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It was strange, all of it. In fact, it had to be worse for all those who were better-acquainted with London than he was. For Big Ben, the London Eye, and other buildings to be tilted and drifting slowly along in the distance - Indeed, for there to be even this close-by slight noise of stone-grinding, here and there - was disconcerting in the extreme. Hakuro had experimentally pulled out his phone to see if he could get anything going, maybe test just how much Ray has gone bye-bye while Alex was taking a more hands-on approach at the moment, like testing the wall that should've been the direction of the school.

There was nothing. His phone just didn't turn on.

I know it's got a charge. It just won't function. If this were a dream, I'd be willing it to at least light up.

Not that he actually believed it was a dream, but he had to see just how 'real' everything was, just in case, and at least someone had to see if they could get out something as simple as a phone call, use a camera, or whatever else. That was going to be a decided NO, though. Finally, Hakuro saw that Alex was creeping along the wall while Ava watched, and he decided to take up the other side, basically across from him, to {A} get his own perspective and {B} cover him if anything happened. They were getting close to looking more clearly...



Somewhere... Going somewhere. Leading someone there. Somewhere safe. Lost track. Looked back. No one there. Who was it, again?'re a pretty bird...

Who said that? Did someone say that? What was she thinking about again? Lost focus. Pecking the ground a bit. Heard the distant lurch of stone movement and flew off.


...pretty bird...

So hard to think. Always something slipping. Avian thoughts instead of her own, crowding her mind...



Something there.

People. Three people.

Oh no...

They were almost in the thick of it, on the very precipice of it, the Charnel Square where the feral ones would often feast. It was their feeding ground, a place to swarm and destroy and swell their numbers. Lately, they'd been thinner, but these three would provide new blood if they weren't careful. Her thoughts rang true on this, stronger now than before.

Before when?

Nevermind, this is important!

She headed towards the alley, calling to them.

Don't go in there! You can't go in that place!


She flew down, crying her lungs out to be heard, but they didn't notice! They didn't understand...!

NO! You have to listen to me! You have to-



"What the...?"

Someone shouted at them from nearby, away from the corner that he and Alex were about to investigate, trying to warn them. It sounded like a young lady, maybe only a few feet from Ava, but there was nothing there but a bird, a raven...

The hat boy sort of stared as the bird landed, almost looking out of breath, but very clearly anxious about something. The fact that it continued talking quickly explained matters...sort of.

"My voice...! I can talk! Thank god... You can hear me, right?"

"Yes, we can hear you. Who-"

Before Hakuro could even ask, she suddenly interrupted, almost out of fear that she'd lose herself again.

"Don't go down that way! Don't ever approach a marketplace! They go on a feeding frenzy every time someone does!"

"Hey, we don't even know where we are or what this is."

"I know, I know... I'm sorry."

She held her wing up to her head, as though to wipe her brow in relief, then looked back up at the three of them.

"This place is dangerous, a real labyrinth, but I can guide you out of here. I remember that much now."

At the word 'Guide', all three of them would suddenly recall something very important.

One you must seek and one you must find. The Moon will wander along the path to this world. The Sun will guide you in this place.

Hakuro, not wanting to sound entirely crazy just yet, tested the proverbial waters.



Her beak didn't even move when she spoke.

"Right. Of course. Has...anyone else been lost here, recently?"

Raven's eyes - those little red beady things - visibly widened.

You're a pretty little bird, aren't you?

"Oh no..."

She hopped in place, turning around to face the other direction.

"Oh shit... I left him."


She returned her focus to the there here now.

"Err...blonde guy, tall or at least I think he was tall, blue eyes? He was...nice to me, and I was trying to help, but...I lost my head for a while. We should find him, if we can. I won't consign someone to this place. The labyrinth alone is treacherous, but I can see it all from above, see alot of things. I can get us all to safety, I promise! Will you trust me?"

Will they? By that description, she'd seen Laurence. Even Hakuro knew who she meant, because he remembered that he'd taken his picture - among other things - from the tree. This Raven seemed like a decent enough sort, though. It sounded like she was struggling to keep herself focused before the three of them came along. No, make that four of them...
All things considered, it was a wonderful dinner, a nice respite from the terror that surrounded them. If only it could have lasted...

Rikes' cuts and scrapes were looked after. He was gonna be fine. His 'uniform' was kind of a mess, and there wasn't a replacement available, so while Isaac had tended to his wounds - Not an easy task. YOU try helping someone who nips at your fingers when you hurt them. - Britta had at least managed to find some needle and thread to make the vest less...destroyed. The wolf had had a few close ones, or he snagged it alot. Hard to say, really. This tear here could've been a knife, or a twisted piece of metal... That one had definitely been a bullet, as it matched a scarred part of his body. The process took at least an hour. Once it was done, they'd reconvened to the so-called barracks that was the sleeping area and decided to take a rest, Isaac idly petting the wolf.

"I thought he was gonna take your hand off, back there."

"No, he wouldn't. Between my training and the army's training, he's more likely to kill an Imperial Soldier than anything. He knows better."

"So, can I...?"

"Yes, you can pet 'im."

He chuckled as she did so, and the wolf grunted with certain approval. Here, it was finally when Britta shared what was bothering her.

"My little brother is in the army, Isaac."

"Your brother? I didn't know you had one."

She nodded, solemnly.

"Hans has always looked up to me, so...I guess when I joined the army to lighten the load, back home, he must've thought it was the best thing to do, as well."

Immediate thoughts went to Jean and his dearly departed sister, Olivia...

"I've tried to get word to him, find out his situation, right now. I'm pretty sure he's through training by now and serving somewhere."

"If I hear anything, I'll let you know."

"I'd hope that anyone would, but thanks just the same. I did get word out that I wanted to hear from him. Barring some communications block, I should hear something from relatively soon."

"I'm sure you'll get thr- Hey, whoa!"

Britta had been scratching Rikes behind the ears particularly well, just then, and the wolf let out a groan and a whimper before hopping up and proceeding to lick the young woman's face. The suddenness of it surprised her, immediately breaking the tension that'd been there and she fell back on the bed they were sitting on, trying to keep this shaggy beast out of her face.

"Oh my god, his breath is horrible!"

"Rikes, how dare you! I was there first!"

They managed to get him off and the wolf began running around a bit at random as Britta cleaned her face off. She then smirked at Isaac.

"'I was there first'? I don't recall a permanent claim being made, Mr. Isaac."

This actually caught Isaac by surprise, enough to make him feel red with embarassment.

"The things that come out of your mouth, I swear..."

"It's just what naturally comes to mind..."

Britta sighed and shook her head, shoving the Edinburgher over with one swift motion.

"I'm just teasing you, you crazy wolf-man. Now, make room on this thing. We both need rest, and I want to be around someone that doesn't have dead animal breath."


So, sometime later, we have a fairly-pleasant scene. The two Gunners were asleep in the same bed, essentially making sure the other didn't fall out of it. They hadn't done anything more than try to get some sleep, but to say they weren't thoroughly comfortable around each other would be a blatant lie. Rikes, in his somewhat-repaired army vest, lay nearby.

Sometimes, he snored.

Other than that, there was very little disturbance that could be noted during the post-dinner moments - which were relatively peaceful and calm - and now. Now was when everything went wrong. Now was when that moment of peace was suddenly broken. Now...was when the shot rang out. More of a Boom, to be fair. Like a cannon. In fact, the words 'cannon shot' was exactly what occurred to Isaac as his eyes opened. Then, his mind leapt directly to 'Mortars' and even 'Gas' before resolving to...

"Oh no, not again..." the close-up blast of Hill 58 went through his mind again and he clutched the waking Britta tighter, half-thinking there was going to be an explosion right nearby again.

It WAS nearby again!

The moment the far-off sound of a cannon fired, Britta had slowly come to, but Rikes alot faster. He was on his feet with a whimper and a growl. Then as she felt Isaac grip her, she knew exactly what he was the in-bound whistling of a high-velocity object was incoming, coming close-


That resounding explosion, the sounds of shattering and destruction not far from here, and yet loud enough that it almost seemed to be on top of them... The way Isaac reacted, after his too-close encounter with a mortar shell...completely understandable. The Lance-Corporal soon came back to reality when he realized the explosion was both not imagined and very different from the mortar shell.

"What the heck was that? Sounded more like a cannon, than anything."

Basic training. They familiarized them the sounds and sights of explosive materials being shot and such at the training grounds. Isaac got up, as did Britta, to strap on their equipment. Outside the barracks, there was activity and even panic, everyone asking the same questions: What was that? Where did it come from? Isaac wanted to get some binoculars... Hell, there WAS a pair, just lying around! He saw Diana nearby, looking just as shocked.

"We're at the ready, Diana. We have to be prepared to move out, 'cause I think they'll be asking people to go find out what that was...and guess who will volunteer us. Get the word out."

He got out his binoculars now to look around while shouting "Everybody suit up! We're being attacked!".

There was someone else coming... When people are just a bit - or alot - afraid and they're listening VERY carefully for signs of something ordinary or OUT of the ordinary, they tend to pick up on things pretty quickly. To wit, there was a sound that was coming closer. It was definitely the footsteps of another person, although in this place, you only HOPE it's a person...and not a creature. This was not normal London they found themselves in. This was some bizarre twist on the thing, and they didn't even know how they got here, when just a moment ago, they'd been walking into a normal alley.

Just like those footsteps were about to. There's no doubt that they were being followed.

They were coming closer, closer...

Hold on, that's no creature, there, and he certainly wasn't a serial killer or alley grifter either. It was just...

Hakuro Kuroda


A Few Minutes Ago...


The last class of the day had spent itself, and he could finally relax! Well...he could almost relax. There were a couple things on his mind, right now. One was his earlier encounter with Mikhail. If he could find out which one was Merja or Philip, or anyone else in the boy's Chemistry class, he could try to confer what he thought the guy was up to. If it was as he suspected, the Russian boy was gonna need some help getting his life together before he did something that landed him in jail. Can't have that.

The second thing, he just remembered as he saw two figures moving rather quickly. Well, hey! Just the people he wanted to see, the people he met at the tree! Hakuro had lately been getting this weird feeling of deja vu around them, but it wasn't a good time to talk about it, because he was pretty sure it was about this dream he had about a train with them on it... The whole feeling was kind of vague and he didn't remember it all. Well, he remembered that Alex had a better attitude there than at the tree, but then again he'd been talking to someone and...

Hey, where'd they go?

Hakuro had been following them, but then around a corner...nothing! Actually, first he'd been distracted by something he thought he saw - a flicker of motion on the walls - but then when he couldn't fiind a trace of it, he noticed that Alex and Ava were gone and...what the hell? So, he walked into the alley-

Everything flickered with a sudden change of light and surroundings, to the point where he had to guard his eyes, and was all different. He almost he'd been pushing against something, something that then POPPED, and here he was...looking at a hazy green sky and an alleyway just slghtly on wrong angles. You could just about see it, the changes... Oh, and Alex and Ava were here too.



This was not the world as they knew it.

It had to be some kind of other place. Everything was just a bit off. There were twists and oddities in the walls. The ground seemed almost to slope, thanks to the surrounding buildings, even though it didn't. The buildings seemed imposing and...was that one drifting in the distance? Was Big Ben TILTED at an angle?! Hakuro shook his head. He'd been to some strange places before, but never somewhere that was trying to fool the very sense of his surroundings. How did this happen? How did it come to be like this, so suddenly?

Did he eat some bad pie?

No! Bad Hakuro! You NEVER blame the pie!

In any case, he was heading over to where Alex and Ava were now. The look on their faces told him everything: This wasn't a hallucination, not unless they were all having it. This was real, and really weird.

"Guessing this isn't normal London weather we're having. I'm glad I caught up with you two, but..."

Wait, hold on... There was something he remembered, about Big Ben... Nah, he couldn't place it.

"...this isn't where we were a second ago, right?"

Oh yeah. They were in the thick of it, now.
((Collab post between Letter Bee and FalloutJack.))

Mikhail Chekhov

Ouch. It was only Mikhail's respect for libraries that prevented him from screaming obsceneties at Philip when he departed. Nevertheless, denied help and having only made things unpleasant, he left as well, either for his remaining classes or if school was over, for home.



It was Friday now, and Mikhail was 'enjoying' his free period by stalking the hallways, lost in dark thoughts and trying to radiate a demeanor of intimidation that would keep people away from him. And by that, he hoped that his perpetual scowl would act as a barrier keeping away busybodies and interlopers. But alas, it seemed that not all would get the memo - Some people are just that blindly optimistic to the point of denseness.

Well, if by blind, you mean 'He never saw him coming', then yes. Hakuro had been along and completely failed a spot check, as it were. The lad in the hat and coat was fiddling about with his phone and walking in a direction he'd more-or-less memorized, turned a corner, and ran smack dab into Mikhail. Hakuro tripped, fell over into the hall in Mikhail's midst, landed on his ass, but then managed to catch his phone, which had flown free from his hands just a second ago.

"Okay... Not my best save, but I'll take it."

Yeah... Mikhail, you've seen this guy around. It's the hat guy from P.E.!

Mikhail was the first to get up, shouting at the 'Hat guy from P.E', "You're lucky that profanity and violence are looked down on in this school, or I'd be making your face weird, you cosplaying freak!"

He purses his lips, "First I get denied help and pushed back to square one, and now I have to deal with weirdos worse than I am who live happy-go-lucky lives like a ball of sunshine - I'm sick of it!"

Cosplaying? Cosplaying?!

Now, Hakuro may've recognized the guy from the gym, but he didn't have nearly as much animosity towards him, if any at all. However, when Mikhail spoke to him the way that he did...he was up on his feet in an instant.

"Hey, I'm original character, alright? I don't dress this way out of fandom."

He said this, straightening out said coat and putting his phone away, and then followed up with a look of confusion.

"Now uhh...what the hell are you talking about?"


Mikhail could not help but chuckle at Hakuro claiming he was an 'original character', prompting him to dial the hostility forward in order to compensate. "Well, my dear weirdo, if you want to know, you make me sick, being happy and peppy and optimistic and just blindly assuming others would be happy just because you joke and clown around."

Okay, that was hostile, but not exactly an escalation. Hakuro must have made a better impression on his subconcious than he thought. Mikhail then decided to give a further explanation, "And as for getting denied help, well, let's just say I had an... Argument with several people in the library a few days ago. Not that you can help with that matter unless you're a genius at Chemistry, which you're not as I'd have seen you in Chem class earlier on."

"Making alot of assumptions there, doncha' think? I mean, just because I'm in a good mood now doesn't mean I'm always Mr. Sunshine."

Or Mr. Blue Sky, or Mr. Sparkles... Take your pick.

"Mind you, it looks like you could use a picker-upper, and less people walking into you. I'm sorry about that. Let me make it up to you?"

Hakuro had made his own bad assumption earlier. He assumed there wouldn't be anybody in his way as he headed off to the cafeteria, and he was wrong. But hey, no sense not having company there.

Mikhail blinks and says, "All right, I want Ice Cream. Let's see if there's any cookies-and-cream in the cafeteria."

And with that, he then added, "Oh, and you're paying if the Cafeteria issues extra fees for ice cream!"

Well, that was easy. What is it they say about this? The best way to a person's heart is through the stomach? Might've been a beast. Best not to mention that, then, just in case. But yeah, this miserable guy needed a moment, and it seemed like that moment would be served by ice cream. So, Hakuro shrugged and said "Okay, follow me.", heading for the cafeteria. He knew for a fact that they would charge him for the ice cream, because he'd had other deserts and it resulted in the same thing. So! Coming to the cafeteria, Hakuro wasted no time in asking one of the ladies on staff there about cookies-and-cream ice cream. No brainer. That was a popular flavor. They always had it. He then asked for some pie-of-the-day and was given a choice of apple or rhubarb. Here, the young man did what he often did in these circumstances, just pulled out a coin and flipped it to decide.

"Tails. One rhubarb pie, please."

Mikhail was handed his ice cream as Hakuro paid without even worry. Then, he accepted this pie that looked like it was packed with...something pinkish-purple. Rhubarb is an acquired taste. The Hatto-san wasn't even sure he'd acquire it now, as he took a seat.

"So...what're the pressing need for a genius all about?"

Mikhail said, "You know of the Chekhov Incident, right? Vasily Chekhov, defector from Russia, getting poisoned and dying from it."

He then hands Hakuro several newspaper cuttings, this time from The Guardian, detailing the incident. "Basically, Vasily is my father, I'm the crying and sullen kid on the pictures, and people just refused to help me do some chemistry work to help me break down the chemical code for the poison so that I can make an antidote for it."

Mikhail felt bad for fudging the truth about that last part in order to hide the fact that he wanted to poison his father's killer himself should he find him. But only towards Hakuro and perhaps Merja - Everyone else can f**k themselves.

That cut to a rather serious topic in a hurry. Hakuro felt he'd heard the name somewhere, but needed to whip out his phone to get a bit of background on who Mikhail was talking about. Of course, no sooner had he done that than te boy showed just how on top of the subject he was. He had clippings of the subject in question. Hakuro looked them over as the boy went on about wanting to engineer an antidote to the poison.

'...he is survived by his son, Mikhail Chekov.'

For a moment, the Hatto-san didn't taste the tartness of the rhubarb pie. He'd seen some lives harshly-affected by everything from circumstance to outright deliberate attack. It's the price of wanting to see the world and know the people in it: You get more than you bargained for. The picture, the report, the attitude - it made Hakuro think...

He's drowning...

He shut his eyes for a second, shutting that thought away. It wasn't wrong to think that, because Mikhail must've been in a bad way, losing his father like that, but at the same wasn't the right thought, either. He then gave it a little more thought.

"Mikhail, you don't think someone's gonna poison you too, do you?"

It didn't seem likely, but what Hakuro wondered was if the boy was concerned that his own life was in danger, as well.

Mikhail laughs. "Doubt it, they underestimate me. No, I just want to protect future defectors from Russia."

That last part was a lie.

And Hakuro really didn't know enough about defections from Russia to really know otherwise on the matter. Even if he never came in contact with another person in the same situation as his father, it made sense that Mikhail would want the cure to this poison, just to say that he did something about the whole ordeal. People need all kinds of closure. That said...the anger and the attitude...

"And the other people... They didn't want to help you, presumably, because that meant working with the poison, in the first place?"

The chemistry lab on-campus would - no doubt - have volitile chemicals for the various classroom assignments, and so on, but that was all in due-course towards the cause of science and education. This was 'I want to work with this concoction that was used to kill someone'. It was a bit different in motivation.

Mikhail tilted his head slightly to the left, and said, "You're smarter than you look, and that's part of it. The others just didn't believe me except Merja, and she regards herself as unable to help. Well, that and they regard me as a jerk who spouts out 'manipulative' nonsense. Hypocrites with no purpose in life, all of them. Especially Philip from St. Paul's,that asshole."

It was clear that Mikhail was genuinely bitter about that ordeal.

Hakuro gave him a flat look as he got back into his remaining pie and went "Calm down. You got free ice cream out of it." before thinking this over. Now, he could be trying to create an antidote to this one poison that was used on his father, or...he could be after the poison itself. Yeah, Hakuro was plenty smart, enough so to see that a wounded heart might turn to bloody vengeance, if given the chance. It sounded so crazy, thinking he was talking to a guy that looking for revenge, but he was pissed off and he was carrying around news clippings, for god's sake!

Can't just ask him about it. He'll either deny it, or worse...confirm it. Either way. bad news, there.

Suddenly, Hakuro was glad he wasn't a genius. Or rather, not one in chemistry. Jury's still out if he was a brilliant mastermind in other ways.

"In any case, it probably sounded weird to them because they haven't been where you've been or felt what you've felt. You can't expect miracles when out of people you've barely met, and it's not gonna do any good to shout at people."

Mikhail leaned in closer, suspecting that Hakuro knew more than he let on. "Then who can give me the miracle I need? There is no God or Gods, or a Buddha. So I have to extract help from other people by any means possible."

Extract? Did he hear that right? Hakuro paused, staring at him for a second. How did this guy talk to people before his tragedy? Was he getting a bad translation because a Russian-born youth was talking to a boy from Okinawa, neither of them using their first language?

"I mean, you have to get to know people before you ask them to work on something like that. A friend'll loan you a little money faster than some guy on the street, if you know what I mean."

Mikhail nods. "Well, I don't know how to make friends now. I used to have some but I left my old school because I was afraid of hurting them after my father died."

"Well, you should ease up, for starters. I don't really know anyone from Chemistry, but this isn't a thing you just ask people. If they feel a little weirded out later, tell 'em you just can't stop thinking about what happened and it's made it hard to cope. You don't seem like a manipulator to me. You just want one thing, very badly."

He finished his pie, then looked over at Mikhail, extending a hand.

"Hakuro Kuroda, though some people call me the Hatto-san."

A smile - A genuine one - from the sixteen-year old as he shakes Hakuro's hand, "Nice to meet you, then, 'Hatto-san'. I hope associating with me won't get you tarred by others."

"No worries there, I assure you."

The Russian kid didn't even know he had a following. And besides that...

I'm gonna make sure you don't go doing what I THINK you're gonna do with that concoct...oh man, I forgot to get a drink. I NEED MILK!!

They don't charge extra for that, at least.
There had once been a time...


...when things were far more innocent.

"Riiikes! Ellis! Merdo! Harkin Roscoe!"

A time of winter, snow and ice everywhere. And naturally, they all liked to play in the snow. A younger Isaac Black called out to the pack, then howled at them for good measure, before taking a sled and going down a hill. Naturally, because he was going face-first, Isaac soon tumbled out, the sled itself going blades-up when he did. He landed in snow, of course, so there was no difficulty. Plus, he was soon joined by nearly half-a-dozen furry friends! They were all so exciteable! Rikes, the only brown pelt among them was feeling especially energetic, but Isaac already knew why THAT was. He had noses in his face, loud sniffing and snorting, making him laugh as he got up. He did so and two of them went down and showed their bellies before running off and back again. They were all trying to get him to head for the house because it was time to eat soon. Rikes actually took his hat and ran with it.


He beat him back to the house, of course, not only for being faster, but because every other wolf BESIDES Ellis was circling him. Ellis followed Rikes, as per usual. It'd been about that time. Emeri Black, a brown-haired farming girl with basically a heart of gold, was basically scolding Rikes and getting his hat back.

"Thanks, Em."

"No problem. I was just about to call, actually."

"Yeah, I know. They know, too. They're really smart, you know."

"I'll bet. So...which ones do ya think?"

"It's Rikes and Ellis, definitely. They've been doing it in the middle of the night, I bet."

"D'you...think we'll keep 'em long after she has her pups?"

"Oh, we've gotta. At least Ellis to raise 'em a while."

"Isaac...doesn't it bother you that you're gonna lose them, one day?"

He didn't want to think about it, hadn't wanted to think on that, even though it was something he did know had to happen. Isaac knew that some day, he would have to let them go to join their new lives. The thought of losing them...even though they'd be going to good homes...

"It does, but...I can't do anything about it. We raise livestock, and alot of the little ones are cute, themselves, but...we gotta eat 'em, anyway. I don't know what to think about that, Em. I just don't."


"...and you're absolutely sure it's him? I don't see a collar or anything."

"They never liked collars. You put one on and they'd walk backwards for like twenty feet before pushing them off and running around like kids, going 'Lookit me! I'm naked!'."

He laughed, but Britta was again struck surprised by the things coming out of his mouth. Rikes was busy cleaning the bowl his food had been on, and then Isaac finally got the vest off of him. It was a parcel vest. It was essentially made so a dog - or in this case, a wolf - could deliver messages and other small materials - like, say, a pistol and some ammunition - back and forth. He was just about to inspect the contents of the vest - It had two small satchels...and a front pocket, weirdly. - when Michael came up and asked about the surprise wolf. Isaac looked up at him and nodded.

"This is Rikes. I put him and his pack through domestic training so they could be owned by people. He's an Apennine Wolf and...hello..."

Rikes was staring between Micheal, Isaac, and Britta now, doing that thing where the wolf stares and just licks its chops once. Isaac was opening that front breast pocket on the vest to pull out something small and official, going "Huh..." as he read it.

"Looks like he's Messenger, First Class. Guess they wanted to capitalize on his speed and smarts. Uhh, Britta? Would you get something medical, preferably with rubbing alcohol? I don't like the looks of those wounds."

"Sure, Isaac."

"Let's see what else ya got here..."

The satchals didn't contain anything, except for one message on a hastily-folded piece of paper. Isaac opened up the thing and read. His brows furrowed, and then he lowered his hands with an exhale. It had been from whoever was regularly in charge of Rikes, and it was dated the same day as the gas attack.

"I'm gonna have to talk to someone in command..."

They could be dead already, either by Imperial attack or...or the gas smog, if it had wafted in that direction enough. Isaac didn't even know where their position was. It sounded like it was inside the Imperial front lines, but that could've been prior to the gas coming down, and now there could be an outpost full of corpses who all looked like they'd been choked to death, coughing up blood. Rikes had survived this, somehow. Isaac began to pet him some, still worried but wanting to reassure the wolf.

"Don't worry, Rikes. You're with me now..."
For his part, Hakuro had to agree that none of this was really creepy, as Ava had asserted. No, as much as the train was weird and the hosts were kind of hard to place, he did not feel threatened at all. This place was more-or-less relaxing, and the company entertaining. The only thing that he wasn't sure about...was whether Amari was female or not. Alex seemed to think so, and the Attendant did absolutely nothing to dissuade him. But then...there was no confirmation at any point, either. It was all very ambiguous, like the state of the exterior of the train. He'd looked out the window and thought he saw Big Ben out there, and that it was rotating...only the train was also turning, so were they going around it, or was it moving on its own? It's like when you stare at a lake and wonder if the opposition shoreline is actually mmoving while the lake is actually still. Stuff like that, optical illusions.

What this all came down to, as Alex explained to Ava, was something Hakuro had heard about in class, and before that other places. In philosophy, in psychology, there is a concept: Everything is unconsciously connected to one other. Our thoughts and memories, our habits and mannerisms, our teachings, our history, and everything down to the first instinct - it is all linked in one place that we all share that's in the back of our brains and existent all over the place. In Philosophy Class, you'd be asked things like "Where is the human mind, as opposed to the human brain?", because the brain is just the organ that manages our body. But where in all that gray matter is the mind? The frontal lobe? The pineal gland? We don't know. The human mind doesn't seem to have a location. You may as well be asking "Where is the human soul?", because you won't find it on any map. But the Velvet Room and whatever this place it resided in was...maybe you could find it. Maybe here was where it truly existed.

And that was the point, basically. The Collective Unconscious was the full gathering of all of our minds, our dreams, our perceptions of reality. This was deep stuff, deep enough to create a world. Igor had come all this way to give them a heads-up, that things might be going down. They were taking a romp through a world unlike their own, and he cautioned them to be careful out there. Once Alex was done informing Ava of what he thought was going on - what seemed as good an explanation as anything else - he turned back to Igor once more, asking the how and... Yeah, he'd had those cards out and...they looked like Tarot Cards. What was up with that?

"Oh, these cards? They're yours."

He raised a hand, and they flew out into the open air, facing the three, side-by-side at first, but then moving to rotate around each other. They were The Priestess, The Emperor, and The Fortune, respectively.

"This journey has already taken its first step. Three forces of personality have come in contact with one another, and soon they will draw in more and more to their place, to come here."

More cards appeared, taking on orbits around the three, yet also changing their respective trajectories in a harmonious fashion. Hakuro saw The Chariot, the Tower, the Hanged Man, and so on... And then, at the center, there appeared another card: The Sun.

"Each person has their place in the world, and they are both driven and influenced by the force of their own existence and the interaction of others. They are confidents, friends, cammon associates, and the like. They orbit around each other, each with their own path in life that can be altered at the drop of a hat."

Igor ignored that Hakuro dropped his hat for effect.

"What is our purpose, our reason to exist? Why are we here? Where are we going? We ask this of ourselves all the time, even if we do not know it. Perhaps we are looking for purpose, or perhaps what our goals were have been dashed, or perhaps we've known all along and work ever-so-quietly towards it. Ultimately, the greater purpose may elude us because the outline of it is so great that we cannot see the entire picture, or that it was staring us in the face the entire time that we simply did not notice it."

All the cards vanished, except for the original three...and The Sun, still hanging between them. And then, The Moon appeared!

"I give you...your starting point, to see the whole picture, to see what the influence of your lives and others do to this world, to see its purpose...and to know your own."

The Priestess, The Emperor, and The Fortune flew over and landed in the hands and hat of Ava, Alex, and Hakuro respectively. Hakuro looked down at the card as he picked up his hat, then back at Igor and Amari. The Sun and The Moon were still there in mid-air.

"Who are they, then?"

"One you must seek and one you must find. The Moon will wander along the path to this world. The Sun will guide you in this place. Look carefully, all of you. Your lives may depend on every detail you see. There are those that make it here, without guidance and purpose, without hope or help, and they have fallen..."

The three of them could now feel the train coming to a halt, and saw that Amari had produced an old-style microphone from...somewhere. The outside looked EXACTLY the same as when they first came in here.

"Now arriving at Velvet Station! Everybody off! And please remember to mind the gap!"

"This is the end of the line, for now, but the end is also the beginning, and we will meet again when you enter this world of your own free will. 'Till then...farewell."

The doors opened, everything got all foggy, and soon...they would awaken where they had fallen asleep, prior to arrival.


Hakuro found himself with his head on his desk, by the computer. Oh, he must've blacked out. Too tired or something. His head hurt a bit too. Should be more careful... Ah well. A quick look around the site, and then to bed for real, this time. He had a funny dream with this train and a big nose and... He paused, then. There was a response to his question about tree-climbing in London that struck him, suddenly, as familiar:

"It's not really proper, though. Pip, pip!"
In the evening, Hakuro had decided to head back to his room and forgo the day of hijinks that would have normally occurred. He didn't do these things all the time, not when it wasn't necessary. It was just that when the moment struck him, he was all-in. The fact is that Hakuro preferred to live his life on impulse and random choice, to let fate decide and go with the decision made that way, rather than spending excruciating hours deciding on his life. It made things so much simpler, and alot more fun. In his youth, he'd read about a particular Batman villain, an attorney whose life had been half-dominated by a dark personality, and that in the course of things...that personality had been brought out in equal shares to his own. This was Two-Face, Harvey Dent, the man who split in half. Harvey obsessively made decisions by the flip of a coin. And while that shaped the kind of person he was darkly, Hakuro flipped a coin to make things go quicker and to throw in that random charm.

He hadn't bothered doing that with the tree, though. That was all the tree's fault for wanting to be climbed.


Okay, not really, but you get the idea.

Because he hadn't had much sleep today, his energy had actually been on a budget. He'd climbed, and then he'd run off for class to conserve energy for only his brain...until he had Phys Ed, gym class. That was a bit more taxing, and Hakuro was confident in saying that he'd used up about 90% of his burnable energy for the day, which meant he wasn't going to be much for antics today anyway. Thus, he came to his room, closed the door, and hung the coat over his swivel chair at his personal desk. His hat, he placed upon the dresser, shortly before ruffling his own hair and stretching. Being Hatto-san was tiring work, and speaking of which... He sat down before the computer and got on the Hatto Site. He was looking things over, smiling and snerking at the comments, even the negative ones. He started to feel tired - more-so than when he'd walked in - as he was asking the question, 'Why are people so uppity about me being up this tree?', posting his pictures OF said tree and all the pictures he'd taken. He'd gotten pics of the campus, some of the people, that girl on the motorcycle, a random bird...

Wow, he was REALLY-




He blinked and...had his hand to his forehead, then it dropped to his sides as he looked around. Hakuro was at a train station, back in hat and coat, surrounded by fog. Well, that wasn't unusual. He was often doing that. Thing is, though...he couldn't remember where he was going. That was something he would definitely remember. Was he off to visit a friend? Move to a new place? Buy some groceries? Meet a stalker? His mind was all fuzzy on that, and this place seemed to eerily desolate. Nobody was around...right?



Just echoes. Hmmm.



Now, he smirked.


Couldn't resist, although...the answer was ironically a train. He wasn't on the tracks, so there was no worry to be had there, however the train itself was a bit strange... Blue train, looking like it really didn't belong. The doors opened, and a voice made an announcement that seemed fitting with the English surroundings he'd been getting use to. Alright, this sounded fun... He stepped inside. No sooner had he done so than he noticed two of the people he saw in the morning today, Alex and Ava.

"Oh, hi. Fancy meeting you here."

He didn't really have Alexander's attention. HIS was on what was presuumably the announcer, as the voice had been a youthful one, and there was a youth here whom...Hakuro couldn't really tell if it were male or female. Hmmm. Out of sheer wit, he meant to draw out his coin and flip it for random decision on that matter. He couldn't find it. What...? Aw man, did he lose it? It was just a quarter from the US, but he'd had it since he was a kid from one of the guests at the resort. He'd look for it later. Had to be somewhere...

Down to business, though... This Igor fella. What a nose! Why? How? He did not explain. What he DID say was that this Velvet Train leaving the Velvet Station was called the Velvet Room, and that they were safe. Good to know. So, the man had also introduced themselves and seemingly had a bit of trouble with the rebellious Amari. Furthermore, when Igor invited them to say whatever was on their mind, Alex surprisingly answered in a heavy accent to the Attendant first. This made Amari laugh, as well as Hakuro, and go "It's not really proper, though. Pip, pip!" before Alex continued with the serious questions, as well as Ava remarking on the train itself and also asking her own question.

As for Hakuro...he felt the train moving and...much like how outside it seemed like the tracks were going at odd felt almost like the train itself was traveling at those angles...yet nothing and nobody was falling over.

"This isn't a normal train, is it?"

Igor smiled calmly and said...

"This not reality as you know it. At this moment, you are not really here, but asleep in your own rooms. The Velvet Room is a place that exists between dreams and reality, neither fact nor fiction. This train travels upon the rails of human consciousness, in a world where the mind may hold great power, if you know how to reach it. You have come here, because you are undergoing a journey, one quite unlike any that you have ever taken."

"What, even me? I've been around..."

He nodded.

"Indeed. It is one that only you and those who follow you may take, and I must warn you...that while this place is your haven, the world outside of the Velvet Room is full of danger and mystery. You must arm yourselves against it, in mind and in body. You will know what to do, however. Of that, I am sure."

"You still haven't answered his question, though. Why us? Why are WE here? What is this journey?"

For a moment, it seemed as though Igor might seem a bit grim. His voice did not change, but the tone of his everything else did.

"Those who can traverse this world number in the many, right now, as well as those who can affect it with their subconscious and not even be aware of it. This is not just a world alternate to your own. It IS your own, in spirit. It is connected. Things are happening now, the dice of chance are rolling. They that come here are responsible for their actions, for good or for ill, but they can affect the lives of many others. However, only they can determine if it is right or wrong. It all comes down to this: Purpose. Why are we here? What drives us forwards? Why do we do what we do? What is right or wrong when we do it? You must keep these thoughts in mind when you finally cross the barrier into this world of your own free will."

He sat back, now.

"Only you can decide upon the outcome, what happens here. Only you can determine if it was right or wrong, or if the grand design was too complex. You may choose to bow out, and you are free to do so. No one would blame you. But whatever comes of that decision, to move forward or to pull back, is entirely yours...and you must live with that." that's why his coin was missing. This was too important to decide on a whim.
Now, while it is important - nay, essential - to allow for the lives of the people here to continue, we must also push forward. Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so. The fact of the matter is that during the lives of every individual - be they from Evergreen or St. Paul's - must go on, but there shall be a certain focus on some of them. We start with the setting sun upon the general area, especially with this, the office of the Vice-Principal of Evergreen Academy, Henry Ashcroft.


Worthless, spoiled children, all of them.

He sat in his office, the evening sun peaking into the window as he looked over the reports on his desk, and eyeing the half-filled glass of scotch he'd poured for company. It was after-hours. He could do as he damn-well pleased. It was a gentleman's hour, anyway, a time for men of his time and era gathered 'round and had the odd drink and discussed important topics or past amusements. Ah, the good old days... Not like now, with everything digitized and growing way out of proportion with these self-important twats running things and these children playing at adulthood...

Well, some of them did. Others seemed content to be a grave disappointment. Thus, the file...

'The Principal's responsibility was to the running of the school', they said. 'You're enough not with the times, old boy', they said. Well, who exactly was running things if it was apparently up to HIM to administer discipline on these out-of-control students? How could truly-dedicated types, like Alexander Furst, possibly flourish when he and his ilk are bogged down with the Avas, the Joeys, the Merjas, and now this...this idiotic Japanese boy. He helped put down his kind AND Germany in the war. What does that all amount to? Nothing. Nothing but these wild, uncontrolled kids. He'd have to have Alex in here to give him a lecture, set him straight. Then...he was going to get him separated from the wrong sort of people. He didn't need people like Merja or Ava, either too passive or completely supportive of disruptive elements like this hat boy, Hakuro.

The glass of scotch was already at a quarter length. He hated this, but he would whip these fraudulent human beings into shape...


I showed you that, so I could show you this...

On the evening of the day that Alexander, Ava, and Hakuro seemed the cards were just right. The fates collided as The Priestess, The Emperor, and The Fortune all neatly overturned at once on the table. It was time. The three students of Evergreen and St. Paul found themselves growing more and more tired that Tuesday evening and fell asleep at once, regardless of WHAT they were doing at the time.

Hopefully, no harm was done.

The three of them would find themselves on a platform of the London Underground. To be specific: Each one of them was there alone, absolutely no one else there where they stood. Identical platforms, identical surroundings, looking a bit dim and foggy around where they stood, indicating that leaving was probably not advised, as the further you looked from the spot, the more gray it seemed to get. But...that all changed, very quickly. There was the telltale sound of a subway train - looking of a sleek blue bullettrain, though in a classy and old-fashioned kind of design - on the approach. The train came to a halt and the doors slid open as a young voice called out over speaker.

"Velvet Station! Mind the gap! Mind the gap!"

All three would enter from their platforms, and although the movement and the places were identical, they entered through different doors, which then shut behind them as the train started up again, moving along rails that...if you were of a mind to look...might surprise you as to the directions they seemed to take. Alex, Ava, and the hat boy would find themselves in the midst of...

The Velvet Room

Have any of you ever read the book, Neverwhere, by chance? It describes an amusing encounter with an underground king in a subway. Granted, there was an entire world of the unnoticed and out-of-place in that book, but the important thing to note is that while the man who faced them was not a king, he seemed rather important. He sat in a very comfortable-looking chair, with a table before him that had three tarot cards hovering, face up. Numerous passenger seats of a decidedly plush nature led up to this place, which a... Boy? Girl? Both? Neither? A person bid them to "Have a seat, please!" in a rather exciteable, pleasant voice. No chance ofdetermining gender here, folks. Might well be both, or all. Anyway, the man with the nose from hell - well-dressed and ever-glaring - chose this moment, as everyone was seated comfortably, to speak in a voice that was surprisingly calm and collected. He said...

"Welcome to the Velvet Room... I am Igor, your guide in this venture."

He gestured to the youth standing nearby, who now had a clipboard in hand, which could have easily been a train schedule.

"This is Amari, my assistant."

"Charmed, I'm sure."

The Attendant had spoken in an over-the-top cultured voice, just then. Igor's eyes shifted over to Amari for a second.

"In the normal fashion, Amari."

"Pleased to meet you all, sirs and madam."

Once again, Big Nose focused on the three sitting before him.

"Thank you. Now...I wish to assure you all... You are perfectly safe here. You are our honored guests, the first of a great deal, should all go well. I imagine, however, you have questions. Please...speak your mind, and we shall do our best to answer."

Alexander Furst, Ava Munroe, and Hakuro Kuroda... The three of you have entered into a world unknown to you, but very soon you shall discover a world that is literally pure imagination...and terrible nightmare. In this place, there is respite, however. The Velvet Room caters to all guests, and in this endeavour, the house reputation and indeed right to exist is on the line. Igor awaits your input, your questions and concerns. How do you react to this place, and the strangeness surrounding you?
ISAAC & Britta

Aw, Jean, don't... Don't get in the way of dinner at a camp of several people who've been smelling frankly incredible smells the past how-ever-long-it-took-to-cook. Don't do that. Even if it's important, it could surely wait. Oh fine... So, Jean had an announcement about what was going on soon. It was entirely about their latest orders, their next move as a squad. Well, actually it was to be their situation involving a scouting mission, with just three people along with Jean. Apparently, Sergeant Baker wasn't sure of the area ahead and that meant they were needed for a bit of reconnaissance. This was for a great push forward to take over Amone, which presumably the rest of the squad should be ready for, since the scouting mission was tomorrow morning and they wanted to somehow end the seige - all of it - in two days.

Good fucking luck, probably not likely, unless they were killing everyone in Amone to do it or something. Isaac definitely felt that the higher-ups didn't know what the hell they were doing or thinking, in regards to this. Jean and them may be walking into a damn hornet's nest if his own wary instincts were any good. Isaac was starting to value his instincts far better than what the likes of Middleton or Baker might say, especially Middleton. Britta was also of the opinion that Jean should have waited on this, though her reasoning was entirely culinary in nature. She'd reduced the fire to mere waning embers, which would try to keep the meal heated while they latest, but they would die out quickly, and then the meal would begin to cool. Good food is best eaten hot, especially when there's been terrible weather involved, so it's rude to keep it waiting.

Frankly, Jean's reaction to the garlic bread was priceless.

The food must've been absolutely exquisite, because we have Jean reacting this way, everyone anxious for the meal, and Luke was...was apologizing for his arsehole behavior. Let's be clear here, on this. Luke Godfrey was definitely an arsehole. He had a bitter attitude and he hated Darcsens. So, for him to be trying to make up to Jean and any other Darcsen by proxy is nothing shy of a Christmas miracle. Too bad it's not December, 'cause then we could invest in that and pray for the war to be called on cold weather. No such luck there, we thank god for small mercies. This even made Isaac smile.

Look at that. Our little pain in the ass is growing up. Well, he's trying.

Jean was, at the time, making sure with Britta that any excess of the meal be spread out beyond Squad 1, which she nodded at, saying "Of course! I wouldn't dream of letting this go to waste.". However, his response to Luke was a decided 'Try harder, next time.', because while Luke was struggling to get around his stupid hang-ups, he couldn't quite remove the bile from his mouth long enough to be polite about it and act like Jean was a person like everyone else. He called him Boss, but Jean was standing up for the intolerance against his people. Boss wasn't good enough if you weren't calling your boss a human being. People in the Atlantic Federation called the Imperials 'Imps', but they were still human, regardless of the name-calling. Isaac appeared next to Britta, muttering.

"Ya think he'll ever clear his head and act right?"

"I don't know. It's like he's salvaging a pride that isn't there. What's he trying to prove?"

"I have no idea..."

Luke wandered off and things returned somewhat back to normal as Isaac took an assessment for Britta about how many people were looking to benefit from the stew and garlic, which he'd finished eating already and Britta was about to get her own fill. However...



I can smell it. I can taste it in the air. It's nearby. I want it. I NEED IT.

"Whoa! What the...?"

"Hey, is that ours?!"

"Gotta be. It's our vest."

"Hey, watch it!"

Feddie humans. No worries. Home. Safe. Or safe enough. Food nearby, and closing. Wafting, taunting, teasing... So very close now. He couldn't keep his paws from moving him forward at all speed, bumping into things, into people. Feet hurting all day, cuts and bangs and wounds here and there - ignoring all to get some REAL FOOD!


Right there!

At last!

The pot was still warm, but not too hot. Meat and broth... Oh, dig in! Dig in!

"Hey, stop! HEY!"


OW! Loud banging on the pot! How dare you! Feddie soldier saying no? WRONG.

Mine now! MINE!

He'd run from fights, run from deadly smoke, run from Imps and bombs and bullets, but not this. NOT NOW, while he was hungry and hurting! It was his now! YOU CAN'T HAVE IT! NO!


Britta had turned and had been about to announce to anybody nearby that the rest of the meal was up for grabs when...when there was this sound of something running in and stepping up onto the pot. She turned around and saw this shaggy brown thing in a vest with Federation markings tipping its head down into the pot to eat its contents. She rapped the side with the ladle and what reared up was the face of a vicious wolf.

Not a dog. Wolf. With rather big TEETH.

Immediately, Britta drew her serrated blade and held both it and the ladle defensively. This couldn't be just a wild animal. It was dressed, marking it as an army canine, except it was a LUPINE, clearly. Ears back, growling and not barking, teeth bared back to gums to show the entire set in its mouth. It was defending the pot like a kill it had made.

"Isaac? ISAAC!"

"What? Oh..."

She couldn't take her eyes off of it, but Isaac... You could see that he was suddenly overcome as he laid eyes on their intruder.

It can't be... That bastard... He sent 'im HERE...

Memories of his childhood, of raising what would have been wild animals, if not for his influence... He couldn't possibly mistake that muzzle, that growl, that pelt... He came beside Britta and gently forced down the blade. When she looked at him, she was about to question this, but his face said everything. He was handling this. He approached Rikes, knowing that if he was very hungry, he wouldn't give up a potential meal. Wolves don't need much for day-to-day operation. They can work on a few hours a day of sleep, even very little food for a time without being too hungry, but that assumes a less-than-super-active period. He looked tired, spent...

"Rikes! Down... Down..."

It wasn't the words, so much as the gesture and the tone. A firm commanding tone, and...a smell, familiar. Anger turned to uncertainty, and an urging from him to calm down in that recognized tone of voice, that accepted tone of masters... Rikes' ears perked in understanding, his nose told him who he was talking to, even though his eyes needed a minute to be sure. He saw so many faces that it was necessary to check and check again. The wolf stopped mounting the pot and backed down, letting out a small whimper because the master seemed a little angry with him.

"Gimme the ladle."

Britta, amazed at how easy it was for Isaac to get this hungry beast to back down, did so without question. Isaac scooped some of the stew into a bowl and led the wolf aside, saying "It's alright! He's with me." to any onlooker. He noticed that Rikes was limping a little, that his army dog vest was a bit tattered and torn. He placed the food down and the wolf immediately went at it. Isaac reached down to inspect the vest, but there was a growl from the feasting animal, and he decided to leave it, for now.

"God sakes... What'd they do to ya?"
Oh, Hakuro thought this was very funny.

It was the sort of thing he needed to brighten up his day and keep his other freakier thoughts from clouding it up on him. Yeah, that was the last thing he wanted. It was actually a good thing that Alex hadn't shouted the question of whether he understood the situation or not. Guaranteed, the answer was no, and that he really didn't care. Actually, that much was really obvious, because he wasn't even sure why anyone would make a fuss. It was just a tree! They acted like he didn't belong here or something. Well actually, one person rightfully-acknowledged that he was just being his normal self, though it must be said that Hakuro WAS having a little bit of a hard time hearing them from up here. What he definitely heard was that someone wanted to learn to climb. Okay, admittedly, this tree was more of an advanced tree to climb, opposed to other trees. Hakuro supposed it was all very well and good to want to learn. This WAS a school, after all.

"Sure! Though, it WILL take effort!"

Her friend immediately seemed to berate her, which he felt was unkind, but some people just seemed more cautious over this for some reason. It was like he'd done something superhuman and extremely dangerous, and he knew that it was normal human and only somewhat risky. There was a clear difference, which is why when the potential climber's friend called up and asked if he needed any help, the hatted youth looked genuinely confused and called back "No?", making an emphatic shrug. He didn't seem all that concerned as thhe frustrated boy - Alex - started discussing...something-or-other...with another boy, and then he suddenly seemed interested in the photos he was taking. For some reason, this also seemed to warrant some attention. What was it with people in this country? He knew he was always going to be the odd Hatto out, but this was just bizarre...

"Hang on, this is getting aggravating! I can't hear anything!"

From there, he seemed to almost slide back down, except not really. There was very clearly an iron grip he was maintaining around the trunk with his hands, while his feet angled down into the grooves of the tree, and soon he was down on the ground and taking a quick bow with a smile. There, he turned to glance at Alex with a smile, as he said, "And to answer your question, everything." was about that time that his phone began to beep. Taking it out, he switched off his alarm - which was a reminder that he had class incoming - and then put it back into his pocket.

"Well, I'm afraid that's all we have time for today. I simply must dash!"

Shoom! Timing is funny like that, but...morning classes were what they were, and must be attended, so he doffed his had and took off, all while singing - for some goddamn reason - Lovely Bunch of Dragonballs. He wasn't even aware of security coming. It just worked out that way!
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