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Halkegenia Online Thread 6 - //"Pixies!"\\

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Triggerhappy, May 28, 2013.

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  1. Triggerhappy You Gotta Listen to Big Sis!

    So basically I'm going to acknowledge that snips are actually chapters for now on. Now all I need to do is stitch the parts together. (Erm, can someone help me find the previous 3 posts? Thx.)

    Halkegenia Online v2.0 - Chapter 1 - Part 4

    Be the country at war, suffering famine, or wracked with pestilence, life went on. And wherever there was human life, there was business. It therefore came as no surprise to anyone, that even in these uncertain times, the markets of the Capital were still trading and doing business as they always had. Merchants and ship's captains haggled over prices while coin traded hand between Noble and Commoner alike. It would truly be a sign of the end times when a merchant stopped trying to make money.

    Located at the center of Tristania, which was itself positioned at the center of the Kingdom of Tristain, it was not an exaggeration to say that the shops and trading houses of the Capital were the beating heart of Tristain's economy. Merchant's came from miles around to transact trade deals that were the results of smaller concerns and trade branches throughout the country feeding one into the other like tributary streams joining into an immense river of commerce.

    Every product imaginable was available for sale here, bulk goods, exotic luxuries, rare reagents and raw materials. Nobles and traders arrived daily to enact business deals while commoners and the petty nobility did their shopping side by side in the cramped side streets and alley markets.

    It was along one of these streets, less frequented than most, that a small shop had been established and operated for many years. Barely more than an alcove squeezed between two larger businesses. It's small size belied the impossibly rare and exotic goods that found their way onto its shelves.

    The Proprietor was a peculiar creature almost worth visiting the shop to see alone, dark skinned and dark eyed, strangely wide nose, and white, white teeth. It had been accepted that he was a former trader with the Rub Al Khali caravans, a native of that distant land who had made his home in Tristain, possibly to escape some great shame or indiscretion.

    Ingratiating himself with the denizens of the Capital and using his well established trade connections, any number of items could be purchased through him, and if not, he could almost certainly point someone in the right direction, for a price.

    It was as this peculiar man was examining an item from his latest shipment, a meticulously oiled and maintained apparatus delivered by a colleague with connections to the Church of Romalia, that the bell at his door chimed.

    Sighing to himself, he returned the dark metallic object and the two boxes of small brass cylinders to the embrace of its oiled, cloth lined box and replaced it beneath the shop counter, another curiosity to be returned to at a later time.

    “Welcome.” The old merchant said. “How may I be of service today . . . Miss . . .” He trailed off as he looked up.

    Well, it wasn't very often that his shop was frequented by a such a petite Mademoiselle. The clientele of his shop tended towards the more masculine, and more likely to take offense if watched too closely or for too long.

    Yes, petite, pink haired, large brown eyes. He wouldn't have placed her age at much best twelve or thirteen. Was that it? It had been a long time since his own childhood and he'd had rare opportunity to be near children since. A child really had no business in his shop.

    “Mayhaps you have the wrong place?” He looked a little worried. “Are you lost Mademoiselle?”

    “We're looking for something.”

    The shop proprietor frowned. The voice had rung out as clear as a bell, soft, firm, commanding, but the girl's lips had not moved at all. Now, he looked up at the hat atop her head, a hat that turned out to not be a hat at all but rather something black and feathered, clinging to the girl's hair and watching him with suspicious yellow eyes.

    “Something in particular.” The voice spoke again.

    Looking just a little further up, the shop owner came face to face with another girl sitting atop the strange feathered creature, who by all appearances save her size would have been the elder of the two girl.

    That was it, he thought, rubbing at his eyes, it was her size. She was miniscule, tiny, she would have fit in the palm of his hand! Was such a creature even possible?

    Two pairs of miniscule wings jutted from her back, flexing and folding themselves like those of an insect. Suddenly the wings spread wide, and with a delicate hop she flitted from her perch atop the pink haired girl and settled onto the table.

    “Specifically, we're looking for more girls like me.” The miniscule girl said, gesturing to herself.

    Finally, the pink haired girl added something to the conversation. “We heard from another merchant that you introduced a customer to him who was interesting in collecting samples of wild life from the Faerie World. That customer bought six pixies who were illegally poached from the estates of the Count of Tarbes.”

    The Merchant leaned back in his chair and quickly began to drum his fingers atop his desk. “Poached you say? That is a serious claim Mademoiselle.” Just who the blazes was this girl? Certainly not just the child she appeared to be. “I can't simply hand out a clients confidential information. My business depends on the trust between myself and my clients.” Some of the products sold in this very shop, while not illegal, would certainly raise questions if their buyers were known.

    Instead of answering verbally, the pink haired girl reached into her handbag and retrieved a letter, offering it to the bemused merchant. He began to read, frowned, and then paled.

    “As you can see, this is an official investigation.” The girl said. “Cooperate with us fully and by order of the crown you will be absolved of any wrong doing.”

    This wasn't good he thought, not good at all, he'd had the good sense to keep his head down all of these years. Yes, some of his business dealings had been shady, but he had gone to great lengths never to violate the law or give any reason for attention to be drawn to his little shop. What had that fool Georges gotten him into this time? What to do. What to do.

    “Please go on.” The Merchant played for time. “Do you have a description of this man?”

    The tiny girl, some sort of Fae he realized, tilted her head warily. “You get a lot of clients asking around for pixies, huh?”

    “Not at all.” He admitted. “But more than you'd think.” He raised a hand to still any reply. “You Fae have been the talk of the city since your arrival, plenty of clientele have inquired about anything to do with ALfheim.” He squinted thoughtfully. “In fact, I do believe a few were even asking about these creatures.” He gestured to what he could only described as a small dragon. “So yes, I have received more than a few inquiries. I don't stock live animals, too much trouble, so naturally I sent them on to an associate of mine.”

    “Georges.” The pink haired girl breathed.

    He nodded. “Forgive me,” he said carefully, “But that is really all I know, unless you've a description of the man who was involved in the purchase.”

    “A description?” The pixie pacing about on his table asked. She crossed her arms. “Georges-san said he was . . .”

    “A fat Nobleman.” The pink haired girl finished.

    The Merchant sighed slightly. “Mademoiselle, plenty of Noblemen are fat, I'm afraid you might need to be more specific.”

    The Pinkette nodded thoughtfully. “We didn't really get an exact description, not for lack of trying. It sounded like this man went out of his way not to stand out.”

    “Also not uncommon among my clients.” The Merchant explained. “Look around you Mademoiselle, you see herbs, teas, and spices, yes?”

    “I suppose.” The girl said, showing every indication that she couldn't identify half of the things on his shelves, of course, most people couldn't.

    He smiled. “I make my livelihood with my goods Mademoiselle, but not just these goods. Rare reagents from across the Continent and beyond, medicinal herbs, potions, and clever little artifacts from as far as Rub'al Khali.” Artifacts such as the hummingbird sized pistol that was currently tucked beneath his desk, primed and ready to fire with one locking of the flint and a pull of the trigger. “Some of these are simple luxuries, others would greatly embarrass my clients if their patronage was known.”

    “Then isn't it dangerous to admit as much?” The pinkette asked.

    “Not at all!” The merchant replied with a small bow. “It's something of an open secret. The identities of my clients on the other hand, are not.” He shrugged. “But of course, neither are their identities worth imprisonment. I am quite fond of my comfortable life here, so, moving on. What else can you say about this man?”

    “Right.” The girl nodded. “He arrived with two taller men in his company, both were armed at all times. I'm not sure, but they were probably commoner soldiers or bodyguards.”

    “Soldiers you say? Then I highly placed Noble. Again, it does little to narrow it down.”

    “Wait, didn't Georges-san say something else?” The Pixie looked up. “He said . . . he said the man smelled of something very strong, like perfume. Georges-san said it made him nauseous to be around him for long.”

    “Cologne you say?” And apparently warn badly. The Merchant perked up as a name came to mind. He smiled suddenly, revealing white, white teeth.

    ________________________________________________________________________________

    “Terrance de'Martou.” Louise pronounced the unfamiliar name carefully as she stepped out of the confines of the shop, barely more than a kiosk squeezed into an alcove between a tailor's shop and an inn. “It's a name, but not one I'm familiar with, probably someone without any title to speak of.”

    “That's not good enough.” Botan said unhappily. “We need to know where to find this de'Martou so that we can find my sisters.”

    The Vespid Knight stroked behind the ears of her mount, a slightly scruffy black feathered dragon that Kirche had decided to nickname 'Schwartz' without consulting anyone but herself. Irritatingly enough, the name had stuck.

    Louise reached up to her shoulder and patted Botan's head in turn. She didn't like it, this whole ordeal left her feeling useless. And if there was one thing that Louise Francoise Le Blanc de la Valliere despised more than anything, it was feeling useless. She had to remind herself of the success they had already experienced. Their past two weeks had not been spent in vain.

    They had been right to focus their search in the Capital. Tristania was home to any number of curios dealers, merchants specializing in conversational items for the nobility. Usually these were artifacts of some kind, unusual works of art, sculptures, preserved samples of rare insects or flowers, or live animals kept caged specially for show.

    Searching these shops had not led them to the lost Pixies, but it had given them their next lead. Through questioning of the legitimate businesses they had eventually found their way into the company of Tristain's lucrative back market dealerships, shops that didn't so much stock inventory as people with the talent to <<acquire>> whatever object was desired. Eventually this had lead to an auctioning house well known for its purchase and sale of exotic animals, and from there the link had been made to several buyers.

    What they had learned so far was that fifteen pixies had been taken by the treacherous majordomo Fernand and his hired thugs and brought to the Capital to be sold. So far, they had found seven who were alive and well in the company of various Noble families and curio collectors, including most notably a pair who had become the impromptu playmates of the youngest daughter of the Count de Brienne.

    Louise grimaced as she remembered the bratty little girl. Sophie Luttece de Brienne had been uniquely petulant in a way that only children under the age of twelve could be. Frankly, it was miracle that the Pixies had survived the week in her care, but they had seemed happy when they were finally discovered and overjoyed to see a <<Vespid Knight>> had come to find them at last.

    It had been agreed, albeit reluctantly on the part of Sophie, that her new little friends belonged home in their Garden and the Brienne Patriarch had equally grudgingly turned them over to Louise's custody having apparently payed quite a great deal for the unique little creatures. The two Little Sisters were now safe back at the Palace under the careful watch of an attending servant along with four of their fellow siblings while they waited to be returned to Tarbes Garden.

    Strangely, one of the Pixies, a Little Sister named Suikazura had been reluctant to leave the care of her human guardian, a wealthy merchant named Baptiste who had purchased her out of pity after seeing her caged in the market. The girl, Suikazura, had proven shockingly resistant to Botan's attempts to prod her into returning home, a far cry from the other Little Ones who had obeyed meekly.

    After her third overture had failed, the Knight had grown anxious before asking to depart to send a message back to Tarbes. The whole matter had remained closed to Louise with Botan only muttering that it was essential that a Shaman come to the city as quickly as possible.

    Other than this single abnormality however, all seven appeared happy and well cared for, the two from the Brienne household even wearing beautiful new dresses that their young guardian had insisted they keep. Louise sighed, okay, the way that the girl had teared up when saying goodbye, she supposed she couldn't have been that bad. Maybe Hinagiku would agree to let them visit . . .

    She allowed her thoughts to wonder and her pace gradually slowed. Of course, it would have been nice if there had been a happy ending for everyone, but there wasn't. Louise and Botan had learned early on that at least two of the Pixies had succumbed to wounds they had suffered in the destruction of their garden.

    Louise glanced over her shoulder. Botan's only comfort had been to learn that they had died soon after arriving in the Capital, surrounded by all of their sisters. Still, the distraught Knight hadn't spoken to Louise for the rest of that day.

    Louise thought she understood how Botan felt, she was supposed to be different now, able to protect the people she cared about, but in many ways she was still powerless. The bodies, one preserved in a specimen jar and the other buried in a matchbox by a sympathetic warehouse worker, had also been recovered to be returned to Tarbes Garden.

    That still left six pixies unaccounted for. Six that could be alive or dead.

    The trail had run cold at Georges, a merchant dealing in exotic animals. He had apparently been introduced to his mysterious client through the merchant named Aamir, but as Louise had just learned, frustratingly, Aamir could only provide a name and not occupation or address. But a name might still be enough. The Royal Archives would include tax records after all, if he was a Nobleman, he would be tracked down in short order.

    Louise looked up as she stepped into the shadows of a nearby church tower. The sun was beginning to set, it was late enough in the day, her feet were aching, her back was sore, and her shoulder was getting stiff where Schwartz had decided to use her as a roost.

    “Botan . . . The shops are going to be closing soon, and we can't do much more today.” Louise said. “It's probably best if we go back to the Palace now. Tabitha, Kirche, and Silica will probably be waiting. We can see if they learned anything else.”

    Henrietta had offered Louise the full hospitality of the Royal Palace and its staff while she conducted her mission here in the Capital, saying that it was the least she could do after the first half of her assignment had nearly ended so badly. Louise certainly appreciated her Princess's hospitality.

    Thanks to Henrietta she'd been able to gain access to the Royal Archives not only for her own investigation but to continue with her studies and efforts to master her malformed magic. With the help of Kirche and Tabitha she was even beginning to make progress with basic cantrips. She'd been able to cast a mage light for a whole thirty seconds before it had fizzled and -popped- in her face.

    It came as a relief in a way, if nothing else she wasn't a complete failure, and maybe she didn't need to be an exceptionally powerful mage to be of use. After all, there were many important tasks that didn't require a wit of magic to perform, and she had seen far too many Nobles who simply squandered their god given potential in the past two weeks. It was strange, but she'd never noticed it before, maybe because she was too young, but now . . .

    Botan nodded slowly. “You're right, we can't do much more today. Besides, we need to find out who this 'Terrance' person is . . . I worry for them is all.”

    Louise nodded slowly, Botan thought of her sisters as her responsibility, for her, this mission had a much more personal stake. “I'm sure they'll be alright. Nobody was mistreating any of the other Pixies, even the ones that died, their keepers tried their best to help them.”

    “Un.” Botan looked up. “But . . . if what the other Little Ones have said is right, then none of them were Shamans and Knights. If they're still lost it could become a problem really soon.”

    Louise tilted her head. “Why would it be a problem, the others were alright without an Elder Sister weren't they?”

    The Knight nodded again and then stopped and began to shake her head. “Little Sisters can be very gullible, they're naturally very trusting and obedient.” Botan's expression soured. “Hinagiku told me that it came in handy to keep us in line, since she could make up something scary to keep us from doing anything too dangerous.” She shook her head. “I can't believe I was that stupid!”

    “Well, children aren't always very smart.” Louise agreed gently. “I remember that mother used to put on her armor when she wanted to frighten me so that I would listen.”

    Of course, her mother had never actually done anything to her while dressed in her armor. She'd gotten the cane a few times for misbehaving, and the time she'd hidden until the servants had been in a panic looking for her. But those had all been administered while mother wore nothing but her day to day attire.

    “That's not what I'm worried about either.” Botan began to ring her hands, face reddening as if thinking of something embarrassing. “My point is that those Little Sisters need an Elder Sister to protect them. And if they can't find one, they might make one themselves.”

    Louise's eyes widened. “You mean a Blossoming.” She shook her head. “But the others were fine when we met them . . . unless . . . Suikazura?”

    Botan looked away awkwardly. “She didn't smell right, and she wasn't listening to me. Normally a Little Sister will do almost anything an Elder Sister says, we're . . . very compelling to them. I think she must be a few days along. That's why we need a Shaman soon. Baptiste-san seems to care a lot for her, but he won't know what to do.”

    Louise suddenly understood. “But then, what about the other Little Sisters?”

    “I think we found most of them fast enough.” The Knight explained. “If any of them were starting to Blossom, then they must have stopped when they met me. Or maybe their human caretakers made good surrogates. But this could still be bad, if they're being forced to Blossom before they're ready it could be a lot like . . . well . . . like Sayuri-sama.” She sighed. “I'm sorry, but I'm not a Shaman, so I can't say for sure.”

    “That's okay.” Louise tried to reassure her. “But if they Blossom, isn't that good? They'll be able to take better care of themselves while we look for them.” Pixies got stronger when they Blossomed right? It made sense to Louise.

    Botan looked shocked and for a second Louise worried that she had offended her small companion. “Louise-san . . . how much have do you know about Blossoming?”

    Louise frowned. “Only what you've told me.”

    “Well, it's a very private topic in a lot of ways.” Botan hugged herself as she spoke. “Not only is it very physically strenuous, the changes to the mind are just as severe.”

    “Changes to the mind?” Louise felt a little worried.

    “Un. Ever since I came to the Palace, I've been listening a lot to everybody, about Tristain, and . . . and about the war.” Botan looked thoughtful as she placed her hands behind her head. “A month ago, I wouldn't have been able to understand most of it. I wasn't smart enough. I think that when Pixies Blossom, in a lot of ways its the same as when Beings, when humans, grow up. Except where you grow up a little at a time, and get used to it a little at a time, it happens to us all at once.”

    Louise nodded. “That must be hard.”

    “It is, believe me.” Botan said. “When I was blossoming, it was like I was throwing away parts of my old self and I was afraid I would wake up a completely different person, and . . .”

    “And?” Louise asked.

    Botan smiled weakly. “I did. I'm not the same Botan who started to Blossom in the Forest of Tarbes anymore than you are the Lousie that you were when you were little. But I'm born from her the same way that you were born from that Younger Louise. Does that make sense?”

    “Okay.” She thought she understood. “You're saying that we are who we are because of who we were.”

    “Right.” Botan agreed. “In other words a Blossoming is the sacred rebirth of a Little Sister, and at the same time, the birth of an Elder Sister. But there are so many ways that it can go wrong.” The Knight looked down angrily. “Sayuri-sama . . .”

    “You mean Shion.” Louise concluded.

    “Yes, Shion.” Botan said unhappily. “That's another thing. When I was a Little Sister, Sayuri-sama always seemed so strong, but then, after I Blossomed, I was able to see how sickly and frail she really was. I almost couldn't believe she was the Sayuri that I looked up to, but Hina says that she had been deteriorating since before she'd come to our Garden so there must have been signs. I guess that was why the other Knights always seemed so anxious, I just couldn't see it.”

    Louise waited as Botan looked contemplative. They were almost to the Palace now, walking down the densely populate thoroughfare that cut through the heart of the city.

    “I don't think . . . I don't think Sayuri-sama was a person, not a whole one anyways.” Botan shivered as she said it. “There just wasn't enough of her. The Knight I knew, I think that's all she was, just a Knight given form and nothing else. That's why she withered away, she didn't know how to live."

    "I hate myself for this, but . . . I'm glad that Sayuri-sama wilted away, she died, but now she can really live as the person she was supposed to be all along. She suffered so much because she wasn't ready to be a Knight, wasn't even ready to be a Little Sister.” The Vespid Knight shook her head angrily. “I have to be sure that doesn't happen to anyone else. I have to.”

    Louise reached up to stroke Botan's small head with her thumb. “Can you? I mean, can you stop something like that?”

    Botan didn't speak for a while, then, slowly, she sighed. “Maybe . . . if I have to.”

    Louise blinked, she hadn't heard this before.

    Suddenly, Botan began to speak quickly, without any prompting. It sounded like something that had been building up for a while. “Hina spent a lot of time examining Shion once we brought her back to the Garden and then spoke a lot with Florine-san who used her magic to study me and Shion since we'd both just finished Blossoming."

    "There's a point at the stem of a Pixie's wing that the Shamans will apply pressure to in order to ease the Blossoming.” Botan extended her wings and gestured blindly to the points where the translucent appendages met and fused with the rest of her body. “Florine-san says that those points are probably the glands responsible for regulating our Blossoming. She thinks that, judging by what happened to Sayuri-sama, if we lance those points carefully, we can stop a Blossoming even at a very late stage or even induce a Wilting like what happened to Sayuri-sama.”

    “But you don't sound happy with that.” Louise observed. How could she? Wasn't she suggesting some sort of disfigurement?!

    “I'm not!” Botan almost shouted. “It's very dangerous. We can't be sure that it will work the way we think it will. And even worse, it could make it so that our Sisters can't ever blossom again! Hina and Florine-san told me that Shion's wing stems are still malformed. We don't even know if Shion will be able to grow into a normal Little Sister, much less Blossom into a Shaman or Knight.”

    Louise could hear the anguish in the small Knight's voice and suddenly her urgency made all too much sense. “That's horrible.” She whispered. “Would you really be able to do something like that to your Sisters?”

    Botan didn't answer and they continued on their way to the Palace, finally arriving at the front gates where the guards on watch admitted them with a small greetings and a bow to each of them. Henrietta had taken Botan's title of 'Vespid Knight' very seriously after meeting the girl, and she had instructed the Palace staff to accord her the courtesy and honorifics, if not the authority, of a full Chevalier of Tristain.

    “We'd only do it if it was absolutely necessary, and if our Sister wanted it.” Botan said finally. “But we can't be sure it would be safe. So . . .”

    “So?” Louise had a feeling she wouldn't like the answer.

    “So, if it becomes necessary, I'll ask Hina to do it to me first to prove that it's safe.”

    The reply, so calm and matter of fact, caused Louise to stop dead in her tracks. Botan had so casually gone from speaking of disfigurement, to possibly carrying out that same disfigurement on herself!

    “B-Botan! How can you say something like that?!”

    The Vespid Knight drifted down from Louise's shoulder, smiling sadly. “Louise-san, I am a Knight of the Garden, it is my sacred task to live and die for the sake of my Sisters.” Her smile slowly became more genuine. “Don't worry Louise-san, I'm only talking about the worst case.”

    Louise looked at her aghast, the worst case?! She reached out so suddenly that Schwartz took flight with an indignant “Gyaah!” Snatching Botan carefully out of the air. “D-don't say something like that! If you say that, then it sounds like you've already given up on things turning out alright! And besides, didn't you always want to be a Knight?”

    Botan blinked, tilting her head curiously with a bemused expression. “Louise-san, even if that happens, it won't mean I'm not a Knight. In fact, I'd be much less of a Knight if I turned my back on my Sisters. I'd rather rip my own wings off than do that.”

    “But . . . but doesn't it scare you?” Louise asked lamely.

    “Of course!” Botan said almost too happily. “It's not something I ever want to happen, but that's the same as not wanting to die, or not wanting my Sisters to get hurt.”

    “And you can live with that?”

    Squirming from Louise's grasp, the Pixie Knight stood balanced on Louse's lightly balled fists. She nodded. “Because I'm the sort of person that my past self would be proud of.”

    Louise had no patience for stupid people, but, how did she respond when a person wasn't being stupid?Louise knew that she'd done foolish things in the past, and that it was partly because of her temper. She'd gotten herself into a lot of trouble by not thinking things through. But Botan was willing to risk herself willingly, with her eyes open to the consequences.

    How was it that the stronger of the two of them was only a hand span tall?

    “Ah, I'm sorry Louise-san, I've upset you!” Botan said quickly. “Come on, it's getting dark.” The Knight tugged at the cuff of her blouse. “We should get inside now.”

    Slowly, Louise began to walk again at Botan's urging, the small Knight acting as if nothing strange had been said. It had to bother her though, didn't it? After all, she wouldn't have mentioned it if it wasn't on her mind. And now she was doing everything she could to stop Louise from thinking about it.

    Sighing inwardly. “Yeah, let's go.” Louise said. I bet that the chefs will have more of those baked apples you like so much. You better hope flying burns off a lot of fat, or you're going to look like an apple before too long!”

    “Hey!” Botan shouted. “That's not fair! Besides, Hinagiku-sama would kick my butt if I got that slow and heavy.”

    “Then you better start exercising more.” Louise replied. “Because Henrietta is going to meet with Lady Sakuya in Arrun tomorrow about the Pixies, and I heard her say that all of the Garden's we've contacted so far are sending Representatives. Since we'll have to wait for the Archives to find who Terrance is and where we can find him, it probably wouldn't hurt for you to go and see them.”

    “W-what?!” Botan stammered, her calm completely lost. Good, so she could be shaken, that was a lot more reassuring than the thought that she might be crazy. “Why wasn't I told about this?!”

    “I mentioned it at breakfast.” Louise said casually. “But someone wanted to hurry out and get an early start today.”

    “You didn't say that at all!” Botan accused.

    “Did to.” Louise said.

    “Did not!”

    “Did to.”

    “Did not! Did not!”

    They continued like that all the way down the walk to the Palace.
  2. Doesn't Louise have pink eyes? Or did you retcon that?

    [IMG]
    Dirtnap likes this.
  3. Academic Guardian Just an old man with a hobby


    No prob

    Part 1: http://forums.spacebattles.com/thre...thread-6-pixies.260151/page-167#post-11111085

    Part 2: http://forums.spacebattles.com/thre...thread-6-pixies.260151/page-170#post-11114232

    Part 3: http://forums.spacebattles.com/thre...thread-6-pixies.260151/page-182#post-11132461
  4. Okay, that was great. Louise and Botan work wonderfully together in my opinion. I also hope that Botan's worst case scenario never comes about. NEVER.
  5. Triggerhappy You Gotta Listen to Big Sis!

    Halkegenia Online v2.0 - Part One

    <<Going to try a new naming convention and smaller installments for this arc.>>

    Halkegenia Online v2.0 - Chapter 1 - Part 1

    "Sakura, hurry up Sakura or you'll be late!"

    Eight years old, Yamada Sakura pulled on her rain boots and ran out the front door, jumping past her fourth eldest brother to stomp down hard on the first puddle on the sidewalk.

    "Hey, don't do that Sakura!" Her brother shouted, a year older than her, he was always so annoying, telling her not to do things that were fun.

    "Hurry up or you'll be late!" Sakura parroted back as she ran down the sidewalk.

    "Ah, Sakura, you mustn't run on the wet sidewalk, Sakura!"

    ...

    "Ah, Sakura-chan, Sakura-chan. You mustn't do that Sakura-chan!"

    Ten year old Yamada Sakura huffed irritably as her third eldest brother retrieved the Kimono she'd allowed to fall to the ground. "Grandmother and Grandfather are expecting us to look our best."

    "I'm not going to wear something like that!" She grumbled. She and her third eldest brother had never gotten along. He was always teasing her and nothing she said ever seemed to have any effect. It wasn't fair!

    "But we're all going to the festival Sakura-chan."

    "Not dressed like this!" She complained, sticking out her tongue.

    Sakura immediately regretted it, her brother had seen his opening. "But it's so pretty Sakura-chan. I'm sure Ojii-san would love to see you wearing it. You'll be the family's Chisai-hime!"

    "Don't say that! I don't want to be all girly!"

    "Ah, but you are a girl Chisai-hime, or would your prefer we call you Sakuya-hime?!"

    "Stop! That's even worse!"

    ...

    "Sakura!"

    "Y-yes!" Fourteen years old, Sakura tried not to stutter a she faced off against her second eldest brother. It was hard.

    Her second eldest brother had always been her favorite, warm and constantly encouraging her to pursue her interests. But as soon as he entered the dojo he became a completely different person, stern, and only interested in pushing her as hard as he could, only to change back into his kind self when practice was finished.

    "Remember Sakura-chan, you can't hesitate because you're afraid of being hit. Hesitation is less than useless, if you hesitate, then you will definitely be hit. Do you understand?"

    "Y-yes!"

    He had always been the athlete of the family, an accomplished Kendo Practitioner, it had only been natural that she had gone to him when she had first started practicing four years ago. Of course, from his perspective, she had started late and needed lots of extra work.

    Her father had been mortified. The only daughter among five children, to have her devote herself to Kendo had not seemed terribly feminine. But her brothers had come to her aid and father had eventually relented. It meant taking etiquette lessons, and not complaining about dressing up for festival when they went to see their grandparents, but she would be allowed to attend a high school that was renowned for its Kendo team. If she wanted to make the cut, she needed to give it her all now.

    "Very well then." Her second eldest brother said solemnly as he lowered his helmet. "Then begin by showing me what you learned last time . . ."

    ...

    "Sakura! Hey Sakura! Hold on!"

    'Nii-chan?' She wondered, she felt like she was floating, drifting. Her eldest brother was leaning of her, phone clutched tightly in his hand.

    She'd been running home to get her bag for practice, and then, there had been a car. The driver had tried to stop, but the road was slick.

    What had happened after that? She didn't know. Why was he yelling at her?

    Then she'd felt herself being lifted, carried, placed down on a ambulance stretcher to be taken to the hospital. When she'd finally regained her senses, she almost wished she hadn't.

    Concussion, broken collar bone, broken hip, shattered ulna, three broken ribs on her right side. The doctors said she was lucky it hadn't been worse, with therapy, she'd be able to walk again, eventually.

    Her father had thanked her attending physician fervently as he sat at her bedside along with her four elder brothers.

    Lucky? She wasn't lucky! If she was lucky, she would have been killed! This couldn't be happening, not now, she'd made it this far, all the way to nationals!

    Even if she managed to recover, her chance would have long since passed her by, and she'd probably never be able to get back to where she had been. She'd wept bitterly for days afterwords. She couldn't face her team mates who were relying on her, she couldn't face her brothers who had dedicated so much of their time to helping her . . .

    ...

    "Sakura-chan, are you sure you don't need my help?"

    "I'm . . . fine." Nineteen years old, Yamada Sakura limped down the front steps of her family's home. Nine months and she could almost walk like she used to, although her hip was constantly stiff and she wasn't supposed to run while the bone was still healing.

    Her eldest brother offered her his hand as he held the door to the Taxi.

    She stopped before getting in.

    "Come one Sakura-chan! We're going to be late." Her third youngest brother urged.

    "Just a minute." She said, turning to her eldest brother. In the last nine months, Sakura had learned more about her eldest brother then she had in the previous nineteen years."Thank you, for everything." She hugged him tightly.

    Quiet, serious, and even more stoic than their father, she'd thought he had hated her. Instead she'd learned how wrong she'd been In the end, it had been him who had convinced her that her life wasn't over.

    He'd gotten her to stand up, to work through her physical therapy, to walk again. She'd discovered that her brother possessed a wonderful, dry sense of humor and that they shared a great love of history and literature. They'd talk whenever they could while she was recovering, either late at night when he got off work, or video chatting over his lunch hour.

    "Everything's packed." Her second eldest brother said. "Uncle said he'll help you move everything in when when you get there."

    "You haven't forgotten anything, have you." Her third eldest brother asked. "Phone, keys, wallet, all your clothes, books, map of the campus . . ." He kept listing things off until she slugged him in the shoulder when he started to mention being sure she'd packed clean underwear.

    "Why do you have to be such an insufferable jerk?" She asked.

    He grew serious. "I thought I was a perfectly sufferable jerk." He said as he rubbed at his arm.

    "Sakura-chan!" Her youngest brother said again impatiently.

    They would both be attending the same university, it was her brother's second year and her first. Their uncle had already agreed to room them, but that meant arriving early and getting settled.

    Sakura threaded past her youngest brother and slipped into the back seat. "Hurry up, or you'll be late." She teased, waiting as her brother ran around to the other side of the taxi and got in.

    "And now we're off, eh Sakura-chan?" He brother noted. "Well, first years tough, but you'll have fun, I think."

    Twisting around in her seat, Sakura had watched her her brothers, her house, and her street vanish away behind her . . .
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    The hammering came again and Sakuya wasn't sure at first whether it was in her room, or in her head. The third round of knocking finally convinced her that it was coming from the door and she groaned as she groped around in the dark.

    The ledger she had been reading before bed fell to the floor with a heavy -thunk- and was followed by the another as her comb followed it the ground. She didn't find what she was looking for, but her hand brushed against the control for the bedside lamp. She was left briefly dazzled by the warm light before her eyes began to adjust.

    Squinting, she blinked a few times, feeling at her face before finally realizing that she was looking for a pair of glasses that didn't exist in this world. Yamada Sakura the human might have had an acute case of myopia, but Lady Sakuya the Sylph had perfect twenty ten vision. Just another reminder of this insane world.

    She looked around the room, the master bedroom of the mansion that she and her volunteer staff had commandeered as their headquarters. It was suitably impressive, she thought. This one room was bigger than her whole apartment in Japan, the antique furniture alone would have been worth more than everything she owned.

    The knocking at the door came again. The hands of the tall grandfather clock in the corner were presently at fifteen minutes past three, presumably AM given the inky blackness beyond the open balcony doors. If she was being disturbed this early, it had to be important. Reluctantly Sakuya pulled the heavy blankets back and swung her legs over the side of the bed, padding barefoot to the door. She stopped to check herself in the mirror.

    Dressed in green and white pinstripe pajamas and with her long, dark green hair gathered up to keep it out of the way while she slept. It wasn't an appearance that anyone would associate with Sakuya, Lady of the Sylphs. It wasn't an appearance that anyone would have associated with Yamada Sakura either. Sakura was pretty, but Sakuya was gorgeous in the sort of casual way that very few real women could be.

    Pale, impossibly perfect skin, high forehead, delicate Japanese features accentuated by Sylph racial traits. To be honest, she hated it, it felt like a lie to which she couldn't tell the truth. But it had turned out to be a convenient lie for dealing with the Nobility of Tristain. With the right clothes, the right posture, this form practically exuded <<confident young noblewoman>>, an impression that she sought to cultivate now more than ever.

    And there was no point in stopping now. Straightening her shirt and rubbing the sleep from her eyes quickly, she unlocked the door and cracked it open to look out into the hallway. "Yes . . ." She blinked. "Alicia?"

    Flanked by a Sylph and Cait Syth guard, Alicia Rue, Leader of the Cait Syth, nodded quickly as she glanced up and down the hall. More than the unnatural hour, the tenseness in Alicia's posture alarmed Sakuya. The Cait Syth looked . . . well she looked skittish, like a cat with its hackles up.

    "What's wrong?" She asked, feeling suddenly even more tired. As twisted as it was, Sakuya was starting to operate under the assumption that something bad was always about to happen, it seemed to be a safe bet these days.

    Alicia finally stopped glancing around and focused on Sakuya. The normal smile was missing, and even while she forced herself to relax, her tails continued to lash from side to side, betraying her inner turmoil. "Sakuya-chan." Alicia greeted. "Uhm, I think you should get dressed quickly. We need you to come to the Arrun outskirts with us. There's been well . . . " She trailed off. "You need to see it for yourself."

    Sakuya nodded slowly, not sure what had happened but knowing Alicia well enough. If something had given her pause, it had to be bad.

    "Can you wait here for just a minute?" Sakuya asked, there wasn't any time to get properly prepared, but she could at least put on something more formal than her night clothes. Then again, Alicia wasn't wearing much more than a night shirt and shorts, a sure sign that she'd been pulled from bed similarly unprepared.

    "I'd really rather not." Alicia said and then chuckled weakly. "Don't worry, the only people who are dressed are the guards who were on watch. I think even Rute just showed up in his boxers." She tried to joke but that only made it thing all the more urgent.

    Sakuya gestured for the guards to stand off and leaned in closely. "Alicia-chan . . . no Arisa . . . what's happened?"

    Alicia paled a little, eyes widening. She looked like she was trapped. "Sakuya-chan . . . the night watch patrol found a body at the roadside around half a kilometer outside of Arrun. It was Novair."
    ___________________________________________________________________________________

    Standing among a gathering crowd of investigators, guards, and onlookers, Argo was not a happy kitty, and it wasn't just because she'd been dragged out of bed before dawn to wade around in the mud outside of Arrun. Though that might have had a little bit to do with it.

    She pulled her coat a little tighter around herself as she sipped a mug of hot tea in an effort to wake herself up. If that didn't work, all she needed to do was look in front of her. One hundred percent guaranteed to wake her up, with a fifty percent chance of causing her to lose what was left of her dinner.

    Being an information broker was a dangerous job, especially in the death game of Sword Art Online. Even optimizing her build for scouting and survivability and keeping a careful ear to the ground, Argo had seen more than her fair share of close calls and people dying. But it hadn't been like this. People dissolving into polygons and light effects lacked the visceral impact of a dead body.

    The corpse had been left where it had been found by the watch squadron that had discovered it. Most had watched or read enough murder mysteries to know that they shouldn't tamper with the crime scene.

    Argo snorted, of course, it wasn't like they had a fully equipped forensics lab or a squad of well qualified crime scene investigators, that particular profession had come through the transition underrepresented. Not that they needed any sort of specialist to tell them the cause of death.

    Body slowly going stiff, the Sylph stared sightlessly up into the sky, the collar of his shirt stained red where blood from his slit throat had spilled down. Argo used the term slit, but it was more accurate to say ripped open, or maybe sawed all the way back to the bone. Not a pleasant picture in any case. That was why she was trying hard not to look.

    "Time of death estimated to be three hours ago judging by ambient temperature and commencement of rigor mortis." A black clad Spriggan girl reported.

    They might not have had many forensics specialists, but the transition had brought through several morticians, morgue workers, and doctors who were more than able to identify the stages of decay in a cadaver. They could only hope that it would be enough when coupled with the expertise of their few police officers and detectives.

    "Are you sure, Abigail-san?" The question came from a distraught looking Yulier.

    The silver haired Undine had arrived just after Argo, no doubt taking flight as soon as she had been alerted, wearing little more than a white jacket over a pale blue nightgown. Her co-leader, Thinker was just as lightly garbed in gray slacks and a t-shirt.

    The Spriggan girl grimaced. "I'm reasonably sure, assuming that our musculature is anything like a humans, he's only just starting to go stiff."

    "I see." Yulier replied queasily.

    "What the devil was he doing out here so late at night is what I want to know." Lord Rute grunted as he paced nearby. The Lord of the Leprechauns had arrived a little late, taking the time to put on his red buttoned coat, although not enough time to ensure a proper fit.

    "Who said he was out here?" Argo asked rhetorically.

    "That's right." Abigail said as she straightened out her black, gothic lolita skirt. "There's a good chance that the body was moved here after death. The . . . well, the killer probably thought it would be a good way to get rid of the corpse. Leave it out here and hope a mob would eat it."

    Argo nodded thoughtfully. "Too bad the mob patrols have been so successful."

    "Argo-chan!" Abigail said in surprise. "That wouldn't be good! If that happened, we wouldn't have found the body, and then we wouldn't know that someone had killed him, and that would be terrible! Unless . . . you're being sarcastic . . . " The Spriggan trailed off.

    "Bingo." Argo sighed before a light to the north drew her attention. A quartet of green and yellow stars were descending from the direction of Arrun, wings taking shape into the familiar forms of Sylphs and Cait Syth. "Well then, that's everyone but Mortimer." Argo thought out loud.

    The Gnomes still hadn't selected a permanent leader and their representative was currently busy up north negotiating with the Valliere family. Likewise, Zia had been officially elected as the official representative of the Puca and was busily organizing her home city. The same went for Zolf and Morgiana who had business in their respective faction capitals at the moment and thus wouldn't be back for a few days.

    That left only five of the nine leaders in Arrun available to respond immediately. Argo stuffed her hands into the pockets of her cloak, feeling her ears fold down of their own volition. Five people to be informed as soon as possible that they had a murder on their hands.

    The first to touch down was Lady Sakuya followed by Alicia Rue. The Lady of the Sylphs and the Leader of the Cait Syth had both arrived in their night clothes, followed closely by a pair of guards.

    "Argo-san, I came as soon as I heard!" Sakuya said as she jogged down from the elevated shoulder of the roadway. As soon as she caught sight of the body, she raised her hands to her mouth, and went pale. Argo gave her a few moments to let it sink in. "I . . . I'm sorry." Sakuya whispered softly. "I'd heard, but I didn't really believe it. I'm . . . I . . . Novair."

    "Tis alright, you're not the only one." Argo breathed softly.

    Sakuya came slowly to stand over the body, hand held close over her mouth. "H-how could this have happened?" It was like she didn't believe what she was seeing.

    Argo couldn't blame her. When the first reports of deliberate PKs had been reported in SAO, nobody had quite grasped what it meant. The idea of ordinary people, players, turning on each other in such desperate circumstances had seemed unbelievable.

    "Tis what we're going to find out." Argo assured her. "But we'll need your cooperation Sakuya-san."

    The Sylph woman nodded her head weakly. "O-of course. Anything."

    "Then . . ." Argo began, but before she could continue, she was brushed aside by an Undine and Salamander that had been standing off, examining the scene, and taking careful notes of Abigail's observations.

    "We'll take it from here Miss." The Undine said briskly. "Lady Sakuya, I'm Jensen and this is Vakarian-san." He gestured to serious looked Salamander at his side. "We're members of the city watch. We've already been given permission to head the murder investigation."

    Argo rolled her eyes. She'd done a little digging into these two, and while there was not guarantee they were telling the truth, a few of their IRL friends had cropped up among the other factions. Apparently it wasn't entirely an act, they really were police officers, although it didn't sound like they were actually detectives. That they'd been put in charge of the investigation was news to her.

    "By who, might I ask?" Lord Rute grunted. "I don't remember agreeing to that."

    "You did agree to and sign the City Watch charter however." The Salamander, Vakarian, said casually. "That's all we need in order to be empowered by the city council or one of the Faerie Lords. "Now then, Lady Sakuya, can you confirm the identity of this man."

    "Yes." Sakuya nodded slowly. "He's Novair, one of my assistants. My secretary." She frowned. "Which Lord authorized this, Alicia?"

    The Cait Syth looked confused. "Don't look at me."

    "We just learned about it as well." Thinker said on behalf of himself and Yulier.

    "Is nobody going to ask me if I know anything about this?" Rute muttered.

    "Actually, the thought never crossed my mind." Alicia admitted chidingly. "I guess that's because you project a strong impression of being useless."

    The Leprechaun Lord Spluttered ineffectually as Jensen turned to the other Leaders. "If you want to know, you can just ask him yourself." He said, pointing again to the sky over Arrun where a trio of red lights were coming to set down.

    Argo wouldn't have been a very good information broker if she didn't pick up on Sakuya's sudden look of discomfort. The slight tensing of her shoulders, and the narrowing of her eyes. It was very clear that the Sylph Lord wasn't happy to see the latest arrival.

    "Good morning." Lord Mortimer said as he approached in the company of his guard commander, a Salamander Swordswoman named Lydia, and one of his heavily armored knights. The Salamander Lord, like Rute, was fully dressed in black and red robes over dark formal clothing. Mortimer had obviously decided his appearance was worth delaying his arrival. "Lady Sakuya, Lady Alicia." He nodded to the two senior Fae Lords.

    "You've something to do with this?" Sakuya asked suspiciously.

    "If you mean the death of this man? Of course not. If you mean the investigation." He nodded to the two watchmen. "I was the first person that was informed after the watch captain. It seemed prudent to begin immediately." The Salamander Lord came to stand over the body, observing clinically. "This is unfortunate, Novair-san was an exceptional asset."

    "An asset?" Sakuya bristled.

    "Yes." Mortimer offered coldly. "His organizational expertise was invaluable to the running of Arrun. Make no mistake, there is a murderer in our midst." Mortimer looked up, red eyes meeting Sakuya's own green gaze. "What I want to know is whether this was some tragic coincidence or foul play."

    "Lady Sakuya." Vakarian asked quietly. "You were the last person to see Novair alive, correct?"

    Sakuya shook her head distractedly, raising a hand to her forehead. "Yes, something like that. At the Governor's mansion. He keeps his own apartment off site so he departed around eleven-o-clock."

    "That matches with my estimate!" Abigail noted with a hint of satisfaction that was entirely out of place given the circumstances.

    "Can you tell us what you were discussing beforehand." Jensen added quickly. "It may be pertinent to the investigation."

    "Just the usual paperwork, budget reports, ration tickets, the new TRIST charter, nothing out of the ordinary." Sakuya rubbed at her eyes. "What could that possible have to do with anything?"

    "We can't say." Jensen replied as he jotted down some notes on his pad. "Can you tell us what your relationship with the deceased was? He was your secretary correct."

    "Yes." Sakuya nodded. "What does . . ."

    "And this was a purely professional relationship?" Vakarian added.

    "Of course! We . . ."

    "Then, one last question." Jensen cut in. "Are there any witnesses that can corroborate your location after the deceased departed."

    'Oh boy.' Argo thought. She guessed it was inevitable, after all, they had to start narrowing down witness somewhere. The response was equally as inevitable.

    Sakuya's mouth went agape and then shut tightly. One thing could be said for pale skin, even in the moonlight, the red stood out dangerously. "Are you implying . . ."

    "Ah, Sakuya-chan!" Alicia tried to cut in, but was silenced by a sharp wave of the Sylph Lord's hand.

    "Are you implying," Sakuya hissed, "that I had something to do with this?!"

    "Nothing of the sort, Lady Sakuya." Vakarian said quickly. "We just don't have a lot to go on right now. All we know is that there's a murderer loose somewhere in Arrun. It's our job to check every lead, and you're one of the easiest to check off our list."

    "We want to find who did this as badly as you do." Jensen agreed. "Help us, help you, so that we can catch the perp before someone else ends up like your man."

    Sakuya stopped in her tracks, regarding both men coldly. Her expression softened as she turned back to the lifeless body of her subordinate. Novair's eyes had been left open, nobody but Abigail had touched the body, and even she had done so as little as possible.

    "Yes, I understand." Sakuya breathed softly. "I apologize for my conduct. I stayed up for about an hour after Novair left. I had some reports to finish and have forwarded to the Palace and I gave them to another one of my assistants, Recon, right before bed. Theresa also came and laid out my clothes for today, that was around eleven thirty. And of course, there were the guards on duty."

    "Thank you, Lady Sakuya." Vakarian closed his notebook. "You don't mind if we check these out, do you?"

    Sakuya waved her hand tiredly. "Do as you like." She said. "Just . . . just find who did this."

    "And be quick about it." Mortimer said. "This is going to be a problem. A murder is going to rile people up just when they're finally settling in."

    Argo didn't know if she'd call six weeks enough time to <<settle in>>, but the Salamander Lord was right. They didn't need people panicking just as they were starting to feel safe. They needed to nip this in the bud now, and preferably with overwhelming force, make it clear early that there was a still a rule of law and that it would be enforced.

    "We'll make it our highest priority." Jensen assured.

    'Yeah', Argo thought, 'I'm sure you will.'

    Discussion went on between the Faerie Lords. Arrangements were made, a story was agreed upon. Trying to hide a murder would only make things worse, so it would be reported tomorrow morning like any other news, along with mention that an investigation was already under way. That would hopefully buy them a little bit of time.

    "We can only hope that this was a crime of passion." Mortimer said. "Otherwise it has the potential to become much worse. I'd like to suggest upping the nighttime patrols."

    "It'd mean withdrawing the long range patrols." Thinker warned. "We're short on manpower for the watch units as it is."

    "Do it." Mortimer sighed. "We can deal with the consequences of that later. The consequences if there's another murder will be a good deal more immediate."

    Thinker exchanged a nod with his Lieutenant. "We agree. I'll have the changed made by noon tomorrow."

    "Then that just leaves whose going to announce it." Alicia looked unhappy at the thought. This wasn't the sort of news that someone wanted to be remembered for delivering.

    "I'll do it." Sakuya said suddenly. "I'll announce this to the people."

    "Are you sure, Sakuya-chan?" Alicia looked worried for her friend.

    The Sylph Lord looked away. She couldn't be happy that she had to tally up another dead players. None of them would be. "Novair was one of mine. I'll take responsibility."

    "R-right." Alicia said.

    Argo had tried not to think too hard about it while she focused on the investigation. It wasn't healthy to think about it too much. You thought too much about it and you started to let your feelings color your perceptions, that was death for an information broker. Objectivity was essential. But it was hard, damn hard.

    "Argo-chan." Alicia tapped her on the shoulder.

    "Hmm?"

    "I said, will you take this job for your normal rate?" Alicia asked again.

    The information broker frowned. "I thought you just gave the job to the dynamic duo?" She pointed back to the Undine and Salamander who were currently speaking with abigail about the cadaver. They'd called for a few more watchmen to come and help move the body. Abigail was already requesting permission to put together an ice box in the basement of Arrun tower to serve as a makeshift morgue.

    "Did I?" Alicia asked curiously. "I thought that was Mortimer. It must have slipped my mind."

    "Okay, okay, I get it. Twas not unexpected. But I'll need some help."

    Alicia shrugged. "Just give me a list of names and I'll see what I can do. And I'll assign you a few extra useful people too."

    "No need." Argo said. "I can ask him myself."

    "Oh?" Alicia said. "That's good. Just remember to stay on guard. Well, I probably don't need to tell you that."

    "Right." Argo nodded as she watched the watchmen.

    Just like Mortimer had said, this was either a freak tragedy, or a deliberate act, and one was worse than the other. In one, they just had a murderer on their hands. In the other, they had a murderer with an objective. And in that case, her eyes were drawn to Lord Mortimer who watched clinically as Novair's body was carefully lifted onto a stretcher, who could they trust?
    ___________________________________________________________________________________

    Kirigaya Kazuto, the Black Swordsman Kirito, now a Faerie of the Spriggan race in the world of Halkegenia, yawned as he made his way down the last flight of steps and into the kitchen of the home he shared with Asuna, Yui, and his sister Suguha.

    His arrival was met by a pleasant sizzling and a tantalizing scent that was almost, but not quite, enough to fully rouse him.

    Asuna looked up brightly as she heard him enter the room. “Good morning Kirito-kun.”

    “Jeez Nii-chan,” Suguha said from the breakfast table where she was nibbling on a piece of toast, “So slow.”

    “Un, Papa needs to stop staying up so late.” Yui agreed as she sat beside her aunt with a tall glass of orange juice.

    Kirito squinted at the two of them and then decided to let it slide, it was too early in the morning to take offense. Besides, he'd been up going over the Tristanian language primers all night, the sooner he learned the written language the better.

    Taking his own seat at the table, he perked up as a plate was put down in front of him. Today's breakfast involved fried eggs, bacon, and lentils, though the smell included a hint of something he couldn't quite place.

    An herb? Something native to Halkegenia probably. Asuna had been experimenting in the kitchen almost everyday, sometimes with Yui's help, sometimes on her own. The results were almost always amazing, even if Asuna kept insisting that 'the mayonnaise was a little too thick, and the Chinese wheat noodles were too soggy'. Then again, she always looked pleased while criticizing her own work

    Kirito was grateful. Watching Asuna work thoughtfully at a new recipe or contemplate how to substitute some missing ingredient, those were the times when she looked most at peace.

    Kirito wasn't under any illusions, two weeks wasn't even enough time for Asuna to begin the slow process of recovery. She had to put the trauma of SAO, her imprisonment by Sugou, and her month in Albion behind her. Each trama on its own would have been the work of months or years with a dedicated therapist. Instead, she had him, Yui, Suguha, their friends, and her cooking.

    It wasn't everything that she should have been getting, but it seemed to be helping, even if it wasn't perfect. Every day, she seemed healthier and more at ease. Asuna had regained some of the weight she had lost fighting across Albion, the faint gauntness had begun to fade from her features, and the times when she tensed up at the slightest noise were coming less and less often.

    That was why Kirito was able to genuinely smile as he looked up from his plate. “It looks delicious.”

    “It tastes even better.” Yui said with a small look of pleasure as she finished with her own plate and returned it to the sink.

    “Good enough that Agil-san wants me to talk to his chef about recipes.” Asuna agreed.

    “What!” Kirito asked around a bite of bacon. Yui had been right, it tasted wonderful.

    Asuna's smile only widened at his surprise. “Un, I was visiting with Agil and Eda-san a couple of days ago and they let me use their kitchen. You remember in Aincraid how you said I could probably have auctioned off what I made . . .” She trailed off.

    Kirito crossed his arms, feeling suddenly very unhappy. “I don't like it.”

    “Eh?” Suguha looked confused. “Why?”

    “Because if Asuna's cooking gets out,” Kirito explained, “It means we'll have to share.”

    Their was silence at the breakfast table.

    “So greedy, Onii-chan.” Suguha said in disbelief. “I think its wonderful that Agil-san wants to use Asuna's cooking.”

    “It's not like he's asking me to come work at the cafe.” Asuna added as she started on her own plate. “He just wants me to help come up with recipes with the chef he hired.”

    That was right, Kirito remembered. The Dicey Cafe, Agil's latest business venture named in honor of his real world shop in Japan, was proving wildly successful beyond even its proprietor's expectations, although Kirito suspected that was partly due to false modesty on the part of Agil.

    Serving hot meals during the day and early evening hours and alcoholic beverages later in the night, the Cafe had rapidly become the favored watering hole of the mob patrols and victorious Fae volunteers returning home from their first successful mission.

    Now that other entrepreneurs were beginning to crop up and offer competition, it wasn't surprising that Agil would be trying to maintain his edge.

    “Well, I can probably accept that.” Kirito decided reluctantly. “As long as we get to keep the secret ingredient to ourselves.”

    “The secret ingredient?” Suguha asked.

    Kirito nodded gravely before pointing to Asuna. “Believe me, it's for the best. Agil is even greedier than me. If Asuna starts working for him, he'd have us paying for every morsel.”

    His sister rolled her eyes like she didn't believe it, but he and Asuna knew the truth about the monstrously ruthless merchant of Aincrad's 50th floor. For all his altruistic tendencies, Agil was still a businessman and could smell a fattened purse at a hundred meters. And it wasn't like they were short on spending money either.

    Not long after their odd little family had settled into their new home, they had become the recipients to a small treasury chest delivered by Royal couriers on the behalf of one Prince Wales Tudor, exile Prince of Albion, and one Emily Florence Windsor, exile Countess of Windsor.

    The small chest, filled with nested rows of silver and gold coins, was by all accounts a considerable sum, easily more than a well to do petty mage would make in a lifetime. The accompanying letter had begged them to accept it as <<the least token of thanks for their services>> that either of the young Nobles could think of.

    It made Kirito wonder just what Wales would have given them for saving his life if he'd still had a Kingdom. In either case, the Prince and Countess' gift had left the Kirigaya household financially secure for the foreseeable future, a situation that Kirito was once again thankful for as it gave him more time to spend with Asuna and Yui rather than taking extra jobs from the Faerie Lords.

    “Besides.” Asuna added thoughtfully. “I need to start making myself useful again. Sugu has her work with the Arrun City Watch, and you've been taking jobs for the Faerie Lords, even Yui-chan is helping at Arrun Home.” She looked on dissatisfied. “Really, I'm going to go crazy if I don't find something to do soon. Something other than . . .” She paused as if to make an unspoken correction.

    A week ago, Asuna and Kirito had received an offer from Lord Mortimer to take posts in a new Faerie military unit, an elite branch of the militia that was being formed to serve as the Fae's official contribution to the defense of Tristian. The Salamander Lord seemed to believe that their experience could be put to good use training, leading, and fighting alongside the other volunteers.

    They had discussed it before concluding that they would likely have to pass on it. After Asuna had officially disbanded the Knights of Blood she'd had no interest in leading others into battle, and Kirito wasn't in any hurry to put her back in any danger either.

    While this was good for the security of their little family, it did have its own problems. Namely, finding a productive outlet for Asuna to channel her energy. Kirito felt a little bad for speaking so abruptly, anything that let Asuna find meaning in what she loved to do was something he should encourage without hesitation.

    Shaking her head, Asuna's smile returned. “Well, it's just a thought. Besides, Agil says if I come up with something good enough he'll give us a cut of the profits.”

    “Was that why you were experimenting with ramen yesterday?” Suguha asked.

    “Un. Ramen noodles were one of those things that weren't included in ALO's food roster so there's no simple recipe or preexisting ingredients for them.” Asuna's explained knowledgeably. “Really, the noodles are the easy part, but I'm at a loss for where to start for a soy sauce substitute. I think I'm going to have to hunt around the market and try with some of the ingredients native to ALfheim.

    “I'm sure you'll figure it out.” Suguha said confidently. “Though, that reminds me, when we were taste testing, did Caramella ever explain why she was making Kino wear that ugly orange jumpsuit?”

    Asuna shook her head. “No, but it was pretty bad, wasn't it?”

    “Mama.” Yui tugged at Asuna's sleeve. “Mama, it's almost time to go.”

    “What?” Asuna glanced over to the clock on the wall and her eyes immediately widened. She got up quickly. “I'm sorry Yui-chan, I completely forgot the time!”

    Yui pouted, unlike her Aunt and Parents, the former SAO mental health AI was already fully dressed in skirt, sweater, and stockings, impatiently waiting to start her day. “Mama!”

    “Don't worry.” Suguha said. “I'll take care of the dishes, you go get dressed and go with Yui.”

    “Thanks Sugu.” Asuna called as she hurried back upstairs.

    The past two weeks had seen a routine begin to develop within the Kirigaya residence. After making breakfast every morning, Asuna would depart along with Yui to Arrun Home, a Guild Hall in Arrun's western district that had been re-purposed as an orphanage and care facility for young Fae separated from their families and those who had been left badly disoriented by the transition.

    Once again Yui had displayed her origins as a mental care AI, gravitating to a sight of emotional distress and doing whatever she could to put people at ease. While dubious at first, the volunteers that managed Arrun Home had quickly grown to appreciate Yui's help and more often than not her arrival at the orphanage would be met with many smiles.

    Suguha would leave next to report to Arrun Tower. Her job as a flight instructor had been supplemented by permanent assignment to the highway patrols that now operated in place of the mob elimination units to ensure that the roadways remained clear and that mobs did not move back into previously cleared areas.

    At first Kirito had been worried, but after hearing from Klein how his sister had handled herself in Tarbes, he'd withdrawn his objections. Sugu could look after herself, mostly, besides his own job tended to ensure that she would be safe.

    Kirito would usually leave last, heading down to the Governor's Mansion to see what odd jobs Lady Sakuya or Alicia Rue wanted him for, mostly problem solving and the occasional dangerous mob elimination.

    In a way, it wasn't too different from what he had done for almost two years in Aincrad, albeit with a much stronger overtone of real work. The only jobs he was reluctant to take for the time being were those that had to do with the war. He'd just gotten Asuna back, and worrying about the conflict on the horizon was just too much for right now.

    As Suguha began to clear the plates, Kirito got up and began to help, two sets of hands making the work go quickly. By the time that Asuna came back downstairs fully dressed, the pans and dishes had already been rinsed and put in the rack to dry.

    “Come on Mama!” Yui called, pulling Asuna towards the front door, Kirito following to see them off. “Come on, or we're going to be la . . .” Yui stopped in her tracks as she swung the door open and was immediately face to face with a hooded Cait Syth who had just raised her hand to knock at the front door. “ . . . ate . . . Oh.” Yui tiled her head, the energy from a moment before briefly forgotten, “Good morning Argo-san.”

    Removing her hood, Argo the Rat smiled down at the girl, “Good morning to you Yui-chan, off to work with your Mama?”

    “Uhuh.” Yui nodded seriously. “But its more like Mama is off to work with me.”

    “So tis bring your mother to work day?” The Rat who had become Cat mused. “Well, I won't keep you two.”

    “Argo-san?” Asuna asked curiously.

    “Tis nothing.” Argo said with a slightly mischievous smile. “I just have proposition for Kii-bou is all. I might need to borrow him for a few days for a job.”

    Asuna perked up at the same time as Kirito. “Is this something for the Faeire Lords?”

    “Tis exactly so.” Argo nodded. “Though in this case tis a task that I was entrusted with and I'd like to outsource to Kii-bou.”

    Kirito was sure that Asuna was about to acquire further when Yui suddenly started tugging on her wrist again. Looking between her daughter and Argo, Asuna gave a small nod. “Kirito-kun can tell me about it later.” She smiled. “Just bring him back in one piece.”

    “No promises.” Argo said humorously before watching Asuna and Yui depart, mother and daughter making their way down the street at a leisurely pace among the scant early morning foot traffic. Yui stopped at the end of the street to wave and then she and Asuna disappeared from view.

    Almost as soon as they were out of sight, Argo's posture became immediately more tense, like she had been forcing herself to relax up until now.

    Kirito sighed, usually he couldn't get a read on his old acquaintance, but now it was almost too easy. “That bad?”

    “Tis the understatement of the century.” Argo muttered before accepting Kirito's invitation to come in off of the front porch. “I'm just glad Aa-chan didn't catch on, but she's going to hear about it pretty soon, the Fae Lords are planning to announce it within the hour so that they can manage public response.” Argo waited for Kirito to finish closing the door. “There's been a murder.” She gave the words time to sink in.

    Kirito didn't respond immediately, and when he did, it was with resignation. He'd known something like this would happen eventually. Placing a hand over his face Kirito blew out a breath before answering. “Who, how, when, and where? I'm guessing you don't have a why.”

    Argo nodded. “Novair, Lady Sakuya's secrertary, his throat was slashed around midnight last night, someplace between the Governor's Mansion and his apartment.” Argo's ears twitched dejectedly. “And you're right, we don't have a why just yet. That's what you and me are supposed to figure out.”

    “So you want me to help with the investigation.” Kirito concluded. Of course she did. The universe seemed to have decided his life wasn't supposed to be easy.

    “Lord Mortimer already has a couple of self styled detectives from the city watch going over the usual suspects. But Alicia wants us to work our own investigation in parallel to catch anything they miss. This is big Kii-bou, really big. If the Faerie Lords don't get the lid down on this, and fast, we could be looking at a full blown panic.” Golden eyes narrowed dangerously. “Think how bad things could have gotten back in Aincrad when it looked like someone had found a way to bypass the <<Safe Zones>>. Only there aren't any safe zones to bypass anymore, just whatever protection the city watch can provide, nobody is safe.”

    “This is why you wanted to wait for Asuna to leave.” Kirito observed.

    Argo looked hesitant. “We don't have many real investigators, or really very many good ones. Kii-bou at least has some experience, but Aa-chan . . . needs a lot more rest.” Argo looked strangely troubled. “I don't think we should involve her if we can help it. But it's up to you Kii-bou.”

    “In other words,” Kirito answered, “I'll be the one she blames when she finds out.” The universe really didn't like him at all.

    The Cait Syth gave a small shrug. “There's not a strategy guide for dealing with a woman scorned, Kii-bou.” Argo advised. “But if I could take the blame, I would. You could sleep on my roof tonight if you're that scared.” It was almost said as a joke, and it almost managed to inject some levity into the atmosphere, but it was too little, too late.

    “Well then.” Kirito decided flatly. “I guess its easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission . . . I'll go get dressed.”
    ___________________________________________________________________________________

    Be the country at war, suffering famine, or wracked with pestilence, life went on. And wherever there was human life, there was business. It therefore came as no surprise to anyone, that even in these uncertain times, the markets of the Capital were still trading and doing business as they always had. Merchants and ship's captains haggled over prices while coin traded hand between Noble and Commoner alike. It would truly be a sign of the end times when a merchant stopped trying to make money.

    Located at the center of Tristania, which was itself positioned at the center of the Kingdom of Tristain, it was not an exaggeration to say that the shops and trading houses of the Capital were the beating heart of Tristain's economy. Merchant's came from miles around to transact trade deals that were the results of smaller concerns and trade branches throughout the country feeding one into the other like tributary streams joining into an immense river of commerce.

    Every product imaginable was available for sale here, bulk goods, exotic luxuries, rare reagents and raw materials. Nobles and traders arrived daily to enact business deals while commoners and the petty nobility did their shopping side by side in the cramped side streets and alley markets.

    It was along one of these streets, less frequented than most, that a small shop had been established and operated for many years. Barely more than an alcove squeezed between two larger businesses. It's small size belied the impossibly rare and exotic goods that found their way onto its shelves.

    The Proprietor was a peculiar creature almost worth visiting the shop to see alone, dark skinned and dark eyed, strangely wide nose, and white, white teeth. It had been accepted that he was a former trader with the Rub Al Khali caravans, a native of that distant land who had made his home in Tristain, possibly to escape some great shame or indiscretion.

    Ingratiating himself with the denizens of the Capital and using his well established trade connections, any number of items could be purchased through him, and if not, he could almost certainly point someone in the right direction, for a price.

    It was as this peculiar man was examining an item from his latest shipment, a meticulously oiled and maintained apparatus delivered by a colleague with connections to the Church of Romalia, that the bell at his door chimed.

    Sighing to himself, he returned the dark metallic object and the two boxes of small brass cylinders to the embrace of its oiled, cloth lined box and replaced it beneath the shop counter, another curiosity to be returned to at a later time.

    “Welcome.” The old merchant said. “How may I be of service today . . . Miss . . .” He trailed off as he looked up.

    Well, it wasn't very often that his shop was frequented by a such a petite Mademoiselle. The clientele of his shop tended towards the more masculine, and more likely to take offense if watched too closely or for too long.

    Yes, petite, pink haired, large brown eyes. He wouldn't have placed her age at much best twelve or thirteen. Was that it? It had been a long time since his own childhood and he'd had rare opportunity to be near children since. A child really had no business in his shop.

    “Mayhaps you have the wrong place?” He looked a little worried. “Are you lost Mademoiselle?”

    “We're looking for something.”

    The shop proprietor frowned. The voice had rung out as clear as a bell, soft, firm, commanding, but the girl's lips had not moved at all. Now, he looked up at the hat atop her head, a hat that turned out to not be a hat at all but rather something black and feathered, clinging to the girl's hair and watching him with suspicious yellow eyes.

    “Something in particular.” The voice spoke again.

    Looking just a little further up, the shop owner came face to face with another girl sitting atop the strange feathered creature, who by all appearances save her size would have been the elder of the two girl.

    That was it, he thought, rubbing at his eyes, it was her size. She was miniscule, tiny, she would have fit in the palm of his hand! Was such a creature even possible?

    Two pairs of miniscule wings jutted from her back, flexing and folding themselves like those of an insect. Suddenly the wings spread wide, and with a delicate hop she flitted from her perch atop the pink haired girl and settled onto the table.

    “Specifically, we're looking for more girls like me.” The miniscule girl said, gesturing to herself.

    Finally, the pink haired girl added something to the conversation. “We heard from another merchant that you introduced a customer to him who was interesting in collecting samples of wild life from the Faerie World. That customer bought six pixies who were illegally poached from the estates of the Count of Tarbes.”

    The Merchant leaned back in his chair and quickly began to drum his fingers atop his desk. “Poached you say? That is a serious claim Mademoiselle.” Just who the blazes was this girl? Certainly not just the child she appeared to be. “I can't simply hand out a clients confidential information. My business depends on the trust between myself and my clients.” Some of the products sold in this very shop, while not illegal, would certainly raise questions if their buyers were known.

    Instead of answering verbally, the pink haired girl reached into her handbag and retrieved a letter, offering it to the bemused merchant. He began to read, frowned, and then paled.

    “As you can see, this is an official investigation.” The girl said. “Cooperate with us fully and by order of the crown you will be absolved of any wrong doing.”

    This wasn't good he thought, not good at all, he'd had the good sense to keep his head down all of these years. Yes, some of his business dealings had been shady, but he had gone to great lengths never to violate the law or give any reason for attention to be drawn to his little shop. What had that fool Georges gotten him into this time? What to do. What to do.

    “Please go on.” The Merchant played for time. “Do you have a description of this man?”

    The tiny girl, some sort of Fae he realized, tilted her head warily. “You get a lot of clients asking around for pixies, huh?”

    “Not at all.” He admitted. “But more than you'd think.” He raised a hand to still any reply. “You Fae have been the talk of the city since your arrival, plenty of clientele have inquired about anything to do with ALfheim.” He squinted thoughtfully. “In fact, I do believe a few were even asking about these creatures.” He gestured to what he could only described as a small dragon. “So yes, I have received more than a few inquiries. I don't stock live animals, too much trouble, so naturally I sent them on to an associate of mine.”

    “Georges.” The pink haired girl breathed.

    He nodded. “Forgive me,” he said carefully, “But that is really all I know, unless you've a description of the man who was involved in the purchase.”

    “A description?” The pixie pacing about on his table asked. She crossed her arms. “Georges-san said he was . . .”

    “A fat Nobleman.” The pink haired girl finished.

    The Merchant sighed slightly. “Mademoiselle, plenty of Noblemen are fat, I'm afraid you might need to be more specific.”

    The Pinkette nodded thoughtfully. “We didn't really get an exact description, not for lack of trying. It sounded like this man went out of his way not to stand out.”

    “Also not uncommon among my clients.” The Merchant explained. “Look around you Mademoiselle, you see herbs, teas, and spices, yes?”

    “I suppose.” The girl said, showing every indication that she couldn't identify half of the things on his shelves, of course, most people couldn't.

    He smiled. “I make my livelihood with my goods Mademoiselle, but not just these goods. Rare reagents from across the Continent and beyond, medicinal herbs, potions, and clever little artifacts from as far as Rub'al Khali.” Artifacts such as the hummingbird sized pistol that was currently tucked beneath his desk, primed and ready to fire with one locking of the flint and a pull of the trigger. “Some of these are simple luxuries, others would greatly embarrass my clients if their patronage was known.”

    “Then isn't it dangerous to admit as much?” The pinkette asked.

    “Not at all!” The merchant replied with a small bow. “It's something of an open secret. The identities of my clients on the other hand, are not.” He shrugged. “But of course, neither are their identities worth imprisonment. I am quite fond of my comfortable life here, so, moving on. What else can you say about this man?”

    “Right.” The girl nodded. “He arrived with two taller men in his company, both were armed at all times. I'm not sure, but they were probably commoner soldiers or bodyguards.”

    “Soldiers you say? Then I highly placed Noble. Again, it does little to narrow it down.”

    “Wait, didn't Georges-san say something else?” The Pixie looked up. “He said . . . he said the man smelled of something very strong, like perfume. Georges-san said it made him nauseous to be around him for long.”

    “Cologne you say?” And apparently warn badly. The Merchant perked up as a name came to mind. He smiled suddenly, revealing white, white teeth.

    ________________________________________________________________________________

    “Terrance de'Martou.” Louise pronounced the unfamiliar name carefully as she stepped out of the confines of the shop, barely more than a kiosk squeezed into an alcove between a tailor's shop and an inn. “It's a name, but not one I'm familiar with, probably someone without any title to speak of.”

    “That's not good enough.” Botan said unhappily. “We need to know where to find this de'Martou so that we can find my sisters.”

    The Vespid Knight stroked behind the ears of her mount, a slightly scruffy black feathered dragon that Kirche had decided to nickname 'Schwartz' without consulting anyone but herself. Irritatingly enough, the name had stuck.

    Louise reached up to her shoulder and patted Botan's head in turn. She didn't like it, this whole ordeal left her feeling useless. And if there was one thing that Louise Francoise Le Blanc de la Valliere despised more than anything, it was feeling useless. She had to remind herself of the success they had already experienced. Their past two weeks had not been spent in vain.

    They had been right to focus their search in the Capital. Tristania was home to any number of curios dealers, merchants specializing in conversational items for the nobility. Usually these were artifacts of some kind, unusual works of art, sculptures, preserved samples of rare insects or flowers, or live animals kept caged specially for show.

    Searching these shops had not led them to the lost Pixies, but it had given them their next lead. Through questioning of the legitimate businesses they had eventually found their way into the company of Tristain's lucrative back market dealerships, shops that didn't so much stock inventory as people with the talent to <<acquire>> whatever object was desired. Eventually this had lead to an auctioning house well known for its purchase and sale of exotic animals, and from there the link had been made to several buyers.

    What they had learned so far was that fifteen pixies had been taken by the treacherous majordomo Fernand and his hired thugs and brought to the Capital to be sold. So far, they had found seven who were alive and well in the company of various Noble families and curio collectors, including most notably a pair who had become the impromptu playmates of the youngest daughter of the Count de Brienne.

    Louise grimaced as she remembered the bratty little girl. Sophie Luttece de Brienne had been uniquely petulant in a way that only children under the age of twelve could be. Frankly, it was miracle that the Pixies had survived the week in her care, but they had seemed happy when they were finally discovered and overjoyed to see a <<Vespid Knight>> had come to find them at last.

    It had been agreed, albeit reluctantly on the part of Sophie, that her new little friends belonged home in their Garden and the Brienne Patriarch had equally grudgingly turned them over to Louise's custody having apparently payed quite a great deal for the unique little creatures. The two Little Sisters were now safe back at the Palace under the careful watch of an attending servant along with four of their fellow siblings while they waited to be returned to Tarbes Garden.

    Strangely, one of the Pixies, a Little Sister named Suikazura had been reluctant to leave the care of her human guardian, a wealthy merchant named Baptiste who had purchased her out of pity after seeing her caged in the market. The girl, Suikazura, had proven shockingly resistant to Botan's attempts to prod her into returning home, a far cry from the other Little Ones who had obeyed meekly.

    After her third overture had failed, the Knight had grown anxious before asking to depart to send a message back to Tarbes. The whole matter had remained closed to Louise with Botan only muttering that it was essential that a Shaman come to the city as quickly as possible.

    Other than this single abnormality however, all seven appeared happy and well cared for, the two from the Brienne household even wearing beautiful new dresses that their young guardian had insisted they keep. Louise sighed, okay, the way that the girl had teared up when saying goodbye, she supposed she couldn't have been that bad. Maybe Hinagiku would agree to let them visit . . .

    She allowed her thoughts to wonder and her pace gradually slowed. Of course, it would have been nice if there had been a happy ending for everyone, but there wasn't. Louise and Botan had learned early on that at least two of the Pixies had succumbed to wounds they had suffered in the destruction of their garden.

    Louise glanced over her shoulder. Botan's only comfort had been to learn that they had died soon after arriving in the Capital, surrounded by all of their sisters. Still, the distraught Knight hadn't spoken to Louise for the rest of that day.

    Louise thought she understood how Botan felt, she was supposed to be different now, able to protect the people she cared about, but in many ways she was still powerless. The bodies, one preserved in a specimen jar and the other buried in a matchbox by a sympathetic warehouse worker, had also been recovered to be returned to Tarbes Garden.

    That still left six pixies unaccounted for. Six that could be alive or dead.

    The trail had run cold at Georges, a merchant dealing in exotic animals. He had apparently been introduced to his mysterious client through the merchant named Aamir, but as Louise had just learned, frustratingly, Aamir could only provide a name and not occupation or address. But a name might still be enough. The Royal Archives would include tax records after all, if he was a Nobleman, he would be tracked down in short order.

    Louise looked up as she stepped into the shadows of a nearby church tower. The sun was beginning to set, it was late enough in the day, her feet were aching, her back was sore, and her shoulder was getting stiff where Schwartz had decided to use her as a roost.

    “Botan . . . The shops are going to be closing soon, and we can't do much more today.” Louise said. “It's probably best if we go back to the Palace now. Tabitha, Kirche, and Silica will probably be waiting. We can see if they learned anything else.”

    Henrietta had offered Louise the full hospitality of the Royal Palace and its staff while she conducted her mission here in the Capital, saying that it was the least she could do after the first half of her assignment had nearly ended so badly. Louise certainly appreciated her Princess's hospitality.

    Thanks to Henrietta she'd been able to gain access to the Royal Archives not only for her own investigation but to continue with her studies and efforts to master her malformed magic. With the help of Kirche and Tabitha she was even beginning to make progress with basic cantrips. She'd been able to cast a mage light for a whole thirty seconds before it had fizzled and -popped- in her face.

    It came as a relief in a way, if nothing else she wasn't a complete failure, and maybe she didn't need to be an exceptionally powerful mage to be of use. After all, there were many important tasks that didn't require a wit of magic to perform, and she had seen far too many Nobles who simply squandered their god given potential in the past two weeks. It was strange, but she'd never noticed it before, maybe because she was too young, but now . . .

    Botan nodded slowly. “You're right, we can't do much more today. Besides, we need to find out who this 'Terrance' person is . . . I worry for them is all.”

    Louise nodded slowly, Botan thought of her sisters as her responsibility, for her, this mission had a much more personal stake. “I'm sure they'll be alright. Nobody was mistreating any of the other Pixies, even the ones that died, their keepers tried their best to help them.”

    “Un.” Botan looked up. “But . . . if what the other Little Ones have said is right, then none of them were Shamans and Knights. If they're still lost it could become a problem really soon.”

    Louise tilted her head. “Why would it be a problem, the others were alright without an Elder Sister weren't they?”

    The Knight nodded again and then stopped and began to shake her head. “Little Sisters can be very gullible, they're naturally very trusting and obedient.” Botan's expression soured. “Hinagiku told me that it came in handy to keep us in line, since she could make up something scary to keep us from doing anything too dangerous.” She shook her head. “I can't believe I was ever that dumb.”

    “Well, children aren't always very smart.” Louise agreed gently. “I remember that mother used to put on her armor when she wanted to frighten me so that I would listen.”

    Of course, her mother had never actually done anything to her while dressed in her armor. She'd gotten the cane a few times for misbehaving, and the time she'd hidden until the servants had been in a panic looking for her. But those had all been administered while mother wore nothing but her day to day attire.

    “That's not what I'm worried about either.” Botan began to ring her hands, face reddening as if thinking of something embarrassing. “My point is that those Little Sisters need an Elder Sister to protect them. And if they can't find one, they might make one themselves.”

    Louise's eyes widened. “You mean a Blossoming.” She shook her head. “But the others were fine when we met them . . . unless . . . Suikazura?”

    Botan looked away awkwardly. “She didn't smell right, and she wasn't listening to me. Normally a Little Sister will do almost anything an Elder Sister says, we're . . . very compelling to them. I think she must be a few days along. That's why we need a Shaman soon. Baptiste-san seems to care a lot for her, but he won't know what to do.”

    Louise suddenly understood. “But then, what about the other Little Sisters?”

    “I think we found most of them fast enough.” The Knight explained. “If any of them were starting to Blossom, then they must have stopped when they met me. Or maybe their human caretakers made good surrogates. But this could still be bad, if they're being forced to Blossom before they're ready it could be a lot like . . . well . . . like Sayuri-sama.” She sighed. “I'm sorry, but I'm not a Shaman, so I can't say for sure.”

    “That's okay.” Louise tried to reassure her. “But if they Blossom, isn't that good? They'll be able to take better care of themselves while we look for them.” Pixies got stronger when they Blossomed right? It made sense to Louise.

    Botan looked shocked and for a second Louise worried that she had offended her small companion. “Louise-san . . . how much have do you know about Blossoming?”

    Louise frowned. “Only what you've told me.”

    “Well, it's a very private topic in a lot of ways.” Botan hugged herself as she spoke. “Not only is it very physically strenuous, the changes to the mind are just as severe.”

    “Changes to the mind?” Louise felt a little worried.

    “Un. Ever since I came to the Palace, I've been listening a lot to everybody, about Tristain, and . . . and about the war.” Botan looked thoughtful as she placed her hands behind her head. “A month ago, I wouldn't have been able to understand most of it. I wasn't smart enough. I think that when Pixies Blossom, in a lot of ways its the same as when Beings, when humans, grow up. Except where you grow up a little at a time, and get used to it a little at a time, it happens to us all at once.”

    Louise nodded. “That must be hard.”

    “It is, believe me.” Botan said. “When I was blossoming, it was like I was throwing away parts of my old self and I was afraid I would wake up a completely different person, and . . .”

    “And?” Louise asked.

    Botan smiled weakly. “I did. I'm not the same Botan who started to Blossom in the Forest of Tarbes anymore than you are the Lousie that you were when you were little. But I'm born from her the same way that you were born from that Younger Louise. Does that make sense?”

    “Okay.” She thought she understood. “You're saying that we are who we are because of who we were.”

    “Right.” Botan agreed. “In other words a Blossoming is the sacred rebirth of a Little Sister, and at the same time, the birth of an Elder Sister. But there are so many ways that it can go wrong.” The Knight looked down angrily. “Sayuri-sama . . .”

    “You mean Shion.” Louise concluded.

    “Yes, Shion.” Botan said unhappily. “That's another thing. When I was a Little Sister, Sayuri-sama always seemed so strong, but then, after I Blossomed, I was able to see how sickly and frail she really was. I almost couldn't believe she was the Sayuri that I looked up to, but Hina says that she had been deteriorating since before she'd come to our Garden so there must have been signs. I guess that was why the other Knights always seemed so anxious, I just couldn't see it.”

    Louise waited as Botan looked contemplative. They were almost to the Palace now, walking down the densely populate thoroughfare that cut through the heart of the city.

    “I don't think . . . I don't think Sayuri-sama was a person, not a whole one anyways.” Botan shivered as she said it. “There just wasn't enough of her. The Knight I knew, I think that's all she was, just a Knight given form and nothing else. That's why she withered away, she didn't know how to live."

    "I hate myself for this, but . . . I'm glad that Sayuri-sama wilted away, she died, but now she can really live as the person she was supposed to be all along. She suffered so much because she wasn't ready to be a Knight, wasn't even ready to be a Little Sister.” The Vespid Knight shook her head angrily. “I have to be sure that doesn't happen to anyone else. I have to.”

    Louise reached up to stroke Botan's small head with her thumb. “Can you? I mean, can you stop something like that?”

    Botan didn't speak for a while, then, slowly, she sighed. “Maybe . . . if I have to.”

    Louise blinked, she hadn't heard this before.

    Suddenly, Botan began to speak quickly, without any prompting. It sounded like something that had been building up for a while. “Hina spent a lot of time examining Shion once we brought her back to the Garden and then spoke a lot with Florine-san who used her magic to study me and Shion since we'd both just finished Blossoming."

    "There's a point at the stem of a Pixie's wing that the Shamans will apply pressure to in order to ease the Blossoming.” Botan extended her wings and gestured blindly to the points where the translucent appendages met and fused with the rest of her body. “Florine-san says that those points are probably the glands responsible for regulating our Blossoming. She thinks that, judging by what happened to Sayuri-sama, if we lance those points carefully, we can stop a Blossoming even at a very late stage or even induce a Wilting like what happened to Sayuri-sama.”

    “But you don't sound happy with that.” Louise observed. How could she? Wasn't she suggesting some sort of disfigurement?!

    “I'm not!” Botan almost shouted. “It's very dangerous. We can't be sure that it will work the way we think it will. And even worse, it could make it so that our Sisters can't ever blossom again! Hina and Florine-san told me that Shion's wing stems are still malformed. We don't even know if Shion will be able to grow into a normal Little Sister, much less Blossom into a Shaman or Knight.”

    Louise could hear the anguish in the small Knight's voice and suddenly her urgency made all too much sense. “That's horrible.” She whispered. “Would you really be able to do something like that to your Sisters?”

    Botan didn't answer and they continued on their way to the Palace, finally arriving at the front gates where the guards on watch admitted them with a small greetings and a bow to each of them. Henrietta had taken Botan's title of 'Vespid Knight' very seriously after meeting the girl, and she had instructed the Palace staff to accord her the courtesy and honorifics, if not the authority, of a full Chevalier of Tristain.

    “We'd only do it if it was absolutely necessary, and if our Sister wanted it.” Botan said finally. “But we can't be sure it would be safe. So . . .”

    “So?” Louise had a feeling she wouldn't like the answer.

    “So, if it becomes necessary, I'll ask Hina to do it to me first to prove that it's safe.”

    The reply, so calm and matter of fact, caused Louise to stop dead in her tracks. Botan had so casually gone from speaking of disfigurement, to possibly carrying out that same disfigurement on herself!

    “B-Botan! How can you say something like that?!”

    The Vespid Knight drifted down from Louise's shoulder, smiling sadly. “Louise-san, I am a Knight of the Garden, it is my sacred task to live and die for the sake of my Sisters.” Her smile slowly became more genuine. “Don't worry Louise-san, I'm only talking about the worst case.”

    Louise looked at her aghast, the worst case?! She reached out so suddenly that Schwartz took flight with an indignant “Gyaah!” Snatching Botan carefully out of the air. “D-don't say something like that! If you say that, then it sounds like you've already given up on things turning out alright! And besides, didn't you always want to be a Knight?”

    Botan blinked, tilting her head curiously with a bemused expression. “Louise-san, even if that happens, it won't mean I'm not a Knight. In fact, I'd be much less of a Knight if I turned my back on my Sisters. I'd rather rip my own wings off than do that.”

    “But . . . but doesn't it scare you?” Louise asked lamely.

    “Of course!” Botan said almost too happily. “It's not something I ever want to happen, but that's the same as not wanting to die, or not wanting my Sisters to get hurt.”

    “And you can live with that?”

    Squirming from Louise's grasp, the Pixie Knight stood balanced on Louse's lightly balled fists. She nodded. “Because I'm the sort of person that my past self would be proud of.”

    Louise had no patience for stupid people, but, how did she respond when a person wasn't being stupid?Louise knew that she'd done foolish things in the past, and that it was partly because of her temper. She'd gotten herself into a lot of trouble by not thinking things through. But Botan was willing to risk herself willingly, with her eyes open to the consequences.

    How was it that the stronger of the two of them was only a hand span tall?

    “Ah, I'm sorry Louise-san, I've upset you!” Botan said quickly. “Come on, it's getting dark.” The Knight tugged at the cuff of her blouse. “We should get inside now.”

    Slowly, Louise began to walk again at Botan's urging, the small Knight acting as if nothing strange had been said. It had to bother her though, didn't it? After all, she wouldn't have mentioned it if it wasn't on her mind. And now she was doing everything she could to stop Louise from thinking about it.

    Sighing inwardly. “Yeah, let's go.” Louise said. I bet that the chefs will have more of those baked apples you like so much. You better hope flying burns off a lot of fat, or you're going to look like an apple before too long!”

    “Hey!” Botan shouted. “That's not fair! Besides, Hinagiku-sama would kick my butt if I got that slow and heavy.”

    “Then you better start exercising more.” Louise replied. “Because Henrietta is going to meet with Lady Sakuya in Arrun tomorrow about the Pixies, and I heard her say that all of the Garden's we've contacted so far are sending Representatives. Since we'll have to wait for the Archives to find who Terrance is and where we can find him, it probably wouldn't hurt for you to go and see them.”

    “W-what?!” Botan stammered, her calm completely lost. Good, so she could be shaken, that was a lot more reassuring than the thought that she might be crazy. “Why wasn't I told about this?!”

    “I mentioned it at breakfast.” Louise said casually. “But someone wanted to hurry out and get an early start today.”

    “You didn't say that at all!” Botan accused.

    “Did to.” Louise said.

    “Did not!”

    “Did to.”

    “Did not! Did not!”

    They continued like that all the way down the walk to the Palace.
  6. LGear The usual flamenco at 3 times the passion~

    That awesome Louise and Botan dynamic... Good Cop, Bad Cop? :D
  7. Nice chapter. The transition from serious to comedy at the end was very natural.

    Though was it really neccesary to point how the white of that guys teeth. Aren't all their teeths white clean. These are Japanese stories after all.
  8. AzureGrimoire Could it possibly be rewritten, that fate of hers?

    Does that mean that whatever Kirito have is hers? And what is hers is still hers?
    Jyn Ryvia likes this.
  9. Triggerhappy You Gotta Listen to Big Sis!

    ???
  10. Triggerhappy You Gotta Listen to Big Sis!

    It means whatever Asuna wants so long as it ensures Kirito's continued supply of Sandwich-san.
  11. Dirtnap [Witch Giblets Intensify]

    More like Good Cop, Boom Cop. ^_^
  12. Its one of those things that stuck out to me for no apparent reason, okay.
  13. Dirtnap [Witch Giblets Intensify]

    It was probably written to contrast the rest of him. Or to give him a predatory smile. or something *shrug*
  14. Barricade A Perfectly Elegant ZA WARUDO!

    And that Yui gets another level in overly-cunning moeblob.
  15. Wow, poor Botan you can really see the marks the events in Tarbes left on her psyche.
  16. Kind of curious myself, though I more often than not hear "amber" as the color.
  17. NecroMac Shiroe vi Akihabara Commands you...

    I'd love to read it! I kinda see fea and elves cooperation coming as soon as fairies learn about genocide spell, and this setting is just great to realize that idea.
    But I kinda wonder what would Fairies compare this situation to, given their Japanese origins ?
    - Would they think of elves as a victims of Nuke? Like in ww2?
    - Or would it be more of a Humans racism, like Nazi's extermination of the Jews ?
  18. I have to say - this particular picture is so perfect as a finisher for the latest snippet. It encapsulates how Louise got one over Botan.
  19. Agelastus Ageing Roman

    Was this little bit inspired by the third of Alan Dean Foster's "Spellsinger" books? The one with the fairies so fat that they could no longer fly (the lead character teaching them calisthenics to save himself and his companions from an ugly death?)
    Anzer'ke likes this.
  20. Anzer'ke Anarchism ho!

    I would point out that SnK makes very clear that they have only survived at all because the Titans are dumb as bricks and not really possessed of any power other than being large. Even the Shifters are kind of pathetic by standards of any high fantasy setting. Ie, in this setting all of the above would get their asses handed to them by even low-mid level Fae.

    The point is that the Jotunn are on such a level that the characters of HaLO would get stomped by them. An army of Dispel field throwing, high magic using, hyper tough, intelligent, tool using...well gods...Halk would be stomped to dust, and certainly the Commoner troops idea is laughable, the soldiers from SnK barely survive against Titans. Jotunn would be unlikely to even bother with them.
  21. NecroMac Shiroe vi Akihabara Commands you...

    Where does it's said that Jotunn's are capable of casting Dispel field and high magic?
    Sure bosses might have some magic capabilities but not a common giant foot-soldier.
    Intelligent? probably comparable to humans.
    This so called 'God level' would only be Ymir i believe.

    SnK fighting tactic would not really work on Jotunns, but they are also not indestructible, regenerating, deadly monsters with only one clear weak spot.
    if i'm honest, fighting Jotunn giants would be easier for Halken than fighting Elves or SnK Titans.
    No Counter Haxx.
    No Auto-rebirth.
    No Zerg-swarming.
    Just a Giant, very tough man with intelligence of a common man(maybe even smaller)
    NotAlwaysFanfic likes this.
  22. Mega1987 GregOS Ver.Mega1987 MST3K

    but there's a pretty high probability of them having some massive AoE attacks that can kill hordes of people in one strike or so.
    Even they don't have any of the elves or SnK Titans abilities.... They're considered as the polar opposite of the Aesir from the norse mythology they're based on.
    Expect they'll be god damn harder to kill, especially the smarter ones with some tricks in their sleeves...

    and I think we need the 7th thread ready... we're less than 10 pages from the page limit.
  23. Told you this wasn't lasting the month. I wouldn't even give it a week.
  24. If it does come about, I wouldn't be surprised if she later blossomed in to something like a Hero Pixie instead then. Some one willing to put everything on the line, to gain the very best for her people.
    wingnut2292 likes this.
  25. NecroMac Shiroe vi Akihabara Commands you...

    This is for an author of a story to deal with. After all in some works, humans can kill gods while in another it is impossible.

    So every single argument that would say :
    "Humans magic and weapon wont be effective against Jotunns giants because they have very high def value"
    Is invalid because it is in author of the story domain to decide what will or will not work.

    But if we define, those so called "stats" of both opposing parties, we can start an appropriate discussion.

    Model of Jotunn giant for SnK/HalkO spin off I propose is giants nerfed to the halken level.
    I'll point it out to make it easier to read:
    1.They are very though.
    Arrows will bounce off their armor, but heavy crossbows, and good rifle can pierce it.
    Their skin is very hard to slice, but it is because of their natural environment. If you toast such giant a little, it's become more like human's in terms of strength.
    Their sheer mass makes it hard to cut of an arm, or hit a vitals with a melee or even ranged weapon (bullet need to penetrate a lot more of fat and skin to be of any danger).
    They are not vulnerable to the flames. Sure it makes them easier to kill, but since their bodies are a already a bit frozen, you can say that a mage need to put more energy to incinerate a Jotunn' giant than he would need to send on human with equal size(mage need to burn through the ice, and then burn the body of giant).

    2. Their size
    3-5m common foot soldier
    the more powerful the bigger it becomes.

    3. Their intelligence.
    It is comparable to human common foot soldier. Know basic tactic, and how to swing his giant club to make Dovahkiin fly into the moon:).
    They are capable of few unique spells of their own (like a frost breath or so...)

    4. Their numbers
    That is a tricky question, but it depend on how big Jotunnheim is. How many food they have, how do they procreate, and so on, and so on...



    I don't say that it would be easy to fight them. Just they can be actually killed.
    Even with a massive AoE attacks, there is a place for some countermeasures against it.
    for e.g A mage can create a wall around giant as he is trying to cast this spell or redirect his spell away from your forces.



    One thread per month, Aren't we quite a spamy bunch?
    Mega1987 and NotAlwaysFanfic like this.
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