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  • Title: I remain resolutely unimpressed.

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  1. Ida eventually found her way over to Magpie as the Behemoth got under way, trundling out after the core theft. She raised up her own ruined project for Magpie to see. "Yes, you are working," she acknowledged. Her voice had none of her usual cheer, and her face was deathly grim as she looked out the same window as Magpie. "Just felt like giving you a little extra motivation." She flicker her gaze over the girl. "You've had one hell of a life, Magpie, so I don't think it's fair of me to ask this of you... but I can't help but be on the same page as you on this matter." She could already tell what Magpie was thinking. Not that it was hard. "I know you're good to take care of it." She didn't tell Magpie to be careful, she didn't tell her to be safe. There was utter confidence in the look she gave the girl. Respect for what she was capable of. "Of course I'm good to take care of it." Not taking her eyes off her target - her prey - Magpie smirked "I wouldn't be here if I couldn't handle some cowardly thief. I bet he isn't even armed!" Ida smiled, still with a grim aura to it that wasn't her usual demeanor. "He probably will be," she said carelessly as she turned back to walk to the front of the Behemoth. It was clear from her tone that she didn't consider the fact anything to worry about. Ida strode from the Behemoth with a grim determination. She stalked towards the smoldering wreck on the ground, and the triumphant spear-holding girl atop it. She couldn't help a grin as Magpie triumphantly offered the rig as salvage to Sid. "Knows how to get things done, doesn't she?" she asked in response to Lusine. Sid soured it momentarily when he called for her D-Rig. She pushed her glasses up over her eyes, the sunlight glinting off of them harshly as she gave him a fierce grin. "Ugly? MY rig? Bold talk for the owner of a box with wheels. My machine is BEAUTIFUL." But she didn't fight the request, rushing forward to the pile of cores and fishing out her Link core. She also took the time to grab Magpie's, raising it to gesture at her companion with a grin. "Take some time to relax after a job well-done," she called up to her. "I'll have your core reinstalled the second I've dragged this bastard into the Behemoth. YOU get priority." She lowered her voice conspiratorially, waggling her eyebrows as she sauntered over to her rig, grabbing the tow hook off its spot on the Behemoth where it had been dragged: "You know, us staying on with him for a time might not be the worst idea. Did you see that core of his? It could be the start of a brand-new breakthrough! A blessing in disguise, perhaps-" She stopped, tow hook in hand, staring down at the rig. The white racing-style car was battered and dented, if largely in one piece. She hadn't been watching during the actual duel itself; She had been waiting for Magpie to swoop in. But now that she looked at it closely- "Hell," she muttered, slamming the hook into the rig's bumper and rushing toward her own. She tossed the cores into the seat beside her, relying on the dregs of power left in her engine to get the rig into the 'box with wheels.' It would do for a rush job, and Ida was suddenly very interested in rushing. "Magpie, get inside the Behemoth," she called, in a voice that Magpie wouldn't be at all used to: Unquestionably an order. And worried. "We have to get out of here. Yesterday." "We have to get out of here," she declared as the rogue rig dropped onto the Behemoth's floor, hook swinging loose and detaching as Ida turned her own off, standing and leaning out her door to address the group inside the Behemoth as a whole. "Reinstalling our cores will take time, time we don't have. Sid, how fast does this thing move?" She was all business now. "I have no idea what the specs on your core are but it looks capable of some serious power. We need to get away from here long enough to reinstall our cores, then scatter." "Why?" Sid frowned, raising an eyebrow, "I'm not sure if you looked in there, but this guy isn't going to be causing us any more problems." "You'd be surprised." Ida jumped down from her rig and kicked irritably at the door of the rig. "I recognize the rig. He's one of the outriders of Holloword. And unless they greatly overestimated his abilities he probably has friends. Close by. They don't mess around." "I hope you don't think this huge thing is disappearing into the night. The tracks alone are enough that we would just be followed. If someone comes, we can just throw your pet at them and I'm sure things will resolve themselves." Pausing for a moment, Sid narrowed his eyes, trying to get a read on Ida, "Besides, you all owe me treasure still. Maybe that Hollow Ward is a good place to look?" Ida visibly bristled, clearly flinching at the suggestion. She pushed her glasses up her nose swiftly, voice tight. "Fact that Magpie netted you an entire rig aside, have you not heard of Holloword?" She pronounced it slowly, making clear it was a single word. "It's one of the worst places you can find in the Wasteland, take it from me. You try to roll in for treasure and they'll strip you of your strange core and anything else they feel like taking and leave you to wither in the dust." And ruin my life's work while they're at it, she thought bitterly as she caught sight of her shattered project behind Sid. She had an uncomfortable memory of being ridden down by a colossal machine, but with Magpie in place of her. She shook her head, walking up to Sid and lowering her voice. "This is a bad idea, Sid. I speak from experience. Magpie's killed one of their own. They won't take that lying down. Just give us the time we need to reinstall the cores. I at least owe Magpie that."
  2. Ida watched patiently as Magpie lingered behind, but ended up nodding her head as she saw the girl wander off. Though it left Ida with the responsibility to defend herself if things went south, which Magpie was infinitely better at than she was, it also meant she didn't have the fallout of a scrap to wade through. Yet. She dusted her hands off against each other, frowning. Now she had nobody to talk to about her gripes with Alliyma and her standoffishness. It was exactly this reason why she wasn't sad to see Holloword behind her. She'd fit in amongst the roughnecks there, and no mistake. Still though. For some reason she couldn't help getting along with Magpie far better than she had with types like Alliyma, and the girl was certainly closer to her in demeanor than she was to Ida. "One of the many mysteries of the wastes." She shrugged cheerily. She almost viewed befriending Magpie as an accomplishment. Few else could say they had that honor. She swept a critical eye across the market, frowning. One unfortunate problem of her new nomad status: She didn't have access to nearly the same quality of materials as she had in Holloword. She had to sneak around and haggle tooth and nail, but at least she had been able to wrangle some things worth cobbling together. Not so out here. She doubted she could power a ten-watt bulb with the goods on display in the Grove, let alone a summon core. "I had to leave right when I was finally starting to make good progress," she sighed, looking doubtfully over an amalgamation of metal that might once have been a chasis of some kind but was more likely some rusted-together clamps. It was then that her attention was pulled directly to the center of the square, where the hat-wearing man had called court. She initially ignored him, assuming he and his companion to be locals. Public address or somesuch. But it became abundantly clear that she was the target audience for the message. And her blood ran cold as she heard it. The Link core that powered her rig was one thing. That was replaceable. But the non-functioning one, the one that she had spent years working on... "Excuse me," she said briskly, darting through the crowd, trying to get a glimpse of Magpie. She thought she saw her for a second, waving her arm erratically as she rushed for the edge of town, where their rigs had been parked. She dimly caught word of the man offering to give them a ride to pursue, and she shouted out abruptly and loudly "I'll take you up on that, sir!" as she reached the edge of the square, already frantically increasing her pace to a run. - - - - - - - Ida could see where her engine had been pried apart already on the amalgamation of construction machines that was her rig. She didn't need to check, she could see the summon core was gone. Magpie's too, parked in the shadow of her own. But she was hastening to the cabin, wanting to find the compartment where she- There was a pile of scrap metal and broken glass next to her rig. She came to a dead stop, slowly kneeling down to pick up what had been left of her great experiment. The rushing of blood in her ears very suddenly intensified, already fast from her hurried run to the outskirts here. She turned it over in her hands slowly one way, then the other. Her expression very gradually hardened. She rose slowly, her eyes peering up towards the Behemoth. - - - - - - - "Thank you for giving us a chance to reclaim our cores," Ida said softly to the man who owned the great rig as she walked into it, the first of several from among the town. "Do you think something this big will be sufficient to catch... up..." She looked around the large cargo hold, raising an eyebrow. She was impressed, despite herself. The interior of the rig looked more like a transport machine than a dueling vehicle. Sharply organized, spaced efficiently with benches along the side. She had already been told her rig wouldn't be able to fit inside, as it was by far the largest. She had towed Magpie's here, and had left it outside for the girl to drive in herself, her own hitched to the back by a winch and chain the driver of the great machine had provided. She noted that the man seemed to travel alone, or at least with very few companions. She had to wonder who all the space was for. "An impressive machine," she said softly, wandering through the cargo bay to the bridge up front. "I'd be surprised if you could manage to power it without at least two summon co-" Her words caught in her throat as she came upon the bridge and saw the energy field that sat in the middle of it. More importantly, the single core that sat within. It was unlike any piece of machinery she had seen before. The size of a beach ball, hovering within the energy field and rotating slowly. A hexagonal bulk of dark metal, glowing yellow circuitry visible with several red wires connected around it. And a swooshing, glowing symbol on the topmost face. "What is this?" she asked in awe, slowly wandering around the core. She had beaten everyone else to the bridge, so there was nobody to answer her. She sat dumbly in a copilot's seat, looking at the strange core in utter fascination. Until she felt the weight of her own attempt in her hands. It felt a paltry thing next to the mystery core, and she felt even stupider than her rig getting broken into and her life's work being shattered already had. She slumped in her copilot seat, waiting anxiously for departure, turning her head to look out the dusty windshield. Somewhere, he was out there. And as long as she had Magpie at her back, she was confident he would pay. She waited, looking over her shoulder, raising a hand to get her companion's attention. The hand was visibly trembling, the ruined core prototype clearly visible in her other one. She couldn't help stealing glances at the floating core.
  3. The day was dry, the smell was sour, and Ida von Hellebore was bored. She had been sitting at the edge of the market for the last twenty minutes, craning her neck to spy the massive D-Rig at the edge of the settlement. She was hoping to catch a glimpse of its owner of the massive beast, but so far had been unsuccessful. She adjusted the glasses over her eyes against the glare of the dawn sun, drawing her knees up to stretch sore legs. Today was the first day she wasn't going to spend behind the wheel of her own D-Rig in three days, and while the machine was unquestionably her pride and joy it played hell with one's ass after too long. Still. It had brought her here, and maybe this massive Rig held promise. It was only then that Ida caught sight of the armored woman. The 'Don't fuck with me' energy she exuded was strong, but Ida was immediately taken in by the armor she was wearing. It was exceptionally well-made, even from a distance she could tell. Far better than one could expect out here in the wasteland. To the point Ida felt a growing itch of curiosity. She leaned in to her companion, her head conspiratorially lowered to mutter lowly. "Well would you look at that. THAT is a fine piece of armor she's got over there, eh Magpie?" "Sure is. Won't find something like that just anywhere, that's for sure. Wouldn't mind something like that myself." "I see we are, as ever, joined in thought. Watch my back, if you would." She breezed forward, eyes zeroing in with renewed interest on this new specimen, Magpie shadowing behind her. "Hello, miss? With the sword?" The tall, glasses-wearing form of Ida von Hellebore drew up level with the woman, looking with an appreciative eye at the armor she wore. "I couldn't help but notice the quality of your armor." "You're a fan? It protects the important parts without too much heat, and I thought it looked nice. What more is there to want?" While her words were full of warmth, her face remained stern, refusing to look Ida in the eye as she looked up and down the girl who followed her, her eyes lingering on the point of Magpie's spear. "You, do you know how to use that, or is it just to scare people off?" "Would you like to find out?" Magpie asked in return, eyes alight in anticipation of a new challenge. "Don't tempt me. What do they call you?" The girl pushed past Ida so casually it almost didn't seem to be rude, as she approached Magpie, looking down at her to return the gaze. "Magpie. That's what they called me in the colosseum, and I'm not really sure what I was called before then." "Magpie? Fitting name for such a small bird, querrequerre." A gentle hand descended on Magpie's shoulder. Not strong enough to hold her back if she decided she WAS being tempted to use the spear, just a silent request to hold off on it for now. "She may be small but she's been quite helpful to me ever since we ran into each other," she said warmly, smiling at the woman with unrelenting casualness. "You can call me Ida, miss. And what may we have the pleasure of calling you?" "Mm?" The girl blinked, her attention brought back to Ida, though her posture was still very much directed toward Magpie, her hand once again on the hilt of her blade. "I'm Alliyma. And it will only be a pleasure if you keep on my good side." "Oh, of course! Not our first time in one of these edge settlements, we've no aims for your bad side." Ida steepled her fingers, running her eyes over Alliyma's armor with a glint in her eye. "We were just curious if you made your armor yourself. The both of us are always in the market for good craftsmanship, for various reasons." Alliyma rolled her eyes, "Come now, friend, my eyes are up here. I am not a crafter, and the one I got it from is well out of your range, both in distance and cost." Ida waved a hand. "Distance, cost, all issues for Future Ida, Future Magpie. I must know, best to keep well-informed of opportunities for good quality in the event of an unexpected windfall, eh?" She gave a winning smile. Ida's winning smile was met with Alliyma's winning frown, "He's dead. If you want, I will gladly draw you a map so you can trek six thousand miles to gawk at his corpse." Ida's smile soon matched Alliyma's. Mostly. Ida couldn't develop an expression nearly as stony. "Well. Unfortunate, eh, Magpie? Unlike you, actually," she realized, looking back to Alliyma. "Six thousand miles? You must be as well-made as your armor, to make it so far in these times. Have you trekked here all the way from off-continent?" The sheen of curiosity was back now, back and brighter than before. "No, I rode a whale." "You mean there's things living in the ocean big enough for people to ride them?" This, if one could believe it, was news to Magpie. "You are as smart as your keeper aren't you, Little Bird?" At being called Little Bird a second time, Magpie began to reach for her spear. "Peck at this 'little bird' again and she might be inclined to take your eyes, as birds do." "Don't try to fly with a condor, querrequerre" This time Ida didn't put the hand on Magpie's shoulder. She took a step back, taking in Alliyma more critically, not just focusing on her armor. "I will ask you one more question, then I'll leave you be, as you're clearly not inclined much to this." "What is it, Ima?" Ida leaned closer, frowning in thought as she met Alliyma's eyes. If being called the wrong name bothered her, she didn't show it. "... Are you being sarcastic or did you actually ride a whale? I'd assume the former, but it's very hard for me to tell... and I'd love for a story that ludicrous to be fact." She grinned, but the welcoming air was gone now and she had a definitive wariness behind her glasses. "I didn't ride a whale, no. I have a long road behind me." "We should all be so lucky." Ida bowed her head swiftly, taking a step back to disengage. "A pleasure, Miss Alliyma. I wish you luck with your next six thousand." She split away, looking back and slowing up enough to make sure Magpie could catch up. "Shame she's so blasted prickly," she lamented, though quietly enough to where she was certain Alliyma couldn't hear her. "You know, Magpie, it's amazing to me how the end of the world came about and humanity as a whole decided they couldn't trust each other. It's blasted inconvenient, is what it is. Everyone has to prove they've the most bones of all concerned before they'll dare being helpful." She stopped, realizing Magpie wasn't listening. This was due to Magpie not being behind her. She turned back to see the girl was back aways, still near Alliyma. "Hmm. Well. Shit." Ida crossed her arms as she leaned back against a wall. Not impatiently, just expectantly, waiting to see where Magpie chose to take it next. Or Alliyma, if she was quicker on the draw, and in a drawing mood.
  4. Rosalia turned to look at John. The dark glasses made meeting his eye easier. The steadily swindling anger didn’t hurt either. She felt buoyed by the fire Charlie's comment had lit in her, at least for the moment. “We’ve been discussing with each other why you’ve invited me here today, actually… I have to admit the lot of us are stumped so far.” “Is that so… I thought I said why the other day. Huh. My mistake, then. However, I’d rather discuss that one on one, away from…” he motioned towards the door opposite where they were, where Agira and Belle could be seen ever so slightly peeking around the door frame, “Busybodies.” “Hey! Calling Belle a busybody is fine, but I’m j-” “Excuse me, you little brat!?” John sighed as the two began to argue again, shaking his head and walking towards the end of the hall without another word. Rosalia gave Hifumi a nod of farewell, and then, finding she didn’t have it in her to refuse it of them, gave one to Charlie as well before she turned to walk after John. “I’m in a team with Sashisematta and Daichi,” she told him as she drew level with him. “Raucous discussion isn’t anything I’m not used to.” “I suppose that’s fair,” John chuckled softly as he produced a key, unlocking the final door on the right, before stepping into what looked not unlike a lawyer’s office. Nice desk, some bookcases, a couch, and even a flat screen TV hanging from the wall… though it appeared to have a layer of dust on it from minimal use. Reaching under the desk, John opened a door and produced two bottles of water, handing one to his guest. “To answer your question, I used to know a guy who played your deck. A lot more aggressively than you do, mind, but it’s almost like watching you play his deck with my style… And I thought I might be able to help. Train you a bit. After all, the crowd and MC seemed to really get to you, so I reckoned some privacy and analogue games would do wonders.” Rosalia took the bottle of water, slowly and contemplatively twisting at the cap without actually opening it. She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, but this wasn’t it. “Why?” she asked simply. She didn’t feel the need to ask for clarifiers; The question seemed to encompass every aspect of this perfectly “Counterpoint: Why not? I think you have a lot of potential, but you seem a bit hellbent on being in control. Ironically, not the point of playing a control deck. I figure I should pass on some knowledge, given that I’m pretty close to being considered an old man… At least in this line of work,” He chuckled before taking a swig of his water. “But we’re your competition. We could very easily see each other in a duel again at the end of all this, especially if both of us keep winning.” Which I very much intend to do, she thought privately to herself. “Isn’t it more fun to have people to genuinely hone yourself against? Well, that’s not exactly what I’m after, but it’s still a good reason. You can call me your rival, your mentor, whatever… I just want to help. We have similar playstyles, and I want to see where you can make it. As for the team thing,” John held up his hand as if to tell her to wait, only for her to notice the distant sounds of bickering had become laughter, lively noises, even the voice of Ayakuro she had yet to hear faintly making it, “These guys came together because they needed a place to be… It’s why Charlie rented this whole floor, so we all had a place to go. I think that’s a wonderful thing to pay it forward, and I want to do something similar. Besides, I’m sure that you could end up finding a place to unwind here, too, if you keep visiting.” Rosalia blinked several times at John, her blank expression hidden partially by the glasses. Had he had fun during their match? She had found it to be one of the most stressful experiences of her life; She had far too much riding on these matches. The team had far too much riding on them. And after her conversation with Charlie, unwinding felt all of a sudden very distant. Even now the laughter behind her felt like a different world, one she very much didn’t belong in. She gently set the bottle of water down on the desk, so far unopened. “I… appreciate your offer,” she told him slowly, contemplating her reply even as she gave it. “But I’m not sure that is the best idea. I have my responsibilities to the rest of the team, of course.” She stepped away, turning to gaze out the window at the city beyond. “My first match was… rougher than I would have liked,” she admitted, the sentence feeling like nails dragging up her throat as she forced it out, “... but it was my first. The arena is… something I’ll have to get used to. Everyone does, don’t they?” Not Daichi, a small voice in the back of her head said. Not Sashisematta. Not Evelyn or Falisha or any of Team Free. Just you, Rosalia. A frown creased her forehead at the thought, and she turned around briskly to address John directly again. “What would this entail?” she asked, cutting straight to business. “What would I be signing up for?” “In my eyes, mentorship. Deck choice discussion, theoretical puzzles, paper testing. That’s it. You’d never have to interact with the others, if you never want to. But the most important thing you have to learn, as a fellow control player… is to let go. You cannot control every play. You cannot control every attack. You can’t control everything that happens in life. And I want to walk you through learning that, because it is a difficult lesson.” Rosalia crossed her arms. “And what would you be getting out of it?” “Training a future champion sounds pretty cool to me, if I’m honest.” She flinched, her surprise evident. “I… We’re all far from champions,” she said haltingly. “For now,” was a hasty addendum. “You’re right, but I see potential in you. Sure, I led you around by the nose… but once you found your groove, you managed to catch up in a heartbeat. Your deck is a lot more powerful than my Muskets. I got here by sheer skill. You can surpass me with any amount of practice, honestly.” She let out a long sigh. “Implying you don’t think I have the skill to compete yet.” “You’re not wrong… but that’s far from a bad thing. You’re just now stepping into the Minor Leagues. You have skill, but you need to refine it. Is that so bad?” Rosalia wasn’t even irritated he had implied she was unskilled; Their duel had more than proven her current ability wasn’t as infallible as it had seemed. She reached up to brush her hair from her forehead as she thought the offer over. She didn’t agree with everything John was saying. Not by a long shot. But he was skilled. There was no denying that. Her draw against him was deserved even less than Eve thought her win against Agira was. He thought she could be a champion. That was more faith in her than Vega had. “... We’ll see where it goes,” she said, by way of agreement. “Perfect. Then let me wipe off that TV, and we can get started…”
  5. Rosalia peered through the rounded sunglasses she had placed over her eyes up at the office building before her. A corner building of middling height, much the same as the one she would normally have been in with the rest of the team now. It seemed oddly small to contain the absolute monolith of frightful skill she had faced down during that match, to say nothing of the rest of the team. She breezed through the door, lowering the glasses to look briefly to the receptionist at the desk. “Excuse me… I’m looking for a space being used by Team Free?" “Ah, you’re with them…” The lady at the desk looked aside, her eyes narrowing… and the edge of her mouth started to twitch softly, “Head up to floor 3, they rent that floor. Are you… going to be joining them?” Rosalia was glad to have her eyes shrouded behind the dark glasses. It hid her confused blinking. The receptionist had a very odd expression on her face, and she wondered is not all was right with Team Free and the owners of the space they rented. An entire floor, though… That was impressive. “Um, just for today,” she said, smiling slightly as she began to walk towards the back, where a trio of elevators awaited. “Thank you.” She leaned against the back wall of the elevator after the doors had closed. She tried to convince herself to relax the iron-like grip she had on the strap of the black canvas bag she had over her shoulder. The last few days had been spent worrying fretfully about why Jonathan wanted her to attend the meeting of a rival team. She had slept poorly last night, hence the dark glasses to hide her tired eyes. And give her an excuse not to meet the eyes of anybody there. As the elevator opened, she tried her best to walk forward in her normal stately manner and not give the impression she had been tossing and turning all night. Between the dark glasses, the simple cut dark skirt, the dark slate blouse, and the heels that sounded like gunshots impacting on the floor, her nerves were masked well. Hopefully she wouldn’t mess it up by having to talk much. When the elevator opened, the first thing to greet her was Agira’s screaming. “I’m sorry, Belle! I won’t do it agaaaaaain!” “Damn right you won’t, dumbass! I’ve told you to remember Speed World more times than I can count!” “Come on, guys, we have a guest on the way,” Charlie chimed in from a room opposite of the one the first sounds came from, “Don’t scare her off before she even has a chance to meet everyone.” The end of their sentence was perfectly punctuated by the crack of Rosalia’s heel on the floor just a few steps beyond the door. She winced, knowing there was no way it hadn’t gone unheard. She stepped into the doorway, raising up her eyebrows in an attempt to look enthused. With the dark glasses the effect was closer to supercilious. “I hope I’m not too early,” she said softly by way of greeting. “N-no, you’re perfectly fine!” Charlie waved with a nervous grin as Rosalia peeked into the room. They sat at what looked like a fairly cheap coffee table, with a girl sitting across from them, bundled up in a dark gray hoodie, with a few strands of black hair falling down in front of the glasses on her face, before looking away from Rosalia’s gaze, “John stepped out for a smoke, you must’ve just missed him. Sorry about the, uh… Belle.” “Why are you apologizing for me!? Agira’s the one who fucked up!” Rosalia turned to peer over her shoulder at this outburst. Across the hall, the voice came from a fairly tall woman, her hand keeping the Fire King player from slouching on a couch as she scolded him, “Anyway, nice to meet you. Belle Ebenezer, wasn’t one of the ones who played with you guys. I swear I’m nice to everyone but Agira and his dumb mistakes!” Rosalia nodded. “Yes, I’m sure… Of course I guess an introduction for me isn’t really needed at this point.” She turned back to Charlie, stepping forward to offer a hand. “Thank you for having me here, one captain to another.” “Oh, it’s not a problem whatsoever! After all, it’s in the name, isn’t it? Team Free. Just a space for each of us to exist, y’know?” The smaller person took Rosalia’s hand and shook it, before motioning to the other member sitting near them, “And that’s Aya. I know she looks nothing like her profile, but she is pretty shy, when she’s not on stage. Opposite of you, from the looks.” “I’m not sure what you mean.” Rosalia brushed the topic off quickly. She gave Aya a quick look and a slow nod of greeting. Ayakuro Hifumi. While she did indeed look different from her profile, Rosalia knew her record. She was as skilled as the rest of the team. Minus perhaps Agira, if Belle’s opinion was anything to go by. “Did Johnathan tell you why he invited me, perchance? I’m not sure, myself.” “Hmm… Who can say?” Charlie hummed as they gave their answer, a sly smile on their face, “But I do know he respects you, after that showing. Crowds don’t like ties, but given how he had you on the backburner, I have to say I’m quite impressed myself!” “Thank you,” Rosalia said, the coal of shame that had been burning in her belly the last few days flaring painfully. “You did very well yourself against Sashisematta. He is quite skilled, defeating him is no mean feat.” “Wish I could agree with you. The person I saw across from me wasn’t the person who showed up to his first match, so to speak. Cowardly… Too much respect for his opponent.” The coal of shame went out immediately. Rosalia had been determined to keep the glasses on as long as possible, but she now reached up without hesitation to lower them so that she could peer over them at Charlie. While her words were still perfectly cordial, her gaze had the steeliness it had possessed when she had forced the draw with John. “I can say many things of Sashisematta. Being cowardly certainly isn’t one of them.” “Admirable of you to defend him, but I’m pretty sure he would describe his dueling the same way. Possibly already has… Am I wrong?” Charlie looked back with a look that belied indifference. “Anyhow, John should be back before too long… We normally stick to our groups for these meetings, talking amongst each other, and it can get kinda loud. I get the feeling the receptionist doesn’t like us much… But hey, what can you do? He usually sticks to the room at the end of the hallway. Not sure where our sixth member is, or I would introduce you to him, too.” The glasses slowly slid back into place, once again hiding Rosalia’s eyes from view. “You split into your own groups? Interesting. Team Genesis’s meetings are communal. Do you have a reason for that structure or did it just happen to work that way?” It was almost as if she hadn’t just given Charlie an uncharacteristic death glare eight seconds ago. “We’re a group of misfits, for one reason or another. I’ve tried big, structured teams before, and it wasn’t my style… But our results speak for themselves. Our team is still fairly young, but we’ve already made a name for ourselves. Why force people with mismatched personalities to sit and act all stuffy, y’know?” She nodded. “I’m sure it has its benefits,” was all she had to add to this, her sentence still edged with the remnants of her gaze. “Ah, there you are, miss.” As the conversation with Charlie hit an awkward point, John stepped off of the elevator, chewing something, “Didn’t see you slip in. I trust the team’s been nice to you? Offered refreshments and all that?”
  6. The end of the Chicken Fight round and the immediate aftermath that followed was a blur to Risa. She barely remembered much, other than a hazy reply to Ben as the two separated. Regardless, she eventually found herself out in the lower reaches of the arena, below the stands, her Stabilizing Soles held over her shoulder by the metal frames near the opening for the leg, her heartbeat finally slowing enough to fully comprehend what had just happened. “I’m in the last round of the Sports Festival,” she said softly to herself. She was hardly able to believe it. How the hell was she here, among the other students of the Hero Course? To think this all started just because I was able to drag Sasaki out of that debris, she thought to herself. The thought was shocking to her, and she suddenly had a desire to find Sasaki and make sure he was alright. After all, I maybe jogged him real hard in midair… I’m sure I can just see if he’s going to make a quick recovery, right? “Hey, is that the Kawashima girl?” Risa very suddenly felt the need to accelerate this plan, a flush of color coming to her cheeks as she hurried down the corridor back into the stadium proper, not looking back despite calls of her name from behind her. It’s fine, it’s fine, they’ll just assume it’s somebody else, she told herself. It wasn’t until she was just around the corner from the infirmary that she realized there were likely precious few other small girls in UA uniforms loaded down with various pieces of metal and carrying foot cages over her shoulder. Oh. Oh no. Oh god. She silently berated herself as she stopped her forward momentum to pace back and forth, back and forth. Was that rude? I mean… They want to talk to the Hero students more, surely- “Kawashima? Kawashima Risa?” She jumped about a mile, whipping around to see, wide-eyed, a full on camera crew and a microphone pushed in her face. “Um… Yes? Hi?” she squeaked helplessly. The reporter, undaunted by Risa looking like a startled deer, smiled widely. “Young Miss Kawashima, we’re just looking to interview some of the heroes who have made it this far in the Festival!” “Student, just a-” she began a meek correction, but the reporter was already forging on. "Kawashima, it looks like you have been doing a spectacular job upholding the family legacy!" Risa couldn’t put her finger on why, but that question felt like a knife blade to the gut in her current mood. Regardless, she tried to smile as she answered. The result was less than convincing, but the embarrassed reaction to the interview was days away, when it was inevitably recycled on TV and she would have the misfortune to see it. "Ummmm, I don't know about that! My big sis Fumiko is the one you'd want to talk to about that… The hero Prestige? O'Hara-sama is really where a lot of the credit for today so far has to go. I really was just very very lucky to have him put up with me as a partner!” "Funny thing, he said the same about you. Did you two know each other before all this? You've made quite the pair." "No, I've never met any of the Hero Course before toda- EEEEEH?!? He said what? He's just being nice, he's very encouraging. But ummmmm... No, I hadn't met him, I'd only heard about his Quirk in class a few times and thought it was interesting because, well... It is, isn't it, he's learned to use such a fascinating Quirk so well, even in round two where he had to carry me around and wasn't able to crawl on walls he was-" Risa now began a long and detailed ramble about Spider Colony what she had been able to infer about it, her brain having finally latched onto something she could talk about with confidence. She failed to interpret the reporter’s peeved expression as a desire for her to stop, thinking maybe she hadn’t clarified a point correctly. “And like I was saying, I think he has some degree of ability to direct them, or they’re way smarter than spiders usually are, and they’re actually very smart insects, I mean arachnids-” "I... See…” The reporter managed to finally cut her off by cutting around behind her, weaving an arm around Risa’s shoulders and leaning in conspiratorially to ask the next question. “We heard early on that whichever non-hero course student gets the farthest will be inducted into it. How do you feel, now that you have accomplished that goal and outlasted the two general course students from the previous round?" All thoughts of Spider Colony left Risa’s head. Her brain screeched to a halt at this question. All she was able to say was: "... Atsushi-san and Karada-san didn't advance?" “... Well, no. Didn’t you see on the board? You’re the sole student not from Class A or Class B.” "... I don't remember much after I saw I had advanced... I don't think I even saw the other teams that went forward..." "Well then it's a good thing the path into the hero course isn't a memory exam, isn't it?" The attempt on humor was lost completely on Risa’s mounting tide of panic. "Wait, WAIT, I'M the highest non-Hero course member in the Sports Festival?!?!?" "Congratulations, Kawashima," was the simple reply, as the cameraman started frowning at the reporter, making very clear ‘finish it’ looks with his eyes. Risa was only able to offer a very small “thank you” in reply. "With a legacy like yours, there will be a lot of eyes on you. Let's see how far you can go!" The reporter slapped a hand with forced cheerfulness on Risa’s shoulder before they turned to walk away, huffing out a breath. "Yeah... We'll um…” Risa cleared her throat, not even processing that the microphone wasn’t being shoved into her face anymore. “...have to see, right? How far..." “Why would you want to be a hero?” The memory of a question Risa had asked herself over and over again for years rebounded inside her head. She resumed her slow walk down the hallway, frowning as one of her hands absently fiddled with a strap on one of her Soles. Why indeed? She was smaller than most people her age, scared more easily than people her age, dumber too if her Support grades were any indication; She didn’t even have a Quirk that could make up for it. If I didn’t get to bring these in just for being in the Support Class I wouldn’t even be here, she thought to herself, rubbing at one of the weights on her belt. There was no sense in denying that. All the rest of the top eight had gotten here on the results of the Quirks and their skill at using them. Hers did literally nothing without something to work with from the start. I’m not like Fumiko, who can just make metal from her skin… And I’m certainly not the former Glory. So why do people keep acting like I am? She realized two things with horror. One was that clearly the interview crew had gone the same direction as her, and she hadn’t even noticed. She could hear the reporter’s voice around the corner even now, just outside the infirmary. The second was that her eyes were wet. She hurriedly reached up to wipe at them, almost dropping her Stabilizing Sole as she did so. She certainly didn’t want a bunch of strangers to see her crying, though she couldn’t quite put a good reason to why. "It appeared to be quite advanced, the only other one allowed to bring tech in is the student who designed her equipment herself, in class. How did you manage to receive this special treatment?" A stab of guilt, that. Even the casual onlookers knew that fact of the matter. "It's weaker than I am. [Significantly]. It's a registered support item that I need to get through day to day life." Risa very dimly recognized Diana’s voice. She and the American had never met, but this wasn’t the first time Risa had heard her speak. And after all, who else could they be talking to? "It looked plenty strong on camera. The boy you hit was awfully bloodied just from that strike. Is he on the other side of this door?" Risa frowned. That wasn’t exactly fair, at least not to her. Diana was right, her arm was literally missing. Only now did she think back to when she had walked by Diana in the stadium. There HAD been a small tingle, that sense she had that alerted her to any metal close enough for her Quirk to pick up on it. She hadn’t even noticed in her gut-wrenching worry about the next round. She had never seen the specs on Diana’s arm, had truthfully not even known she had a prosthetic, but it clearly hadn’t been designed to be used as a weapon first. Even she knew that, there was no way it would have broken that easily. She wondered if she should say something. She may not be a Hero Course student, but perhaps as a Support student her word might have some weight? Sure, she had the worst grades in her class, but they didn’t know that. Probably. But for all she knew Diana’s arm HAD been made as a weapon and there had just been some fluke, some aspect of her Quirk or Syo’s Quirk or Ayane’s Quirk or just a fluke of physics that had caused it to explode like that, though she really rather doubted it, perhaps she could ask Deerc-sensei about- And then Shannon’s cool voice cut in from around the corner. Risa flattened herself against the wall instinctually. She had seen the variety of holy terror that Shannon was capable of. Deerc-sensei still sometimes groused about her decking his Thunderjaw by herself. She couldn’t give a good reason for why Shannon scared her. She had been terrified of her the entire Festival, trying her best to avoid her the entire time. But now at least she could get behind Shannon’s actions as she did what Risa hadn’t been brave enough to do herself and tell the reporters off. It reminded her of something her sister might do, and Risa wasn’t entirely sure why that was concerning to her rather than a cause for relief. Or maybe it was both. At that thought, Risa had to take a mental step back and make up her mind that the pressures of the day had officially made her thought processes, convoluted and frantic at the best of times, officially made no damn sense. "I am powerful. Society dictates that means that I am and will always be a good hero, due to such.” Shannon’s voice, filtering around the corner again. Another frown from Risa. Being powerful… There was something to that. After all, she was weak, and not a Hero Course student. But for some reason when Shannon said that she couldn’t help but think of Ben. Think of Kawashima Fumiko. Think of Kawashima Yozo. And she still couldn’t say exactly why. But there was one thing she knew she did want to do. “Siegi-sama?” Risa had followed Diana away from the infirmary, waiting until Shannon had left in the other direction. She waved a hand as she rushed to catch up on her shorter legs, Stabilizing Soles held over her shoulder. “I um, was going to the infirmary to see if Sasaki-sama, make sure he’s alright… if he’s in there, I don’t know if you saw him. Kawashima, by the way,” she said hurriedly, waving a hand. “I was O’Hara-sama’s partner? Um…” There was an awkward moment while she gathered her words before blurting out: “I overheard the reporters. Talking to you, I’m sorry. They talked to me too and I… really didn’t like it either.” She looked down at the ground, embarrassed to talk about it. “But I… I think the question about your arm was really unfair. I’m not the best Support student but… Icouldmaybetryand… fix it?” She bit her lip. It sounded daft when she said it that way. Surely Siegi thought she was trying to sabotage her now, she was so unbelievably awkward. But she both could and wanted to offer. The desire to want to help.
  7. Rosalia had entered the box with a serene expression on her face that belied the extreme gauntlet the team had just faced. She hadn't said anything upon entering the box, she had merely walked to a chair and softly sat down, brushing her hair back behind her ears as she looked over Eve and Sai. The latter she looked at only out of the corner of her eye, not daring to meet his expression directly, as if he were a hornet's nest she expected to pop the second he was pressed. She and him would have to figure out where they went next from here on out, and they both already knew it. She saw little reason to remind him of it in front of the group. After Daichi and Kendra, there was a brief moment of quiet before Rosalia finally decided that, as the highest-ranking team member of the three, she owed them some responsibility to speak first, which was against character for her. "... I definitely think we were on the cusp of that draw turning into a victory. If I had managed to circumvent any one of his moves in particular, that could have been the difference. We've done very well today, especially for a team as skilled as Team Free. You saw their rankings, how high they were, I dare say we were considerably less favored than a draw." She turned to Eve, bowing her head slightly. "And on that note, just because one of their team members made a mistake doesn't undercut the skill of his opponent. You did very well out there, Eve, I don't want anyone to forget that." She took a long, slow breath, giving everyone a small, slight smile. "Not a win, but not something to be sad about, surely? Well... We can go over the technical side of the duels at the next meeting, or earlier if any of you want to connect with me earlier in the week... After all, they would take so long to go over, mine in particular. Kendra?" She fished in her bag for a moment before producing a small folded wallet. "Take this, would you? Drinks are on me tonight. I just need to freshen up, the rest of you go on ahead; I'll catch up." So saying, she stood, breezily walking to the entrance of the small bathroom at the edges of the box, giving one last meek smile to the group as she closed it behind her. She didn't turn on the light inside. Just stood there, silent, one hand behind her on the smooth door. Slowly she leaned back against it, sliding down to rest on the ground in a sitting position, staring sightlessly at the unlit floor below her as she slowly wrapped her hands over her knees to stop them from trembling. There was only one thing she was convinced of: The crowd. She hated it. Only now, away from that great rattling tide of noise was that thought clear and present in her head. She didn't understand how people like Sai and Daichi stood so brazen in the face of its enormity. Duels to her were the only place where everything made sense and had order to her. The crowd had disrupted that completely, not to mention her opponent. He was the first opponent in quite some time who had proved a true challenge to Rosalia. She still couldn't believe that after the sloppy performance she had shown that she had managed to squeak away with a draw, a draw! She felt more as if her life points had been reduced to zero thrice over, after the hellish gauntlet the team had endured out there a gauntlet where their most unpopular player had lost and where supposedly their most competetent had barely managed to throw herself back from the brink. Coming back to the box to find that Vega hadn't even remained for the entirety of the match had almost been too much. She was fortunate she'd managed to wait until she was alone to fall to pieces like this. She raised a hand to brush her hair from her eyes. With frustration she saw that it was still trembling. Would things have been different under other circumstances? Could she have held against Jonathan if she were able to concentrate, even turn the tide and attain a victory? Thank god for Eve. Otherwise it would have been the first loss on Team Genesis's record. And under her leadership. And all her fault. This reminded her of Jonathan's last words. A discussion? Practice? What did practice even look like to a duelist of his caliber? To a duelist of Charlie Robin's caliber? If it means I could ever duel like that... I wouldn't ever lose in this league. She stood, finally turning on the lights and almost frightening herself with her reflection. Her pale gray eyes looked haggard and frightened. This more than anything finally started inspiring the desire in her to pull herself together. The others already will have their confidence in me shaken... I have to put on a brave face for them, she told herself sternly, forcing a smile onto her face in the mirror. I'm their captain. Like he said. I have to lead. It was another ten minutes before she was satisfied enough with it to follow after her team.
  8. Rosalia was in the team’s private box at the arena before anyone else was. She had opted to keep the lights off, allowing only the light of day to illuminate the box. When the door opened before her to reveal Sai, the shadows in the back portion of the box made him look almost ghostly, his bottom half almost looking like they weren’t there. “Thank you for coming, Sashisematta. I wanted to have a talk with you… about last time.” She rose from her chair and walked around to face him, silhouetted in his vision by the sun behind her. “I’d like for you to hear me out first.” "Of course. I'm always open to criticism from those who keep an equally open mind." “... Your match against Avery was disrespectful to him… But you had intent behind it, a plan. I’m willing to see where it goes… for now. But you went too far against Avery. Do not push your luck… You’re skilled, there’s no denying it. And perhaps you’ll end up being correct about people wanting to see you lose. So for now we’ll wait and see if it works out. But don’t push it with this duel, Sashisematta.” A shrug from Sai. "This duel is different, there is no need for me to play up my opponent. They are already a hero." “I have one other condition.” Rosalia held up her Duel Disk, which was on video mode, paused on Sai’s duel with Avery. She hit the play button and the Sai’s own voice resonated from it. "This is your first duel at a pro level, isn't it?" Avery this time. “I don’t see why that’s relevant.” "How could it not be? I'm sure your team captain is doing just fine, the duelist she is against is an idiot, but can you imagine how she would feel if you let her down?” Rosalia hit the pause button. She hit rewind, repeating Sai’s last words against Daichi. She had not taken her eyes off of Sai the entire time. “Feel free to turn yourself into a heel to everyone else, Sashisematta… But I won’t allow you to drag anyone else on Team Genesis with you. Don’t insult the rest of the team on that stage. Is that understood?” "Ah, I suppose that comment may have crossed a line. I still hold hope that it will incite change within Daichi, but I will take your opinion into consideration." "I didn't ask you to take it into consideration." Rosalia's eyes narrowed. Her expression was only two or three degrees north of a glare. "I asked if it was understood." "Feisty." Sai narrowed his own eyes, almost as if he were a mirror for Rosalia. While the top half of his face held an expression of rage, brow furrowed like a beast about to attack, his lips curled into a gentle smile. "I understand you, better now than ever. Make sure to take some of this fury into your duel." The door opened before Rosalia could react to this, as a very tired-looking Vega came into the room. Sai turned to greet their coach, all smiles suddenly as he greeted her, asking something about when Evelyn would be joining them. Rosalia took a deep breath, looking down at her duel disk. She reached up and closed the video that had been pulled up, before Vega had a chance to see it. Vega didn’t need to get involved. She could handle this. - - - - - - - And I’ll handle it without rage, Sashisematta, she thought as she watched Jonathan with rapt attention. You misunderstand me. It wasn’t rage that motivated me to confront you… It was what the team needed. The only way forward. Just as I’ll find the way forward now. - - - - - - - Back in the box, as Daichi moved one of his packs aside, it exposed the small envelope that had been on the table beneath it, unseen up to this point. It was labeled simply with Kendra’s name in what was recognizably Rosalia’s smooth cursive. The contents were just as simple, once Kendra saw it and was able to open it. Just a short note and a single black-framed card. The note read merely: Thank you for helping me find a way forward. I thought it only fair to help you do the same. -R - - - - - - - I don’t need rage. All I need is to see the path forward… and take the shot. She took a good twenty seconds between Jonathan’s End Phase and the start of her turn, as the drama with Sai started to fade slowly to the background of her mind. To the back of her mind as the only thing that took up her thoughts was the duel. Solemn Warning…. A powerful card, to be sure. But considerably less powerful when I know about it. She thought back to her duel against Kendra in the mall a few days ago. Normally I would want to Link Summon Striker Dragon… But with Solemn Warning he can leave me defenseless. I have two paths forward. I’ll attempt to bait him into using it… or I’ll have to reduce his Life Points below 2000 first! Then he’ll have no chance to activate it. Already everything felt so much simpler, so much clearer. As if everything else was being forced to the sides, out of the long scope she felt in her mind’s eye, a scope that aimed directly at Jonathan. “Draw!” At last she drew for turn, just as the commentator was drawing breath to comment on how long she was taking, hurriedly stopping himself so as not to talk over Rosalia’s move. “First, I activate a Continuous Spell: Supply Squad!” She placed the card in her Duel Disk, in zone 1. Unlike Jonathan, she didn’t verbally clarify the placement. Every piece of a duelist’s turn reveals information… and he’s given away something already. She moved her hand to her cards, taking hold of another one. The fact that he’s so used to clarifying which monster zones he’s using means only one thing… He’s used to summoning Link Monsters as well. “As long as Supply Squad is in play, I draw a card when one of my monsters are destroyed. This ability triggers only once every turn. Summon! Silverrokket Dragon!” A silver-armored dragon with a long, rounded head appeared, searing wings of violet energy issuing from its back. Silverrokket Dragon Level 4, 1900/100 Rosalia waited a few brief seconds after her dragon appeared before she spoke up, allowing her voice to carry across the duel field. “So you’re not using it, then? That face-down card you have?” “Nah, it can wait for now.” Rosalia swept her eyes over Jonathan, appraisingly. Not even a single twitch. He clearly had never even considered activating it. I suppose that’s the difference with S-ranked players… Some would negate the summon of a monster with attack power this high, use it as an opportunity to strike at my Life Points while they’re undefended. I figured it wouldn’t work, that he’d hold onto it for later. But that’s fine. It lets me take away something else from him! “Battle! Silverokket attacks Starfire!” Her monster flew upward, changing into a bolt of violet light as it streamed into the blade of Rosalia’s Duel Disk, suffusing it with glowing sparks. “Fire!” As she pointed at Starfire, the bolt flashed out, piercing directly through Starfire’s chest and colliding directly with Jonathan as his monster shattered into pieces. Jonathan: 4000 > 3400 Every Life Point I take from him makes using that Solemn Warning that much more of a cost, she thought, pulling her hand up to look at her cards. “I place two cards face-down!” As the cards appeared she tried not to look directly at the one she had set right in front of her. Now I’m all prepared for the counterattack… I’ve already lined up the shot. Sashisematta is wrong about me… Rage is something for a pitched battlefield. That is not my duel. I sit far away from the fury of the skirmish, plan everything for the exact opportunity where the enemy exposes themselves to the fatal blow. That, Sashisematta, is the duel of the Sniper. “I see. So you live in fear of my trap.” John nodded as he drew for turn, glancing at it, “Perhaps that’s what Charlie meant when they said this would be a perfect matchup…” Rosalia merely narrowed her eyes at John, almost like her eyes were a warning. “Walking around a Trap you’ve been kind enough to show me is very different from being afraid of it.” “Perhaps. Anyway, I activate my spell, Ties of the Brethren, targeting Caspar.” John’s LP fell another 2000 points as he activated the spell, with Caspar taking a shot into the air, his own red-magma like wing materializing. Jonathan: 3400 > 1400 “For 2000 lifepoints, I can summon two monsters with the same level, attribute, and type as the targeted monster from my deck. I choose Kidbrave to zone 2 and Doc to Zone 5.” Magical Musketeer Kidbrave Level 4, 1600/200 Magical Musketeer Doc Level 4, 1400/1200 Rosalia’s narrowed eyes opened up quickly as she saw John’s Life Points plummet. What?! She stared at the field as two forms started to take shape on the other side of the field. A smug kid, maybe 18 at most, appeared on one side of Caspar, tipping his cowboy hat to Rosalia, while a man with greying hair and a high-tech monocle appeared on the other, brandishing a sniper rifle. He… he threw away 2000 of his Life Points just like that… He’s lost the ability to play his Trap… But he’s traded it for something else. She stared across the field at the suddenly much larger crop of monster John had. None of them were as powerful as Silverrokket. But she knew that likely wouldn’t last long. “No response? Very well. When the new chain begins, Caspar activates, allowing me to search for a Musket. I’ll add Magical Musket Mastermind Zakiel. Then I’ll use Upstart Goblin, behind Kidbrave. You’ll gain 1000, I’ll draw one, and…” Rosalia: 4000 > 5000 Whipping its pistol out, Kidbrave fired two bullets, the first hitting John’s hand and the latter hitting his deck, as the Musketeer’s demonic wing took form. “By discarding the Magical Musketeer Wild in my hand, I can draw two more. Next, I’ll tribute Kid for Zakiel in my hand, which can be summoned with a single Musketeer tribute. I’ll place him in Zone 1.” With a loud chorus of demonic laughter, Kid was grasped by a massive claw and dragged into the ground… only for a demon to rise from it, pointing his fingers at his head like a gun, before taking a mock shot at himself. Magical Musket Mastermind Zakiel Level 8, 2500/2500 “This is what your intent was,” Rosalia said aloud now, finally voicing her internal thoughts as her dragon let out an echoing screech of challenge to the horde of gunmen John had in play. “You were counting on me avoiding your Solemn Warning. That’s why you made sure I knew what it was… So your Life Points were safe and you could use Ties of the Brethren.” “Well, that’s one possibility, I suppose. But I believe thinking I know the top three cards of my deck may be giving me a bit too much credit, miss.” Rosalia shook her head. “No, it’s not that simple. You had no control over the top of your deck, but you immediately knew what the best way forward was… At least at the time.” Rosalia’s hand went to her Duel Disk. “But I’ve set up my own plan. I activate my Trap card!” The set card directly in front of her flew upward, as a massive roar of crashing water started to sound throughout the stadium, a herald of what was to come. “Torrential Tribute can activate whenever one of us summons a monster… And it destroys every monster in play!” This is it, she thought to herself. He’ll be left with no monsters… And I’ll still be left with the leavings of SIlverrokket. All Rokkets can replace themselves with another whenever they’re destroyed. He’ll have no defenses left to protect his Life Points… And they’ve just been lowered to the point where almost any Rokket in my deck can take them all out! At least, that was what she expected. Instead, when she looked at the card, there were multiple holes through the card, before it shattered. “I activated my counter trap, Magical Musket - Last Stand behind Doc, in response. It negates the activation of your trap and destroys it.” “But-” Rosalia’s eyes whipped across John’s field, taking in that the card she knew to be Solemn Warning was still there. “You only have that one card set! Explain yourself!” For the first time, a smirk crossed John’s face, though it didn’t seem to bear any ill intent. “All of my Musketeers enable me to play Muskets from my hand during either player’s turn, without needing to be set. Also, that activates Doc. He can’t add Last Stand back, but… I’ll add Wild back from my grave to my hand.” The sniper took a shot at John’s disk, causing the card to pop out of his grave, before he picked it up and added it to his hand. Rosalia had an expression on her face that was familiar to many on the dueling circuits, but it was one her teammates had rarely seen on her. Her wide eyes, surprise and confusion evident in her face. For the first time in quite a long while, Rosalia had been knocked off balance. “Well, why don’t I take the rest of the turn easy on you? I activate my own Supply Squad behind Zakiel, then I’ll pass. Make your move, miss.” The roar of the audience surged in the wake of John's move, and the commentator was swift to jump in again. "Woah! John has ended his turn with the very card that started Rosalia's own! His field has exploded outward in the wake of his Solemn Warning gambit! The only thing holding him back now is that TIes of the Brethren prevents him from attacking! How will Rosalia Marlowe respond?!?" Slowly, slowly, Rosalia took a step back, her heel sounding like another gunshot in the orchestra of gunfire that made up this duel, taking a more steady stance as her expression slowly settled back into the familiar narrow-eyed, frowning stare, the almost-glare that made up her dueling. Okay… she thought to herself, slowly. So this is how he duels. Perfect matchup indeed. In her minds eye Rosalia idly imagined the scope, with Johnathan in it, a gun raised and smoking in the aftermath of firing a bullet directly into her own. Every move I make in this duel has to be careful, every decision three steps ahead… If I give him an opening, I can already tell he’ll be more than capable of taking it. This is a duel where every. Bullet. Counts.
  9. Fortunately for the four, they were out and about on a weekend. True to Kai's words about the city being a tourist trap, Hau'oli City was alive and well even in this late stage of the day. The setting sun behind them was more than capable of illuminating the many places that were still open. The boutique offered many a different piece of Alolan-made clothing, mostly in the vein of surfing tanks and the like. Most of the citizenry were dressed in a similar manner, with Charlie sticking out quite a bit amongst the four. The Tourist Bureau held many other souveneirs, such as coconuts carved to look like the heads of Exeggutor, miniature rocking horses in the design of Mudbray, and decals of the various islands as seen from above. The Tourist Bureau also had a small section set to the side, where information on other regions was laid out. It was mostly for the benefit of any native Alolans about to make a trip of their own, though there was actually a decent-sized group of people over there this evening. They were collected around a wall-mounted television that was playing a news station sourced in the Kanto region. "Mirabelle here with Indigo News! We're here on the scene of the Viridian City Gym, where today there was yet another bout of seismic activity!" The camera panned over a rectangular building with a brownish-green roof. It appeared the eastern wall had seen some amount of collapse, which the camera focused on briefly before panning back to the dark-haired newscaster. "This is the third such incident in as many months at this prestigious facility of the Indigo Plateau Pokemon League, but it is the first time the Gym has seen such significant structural damage! I'm here with Gym Leader Blue Oak for commentary." The camera cut to a brown-haired young man, tall and dressed in blue and green, and his face with a considerably more relaxed expression than the scenario seemed to warrant. "Yeah, the previous Gym Leader was really into Ground-Type Pokemon," he commented carelessly, looking over his shoulder at the collapsed wall as if it had scuffed his shoe. "Left a lot of structural damage that's only really become obvious recently." "Are you confident you'll be able to halt further accidents?" A snort. "The previous leader may have disappeared without cleaning up his mess first, but he left the Gym Trainers behind. They know a thing or two about Ground-Type Pokemon themselves, and it's not like I'm a slouch with my Rhyperior myself." "Mm, that's good to hear!" The newscaster bit her lip before continuing. "And what do you say to the rumors recently about strange, unidentified individuals being seen around the gym? There are... certain rumors about this previous leader-" "Unwarranted," Blue responded flippantly, turning and heading back towards the Gym. "People like to spread things around, but most of it's nonsense. I gotta help clear away the debris. Smell ya later!" "Oh, please sir, can I just get one-" - - - - - - - She shut off the radio in the midst of newscaster's plea. She gazed up at the roof of the small beach hut she had been living in for the past four months. No company, just herself. She didn't like to go outside much. It ran a risk. Risk of being recognized. Not that she figured it would bring her trouble she couldn't fix. Just trouble she didn't want to have to encounter to begin with. And yet, based on the message she had received ten minutes ago, she would have to eventually. "Idiots," she muttered lowly, giving a glare to the radio as she started to get dressed. She was out here in Alola by herself for months on end and the rest of them got up to... She took a deep breath, trying not to lose her temper. Not all of them were adjusting to this the way she was. Which was apparently to have some sense and do what she was told, she thought bitterly. The wide straw hat she wore out of the house was much darker and lower on her head than the other similar ones that peppered the streets of Hau'oli. It was designed to shield her face from eyes rather than her head from sun. The blue of her clothes was muted, engineered not to stand out when combined with her long, dark hair. One hand held her thin jacket closed in the ocean wind, the other clenched within the jacket around a single Dive Ball. "Aether..." she mused to herself, eyeing the white boat in the harbor and beginning the long ordeal of tracking her targets. "Please... Please let this be something." - - - - - - - The Hau'oli Mall was not as busy as the daytime hours, but there was still a night scene there. Especially as the weekend began and the turnouts from the local Trainer school were able to partake in the food and fervor of the Battle Buffet. Easily the most crowded sector of the mall, it was hard to take one's eyes away from the large throng of young trainers inside. Long tables crowded with Trainer and Pokemon, ringed by long countertops with all assortment of local cuisine. Towards the back were several cordoned-off areas where small battles were taking place, Pokemon diving to and fro while excited cheers were called out from the sidelines. It was a lively bunch, talking about battling and the Trials of the islands, and a few even about the strange object that had fallen from the sky that very morning. Especially the great group that was gathered by the front entrance. All younger boys and girls, circled around a grinning boy with his hair tied back in a ponytail, leaning back with his sandaled feet up on a table. "Are you really gonna go for Illima's Trial, Koa?" asked one of his entourage. "Sure am," he bragged, voice carrying through the Buffet despite the din of battles. "Heading out there first thing tomorrow. Pa says that thing that fell from the sky was a good omen for me; The Totem Pokemon doesn't stand a chance! "Matter of fact," he continued, voice rising even louder, "Best bless my battle with a few good rounds! Anyone who can beat a Trainer blessed by something fallin' from the sky, I'll pay for your meal!" This brought a clamor of challenges from those assembled, loud enough that a few passing Aether workers were sure to notice...
  10. Rosalia listened to Kendra's reply to her impassively, not interrupting at any point, letting her teammate answer fully before she even began to formulate a response. It struck her as much less stressful than she had been anticipating it. Perhaps because conversations with Kendra weren't the verbal swordplay that the topic of their conversation tended to engage in. After a solid thirty seconds of thought, she closed her eyes, taking in a long, deep breath. "I'm sorry to hear that," she admitted, and meant it. "Being captain isn't a position I've ever thought I had the skill to undertake... I've only ever been at my best behind a duel disk. I'm not sure how exactly I got the captain job over you... Sashisematta voting for himself despite being explicitly told not to might have had something to do with it." "Miss Sterling picked me when the vote was tied and I'm still not sure why. I'm not sure I can herd the... wildcats," she went on, pausing on Kendra's choice of terminology, "But... thank you for your confidence, at least." She turned away from Kendra, looking outside the store to the large intersection of mall passages that sat outside. At the junction before the shop several rectangular areas had been cordoned off, and based on the large monsters that were now strewn across it, holographically projected, it appeared to have been commandeered as a dueling area. Mostly local duelists without much experience, Rosalia had to guess. She saw a few monsters she recognized among the groups of duelists: Alien Shocktrooper, Marauding Captain, Princess of Tsurugi, Ghost Gardna, Whiptail Crow, Catapult Turtle... But the thing that caught her eye was the duel field that had become unoccupied while the two were in the shop. "Kendra," she said suddenly, pointing to it. "Do you mind if I ask... You don't feel confident in the duel ahead. I... I don't feel confident myself, either. I don't feel confident about a lot of things... With Daichi not dueling, Sashisematta has to take his place in the Action Duel spot. So one of us has to... We have a way to settle this, I believe."
  11. "Extra Deck options?" Rosalia asked, interjecting in a pause as the two of them began entering the mall. "I don't know much at all about using Xyz Summoning, but I'm sure that's something that we can square away for you. And of course you at least have your ace..." It was Kendra's next words that caused Rosalia to draw up short. Kendra thought she had done the right thing? Rosalia wasn't sure if she agreed with Kendra about that at all. Every time she thought back to that altercation with Sai after the match, she winced inwardly at how ineffectual she had been. She had been only able to ask him why. And not even to act on it. Was what he said even a good reason? Every time she thought back to it she remembered the faces of Team Wilding, and Sai's team members who had been alongside him on that stage... She winced when Kendra mentioned them too. She wasn't sure what the opinions were on their teammates; Any talk of Sai seemed to advertise itself louder than them. Like those boys back at the cafe. Rosalia didn't talk much for the next twenty minutes or so, listening more to Kendra's musings on her deck, accompanying her to the card store to look at various monsters that could be summoned from the Extra Deck. Rosalia had a momentary pang of regret for cutting herself off from her father's finances; She hated using them for herself, but she wouldn't have minded funding the deck-building ventures of the rest of Team Genesis. Especially when she saw the card Kendra had been eyeing up. "Oh," she muttered under her breath, leaning in to get a better look. "That is a good choice for you, Kendra." She was impressed, and it showed. She tapped on the glass of the counter in front of them with an idle finger. "This will probably help you a lot against whoever Team Free chooses to duel you. You have good instincts." There was another moment before she added on: "... Maybe better instincts than me, in some regard." She then clarified the point further: "About Sashisematta." She was looking down at the card, not meeting Kendra's gaze. "I keep... thinking back to that and wondering what more I could have done. What more I could have done so that I was less unhappy with what happened there. So Daichi could be less unhappy. You as well... I think you may have been right to confront him about it. That you might have the interests of the team more at heart than I do. And I think Miss Sterling agrees." She gave an small, embarrassed smile. "She thinks you're the most equipped to duel in the next match. I think you are too... You have the instincts for it, and the skill," she went on, gesturing to the card in the case. "I'm fully confident that you'll be able to outperform any of the shortcomings of your deck... And perhaps the shortcomings of your captain." She chanced a small glance to Kendra to see what her reaction was, but averted her gaze almost immediately, to look impassively down at the case of cards again. "You did a better job confronting Sashisematta than someone like me could ever do. I was too afraid to even push him on the subject. I... I intend to ask Miss Sterling to make you captain of Team Genesis. In my place." She tried as hard as she could to keep a casual tone in her voice while a part of her died inside trying to convey this to Kendra. She had just said more words in a row than Kendra had likely ever heard her say.
  12. Kukui watched the group pick from the Pokemon assembled before them with a warm smile on his face, leaning back in his chair, one hand up to adjust the rim of his hat. Rowlett and Popplio going to their new Trainers just seemed to bring a smile to his face. "Absolutely," he assured Amelia, as she took the Popplio into her care. "Nothing makes me happier than seeing new bonds between Pokemon and a Trainer... Though looks like your Dieno disagrees!" He let out a laugh as he saw Primo start to take shots at the Litten, reaching forward to scoop the fire cat Pokemon out of the danger zone. "No worries," he assured Tia, chuckling as he calmed Litten with a few scratches to the back of the head, the Pokemon giving Primo a bad-tempered glare. "Your own Pokemon being happy with new friends is important as well... Hopefully it's a phase he'll get over." He looked down to the Litten in his lap. "Looks like we'll be spending some more time together, friend," he said softly, taking a malasada and tearing off a chunk for the Pokemon. After getting the rest of the names from everyone, Kukui turned to address Amelia. "No, no, that's absolutely alright," he assured her once again, giving a reassuring smile. "I'm sure you're all wondering exactly what it is Wicke and I dragged you all out here for. We can talk about that now, we've got til tomorrow anyway!" He reached into his lab coat, pulling out a series of photographs. Similar to the images Wicke had shown the four, they all depicted various stages of that same projectile hitting the peak of Melemele Island. "This was early this morning," he explained. "This rise here is the highest point on Melemele, at the top of the Mahalo Trail." He reached up to point, and through the clear Alola sky the group was able to see the very hill depicted in the picture. "That object fell from the sky roughly up there somewhere." Gone was the laid-back tone, and he now spoke with utmost seriousness. "Whether it's a local projectile or something that came from beyond our planet we don't know yet; Aether's reaching out to the Space Center of Mossdeep to retrace its trajectory, but we likely won't know for sure til tomorrow." He leaned back in his chair. "Course, whether it's from space or not isn't the concerning part. What I'm concerned about is where it might have landed." He cast his eyes back to the hill, which was backlit by the softening pink of an encroaching sunset. "The Ruins of Conflict sit atop that hill," he said, a strange sense of foreboding in his words. "And that projectile may have disturbed the guardian of the place." He said guardian with a strange tone, which anyone native to Alola would be able to figure out why. He turned back to the Aether workers. "We're not certain if it landed in the Ruins or just around them," he went on. "If the Ruins are damaged... its guardian might be pretty angry. That's part of the reason I'll be going, to assess any damage to the ruins and see what I can do to fix it. For the sake of the guardian and of course as an important piece of Alola's history." He raised a hand, some good humor returning to his face and pointing to the rest of those assembled. "Meanwhile you four are tasked with finding that projectile. Determine if it's dangerous, if it's hurt any Pokemon while landing, and of course, if it's worth dragging back to Aether for further study." He clapped his hands together. "Course, that's not til tomorrow. In the meantime, get to know your new friends better," he told them, gesturing to Rowlett and Popplio. "Look around the city a bit, especially those of you who've never been to Hau'oli City." He spoke the next through a mouthful of malasada. "Leave getting the essentials for tomorrow to me, enjoy yourselves a little. Once you're all tuckered out for the night, just walk down the beach til you're by that there!" He reached out to point along the beach to a massive hill of grass and brownish-orange stone. "That's Ten Carat Hill there. My house is on the other side of it, you can't miss it." He shrugged with a mock 'woe is me' expression on his face. "My wife is on business on Akala right now, and will be til' the end of the week, so you should all fit in quite nicely." - - - - - - - Elsewhere... "We have a lead, it actually looks promising." "Where did it come from?" "Our plant in the Mossdeep SC." A brief shuffling of papers. "Hmm... Alola. Melemele. Do we have anyone stationed there?" An irritated sigh. "One. I told you Alola was stretching us thin." The harsh glare was almost audible. "Well what do you expect with those riffraff banging around the place? Well... I suppose one is better than nothing." "Aether is investigating it." "Of course they are." A light scoff. "... Have them observe, for now. Tell them not to intervene unless they see a good opportunity. After all, we don't even know if this is worth pursuing. Not yet." "Understood."
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