Letting Something Slip
It's approaching evening. A sliver of the sun remains above the horizon, casting a brilliant bar of light on the great tower of Eas. It where Wake comes to relax. Since it was reclaimed, it has been her favored place to get away, aided by a repurposed pool. What was once used for mystical purposes is now essentially a hot tub for the baroness.
Tonight, though, she's just resting her feet in hot water and dining almost absently from a plate of dried fruit and steamed vegatables. It's nothing on what Tae would had made for her, but it's still quite good.
As the Baroness does this, she's reviewing reports and firing off chim messages. Most are brief. They aren't in a cypher, but they are impossible for people to make much sense of as they lack all context.
While Fuka isn't a stranger to Eas these days, there's something almost melancholy about seeing such a wonderful place so relatively barren and on such a martial footing. It almost makes her want to be wearing her full armour, but she resisted the temptation. Instead she looks like a fairly ordinary girl, or at least a sylph girl, wearing an ankle-length green dress with slightly more than ordinary levels of frills and lace. Long enough and frilly enough to hide her athletic form and make her look little different from a lander. Of course most here, the martial staff at least, know better. Certainly the ones who recognize her and send her on to where Wake's resting.
She even looks uncertain of her place as she enters Wake's resting area. Gone is the brash and fiery sylph warrior maid, at least in appearance. Replacing her is someone who seems unsure. But she swallows that uncertainty. "Waku-waku, you're up here all alone? What if I was someone dangerous?" she asks playfully, using the casual words to drive off the uneasy feeling she gets from seeing the place all but abandoned. And worse, practically unguarded with Wake still here!
Wake flicks a wrist and a dagger appears in her hand. Another flick and it's gone. She laughs softly at herself, "Well, it is just as well that you are dangerous, so that I will be safer. And now I am no longer up here alone!"
She rises smoothly and, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, glides into a curtsey. She's wearing a dark blue dress, her skirts held just above the water she stands in. She bows her head gracefully, then rises once more.
"Come! Be at ease, dear! You need not hesitate at the door. I am eager to hear all that you've been up to!"
At this, she leaps lightly from the pool and crosses the distance with a lightness to her steps, a hand offered as she smiles.
Fuka mirrors the curtsey, apparently actually practiced at the gesture or an apt mimic. Of course she's a messenger, so she's probably not completely ignorant of such things. Then she laughs, eyes sparkling. "Darn right I'm dangerous! I'm a mighty battle fairy!" she says, pirouetting as if in a dance, before righting herself and gladly coming to take the offered hand.
"Am I supposed to kiss this?" Fuka asks, part curious and part playful. "Or are you offering me a dance? I don't hear any musicians. I don't suppose Uta or Kaumare are hiding in the wings somewhere?" she grins, now entirely playful. "You know me, adventurer life. Probably quite boring to someone in your exalted position!" she adds.
"Exalted? Baroness over an abandoned city, facing imminent assault and having to spend much of her effort throwing people out when it becomes clear they won't obey my orders to withdraw? You'd think these children still believe this is all a game."
Wake laughs softly, untroubled, it seems, by her precarious situation. "And you are supposed to take my hand and join me! The water is wonderful, I have plenty of food to share, and I've done enough to move the cause for the evening. Well.. almost enough. One last bit of critical work to do!"
She sends out a hasty chim, "Yes. Yes. D. A. Don't expect much to come for the next week. I will be on the move soon enough."
Whatever that was, Wake shrugs it off. "You know, I have been studying music a fair amount lately. Whenever I can slip away, I'm digging into the lore of it. I can't help but suspect that it will prove useful in resolving this war. Certainly my weapons won't have much to do with any final victory."
Fuka smiles, genuine and warm, at mention of Wake's choice of study. Song is something that touches her sincerely, and mention of it lights her right up. "You might be right!" she agrees, bending down and lowering her free hand to adjust her shoes. No... to ease them entirely off, so she's barefoot and can step into the water, splashing. It'll get the hem of her long dress wet, but she hardly cares about such things. Impetuous and playful, why *wouldn't* she splash around?
"Uta's mentioned something about a sonowhatsit and offered to show me it sometime, and that's all about song. And ... about relics too, I think. Song's showing up like everywhere if you look deep enough. If there's a metapuzzle to figure out, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a song." Fuka observes, making only token effort to hide her brief descent into nerdity. "But probably after we get back. Planning a little trip out to Fourlands to talk to the refugees there, me, Uta, Kaumare, H." she adds. "Hard to worry about the long buried deep mysteries when we have a much more immediate mystery to worry over..."
The Baroness seems pleased that Fukaziroh is in the mood to join her in relaxing. She will settle back as she was, setting out a pillow on the other side of the food tray for Fukaziroh to rest on. Stone is far from comfortable, even with pain toned way down.
"For me, music is another way to understand my people and my Goddess. The Beautiful One has given me a gift. I do not fully understand her, though. Not yet. But music is a start. Know the world, know the maker, right? At least, that is my hope. I'm far from an expert."
But enthusiasm or no, the Baroness pays attention. Uta? Yes, she knows her. Kauchemar, certainly. Some of her dearest of friends, those two. However. "I'm sorry, H? Who is that?" And why would they have their name so truncated?
"Huuuunh." Fuka muses. "You know we ran across a dead knight wearing a symbol like that goddess. He challenged us, not long ago, to make a poem worthy of his beloved. So I did!" she grins. "Uuuuunfortunately I think I misunderstood the symbol, and when I actually named *you* in the poem he got pissed and tried to kill me. So Shiba shot him in the face!" she explains enthusiastically.
And while in the middle of that amazing recitation, Fuka just shifts straight on into the other question, not bothering to think before talking. "You know? H? Tall human? White hair? Ridiculously good looking? Sense of humour worse than mine... though I think there's some debate among those who know us both. Doesn't he work for you now? He was telling me he did... don't tell me he LIED?" she gasps theatrically.
The first part has Wake very curious. She puts a hand to her face and covers her smile. "I.. imagine he had a different woman in mind. Or perhaps his love was The Beautiful One, herself." She is still amused at the thought of this young woman composing a poem about her. It's not the first for her, Tae has seen to that, but it's quite pleasing.
"Tall, white hair, works for me." Wake pauses, thinking and arching an eyebrow. "Did you say ridiculously good looking?" She tilts her head, eyes narrowing just a moment. "Just who is this man to you? It's Haru, isn't it. Of course. He just started a short while ago."
Fuka blinks. DID she say that? "Well..." she pauses, realizing her mouth engaged before her brain. It's not uncommon. "I mean not as ridiculously good looking as you. What can I say I've had a thing for tall people for years now!" she claims, not entirely lying either. It's a funny thing how many of the people she holds dearest have been tall... and how incredibly tiny she turned out here. Haru, in fact, is a full foot taller than her. As is Wake, probably. "And I told you, he's H! To me he is, anyways. You DO know what H means right?"
Fukaziroh's reply about attractiveness is so utterly confusing that it throws Wake off for a moment. She's never been compared to someone's apparent love interest that way. However, she never gets thrown off for long, and it only makes the Baroness even more dogged and suspicious.
"I'm not sure how knowing what H means is supposed to help," she says calmly. It's not her usual calm. It's the kind of calm that makes it clear that dear H is in mortal danger. "But if he's touched you, or said inappropriate things to you, even hiding in the Palace Lands won't keep him safe from me. Artisan! I'll turn /him/ into a necklace if he doesn't mind his manners!"
Fuka's pretty good at confusing people and this is hardly the first time she's hit on Wake. Or Tae for that matter. It's probably been quite clear, to someone perceptive at least, that she enjoys it because they're in love, and so clearly entirely safe to flirt with. The ironic thing being, well, no one's ever gone mama bear defensive on her before now. In her old life it wasn't needed, as her over-the-top personality kept boys away. And in the new... who would feel the need to protect someone like Fuka?
She gets a little wide-eyed at the response, raising her hands defensively and shaking them in negation. "N-no no!!" she calls out, almost in a panic. "Nothing like that! He never touched me or said anything inappropriate!" she claims.
Abruptly she pauses, considers. "Well, yes he kind of has, both. A few times." Then she panics again, "... but not in a BAD way! Really, he's just funny and I like him and I'd be really upset if you murder him!" she claims. "Or, you know, maim him. Or anything like that!"
The Baroness has only rarely sat in judgment over someone before. She is now. Her normal posture becomes less velvet and more steel, and even with her feet bare and resting in the water, she manages to strike a most commanding presence.
"So he has touched you. And he has spoken inappropriately." Her tone is icy and she meets Fukaziroh's eyes steadily.
"And yet.. you obviously aren't upset with him."
Wake shakes her head slightly. "He did not seem to be a bad person, but innocently enticed by a young, high-spirited beautiful maiden, who knows what such a man might think and do?" She pauses for a time, allowing herself to smile. "Very well. I will not break this man in half or tie him into knots and hang him over the falls for a week. So long as he pleases you, I will withhold my punishment."
"There was nothing innocent involved in the enticing!" Fuka blurts. And then pauses. "Wait I said that wrong. I mean it was completely innocent but there wasn't any actual enticing! He made jokes and all, but he was a perfect gentleman! Even when someone else might've been... not so perfect. I mean, not such a gentleman!"
Yeeeeah, Fuka's seriously flustered, completely out of sorts, and perhaps a little scared. Less for herself of course, than because of what might happen to Haru. And beyond that, she's scared of Wake's disapproval. This is a situation that she's literally never faced before... one that would seem unfathomable even in her old life, where such things only ever happened to other people.
Thing is, Fuka doesn't GET scared. Well that's not true. She gets scared a lot, but only about some things. Important things. The rest of the time, she just deals with it. And being scared, now, actually gets her back up. Sure, Wake's relenting and withdrawing her threat... but as she considers, she realizes that's not enough. Mouth firming, Fuka takes a half step back to look up at Wake, putting fists on hips. Not an aggressive posture, but a mulish one. "And don't you punish him! Not for me! If he does something wrong, I'll do it, unless you think I'm too small or weak to do it!" she insists in a tiny fury.
Fukaziroh's line of logic at first is quite hard to follow. It makes Wake far more suspicious of Haru, and her eyes narrow through that entire comment. But for all that, Fuka suddenly changes tack. The woman is standing up for Haru!
The Baroness weighs Fuka's posture, words, and tone with care. That Wake is measuring something is obvious. What she is measuring may not be, until she replies, "Fukaziroh, how old are you?" There's an intensity in her eyes as they settle on the young woman. Her eyebrows lift ever so slight with the question, but evenly, opening her expression and removing the indication of judgment as if it were never even there.
Did Wake think Fuka was a child? Well, it's an easy mistake to make and not just because of the Sylph's size. Fuka's temper, mercurial as usual, fades quickly as she regards Wake uncertainly. She relaxes her fists, opening her hands. She meant it, then at least, but she doesn't want to fight Wake. Not truly.
"I'm not entirely sure." she admits. "Someone told me it might've been like ... only a week since the apocalypse. That time goes much much faster in this world. But if we count months and years... let's see. I would have turned twenty, a little over... six months ago now? Why?" she asks, actually rather puzzled. "Are you worried about Haru's age? He's only two years older than I am. He's promised me he's not actually twice my age and bald IRL."
"If time has continued to flow as it used to, I will be 41 in two weeks," Wake explains. "And out there, I was known as Elly. At least to my friends."
She lets out a gentle sigh, considering Fukaziroh evenly. "You are so young. Who is here to help challenge you on this relationship? Who will make sure that this man is worth your time? Who will give you an outside perspective on just what kind of person he is?"
Her tone is soft, her posture shifts ever so slightly. Impeccable by most standards, but her it's downright laid back. "Tae and I were far older when we met. We had loved and lost, but I won't pretend we took it slow. We knew ourselves so well by that point." She laughs and adds, "I was a total disaster at the time. You'd never have believed it."
Fuka considers Wake's words, trying to decide whether to get offended at being called young. It's Wake though, or Elly. No, offense is silly, and Fuka's more than willing to be silly at times, but not when it's entirely inappropriate. She shrugs. "Actually, I asked Uta." she admits with a sigh. This was, of course, a completely horrible idea... but Uta's one of the wisest people Fuka knows! This... explains much, really
"Wait..." Fuka abruptly says, narrowing her eyes. "Waaaaaiiiit who said it was a relationship? Maybe we're just friends?! I have just friends too you know!" Fukaziroh protests, WAY too late. Then, abruptly she attempts to change the subject. "Wait you were a disaster? YOU?" she asks incredulously.
"Sit with me, please," Elly responds. Having dropped this veil, what's the reason to keep up any pretense at all? She'll wait until Fukaziroh settles in again before explaining.
"Now, first of all, don't be offended or defensive. This man is flirting with you and you have not sent him away. You have a relationship. If you don't think so, you owe it to him to tell him that and let him decide what to do. If you aren't sure, well.. you are in a relationship, because some part of your heart is keeping him around, like it or not."
She turns her full attention on Fukaziroh, then. It's a way she turns her body and settles her eyes directly on the other woman that seems to shut out the entire rest of the universe. She's not unblinking, but she is unwavering.
"And yes, I was a disaster. You see, I had a dangerous job with many responsibilities. For a time, I was assigned to.. well, to Korea. One of the many relationships I was responsible for became more than a business matter. It became intimate. However, the nature of my business was to move me often, and so it was that I had to leave. The man who took my place failed to do his job. Badly."
The words come easily enough, but there is a flash of pain in her eyes that she doesn't try to conceal. Whatever this change in how she views Fukaziroh may be, it is clear that absolute honesty is part of it.
The little Sylph allows herself to sit, not really interested in keeping her distance, and also unwilling to preserve a defensive posture. She collects herself and considers the advice given. Yeah, Fuka walked into that one, but even so Elly manages to explain things in a way that doesn't rub Fuka's nose in her own mistake. Not that she's one to reflect harshly on her mistakes... regrets are for people who live in the past. Still, Elly's serious explanation does settle the high-strung girl. Somewhat. "Well, you're right, I didn't tell him no." Fuka agrees. She told him 'maybe' when he asked to date her. And has gone on not saying no. In fairness she accepts the relationship, and if she didn't, she would have been quite willing to say no. So she's not at all willing to call Elly wrong.
She listens to the tale, and seems to understand. Then her mouth drops open. "The man tried to take your place... in the intimate relationship?!" she exclaims in dismay. Or maybe she's not serious, and she's trying to deflect the pain she senses. Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, the little Sylph is rather good at empathy, and loves laughter over pain in most every sense.
Elly laughs at that comment and shakes her head slightly. "No, no. The people I go for never swing quite that way. He.. screwed up and blew her cover. It was the last I heard of her." She dwells on that for just a moment. The pain is old, but it's still there. Time, after all, simply makes her think about it less. The memories come back now only a few times a day and acceptance has brought healing.
"For several years after, I buried myself utterly in work and gained my first noble title: The Ice Queen. Harsh, unrelenting, and yes, cold as the name sake. In fact, Fukaziroh, I was such a mess that my bosses arranged a transfer to get me away from the job I was doing. And that is how I found myself sitting in a tiny club when Taeyeon took to the stage."
She shakes herself and laughs suddenly, "So yes, I was a disaster of the first order. And now I am.. here, in this world, with a healthy relationship and a young woman in front of me who doesn't need any advice from anyone, but who might just want to talk from time to time."
Again, Elly offers a hand to Fukaziroh. "So, if you will forgive an old woman her stories and ramblings, I'd be happy to listen and even to withhold judgment, if you wish. Consider it.. like an honorary aunt. Plus I can give you great intel on his every action at work."
"Oh! Well good!" Fuka exclaims, showing slightly exaggerated relief. Enough to suggest she knew Elly didn't *actually* intend the phrasing that way, and was just trying to relieve a moment. With some success. Yes Elly goes back into it, and it's grim, but the moment's break seems to help with the pace a little. Bring the story back to something less grim. She even smiles at mention of Tae. Yes, Fuka's not exactly sure what way she swings when it comes right down to it. She doesn't go for girls, she's pretty sure, even if she wasn't exactly sure she went for boys either. She'd been far closer to girls than boys, but closeness and romance aren't really the same thing. But if she DID go for girls, well, she could do far worse! Even if they're like... kind of old.
Fuka accepts that hand however. "Elly... of course I'll listen! And talk! I may not need advice, but I'll always listen. Maybe I'm making mistakes, but I'm not afraid of those. Even if you judge me foolish, I'll listen." she says, smiling. "And .... wow, that's ... I mean, wow! I sort of found a sister here but I didn't think of an aunt. That sounds really nice, but... you have to call me Miyu. If we're going to be family that is. Not all the time or anything, but you know. I... I don't tell that to most people. But you should know my name at least!"
"You will make mistakes. That is, if you try at all in life, you will. Own them, face them, learn from them. Honestly, I can tell you all sorts of things, but it won't help you. None of us learn all that well from the experiences of others. Particularly when it comes to emotions. They are too person, too nuanced for language to express. Most love songs do us no favors, and the concept of that 'one perfect person, meant just for us' is unhealthy, too. What relationship could possibly stand up against a measurement like that?"
She squeezes Miyu's hand gently. "It's great to be family with you, Miyu. I won't claim to be terribly wise, but I ask good questions. For example, I get the sense that you are still figuring out Haru. What do you feel about that kind of uncertainty?"
Making mistakes is how you learn. And failing to act for fear of a mistake... well, that's a problem Fuka's had, and has tried to put behind her. Better to live without regrets, fearlessly facing the future instead of worrying. Being prepared of course, because only a fool faces the world entirely unprepared and uncaring about it. But not *afraid* of making those mistakes.
She frowns at the question, but it's one of thoughtfulness rather than upset. "Honestly, it's myself I'm still figuring out. There's a lot I don't know about him but that's okay. We're ... kind of learning to be open together, and I think it's harder for me, honestly. He's patient, he's never pushed me ... but I spent months after the apocalypse just hiding from anyone because it's just me here. No way to hide, no way to log out. No way to be anyone but me. Does that even make any sense?" she asks.
"It does. And you are ahead of the curve. There's a truth in what you say that I think is very powerful. The greatest problems we run into in life tend to be from failures in knowing ourselves. From knowing what we really want out of life."
Elly speaks confidently, but her tone is gentle. The eye contact is something she maintains, but not as intensely as before. A more relaxed smile has settled on her lips now.
"You mention no way to be anyone but you. That is an interesting way to put it. What does it mean to you?"
Fuka considers that. What does it mean to her? Words are hard, but this one... this one's not so hard. Not if she's willing to be open. And if you can't be open to your dear aunt who can you open up to?
"I've been a gamer all my life." Fuka begins. "Most of all an online gamer. If I say the wrong things in real life, that's it. Adults think I'm improper. Other people my age ... well, if they don't want to take me for who I really am, that's fine!" she shrugs dismissively. It wasn't even a lonely existence... she didn't need anyone. She had games. She had family too of course, family who accepted her. Family who set boundaries, who taught her to be responsible, and then let her do her own things. She never felt the lack of anything else. Not until the online world collapsed.
Miyu learned what it was to be lonely then. And so she solved the problem. She made a friend. But that... that's a different story entirely. Not at all what's important to being herself, or anyone other than herself.
"It's different, gaming online." she explains. "I can goof off. I can have strangers hit on me, knowing they're idiot perverts I can laugh off." she grins. That was GREAT fun, especially with her near-childlike body. She didn't have to face anyone being actually interested in her, fearing that they'd learn what she was really like and end up turning away. She could just dismiss them all, because nothing really mattered. It wasn't really her. "And if I really screwed up, I could just... log off. Find another game, make a new avatar." she explains. She didn't have to show anyone ... herself.
Something in that explanation brings a flicker of recognition to Elly's face. It comes and goes so fast it might easily be missed. She nods slowly in understanding.
"I think I understand. At least enough to go on with. I like you, so I am rather pleased that you aren't able to run off and abandon things so easily. Besides, what does screw up mean?"
This point has her especially curious. It has a most curious interplay in the apparent comfort making mistakes. She leans forward just slightly, and adds a reassuring squeeze of Miyu's hand.
That's actually a harder question, and Miyu doesn't have an easy answer. Instead she sets it aside, just for a bit, while she considers what else Elly says. "Believe me, it took me long enough to realize that. I guess a lot of people got freaked out this world was real, that they could really die in a game. That they couldn't get back to friends or loved ones. And I felt that too of course. But I also had that regret that all I had was me! That there was no way to just..." she gestures with a hand, drawing it out in a flat motion. "... wipe away any mistake."
And that, she supposes, is the answer. Or AN answer at least. "There. Screwing up. Making a mistake I can't live with. Something needing me to just... start over fresh." she explains. "I don't really believe that, not any more. There is no starting over. If I screw up, I learn, I keep on moving." she says. "It's... okay to fail, I guess. To make a mistake. But being so afraid of making a mistake you can't even live? No, I decided I wasn't going to do that ever again."
"That's a reasonable choice, I think," replies Elly. "And honestly, if you think about it, there never was a fresh start, right?" She smiles wide at this. Is that.. pride in her eyes? Admiration?
"I have a very bright niece," she decides. "And it is certainly okay to fail. It's not like we get any choice in the matter. We don't get to decide win or fail. We only decide what to do and what to try. And it is we who define failure. After all, this castle is about to fall to the enemy. But it's not a failure."
"So.. tell me about Haru!" She can't help but rock just a little bit in excitement. It's /real/ girl talk time, now!