Call Off Your Artemis!

Following 'Priorities', Sailor Venus and Kunzite go to acquire the last piece of the key to the Silver Crystal while Kunzite is still momentarily sane. The guardian of the place is a caracal the size of a Clydesdale. There is absolutely no doubt that it is, in all ways, a cat. (They get the piece.)

Date: 2016-02-22
Pose Count: 34
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-22 02:04:49 30403
The place is hot and dry. Another ruined castle-- though this one seems more like a fortress. Composed primarily of white sandstone, its bricks have tumbled to the floor, piled with sand that's fallen or blown in. Although it's spacious and bright, there's an eerie silence, and a number of the bricks are marked with char or glittering with glass where immense heat has fused their surfaces.

Beyond the palace itself-- where they can see through windows or broken wall-- there is an endless desert that's nearly too bright to look at. Further in from the entrance from Nephrite's palace, where the archway's sandstone is blue and starry, and carved trees and vines bedeck its surface, the palace is dimmer and the shadows turn the sands brown and gold. Shafts of light fall in from skylights and fallen parts of the roof. The quartered circle is in evidence, part of the designs that decorate the bricks near the ceiling and near the floor.

The entire place thirsts.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 02:20:47 30411
The joke, of course - to the extent that it's a joke - is that Kunzite hates bright light. Twice as much in his current state as he ever did back then. He winces and turns his head on entry, half-shielding himself from the worst of the glare with his cape. What he doesn't do is invoke his power to protect himself. It may have been what it was first designed for; it's much worse than that, now.

The place itself might be witness to that.

"What we've done to you." Those first words are low, quiet, unfocused; it's not clear whether he means them for the place, for Venus, for the Senshi, for some broader category. So many possibilities. Then he says aloud and to her more directly: "It'll be somewhere central, and not far. It manifests for you, not for me. Go where seems right to you."
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 02:30:08 30415
Minako Aino/Sailor V doesn't know where to go or what to do. "Manifests for me? None of the others manifested for anybody in particular," she comments, strolling around tiredly and without paying any extensive interest to any one place.

She goes inward and mostly straight. "What if it isn't central or far that feels right? Ha," she comments, kicking around bits of sand or looking at interesting bits of rubble.

"This place looks more 'outside' than the others. Probably isn't, really. But just out of curiosity, where is here? Or, the closest place to here that's somewhere real that I can use a map to get to?"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 02:48:23 30419
"Nephrite and I arrived before your cohorts did," Kunzite answers Venus's nobody-in-particular almost-question. "The test didn't begin, the spirit of his place didn't manifest, with just us there; not till Moon and Mars and Jupiter were present. Zoisite and I couldn't even tell that the entry to his palace existed, let alone existed in his garden, until your team arrived. It's you that unlock these things, not us."

If it's not central? There's something almost soundless from him that might have been the shadow of a laugh. "If it's somewhere unlikely, well-hidden, surprising, and apparently impossible, then it was put there by someone who knew you too well."

Kunzite reaches aside as he walks, tracing gloved fingertips over broken stone. Keeping close enough to Venus never to be out of her peripheral vision. "I don't know where the place corresponds to now," he admits. "At a guess -- it might have bound itself to the damage Beryl did. The Empty Quarter. We might be in reach of Salalah, maybe, if we're lucky. Shaybah, if we're not."
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 02:58:47 30423
"I don't know where those places are, but I bet I know where they're close to," Sailor V comments, walking along through the most expedient way to wherever the palace leads to.

"But yeah, if it's for us, I guess it makes sense to key it to us. Probably some trick to it. Maybe. Something obvious that makes sense when you know it."

She walks along and gestures to the walls and architecture. "If you can control the place, then it doesn't matter if it's hidden. I'm guessing the piece isn't the sort of thing to be damaged by some falling rocks and stones. So, you know, just pull a Jadeite and make the walls fall down."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-22 03:04:09 30426
The silence is eerie, certainly, but one thing it's not is oppressive. The shade further in is a calm thing; once they begin moving inward, it's almost inviting. A draught of cooler air shifts toward them, bringing with it the barest hint of a sweet scent, something that's not only dust and sun.

Practically out of thin air, something hits Kunzite like a couple of tons of the bricks that surround them. Whatever it is whiffs right past Minako on its way.

'Whatever it is' turns out to be some sort of enormous cat. A housecat? No: its body is wrong, and there are tufts on its ears that curl up almost like horns. Its face is certainly like a housecat's, though its expression is one that never bodes well for a housecat's human, and on a cat the size of a Clydesdale it's downright terrifying.

It's got Kunzite pinned, with probably about half of its absurd weight on the man's chest, and one immense paw rises to strike, possibly strike his head off.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 03:11:22 30432
"Oman. Saudi Arabia. Odds are good the closest human habitation is an oil field." Kunzite touches a piece of mostly-intact wall again, his attention straying aside from Venus.

"Just because I can control the place doesn't mean I can do it with impunity," he says. "One of my kinsmen plotted to kill Endymion's parents." Perhaps it runs in the family. "I built the security here with that in mind; I'm bound by the rules as much as anyone else. If I damaged the place, it would try to kill me in retaliation. I could try to mend it, instead, but I'm carrying too much poison to be certain that wouldn't --"

Speaking of trying to kill him.

He doesn't see it coming. Possibly it isn't there to see. His skull hits stone hard enough to dizzy even him for a moment; he tries to to say something, stunned and startled, but the cat's weight has the breath crushed out of him. And whether or not he needs breath to survive, he certainly needs it to talk. Raising an arm to try to defend himself is remarkably pointless.

But just as he didn't invoke his tainted power to shield himself from the light, he doesn't invoke it against the creature that's on him now.
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 03:17:10 30437
"I know Saudi Arabia. That's far out there," she begins. Then the attack happens.

"Kunzite! Call off your Artemis!" Sailor V insists, raising up a finger towards the oversized cat in something resembling defense as well as annoyance.

"And stop damaging the place. Clearly, you're setting the defenses off, like you just said," she adds, assuming he was trying to do 'something weird' even if it wasn't outrightly hostile to anybody in particular.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-22 03:27:17 30440
The immense cat stays his massive paw, looming threateningly over Kunzite's head, and with his ears pointed back almost flat against his skull and his pupils dilated in what cat-owners affectionately call 'murder eyes', he turns his big head to stare at Minako. His voice is a low, trilling growl. "He takes care to neither disturb this place nor do harm to you. But he is owned in body by the greatest evil, and carries within him the destructive energies of a small world's worth of despair. He could harm you. Once this trial is through, and he steps back into the realm of mortals, he will once more be a tool of your most hated enemy. Though he wills it not, his thralled body and mind will once again attempt to take from you all that you hold dear. Do you not wish him dead?"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 03:37:35 30445
There is absolutely nothing Kunzite can say to that, partly because every word of it's true. There's not much he can do about it, either, given that -- again -- every word of it's true; he doesn't have any stolen power that isn't tainted, right now. Some of it to the point at which dark energy is the relatively safe insulation he's using to contain the worse.

And if he could bleed that worse off safely, he'd be arguing on the cat's side right now.

But mostly, he can't say anything because he doesn't have any damned air to talk with. He closes his eyes, expression showing irritation again, and concentrates on -- something. Something that isn't having any immediately visible effects, since he's trying to get a feel for the stone around them. He doesn't particularly want to affect it with his mind; he might spread the corruption, and even a little of that is too much. But it's the least damaging potential weapon, or defense, he has.
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 03:47:59 30449
Minako Aino/Sailor V has this exasperated expression cross her face, so big that not even three V-masks could hide it. "Why does everybody keep reminding me about what side Shitennou might be on like I'm somehow the last one to the port city?" she asks.

"Anyway, I need him to get me my crystally fragment shard puzzle piece, so let's not go roughing up any shrine invaders and so I can get it eventually, ok?" she says, making cat shooing gestures with both of her hands.

"In fact, maybe you can help. A big, talking meow machine like you probably knows something about the place."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-22 03:55:14 30452
At this point, it is the cat's turn to look annoyed. He sits back on his haunches, inconveniently on Kunzite's legs, and casually keeps him pinned with the strength of one mighty foreleg -- but no longer crushes the air from the man's lungs. "Sailor Venus, you are literally as much of a pain in the ass now as you were then. Are you fast-talking to save his life, or do you really just need him alive long enough to get a piece of metal and then to hell with him? This is kind of goddamned important. What if I told you I could just give you the piece if you let me bite his head off?"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 04:02:02 30455
"Good to know that my social skills weren't any better in the last life," Kunzite mutters, glaring up at the cat for a moment. This is probably not the wisest thing he could be doing with his first breath.
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 04:08:06 30460
"If you told me that, I'd accuse you of lying. Unless Kunzite keeps magical charms stuffed down his throat, you're not making any sense, cat," she claims.

Sailor V is actually a little annoyed - first at being sassed at by yet another cat, and then at her being called out for not just offing generals. In the caracal's defense, it probably doesn't know what she's been up to.

"Either way, get up. Up. Shoo. Shoooooo. We're busy. We have important things to do. Get up or I'm gonna Mercury Bottle Spray you until you behave."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-22 04:18:42 30463
"They were worse, my lord," the enormous caracal informs Kunzite scathingly. "You were just more insecure about it."

He eyes Minako appraisingly, then delicately steps off Kunzite -- making sure in the process that almost all his weight is on one paw at least once -- and sits back down next to him and starts grooming his face. "You didn't bring Mercury," he tells Minako archly. "But I suppose the fact that he's not dead yet is proof enough. You pass. It's on the wall now, you can take it. And--" A beat. "Be careful."

There is, indeed, a bright gold quarter circle hanging from a hook on the wall behind Minako that wasn't there before.

The genius loci leans over and licks the side of Kunzite's head. "I wouldn't have killed you unless you lost your mind and tried to kill her. You can fix the place if you want. It won't hurt it."
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 04:36:55 30469
The fact that 'Kunzite' and 'kitten' start with the same letter is in no way evidence that they are identical. His attempts to fend off sandpaper tongue are at least partially successful, but not successful enough to avoid a grimace of disgust as he sits up. "I can neither remember nor imagine what could possibly have convinced me to work with you," he tells the cat several times his own size, and tries to shove its head out of the way.

Given that the people he prefers to talk to have included Zoisite, Endymion, Kyouko, and Minako herself... at least he's apparently consistent.

He strips off a glove and places his bare hand on the floor beside him. "If it won't hurt -- well. Let's see if it helps anything, then." Gray eyes close, and then there's the change that's starting to become familiar.

Ruined walls unruin themselves, reabsorbing fallen stone and brick and sand, straightening into a marked precision. Inlays show themselves again, blue and gold predominant -- blue the lazurite that his rebel-kinsman was named for, the one that Kunzite won his place in the Golden Kingdom's court by defeating; gold for the Kingdom itself, surely. He never thought of himself as anything but an extension of that, a weapon in its prince's hand. Patterns of the quartered-circle, of birds and felines and not-quite-felines, the other palaces' guardians reflected in this one. Not as deeply or heavily decorated as the other places. This one was always practicality first. But there's nowhere in it from which some small and subtle mosaic or painting or carving isn't visible, some hint of buried beauty.

And none of the changes, not one, does anything to take that golden quarter-circle out of Venus's reach.
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 04:41:35 30471
Minako Aino/Sailor V is swift to move to the hook on the wall. She glances down and up as a quick acknowledgement of appropriate levels of caution as she approaches, but mostly wants to recover the object fast before anything weird or unusual happens to it.

"Yeah, yeah, I always pass. I'm a senshi. And I'm always careful, 'cuz I'm a genius," she proclaims before pocketing her prize.

She's also more interested in being serious concerning palace places. "When you're done letting out your interior interior decorator, wreck the place again. In case we have to fight in here. We can always fix it after," she remarks.

"So, kitty cat, now that I have all the pieces, how do I put it together? Do you know that?" she wonders.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-22 04:55:21 30477
"I know the Princess does it, I mean, they're for her crystal," the caracal says, mock-nipping at Kunzite's hand with an alarming snap of his powerful jaw when his head gets shoved away. Then he gives Kunzite's side an affectionate headbutt as he gets up and paces away, giving the Shitennou room to concentrate.

He watches the palace's reconstruction with affection and a fair amount of wistfulness, then blinks at Minako. "If you have to fight in here, you'd do better with the place whole and healed. There are more places to hide. I will be better able to aid you." He starts calmly cleaning his paw, talking around biting the giant claws. "Besides, if he harms it now, I will have to bite his head off, and he's made of dark energy and would taste absolutely disgusting."
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 05:04:16 30480
"I'm also carrying a charge of distilled labyrinth energy, which is a form of reality warp in itself," Kunzite notes as he rights himself after the shove. His tone is remarkably clinical. "So if you did have to bite my head off, you'd also need to evict the remains immediately. If I were entirely certain the bite itself wouldn't infect you, this conversation would be going somewhat differently; as it is, I don't want to risk dying here. In the mean time, more practically. If the Senshi or the other Shitennou, or the Prince or Princess or their allies, are provoked into fighting in here, please forgive them any related property damage in advance."

He pushes up to one knee, eyes the caracal warily for a moment, then stands up. Carefully. In case of another pounce. "These places are connected to the regions they watch over," he says to Venus. "It's possible that their condition might still affect those regions." Unspoken addition: I've done enough damage already.
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 05:14:45 30484
Minako Aino/Sailor V seems happy with both the answer and the tactical advice the cat gives. She's used to listening to cat advice (she calls it 'cuhvice', which is a terrible portmanteau) and she assumes the cat is telling the truth.

So she accepts it and gestures towards Kunzite to indicate as such. To keep playing legos with his house.

"Since nobody else is here to hear it and complain about it, I'll just say it openly - it sort of doesn't matter. The damage the Dark Kingdom can do is greater than any one hostage or even region. If it gives me an advantage, I want it. I need it."

"And just in case any of you have the gall to accuse me of being hard-hearted," she says, pre-empting any sorts of accusations. "I'd say the same thing if I were the hostage. Winning this fight is important. So very important."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-22 05:19:21 30489
Immense cats can give immense shrugs. "I eat people, why are you telling me? You have a liege."

The caracal gets up again and starts to pick his way away, sniffing vaguely at the floor and walls as he goes.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 05:30:17 30493
Kunzite regards V for a long moment. The temptation he's wrestling with is not the usual sort. But -- he bends his head a moment after, as if conceding to someone not actually present. And then he straightens again to eye the caracal's retreat. "How can you stand having one of those around all the time?" he asks her.

Then it's back to her own topic, and he might begrudge the nod, but she gets it anyhow. "One life against one planet? The math doesn't work out. I understand that. But he gave me orders. I don't know how I'll manage to carry them out, when I won't remember any of this once I leave. But I'll find something."
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 05:39:18 30497
Minako Aino/Sailor V gives a lost shrug of her shoulders. "I dunno. This isn't my weird sandy palace. I don't live with it. I suppose you Shittenou were making these places into your own personal animal menage a trois 'cuz that's what you guys were into," she admits.

She doesn't necessarily put caracals and Artemises into the same category in her head, if only because of their distinctly different sizes.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 05:49:22 30502
... Kunzite, for once, is very much hoping that Minako mangled that one. If she didn't, he is never going to want to know. He eyes her for a moment anyhow, then shakes his head. "Zoisite," he says then, and it's not entirely clear whether he's talking to her or to something else. "Zoisite can still pass for unchanged, and it's plausible he'd be desperate enough for some kind of results to risk threatening a hostage. That would get her out where your people can reach her. It'd still be a trap, but he might be able to feed enough information back to you to disarm it. Would you accept that? If not --"

Zoisite hasn't been purified. He won't be surprised if she doesn't accept it.

"Then the best hope is still that whatever Beryl does to me will frighten Melanite into doing something rash." The best hope for what Kunzite's orders are. Venus has already made her opinion clear.
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 06:02:11 30504
"With all due respect to esteemed gentlewoman Melon-head, she doesn't seem particularly strong," Sailor V comments.

"Not that she isn't accomplished, clever, or dangerous. But if it comes to a straight-on attack where we outnumber her, she's cornered with nowhere to run but 'out', and she has to fight or die, well.... I think we can take her in that situation. Because it's entirely unfair to her."

"Concerning hostages, we don't even need to 'rescue' them or pull them out so much as coincide their release or any 'traps' with them with an attack," she guesses.

"I mean, a hostage is great leverage when you're actually, you know, leveraging them. But in a frontal attack, all-or-nothing, don't-negotiate-with-terrorists, the big fight takes center stage."

She shrugs her shoulders. "I mean, that's one plan. Or someone could go in and try to pull her out before the big showdown. Me, maybe one other? A Shittenou, even? But we can't commit half to one and half to the other, 'cuz then we'd be splitting our forces during the big fight."

"They're both terrible plans. The best is 'just go in when we're ready', but if I have to do this, that's my thoughts on the issue."

"Or trust Zoisite. "
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 06:20:41 30509
Somewhere in there, something that Venus said -- did something to Kunzite. It's almost impossible to tell what, because his visible reaction was to go back to that non-expression he uses, the calm mask that can mean pretty much anything. But it takes several seconds for him to formulate a response.

"Jadeite and Nephrite can't get there, now," he says. "Even if they were to try. Moon burned them clean of the ability to travel that way. I won't be in a position to help. And Zoisite, she'll be watching. If there's even one visible slip in anything he does, she'll act. I --"

He's silent for a moment, again.

"I don't -- like -- any plan that risks you being there alone. There's no hiding from Beryl, there. She can bring overwhelming force to bear at any point. And the thought of her taking you prisoner, of Metallia getting inside your head, gives me nightmares. If she were able to use you to command her forces, instead of Beryl? We'd lose. We wouldn't have a chance."
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 06:27:57 30511
Minako Aino/Sailor V makes a little sound halfway between a growl and a cry. "Either way, if I can get in, I can get out. Save the girl and be done. Or hope she gets out on her own? I dunno. It's the best plan without some other trick to play."

"But yeah. Yeah. I know that. It's a big, stupid risk. But when you're asked to do the impossible, you have to get creative," she comments, making a few little waves of her hand.

"Ironic that the people who care most of my safety aren't even necessarily on my side. Hah ha!" she says, half-sarcastic and half not.

"Got any other insights? Or is that you suggesting the 'put it off until we attack' plan?"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 06:52:22 30514
"Of what we have, Zoisite pulling the girl out somewhere you can reach her is the better chance, I think. Less likely to catch Beryl's attention than trying to infiltrate, less likely to get the girl killed than waiting. And you'd need him in either case. Whichever approach you take to getting her away from him and Melanite, it'll be safer than trying to get into the Dark Kingdom itself to get her. He'll have to think of a way to get out again afterward, and to keep Beryl off of him in the mean time, but he's capable of that. If he's willing to cooperate."

Kunzite runs a hand over his face, closing his eyes again. Only stands there for a moment or two. And says, finally, quietly, "You saved me. Then. Now; you weren't the only one to damage her control over me, but you were the first. The part of me that's myself - can't forget that. Even when she has me. If she doesn't put the same thing in my head that she did in Endymion's? That will be something you can use."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-02-22 06:55:39 30519
There's a sound like thunder in the back of the darkness, deep in the palace.

The caracal is purring.
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 06:59:02 30521
Minako Aino/Sailor V ignores the purr machine.

"Yeah. Can we trust Zoisite to do what he's asked? Will he just bring out a hostage and act dumb? If that works, it works. But it's a little much for me to hope that he suddenly makes a big mistake, especially if we can't talk to him. Make it work or I have to go in or explain in exceedingly gentle words to the others why letting her friend stew in the Dark Kingdom is the 'best option'," she stresses.

"And they already hate me. Having to be the voice of terrible, unpleasant reason isn't going to help and I don't relish doin' it," she adds.

"Anyway, explain what the damage control is and sure, we can use it. Otherwise, I got a surefire way to beat you if you decide to go back to the dark side or whatever clever metaphor we're gonna use!"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 07:09:50 30524
Kunzite's eyes move in the direction of the purring; narrow for a moment; return to Venus. That is the extent of his commentary.

"You can trust Zoisite to do what he thinks will work," he answers. "Give him parameters and he'll improvise inside them. Give him a plan he disagrees with, and he'll cooperate as much as that thing will." The gesture is, yes, in the direction of that not-thunder. "He's bled for this already. As long as he has a chance to limit how much more bleeding he does in the process, he'll work with you."

Kunzite actually laughs, then, short and sharp. "I don't have a choice about going back. Being here is buying me time; we might be able to find a way to keep doing it, but -- if I don't go back, there will be no path to getting that girl out. And Endymion set her as a higher priority than the damage I'm likely to do. I don't know his reasons; I trust them. But I can tell you this much. As long as my eyes aren't actually glowing -- all you, personally, have to do to be safe from me is bandage your arms again."
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 07:15:14 30526
Minako Aino/Sailor V claims that she feels those priorities are misplaced. "We should try to save her, send Zoisite a message whatever, but if it's a hard priority, that makes it difficult. We can't keep getting lucky forever."

"And when things go bad, everybody is gonna blame me for not seeing it or calling it out. I just wish I could say these things without everybody thinkin' I'm a bloodthirsty maniac."

She's also completely lost about bandages. "What do you mean? Bandage arms? I don't follow. At all." She recalls her arms being bandages but that is all.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-02-22 07:31:27 30533
Kunzite's mouth turns up, ever so slightly, at one corner. "That's an argument you can still make," he agrees. "I can't. Not once Endymion's made his decision. We'll just have to try to keep things from going bad." He may claim disdain for Mercury and her chess metaphors, but when Kunzite's pushed to principles rather than tactics, he falls back to straight lines every bit as much as Mercury does.

At least, when he's himself.

... bandages. "The first time we met in person, this time," Kunzite says, his eyes shadowing. "I hurt you. Burned your arms." Cast back a part of one of her own Crescent Beams. She shielded her face with her arms, took the damage there. "The next time I saw you, your arms were still bandaged. I can't -- after Walpurgisnacht, Beryl blocked that memory. But some things are harder to make me forget than others. If I'm controlled, and you invoke that image ... I doubt I'll be able to look at you and still think. So I'll look elsewhere. I won't be able to target you."

He shrugs. "It'll only work if I'm controlled, rather than outright possessed. But it might help."
Minako Aino 2016-02-22 07:37:49 30534
Minako Aino/Sailor V comments that she might make the argument that she can still make. "Or I might not make it. I don't think talking to him will be very profitable for anybody involved."

She grumbles a little bit. "We know where the Dark Kingdom 'is'. So if Zoisite doesn't go and get nutsy with giving up hostages, that's the backup plan," she concludes.

"Not the best plan, but, eh, if it has to be done, it's a start," she says. "Not like we get much of an 'element of surprise' either way. All this flying around the world, she's got to have an inkling by now. So it's not giving up anything, I don't think."

She has a few comments about bandages, but nothing clever. Just something she files away in the back of her head.