Still temporarily sane, Kunzite asks for a conference with Sailor Venus, Endymion, and Sailor Moon, in order to figure out what they're doing with (a) the Silver Crystal (b) the fact that he's about to turn into one of Beryl's weapons again and (c) Melanite having kidnapped Naru. Nobody else knew about Naru. Moon did not know about Naru. Moon DOES NOT TAKE THIS WELL.

Date: 2016-02-21
Pose Count: 24
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-21 05:22:33 30300
"Nephrite's been Escalated," is the message that Rei brought to Minako. "He and Mamoru and Makoto and Usagi are in Nephrite's place with Kunzite, who got snapped out of it while he's in there, and Mamoru wants you to come quick. ... Please don't stab Nephrite too much."

Four quarters of the circle, four of Endymion's old guardians, four places where each of them once held and, sometimes inconveniently, still hold a little of Elysion's power. Interconnected places. That Jadeite's is in what's now Tokyo makes it a fast trip: into the apparently abandoned building, down into the impossible shrine beneath, through a particular gateway arch (Rei told Minako which) and out into an ancient, immense forest that is probably located under something on the other side of the Pacific.

Nephrite's domain looks like a veritable tree city, some parts of it grown, others hollowed out; places where the canopy of leaves breaks for platforms for viewing the sky; rope-and-plank bridges in some areas, gracefully arching grown bridges in others. The place has the cleanest air, the clearest sky, and the brilliance of autumn leaves everywhere. The heavens still sit perched on the verge of sunlight, displaying a starry sky even as the forest is awash in red-gold light. Directly overhead, the constellation Leo burns silent and white and steady, and the star at its heart shines like a beacon.

Like each of the palaces so far, there is a motif: the quartered circle, here grown organically by trees trained in those shapes, and carved deep within the wood. Unlike the others, the other themes present are distinctly reminiscent of First Nation decor: stylized animals, patterns, carvings. The scent of the sea is not far, despite the unending trees.

Not so far away, there is a place where the soil has been scoured away to show stone. Inlaid into that stone is that same Earth-symbol motif again, inlaid in blue sandstone, glittering like the reflection of the stars.

Kunzite has not, this once, sought out a high vantage point. He stands at the far edge of the great circle, a step or two outside it, staring either down at it or across to where the door to Jadeite's palace opens. The sunset paints his grays and whites the colors of fire.

He's made, for some reason, absolutely certain that none of the actual people presently in Nephrite's domain are anywhere behind him. Anywhere.
Minako Aino 2016-02-21 05:36:15 30302
Minako Aino/Sailor V does eventually show up, albeit not without tons of suspicion and caution.

She shows up, but probably not in the way recommended to her - maybe she stealthed in, maybe she teleported herself 'the long way' (if there is a long way when you're skipping the long walk/swim to Canada), maybe she just waited long enough to not be expected.

When she arrives, it's not from the expected direction and is is from one of those ignored vantage points, with a creepy-crawly Artemis (far) behind. She's patient and in no hurry, though, choosing caution as the better part of valour no matter what sort of urges to rush in and hurry were encouraged of her.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-21 05:53:52 30305
Usagi and Mamoru, on the other hand, are at another edge of the big blue sandstone circle, sitting on Mamoru's cape spread out on the dirt; they're both in henshin, he as Tuxedo Kamen, somewhat absurdly with the mask on. Sailor Moon's sprawled slightly indecorously against him, and they're apparently having a Couple Moment, which may be another reason Kunzite's all the way over there and not looking at them.

The foliage a bit behind them shows obvious evidence of having been tread on and pushed through; footprints in the soft earth are Mako-sized and Nephrite-sized.

Usagi is legit cuddling Mamoru right there in front of Kunzite. Mamoru is legit kissing her hair. We'll not go into detail about the cuteness of the situation that is them because there are matters of taste to consider.

When Minako does show up, and from a non-obvious angle, Mamoru -- for just a moment -- wonders if she's found Kunzite's palace, but then realizes Kunzite's been here the whole time, so it's not likely. He smiles sheepishly and nudges Usagi to get up. "Vee!" he calls as he half extricates himself, half helps Usagi to her feet. "Unexpected stuff happened."

Endymion, Prince of Understatement.
Usagi Tsukino 2016-02-21 05:55:05 30306
There will be songs in the future about just how cavity inducing the moment is. She is all happy hums and about a hundred different kinds of cuddles. And she even legit giggles when a kiss in her hair tickles.

When she does whisper to him, it's mostly inane things. Like 'do you think the bird would mind if I hugged him?' Actually, no, that's an Important Life Question!

When he nudges her, she looks up at him in confusion for a moment before turning toward his line of sight. A wave of emotion she's been refusing to deal with since Monday rolls through her. Hurt, frustration, annoyance, and more than a little dash of inadequacy.

She tries to breathe it back down as Mamoru helps her up, lacing her fingers through his and leaning against him.

She manages a small smile, though! And a bit of a tentative wave.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-21 06:09:36 30308
It's not till Mamoru calls out that Kunzite's head turns, following Tuxedo Kamen's line-of-sight. Well. The momentary line-of-sight that wasn't to Sailor Moon, anyhow. He's slow; he should've reacted at the motion at the edge of his sight, around when the couple-nudging was happening.

He hasn't put up any shields yet, either. Definitely slow.

And, characteristically, skipping greetings. "We couldn't get you all of the deal you wanted," he says. "But most." He angles his head toward the couple rather than risking any gestures -- rather than using his hands at all. "He can speak to my sanity for the moment. She can speak to his. And if there's anything wrong with her mind, we're all dead anyway. Is that enough for the next half-hour?"
Minako Aino 2016-02-21 06:15:08 30309
Minako Aino/Sailor V shrugs her shoulders. "Mamoru-san, I don't know if you caught another brainwashing or just a case of stupid, but what are you planning," she asks, looking around as if distrustful of everybody, only barely responding to any waves with waves of her own as she strenuously pushes herself not to attack immediately from ambush.

It's not a very comfortable or safe place. Too many dangerous factors and unknowns and rogue elements. She's entirely unnerved.

"I have no idea what anybody is talking about. Then again, I suppose of everybody assorted, I'm the least reliable or trustable, so I wouldn't tell me either. So, please, enlighten me as to what you're all doing?" she asks, trying not to sound sarcastic.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-21 06:29:17 30311
Kamen's brow furrows slightly, just visible above the mask. "You wanted all of them. I've got them. Jadeite's not here, but that's because he's topside, he can hide from her and the rest of us can't. I've got him anyway. Jupiter's off that way, not far," he points, "and she and Nephrite are well within yelling distance. I rode out the escalation with him, I can guarantee he's on our side. So can Jupiter."

Then he gestures off in another direction. "Zoisite's not in here, but he's a gateway away, and both Nephrite and I can tell if he comes in. I'm tracking them all. If you'd like to switch locations, we can go to Jadeite's place, you've got a lot more evidence he's with us, and I can call him to kick Kunzite out if you don't like the way things are going. The goal here is to fill you in on everything, so you have all the information you need to take the Dark Kingdom the hell apart, for good. We have a little less than half an hour before Kunzite's containment starts failing and he has to get out, and once he leaves, he's not going to be able to hang on to his sanity anymore. So. Are you down for a meeting?"
Usagi Tsukino 2016-02-21 06:34:58 30312
Her eyes flash at Venus. A warning, perhaps. Her hand tightens around Mamoru's and she gives him an eye, too.

Her posture relaxes some after a moment, though there's still a tenseness in her posture.

She steals a bit of calm from him to speak. "It's true."

Then she's just...sort of resigned. "Nobody's been brainwashed again."
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-21 06:55:03 30313
Kunzite glances sidelong at Moon, at that last. "Mn." That particular sound from him never bodes entirely well. It's not her that he answers, though; he looks back up toward V's perch instead. "We rigged the Walpurgisnacht fight to damage as much of the control on the others as possible -- though Endymion wasn't entirely aware that was what we were doing, at the time. It partly worked, enough that Moon and Jupiter were able to break Nephrite out for good." His tone says volumes, or at least a couple of slim paperbacks, about what he thought of the risks involved; God only knows what Venus would have. But it worked, which was Endymion's counter-argument to Kunzite's concerns about his personal safety for a decade, once; so he yields that fight to Moon without ever starting it, and keeps talking. "Zoisite's nearly there. He's broken from Beryl, but he's dragging his feet about the last steps. You took Mamoru-san back." -- that name was just actually pronounced, yes. Echoing Venus' usage. "So our only loss from that was me.

"Now we need to figure out what to do with me. How to handle the last key. How and whether to deal with the remaining prisoners Beryl may have access to -- there's at least one. I realize that my moral high ground is an anthill at the bottom of a salt mine, but I find myself reluctant to give up what little I have; if we're considered worth saving, then a complete innocent must be. And if she still has the girl when you come down on the Kingdom in force, she'll feed the girl to Metallia."
Minako Aino 2016-02-21 07:13:14 30316
Minako Aino/Sailor V purses up her lips and balls up her fingers into little restrained fists at Kunzite's prisoner dilemma.

"Seriously? I can't count on three hands how many times you all tried to kill us."

'You all' is a plural, generic 'you all'. Not just for Kunzite.

"Last time you came out of the dark hole, you pretty much killed Mercury so badly she's shacked up with her boyfriend FOREVER and isn't coming out. Now you're saying I should consider going easy on Metallia to save a random girl? Are you trying to undermine what little pretend authority I have by just throwing out this little morsel of innocent life in front of me? To just... make ME out to be the bad guy if I say it's too big a risk, or make ME make the decision to risk all my people to save her and trust it's not yet another trap but-for-real-this-time-we-aren't-lying-to-you?"

She gives a little wave to Mamoru-Mask in picnic mode. "And I say this with as much respect and absolutely no offense intended, no matter how I might sound - while I'm sure you mean well when you reassure me that everybody can 'be trusted', I've been given that earnest, oh-so-sincere promise across more lifetimes than I even believe in any more, so forgive me if I'm not eager to throw my trust up in the air again."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-21 07:40:26 30318
There's honest surprise on Mamoru's face for a moment as Kunzite says something about a girl being held by the Dark Kingdom -- it must have happened since he's been out -- and then he grimaces at the implications.

And as Minako goes on, Usagi's squeezing his hand tighter and tighter, and Mamoru closes his eyes for a second. "Venus," he says, opening them again, "the obvious answer is to kill him."

He drops his henshin, so it's Mamoru Chiba unceremoniously standing next to Sailor Moon. Since he's being called Mamoru, he might as well look the part. His eyes are steady as he regards Sailor V, his glasses hooked over the top of his t-shirt. "The problem with killing him is that we have two purified Shitennou, one of whom is supposed to be dead, and one who was tortured so badly the last time he 'failed' -- in other words, at Jadeite's palace -- that he wasn't moving appreciably for a week. Sending any of them back in to get this girl out would be worse than death, because they would know they were being controlled, but if I thought they could do it, any of them would go if I asked them. I won't. I'd sooner go back myself. I am actually really glad you don't know what it's like. I wish no one knew what it was like, but! Poor life decisions, right?"

His mouth's flattened a little; he doesn't sound sarcastic at all, and he doesn't look it. He sounds self-castigating, for that. And then he gets quiet. "By the way, Zoisite knew he wasn't killing Jadeite, he did that to convince Beryl Jadeite was dead so she wouldn't try and take him back. He got tortured for that, too. Just so you don't think anyone whose mind's been getting screwed with from day one is getting off scot-free. You know-- I can show you any of this that you want to see. I can show you anything I've seen. Apparently getting my soul ripped out and shoved back in and then getting brainwashed and broken out of it and flattened and then purified actually reminded me of what I can do with psychometry. Just putting that on the table."
Usagi Tsukino 2016-02-21 07:55:18 30320
By the time Venus is done, Usagi unknowingly has Mamoru's hand in a vice. She's quick to let go as soon as he starts to speak. Then she takes it again, rubbing away any hurt she may have caused. Then he's Mamoru, which yay, but as he speaks her stomach drops more and more. By the end, she's hiding her face behind his shoulder, trying not to think about milkshakes and Think of England faces and a sad lost boy in Paris.

If there was a way, really, she'd steal all those memories from him to keep for herself so he wouldn't have to know it. (But, even if it were possible, stubborn boy.)

It takes a moment, then two, and she's able to look at Venus and Kunzite again. "The decision is not yours, Venus. It's mine." Her voice is quiet, but there's a finality to it she learned in a past life. She looks at Kunzite. "What do you know of the girl?"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-21 08:22:25 30322
Pretty much killed Mercury. Kunzite's expression, as usual, gives next to nothing away. But his eyes close for a moment. "Venus," he says, no louder than necessary for her to be able to hear. "What I'm doing is praying that you can see this more clearly than I can. You're a better tactician than I am to begin with. And there's too much poison in me right now. Every time I try to find a way out of this, I fall back to the same plan: get the fourth key now, have me leave to a known location, kill me before I lose myself again, storm the Kingdom before Beryl can prepare. It's a terrible plan. It kills the prisoner, and likely half of you. Mercury is down. Mars could be better. Nephrite is still shattered. Jupiter and Endymion are tired. Zoisite is a wreck, and can't be drawn into a direct fight without being possessed. You're at odds with your own people. It's a terrible plan. But it's the pragmatic thing to do, because it's the plan that makes it least likely for Metallia to rise.

"The last time I did the pragmatic thing, it lost all of us everything.

"When I trusted them," and he indicates Moon and Mamoru with the tilt of his head again, "and worked by their rules -- it's two months later, and four of my people are out of hell. I don't understand how it worked. It shouldn't have. They risk everything, over and over again, for what seems like so little gain. And somehow it works."

Kunzite turns to Moon, then. Answering her without a blink -- no pause for thought. And no indication that he expects her to recognize anything he says. "Her name is Naru Osaka. She's a schoolgirl, a student at Seishou Public School in Uminari City. She tried to stop Beryl's apprentice Melanite from waking a sleeping youma, and Melanite took her with them when they left. A girl calling herself Prism Keeper Yellow may have more information -- Beryl sent me there with Melanite, but I was distracted by a kitsune trying to break into my head at the time."
Minako Aino 2016-02-21 09:10:19 30325
Minako Aino/Sailor V think on what she wants to say, the mask only partially hiding how betrayed she feels. Also, angry, but she swallows that down. "Right. Not my decision. I don't have enough Dark Kingdom experience, I guess," she comments before dropping it.

For Mamoru's torture stories, she's quick to stress she understands. "I know! Working under Beryl isn't pleasant. No overtime, poor benefits, occasional torture. Believe me, I get it. Never suggested otherwise."

For Kunzite, she seems more annoyed than anything else by talks about 'rules'. "And why are you saying it's 'their' rules? I'm trying to do the same thing! Since the beginning. Since before some of you were even senshi or shittenou. Those are the EXACT SAME GOALS I've been pushing since what was day one for me, day negative 500 for the rest of you! You all think you risked everything and I risked nothing? I feel like I'm being attacked by both sides at all times. Of course I want to help everybody. Of course I want to save Osaka," she says.

It's all nice and calm talk for her, albeit frustrating to try and explain. "These accusations seem a little hypocritical from some of us, all things considered," she adds, as diplomatically as possible.

"But yeah. I can make plans work... if I'm allowed input. It's 'not my decision'. Kunzite's plan isn't as terrible as he suggests, but it's also not great. Needs fine-tuning and more than just a little giving a prisoner's name to prove it's reliable. What are we trying to discuss now?"
Usagi Tsukino 2016-02-21 10:06:02 30329
Mamoru abruptly looks kind of sick, and grips Usagi's hand tightly. Not as tight as she'd been gripping his earlier, but tightly. "It's okay. It'll be okay. She doesn't know anything, they don't have a reason to torture her, and we'll get her out, and it'll be okay," he tells Usagi urgently, first and foremost. "And then maybe we'll get her a barrier jacket or something, right? And a Device. Or a PreCure card or something so she doesn't keep getting attacked, gods..."

He turns to Minako and his eyes are bright, clear. On point. "I'm sorry that's what you're getting out of what we're saying, but that is in no way the intent--"


The person they have is Naru.

First Mamo-chan, now

Not her.

And Venus is talking, but she can't listen, because Naru-chan.

And Mamoru is trying, so hard, to calm her nerves, to settle her, making promises she knows he'll try desperately to keep. And it almost works, but Naru-chan.

"SHUT UP!" Her scream is loud and echoes through the trees.

"I can give you more information on her. She likes boys and shopping and jewellery! She has been my best friend since before I lost my first baby tooth! I have done everything I can to keep her from all of this. And this happens anyway?"

And she's panicking, and she can't breathe--

And Mamoru takes her by the shoulders and pulls her to his chest, and he looks up at Kunzite and Venus, and he says very very calmly, "Priority one is getting her out. Part of priority one is getting that piece of the key, because no one is going there without Moon having the Ginzuishou. Please make this work. Tell me what you come up with. Try to do it before Kunzite loses his mind again because--"

That's not a sentence he finishes. He's looking at Kunzite. Kunzite can read it in his face: I don't know if I'll ever see you again in this life. But he addresses Minako again: "We'll be at Jadeite's."

She doesn't care how inelegant or graceless it makes her look. When his arms are around her, she clings to him, tight, legs wrapping around his waist because she needs the anchor. She's crying softly at the moment, but as soon as they're out of earshot, she'll be anything but quiet.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-21 10:46:32 30332
There's one moment, before everything goes wrong, when Kunzite glances over at Venus quick and direct. It's around 'believe me, I get it.' He watches her for a moment, and there's hardly any change in his actual expression, but something eases somewhere behind it; something brightens, just a fraction. The faintest of signs that, for those few seconds while Venus is talking, he might actually have some hope that everything had a chance of working out. Somehow.

And then Mamoru starts trying to tell Usagi that everything will be okay, and Kunzite's face goes utterly still.

Why would the girl's name make a difference? Why does the boy think Moon needs reassurance? Why would --

Why would Moon be screaming --

That's why.

Kunzite closes his eyes. They're open again by the time Mamoru looks back at him. There's no sign of his reactions in them; his reactions don't matter. Solving the problem does. No -- not solving it. Everything he touches --

If he thinks about that, he'll lose time, and they don't have much of that left.

He's already talking before Moon and Mamoru are gone; his voice is flat. "The test to gain the key won't start without you, specifically, there," he says to Venus without looking at her. "It probably needs me alive, given the summons. It'll test one of your qualities. Probably love. We can go now, and you'll have the place working on your side, at least as long as I can hold on. Or you can wait and gather allies, but you'll have the place being used against you -- I might cast you all out the moment the test starts, for instance. Endymion can probably counter that, if you bring him. I won't be able to attack you unprovoked; guest-right is written into the laws of the place at a level I won't be able to touch unless the place itself cooperates, and judging by this one, it won't be inclined to cooperate with anything trying to stop you."
Minako Aino 2016-02-21 10:57:02 30333
Minako Aino/Sailor V seems pretty suspicious of being asked to dangerous places that only she can go to, or kidnapping of specifically Usagi's friend.

"Sure. Might as well go get the key. That'll be all four right here, two with Merc and two in my hands. Not a bad start," she comments, not pleased with the situation.

"I don't care much for tests. If you can cheat it, that would be great. I'd rather just get it and be done with it all instead of having to bring a whole invasion later. I got nothing to lose," she adds, stretching her fingers out and cracking her knuckles against her palms.

She's not particularly relaxed but not urgent or rushed either.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-21 11:11:55 30335
"Don't combine them till you have to. Beryl will be able to tell." Kunzite turns, orienting himself less toward a direction than toward a feeling. It takes him a moment. V has a clear shot at his back the entire time; after, too, since he makes no insistence of order when he starts walking.

"With luck, she'll be angry enough that she locks me down the same way she did Endymion. Whatever she had riding him, it was too limited and too arrogant to be smart. If we're particularly lucky, that will actually frighten Melanite, and she'll start looking for safe passage out. But I doubt that. You'll have to think of something else." He doesn't ask what. Changes topics back to hers.

"Nephrite couldn't cheat the test. But I'm not sure Jupiter didn't have him too distracted to try. Zoisite wouldn't have known what was happening, would he? And Jadeite -- you know better than I how that one went. All I know is that somehow you convinced Zoisite not to dodge."
Minako Aino 2016-02-21 11:21:57 30336
Minako Aino/Sailor V gives a cluck of her tongue. "Lovely. Melanite. Should I worry about her or does she have a cease-fire agreement nobody told me about until after I fight her?" she remarks.

She also stresses she knows how to make ginzuishou. "I know all about putting together those things. I don't plan on letting anybody put it together until we're ready. The last thing I want is Beryl doing something sneaky to snatch it up because somebody wasn't prepared."

"But anyway, don't worry about that. I don't know about Zoisite-dodging, but I'm sure cheating can be done. If you try. Or not. The last one wasn't so hard. Just had to make a bunny throw up."

She's a little worried that so many of her exploits have involved encouraging things to throw up, but doesn't comment on that.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-21 11:33:08 30337
Kunzite shrugs briefly, without letting his pace slow. "Not that I know of. She was Beryl's apprentice before; she remembered enough magic on her own to catch the attention of one of..." The pause is the only hint of any emotional reaction, there. "... the people I corrupted into temporary youma. She's not under direct control. Beryl's bribing her for results with the promise of power and status. Given Beryl's present life expectancy, you might be able to do something with that."

He's quiet for several paces. Whether this is because he's misinterpreting what she said to wonder why Venus had to do that to Moon again, or not, is momentarily hard to tell.

"Mercury," he says then. "I noted down as much as I could about what I used on her. Most of it's too late to help, but make sure someone checks that she found and dealt with the spores. She's been through too much already; she doesn't need internal bleeding on top of it."
Minako Aino 2016-02-21 11:43:14 30339
Minako Aino/Sailor V comments something about getting Mercury an anti-fungus medication, mostly to herself, to commit it to memory.

"An apprentice. Great. That'll go down without anything bad happening," she remarks, not sounding too worried, or too happy, or too convinced about more Beryl-types consolidating themselves in the Dark Kingdom.

"Yeah. I'll make her a better bribe. Any other bits of good news to share with me?"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-21 12:01:38 30340
"How much did you want? I have years of it. You killed the experiment garden already, thankfully. The same principle there holds true with most of the actual place. Mars and Moon will want to go through it afterward. Too much of the architecture started out as people, and some of them might still be alive in some fashion. The ... eating thing ... did not start out as people. As far as I know." Kunzite still hasn't turned his head, except for the couple of times when the straight-line path has wanted to lead through immense trees, and he's had to find a way around. "Most of it doesn't matter. You know it too well already, and anything you don't, you have readier sources for." Ones that have been through an Escalation. Ones that don't have the darkness twined into them. Ones that actually still have normal things, like heartbeats.

The entrance to Kunzite's domain stands closed, when they come into sight of it. But it's clear even to Venus what it is in an instant -- nothing else here is marked with white sandstone and steel.
Minako Aino 2016-02-21 12:20:14 30342
Minako Aino/Sailor V clarifies that she actually wants zero. None of it. A grand total of as little as possible.

"I can't really keep up with all these 'technical terms', either. Experiment gardens, eating things, and so on. But I guess I won't have to deal with those too much, so it won't matter."

She wanders along in relative quiet apart from her words. The entrance only makes her shift her thoughts. "So, now that you're here, can you figure out where the little weird bit is hidden? Apart from just 'inside'? Judging by the last places, these places can be pretty big."
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-21 12:31:12 30344
Kunzite answers her with more technical terms, ones that he wouldn't risk using to too many people.

"I don't know."

And after that, they're out of forest, and sunset, and stars.