2019-03-01 - TIMELINE 3: You're Stuck With Me

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Title: TIMELINE 3: You're Stuck With Me

Mikoto goes on a retrieval mission. Mai isn't designed for a warzone, and the Black Bishop has her own ideas about how to wage war. But like Mikoto, Mai has a particular set of skills, and as she takes the responsibility and the blame she has a wish for the future. Perhaps this one won't turn to ashes in her mouth.


Mai Tokiha, The Black Bishop, Mikoto Minagi


Ohtori Academy - Classrooms

OOC - IC Date:

2019-03-01 - 2014-09-15

.******************** Yamanote High City - Ohtori Academy *********************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Classrooms +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
 The heart of Ohtori Academy, the classrooms are lushly appointed.
 Brass-fitted panels of clear glass replace the walls, sacrificing privacy
 for a sensation of great, airy space. Cutting edge technology is everywhere
 apparent, albeit obscured with tasteful minimalist interfaces. Interactive
 digital screens take the place of traditional blackboards, the desks and
 chairs fold down flush with the ground when not in use, and some classes
 allow or even mandate the use of laptops.

 The natural dignity of most of the students, the strictness of the teachers,
 and the sound-resistant glass panels combine to keep the halls unusually
 quiet. When class is in session, the hallways are almost silent, though
 between classes they grow almost as lively as a public school might.

 Tradition does not die easily, of course. There are a few classrooms left
 that are still decorated in a more traditional style, generally heavy with
 dark-stained oak, faded but lush carpeting, and a permanent scent of chalk
 and old books.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

It's admittedly a gorgeous place, Ohtori Academy. Parts of the campus show the dignity of ages past, ornate construction calling back to memories of fairy tales with almost royal decor. Other portions have been modernized, crystal-clear glass walls letting young scions behold the world they shall soon stand above. Sprawling forests, ancient caves, sparkling waves and immaculate gardens complete the scenery, all creation shown in the best form money can buy.

Glorious. Marred, now, by the presence of the Golden Age.

From those upper story classrooms, the picture painted by the invasion is a painful one. Those lush forests are home to lurking creatures, just visible in the stark gold of twilight. Tanks have trampled those oh-so-perfect flower gardens, turrets aimed at buildings that house countless Sister Schools students. Communications technology has been mounted on those antique decorations with nary a care, and those clear walls illustrate just how many soldiers are on patrol.

Mai Tokiha, Ohtori student, doesn't remember all that much of the invasion's beginning. The battle against Tetrioht was a frantic one, and a sideswipe from the Cybody clipped her in Kagutsuchi's place. When she came to, Zero Time had ended, her Child had vanished into the aether, and masked soldiers were comparing her face to a pageful of photographs. Head still pounding, she didn't resist as she was dragged off.

She remembers meeting Takumi's eyes as the soldiers began checking the rest of the ballroom - just long enough for a coughing fit to overtake him, and a friend of his to pull him into the throng of the crowd.

It's a classroom on the fifth story of one of the newer buildings - resplendent with motorised smartboards and glass walls. Business administration wing, maybe? It's hard to say. To the soldiers' credit, she hasn't been tied up - just left with a single chair and desk to sit at, surrounded by a cage of strings and oil-soaked paper.

The unspoken threat is clear. If Mai were to use her powers, the slightest spark of flame would turn the elaborate construct into a gorgeously smoky inferno to consume her.

So she sits. Sits, and waits - the soldiers standing guard have been terrible conversationalists, even to shouted invectives. The limited water rations also tend to discourage shouting, so patience has had to be a virtue.

The masked figure smiling at her now might not have any answers, and there's very little to trust here. Still, at the presence of any visitor other than the usual, Mai at least has to stand up and be a little imposing. Unarmed, trapped, she folds her arms and gives as stern a glare as she can.

"Was - " Mai swallows, trying to fight down the hoarseness. "Was all this really necessary? The invasion - this ridiculous cage - and most importantly, not even letting me change out of my ball dress?!"

...it has, admittedly, seen better days.

<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

The Golden Age to come requires a different sort of glory to be brought into being, they say. Progress can be ugly; so it is here. A sense of purpose... and a misery, a dread that lingers. Emotions have always run high at Ohtori, and now, during this apparent invasion, is no exception.

The figure before Mai is not dressed in the way of the soldiers. She has no gun, no armor. Her mask is designed such that the shape of a snake's neck and head curl over her eye; her attire, instead, is fine. She wears a crisp black suit and light purple tie; to look at it, the tailored garments surely belong at Ohtori, the pointed shoes with heels not at all impeding her movements. She has the bearing, though...

Of someone bored, barely present. It's easy to forget, though, how sharp she can be. But she is smiling. No--the smiling is perhaps worse.

"Well," the Black Bishop replies, tilting her head, setting a hand at her cheek as she looks thoughtful. "That's an interesting question. Really, an interesting set of questions. Those in charge, naturally, would claim that the invasion was entirely necessary; that it is an unfortunate requirement to allow our plans to move forward."

She doesn't seem invested in the party line, and certainly doesn't fear the soldiers who could argue what she says.

"But then, is any course of action really necessary? Or are they expected? Going to school, fulfilling one's duties..."

"Hospital visits," she adds, conversationally.

"But I can answer the other two. The cage is an effective means of keeping you here. Simple restraints would be so barbaric, don't you think? And far easier for your friends to deal with. It would be simply terrible if you hurt the poor, brave men protecting the school right now."

The Black Bishop sighs, faintly, imagining such awfulness. Then, warmly--

"As for the dress..." She pauses, and then laughs, distantly, a sound that seems to come from the diaphragm and nevertheless comes off a little bit... breathy, perhaps, as if at the end of a much longer laugh that she skipped because it was too much energy.

"No, the dress is just funny. We all have to find levity in these dark times, don't we?" She starts to turn away, and looks over her shoulder. "I suggest you do the same. Look on the bright side. Frowning so much will only give you wrinkles."

Click, click; she's walking away.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mai can't honestly claim that the figure before her is familiar. If she'd traded notes with other girls more, or listened to Kuga's conspiracy theories with non-feigned interest, then it might be another story - but those are regrets for another day.

Her emotions might be a little on edge, and it was likely easy for the Black Bishop to pick on that. The nails digging into her arm, the tense footing, the glare...here, at least, she was wearing her heart on her sleeve. The seeming placid cheer of the woman before her just aggravated it further.

What's necessary versus what's expected - that's a question that might in better days give Mai pause. If this were a friend, not an enemy, and the mood was right...maybe she'd discuss her thoughts on the line there. She might - but the Black Bishop's third example sends ice into Mai's veins, and the glare widens into a horrified stare.

"You-" She begins, but the Bishop continues answering questions. The second one - Mai wraps a hand around one of the 'bars' of her prison, as if to weigh whether burning alive would be worth immolating everyone in this room. And then-

And then the Black Bishop has the temerity to laugh at the final indignity, walking away with her piece said. "The bright side? The bright side?! You just think -"

Looks can't kill, sadly, and the Bishop seems undisturbed as she retreats. Presumably, Mai's ensuing scream of frustration bothers her no more.

With no company remaining but the soldiers, Mai stumbles back to the chair she's been left. The desk, at least, is opaque - so when she buries her face in her arms, it's impossible to see a wrinkle-inducing frown.

Or whatever other expression she might have.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Yuki Kajiura - Dancing Dream!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=Jb90lkvaIU8

Hunting animals and hunting people require different skills. One requires Mikoto not to smell like a person at all. The other requires Mikoto not to be covered in dirt.

Luckily, Eri had the foresight to realise this and make sure Mikoto had a bath.

Her dress is still marred - without soap, there's only so much scrubbing in creek-water can do to clean the fine magenta cloth - but she's as washed as she can manage, now. She even has footwear again, thanks to the sneaky efforts of Homura stealing the smallest pair of boots she could find. They're still a little big on her, but it's better than trying to run and climb in heels.

She's shed the tulle stole - the Crimson Rook tore what was left of it to pieces. Now the only thing around the dress is the sash, and only that because spare cloth can come in handy. Mikoto could borrow from the bottom of her gown, but it, too, has become frayed and torn over her time in exile. It does not cover her ankles any more.

And the school is swarming.

There are times Mikoto does not care to be seen at all; as if she does not care for the consequences of Tokyo in the slightest. Here, now, she cares, because Mai might be in trouble. Secondarily, her other friends are perhaps threatened, as well. And so she presses herself in against the upper boughs of trees and along the tops of gazebos; she stays out of sight. She sniffs them out, and moves when they move away. And she listens.

It's the chatter of two soldiers who betray them, really. Just a little aside wondering about whether that elaborate oil trap is really necessary when they could just keep the Valkyrie under until they need her. What are the higher-ups thinking? Of course, his fellow elbows him and tells him to keep his thoughts on the job.

In the nearby tree Mikoto's teeth grit and she suppresses the urge to growl. She does not confront them; they are in view of other soldiers, with a tank nearby. Certainly, Mikoto could handle it. But she could not handle it quietly. Instead she waits for the patrol to pass, and she slips down to sneak closer to the school.

It might not be Mai.

... it's probably Mai.

And it means they have her, they have her, they are holding her under thumb and it is anathema which boils her blood. But it is a quiet anger - restrained - until she gets to the building.

Until she hears a scream.

Until she hears Mai scream.

And Mikoto is not cautious any more. From windowsill to drainpipe she springs up, and it is a vertical climb and it feels impossible but she does it so effortlessly, one-handed, the other grasped tightly to her blade. She comes to the fifth-floor window and she sees her, head down, and Mikoto hollers as she brings Miroku down on the glass. It shatters.

She charges forward, but she takes care not to drag her blade; the sparks it throws would ignite the oil-trap they have set around her. "Stay down!" She snaps as she hefts it diagonally from below, carving the strings and sending the blade careening over Mai's head.

Hopefully, Mai takes her advice.

It would be a bad idea for her to straighten up, in that moment.

And Mikoto turns in revolution as she tries to manage the weight of her blade and she shouts, "Mai!" And yes, she is freed, but there are soldiers here, even if the Black Bishop does not care to turn back. There are soldiers - and they are levelling their guns - and they are pulling their triggers. They know the measure of a magical girl. They know that bullets will not stop her... but perhaps they will slow her down.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

All the haste in the world still can't ascend the Ohtori structures in an instant. While Mikoto searches in incautious panic, Mai is left to her own thoughts and fears. Left to contemplate just how much the Black Bishop knows, just what kind of threats were left unstated to menace her...her...

Necessities and expectations, loves and responsibilities. The thin line between them, the icy panic that flooded Mai's heart when one of them was put in danger. And yet, trapped by a cage of gilds - an elaborate trickery just reminding Mai that they didn't really fear her self-destructing in a blaze of glory.

The real chains were somewhere in the student population, and the Black Bishop knew exactly where to find them.

An interruption jars Mai out of her dread with a sound like breaking glass. No, not like - the great expensive window-wall of the classroom shatters far too easily, Mai lifting her head in alarm. The sight hurtling toward her is a terror of darkness and obsidian, death approaching with every sprinting step -

- And then the words sink in, and Mai ducks in the nick of time.

Her name is called again, after the whistle of the cursed blade passes over her neck, and Mai looks up once more. She's surrounded by the remnants of the cage, the intricate tinderwork a ruined mess scattered across the floor, and the expression on her face is utter disbelief.

Mikoto might recognize those few details Mai discards - the red around her eyes, the scratches on her bare arms, the collapse of what was once at least something of a nice hair styling. They might matter, or they might not; Mai is looking at Mikoto in awe, in disbelief, in horror.

The horror wins out, as the soldiers move to action. The angles are such that they can take aim at the intruder without threatening the prisoner, and the Black Bishop's unspoken threat to Mai's greatest responsibility rings in her thoughts -

But that ice turns to fire when Mai's love is put in danger. "Mikoto!" A warning, as much as a plea, as Mai shoves the desk aside in a leap. The guns fire as she leaps between them and the smaller girl, and the air burns in response.

It's crimson, all of it. The disk of blazing light that rings with every shot. The whirling flames that are still forming into an element of jade and gold. The shoulders of Mai's dress, set ablaze by stray pieces of the dismantled oil-trap.

There's a sharp cry, for a moment, but Mai swallows it. Her face is turned towards the soldiers, her voice for the girl behind her. "What...what are you doing here? You shouldn't have come to..."

There's a sniff, even as the floor below her still heel-clad feet begins to smoke.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Snicker-snack, it would have been a little bit more than an inch off the top.

It all matters; none of it can. Mikoto is tiny, and in her imperious rage, she towers. She is already moving, foot over foot, to bring that blade up in front of her flesh --


-- is not the only one incautious.

Everything becomes hot on short notice. Heat is a poor housemate to raw skin, Mikoto thinks, distantly, as her eyes glance off Mai's arms. It is well that Homura procured her boots, as the floor throws off smoke.

Bullets fire, but they are firing on titans. Mikoto has Miroku. Mai has her shields.

Shields made of fire, in a room with oil-soaked strings fluttering about.

Miroku itself is aflame in the wash of them, so many of those strings caught about its length as it tore them away from Mai's person. There is so much which can be written on the nature of heat and obsidian, the crucible of the boiling earth and the blood which cools.

There is so much which can be written on the interplay.

But right now Mai asks and Mikoto answers, short, sharp, battle-ready. "Mai!" It is an answer, in her fashion; why she is here, why she should have come. Now she does not have to worry about caution, as she shifts her movements to bring her blade down on the soldiers trying to close in - and it is only the quick reflexes of the soldier who is closest which saves him from bisection.

They've trained for this, too, after all. This is their Golden Age.

And they will do whatever it takes to bring it about.

"Move!" Mikoto snaps, stepping back to cover her escape towards the window, as if there were no doubt as to her escape.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

That blade severed the elaborate nature of the trap, reduced the waiting inferno to a swath of fire hazards. Moreover, this is the wing of the school most recently modernized, and fire extinguishers were part of bringing the building up to code.

Surely, someone might bring one eventually.

Still, the remnants of that trap dangle everywhere, and every passing moment fills more and more of the room with smoke. The soldiers, naturally, have gas masks for just this situation, but the HiME are not so well equipped. Mai coughs, stumbling back with her shield still blazing, yet another pair of dangling strings igniting as she passes them.

She can't even answer Mikoto, at least not immediately. The sword is more effective against the soldiers, especially as they abandon gunfire for the moment in favour of close combat, but the two of them are outnumbered in a disadvantageous situation.


Mai hesitates. Not in confusion, not for lack of hearing - she turns to Mikoto, and even with the veil of smoke it's flagrantly clear just how lost she is. There's no words forthcoming, no decisiveness, just a teenage girl torn between hope and despair.

Soldiers reload their rifles, the soft click being signal enough, and Mai finally moves. She runs towards the window, grabbing Mikoto by the arm, and leaps into the open air from the fifth story window. The air outside, at least, is cleaner than the black smoke that billows from the aperture, and for a second she just takes in a greedy breath of fresh air - before coughing out a name and command in one.

"Kagutsuchi!" The plea, on the verge of shaken desperation, is answered in an instant. By the time the soldiers rush to the broken window, the Child is winging its way towards the deep forest.

Atop its back, burnt and bowed, Mai buries her face in the dragon's ruff. She's shaking, hands digging into that orange fur, and she's quiet for a long moment. "...you put yourself in danger, again. For me. That's...that's just not fair, Mikoto..."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Mai is not trained for battle. Mai is prone to freeze, to hesitate, to think overlong. Mikoto knows this, knows it well; she has seen too often the results of Mai's uncertainty. As the smoke rises, aiming those guns becomes impossible, and the soldiers move in, and Mikoto moves to meet them, and she does not hesitate. Through the hot gloom, one is on the radio. Help is on the way.

They reload, and this close they do not need to aim, and Mikoto's breath rasps because she cannot scream any more against the heat. It is a raw, rough hiss, panting through open lips, and she cuts a long gash in one of them. The only thing which saves him is the way he staggers back - and the protective vest which abjures such a sharp cut.

Of course they have protected themselves.

And always she is close to Mai, close to Mai, she is trying to edge her closer to the window, she is trying to get Mai to move.

And all a sudden, Mai does.

There's a choked sound of surprise as Mikoto finds herself grabbed, but she knows the shape of Mai's hands, even if she cannot smell her or see her in the smoke. And perhaps Miroku is heavy, but Mikoto is light, easily pulled through a window to hurtle towards the ground.

It's fine. Mai can fly. So can Kagutsuchi. The air here is cleaner, and they can breathe.

Mikoto knows already that resting her blade against the beast will not harm it; a Child is hardier than that. She crouches beside Mai, one hand curled loosely around Miroku's hilt, and the other reaches up to rest on Mai's shoulder.

"Mai..." Her voice is still a little husky from the smoke. She coughs, shakes her head, as if she could dismiss the heat just through movement. "Mai," she starts again. "I... if Mai got hurt... I'd be so sad, Mai. I love Mai. I like it when Mai's happy, and smiling... and, this..."

Mai wasn't smiling. Mai wasn't happy.

"It's okay," she assures her, after a moment. "I'm good at danger. I can handle this. I'm just worried about Mai... okay? I just want Mai to be safe." And perhaps it makes sense why she would retrieve her, now.

It's one less bargaining chip they can use - against Mikoto.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kagutsuchi can, indeed, fly. The wind - the clear, fresh wind - whips past the two passengers as the phoenix wings its way wide. Far enough, fast enough, and those watching it might lose sight long enough for those riding to find a place to hide.

It trills once, irritated, the very touch of Miroku against it seeming distasteful - but the Child acquiesces. For now.

Mai doesn't recoil from Mikoto's touch in the same way - after a hesitant moment, she leans into it, relishing that simple comfort for a fleeting moment. Her face stays buried as Mikoto talks, and her shoulders hitch as Mikoto trails off.

It's okay, Mikoto says. She can handle this, she says.

Mai finally turns to her companion - to her girlfriend, her own voice husky from a dry throat scorched by oilsmoke. "I...I wish I could be all that you want. Safe, happy...but any time I try to be happy, it's like the world wants to punish it. If I could just...just have Kagutsuchi fly off to Hokkaido, or Canada, so we could just live happily in some far-off mountains..."

There's a faint smile on her face at the thought, but it freezes in place as she looks back towards the main Ohtori campus. It fades, remaining but changing its nature as she muses. "But...I can't. I'm responsible for too much, here. Maybe after this whole Golden Age business is done, after everything goes back to normal...maybe then we can take another stab at a nice date."

A deep breath, interrupted by coughs. Mai doubles over for a moment, letting her lungs complain as they need to, before finally looking up at Mikoto again. "Sorry you have to wait, Mikoto. You're amazing, and you're stuck with me..."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

A sword through a dragon, a sword on a dragon...

All are bound in their fashion.

Perhaps it is all the more important, then - the bonds they choose for themselves. Mikoto curls a hand at Mai's shoulder, rubbing at her upper arm, gently, mindful of the heat they just endured. And when Mai turns to her she is not all sharp edges any more; her gaze is soft, her expression concerned.

Every time...

Her eyes crease in sorrow and she knows it is true. They went on a date, and that very night, Midori died. They tried to relax and dance - she told Mai it would be all right - and the bridge was annihilated and they were decimated. "Mai..." Mikoto says, and it is sad, and the trailing edge of the word is truncated by a little cough.

Mai is responsible; Mikoto is responsible, too. She bows her head in a nod. "We can't run away," she says, and she does not bother to say why. They know. They have always known.

She hacks out coughs and Mikoto pats at her back, and she knows how to pierce the lungs but not how to fix them, and she hates how powerless she feels. Then Mai looks up and she is disarmed in another fashion entirely, and her skin is already hot from the smoke but her cheeks grow a little warmer in the wake of it. "Mai!" She says, again, and this time it is love, love, love. "I don't wanna be anywhere else, Mai." As if being stuck with her is a good thing. "Mai's taught me so much... with Mai, I can... I can be a girl," and she does not explain what the alternative is, because it's obvious.

"So let's take care of it," she insists - turns her face into her shoulder as she coughs out some more smoke. "And let's go on lots more dates!" She comes to the conclusion as if it is so simple. Perhaps it is.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The dragon is still injured from the fight against Tetrioht, the girl is burnt and battered, and the lovely prom dress is probably a write-off. Still, Mai is in about as good a condition as could be expected - especially with Mikoto being cautious of her injuries.

Kagutsuchi croons, quietly, as flaming wings douse themselves in as subtle a landing as can be managed. Ethereal flames flicker around its form, and that firm back becomes little more than a fading dream as Mai and Mikoto are deposited into Ohtori's ever so lush forests. Dangers might lurk here, but they're at least the inhuman kind.

Something about that thought makes Mai giggle, in spite of everything. She looks at Mikoto's face, and flushes in spite of herself. It means something that Mikoto doesn't diminish the guilt, doesn't diminish the responsibility - accepting Mai's demons as they are, as it were.

So it's an earnest smile - pained, but honest - that answers Mikoto after that last bout of coughing. "Sounds good. Once it's all taken care of, we can both be girls and go on as many dates as we want!"

It's a promise, as much of one as Mai can ever make. Looking at Mikoto, she can only think that she'd rather die than ruin that happiness.