5866/One Year Passed-1

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One Year Passed-1
Date of Scene: 26 May 2018
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Synopsis: The Paladins get an unpleasantly personal introduction to one of their new members through the magic of... Magic.
Cast of Characters: Grave Matters, 6384, Xiaomu, All-Seeing Eye, Eryl Fairfax, 1084


Grave Matters has posed:
    The Nerima ward of Tokyo, Japan. It's night, and the view from the Warp Gate arrival point is pretty great. The people of this world took the existence of the Multiverse in relative stride. The same general sort of panic and culture shock as one might expect, the predictable chaos and crazies, the self-serving people who immediately tried to use this for their own ends, and those who saw control of their lives slipping away along with their old perception of reality trying to close their borders and shut things down to regain that control.

    That's humans for you.

    But while they acknowledge that the Multiverse exists, and that there are strange things out there now, they remain 'out there'. Aside from those who don't fully grasp the nature of their situation, that they are part of the Multiverse, not adjacent to it in some fashion, there are still people who, in true Earthling tradition, see that all as someone else's problem. They shut their eyes and ears, and go about their lives, and only get agitated when they're expecting to contribute to resolving the problems of people they don't see as their responsibility.

    It sucks, but it's also kept anyone from doing something stupid like trying to declare war.

    Whatever faults humans have, those of this world, and more specifically of Japan, are for whatever reason accustomed to trying to shut out weirdness and go about their lives. The Wizard Association, a secret cabal of magic users in a world that does not know about or believe in magic, reached out to the Paladins after three of their number enlisted.

    They stand here now, waiting for the Paladins agents to step through the naturally formed Warp Gate near a three-story blocky building with a security gate and one of those little guard booths that let cars through. A cat in a musketeer hat is painted in red and white on the building, along with the words, 'Toei Animation Co. Ltd.'

    Ruri is a red-brown-haired girl in a tan school uniform ooohing and aaahing at the Ohizumi Studio building, never having seen where real anime are made before. Matsuri is wearing a dark blue uniform, her ultra-long red-pink hair down to her ankles. She looks grumpy. Shiho is a gray-haired young woman wearing a sensible black business dress that makes her look far more mature than her actual age. She is smiling, hands folded, a black cat with orange stripees draped over her shoulder.

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     The face isn't quite right, but that's what broad hats are for. Orchid has replaced her usual armor with a fabric dress of similar colors, left her dash boots behind, and is carrying one of her bracers in a bag slung over one sholder. Anyone who looked too closely at her might experince the uncanny valley, but if the brief for this is anything close to right, a reploid from another world is one of the less strange things to happen today.

     So the new Paladin exits the portal, looking around, gathering the basic lay of the land, comparing it to the maps she looked up before coming.

Xiaomu has posed:
Xiaomu's already had a chance to meet (and internally facepalm at) the Grave Matters trio in the line of duty, but she doesn't really know their background yet, outside of the introductory video. So the chance to find out more about them - and more about an Earth which actually has contact with the supernatural, and tries to keep that under wraps - much as Shinra does in Xiaomu's home instance of Tokyo - is enough to get her to come out and take a look.

Fortunately, her lightcycle passes for something resembling a street-legal motorcycle while she's navigating the streets ... and when the traffic gets too dense for convenient maneuvering, she can just de-rez the thing into baton form and continue on her way pedestrian-style. She isn't going out of her way to disguise herself, although she's outfitted in a sleek biker suit instead of her usual qipao + vest ensemble (which is, let's face it, *hugely impractical* on a motorcycle); when she's riding, she has a helmet on (it's the law, right?) which helps cover her vulpine ears and tail. And when she's walking, without the helmet ... well, it's not impossible to mistake them for a somewhat peculiar hairstyle.

The sight of the Toei Animation sign brings a wide, wide grin to the sage fox's face, and she pulls out her smartphone long enough to snap a photo of the cat+sign mural. A second photo is taken of Ruri, Matsuri, and Shiho, just for good measure, before Xiaomu strolls on up to the three girls. "Hey, you three!" she greets them. "How've things been going? And this is where you work, huh? ... or is 'intern' a better word for it?"

All-Seeing Eye has posed:
     This is a world with a strong supernatural undercurrent that goes unnoticed by the general public--perhaps by intention, if the missive sent to the paladins by the Wizard Association is to be believed. Subtlety was asked for, and subtlety they shall have. At least, with regards to the supernatural. There will be no outward displays of Exalted might.

     But Exalted taste? That's another story. First impressions are everything, after all.

     The Warden arrives dressed for a night on the town, dressed in a loose-fitting white trenchcoat with a leopard-print silk shirt and matching white slacks, rounded off with custom-made leopard-print canvas tennis shoes. As he wants to pass for human so as not to startle onlookers, his cybernetic augmentations are hidden, and he looks like a particularly ostentatious foreigner with long black hair rather than a shock-white porcelain doll.

     He flips that hair of his over a shoulder, fixing the welcoming party with an expectant, satisfied smile. His identification is produced, a flick of the wrist showing a badge which names him as All-Seeing Eye, Warden of the Paladins and head of Public Security. He sees the building without necessarily looking at it, keeping his golden eyes upon the three young recruits. On the radio, they each gave differing opinions of what he should wear.

     "I didn't have any monster skin," he says nonchalantly. "But I'd been dying to wear this." He snaps the collar of his silk shirt. "I think it complements my eyes, don't you?"

Eryl Fairfax has posed:
    Eryl strides through the warpgate, having ditched the usual cloak he normally wears, while adding a pair of dark sunglasses. Now, with his plain suit and blue tie, he just looks like a foreign businessman or some kind of bodyguard. Probably best not to be cutting the usual Grandmaster profile when meeting a bunch of young girls in a supposedly mundane world.

    He regards the three before him, the members of 'Grave Matters.' They certainly seem a motley trio. Right away, Original Face has paired their faces with their as-of-yet small Paladin profiles. "Miss Noriyama, Miss Tsuguhara, Miss Shinozaki. Thank you for meeting us," he says formally, offering a hand to all three to shake.

    He also looks around at everyone else that has shown up, and how they have chosen to dress. Even compared to Orchid, he probably stands out the most here now, simply by being so plain in appearance. Scratching the back of his head, he asks, "Do we have anywhere more private to talk?"

Seras Victoria (1084) has posed:
    At the prospect of helping yet another world where things go bump in the night and people don't want to deal with it publically... Seras is obligated to go take a looksie!

    And so, she steps through the warp gate, dressed in her yellow Hellsing Organization uniform with the Paladins patch stitched onto the sleeve.

    Given that it's NIGHT TIME, Seras is actually looking to be in a bright and chipper mood, without any of the stubborn forced-through grogginess she's displayed from time to time earlier! A happy smile, eyes wide with curiosity, mouth shaping into an 'o' of wonder as she glances about the VERY unfamiliar cityscape...

    She's never BEEN to Japan, and it's HECKA DIFFERENT from the streets of London.

    "Oooooh! Brilliant place for a warp gate to appear!" But given she has her childish aspects, the anime advertisements are bringing back some memories of watching old animated musicals and other things.

    She is not visibly armed, but she's probably packing a concealed pistol.

    And once she spots Eryl, Seras falls into step with him. She cannot help but boggle at the Grave Matters girls' attire though! And Eye, for that matter.

Grave Matters has posed:
    The Warp Gate has had a building constructed around it to make it look sort of like a subway entrance crossed with a rooftop exit. It manifested in mid-air, so there's a platform with a cyan backlit escalator along with ramps and an underground garage for vehicles. The initial view is of a sprawling, but organized city full of light. But the dark around it seems... Deeper than is natural.

    Getting to the meeting place is simple, on foot, by vehicle, or anything inbetween, and should take 30 seconds tops just riding the escalator down. There are helpful guides for Multiversal 'gaijin' (foreigners) in huge stacks and stands that include maps, welcomes in various languages, a run down of local regulations and suggestions of sight-seeing locations after they have been to the police station or other official building if this is their first time here and have no valid I.D. and so on.

    They have sort have been forced to accept the I.D. of the Commonwealth, including the Paladins, as well as the Concord, as valid, so no need for that.

    Matsuri looks dully at Xiaomu when she arrives. "Whoever said we worked here? You realize that as far as everyone else knows, we're just normal teenagers, right?" Ruri asks, "Can we work here?" Matsuri answers without hesitation, "No." "Aww." Shiho puts a pale hand to her cheek. "Oh my, Miss Xiaomu. Do I really look old enough to work at a studio like this?"

    Ruri sidles up to All-Seeing Eye when he arrives and starts dramatically flipping his hair, stars in her eyes. "Wow, yeah! You're like... Totally just... Uwaaaah! And all... Fwoooosh! And kinda... Zaaaaa! You're totally a <<Calvin Klein>>!"

    Matsuri and Shiho stare at their hyperactive princess and think, .oO(At least decide which of those he is.

    Each of the three girls bow to Eryl and take turns shaking his hand when greeted. "Nice to meet you, Mister Fairfax."

Grave Matters has posed:
    Matsuri straightens up, hand raised and answers, "Ah. Actually, that's where we're headed next. It's not far from here, so that's why I suggested this portal. If you'll follow me?" It's not really a suggestion, nor an order, but she isn't waiting for anyone to agree with her before setting off. There are plenty of people staring, though, being Japanese, they try not to be rude about it. But there's always a few who will stop to take pictures. Pictures that are probably going to get erased later, along with the memories of seeing them with three Totally Normal Schoolgirls With Main Character Hair.

    Shiho asks of Seras, "Where do they normally appear, if not across the street from animation studios? Do any of them appear in terrifying places full of monsters? A <<zombie apocalypse>>, perhaps?" Shiho seems a bit too eager as she presses for more information about more awful places for a warp gate to appear until they reach a coffee shop.

    Matsuri lets them in with an employee key, and once they're inside there's an immediate sensation of enclosure. This place is sealed off somehow. Perhaps warded.

    It's a spacious, warm and cozy place. Not too fancy by Japanese standards, but it looks pretty high-class next to the local WcRonald's.

    Matsuri turns and asks, "Lord Fairfax, did you bring the memory crystal?"

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     "So this is your Tokyo..." Orchid muses as she walks up to the trio of mages. Looks reasonable enough, if rather quaint. The biker gets a nod, as does the police officer with the grandmaster. She still has yet to meet a lot of these people in person. As for the Eye... "The colors work, but it's rather loud," she evaluates. "You'll get some second glances, but if that's what you want, it works."

     She nods as their hosts explain things, and follows inside the building. "This will be, I think, my first personal experience with, well," she omits the word magic. "This nature of phenonoma."

Eryl Fairfax has posed:
    No need to be so formal, especially when we're trying to keep a low profile. Just 'Eryl' is perfectly fine," he says in reponse to the polite greetings he gets. Privately, he's happy that they can be serious when needed. Considering this world's attitude towards the Multiverse, he had concerns as to why these three were being assigned to the Paladins from the blue.

    "Ah, excellent," he says in response to Matsuri, striding after her into the nondescript building. He's immediately aware as to how muffled outside becomes once across the threshold. "A Wizard's Association hideout, I assume. Does the 'exclusive coffee shop' facade not draw a lot of attention? Or is that part of the warding you have set up?"

    As soon as he is asked about the memory crystal, his hand dips into an internal coat pocket and emerges clutching it. "Of course. You'll forgive me if I perused the earliest bits, I hope. Had to make sure there was nothing untoward contained within."

Seras Victoria (1084) has posed:
    "A-actually, yes." Seras answers as soon as the door is closeod, taken a bit by surprise by the question. "... At least sometimes! Hopefully not often." VERY hopefully not often, if the depressed, and then somewhat angry look Seras gives the nearest wall is any indication!

    She looks around the room, beginning to explore and look for seating! "Wow.. all of this is protected with some kind of magic? I feel.... strange, here."

All-Seeing Eye has posed:
     Ruri's fawning is possibly the worst thing one could do--encourage him. The Exalt's lips curl into a smug smile, and he strikes a pose for her. "Always a pleasure to meet a fan," says Eye. "After this little soiree, I'll set you up with a poster and one of my albums. You'll just love it!" He wrinkles his nose playfully at her, gently patting her shoulder to emphasize the word 'love.' When the girls set off, he's quick to follow, beaming as his vision allows him to take in the sensory overload all at once. He looks quite at home here, actually.

     "Oh, that's /never/ a bad thing," says the Exalt in response to Orchid's assessment. He more or less stays with the group--except for when others take pictures of him. In those instances, he throws up V-signs, and even breaks off from the group to assist curious souls in capturing his best angles, or to take selfies with them.

     Tall as he is, it's just a matter of a few strides to catch back up to the group. He allows Seras to answer Shiho's question first, then offers his own input on the question. "Not to mention thick jungles as packed with vegetation as they are cannibals, deadly insects, and predatious wildlife." He giggles. "Quite a challenge to settle!"

     Once inside and thus closed off from the rest of the world, he indulges in a demure yawn, and offers another response to Orchid. "It's my first experience with a world so... ignorant of it. One might even say willfully so. Is there a reason for that, dears?" He places a finger upon his chin and turns his head towards their three hosts.

Xiaomu has posed:
Xiaomu shrugs gamely at Matsuri, "It's getting harder and harder to tell, sometimes. Mortals keep measuring 'adulthood' differently to start with, and there's this one girl I heard about who got hired by a game company straight out of high school, *no* college education yet. Wouldn't surprise me if they *were* hiring animators out of high school, too, these days ..."

She falls into step with the rest of the group, casually shouldering her monk's staff along the way; she seems utterly unruffled about having her photo taken, although given the foxgirl's penchant for cosplay (and even her riding suit might be a costume of some kind), she could well be *that* used to it.

Before long, they reach their destination - a heavily warded coffee shop, to the extent that Xiaomu's ears twitch at the sudden 'enclosed' sensation. "You take your security really seriously, don't you," the sage fox remarks; her tone is noticeably less carefree than when they were out in the parking lot. But that doesn't stop her from taking a seat somewhere, glancing over the menu ...

Grave Matters has posed:
    Matsuri shrugs. "Fair enough, Miss Spirit Fox. People question wizards as young as us, so I guess I'm used to being doubted."

    "<<Rock and Roll!>>" Ruri answers, giving an excited double thumbsup to All-Seeing Eye.

    "How dreadful!" Shiho says in response to both Seras and All-Seeing Eye. She seems delighted by the prospect.

    The gray-haired girl does remark to Orchid and Seras, "Not to worry. This is protective magic. It keeps the uninitiated out for the most part. Those that come in don't see anything odd unless someone goes out of their way to draw attention. They make their own excuses up here~." She tap taps her head.

    Sure, Eryl. Our former supervisor told us to call you 'Lord', so I figured I'd do that until I knew what your preferred title was. But if that's simple I'll just relax about it." She stretches her arms over her head, and then swings one down, a black rod manifesting in it. She spins it and goes through a magical girl transformation sequence, swapping one outfit for another. Scarf, purple sweatshirt, striped skirt. Not a huge change, and decidedly more discrete than some magical girl uniforms.

    Ruri's transformtion (delayed by her squealing and hopping and excitement about this 'poster' and 'album' whatever those are) puts her in a much more drastic outfit, with a crown, red and black diamond pattern sleeveless dress, and her eyes change color from an unremarkable brown to red with a white crucifix in the pupil of her right eye, to a pupilless pure-red in the left. Shiho obtains a black and orange parasol, and a spidery, witchy, gothic lolita outfit, with high boots.

    No point trying to look normal in here, right?

    Shiho volunteers, "The wards are not our work, but it was established by the Wizard's Association. Dear Matsuri works here part-time. Wizards gather here both for relaxation and sharing information, as well as hiring 'trouble shooters' of sorts."

    Matsuri's eyes tighten a bit as her gaze drops to inspect some trashbin in a corner at Eryl's question. "Yeah, fine. Let's get it over with, if you don't mind. It only covers the events of a year ago, leading up to me securing my Wizard's Endorsement so I could begin working as an official mage. I guess Lord Faust didn't think it was necessary to go any further back." She takes in a deep breath, lifts her arms a bit and then drops them down to her sides. "I'm not supposed to get emotionally involved. It can destabilize the illusion. Once you're in, it should conform to your presence. I'll answer questions if you have them, but if I'm not allowed to tell you where to go or what to do. It could be seen as me trying to influence the investigation... Or to hide things I'd rather not be seen. No matter what happens, I can't get involved."

    Then she holds out her hand, palm up. "When you're ready, begin. I'll broaden the illusion to include all of us."

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     Orchid would eyeroll at the All-Seeing Eye's haming it up for the camera, but in a way she approves. Oh, she hasn't noticed the whole 'warded bit' that Shiho mentions. "My own world has a bit more... excitement, than this one seems to," she comments. "Which, I'll admit, is part of why I want to explore the multiverse." She sets aside her bag and hat, and pulls a pair of robot spiders out of a pocket. "I think I'm ready."

Eryl Fairfax has posed:
    Even if it's all magical, Eryl still looks away when the girls swap out their outfits. It's just not good breeding to watch as someone changes clothes after all. He smiles at Shiho and nods in thanks for her explanation, but it's Matsuri that has most of his attention right now. The tightening of her eyes, the resignation of her voice, refusing to make eye contact. He also recalls her tone when the crystal came up over the radio.

    Eryl's eyes go from her hand to the crystal, and he takes a long moment to consider things before he duly activates it. His clear eyes go blank, looking at something miles away, before he speaks. "When this activates, you should experience thick fog. You should also see Miss Noriyama, one year younger, standing by a lamp post. If you see this, sound off. Once we know that everyone is experiencing things properly, we will begin."

    He then reaches out, and takes the offered hand.

All-Seeing Eye has posed:
     Having never seen something like a magical girl's transformation sequence, he's a bit distracted when Matsuri mentions the matter of the crystal. "Hm?" Though his eyes were on her as a matter of courtesy, his attention was focused off to the side, on Ruri's loud, bombastic outfit. Even taken alongside Shiho's, which is by no means subtle on its own, Ruri's is quite bold. He can appreciate someone with an outspoken sense of style!

     "Yes," he says almost absently. "I'm ready." He idly twirls his braided hair, toying with it until the memory crystal activates. As mentioned, he finds himself in the midst of a thick fog, and there, standing beside the aforementioned lamppost, is the aforementioned young mage.

     "Warden Eye, receiving memory footage."

Xiaomu has posed:
Oh hey, transformation sequences! Xiaomu looks openly relieved at the sight of the magical girl 'uniforms,' for some reason; she's about ready to shapeshift out of her riding suit and into something more accustomed and comfortable ...

... Oh. It's just for that memory viewing thing?

Unlike your typical magical girl, Xiaomu has to exert some power no matter which outfits she's shifting between, or in which direction. She remains clothed as she is rather than making with the shapeshifting, and just centers herself, getting a little more comfortable in her seat. "So we just watch, explore within reason, ask questions if we have them. This'll be interesting ..."

She trails off briefly as Eryl sets the memory-sharing in motion, and now she *does* shapeshift, switching back to her accustomed black qipao and red vest (which also means she has all her weapons handy, just in case she needs them). "Chevalier Xiaomu," she actually gets her rank right, "reading five by five."

Seras Victoria (1084) has posed:
    Shiho's clear enthusiasm has Seras giving her a HARD, DISAPPROVING STARE. Which mostly looks like the sort of glare a soggy kitten might give its owner - largely ineffectual for lack of ferocity! "They're MOST unpleasant." She exclaims QUITE firmly.

    VERY FIRMLY.

    She is, however, attreacted to the overt displays of MAGIC. Transformations get a wide-eyed look caught between amazement and simple 'WHY is that necessary?'

    All that aside though, she nods to Matsuri's explanation, and timidly reaches out with her own hand to join the endeavor.

    "Never been in anything like this... but... ready!" For... whatever. She really isn't sure what this memory-journey's going to be like, or what it's really about yet!

Grave Matters has posed:
    There's a buzzing and filtering of voices, snips of phrases, words half-heard, until everyone is in. When Matsuri expands the illusion, it replaces the coffee shop and the world around them with something more than an image of the past. It's like they're really there, as-remembered by Matsuri. And there she is, standing beneath a lamp post in Hikarigaoka Park, the largest park in the Nerima ward. Dense foliage makes the dark night even darker.

    And the shadows themselves seem alive somehow, deeper than is natural, like the darkness seemed 'outside'.

    The younger Matsuri, perhaps 12 or 13, has her arms folded for warmth. Her outfit is something scavenged together from old garments of some kind, the leggings under her skirt threadbare at her knees. She shivers and moves over to the bench next to her to sit.

    The lamp post flickers a few times, and Matsuri's yellow eyes dart up as the sizzling electrical sound. Then her gaze moves to a man further down the path on a different bench, seemingly sleeping. It doesn't look like he's moving.

    The fog thick in the air makes it hard to see as the younger Matsuri, her hair several inches shorter than in the present, slowly, hesitantly, gets up off the bench and walks closer to the man. She pauses at several points, before bending down next to him, one hand reaching for bag sitting on the ground underneath the bench.

    The man is breathing at least, though in the manner of one sleeping. Delicately, slowly, the homeless girl slides the bag out into the open and begins robbing the homeless man. When he suddenly rolls over to face her, Matsuri freezes, eyes wide, face pale. But he doesn't open his own eyes.

    She pulls a cup of instant ramen out of the bag, the lid only partially on, and then she starts putting the bag back. A white aura starts to form around Matsuri while she does this, seemingly without her knowledge. An aura that turns into a collection of small, cute-looking little... Ghosts. Ghostlings? They zip out to the man and begin tugging at him, pulling away little bits of his own energy, and then bringing them back to Matsuri.

    When the man's breathing becomes more labored and then devolves into sudden, violent coughing, Matsuri's head jerks up, her attention having been diverted to the bag she just fiiiinally put back where it was. When she sees the ghosts stealing life force, she yells, "NO!"

    The man's eyes squint open and he sits up quickly, confused and hacking. The younger Matsuri turns and runs with the open noodle cup clutched in her hands like she'd just stolen a dragon's treasure.

    Present Matsuri clenches her fist a little, not looking at anyone else, as the location of the memory moves to follow her younger self.

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     This... isn't anything Orchid has gone through before. She turns around as the world transforms, then focuses on Matsuri by the lamp. "Orchid here, and seeing things," she reports, moving the spiders to her shoulders so that she can get a good 360 degree view of the goings on. She's following the vagabond girl as well... if she needs to. Otherwise, she's not walking. Various parts of her Search and Rescue programming turn on, instructing her how to help the hungry, forcing her to shut them off again.

Eryl Fairfax has posed:
    Eryl frowns.

    Not because of Matsuri's past desperate acts. She was clearly desperate and starving (though, so was the man). But he is immediately starting to question all this. Why this method of conveyance? It's far too personal a way to explore a new ally's backstory. The girl is clearly uncomfortable, and was only told to 'distance herself from it?' If she should do so, why make her help bring it up at all?

    "Is this standard procedure for the Wizard's Association? The memory crystal, the shared experience of the past?" he asks Grave Matters out loud. His voice very deliberately neutral.

All-Seeing Eye has posed:
     The sight of the park, dimly lit and somewhat overgrown, filters in all around him. He observes, mostly with a good-natured smile, until he observes the young Matsuri taking--or attempting to take--the cup ramen from the older man. The expression withers, slightly, as the scene plays out, culminating in a frown of distaste as the miniscule ghosts begin to steal the man's Essence for her. "Hm," comes his only commentary on the matter. At least the young mage-to-be had /some/ scruples.

     With a sidelong glance to the Matsuri of the present, Eye breaks into a sprint as the memory moves to follow the past version. As his shoes strike the earth in pursuit of her, the Exalt lashes out with a whip strike. It's not aimed to lacerate, but to trip her up and halt her pursuit, much like a thrown bola or net might. Whereas Eryl holds sympathy for her, he does not--to the point where he'd even draw a weapon, albeit a nonlethal one, to hold her to task.

     Should his attempt prove successful, he will pose a question to the younger Matsuri. "Was his Essence not enough? You had to take his food, too?"

Xiaomu has posed:
One year ago. But to Xiaomu, it could have been seventy years ago, or a hundred, or five hundred - those cast out, those lost on the fringes, those in desperate need with no way to meet their own needs. The details change - ages, genders, what kind of food is being taken - but the story is far, *far* too familiar to the centuries-old huli jing. Not from being the starving child driven to thievery - at least, not more than a handful of times - but from bearing witness to others in such a scenario, and doing what little she could to alleviate it.

"Think you're on the wrong track a bit, Eye," Xiaomu says quietly to the Exalt. "Matsuri -" Her voice is very gentle now. "- was that the first time your powers kicked in like that? Or just the first time ..."

She trails off, looking 'ahead' to see where the memory of Matsuri is running to. If the party has to actively follow the younger girl, Xiaomu's actually on the move to do so. However, where All-Seeing Eye tries to trip the memory up, Xiaomu simply follows along, not moving to act on the events around them.

Not yet, anyway.

Seras Victoria (1084) has posed:
    Seras isn't entirely sure if she's supposed to be moving to interact or investigate! And she's hesitant to get too close... but she does start closing in faster and faster as the little ghosts appear to her and she figures out... "Almost like.. a vampire...?" Her gut response is to dash in and check on the man, but this brings her up next to Eye...

    And the fact that he's straight out pulled a weapon! She squawks out at this in alarm. "You do NOT just pull weapons on CHILDREN!" After all... the girl seemed to reject what was going on. Seras can definitely sympathize...

    "Wait, were those little spirits...?" It's going to take her a bit to figure this one out...

Grave Matters has posed:
    Matsuri's mouth opens, but Shiho answers first. "Yes. Wizards do not have the luxury of keeping secrets from each other. Not any more. According to our history lessons, magic users once worked to their own benefit. Some would form groups... Cabals, and what not. But whether working alone or with a group, the pursuit of knowledge and then keeping it secret created great rifts, and denied the community of wizards access to much information that could have saved countless lives or furthered our understanding of the universe."

    She twirls her parasol idly between her fingers, Matsuri taking the time to regain her composure, relax, and put on her poker face. Shiho read her unease as well as Eryl did. So she's buying time by giving the explanation in her place. "Entire wars were fought in secret over the knowledge coveted by one faction or another. Ground breaking discoveries were made and lost over and over in isolation because no body talked to each other. Mages plotted and betrayed, or tried to rule the world. And then, when we were at our weakest, the general population, incited by other worldly forces, began to hunt us down. I am sure you have heard of such things. The Inquisition. The Witch Trials. The very SPECIFIC superstitions that--"

Grave Matters has posed:
    "Thanks, Shiho. I can take it from here." Matsuri says, her voice level. She meets Eryl's gaze, if he looks at her. "It's traditional, because keeping secrets nearly killed us all. All those untrained magic users, with no structure, no teachers, no power, were fodder to mobs with pitchforks and torches. Those who oversee other wizards must know who and what they're working with. I'm told that all wizards have something in their past they'd rather not share. At least sharing it with the one who is entrusting us to carry out assignments, and who we are entrusting to look out for our lives and futures, should be okay."

    She looks back to the illusion, the tired, hungry Past Matsuri finally starting to slow her run down to an unsteady walk. "Right?" she asks not quite rhetorically.

    Past Matsuri turns to look behind her as though hearing Eye's yell, eyes wide and panicked, still. Or maybe she's just making sure she's not being chased. She goes down on her knees in time with the whip lashing out, and with fingers trembling as much from hunger as from cold, peels the lid of the ramen cup back. Breath coming in short, small, whistling gasps, she looks into the cup and her face falls from desperation to confusion and then despair. She throws the cup aside, along with whatever was inside to make her give up on it, as she gets back up and starts heading down the path again. The cup goes rolling across the grass off the path, making noises that indicate it is at least not empty.

    Ruri has been frowning all this time. When Eye attacks, she protests, "<<Whoah!>> Why are you attacking my friend like that!?"

Grave Matters has posed:
    Present Matsuri has definitely cooled her temperament, as she can only dryly say, "It's fine. He's just the kind of guy who gets his kicks whipping the less fortunate. So glad we've joined up with him. I can see great things in the future."

    Ruri says, "That is <<no way cool>>!" as she follows after Seras to go challenge Eye to Mortal Kombat with a frown on her face.

    Matsuri runs a hand through her hair. "Ruri, Mister Eye, Miss Victoria, it's fine. It's an illusion. Whatever happened back then can't be altered. If he wants to express his disapproval... Well, I can't blame him, even if I wanted to. This is what this whole process is for. So you all know who you'll be working with." Then she turns to Seras and says, "And yeah, I call them ghostlings. Apparently they like my aura or something, so they hang around me. Back then I--No. I'll let you find out on your own. Don't want to 'steer the investigation', or anything." She puts both arms behind her head and follows after since people have chosen the walking route instead of allowing themselves to be carried by the boundaries of the memory. It't not like walking too far is going to take them out of the illusion. The walking, too, is an illusion.

    She casts a look at Xiaomu and says, "No. It was left out of the memory crystal for whatever reason, but they'd been stealing life from others to give to me ever since I could remember. I kept going to state-run orphanages, but everyone around me kept getting sick. And the unidentified illness kept getting them shut down, always starting after I got moved. Eventually I ran away. Figured it was better to live on my own."

All-Seeing Eye has posed:
     Eye shrugs at Seras as the illusory Matsuri flees the scene. He raises his eyebrows, too, turning to face both her and Ruri. "Weapon? Attacking?" He raises his forearm, and the whip retracts back into his sleeve like a tape measure. "I'm making use of a simulation to provide examples of less-lethal takedowns--this is a peacekeeping organization, after all." The last of the whip slithers away, and he rolls his wrist with a dispassionate frown. "You saw the same acts of theft I did."

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     Orchid shakes her head at All-Seeing Eye. "We're not here to enact judgement, we're here to see and understand," she says. "If we are to stand with Matsuri at our backs, we must know if we can trust her."

Seras Victoria (1084) has posed:
    Seras is, for once, actually incensed enough to stand up to a fellow Paladin. She's glaring daggers at Eye, VERY disapprovingly, and standing up on her tippy-toes for every bit of height she can manage.

    "Takedowns. Of starving kids. Are NOT. APPROPROPRIATE. Unless they're trying to STAB YOU with a knife." AAAAANGRY ex-cop showing here, even as rookie as she was!

    "Desperate homeless people need food and shelter and help getting on their feet-- ooooargh." In a huff, Seras turns away... and continues to listen to the explanations being offered.

    All until the phrase 'state run orphanage' reaches her ears.

    At that very moment something quite drastic changes in her demeanor. She lowers her arms, shoulders sagging, and a DEEPLY haunted look flashing across her face. An almost uncharacteristic glimmer of violence, defiance, and despair all intermixed but kept shut behind a mental closet door that must NOT be opened.

    Seras SHIVERS right where she stands, exhales an unnecessary breath to regain her composure, and exclaims in a somewhat timid, wary voice, "I think I see where this is going."

Eryl Fairfax has posed:
    Secrets beget mistrust begets violence. Eryl gets that. But to use that as an excuse to deny personal privacy is... well, it doesn't sit right with him. But absolutely none of this gets verbalized. As Grandmaster, his words have weight now. If he were to come out as even slightly disapproving of the Wizard's Association, that would be sowing that same mistrust among everyone here. Word would spread, and their co-operation would be jeopardized.

    But he does say something about Eye. His arm holding the crystal comes around the Exalted's shoulders and squeeze on them. "Forgive him for his zeal. All-Seeing Eye is a fine lawman. He just always acts his mind. I'm sure he'll keep himself in-check from here." His side-hug becomes that slightest bit tighter. That kind that can be felt, but it isn't obvious if you were just looking. He also gives Seras a Look. "Right?"

Xiaomu has posed:
Xiaomu grimaces sympathetically as she hears Matsuri's recap. "Probably a security measure of some kind," she speculates. She'd have to ask whoever prepared the memory crystal for a definite answer ... and that would assume that whomever she asks would *answer* it.

The sage fox *is* curious enough to divert her course and get a quick look at the cup's contents; she has a couple of guesses, none of them positive, but once her curiosity is satisfied, she resumes chasing after memory!Matsuri, with her nose scrunched up like she got a whiff of something *awful*.

She doesn't even spare a comment for her bickering comrades.

Grave Matters has posed:
    Ruri folds her arms and huffs, "Yeah, but Matsuri is my friend!" Apparently that is the critical factor in her decision to try to stop Eye from faking a takedown on an illusion, not what the Past Matsuri was doing or not doing. Just how she felt about it. She's going to take some teaching.

    She looks uncertain as Eryl speaks on Eye's behalf, but she walks up and points a finger critically. "I'll forgive you this time! I hope I still get the <<postah>> and <<arabamu>> when we're done here!" Then she turns on her heel and walks away over to where Shiho is floating a few inches above the ground, courtesy of her magic parasol, in pursuit.

    "I wasn't serious about you being some kind of crooked police officer, Mister Eye. Sarcasm is just a habit. Though..." She lowers her arms to her sides and bows her head. "I humbly apologize for jumping to conclusions about what you were doing."

    Shiho barely hides a smile as she floats ahead. "Well, now that we're all allies again, let's find out what's going to happen next, shall we?"

    Past Matsuri walks along the path, lamps flickering one after another with increasing frequency, until suddenly all the lights in the park go out. Only the barest hint of light from the city beyond the park's boundaries begins to illuminate things as the year-younger girl pauses, shoulders hunched, looking around uncertaintly, fearfully.

    Then one of the lamps turns back on, causing her to jump.

    In the pool of yellow light beneath the lamp post, there's a man in a trenchcoat and suit. Nice shoes, tie... And a fedora, face wrap, and heavy-duty goggles with black lenses.

    "Stop right there." he says.

    The Past Matsuri shrieks and turns to run, but another lamp turns on, and the man is standing beneath that one too.

    This repeats, with every direction Matsuri turns to run having a lamp post with a strange man, even in places where there should be no lamp post, until she is surrounded. Each of the additional lamp posts has one of the Paladins beneath it, an illusion overlaying their clothing and appearances.

    The first iteration of the man says to the panicking girl, "Stop, Matsuri."

    Matsuri cowers in place, probably thinking them to be from the orphanages or something, since they know her name.

    "We are the Finders." Another of the men says with the same voice. "And we have Found you, Matsuri."

    "Three guesses who these pleasant gentlemen work for." Present-Matsuri says dryly, probably covering up an old fear of creepy strangers showing up in the dark and surrounding her by making light of it. The Past-Matsuri sure doesn't seem as unimpressed.

Eryl Fairfax has posed:
    "There has to be a better look to have when approaching children on the street," Eryl says sardonically, eager to move things away from the awkwardness of what just happened. He could go on about this. About how 'Finders' is a terrible, terrible name. But again, his words have weight, and he's barely met with the Association representatives. Maybe there's cause.

    But he stands by the appearance thing. Even in the malaise of cultural relativity, there has to be some standards.

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     The good news is that Orchid can see in the dark!

     The bad news is that she can only see what Matsuri remembers seeing, which isn't much.

     Still, she can put together what she does see and get a good idea of what is going on. She sees the image of a young, helpless girl being threatened by omnious figures, and she DASHES forward to interpose herself and her forcefield!

     Except she isn't wearing her dash boots, so she just dramatically falls on her face.

     And the forcefield generators are part of the bracers she's not wearing. So she just sort of goes splat.

Xiaomu has posed:
"I only need one, I think," Xiaomu replies, nose still wrinkled.

"... so I know this is in Japan, but are any of them named Bob?"

All-Seeing Eye has posed:
     Eye sedately raises a palm towards Seras. "Irrelevant," he says with polite disdain. "State inefficiency is no excuse for lawlessness." He looks as if he's about to say something else, with an expression as patronizing as a humanoid face can muster. Facing Ruri, he continues: "Nor is--" However, he is cut off, fortunately, by Eryl. In an instant, that condescension is replaced with cheer and warmth in such abundance as to almost certainly preclude the possibility of sincerity.

     "Of course, Grandmaster!~" He pays his superior a winning smile, returning the gesture (but without the squeeze). Appearances are very important! "I do apologize if my passion rubbed you the wrong way, comrades." Edging away from Eryl, he offers a bow to Seras, Ruri, and Matsuri. "Of course, Ruri dear." He is petty enough to withhold such things, but not after an apology. After his apology is given, he stands up straight, places his hands in his pockets, and wears his Good Boy face, simply letting the memory carry him.

     "A facelift wouldn't hurt, no," says the Exalt with a slight wince as Orchid falls flat.

Seras Victoria (1084) has posed:
    "Right." Seras... does not sound or look convinced, but she kinda has to back off anyways with Eryl saying that. Sheesh!

    Oh well. Focus is now back on the continuing memory playthrough!

    The strange light show has her nearly JUMPING, especially as she didn't see where the man came from... or how he's getting ABOUT!

    Blink blink blink! "What the..."

    "W-well... the Wizards Association, clearly!" IS her main and most obvious guess.

    She's still deflated and thorny over the Eye incident, but trying to bury that.

Grave Matters has posed:
    Past-Matsuri freaks out, trapped as she is, terrified, hungry, cold, exhausted... And then she stands up, her aura of ghostlings swarming up around in her huge cloud as she screams out. The Finders tense and lower themselves slightly, as though preparing to move. Matsuri begins making throwing gestures, the ghostlings drifting along in the path of her movements.

    She tries to throw them at the various iterations of the Finders. Some drift over Orchid's head as she falls on the ground. The handful of ghostlings that even reach the Paladins bounce harmlessly off of some crackling, body-hugging purple aura each of them has. As Matsuri exhausts herself even further with her flailing, the spirits just returning to her after she throws them, empty-handed, the girl's eyes sink half-closed, she staggers unsteadily, coughs a few times, and then collapses. The ghostlings catch her as she falls, supporting her weight even though they look to have all the strength of marshmallows, and lowering her gently to the ground.

    The first Finder raises some strange cross between a hand radio and something out of an alchemist's laboratory to his ear.

    The surroundings become heavily distorted, blurring, and the voice of the man distant as he speaks. "We've confirmed her. She's one of us. She wasn't a threat to us, but we should still--...Yes."

    Past-Matsuri fights to keep her eyes open as the voices sound like they're coming from underwater now.

    "Yes. We'll bring her in at once, Lord--" The rest of the name is unintelligible.

    Then the vision enters such a blurry dream-like state of mangled impressions that one can only assume these are all that remains of whatever dreams she had back then.

    Present Matsuri says, "End of our first investigation, I guess. I thought it would go a bit further, but I forgot how tired I was by the time they found me." She yawns elaborately and stretches her arms. "It's making me tired just watching it."

    Then she looks around to everyone. "Any questions?"

    Ruri holds up a hand. "Yes, how come every wizard I've met outside our group has been a <<jerk>>?"

    Matsuri says, "It's a class feature. Anyone else?"

    Ruri looks slightly blue-faced in horror as she turns away to mutter to herself. "R-really? A class feature? Wow. I had no idea...!"

    "What are you muttering about? I don't think you know what 'class feature' even means." Shiho says as she frowns at yet another pointless interruption from the clueless underworld princess. Someone give her access to the wiki how-to for basic human knowledge, please.

Xiaomu has posed:
"Hey. Not all wizards are jerks," Xiaomu points out - her voice a good bit more pointed than she might normally mean for it to be. "Just some of them. Now, if it's more generally true in *your* world, it's a poorly designed system which makes 'jerk' a standard-issue character class element."

She shrugs gamely at Ruri, her air of having been nettled quickly abating. "And nothing I need to ask off the top of my head," she states. "Probably best if you get some sleep; if being a jerk is a class feature for wizards, being a heavy sleeper is de rigeur for magical girls," she finishes with a playful grin.

Orchid (6384) has posed:
     Tiny (marshmellow) ghosts bounce off of Orchid's black hair, before she levers herself back to wher she can see what is going on. "Oh. They're putting her to sleep." She's not at her most coherant right now. "And I've got a question! How did you feel about what the ghosts were doing for you?"

Eryl Fairfax has posed:
    "I have a question, and it applies to all three of you," Eryl says, addressing all members of Grave Matters. His face is slightly stern, but he's clearly not upset with the three, or anyone else here. "What is your own opinion on how the Wizard's Association handles things?"

    He lets that one hang for a moment before adding, "I won't be reporting your replies to them, so don't let that concern cloud your answer. My exposure to them has been short, so I would like to hear from those entrenched within it." He smiles now, and gives an open gesture, inviting any to answer first.

Seras Victoria (1084) has posed:
    This whole ordeal that Matsuri went through is taking a toll on Seras. Her heart's already hurting. Quite tellingly she's put a hand over hers, even if it doesn't actually beat anymore. The draculina is quiet, but she turns an attentive eye and ear to Eryl's question and the girls, curious about their answer!

    "... Did ALL of you go through something like this...?"

All-Seeing Eye has posed:
     Eye weathers an assault not meant for him with a nonplussed expression--he didn't imagine that the girl would've had much of a chance against an organization specifically tasked towards finding her. Her, and those like her, anyway. As the scene fades, he has plenty of questions. Rather than spend an inordinate amount of time on them, however, he simply asks a pointed question along the same line as Eryl's. "And what is it that makes you think so many other wizards are... 'jerks,' as it were?" He gestures idly towards the space a few feet in front of him. "This poor excuse for a recruiting drive notwithstanding, of course."

Grave Matters has posed:
    Matsuri says wrly in response to Xiaomu, "You've got that right at least. A growing girl needs her sleep." She then stuffs her hands in pockets she doesn't have, her hands vanishing up to the wrists into portable pocket dimensions she has camouflaged as being on her sweatshirt by keeping her arms at just the right angle. "They were the only company I had for most of my life. I didn't like that they were hurting people to make me stronger... To feed me. It's why I ran away and decided to only live off of normal food." She nods her head to the remnants of the scene they witnessed.

    "You saw how that went. I had... Mixed feelings about them back then. I hated them. I hated that they made be have to stay away from everyone else." Matsuri's eye lids sink a bit, her face and voice having smoothly transitioned from flippant ambivalence to calm and serious. A sedate monotone, like someone just telling a story, not revealing their innermost feelings and thoughts. "But you know... No matter how I felt about them, whether I loved them or hated them, they were the only ones who stayed with me through everything. And I can't hate them for that."

Grave Matters has posed:
    She heaves a sigh. "But I still didn't like them hurting people for my sake when I didn't want them to, and hadn't asked me to."

    When Eryl asks the question to all three girls, Matsuri's face goes blank, as if by reflex. Shiho's expression never changes, still smiling politely, showing much better acting ability. Ruri is slow to respond and wastes time looking to her companions to see what she should do, and then wastes further time trying to decide whether to be bored or polite. She finally decides to kick at the dream-like aether a little as she looks down. "I don't know. They're okay I guess, once you get past the terrible first impression. Lord Meta let me stay with Matsuri instead of letting the special goon squad kill me or send me back to the Underworld."

    Matsuri flicks her eyes towards Shiho, blinks, then to Ruri, then blinks, then back to Eryl.

    Shiho looks for a moment at Matsuri then sighs. "My feelings about the organization, like many in the Wizard's Association itself, are mixed. There are some things which seem counter-intuitive at first, that they assure us have good cause, even when it is not apparent. However, their measures work and apparently have worked for over a century. Attempting to provoke a suspected unregistered magic user to see what they can do is standard procedure. The Finders locate such untrained magic sensitive individuals before something bad can happen to them, and then bring them back. But at first, it appears cruel. However, let us say that Matsuri was dangerous, and they brought her into the fold of trust and anti-secrecy without confirming that. She could become like..."

Grave Matters has posed:
    Shiho twirls her parasol. "A ticking time bomb. Among those who trusted her, unsuspecting, and then, perhaps without even her meaning to, she starts causing damage to the Association. There are things the Association handles, things they safeguard, more important than the comfort of even a starving child."

    Matsuri replies dully, "Mixed feelings. More important. Exactly what I was going to say. You should probably wait until you're done before I say anything else though. You're supposed to draw your own conclusions about me."

    To the question from Seras, Ruri says, "Kind of. There was a difference with me though."

    Shiho says, "Oh, yes. Me too. A big difference."

    Matsuri's gaze, which had started to sink again, comes up, a bit of the gloom and apathy fading with curiosity and uncertainty.

    Then Ruri and Shiho say together, "I had a friend beside me."

    Matsuri's eyes widen and she breathes in slightly, then she looks away and scowls. "Geez. What is this? 'Embarass Matsuri Day'?" But her tone isn't quite as disapproving as one might think it would be based on her expression.

    When All-Seeing Eye asks his question, the girls look to him. Matsuri says, "Lots of things. But the biggest one is probably... That they think having magic makes them better than normal people. That because we are born with power, that it's our responsibility to watch over the less fortunate, to guard them... But the presumptuous, arrogant way some of them talk, like anyone who doesn't have magic is just a sheep... Or a pet or something... It can feel kind of... Well, no, a LOT condescending. But I guess it's better that Wizards see ourselves as protectors than rulers, right? The Association has kept any magic user from trying to take over the world since World War II--" Matsuri claps a hand to her mouth. "Uh, oops. I probably shouldn't talk about that."

    Shiho makes a kind of teeth-bared, crooked-lipped expression as she flops a hand back and forth limply. "Let't just say that not all of what the Axis powers were attempting with mysticism was nonsense."