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[Mirage] Gatekeepers' Avarice; Closed
Topic Started: May 15 2018, 06:20 AM (246 Views)
Nickle
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The Original Ni-san
There are certain wondrous attractions that tend to go largely unnoticed. Whether due to bad publicity, being of niche interest or simply being seen as such a convenience that people overlook or forget about it. The longer this remains the case, the easier it is for some to look consistently, and begin to predict patterns and when activities change. When something is too calm, too commonplace, so readily seen, it makes it easy to hide things in common sight, where people would not think to look.

A woman stood on a rocky outcrop, looking over a wide and barren patch of earth where several men and woman at work. Some busy at portable and strange looking machines, others moving various equipment or cleaning it, some taking this equipment and heading off into the foliage and underbrush of the jungled forest that surrounded and concealed them. Some of the men and women, subduing a series of creatures in cages with all manner of shocking implements and anesthetic drugs.

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Wind blew quietly through her hair and she let herself smile. They did good work for hired help, of course, now that she was employing them, they'd never have another job again. When they got back, she'd pass them on their good work and make good on her deal to give them a 'working opportunity of a lifetime.'

Something crept up behind her. In all fairness, it was technically a him, or had been once. His origin still confused her, but his knowledge enticed her and had already produced such great results. Fulmine and Tuono were not exactly masterpieces in her eyes, but they were stepping stones to something great. They could be made stronger, so long as they kept on schedule and ensured the rebuilding of the source vessel.

The source vessel was broken. Actually no, correction. Shattered and obliterated. Paper thin. And yet for it to have given what it did to Fulmine and Tuono and not vanish, holding onto its essence, what little form it had. It was for that reason alone, that sheer tenacity, that it was worth keeping. She smiled at that and felt her tongue slide over her upper lip. Oh yes. Well worth keeping.

She turned around and looked at the black blob. Apparently he'd chosen to be formless at this moment. Annoying considering there was no face to look at, but not unbearable. Potentially better. She would not have to make eye contact with that distorted face. "Everything seems to be going well. No signs of us being detected?"

"None. Truly my most sublime creation yet. The fractal-step warping lets them walk right through to the other side of us as if they had not missed a beat. Not perfect, but I doubt some barbarian could just break through. We are just waiting on the last of the specimens before we can head back."

She nodded, "Excellent, your work as usual professor, is without equal." She smiled, quietly to herself and turned away from him, looking back over the camp, "I wonder if he's missing me~"

Edited by Nickle, May 15 2018, 06:26 AM.
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Maybe it was her recent encounter with her new roommate. Maybe it was her recent encounter with Nickle and Chizu weighing on her mind.

Maybe it because that person was always on her mind.

Ever since she'd heard his voice, she wanted to believe it was possible that he was really alive out there somewhere and it wasn't just some kind of hiccup in Nickle's soul. Sure, she felt Dominique inside herself sometimes still, maybe even stronger since she confronted them, but it was never like that...

Maybe this was stupid. Maybe what she found would just break her heart even further. Still, she couldn't shake this feeling. It had almost certainly been stirring inside her since her latest rebirth, but it was only recently that she'd awakened to its existence. It wasn't rational, it wasn't an anomaly in her function, a bug in her data. Knocks could just sense that he was... out there somewhere. That Kinclex was alive.

So she finally determined... she would look for him in earnest.

For some this might be scouring the internet, perhaps putting up posters or enlisting the assistance of the police or a detective agency. Noxiquidem would have to search much further than any earthly authority had any right to. For the first time since her death, Noxi would once again have to violate the boundaries between worlds. Not for the goal of any misguided conquest, not to search for the heart of worlds. She would do whatever she had to in order to find Kinclex.

To that end, an old experiment was renewed.

She had done it once before. Though it was that girl who had actually built it. It was a failure at that time, fusing her incarnations from each of the connected universes by harmonizing each of their individual wave patterns. To be expected considering it was made from extra-dimensional refuse. This time, she had proper materials, and for this experiment, modifying Nickle's wave pattern would be sufficient.

If everything went according to plan, if he really was out there, this might find him. Better still, it should take her directly to him.

If it worked.

Unlike her last attempt, the device was portable, not much bigger than a television remote. It had taken a bit of time to put together and the process was exhausting for her damaged body, but by all appearances it was successful. Of course as any good engineer will tell you, the real test begins once the on switch is actually hit. So from her secret place, that basement she had made her private home, she used it. As before, a ball of light formed on the end of the device, grew and engulfed itself and its creator, and caused them to disappear.

In those brief moments between seconds, Noxiquidem prayed.

The light subsided moments later, leaving her standing in a flattened clearing, someplace familiar. Too familiar.

"Back on... Kaneshima?" Had she made a mistake? Was it possible he'd been this close the whole time? Or maybe...?

She looked around, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Workers, equipment, devices that looked all-too-familiar. Kinclex wasn't here, but someone else was experimenting using the same technology. Their equipment must have been generating interference. That explained why it stopped her here. One possible reason, that is. Her eyes quickly wandered to the imposing presence looming over the site, staring down where she and the peons stood. She returned the look, her own cold and empty expression conveying nothing, though her presence among them was already starting to generate notice.

Who was this person...

Why did she have this technology?

And did it have anything to do with Kinclex...?
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Nickle
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A bright light shone out into the encampment as Knocks appeared amidst the workers below. The hazel-haired woman had been looking at the black blobbed form of her associate at the time and had had to shield her eyes from the sudden light. She moved her hand away, looking down, eyes narrowed as she stared at Knocks.

The next few moments that passed were ones of dangerous uncertainty. Who was this girl? How had she gotten here? What would all of the workers do. Well in situations like this, best not give them time to make their own decisions. The woman shot a glance to her associate, "V-Valeria, I-" he began, but she cut him off, "Your work still appears to have some glitches. I suggest you see to them. But first, wrap things up here. Now." She did not shout, it was a simple, clear command of what was to happen next and that it should happen fast. The inky black mass slunk away quickly to see it done.

Valeria turned her attention back to Knocks and jumped down from her perch. As she approached the ground, although it was uncertain how, she seemed slow her descent and come to land on the ground just a little bit in front of Knocks, hands in the pocket of her white lab coat. Some of the workers looked at her and she waved them away, indicating that they should carry on with what they were doing.

She then took a few steps towards Knocks, an expression on her face that was meant to be a show for the workers, as if this was expected. However her eyes told something else. What are you doing here? Valeria regarded Knocks as she approached. Not exactly human, that was clear enough, but she dealt with such things daily so it was of no consequence. However the girl in front of her had an aura about her that was very familiar. From The Backyard? It was entirely possible. However it then begged the question...who helped her. Was it some of their equipment that had been tampered with? Or, more interesting yet, had she escaped the place without assistance from outside.

If that was the case then...

Valeria's smile widened and she took her hand out from her coat's pockets and clapped for Knocks. "Wonderful trick. You just popped right up. Though, do you know where you are?" the woman's arms crossed in front of her, her smile pleasant, but annoyed.

Around Valeria and Knocks, the pace had increased. Equipment was being moved at a much more rapid pace and in two different directions, both which lead to caves in the rocks at either side of the plateau. The inky blob from before was moving around and giving instructions at a rapid pace. It had taken on a more humanoid appearance now, but was still difficult to discern.

The professor was anxious. Anxious, perplexed and potentially angry. He had not accounted for this approach of invasion. He had not fathomed that someone else had discovered similar warping tech. The barrier could deal with displacing anything that approached it, but circumventing it entirely? He had not planned on that. Still it meant pin-pointing them! They were undetectable! What had this girl gotten a hold of to pin point them? What was the beacon? Everything on the camp was accounted for! It always had been.

The inky blackness looked at her. This was going to cause a problem if it was not seen to. Valerie was calm now, it was a tactful approach so as to not disturb the workers much. He froze, realizing there were workers still out in the field. He swooshed off. No sense in having them come back here, they would need to regroup and stay out of sight until they could be picked up later.

Valerie grinned at Knocks, "Who are you then? What are you doing in my camp?"
Edited by Nickle, May 22 2018, 04:49 AM.
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So it was like that...

Knocks' eyes moved up to the sky and directly into the sun, the artificial retinas having no issue with the glare. Comparing the relative location of the sun with her own internal clock was enough, though she could use GPS if necessary...

"We're in the Nature Preserve. I could give you coordinates if you want, but I don't think this line of questioning will be very productive." Was it a veiled threat? Trying to notify Knocks she'd stumbled into this woman's territory? Whoever this person was, she seemed terribly suspicious. Given the advanced and sensitive nature of the kind of research they were both apparently familiar with, she couldn't help but notice the air of deceit around this woman. It was no ordinary mistake that had landed her in this place.

She didn't believe in such coincidences.

The air seemed tense as the workers around them alternated between trying to keep up the pace of their work and wanting to see out this strange occurrence in the middle of their once supposedly hidden camp. In the end, the alpha woman above them effortlessly cracked the whip at the group with merely a flash of her eyes and a wave of her hand. An imposing presence, to be sure. One which easily bled out that of the small bronze girl, someone who could hardly be said to exist at all.

But something like that wouldn't deter her from something this important.

Her cold stare fixed itself back to the white coat that gazed down on her in like the giant at Rhodes. Her voice, while small and monotone bore a note of resolution which permeated her aura. She faced the woman she hoped would have the answers she sought and prayed for the will to see those answers through. To that end she allowed the words in her heart to blossom into speech.

"My name is Noxiquidem. I am Nobody and I'm here looking for my nii-san."
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Nickle
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Valerie raised an eyebrow at the first response. Not exactly what she had expected, but the reply did at least start to show some indication of who she was dealing with. Clearly intelligent, although given the appearance, mechanical parts and way the girl's voice sounded then some kind of machinery could account for that. It almost had to give how she stared at the sun. A cyborg? One possibility at least.

And if that was the case. A cyborg that could warp around. "Oh I know where I am. Clearly you know too." cooed the woman, although the tone of the voice was not exactly sweet. The size of whom she was talking to meant nothing to Valerie. Dynamite came in small packages as far as cliche's went, but given what she dealt with you could never wait until the package opened of its own accord.

She looked around casually, not bothering to mask that she was looking at what her workers were doing. Currently moving the captured beasts. That was good. They could get moving soon. The girl then spoke again and Valerie returned her gaze to her, her face showing genuine interest. That look of interest froze in place at the mention of who and what she was.

Valerie started to circle Knocks, thinking quickly, but not faltering to reply.

Another one... she thought as she circled.

"Noxiquidem? That's a very interesting name. I'm sorry to say, but I am quite certain your nii-san is not here." As Knocks listened, Valerie's words held nothing but truth. However, if she was really, really listening, they implied that she did know where Kinclex actually was.

Valerie's circling motion ended and she continued to walk away and in front of Knocks a few steps before turning around to face her, a blush on her face, clearly thinking of something that delighted her. "He's a bit tied up at the moment. Somewhere safe and sound."

An image, then somehow flashed across the inside of Noxiquidem's mind. An image of...a man. Barely there. A form that was transparent against a barren environment. A man with barely any essence to him. Head hung low.

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"No...Run..."

The voice was barely even a whisper and even then, the image gone in an instant, yet somehow only Noxiquidem would have heard and seen it as Valerie seemed to continue smiling.

She was smiling because, there was now another key right in front of her. She had not been aware of it, but here she was, ripe for the picking.
Edited by Nickle, May 22 2018, 04:44 AM.
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The woman seemed to examine her for a moment after the introduction. Had her name triggered some sort of recognition? The possibility was not only explored, but confirmed by her coy response. Although she couldn't ignore the possibility that this person was leading her on by her own words, the mere possibility that it she might know where he is...

That she could even see a ghost of him...

It was too much to ignore. Her resolution wavered, her natural passivity and desperation threatening to eat away at her will. If this person could really lead her to Kinclex, how much was she willing to give up? Was there any such limit at all? No, her life had no meaning apart from this. She had decided that much already...

"I-If -BIRI- you know where he is..." Her cold determination now felt like meek surrender. "I would beg you..." She could feel her heart being twisted tightly like a poisonous snake, its venom coagulating in her blood leaving her cold and motionless. This person knew. She could feel it to the very depths of her self, and that alone kept her rooted to the spot.

That, and a sudden vision and a familiar voice.

It was like a phantom from someplace beyond any afterlife. Someplace too distant to be called a place at all. So fleeting she could hardly say whether she experienced anything to begin with, but it wouldn't be ignored.

"If you know where he is. If you only have a small piece of him. If you only have an idea of where he might be or how to retrieve him... I will -BIRI- help you. Whatever I can do. I will offer no resistance. I will not trouble you. If my life must be taken to complete this task I will offer it freely. There is no price I'm unwilling to pay to see him again or at least ensure his continued existence. I will leave my whole being entirely in your care, but please... take me to nii-san..."

Run? How could he even ask that. Back then he had died because she didn't do enough to rescue him. Not from Xemnas, not from the Zodiac Stone, and not from Nickle. To exchange everything for him, it was a pittance. He deserved to be here now and she deserved whatever oblivion and death he now hovered helplessly between.
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What was that? An odd octave in her voice? Or...sound kind of sound modulation? More and more Valerie was starting to wonder how much of this girl was machine and how much was flesh and blood. Hard to say considering Kinclex did not really have either. What little there was of him was just an essence of being, for now anyway.

She listened to Nox speak, not moving but gently tapping her cheek as she listened to her. She'd give herself up so willing for him? Truly unexpected. However not exactly what Valerie wanted. She'd need both of them, but she had no reason to trust this girl. She possessed a level or at least a notion of the technology that related to The Backyard and that meant she could not be allowed direct access.

Once Valerie had her contained, that may be another story. For now, she was not about to risk this little upstart snatching a chance to take away the man. Kinclex. Her Kinclex.

"Your offer is generous, but you need not worry. We've collected all that was left of him. Of Kinclex." she waited a moment to gauge the girl's reaction before continuing, "I've made sure he's safe. Though he's only a phantom of what he once was. Barely there at all. I doubt he'd recognize you. He really only seems to respond to me as opposed to when others are around him. I don't know why to tell you the truth. Maybe something about me just electrifies him."

Valerie giggled a little at this joke before smartening up a bit, "Though, your offer to help is enticing, you don't expect me to take you at your word? You who managed to pop right into a place that no one else has ever been able to? I call that highly suspicious. And in search of no less than the thing I hold most dear."

The last part of that sentence was said with a bit too much affection than what a person would place on things in their possession. Valerie folded her arms and looked at Nox.

"Convince me."
Edited by Nickle, May 31 2018, 06:24 AM.
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Essence?

Was that really all that remained of him?

Her eyes widened only slightly, an expression which on the usually stoic Nobody may as well have been miles wide. That there was anything left at all meant there was hope. There was a time before she herself revived where she recalled nothing, where she was nothing. Resigned to that oblivion she has managed to come back somehow. So long as even a memory of him existed in this world, Noxi would find a way to bring him back.

"I... -BIRI- I have to see him..." Her meek voice crawled hesitantly from her tiny lips. "Even if he doesn't remember, I still want to..." Of course it was never that easy. This person wanted more than the promise of her loyalty, some piece of her. They always did. Dominique had tried to take her heart, Xemnas had succeed at it. The price was always this much at least. For once, more than ever, she was willing to hand that over without doubts or regrets.

"I don't know what you want... But you can have it, whatever it might be. If it's my technology you're interested in, I will share it. If it's my protection you want, your enemies will become my enemies. If it's reassurance you need, I will let you sabotage my body however you see fit. I will do one or all three of these things, but the price remains the same." She clenched her fists tightly, her eyes steeling with what resolve she could muster. For someone who wanted and needed so little, to want anything at all so badly meant so much more.

"You must let me see him. Let me help him... That, before anything else, must come first. And if we cannot agree on this much..." As small as she was, Noxi had never seemed especially intimidating, but this time she truly meant what she said. "I will make you... using every means available to me and every ounce of my strength."

Kinclex... wait just a little longer...
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"Harm me and whatever is left of him will be ripped to shreds."

The words came out cold and solid in response to Noxiquidem's last words. Whatever playfulness that may have been showing in Valerie's actions and expressions had vanished in an eye-blink. The problem was, this playfulness had not been replaced with anger or malice. It was the simple statement of hard facts. Would Kinclex's assured destruction be because Valerie herself was harmed or was it because she was somehow integral to keeping what essence of Kinclex there was alive.

She paused for a moment, staring at Nox and then sighed and raised her sleeve to reveal some kind of wristwatch. "For starters. I want to know what you know of The Backyard and technology related to it. Only something from there could have gotten you into here. So how did you do it?"

While she was doing this, a holographic image had appeared on her wrist and a faceless avatar box appeared, "Operator, send someone through with a projector module to the stabilizing unit and patch me through once its done."

This girl needed something. So she'd get it. There was no way Valerie was going to let her get close to her prize in person. Thankfully it looked like Dr. Bardamu was getting everyone and everything set to go with fantastic speed, though Valerie made a point of not noticing this.

Suddenly the little hologram that was projecting out of Valerie's wrist expanded. A room was being projected around her and Noxiquidem, slightly transparent and showing the scenery of their actual location, but becoming slightly more solid towards the center. The center which contained a giant metal ring with four manacle-like sections welded to the ring, positioned in much the same way a Da Vinci's vitruvian man.

What Noxi would see, with some difficulty, was the body of a man, or parts of it anyway, ashen grey and highly transparent apart from an arm, some sections of torso, a kneecap, a lower leg opposite and a head with a mass for of black hair that seemed to flicker and blow at the end like fire in a light wind.

The head hung low, not moving. Someone on the other side who was projecting this, said something. The man did not respond immediately, but then raised his head with much struggle. Valeria stepped aside so that Nox could get a better look.

The man's face, was partially covered by the long raven black hair, but a single bead of ice cold blue shone, literally shone out from beneath. A pair of chapped lips opened, trying to breath through lungs that were not there.

Kinclex looked at Noxiquidem, his eye widening.

"No.......x......"

Had he spoken? His lips had moved. But it was not a release of air that allowed the word to be spoken.


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"Then we have an understanding." Mutually assured destruction. A means of keeping peace through the mutual recognition that whoever made the first aggressive move would begin an unstoppable chain of events that would invariably lead to a shared demise. It was a crude method, but seemed ideal for two hostile strangers such as these. By now Noxi had definitely gotten her point across. If either of them should make a first move, it would not be her. This way would assure nii-san's survival if this woman valued her life at all.

For now, she just had to listen and obey...

Easier said than done in this case.

"That term. The Backyard." She said calmly and coldly, "I'm afraid I've never heard of it. However, I can tell you a little about what I suspect you're referring to." If what she said was true, Noxi knew precisely where her technology came from. "I died during a war during which the barriers between worlds were weakened and frequently breached. Nii-san and I made our last stand in a barren place between places and it was there I died and was revived."

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"It was a world that had already ended. Nothing was born there and nothing died there. Sitting somewhere outside life and death, it was a wasteland littered with remains of things both from that place and not from that place. A multiversal dumping ground perched between existence and oblivion." Her eyes narrowed as she thought of that place, monument that it was to her existence. Both here and not here. Forgotten, yet still alive.

"I don't know how I came back, but if that place is the place you're looking for, this body of mine was made there, from what scrap I could muster together. Or so much as I can remember..." Her memories from that time were fuzzy. Becoming self-aware again, forming a physical body, escaping that place...

It was all hard to pull together in her mind, like puzzle pieces that didn't quite fit together. The picture made little sense and parts were still missing. "That is likely why I was able to duplicate that same technology. I am that technology." As though on cue, a projector erupted from the stranger's watch, enveloping them in a holographic display of a vaguely unassuming space. Her eyes darted briefly from side to side, trying in vain to gather context or find an identifying landmark, anything that might tell her where he was...

But in the end, it was just a room. She didn't dare attempt to trace the signal.

To see him there, suspended remnants in shackles like a broken program rife with dead pixels. It made her heart feel utterly broken and yet, for him to be alive at all...

To hear him say her name...

Noxi's tiny bronze fingers twitched and she slowly reached her hand up to where the haggard, holographic face watched on. Her expression, ordinarily so dim and cold, turned to a distinctly human look of anguish. The anguish of loss, the pain of stifled joy, the beating heart of hope. It was like nothing she had ever experienced in any life she'd led up to this point. She was truly inexperienced when it came to these things...

What was one supposed to do when all these feelings threatened to swallow the heart whole?

"Oh nii-san..." She whispered through her small, trembling lips, feeling nothing in return as her hands touched the false image before her.
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Nickle
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Valerie's usually well kept expression faulted for just a moment has both her eyebrows raised. She did not attempt to conceal this however and merely nodded in response to Nox's origins. The girl could not be left to roam around, that was for certain. Thankfully having Kinclex in her pocket would keep Nox in check. "Like most things in that place, The Backyard is not the official term, but it works well to describe it. It sticks in the mind and helps people put a visual to the place. You need to let people know what they're getting into after all." Valerie gestured to those who were indeed in her employ.

The chestnut haired woman listened to Nox's story with genuine interest, with what the girl saying confirming at least some of her suspicions about her and more so expanding upon what she had originally conceived. "Then I dare say it was good of fate to put us in each other's paths. Of course, fate may have decided to do that from the moment I found Kinclex, or what was left of him, in that wasteland."

Valerie stood back, giving Nox and the image of Kinclex at least some personal space for the look of the thing. "He did not come out of it as well as you did unfortunately. However whatever was holding those bits of him together was a force that was exceptional. A will that refused to fade. Truly intoxicating to behold~"

Valerie may as well have been a world away though.

The broken form of Kinclex raised his head. Single blue eye looked at Nox, half his face was gone, the half that remained had pixillated crack lines running through parts of it and were fuzzy and vibrating gently in a way that had nothing to do with the holographic projection. If death by exhaustion was the starting point in describing the tiredness in Kinclex's face, you would have to multiply it one hundred times and dose it in a miasma of pain and strife to describe it now.

However, it was still a face that had some form of expression beyond this. Kinclex painfully smiled, his thoughts breaking for a moment as some part of his mind realized one small thing.

"Yo-u...sur-vivi-ed...Y-ou..alw-ays...wer-e...so...str-ong..."

Kinclex grit his teeth in pain. Talking seemed to be a great effort for him, his body shuddered and he seemed to be forcing it to persevere through it, even if it was through partially gritted teeth as he spoke, "Noxi...I'm...I'm...sorry...for...what...happened...I...could...not...restore...the...hearts...I...failed..."
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Noxi clenched her eyes for tears that would never come, feeling a pain unique to someone who had built herself a body immune to pain. She shook her head at his words, but didn't stray her gaze for a second, eating up every precious moment of their reunion.

"It wasn't your fault at all, nii-san. It wasn't our fate to be whole. Until I can have you back..." She wanted to say it. Even though Noxi's heart had been mostly restored by Dominique's death, she did not feel as she had hoped. And until she could have Kinclex returned to her, she feared she could never be truly whole. However, that was not a burden she wished to put on him when there was so little of him left. She would do what she could to shoulder his spirit.

She tried. The corners of her mouth tilted up slowly, but surely and little by little, she smiled. "Do not be sad, do not feel afraid -BIRI-..." Noxi caressed gently the image of his face, forcing that smile to remain on her face. "I am strong, my body will be strong enough for us both. I may not be whole, but I will do whatever I have to in order to make things right again. I will restore you, nii-san..." Her voice was weak and shaky, but she didn't falter, keeping up the facade as best she could.

She was strong, her heart was still separated. These things were lies, but lies she had to tell to spare the one she loved.

Without looking away, she addressed the ringleader.

"I entreat you, woman. Tell me what I must do."
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Valerie smiled as she watched Noxiquidem speak with Kinclex. She held back the feelings of annoyance at how familiar the both of them were. It frustrated her in a way she had not expected. Still, Noxiquidem had nothing but the glimmer of hope at seeing Kinclex again. As the girl spoke, asking Valerie what it was that she needed to do to get her nii-san back, Valerie spotted a look that appeared on Kinclex's face.

"Well, for starters, as mundane as it sounds, anyone working under me needs to be properly drafted into our happy little family. Tracking and identification procedures so that we can keep tabs on you would be a start, shortly followed by a registration of any tech you've had access to from The Backyard." The subtle message being, that if you play nice and by the rules, you get the opportunity of seeing Kinclex sooner.

The broken storm devil's remaining eye widened, "Nox wa-it a sec-on-d-!" That was all that would be heard before Kinclex's image froze in mid-sentence, just as his image froze and seemed to stutter, as if he'd been put on pause. Slowly the hologram begin to disassemble itself into a multitude of polygons that began dissolving as they broke apart.

Valerie had shut off the communication to the place where Kinclex was being held. She slid her hand to her hip and gave Nox a friendly smile, "I think its about time I introduced you to the Professor. He'll be handling the boring stuff while I attend to the day's business."

If Noxi were to look around, she would see that the crew that had been around moving equipment, seemed to be a lot less and were currently loading the last of the paraphernalia onto a jeep that was being driven into a nearby cave. Valerie started walking towards it, looking back only briefly over her shoulder and motioning with one finger for Nox to follow her.

"Any questions, Noxiquidem?"

Upon entering the cavern, Nox would start to see some of the remnants of what had been in here. A temporary base of opertions, holes in the cavern walls were bolts and been drilled to hold up pieces of equipment, a varierty of smells both natural and mechanical. The aftermath lingered, but anything that had been brought in, even any bolt or screws, had been removed. There was only one thing left and that was a large purple portal floating just above the ground further into the cavern.

The portal swirled purple, red and black, with a small glimmer of white at its center. There were no patterns or shapes to the colours that danced across its surface. Rather it looked like an odd portion of sea aligned perpendicular to the earth. Valerie and Nox would reach it in a few steps, but inside the cavern a faint echo of it humming could be heard.
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Noxi's eyes flickered for a moment, just as the image of her nii-san began to as well. However, just as quickly as the hologram began to disperse, so did her expression. What subtle hints of emotion there once were were wiped clean and her expression went cold. There would be no time for mourning, no tearful reunion. There could be no use for weakness or fear or doubt. Nothing mattered until she, and only she, could bring him back. Noxi had already discarded much of what made her human a long time ago. She had no cause to backtrack now.

Kinclex nii-san, I'm sorry. Please wait for me a little longer...

"You will have full access to the schematics of my body and associated technology. I'll install any tracking and fail-safes you recommend, but I will ask to examine them before installation." Noxi turned back to face Valerie, upright and calmly at attention like a good servant. Like a robot. She shook her head when asked if she had any questions and followed silently when beckoned.

For now, she would belong to this woman. A sin against her beloved brother, but one she would gladly endure to get her way.

Valerie had never met the likes of a focused and determined anticipation of Dominique.
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Valerie's eyebrow rose at Nox's condition. Examine them? To think she'd have the nerve to ask, but rather, Valerie was glad she had the brains to. She had enough hire muscle and even if it was a hazard taking on Nox, she could prove useful in all sorts of ways, including Valerie's original intention. "Hmm. Fair. If you're worried I'd be installing a bomb inside of your body or anything like that don't worry, no one around here has something like that keeping them working for me."

Valerie's smile was sweet and reassuring, genuinely reassuring and truthful. However it contained a portion of something...confident power. Something that alluded to the fact that she did not need to resort to such fail-safes. That she had her own kind of insurance.

"Now follow me and welcome back, to The Backyard." Valerie stepped through the portal. It felt like stepping through hand sanitizer, only without any strange smells or weird feeling afterwards.

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They were inside a building, seemingly well kept but with enough stains and mess along the floors and walls to show that it had been repurposed and had been in disarray for a long time before being put to use. The red-orange sky outside shone through the windows and ahead of Valerie and Noxi was a large black blob that seemed to shudder and move strangely. A voice could be heard, but not from any mouth as it directed workers this way and that.

"Professor!" Valerie's voice not loud, but simply carrying a firm octave of command that cut through the cacophony. The blob turned, somehow the shapeless form now looking in Valerie's and Nox's direction and moved over to them quickly, heeding an unspoken order. It shifted and looked at Nox and then back to Valerie, "Make yourself presentable. You have work to do with our...new recruit."

The blob started to change form, starting to take on a more human appearance, albeit a broken one. Supposedly he had been human once and even then Valerie used that term loosely considering how little humanity was left in the Professor. He was similar to Nox in that he had piece himself back together with what he had found in The Backyard, but where Nox had done so with machinery and magic, the Professor had done so with something more organically eldritch.

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"My, my, my." came the distorted, gurgling and somehow slightly staticy voice. "How did this one get out and then decide to get back in? In such good condition too. Nothing like the wretch of a man we found. Who are you?"
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The diminutive cyborg said nothing in response to her smile, merely sharing her gaze. There was a poison in that smile, but in the end, whether she trusted it or not, it wasn't something as simple as a bomb that concerned her. For the time being, she'd readily agreed to Noxi's terms. That was enough to start with. She'd have to rely on herself beyond that. Despite her and Dominique's not insubstantial technopathy, the Backyard, as she called it, was on a different level from what she was used to dealing with.

It was impossible to say what kind of technology she might encounter going forward.

They stepped through the portal one after the other, Noxi keeping a steady but near distance between herself and Valerie. It was a strategic choice, chosen based on her own processing and reaction speed should anything happen. However, despite the strangely familiar sensation of her meager existence pouring through the portal, she sensed no danger. However what she did feel, that black and unbreachable sense of nostalgia, left her no less uneasy. Was it possible that she'd been here before? Or was it something else that clawed at the fringes of her memory?

There was little time to consider it as another approached. Her mind felt it out cautiously as it approached creeping like a stilted snake to greet them. As it pulled itself together into a more familiar shape, Noxiquidem felt no less wary of its strange existence. In spite of herself, Noxi found herself taking a small step behind Valerie's coat, stopping just short of grasping at its fringe as she regarded the so-called professor. Shyly, she addressed the creature.

"...My name is Noxiquidem. I am Nobody. You should not call my Nii-sama a wretch." Her voice was soft, but as featureless as usual.
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