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Go Shijima March 2, 1989
Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department
Twin Peaks, WA

Days Until Planetary Alignment: 1

     Bobby Briggs is alive and well. Leo Johnson is not only paralyzed, but catatonic and not expected to recover. Even if he were to recover, his condition would preclude him posing any threat as an Orphenoch. BOB is likely recuperating in Glastonbury Grove, after Tamamo's banishment.

     "Diane," says Cooper, pacing around the conference room with his tape recorder, "We're not out of the woods yet. A defector from the Orphenoch syndicate known as 'Blue Rose' has come forward with some alarming information. His name is Itsuro Takuma, presently also known as Kamen Rider Kaixa. That's K-A-I-X-A, a play on words based on the Greek character Chi, which features prominently on the faceplate of the suit's helmet." Sheriff Truman and Hawk are very much used to Cooper's bizarre 50s G-Man recorded monologues, but Takuma's grave demeanor crumbles gradually into mute confusion.

     Cooper continues his monologue after a sip of coffee. "A former associate of Mr. Takuma's and the leader of Blue Rose, delivered several poisoned bottles of champagne meant to forcibly induce the Orphenoch transformation. Her name is Saeko Kageyama, and she's our mystery silent partner in the lumber mill affair."

     Takuma pipes in helpfully. "That's right," he says, speaking up so he'll pick up on the tape recorder. Dale quickly holds it closer to Takuma. "But the mill wasn't what she was really after--Mr. Horne and Mr. Palmer only wanted it because no one would want to live in a subdevelopment so close to the sounds of heavy industry. The real target was the Grove--and she knows that you're going to try and destroy BOB inside the Black Lodge. That's where the Orphenoch King is being revived."

     "King?" asks Hawk.

     "An Orphenoch capable of stripping away the human parts of other Orphenochs and making their evolution permanent. Without the King, any Orphenoch who uses their abilities too often will... They'll die," says Takuma gravely. "But the King needs sacrifices--food," he says with a shudder, as Hawk and Sheriff Truman visibly blanch. "Late last night, while we were fighting Bobby, she was out finding and transforming suitable subjects. I warned your rider before I left to stop Bobby from killing Leo."

     Keitarou blinks owlishly. "I never got any warning."

     "Beg pardon, Mr. Takuma, but Twin Peaks doesn't have a rider."

     Takuma shrugs. "Ah. Maybe he's a passing-through rider. His name is James, but when he's transformed, he goes by Ixa." He leans forward, and meekly cradles his mug with both hands. "It doesn't matter, though. Saeko is determined, and Ixa wouldn't have been able to smash all the bottles. Tomorrow, when the Lodge opens, you should be prepared for resistance... and very possibly to save some misguided people from being sacrificed for the King."
Hamada Haru "James. Ixa," Hamada Haru repeats, his expression dull and distant for a moment. He's leaned up against the wall of the conference room, his gaze angled upwards at the ceiling. Some amount of familiarity seems to register after a moment or two of thought, but surprisingly it isn't the name connected to a local person of interest. Or at least, it doesn't seem so, because he lowers his gaze to the general sightline of the others present to speak.

"Are there any persons of interest by that name?" He asks.

Then, drawing his transteam gun, he glances towards Takuma while sorting through a couple of bottles from his jacket pocket. "Poison. What kind? How extensive was your list of viable candidates?"
Hellwarming Duo Utsuho: "So it's fine as long as nobody drinks that poisoned stuff, right?"
Rin: "Come on, Okuu. You really think anyone wouldn't drink free booze?"
Utsuho: "But who's dumb enough to drink poison?"
Rin: "Anyone dumb enough to think someone would tell 'em it's poison."

As always, the two youkai that have somehow gotten involved in this investigation have found yet another stupid reason to bicker with each other at the start of today's meeting. That's not to say that they haven't absorbed at least some of the information that came in, though, as they eventually settle down and focus on trying to come up with useful solutions or questions.

Mostly questions.

"So if the Orphenoch King dies, all the Orphenochs die eventually. But if the King stays alive, then humans are screwed?" Utsuho asks, furrowing her brow while absent-mindedly taking a sip of coffee and gagging seconds later.

"Dang. That's rough. Does that include the folks that drank Saeko's poisoned Orphenoch juice? Or just those full time Orphenochs?" Rin asks while scarfing down a candy bar, then scurries over to Dale to make sure the recorder catches her as well. "'cause it'd suck pretty hard if Bobby or anyone that's just more dumb than nuts got suckered into drinkin' that stuff."

"Unless someone's smart enough to figure out a cure or whatever with that list, yeah." Utsuho suggests, nodding at Haru and peering at him for a moment before continuing. "Maybe that James... Ixa guy? Maybe he's got something else up his sleeve." She pauses briefly. "I mean... We could just shoot them all. Non-lethally or whatever, so they'll know to just... Not go nuts as Orphenochs and kill themselves?"
Hamada Haru "The poison was a long-term gambit. She expected to have more time and given that time would have produced very powerful allies," Haru explains for Utsuho and Rin. "It's better for an Orphenoch to die and change than to be transformed 'manually' by another Orphenoch. We've been moving too fast, so she had to start doing the job manually to shore up her numbers. I can deal with the remaining poison if I know its general composition."

"That limits the power of the Orphenochs that she can produce by forcing her to do it all manually, assuming she has the time and energy to conduct manual transformations across the entire population of viable Orphenochs. The medical condition of 'being an Orphenoch' is another matter entirely," he finishes his explanation.
Lilian Rook     Leo being rendered effectively comatose is something that Lilian, as a Paladin, should probably be concerned about. The situation hadn't been one where it was particularly planned, and the threat that he might become an Orphenoc was convincingly averted. Logically, there should probably be Paladins medical care involvd, along with protective custody and questioning, but, well, after the way it'd gone last time . . .

    But that doesn't really seem to be 'of her concern' at the moment. At least, she's not letting it be. The chaos at the time had prevented her from doing much more than accepting Xion at face value about Takuma, but now there are serious matters to address.

    "Saekyo Kageyama." she repeats, without needing to feel it out; she's more than familiarized herself with Japanese by now. "That would certainly have to be the 'Japanese investor', wouldn't it? I had some suspicions, but I gravely doubt that there is more than one wealthy Japanese woman specifically out to develop that particular part of this particular rural town. That neatly wraps up everything I need to know about the mill and the Grove. I can speed up my preparations for the appearance of the Black Lodge, and to deal with BOB once and for all." she says.

    A few seconds later, she feels the need to add "As much as it can be said that being ready for the Black Lodge is even possible. By all accounts, mainly those of the preceding land spirit, there is a deeply problematic element of 'personal spirit quest' to it. But we're not looking for enlightenment. We only need to get to him, and this 'King'. Those things, I can roughly account for."

    Finally, she gets to laser her attention on Takuma. "However, this one was previously with the very same Blue Rose, yes? I can more or less verify that he at least believes what he knows is truthful, but what guarantee we have that he's told us everything we need to know? Or that what he knows is even useful? Or not part of someone else's play? We don't know if Kageyama has realized he's buggered off yet, or what she might do, or even if that was part of the plan. Also, what reason does a career Orphenoc suddenly have to turn tail and run over to help us, of all people? Rider or not, that was Xion's spontaneous, nigh-frivolous decision, not a reflection on why he'd defect. And furthermore, if that's all he knows, what further use is there in continuing to involve him in this at all? Why is he here, Cooper?"
Xion Xion makes an appearance at the Sherrif's department - literally, appearing in a chair sprawled at an angle that implies a strong backwards lean that is deeply percarious with the chair fully upright.

Indoors and more restive, her misbuttoned shirt is her only layered top, her red hoodie's arms wrapped around her waist and tied off. Around her right wrist is a too-black bracelet, visible as she lifts a coffee cup to her mouth and sips.

"So... James found the sun inside him? That's good. Ixa. That's a good name."

Sitting up, Xion looks between Takuma and Cooper, and then frowns. "Stripping away all the humanity from someone... There's easier ways to find peace with the power inside of you. Leaning to far one way, or the other, that will erode you way faster than just being yourself. People change."

Lilian interrogates Takuma, and Xion doesn't stop her, until the Immune specifically speaks about her. Asks her. Directs her to speak.

"That's right. Takuma was, at one point a member of the Blue Rose. An Orphenoch Original, and a villian." Xion continues to watch Takuma as she explains. "And then he stopped. Lilian, can someone wake up with a sword in hand - changed or born - and not learn better ways of using it from when they first opened their eyes?"

Xion turns to Lilian, and frowns, her chair's legs clicking down to the floor with a 'thunk' where she had never sat backwards, and yet, and still.

"His heart found justice, and Takuma became Kamen Rider. He helped you fight, did good things, and then offered you information. He can't make you like him helping you, but he is trying to help. If you don't want his assistance, simply say: 'Thank you, Kamen Rider, for helping to end this conflict and save lives. I don't think I need your help.'"

Xion smiles weakly. "It has to be okay for people to choose to do right, or anyone who has darkness in their hearts or in their past can't ever do anything for the right reasons. It has to be. That's..."

Xion swallows. "... how Kamen Rider works. How it's supposed to work."
Go Shijima >Poison. What kind? How extensive was your list of viable candidates?

    "It's something that she's always been able to produce on her own," he says. "An extremely potent nerve agent which also attempts to trigger the transformation. You seem like you already know this, but for the sake of the Sheriff's Department and Agent Cooper's..." He gives Dale a questioning look.

     "Diane is my secretary. An interesting cross between a saint and a cabaret singer, as kind and generous a woman as I've ever known." Cooper manages to smile warmly, but it doesn't come across as inappropriate. There is a passive, infectious reassuring calm about the man, even in times like this.

     "I see." Resuming his explanation, "...Anyone without the gene will be unable to withstand the process, and be turned to ash." Without BOB to force the evolution, Saeko will have had a much smaller pool to work with. Ixa and his allies were able to intercept four bottles, and there were a total of seven who, according to BOB, had the gene." As Itsuro explains, Cooper sets his tape recorder down on the table, then moves over to a chalkboard and begins scratching down names. "The three they couldn't intercept went to Mike Nelson, Nadine Hurley, and Janek Pulaski."
Go Shijima >What guarantee we have that he's told us everything we need to know? Or that what he knows is even useful? Or not part of someone else's play?

     "I'll answer any questions you may have. I'll even give you the number for the Kaixa phone, if you need to reach me after the meeting," he says, holding up the phone-blaster. "I don't plan on going anywhere. What I can tell you is that Saeko is almost certainly planning to kill me at this point. I..."

     He removes his glasses and rubs his temple. "That night was my deadline. A do-or-die assignment to prove my loyalty. Kill Leo, or don't bother returning. That was the ultimatum I was given."

     Cooper fields Lilian's question about why he's here. "In exchange for his cooperation in the investigation, the Bureau is willing to push for a lighter sentence for his involvement with Blue Rose. But, you're sharp enough to know that's not the only reason we're allowing him here." Cooper glances towards Takuma, silently asking permission. "...Frankly, Dame Rook, Mr. Takuma's time with us is... limited, owing to his frequent use of his Orphenoc form earlier in his life."

     "Xion is absolutely right to have called my previous behavior villainous. She is right, in every sense of the word. I was cruel. Cowardly. Vicious. Grasping at every shred of power I could just to quiet the nagging sense that I was worthless. Never knowing it was because of my own actions that I felt that way." He can't bear to take his eyes from the coffee in his mug. "I don't know if I'll be gone next week, next month, or next year. I know it's selfish to ask, after so many years wasted, but I want my final days to be something I can be proud of. I want to help. If that means helping as Kaixa, I will. If it means staying out of your way, I'll... manage."

    Keitarou, silent up to this point, looks away. Mari speaks up. "That sounds very different from the man we knew, years ago. Maybe it was impulsive for Xion to give him the Kaixa Gear. But she has a strong heart, doesn't she?"
Go Shijima >You really think anyone wouldn't drink free booze?

    Sheriff Truman pinches the bridge of his nose. "Mike Nelson's a loudmouthed little punk. Janek was always heavy on the drink, and Nadine--"

    The door to the conference room swings open, and James Hurley enters in. "Let us worry about those three," he says, flanked by Ronnette and Bobby. Bobby's hands are in his pockets and he's not making eye contact.

    "They're our family and friends, and if you're tied up with them, you won't have time to go after Saeko and that awful spirit before the Lodge closes," Ronnette chimes in. "James and I have been practicing really hard to help out. And... and Bobby has something he wants to say," says Ronnette, quietly pushing him forward.

    Bobby stands up straight. "Lilian, Xion, Haru... whoever you two are," he says, giving a blank look at Utsuho and Rin. "..."

    "You can do it, Bobby," says James, putting a hand on his shoulder.

     It takes him a moment. But he begins. "Yeah. Listen. I'm sorry I acted like such a jerk. I'm sorry I ruined the funeral, and if it wasn't for me, you guys wouldn't be in this position." He looks right at Lilian, next.

    "You said nobody ever expected anything of me, but you were wrong. Dead wrong." The firmness in his voice fades and falters. "...And that made it ten times worse to hear," he admits, his pointed finger lowering. "Everybody in town thinks I'm so much better than I really am. They look at me and expect me to go places because of who my parents are, because of who my friends are, because I look like I'm doing well in school, because I'm the star QB and every part of me looks like some all-American storybook when you're on the outside looking in." Bobby heaves a sigh and runs a hand through his hair. "But that book Mr. Takuma gave me reminded me of a time when I wanted to prove them right. When I didn't argue with my folks every day, or run away from my problems, or push people away when things got hard. I wanna be that guy again."

    Takuma is hiding his eyes from Bobby, trying to pretend that he's just rubbing his temple. Everyone on his side of the table can see that the man is moved by Bobby's reaction to his gift.

    "If you won't let me help, that's fine. I can't blame you. But James and Ronnette have put in the hours, and this is their home as much as it is mine."

    His eyes water, slightly, and James and Ronnette both comfort him--James, with a squeeze on his shoulder, and Ronnette, with a reassuring palm at his back. "There's... one other thing. Lilian, Agent Cooper... my dad wants to go camping with you tonight."

    "...well, I'm certainly flattered, Bobby, but your father's sense of timing couldn't be worse."

     "Yeah, he said you'd say that. But he also told me to say that when you're camping, you can say things that someone might hear in the city."

     Cooper glances towards Lilian, brow inquisitively quirked. "...I see. What is it that he wanted to discuss, Bobby?"

     In unison, Bobby, Ronnette and James say, as if by rote, "That's classified."
Hellwarming Duo Utsuho: "Oh. So if we forced her to use a backup plan, then that means..."
Rin: "... We're totally kicking ass at this junior detective thing!"

Interpreting Haru's words as compliments, the pair let out some hollering noises in their elation, not letting the fact that they're indoors bother them too much.

Not right away, anyway. They settle down after a few moments, at least, going right back to trying to figure out the the medical aspects of this. "Well, Takuma's become a Rider instead of doing the Orphenoch thing and goin' nuts, right? So that's probably a good sign for later if they're stuck like that after we beat up the King." Rin suggests in response to Lilian, furrowing her brow as she approaches Xion and reaches for her shirt.

That misbuttoned shirt is really bothering her, apparently.

"But they're still humans. So... Who knows what they're thinking?" Utsuho doesn't sound particularly convinced by Rin and Xion, although she does look troubled nonetheless. "I mean, me and Rin are here because we're helping Tomari out, and even that's because Master told us to learn how humans do stuff. If these Orphenoch-turning humans don't have anyone to tell them what to do, then..."

She scrunches up her face, and not from the coffee this time (although she's still drinking it). As answers start to come forth, the pair listen once again. Takuma's explanation of his circumstances gets a broad grin from Rin. "Heh... Don't worry, bro. We got your back, so just make sure to croak near me or Okuu whenever the time comes. We'll make sure to treat ya right on the way back!"

From the way she and Utsuho are nodding, Rin' probably not joking.

Their attention is next grabbed hard when several more people come barging in. They exchange glances with each other, and then Utsuho shrugs once. "Sure, why not? Maybe them knowing you will slow them down enough that you can get the jump on them and keep them off our backs until we deal with all this stuff." Utsuho replies to the trio, looking at Bobby in particular when he spills his heart for the group.

Rin: "... Welp. Can't really say no to that, eh?"
Utsuho: "Sure you can. You'd just be a jerk if you did."
Rin: "But I'm not sayin' it!"
Hamada Haru Haru is very clearly about to offer up some kind of solution when James, Ronnette, and Bobby enter the room. Here he remains silent for a while, shaking and socketing the bottle in his hand into his gun. But he doesn't activate or fire it for whatever grand purpose he had designs on mere moments ago. But he does reach over and swat Rin's hand when she starts trying to adjust Xion's shirt.

"Twenty five years," he says, initially without context. After a moment, he continues, "That's the estimate of how long an Orphenoch has post-transformation assuming they haven't exerted their powers too much or experienced severe injuries that require rapid regeneration. Those that essentially live only as a human are a bigger question mark. I'm telling you this only because..."

His gaze lingers on Bobby and Ronnette, "What you're planning to do is burning your time. I don't expect that to stop you, but I do think that you should know."

"First-generation kaijin and Kamen Riders had similar problems. Some of them that survived those times were lucky enough to get the medical support needed to exceed their estimated lifespan. Most of them weren't," he leans back against the wall again, looking up at the ceiling.

"That is the price of miracles," Haru concludes.
Lilian Rook     Lilian's reaction to Takuma is not as immediately favourable as it should be. That is, his kind of introspective sincerity and pained earnestness is something anyone should recognize as surpassingly rare and important, and naturally feel a pull on their heart. "So that I see I was right. Letting you get involved-- No, I suppose it doesn't matter now. Doing anything about it at the time would have been nothing but negative utility, and then after, and then now. That's a very lovely thought, but it's also nobody's fault but your own. Finally deciding to do better is difficult and all, and few people have the guts to get there, certainly, but . . ."

    "It sounds as if, had we met a little earlier, nobody would bat an eye at taking you out too. Whether a creature fallen that far can really reach mutual understanding with human beings; that's a very different question than whether people can make up for past crimes." Lilian tensely taps the arm of her seat in repetitive, metronome precision. "And you're not here because you bravely decided to change, but because you failed, and had nothing to lose by slinking off. Isn't that right? I'd have something to say, were it that you ultimately decided that giving up that vestigial humanity of yours to your 'King' was too much, and you wanted to get it back, but it sounds more like you were only chased off by your master and adopted by Xion."

    "So I can't forgive a --what are we saying, 'villain'?-- for the way he his life just because of that. Regretting it now doesn't change anything. Having a change of heart doesn't mean anything on its own." She lets out a deep breath, repeating 'lighter sentence' with a kind of hopeless apathy.

    "But at this point, looking to pin some kind of justice to it is pretty pointless, isn't it? Xion's stray or not, Kamen Rider or not, Orphenoc or not, nobody gains anything from making those past problems our current problems. Keitarou would be the only one here who I'd listen to were he to insist on having that justice, but if even he won't say so, then it's just . . . picking another battle because another Orphenoc showed its face, discarding practicality, decorum, and decency."

    Lilian's expression of stern apathy gradually dissolves into an unnamable kind of emotion, that could only best be compared to 'disappointment'. "It sounds as if there was a karma in mind for you ever since the beginning. Those powers were always a test. And you failed, right? Whether or not you thought you were doing the right thing, that was always going to be the eventual fate for using them that way. So, there wasn't anything for me to do in the first place. It's probably far too late to make up for the rest of your life, but it's not so late that it won't change anything. Or in other words, too late for human justice to be worth the execution, but just in time for someone to at least remember you well."

    Finally, she lets out a deep, resigned sigh. "I don't have anything to say about sins or souls. I don't know what you believe you'll accomplish, in as much as it relates to what comes after what little time you have left. But not forgiving you isn't the same as not believing in you. There's no such thing as removing the intrinsic worth of being a Kamen Rider, and I won't ever say that good deeds 'don't count' because so and so person did them. Chase whatever closure with them you think you can get. Fight as hard as you can. Spend your last few months making it less pointless. If that belt works, then use it instead."
Lilian Rook     Having finally talked herself through that train of complicated thoughts, Lilian visibly appreciates the chance to talk shop instead. "I keep hearing about Ixa, but I certainly wish I knew more about all of that." she groans. "But if he's done all that work for us, I suppose he has my thanks. Seven is an obnoxious order. Three is manageable. We can--"

    Dramatic interruption time! It's the *squad*! For once, in that moment of appraisal where the unsaid 'clicks', Lilian gets to be silently grateful that this town is rife with the gene. "Well now. That's certainly convenient." she replies, with a tone that brings to mind a suspiciously attentive cat. "It's true that trying to play the all-stars gauntlet ahead of time will cut into our margin of error almost down to the bone."

    "Though I'm not completely confident in your abilities, I've personally seen you spend time learning from the others. If it came down to it, I'm sure you could handle anyone but the Kageyama woman individually, and possibly her if you were all together. I don't take her for being especially robust in-person if she won't use methods beyond the subtle kind even with her back to the wall. Sure. Why not. I think we can . . . what is it that you do in these towns? Deputize you? But you'd better not get used to it."

    Shockingly, she listens patiently to Bobby. The whole way through. At the end, she says "So, that feeling I got from you. Rather, the part that was so obvious. That sense that it didn't matter whether you achieved anything. That it was fine to be nobody and waste away as nothing. That was because you didn't want to expect anything of yourself, then. I see."

    §A 'silver star' huh?§

    "I'll make the time." she replies, with a strange lack of deliberation as to the subject of Briggs. "There's nothing he's said to me so far that wasn't important. Knowing where he works, what he's seen, I'm sure he has his reasons."
Xion Xion doesn't react - far from it, deadfishing in her chair and looking around Rin's shoulder at Takuma and Lilian. Her blue eyes are distant and flat, staring between the two at some harmless middle-point. Where the radius of their hearts intersects, and creates sparks that reflect in her eyes but do not set off in the air itself.

She blinks, and Haru brushes away Rin's trying to physically manipulate her appearance, leaving her with a state of the top two buttons undone, and the rest shifted up a button to 'compensate', an even deeper state of dishevelment with her collar open and hanging partially over her shoulder.

"That isn't the original Kaixa Gear. I drew the power out from between you and Mari. An empty space, that I found full of something. . ."

"Bitterly necessary. Xsa."
Pronounced 'Ecks-a'.

"Sometimes the medicine hurts. Sometimes the medicine is bitter. It's the medicine you don't want to take, that you have to work up to, the medicine that's dangerous to overuse. That's the kind of power Kaixa is. But it's still a miracle power. For a miracle, to find justice later in life."

She's ready for Lilian to deny it. That this line of logic is false - Xion has never been able to read Lilian, and placing all her behaviors on a line. . .

She'd hate something like Takuma, right?
He'd be against the rules, right?
He wouldn't be worth saving, right?

"You have that justice available to you, Lilian. What's being spent, Orphenoch power, or consumed by the belt. . . What if there was more to give?"

"Officer Tomari has some. Crystallized into a key. If you're not satisfied, Lilian, you can spend that instead, and buy Takuma all the time he could need to do good things. To save, and protect."
Hamada Haru "The first version of the Ixa system was developed in the eighties, contemporaneous with Harley Hendrickson's Super-1 Driver. I'd guess this one has been iterated on since then," Haru exposits helpfully, when Lilian expresses an interest in knowing more about that specific Kamen Rider. He probably understands that this isn't REALLY what was being asked.
Go Shijima      Keitarou's expression darkens, as he approaches the table. Takuma can't look at him. "He made our lives miserable. He hunted us like animals, delighted in causing fear. He wasn't any more kind or noble in the way he treated his allies, from what we saw. If it wasn't fear that motivated him, then it was jealousy. That's why I can firmly say..."

    Takuma slowly withdraws into himself.

    "...The Itsuro Takuma that we knew," continues Keitarou, "Would never have the humility to be here, listening to us count his sins. He would never put himself at the mercy of human authorities, and he certainly wouldn't stop someone from making a new Orphenoch. That he's here, at all, surrounded by all of us, and not blubbering for his life or swearing revenge, speaks volumes about the decisions he's made in the past few days."

    "I don't want your forgiveness," says Takuma shakily. "That doesn't change or undo anything. It's pure vanity to even expect it. Your friend Lilian is right. I failed."

    "That's good," says Mari, "Because she's right about something else, too--neither of us is going to give you forgiveness."

    Keitarou nods. "But... I do think he deserves the chance to put things right. Itsuro... Xsa. If you really want that chance, We'll give it to you."

     Takuma takes a deep breath. He flinches, when there comes a pat on the back from behind him.

     Tearfully, Takuma admits, "I don't deserve your kindness, Bobby Briggs."

     "Yeah, well, you got it, jerko, because I didn't deserve yours. Or theirs. Or my dad's. So cut the waterworks, pal, roll up your sleeves," he says, slapping the table and snapping his fingers, "Because if Haru's right, you've burnt a lot of time on some grade-A /crap./ If you pulled some blaze of glory stunt and burnt out right when you were doing decent... it'd really piss me off, dig? Me and Ronnette have still got plenty in the tank," he says, with a glance and a nod towards Haru. "And if you don't let us help, I'm gonna go to the library and look up all the kooky magic afterlife crap I can to annoy the hell out of you. Maybe I'll even talk to those two weirdos, since they're the experts around here." He jerks a thumb towards Rin and Utsuho, then leans back and snaps the lapels of his leather jacket, again snapping his fingers.

     "Ladies," he says, running a hand through his hair. "If Itsuro croaks, you get him set up someplace nice down in Dead Guy Land, and get me his number -and- his address, capisce?"

     "Our minds are made up, Haru," quietly adds Ronnette.

     "Diane, brief correction," Cooper says into his tape recorder. "Mr. Takuma's armor is a metaphysical extrapoloation of the original Kaixa gear. I'm informed by the hero of everyone's hearts, Xion, that it's known as Ecks-a, spelled X-S-A." Click.

     "Thanks for giving us the chance, Ms. Rook," says James Hurley softly, with a grateful nod.
Go Shijima      Takuma dries his eyes. "Speaking of chances," he says, "There's no time like the present for me to start making use of the one you've all given me." At last he can look someone in the eye. It's Lilian. "If there's anything else I can tell you about Saeko, or what she's doing, I will. I suppose I can start with how she fights--it's true that she's a natural born survivor, and that's probably why her Orphenoch form is an animal known for its evasive defense mechanism. But she's not a coward like I am. I can barely take her by myself. It would be safest for Bobby, James and Ronette if we handled her conscripts, while you and the others fight Saeko."

     Keitarou nods, fixing him with a grave look. "He isn't wrong. She has a level of grace and bodily control that matches even veteran riders. She's quite comfortable fighting outnumbered, to the point that I wonder if she didn't train as a fencer in her human days."

     "Lastly," says Takuma, "She's an evolved Orphenoch--meaning that exposure to the first King has allowed her to use her powers without fear of burning out. She's very, very comfortable in Orphenoch form."

     "You haven't said anything about Xion's 'crystallized time,'" notes Mari with what she must feel is careful neutrality. She can't hide the suspicion.

     "Truthfully, I don't know what to say. Only that I don't deserve it."

     James nods at Haru and produces the Ixa driver. It has indeed been iterated on--while the color scheme is still there, it looks remarkably similar to a Faix blaster, complete with a dial pad. "I'm just surprised that Professor Harley was able to make it," he admits. "All from a little golden... thing that literally came to me in a dream. This town's always been weird, but it seems like the weird has really cranked up these past two weeks."
Hellwarming Duo Rin hisses lightly at Haru swatting her hand away, and then she retreats back to her seat/perching spot. She's still watching for an opening, though, thanks to Xion's shirt being even more messed up than it had been when she started. She shifts around constantly, visibly bothered by that while Utsuho doesn't even bother hiding that she's snickering at that.

They do refocus on more important things eventually, at least, as Haru speaks of the price of miracles. Utsuho stares right at him as he says that, furrowing her brow again as she tries to make sense of what he's saying, what she's already seen him do, and what reasoning he had for doing what he did the last time they were here.

"It's kind of the same as you, but backwards, right? They..." Utsuho starts, still visibly struggling to sort it all out in her head. "Don't want to be like the... Uh. Murder-happy ones? So they're doing this because just surviving and going full Orphenoch isn't worth all the... Uh. Getting their humanity taken out?"

Rin, meanwhile, has her attention darting between Lilian and Xion repeatedly. She has the distinct look of someone that's pretending to understand what they're talking about without actually understanding all of it, but still nodding and making vague noises as though it's all making complete sense.

Naturally, there's still bits and pieces she can latch onto. "It's not like they'll be completely off the hook even after all this wraps up, right? We can always ask 'em about more Orphenoch stuff once we're not on a time crunch and we got more time to figure it out. Heck, maybe we'll even find a way to un-Orphenoch 'em all, and then they can join up with Takuma and whoever else doin' Rider stuff!"

Rin sounds rather proud of herself. "And if it's Teach's key you need for that, then... Yeah, we can give him a call about that." She suggests, although Takuma's roundabout refusal of the item has her scratching her chin. "But if you don't want it, then... Uh. What else can we use it for?" She directs that part more to Xion than anyone else.

"We could cut it up and split it."  Utsuho suggests next, finally snapping out of her temporary mental stupor. "You know, so you can all get more time to make up for getting Orphenoch stuff put in you? Then you could have superpowers and not die faster like you're already doing. Maybe. But if you do that, then it might take a while before we can set you up in the oni's territory." She actually cracks a grin at that, laughing at Bobby and Takuma before finishing her coffee with another gagging noise.

Rin: "If she's dodgy, that just means we'll be fine if she can't, right?"
Utsuho: "So if we just make sure she has no ground to stand on..."
Rin: "Yeah! Wait. No! They'll get pissed off at us if we start craterin' the whole place."
Utsuho: "We don't have to crater all of it. Just... Enough of it."
Rin: "And how much is that gonna be?!"
Utsuho: "... Probably most of it. But if we're all dealing with her and the Orphenoch King at the same time, then the two of us could handle her easier if nobody else is around to get caught up in the fire, right?"
Hamada Haru "I wasn't trying to change your minds. If I was just trying to protect you no matter what, I wouldn't give you any say in it. I've just withheld your medical realities long enough and it's becoming relevant," Haru says to Ronnette. He shrugs loosely, and adds, "What you do with your miracle is up to you. The answer to that is that people usually choose to do things your way. Burn bright, and maybe burn out, instead of burning longer but dimmer."

He pauses a moment to examine the new Ixa driver. It's such an odd arrangement that even he looks a bit surprisd at it. In answer to James's wonder, he says, "Dreams are powerful. Without one, I don't think you can make a driver at all."

Towards Utsuho, he says, "They are burning their lives to make miracles. I chose not to burn the lives of others to make miracles. You could make the comparison, I suppose. But the idea of 'un-Orphenoching' somebody is ludicrous. It's too radical a change, and to begin with the change is what held them together after they died in the first place."

While watching Rin closely, Haru says, "Things are coming to a close, which means it's time for MY bill to come due. You owe me for numerous miracles, Bobby Briggs. Figure it out."
Lilian Rook     "Auspicious, even mystical dreams are the least weird thing about this town." Lilian replies, with a dry tone that verges on facetiousness. "At least, it's the kind of weird that was here first. By a long shot. And you'd do well to remember that. Even with all this conspiracy and Rider material wrapped up in it, fundamentally, we are stuck dealing with all of this on grounds of very old things, far outside the experience of even a Rider. Twin Peaks was here before any of those belts."

    "The Lodge itself sits at the top of my list of concerns. Even if this is our opportunity to deal with BOB on his backfoot, and to prevent ourselves from having to deal with this 'King' entity later, it's not *for* any of that. It isn't a situation where we can simply kick down the door and brawl with the bad guys carefree. Kageyama herself-- certainly, I can handle that. In fact, I'm especially good at dealing with enemies with a survival instinct. You could say that the more experience they have, the better their head and the sharper their skills, the better for me. But if she was 'modified' in some way by a previous incarnation of this entity, its resting place in the Lodge is likely to constitute some kind of home field advantage for her kind that we won't be able to simply neglect, and it may be up to myself to deal with the bulk of it. Of course, we'll certainly have Tamamo and the others, but if it were just a matter of chasing her down and beating her, I'd do it right now; though I doubt she'd be stupid enough to make it that simple. Either way, watch over those kids, if you seek anything approaching redemption whatsoever."

    There's the impression she'd be thoughtfully fiddling with a pen if she had one on hand. There is some ceiling staring going on. "Twenty five years. That's a meaningless length of time to someone their age. 'Not until I'm old'. Asking them now probably isn't too helpful. Asking what they intend to do after would be more meaningful. That is of course, presuming the perhaps less likely scenario that nothing can be done about it, even decades from now."

    Finally, Lilian outright admits what hadn't been obvious, but she seems to think was. "I can't decide how to answer that right now, Xion."

    §I know what I want to say. The only reason I won't take care of Takuma myself is that he has so little time left that it's basically an execution either way. I don't think he'll amount to anything. And I don't think it's fair that he can do all of that and get given such a miraculous second chance just for saying he's sorry. It's so much cleaner if he just makes everyone feel better with a bit of heroism and then dies and gets out of our hair. Giving him a chance like that, just because he wants to try, is ridiculous.§

    §'For everyone except me', right? Get over it. Even if I want to condemn him, I want to see him succeed too. Right now, everything is telling me to say no. He gets what he gets. That going out with this kind of dignity is already more than he deserves. I don't even know him, but I hate him. He's an Orphenoc and I want him dealt with as an Orphenoc. No matter how hard I might try, I can't bring myself to just give him what Xion wants, because it isn't fair; not to the people he hurt, nor to those of us who have tried so much harder. But at the same time, I just can't feel like saying no. I don't know what it would even look like, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm just hoping he'll find some way to deserve it.

    "I think it's just too early to be talking about things like that. Holding that over someone's head at this stage; doesn't that just dilute them finding their resolve? I'll think about it later."
Hellwarming Duo "Is it?  Damn. I thought I was getting somewhere, too..." Utsuho grumbles lightly after Haru replies, crossing her arms for a moment before grunting again. "... Yeah, I guess. It'd be like if me or Orin tried to become human, or a human tried to become a hound, and then they still got crazy powers out of it. Or... Losing those powers?"

Somehow, she's managed to confuse herself again.
Xion Xion's level of absolutely energyless gremlin muss is extreme. This kind of interaction - of not knowing, of hoping, of wanting with her tiny heart to be loved and fearing, still.

Fearing, but not for herself.

She fears for Takuma.
And she fears for Lilian.

With a closed hand coming to her shoulder, Xion's thumb and index peel her collar back over her bared neck to calm Rin down, her other hand lifting up to work down the buttons and work back up them with a quick-fingered set of motions. She re-creases the collar, and then re-opens the top button.

She smiles without feeling at Rin. "There. Is that better?"

Standing up, Xion starts to pull on her hoodie, which ripples to familiar black cloth as she sticks one arm into it, then the other. When she is done, her Organization coat hangs close around her shoulders, her flannel shirt a river of color down her centerline.

"The previous Kaixa hurt you both, as well, didn't he? Yet, wasn't he also a precious friend, a memory from your past or the man you thought you wanted to be? Isn't he worth saving? Are you making a choice, Kamen Rider? Are you--" She looks not to Takuma, but Mari and Keitarou.

"--really saying you didn't cry when you couldn't save them?"

For Mari, for Keitarou, it's what the black-haired girl plucks from their hearts. Sweetly said:

It is a violence. How could they do all of what *they* did, and then not cry for Takuma?

"He's not a Heartless. Unfortunately for everyone he's a person. He can make miracles happen. He owes the world a lot. But I can feel his heart. If you didn't know that he had sinned, he could be the hero of everyone's heart's too. He could be Xsa, if you let him. Does your justice need him to suffer more? I can't answer that."

She looks to Lilian, expression neutral. "If your justice needs him to die at the end of this, then that's between you and him. But if you accept me as his sponsor or not:"

Her ungloved right hand extends out, fingers spread, towards Lilian. "I'll have my key returned to me. Since I made it, and the man I gifted it to is dead, I'll have it restored to me to do as I will with it."

A thin smile. "Could you do that for me, Lilian, please? Because I don't think Officer Tomari will give it to me any more."
Hamada Haru "There is no way to communicate the cost in a way that matters more than what's happening right now. Even so, they still need to know," Haru replies to Lilian. He thinks a moment, and then adds, "I suppose that if they were the type to want kids, it might be helpful to say something like, 'You'd have exactly enough time to see them get started before you disappear'."

To Utsuho's frustration, he says, "Orphenoch 'die' as a part of their evolution. The body that they receive on the other side of death is superior in a number of ways, longevity just isn't one of them. To put it another way, they don't produce enough of whatever it is that makes them Orphenochs to survive long-term. Since they're a niche portion of the population, it's also not exactly prioritized in terms of medical research."
Lilian Rook     "I said I don't want to think about it right now." Lilian replies to Xion, a note more irritable. She hadn't. She'd said that she wouldn't decide right now. It's a stretch of paraphrase too far. "And I won't be held responsible for this man dying the death he was already bringing on himself, years ago, as if it were something I did to him."

    She breathes out. "No, he probably wouldn't, would he. He's still wrapped up in those small things, as usual. But please understand Xion, I won't say 'yes, if you help us, you can have your lifespan back', even if that's what you want to do for him. I can't think it's right to say it. Maybe that's how it'll be in the end. Maybe everyone can be happy. But . . ."

    "It's cruel, to accept someone's heartfelt attempt at trying to change, and then attach something like that to it. I won't promise anything, because the moment I do, what happens from now on is no longer about Takuma trying to do something good because he wants to do good. The moment I do, I've made it about life or death, and anything he does when it's about his own life in the balance is irrevocably cheapened."

    "I don't want to see what he does after we've made a grandiose promise about giving him a miracle. I want to see what he does just because he can choose to be a Kamen Rider instead. Do you get it?"
Hamada Haru "That's not what she's asking at this point," Hamada Haru corrects Lilian, pushing away from the wall but not really going anywhere in particular. "She's asking for the resource that she bound up back. You're free to decline anyway, but you're giving her a very good reason not to ever do it for you -- or the Paladins -- again if you insist on being the gatekeeper of an expression of her power that she entrusted you with."
Hellwarming Duo "Way better, sis!" Rin gives Xion a thumbs up, rocking back and forth on her heels before finally sliding off her seat to squat on the floor. Still glancing between Xion and Lilian, Rin goes back to listening, nodding again after a moment. Unlike before, though...

It's actually making some sense to her. It's making enough sense that she's not even nodding or making noises. She's just staring at them both, then at Haru when he goes into the potential politics of the key matter.

Utsuho, meanwhile, is more focused on the Orphenoch matter rather than the key and Takuma's future. "So it's not really a long-term survival thing and more for..." She pauses, snapping her fingers a few times before pointing at Bobby. "Oh! Like that stuff about the blazes of glory they were talking about earlier?"
Xion Xion closes her hand. "No... No, you're right. I'm sorry, Lilian. I'm picking up a lot of... Feelings." She admits, and her black coat is just a red hoodie again. Did the lights flicker, as they sometimes do, when you wonder if the whole world goes dark? When you wonder if you forgot to blink?

Either way, Xion goes from full-pose to a normal, slumped sort of emotionally exhausted. "He's not here for you to get it anyway. I just wanted to ask, and I had this..."

She makes a weak smile. "It felt like my theme song was playing, but it was really sad, and I thought I could hear rain."

Haru defends her, and she follows his line of thought, but - she doesn't press further. She said, and he said. It's not about being punitive. It can't be.

"I don't get it, Lilian, but I try to. You have to... Protect a lot of things. It's not everyone's heart's, it's... Maybe you're humanity's arbiter. I can't say it for you."

She nods. "After this is all done, and we defeat BOB, Lilian. If it matters, then we can talk to Officer Tomari together. That's fine, right?"
Go Shijima      "Yeah, I know," says Bobby solemnly to Haru. "I wouldn't let you skip town without settling that tab. And if we make it out of this... I hope you'll come back every now and then. As my pal instead of just a Kamen Rider." Cooper, Harry, and Hawk are all a little nervous when Bobby vaults the table and lands scarcely a foot from Haru. But there's no hostility. A step forwards and all that happens is a brief, but meaningful hug. "Same goes for you, Xion. You're weird, and kinda sappy... but you're pretty cool. I'm gonna scram before all this mushy stuff melts my brain. Later."

     Bobby is out of here, and Ronnette and James can't hide their smiles. Ronnette in particular approaches Lilian. "Ms. Rook... you're not wrong about Twin Peaks. Ever since I was a little girl, I felt like we weren't alone here. Like we were sharing this place with something else, a lot older and a lot different than us." She frowns, her brow knitted together with worry. "Sometimes," she says, fidgeting, "Those things are mean. Evil, even. And sometimes even when they aren't acting like BOB, they still make life hard for us. Maybe that's what they're for." Her frown lessens, and she takes Lilian's hands in hers. "You and Tamamo have shown me that strange things can be good. I know that we've made life hard for you, and for your friends. Even when we haven't meant to. I don't understand... most of what you two are doing, really. But I know it's helping. More than that... you're not just... magical mechanics. Our lives are getting better because of you two, and your friends. So thank you," she says, squeezing Lilian's hand. "And if you see Strawberry Princess, tell her I said thank you, too. Um..." Ronnette releases Lilian's hand and nods backwards, towards the door. "I swear I'll fight as hard as I can when the time comes." She has an awkward moment where she struggles to say goodbye, then just hurries out.

     Haru gets a handshake from James Hurley. "Listen... thanks for being you, man," he says with a warm smile. "Bobby is... kind of a nice guy, once you get to know him." He scratches the back of his head. "If it wasn't for you and Xion, being there to handle the rough edges, we'd still be at each other's throats. We'd still... both be stuck unable to deal with what happened to Laura." He turns to Xion, hands in his pockets. "I feel like I'm waking up from a nightmare, Xion," he admits. "I know we're not clear yet. But I feel like I can see the way out. I'm glad that you talked me out of skipping town. That would've been a mistake... because then there'd be nobody to save Aunt Nadine like she and my uncle Ed saved me. There's someone I've gotta talk to, so... I'll see you both soon."
Go Shijima      When the trio is gone, Keitarou and Mari are fighting hard to hold back tears. "Kusaka was a hard man to get along with," admits Mari. "But underneath all his hurt, there was a good man, trying very hard to come out. I cried, because that man never got to see the light."

     "There were moments when he did," says Keitarou. "Those are the moments I try to remember. The jealousy, the anger, the suspicion... those things were Kusaka, but only in the way that a scar is a part of you. If he had been able to heal..." Keitarou looks away. "Yes, Xion... I cried, too. Even though there are probably people that wanted Kusaka to suffer for their justice, I mourned him."

     Hawk nods solemnly. "In order for it to work, in order for it to stick," he says, "Justice is something that people have to believe in. The problem is that everybody has their own idea. Even me, Coop and the Sheriff are just upholding someone else's idea of what justice is... in a pretty roundabout way, through an extensive and well documented body of precedents and procedures, and punishments."

    Hands on his hips, Hawk fixes Takuma with a hard gaze. "Some would say that the problem with our system is that, as an entity, it doesn't make judgments like that--judgments like 'can someone who's done bad for so long do good.' That we leave judgements like that to... well, judges, and that a judge is just as fallible as any one of the rest of us." He shrugs lightly. "For what it's worth... maybe this makes me fallible, too. Maybe it makes me a back country hick, like Coop's cranky forensics guy is so fond of saying. But I'd rather be bitten a hundred times for giving somebody an honest chance, than turn away one honest guy because of what the last one did." The deputy heaves a heavy sigh. "That's my two cents."

     "Then here's mine," says Takuma, standing. "Any discussion we're having about time needs to be focused on Bobby and Ronnette. They're giving up theirs to protect their home and their families, and I spent years of mine destroying the homes and families of others to satisfy my own fear and petty ambitions."

     His glasses tremble in his hand, held tenuously between his index finger and thumb. He manages a weak chuckle at Utsuho. "Yes, Utsuho... like the blaze of glory stuff Bobby mentioned. Xion... it moves my heart in ways you can't imagine to hear you defend me like that. I want so very much to prove myself worthy of that. But Lilian is right. I'm not doing this for the promise of more time. I don't even know how much I have." Smiling weakly, "But whether I have a week, or a year, or ten, what matters is how I spend it. I don't want to spend it chasing more. I've done that. For years. It leaves you with nothing but your own resentment. Let me be a Kamen Rider... and whatever happens, happens. I'll be a Kamen Rider you can all believe in."
Go Shijima      Cooper is smiling confidently from ear to ear. "You should all be proud of yourselves, and I won't hear anything to the contrary. Not from the hero of everyone's hearts. Not from the Kamen Rider who launders clothes, or the one who itemizes his miracles. Not from the robot pilot with a heart even bigger than her massive brain. Not from Dame Lilian Rook, or our friends from Hell. No sir," he says, shaking his head and extending a pre-emptive upright index finger to wag it in Takuma's direction. "Today, not even from you, Itsuro. You've taken the first step on a long journey to dignity and goodness, and however you feel about your past life, today is a new day."

     "All of you should be proud, because today, in this moment, I feel I may never meet a finer group of people. Ladies and gentlemen, it's been my honor to work with you all, and if you'll indulge me just a moment longer, I think I've got our path to victory." Cooper erases the names from the chalkboard. "Harry, can you get me a map? I've got my own pointer." Of course he does. "Here's what I propose for tomorrow morning..."

     The plan proceeds, with input and advice from Takuma based on his knowledge of Saeko. The 'B-Team' will pair off. Ronnette and James, Bobby and Takuma. One combat specialist and one tracker each, in other words. Saeko will likely send her conscripts into town to cause trouble and slow everyone up, so splitting up allows them to cover more ground. The plan is to find all three as quickly as possible, corral them away from innocent people, and fight them four-on-three until the 'three' wear themselves out. Cooper and Takuma will be meeting with the kids once they've taken care of personal business, to discuss the finer points of the plan and make sure they're all on the same page--no later than 3 PM today.

     While 'the B team' handles the three conscripts, the 'A team' (Andy interjects that he loves that show) will cut straight for the Grove as soon as there's an Orphenoch sighting. Saeko isn't expecting her conscripts to fight well, only to be distractions--so she won't send them out until she needs a distraction. The 'A team' will meet her at the entrance to the lodge, defeat her, and then deal with the King and BOB in the lodge. That leaves plenty of time for loose ends, between then and now--as well as the mysterious 'camping trip' tonight.
Hellwarming Duo Although Rin pretty clearly doesn't understand Xion's nature in the slightest, she can at least make some guesses about what she's feeling based on everything she's saying and how she looks. She approaches her with a broad grin, reaching over for a reassuring(ish) clap on the back. "Hey, hey! If you wanna talk to Teach, just say the word and we'll snag him for ya! Unless he's asleep. If we get him in a good mood, he might even bring us all to somewhere with good food, huh?"

Soon, the trio of Orphenoch-turned-allies say their goodbyes, and Rin and Utsuho wave them off eagerly before turning to the definitely-not-from-Washington crew. There's definitely a lot of history there that neither of them are familiar with, but there's enough to grasp at that Utsuho finally smirks at Takuma. "Do your worst, then, dude. But you remember what Bobby said earlier, right? If you do end up biting it tomorrow, you're just gonna be stuck partying with the oni back home."

When Cooper speaks of fine people, meanwhile, Rin bites her lip to hide a snicker. Sensing that she's about to say something dumb, Utsuho floats on over to wrap her arms around her friend's neck in a shut-up-don't-mess-up-the-moment chokehold. "Good team, yeah. And after tomorrow, we'll be done worrying about all this stuff, so we can finally take a break and see what this town's all about, right?"

Only after saying that does Utsuho finally release Rin, just in time for Cooper to start going over THE PLAN.
Hamada Haru Hamada Haru seems moderately uncomfortable with being hugged. He doesn't really know what to do with his hands, and only half-heartedly pats Bobby on the shoulder rather later than is appropriate. This doesn't appear to be a matter of dislike, hostility, or anything. It's just that as eloquent and direct as he can be in terms of business, he's simply not prepared to deal with connections with people.

"Not a Kamen Rider anymore," he says, "but... we'll see."

The handshake from James Hurley is handled easier. Practiced. More accurately, it simply isn't as intimate. It is detached and businesslike, and while he still doesn't seem completely at ease with it, there's still a measurable element of familiarity.

The awkwardness extends to heartfelt statements, though. Haru nods and makes an affirmative sound. His instinct, overall here, is to push people away. At the moment he's managing not to do that, but the various psychics present can tell anyway.

Ultimately, all he really manages for the both of them is, "Don't die."

Perhaps unexpectedly, Haru turns his attention towards Keitarou. His posture changes a little, relaxing. Something is bubbling under the surface, but exactly what it is is hard to tell. Eventually, he says, "Delta. I've taken hostile action towards you a few times here. You've been a convenient target to convince people that something is happening that isn't. Sorry about that."

Finally, he turns towards Takuma. Haru's body language tenses a little again. They don't really know each other. He sighs.

"You cannot make up for things done. Lives can only be weighed by the bitter and cynical. This does not mean that you must only be the worst things that you have ever done. I have no desire to extend your life, but I have never felt as if death is a suitable punishment either. It is easy to die," Haru says. This is where there should be a 'but', something else to say about it.

It doesn't come. Haru simply draws up a seat and listens to the operational planning.