Running Through These Walls

(Content warning: nightmares.) Nephrite, with Makoto, Mamoru, and Kunzite, goes to retrieve the few things he wants to keep from the ephemeral mansion he created while with the Dark Kingdom. Without power to fuel the magics that sustain it, the place is literally falling apart. And the visitors just gave the dying house another option. As long as it can keep them from leaving...

Date: 2016-05-07
Pose Count: 74
Nephrite 2016-05-07 01:15:06 40719
A building, especially a building once lived in, has a life of its own. A sense of memory, a soul that breathes in the walls and floorboards. When Nephrite created his mansion, it was that sense of memory that he drew on. The feeling of a home, wrapped like gilded wallpaper around a hollow frame. The suggestion of life lived in each room. Carpet that remembers the press of bare toes. Kitchen counters that remember the feel of spilled coffee and leaning elbows.

The mansion always felt haunted, and it was. Only it was not ghosts that haunted it, but the shreds of memories stolen from places real enough to have them.

In the absence of both the magic that held it together and the living physical being who gave the memory some hint of reality, what was once a mansion has begun to fade and tatter like paper in the rain. The parts that Nephrite and his occasional visitors spent the most time with seem the same as before. The driveway winding up to where his Ferrari (very much real, very much still suffering the damages of a certain prince's rear end) remains parked. The front door. The terrace, with its little table and chair. The highest point on the rooftop, where sometimes he sat and looked at real stars instead of the ones he summoned in his inner sanctum.

But now those pieces of place are like the last solid mounds of a sandcastle being eroded by the tide. The trees that line the driveway, once dark and imposing (though never lively or pleasant), are now brittle ghosts. They have not decayed like real trees would, from the outside in. They still struggle to give the illusion of trees, still struggle to hold a tree-like shape, and so they seem to be losing bits, primarily, from the back, where they would not normally be seen. They are losing depth, losing color, losing pieces of themselves.

Similarly, the walls of the structure itself are fading like newspaper left in the sun. Here and there, they are nearly translucent, the house inside just visible through a woodgrain haz
Nephrite 2016-05-07 01:19:02 40720
The illusion of life, the memory of memories, crumbling away.

If a building has life, then this one is a mere skeleton, simply waiting for time to finish picking its bones clean.

Nephrite stares up at the looming building. It's not exactly the Dark Kingdom, but it's close enough to it, has enough of its scent lingering on it. "Wait, no, I changed my mind. I don't need my stuff that badly. It's only, uh." his hand run down his face. "It's only absolutely everything I own okay yeah I do need it that badly."
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 01:27:51 40721
Mako had some idea, from things that Nephrite might or might not have said, that there would be more than just a semi-abandoned house waiting for them. But she was not expecting anything quite like this. Even without having any previous associations of the place to compare it to, it's incredibly unsettling.

The subtle but slowly-worsening unsettled feeling she's been having lately, like a phantom something trying to crawl under her skin or a voice crying out in distress just barely below the range of actual hearing, helps absolutely nothing at all.

But when Nephrite almost changes his mind at the threshold, she puts her own uneasiness aside and reaches over to nudge gently at his shoulder. "Hey," she says in time with the motion. "You've got us here with you, you know. If we need to, Kunzite and I will clean things out, and you and Mamoru-niisan can wait out here and keep each other company." After shamelessly volunteering Kunzite for this idea without bothering to consult him or Mamoru ahead of time, Mako smiles, green eyes bright and warm. "That means you'd have to live with us going through all your stuff, though."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 01:32:07 40722
It takes Mamoru until Nephrite speaks before he opens his eyes, and he still remains clutching both Kunzite's and Nephrite's arms when he does, unsteady on his feet and looking almost as pale as Princess Serenity. By inches his color's coming back, mostly, but it's certain that the ground they're on not especially being real, per se, doesn't actually help him out. He looks up at the building dispassionately for a moment, and then his expression goes strangely fond.

"It's okay," he says in a low voice, reassuring and quiet. "It's really okay."

He laughs a little at what Makoto says, shrugging one shoulder. "I'd be okay with that."

When Neph's hand drops from his face -- the one Mako doesn't have first claim to -- Endymion's drops from where he's got a fistful of sleeve to clasp Nephrite's own. The 'it's okay' is echoed in a hundred different ways: this is where we found you, this is where we got you back and started really getting you back, this is where we were when I got to be me for a moment and you could really hear me for the first time, this is where you laughed and it was bright and shining in the dark. It's over, it's over, and this is only ghosts and tatters, and we four are what's real.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 01:49:24 40723
Technically, when Mamoru told Makoto she could borrow Kunzite to help, he did not limit it to kitchen assistance. He has, in short, already been shamelessly volunteered. Even before Mamoru nails that down.

For the first few moments, Kunzite himself only watches the place, as well. When they were still back there, at times he would spend hours and days moving through the broken little shards of worlds that clustered around the Dark Kingdom. Searching for places with laws of nature that suited him, or for places that were connected to the caverns but likely to fold in on themselves, melt away, dim and be destroyed. This feels ... this place feels very much like the latter, right now. But a slow death, rather than a quick one. Not a child's chalk drawing dissolving in the rain, but an idea left behind, outgrown; remembered a few times, forgotten, finally vanishing.

He doesn't lift a hand to touch Nephrite the way the other two do. But that's only because Endymion still has his nearer arm for support; and Endymion and Makoto between them have the contact covered.

("Prince Endymion is awfully attached to you, Nephrite.")

("Sailor Jupiter is deeply concerned...")

"Your choice," Kunzite says. Nothing else aloud.
Nephrite 2016-05-07 02:08:56 40724
They're both grounding forces, the Earth prince and the Jupiter princess. Even when the ground on which they stand is not real itself. Yes, it was here that he was first found. His halfway point between the world and the Dark Kingdom became a halfway point for who he was, too. It's not a pleasant place to revisit, but it doesn't have to be a nightmare. Not with them.

He takes a steadying breath, and bumps Makoto's head with a dip of his own. "Kunzite has made it abundantly clear that he does not want to see my underwear any more than he has to, and I can't burden you with taking that task on alone."

He squeezes Mamoru's hand before dropping it and leading the way to the front door. "You're on light duties, champ. Do you want to sort through the bar for anything that can be salvaged, or do you want to babysit the Ferrari? You two are already acquainted."

He decidedly avoids looking down at the front step as he pushes the door open. He is absolutely not thinking about finding a tortured, bleeding Zoisite lying there. It is the furthest thing from his mind.
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 02:35:48 40732
Makoto curls her arm around Nephrite's for just a moment after she lets go of his hand, a reassuring little squeeze to go with that head-bump before she really lets go of him and moves to follow him to the door. She steps carefully, feet testing the ground before she commits her weight to it, at least until she's sure it's going to stay solid undernearth her.

"You're making it sound awfully scanadlous," she says as she leans to peek in through the open doorway. Her voice is light, gently teasing. "How worried should I be?" A beat, then she's looking toward Nephrite, still cheerful but no longer joking. "Where do you want me to start?"
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 02:40:00 40733
"Depends. Do you want me to drink anything that's open? Spending any time here kind of explains the bar, either way," the prince says flippantly, taking a step to follow after Nephrite. A testing step. He decidedly ignores the Ferrari and the associated repair bill for the moment in favor of taking another step and deciding he's stable enough. Then he remembers to let go his death-grip on Kunzite's arm.

And walks a little more carefully.

Mamoru finally trails in after Makoto and Nephrite, being Totally Helpful. "Sure you want to ask that? Not wait for the surprise? He probably has dirty dishes a mile high, cobwebs in the bathrooms and the oven, and not a single pair of clean socks anywhere." Maybe it's revenge for the Muffin Incident. Maybe Mamoru's just trying to keep his own self distracted. Or maybe Neph.

"So how'd you pick the aesthetic?" he asks conversationally. "Take out a catalogue of period gothic horror films from the European Romantic movement and a set of darts? Charles Addams? I've wondered for a while now."
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 02:53:43 40737
One good thing about this place being only half-real: they're unlikely to have to evict any human squatters. Nonhuman squatters might be a different story, but if some stray youma had managed to make its way around whatever protections survived of the ones Nephrite undoubtedly had on the place, it would probably feel somewhat more creepy than it already does.


"That depends on whether you consider flamingos scandalous," Kunzite comments to Makoto from a little ways behind. He's fallen back, largely to make certain that Mamoru makes it all the way inside on his feet rather than on hands and knees. And no matter how much he's working on convincing himself that there are no immediate threats, he's still spending more of his attention on watching for hints of the improbable. Or, rather more likely a find, for places that might bleed through completely if pressure were placed on them.

They'd probably wind up back on Earth if they fell through, though.

Again. Probably.
Nephrite 2016-05-07 03:18:48 40745
The grand hallway, like the outside, is showing signs of decay. The floor looks solid enough, particularly in the middle of the plush red and gold carpet, where a regular path was tread. The same might not be said of some of the lesser-used corners. "Well I don't find them very scandalous, but some people seem to have a problem with me failing to adequately hide them from his delicate view at all times."

He gives a wall an experimental knock as he passes. It certainly sounds like a wall. "Are you telling me you don't see me as a romantic gothic figure? You don't think I'd look good in velvet?" Doors on either side of the hall, leading off to kitchen and various lounging rooms (the bar, the library, whatever the heck else he was supposed to fill all those empty spaces with). Nephrite points at the end of the hall, where an enormous heavy door, much less ordinary than the others, is firmly closed. "Don't go through that door. Probably nothing there except a bad time. Actually, I don't really know what it would look like now, and I don't want to."
Nephrite 2016-05-07 03:19:06 40746
He casts a look around. Re-orienting. "Normally I'd say kitchen, but I never really used it that much. And no, Endy, I don't have piles of dirty dishes in there, because that's the whole point of owning a five-star restaurant. There's my clothes, legal documents, my books, my telescope, my booze--I'm not kidding about that, man, there's stuff in there worth a fortune, even if most of it got wrecked by the witch. You find any intact bottles, they're worth keeping. If you're determined to drink what you find, then Kunzite just gets an excuse to carry you home. Oh, and do we have a big enough TV? There's like, seven in here. Take your pick. You can each take one with you. Can someone find my Big Brother DVDs? I have no idea which TV I left them next to.

Twin staircases frame the massive door, leading upstairs. Nothing up there except way too many bedrooms and bathrooms. "Right. I'm going to rescue my suits. Anyone who is not a delicate flower who is afraid of seeing what's in my drawers is welcome to join me."
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 03:40:43 40750
Makoto has a moment in there to look vaguely affronted, right around the time Nephrite is explaining the point of owning a five-star restaurant-- "No matter how many restaurants you own, being able to cook for yourself is a basic survival skill," she protests. Perhaps she will stay out of the kitchen. It sounds like that way lies only disappointment, In one fashion or another.

After a brief consideration, Mako decides that she's not too delicate to risk going along to help Nephrite with his clothes. "So how are we taking all this stuff back?" she wonders. "More teleporting? There's no way it's all fitting in the car."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 03:47:35 40752
"Pants," says Mamoru firmly to Nephrite's continued defense of visible underwear via ad hominem attacks on Kunzite's constitution. He eyes the indicated door warily, torn on whether or not to make 'for a bad time call' comments, then ultimately decides against it because there's so much else to say. None of it even involves Nephrite as a Gothic Romance figure, because he doesn't even need to say anything in response to that.

Luckily the lighting in the place leaves something to be desired. 'Gets an excuse to carry you home' only shuts Mamoru up briefly while he fishes for something else to fixate on, anything else, and like a true champion, Nephrite almost immediately obliges. "Big Brother? Seriously? You worked in the actual Dark Kingdom with actual danger of being spied on at any given moment you weren't here, and you got addicted to Big Brother?" he demands incredulously.


Shaking his head, Endymion leans against the bottom of the bannister to catch his breath for a second. A nod to Mako, and then an elaboration, "If you want to actually get all the TVs, yeah, can't you just port them out one by one? We could have a multi-room large-screen HD LAN party with guests. I mean all the other stuff too. Even if we're being picky. In a pocket dimension. Pickpockets. Um."

For a second, the black-haired boy stands there, leaning heavily on the big railing, rubbing at the space between his eyes like he's got a headache brewing. He doesn't usually blather this pointlessly unless he's in immediate mortal danger. Finally, "Uh, which way is the bar?"

It's not until after he gets an answer to that one that he calls after Neph and Mako, "There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ON THIS GREEN EARTH that can save those suits!"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 03:59:35 40753
"Legal documents, Nephrite. Everything else is replaceable." Expensive, but in theory replaceable. And everything else he listed is likely to have been used more often, and therefore to be in a more stable condition --


Kunzite shakes his head. "Never mind. Just tell me where to look for them, and I'll take care of it." Given that Makoto doesn't have experience dealing with fraying bits of artificial reality, Mamoru is likely to be made even sicker by it, and while for all he knows Nephrite might have as much practice as he does, Makoto is likely to be attached.

He glances aside at Mamoru briefly, and makes a silent evaluation ... but no. He'll check in on him again after the paperwork is dealt with. Or if there's a stab of panic that isn't his.

-- and that glance is levelled at Nephrite again a moment later. "We can tell you a thousand times. It's not your wardrobe that's the problem, it's your lack of it." He opts not to specify that certain sights should remain between Nephrite and a certain other party, because the certain other party, for all he knows, might blush hard enough to accidentally electrocute someone. "Documents. Where."
Nephrite 2016-05-07 04:19:38 40757
Makoto's chiding earns a faint chuckle from Nephrite. "Maybe you can teach me some kitchen basics. Although I bet it would be like a nuclear physicist attempting to teach subtraction."

"Oh, right." Nephrite produces a box of clear garbage bags, grabs a handful out, and leaves the rest on the bannister for anyone to use. "I intend to test the limits of my subspace pocket. Or make quick jumps with the bigger stuff. You want every TV, buddy? We can make that happen."

Leave it to Kunzite to zero in on what is both the most important and most boring item on the list. If anybody could be trusted to thoroughly clean out vital paperwork, it's this guy. Nephrite points. "Bar is in there. Library is next door. All the important papers are in the desk. Nobody bother with furniture. It's too big, and I'm a bit fuzzy on which things I bought and which ones are constructed."

As he mounts the stairs, Mamoru's shout causes him to bellow back, "you're just jealous that mine come from Italy and yours are all discount knock-offs!"

He looks at Makoto as he reaches the top, and reaches out to brush a hand over her arm. "You are the bravest. Like always."
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 04:42:16 40761
"Oh come on," Mako calls back down to Mamoru, "they're not that bad! --I hope." The tacked-on quip is accompanied by a quick, conspiratorial grin flashed in Nephrite's direction. "You know it doesn't exactly help your case when you say things like that," she notes, but she still looks pleased.

"Besides," she adds brightly, "they're just clothes. I've been fighting youma and things for almost a year now, I think I can handle it. You can't possibly have anything in those drawers that's more appalling than the wasteland you've got me imagining you've made of your kitchen - seriously, I definitely need to teach you at least the basics, in case Kunzite and I aren't around and you can't get to your five-star restaurant or something. Not being able to do that much is just irresponsible."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 04:50:50 40764
"Spaghetti Westerns come from Italy too," Mamoru's voice drifts up the stairs. It's probably supposed to be ominous or insulting or something, but if anyone asked him to explain it, he'd probably get really really vague about it and start talking about symbolic reference sets, copypasta, and the value of narrative irony or something.

It's not really meant to be heard, because it's a minute late and a decibel short, but as Mamoru hauls himself off the bannister and heads in the direction of the bar, he says absently, "I can think of a few people who'd probably really like a nice new TV. Be dumb to waste them." Just before he vanishes through the doorway, he glances back over his shoulder to Kunzite. "I'm not actually going to drink what I find," he tells him with a half smile.

Once he's out of sight, of course, he henshins just so that he can stop feeling like he's going to pass out.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 05:05:02 40767
Italy used to be Zoisite's.

Perhaps Kunzite will try not to wonder too much about which parts of the last few years of high-end men's fashion might have been a prank aimed at one person in particular.

Mamoru is not as out of sight as he might really prefer, since the library is next door; even if he waits till Kunzite's investigating the desk, there's always the chance of his being caught through the door, out of the corner of an eye. Fortunately, Mamoru also has excellent cover. The witch, after all, broke a good deal of Nephrite's collection. That means there's a fairly startling amount of broken glass to deal with.

For some reason, no-one contested the healer being the one to cope with that particular problem, even if he is wobbly at best.

Kunzite's problem is a different one. The desk itself is reasonably likely to be stable. But desk drawers are interacted with considerably less often than desktops. Maybe it's actual furniture, solid and real as the papers he's trying to rescue from it. Or maybe the desk drawers are in the process of dissolving internally and jarring them too much will lose things, possibly including fingers, into some interesting interstitial not-quite-space. Either way: he gets to be very goddamn careful, because the latter can look like the former right up until unfortunate things happen.

Not because he's trying to track everything Mamoru is doing, and probably Tuxedo Kamen's condition, without actually being able to see him. Honest.
Nephrite 2016-05-07 05:10:49 40769
"I don't know about taking on the responsibility of operating a stove," Nephrite shrugs as he leads the way down the hall. The floorboards are still steady here. It's a familiar path. The trees outside are distinctly visible through one of the walls, though. Less comforting. "But lessons with you? That sounds like fun. Teach me your ways, Makoto-sensei!"

For all the grandeur in the hall, Nephrite's bedroom is remarkably nondescript. There is an ordinary bed that looks rarely used (some things, like unnatural sleep schedules, never change). But there is also a full-length mirror standing in the corner, because vanity.

He throws open the closet, and starts tearing down the contents, hangers and all. Sure enough, it really is mostly made up of suits. In a dizzying array of colors. "See, it's not actually that scary. Some people appear to believe that I am some sort of slob. No, see, I'm an eccentric. There is a difference." Eccentrics can afford dry cleaning, for one thing. Everything is hung neatly because that is exactly how it was delivered to him.
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 05:31:58 40774
"--what's a 'spaghetti western'?" Makoto is forced to wonder aside to Nephrite, not loudly enough to carry downstairs, as they head down the hall. The curiosity at least keeps her distracted from focusing on the distressing insubstantiality of the walls. It does not stop her from taking a very interested look around as they make it into the room, and she can't help but smile at the sight of the mirror in the corner.

"I can't teach you all my tricks," she notes, peeling off to investigate the dresser with rather less caution than Kunzite is approaching the desk downstairs. "Then what excuse would I have to keep showing up so often? But I'll teach you a few things--"

A flash of distinctive color catches her eye as she glances over toward Nephrite, and the startled yelp of laughter is sufficient to be heard downstairs. "--Wait, wait, you actually have a pink suit? You jerk, I thought that was a joke!"
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 05:34:03 40775
The only sounds coming from the bar are those of crunching glass, occasional clinkings of full bottles, once in a while a low whistle of appreciation, and now and then a muffled curse. There's definitely silence after Makoto's laugh for a moment, and after a couple of beats for timing, Mamoru forgets what he was going to joke.

Clinking and glass-crunching again. Then silence again.

Then, "Kunzite? Is the wallpaper actually moving, or is it an optical illusion?"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 05:46:52 40776
One and a half drawers' worth of paperwork are neatly stacked on a stable section of floor before that laughter echoes down; the second drawer is emptied by the time Mamoru speaks up.

"If you have to ask that," Kunzite calls back in answer as he gets back to his feet and crosses to the door, "the answer is 'step away from the broken glass.'"

Granted, the walls do get a glance, just in case, as he's heading for the unsteady prince's side. (There's always the possibility that a stray planet-familiar might have escaped, and might have found a way to leech enough energy from the place to learn how to play some of its despised parent's space-time tricks.) But the best bet isn't that. "I think your role in this expedition may have just become 'moral support.'" Or possibly 'home in bed.' But another teleport isn't likely to help him any, either.
Nephrite 2016-05-07 05:59:40 40777
Her laughter sets him off too. "What? I told you I'd do it! Do you still hate the idea?" He holds the pastel pink jacket up to his face. "Personally, I thought the color really accented my skintone. Can you really say no to this beauty?" He wiggles his eyebrows at her.

He shakes out a plastic bag and starts shoving clothes into it. "It was just fun, you know? Being Masato Sanjouin. The more ostentatious I was, the more people believed I was the real deal. Now it's--I don't know. I don't really know why I'm bothering to save all this." He pauses, half-full bag in hand. "But it's all I really had, before. And I wouldn't have met you, otherwise. Not like that."
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 06:27:37 40781
Mako was just getting herself under control when Nephrite waggles his eyebrows at her and there she goes again, giggling helplessly and shaking her head. "I dunno," she manages when she can breathe well enough to speak again, "it might be growing on me."

She's still giggling a bit to herself as she likewise begins packing clothes into another bag, with rather more attention to neatness and how much the bag is likely to be able to hold before the weight begins to rip the plastic. As the subject of conversation takes a more serious turn, though, her hands still - and after a moment, she leaves the bag to come up behind Nephrite and put her arms around him, leaning gently into his back. "That's not so bad, then, is it? I wouldn't change what happened if it meant we wouldn't be here now."

Maybe she shouldn't say that, when she didn't have to live the worst of it herself. But it is what it is. "Anyway," Mako adds, briskly and brightly practical, "it'd be a waste just to leave all this stuff behind. If you decide you don't want it around you can always give it away later."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 06:36:53 40783
And there he is: Tuxedo Kamen with a good nine bottles lined up unbroken to one side, and a tenth in hand; there's smashed glass everywhere, the wreckage of the room only underlining how very many more bottles of priceless alcohol must have been destroyed. His other hand's on the splintered bar itself, steadying himself, and he doesn't actually look away from the wall at Kunzite. There's not even actually wallpaper, but the splintering of the wood, the pockmarks in the plaster, and the bits of dark energy seeping out do all combine to make a very interesting pattern. It does not, however, move.

Finally, Mamoru tears his masked gaze from the wall and gives Kunzite a faintly aggrieved look. "Don't make me go home. I'll come keep you company. I can wait for the car."

He takes his hand away from the bar to set the last bottle with the others, then almost loses his balance straightening up again. Well. Does lose his balance. But Kunzite's close enough at this point that when Mamoru makes a grab for his arm, catastrophe does not strike-- he just leans his forehead for a second and grimly says, muffled, "I am sticking it out and don't tell them. It's a library. There are chairs in libraries. I can sit in a chair. I can't get in trouble sitting in a chair."

At least he doesn't sound bitter at all.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 06:50:37 40784
Kunzite's arm being grabbed is not entirely a surprise, no; his other arm comes up to secure Mamoru around the shoulders for a moment. (We'll call it 'secure,' anyhow.) "I'm not banishing you either home or outside," he confirms. "Come and sit."

Tuxedo Kamen means gloves, of course. It is therefore not till the two of them have made their way back across the room, and Mamoru is settled in the aforementioned chair, that Kunzite lifts a hand to touch the side of his face. He's not prying into Mamoru's condition; it's just that having something steady to focus on for a few minutes helps him so frequently. And this, given the nature of the place, might be one of those times. "Take a few minutes. Let me know if it's still getting worse."

-- it occurs to him, belatedly, that this is Nephrite's library from then and God knows what's in those books. But it can't be too bad. He was in the room himself, and nothing affected him noticeably.

That's probably all behind those do-not-touch doors.
Nephrite 2016-05-07 07:00:27 40785
Fortunately for both the visitors below, most of the books are just books. Astrology charts. Physics. The mythology of several different pantheons. The stuff about dark matter is literally just dry writings on dark matter.

Upstairs, Nephrite closes his eyes for a moment, laying his hands over hers. "I wouldn't change it either," he says. Easy to say now that the horrors are behind them. No less true. He takes a breath. "You're right, of course. And it's a little late for me to second-guess what we're doing here now, right?"

He slides reluctantly from her embrace. Back to work. "I guess if I ever decide to get rid of it all, I can at least donate it. Some lucky guy may be destined to inherit my hand-tailored imported Italian suit in pastel pink.
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 07:17:07 40787
Back to work! Makoto skims her hand over Nephrite's shoulder as they separate and she heads back to continue her own task. "See?" she agrees with a grin. "You get your stuff back, or you make someone else happy with it. A win either way."

She has just about packed the bag to capacity when she pauses again, this time looking toward the door back out into the hall. Quiet down there. "You know," Mako says conversationally, brows drawing together, "it's just occurred to me, but is it really a good idea for us to split up like this? I feel like I've seen a lot of movies that started this way."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 07:18:53 40788
There may not be any intentional prying going on, but the touch does reveal that Mamoru's psychic shielding somewhat resembles the condition of the decaying pocket dimension, and that what's behind it is irritable and sleepy and cold and coping with a lot of input that isn't making it past his perception filters correctly. Also that he hurts. But that's covered by the irritability.

The touch also results in Mamoru closing his eyes for a moment to, yes, focus on steady solidity; the stability lets him realign, more or less. "Okay," he says simply, opening his too-blue eyes again and looking up at Kunzite as he drops his henshin and the mask fades away. There's a moment where he's just looking, not saying anything at all-- and then he briefly presses the side of his face against Kunzite's hand, then folds himself up into the chair more comfortably.

"I may fall asleep. That's okay, though. It's not like hypothermia or drowning."

Because his eldest guardian may not know the difference between hypothermia, drowning, and sleep.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 07:36:06 40790
It is nearly one hundred percent certain that Kunzite not only knows the difference between hypothermia, drowning, and sleep, but knows or used to know what Endymion looked like in the process of all of them. He came by his paranoia honestly.

... granted, a lot of it predated his meeting Endymion.

Despite everything, despite the internal spark of alarm at the parts of Mamoru's condition that he's been keeping to himself -- some of those, after all, may be due to the location they're in temporarily -- that moment of just looking is met with almost a smile. Smoothing down dark hair is more a reflex than anything else. "Sleep if you need to. I'll trust that if you'd managed to give yourself a concussion in the last few hours, you'd have at least thought to mention it."

Nonetheless, when Kunzite returns to cleaning out the desk, he keeps Mamoru in his field of view at all times. He's fairly sure the books aren't actively evil. He's fairly sure there is not, in fact, a youma lurking in the place, or a leftover familiar, or any of the other possibilities that he considers regularly and generally discards.

He's also fairly sure he doesn't trust the damned house itself. So he keeps watch while he works. Just in case.
Nephrite 2016-05-07 07:46:21 40792
"So you admit that the pink suit will make someone, somewhere, happy. See, you're warming to it already." Nephrite finishes emptying out the closet and ties the bag up. Not much to pack up after all, really. So much that is replaceable. So much that was never real to begin with.

He raises eyebrows at her, straightening. "What, like, slasher flicks? You think there could be a chainsaw murderer lurking downstairs? Or--" he utters a gasp "what if it's upstairs? What if we're the ones about to be murdered?"

Nephrite drops the bag and launches himself across the room, arms wrapping around her. "Oh Mako-chan! Protect me!"
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 07:57:31 40798
"Wh--hey!" That's about as much of an intelligent response as Makoto has the chance to make before Nephrite's glommed onto her with enough enthusiasm to nearly take her off her feet. "Cut it out!"

She loops an arm around his shoulders, thumps him against his chest with her other hand. "Cut it out!" she laughs. "If there were a chainsaw murderer lurking anywhere in this house I'm sure he'd be full of regret by now."
Nephrite 2016-05-07 20:54:14 40843
Nephrite loops an arm around Makoto's waist, laughing. A real laugh this time. "Of course he'd be full of regret! You would electrify his chainsaw. Kunzite would look at him. Mamoru would criticize the mask he's wearing. It would definitely be a worse time for him than it would be for us."

He scoops up the bag he had been holding again, and slings it over his shoulder. "Isn't it nice not to have to worry about mundane problems like chainsaw murderers because you're in an ephemeral house in a pocket universe sustained by dark energy?"
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 20:57:33 40844
Makoto stops in the act of reaching for the bag she'd finished packing up to turn her head and look at Nephrite, as though he'd suddenly begin speaking in a language she's not quite sure she recognizes but she's pretty sure he didn't actually mean to say anything involving hovercrafts or eels.

Their lives, not quite like other people's. She's been at this almost a year but sometimes it still hits her. "Is that a trick question?" she can't resist the impulse to ask, wryly.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 21:02:57 40846
The almost-smile is met by one that is usually its somewhat more wry mirror, but in this silent moment there's none of the wryness, none of the potential irony. The prince is too much of scraps and cobwebs and exhaustion for anything but a warm and complete trust through the contact. The clarity and stable ground he's offered is taken for that moment, cherished, but released without regret because of that trust: there are things for Kunzite to do and Endymion is safe, there in his sight and in his space, despite what surrounds them.

As soon as Kunzite moves off to continue with the papers, the black-haired boy sinks into sleep.

There's nothing unusual about this: his features smooth out; one hand curls up by his face where it leans against the side of the wingback; the other falls loosely open to that side of his folded-up legs; his glasses smush askew and his breathing evens.

In the tattering walls, energy is silently spent, and the localized reality afforded by the current occupants of the house's rooms is blood in the water.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 21:13:51 40847
Safe. If Kunzite ever took anything as safe, he wouldn't still be spending so many days sleeping while the others are technically in class; so many nights and early mornings awake while the others sleep, or while Nephrite communes with the stars. He doesn't count Mamoru as safe in his own home, let alone in this one.

It's the best he can do for now, that's all.

He produces cord and a knife; binds the papers he's salvaged already, stacks made into neat packages separated by drawers, tucked into a bag of their own. Maybe they can grab it if they have to leave in a hurry; or maybe, if not, the plastic will protect the paper a little if they have to return. Doesn't matter. Next drawer, with a careful splitting of attention between the work his hands are doing and the sleeping boy in his peripheral vision, the quiet breathing in a pattern as familiar as his own.
Nephrite 2016-05-07 21:22:12 40848
"Nnnnooooooo?" Nephrite looks at her innocently. Sort of innocently. "Okay, I guess maybe that doesn't sound so great, after all. But! It's not boring, and you're here with me. I'm sorry you had to see my weird spooky house."

He tugs at the hem of his shirt. A fitted button-up, nothing too outrageous. "You guys are all great for coming with me on this. I would have chickened out at the front door for sure. Maybe I shouldn't have let Mamoru come with us. He's got enough going on." But leaving Mamoru would have likely meant leaving Kunzite behind too, and then it would all be on Makoto to be the moral support.

He brightens, shrugging that off. "Anyway, most importantly: no chainsaw murderers."
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 21:33:25 40849
"I'm pretty sure if you'd tried to stop him from coming along, he'd have insisted," Makoto notes, smiling. "Or at least sulked about it. And why are you apologizing?" She hefts her own bag, casually hipchecks Nephrite before she starts to turn toward the door. "I don't mind. I'm happy to be able to help."

A little laugh escapes her and she shakes her head, eyes bright. "I mean, if there were chainsaw murderers it'd be a different story," Mako teases. "But I'm kind of glad I got the chance to see this. Even if it is creepy as hell."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 21:45:03 40850
The laughter upstairs is an easy thing. The quiet work downstairs is watchful, and the sleeping prince is the same beacon he's always been.

The house has a memory. There is distant recognition of Makoto through her attachment with Nephrite, whose soul it knows, whose soul was laid bare to it with black holes and knives and drowning stars. There is confused recognition of Kunzite, who it thinks it tried to kill once, who it thinks visited on at least several occasions, or maybe only once, or maybe many times-- but the confusion is more real than the recognition, because where once the white-haired man was made of the same stuff, resonant and vicious, there is now what it sees as a blank clean brightness, matching the changed natures of Nephrite and the prince, matching the girl it knows is tied to Nephrite.

And there is the prince, who used it to hide for a precious few moments; there is the prince, who was filled with darkness and fighting it; there is the prince, whose fighting is spent and whose defenses are in shreds.

There is the reality that the house is disintegrating.

There is the reality of the living people who have stars within their hearts, vast stores of energy, attachments to even greater stores, vectors of corruption and attack and imperial colonialism and manifest destiny.

There is the reality that life does not want to end, however unreal, however twisted and shadowed and made of dust and rot and the memories of other places and imagination and dreams.

Mamoru sleeps, and the house watches.

Mamoru dreams, and--

An uncanny and sudden hush falls over every room in the place, and in a cathedral-sized room that soars upward with bright stained glass windows and nothing within but dust and floorboards, a galaxy blooms to life, silent and turning in a stately, malevolent dance.

Darkness pools in the shadows, and shadows become sharper with no apparent source of light. The walls watch, invisible eyes tracking Makoto's movements, tracking Nephrite's existence, tracking Kunzite's awareness. The walls do not move. The walls are solid, and the silence is deafening.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 21:52:07 40851
There is silence.

And in the library, an armful of papers is shoved into plastic, the bag held in one hand as the one holding it stands up; there is a change without words that leaves grays behind, night-blue and cloud-white, and empty hands that lift to summon shadows of their own, calling them to shield a dreaming prince.

Something is here, Kunzite thinks.

He has it the wrong way around.
Makoto Kino 2016-05-07 21:53:27 40852
"...Neph?" Makoto breathes, suddenly standing very still. She's not looking at Nephrite. She's too busy watching the room, gripped by the sudden unshakeable feeling that it is watching her back. "Are you thinking maybe we should not have run our mouths about chainsaw murderers right now, or is that just me?"
Nephrite 2016-05-07 22:00:55 40853
Nephrite snakes his free arm around her waist again as they make for the door. "I could have maybe been less obviously worked up about coming here," he confesses. "Then maybe he wouldn't have to insist." Or he could have argued. And see how well his own stubbornness holds up against his prince's. That could have only ended well.

He laughs. "Really, you're glad you got to see all of this?" He sweeps his hand away from her, over the decaying walls, the ornate chandelier hanging over the stairs that looks like shattered glass suspended in time. He walks a few paces ahead of her, confident in the solidity of the familiar path. "I don't know, even if it weren't falling apart, this is so obviously my edgy Hitchcock phase--"

He pauses. The house seems to pause too. He turns back to Makoto. "This is... this doesn't feel right."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 22:28:44 40854
Upstairs, Nephrite's let go of Makoto to run his hand over the walls and the chandelier; the glass, or crystal, of the thing should be ringing from a thousand tiny impacts for whole seconds after Nephrite's fingers run through the shards, but the silence of the house swallows up the sound.

Every tread of Nephrite's feet call more solidity to the floorboards, the rich carpeting, the painted or papered walls, but the light isn't light, and the shadows are alive. He turns back to Makoto, and in the first instant, he sees what he expects to: the beautiful strong girl who gave her all to save him, and then gave it again, with him, to save their princess and prince.

As he completes the turn and the word 'right' leaves his mouth, it's like his words are the determining factor. No, the house agrees, this isn't right. Mako isn't right. There's a fixed smile on her face, a mockery of the warm and bright look she has for him because it's edged with panic, and her eyes are blank and glassy and unseeing. The corridor around her resolves, becomes clear and defined and rich and new, and she melts like the wings of Icarus.

It's almost her voice out of her mouth, speaking from behind that rictus.

"Everything is all right. You're asleep. This is only a nightmare. But maybe you should have argued mmmm---" comes out before she loses cohesion and splashes to the floor, sinking into the carpet and brightening it.

Downstairs, the prince is motionless in the bubble. Maybe it's only the shadows that Kunzite's shields are made from that make him look leached of color, his bright green t-shirt grey underneath the loose formerly-tan button-down, his dark blue jeans a darker grey, his skin ghostly white.

The shadows move, and the books remain unchanged, but the furniture becomes brighter and less decrepit, the walls seal themselves up and glittering dark patterns burn themselves into the paint. Something is smiling. None of this has the same energy as a witch's labyrinth, but the flavor of it remains, soaked into the floors and ceilings, soaked into the memory of plaster and the idle thought of gold candelabras.

The wingback chair into which the motionless prince is folded has become brighter, more colorful, as gold embroidered red upholstery refreshes and polished dark wood gleams once more.
Nephrite 2016-05-07 23:03:57 40855
A nightmare. Yes, this is a nightmare. Only in a nightmare would he watch as she fades from his sight. Only in a nightmare would the seconds tick by in silence while he helplessly tries to move, tries to scream, tries to make some muscle obey him--

He's already screaming her name when finally he's scrambling forward, sinking onto his knees on the carpet, fingers digging through the vibrantly red and gold fibers like he can dig down and find her underneath. But the floor holds solid, more solid than it ever was. She's gone. She's gone. "MAKO! KUNZITE!"

It's automatic, getting Kunzite's attention the moment things turn sour. He doesn't even think about it. About whether what he wants is for Kunzite to come help, or for him to get Mamoru out right now. That's a decision for the leader to make.

Nephrite scrambles to his feet, searching frantically. She can't be dead. Not from an over-decorated gothic mansion he thought up when he was a teenage edgelord. She is somewhere and he will find her. "MAKO!"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-07 23:20:53 40856
"Mamoru." The name is spoken quietly, levelly. No hint of the reaction that has Kunzite crossing the space between them in a couple of strides, reaching through the shields he'd woven to touch a ghost-white cheek, to lay a hand on a motionless shoulder.

There is something in him that makes him test, first. Makes him press gloved fingertips between the prince's shoulder and the chair's upholstery, to be certain they're still separate at all. Makes him postpone for just a few seconds the urge to sweep the boy up into his arms and simply flicker out of existence with him, to return for the other two after he is safe --

(This place is not a normal place. Not precisely a place on the Earth, but a place that presses parts of the Earth aside. A space with its own laws. A space that has begun to try to define itself. Trying to interact directly with that space -- without the quick, lethal shortcut of stepping through the Dusk Zone -- is liable to have its own set of hazards. And those patterns taking form --)

Nephrite's voice, echoing.

No more quiet now.

"HERE!" Confirmation he's heard. Confirmation someone else is still present, still conscious. What Kunzite does after that --

-- depends on what condition Mamoru is in.

-- depends on whether that's still Mamoru at all.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-07 23:47:39 40860
Well, there's another county heard from: Kunzite's voice, audible from below. But all the lights down the other end of the hall just came on, and there's an indistinct voice yelling something unintelligible behind a door that Nephrite may not remember being there. And then there's pounding on that door, frantic and desperate. It's only a little further. Maybe it's Makoto. It doesn't sound like Makoto-- but then, neither did she, a moment ago.

Every tick of the second hand means more energy bleeding into the house from-- somewhere. Means more of the house becoming solid. The door that he and Makoto came out from, it's slowly closing.

('Let me out! Oh god let me out-- LET ME OUT!')

It doesn't sound at all like Mako. It sounds like Nephrite.

Downstairs-- yes, the prince's face is still separate from the side of the wingback chair. His skin is as chilly as porcelain, as white as paper, stark against the black of his hair, which no longer has highlights like a raven's wing. Stark monochrome, motionless. Still, there is a rise and fall to his chest, slight and shallow and slow. His eyes move behind his eyelids. He gives no response, and Kunzite's gloves mute any voice the touch might grant.

Floorboards creak overhead.

All of the windows, simultaneously, go completely black; there's a creak as the front door opens.

The energy movement is something that Kunzite can read, can see, can feel-- but he's steeped in it, it's ambient, it's the air. There are only currents, as those in the deep ocean. The house is flooding and it's a ragged, viciously happy, feral mess: an intelligence waking to find it's been neglected, shut out, left behind, and its father has come home with food and light and sustenance and a stranger it cannot touch. It's pulling energy from the prince, that's certain, but more--

--there is the scent of roses gone black and rotting.
Nephrite 2016-05-08 00:03:38 40864
Two doors. One that should not be there. That has no business being there. Holding some unknown person. Some unknown thing. The other, exactly as it should be. Except it is closing.

The house does not want him to go back through that door. But there is nothing in there, right? Makoto can't be there.

Just moments ago, they were laughing about horror films. Every one that he has ever seen made it very clear that the mysterious new door with the spotlights pointed at it is not the door to enter.

He grabs for the doorknob. Something wants out. He'd better let it out.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-08 00:21:11 40867
It's pulling energy from the prince. His shadows should be able to stop that, to deflect Mamoru's energy back into him -- but not all of the energy is passing through those shadows.

Kunzite doesn't disperse them, all the same. Narrowing the channel might buy a little time. He gathers the dreambound prince up in his arms, a too-familiar heavy weight, and starts for the --

There's a creak as the front door opens, and for just a moment, he closes his eyes.

There's no way around it. This is Nephrite's place; he created it. All the answers that exist to what might work, what it might be capable of, what it might have done to Mamoru and what he might leave behind if they tear him free from the place, are bound up in his mind and memory. They both toyed with spaces and energies, true, but their approaches are entirely different; what comes easily and naturally to Nephrite is alien to Kunzite's thinking entirely. The odds of his sorting any of those answers out in time alone are uncomfortably close to nil.

Which means he has to reach Nephrite. Who has gone silent.

Which means he has to reenter the grand hallway, evade whatever the front door opened for, find his way up one of the staircases that flank the door not to be opened at all. While carrying an unconscious teenager. While most of his power has always depended on his hands being free.

He breathes out. Shifts the boy over one shoulder, an ungraceful pose that at least leaves him one hand. Calls his sword to that hand, and hopes it's his sword that answers. And starts after his brother, bracing himself against whatever else might find him on the way.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-08 00:35:58 40868
He grabs for the doorknob, and it's warm; he twists it, and the door opens, and a sickly sweet wind blows out of it and brings a flutter of dust that sparkles like mica and bits of half-burnt paper, mixed with sakura petals. A deep blue gem clatters to the floor at Nephrite's feet, and the hallway beyond -- for it is no room, but a wide hall built of white stone, with arches and pillars to either side -- is a familiar one, even if it shouldn't be, can't be. Thorny vines curl up the pillars, and the warm air smells of roses and ash.

When Kunzite makes it into the grand front hallway with its curving staircases and its locked door--

--no, the Door That Must Not Be Opened stands gaping wide, the insides resplendent with the glittering of stars and nebulae and tracings in gold of constellations familiar and alien. Across from it (was it across from it before?) is the equally open front door, and Minako Aino, in her school uniform, stands on the threshold looking uncertain and holding the Holy Sword in one white fist. She sees Kunzite and her worried expression clears, making way for something that wants to be angry and wants to be relieved and is instead just a mess covered by a mask of flippancy. "Usagi-chan sent me to collect her boyfriend. Hand him over and I'll take him to her," she tells him with a bright smile, sheathing the sword in the air and holding her arms out.

"Then I'll come back and help you find Mako-chan."
Nephrite 2016-05-08 00:59:11 40872
Nephrite stumbles back. This isn't him. He didn't make this. Zoisite's palace is ancient, unfathomable, predates everything he has ever conceived of in this life. The mansion, with its mockery of trees, might very likely have been inspired by Nephrite's own palace, in part.

Did he fall through some portal to Zoisite's palace? Was there always some secret door that could lead him there?

Of course not. Even if Nephrite had ever wanted, in his heart of hearts, to do that (and given how wary he and Zoisite were of each other in the Dark Kingdom, unlikely), there is no way that he could have created such a thing back then. He did not know of the palace, could not access it himself.

Nephrite stares wildly around. It feels like Zoisite. Why?

"MAKO!" He bellows down the impossible white hall, hesitating where he entered. To continue down its length, to who knows where, or go back? He is wasting time. But so much more time could be wasted if he is lost in whatever this too-familiar place is. Absently, only because stopping himself from being drawn to it would be impossible, he scoops up the blue gem.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-08 01:12:52 40876
The last thing that Kunzite means to do is hesitate. But he can't, in that first moment, do anything else. Not because of the Door, not because of the clear sight into the heart of the place, not because of the confirmation that the place itself has woken. Only because of bright gold hair, and a bright red bow, and that expression.

For an instant he's still. For an instant, it comes closer than he'd ever like to admit to working.

But when she speaks, it tells him that she doesn't see what he does.

"I saw her not ten minutes ago. She's just upstairs." -- he can't watch both directions at once. He takes a step toward the nearside stairway, trusting that the floor will still be solid under his feet, uneasy about the possibility that he's being herded, that the place is trying to set up a condition in which it wins either way. "Let's find her first. Then one of you can watch the other's back on the way out. Besides. it'll save you a trip."

Every moment she's only talking is another moment he can close in on the stairs. Another moment he doesn't have to think past the talking part --

Another shout echoes. Kunzite lets out a quick breath. Good. He's still there. Relief has a familiar wording. "DAMMIT, NEPHRITE!"
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-08 01:58:16 40881
And is it even Zoisite's palace? It feels like him -- but that could be the stone. It's warm in Nephrite's hand, a living thing. The wide, bright white stone hallway ahead of him, with its vines and its memories, isn't. The vines belong to roses, thorned and creeping, but the petals scattering across the paving stones are black, and there are no blooms in sight. Black petals, like the charred paper--

His voice, shouted into the absence disguised as a walkway, is swallowed.

There's a shift like someone turning over in bed or like a radio station having interference, and the walls are of dull grey stone, aged and cracked, and instead of greenery to the other sides of the arches, there's ice and snow and still more stone. Still, there's only silence except for the sound of the wind, and on that wind, bitter ash and dead flowers.

You're asleep. This is a nightmare, the melting Makoto's voice states calmly from her unmoving rictus of a mouth.

Impossibly, stars wheel overhead, instead of the roof of the hallway he knows is there. She's ahead. She's in there. She's not there. She's dead.

Change is the only constant, whispers the stone, alive in Nephrite's hand.

On the heels of Kunzite's shout is Minako's. "Dammit, KUNZITE! She's not just upstairs and you know it! Nephrite is no blind poet, raging against the colorless darkness with stars and words-- he can't find her, and if you don't give me the prince, you won't be able to save him! I can take him home! He's fading, here-- can't you see it?"

She's pleading as much as she's yelling, afraid as much as she's angry, and her arms are wide, and still she doesn't cross the threshold. Until-- until the first of Kunzite's feet treads upon the bottom step. And then stars begin to spill from the gaping doorway to the cathedral of the heavens, drifting and pooling, tossed by the energy currents, whirling in invisible eddies.

Minako presses through the barrier of the door, and the darkness behind her lights up into impossible blue skies and green grass, crisp sharp snow-capped mountains, wildflowers dotting the meadow behind her. "Let me take him home!"
Nephrite 2016-05-08 02:26:25 40886
Shifting sky. Shifting walls. It's too much like the bitter fears that Nephrite tries to ignore. He's got a bag of clothes sitting somewhere in the hall he just left because he needs things to cling to. Solidness, certainty. Panic is rising now, the frantic need to find Makoto compounding with those fears.

He takes another step backwards, the blue stone gripped in his palm. A nightmare? His nightmares would certainly look like this. But he has felt this disorientation before, and it was no dream. The witch's labyrinth may haunt him still, but it was practice. His free hand reaches out for something tangible, something real. Kunzite summoned his sword to himself. Nephrite comes up with his halberd.

His fingers wrap around the heavy weight. "I'm not asleep. And you're not Mako. Give her back to me!"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-08 02:49:45 40888
That's not Minako. Something else wearing her face, her eyes. Almost all of the words she's using might be hers. Just enough are wrong, just enough have the flavor of someone else's voice -- and that's almost as bad. It might be a signal that what she's urging really is the right thing to do. There's enough truth mixed in that he can't be certain.

Stars drift free, beginning to escape from beyond the door Nephrite warned them about. And still Kunzite doesn't know -- stars are Nephrite's; is their increasing freedom a sign that Nephrite's making progress of some kind? Or are these the things that he didn't want to consider? Everything around him is a code with a thousand symbols, and he doesn't have the key --

The darkness lights, and something inside Kunzite tears at him. There. That way. There. If there were one thing that he'd wish most to undo, one thing he could restore -- those skies. Forgotten flowers. If she really could take his prince there --

That's not a door that she can unlock. Not now. Not yet. Maybe someone will, someday, if they all manage to live long enough. But if that door were open, he would know.

"I thought you said you were taking him to Usagi."

Taking the next step up is not the hardest thing he's ever done. The one after comes quicker, and the one after that. When he can't tell which way is the right one to go -- make a choice, and stay with it; because staying still is certainly the wrong one.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-08 03:17:16 40892
Reality -- such as it is -- shudders, and there's a clang as Sailor Venus drops the Holy Sword to the floor. She watches Kunzite step up, away from her, and her arms are bandaged and her hands are covered in bright blood, too bright, as bright as the idea of blood. She doesn't follow him. "He told me I could give it to someone else," she whispers, and the whisper cracks.

Stars spill faster and faster into the ground floor, glittering darkness sloshing like water and eddying around the bottom of the staircase, around Venus' bright orange high heels. It swallows the sword, it swallows the carpeting, and it creeps up her mile-long legs.

She screams as the stars and the shadows swallow her whole. "HE LIED. HE LIED. YOUR PRINCE IS A LIAR! HE DESERVES IT!"

There's a rushing sound and the scharp scent of citrus and the muzzy prickle of cinnamon and clove wash through the ground floor, and the open cathedral door stares at Kunzite as he ascends. It's good that the white-haired guardian has a black and white prince in one arm and a silver sword in the other hand, because the bannisters fall away into the blackness, and the space between the steps is, for a moment, a lie. But reality shrugs and Endymion's breathing changes and the steps are solid.

Nephrite's halberd is in hand, and Kunzite's feet are on the stairs behind him, and there's a weight in his pocket that wasn't there before. Smoke curls through the walkway ahead, and the open door is wider than it was a moment ago, isn't it? Wider, and it's still not supposed to be a door there. He knows that there should be a linen closet on one side, a bed on the other, there should be a wall on the other side of that wall, there should--

It's not the grey and ancient stone of the hallways of the human-built part of the Dark Kingdom, now. It's not the wide bright white stone walkway with the creeping thorny vines and the scattering black petals. It's still a hallway, but it's a dimly lit one, with buzzing flourescent lights overhead and smooth linoleum underfoot, walls institution-green-painted cinderblock. An overloaded and never-cleared bulletin board frays on the wall ahead, and there's an open door to one side with light spilling out; it's one of those wooden doors with a frosted window inset. There were characters painted on the glass once, but too much has chipped away to allow for legibility.

"I'm very sorry," a stranger's voice is murmuring, ahead. There are shadows there: a much, much shorter one moves back, away from a much taller one. A child. A little girl. A very angry little girl. Her shadow vibrates with rage.

(In the distance, another child's voice shouts, livid and broken, 'GIVE THEM BACK TO HER. GIVE THEM BACK.')

A door opens and shuts at the end of a hall, and another very small child -- this one glowing white and silver, ringlets hanging from odango to either side of her face, is looking curiously out of the glass in the door when it's flat again. A reflection. Her blue eyes shine.
Nephrite 2016-05-08 03:37:22 40896
This doesn't resemble any nightmare Nephrite has had, now. Was he ever in a hospital before that time he visited Mamoru? Probably, but he does not remember it. He has no emotional association with them, one way or another.

He thought, maybe, that if the house was weaving some illusion, it was drawing on things he introduced into it. Zoisite's palace, Zoisite's stone, because he was here sometimes. He was here on that most important night, when the memories were an inescapable force. But this... he has no explanation for this.

He has a halberd in his hand and nothing to swing at but walls that refuse to retain their shape. And children. One who looks like--well, surely a certain princess is not the only girl in the world who has worn her hair like that.

Footsteps on the stairs, and he does not want to turn his back on this door. The door that should not be here. "Kunzite?" He calls. "I seriously hope that's you." He reaches into his pocket, with the hand that holds the zoisite, to see what that new weight is.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-08 03:51:33 40900
He turns away. Leaves her to the stars and the darkness, to his blood and her wounds. They break each other's hearts, the two of them. It's all they've ever been able to do.

"Don't listen to her," he says quietly, to the air, to the sleeper. "We're here." There's that calm certainty in his voice; he's used it so often that he can draw it up despite anything else he might be feeling. He can insist that the second sentence is truth --

For a moment, it almost isn't, as the stairs try to change under him. His left arm tightens around the prince as something reasserts itself; he drives his own reactions away, and moves faster.

Nephrite's voice, again. Maybe actually Nephrite. Maybe something like Venus -- "I could say the same, about now." Kunzite draws a breath through his teeth. Waits till he can see Nephrite before saying more. "It's trying to draw on Endymion for stability. I've got him." Why did he say that. Thankfully, Nephrite missed that particular moment. "Don't know if it's safe to try to pull him out. Makoto?" Missing. Plainly. But still --
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-08 04:26:01 40901
That new weight is another stone, smooth and translucent but not transparent, with the same cut as the blue; this one is a green so pale it's nearly white. Along with warmth and malleability and purifying flame, there are patterns now; there is symmetry and the endurance of granite; there is cool water and collection. Clarity and brightness, both, to shore up sharp wit and purity of purpose.

The house may be drawing on Endymion, but Endymion is drawing on them. He's still dreaming in fractures; he's still in black and white and shades of grey; he's still cold; he's still breathing... and he;s still slung over Kunzite's shoulder like a sack of potatoes. The house is spending too much energy, spending recklessly, spending like it's aiming for the sovereign debt crisis of 2009; if it wins, it keeps them all. If it wins, it doesn't die. If it fails-- well.

The edges of the corridor ahead are limned with gold, cracks in the walls filled with stars; it does not smell like a hospital. It smells, still, of roses and ash; it's cold, the warm wind vanished in favor of stillness and a cloying chill.

At the end of that hall, the reflection of the tiny princess starts to cry. She cradles a barn cat, of all things. The door opens again, letting out a man in a white coat, holding a clipboard. His glasses obscure his eyes, and his face is ill-defined. There's a police badge clipped to the pocket of the lab coat, and a boy so furious he's crying trails behind him. Every once in a while he tries to kick at the man but his foot just goes right through. He's not so very young after all: twelve, maybe. Possibly thirteen. Black hair and an unmistakeable face-- a younger version, in full color, of the ghostly white one belonging to the older boy hanging over Kunzite's shoulder. "Give them back," he hisses.

The man ignores him, ignores them all. Moves to the door that's open, reaches in and pulls out the girl whose shadow they saw. She's maybe ten, eleven-- tall for her age. Brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. Rose earrings. Rage written all over her face. He holds her arm, and she wrenches it free and glares up at him.

"You have to identify them," the man tells her implacably.

"No you don't!!" yells the boy, but she can't hear him either. "You're dreaming! This is a dream! This isn't real!"

The door at the end of the hall shuts, and the tiny princess and the dead cat are gone; no more reflection. Behind the Shitennou, the staircase collapses in a wash of liquid shadow and whirling stars. So much for the ten bottles of priceless alcohol and the televisions. Maybe. Maybe this really is a dream.

It must be: there's nothing behind them but the cathedral of heaven, stained glass windows painting floorboards in a faded riot of color.

"I WON'T!" the younger Makoto yells.

"You'll come to a bad end like them if you keep behaving this badly," the man tells her, then shoves her back in the door and slams it shut. He glares at the two guardians at the end of the hall. "You'll do. I'm sure you both know what dead things look like. You've abandoned enough of them, even if they weren't even dead yet." Then he gestures at the door just over the threshold they stand beyond, and it opens, and it is absolutely a morgue. There's only one body bag on the table, though. Someone undefined is in there, pausing in the act of zipping it up-- pausing is the wrong word. The person freezes like a still frame. He's in the way of the body's face, but brown curls spill from the edge of the table just to one side of him.
Nephrite 2016-05-08 04:47:31 40902
"--I don't know." Nephrite bites the words of sharply, breathing rapid, white-knuckle grip on the halberd. "I don't know where she is. It's got her somewhere."

"Wait--Endy? What do you mean, pull him...?" Nephrite can't help it. He glances back fully at Kunzite now, sees the prince slung over his shoulder. The urge to race to Kunzite's side is only momentary--if Kunzite is not waking him up just yet, then Nephrite certainly is not going to help. He takes a breath. "--Okay. Okay. If it's using him, then this," he swings the halberd blade vaguely at the hospital hallway, "this is starting to make sense. A hospital. Of course. It has to be him." He holds up his palm, where two familiar stones rest. "It's using him, but maybe he's using it back.

Sure enough, the impossible hallway alters. Nephrite can only watch, transfixed by the tragic scene. Scenes. Plural. "It's using her too," he mutters, as the officer berates the very familiar little girl. And then he cannot say more, because what he most wants to do is pull the girl into his arms, and he does not think that will work right now.

He wants to tell the officer to stuff it. He is about to, too, when he sees those brown curls. And though it is probably exactly the wrong decision to make, Nephrite springs forward. "MAKO!"
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-08 05:07:00 40903
If it wins, it keeps them all.

For a little while.

Until the flowers bloom.

If there were anything more Kunzite could do to wake the prince slung over his shoulder, he'd be doing it. But Mamoru's been sleeping through shouting, through the jolt of movement, through potato-sack indignity more likely to wake him than either. There's one thing Kunzite hasn't tried: he hasn't touched him yet, not skin to skin. But that's not something to try without someone else there to break the contact if things start going more wrong than they already are.

Using Makoto too? "Using all of us." It's a good sign, then. Her nightmares are a sign she's still alive; and if she's alive, she's fighting. Kunzite glances aside from the change, tracks the younger boy, trying to sort out what he sees, what he can respond to --

-- drops any attempt to when he hears Nephrite's shout. And he's moving before he can even see what he's moving into. If it's the wrong choice, if the stained glass (stained glass, hell, is that where that came from) cathedral devours the hall behind them, if it's a trick they shouldn't have fallen for -- doesn't matter. He follows.

Five months, five years, the last lifetime, was enough. He's not letting this place separate them, too.
Makoto Kino 2016-05-08 05:15:13 40904
That spill of brown curls was not just a tease. As they get closer, they can see inside the body bag where it lies open on the table: it is Makoto, her fifteen-year-old self. Her eyes are closed, and she is pale and very still.

Until Nephrite shouts her name.

Without warning, her eyes snap open, bright green in the pallor of her face, half-focused and confused. The first thing she manages to focus on is the shape of the man leaning over her, the bag half-zipped around her - she reacts reflexively, rearing up out of the body bag to ram her fist directly into the man's face.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-08 05:34:44 40905
The man in the hall is gone, because the still-frame has broken and he starts to straighten to step backward when Mako's eyes open, but she's as fast as lightning and her punch is a thunderbolt to the face. His glasses shatter and he collapses in on himself like a skyscraper, scattering to the floor in a mess of rose petals and ash, and there's a faint gasp from behind Nephrite and Kunzite; Makoto will see past them, see the twelve-year-old Mamoru smiling at her, for a split second. The sight of him's obscured by the moving Shitennou, and when the line of sight is clear again, he's gone.

The lanky teenager slung over Kunzite's shoulder stirs, but it is only shifting in sleep, a deeper breath amid the shallow ones. There is still no color to him, and if anyone but Kunzite were carrying him, the contrast would be more startling, more unsettling. The near-black of his jeans and the deep black of his hair have both been fading incrementally, like a silver-plate photograph left in the sun, too gradually to notice; when Mako awakens, the energy flow around them shifts and Kunzite can feel it pulling more heavily on Endymion, washing through him, a torrent. Less and less black, more and more exposure-- his shirts are white, his jeans and hair grey.

There is no pattern but what you exert, whispers the pale green stone.

Burn it all to make room, whispers the deep blue one. Burn it clean.

Bring down the false heavens. Shatter the illusions. This place is still yours.

The hallway outside is gone, and the floor they stand on is made of polished-smooth blue sandstone, curved, scattered with forest debris. Clean ocean air wars with the heavy stillness and the rotting rose and acrid burning smells; the metal table Makoto's sitting on is a bench outside of an office. The door is open, and it looks as though bottled lighting were set loose there, breakage and char everywhere, traced patterns on the walls. There's a taser on the floor next to the desk.
Nephrite 2016-05-08 05:55:04 40906
Finally he can obey that impulse. Nephrite scoops up Makoto, body bag and all, clinging to her tightly. She's real and solid. She doesn't melt away at his touch. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. My house ate you."

He can apologize for that a million times more when they're safely in a place that is not at risk of melting away around them. He peers down at the stones in his hand. "Still mine? Then I guess it's mine to destroy."

He points his halberd up at what looks like sky. Bring down the false heavens? He can start with this one. Bright white starlight fires up into it.
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-08 06:09:38 40907
A deeper breath. That's a hint of a good sign -- and so is the way that Makoto moves. Venus was half-characteristic of herself. That instant's flare to violence, to self-protection in lieu of anyone else to protect, is far more than only half. And if Nephrite comes in too fast and she hits him, too, well, he'll be more than able to live with that.

Kunzite has his own problems to deal with.

He never has banished the shield he formed around Endymion, that interrupts some part of the drain on the boy's energy. That slows things down, narrows the channel, keeps the place from taking as much as it otherwise would. When Mako awakens, the place draws harder on Mamoru -- and against Kunzite's shields. A minute or two ago, it was only a casual effort to keep them in place. Now it's rather more --

And that stray discarded thing in the office is a neat strike against his ability to concentrate.

Not enough of one. Not enough, barely, and only because it's something they settled before. But it's still interesting, maybe useful, to know that the place is still trying to break Kunzite, too; it means it doesn't have acute enough perceptions to realize that it's a little late. Not that it matters. He learned to operate that way in the first place.

Still. His voice is a little strained. "That's down to you two. I can't help and try to strangle this thing at the same time."

It's probably good that he's carrying Endymion the way he is. Fewer possible unpleasant misunderstandings of that phrase.
Makoto Kino 2016-05-08 06:33:02 40908
Fortunately for everyone, by the time Nephrite's crossed the remaining distance between them, Makoto's conscious mind is firing on enough cylinders to recognize him and he doesn't have to be a casualty of the defensive reflex that had her coming up out of the bag punching. Instead she curls one of her arms around his shoulder and leans into him, other hand shoving at the body bag.

"Geez," she says, slightly breathless. "What's your stupid house's problem?"

Mako squirms within Nephrite's embrace to kick at the heavy black bag until it finally releases her from its skin-crawling confines, and then she's looking up, eyes flicking quickly from Nephrite to Kunzite and his increasingly colorless burden. "Are you guys okay? What's it done to Mamoru-niisan?"
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-08 06:58:26 40909
Kunzite is struggling, and the house-- the house is listening and watching, always, and as Nephrite hears what the voices of his brothers might say, and Kunzite strangles its hold on the unconscious prince with will and magic, the house panics.

It's a good thing Makoto's kicking that bodybag off, because it's turned to the glittering liquid darkness that ate the downstairs and tries to slop back up her leg and pull her back in, the way it took the phantom of Minako. She's still hanging on to Nephrite, though, and the two of them are more real than anything around them save Kunzite and Mamoru, so it doesn't stand a chance.

Even the blue sandstone on which they stand, so close to where (the office is gone, the taser is gone) Nephrite nearly gave up-- around them, it surges up to try and encase them, but Kunzite's stuttering shields hold and Nephrite's halberd is raised high, and a beam of true starlight is called through the false heavens from the real ones.

The sky shatters, and shards of it rain down around them, and the panic of the house is a palpable thing, dread and freezing terror gripping at their senses, despair oozing toward their souls with tricks the house learnt from the Witch that it was merged with for five months.

It's not the only thing that was learned:

Along with the shards, the stars themselves rain down, planets and nebulae and black holes and miniature galaxies, and above and around them is the warped orrery, heavenly bodies careering through the air, grown frigid and thin, aiming to batter at them.

They begin to falter. There is a renewed effort at breaking through Kunzite's shields to leach Elysion's substance from its channel--

--but the wreckage of its own concentration, its split focus, means that its hold on the dreams of the prince slips.

Abruptly Mamoru twists in Kunzite's grip and turns, half-falling, possibly in danger of nicking himself on Kunzite's sword-- but it's only so he can slide off in a fluid motion and grab hold of his guardian, paper-white hand unerringly finding the white-haired man's skin; that torrent of energy is still in motion, and now it fills Kunzite, augments and bolsters.

"Mako," croaks the washed-out upperclassman, "Supreme-- bring down the..."
Nephrite 2016-05-08 07:09:51 40910
Planets and nebulae and black holes. "Son of a--stop weaponizing my stars!" Nephrite shouts up at the heavenly bodies careening toward them. He keeps a hand on Makoto--no way is he letting her slip away again--while he swings the halberd at an asteroid headed for their heads. Finally something he can hit!
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-08 07:25:01 40911
"The same thing it was doing to you." Nearly the same. Close enough to the same. Now is not the time for metaphysics. Glittering darkness washes up against his shadows, all too similar, and Kunzite closes his eyes to concentrate -- he doesn't have the strength to extend them to cover the other two, not anymore, but if this is Nephrite's place, they should be all right --

Something he's not as certain of when the witch-tricks start. But that doesn't matter. Focus. Do his own job. Trust Nephrite and Makoto to do theirs.

Mamoru twisting on his shoulder abruptly shifts the definition of 'job,' if only a little. The sword flickers out of sight, banished in favor of catching at his prince with the freed hand. Empathy finds a near-blank, but it's one Endymion knows, not one that will slow him down. Shared energy is fed back into his near-failing shields, steadying them; Kunzite draws them closer to Makoto and Nephrite -- guarding their backs. He doesn't need to do more. Anything that comes near them that Nephrite can see isn't going to last long enough to be a threat.
Makoto Kino 2016-05-08 07:36:13 40912
"Wh--" Oh, that is so not cool. Liquid darkness trying to swallow her from the legs, bits of illusory heavens showing down on them from overhead. One of Makoto's hands keeps a grip on Nephrite's shoulder while the other yanks her star-capped green pen from her subspace pocket; she needs no more prompting than the few words Mamoru was able to croak out, if that.

"Jupiter Star Power - Make Up!"

Lightning races over her in an instant. Nephrite will feel it, in close contact with her as he is - a jolt like static electricity grounding itself, and then it's gone and Makoto wears the full colors of the Senshi of Thunder. "Stay close, everybody," she warns, fierce eyes turned upward. "I'm gonna light everything up."

The very air around her tingles with it, the dry snap of a gathering charge that heralds the lightning strike. "SUPREME THUNDER!"

The interior of the house reverberates with the massive BOOM of a thunderclap.
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-08 07:56:27 40913
In the time it takes for Makoto to transform and tell the others to come close and for Kunzite to redouble his efforts with redoubled strength, poured in from Mamoru's scattered substance and precision focus, Nephrite further floods the air with shattered planetoids and imploding galaxies, hitting white dwarfs into black holes and brightening the wreckage with supernovae. Everything is on fire, and still the scent of rose and ash pervades the thin, cold air.

And then, amid all the stars and galaxies, the strength of Makoto's own guardian planet Jupiter is brought to bear, and the heavens take pause--

--and bow to the bringer of jollity and, in this case, so much regret it'll leave one numb. 'Light up' is something of an understatement.

With the cohesion already shattered by Nephrite's opening salvo, and its source of energy cut off, it has nothing left but its own mass: the mountain beneath the house, the house itself-- and without external aid, they were already fading, disintegrating. Having spent everything it had on this gambit, there's precious little to spare for defense.

It doesn't spend it on defense.

As the lightning swallows the sky and the air and the ground, bringing blinding light to the darkness and banishing it, it gives one more petty little stab of revenge with its dying breath.

What stars and planets still remain as they fall to ash spell out a message for Nephrite's eyes: Misery and destruction, the loss of what you hold dear, over and over, without end, without lasting respite. All that you build, you will destroy with your own hand; all that you gain will be taken from you.

The stars fall in a rain of ash and strangled roses and stargazer lilies, awash in the scent of honey and blood.

Everything fades out around them, and two Shitennou, one Senshi, and a twelfth-grader who looks like he's about to pass out find themselves in a parking lot.

It's behind a convenience store, and the posters are five years out of date. They are surrounded by Nephrite's stuff.

All the car alarms go off.
Nephrite 2016-05-08 08:20:56 40914
As the life and the space that Nephrite once created for himself fades to nothing, he is still clinging to something far more solid and real. His hand on Jupiter's arm still tingles with electricity.

He glares up at the fading message in the sky. The one so carefully crafted to him and his way of seeing the heavens. There is something painfully intimate about that. Like an ex-lover whispering secrets once shared in deep trust. "Yeah, well, you were drafty and that carpet was ugly," he mutters vindictively.

Suddenly they are surrounded by car alarms, and he casts a confused glance around. "Oh. I think I know this place. They uh, refused to let me have a slurpee once." Everyone present can probably infer the rest. Hell hath no fury like a dark energy-powered teenager denied a slurpee.

He spots a flat-screen television sitting on top of one of the shrieking cars, as though it was placed there deliberately. His voice is still a little unnaturally jittery. It's an easy distraction from whatever the heck just happened. "Hey, I guess my stuff made it out. Anybody find those Big Brother DVDs yet?"
Makoto Kino 2016-05-08 08:33:21 40915
"Seriously?" Makoto's arm slips around Nephrite, anchoring herself as much as she anchors him. She's still not processing everything, but at least they're no longer in the house that was trying to eat them. The words come out of her without thought: "Those jerks."

With her arm around him she looks around them, getting her bearings in the wake of the sudden change of environs. "I have no idea," she says on the subject of the DVDs, "but I vote we just haul all this stuff home and sort through it there later."
Kazuo Takeba 2016-05-08 08:41:26 40916
There's a quiet wash of shadow outward, and in the wake of it the car alarms are silent. Possibly Kunzite even spared the attention to steal only the electricity actually flowing (which would, granted, still create a moment of distress for the car owners as they realized they needed to reset clocks later, not to mention playing havoc with those dependent on remote starters), instead of, say, just flat-out draining the batteries.

(Maybe hopefully he did, depending on how long it takes them to get out of there.)

Most of his attention in the mean time is spent on dispersing the bulk of his shields, and preventing Mamoru from having an abrupt encounter with the asphalt. Most of it. "I second Jupiter. You should've kept a closer eye on them."
Mamoru Chiba 2016-05-08 08:55:36 40919
"...did you just..." mumbles Mamoru, giving Kunzite the hardest side-eye despite the fact that he's hanging on to the taller guy just to stay upright.

At least his color's back, and getting better the longer he's standing on solid ground.


" guys can carry all the stuff, I'm going back to bed. Mako, can I ride shotgun? Shoulda stayed home after all."

That is probably the closest Mamoru's gonna come to either making an apology or saying 'you were right'. "Neph he made a joke."