2021-12-16 - Return To The North Pole 4

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Return To The North Pole 4

The thrilling climax of an epic adventure, our heroines descend into the ruins of the Dark Kingdom to discover the source of the world's woes. But they do not find the ghost that they expect; nor the true perpetrator of this crime against Christmas.


Yumi Ohzora, Mikoto Minagi, Nori Ankou, Usagi Tsukino, Nagisa Misumi


The North Pole

OOC - IC Date:

12/16/2021 - 12/24/2015

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

It transpires that the ship is still full of death but no longer full of evil energies. This makes a substantial difference, traversing its length -- it remains dark and creepy but, among other things, the power's back on; the first person to try a lightswitch finds that it works.

The ship tells a story, but only in pieces.

In the galley, a (now storm-tossed) meal abandoned midway through preparation; a frying pan remains on the range through the power of magnetism and nothing more. The plates are tough plastic and have survived this ordeal. There's a different smell of death here, of rotting plants and meat.

The berths are all made up; not to military squareness, but to Japanese meticulousness-to-the-extent-possible-onboard-a-ship, certainly. There's an empty, lonely feeling to the cabins in general, and a few cobwebs.

The engine room is silent. No part of it is warm. Whatever power sent the vessel through the waves after the girls' ship, it was not combustion.

On the bridge, the instruments are ON again, but not WORKING, because they do not recognize anything except 'North, which is everywhere' and that despite that very distinctive signature they may or may not be on Earth. The sea remains the Sea, it seems.

This isn't over...

But with the storm calmed it is finally possible to see what lies ahead.

It is nighttime. It was already getting dark in Tokyo and time has passed since then, though exactly how much is unclear; there is nevertheless a tangible sense that it isn't midnight yet -- that you would KNOW. That you would know because it would be Bad, for Christmas Eve to end with the North Pole in this state.

Nori and Usagi returned the darkness to whence it came.

Apparently, whence it came is OVER THERE.

<SoundTracker> Danger Lurks - BSSM OST - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJd2QJQM7sI

There is no Moon, no starlight; nevertheless, it's possible to make out the icy surface of the North, because the sheer reflectivity of the ice collects and scatters any ambient light it can get, really making the most of it. Vast and towering glacial ice, but smoother than anyone remembers, smooth because melt is smooth and the spikes and gashes created by battle were largely not.

It shimmers...

...unfortunately it shimmers with that same ghastly purple that was in the scientists' eyes, the silhouette's whole form.

It's not really a skull anymore, the Dark Kingdom's fortress. It wasn't really when they left, except perhaps for one all dented in with pieces everywhere, but now it's REALLY not; the more tortured pieces of ice that used to artfully curl upwards, under magical duress, have long since collapsed. But from where the group stands, it looks a little bit like a wilting flower. Or a beating heart...

...shimmer, shimmer, shimmer...

It is close. Close enough to row to; and there are rowboats, back on the girls' ship, with the kind of single-paddle that twists back and forth and round; there is something of the teacup to them. Now that the storm has calmed the surface of the sea is tearful rather than enraged; a silvery-gray with little heaving sobs-worth of wavelets; but even as the group looks upon it is seems to be stilling further, like it's kind of cried itself out and needs a nap.

<Pose Tracker> Seawitch Ivy [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

We need to know, Nagisa says, and looks at Yumi and Nori. Yumi looks back at her and nods. "...We'll figure it out." She finishes her work, She nods to Nori, too, who mentions what she would do if she were one of ours. "Yeah. We'll have to ask them."

She'll help with the canvas all the same. And after she gets a minute, she'll squeeze Mikoto's hand with hers, because it didn't feel good.

There is silence all around, and Yumi doesn't break it except with quiet footfalls and the click of the base of her Staff against the ground, a walking-stick for the moment imbued with thousands of years. She looks over... and no, it isn't over. The Sa is the Sea, and...

"Up there," Yumi says, and looks concerned. "That color..."

She looks to the others, and nods. Once back on their ship, she gets on a rowboat once she checks in on the others, checks in with Tama. She doesn't fly across, though her broom is close; she instead sticks with the others, not because she thinks she can't... but because she wants to stay close to her friends, in this.

"Do you recognize this place?" she asks especially Usagi, but the others too. Perhaps she is in a boat with Mikoto.

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

With an unsettled noise at the back of her throat -- and not for the first time -- Mikoto rests her blade against the remains of the counter, briefly, so she can shrug her warm coat from her shoulders. She steps towards Nori; she offers it out, white as death, still damp from the storm. "... don't got any canvas," she explains, awkward, with a troubled frown.

She turns away, turns her face away, as she moves to grasp her blade again. "... I don't know what to do when they're defeated," Mikoto adds, quietly, something a shade strangled to the words. Emotion wavers them, there, at the knowing. She knows it would be easier to distance herself, to stand on far shore, see this woman as little more than another of the inanimate objects in the room. It would be much more comfortable. The intuition might not even be wrong; there's nothing there for her any more, after all.

But everyone is upset, and that means Mikoto is upset, too.

She feels a squeeze at her shoulder, and looses one of her one of her own hands to rest it over Nagisa's, however briefly. After that moment -- after she breathes, it's easily felt, the way her shoulders lift and fall with the expansion of her chest -- her hand pulls back, to curl at her chest. Nagisa has been using her words all this time; Mikoto is slower with hers, has to organise them in her mind, but a moment of care does wonders for giving her space to express herself. "The way he was moving... he was ordered," she says, and perhaps she doesn't JUST look queasy on account of the corpse. "I had to stop it. That's why." A funeral, or an offering? Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered, in the end.

Her first set of movements -- away from the corpse -- are to those bunsen burners, to crouch down and twist them off. It takes her a moment to remember how, because Mikoto has only recently started applying herself in her classes. She manages. She should take responsibility for it, shouldn't she..?

She straightens up, and holds Lost Ivy's hand, and doesn't quite let go while they explore the innards of the ship. Her fingers twitch and curl with those scents of frozen rot, food left forgotten, and...

Mikoto releases Ivy's hand, finally, to step into the cabins, and pull a cobweb to her hands to show the others. "... for a long time," she repeats herself, quietly, though it may not sound like repetition. The first time she noticed how long this voyage went was on the deck, after all.

She pulls up the blankets on one of the cabin beds. It fell out of place, or maybe was never made in the first place. ... it feels like the right thing to do.

When they get to the bridge, Mikoto says little about the instruments; she wouldn't know how to read them, even if everything were normal, so she just looks to la Sirene instead. But everything isn't normal. Even Mikoto can see where the darkness went, when it fled those metal halls.

Mikoto checks in with Tama, too. (Shouldn't she check in with Nagi...? No, this way is better.) She'll handle rowing for Lost Ivy; her blade rests beside her, against the side of that little boat. She'd rather stay close with everyone, too.

"I... didn't get involved," she says, to Lost Ivy, quietly. "The world wasn't my problem, back then... my Lord Brother wasn't this far from Fuuka. So..." She doesn't feel good about that, either; she trails off, with a little shrug of a shoulder.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

La Sirene turns her head to look upwards towards Mikoto as the coat is offered to her. She reaches upwards, rising as she does, taking the garment and saying, "This is a great kindness. You won't regret it, in the end. Thank you." She bows her head afterwards, in silent appreciation, for two seconds, before turning round.

It's stiller, now.

More familiar, in its way. Without the wrack of the storm, the air tastes... like home; but the death, at least, is not quite part of it. A quick inspection is joined by la Sirene after she attends to the deceased and their dignity.

In the bridge, la Sirene contemplates the systems for a few moment. She taps the compass signal, in case it is simply stuck: but the satellite navigation aids are all returning errors ("Of course, we don't have any satellites... mm...") and the other systems too. (Secretly, la Sirene doesn't know very much about the fine details of ship operation, but at least she knows what some of these things are 'for'.)

The rest is mournful and abandoned. An empty space, that once held others. Hopeful researchers, even if perhaps their topic was grim. And on deck...

La Sirene gazes upwards.

"You should know," she says, "that this is not the usual thing for the sea of tears. You would either see a crowded sky or simply the clouds and the storms. Usually the latter."

She does know enough about nautical matters to throw a rope to their other ship, the precious wood, so that the two ships will not drift apart; and then herself, down; and thence, into a boat, lighting carefully into the coracle-teacup shape and collecting a paddle. There is room for her to be joined, but she seems to be contemplative, or pensive, as she maneuvers towards that wreck.

The ancient fortress.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Usagi-chan [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Usagi feels Nagisa's arm around her for a moment, and in that moment it feels like whatever resolve she mustered for that brief attack crumples anew, as she feels the Senshi's weight against it. Like she's all but one step away from burying her face against her. "I don't... want to look." She says quietly, asking for a moment of respite from the strength required of all here.

It's just a moment though, before she draws herself back up to a standing position, nodding vaguely at Nagia's comment to both Nori and Yumi about... needing to know. It is perhaps a nod she does not feel right now, but in her heart, she knows. It's what they came here for. And the horror will not be over until they find out.

Sailor Moon - or Sailor Usagi does not break the stillness of silence for some time, as their search over the ship brings them - thankfully to no more corpses, no more funeral rites. All the same she can't help but think there will be another picture placed on a family shrine in a now emptier home when this is over.

The distant horizon is one she clearly sees, and it's sight is perhaps even less appealing than that of the corpse, because it evokes memories of corpses which were close to her - suffering, loneliness. The end of a millenia long story which has not yet graced any page. Even if she doesn't want to look, she couldn't look away from it. Numbly she climbs into one of the rowboats, in no state to row huddling down in their ethereal teacup vessel. It's not until Yumi asks that she breaks eye contact from the place, to look up at her.

"That's... D-Point. It's..."

A lengthy pause... as she listens to Sirene's explanation, then with a look her way says muted.

"... maybe it's not... usual... but... it doesn't feel that unusual either..."

She's not gainsaying Nori's expertise certainly on the Sea of Tears. It's just... to her it makes perfect sense that a Sea of Tears would lead them all here.

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Even as a Pretty Cure, Nagisa feels like a regular girl when compared to someone like Mikoto. But Mikoto's smallness, felt keenly in the physicality of how her body fills with her breath, is a need that Nagisa must answer. She is the older one, here, even if Mikoto was raised to war, and Nagisa, until recently, to poorly perform long division.

"I know," she tells Mikoto. "You were so brave."

She watches and waits, hands folded uncharacteristically in front of her, as Nori makes use of Mikoto's jacket. Where are the others, she wonders? At the bottom of the sea, perhaps. With the crabs. When Nori is finished, Nagisa's head lifts, and she ventures a note, for anyone who hasn't noticed the absence yet themselves. "The storm... it stopped."


Nagisa looks down at the half-eaten meal, her hand over her nose again. It's still swollen from the earlier headbutt, and the scent of blood in it helps. It's better than smelling things rotting, at any rate. "They got surprised, huh..."

She looks to the side. "It's hard, knowing it already happened. Whatever it was."


On the bridge, Nagisa rests her hand on a control panel. "Must have taken a long time to learn how to do this," she says, unhappily. "College, maybe. Lots of practice."

Her eyes lift to the sea, and its unnatural lighting.

"I hate this," she whispers.


Nagisa hesitates a moment when she first grips the oar. Her fingers ripple once on their handles, and she closes her eyes, just sitting for a moment, and feeling the dreamlike slipperiness of the water beneath the boat. Then, opening her eyes, she unhooks the oars and dips them in the water, before giving a deep, smooth row.

Nagisa's back faces what Usagi calls D-point, and she only gives it enough of a glance to keep on course, here and there. More often she looks at her passenger, Usagi.

"Hey," Nagisa calls her attention. "She's dead, okay?"

It's a blunt, hard phrasing from as soft a heart as Nagisa's. But even when the departed is a loved one rather than a mortal foe, there comes a point where anything less is a lie, and so the result was inevitable. Usagi can see in the clear amber of Nagisa's eyes that the Pretty Cure is even more honest than she is soft.

"She's dead," Nagisa repeats. "And you're safe with..."

Nagisa tosses her head towards their captain, whether that's in her rowboat or over with Yumi and Mikoto.

"La Sirene," she says, perhaps less heroically than expected.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

By the time the boats are setting out towards the North Pole -- no. By the time the boats kiss the surface of the water, it is still as a mirror. That first impact sends long, langorous ripples concentrically outwards. After that, it's each stroke that seems to create the largest wave around.

There's something dreamlike about the brief journey. There's little enough in the sky to reflect, but everyone down at the surface does so beautifully, and with a sort of dreadful clarity; their features enhance, they become more like themselves in every way. Which the transformation already kind of did, in most cases. But this is something even more profound...

It is bitterly cold. There is no wind, but the still air is itself a little icy; particularly as they get right up to the mouth of the fortress, the mist rises and becomes an almost semisolid thing. Not a barrier. But something that pricks the skin with pins and needles, and feels like it ought to leave a trail in passing. It doesn't. Look back, and it's just more fog.

All the melt has created an underground stream, or else this entry was always here but there was no opportunity to discover it while fighting Beryl's armies (and of course the Queen herself). Still, it leads cavernously into the ice, into the skull-that-was, with unmatched directness, compared to finding a place to dredge up on shore and then search for an entryway in all that tumbled-about glacier.

High walls and low ceiling, like something bored this out from inside, like a worm eating its way out of an apple. Like someone else traversing its squirm backwards. It starts to get a little claustrophobic, but it doesn't get dark, because the violet light is, for better or for worse, getting stronger, and stronger, and stronger. First it's strong enough to smell -- a metallic, ozone frission on the air, which pierces through the icy that would otherwise chill most noses -- then it's strong enough to taste.

It tastes bitter. And it feels... miserable.

It feels like Christmas Eve did. Like it shouldn't. Every itch becomes an agony; every discomfort a torment. Here all girls are princesses and all the world is peas.

Then they come upon it: the vast and final battlefield; the open tomb. Here there is ample room to get out of the boat and draw it up safely out of the slow-moving current. And then they can approach the ice, melting directly into the rowboats' stream, which surrounds the final resting place of one of the greatest terrors the world in general -- and some girls in particular -- have ever known. It is flush with the shattered 'floor' of this final battle; if there had been ice on top of her, it is all gone now, global warming's victim. But in the floor, unmistakably, is that wellspring of energy, like a bared nerve.

A bared nerve in a roughly human-shaped hole. Its exact edges are impossible to make out; it's too bright, and yet also too dark, to see exactly. And it's much too intense to see underneath -- it could be a fingernail's depth, or it could go down to the very center of the earth.

There are holes in the world...

...and today this one is the one that matters. Is it sucking all the joy out of the planet into it, leeching the holiday dry? Or is it tainting the whole ocean, and everyone, everything that relies on it, with its own toxic grief?

Either way, it demands redress.

Some holes can't be filled.

But this one doesn't feel like that.

There are no spiders here, no dust to settle, but like the cabins on the ship, the energy's source feels a little bit lonely, too, as it shimmers poisonously at the very top of the world.

<Pose Tracker> Seawitch Ivy [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Yumi will take Mikoto's hand for a while, just like she's content to let her do the rowing. Yumi stares into the mist, into the clear water, into the space ahead as they go. It is so clear... Mikoto is striking, here. All of them are. And Yumi herself does not look older, but looks a little wiser, a little more mysterious, than her usual.

"...It's OK," Yumi says to Mikoto. "I wasn't involved either." Then she nods to Nori, who explains about the Sea, and Usagi, who explains... "D-Point. So this is wwhere that was..."

She's heard the stories. She smiles at Usagi, when Nagisa speaks up. It's weird to smile at someone being dead, but that's not really why. "Right. We can all count on La Sirene," she agrees.

But they go, and they go, and Yumi shivers. She hates being cold, but there is nothing she can do about that now. Despite all her layers, despite all her magic, her fingers are burning with chill, and she clings more tightly to the Staff as she goes, wishing for a moment that her powers included fire. Just a moment, though.

But the metallic taste in the air, the strange tunnels... and there. There, this wellspring of energy. Yumi looks--and she wonders. Human-shaped...

She approaches a little more closely, to peer at it, but she can't see through the bright-dark. And this... hole. hichever way it is going...

"...Everyone," she says. "Usagi-san. I think... we have to..."

She puts forward the Staff, which glows faintly, a tiny oasis for just a heartbeat of peace. "...You don't have to do it alone," she says. She reaches out her other hand, looking for Mikoto's, and looks to Nagisa, to Nori.

"...We have to give it... peace, I think. ...There can't be peace unless it... ends."

She doesn't cast a spell, or start tracing runes. It is... not like that, she thinks.

"It's so lonely, here... we should stay together. Be together."

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRyRymflxtU

"... It's alright," la Sirene says, glancing over across the mirror-still patch of the sea, towards Usagi and Nagisa.

She continues. "I don't know why this... is here. The ice is melting, I can tell, or has melted... but the entire fortress to come *here*... Such a thing is almost inconcievable, unless someone *took* it through a storm with our charm and..."

La Sirene trails off, because perhaps she has no answers.

(They're all counting on me, aren't they?)

(I didn't...)

(I wasn't ready.)

(I never...)


(... I can keep them safe, at least; I can do that much. If we have to find aid... I...)

La Sirene's eyes close for a moment, although if she is not being watched the moment might just seem like she is meditating for an instance, listening to some emanation of subtle sorrow or (maybe) adjusting her seat in the row boat.

She lifts her head up then, and she rows. The sea is a terrifying thing if you think about it, this far out: there would, on Earth, surely be a mile or so of water beneath you, with nothing to keep you from sinking down, down, down away. But it is not quite the seas of Earth, and it is, at least, a moment of home --

For Christmas.

It is a little steel; enough to get from sea to tomb, and inwards.

La Sirene de Diamant does not *shiver*, but the light around her... deepens and tightens. Batiste vaults upwards and hauls to sit on her shoulder, and curls round like a plump stole, raising his head to watch like an able sentinel. But she doesn't shiver. A point of pride. (She does miss, for a half-moment, the coat of another name.)

In the tunnel, la Sirene says, "It seems almost... as if something was coming out, from within. If it fell into the Sea, I shouldn't like its chances, but..."

She lapses into silence again, into the vast depths - the space that would have held a brain, were this truly a Brobdignagian skull, and it is open, breached. Looking round, hauling out, it does not take much for her to see it. To feel it.

"... The last resting place, I suppose." La Sirene's cheeks puff out, and she does fold her arms now, rubbing her upper arms for a moment. Looking round, ever round, to the others.

Ivy speaks a word of wisdom.


La Sirene looks round once more.

"... What are your favorite songs?" she asks then. "That is a proper thing to do at Christmas-time, isn't it?"

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

%r Nagisa says Mikoto was brave; la Sirene says she won't regret her kindness. It is at once a strange contrast and entirely fitting, for a warrior like her to hear these things from her cohort. There's gratitude in her eyes, when she nods, when she and all her edges are understood.

And when Usagi asks respite, Mikoto's response, no matter how she doesn't avert her own eyes, is simple: "Me either." That commonality is the best she can think to offer her, in this moment.

She can't very well tell Usagi not to look. Not when it's burned into her eyes.

It's a thread she repeats, with Nagisa, on the bridge, with all those clever controls she doesn't understand. "Me, too." Mikoto hates this, hates that today became like this.

The sea is not acting as it should. Is that why everything seems like a metaphor, lighthouses to ashes, cats caught in thickets? It's unsettling. Mikoto's eyes are as lamps in the darkness, too bright and too, too gold, slit catlike as they look down to the drop of oar to water. Each ripple waves outwards, such a grand expanse from such a gentle entry.

"La Sirene knows about sad things," Mikoto says, "so we'll be okay."

It's cold. Colder, now she is just in that long-sleeve undershirt. The pink is a less outrageous shade, in the Sea's darkness; richer, stronger. A statement.

(Is the stretching cat displayed there a statement, too..? Maybe it is.)

... but it's not entirely the cold's fault that Mikoto is shivering, when they make that nautical entry into the ruins of this fortress. An underground stream like this...

It must make her nervous because of the darkness. Mikoto thinks of it that way, even though the violet is light enough to reflect off the gold of her eyes, reveal the caverns. Her nose wrinkles, again. The smell itself is a horror she hates to know. Her skin is damp from the squall, and she can feel her body heat leeching from it, in an eternal give-and-give from the overclocked furnace of her heart.

It tastes like fluffy pink cake.

Mikoto helps to bring the boats up -- clusters closer to Yumi, as they come to the nexus. She takes her hand, and squeezes it, uncertain.

She could bleed the earth to plug the hole, certainly. Blood as black as sin, surgical-sharp. She could.

"I... I don't think..." She starts to speak slowly, a little duck of her chin, a little curl of her shoulders. Mikoto glances down, to her black blade. "... the way I end things... it'd make it worse, right? I..."

She sounds as small as she is, as she admits: "... I don't know what I can do." Her inaction, here, is as much a statement as her action before. She falls silent; she considers the abyss.

She finds herself afraid she will fall into it, and keep falling, the world moving too fast around her to see, to grasp, to stop.

It's only when la Sirene asks about songs that Mikoto hums, glancing aside to her. "Mai likes to sing," she says, just as small and miserable as before. "Um... things like..." But how can she bring something that happy to mind here? Haplessly, she looks to Usagi, as if she could say what Mikoto couldn't.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Usagi-chan [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Usagi Tsukino blinks her eyes, which shimmer with tears as Nagisa states 'Hey' seemingly only slightly less startled by that than 'She's dead, okay?' It is a blunt impact, but perhaps it is what her heart needed right now. Just slowly nodding at her statement, pausing mid-motion as she says 'La Sirene', her eyes momentarily closing, as if to regather herself... before opening her eyes and allowing a smile, "I don't... feel less safe... right here."

Loneliness is one of the worst enemies one could have up here, she knows. And she does not feel alone sitting next to Nagisa Misumi.

The trip down the tunnels is... unsettling. She's been down them before, and even much changed - it is awful for her, to see those flashes of memories distorted by time. Yet...

... it's still not even close to as bad as it used to be, because back then she walked these tunnels alone. Others sacrificed themselves so she could. And now...

Now... she knows she isn't. Ever. That is the key difference.

The final battlefield stretches before her... and she remembers. That moment where Metallia bloomed out of that wicked flower, clad in the body of a foe she never wanted to kill.

She still wishes things had been different - as naive as she knows such thoughts are right now.

Instead there is a hole - leeching joy, love. It made Naru mad at her, the people at that shop, the sidewalk. It's... awful, yet it makes sense, that the world would not be unscarred by the defeat of such terrors that ended the Silver Millenium.

Yumi speaks first on the matter, and Usagi looks her way... eyes a bit doe-like. Then, she pauses, takes a deep breath...

... and tries to let something go, as La Sirene suggests singing a song. "Alright. Al... right. I think... I could sing." Last time she was here, she made a wish. A wish that she'd never be alone. However as wonderful as the outcome... just because she learned she wasn't alone that day doesn't mean she wants anyone else to feel alone.

Mikoto looks to her for suggestions of a Christmas song that La Sirene wants, "Well... I think, if this place is sad, we should sing something that's a little sad... to let it know it's not alone in how it feels... so I was thinking of... Christmas songs like that. That are a little sad, but make people... feel happier because they're sad... and... let them know they're not alone. So..."

She looks to Nagisa... as if confirming that feeling with another opinion by asking, "I was thinking... 'I'm dreaming of a White Christmas.' if you think... that's alright?"

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Blinking at Usagi, Nagisa hesitates. The truth is, she's afraid to be relied upon in her present state, where a single possessed minion was far out of her league, and without her other half to coordinate with, to share counsel and glances and five-fingered grips. But it has happened, nolens volens. Her only choices are to accept it or shrug it.

"All right," Nagisa tells Usagi. Her nod is serious. Her answer, inevitable. "You're safe with me too."

The tattoos are warmer on Nagisa's arms than her jacket ever could have been, but there are limits to their insulation, and Nagisa's skin prickles and goosebumps as she enters the cavern. Looking down, she watches the water pass by, then follows it with her gaze back to its source, deeper in the cavern.

It has occurred to her, more than once, that she made a mistake coming here without Honoka. She's just Nagisa, alone. She could stay with the ship, like the fairies. But Nori had been uncertain, Mikoto sad, Usagi afraid, and so at every turn, she took another step forward. At this point, however afraid Nagisa herself is, she needs to continue. There are too many others who might falter if she did.

Maybe that's why Nori put a Honoka figurehead on the boat. Could La Sirene read the future, and know that Nagisa would want to see Honoka's calm face when she looked back?

So it is that she ended up here, staring down into what may be the haunted tomb of one of the most powerful evils the world has ever known, as Nagisa Misumi. Decorated, but untransformed. The sadness here is stronger even than the malevolence, but it, too, is truly dangerous, able to reach down all the way to Tokyo to poison hearts. She stands now over a reactor of despair.

So this is what it's like, when Mepple feels a dark presence.

"Pisard," Nagisa remembers, out of nowhere. "That last time he fought, he was so scared. He didn't want to die. It's... even worse for them, than for us, I think." Nagisa looks down, down the hole.

Nagisa is nodding to reassure Usagi at first, before she freezes, startled by the choice of song. She has no notion of whether it is intentional or not, but 'white' is a word that has been on Nagisa's lips a dozen times this evening, unspoken, and she will not be able to sing it without meaning 'White.' But after an anxious moment, she nods again, smiling weakly this time.

"I don't know about magic or anything," she says, responding to the feelings that formed the question, by way of answering the question itself. "And it's easy to trick me, I fall for anything. I just want to feel like everybody's doing their best... and I don't think that's true. Not anymore." Nagisa takes a breath.

"But... I feel like maybe what she really wanted was..."

The corpse of a scientist, nameless. A madman in grief.

"Somebody to fuss a little. That's all. When you grow up, people don't do that as much for you, your mom isn't around as much. And then when you die, maybe it's..." Nagisa swallows. "Like that again. Like that, worse. Nobody's around anymore. As much," she adds, uncertainly.

Taking a short, curt breath to bolster herself, Nagisa straightens her shoulders. "I'mu Durimingu avva Huwaito Kurisumasu," she repeats. Reaching out, she offers her hand to Usagi, then extends her other towards Yumi. "Um... can someone else start? I don't have very good pitch, but I can sing good once it's started..."

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

Drip, drip.

The ice melts.

The tomb... breathes.

In -- the chamber gets even colder. Every heart in it feels the encroachment of a frost that has nothing, nothing at all, to do with water.

Out -- more darkness slip-slides out the bottom of the glacier, into the stream, and on, to the sea.

It is so much LESS, this power, than what once dwelled here.

Yet it's still more than enough to ruin Christmas. To hurt millions... maybe everyone.

For has anyone emerged from today totally unscathed by the malice, the misery, the simple callousness of their fellow man?

The world deserves better...

<Pose Tracker> Seawitch Ivy [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

It's so... cold. So cold.

La Sirene understands sad things. ...Admittedly, while Yumi is older than Nori, there's a little of that lingering starry-eyedness with her work with her; Nori is younger, but she's the model, the Red Future, and Yumi is the girl who stays behind the scenes and keeps it running. She's in on the magic... But it is magic. She can count on her.

"...Something that came out, huh?" Yumi wonders, and then... She looks at Mikoto. The way she ends things--Yumi shakes her head. "That's not all you can do," Yumi assures her, and she smiles at the idea of singing. "Yeah. You can sing," she says. But what? Yumi has some thoughts, but...

"Pisard..." Yumi nods. "I wish... it could be different," she admits. "That we didn't have to fight them that way." But--Ah, there. Usagi has it. Usagi, who is having so much trouble, nevertheless could sing. "...Something to dream about," she repeats Usagi. "I think that's okay." Something so that they know they're not alone--so that this figure knows...

"Maybe we're not who she'd want to be with," Yumi says, looking again to that hard-to-look-at gap of energy. "...But we're here."

She looks to Nagisa--and smiles. "...Maybe that's..." She wonders, for some reason suddenly, no reason that she can think of--would Mother like that? Would she want Yumi to worry about her, as scary as she can be?

Yumi hesitates, and then says, "Ah--yeah." Yumi smiles at Nagisa as she starts the song, ish. And she extends the hand that holds the Staff. "...Lost Ivy can't sing aloud, but she'll be with us too, OK?" When Mikoto lets go her hand, Yumi transfers her Staff to her other hand, and reaches out. She reaches out to hold Nagisa's properly, and warm her own; Yumi's hand is leather-covered, but underneath that it's chilly, chillier than it should be even without this frost. And thin. Her hand does not feel particularly strong, though her grip is moreso than it should be, thanks to the magic bolstering her, the need for connection.

"I'll... I'll start then."

"I'm..." Yumi's voice is quiet, a little tremulous--she's nervous--but--"Dreaming of a..."

Yumi hasn't escaped unscathed, herself. She had a hard day, and a lonely one. But here, with these girls...

Her English is pretty good, even. But she won't complain if they switch into something more familiar.

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

The abyss...

... is alone?

Usagi ventures that point and realisation dawns on Mikoto's face, as she draws the connections. Yumi says it's not all she can do, and all a sudden, she believes her, too. With a squeeze, she releases Yumi's hand, to take a wavering step towards the hollow. She plants her blade at the edge of the darkness, one hand still curled loosely at the base of its hilt as she crouches down, to look into the hungry forever.

"It's okay," Mikoto tells the emptiness. And she does not confirm Pisard's terror, but perhaps there is something of it, here, in her recognition. Nagisa supposes she wanted someone to fuss a little; perhaps Mikoto came to the same conclusion, black on black.

She thought she'd be more afraid. Maybe it's easier to talk to emptiness than gold.

Practicing it, one more time: "It doesn't have to hurt."

It's not that they're both not alone, because she wasn't involved. But she can say, "... you're not alone."

She's not holding Yumi's hand, because her hand curls on the edge of the abyss, as if she could hold someone else's.

Mikoto never stopped being afraid of falling, cold clutching her to her bones. She is painfully aware of her balance, perched here, the way the chill numbs her muscles. Perhaps that's why she still has one hand on Miroku. Perhaps she trusts it to anchor her.

She swallows. She steadies her shoulders.

When she speaks up, it's in Japanese; Mikoto doesn't trust herself to recall the original translation. But it's faithful enough, as she follows Yumi's example: "... just like the ones I used to know..."

Mikoto has a surprisingly sweet singing voice, for how gruff hers can growl; she'll put her faith in la Sirene's solution, the commonality of song.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

A song.

"A good choice," la Sirene tells Usagi. "I suppose that I was, myself..."

And with that she trails off. It wasn't a white Christmas, was it? It was a gray Christmas. If she's feeling quite honest she would say it was *brown* and not in a flattering way, either. Her hands fold before her as she hums once to herself.

Her eyes turn towards Nagisa Misumi. Vulnerable, but she tries to force herself forwards. Nagisa reaches out, despite everything.

There is a drip of malice. Cold. This place is unwholesome. The cold spot of a ghost, perhaps - an enormously powerful ghost. They have banished it, with the spells of the Sea and of the Moon, but was it enough to truly dissipate something like that. La Sirene's hands come up, folding together, fingers interlacing. It might be prayer or a search for warmth, but maybe they aren't exactly that different.

It hurt. One last pang hits her - that she has to be out here, that she has to be this far away, at the end of a lonely sea. That she does not even have the privilege of laying in her bed and waking up on 26 December, ready to face the approaching new year and the ancillary minor pleasures (such as inexpensive cakes) that come with the completion of another Christmas.

But that is the future, and this - this is now; this is here.

The song travels from Yumi to Mikoto. Mikoto's voice is sweet. The song passes towards her. La Sirene breathes in deeply--

The surprise with her, perhaps, is *force* -- volume, pitch, whatever it is. The acoustics of this room may help; as too may the fact that the waters that pour from this place are mingling with, not a struggling and gelid ocean, but with a sea of tears.

It helps to fill the room, even as la Sirene reaches the next lines without missing a beat:

"Where the treetops -- glisten..."

Her eyes flick momentarily towards the loyal first mate, the Sailor Usagi: "And the children-- listen;

"To hear... sleigh bells... in the snow."

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Usagi-chan [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Usagi smiles perhaps more happily at Nagisa's statement even if her eyes are still a bit haunted. Yet...

... the smile returns momentarily when La Sirene states that it's a good choice, it's reaffirming. What strikes her truly is Nagisa speaking on Pisard, speaking on her own old foe in a way that's difficult for Usagi to articulate.

She's never spoken to Luna, or any of the other Senshi on the matter but... to this day, she still wishes things had been different between Beryl and her. Maybe it's just so hard to think on it because... unlike Pisard, she could never tell if Beryl was ever scared, even in her final moments she was cursing her with loneliness.

"Maybe in the next life..." She says quietly, somberly - in an odd sort of validation of those feelings she'd never spoken out loud. The thought however remains, that maybe tonight, by trying her best to ensure some... one... doesn't have a lonely Christmas is the best sort of healing.

Nagisa's words cause this look of sadness to reignite in her eyes, as she thinks of... that body tonight. The girls laid out at the bottom of Tokyo Tower. 'Nobody's around anymore much.' Feels like it clinches over her heart. "You're never alone." Usagi says quietly, after Mikoto's statement of proclamation. "And if you need us... to be here for you... to show you that... we are."

Usagi takes Nagisa's hand without hesitation, nodding with a smile as Nagisa asks someone else to start, fingers interlacing in hers, and her other in Sirene's. For long moments just feeling the warmth in each hand - it feels like a magic just as potent as the Silver Crystal's for her. The warmth within those hands tells her that she's not alone after all. Yumi is the one to start though, and Mikoto continues it... unto La Sirene...

Her eyes flick to La Sirene's, and she squeezes her hand more tightly after a moment, she sings clearly and sweetly, trying to pick up after her. Her words are inexpert, but that takes nothing away from the feeling. "I'm... dreaming... of a white... Chris~mas."

And in turn, she turns to face Nagisa, squeezing her... even not clad as Cure Black... what she said earlier feels no less true right now.

"With every Chris~mas Card... I write."

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Maybe it's the negative energies pouring from below, but it stings a bit, to be comforted by Yumi and the others over Pisard's death. Nagisa's the one who killed him--she and Honoka and the other Pretty Cure, yes, but if Honoka had a partner that was even a quarter as smart as her, maybe they'd have figured out another way. She wants to cover herself with her arms, for warmth and for protection. If this is a metaphysical cold, then so be it; hugs can provide metaphysical warmth. But she cannot hug herself and extend her hands at the same time, and she insistently contiues to do the latter, letting her arms and chest and face feel the supernatural chill, her teeth starting to rattle.

She said it herself; she is too trusting. She's still acting like everyone just needs someone to care, even though time and bitter experience have taught her the existence of true evil. She's standing over a hole exhaling nothing but malice and pretending it will care what she feels, save to exult in her suffering. How can she sing and mean it?

She just wants to be with Honoka. That's all. She wants to be with the softest, strongest heart in the world.

But Nagisa's ability to lie to herself convincingly has never extended to others. Even if she wanted to, she could not find the words to tell Usagi or Nori or Mikoto or Yumi not to believe, because she doesn't mean them. Whatever she feels today, whatever she has felt on even worse days, her name is Nagisa Misumi, and her power is holding hands.

Reaching for Yumi, Nagisa had expected to end up grabbing onto a staff, because she certainly did not expect Yumi to put something like that down on the ground at a time or a place like this, let along both. She smiles gratefully at the Witch. Not that a lacrosse player has trouble sharing cameraderie with a stick, but this makes her feel a little more like Pretty Cure.

It may surprise those assembled to learn that Nagisa has a beautiful voice. It is clear, raw with warm youth, and gently lilting despite its high energy. Her English even improves; they must have done this one in chorus at some point.

"I'm dreaaaming, of a Hwaito"

Seeing Honoka's face, Honoka's smile, in her mind's eye this way, hits harder than it had seeing it carved in wood.

"hw,Christmas)," Nagisa is a solid eighth note late on that one, but she's there. And when Usagi turns to look at her at that line, she understands that the choice of the song was on purpose. Sailor Moon understands how she was feeling--how? Nagisa stares at Usagi, exposed, alarmed, miserable. She was supposed to protect that girl. She promised to.

Maybe she wasn't strong enough to bear up, and let it slip. Maybe Usagi is just empathetic. Or maybe... maybe she just remembers what that idiot Mepple said.

He understood too. He was mean about it. Usagi could not be kinder. But they both cared.

Suddenly grateful to the point of damp eyes, Nagisa squeezes Usagi's hand, and Yumi's. And the soothing, pale glow of her tattoos is beginning to dissolve down her arms subtly, grain by grain rather than by droplets. Like holiday glitter you'll be shaking off for weeks, it begins to float from her arm to her forearm, or her forearm to her hand, or her hand to Usagi and Yumi's.

"Mei your days be merri and briiight..."

Nagisa sings, and she misses Honoka. And in missing Honoka, she not only understands what it is to miss the world, she knows what it is to miss the world. She misses it right now, even as she stands in it. She wishes Beryl could have it back, just for a moment. And as the end of the song approaches--she can feel their shared momentum dwindling into it rather than going for repeated loops of the lyrics--she is able to wish, sincerely, fully, a very Merry Christmas, even to the hatred seeping poisonously from a lonely chasm in the world.

"And may all your Christmasses be white."

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> White Christmas - Music Box - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3kqpNvWEao

The presence in the ice has already offered them her own misery, without apparent impact. But as the song closes in around her, she offers them theirs instead.

The loneliness of friends leaving without you to celebrate, when you were late because your body betrayed you, not even because of anything you CHOSE. The misery of having a fight about HOMEWORK, of all things. The frustration of waiting in line all day for the perfect present for someone you love, only to have it ripped away. The shock of one of your best friends hanging up on you. Being surrounded by enemies you can't fight, because they're people, and the konbini is all out of good food. Trying not to cry when little bad things happen because they're LITTLE, and crying makes YOU feel little. No one will answer when you call, and you're alone. Alone, waiting for a text that may never come.

And it's cold. It's so, so, so, so cold.

Would the song alone have been enough? If it were Naru and Hisae and Takumi and Shiho and Yuuichiro? Is the light welling up inside each of them -- pink and silver and green and two very different shades of black -- undermining the notion of a Christmas miracle? Or does it make this miracle more, rather than less? It does not begin at the heart and spread outward.

It begins palm to palm, and spreads inward, instead.

Maybe Naru and Hisae couldn't have made this happen but Rina and Shiho COULD. They've been through a lot together. And so have Usagi and Nagisa and Mikoto and Nori and Yumi. As Sailor Senshi and Pretty Cure and HiME and Sirene and Witch; but not always, and rarely was that the most important part, really.

The presence doesn't struggle exactly; it is not being attacked; it cannot defend itself. It is difficult to perservere against her -- hard in a way that fighting the zombies, the puppet, the silhouette was not hard -- because of the vastness of her sorrow. As big as the ocean. Bigger than; that's self-evident, from how she's spread and spread and spread. Would she have been able to do so if it hadn't started from this place? From D-Point, a legendary seat of dark power? Or from the North Pole on Christmas Eve?

Now the girls' light is pouring into the crevasse, in much the same way that the miserable violet is leaking into the sea. They are upstream; THEY are the source, now, the fresh mountain spring, or perhaps more aptly the falling rain. The colors swirl in with the purple. They never quite overwhelm it -- but once there are six fairly even contributions of hue rather than five and one, it's as though a door has opened. Not a door into the world lost to this abyss, returned to it through the hearts and song of five people who have the audacity to care.

A door away from it. Onwards.

In and out, the power has been breathing all this time.

And now -- out. Out. Out.


A silent night, in the ice of the North Pole, with five girls holding hands around an empty pit. But there at the girl-shaped edge of it, no longer obscured by light and darkness, is a little velcro patch that must have gotten stuck when the body, exposed by climate change, was exhumed by very human hands.

It reads, in black stitching on gray fabric: MIO AKASAKI

Whose ghost exactly was exorcized tonight?

'I looked and looked. Season after season. Then he showed me. He showed me where she was,' said Akasaki-sensei, the elder.

As the light dies and the song dies and the quiet threatens to become truly beautiful, it is broken by slow, sardonic clapping.

"I was curious," says another man's voice, younger, richer, darker, and wholly unfamiliar to four out of five of the girls present, "What would happen, if you didn't make it in time. Would war break out on Christmas day? Would humanity destroy itself faster than anyone else ever could?"

He does not sound terribly upset about either prospect.

"But you did... just in the nick of time, little sister."

His smirk is audible.

"I wanted to make sure you wouldn't be alone for the holiday. Since we're apart. And this season is for family."

Presumably, he means the other four. And he does kind of have a point, relative to solitary rooftop freezing misery.

"This is all my gift to you. Merry Christmas, Mikoto-chan."

A shadow turns on his heel inside another shadow, and departs. But not before everyone sees a glint of his eyes -- the eyes of Mikoto Minagi, in someone else's face.


It is not an instantaneous blip back to Tokyo. And some of the magic of the moment remains, despite the cruel interruption of the world's worst big brother. There's still one more sleep 'til Christmas by the time the girls arrive. If that sleep has to start after midnight... well. Sailing to the North Pole and back should have taken a whole lot longer than hours.

First, of course, there was the matter of the scientists. But it seems as though that problem solved itself; by the time they got back to their dreamy ship, the beds were empty and the research vessel bright with power and loud with engine. They do not leave, however, without offering these saviors, who they look upon with the vague confusion of awakened dreamers, a thermos of cocoa. And that souvenir travels with the girls, all the way home, even if its contents are gone in the first few minutes.

And then -- at some point the Sea became the sea, tears became water, and fog became the Tokyo shore. The gangplank lowers at Uminari, and it is the very last thing to unweave itself, back into memories and into radiance, after the rest of the emptied ship has gone back into the sky.

The sky, which is tantalizingly bright with Moon and stars. It may not be a white Christmas in Tokyo this year after all -- but it is a gorgeous one.

And the city is warm, not with temperature but on another level entirely, in exactly the way it was not when they all left.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nine Inch Nails - The Greater Good https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Umv70K3gV4

Being surrounded...

Mikoto is familiar with the feeling of being surrounded by enemies. She is far TOO familiar with that feeling. But even as it floods over her she reminds herself, fingers curling around the edge of the hole into eternity: she is surrounded by her friends.

There, a sharper shade of black, is the light which spreads from Mikoto's hand -- not holding Yumi's but the edge of the abyss itself, as if she could offer salvation to the restless spirit of a monster. Everyone is behind her, and that means she doesn't have to watch her back.

She may never know the kindness Nagisa has extended her, not to question her innocent hope that she can reach her, the memory of her, that there is anything there but horror to reach. Reaching for that memory, because if she can help her, then...

There's a velcro patch, there. Mikoto sees it, crouched by the pit as she is. She reaches for it, in the silence. "Mio Akasaki..." Mikoto reads, the words slow. Her attention first falls to the name, the person, not the door.

And then the whole of her locks up. Her head lifts, her chest rises. At once she is at attention; at once she is all tension, all anticipation. All wound up. All for...

"... my Lord Brother," Mikoto whispers, and it aches, for all the loneliness of the family she left behind. Ani-ue is a word which proves that fear is not the opposite of love; the two live together, in that word.

She should -- she should say something, she should --

Mikoto collapses back after his presence leaves, away from the abyss, landing squarely in her own shadow. She releases Miroku's hilt, now, to clutch her hands to her chest, cradling Mio's name inadvertently in the process. She looks back, to them, with those wide eyes. Too bright, too gold, because only a demon's eyes could have such keen sight as this.

"I didn't mean to," she says, voice shallow.

"I didn't mean to."

And in that repetition, it's clear where she's attributing blame.


Mikoto makes sure to hand the name-tag back to the scientists. She's remarkably taciturn. Maybe not all heroes are so friendly; it's fine.

"It's good," she tells herself, of the cocoa.


She doesn't spend Christmas alone.

He wanted to make sure she'd have company, after all.

She'd better have company, or...

<Pose Tracker> Seawitch Ivy [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Yumi watches Mikoto step down, towards the space there. She listens to the others sing with her, and her voice gets a little louder, a little more confident. ...Even as she feels that loneliness. She remembers her friends were gone today when she was finally ready to see them. She remembers arguing with Tama...

And she sees Mikoto, there. When the light becomes their light, and that patch is there, Mikoto reads the words slowly. She remembers that. And suddenly--


When she sees those eyes, she glares at him. Glares at the shadow, though that is all she can do right now. But that smirk, that gift--

Yumi moves to put her arms around Mikoto, and hugs her as she says she didn't mean to, does not allo her to leave without knowing that someone cares. ...But she doesn't say much anyway, and Yumi sees that.

...The cocoa's very good; what Mikoto doesn't say, Yumi makes up for, chatting amiably and thanking them for the cocoa. But later that night...


Yumi does not let Mikoto spend Christmas alone, though she wouldn't have in any case. She brings her back, to the tree she helped decorate, to the presents she helped Yumi wwrap (though most of those were given out), to where Tama is calm and not arguing anymore and there is warmth and old Christmas music and maybe a few more holiday cooking shows if Mikoto stays with her. Tama doesn't even sigh at Mikoto once. But they aren't alone there, either. Someone else has come along, and Yumi gets to play hostess a little, and Tama has someone else to talk to as she lingers near Mikoto this time, and...

It is lovely. Yumi stays up much later than she should, just being with friends.

It is only later when her phone gives its tone that she notices a message, late-late on Christmas Eve, and it is a couple of messages. She tabs through her friends' notes to her with a small smile, and stops short when she sees the last.

>Merry Christmas, Yumi.

She stares down at her phone--perhaps notices a friend looking at her--because they can see the name associated with this number on her phone's surface. They can see that the last message was sent some months ago.


>I will await you at dinner tomorrow at home., comes the next message as she's staring down at it.


The surprise catches her, but it is a happy thing, the tears that sting her eyes, of shock that someone who has been so busy seems to have made time for her on this holiday after all.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-PgPZ3F9P4 -- Of Monsters and Men - Crystals

It hurts. It hurts and it makes her eyes prickle and her heart beat too hard and too slow at the same time, it makes her feel cold and wet and gelatinous and useless, but even so la Sirene sings; she sings with her friends;

For she is here, on Christmas Eve, with her friends. They are all her friends.

Usagi, Nagisa, Mikoto, Yumi; all of them, in their ways and the complexities of their networking branches and roots-- or perhaps for her fronds and byssus; but it makes no difference. They are here, together. The light is coming outwards. It's fading.

And then there is silence. And a name is revealed: pale, wan.

A velcro patch. A testament.

Nori's eyes turn down....

and a man speaks and for a moment she thinks that it must be one of THOSE men but it is impossible, they could not come here; it is forbidden, utterly, until things should change and a gate be unlocked but he could not therefore be HERE - and he speaks instead to Mikoto.

La Sirene de Diamant turns her head -- and sees a shadow within a shadow.

And for a moment, she fears for Mikoto, in a way she has not before. Strange, perhaps, to fear for someone who commands a creature that brought her to the brink of despair; but strength of beast is not the same as the strength of the heart. Not at all.

But even so.

"Thank you for this gift," la Sirene de Diamant tells to the scientists, bowing deep - deep at the waist - "and I hope that you have been able to free yourself of the sorrow within you. Life must ever be seasoned thus; but know that your tears are never shed in vain. Even if they may fall un-sung; we will know them, in time."

And when she straightens, she smiles.

A little while later, at the wheel (with a small pale-blue china mug in one hand; Batiste has a similar one but thimblesized), steering towards the south, la Sirene calls outwards, "I do not know how they came here, to the Sea. A strange operation must have effected it. Or..." The Lord Brother, but she doesn't want to speak his name, not right now.

"Ah? My dear witch, what is this...?"

"Yes; of course."


"I will be a little while, because I must fetch something from my domocile," la Sirene tells the Witch of Lost Ivy. "But I will - eh?"

("Domicile." "Ah.")

"My Domicile," la Sirene corrects herself. "I see the roads are empty. It will not be long."

She turns her head then, to gaze upon the ship, and the enigmatic figure at the head. She could swear that she knows that girl - but it's almost nonrepresentational. A space which gives her warm feelings, which feels safe and comforting, almost in awe. It isn't from that Sea, she knows that much-- but who carved it?

There are lingering moments. The sky is brightening, though not yet with Christmas morning, and la Sirene wishes to wish the ship farewell with her heart. It is also a moment that lets her say -

"Merry Christmas," to those who she will not be seeing later. Usagi and Nagisa will both have their hands clasped as well, before she disappears swiftly, in the direction of Shinjuku.


A white American car is parked in the visitors' lot in Infinity Institute. It is beginning, honestly, to look a little run down - not to say it would fail an inspection so much as that it is clearly no longer New. And yet, somehow, it is beloved. It is ready for a name, though it has not yet received one.

And up in the dormitories - tip tip tip -

Up to the doorway...

Tap tap tap.

And there is Nori Ankou, bearing a large bag from the Don Quijote. It contains snacks - some bottles of drinks - and a portable electric hot pot. A smaller bag, carried at her side, contains spices and over a kilogram of assorted seafood, wrapped up and brought from home, ready to slice and to dip and to share and to feast.

Nori is wearing a rather simple sweater and pajama pants - but she brought something as well:

Black and white scarves of knitted wool, over a meter in length. One for Yumi, and one for Mikoto.

(Batiste is already wearing his.)

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Usagi-chan [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Whether Usagi was pointed with the choice of the song or not... it's unclear. She certainly isn't telling. Just, her expression brightens so much upon hearing Nagisa sing her lines...

That light sings it's way into the crevasse, swirling with their song, and Usagi... watches it. Then silence. Usagi can't help but smile at everyone, looking at each of them in turn, squeezing the two hands entrusted into the care of her own. Her brow furrows at the sight of the patch. MIO.

Does that... sound familiar to her or not? Quizzical... she stares, only to be interrupted in her thoughts, by the clapping of... that rich, dark, masculine voice. Usagi is put immediately on edge, her grip tensing upon each hand.

"You... did this?" Usagi's eyes blink several times in this regard, suddenly taken aback by those yellowed eyes in another's face. "For your... imouto..." Her gaze scans sideways towards Mikoto, and by the time she looks back, he's gone.

And his little sister seems to all but collapse... 'I didn't mean to.' After a moment, Usagi just moves behind Mikoto, and lowers herself down behind her, putting a hand on her shoulder even as Yumi hugs her. She doesn't get everything - even if she has connected some few dots. But what she knows is she saw a big brother being cruel to his little sister on Christmas.

"You were never... alone today." Usagi says quietly, as if it were a rejection of whatever cruel sentiments he had behind what her older brother just did.


"Merry Christmas." Usagi replies to each in turn, doing more than just clasping hands. She takes the hand, then pulls Nori in for a hug. "And... thank you." She says quietly to Nagisa... "Nagisa-senpai." It sounds like there's more she'd like to say, she has a reputation for being something of a chatterbox after all, but perhaps it's a sign of maturity that instead she says goodbye to her with a simple statement, "Ah... I think... there's somewhere we both have to be right now."


It's late, and there's a knock at an apartment door. Silence reigns, and after a few minutes... she tries again. She's halfway through the knocking when the door opens slightly before her hand can make contact again. A wavy red-head in pajamas answers, looking mildly annoyed through the crack she opens as she looks at a twin-tailed girl in pajamas, a scarf, and a coat.

"Usagi-chan? Do you even know what time it is?"

"I know! I know it's late... but it's still Christmas Eve."

Naru gives Usagi a confused look. "What's... that got to do with anything?"

"Well... it's just... I know your mom is out of town on business. And that you had that fight with Umino-kun just before exams and-"

"Are you here to rub my nose in all of that?" Naru interrupts her as if she were going to keep listing all of these problems with her life.

"No! No it's just... I realized you were going to be alone for Christmas and..." Usagi suddenly looks guilty, "And I forgot that... and I'm sorry. I just... I'm here because I wanted to fix that."

Usagi abruptly produces a shopping bag from a local konbini with several items within it, "I brought cocoa. It's... I know this special recipe."

It takes a few moments, as Naru Osaka's expression runs through a whole gamut of complex feelings on the matter but...

... eventually the door opens wider than a crack.

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

For a moment, there was peace. Sadness flowed smooth and clean. Nagisa understood little of the meaning of that name; in fact, she understands almost nothing, save for the only important thing. Akasaki, and Akasaki. Mio's family found her. She's going home.

When the clapping begins, Nagisa seems to want to wheel around and bring her fists up, forgetting once again how powerless she is in this form. But where with Honoka she had gotten used to brandishing one fist while keeping the other hand entwined, she is bound up thoroughly here, and loathe to be the first to break it. So, one hand still in Yumi's, the other still in Usagi's, she just glares at first.

When Yumi breaks off to go hug Mikoto, Nagisa is no longer consciously thinking of lifting her fist, nor is she possessed by the same suspicious startlement that had motivated her at first. But after hearing the callousness of this man, and seeing Mikoto's broken reaction, that fist ends up lifting after all, unnoticed by her.

"That guy..." she growls, as he departs. Exhaling, she looks down at Usagi.

"You okay?"


"They wanted to find someone they loved," Nagisa says distantly, as she gazes across the dark water alongside Nori. Her hands are still wrapped around a cup of hot cocoa, though they are back on their own ship. "They could have gone anywhere they had to."

For a while, she remains silent, taking in the vastness of the sea.

"Uwaa," Nagisa finally complains, looking down at her cup of cocoa with a mixture of anxiety and the true yearning of a chocolate lover. Someone may explain it to her later, but she still doesn't quite get the Mio thing, and so the timeline of what happened here is very vague to her.

"It smells so good, but what's the expiration date? Arienaiiii!"

Of course she ends up drinking it. That, too, is inevitable.


"Merry Christmas!" Nagisa tells Nori happily when her hands are clasped. "I'll tell Honoka I got to see you tonight." Since they're buds, those two glamorous girls.

Nagisa pauses next to Mikoto, unsure for a moment. What is hurting Mikoto is too complex to be treated with simply, and yet only a simple gesture seems to meet the moment. So Mikoto gets a big (and big-sisterly) hug, and a murmured, "Thanks for saving my butt on the boat, that coulda been bad."

"Yes, hello Artemis," Mepple is saying into the cat radio, his neck (well, the neck portion of his undifferentiated torso) distended so his overly active mouth can reach the mic. "Cure Black would like to know if you're safe, she was super worrIIMEPO!"

Nagisa has pinched Mepple's mouth shut with two fingers and is holding him with the other arm, exhaling in irritation through her nose as she turns to Usagi. Though Mepple bats at her hand with his little yellow paws, Nagisa seems able to filter that input out entirely at this point, and she stands casually, unhunched, her face undisturbed, as Usagi speaks to her.

There's a pause, as Nagisa waits for what seems to want to come out of Usagi's mouth. When a blabber like that is laconic, it means something. Nagisa ought to know. She thinks, for a moment. She considers thanking Usagi, too.

"No problem," she says instead. "Usagi-chan." After all, every year there are more girls younger than her. And this one's almost over.

Mepple boxes Nagisa's thumb, but fails to dislodge it to say something annoying. "See ya," Nagisa gets to say, without a world in edgewise. Truly the world is a brighter place now than when the ship first deparated.

Finally, on her way off with Tama, Yumi gives a giant, side-to-side wave to make sure Yumi can see it when she flies away on the broom, and keeps it up a few more waves than would be considered 'cool,' not that Nagisa is even aware of such things.

When the party has broken up and the noise of friendship has given way to the thrum of sheer urban mass that Nagisa associates with home, Nagisa exhales, finding the cold a relief on cheeks warmed by too many grimaces and smiles. At this point, she is in a state of fatigue where she finds thinking harder than walking. So, rather than check her phone at any point to check if the trains are still running, she just walks along the road away from the bay, past darkened windows and the familiar, cold light of an empty konbini, towards the station. She finds out it is closed when she sees the metal grate pulled down over the subterranean entrance. Standing atop the stairs that lead to that grate, Nagisa slumps her shoulders philosophically, her hands buried in the pockets of her red blazer. Her school uniform is back, recomposed from its dreamworld transformation, and after a hard season of lacrosse it fits her like it fits the mannequins at the school shop.

It's then that her phone, at long last, rings. It's her old ringtone from her smartphone, despite coming from the tinny speakers of a flip phone. Even the ocean can't change everything.


"Honoka!" Nagisa exclaims into the receiver joyously. Her face immediately falls, her eyes scanning the air anxiously, as a flute-like voice sounds sad, ashamed.

"No, no, no," she soothes rapidly. "Believe it or not, I just got free too... I had a really crazy night..."

The flute perks up, but now it is anxious too.

"I'm totally okay," she says, though belatedly she remembers her swollen nose-bridge, and grimaces. The flute is already playing again though.

The flute plays thoughtful notes about the train being shut down.

"It's cool, I'll come to you," Nagisa says, walking down the sidewalk again and leaving the closed station behind.

A brief inquisitive chirrup off the flute, and it begins to play expository measures.

"I don't care where you went," Nagisa says stolidly. "I'm coming to see you tonight."

The flute can be such a happy instrument.

"...but yeah," Nagisa says when it's her turn again, her cheeks gradually heating in the wake of her declaration. "It probably would be faster if you say where you are, sorry."