Road Trip: It's Been a Long Road, Getting from There to Here

Uta's wagon has picked up DosBox from the Ninetails Dominion, and they are now on the penultimate leg of their journey. Gwen's is their current destination, and after that is the final boss. As they travel to the Midboss, there is likely much discussion to be had. Is he ready to have his look, and possibly his whole life, change?

Dun Loireag - The Highland City

It's a hot, humid evening, and the moon is obscured by the rain clouds which drop down a light rain shower upon the inner city park in Dun Loireag. A gentle breeze moves through the area, causing the leaves to rustle against each other in a soothing cadence. The symphony of sound creates a calming affect in the area of the park bench where DosBox sits, his legs too short to touch the ground.

He looks down at the false beard he has on, giving it a light tug to ensure that it is tightly secure. He pulls his hat down a little to ensure a snug fit, and he smooths out the cuff of his gloves. He's been doing a lot of thinking about a lot of things, and the light rain had done well to cool his head on his way here, but he was not that interested in getting himself soaked, so, with a bit of magic, and some concentration, he had created an earthen awning above the bench to shield from the elements.

He sits quietly, wringing his fingers nervously. He was about to have another important conversation: the second in as many days. And though he felt his life was in danger in the last one, this one he feared perhaps more than the last.
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

"We should really do something more permanent about the elements," Uta comments, sitting on the bench and looking up at the Earthen awning. "I'm not a specialist in Earth magic, but summoned items don't last long, unless you keep pumping mana into it." She looks down, and discovers, to her surprise, that she's keeping her hands neatly folded in her lap. It seems like that after being exposed to Elly over such a long time period, the previously very nerdy and most importantly very peasant Aerialist is starting to subconsciously pick up the odd stylish mannerism. "It's such a pity," she comments, as she places her hands palm-down on the bench at her sides. "I was hoping for a nice day at the park, with the hustle and bustle of the crowd, but seems like we're stuck with terrible weather." She looks up at the sky. "And it's getting late. We should probably be getting home. Elly is going to worry soon, and send a search party. Probably composed entierely of elite ninjas." Silence. "Catgirl ninjas. Extra sneaky, extra deadly." She shudders, wings fluttering as the shiver runs down her back. "Nobody wats to meet the catgirl ninjas."
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

Dosbox nods slowly, looking down at his feet and swaying them forward and back in a rythmic fashion. DosBox had asked Uta aside because he felt they needed to talk about some things, away from prying eyes and ears that might affect the words that need to be said. Still, the words didn't want to come out. For his part, DosBox was afraid to say them because he knew that, no matter the outcome, things would change. He wished this trip could last forever, but that was more than unrealistic. Whether for better or worse, things wouldn't be the same, and DosBox was mostly certain that things would be worse after what needed to be said was aired out. That has just been the pattern of his life, and expecting things to change just because you try a little for less than a month was almost as unrealistic as a neverending roadtrip.

"I, ah... Wanted to say some things. About, ah, what... has happened since I met you, and what, maybe has changed." His tone is uncertain, and anxiety drips from every syllable, "A lot has happened, you know? And we haven't really taken time to like... Talk about it, you know?"
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

Uta looks down at Borywick. "Oh, no, no... we haven't...", she says, trailing off in that way that sounds a bit semi-distracted, but is quite normal for her. "It has recently dawned on me that, perhaps, I may have been taking up a few too many guests in this trip. Bitten off more than we can be chenw out or something along those lines." Silence. Hands return in lap, and squeeze each other. "I apologize for not being around much and leaving you to fend off on your own for so long." Inhale. "So, was... was there anything specific you wanted to discuss?"
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

Dosbox waves his hands back and forth, shaking his head, "Oh, no, no. It's nothing you've done wrong. I've been running around, doing quests at every stop, and you've had errands to run. We've just been busy is all. I... Don't want you to think I... blame you for anything."

He lets out a sigh. If he's going to get over this hill, he better start moving the pedals on this bicycle. "We... met rather, ah, spontaneously. And our road trip that we've been on. It's meant a lot to me. And I mean a LOT. I was stuck. I wasn't going anywhere, even if I had tricked myself into thinking I had. And... And then you..." He looks down at his open palm and partway clenches it, as if to take hold of something.

DosBox takes in a deep breath and lets it out, clenching his hand into a soft fist. "You took me by the hand, and made me move. I needed to move, but I couldn't make myself even get up off the ground: much less take the first step. And for that..." DosBox turns to Uta with large eyes, his furrowed brown conveying how hard it is to say the words he's saying out loud.

"I am so, so glad you did. You saved me. And I am fathomlessly, eternally grateful. You have done more for me in one single action than I can possibly ever repay you for, and even after that, you made sure that I kept moving, and you were there for me if I were to fall down." His eyes drop down again, looking at her hands in her lap merely as a focal point other than her eyes. "I know that there is nothing I can really do to repay you for... All of it. I know it's almost insulting that I should try. But..." He raises his gaze one more time to meet Uta's as he says the words that he knows that will change things. Uncertainty and perhaps a little fear are plain to see in his visage.

"What... Can I do to repay you? And... Barring that... If there is truly nothing someone like I can do... what do you expect of me? What would you have me do? What... could I do that would give you cause to smile because of it?"
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

Uta stands perfectly still.

She holds her breath through Borywick's whole speech, teetering on the edge of sucking her lips in.

She remains like that for a moment, and then-

Her expression melts into a smile of relief, all tension released at once. Finally that word, that one word, so crushed by feelings of oppression and uncertainty, is freed from its ballast, and like an underwater balloon driven by sheer yearning, can soar to the surface, and be uttered in one joyous breath, a heart now at peace:


...Wait, no, that wasn't the right word. It's at least one discussion behind... quick, brain resync protocol, brain resync protocol!

The thought passes on Uta's expression in the form of a quick frown, which swiftly resolves in an embarrassed smile, "I mean, uh, it's okay, yes, you've been busy with quests, and I've been busy with my... yurt."

She fiddles with her fingers, while looking away in multiple directions, "What I meant to say is... uh... er..."

"Thank you," she almost whispers, soft, quiet, barely audible over the sound of the pattering rain. "I know it sounds cliche, but you having needed, and taken this step, that is what matters most to me."

She begins reaching out with her hand, likely in the direction of DosBox's, but the movement is cut short and reversed so quickly, so abruptly, there's abundant plausible deniability. Instead, she smoothens her skirt, and tugs at its hem. Yes, she's always meant to adjust her clothes. No, no return hand squeezing was even considered. Move along, folks. The looking away is purely coincidental. Gotta keep on the outlook for them sneaky catgirl ninjas! This is Ninetails, their home turf!

She finally gives her knees a light slap with her begloved hands, and after inhaling, she says, "And I don't say this because I'm an altruistic angel of kindness or something. It's because it proves I was right, after all." She shakes her fist, and yells, "TAKE THAT, NAYSAYERS!", before lowering her volume and pitch, and rushing throuh the next part as if she was rattling out the side effects of some medicinal product in a TV ad, "PleaseNoteThisIsAGenericStatementOfSelfActualizationAndNotMeantToDenigrateOrBelittleAnyNaysayerEspeciallyNaysayersWhoMightHaveAccessToAdvancedIntelligenceResourcesAndQuickDispatchCommandosParticularlyOfTheCatgirlNinjaVariety.UtaFuroreIsNotReponsibleForAnyEmotionalUpheavalCausedByThePreviousStatement.FailureToAbideByThePresentTermsAndConditionsWillResultInImmediateInterruptionOfTheSupplyOfThePinkOnes." Biiiiiig breath. "Please ignore that," she tells Borywick with the widest smile, waving her hand in much the dismissive way he did earlier. "It's not for you."

There is some silence before the part where Uta tells Borywick that, really, there's no need to do anything, and then, the part where Uta tells Borywick that, really, there's no need to do anything fails to show up.

"There -is- a thing you can do...", she begins. "...I just don't know what it is." Silence. "Yet."

She shifts her posture by the slightest amount, and imperceptibly lowers her eyebrows in a conspirational manner. Her wings lower. Her voice becomes almost a whisper, "See, thanks to my superior social skills and close proximity to my brother, I've managed to finesse some rather important information out of him -- namely, that... right now he probably is not in the right mood for a job interview." She straightens up and extends one hand, palm held up, to nip any worries in the bud, "Not -yet-. You know the tricks with negotiations, you should avoid negotiating when the counterpart is not in the right mood. Might take a bit of time."

"I also happen to have some inside information about Gwen. She is currently undergoing a special regimen of Magic training that takes up a lot of her energies and slows down her productivity," she hints at, vaguely, making it sound like she's got some super-secret spy network when, actually, she know because Uta herself is training Gwen. "Which means..." Dramatic pause. "...that I might be able to finagle you a gig as an accessory forger with her. I might be able to pull in a favor or two." Uta smirks, not letting it show that her mind is racing to balance the amount of callable favors versus owed favors; The latter might actually be winning the tally? Quick, drop that train of thought before it gets too problematic!

"Gwen is my official provider of apparel," she says, pointing at herself, her current outfit in particular. "If you get to work under her direction while you lay low and build up more experience as a side effect, your work, whatever it will be, is almost certainly going be incorporated into my next daily outfit." She chuckles at Borywick, nervously, while scratching the back of her head, "It's time for that mid-season appearance upgrade, I guess. Gotta sell that new wave of merchandise, right?", she jokes.
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

Dosbox looks only slightly startled, barely any at all, as Uta shifts gears twelve times in 5 seconds and drops her transmission out of the bottom of her metaphorical car. When she shifts gears into actual processable language, he takes on a somewhat pensive look.

"I... I had more or less already given up on Haru, to be honest. There are far too many variables at play that make me learning from Haru... Problematic. I am not sure if I have strictly said this, but I guess it would be implied due to my relation with Asuna, but... For better or worse, I am a member of the Scale Emblem Alliance. That immediately has me on the wrong side of Haru. I didn't, to be honest, know all of who Haru was when I decided to apprentice under him. Knowing now what I did not then, I must have seemed like a spy or an idiot, or maybe he thought I was saying HE was an idiot. I don't know."

"Regardless of that, I... I have come to realize that Haru is just a shortcut, anyway. I don't NEED to learn from Haru. I am..." DosBox stands up on the bench and clenchs his fists in front of him, "I am Borywick "DosBox" RockBorer, the Super Support. I can do it on my own. Sure, it will take longer, but..." He slumps his shoulders, letting his arms hang like wet rope, "It'll be hard, sure. But I can do it. Barriers aren't there to stop me. They are there for people who want it less than me."

The gnome plops his but back down on the bench before continuing, looking Uta straight in the eyes with DETERMINATION, "That being said, I... Don't want you to be using your favors to benefit me. You aren't gaining anything from it. I am already 100% willing to do anything and everything you need me to do forever. Use your favors in a way that you can get something back from it. Like, for example, if sending me to Gwen to help her with her issues will GET you favors, that is something that I support... Do... Do you get me?"
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

There is no denying that Uta is taken by surprise by the sudden fire roraring within the Gnome. She keeps eye contact with him, head leaning back a smidgen, mouth barely open in surprise.

When he's done talking, she closes her eyes, and smiles.

She gets up, takes a couple of steps away from Borywick, givng him her back (and her wings), and after a short, intense pause, she breaks the silence (if the constant murmur of falling drops can be counted as 'silence') with, "Well, it seems like you do not need me anymore."

She raises the volume of her voice, and continues, "Congratulations, Borywick Rockborer! You've graduated!" And then, she looks over her shoulder, with that soft smile, she adds, "I'm so proud of you."

The moment does not last long. Immediately after, perhaps because it would be too embarrassing to get this soft for this long, she spins to face Dosbox again, and arms spread, she continues, "I guess it's up to you now. You have the inside intel about Gwen possibly needing an accessory forger, but it's entierely up to you whether or not you'll offer your services as a temporary contractor. It's up to you to decide which barrier to tackle next.."

She looks up, in the distance, towards the Green Moon, and returns to sound serious. "If you want to finish your journey on my cart or... you know..." Her smile broadens as she, returning to look at Borywick, gestures towards path leading out of the park, towards the wide, open world.

The journey has given Dossy a shock. Dossy is a free gnome.
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

Dosbox looks surprised at first before moving to shocked. He then appears confused before shifting to downright bewildered. After a brief hangup on befuddlement, he suddely appears afraid, and then panicked, switching beween the two emotions at a rate so rapid, he appears to be shaking, something that begins to carry in his voice.

"I... i... When I... if i... to end it is so... I don't..." He does not stand from where he's sitting, but he leans forward as Uta steps away, his hand reaching out shakily.

What is this feeling? Is it fear of abandonment? Maybe. He has never really had someone be there to support him as long as Uta has. Even his mother only held him long enough to feed him from a bottle when he was a babe, and she but him back in the crib right after. There is more to it than that.

Then what is it? Does DosBox not want to be removed from that dependent role that he had grown accostumed to? Even in his old party, the Party Goers, when they kept him low and made sure that he was subservient to them, at least he knew his place. It was not happy but it was familiar, and he had placed himself in a similar role while with Uta, though she most likely didn't realize it. In that, this decision on her part feels somewhat like a form of rejection. Is that it? Partially, but there is more to it than that

DosBox needed to process what this feeling was inside of him, but he doesn't have that kind of time. The crossroads was in front of him right now, and the ground underneath him was beginning to fall away. He needed to say something. Anything. Move, Tanaka. MOVE!

"What if I..." DosBox begins to speak, his arm straining to reach out to Uta, but unbidden, a voice intrudes in his head.

'You're so, like, clueless, you scrub! Like you could even TALK to a girl, let alone get a girlfriend!' A mocking, female voice echoes out in his head. DosBox's arm slackens as his gaze drops away from Uta, the fear and anxiety in his visage being replaced with pain.

'What a f***** loser! HA! Know your place, dumba**!' The ridiculing voice continues. Dosbox clenches his extended fist and pulls his arm to his chest. Right. DosBox had almost forgotten. He... needed to know his place. Uta already has his undying devotion. She doesn't need to give him any more now. He had just told her that much. So why would she if she doesn't have to?

To him, Uta had been like a prince on a white horse who saved the commoner girl from danger. It only took the private interaction with the Baroness Wake to remind him off one fact. He is a commoner. Uta is above him, and he needs to know his place.

The top of DosBox's hat conceals his face as he looks down at the ground. "I... I would like to stay with you until the end... If you would permit me." DosBox doesn't know what 'the end' meant. He left that open. For UTA to interpret. The rock gnome certainly doesn't know what end it was supposed to mean...
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

"Great!", exclaims Uta, enthusiastic, "To Alne then!"

As she utters the last part, she points dramatically in a direction completely different from the one where Alne is, but she makes up for geographical inaccuracy with sheer burning determination, like a general rallying her troops towards victory. "Let's get this road trip on the road! We're on our last leg, let's end it with a bang! Team Road Trip! Together! Until the end of the journey!"

Well it seems that, wittingly or unwittignly, aware or not of what Dosbox meant, Uta has resolved the vagueness about which 'end' she understood, or decided to understand. "And then-"

And at this point Uta loses steam, getting lost in one of her moments of raking her brain. "...actually, I haven't thought that far," she says, letting her wings fall, one hand on one hip, and the other scratching her chin. "What are we going to do after the trip is over?"

"I guess we'll think of something when the time comes." She turns to Dosbox. "Every end, after all, is the other side of a completely new beginning..."
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

Dosbox hops down from the bench, hesitating for a couple of seconds before moving his hat out of the way, revealing a normal, albiet a little strained, DosBox smile, "That's right! At the end of every quest is the beginning of the next. And it's not like we'll never see each other again after the road trip is over. Right?"

That final word, while delivered whimsically, hangs heavy in the air. DosBox swallows, trying to hold onto his mask of cheer. DosBox's life had been peppered with permanent goodbyes: all of them on bad terms. The Gnome really isn't sure how he would handle this one, and thinking about it... It is the same feeling of dread he gets when he thinks of finally logging out of the game to find that Baxter had passed away while he was stuck...
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

"What?" Asks Uta, surprised. "Of course we'll see each other again," she then blurts out, laughing.

But not too much. She herself was afraid of having to completely cut all contacts, when she was confronted about the whole issue. That would have been a first.

"Sure, we'll probably have busy lives and all that, but I somehow keep running into all of my friends. And I'm sure the same will happen to us- wait, I did send you a friend request, right? Sometimes I'm a bit scatterbrained, and I forget things..."

She summons her menu, and carefully goes through her list. "You can always show up at the Slimes Labs, or at the Music Conservatory at Eas... I hang out there a lot," she says. "...when not travelling around Yamato in my cart."
Dun Loireag - The Highland City

The weight of the world eases off as the cheer in his face goes from strained to relaxed. After hitting the accept button with the power of a Megaton Anvil, he hustles over to Uta's side, and they begin to head toward the card. "Slimes Labs? I have been hearing a lot about how you like slimes a whole lot, but this is actually my first time hearing from you. Would you say Slime Studies are a passion of yours?" DosBox feels a strong desire to know about Uta: her likes and dislikes, her favorite color... It's a curiousity he has never felt so strongly, and he can't really place why...