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You are an eagle eyed, ultra-cool observer of the truth! And if you know anything right now, it's that your keen observations and even keener insights are going to be the key to getting through this whole kerfluffle of a maze. (that's a word people use, right? kerfluffle?) So don't waste any time and bust out your ultra awesome, official "I <3 The Labazaar" notebook and let the field research begin!

Observation Number One: Alina is absolutely a critical part of your fighting force right now. In fact, you'd estimate she represents somewhere between one half and fully two thirds of your combat power right now. You are, of course, the remainder, so it's really down to how confident you're feeling in a given moment. Kyouko is... wonderful, but the way she's clinging to you while trembling and squealing is a) extremely not conducive toward efficient note taking and b) displaying highly questionable battle efficiency at best. Not that you blame her: this is really scary! But it's also fascinating.

Anyway, Alina! The way she's jumping around right now, dodging the chain plants and scarf vines and Princess-Traps which are very determinedly sprouting up and snapping at her is the kind of acrobatic display you kind of have to just take a second to admire. The interesting thing about it is the way she's still moving and acting almost just the way you remember her when you dig through your pre-Curse memories. In fact, of everybody you've had the chance to observe, doesn't she seem like she's been the least affected? Maybe it's because her curse doesn't have a strong mental component to it. Or maybe Eupheria tried to fit too specific a label on her and she's spilling a lot of her essential Alina-ness out of the container, so to speak. It could even be because Eupheria and Alina are related and she's taking it easy on her great-granddaughter, subconsciously or otherwise! Or, um... well it could just be random chance maybe, but... ooh! What if it's because of Rita? Fascinating, but there's just not enough data to draw from. Perhaps if you had access to some sort of Princess Cursification Device you could run more tests and...

Observation Number Two: This is a terrible night to have a curse.

Actually, this is the very first time you've been able to watch a curse advance! The most interesting part is that even though they seem broken up into very distinct tiers of progression, the move from one tier to the next is, for all intensive porpoises, instantaneous. One second Alina is nimbly dodging whip vines and providing a very good distraction while you take notes completely untouched, the next she's distracted by the sudden appearance of a Common Pocket Snakerchief (serpentes buccalis), her concentration slips, and then all at once you see the flash of sharp feline teeth in her mouth, which is elongated and also Extremely Cat, right down to the itty bitty nose, the whiskers, and the super pettable lavender fur, and then she's just left to deal with the sudden shift in her sensory expectations. It trips her up about as much as you'd imagine.

Observation Number Three: Alina has been captured. Kidnapped. Catnapped? She's bound and trussed and dragged off squeaking into the forest almost before you can blink. You're going to need to go after her (see Observation Number One). But just as importantly, you're going to need to get that Light. Side note, why is it that Light is a capitalized word? Technically they should be referred to as Illuminan Light Crystals. And technically this isn't even one of those so much as an adapted bit of dragonfire contained in an official Illuminan Light Crystal Casing. But even so, it exhibits all the expected properties of a fully functioning Red. Get that, and get it to Alina, and she'll be strong enough to break out of whatever bindings she's being held in as easily as she could swish her kitty tail. Rescue her without it, and there's a chance she'll be immediately recaptured because...

Observation Number Four: her Increasingly Eupheria Mother (IEM for short) has eyes for exactly two things right now. The first is those apples on the hill. Those are very definitely important. But the second is Alina. She's completely ignored you and Kyouko just to be able to drag her daughter away from all the chaos. You're not exactly an expert on the motivations of parents, to say nothing of IEMs specifically, but one thing you can say with certainty is that she wants Alina. If you don't do anything to unbalance the cycle, it could continue like this forever. Or at least until it's too late.

Or! Alternative method that doesn't involve going into the scary garden and then the scary forest! You could abandon her and make a play for the apples yourself! This has Final Boss Chamber written all over it, you could totally save Alina by just destroying the Labyrinth around her instead. But you couldn't possibly leave her to her wriggling, blushing fate, all alone! ...Could you?

Snap the book shut! This will all be on the test, Kazzy. You've got one (1) beautiful princess on your arm, and your friend desperately needs you to be her hero. Now. Like, right now. What's the plan, little snowflake?
Mittens is spared from having to figure out why this room looks so familiar by the loud clack of a trapdoor and the indignant squeaks of two princesses getting tossed out of it. For a second, she can't place either one of them. Who does she know who's this awkward on her feet, or who dresses like a tourist without an ounce of self control? She wrinkles her nose all the way to full kitty-face scrunch, and then...


Mittens crosses the distance between them in three short leaps, landing gracefully on her feet in front of the pilloried pair. Water drips down into her ear and she twitches it in irritation before she reaches up and carelessly tosses a hand through her soaking wet hair, rippling it behind her in a big, wet tangle. She's dripping from head to toe, shirt still much more sheer than she'd picked it out to be. But even so, she's... well, you know her name, Kazelia. She's as gorgeous as you can remember seeing her. She flashes a tiny smile that manages to hide maybe half the thoughts and worries from her face and with a small flourish of her wrist produces a set of glowing purple lock picks.

"Are you all right? What happened? You look, um... erm..." she arches an eyebrow.

"Rrmph!" Kyouko rrmphs angrily.

"Yeah, that. Hold on a second, I'll get you out of there."

A flick, a twist, and a click! That's all it takes, and like magic Mittens, escape artist extraordinaire has freed Kazelia from her bonds. She gently reaches down to pull the tacky scarf (ooof, this material is so cheap and coarse! the poor dear...) out of her mouth. She shakes her head again and winces while giving Kyouko a very sharp look over.

Mittens waves her wrist and morphs her lock picks into a small, warm towel that she makes a biiiig, long show of drying out her ears with, smile growing wider and wider, toothier and toothier until she looks like... honestly? This is probably the best window anybody's ever going to have into what her and Rita's kids will look like if they're ever lucky enough to have them. All fang and mischievously swishing tail and absolute mirth.

"Oh, sorry," she chirps, "I'm being rude. Here~"

She dangles the towel in front of her friend/rival/friendly rival/Jessamine-stealing-fiend turned foxy cheerleader's face. Then, right as the squeaks start turning into angry, muffled yips, Mittens snaps her fingers and zips her lights into the padlocks holding Kyouko prisoner and frees her in an instant.

She thought about it, you know. She really did. She's not proud of it. But in the end, however much four hands for three apples might complicate things, she knows she can't ever talk about love being boundless again if she puts hers ahead of Kazelia's even for a second. She'll just... have to hope things work themselves out on the way. She reaches out an arm each for the both of you to pull yourselves up on.

And then she turns, and watches her Momma on the hill. Her tail flicks behind her.

"If either of you has any idea how we can get up there, I'm all ears."
Mittens pulls herself back up onto the land bridge on a beam of deep blue light, landing lightly on her feet with the softest of squelches from her sopping wet boots. She takes a hesitant step forward, and is surprised at how easy it is to move forward now that the wind is settled to a gentle breeze. She pauses and shivers, violently shaking droplets of water out of her hair, off of her ears, away from her tail. There's a chill still creeping into her bones, and the tickling winds playing with her clothes and her skin aren't doing her any favors at all. She should really get moving, now that the way is open.

Even still, she takes the time to look up and watch the Shadow-Roc vanish into the skies above. She sees the huge black glass feathers grow more and more indistinct as the last remnant of her nightmare rises up, up, up... and disappears into the clouds. Mittens is all alone. And still, she watches, shivers in the breeze, and gives herself a moment to catch her breath.

Then a large raindrop splatters on her face, and she scrunches and squints and squeaks in surprise. Then there's another, and another, and another, until the sparse pattering becomes a drizzle, and then the drizzle becomes a new downpour. Thunder rumbles deeply overhead.

There are good storms. This is what they look like.

The winds are gentle, and the water feels soft on her clothes and even softer on her skin. And, mmmmm, stars and lights, it's warm. It soaks her all over again, warming her from the tips of her silly triangles to the bottoms of her dainty feet. There's a rumbling in her ears that's got nothing to do with thunder. If Eupheria demands she be a cat then fine, but she'll be an Illuminan one who purrs when she's stuck in a perfect summer storm. Ideal for dancing, and...

She glances down. Her white silk shirt is soaked through, clinging to her like second skin and putting her ridiculous paw-print bra on prominent display. And maybe it's relief or maybe it's just how silly an image this seems or maybe she's just lost it, but Mittens' purr chokes quickly into a giggle and then before she knows it she's laughing uproariously. The only reason she doesn't go tumbling straight back over the edge and into the bottomless swells below is the sudden appearance of a glowing purple length of fence for her to lean against, instead.

This is the rain that floods the rivers in her home. This is the storm that calls all the little children out of their houses, homework and crafts forgotten, to go stomping through every puddle on the streets of the towns. This is the water that would go twisting, swirling, and singing through the great glass aqueducts to carry the gift of the storm to Rowan and reaffirms their friendship forever. This is the warmth that fills her soul until it overflows with hope.

Yes, with hope. Because this storm is Illumina, and this labyrinth is Eupheria. And if the two can coexist, it means she still remembers. Mittens stands up straight and reaches one hand toward the endless sky above her. She waves at what she imagines to be the shadow of one enormous wing.

"Thank you..." she whispers, and steps peacefully through the rain toward her next room, and all of the people that she loves.
Everywhere around them, the battlefield is motion and chaos. Ferra is holding buildings in the sky like a steel goddess, while Victor clashes directly with Victoria in a duel of brains versus exploding death beams, and Sara burns brighter than the entire city in the night. There are shock troops dashing out of hangars and extremely put upon Gears members hunkering down to meet them. There are drones flitting about everywhere, bits of brimstone still dropping here and there from on high, terrified civilians scrambling wildly about as they try to figure out where they're supposed to be running and what safety looks like in a situation they paid to never ever be in.

But there's one spot in the entire spaceport where nothing's happening at all. It's still a battlefield, make no mistake about that. But all of the chaos and all of the noise is replaced by absolute stillness and a horrible sense of tension. That's how duels are. How many times can Euna mention Burn, My Sword before you finally agree to watch it with her?

"Don't," she says quietly, "Don't you say it too. Not you. You don't believe that."

The reason for the tension is obvious. This really is one of those movie-style samurai duels where a single slash will decide the entire fight. Okita Souji crossing blades with Okada Izou: a battle fought in the margins of the decisions that both of them choose not to make. JuneBird's Impersonation Rig makes it next to impossible to tell the actual range of her zone. But if Errant commits to any sort of action, even one as simple as reaching up to click her visor back in place, the whole standoff will fall apart. JuneBird will take advantage of Errant being down an arm and it'll become a luck test of whether or not she swings in the space Errant's cybernetics try to move her into.

"I'm not the one who abandoned my principles, Sasha. Look around you. Look! Is this what we fought for? Is this what we believed in? Look at this place and tell me this is still AEGIS!"

Of course she doesn't look. Doesn't even spare the dart of an eye, because the fact of the matter is that's enough of an opening to bring this standoff to an explosive end. Her sword/cane/baton/cloak/hammer/Mauler crackles with a charge that's occasionally visible but mostly not. Errant's fingers slowly curl and uncurl into extremely non-committal fists while arcs of electricity leap between the fingers of her shock gloves. Both her arms are raised high, one in front of her chest and the other up behind her head, to better take advantage of the low sweeping stance JuneBird's staring her down from.

"You're the one who can't see, Sasha. You've hated Sara from the moment you met her. You want her to be bad. You want this to be her fault so that you don't have to make a hard decision! Well I'll tell you one thing: I trust her to be there for me a hell of a lot more than I trust you right now!"

This is the moment that almost breaks Errant. Where duel-sense almost leaves her and she wants so badly to leap in and attack! All she needs is one touch, same as JuneBird! But she doesn't move an inch. She wins the test, and holds perfectly still, because her training and her practice both taught her that the person who flinches first almost always loses. Sasha's waiting for a tell here, anticipating a particular type of movement so she can swing her weapon through Errant's zone and break her. She'll win an even-contact scenario easily; her flesh-and-blood body will recover from a shock much more quickly than Errant's complicated systems can reboot from total shutdown, if they even can at all.

AEGIS teaches patience and observation in moments like these. And the Errant JuneBird is trying to save is the same one as the person JuneBird's counted on to know these things and keep her safe across countless missions together.

"Victoria tried to kill me today. Because I wouldn't sell out my friends to her sick mob hits. And you know what happened then? Buddy and Bargain took her side! The entire fucking TAG squad mobilized and made me fight my way through the god damn hangar! I had squads of gunmen ambushing me every which way in the halls, Sasha! Did anybody try to talk? Did they ask what this was about? They tried to kill me! My corporation, my entire fucking family tried to kill me! On Victoria god damn Messermitt's orders, they tried to kill me!

Do you wanna know why I trust Sara? You wanna know why she gets another chance to hurt me? Because today when I had nothing in the world but enemies, she came for me! Not you, not anybody else! Just Sara! I do see through her, you're the one who doesn't! She risked everything she had to come and help me! You've got no right to call her the bad guy!"

That did it. Those were the words that broke the spell and ended the fight. JuneBird lunges forward with a swing so wild and powerful you'd think only a tank-woman like Maria could pull it off. Errant twists out of the way in the last possible instant, brushing so close against the charge she can feel her entire body tingle and slow down. She follows through and grabs JuneBird firmly by the arm and floods her body with 50,000 volts of electricity.

She flicks her wrist to shut off the glove and catches Sasha before she can hit the ground. She walks several paces away from the weapon. This fight is over. She looks Sasha straight in the eyes.

"I'll be honest with you, I have no idea how I'm going to feel about any of this when I wake up tomorrow. And that's if I wake up tomorrow. But if there's one thing I know, it's that whatever I wind up feeling, she'll be there to feel it with me. She's not the bad guy. And neither am I. And neither are you."

[Directly Engage: 10. Avoid blows and take her weapon (and Influence)]
Errant's moving as soon as she hears her name, just as Sara goes soaring majestically over her head. Wow, gosh. Is she keeping that wingsuit? She should really consider keeping that wingsuit. Damn.

Her eyes flick back down where they need to be. She takes a deep, centering breath. Her limiters click off. And then she's off and running with the same speed and urgency she showed while escaping the pyramid. She is an arc of electricity, jumping from point to point in an instant. She curves around a splintered pile of drones. She vaults over top a ruined section of building. She spins and ducks past a wave of BlackSun operatives, taking three down without breaking stride. Zap! Zap! Never staying still. Zap! Zap! Going right where she needs to be.

What a beautiful, earnest moron. Right?

She slides to a halt in front of the crippled Shogun. Her head cocks slightly, and her shoulders heave as she sucks in breath. God, this has been a day, hasn't it? Workout for the fucking ages. When this is finished she's taking a god damn cheat day. And no, those cakes do not count. Those were apology cakes, there's a difference. She stretches her arm out to meet the Shogun's outstretched and bloody hand.

"Are you all--"

She doesn't even get the sentence out. Her visor pings danger at the last of last possible seconds and she dives forward out of the way, crashing into the Shogun and knocking her to the ground.

A flaming chunk of building maybe four cubic meters in size smashes into the ground with a cratering impact just behind the pair of them. Errant pushes herself up off the ground and immediately drops back onto her butt with her legs awkwardly splayed out in front of her. She really is worn out, you know? She flips her visor up on top of her head and flashes a stupid, dorky grin.

"Not gonna get a better shot than this, right, JuneBird?"

[Pierce the Mask: 13
“How could I get you to forgive me?”
“How could I make you look at Sara like I see her?”
“How could I gain Influence over you?”]
There are good storms. There are good storms. Water is Mittens' most special friend, so how can it keep betraying her like this? In Feloria, at the Gala... some of her most miserable memories now are linked to storms. She takes a step and it takes all of her strength not to get blown back another three.

The wind tears at her sodden, heavy hair so hard it feels like her neck might come off. The sleeves of her precious suit are sopping and wrap tightly around her wrists as they soak well beyond their ability to cling comfortably. Each drop of rain hits her with the force of a hailstone that explodes against her skin. The air is filled with cruel cold knives that freeze her down to the blood and bone. The howling of the wind makes her ears pin themselves against her head just to catch a break from the noise.

It's even worse when the Roc screams at her from the murky clouds above. Every blood curdling cry knocks her physically to her knees, clutching at her head and whimpering unintelligible pleas for it not to hurt her, please, she's sorry she's sorry so don't--!

Every so often, wing beats explode over top of her and whip the wind in a direction she's not expecting. That's when Mittens needs her dancer's grace more than ever, as she scrambles and twists and fights her way back onto the narrow land bridge. On either side of her is doom. Behind her is nothing, and impossibly far in front of her is a door to some new and probably worse form of punishment. This is a terrible game to be playing, but there's no choice but to play it. So take another step, Mittens. It's only the worst one in your entire life.

Her lights are little help and none. Violet has all sorts of ideas, but none of the strength or wisdom to carry them through. It tries to wrap her in a protective bubble like Blue might, but the shape of the thing is very different from the reality and all it manages to do is make Mittens glow while she gets stung through to her core by icy whips. It tries to be a shield she can carry in her arm instead, but whatever way it lifts itself the rain turns to come from the other direction. Next it forms a parasol but the wind crushes it almost instantly. Finally, with an almost defeated looking little flash, it turns into a vibrant purple cloak and wraps itself around Mittens' shoulders so she can at least be warm. She supposes the stinging sensation across her body is a good thing, tiny warmth meeting elemental cold to make her body sting all over at least means that she hasn't gone too numb to function. She pulls the form of the cloak tighter around her, like a hug. She can do this. She has to do this.

That's when the Roc attacks. The cry freezes her heart inside her chest and makes her legs feel broken, but it's nothing compared to sudden gale wind that smashes into her like a tornado balled up into a fist and knocks her straight off of her feet. She scrambles and flails her arms and legs as she careens through the air, but it's hopeless. She's not going to come near being able to grab the bridge again. This is how she dies.

Her cloak melts away, returning the full lash of the cold as she falls. But it's the bravest thing little Violet could do, trusting Indigo to save their princess instead. The grappling hook digs into the wall behind her, and Mittens slams into that with a wet oof. As she desperately tries to pull herself back up to the bridge so she can keep running, a war cry like she's never heard in her life fills up her entire being. Mittens flinches, and stares into the hateful glowing eyes of the Roc.

Terror fills Mittens like it never has before. It crawls across her entire frozen body. It pumps through her blood, faster and faster until it finds the vein of ice still lodged in her heart. And it squeezes. It squeezes so hard it hurts her physically. She grits her teeth and strains to keep from crying out, to keep holding on to her rope of light, as cold and deadly fear tries to crush her shining heart into nothing.

"That's enough." she says quietly. Her voice is so small and tired.

Her brain tells her fingers to let go, just fall, but they betray her. Her grip tightens. A second Violet beam leaps out to give Mittens another anchor and stabilize her long hang. Up above, the cliff face starts to crumble, sending bits of hard earth tumbling down on her face, but she shrugs it off without a flinch. The Roc screams again, and this close it feels like it's going to break her to pieces without even touching her.

"I SAID THAT'S ENOUGH!" she screams right back.

Yellow eyes watch her with barely restrained fury. But they watch her.

"That's enough," she says a third time, voice growing stronger with every word, "I won't play this game anymore. I've carried you, no. The fear of you inside of me my entire life. It's not fair for either of us to-- hey! HEY! Don't you scream at me when I'm talking to you, mister! We're done, you and I. Fly out of my heart and never bother me again! I'm not a little girl anymore, I don't have room for you in here!"

Overhead, the bridge gives way at last. Mittens twin lights zip back to her and she starts to plummet with a fresh look of terror in her face. But then a miracle happens, of a sort. She's slammed against the wall again, pinned there not by her own strength, but by the black glass talon of the Nightmare Roc. It squeezes shut around her, tearing through the stone with absurd ease.

"We are not enemies! I've met you! The real you. You're not this twisted story Eupheria's trying to spin you into. You're the bringer of storms, the wind and the rain that makes life worth living! So what that you're scary? Even the biggest monsters have their part to play! So if you're gonna kill me, then... nnnggh! Get on with it! I can't stop you. But I, nnnffff, I'm done being afraid of you. I'll die loving this rain, I will NEVER let you ruin it for me again! Do you hear me?"

Mittens' crystal eyes are smaller than the Roc's by too much to measure. But the light inside them is, if it's anything at all, sharper than the yellow pools it's cutting into.

[Finish with Wisdom: 10]
"Uh, right, Plan A it is."

Ok so in fairness it was probably not the right call to have cut the first dive short. She could have blocked that laser while dropping! She just thought... you know what it doesn't matter it's too late for that now we're faaaalllliiiiiiinnnnng~

Errant drops into the sky without a second's hesitation this time. Honestly, this is huge progress! She asked! Asked nicely, even! Errant's heartbeat quickens as she falls for reasons that have nothing to do with suicide drops from impossible heights into swarms of ground troops. Those are things she's trained for, after all.

So as she hurtles down toward destiny and certain oblivion, wind dramatically whipping her hair but somehow never in her face (seriously what is up with that? Is this a forever thing?), it's her latest kiss that's filling up her mind.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. That's what this was. She's an idiot. Every time she's ever kissed a girl something awful has happened immediately after. First there was--

Errant kicks her left foot into the air to spin herself in front of Sara, swinging the shield like a hammer to deflect a wave of drone fire. She ignites her boots briefly to push herself lower and punches a drone in half. Then she lands with one foot on another and flares the jets again as she kicks off it, burning through its light armored plating and sending it spinning into a third drone. She hops across a wave of drones in a circle around Sara, creating a tornado of debris that will help act as a shield against the next wave trying to blast them out of the sky.

--Sasha, which, like, yeah. Never a great idea to date somebody and then put it in writing, apparently. She's been ghosting Errant ever since the Breakup Form but if the jokes around the pyramid were any indication Euna should probably be thankful they haven't met face to face yet. She's not sure she'd survive being target practice for guns that large. But then there's Nobu--

With a flash of jet fire, Errant goes sailing over the top of Sara in a wide arcing backflip that feels like it's happening in slow motion. She can see the curve of her own back, feel her hair lagging behind her. It's like bursting up out of the water in a movie, except she's in a storm of wind and metal. She lands with a snap kick onto a soldier with their own BlackSun designed flight suit and drops them back toward the ground while grabbing the gun out of their hands in the same motion. She floats quickly to Sara's back and sprays a wave of high caliber bullets at the attack drones, ending with the classic run-out-of-bullets-then-throw-your-gun move that villains always try. It works a lot better when you're doing it to machines, it turns out.

--naga. The Shogun. That was... a fun two weeks, she guessed. It was great right up until it wasn't, when Euna had returned from the Sabrem mission filled with all kinds of ugly guilt and confusing feelings about her life and the choices she'd just made and within days Nobunaga had dropped by her quarters (!!) to talk and somehow they'd gone from "I won't lose to anybody" to "That's enough Euna, I know you did this for me more than you" in the span of a single cup of green tea. Which then Euna had immediately justified like an idiot because she started talking about Sara of all people and--

Errant spreads her arms and legs out in a wide X to slow herself down enough that she can stretch her shield over top of Sara before a final rain of fire falls down over the pair of them in a final brutal volley that splashes off of the shield like bright red lightning. But then, a moment of quiet: the fighting is getting less intense now that they're below the blockade level. BlackSun's ops must be more concerned about keeping the Gears Foundation out of the fight than they are about a couple of runaway vigilantes with delusions of grandeur. Errant relaxes enough to, for the first time since stepping off the edge, think about her landing for a little bit. A small breakaway squad of drones comes barreling in, but she lets Sara handle them herself. The skyway is already clear as promised, and she can tell without asking her quantum girlfriend needs to blow off steam. See? She knows Sara better than anybody.

--that's when she made the decision to leave Neo Halcyon completely. The look of betrayal on Nobunaga's face was heartrending. Running away. Leaving her like everybody else did. All she wanted was a friend and even then... they still hadn't spoken since Euna had changed her mind. And now she's just kissed the person on her list who's arguably even worse for her than any of that.

Errant lands in the middle of Sara's rain of spears with a burst of jet fire and a thunderous crack of alloyed legs cratering concrete. She slings the shield onto her back, tucks, and rolls away from one stray shot as she looks up and sees Sara hovering over her with her massive wings spread to either side of her like the world's hottest angel. You know what? She's good with that kiss. And she's gonna have another. And another. And then she'll figure out what restaurant she can still afford to eat at and ask her out on a real date and not even care if the whole thing gets streamed. And somewhere in the middle of all that she's going to find the Shogun, apologize, and offer to be a better friend from now on.

It's been a rough ride. With a lot of false starts. But for the first time, Euna Kim knows exactly who she is, and maybe even some of what she wants.

[Rolling to Defend Sara, just squeaked by with a-- hahaha I'm kidding it's a 10. Adding that Team back into the pool]
The furious cry of the Roc and the shrieking wind mingle with a pitiful moan inside the train car. Mittens doesn't even realize it's coming from her until she also starts shrinking into Eupheria's many arms as they try to push her toward the door. She's twisting, curling, struggling to bury herself in the Wicked Queen like a kitten seeking love and security from her Momma. The harder she gets pushed, the more she squirms and tries to find that comforting touch. Even a tiny brush! Even for just a second, just a teeny little pat. Her body trembles in the cruel absence.

Then Gold flashes in front of her eyes! The pulse of warmth washes over her, and for a moment she could swear she hears her Mommy's voice calling out to her. Encouraging her. It'll be ok. Everything will be ok! Gold will protect her through this whole awful maze. Then Eupheria would realize what a terrible mistake she'd made, but it'd be too late! Mittens and her Gold could save everybody, and wouldn't Rita understand that was for the best? Sometimes, even in love, you have to be willing to make sacrifices to find the winning move. She'd heard that somewhere once before, right? It sounds so wise. Mittens wants to be wise. She wants to be warm and not scared anymore. Her hand reaches up...

But a tear starts beading up against her eye. She thoughtlessly reaches to brush it away instead of reaching for Gold, and her finger brushes up against the hard diamond and emerald she sees the world through. And then her stomach drops all the way down to her knees in a single ugly swoop. Her blood runs packed with ice. Her skin prickles and crawls. She's shearing, all over again she's fracturing and falling to pieces and it is the worst sort of pain there is, because nobody did this to her but herself, and you'd think she'd have learned her lesson by now, wouldn't you?

Mittens yanks herself away from Eupheria and stands in front of the portal. Her ears are still flat against her skull and her tail is frazzled and standing on end, but the rest of her is poised and resolute. She stares into the hard driving rain and wills herself to see it. Forces herself not see the nightmare, but the memory. The Roc screams from a thousand worlds away; her ears only pick up the soft patter of Rita's feet dashing away from her in the night. Her legs tense underneath her, desperate to chase after her all over again and yell all of her words into the storm again even though there's nobody there to hear them, and... good. Good. This is how it should be.

All at once she whirls about and snatches the hand Euphie's curling around Gold, quick as you please. But she doesn't take the light, or even make an attempt at it. Instead, she grabs Euphie by the wrist, and forces that hand further backwards toward her chest so that there's no offer being made here at all. Her eyes are fiercer than a dragon's.

"You're wrong." she hisses.

Her tail flicks away her displeasure. Mittens Alina Cascade turns away from her great-grandmother and walks toward her nightmare of her own accord.

"You're wrong about me and you're wrong about love," she repeats, "And if you offered me the Caduceus itself I wouldn't let you touch a single hair on Rita's head."

She throws two sharp glares across the room at Azora and Old Adila each, and then she stalks with purpose and purpose into the biting storm.
Errant reacts with inhuman quickness, but for once it's got nothing to do with skillwires or cybernetics. This time it's a lot simpler than that: she knows Sara so well she sees the dive coming before the first step out the door.

She jumps and her boots fire in response. They're not going to let her fly, but she can pull of some pretty nifty momentum tricks in mid air. Just like this one! Errant snags Sara by her collar again and yanks her back up onto the steps of the Foundation building, whipping her hips around as she pulls so that the thrust carries her trajectory in a sharp triangle path and lets her grab the edge of the floating building with her spare hand before she falls too far. For a moment, none of her limbs are doing anything with any relation to each other. She yanks herself up and raises her new shield as she zips up over Sara, knocking away the blast that was aimed to shoot her out of the sky before landing lightly on her feet.

She takes a second to flick her wrist and point casually at the wave of drones. She smirks.

"We'll call that one Plan B. Wanna try again?"

Her eyes flick backward before she flips her visor down over them. She definitely sees you over there, Victor; you're lucky she's got so much distracting her right now or things might get ugly. But hey, play your cards right for the next ten-ish minutes and she might get so caught up in punching people who deserve it she'll forget she's mad at you.

[Using one (1) Team to change Sara's Assess into a 7. She can ask her question now]
Once when she was a little kitt-- girl! When she was a little girl, Mittens went to a performance of the Royal Ballet with both of her mothers. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen in her entire life! The costumes! The music! The pageantry! That night she danced all the way back to the palace, and that morning and ever after nobody could convince her she wanted to be anything other than a dancer. She'd never practiced anything as hard as she practiced ballet that summer! Nor, for that matter, had she ever slacked off more in her princess lessons. The extra naps meant she had more energy for dancing!

Mommy was... not happy. It was one of two or three times Mittens can remember her yelling. But Momma thought she saw something, and pushed Mittens to try her best. Come the turning of the leaves, Mittens was back to wanting to be a Princess first and foremost, but from that moment on her every last movement came with the magical poise and grace she became famous for as she got older. It was never just her magic that made her that way; it happened because she worked hard to make it that way, until eventually it was something it was so much a part of her that she moved like that without meaning to sometimes, or even accidentally. Because her dream wasn't to have a tall handsome princess sweep her off her feet and carry her off into the night on a white horse to marry her beneath a waterfall. It was to make people look at her, tiny little Alina Mittens, and feel their spirits lift up because she'd made them see something beautiful.

Dancing now, she's sure straight to the unbreakable core of her heart that Euphie is the same way, just pushed through a different hobby. Together, they move in a way that maybe nobody in Hyperborea ever has before. As she dances, Mittens opens her eyes wider than she knew she could. Wide enough, even, to see the curve of the labyrinth. It's just for a moment, and maybe it's just a maybe, but she's sure she sees the twisting, glittery glass path she has to walk to leave this place a winner. A real one.

But first, there is dancing. Her sultry boots change to tap shoes on her feet, and she feels the strings tug her feet into the rapid clicking, swishing, spinning, and jumping that the style is known for. When Euphie drops her under a sudden limbo bar she squeaks, but her feet never stop their fanciful click-clack sliding about even as she slips under a bar so low she winds up wrapping her tail around it as she pops back up on the other side. Suddenly it's a cane! She twirls her fancy new limbo-can, kicks off the ground on it, and then plants it in front of her so she can run up it like a wall to do her graceful double back flip!

Next comes the ballet. Mittens' suit poofs in an instant into a blue and white tutu and slippers that mean she's about to perform the Dance of the First Queen: a truly ancient performance that tells the tale of the first Illuminan born with a bright enough heart to wear the crown of lights without breaking underneath it. She was the first woman to speak with the River King instead of running from him, an act which touched the great fish's heart so much that he swore himself to making sure that every queen that came after the First was just as worthy of the legacy as she was. It was a moment that changed Illumina forever, and it had a very complicated dance to tell the story. But the surprising thing to Mittens was that even though she danced on strings and had no control over her body... there was a moment where the strings tried to pull her into a grande jeté when she knew the move was actually [i]tour en l'air[/s], and suddenly the felt the strings go slack and Eupheria let her do the move properly on her own before resuming her interpretation. They never said a word to each other. But that was... just for a second, they were one dancer.

After that came the big tumbling routine. Her tutu morphed in a second into a leotard in gaudy reds, yellows, and a stripe of purple across her petite chest, and Euphie made her perform a gymnastics set that even she would never have dreamed of attempting. There were handstands and cartwheels, vaults that turned into double-flip double-twists that bounced back into slow arcing backflips, and all the sorts things she loved seeing and doing. But what really made it special was the way that Euphie chained the moves together. Normally even a princess would want to stake her spot and build up a running start to be able to perform her routine. But here there was no need; every delicate set of flips and tumbles was connected by light stepping that spun her about this way and that. The complicated steps and flourishes with her arms swam seamlessly into her tumbles and for the first time ever, Mittens felt like this was truly dancing.

Now she's standing there in front of everyone assembled, heaving for breath while her fuzzy lavender triangles twitch excitedly on top of her head. Waiting for a word from Old Adila or even Azora with a similar sort of wide-eyed hope she'd caught on Eupheria earlier. And she grins because, truly, in spite of everything this was the most fun she's had since before the Crystal Gala. Still... she really hopes she's going to get her suit back at the end of this. She holds up one hand, palm held out, toward the table and the three women gathered there. Her eyes twinkle with a sharp and mysterious light.

"In payment for my dancing, I would ask a question. I've been wondering and wandering for years, but I've never had the chance to ask a group of people with hearts as... sharp and, and unique," she swallows, "As all of yours. So, please, answer me this: what do you think about love? Is it something you can run out of? Do you need to guard it and save it so that you have enough left over for the people or things that truly need it? Or is it something that grows the more you need it? Where does love end?"
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