2018-06-28 - LOTUS INCEPTION: Kasagami Araki

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Title: LOTUS INCEPTION: Kasagami Araki

Setsuna, Niramo, Mikoto and Steven find the partying King, and set about breaking Kasagami Araki free from her dream.


Kasagami Araki, Mikoto Minagi, Niramo Umokeshi, Steven Universe, Setsuna Meioh


Dream Ohtori Academy

OOC - IC Date:

6-28-18 - 4-24-15

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

It's the halls of Ohtori that Kasagami Araki has claimed as her castle, and the King fully intends to make use of them. The largest of ballrooms has been arrayed for one of her generous and legendary parties. Ohtori students, her Knights, and those she cares for have priority in attending, and there's a small sea of well-wishers greeting their new King.

A banquet table is piled high with meats, cheeses, salads, and every delicacy imaginable. A full orchestra attends to the music, pumping classical and jazz in equal measure into the open air of the dance hall.

All along the walls, swords crossed over a black and red banner depicting a hawk decorates everything, further shows of fealty to the new King of Tokyo. Guests eat, dancing, and laugh, though few are bowing at the moment after the initial ceremony of all bowing to the King upon her gleaming, ivory throne installed in the hall for the evening.

Instead, Kasagami Araki is out on the dance floor. She sweeps across the floor, dressed in what looks to be a far fancier version of the Student Council uniform, all blacks, golds, and reds. Upon her back is a white-fur trimmed cloak, a golden crown atop her head. This doesn't seem to hinder her dancing.

The man leading is just as graceful as the King, yet could easily get lost in a crowd. He's slightly older, starting to grey in otherwise short cut business like black hair. He's not handsome, but not ugly, the picture of a japanese salaryman or businessman going by his black and white suit.

Yet a closer look, particularly in Kasagami's eye and jaw, one can see the family resemblance. They dance well together, taking turns leading, before finally ending at the crux of the song and bowing to each other. Kassie leans up, and without shame embraces the man lovingly who does the very same. Pride shines in this man's eyes.

The pair soon step off the dance floor, the older man a step behind his daughter. Passers by bow, salute, or simply smile at the King and her Father, the younger of the two giving a warm, cocky smile while the older one giving a far more subdued version.

The woman that meets them first is the spitting image of Kasagami, her hair longer and graying as well, but strong, tall, and beautiful. She still has a few inches on her daughter, and the nodachi at her side looking as dangerous as Kasagami's own, if not moreso.

"If you two were out there any longer, I feared I'd lose you both to some admirer." She fixes the hem of Kassie's cloak, then pokes her on the nose.

"Agh! Come on, my Knights are going to arrive soon!" She blushes.

"My loyalty is assured, Queen Mother. All beauty crumbles to ash before your own!" Comes the older man.

"Die, you silver tongued flatterer!"

He's in a headlock, being kissed, and noogied all in the same motion. Kasagami turns away from her parents, sighing happily, as she takes up a wine glass and sips, eyeing the crowd.

This, truly, is happiness. Isn't it?

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Through the tree once, to leave behind something he desired more than anything. To discard happiness now, for happiness in the future. Happiness for him, and millions of people still out there.

Through the tree twice, to save someone cared about deeply, from that which they wanted. To see into the heart of someone is no small thing, but to understand them better may help after all.

Through the tree thrice, to...

"Where is this? Oh..."

It takes some time for Steven Universe to get a hang of where he was. THe trappings of the location were different, but the locale is the same. it was Ohtori Academy. Designed with a somewhat strange motif, though the thought of someone comes to mind. A specific descriptor, a title one gave herself in the throes of ascension.

"Better have a look around."



A boy holds up a pink greatshield in a room with familiar objects he owns. "I wanna make it look like this all the time! OKAY." Steven summons a shield, and then concentrates.



Nothing happens. "Awh. Oh well, I'll totally put this armor to use to blend in!" He looks it over as he puts on the shoulderpads and barbut. "Wow, this stuff really does fit! Guess it is supposed to if it is my room. Heheheheh," he giggles like a doofus as he stumbles around in the armor, heading for the door and making a racket.

...But not before grabbing that pink sword. Looks kinda like mom's! Neat!


The boy follows some other folks as they head to some sort of soiree! Parties are the best! Hopefully no one seems to mind if he makes himself at home, at least until he can find whose dream he has wandered in to. It might take a while to find, but with the proper sleuthing--

...Yeah, no, that was fast, it was obviously Kasagami out there. Just look at her.

"Ho-kay! How to do this. Ah, crap. Wait, who is that she is with? They look familiar-- oh." Oh yeah, that's right. THis jsut got a bit more complicated, cause he knew how that felt. Steven half-expects for Kasagami to break out into a fight if this is done wrong.

"I made it! Uh, Knight Universe!" he says, adjusting a poorly strapped helmet. "I came when you called, Your majesty!" Did she even call for him? Heck if he knew. But it worked for getting into parties.

This is going to go swell.

<Pose Tracker> Niramo Umokeshi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Feeling reality reassert itself after entering the deadwood corpse of the World Tree, Niramo blinks rapidly as her eyes adjust to the bright light. As everything comes back into focus, the ravenette got a sense of deja vu as she gazes upon the ballroom floor. It was like the Crimson Rose Ball, except somehow even more extravagant and grand. "Is this...Kasagami-chan's dream?"

Mumbling to herself and not at all expecting a response, Niramo nearly leaps a foot in the air as a familiar and all too-comforting voice responds to her. "I would imagine so. The realities formed inside this...Book is quite detailed. It makes quite a devious trap for those unaware or even aware of it." Floating in front of her, Takk looks quite the same as always, except he was sporting an odd headband straight out of an ninja anime around his little head.

Happy to be reunited with Takk, the real Takk, Niramo quickly gives the Kwami a tight hug that only stopped once the struggling mouse squirms free. "Takk, you're fine too! But...wait, I was transformed when I entered the tree..." Had Kasagami's reality somehow forced her back into an untransformed state? Getting the feeling that something was odd, Niramo cautiously checks herself out.

It seems that she was fit for the party, with a billowing gown like the one she wore to the Crimson Rose Ball, but in pitch black and deep red. She was wearing fingerless black leather gloves with sheets of metal on the outside and a quick check of her feet shows that instead of heels were ninja tabi, of all things. A pair of gleaming silver tonfa that brings more than a twinge of guilt and embarrassment rest in a large ribbon on her back. Even her hair was in an extravagant bun, but the 6 silver knives with rubies in the hilt look to be meant more for throwing than for decoration.

And for some odd reason, a billowing black scarf was wrapped around her neck and face, obscuring her mouth from sight. "...I need to talk to Kasagami-san if this is how she sees me." "You won't be the only one having words with the cyclops."

Making her way through the crowd and looking all around her, Niramo catches sight of very familiar sight of Kasagami Araki, decked out as if she was some European king or queen. Maybe she was one in her dream? The two people with her were unknown to the ballgown ninja, but the memory of a quiet evening fishing at a river comes to mind, especially with how familiar they seem yet not. "...her parents. Uh oh. Um...I think this is going to so much worse than my dream."

Walking up towards Kasagami without really a plan in mind, Niramo kneels for just a moment to her dream liege to show respect before standing back up. "Your highness, it's good to see you celebrating! Surely...uh, things will only become greater from her on out?"

...maybe the reason why her dream version had a scarf is because she still had an absolutely terrible poker face when it comes to lying.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

When Setsuna Meioh, freshly come from the abandonment of her own dream, comes upon the royally ornamented halls of Ohtori... she shuts her own pains up deep in her chest, with the familiar dull ache that has always accompanied such sacrifices. Her heart leads her inside, knowing who she might find.

It doesn't take long for the royal dream to take hold, and at first the senshi doesn't realize, but soon enough the sheer volume of her new garb makes itself known. She looks down, and garnet eyes widen.

One dark-gloved hand curls around a silvery scepter, and the crenellations in its metal feel familiar. Setsuna Meioh looks up at it and... there's an orb set at the top, but no pulsing light speaks of a magical heart within the depths. It is dead inside. With a swallow, she continues on, following the sounds of what sounds like a grand party.

She arrives just in time to see the dance. The crowd parts as the newly-arrived royalty advances to its edge, giving her a wide and respectful berth. Setsuna watches with hands clasped over her mouth, and it takes some will to force them down and to a more relaxed-looking posture.

When the dance ends, another Queen awaits the return of the King and her father from the dance floor. She's draped in intricate skeins of black organza and lace layered upon a rich red Victorian evening gown. The belled bustle with its gathered overskirt sweeps the ballroom floor as she advances, embellishing grandiosity upon her usual grace. Many mystical keys depend from fine ebony chains about her waist and chime a strange music, and it's hard not to look down in worried curiosity at her own accoutrements. They sound... different, wrong, somehow.

When King Araki looks her way, she will find her Queen Meioh, exactly as she should be in every way... except... there is something about her eyes.

They are sad.

It's no lovely glimmer of charm-banishable melancholy. Something else anchors in garnet depths, some ineffable empathy, some steadfast sorrow.

"My..." A slight pause, like she was going to use another word, then, "King. It is so good to see you and- your family." And she despairs, quietly, because how can she pull Kasagami from this dream?

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Fur and velvet.

Mikoto can't get away from these complicated clothes in everyone's dreams, can she? There is wildness to the outfit, but elegance in turn; they befit high status. These are not designed for battle - they are for celebration.

She is not at the ballroom, initially. The reason might have become clear, as a green-haired knight runs into her.

"There you are! Has your Lord Sister -"

Might have, except for those words. They're words which instantly turn the cheer Mikoto had on seeing her to a scowl.

"/Lord Sister?!/" Incredulous. Angry.

"Oh, no, did your sparring match with King Kasagami go poorly? Aww, don't be a sore loser, Mikoto-chan -" and that teasing cuts off into genuine alarm as Mikoto storms down the hall. "- Mikoto-chan!"

She growls, and does not reply.

It's a lie, after all.

All paths in a perfect world lead to the banquet, eventually - the smell of food, the sound of revelry. It's obvious who she's come to, this time, as she tears through the World Tree's decrepit husk to rip her friends from their slumber. It's as obvious as the rose crown on her head.

Mikoto storms in, storms forward, and she is not obeying the rules at all; but perhaps that's normal, for Dame Mikoto.

"Kasagami!" Mikoto snaps in anger - and it's strange, because there's no family crest on the hilt of the greatsword on her back, now. She wants to demand she explain herself, to explain this treachery -

- but she doesn't know, does she?

She wanted family. Golden eyes - and they're gold instead of grey, now, bright and catlike - shift from the older woman to the older man. She... wanted family. She was desperate to think of anyone as her family. And Mikoto let her.

Sadness crosses anger, and Mikoto sighs, some of the tension dropping from those shoulders. "Kasagami..." And it's regret, now, and sorrow.

Not 'King Kasagami.' Not 'Lord Sister.' But it sounds so natural, the way she says her name yobisute.

And she is not obeying the rules at all.

"Kasagami knows my Lord is my Lord Brother," Mikoto insists, a little kinder now, but still firm. "Kasagami can't replace that. Because Kasagami's my friend... and Kasagami can't be my family!" Mikoto's voice rises - "Kasagami assumes it's fine, but it's not! And - I didn't want Kasagami to be sad, so I just never promised nothing I couldn't, but that made Kasagami think this was okay, right?!"

She is upset. She is angry. She is worried.

She takes a breath, to steady herself. "I should've been honest... I just..." Mikoto shakes her head, ashamed to admit it - especially under the shadow of 'Lord Sister'. "I'm honest now. Kasagami's not family. Can never be. Family's different. Doesn't mean I don't love Kasagami... but it's 'cause Kasagami's my friend." Those eyes which have been grey all her years are yellow, now, and they bore into Kasagami like a blade. "This isn't real."

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Steven's entrance is met with almost as much fanfaire as Kasagami's! Even despite his slightly mis-worn helmet, he's greeted with reverence due to a warrior of the King! A few 'peasants' scrape and bow, many others offer salutes and other smaller works of respect. One girl a year or two older than him even throws a few flowers his way! All dark crimson, of course.

But it's the King that catches him. She stalks right up to the young man, eyeing that helmet, and instantly a balled fist slams right down towards his noggin.

Yeah, that's Kassie alright! "/SQUIRE/ Universe! Is this a test? Coming before your liege both improperly reigned /and/ daring to take a title before it's bestowed upon you?" Her voice is loud and imperious for a moment...and then it breaks into a laugh.

"How ambitious of you! I didn't think you had it in you to put on a show, but fine! Prove your worth against the Darkmoon Empire, and you'll have that title. I'm not interested in followers that blindly follow. Ambition fuels ambition, that's how a country is made powerful and secure. Be your own man, Steven."

Scowl. "But next time wear your armor properly! Decorum!" More yelling. The King giveth, the King taketh.

Well, at least it seems he was called for. Kassie is turning about, pressing a glass of wine towards the young man, and winking over her shoulder.

Niramo approaches, and the King offers a warm smile and arms outstretched, almost as if to embrace, but not quite. She takes in that amazing dress, the jewels, the blades and the return of her familiar. Takk's presence gets a brief, narrowed look. Something seems...off. One finger slips to her temple. A sip of wine, and she tries to relax. Merely a headache, no doubt.

"Beautiful. Beautiful! Now /this/ is how to present yourself before your liege! Teach your fellow Squire decorum, and you'll be well rewarded! You're right. We have work ahead of us. Darkmoon blades await us eagerly, as do their teeming hordes of youma. But this country, no, this /WORLD/ shall be saved, ours to raise up into greater heights! All beneath the banner of your glorious King!" She's just so /into/ herself. She leans down. Her good eye narrows.

"We should enjoy our time. We won't have much later. ...You seem..." Pause. "Troubled, my sweet Squire." Kasagami's eyes bore into Niramo's.

That scarf is indeed there for a reason.

Kasagami turns, and it's the visage of her Queen. At first her smile is wide, and those about Pluto give both wide berth and reverent worship. She's one of the few almost on the same level of the King, and deference is everything in Kasagami's world. An authoritarian to the last.

She reaches out, seeking Setsuna's hands to hold them, to squeeze lightly, so loving and true. Her eyes are radiant for a moment.

"How could I possibly let you hide away in gardens or on other worlds, my dear, lovely Queen? Without you at my side, my heart would run cold as ice and the wisdom needed to ensure this world and those beyond come beneath our secure banner fled into the darkness of the void!"

She blinks. Something...feels off as she peers into Setsuna's eyes.

A hand reaches for a cheek.

"Is something wrong, Queen of Keys and Starlight? You're troubled." Her voice falls to a whisper. True concern lights up her gaze. A doting King upon a Queen. Her head aches, just a bit more. Something is /wrong/! A few party goers look upon this oddity. The party seems to pause all at once, in remarkable lock-step.

Mikoto bursts in, and Kasagami rounds. It's instinct, a knife drawn into a hand as if expecting an attack! Her smile is large, eager, vicious almost. But it's not the attack she expects. Not the sparring, the screaming muscles and adoration she desires of a little sister. It's flicked away just as quickly. Arms open, as if ready to embrace her! "My sweet Little Sister! Tell me, what stokes your raging fi..."

Kassie meets the anger head on. But it's the eyes that make her pause. Golden, beautiful. /Familiar/. The more she looks upon Mikoto? That headache builds, and something seems /wrong/. It's a brief, odd thought. She's a King. She has her parents, and lovers, and a Family, and a Little Sister. She's in control. Nothing is outside of her grasp, and she is a true King and Hero with beautiful Knights so loyal to her. Loyal, faithful, and /obedient/.

Those golden eyes sear.

Her smile falls slowly. Ever the show-woman, she forces it up. To anyone who knows her, it's as strong as half melted glass.

"...This is a test, right? You're speaking nonsense! There's no Lord Bro..." She bites her lip hard enough to bleed. Why does she feel like she's lying? Isn't this her precious little sister?

Her arm feels like it's hot, almost burning. One hand clenches a wrist, charred skin exposed for a second.


Anger, family, honesty, and Mikoto offers accusations that break every single well-crafted rule of her dream. Kasagami throws away her wine glass, shattering upon a table. A gasp flies up amidst the party. The revelry is gone. Her parents approach from behind, but Mikoto has her attention.

Eyes bore like blades, that blunt statement cutting her to the quick. Legs spread, knees bend, and suddenly there's her nodachi in her hands. One finger, now gloveless, reaches for the hilt.

"That's not right. That isn't right! Of /course/ you're my family, Mikoto! Why wouldn't you be!? We've..." Lived together? She flinches.

"We've fought together, haven't we? Don't we love the same people!? HOW DARE YOU!" Tears drip down her eyes.

Anger flares in her gaze. Her entire body is tense, starting to chip away at that feeling of wrongness the others have touched upon and Mikoto has shattered right open.

The crowd grows louder. Kasagami's father clears his throat, imperiously, quietly. It carries. Everyone shuts up.

"I believe..."


There's the sound of blade sliding from steel, and Kasagami is forced into a sudden, last minute roll. A few whisps of hair fall, as she narrowly avoids her Mother's own blade. It's returned in a flash.

"....An Araki fights for those they love. Even if they're a King, they should /listen/ to them too." Comes the tall form of the Matron Araki. Her eyes are searing holes, with love and pride. They turn to each intruder in turn, nodding to each with a private smile.

Then she's hauling up her quivering daughter.

"If you're her friends, her love, speak true." She encourages, far more gently, yet no less vibrantly.

<Pose Tracker> Niramo Umokeshi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Seeing Steven in ill-fitting armor is certainly a surprise, but he looks surprisingly sharp with it. That helmet that he was sporting was obviously a poor fit for him and doesn't seem quite right for him. A mental image of that pink top hat he uses to deflect some cake forms a soft smile under her scarf, despite just where she was. If she ever find the real Steven in this twisted and crazy Book, she hope his dream was a pleasant one.

Takk meets the narrow eye with one of his own, and an almost undetected smirk creases a corner. So this is what Niramo's mentor desires to be in her wildest dreams?...well, not like Niramo could cast stones herself. Really, he is going have to have a talk with his partner once all is said and done about just how impractical her 'outfit' was.

Niramo knows that when Takk gets that look in his eyes, he's about to lay down a long-winded speech, but the words Kasagami speaks on how the entire world shall be saved is a brutal jab in the heart after waking up so soon from her dream. They both want to save the world and be praised for it, to be a perfect example for those around them, and it hurts to realize that just despite how different it appears, they both have the same wish deep down.

"U-um, of course, your highness. Just preparing for the next battle against the Darkmoon Empire, that's all. And I will do my best to help you succeed, for we are friends before we were squire and King." Pulling down that annoying scarf, Niramo gives her mentor a smile, though it falters after a moment and Niramo forces herself to look aside. Kasagami looks so proud and sure of herself here...

The appearance of Queen Setsuna nearly has Niramo fall over in shock as the dark-haired elegant Senshi meets the King in the ballroom. If Setsuna was the Queen and Kasagami was the King, were they...married?! But they're best friends in the real world! Maybe Kasagami's love for her friend was so deep that the Book mistook them to be in a romantic relationship? Niramo just adds this to the growing list of questions to pester her mentor later.

And then Mikoto storms into the ballroom, spitting angry like she was a demonic cat from the depths of Hell, full of anger, worry and fear. The fact that she says this wasn't real has realization hit home with Niramo, and she and Takk share looks for a moment. Her fears that Takk could be realized as real and allied with Niramo are valid concerns, but the Kwami surprisingly shakes his head. "#-1 FUNCTION (ASNI) NOT FOUND"

Kasagami's outburst about how she and Mikoto were family tears at Niramo for a brief moment as she tries to understand what the sword-carrying Ohtori student and Kasagami had in common before what has to be Kasagami's mother swings down her incredible nodachi. Seems Kasagami gets the flare for the dramatic from her mother's side of the family.

Those calm words spoken by the matron of house Kasagami has Niramo subconsciously stiffen her spine and she nods her head. "Kasagami-san, as much as I want it to be otherwise, Mikoto-san is right. This world...this dream that you're in right now, it's just want you want most in the world, but you didn't actually earn any of it here!"

Frowning as she tries to muster the correct words on what to say, Niramo takes a moment to pause before continuing. "I...had a dream like this too, where I succeeded at everything I always wanted, that I never faltered or gave up, and my family was always there at my side. That I just got some recognition for what I have done in the past. But it was all meaningless because this isn't real! This is even worse than the cell we were locked into. At least then we recognized that we were prisoners!"

Takk floats forward as Niramo finishes and calmly pulls off the headband marked with the symbol of House Araki and tosses it down at the King's feet. "I can fully understand Niramo being fooled by this world of illusions. I expected you to see beyond this quite easily with the willpower you carry even with that one eye of yours. Sadly it seems that humans are just as confusing as ever with their emotions. You are so willing to take falsehoods that you would toss aside everything that you have devoted your entire career as a Duelist for? You are embarrassing yourself and that false throne behind you. Cyclops."

Floating higher so that he can stare Kasagami in her eye, Takk twitches his tail and shakes his head. "What are you going to do now? Will you be a coward and choke yourself on these balf-faced lies? Or will you at least try to act like the King you wish to be and face the threat that would destroy the world before you can be crowned for it? Which is it? King cyclops or coward?"

A long pause before Niramo groans and shakes her head. "...Takk. No more shounen anime for a week."


And then Mikoto storms into the ballroom, spitting mad like she was a demonic cat from the depths of Hell, full of anger, worry and fear. The fact that she says this wasn't real has realization hit home with Niramo, and she and Takk share looks for a moment. Her fears that Takk could be realized as real and allied with Niramo are valid concerns, but the Kwami surprisingly shakes his head. "It won't matter once your mentor wakes up. I will be dismissed as just another part of this fantasy world of...her's."

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Oh yeah, Steven had this right. This is going to be /swell/.


"OWUH!" the boy chortles out as he recovered from a thorough drubbing. "I-I what?! There was knight armor in my room, I think! Was that my room?!" He was about ninety percent sure. He hasn't seen many folks in Tokyo with his body type. And that armor fit. The boy tries to fumble with the helmet and armor to fix it like some sort of, well, child.

Squire Universe never had such problems. 'Knight' Universe has tons of them.

Hearing Kasagami talk... hurt. A part of him knows that ache well, and where it comes from. Its the feeling of love and loss. More are here than he thought that have seen the truth. Her mother, an active, vibrant woman much like her kin, gives them a moment to speak.

Steven takes his helmet off. Fun time was over.

"K-Kasagami, tell me. How nice is it to be at the top? Is it everything you had hoped it would be?"

"Do you remember the journey there at all?"

This was a dream. She wouldn't. In her warrior's heart the long fought battles, the tears, blood and sweat shed for this day would not be there. People, dream people, may have told her the battles fought, but something deep down would be different. Wrong.

"You always told me about the stories of how you would climb your way to the top. But if you are only placed there, is it still the same? Do your ideals hold the same merit and weight they would have otherwise?"

The boy looks to Kasagami's mother. "She's not real. None of this is. We've all been lied to. And to save everything we have ever known, we have to let it all go." He begins to tear up a little, but Steven manages to fight it back. For now. "For all the evil it would commit, that person outside gave me the one thing I ever wanted in my life."

"I got to see my mother."

"It looks like you got to, too."

It is hard to talk to her about this. It was bad enough with Amethyst. "But we have to go, Kasagami. We have to do what is right." A pause to think. "In some small way, we should be thanking this evil person. It gave us a glimpse. A glimpse into our dreams. To see them become real, in front of our eyes. If anything, it will help us reach for them even higher than ever before. But we can't let it be."

The boy looks toward Mikoto, Setsuna and Niramo. They all knew. What types of tragedy did they go through, he wonders? Pulling away from this dream was... It was best to try and not think about it. "If this is what you wanted when you kept saying 'King', well... I would always wanted you in that chair. But it can't be in here. I know what it feels like to turn to a parent and say goodbye now. It sucks. It shouldn't be something we should be able to relate to."

"...But it is now."

"And we have to make the thing that made us feel that pay. Or many more people will go without their parents. And themselves."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Knight Universe arrives -- at least that's the title he announces, and his finery does nothing to convince Setsuna otherwise. Niramo too, who makes a show of kneeling in greeting. They both move within the trappings of the dream, but the senshi dressed like a Queen wonders, hearing their voices.

It's hard to focus on them, though. She keeps looking over to the older businessman, to the fierce Queen Mother, and then sliding the same gaze back to King Araki. Oh Kassie, she cries out silently, and it shows in garnet eyes though her lips are sealed around the words.

There is a familiarity in the fervent eloquence as Kasagami calls her Queen, and her cheek recognizes those fingers upon it. But to the King's eyes, Setsuna looks strangely unmoved by her eloquence -- instead of a pretty flutter of eyelashes or a fiercely flirtatious rejoinder, there is only growing sadness.

Is there something wrong? "There is," she replies, her voice gentle with reluctance, and with one hand she captures Kasagami's caress against her cheek, just for a moment.

It is only a moment, because a furious disruption named Mikoto Minagi arrives... and if Setsuna was unsure whether Steven or Niramo were aware of the dream, there are no such uncertainties here, not with the dream's rules left in a wreckage by that wielding of painful, jagged truth. "Mikoto...!" And the sound of the name is somewhere between sorrow and gladness, and even Setsuna does not know their balance.

She looks to Kasagami -- a Kasagami with tears on her face who rolls away in a flash, beneath the quicksilver blade of her mother. It's hard to meet that gaze, harder than Setsuna Meioh would have thought; she is the eternal Guardian of Time, and she faces an ephemeron.

But she also faces the exposed heart of her love.

Queen Meioh did not bow to an approaching King Araki, earlier, against all established tradition; now, Setsuna Meioh bends low at the waist, long evergreen locks sliding over her shoulder to sweep the ballroom floor. She bows to Kasagami Araki's mother, the woman she never thought to meet, and if she spends an extra moment with eyes lowered to find her voice in a choked throat then that in no way lessens the deep honor she feels in this moment.

"I will only ever tell the truth to your daughter," she promises the dream-spirit.

The senshi gathers her resolve to her and turns garnet eyes glistening with sorrow to Kasagami. She lets go of the silvery scepter and it drops to the ballroom floor with a heavy *clunk*. The garnet orb at its pinnacle dislodges, rolling free like a dark and lifeless marble to bump into the toe of Kasagami's boot.

"Mikoto-chan is right. This isn't real." Simple words, suffuse with sadness, with understanding. She reconsiders, then amends. "This isn't... the real world. It's a beautiful dream. A terrible dream." She pulls the long satin opera gloves off as she speaks, one by one. "A pretty trap.

"Is this how you want me?" Her dark hands, bare now, entreat Kasagami with palms up. The courtly Victorian finery, luxe and perfectly fitted, it is also voluminous and binding by its very nature. "Only in your colors, and bowing to you? I... am not your Queen, Kassie. Remember what we said about... about earning each other?"

She swallows, again, and keeps speaking, somehow. "None of this is earned. Some of this never can be." Setsuna glances to the Kasagami's mother, her father, and there is such apology in her eyes when she looks back, but she has her promise and she will fulfill it. "Your parents died, Kassie. They have been gone a very long time. And you haven't done the things that would have made them proud, not yet.

"But you will! You will, Kassie. If you can face this. And I know you can, you have it in you to do this. The Kasagami Araki I know is going to change the world. You can face this, too. And you're not alone."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

What stokes the fires of destruction?

Mikoto comes into these worlds and she shatters them like glass.

... it doesn't feel good at all, and it's so obvious, as those terrible golden eyes glance to Setsuna at her cry. It's not nice, or good, or kind. It's just necessary.

Because it's a lie. It's all lies.

(Takk, too, is perhaps just another lie. Mikoto doesn't seem terribly focused on the squires in the hall, nor the Queen. Hasn't Kasagami always strove for a captive audience?)

Kasagami's smile falls. Mikoto isn't smiling at all. Her expression is intense, intent, anger and concern. She is deathly serious. It is so evident it is not a test at all.

She halts over that one, singular truth of friendship, and Mikoto dips her head in a nod.

She reaches for her blade - Mikoto's stance shifts, knees dipping down slightly, feet spread to match her weight. It is the fraction of a second before evasive action. She fully believes Kasagami might attack here, here. Might become her enemy.

Eri warned her. Eri warned her...

But even as she prepares for the attack, she doesn't reach for her blade. Not yet.

After all... in Kasagami's world, there'd be no threats to her rule, would there?

No threats until Mikoto came along.

If she can just make Kasagami see that she isn't a threat - if she can just get through to her - if there's really something she can do aside from fighting her enemies -

Those questions have answers. "We have! We do! But not like this, Kasagami!" Mikoto clasps a hand at her heart, so close to a bead below her clothing. "It's not like this..."

Well - those answers have questions, aside from one.

How can Mikoto dare to do this?

Their parents intercede, one after another. Mikoto's eyes widen in alarm as her very mother attacks Kasagami - and perhaps it explains a few things, after all.

They tell her to speak, with all the authority of royalty. And for long moments, Mikoto is silent, though her gaze doesn't drop from Kasagami at all.

The others tell her this isn't real. She wonders how real they are, but it doesn't really matter.

What matters is the girl trapped here, in a gilded cage.

What matters is -

Steven talks about how it gave them a glimpse into their dreams, and for the first time, Mikoto looks away, brow creasing in sadness. It's a confronting question, isn't it, Mikoto Minagi?

It's a confronting question, so she swallows it down and raises those golden eyes to Kasagami again.

After all - some of them never said goodbye.

"I dare 'cause I love Kasagami. I told Kasagami already... I can't be Kasagami's knight." Mikoto shakes her head, braids flipping back and forth behind an imperial circlet. "This dream's supposed to be mercy. So we wouldn't die fighting. So we'd die easy." They're familiar words, to Mikoto. She hopes if she says them, maybe they'll help more than hers. Anger drives her - but she still has no idea what she's /doing./

Mikoto stares, intent and focused, and of all of them it's Setsuna's words she follows up on. "Won't be a world to change soon. I know it hurts, Kasagami. Hurt me, too. But Kasagami, we /have/ fought together. 'Cause of that, I know Kasagami wouldn't wanna sleep through it."

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kasagami's arm slices air, and shoves her Mother's touch away. At the very least, she's on her feet now. Her grip on her sword is far looser, and her tall body slumps just a bit lankily. Hair covers both of her eyes. And yet...she listens.

A single hand points balefully as she suddenly glares hard at Niramo. "And why haven't I!? Does the suffering, the pain, the agony and hard work I've given mean nothing!? Why...why must this world take from me and..." Give nothing in return? Her growing tirade falters, and she stumbles back. She clenches her arm briefly. Something is out of place. She's a pure, perfect King. Surely she gained all of this effortlessly. Surely...

The flag-baring, gilded walls of the dance hall suddenly feel like iron bars. Ones leaking with heat.

Down falls that headband, and Kasagami's sense of wrongness and disbelief focuses. Straight back into annoyance.

"I don't remember saying that rodents could talk down to me! I'd never toss away a victory, or a loss! Shut up, don't act like you know me!" Deny deny deny, goes the false King, holding onto her dream. She stumbles back. A dream, to a Duelist, is paramount.

"But...but I wouldn't lose." Her heart pounds. Pink hair. A scattered, dark red rose. Her gaze goes unfocused.

Her words are ashes on her lips. They feel like lies. Something is /missing/, and it hurts.

Steven grows serious, and asks a simple question. She can avoid, deflect the others. But this? It eats at her. 'Do you remember the journey?' On the heels of Niramo and Takk, it only makes that twisted road that the dream had all but devoured come back into her mind. A ring, a kidnapping, so many battles. Victory, love, defeat, and ultimately, crashing down. All flash through her mind, roll down her spine as her back feels mercury-cold ice slither down it.

Kasagami's mother offers a big, fierce smile to the young man. Perhaps she's a figment of a dream, but her heart is that of the loving woman that birthed this girl. The love is real, and she encourages the friend of her daughter, no matter how much it might pain the lost Duelist.

"...Don't give me empty praise!" Snaps Kasagami. It's a cruel thing, this. Her entire body shivers, as reality sets in with his words. It's all lies. All fanciful dreams and dire wishes of someone driven through pain and sorrow. In the young man's eyes? She sees herself. Clearly. Too clearly, for all their myriad differences.

She looks away. "Shut up! Why should I thank anyone...anyone that would make a dream and intoxicate a person with it!? Show them everything they ever wanted, dangling it like a carrot in front of them!?" Kasagami isn't a fool, despite the opinions of some. The evidence mounts. Tears fall thick already. She can't fight it, not surrounded by so many she cares for. In the presence of her /parents/!

She bites her lip, growing silent. Pay. Is this really a dream? Surely not! She's a King! Surely not!

Anger, dark and black and bitter, sparks in her heart for reasons she can't identify.

The touch of her Queen cools her anger for a moment, however. She focuses, drawn from the growing oddities of everything and her own turmoil. That trembling grows less, even as Setsuna pulls away to bow at the older Araki. A smirk from the woman, and she dusts off a pants leg. Then a wink. She runs a hand through her hair, and elbows her husband.

"...Did we ever look like that?" Comes a whisper.

"Never." It's returned. It is also false.

The dropped scepter is met with a flinch, and Setsuna has her attention fully. A dream. Beautiful and horrible, a trap. But then she lays out a question that makes her heart skip a bit.

And in that moment, she recognizes what a dear friend was saying. Maybe it really /has/ been all about her. Truth rings in her chest. She knows Pluto is right. She knows they're /all/ right.

"...Yeah. We made a promise, didn't we, Setsuna-chan? I must look pretty pathetic right now. Am I really chasing at ghosts?" She reaches out for Setsuna's wrists. "Binding those I love like that? Seriously? How low can I get?" Her voice carries, but it's low, and seething hints of self loathing fill in the spots where anger slowly tapers.

She swallows. Those words of encouragement have her smiling, even as her legs feel weak.

She's not alone.

The illusion finally shatters as the wrecking ball of a feline joins in with the others to end it. "I...I love you too Mikoto-chan!" Not 'Little Sister'. Mikoto-chan. Her /friend/. Not her knight. Someone close, an ally, a fellow magical warrior.

One hand balls hard enough that leather creaks and skin rubs raw beneath. "Mercy? MERCY!? Where's the mercy in this, then!? I can't believe I fell for this. I'm nowhere near noble enough, /GOOD/ enough in strength or character to be a King! Right!? I've been selfish and greedy!" Confesses the young woman as reality crashes hard down around her, as the mahou gathered's words finally sink in.

"Maybe not even worthy of being your big sis, Mikoto." She chokes on a sob.

A sucked in breath. "....But you're right. All of you are. I can't sleep forever. If it's a dream...I want to turn the world into my dream. Even if I can't have everything I'd like."

The crowd is gone, and it's only the magical girls, Kasagami, and her parents. She turns, and looks at them. Dropping her sword, she runs into their arms, and the three embrace.

"Mom. Dad. I don't...I don't want to lose you again! Please...I'm begging you!"

Warm hands brush hair, and cheek. Choked sobs fill the air, as she finally succumbs to the truth. And hates every minute of it.

"Your friends are right, my little tiger. Lies and daydreams like this mean nothing, no matter how sweet." The man lets go of his daughter.

A hand slams down to her noggin, and Kassie winces. The taller woman's eyes are as misty as her daugher's.

"Dropping your sword? You're still young, and not strong enough yet. But don't think this is the end! We'll meet again one day! Now go pick up that blade, and stop moping! I love you, Kaa-chan. Become truly strong, and you can become a King!" Offers warm, rough encouragement, and then she's being shoved towards the others.

She isn't on her feet long, just enough to fall to her rump. Legs pull up, her chin on her knees. She shivers...and hugs her sword close to her body. Everything fades. A single grey eye peers out at the others as she breaks down crying truly.

"I'm sorry, everyone. All I wanted was..." Her words are unintelligible as she gutters her heart out in tears, angry, humiliated, and spent. Yet they shine with love for those gathered here.

Kassie might just need a minute.