2015-02-19 - Plum Pox Purge!

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Title: Plum Pox Purge!

Treasured plum trees are scheduled to be cleared, in a desperate attempt to stave off a plague on the city's forests. A sacrifice - but one not everyone agrees with.


Akemi Tsukiyama, Nori Ankou, Fuu Hououji, Hikaru Shidou, Eri Shimanouchi
GM: Juri Arisugawa


Tama Outer City

OOC - IC Date:

26 May 2014 - 02/19/2015

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Crowds have gathered to watch the end of an era: Tokyo's most beautiful and famous plum tree park is coming to, at the very least, a temporary end. There are all ages, all walks of life; appreciation for plum blossom season (which ended some time ago, as it marks the end of winter and now it is late May) spans the young and the old, and appreciation of this park spans generation.

The seductively pleasant weather -- a marvelously vivid blue sky veiled occasionally by thin white clouds; a sweet breeze and cheerful sunbeams -- is enough to give something of a festival air to this goodbye, especially for the children, who eat picnic food with enthusiasm even though they're being kept behind fencing to one small corner of the park. Laughter and fun is a worthy farewell for trees that have brought so many people so much pleasure. Many grandparents, however, have more of a funereal attitude, each of them a pillar of quiet and solitude within the friendly chaos of the young.

The construction men -- destruction, today -- tasked with felling and clearing out the trees have been ordered to leave nothing behind. The arboreal disease that has afflicted the park has been fought and lost. There aren't even cuttings to replace them; though the plans, posted proudly on a banner on one of the fences by the crowd, intend to replant the park, it will be with wholly different plants, because the infection was too total to save anything.

There are chainsaws and bulldozers and backhoes, and this, too, is exciting to a certain slice of life. They are supposed to commence their work at the sound of a bullhorn. It hasn't sounded yet -- and it was supposed to some half an hour ago.

Something must be causing a delay.

<Pose Tracker> Akemi Tsukiyama [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

There's nothing that could be done. Akemi's talk with Eri solidified that fact. There is no youma to purify or host, no spirit, kami, or whathaveyou to talk to, no evil construct some agent or another has planted. It is nature, happening to nature. In cases like this in times past, the pox would spread, mutate into something else, or perhaps the plum trees would develop some sort of immunity. But how long would that process take? The pox doesn't kill the tree outright, but it weakened it, and reduces its ability to output fruit.

Fruit. Seeds. In the world of nature, any agent that interferes with the cycle of reproduction is equally as serious.

In this case, humanity is stepping in, taking control by selectively cutting down the affected trees. A harsh solution, but there is no alternate right now.

Akemi stands there, a simple civilian in the crowd gathered, though her young face is as grim as many of the older spectators. She will witness these trees' funeral, but she will also witness the planting of the generation to come. Maybe, if Guma's words about how long hosts of kami live are correct, Akemi will see this park into its new era, alongside other such parks that bring a touch of nature into the city.

Except, nothing's happening.

"Something about all of this is suspicious." The words coming out of Akemi's mouth, uttered below her breath, are delivered with a more suspicious, direct tone, evident of Guma now being in control of Akemi's body. "I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to go investigate."

("Maybe it's some protesters? If that's the case we wouldn't interfere, right?") Akemi, now just a mental presence within her mind, speaks back to Guma.

The dark red-haired girl nods, resolute. "Right."

("I wonder if Eri-chan will be here...")

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Nori Ankou had come out, alone as she might be, and wearing a rather formal dress -- nothing that would be immensely out of place, but something definitely drawing from the EGL tradition, with black skirts, white lace and even a parasol, yet.

However, she was flawlessly polite to those with whom she spoke, and after taking a couple of photographs, she sat down with a picnic hamper on the far fringe of the farewell area. Inside of the hamper, reclining on a comfortable cushion, is, of course, her supper guest, who has not shown himself.

Though once or twice, a small phone has seemed to peep over the edge of the basket, like a periscope.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

As much as Fuu would prefer not to see the plum trees uprooted and destroyed en masse, she *has* done her homework about this issue, and she understands and accepts that there really isn't any other recourse for the city to take. Of course, that doesn't mean she likes it - she has numerous fond memories of Umeno Park, as do her parents and her elder sister - but she's accepting of it, and has come out to watch for the sake of closure. There's a quiet and solemn look on her face, and she's holding tightly to a small box, not unlike a traditional 'netsuke' or medicine-box.

The lack of anything actually happening is not lost on her, either; she's pulled out her phone and is checking for any updates that might have been posted online (at least, if there's decent wireless data service where she's currently standing).

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Hikaru's also accompanied Fuu here, although she's not showing her support for either side at the time. Instead, she's just standing there idly, looking a tad bit impatient as she waits for things to get underway. Seems like she's bored to be there, but that is actually just a cover for her. In actuality, Hikaru has a suspicion about this whole thing, almost like her sixth sense is kicking in again. So she's accompanied Fuu here under the pretense of being a companion. While Fuu checks her phone, Hikaru stands idly with arms folded.

"Shouldn't something have happened by now?" Hikaru comments to nobody in particular, although Fuu-chan might here it if she's listening intently enough. "I don't get it..."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Another middle schooler doesn't join the friendly chaos of the youth, instead finding they fit in more with the attitudes of the older folk. She had many fond memories of this place from her childhood, it seemed right to grieve them. Standing beyond the fence, waiting for the crews to begin, thinking on the matter as she milled about in the bustle of the crowd.

She understood why park officials would think this was necessary. The Plum pox was difficult to control once it took hold. And yet... it was a disfiguring, rather than terminal illness. It led to a mixed reaction on her part, and despite the pragmatic realities of this world, she felt it was like euthanizing someone whose beauty was marred and imperfect by disease.

It wasn't exactly like that, perhaps, but it still led to feelings of bitter anger as she watched the crews set up for what would be the end of all of the plum trees waiting beyond the fence. From Akemi she had learned that trees had spirits, more evidence that plants had feelings all of their own. And yet... why hadn't they spoken to Akemi? Or others? Why weren't they expressing their feelings? Perhaps they realized it was fruitless. Despair sinks in just behind the pangs of anger, just as she thinks on the implications of that.

As she checked her watch again, looking at the time, which has already passed, her thoughts then turn to her magic, and on the nature of death. Of helplessness, when it comes to standing by while something you cared about died. As it stands, she didn't accept death, or helplessness all that well. Stuffing her hands in her pockets, a foot rears back before coming forward to strike a stone, sending it careening elsewhere, but mercifully it doesn't strike anyone. Still, she got a dirty look or two, and she didn't even allow herself to look chagrined by it, as her gaze sweeps the crowd with a 'What?' look of irritation that was clearly written upon it.

It's only when she noticed the red-haired high schooler that her spirits lifted somewhat, moving through the crowd to come stand nearby Akemi. "Oh hey Akemi-chan. Here for the grand event?" That sounded a bit more bitter than she intended, so she dials back her voice a notch, sighing before asking, "Are 'they' still being quiet?" She doesn't inquire on why she thinks its late, perhaps she's secretly hoping its been pushed back or cancelled. ...Unlikely, but she can dream right?

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Be careful what you wish for.

Demolition is definitely being pushed back or cancelled today, because from the depths of the park comes the unmistakable sound of a terrified scream. Like a soloist in an aria, it begins on a painfully high note, then is joined by a horrifying chorus of other probable victims.

Virtually as one, the gathered crowds pull out their phones and call the police, and with splendid group organization begin to move children towards the train station, while leaving a path clear for the authorities to come through.

One way or another, the party is definitely over.

Hikaru Shidou has left.

<Pose Tracker> Akemi Tsukiyama [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Glancing by the girl in the frilly EGL dress (Nori) in her bid to see anything out of place, Guma tries to keep from looking too long out of curiosity. "Fashion really does cycle around..."

("I shouldn't be the one telling you to focus, Guma!")

Smirking to herself, Akemi doesn't immediately respond to her name being called, belatedly turning around as if prompted by something else. Her face lights up in subdued recognition, however. "Eri-chan." Her expression looks sympathetic as she hears the subtle tone in Eri's voice. She is poised upon opening her mouth to say something when Eri asks about 'them'.

Akemi shakes her head. "Not that I've seen. But that realm of things is not always as easy to perceive as sight. It's more akin to being a fishing ship in varying degrees of fog, sometimes unaware that there's anything beyond the surrounding water, while other times being able to see the very tops of trees on a nearby mountain."

("I don't... really talk like that, Guma...")

"Or something," the girl called Akemi adds, with a shrug. "I just like the imagery of that."

Whatever levity may have come from all this is shattered by the terrified screams... of people? Or something else? The color drains for Akemi's face. "Eri-chan, please. Get to the station. I'll follow behind you in a few minutes." It is, of course, a white lie of sorts. Guma will just have to apologize to Eri later.

Without much explanation, she begins running towards the screams.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The presence of others who she knows, at least a little, goes unremarked by Nori Ankou, or her dinner guest. There is a faint squeak when a pebble bounces through the grass near his basketty perch, but Nori reaches into the basket, and the squeak is all that's heard.

Any hope of post-lunch banter, rather than simply appreciating the passage of these gorgeous trees and then departing, perhaps with a sliver of wood as a memento, vanishes when that scream rings out, harsh and clear in the afternoon.

This makes Batiste pop his head up. "Well," he says, "that sounded awful..."

"Yes," Nori replies, quietly.


"Mm," Nori says with a nod, before she hoists up her picnic basket, closes her parasol, and joins the crowd... briefly, before drifting into another part of the park, and then behind some dense bushes. Places where you could LEAVE a parasol and a picnic basket.

As well as hide from prying eyes.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Whatever Fuu was looking up online, she's starting to lower her phone with a frown when the screaming starts, and it promptly disappears back into her pocket as she glances around the area. She lets the crowd sweep her along briefly, but as soon as Fuu can extricate herself from the flow without seeming to draw attention, she does so, doubling back towards the park. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe.

More likely, something is actually going on ... and with screams like that, it's not something she's going to leave without trying to save whoever can be saved - or 'whatever,' if there are nonhuman victims to be worried about. Either way, she has to take a closer look, and she's not about to do so in a defenseless state ... she just has to find a suitably secluded spot before she transforms. Among the trees might work - assuming she can get there without major obstacles or opposition.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

As Guma speaks to her, Eri doesn't seem to realize at all that it's not Akemi, some of the irritation around her fades away from surprise, before she grins, looking at her with renewed respect. "Wow, that's pretty poetic, Akemi-chan. You sound like a real shrine maiden!" And more serious than ever. Akemi had struck her as a lot more casual before, but this was a somber moment so she didn't find it unusual.

Unfortunately, she's never been careful in what she wished for.

As the screams begin, she looks in that general direction, at first looking surprised, but a moment later gaze narrowing in suspicion as others join in to create a cacophonous chorus. "Huh?" Giving Akemi a sideways glance, she blinks, before realizing that Akemi is already running, reaching a hand out as if to stop her, despite her already being far out of range. "Wait! Akemi-chan, you shouldn't..." Go alone? The words die in her throat.

While others may have reached to grab for a cell phone, she instead reaches inside her purse with one hand to grasp something round, avoiding the needle sharp points as she withdraws it, hoping that it wouldn't be necessary. She rolls it about in her hand as she runs forward on her own, in the direction of the voices, slipping by a gap in the fence intended for the workers before following along not far behind.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Much of the park is already in disarray -- no gouges in the ground from bulldozers, not yet, but in the months since the decision was made to destroy all the plum trees, resources have not been wasted in tending to them in their final days with any degree of luxury or care. Where flowers are not planted, brambles grow.

All that really doesn't explain the fog, however.

Even just a few feet into the park proper, a chilly haze has seeped into the gaps and settled in like a cat kneading a pillow before taking a nap. It's a sleepy fog, dampening sounds as surely as it condenses space, making a few meters seem endless. Every step through this murk must be won through bravery and persistence.

Normal people find themselves getting more and more tired, lulled into literal sleep by the clouds which merely invoked metaphor. Magical girls are much more resistant.

They are also more sensitive, and there is the definite sense that there is a presence here -- perhaps many presences. The keen, neck-prickling feeling of being watched is overwhelming, and also dizzying in the context of the mist.

The construction equipment, and (presumptively screamed-out) workers, are deeper within what is much more a thicket than a park, and seeming more primeval by the step.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

With a shimmer and a cool breeze, la Sirene du Nord prepares herself. And from there, she stalks inwards, into the forests and their misty environs.

Fog is something she tends to favor. It's atmospheric and comforting, a soft cushion that hides and highlights the beautiful in the world while concealing the ugly and the harsh. But the fog that la Sirene savors is not like THIS fog. A chilly and dampening haze, one that occludes rather than fetchingly veiling...

Batiste, walking alongside her, straightens up periodically to try and find his way, but is forced to clamber up to perch in la Sirene's coat pocket, purely to avoid getting tangled in brambles.

La Sirene du Nord lingers as she sees the looming form of what might be a bulldozer or a steam shovel, but which... no, she thinks. It can't be...

Probably not, anyway.

She sucks in a breath and calls out, her voice echoing and perhaps pushing against the fog's muffling clamminess, "Hallo...?"

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Well, the fog will hide Fuu just as well as the trees will, won't it?

"Belief becomes power ... Winds, guide me!" A brief, conjured whirlwind stirs the fog up further, and a hint of green-tinted light briefly illuminates a small area as Fuu transforms into the Magic Knight of Wind. Given the limited visibility, the Wind Knight materializes her sword for good measure and in case she has to protect herself - but she's keeping it pointed towards the ground, so she doesn't risk stabbing any allies she might wander into. Once that's done, she proceeds onwards, keeping her ears perked and trying to keep going in the same direction as she was starting in - the source of the screams. If the screaming is still ongoing, at least she can follow her ears ...

"Good to know I'm not the only person looking to help whoever was just attacked," she remarks aloud as she hears La Sirene du Nord calling out.

<Pose Tracker> Akemi Tsukiyama [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

It's for the best. Eri shouldn't have to see this side of Akemi's role.

Running into the fog, Guma has never felt a comparison become so literal so quickly.

("Are we too late...? T-to do anything, I mean.")

"It's hard to say." Guma, confident that no one followed her, allows her voice to be more audible than a whisper now. After all, everyone should be asleep. Who could, by chance, hear anything she says? "I'm annoyed that this presence has waited until now to appear, but that could be a sign of a corrupted or stressed spirit. Or more. The seal may have to take on a bit more weight, depending on what we can save."

Of course, hearing one side of a conversation is probably not that easy to make sense of, especially in light of more serious matters happening...

As the girl known as Akemi walks further into the thick fog, the covered seal tattoo on Akemi's back lights up and bleeds through the clothing on her body, undoing braided hair, replacing modern day garments with clothing that echoes the past.


("Was that a spirit?")

Pacing towards La Sirene du Nord, and then the voice of the Knight, Guma approaches the two. "So I'm not alone." She looks around. "It's possible that spirits, possibly from the trees, may have done this. Can you protect the workers? I'll try to contact them and come to some sort of treaty. It's possible that they have been corrupted, but until I encounter them, I cannot be sure. If possible, I want to come to a peaceful resolution, for both sides."

If it was just Guma, it would have been so much harder.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

It has become something like a savage garden here, and Eri was ill dressed for gardening. At first the fog only causes her to squint as she tries to mark her path forward. And yet, even she begins to feel it as she plods forward, the sluggish feeling that starts to seep into her bones. While she could shake it off, it distracted her somewhat, causing her to stumble into a bramble bush with one foot.

A dozen prickly pains tore through her leg, bringing a yelp from her lips and tear in her leggings as she extricated herself, "Ow ow ow! That was really careless Eri!" And yet the pain helped a little, to bring back that focus, and sense of danger. Suddenly wary, her gaze sweeps the fog, getting the feeling she did during her first classroom introduction at Ohtori, except far more acute. Eyes upon her, watching, judging. It felt kind of oppressive really.

Its only at that moment that she transforms, in a shimmer of green sparkles, the smell of rain and jasmine floating through the air, the sounds of leaves rustling in the breeze as she girds herself for... well she didn't yet know. Shouldn't she expect battle though?

She moves forward at a less hurried, yet much more driven pace. No longer having the screams to guide her, she instead thinks upon what could be happening. It does strike her as proof that the spirits weren't quiet after all. Maybe they were just watching, waiting. Reacting just as something happens rather than being proactive. It did strike her as something that sounded properly /tree like/ though at the same time she wasn't sure she knew how a tree felt. Could it be like she mused to Akemi, that she'd always been imposing her own feelings on them?

"Are you scared? Upset?" She murmurs inquisitively, in contemplation. To her it sounded like a dumb question, I mean, how would she feel in their position? Yet, was it really so dumb when she couldn't understand how they felt? The 'Hallo?' from La Sirene du Nord sounds a little distant, but she follows it and the sounds from the Magic Knight of Wind, arriving on the ground just in time to listen to Guma's explanation. Grateful that they weren't fighting, she just gives a quick nod, adding, "Well, if that's what's going on I'd prefer diplomacy. How are we supposed to find all the workers in this fog though?" While she might be a little mad at the workers, she realized they just didn't know what they were doing. So she didn't think upon leaving them to the mercies of the spirits... much at least.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

After an endless time wandering through the ever-thickening tendrils of fog, it is possible to find the first backhoe and bulldozer by walking into them -- or tripping over their drivers, who appear to be snoozing on the forest floor.

Roots are slowly but surely curling around them, gentle as a mother's embrace, sinister as a mortician's touch. There's something... off... about them, above and beyond the fact that they appear to be animated and sentient; they're very slightly fuzzy.

In fact, here in the heart of the forest, which really no longer bears any resemblance to a park, the fog itself is not just droplets of water, but an eye-watering miasma of ... spores? The smell intensified so slowly that it was, at first, impossible to notice, but in the thick of it, it is overpowering, sickening. Sickly.

A spore-coated root, this one massive, rips itself out of the ground, rises into the air, and almost lazily chops a forklift in two with a metal-grinding crunch.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Batiste, at least, is relieved to see Fuu. La Sirene du Nord is too, but she flips her hair a bit as the Magic Knight comes close. "We meet again..." And then the less familiar form of Guma comes up.

"The trees? Hmm-m-m," La Sirene says. "Unrest in the forest... Do you think they are protesting their execution?"

The yelping of the approaching Eri evokes another glance from the still-stable la Sirene. After this, meandering resumes as la Sirene toys with her hair. "That is a very good question. Those screams were quite loud... I would tend to worry for them. I hope we don't stumble over anything-"

La Sirene stumbles over a workman on the ground, hard enough that Batiste goes flying out of her pocket. He lands, though, and says aloud, "This smell..."

La Sirene's eyes turn up - and then a root rises, with lazy ease, and smashes down into a forklift with a metallic noise. She doesn't move immediately after this, shocked apparently into silence.

Batiste, scampering for his safer perch, asks Guma gravely, "So, diplomacy then?"

<Pose Tracker> Akemi Tsukiyama [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Akemi can't feel the effects of the fog, cocoon'ed inside the sphere of her mind, but Guma?

Guma mostly doesn't want to admit to it.

Kneeling down to examine some roots on a nearby bulldozer, Guma frowns. "Ah. I miscalculated here. I did not see the..." The Maiden winces. "The forest for the trees...? Yes. The spores themselves can be just as prone."

Right on cue, another root rips out of the ground, chopping a forklift in two.

("This is really, really bad...")

Hiding her dismay and shock as best she can, Guma looks to Batiste, nodding in reply. "... That's why I need everyone to protect the workers." She says that as if the workers are right there, in plain view, yet, when she actually takes her attention off looking for the spirits, Guma amends her statement with, "... We, uh, will need to find them."

Turning to the Knight of Wind, Guma considers her. "You have some control over the element of wind, correct? Is there any way you can channel this miasma away enough that we can look around, without spreading it outside the city?"

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Once their wandering takes them further abroad, she nearly trips into a crew boss, stopping just short only because she was paying more attention to her feet after the incident with the brambles. Which is why she quickly notices the roots.

Leaning down, her initial thought was to try to do something 'magical' to extricate them, until she notices the roots still moving, curling about them. Tilting her head to the side in wonder, she doesn't make a hostile move yet, instead observing them closely at their fuzziness. "Lichen?"

Right before her eyes start to water from irritation, wiping a hand across her eye mask, she notes it doesn't feel all that wet. Glancing at her hand, she looks at the powdery substance she wiped off. Only to be interrupted by the giant root crashing down to chop a forklift in half. With a sound from her throat like a squeak of fear, masked only partially by the metallic screech of the forklift pieces clattering about, she nods hurriedly, echoing Batiste, "Please." It at least proved to her that /something/ was upset.

Eri takes another glimpse at the roots curling about the workers, before giving Guma another introspective glance, "Well I'd love to protect them but... rescuing them right now might be perceived as hostile, given the position they're in." She glances around to noone in particular, other than the spore covered primeval 'heart' of the forest, swiping a hand across her eyes again, "Maybe we should figure out how... whatever's doing this feels before we do anything rash." She hoped it wasn't a hostage situation, but it could be, couldn't it?

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"I'm not sure these trees will listen very much to us even if we do try to talk to them," the Wind Knight says wryly to her allies as the root crushes through a forklift. "Containing the miasma, though ..." She trails off. "I *could*, yes. But it's going to take a lot of magic to surround this area completely and ensure that the miasma remains contained," she says apologetically to Kuma. "And trying to clear the air here to protect the workers - I can contain or I can disperse, I can't do both at once."

She bows her head for a moment. "Maybe later on, my magic will be more powerful and I could create a gentle storm with an eye at the middle. If you want me to keep this from spreading, I'd better make that my focus." She lifts her gaze again, looking at her allies. "I'll entrust the investigation to you, then; call out if you need my help, and I'll come as quickly as I can."

She smiles, bowing politely, and heads off to a point basically downwind of the park, as prevailing winds go. A moment later, there's a call of "Winds of Protection!" as she casts her barrier, reshaping it to surround as much of the park as she can with her wind-wall ... it's not going to stop people (or monsters) from entering or leaving, but the miasma WILL be contained.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The roots continue to slowly, steadily wend their way around the workers -- and as the summoned wind, moving across the park to form a wall, blows off the fog for a few moments, it is quickly revealed that there are another dozen or so men and women in jeopardy, scattered in a roughly half-kilometer radius around the area. One of the bulldozers is gradually sinking into a bog perhaps generated by a cunning release and redirection of groundwater, while another appears to be growing over with mold at a tremendous (and gross) rate.

But Fuu's wind is embattled, a fight that cannot be won for long in the face of the absolute stillness that is demanded of this environment from some other, powerful force. The fog rolls back in even as the winds slacken and die, other than the wall at the very edges, protecting the city from any further spreading.

Just before the mist rushes up to engulf everyone, there is the briefest glimpse of something blue, at the edge of a nearby clearing, right on the treeline where the plum trees are thickest and oldest.

<Pose Tracker> Akemi Tsukiyama [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Guma takes Fuu's words in with an understanding nod. "You know your abilities and limits better than I do. You probably have a better idea on what to do."

Through Fuu's efforts, the wind shifts, revealing the cruel truth the fog obscured from view. The workers are not merely sleeping, but are being engulfed by the moldy roots of the trees themselves. Looking to Eri, Guma nods solidly. "You may be right."

What it also reveals, however, may be a vital clue. "Over there! That could be a clue!"

Regardless of whether or not the Maiden is joined by the remaining others, she moves towards the light- or, at least, where she saw the light before the fog rolled back in. Pacing further into the fog, Guma raises her voice. "Listen to me, spirits of nature! I am the Scarlet Rune Maiden, protector of the balance between humanity and nature. As mediator, I am here to receive your grievances. Let us come to a possible resolution!"

("But if it's the kami or spirit of the mold, if we are even able to contain it in the seal, where can we let it go? The tree spirits could maybe released in a forest, but we'd just be releasing a pox...")

"We'll deal with that when we come to it," Guma says, not caring in her haste if others overhear her.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Batiste covers his eyes with his paws when Guma drops that line.

However, as the Magic Knight does her best to keep the funk from getting too thick and too dangerously dense, la Sirene reaches down carefully, trying to pull one of the workers loose from his rooted embrace. If she possibly can. A bulldozer's sinking, other things are scabbing over with mold...

La Sirene wishes she could smell a clear sea breeze, right now.

Even so, she starts moving hastily, trying to at least get the workers upright, or seated, and near each other - somewhere where she can... Wipe them clean more readily! And indeed, a robins'-egg-blue hankerchief makes its appearance here and there as she tries to make sure mouths are free of mold, dirt, and stray roots.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

As the wind-swept forest reveals just how many lives were at stake, she takes the time to try to mark their positions in her head, just in case they needed to make a quick rescue. Even as the spore-coated fog rolls back in, fighting against Fuu's winds, Eri's thoughts wend about in her head, believing that she'd made the right call by not trying to do anything magical here given the likely resistance. Though in a way it was just her adding justification for conserving her magic.

But as Guma points out, it revealed an important clue, and Eri looks up to catch a flash of blue at the edge of the clearing, listening to the Scarlet Rune Maiden as she entreats the spirits. She has a lot of questions on her mind for her, but now isn't exactly the best time. When the Scarlet Rune Maiden speaks up again, as if she were answering someone, and Eri misunderstanding what's going on creeps a little closer, murmuring, "Are they already speaking to you?"

She glances back towards La Sirene du Nord, asking hesitantly, "Are they... giving you some leeway there?" She watches carefully, before she'd move towards La Sirene to join her in trying to save the workers.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

La Sirene quickly discovers that this is, indeed, a hostage situation. The roots are not fragile little vines, they're thick wooden claws, and they will not release their prisoners into her care unless she uses some kind of force.

"...rune maiden..."

Everyone heard that, carried more within their hearts than by the stagnant, muffled air. Its source slowly reveals itself, one hoof at a time.

It -- he -- is a deer. A stag, with a tree of life's worth of antlers and speckles shaped like plum blossoms along his flanks. His shape is shimmery and indistinct.

Also, he's very blue, slashes of the color criss-crossing him and glowing softly.

"...a thousand thousand moons, I was contained and healed by the covenant..."

His eyes, however, are red with madness, as they snap widely, hugely, roundly open and stare straight at the group.

"...and upon the new moon of next month, I would have finally returned to myself, free..."

He shakes his massive head, the tips of his antlers carving razor-sharp arcs through the mist. The blue veins that twine around him shimmer, and another voice exits his mouth. It is ragged, pained, young, and female.

"I did... everything I could. I told you... I am so sorry about the sickness..."


The entire forest is beginning to tremble, the trees themselves rousing into an army hungry for blood, the earth unable to contain them.

<Pose Tracker> Akemi Tsukiyama [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Eri's question isn't answered at first, Guma's breath becoming to labored from speaking and running at the same time. Stopping briefly, she looks to Eri. "... No. That was- ... No. I was thinking aloud. There is something else I can do, if it comes down to it. But," she admits, in a rare show of doubt, "I really hope it doesn't come down to it."

And then, a presence speaks.

A spirit? A kami? "... That's..." Guma's expression twists into shock. "Out of everything I expected, this wasn't..."

A second voice. Female. Someone's... inside? "A possession?" It couldn't be another Rune Maiden. Yet, the spirit, possibly a kami, spoke of a 'covenant'.

"Another Rune Maiden, if my theory's right. And it probably is." Guma's eyes narrow, attempting to perceive . "It was originally what Maidens did- when a spirit of nature became corrupted, instead of sealing it away, they would become the seals ourselves, using the purity of their will and heart to restore a spirit back to what it was before. It's a process that takes decades, even generations. These spirits would, in turn, allow the Maiden to transform to be alongside like-minded fighters. But sometimes... it doesn't work. That's why we are rare nowadays."

There's more to it, of course. But these allies need some context, at the very least.

("... That's...")

"I can't seal a spirit attached to another seal. So. You all are going to have to help me convince this spirit exactly why it shouldn't hurt those workers. You're probably just as qualified as I am to do this, being prime examples of what humanity is capable of." Maybe, more so. They ran into here, not knowing what to expect, and still stay here. "As for me..."

Guma turns to the kami(?). "Speaking as one demon to another..." she begins candidly, "If you continue, you just might lose the one being, human or spirit, that is willing to give it all up for you. Is that really worth whatever vengeance you might gain?"

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Faced with the challenge of dealing with these harsh grips AFTER diplomacy has been promised, La Sirene is anxious. "These people don't deserve this!" she says with a hint of edged panic in her tone, before someone speaks.

Her head snaps up, and her pale blue eyes look at a luminously luxuriant blue stag. "Ohh--"

But then he speaks. To Guma, of course - who seems to be the intermediary for the trees, as she might have been for sorrow and tears. Of course, when she speaks of tears in her mind, she sees how red those eyes are, and how bloodshot.

La Sirene bites her lip.

But then Guma speaks up. And La Sirene looks at her with a sudden shock of understanding. She's one of many. There's a profession - an order, or at least a tradition. Pulling herself up to her feet, with one last pained glance at the workman, she says, "Hold!"

She clasps her hands before herself. "I am la Sirene du Nord, she who brings the cold winds of the North. I regret that our meeting must be under such circumstances. But I can hear the sorrow in your heart. I can see the tears which gather in your eyes...!"

One hand comes over her heart, as a stray breeze not from the Magic Knight stirs her hair, very gently. "But these men and their machines, they acted in ignorance. They sought only to fight a disease - from what they knew. Please... they are innocent! Spare them your sorrow's blows."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Oh." Is all she says to the Scarlet Rune Maiden at first, "I do that too sometimes." Usually when she was alone though.

The voice carries through the cloud, stopping her walk short as she turns to view the wonder of the blue stag. "He's beautiful..." She whispers with a note of awe, until the madness in his eyes and his words finally snap her out of the situation, bringing back the deadly context.

Her posture becomes tense, her stance wary, even as the other voice, so very different, tries to apologize to the first. Looking around, her eyes dip to the earth, perturbed by the sight, but not quite /yet/ ready for a fight. His voice marks him as someone who knows the Scarlet Rune Maiden, and thus she allows Guma to take the lead, speaking on the context of what's going on.

It takes her a while to process it. What Rune Maidens do. What they used to do. What must have happened. And yet even still her mind hasn't figured it all out. Yet Guma is asking her to appeal to the creature on what humanity is capable of. La Sirene speaks next, and Eri can only admire her eloquence. Emotions swirl around in her head, then bubble up, as she tries to think on how to give those words form.

Eventually she speaks softly, but not sweetly. She sounds bitter, and more than a little sad, "Look. I don't understand everything that's going on here, but these people don't either. They think they're just stopping a disease from spreading, they don't..." She pauses for a moment, looking at one woman entwined in the roots, "...know how you and all the other spirits feel. And neither do I, beyond the fact that you're upset and angry. I'm angry too. I think its pretty thoughtless of them to cut down a forest just because the disease..."

She pauses, for a time, then sighs as she can only think of one way to put it, "...disfigures the beauty they see, that they can taste, how you appeal to them. When for so long, the trees have given them so many happy memories. As for me? I don't... consider your lives to have less value than theirs, but equal. I'd like to try to save you all if I can. The only reason I didn't before is because..."

Her shoulders droop at the coming admission. She turns back to the stag, her eyes filled with worry as she finally says, "...I guess I didn't understand how all of you felt. Whether you accepted this, or didn't. Well now I know. So maybe these people here can't understand, but we'd like to try. So please, let these people go, and tell us how you feel. What we can do. What you'd like to happen. Nothing can change otherwise."

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

For a long time, the spirit listens silently, but not impassively, as the girls talk around it. The fog continues to billow and swirl, carrying touches of exhaustion and disease with every puff.

When it's addressed directly, things start to get ugly.

Guma's words cause froth to bubble at his jaw; acidic stuff which boils when it hits the ground and rejoins the rest of the fog. His eyes roll wildly in their sockets. He is totally, absolutely enraged.

But he cannot seem to find the words to express his feelings -- and then La Sirene is addressing his sorrows and absolving the city planners, which makes him snort, more equine than deer in that moment.

His fur is shifting, the patterns on it constantly, dizzyingly in motion. With every passing moment, they're becoming steadily more chaotic, like a Magic Eye in five dimensions, inducing headaches at a glance.

At last Eri speaks, speaks and questions, and something within him, wound tightly by Guma and strummed by Nori, snaps.


He's looking at Guma when he spits that out, but then he draws back, his hooves meeting beneath him in a graceful leap over the crowd. He lands on the other side, and paces in a slow, wide circle.


Wherever his hooves touch the ground, a puff of fog -- of pox -- comes into being. The nearby plum trees tremble, every time a spore comes into contact with them.


His rage spent with all the sound and fury of a summer storm, his magnificent neck lowers his head to the ground. There is a still, small silence, which is filled, after his flanks heave with labored breath, with that second voice.

"Bringing people out here... attracting them with the pox... you did this on purpose, didn't you? You thought maybe they could help... me."

She sounds incredulous, and heartbroken, and very, very tired.

"I told you, dear heart... there is no cure. And now... look at you, look at your home... you sacrificed it for nothing..."

"NOTHING!" he roars over her, regaining full control, the shout glottal and hoarse. "NOTHING LEFT! NOW, I HAVE NO REASON TO CARE!" The spirit sounds triumphant, in a very twisted way.

<Pose Tracker> Akemi Tsukiyama [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

"My apologies... I underestimated you." Guma, for once, looks defeated, the sharp double-edged sword of her own pride and quick assumptions turned against her. Her words are choked with sorrow. "... It's been so long. Too long. I've forgotten what that feeling is like, really."

No medicine. No cure. It was not hate that inspired all this, but, possibly, love. Love, and despair in the face of loss.

Empathy, like shards of steel lancing into skin, or mercury poisoning the blood, twists Guma's face into a wince. "If I could, I'd take you on and let you get out all your frustrations and anger against me. Rage? Helplessness? Apathy? I've been there, right like you have." She attempts to hold the spirit's gaze in her own, summoning the pride that flowed through her so freely before. "I am the proud servant of the mountain, after all, able to take all foes but time."

No. There's other ways to take Guma down. Other far more painful ways. "However." That same proud smirk melts away like frost in the morning sun. "I've got my own charge. I want to protect her, as long as I can. One day, I'll have to let her go, just like you have probably had to, many times before."

There is one option this kami has. It's a grim one, but one Guma has considered. That is to live and die with a host, to accept that last breath as her own without freeing herself from the weakening bonds of the seal to live anew. ... It's not one she wants to talk about aloud, especially with the shocked Akemi listening. Let Guma be the prideful old overprotective bear spirit who was, vaguely, once a demon. Don't let the darker details come into the light.

"..." The Maiden strides forth towards the spirit as he circles, her amber gaze calm. It's unclear what she was planning to to just then, since it's after that that the demeanor of the Maiden changes, like a flick of a switch. It's subtle, but it shows in the crease of her mouth, the way her body shifts. The new glint in her eye.

Guma is no longer in control. ("What are you doing?! This is dangerous!")

"I'm sorry..." A hand is clasped to the Maiden's chest. Looking around her, at the others with her, it almost seems like the apology is for them. Maybe, it is. Sorry, but I'm not supposed to be in charge.

"You have every reason to care. She's still alive. Don't you want to spend every minute you have being with her, instead of doing all this?" Tears, something that would have been forbidden on that same face moments before, well up in the Maiden's eyes. "I know a little of what it's like. It makes you feel horrible and helpless, seeing someone waste away. But if you keep doing this, you'll just keep hurting her."

The tattoo on the Maiden's back begins to glow. "I can give you some of my energy. I don't know if it'll help, but I'm healthy. I can spare it. It could give us some time to think what all of us can do. Between all of us, there's got to be something."

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

All of this is terrible. A true tragedy... Only a few moments from his freedom and now he is trapped, doomed, left in peril. This disease...

Is there really no cure?

Biting her lip, La Sirene feels her eyes well up. "This... all of this... Oh, it is just too, too sad--!!"

Stepping forwards, her hands raise up, one coming to her chest and the other held against her chest. "I can tell what surges through you. Sorrow, despair, anger, frustration - that strange sense of liberation, the feeling of hopelessness... ahh...!"

La Sirene du Nord clasps her hands before herself, pleading, even as the Rune Maiden steps in. "I know nothing of plagues, little of poxes, still less of trees. But I will offer you what strength I can as well. The seas from which I hail will guide you and bear away your pains, if nothing else."

She reaches into her pocket - and draws out the Black Mirror, holding it reverently in her palm. A faint smell wafts from it, the fresh breezes of that sad and darkling sea, but in this dark and stuffy forest - smelling of the nearness of death and the sickness of proud plants - it may be pleasant, it may ease hearts. If nothing else, it promises a certain peace.

The mirror gleams silver; mist rises from it, sharper and moist.

La Sirene murmurs to Guma - or is it Akemi, now? - "Please, guide me... This is very new for me..." In her coat pocket, Batiste wrings his paws, but this, too, is beyond his experience. Perhaps this is a sign of a true queen's heart.

And then she steals a momentary glance at Eri. Perhaps she's hoping, in her shadowy but nonetheless innocent way, if the gardening girl can manage some miracle. But is there such a thing as miracles?

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

When the stag snaps at her, she flinches, tensing up again thinking she'd erred, blundered. 'What else is new?' She thinks cynically, hand flexing as she readied for a fight. Though at least she felt more equipped to handle it than before. It doesn't happen.

Instead she listens to a passionate, raging indictment of humanity, but that's not really what this is about is it? It's really just that he wants to save the one he cares about. What had he sacrificed for that?

Her eyes sweep through the spore cloud picking out one plum tree after another, afflicted by the pox, and suddenly the reality of the situation just sinks in. This one was responsible for that. How much had been condemned to destruction just because of his love for the maiden he'd bonded to?

She'd been so very wrong. It was more horrible than she'd imagined.

Part of her wants to punish that selfishness. Meting out justice though felt hollow here. No, instead she just felt sorrow, pity. As the Scarlet Rune Maiden steps forward, control wrested from the one she was bonded to, she listens to her, truly listens. 'I know what a little of what it's like. It makes you feel horrible and helpless, seeing someone waste away...'

Those words are like a blow to her very soul. Her eyes go wide, before all the intensity floods out of her, giving way to the tide of memory. Yes, she knew exactly what that was like, all too well. What had she been willing to give? How could she have forgotten, even for a moment? Because it hurt, obviously, because of distance, of disconnect with that person, but still it made her feel a throbbing pang of guilt.

She knew what that sort of helplessness felt like, when it came to someone she loved. La Sirene du Nord speaks upon his sorrow, looks at her, and she steals a furtive glance her way in return. She rolls something about in her gloved hand, looking pensive. Magic and miracles did exist, but at what cost?

"I don't want to forgive you-" The Puella Magi says softly, looking up, her eyes glisten just a little as a pregnant pause lingers through the air, "-but I do. Because I also know what it feels like, to be helpless as someone you care about wastes away. I know what I would sacrifice."

She doesn't elaborate any more though, after all, this isn't about her. The miracle La Sirene is hoping for? It isn't one she can give. Even if her magic could achieve it without a miracle, it would take a veritable mountain of grief seeds. "I'll give what I can." A look towards the Scarlet Maiden, "You'll need to guide me through it too." She just hoped it would be enough.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.


There are so many ways that they manifest, large and small. Most of them go overlooked, forgotten, like the many tiny miracles of a person maintaining their responsibility and dignity through extraordinary, awful circumstances, and the other tiny miracles of kindness that gave them the strength to do so, day after day after day.

The stag, the spirit -- he pauses in his ranting to listen to another spirit, another girl. Girls. They speak to him and to the one currently carried within him, invisible beneath the fur and moss and sparkles. His eyes half-lid, and then close, listening in that desperately active, silent way of someone who would do anything to hear a solution to an intractable problem.

Scarlet light pours out of Akemi and towards the stag, followed by silver and green. In response, that now-familiar azure light glows more brightly, veins of it rising to meet the incoming offering -- a noble sacrifice, however large or small -- and take it in.

He exhales a breath he hadn't realized he was holding in a sharp, surprised huff.

"This is good... you see, my friend? There is still something to be done."

But there is only silence in response, one that lengthens unbearably, until, finally, there is a tiny-voiced cough. "No," his Maiden replies. "There isn't, not for me. But, perhaps... there is hope for you."

The dubiously solid stag's form ripples, and his eyes reopen, alarmed.


"My duty," the girl replies, as she becomes visible gradually, superimposed over his form. She is little more than a skeleton in a hospital gown, with a knit bobbleheaded cap where hair would otherwise be. "It's okay. Shh. We don't -- both have -- to go. Not today."

Scarlet light pools in one palm, scarlet and silver and green, and in the other is her own blue. With painstaking care and what appears to be painful effort, she brings them together.

The world explodes in a flash of radiance, spreading outwards from the four girls in a colorful wave that passes through the trees, which immediately release their holds on the various, largely unconscious, construction workers.

When the world can be seen again, there's no sign of the stag, just a tiny cancer ward patient shivering on the ground. There's something clasped in her hands, which cling to each other before her chest, not unlike a held rosary in prayer.

She offers it to Akemi, palms up. "I am sorry he caused such trouble," she whispers, sounding tired, so tired. "Please... when the park reopens... plant this for me."

It is a plum pit -- a seed. It still pulses with everyone's light, which is being steadily drawn inside of it, the veils dimming with a heartbeat's pace.

Surely a spirit sleeps within, peacefully. Reborn into a smaller form, certainly, but one free of the self-inflicted disease that has claimed the grove they're in.

"Thank you," she chokes out, tears budding in the corners of her eyes. "Without you... and your help... he would have been lost. And the world... should not lose one such as he. There are... so few left."

As she collapses backward, her final words are towards Akemi, but for the one behind her eyes.

"Don't... give up... on yourself. You owe... her love... that much."

And then she's gone, lost to the final mystery.

But the seed remains, full of its own mystery, and light, and life.