Pirate Age: The Prequel-Sequel

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Jack and Adelaide walked behind Shay, close enough their arms occasionally brushed against each other. The smallest touch used to communicate. No threats nearby. They had each other's backs…right up to when they'd get separated.

"Why is Adelaide and Emil getting singled out?" he asked Shay's back.

He detested the idea of Adelaide being away. For the first time, he was truly worried for her safety–a novelty, really. One that both amused and irked his counterpart. He could tell by the way her smile slanted a centimeter lower than usual.

More than any of that: He hated being away from his crew and Cedric. He knew they could handle themselves–and most would keep Cedric from pushing himself too far– but damn if this place didn't electrify every hair on his body with apprehension. And I wonder what Jackie wants… I wonder what her piece of red is. Nali and her hair; Alicia and her eyes. It makes sense.

A deal with Imposter. Jack was certain there's at least one reason why he–they– would make that choice.

His eyes slid back over to Adelaide, questioning. What deal would you make with Imposter?

Adelaide glanced at him. She shrugged. Her face turned teasing. Jack snorted and rolled his eyes, before seeing Shay look at them.

"Sorry. What did you say?" Jack cleared his throat.

Shay kept their pace forward, a steady one with no real rush, body and back straight and their steps steady, professionalism at its finest. At Jack's question they glanced back at him, and opened their mouth only to close it as the two 'communicated' with each other.
Once the matter was resolved Shay opened their mouth and spoke again.

"It's quite alright. I am…accustomed to it I suppose you could say. To an extent."
With that said Shay turned and walked backwards maintaining their pace as they answered Jack's question.
"I'm afraid that I don't know. His Highness chose not to share the reason with me. I can only speculate at best as to his reasoning, I do know the other Lady Adelaide suggested it but that is all I know. I can say Scouting is far simpler than Core Retrieval."
With a small nod Shay's gaze moved fully over to Adelaide.
"While it's referred to as Scouting, your duty will be to check on the state of towns and really anything else that stands out and essentially give a report on it at least once a week. The longer you're gone the larger the report His Highness will expect. Essentially go to the different towns, take note of what's happening there and inform His Highness."
Shay said this before motioning towards the two.
"Of course His Highness' gaze is cast over the entire land so he has a good idea of what's already going on…but he finds it important to have someone 'check things out' personally. That's what you're doing, so the people have a face, and know their leader cares essentially. You'll essentially be giving a report of what's already known, giving a different viewpoint in a sense. I'll provide you a badge to wear so the people know who you are."
Shay said this before lowering their hand back in front of them.
"With that said…you showed an interest in the landscapes and the beach if I remember. If you happen to visit the beach during your outing…that would be perfectly fine, so long as you return within the week. What you do in your 'travel time' is up to your discretion."
Shay said this before holding up a finger.
"Of course I will answer any further questions you have to the best of my ability, but that is really it…unless His Highness wants you to go to a temple, but aside from that it's now optional for you Lady Adelaide."

Adelaide cocked her head. "Interesting. And Core Retrieval?"

"Please," Jack scoffed, "Don't act like you haven't already accepted just to go to the beach."

A gust of wind slapped the back of his head. He flinched, rubbing the sore spot, and glared at his wife. She ignored him with a too-innocent expression.

Shay gave a small nod as they wouldn't mind being a scout as well, but duties needed to be done and they were the best person for the job. Shay realized as they were waiting that there were many things Imposter hadn't explained in full, or rather had left to them. They had a feeling why but put the matter aside to answer the question.

"Core Retrieval is your current duty, retrieving them from the Realms. It was the Echo's duty before you. It's the most important job, being that it supplies the war effort."
With a nod Shay stopped in front of a Passage with red water and motioned to it.
"Lady Jackie is in there awaiting you Sir Jack. The Passage has been refined to the Kitchen so it shouldn't go anywhere else. The other Lady Adelaide was with her earlier…I'm sure their conversation has concluded by now. Unless I got the time wrong…"
Shay looked over at Adelaide.
"I can take you to get your badge and give you the ability to enter and exit the castle on you own whenever you would like Lady Adelaide.

"Sounds delightful," Adelaide smiled.

Jack looked down the Passage dubiously. He looked back at Adelaide, forehead creased. She sidled up to him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "We made a promise."

"I know. But this is–"

"The promise stands."

Jack inhaled deeply. He closed his eyes and his body relaxed an inch. He opened them, and kissed her. "Alright. Have fun. Try not to upset Imposter too much."

Adelaide laughed, light and airy, but she didn't say anything. She waved a farewell and followed Shay down a pat. Jack watched them go. He went to scratch his head and felt something. He pulled a thin, leafy stem with tiny white berries. Mistletoe. He smirked. Putting it back, he sauntered down the Passage.

When Jack passed through the Passage just as Shay had said he ended up in the kitchen, and this time a knife wasn't thrown at him from the woman currently in the kitchen. Jackie was stirring a pot nearby, her attention focused on the boiling water as the other spymaster entered. The room itself smelled of flowers, though there wasn't a single one in sight and the nearby window creaked a little as the wind pushed on them. From the small smile on the woman's face, it wasn't hard to put together the current situation. Jackie's eyes glanced over at Jack and her eyelids lowered slightly as her smile shrunk a little.
"Right on time," Jackie's eyes moved to his hair for a moment before focusing back on her pot.
She pointed at what looked like green vegetables, something similar to lettuce nearby sitting on a cutting board with a knife set next to it.
"I'm making a snack for Cedric, his taste are slightly different from yours so I'll handle the seasoning, mind prepping the ingredients for the salad? You can clean your hands over there," she said before she stopped stirring.
Glancing sideways at him her smile grew slightly.
"You have questions right, ask them. I know you do, especially after just entering the Realm. Captain gave you all the thumbs up so I'm obliged to help where I can."
She went back to her pot giving a small shrug.
"Figured we should talk sooner than later, my memories are going to end up in that skull of yours soon, so one way or another you'll seek me out. Though at that point I'll avoid you for the fun of it."

"I am nothing if not punctual," Jack remarked lightly, overlaying his suspicion as his eyes cast about the kitchen. It was the same as before.

He paused before getting started at Jackie's request, not used to taking orders in his – a kitchen that looked like his. But his discomfort went away as he got to work. "Hm. Yes. We're both full of questions aren't we? First I'd like to know why you want to kill me. I feel like that'd put the rest of this conversation more at ease."

"I expected as such and I'm pleased to see it," Jackie responded.
She glanced sideways at him but left the matter at that returning to the task at hand.

"It probably wouldn't but sure," Jackie said pushing up her glasses slightly. "There are a variety of reasons but if you need the one for back then…I was dealing with a possibility."
She let that hang in the air for a moment as she dropped something into the pot, picking up a small square container she looked back over at him.
"I thought you were a very particular Jack. One whose throat I've had to slit before, a Jack who also lost a Cedric and I didn't feel like leaving things to chance that you might be a 'good' one. From your memories you seemed obsessed with bringing him back…and I didn't feel like dealing with another one…but that wasn't the case."
She opened the container and poured a bit of the contents into the pot before setting it back down and resuming her stirring.
"Your Cedric is here, it was then I realized I didn't see all your memories. Specifically…when and after you got Cedric back. Facade for some reason left that part out."
She clicked her tongue a bit at that wondering if the world had played a prank on her but moved on.
"Luro…my Luro told me your memories after you went into the temple, I learned the full story then. He can see all your memories after all."
She sighed at this and gave a small shrug.
"So I lost that reason, and so long as you don't go looking for Adelaide, I have no real excuse to kill you, so here we are. There you go one of them."

Jack glanced at Jackie when she mentioned her Luro seeing everyone's memories. He pressed his lips into a thin line, but didn't say anything.

"Fair enough. I see your concern. And your Cedric is here… tell me, is he why you made a deal with Imposter?'

"I'm sure you already know the answer to that question," Jackie said. "It's not hard to figure out if you know me...or us anyway."
She said this grabbing a nearby knife and a carrot, she calmly started cutting the vegetables into the pot her eyes narrowing slightly before she motioned towards him for the ingredients he was working on.

"You really want to just ask questions you'll see in my memories soon enough. Well...matters none to me. You got till the soup's done Jack."
She said this returning to her stirring, adjusting her glasses.
"Our differences are admittedly fascinating I won't deny that. Some are subtle, others...more obvious. I don't need my mask as much anyway."

"You might not need a 'mask'," Jack said as he finished up his chopping and dicing and cleaned off the knife, "But you are far from trusting."

He drove the knife point-first into the cutting board, then folding his hands across his chest. He glared at his other. "I hate that I don't like you. I thought I worked through some of that self-loathing–which you haven't either. Right? It's a staple of our character. And maybe I'm deflecting on you because I. Hate. Being. Here. So here's some honest truth in case you're not used to seeing it in yourself: I have no questions for you because no answers are going to help us. There's nothing to know to protect my crew, nothing to give us an advantage, nothing to get us out. You're nothing but a puppet with long strings. We're still trying to measure ours. And if you could have done anything useful by now, by the spirits I hope you would've done it. Bedamned the Imposter or even Runali. My crew is my chosen family–but they do not dictate what I can or cannot do."

"What a very me thing to say," she said her brows arching. "You are right though, I personally still don't trust you either."

Jackie glanced over at him after he stabbed the knife into the cutting board, she stopped her stirring but didn't turn to face him, but her gaze stayed on him, she listened silently only closing her eyes releasing the ladle. With a small sigh she turned fully towards Jack and walked over to him stopping in front of him, she opened her eyes as she grabbed hold of the front of his shirt. The gentleness of her eyes leaving as the coldness returned to them.
"Yeah I don't like you either so you're right there...and I certainty don't like someone telling me what I am...even if it's me. Had enough of that already."
She released him at that her eyebrows narrowing.
"Imposter said it himself. 'Play the game', you know you're a puppet, you know the puppet-master and you still have the gall to say that garbage. Is this me really that soft? It's a pain looking at you."

She took a step away from him clearly for herself since she was a twitch away from this no longer being a conversation at.
"Nothing can protect my crew, nothing can help us get out. You're playing right into his hands with your pathetic nihilism, Facade is illogical sure but it has rules all the same, and some of them don't shift around and I'm here trying to be 'useful' to this waste in front of me."
She ran a hand through her hair before shaking her head.
"You're right, you can do what you want to do. Wag your tail for your new master and do what you want then, don't make an attempt, at least I know where all my strings lead, I lose nothing watching you dance on yours yet here I am, even with all this hatred I have for you. Seeing a me like this...is irritating."

'You misunderstand me. Me and my crew will get out– one way or another. But you are not being helpful." His lips twitched, and he looked amused, almost understanding, despite the barbs thrown his way. "It's like pulling teeth getting anything out of you. Which, heh, well, maybe in your shoes I'd be the same way. But I've been in situations where my own…family, I guess…" he paused to grumble about Lazarus, the old Guildmaster who Jack simultaneously loved and wished to kill with his own two hands, "Have been withholding and stubborn and I'm done having it from people who are meant to be close to me."

Jack paused, letting that last statement sink as he gazed meaningfully at Jackie. "I can't imagine how many of us you met who ended up on the wrong side of life…" he trailed off, eyes narrowed as if something just occurred to him. He sighed, shook himself, and relaxed. "I just want to get my crew back to our world alive. I worry. I dislike having no agency. I'm sorry if I haven't shown I can be trusted… but you're no different. So, are we going to try this again, or should I just leave you to your business?"

Jackie watched Jack for a moment, her body still tense partially wanting to be done with all this, every bit of it felt like a waste but at the mention of Lazarus she reached up and squeezed the bridge of her nose. That seemed to calm her down and she lowered her hand. She took a breath for herself and released a sigh.
"...I did misunderstand. It wasn't right of me to put you in that box with the others…I acknowledge that. I got my crew hurt by being too helpful…I won't do that again, I'll try to lower my caution a bit, however."
She adjusted her outfit slightly and looked over at Jack.
"Jack. What I've sacrificed to get here when you see it…I believe you'll hate me. With everything you have maybe, I honestly don't know. Understand however that I do genuinely want to see you all escape from here and I mean that…so yes let's try this again. Until you see the choices I've made at least, after that…well we can define what 'this' is then."
She brushed her hand off before reaching it out towards Jack.
"I did this because of your Luro…I may have to thank him later."

Jack gave her a wry smile and took her hand. "I can empathize with that. Truce, then. Until we learn more from each other."
 
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"Will you release everyone?"
Within the main hall, under the illumination of the moon, Imposter met Luro's gaze as he spoke a sudden maddening proposal to him as if he was commenting on the weather.
Seated on his throne Luro had approached him as the night fell and everyone else had returned to their rooms for the night, almost as if he naturally knew he'd be there, or perhaps he had taken a guess, neither could know for sure.

Imposter's laughter echoed in the near-empty hall, if not for the rooms being in a separate area he may have awakened half the castle with his voice.
"Haha…oh that was good. You know I almost did release them just on the absurdity of it all but no they can stay."
Imposter wiped a fake tear from their eye before resting his cheek on his fist grinned at Luro.
"You asked because you're worried about them aren't you…all of this looks too familiar to you."
His eyelids lowered slightly as his fingers drummed upon his throne.

"Experiencing visions, seeing lives that aren't yours, yet experiencing all the emotions as if they were…it's exactly like what you've gone through. When Facade touched you…that feeling was familiar wasn't it?"
Luro didn't offer an immediate response to Imposter, he only watched the king's grin widen slightly.
"I don't know what you're talking about Imposter, I just came to ask if you'd let them go. Also they're far stronger than me anyway even if that was the case."
Imposter leaned forward rising from his throne, he descended the steps slowly…meticulously as he slowly closed the difference between them.
"Ah you're right they are stronger, far more than you…like us you wander with a fake name, though our reasons differ substantially. Tell me…Luro."
His foot hit the bottom of the steps and his body was enveloped by the shadows, where the moonlight was missing, as he stepped back into the light he spoke.
"Was it worth it? To become…this."
Luro's gaze fell on his sister, her voice filling his ears and his eyes twitched but the smile didn't leave his face as he stared at her visage.
"I don't get what you mean. You know I'm bad at guessing Imposter."
"Ah I guess you're right," Imposter spoke resting her hand on Luro's cheek. "Then let me help you understand."
Imposter's form shifted again but before it could complete Luro's hand grabbed hold of his wrist, Imposter's unfinished eyes moved over to Luro's hand and with a crooked smile he returned to his normal kingly appearance, as his hand was moved away.
"...that hit too close to home. I guess it's too soon to see 'her' face of all things."
Luro released Imposter and watched as the king's hand returned to his side.
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't become her."
"Very well we'll consider that in bad taste for now. Still there are so many things you won't abandon…though I wonder if you'd abandon 'Luro'…if you lost everything again what would you become then. Shall we put that to the test?"
Imposter's laughter filled the throne room again as he walked past Luro, stopping next to him as he rested a hand on his shoulder.
"I jest Luro, I don't have a jester so I have to take the role at times. Pay me no mind….but don't bring such foolishness to me again okay?"
Giving his shoulder a pat he walked past him, leaving Luro alone in the throne room.
A pair of yellow eyes watched Luro from the shadows before they closed and moved away from the area.



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"Good morning Alicia, I just woke up…but I'm not sure how long Luro's been awake."
She turned to Luro who looked over at Alicia, he stared into her eyes for a moment in silence, his gaze seemed to clear, reflecting the swordswoman herself and he offered a small smile to her. With a blink, however, the 'look' was gone and he rubbed the back of his head.
"I just woke up too, I had a dream I was swimming in rum and fell off my bed...it might be good we weren't in the fancy rooms I might have drowned. What happens if you drown while immortal?"
Zilia's gaze moved to the others noticing everyone else was staring to realize the strange situation they were in and she was extremely ready to not answer that question.

"We're apparently in the other Sovereign's territory…" Zilia said to Runali before looking over at Jack. "Hangovers are your body's way of nagging at you, you'll have to deal with it until I can get some medicine…which well if I find some here I'll whip something up for you…since my bag is in the castle."
With everyone now gathered Zilia calmly cleaned her glasses as she tried to figure out how to observe the matter at hand, at least they were together so that was one thing. Her gaze went to the others interested in what they thought about all of this.

"Okay…so…" Zilia said once everyone had properly gathered. "We're in the other territory and as the Captain said…this is our day…could this be Imposter's doing? Luro what do you think?"
"Imposter kind of just does what he wants so it's possible…but it depends if he felt like it."
"Right so…maybe?"
"Yes."
"That doesn't help but it's Imposter so let's leave it at that."

Zilia wanted to speak further on the matter but stopped as a pair of footsteps approached them, she felt a pair of eyes focus on her and judging by Luro glancing in the direction of the visitor he also picked up the gaze that had focused on them. She felt her body tense slightly as she turned to see who it was, they were in a strange…or rather stranger land and as unnerving as Imposter's side was, at least they knew people on that side.
A woman approached the group, she had long hair and her eyes held a strange determination in them as she gazed at the group, both were the color of lavender. Her attire was similar to the people around them, though she wasn't wearing leather armor, but instead a brown and red tunic.
A single hitless blade sat at her waist, though the design itself was simple it was clear from a glance it was well taken care of and had seen much use.
"...you must be the new recruits," the woman said. "My name is Avnia, I head this regiment."

She motioned to the group around them with her head.
"That's a simple way of saying I'm in charge of you, a meeting will be called soon so you'll need to head for the meeting place soon. Feel free to grab a snack or wander around, once you hear the whistle, however, please head towards the center."
Avnia pointed down the hill to a large circle, fenced off by a low white fence and filled with sand, there were a few people wrestling in it, showing it was a mini-arena.
The woman's eyes went to Alicia's and Hanako's swords and her hand went to her chin, before she gave a small nod at the two of them.
"Feian Blades. Well-kept as well, it's good to have some on our side. Glad to have you."
The woman gave the group a small wave and walked away clearly in a rush to inform the other soldiers.

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"Took you guys long enough."
A familiar woman pushed the glasses up on her face once she had approached the group, Zilia ended up adjusting her own glasses noticing that Jackie was standing right in front of them.
"...Jackie?"
"That's me. Good to see you all made it in one piece. It's especially good to see you Cedric. I hope you slept well."
Zilia wanted to comment on what she exactly meant by 'one piece' but put the matter aside for an equally important question.
"What are you doing here?"
Jackie looked at everyone as a whole before making a motion towards all of them with her hand.
"Question? What is Jack's job title."
Luro raised his hand and Jackie pointed at him.
"Elder Brother."
"Adorable but no. Spymaster. I'm doing that."
"...is it okay to just say that out loud," Zilia said looking around them.
"Why wouldn't it be? That's my job here and explaining that to the new recruits isn't surprising. You're welcome by the way. Me and another Echo had to pull some strings to make sure you weren't erased on crossing the border. The Sovereign recognizes you as one of theirs."
"So you're the reason we're not ash then…thank you," Zilia said with a small nod."
"Captain's orders, something along the lines of…'I can't go letting Stardusk get erased, whether they're mine or not', something like that."
"Well that was nice of her," Luro said grinning. "So how'd we get here?"
"The Captain."
Zilia's eyes twitched at this and Jackie continued.
"I believe she said. 'I also can't just not have some fun with them either, Tashi you understand right? What they'll get upset? Why would they get upset at their Captain, they know me by now.' something along those lines."
Zilia looked over at Runali at this but returned her attention to Jackie as she motioned backward with her head.
"Come with me, I'll give you a short tour. Remember that you're new recruits, that's your story. Also you hate Imposter."
"Well that part's easy," Zilia said.
"Figured as much, come on," Jackie said before turning and walking away. "Also don't worry. Captain just wanted to give you the opportunity to meet the other Sovereign and well…you will."

She led the crew through the area, which walking around it was clear to see it was a military camp and from its position it was on the front lines. Jackie pointed in the distance from the top of the hill, revealing multiple tents in the far distance scattered here and there showing there were multiples of these camps. She explained this was the second largest one, the main camp which lay far in the distance was a bit bigger, but that was for protecting the non-combatants in town. This camp was the front-line camp made to protect the borders of Lazuln.
"What is Lazuln?"
Luro spoke up in the middle of Jackie's explanation causing her to pause and stare at the group.
"...you don't know what Lazuln is? Zilia do you know…does anyone know?"
She looked at the group as a whole but Zilia shook her head to show she had no idea.
"...did you really not talk to Shay? Didn't Imposter say at least five times to do that?"
"Well to be fair we did wake up on the other side of the continent," Zilia said adjusting her glasses. "So an attempt would be difficult. Also Imposter said to do it so...it felt like doing the opposite was smarter."
"Hm…I guess I can give you that. Fine, I'll fill in then." Jackie said crossing her arms under her chest. "Lazuln is this side of the continent. Imposter's side is Arvahalia or Arva for short, those are the names of the territory each Sovereign controls…you really should speak to Shay. They're a walking dictionary. Aside from Imposter and maybe the other Sovereign, they're the oldest being here."
"...Shay is?" Luro said as Jackie continued walking.
"At the very least Shay was here when we woke up here," Jackie said as they continued on their way. "They also said they've served Imposter for over a century so I'm pretty sure about that."

She stopped outside of a large brown tent, a few soldiers were walking out holding plates of food with smiles on their faces. Luro smelled the passing meals and put his hand over his stomach as it growled slightly.
"It smells good…"
"The town is a little bit away so it's hard to go get normal food once you're on the frontlines, so the Sovereign made sure we had a good cook to keep morale up around here. I help out here and there but I'm not always here. Anyway, you must meet the cook. You all…especially should meet her."
Jackie opened the tent and motioned inside for the group, inside were a few wooden tables, red cloth thrown over them, and simple chairs. It wasn't fancy but it beat eating in the grass and the soldiers seemed content, at least the few that chose to eat inside.
A few feet away someone was stirring a pot humming to themselves, smoke filled the area around them making it hard to see so Jackie led the crew over. Waving away the smoke she approached the cook who turned to look at them.
The moment they got close Zilia's eyes widened a bit as a purple gaze met them.
Before familiar tufts of green hair bounced slightly as they turned fully to meet them.

"....Shay?"
The servant of the castle stood in front of Stardusk, though they seemed…different. Instead of their flowy somewhat ephemeral garment, she was dressed in a maid outfit and her eyes were filled with curiosity and an almost childlike light. Her eyes were also different colors which stood out the most once Zilia actually looked.
"Hey it's Shay!"
"...do I know you? Also it's Shey."
"That's what I said Shay."
"No no it's Shey. Sh-ey."
"Yeah Sh-ay."
"No that's not-"
"Okay I'm going to stop you right there. We're not going through this twice," Zilia said stepping in. "Jackie explain please."
"What's there to explain? This is Shey. She is the servant who helps out around here."
"Pleased to meet you, people who apparently know me," Shey said offering a small courtesy. "I'm the best maid around. So let me know if you need anything."
The voice of…Shey was similar to the one they knew but slightly different, a bit higher and its cadence was a bit faster, more energetic. The way the maid carried herself was clearly with some decorum but from the smile on her face it was clear it was not done out of absolute formality.
"Shey would you be so kind as to meet us outside the Red Tent once you're done here. I have other matters to attend to so I'll ask you to show them around the rest of the area. They're the new recruits.
"Really?!" Shey's eyes lit up as she turned to look at the group again. "Wow…they look really strong. Especially that one."
Shey motioned to Hanako.
"She looks like she could kill half the enemy army with her pinkie."
"You have a good eye," Luro said nodding. "Hanako will use her 'Slash of a Thousand Murderers' to take down the enemy."
"Whoa…that's such a terrifying move name!"
"Right. It has quite the story too."
"I'd love to hear it sometime!"
"I'll tell you later. That and the 'Butchery of the Seventh Night' too,"
Zilia noticed that this Shey was very…excitable and also felt bad for Hanako as the other people in the tent were also now curious of this strange move and staring at her. She decided not to mention that she had actually heard about the 'Buthchery of the Seventh Night' in their world as well...which meant Luro had told this story before somewhere.
"That's for later, I still need to take them to one more place," Jackie said. "Come on last place."

Jackie brought the crew a bit away from the main part of the camp to a simple red tent a little bit away, she gave a small nod to the guards outside the tent who returned the nod before she walked over and motioned towards it.
"The Sovereign will call us soon so let's handle this quickly. There's a gift from our Luro for you in here, or rather one he prepared."
"From the other me…hmm I'm pretty good at giving gifts so it has to be pretty great," Luro said.
Jackie smiled and opened the tent for the crew to enter, once they were all inside only one thing was waiting in the room for them. A woman with short black hair cut into a medium-length bob stared at them, or more specifically her green eyes were glaring at them. Probably because her hands were tied behind her back and her mouth was gagged with a piece of cloth.
Jackie shut the tent from behind them as Zilia stared at the sight with a fair amount of questions, the young woman was dressed in a full brown cloak and it was clear she had been roughed up before being brought here as a prisoner.
"She really fought back against him apparently, he didn't hurt her too bad though," Jackie said. "He could have killed her but decided against it for you guys."
"Jackie…what exactly is this?" Zilia said looking back at her.
"Luro…our Luro wants you to make a decision. It's actually very simple."
Jackie motioned towards the woman with her knife.
"Kill or don't kill."
Zilia's eyes twitched and Luro's hands moved into his sleeves.
"That woman let's call her…Abby is going to cause you all trouble in the future. She may even get you killed…maybe. So you have to choose whether to spare her and let her go allowing that to happen…or kill her and prevent it. That's his 'gift'."
"...that's a terrible gift," Luro said. "She doesn't even have any rum on her."
"I never said it was a good one," Jackie said. "Anyway he asked me to bring you to her and not tell you anything more than what's necessary. Also I'm to give Luro rum no matter the decision."
Zilia turned fully to Jackie who motioned to a bottle of rum sitting a few feet away.
"What…kind of sick game is this Jackie," Zilia said as her hands clenched at her sides.
"I assure you I had nothing to do with this. I'm just the messenger, this was all Luro. I mean I am 'involved' by bringing you here but it's hard for me to say no when he calls me 'Big Sis' you know, so here I am."
Jackie flexed her hand causing the knife to vanish and Zilia glanced back at Abby.
"Will she really bring us trouble later," Luro said tilting his head at the spymaster.
"Yep she will without a doubt. She might get you killed too but it's not a guarantee…her living will without absolutely create a problem for you in the future. With that said…both answers will offer you a benefit but I can't tell you what it is."
"Got it," Luro said before grabbing his rifle.
"Hey hey whoa! Wait a moment!" Zilia said holding her hands up. "Luro what're you doing?"
"Hm? She's gonna get us killed imma shoot her."
"There's only a chance she will. I'd rather not kill someone because they may cause trouble for us later. It'd be the same as shooting someone who might report us to the navy…so half the populace."
"...I mean I get it but if someone said they were gonna shoot me later I'd rather just shoot them now…but okay Z," Luro said putting his rifle away.
"So one for kill and one for not kill, that's what I'm getting here," Jackie said. "What about the rest of you? I mean you don't have to answer if you don't want to, I understand this is out there. In that case I'll just flip a coin for the ones that abstain. Luro's suggestion. Also if there's a 'tie' I'm to do that. The Echo's are not to be involved directly in the vote at all."
"So a choice is made anyway," Zilia said as Jackie held up a coin.
"Yep she will live or die, that's the only choice here. Oh and if you try to save her before the voting ends he told me to kill her anyway, which I will do so let's not do that well unless you want her to die."
Jackie leaned against a nearby pole and fiddled with one of her knives.
'Abby' struggled in her constraints slightly but it was clear she wasn't going anywhere.
"The other Luro is kinda mean," Luro said putting his hands on his hips.
"Eh he's actually not that bad. He does have his moments of sadism though, cost of accepting Imposter's deal. Anyway make your choice I'll accept either one no matter what."
"I dislike this Jackie," Zilia said narrowing her eyes at the woman.
"I'm aware and he is too but he has his reasons. Luro is…still Luro so there's one thing you can be sure of when it comes to him. I shouldn't need to say it out loud since it involves all of you."
Zilia's mouth twitched a bit at that comment, something that was factual about Luro when it came to Stardusk, she had a feeling she knew the answer as she looked back at the tied up woman.



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Runali was a teetering balancing act of going with the flow and being on guard. It was a feat she could usually accomplish when she knew that she had at least a little bit of control over the chaos the Stardusk was swept into. This was a situation she couldn't find solid ground in. But instead of working herself into a constant worry, she followed along to those that had - well, she wouldn't call them answers, but they at least knew where to go without getting killed. She didn't have much interest in Avnia, mumbling about not wanting someone being 'in charge of her'. But she continued to play it safe and stayed as under the radar as she could. Of course, going through the camp, she couldn't help but snatch a portion of someone's breakfast as they walked past. They may not have seen it, but to her crew that looked at her, she offered a shrug and a, "Finders keepers."

The one thing that did catch her attention was the mini arena. In thought, Runali questioned, "If I best the strongest person here, you think they'd give me whatever Av's rank is?" Her brow furrowed a little more. "Eh, wait, that'd mean I'd have to give orders about war. I don't wanna do that… Again." Belfield came to memory and she remembered the headache that it caused. Sure she could pretend to be in a war, but leading one sounded exhausting. "Hmm… maybe I'll beat the second best the second strongest."

Whether she'd get the chance or not was left unanswered as an unfamiliar, familiar face came into view. "Aren't you a sight for sore eyes?" Runali gave a salute to the Echo of her chef and Spymaster, on;y to snicker at Nali's antics. When Zilia looked at her, she put her hands up in mock surrender. "Hey, it wasn't me that tossed us here. I'd at least tell you how I did it… Unless it was too complicated to explain… And it was short… Okay, okay maybe I see what you're getting at." Would she learn? Probably not. Especially not when Jackie herded them through the camp, giving out explanations she only half paid attention to. Most of her interest was in the camp itself. She counted tents and soldiers, eyed their weapons over to see if they were suitable for a fight or if any of them looked interesting. She imagined how a war between a bunch of soldiers and a creature that could kill someone with a snap of their fingers would last. It seemed like a losing battle, but she supposed for someone like Imposter, even pests could get annoying when they swarmed.

Realizing she had fallen behind a bit, Runali hurried her way back to the group just in time to hear Shey talking about how strong Hanako was. Obviously missing the confusion, she happily patted Hanako's shoulder and agreed with Luro. "Oh yeah, she could rival any swordsman. Best not to make her upset. This blade is always looking for blood." Runali continued to laugh as they left from that tent to go to the next. "Didn't know Shay would be here too. Guess that makes our camping trip a little nicer."

The hustle and bustle of the main camp grew quiet as they made it to their last destination, and the easiness of it all began to fill a little heavy and foreboding. "A gift from you? Yes, great gifts." Runali flexed her hands, imagining the flames that came from the gloves. "A gift from a Luro I don't know?" Upon seeing the woman tied up in the tent, her brow furrowed. "Safe to say, you give better gifts Luro… The other one is really putting us in a bind here, huh?" Like the hawk that usually hovered around her, she stared intently at 'Abby' as everyone made their decisions. She didn't weigh in, not wanting to sway them from making their own choices, but when there was a moment the group focused on Jackie, she decided to walk over and squat right in front of the woman. "Hm." Flipping her eye patch up so that 'Abby' was staring into both of her eyes, Runali continued examining her over, even going as far as reaching and tilting her face left and right. "To kill or not to kill... That is the pirate dilemma. And I bet you don't want to die, huh?"
Runali wasn't expecting an answer, nor did she wait for one. "I wonder what it's worth for you to cause us trouble. Many have. Doesn't really end up good for anyone. But I s'pose you don't know of our many… fun adventures. Or maybe you do and that's why you hate us. Or did the other Luro do something to make you angry and now you're enacting revenge? That's happened a few times for us too. Always a mess. Always a fight. Or was it Jackie's fault? Heh, if she's anything like our spymaster, she's definitely made a few enemies that have taken it out on her crew." As if it were a friendly conversation, she pretended to whisper. "The doctor too, but she's way too proud to admit it." Runali rubbed her chin, flipping her eyepatch down as if finalizing her decision.

"Eh," Runali glanced back at her crew. "There's no reason to kill her right now."

"If we gotta kill her, I want her to at least have a fighting chance. No fair to just kill her now based on rumor. That's no fun. Where's the honor? The story! The excitement!" Runali smiled at Luro, innocent as ever. "But of course that means when she does cause trouble, and possibly tries to get us killed," She gave Abby's heart a light thump. "One shot's all it'll take, right?"

Runali stood, wandering back to her crew with a shrug. "I say we don't. But if the vote's for death, then so be it."
 
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Hanako woke up with a start. She didn't recall falling asleep, but here she was on a serviceable bedroll, tucked in. Rushing over to the small basin with a crusting mirror, the girl gasped at her appearance, noting the strange smell rising from her breath. She gasped. When did she … Her mind blank and her tiredness made more sense all of a sudden. Alcohol, even though she didn't remember taking a sip. Remaining alert, the girl freshened up as fast as she could and peered outside the tent. Thankful for the odd dress she found in the trunk. It fitted her perfectly as did the pair of shoes. Her usual ones … she hoped she didn't leave them around like Cinderella's slippers in town.

She slipped in beside Zilia. Her two braids sitting over her shoulders, giving her a more childlike air, that didn't go unnoticed by "Shey". Hana found herself inevitably roped into a charade she didn't like. She squirmed then jumped when a hand whomped her shoulder. Grasping it, she relaxed, realising it was not Jackie-tai'n. She squeezed Ru's hand as they walked away and moved it into a semblance of a hug. "Ne fu'tai (capitaine), was it necessary to talk about killing people? I … I don't like lying." She hastily covered up her true worry. Bloodshed was a sensitive topic, and one she hoped never to discuss with anyone other than Amaiya and Emil. She didn't know how she managed to stand firm yesterday, the more she thought about it. Just seeing her own blood on the floor was enough to make her stomach clench.

Her read of the situation made her finger the hilt of her blade. Hanako allowed her eyes to follow Runali's figure into the tent, but she opted to linger until her sister was about to step in. She grasped Alicia's hand and entered hand in hand with her amue, praying for more courage to flow into her. She looked away, unable to see Abbey in such a position; hating what was asked of them. She gazed warily at Jackie. "Nan' anjeohal geos-ida. Yagsoghaeyo (I'll be safe. I promise)," she murmured after feeling the slightest tensing in Alicia's as theirs parted. Her gaze lingered on amue's face as Hana walked towards Abbey.

The smell of sweet, spring flowers replaced Cedric's cologne. Hanako was second to kneel before the woman, and showed open palms to prove her good intentions, slowly she smiled. "Tai'n, are you hurt in any way? Thirsty?" Her concern eclipsed her sense of preservation slightly. It hurt too much to see someone, potentially an innocent, treated like this. "I can offer you a drink from my own flask. See," Hanako demonstrated taking a sip from it before holding the skin out to the woman.

Her actions flowed from Abbey's response. She remained there by the woman's side, moving that blade further away, hoping it would make the woman feel safer. Catching her sister's eye, she scooted to a safer distance between her and this strange tai'n. She tried to keep smiling. "I trust my crew to do what's right. Our capitaine, and my amue, her first mate, will never lead us astray. Threatening," her eyes turned into Alicia's disdain as she turned towards the conversing brothers. "And killing someone without consideration is dishonourable. It creates more anger and hate in this world. Tai'n, I don't know why you hate us or why you're angry, but I thank you for the chance to let us prove ourselves to you."

She felt it was unnecessary to ask Abbey for her story after Runali-fu'tai and Jack-tai'cho did so earlier. Speaking of Jack, she met eyes with Jackie's. "I won't kill her, or let hyeo or fuku do so." She crossed her arms as she pouted at Luro. She hoped he would be the more reasonable of the two men. Hyeo came across as volatile and moody, more so today than he usually was. She wondered, secretly, how such a man ever became her sister's apprentice, and it was sometimes harder to remember he was four years her senior. Emil was much more mature in many ways, and she truly appreciated him for that.
 
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The first Night in Facade

A knock came at the door Runali and Zilia were staying in, the doctor rolled over mumbling in her sleep, something about Luro and not blowing up the lower decks again.
The knock that came at the door was very reminiscent of a very particular person, who was bad at knocking and bad at respecting space. The knocks didn't stop which only caused the doctor to toss and turn further, judging by her growing agitation as if she could sense the person nearby, it was easy to tell who was on the other side of the door.
It was clearly Luro.

Had Runali been on the ship, she would've grumbled and complained much like Zilia was doing off to the side, but they weren't on the ship and Facade was still foreign territory. While she didn't immediately think there was danger, she figured there would be if both Zilia and Coral were disturbed in their sleep. So, she quietly tumbled out of her hammock with the blurred vision of someone trying to decipher between the waking and dreaming world. "Hold on, hold on," Runali yawned as she pulled the door open. "If it's a fire, blame it on Sh- Oh, hi Luro." She looked up at him and then down the hall to see if anyone else was there. "...Are you okay?"

Luro offered a grin to Runali when she opened the door, he tilted his head as she asked about him and he offered a thumbs up to her before pointing inside the room and entering.
He looked over at the slumbering Zilia who seemed to calm down but her furrowed brow seemed to reveal she was 'aware' Luro was nearby.
"I'm okay Captain. I came to do stuff," Luro said grinning. "I remembered something so I came to 'be naughty' like Z says, it's gonna be great. Z would get mad if I asked so it'll just be us."
Luro pointed towards the bed in the corner of the room grabbing Runali's hand.
"Over there, oh and don't worry I'll tell Z later that we did stuff so she doesn't get mad…or is less mad."

"Well, depending on the stuff you tell her, I think she's gonna get mad either way. Or do that loud sigh where she rubs her temples." Runali let Luro pull her back inside, more curious than ever. "But," She quieted down even more when she looked over at the doctor and bird sleeping more 'peacefully'. "What stuff?"

When Luro approached the bed a bright smile on his face it sunk into the ground at his approach before the wall opened up behind it revealing a vast open sea under a blue morning sky, the light however didn't spill fully into the room which kept the slumbering doctor at bay. Luro pointed ahead before taking a step forward, his boot landing on the top of the water as he walked atop the eaves heading in a random direction in the distance.
"Come on Captain!"

She followed him up to the edge of the wall, her eyes widening when they were staring at the sea. "I feel underdressed for the occasion." And then she squinted and carefully took a step to stand on the water. "You never manage to run out of surprises, Luro." She was still testing the water with one foot. "Hm, could be a dream though… You've snuck into those plenty." She took another step so she was fully on the water and looked up. "Then again, I never have to worry about waking Z up in my dreams. And Facade's weird…" She shook her head and hurried to catch up with Luro. "I'm moving, I'm moving! What's the stuff? What'd you remember?"

"Her glasses make a funny noise when she does the sigh," Luro said as a small laugh escaped from him. "Oh you too Captain? You're great in real life and my dreams so it's hard to tell the difference sometimes."
Luro turned to Runali as she ran to catch up, with a toothy grin on his face he raised both his arms, as he did something raised from the water under their feet until the two were standing on a wooden deck, a ship rising out of the water at Luro's command apparently.
The sails still dripping with water caught the wind and the ship started to move as the breeze picked up slightly, the wheel on the ship moving of its own accord.
Luro turned and placed his hand on the mast, the ship that had risen out of the water was the Coral Pearl, just before her end.
"I love Lady Luck but I do miss the Coral sometimes."
Luro had memorized every aspect of the old ship, down to the wood grains in the corner. He knew it better than the back of his hand, every mark from battle, every indent and even the squeaky parts of the wood, so recreating it was simple for the redhead.

"What I remembered…Facade isn't exactly like the place Imposter pulled me into…but it's familiar. Guess that's why it's easy for me to do stuff like this."
Luro pat the mast of the ship as an example.
"Emil's also really smart so he understood it too when I explained it."
The world around them was more than ocean, small islands and towns had risen out of the water, previous places they'd been rising alongside them as the ship continued forward. Utsukushi, Jaipur, Tilea, Yakone, Nyiri, Yula Fei, Belfield, each place they visited passed by.
"I feel like I've been here before…but it's also foreign," Luro said before rubbing the back of his neck. "For the stuff….hm."
Luro walked forward a bit until he was in front of Runali.
"There's so much we gotta do Captain."
Luro grinned looking over at the places passing them by bit by bit.
"There are so many places I wanna see…so much stuff I wanna do, stuff I don't even know yet."
Luro looked back at Runali.
"The old man told me I should have you meet Mother. It's probably time I took you at this point."
Luro let out a somewhat sheepish grin at this before turning back towards the horizon.
In the distance a landmass rose out of the waters, it was too far to see but unlike the other places there was a black fog that seemed to surround it, obscuring it from view.
"When we get outta here Captain…I promise to take you to see Mother."

When cold water turned into wood, Runali froze in place looking around in curiosity. When she realized that it was a ship, and a familiar one at that, curiosity turned into surprise. She walked around the main deck, from one side to the other to see as much of it as she could. Seeing Luro at the mast, she went over to it and placed a hand somewhere waist level and began to walk around it, ducking under Luro when she passed him, only to find a particular battle scar on the second pass. "Aha!" She couldn't remember what caused the mark, but vividly in her memory, and now in front of her, she traced what she was confident looked like a smiley face. It made her laugh a little as she reminisced about the past, and then made her sigh. "...Yeah, I miss her too." A little more solemnly she added, "Coral was great."

As Luro continued, she stood by his side and looked out at the ocean with him. She perked up a little seeing friendlier places like Jaipur and Yula Fei. Some of them made her whistle low as her memory of them jogged and reminded her of all the adventures they had been on, the places they had been, and the people they met along the way. Part of her always wondered how they were doing and then she realized, the Stardusk were a part of the Worst Gen now. It was nothing to just go back and visit again. There were a few islands that made her nose scrunch. Seeing Kane'Artem made her absentmindedly rub her wrist. At another, she felt the chill of familiarity before she recognized the cold island. When winter winds blew from [Yakone?], she moved closer to Luro and his natural warmth. "Remind me to push Will off his ship when we see him again…" Her sour face melted away when Luro walked ahead. She leaned against the mast, watching him in this moment of calm and clarity. He grinned at her and it was contagious. "Of course, Luro. We'll see all of it when we get outta here. We've got our whole lives ahead of us, y'know? It's funny though," She walked past to lean on the edge of the ship to get a good look at the fog. "When we first met, you were all by yourself, being a scary story people told their families. And now? I've met your family and you've gotten even more now with," She gestured to herself and laughed. "The crew, of course. And now you're telling me you have a mom I can visit?? Can I at least know what she's like? You know, maybe be prepared… so I can make a good impression…"

"It's the best Captain," Luro said turning back to look at her. "Everything is great. Having more family makes every day the best….and don't worry I'll push Rin off too after you push Will."
At the mention of what his mother was like Luro brought a hand to his chin not sure how to really explain her, his gaze raised back to Runali at the idea of an impression and a laugh escaped from him.
"You're fine Captain. Mother woulda loved ya," Luro said grinning. "She loved people who got in trouble, said they were more honest when you really spoke to them. Old man said she'd love ya too so you know it's true."
His grin lowered into a small smile as he considered his next words, his head leaning to the side slightly.
"Auntie Liria really said it best when it came to Mother. A kind and gentle woman with a quiet strength…at least that's the Mother I knew. I take more after her than the old man too, except the height. Her smile though, that I'll always remember. It was so warm…and it always made me smile. Every burden in the world…felt a little lighter when she smiled."
The smile on Luro's face shifted a bit as his eyes narrowed slightly, for a moment a very brief one as he stared at the palm of his hand, he seemed like a different person. A moment barely worth a blink and he was back to usual, his smile and expression full of it's usual joy.

"Still that town really doesn't like me," Luro said glancing back at the distant town. "Commit a few atrocities as a child and suddenly you're a bad guy all of a sudden."
Luro rubbed the back of his head with a small sigh though he smiled a bit.
"...I mean only some of those stories are true…I think. Still that's where I found Remi…so I gotta make sure I give proper thanks when I go back…maybe I'll blow up part of the town."

"Well… she sounds like a great mom." Runali leaned her cheek against her hand. "I may not have met her but… you two certainly sound similar. You're as bright as the sun itself sometimes. And, well, it's always nice to see you smiling. Makes it feel like the impossible is possible." She gestured to the sea and the looming place farther ahead. "And then we get put in places like this! Where everything feels like it'll go wrong or something bad is inevitable. I can at the very least count on you to… be that… uh, light in the dark." Runali looked away, flustered by her own words and idly waved it away.

"-ahem- Anyway, yeah we have to stop back there. As Remi's new parent, I have to know everything about her, including where she came from. Then, we can take her to see the world with us… I'm not sure if blowing up part of the town is a great idea if you want them to like you, but we can figure out all those details when we get there. Just have to deal with Imposter first. And once we get back to the ship it's smooth sailing."

Luro eyes widened a little at Runali and his body tensed a bit before his lips curved upwards as he beamed a bit at her words. He moved his hands to his hips when she waved it all away but he gave a small nod at her at possibly not blowing up the town, though he did glance back at it for a moment.
"Yep Imposter first. I won't let him take anything else from me, especially not anyone here." Luro said slamming his hand into his fists. "You gotta become Pirate Lord, then we gotta have the best wedding ever. I still gotta make Jack's restaurant ship, and get Hanako in her first tavern fight too. There's so much we still gotta do."
Luro looked up at the ship and the wheel started turning causing the vessel to turn and sail back towards the room, which was still in the distance, a giant hole on the horizon.

Luro walked over to Runali and grinned at her before looking back at their destination.
"...I still feel I'm a long way from hers…but you gave me this smile Captain. So if it helps you in any way that makes me really happy."
He looked over at Runali a toothy grin adorning his face.
"Thanks for being one of the reasons I smile Captain, and the best one."
Luro pointed forward towards the opening and more sails dropped before picking up the wind, however they immediately crashed into an island and Luro stumbled forward a bit. He looked over the edge to see the ship stranded on some random deserted island, halfways on the beach.
"Really? Even in a dream world place….why don't you take us back Captain. I'll just get us stranded."
Luro waved his hand and the island sunk down back into the water, putting the ship back on the sea, Luro didn't try to move the ship again though.
"The helm is yours as always!"
 
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Upon meeting Jackie again, Jack seemed more relaxed in her presence than before…that is, until she gave them her "gift".

The other Luro's, to be specific, but Jackie seemed unperturbed by following along. It left a sour taste in Jack's mouth. Did you even argue against him or accept blindly? he wondered, reading her nonchalance, masking a readiness to strike, and her offer of cold-blooded murder.

Jack rolled a cigarillo and thought in silence as Luro, Zilia, Jackie, and Runali said their pieces. In the first lull of silence, he twitched toward this 'Abbey'--then paused. He looked at Jackie. "May I?"

She gave her nonverbal consent. Jack approached Abbey and removed her gag. The bound woman's first words were not to him, but Luro: ""Did you come back to laugh at me? You don't look as monstrous now though… I'll make you pay for this."

Jack exhaled smoke into her face to get her attention. "Pay for what?"

"...are you an idiot? Your companion attacked me out of nowhere and tied me up! The hell did I do to you lot."

"Absolutely nothing because we weren't the ones who actually attacked you. I really only have one question for you anyways: Why shouldn't we kill you, as the Spymaster suggests?" He gestured to Jackie.

"...I haven't done anything to you. I got no idea what she's on about but I was just doing my job. Which before you ask if none of your business. I'd rather not have my throat slit though for you know...trying to survive."

"I see…" Jack puffed out more smoke. "Well, for the record we didn't attack you though who look like us might. Look at me and that one," he jerked his thumb at Jackie. "We could be twins right? You could that my compatriot here, Luro, also has a twin and he's the one you should really have beef with."

Jack decidedly didn't mention the complications. Such as, how would 'Abbey' identify the Luro who had attacked her. He doubted any version of Luro clearly remembering the last person they attacked.

He stood up, looking briefly at Cedric, then at Runali. "We're aligned, Capitaine. I follow your lead."

Flames flashed in the palm of Cedric's hand. A silvery substance stretched and curved into gleaming stiletto. The summoner twirled the conjured knife by the serrated edge, deftly avoiding nicking his fingers, as he had infused poison into the metal, a trick he never forgot from Madame. His eyes, seemingly hidden under disheveled fringe, was Chester's after one night of lost sleep. Sid was, kindly put, a mess, for the first time in the crew's living memory. His shirt artfully unbuttoned to the minimum and catching the wind, and his pants recycled from the night before. And his breath, hidden under gargled cologne, something better associated with his brother than himself. He palmed the annoyance out of his eyes. "I'm tempted to kill her to save us the trouble in the future." He held out his palm to stop Jack from stealing his turn. "But pére (old man), and l'capitaine taught me about giving people chances."

He smiled as he kneeled down and stabbed the soil between the woman's knees. He cupped her chin and raised her eyes to meet his smiling face. "I trust you this much," he indicated by pressing his thumb and pointer finger together. "Breathe wrongly while we discuss and your name is forgotten history. I'm ready to kill her at your word, Capitaine, Amaiya," he bowed.

Rejoining his older brother, Sid conjured a handheld mirror to assess the wreckage of his face. Skin minorly dehydrated, eyes barely dry, he noted, but hair awful. He groaned. "I look a mess," he grumbled in Trovalian. "My head's l'mort by a hundred bees. Constant buzzing, ringing, and my skin burns." He removed a single glove to show the sparks pulsing from his skin. "A part of me remembered roaring flames somewhere in the middle. Banging and an explosion. Not much else except the smell of burning lilies … oh! And, a bottle hidden in your bed." His eyes narrowed. "A present from my other self seems like. Luro drank from it … yeah." He shrugged. The bound woman and the change in surrounds were a side note to his current problems. Namely, someone tried to poison his biggest brother.

He tapped Jack's shoulder blade. Tap, pause, tap-tap, a longer pause. "Vol' ombre plus un grande probléme," he conveyed. Showing his suspicion of the Other Spymaster, which he dubbed a "grand problem". More tapping followed. "Était-ce moi ou lui ?" (was it me or him) His second concern finally telegraphed. It disturbed him greatly that his Echo considered killing an alternate version of his eldest sibling. "We don't need another problem."

Hanako's action creased his brow, and Sid crossed his arms. He wisely kept his face neutral knowing that Amaiya was nearby. He knew better than to interfere between another sibling pair, a hard lesson he learned when he got between a brawling Cassidy and Jack when they were kids. "Madame Espion, parlez-nous (Madame Spymistress, what's the story)?" He called to his brother's doppelganger.

If Jackie was anything like his brother, she'd understand that he wished to know more about this woman's background, and why Other Luro felt it was necessary to off Abbey. And, he wished to do this more politely. Forcefully peering into the woman's heart and mind would not win them any points. He rolled his head to the side instead of sighing. It vexed him having to think "morally" the way Jack and capitaine would approve. Life was much simpler under Madame Charlotte. He killed who she wanted and the why was secondary, although the Du Vontiago often challenged him to come to his own conclusions about each mark.

Jack gazed down his cigarillo at Cedric (a feat, given his younger brother was in fact, taller) and arched an eyebrow. "Sounds like you had a fun night," He lowered his voice, wanting the conversation to stay between them, "I'd hope your counterpart would know better than to try to poison us…especially via a mysterious bottle left under the bed."

"He's an idiot," Sid slipped in. The passion was real. He hated how his Echo refused to meet with him; it made him want to strangle Other Sid when they finally meet. Hanako would, of course, insist he was being childish again.

Jack paused before adding, "Do you know what happened the last time I tried to preemptively kill someone in the hopes they wouldn't kill us later? Humiliation and a headache." Jack referred to the Devil's Fruit Island. The woman with the power to avoid getting hurt.

He turned more somber. "And you know what I've done in Trovale. In an effort to 'protect' us." Jack would do anything to protect Sid–and he has. "It never solved anything for us, did it? Just made things worse. You should learn from my mistakes."

"Would it even be a concern if she was alone in this world? She looks no different than a spy behind enemy lines." Sid raised an eyebrow. "Getting rid of bodies was never a problem."

The younger knocked his head gently against Jack's at the mention of Trovale. Those days would always cast the longest shadows, and they discussed it at length. Adenin being the ghost he had to bury soon after he returned. His fear of the man rooted in a murky, and very traumatic, past. Anger flitted momentarily in his eyes at the mention of mistakes. His were the opposite - hesitating to kill, which resulted in more bodily injuries to him and lingering mental scabs that Zilia had to pick at with each session. He bit his lower lip.

"Sell your point, fére. My experience has been the opposite and seeing your view is hard as it is painful. There was Adenin, Pernet …. and Jean," he counted. He sensed the same darkness now rising from his brother with each name drop. "You know why I can't let go. I don't want to let myself or this .. crew get hurt. You least of all."

"Neither do I, and I have no right to preach." Discomfort rippled across his shoulders. "Pernet was out of self-defense. He attacked you; I protected." He had no regrets over that man. "But others, I tried using violence to stop their violence, and it only made things worse."

Jack twisted his cigarillo, picking his next words carefully. "You can never see all the consequences. But killing is easy. Mercy isn't. I try to remember that in moments like this."

"I worry about us getting soft. Fére, maybe." he fished out a coin and tossed it into the air. "I'll make a bet with you. If I don't have to taint my hands with her blood, I'll consider mercy next time. It's not a confident vote on my end, please remember that. This is the best I can do to work on trusting others," he sort of lied. Deep down he doubted he'd ever be able to trust someone from the start, no matter Jack's vibes.

But, he promised his brother and Zilia that he'd try. It was supposed to be part of his "healing", counseling sessions he had been resisting, but inadvertently couldn't avoid. Not with the entire crew, sans Hana and Emil, knowing about it. And, of course, Zilia "casually mentioning" the schedule to Jack and capitaine. He was, truly, a prisoner of their good intentions. Was "tough love" even a thing or were the three making it up as usual? He guessed he'd have to wait and see. Only Adelaide knew how he actually felt about having to gut himself repeatedly like this.

Jack tsked. "Trust is a strong word but I'm never one to turn down a bet. If you don't have to kill her yourself, I'll consider myself owed." He smirked, before adding:

"And Sid, please remember the entire army we slaughtered just yesterday. We're not getting soft. It's just–up until we landed in Facade–we chose when to fight. We had that power. I detest killing anyone just because someone told me to."
 
The Unexpected Adventures of 3 Siblings
(OR The story of how Luro influenced the younger pirates … )

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Night Before

Hana's hair shimmered in the dim kitchen light, a glow enhanced by the steam from her drink. She sat there with hands clasped around the warm porcelain, confused, sighing and angsty, while struggling to make conversation. It was hard when one blonde crowded her mind, and she felt his absence even more keenly. She simply couldn't eat at dinner earlier. "How's the hot chocolate, Shay-ta? Jack-tai'cho swears the tiny bit of salt and cayenne pepper makes the biggest difference."

She couldn't help smiling after attempting to take another gulp. The liquid was silky against her tongue and tasted like the sweetest dream. Rich and bold in the most enduring way - she closed her eyes and blushed. She wondered, very inappropriately, what kissing Emil would taste like after finishing this mug. Would the salt and spice … sitting close enough for their knees to touch, Hana fanned herself vigorously as she turned tomato in the face.

"Ne Shay-tai, do you have friends you can't stop thinking about? Friends you'd like to hold hands with, and, yeah, think about kissing them. I - um, I think .. I worry I'm making too much out of our friendship. I don't know if he knows I like him." Her hands reunited with the mug. "I hoped to ask Tashi-amue about it."

Tashi was Amaiya in essence, Hana reasoned, so approaching the Echo would be like talking to her sister and getting advice without affecting the Amaiya's impression of Emil. She really wanted to trust Tashi; Hana gambled angering Amaiya to prove this. More for her own sanity, honestly. She'd been too distracted ever since they arrived in this world. She squirmed. "I'd be happy to hear your thoughts too."

"It is quite delicious, Lady Jackie knows my preferences so she makes it a different way but I like this way as well.

Shay offered a small nod at this and though they didn't smile their relaxed posture showed their comfort. The servant was admittedly still surprised at the situation, sharing a drink with a member of Stardusk was not something they expected today. They always tried to carry themselves with some manner of decorum, but they were presently on 'break' so they figured it wouldn't hurt to relax just a little bit.

When the question was posed to them Shay's brows lowered slightly, they seemed to understand what Hanako meant but they remained silent, their eyes moved to the liquid in their cup, fingers tapping against the mug. Taking another small sip Shay looked back up at Hanako at this before speaking again.

"Regretfully I possess no memories before my servitude to His Highness, if I had friends, including ones that I hold affection towards I do not remember them. I don't have anyone now like that either I'm afraid, there is no clear definition of what my current relationships are and I am a servant first and foremost."

Shay reached up and put a hand on their chest."However if you are fine with a response from someone like that…I am a servant so I must aid in any way I can…and if I may offer my view on the matter…I believe there are people in this world who make us see parts of ourselves we didn't know, who make us better by just being there…and I think those people are very important and should be cherished however way one chooses."

With their peace said Shay lowered their hand back to their mug and picking it up spoke again. "Lady Tashi…was speaking with Lady Hanako…ah the other Lady Hanako recently. She seemed to be giving advice then as well, I'm sure she wouldn't mind doing the same for you."

Hana's hand laid over Shay's. "I'll take your words," she said, gesturing to her heart. "And I'll keep them here, forever. Gomwa (thank you), Shay-tai. I pray that you'll find your special people again one day." She hugged them tightly. "I'm sorry you can't remember them."

She settled the way her sister would, turning her own mug between her hands, as she pondered her next question. "Do you know how I can find her? She's harder to find than Amaiya. Our hearts and minds are not connected no matter how I try." Hana pouted. "I wish Tashi-amue would trust me more."

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The girl rose to refill her mug when the flames licked the edges of the door. It blasted towards her and she folded backwards to the ground, head grazing stone, and her eyes blinking as a sheet of wind hit her face. Brilliant splinters littered the floor and dissolved by the time she finished fixing her stray hair. Uproarious laughter filled the room, all Sid's, announcing his arrival. Half stumbling as he gripped Luro like a stooping crutch. There was nothing composed or cool about him – although, Hana blushed. She couldn't help noticing how low his unbuttoned shirt went. She could make the outlines of his chest. She turned away, shielding her face with her hands. Aniyo (no), she can't stare! He - he's an otokomen, she repeated as her imagination ran wild. She wilted and tried harder to erase the thought of Cedric and Emil standing shirtless on deck. Desperately she pictured Satia scolding her, and that was enough to bring back her inner calm. Rising, she peeked through cracks in her fingers and re-sealed them. Cedric likes men. I can't think of him that way … I can't! She insisted, ignoring the clues that hinted at the man's affection for her older sister. "Hyeo, I think you need to go to bed."

Cedric laughed and waved away her concern. "Non! Not yet," he hiccoughed. "I had but a mouthful. Luro and I found the bottle inside Jack's room. We," he slapped Luro between the shoulders and doubled over with laughter. "Jack's not going to like what we left in his bed."

His mind drifted free in this blissful haze. All his worries strangely trivia after he snatched the bottle from Luro and gulped down the amber liquid. Deep down, very deep down, he knew he was three glasses from blanking out. He sensed Jack wouldn't like that, but he forgot why. He usually remembered the reason. He shrugged before melting into Shay and blinked slowly into the servant's eyes. "You have nice cheekbones, yes? I imagine so much potential if I can dress you up … but, no. Luro and I planned too much today. We want to leave the castle, steal a few new friends and get them drunk and happy." Whirling at the back of his mind was the possibility that the bottle wasn't left by Jack. It was for Jack! Sid snuggled the servant, unwilling to let his hesitancy show.

Poison, he had ingested plenty while under Charlotte; suffered her damning spells, all in the guise of training, and yet he lived. Zilia would be the bigger problem if they foolishly drank poisoned wine. He laughed as his gloved fingers ran through Shay's hair slowly and seductively. He stooped close enough to memorize their scent. Yet a gap remained between them to avoid skin-to-skin contact. He pulled away before it annoyed the green-haired servant. These were merely gestures intended to hide his growing ire at Jackie, her Cedric, and the situation he found himself in. Hot, bothered, and slowly losing control. The hum of magic was painful in his ears, and his fingers warm. He brushed the signs aside. He wasn't going to be Jack and spoil this glorious night! Cedric never admitted how much he wanted to forget, but never could indulge like this with Jack constantly around. Stars, he missed Capitaine Hoshi! She taught him that pain could be eased with rum.

A relaxed smile rose up his cheeks that barely masked the impatience in his voice. "Shay, show us where to find other Hana or other me. I'm sure we can convince them to have a drink or two. Luro fére," he shouted. "Convince Shay for me. We need to get on with the plan. And, I need another drink." He peeled away from the servant and leaned into Luro's arms, dipping down like he would in a dance, and he gripped his brother's face. "It's you and me and Hana and … Shay tonight. Let Jack be boring and sad over his missing wife. We'll drag something back by morning."

Hana kicked the back of her shoe and wrung her hands. "Ne Luro-fuku, um, where are …. I mean, why? Why are you going with hyeo and Shay?" She waved her arms wildly. "I don't know if my amue and Jack-tai'cho would like this." She thought Cedric looked too far gone with his cheeks reddening more. He was visibly sweating too, and she sensed he was no longer steady on his feet. Imperfections, she knew, he wouldn't tolerate if he was himself. "Luro-fuku!"

Shay offered a small nod to Hanako and seemed a bit surprised by the hug, their body tensed a bit clearly not used to…well affection but they made no effort to move. Once they were free Shay folded their hands together, their brows raising slightly at the mention of the other Hanako. The servant's eyes move to the table for a moment.

"...you may run into her on patrol, the only other way is one of the Echo's allow you into the hall where their rooms are and you visit her, but one of them has to agree, or his Highness lets you in." They said before catching Hanako's other comment on Tashi. "I can't speak for her but I don't feel it's a matter of trust, it doesn't seem that way from my observation. It seems like it's something else…as for your connection." Shay seemed to pause searching for the right words. "Inevitably you will connect with her, Facade connects all within it. That's just how it has done things." When the door burst open Shay stared at the new opening, reaching into their sleeve and pulling out a small book, they wrote something down in the notebook. To themselves, they made a mental note to fix that later during their rounds. The servant realized after finishing their note that Hanako was affected and turned to her.

"L-Lady Hanako? Are you all…righ-" Shay cut themselves off seeing Hanako peering through her fingers. Lowering their hands they figured she was fine and turned back towards the two, to a Luro who dug in his sleeve grabbing another rum bottle when Cedric took his, taking a swig himself.

"Hey Hanako! Hi Shay, you two look like you're doin stuff."

The Servant wanted to respond to Luro but Cedric seemed to want their attention more due to proximity, their green gaze rested on Cedric wondering what exactly they wanted, but after a moment they realized the smell on him and put everything together. At the mention of dress the servant blinked.

"If that's an order then I will comply…but I like my current attire presently I'm afraid," Shay said with a small nod. "I also thank you for the compliment."

Shay just moved their arms to help keep Cedric up when he leaned against them, worried about him falling and hurting himself. They seemed more confused than annoyed by Cedric's gestures, looking up and brushing their hair with their hand once he had moved away to keep up appearances. Shay smelled of lilacs, but the longer one lingered near them, the more that smell seemed to resemble burnt ones.

"Kay," Luro said, catching Cedric and moving with him. "Shay you should do the thing, helping us will mean fun and everyone likes fun."

Luro blinked when his face was gripped, his eyes moving over to Hana when her name came up.

"If it is a request then as a servant I'm obligated to oblige," Shay said at Cedric's request. "Of course if Sir Luro also wishes it then all the more reason. I do not know the other Lady Hanako's location presently, but Lady Tashi will. The other Sir Cedric however is patrolling near Lady Jackie. I am not sure how she would respond to Sir Cedric being pulled aside presently, if you're putting aside the consequences of drawing her ire I would advise finding him before Lady Jackie finds you. If I am to offer advice, I would also advise against the act itself for what it's worth." Shay gave a small nod at this folding their hands in front of them.

At Hanako's inquiry, Luro looked back at her, calling Shay over to him he had the very confused assistant make sure Cedric wouldn't fall before walking over to her. "Hanako…" Luro said closing his eyes. He gave a small nod before opening them again and smiling at her. "I'm terrible at reasonable decisions so of course I'd be here! Also, it's important to break the rules sometimes, we're pirates that's what we do!"

Luro grinned at this before moving his hands under Hanako's arms and lifting her until her feet were off the ground."You gotta come with us and have some fun. It'll be great!"

Hana's arms flailed around when the ground disappeared beneath her. She flapped and wiggled before her arms flew towards the skirt of her night gown. From there, she hung like a helpless kitten with Luro's hands hooking beneath her shoulder. "Luro-fuku, I .. can I please get back down." She sucked in her breath, pressing her skirt closer to her body, embarrassed that she nearly blurted out that she wasn't wearing shorts. Ne, she can't do that! Amaiya-amue would not approve. It was too improper.

"S-sir Luro. Lady Hanako is not a child. Perhaps you should put her down."

Luro looked over at Shay then back at Hanako and blinking raised her a bit higher.
"Uppies!" He said with a toothy grin.

"A-yeeeee!" Hana yelped as her rosy face hovered over the three. Cedric-hyeo waving at her with her loopy smile and saying words in Trovalian. Oddly, Luro-fuku, who never once spoke the language, seemed to understand. "O-okay, I'll come. I'll come."

Apparently content he lowered her making sure to say 'Downsies' while he was at it before resting his hands on his hips. It was abundantly clear he could hold her under his arm like he did Zilia and just run off but he wasn't doing so. Seeing that Shay's eyebrows raised slightly as if they realized something.

"...Lady Hanako…I believe it would be safe to accompany them. In fact…it may be a learning experience and I at the very least will do so…I will lead you to Lady Tashi so you can inquire about the other Lady Hanako."

Shay said this before walking towards the door.

"Yes! Let's get going Cedric! We're going to party until one of us passes out! Shay don't forget the extra rum!"

"Allons (let's go)!" Cedric shouted and leaped up Luro's back. He gripped the man's shoulder with one hand, whooping loudly, worrying Hana even more. "I say we annoy that dear sister of mine. She can't stay angry with me, can she?"

"A-are you sure?" Hana spurted as she jogged to keep up with Luro. Inwardly, she was amazed that neither man seemed to be falling. She glanced briefly at Shay. Seeing him practically running showed that there was no stopping this insanity. "But why other Cedric?" she pressed the drunk summoner.

"I want to punch him in the face," Cedric chimed with a dark twinkle in his eye. His never fading smile - the combination sent a chill down Hana's spine. "Getting me is one thing. Trying to harm Jack, non! That's not how this game works." He turned back to the front. "Fére, do you smell the other me? I'm getting the smallest hints of black geranium. I know this perfume - no one we've met was wearing it."

A single card popped into his hand. He aimed at the space behind the corner and hurl the flaming card. Screams of shadowy wolf filled the air. It ran two-legged forward with smoke streaming behind - exactly portrayed like the many nightmares plaguing Cedric's mind. The Stardusk tailor laughed hysterically as he heard a voice shouting. He punched the air, swearing flagrantly, before fishing out several cards. "Come at us!" He challenged. "Luro, let's go capture them!"

"Rrrrrr," Chaos hummed. She popped onto Shay's shoulder and stared at the strangest sight - her master more energetic and lively than she'd ever seen him. She prodded Shay's cheek with her paw to indicate the changes in the shadows spilling in the far corner, egging him towards it. She hissed.

Hana reached for her sword only to remember she left it in bed to create the charade of returning soon. She bit her lip as regret flared in her mind. The very winds in the hall were angry, reminding her of Amaiya amue. She hoped, suddenly, that they didn't accidentally attack Tashi-amue or Jackie-tai'n in their haste. Her racing heart reduced her to pure instinct. Those writhing shadows …

She dashed over and leap-kicked the emerging figure into the wall. The hall shook when flesh and stone collided, covering everyone with powdery rain. Hana raised her arm to her nose. She gaped then clasped her hands together and bowed repeatedly. She DID NOT mean to channel … amue's not going to like this! "Gomene, gomene!" she apologized to the person she entombed, and ran to offer her hand. "I - um, are you okay?"

"You did well!" Cedric clapped Hana on the shoulder, startling her. "Wh - non!"

The poor summoner's ears sang. He careened into the Echo, sending them back into the stone coffin. Hana's squeals made him grit his teeth as he grabbed blindly for Luro's hand. "Stars, Hanako, I'm your Cedric." He grumbled. "I think our kidnappee is …" He leaned back and poked that cheek. "Do you fancy some of that rum left for my Jack?" His face was cheery again. "I wonder whose bright idea it was to leave it in his bed, hm?"

Chaos cocked her head after huffing. She prowled back towards the shadows and jabbed it with her paw, half-expecting more after her earlier encounter with Jackie. Hana joined her and squatted down. Alicia's sister peered intently.

"Is there someone or something still in there?" Her hand reached around blindly. "Don't be scared. We, um, want to be friends. I can make us some tea and pancakes if you want." Her bare, pink lips quirked. Cedric-hyeo and Luro-fuku were not sounding safe nor reassuring at the moment. "The two … they are nice. Ye, it'll be fine, I'll protect you."

"I don't think we should promote violence," Shay said as they made their way down the hall. Shay had a feeling they weren't being heard and Luro humming and continuing forward with Cedric only seemed to prove that.

"Hmmm it's faint but kinda," Luro said. "Something's interfering with it though. The scent is…moving in different directions for some reason." Something brushed Luro's cheek and his eyelids lowered a bit as a sudden realization hit him. Whatever came to mind faded quickly as the sudden proclamation from Cedric came, Luro grinned at this and lowered his body ready to rush forward. "Let's do it! I already got the rope ready!"

"Why did you bring rope?!" Shay questioned only to look over at Chaos at the cat's sudden warning. The Servant's eyes moved to the shadows and their eyebrows narrowed slightly as they felt the sudden shift.

Shay wasn't sure how to explain the next few moments aside from chaos, but what concerned them the most was that Hanako had somehow acted against the figure first. The servant took their notebook out again and made another note about something else to fix during their rounds. The door was easy, the wall…was going to require plaster and more materials. A small sigh escaped from them as they put the book away.

They walked over to the wall as Luro grabbed Cedric's hand and helped him up, his eyes resting on the one unfortunate enough to end up in the wall. When the smoke cleared the person laying in the hole was…a shadow shaped as a person. Luro blinked a few times at the scene but before he could say anything a hand came to rest on Cedric and Hanako's shoulders.

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"You really think Rum will solve this issue?"Jackie's grip tightened a bit more on their shoulders. "You know if that wasn't a doppelganger…that would have been an assault." The woman was smiling but her eyes spoke a far different language, Luro for some reason was seeing his life flash before his eyes.

"Oh I forgot that happened," Luro said as a particular memory passed.

Jackie stood behind the two and the shadow in the wall dissipated having served its duty, her eyes moved to Shay before lowering slightly, she removed her hands from their shoulders as her gaze fell on Luro finally.

"It's a good thing Adelaide noticed you all first."

"Lady Adelaide?"

"Luro probably picked up on it, she divided Cedric's scent to throw you off, he escaped in that time," Jackie said. "I asked her not to ruin your fun…then Hanako tried to hit me. This one's so violent…"

Luro touched his cheek remembering the earlier touch, he thought it seemed familiar. He didn't think that the other Adelaide would get involved. Jackie's gaze went to Cedric for a moment, her eyelids lowered a bit seeing his current state. It seemed like she wanted to say something but she just let out a heavy sigh and adjusted her glasses.

"You're not going to find Cedric tonight. Give it up and do something else. He has his reasons for not appearing before you, respect that and do something else. Hanako's nearby, go talk to her."

"You're not gonna kill us," Luro said moving his hands into his sleeves. "I felt a lot of bloodlust for a moment there. It was kinda nice."

"...I can't attack my brother that easily, even another version, and Tashi would kill me if I killed any Hanako, " Jackie said. "Adelaide on the other hand…I can't promise anything so I'd keep moving. Head towards the training area, Hanako was that way, I think she was looking for Nali."

Jackie seemed to be aware of their plans but she showed no signs of stopping them, Luro was reminded she was still a spymaster at the end of the day, a drunken escapade would be simple for her to find out.

"Also…Tashi was that way. I recognized you but she may draw first and ask questions later if you attack her. You want to keep your head look before swinging next time." The woman eyed the group and Luro stared at Jackie as she waited for the group to leave so she could resume her duties.

"You wanna come with us?" Luro asked.

"Tempting but I don't feel like answering questions about my Cedric or Adelaide. You leave those and I'll at least walk with you."

A white-furred Chaos landed on Jackie's shoulder and her eyes lowered a bit as the cat seemed to say something to her, the other Chaos looked at their counterpart, and tilted her head a bit before leaping off Jackie's shoulder, vanishing as she was blocked from sight.

"My Cedric does say 'Good evening' to you though."

"Rum solves most things," Sid conceded while tolerating the intrusion on his person. He appreciated that the Echo kept her bare fingers far from the exposed skin of his throat, before realizing his Echo would have shared similar talents. He spun round and grabbed her hand to kiss it. Sibling-to-sibling, coyly as would most Trovalian brothers do. "Pardon, I let my drink get the better of me. I was never allowed to drink after … if this is a shared memory, je ne sais pas (I don't know). Capitaine North? I was thirsty and drank up the last of her rum. The ship lit up like festive skies. Oui, I've not been allowed to drink since," he finished, unaware that he was starting to retrace some of his words. His memory was already falling apart.

Hanako pouted and tucked her hands over the front of her nightgown. "I would have stopped if I saw you," she protested. "It was that shadow person, so I can't tell! Then hyeo startled me," she waved her arms around. "A-ye, um, I'll help you fix the wall tomorrow, Shay-ta. Gomene," she bowed to the servant before bowing again to Jackie. "I know nothing excuses my behaviour earlier."

Cedric pouted next, looking almost insolent, at the thought that he never got to glimpse his other self. He consoled himself by remarking, under his breath, that the poor Echo must be ashamed of his own looks. There was no logical explanation otherwise. He backed off, regardless, as Runali and Zilia's words came to mind. Something, something, about learning about Facade. He guessed they just needed to change their target. Shang-hai Jackie and other Hanako, oui, Luro was sure to agree.

"Tell him I'm stealing his sister!" Cedric called after the white cat. And, to emphasize that point, he promptly linked arms with Jackie. "Non, you're coming with me, soeur (sister). I never thanked you for the crepes yester-morning. Sautéed cherries were something Jack never persuaded me to eat," he waved away any potential remarks about his natural fussiness. Jack never hesitated to point out his anorexic build because of it. Ah, he hoped, a fem Jack would better appreciate his wish to look good and fashionable. "Jack overfeeds me on the best of days."

"He says you're too skinny," Hana jabbed him verbally. Her peeve pouring from every inch of her. She couldn't fathom why he'd let himself get this drunk in a dangerous place. This she vowed never to tell her sister or risk stressing the woman. "I guess we could check on Other Me."

"And you accuse me of trying to find my Echo," Sid snipped. "You were just too slow."

Hana huffed. "Ne, I was following Ru-fu'tai's advice. Do you remember?"

"She wanted us to find information."

They bickered before pouncing on Luro. "Luro," Luro-fuku," they shouted at the same time. They glared at each before proceeding to keep interrupting each other. "What did -" "We're not supposed to -", then finally Sid won. "Capitaine agreed to this, no?" And, Hanako was left gripping the skirt of her nightgown. Annoyed she turned back to Shay. "Boys are so childish. Why can't hyeo be sophisticated like Jack-ta'cho?"

"It really does," Luro said grinning. "Rum is great like that."

Jackie only smiled at Luro at this point her gaze returning to Cedric as her hand was taken, a small chuckle escaped the woman at the gesture and she withdrew her hand once he said his peace. "Well you're not so far gone to forget some of your manners at least," she said before looking back at Hanako. There was a lot she wanted to say but she just adjusted her glasses, she smiled at her to show she wasn't really upset about the matter. "...I mean you still 'attacked' someone in the castle even if by accident. I'm just saying to be careful is all. No offense taken so raise your head."

She watched Shay wave their hands in response to Hanako's offer. "It's quite fine Lady Hanako, it is part of my duty please do not let it trouble you. The other Sir Luro did far more just the other day."

When Cedric linked arms with Jackie, Luro moved his hands into his sleeves, it seemed she was going to be coming with them, well their goal was to get Echoes at the end of the day so that was fine. He looked over at Jackie who did not attempt to move away which was enough of an indication that she was coming along. "I tend to spoil a bit more than my other self it seems."

Though she was being 'stolen' she wondered if given the circumstances she was actually 'stealing' Cedric herself, she decided not to purposefully bring this up to Jack for the time being, tempting as it was. Reaching over she adjusted his outfit a bit with a smile before pointing ahead and heading towards the training room.

Luro watched Hanako and Cedric for a moment in silence, blinking a few times when the two approached him, his eyes moving between the two of them as they talked his head tilting. It seemed that they had resolved the issue themselves so Luro left the matter alone, he also didn't want to head back yet anyway. "I suppose the spirits aren't helping the matter. Inhibitions are reduced in such a state after all," Shay said looking over at Cedric at Hanako's comment.

A hand came to rest on Hanako's head ruffling her hair a bit, the source was Luro who grinned down at the younger Tashigi. Shay noticed for a brief moment the redhead's eyes seemed to clear for a moment. "This kind of thing is the most interesting though. You got siblings too Hanako. There's something nice about this, just think about it and you'll see why this is a good thing."

He grinned and with a blink, his gaze returned to normal causing Shay's eyelids to lower slightly. "Kay let's get going and find the other Hanako!"

Removing his hand he walked after the other two, Shay watched Luro walk away and messed with their bang a little. "...let us move forward Lady Hanako. The night is still young after all…and I believe there's something good at the end of all this."

While Shay offered to lead the group Jackie stopped them wanting Shay to enjoy their evening, even if it was just for an hour she didn't want Shay to just be a 'servant', though Shay themselves said that was impossible causing a small chuckle to escape from the woman.

The training area wasn't far, but to the surprise of at least a few present there wasn't just one training area, there were multiple. Shay had never gotten to explain but different ones were remodeled in different ways, and one in particular resembled the dojos of Yula Fei. Thus it was easy to tell which one Hanako would be found in. Shay said that Tashi had requested one of such make and they made it shortly afterward.

"Shay that's amazing!" Luro exclaimed. "You can make things as well."

"I-it's not that amazing Sir Luro. To help clean the castle I'm able to manipulate its structure slightly. I merely did the same and used Lady Tashi's knowledge to build it. It may not resemble the Feian ones exactly but hopefully, it lives somewhat up to your expectations."

"You guys knew the risks of doing all of this so I'll refrain from ruining your evening with possibilities and warnings. Why don't you open the door Luro?"

"Kay. I do smell a Tashigi behind here. Let's kidnap other Hanako."

Luro opened the sliding door to the dojo, with a bit more flair and force than needed, revealing the inside of the dojo. The place was kept meticulously clean from top to bottom, and a few wooden weapons were resting on the walls, though one was presently missing. There was a singular person in the room, and they were a Tashigi.

A Tashigi with long silver like hair and an eye patch, who was meditating in the center of the room. She also possessed a red eye which opened and glanced sideways at the group who had intruded in her space. Her eyelid lowered ever so slightly and Luro looked back at Hanako and Cedric before looking at Tashi again.

"...Wrong Tashigi." He slowly closed the door to the Dojo ignoring the woman's unblinking stare and once it was fully shut he looked at Jackie who only offered a shrug.

"She was here when I walked by earlier. She had been training inside."

Judging by the missing weapon the woman's statement seemed correct but that wasn't the case now. "We should probably go. If we run now she won't catch all of us, just the slowest," Luro said.

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"Hope is a dangerous thing Luro Makachi."

Luro flinched a bit at the voice, mainly because it was coming from behind them. Turning he noticed Tashi was standing behind Hanako her gaze focused on the group as a whole. Luro opened the door to the dojo again only to see the woman was gone from inside.

"It can lead to meaningless struggles."

The swordswoman's hand went to her blade and Luro lowered his body slightly, though a bonk on the head from her saya was the most the redhead received from the woman.

"I jest of course. I am used to your antics…though it seems you have company this time."

Tashi's eye moved to Hanako and Cedric, lingering on her other 'sister' for a moment before closing. "Explain. Preferably from someone not a few steps away from passing out."

Luro rubbed the top of his head before putting his hand on Hanako's back and gently nudging her forward. This caused Tashi to look at Hanako awaiting an explanation. "Okay, Hanako. Explain how we're kidnapping the Echoes," Luro said pulling out a rum bottle from his sleeve.

"...yes please enlighten me on this Hanako."

"Non! I'm fine, Amaiya," Cedric waved away all concerns. He walked over to the swordswoman, amicably slow, and raised her hand to his lips. Kissing it, he gazed into the distorting silhouette, so reminiscent of his heart's desire. "Has anyone ever told you that you're more beautiful than the moon? Your skin whiter than snow and your eyes steals my breath," he praised in Feian. The grammar clearly supplied by Jack. He raised a hand to brush away a strand of hair. "What happened to your eye?"

"Kidnap?" Hanako flinched. "I, no, Luro-fuku, please don't joke like this! Cedric-hyeo said we were going to have drinks with the Echoes, nothing more." The side of her lips twitched as she waved her hands in front of her in protest. "Jackie-tai'n, Tas … hi?"

Her focus was stolen, briefly, by Cedric flirting with her sister's Echo. She coughed, nudging the man away enough to push him back towards Luro, and she bowed. "I didn't know," she confessed. "He mustn't have known that your heart belongs to another, ne, Tashi-amue?"

This was awkward, very awkward. Hanako thought back about her time with Cedric and Amaiya, and how he always hung around when there was nothing to do. It made sense, but - he wasn't good enough, in her mind. She huffed. Her amue deserved nothing short of a prince, or a noble's eldest son, in her mind. "Tashi-amue?" she repeated in the silence that followed Cedric's disappearance. "I - well, I was thinking of, oh yes!" she pounded her hand with her right fist as inspiration struck. "Tonight's a full moon. It'll be the fifth full moon of the year back from where we can. I remembered amue, and myself, are fond of botan-nabi (wild boar hotpot) with sugared persimmons in it." She beamed. "Would you, Shay-ta, Jackie-tai'n, would the two of you help me make a feast for everyone here? The sweetness of the persimmons goes well with alcohol."

Giggling, she hugged Tashi. "Ne, ne, amue, please say yes!" she begged as she pouted with her face turned towards the red gaze. Somehow, doing this, always softened up her sister on the average day, and won the woman to her side. "Absolutely anyone can come, Nali-fu'tai, other me, Emil-hyeo?" she suggested. Her face blushing slightly at the mention of his name. Immediately, her heart skipped several beats. She wished her own Emil was here.

Cedric had a pulse of clarity. He recalled the missing wooden sword on the rack. Hana's voice replayed inside his head, narrating in her bubbly voice, about training in a particular area in the estate when she needed to sharpen her kata. He poked Jackie's elbow. "Do tell if other parts of the Tashigi estate exist here," he prompted. "Maybe even a model of the Aurora Borealis, your version at least," he continued with a vague wave.

He didn't mention, of course, that his own Chaos returned during their trek here, and deposited the joker card into his pocket. His black cat had already wandered off to explore the area. Jackie hadn't returned yet; he figured she went off to find Jack. Hopefully, he added, with an item obtained from the Echoes. The slowest party here was him. His mind fogged up again as he slid onto his bum. "That bottle was for me, wasn't it?" He asked the world at large. "No version of me or Jack would be silly enough to think that works."

Hanako proceeded to re-open the dojo door. She knew of the side passage leading to the kitchen and the rest of the main house. She half-expected the necessary ingredients to be on the tables when they arrived. She paused long enough to wait for Tashi to protest before she pulled the woman in after her. Deeper down a kernel of hope flowered; there was a chance that they'd pass the zen garden courtyard where she would usually go to perfect her kata, why else would the wooden sword be missing. Unless, again she turned back to look at Amaiya with a bright smile, her amue took the sword for reasons unknown.

"Tashi-amue, is there something on your mind? My real amue wouldn't be happy with strangers she barely knows wandering around the compound." She finally asked, refusing to step further into the shadowy room backlit by open windows. "I really don't want to intrude even if I want to spend more time with you and Jackie-tai'n."

Cedric was less focused on his stomach. His mind suggested a game, non, the card he got suggested something to him. He laid a card into his open palm and snapped. An entire deck sprang up, and he started shuffling. "Say Jackie, my heart says we let the sisters have their time, and we have ours with Luro. Rum and cards, like the old times. See what games he knows," he proposed. "Shay," he waved. "Would you like to play cards or cook whatever it is that Hanako wanted?"

There was a rule among spies - whatever spoken during such a game would never leave the circle. He couldn't remember who told them about it, but he bet it was Capitaine Hoshi. There were many different games they could play; tonight he wanted something less taxing. He sat back down and patted the ground beside him. "What game would you all like to play? I'm happy to learn popular games from Facade." He laughed. "Hopefully, they are complicated enough that I can win Jack a few times before he figures it out and re-takes his throne."

As he began distributing the cards, he turned to Shay. "If we wanted alcohol, how do we get some in Facade?"

Tashi's eye only moved over to Cedric when he took her hand, her expression blank she watched him in silence gently withdrawing her hand when he said what he had to say. "Thank you for your kind words Cedric, I would however advise against compliments when under the bottle, it makes them seem less sincere."

She said this reaching up and adjusting her eyepatch. "It is nothing worth speaking of, I would thank you not to bring it up again."

Jackie silently applauded Cedric though, at least he had tried, most wouldn't seeing the woman upset, a part of her was proud of her brother, even the other version. She didn't speak this out loud however as she liked her head attached to her body.

"Hmmm there's a few places that Hanako requested but they're in another part of the castle," Jackie said to Cedric's question. "I've only been there a few times myself. I leave that more to the Tashigi sisters."

Tashi's gaze moved over to Hanako after this and she listened closely to what she said. Her gaze moved back over to Luro and Cedric, the former folding his hands behind his head smiling. The woman calmly moved a strand of hair behind her ear and closed her eye with a small sigh.

"I cannot speak for my other half, but there is no one like that in my heart Hanako, and it will remain that way for the foreseeable future."

When Hanako made her request the woman's eyelid lowered slightly, she seemed intent on saying something when another voice spoke up.

"That does sound fun," Luro said. "We can enjoy ourselves right?"

Tashi stared at Luro for a moment, her eye searching for something in the redhead who tilted his head with a smile.
"...very well for a short time."

At the mention of the others, she gave a small shake of her head.

"Captain is dealing with other matters and the other you…I asked her to go town once she finished her training on an errand, she will not be joining us…as for Emil he's not an option presently."

Tashi chose not to explain why and from the look in her eye she wasn't going to make an effort to either. Though she clearly had her reservations, she walked with Hanako before answering her question.

"I cannot call you strangers with such familiar faces and we wish for amicable relations, even if I was bothered by it, allowing my personal feelings to inconvenience others in such a way would be selfish."

Luro watched the scene mostly in silence and this caused Shay's gaze to fall onto the redhead, due to this they almost missed what Cedric had said.

"Oh I believe that is a good idea and I can easily retrieve some from the passage."

Jackie's eyes moved to the cards adjusting her glasses she a small smile graced her features. "Hmmm there is a fun game I play with my Cedric. I suppose I could teach you that one I'm sure Jack won't know it," Jackie said.

While Shay was considering what path to take Luro removed his hands from his sleeves. "You two should probably grit your teeth," Luro said adjusting his bandages.

Whether Hanako and Cedric heard Luro's warning didn't matter, within that moment a piercing pain slammed into their heads and images forced themselves into their skulls. Calling it a headache was being polite, it was if someone was trying to dig a rusty blade into their craniums and pop it open to view the contents.

For a moment Hanako was in her other halves body, she borrowed the emotions and senses of her other self. A hand held her own, warm and comforting and as her vision came back directly in front of her was Emil, the light of the sunset bouncing off him illuminating his back as he offered a gentle smile to her. It wasn't her Emil, parts of his hair were red, more than likely from Imposter's influence, but his smile…the kindness in his gaze, it was without a doubt Emil.

Cedric was thrown into his other selves body, who for some reason was on a ship, the white Chaos in his lap and his hand petting her fur, from the attire he wore it was clear that the other Cedric also cared about his appearance. The door to the room opened and Jackie walked into the room, offering a grin to him. The woman wasn't wearing glasses and her eyes weren't yellow, she held a mirror in her hand, something she had apparently grabbed for him, however just as she held it up the image faded keeping him from viewing his own reflection.

Just like that the moment passed and the memories left them, they were shoved back into their own bodies as Facade released them.

"...Facade spoke to you," Shay said folding their hands together. "It took an interest in your pursuits it seems."

Jackie's eyebrows drew down at this and the smile on her face shrunk to a small frown, Tashi's expression stayed the same but her body had tensed up slightly her eyelid lowering slightly.

"...Facade's gaze has left you," Shay said, closing their eyes. "I can't sense it anymore."

Luro watched the scene in silence, he didn't receive a gift it seemed but his gaze did move to the right as if he was looking at something. Whatever he was looking at left causing him to focus forward.

"You guys okay," Luro said, resting his hands on his hips. "That looked painful."

Cedric grabbed Luro and vomited, throwing his head off to the side at the very last minute, enough to avoid splattering the capitaines fiance. He gagged on air and emptied the last of his dinner. He fished out a handkerchief. Wiping his mouth, he inhaled deeply. "I -" he shook his head afraid he'd vomit again, an understandable response given his poor health. "I'm fine, Luro. Dizzy but I'm fine," he admitted as he lay down with his head in his brother's lap.

It wouldn't be the first time he found himself in such a position; he had fainted multiple times randomly in the past, but this was the first time he acknowledged the redhead as more than a crewmate. He crossed his arms over his stomach and closed his eyes to allow the pain to subside. The act surely would have caused Jack to panic if the man was around. His eyes popped open before the thought faded and he opened his mouth to say something. Seeing Jackie, taking in her expression, he decided it was best to say nothing. He considered the possibility that her Cedric might not have been dying from that illness. Looking at her told him nothing in that regard, but he imagined it wasn't easy to see someone with your sibling's face looking like death itself. "Depends if you're up to it, but I'm going to use your tricks to kick Jack's ego. He needs to learn he can't always be the best at cards," Sid joked as he returned to his reclining otter pose. "Tonight, oui? Another time, I let you decide, my soeur."

Hanako managed to keep standing. The pain, while bad, was not the worst she experienced. Saffron had found her matted with blood; her feet scraped and festering after running until she collapsed, a memory she never regained, but a story, nonetheless, pieced together from the other women who had been rescued that same day. She inhaled Tashi's scent as her arms untangled from around the woman. Hana's head bobbed in apology. "I guess I owe you dinner now, Tashi-amue. I noticed that I've stained your kimono." She cupped her reddening cheeks. "I may have to leave for now. I'm not feeling too great after that happened." She gestured vaguely.

Other Hana's memories of Emil lit a strange fire inside her. His absence became more apparent all of a sudden. She wanted him in a very different way, not as another brother, but … she didn't dare think it, maybe, a namja (boyfriend/lover). She wanted him to say the same words Cedric-hyeo said to Tashi earlier; look that lovelorn at her. She sighed. Amaiya-amue wouldn't like the answer that she knew given her sister's experience with the Prophets. The girl began twisting her skirt. "I promise it'll be something extra delicious next time. You've mentioned this dish once when I was younger. I - I've been practicing it, and Satia-amue finally gave me her approval. It may not be Lady Sakura's style but, yes, I wanted to cheer you up with it."

Sid raised a hand and pointed to Hanako's back. "I guess it'll have to be next time. Luro and I won't let her wander off on her own." He tried standing only to slip back into a kneeling squat. "Fére, help?" He asked sheepishly. "I don't think I'll be able to walk."

Luro offered a nod to Cedric and made no effort to move, he just smiled and let him have his moment. Jackie closed her eyes when Cedric looked at her, staring probably wasn't going to help but she didn't want to look away either. Luro rested a hand on Cedric's forehead, he channeled a bit of ice into his hands to make them a bit colder knowing that helped when people didn't feel well, at least from what Zilia said.

Tashi had taken hold of Hanako when the moment happened mainly because she wrapped her arms around her, the swordswoman didn't move however and seemed to wait for the moment to pass, almost as if she understood exactly what was happening. That may have been the case considering the warnings she had given Stardusk as a whole.

"Think nothing of it, Shay is good at cleaning most things," Tashi said. "Focus on your health, there will be other nights." Tashi's eye lowered a bit and she wondered if she looked like she needed cheering up but she left the matter alone. "...Then I will look forward to it next time."

Jackie watched Cedric sit up and raised a hand to the two. "Next time then. I'll look forward to it."

She watched Luro help Cedric up, he moved over to Hanako placing a hand on her shoulder.
"If ya need help too let me know Hanako. I can carry you under my arm," Luro said grinning. "Let's get back for now. Shay thanks for coming, and thank you too Jackie."

"It was my honor. Sleep well."

Jackie waved to the group as they walked away and once they passed through a nearby Passage Tashi walked over to them, Shay stared at the watery gate for a moment after they had left.

"...I do not think either of them noticed."

"It seems not. I swear he's something else."

"What do you mean?" Shay said looking over at the two.

"I'm sure you caught it too Shay. What Luro was doing."

"Ah…that…Sir Luro said he wasn't reasonable…but it was clear he was staying near Cedric to make sure he was okay."

"He was also checking on Hanako. Probably curious of her mental state in this place."

"He is just as observant as ours it seems."

"...I hope Lady Hanako understands the meaning behind Sir Luro's comment on Sir Cedric."

"Haha I wouldn't expect it. The two of them are still pretty young in some aspects…but Luro seems to be keeping an eye on them his way."

"Facade's gaze seemed to avoid him this time though…I wonder why."

"I don't know…but I wonder how much of this was planned and how much of it was an accident. Guess we'll never know."

"True. It would be difficult for Luro to mistake my scent for Hanako's even with Adelaide's interference."

Shay looked back at the passage again, what was Luro Makachi's goal in all of this, was there even a goal? Shay decided not to press the matter, Imposter told him that he would never truly understand Luro or his desires, no one would and for tonight, he was just a responsible troublemaker.

"...I wonder what gift Facade will give them next time."

Jackie

Somewhere within the halls as Jackie roamed them a sudden weight pressed down on the area, as if the air itself was being forced down on everything in the air. Something was imposing it's presence and it wasn't happy. A moment later blue flames erupted in front of the cat and Tashi appeared as the flames faded, her eyebrows was lowered slightly as she looked ahead, however when she looked down and saw Jackie her face relaxed.

When she did the weight also vanished at the same time. Her eye stared at Jackie for a moment having mistaken her for an intruder, closing her eye she held her hand out palm up. When she did a plate appeared in her hand and kneeling down she set it down on the ground, upon closer look it was clearly treats made for cats. She stared at Jackie for a moment longer before turning her back to her and vanishing in the same blue flame, a red piece of paper about the size of a talisman however was left behind in her place, left behind by the silent swordswoman.

Chaos

"Well if it isn't Chaos."

The Shadow around the cat seemed to sink in slightly within the hallway, while it could be considered a trick of the light as the shadows moved, it soon became clear it was purposeful as the little light found in the hallway was slowly being eclipsed in shadow, until the cat was standing in a small circle of light.

The owner of the voice was a bit distorted making it hard to judge who was speaking to the wandering feline, however whoever was watching her clearly wasn't a 'threat', the presence watching her was actually ensuring they didn't come off as threatening.
A moment later a boot entered the light and the speaker stepped into the light as the shadows pulled back lightly. Jackie stood with a grin on her face at Chaos before kneeling down in front of her.

"...Cedric being Cedric?" She questioned her eyes narrowing a bit.

With a flick of her wrist a card appeared in her hand and she threw it so it would land in front of Chaos.

"My Cedric has been watching you all of this time, he figured his other self would make a move at some point so you can take that back to Cedric, I can't let you see Cedric yet, he's more shy than he used to be."

The card on the ground was a 'joker' card and Jackie smiled. "That doesn't mean he's any less competitive though. See you."

The woman stood up and taking a step back faded back into the shadows, as she did the shadows moved away from Chaos returning to their normal state as the woman's presence faded. Just before she did however a 'meow' echoed in the hallway before also fading with the woman
 
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Jackie remained silent listening to the discussion between Stardusk, calmly flipping a coin over her fingers as she awaited their final decision. She made no effort to move or interfere when Jack or Cedric approached her, she expected her other half to question her and Luro was fine with it. When Cedric look at her she gave him a small shake of the head, silently informing she couldn't answer his questions, the reason should be obvious from her earlier statement.
Jackie pulled out a cigarillo while waiting and lit it with a flame from her finger, paying no mind to the sibling's conversation, the only sign she could actually hear them was her eyes narrowing slightly at her Cedric being called an 'idiot' but she apparently put the matter aside.
"Seem's a decision been made," Jackie said. "Judging by the votes so far."
She decided not to comment on the fact Abby had done her best to keep a straight face at Cedric's comment but her trembling gave away her actual fear, she felt that was influenced in a way but left it alone, her Luro had called that as well.

Jackie made a motion with her finger and her shadow stretched out from under her, passing underneath Abby, the shadow rose up forming into a curved blade and Zilia's eyes widened as Jackie made a downward motion and the blade came down on her.
Abby shut her eyes at the action, at least until her bindings fell off her and the shadow returned to Jackie.
"You're free to go," Jackie said.
Abby stared at the woman and slowly rose to her feet, she eyed the group almost making sure she was truly free to go before her body fully straightened.
"...thank you for sparing me," she said simply before turning and walking out of the tent.
Her footsteps could be heard picking up outside after she was out of sight showing she was running away, clearly not wanting to show her fear openly.
"Well my Cedric owes me one now. He wanted you to kill her," Jackie said.
The woman walked over and grabbing the rum bottle tossed it to Luro.
"You knew what we'd pick didn't you," Luro said opening the bottle.
"Yep," Jackie said simply. "Or rather Luro did. Long as I didn't tell you too much he told me 'they'll spare her'. My Luro has slight clairvoyance, he saw your choices ahead of time."
She motioned to the group.
"He however like Zil can't meet you and look you in the eyes. So he wanted to see if you fell in line with his future predictions…and you did. He'll be happy you'll exactly like he expected."
"...he tested us," Zilia said turning fully to look at Jackie.
"He apologizes for it but well the answer to why is easy right?"
"Stardusk is always first to Luro…including their well-being," Zilia said. "He always considers us before anything else...most times."
"You got it. Any action he takes is just to make sure Stardusk is going to be okay. Even if he has to be a villain sometimes. We're very important to him after all, he wants to make sure you all aren't a threat as well. I mean you're Luro was ready to put a bullet in my head when I attacked Jack."
Luro while drinking the bottle gave a thumbs up at this and Jackie gave a small shrug.
"Sorry for the deception really," Jackie said. "I wanted him to be comfortable with you all. Obviously he'll be helping you the best he can as well now that he knows you're 'good' Stardusk. Cedric however decided to wager Luro would be wrong."
"...next thing you know my other half will be testing us," Zilia said sighing.
"She won't. She already got what she needed from you."
"...huh?" Zilia said as Jackie turned her back to the group.
"Zil got what she needed from you already. Every Echo will now aid you in your escape as best we can, which I can openly say with confidence since Imposter can't hear or see us here. The Captain or Tashi if Runali's too lazy will explain it to you later. I've done my part."
The woman grinned before turning and walking out of the tent.
"Don't be too mad at me Jack. You know you'd help Luro too if he asked you with pleading eyes. Anyway Shey's waiting for you, don't keep her waiting."
With that, the woman waved and vanished from the tent.
Luro lowered the bottle from his lips before blinking and pointing ahead.
"Wait Jackie didn't tell us 'why' that lady was a problem."
Zilia's eyes widened and running towards the opening threw it open, Shey jumped a bit seeing the doctor and stared at her. Zilia raised her head and looked around, Jackie was already gone.
"...crafty little…" Zilia mumbled sighing.

Before she could speak further a loud whistle filled the area, and Shey turned towards the source before looking back at Stardusk.
"It seems the Regiment leader is calling everyone…I'll lead you to her. Oh but before that Miss Hanako. Miss Jackie has a message for you."
Shey pulled out a note and started reading from it.
"Do not say 'I will stop someone lightly', Luro and Cedric are people with a fair amount of blood on their hands, underestimating the will of someone who has taken multiple lives will end badly for you'. That is the message. She gave it to me before you awoke and asked me not to read it until now for some reason."
With that Shey bowed and motioned to her side with her feet together, a slightly raised hand and the grace of 'The Ultimate Maid'.
"Let us depart then."

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The crew was lead to the arena in the center of the camp, they were left to their own devices for a moment before the Regiment Leader appeared. Avnia stood in the center of the circle surrounded by the troops near the arena, to their surprise a familiar face was among them, or what they could see of their face. The redhaired woman's smile however matched that of a troublemaker.
"Nali here has picked up the movement of a powerful fight among Imposter's forces. We're being attacked on two fronts. The other attacker is extremely powerful so I'll be dealing with them, but we can't ignore this attacker either," Avnia said. "As such I'll be sending a second force to deal with them and I believe-"
"If I may interrupt Avnia," Nali said walking forward to join Avnia. "I think we should send the newbies out."
She motioned to Stardusk and Avnia's gaze moved over to them.
"They're fresh faces I don't think-"
"No no it's fine. I mean they have two Feians among them, and look at their Captain, the one with the eyepatch she exudes strength. Also that fancy dressed boy, don't let the bedhead fool you, he's got all kinds of secret techniques and I know you've heard about the blue haired one."
"Oh she's the one who possesses the 'Slash of a Million Murderers', I apologize for underestimating your ability."
"It's already increased…" Zilia said. "Wait no that's not-"
"So they're perfect for it," Nali said. "It'll be a good test too."
"Look I'm telling you-"
"Okay I'll trust your judgment," Avnia said. "You're wisdom has aided me so much already."
"Please listen to us, you should-"
"All right for the glory of our kingdom you will engage the enemy," Avnia said holding her hand out. "I'll deal with that 'Seliria' woman, so hold off the enemy. I'll join you soon."
"Wait! Seliria's-"
A glow surrounded Stardusk before anyone could get an actual word out, Avnia waved to the crew with that same smile, though it wasn't possible to see her eyes, it was obvious she had winked at them.
A bright glow surrounded the crew and in the next moment, they were in the middle of The Great Enclave, surrounded by the sounds of war and general destruction.
"...what just happened?" Zilia said squeezing the bridge of her nose.
Luro chuckled a little at the sound her glasses made before looking ahead.
"My head's spinning…so much is going on," Zilia said lowering her hand.

The other Sovereign's forces sprinted past the group running towards the enemy, Zilia flinched a bit expecting to get attacked but apparently, the group recognized them as allies and ignored them as they rushed forward. Zilia let out a long shaky sigh and decided not to take the last few minutes into consideration.
"...if I remember correctly the sovereigns can't see here right? Why don't we just go look for Seliria?" Zilia asked looking back at everyone. "Giving her fighting ability finding her on the battlefield shouldn't be too-"

Zilia once again found herself interrupted though it came from nature instead of another person. An immense chill suddenly filled the battlefield, a mini snowstorm appeared out of nowhere and crashed into the group attempting to push them back. Zilia raised her arms as the cold bit at her exposed skin, gritting her teeth as she dug her feet in. Thankfully the harsh winds didn't push too hard, but the cold that accompanied them were harsh, for some it would feel as if they were in Yakone again.
"Did Imposter make it winter again!" Zilia yelled through the sudden blizzard.
Visibility was limited with the group barely able to see a few feet in front of them as the howling winds surrounded them, for a moment the sun's light was stolen.


In the midst of the wind however for how harsh it was blowing, and how loudly it made it's presence known humming soon surrounded the crew on all sides. It was a somewhat melancholic hum but there was a strange sense of hope within it, yet it was somehow haunting, the sound came in clearly, and from all sides as if a choir sung within the snowstorm.
"Alicia! Captain! Jack, my rum's turning to ice! Help me out!"
Wind surrounded Luro's hand as he called forth what he could, concentrating he summoned what wind he could and immediately pushed against the winds.
The force blew the blizzard completely away from the group and the sun soon returned, the ground however still contained frost and all around them, every soldier on the other Soverein's side had been frozen solid, statues frozen in a variety of expressions.
"Oh wow you got rid of it. You're so strong. Course I should expect that huh."
A voice filled the air, a cheerful voice full of song and gentleness.
A woman stepped forward her gloved fingers tracing over one of the frozen soldiers who had been frozen mid retreat.
"Don't worry they're still alive. I'll free them once we're done here."
The stranger adjusted her hat before her thumb pressed against the tsuba of her blade drawing it slightly, a frost suddenly surrounding her saya.
"Names Hanako, but you can call me Nako. I don't care who steps forward, all of you can if you want. Let's make this a nice clean fight!"
Violet red eyes met the crew's and a wide grin met the crew's as the swordswoman got into stance.


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~"It's easy being the hero of your own story, far harder to limit how many times you play the villain in others."~

The swordswoman had hardly needed to voice her opinion on whether or not to kill the girl in front of them. Alicia felt that her crew knew her well enough by now to avoid having to provide a verbal confirmation. A small smile graced her features as Hanako spoke and made mention of the lack of honor that came in what would undoubtedly be an execution, feeling a sense of pride for a moment in her youngest sister. While she'd said nothing on the subject she did tip her head to acknowledge it while also visibly giving her support to Hanako's words. "I will be outside until this concludes." she replied simply and turned to take her leave, exiting from the tent to remain away until the decision was made.

Knowing that it ultimately came down to a vote, she still would refuse to bare witness to it should the crew have voted the other way. Of course Alicia didn't doubt the morality of her friends, she knew their hearts by now even if some of them did advocate for the execution rather than sparing the girl. That being said these were strange times and they were all strangers in a strange land with unanswered questions and a severe lack of knowledge. The not knowing was easily the worst part of all this and as she awaited the unfolding of this 'gift' outside, she couldn't help but release a sigh as she looked out towards the distance as if to try and gather some some of understanding for their surroundings with this quiet moment alone.

After some minutes passed she'd flinch a little as the girl suddenly left the tent, exchanging a glance with her before the girl seemed to run off into the distance. Alicia exhaled once again between her lips, a more content expression as it seemed the crew hadn't succumbed to the temptation of an easier path forwards. Even should this girl prove to be a problem later down the line, she was confident they could all confront it together and find a way in which to overcome it, just as they had done against every threat which had lead them here. What was one more opponent in a proverbial ocean of enemies that'd risen higher with every new adventure. She turned and joined with the others once again, moving herself to stand beside Hanako with silver eyes briefly resting on Emil.

At the mention of Seliria her eyes widened a little, almost having completely forgotten that she'd taken off ahead of them into Facade and hadn't seen her since. As the discussions continued within the arena she wondered if the older woman had been confronted with her own memories, or her own echo for that matter. Seliria had a sharp intuition and whatever she'd learned could prove invaluable if they could only catch up to her to find out what she'd learnt from her time alone in this strange world. "Hmm? wait, what?" her thoughts were interrupted as she looked up to see Nali volunteering them into a battle. She looked towards Zilia and was about to step forward to back her up when suddenly they were enveloped by a glow and transported away.

She released a small groan on the other side. "I'm starting to get really tired of being thrust towards different locations on a whim... " she commented as she raised a hand to her head, glancing up towards the approaching forces whom seemed to recognize them and divert their charge at the last moment. This was complicating things further now, for if they were to attack anyone they would be picking a side and if they didn't there would be questions for why they hadn't acted at all. At least that's what made sense despite the lack of logic this place seemed to exude at the best of times. She once again found herself looking towards Zilia, giving a nod. "Agreed, we should meet up with her an-" the sudden blizzard falling upon them had her raising an arm to guard her face.

The chill was reminiscent of Norja, albeit with a harsher bite to it against exposed skin. If Luro hadn't been fast to clear it with his glove Alicia would have expelled her own elemental flourish to rid the icy torrent. She straightened and turned her attention towards a familiar voice, her eyes first moving towards Hanako before swiftly moving towards Nako, the culprit for the newly made statues which now littered the area. Her brow lowered as the echo of her sister spoke, a displeasure on her features in the way she spoke and the enthusiasm in which she issued her challenge. The press of Nako's thumb against the guard of her sword wasn't lost on Alicia, the subtle movement something she was very familiar with.

"Overconfidence precedes carelessness." she responded as she stepped forward a few steps towards this other version of her sister. Alicia didn't reach for her sword nor take any obvious stance, though her hand rested atop her saya just below the tsuba with her thumb poised beneath it. "So which are you?" she asked simply as she fixed Nako with her gaze. It was strange to see a version of Hanako like this, her choice in attire aside the mannerisms in how she grinned were unsettling, not to mention the eagerness to fight and take on so many tough opponents. She couldn't even imagine her own Hanako attempting to take on the crew all at once like that. So either this echo of Hanako was stronger or perhaps hadn't been as well taught by her counterpart if at all. More questions would surely arise from this encounter, at least for Alicia.
 
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"Well! Glad that's all said and done." Runali clasped her hands together as the woman was freed and Jackie revealed the truth. "Something tells me you're not very sorry, but with the way you tried to murder my chef when we first met, I can't say I'd be too surprised either." Much like everything in Facade, they were pushed from one moment to the next. From tent, to arena, to battlefield. Had she been paying any closer attention, she was sure she would have had the same whiplash Alicia did. "Hear, hear." Runali hummed in agreement to Alicia's sentiment. "Augh, I didn't get to ask about her eyes again. One easy thing would be nice. Just-" She jumped at the sudden chill, scrambling behind Luro to be blocked from the wind. "Alright, I'll deal with being tossed on a battlefield but I draw the line throwing us anywhere winter is the prominent season!"

Realizing that the weather was not permanent, she perked up a little and her hand caught fire just like when she had her gloves. Fiery wisps spread across the ground to melt the frost across it. She left the soldiers to Jack, knowing he had a more delicate touch with that kind of thing. "There we go. That's more… Hanako?" She looked between her own Feians and the one standing before them. Runali couldn't help but give an impressed low whistle. "Hana, Tashigi, do you want to take the lead? This doesn't feel like a Jackie situation. Nako here looks like fighting is the only option." Runali crossed her arms in thought. "Unless this is another Jackie situation and she's trying to prove something… Hey! Don't you know your captain- Nali. Red hair. Blindfold. Yeah, we're at a truce! The Echo Stardusk like us now!"
 
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The moment Alicia stepped forward the girl's grin only widened, her whole body seemed to tremble which if not for the shine in her eyes one would think it was fear. The girl seemed to be barely holding back at this point, whatever kept her from rushing forward was slowly fading away.
It was uncertain if she had even heard Runali as her eyes focused on Alicia Tashigi, she seemed to wait as the swordswoman spoke to her, perhaps out of politeness maybe curiosity either way she was patient enough to listen to her at the very least.
"Call if whatever you'd like...it led me here with the opportunity to face you...though if I had to answer I'd say neither. I can feel the echoes of the Power of Destruction coming off you...it's washing over me like a wave. Even if it's an imitation of it how am I supposed to hold back when you're putting out this much!"
The girl fully drew her blade in one motion and a frosty gale suddenly filled the area, the crew found themselves caught in a whirlwind of frost cutting them off from the outside world. The blade which Luro thought would be black was a cerulean blue and all was reflected in the blade itself including them, it looked almost fragile, at least at a casual glance. The edge however was well refined and as she turned the blade slightly in her grip she raised it up pointing it at Hanako and Alicia.
"Everyone else got to measure you. I think I'm due my turn, truce or not. I made sure no one would interrupt us."
"Oh she did hear you Captain," Luro said flexing his hand as flames appeared in them. "Guess we're killing Hanako then."
"Let's try not to kill her," Zilia said sighing. "Especially in front of our Hanako. Also at least say Nako."
"Draw your blades and let's really enjoy ourselves! Other me you especially better make this interesting!"
Nako's left eye lit up into a light blue flame and she leapt forward towards the crew. She went right for Alicia and extended her blade.
Which ended up right back in her sheath.

Zilia who was a step away from jumping in herself was confused by what had happened, Nako also seemed just as confused by her wide eyes and her focus on the sheath, which was being held in the air and had caught her sword before it could even approach Alicia.
Luro's eyes followed the one holding her sheath and after Nako looked at her side to confirm that her sheath had indeed been taken from her, she followed the hand holding it to meet the red eye of her sister Tashi.
It was then all the color immediately drained from her face, Tashi gently raised the sheath up slightly making Nako release the sword before bringing her younger sister's blade to her own side.
"When did Tashi..." Zilia mumbled trailing off as she relaxed her form slightly
"A-Amue...w-what are you doing here?'
"I could ask you the same question Nako. Why are you attacking Stardusk whom we have a truce with."
"U-um...t-that. I have a proper explanation for this Tashi-Amue, I...um hold on."
Zilia could say one thing for certain, this Nako reminded them of their Hanako, the girl was clearly in a small panic, stumbling over her words and her body seemed to shrink as she tried to figure a way out of the hole she had dug herself into.
Tashi sighed before turning to the crew, she lowered her body into a deep bow making Nako jump a bit.
"A-amue?"
"...I apologize for Nako's display just now. I hope this does not sour your opinion of her, the fault lies with me on her disruptive behavior."
"A-amue t-that's not-"
Nako looked at the crew before bowing herself.
"P-please don't blame Amue, it's my fault. I got too excited. I'm sorry for attacking you."
"No Nako the blame lies with me," Tashi said raising her body. "I helped train you, should you draw your blade on someone who does not deserve it, then that fault lies with me for not guiding you properly."
"I...I'm sorry Amue. I really didn't mean anything bad by it. I just wanted to spar a little..." Nako said raising her body as well.
"You coulda just asked," Luro said letting the fire fade. "We can fight whenever."
"I-I figured, especially with you. When I sensed the Power of Destruction though my mind kind of just...shut off. I haven't felt Amue's power in a bit so...it was like getting a sweet candy after going without it for a bit."


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Zilia watched the two for a moment and it did seem Nako was done wanting to fight them, she was more curious why Tashi was here than anything else, though she had a feeling who it involved.
"What brings you here by the way Tashi?" Zilia asked.
"I came to stop Nako from starting a needless fight, Adelaide informed me she ran this way with a grin on her face."
"....Adelaide-tai'n..." Nako mumbled pulling her hat down a bit. "She told on me..."
Tashi looked over at Nako causing her to flinch before straightening up.
"I also came to inform you of something as well. You met the other Sovereign correct?"
"No not yet," Zilia said. "We met the Regiment Leader and Shey...well other Shey."
"...of course they did not tell you. Well you did meet her," Tashi said adjusting her eyepatch.
Zilia arched a brow at the swordwoman who pointed in the direction of the camp, though the blizzard still blocked their sight.
"Avnia is the other Soverign. The Queen of Facade."
"...huh?" Zilia questioned causing Tashi to shake her head.
"She does not like being called Queen on the battlefield, she is just another soldier in her eyes so she did not introduce herself as such. However she is without a doubt the other Sovereign of Facade and the one Captain wanted you to meet. Jackie was probably too busy to explain it and Captain...is Captain explanations generally are not her thing."
"You mean Seliria's fighting a Sovereign! Isn't that really bad."
"Seliria will be fine,"
Tashi said. "She is just buying time so I doubt she will be fighting seriously."


A whole new slew of questions came up but a glow surrounded Stardusk, similar to the one that had brought them there.
"Seems she is calling you back soon. I apologize again for Nako's actions. Luro influenced her a bit too much in her youth...but the fault lies with me for not dealing with that behavior even now."
"H-hey please don't blame Luro-o'ku. I was at fault this time. I really am sorry everyone but I would love to spar with you all sometimes. Um...one on one I suppose, oh unless you want to fight one on two, or one on three!"
"Nako."
"I'm sorry, just one on one."
Nako turned to the crew and bowed slightly again.
"Tashi-Amue may I have my blade back."
"No."
"Huh?"
"1,000 swings in the dojo with the wooden blade then I will give it back. Your form was off."
"...my form I thought you were mad I attacked them!"
"I am upset about that but your form shifted a bit in your initial attack."
"Is that really as important as me attacking them, can't we let that go?"
"That is that and this is this," Tashi said. "I will be watching you during, if I see you slip up again even slightly we will start from the beginning."
"A-Amue that's so mean! Other Amue please explain this is just cruel!"
Nako looked at Alicia pleading, just as the glow fully surrounded the crew's body dragging them off the battlefield.

When the glow faded the crew found themselves back in the arena and Avnia stood in front of them, Nali was by her side munching on an apple which judging by the basket of them Shey was holding came from her.
"I apologize for not meeting you on the battlefield as I said I would. I pulled you back here as soon as I could. That Seliria is a very strong woman, it's a shame she's working as a mercenary for the other side right now...I hope I can hire her again."
Avnia said this and Luro after grabbing an apple from Shay looked over at her.
"Lady you're the queen right?"
Avnia looked over at Luro at this and offered a small nod to him.
"I am the queen of Facade yes. Though at the moment I am just a normal soldier."
"Just like Tashi said..." Zilia mumbled.
"...I suppose I should speak with you as the queen of Facade giving what Nali explained to me," Avnia said moving her sword to her waist.

Avnia took a deep breath and released it, as she did the air around the woman seemed to shift, a sudden weight suddenly slammed into Stardusk as if the air itself tried to push them backward, but the feeling faded quickly. The woman shifted her stance slightly and folded her hand under her chest as she met eyes with the crew again. In one moment the woman had changed the way she carried herself, initially a rough and tumble soldier, she now carried a certain grace to her but she didn't turn her eyes down to them as Imposter did, she met them eye to eye as she spoke, a bit of gravitas added to her voice as if it had always been there.
"Nali has explained the situation to me. You are Untouched so I would be more than happy to work with you. If you are open to it I can send you back to your world as well."
Zilia's eyes widened a bit at this and Avnia gave a small nod as if to confirm her unspoken question.
"I'll save you a long explanation but I am a Sovereign, I used to be human so I can explain it very simply. I am a Sovereign who controls the 'Present', Imposter controls the 'Past' and 'Future' which means I can send you back to where you were."
"Imposter did mention something about having to send us a few minutes into the future if he sent us back," Luro said. "...I think. Is that cause of you queen lady."
"...please forgive Luro, we'd appreciate if you didn't decapitate him," Zilia said.
"It's fine I dislike formality, you may call me what you wish," Avnia said with a nod. "Avnia is fine by me."
Clearing her throat she continued where she left
"That's correct. I stole the 'Present' when I became Sovereign, it's also the reason why he can't leave. You need a 'Past', 'Present' and 'Future' to enter the world after all. I of course also can't enter the world but I have no interest in such things. I just want that bastard dead."
Avnia said this her eyes narrowing slightly.
"I would like to enlist your aide Stardusk. I understand like the Echoes you are working with Imposter against your will. I need Cores just like Impoter does, if you would bring some to me and help my side of the war, then I would be more than happy to send you back. However you do still need your bodies and souls to go back. Once I rid the world of that monster your bodies should be revealed, of course should you find them beforehand I will send you back beforehand too, you are prisoners here after all."
"Won't Imposter try kill us if we go betraying him," Luro said tossing an apple to Jack. "He's killed for less. Pretty sure he killed someone over good tea at some point."
"I understand it is a risk...but working with him is a much bigger one in my opinion. I won't ask you to bring me every Core you get, I understand needing to maintain your safety with him and to my knowledge the Echoes are looking for your true selves now. Again I will send you back immediately if you find them, if they can't be found then taking his territory is the only other option. I've clashed with him in the Great Enclave...but we always end up in a draw. Taking his land is the only option."
"...just ending up in draw with Imposter is impressive," Zilia said.
"Well I am a Sovereign, my power matches his for the most part, but I can't enter his territory or I'll be erased, same with him. Thus if I keep winning and take his territory-"
"Eventually Imposter will have no choice but to enter her territory and boop erased. Win-win for everyone," Nali said stepping into the conversation. "Man it's a good thing you guys have zero ties to Imposter, isn't that great."
Nali said this with a smile but it was pretty clear she was saying to 'play along' in her own way.
"Otherwise Avnia here would erase you without hesitation."
Avnia started to speak further but Shey approached her, the woman leaned down as the maid whispered to her.
"I see...I apologize but I have to deal with a quick matter. I'll be back in a moment, please consider my proposition."
With a small nod the woman walked away with Shey and Nali approached the group offering a small smile to them.
"Congratulations, you know have options. How does it feel to have other possibilities at your disposal," Nali said resting her hands on her hips. "Avnia's a woman of her word too. I mean you kinda gotta lie about the whole being you know...fake Imposters but unlike Imposter she's not listening to our every word so you know that's nice."
Nali looked back at the crew and offered a shrug.
"It's up to you what you do...but we wanted to give you more options at least. Jackie put a lot of work into getting your story together, I got you here but she did most of the legwork, she is still the spymaster after all, a few forged documents, and the right words said in the right place are her specialty...though well Jack you know that all too well."
"I'll admit I was surprised to see you here Nali..." Zilia said. "Not that it's not welcome, especially with all this, so why are you here?"
"Shouldn't be that surprising," Nali said. "Do I really seem like the kind of person to just roll over and do what someone tells me to do? I'm in Facade for my crew, their safety is my priority which means I'm going to use every means at my disposal for them, simple as that. I just used my previous connections to help you all at the same time. We can't leave yet...but you all don't belong here, we all agree on that."
Nali looked back at the crew and motioned towards the camp as a whole, to the people going about their days, some shining their weapons, other playing games, a few eating Shey's cooking.
"I'd at least consider the offer so you can utilize Avnia's side as well, of course if something is bothering you then just tell me. Oh and Adelaide told me about Nako's...'welcome' earlier. Sorry bout that, Luro always says-"
"Good friends punch each other in the face," Luro said. "Other me has taught her well. I've said those things to people before."
"Tashi would disagree but yes," Nali said with a small chuckle. "Anyway if you need to know something about Avnia before you make a decision just ask me. I know pretty much everything at this point. You can walk around the camp, get your bearings if you want. I'll wait here and let Avnia know you're still thinking about it. Do what you need too. Shey is also a really good listener."

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"I feel like I should be offended." she replied in response to Nako explaining that she was seemingly exuding her power from her being. "You make it sound like a bad smell." she added, gesturing in the air with her hand as she spoke. She'd thought she were holding back her aura, the way she had done before realeasing it during her duel against Mari way back during a prior adventure. She also recalled having to keep her aura in check to prevent Cedric from keeling over whenever he was nearby, back when she'd been teaching him how to manifest power.

She tilted her head slightly to position her ear in order to hear Runali ask for both her and Hanako to handle the situation before her eyes narrowed towards Hanako's echo, Nako seeming to be moving upon them to engage. Alicia noticed something immediately in the way Nako moved and she released a small sigh. "This will be resolved quickly." she replied as she moved her hand towards Shusui after having noticed the very clear fault in Nako's form. Such a fault was a big problem facing against an experienced sworswoman and it'd take such experience to notice and exploit it.

But her hand stopped short of Shusui's hilt, fingers curling before she moved her hands neatly behind her back. She saw her other self slip through the wall of wind at a speed very few could observe and knew that Tashi would be upon Nako long before she'd have need of her black blade. She closed her eyes for a moment as the two exchanged and spoke, opening them only to see her own echo delivering an apology with a sincere bow. "All is well, your apology is accepted." Alicia replied respectifully with an incline of her head. She would have done exactly the same had Hanako done something similiar.

Though perhaps that was obvious given they were dealing with versions of themselves. She moved to fold her arms across her chest when Tashi made mention of how Nako would be punished, silver eyes moving towards Nako at her plea. "Actually, I agree with Tashi." she replied. She might have said more but it seemed they were being pulled away once again, something she was trying her hardest not to be annoyed about considering they were yet again being forcefully moved someplace else. Though the interaction did give her something of an idea to consider and one would have to ask her other self about when the time came.

Once again they were all back with Avnia whom they had only just learned was the other Soveriegn but while her words given alongside Nali's expanations were comforting to a degree, there were details which didn't quite sit right for Alicia. "Friends don't punch each other in the face Luro... " she sighed as she looked at him with half lidded eyes. "And if you did I'd make you personally empty every last bottle of rum over the side of Lady Luck." she added, putting in a consequence that was one of the few she knew of that Luro would actually want to try and avoid happening. She turned her attention back towards Avnia after she excused herself before turning her attention to Nali. "I would be interested in knowing the consequences, personally." she began. "If Avnia controls the present and Imposter holds the past and future, wouldn't killing Imposter cause stagnation?" she felt the opposite was implied through her line of questioning. "Or does she gain control of those aspects through his death?"
 
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"Booo, I wanted to see Hanako fight." Runali leaned on Hanako's shoulder. "Maybe next time you can show her who's boss." She gestured over to Tashi and Alicia. "You can show the Echoes how cool you are." She leaned down to add in a whisper, "And how much better you are."

And as they were tossed back to the camp, surrounded by people that weren't trying to kill them (which was always nice), Runali straightened up off of Hana and stretched. "Well, at least Sel's fine." Remembering what side of the war they were on and what role they were supposed to be playing, she quickly cleared her throat. "Means if she ever comes to this side, she'd be one helluva helping hand. Or… a fun opponent." She waved it away, letting the conversation carry on when the Queen gathered their attention. She kept up as best as she could with one controlling the past and the other controlling the future. But most of her retention was on the war game of capturing each others' territories and buying their freedom through helping them fight a war. It was a good thing Avnia left because Runali ideally said aloud, "She sure drives a hard bargain. But… it does sound like if we're playing both sides we're just fighting ourselves." She scratched her cheek.

After Alicia's question, Runali added. "Are we positive that peace wouldn't be made if they just like," She closed her hands together, "united through mutual... understanding and rule...? That or marriage. One's a queen, the other's a king. We're just Worst Gen pirates. Since titles seem to matter so much." Even more curious, she gestured to Nali. "You've been at this game a little longer than us. Who do you think has a leg up in this war?"
 

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It went without saying that Alicia's logic made absolutely no sense to Luro, it caused him to stare at his fist in confusion, most of his friends came from face punches after all. Though at the comment of rum he rubbed the side of his head tilting his head at his sword-wielding friend.
"Even the emergency rum, why? I didn't do anything Alicia. Also we're already close, why would I punch you? It's for being better friends, we can't be any better anymore."
Luro ruffled his hair still confused and Nali smiled before continuing.
"A good question Alicia and you actually answered the question yourself. If Avnia wins she'll take the Past and Future for herself, just as Imposter would gain the Present if he killed Avnia."
Avnia moved her hands to her hips.
"At least that should be how it works, to the best of our knowledge.

Nali's head moved over to Runali as she asked her question and the moment she mentioned 'marriage', a stifled chuckle escaped from the woman, she made sure to listen to the question completely before fully breaking out in laughter. She leaned forward holding her stomach as her laughter filled the area. With a content sigh she reached up and wiped an imaginary tear from her…cloth.
"Oh…thank you other me I needed that laugh today. Though that is a fair question. I can't deny I asked it wondering if this could be resolved in a simpler fashion."
Nali gave a small shrug at this before continuing.
"Not gonna happen though, putting aside the immense amount of hatred Avnia has for Imposter and the fact Imposter is well…greedy and just wants everything. Peace didn't go well last time they tried."
"I'm surprised they actually tried," Zilia said adjusting her glasses.
"Shay told us it was a few centuries back, couldn't tell you the whole story though, I didn't ask for details."
"...did you say Centuries, just to make sure I heard that right," Zilia said holding her hand up slightly.
"Yeah war's gone on for centuries. Far as we know anyway, we haven't been here that long."
"So Imposter really is gonna trap us here for lifetimes then. I dislike how casually that was just said."
"Oh no the war's changed since then, The Great Enclave exists now. I don't know the details but with the Great Enclave here…the war will have an ending. Now to answer your question other me."
Nali motioned towards Imposter's Domain.
"Right now Imposter has the lead, because he got supplies thanks to you guys. The Realms really do decide who has the 'leg up' in the war. It's not as if Avnia's 'losing' but she's being pushed back. If Imposter gets more supplies she'll get pushed back more."
Zilia eyes moved to the earth and her hand tapped the notebook in her pocket. That made some sense, the Core's power was 'supplies' just as they were told, she didn't know how they worked still but it was simple to understand.
"Whoever gets the Cores, gains the advantage," Zilia said. "That's the short part of it."
"Yep and the bigger the Core, the bigger the advantage. You guys gave Imposter a big one from that huge temple, so he has the advantage."
Nali threw her arms out a grin adorning her face.
"Though unless he gets more they'll end up back at a stalemate again, or if you gave Avnia a Core she'd push back. They're equal in strength so you guys are the ones who will tip the scales. This world's fate is now in your hands…no pressure of course."
"What about you guys?" Zilia asked. "Surely it's not just us deciding the victory in a centuries-long conflict."
"Our jobs are different now, we only take smaller realms so it is all you guys. Really takes the pressure off in a way."
Avnia lowered her hands resting one on her hip before looking past them.
"Facade…really likes you for some reason, which is a good and bad thing. Large realms show up more with you all around."

Avnia returned shortly after offering an apology for wandering off again, Zilia noticed Luro was walking and talking with Shey and wondered when he slipped away as she looked at the spot next to her.
"So…have you considered my offer?"
Zilia admitted that Avnia's offer wasn't a terrible one, but she felt the Captain was right, that they'd be fighting themselves in a sense, it also put them at risk with Imposter as well, tempting but with far too many risks to decide haphazardly.
This needed to be carefully considered, she looked up at Avnia deciding to request more time to discuss the matter properly.
"We'll do it."
Zilia turned to see Luro who spoke up for the first time in the last few minutes, her mouth lying agape as Avnia turned to fully face Luro.
"We'll help you out, seems fun," Luro said grinning.
"Lu-" Zilia couldn't get the words out as Avnia took Luro's hand and shook it firmly.
"You have my thanks," she turned to others. "All of you."
"Wait we-"
"Here."
Avnia snapped her fingers and a blue glow surrounded the group, a warmth filled them before fading away,
"I've marked you, don't worry Imposter won't notice it. From now on when you're on my side of Facade my people won't attack you. It's good to have more mercenaries on my side."
"So we won't get attacked anymore," Luro said looking at himself, though nothing had changed.
"Not exactly but I'll have Nali or Jackie explain the concept to you later, but you'll be safe on the way back. I have to return to my duties so I'll have Nali escort you. I'll also inform Shey to aid in your duties to the best of her ability."
"Sounds great. Welp let's get going," Nali said as Avnia walked away.
"...Luro we're going to have a long talk later," Zilia said turning to redhead.
"What about Z? Do you need something?"
"...the fact I know you're not joking is what makes this worse. You made us accept an offer that has us betraying Imposter…"
"Well Imposter can't see what happens over here so just cover your tracks. I'm sure it'll work out," Nali said pointing ahead.
"Mr. Luro!"
Luro turned as Shey ran over to the group, she held up a basket of apples which Luro took with a grin.
"Thanks for telling me about the other me. I still have a bunch of questions…so can you tell me more when you come back."
"Yeah of course!" Luro said before the maid bowed to the group and ran off again.
"...you told Shey about Shay too. Why do I feel like that's going to create more headaches," Zilia said squeezing the bridge of her nose pushing up her glasses in the process.
"Ah it'll all work out," Nali said. "Probably…anyway let's go."
Luro tossed an apple to Jack and Runali before holding the basket toward Hanako and Alicia.
"You guys have some too, it's really good. You'll probably need something tasty."
He tossed one to Zilia as well which the doctor caught with a 'thanks' before biting into it.

Nali walked ahead of the group as they made their way across the Great Enclave, and just as Avnia said the army left them alone for the most part. Zilia tried to ask Nali why they would still get attacked but she responded that it was a Jackie question, she didn't know the details, contrary to what Avnia had said.
"I only know they attack you if you're on Imposter's side of the battlefield. I just nodded when she asked if I understood."
"...fine I'll ask Jackie or Tashi later," Zilia said removing her glasses.
"I'd stick with our wonderful cook. Tashi unlike Jackie and me aren't working as spies."
"Why isn't other Alicia helping out," Luro said with mouthful of apple.
"She swore allegiance to Imposter's kingdom while she's here, she takes that very seriously. Because we're crewmates she doesn't get in our way…but if we committed to Avnia and she had to go on the battlefield against her…we'd end up fighting each other probably. Nako too since she is staying by Tashi's side."
Zilia watched Nali as he cleaned her glasses, fighting Tashi…didn't seem like a good idea.
"Swore allegiance to Imposter…" Zilia said. "It's strange to say out loud even knowing you all made a deal with him."
"Well we all have our reasons for being here, much less making a deal. Speaking of Tashi she'll take over from here. See ya."
"Wait wha-" Zilia turned to look at Nali but she was already gone.

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A burst of blue flames exploded in front of the crew and Tashi walked out of them stopping a few feet from the group.
Holding her hand out palm up, a core appeared in her hand, she tossed it at Luro who caught it.
"I cleared the way for you," Tashi said adjusting the blades on her waist slightly.
"This is one of those Core Thingy's right?" Luro said before it sunk into his body once again.
"...that should help with your cover story," Tashi said. "None of you are allowed out of the castle without an escort thus you will need one."
Zilia's eyes twitched remembering this
"The story is Jackie noticed a large temple appear and Shay took you to deal with it. That core is from it. The world involved me, it is not important what happened. Imposter will not care this time."
Tashi pointed back towards Imposter's kingdom before she continued speaking.
"Make sure to thank Shay later for covering you. I still need to acquire my share so Jackie will be nearby for backup."
"Thanks for helping us other Alicia!"
"I am just delivering a message no thanks is needed...stay safe."
With that the woman turned, her gaze lingering on Hanako and Alicia for a moment before she vanished in a burst of flames once again.
"...so if we fully side with Avnia Tashi may become our enemy," Zilia said looking in the direction she'd gone. "This is getting more complicated."

The moment the group stepped onto Imposter's plains, their footsteps met marble instead of grass. There was no warning or sign of the movement, they found themselves back in Imposter's castle, more specifically his throne room. Zilia looked around a bit surprised at how quick it had occurred but that thought faded quickly when a presence suddenly made itself known to them.
Imposter sat on his throne, one hand resting on his cheek and with a single tap of his finger on his throne all the windows in the room shut, and the lights above shut off leaving candlelight as the only illumination. Daylight was replaced with night robbing most of the light in the room.
The King sat half his face shrouded in shadow eyeing the group through a single glowing red eye, the smirk that adorned his face seemed more twisted than usual as he stared down at them unblinking
"Welcome back."
Zilia flinched a bit and Luro stopped chewing on his apple as Imposter's gaze moved to his side.
Footsteps soon followed and a person stepped out of the shadow, a woman in the garb of Imposter's soldiers and a familiar face to those gathered.
"Abby…" Zilia mumbled.
The woman tilted her head at the crew slightly and offered an innocent smile.
"My spy here informed me that you were roaming in Avnia's territory…isn't that interesting. You're still here…and not dust, she must really like you. How loyal you must have been to earn that kind of trust."
Shay stood on the other side of the throne and judging by the fact they were at attention but trembling gave further confirmation at the current situation.

"Y-your Highness perhaps-"
Imposter's eye moved over to Shay and the Servant was hurled into the far wall, a pained cry escaped from them before a sharp shadow impaled Shay through the chest pinning them to a pillar.
It was so sudden even Abby flinched at the sight, red flow down the wall pole pooling on the floor beneath Shay as their finger gripped the pointed shadow, which at this point had penetrated both them and the pillar, crimson dripping off the sharpened edge.
"Shay you're not at attention. We have guests. You have better manners than that."
"Y…yes...your H…Highness."
Shay grit their teeth but slowly lowered their arms and put them at their sides, raising their head to be 'at attention' to the best of their ability in this situation.
The shadow sunk further into their body and Shay coughed up blood but only closed their eyes refusing to move, their body shivering at the pain, Zilia watched the edge of the shadow turn slightly as it dug further into Shay's body, slowly and meticulously.

Imposter's eye moved back to Stardusk.
"With all that said you are still citizens in my kingdom…so you have a right to a trial. So…explain why I shouldn't wipe your sense of self right now and make you mindless dolls that can follow simple instructions…like don't betray me."
Zilia felt a bead of sweat run down the side of her face, the air was far different than it had ever been meeting Imposter.
It was almost if she could feel the icy fingers of death hovering around her neck, his face was calm even as it stared at them but she could feel his animosity, it coated the room, made the air thick and hard to breath, it felt as if she was in the mountains again, each breath felt strained when she drew air in.
Then Imposter spoke again and for the first time Stardusk heard the voice of the King of Facade, a voice that filled the air with a heavy dread, that forced a weight on those who listened. The one who sat in front of them was the ruler of this land, a Sovereign who lacking any other proper title could only be called a god.

"Choose your next words very carefully. I understandably have little patience today."
 

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Jack, curiously, was silent during most of their exchanges until they returned to Imposter. He plastered a nondescript smile, occasionally holding Cedric in check, and eating the apples Luro threw at him. He exchanged glances with Zilia and Runali; Zilia, who mirrored and voiced his worries; Runali, to check her temperature. Her level of trust in Avina. He didn't have much but knowing Nali and Jackie were spying for her was a better endorsement than anything she could've said on her own.

Luro agreeing to work for her on their behalf was another story.

Rage turned Jack's face a shade of red and he may have gone off if not for Runali holding him back. He deflated immediately, no less livid. "This is a bad idea," he hissed to his captain. "I don't know what Luro's planning, or gods' know what's going through his head but making another deal with another Sovereign is bad for our health."

Everything was a whirlwind. From their choices to Luro's voice of agreement, and yet if Runali was stressed, she didn't show outwardly. Whatever tension she had in her shoulders disappeared the moment she had to grab Jack's arm and remind him to stand down. "It is." She agreed with a softer note. "And, you're right." She agreed again about their health. "But if the Echoes can do it, there's no reason we shouldn't be able to do whatever all this is. Just… play along a little longer." And then as grass turned to marble and they were face to face with Imposter again, Runali straightened up as any captain would and stood at the head of her pack despite the heavy and imposing tension. She heaved a sigh and flipped her eye patch up, giving Imposter a direct look at her pleasant expression.

"I get we've not been the most kind guests to you, but you must remember Imposter; we're pirates, dead or alive. Of course we're going to scope out our competition. What pirate doesn't sneak off to find something shiny to steal, hm?" She spoke with a confidence that sounded as convincing as the truth. "She's lucky we didn't kill her for nearly spoiling our fun. It's a good thing she didn't speak up or the princess- Queen? - I don't care. The nice lady you're at war with would have stolen us from you. You complained about it yourself about how much work it was to get us and she almost ruined your hard work. Tsk, tsk." Runali gave a shrug, standing her ground much like she did when facing Jones. "Moss didn't lie, no need to punish him. We followed him. But you know Luro as much as you know Stardusk, right? We don't follow directions very well. Got a little lost. Found ourselves near your enemy's territory and what better way to learn how to win a war than to be just a little curious about how your enemy fights? You've already put us in an early grave, it's… silly of you to think we'd just betray you and trust the next person we see when we know so little about this place. You could erase us, but then you'd be losing some valuable pieces of your game. You want to win, right? Wouldn't make sense to start over when they're chipping away at your territory."

Imposter watched in silence, hands folded in lap, listening attentively to the Stardusk Captain. Just as the monarch had claimed this was a trial, so this wasn't a summary execution. That meant at the very least he was willing to heed the other side and showed as such as he listened. His eyelid lowered slightly at certain parts of the conversation but he remained mute letting the Stardusk Captain make her point.
"Your individuality is the reason why you were permitted to retain your consciousness. I find human curiosity fascinating…and I know you are bad at following directions, that's why I made them very simple for you."
Imposter tapped his finger on his hand as red smoke escaped from his mouth with a small sigh.
"Loyalty Stardusk…Provide me that and I need little else. Yet that loyalty is being tested."
He motioned to the group as a whole with his hand.
"We have some points of contention. I'll simplify them for you…since you've proven inadequate at basic directions."
Imposter held up a single finger.
"I'm supposed to believe you 'ended up' in enemy territory, I am aware Shay explained where it was yet you went there willingly, explain."
Imposter held up a second finger.
"You didn't speak with me about this matter, or my servant. You acted with the enemy without informing the one you're working for yet you expect me to believe your words. Even this one told me she was going over to the other side."
He motioned to Abby at this before holding up a third finger.
"Third and probably most importantly, you're still alive. Avnia detest those with my Touch, the moment she noticed you erasure was all but certain. Yet here you are…and not only that but you were able to walk around freely, with no constraints and even gained an audience with the woman."
Imposter's eyes narrowed at this.
"You haven't even been here a full week and you were able to enter the other Sovereign's territory, which means you gained her trust."
Imposter lowered his hand back into his lap.
"I do not think it 'silly' of me to consider your betrayal. Humans are illogical, especially in the face of uncertainty, the redhead here tried to kill me understanding I couldn't die, plenty of your actions make no sense. This isn't about your will or intentions, your 'actions' are what have ruined my trust…but if you can assuage my 'worries' I'm willing to believe you…also."
Imposter head tilted every so slightly to the side, the shadows shifting slightly to reveal the thin line of his mouth further.
"You are not 'valuable', your existence is maintained for convenience sake. Should your actions become too inconvenient…I'll take my losses."

"Avina didn't know." Jack pushed his way forward to stand next to Runali. "She called us 'Untouched'. She didn't know you'd marked us."

Jack glanced at Runali, then Abby, before taking a deep breath. We have to give him the truth. No other option. He didn't need reminding Adelaide was out there on her own. He hadn't felt her near since she left, which means she doesn't know their situation. Imposter could eliminate her to make a point.

"We don't know how we got into her territory. You think we'd willingly stumbled to the place we were told could wipe us from existence? We didn't know. But we were there and she believed we were 'Untouched', working for you against our wills. It's been made clear we're at the mercy of Sovereigns. We weren't about to tell her the truth. We went along with whatever she said–" Jack paused briefly, then, throwing a glance over his shoulder at Luro. He gave a smile, thin and humorless, before continuing to Imposter, "We agreed to be her spies against you. Told her whatever she wanted to hear.

"But you're the one with our bodies. You're our ticket out, and I hate to say it, but I'd rather work with the devil I know," Jack grimaced. "We want to get home. That's it. Stake our loyalty on that."

Runali raised a brow with genuine curiosity in her expression. "We're not valuable? That doesn't make sense. You've got two sets of Stardusk roaming around your castle, the title alone has to have some value." She tilted her head slightly, practically forgetting about the trial for a moment. "Out of the thousands of pirates- out of the handful of Worst Gen and ex-Pirate Lord, you're playing," she snapped her fingers, trying to think of the Feian game Alicia had tried teaching her before she decided it was too boring to learn, "-whatever that game is. But with us. If we're not valuable we're at least entertaining. And that's something." She then looked at Jack, the confusion still there. "Abby tried to get us killed, but she was bad at her job and when we had the opportunity, we let her go." Then she gestured to her crew. "Ava started spouting on about her feud with you like you do with her and then rushed off thinking we were helping her. But yeah, what Jack said. You've got our bodies or whatever. She just said words and expected us to agree. Frankly, I know Davy Jones more than I know you both. He makes better deals than the both of you, but at least you have, y'know, leverage. A reason for us to be your puppets. And we haven't done anything wrong this far besides take a look around."

She shrugged and scratched her cheek. "I mean, if you want, a first mate is observant for and knows just as much -if not more in my case- as the person in charge. You're in charge, yeah? You can have Tashi strike me down if you think I'm not being honest. She's been keeping a close eye on us." She made an 'x' over her heart as if to indicate exactly where to strike.

"After all," Jack added on, "now you have us in Avina's territory. What better place is there to be to weaken her? Let us do what you dragged us here for: help win the war."
 
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Imposter eyes moved to Jack as he answered his question, the sovereign folded his hands in his lap giving the spymaster his full attention as he shared their adventures on the other side.
Abby's eyelids lowered slightly and her smile seemed to grow a bit, indicating this seemed to be what she was hoping for. Imposter eyebrows seem to arch at the mention of 'Untouched' but he made no comment of it.
"...interesting," was the most he said in response to Jack's words.

His gaze moved over to Runali as she spoke to him, his eyelids lowered slightly as he leaned further back in his throne chair.
"Stardusk, Worst Gen, I don't care for whatever titles you humans use. What you do matters more to me…so on that note you are at the very least entertaining as you say…as for your counterparts well they made their choices."
Abby's eyes narrowed a bit at Runali's comment and she calmly brought her hands in front of her folding them together.
"I made no such attempts, your Highness. I was captured in the midst of my service to you and distrusting their presence there, reported it to you immediately, as one should do."
Zilia's eyes moved over to Abby as she returned her hands behind her back, she seemed calm and that bothered her, she probably still had something on them but she put that matter aside as Imposter shifted resting his cheek on his fist as Runali spoke of Tashi.
"...win the war. That is what I said isn't it…"
Imposter rose from his throne slowly the shadows shifting as he himself moved.
"Jones huh…I never understood 'deals'. Negotiation, listening to the other side, finding common ground I mean sure you can make it work to your end but 'leverage' is more entertaining. Why would I find equal ground, if they're useless or foolish enough to decline then just erase them, perhaps because Jones lived as a human he acts in such a manner."
Imposter walked down his steps towards the crew, each step more red fog escaped from him rolling down the stairs and filling the room as he drew ever closer. Shay at this point was no longer moving, not even a twitch, their head loll and their body still. Imposter's gaze however remained focused forward, Abby lowered her head as he passed clutching her clothing as the stench of death fell over her, the smile left her face and she took steady slow breaths as if breath mattered..
"Think of Jones all you want, and the 'fairness' he has given you…it will not be found here…and Tashi will not be your end."
Imposter stopped within arms reach of the crew, the inkling that Zilia felt was now no longer a feeling, she could feel invisible fingers gripping her throat, she almost reached up in an attempt to remove them as the cold ran through her body.
"I will be your gallows. I will allow no one else that right."
The fog lifted slightly Zilia felt the unseen fingers released their grip on her throat slightly.
"...you are correct however, you've put me in a very advantageous situation. I can't deny that and you truly have no logical reason to betray me."
"We'd still do it though."
Imposter gaze moved over to Luro who took a bite out of his apple, Zilia felt her heart sink as Luro stared at Imposter.
"...care to repeat that Makachi."
"We'd betray you. You're not always fun Imposter. I'm the one who told Avnia we'd help her. I meant it too."
Imposter's hand immediately wrapped around Luro's neck, when he closed the distance between them was anyone's guess but before Zilia could turn to even attempt to assist, she froze seeing the smile on the monarch's face.
"You really mean it don't you."
"Yep."
"...good."
"Good?!" Zilia exclaimed stopping herself.

Imposter released Luro and with a wave of his hand the fog dissipated from around them, and the lights returned to the room, in one movement Imposter had returned to his usual self, a knowing smirk resting on his face as Luro rubbed his throat.
"How truly fascinating. I like it. Betray me then."
Imposter turned and walked away from the group hands folded behind his back.
"I told you before. I take great pleasure in uncertainty…and this is extremely entertaining."
Imposter turned back to the crew reaching the bottom of his stairs.
"You have every reason to help me…but you choose to side with my enemy, the logical and better choice is to work for me, as Jack said the "Devil you know', yet you would take the most illogical step and turn your blades against me! How delightful!"
Imposter threw his arms out a bright grin on his face, and an almost childlike shine in his crimson gaze.
"I love it. Let's go with that story."
Imposter snapped his fingers and a red glow surrounded the crew before fading away.
"I'll give you more freedom. You can now leave the castle of your own volition, go wherever you want. From this point on you can bring the Core's to whichever side you want, you are of course still invited to stay here and our relationship and deal will remain the same. You may bring them to me, or Avnia."
"...wait! Hold on!" Zilia exclaimed. "What are you talking about, that'd give Avnia an advantage, you're the one who started sending us after the Cores!"
"That's correct your Highness," Abby added. "Why are you humoring this."
Imposter ran a hand through his hair a chuckle escaping from him.
"Do you know what I hate Stardusk? Boredom and you know what's boring, the expected. If you're working with Avnia this war is no longer predictable, my victory is no longer assured…isn't that just fascinating!"

The toothy grin on the man's face and the look in his eyes made it clear he wasn't joking, Zilia's eyes twitched as she tried to piece together what she could about this, but nothing came, everything about this felt off or rather didn't make sense in her head.
"Bring me the Cores and hope I deliver on our deal, or put your faith in Avnia and kill the one who put you here. What a captivating development!"
Imposter let out a laugh that filled the entire room ignoring the confused expressions, especially on Abby's face.
"Oh of course if you support Avnia and still lose that'll be boring so don't let that happen. Otherwise, I'll enjoy toying with your remains afterward, especially Hanako's, already got ideas."
Imposter said this with a nod before clapping his hands together.
"Y-your Highness! You're sparing them!"
Imposter glanced over his shoulder at Abby who ran up to him.
"W-why they're traitors, they-"
"You know a few of our forces got ambushed recently…almost like the enemy knew where they were."
"...huh?"
"Your sister is on the enemy side isn't she if I recall correctly…and it would be convenient for you if a group of traitors were to show up just when suspicions started to arise among our own people."
"Your Highness? What are you-"
"Boring."
The girl's body glowed red before she hunched over and vomited onto the floor, black sludge pouring out of all her orifices as she clutched at her chest. A pool of liquid obsidian gathered under her as she fell to her knees.
"You know your sister joined my side recently, understood the importance of loyalty and she asked about you…unfortunately, I'll have to tell her you're 'missing' now."
A bloodcurdling scream escaped from the woman as she fell face first onto the ground, black smoke came off her body as the sludge ran down her face, pouring out of her eyes, burning her skin and everything it touched. The smell of seared flesh filled the air as the girl clawed at the air reaching for something, anything as her body was covered in the dark liquid.
"H-hel….P-plea-"
Her cries soon became gargles as her body spasmed uncontrollably then grew still.
The sludge soon covered her body crunching sounds coming from it as Imposter watched the scene, a small smile on his face.
"It's always a beautiful process."
The sludge fell off the girl's body, her body raised and her black hair had taken on a bright red color, her green eyes came to match her hair as she climbed to her feet. Looking at her hand she opened and closed them before looking up at Imposter.
"This is a nice body."
"I'm glad to hear you say so," Imposter responded. "Borrow memories from one of the others."
"Yeah yeah I know," she said before her gaze fell over the crew.
Her head tilted a bit, brows arching a bit before she shrugged, at least until she looked at Luro. The woman's eyes widened slightly before smiling at the redhead, turning she walked away the shadow enveloping her before she vanished from sight.
"...you put a seed in her," Zilia mumbled.

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Zilia wasn't sure when she had hugged herself but she swallowed something back down not wanting to give the grinning monarch something else to smile about. Those touched by Imposters have had that nightmare at least once, to be consumed whole by something else until you're no longer yourself. Seeing it firsthand…was a bit much.
A hand came to rest on her shoulder and she looked up to see Luro staring at her, he offered a smile to her and she slowly lowered her hands.
Being comforted by the very person who warned her about them seemed to bring her back to reality a bit.
"Keep up the good work Stardusk…and I look forward to what you do from here. Shay clean up that-"
Imposter cut himself off as he looked over at Shay's unmoving body.
"Oh right you died."
Imposter held his hand palm up and a red core formed in it, he flicked it with his other hand and a large gasp escaped from Shay as the servant woke up. With a wave of his hand Shay appeared in front of Imposter and he motioned to the black sludge.
"Clean that up."
"R-right your Highness."
Imposter looked back at Stardusk and holding his hand up the Core flew out of Luro's chest which Imposter caught and peered out of.
"And now your absence is excused. You're still bound to do temples I want you to do, aside from that act freely with the information you're given. Let's speak further later Stardusk."
Red flames consumed the king before he vanished, the moment he was gone the Passages opened once again, and Jackie stumbled threw them.
"Imposter! Don't!"
The woman stopped speaking breathing heavily seeing Imposter wasn't in the room.
"...damn it," she said straightening her body.
"Jackie?" Zilia said turning towards the woman.
Jackie brought a hand to the side of her head, her normal smile was gone and she only had an irritated look on her face, she seemed…tired.
"...Adelaide told me the whole story. Luro's premonition didn't mention anything about you dealing with Imposter," the woman said lowering her hand. "...Luro only told her because she wouldn't interfere with his plans."
Jackie looked over at Shay at this her eyelids narrowing slightly.
"...but it worked it seems. She told me you should have all the freedom you need now to work towards a proper future. Is that true?"
"We can move freely now yeah," Luro said nodding. "We can even mutiny without getting in trouble."
"...I'm guessing he must have sent Luro a vision at some point too telling him what to do…without telling the full story of course."
"He told me to accept that lady's deal, he said it'd help everyone," Luro said smiling. "Wait did I not mention that?"
"Tashi is already dumping out some of his favorite rum and I'll be having a long 'talk' with him about this when he manifests. This was…this wasn't supposed to happen. He probably thought he was following the rules since you all didn't actually 'die' but this was too close."

The spymaster looked over at the spot where Abby was.
"...there wasn't supposed to be another one. Shit."
Jackie sighed and brushing herself off adjusted her glasses and tried to get her composure back.
"I would have killed Abby myself if I'd known…but that wouldn't have worked out well for you. The moment Abby came back you were proved innocent…just as predicted. Imposter gets his show…and you gain more freedom than even we have."
Jackie folded her hands under her chest, she closed her eyes.
"All Imposter cares about his entertainment. Play your part in his twisted play and he could care less what you do."
"Um…p-perhaps you should all return to your rooms and turn in. It's been a long day," Shay said looking up from their task.
"...you should be more exhausted than anyone Shay," Jackie added.
"It is my duty to ensure the well being of the castle and those within it. Night will fall soon anyway. Besides Lady Jackie the Echo's are losing to their Impulses correct? If you lose yourself than Sir Cedric and Lady Adelaide-"
"I get it…thank you Shay," Jackie said closing her eyes. "...I apologize for all this Stardusk. We wanted to do more but it seems we were just as powerless in this situation. Perhaps a more background role is better here…I'll talk with the Captain about it. Your honesty saved your lives however, whoever spoke the truth anyway. That's what he wanted...a fun twist to all this."
Jackie opened her eyes and looked at the crew.
"You should take Shay's advice, tomorrow will probably be chaotic for you. You'll help Avnia, there's no way around that, that was the final prediction at the end of this. Though I'll admit a part of me is curious how much you were willing to sacrifice in that moment."
Jackie left the matter there and turning walked away from the group.
"Adelaide will visit you tomorrow so long as yours isn't around. She has something to give you."


These are lore tidbits, think of it as extra info for the world. A summary will end up in Astral Diary however. These learnings are 'Optional' to read, know that you don't 'need' this information...generally.

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1- Core Discrepancies

The night Stardusk gained their 'freedom'

"You want to know about Core Discrepancies?"
"That's correct."
Zilia sat with Shay at a small round table in one of the meeting rooms, Luro next to her munching on a basket of bread, a bottle of rum sitting next to it courtesy of Shay. Since he chose to learn more about Shay he would be accompanying her on these ventures, to her great dismay.
"I'm not sure where to start with that…"
"How about how they came to be?" Zilia asked taking out her notebook.
"Very well, may I refer to them as I usually do?"
"How is that?"
"I call them Deviants."
"Really? I just called them CD."
"Any term is sufficient I feel. I call them Core Discrepancies as a reminder of what they are, but once that's established I use jargon for them. With that established I'll explain them."
Shay folded their hands together and began their explanation.
"Deviants are born when Realms energy reaches a certain threshold, it's different for each Realm but ultimately once the energy hits a certain point the Deviant is born."
"Up until that point they don't exist?" Zilia questioned.
"Precisely."
"So…up until that point they are not alive?"
"That is the case…however Deviants, especially ones born human as mentioned gain memories. So as far as they're concerned they've lived for that entire time."
"I think I get it," Zilia said adjusting her glasses. "When they're born, whatever form they're in they possess memories up until that point, so for them they've 'existed' through that time, though they may only be minutes old."
"Exemplary Lady Zilia, that is exactly right," Shay said with a small bow. "Though the passage of time in Realms is a complex matter, so 'minutes' are complicated."
"Can Deviants only be born by the energy thing?" Luro said as he grabbed another piece of bread.
"It is possible for Deviants to be born in other ways…at least from what his Highness has said but I at the moment can't recall an exact moment. Apologies. They are at their core however manifestations of the Realms."
"S'kay," Luro said spraying crumbs on the table.

Zilia glanced sideways at the redhead with a sigh before continuing her questioning.
"Okay…well another question then. Would it be possible for a Deviant to gain a sense of proper sentience? Could they become...us?"
Zilia motioned to herself at this and Shay's shut their eyes considering the question. The possibility had stayed with her since that meeting in her mentor's Realm.
"It is not an impossibility…but there would be requirements," Shay said before opening their eyes. "First they would require an immense amount of energy, which would mean drawing more from the Realm itself and the second is to avoid dying from the Shepherd which…generally doesn't happen."
Shay held up a finger at this.
"The Deviants naturally draw in a bunch of energy into the Core, I hypothesize that this act is their attempt to gain further sentience than they already have."
"However the Shepherd takes notice and seeks them out because they notice the shift," Zilia added. "Which means they die before the opportunity arises."
"A fantastic deduction Lady Zilia, that is correct."
"So…it's like a natural cycle," Luro said picking up the rum bottle.

Zilia arched a brow at this but Shay offered a nod to Luro.
"Very astute Sir Luro, inebriation hasn't halted your intelligence it seems, most impressive."
"I don't know what you said but thanks Shay," Luro said before taking a swig from the bottle.
"Is Luro correct Shay?" Zilia asked. "Do the Realms have an ecological balance?"
"They do Lady Zilia. You can think of the Shepherd's as order and the Deviants as well…chaos. The Shepherd's have no desire to create change so while there is order there is also stagnation. The Deviants on the other hand want to create change, so once they are born they continue to gather energy and alter the landscape of the Realms. Without Deviants I believe the Realms would not manifest here."

Shay gave a firm nod at this before folding their hands together.
"However if left unchecked disorder would be born and the Realms would fall apart faster. This is however prevented by the Shepherd's efforts. Thus the Shepherd and the Deviant have a working relationship that maintains the order and growth of the Realms…but for the most part the Shepherd at some point, deals with the Deviant."
"Thus why it's difficult for Deviants to develop further…I wondered since they seem to have some semblance of self," Zilia said.
"This is kinda hard to get," Luro said rubbing the side of his head.
"I can understand, it was hard for me to grasp at first as well. However the main point is that Deviants are born and gain sentience immediately, it is only in human form however that they pursue a sense of self so vehemently, some are aware of this…and others are not."
"What about the Realm thing then?"
"That-"
Shay cut themselves off before glancing to the right, they closed their eyes for a moment before offering a nod and standing up.
"I apologize but I will have to cut our conversation short here, we can discuss the realms another time, or perhaps the other me can help understand if their knowledge matches my own."
"We'll consider that option, thank you for your time Shay."
Shay gave a small nod before their body was covered in a green glow, their form vanishing afterwards.
Zilia closed her notebook and looked over at Luro.
"I would like to learn more about the Realms…a visit to Shey may not be such a bad idea."
"Sounds good! I gotta tell her more stuff anyway."
 
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During the Night after gaining 'Freedom'
[Finding the Queen]

"Shay-ta!" Hanako exclaimed, bursting into the room after knocking. "Shay-ta, I …. are they not here?" She blinked.

Luro-fuku and Zilia-seo'tai looked like they were about to leave the room. She guessed they were either looking for Shay-tai too, or she missed the green-haired servant completely. Hana adjusted the basket of persimmons against her hip. Embarrassment rose vividly in her face. She took two wrong turns earlier, no wonder she didn't end up in the kitchen.

"I'm sorry for disturbing," she bowed as much as the basket permitted. "I -" She settled on telling the truth. There was no deceiving either of them; she arrived long enough to overhear their plans. "Can I come with you?"

Zilia seemed surprised to see Hanako but judging by Luro normal smile and wave he apparently smelled her before she had got there. Seeing the persimmons in her basket Luro blinked before looking at Zilia. "Should I tell Emil Hanako's interested in Shay? Think he's fine with sharing?"

"She definitely isn't interested Luro don't jump to the randomest conclusion. Also normal people aren't."Zilia sighed before looking at Hanako. "To see the Queen correct I'm guessing you heard some of the conversation…sure you can come with us. I was going to wait until tomorrow but…honestly, I want the information as soon as possible. We'll have to cross the battlefield tonight though unless we find an escort…are you okay with that."

"I'm fine killing anyone that approaches, Hanako should just carry the tasty stuff…wait are they for Shey?" Luro said resting his hand son his hips. "Hanako's going after both of them. Wow Hanako you're acting like a proper pirate. I can't wait to tell Emil."

"Please stop saying that," Zilia said. "Don't worry I'll make sure he doesn't create complications. Come on then, how much did you hear. I was going to tell everyone anyway but…"

Zilia started walking and Luro motioned with his hand showing he was going to bring up the rear.

Hanako wanted to bury her face in the persimmons. She couldn't believe that Luro-fuku thought of her that way; she would never do that. It wouldn't be fair to Emil! He was … she hoped, often wondered, if she'd be enough. She pouted and tilted her head back. "Ne, Luro-fuku, I think I like you better as a sparring partner."

"I'm being serious, seo'tai! I saw one of Nako's memories. She and Luro-fuku were sparring, and they looked like they were having so much fun! I wonder if I could learn as much if we were to spar," she whispered. Her face heating up at the selfish reason for wanting this. "Nako's really strong, and I want to be as strong as her."

She swallowed. "I want to be able to control ice, water and the wind." Hana's face was red again. "I did … I mean, I thought if Luro-fuku were to fight me with his amazing gloves then it would help me get stronger faster. What do you think, Zilia-seo'tai?" She was repeating herself, but her mind was too frazzled. She hoped the two could see that she was being sincere.

"I mean I won't deny Luro's good at what he does but–"

"That's a great idea!" Luro said grinning. "It's not selfish at all, you can ask me anything after all. Anyone important to Alicia is important to me too."
Luro offered a toothy grin to Hanako at this though it faded as he brought a hand to his chin. "Hmmm we should do fire first, see how much heat your ice can handle…"

Luro chuckled a bit to himself as he started thinking about possibilities, Zilia sighed a bit at the sight but she couldn't help but smile a bit. Without a moments hesitation he agreed, that sounded about right, she had hoped by now Hanako would understand how things worked, she was a Stardusk, if she wanted to get better, of course they'd help.

"Well there you have it Hanako, with that said I'll be nearby when you do spar. Luro forgets to hold back sometimes."

"Don't forget you got something Nako doesn't too," Luro said patting Hanako on the shoulder. With a grin he turned and continued forward not going into what that 'thing' was.

Hanako brightened, comforted by her crew mates' words. "Ye! We can spar when we get back. I don't feel like I need to sleep here." She knew better than to ask when an elder ended the conversation. After all, amue taught her to never be rude.

Time and distance were not respected in Facade. Hana swore they were a corridor away from exiting the castle; but, here they were, in front of the battlefield. Broken flags, lost swords and bloodied armour remained. She almost dropped her basket of persimmons when she spotted strange birds feasting on a fallen soldier. She swayed.

"I - gomen, I - I don't feel so good."

Zilia glanced over at Hanako as she spoke, her eyelids lowered slightly and she noticed Luro had stopped as well. Whether he noticed Hanako's state was another matter but she couldn't really ignore this. Before she could speak up however Tashi walked up to the group, the Echo blinked noticing the group before approaching. Offering a small bow she looked at each member of their group, her gaze lingering on Hanako before speaking up.

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"What brings you all here?"

"We came to speak with the queen originally, Shey if she's occupied."

"I regret to inform you then that she is elsewhere. Captain delivered a report, Avnia is dealing with an issue elsewhere. An audience with her is unlikely but Shey may be available according to reports…but I cannot guarantee it."

"That's good enough," Zilia said. "Tashi would you be so kind as to escort Hanako back to the castle."
Zilia raised a hand to Hanako as a silent sign to let her finish.

"As the doctor of the ship I wouldn't be doing my job ignoring your current condition and it's not going to get better crossing. Our existences are already complicated and I'd rather not make things worse. Luro and I will bring you next time…preferably during the day when the battlefield isn't littered with bodies from a full day of fighting."

Zilia looked over at Tashi and gave the swordswoman a small nod.

"If you have complaints you can give them to me afterward," Zilia said crossing her arms under her chest. "...make sure to see Shay so they can treat you as well, their medical knowledge is pretty good."
Luro looked back at Hankao, rubbing the side of his head he watched as Tashi walked over to Hanako.
"Hm…if Z says so then no helping it. I don't wanna make her mad either…" Luro mumbled lowering his hand. "I'll bring you next time Hanako, when Z's not around."

Zilia cast a look at the redhead but let the matter go, Tashi gently took the basket from Hanako and handed it to Zilia before putting a hand on Hanako's back.
Zilia crossed her arms waiting for the two, the doctor making it clear she wasn't moving until she was sure Hanako was safely on the way back.

Hana closed her eyes. She leaned into Alicia's shadow, turned her face into the woman's neck, and allowed herself to be led back. Hanako's nausea rendered her mute; she was barely able to keep back the bile dancing up her throat.

Was this where she and Nako diverge? This deep rooted fear stemming from those dark days. It was a shame she hid from her sisters, worried that her flaw would prevented her from continuing on his path.

Hana sighed as the shifts in her aura became noticeable. That disturbance so similar to the ones she exuded as a child paralyzed by her nightmares. The teen swore that she felt Tashi holding her a little closer. That was enough to calm her.

Hanako wished to meet someone with the same inner scars one day. Maybe they could teach her how to let go and become stronger.

—--------------------
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[Too Many Jacks]

Cedric declined to comment. His fingers meticulously tugged and trimmed the tendons from the boar meat. He felt bad for betraying his brother, falling into rhythm beside Jackie was too easy; she reminded him of Jack, way too much. Actually, he was surprised Other Cedric wasn't here to help. He loved these moments.

"Can you explain about Abby again?" he was able to follow most of her earlier explanation; but that last bit confused him. "You said that you didn't expect another version. Just how many times have you seen this happen?"

He waved the knife around, stopping suddenly when Jackie's eyes flicked to his hands. Sid put it down without his usual fuss, glad that she didn't grab his wrist the way Jack would. He let out a small huff. He hated how he continued tensing up at the thought of getting grabbed. Part of him hoped his other self was free from this burden; these nightmares.

"Soeur," he stopped. "May I - merci! Soeur, I'll be careful. Don't take it away!" He pouted and tried reaching for the confiscated knife. "S'il te plât (please)."

His fingers grazed the hilt and his fingers caught the butt. This was easier with Jackie being shorter than Jackie, and more petit. He grinned before playfully kissing her on the cheek, something he never did before since he never had an older sister he was close to. He hoped it'd shock her into relenting; the way his action shocked him. Sid blamed it on Jackie's stare - that hard stare definitely looked fiercer on Jack. On her, it looked adorable.

"I'll bring you your favourite next time," he promised.

Jackie was admittedly a tad surprised to be with the other Cedric again, she had decided to make something simple for her and Cedric…maybe Nali so she wasn't going to turn down extra help. She however knew she wasn't at her best right now, though that didn't matter much at the moment. "Abby huh…where do I start with what happened…"

Jackie's shadow seemed to twitch at Cedric's haphazard moment but ultimately a sigh just escaped from her, she understood why the other Jack was worried.

Jackie eyed Cedric, her eyelids lowered slightly as she reached for the knife, she considered moving it further out of range but she admitted it was hard to be truly harsh with Cedric. At the peck, her brows arched and she relinquished the knife, the woman sighed and adjusted her glasses, it was hard not to dote on Cedric, any of them.

"Really hoping I don't get glared at for monopolizing you," she said, reaching over and ruffling his hair. "Payback, I'll keep you to that."

"Oui, I have an idea what you'll like. I hope it is your Cedric who doesn't glare at me for snatching you away," he grinned and leaned over to hug her around the waist, watching her with a cat's lazy gaze. "I never had a sister I was close to."

"Then I will look forward to it even more."
She said nothing about his comment on sisters, perhaps she expected the comment, maybe she didn't want to ruin the moment but she let the matter pass by them.

His fingers traversed her sea of dreads, each strand sweeter smelling than Jack's. He couldn't help envying his shadow. Jack was nice, but his fére often stank of sweat and tobacco. He often wondered if Jack even appreciated the perfumes and soaps he concocted. Sid pressed closer to Jackie and inhaled her scent, memorising it and taking comfort in it while he could.

"Don't forget my question about Abby."

Jackie returned to chopping the vegetables near her as she considered his earlier question. "Abby was turned into an Imposter. You remember what Avnia said about being 'Untouched', well the 'Touched' are those with Imposter's influence. Technically we didn't lie to her, you are 'Untouched' technically…minus being fake Imposters." She said this with a small shrug before pushing some vegetables to the side.

"I thought there was only one …" Cedric broke his hug and returned to his usual alertness. He curled his fingers over the edge of the table, and tensing without meaning to, unable to shake the icy dread. "Non! Please don't make the Imposter sound like a fungus."

"I don't know if Luro ever explained it to you…maybe not since you never sought out Imposter, but Imposter plant seeds within you. When that happens they can consume you and…" Jackie trailed off her mouth twitching to the side before continuing.

"Turn you into an Imposter…a 'true' one. It depends on the Imposter but the process can be slow or long, you slowly grow mad if the process is slow. Once a seed is planted in you there's no removing it without destroying a good chunk of yourself, either way, you lose who you are. I've been to a lot of worlds and have seen many people who didn't show…'loyalty', so I've seen many Imposters born…more than I care to admit." Jackie's grip on her knife tightened. "...getting killed isn't the problem with them…it's the fact they make you into…them…that-"

Jackie's eyes narrowed and her knife went through the cutting board, true anger showed on the woman's face for a moment, her gentle gaze replaced with a unbridled anger but she snapped out of it seeing the knife.

"...damn I'll have to tell Shay about that."

With a wave of her hand her shadow rose up and opening cupboard grabbed another cutting board which she set down in front of her. "Honestly I respect your Luro a bit. Goodness knows how long that seed has been in him but he somehow hasn't succumbed to it. That says more than anything about the man, Abby however had a fresh seed, I of course wasn't told that until later mind you…I would have killed her if I'd known so that's probably why they didn't say anything.

Cedric realised he spoke too soon. Inclining his head in apology, he waved for Jackie to continue. He sensed an undercurrent in her words. Dark and angry almost to the point of suffocating. He swallowed. His first instinct was to reach for her face and press their foreheads together. He shifted.

He found himself closer to her than he intended. Her yellow eyes burned into his darker ones. Maybe he was smiling sympathetically, he cannot tell. He must have convinced himself that this was his Jack, because he was bent low enough for their foreheads to touch. He did this only because he wanted to comfort her. She remained in control, of course. This was another Jack! All of them would have known how this ability works, and how to stop it; so, he hoped. He screwed his eyes shut.

"Relax, soeur. I sense you aren't happy about the current situation. About Abby and the Imposters," he inhaled slowly and then released his breath. "You speak as if you've been hurt the same way. Maybe because of my shadow's desire … desperation, maybe yours. Did this happen to our crew?"

He heard what she said about Luro. Now wasn't the time to keep pressing. His heart couldn't take it; this was another Jack, and he wanted to comfort her. Call it instinct, one that overwhelmed him since returning. This was the person who would do anything for him once upon a time. He allowed his power to flow into his fingers. The warmth tingling her skin wouldn't engulf her, no. He waited for her permission to proceed. Jack was always cautious.

Through her he could allow himself to fall into the pain of separation. His brother outgrowing him, and leaving him behind. Cedric realised he never had the chance to mourn. Talking to Jack again didn't mean that he was alright; he needed time.

"I understand us, you and me, seeking the Imposter. The whole crew - non! I sometimes wonder if you are all from different versions of the Stardusk. I see no unifying reason. Not yet," he admitted.

In some ways this Cedric was so similar to her own, his touch was familiar and this closeness was the same. She smiled a little as moments before her own had sensed her discomfort, and offered a similar release. She did not attempt to move from him, while she showed no resistance her feelings remained a rough torrent. It had subsided slightly but there was something the woman couldn't let go of.

"That's what it seems like on the outside…I see," she reached up and gently took hold of Cedric's hands before slowly lowering them. She didn't want him to push himself, and she was not as consumed as she seemed.

"I can say one thing for sure Cedric, a similarity we share between us and you and that is just like yours we all fly under the banner for a reason we all agree on…but that doesn't put aside personal ambitions….like Jack and his restaurant. The reason Runali is a good Captain is she respects your own dreams and goals, ours is the same. I hope one day you see it for yourself….it also goes without saying Luro would help without hesitation if it involved Imposter."

Jackie's hand rested on Cedric's face, her lips curving into a gentle smile as she lightly stroked his cheek.
"That's enough talk about that, I dislike depressing much less serious talk in my kitchen. Much as I enjoy our talks I can sense it's going to be cut short soon, best to finish before then."

Jack was going to find Cedric soon and she didn't want to be nearby when that happened, they had a truce but she was hogging him.

"Same crew then," Cedric mumbled.

He wanted to comment about the resistance he felt. It reminded him of Jack before Trovale. His mind wondered if Jackie was from an earlier part of the timeline, or she was simply a version who had been hurt again. He guessed it was something only Jack would know, given that the two would share memories gradually. He stopped himself from reaching for her face again. The vague impressions were enough; he would share them with Jack once they became clearer. Such was the current limits of his ability.

"I regret any goodbye. You and Jack give me the same sense of safety, but I can't help wanting to protect you." He paused and took a small gamble. "Tell your Cedric that I have the answer he seeks, and I'll be here when he's ready."

He took her hand and kissed it. "Merci, soeur. You gave me something to tease Luro about, and more reasons to disturb you in the future."

Imposters. Seeds, Cedric could almost here Er'is laughing if the deer daemon was around. Jackie's description really fit the fungus imagery in his mind; he shuddered. There was a reason he disliked mushrooms and toadstools; they were spies for a parasitic god. He stared at the mushrooms languishing near Jackie's board.

"Now I will never unsee that. It's your fault, soeur!" he crossed his arms with a sigh. "Surely, like these pests, we can remove the seed from Luro safely."
 
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Luro watched Jackie leave and moved over to Shay who was still 'cleaning up'.
"Hey Shay there's another you in the other territory."
Shay stopped sweeping at this and looked up at Luro, the servant's eyebrows arched and their head tilted slightly clearly confused by the statement.
"Another me?"
"Yep."
Shay's gaze lowered to the black mess on the ground for a moment, their eyebrows furrowing slightly.
"Hmmm I suppose that makes sense. When a Sovereign is born a servant manifests for them. There's not supposed to be two sovereign's…so two me's strange as it, is somewhat logical…"
"That's…fascinating," Zilia said looking over at the two. "Do you know her?"
Shay gave a small shake of their head.
"I have no memories before serving his Highness so I couldn't tell you," Shay said. "Still it'd be weird to think I don't know her…I'd like to meet her one day. She may be family if she looks like me."
A small smile rested on the servant's face as they gripped the room a bit tighter.
"...I figured I didn't have a past at all…but that doesn't seem to be the case. Thank you Sir Luro."
Luro grinned at this and waved to Shay before walking away, Zilia looked over at the loyal aid of Imposter, for someone who had just bled out for helping them, killed on a whim they were surprisingly fine. She supposed this kind of thing was normal for Shay, and judging from the small smile on their face they had already moved on.
"...let's get some sleep then I suppose," she said with a sigh before following after Luro.




Facade presented the kingdom to Stardusk once again when slumber found them, within that world two figures stood in the throne room, the king who was dressed in more finery than usual stood next to a woman who seemed uncomfortable in the glittering dress she wore. Her long black hair had been tied up into a neat bun and makeup adorned her face. She pulled at the dress a bit looking at the sparkles that glittered as it moved.
The Knight stood nearby in silence, hand on their weapon patiently waiting for the two to finish.
"I apologize…I'm not too partial to such attire myself," the king said pulling at his own top as it sparkled. "Many other monarchs have come so, unfortunately, appearances must be kept, I'll at least be changing right afterward."
"I think you both look nice, your majesty and of course Lady _____ as well," the knight said offering a small bow. "It'll be your majesty's soon, as I said before I look forward to serving you my queen."
The woman turned to the knight and offered a small smile, the king seeing it raised his hand and the knight lowering their head excused the two of them.
"...you seem like you want to say something," the king said turning to her. "Please speak your mind, we'll be husband and wife soon, if something is bothering you I want you to tell me without reservations."
The future queen was silent for a moment, her gaze moved to the king, her soon to be husband who offered a comforting smile and patiently waited. Her gloved hands gripped her dressed and she turned fully towards him.
"Why…did you choose me?"
The woman's words caused the king's brows to arch.
"...it's a bit late to be asking that isn't it?" the king said tilting his head at her.
"I don't disagree but…this whole thing has felt like a dream. First the confession at the cafe."
"Which you declined,"
the king said a small laugh escaping him.
"Marriage was a big jump, that's why I said a date was fine!" the woman exclaimed causing the king to smile a bit more. "A-anyway. Then we spent time together, every day was so…wonderful and I realized…you were serious."
"Thankfully you said yes the second time," the king said reaching forward taking the woman's hands into his own. "I really can't imagine my life without you _____"

The woman looked at her hands and gripped his a little bit tighter, seeing this the king smiled and shut his eyes.
"Do you remember the first time we met, a little over a year ago. I came into the restaruant for the first time. I was overworked thanked to the state of the country but I was doing my best to put on a face not wanting the public to worry. Even my most trusted knight ____ didn't notice my state."
The king opened his eyes at this, his eyes raising to hers.
"Do you remember what I ordered?"
"Your order was cream soup with green tea."
"Yes…and you brought me that…but you added pudding and coffee. Saying you thought I needed a 'pick me up' then went right back to serving."

The man's smile grew a little at the memory.
"That was the most delicious meal I had in such a long time. All the fatigue seemed to leave me. Of course, the proprietor told me afterward when I asked that you just had a good eye for people…but I'd say that was probably the moment I fell in love with you. Such a simple thing but that gentleness entrapped me."
The woman remained silent but her grip on him lessened a bit, and after a small moment of silence between them she smiled.
"I see…thank you your Highness. I feel better."
"I told you not to call that,"
the king said puffing his cheeks out a bit. "My name is fine."
"I will do so after we are married,"
the woman said gently removing her hands from his. "We should get going then, we're making everyone wait."
The woman turned to leave but noticing the king wasn't following her stopped.
"May I ask a question," he said looking up at her. "Since we're on the topic. Why did you say yes to me? I'm sure I told you the worries that would come with staying with me…I wanted to be honest with you after all. I expected you to say no if I'm being honest, not that I'm not ecstatic you didn't of course."
The queen smiled at this and turned fully to face him.
"...that's a secret your highness. If you can make me happier than I am now…then I'll tell you the reason. Though that will be difficult to do."
The man brought his hand to his chest as he felt his heart go aflutter, this woman somehow moved him in ways he could never imagine. The future seemed so bright with her by his side and all he wanted was to ensure that smile never left her face.
"I will do my best then," the king said walking over to her.
Taking her hand into his own the two looked back towards the balcony.
"There is nothing I need fear if you are by my side…Avnia."
"Of course my king."




The Morning After

After breakfast Stardusk had a meeting with Imposter, it was a relatlively quick one that boiled down too a simple conversation.
"I found a Realm for you to do. Don't worry it's simple, one of the Echo's will accompany you this time."
"I see, it seems we'll be working together again Shay," Zilia siad.
"Oh no Shay's not going, they got work to do. Shay's your aide but is still my servant, can't hog them all the time."
"What…then who is going to protect us in the Realm."
Which ended with Imposter smiling and no real answer, he then poofed away laughing and Shay offered a deep bow as an apology before also poofing, though not as ominously and far less dramatically.

Outside the Castle


"I don't like this," Zilia said.
Heading to the battlefield was essentially the only option at this point, but Imposter kept his word they could now enter and exit the castle freely. That was proven when they left on their own, making their way towards the Great Enclave.
"I feel like Imposter going to pull something…not that much can be done about it. I'm more concerned about the memory Facade gave us again."
"You mean the one about the two fancy people right," Luro said folding his hands behind his head.
"...yes Luro but at least remember them. One was the former king and the other…was Avnia. If she's the 'True' Sovereign…than that answers a lot of questions."
Zilia fiddled with one of her bangs as her attention moved to the ground, there were far too many unanswered questions, she was slowly filling in blanks thanks to her other self, but there were still bits and pieces missing.
"You met with Emil right," Luro said moving his hands into his sleeves. "He share stuff?
"...I'll go into what he shared later," Zilia said. "Sorry Hanako, he wasn't allowed back in the castle and I only ran into him by chance but he did say not to forget your 'Promise' and to stay as safe as possible. If you have a message I'll try and deliver it in case we meet again."
She smiled at Hanako at this before focusing forward, the moment they reached the edge of the battlefield a familiar figure was waiting for them.

"How did I beat you here when I helped clean up breakfast?"
Jackie sat in the crew's pah, a smile on her face as she stood up and turned to face them.
The woman from yesterday seemed all but gone at this point, and Zilia had a feeling even if she inquired the woman would just play it off.
"You're the Echo accompanying us?" Zilia inquired which caused the woman to respond with a nod.
"Tashi, Captain and myself can protect within the Realms…though that won't be my job today. Someone else will handle that. That aside our goal is that."
She motioned to a small temple not that far away, it was substantially smaller than the one they had entered before, barely larger than a one-story house.
"So it 'should' be a simple, quick, and easy job. Well minus clearing the way. The army doesn't approach large Realms but small and medium-sized ones are fair game. You can maintain yourself without help in those for at least a little bit."
Zilia didn't like the 'should' but left the matter alone as there was indeed a bunch of fighting going in front of the smaller temple.
"...so we're going to have to cut through them," Zilia said looking over at Jackie. "There's no other way?"
"Oh no it's fine. It's handled. I'd have done it already but someone else offered. Avnia's not watching the battlefield closely either so no awkward explanations later thankfully."
Jackie turned towards the battlefield and pointed ahead.
"Go on and take a good look…especially you Jack. Oh but Hanako it's going to get messy fair warning since you're not good with that stuff. Up to you whether you choose to watch."
The moment the woman finished speaking the bodies of the troops were suddenly hoisted into the air by an invisible force, the cause was left unknown as their cries filled the air, arms waving as they tried to determine the cause of their new predicament.
"If you're going to close your eyes then do it now," Jackie said folding her hands behind her back, mainly for Hanako.


Scarlet wisps soon filled the area and an explosive force filled the battlefield as crimson tornados covered the field of battle in front of them. The raging gusts tore apart anyone unfortunate enough to be within them, tearing them apart as if they were scraps of paper, at least those could be considered the lucky ones. Some were merely released, their anguished howls filling the air before they met their ends on the ground, their voices cut short in one moment.
Three tornados circled the area and slowly approached the group, and upon closer inspection, a figure walked within the center of the raging gales, the natural disasters giving the person a decent breadth, almost as if they feared the stranger's touch.
The winds grew closer and the violent gusts soon crashed into Stardusk, not enough to throw them off their feet, but as Zilia's clothing fluttered from the sudden winds she noticed Luro was gripping his rifle, a toothy grin adorning his features.

She understood why all too well, the person approaching them…was very dangerous.
One look was all it took, like prey meeting eyes with a predator in the forest this person was not their ally, in any form or fashion.
Luro attempted to adjust the winds but no action worked, the winds refused to be touched by another, they cared not for who did so. They seemed to laugh at the very idea that anyone but their master could touch them, howling harsher at any attempts.
Just as Zilia could almost see the figure a large gust crashed into the crew trying to throw them back, she closed one eye and raised her arms to combat it, and in the next the stranger was in front of them, no warning of approach, they were merely there as if they had always been.
Energy immediately surrounded Zilia's hands as she was at least thankful the tornados didn't follow, but its effects were all around them. Sharp marks formed in the ground around their feet as the wind lashed out haphazardly, barely missing cutting them apart by inches.
It was only when the person was directly in front of them that they were truly revealed.
"...Adelaide."

The woman in front of them did indeed resemble Adelaide at least that's what Zilia first thought, but that feeling immediately left her once she took a good look.
The Echo's all carried some similarity to them, in some form or fashion they were Stardusk, and even the enigma that was Adelaide at least 'looked' a certain way.
This Adelaide however was different, firstly Zilia noticed she was actually…'dressed', or at least more than theirs was. She couldn't remember the last time Adelaide had worn so much clothing. She wore a short with stripes on it for some strange reason and a pair of brown slacks that stopped a little past her knee, accompanied by what seemed to be mid-calf brown boots.
That however wasn't what stood out, the woman's eyes were what bothered her.
They were empty.
No life, no light, just emptiness, and at the moment not a shred of mercy.
Echo Adelaide's blank gaze moved over to Jackie.
"...who are you?"
The woman's voice was Adelaide's but somehow some of the life was missing from it. Jackie's lack of a response called a cut to form on her cheek and Adelaide raised her hand clearly not intending to talk.
She was Adelaide but in so many ways not, like a twisted mirror. The duality confused her but there was no time to contemplate.
"Why is every Echo attacking us now?" Zilia questioned getting ready to act.
Jackie raised her hand at this however as a sign not to interfere before speaking.
"I'm your wife...Jackie," she said digging into her right pocket. "See."
She held up a ring and held it towards the other Adelaide, the blank-faced woman took the ring and looked at the inside of it, eyeing the inscription.
"...that's my name."
"It is. Check your left pocket."
Adelaide reached into her pocket and took out another ring, looking at the inside Jackie's name was within it.
"...Jackie…"
Adelaide brought a hand to her head, for a moment her eyes narrowed and her body trembled as if she was in pain, and after a moment she lowered her hand. Her gaze moved over to Stardusk at this and with a wave of her hand the winds dissipated, the remaining bodies plummeting to the earth afterwards.
The 'predator' that stood in front of them seemed to vanish, though not entirely, a hint of danger still surrounded the woman.
"You're the other Stardusk," she said handing the ring back to Jackie. "Well I've been watching you but this is our first meeting."
Putting her own ring back in her pocket she pulled something out of her other pocket and tossed it to Luro, the redhead caught it and noticed it was a set of keys of varying sizes.
"You'll need that."
She looked back at Jackie and reaching up crassed the spot with her hand where her winds had cut her. Jackie reached up and touched her hand with her own.
"It's okay…you're back now. We'll talk later."
Adelaide didn't say anything but leaning forward placed a quick kiss on the spot she had cut before turning her back to the crew.
"Until later Stardusk."
"Hold on," Zilia said raising her hand. "What are we supposed to call you? A proper name would be nice."
She wanted to add 'since you're not going to apologize' but if she was like their Adelaide that wasn't going to happen.
"Adelaide. I don't intend on relinquishing my name to that other me. Don't ever bring her in front of me either."
The woman glanced back at the crew one last time, and a smile that seemed more viper than human was their last sight before the woman's visage faded again, dissipating into the wind.
She left a sweet honeylike scent behind, but Zilia got the strange feeling it was more of a poison meant to draw in the unwary than anything else.
Jackie walked forward once Adelaide was gone.
"Come on we need to enter the Realm. Don't lose those keys."
"Jackie why did Ali-" Luro started but the woman spoke up cutting him off.
"You all have your problems. No need to get involved with mine," the woman said simply. "So don't ask. Other me will know sooner or later…even if I don't want it."
She left the matter at that and continued forward.

The temple itself was relatively small and there were what seemed to be a three vertical bars on the pillars.
"Hmmm those look familiar," Luro said crossing his arms.
"Well if it's anything like the last one it hints at what this Realm is about…let's just get this out of the way."
She looked over at Luro as the barrier went up again blocking anyone from entering or exiting.
"Do not talk to the Shepherd."
"I got it Z," Luro said grinning.
"...I feel like you don't. Jackie do you have any idea what we're going to deal with?"
"Adelaide did as Imposter told her but…well she didn't tell me. The keys were a hint. I'm more worried about who's going to be helping us. If I'm right…well try to be patient. Let's wait and see, if I'm wrong you don't need extra worries."
With that Jackie walked inside, Zilia looked back at everyone only to see Luro was already gone, his body vanished into the darkness in front of them when she turned back around.
"That little…let's go."

The transition was the same as the last time they entered a Realm so Zilia realized there was no change there at least, the issue however was that when they entered the realm, they weren't in a forest but in individual jail cells, surrounded on all sides by white brick, and a metal bin nearby for obvious reasons.
"...huh?"
Zilia grabbed the bars and looked ahead, Alicia was apparently across from her, and Hanako was next to her own cell. Runali was next to Alicia's and Luro was across from Hanako, she couldn't see Jack or Jackie from where she was.
From a simple look they seemed to be in a navy base going off a few of the banners hung along the walls, the hallway was filled with jail cells and the only light were a few lanterns hanging across the ceiling in a haphazard pattern, and the sunlight from outside coming through the window, which meant it was probably morning wherever they were.
"...why are we in jail!?"

Luro grabbed his cells and letting fire fill his hands melted the bars before walking out, brushing the front of his clothes off he grinned before stretching letting out a content sight.
"They're not fancy bars. Did they not realize we can break out easily," Luro said.
Cut bars went flying forward a little further down the hall and Jackie walked out putting her dagger away. She looked at Jack who was across from her, her shadow rose up as a silent offer to help but didn't act figuring he could break out on his own.

"They didn't even take our weapons away," Jackie said. "Whatever they see us as, they thought we were weak…no guards in sight either."
Zilia checked her wrist feeling her rope-dart and sure enough, they all still had their weapons, that or their 'appearances' hid them.
Zilia touched the lock of her cell and blew it out with a small burst her power, before gently pushing the door open and walking out.
"...I'm not pleased about breaking out of prison," Zilia said sighing. "The keys make sense now... just in case let me hold them Luro."
"I lost em'"
"Wha-How?!"
"I dunno."
Zilia put her face in her hands and let out a long irritated sigh, lowered her hands, took a small moment to compose herself before speaking again once she was 'calm'.
"Let's just…get outside, does anyone need help getting out?"
"Small reminder that we don't have Shay's power helping us so we're in clear sight, no 'hiding' from anyone without effort."

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"The Realms huh…that's a very philsophicis question."
"Do you mean…philosophical?" Zilia said opening her notebook.
"Yes that word."
"It's not philosophicis," Luro said looking over at Zilia. "Sorry Shey."
"It's okay Luro!"
Zilia stared at the bright smile of the maid and let out a small sigh.
She had gone to Avnia's side and requested to speak with Shey, it was early morning so they waited at a table at the other side of camp for her to finish breakfast, she jogged over once the food was done and delivered. They wanted the conversation to be somewhat private since they weren't sure how much Avnia knew about them at the moment.
Zilia felt bad not being able to bring Hanako but she wanted to let her sleep at least a little longer, especially given yesterday.
She had at least informed Runali and Alicia she'd be handling something on the other side, and Luro was choosing to come with her.


"Please don't listen too much to Luro," Zilia said moving the conversation along. "With that said I would like your knowledge on this matter."
"Sure I can tell ya what I know about the Realms. Especially if the other me recommended me. I feel honored!"
"Then firstly…how do they form."
"Hmmm that's honestly a hard one to answer," Shey said. "Realms are formed from the presences within Facade, they 'exist' already but until they gain a certain amount of energy within their Cores they can't manifest."
"...Shay mentioned that Deviants caused that…sorry Core Discrepancy."
"Ah other me calls them that too huh," Shey said grinning. "I kinda felt like calling them that too, it just felt familiar. Anyway, you're right they help the Realms manifest, if it was just the Shepherd they'd never reach a point where we could harness from them. I believe that was the case centuries ago."
"So Deviant's started showing up the last few centuries then…" Zilia said bringing a hand to her chin.
"That or they just became more active, anyway once a Core reaches a certain point, they form within Facade by attaching to something here, Facade just naturally creates these places. No idea why they take the form of Temples though."
"Targeting them makes sense then…if they only form when enough energy gathers then it must be a fair amount. From what I've seen though it almost seems a daily battle to hunt for them."
"Well yeah cause they'll disappear."
Zilia stopped writing in her notebook and Luro stopped eating midbite as Shey took a sip from her tea. She let out a content sigh and with a big flourish of her hand set the teacup down with flair, as an amazing maid does, before spilling it on the table. She started cleaning the mess up with a nearby rag when Zilia spoke up again.

"I'm sorry could you…explain that a bit more."
"About the temples disappearing?"
Zilia and Luro both nodded and Shey finished cleaning up the tea before answering.
"The Realms emit an immense amount of energy…while this is a good thing it also puts a strain on the Realm which is why the Shepherd works so hard to fix it. Realms will only stick around for a few days at most before collapsing, the longest I've seen one linger is three days, and that was only once over five decades ago. One popped up for five minutes, another thirty seconds. Roughly a day is the general length."
"...three days that's extremely short. What happens when they collapse?"
"Hm what do you mean? Everything inside dies. The world is destroyed."
The pen slipped out of Zilia's hand and her entire body froze up, Shey's brows arched as the doctor froze in place, Luro glanced over at Zilia as her hands trembled.
"We…everything dies. So when we take the core we…kill everyone inside," Zilia said with shaky breaths. "...everyone."
Her Mentor was dead because they took the core, was this why Imposter wanted to tell them himself?
"Miss Zilia."
Zilia's gaze rose up to Shey, the young lady reached forward and placed it on her trembling wrist.
"The time within realms is not the same as out here."
"Huh?"
Zilia body seemed to relax slightly and Shey with a small smile withhdrew her hand.
"Years or entire lifetimes can pass within the realms. Of course there's no way to know 'exactly' how long without speaking to those within and comparing but I can confirm it's more than a few days. Luro told me about the one you entered in the past, there was a young you right but years passed by."
"They…yes they did."
"That's common there, some people live entire lives and the realm falls apart, sometimes they loop, being born, living and dying again."
Shey looked down into her tea, watching the ripples on the surface of the water with a small smile.
"The only difference between the world you were in and the one here is that you're just watching it from the outside this time."
Zilia remained silent but she picked up her pen again, which led Luro to take a bite from his food again. Entire years passed by in what seemed to be days for them, it was hard to believe but they were watching it happen. Was this what it felt like for people like Jones? Watching the world pass by in the span of a few minutes, entire lives going by and their gazes watching it all pass so quickly.
"...no matter what we do the world's will collapse."
"That's right, when that happens the Core will be destroyed and the process starts over. If it helps you a bit… taking the Core just…turns everything off, it's quick and simple… well sometimes. A detonation can happen if the Core becomes to unstable and that can lead to a catastrophe. The Realms can end in a variety of ways, fire, natural disaster, explosion…or just…silence. The Realms will end, the world will end inevitably, we harness that energy."
"...and use it to fuel a war effort," Zilia added.
"Well it would be destroyed anyway…and not all of it goes to the war. We can feed the hungry, repair what's broken and do all kinds of good things, that energy can be put to a good cause. Judging by the happiness of Imposter's people they aren't hurting for food, least from what the reports say, and our people are fed and the sick are treated properly."
Shey said this with a small nod.
"Just to clarify too even without the Deviant the Realms will still fall apart. Stagnation just means a slower death, natural resources will eventually run out, starvation will come, and the end comes, without new energy the Core will just…run out and dissipate."
Zilia took a deep breath and wrote everything Shey said, seeing this the maid smiled and waited.
"...thank you Shey I apologize for that display."
"Do not worry Miss Zilia, it is the duty of the Best Maid to ensure the well-being and health of her employers."
Zilia smiled at this and Luro swallowed what was in his mouth before looking over at Zilia.
"I think that's enough stuff Z, let's head back."
"Says the person who contributed nothing," Zilia said. "You're right though that's enough for thetime being. I may have further questions Shey but let's leave it at that for now. Thank you for you time."
"Of course!" Shey said. "Ask me anytime, I the Best Maid around will aid you whenever you need it…um when you're on this side."
Zilia stood up and with a small wave made her way back to the castle, this was a fair amount to take in, but the 'other her' almost seemed to be telling her this information was correct. Was their connection the reason why she was able to process it so easily. She wasn't sure but she was going to take some time thinking about this, for now she'd shared it with the others.