the bit that requires responding to.

"Hunger can mean a lot of things," Rei replies, still looking at the darkness and the hungering beast inside it. He's silent for a moment, after that rejoinder -- which he doesn't bother to follow up on -- before reaching into his pocket and producing the glowing blue lantern, turning to Relius. He holds the talisman up by the cord, the thing gently spinning to and fro in place as the cord unwinds.

"But actually, I'm glad we're getting around to the part where you're honest with me. I mean, I knew YOU knew I had this, because those guys on the ground floor are about as subtle as a collapsing building. And I'm not stupid; I know you wouldn't have brought me down here if there wasn't something you'd get out of all of this."

With a yank, he pulls the lantern up and into the palm of his hand, closing his fingers around it, and lowers his head slightly, looking up at Relius's masked face. "I agree that it's a problem of willpower and not biology, though. The piece that's missing for me is, did you leave this little beauty behind by mistake to see what would happen, or to torture him? Or did you very genuinely not know where it is?"

Relius actually could feel that flicker.

He tries not to lead on that moment of a flicker, that draw that made him yearn for Rei more and more. And yet, it was impossible not to hide that sheer interest, that boyish curiosity for the man. Something to study, to pull apart on his surgical table, to draw out the unique essence within. The kind of feeling he had felt for his wife so long ago. As well, though, she was not around.

And he even flatters Relius, accented his intellect.

"Ah... that is the lantern that Daniel spoke so much about." The Mad Alchemists states, gesturing his fingers as if to hold it remotely. "From which he draws away the essence of the peaceful dead, to gain and feed himself. Quite a fascinating artifact Ayame gave him. I am already curious if she has others..." A threat, a musing? Relius's tone was a rising danger.

"Alas, Rei, I think you overestimate my genius!"

Relius waves his fingers around, as he was painting the tapestry of his explaination. "I must confess, I did not know all these things from the beginning, at least, with the utmost certainty you described. The outcomes were seen, though only barely understood. There were thousands of combinations for the guards, thousands of meetings, an infinity of changes. And just with you; you weren't the only one who would have come for Daniel. She arrived instead. Of course, there are variations, but I had seen so many potential outcomes. You successfully flirt with the young man, lure him to take you to Daniel, where you promptly seek to betray him gently. That is..."

" order to liberate Daniel." Relius raises a finger. "Or, or how about you distract the guards for a moment, letting them argue as you sneak past our magical security system, overwhelming it with your pure talent, managing to force your way through, reaching Daniel just as the alarm is raised! Such dramatic tension. Or when you power through, cutting through wave of wave, causing the greatest of all prison breaks as you drive to Daniel, to free him. It's the highest crime to be breaking out the imprisoned, Rei; even the conspiracy of it would be worthy of becoming a... temporary resident within our walls."

Relius lowers his hand, gazing at Rei with a smirk that stretches to his ears.

"I know, Rei. Because that artifact wasn't meant to be handed over to us, Rei, but so you could calm DAniel down long enough, so he wouldn't devour you the moment you let him free. This was a rescue mission, Rei, to save your dear... familiar acquaintance. And if this was to stop you from breaking it out, then it would have been as simple as walking you to your jail cell. But all this wasn't for Daniel, Rei. Oh no no."

"This was to have a moment with you."

Relius turns away from Daniel, motioning Rei to follow him further down the hall of cells. "Come come. We will return to Daniel soon. I will allow you to take him, but you must do something for me. A little... interview, so to speak." Relius pauses a moment, looking over his shoulder. His smirk was gone. "You can, of course, refuse. And I can let you walk out of here, minus your little trinket. You can come back with greater numbers, reinforcements! It would be a magnificent break! Not a very successful one, unfortunately, but you would at least know that you refused an offer of peacefully freeing a mere Darkstalker, out of fear for your own life." Relius turns to face down the hall, gesturing. "Shall we go?"

"Or shall we make your arrangements back to the front desk?"

The sennin's face goes from skeptical, to curious, to outright surprised over the length of Relius's speech. And it IS a speech; that's a lot of information to give out, and Rei has no real interest in interrupting. It's all fascinating, in a kind of dark way. The idea that there were only so many people that might come for Daniel, in the end, after all; if Ayame didn't, then Rei probably would, or maybe even some curious and bold servant of Jedah Dohma. Maybe they try to break him out. Maybe they try trickery.

For a tiny fraction of a second, a smile tugs at Rei's face at the idea that he was going to seduce the kid with the keys into letting him down here. Or worse, that *Ayame* might do that. He almost ruins the moment by laughing aloud.

But the coda to this story is clear: Daniel was bait. Or, if not bait, then a convenient method by which to get other people here... namely, Rei or Ayame. And with his own misplaced sense of justice and empathy, it was the red-headed sennin who walked right into it. Well, he muses to himself, better me than her. If something bad happens to me, that's... well.

He's in no hurry to find out if his newly-awakened abilities work the way he expected, but.

"Don't misunderstand me," Rei says, glancing at Relius sidelong, lips set in a line. "No, I had no intention of handing you the lantern. Yes, I did hope to walk out of here with a... becalmed Daniel Little. Not because he's my friend -- I barely know him -- but because this situation?" And here, he points to the shadowy hell waiting just beyond the sealed door. "Isn't right. Whatever's happening to him, *he* needs to fix it, and this--" he holds up the lantern again "--was his path to doing that. No more, no less."

Relius has all but threatened Rei with imprisonment for refusing this little 'chat', but in truth, he's pretty sure that some sort of 'punishment' is in his future anyway. "I don't have any interest in screwing with the NOL," he says, cautiously. "But I'm not leaving with Daniel in that state. Containing him isn't the same as saving him, and he *can* be saved."

A pause, and Rei raises his head a little, a defiant lift of the chin. "So I'll agree to stay here and... 'discuss' whatever it is you have in mind. But first I give him the amulet. And when you're done, we both leave, together."

"Oh ho ho!"

Relius strokes his chin, looking over his shoulder at the counter-offer, a smirk spreading on his lips. "My, you have a knack at negotiation!" He states briskly. Gazing at the doorway, he traces his thumb upon the very tip of his smooth chin. "I think at this point, we are in agreement on the freedom of Daniel Little; your moral need is admirable!" Relius barely conceals his mocking contempt at such a notion, just barely. The smirk fades.

"But your ambitions are not so merit-worthy."

"His path will only end in ruin, Rei." Relius says firmly. "His mind decays so swiftly, as his lusts, his hungers devour him. The spirit within him corrupts his very essence. He's not domesticated, he's merely tamed. A wild dog, ready to snap at the nearest child... or woman... that lets their guard down. Take away his meals, his succulent soul meat, and he descends into the worst of the lesser canines. How many more lives would he need to take, before you yourself escort him back into his holding pin?" Relius smirks lightly. "Or maybe you will be forced to kill him instead, the ultimate tragedy of the idealistic hero." Relius begins to trace arcane symbols in the air with his finger types, golden symbols spreading around. The barriers begin to weaken, as the surge of hunger rises. "Let's make this simpler for us." He says softly, as he snaps his fingers.

And the door opens.

The surging darkness floods directly at Rei, lashing out like a high-pressure jet of ink. A crawling mix of miasmic ooze's fingertips come just short of Rei, as the eyes and teeth transfix. A thin film of magical energy is what stops him, as he comes crashing down to the ground in a sickening slap. Immediately, Daniel lashes around, trying to flee like a frightened animal into the dark cervices, before lashing out wildly, madly. The symbols bind tighter and tighter around him, holding him in the air as if in an invisible basin. That was quickly leaking, as Daniel struggles to find his means out. "Please pacify him, Rei, if you can." Relius says, focusing on Daniel as his fingers dance, his magic struggling to contain the rabid shadow. "I will allow him to come along with us, it will save you a second trip..."

"But only if he is under control!"

"You say that," Rei says quietly, in the moments before Relius opens the door, "but in actuality, he's hurt a surprisingly small number of people. Everyday human beings without his abilities OR his afflictions do a thousand times more harm, every day, without being questioned or punished." The sennin fixes his green-eyed gaze on the NOL colonel, and perhaps for the first time, there is a bit of defiant spark there. "It feels a little unfair to take away the thing that lets him seek out the control he needs, and then go 'he's a mad dog! Put him down!', you know?" Maybe a bit of activism hides in Frei's calm countenance, after all; apparently it's not sympathy or heroism that motivates his support of Daniel, but a class-conscious socialism?

Who can say.

Rei bristles, visibly, at the idea that he might have to mercy-kill Daniel. Not because he would be unwilling -- if it comes to that, Frei knows what must be done, and he made sure Ayame believed the same -- but because something in the Grand Puppeteer's mocking tone gets on his nerves. As if killing someone, friend or not, in order to save lives is a thing the redhead wouldn't think twice about, hasn't agonized over, wouldn't do everything in his power to avoid, first.

But then Relius opens the cage door, as it were, and the point becomes moot.

Sheer autonomic reactions are why Rei's foot slides back a bit, his muscles tense up, his pupils widen. Pure physical reactions in response to a threat. But something about how this situation has gone so far keeps him from following through, and it's the realization that Relius is playing a game, here, and has been from the beginning. The question, of course, is what his end game is. Finding out the extent of Daniel's curse? Seeing what sort of abilities Rei himself has? A little of both?

Perhaps -- even more likely -- a psychological experiment of a kind. For his own amusement.

"I bet you hear this a lot," Rei says, looking at the encroaching darkness rather than at Relius, "but you're kind of a jerk."

"Please, you sound just like my son." Relius says lightly.

Daniel struggles, lashing out with the formless shadow. He was restrained, for now. But Relius had that kind of... arrogance around him. A sort of cruel pleasure. It wasn't simply to toy with Rei; it was a demonstration of superiority. Everyone on their strings; playing the roles they were meant to. It was like a play, an opera. Everyone filling their roles. Even when Rei makes some very strong arguments against his treatment, Relius dismisses them almost effortlessly, hardly even wounded by the words. "If I wanted to be a 'jerk' as you say, I would have just tossed you in the cell and be done with it! Of course, you've done nothing criminal, and we have a strong foundation of due process here at the NOL!"

"And order is much more secure than your so called 'fairness'"

The tone Relius takes would put even the most caustic of internet commentary to shame. "Would you feel the same level of mercy for those monsters in the world that you would for this man? Those mere humans with the only faintest methods of genocidal conduct. You give a sound of social justice; well, would you let yourself fall asleep around this monster? Would let him into your house, would you let him have his way with Ayame? I've listened to his words, recorded them so if he ever becomes lucid again, he could listen to what kind of true character he is, what the real Daniel Little wants, that he would know what kind of monster he is. And he would choose the right thing, and commit himself. What he would really do to his friends, what he would really do to you, Rei. Not because he's a monster, Rei. Because despite this form?"

"He still has the heart of a human."

Relius suddenly jerks his arms a bit, the magical barrier suddenly weakening. The magician speaks swiftly, almost too hastily. "With that said, can you please hurry up? Last time I had him out off his leash, he nearly took my arm off. I very much would like to interview you on some of the... questions that Daniel raised with me. Some clarifications. If you aren't going to try and pacify him, I will just put him back in his cage!" Daniel flashes up with orange chi, a slash of energy straining the magical seals... as his words finally leak out.




In a weird way... Relius's rather more human reactions to this situation help Rei re-attain a sort of useful calm. But the sennin can't bring himself to turn and speak to Relius's face, at the moment. It's Daniel that requires watching, requires observing. The panic, the desperation, the desire. Pushed into a tiny space, bereft of actual support, left to the dark in more ways than one. How could this be anything but the result? How can you claim a self-fulfilling prophecy as self-evident proof?

"Interesting turn of phrase, 'true character'... or the 'real' Daniel Little. What if I told you they're ALL real?" And now, finally, he turns back to look at Relius, head tilted slightly to the side. "Just like your polite face versus your jerk face. The idea that there's this perfect true self, this unalterable version of us... I think that's a little short-sighted. It's why you say he's not a monster, but you actually don't believe that. You DO think he's a monster. You think that's his 'true character'."

And here, a faint smile. "How's that barrier holding up, by the way?"

But now... well. The redhead turns back to Daniel, who rants about his desire to consume Rei's soul. And now, this is where the rubber hits the road. This is the liminal edge, the cusp of possibility. It's where things either go one way, or the other. It is where decisions must be made. It is the crucible of loss, and pain, and sorrow. But it is also where hope lives. It's where 'I wonder what' becomes 'let's find out.'

"Honestly," Rei says, to Daniel. "You're just as bad as Tran was. Maybe worse."

And then... well. He stands there. He nods at Daniel. And be bares his throat, as it were. "Come on, then. You said it was a soul pure enough to kill for, right?"

His body language says it all: if Relius drops that barrier, Rei's not going to resist.

It was a troubling development.

Did Rei actually seek to fight Daniel? It would be a grievous mistake of the alchemist; to have accidentally unleashed one of the prisoners on a visitor. It would reflect so poorly on the NOL. And yet, as Relius watches the sheer confidence of Rei, the calmness... he was intrigued. After all, what -would- Daniel do to Rei? It was a fascinating experiment, to say the least. "Oh, the barrier won't hold much longer." Relius says flatly. "You need to hurry. Oh hurry." And suddenly, he clenches his hand into a fist.


And Daniel is unleashed.

The shadow surges at Rei, the whole force of him attempting to swarm over him like a wall of darkness. Daniel's touch would not be harmful, not directly. Even as energy floods over him, the magic unleashed, it was pure momentum than skill now. Daniel would feed.

But how he would feed was something else.

Daniel did not just latch on and drain. No, Daniel feeds on souls like a toothless dog feeds on a bone. You gnaw. You just gnaw and gnaw. Daniel was a mindless force of consumption. ANd the only way he was going to get satisfaction? Pain. He had to force pain in Rei. Either Rei was going to give him that lantern, or himself, or anything. And Daniel would squeeze around Rei's neck, gradually reforming himself into a humanoid form as he would try and choke the man.

All as Relius watches, with light bemusement, at the experiment unfolding before him.

COMBATSYS: Daniel has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Daniel           0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Frei has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0           Daniel

COMBATSYS: Daniel successfully hits Frei with Strong Throw.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/----===|=------\-------\0           Daniel

What is the soul?

As one might imagine, there's no definitive answer, even among people who are steeped in the occult mysteries of life, the universe, and everything. But there are some things known about the 'soul,' however. A living, sentient person can't really exist without one. It can be manipulated both by those who wield chi energy and by those with psionic powers. It can exist independent of the body, but likely not for long except for extenuating circumstances. And placed inside a vessel of SOME kind -- not even necessarily a human or human-like body -- the soul is almost certainly the core essence of the being to whom it belongs. Souls can be stolen, liberated, fed upon, merged, split. But through all of this, there is one thing that is constant:

A person's soul is the core of their being. And somewhere in the nucleus of Rei's being, a small spark rises from that core, hunting. Looking for a connection.

Hands around your throat hurt, even without exerting much force. In the event that someone with any degree of strength decides to apply crushing pressure, it's enormously bad. The fact that Rei had prepared himself for it -- walked into it willingly -- is maybe the only thing that saves him, in the end. He's put a little energy aside, a little bit of a reserve so that when the debilitating pain and choking feeling happens, he can still act. Green eyes watch Daniel carefully, even as their pupils shrink from the effort of remaining conscious. He can't talk; the most the sennin can do is breathe, trying to stay awake and alert. But he can also do one other thing.

A hand comes up, with the lantern dangling from its cord, blazing bright blue. Dropped into his palm, the red-haired sage offers it to Daniel with jerky motions of his arm.

Perhaps to Relius, this may seem a pathetic attempt on Rei's part to save his own life. For Rei himself, however, it is just part of the process. Will the so-called Lady Killer take it, or not?

COMBATSYS: Frei assists Daniel.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/----===|=------\-------\0           Daniel

Choking him, strangling him, murdering him.

All were viable, all were easy. He had the opportunity, he had the AoO. He was resourceful enough to even try and strangle with that lantern. It was so easy now. REi was fighting for his life, and his sweet, plump, overflowing soul was practically glowing over him. And yet, the light did not change on the lantern. And as that shape takes a nearly human form, where a dark tendril becomes hands, those yellow eyes drift from Rei, and land upon the lantern. So would the Lady Killer take it? Or take Rei?

He would take it.

The desires for Rei were unbearable. The deepest, darkest hungers were flooding him. And yet, Daniel knew what he was in the dark. He knew what he was in the light. ANd Daniel knew what he needed to get into the light, to get his -mind- again. Because Relius was right while being wrong on the most important detail. Deep underneath that shadowy form?

There was the heart of a human.

Daniel releases Rei, seizing the lantern. ANd he channels the energy in, sucking in the souls within, the spiritual energy filling him. And the malevolent presence dies down. Not annhilated; no. The dark presence of Daniel was impossible to ignore. But the shade... relaxes. Drawing in an audible breath, the teeth close away. The eyes roll up in their 'sockets.' And DAniel.... Daniel mutters something. "Oh fuck yes, oh god yes Rei, oooooooooh yes." The madness fades. The pleasure rises.

And Relius actually seems a bit put off.

Daniel straightens his back as he eases into a full stand, off of Rei. His orange zoot suit forming over his body, his shadowy form becoming corporeal. And his face and flesh become flesh flesh, the mist form fully solidified. Daniel.... Daniel shakes his head, clearing out the last of the daze. "Scuzzy, I... thank you... I-" He stammers, as he looks at Relius. "I... wh-wh-why are you here? Don't you realize who this asshole is? Oh no, please don't tell you agreed to something with him." Daniel pauses a moment, his yellow eyes going wide and... a little puppy like. "Unless it is to get me out of here. Because if it is to get me out of her, it's okay." He reaches for Frei's hand.

"Please tell me you are getting me out of here, Rei."

Relius sighs. "Yes, yes, we -all- can get out of here, once I get what you agreed to. If you are done handshaking and appreciating each other, can we -please- get on to it?" Daniel looks over to Relius, and back to Rei, and back to Relius, and back to Rei. "So uh. What uh... what did you agree to Rei?"

"And why isn't his, uh, doll person not around?"

COMBATSYS: Daniel is waiting for something...

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/----===|=------\-------\0           Daniel

No matter how calm or composed you are, a person's body is still their body. When Daniel's hands leave his neck, Rei slumps forward, a few hacking coughs giving way to one or two deep, heaving breaths as his lungs remember what it's like to have unrestricted air flow again. At Daniel's frantic inquiry as to what he's even doing here, the sennin -- head still bowed, hand to his chest -- simply says, hoarsely: "You're welcome, by the way."

But then he stands up, running his gloved hands through his hair, and gets a look at the two men standing before him. It had been a bit of a gamble, what he just did, but Rei *hadn't* bet the farm on it. In his mind was what he had said to Alma and company at the end of the old world: 'the memory of us... it's still out there, somewhere.' He had plans in place, if Daniel had decided to hurt him, or worse.

Still... not needing to hit your fallback is a good feeling.

The sage's green-eyed gaze meets the featureless white of the eye holes in Relius's mask, but when he talks, it's in response to Daniel's questions. "I *did* agree to something. I suspect even if I tried to get out of it now, he'd have some sort of contingency to forcibly change my mind anyway, so I'm opting to stay." His eyes narrow, however, following this, and the shift in tone makes it clear that who Rei is addressing also shifts. "But the lantern leaves with him. Understand? That's not negotiable. It's his own little light of hope and you having it instead of him does infinitely more harm than good to the public. That's what your 'Librarium' cares about, or so I'm told, right? Public safety."

Really, doing the right thing wasn't too hard for Daniel.

Despite his reputation, and his darkest desires... the moment his gets his souls? The moment he draws out the essence of spirits, that he carefully harvested through intense seduction and also kindness? The shock throws him out of his lust. He needed souls, he absolutely needed them. But Rei gave him a choice between his tasty tasty Baconator of souls, and the stuff he did himself? He did the right thing.

I mean, he didn't do it -well-

But he did the right thing.

Relius laughs out loud at Rei's accusation. "Why would you assume I would have contingencies to forcibly change your mind? I mean, of course I do, and it's incredibly wicked. But I need to confirm a few details on this... well ,it will be a little hard to explain, even for both of you. But first, because of Daniel's special characteristics..." He snaps his fingers.

And the ground under Daniel rips open.

"Gaaaaaawd dammit!" The ex-detective groans as he tries to scramble out of the way. No good. The gears rip upwards, and Daniel suddenly finds himself tangled in the mess of gears. with gear cuffs around his arms and, legs, and ankles, he was locked in place. SOmewhat harmlessly. Carting along, he is forced after Relius, as the Engineer gestures. Daniel sighs, but casting his yellow eyes over, he stage whispers hard. "No. Seriously. Rei." A dawning fear seems to be coming over Daniel, as if he knows something that he isn't clarifying. "WHERE IS HIS DOLL."


COMBATSYS: Daniel has left the fight here.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Frei             0/-------/----===|

"Trying really hard not to kinkshame right now," Rei says distractedly as Relius summons some steampunk bondage nonsense to cart Daniel off with. Sometimes, humor being your coping mechanism for emotionally intense situations can have some very serious and pretty unfortunate side effects. Though, in his heart of hearts, he suspects Relius doesn't even know what the word 'kinkshame' means, whereas he is CERTAIN Daniel knows.

"I want to be sure, that was a rhetorical question just then, right?" the sennin asks of the Grand Puppeteer, as he follows both captor and captive down the hallway toward their eventual destination. "The bit where you asked why I assumed you would do a thing you then literally admitted to doing." This bit of sass is largely reflexive, however; his mind is occupied in other ways, like wondering what the end of this situation is like. Daniel's assertion that Relius had questions about Ayame and Rei both sets the redhead on edge, mostly for two reasons:

1.) There's only a couple things that Ayame and Rei have in common, and one of them is a pretty stand-out red flag.
2.) The other person to express such an interest is Jedah Dohma, and it's almost like that in and of itself is a red flag all its own.

"He sent it away," Rei says, in response to Daniel's question, though he looks pensive at the word 'doll'. The sennin got a very different read on the strange figure that had appeared with the NOL colonel earlier, and 'doll' feels... well. Maybe if it were Shadaloo-esque, with a capital 'D'. A moment or two passes, and he decides to engage Daniel in further conversation rather than do any more pointless bantering with Relius, while they walk. "Other than the 'being carted off in a clockwork straitjacket' bit, are you... okay? More or less?"

After a beat, Rei adds: "Please answer with your *inside* voice."

COMBATSYS: Frei has ended the fight here.

Daniel seethes with a hushed voice, as he is jerked along.

"I mean, I guess? I kinda expected to be tortured or some crap. But no, he even gave me a place to lurk in, and got me some stuff to play with? I even got to go out with some of the other prisoners; you know that there are a lot of assholes here? But then he wouldn't feed me, I tried to explain that I needed to eat, or I would lose my mind, and he asked me -how- I would lose my mind. He was really excited in seeing how I would fall. And then he put me in this machine, and then, he waited until I- I lost it, and then he put me in this machine again, and again, and again. It didn't hurt but... I think it didn't hurt? I needed souls, and he explained that I didn't actually need them to live, but he's-" Daniel drops his voice into a whisper.

"He's a psychopath, you dig?"

"He thinks he's married to that thing Rei!" The construct. "Like, he was nice, and kind and all, when she was around- it was around." Daniel hastily corrects himself. "And he'd make her fetch things, and all that. Like a demure obedient housewife." Daniel mimes out acting like a french maid in his gears. It's not very effective. Relius, leading the duo forward, doesn't seem to be paying attention to either of them. "But when she was gone, when he got rid of her, in the interviews, he'd, well, he'd get into more personal stuff. Like he, erm, he asked me, well, see, Ayame didn't quite explain how I would get ghosts to cooperate, you see, and well, he wanted-"

"Kinkshame? Why, no no, we don't need to use the chains anymore!"

It might have been a while before Relius reacted to the first comment. But they had reached the end of the hall, the door wide open. Rei might notice the chains hanging around the room, with hooks at the end of them. The chains are dangling from little roller paths, allowing the chains, in theory, to be moved all through the room in great big loops. The room is sterile, clean. Chemically scrubbed, with a white wall, a white floor. There is also a drain in the middle of the room. That's never a good sign. But that wasn't the focus of this room.

All the attention is on the device.

The device is primarily a yellow chair, a simple cushioned chair with heavy steel frame. There are arm and leg restraints on it. Beside it are a number of metal consoles, narrow metal containers about as high as your hip. Red lights glow from it. From the back of it are a nest of thick blue tubes, that wind all the up and around to a single, frog-shaped helmet colored green. It looks almost cute, short of the eye-concealing nature of it. There are a number of alternate helmets hung up on the wall behind it; a fox, a cat, a wolf, a rabbit. It seemed almost for children.

Except no.

"This is a mind reading device." Relius explains delicately, gesturing with flourish at the machine. "How it works is that you sit down in the chair, and I will place the helmet upon your head. latches on to what you are thinking of, and then, dives deeper, extracting your memories on it. Normally, it is simpler to ask someone about themselves; the information extracted from the process needs to be handled by a specialist, and carefully converted into information human minds can process." He pauses a moment, walking towards it, before snapping his fingers. "Oh, yes, I almost forgot."

"Do not worry about the safety of your mind."

Relius adds this helpfully, looking at Rei with the gentle air of a dentist explaining to a child about what would happen next. "Even in the most extreme cases, the only side effect is discomfort, and that can be easily mitigated by simply talking through your memories. The human mind seems greatly uncomfortable with it's thoughts being pulled out without the illusion of consent, you see. And only what I ask you about, to seed your mind in order to blossom into information. It's quite comfortable, once you are used to it. I myself will use it to help clarify my thoughts; it's perfectly safe, sane, and consensual." Relius cracks a friendly smile at Rei, as he gestures ahead.

"Have a seat, Rei, and we can begin your interview."

Everything Daniel has to say just makes Rei's pensive expression get deeper with each passing statement, though when the ex-detective suggests that Relius is a psychopath, the sennin is unable to keep an eyebrow from arching upwards. That's kind of the pot calling the kettle black and a half, but the description of the doll as Relius's apparent 'wife' unsettles him more than he lets on. After all, the redhead himself felt something more than a simple 'robot' from Ignis, even after only a moment or two of exposure. Just one more mystery around the Grand Puppeteer that suggests disquieting depths past the surface facade.

"Have you thought that he might be right?" Rei asks of Daniel, tilting his head somewhat. "That what you're experiencing is withdrawal more than actual hunger?" Relius had suggested as much, and the more he thinks about it, the more inclined Rei is to believe it. In truth, a part of him wonders if Ayame already knew that, which is why she bothered to help at all. The idea that the lantern was basically replacement therapy, a methadone clinic but for souls, is actually bizarrely plausible. "Which is actually good news, if y--"

He's interrupted by Relius's statement about the chains, and their arrival at the... whatever this room is. A more stereotypical mad scientist's lab or seeming torture room one could not imagine, right up until you look at the various headpieces for the apparently mind-reading chair. If anything, the animal shapes and gaudy colors give the entire affair an extra patina of horror and unsettling oddity.

The fact that Relius adds offhandedly that he doesn't have to worry about the 'safety' of his mind is maybe the last straw for Rei.

The sennin absolutely does NOT have a seat, and is entirely happy keeping his distance from the damn chair; his green-eyed gaze fixes on the white holes of Relius's mask, and his voice shows surprisingly strident fervor given his usual calm demeanor. "Absolutely *not*. You drag me into this Arkham Asylum-looking room and ask me to sit in your Baby's First Brain Torture chair with *that* lead in and expect me to just do it? You have got to be out of your mind."

Pressing his fingers into his temples, eyes briefly closed, Rei looks back at Relius with a serious expression. "If you want to just ASK me questions, go ahead. I'll answer whatever you like truthfully, and I want to stress I haven't lied to you once since I walked in this door, though I'm not sure I've been given the same courtesy. But rummaging around in my head after THAT disclaimer? No way."

"Now Rei, I think you misunderstand me."

Relius's very presence felt slimy. Daniel was shaking his head. "Yeah, okay, so he's right. Is that a better situation? I mean look at that. I spent -days- in that." Daniel fails to help Relius's case, as the mad scientist shakes his head. "I will not hurt you. You have come here with patience and compassion; you've put your very life at danger. And for this creature, this man? I am just helping you understand that you will feel a little uncomfortable in this chair."

Understatement of the timeline.

"As for a traditional interview... no, no. Let me explain." Relius walks up to the chair, undoing the straps, all as he explains. "Witnesses are hardly reliable, to say the least torture. Even if you were a prisoner here, you would be treated with the same respect as I would my own children. Besides, even a verbal interview is functionally worthless information. Per our standards, traditional interviews are only used in desperate cases. A man could explain he saw a monster, describe the monster in detail, and yet, never truly saw the monster. The interview would be accurate, and yet, the information would be wrong. So we could, in theory, waste days and days trying to wringe out the truth from people or Darkstalkers... or we can simply attach them to our wonderful machine, and piece together everything that their mind so loosely clings on to, and cross reference it to similar events. For you see, Rei."

"What this allows your mind to do is convert your thoughts into pure information."

"If you had 7 years and a dedicated academic scholarship supporting it, then I might be able to explain to you the details of how such a thing works."Relius almost describe that from his nose, the smug arrogance practically glowing off of him. "But of course, I can understand why the scary machine might frighten you." He snaps his fingers, and Daniel suddenly jerks towards him and the chair. "Oh, no, no no, no no, REI!" Daniel shifts out of his indoor voice. Relius hardly pays attention. "If you like, I could try it on Daniel as a demonstration..." There is a sudden chill in his voice, almost as a threat.

"... Or on Ayame."

"After all, as you may be well aware, you've consented to an interview on matters relating to illicit magical information. Per our jurisdiction, we can confine you in holding for up to 48 hours. You can be happy to wait, and I would be happy to tell Ayame that not to worry about Rei, he is safely being held by the NOL! And when she inevitably wanders in, perhaps SHE would be more willing to consent." Relius approaches the rack of helmets, as Daniel is stopped just short of the chair. The shade writhes and struggles, attempting to break from his gears. "I might as well prepare, you and Daniel won't be going anywhere soon until I get my interview." He holds up the fox helmet.

"Don't you think she would look most appropriate in the kitsune decor?"

There is a long silence, after Relius makes what can only be called threats. Not just to Rei -- in fact, barely any directed at him -- but a few oblique ones at Daniel, and significantly more direct ones at Ayame. The situation is, in its own weird way, analogous to when the sennin encountered Ayame and Daniel at Meian Jinja. An outside force, acting to contain, with more force than could possibly be required. It is, genuinely, frightening... or at the very least, anxiety-inducing. That pit of the stomach feeling that tells you things are going to go very wrong no matter what you do. Knowledge like that can be very librerating.


And then comes the bit about the 'scary machine,' and then another threat toward Ayame, and... well. Rei Hazuki gets a little upset.

"One, don't talk down to me," the redhead snaps, clearly annoyed and not bothering to hide it in the least. He glances at Daniel in the chair, struggling, and then back at Relius. "You're going to talk to me about your 'jurisdiction' when you've got a messed up mad science mind-reading chair in your secret sub-basement for indefinite-term confinement? That's pretty rich. PUtting Daniel in the chair is an empty threat, anyway," he adds, raising his chin a little. "One, you probably barely had to torture him to get him to talk, because he seems pathologically incapable of NOT doing that. And two, he's clearly already been IN this chair. I'm not exactly sure what it is you want from either me OR Ayame that you think Daniel doesn't already know."

This is a lie, of course; he *does* know, but he isn't sure if *Relius* knows. Or for that matter, if this Daniel is just a coincidence, or if the Daniel Little of the now-gone timeline made it across the gap as well.

"Compromise means *both* parties give something and meet in the middle," Rei says, calming a little, but voice still firm with not-entirely-suppressed annoyance and frustration. "This sounds more like 'you get everything you want and I end up in the mind-reading chair and then you imprison Daniel and I ANYWAY because you can't be trusted'. So. You can either ask me your questions and I'll do my best to answer them, or... we do it the hard and unpleasant way."


Relius's tone grows with a flicker of outrage, as his gaze transfixes harshly on Rei. The probing, the fingers were repeating again, as the gaze seems to be worming its way inside Rei. "You have already asked for Daniel. You have already made it clear that you are not handing over your magical artifact. Now, I could have clubbed you in the back of the head the moment you came here, and made you have a long, slow wait in that chair, before imprisoning you for the rest of your life. You simply don't walk up to a prison, and expect to break out a criminal monster? I have given you so much at my word, and you have the audacity to claim I have done no compromise?"


Relius strides forward at Rei, as his gaze feels like it gets -deeper-. Rei can resist the effort, but the man's gaze was now probing dangerously at his soul, his thoughts. Yet, Daniel Jack looks around nervously, as Rei talks about hte hard way. "Hey, scuzzy, you know this is a two vs one situation." The shadow points out. ""Maybe you should listen to Rei, and think real hard. Cause it sounds like you aren't really in the position to-"

"Sit down, Daniel, the adults are talking."

Daniel is -slammed- into the machine, the force of the gears fixing him in the chair. Almost in tandem, the helmet drops down. One of the straps slaps across his mouth, as he is gagged roughly. Relius, in the meantime, snaps his fingers. And in the hallway to the rest of the complex, the doll-like construct reappears. "I had hoped to handle this delicately, and respecting your polite entrance. But it sounds like that you've chosen to be a naughty, disobediant young man. As such, I will act in the best of my ability; you tried to break out Daniel Jack, and upon apprehension, I recognized that you had an abberant soul within you!" The construct focuses her blue eyes at the back, as she waits her orders. Relius sweeps his cape. "And you and Daniel can spend the rest of your days, until Ayame drags herself in, and then I can have all four of you!" Four? For Relis strides forward, palm raised, his face grim. "And no matter what, you -will- sit down in that chair."

"And you will tell me everything about Aya, you understand?"

In a way, this is exactly what he wanted. There was something about Relius's calm demeanor that... well. It was artificial, and probably had been from the start, and now that Rei's made an effort to poke past it, this is the result. It is, as Daniel finds out rather directly, not necessarily a *good* result; if anything, it is probably the result with the greatest number of potential negative consequences for everyone involved. But in the words of an old time-y surgeon: if a wound is to heal, it must be thoroughly searched and cleaned, first. That is a process that involves some pain, pain that is necessary for healing to start.

As the NOL colonel strides forward, makes his presence more forcefully known, Rei stares back. He can feel that spiritual pressure from the Grand Puppeteer, and wonders not for the first time just what his *deal* is. But for Relius, an experienced Observer, there is so much more for him to learn about Rei, the longer he stares. Information the sennin could not hide even if he knew how, which he does not.

Relius would know, without question, two things that are incontrovertibly true. One is that the man standing before him has died, before. And not the pseudo 'death' many experienced on Shang Tsung's island, but ACTUAL death. The sort of experience that leaves an indelible mark on someone's spirit, like a brand.

The other fact is that Rei does not 'belong' in this world, yet is tied to it securely. A thread of his very selfhood, the core of his being -- his soul -- attached to... well, everything. Small, barely perceptible, but there.

If he knew that Relius could see these things, Rei would almost certainly temper his response accordingly.

His green eyes flicker over to Daniel for a moment, before back to the blond man before him. "Pretty sure 'I didn't just forcefully detain you, which is morally and ethically wrong, when I could have' is not a strong plank to rest your aggrievance on, my guy," he says, raising a single eyebrow. "As far as I know, since he left Ayame's shrine, Daniel hasn't hurt ANYBODY, but you kept him locked away down here anyway, separated from the one thing that would help him NOT hurt others."

But the mention of Aya... that gets a different response entirely.

"Aya was a victim," Rei bites out, clearly upset, but doing his best not to lie. He tries, so hard, not to lie, not to prevaricate. But to tell the truth that can be told safely. "She was cursed, without wanting it, without doing anything wrong. She's finally free of it... sorry, free of *me*," he adds, breathing in deeply and sharply through his nostrils. "She has nothing to offer you. And for the record, if you think Ayame is going to come and rescue EITHER of us, I hope you're ready for a very long wait."

Every piece only clarified the depth of this reality.

The machine recorded it. But Relius did not need the machine. THe process was... far more painful and uncomfortable than what Daniel was enduring. Daniel in fact wasn't even writhing. He was, however, cursing. And not in his indoor voice either. But the voice seemed so far away, as the sheer weight of Relius's focus was driving in deeper and deeper into Rei. Shaving off the knowledge, the secrets that sat within Rei's own soul. And what's more?

He confirms the reality of this timeline.

"Do you know what she could have done, if she never was free of you?" Relius's voice is so clear, so close to Rei's ear, even as he stands over a meter away. "What kind of life she could have had? The possibilities are endless. Do you know she could have come for Daniel too? That's how I learned of her, from Daniel. When the possibilities are endless, the focal points of individuals are the only thing keeping clarity in the endless boundaries of knowledge. There are far fewer instances of that, I am afraid, of saving Daniel. It was so rare, she really wasn't as kind as you were, if you can imagine. But the light was the same as yours. The infinity of outcomes, of what could be, the infinity of information chained into action by the shackles of time. Every potential unfolded before me now, catalyzed into reality by the little sparks of life." Babbling gibberish?

Or the true insight of the madness of the scientist.

He was too close, or did he even take a step now? The sheer weight of his gaze was pentrating, worming like a thousand serpents, finding every weakness in Rei's mind and soul. To pull at the knowledge and memories within. Daniel's voice was growing louder, and yet, was indistinct. "Your soul is so... delicately tied outside this world. It's a rare element, and very familar, very... decisive. Let me look deeper." The depth of the stare comes stronger. Ignis would be drifting behind Rei. If he leans back, she would hold him. Not seize him, not capture him. But catch him, to keep him standing. And the gaze would be driving deeper... deeper into Rei. "I have seen her soul too; your soul, two soul intertwined, and free of this world, of this timeline. And the same mark touches on Ayame's. So tell me, Frei." Relius's words are precise.

"What do you remember about your first life..."

"And how it ended?"


Even the gentlest soul, the kindest person, if pricked by a sharp enough object, in the right spot, will become something different, something primal and aggressive.

Just the name 'Frei' and the question is enough.

"ALL OF IT!" the sennin snarls, hands balling into fists, the skin on them going white with the force of how tight his grip truly is. Daniel, the chair, Ignis... all of it falls away. All that's left is the raw, bleeding wound at the core of this person. For a second, he is back on the demonic shores of Shang Tsung's island, staring at the sky, bereft of everyone and everything he'd ever known. Brought back to life at what he incorrectly assumed to be the sacrifice of the woman who had been cursed to be host to his soul. Being able to remember all of it as if it were yesterday. Being unable to forget their smiles, their faces.

Crying like he thought his body would shatter and demanding of an uncaring world: 'Don't... leave me all alone.'

When he can finally speak again, Rei's voice is low, tremulous, hoarse with phlegm and the effort of keeping his emotions in check long enough to answer Relius's question, a thing he couldn't stop himself from doing if he'd tried. "I remember all of it. The little details. The tiny things. I remember what it felt like for my body to be incinerated. I remember what it felt like to see the end coming and knowing I couldn't do anything."

For a moment, he slumps forward, hand to his chest, eventually turning his head up at Relius and staring at him through his own dark red bags. "I. Watched. That. Universe. Die."

After that, silence... or something approximating silence. Rei doesn't speak. But his breathing is loud and obvious, his knuckles still white with exertion as his body processes most of his traumas simultaneously, while also being in mortal danger. His eyes are rimmed with red when he finally stands up entirely straight, tilting his head behind him to glance at Ignis for a moment before looking back at Relius.

"And if that had been the end, I could accept it. But it's not. Somehow I'm here. And not just me, as you probably already know. Everywhere I turn there is something so familiar but different enough to be a stranger. People who were as close to me as anyone are strangers, now, but I remember them perfectly. I'm sure to you that sounds fascinating, but can you imagine how painful that is?" he demands, voice dropping to nearly a whisper. "Do you understand why I have chosen my level best to leave the knowledge from that world behind? What good would it do ANYONE here and now? Least of all me."

Relius's passion was growing.

It was like having him on the slab, to pick and pull him apart. To see and feel Rei writh as he pulled away his secrets, it reminded him as the first wedding night with his precious wife. Having him helpless, pinned down. Even the name was pulled out. And yet, the cruel zeal of the man seemed to wane. The probing was growing more clinical, less sadistic, as the flood of knowledge rushes over him. Overwhelming him. And then... revealing a truth that rattles the very principles of his schemes to their core.

"... No..."

A troubling shadow, one that forces him to state it aloud. "That Universe died... not from the Black Beast." He repeats back, uncertain at the meaning of it. "This is not within my understanding. Another timeline that is... hrm." He draws in the knowledge, forcing himself to leech it in. Rei might sense the pain Relius was enduring; the reflection of the same pain Rei was enduring? Every instance, detail was flooding into him. Not emotional pain, no, physical pain. It hurts. And yet, as Rei expects...

"It's so fascinating!"

"Another timeline... this is incredible. And you may never know why." The experiences that Rei described, multiplied to an infinity. That was every day of the life of Relius; memories and shapes of an infinity of this very encounter, right now. Hundreds of millions of Reis, crying, or laughing, or enduring stoicly, or an infinite reactions. Relius had all that, and more. ANd yet, how could he sift between the reality of now, and the infinity of what could be. The potential of reality, against the ultimate demonstration of it. Rei's fate was a mere candle to the enduring sunlight of the blinding reality of Relius.

Then again, Rei was not insane.

Relius probes deeper, the most dangerous knowledge that Rei might hold. "What that knowledge might be useful is to me, young man. For it's knowledge that I have not yet seized upon. It's knowledge that can be focused upon, captured, compared, revealed. Your memories are as precious as your soul; unique and rare fruit, for me to pluck and preserve. I... I almost have enough, and yet, I could spend a lifetime peeling away your memories, your experiences." Relius then holds, hesitates. "But not for now; you are not my prisoner." Relius gives a smirk. "But.. just... one more.... question."

"Who else remembers this world, Frei?"

"Who else is like you, with memories of this other world?"

If they had met in different circumstances, Rei and Relius might have had a lot to discuss about the nature of the soul. And if anything, this interrogation by Relius actually lends a lot of weight to one of Rei's more favored theories about what the 'soul' really is.

The sennin mostly believes the soul is 'memories.'

He would call his outburst at the Grand Puppeteer cathartic, if 'catharsis' didn't indicate a positive outcome. But in a way, finally giving voice to a few things rattling in his head -- painful things he'd rather forget -- does 'improve' the situation in its own way: the redhead's thoughts start to clear, a little. The fog of raw emotion, the bleeding wound that Relius dove into, lifts a little bit. And he feels, on some level, what the NOL colonel is doing.

If this were any other time, any other place, any other PERSON, Rei would be impressed. 'Reading' information this way feels like it shouldn't even be possible. And perhaps it isn't, but the sennin is experienced enough to know the touch of Psycho Power, and this isn't it. No... instead it's something a little scarier. But as the saying goes, sometimes when you look into the void, the void looks back. He's still too unsettled to stop it, or even really understand it, but for a moment those green eyes stare back at Relius's masked face and see something behind the Observer. Something he is connected to. Something... vast, and...

The next time Rei blinks, he is standing on the boat dock at Takeshima, looking out over the waters of Lake Biwa.

And then he blinks again, and it's gone. He searches Relius's 'face' for any sort of indicator of what that vision just now meant, and of course finds nothing. Instead, he whispers a horse "What...?" and then falls silent, clearly confused and startled.

But, he got asked a question, and he agreed to answer.

"That's just it. There's no real way of knowing. I've met some people who are familiar to me, but they don't have any memories. Some do remember, but for them it's hazy, like a dream. And no, I don't even know what a 'Black Beast' is."

He struggles to keep thoughts of the Orbs as deep in his subconscious as possible. It would be lunacy to let this person even know they exist, let alone find one. And in truth, even when Rei tries to focus on WHY the orbs were dangerous, everything seems a little... fuzzy...?

Hands come up, rub at his temples, the sennin's jaw clenched shut, teeth visibly grinding.

"I think I've answered enough questions. Or maybe, I don't think there's any more questions you can ask that I'll know the answers to."

That's what souls were, ultimately.

Information, projected into the physical realm, bonding to mortal shapes. They were just mere data, ready to dissect on a table. And Relius operates with surgical precision. Reading the information... was fundamentally impossible. You could pull the information out, and interpret as raw memories. It would be like reading a stream of alphanumeric data from a computer output, and identifying where it could be. Relius had -seen- all the potentials. And this was... outside the scope. It's why it was so exhausting, so exhilarating. And yet, as he pull up the last of it, as Rei is finally spent... the probing presence pulls out. Drawing out, free from within Rei.

And gently, Relius strokes a gloved hand on Rei's cheek.

"Don't worry, Rei. You did good." He says softly, a smirk on the corner of his lips. "You were so strong, and I am so proud of you. So many would prefer the chair... but you were special. I saw you were special the moment I cast my eyes on your soul. I'm satisfied now. I have what I asked for. How fascinating, isn't it?" Relius touches on Rei's hair so lightly. "And it's not even recorded, so... You don't need to tell anybody else. It can be our little secret..."

"Did he just show his dick to you?"

Daniel calls out, helmet over his head. "I can't actually see anything, but I can hear it, and it sure sounds like you are showing your dick to him! God dammit, Relius, you monster!" Relius pauses his breath, and exhales, exhausted. The engineer rubs a temple. He gives Rei -such- a look, as if the entire dramatic flair had been ruined forever. He adjusts his sleeves, looking over at the construct, standing fast. "Well, it's time to uphold my part of the bargain. You can start releasing Daniel, Rei. You can begin your escape." He snaps his fingers.

"Ignis, will you please?" The construct suddenly rushes at Relius's side. The engineer extends his arm up, in a kind of half T pose. The figure places her clawed hands upon the arm, clinging on to it.

And with a twist, she rips off Relius's arm.

The touching, that was the mistake.

Rei actively recoils from Relius's hand, as if his gloved touch were literally on fire. His fight or flight instinct kicks in *immediately* and considering there is nowhere for anyone to go in this room, which option gets chosen is obvious. His hands, which had been balled into fists, uncurl, though his fingers twitch as if he were preparing to catch a thrown object, or react in some similar way. "*Don't*," he growls at Relius, wide-eyed expression locked on the masked face.

But the most interesting part is the wind. Not any sort of howling gale or anything, but the air in the room is moving, subtly but surely, which is absolutely should not be doing in a largely sealed room in the second sub-basement. Daniel says... something, but in truth, Rei doesn't hear it. He's standing still, squeezing his eyes shut, trying to keep his thoughts in order.

For an unescapable moment he is bad in Jedah's crimson prison, drowning in a hell of blood as far as the eye could see, unable to breathe, unable to move. Thinking that if it were to all end, that might not be so...

'You can begin your escape,' their 'jailor' says, and as Relius calls Ignis, the sennin walks sideways to the chair, throwing the helmet off Daniel's head. "Stop," he bites out to the possessed detective, staring at the rest of his restraints and bindings. "JUst... don't." The actual mundane leather straps aren't a problem; Relius's summoned clockwork prison is a bigger issue. But as any expert will tell you, nothing is a bolt-on motivator for one's strength (if not control) than emotional instability.

Rei's hands come up in one sharp motion, then make a second sharp swirl into a parallel position, and then finally, he snaps them apart. On cue, Daniel's more metaphysical bindings part enough for him to walk free.

Turning just in time to see Relius injure himself for the sake of the 'cover story,' Rei's body is pitched somewhat forward, red bangs dangling into his eyes somewhat. It's impossible not to give a hissed breath at what seems like a painful display, until his logical mind kicks in and says: he *chose* to do that. He chose ALL of this. You don't need to pity him.

A slightly darker voice says: you will never pity him, no matter what he does.

"Let me give you a piece of advice," the sennin bites out, voice hoarse and breathy. "Not all wisdom can be found by looking for it. Somtimes *it* finds *you* and those lessons are rarely the easy ones."

It didn't matter if he liked to be touched or not.

Relius wanted to touch him.

Right now, that was kind of a distant issue, as Ignis rips off his arm. It was not fully healed, but, it was a necessary offering. The engineer can't hide the pain, as he groans, falling in towards Ignis. The doll embraces him, as he struggles to take back his arm. The gear restraints on Daniel are broken with gusto; it's not an easy effort for others, but Rei is not a common fighter. Disrupting the magical seals, Daniel keeps himself still, locking up, until finally... the helmet is removed. He doesn't quite walk, but -flow- as he lashes around, freedom, finally freedom. As he removes by Rei, he is about to say something... until he sees the missing armed scientist.

Rei, this is getting weird?"

"Rei this is getting really friggin weird, scuzzy."

But Relius is the one who speaks next, in response to Rei.

"You, giving me advice?"

Relius actually gives a burst of arrogant, full-throated laughter. "Ha ha ha ha ha!" Comes the sound, as he forces himself upright, the blood rolling down his garments. "I encourage it to find me, Rei. And what lessons I can learn, could learn, I encourage it. For knowledge without wisdom is a disaster. But wisdom without knowledge... is useless. Catch!" Relius throws the arm at Daniel, who instinctively catches it. "Eeeagh?!" The shadow gags. "Wh-"

Relius answers Daniel's question, transfixing his gaze back at Rei.

"You can use it's hand to bypass the security checkpoints; that should get you far enough along before the secondary security measures will take place!" Relius says with the bright air. "And then, the rest of this opera will play itself out. The Lady Killer escapes! The word will go out amongst the NOL! And assisting him is Frei Hazuki... no, Rei Hazuki, no longer a mere person of interest for the NOL, but now a criminal with dangerous magical talents. A terrorist assisting in the liberation of magical criminals! A bounty on both of your heads, until finally, you are brought back to me, Rei. Not as a guest, but as a prisoner." And Relius gives a longing sigh. "And then, I can finally give you a proper interrogation. Do you have a favorite animal, Rei?" Relius glances at the wall of helmets.

"I want to prepare a surprise for you."

The green-eyed gaze turns on Daniel with a surprisingly withering glare that doesn't feel like belongs on the face of the person the detective insists has such a 'pure' soul. But it is fleeting, like the passing of a cloud over midday sun, because Relius demands Rei's attention, the puppeteer's every word escalating the threat level with each new thing he says. Of course that was the shape of the NOL colonel's plan the entire time. He wouldn't just 'let' them go, even if he is, in a way. There are complications, potential problems for the future.

A promise of future violation.

The red-haired sennin is quiet for a time, probably longer than expected, and when he speaks, it is very quietly, almost as if he were talking to himself and not to Relius.

"I really... wanted to threaten you," he says at last, looking sidelong at the now one-armed Relius. "God, I wanted to say some really dramatic things. About how much what you did hurt me, hurt Daniel. About my not being as weak and helpless as you think I am. I really... really wanted to get defiant. Angry."

Rei holds his hand out in front of him, staring into the center of his palm, as he keeps talking. "But everything you said is the consequences of my actions. I have to accept that. I don't know if that means I should *regret* what I've done or not," he adds, eyes going half-lidded for a moment. "It is what it is, no more and no less."

He turns his face up toward Relius's mask, and shrugs faintly, serious look still on his face. He can still feel the sense of someone trying to push into his actual *soul* like something crawling under the surface of his skin. If his memories of nearly drowning in blood at the hands of Jedah Dohma are on one pole of an axis, then Relius's 'interrogation' is on the other. Equally bad, in entirely different ways.

"Instead I'm going to thank you for releasing Daniel. And now I'm going to leave, with him," he finishes, turning to look at Daniel as he says this.

"I know, Rei."

Relius gives a coiling smile. The focus, the sheer focus of madness. They say the only thing worse than a monster hating you, is a monster loving you, lusting you, wanting you. And Relius wanted Rei. He wanted to peel away that useless mortal shell, and take that beautiful, beautiful, and make it something useful. Something beautiful. Something unique. And there was no shame, no fear. Because the moment Rei would leave? What would change. And yet, the voice is so soft and sincere, you could almost feel like it loops and loops around your very soul.

"I know all those things."

Daniel starts to pull away to the door. Slipping, slithering. "We uh... we should get out of here Rei. Please. I can be all gushy and thankful late, but I really, really, really need to get out of here." Want? Need. "Oh, I'm not releasing him." RElius says brightly, cupping his -good- hand to his mouth, as Ignis delicately holds him up. "He's escaping, remember? Oh help!" He calls out softly. "Help! HELP! "GUAAAAAAARDS!" The cry comes with operatic flourish. There would be no guards to listen. Not so far in. But the point was clear. Rei and Daniel were finished on the stage of Relius's wonderful theatric event.

It was time for them to exit stage left.

Log created on 17:02:15 05/31/2018 by Frei, and last modified on 20:26:40 06/15/2018.