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If you believed a word of your own nonsense you would be standing up right now. Simply take your feet and replicate the throw if it's so easy. No? All done? Cretin.

Saber glowers across the battlefield, but there's nothing left for her to do. She sighs. It might have at least felt good to have a moment like that, but here she is holding yet more hollow ash. Her opponent had proven herself the antithesis of Actia, after all. There was no value or pleasure in the exchange. Still, though...

She lifts her arm, and watches her hand clench and release. Slow twice, then snap snap snap into a fist. It was a good throw. Decent strength there, injuries recovered, solid amount of power restored. She was bleeding the land dry to maintain herself, but the need for that would stop soon. The seed was blossoming well already; Angelesia would not fail to supply her with mana even if she tripped at the last hurdle of her own little plan.

Angelesia...

A clever girl, full of little tricks well suited to this crafty and vibrant world. In some ways the culmination of Lancer's philosophy, and in other ways its antithesis. She proved that enthusiasm and a willingness to pick up bits of history could carry a third place regional swordfighting champion far indeed. But if anyone would transcend her own limits if given a legendary weapon it would be her. It was almost tempting to toss her own weapon at the ground where she would step near it, just to see how much she could do with the boost.

But in a moment like this with the girl already panicking, it would turn to poison. She'd overthink its size and make all sorts of ridiculous assumptions about how she needed to hold it or if she could manage it in the first place, while also jumping to the conclusion that this was all she could do to win. In any event it wasn't a legendary weapon to begin with. As far as she'd reverted it was nothing more than a sharp stick that consistently failed to keep pace with her body.

So no, yet another gift would not help anything. Angelesia's shield was a practiced weapon. With it spent on one of her tricks, all she had was backup weapon designed to compliment it. That left her more or less just another soldier in a field full of the same. Far beneath this specimen of a Princess in a contest of blades, even bound as she is. At a range disadvantage despite her superior mobility, and depending on a weapon she cared too much about the history of to be able to abuse it like it needed to be. To look at her, she'd forgotten all other weapons even existed. Now that the real fight had begun, that was a death sentence for an amateur like her.

"Angelesia?" her voice rings out with the sharpness and authority of her station, "Do not neglect your gifts."

Well. That would do it or it wouldn't. Saber turns her back on the duel, loping back to her seat next to the beautiful witch as if she'd only gotten up to grab a cup of coffee.

"Once more I apologize. Now, where did we leave off?"
"If you are quite finished having an existential crisis, there is sand that requires sweeping. I am at a loss as to how I can explain the seriousness of this situation any more clearly. It was a promise; even in defeat I would insist upon it. Quite frankly your continued stalling has reached the point of rudeness."

Eclair has continued, rather absentmindedly, scritching at the Paladin's chin. It is a soothing action in a moment that requires a re-commitment to cool nerves. The revelation that Lady Vessenmer may well have responded to her kindness by initiating these acts of assassination has rattled her rather deeply.

Investigation requires cool eyes and calm minds. Uncovering the truth requires an unbiased heart. A Maid who cannot be these things cannot be trusted with a mission. Breath. Scritch, scritch. Prod forward... step away. Chariot is broken, deemed possibly too dull witted to warrant grading as a viable asset flip.

...Dull witted is being unkind. Instead say 'held back'. Specifically meaning shackled. In another circumstance the appellation could easily be reversed to apply to herself. All the same. Reprioritize cleaning as objective number one. If duty is what is impeding this exchange, then a display of duty will resolve it.

"Perhaps you require additional assurances. I will offer what I may. Whatever you were told about me that sent you here, you were lied to. My intentions lie plain before you and I have nothing to hide from anyone. Certainly I have no need to resort to underhanded tactics to achieve my aims. These truths I will swear on my name, Eclair Espoir. Now, may we finally put these brooms to their intended use?"
Hugs are not something Bella has ever been good at. As a child she didn't trust them and wasted most of her time squirming and feeling trapped. By the time she'd realized Redana meant an embrace solely as affection they'd already grown up enough that the closeness had become and entirely different type of dangerous and awkward. Mynx's embraces on the other hand often were traps, which made walking into her arms a horrible game of russian roulette. And of course, no one else had ever wanted to touch her.

All of it meant she had no developed sense of how to receive affection, or sympathy. Dyssia's embrace is a nightmare of limbs and coil, at once crushing and yet constantly shifting and threatening to pull away at every slight twitch. Sympathy at war with fear. Well if that didn't sum up every problem with the person she'd grown into, nothing ever would. She can't accept the kindness, but she can at least tuck her claws against her palm of the hand she uses to awkwardly pat Dyssia's arm.

There you... there. See? She gets it.

"I'm fine, ok? I'm fine. You don't need to worry about me. It's you who's got the rough end of this. You fell from the sky like a bolt of lightning and shocked me from the dream I was trapped inside of. What did I do as thanks? Stuff you in this crab-infested rust bucket and drag you into all of my bullshit, is what. Didn't ask you what you wanted. Didn't tell you what I was up to. I've wasted so much time getting mad at you over all these stupid little things but I won't even--"

Bella sighs. The lights in the room have turned an ugly warning red. No cries of warning have come pouring from the communication tubes yet, but it's obvious that something is coming. She ignores it.

"Dyssia. This ship has a mission, and as long as we're on it we're going to be Demeter's enemy. I didn't tell you that whole story so you'd think I was some tragic hero, I just needed you to believe me. Lord Hades wants a message delivered to someone on Gaia. I don't really know where that is or how long it'll take to get there, and this is just a guess on my part but I'm pretty sure giving this sword back to its owner is part of that. The point is, it'll suck. It's going to be dangerous and painful and you need to understand 'cause if you or anyone you care about is going to stick you shouldn't be doing it in ignorance. The best time to get off was yesterday, the second best time is now.

"And if you want out, I won't stop you. I'll even give you that gun if I can find it again, and you can trade it whatever to group that wants me dead to help out whichever planet you trust them to save. Nevermind what I said before, that'll be my punishment for not being honest with you. But if not, if you stay... staying means knowing. And knowing means you help me. And helping me means all kinds of terrible shit is going to happen. You are not going to be able to help every sad story we meet, because I have to keep moving and all of my enemies are so much stronger than me that I have no chance of making it. It's only sheer, stupid luck that's gotten me and mine this far and even then we've lost more than I can count."

She taps her claws against her desk one last time. Right next to the sword still gleaming in the dim red light. The first shrill calls of warning have begun to echo through the Plosious.

"We won't make it, Dyssia. We're all going to die. Whether we substantiate into a school of fish or whatever doesn't make it any less the end. So don't take this as me promising you anything. Nobody who's tried this has succeeded for two hundred and fifty years, and they've been making the attempt every year without fail. We're not more special than they are. If anything, we suck a whole lot more. It's a doomed voyage, Dyssia. Completely fucked. But. If we make it to the end before the journey gets us, there's a wish waiting there. Anything you want. Anything you could ask from the God of the Dead. You should... think about that."

Bella blinks in the flashing lights, and frowns at the warning cries filling her peaceful little room, as if her overtuned senses were only just now picking up on them.

"...What the fuck?" she says in a brilliant display of intelligence and leadership, "This can't be an engagement already. We were supposed to have another day at least before-- shit. Vesper! Oh gods, Vesper!"

Bella leaps to her feet. Her eyes open wide with sudden fear, and her hands fly up to cover her mouth in a surprisingly girlish display for such a foul mouthed death cat. Her tail whips behind hard enough to cut the air, audible even over the alarms.

"You don't understand, she's, fuck! She's an information addict, I was supposed to seal her room off ahead of -- no, no, no, no, no, she's so sick already! If she tries to process any of this she'll! Sister!!"

There's no more time for heart to hearts, or to wait for answers or any other cute little gesture that might have made this meeting worthwhile. Bella is already vaulting over her desk and is flying out the door as swift and agile as if she had suddenly grown wings. All else is forgotten. In this moment there is only enough space in her brain for family.
Arrows whistle as they sail across the sky. She stands still and allows them to stick her where they may. Superficial damage at the worst; one at the shoulder and another in her hip. She glances down before plucking them free with lazy contempt. A moment later they clash in the manner of legends, and she is forced to draw her sword. But that is the extent of the story, all that the whirling green can draw out of her. Tucking her arm tight against her side is enough to bend her blade to cover every spot that attacks can reach her from. The impacts are not bone rattling, not that they ever could be, but neither are they metaphorically so sharp as to accomplish the feat. It is more akin to play fighting, and when Lancer rolls away it is with a boost from a slow swat of that black sword.

Now she stares down a Roman legionnaire and for a moment the battlefield returns to stillness. For her, it hardly feels different from the flashy displays of a moment prior. Nothing held the impact of those rockets. Nothing pushes her the way that surprise could, the perfect tactic calculated from outside her capabilities. In the attempt to prove that the world of the past was available for plunder, Lancer had lowered herself to its standards, and there Saber was still a king. Or a warrior on the path to becoming one - the difference in the path of a fight made surprisingly little difference, one might realize if they happened to be observing this.

"Nobody could fight like Achilles," she scoffs, "What does that matter? Merely donning his armor in his stead was enough to turn the tide of a battle. And in the end it was the rest of that army that accomplished what he could not, or so I've heard it said. Was their reverence for him a hindrance?"

She waits. She knows the shape of this next throw. It will not be weak, it will not be halfhearted. It will be the shape of the same lance that pierced -- that crushed -- Bohemond. It comes, straight and true and swift and predictable. The cut that defeats it hardly looks like some great act of martial prowess, but the stance she is forced to take is (for once) a proper warrior's grip and follow through. Her sword carves a fresh scar into the earth even as it snaps that javelin in half. And there are those who would praise her for this! Had the two of them been lucky enough to meet in life this would have been a page in Saber's legend, the proof that she was raised by her Father not for her monstrous form but because he saw in her a warrior who could lead a nation in his wake.

She twists at the hip across the edge of her own cut and whirls forward at hunting speeds. Have all the clever tricks you like, world, in this aspect alone Saber remains unmatched. She is upon Lancer as though she were the one fired from a rocket launcher. She does not cut. She does not challenge the armor or the shield. Her arm bends and extends forward, her hand closes around the logician's throat. Her body straightens, and she lifts Lancer off the ground entirely.

"When I died, I told my people they would never know defeat so long as my remains lay undisturbed in the cold earth. I kept that promise, Lancer. As I keep every promise. We are not history. We are what the people compress history down to because we and our weapons are small enough to be carried into the future."

Her arm lowers enough to reach her hip. She steps forward, and throws Lancer like a skipping stone across the battlefield. All her anger and irritation make the force of it harder than was wise, but even in this she has at least held back enough that they could lie and call this friendly sparring, if they had a mind to.

"Did Rome collapse? Then let it lie, you fool. We went to our graves praying a world like this one would grow overtop our corpses. What kind of idiot would try to reclaim the old glory when they could build a new one now to surpass it? Is that not the point of your Master?"
"Absurd accusation. I told you, I have no interest in--"

No, stop. Wind it back, examine that thought. How would that topic of conversation even have come up? The only person who could have made the connection between her investigation and this Sister in the first place was... hm.

Pause, allow for eyebrow arch. Inquisitive, curious, dare to hope a touch cute? Possibly even alluring in all her charming thoughtfulness! A Maid is still a maiden, and a maiden's heart yearns to be desired. Or at the very least, acknowledge. Regardless this is not a thread that can be left to the mind alone. The situation calls for the use of tools.

Eclair's hand reaches for her bag. Her hand closes around something inside of it, and in an instant she rushes forward. This time she allows the perception of a continued fight to break her opponent's stance for her. That kitten-like eagerness is highly exploitable; there will be no patience in waiting to receiver her blow or follow up with a proper counter. The Paladin will instead step forward and attempt to catch her with a crushing downward blow. It's sensible - even if she misses the weight of that weapon could do not inconsiderable damage to the ground beneath them, enough to interrupt Eclair's footwork and make her easily catchable.

Unfortunately, by the time it lands she is already airborne. Her fingers find the (suspiciously familiar) Paladin's neck and 'click' goes the clasp on the lacy pet collar. She swings up and over and perches atop the woman's shoulders. She is already pulling out her notebook while her thighs squeeze tight around that hot and blushing face. She leans and sways to stay upright on her new mount, but in truth there's very little fight compared with surprise to contend with.

She thumbs through the recent pages, tracing her conclusions with the tip of a finger. Frowns when she reaches the hastily scribbled recent portion, already difficult to decipher. Review, then.

Vessenmer tactics initially flagged as hostile and avoidant despite simplicity of questioning. Degree of suspicion impossible to determine earlier, but assassin/idiot/chariot has conveyed intimate knowledge conveying link between current line of investigation and a target of previously unknown name and origin.
Possibility remains of rumormongering among dyemakers, but Lady Vessenmer requires heightened scrutiny.
Assassin/Idiot/Chariot hired by Sister Tammithyn Murr with intent to halt investigation.
Current subject of investigation is sourcing of dye sample used in Target's infuriating poetry slash warning.
Subject and response in absolute misalignment. Disproportionate in the extreme.
Implications? follows:
- Misunderstanding of Aurora tactics and purpose (innocence bordering on rampant sillyheadism)?
- Dye used in connection with untoward/illegal designs or otherwise part of corruption tangle (rot of the seedy unberbelly of city life/beware thorns of the most beautiful flowers)?
- CONNECTION TO TIMTAM TARGET?! WHAT LIES HAVE YOU BEEN SPREADING?????


Eclair wipes down her pen and pockets it before blowing on the ink per her idiom, but she leaves the notebook open this time. She reaches down between her legs with her spare hand to grip the Paladin underneath the chin, pulling her face up and squeezing tight at the same time.

Her eyes sparkle with the joy of discovery, and the promise of the hunt.

"Thank you, this is an invaluable aid to my investigation. From your commentary I am to infer that Lady Vessenmer was likely to be less than forthcoming with her information come morning. That is... disappointing. No matter. Come, begin walking. We have cleaning to finish, after which I will assuage the first and second of your fears. I will not and would never use my labor to coerce information out of a civilian, and she will remain free to dodge my questions as effortlessly as she has done since I introduced myself. Afterwards I will be accompanying you (or rather you, me) to speak with Sister Tammithyn. Her testimony is now directly relevant to my investigation."

Her fingers scratch under the Paladin's chin even as she prods her in the back with her broom.

"Were my instructions unclear? Move your legs! Inside, immediately! There is much work to be done, and time is very much of the essence!!"

[Figure Out a Person (+Wit, +String): 10. Holding the followup, but for now asking: 'What connections do you have to the mystery I'm chasing?]
"As you wish, Young Mistress."

Eclair offers a smile to the skies, with their little tuft of hair peeking through a windowsill and a sweet yet naughty child's eyes gazing eagerly upon a contest they were lucky enough not to have missed under the auspices of 'bedtime'. Well then, for the gift of belief she had only a show to offer. Best make it count.

Broom-as-Lance Style: low crouch, favoring right leg. Hands above bristles and at tip of handle, sweeping instrument held at angle covering body, tip pointed toward floor. Tense musculature, shift weight. Launch. Step forward, lead with hip, thrust. Target - center of adversary face.

It is hardly deadly to be hit in the face with a broom. It is not even particularly painful, even with a good stiff model like this one. The bristles spread open as a welcoming and particularly dry octopus might, and take her face without cutting, scratching, or otherwise marring anything. A trained opponent would not so much as flinch.

Fun Thellamie Fact: precious few warriors anywhere in the land can claim to be properly trained. They will say they are, but shove a broom in their face, block their vision in a tangle of woven straw, and see how they react. Mostly, like this woman. Yelp: piercing. Stance: broken. Whiff punish initiated. Rather appropriately, Yukisworld scholars refer to the following technique as a 'Dust'.

Eclair slides underneath the handle of her broom and leans so far back she has to take one hand off to plant it on the ground. Her foot snaps up, once again aiming for the breastplate where their respective armors would allow for the highest transfer of energy. This time she pushes hard enough to knock air (and the rest of that yelp) from her Paladin companion of the evening, driving her up off the ground and toward the sky, though not more than several steps' worth. She leaps up after, remastering her grip on her cleaning tool.

Tap. Handle touches neck. Dizzy opponent, delay recovering. Kick, twist, minor secondary gain of altitude. Juggle initiated. Come around from spin, tap tap tap. Strike under armpit, at armor joint in elbow, and final blow delivered directly to that rather comely butt. Lean in, shoulder check, reverse momentum toward street.

Hand on adversary face, hold tight but non-damaging. Release. Last moment, whirl with broom, hook underneath knees. Pull before connection with ground, shifting center of gravity. Drop on back, establish Mount. Shaft of broom pressed into neck, lean close overtop of it, allow breath to wash over now slightly blushing face. Smile.

"It is really no concern of mine whether you think well of me, or ill. I am not insulted. My investigation is paramount, my promises and oaths a secondary consideration. Our little tĂȘte a tĂȘte is neither."

Eclair leans closer, allowing her apron to slide across the Paladin's body until the metals underneath their respective coverings keen in that specific way that only kissing armor can. She uses the extra tension in her arms to spring up off the ground, somersaulting back over the feet of her opponent and landing daintily on hers.

"To that end I am warning you one final time. I will not be discussing my actions with Civil nor with any other brand of leadership, neither by the end of your heartblade nor your trembling maiden's fingertips. I am fulfilling an obligation to clean Vessenmer Dyes and prepare it for the workday following its reopening at the end of these festivities. Continue pursuing actions that significantly delay my goals and not only will I send you back to your patron empty handed, I shall also be returning you naked and with unignorably bruised thighs. And that is if you are lucky, even. Are you?"
"No, indeed? I fail to see why that should surprise you."

It is difficult, even for a Servant, to debate as equals with someone when you are scrambling across the ground in every way you can manage to dodge a rain of rocket fire. But that is what Saber puts her energy into anyway, because what else is she going to do? Counterattack is, if not impossible, wildly impractical without betraying all of her goals and motivations. What is she meant to do, ride the explosions into the sky where she hid her attack helicopter?

Should she, should she... reveal her trump card? Pull Lancer across the field to her with the grappling hook she keeps hidden in her elbow? Open her mouth and spit lasers? Ah, perhaps she should don her summertime beret and mow down the field with its attendant SMG? If only she were not an artificial Valkyrie carrying the title on behalf of a mortal such a thing might have been possible.

If only.

"When a sword is forged there is often very little to distinguish it from its peers. A remarkable blade is one that doesn't shatter when you split a man's skull with it. If it holds an edge past that the smith should have songs sung about them. But really, what is one sharpened piece of metal from another? Nothing, except what a man has done with it."

She cannot run fast enough to keep entirely from being burned. She cannot block with anywhere near the degree of skill required to parry every bit of shrapnel and debris. Thus, she bleeds. Because flexibility is not a replacement for pinpoint shapeshifting or teleportation or invincible flesh bathed in the blood of a dragon or even properly drawn runes to protect the body from arrows. Skill at arms did not measure up to an entire world filled until it was spilling over with clever tricks.

A tactician? A battle sage? A swordmaster? A sea monster that had twisted herself into the shape of a human for the sake of love and admiration? Ha! These things counted for nothing. Every piece of her had grown obsolete before she could ever be materialized. She was now ordinary, and the whole world and its brilliant peacock feathers of destruction had been arrayed against her ahead of time.

"But the sword that survives in the hand of a warrior through ten battles becomes special. The sword that slays a monster becomes famous for it. To rush into battle alongside the weapon that slew a dragon gives every man that knows the tale the strength to move mountains. If your lance was as effective as you say it is only natural that legends would spring up around it. You can only take issue with the shape of that story, if a better told legend might have made men stronger. You can only question if clinging to specific divinity invites weakness or strength in the heart that cradles it. But that they should refuse to classify it as merely a serviceable weapon is a credit to their lot, whatever you may say."

Direct fire? Very well. Saber tears the wine flask off her own spear and guzzles thirstily from its neck. Head tilted up in appreciation for the drink, every bit as distracted by libation as Lancer is by reading, she hurls her spear. Saber's legend is not that of a demigod or a world famous hero. Her deeds were replicated elsewhere in the world, and often even surpassed by the true shining lights of humanity. She was merely a monster that became a weapon for the love of a great king. And a weapon who transformed herself into a king for a love of her people when they had no more need for a weapon. Nevertheless, she was a warrior. A renowned one, worthy of every treasure buried with her and every lie told about her by the people she'd supported even beyond her death. And that was enough to make an ancient javelin more than a match for an unrespected munition.

When the explosion clears, Saber wipes her lips on the back of her wrist. She gestures for another weapon, bleeding only where the rain had kissed her previously.

"Yours, however, I believe has earned its reputation for plainness. You have a keen eye, Lancer."
"You're making fun of me, aren't you?"

Bella can't keep her eyebrow from arching from overtop her golden, mortal eye. The gesture pulls at the cuts she'd just given herself, making a thin trickle of fresh blood ooze down the side of her nose. She licks her thumb and wipes it clean, in this moment more cat than girl.

She shrugs. Right. Well. Anyway.

"...Yeah, ok. Everything it is. On the far side of the galaxy, there's an artificially constructed planet called Tellus. On that planet you will find the entirety of Humanity, the former administrator species. A woman named Nero took the throne of the Empire, gathered the lot of them there, and forbid travel of any kind from the planet to keep what was left of her precious people safe. It is a place of unholy stench and misery. It's a technological wonder, space and resource efficient in ways you probably can't even imagine. I mean not that I'm calling you stupid. But up here you people have everything. Nero doesn't. She can only keep her people safe on this one planet, and it needs to hold a hundred worlds' worth of people inside of it, not to mention provide for them with a minimal amount of outside shipment. Every last meter of it is packed to bursting with people and their even more miserable servitors. It's wrong to call them survivors. They are all dead, every last fucking one of them. They're just... clinging to the memory of their own existence for as long as they can. And when that pale imitation of a spark finally gutters out they slip away into a lower realm where Lord Hades can care for them more fully.

"That is the place I was born. Well, 'produced' might be a better word. The Imperial Kennels don't raise children so much as... nnngh. Fuckers. The biggest regret I have left anymore in not being able to go back is that I'll never be able to burn that place down. They made me, unmade me, and remade me until I was perfect. I'm purpose built to resemble a Human as much as possible while still making it clear that I'm not. The ultimate pet; uplifted and under thumb at the same time. They even designed me with top of the line athletics, just in case. Whoever won me at auction was supposed to want for nothing. But then, nobody wanted me. A nameless luxury good on a planet drenched in its own apathy. Servitor Candidate XIII. That was as close as I got to acknowledgment."

The room is so dark and tiny it can't hold anything but her memories. Bella's breathing is nothing but a shallow hiss, and her eyes have contracted to barely visible, furious slits that tremble in pools of red and gold. Claws jab into the flesh of her palms, and she has to force them open and slide them flat across the surface of the desk until she bumps into the sword before she realizes she is not alone. That she is telling this story to someone.

Bella clears her throat.

"But then my Mother found me. She selected me to become the Imperial Princess' pet, de facto best friend, and handmaiden. It... look. I don't want to talk about this part. Don't. Don't look at me like that. Don't ask questions. Not yet. The only thing you need to know about Princess Redana is that she left. She saw the prison for what it was and she ran away because she wanted to find something that could fix it. And I, paranoid, selfish little dipshit drunk on the paradise of being a palace slave, didn't follow. The Empress was furious with me. I didn't understand it at the time but I think I... yeah. No, Hades said as much himself. Nero sent Redana. I was supposed to go with her. So I got sent to chase her, instead."

"Every planet in the Underworld outside of Tellus is dead and haunted. There's nothing but hollowed out Servitor cults trying to fill whatever function they were given for masters who had long since abandoned them amidst vast, empty fields of nothing. Even the Azura planets toward the periphery were just blasted apart ghost towns dotted through with silent artisans among crumbling hallways. Dead, dark, and quiet. Down there, we thought we were breathing. We thought we got hungry, thought we felt our hearts beating. We didn't. Redana flew through it all, and I chased after. And we fought, and I lost. And I lost. And I lost. I lost so many times, fucked up so many chances, that my Mother had to turn up again and..."

Muscles tighten. Bella's teeth clack together and through the pressed line of her lips she makes a noise that's half a moan and half a prayer. 'Everything'. That's the word that's leaking out of her. 'Everything'.

"And I learned that I had sisters. That I was part of a family. That I belonged to Artemis. See, we dead, we're... not supposed to enter the land of the living. Demeter does not want us in her garden, not that I blame her for that. But she paid my mother very handsomely to murder everyone who tried to make it across the Rift. The River Lethe, you see. And we ignorant little child assassins were her pawns to make that happen. She sealed me inside of armor she'd grown in secret from my claws and set me loose to murder everybody I've ever known, or even just laid eyes on. Do you know how a Diodekoi works? You write names on our flesh, prayers for death, and when we snuff that name out it... goes cool against our skin. I, I hate that I can remember how good it felt. I hate it. I hate it so much. But my sisters... in their own blood they wrote our Mother's name. Together, all four of us and Princess Redana, we betrayed the Master of Assassins."

"We-- it doesn't make a lot of sense if you think about it. All together we didn't measure up to even half of Mother. She is--was? The most senior, most powerful, most skilled assassin the Temple of Artemis has ever known. She had mastery of every style and discipline, and unlike all of us, she was alive! The only person in the underworld with Demeter's blessing, and nothing we did ever managed to hurt her, but then out of nowhere she just... stopped. Being. I don't know what happened. I just know we payed the price for it. Mynx the worst of all. She was the one I was the closest to. The one I... hurt the most. My best friend, my first sister. We nearly killed each other in the aftermath. But in the end, I... prayed. To nobody. Literally, to nobody. And this sword was the result. I stabbed Mynx through the heart with it and she, she came back to me."

Bella's eyes are watery now, and she traces the length of the blade with a fingertip as one might caress a lover's arm. She squeezes her eyes shut.

"I... lost her again in the crossing. Probably for good this time. But, I-- it doesn't matter. She's alive, she hasn't succumbed to Rampancy, that's already more than I deserve. Anyway it showed up again on Beri, and helped me cleanse an old bloodlust from Beljani's... that is, from Gemini's lover-best-friend-weird-hivemind-sister Taurus. And now it seems like it might have killed that gun that attacked with Regret. Which makes a kind of sense, because that's what this blade is really for, Dyssia. For cleansing hearts that are in pain. But it belongs to somebody else. They sent it to me when I prayed, but I know they need it back. I can feel it, in my heart. So that's what I'm doing. It's why I'm here, it's what I crossed the fucking Lethe for. It's something that's worth a thousand planets. There's no price that could make me turn away."
Good theory, good form. A power stroke from an angle that takes advantage of the natural spawning position of her heartblade and is simultaneously designed to incite a blocking instinct in the opponent. Weight on opposite end creates a natural fulcrum around which the power of that large body could constantly be leveraged. Attack defeats lesser foe instantly, greater foe reduces possibility space via absorption or avoidance, defeated by follow up strike from more natural stance. Higher power, weakened opponent, broken will. In short, immaculate training resulted in purest crystallization of the Paladin as a woman, as a warrior, and as a creature of this beautiful world.

How! Ev! Er! Fundamental misunderstanding of the opponent in front of her. Few fools would dare, if they knew.

Eclair is perching on the tip of the glaive. The skateboard she uses as a shield has already left her back and is arcing through the air over her head. When the inevitable, wild swing attempts to shake her loose she merely turns the weapon into a launchpad. Such a beautiful haft, as strong and as straight as the Paladins' code. A more perfect rail could not be asked for.

The board comes down and Eclair's feet plant firmly atop of it. As one they come down on the shaft of the Kel's heartblade, and now it is the Maid-Knight who controls the weapon's center of gravity. Angled as it is when she rides one set of wheels the whole way down its length it is as though she has controlled the Kel's own heart into betraying her. She builds speed in shockingly little time. She leaps as she reaches the bottom, forcing the weapon out of a blocking position and flipping her board up into the air behind her.

It is entirely necessary to perform the mid-air split. In the first place she must achieve maximum extension in order for her kick to have the desired effect, and in the second place she must reach in the opposite direction to put on foot back on her board as she grabs the edge of it with her left hand. Place the offensive foot on center of breastplate. Push. Full transfer of energy of motion through largest amount of opponent's body, now off balance from kickflip/grind combo, mountain girl takes flight.

Eclair curves her spine in the seeming of the crescent moon to plant both of her feet on the back of the skateboard while she is still pulling it back into alignment with the ground. The stomp onto the clean, sand free surface transitions perfectly into a smooth kick along the ground to realign her momentum toward the skidding form of the woman who had dared come between her and the act of cleaning. The gentle sound of wheels rolling across the ground is a brief balm to her mind, even now attempting to hold onto Dollwaltz, but before long she has overtaken her target and taken her by the heartblade.

It is, of course, folly to try and disarm somebody of their heart's weapon by simple brute force. Fighting their willpower and their muscles with only the power of your body was a type of arrogance that belonged more in a Fallen Star than in anyone who counted themselves as an ally of justice (or even just a casual fan of justice). The tendency of a heartblade was to remain with its master until or unless said master yearned for surrender. But all the ways a heartblade was the true strength of a warrior made it their weakness, as well. Maintaining grip at the center of the shaft on an opponent determined to fight was essentially the same as holding a kitten by the scruff when you both go spinning around a support column to build up sufficient velocity to go careening through the front door and into the cool, dark streets outside. What could the Kel even do but hold on? To be disarmed of your own heart was to surrender inside of it.

Strike with broom, still held, at fasten of armor near waist. Goal: unbalance, disorient, remind of soft flesh underneath that glittering shell. Release. Admire sparks on street for ONE two three... darn it. Roll to stop. Stomp on board, return to back.

Eclair plants her broom in front of her like a sword. In almost the same motion she has retrieved her notebook and is hastily scribbling information into it. No time to care about her handwriting now, that's a problem for future Eclair to unravel.

Attacked. Kel Paladin, unusual build. Tall, heartweapon typical single edge glaive with full moon counterweight.
Highly typical aggression. Interrupted cleaning of Vessenmer dyes, ignored attempts at parlay.
Stupid? Assassin?


She blows on the ink, peering with one eye over the edge of her book.

"What I do not understand," she drawls, "Is this utter lack of respect for the art of the heart duel."

"You draw your heart on me, without my permission! And I am expected to, what? Bare my heart in kind? Sweet Lady Knight, we have not even exchanged names yet! Does the rest of your order know how... promiscuous you are? And yet doubtless in this exchange I will be perceived as the rude one."

She snaps the notebook closed and pockets it again so she can grip her broom with both hands. Her eyes glitter in the reflected light of fireworks bursting in the sky above them.

"That is a delusion you are laboring under, Miss. You must not think of yourself as an aggrieved knight. You are in fact a stubborn stain on the floor of Vessenmer Dyes. We do not duel, Miss. I am cleaning."

And she leaves that hanging in the air, with her nose turned slightly up in that haughty Aurora way. For all with ears to hear it, and all with eyes to see it.

(Fight with Daring: 12. Eclair inflicts a Condition, takes a String through the power of raw humiliation, and seizes a superior position)
ONE two three and STEP two three and SWEEP two three and TWO two three and STEP two three and SWEEP two three and~

Dollwaltz is on her lips the entire time. Every little motion of Eclair's body is dance and song, though respectfully quiet versions of each. Lady Vessenmer is doing work in the other room, after all. But still, ah! The night is full of love: beautiful partners making a connection, threads of mystery pulling to a satisfying knot, promises made and promises kept! And of course the very best expression of love Eclair can imagine (outside the boundaries of the Manor), cleaning! Organization! The slow but stately transition from dirt and clutter to a sparkling finish. The sudden gasp of realization when it becomes clear how large a physical space is once the tools are put in their proper places and the sand is swept into its piles and dumped back into appropriate containers as per instruction.

There is so much beauty in all of it. It is only natural to dance, isn't it? But even with the flourishes and seemingly unnecessary twirls back to a spot she'd already passed over, Eclair is very worthy of her name and of her title. She does the work of several staff with enough speed and precision that she very well might finish these tasks before the festival reaches its conclusion. That would only leave the improvement of several shelving arrangements and a polite check in with Lady Vessenmer, preferably after making a pot of tea as an icebreaker, and then --

Pause. Fall silent. SWEEP two... hold. Flourish with broom, rest on shoulder. Seven steps perpendicular from location of Interloper. Turn head, mark frame and form. Roll neck, tap feet, tap broom. Surreptitious muscle loosening, extend possible range of motion in response to possible combat scenario. Do not engage.

Hmph. A Kel. Unusually tall, otherwise quite a typical member of their stock. Haughty, dismissive, pretentious. Rumor had it that after whatever bartering magic they pulled with the Lunarians to sponsor the development of the spirit tablet they had tried to covet the technology for themselves only. As if the magic that had brought so much equilibrium to the world in its coming had been a thing that could be dominated solely because of... what, exactly? That Yuki had happened to fall among their midst? That the sweet girl with time to help an overwhelmed squire work through a mission without her notebook just wound up in the colors of the Paladin?

Absurd. It was a sure bet that if she'd landed in the Manor instead there is no way that the Order of the Aurora would have-- ah. Well. There would have been an argument about it. And a lot of kissing. And another argument. And more kissing. Possibly the entire hierarchy would have upended in a night of passion. It is hard to say. But what is clear is that Eclair was standing on higher ground in this particular hypothetical.

She snorts.

"There is work to be done," she says with professional coolness (not ice not ice. Ascertain), "If you wish to debate philosophy then kindly join me in organizing the sands. With two hands we might be able to sort the grains by hue, if not gradient. Otherwise..."

Four steps, stop. Plant feet. Flourish with broom, spear stance. Dip, catch, pivot on ball of left foot, lean in with hip. Launch.

The second broom launches itself like a missile off the end of the one in Eclair's hands. Straight and unerring, but nevertheless intended to be caught.

"I will escort you from these premises myself."
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