Halkegenia Online Thread 7: "Arrun Noir"

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Triggerhappy, Jun 24, 2013.

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  1. @TheSandman

    Alright, I'll give it a pass. But I'll say that it wasn't that Louise was acting bratty but in how KoKo just takes it in strides which alright, a mother should be able to take a child's banter, but my grip is centered about would be done with those vandals when apprehended. What Louise was insinuating was pretty obvious and I couldn't believe KoKo kept her placid demeanor after that. Like I said: no yelling but a bit of an edge to her counter statement.

    I understand that, from her POV and society, Louise points are valid. It was that KoKo displayed very little negativity to her points. She counter them, yes. But I don't feel any real emotion coming off her replies other than her constant depressing.

    And I do have another problem I just realize. Its kinda a retread of their first scene alone together. Yes, Botan and Shion are there but you can take them out and it wouldn't make much difference. And the way it ends with them sleeping together is identical. It sweet for sure but I hope it doesn't happen all that often or it'll lose that emotion.

    And there's no character development for KoKo.its all Louise, which is good, but really KoKo doesn't get much in terms of development or even character analysis. We learn nothing new from her and thats kind of a let down.
  2. biigoh Fluffy Paws indeed

    Ancient Gear used in the assault right before the trasition. Kirito helped them gear up.
  3. I get that, but I was wondering why those strong players that weren't behind the faction leaders didn't have the same high end equipment. I would think that would go hand in hand with being a strong player, and that's why I am confused.
  4. I think she means more in the way of equipment that can be given out. The others would have their own, not stock piles of the stuff for out fitting a recently raised force.
  5. Oh that makes sense.
    Anzer'ke likes this.
  6. gamlain Cephied Variable

    If you want to take it literally, It's a very simple explanation really: not even /most/ of the strong fighters have the /best/ equipment. Not very many MMO players at all will have the very best equipment in any mmo - they work that way by design; The 'strong fighters' will be something like the top 10-15% (Just a random number, it could be anywhere between about 10%-40% depending on exactly how the dynamic plays out). Meanwhile only a relative handful - possibly not even 1% - will have the /best/ equipment; Sakyua and the lords could easily have all the best equipment without even having a majority of the best fighters in their camp. That they have both is a sign of how popular their support base actually is.

    Still, tiers of equipment in an MMO being what they are, the second best equipment and third best equipment of the top end of an MMO's gear sets would be scary strong compared to anything Halk or even the elves have ever seen.

    But also - this is a in-character ballpark explanation by Koko, who is not a demographics expert, to a complete layperson (Louise) and not a comment by the narrator. it should not be taken to be too accurate.
    Anzer'ke likes this.
  7. Gearhead The Metroid of Humor

    It also depends on the game model itself. Some games have a much tighter grip on equipment. ALO may be an example of this dynamic, considering that it has True Unique weapons.
    Anzer'ke likes this.
  8. an NPC [Lvl ?!] Civilian Informant

    Blarg. Cats. Why cats so stupidly cute. Cats.

    Also, I felt Louise was being delightfully inquisitive, the sort of irritable questioning that one pesters a teacher with. The culture clash between the Japanese and Tristainian/Halkeginian culture is still on-going. At the start, it was mostly glossed over with 'the faeries are essentially petty nobility'. Now, as they further contribute into the war and the diplomatic repercussions of different actions start to play out, more and more Tristainians are being exposed to the Japanese way of doing things and how they deal with new scenarios.

    I am curious to see how the Tristainians view a more collective society as being, given that Europe, and by extension Halkeginia, favours a more individualistic society. The idea of 'nail that sticks out' should be rather interesting to a Tristainian, as they see dissenting individuals harassed/shunned for not taking the socially accepted stance. On the other hand, if the Japanese start picking up on Halkeginian social mores quicker, then we may see less and less of this attitude as dissenters start making their voices known, but in an organised and horribly modern fashion, with peaceful protests and rallies.

    The cynic in me also notes that Halkeginians will no doubt try to utilise either methods to influence the faeries in future, no doubt causing problems in themselves. All it takes for a peaceful protest to go bad is an errant trigger finger or a bad temper, after all. Something as pervasive as a culture takes something along the lines of decades to change, realistically.

    The next question will be that of government. Hopefully, due to the whole history of Japan being taught at a reasonably advanced level in schools, the understanding of the schism between the Political and Military leadership will result in no repeats of the Boshin War or Warring States period and skip directly to some sort of Democratic Restoration in a peaceful manner. It helps that at least one of the current Faerie Lords is a historian.

    If things go well, I am assuming that fair and free elections will be held after the war with Albion is concluded and the Prince-in-Exile holds the throne. If things do not go well, I am assuming that there will be a snap election called by the opposition in the Faerie Council to both calm the masses and perhaps gain power in the aftermath.

    If things to go hell, we could see a small uprising or rebellion take place. And if this happens at the worst possible time, well... drama, I guess.
  9. Why oh why would they introduce chopsticks to Tristian? :D
  10. biigoh Fluffy Paws indeed

    Why wouldn't they?

    The Japanese would be used to chopsticks.
  11. Triggerhappy You Gotta Listen to Big Sis!


    Ah yes, explain the logic of chopsticks to me again.
  12. ckk185 Solidarity

    I have used them all my life. I have no bloody idea what for.
    buytbuyt likes this.
  13. biigoh Fluffy Paws indeed

    It's eating utensils that can not be used as weapons (like knives and forks)... well... not deliberately. But then you end up with kung fu movies and... yeah...

    In any event, chopsticks would be a thing, given the population of Japanese... heck, it's not just japanese. I mean I my nieces are half chinese and my sister is teaching them to use chopsticks to eat from get go... so... it'd be a thing.

    I mean, it's no more strange that eating rice meals with bare hands in certain countries, fork and knives in other countries.
    Anzer'ke likes this.
  14. ckk185 Solidarity

    Not able to be used as weapons? Are you serious?

    Yea, but I think what Trigger is trying to say is, why use them chopsticks which are so bloody hard to learn and use, when there are easier ways to consume delicious food.
    Vaermina likes this.
  15. Triggerhappy You Gotta Listen to Big Sis!

    Pretty much this ^

    As for the latest chapter, if it isn't obvious, I'm setting KoKo up for a laser guided punch to the soul at the end of this arc.
  16. ckk185 Solidarity

    Woohoo! Punch? Try Shipwreck to the soul. Then again, those are radar guided munitions.
  17. Triggerhappy You Gotta Listen to Big Sis!

    Chapter Two Complete

    Halkegenia Online v2.0 - Chapter 2

    Having caught a wild Kii-bou to help in her investigation, Argo and her new partner had immediately set to work.

    Departing from the Kirigaya residence and they made their way out onto Arrun's wide main thoroughfare. They could have flown to Arrun tower, but this gave them more time to talk about the investigation and what they would be doing.

    The walk also drove home something that was growing clearer everyday. Arrun was not the Town of Beginnings, and Tristain was not Aincrad.

    Despite his best efforts and incredible attention to detail, the mad genius Kayaba Akihiko had not been able to completely erase the sense of artificiality within his virtual world.

    No matter how completely they had been immersed, no matter how carefully the setting had been crafted, the players had never lost the sense that they were shaded inhabiting a virtual environment. The constant little reminders had added to the sense of desperation as they recalled what was happening to their real bodies IRL each day that they remained trapped.

    But here in Halkegenia, the atmosphere was completely different. There was a growing acceptance that they were in a new reality, actually inhabiting their new bodies, and with that had come an unspoken acceptance that life could go on.

    Twenty thousand people, Argo thought. That was the population of Arrun. That was twice the total number of players in Aincrad on the first day of SAO. It was three times the number who had survived to the end. Twenty thousand real people. People who weren't just waiting to be rescued or fighting to save themselves, but doing their best to keep on living.

    And now, that life was beginning to spread into Arrun, changing the former MMO hub into a living, breathing place.

    Industrious entrepreneurs were beginning to move into the abandoned NPC run shops, first the skilled tradesmen selling services to those few Faeries with some form of disposable income. Then there had been the craftsmen and alchemists who were starting to apply their expertise to produce goods for sale beyond the borders of the Faerie cities.

    The crafters needed raw materials to work with, which they had traded for with the Mob Patrols who had started to monetize their work, breaking down and selling off the mob carcasses.

    The nascent cycle of commerce had started spreading the money around. By now, there were even a few restaurants cropping up to compete with the Dicey Cafe, catering to the needs of the ever busy Fae workforce who didn't have time to cook much for themselves.

    An Undine merchant had just finished laying out his morning catch atop blocks of magically conjured ice. Fresh fish from the rivers and estuaries surrounding Arrun and its attendant lake.

    An Imp woman and a male Salamander, probably her boyfriend, were haggling with a Gnome on the purchase of some spices.

    A Lyre of Puca chattered with one another as they ate breakfast beneath the shade of an awning.

    Argo looked all around, sharp eyes counting the people while sensitive Cait Syth ears picked up snatches of conversation and acute sense of smell picked apart the tableaux of scents.

    That was something she and some of the other Cait Syth were still gradually getting used to. Sharpened senses and affinities had only grown sharper as the former players grew accustomed to their new bodies. The sensory overload had been disorienting at first, but by now Argo could barely imagine living without it. It definitely made it easier to eavesdrop and to pick up on the mood in the streets.

    Right now, people were relaxed, even happy. The morning streets were suffused with a gentle energy as the inhabitants of Arrun woke up and performed their morning rituals before hurrying off to whatever jobs they had found for themselves.

    It wouldn't be long before this carefree atmosphere was shattered by the official announcement of the murder. That was when things would start getting interesting.

    "So, we have one murder at some time around midnight last night." Kirito repeated quietly. "Then the body was disposed of outside of Arrun."

    "We think the perp was hoping the mobs would clean up the evidence." Argo's ears twitched thoughtfully. "Luckily they didn't think it through well enough. The mob patrols have done a good job of keeping the area around Arrun cleared out, and the night watch has been running regular patrols."

    "I wouldn't say that's lucky." Kirito mentioned, sticking his hands into his pants pockets. "It would have been lucky if the patrols had caught the perp dumping the body, or seen and stopped the murder."

    Argo hissed tiredly. "Yeah. You're right, tis not lucky at all. But tis all we've got to start from. Right now, we don't have a motive and we don't have a suspect. All we have is a corpse on our hands."

    "Then we should start there while the trail is still warm." Kirito looked reluctant, having to face a real corpse still wasn't something either of them was used to. Aincrad might have prepared them for a lot, but not for this.

    "Abigail-san said she might have something for us by morning, so we'll check with her first." Hopefully it would give them a clue about Novair's last moments.

    Glancing over her shoulder, her Spriggan partner seemed to have turned inward, lost in his thoughts. Argo felt a hint of trepidation, maybe involving Kii-bou hadn't been such a good idea. But she hadn't been able to think of anyone else. She'd wanted someone she knew she could trust and who would compliment her own thinking. And really, that narrowed it down to Kii-bou or Aa-chan.

    She'd thought Kii-bou would be the better equipped of the two to handle this, which was why she had gone to him, but maybe she was wrong. Her thought processes stopped dead as she ran a mental diagnostic, examining the idea before discarding it as irrelevant. Her own thoughts and opinion didn't matter, it was what it was. If Kii-bou couldn't handle this, then she would apologize and continue on her own.

    The ground entrance to Arrun Tower was busy, busier even than the landing at the top of the tower, but the wide base with its multiple entrances helped to diffuse the foot traffic from a tightly packed commuter rush into a much more leisurely stroll.

    Reaching the elevators at the center of the lobby, Argo gestured for Kii-bou to get in first before adjusting the lever control mechanism to a small B at the bottom of the floor selection list.

    With a soft click of releasing safety locks and a faint hum of the suspending cables, the elevator began to sink through the floor of the lobby.

    "A basement level?" Kii-bou looked about with sudden interest, his instincts as a clearer immediately coming to the forefront as he imagined hidden treasure and juicy, hidden leveling spots.

    "Relax Kii-bou, tis nothing that interesting." Argo joked. "<<Arrun Tower Subterranean Arcade>> its where all of Arrun's best NPC shops were located. There's plenty of extra space down here now, so Abigail-san turned one of the old Apothecary Shops into her lab."

    The elevator finished descending through the thick stone floor, coming to rest at the bottom of a three story high space surrounded by elevated stone walkways and shop fronts, and illuminated by skylights formed from the crystal floor of the lobby above their heads.

    "I never even knew this existed." Kii-bou muttered softly to himself.

    Argo grinned, there was nothing better than seeing a Kii-bou out of his element. "Tis not a secret that this place exists sa. But tis not a place you'd find without exploring a little either." Then mischievously she added. "Kii-bou's always been good at that, but I bet you and Aa-chan have been getting up to a different kind of exploring lately." Not that she'd tell anyone, then again, it wasn't like people couldn't guess.

    Kii-bou's expression had totally been worth the jab, even if it meant she'd have to wait a few days to try Aa-chan's cooking again.

    "So where is this Apothecary's." Kirito asked a little to quickly, following behind Argo towards one of the side arcades that branched off from the elevator lobby.

    "Just this way, it's near a back entrance, tis not much farther at all."

    They knew they were getting close when they saw a pair of board looking Cait Syth standing guard. Both Caits looked ready to fall asleep any minute now.

    Argo clicked her tongue at both, causing them to stand up straight and offer clumsy half salutes. Being in good with the Leader of the <<Glorious Cat Girl Alliance>> had its advantages.

    "You going to see that Gothic Lolita?" One of the Caits asked Kii-bou.

    "Un." Kirito looked surprised to have been asked. "Is something wrong?"

    The Guard shrugged. "Just remember to keep her on track. A friend of hers brought her some fruit drink a while ago and she's been wired up ever since."

    He waved them past before leaning back against the wall and returning to a hushed conversation with his partner. Pivoting one ear, Argo made out enough to gather that they were worried they would need more guards down here once news of the murder went public.

    "Maybe we could set up a barricade." The other guard suggested.

    "And risk some idiot trying to bust through with magic? No thanks. Besides, then they'll really think we're hiding something. Do you really want that twerp Netzel snooping around?"

    Argo made a mental note to look into the name before she and Kii-bou turned the corner into the Apothecary's shop and the conversation became muted beyond even her Cait Syth hearing.

    Abigail had wasted no time in making the shop her own, clearing out the decor, the mechanical register, the rows of dripped wax candles, and the pots of incense, and replacing them with bright white ore lamps, appraisal tools re-purposed as crude forensic aids, and piles of books from her own home in the Arrun outskirts.

    About the only thing that she had kept from the original shop was the glassware and a prop skull, at least Argo hoped it was a prop, that she kept on her desk.

    The Spriggan girl looked up quickly as the entry bell rang. "Oh, Argo-san, you're here! Wait, you're here!"

    Argo nodded slowly in confusion. "Where else would I be sa? I said I'd be back once I'd found my partner." She pushed Kirito forward. "By the way, this is Kirito-san."

    "Kirito?" Abigail stood up a little straighter. "The Black Swordsman, right?"

    Kii-bou looked nonplussed at the casual use of his old epithet. "Un, that's me." He admitted reluctantly.

    "Just let me say, I'm honored to meet you." Abigail bowed. "I've heard about everything you did at Newcastle, some of my friends were in the Raid and . . ."

    "Abigail-san." Argo butted in, snapping her fingers in front of the latest addition to the Kirito fan club. "Tis not the time for that. You were saying something about us being here?"

    "Oh no, I didn't mean it like that! I meant you're here . . . but you're here too early." Abigail spoke quickly spoke in quick stops and starts before realizing that she hadn't actually answered the question. "I mean, I'm done, but I was hoping I'd have a second opinion by the time you got back." She waved her arms about before snatching a large mug from the table and taking a long sip through a thin bamboo straw.

    "A second opinion?" Argo reached out and plucked the mug from the girl's hand, putting it back down on the table. "So you found something?"

    "Well, yes, maybe . . . I think so." The slight Spriggan tugged at a dark pigtail. "But I wanted someone else to look it over too, I've only seen this stuff in books before." She looked between Argo and Kirito. "I think it'll be faster if I show you."

    The amateur forensics specialist led them to the back her lab to where the door to the stock room had been heavily covered over in quilts, cut up, and nailed to the door's surface as hasty insulation. Stepping inside, they were met by chill air and wet stone flooring, courtesy of a half dozen man sized slabs of ice that filled the room along with a solitary table atop which rested the remains of the deceased.

    Argo felt her tail twisting about involuntarily beneath her cloak, and not just because of the cold. Novair had been one of her contacts with Sakuya's staff, so she'd talked to him from time to time. In fact, she'd known him casually even before the Transition. It wasn't a serious personal investment, but it was enough to make her remember that she had spoken to and known the person who had once inhabited this lifeless shell.

    Novair, the remains, Argo corrected herself clinically, were laid out flat on the table, a thin sheet offering a modicum of dignity. The eyes had been closed out of respect, but otherwise, the body looked to have been left as it had been the night before, the brutally torn open throat leaving the head attach only by a shred of skin and muscle around the vertebrate.

    Abigail was hardly disturbed by the gore as she circled around the body and adjusted an ore lamp and some mirrors to illuminate the area around the neck.

    "So anyways. Once we finished up at the crime scene and moved the body here, I was able to do a much closer examination, and I found a couple of interesting things that could be important. First off, the cause of death was a slit throat . . . "

    Argo felt the urge to face palm slowly rising. "No, I would never have guessed."

    "Ah, no." Abigail elaborated. "The cause was a slit throat, I mean his throat was slashed, all of this," She framed Novair's neck with her hands, "Was done after death judging by the looks of things, at least, his heart had definitely stopped beating by then."

    The information broker paled as this new detail began to sink in. "Wait, you're saying the killer disfigured the body after killing him?" She heard Kii-bou suck in a breath beside her. This wasn't a good sign. A brutal murder was one thing, but this reeked of someone leaving a calling card.

    "It looks that way." Abigail answered. "And that's not all that I found. Once I got the body back here I was able to examine it much more closely under the light. There's bruising over Novair's left side, which means his heart must have still been beating when he received the injuries.

    "So he tried to fight back?" Kirito concluded.

    "Maybe." Abigail raised a cautioning hand. "I didn't find anything that could conclusively be called a fight wound. No clean cuts, just some scratches and abrasions, and Novair's dagger was still in its scabbard. At a guess, it's probably a sign that his attacker ambushed him, some of these look a lot like fall injuries, so maybe they got the drop on him while he was in flight and then cut his throat on the ground."

    "Argo, do you know Novair's build?" Kii-bou asked. "By the way, I'm not paying to find out."

    Ears twitching as she thought, Argo nodded slowly. "He was a Skirmisher for the Sylph army, one of their scouts. Speed type build with an emphasis on perception and battle awareness. He wasn't a lousy fighter either."

    An ambush made sense the more she thought about it, inside of the walls of Arrun, Novair would have almost certainly have been able to hold his own long enough to call for help.

    "Those skills transferred over during the Transition." Kii-bou said thoughtfully, and then grimaced. "If he was ambushed, it would have had to have been someone with high stealth or illusion abilities or else . . ."

    "Or else?" Argo prompted.

    Her partner looked uncomfortable. "Or else it was someone he knew."

    She winced, that was a very real possibility, and it was tempting to think that way since it would give them a ready made list of suspects, but somehow it didn't smell right to Argo. Not enough to rule it out, but not enough to make her believe it either.

    "Is that what you think?" Argo asked.

    "It's possible, maybe, but I don't think so." Kii-bou held up two fingers. "For one, if the person knew Novair well enough, they could have caught him completely by surprise or else used some indirect method like poison."

    "Yeah, but people aren't always very rational, Kii-bou." Argo pointed out. "Especially not people who commit murder." Something had to be very wrong with a person to do something like this in the first place. "What's the other reason?"

    Kii-bou frowned as he turned back to the body. "I was thinking that if this was a crime committed for personal reasons, I don't see why they would would have disfigured the body before trying to get rid of it."

    "I wouldn't call that conclusive either." Argo countered.

    If it had been a personal matter, a crime of passion, or some sort of revenge, the killed might have done it out of anger. Except now she was creating a narrative. She wanted to kick herself. At this rate she was just yanking her own tail.

    "Look, what we do know is that whoever did this probably got the drop on Novair and deliberately disfigured the body. They probably did it inside of Arrun so it would have had to have been done fast and clean. That means either an ambush or someone who knew him." She ticked off each point on her hand. "Is that all, Abby?"

    "Almost." Abigail said. "There's one more thing. We were guessing earlier that Novair's body was moved before rigor mortis had set in. I think I can confirm that now." Reaching down, the Spriggan Lolita pulled the sheet down to just below Novair's navel and began to point at places along the un-bruised side of the corpse. "Like I said, there was faint bruising on the left. But while I was performing my examination I found fractures and dislocations on the right side with no corresponding inflammation. I think this was caused when the body was moved. It's like they just tossed him down from midair."

    "They probably didn't want to get caught carrying the body." Argo concluded. "That would have made our job a lot easier. Okay, thanks for all of this. Get back to us once you've had it double checked. Have the Dynamic Duo been down to see you yet?"

    "Dynamic Duo?" Kii-bou parroted.

    "Our competition. I'll tell you about them later." She sighed.

    "You mean Jensen and his partner?" Abbigail asked. "No, not yet. I wasn't done with my examination so they decided to start with Novairs office. I think they're still up there."

    'Probably leaving everything out of place'. Argo grew alarmed. "Please tell me they have someone with them."

    "Oh, I think Recon-san is keeping an eye on them." Abby said.

    Argo turned on her heel to leave, grabbing hold hod Kii-bou by the wrist. "Come on."

    "What next?" Her partner asked quietly.

    She snorted as if it was the stupidest question in the world. When the blood trail ran cold, switch to the paper trail. "Adventures in filing."

    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    Tired . . . Sakuya felt fatigued as she stepped off the counterweight driven lift that connected the ground floor of Arrun tower to the upper levels where she kept her daytime offices.

    She'd barely slept in the past twenty four hours, relying on catnaps and her Faerie constitution to keep her going, between Novair's murder and everything else that was on her schedule she'd hardly had time to think much less sleep.

    'Novair'. Sakuya bit her lip.

    Only after he was gone did she realize how much she had depended on him. For organization, for advice, for everything. And more than that, was the stinging feeling of loss. They hadn't been close friends, but they had become acquainted with each other more and more in the past weeks. She owed him a great deal that she would never have the chance to repay.

    She wanted nothing more than to keep abreast of the ongoing investigation as it developed, but her duties as a Leader constantly redirected her attention elsewhere, and with her chief aid gone, she was struggling more than ever to keep up.

    Composing herself, she made her way across the wide lobby and out onto Arrun Tower's broad landing to where her noonday appointment was waiting for her. That was right, the scholar in her had been looking forward to this for over a week. Even given the dire circumstances, she found that she had to smile at the delegation of tiny figures standing atop a table near the lobby entrance.

    A small crowd of curious Faeries had gathered, watching Arrun's latest arrivals with open interest. By now, rumors of the Pixies discovered in Tarbes had been heard by just about every Faerie in Tristain and it had become a major topic of idle conversation in the streets and homes of the Faerie City. Everyone wanted to know more about them, hear more about them, and the gossip starved populous who had grown up in the information age had rapidly started to eat their collectives tales as they waited to learn more.

    “Good afternoon, Shaman Hinagiku of Tarbes Garden.” Sakuya nodded respectfully to the green robed girl who had stepped forward as she approached.

    “And a good afternoon to you, Lady Sakuya of the Sylphs.” The dark green haired shaman answered back with a delicate little bow. “On behalf of all of my Sisters, thank you for having us here to discus the safety of the Gardens. The Capital of the Skies is as beautiful as I have heard, and doubly blessed to reside beneath the branches of Mother Yggdrasil.”

    Sakuya smiled awkwardly at the compliment. She had read all of the reports, those composed by Argo, as well as the original reports submitted by Leafa, KoKo, and Yui. There really was no precedent for the what the Pixies were. As far as could be told, the Pixies, once nothing more than sophisticated AI mobs, had become fully actualized, intelligent beings, complete with there own meticulously detailed memories derived from ALfheim's back story.

    How such a thing had been done, much less been possible in the first place, was completely beyond the comprehension of the Leader of the Sylphs, and the existence of the Pixies had raised as many questions as they had answered.

    The patrols had fought some of the more <<intelligent>> mobs on several occasions, ALfheim Orcs, Kobolds, Beast Men, and the Evil Dwarves that inhabited the deep tunnels of the Gnomes and several of the subterranean <<Corridors>>. They had been some of the most dangerous opponents encountered by the mob elimination units, displaying a frightening level of cunning and a knack for taking refuge in the deep forests and back countries.

    There had also been sporadic sightings of other human or Fae like creatures in the forests, foot prints that disappeared suddenly, and native Orcs found killed by crude arrows and knives, their scalps staked to nearby trees as a warning.

    Argo had compiled a list of all of Alfheim's known humanoid type mobs as well as mobs noted for possessing particularly sophisticated behavior or high intelligence.

    However, Sakuya had barely had time to read the report, much less digest its contents, there simply hadn't been enough time. And so long as the remaining <<Mobs>> were keeping out of the way, intelligent or otherwise, they really couldn't spare the manpower to go out looking for trouble. For the time being, the patrol units had simply been ordered to keep on the lookout and report back any suspicious activity.

    Were these creatures now intelligent like the Pixies? How many other mobs had gained intelligence and what were the prerequisites? Had they all been furnished with such intricate false memories? Could they be reasoned with? These were the least of her questions and by speaking with the Pixies she hoped to have some of them answered.

    Which brought Sakuya back to the petite Shaman standing before her along with a dozen of her sisters, more of the <<Shamans>> and <<Vespid Knights>> that lead and protected the Pixie Gardens. It had taken all of this time for the mob Patrols to locate the Pixie Nests, but they could at least be reasonably confident they had found most of them.

    Mostly hidden away in the forests or in back fields, the Garden Pixies had been cautious when approached by the Faerie scouts, but most had been friendly and willing to talk. Unlike Tarbes Garden, the other Gardens had been located far from any permanent human settlements and so they had heard and seen little to alert them to what had been happening all through Tristain.

    Tilting her head, Sakuya noticed something out of place about the Pixie girl. Something, or more aptly, someone, was clinging to Hinagiku's side, watching Sakuya curiously with pale blue eyes.

    “And who might this be?” Sakuya asked gently.

    “Oh.” Hinagiku reached around, gently guiding an even smaller girl by the shoulders until she stood in front of the Shaman facing Sakuya. “Lady Sakuya, this is Shion, a Little Sister under the care of our Garden.”

    “Shion?” Sakuya asked. She'd read that name in the report. The fallen leader of the Vespid Knights?

    The girl didn't look it at all, in fact, she didn't look like any sort of fighter. That would have been the result of the <<Wilting>> that Yui had described in her report. At the slightest prompting from the Shaman, Shion stepped forward and curtsied. “I-It's an honor to meet you Lady of the Fae of Winds.” She said in a small voice before looking about the gigantic lobby of Arrun Tower with open fascination.

    “It's a pleasure to meet you to Shion-chan.” Sakuya shared a smile with the girl.

    The other Pixies listened curiously. The Shamans,vdelicate, moth winged girls, conversed among themselves while the Knights calmly kept watch. Each of the Shamans represented one of the Pixie Gardens and hundreds of Pixies. Hundreds of small, newborn lives that were now partly under the stewardship of Sakuya and the other Faerie Lords.

    As the events of Tarbes had shown, the Pixies were devastatingly vulnerable to exploitation along with being largely ignorant of events beyond the confines of their Gardens and their immediate surroundings. Sakuya hoped to have them added to the settlement treaty with Tristain as quickly as possible so way they would afforded some legal protection against abuse

    In some ways this was nothing more than a diversion from the endless day to day running of Arrun, the war meetings, and her constant commutes between Arrun and Tristania. The small lives of the Pixies were exactly the sort of thing that might be swept aside by the tides of larger events. But that was why Sakuya had decided to pay attention, taking time out of her busy schedule to meet with them personally rather than delegating to a subordinate.

    Sakuya regarded Hinagiku curiously. “I've been told that your Sisters have elected you to represent them.”

    The Shaman nodded. “Yes, not just my own Garden, the other Shamans have agreed as well. Since our Garden was the first to meet peacefully with the beings.” She shifted slightly on her feet. “That is . . . After being the first to meet violently with them.”

    “Hopefully we can put that behind us.” Sakuya said. “The Crown of Tristain has been very courteous with us over the past month, so I can't imagine there will be any trouble.”

    “Actually.” Hinagiku said, looking about. “If I may ask. I was told that there would be someone here to represent the Kingdom of Tristain as well.”

    Sakuya gestured to the landing nearby doors that led out onto Arrun Tower's landing. “She'll be here soon.”

    Princess Henrietta had taken a personal interest in the plight of the Pixies and had informed Sakuya that she would be acting as Tristain's observer and representative. This was good, with the Princess on their side things could move quickly.

    The minute hand of the timepiece located over the landing entrance only had time to complete a sixth of an arc before the the crowds coming and going through the grand doorways began to swiftly part, making way for a quartet of Tristanian Mancticore Knights, and in their company, Princess Henrietta de Tristain.

    “Good afternoon Lady Sakuya.” The Princess said affectionately, warmly taking the hand of the Lady of the Sylphs as she smiled.

    Henrietta was in much better cheer today than she had been when Last Sakuya had been given the chance to speak with her in person. The success of Tristain's recent military venture, and the rescue of her Prince having put the Princess much at ease. Well, at least someone was happy.

    The Princess's smile was short lived as she let her hands fall in front of her. “I heard about Novair. You have my condolences. Please, if you need any assistance in your investigation,” Henriette shook her head slowly, “Do not hesitate to ask.”

    “Thank you Princess.” Sakuya replied. There was something about Henrietta that came as a relief to the Lady of the Sylphs. It was in no small part due to the Princess's sincerity that they were where they were today. “We may accept your generous offer if we fail to make progress on our own. But that isn't what we're here to discuss.” No, it was too painful, this was supposed to take her away from thinking about it. “Thank you for taking time to meet with us on such short notice.”

    Henrietta looked amused. “Not at all, I'm always happy to extend the hospitality of the Royal Family, besides,” her smile widened, “I could hardly let these little ones come all this way by themselves.”

    “Little ones?” Hinagiku asked and then her eyes widened as the Princess stepped aside so that a familiar pink haired girl could come forward in the company of half dozen pixies and a black feathered dragon.

    “Botan-sama!” Shion shouted, jumping into the air and grabbing hold of a Vespid Knight standing atop the pink haired girl's shoulder.

    The Knight returned the embrace, gathering her smaller sister in a tight hug and spinning her about. “Shion.” The girl laughed warmly. “And you're speaking more clearly now, no 'Bo-tan'?”

    “Un.” Shion nodded eagerly. “Hi-chan has been helping me practice and I can even use my wings a little now, see?” She demonstrated, fluttering the pair of comically oversized, translucent appendages with only the slightest hint of effort.

    “That's wonderful Shion. I want to hear all about it later.” The Knight finally put her sister down. “But first, I want you to meet some of your sisters.”

    The other Pixies began to drift up one by one, surrounding Shion who looked about, eyes wide with excitement. “This smell, you're all from my Garden!”

    “Botan-sama has told us all about you Shion.” One of the girls, dressed in what Sakuya thought had to be a doll's dress, complete with ribbon and beret, took both of Shion's hands in her own. “We're all so glad to finally meet you.”

    “The Garden Survivors.” Hinagiku whispered. “You've found so many!”

    “Seven.” The petite pink haired girl reported. “These six and one more who didn't want to leave the Capital.” She looked a little awkward. “Uhm, Botan says we need to send a Shaman to keep an eye on her . . .”

    Hinagiku's brows rose, she nodded quickly. “Of course, I'm sure one of my Sisters can volunteer.” The Shaman looked up at the girl gratefully. “Thank you so much for helping to find them Louise-san.”

    Louise? That was why Sakuya recognized the girl. Louise de La Valliere, the daughter of Duchess Karin de La Valliere. They had met very briefly before, and she had been assigned to the Tarbes mission along with Leafa and Yui.

    “It wasn't anything.” Louise said softly. “We know that there are still six more that we need to find, and . . .” She trailed off “ . . . and there were two others.” She fell totally silent. “I'm sorry.”

    “I see.” The Shaman's look of joy faded slowly to be replaced with a kind of look of sympathy. “We can speak about this more later Louise-san.” The Pixie attempted to comfort the girl who was hundreds of times her size. “Still, thank you for all of your help, you've been a true friend to us.”

    “Miss Hinagiku.” Henrietta stepped forward. “On behalf of the Crown of Tristain, I would like to extend my apologies for the difficult times that you and your Garden have faced. You've been badly wronged and that wrongdoing won't be set right until we can ensure it doesn't happen again.”

    “Thank you Princess,” Hinagiku said, “We're all grateful for the help you've already given us, especially for sending Louise and the others.”

    Sakuya glanced at the clock and felt herself gaining speed. She had a meeting with the Arrun City Council in two hours and then back to back planning sessions with Thinker and Rute after that. They needed to get started quickly so that the Pixies could properly present themselves before the other Faerie Lords this evening. With any luck, this could all be finished by tomorrow.

    “If you would please follow me this way Princess, Hinagiku-san, we can . . .”

    The sound of shouting in the near distance silenced Sakuya. The Sylph Leader's ears perked suspiciously as her whole body went tense. Something was wrong. The Manticore and Vespid Knights were immediately on edge, reaching for their respective weapons, ready to protect their charges from any threat.

    “Lady Sakuya!” An Imp was running closer waving his hands about frantically, he was one of Zolf's people.

    Sakuya stood tall, gathering the sleeves of her robes before her. “What is the meaning of this?” She asked with every ounce of <<Commanding Presence>> she could muster.

    The Imp looked around frantically as if somehow struck that she had replied. “It's . . . I . . . come see for yourself Lady Sakuya, someone has vandalized the side of Arrun Tower!”

    Sakuya exchanged glances with Princess Henrietta. “We certainly didn't see anything just a moment ago.” The Princess looked confused.

    The Lady of the Sylphs grimaced inwardly as she followed at the Imp's urging. First a murder, and now petty vandalism, she didn't know which was more unbelievable. Sweeping out onto the Landing, Sakuya saw dozens of Faeries, messengers awaiting dispatch and those who had been arriving or departing on their own business, they were of every Race and build, but every one of them was staring up at the side of the tower.

    She couldn't see what they were looking at from this angle, nor did she intend to waste any more time finding out. Summoning her wings, Sakuya stepped off the side of the landing and immediately took flight, banking around the spire until she could see what had grabbed everyone's attention for herself. When she saw it, she hissed in surprise. This was . . .

    It was quite clear how Henrietta and her guards might have missed the vandalism. The vandal hadn't defaced Arrun Tower itself, but rather had hung a large canvas square from the tower's summit, all they would have needed to do was was sneak it up during the night and then cut it loose and let it unfurl like a banner. It would make cleanup easier at least, but that wasn't what was on Sakuya's mind as a pair of Sylphs flew up to meet her.

    “Lady Sakuya!” Emshael reported, gliding to a halt beside her, he turned to look back at the tower and simply stared. “What the hell is this?!”

    “This,” Sakuya said as she looked at stylized Sylph Crest crossed out in black paint, “Is someone voicing their discontent.”

    Most of all, her eyes came to rest on the blood red writing, sloppily painted across the canvas is letters so large they could have been read from street level.

    SHE IS NOT YOUR LORD! DOWN WITH THE WHORE!

    ______________________________________________________________________________

    "I just don't get it!" Louise proclaimed as she flopped back down on the heavily stuffed sofa that took up most of one wall of KoKo's residence.

    The apartment, barely more than a bedroom, closet, and narrow kitchen located at the corner of one of Arrun's multi-story buildings, was smaller than Louise's room back at the academy, much less the apartments she had all to herself at the Royal Palace, but after finishing their interrupted meeting with the Lady of the Sylph and parting ways with Henrietta, Louise had felt like it hadn't been right pass up KoKo's kind offer while she was in Arrun.

    Besides, it had given her an opportunity to voice her questions in private, hopefully to someone who could give her an explanation.

    "What don't you get?" The question came from the Cait Syth woman busying herself over the stove in the narrow galley kitchen.

    KoKo hummed to herself as she worked over the stove, scandalously dressed by Tristanian standards in a pair of black shorts and a loose cotton shirt that would barely have qualified as undergarments but which KoKo insisted were her 'around the house' clothes.

    A faint sizzling rose from a pan as she swiftly mixed the contents about with a metal spatula, adding a dollop of oil that struck the black metal with a -hiss-.

    What didn't she get?! Louise waved her arms. "That banner! They insulted Lady Sakuya in front of the whole city!"

    "Shh!"

    Sitting on the arm of the sofa, Botan raised a finger to her lips. Curled up at her sister's side, Shion's diminutive form stirred before snuggling closer to her beloved elder sibling, sinking back into a deep sleep. Shion might have been a pixie, but Louise thought that she'd been as devious as any human child when she'd pleaded and prodded at her guardians until they let her spend the Knight with her recently returned sister.

    "S-sorry." Louise whispered with a blush before turning back to KoKo. "But how could she just let them get away with that?"

    Louise could tell from the way her tail continued to twist and curl that KoKo's silence was one of contemplation rather than dismissal. "Well first, the watch doesn't know who did it. The Vandals ran as soon as they unfurled their banner."

    She removed the pan from the stove, allowing the contents to continue sizzling, steam and grease floating up through an overhead vent. Whatever she was cooking, it smelled wonderful.

    By the time the guards had flow up to the top of Arrun tower, all that had been left was an empty roof top. The vandals had managed a clean escape. Wings certainly made fleeing the scene of a crime much easier. Louise idly contemplated what this might mean if more Fae Criminals and Brigands began to crop up.

    "And what's the second?" Louise rested her elbow against the free arm of the sofa.

    "Well," KoKo said thoughtfully, "Secondly, even if the vandals are found, Lady Sakuya won't punish them."

    Louise was left speechless, had she just heard that correctly? "Won't punish them?" She parroted to buy time for her mind to try to make sense of what had been said. Her mental flexibility had grown greatly in the mere month's time that she had known the Faeries, but still she couldn't fathom what had just been said.

    "Un." KoKo began to elaborate while she transferred the contents of the large black pan onto two plates and a small custard cup. "Oh, when they're found, they'll definitely be in trouble for vandalism and for causing a public nuisance. I think that means either a fine or mandatory service with the City Sanitation crews . . . " She trailed off before shaking her head. "But, that's beside the point, Lady Sakuya can't and won't punish them for what they said."

    "B-but, an insult like that . . ." Louise trailed off. Didn't KoKo understand?

    Louise had gathered that KoKo and most of the other Fae were reasonably well educated, at least in the terms of their own lands. In Tristain's terms, almost all of the Fae would have been members of the Petty Nobility possessing varying degrees of status, albeit, receiving a formal education would have normally been a distinction reserved only for the most affluent. Surely KoKo could grasp why an insult to one of her Lords had to be dealt with harshly! And if not, it was up to Louise to educate her.

    "If Lady Sakuya and the other Leaders allow themselves to be openly insulted like that, they won't be taken seriously!" The youngest Valliere daughter explained, assuming a scholarly posture. "And of course, there's how it will hurt her standing with the rest of her Peers in the High Nobility, and also how it might become a problem in her family affairs if her honor is called into question without defense. How can she expect to marry if her reputation is tarnished?"

    "Marry?" KoKo tilted her head, bemusedly. "I think Sakuya-san has bigger things to worry about than her love life right now. Louise-chan, everything you're saying is true" KoKo admitted as she removed her apron. "But there are other things that Sakuya-san has to worry about as well. Remember, she's not really a Countess, she's the First Lord of Sylvain and serves by appointment."

    Louise scowled. Again with the idea of that idiot system the Fae were so fond of. Of course Qualified people should naturally be allowed to voice their concerns and have a say in the running of things, but the idea of tallying the vote of every commoner, or even just every Petty Mage was ludicrous! That wasn't any sort of rule except by means of the mob! A Commoner or Petty Mage wouldn't even know where to begin choosing an appropriate ruler for themselves.

    No, there was a natural order to things. Those who displayed leadership and ability, those of good breeding, and those who were invested in the Kingdom through the ownership of property, should act on behalf of those beneath them. That way, the knowledge and wisdom possessed by the right people could benefit both the Nobles and the Commoners.

    "You Faeries might be able to make a system like that work." Louise said, yes very diplomatic! "But most of the Nobility won't see it that way. And it's going to be especially bad right now. This could be very compromising with the war!" Why, it could even be called treason! Though something held her back from saying that. Somehow, she didn't think KoKo would like it.

    Her host set the plates aside, grinning painfully. "Yeah, that's definitely true. But that's exactly why Sakuya-san can't punish them." The Cait Syth Hunter removed her apron, stretching casually before she brought the plates over to a small table set on the balcony.

    KoKo's home might have been small, but the view more than made up for it. Her apartment was located in the Northern district of Arrun, atop an elevated extension of the district that had been built directly on one of World Tree's adjacent roots, dozens of narrow rope bridges and a single larger stone edifice connected this section to the city hub, offering a magnificent view of the city as afternoon moved towards evening.

    Not long ago, Louise had wondered how the Fae could be so unfazed by the grandeur of Tristania, now she knew. Arrun was incredible, beautiful, like something out of a dream. If was fitting really, given everything that KoKo had told her about ALfheim.

    "What do you mean?" Louise shook her head. "If they spread dissent . . ."

    "Yes, but silencing them will spread even more dissent." KoKo explained gently. "Put yourself in our place Louise-chan. Do you think you would like it if your family wasn't allowed to voice its opinions at court?"

    Louise crossed her arms. "Of course not, the Vallieres have been loyal servants of the Crown of Tristain, mother and father have earned the right to speak in public matters on behalf of our family interests."

    "And that's exactly it." The Cait Syth held up a slim finger. "I think that for you Louise-chan, the right to speak is a privilege."

    "Of course it's a privilege, otherwise people would abuse it!" Today's vandalism just underlined that point. "There have to be limits on such things."

    "You're right that there need to be limits." KoKo agreed, finally growing a little testy. "What those vandals did was a completely inappropriate way to voice their opinions, and people will be giving them a lot of grief for it when they get caught. But," the Cait Syth plumped her chair cushion before sitting down, "They must feel strongly about it if they were willing to do something that elaborate."

    Louise took her seat while Botan roused her little sister and led the sleepy girl to the table, sitting atop a folded handkerchief in front of their shared custard cup.

    "We humbly thank Yggdrasil-sama and our gracious hosts for this feast." Shion said as she struggled to stay awake before commencing to nibble contentedly on a piece of Onion offered to her by her sister.

    "That's my point." Louise insisted, taking her first bite a little too soon and having to juggle the morsel of hot pork and mushrooms with her tongue. She grabbed the bottle of <<sweet tea>> KoKo had provided her and took a long gulp.

    KoKo looked alarmed. "Are you okay Louise-chan?"

    "F-fine, I'm fine!" Louise coughed. "I should have given it time to cool." She sat back in her chair. "Like I was saying, people who feel that strongly will only grow more bold if they aren't dealt with. They need to be punished for their own good and to set an example for responsible behavior!"

    "I agree with Louise-chan, KoKo-san." Botan added in as she sat cross legged beside Shion. "In the Gardens, there is a time and a place to speak out. If everyone was arguing all the time, then nothing would ever get done." She paused before adding. "But that sort of thinking also caused us a lot of trouble, so maybe . . . I'm not so sure." She looked contemplatively at her sister.

    Shion, deciding that the conversation had nothing to do with sweets, had turned her attention entirely to her meal.

    KoKo nodded sympathetically as she carefully picked at her own plate. Unlike Louise, the Cait Syth made do with a pair of lacquered sticks to manipulate and pick up her food, delicately biting into a mushroom before answering.

    "The problem is that they're resentful, and if Sakuya-san tries to prevent them from speaking, they'll be even more resentful. They weren't right to do what they did, Louise-chan, but Sakuya-san and the other Leaders wouldn't be right to silence them either, especially if other people share those sorts of sentiments."

    "Do they?" Louise asked.

    "Do who?"

    "Other people." Louise clarified. "Do other people think like well . . . like that?" How horrid!

    The drooping of her hostess' ears was all Louise really needed to know. "Well . . . I don't think most people would be as tasteless about it, but when you've got ears like mine, you hear a lot of things, a lot of things, that people think they're saying in private." She put down her chopsticks. "A lot of people feel like the Faerie Lords, Sakuya-san and Mortimer-san especially, have done an amazing job."

    "They have!" Louise agreed, from everything that she'd heard about the confusion caused by the Transition, and the role of the Fae Lords in keeping the peace. "For everything that they've done holding all of the Fae together, a native Tristanian would be immediately elevated to Knighthood!"

    KoKo laughed in that nasally fashion that was common among the Caits. "Nyeh heh! I really can't imagine Alicia-san as a Knight." Her smile slowly faded again. "But that's not what everyone thinks. People around here are worried Louise-chan, they think Sakuya-san and the other Lords are overstepping their authority with this war, and with all of the negotiations they've been doing with Tristain. The treaty was okay, but sending supplies, money, and soldiers has got a lot of people up in arms."

    "But aren't all the Faeries volunteers?" Louise asked, she'd heard that Lord Mortimer and General Gramont were being very discriminating in their recruitment. "How can anyone have a problem with that?"

    KoKo sighed tiredly. "There are volunteers Louise-chan, and then there are volunteers. Sometimes people do things they really aren't prepared for because it seems like the right thing, or they don't really know what they're fighting for. Some people are scared that the Lords are going to lead us into danger because they aren't really qualified and have just gotten lucky. Remember, this was all supposed to be for fun, nobody elected Sakuya thinking that she would have to be a real ruler, even if she's done a good job so far."

    Taking a sip from her own drink, KoKo looked out over the expanse of Arrun. "There are people who think they would be better qualified to run things, and also, there are people who are afraid that things will turn into a dictatorship. Sakuya-san and the other Leaders have most of the strongest fighters on their side and also all of the best weapons and equipment." She shook her head. "We're supposed to have an election to properly select and instate the Lords, but nobody knows when that's going to be, even Sakuya-san is being very vague which makes sense with the war . . . But lots of people won't see it that way. They don't think we should be led into a war by people who haven't been properly elected."

    Louise felt alarmed, then there were lots more people who thought like this?! Lady Sakuya must have known. "Then what's going to be done about it?" Lousie stood up from her chair, the sudden motion causing Shion to flutter her wings in surprise.

    KoKo looked up in alarm. "For now, nothing." She gestured to calm Louise. "Yeah, what those vandals did was bad, but it was also really stupid and everyone can see that. There are lots of well thought out reasons why people are concerned, but this was just a petty attack, actually, it'll probably make Sakuya-san look more sympathetic."

    Calming just a little, Louise began to understand. "But if it looks like Lady Sakuya is overreacting then it could make it look like the vandals have a point." Gyah! She was starting to think too much like a Faerie now!

    KoKo nodded in sympathy. "There are lots of problems that way too, but it's probably for the best. I think Sakuya-san just wants people to forget about it as soon as possible. Stupid or not, it's pretty hurtful to do something like that to her right after her friend has died."

    "The murder." Louise finished, it had been impossible not to hear word of it after getting to Arrun. She stiffened as a thought occurred to her. "Wait, is their a chance that this was done by the murderer?"

    KoKo stopped in mid bite and tilted her head in thought. "Maybe . . . but I don't think so. The Arrun Tower incident seems too petty for a brutal murderer, you know? It was probably just some Trolls with a grudge who haven't gotten it through their thick heads that they can't act like they did when they were playing ALfheim. Anyways, this isn't really why you're here, right?"

    Louise paused at the sudden change in topic before nodding hesitantly. "Right." She admitted. "Actually, I mostly came to give my report about the Pixies in the Capital, I thought it would help put the rest of the Gardens at ease."

    "Mmm." KoKo mumbled and Louise wasn't sure if it was in reply or if she was simply savoring her food. "It sounds like you did that perfectly to me. Aside from Hina-chan's garden, the Pixies don't really trust us right now. It was a real hassle getting them all to listen and agree to send Shamans to talk to us."

    Louise nodded. One thing that could be said about the Pixies was that they were more akin to very intelligent, self reliant children than they were to adult humans or Faeries. Gaining their trust and keeping their trust wasn't going to be easy, but it was essential to keep the Pixies placated and also necessary to satisfy the Faerie Lords, especially the First Ladies of Freelia and Sylvain.

    "Well, we haven't made as much progress as I would have hoped. We found some of the survivors, but others are still missing." And like Botan had said, every day that the Pixies were separated from their Elder siblings was another day they lived frightened and confused. "Really, we could use more help, but Henrietta doesn't have many people to spare right now."

    After the disgraceful betrayal of the viscount of Wardes, only the most steadfast supporters of the crown were above suspicion. The whole Capital was under close observation at the moment, even the watchers had watchers. That left precious few qualified people who could be assigned to this important task.

    "What about Kirche and Tabitha-chan? Aren't they still helping you?"

    Louise finished another bite of her dinner before answering. "Of course they are! But that's still only three people, and we've had to investigate every lead. That's why I'm hoping this person we're looking into will be the last link."

    "Hmm, more manpower . . ." KoKo trailed off, resting her elbows on the table. "Why don't I tag along to help out?"

    "You would do that?" Louise felt strangely pleased by the idea. She exchanged a glance with Botan who gestured that she also favored the idea.

    KoKo nodded, barring her fangs in a mischievous smile. "I've been flying all over Tristain hunting down Pixie nests, so I want to see this work out for the best."

    The offer was tempting, it really was, KoKo was pretty good at thinking on her feet, and it would mean having someone other than Tabitha who could cover a lot of ground. But . . .

    "Wouldn't you stand out a little too much?" Louise blurted. As soon as the words left her lips, she was already kicking herself, that hadn't been diplomatic at all! "Sorry!"

    "Neh?" KoKo started to chuckle again. "I have no idea what you'd be talking about." Her ears wagged in an accentuated fashion that Louise was almost certain had to be intentional. No fair! Louise began to blush which only caused KoKo to redouble her laughter. "It's alright Louise-chan," She chided gently, "But do you really think it will be a problem?" The Cait reached up to feel at her own ears. "There's some Faeries working in the Capital now, and lots more have visited. I wouldn't stand out too much, would I?"

    Louise thought about some more. "No, I guess not. If you can, help out, then we would really appreciate it."

    "Great, then its settled! Which reminds me, when you finish up dinner, I have something for you."

    "For me?" Louise asked, looking down at her nearly empty plate.

    KoKo retreated back into her apartment to rummage around in the closet. A rattling of metal against metal came from inside the small room, prompting Louise to worry for KoKo's safety, but before Louise could call to ask if she was alright, KoKo returned clutching a large parcel, only a few scratches to mark her the worse for the ware.

    Botan and Shion perked up curiously, both taking flight from the table to watch as the parcel was set down in front of Louise. KoKo watched expectantly. Not knowing what else to do, Louise plucked at the twine holding the box lid in place and carefully removed the cover.

    What she found beneath was . . . it was . . . "It's beautiful!" Louise said as she carefully lifted the cloak from its box, examining the craftsmanship with fascination. The fabric felt almost like supple leather and was dyed a deep violet, the only adornment was a small, unmarked, brass clasp at the throat. "This is for me?" She asked.

    "Un." KoKo said, lacing her fingers together. "Remember, I said we were going to get you a real <<Last Attack Drop>> for helping us take out Lhamthanc."

    Louise blanched as she realized what KoKo was telling her. This was made from that monster's hide! It wasn't just beautiful cloak, it was a trophy of her victory. "Thank you. Thank you so much KoKo."

    "We all chipped in." KoKo said. "So it's a thanks from all of us. Gaius was so stingy!" She added under her breath. "Here, let me help you try it on."

    There was a mirror in one corner of KoKo's apartment, standing in front of it while KoKo threw the cloak around her shoulders, Louise Turned around to view herself from all sides.

    "How do I look?" She asked.

    "It's pretty!" Shion blurted out, receiving a gentle prod from her sister for speaking out of turn. "Sorry."

    "She's right." Botan decided.

    KoKo leaned back, appraising Louise from every angle like a sculptor deciding how to finish a piece. "I think it suits you perfectly."

    Louise looked back to the mirror, she was pleased with the way that the garment hung from her slight frame, though she noticed curiously that it was a little too long.

    "It's so that you can grow into it." KoKo explained. "I thought it looked like you had a few more centimeters to go." Louise privately hoped that was true.

    Replacing the cloak in its box, they returned to the patio, Louise watching the sun set beside KoKo, Botan, and Shion as they finished their drinks.

    Finally, as the darkness began to set in, Louise was treated to something she had never seen before. The fading sunlight was seen off by a slowly spreading glow, lights all across the city beginning to come alive, much too brilliant to be torches, and if they were mage conjured lights, it would have had to have been the work of every Faerie in Arrun. The city glowed like a stunning island of gold, reflected light basking off the side of the World Tree.

    Louise decided then and there that she was never going to taken offense if a Faerie wasn't impressed by Tristania ever again.

    They talked some more about nothing in particular, KoKo asking her about her days, how she was doing. She wanted to know how Louise was getting on with her studies while she was spending so much time in the Capital. That hadn't been difficult, Professor Colbert had been happy to forward Louise's assignments to her while she stayed at the palace. So long as she continued to maintain her current tutoring regimen, her professors saw no reason why she couldn't study elsewhere.

    Darkly, she though that they were also quietly happy to have her practicing someplace that wasn't the academy.

    KoKo insisted that this couldn't be the case, and even though Louise didn't believe her, it still felt nice. The only other person who made Louise feel good about herself like that was Cattleya. She realized, that was what it was, the point of similarity between the two otherwise very different people.

    Finally as the darkness settled completely, there had been a knock at the apartment door, one of Henrietta's Manticore Knight guards sent to check up on Louise.

    "You can tell the Princess that I'm doing quite alright this evening." Louise assured the guard. "And that she needn't bother to include me in tonight's diversions."

    "Of course, Miss Valliere." The Knight gave a small bow before departing, leaving Louise once again alone with her hostess and two Pixie charges.

    She hadn't really intended to stay the whole night, at least, that was what she kept telling herself, but they kept talking, exchanging stories.

    The cork board covered in small portraits that was hung in KoKo's kitchen became an object of endless discussion. The <<pictures>> were from all over ALfheim and that other world, all of them strange and different. There was an unspoken agreement between them that Louise could ask about any of the pictures of ALfheim, but not of that second world. Her eyes naturally drifted to the pictures of a small boy that took up almost a third of the entire surface.

    Afterwords, KoKo showed her how to play some of the games from her own homeland, including one involving a set of cards like those used for playing Crowns or King's Gambit but composed of nothing but elegant wood prints of various flowers and scenes.

    Soft cries of 'Come On' carried on the wind well into the evening by which time Louise had realized it really was too late to return to the Governor's Mansion for anyone lacking wings.

    This had seemed like a problem, there was only a single narrow bed in the apartment, but KoKo had bee unfazed, retrieving a second rolled up mattress from from her closet and laying it out on the floor, offering Louise her bed for the night. Botan and Shion were thankfully easy enough to accommodate using the drawer of KoKo's nightstand and a pair of handkerchiefs as blankets.

    Louise stared up at the ceiling as she listened to the soft sounds. Of pixie wings rustling, of KoKo's breathing, of her own heartbeat. Tomorrow she would return to the Capital, with KoKo's help and the aid of the archived they'd have no trouble finding the remaining Pixies, she was sure. Turning her head, she watched as Shion slept in her sister's arms. They would find them, and send them all back to where they belonged.

    On the floor beneath her, the steady sound of breathing shifted faintly, growing tight and labored.

    "KoKo?" Louise asked, looking down from the bed. The Faerie couldn't hear her, even with her hearing, she was deep asleep, but the moonlight reflected tracks of silver as one hand pawed feebly at her pillow.

    Putting the Pixies back where they belonged was a good start. As for the rest, it sounded like that was going to be a lot harder. Louise reached down hesitantly to take KoKo's hand in her own. The skin was warm to the touch, and dry, the palms faintly rough and calloused. She didn't know if it really helped, but slowly, the lost mother's breathing eased and her head rested heavily against her pillow.

    Louise yawned one last time as she felt her own eyes growing heavy. "Goodnight, KoKo."
  18. Dirtnap [Witch Giblets Intensify]

    I'm gonna be a seriously sad panda when Louise summons KoKo's son.
  19. I have no idea, but my guess is chopsticks were easier to make than forks. Any two similar-lengthed sticks can serve as chopsticks, really. (to not learn how to use chopsticks by the time you enter the middle of elementary school at the latest is grounds for ridicule, btw :p)

    And while we're on the topic of chopsticks, I want to see metal chopsticks in use for some reason, even though that's not Japanese at all.:rolleyes:
  20. biigoh Fluffy Paws indeed

    I guess it's because I'm chinese that I don't find chopsticks to be hard to use being taught while young and all. Consider a population where people are taught while young to eat a certain way. A new and different way to eat might be difficult when one is not used to the eating utensils.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is... the japanese SAO players would be used to chopsticks as well as fork and knives. I'm almost certain that they will teach their kids how to eat like so. In any case, you'll also likely end up with Fae Restaurants where chopsticks are used ala sushi restaurants or chinese restaurants in RL, and Halkeganans trying things out will try it... and from there... yeah... ^_^;;;

    I don't exactly see what the problem with chopsticks are. Unless you're being ethnic centric in insisting that japanese would use only fork and knives like westerners would, and abandon their chopsticks especially in cafes and restaurants and food stalls that they open, or when they eat at home?
  21. Yeah, Korean here and I feel the same way. I mean, I had trouble learning now to cut a steak or ribs with a knife at first because I couldn't figure out how to make the thing actually cut instead of crush.
    meianmaru, Anzer'ke and linkhyrule5 like this.
  22. *cries a single solitary tear*

    This gives me hope for the Fae's fork and spoon based culinary future.
  23. Sorry, but IMO that sounds as likely as saying Europeans would one day eat their meals with toothpicks. It just sounds...wrong. I don't speak for others, but from the way how chopstick-wielding was drilled, the notion that forks were an..."inferior form of cutlery" eventually stuck inside me.

    If the Japanese drill their children to use chopsticks in any way that I would be familiar with, I wouldn't be surprised to see them never, and I mean NEVER, abandon the chopstick.
    meianmaru, Mahrac, Faraway-R and 5 others like this.
  24. biigoh Fluffy Paws indeed

    Vaermina, that's just... *tries to find diplomatic words*...

    That's kind of... rather rude, don't you think? It would be like if you had 60,000 Americans transplanted into medieval India or Africa and abandoning fork, knives and spoons to eat rice with their bare hands.
    meianmaru, nitewind, Noctum and 7 others like this.
  25. The reasoning was because chopsticks can be used to eat a lot more things than with spoons/forks/whatever alone. For example, you can't eat noodles using only spoons or eat rice with a fork (well, you can with this example but it's not that efficient), while you can eat both with chopsticks. There's also the ease of getting the implements; for chopsticks all you need are two washed sticks, while you need metal for knives/forks, need to sharpen them, and so on.
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