Well, that was certainly a way to end things. Nevermind the fact that her attempts seemed to be futile in defending the core, though something told her this wasn't a complete waste of her energy. After all, her barriers had to have taken some of the edge off from the absolute and total destruction of the core if there weren't any of those Demitroops swarming her. Akiko breathed a sigh of relief, floating through the murky blackness of the void. The Tower was likely restructuring itself or something, she wasn't too terribly sure, but she could afford a moment to rest, especially since her hands were bleeding from the impacts of her Stand against everything that Nephuna was throwing at the core.
While most of the party was dropped off at this new floor, Akiko was on her lonesome initially. A waivering thought, but something told her it was due to her absence from the rest of her group. Not that she minded, she needed space from all the chaos to think and work through some of those weird emotions she was feeling. No doubt she'd be reunited with the rest of her crew soon enough, but for now she needed to take in the world around her, and it wasn't anything she was expecting from this Tower. Hell, there weren't any visions of the looping infinity that allowed her to gaze around time itself. For all she knew, this was her first arrival in a completely new plane."Ghh..."
Right, the blood. She clenched her Red Relic tightly and slowly started to heal at a faster pace. Nothing would be immediate, but at least she wouldn't be leaking blood everywhere. Now... where was she, anyway?
She was exactly where she was meant to be. Open air solidified behind her until solid ground touched her back. The blaring sounds and glaring lights of a chaotic casino buzzed overhead. And yet, the rest of her "companions" were nowhere to be found. While they may have landed in the same Floor(?), Akiko would inevitably find herself still isolated. Alone. Perhaps she deserved some part of that. Kanbaru wasn't even around let alone anyone else. Instead, the jolting clink clank of slot machines and rolling coins hissed near her head, threatening to drown out any thought or self-inflection. Indeed, this was where she was meant to belong. Several high rolling tables adorned the colorfully bright area she landed in with patrons of all sizes and shapes accompanied by bunny girls. Sometimes figurative, often literal.
Akiko frowned in annoyance. She supposed asking for peace and quiet was a little too much given the recent sways of this Tower. Still, she figured at least nobody was talking to her, so that was at least a minor plus. The cat climbed up to her feet and dusted herself off, her ears twitching at the sounds and her tails swishing back to their normal facade. Soon enough, the world started to become populated once again with different figures and shadows, which definitely meant she'd been there before, once upon a time. Guess that meant she wasn't in the clear just yet, though it at least let her keep her head screwed on.
Still, none of the other hers were walking from her direction. Something was different about this time, no doubt. Akiko mulled over the idea for a moment to rejoin the crowds of hers before she stretched her arms up, then out, then back to her side, and started to walk in a different direction than her past selves. "A casino. Interesting place for the next major issue to come our way. Good thing there's not anyone chasing me this time to try and remove my head."
She stopped moving for a second. "... who am I kidding, someone's gonna appear and want to skin me for a new carpet. It always happens."
The crowd moved and swayed to Akiko's movement and direction. But if they held her any mind or attention they didn't show it or give her their time. The lights narrowed and thinned, circling on the path in front of her as if guiding her through the twists and turns of this seemingly endless party. Soon the crowd swayed more, bumps and shoves meant to rock Akiko about even as the pathway in front of her became thinner and thinner. Only at the end was her destination revealed; a table, much like the others surrounding it. While those around her were filled with guests and patrons gambling their lives away, sometimes figuratively, often literally, the one before her was empty. Vacant but inviting. There wasn't even a pair of dice to mess around with to pass the time, let alone a deck of cards.
The crowds seemed to thin around this table, allowing the cat a moment to breathe. The air was thick with the smells of luck and greed, but this offered some sort of reprieve from the chaos. The chairs were empty, nobody around to offer a wager or chance a game. Naturally, this was a suspicious circumstance, but at this point Akiko took it, sitting down at the table for a moment before manifesting her Stand and looking down at herself. [You look like you've been beaten up and mugged.]"Yeah, I suppose a change of clothes is in order..."
Within an instant, Akiko's dress changed to a more... befitting
guise of formalwear. Something a high roller to some of these tables might chance wearing, if for intimidation and not for luck. She adjusted her collar and scratched at her ears before she breathed a sigh of relief. After the Abyss, this air was a pleasant change after all."Hello again, Akiko."
The voice came directly in front of her, from a patron who wasn't there before. And yet, there he was, sitting as if he'd been waiting for the cat all this time. His face was obscured in more ways than one, if not by the cards he held in front of him then by the mask that adorned his trademark. All the same, the Jester
parted his cards to peer directly at the girl from the other side of the table. If Castle's presence suprised him, he didn't show it. Instead he acknowledged the spectral being, watching it as clear as day with no waver. "It's been a while. We haven't spoken since....the Shattering Floor. That's right."
She raised an eyebrow towards the masked man as he appeared and started to chat with her. "Ah yes, it's been quite some time. I don't believe I ever got a name or a moniker for you, though."
She leaned forward on the table, resting an arm on it and smirking towards the man. "I assume you're this 'Jester' that I've heard so much about from so many different sources. Or, at least, one of them, since Kanbaru's not anywhere near you, meaning you're unlikely to be her JSTR."
Akiko leaned back as Castle shrunk to a more catlike form, taking position on the table in front of it's user. "To what do I owe this interaction? Nobody's stolen an heirloom, after all.""Old friends are supposed to recount their tales to each other and give warm thanks to their presence. Is that not a bond we share?"
Even as they were spoken the Jester's words came out hollow and empty, as if some mimicry of a creature tried to replicate what passed as speech. Or maybe he just didn't care. "The JSTR inside Kanbaru is very much like me. You can say it's a copy, living data not unlike the Tower's denizens you've so encountered all this time. Hosting it makes Kanbaru unique. The same uniqueness I once piqued in you."
The Jester placed his cards down, revealing them to be as blank as his mask. A gloved hand outstretched to rub along Castle's back. His motions seemed to betray he had experience with animals before. Curious indeed. "I came simply to observe you. You've continued to become interesting. Kanbaru speaks about you, whether she knows it or not.""Bad things, I assume,"
Akiko chuckled, hiding the shiver she felt along her spine as her Stand was touched. "But hey, I hope I've been putting on quite the show. It's kind of hard to stand out from the crowd when you have someone as destructive as Kanbaru, resilient as Riku, and troublesome as Katie."
Her eyes glanced over the blank slates of cards that laid in front of her, oddly raising her interest in them further, though not taking her complete attention. "Alas, I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself. I can't believe you'd take an interest in me of all people here, though. Can't say I've really done much around here other than... my sister would say I'm gaslight, gatekeep, and girlbossing, I believe."
She leaned in. "What's new with you? I'm sure that there's a sense of one-sidedness to this conversation, anyway, if you know things from Kanbaru or the copy she's hosting."
The Jester was silent as Akiko spoke, letting the cat say what she would. When he responded it was with another question, forming as, "What do you want Akiko. Why did you come into the Tower."
He stroked Castle's head a few more times before holding his hand over the cards once again. A flick of his hand had them cuffed and flipping against each other in an almost hypnotic fashion. "You reach the top, you find the Throne. You choose to start back at the bottom. Why do you keep coming back. What is it you're looking for. What is it you need."
The Jester stared unblinking and it was as if the whole of the chaotic world around them moved in slow motion, silent. All that mattered was their discussion."I wish I could tell you the answer to why I start at the bottom,"
Akiko blunted. "There's something interesting going on in this Tower. I've become... aware of something in this Tower. Every time I get closer to the top, something happens, and everything seems to reset for some reason or other. I'm able to see every single step, every action, everything done in the past resets of this Tower, and yet... I can't remember what happens when the world resets itself."
She paused to think about where to continue. "In the Abyss, there was a brief stint where I encountered some kind of cat being. Spoke like a robot, but for a while it was Katie. It knew I could see the worlds that have happened, and I could remember every time I had kissed and killed Katie, but I could never remember what happened when I met the short end of the fight."
She stopped to look up at him. "I came to the Tower to become a queen, led by royal knights, but every time the crown is in my grasp... it slips through my fingers."
Akiko let it sink in. "Crazy, right?""How interesting."
The Jester's cards sifted and shuffled. He removed his hand and they continued moving on their own, guided by the hands of fate. Whether it was literal or figurative, who could say for sure. What mattered were Akiko's words. The Jester regarded them as he did all things and soon she was finished, as if lost in her own mind. As if she didn't know what she wanted anymore or for herself. All the same, she gave an answer, the same one she gave before to the masked man. "Interesting indeed."
The cards moved all the same. "You can see everything and yet you cannot remember it. You can see into people's memories and yet you cannot grasp their hearts or their desires. For your entire time in the Tower, you've only ever watched and waited. Action has been your consequence and you've paid for it, bled for it."
The Jester tilted his head like a cat mirroring its owner's motions. "These do not sound like the rousings of a queen. You sound more like an observer to me Akiko."
One of the cards flipped over to reveal the gazing sigil of an eye that stared back at Akiko. "Things have changed. I can remember what happens around every time, and leading up to it I can also vaguely see, but my sight only extends beyond what happens where I can see. It's the end that I can't recall, almost like it's rewritten every time."
She did listen to the words of the Jester. "I suppose you're not incorrect. Despite finally taking charge for the last little bit, I don't think the active role suits me more than the passive. Working from the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment."
She smiled. "So, what's the next wisdom you're going to impart? The second card in this menage-a-trois?""Someone like Kanbaru is more fitting to be active. You seem close to her,"
the Jester mused. "Someone like her is more fitted to take action and work as the helm, as the tool needed to achieve what can't be realized. What do you think of her."
The Jester's second card flipped endlessly. It revealed nothing more but blank sides as it did. "Would you like to know more about her. Would you like to know more with her. You two share a similar sort of ambition that guides your actions. Only, there is a difference. You can never truly become her friend. A barrier is erected between you, and one that isn't so easily shaken. Would you like to loosen those walls.""Kanbaru's... god, the things I could say. She's headstrong, fast, incredibly admirable, but I know the wedge between us is very real. I want to know more about how she feels, I want her to know how I feel, but... though I've been clouded with so many new thoughts about so many new things, it's hell. I'm not used to it."[Not at all.]
Castle piped up. [She would like to know how to mend this relationship.]"I assume it involves the odd feelings I have for Riku and Katie that float around in here."
She motioned towards her cat, probably getting at something about her soul."Would you like to loosen those walls,"
the Jester repeated. He stared down Akiko as if looking right through her. "Kanbaru follows a different path, one that will never align with you. And yet, even this can be remedied with the right commitment and decision. All that need be answered is simply siding with us."
The second card revealed its front, bearing a strange symbol that began to cause a low migraine to Akiko's head the more she stared at it. "You want to become closer to her? You can. You want to see the ending? You will. But all of this and more is only possible through one route. Aren't you tired of being alone?"
Akiko stared at the card, eventually having to close her eyes and hold her head for a moment. What the hell was that about? It was a tricky situation to wrap her head around, and something about this told her that she wasn't exactly going to get everything as clear cut as this guy was making it sound. Yet... it was an interesting thing.
Then he said the thing about her being alone, and she furrowed her brow. That was a sore wound. She'd spent her whole life being alone, not that anyone ever cared enough about her enough to ask if she wanted someone to talk with her. Yeah, Akiko was alone, and she was tired of it, but it was also all she ever knew. She wanted a change of pace, she wanted that companionship she couldn't do on her own, even with this weird Stand of hers."What am I agreeing to."
She asked bluntly. "I keep hearing this talk of Jesters and things that nobody would explain to me when I ask, so please, grant me some sort of knowledge on what I'd be agreeing to."
The Jester's gaze glinted at her frown as if satisfied. "You will become just like Kanbaru. Free of all limits and restraints, free to do as you please, free to observe all that you want. All manner of knowledge may be revealed to you if you desire, your proper place in events as a true queen. Above all else, you will rule alongside her."
The Jester's voice peaked through into Akiko's head to fully gain her attention. Whether it was by him or some trick of the mind, it was hard to say. "That is, so long as you ascertain to our goals; my goals. The Court and Unilysts have no bearing on you or concept. These are alien ideals to you. We are above these ideals and strive for something greater. It is for this goal why that being attacked you. The Demitroop."
The final card inverted itself and revealed to Akiko the same eye as before; only now it was adorned with a crown over it. "Our goals are simple. We only seek to recover the divinity once granted to mortals. We seek to bring about assimilation towards it, to blend the lines between mortal and divine. And we have seen it is possible. So have you through Nephuna."
The Jester paused. "In a way, we seek to observe.""The divinity once granted to mortals? An inherent divinity or an earned one?"
Akiko looked at him for a moment, staring at his cards and glancing up and down at him. It was a peculiar offer, and one that she'd never have imagined to be having in a nigh-infinite casino. It was a lot to take in, and an interesting offer indeed. One that she was very cautious towards, but... she felt some sort of purpose to it. She played an observing role rather well within the Tower, after all. It was quite a role to play, but someone had to play it.
Castle stared up at it's user, blinking in the light of the room before returning to the Jester. Castle seemed fine with it, but then again... the ghost was her soul anyway."... fine"
She answered curtly. "I don't want a weird observing ghost following me around though, I already have one of those. If you need me to tell you what I've seen, I'll tell you myself. Over coffee."
She smiled, crossing her legs over eachother. "I like mine with milk~."
The deed was done then. The Jester's crimson eye met Akiko's own sights and a familiar sensation washed over her. It was the same feeling of her own abilities, though whether the Jester read her memories or not was hard to say. It didn't feel like it, not when a growing pain started to grow and fester in the cat's head. It grew and sprouted, changed and tore apart until all that was in sight was the Jester's offered hand, extended like a saving grace in a maelstrom of conflict. And when Akiko finally took it, the pain was gone, faded completely."It is done,"
the Jester said. "No one forced this on you. No one dictated this path. You chose for yourself to become...let's call it a Jester,"
he mused. "You're closer than ever to Kanbaru now. You walk the same paths. And now you will know all there is to know."
Indeed she would, information slowly processing to the newly christened Jester. Secrets of the Tower's existence, past encounters with Riku, and quite the knowledge on Katie; though of this, it was to be assumed Akiko already knew. Indeed, even Nephuna's seemingly random manifestation had purpose and, now, clarity to the cat.
It was... surprisingly interesting to see the worlds unfold around her. The many paths, trials, tribulations, the reasons and the methods to everyone's madness, it unfolded right in front of Akiko, and for a moment, she was unable to move to react to anything. Her stand even demanifested for a moment to adapt to these new changes. It was... quite the change. It was insane to think about, but for Akiko, this felt like a new situation. Not only that, but a way to get closer to Kanbaru was quite a bonus indeed."Eh, I feel like Jester doesn't exactly fit exactly."
Akiko joked. "Maybe there's a better title for the role that I play in this grand plan of yours?"
Her eyes started to shift in color before they faded into a shining red, similar to the Jester's own. A reflection of her changes, maybe, but who was to say for sure."Perhaps that's something to discuss with Kanbaru. As soon as you find her."
The Jester motioned towards the cacophony of scenery around them, a reminder of just where they were. Locating the whale was difficult but no longer impossible now with Akiko's newfound ascension. No sooner did she break eye contact with the masked man was he gone and out of sight like a ghost. "We'll keep in touch,"
came his voice in her head, leaving her to her devices and with only one piece of advice to follow. "Try not to encourage Harley." "Who's Harle- aaand he's go-wait a second, I know things now."
Akiko looked around the table for a moment before she looked amidst the chaos of the hustle and bustle, but something was... different. As she gazed, she could see herself move on a path that she knew was the right direction. It was quite a change of pace, but maybe she could make things work much better as they stood.
Castle manifested beside her again. [That was quite an interaction. Do you think it was a beneficial one for you?]"I don't know to be sure, but I think this might be the start of something very good... or horrible."
She looked around once again before standing up and leaving the table, keeping an eye around her for her group as she slowly made her way. [Who is Harley, anyway?]"Something tells me she's intertwined with the Jesters as a whole. I'm unsure, but we're bound to meet her soon enough. It's always how it goes."