Home Again, or "I'm Mizuki. Sorry about this..."
~Some days ago~
Mizuki wakes up, curled up in a circle like a cat in one of the shelters in Seeker's Landing. It's... Not morning. Did she go to sleep at a weird time? What was she doing last--
She's in no mental state to explore the Palace Lands like this. It would... be better to return to familiar surroundings. Find her friends. Friends like Wisteria who might give her a hug instead of RUNNING AWAY.
(Mizuki will remember that.)
Mizuki spends the trip back to Yamato in something of a daze. Her mind is spinning its wheels with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. Battles and fighting for her life to protect the ship or solve the problems of the voyage are a welcome distraction.
And to make things worse, she manages to end up in Carmina Gadelica and has to TURN AROUND to get back to Castle Reach.
But she gets there.
Mizuki looks for her friend in the usual places. The training area, her quarters, wherever the enchantment workshop is... Without even thinking about it, her were fang senses are on the lookout for that familiar scent, that voice, those footsteps... Wisteria... if Mizuki can just get back to a friend, she'll be alright, right?
She might be so single-mindedly focused on that that she hasn't thought at all about what to do when she finally sees Wisteria again...
Wisteria is working out, as often she is, really it's only when a Mood strikes that she ever misses her cutting practice. The tall albino girl in her loose shirt and hakama cuts a striking figure even when she isn't wearing all her cursed gear. It is however still just a Wisteria, doing Wisteria things in the most Wisteria way.
Were fang senses pick Wis up first, putting an eagerness into Mizuki's step. She takes long strides into the training area, up to a few feet away from her pale friend, and looks up at her with relief. "Wis!"
Uhh, what now?
~Many Years Ago~
Teenage Sam 'wakes up' in his bed, but he can sense that The Monster is still there. Always just out of sight, around a corner. Whenever he would see it, he 'wakes up' again. Sometimes his bed is at his Mom's house; sometimes it's in an endless Liminal Space house-maze, sometimes it's in a dark, cold, misty swamp. A single thought manages to well up through the terror: Find Mom, she'll help/protect you.
He tries to make it to her room, but the monster stops him, resetting progress again and again. Desperation pushes him to run faster. Move slightly differently so his feet won't slide on the carpet. Grab a corner and swing around it to maintain momentum. He makes it a little further each time. Has it been a minute, minutes, or hours? Does time even mean anything in a nightmare?
At last, the monster doesn't stop him. He opens the door, and a blanket-covered shape in the darkness stirs and asks, sleepily, "...Sam? What is it?"
...He didn't actually think past this point.
You're a teenager now, Sam. A young man. You're too old to be scared by nightmares. You shouldn't need someone to comfort you. This is embarassing.
"...Bad dream." Sam mutters quietly, shuts the door, and goes back to bed. He doesn't dream the rest of the night, at least, not that he remembers.
Mizuki hesitates, the memory of another time she let herself get so focused on how if she could just make it to someone close to her, someone strong who'll know what to do, comes flooding back. What, exactly, did she think was going to happen next?
But... what if I'm not?
"Wis..." she repeats, almost choking, and steps forward again, arms held out... she hesitates for a half-second at Wis's mid-workout state and then decides she doesn't care, stepping up to hug her tightly. "Wis... I... I don't know... what I am... anymore... I don't know if I can leave the game... e-even if we find a way... what am I going to do...?" words tumble out semi-coherently as she tries not to cry.
Wisteria puts her sword away with the slow sweep that rests it against her wrist, then drops it into the mouth of her sheath and whispers closed until it clicks. The tall girl smiles and opens her arms up. "Come here Mizukichi." she says and waits for a smol kitty to get close enough to hug before dragging her in to squoosh tightly. "It's okay Mizukichi. I've lost a year on the circut, a year I inteded to think about school." she shrugs a little "I'm as lost about going home as anyone, but I still want to try. But I've always said I don't want to make anyone go home so you can always stay here and I'll always come back to visit if you stay."
It just feels good to be enveloped in a hug like this. "Wha.." Mizuki tries to speak a few times, to respond, but words won't come out. Tears run into her cheek fur as she listens to a friend's sympathetic and reassuring words. But she still needs a moment.
Eventually, she's able to start trying to pull her mind together again. What does she say? She considers a few topics to start with, then settles on: "Thanks... I know you always said it... I did too... b-but you never know, some people change their mind about stuff when it's someone they know, s-someone close, s-someone in their life..."
She sniffles. "I wasn't sure... h-how could I stay a Knight... so I'm glad... I don't have to leave. That doesn't have to change. I'll miss you when you go home, but..." She looks up at Wis. "You'd really visit me? I... wh... I'm just some guy you met on the internet... in the internet... ahaha... eheheh..." She laughs nervously.
Mizuki tilts her head back down and looks away. "...But maybe I'm not. I... don't know... I... it's confusing... I-I'd sound crazy if we weren't already trapped in a videogame, I know..."
Wistiera just hugs and pets her friend. The tall girl just stands there petting and lightly rocking. "Of course I'll visit, it's why I started using this thing in the first place, to visit friends who were to far away to see regularly."
Petted? Rocked? Soothed? Why does that make Mizuki feel like this? It feels... right. But also like something she can never have in the real world.
But this world is real, right now.
This is real, right now.
Mizuki relaxes as Wisteria comforts her. She nods at the end of her friend's sentence. Without shifting position, she comments, "...You were always the one who said who I was out there didn't matter to you. That you just saw... Mizuki-chi." She chokes up again for a moment. "I... should have listened... Maybe that's why..." She stumbles over words a bit, "...Thank you. M-maybe... Mizuki-chi is who I always was... and you were the one who insisted on seeing her... insisted on seeing me..."
She lets out a short, nervous giggle. "Haha... it sounds like some cheesy 'deep wisdom' line a character in a story would say... But it's true... maybe... I don't know... I'm so confused..."
Wisteria keeps petting lightly. "I'm not deep or wise or anything." she says "But, you are who you are. Mizukichi is who I've always known, and so Mizukichi is who you are. You've only met Wisteria... Kokoro never learned to build curses, or worked her way towards finding new ways to build and craft enchantments." she shrugs "But she still worked every day with her sword, still liked stories, and still loved cuddles. But ... here I'm just Wisteria, maybe sometime I'll be Kokoro again but maybe when I get home I'll find I've been Wisteria this whole time."
Mizukichi is who you are.
That feeling surges again, a little bit, at those words. She listens, and then replies, "Mmh. Sam was a... an ugly guy who spent all his time in imaginary worlds because they were more interesting than real life, who lucked into having talent for a cushy job where you get paid to play on the computer all day, as long as you're on call to do some easy work from time to time... He had... no real ambition for a future... finally trying to get a higher, corporate position because it was expected of him... because he knew he was kind of disappointing his family and friends who knew he had 'so much potential'..."
Mizuki sighs. "But... we both like solving problems. And understanding how things work. And making friends, even if we're bad at it. And cute things, even if it wasn't acceptible for him to admit it." Her tail twitches a little. "We both like helping people. Knowing we made someone's life a little better..."
She takes a deep breath. "Th-that's what... the 'ugly' thing, that's what started all this... no, I'm getting out of order. Um. I remember hearing that crossplayers would feel something called dysphoria. I-I didn't think anything of it because I felt fine at first... and then I found out others... that Prophy had to be psychologist for... had felt bad, and... from nearly the beginning, I mean... a-and I started to worry... h-how long did I have? I'm not special, there's no reason for me to be immune, it's not like I have some magical superpower..."
"Jazz seemed to know a lot about this stuff... so I went to talk to her... and then she was all cryptic... a-and then Uta of all people said she certainly wasn't one of those crossplayers that feels s-stuck and hating the way she looks, and--" Her eyes widen and she gasps, "Uta! Oh, no..."
She continues, "A-and she said she's sorry I ended up with a girl as an avatar a-and... that sounded so wrong! I like it!"
Beat. She continues more quietly, "...I like it. I could never hate this body. B-but... outside, I... I always..." She trails off.
"S-so... that's... I think... I'm not... I don't know..." Beat. "I don't know."
She shakes her head slightly. "N-no... when I put it like that... I *do* know... but it's just... hard to say... Like I'm... not supposed to... admit to liking this... To... It'd be weird... Everyone will... people will think it's weird..."
Wisteria pets her best friend and squooshes she nuzzles the top of Mizuki's head. "You're Mizukichi, and there's no reason to feel bad about being Mizukichi. You want to be a kitty, you want to wear cute outfits and battle boss monsters? Well then that's what Mizukichi does." she says with a warm chuckle.
Wisteria's *whole statement* may as well be highlighted in xterm225 / Thistle1 / #ffd7ff in this narration. Doubly so for the unspoken implication: ...And that's okay.
Society made Sam feel like all of that was weird. She thought it was okay in here, until Proteus said if she was going to act like a cat then that was all she was good for. And that... meant... that made her think that even in here, it wasn't safe, to... to... to be...
When she accidentally wore a dress in public after helping Wis clean, she expected somehow that people would KNOW, somehow, that she was really a guy, and they'd...
Battling boss monsters is something *no one* would judge in here, but out there, Sam knows there were large portions of society -- which he stopped interacting with as much as he could after school -- that saw it as a geeky loser activity.
And... in here... she'd hoped, when she made the character, that all of it was okay...
But to hear Wis say it...
It's overwhelming! Mizuki can only wrap her arms around her friend and feel feelings for a bit, wordlessly.
Wisteria just holds on and pets her smol kitty friend. Kokoro is a jock, and one of simple tastes and simple emotions. Wisteria is just an extension of Kokoro in most ways and so she just takes things at face value. Mizukichi is Mizukichi, Jazz is Jazz, Vert is her tall friend. So she just hugs her friend since she seems to need it, and gives her pets because pets feel nice.