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Mari

[PP-F4] Melting Preconceptions of Past

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2 Hours Prior
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"W-what did you DO to me!?" Screamed the brunette as she stared at her arm, now covered in flames.

"I Uh...Yeh I told you not to attack me because of my Flame Aura- are you okay?" Mari asked, glancing over at her adversaries HP - it had just dipped into the yellow. Mari had not attacked her, not once - but the other player, who called herself a Maverick Hunter hadn't given up. Even after Mari thought she was safe, the brunette had sprung out of seemingly nowhere to attack again.  "I don't really have any health potions on me but I gotta teleporta-"

"OH like you give a damn!" She spat as she aimed the red, bladed pole-arm at Mari. "I know who you are! You think you can just lull me into a false sense of security? IF you were really trying to redeem yourself wouldn't you just let me kill you."

Mari winced then shook her head. "N-no. That...would have been the case a few months ago, but - a wise person told me that If I were to die here - that it'd only spit in the faces of those lives lost." She rubbed her arm, she had thought she was used to the hate and vitterol by now - but every time she was met with something like this. It still hurt.  Still - all she had to do was close her eyes and think of the words Baldur told her - or her friendship with Macradon. At least one person would be sad to see her go.

"Oh yeh? Then why haven't you even bothered to take the Redemption quest yet?" She sneered.

Mari shook her head slowly.
"Because I don't deserve it right now - tell me, if you saw me with a green crystal - wandering around a town - would that make you feel any better? Wouldn't it be better if I truly, really truly earned it - rather than just taking the quest out of  convenience?"

The hunter's grip on her weapon loosened, and Mari could see it reflected in her green eyes - the question caught her off guard. She opened her mouth as if she were going to say something, but then it clamped shut and instead she charged at Mari...

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Present
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"Dammit..." Mari said as she covered her eyes with her hands. How could she have been so lax? So stupid. She had been too complacent lately, hadn't she? Mari sighed as she finally managed to shake the young Polearm who was chasing her down - "Phew..." She couldn't remember the last time she had been hunted like that - sure...she had been attacked recently on the first floor by that mob of players, and hell even Hidden had shanked her. But that girl? She was relentless and if Mari hadn't shaken her she would have feared for her life.  Mari pressed her back to a tree and slid down it till her butt touched the cold, wet snow. She inhalled slowly then exhaled as she sprawled her legs out in front of her. "Just give me a moment of peace, goddamn."


@Oikawa

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Snow crunched rhythmically to the patter of scattered steps as figure darted about the frosty expanse. The hint of urgency in their steps prompted one to assume they were on the run. Perhaps they were, but assumptions would never do you any good in these kinds of situations. The cloaked figure stopped. Coming to a halt after checking for whatever was tailing them only moments ago. Golden eyes continued to watch as the figure felt for the tree they rested on before sliding to where the roots sprawled into the ground and sitting for a rest.

A flicker of shadows enveloped Oikawa as he approached from the figures left. The darkness unveiling around him just as quickly as it had appeared.

"Just give me a moment of peace, goddamn."

A weak chuckle escaped the brunette's lips as he rested his shoulder on the tree. "Peace? An odd request for a place like this. Even more so coming from someone of your..uh..history," Oikawa mused. Scenes of the pink-haired woman danced through his mind. Vague memories of her antics reminding him of just who he was dealing with. Back then, he was scared. Afraid to approach the infamous leader of Cerulean Silence. One of Aincrad's most notorious PKers despite having a body count lower than more unknown PKers. The profile at which she operated however was in a league all on its own. Renown more so these days for her ability to elude capture and execution. That being said, if one was looking for her, she wasn't necessarily hard to find. As proven by the encounter before them now.

Shifting his gaze to the now ginger-haired lass, Oikawa continued. "Sorry for the intrusion. Our last encounter was cut rather short.." Turning, he pressed his own back to the tree and slid until he too rested in the snow. Frosted breath slowly expelled from him before sharply returning.

"I need your help."

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Cerulean eyes swiveled to meet a much taller and darker man than her - eyes golden like the sun shimmered beneath bangs of chestnut brown, and he wore a cocky-half grin that hid the tiredness his body wore. He looked familiar, extremely so and it was bothering her that she couldn't place a name to such a familiar face. He clearly knew her - and her history. "W-wait. Were you following me?"  She gave him an incredulous look. "So you just watched that poor brunette girl hurt herself?"  Odd statement, since said brunette was trying to kill Mari. Clearly, Mari's priorities were not on herself. She watched as he leaned against the same tree, and slid down to sit next to her, so close in fact that their knees touched.

Mari blinked, staring at him silently for a few moments before it clicked - and she realized who he was. "OIKAWA!" She practically screamed in his face as she pointed at him. Then, embarrassed by her outburst she slapped her hand to her face. "Gah..S-sorry. Sorry." She shook her head and sighed. "I just - never really expected to see you. I mean...I've heard about what you did - and how you disappeared and...."

She paused. Wait...

Did he just ask her for help? Mari chewed her lower lip as her brow furrowed. It wasn't unusual these days for some of the newer players to ask for help - they weren't around back then. They didn't know her - but someone like him?  Mari felt conflicted, of course she'd help him. She couldn't exactly turn someone away - but what if this was some ploy to try and murder her too? Like he had done to Zelrius. "Why my help?" Mari asked quietly after the embarrassment of the previous moment had settled. "I'd have thought I'd be one of the people you'd wanna see least. But...." She turned to look at him. Just like Hidden, he seemed hurt - confused. Like Aereth, so many Pkers were coming out the woodwork now .... and somehow, they were coming to her. The least she could do was try.

"And I believe in this world of Aincrad, that we all have a chance at redemption."

"What do you need help with?"


@Oikawa

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Oikawa's gaze jumped at the mention of his name. "Did she really only just realize who I was? I suppose with the hair and style switch, my look has changed rather drastically from my 'white knight' days." Her bare finger pointedly directed at him before just as quickly snapping to her mouth in apology. He chuckled as she stammered out "Gah..S-sorry. Sorry...I just - never really expected to see you. I mean...I've heard about what you did - and how you disappeared and...." She paused briefly, and understandably so.

The brunette met her stare. His eyes slightly switching back and forth between her icy blue orbs, searching for any inclination on how to respond. Was she surprised by his question? Was she upset with him for what he had done, like so many others? Was she even that close to Zel. He honestly couldn't remember. Did she feel bad for him? Surely not. She had no reason to. The extent of their relationship was nothing more than two PKers who had butted heads a few times. How long had he been staring? "I should say something..."

"I reason that's something we both have in common. Disappearing that is. Long to be forgotten and ignored by the general public. Though that's not exclusive to just us either..." Her brow furrowed. "On edge I wonder? I mean I did kill Zelrius in one of the most cowardly ways possible. It's not unreasonable to be apprehensive.."

"Why my help?" She questioned as her expression softened. "I'd have thought I'd be one of the people you'd wanna see least. But...." Her gaze seemed familiar. Welcoming even. It reminded him of the same face Kotori would make when he was bothered by something. The same face Kiru made when he told her what he had done to her best friend. Not quite the look of understanding, but the look of knowing there was more to understand. It scratched the edge of pity...and he hated that. But because of it, he knew why he sought her out. In many ways they were different, yet similar all the same. At least so he thought.

Snapping away from his thoughts, the wayward frontliner answered.

"I didn't follow you. As you've pointed out before in our last encounter, your routine hardly changes. I simply happened upon you by coincidence in this case as I didn't expect to see you away from home." Oikawa pushed his palms into the slush, turning his frame to sit more so in front of Mari rather than beside her. "I want to cope, understand, and overcome," he explained. "I- I- try not to let this crystal define me. I am more than just that single action I took. But the truth is, that moment has tore at me since. I wasn't quite in my own state of mind if you will, but they were MY actions nonetheless. I wanted him dead. And I was given the tools and impulse to act on it. I don't deserve redemption. I don't think I ever will. But I want to atone for what I've done, and I'm not sure how."

Shuffling in his seat, he lifted his head. His solemn look on his face searching Mari over for a response.

"I don't expect you to have a direct answer...I guess I'm asking more for guidance than anything.." His gaze shifted to the sun.

"I wonder what they would think," he mused.

@Mari

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The man was silent for a few minutes; a few really awkward minutes. His eyes swam over her features as though he was taking everything in. Did she look that bad? Was it because she simply changed her hair colour? Mari coughed and covered her freckled cheeks as she turned her head away from him. She didn't need to hear it, she knew she looked a mess. Finally, Oikawa spoke. Saying they both had something in common. Mari lowered her hands back into her lap as she listened to his words. "Yeh..." Mari said quietly as her thoughts drifted to people like Hidden, and Aereth. "That's true."

Mari snorted as Oikawa pointed out that her routine rarely changed, even from back then. "Hey, give me some credit - I'm out of home more often than in these days. But ahh..." She tugged on her ginger locks as she pressed her back against the tree. "You're right - I tend to get lost in my own mind a lil' too much. I actually live close by - that shop on the 10th floor is all but abandoned."

Mari watched as Oikawa pushed himself away from her only to sit directly in front of her. Mari wasn't sure what kind of answer she expected, but it certainly was not the one he gaze. Mari met his gaze - he held himself so tall and proud in her memories. A cocky half smile and confident eyes. But the ones that stared back at her leaked an unspoken sadness. A weight that was so great he could no longer bare it alone. Mari still wasn't sure why he wanted to come to her of all people - surely, there were others far better suited to this. "I ....don't know how I can really help with that. I'm probably the worst person to ask. I'm trying to do that everyday."  She reached out and placed her hands atop his. They were cold and shaking. "But I'll try to offer some insight."

Mari pushed herself off the ground with those words. "However, I don't think that is a conversation we should be having in the snow." Mari reached out to him to help lift him up off the ground. "Come to my house, I'll make you some tea."  Mari offered him a small smile. image.png.bd01d989e4aa75a770df25f2bdd38d94.png

"And for what its worth, I think everyone deserves redemption."

Oikawa stared at her then shifted his gaze down to her hand. Amber eyes boring into it as though staring at it would change anything. After a minute he closed his eyes and grabbed her hand, using it to help lift himself up. He still towered over her.  Mari lead him to her small cottage, the walk there was silent - but she expected that. Silence never bothered her, sometimes it was better for others to remain silent and work through things in their own head.  Mari knew that better than anyone, now he was probably wondering where she was taking him.

The path lead to a small snowy cottage by a frozen lake. It looked quaint, and despite it's exterior the interior only had a single room. Mari glanced over her shoulder at Oikawa.
"Sorry it's not much... to be honest I feel like I don't even deserve this."

They approached the door and Mari entered, stepping aside or Oikawa. "Sit at the Kotatsu. I'll prepare something for us."

The inside was more or less what one would expect from a snowy cabin in the words. Wooden walls and stone floors. Mari could only afford the one room, and she opted for a living room. Directly opposite them was a small table; enough to fit two if they were to squish together - a place for her to eat.  To the right; a roaring fireplace, there was a place to put a pot to cook food, but the hook was currently empty. The floor before the fireplace looked like it had been draped in a few different indescribable animal skins. In front of the fireplace were two chairs facing opposite each other; made from a rich red velvet, adorned in pillows.  There was also a small mirror on the left hand wall, round without trimming.

To their immediate left, right by the window was a small corner that looked like it didn't quite belong in the room - cobble floor fell away to a light tatami mat - and atop that sat a Kotasu table. It's surface made of a wood that had been stained a golden brown. The surrounding material, thick and plush made of black. Atop the table sat a small ornate teapot - painted with the images of the 'Great Wave of Kanagawa' and beside around it four matching cups.

"I think the best way to discuss any troubles....is over a good pot of tea." Mari said as she shifted to sit opposite the space she left for Oikawa.

@Oikawa

Edited by Mari

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The wheels turned in her head. He could tell as her eyes searched him for then answer to her question; why her? However, her words echoed a different sentiment. She reasoned that there had to be someone better suited for what he requested. Someone that had already overcame their fears, their demons, their betrayal. She pleaded that it was something that she still struggled with herself and from the outside looking in, Oikawa thought she had it all figured out. Sure she still kept to herself, but she wore the mask of "being fine" all to well. But he could only chuckle at himself for being as naive as to think she didn't still struggle too.

"No one has this all figured out," he thought. "Surely not with an orange crystal permanently glued above anyway" Mari's next words surprised him even more so though.

"But I'll try to offer some insight." Removing herself from the slush, she extended an open hand to him. Hesitant and cold, Oikawa stared briefly before accepting her invitation. His trembling hand clasping hers as he too was removed from the snowy ground. Her welcoming grin and the promise of warmth and tea eased him ever so slightly as they began to head to her home.

"And for what its worth, I think everyone deserves redemption."

The words echoed despite the sounds of chilling wind and crushed snow. Maybe it only echoed to him. Repeating over and over within his head. "But do I deserve redemption?" he questioned mentally. The looping of the two statements played back in his head a few more times to no avail. He remained unsure.

Snow continued to fall around them. The little flakes providing little more than background noise to their silent trip. He was unsure where they were as he had never been this deep into the fourth floor. His eyes wandered. Taking in what he could of the surrounding area. Not that there was much to point out aside from differing trees and shrubs here and there. Orange curls bobbled into view as his focus resettled on Mari. His hand was still wrapped in hers. The little heat he felt only resonated there and he wondered just how long she had been accustomed to living out here. Though if he recalled correctly, within SAO, feelings of pain and temperatures were reduced to nearly nothing. So whatever he felt was also just in his head. Though he didn't mind the thought.

As the path they follow diverted, a small frozen lake made its appearance. Her small home hugged the edge of the bank; seemingly serving as a guard to any threat of the area's serenity. Her apology brought his attention back to her. "No need to apologize," he responded. "Though I'm unsure on why you feel you don't deserve it. No one deserves to be homeless." 

Pushing through the front door, Mari gestured to the Kotatsu and made mention of preparing something for them. He felt honored and lousy the say the least. Not only had he bombarded her with problems, he did so without so much as a hello or thank you. A selfish one he was.

"Thank you," he let out. "For everything and inviting me to your home." Atop the table sat a teapot with the 'Great Wave of Kanagawa' etched into the side of it with paint. The matching teacups softly rattled as Mari sat across from him. "I think the best way to discuss any troubles....is over a good pot of tea." He nodded in agreement. Tea was rumored to soothe the soul, and more than anything his soul needed soothing. Taking note of the dried seaweed that had occupied one of the counters when they entered and the Matcha milk she was preparing already, he gestured to the seaweed; "May we?"

With a nod, Mari retrieved the seaweed and passed him a few pieces of it. "Thank you," he mentioned again as he placed one of the squared nori sheets in his mouth. Looking to her, his amber eyes settled upon hers.

"Where did we go wrong?" The question was more rhetorical than anything but he wondered about her. Why did she carry the same burden as him? What was her story and what weight did she carry on her shoulders? He wasn't so inclined to ask directly but he didn't want to go on and on about himself without learning about her too. After all they barely new each other and she welcomed him nonetheless.

"If you don't mind, why do you think your undeserving? We're similar and I know much less about you and yet I came to you of all people for help. The crystals above us played a role, but I guess I felt you were the person who may understand the best what we're going through."

@Mari

Edited by Oikawa

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Mari watched quietly as he took a few pieces of the dried seaweed- a nice delicacy she picked up from Cordelia's shop. Now that Mari was able to eat again, she did so. Often. She had snacks and food available where she could and those little dried salty sheets - topped with sesame seed were just perfect for her, and apparently for her guests. Mari couldn't help but smile as she watched him. Thankful that he felt comfortable enough to eat - and if he were anything like her...it had probably been a while since he had. Mari carefully poured Oikawa a cup of the milky liquid before passing it over to him.  "You said no one deserves to be homeless - would you say you deserve one?" Mari asked him. It was something she had been made to realize herself, that she was very hypocritical. She could feel the pain that swirled around him, a miasma of emotions that were so turbulent that they drove others away.

"It wasn't just us." Mari said quietly as her eyes traveled down. She twirled the cup in her pale hands before cupping it. "I've gone mad asking myself the same thing over and over..." She paused as she took a long sip of the tea. Long lashes fluttering closed. Sighing happily as the bittersweet taste allowed her to forget her troubles. The warmth settled in her stomach and permeated throughout her being. Her legs sneaked up under the blanket of the heated Kotatsu. Mari had denied herself these things for such a long time, and now...she felt like she finally was able to rest, but she couldn't Not quite yet. She was so tired...

They slowly opened when Oikawa asked her why she felt she was undeserving. Cereulean orbs, soft and forgiving with a gentle gaze- one that hid a storm of emotions beneath a calm facade.  "Ah..." That...was a lot harder to answer. "Do...you know how I got my crystal?" Mari asked him quietly. "I think...It'd be easier for me to answer that if you told me what you've heard or know about me. I can fill in the blanks and correct any misinformation. But...Aren't we here for you?" Mari asked, concern lacing her soft voice. 

She reached out to him and forced his hands to wrap around the cup tightly before letting them go. "When was the last time you were able to let your guard down, to just shut your eyes for a minute and breathe? I bought you here so you could do that within comfort and warmth. Things often denied to people like us."

@Oikawa

 

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