2016-04-28 - A Light Meal! Infinity's Seventh Mystery!

From Battle Fantasia MUSH
Jump to: navigation, search
Title: <Your title>

Fate tries to befriend Hotaru and Bardiche pays the price.


Fate Testarossa, Hotaru Tomoe


Infinity Institute, Elementary School Playground

OOC - IC Date:

04-28-2016 - 10-18-2014

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Y_G-KPs6sU

There are a variety of play spaces scattered within the halls of Infinity Institute, but the favorite of the Elementary School is no higher than the second floor. It's in the back, far from the monolithically intimidating front face of the skyscraper; a broad balcony, framed by railing that can fold and unfold convenient and spectacularly high-tech windows, such that on warm and sunny days it feels wholly open to the elements, and in the depths of winter it is enclosed, and heated, to boot.

Like any very active playground, it looks something like a kicked anthill, if all the ants wore white and blue. From the sandboxes to the swings, the monkey bars to the see-saws, children weave around one another on the way to their next destination, groups of friends meeting up, separating, and reforming in new combinations with every passing breath. It is, overall, a loud and joyous place. It's maybe a little bit silly of Infinity to keep it from the eyes of the public -- certainly it presents a largely open and friendly atmosphere.

But no place is perfect, not even this slice of childhood heaven. The fly in the ointment (required to be here for this hour of the day, or else she'd surely be elsewhere) sits primly on a bench, and the total completeness with which she is ignored is chilling in its magnitude. Sure, no one taunts or teases her, and in comparison, tears do fly in the sandbox when a little girl's braids are pulled, and some kids get scraped knees when they tumble too quickly down the slide. But the shunning taking place is more insidious. Games orbit around her, deflecting before they can get near -- there is fully a ten foot radius of empty space in all directions, like the eye of a storm, where no child sets foot. Someone's misthrown ball bounces violently off of the back of the bench, and the thrower holds their breath... then exhales, as it rolls onwards, easy to collect.

The only saving grace is that the frail young lady on the bench doesn't seem to notice the treatment she receives -- or if she does, and has succeeded at hiding her feelings so completely, perhaps that's even sadder, still. She's a little ghost in her white dress, an apt metaphor, considering how the schoolyard elects to treat her bench like it's been haunted, and her eyes are hidden by the shadowy fan of bangs across her forehead, as she bends over her book.

If she were Ami Mizuno, it might be a textbook; Rei Hino might (though she'd hotly deny it) have a manga squirreled up her sleeve. But it is neither of these things. The tome, which swallows and overflows her lap, looks almost too heavy for her skinny arms to lift. It doesn't seem to have many, or maybe any, illustrations, until she turns a page filled with tiny text to arrive at the exact center of the text, which gives way to spectacular, full-page engravings, characteristic of very old fiction (and some historical accounts).

A very faint flush comes to her gaunt, virtually translucent cheeks, as she stares at the beauty in the illustration, inhaling its loveliness with the hunger of a lonely child. It looks like a fairyland -- soft, colorful trees, broad plains, gentle rivers. In the distance, a shining white castle; in the foreground, an armored figure, a knight on a horse.

No one seems to notice the subtle transformation in this creature, typically dismissed as, at best, a sullen wallflower. The shouts and laughter on the playground proceed as normal, without her; a day in the life at Infinity Institute continues on.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

"...though I'm plucky and adventury," "Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;"

Across the playground, was the sound of a girl singing in perfectly English. It wouldn't take long for someone to spot the sight of Arisa Bunnings, fourth grade class representative, balancing atop a contraption of tires elevated off the ground, her book bag on her head as she neared the end of the course. Her hands spread out to her sides for balance.

"But still, in matters vegetable... animal... and mineral."

With one final energetic hop, she sticks the landing triumphantly raising her arms to prevent the bag from toppling.

"I am the very model of a modern Major-General!"

The applause for the popular girl is uproarious and genuine. Slinging her book bag down on her shoulder, she puts her hands on her hips, absorbing the adulation before moving over to the more prim Suzuka, and the blonde next to her. The two were still clapping, neither more than the other, though Fate's eyes shined with admiration. "You were wonderful, Arisa." "Of course I was! And now it's your turn!" Now that the show was over though most of the others were wandering off, breaking into their own games, leaving the trio just by the playground apparatus of rubber and metal.

One blonde clasped her hands over the other's and Fate had this genuinely embarrassed look. "I'm not sure my English is really up to the task." "So sing something else! Unless you want to go Suzuka-chan?" "Ah. No thank you."

Her hand dropped away from Fate's, as she crossed them in a huff, "Geez, neither of you are being any fun today. All these excuses after going at it like you did in dodgeball!"

Fate glanced sidelong at Suzuka, the two of them sharing an exchanged look between classmates, "That's ah... different." The autumn wind blows, and Fate puts a hand to her brow as her twintails flow in the breeze, she's looking at Suzuka, past her, through the haze of violet strands.

Directly at a girl on a bench.

Arisa is going on about something, but Fate isn't listening, not because she's trying to be rude, but because her attention is elsewhere.

She was the observant sort, so as she stared, she noticed the signs. The thwap of a ball against the back of a bench. The thrower being hesitant to approach. How the play always seemed to be directed as far away from her as possible. She knew the signs of loneliness and isolation. She knew them all too well.

"Hey... Fate-chan, are you listening to me?" Arisa finally says indignantly, about ready to wave a hand in front of her face. Fate finally said, "Ah. Maybe we should try inviting... someone else to play with us?"

Suzuka on the other hand follows Fate's gaze, lets out a quiet gasp, then looks at Fate, trying to direct her eyes away. "You mustn't stare at her." She whispers quickly, "They... they say... bad things happen if she notices." Arisa as if noticing where Fate was looking for the first time gets a shiver up her spine that sends her up on her toes, looking away from her quickly, putting a hand on Fate's back to steer her away more forcefully, "That was a close call!"

Arise gives Suzuka an anxious look, "You think she saw?" "I hope not..." The violet haired girl whimpers. Arisa exhales once, then looks directly at Fate, voice still hushed in a tone that's low for her, "Looks like we forgot to warn you. That's Hotaru Tomoe, one of Infinity's seven mysteries! Bad things happen to anyone who gets close to her."

Suzuka frets a little more quietly, wringing her hands in terror, "I didn't know that she was one of the mysteries... but I heard a second year she looked at disappeared on the way home and was never seen again." Fate has this look of mild incredulity as Arisa continued, "The point is Fate-chan, you just need to stay away from her. Let's move further away, just in case."

The twintailed girl looks down at the ground, "Umm... she really doesn't seem..." Her feet shift for a while, like she was torn between two different thoughts, but Arisa was being pretty insistent about it now, tugging at her sleeve and she didn't want to really argue the issue, "Alright."

It wasn't long before the other two girls were distracted, with Arisa pushing Suzuka higher and higher in a swing, the latter's laughter bubbling across the playground. Fate however, was still looking across the playground at the lone girl that everyone avoided. Everything became like a haze of white noise around her as she watched, the world losing some of its color.

And it wasn't long before her feet acted upon it, taking her in that direction, neither classmate noticing her in time to stop it from happening. There she was, standing in front of Hotaru, hands clasped together, eyes downcast slightly which put her gaze more upon her lap than anything. "Ah. Hello." The voice from her lips is lower than the most distant of rumbles upon a horizon. Unlikely to be heard over the other children if not for proximity. "What are you reading?"

The younger girl's eyes reach Hotaru's face for just a moment, but then they're down again upon the illustrations. An upside down glimpse of the fantasy of another world going on in the other girl's mind.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

Despite being surrounded by babble, Hotaru was enveloped deeply in silence all her own, an extra layer no one else could be aware of. It's protection, a veil over her heart, to tune out the buzzing of a beehive she can never be a part of. Instead, her ears ring with the sounds of the story inside her head, the clash of knights, the clatter of hooves, the soft songs of the deep and mysterious forests.

But it's hard to know that that's why Fate goes ignored far longer than even the most generous boundaries of politeness can encompass; having taken for granted that no one would address her, the girl doesn't actually notice when someone has done so. It's only after the words have faded from her mind, because there are no more, only the illustration, that she seems to realize that she's not alone.

Her first reaction is to flinch with surprise, and in doing so, the tome slips between her fingers and slams shut. It is an aggressively loud noise for an accident. It is rude, something that an unfriendly person would do to lash out at being interrupted. Her shoulders tense -- easy to see, in the way that her shoulder blades, which push at her uniform like tentpoles because of how little flesh sits on her bones, hitch upwards. It could be embarrassment, or anger, or simply the expectation of abuse.

It is very familiar.

However, what she sees in the moment that she examines Hotaru's face, rather than the book, is not familiar at all. There's a loveliness there, a sort of fairy fragility, like she's a masterfully wrought porcelain doll, but it's drowned out instantly and totally by the barest glimpse of her eyes. They're like black holes. Dark. Cold beyond cold, the cold of emptiness, the cold of void. Strange -- alien, even to an alien. Some violet eyes are easy to appreciate as exotically beautiful, but these are as romantic as the maw of a shark, and much less knowable. Sharks are hungry, sharks are predators; play by their rules and you'll be safe. This expressionlessness is categorically unsafe; impossible to read, and thus impossible to understand, to predict, to handle.

Once she moves her gaze downwards, Fate receives the answer to her question in spite of it, rather than because of it; Hotaru surely never heard it at all. But, closed, the title emblazoned on the brown leather cover is easy to see: THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING.

Hotaru doesn't realize how strained the silence is; to her perceptions, it has only been going on for a fraction of its true length. But then, she always has had a keen appreciation for silence in itself. When she finally breaks it, her low, quiet voice is startlingly... gentle. It belongs in well-bred Arisa, or gentle Suzuka. Coming from the daughter of the Infinity founder, it's like watching a snake rise up, open its jaws, and... speak.

She doesn't look straight at Fate, but past her, at the middle distance. "What is it?" she asks, with only the barest edge of cynicism, of expectation that this is just another bully come to prove their courage. "What... do you want from me?"

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

The uncomfortable silence. It stretches on longer than Fate expected from most girls her age, so long that she feels like she's standing at her mother's door, waiting for her knock to be acknowledged. Many times it never was... but she doesn't flee. She was the patient sort, the kind who could stand there just waiting... and waiting. Her weight shifts from one foot to the other, but even that motion is so subtle, just a little rocking from side to side.

But when the book slams shut, it seems louder. Louder than anything on the playground, like a crack in a void of silence. Fate's eyes grow wide as she sees the tension in Hotaru, and in that moment...

She flinches.

Fate's flinch comes not long after Hotaru's. If Hotaru were looking just then, she might swear that Fate was scared. That might feed into the mindset that she was here on a dare, to prove her courage, or a bully. Someone with preconceptions of who Hotaru was...

Not long after she's looking at Hotaru's face. There's something unsettling about her eyes. Fate had seen violet eyes before, a royal purple that marked the chilliest emotions all the way to the fires of seething, snapping, popping rage. But Hotaru's eyes go even beyond the coldest feelings she'd ever seen in Precia Testarossa's eyes. Her breath catches a little in her throat.

Fate's on the other hand, are dim red, like a low burning fire, like an old star passionately burning onto life. An inner contrast to her outer reserve.

She can't look at Hotaru's eyes for too long, instead they're on the cover. The title is unfamiliar to her. In fact, it takes her some time to even work it out. She was still catching up to reading Japanese, having to use a dictionary for most Kanji still.

She's not looking at Hotaru when she speaks. And Fate's breath catches a second time. And her eyes flicker up and downward quickly as if she were being addressed by her mother, not an eleven year old girl. There's something just as imperious about it. "I..."

This is a moment where she feels silly for not listening to Arisa and Suzuka. She always felt so out of place amongst other girls her age, but more in this moment than most. But her courage doesn't quite fail her. She'd seen something, and she grasps ahold of that when the rest of her mind's sensory input, and her memories contradict it all at once.

"...I just wanted to ask if you'd like to join us." The words spill out of her mouth like cotton balls that fall upon the floor. "Or... if not, just to see if you wanted someone to talk to... it's..."

She looks down and at the floor, as if anticipating another angry reaction, preparing herself, to make herself as small a target as possible. "...tiring sometimes for me, being around so many at once, but it's better than being by myself." She murmurs, wondering if she's said something that perhaps she's crossed some line she didn't know about. That didn't make it any less her fault. Someone had once impressed into her that she ought to know.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

Whether Hotaru saw Fate's flinch or simply imagined it as the logical consequence to her slip-up with the book, the tension it created was the same. What a strange pair they make; two waifs, one night-dark and one sun-bright, both pale in other ways, both afraid, neither able to look at the other.

They're noticeable. The schoolyard is their audience, now, the ambient noise having dropped by half as voices quiet to suspicious murmurs and shocked whispers at the surprising sight of the popular Testarossa approaching the hated Tomoe. Hotaru's lips twitch away from their dreadfully straight line, and the tiny smile that first arrives in the corners of her mouth is a little bit bitter. She knows she's on a stage, not of her choosing or her preference. Loneliness is better than being the center of attention like this. Sooner or later, the crowd will turn ugly.

But... then something odd happens. Like the changing of leaves with the turning of the seasons, or the unfurling of a bud to the full splendor of a blossom, Hotaru simply puts all of that aside, and takes Fate at her word. Her smile metamorphoses. Her whole face does, her whole body. She sits up straighter, beautiful posture settling into the curve of her shoulders and spine. Her white knuckles around the book relax, and she holds it gracefully, lovingly.

With a flex of her black-stockinged legs -- far, far thinner than Fate's, even though she's taller and older -- she scoots over, making room on the bench.

"You're a very nice person," she observes, her smile shy and surprised, and somehow, despite every prior creepy impression, not out of place at all. It's a lovely smile, on a beautiful girl. Her eyes shine with gentle gratitude. "Thank you for your kindness."

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Arisa and Suzuka have noticed. They're no longer on the swings. They seem like they're in some sort of hushed panic, likely discussing whether they should save the naive, foolish, popular and sweet new transfer student from the mysterious demon witch. On the other hand, that would expose them to any hex she might cast on them with the slightest twitch of an eyebrow. Fate was obviously already doomed, wasn't she? They could already write her epitaph in their young heads. But on the other hand, what would Nanoha think? Back and forth they go, vacillating from one side to the other.

Fate doesn't even notice. It's the mindset of a child who has been on stage for one critic alone, for so long.

Fate is looking back at her out of the corner of her eyes, only seeing strands of dark hair, almost translucent cheeks, and a peek at the violet void. But then the curves of Hotaru's lips bloom from a smile that Fate had considered possibly as a symptom of bitter cruelty.

Fate looks upon her fully now, as if the beauty of the moment had drawn her eyes to the only place they could possibly go. Her own lips move to smile, though it seems subdued, like someone who has only begun to learn again that she can, like something is holding it back. Perhaps it comes out just a little in her words, like she sounds awkward at the praise, "I'm not sure if that's so. But... thank you for saying so." Fate takes a step forward. Then another.

It's like the girl from her has transformed fully in her eyes from something cold and dark, unknowable and distant into something inviting and warm. And she won't fail to accept that invitation. As if showing a glimpse at another facet of a gem, another face of a concept.

The whole playground audience is shocked as Fate seats herself on the bench, and smoothes out the white skirts of her uniform with both hands. "I'm Fate. Fate Testarossa." She still doesn't notice that anyone is even looking, her eyes on Hotaru, her smile growing as she gets away from the uncomfortable subject of her kindness. "What's your name?" Arisa had said it, and Fate doesn't entirely doubt her, but the rest of what Arisa and Suzuka had said, it certainly can't be true of this girl, could it? So maybe they were just mistaken.

Maybe it was some other girl.

The closer she is, the more fine details Hotaru can make out of her. She gets small dimples on her cheeks when she smiles enough. The pinkness of well worn in hair ribbons. The callouses on her hands. The contours of a triangle in her sewn pocket. One of the precious few on the uniform.

If Fate seems warm up close in a natural way, it emits a warmth that prickles senses beyond just touch. A pulse that belongs to it alone. A low thrum, like a sleeping summer cloud that promises thunder and lightning once the showers begin.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

"Fate Testarossa," Hotaru repeats, her tongue tickling the strange, foreign name, and doing pretty well by it. She's a well-read girl. Even now she keeps her book safely on her lap; she would no more abandon it to the surface of the bench, much less the ground, than she can fly. Absently she strokes its cover, as one might pet a beloved companion.

"I'm Hotaru Tomoe," she offers in return, a little bit cautiously. There's much to see, now that they're together, much to feel. Any change in her attitude aside, physically speaking she's quite cold, in a relatively unnatural way -- maybe those vampire rumors are true. Her hands are as delicate and untouched as the rest of her seems to be (though there's nothing to see, but her hands and face, the rest carefully concealed by fabric); presumably the translucence of her skin comes from having never gone outside in her life, except for the occasional mandatory playground hour. What does she do for fun? Well, maybe she reads books.

She's well aware of her own reputation, that much is clear -- relinquishing her name did not come so trivially, and perhaps she already expects Fate to draw back. The corners of her eyes are already winced, expecting an explosive reaction. Or... perhaps she's her reputation's own best advocate, because what comes next is a bit unexpected.

"You should probably stay away from me," the girl proceeds to suggest, kindly and quite without undue self-deprication. It's almost casual, but not at all a joke. "It's not--"

The rest gets cut off into a hoarse gasp, one amplified by the rest of the playground as throats gasp in horrified reaction to Hotaru's eyes rolling back in her head, which sinks heavily towards her chest. Now the book does fall, splayed out in the dirt. Kaori will lecture her about it later, tell her that she's banned from the library for a month for showing such discourtesy to her supposedly precious books. For now, though, all she can feel is agony, as she struggles to choke air through her lungs, push blood through her veins. The other kids see a seizure; incredibly, nobody goes for a teacher. Maybe this sort of thing is so common that it's no big deal.

Even more incredibly, Hotaru seems to agree. "Don't -- worry," she pants, silvers of violet reappearing as her eyes open just a crack, still mostly veiled by long lashes. Each word is the product of Herculean effort, a battle against her chest and limbs having turned into bitterly biting steel knives. "I'll be -- fine. Just -- go..."

Her eyes disappear again, and she sways on the bench, rapidly losing consciousness even as she trembles like a terrified leaf, apt to be lost to the vortex at any moment.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Hotaru giving away her name doesn't get much of a reaction. Just an incline of her head at first. Now she simply thinks the other girls are overreacting. But she does remember the look in Hotaru's eyes, the paleness of her skin. She notes how delicate she looks and thin, despite being Fate's senior. "It's very nice to meet you. Should I call you senpai? I'm- not that good with honorifics, but I can try." Fate seems comfortable enough with Japanese, but its accented like that of a foreigner nevertheless.

Right now however, she feels this is more evidence that words matter. The girl who appears cold and distant and unknowable. All it took was a few words to be invited to sit with her. For some reason...

...that makes her feel incredibly guilty.

"Ah." When Hotaru says that she should stay away from her. It feels familiar. Like a reversal. But still likely for a different reason entirely. "Because of what people will th-?"

But the moment she gasps, Fate kind of freezes, as if paralyzed. She's still a child, watching a medical emergency in front of her, and it's not one from an external source, or injury that she can see. Something she can affectIt's... entirely unfamiliar to her.

Part of her wonders if this is like how her mother felt. If it's what she kept hidden.

It's very strange, but in this situation...

...she can only think to pick up the book first.

Like it's the only thing she could do right now.

Like she's terrified to do anything else until Hotaru speaks again.

She slides off the bench, a hand whips down, and picks up the book by the spine. Dirt falls out of the pages as she lifts it up and the covers collapse together. She puts it on the bench beside Hotaru. It's only then when Hotaru speaks again, that she seems to snap out of this feeling of terrified helplessness. "I-"

Only to do exactly the opposite of what Hotaru asks. She didn't know any healing magic. She probably couldn't lift Hotaru well enough in this situation without transforming even if she was strong and athletic. And magic in front of everyone if possible was forbidden so teleportation was an absolute last resort. Lindy had made it clear. However she doesn't rule out doing that in front of everyone.

Fate puts a hand behind Hotaru to keep her head from slamming against the bench, hand sliding through those black strands as her fingers catch the back of her head, "Someone help!" She calls out. Fate finds a lot of eyes on her, but noone is doing anything. Then louder, "Please help! Get a teacher! Someone-someone help me carry her to the nurse's office!"

The number of offers she gets is of course... underwhelming. The exact opposite of the number of eyes on her.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6JZ40BtROg

Hotaru's hair feels weird. It's not like silk, like the princesses in her storybook. It feels... brittle, like weak wire, like it might snap off in Fate's hands at any moment. In fact, Hotaru feels that way as a whole, like if she seizes any harder she's going to shatter into a million pieces. She'll just... fly apart, and Fate will be left with her book as the only souvenir of her brief presence on this Earth.

Her right hand clutches her uniform, right above where her heart is, but her left hand snaps out, writhing into a strange shape, the fingers all pushed together, like a claw. It swings like a pendulum, back and forth, in time with her thready heartbeat, while her whole body bucks and thrashes, threatening to knock Fate down entirely if she isn't fast and careful.

Amid this chaos, it is difficult to notice when something /else/ first started happening, until it's much too late. Fate's a veteran magical girl at this point; she knows what evil feels like, that wrongness that gets under the skin, chills the base of the neck, runs down the spine. This is that, but so much more -- the sense of dark presence is both of a magnitude so massive that it's hard to understand, in the same way that one cannot see the curvature of the Earth while standing upon it -- and simultaneously unrecognizable, alien, breathtakingly unfamiliar compared even to the monsters, humanoid and otherwise, that Fate worked cheek-to-jowl with during her time in Dark Fall.

This presence is something... else.

The only thing known for sure, with instant and terrible certainty, is that it's something /very/ bad.

Maybe it was there all along, and Fate just didn't want to see it.

Regardless, it's here, now. It's close -- too close -- on top of Fate, in her personal space. Inside her, too, maybe?! How can it feel like it's coming from a corner of her own soul, how can it feel like...


He's there, sparking and crackling in Hotaru's clawed hand, while the girl's back arches in a terrible ecstacy. His power crackles through her, and she lets out a low moan of pleasure, of hunger, that is so impossibly quiet that it's almost impossible to hear and certainly impossible to differentiate from Hotaru's normal voice; how could anyone, with that little to work with?

Her hair rises around her face, around Fate's hand if it's still there, and it isn't the static of Fate's magic doing it, but another magic, much more ancient, much more powerful, much more malicious. Hotaru's eyelids flutter, and for a bare instant, the Midchildan can see that they aren't that pretty violet at all, but glowing red in a way completely different from Fate's own.

"...morrrrre..." The demand purrs out of Hotaru's tortured throat, even as her right hand finally disentangles from her uniform to try to slam the other girl away from her, off the bench... and her left hand tightens unbearably around Bardiche.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used The Shadow of Silence on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa accepts Hotaru Tomoe's The Shadow of Silence, taking 17 Mana damage!  Hotaru Tomoe drains 12 mana from Fate Testarossa!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Fate keeps her hand there, even as Hotaru bucks, though she has to slide off to the side just a little to avoid her hand as it thrashes. She's not looking at it, she just sees the shape there. Mostly though Fate doesn't get it! "Why isn't anyone helping h-?!" She cries out in frustration. And in those moments, the idea of transforming and taking matters out of the hands of anyone but herself becomes so tempting.

But she feels something. It's something you don't forget. Like a nightmare in which the lingering, primal terror remains even when the fine details start to mercifully disappear one by one. But right now it feels like they're coming back. The cool violet halls which seem to absorb the light. The wicked grin of an orange skinned Youma. The grinning Anglerfish skull.

She imagines Beryl's red nails tracing down her spine.

Instead of panicking however, she grows calm, almost eerily so. This is something she knew how to deal with now. She reaches with her opposite hand for her pocket. And finds it...


That's when her eyes fall upon the claw that had become Hotaru's left hand. In one moment of complete and utter horror, she sees how wrong she'd been.

The moment she sees Bardiche sparking and hissing within its grasp.

That calm vanishes in an instant.

She remembers the first time she'd seen him. In a tube. Linith proudly showing him off to the mage who would wield him for the first time. She felt a kinship to him and didn't know why.

She remembers the first time she touched him, and felt the pulse of her magic mingling with his.

She remembers laughing when he called her 'Sir' for the first time.

She remembers Linith walking away as the snow swept the landscape of Altseim, blanketing the world in swirling white. She remembered her disappearing.

He hisses and sparks under the assault, energy drawn out of him. The device fails to quantify what's doing it to him as more than some anomaly, <CRITI-> "GIVE HIM BACK!" Becomes Fate's blurted, desperate cry. <-ROR CONDIT-> Louder than any of her plaintive demands that they help her. Hotaru slams her off of her, and Fate's backside hits the pavement. The breath whooshes right out of her lungs, as she coughs and gasps once. But she's up in a moment. She sees the evil she's facing, in the way that Hotaru's hair floats around her, in the way the air itself sings. In her hunger and desire.

It doesn't matter.

She's up in a flash and lunges at her. "PLEASE!" From the outside in it looks like she's lunging at a bully who had taken away her favorite toy. But he's not just that.

He's not just that at all.

Her hands wrap around either side of the triangle, and she tugs with her not inconsiderable, but woefully normal strength. She feels it too. She feels something being drawn out of her. From the depths, from her inside, just beside her heart. It hurt. It felt like she was losing more and more of something inside herself with every passing moment, but she doesn't care.

That sort of pain was nothing compared to the pain of losing someone she cared about again. Working her foot up against the side of the bench, she presses her against it, and tries to shove away, gripping him in complete desperation. All the while her own blonde hair floats towards Hotaru, as if the frizzy static of her own magic was floating towards the other girl. She growls to force back the bile she feels in her stomach, "-HIM BACK NOW!" <-RROR SIR SAVE-> His synthesized voice distorts into a repetition of nonsensical garbled sounds before snapping back into something else entirely. <-OURSELF!>

Bardiche's plea however seems like the last thing though that she's going to do. Exposing herself fully to the brunt of the darkness within the girl in front of her, risking it all to save...

The legacy of her mentor. Her true mother in many ways, even if she doesn't realize it.

But most of all to save her friend, and partner.

Yet with every passing moment she just feels more and more... drained.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

Fate screams and begs and gasps, and -- perhaps most horrifyingly of all, at a time like this -- Hotaru just laughs, the sound still right on the edge of audibility, as though her voice is coming from a place much further away than her throbbing throat. It would take a microphone and an amplifier to fully appreciate all the resonant notes carried within it, the cruelty and hatred, the terrible, terrible joy, all fermenting within the willowy cask of her frail little frame.

She laughs, and she consumes -- ignoring Fate's offer of sacrifice, glutting herself on the doorway to the soul that is Bardiche, instead. There is a sense of strain, of rising tension, and finally... collapse, as nothing remains to keep the whole intact. From beneath Hotaru's fingers, he cracks like a bone, golden splinters flying everywhere.

That's the moment when Fate manages to break Hotaru's grip and tear the remnant of her partner away. He isn't even sparking anymore, not even a little. He could be a broken plastic toy, so much of his essence is just... gone.

"Mmmm," Hotaru sighs, licking her lips and turning towards the girl sprawled out on the ground, now that she's won the tug-of-war but lost her balance entirely. Maybe she'll have dessert after all. She slides off the bench, and from her hands and knees, starts, one agonizingly misangled limb at a time, to get properly onto her feet.

The sense of darkness intensifies around her tenfold, which is kind of like multiplying infinity by infinity -- all it really indicates is that whatever it is that ate Bardiche used only a fraction of her true strength to do so... and that there's surely even more to be expressed than this, this presence in whose presence it's almost impossible to even stand, darkness dragging at breath and heart and limbs like the gravity at the heart of a star.

Hotaru's arm stretches out...

...and, like a puppet whose strings are cut, she collapses entirely into a limp puddle of white fabric and black hair. A moment later, no less a figure than the Principal-General of Infinity Institute is standing between them. There is a strong sense of competence, of strength, and -- at the moment -- of concern.

"Dear me, how terrible! Did she break your toy?" Kaori Kishi seems genuinely upset at the idea of this, possibly moreso than at Hotaru's condition, though there's motherly gentleness as she gathers the girl into her arms with all the effort she might need to hoist a feather pillow. "That's dreadful. I'll be sure to have her write you an apology letter... I don't think she should be allowed to leave her bed for quite some time. She insisted she was well enough to come back to school... but." Kishi-sensei's nose scrunches up in a sniff of frustrated impotence. "She cares more about her own attendance than the safety and happiness of her classmates. I fear her father spoils her."

She'd take Fate's hand, help her back to her feet, but her arms are full of demon child. Still, her eyes are kind, but firm, as she recruits help. "Bannings-san, Tsukimura-san, please escort Testarossa-san to the infirmary right away. Let's be sure Tomoe-san didn't injure her, too."

Without further ado she departs, ensuring that a teacher comes to shepherd the students back to their classrooms as quickly as possible.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

The pain is hellish, excruciating. So much hurts... so much... but worst of all is that laughter.

Every note of it carries her mother's cruelty, and worse besides. Going beyond that, beyond the realm of human capacity for it, and into something much more alien. Screeching nails against a chalkboard to the depths of her soul.

Something within her is slipping, but still she holds on just a while longer. Just a little bit, and in one last brilliant sputter of golden light, Bardiche falls free, tiny pieces of gold showering the bench like glass. The main part of him was still intact, broken and cracked within Fate's hands, dimly glowing. It was like the agonal gasps of someone dying. But... a device could survive a lot.

Fate hits the ground hard, sprawling into a pile with a yelp. She's not looking at Hotaru anymore, she's looking at the shattered body of her partner. She feels something warm and wet in her eyes and she makes no attempt to stop him, hugging him against her chest like she was afraid of him being taken away at any moment.

The hungry sigh, cause her to look back up. She dimly notices Hotaru advancing on her.

The terror of the idea of that thing coming at her again, makes her dig extra deep out of desperation to get away. "Please..." Fate pleads as she crawls backwards and on her side, eyes wide with terror, using both her feet and one of her elbows. "...Please stay back! G-Get away from me!" She's not physically all that hurt but something within her is flagging enough that she's moving just a little too slow. The laughter is still ringing in her ears. Echoing.

Would she laugh like that again if she gets caught?

Her eyes are wide as she pathetically keeps trying to crawl back, just a bit too slow. The hand is reaching, reaching...

...Fate turns over and away from her, closes her eyes and screams with both her arms curled protectively around Bardiche.

Her scream rebounds off all the windows of Infinity's glass tower. She whimpers, and shivers and shakes. And... nothing.

It takes a little while before Fate has the courage to look up, before she hears Kaori Kishi. She recognizes her vaguely but doesn't know her well. It takes a few moments to get a sense of who she is.

But right now she's just grateful. She's just... grateful, so grateful, that an adult is taking control of this situation. Is preventing that... that thing... whatever that girl was from reaching her. "He's not..." But then she just nods dumbly at her when she asks if she broke her toy. She's so surprised to see Hotaru inert like that, within her arms. So surprised to see the horror just /stop/ like that. What she says. Her head is so mixed up. It doesn't sound like the cruelty of a normal girl. It couldn't be. But she doesn't refute it.

She gets no sense of malice from her, not like from that girl. She's not even sure if she's a girl anymore. She'd swear she was a Youma meant to look human but... there was a eldritch darkness within her that was deeper than any she'd ever felt.

A hand is reached out to Fate, this time she lets the hand reach her, stretching out her fingertips at her. The hand is grasped and she's hauled back to her feet, swaying.

Suzuka and Arisa rush up once the Principal-General gives the all clear, but Fate is still staring at Kaori's back as she departs, at what parts of the girl in her arms she can still see.

"H-How badly did she hurt you?" Suzuka frets, as she puts her arm under Fate's and over her back. Her arms are a lot stronger than her gentle nature would imply. "Not... I'm..." Fate sounds dazed as her moist eyes fall upon Bardiche's shattered form. He was still glowing. She closes a hand around him anxiously, protectively. Arisa on the other hand, can't help but get in... "I told you so! I told you she was bad news! Next time I tell you someone is dangerous you'd better listen!" But after that, she looks at Fate's closed hand, "What'd she break?" "S-Someone..." She winces, then corrects, "...something... very important to me."