The path from Rivenwood to Eleonor's mansion was a short one, but that didn't mean the shattered world stopping turning. People went about their lives, rebels continued to undermine the authority, and the Imperium continued to have its eyes everywhere. Despite the bustle of Rivenwood's daily occurence, the world seemed to almost not matter in a blur in comparison to greater values. Such was the case for Akiko, who now held the power of the Red Relic in her hands. And with it came those who sought interest in such things; it was roughly around Rivenwood's entrance where people were less heavily clustered that a voice called out to her from the side."You're not from around here,"
it said, broached with finality as if already knowing the answer. The voice's owner
stood to the side as he observed the girl. "You must be a traveler among this land. In your short time here, I've already heard interesting details about you, Akiko."
Akiko's glance observed the cloaked man, scanning him up and down as he addressed her and what she had done since she entered the shattered world. She turned to face him directly, stopping in her tracks as she watched him closely. "I'm touched. Word in this town does spread quickly of a stranger getting to eat with the local political figures."
She stepped closer to the man, hands at her side, and with a hood drawn over her head and ears. "Interesting thing is, only Lorelai and Asgard know of my name, save their soldiers. So how did you get a hold of such information, I wonder...""How unfortunate Asgard doesn't refer to her superiors. But in the presence of strangers, who may blame her for revealing information without foresight."
The masked man didn't move even as Akiko drew closer to him. "Information passes by me easily and quickly without fail. As the Imperator's advisor and most efficient operative, all things are seen by me, and thus, all are known by the glory of the Imperator. Your arrival is no different."
Akiko raised an eyebrow at the man before she spoke again. "Must be fun, being the advisor. You must get to meet so many different people around this world. Boy, I'd like to have such a luxury. Alas, I'm afraid I've got business to attend to with Asgard and Lorelai, since they assigned me to a task that was critical. Being an advisor to the Imperator, I'm sure you already know."
Akiko explained herself, winking at the Advisor and trying to check what was beyond that mask of his.
The man didn't answer her response, as if waiting for something to come and pass. There was a brief shot of pain that spliced into Akiko's eyes, despite no physical intrusion occurring. It burned sharply, like a knife slowly dropped into her sockets from the inside out. It lasted as long as her Gaze gave, only to disperse once five full seconds had passed, as if the miasma of pain parted away, allowing her to see what lay beyond the mask. As always, nothing made sense, more so than her usual sight granted by the ability.
For every second she watched, the pain returned, growing harder and hotter as if daring her to continue her journey into the unknown. Even then, there was only a green smudge around Akiko's vision, blurred and unable to be made out until one image slowly bled out into the center of her vision. Blobs and colors mished together, only to form the visage of a girl
smirking right back at her."I can see you."
The pain doubled in velocity to the point where any sane mortal may have torn their eyes asunder.
Akiko's eyes fluttered as she tried to keep them open, gazing further and further as she felt the immense pain in the back of her head. What... what was going on? How powerful was this guy, and who was that woman? She felt like her eyes were being eaten while they were still in her head, a fork jamming into her eyes harder and harder, going back for another bite over and over, but she clenched her teeth and stepped closer to the man. As she stepped, she kept her eyes open to continue her Gaze, trying to pry what was down beneath to the surface."Are you trying to see past my sights, Akiko? It's rude to be this close to people, so I've heard."
Akiko was met by nothing but the same pain, this time increased enough to physically force her back. All the same, the masked man stood resolute and unaffected while the images Akiko strained to see dissolved back into blurry messes. But if she really wanted to try harder, to dare to see past the cloud, perhaps there was something more for her to discover just beyond the unseeable...."Gnh..."
she felt the pain grow, felt her instincts back down, and grunted audibly as if she couldn't manage to hold back a scream, but still, she persisted. Despite the obscene pain, her curiosity needed to delve deeper. She had to know what was going on, but whether she could keep it up for long, she wasn't sure. She knew she could probably push a little further to see the next layer, but if her eyes gave out after that she knew there wasn't going to be another effort.
Akiko would be rewarded with the image of herself. And much like the current her, the one she saw with her sight recoiled in pain, hand clenched to her head as pain wracked her mind from an unmovable force. "Grrgh! Son of a bitch!"
she'd hear herself say before the same pain came right back around and forced her Gaze to end once and for all. "How unfortunate of an ability,"
the masked man mused. "To what use does it serve when you go around freely tossing it out at every person you encounter."
Akiko held her head as she regained her balance, staring up at the man and wiping the tears from her eyes. "... w-what are you?"
She asked, her voice clearly a bit stained from being near a full fit of crying. No words could describe that pain she had just gone through."I'm Nobody. Somebody born from Anybody that may become Everybody. But you may call me the Jester."
Despite Akiko's shriveled form before him, he reached forward, a gloved thumb pressed to her cheek. In one clean move he swiped away the tear running down her cheek. All the same, his own eyes peered into her behind his mask. "I would like to ask you a question, Akiko. If you would allow me your time."
She stood from her knees, staring at this 'Jester' with confusion in her eyes. A man, speaking in philosophies and riddles, clearly not with any desire to hurt Akiko. For some reason, though, he was interested in something that she could explain. She lowered her other hand, keeping her eye closed as she responded. "W-what's the question...?""Why did you try to see within my past."
It was a simple enough question with, in theory, a simple enough answer. But whether Akiko would be honest in such dealings remained to be seen, at least to the common eye. True to his word, the Jester waited patiently for his answer. If that meant Akiko needed time to breath easy and compose herself again, so be it, though her hood had since fallen aside by her stumble, revealing the cat ears beneath. The Jester cared naught for them, waiting for his answer.
Akiko took a breath before she considered her answers. She didn't have a clean cut answer prepared, but she could try and piece something together, hopefully such that she didn't get in hot water with the Jester here. "Learning as much as you can about someone is a way to make conversations less confusing. I-I wanted to see what I could learn."
She thought for a moment before squinting at the Jester. "And you... you don't seem to be wholly the Jester, if that woman from the Gaze is any evidence of that theory...""As I told you. I'm Nobody. And yet, I am Everybody, but still, Somebody. And Somebody can be Anybody."
The Jester leaned down until he was bending towards Akiko's level. Their gazes were even until they weren't anymore, Akiko staring past the Jester as the masked man had suddenly grabbed her into a hug, arms wrapped around her frame. "And now I'm Somebody~"
The voice that spoke past Akiko's ear was distinctly more feminine and the weight pressed into Akiko was lesser than before. If she looked down, she'd see the body of a girl clinging to her, wearing the same dress as the one in her vision."Bodies change, but the right ones can convince the right people to the right answer."
Akiko was taken aback, but didn't leave the hug, though it was unclear if she didn't leave out of fear or enjoyment. "My answers were honest."
Akiko felt around her outfit for the Red Relic, finding it and sighing gently with relief. "What do you mean by the right answer, O Jester?"
she asked, just a hint of sarcasm reeking from the last little bit of her sentence."Did you think me as a petty thief? Oh, but you do have rotting luck concerning people with masks,"
the Jester mused. She slowly unlatched herself away from Akiko, a smile etched to her face. "Interesting. You didn't flee or run away even as my shape changed and our distance was closed. Be it out of choice or chance. And yet, the right answer lays all around us Akiko. It lays in me, and it lays in you too. There's a desire within you, isn't there. You may not see it, but I do clearly, even without your ability."
Akiko raised an eyebrow at the Jester. "It's not that I think of you as a thief. I just can't be too careful regarding the safety of this Relic."
She sized up the Jester in her head before she realized what the Jester had actually said. "What do you mean by a 'desire' inside me...?""Oh? Haven't you wondered why was it you were brought into this place and land? Why the Tower chose you."
The Jester leaned into Akiko again, if only to keep her words hidden only by their proximity. "This Tower chooses not out of random, but of reason. For someone with such foresight in ability, you're blind to your own potential. Aren't you the least bit curious about yourself~?""Of course I am, but please excuse me for being a bit skeptical on how far I'll go in this place."
Akiko responded as she placed a hand on her ears and hair, straightening everything out again before she looked back at the Jester. "And also forgive me for being skeptical of what a stranger that is aware of my abilites says." "A jester serves at the side of the Queen. Am I not worthy to deem such values upon you, the most capable of doing so?"
The Jester dipped closer until their noses were almost touching. She maintained the position for a few seconds before backing off. "From the very start of our conversation, you held confidence in my presence. Even under strain of pain, you continued to push yourself and held your head high in face of my wonderful powers. There is no doubt to me, Akiko Miazaki; you were born to lead~"
Akiko held a neutral expression to the Jester as she listened, remembering the pain and instinctively placing a hand against her eye. "I'm touched."
she statically commented, clearly being sarcastic yet again. "From the sounds of things you're making me out to be a queen. A queen of what, however, remains to be understood."
The catgirl folded her arms together as she kept listening to the Jester."Indeed, the queen of what. Who's to say for certain, neither you nor me. But that means your path is open to any number of variables."
The Jester stood up from her spot, offering a hand up to Akiko. "If you'll allow me, I'd like to personally look into your journey myself. You are someone who provides great interest to me and I look forward to what more you can seek to conquer in your time in this Tower. Perhaps this humble jester will find new authority to follow provided the right examples can be made."
Akiko looked at the hand, considering the thought of taking it, but simply stood up on her own. Dusting her dress off, she looked to the Jester. "If you care to follow in my adventure, then I highly doubt that I have the power to stop you, nor would I want to with my own hands. Do with that knowledge what you will, Jester."
She flicked her ears back and forth before she looked back at Rivenwood. "Surprised you're not going after someone like Rose or Kanbaru. No doubt they've gotten up to more interesting shenanigans than I have."
Despite Akiko brushing off the assistance, the Jester's smile didn't falter. "Who knows. Their adventures may tie back into your own. As I understand, you three are still part of a Guild and are connected by more than just fragile bonds. Now then, let us go forward to Lady Eleonor. I too have much business to discuss with her."
The Jester held her hands behind her, walking alongside Akiko with an almost-bounce to her step."Yes. Let's."
Akiko drew her hood back over her head as she led the way to Eleonor's manor, unsure of how to feel about her new traveling companion. For the time being, she would hopefully bode to be a useful asset, but only time could tell whether Akiko would truly be this queen she spoke of, or merely another peasant. Regardless, the future made her feel somewhat uneasy.