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    1. Sonnambula 3 yrs ago


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Kaspar's entry immediately took Montag away from his conversation with Cathal, the look of fear and sheer panic in the dock-worker's expression enough to set off anyone's instincts, let alone a detective's. Before there was even a chance for Montag to approach the gentle giant about the gruesome occurrence he'd witnessed only minutes before, the room suddenly erupted into a frenzy of impetuosity and raised voices. Marie was on her feet confronting the poor Kaspar as if he'd committed the act himself, the dock-worker clearly frightened half to death by her sharp line of questioning. Meanwhile, Jane and Robyn were halfway out of the door without even knowing where they were going, let alone what they might face when there. Now Detective Montag was beginning to seethe, just a little. His eyes narrowed and sharpened like kitchen knives, his countenance going from relatively expressionless to clear frustration at the display from his new team. And he was about tired of it.

"That is enough." Montag raised his voice for the first, and hopefully last, time as he stepped in between Marie and Kaspar, clamping his hands down on the intoxicated girl's shoulders to shove her back and hold her in place, separating her from Kaspar. Following a slight pause he'd continue, addressing the whole room as he spoke, stoic and blunt as ever. "I only want to explain this once. This is an agency for detectives. If you are incapable of keeping a level head in this kind of situation, then you are not welcome in this investigation and should just leave now. When you don't keep a level head, things get more complicated. And when things get more complicated, more people end up dead. This is a murder investigation. One with sinister forces behind it that we can't even comprehend right now, so you should damn well take it seriously. Stop fooling around like this is some kind of farce and remember the reason why we're here. As a group."

Montag paused again, finally letting go of Marie to step to the side and speak Jane and Robyn directly. "There's a fine line between initiative and stupidity. Know where that line is and don't cross it again. As I said, we're a group now. If you think running off alone will achieve anything other than ending up like the victims we're investigating, like I said, this agency isn't for you. If you want to be part of this, if you want to be a proper detective, you need to have enough of a head on your shoulders to keep yourselves safe, at the bare minimum. After that you can start worrying about other people." Even the detective surprised himself referring to those in the room, with the exception of Kaspar of course, a 'group'. That being said, he didn't have much of a choice in the matter at this point, whether he liked it or not. But that didn't mean he was saying it completely out of obligation. He wouldn't say it, otherwise.

"Now, if you've understood that, you two can come with me to the bar. And anyone else who wants to come. I know the place he means." Montag tugged his sleeves down to his wrist in preparation for venturing outside again. The 'place' in question was a bar frequented by those who worked around water: dockworkers, seamen, merchants and fishermen, the like. A place where bowls of chowder and sea-shanties flowed as frequently as pints of stout and lager. 'The Rusty Clam' was its name, located conveniently only a short distance from the warehouse the group were currently in.

Before he left, Montag would lock eyes with Abigail once more to get her attention, gesturing with a nod to Marie. "Keep an eye on her. If anything happens, or you want to come along, then you know where to find us." With Abigail's relations with the working class and homeless of New Haven, there was little doubt in the detective's mind that she knew where Kaspar had been referring to as well.

With one final check to make sure that those who wanted to be first on the scene were at his side, Montag stepped out into the solemn, heavy rain of the night. The first destination of Montag Detective Ltd.'s investigation: The Rusty Clam.

Though Nessie had known what she was going to return to at Marrywell, she couldn't have had any concept of the genuine severity of things until she finally returned. Having missed most of the action, only there to witness the tail-end of Lilac and Tesni's encounter with the rogue Magical Girl herself from atop her broom. Meanwhile she did her best to assist Olivia in the effort to defend the vulnerable students whom the Pageless relentlessly targeted, confronting them in packs at a time with dense bursts of water pressure to send them flying away into oblivion. The only thing that distracted her to that end was Olivia's desperate and despairing cries towards Roma, her friend's emotional outburst kindling a burning flame of anger within the young Scot as the Dark Magical Girl returned the pleas with a look of total apathy. And though, given the rest of the surrounding chaos, she wasn't quite able to decipher much of what Tsubasa was saying to her opponents, the dispersal of the Pageless in her direction was enough for Nessie to get a hint.

A hint that perhaps came a little too late, unfortunately for her, and despite her best efforts, swooping in towards Roma on her broom with Grimoire at the ready and fire burning in her eyes, she could only watch as the darkness whisked their foe out of harm's way before a spell could even reach her. There were a few stoic moments of silence as the girls, who had been through so much, sort of just stood and stared at where the dark witch had been only seconds before. Nessie looked over at her friends, despondent and unsure of what to say, checking them over for injuries before turning tail on her broom.

"I'll... I'll go check and see if anyone's hurt." She was already moving away as she spoke, grinding her teeth silently together in frustration. The fact that she'd done this was bad enough, attacking a community that, in Nessie's eyes, hadn't done anything wrong, but the fact that she could get away with it? To attack the very core of their society and leave them to pick up the pieces? That really pissed Nessie off. She could feel her heart sink more as she went from person to person, checking each student she passed for injury or whatever sinister affliction Tsubasa had imposed on some of their Grimoires. Each one she came across, with that stinging darkness they aggressively emanated, felt like another nail in the coffin. It was disheartening beyond measure.

Which is why Nessie was more than a little confused when Valeria suddenly came marching back onto the scene with a captive Roma in tow. The young Scot could barely believe her eyes in fact, freezing completely while her mind questioned unfolding events, as well as the events that led up to this. And, as though to answer the presence of the embodiment of discourse, the embodiment of serenity arrived in the form of the Grand Minister herself. If anything, however, once she'd come to her senses, this angered Nessie even more. Disregarding the consequences, she strode over to the gathered students and teachers surrounding the Minister and the prisoner, her face contorting more and more into a look of rage and indignation.

"Whose school did you say this is? Yours?! Where the fuck were you through all this, how is it your choice what we do with this delusional bi-?!" Nessie stopped herself as Lupin, provoked by the Grand Minister's decisions, decided to take 'actions speak louder than words route', lunging at Roma before being ultimately stopped by the much more level-headed Suzuya. Nonetheless, Nessie couldn't find herself disagreeing with Lupin's sentiment. If it were her choice to decide whether this woman lived or died then...

Satisfied that no more attempts on anyone's life would be made, the Scottish girl finally turned to her fellow redhead standing by at the scene.

"Ozma, there's got to be something you can do! I mean, she can't just be-!" Once again the girl cut herself off, this time with a gasp, as there behind the Crimson Comet stood Maria de Borbon herself, very much alive and looking well. Qualms with the Grand Minister and Moonlight Tsubasa were cast aside for now, as Nessie charged at her teacher and threw her arms around the senior Magical Girl, pulling away after just a moment to make sure it really was her.

"Am I bloody glad to see you! I was so worried, that Pageless it-... and then you-... you... you haven't got a scratch on you... What the hell happened?" Nessie asked breathlessly, in utter disbelief at either possibilities that came to her mind: that Maria had either run away from the fight or left that big bastard in the dust while remaining completely unscathed.

Thomas stumbled out from Kanbaru's grasp, blinking profusely in order to adjust from the void of the whale's cleavage to the aggressively vibrant lights of the casino around them. He was visibly flustered, his cheeks pinkish and toasty, violet eyes darting to and from Kanbaru as he tried to find the words to follow what had just happened. He wasn't so distracted that he wasn't able to pay attention to the words coming from the girl's mouth however, nervous thoughts about who might've seen the 'little blip' between the two put aside as the details of their location was divulged to him.

"Isn't part of the tower..." He echoed Kanbaru's phrasing in a murmur to himself, this revelation giving Thomas much to ponder about. As the new information occupied most of his mind, most of what followed from Kanbaru afterwards was lost on the boy. Right up to the point where he heard the words 'love life' which, like with most teenage boys, snapped him right out of whatever train of thought he'd been in previously to focus on whatever was being verbally flung his way.

"M-my what?" Slightly flustered and confused again, he shrunk back a little as Kanbaru stepped towards him again, half expecting to be lost in her chest for another smother session, before finding her neatening out his crumpled jacket. Sometimes it did well to remind himself that his teammates were still just people, capable of normal acts of kindness like anybody else. For the most part at least. "Oh. Thanks." He said finally in a much calmer, if not slightly nonplussed, tone, while Kanbaru fed him more information about the mysterious casino and its perhaps even more mysterious owner.

By now Thomas was getting enough of a picture that it dawned on him that being out of the Tower presumably meant being out of reach of his purpose for being there in the first place. Out of reach of the answer to his origins, his family. While Kanbaru was seeing images of nostalgia, a very different picture was painted within Thomas' mind. If he had to go back home empty-handed...

It was at this point that Apia arrived onto the scene. Presumably an old friend given the way Kanbaru suddenly reacted with an eruption of joy, and perhaps the boy even would've smiled at bearing witness to the reunion, but his mind was on other matters now. If that woman, Harley, was the owner of this place then she had to know a way out, right? If he was lucky maybe he could get a ticket right back into the Tower, solo or not. For better or worse, probably worse, the boy was preparing to move towards Harley and Akiko, who presently seemed to be deep in discussion. He was planning to take a lighter approach this time, having learned from his bluntness earlier, but still. Probably for the worse either way.

In any case, all plans were put on hold as, out of the corner of his eye, Thomas caught the glimpse of a struggle a medium distance away behind a swarm of gamblers. Notably, he saw a lot of bunny ears perking up and down, side to side in what seemed to be a scuffle against another figure in bunny ears. Someone in red. Someone who let out a piercing, though clearly muffled, mumble in a tone that seemed oddly familiar.

"Is that...?"

There was a moment's pause for thought and consideration. And then just like that the boy was off. He'd rush away, probably in an oddly sudden manner for the others who were not aware of the young fellow's thought process, nor the goings-on elsewhere in their vicinity, weaving through groups and crowds towards where he'd last seen the group of runaway rabbits. The familiar faces didn't stop there though, and luckily for Thomas too, as he found himself passing through into a small clearing that surrounded a bar, at which was sat Katie with a characteristically irritated look on her face, along with a blonde girl he didn't recognise. At least he didn't think he did. The boy approached her quickly, giving no mind to making himself known before he began speaking to her.

"Katie! I think Riku-" Thomas stopped himself after a moment, realising before he'd even gotten within two metres of her the look and response he'd be given. "I'm guessing you already know, right? I'll follow your lead."
After a certain point Roma's words were lost on Nessie, her fiery temper and impatience growing sick and tired of the ramblings of this madwoman. She could appreciate the fact that she was ignorant to years of context that built towards the situation she and her fellow Magical Girls were currently subject to, but as of right now she wasn't going to bother trying to empathise with a philosophy that she could feel stunk to its very core. There was palpable uncertainty and tension within the derelict mall as the group's enemy materialised her Grimoire before her, taking her time to go through its numerous pages at a moderate tempo, almost like she was showing off the countless dark secrets it held behind its ornate cover. Nessie gripped her broomstick tightly, getting progressively more nervous. Sure, she was ready for whatever Roma could throw at her or the group as a whole. But whether she was prepared for it was an entirely different matter here.

Of course, ultimately what really happened was far worse to Nessie than any attack that could've been directed towards her, and Tsubasa's deception of the group to leave Marrywell short-staffed had the girl exclaiming in panic as the gravity of the situation immediately dawned on her.

"Shit, shit, shit!"

Primed and ready to start zipping back the way the group had come with almost the exact opposite energy as the departing trip, she found herself wavering as an observation made by Roma left Nessie bewildered and conflicted. She almost had to do a double take to make sure she heard correctly. Her eyes immediately flickered to Ozma as the other redhead floated overhead on her own broomstick, for a moment unsure of what to say or how to feel. After all, Roma could easily have lied through her teeth or even just bent the truth in order to plant seeds of distrust within the companions of her enemy. But, then again, after everything that had happened thus far today, Nessie was beginning to realise just how little she knew about Ozma. The Crimson Comet remained, and became even more of, a mystery that eluded her above her head, both literally and figuratively. But now wasn't the time for doubts, nor confrontation within the team. Now was the time for everyone to do their part. Far more was at stake than the past.

As Ozma now went to go break the barrier, Nessie checked that her classmates all had a way to escape themselves in the meantime. An increasingly present rumbling and low groaning was more than enough of an indicator to show that Roma hadn't left them without a host, and with the mall now beginning to fall to pieces even more than it had before she was keen to get everyone out.

By the time the massive Pageless had risen to greet the group the barrier locking them in had been broken, and Nessie was ready on her broomstick to move towards the exit with the others. All except one. Her head snapped back towards Maria as she realised the teacher now stood alone, face to face with a behemoth of darkness wielding what could only be described as a weapon straight from the pits of hell. Her heart racing as she realised the imminent danger, Nessie desperately gestured to the senior Magical Girl to join her on the broomstick to escape.

"Miss! Come quickly, we have to get out! We-!"

She stopped right in her tracks, abrupt as anything, as a single warm smile from her teacher back towards her told her all she needed to know. And all that she was willing to find out. Nessie was nervous, fearing for her teacher's safety, but that smile. It was one you couldn't say no to, one that possessed the strength and resolve to see things through. And so, Nessie returned that smile with a nod to boot, silently wishing Maria the best of luck before turning right around and shooting off to join her classmates.

"Fuckin' hurry up lads, we gotta get back!"

Next stop: Marrywell Academy.

He'd expected Abigail to butt in at some point, but Montag was thrown off slightly as the redhead interrupted him in an attempt to get the newcomers to focus more on the 'extra' part of the detective's introductory criteria. He spared the sheets that each applicant had written a quick glance as Abigail and a couple of said applicants pointed them out to him, but he wasn't going to pay any real heed to them. Anyone could write anything just as anyone could say anything, but at least you could look a liar in the eyes as they spoke, not as they wrote. The young man wasn't going to dispute his associate however, after all this had been her idea. She could run the show. But that didn't mean he had to be comfortable with it.

Abigail was the people's person for better or worse, not one to put strangers up to scrutiny as the more sceptical Montag was, and soon pretty much any kind of introduction was thrown out of the window. The detective tutted under his breath, sharp eyes half-glaring around the room as the atmosphere grew a little too relaxed for his liking. "Leave it to a woman of the cloth to be too trusting. Typical." He thought, already half-tempted to call this whole thing off.

Before he could, however, another interruption came. And certainly not the most welcome one, in Montag's perspective. Suddenly the atmosphere was even tighter than before, the sound of rain outside becoming deafening white noise that Marie's numb and disdainful tone cut right through. He didn't even realise Abigail had invited her, and if he'd known she had then he would've put a stop to it, for various reasons. Reasons that were fully on display now as the young woman, bordering on instability, drank herself even deeper than she probably already had that evening, before tossing onto a desk a file filled with newspaper clippings detailing gruesome deaths throughout New Haven from recent weeks. Interlinked deaths that Montag and his two associates had been starting to investigate. In fact the file was probably from his office.

While Abigail dealt with the initial reactions of their motley crew, Montag approached the slumped and eerily pale-faced Marie who now reclined away from the rest of the group in solitude, save for the bottle of liquor held loosely in one hand.

"Stop that." He'd say to her, softly and bluntly, easing the alcohol from her grasp and placing it back on the table it had come from. "You shouldn't be out here. Drink this." He continued in short and concise sentences, offering her one of the cups of water instead. If it anything it would at least stop whatever hangover was coming from being too dramatic.

With that out of the way his direct attention could now turn back to the newcomers once again, and almost immediately Cathal caught his eye. Not least because the older man was the first to address the detective.

"Believe what you wish Mr o'Molloy - the word of a detective is one of the flimsiest you can find after all." Montag remarked before listening to rugged fellow introduce himself. Though you could tell there was some deep-seated brokenness within him, behind the words he spoke and that outgoing personality he unashamedly shared with others, he seemed an honest man at heart. Honesty that can only come with age, much like whatever darkness he chose not to speak about in the company of strangers. His final words of advice even brought a slight smile to the young man's face, a sharp exhale through the nose indicating the starts of a chuckle.

"My thanks for the advice, Cathal o'Molloy." The smile was broken by a cigarette Montag raised to his lips, a sign now that the detective had settled at least somewhat. The subsequent account Cathal gave of his summarised experience at New Haven was the subject of Montag's pondering as he burned through the straight, the room becoming misty equally with smoke as it was with freely floating thoughts. It was also a chance to observe the others in the group as they sunk their teeth into the information presented before them to varying reactions. None of them shied away from the gore at least, which was a good sign. But that was to be expected of New Haven citizens. Everyone in this city seemed to be desensitised to brutality.

"Unfortunately we'll have to be up to it." Montag responded to Jane's concern with an exhale of smoke, before putting out the cigarette on a damp wooden beam. He'd walk over to her, casually inspecting the newspaper clipping she'd been looking at just before. "The truth is these papers are useless. They report the problem, which is just about all they can do, but people became apathetic to this a long time ago. Even the police don't try with these cases anymore. They could put any old thing on the front page, even if it wasn't true, because no one would care. No one would bother to check. So that's why it's our place to investigate where no one else will. To live any other way in this city is a waste of life."

Montag circled around next to Robyn, not saying a word to her but simply observing as she worked and discerned what she could from the information in front of her and her own knowledge. There was impressive initiative shown in her suggestions and instructions to her fellow newbies. Enough to spark interest within the detective at least, before he was back to Cathal as he made a discovery of his own. The two men met gazes as the elder one spoke of the victim. A Timothy Jones. Montag couldn't say he'd heard that name before, but there was always a chance he knew a mutual connection of his.

"Did this Timothy Jones ever speak about his work or connections with the mob at all? Any names he might've brought up?"

Perhaps Thomas wasn't in quite the right state of mind given everything that had happened, or perhaps he was in completely the right state of mind. Either way his newfound confidence was not exactly being taken well, which was probably fair given just how unthinking he had been with his forwardness. Even though the boy had grown considerably during his first appearance in the Tower, it was still always better to play it safe rather than sorry with the various strangers the group came across. However, it became clear quite quickly that the person he'd so boldly asked the identity of was not a stranger to all in his party.

Unfortunately there was no chance to follow up on this revelation, as Thomas quickly found himself pulled away by a grip that was equal part strong as it was desperate to shut him up before he did any more damage, and smothered with almost painful tightness by a pair of firm hands and an ample chest.

"Mhhrpf! Khhnbrrh!" The boy exclaimed in muffled surprise as his violet eyes practically disappeared into buxom flesh, eyes that winced as a scolding and slightly aggressive rub to his head followed in an attempt to endear him to this new mystery woman. He'd fight and struggle a little against Kanbaru's iron-clad grip at first, before coming to a standstill once he realised that the quickest way he'd escape the whale's bearhug was probably by standing still and shutting up, at least for now.

Besides, once it set in for Thomas what exactly he was squished up against he became almost too terrified and flustered to move a muscle. Even just turning his head slightly would cause those two stifling orbs to bounce and rub against him even more as they jutted out either side of his face. Harley would find herself pulling on a warm, blushing cheek as she went to scold the boy herself, still managing to inject a piercing feeling of dread into him with her subtly threatening words despite everything else going through his mind... and, well, around it.

Akiko giving the young Violet what was essentially an answer to his question also helped to simmer him down, at least making the way he burst onto the scene not completely worthless but still leaving him with far more questions than he had originally entered with. But at this point that was the norm he'd come to expect from the Tower, or... whatever this place was.

At this point he tried to pull away from Kanbaru, gentler this time, now more flustered and more curious than ever as his racing mind overwhelmed and smothered him almost as much as his teammate's chest. Plus it was getting a little more difficult to breathe at this point, and the last thing Thomas wanted to have happen was for him to fall unconscious given his company, not to mention the unfamiliar location. Even now, in that blinding and muffling bosom, it still felt somehow like gazes were being cast his way from a distance. Coming and going, back then gone again. He'd pat Kanbaru's arm softly with his hand, a slightly nervous indication that he was ready to see the light of day, or rather of florescent visual overstimulation, once again. The thought of more people, especially Riku, seeing him like this made him want to sink into the floor and join wherever the Abyss floor had gone.
Despite her failure to execute the momentous attack she'd been building up, Nessie didn't feel discouraged in the slightest while moving back from Maria to get closer to the rest of her class. She was smart enough to recognise her own progress, especially as it was pointed out by Maria in the midst of affirmation and praise. All she could think about now was how she'd make that attack land next time, a smile brought to her face as she envisioned it in her mind's eye. She was back with her Grimoire now, and rightfully so. Now perhaps if they got out of this whole mess she'd be able to actually do some proper training.

"Th-thanks, miss...

As Maria's hand left her shoulder, Nessie raised her own hand up to that spot to fully register the warmth it left behind. Not just in a figurative way, but actual physical heat. It wasn't painful, it seemed like her teacher had made her best effort not simmer her power down, but it felt almost like Nessie was sticking her hand into the middle of a warm oven. Almost toasty and soothing enough for it to be uncomfortable. The girl's eyes looked up to the teachers standing between them and Roma, her eyes frowning with uncertainty as she truly realised that things could get serious. Ozma's tone, Valeria's sudden stoicism, a dense conversation filled with terms and references she didn't understand or have context for... Nessie was slowly realising how out of her depth she was now, along with her fellow classmates.

So out of her depth Nessie was, in fact, that Roma's ideals almost seemed reasonable to the young Magical Girl were it not for Stripes' boisterous intervention in the conversation. As the girl found herself and her situation being singled out she looked between both Stripes and Roma in surprise, taken aback by just how ballsy her former saviour was. It was enough to kick her into her own train of mind and actions now, especially as she some of the others gearing up for attack. Nessie would have followed suit, were it not for the sudden thought that even her classmates whom had encountered the rogue Magical Girl before probably weren't sure themselves of what was the best course of action was, nor what was really going on. It probably wouldn't help much to be impetuous at this point. And that's when she turned her attention back to Valeria and Maria.

Only a short distance from the two, the redhead picked up traces of their low whispering, her eyes attentively following her ears as she gave them a sidewards glance.

"... not be her real... Maria can you... escape for... surrounded or worse..."

Valeria's strong accent combined with her uncharacteristically soft tone didn't help things for Nessie, but with what she heard she was able to fill in the blanks enough to get a general idea of what the next steps could be, depending on how tactful things remained. Instead of preparing an attack she'd summon her broomstick to her side, gripping it tightly with one hand. Meanwhile she scanned around for any of her fellow Magical Girls who didn't have some means of flight, or at least quick transportation, gesturing with her free hand to them in case they wanted to hop on with her. Whether they attacked or fled it would probably prove an advantage to remain airborne, she figured.
Weeks had passed now since the events at the villa, and yet its events remained no less vivid in Eduard Montag's mind. From entering the Arnault estate to the moment the Mayor was shot before his very eyes, the detective's crystal clear recollection of every second from that evening was something that had plagued his thoughts near-constantly for the past month. He didn't doubt that it had something to do with that strange woman he'd encountered, the one who had managed to drive his mind to the very brink of decay, but it was clear that day had left an imprint on him, internally at least. He didn't doubt that the same applied to Abigail and especially Marie, now left with little to hold onto after the sudden death of her father, no matter what relationship she'd had with him. That imprint on the three of them represented a sort of microcosm of the effect on the rest of New Haven that the death of Thomas Arnault had produced.

Even now, amidst the chilled wet air that spread like miasma through the cobbled streets, Montag still couldn't push those images out of his mind. As well as the potential consequences that had yet to come to fruition. Now more than ever it felt as if something was brewing within and beneath the confines of this city. Things stirring that everyone, even those leading as regular a life as you could lead in this place, feared but dared not speak about. Paranoia was now embedded in the very foundation of New Haven.

It was for this reason that Abigail and Marie had suggested branching out. Up until now Montag had remained a completely solo detective. Never asking for help and barely acknowledging others who worked close to him. If he'd been asked only a couple of months prior, the idea of working with a partner, let alone an agency, wouldn't have even gotten a response from the young man. Even still, after taking on Abigail and Marie as his first associates, the suggestion of a whole agency was something he'd been very reluctant to give any sort of mileage. People, let alone strangers, couldn't be trusted easily in a place like New Haven. Some would stab you in the back figuratively and literally with the same ease that they would shake your hand and give you a smile. That's just the kind of moral void this city was. And yet, nonetheless, he'd given in. Perhaps he was getting soft, he thought, lighting up a cigarette as he now approached the docks where they'd arranged to meet. This place had been Abigail's idea actually, and he had to admit it wasn't a bad spot. Out of the inner city, an area of the outskirts most didn't go out of their way to hang around unless they worked here, but with the state the warehouse they'd chosen was in Montag severely doubted anyone was working in this particular nook. Plus, this was well out of the way of his actual office, meaning that if there were any bad eggs showing up today then they wouldn't know where to find him afterwards. Not that easily at least.

Montag Detectives Limited is the name he'd chosen for their agency. A basic name, as Marie had pointed out almost immediately after he'd chosen it, but the detective wasn't here to be creative. He was here to do a job, and besides he figured the name could always change later. At least this way people knew what they were signing up for.

The waves crashing against the rickety, deteriorating wooden boards along the dock was surprisingly therapeutic, tempting the detective to stare out at the vast stretch of water ahead just a little longer, until he'd finished his cigarette at least. In a weird sort of way it was quite a beautiful evening, something you didn't always notice until you found your way out of the inner city. But, conscious of his own and other peoples' time, the quick decision was made to save the private viewing for later. Montag stamped the half-finished cigarette out on the deck, he found it rude to smoke in front of strangers as you greeted them, and stepped through into the open warehouse.

He entered to relative bustle as the prospective members settled themselves down. Montag was surprised to see this many here already to be honest, in fact if he was the last one to show up today he might almost be impressed.

"Evening." He finally spoke, his tone cutting right through whatever other conversations may have been continuing. If his entering hadn't caught everyone's attention yet, it had now. He hung around the doorway for now, just about inside, a short distance away from everyone else while being able to see them all. In his own time he'd give each of them an acknowledging, but discerning, look.

"I'm Detective Montag, but you may simply call me Montag. You may have already spoken to her but this is my associate, partner, whatever you want to call it, McCarthy. She's the one who arranged this whole thing, for better or worse." Montag nodded half-appreciatively to Abigail. Unlike his partner he wasn't up to saying first names quite yet in front of these people, especially not his own. He wasn't even sure if even Abigail or Marie knew what his first name was.

"Now I'm sure you've all had a short amount of time to get to know each other in the time it's taken me to get here, but before we go any further I'd like to hear an introduction from each of you. It's been only a few seconds but since I arrived I've already made judgements and observations about each of you that have given me an idea of what your character is. Maybe even the way you live, where you come from, your personal circumstances, perhaps even more than that. This is your chance to prove me right or prove me wrong. Tell me your name or alias, your age, where you come from, and why you want to join this agency. Anything else you want to add is extra, just don't go on for too long. Give me as concise of an idea of who you are as you possibly can."

Montag paused for a split second, looking to each newcomer as well as Abigail to gauge their individual reactions to his instructions, before continuing.

"We'll go in order of arrival. So whoever arrived first, now's your time to speak up.

"The hell is this place..."

Thomas muttered to himself, stumbling around extravagantly dressed gamblers and drinkers through the overwhelmingly vibrant surroundings of the casino. He'd occasionally lock gazes with those who bothered looking back at the boy, offering each one a confused look as he tried to discern their true nature. There were so many of them, and they all seemed so real, so genuinely real. Real in a way he now realised he hadn't sensed since entering the Tower. But that just wasn't possible, they couldn't be, they had to be data. That was, unless... okay, now he really needed to find someone. Or at the very least learn what exactly had occurred for things to be the way they were.

There was something increasingly intoxicating about the environment of the casino as well, and despite his mind being on other things, more and more Thomas felt an almost magnetic pull of temptation trying to lead him over to the vibrant slot machines or action-packed tables. Not only that, but the deeper he wandered into this place the more he felt as though he was being watched. Not just from one place, but almost like there were multiple gazes set on the boy at once, gazes that dispersed as soon as his violet eyes swept around to try and catch those looking in the act. For all its glitz and glamour, this place felt incredibly off, like there was something terrible hidden just beneath its exterior that its inhabitants purposefully ignored for their own sake.

The oddities didn't stop there, as suddenly Thomas was left as almost the only person moving within the sea of bodies for just a moment, all noise and commotion abruptly cutting off for a reason unknown to the young Violet for now. And though the jarring nature of that halt in movement, almost of life entirely, left the boy feeling slightly disoriented, it at least gave him the opportunity to spot a couple of others a short distance away who remained similarly unfrozen, before the normal comings and goings of the casino resumed. Soon those 'couple of others' gained recognisable form to Thomas as he got close, unmistakeably the figures of Kanbaru and Akiko, but there was a third with them now. One he did not recognise.

"Someone from the Tower? Or... someone else entirely?" Thomas muttered again to himself, musing breathlessly before moving straight to Kanbaru to address her directly. "Kanbaru, what the hell are we doing in this place? What happened, why are we here? And you." He didn't even wait for an answer before continuing, turning his violet gaze to Harley. "Who are you?"

The boy's voice was hoarse and his words were rushed. His injuries left from the Abyss still afflicted him, but whether it was because of them or some other hidden cause, Thomas was being far more upfront than usual. Perhaps he'd just begun to grow a pair now, but that was neither here nor there, given that his exerted and mildly pissed off look gave the impression that he wasn't up for taking much crap at this point.

Nessie wasn't really in a state to listen to the boisterous banter Valeria had to throw at her, and if anything the young Scot herself could've done with a Heineken to calm her nerves (even if it does taste like dog piss compared to other beers). As such the challenge thrown her way, whether in jest or not, was ignored for the time being while the budding Magical Girl turned around sharply to Maria as she found herself backing into the teacher, therefore sandwiching her between the Pageless. At first panicked and fidgeting, a look of reluctance and uncertainty painted on her countenance, the calmness with which Maria approached the situation and Nessie herself was enough to gradually simmer the girl down. The redhead felt a warm aura emanating from her far more experienced senior, a warmth that was imparted directly onto her as a pair of hands came to rest on her shoulders. It almost felt like she was being taught to paint in an art class, rather than how to destroy embodiments of pure darkness.

Willpower... now there was a word that hadn't even crossed Nessie's mind in a long time. In fact she hadn't even really registered the fact that she was doubting herself in the first place until Maria brought it to her directly then and there. It had felt like that to recognise that doubt as just being that, doubt, was to doubt the reality of her situation itself. But, as had been made quite clear recently, reality wasn't always so simple. As it never is. Maybe that's what she needed: Willpower, the strength and attitude to overcome doubt and the very base of weakness that comes from faulty perceptions.

Now she turned to face the Pageless. Shimmering in and out of their camouflage, just to tease the seemingly defenceless girl, the dark reptiles slunk ever closer to Nessie, somehow not at all shaken by the presence of Maria just behind her. Perhaps they were getting cocky. They clearly hadn't noticed the new look in the redhead's eyes though, her green irises sharpened as her teacher left goosebumps on Nessie's arms with her wisdom, words that the girl felt truly resonant with. Because, above all else, they were true and honest. She was where she belonged. Her Grimoire wouldn't have chosen her if she wasn't. As if to reflect this sentiment her Grimoire raised itself up before her, a radiant glow about it as it encouraged its bearer to take the next step, to prove to both it and herself what she could do.

"Focus... on a purpose..."

Nessie whispered to herself, eyes now shut as she took deep breaths, shutting out the incoming danger for just a moment to find something to picture or envision, whether it be an object, person or ideal, just something to help her find that purpose. And for one singular, private moment, she found it. One that passed her by, fittingly flashing past her at such comet-like speed that she could barely catch it. But she did. The pools of water that Nessie had admired within the confines of the mall shimmered slightly, rippling unnaturally as if brought to life by some unseen force. A force that was perhaps even palpable enough to be felt by a few others present, not least the experienced Magical Girl standing right behind the Scot girl. A force that was on the edge of exploding into a truly grand climax. One that was mere moments away, as rippling turned quickly to vicious bubbling and droplets began to rise into the air.

But unfortunately that display would never come, as a distinct and weighted voice cut through Nessie's concentration and the rest of the battlefield like a hot knife to butter.

"Agh, shite!"

Nessie cursed, at least back more or less to her normal self, as the waters suddenly stilled after all that build-up. To her surprise though, upon opening her eyes she realised the Pageless were no longer in front of her. In fact they'd scampered completely out of sight, as had the other ones whom her classmates had been facing off against. Instead, one woman stood to replace their presence. And not just replace it, but somehow utterly outdo it. Now the girl lost all the pent-up will to be her usual outspoken self. This mysterious woman, half-masked by a strikingly golden fan as compared to her darker attire, was very obviously not one to be trifled with. And given the alarmingly dense swarm of Pageless that now gathered like an army of hellhounds behind her, it was clear her intentions and affiliations were at odds of those of the Magical Girls present.

Ozma's usual casual, devil-may-care attitude and way of conversing seemed especially odd now, but it's not like anyone was going to question that. Nessie listened closely, registering a name and the fact that this woman was, most likely, a Magical Girl. To say the girl was surprised to hear that was an understatement. Until that moment she had never considered the fact that a Magical Girl could go bad, turn rogue, join 'the dark side'. But if it was possible in any other walk of life, why not this one. Still though, despite all that, the still slightly wide-eyed Nessie found herself looking to Maria again as she offered the teacher her second big question of the day. After a bit of fumbling, that is.

"Miss Maria- should I call you miss?- oh, nevermind- who is that...?"

Upon hearing Stripes' helpful reminder to stay alert despite the fascinating scene taking place in front of their very eyes Nessie perked up, Grimoire still very much at the ready now just in case any of the buggers came out of hiding to have a go at any of them.

"Aye." She acknowledged Stripes directly with a nod.
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