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Mari

[PP-F4] Discordant Meetings

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Mari was pacing back and forth in her small cottage home; tucked away within the fourth floor - set on a clearing beside one of the floors Many frozen lakes. It was only about an hours trek from Snowfrost Village; if you knew where to look. The place itself was small...cozy. The room had been rearranged - a large Kotatsu which normally sat wedged in the corner was now dragged out to the center of the room - floor seats were set around the table - which could comfortably sit six. Instead - there was just a single seat around each side of it. Mari had initially dragged it out to the middle of the single roomed cottage in preparation for a guild meeting, but she had yet to hear back from Shield in regards to when or if it would happen.

Still..before that. Before that. She had to meet Beat - Mari suggested to Shield to meet him here in her home - they'd both be relatively safe there. With no monsters spawning and no chance of anyone intervening. A green player would be safe from attack here - Mari wasn't sure abut herself but...she wanted to accommodate Beat as best as she could

On the table sat a freshly brewed pot of tea; Mari wasn't sure which he'd like so kept it simple with a royal milk tea. Everything was set. Shield would be here soon. Still. Mari was nervous, pacing back and forth along the tatami mat floor - the only sounds in the room were the rushed rhythm of her footsteps and the crackling of the fire on the far right side. 

@Shield

Edited by Mari

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It had taken Shield a while to decide what would be the best way to help Beat feel safe, or at the very least that he didn't need to be on guard. He toyed with the idea of arriving ahead of Beat or coming in with beat, or coming decked in his combat gear for protection or specifically not wearing combat gear to help him see there was no reason to be on the defensive. However, each of these boiled down to the same answer - at the end of it, what was going to make the difference was Mari's sincerity.

That, after all, is the true question. Is Mari the victim of overwhelming circumstance, or is she just a very skilled liar? Beat will have to decide that for himself.

He arrived early, alone, and knocked on the door of the small, snow-covered domicile, careful not to knock any snow free from the roof by knocking too hard. "Mari," Shield called through the door. "It's just Shield. Beat isn't with me yet." It seemed pertinent to help Mari enjoy the last few minutes prior to panic by letting her know panic time wasn't yet upon her. He was dressed in his traveling clothes - no armor in sight - with his beige tunic turned up at the collar against the cold. His Survival skill kept him from freezing, but it was more force of habit from the real world than anything.

@Beat @Mari

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Beat arrived at the teleportation pad to Snowfrost Village, clicking his tongue at the reminder of how cold this floor was. His survival skill was keeping him from any treu discomfort, but it was certainly a contrast to his home, which sat next to a hot springs attraction. He tightened the collar on his travelling gear and began the trek toward Shield's marker. He figured it would take him about an hour to get there, which was fine with him, since he needed the time to think.

Not that I'll make up my mind before I'm there anyway...

As he walked, his left hand came out of his pocket and began pulling up equipment lists and he would begin to make battle plans, but then dismiss the menu all together, shaking his head. It was becoming more difficult to choose between relaxing his guard entirely, or being ready to strike. He let out a sigh as he approached the small cottage home and did a final dismissal of his menu, deciding to put faith in Shield's judgement as he had done in the cave.

At least for now...

Approaching the door, he noticed Shield still waiting there, his mind immediate jumped to nearly paranoid suspicions, which he immediately dismissed as he spoke, "Have you knocked?" he said, focusing on keeping his breathing slow and steady. 

 

@Shield @Mari

Edited by Beat

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Mari heard a knock at the door and stilled, it was only when Shield called out; claiming it was only him that she exhaled a sigh of relief. Good. She'd be able to talk to Shield before Beat got here - she'd be able to ask him if there was anything she should avoid doing or saying to help ease things. Mari patted down her over-sized sweatshirt - she wasn't wearing her usual attire, nor even her Yukata, something she wore at home. Instead - it was a dark grey knitted jumper that hung below her knees - her tiny hands disappearing within its sleeves. That was non threatening, right? Right.

"Coming!" Mari called out to Shield. Bare feet padded across the cobblestone floor and she was already talking as she opened the door. "Shield, I'm glad you're hear early-" She began. "I wanted to-" She stopped when she rose her eyes to see not only Shield, but Beat there too. Did....Shield Lie? Or did Beat arrive after that?. "To..." Her words trailed off. Mari bit her lip and continued the sentence anyway. "I was gonna say...to make sure things are okay before your friend arrives but...you're both here..." She said nervously. Mari fully swung the door open and stepped the the side to allow them to enter. 

"I got the fire and the Kotatsu on so uh - please make yourselves comfortable." Mari took another few steps back, that'd ease them right? 

"I-I'm Mari by the way." She said to the dark eyed and haired youth behind Shield. "You must be Beat? Shield talks highly of you." A trembling freckled face twisted up into a small uneasy smile as she tried her best to get her nerves under control.

@Shield @Beat

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"He arrived just as I had said that, and I didn't have time to correct myseld," Shield said apologetically, raising his open hand in front of his nose in apology. "Thank you." He stepped inside, unequipping his boots so that they would not track anything into the clearly Japanese living space. He equipped an extra pair of house slippers and stepped over to the kotatsu, settling himself down at the place setting and then gesturing at the chairs on either side, these being set up opposite one another.

Beat will want to look her in the eye, and Mari will feel more comfortable with a familiar presence at her elbow, or at least I hope.

"It's a cozy space, though a little out of the way. Then again, I'm sure you're not interested in having undue attention from strangers," Shield added with a nod, Mari had always spoken of the inconveniences of having an orange crystal without much difficulty, so he figured that was not untoward, even given the tense nature of the meeting. "Mari, I don't know if you had other refreshments planned, but if not, I'm sure I could convince Beat to produce something he's made in his shop. He's had no small amount of experience cooking for the front lines, and his pallet is considerably more sophisticated than my own."

@Beat

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The moment the front door began to open, Beat's heartbeat began to settle in his ears as his fists balled up in the pockets of his jacket. As she came into view, his eyes shot to the orange marker above her, making the coat he was wearing suddenly seem like far too many layers. He did his best to conceal the slow breathing he was using to maintain composure as he forced his eyes down, meeting her gaze for the first time. His gaze remained fixed on her as his left hand danced in the air, swapping his winter gear for a green, summer style, short sleeved Yukata over a black Crossreign t-shirt and navy capri-cut pants. He was finding the red haired girl's nervous demeanor disarming, something he had not been prepared for. 

Why is she nervous to meet me? I'm the one sweating here.

As he equipped a pair of slippers, he began to think that he had pumped himself up for this meeting for too much, which was frustrating and comforting at the same time. He dismissed his interface as he gave her a small bow, "I'm D-" Beat's eyes widened and he paused before quickly recollecting himself, "I'm Beat, and I would hope so. We've had each others' backs for a while," he paused again and his eyes narrowing slightly, "he says...interesting things about you. I hope they are as he says." 

Get it together!

He turned and made his way inside, stepping up from the genkan and taking a slow look around. He couldn't help but relax his face a little as he took the setting in. It was much like his home in that it was like being in Japan again, something he was beginning to miss more as time went on. Beat took one of the open seats that had a seat opposing it and waited for her to join them as he took several deep breaths to calm his nerves.

@Shield @Mari

Edited by Beat

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"Yeh...I apologize for the trek." Mari said as she shut the door and followed behind them. "This area is kinda special to me. It's where I used to come to play violin - and it's where I got my familiar. It's not too far from Snowfrost...but far enough that I wouldn't bother anyone. I'm not too worried about the attention from strangers, I'm more worried about being a bother." Mari added with a nervous laugh.

Mari sat opposite Beat, carefully slipping her feet underneath the Kotatsu. Wriggling her toes as she began to leech the warmth of the heated table. "I - well...no I didn't It's a little harder for me to get my hands on food - and I doubt bowls of ramen would suit. But if either of you did want some I have Tonkatsu ramen in my inventory." Mari left out the part where it would buff them, and she'd be wasting those buffs - she knew Shield would chastise her if she were to waste such things. Mari shifted her gaze to Beat. She reached for the pot of tea so she could keep her hands busy. "If you wanna share anything y-you made please do so."  She inwardly flinched, her voice was shaky. Was she really that nervous? Shield build Beat up to be someone who abhored Pkers, with just reason. And here she was, orange crystal - sitting right in front of him. Mari took a deep breath as she began to pour each of them a cup of tea. "Sorry. I have to admit, I'm a little nervous." She figured being completely truthful and transparent would help. Mari slid the first cup to Shield. "I can't imagine it'd be too hard to have a better palette than yours." Mari chided Shield. She then passed a cup over to Beat before pouring one for herself, finally placing the pot back in the middle of the low set table.

"It must be odd...the house outside doesn't look like it'd have something like this inside, right?" Mari said as she ran a hand along the dark wood of the table. "But this? It reminds me of better times - it gives me a feeling of nostalgia and comfort."  Mari's hand balled into a fist on the table so she wouldn't find herself constantly tapping it.

"I suppose...you have questions or...something?" Mari asked Beat. "I'll answer whatever you ask truthfully. I have no reason to lie, I'm not smart enough to either."

@Beat @Shield

Edited by Mari

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It was difficult to say, but Shield was getting a strong impression that he was the most relaxed person in the room, which was quite possibly a first. He accepted his tea, resting his hands on the mug to test its temperature. It was still too warm to hold comfortably, so he let it sit on the table for now and enjoyed its aroma. "I suppose since it's my fault we're meeting in the first place, it makes sense that I kick things off here. I won't go into depth, since each of you are at liberty to decide just how much information you'd like to share, but I will at least get the ball rolling."

Shield held out a hand to gesture to Mari. "You have a reputation that tends to turn players off, and rightfully so. This is a death game, and any threat is worth treating with a very healthy dose of caution." He lowered his hand and looked back and forth between the other players as he spoke. "I am in the unique position of not having to worry as much about being killed. it allows me to take those risks to investigate further, which I did. Her explanations were satisfactory to me, and as a result, I have undergone a number of quests with her to establish a rapport, even considering her trustworthy enough to take partial ownership of the guild that I am beginning with Baldur and Oikawa."

At this point, he gestured to Beat, using his other hand giving a nod to Mari to indicate he was taking her out of the hot seat for a moment. "Beat on the other hand has suffered considerably at the hands of PKers and orange guilds, and as such, he nurtures a powerful distrust for anyone who has an orange cursor, and specifically those who are considered player killers." His eyes were dark and focused, keeping his points concise and specific. "He is not without reason, though. He can be set in his ways, but I think it worth saying that his willingness to accompany me here says a lot for his willingness to hear you out."

He leaned back in his chair and tested his mug again. It was a little more comfortable, so he lifted it and took a very small, tentative sip. The ball was in their court now. He would have to let them manage from here and mediate as needed - which hopefully would be not at all. However, he did recognize a few potential points to worry.

Beat could potentially be very pointed with his questions... I don't know if Mari would be able to keep her composure or hold back tears. Would Beat see tears as a sign of remorse or as manipulation?

Shield did not have an answer for that. At this point, he would just have to help when he could.

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Beat's eyes rested on the orange indicator above Mari's head as Shield spoke. It was all review, but it was good mediation for the meeting that was taking place. As he listened, his fingers danced in the air once again. In moments dining place settings appeared before each of them, a small dish for sushi and smaller trays for soy sauce accompanied by a pair of lacquered chopsticks on top of napkins. In the middle of the table, two white, ceramic platters with an attractive arrangement of sushi appeared. Next to the platters, smaller dishes containing ginger and wasabi materialized.

As Shield finished, Beat took a slow sip from his tea, appreciating the warmth as it slid down his throat before he spoke, "I do have questions, many, but let's eat while we talk. I'm starving." He kept his eyes down at the food as he placed multiple pieces of nigiri and sashimi on his plate and poured a small amount of soy sauce from the small, ceramic jug he had summoned. He could not help but notice the shake in his hand as he set the small jug back down.

and it will buy me time to collect myself... 

Beat took his time, lightly dipping the sashimi in his homemade soy sauce and savoring each bite. As he chewed, he could feel his heart slowing back down and his mind refocusing on the task at hand. Beat looked up from the table and into the eyes of the red haired player across from him. It almost hurt how badly he wanted to look at the cursor above her head, but he knew where his gaze needed to be. He took deep breath as he grabbed another piece of sushi between his chopsticks, "Shield has told me brief explanations of some of the deeds that earned you that marker, but I need to hear them from you." He paused to take a bite, chewing quickly, but quietly. He swallowed and set his chopsticks down as he narrowed his eyes, his jaw set and his tone remaining even and calm, "I don't want a quick answer. I need an honest one. So," He paused again, straightening up in his seat, "Someone only gets an orange marker by slaying a player without an orange marker. That marker is only permanent if the player has repeat rule infractions. How did that happen?" 

 

@Mari @Shield

 

Edited by Beat

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 How did that happen?"

Mari knew the question would come sooner or later. She knew she'd have to go through the very difficult process of explaining everything. It never really got easier when confronted with such a question. "Right..." Mari said quietly as her thumb danced over the rim of her cup. "Right..." she said again as her grip tightened. "I...had a daughter - long story short my ex husband did some dodgy [censored] to gain sole custody. I saw her here. In the game. She was crying. She was so scared." Mari shut her eyes and took a steady breath. "You see, the very man my husband paid off, the crooked son of a b**tch lawyer had her. He was hurting her...I saw red." 

Mari paused she could already feel her eyes stinging but she tried her best not to. Not to shed those tears, not to cry. Even so- as she opened her eyes to look at Beat - they were there, welling up in the corner of her tired and bloodshot blue gaze. "He...threw her in the way of my attack. She was a child..." Mari's voice shook as she said her next words. "Y-you wanna know how I got my crystal? I k-killed my own daughter."

Her heart hurt. Her chest hurt. It twisted up inside.  Mari wasn't hungry anymore. She pushed the plates of food away from her before her head fell into her hands. "Everything after...I just..."

What more could she say? She could describe each and every death that was on her hands - she could explain that most of them were to save others lives, that every person she killed had a grave somewhere that she'd visit and talk to - but what good did any of that do? When she had taken so much from so many people. She didn't deserve to leave this game. She didn't deserve forgiveness. Every time she told someone of her sins - it just felt like another nail in her heart - and she was reminded of the monster she really was.

@Shield @Beat

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"Mari," Shield said. His tone was one of patience, but it was firm. "We have to get through this." He did not like that he had to be heartless in the moment, but he knew Beat, and Beat was not looking for a sob story. "If I know Beat, he need information, and thorough information. He's not going to lump the accounts together and rubber-stamp them all at once. There's more to be said about that story, and it's all important." He had left his food untouched for the moment as well, though it was not forgotten. This was not going to be a short conversation. "All we know so far is that she was being hurt and you attacked, but that the attack was not meant for her. I know you carry that guilt, and I know that defending yourself under harsh scrutiny is difficult. I can take up your defense, but we still need you to present the evidence."

He and Beat were no stranger to conflicted discourse. They often saw things from very different perspectives. If he needed to be the attorney for the defense, so be it, though he hoped to do as little as possible. The more he had to fight for her, the more difficult it might be to see her as being of sound enough mind to be trustworthy. Having said what needed saying, he returned to his tea, taking a long draw off of the top where the air had cooled some of the liquid.

This is about as difficult as I might have expected... though we are starting with the account that will by far be the most difficult to recount. Once it's out of the way and we get a chance to eat and drink, hopefully she'll be able to hold herself together.

As much as he was hopeful, he was still worried.

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Beat could feel his heart rate increase as she began to tell her story. Her story was not unlike many who were victimized by the human traders and dark guilds he hunted. It was not hard to remain objective, but he would have been lying if he said she had earned a small amount of sympathy, at least for the moment.

As Mari began to have trouble telling her story, Beat could feel his impatience began to stir. Shield's interjection was helpful in that it gave Beat a little more time to recollect himself. He felt as if he was on the edge of some kind of emotional event, but he wasn't sure what just yet and he knew that he had to focus on remaining receptive and calm. 

Patience...steady...

Beat exhaled sharply through is nose and looked down into his tea to refocus for a moment. He closed his eyes and took a slow sip as Shield finished speaking, setting his cup down softly once he was ready to speak again. This time, his voice sounded somewhat exasperated, though it was not angry and he was managing to keep his tone even, "Take your time. Like I said, I don't need a quick answer, but I do need an account of each event."   Beat felt like saying any more would simply draw out more emotion than he was already bound to see from her. He was not enjoying himself, but he knew that patience was key to getting what he wanted. 

 

@Mari @Shield

Edited by Beat

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Mari flinched at Shields words. This...was hard enough for her. Every time she had to tell this she had to relive the ordeal. She would have thought that Shield of all people would have understood how hard it was to relive your own childs death, to know that someone you beared, someone you loved with everything you had - was gone. She lifted heartbroken eyes to glance at Shield. She had told the story, what more could she do? What evidence was there?

Mari turned her eyes away. There was little he could do to help her. Mari knew that. Mari knew more than ever how alone she was in this moment. No. Not just in this moment. In this world. Mari removed her hands from the table and placed them in her lap.

"I...I came across him-Uriel..T-The lawyer I mentioned standing over her ...her pinned to the tree...so I ...I don't -" Mari hiccuped and forced her eyes shut. No. She couldn't falter here, she had to just bury her feelings. Bury them deep down where they wouldn't bother others. Mari quickly wiped her stinging eyes with the back of her hand and continued, her voice still wavering. "We fought v-verbally but..." Mari gulped. Her hands curled into fists within her lap, tight. Shaking.  "I-I don't...he was hurting her, he was going to kill her...so I attacked him and he - he grabbed her and used her as a shield and..." Mari fell quiet, her head lowered. She could feel her tears hitting her hands, but at least her fringe hid her face right now, a ginger curtain of tousled hair the only thing covering her emotions from the two men in front of her.

Breathe in. Hold...breathe out....

Mari spoke again after a few quiet moments. "It all happened so fast. She was already injured so my attack...took her from this world."  Was that good enough? Mari wasn't sure - if it wasn't - she honestly couldn't do anything more. "A-after that Alkor came, took Uriels life before he killed me. That's how I got the orange cursor."

But there was more? Wasn't there. Mari already felt so tired and empty. But she knew she had no real allies here. No friends. She was stupid to think she had. Beat was Shields husband. Shield was here to act as a mediator. It was silly of her to think that he was there to help give her some peace of mind...wasn't it. Especially after hearing what she had done. Did he ever consider her one? Mari wasn't so sure now. She again, wiped tears from her face. Lifting it just enough so her sad eyes could focus on the cooling cup of tea in front of her.

"But you wanna hear everything...right?" Mari asked. She didn't give him a chance to answer - she already knew.

"The second was a ruthless man named Argumail." Her voice was dead now, droning on in a tired and emotionless voice. She was drained. So very drained. "We had altercations before...because he was..." Mari shook her head. "He believed he was the literal king of demons. I came upon him attacking a group of players I considered friends. They were crying and he was licking their tears from their faces. I tried to talk but he - wouldn't listen. Thought it was funny. So..." Another pause. The more Mari told these stories, the more she realized she really shouldn't be alive. "So...I took his life to save the life of my friends." She finished.

But Beat still wouldn't be satisfied, would he? Not till she told him everything, not till her voice was hoarse. "Tom...." Mari whispered the name. "He...didn't deserve to die. He was a target of the Azure Brigade, Zelrius was after him...wanted to torture him and watch him suffer. Even placed a high bounty on his head. Tch.." Her voice fell lower. "I hate the Azure Brigade." She did...for everything they had done. Mari lifted her head more so she was now focused on Beat's cup. "We talked... he begged me to take his life...he -" Mari paused. Not even Shield had the full story. Would he think she was lying?

Did that even matter anymore?

"
He sent me a duel to the death request. Said he'd rather it be me than someone else to kill him. Asked me to ..to...." Her brows furrowed and Mari had to hug herself. "To look after his brother...so I-" Mari swallowed. Tom didn't really deserve to die. Not really. "I was weak. I took him away from this world..." Mari shook her head as it fell again. "Even his brother...his brother forgives me....Why though?" Mari looked up at Beat, the tears...the tired tone... she was spent. "Why?" She asked Beat again, some part of her knew he would not have the answers. "His brother forgives me. He comes to me often f-for advice. He...he even begged me to keep living but... I Don't deserve that do I?"


@Beat @Shield
 

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Shield heard Mari's question and saw her looking to Beat for an answer. He didn't know exactly how Beat might reply, but from his tone from a few moments before, it likely would not be helpful. She was deep in her head. Shield needed to try to bring her back.

"Stop that," he said quietly, scolding Mari. "What does it matter what people deserve or not? None of us deserved to be trapped in here, but we are. Being hung up on what people deserve is a recipe for misery in SAO, because SAO doesn't give a damn about that, and you have to be able to accept that things are the way they are." He leaned closer, lowering his voice. He was not angry. This was Shield at his most frank. "If we're going to get through this, we can't be focused on 'should' and 'deserved' and the like. Look at what is. You are here now, and like it or not, you are slowly being surrounded by people who trust you and think well of you, and I happen to be one of them. It's not up to you if you deserve that or not. It's our decision!"

He stood up now and moved to her side of the table, kneeling on the floor so that they were shoulder to shoulder. "Tom's brother forgiving you isn't about you, Mari," he said, his dark eyes piercing her, not allowing her a respite just yet. "That's about him and his need to move on. You need to let him have that. Questioning it now isn't a luxury you have. My decision to trust you isn't something you deserve or don't deserve. It just is. That's a decision that I made."

"Baldur's dojo," he began, pausing to take a breath in and out through his nose. "It does a lot of work to give direction for people who have made mistakes and are seeking to move on. Those players trying to move on isn't something they're doing because they do or do not deserve it. They're there because it's what they need." As he spoke, he tapped the table pointedly with his finger, driving his point home. "It doesn't matter in the end if they deserve to move on. If they're going to continue living, it's just something they're going to have to learn to do."

Finally, he pointed to Beat. "That man right there isn't your judge or jury, and it he thinks he's going to be your executioner, he's got another thing coming. He's just one of the people in this room who is going to be a big part of my life going forward, and whatever understanding is going to exist between all of us, we just need to have it out so we know where we all stand. But it's not your call if he decides you're trustworthy." He slid back over to his place at the table, taking one last deep breath. "So don't burden yourself with conjecture and opinion and deserving and worthiness... The things that have happened have happened. We are where we are. This conversation will end where it will end. So just stop..." he searched for the right word, looking down at his hands whose fingers twisted in toward one another, "...torturing yourself. You're doing fine. We're getting through this."

"Now. Keep going."

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Beat leaned in as Mari spilled her story. The details were remarkably tragic, almost comically so. So many series of unfortunate events happening to one person was quite difficult to understand or believe. Beat still had his doubts, but he needed all of the information to make a clear decision. Even if he decided that she was not innocent, taking someone's life was a big decision and one he did not take lightly. 

There is too much untold to make any sort of decision. Patience...

Beat took a slow, deep breath and sat back as Shield spoke, taking a couple of pieces of yellowtail sashimi, dipping them lightly in soy sauce before eating them both. As the flavor filled his mouth and lightened his mood significantly, he began to speculate about how many more there could be. At what number would he simply refuse to believe her? As Shield finished, Beat poured himself more tea as he spoke, "Torturing yourself over these events is understandable, but unhelpful. To yourself especially. The consequences of your actions will unfold regardless of how you feel about them. The way others feel about you matters when it comes to trustworthiness and the impressions you make are what matters." He looked up, meeting her eyes with his own, his face more grim than it had been previously, "We all have our demons. Taking a human life changes you, forever. You and I both know what that feels like."

@Mari

@Shield

 

Edited by Beat

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Shield spoke, as though he could feel her concerns and trepidation.  Shield told her that she was slowly being surrounded by people who trust her, people who thought well of her - Mari wanted to open her mouth to say she felt that unfair. Why should she? Wouldn't it be better if she were to just shut herself away again? But she clamped her jaw shut. Such words would only frustrate the two men. But... Mari's eyes slowly rose to Shield as he nudged her with his shoulder - people who thought well of her...And...He was one of them? Mari picked at her fingernails.
She guessed...he did ask her to join the guild...if he didn't think much of her, he wouldn't waste his time in asking, nor would he waste his time with this meeting. She wished the knowledge would ease the sinking feeling in her chest...that it'd ease the voices screaming in her head - telling her to run from everything and everyone.


They wanted her to push through; to keep going. Mari furrowed her brow as she hiccuped - her eyes falling to her lap as she fidgeted when he mentioned Baldur's dojo. Shield was right, at least - she assumed. Mari had never been asked to join his dojo. She had just listened to his words. She hated this. She felt like she was on trial - but...she deserved it right? Mari deserved to be pressed for all this information. She just...wished she didn't have to relive it all again so soon. Mari exhaled.

Beats words - they implied he had taken a life too. "I..." Should she apologize? What should she say to him? "You're right." She said quietly. "I don't think I could ever be the same - I don't think I can ever really forgive myself." Mari left out the part where she felt she didnt' deserve to leave Aincrad.

There was still more -

"Sugar and Spice." Mari began. "There were three of them, Sugar...Spice and their friend. They chased me up several floors trying to kill me if it was for glory...or a bounty, or because of what I had done...I do not know."  Mari kept her eyes to her hands as she began to circle her fingers round one another. "Sometimes I wish I didn't run - but...they were still in High School, I didn't want them to experience what I had, to make the same mistakes. I Tried talking that time. I did everything  I could to avoid the conflict. But they kept finding me. I didn't want death on their hands...but - their friend attacked me, and missed. Falling from a high place - I think they must have died." Mari's lip trembled. She felt cold. She wanted to stop - but she coudn't. Not yet. "They started hurting each other - I ended up hurting Sugar, who di- died. I Didn't realize a single hit would have...." Mari shook her head. "Her friend begged me to take her life too so I did. I shouldn't have. But I did."

Mari lifted her eyes to Beat. "Then there was Toshi. That happened fast. I had stepped away from everything after those girls. I thought...if I just disappeared maybe it wouldn't happen again. But I came across someone, his name was uh..." Mari tilted her head. Trying to remember. "Ashen Ura? Asura? We were talking...but then ambushed by someone named Toshi. He kept trying to attack Ashen-Ura, simply because he 'looked weak'  so Toshi died instead. Because of me."

There was only one person left. 

"I..." Mari took another breath to try and steady herself. "Some time ago...Aincrad allowed alchemists to craft potions that messed with your inhibitions." Mari glanced warily to Shield, she hadn't told him this. She had glazed over it. "I did. I made so many. Terrible things. Good things too, but people never bought those....heh..." Mari rose a trembling hand to wipe tears away from her eyes. "It's terrible... I made things that made people angry, made them apathetic...but also made them happy. Things that were meant to help with grief or to help with fighting. But those things...never worked out...I wanted to test the limits of those potions. I wanted..." Mari's hand fell as her head followed suit. Her voice a mumble.

"I thought... if I tried hard enough I'd find a way to  bring them all back. Or at the very least...make the pain a little less...I miss her. I miss her so much."

Back then...Mari had to believe her daughter was safe somewhere, comfortable and warm- that she wasn't cold and alone in a hospital bed, that her body, still and pale, strapped to wires with a metal prison around her head was the way she had left this world. Without the warmth of family. Without anything but fear and tears in her dying breath. But...somewhere, along the way - that truth hit Mari.  "I...realized that would never be the case." Mari said after a long moments silence. 

"Everyone kept calling me a monster, wanted me dead. I was hunted. Abhorred, my best friend. He...tortured me. Tried to convince me I was a monster. Wanted me to kill more because he found a sick joy in my suffering.  Another tried to kill me, just for some stupid Unique dagger he couldn't even use. Everyone I thought I could trust had turned against me. I ...I drank all those potions, and snapped. So...I lashed out at those around me and a poor sweet young girl died because of it. She was nothing more than an innocent bystander..." 

If Mari could sink any further into the ground she would have. The pain that ebbed and flowed through her body with each beat of a trembling heart was almost palpable as she lowered her head further to rest on the Kotatsu. "At least no one can make such wretched things anymore...but at what cost?"

@Shield

@Beat

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With the last of the accounts, Shield turned to Beat. "Okay. That's enough for now. I think it's best you finish your plate and go take a walk." He was being a little pushy, but hopefully Beat would understand. "Get your thoughts together. Take some notes. Gather up your questions. I'm sure you'll have plenty of them." He turned back to Mari, resting his hand on the table beside hers. "You take your time too. Go splash some water on your face, lay down for a minute, get some more tea... whatever you need to do, go ahead and do so." He had never been good at comforting friends. He could spot the need easily enough, but it was hard to be the shoulder.

I've always been too much of a 'fixer' for that.

With the first scene of the whole affair more or less out of the way, Shield finally returned his attention to the place setting before him, taking up his tea and sipping off of the top before taking a few sections of rolls off of the arrangement Beat had made. Nigiri was fine, but Shield had always preferred something with less subtlety to it, and he enjoyed the extra seasonings and flavors that came from the extra ingredients in the maki. He forewent the chopsticks, holding his sushi directly in his fingers and shoveling a piece of Philadelphia roll in the corner of his mouth.

This is going to be a long night. Gotta keep up my enegry.

He shoved a second piece in for good measure.

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Beat began to have trouble fixing his gaze on Mari, be he persevered. He folded his arms and forced himself to endure the details of the stories, coming up with more questions than answers for some. There was a fair amount of comfort in the fact that Beat was having a hard time seeing this girl as a ruthless killer with no value for human life. In his experience, anyone who had an orange marker was likely to keep it for good reason and had little regard for human life. Mari was certainly not a depiction like any player killer he had ever met.

If she is, she's hiding it very well...

Beat quietly breathed a sigh of relief as he began to feel the anxiety of potentially having to once again hunt a player killer down fade into the normal tension that would expected of these conversations. Despite what Shield had said about protecting her, it was actually quite challenging to protect a player from determined bounty hunter if they knew where to find their target. As she finished and Shield recommended a break, Beat grabbed his chopsticks as he nodded, "Sure, I definitely need to think about all of this. Message me when you're ready." He snagged a trio of salmon sashimi he had been saving and stuffed them in his mouth as he stood up. He walked around the table and felt his hand rest on her shoulder for only a moment as he passed her. He was only initially aware of the contact subconsciously, but as he made his way to the door, he realized what he had done. He quickly donned his winter gear and stepped outside, cursing the cold under his breath as he shut the door. 

What.Was.That?

Beat had never really had an urge for physical contact, so while it possibly seemed benign, it was a curious event to him. Empathy had always been difficult for Beat to understand and his limited experience with it had only come as a result of one of the many disputes they had gone through over being trapped in Sword Art Online. He summoned his spear and looked down the shaft as he considered everything that had been said so far. 

I guess if anyone else can understand taking a human life...

@Shield

@Mari

Edited by Beat

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Mari's head lifted up when she felt a hand at her shoulder; at first - Mari thought it was Shield, but when she lifted her gaze it was Beat who was standing by her. Her breath caught in her throat. Her hand reached up to lightly rest atop his, it was only for a brief moment. "Take your time, Beat. Thank you for listening." Then he pulled away. With that he had shrugged on his winter coat and silently left. Mari fumbled with her hair, twisting it round and round her forefinger -watching the door. What was that? Mari bit her lip. Did that...mean something good? Or at least - okay? Mari would settle for okay. Heck she'd even settle for silent resentment. Cautious blue eyes shifted from the door to Shield then back to the door.

"Will he be okay?" Mari asked quietly. Most people didn't like the cold. Was he just standing out there waiting for her to message? Or would he return another day? Mari shifted uncomfortably. Her heart still felt heavy - and beat hard and fast within her chest. She lowered her hand to find it shaken from the anxious meeting that had transpired. Mari let it rest on the table and curled her fingers into a fist. She shouldn't worry about her feelings right now. 

Mari closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. Holding it there for a few seconds. Just push those things down for now She exhaled and turned to Shield. "I think...that wen't okay, right?" She asked, unsure of the events that had transpired. She was tired - but she wanted to make sure there wasn't much animosity between potential guild members.

@Shield

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"It's... promising," Shield said, giving Mari a little nod. He stood and paced the distance to the door, peering out the nearby window just to keep an eye on Beat for a moment. "He's the type to wear his heart on his sleeve. If he was angry with you or distrusting, I think you would know."  He lingered by the window for a few extra moments, back to Mari in case she needed a moment to compose and collect herself before crossing back over to her and resuming his seat. "Thank you for taking the time to do this," he said, his dark eyes holding her gaze. "You've been through a lot, and here we are asking you to keep reliving it all." Shield's fingers wrapped around the still warm surface of his tea cup and he raised it to his mouth to take a few long, calming sips. He hadn't really noticed how tense he was until just now.

He loaded his plate up once again before sliding the platter over towards Mari. "If you've got even the slightest hint of an appetite, I highly recommend the salmon. Beat takes his marbling very seriously, and he is very picky about his ingredients." He returned to his own plate, taking another piece of maki and popping it in his mouth, taking a long moment to savor the richness of the various flavors. Closing his eyes, he sat back in his chair and took a few long moments to chew, glad that the first part of the meeting was sorted. Once he had swallowed his mouthful, he returned his eyes to Mari.

"Take your time," he said, nodding reassuringly. "I think Beat knows to do the same. We'll call him back in once you feel you've collected yourself. I know he will have a lot of questions, but if his parting was any indicator, it doesn't seem like he intends it to be a full-on interrogation."

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