The Wanderlust II with Lyntael and DragonierMan

Each of the trio subconsciously glanced at Lyntael as she leaned over to get her drink. The action of leaning over and presenting her butt to them, though innocent, was still a tease in a way due to her appealing beauty. It did not help that their glances were a byproduct of their targeting algorithms and the very human-like eye/brain motion detection that all real world humans had to any form of movement within their peripheral view. Rules of propriety caused them to look away before Lyn noticed them looking at her. Suzume cleared her throat into her hand.

"You know, 'water chicken'. When one person sits on the shoulders of another person, and a third person sits on the shoulders of a fourth person, and the two sets of people face off against each other and try to knock the top person off the shoulders of the other person," Suzume explained to Lyn. "It is a common pool game," she added defensively, as if Lyn should know something so 'common' to her. Not knowing how sheltered Lyn was. "I'm sure you've heard about it."

"I don't know, she seems pretty sheltered to me," Aya commented. "Not that it is critical information to know," she emphasized. Clearly Aya didn't think any less of Lyn for not knowing about it. But Suzume tsk'd Aya in response. "That won't do for a lady to be unknowing of even the most basic of activities. Here, let me show you a recording of that aforementioned game of chicken that I told you about."

Suzume waded closer to Lyn and opened her hand, projecting the recorded episode of Showbizz' Friendly Feud into the sky above. She quickly fast-forwarded through the question and answer round, to the game of chicken. The subordinate Arch, with flowing blonde hair and clad in a gold and black bikini, was on Drago's muscular shoulders. Drago was wearing golden swim trunks with white stars. The swim trunks were a lot more conservative than the much more risque swimsuit that Lyn made for him, being more like shorts. One wondered why Drago didn't just use that as his Swimsuit.GMO.

An intense game of chicken followed in the pool. Both sides pushing back and forth. Each side stumbling a little and then pressing back on the attack. Eventually though, Arch and Drago were still standing, as their opponents were unseated and dunked into the water. Suzume closed her hand and shut off the recording as the crowd cheered.

"That's what we mean by 'chicken'," Suzume concluded. She then tilted her head in thought. "... But... I do want to hear more about the Memory Vault. And it does look like we got a bunch of party-poopers here," she said, pointing to Drago and Aya. "So okay! Rivet us with your story."

The dragoniers all focused their attention on Lyntael to listen to her story.

Unaware of the eyes on her while she was distracted, Lyntael settled back into the pool to listen, though she found herself wanting to object that the way they prodded her lack of pool-game knowledge. She splashed them both gently, part way through her description in the brief moment when Aya cut in, though she was grinning as she did.

“I'm not sheltered! I just don't know pool games!” In the back of her head, thoughts crept in at the edge wondering if they'd still call her sheltered, if they only knew half the things she'd been though in the last few months, but she pushed the thoughts away firmly – she was trying to relax and have fun. Instead she focused on the explanation, and found it sounded straight forward enough in terms of silly pool games. When Suzume showed her a recording, she watched it, but elements of the record made her eyes dart up to the other three part way through, in between further glances at the image.

“Wait.. wait... you're telling me that you have, ah, actual missions, from your shogun, to... to go and play pool games? Really? Because I'll be a lot less worried about all of this is that's what you guys actually spend your time doing!” She couldn't contain her somewhat incredulous giggling as the recording ended. She'd had a feeling that they would have to have a public relations plan, and that she could probably work in something like that, but if even the organisation's 'powerful warriors' were assigned to compete in game-shows and sport games, well, how bad could it really be?

“Maybe we could give it a go in a bit!” Still giggling she reclaimed and finished off the last of her citrusy drink and pushed the glass away form the edge of the pool. It was mostly sharp flavours, and it tasted fantastic, but she was beginning to feel an excessive amount of warmth in her cheeks now and she wondered just how strong the drink had actually been once it was mixed. Oh well. She felt... fine, as far as she could tell. She turned over onto her back again, hands behind her head as she let her body drift in the water, and let her mid drift back to the strange book-trap that she'd found with Aurora and Eternalis, and the strange things they'd found inside it.

“Anyway... 'The Memory Fault' was what they called it, and it was like... an archive, but also a cleaning protocol at the same time... I was exploring in Yoka net, with Eternalis and Aurora. I was... sneaking out, really. Rogan doesn't really give me any properly free time, but he doesn't use me for a lot outside of own important jobs, so, it's usually not too hard to find a few hours when I know he won't know I'm gone, and doesn't want me to disturb him anyway...” Lying in the water, she was reminded of the rain and the soft sounds of falling water from their outing and she was smiling despite the vaguely sad description of her lifestyle.

“We'd come to the rogue layer by accident – none of us realised it before we actually arrived, but I wanted to be brave, so we went exploring anyway. We even ended up having to fight a few times... Aurora and Eternalis did most of the work, even thought here were so many more viruses drawn to the group of us together. I tried though, and I helped...” She shrugged. “It was a bit silly of me, I know... Rogan didn't know I was out, and I wasn't connected, so if things had gone badly...” She let herself sink beneath the water's surface for a moment, holding her breath, then turned a small somersault in the water and came up so she could look at her companions again.

“Anyway... We found this place, where it broke away from the network, and there was a strange pathway, made of water, and a little temple, and we all felt drawn to it. Inside, there was a book, and it was like some sort of trap transit – it drew us into a completely different data space, and Eternalis and Aurora lost their communications with Harke... ah, he's their operator... and we didn't know where we were any more...

“But it was sort of beautiful as well. There was soft rain, and a sense of quiet and peace... through the rain, it was like a library, and a graveyard at the same time. Endless rows upon rows of history... stories... Navigators and other programs that fell and were damaged or corrupted beyond repair, who were broken or twisted, or... who couldn't be saved. The library held what remained of their souls, I think, bound in books that others could read, to know their story...” Here, Lyntael frowned, her brow wrinkling slightly, and she pushed onto her back again, looking up a the sky.

“I was a bit unsettled by it, I didn't feel comfortable then, even though, looking back, it wasn't as bad as I though. It was macabre in a way, and I didn't really want to believe that there was nothing that could be done for any of those people. There was some part of them that was still there, and still existed – something that was grateful for whenever someone learned their story... so I felt like it was some sort of horrible prison, even though I don't think that's what it is, now...” She shook her head, brushing the thought away. Thew ere doing their best, and it was better that they were preserved somehow, just in case, some day, someone was able to do more for them. And their guide had been able to keep hold of herself because of what they were doing. She focused on that instead.

“A guide found us, a little way in. She told us that the place was called the Memory Fault, and that is was a beacon that collected and preserved damaged and broken programs, so that they couldn't be a danger to others, and also to keep their stories intact. She was a damaged program herself, but the fault had tools that they could use to rehabilitate some of the navis they picked up, to let them live without going feral or disintegrating, even if they couldn't' be permanently healed.... but she said that we'd only be here at all if the Fault had called out to collect us, and that meant that someone in our party was in need of being collected.” Here, Lyntael felt her gaze drop to the water's surface and she kicked back to the edge so she could hoist herself up on the lip of the pool, pulling one knee up to her chest to wrap her hands around as she watched the ripples on the water.

“She... immediately locked onto me, and singled me out. She tried to capture me, and lock me into one of their containment stones. I... I freaked out. I was scared. Eternalis tried to comfort me; he tried to put himself between me and her, but I was... I was lost in a different moment.” She paused, then pushed on. “I have panic attacks, sometimes... When things remind me of something that happened to me a while back. I just fall into those memories, and I see that space, and I see Him, and I don't really know what's going on around me, because I lose track of what's real and what's not. Eternalis, he was just trying to keep me safe, but I was back in that lab again, and I wasn't seeing Eternalis; I was seeing... someone else. A monster. I... I lashed out. I... I nearly killed him. I'm still horrified by that, you know? I don't want to hurt anyone, especially not my friends, and that wasn't even me having trouble controlling it... That was was just...” She splashed at the water with her other foot. “Just my own, stupid issues...” Again she found herself shaking her head, and trying to shake off the thoughts in the process. At least she'd managed to think about something close to it without flaring up this time. Talking about it with Aurora had really helped, in the end. She took along breath and let it out again.

“For a while I think I felt like the Memory Fault might have had it right, in a way. That I am... damaged goods. But I'm trying to do better, I really am. I can think about that without panicking now, mostly, and I'm trying to actually deal with it Trying to just avoid it all never worked out.. just like my charge; trying to fight it and shut it out just wasn't working, so, now I'm trying to learn how to control it better instead.” She slipped back into the water, sinking down so just her eyes were above the surface for a moment or two, then resurfaced enough to talk.

“Sorry... I got side-tracked... Um... Anyway...” She stood and stretched. “Our guide, Bishop was her name... She realised that it wasn't all quite as it seemed, and she took us to meet the management, sort of. It was maintained by someone called Keeper, he was an administrator, I think... He scanned me thoroughly, and it was honestly a bit invasive and embarrassing, if I'm really truthful.. but, he determined that even though I was... an anomalous program, and even if they didn't recognise what I was, exactly, in normal terms, they could still tell that I wasn't damaged or broken, and that it was a false positive that they could make a white-list marker for, so it wouldn't ever pick me up again.” She let herself fall back into the water again, floating. “It was actually sort of a relief, to hear that, in the end. I don't really know what the place was properly, but it seemed very old, and very official, and very secret. I got the impression that there are Memory Faults all over the net, but also that it's only one actual place. He said it existed between the networks, and not in or on any network in particular, but that it just reached out connections to networks to do its job. It was very strange. Have any of you ever come across anything odd like that before?” As she looked at the sky, Lyntael found herself wondering if the sun might give way to clouds, or rain, or if that just wouldn't ever happen here on the beach net seas. She wouldn't mind some rain.
At Lyntael's laughter about their non-combat missions, Aya gritted her teeth in annoyance. She wasn't mad at Lyn, she just didn't like how much they were forced into sideshows all the time. "Yes, yes, I know... haha. The Neo-Shoguns have sent us on a lot of PR gigs to warm up the general populace to the organization. Game shows, slumber parties, recruiting at festivals, that one mud-wrestling tournament," she listed out, pointing at Suzume for that last one. Suzume smiled and flexed one arm to show her lean muscle. "And a whole bunch of other such fun activities. All in the name of winning hearts and minds."

"I've heard that one time, before we joined, they tried to take a section of the NET by force and were pushed back by some GNA-backed Navis. So the leaders decided, in their infinite wisdom, to go with the public relations route." Aya spat across the pool in barely repressed agitation. "As such, military skirmishes against other groups are rare. Especially since we've managed a slew of victories against such adversaries in the past. For us who were built to fight, all these peaceful assignments rankle us something fierce. But... we have been too good at our job, and the amount of enemies has shrunk over time." Aya looked at her still-bandaged hand, now wet from the pool water and probably stinging something fierce due to the chlorine. "It has been hard to live - truly live - without a battlefield."

Aya quieted down as Lyntael went on to tell her story. The trio of dragoniers stood around in the pool in rapt silence as Lyn spoke about all the adventures she had in the 'Memory Fault'; all the things she had seen, and all the people she had met. At the end, Suzume tried to put a reassuring hand on Lyn's shoulder, light enough not to cause her to sink because she was floating on her back. "That... That was quite the harrowing experience. I'm glad everything worked out at the end though," Suzume said. "I'm glad you were able to talk about it with us. Though it doesn't sound like you've fully recovered from your experiences there. I hope we didn't push you too hard today. Just know that we don't think of you as 'damaged goods'. If anything, you carried us on this mission."

"Who is this HIM?" DragonierMan piped up in question suddenly, pushing Suzume, and her calm attempts at empathy to the side. "Who is this 'monster' that scares you so?" The larger Navi stood up to his full height as he spoke, his face taking on a serious, stony look. Water sloughed off of him like many small waterfalls coming down a mountain of muscle. "If this creature haunts your dreams and memory, then the fear will always be there, eating at your soul." He pointed between the trio of dragoniers and then tried to put his large hand on Lyn's shoulder in solidarity. "We will help you when you are ready. Ready to face that demon. You just say the word and we will march with you to wherever this man resides. We will brave all the dark corridors and the legions of opponents. We will sweep them all aside and bring you to the source of your fear... and you will break him across your knee! he said with a firm squeeze. "We will show you how pitiful he is. How there is nothing left to fear from him... ever again."

He then released his grip and took some steps back, his eyes and face eagerly broadcasting 'just say the word' and 'we're ready to go right now', over and over again. Suzume stepped forward again to talk more about Lyn's experiences as Drago backed off. If he was a Fire Navi he probably would be literally steaming from his declarations, amped as he was. Drago and Aya were constantly spoiling for a fight wherever they went. It must be exhausting to be them.

Suzume didn't seem to be as constantly bloodthirsty as the other two, or Magistrate, and was trying to build a rapport with the other woman. "We can also try to help you with your training to control your electricity. That is, if you want our help with that?" Suzume asked hopefully. "I don't know how tough this Eternalis is, but we are pretty strong ourselves. We can probably take whatever it is that you can dish out. So you shouldn't feel afraid of losing control around us. We aren't some porcelain dolls that will shatter easily."

"Anyway, this 'Memory Fault' sounds like it is controlled by the GNA. I wouldn't want to go messing around with Administrators if I can avoid it," she shuddered. "But yes, we have come across our fair share of oddities." She stopped for a second to think. "Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not sure if we've been to anywhere between the layers of the NET like you have. Most of the oddities seem to happen in the less traveled areas of the NET. And given how big the NET is, there are a lot of wide open spaces waiting to be explored."

"Although there was that one time I dealt with an individual known as Utopia, a member of the Blessers. They all were given fantastical powers to rewrite reality by their boss, BlesserMan. At least, I think that was the name of their boss. Anyways, they all suffered great degradation from that power that ate at their mind and body like a virus. Maybe it was too much for their cores to handle," she said with a shrug.

"Long story short, I entered a mud-wrestling contest under a fake identity. I had to go in under cover because most of those participating in the event were supposedly kidnapped by some mysterious force. Well, as I eventually learned, this Utopia character was apparently doing all of this because she was trying to grant our 'wishes'. Apparently some of the people kidnapped wanted to join the Neo-Shogunate for one reason or another and she thought they wouldn't be able to do it through the normal recruitment missions. So she created an elaborate illusion, this mud-wrestling contest, and isolated it from a part of Yumland NET. No one could communicate or Jack-In or out without her say-so. But eventually we worked it out, and as far as I know, she hasn't been interfering with NS operations since."

"Unfortunately, I've also heard rumors that all of the Blessers died recently. Their degradation already being in the final stages for a lot of them when I met Utopia. It is kind of sad to think that they are just piles of junk data somewhere, even if they were a pain sometimes. Though I guess it is also possible that they could be in this 'Memory Fault' you encountered. Their stories archived for all time for people to read."

Her giggling subsided somewhat, though threads of mirth still remained at Aya's obvious lack of enthusiasm for the nicer types of missions. At Suzume's light touch, however, Lyntael flinched before she could catch herself, just slightly. She made a more concerted effort not to pull away, and instead smiled back. Unlike previously, her skin wasn't unusually warm to the touch, no more so than skin ought to be, and there was no static either, but she was still cautious all the same. It was nice to hear the reassurance, and as much as she didn't think she really did all that much this time around, she was at least glad that, in this moment, she'd managed to talk about some of her more difficult moments without going to pieces. That was far better than she'd been, even after everything had gone wrong in the time since. She could deal with this, one step at a time. She shook her head softly towards Suzume's compliment, still smiling.

“It's okay, I didn't really do that much, it was just-” She paused, looking for a way to finish, but before she could give words to her thoughts, Drago's own concern cut in.

Again, she flinched, a momentary thread of apprehension striking through her despite everything as he reached out to put hands on her shoulders. For a moment, the flash of another person wrapping his arms about her, flashed through her mind and her memory, but she fought it off. In the moment she shrank away, drawing in on herself, though not quick enough to stop his grip, and she only barely managed to peek nervously up at his growing fervour. Not him. She was safe. Just focus on the words. The words, as forceful as they were, were nothing like the insidious whispers and ark tones of her previous tormentor and that was easy enough to focus on. She found herself nodding with small nervous motions at his declarations; his sentiment, at least, was heartfelt and she could appreciate that.

As soon as it began, the force that was DragonierMan subsided and Suzume took the reins again – Lyntael did her best not to look too relieved, but she could feel herself physically relax again as the tone settled back to something softer. Drago's questions might have come across more like demands, but she thought about it as Suzume chatted to her about their own experiences. She was trying to deal with what happened, so that she wouldn't freak out the next time. She still wasn't sure how much she could say without getting caught up in it, but she couldn't really leave him with no answer at all, now that she'd started. She sought for the words, but found herself nodding along to Suzume instead of speaking up. Before long, she'd let the conversation move on, and her thoughts moved wilfully away from the topic.

She took a few strokes to one side of the pool, and back, in a relaxed breast stroke while she listened, though the elements of Suzume's own recount were a mix of amusing anecdotes and some truly tragic-sounding elements. At the last, she bit her lip, looking towards the other woman.

“I guess, they might be. If they were breaking down and dying, and it reached out to pull them in... It did sound like that's what it was meant to do, but I still think that's really sad, if they all suffered like that, and no-one could do anything to help them... It makes me wonder, if it was destroying them, couldn't they get whatever it was taken away again? I guess maybe it wasn't that simple...” Her eyes cast down to the ripples on the water's surface again. “Though... it sounds like even the ridiculous missions end up being dangerous sometimes. Maybe that's why they send you instead of someone else? But, really... mud wrestling? Was Showbiz involved with that one as well? I've seen some of the things on her channel, and they get pretty out of hand at times...”

She was avoiding the earlier questions, she knew that. They probably weren't that interested – but she knew that was a lie, given the intensity of Drago's earlier affirmation. She was dodging it, because it was terrifying and it hurt... Frowning to herself, she looked up at Drago and the others, taking a longer breath. Today was about being brave, and being strong, and being an adult, who could deal with things and not fall to pieces over every little scare. No putting it off. The others could probably see that Lyntael was mentally bracing herself for something a second or two before she spoke up again.

“Um... you asked about... about what happened. It's hard. I've only ever really spoken about it with Aurora and Eternalis. Rogan knows, of course, but I can't talk to him about it, and I couldn't ever tell Eric, it would break his heart... but... running away from it, and repressing it just hasn't worked, so... I'll try. If I do, um... lose myself in it, just give me a minute, okay? I'll be okay, I just.. have to learn to deal with it little by little.” She swallowed. “That I'm even talking like this about it is so much better than I was before I started working it out with my other friends...” She kicked back to the edge of the pool and pulled herself out to sit on the edge in a more stable position again. “It's... it's really not pleasant. It's horrible, just... just so you know. But if I can't share it and acknowledge it, then I'm going to keep running forever instead, and I can't do that... so...”

“So...It was a while ago now. I was doing some important work for Rogan, net side, in the isolated facility he was infiltrating, but there was... a... a navigator there, that we hadn't expected. It was an air-gapped network, supposed to just be maintenance progs, but He was there, waiting...”

Slowly, she began to tell the story again; of Vigilance, and that cold, metal lab; the way he had taunted and teased her, and his dark threats and promises of lustful violence; of the fight, that hadn't really been much of a fight, and how he had beaten and bloodied her, and his cold, insidious assurances; the violent curses and wrath any time she'd tried to fight back, replaced with the dark words and cruel whispers when she faltered; the way he had revelled in tormenting her, toying with her, stripped naked and spread out, barely conscious, with her back against the freezing metal and his face leering above her; the way she'd pleaded for him to stop, and he hadn't listened. Several times, as she spoke, her voice faltered and broke, but she pushed on through laboured breathing and the hot tears that crept in part way through. She managed to get through it without losing herself in the memory, but she couldn't look at her companions as she spoke, staring down at the water instead as she hugged one knee tight and rubbed slowly at her emblem with her other hand. Eventually, she sniffed again and scrubbed at her face.

“But... but it happened, and it's done, and it's in the past now... and I'm still here. I'm alive, and I'm not broken, and I am loved, and I refuse to doubt that ever again, and even if Rogan won't admit it to himself, I know he cares too. I know it.” She took another shaking breath and turned her face to look up at the sky instead, then let herself slip into the water so she could briefly hide her red cheeks and wash her face. When she surfaced, she still couldn't quite meet anyone's eyes, but she looked at her own hands instead.

“You know... you'd think it would be the other things but really... it was his words that were the worst part. It was what he said... And the way I doubted. Just for a moment, I believed him... just a moment, and it felt like my soul was dying.” She looked up now at last, glancing towards her companions. “But he was wrong. He was. I don't think he knows what it is to be loved, not really. So what could he really know about it? If I never see him again, that's fine, and if I do, I'll probably run... but I hope someone stops him, some day, so he can't ever hurt other people like me any more.” She shook her head and ducked her head under the water again, pressing hands to her face and trying to will her sniffles and flushed cheeks away.

“Sorry. You asked, and I wanted to see if I could answer without going to pieces. And... I did. I'm... I guess... Okay?” She managed a smile, optimistic, if a little watery still. “I know, it's not really a fun poolside conversation...” She knew they'd probably have at least some comment or other; mentally she braced herself for some kind of forceful response from Drago, just in case. She wanted to pick up on Suzume's invitation, but it could wait a moment or two more until they'd put some distance between that moment and this one.
Suzume nodded, "Yup, it was a Showbizz event. Though I guess in this case it was probably a Utopia recreation and not actually her. Not that I wouldn't put it past the real Showbizz to do something similar if given the chance," she smiled in reply. "And, yeah, if we had come into a problem here during this undercover mission, it might have come to blows. But that is why we were summoned to help you with this recruitment mission: just in case something happened. By being here we would be here to protect you and fight off whomever we needed to if something went wrong. Kind of like being your security escort," she stated.

After that bit of reassurance, Suzume, Aya, and DragonierMan buckled up to listen to Lyntael talk about the traumatic past event that scarred her. Eyes widened and narrowed, mouths opened and closed, and teeth grinded as the story took shape. It was clear that the three dragoniers were trying to hold quiet as they trembled with barely repressed rage at the indignation of it all. By the end they were all like Drago's earlier face, wound up and just ready to storm off on a bloody crusade to exact terrible retribution on this Vigilance character. It took a lot of self control for them to calm down enough for Suzume to try to give Lyn a hug in consolation.

"Don't... worry," Drago finally spoke, his teeth bared in seething, but his voice as calm as he could make it. His hands squeezed and relaxed, over and over again. "I'll make sure... that someday soon... he will be taken care of... permanently," he said with measured breaths. Smoke frothed from between the gaps in his teeth and out of his nose like a chimney, or a fire-breathing dragon. "You... are safe... and... loved," he reassured her.

"Yeah, you should live your life free, with the knowledge that you'll be okay," Aya added, trying to show some compassion and grace. "So, how about them sports teams?" she said, trying to lighten the mood. "Who are you rooting for this season?"

Her thoughts and feelings were still pulling back from the dark places, and Suzume's more physical comfort still caused Lyntael a small shock – enough to make her flinch away, at first. She forced herself to relax into it after the initial reaction; it was fine, she was safe... and like this she wasn't even sparking, after all. It was true enough; despite her obvious stress and upset, Lyntael's physical reactions had remained fairly mundane throughout her story and even now there was no static in her hair or on her skin. As much as she was still trying to clean herself up and calm herself down, nodding her gratitude to Drago's assurance as she did, it was ultimately Aya's awkwardness that broke the mood, and Lyntael smirked, then giggled softly despite herself. She wiped her face, sniffed, and splashed water on herself one more time then turned her gaze towards her.

“Heh... hehe... Yeah, thanks... Sorry about that, but hey... Just think... if your organisation hadn't been getting itself known for all of those 'fun' activities, I'd never have thought about joining, and you'd all be deprived of my wonderful company. That's got to be worth something, right?” She grinned, and made a face at Aya, mostly in self-deprecating jest, but good humour all the same. “Really though... If fighting is what you want to do, and you feel... I guess... unfulfilled without it? Have you though of maybe starting something up within the organisation – something that'll be useful ,but also, ah, dangerous and difficult. Maybe you could start running a more intense combat training program or something? Even if the shogunate doesn't want to get involved in wars any more, knowing how to fight and defend yourselves is probably still an important part of that... so, like... maybe you could run missions for recruits, out in the net wilds, fighting tough challenges and going dangerous places, and making sure they all learn well and come back safe, that kind of thing? It'd be doing another little bit towards making the whole net safer as well... Er... unless there's already something like that that they do? I don't know... I've only really read the leaflet...” Here she ducked her head again, hiding a more embarrassed laugh at her own ignorance. She shrugged and let herself fall onto her back again in the water, kicking idly to propel herself around the pool at a lazy pace.

“I guess it's sort of what you were saying, Suzume, right? I do need to practice and I need to get better at my control, and at dealing with the pain, and not burning myself out, and all of it... If you want, I could try to show you what my limits are, even, if you think it might help, or if you had any advice? You were asking about Eternalis and Aurora... I'm not really sure exactly how strong they are, but apart from that one accident where I hurt him really badly, the viruses we had to deal with didn't really seem like a concern for them at all. It wasn't like it was a joke to them or anything, they were still serious about it, and looking out for me, but, I think I could tell that it wasn't a challenge or a threat to them, not really.” She closed her eyes, thinking back.

“They were both so quick, and efficient, though... They always seemed to know exactly what the other needed, or was going to do, and they were both really careful to make sure I was okay, and to protect me when I needed it. I'd only ever been in the rogue layer once or twice before, when Rogan needed, and I'd never fought anything, only ever run... but there, I felt safer with them than I ever thought I could have, in such a dangerous network space...”

As she spoke, Lyntael felt her thoughts focusing more on the time she'd spent with her friends, and the connections they'd shared before and after that event as well; the memories they'd each borne witness to from each other and what it had felt like to have someone to truly talk to about... everything. She was a stronger person now, because of it, in more way than one, and that meant a lot. Though her eyes were still closed, her swimwear seemed to ripple again, shifting unconsciously in response to her feelings.

Where previously she had been wearing a sporty, wet-suit-like two-piece, something new spread out across her body, shifting out from her emblem; the icon itself changed very subtly this time to now show, faintly, blue storm clouds behind the lightning bolt and sunburst design, and a backdrop pattern that bore the faint hints of the Ezarith diamonds. Out from that, the swim suit disappeared, replaced at the neck by an elegant metal gorget piece that lay flat to her body and stopped short of actually covering her neck, but met front and centre, low enough to encircle her emblem neatly. It was in rich blue metal, trimmed with a gold colour that was slightly different to Lyntael's own yellow. As soon as it was fixed in place, a thin blue film of some sort of gel began to spread out and downward from the armour piece, forming a kind of form-fit body suit.

Heading downward, the swim wear was degraded away, and though the fresh covering began to rapidly extend to cover her, there was still a moment or two between the ripple effect replacing her old outfit, and the gel covering catching up.

Even so, it was only a couple of seconds of exposure, and with her eyes closed, Lyntael herself didn't seem to notice it. The body suit itself wasn't opaque either but was a transparent film, however, once it had managed to spread and cover her chest and groin, those areas seemed to have a coincidental clouding in the gel that conveniently obscured her private details.

The gel bodysuit ended in a set of sleek, graceful wrist and ankle bracers, in that same slightly different golden yellow metal tone, and trimmed with deep blue, so the cross left her hands and feet bare. As she lay in the water, the tips of her hair took on a faintly bluish tinge, as though the tips were dyed and Lyntael's eyes flicked open suddenly. Subtle movements of the water against her skin felt suddenly much more present all over and she sat up in the water, eyes wide in a sudden shock as she looked at herself. It felt like she was wearing nothing at all, for a moment or two, but seeing the blue gel covering her let her sigh and relax again, then laugh.

“Right, right... Yeah, that figures... Hah...” Standing up in the water, it was clear that her hair was lying all the way back now, trailing down her back almost to her shoulder blades – it hadn't actually grow out any longer, exactly, but between the coloured tips and the dampness trailing into the water it kind of looked like it had. In the back of her mind, she realised that she'd felt the energy click in as she'd been reminiscing, but hadn't really realised what it was. Oh well. One set of swim gear to another, she supposed. She grinned and shrugged as she looked at her companions.

“Sorry. Just thinking back and I guess I let the reminiscing get away from me. But, um... this is that other one I told you about, I guess? The one that's a little bit too weird for normal uniforms? Eternalis is a really strange navi, hehe... I think this is the best the cross could do to emulate his form, since it couldn't alter my body directly. Ah... what were we saying? Sorry it's kind of distracting. The suit is super water-permeable, so when I'm in the water like this, it really kinda feels like the bracers and the neck piece are literally the only things I'm wearing, and I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not exposed, hehe... It retracts, too, into the armour pieces, but I'm not showing you that.” She could feel the more up-beat influence from the cross, reminding her of Aurora's optimism, and Eternalis' laid back calm, but she welcomed both sensations and embraced them now. Her companions would probably notice the shift as well – she certainly seemed far calmer and less high strung, even a few short sentences on from before.

“Right... I was saying, um, I'm not really sure how strong they are exactly, but they're pretty tough. If you wanted to do some test wit me though, we could do that... but we might have to get off Tango's ship, if we're going to do anything dramatic, hehe...” She stretched and flexed her arms, running them through the water in front of her, then playfully splashed at Aya and Suzume with a smirk. “So what do you think?”
The trio listened as she described her friends, Aurora and Eternalis, as efficient battlers. They liked efficiency in battle. They also watched as Lyntael changed in front of them, on instinct, into a Cross outfit that was about as racy as seemingly all her outfits. Is this girl cursed to always be a hair's breadth away from losing all her clothes? they would ask themselves internally. Perhaps she was really cursed by Trik. They wouldn't put it pass the witch to devise such a lewd hex.

"Well we shouldn't test that here," Aya snarked as Lyntael asked about testing her powers. "Unless you want us all to get electricuted while standing in water." Drago and Suzume nodded. "Yeeeaaahhh, if we wanted to do that we should go somewhere else. Do you feel like heading to the Shogun Camp or Drago's Base, which we call the White Tower?" she asked. "Either location will work."

Unaware of whatever commiserating thoughts were passing between her companions, Lyntael just nodded along, then climbed out of the pool and stretched; the blue gel contoured to her shape as she did, seeming to create more of itself or retract into the armour pieces as much as it needed to without any stretching or gathering, no matter what pose she adopted. She thought about it for a moment, but the idea of going to the public camp and training was still a bit too intimidating in her mind. With a few friends it was okay, but she didn't want to try any of that around a lot of people at once, not yet.

“Yeah, I guess, if you'd really like to see. I shouldn't turn down the opportunity to get some more advice on it all. I don't think I want to go to the public camp yet, but if you're okay with it, I'd love to see your home, sure! I only just recently got the permissions to decorate my home, and I'm still thinking about new ideas... I'd show you my place, but the only way I could get you there would be through the emulation link, and it's really rough... and we'd need to go back to the sign-up kiosk, back in the city as well, since that's where the link is anchored.” She looked around the deck of the ship and paused a moment to breath in the sea air again and close her eyes. After a few seconds she turned back and grinned to the others.

“Okay, I guess we can go whenever you're ready. I shouldn't stay out too much longer, or Rogan might miss me, but there's time for a little bit of a visit I think.” She took a step towards them again, but then paused, her eyes going wider for a second. “Oh! Wait!” With a sudden burst of energy she turned and darted to the other end of the pool, climbing the ladder to the diving board at the deep end and taking a running dive off into the water; the small shriek of laughter was swallowed up by the splash a moment later, and she spent another few seconds swimming a circle near the bottom, just enjoying the water. It really did feel like there was nothing there when she was submerged; maybe she'd try her hand at editing it one more time, just to make it feel more present. But it was nice to feel the water, and she was still covered, even if it didn't feel like it. She ran fingers through her hair and surfaced with another splash. It was a thought for another day. Still grinning, she clambered out again and ran back to Drago and the twins, dripping water afresh.

“Okay, Now I'm ready.” There was a giggle in her voice, just underneath the words, and her smile was bright. “Um, should I change, or dry off or something first, or is that fine?” She glanced mostly to Drago since he seemed to be the one to handle the transits before, but her gaze flicked intermittently between the girls as well.
As Lyntael came to them at the end drenched in pool water, Aya snickered. The thought of going directly to the White Tower and dripping all over the floor, to the consternation of Magistrate, sounded hilarious. "Hehehe, sure! We can go straight there. No need to dry off or anything here, we can do it when we get there."

Suzume went immediately into high alert when her younger twin started chuckling. She leaned in and stared directly at her sister's face for a moment before recognition appeared in her own eyes. Suzume was quick to understand what Aya was planning with her little stunt, and she didn't like where it might lead. She just as quickly summoned up her cloak again and handed it to her dripping friend. "Oh no you don't Aya," Suzume spoke directly to her twin as she tried to get Lyn to dry herself off with the cloak. "I'm not going to get on Magistrate's revenge list just to stick it to her pretentious face once. No matter how funny it would be."

She turned her attention to Lyn after. "We are all going to be dry and not drip water all over her pristine floor." She tossed copies of her cloak to DragonierMan and Aya. "You will all get dry right now." She raised a hand to silence them if they complained. "No 'buts'. Magi is going to help us with Lyn, and we won't be the reason she doesn't out of spite," Suzume stated. Aya muttered bitterly about her petty revenge scheme being ruined.

After they were all dry, Suzume nodded her approval. "Okay, now I'll open the door," she said as she waved her hand and another portal opened at the base of of white marble tower with a large oak double-door. Suzume turned to Lyn, "The White Tower is in one of the residential outskirts of Internet City. You won't need to travel far to get to the NS Kiosk from there," she added. "Okay, get in there you two... AND NO FUNNY BUSINESS!" she yelled after Drago and Aya as she quickly pushed them through the portal.

Suzume turned back to Lyntael and offered her hand. "Ready to go?" she asked. If Lyn took her hand or went through the portal on her own, Suzume would go through as well.

The quick interplay between the twins left Lyntael glancing between them as she tried to get a feel for what was going on in their subtext. Eventually, he nodded with a slightly rueful grin towards Aya and accepted Suzume's offering. That said... She glanced down a the rest of her form as she towelled her hair. The gel covering took up water and while it was wet in itself, she was pretty sure it wasn't the kind of wet that would actually drip or leave mess, just like Eternalis himself. As long as her hands and feet were dry, the rest would probably take care of itself... The cloth she'd been given was getting increasingly sodden and her hair wasn't feeling any more dry.

With a small frown, Lyntael reached up and pulled her fingers through it, only to find the perpetual damp drizzle trail that it had developed wasn't reducing at all. That could be a problem. She rolled her eyes and then looked to Suzume.

“My hair won't dry like this, I've got to get changed first, or it'll just drip everywhere. Sorry. Give me a second...” She glanced about quickly, making sure that Drago had gone through and no-one else was around, then stepped off to the side a few paces and turned her back. She didn't want to keep them waiting while they were holding the link open, and focused herself on disengaging the cross quickly. In a moment, the gel retracted from her form, retreating from her midsection in every direction and drawing away into the armoured cuffs and gorget, and taking the last traces of moisture with it the process, before the armour pieces also too faded and fractured away. She'd been ready for it, but still moved quickly to minimise the amount of time she took; as she'd left it, she returned to her own self with her original bundle of clothes folded up in her hands, rather than worn.

She kept her back to Suzume, but didn't feel the need to run all the way back over to the shelter of the bar, now that it was just her. Facing away was fine, as long as she was quick. In the end it only took her a handful of seconds, pulling her vest onto one arm with a free hand while she stepped into her underwear with the other and pulled them up. She shrugged her other arm into the other side of her vest, then hurriedly fastened the clip of her skirt about her waist and turned back to Suzume as she fiddled with the buckles to do up her vest properly. She grinned at the other woman as her fingers fastened the last buckle.

“Right, sorry about that... Forgot about the hair when I'm like that. It's really meant for swimming more than anything else. It's not really suitable for visiting someone else's home anyway!” She paused as Suzume offered her hand, then looked down at her own for a moment, assessing it. She could feel the hum of her charge again, strong and alive, and she could feel the air all around, and the wind blowing cross-ways over the ship, but overall she was fairly sure it was safe. She reached out and took the other woman's grip with a smile. As the first time, her skin now felt much warmer to the touch than it had in her other crosses.

“Okay, that's better. Let's go!” She let the other woman lead her as they stepped though.

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((To → The White Tower))