Fairy's Godmother

Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    Life in Eas is getting back to its new normal. The Baroness/Priestess/Mother of Orphans has returned. But it is unlikely she will be staying for long. Messengers race to the castle and from it with regularity. Rarely is there not a peko moving along the great highway. Elly has never used her chimlink so often.

    The center of operations is in Castle Eas, and it is there where the books are being kept, resources are being shifted from place to place, and a hundred or more teaching jobs are waiting to be filled. The progress continues and much is being done. There are also orphans in Eas, as well. Those with no place to go have found a home here and there is no shortage of adventurers to share their knowledge, with Olympus being headquartered here.

    Amidst all this work, there has been little time to simply breath. But Elly has finally set aside time to just relax, trusting the momentum to carry through. For a few hours.

    She can be found in an unlikely place. There is a ballroom in the castle that she sits in. Soft music fills the room, as she listens to one of the phonographs that Uta made a reality.

Lands of Eas

Speaking of Uta, our Spriggan happens to pass by; she is briefly visible through the door, before she disappears.

And then, her head peeks back, slanted at an angle.

Her body follows shortly, as the inclination of her head returns to vertical; besides her head, of course, the massive dark wings on her back also remain visible during this whole process.

Curious, she approaches the phonograph, and stares at it, enthralled by the music.

Finally, after a few seconds, she turns around, looks up, looks off to one side, and pivots on one leg. She turns in place, a slow 360 degree spin to take in the majesty of this location, and her golden amber eyes finally set on the Baroness, confused. "...Castle Eas has a ballroom?"
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    For her part, Elly simply observes Uta's curious behavior in silence. One never can be quite certain what a visit from the nurse will lead to. In this case, when Uta finally speaks, Elly laughs softly.

    "Of course we have a space for dancing, dear. It wouldn't be much of a castle without it."

    She watches Uta intently for several seconds before asking, "Does Nurse Uta know how to dance in a ballroom?"

    She rises suddenly, then moves to stand by Uta. A hug is then offered as a proper greeting. "How have you been, Uta? Is life treating you well?"

Lands of Eas

"I have never had the need to, no...", Uta trails off, semi-distracted while looking straight up and slowly spinning around in place once again to take in the ceiling. So much splendor. "...You know me. I'm at home in a tavern or off in the workshop at the conservatory. Ballrooms..." Silence. "No, I'm not sure I could pull off ballrooms."

This is when Wake arrives to Hug uta, and, well, as the good boiled frog she is, she hugs right back, without too much fuss. "I've been well. Gwen threw a party at the beach. Relaxed, had drinks, had fun."
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    The hug, at first, lingers a moment, then Elly takes Uta's left hand in her right and the priestess rests a hand on the nurse's back. She is smiling warmly and says, "Well, there is no time like the present, is there?"

    The best way to get Uta to do something new, in Elly's experience, is to just foist it upon her! And so Elly does, immediately leading her into a dance. Oh, sure, Uta could protest, but the priestess rather doubts it.

    "The beach sounds nice. Did everything go to plan, or was there a major monster incident?" That seems the norm with ETO beach parties.

Lands of Eas

"Curtana seemed to suffer from some sort of slow, yet persistent, form of hypertension. So much blushing, to say nothing of rhinal hemorrhage," Uta begins, as she is swept into the dance. "He tried to get away from the main area, but good thing Gwen and I have been going after him." Uta seems to be following Wake's steps practically without effort; she's mirroring Wake's movements, picking up as many details and mannerisms as someone with her level of Etiquette can, and making them second nature in a fraction of the time it'd take your average student. "If we didn't happen to be around..." Uta falls silent, while her body, by now, seems to be going through the motion without any intervention. At which point she looks down. Then up at Wake. "Wait a minute, are we dancing?"

As it happens in such case, as soon as she starts -thinking- about what she's doing, as opposed to merely going with the flow, she begins to make small mistakes and miss a step or two here and there; but still, it's impressive how much she's picked up, both as far as dancing technique and proper posture goes.
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    "So you dressed in skimpy clothing and Curtana was blushing, huh? Rhinal ... oh! Wow, this game has those silly anime effects in it? That's awkward. But.. how does one have a nosebleed in a game with no blood?"

    Elly looks thoughtful, then shrugs. "I guess it was some kind of pixel thing. Funny they bother with that kind of effect!"

    A pause as she enjoys the dance. It's nice, having a partner who is so easy to work with. The question from Uta gets her laughing, though. "Why yes, my dear. We are dancing! Hmm, but it seems you are more of an intuitive dancer than one who needs to ponder each step. I have an idea... It will help you get into the proper mindset!"

    She doesn't stop dancing, exactly. She keeps going, but uses a hand to flip through her inventory. And trades Uta a ball gown. "I've had this held in reserve, for just such a critical moment as this! My gift to you."

Lands of Eas

"It was a swimsuit," Uta specifies with a mumble, looking down and away. Was that a fleeting blush? "And Curtana's cheek did show symptoms of increased bloodflow, yes. I fail to see how the two things are related, though," she replies, as she layers a hint of a shrug on top of her motion at the mention of silly anime effects; "Media cross-contamination, I would guess. Assuming that this is still a game."

"It's probably the Song skill," Uta comments, as she looks down at her feet and seeming puzzled at her own ability at something she's never really practiced much before. "Idea? Mindset?", she says, before looking in confusion at the gift offer. "...A gift? For me?" Ironically, the more her mind is taken off the dance, the more natural the flow of her steps become. "Thank... you?" The Nurse's eyes narrow slightly, as she pulls her hea dback. The sudden, slight stiffness in her wings hints at tension. "But...why is this moment critical?" In addition to Uta seeming utterly baffled by the very concept of a ballgown, there is genuine confusion and a hint of concern about the way it was delivered, as if Wake's words had been taken as the garment being part of a quest to save the world, and Uta had missed the memo.
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    Elly arches an eyebrow at Uta's string of questions. "Yes. The proper mindset, the mood to dance, to be graceful, elegant, and beautiful. And Uta, dear, the moment is critical because I said so, and as a priestess, baroness, and the woman responsible for dozens of orphanages, I have the authority to declare such moments."

    She looks dreadfully serious for all of five seconds, then suddenly... is she giggling? She's clearly been around children a great deal. "Now put that lovely gown on and let's dance! I can't wait to see it on you!"

    This all does call into question just what the Baroness is wearing. She ponders this for all of a few heartbeats, and then she's changed into a gown of her own. The fabric is an inky black velvet with the silvery, glowing outlines of rose stems winding about the skirts and emerging as brilliant blooms about the bodice.

Lands of Eas

Uta hesitates for a moment. No words are spoken (who dares contradict a Baroness?), and the layman might have trouble picking up on her body language -- but a Legendary Sage of Etiquette like Wake will be able to decode those imperceptible movements of her facial muscles: Dance? That she can do; but she doesn't seem to be able to relate to the 'graceful', 'elegant' and most of all, 'beautiful'.

Even the layman would be able to pick up the burst of amusement in Uta's features as the Baroness starts giggling; suspicions of too much wine cross the Spriggan's mind.

"Ah well, let's give it a look. Is it an academic gown? Like... for a graduation or something?", Uta asks, before activating her menu to wear the item...


As the light subsides, and Uta looks down, she finds herself in a velvet ballgown with a sweetheart neckline, whose shade of blue straddles the linguistic terminator between the 'light' and 'dark' variants of the color; not ornate, but elegant in its simplicity. As one would expect from someone of the Baroness.

"Velvet? We have velvet in this world?", is the first thing that Uta wonders aloud, matter-of-factly. That is, before she notices what it is that is made of velvet, and more importantly, who is wearing that what. At that point, Uta's expression turns to downright uncomprehending. The range of frowns and eyebrow quirks and jaw drops she goes through indicate a reaction not to a mircale, but a paradox; someone teased by incongruence, as if someone had just seen the genuine Mona Lisa hanging in the reception of a roach motel.

And when she looks up again, to speak to Wake, she notices that the baroness has changed into a gown of her own.

Once again, Uta speaks no words; nonetheless, her whole face is a massive question mark.
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    Hands are taken, Uta is again pulled into the dance, and off they go. Elly cares little for explanations of matters like this. It is simply the time to dance.

    "Now, my eyes are sharper in this world than they used to be. I must admit, they are now almost as discerning as they were in the Dream Before. My eyes tell me that you seem to be struggling with something. Hmmm..."

    She lazily does the easy calculus of it all in the back of her mind. "So you do not seem to be aware of a very basic truth. You are quite beautiful, Uta. Graceful, as well. You are a delight to dance with. Especially when you aren't thinking so much about where to put your feet. Light in my hands, you glide across the floor."

    She leaves that be, and for a time, simply continues the dance. Only she regularly alters her steps, moving from dance to dance. Uta's dancing makes her so curious. Is it the game, or was she a dancer before?

Lands of Eas

Uta looks down in embarrassment at having been caught struggling with something. After one almost missed step she recovers from quickly, she spends a few more passages ruminating, while she slides around with the kind of efforless grace Wake just commended her for; every now and then, she casts a glance in Wake's direction, as if for reading her expression; and each time, unbeknownst to Uta herself, the dancing Spriggan subconsciously picks up from her Noble friend an increasingly more 'refined' element in her posture and attitude; one time it is the precise arching and tension in the fingers; another, it's subtleties in the timing of veering directions; the lightness of steps; it is important to note -- more 'refined' like the Baroness, but not as... 'noble', one could say. Uta's careful in not overdoing it, in keeping with her perceived lower rank. Etiquette also demands that one knows their place.

But it is not only a matter of social pecking order -- Wake's psychological expertise will likely catch the inner struggle of someone who has a hard time internalizing compliments; inner demons ganging up on these Gifts of Light, submerging them, until, unexpected, a single, thin beam of light fails to be subjugated, and manages to slip through, to shine through: "Do you really think I dance well?", Uta dares to asks, almost afraid, almost a whisper, while, with her head lowered, her golden-amber eyes peer up, furtive.

The only compliment, in her current state, she seems to at least be willing to tentatively give a chance to. Quite fortunate for Wake -- this line of inquiry might bring an answer to her unasked question.
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    Elly is able to study her dancing partner easily. Not only in her expression, but in every tension of muscle in her body. Being the lead does leave her hand on Uta's back, which is remarkably communicative.

    "You dance very well, Uta. I am delighted to dance with you." She smiles warmly, and punctuates this with a kiss to the top of Uta's head, assuming the Spriggan doesn't try to stop her.

    "Of course, that's not the only thing you are good at. I don't mean the generic but honest statement that you are a wonderful friend. You are very intelligent and surprisingly strong, as well. I sleep a lot easier because you are my friend, Uta." She laughs softly and playfully adds, "And speaking of that strength, I do really like the furniture layout I finally settled on." Uta may recall having moved Elly and Tae's bed several times during her 'training'. That it ended up almost exactly where it started is something that Elly frankly feels a bit guilty abouut.

Lands of Eas

The kiss on Uta's forehead has the effect of leaving Uta stunned, unmoving. She reaches with the fingers of one hand to where the Baroness' lips touched the Spriggan's head, but hesitates before touching; eventually, she retracts them.

One advantage of Uta being stunned and unmoving -- Wake's got a captive audience now; and either by careful choice, or by sheer luck, the Baroness manages to hit just about the right mix of compliments Uta seems capable to accept, with some more problematic ones that manage to sneak in while mingling with the crowd.

The callback to the furniture rearrangement elicits a burst of genuine laughter, which further helps release the tension. "I am grateful to ou for giving me a chance to improve!" Followed with a bit of a melancholic sigh. "But in the end, a lot of this is all the game's doing rather than mine, really...", she says, as she scratches the back of her head. "Back in the real world I was more noodly armed than Haru." She waves her hand in the general direction of her shoes. "With the coordination of a drunk potato. On a dance floor like this? I'd have tripped onto my own feet even before the first step."

Silence. The gown is back in her field of view. A frown.

"Velvet? We have velvet in this world?"

She shakes her head to clear it, to avoid falling into a loop where she starts repeating everything from the first time she's uttered that sentence. "Intelligent... eh, on a good day." She mumbles, "I think it is obvious by now that I am not... well, like everyone else." It doesn't take a PhD in psychology to diagnose Uta with a severe case of ADHD or something like that. At this point, she's looking down, head slightly sunk in her shoulders, fiddling with her fingers. "On a normal day? I am convinced that Gwen's beach party is the kind of costume party and I show up in a cluck-cluck suit." Another glance up. "But I am deeply grateful for your friendship. That... that I can believe is authentic."
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    "We are who and what we are, here and now."

    Elly's words are softly spoken and her smile is unwavering. "If we were something else once, well, that was then. This moment, me, the baroness, priestess of the Beautiful One, and many things besides is dancing with a lovely, graceful, kind-hearted, and much beloved Spriggan named Uta. That your mind works differently from others is wonderful. I appreciate you, Uta. But not just for these talents you have. My heart is warmed by your presence."

    She considers for a moment, the image of Uta in a cluck-cluck suit. "Well, I imagine if you had kept that suit on, Curtana would have experienced slightly fewer symptoms. But I rather like you as your are now. Do you struggle with the abilities you have now? They do seem to simply work, without quite the rhyme and reason we were used to in the Dream Before."
Lands of Eas

Uta is soothed by Wake's words. They do seem to progressively placate most of the Sprigann's uneasiness.

"My heart is warmed by your presence as well, Lady Bombast," Uta says.


"...Elly?", she hazards. Uncertain, mildly worried that calling the Baroness by first name in this context might be disrespectfully forward?

"His symptoms -did- seem to worsen after I changed out of it..." Uta remarks, looking up and away, suddenly distracted, only to return to focus on Wake. "How'd you guess that?" A blink. And another change of subject. "Oh, yes. It's... impressive how, for instance, I've suddenly become some sort of medical prodigy while I had never-" Silence. She seems to ponder her next words with particular care. "I had never shown any specific inclination to medicine, nor worked in a hospital." She bursts into a sort of nervous laugh. "It's... it's strange yet exilarating. I can sing, I can dance, and I know kung-fu. It feels so easy and natural..." She tilts her head at Wake. "Do you struggle with them?"
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    "I do rather prefer you use my name, rather than the title, or 'Wake'. You are my friend. Even if we leave this place, that won't change." Not that she thinks there is any leaving in her future. Nor does she even want to.

    "As for Curtana, he saw attractive women wearing little by way of clothing, and it was a bit too much for him. He must be very innocent. So naturally the less you wear, the more... excitable his demeanor. The nosebleed thing is another sign. Though I find it weird, since that's not something real humans could do."

    She continues leading, switching to another dance. This one far more complicated, yet the steps come so easilky. "It used to be a bit more difficult to accept, but I have grown accustomed to it. Learning here is simply different and then, suddenly, we can do things. Being a legend has changed things so much for me. I am known by all Landers. They just know what I do. Which I appreciate greatly, because it has allowed me to help the vulnerable in a way that would otherwise have been impossible. Not to mention how I seem aware of and able to manipulate outcomes. Just as someone is about to fail, I can sense it and I can tell, intuitively, if I can alter that outcome. Then by will I can intervene. A power the Goddess granted me. I rely on it greatly and would rather not have to do without it."
Lands of Eas

Uta takes in the Baroness' request to use her given name. She gives it serious thought, as Uta is wont to in matters of importance. "Elly," Uta nods. It was given consideration. It has been accepted. It has been confirmed.

As Uta is gently guided to make a turn, the subject of Curtana is brought up. "Oh, yes, now that you mention it, there -was- an abundance of scantly clad ladies. And Gwen, which count as an abundance of scantly clad lady on her own," Uta remarks, once again distracted- distracted, but for the first time since starting the lesson, looking straight at Wake, with an expression appropriate for casual conversation between friends, rather than her usual vacuous stare in the distance. Another subtle bit of Etiquette she must have subconsciously picked up from Wake while busy thinking about something else. "Luckily it was only a mild nosebleed," Uta remarks.

And as the dance switches to a more complex one, the ease with which she was simply gliding over the dance floor a moment ago gives way to concentration. This time she has to put more conscious effort in her movements, and she has to glance down at her feet often, and check on them -- as much as the gown allows, at least. Good thing that proprioception is a thing, and a particularly developed one in Godhands. "Your acts alone were worth of legend before you acquired it as a Special Gift," Uta replies to Wake. "I wasn't expecting you to be noticed by a -Goddess-," she utters, with reverence, "...but I'm not surprised that you've been noticed by a Goddess, and granted a gift worthy of your achievements." She has to interrupt her discussion to keep looking down during a particularly complex passage where the music picks up in tempo, but as soon as the difficulty goes from higher than higher than average to merely higher than average, at least at her current skill level, she reprises, among glances to where her feet are supposed to be, "...Why would you rather not have to do without it?", Uta finally asks, with a frown, as if the question hit her all at once. "You did wonderfully before getting it. You strike me as the kind of person that does not -need- such gift... it just makes things easier- Oh!" Uta diverts her eyes to concentrates on a couple of rapid turns, and on holding on Wake correctly, before continuing, "It's a dishwasher situation, isn't it? You -can- wash dishes by hand, but dang is it convenient to have it?"
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    Elly's eyes are twinkling with amusement. The way Uta discusses scantily clad ladies seems to not include Uta, herself. What that means exactly, Elly isn't certain. She's rather focused at the moment. Not on the dance, but on Uta's expression. And her eyes. It's rare that she gets to simply meet someone's gaze. Well, except for lander children, anyway.

    "I acknowledge that I was able to achieve many noteworthy things before I received this blessing. With the important note that I did so with the help of many friends. I would not have succeeded on my own with you and many, many others."

    Her tone is not only matter of fact. There's gentleness in each word, and gratitude in her smile. Flowing through the dance is like breathing now. That she was never this good a dancer before is rather obvious and not worth mentioning. Few humans in the dream before could hope to match the skills that many adventurers have here, even without taking wave artes into account.

    "I would say that this gift is critical in that it does something I could not do. From across the room, I can change fate. I've saved lives many times with this power, Uta. A lander child was about to be crushed by a tree that she was not going to leap away from. I was able to call upon the blessing of the Goddess and suddenly the child was fast enough to roll away in time."

    She allows this dance to drift into another. Not quite so fast, but with odd timings. With her in the lead, these do not impact Uta quite so much, but it is doubtless noticable to the Spriggan.

Lands of Eas

While led into the more complex series of steps, which she seems to be getting the hang of already like the gifted student she is, Uta listens in silence at the Baroness's words; at how her gift of the Leged power path has proven critical in saving lives. At how the world would be much worse without it. Passing expressions of awe and reverence hint at Uta thinking about the Beautiful One... or at least something relating to the Goddesses. It's a bumpy ride, though, interrupted by the occasional attention at the dance steps.

Her thought must veer off elsewhere -- she's still meeting Elly's gaze, as well as someone not used to looking at people in the eyes but high enough an Etiquette skill can, but there also a clear hint, for those who know her, about something else being considered underneath. She's ruminating.

"It's like with the butterfly, isn't it?", she asks, abrupt.
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    It's a pleasant turn of events to have a partner who can keep up. But still, this is not a competition. Elly naturally flows into simpler, but still lovely dances. Just how many ballroom dances she knows is hard to say. She suspects the answer is 'almost all of them' at this point.

    "The.. butterfly, Uta?" Elly is not clear on what that is referring to. "Do you mean like the butterfly effect, by chance?"

    Confusion aside, her expression is untroubled. She continues to glide as gracefully as ever. With a few exceptions, it is fair to say that she has rarely been so happy. To lose herself for a time in dancing, to be unavailable to the chim messages, the call of messengers, and whatever else might seek her attention, is truly refreshing.

Lands of Eas

Uta's reaction to Elly's proposal is to keep thinking and dancing. "I guess I might," she concedes, more than confirms. She takes some time to enjoy a particularly challenging, and exactly for that reason, rewarding passage, but then she reprises, "The Zhuangzi." Turn, follow Wake's lead. Lean, adjust, steer. "Zhuang Zhou dreaming he was a butterfly, flitting and fluttering about." She stops talking for a moment, to appreciate the sheer joy emanating from her friend and mentor figure, before reprising, "When he woke up, he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who has just dreamed of being a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of being Zhuang Zhou."

As much as the dance (and Etiquette) allows, she'll lean forward.

It's probably very little.

"That's what you mean with 'The Dream Before'. You've been referencing the Zhuangzi this whole time. You're not saying that the past is a worthless fantasy; rather, you're pointing out the ontological-epistemological ambiguity that underlies our current predicament; how we're facing a Butterfly Dream Scenario, an impossible problem, and trying too hard to distinguish dream and reality is bound to lead only to sophism and overanalysis-induced inaction. One who were to refrain from action until the matter has been settled would be making a Buridan's ass of oneself."

The song reaches its finale, and as the dance likely comes to an end leaving both women still like statues, Uta breaks the illusion of the duo being but an elaborate piece of art by uttering a quiet, "We are who and what we are, here and now."
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    Elly listens to Uta, her eyes still showing that she is quite pleased. Granted, she has much to listen to as Uta plumbs the philosophical depths of 'The Dream Before'. That so much can be said (and such long words be aimed at) a very simple principal clearly amused Elly greatly.

    "It is quite a simple thing, if one boils away all the confounding matters. To wit: bereft of physical evidence, there is nothing that serves as hard proof of a previous reality. Considering we think we were in an entirely digital world, the very concept of physical evidence is utterly laid bare for the dubious matter it is. All that we see as 'the real' is based upon things we most often call laws of physics. It is a set of guesses, taking inputs as cause and outputs as effects in the hopes that some relationship will arise from them. All adventurers have these memories of a place before, and so we believe they are real, though we must concede we cannot prove it. It is a matter of faith, not fact. The folley, in my eyes, is to see what came before, which is outside our reach now, as more valid, more true, more important than what is happening now."

    A pause for a breath. The silence in the room is strange, and the walls have a way of picking up other sounds. Of amplifying them. The brushing of fabric on fabric, the tap of a heel on the floor when Elly steps back, and then closer again.

    "We are indeed. We are thought, whatever its source, and we are in this place, whether it be the results of a carefully calculated simulation or a carefully contrived construct of particles and energy."
Lands of Eas

Uta has been following the whole discussion with captive attention. Deep discussions about the very nature of reality (or lack thereof) and consequent course of action! Without a doubt, this must be the hot topic that's all the rage over Yamato and the Palace Lands, especially among adventurers!

It is after the end of Wake's follow-up that Uta also notices the unearthily crisp brushing of fabric on fabric, the tap of a heel on the floor.

She looks down, as she takes one step back herself. The sound and sight of her own heels and fabric stirs something, and she looks up at Wake, abruptly. "We've been dancing?", she asks, as if she had realized it for the first time. "...Why?"

It is important to note that the 'why?' is devoid of any trace of accusation; what it is brimming with is genuine puzzlement. Less 'why would you do stab me while I was giving my back to you', more 'why would you cover your furniture in mayonnaise?'
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    Elly raises an eyebrow at Uta's sudden realization. The girl is certainly a unique spirit. The answer is a gentle laugh. Not a mocking one, but full of joy.

    "We did dance, yes. It was wonderful, was it not? To be so near to someone, to move in concert not just with music, but with each other. Every bit as delightful as a good conversation, or even a loving kiss. It is a language its own. This of course doesn't even begin to explore the nature of trust in my ability to lead across the dancefloor."

    She draws in a breath, then lets it out in a relaxed sigh. "Why? Because I wanted to dance with you. To share myself with you. You are my friend, Uta, and I love you dearly. Did you not realize this?"

Lands of Eas

"Well, yes...", Uta mumbles, scratching the back of her head, "I was just confused as to why formal dance specif-"

Once again, Uta appears to bluescreen; the fact that nothing serious happened to her is revealed by the quiet, "...oh" she utters shortly after.

"Share yourself with me," she starts. "Like when I take you on a tour of my slimes, and talk your ear off about them." One day, Essie will be reality! One day! "When I do that... I guess I do I take you into my world, after a sense. You reciprocated the favor by taking me into yours."
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    "Heart and soul, Uta. We become better friends not just by spending time in the same area, but by showing what matters to us. And not just the good. Fear, pain, guilt, and so on. The entire gamut of human emotional experience describes our being and serves as the foundation of what is to come."

    Elly never lectures, but those who associate with her often realize that they thought it was just a casual conversation and later realized they should have been taking notes. She laughs softly, adding a rare, but intentional shrug of her shoulders.

    "This is what I think, anyway. And it is what I value most. When someone lets you see who they are it is the most valuable treasure." What comes next is not spoken, she's singing.

        Heaven fell on herself tonight
        As the devil met me in the wishing well
        And in that moment I found myself knowing
        That in the end it's just about you and me
        Nothing smaller or larger
        Though dragons are good for the soul
        Nothing can be better
        than baring yourself for another
        Open for scrutiny, ridicule, and indulgence
        Therein lies the balls, and the mind, and the heart...
        As fear is truly the mindkiller
        When nothing is left
        Everything is gained...
        You see, I wish I was a poet
        But I know as we go round and round
        Though endings are never ever happy
        It's the happy moments along the way
        That in the end
        Make it ok.

Lands of Eas

The Words of the Baroness resonate within Uta. 'And not just the good. Fear, pain, guilt, and so on.' 'When someone lets you see who they are it is the most valuable treasure.'

The beginning of Elly's performance, simultaneously song and recitation, is not entierely clear to Uta; partly so, enough so she can pay attention, but vague enough, without context, that she does have no particular reaction.

As the song progresses, though, the Baroness can likely pick up involuntary muscle twitches to deduce which of her lyrics deal the strongest blows to Uta's equanimity.

The suggestion of baring oneself to another is met with a possibly expected imperceptible stiffening; the trick is to look at the tip of the wings: like levers, they amplify the smallest movement of her back. It's like looking at a dog's tail. 'Fear is truly the mindkiller' seems to have touched a nerve as well. Possibly surprising, so does 'I wish I was a poet'.

The finale, as a good finale should, manages to release all the accumulated tension at once; Wake has nailed the catharsis. And just like anyone who's had to dwelve into the depths of their own self and watch the Lurking Shadows therein pound and claw at their cages, and hold one's breath while praying that the bars will hold, Uta turns and look away, to catch her breath and clear her mind.

Be it because of sheer coincidence or of the Baroness's crafty maneuvering during the dance, Uta finds herself facing one of the mirrors in the hall.

Her instinctive reaction is, as it is typical, a start. But instead of following through by attacking the Girl from the Menu, Uta merely freezes again. She reaches out with one hand, a gesture which her specular counterpart matches, before her gaze falls on her illusory twin's bared upper body, as revealed by the gown's decollete. Uta immediately crosses her arms in front of the area, palms almost touching her shoulders in a modesty-triggered gesture of sorts.

But after a few seconds, a lightbulb goes off. Uta's eyebrows shoot up, just as her irises shoot sideways to the Baroness.

"A formal dance is a matter of Etiquette as much as it is of Song, isn't it?" Uta begins. "And Etiquette, especially in Japan, is about indirectness. Reading between the lines." Arms still crossed, she turns the rest of her body to fully face the Baroness. "Shoulders. That's how we carry weights." And then, Uta quotes from the Song of the baroness, music and recitation and all, "Nothing can be better than baring yourself for another", and as she sings, her hands are slowly uncrossed and lowered, until they fall at her side. The gown wasn't a whimsical gift, she decides, and its specific cut was intentional. It reached out carrying a very precise request, hidden between the necklines: 'Bare your shoulders'. As in, 'Show me the part of you that is burdened by weights, for I care deeply about you.' A gift with heartstrings attached.

Uta's mouth curls into a bittersweet smile at this thought. Touche'. She lowers her head a little, and softly offers a soft, sincere "Thank you," before turning again, away from the Baroness and away from the wall the mirror is hung on, to sweep her eyes through the majesty of the room.

When she's done, she realizes that it is the moment to take a decision, a scary one, of whether or not to allow the Baroness further into the Inner Sanctum of her very being. She can feel that her heart rate has picked up: Wake is playing the home team. Uta, conversely, is as out of her element as she possibly can be. She found herself disoriented, stuffed in a gown, swept into formal dancing. She's had her emotional barriers circumvented, assaulted, proven near worthless. Uta cannot help but frame the Baroness as someone who effortlessly waltzes her way in and out of people's psyche, gliding around like it was nothing. If Wake wanted, she could unmake Uta's soul on a whim.

And yet, Elly didn't. She is reaching out. Asking Uta to be her partner in this dance, not her victim. Nonetheless, it is a lot to ask for. Wake is certainly aware of how terrifying it can feel to take down this sort of defense.

In the end, a decision is taken.

Uta holds her hands behind her back, and with studied casual demeanour, she finally throws out an apparently nonchalant, "...You know? It's cool that we have a dance hall. We should use this room more often."

Because therein lies the balls.
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    The crux of social power is that it becomes intuitive, understood, and while the experts may, indeed, find a thousand puzzles in every gesture, the masters simply act, react, and know. Words get in the way.

    For all this nature of pure understanding, there are decisions that must be made. Some of those choices force one to determine their role in a relationship. Once made, these are the kind of choices that can never be undone. There is no retreat.

    Elly faces such a choice now. It is every bit as challenging as her hardest, most high stakes decisions in every life she's lived. The 'Mother of Orphans' considers it in incredible detail and at a pace so fast that it is a blur of thought. To remain a harmless friend kept at arm's lengtth or to step closer, which is bereft with risks. One cannot be both at the same time and failing the latter dooms the former.

    'How much you wanna risk?' Elly asks herself.

    To help a person she loves dearly, she must risk it all. After all, even if she loses a friend, her friend need not lose her support and affection.

    This choice made, she steps closer, reaching out to gently settle her hand on Uta's back. There is a social grace here, but its rules are not written out somewhere. The etiquette of sincerity is, by definition, unwritten, save on the heart of the one expressing itself. The touch is so soft that it challenges perception.

    "I apologize, Uta."

    A deep breath follows. The distance subtly closed. Elly is moving closer both physically and emotionally. As her hand is a soft touch, so are her words.

    "I love you dearly. Through your eyes, I find wonder in the world. Your words, your energy, have made me young once more."

    And here it comes. The risk of risks.

    "But those are not the offerings of friendship. What you have given me goes so far beyond that. You are part of me. The best part of me. Uta, you are family, and close to me in a way that others can never be."

    Elly turns her face to study Uta's expression. Should Uta look back, she will see a woman. Not a baroness, a priestess, or anything else. A woman. Fragile, vulnerable, and not just on the brink of tears. She is starting to cry.

    "I have been selfish, taking what you have given and not giving back the love you deserve in the way you need. I have been blind. I'm so sorry, Uta."

Lands of Eas

Uta was expecting anything but apologies, at this point. Her first reaction is another instinctive stiffening; her wings shoot up, a fight or flight reaction -- heavily biased towards 'flight'. She probably misunderstood 'I apologize, Uta' as likely following up with 'for what I am about to do'. Which is usually something unpleasant.

She knows, she had to perform a lot of surprise injections.

But then, there's a declaration of Love from Wake. At which point Uta is... well, trying to figure out -which- Love Wake is trying to talk about. She's already got Tae, so... so it can't be -that- kind of Love, can it? And if not, as it probably isn't, then what...

And then, all at once, the Baroness's own defenses crumble. It's unsettling, like a cannonbal shattering against a thin sheet of paper.

Uta hesitates at this point. She's the one who has no idea of how to deal with this situation now. "...you have been nothing but astounding in showering me with affection until now?", Uta replies, perplexed. "Seriously, I can count the number of people who've treated me the way you have on one hand, and that's after more than half the fingers have been severed." She holds her hands together, concerned, and head sunk in her shoulders, she leans towards Wake with a slight hunch in her back, looking apprehensive the way pangolins tend to. "Is that the reason for your excellence? Setting unreasonably high standards for yourself?"
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    It takes a moment for Elly to compose herself. It's hard to find exactly how to put this. She means, in essence, that Uta is more like her child than her friend. Or at least, that is what it should be, according to Elly's own heart.

    With defenses down, Elly takes in a breath. She is, of course, nervous. Will it seem arrogant? Insulting? Beyond that, she has some questions for herself. These are best summarized simply.

        'Is she really seeking good, or just seeking attention?'

    "Why does the mirror scare you? Why are you afraid of sharing more with me? We both have secrets. Many of them I've shared with you. You don't need to hide."

    She's scared, as it seems clear to her that pressing closer is putting such a substantial part of her heart at risk. But ultimately, parenting is a terrifying experience, in which one regularly risks losing the affection of their child in the pursuit of doing what is best for them. Elly refuses to be selfish, though. Not when it's so clear how she is needed.

Lands of Eas

Uta frowns even harder in confusion. Oh, sure, the question strikes another nerve, and her heart rate, which had recovered, accelerates again, as does the rate of her breathing (not obviously visible from an audible pant or anything like that -- but one can pick up clues elsewhere. Diaphragm, for one).

She shimmers her squishy red ball into existence, and some breathing exercises later, her composture is regained. Squeeze, release, squeeze, release. Squeeze. Release. Squeeze. How fragile, vulnerable, bared Elly is; that finally sinks in. Release.

"They say that the Random Generator for Adventurer avatars provides oddly fitting choices." Squeeze, inhale. "I joined Elder Tale Online to shake myself out of a rut, out of my confort zone. To be challenged. And it must have picked up on that." Release, exhale. "The Spriggan. The Nurse. The Godhand. The Bard. In a symbolic manner, it's like a tarot reading of everything that haunts me. Every single element is tied to one of those Lurking Shadows in your very self, the ones that you pray don't pound and claw their way out of their cages." Inhale. Deep, long inhale with a squeeze. "Granted, I don't think that's the only reason I was given this Avatar. There's more and more layers. But that, that is the scary one." Release.


"I'm slowly coming to term with them. Fighting my way towards their acceptance. The Nurse, for one, is not as scary as it used to be." she smirks. A reassuring smirk, before she returns to be serious. "I've spoken about some of these matters with Haru," she reprises, sounding calmer. "I..." Silence. "I'd prefer if you discussed this with him at first. As an introduction. That'd take a lot of emotional burden off my chest." Then, softer, apologetic yet determined, she promises, "I will answer any follow-up questions you might have once we've both had time to rest. It's been..." Beat. "...quite the emotional journey so far." She looks up and away, tapping her lips. "Which reminds me, I should probably chim him explaining that I've sent you, and for what purpose..."
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    There is a lot to take in with Uta's reply. Elly simply listens. Thoughts and questions are not allowed to form until Uta has finished the first part of her explanation. Only then will Elly focus on a response. But Uta has more to say and without intending to, Uta has struck Elly in the heart. Later, when she allows herself to, Elly will admit how much this hurt. And continues to hurt. The pain of it is more than she had braced herself for. The feeling of rejection is enough to freeze her blood.

    But there is a talent that Elly has. Especially now, when she is almost peerless in handling herself in social situations. It serves her well here. At least, it serves her purposes well enough. To do what she says she has failed to do previously, she will support Uta and take what she offers while perfectly concealing her own emotional duress.

    There is no hint that any could detect. It is, simply put, absolutely perfect. Not only in execution, but agruably in justification. She will put Uta first. That the price is hard to pay only serves as another sign that it is the right path.

    Her perfect composure returns gradually, not all at once. It would be noticed. It comes in what appears a natural manner. Without the slightest hint of the emotional wreck inside, Elly speaks.

    "I will seek out Haru and get the story from him. I do not mean to cause you pain. You have clearly struggled a great deal in this world. I want to help you. I hope someday I can."

    Sensing Uta's desire to move away from this, and knowing there is little to be gained with a further push, she will defuse the situation. "The air in here has become so heavy. If you would like, I can take you to a room where you can rest. There is something I think you will like there, too. I had the help of some very skilled friends in making a mock-up of the slime garden. Whenever you have time and interest, I would like your feedback on it. I hope you will make changes to it, as well. "

    The talented friends were actually lander orphans. They have creative ideas, but not terribly practical ones. No doubt an expert on slimes will find some inspiration there. No doubt it will prove a comforting and reassuing thing to focus on.

Lands of Eas

Uta's eyes turn down, to the ground. "This is not the world where I've struggled the most," Uta says. "And to be fair, most other Adventurers I've met who've shared their stories have had it harder. -You- almost certainly have had it harder."

Uta simply nods at Wake's proposal to rest. The air has, indeed, become heavy. "I would love to work on the Slime Garden," she says, but something is way off: there is absolutely zero glint of excitement at the mention or thought of slimes. Only exhaustion. Even her smile looks tired, even to the uninitiated. "But right now, what I need the most is a good night's sleep." The weight of the day crashes on her bare shoulders, all at once. She droops. "I am sorry, Elly. I hope it is not a problem if we get to it tomorrow first thing in the morning?"
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    Sympathy is a powerful thing. Far more for someone you love. Elly offers a gentle smile and moves closer to Uta. She will half-support, half-guide Uta to the chambers she had prepared. That they happen to be the closest room to where she and Tae live is not a coincidence.

    On the way, there is some for some brief conversation. "Of course it is no problem at all to look at it tomorrow. If there is anything you need, please ring. There's a string just inside the door to call. We all hope you feel welcome."

    She does not mention that she will be the one to answer the call. That is not important.

Lands of Eas

It is said that we are all actors on a stage; however, Uta, at this point, is functionally more like a prop than a performer. She's easily lead into the bedroom, passive, barely aware of what is happening; her eyes defocus with a frequency and intensety that's surprising even for Uta.

The bedtime routine takes some assistance, but eventually, though, she is ready, and as soon as she flops onto the bed, she's out like one of Merek's street lamps.
Baroness Wake
Lands of Eas

    It is concerning, certainly, to see Uta grow this unresponsive. Elly can inspect her, of course, and does so. Nothing bad shows up, thankfully. It is just natural, but concerning behavior.

    She helps Uta get ready and then into bed. There is even a proper tucking-in. Elly feels a little guilty about it, but this act comforts her.

    So what if things did not go perfectly? They never do.

    For all of the lack of perfection, though, something else did happen. Elly reached out, and persisted past the usual point of her cowardly retreats. She feared she did too much. She felt that the direction to Haru was a rebuffing. It hurt her feelings. It made her feel useless, unwelcome, and even unneeded.

    All those painful feelings shrink away when confronted with this core truth: Uta needs her. It just isn't the need that Elly had in mind. And yet...

    If Uta needs her to go to Haru, then that is what Elly will do. If Uta needs Elly to give her some time and space to calm down, then that is what Elly will do. If Uta needs her to rock the very pillars of heaven and earth... that is what she'll do.

    But the idea that she might be wrong? That her love of this young woman as a mother to her child might be seen as something that isn't needed, or is arrogant, or something else... what of that fear? It perishes utterly.

    For a while, Elly sits on the bed, watching Uta sleep. As she does, she hums softly, tentatively reaching out a hand to brush her fingertips through the Spriggan's hair. After time passes, Tae peeks into the room. Nothing is said between them. There is simply no need. Seeing that Uta is resting still, they will slip away to their own quarters, next door. It is a sleepless night for Elly, but she would never say that it is a bad one, or that she would change anything. She is thinking hard about what happened and what should follow, and even without sleep, it blesses her with a feeling of peace of hope.