I'll Be Home For Christmas

Home is where your heart is. Uta's heart is apparently in a barrel.

Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

Haru had finished giving out the small presents with the slim week following Shibuya's liberation ahd the Christmas holiday. The way the day is celebrated across the cultures differs greatly. Many Landers only know of it from the Adventurers. Adventurers see it as a time to give gifts to loved ones and to attend festivities. Those with more Western influences have an even more cozy set of traditions. What this means for Haru as an Accessory Forger is he has a wide variety of requests coming in. He makes time for the ones that matter first with ornaments. No one can't say that the human doesn't work hard, however he may be missing the spirit of the occasion as he is looking at a list of deliveries and walking around Shibuya to hand them out.

"Here you go," he says as he hands an Adventurer couple a pair of gifts. Cue all sorts of squeals and elation and emotional glee that can only be in the form of 'you didnt, you shouldnt have, you did though, what is it' in near chipmunk speed. A brush and a pair of glassees. Cosmetic items. Haru takes the moment to step back, in the shadow of the moment between the two, and pulls up his list. It will be a long day, yet, but like a student working a part time job to pay off crippling student loan debt, he toils away at his own form of debt.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

Shibuya has an extra household today.

A massive wooden barrel reconverted into a traveller's wagon is parked here: the little hinged ladder at the back has been rolled down and the door on the back is open, a signal that anyone is welcome to come in, as the wooden sign next to it announces: "Uta Furore's Mobile Clinic, Wandering Doujou, Traveling Circus, and Itinerant Concert Hall and Culture Center," with a smaller "Professional services! Reasonable prices! Totally legit! Inquire within" carved below.

Next to the sign is a round window divided in four quadrants, and the first thing one can see through it, alsmost touching the glass, is a bonsai, a tree so small there is enough room for only one ornament: a blue ball, with a smiling face.

Further mehind it, Uta is 'sitting' in the seiza position in the desk right behind it, a simple affair which is nothing but a simple hinged board that can be lowered or raised as needed, to gain space or functionality.

The Spriggan Nurse seems to be working on some medical preparations at the moment, using the desk as a workbench. Every now and then, however, she raises her head and pokes at the ornament, plunging it into chaos.

"Discombobulate," she mutters with a smile. "Such a nice word."
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

Haru knows a mobile Uta Barrel when he sees one. He walks on over from the slow crowd trickling through the Shibuya streets. Most of the traffic comes in small groups or pairs, with the Artificer walking around solo being odd man out in the traffic pattern. The sign on Uta's wagon never ceases to put a smile on his face. It is vibrant. Just the sort of energy he needs right now with all those long days. The man's entire body just leeeaaannns to the right to appear from the side of the window. A finger tap-taps on it, "I see you got the ornament up," he says out of nowhere and behind the muffle of glass and wood.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

Mortar and pestle, mortar and pestle. The rhythmic tapping and turning that has been going for some time now stops, and the next thing Uta does is pick up a pinch of the substance, roll her index against her thumb finger, and let the fine grains fall back into the container. Perfect. A nod of approval, and the contents is poured into a glass jar, where it joins with some sort of paste. Stir with a glass rod unil uniform, and cork. Place jar in a corner, with other similar looking jars. The out box, it would appear, considering the pile of empty jars in the opposite corner.

Now it's a good time for a discombobulation break, and so, she taps her ornament, and as she does so, a voice comes from outside.

"It talks!", exclaims the Spriggan as her jaw metaphorically drops to the floor. "And in Haru's voice too! That is some impressive enchantment work that Haru did! I wonder if it's part of his research on transducing enchantments to sound waves and-"

Blink. A wild Artificier appears!

"Oh, hi, Haru!", she waves with a smile.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

"Give it a few advancements before I perfect an audio recording," Haru says from outside of the UtaWagon. His voice is tired but shows signs of perking up. It is as if the wagon has an aura of mana regeneration! "I see you are working on Christmas, too. Here is hoping no one has been too badly hurt during Christmas. Im sure that couples are doing some bonkers confessions that would lead to malady." He doesnt really know, but he does remember the Old World and some of the announcements/confessions/shocks that would lead to a trip to the hospital. "Also, I have a second gift for you I wanted to hand over today. This one is just for you." Pause. That sounds a little... "As a brother. A brotherly gift. A gift from your brother. That is not on New Years. Which, by the way, we should go to the Shrine on New Years." Perfection. He rubs the side of his head, words not being great right now and its showing in his inability to 'speak human', an otherwise natural ability for a Human. "Mind if I come in?"
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

    Christmas! It's Mizuki's second one in the game.

    Outside, until just before the Apocalypse, Christmas was always time Sam spent with family. Feeling like a disappointment for not advancing his career or scholarship or life at all. He was content, he thought, having an easy job and lots of time to game, but meeting family and extended family always drove home how others were advancing. His father was always disappointed he didn't go back to school for a master's. His cousins and brother were getting promotions and starting families.

    Sam wonders if he... no, she, would still be a disappointment. No, she's heroically helped people, that's gotta count for something, right?

    But now she can't picture a life she wants outside Elder Tale Online at all. And where before there was just a sense of... waiting and taking things as they come, now there's a confusing fog when she thinks of the future. Who will she be? She's not sure just who she *is*. Is she Sam-but-a-girl? Is she Mizuki? Which one was the mask? Or is she somewhere in between?

    She's definitely *happier* being Mizuki, though...

    She's ended up going for a walk through Shibuya today, trying to clear her head. But seeing other people celebrate just reminds her of Christmas outside. There was guilt, but also family. Family she'll never see again, except maybe her brother if they ever reach FM World.

    This is Japan though. Sort of. Christmas is different there. Although, *that* thought just reminds her that she doesn't have a girlfriend. Or boyfriend? Ugh, THAT thought fills her head with confusing fog again.

    The man cheerfully handing out gifts draws her from her thoughts. Haru...

    When you are in need of saving, you call upon a Heero, right?

    Mizuki's ears redden at the memory. Brain, n-no! She shakes her head. Besides, Uta is here too! She runs up to them with a smile. "Hi, guys! ...Did you say you're working on audio recordings? Ooh, that'd be wonderful! I miss listening to music whenever I want... even if I can sing so much more beautifully in here... sometimes I just wanna listen to something else, with instruments, you know?"

    Bonkers confessions? ...Don't think about that. Also, wait what?

    "Brother? Did you say... you're siblings?" She looks between Uta and Haru in confusion.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

The team needs to find a way to figure out where the Kunie is in Mac Anu or they're not going to get anything done in that town, and never be able to beat back the Palace Landers that have dug in. Which is why it's probably weird that Carbon is in Shibuya, nowhere near Mac Anu. But he has a reason. They were here for a long time, and there may be clues to the kind of security they would have in Mac Anu.

The black tiger was wearing his cloaked hood, as usual. It was cold enough to keep it up as he walked, but he was stopping frequently, checking spots where the Palace Lands forces had had encampments and defenses, "Hmm.." He rubs his muzzle a little, before looking up to the very hard to miss giant barrel, tilting his head a bit. Is that one of ours or one of their's? He decides to go check it out and get closer to see what it is.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

"Please do come in!", Uta invites, as pulls some herbs from a crate under the 'desk' and places them into the mortar. Some thick liquiid is poured from a jar, a drop carefully dispensed from an ampoule, a few small seeds from a box, and the pestle and mortar dance can begin again.

"The stories I could tell you," Uta snorts, amused, at the mention of revelation-related maladies, "but I cannot due to patient confidentiality." Stop. Poke. Discombobulate. Cheerfulness. "No, no, I am preparing a bunch of anesthetic. Both for the wounded, and hopefully to have enough left for the upcoming Dungeon Heart raid, in case our pain dampeners get disabled again." A second gift is mentioned, and Uta turns... well, to sum it up in one word, it would be 'suprised'; to sum it up in more words, it would be a sort mixture of excitedly surprised, and mildly worried at potentially getting too many presents.

Haru's later bumbling clarification gets nothing but amused laughter in response, "Of course, of course! As a brother. We have established that, no need to be nervous about it."

A wild Ninja appears!

"Oh, hi, Mizuki!", Uta greets. She looks between Haru and herself, and then back to Mizuki, and bursting into laughter, she exclaims, "Yup, we're siblings. Just found out recently. Funny how life works at times, huh?"

"You do know I've built a working recording phonograph, right?", Uta mentions to Mizuki. "Purely mechanical, no enchanting, but it's there. It's pretty much a scientific research instrument these days rather than an entertainment system; it was created to record the Songs of the Landers and the Alv, and study them at a later time. The Music Conservatory will even lend one to people who are willing to record Alv Songs for research purposes. The more people hunt for Songs, the better!"

"Oh, sorry, I think I have a customer!", she exclaims, as Carbon comes into view. She stands up, and bows. "Greetings! I am Uta Furore, Aerialist and Musical Kung-Fu Nurse! Welcome to Uta Furore's Mobile Clinic, Wandering Doujou, Traveling Circus, and Itinerant Concert Hall and Culture Service! How can I be of assistance?"

Notably, Uta is wearing a nurse's cap, which makes it hard to tell whether or not she's wearing a Crown underneath.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

    Mizuki looks between Haru and Uta, smiling. "I'm so happy for you!" She tries to group hug the two of them before Uta runs off to attend to a customer. "I hope I can see my brother again someday. Whenever we reach FM World... Knowing him, he's probably at the head of some major Alliance by now..."

    She had previously imagined that it might be awkward telling him that he now has a sister, and a catgirl at that, but she's starting to see that maybe... maybe that isn't really such a big deal to anyone. She smiles at the thought of helping him out with raids again in this world, just like old times...

    A phonograph?! "I didn't know! Or I forgot... are they hard to make? *Could* they be used for entertainment?"
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

Somewhere in Shibuya there is a barrel. not just any barrel, a wagon barrel. Not just any wagon barrel, an Uta Wagon Barrel. Clearly this is the holiday episode everyone asked for on the forums. What forums? Hush.

"Yeah, it still catches me off guard," Haru says regarding the word fumbling, "especially with my last leap into that territory." Romance might as well just remain a mysterious mystery. Why is he saying this while looking at Mizuki? Because thats what Heero's do. They lament and look at people with a questionable amount of social cues being missed. "Hey Mizuki. Nightmares all cleared up, yeah?" Like that one, stating that he remembers the whole Wrath Hunting incident. A hand gestures out, "Sorry I didn't get make you an ornament this year. Even with the all nighters, the requests of Yamotian Adventurers with Christmas 'gifts' for the significant others were barely done and I wasn't able to get more than a couple dozen ornaments out." The silver haired man looks back to Uta and continues on, "A gesture to friends and family that they are seen, they are liked as they are, and a token to remind them of that every year."

"A bit of a tradition I had from the Old World. There were a lot of business parties to attend this time of year and my mother picked up her version of it from Western culture. We'd put a tree up and hand make ornaments with the staff. It made for a great picture for New Years, too." The young man waxes nostalgia a moment. Winter has always held a special place in his abyssal, unstable heart. "Music! Thats all Uta-sis' territory there. I tried doing research /really/ early on to correlate Enchanting practices with Song ones. No dice. Too complicated a process to fully reproduce a Song. Notes, yes. But I was going for a sort of synthesizer or piano." The rambling continues. "But if the two of you want to go singing carols, go ham. They do that in Western culture, I believe. Also they eat ham." Worldly Haru is Worldly.

The note between Haru and Uta being siblings in a mystery. Haru is a tall silver haired human with a purple monocle. Uta is a Spriggan Kung Fu Nurse that can only be described as: Uta. It begs a lot of questions on their parents. A lot of questions.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

Carbon is not really used to being accosted. Though usually he's not really the type to be wandering the streets proper, usually you'd find him hopping from rooftop to rooftop. Still, he may as well at least talk with folks. She seems too nice to be a Palace Lander, but considering how they were driven out of Shibuya, it would make sense that some may want to keep their identies hidden if need be.

"I don't believe I am currently in need of any services, however." He says, as he moves up towards the barrel clinic, "I am at present gathering what information I can from the defenses left behind by the Palace Lands. At least the ones that the New World didn't just smash their way through."

He would have personally taken a more subtle approach to taking back the city, but it seems their plan worked just the same, "I wish there was something specific I could tell you I was looking for, however I'm not sure what it is. Simply trying to see if there's something I missed."

All the talk about presents and the like gets another tilt out of his head, and he pulls up his menu for a second to check the date, "Ah, Christmas. I hadn't even noticed." He says, though its really to nobody specific, "That would explain all the presents. Guess we've all been a little busy to notice the holiday sneaking up on us."
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

"As things are now, phonographs are pretty sophisticated instruments," Uta begins to explain. "We can make a few in small runs, and they end up... not cheap. It takes a lot of skilled, high precision work. A -lot- of that." She casts a glance sideways at Haru.

"They can definitely being used for entertainment, but it's like... I don't know, using a university research supercomputer to play videogames?", she offers, not entierely sure if her comparison is fitting. "It's all an ad-hoc production process we have going on at the Conservatory at the moment. Or, rather, -would- have; everything is pretty much halted because of Eas being in lockdown."

A small shrug. "That said, Gwen -did- ask for one to be used for entertainment, and considering how my whole wardrobe has pretty much been created by her, I supposed I owed her something back."

Uta snaps her fingers. "That said, we should get you one as soon as possible. As part of the LOONS' research. Well, -technically- it's the Song Hunters. It's like the LOONS, but the Song Hunters focus primarily in collecting songs for the Conservatory. You promise to share the songs you find with the Conservatory, and you get a loaner phonograph to record them." She leans over conspirationally. "Of course, if you don't wear it down, you can also use it to listen to other things."

"Ah, the Palance Landers," Uta sighs. "Yes, that is one big headache we have to deal with. I hope we'll manage to free them as soon as possible. And figure out who or what is behind all this. I think there's someone even above the Lander leaders of the various kingdoms." Beat. "Or... lack thereof, in case of Kallamore."

Pause. "Wait, it's Christmas?!" Forehead slap. "Of course it is! Why else would I have unpacked the 'do not open until Christmas' package from Haru?! AAAAAAAAAAAH! THE PRESENTS!" She looks around in panic. "I HAVE FORGOTTEN TO GET PEOPLE PR- No, wait, I -did- prepare the presents. Phew." Silence. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! I'VE ACCIDENTALLY LABELED THEM 'HAPPY BONDED HEARTS FESTIVAL!' I HAVE TO REDO THEM ALL!" Hyperventilation. Swipe menu open. Materialize red, squishy stress ball. Squeeze. Breathe. "Calm down, Uta, Calm down. You can do this. Yes, you are very very busy with other things. BUT: if you manage your time carefully, you'll be able to rewrap all the presents and have all of them say 'Merry Christmas!' by the time the Bonded Heart Festival rolls over! It'll all be good! Yes, yes, you got this!" Breathing, it gets slower and slower.

Breathing rate, back to normal. "Well, uh, Carols? I suppose we could go caroling..." Uta comments, absent mindedly. "It might confuse the heck out of the Landers, but one thing is for sure. They do like songs. A lot."
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

Bonded Hearts Festival. The other busy season for Haru. Accessory Crafting has its moments, for sure. Its not all Crowning people against their will or Uncrowning people so they have their will. There is a lot to it! A lot to it, the disembodied narrators say! "Mac Anu is next," Haru informs Uta on the whole Palace Lander front. "Always something going on that needs tending to. Which reminds me," he swipes an invisible section in front of him to pull up a menu. Tap tap tippy tap. A small red present box appears. All of this while Uta panics about mislabeled presents.

Haru watches Uta breathing. Deep breaths. In and out. In and out. Good. Goooood. Now here. He hands a present over to her. Inside is a compass. Notably it is a compass that doesn't work right now, not pointing to a magnetic pole. "For you, Uta. A sibling present. Right now it doesn't do anything, but it is the first prototype of a compass that points to what you need the most. So even if you are lost," he says. Pause. Long pause. IF UTA GETS LOST! Pause breaks. "If you are lost, be it a dark abyss with no landmarks or just the wrong Peko Racing event, then the compass will help you go where you need to be." When it works. Right now the pointer just wobbles in whatever direction it feels like.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

    The cat looks away at the mention of nightmares, shivering and nodding. Then looks at him and takes his hand, shaking it. "It's fine! I don't need presents. I think, maybe, being Mizuki might be the only present I need..." She smiles. "Well, now you've told me! So, I'm reminded that I'm seen, and... liked as I am." She rubs the back of her head awkwardly.

    She quirks an eyebrow at the word 'Uta-sis' and glances at Uta. But then singing carols is mentioned and that distracts her. "Oooh! I *never went* carol singing IRL! That'd be fun!"

    She nods at the assessment of using phonographs for entertainment. "Yeah, pretty much." Her eyes widen and she clasps her hands together in front of her chest at the offer of a phonograph for personal and research use, her tailtip flicking excitedly. "Oooh... that'd be cool, though I don't know if I'm finding many new songs these days..."

    And then Uta gets in a panic. "Woah, it's fine! I don't think anyone will mind 'Happy Bonded Hearts Festival' on their presents, really! You certainly don't have to redo mine..."

    Mizuki blinks. "Wait, if you change them now, then if you intend to give them at the bonded hearts festival instead, wouldn't you just have to change them again?"
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

The black tiger folds his arms across his chest, "Freeing the Adventurers over there is a priority, yes." He says, "Once we have driven their forces from our shores, perhaps we can figure out a plan to take the fight to them. Until then though, there's still forces in Mac Anu, yes." Carbon rubs his muzzle, "I have been tasked with locating the Kunie of Mac Anu, someone in the city knows where it is, but we will need to find a Lander ally or two in order to help us."

At Uta's dellema, he considers for a moment, "You could just give them as is, I am sure that your friends and loved ones would be more than happy to receieve a gift, no matter what the packaging looks like."
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

If Mizuki's glance was meant to sample Uta's reaction to being called a Uta-sis, well, the Uta-sis word doesn't elicit any particular reaction from Uta. It's just how things are. This increasingly mysterious siblinghood which raises a lot of questions, it seems to be confirmed.

"Me neither, Mizuki," Uta continues at Mizuki's mention that she never went caroling. "But here I go singing at the landers all the time, so, well..." She shrugs.

"We don't have recordings of all the Lander songs. Only a small handful. And there -always- are new songs, and-"
5rSilence. Seriousness. "You know about the Songs past number 42, right? We have found a few. The 43rd. The 44th. The 47th. As you can see, we have holes." Lower, hushed, voice. "Most seem not to be nice songs, but we need to know more about them. We heard them once. In strange circumstances."

"And then there's songs we got to hear -once-, but couldn't record or transcribe because, well, only one chance at them. That's what prompted me to work on the phonograph. Capture the songs. Study them."

Some time is taken to consider Mizuki's and Carbon's suggestion. "...You're right! I could simply keep them as they are, and give them out at the Bonded Hearts Festival! That's genius!"

Uta receives the gift with both hands. Carefully opens the package, peers at the contents, and lets out a long, low 'ooooooooooooooh' of amazement. "This... this is such a considerate gift..." She sniff, and runs a finger on a cheek, close to the eye. "A new era has awoken! Fear me, Peko races! Fear me, major battles! Fear me... uh... other... places and events I never find! For now I am going to test this cutting edge technology!" She offers Haru a deep bow. "Thank you, Haru-bro!" A pause. "Haru-bro... hm. Not sure it sounds right. Let me try a do-over." Ahem. Stand up, deep bow, "Thank you, dear brother! Thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart!"

Straighten up, sit down. Address Carbon. "Kunie... I remember Gilgamesh knew where to find the one in the Isle of Beginning. I wish you good luck with finding the one for Mac Anu. Feel free to ask me if you need any help."
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

    "Wait, there are more songs?" than 42??? She didn't know that actually!

    Carbon brings up the Palace Landers. Mizuki's ears and tail droop. "...I hope we can free those poor people. It's seriously messed up, mind control like that is saturday morning cartoon *EVIL*..."

~~A Long Time Ago~~

    Nine-year-old Sam is sitting down in front of the TV. This is his favorite show. If you asked his opinion he would say that it is "Way past cool", although more detailed literary analysis would have to wait many more years.

    Right now he's just excited to see where the story goes. The heroes have finally found a way to turn the villain's roboticized slaves back to normal! A peaceful reunion proceeds:

    "Man. I'm sure glad you're here Uncle Chuck. I missed you big time."
    "I missed you too, Sonic. I've been dreaming of this since the first day I was roboticized."
    "You have?? But I thought when you were roboticized, ya didn't--"
    "Know what was going on? We know everything. We just can't DO anything about it."

    Wow holy shit that is seriously fucked up. And the main characters and their friends' families have been in that state for *ten years*? Little Sam can't imagine ten years of *anything*, but it leaves a lasting impression, an understanding of just what the heroes have been fighting to fix all this time, and the fate that awaits them if they fail, or someone gets captured on a mission. It's a little bit more memorable than cartoons where nothing serious ever seems to happen, and despite villains' large scale destruction, no one seriously gets hurt.

    Years later, not long before the apocalypse, Sam would reflect on how the prohibition against graphic violence and death in children's cartoons often results in writers coming up with some *pretty fucked up* stuff if you think about it.


    Sam doesn't actually remember that moment of that show, or what order things happened in, but the plot detail sticks with her. She thinks about the poor roboticized mobians every time the subject of the Crowned is touched on.

    Well, now *she's* the talking animal with superhuman abilities. What can she do but help save them like the Freedom Fighters?

    She nods to her fellow tiger-person, seriously. "We'll save them. We've got to... This is *real* evil, not pretend monsters. That's what the fantasy was about, right? The idea that if we had power, we'd be able to stop evil... It's what we always wanted to do, if we had the chance... and now's our chance."
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

"The war effort does not lack for need of idea or able bodied people to deliver on them," Haru says as he takes a deep breath. He has involved himself more than ever intended from six months ago onward. War doesnt care if you are a soldier or a teacher, just that you stand up and fight back. "My unsolicited advice is to take the ideas and abilities to your peers and commanders and work with them in a unified fashion. A war isn't won by one person. Even heroes need support in tales of yore." In the... ELDER tales.

"Haru-bro sounds like I need more strength than these noodly arms have," the silver haired human says as he flexes his arms. Yes. Behold what happens when you dump the strength stat in favor of intelligence and Wave Arte casting prowess. At least he has deep mana reservoirs and cool summons. With that he straightens up and gives a bow, "You are welcome. This response is a gift in itself. In truth, I needed that. Uncrowning is a hard act to watch." It is not thanks one gets, but to be a passenger in a display where guilt and discomfort come rushing in like they were in the dark for so long they forgot what it was like to be outside in the sun. And they start it off by staring directly into the sun.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

"If only there was some sort of way to uncrown everyone at once." Carbon says, as he glances between the trio, "Like a central power source that controls the crowns. But if that exists, it's probably somewhere in the Palace Lands proper, and would undoubtedly be well guarded." A quick look at Mizuki, "In most of those cartoons the heroes need to learn to work together to overcome far greater odds than what they would be able to take down on their own, no? We are in a similar situation, although I'd say with much more dire consequences. We don't get to reset to the status quo when our fights are done."

He only hopes that once they are able to locate and find the Kunie for Mac Anu that they can free him. He has heard a bit of the potential plan for getting to the Kunie, and it sounds insane. Which makes it right up his alley.
Shibuya - Astral Athenaeum

    Mizuki nods to the others. "Well, yeah." Hey, she WAS thinking of a cartoon where teamwork was important, even if Sonic got to do all the flashy stuff. "It would be nice, though, if we can find a single lynchpin that frees everyone..."