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Lilian Rook     I know not how this letter finds you, until you have already received it. However, I am sure you are the person it is meant for. I apologize that I must be so presumptuous in writing, but even speaking like this, the things that I cannot say number too many. I know that in your own ways, you are all involved with Lilian Isabelle Rook, and it is not safe for you to be. I know that something terrible is happening. I know that she has left, in near-secrecy, to a place she will not easily return from for some time. I know that she seeks something that is within herself, and I know that if she finds it, there will be very little time or margin for error remaining.

    In this time, I would wish that you use it to know the things that you and I do not. I would wish that you find new blades to sharpen, for the blades you are used to wielding will not stop it. Herein, I have enclosed the instructions to find the Rook family's last estate. You must follow them absolutely and exactly, or else you will miss your only opportunity. You will not have long there, before the land realizes you are unwelcomed. And though I have no power to stop you, I would wish that there be no misguided attempt to lay ambush or trap, as I wish I could have no such part in a thing that will bring only more hurt. I apologize again for this manner of address, but we are all running out of time to stop this.

    May we never meet.
Lilian Rook     Such is the brief manuscript that finds its way into your hands, one day prior. Within it is indeed contained an inordinately complex series of instructions with the date and time double underlined. It requires leaving through the Eastern Seaboard Urban Center, being the closest publicly accessible Warpgate that also necessarily can't be privately monitored, and then exiting the walls without drawing attention, travelling overland close to the shore, following a winding road of pitch black sand caught between a bleak grey sea and the blood red alien wilds to either side, navigating by a distant, hellish glow in the southwestern sky, and the wrecks of abandoned boats, and finally making an extremely specific series of timed directional passes around semi-conspicuous landmarks just as the sun is slipping over the horizon. It is deep, deep, secret stones in the woods-style navigation.

    And it takes you right to those woods. Or perhaps the memory of the woods that once existed here. One minute, the desolate stirring of the wind, the sound of distant uncomfortable croaks and chirps, and a pervasive, directionless hum in the air. The next, the sound of waves and insects and rustling leaves, the scent of clover, cherry, hazel, and sage, and all the stars of an unpolluted sky, old green growth all around.

    A short, winding path, marked by ancient flat stones and ivy-choked wooden arches, emerges onto a plot of land that was once cleared and has since been overgrown again under a more watchful and aesthetic eye. Without pavement, without driveway, without lamp post, without mailbox, without address, a path of fine grey gravel encircles a house large enough for thirty people and old enough to know nothing of a garage, before it rolls downhill towards white sand and moonlit waves not far away. Within it, a simple low stone wall defines the boundary where the greenery is kept purposefully, and within that, more garden than house by far.

    Endless rings of carefully maintained plants are arranged in semi-chaos, too many kinds to be ornamental, and too random to be planned. A tremendous rowan tree towers over even the top of the mansion, with a much smaller twin beside it, myriad climbing vines trimmed back only to the point they neither take over the dark exterior facade, climb the trunks, or touch an out of place white six-petaled flowers. Three equidistant standing stones, partially buried in the dirt, ring the plot, each carved with different images, and facing the sea shore, deeper woods, and old stones respectively.

    The main path, leading to the front doors, is blocked physically by a black gate, but more importantly, the wall roughly defines where significant protective magic is layered over the area, centered on the giant tree, and old as dirt. No windows are lit even at this hour. Three stories tall and divided into wings, the plan suggests there might be an open-air courtyard somewhere between. An old-fashioned conservatory can be seen to the rear, facing the shore, along with a grand balcony and a few smaller stand-outs, almost the entire ocean-facing center ground floor having been given to sliding glass and curtains. Though the snow hasn't fallen within fifty feet of the walls, the house is the source of an unusual coldness as well. Though no lights are lit, soft piano music can be heard from the east wing middle floor, rare thumping sounds from the rear west wing, and the sound of running water from somewhere on the ground floor, all but drowned out by night birds.
Flamel Parsons     SOME TIME EARLIER...

    "Okay, here." Flamel says. He is holding what looks like a band of purple angular material, with an inner cushion. It can settle around someone's head quite easily, looking a bit like a low-poly circlet for its intended wearer. "I really don't want you to set off all the magic alarms! You have a *lot* of power. So, here you go! It's a psychic suppressor. You can take it off when you need to, though! Hopefully, it'll prevent your power from hitting alarm-sounding levels." He regards it, turning it over... Then he hands it to Persephone Kore. "I'm gonna be pretty disappointed if this doesn't work, honestly! Otto and I were up all night on this one. Do your best not to break it -- at least not before you've figured out what you need from the estate!"
Flamel Parsons     Flamel's arrival here is in full stealth. Total invisibility, and a series of constant, passive clairvoyance pulses that gently project areas of danger. He speaks to the others over psychic comms, a network of telepathy that he's maintaining. "I'm gonna admit! I'm more here for what Persephone's got planned, I don't really know Lilian. So this is your game. The best I can do is try to find you some gaps, and get you to where you need to go!"

    A weird little super-spy device in his hands, with a fretful eye and several fidgety robotic fingers, is something he sets on the black gate, flickering into vision once it leaves his hands. Projecting his mind out, he tries to find any nearby guards and to telepathically temporarily make them focus on somewhere besides the gate. Going over that wall might work, but... better to try to go through a *designated* gap in the defenses.

    The skittery little device is designed to refract his own telekinesis and manipulate internal physical or metaphysical mechanisms, anything needed to pop the gate open and let everyone hurry inside and start exploring! It's all very sneaky, very classic-spy-movie, to use invisibility to get up to the front door and then gadgets to pop it open. He enjoys being in his element!
Candy Town of Amacuzac, 'Free Morelos Territories'

    Candy's hands rest on the table, flanking the unfolded letter as he looms over it.

*Oh, we've had plenty of hurt already. You're lucky Xion likes her so goddamn much, whoever you are. Fucking right you oughta hope we don't meet.*

    He snatches the note from the kitchen table, storming into the living room to grab his coat and hat. The front door is slammed so hard that it wakes some of the chickens in the yard. The sun hasn't yet risen by the time his motorcycle's four-stroke engine buzzes into the horizon.

    First, to Cuernavaca, the nearest warpgate. Then through a chain of them, to get to the Eastern Seabord Urban Center on time. 4 horsepower doesn't give much window for error.


    He has to ditch the bike not long into the journey, but being on time is not so hard when you can make it wait on you. This is exactly what he does--because he is a little too focused on sharpening blades to risk missing this opportunity.

    When he arrives, standing in the snow, he peers at the house with his fists clenched. He reaches into the longcoat and procures the letter, reading over it again, eyes burning.

*Easy for you to talk about no more hurt. Son of a bitch.*

    Candy doesn't bother speaking with anyone else. Or even acknowledging them--even his usual jovial exchanges with Flamel. His heart is hidden from Phony--but she can tell from his face, when he skulks off, that he's upset. Under normal circumstances he might at least try and coordinate--but the letter implied there is a time limit here, and he doesn't intend to waste even a second.

    He realizes that his hand is shaking, and he takes a breath to calm himself, cool air rendering it visible. The letter is placed back into his longcoat. Candy, too, is in his element. Staying in the snow, he traces the perimeter of the wall, keeping low and with an eye towards the house--even though no windows are lit, the snow will make it easy to see someone outside.

    He aims to see movement before anyone inside can see him, and if he can't, owing to the dark hour, then he'll simply blink past the windows to minimize the risk of being seen. A fallen branch is dragged behind him to conceal his footprints.

    Is there a gap in the wall, aside from the black gate? If not--where is the oldest, weakest section? The aim is to get past the wall as subtly as possible. From there, crossing the grounds to investigate the thumping noises.
Persephone Kore      THEN: Persephone reads the letter, then reads it again, then stares at it for a long while as if the paper itself might contain some ineffable secrets of its own. She exhales softly, a little smile creeping over her face, and shuts her eyes.

     You really care for her, don't you? Whoever you are. Despite everything, I think I do too. Even you can't see a way to do this on your own... but whatever hope you have, I'll do my best to make it come true.

     LATER: Persephone is accosted near Sapient Heuristics' artificial warpgate. Dylan Cruise is looking out the hangar's atmospheric forcefield into space. When you can read minds, eye contact is optional.
"You shouldn't go."
"Haha, you're terrible. I can't keep any secrets from you."
"It could be a trap."
"It's not."
"... I'm scared for you anyway. You care too much."
"There's no such thing. I'm strong enough to care for everyone."
"Liar. ... Even if you can, you shouldn't."
"Isn't that what I'm for?"
"You were adopted early. You don't know what bad people look like."
"Our perfect world didn't raise any bad people. That's what you're saying."
"... Yeah."
"So I want to make her world a little more perfect. Is that bad?"
"You're impossible to argue with. You always have been. I hate it."
"Haha, I'm sorry. Good night, Dylan."

     LATER STILL: "You wouldn't let me wrap you around my finger, so instead you want to be on my mind. Is that it, Flamel~?" Persephone takes the coronet in both hands, turning it over with warm fascination. Cracks begin to form across its surface already. It groans like a ship in a storm. But- "I'm gonna be pretty disappointed if this doesn't work, honestly!" Persephone's smile becomes a little more resolute. The cracking-groaning stops, and doesn't resume even when she cheerily puts it on her head.

     "I'll do my best," she says, patting him affectionately and messing up his hair a little bit. And I do! Her aura of fuzzy warmth is, for the moment, markedly diminished in intensity. But anyone who 'listens' to it very closely can make out a repetitive undercurrent: I'm being sneaky. I'm being *so* sneaky. Flamel will be proud!
Staren     Well, the *first* thing Staren does, after taking it somewhere private to read, is to ask the letter Why are you the way that you are?

    She'll soon learn others got the letter, and coordinate on travel plans. Because, while the directions make perfect sense, they sound like they'll take a long time, and a long lonely trip sounds terrible. She's happy to piggyback on others' plans for sneaking through the city, but if she has to do that part herself, she makes use of 'being an innocuous cat' and 'a hooded cloak and not wearing other distinctive Staren items of clothing.' When it comes time for the long travel portion, she's happy to offer transportation if no one else already arranged for it; the hovermech can make a return appearance, or a wooden non-flying, magic-powered version if they're concerned about the power signature. (If everyone *but* her is accounted for transport-wise, there's the flying broom or letting Phony carry her.)

    By the time they've arrived at the actual estate, Staren's outfit for the night is a black sleeveless shirt and pants, the 'battle labcoat', the usual scarf, brown hiking boots, and round glasses.

    As they step into the garden, Staren can't help pointing out some of the rare (to her) plants and their uses in medicinal magic potions; she's tempted to take samples but thinks better of it once someone reminds her that the letter mentioned 'the land's defenses'. Although that DOES remind her to scan the area for magic and any blatantly obvious geomancy. She's plenty familiar with what being on a leyline feels like at home, and noticed the increased magic in the air when she visited that other city in the past.
Cantio How do such strange messages keep finding her? After leaving the guards at home with instructions to start taking pictures of people coming in to drop stuff off, Cantio prepares for the worst ahead of actually coming out to find the estate described in that strange message. Normally, she'd just throw something like that out, but the possibility of discovering something about Lilian beyond where her place is turns out to be too juicy to ignore.

Just because Lilian is said not to be around, however, doesn't mean that there's no danger in coming out into her neck of the woods. With a small non-descript briefcase held in one hand, she tugs her knit hat down over her head before making sure her hair is hidden inside the dark green overcoat she's wearing. At a glance, Cantio might even look like an out of place dock worker, but it's easy enough to tell that it's her approaching the place on closer inspection or with anything more than a passing glance between the non-burly face and also being a whole five foot nothing.

There's several curious looking things outside that catch her attention even before reaching the house, but she knows just enough about weird magical fae stuff to know that she doesn't know a damn thing about how to decipher any of this. Instead, Cantio leaves a clone of herself behind to loiter in those woods before going right for the house herself, stopping at that black gate. She inhales sharply as if preparing to do something, then steps back to let Flamel have his way with it instead.

"Phony has something? Oh, good. I don't really get what's going on here myself, but this is... This is a rare chance, so we might as well use it."

Taking the lead of several others in being sneaky to varying degrees, Cantio herself isn't sneaky as much as she's just pretty fast at getting around. She jogs towards the main house itself, noticing that drop in temperature and lack of snow in her approach before stopping at the wall. That PIANO MUSIC playing on the east side catches her attention, so she follows the perimeter of the building before stopping where the music is at its loudest and looking for anything she can climb on or jump up to in order to reach the middle floor. Once she finds a suitable spot, she makes her way up from the outside, then presses her hand against the wall.

Actually, better to see first instead of feeling. Cantio presses her head against the wall, then starts phasing through it slowly and steadily. With any luck, she can see if there's anyone actually inside making those sounds before moving the rest of herself inside to check that room out.
Hibiki Tachibana     After receiving a certain letter, and going over its contents and instructions over and over and over again, there's no doubt that Hibiki Tachibana is going there. She has no reason to know it for sure, and the timing is much too coincidental with Candy's earlier stated mention of looking into Lilian's place of residence, but she inherently believes whoever wrote it is entirely truthful. She can just tell.

    Miku or any of the others wouldn't want her to go, after she came back a real mess last time. There's still a hefty amount of bandaging underneath her clothes and on bare skin. But she has to. And she's not going to be alone, for however much that's worth.

    The myriad sights and absurd directions that need to be followed don't bother her, at least on the outside, as she's quiet the entire trip there. The ephemeral-esque nature of the woods is something that doesn't entirely escape her, but it's also not going to stop her. From outside the gated walls, she narrows her eyes at what she can see, taking note of the lack of lights and snowfall despite the muffled sounds from inside.

    "Thanks," is all she murmurs back in response to Flamel, before following vaguely in Candy's footfalls. She's unable to blink around like he is, but assuming everyone's favorite Psychonaut can get the gate open, she's going to use that to stay low and get in--otherwise, it'll be straight up wall climbing. She's pretty good at that. Magical defenses?

    ...Well, hopefully the others will manage to make those possible to get past or around if any issues crop up. As for her, she wants to find any easy way to reach the higher floors from outside, and through that, find an easy way to start getting closer to the soft sound of the piano.

    "...If Lilian had a room here...I wonder where it would be...?" Her comment is half to everyone else, and half an idle thought to herself.
Hamada Haru Hamada Haru's presence almost seems tentative. He's... uncomfortable, with where he's at. For anyone bothering to skim his thoughts, it has a lot to do with the fact that he grew up in similar trappings. They wouldn't really 'look' the same precisely, because his and Lilian's world are different enough that the aesthetic is askew. Laboratory-dwellings instead of the more mystical and high-class look of this place.

But it was just as expensive and laden with security measures.

He accepts Flamel's offer of a DAMPENER, fixing it to his head before he transforms into DYNAMIC ERA. It is fortunate, he thinks, that this form is less powerful in terms of raw supernatural might than Tetra was. It relies more on his ability, and is built up with technological innovations instead.

He lets more stealth-minded people lead the way, turning himself temporarily intangible and hugging solid physical objects in order to compensate for his continued VISIBILITY.

As soon as the instructions from the letter are exhausted however, Dynamic Era parts from the group altogether-- and the truth is that he doesn't actually know where he's going. It's more like he's taking a walk in a familiar place than that he has a particular goal, even though there is something that he wants to know about Lilian. Something already expressed to the Watch-- how she did it.
Featherman Neo Hibiki Tachibana has a companion crossing the weird directions with her, keeping them in memory so they don't get lost. He's in his full tokusatsu costume, standing close to her. Featherman Neo notices Cantio moving to a certain location, and hmms.

"Piano's playing. Is someone here? I'll let you lead the way, Hibiki, my friend."

Featherman Neo wants to discover why Lilian is the way she was, why she seemed to believe she had the ability to dictate what people do - to him, it must be circumstance, but he is kinda excited to play Walking Simulator and poke around and talk to ghosts. But, it's not just naive excitement. She hurt two of his friends, Hibiki and Muramasa, and also, someone made a pleading letter to avert something that'll happen when Lilian returns. Whatever it is, that isn't good.
Persephone Kore      "It feels lonely, doesn't it?" is the first thing Persephone observes about the magnificent house. Candy receives a rueful smile before he splits off; Staren, if carried, is set down. But she stays the closest to Flamel. "You could fit a few dozen people in there, at most. But only one child. Children are meant to have other children, aren't they? It's terrible to mold yourself after adults from the very start."

     She has no taste for magic, but the protective wards are dense enough that Persephone can vaguely sense them anyway, giving her a moment of hesitation. If Flamel's attempt at getting through is successful, she'll follow him; if he fails, she'll simply try to disassemble a section of the wall (without harming the ivy!), step through to the sound of her tiara groaning, and then very politely reassemble it behind herself.

     Either way, nothing seems to be stopping her from attuning herself to the cognito-narrative residue of the tree. You're the oldest thing here, aren't you? I'll need other things to give me a zoomed-in perspective, but the broad overview will be nice. Why are you the way that you are?

     Her other main action is to casually scan the house for sapient minds. How many people are inside? Are they mostly sleeping, or awake? Are they clustered anywhere in particular? And, most importantly: is the source of the piano music a 'person'?
Staren     Children are meant to have other children, aren't they? It's terrible to mold yourself after adults from the very start.

    Staren looks away morosely after those words. Some of us never fit in with other children... Was Lilian friendless, too? Was she rebuffed by the other children, did she want to make friends, once? Or did such thoughts never even occur to her, from the very beginning? ...Candy! Staren goes to give him a warm greeting (she does to pretty much everybody except Xion, Haru, and Featherman, who she's less close to) but finds him cold and gruff today. Oh. Well, let him do what he needs to to fight Lilian. When he points out the issue of tracks, she starts floating through the garden on her broom, but that will probably become impractical once inside. Like Persephone, she tries to scan the house for sapient minds, but instead of thinking of the tree she tries to ask the house itself Why are you the way that you are?

    But what *do* they do, once inside? It was probably discussed during the trip: They are here to learn about Lilian. How to stop her, and perhaps why she's like this and what sort of approach might help her become a good person? For the former, secrets about her magic and that sword would be good to know. There may be paper records; Lilian's family seems like the sort to archive all formal correspondence, and there might be shit like letters from teachers at school about a younger, less careful Lilian misusing powers in ways that might give hints as to weaknesses (or the existence of powers she's made sure never to show.) Also, psychometric scans of anything like old photographs or posessions whose most significant moments might be tied to something happening in young Lilian's life.

    Staren's not sure what would be a good way to find out more about the *sword*; it probably appears in photos and paintings too, though, and maybe there's, like, sword paraphernelia around? Swords require maintenance, right?
Lilian Rook     Right from the start, attempting to canvas the area for magical signatures is like looking into a sauna with thermal goggles. In the way of the type of magic families who are old enough to have Got There First and powerful enough to keep it, the property is obviously built on no less than three intersecting leylines through the ground, but rather than being allowed to permeate freely into the air, it's drawn and contained efficiently and without waste into the home and the grounds around it. The sole exception is the standing stones, which are soaked through with magic of their own.

    The layered protective wards are problematically robust, and seem to have been laid down by many people, power coming from the landscape itself. Much of it is geomantically laid by the plant life everywhere, especially the elder rowan. Magical items in outer rooms glow through the walls of the ancient house everywhere. One very powerful cluster of signatures comes from the basement, and one 'zone' from the center. Blobs of fainter magic simply appear mysteriously, a handful moving around on their own.

    The latter does not match the number of psychic presences to be found. As far as can be determined there are no guards here of any kind. Not even guard spirits on the property. A dozen non-magic psychic presences are moving throughout the house, all from a central point where they were just gathered, ostensibly to bedrooms, while one slightly more powerful psychic presence remains on the ground floor. Most of the magic blobs have some kind of mental presence, but they're all varying shades of simple half-impressions, corresponding to how magic they are. One last psychic and magical presence is somewhere near that central zone hotspot.

    Despite the advanced age of the property, it appears to have been impractically well-maintained. The stones seem barely weathered. The wall would be no trouble to vault physically, but that's somewhat besides the point. There is a smaller rear gate out to the beach. The gates, upon closer inspection, are not black because they are iron, but because they are magnetic lodestone. Complex interactions of metaphysical machinery deceive the point of occultic importance --the Threshold-- that the veiled minds present are permitted entry, and once inside the garden area, no further magic redundantly bars progress.

    Circling around the house in stealth, or simply observing it carefully, betrays signs of motion behind the windows, but they're inconsistent and suspect, not particularly looking like anything but 'someone moving'. An ancient house of this size with western architecture and partially covered in climbing plants is trivial to scale. The front doors are relatively simple to unlock with psychic manipulation; this place was so hard to get to in the first place that extra door security would probably be irrelevant.
Xion CASTLE OBLIVION <Xion's Room>

It wasn't easy to open a letter that appeared under the auspice that it did. Xion didn't want to open it. To read the letter and understand it with her eyes.

Sitting at her white desk, in her white chair, the noirette rubbed the paper of the letter bettween her fingers nervously, and stared across her tchotchkie-occupied desk at a little golden cube that gleamed brightly in the whites of the room, and the slit across the center that held a little parcel envelope.

It was difficult to lift herself to it.

"Time is short, act now!" Xion huffs sarcastically, pulling a keyring off her desk and working a thin-toothed key into the top of the letter, drawing out the contents and unfurling it with anxious eyes.

It takes her a moment just to unclench her face, open her eyes towards the letter addressed to her.

And she starts at the end. The paper crinkles gently in her fingers. "Sending me wishes like this... do you think I don't know?"

"Do you think I didn't ask her to go? Forcing me..."

Xion looks up, from the letter in her lap, and looks back to the golden cube and the parcel it holds vertically. Leaning across the white surface with a black-robed sleeve, Xion closes her fingers around the package and returns to her seat, lifting her fingers to the already-opened flap of the parcel. In it, is a card and an iron key, and a down-fluff dust of solidified smoke, and when the key drops into Xion's hand in a thinning onyx-dust haze of aerogel a harmonic ringing begins.

"You could have just sent me a house key, Lilian." Xion whispers, and gets up to leave.


And as soon as she enters the scene, at the periphery with Haru, her scowl turns immediately to an undirected bubble-pop of exhausted and multifaceted hatred, and then she has to rub her face for a while.

We got set up.
You knew?
So did you.
It's always a setup. Doesn't mean I can't be surprised.
Well there's only one thing to do.

Xion smiles faintly at Staren, and then looks to Haru as he opts for stealth. She knows what he wants to find. "I... I hope you find your answers. There's something else I need to do. Thank you, though, Haru."

She says the one name, but she means everyone.

"If this many people got letters, then I think things will work out. I'm going to just... walk to the front door." Xion explains, smiling still as she lifts her black-coated arm and closes her hand around the materializing length of Starlight. "I brought my key, so... they're just doors. I'm going to find the piano."

And so she just walks across the well-planted grounds like the exact opposite of a JRPG protagonist, and heads right for the large forboding YOU MUST HAVE THE TELLURIUM KEY TO PROGRESS door to simply defeat it with the Power of Kind Of Supposed To Be Being Here (and Unlocking).
Lilian Rook     Finding the rowan tree pair up close tells of a few things already. The pair are both the 'witch tree' varieties. The taller is fully fruiting despite the winter climate, and must be centuries older, showing signs of bad weather years while the smaller does not. The lily flowers haphazardly placed nearby are broadly out of sync with the design sense of the rest of the garden, and are in of themselves, separately, slightly magical.

    A tall and gaunt red-haired and green-eyed man places headstones above freshly dug graves, in the shadow of a tiny rowan tree. He lights his effigy, says his prayers to the gods, and then grieves the night through. Five years later, the same man, massive and strong, has built a wooden house near to the sapling and the graves, and works a forge by the river's edge, hammer in hand, coal brought from the mainland, an obsession in his eyes. Fifty years later, the man is scarred and weathered, and his self-made home expands to include a raven-haired woman, clearly with child, standing stones surrounding their spit of green land. A hundred years later, that man has barely greyed, though his scars increase. More graves are dug by the tree. Two hundred years more, and the old wooden house is gone; a stone fort in the ancient style sits on the land and disciples work its grounds. Six bearded men in rich green robes ride in on horseback, carrying important news.

    Over and over, warriors depart, some never return, and more are born and raised. At seven hundred years, the old man, silver through and through, gives orders on his deathbed, and bestows a black sword upon his eldest daughter. The tree is moved across the country years later, where it protects another fort, close to the shores of another world, and shelters friends and family by the score, and those who come seeking them; the wounded, ill, and pregnant, those seeking blessings, aid, solace, their destiny. The faces and clothes change. The men wear armour of steel now. The women treat the tree with new magics from the continent.

    But the tree remains watchful, against the Otherworld and over the dead beneath it, until a young man in a black suit carrying a period-appropriate cane directs fifty strong workers to move it, his red-haired wife carefully ensuring it isn't damaged. It is shipped over the sea, to England, where it is planted again, next to its younger sibling, already here. Its careful tending is done by hired help whose clothes rapidly change over short years. Children play in its branches, but decades apart. A green-eyed girl with long black hair sits in its shade with her favourite book, and its history becomes intertwined with grainy black distortion. White lilies grow at its feet where graves used to be, unbeknownst to their planter.

    The piano sound comes from what is most certainly 'a piano room'. The house is so large that these rooms are certainly specialized. Dark and warm decor has been fastidiously dusted and maintained for ages, but all of the chairs but one haven't been uncovered in an age; just a single stool sits out with a permanent divot in its cushion, a short ways away from the piano and its bench, which is currently playing itself. Though this fact registers as a fractional person, the music itself continues with no mind to viewers. In fact, it seems vaguely pleased to have an audience, both quiet and tremendously skillful. The door is unlocked. Spots on the wall indicate pictures that were taken down, save an old-fashioned black and white photograph of a weedy young man with slicked back hair smiling in front of the same instrument.
Lilian Rook     Being able to simply open the front door obviously leads to the foyer, as these things do. It provides Xion a sense of deja vu. Occult, artistic, and foreign items sit on plinths, fill cases, and hang on walls all around the spacious area's walls, including both upper lobbies accessed by a dual grand staircase, but none of them appear to be 'museum pieces' or 'imports'; many are of plainly inscrutable purpose, as often perplexingly or darkly pretty as they are. A chandelier has been fully extinguished, and the tiles are immaculate. Two separate coat racks by the entry are empty, save one from which a sporty olive jacket has been hung, and an umbrella stand has only a single rowan wood cane with a weathered brass end resting rather conspicuously in it.

    Wandering the darkened halls separately, with only a handful of gas lamps burning at candle intensity (without gas) to see by, one is always surrounded by the sounds of movement. Creaking floorboards, sporadic footsteps, doors opening and closing, and a pervasive chill that manages to be unnerving and invigorating without being physically problematic. The part of the brain that recognizes humans and faces plays havoc at all times, being sure it's seeing someone when glimpsing over the confusing nexus of corridors and stairwells by every other intersection.

    The sound Candy investigates in the west wing appears to come from an exercise room, of old-fashioned style. A single defunct personal gym sits sadly in a corner, whilst outdated weight sets operate themselves. The chill is very strong in this room, and large and heavy iron objects moving freely, not just randomly or repetitively, but in sets of reps is a little intimidating. An extra bench is pulled out and hasn't been put away in some time, but isn't used. Just approaching the room, without entering, the sense is that he would be very unwelcome entering, and that someone else is expected. The adjacent rooms appear to also be this degree of single use. A study, laundry room, art studio, tea room, reading room, and so on. There are many, many empty bedrooms, but some are now occupied in this wing, according to the psychic reads; it may be best not to wake the occupants.

y the same token the piano room appears to be adjacent to a sewing room, sitting lounge, nursery, filing room, and a library that spans up all three floors. Haru following the sound of water must navigate through the ground floor maze out to the kitchen. He can hear the sounds of clinking china, rattling cutlery, and sliding glasses, as well as merry chatter between two men speaking very outdated English, but only the sounds of one person actually moving about; a woman by the sounds of her humming. The water appears to be her cleaning up, at this godforsaken hour. The number of people he feels doesn't match up, nor does it match with either psychic or magic senses. He has the opportunity to be subtle, or simply approach, or go elsewhere, near a ballroom, trophy room, game room, movie room, or the conservatory. There is a persistent draft that feels as if it's coming from below him, but checking with his intangibility reveals seemingly no basement level, which is in of itself unlikely.
Flamel Parsons     "I definitely am not going to understand what's going on until I get eyes on it!" Flamel rambles cheerfully over the brainwaves. "Wow, the Type Black doesn't have a magical staff...? Or maybe I'm just not getting it. Must be social stuff!" He moves on. He moves in. Once the front door is opened by Xion, he heads inside invisibly, and moves to that Piano Room that Persephone was targeting, and which Xion is also at... The darkened halls, the soft gas lamps, the noise in spite of his levitation, it's all just a little unnerving and just a little invigorating. He keeps checking behind him. "Is Lilian stressed a lot? I wonder..."

    The paintings were taken down. Huh? He appreciatively listens to the music until he has a good idea of the melody, then begins to him along softly. But those paintings keep messing with him... How thoroughly used is this room? It's all dusted and maintained, but that might be true of every house. From here, he sends out a small clairvoyance pulse, trying to find major psychic imprints of the last most severe emotional association with the piano, with the spots on the walls, with some of the area out in the hallways... Is it a well-trod space? Has this been left alone for years? This should give him an idea of how this mansion has been for a while, purely from the one sample. The effect also bleeds into neighboring rooms!
Cantio "There's nobody here." Cantio blurts out quietly as she takes note of the piano having no visible player, slipping into the room and reaching up briefly to make sure her shoddy cap is still on. She listens to the music for a while, then starts taking a quick look around the piano room to start picking up on the stranger parts about it.

"She's always seemed stressed from the times I've ran into her. Maybe it'd do her some good to actually relax instead of..." Cantio starts replying to Flamel, then cuts herself off with an unpleasant noise. "... Sorry. I'll just... I'll see what else I can find."

It's pretty plain to see and hear that Cantio doesn't have a great opinion of Lilian, but she's still trying not to talk too much shit about her for the time being. Instead, she's focusing on the investigation itself!

The missing pictures don't give her a lot to work with, but the one old-fashioned picture does. She goes through a whole convoluted thing of clipping her head through the wall it's attached to, turning around, and trying to see if there's anything on the back of it, but that ends up being too much effort for no actual results.

Instead, she just takes the thing down like a normal person to inspect it. First the front, then the back in case there's some kind of message written on it or something. She's looking for something that might identify this person, whether he's the player of the piano or someone else entirely related to Lilian.
Hamada Haru Dynamic Era holds the letter loosely between his fingers, in his empty hand. The other is filled with his gunblade, not because he intends to use it for attack, but because it's a way of engaging his utility powers too. Xion only gets a nod in passing, though there is a twinge of concern. He doesn't follow it up-- Xion can take care of herself, and if something happens he should be able to deal with it anyway.

He's distracted enough it doesn't occur to him that he could send a clone with her until he's already wandered away.

He stands still for a long while listening to the sounds of two men that don't seem to exist and one woman who does. A clock ticks in the back of his mind, each noise pronounced and echoing. It's not as if he's slow enough to need to worry about it.

Finally, he makes a decision and dissolves into intangibility, moving towards the sound of the woman humming. There are a lot of ways in which he might find what he's looking for here; he's actually quite certain that hard evidence of whatever it is won't exist, but that soft evidence from others might. That this might raise an alarm doesn't trouble him at all.
Persephone Kore      Persephone rolls the petal of a lily between forefinger and thumb, briefly lost in her own thoughts. Otherworldy enemies. A sword forged a long, long time ago to avenge... the smith's family? Moving to here from... Ireland, I think; that woman marrying into new blood. Everyone else in these stories is so old, but Lilian's younger than I am, isn't she?

     So much weighty history, for someone so little to carry. I wonder where that book went?

     She stands up, still staring at the lilies, and warmly says "sleep tight" to the ground before heading inside. Persephone has no real idea of stealth, but she at least (subconsciously?) makes herself halfway float: her hair bounces as if in moon gravity, and her footsteps are quieted from their usual intimidating clackiness.

     The first thing that catches her eye is the rowan cane in the foyer. Isn't that the one I saw the man holding, in the tree's story? Is it an antique, or was he really Lilian's father? She quickly examines it as well; if he really is her dad, she's lucky to find something of his so soon.

     From there, she passes through the piano room, lingering a few moments to listen to the playing. You're who Lilian learned to play from, aren't you? Haha, that's really beautiful. It almost makes me wish I'd learned piano.

     Of course the absent pictures catch her eye. She presses her palm to the discolored spots. "Removing someone from the family... isn't that really too awful?" Of course she has to ask why those empty spaces are the way they are.

     From there, it's on to the Nursery. Early childhood doesn't solidly define someone; after all, even SH didn't take me in until I was seven! But it's still worth checking what information she can glean from the place of those formative stages.
Lilian Rook     A young skinny boy played this piano every day for fourteen years since he was big enough to reach all the keys. His red-headed older sister sat by him on the bench and taught him, an hour every other day at least. The two of them always smiled together. Sometimes other members of the family would gather together in those chairs and listen to him play. She was proudest of him then. Then one day he went into town, and the air raids buried him in a church. Many other portraits of him, some even receiving awards, were taken down, leaving just the one.

    Nobody dared touch that piano since, though it continued to play itself all alone every night since. Then, in the last sixteen years, a little girl with green eyes and a favourite book sat in that single stool and listened to it play. Never a word is shared between them, but both seem glad for the company. As she grows a little older, she practises on it by day, but the older girl doesn't teach anyone these days. The red-haired woman, now old enough to be her mother, has an intense and emotional argument about it. The girl still won't use the other piano. One day a fit of screaming escalates into the girl being slapped, shoved from the bench, and dragged into the hall by her hair, and from then on, nobody came into this room but the maids who do the cleaning by day.

    Cantio examining the photo finds it simply labelled Luther Benjamin Rook, 1944.
Hibiki Tachibana     "It seems that way, but..." Hibiki trails off in response to Cantio after making an improptu entrance into the Piano Room, staring and listening at the self-playing instrument for several long seconds. The 'ghosts' that Persephone mentioned is immediately where her mind goes. All the more when her head finally does turn to gloss along the wall, finding the singular photograph left behind and the man depicted in it. The black hair certainly reminds her of what she'd imagine a member of the Rook family would look like.

    Whether that's true or not, she's not sure. "...Probably stressed more than any of us can imagine," she adds on towards both her and Flamel, mind going back to their last encounter. "But I think she tries. Maybe..." Walking slowly, she drifts close to the side of the piano and lightly runs her hand across it so as not to run the risk of interrupting the ephemeral player, before giving it an appreciative pat.

    "...Thanks for playing. It's really beautiful. Guys, Featherman. I'm going to look a bit further in the back. Let me know what you find."

    Flamel and Cantio are doing a good enough job sussing out what's going on in here - so Hibiki wants to keep moving. Her investigation will be a bit more traditional, and there's a place she wants to check out. Thus, she makes to softly step outside of the room and into the surrounding halls, moving in the direction leading towards the back of the estate.

    She wants to find a way to the Conservatory, but also see if she can find anything of interest in the middle floor's halls as she goes.
Staren     Getting inside, they find... "Geeze. This place is haunted as /fuck/." Thoughts about why people THINK they sense ghosts, and half-remembered references on Tectonic Entities, and 'who knows how ghosts work here??' run through Staren's head as she searches the house. Her ears constantly turn this way and that as she hears or thinks she hears sounds, and she keeps looking for things that aren't there. It makes it hard to have any ADDITIONAL distracting thoughts while she tries to focus on the mission.

    Somewhere along the way she remembers seeing that jacket on the way in and goes back to check it with Phony's psychometry. Then She'll check the study or an unoccupied bedroom, whichever she comes across first. Looking for writing, pictures, or personal posessions that look like they might have 'memories' of Lilian.
Flamel Parsons     Flamel reads the room. Literally, in the case of his psychometry. Phantoms join phantoms, and frozen images appear in the air marked in crimson. Cantio gets to see some of it, and Persephone gets to see what psychometry looks like when it's a shared, visual experience.

    He looks to the psychic impression of the favorite book. Scratching his face, he mutters in telepathy, "I could almost feel the entire signature of a piece of literature..." He strokes his chin. "I need to go see if there's a library. I wonder if I can trace that book." He probably can't see its title, but he can hopefully find enough traces to get a "fingerprint" for it. He dismisses the phantom images of child abuse. with a wince. "Huh! So she was isolated from sources of comfort like that. Enforced isolation is pretty bad."

    He heads out into the hallways. Pulses of clairvoyance try to get a layout. If that book still exists on the estate, he needs to ID it and scan it. He's going to search for a library, still drifting invisibly as he goes. If he can find something like that, he'll need to look for something that matches that imprint!
Lilian Rook     The lillies are planted by a green-eyed girl perhaps no older than twelve, slender hands slipped into oversized garden gloves, clumsily doing the work herself. A woman in a classical maid outfit, hair braided in a celtic circlet, yet dyed just a shade of purple shine in remarkably modern fashion to cover up a fading natural black, stands behind her. The woman holds a familiar book for he girl. The girl constantly asks her about the meaning of every flower in the garden. Eventually, the maid answers the girl that the flower she is named after means purity, innocence, and a new life. This seems to make the girl incredibly happy.

    Later on, an older red-haired woman speaks with the maid. "Couldn't she have planted it somewhere else. It's an eyesore here. And right near the elder tree too. I'll ask you to please move it somewhere else." "I'm not sure that's something you'd like, Alison." "Oh? And why is that Cecilia?" "You fret so much about how your daughter isn't like the other girls; how she shares so few interests with her elder sister, and fewer still with your sisters. You're worried if she'll care to inherit the Atrium already. This is the first interest she's shown in caring for something. I think if I moved it now, it'd feel like a betrayal of trust to her, and she may give up on even that fledgling interest." "Mmh. Well, I suppose you may be right about that. If it's for the good of the Atrium, I'll tolerate them here for now."

    Every so often, for the past two years, Lilian comes by this spot, and fondly regards the flowers, absentmindedly fingering the white-gold lily hairpin she never takes off.

    The cane indoors does indeed belong to the suited man, taller and broad-shouldered, with a short but full beard, black hair, and hard blue eyes in his older years. He had this commissioned from a family friend. They had an argument about how his last cane broke on a mere walk one day; snapped into a hundred pieces. The craftsman refuses to believe this is possible, but the man becomes so furious his face turns red, and this replacement is carefully made over weeks. Then months are spent by the man on his own, carefully carving, inlaying, consecrating, and replacing countless delicate magical esoterica in the wood to his liking. It accompanies him everywhere.

    It was last held when that man sat across from his wife in the sitting room upstairs. The subject appears to be bemoaning his daughter's horrendous hairpin, and how difficult it had been to break her previous habits when she was younger. The discussion goes nowhere; his wife holds that his daughter is too old for those methods to work any longer."

    The nursery is empty of even ghostly activities, white cloths thrown over its long-vacant furniture. The cane-bearing man and red-headed woman came here frequently when their eldest son was born, and their eldest daughter too, but are never seen after; only the head maid is here, reading books to a small child with green eyes. Her favourite is fairy tales; anything with knights and magic and glamorous beauties of old.
Candy      Ghosts.

     Not necessarily his forte--but he knows a ghost that's 'with it' mentally from one that isn't. Whoever that's supposed to be in there, pumping iron, has enough of themselves left over not only to leave that passive impression of unwelcoming energy, but to make Candy suspect that disturbing them would cause some sort of alarm to be raised.

     There's nothing useful or advantageous to be gleaned from this--not unless he was looking for a way to get under Lilian's skin somehow, and as much as he'd like to, he did make Xion a promise. he clenches his fist, realizing that he must now make up for lost time.

     When those on his world become able to use magic, they become aware of the existence of an invisible, immaterial limb, awash in a sea of potential. As they use this limb, the associated muscles grow stronger, their control of it more refined.

     Candy used his almost nonstop for years at a time--it is one very significant reason why he is still alive today, not to mention countless comrades-in-arms. Using his magic discreetly is a talent he learned later, after several times being foiled for blatant use thereof by clever defenses and discerning foes. When moving this limb through the sea of potential, it is easy to thrash--to splash and incite forceful currents as if one were angrily wading through waist-high water. But with patience, this sea can be drawn from without causing ripples that would otherwise bump against the various other beings awash in this sea.

Time stops.

    With it, the thumping, the piano, and the running water. If, at this hour, snow should still fall, it, too, hangs suspended in the air.

*If this bullshit is gonna stop, I need to find a way to reach her. There's gotta be someone in this family that she listens to. I need to find that person's room.*

    Candy is simply On the balcony.

More than ssssimply avoiding the ghosts, you will need a way to find what you ssssseek.
Tobacco, lime to represent a tie to the warmth of life... and, I suppose, a trinket to keep the mixture from revealing your presence. Something to represent her, as well.

     Time resumes.
-A compass assembles itself in his hand.
-Tobacco doused in lime appears trapped behind the glass face of the tool.
-The needle is set ablaze. Blue-grey tendrils of smoke seem to push and pull the needle, rather than any magnetic field.

     Candy enters one of the upper floors through the balcony, after checking carefully to make sure no one, living or otherwise, sees him do so. Through the use of his divining tool, he aims to find, if such a place exists here, the room of someone, living or otherwise, who cares about Lilian and vice versa--the hope being that he can find something in there that will enlighten him on how to reach her.

     How to prevent another instance of 'know your place.'
Lilian Rook     Haru enters into an archaically designed but incredibly spacious kitchen, retrofitted with sleek black and silver modern appliances, closed off from the dining room and the sound of chatter; a design where those eating wouldn't see the servants making any of their food. A woman in a maid's dress and with braided up black-purple hair is washing seats of cups and plates that appear to have been recently used by other staff.

    Glasses, platters, plates, and teacups are transported by no one from the dining room to the kitchen and back, making endless circuits balanced atop invisible hands to feed the chattering men, even though they are at no point ever filled with anything. The pantomimed rehearsal of a grand dinner is so ordinary to the maid that she pays it no notice whatsoever. Nothing about her seems the slightest bit extraordinary; she is oblivious to Haru's presence so long as he makes the barest effort to not stand in front of her or make much noise.
Cantio "I don't doubt it. Whether it's deserved or not..." Cantio starts and shuts up again, letting out a frustrated noise as she does another once over of the room before putting the photograph back where it was on the wall. She takes note of the writing on the back, then relays her findings to the group while approaching the piano again.

<J-IC-Scene> Cantio says, "'Luther Benjamin Rook, 1944'. Does anyone know what year it is in her world right now? I can't tell if this is supposed to be her father or grandfather or someone else."
<J-IC-Scene> Persephone Kore says, "People here lived a long time. It might be her dad. It might be her brother."
<J-IC-Scene> Persephone Kore says, "The man who forged the sword she uses lived for seven hundred."
<J-IC-Scene> Cantio says, "What? But I thought humans don't live that long." Beat ".. Normally." Another beat "Oh. Right."
<J-IC-Scene> Flamel Parsons says, "This is an unusual family, yeah!"

That certainly makes it harder to nail down who this person even is in relation to Lilian. Still, for that picture to remain...

<J-IC-Scene> Cantio says, "It's certainly someone important, though, if it's the only picture left in this piano room."

Hibiki speaks words of thanks to the ghost player, and Cantio nods as she departs. "Sure thing. I'll see if I can find anything else in here, but I'll be heading out shortly, too." True to her word, she does a quick once over of the room to make sure she didn't miss anything obvious before heading out through the unlocked door.

Her next destination: The filing room. There's sure to be notable, if not necessarily interesting documents in there! Probably. Cantio's already looking a little uncertain to anyone that actually notices, but she's at least moving with enough speed to not just dawdle in the middle of a hallway or anything like that.
Featherman Neo While everyone else starts to filter out of the Piano Room, Featherman losing himself in thought with the music, he decides to try something. He's not capable of actual psychometry - but he's wondering how much these ghosts are really 'here', and if he can find a beacon besides the party otherwise.

Starting with near the piano and the divoted chair, and moving out of the room, down the hall, door by door, if he finds nothing in the Piano Room, Featherman extends his mind. Are any of these ghosts present enough that they can actually be mind read, or have a telepathic conversation?
Lilian Rook     Hibiki won't have trouble making it to the conservatory, but in terms of things of interest along the way, very close to the library, shortly down the hall, she sees a spare room whose doorframe has been plastered up and down in Japanese talismans drawn in excellent calligraphy, and hung with sacred rope above. It's second from the end of the hall, with its adjacent room being positioned for a balcony. Nothing in particular makes going downstairs or staying up here easier or harder.

    Flamel is in fact very very close to the same library. It is, in fact, next door. For a second, his clairvoyance says that Xion was here, but it goes away instantly. The library itself needs all three floors, navigated by zigzag steps, to hold everything in it. The house has stood for centuries, and much of the contents here were imported from other branches of the family. It's well-organized, containing a reasonable section of joy-reads, but mostly being dedicated to historical records, arcane textbooks, grimoires of spells, and global nonfiction. One could gain an entire college education here and also learn magic and several true conspiracies on the side.

    A number of small desks have been pulled together in a sort of study cubby in a cozy corner, piled high with both old books and modern paperwork, next to carefully inked scrolls patterned with intricate mandalas and runic ciphers, and what appears to be a partial draft of a Paladins report; a scrapped draft of an operation from months ago, and of no real consequence. Below, a fireplace is running without tending, and a reading circle arrangement of chairs and cushions and a coffee table is stacked even higher.

    When Flamel enters, he hears a heavy book closed and be set down on the table. It's only his mind reading that lets him intuit the silent suggestion of a friendly and helpful elderly male persona asking him if he's looking for any book in particular, without any particular concern for who he is or why he's there. Both helpful directions, and the psychic signature, point to none of the shelves, but a place where a loose brick has been created with careful, surgical cuts to the mortar, and the book, covered in dust, now sits in the opened hole behind it. It's clearly well-used, but in very good condition still. There is no title on it. The insides are all written in an old Gaelic dialect, but he can infer from many finely sketched pictures that it's an anthology of stories, easily a hundred in total for its sheer weight.
Xion Standing in the Piano Room, where a number of people congregate, Xion wavers and rocks as the image plays near the middle of the room, staring at the piano with Starlight slung over her shoulder. A room with only one picture frame.

The piano which had played--

s u c h f a m i l i a r m u s i c--

Lingers in the noirette's ears as she turns to regard Persephone on her way through, unaware of the dampened Flamel's passage.

Without the backing emotion being felt with any color at all, Xion's turned cheek reveals a little line of tears from an ephemeral melancholy.

Persephone moves on to the nursery, and Xion stands there, an arm's length apart. Her key-sword rocks couched against her shoulder.

Two deaths?
Best I can do is--one death. I know. It's a zero. Zero deaths.

Xion smiles, her cheek still wet. "Did you send the letter?"
Hamada Haru Dynamic Era adjusts his gunblade and produces a clone off to one side just before he approaches the busy maid. His replica drifts on out through the wall, but will be a bit actually deciding where it wants to go. In the meantime his primary self raises the letter that he was given and moves it into the maid's field-of-view. This puts him right next to her, and he pointedly dismisses his gunblade and rests the transteam gun at his hip so that it isn't such an obvious implicit threat.

"Excuse me, miss. Do you know who wrote this?" He asks.

There's nothing threatening about his posture, either. He leans against the counter like a hooligan-- or in his case, like an Antagonist Pseudo-Rider who is trying to make an at least passingly positive impression. He's charmingly roguish, not an imminent danger! Honest! In this case, it's actually more-or-less true, though. Whether Haru's difficult self can actually sell such a reality is another matter entirely.
Lilian Rook     Finding the room of 'someone who cares about Lilian' and 'someone whom Lilian cares about' is, depressingly, almost a dead end. Two vanishingly small circles that barely touch, never mind overlap. There is the room of 'someone who still cares', and 'whom she used to care about, and isn't sure if she still does'. It takes Candy right through the double rows of occupied rooms in a second storey hall, though his ability to sneak through without waking anyone is already more than enough without magic involved. Staff quarters, probably. The door at the end opens up into . . .

    Actually a rather sizable room, though it's hard to imagine a small one here. A large and soft bed, an old-fashioned but lavishly carved dresser and stand, a proper closet, two cozy love seats across a coffee table in the center, and a desk near the window with the basic staple necessity of a computer are the main features, though it is also decorated with carefully tended potted plants and subdued but definitely girly sewn accoutrements.

    The closet's contents are for an adult woman, but also has six slightly different variations of a maid's uniform too. Opened letters and cards decorate the desk around the computer. A half-finished puzzle sits on the coffee table, near a photo album. It's turned to a page where many sheets of paper have been neatly folded and tucked inside, seeming to be a series of progressively better drawings, rendered in crayon, then pencil, then ink. Photo frames show a young lady in a maid dress holding a red-headed girl a few years younger in her lap, black and white and of low picture quality, alongside what appears to be the woman's wedding, and one of a ten year old girl with black hair and green eyes dressed up for some outrageously fancy event and looking impossibly proud.
Lilian Rook     As far as Featherman can sense, the ghosts here are extremely numerous, but also range tremendously in cognizance. Luther seems only to have stayed in this world to keep playing the piano and reliving the good times he had before the war, and so little else of him actually remains. The presences moving about the halls aren't even properly ghosts; rather, they're more like 'spiritual impressions'; memories of staff so enamoured with the house that their lingering attachment serves as a sort of night shift all its own. However, next door in the library, there is more of a person, as it seems necessary to retain a great amount of knowledge and memories to get much out of reading books.

    The filing room is comparatively small to everywhere else Cantio has seen so far, and has partly been moved over to modern computer records, with a rather expensive home server. However, probably everything truly sensitive or secret is being kept in huge 'wine racks' filled with rolled up stacks of paper and parchments, all of which are both kept in metal-capped glass capsules, and magically sealed. The back wall is dominated by a print of an extremely extensive family tree of many branches.

    Literally all of them but the two parents and three children at the bottom are registered as deceased, the entire bottom row between 46 and 32 years ago. There'd have been a funeral every couple of months if they were evenly spread out.
Persephone Kore      Persephone doesn't, immediately, look at Xion. There's still the sense in her mind that doing so would be a transgression of something she doesn't fully understand. Her face is built for smiling, but she isn't smiling now.

     In response to the question, she reaches into her skirt's pockets (fancy!) and pulls out a crumpled-up letter nearly identical to Xion's, this one addressed to a space station's PO box. "No," she says. "I got one too."

     Persephone steps past Xion, laying a hand on one of the sheet-covered pieces of furniture; her fingers glide across the fabric. You broke his cane, didn't you, Lilian? With that power of yours. 'Breaking habits'- I don't want to imagine what 'those methods' were, to make you want to get back at him like that. But I think I almost can.

     Her hands fold low in front of her. She straightens back up, but doesn't turn around. The purple dampening coronet on her head creaks softly as further cracks spread through it, giving it an opalescent fire along the fracture lines.

     "You want to help her too, don't you, Xion? That's why you got the letter. But you want to be 'on her side'. And meeting with me would compromise that. That's why we haven't run into each other before, isn't it? ... I'm sorry. I really am."

     A deep breath: in, hold, out. "If you still do want to help her, we really shouldn't talk. I like you, but I don't want you to like me at all. You're better for her like this. ... Do you want me to leave, Xion?"
Hibiki Tachibana     On her way, keeping her steps quiet for no real reason beyond respect for the ethereal inhabitants at this point, Hibiki moves onward--only to stop not too far along the way, catching the charm-ridden doorway standing out heavily from its surroundings. Turning towards it, she looks over them briefly, taking a moment to read what's written on them. Did Lilian set these up? A different member of her family? Or maybe even...


    Part idle musing and part out-loud questioning, Hibiki moves closer. The thought that it might have some kind of protections to prevent unwanted entry comes to mind for a second--and then, even so, she keeps going ahead with the intention of entering.

    The conservatory isn't going anywhere, hopefully. If they're only going to get one chance to look around, she wants to make the most of it. As she does so, she actually pauses part-way through before continuing.

    "...Excuse me. I'm coming in."
Flamel Parsons     Flamel adjusts his sunglasses, ready to greet Xion... but no, not here? Weird! That's odd. He needs to figure what *that* was later. But from one invisible fellow to another, he can communicate. Light telepathy works great for ghosts, it seems! "Thanks much, friend!" He says after all that, heading to the... *secret loose brick*, holy shit. This is either incredibly useful or a complete dead end.

    Should he take it? Or simply take a mental snapshot? It's covered in dust, after all... She doesn't keep track of it day-to-day! Literally anyone with even the most passing consideration for prioritizing human emotions, feeling, or decency over *weird curiosity* would absolutely leave this thing behind. Flamel's weird obsession allows for no such thing -- at least, not before he plants a palm on this thing and pulses clairvoyance into it.

    He's not where Persephone can hear him. He softly whispers, "Let's see those secrets, Type Black." A book as valuable -- no, much more -- than any of those psychic plates. What trajectories of emotional residue lie in it? What most intense, vivid memories?
Lilian Rook     The maid, like any normal person, startles when interrupted during her before-bed work, zoned out and certainly not expecting a stranger in the house. She turns around and presses her back to the counter, holding a hand over her chest in alarm. After a few seconds more, when it seems Haru doesn't mean to cause any overt harm, she allows herself to breathe again, and settles down from standing on her toes.

    "Are you by chance another friend of the young mistress? Or a coworker perhaps?" she asks him, in an extremely formal tone of voice, to the point he'd never be able to tell what she thinks of him being there. "This is the second time one of her friends arrived here unannounced at this hour. I apologize for saying so, but it really is a terrible habit. It'll be a lot of trouble if anyone finds out you were here without a prior invitation, Mister . . . ?"

    Getting a response or no, she takes the letter from him with some trepidation, scans its contents in an instant, and her eyes widen, her jaw stiffens, and her fingers shake on the page. "Who is . . . how could anyone have known this? That isn't possible? What are you . . ." She looks back to Haru, and this time the impenetrable professionalism has melted away into deep, dire, exhaustedly strained concern. "You're a friend, aren't you? You have to be. What's happening? What are you doing here? You must know she is away already, mustn't you?"
Featherman Neo After getting his reading, Featherman steps into the library. He psychically locates the librarian, and sets up a telepathic communion to talk to him, but uses his words if requested. Flamel can jump in easily - it's not guarded whatsoever, just a chat.

"Do you have any copies of old monster stories? Like Beowulf, or perhaps even older. I know that's not what I should be asking, but this Featherman's a bit of a nerd, so..." A pause, before he gets back on track.

"Did Lilian Rook read a lot of the books in here? Would any of the others in the house be able to talk to me about her? Or can you? I don't know if there's librarian-scion confidentiality." A small joke. Featherman's anxious. He's out of place with all these Watch and Concord.
Lilian Rook     Hibiki forges on ahead into that talisman-barred doorway. The closer she gets, the more she feels a tremendous compulsion to turn around and leave, like a magnetic repulsion. Furthermore, even if she pushes as far as to open it anyways, the door only opens to a dusty spare room that has not been maintained regularly, dark, sheet-covered, and with no signs of anyone in it. The room to its left is also a spare room, but this one is kept and maintained by staff. The room to its right, at the very end of the hall, magically resists being opened. Heavily warded even when the front door wasn't. And adjacent to where it seems Tamamo is somehow staying, or was previously staying. Even Hibiki could figure that out.
Candy      The needle dances a distressing dance--one that paints an unflattering picture of Lilian's life.

*That's not fair.*
It's hard, isn't it? To stay angry at someone once you see how things really are.
*I hate it. Feeling sorry for her after what she did. Knowing how much better she can be.*
Rita told you, but still you wondered why she has to make everything so hard.

     Candy wipes his eyes with a sleeve of his longcoat as he takes to searching through the room he's led to. This place, with its creaking floorboards, is not unlike the estate of a certain governor--he remembers then, how the house gave away unwelcome visitors, in that way that old things do even without the aid of magic. His feet are as careful as his hands.

     He can only look at the drawings, and the story told of a little girl's love through the years, for so long before he has to take a seat to compose himself.
Poor boy. You bit off more than you could chew, didn't you?
*It's not fair.*
I am here.

     Candy searches through the cards, next. It's clear to him that this woman, not her mother, raised Lilian. So why did she turn out this way? Is there anything in those cards--consolation, a thank-you for a sympathetic ear--that'd illuminate things?

     As a last resort, he might search through the computer, but he really has no idea what he's doing--about the level of proficiency of someone's geriatric grandparent.
Cantio In the filing room, the first thing Cantio does (after actually looking around in the broadest sense) is figure out what's probably the easiest things for her to get into and what the hardest ones are so she doesn't waste too much time. The back wall, with the print just there, ends up being her first target for lack of having to do anything but interpret the data.

It's a lot of data, but the implications have her doing her math several times in a row just to make sure she's putting everything in right. "That can't be right..." She murmurs to herself as she looks back up at the print, squinting at the names of the living, then broadly scanning the names of the deceased to make sure she didn't miss one or double count a few and screw up her results.

"... No, that's a... Oh dear." The total dead compared to the number of years within that time frame have her grimacing visibly as she figures out that THAT many people died within a few months' timespan at the most generous spread of time-between-deaths.  "That explains some of the behavior, at least... And that obsession over control."

She exhales lightly, then brings out her phone to take several pictures of the prints before heading for the HOME SERVER.

She knows she won't be able to get into the wine rack of magically sealed stuff, so the next best thing is to dig around in the computer. Pulling a cube out of her pocket, she releases a small drone that floats near the servers and starts trying to access the files in the server. She's digging around specifically to try and find any data that's been recently accessed or updated. She's especially looking for anything that might connect what happened in the past that killed so much of her family tree to prospective near-future dates where a similar thing might happen again.

Barring that, Cantio's also keeping an eye out for more suspect looking documents and folder structures. She might as well, if she can get in there in the first place.
Hamada Haru "We are occasional allies, but we're not friends," Dynamic Era says, leaning back against the counter a little more heavily. "She did something that I wanted to know more about, so I took this 'invitation', since I already know for a fact that she's willing to intrude aggressively on spaces that aren't hers. There's no reason to extend a courtesy that I know she doesn't really extend elsewhere, if it matters enough to her."

"But, I don't like it."

"I don't like passing like a ghost through the home of somebody who, at least sometimes, fights for something resembling justice. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and even if I'm not Kamen Rider anymore, I just don't want to bend that far," he seems to be talking almost more to himself than to the maid.

Again, he's asked if he's a friend.

"Not really. I'm here because she did something shitty that got pinned on a mutual friend of ours. But I don't know what I'm even looking for. I don't even know that I want what I'm looking for," Era says, tilting his head to one side. After a moment, he speaks again:

                               "Begin playback."                                

An audio recording begins to play from... his GUN? Yeah, it seems like the transteam gun is playing the recording.

Lilian Rook says, "I respect you as a detective. I respect your conviction as a man of principles. I value the productive discourses we've had, and I appreciate your participation in this case."
Lilian Rook says, "But you've sorely mistaken my character."
Lilian Rook says, "I will kill a monster in cuffs."
Muramasa says, " this is your hill to die on, huh.."
Shinnosuke Tomari says, "And then, we'd have to fight. So, let's hope it doesn't come to that."
Lilian Rook says, "Muramasa."
Lilian Rook says, "None of you have the power to kill me."
Lilian Rook says, "Not even figuratively, mind you."

"This conversation pertained to what we planned to do with a kaijin if we apprehended it. We did, he turned up dead in prison afterwards with no real useful evidence as to how it had happened. I know she did it because she admitted to it in advance," he explains, pushing away from the counter and pacing a short distance from the maid.

"Hamada Haru," Dynamic Era decides to name himself after a while.
Xion Xion looks at the letter, crumpled, as it comes up out of Persephone's pocket.
She did it. Plain as midnight.
"Hibiki, and Candy, too. Even Haru, and I wouldn't say they're friends." The nobody explains, standing at the threshold and occupying it with a growingly glum resignation.

"'May we never meet'." Xion repeats, lifting the sleeve of her coat to wipe at her wet eyes with a quiet sniff.

"I don't think you'd write something like that. The people that like you know about you. The people you help hold you in their minds."

Sliding one foot up to rest her leg and shoulder against the doorframe, Xion rolls from there to her back and crouches down, squatting in a lower quarter of the frame now, entirely facing the between of the wall.

"Someone wanted to push us together, probably. Thought they were helping, maybe. But that's not really how it works."

She raises her right arm, and the sleeve pulls away to reveal a two-dimensional double-black band around her wrist, like a hole into the void tatooed onto her arm. With the band revealed, she hugs ker legs and rests her chin on her knees.

"If the Other is smiling and nice and tries to accept you, maybe you can simply coexist. Neighbors. Part of the same universal system. But too large, too 'us' and 'them', too 'me' and 'all the rest', and people get very hurt and confused."

Xion doesn't turn her head to look at Persephone, staring at the place where latch meets lock.

"So we can't be a together 'them', and leave her all alone."

"The story here is one I know. It starts as something gentle, and then, cut after cut, it becomes something hard and sharp. You can't help getting a few edges if you keep taking slices." Some places just need to be safe. Some things should be sacred. If you find the book she likes. . ."

Xion rises slowly, lifting her keyblade to her shoulder. ". . . I'd suggest you not read it until you and her resolve this. A book can keep its secrets from us, since it only speaks one language. But that's what's neat about books."

Xion flashes a smile. "They're really chatty, and love to repeat themselves. As for if you should leave..." She shrugs. "Don't ask me for permission. If you think it's a harm to be here, stay or leave on your own decision. Aren't we trying to stay seperate?"

Xion turns to leave, but in the Kingdom Hearts Keys And Locks And Feelings Cutscenes, everyone continues to act until dialogue is exhausted.
Lilian Rook     Featherman's answers are nonverbal, but he gets the impression of a sleepy and good-natured old man 'telling him them' anyways. The fictional poetic account of Beowulf is in section seven, the saxon historic account in section three, material regarding the era in section two, and several stories featuring trolls and dragons and swords in section eight. He is told that the presence has 'just gotten around to' reading a delightful 'new' book called 'The Hobbit'.

    His questions about Lilian are met with the sorts of things like 'why yes, all the time', 'very respectful of the literature', 'even brings new books sometimes', 'does all her study work like here; not like her sister, she's a good girl', 'sometimes she doesn't even read; when she was little she would simply hang around for the company', 'or hide; since no other children ever found her here, it's no surprise'.

    On the ground floor, A red-headed young woman with blue eyes and a ponytail, with a strong resemblance to her mother, removes and hangs up her jacket. She wanders around the entry hall, then calls out "Lilly! Liiiilly! Lilian? Lil' Lil?" and finds something about the lack of reply disturbing. She tromps through the foyer in a hurry, finding one of the day maids and asking her if she knows where Lilian is, getting only a nervous negative. Running back to the stairs, she is met by a black-purple-haired maid with a fancier uniform, and asks her the same. The head maid says that she's "Gone back to Skye." looking for "That woman." The blue-eyed young woman panics, and runs for her jacket again. In the midst of shoving her arms through the sleeves, the maid catches up and grabs her wrist. "You can't follow her, Katrina. You know the rules. That girl is different from you and Alison. Only your brother could follow her there. Please, be sensible. You'll get yourself killed." Katrina argues with her for a little while, then distraughtly says "I'll be in the Atrium if she calls." and storms off deeper into the house.
Featherman Neo Featherman would borrow a book, because he's curious, but that'd be a terrible idea. Instead, he nods, thanks the Librarian, mentions that Bilbo's one of his favorite literary characters, and then pokes through the sections. Along the way, he's thinking about what he'd have done. Hiding in the library seems familiar.

He starts looking for potential hiding places - not for objects, but for children. And once he finds what looks like her most common nook, he's going to search around it, see if it leaves any clues. They may have been cleaned, or they may have not, but it's worth a shot.
Lilian Rook     In the Head Maid's room, Candy's search through letters turn up lengthy correspondences with a fiancé over several years. Due to the nature of her job, it seems she couldn't see him that often, but the chemistry reads and feels genuine, and there are long discussions about how they'll live together. The letters stop thirty-six years ago, and there is one that Candy can recognize as a fake written in the woman's own handwriting; a forgery to the blunt effect of 'everything is fine, I can't wait to see you soon!' about six months later. It'd take a literal child not to realize it's a forgery, as it has no postage either; it's never left this room.

    Otherwise, there are myriad correspondences with what appears to be a slew of tutors, trainers, professors, and enough outside professionals to constitute a full time job on its own. The cards themselves are well-wishes from family and friends, all of which are last-dated no more recently than thirty five years. In her letters to them, she mentions Lilian often and constantly, exactly like a concerned but overly proud parent. She says how different it is to when she first came here and looked after Alison as a chid.

    The drawings in the book are about what he'd expect. Early scribbled attempts at the family, the house, the woman herself, and all kinds of fantastical things. There's many of 'Lilian with a pet cat' or 'Lilian at a theme park' and such wishful things that clearly never came to pass. Later on, they grow considerably more refined, speaking of genuine artistic talent, which match to this woman paying out of pocket for an art tutor roughly twelve years ago, for six years before having to write an apologetic notice instead. There's still blank collage space for more of them, after a skilled graphite picture of the head maid and the man from the wedding photo; his face and attire are outdated, as if she had no further pictures of him for Lilian to reference since.

    Slipped into the cover of the book, which his fingers find almost accidentally, are pictures that largely make little to no sense. Baffling landscapes where every shade between crimson, fuchsia, lavender, and indigo were recklessly blended, over and over, trying to find a red-ish colour that doesn't exist. Frantically scribbled, dreamlike attempts at some humanoid figure, all black, with four fiery points in its head, and a ring of flames behind it. A picture of a hole opening in a red sky and pouring out blood over a pre-smashed cityscape in childish and amateurish hand.

    A folded up piece of crumpled paper has something drawn oon it at a later time than the dream pieces, that he can roughly place before the more skilled pencil drawings start. It's better than the stick figures that usually show the family stereotypically holding hands, but he can still recognize it as a tiny Lilian holding hands with just Cecilia, with a cluster of other maids off to the side with her sister, and the two parental figures falling off of a cliff. The paper is crinkly in places where water fell onto the page and dried, and stained with what is most certainly a sharp flick of blood across it.

    The computer has nothing exciting. It seems a woman this technically-old barely uses it either. Photos, timetables, emails; mostly work.
Persephone Kore      Paper crumples loudly in Phony's hand as she puts the letter away. Her head tilts back to stare at the ceiling; locks of hair fall back over her shoulders. Xion hasn't seen my face, has she? It's better that way.

     "I understand," she says. "Or I think I do. Maybe someday we can be friends, but not until Lilian and I are friends too. Until then, as long as it's one or the other, she needs you more than I do. That's why you shouldn't fall into my orbit, no matter what else."

     Should I hurt her, so she can hate me and keep being Lilian's? ... No. Even if that were for the best, I couldn't bring myself to do something awful like that. Why am I even thinking it?

     She doesn't turn around to look until Xion's obviously looking away. Then her eyes linger on that bracelet of nothingness. "The Other," she repeats softly, musing.

     "I know the path we're on. I don't like it at all. It's awful. And I don't know how to change tracks. I don't know how I can do anything different, or how she can do anything different. But I'm going to stay here, if that's okay with you, because I really do need to find it. It's important for her. It's important for me."

     "If we really collide, we'll both be gone. Do you know that?"
Staren     When it's mentioned there's a room for Tamamo, thoughts run through Staren's mind: She wanted to build a life together, huh? The bed in Staren's room on her ship was built big enough for two people, and there are two emergency suit lockers in the wall, containing nanosuits programmed to shape themselves for two specific people. That wasn't to be. Perhaps this wasn't either. Could Lilian really feel that way about someone else?

    Or is Tamamo something else to her?
A memory of carrying Tamamo out of the secret boss's room in Last Illusion. Lilian was so pissed at Staren for that. But then what do I know about that anyway? We were just good friends who were confused. If Lilian can know love, and there's someone who could see that in her... I hope this ends with her becoming someone who can have that...

    That's right. Lilian has friends too. And a family, apparently, although they're probably warped. I may not know Tamamo, but there's at least one person who will be sad if this ends with Lilian gone forever. It would be nice if we could find an ending where everyone is happy...

    The thoughts distract Staren from constantly looking around for ghosts that aren't there (so far), at least. Where's that damn study-or-unoccupied bedroom? Creeping through this house gives her the creeps. At least searching a room would take her mind off how *incredibly haunted* this place is.
Lilian Rook     In the library, Featherman rooting around eventually uncovers a likely spot where the bottom shelves in a corner in the shadows cast by the fireplace have the books removed and a seat pushed against them. Moving it aside, someone removed the bottom shelf itself forever ago, and rather industriously unscrewed the back, making a crawlspace a child could get through and about three feet of clearance from the back wall. There's no way Lilian could even fit through there now; it seems to have been completely forgotten. Rooting around in it, all he finds is the bottom half of what probably used to be a walking cane, splintered rather savagely, and apparently hidden where nobody would ever find it. Well, nobody except anyone who cared to ask.

    The history of the book is a long one, featuring Lilian almost constantly. Her father gave it to her at age four; too young to be reading it for any ordinary child, but she did anyways. Though she reads constantly, she always comes back to this book, over and over again, taking great care not to wear out the pages. Her favourite is the one where the protagonist is the faeirie, and after five generations of human characters come and go, the last hero in the story falls in love with her and settles down in her woods to stay together.

    At seven years old, her father grew angry with her for still lugging it around. At eight, he found out again, and had a very long and stressful talk in this room about how faeries are monsters and those stories are irresponsible fiction she should grow out of already. Monsters aren't people. Monsters in the real world kill people. Monsters are the reason she has no family but him. She doesn't get it, so from then on, she reads it in her room, under the tree, at school on her own, in secret. Half the time, she looks extremely ill, or is badly bruised while reading. At age ten, the emotional resonance is strong enough for an entire scene.
Lilian Rook     The blue-eyed man, the green-eyed girl, and the head maid are out in the garden. The girl, in a ruffled red dress this time, looks sick, and has fallen asleep under the rowan tree reading, under the watchful eye of the maid. Moments after the maid steps inside to get something, the girl's father comes up the arched road and through the gate, sees her from the path on the way in. Realizing she has ignored his orders for years and kept hanging onto that childish book, his roar is so loud that the maid comes running right back down the path, yelling "Are you alright Sir?!" with the assumption he'd tripped and broken something.

    She arrives to see the girl in a panic, scrambling upright, but needing to support herself against the tree to do so. Her father tears the book from her hands easily, yelling something about her being a traitor and how she had been turned against him. The girl begins sobbing and desperately begs for the book back, swearing she'll never read it again; she'll just keep on a shelf somewhere, but he won't have it; the maid's attempt to interject is cut short with an icy death glare and the words "Know your place, maid.". When the girl begins reaching for the book anyways, he strikes her and sends her to the ground. The maid runs over to try and catch her, far too late.

    Grainy inky-black distortion destroys the scene for a split second. The girl is holding the book, still on the ground, and her father clutches at empty air for a moment before realizing. All of the volume in his anger disappears, and his voice becomes as cold as death. The words are uttered. "You *dare*? To *me*? Do you think I'm an Extra, Lilian? After everything I do for you-- am I just not real to you? You think you can get away with this? I *told* you how you were *allowed* to use that. I *told* you it was the number one rule you are to never, ever disobey. You *know* that "I have to punish you now right? If you won't break that habit, I'll break it for you". He picks up his cane and twists the cap. Arcs of blackness crackle from the runes in it.

    A solid two minutes of expressionless savagery follow. The emotions are psychically engrained so deep that every little detail is captured, with no fast forward or skimming over; an explicit and unflinching two minute depiction of a grown man using a brass-capped shillelagh on a ten year old child huddled defensively over an old book, until her lip is split, her cheek is gashed, blood runs from her forehead, her blouse collar is torn, and a horrible purple bruise marks the side of her face.

    The maid can do nothing but watch in silent, shuddering, fist-balling rage, until he throws the cane away, and pries the girl off the book by her throat. Then the maid slaps him, causing him to drop the girl in surprise, blinking in shock as if just returning to his senses. The maid stands between them, arms raised, making herself a physical shield. The man begins to say something --some attempt at an excuse-- and then instead says something to the effect of "I hope you have somewhere else to go." and storms off back inside instead.
Candy      The hidden pictures of strange landscapes and darkened figures are of such interest to Candy that he makes painstaking copies of each of them them--assuming them to be visions of something which haunts her, dreams of a similar nature, or depictions of some world she might visit or seek to escape.

     There's just one thing left to do.

*Fuck, I hope you speak Spanish.*

     He conjures some things. A pen, paper. An old-style black and white, grainy photograph of Lilian, at her best. It is a picture conjured from his memory of her, an idealized version of her that never existed, in a place as generic as can be--the outdoor dining section of a restaurant, or cafe, maybe, with unassuming brick construction, wrought iron waist-high fence, and dining tables taking a backseat to her.

     The Understanding would parse it as one idea with two words--but for those who don't benefit from it, it appears as one word. ¡AYUDARLA!

     'Please' is one of the few English words he knows. It's written beneath the second word.

     A radio frequency and a phone number are scrawled beneath it, and the note and photo alike are slipped between the letters on the keyboard.

*She's probably here right now. But I can't talk right now. Not like this.*

     The compass is tucked away, now that he no longer needs it. Creeping out of the room and quietly closing the door with the most halting touch, knob turned to silence even the latchbolt has a chance to make noise.

     He needs more information on what's in those drawings. This family has centuries of history and at least that much knowledge. The issue then is finding where they keep knowledge of outerworld threats and comparing those drawings to the knowledge of such threats.
Persephone Kore <J-IC-Scene> Persephone Kore says, "Has anyone found the maid with the purple hair yet?"
<J-IC-Scene> Persephone Kore says, "I'd like to talk to her about 'the thing Lilian does'."
<J-IC-Scene> Persephone Kore says, "She broke her father's cane with it, a long time ago. She would've had it even back then. I think the maid would know."
<J-IC-Scene> Hamada Haru says, "Follow the sound of water."
<J-IC-Scene> Persephone Kore says, "The sound of water. Okay."

     Once the Noirette-to-Noirette Communication cutscene is concluded, Persephone waits for a good long moment or two for Xion to get some distance, then takes Haru's advice. She makes her way through the winding halls, arriving a little after Haru's finished playing back the recording. It's hard to tell whether or not she overheard the ending lines.

     Persephone is a hard person not to notice; even apart from her stature, odd clothing, and present tiara, she seems more real than the world around her, as if everything else were a hollow plastic toy by comparison. But she smiles a wordless acknowledgement, tries her best to fade into the background, and doesn't interrupt the conversation until it reaches a natural lull.

     "Cecilia," she says. "I've heard a lot about you. You're a very kind person, aren't you?"

     "I'm not Lilian's friend yet. But I really do want to help her. ... Something's gone wrong with her these last few weeks, hasn't it? You've seen it in her eyes. It's to do with that power she has; the one she used to break her father's cane."

     "I want to help her because I'm the same way. A very special child who always did impossible things. You know what I mean, don't you, Cecilia? You must know."
Lilian Rook     As far as Cantio can tell from hacking the computer, the only user that manages it is one Matthew Silas Rook. The server data corroborates the tree-- no, the server is how the information was even obtained. There are locked archives for each name, all of them in the last row exclusively received in the form of military-style mass obituary reports. Despite the mechanical filing of it though, Matthew has obsessively documented every email, every photograph, every text, every social media post, from those who appear to be his two brothers, an older sister, both parents, and the grandparents on his father's side. He's clearly scraped for every single bit of data he could save about them, and compressed them into archives that haven't been opened in years, but nevertheless haven't been pruned.

    The rest is mainly receipts and financial. Absolutely absurd amounts of money. Ridiculous quantities. Beyond the pale. It'd take an actual financial analyst to figure out where it's all going. There are files specifically for Bryce Wyeth Rook, Katrina Gearr Rook, and Lilian Isabelle Rook, tracking their own finances, and what look like . . . weekly summarized progress reports?
Flamel Parsons     Flamel is disoriented by the weight of the emotional impact. This, here, is a formative moment. Both the hidden laboratory and the Jornada del Muerto. Flamel Parsons is dizzy. This lodges in his brain like a bullet in the leg of a soldier. The final slap from the maid is enough to knock him off of his feet, his sunglasses scattering aside, and he only sees the fading moments of that story in distant, wild, unfocused vision. He holds his own cheek, finds it burning hot, and then gasps with fascination. With urgent motions, he scrambles to grab his sunglasses and get them back on.

    He's no longer invisible, so Featherman Neo gets a moment to look at him. He shakes his head, trying to clear it and restore his focus. "Oh my god." He whispers. "I know what to do now." He scrambles to grab the book and set it back in. The thing is practically overflowing with ethereal images, and his brain is scrambling to gather them; transparent hands snatch them as they spill and cram them into his temple. "Oh my god. Oh my god." He shakes his head, pressing the book back in, and re-sealing it. His curiosity got the better of him, and he doesn't regret it -- yet.

    There's something more to do here, though...
Xion Xion brings her hood up with a pinch of thumb and forefinger, dropping it over the crown of her head. Persephone has places to be, and Xion doesn't stay there. When Persephone finds the hallway, it's blank going both directions, Xion gone.

ELSEWHERE, on the grounds, Xion kneels among where the roots churn, an airy snap of wind as she looks up at the massive tree, that had been moved and moved and moved, and seen more lands than many people, drank the energy, and grown.

Peeling off a glove, she places it on the trunk. "Do you..."

The memory begins, and even remotely she feels it, clutching her head and gasping.
Staren     Oh hey, someone found an item that is Very Definitely tied to some secret power of Lilian's! Jackpot!

    Staren makes her way to the library to meet up with Featherman, and apparently Flamel is there too; saying something about he knows what to do because of it? "Let me see." And she eagerly focuses on the Favorite Book and the Cane and asks them Why they are the way that they are?
Featherman Neo Featherman hands the cane over to Flamel (and reluctantly, Staren), once he notices the two. He then opens his telepathy to read off whatever feelings they get from the cane and make a copy in his own mind, probably of a lighter emotional blunt force but still rough.
Flamel Parsons     Flamel doesn't talk this out over the radio. He takes the cane, still adjusting his sunglasses, and says, "I'm pretty sure the Type Black will hospitalize you if she finds out you know this! It's worth it for me, I need it for a project, but it might not be worth it for you! Are you okay with Lilian maybe fracturing your skull? You can take the data -- huh, that's kinda familiar! -- but do you want to take the followup?"

    Either way, he lays his hands on the cane, narrowing his eyes behind the sunglasses, gripping it and pulsing his clairvoyance through. He knows all of what he needs to know right now though. "The unusual dynamics of the powers at play, combined with generational trauma, combined with the dual-parent scenarios, all that together means this is probably... I mean just *entirely* beyond the Oleander Scale. I can't even guess! The psychic force on both sides of this are just... *wow*."
Featherman Neo "I've risked myself worse for less. I want to help her, and everyone around her. And to do that, I need to understand her. But she's not someone you can understand through combat, is she?" Featherman responds to Flamel.

"Besides, I've been hospitalized before. I kinda like the food. I think it's a trauma." To offset the mood, more sarcasm.
Cantio That data Cantio's getting isn't adding up as she pores through what she can actually access. She looks back at that tree just to make sure she didn't miscount somewhere, but there's definitely something that's not adding up here. There were three children and two parents listed as still alive on that family tree, but this Matthew appears to be documenting three /other/ siblings along with the grandparents who were already listed as dead.

"Unless... Ghosts here can still access...?" Cantio starts talking to herself, then shakes her head at how utterly silly that sounds. Almost immediately afterwards, however, she snaps her fingers and gets to work cross-referencing those names with the print to see which of those extra names aren't even alive anymore. She's checking in particular to see if Matthew himself might be dead, but being able to filter out the information about the dead...

No, that doesn't narrow things down too much, but there's a lot for Cantio to try and process here.

And then there's the matter of the receipts and progress reports. It'd be easy enough to assume that Bryce and Katrina aren't dead, but she checks their names with that printed tree just to be sure. After that, she moves onto actually reading the progress reports. Lilian's gets the bulk of her attention, of course, but she also takes a look at the other two reports just in case there's something particularly notable in those as well.
Lilian Rook     Cecilia watches Haru blankly and impassively for a moment, then decides to make sense of his introduction as "So, a coworker then. Very well. But then even moreso, I must insist that you make a proper appointment. If you disturb the house too much, the sisters will be very unkind. Or worse." However, when Haru says 'something resembling justice', the extraordinarily well-practiced neutral maid demeanour cracks before his eyes. "And I'll politely ask you not to speak of her in that way. I'm well aware of what it is she does every week. I know for a fact that she has already done more for others than most people will ever dream of." She bristles. She's visibly agitated at Haru's casual dislike of Lilian.

    And yet, she does, still, visibly stiffen up and pokerface herself at hearing the discussion for herself, recorded. "Admission in advance? I'm fairly certain that isn't how it works." she replies rigidly. "And even if I did know anything about what you meant, what were you hoping to hear? That I'd blither on about the young mistress of the house, accused of a criminal act, without a lawyer present, and you'd be able to record something convenient." A pause.

    "She told me . . . she warned me before she left, that there were people out to get her. People she thought were her friends. She said that only Lady Tamamo, Miss Strawberry, and Miss Xion should be allowed entry. I thought she was being . . . But this is your fault, isn't it? *Isn't it?*"

    When Persephone arrives, two things happen immediately. One is that the both of them see Cecilia's hand fall away from slowly reaching for a kitchen knife out of view, as that disarming aura hits her. The second is that Cecilia's mind is already cluttered with incredibly complicated thoughts about exactly what Haru asked, attempting to solve the mystery on her own. "And who are you?" she asks, only dialing down from 'really actually about to try and stab Haru the moment his back is turned in a naive attempt to help Lilian' to 'suspicious and stiff again'.

    And the instant Persephone says 'something's gone wrong with her', all the tension deflates from Cecilia's body. She slumps backwards against the counter, holding her face and breathing out a long, shuddering sigh of worried-sick exhaustion. "That's not . . . that's not fair to her. Things were . . . everything was getting better. Little by little. Things were really changing. A little better every year. Sometimes she'd be frustrated about her work, but most of the time she just talked about her friends. Real friends. And then one day she just . . . she came home with her face like . . . back then, and I don't . . . I don't know what to do. I'm afraid it's not possible for someone like me to do anything about it at all."

    She sniffles, and looks up bravely. "Not a friend yet? But she told you about *that*? You're certainly selling yourself short. But if you're looking for her, she isn't here, and won't be for a while. She's gone to somewhere you won't reach. She wants . . . a power I told her that she'd never need. I'm afraid of why she wants it now."

    Reading her mind, Cecilia's recent mental image is even worse than Hibiki's last recollection. Pale and exhausted, eyes shadowed and hollow, arms covered in bloody bandages, face bruised, fingers burnt all over, gel plasters on her body while changing blouses. Skipping meals, spending all her time locked up in her room. "I'm afraid that what I know best is that if that girl wants to do something, it's impossible to stop her by force. And if she wants to keep a secret, there's no way to find out."
Flamel Parsons     "Hey, it's your medical coma, not mine! Grab a seat, the bit right at the end nearly took me out of the operation." Flamel rambles, planting a palm straight onto Featherman Neo's temple -- at least, the helmet part of it -- and giving it to him raw and true. Time for *TRAUMA DUMPING*!
Lilian Rook     If Flamel cares to root around where Featherman found the cane, he will find the dinged up cap, and a heap of splinters that was probably once the top half, scattered around. Staren, scanning the book, is immediately blasted in the face by the very same scene for her sheer feckless impudence, except she also gets to viscerally feel every crack to the skull, and can magically sense the taser-like effect to go with it. The cane, though:

    This is certainly the cane Matthew used for a very long time. All the way back to when these were trendy. When he first landed in England to make his fortune, he'd gotten one to fit in with the aristocrats. It was with him as he polished his English, scrubbed away his accent, learned to wear suits and tie ties, to manage money and people, the ins and outs of the modern society he saw on the horizon, and saw him through everything from long hikes into the deep woods to a grand circle of standing stones at a lake, to pacing around factory floors, to chatting amiably at country clubs with his many new friends in England.

    He kept it with fastidious care for decades, and inscribed most of his commonly most used spells into the core of the wood, as a sign of an accomplished sorcerer, wishing not to look like a 'primitive druid' amongst affluent company. It has been used to smash many a thing in past. He has always had a difficult temper, but it'd still be in his hand when he came back and apologized. It'd be a lie to say he'd never raised it against a black-haired young boy or a redheaded blue-eyed young girl, as a very outdated parent, but at least in terms of swats to the wrist over misbehaviour in those cases. It's a cherished item, treasuring even embarrassing memories like getting drunk and using it as a billiards cue with the lads.

    Psychometric examination shows that his brother's name was inscribed inside the cap on the day he got the news of his death. Since that day, his temper became worse year by year, and he ceased apologizing for it even to his wife. Immense negative emotions connect it and Lilian. Though the previous vision was especially savage, it is not an exception. A blunt instrument in hot anger, a tool for punitive curses in place of groundings in cold rage. One time he'd taken a swing at the elder brother over Lilian, and it had resulted in a punchout. Then, one day, he went for a hike to clear his head, after wiping his daughter's blood from it, and ink-blot corruption caused it to explode into a million pieces, dropping him from the steep ravine 'cliffside' he'd been walking alongside, most of its splinters ending up in his hands and face.
Hamada Haru //I must insist...//

"Sorry, but no. You see, Rook and I are the same kind of person in that way, but I'm not fettered by protocol. I think you understand what that means well enough," Dynamic Era says, ceasing in his pacing. His posture ceases to be anything even resembling coherent for a fight; prior to this exchange, he'd at least been braced for some kind of martial arts maid.

//I'm fairly certain this isn't how it works.//

He shakes his head. "I'm not a law man of any kind. If I was, I would be a bad one. A Maverick. Some real Beverly Hills cop shit. My justice is my justice. And no, I'm not out to get her. Maybe it is my fault, I don't know. You want to know the truth, though?"

                        "I feel guilty just being here."                        

Dynamic Era spreads his arms out in a grand, agitated gesture that doesn't really have a coherent meaning.

"Breaking into somebody's house while they're away, even somebody like Rook, is like being the subject of somebody's nightmare. Or shitty, tragic backstory," he muses, meanderingly.

"Don't bother. You can't hurt me," Haru adds in response to the posture that he DOES notice, glancing to Persephone, but remaining sufficiently absorbed in his own issues that he doesn't address her.

"It's because the blame fell to Xion," Haru explains, "that I came here in the first place. I don't approve of killing off a helpless enemy, but killing a genocidal kaijin that has been robbed of all power doesn't qualify for my sort of justice. And I came to YOU because the 'help' are the ones most likely to know what's going on when somebody throws the gates open. Change your security procedures."

Intangible now, Dynamic Era... simply hovers there, going seemingly inactive.
Dynamic Era 2 comes active and begins to explore the exit route, such as it is.
Featherman Neo As Flamel transmits information, Featherman takes the emotional shock and recoils, falling on his behind even if his willpower helps brunt the blow. He takes a few moments before rising back up, accepting help if offered, and thinking.

"This is...tremendously awful. I don't *regret* seeing it, but I see what you meant. What is that...they did? How can we help her...?"
Lilian Rook     Cantio verifies that Bryce and Katrina are Lilian's elder brother and sister, the former by over seventy years and the latter by over thirty. The generational gap is enormous. None of them have anything in common; not even the same formative grasp of culture.

    Bryce appears to have an illustrious study record and worked in some kind of 'magic R&D' as far as she can tell, but then there are ten years of military service on his record. There's no further mention of his previous workplace, friends, or interests, and now he and Matthew keep sparse contact on bad terms. It seems like Bryce is just a money-pusher now. Married, too. It's his second wife. The first one died thirty-eight years ago.

    Katrina has a bit of a troublemaker record, but her formative years are the same period as Bryce's military service, near the end of which she obtained a medical degree and also served in some capacity. Since then, she only stuck around to fulfill some familial obligations, something about an Atrium and Tir na nOg, and fucked off on a whirlwind tour of the 'doctors without borders' variety, burning through a new boyfriend every year.

    Lilian's record is meticulously documented. Everything from comments from her private tutors to her grades at school (90s in the first year, one 89, and then nothing but 100s ever since then), Matthew's opinions of her friends, her medical checkups, her course progress, her Immunes exams, what little of her Paladins record he seems to care about, her personal finances (of which he notes he suspects she is hiding some from him), and details even down to five school crushes (three boys and two girls, which he loathes), and what the house staff are feeding her day by day. It's incredibly invasive. It feels dirtying just to read it. He has extensive plans written out for expecting her to have kids in the next four years at most.

    Everyone else either died in that same fifteen year block of time, or died a much longer time ago. This single nuclear family in this one household is all that's left of a family tree that used to have over sixty concurrently living members. Seeing the ages, Lilian is the only one born after all these people died. Her siblings and parents would have been there at the funerals, but Lilian never even met them.
Flamel Parsons     Flamel is looking over Jornada del Muerto, with only sunglasses to protect him. He works his tongue around his mouth, between his teeth, examining this. "The intergenerational trauma is-- wow." He adjusts his eyewear and makes a nervous, weird laugh. "Wow." He pulls his hand away from the cursed thing and shakes his head, looking to Featherman Neo. He yanks him up onto his feet. "See? That was the formation of-- I mean, we don't even have a name for it. The Oleander Scale of Intergenerational Psychohazards only goes as high as Butcher-class psychic constructs. This is, just, *wow*. What was that word for the arrival of all those monsters? 'Onslaught'? It's all of that at once. I need to see it for myself. Or I need to..."

    He bounces on his nice, polished shoes a few times. "I need to get back to the lab. And the archives. I think I need to do something very, very important. Maybe you can help! Oh, man. This is gonna be a lot." Whatever they needed to find out here, special agent Flamel Parsons has figured his end of things out. He has his path forward. "I need to go get these feelings under a microscope. Oh my god." He's probably going to start heading out around now.
Staren     "Wait, what?" asks Staren as Flamel says something about comas, and

    then she looks sad, and

    then she's crying and covering her head, So, that's where she learned and

    then she's gripping the cane white-knuckled, seemingly testing whether she can snap it in half with her bare (not-currently-strength-boosted) hands.

    "Bastard. Using torture on his own children... or, great-grandchildren, or whatever, however long these people live. I hope she killed him." The tone of cold rage is slightly undermined by still talking around the frog in her throat from crying a moment ago.

    Staren stands, her grip on the cane tightening as she looks at it. Powerful magic, spells inscribed on it, useful artifact (RAW EMOTIONAL PAIN)

    Someone screams in rage as she turns and FLINGS it as hard as she can at a random wall. It takes her a moment to realize it was her.

    And another few moments for... thoughts to... think again. She speaks softly, "Her favorite story... was about a nonhuman... who lived happily ever after. He saw that... she identified with monsters... and told her how horrible they were... how horrible she was, and..." She looks at Flamel and Featherman. "...You saw." Her hands check on her own body where Lilian was beaten, making sure she's alright.

    And then she collapses with her back against a wall. "She went through all of that... it wasn't fair... it can't be right for us to put her through any more suffering..." So make it quick and as painless as possible, if we can't find another way.
Hibiki Tachibana     If there's anything Hibiki Tachibana is good at, it's forging on through bad ideas. Mustering up as much willpower as she can to force herself through the magical compulsion, she--

    Finds nothing. Just must and furnishing she can only assume has remained untouched since the day the occupant had left. How long ago was that...? And why? It couldn't have been because of what's happened recently, it seems a bit too old for that...she hopes. It's hard to tell if it's that thought, or just an inability to resist the effect further that she pulls back away and shuts the door a bit more heavily than she intended to.

    Letting out a heavy breath, she only briefly glosses over the other spare room - which confirms how special this one is, as if she didn't need enough of that. Even with nothing left in there...

    Which leaves the last of the set. Hibiki tries the door and gets nowhere; she doesn't need supernatural sensing or psychometry to put two and two together. It can only be Lilian's room. Exactly what she was looking for. But now that she's here...what?

    It's not the fact that entry is hard, even if it is. She can only imagine what kind of protections must be in place. Even attempting to brute force it with transformed power has a chance of not working and a higher one of backfiring immensely. But now that she's right in front of it she's just a little bit scared, inexplicably, of what might be found in there. And if she even should.

    "I think...I actually found her room. But it's shut down...tight. There's also a room right next to it that I think might have been Tamamo's, at one point. But not anymore." She idly radios in, still stuck in thought. Trying to get in the hard way is a big risk...and she's not sure she even can. In more ways than one.

    Even so, she's still going to give it a try. Just once, because if she just walked away from it now, she's not sure if she'd ever get another chance. Braced up against it, with all the strength she can muster and her weight behind it, to see if she can make the sealed entrance give at all. Resisting shouldn't mean impossible to open. And whether that's possible or not--

    Well, Hibiki Tachibana is /very/ good at forging on through bad ideas. She'll find some way or another.
Persephone Kore      Persephone's eyes linger on Cecilia's grasping hand, then flick over to Haru. Her mouth briefly downturns into a subdued frown directed at him, but she doesn't say anything out loud.

     Her eyes slide back to Cecilia, slowly and without saccades, as if her gaze itself had momentum and weight. She still frowns, but its undertones shift from disapproval to sympathy. "Please don't talk about yourself like that, Cecilia. You've already done so much for her," Phony says earnestly. "More than anyone else I know. I'm so glad I finally got to meet you, actually. You really are special."

     ". . . a power I told her that she'd never need. I'm afraid of why she wants it now." Persephone's lips tense. "I'm afraid of that too," she says, her eyes casting themselves off to the side uncomfortably. "You've done so much work to help her become the person she is now, haven't you? To help her build herself up. To help her be kinder to the world than the world's been to her. And now I'm scared she'll tear herself down."

     She leans back against a wall and shuts her eyes. Deep breath in, hold it, deep breath out. When her eyes open again, she's smiling the smile her face was built for, even if there is a rueful note to it.

     "Of course I know she can't be stopped by force. I don't want to, even if I could. How did you help her become a hero in the first place? What scaffolding did you build for her? How did you show her love? ... If it comes to that, I want to be able to remind her. I want to know how to bring her back to the good you nurtured in her."

     Haru's later comments make her glance over at him again, her expression now more obviously one of distaste and exasperation. She makes a concerted attempt to smooth over Cecilia's emotional state to stop her from being too upset by the things he's saying. "Sorry. I don't actually know him," she says truthfully, turning back to the latter with a slightly forced smile.
Flamel Parsons     "Okay, see," Flamel approaches Staren, hoisting her up with hands under each armpit. "You were *definitely* not ready for that one. This isn't even on-scale, the best I can give you is 3.6 roentgen, psychically-speaking. If you want, I can wipe your memory of it! But we need to get out of here. I think all three of us are pretty well at our limit for how much psychic data we can carry out of here, we had probably better move. Unless you two have *more* you want to search... It's tempting, but I'm at-capacity here." There's an energy to him, like an overfull bag in the brain. "We need to get this under a microscope, ASAP. Mostly because, uh-- It really sounds like the psychohazard got woken up into an active state recently."

    Flamel Parsons is signaling retreat on his end. Unless there's desperate, urgent needs, he's going to make a break back on the path described to get here, surging out the front door, through the gate, and away!
Staren     Staren reflexively hangs limply like a cat for a moment before lifting her head. "...We never did actually find out what that 'thing she does' is, it was blotted out of the memory." Blink. "...I guess at least we know she can do that, even to psychic impressions on inanimate objects."

    She glances away from Flamel, at where the cane landed after she threw it. "...I think it's better if I remember it. Otherwise... I might not have it in me to sympathize with Lilian."

    She looks back at Flamel again. "...What's Psychonauts protocol for both preserving these findings *and* our own mental well-being?"
Featherman Neo "Let's retreat. We've learned enough to get somewhere." Featherman agrees with the others, and moves to follow. "I'll have to wait for Hibiki before I can fully leave, but, thank you for giving me the burst." He rubs his helmet as if he was rubbing his head.
Flamel Parsons     "You try to live a good life full of kindness and empathy! And you pray it'll keep up with the knowledge you get. That's pretty much all you can do, even as a psychic spy!" Flamel explains to Staren, on his way out. "That's all anyone can do, really." He gives a thumbs-up to Featherman Neo as well. "I sympathize with the curiosity! I'd have done the same thing. And man," His grin gets incredibly wide. "It would *not* have been worth it."
Featherman Neo "Agreed. Kindness and empathy is a guiding light in life. Don't let your hands get stained black." Featherman nods to Flamel.
Xion Xion remains at the tree, laying across a risen root, foot rocking down across a branch, Starlight hanging perilously from the toe of her raised boot.

After the stressful and damaging things she had been proximal to experiencing, and the ones she experienced herself, she had found a pleasing answer, without any 'but' attached.

"I see, I see. So you do like her. In the way of trees. And the man? The man with the cane?" She wonders, staring up into the branches of the tree, to listen for the rustle.
Staren     "...Virtual pets, god games, and city-builders on the ride home it is, then. I'm sure I've got some stuff with Virtual Caring Potential on here." Staren reaches into her bag and tosses Featherman and Flamel each a com-unit, and pulls her own scanner from her pocket, browsing through the games list.
Cantio The more Cantio reads, the more Cantio hears, the angrier she gets. It's not an outwards burning anger that has her breaking things, but there's a growing agitation even as she works through those reports. Between the person with a past in magical R&D and the person currently working in medical matters, she'd be more worried about the former if only because of what that residual knowledge could be used for.

At least, she would be if she didn't get to Lilian's records right after that. Despite that foul feeling Cantio's getting in her gut as she reads it, she doesn't stop. The feeling grows, and the foulness isn't just in the invasive nature of the subject material.

"Why the hell... Why couldn't you just have been...?" Cantio can't help but mutter angrily to herself as she keeps reading, stepping away from the server and her floating drone just to give herself enough space to stop herself from trying to smash something. She inhales and exhales slowly several times, only getting back to reading once she's not shaking anymore.

"This relationship, though... Is this really how terrible humans can be to their own family?" There's a strong temptation to just wreck that server, but Cantio relents. Instead, she copies as many reports and as much of that financial data she can over to her drone's storage, then gets up from the server to approach the nearest outwards-facing wall.

The capsules would be too difficult to crack without leaving even more traces of her presence here. She'll just have to settle for bringing the data about the family tree, the obscene amounts of financial data, and those detailed reports back with her as she phases through that wall to make her escape.
Lilian Rook     For Persephone, Cecilia's story goes back far longer than her age lets on. A little girl running home as fast as she could as the sirens wailed, only to see her cramped little house explode across the street. Weeks and weeks in a shelter, listening to the radio. The 'stiff upper lip' speech that inspired her. The day her great aunt found her, and took her away to a world she had no knowledge of. The way she was taut and tutored and prettied up to be presentable at the age of sixteen. Presented to the house; a different couple this time, back when it was filled with footsteps and voices, chatter and laughter, radio and games, during the day, and the nights were a least a bit more quiet.

    A junior maid apprentice exclusively because she was a distant relative of a barely consequential branch of the family and her mother's sister had come to get her. She met Alison as an eight year old. When she listened to the radio, Alison would too, and ask her about the war outside. How, after Alison became the head lady of the household herself, her parents retiring into old age and irrelevancy, Cecilia was made into the head maid for fondness and trust in the way she'd helped raise her. Carefree days at home, and carefree days in the city. The day she was given care of Alison's youngest daughter. Told that only she could do it. That this one can't fail.

    The drawings from Candy's exploration. The recitals and tender moments from Persephone's own psychometry before. Telling her stories about the relatives she'd never met. Cecilia's close friends and distant family. And sixteen years ago, Cecilia's history becomes hopelessly abbreviated by terrible static and corruption.

    Her personal history is utterly dominated by Lilian from then on. She's practically all that appears. The early memories are happy, proud, encouraging ones when with Lilian herself, and tense, distressing, and combative ones when merely talking about her, or fretting in private. After her first year of school though, then even the girl in Cecilia's mind becomes more and more uncomfortable to look at, taking on subtly warped shades of beautiful perfection and uncanny fear-shapes. The disturbing drawings and alarming comments. The suspicion Lilian was cheating at school and bullying other children. Finding stolen items. Helping Katrina treat a dangerously injured sixteen year old boy after the day of a terrible phone call. Constant fights with her parents. Fights over things that did happen, but mostly fights over things merely imagined.

    The day they planted those lillies together. The day Lilian stopped carrying around her book. The day Lilian got her first prefect badge. The day Lilian bothered to speak of school for the last time-- 'perfect again, leave me alone'. The day Lilian asked how her husband was doing and grew so suspicious she faked a letter. The day that Lilian had gotten into the Reliquary, and the worrying years she used to talk to that sword while she thought nobody was around, like it washer friend, telling it secrets she shouldn't know. The talk she finally had with a teacher --Reid-- who knew a man called Gerart. The Academy. The Paladins. The day Tamamo came home. Lilian's endless gushing about her Multiverse friends. Even, unbeknownst to Cecilia, Lilian talking about Persephone herself in guardedly optimistic terms. Lilian's history as long as she has ever been home is engraved on this woman's heart.
Lilian Rook     Even then, some major incidents stand out amongst them, as a connected arc.

    A day Cecilia had been so scared of Lilian that she managed to smuggle in antimagic charms from a trusted friend. They did nothing to stop Lilian from constantly sneaking into her room, but Matthew found out, and suspecting the worst from a servant with those in a house of mages, called to have her arrested. However, the charms mysteriously disappeared and nothing ever came of it.

    That day. The one that Flamel and Staren had seen, but the one Persephone had already seen before even that. The same dress, the same book, the same bruises, the same terrified expression, and Cecilia herself stood in place of the purple distortion.

    A day that young Lilian had been blamed for the disappearance of a card Cecilia was sure that was simply misplaced, and while taking her side in private, Lilian had hopelessly and inappropriately attempted to kiss her, to two-sided panic, a big fight, calling a child psychologist, making up her mind to leave before this could go the way it always does in aristocratic houses, and the complete breakdown that followed the moment she found out; and Cecilia's wistful shame at the thought of abandoning her.

    The very first day that Lilian came home with her Paladins badge. The stories she had to tell. The hours they'd passed together, like old times; like before she'd turned six years old.

    A day not even three months ago, where Lilian had asked her about the right time to get married, and even Cecilia could tell what she meant. How happy it made her. How glad.

    A day not even three weeks ago where Lilian returned home looking like that, and the way she'd looked at her. Screamed at her. How naive she felt for trying to help.

    More immediately salient, Persephone, by reading Cecilia's mind, discovers that Cecilia does not know what Lilian's power is, but she is aware of so many holes in her memory that she is reasonably certain Lilian has erased the knowledge multiple times. However, because none of the holes border any kind of harm, Cecilia believes this to be benevolent, and has never mentioned it. What she does have is sixteen years of living around it, being scared of it, learning how to deal with it, and then coming to accept it as normal. There is no direct information, but almost two decades of memorized facts, trivia, strategies and tricks, for child-rearing and otherwise, for dealing with the unknown factor.

    And for arguing with her parents. Cecilia is a skilled negotiator on Lilian's behalf. Extremely so. She thinks of herself as her only advocate in the world. She doesn't believe Haru is correct, but would also probably commit seppuku before revealing any information that could be used to punish her. In fact, that seems to be her main focus, even talking to Persephone; the chronic worry that suspicious people will punish Lilian for something unexplained.

    But the worry she had before they even got there, is about Skye. Specifically, that Cecilia's intuition scares her that Lilian might be refining her ability towards the purpose of killing someone.)
Lilian Rook     Cecilia can't help but tense again at Haru throwing around lines like 'I'm not a law man', and 'a Maverick'. "As you should." she rather bluntly follows him with. "You're far too late to appear in the backstory however, I'm afraid." It's hard to tell how grim that is supposed to be. She doesn't flinch in the absolute slightest at his factually correct assurance that attacking him would do nothing. "Whether or not I can has nothing to do with it. What I can't refuse to do, does."

    However, he does finally get something useful. "Xion? No no, I know Miss Xion. In a way. Lilian would-- young Miss Rook would never. She told me about the 'kaijin'. She came home frustrated about that day. But she was *furious* a week later. I remember. She was completely living with an 'Officer Tomari'. That he wouldn't listen to her, and wanted to blame Miss Xion instead, because of some jailbreak of a sort. I urged her away from rash action back then --the things she was proposing to do to convince him-- but . . . has something happened to Miss Xion?" Persephone's mind reading corroborates that these are true memories. Lilian is hysterically angry in them, and says all kinds of unpleasant things about Extras when swearing about Tomari. A Watchman would know the date to be shortly after Adachi was taken in and then busted out. Cecilia is adamantly sure that Lilian considers Xion a trustworthy friend; even very recently.

    Under Persephone's disarming aura and gentle compulsion, on someone who may be a remarkably strong-willed woman, but who has no real magical or psychic defenses to speak of, Cecilia confides her related worries with evident exhaustion. There's a moment where it seems she might cry, after being told 'how special she is', but she disperses it instantly as a polite cough with the ease of a consummate professional.

    "You're giving me far too much credit, but I'm deeply flattered, even if it is so unnatural for a mere maid to be considered responsible for the work of an entire family. I wish I could tell you something more useful. I used to help her with all sorts of things. With faces, with making friends, with learning dressing up and makeup and how to do her hair, with growing up as a lady, with difficult homework, her first trips outside the house when she was thirteen, with all sorts of odd and complicated questions she'd ask about the world, with her nightmares, with her fights, and how to speak to Matthew and Alison. I can't put all of that into a few words, but . . ."
Lilian Rook     "What I felt was the most important was to know 'a bad choice' from 'falling short', and to praise and forgive what I couldn't see. I learned how often she really wanted something different to happen, and couldn't get there on her own. How hard she was working to make something seem easy. I felt it was important that at least someone would ask 'why?'; I don't believe in punishing people for failing if they were already trying as hard as they could; how does that encourage a child to try at all? That girl is so deathly afraid of second best that if she tried and someone didn't like it, she'd never touch it ever again without my cajoling."

    "I know that it's impossible to make her do anything she won't accept. Her parents never learned that, but I did. They . . . worry, about her . . . potential for defiance, with that . . . ability. They wanted to make sure she would never use it to disobey them, but all they really taught her, between you and me, was how to be more subtle. But why be scared of a girl who doesn't want to be bad? It's so simple in the end. If you make it easy to be good, and rewarding to follow the rules, you needn't fear a child's misbehaviour. Making it too hard to be good 'enough', or too scary to risk following the rules in case of failing, well, that just teaches them to give up and go around or go through you, doesn't it? Professor Reid and the Major General understood that."

    "I'm truly happy that she found so many people that it's easy to be good to. And I feel sorry for whoever still won't learn, and attempts to punish her for not being good enough. Especially if that's what . . . this, is about."

    "I fear what I failed to teach her is . . . Well, she's grown up now. I can't be there to make her feel safe. The way she's acting now, it's like . . ." Cecilia swallows. "Yes. You're right. It's just like when she broke her father's cane. And I have an idea of who it is this time."
Hamada Haru "Sorry, but you can't threaten me that way, either," Dynamic Era replies, matter-of-factly. He's just a vague outline at the moment, but his voice is still clear. "If I didn't want to be known I wouldn't have introduced myself at all. I'm not inclined to follow your protocols, but if I don't do that much I'd be a miserable Kamen Rider. Even if I'm not one right now."

He says nothing with regards to being told he should feel guilty. Persephone can tell that it makes him feel defiantly less guilty, though only for a couple of moments before he lapses back into being bothered about the whole thing.

It might also just be that Haru is unwilling not to elaborate on the questions that follow. He shrugs, and says, "Tomari is an idiot. Xion is fine, just moderately put upon by the situation."

Pieces click into place in the back of Dynamic Era's mind, and Persephone can see that. Further, she can see that he doesn't say so, because he thinks that it would distress Cecilia to have given away that much.

He hasn't reached the conclusion of 'time magic', but he has conclusively decided that whatever it is still requires Lilian to be fundamentally capable of achieving the effect she wants to. If something is absolutely impossible for her, if the chance is not merely 0.00000001% but actually 0, that unknown ability will not help.
Lilian Rook     Hibiki is now three for three in taking grievous hand injuries for trying to meddle in Lilian's business. The wards on her door are recently placed, and sufficient to carbonize her fingers without her symphogear on. Even then, someone else will have to fix the minor damage done to the door in the process of shattering the ward.

    The room beyond does indeed belong to Lilian. It is enormous. Hibiki and Miku's entire apartment could fit into a quarter of it. It has the distinct feeling of having originally been meant for a couple and baby, and had been given to the new child as a form of wishful parental spoiling.

    An enormous four poster bed with scarlet sheets and pillows dominates a quarter of the room, near the lengthy glass panorama and sliding door out to a seaside balcony. Another quarter is given to a walk-in closet that appears to be outrageously wide and deep even from the entrance, meant to have multiple people's belongings in it, now locked tight.

    Stacks of shelves, cabinets, and dressers fill another quadrant, including more than a hundred books, artsy little odds and ends, souvenirs of Multiversal travel, a large and fastidiously warded jewelry box, a transparent case filled with endless rows of awards, and a large and impressive cosmetics kit and even larger and more impressive mirror which, oddly, has seen noticeable scratching].

    The last quadrant is filled with a long desk and table set, with a personal computer little more than a keyboard and touchpad attached to a holographic emitter (the screensaver of which is an image Flamel will recognize from the book, and a separate tablet on the side, ostensibly both used at once. Various landscapes and group selfies are put up on the wall, many of the blonde and brunette Hibiki is familiar with, many of Paladins faces. A thick sketchbook is left on the surface, open to a gorgeously detailed 'stealth sketch' of Tamamo in bust. The wastebasket at the end only contains a shattered tablet stylus. Between cutesy souvenirs, tiny figurines, well-cared for potted flowers, and an old plush toy, the desk space is cluttered with arcane mandalas, mostly empty chemistry ampoules, and empty magazines for some futuristic weapon)]. There is a single small journal with a little brass lock on it.
Lilian Rook     Candy's roaming around the house, following magic and intuition together, brings him inexorably downstairs, closer and closer towards that zone of anomalous magic, and to where the mysterious basement draft can be felt, leading from one that ostensibly doesn't exist despite the powerful magical signature below, separate from the leylines. There's been no supply closet that these people would keep 'the good stuff'. The assumption is as obvious as it is logical.

    And yet somehow, even with his senses, he almost stumbles straight into a red-haired, blue-eyed young woman, about as tall as he is, missing a jacket and yet to ditch the ponytail, emerging from a strange corner as if she simply hadn't been there before. She stops, backs up, begins uttering some kind of hurried, casual apology, and then realizes he isn't a maid.

    A full second of tense staring follows. "Oh! I'm so sorry! Hello there! You must be one of Lilian's friends too! Let me guess; you came looking for her as well?" Ulike with Cecilia, though, he can feel her charging up magic between her fingers behind her back. A magical silent alarm.
Candy FUCK. Goddammit.

     Candy freezes, tension building up in that silent moment, eyes wide, still bleary.

*Even when she's not here she makes things hard. Who the fuck is this? Family? Sister?*

     Even though she's winding up for a silent alarm, it's not hard for Katrina to make the assumption that Candy at least cares about Lilian. His eyes are the kind of red that imply he only recently got done crying, and they're already starting to water again. When she speaks up, he sighs, and the tension leaves-- now there's only the fatigue of someone who's had an immense amount of anger drained, and isn't sure what to do now.

     "Her friend? ...I thought so," he says quietly, removing his newsie cap to hold it in both hands. "Then she shot one of my friends trying to get to another, and beat the shit out of me for trying to stop her."

     "I got defenses against that kinda thing, you know. Ever hear of wahy? Dream lords? I've got three. One of 'em is raising hell..."

Danger! Rook girl deceives! Rook girl warns!
*Shut the fuck up.*

     "...about that work you're doing right now." He chuckles, mirthlessly, hands wringing the cap. "You richies and your alarms," he says, shaking his head. "You know what really hurt wasn't the fact that she beat me black and blue."

     "What really hurt was that he didn't warn me about it. 'Cause he and I both felt safe around her."

     "Look... I won't lie. I came here really pissed off. She said something to me, after she knocked me around. 'Know your place.'" He frowns, one hand pressed against the wall. His fingers curl halfway into a fist. "She's good at that, isn't she? At twisting the knife. But I don't wanna act on being pissed off with her because it's not gonna do nothing."

     "She said something else that really stuck with me, too. 'It's not a sin to want things to be okay. Happy people oughta hang onto being happy.' I want that Lilian back, and I'd do anything to get her back. So, please..."

     His voice wavers. "Help me."
Hibiki Tachibana     Three for three doesn't make it any less of a pain every single time it happens. She was expecting some kind of lashback for forcing it - and stumbling in past the door clutching at her wrist, glancing down with a turning-over feeling in her gut at the state her fingers and hand have been left in, she promptly pulls it back into her jacket sleeve and tucks it under the other, putting it out of sight and out of mind for the immediate moment. As best as she can, anyway. She'll get better.

    It helps, somewhat, when she's briefly caught up in just how unexpectedly /large/ the place is. It's so much more space than she can imagine one person ever needing, and for all the familial difficulties she was assuming and have been unearthed today, she feels like it says a certain something that it all belongs to her. A bed bigger than life, an outdoors balcony, so many books she thinks she can't fathom reading them all--

    She picks up on a few of the finer details when she stops gawking and takes a heavy breath. "Scratches? And did she break that...? Those are..." She steps past the photos put up first, going over every familiar and unfamiliar face first. The sketch of Tamamo actually gets an almost incredulous blink before she takes in everything else splayed out atop the massive surface. Items both the sort of thing she'd have probably expected, in the vein of weaponry and the arcane, and...not.

    "The way she always seemed to me back then...I never would have figured her the type for even half of this. Even all the pictures of her and so many people..." There's a self-targeted, dry little scoff. 'Yet you don't know anything about me.' "...Yeah. I'm sorry." After a wince and a shake of her head, Hibiki gravitates in the direction of the journal. Stopping to just stare down at it for a moment, she frowns. She lost the right to feel bad about invasions of privacy when she barged into someone's room.

    "If I want to find out how to help fix all of she really is...!" With some resolve surging back up, she starts a search for the key to the lock starting around the immediate vicinity and then further out if she can't find it. Like any girl going through another girl's belongings, that means everything from drawers to under the bed's pillows.

    Unlike most of them though, she's making sure nothing ends up out of place. She doesn't want to have to sully the room, break the lock, or get someone else to come help...but finding this out is something she has to do.
Persephone Kore      From six years old to now, that's been eating at the inside of her head. Of course the anti-magic charms never worked. It was never like that. It's just a way to act, a way to shape the world, that nobody else understands.

     'I have to punish you now, right? If you won't break that habit, I'll break it for you'. I understand it now. The bruise on your face, and the way you screamed. Even that ghostly figure in the way. Lilian... you didn't even trust Cecilia to know. Do you even really know yourself? When we first met, you didn't think we were alike.

     There are two ways to raise very special children. Carpathia never said it out loud, but I saw it in her heart: you can raise them with trust and love, or you can raise them with force and threats. I couldn't imagine what that would look like until now. Any time you were less than perfect, they'd beat you. *He'd* beat you, so scared that you could be looking down on him; that you'd break his control if you weren't too afraid to.

     Now you've outgrown being punished by everyone else. You're too real for them. Were you scared you wouldn't be too real for me? That you'd gone back to the time when someone could hurt you because you were being 'bad'?

     Persephone had stared, for a moment, right through Cecilia, as if she'd come untethered from the world. When she blinks to reorient herself, her eyelashes glitter. A slow, deep breath escapes her that she didn't know she'd been holding.

     "It is unnatural," she finally says. Apart from her watering eyes, the look on her face is strangely one of gratitude. "But you handled it so, so well anyway. So much better than one person should have to. I had... something in my head, like she has. That thing-you-can't-remember, that she found when she was six. It took dozens of people to make sure I turned out right. And you've done so much, almost all alone. Thank you, Cecilia."

     She steps forward and offers Cecilia an armwarmer-padded hand, just to hold, and maybe squeeze. "You're not 'just' a maid. I'm absolutely sure you're the reason she can be a hero. You're the only one who made it easy for her to be good, for so so many years."

     Persephone's smile deepens to something sincere and soothing, rather than bittersweet. "This isn't about punishing her. Not at all. I think she might be scared that it is, too. But I want to help her be good again. I want to help her feel safe again, so she doesn't feel she has to wish for such terrible things. So she can go back to building herself up again; to getting better, bit by bit."

     Her smile drops back to bittersweet. A brief flinch passes across her face. She guiltily feels Cecilia's heart to be sure, but unhesitatingly answers: "Yeah. I think I know too."