Description: Since her "death" at the hands of Leo Whitefang, former NOL Lieutenant Clio St. Jeanne has been hiding out in Illyria and working hard toward discovering who she is and what the world she lives in shall become. Not one to consider her friends lost so easily, Makoto Nanaya never loses hope in finding out the truth. When the Intelligence officer finds Clio alive and well, reasons and promises set the wheel of fate turning. Where it leads and what ramifications are yet to be discovered, but things for the two friends will never be the same.
Dr. Paradigm, his gears, darkstalkers, and more have been spreading out from Castle Illyria since the foundation of the new nation-state. Slowly, they have been returning to, finding and developing the small medieval villages that had lay dormant in the mountains and forests of the remote land. Not all of them had yet been found, and some of them still provided ample opportunity for privacy and exploration. Places to be away from the world, and to train and to study in peace.
Clio St. Jeanne, former Lieutenant for the Novus Orbis Librarium, has taken to one of the villages in the mountains, not far from Castle Illyria but still under utilized, as a temporary place to hide out. She still needs to use and learn from the Telluric Complex, and to work with the people there on developing her new chain, but she has been putting most of her effort into avoiding Mai Natsume. The less her friend knows of her life, the less strain it will put on the liasion's conscience.
Clio is inside on the late afternoon, lanterns lighting up the lower floor of a simple cottage. Much of the room is dominated by a table with various hunks of metal, and a collection of arcane sigils, runic markings, hermetic math and emblematic rings in a grand collage as piece by piece the conduit patterns for Clio's new chain are being worked out by the woman.
But she isn't focusing on the work right now, Clio is looking out the paneless window, toward where the sun is falling between the mountain tops of Illyria's rustic countryside. She smiles to herself and walks out into the empty 'main street' of the desolate village. Her boots scrape on the ground as sh starts to go for a walk. To clear her head and to look up at the stars when they come out, to see what patterns in the constellations might jog her mind into more efficient spellcraft patterns for her grand project.
And faintly, in the depth of her heart, knowing she's looking to the same night skies as her friends still out there, and still being the best parts of the rotten tree that the NOL has become.
Clio St. Jeanne may be avoiding Mai Natsume. It's not hard, always; Mai can keep her secrets, and she's not bad at looking into things, but being an official liasion means you have at least some eyes on you most of the time. It's a hazard of the job.
Mai is not the only member of the NOL here.
One of the advantages of being a semi-independent Intelligence officer - one of the few /real/ advantages, from Makoto's perspective - is that they generally don't mind where you go as long as you are doing something for the good of NOL. Keeping an eye on Illyria from the less official side of things counts.
Makoto didn't mind the work. For one, they minded her less than she expected; Illyria is one of the few places where a Darkstalker could - well, not fit in precisely, but at least not stand out quite as much. More than that, though; she had personal reasons to want to be here. Rumours, hints, nothing she could or would act on but enough to draw her attention. When one of your friends vanishes, you pay attention.
This was the less professional part of her investigation. Makoto didn't mention that part when she asked to be assigned to Illyria. Not until she knew.
Clio is not alone in the village. She might feel that way, at first, but after some time in the empty main street, she starts to feel attention on her. Whoever it is is doing a good job of hiding themselves; Makoto may not be the smartest member of NOL, but she takes to practical, physical skills like a fish to water. She just wants to make sure it's who she thinks it is.
It doesn't last. With a rustle, Makoto bursts out of her hiding place (partially down an alley, bundled in her black coat) at a dead run, charging Clio with arms spread as if she was going to grapple her. And if Clio doesn't dodge...
...she gets picked up in a hug that isn't quite rib-crushing but is definitely working on it. "I knew it was you! And you're okay! Did you get hurt, is that why you stayed here? Oh! Should I not be squeezing?" She decreases the pressure enough to make breathing easier.
The feeling that someone is watching isn't new for Clio. She's felt the slithering feeling ever since she made her opinions clear to captain Hazama. She knows the sensation well. But she also knows she cannot let the paranoia get to her, or to control her, so she has learned to push down the feelings and simply be ready to respond to what may come.
And it could just be Jubei wanting an all too feline training session to begin with a sudden pounce.
The rustle, a sign, and a sharp grin from Clio as she waits. She flips her hood up to disguise the subtle motion of her head toward the source of the sound. A recent modification to the purple outfit is a pair of leather cups in the shape of ears sewn on. They stand up when the hood is flipped.
But what she senses isn't Jubei, it's something else. Something far more puzzling in some ways, but very welcome. She turns, head tilting. "Makoto?" is all she manages to say. Her final words.
At least until she's being squeezed up in a clutching hug. Clio's eyes go wide, her normally pale cheeks reddening, breath puffing, but entirely not from the pressure of Makoto's hug. She looks around, eyes still bugged, looking for more of the NOL. But she knows that Makoto is Intelligence, that she tends to operate more or less on her own. And that is the reason she sighs when Makoto releases some of the pressure on Makoto's death grip of life.
But once she's given enough room to get any motion in. Clio shakes her head quickly and sharply. The hood falls back down. "No!" she objects, and try as she can with limited motion, she returns the hug and the redness to her cheeks does not fall with the somewhat one sided embrace. "I'm, yeah, I'm not hurt. I, shit it's going to be a lot to explain, so can we just do this for a bit longer?"
Makoto may not have realized how hard she was squeezing Clio. She is known for her strength, and sometimes she gets excited.
For whatever reason, she relents after a few moments, setting Clio down. If she brought anyone with her, they don't seem to be making an appearance, which may be as much of a relief to Clio as getting to breathe again is.
"Well, I was worried when I didn't hear from you. If I'd known you needed help I would have been out there, pow, like a shot! But not knowing was the worst." Makoto may have stopped squeezing but she keeps one hand on Clio's shoulder, at least for a moment - until she steps back, looking at the other woman.
"How long do you want to do this?" Makoto makes it sound like a joke when she spreads her arms again, as if going in for another hug - but this time when she steps forward, she flicks a finger at the 'ear' on Clio's hood. "Those are new! Did you add them here?" It's hard to tell if Makoto is intentionally keeping things light for Clio's sake or if... well, if she's being Makoto. It could be either one.
What is real is when she asks, "Are you staying around here? Can I visit? Because, man, there is /nothing/ around here. I only had what I brought to eat, even! And then you can tell me what you want to explain." And if someone /is/ keeping Clio here against her will, well, Makoto will deal with it.
Makoto has plenty of strength to spare. But in reality, Clio isn't exactly going to complain about the hug. If anything it's some of the first affectionate physical contact she's had in a long long time and it's becoming readily apparent to Clio that she's needed it.
With no one coming from the bushes, Clio's attention and focus falls back to Makoto and recovering her breath after Makoto's hug. She remains, her hand going up to cover Makoto's at her shoulder for a moment longer. She smiles, listening to her friend telling her that, should she have needed help that Clio would've had all she could handle.
"Should've known I wasn't going to be the one springing surprises about all this," she tells Makoto. "It's a long story, and I could use just this for a bit." She appreciates the lightness, the smile not leaving her face, her attention not leaving Makoto's, and staying close. Even if it is just the two of them in this deserted town from days gone by, she remains close.
The hood flops back, and Clio laughs, shrugging. "Yeah, they're new. Thought I'd add them. You like?" she asks, "It's not really a good idea to wear the uniform around here. Or anymore."
Clio's face flattens when she mentions the uniform. Seriousness has to return at some point. The world of fun reunions is a tiny one indeed. And, much as Clio trusts Makoto, the other woman is a member of the Intelligence Division.
"Makoto, there's a lot I want to tell you," she says, "I want to say I faked my death to investigate more of the Sacred Order. That this is all a mission. And that you can tell the higher ups that I'm just playing a long and secret game to learn more about what's going on here." She talks, and for the first time, she takes a step away from Makoto, looking away.
"But I can't lie to you. Mako, you're," she stops, she sighs, she closes her eyes. This moment of uncertainty and weakness doesn't feel right. It makes Clio sick. She turns back to face Makoto. To look at her. She takes a long look and reminds herself that no, this is Makoto Nanaya. This isn't the time to think like she did in the NOL. She had to think like she did around Jubei. "Mako. I had to leave the Librarium. So I went after Leo Whitefang myself. I had Leo break my chains, beat the hell out of me and leave my hat behind. Missing in action. So I could escape. I really, really hoped that I wouldn't have to burden you or Mai or Noel or any of you with what I did. But I had to."
"They're certainly memorable!" Makoto seems to approve of the ears, though - she may be considering how to modify a couple of her hoods for herself. Of course, in her case, the caps would be to get a little slack in there for her to get her *actual* ears in; Clio doesn't have that problem. She grins in that slightly toothy way she has sometimes.
Makoto may have figured out on her own it's not a good idea to wear the uniform. She's wearing a long coat, but it's not her Intelligence one with the big zippers, and beneath it she appears to be wearing the side-buckled boots she prefers for combat that are decidedly not uniform. (Anything else is hidden under the coat.)
But she looks serious too when Clio brings it up. She's listening rather than jumping off the handle, which is a good start - though her expression shifts a couple times while Clio gives her explanation - distress, confusion, something else that's a little hard to read. None of them happy expressions.
"But - "
Makoto /does/ blurt that out at the end. She stops for a moment, not quite stumbling over her own words but definitely a little off-balance. "But /why/? Why did you do something like that? And why didn't you tell anyone? It's not a burden to talk to your friends!" Though Makoto intellectually understand why Clio might not have wanted to speak to her friend in Intelligence about it, that doesn't stop her from feeling... is that hurt?
"So... you don't want to come back." Makoto takes a half step back, looking at Clio. She doesn't break her gaze. "At least tell me why! Not as an Intelligence officer, but as Mako. It's not a burden if I ask for it. Why did you go to Leo Whitefang and have him take you? I thought you might be dead, after all that! That's worse than /anything/ you could tell me now. I had to track down rumours and hints just to try to find that you weren't!"
Rumours... Makoto has heard more rumours than the ones about Clio. But she's not thinking about those, not right now.
Clio may not have the ears to fit, but the shapes do help give the impression. And, well, it's just another layer of hiding she can pull. And it's totally not because she was feeling inspired by Jubei and his remarks about the oversized hoodie reminding him of his brother. Not at all.
The uniform meant a lot to Clio, even if it wasn't totally in her taste when she wasn't wearing at least part of the giant body coat over one arm. But it was still something she felt proud for. But no, what she's done, she can't put the coat or the uniform back on. It still felt like sour milk in her gut when she thought of it.
But the worst, the terrible worst, was the look. The questioning, the pain in that half step away and the question. Clio's eyes water, but she bites back the fury and frustration. "I couldn't. It was my decision and it's," she freezes and shakes her head quickly, "I don't want to think about any of you in danger because of me."
Her hands come up, pleading, open before Makoto and her questions. "I do, I want nothing more than for the Librarium to be what it can be. No. What is /should/ be!" she says. "I know what can be in the dark, I know what it means to be that fire. But, but, Makoto. It's poison. Something deep, deep in the way the Librarium is working. What it was. What it was that brought us all together. It's not that anymore. There's something bad, really bad going on."
Clio starts to pace. She stops and looks back to Makoto. "I wanted to stay with it. To be there. To be the good in the bad and to set an example, but fighting here in Illyria. Seeing what was happening showed me. It showed me that any strength I gained was just going to help them. And I'm not strong enough, not yet, not alone."
She hangs her head, her hands ball into fists, the fire starts to snake around her wrists, but with a wave it's cast aside. And Clio St. Jeanne looks, and talks, to Makoto Nanaya. "Mako. Captain Hazama was the chain man. He has a Nox Nyctores. We were being distracted and used so they could get their hands on a woman and make her a weapon. And it's not the first time they've done it. The Phantom? She's really a zombie. Necromancy, Makoto. Dragged a woman from the dead so she could be used to fight her husband. And she dug into my memories to find him out."
Makoto's attitude toward the uniform is, as always, she wears it (or parts of it) as she feels like it, and even her superiors scolding her over it often get a kind of cheerful dismissal - cheerful, in that she usually agrees to do it and then 'forgets' again pretty soon. Fortunately, she doesn't need to wear the uniform much.
That she /can/ wear it means a lot to her. It's just that the practice usually doesn't live up to the dream.
But she's not thinking about her uniform (or Clio's) right now. She's thinking about Clio. "You're not putting me in danger. And if you are, I can handle it," she says. "That's what friends are for!" Though as Clio continues it increasingly feels like that might not be true. To say such things about the NOL - Makoto is sure she has a reason for it or she wouldn't.
And when she finishes...
Makoto whirls, and there is a sudden /thump/ as she punches the side of an unoccupied building hard enough to send a shiver up the post she hit - without her tonfa, which is probably why she didn't crack the post entirely. Her tail has frizzed out to an impressive volume, which is the best sign of agitation short of her actually hitting someone. (Walls don't count.) "That total /jerk/! That asshole! I knew he was a bit of a creep, but to do something like that - it's horrible!! Oh, if I get my hands on him... if he's the chain man, he hurt Noel, let alone if you're right about zombies!"
She lets out a breath, clearly upset. But not at Clio. Makoto believes her - or she wants to, because she can't imagine Clio would ever go as far as she did if she didn't believe it. "How'd you find out? You didn't just ask him! But if the Order just told you, you wouldn't believe it... unless you already guessed. So how? How did you find out?"
Makoto pauses again. Her tail snaps to the side, still puffed up. "And why didn't you tell me earlier? If something is bad, you don't just run away from it! You hit it!" In some ways, Makoto is very, very reliable. And direct.
A few years ago, though it feels a lifetime, Clio St. Jeanne denied the Sacred Order so that she may wear the uniform of the Librarium. And now she was, for lack of all other terms, a guest within their country and their castle. And a student of the complex that the castle contains. Woven threads of time and the choices made have burned the importance of that uniform into Clio's mind. She wept at casting aside even so much as the beret.
But it had to be done.
"I," Clio falters. "I know you are, Mako. I want nothing more than to have you with me. And Noel, Mai, Tsubaki. All of us, but," she hangs her head. "I had to make sure I was doing the right thing. It all happened so fast."
The thump. Clio looks up, she sees where Makoto hit the wall. And then her eyes trail to Makoto's frizzed and frazzled tail. And though she wants to be believed, Clio finds security in Makoto still searching for truth. Still wanting to know the hows and whys. It tells Clio that little bit that Makoto isn't just acting to get information. And that Clio's friend is still as good as she ever was.
"Little things. Suspicions. Relius Clover confirmed Hazama as being a potentially dangerous man during a recovery operation. Then I began to run into enemies. Enemies that by all rights should've taken me down. But instead they just talked. And the investigation turned strange. You, myself, we were put on the chain man case, but then there was this other Lieutenant poking around Noel. When I looked into her, turns out she was an Engineer dressed up like she was in Intelligence. It didn't smell right. I talked to Kagura and he confirmed that he was suspicious." Clio gives a report, she holds back her emotions, she speaks as she is, a soldier and warrior. "And Hazama told me himself. Showed me it. Ouroboros. He admitted it himself. It was all a ruse."
She sighs and the direct words of a soldier fall back to the tired, hurt, wounded woman who has lost her faith in the thing that meant the most to her. "I met Jubei. The One-Eye Twin Lotus. I wanted to learn more about him, more about the situation. At first so I could see what approach might help us reach him. But then I saw what they did to his wife. And I watched them fight. Makoto. They were amazing."
Makoto Nanaya's tail is a dead giveaway about her attitude when she is around people she trusts. She can cover up her mood when she's around strangers, but Clio hasn't been in that category in years. Mysteriously, she wasn't very good at poker night when she convinced some of her friends to play with her...
Makoto actually reaches to her side as her tail flicks forward to smooth it down with one hand. Her first burst of anger is being replaced by a slower burn as she takes in what Clio is telling her. Some of it... Clio could be wrong about some of it. But not everything. She isn't stupid; she's smarter than Makoto is, in Makoto's estimation. And apparently better at finding out what's going on in the NOL too.
"So he told you..." Makoto certainly is not going to argue with that. She has an urge to hit someone again, but there is nobody she wants to hit present, so she just smacks one fist into the other open palm. "If he's the one who hurt Noel, I don't care who he is, I'm going to show him what's what! I'm going to find out what he was trying to do with that, and - and everything else, the Phantom... I don't know who that engineer might be, but maybe I should find and talk to her, too. Kagura may be a little /hands-on/, but if he says it's suspicious, I want to know what she knows."
The last, though... Makoto's eyebrows shoot up. Her anger isn't... forgotten, precisely, but she pushes it aside for a moment. She's not supposed to be screaming at Clio, anyway. "What, /really/? He's kind of a legend, you know! What's he like?" He means something a little more to Makoto than most people: a famous beastman, of course he's notable. "Wait... You mean it was HIM they wanted to fight? Him and his... wife?"
It's easy to relax around Makoto. To open up in a lot of ways. And to simply let everything out. And Clio St. Jeanne has wanted, so terribly, to just let everything go at one of her oldest friends. And Makoto being Makoto is definitely one of those people.
Clio did wish she were wrong. She wished so much that she could have found the fault, dug it out, and saved the day. But she found nothing but a tide of darkness and a first hand experience in what a taste of that darkness could bring.
"He told me," she affirms. "Makoto, this, I don't think this is something you can punch just yet. I like punching things, too, you know. If I could hit it and make it stop, I'd have done so."
She turns and looks back toward the direction of the fairy tale castle that sits at the heart of Illyria. "The NOL wants magic. They want powerful things. But whoever is at the top isn't wanting it to keep people safe. They don't want to protect, they want to own it and take it for themselves. They tried the same with Illyria. They tried with Dizzy. Kagura says he's trying to make it better under his banner, but I can't see how anything won't just help the bad guys in this."
If Clio had ears, they'd perk at Makoto's question. Of course Mako would want to know more about Jubei. And when she looks at Makoto and Clio laughs, turning somewhat red and rubbing the back of her neck. "He's kind of like a dad, or, what I think a dad would be like. I never really had one." Her fingertips twiddle for a moment, tapping on each other. Somehow this felt worse than keeping things like the rot at the core of the Librarium from Makoto. "He's training me. And yeah, they want him and his swords. And they zombied his wife to do it."
Clio looks away, red, remembering certain parts of the Phantom. "Iiiiit's not something I've asked him much about."
"He's /training/ you?!" That's honestly probably the most surprising thing Makoto has heard all day. Including everything about the NOL, about Hazama - about everything. "Like, you, personally, right now? Can..."
For an instant, Makoto's eyes glimmer with something that Clio might not have seen before. Interest. Not quite being a fangirl, but she's working on it. "Can you introduce me? I mean, not right this minute, but, sometime. I'd like to meet him. He seems to have had an effect on you." That with a faint grin. "I promise not to ask him anything hard."
It doesn't last. "I know," Makoto says, with a sigh. "I know it won't fix everything. But - it should. And someone needs to do it. If the NOL is like that..." A knot forms in Makoto's stomach. It's not the one Clio was worried about; Makoto doesn't consider herself in danger, or if she is, it's no more than she was when she didn't know about it. Foreworned about Hazama is forearmed, and while Makoto knew he was a creep, there's a world of distance between the kind of person to kick someone when they're down (which is what she thought of him twenty minutes ago) and the kind of person willing to murder his own side and create horrible zombies.
"Maybe the leadership isn't the best," Makoto says, "but not everybody is bad. I'm not," she says, as if that was a guarantee - with her, maybe it is; it's hard to imagine Makoto falling into archvillainy. But she's not sure where to go from there. Kaguya... well, he's not all bad, even if he is a little handsy, but if she can only trust him, Tsubaki, and Noel, life there is going to be a little tricky.
She doesn't know what to say. If this is real, Makoto can't keep on as she is. "I need to find out more," she says, quietly. "I can't pretend, if what you said is true. And I think it is." She believes Clio. She might think Clio was /mistaken/, but she knows Clio would never lie to her, and she can't be wrong about being told things by Hazama or seeing the necromancy.
Clio can do what she can only do in this moment; grin like a madwoman and nod in the affirmative. "He is. Also, he is really, really strong. Wow strong. But we're working on my technique, and getting me a new chain." She points over to an abandoned house. "I've been using that place as a workshop. I need to take all my crap back to the Telluric Complex to check my work with their people. And maybe I can get some metal work done."
She looks back at Makoto, a clever gleam in her eyes. "I can see about it. He'd probably like to meet you. And you really should meet Leo. You and him would probably get along real well. You can be punch-buddies. I think he'd like that."
In another time, another set of circumstance, a sort of perfect series of events would have made the situation cut and dry, where the good and the evil stood always opposed. But this is not that timeline. And things must be worked at and molded to work out the problems.
"No, not everyone is bad. You're awesome, Mako. You are one of the best. And Noel, and Tsubaki and Mai. Even Kagura and his coffee boy. But if it's all going to the wrong people, all that good can be even worse." Clio reaches to put her hand on Makoto's shoulder. "Find out what you can and what you need, Makoto. If you ever need to join this dead girl without a country, then I'll be right here for you. I'll need someone to help fight the bad guys."
Makoto Nanaya probably would like Leo if she met him, and she may be willing to, but she seems less interested in that than Jubei. Which... makes sense, at least to her. It's JUBEI. You can't turn that down. "Well, maybe if I get a chance," she says, with a bit of a grin. She might get to meet the One-Eyed Lotus, herself! She never expected something like that.
But... well, she has to be serious for the moment.
"I'm going to," she says to Clio. "I'll see what I can find out, because if the NOL is as bad as you say, people have to know. We can't just let it sit! No matter what, we're the knights of the blue flame, right?" She reaches up to thump Clio on the shoulder, taking a step back afterwards. Her tail is less aggressively fluffy now; she's calmed down. A little. Or at least she's hiding it better.
"And," she says, "I'm not going to tell them you're here. /As long/ as I can see you once in a while, to make sure you're okay." Makoto isn't entirely sure she trusts the Order either. They're not blameless. But more than that: she missed Clio, and she'd hate to hear she's hurt or something.
"Plus, I have to come back to meet Jubei." That with another grin.
To think that being found out would be perhaps one of the better results of Clio's hiding away in Illyria. It was never in her plans, in her ideas, but maybe in her dreams. Though the Castle itself was one of very literal faerie tales, perhaps not all of them ended poorly.
Clio releases Makoto's shoulder and just smiles at the thump. That Makoto's tail is less a brush of fluff is a good sign. "Thank you, Mako," Clio says with a nod. "Thank you so much."
She crosses her arms, nods slowly to the offer that Makoto is placing on the table. "Of course you can. The Order is helping me, but I turned them down once for you and our friends, and I'll do it again." She puts her fist out toward Makoto.
"Come back so you can meet Jubei. Aaaaand," Clio pauses for dramatic effect, "I'll tell you about when I fought a faerie queen."
Bait sweetened, Clio St. Jeanne looks directly at Makoto's eyes. "Dispatched in mankind's darkest hour," she supplies the first part of the mantra. She knows what she is, and she will always be one in some way, shape or form. A knight is a knight, even if she is errant.
Makoto Nanaya does not bump the fist. She clasps Clio's wrist just behind it. "We are the knights of the blue flame," she continues, looking right back at Clio with the proper response.
And then she becomes much less formal. Formality doesn't suit Makoto, anyway. "Deal," she says. She kind of wants to hear the faerie queen story - okay, no, that's a lie, she /definitely/ wants to hear the faerie queen story. Just not right now. Right now, she has a lot to think about.
She takes another step back, gives Clio a grin and a wave, and practically vanishes down the alley she charged out of in the first place. The only sign of her being there is the place where she thumped the post, and even then you'd have to really look for it to see it.
Log created on 11:07:04 08/15/2018 by Clio, and last modified on 22:36:31 08/17/2018.