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[PP- F9 + 11] Into The Depths to Blow Off Steam <<Guardian of Fire>> (Lessa)


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<<Quest Details>>
 

Spoiler

Floor 9
<<Guardian of Fire>>
Party Limit: 4 | 20+ Posts
Repeatable for standard thread rewards.

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Quest Rewards:

  • 1,000 Experience Points
  • Each player receives:
    • Cerberus Soul (T1 Unique Consumable)
      • Adds 12 Burn damage for two turns to a weapon on a Natural BD roll of 8-10 for the duration of the thread. Does not stack with the Burn Enhancement.
  • Unlocks <<Gatekeeper of Fire>> Quest

Requirements:

  • Hear rumors of the Cerberus in Inferno Cavern and collect information to travel.
  • Journey from Knorilt Village across the Volcanic Flatlands to Inferno Cavern over at least three posts of roleplay. 
  • Defeat the Cerberus and its minions (3 Hellhounds per player present).

Summary:

Unease hangs heavy upon the residents of Knorilt Village, and has caught the attention of several info brokers in the area. Players can easily find information relating to the Cerberus that has made its home in the volcanic region nearby. It terrorizes and threatens anyone who decides to step out of the safe zone of Knorilt Village, wandering over a wide area that has been claimed as its territory. One broker has determined the location of the beast’s den and offers great rewards if someone is willing to take on the burden of dispatching the beast.

Outline: 

Gather some information on Cerberus to find its home. Once the players have found its location, they travel across the Volanic Flatlands to an area known asthe Inferno Cavern. The scorching heat in this area slowly injures anyone foolish enough to enter proper protection. During combat within the Infernal Cavern, each player suffers 15 unmitigatable damage every post unless they have the <<Survival>> skill active for this thread, or are wearing equipment with the Fireproof or Flame Aura enhancements. After having slain the beast, the players can return to Knorilt Village and claim their reward from the info broker for their heroic efforts.

NPCs:

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<<Injured Broker>>
An injured info broker who went on an expedition to find Cerberus’s lair. He is calm and will relay the information to the players when they express interest in finding the beast.  If asked for his name, he insists that the players cannot afford it.


Enemies:

Cerberus Minion.png

<<Hellhound>>
A hound, vicious as the magma it was summoned from. Protects the chamber to Cerberus's den.

HP: 200/200 | DMG: 50

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<<Cerberus>>
The guardian of the underworld, a three headed canine beast.

Head #1: HP: 200/200 | DMG: 40
Head #2: HP: 200/200 | DMG: 40
Head #3: HP: 200/200 | DMG: 40

Abilities:

  • Triple Threat | Each head functions as its own entity, with its own health bar.  <<Cerberus>> makes a separate attack per head still alive. 
  • Glowing Maw | The fiery jaws of the beast leave targets sundered. On MD 9-10, the Cerberus will ignore 50% (rounded up) of the target’s Mitigation and inflict Burn on them for two rounds dealing 10 unmitigated damage per turn.
     

<<Floor 11 - Taft>> 
 

The house was just not the same anymore. Even before everything, when it was just him and Adere living here, it didn't seem this quiet. But now that its just the two of them once more, that eerie silence just never seems to lift. The breakup was mutual.. mostly. Jomei still couldn't help feel like he lost a part of him. Jomei hoped he could at least take grasp at his musical side to help piece his life back together.. even if just a little bit. However, as he stared at the sheet before him, staff devoid of any notes or symbols save for the clef at the start of it.. nothing would come to mind. As if his brain was shut off and he could not find the on switch for the life of him. Swiping a hand across his desk, he sent the papers scattering to the floor.

At least the streets of Taft never seemed to change, always busy and bustling. It helped to provide some sort of background noise to stop him from going stir crazy. Dressed in a pair of black slacks and a loose fitting, green shirt, the ginger propped himself up onto the railing of his second floor balcony that overlooked the street below. He let his feet dangle off the side as he just looked out down the street. He lets out a long, slow exhale.. as if trying to just push out all of his negative emotions. It didn't work, of course, but it was worth a shot. With a few flaps of her wings, Jomei's owl companion rested itself beside Jomei, her talons clenching to the metal railing. Jomei offered a small, pursed lip smile as he scratches at the feathers of Adere's chin with no words. 

 

<<Starting Stats>>
 

Spoiler

Level: 31 | Paragon: 50 | Tier: 4 | HP: 820| EN: 120 

Equipment
Nihilim's Wrath  : Abs Acc | Bleed | Fallen
Vestige of St.Patrick: Holy B| Mit | EVA | EVA
Alatreon's Will: ACC | ACC | ACC

Rending Familiar: Adere

Skills
Saber R5 | TECH Spec.
Cloth Armor R5
Charge
B Healing R5
Energist
Fighting Spirit
MA R2
Combat Mastery DMG R3
Concentration 
Survival
Meditation
Parry

Mods
Athletics

Addons
Stamina
Ferocity
Precision
Nimble

Housing Buffs: 
Bedroom: -1 energy cost for the first two expenditures of each combat    
Bathroom: The first time you would suffer DoT damage in a thread, reduce damage taken from DoT each turn by 20% (rounded down)    
Dining Room: Turn 2 identical food items (same quality, tier, & enhancements) into a Lesser Feast.
Living Room: Increases out of combatHP regen by (5 * Tier HP) and decreases full energy regen to 2 Out of Combat Posts.

@Lessa

Edited by Jomei
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꧁༺Lessa༻꧂

 

Lessa, The Violet Guardian
Level: 31
Paragon Level: 39
HP: 820/820
EN: 114/114

Stats:
Damage: 23
Mitigation: 122
Accuracy: 2
Battle Healing: 41
H.M.: 8
HLY: 8
REC: 8
THRNS: 72

Equipped Gear:
Weapon: Arcael's Might (T4 THSS - DMG DMG DMG HLY)
Armor: Empress Armor (T4 HA - HM HM THNS THNS)
Misc: Neutron Star Necklace (T4 TRINKET - ACC ACC REC REC)

Skills:
Straight Sword R5
Heavy Armor R5
Battle Healing R5
Energist
Fighting Spirit
Charge

Active Mods:
Impetus
Emergency Recovery

Addons:
Iron Skin
Ferocity
Stamina

Active Extra Skills:
Parry

Housing Buffs:
Well Rested: -1 energy cost for the first three expenditures of each combat
Clean: The first time you would suffer DoT damage in a thread, reduce damage taken from DoT each turn by 20% (rounded down)
Relaxed: Increases out of combat HP regen by (5 * Tier HP) and decreases full energy regen to 2 Out of Combat Posts.
Col Stash: +5% bonus col from monster kills and treasure chests
Advanced Training: +10% Exp to a thread. Limit one use per month [1/1]
Multipurpose: Gain +1 to LD, Stealth Rating, Stealth Detection, or Prosperity to one post in a thread. Can be applied after a roll

Guild Hall Buffs:
Helping Hand: Lowest-leveled guild member receives +10 bonus Exp at the end of the thread. At least half of the thread's participants must be guild members. Limit one use per month, per character. [1/1]

 

https://i.ibb.co/PtTNDFx/image0.jpg

Taft shone, even as evening fell across Floor Eleven. Storefronts gleamed, advertising various items and sales. Someone had woven twinkling Christmas lights through the branches of the park's trees, likely to celebrate the approaching holidays. Even in a floating Hell, decorating for Christmas is a must. Players and NPCs alike rushed, strolled, and just about everything in between. Some sported short-sleeved shirts, while others bunded beneath heavy jackets, the chilly night air apparently too much for them.

Lessa hardly noticed as she hurried along the side-streets, sunflower blonde hair streaming behind her like a cape. She occasionally drew in a low, deep breath, enjoying the sensation of cold air filling her lungs, but the breeze did not seem to bother. Even as it tugged at the loose ends of her army green jacket, and seeped through the thin fabric of her blue jeans, she never slowed. How could she? She had somewhere to be.

It was honestly a miracle that Lessa had even heard. Two Players chatting at a nearby table in the White Rabbit had snagged her attention, mentioning Telrenya more than once. Though Lessa had never met the woman, she knew of her engagement to Jomei. Being the dutiful friend she was, she had, of course, listened in. Her cover was blown the moment the break-up was mentioned, and Lessa's mug of hot caramel apple cider clattered to the bar. "What?" she had sputtered, even as Alexander, the NPC bartender, rushed over to check on her. The two Players had turned to her, their expressions first quizzical, then annoyed. Apparently, they hadn't appreciated her eavesdropping, or her barging in on their private conversation.

"Look, I don't know what happened," the blue-haired boy had stated, scowling at her. "Just that Telrenya's back on the market. My friend knows her friend, and he always thought she was-"

If he'd finished his statement, Lessa hadn't heard it. She'd knocked over the barstool, tugging on her jacket as she slipped through the door and into the swirling snow.

Save for a brief stop at Manderley, she hadn't slowed until she reached his house.

Peering up at the young man on the balcony, Lessa lifted her arm over her head. Clutched in her hand was a cardboard bottle holder, the glass clinking as she offered it up to him. "Hey," she called up. "I'm pretty sure a cute Irishman lives here. If you see him, will you ask him to let me up? Tell him I come bearing gifts."

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Jomei rose his gaze to the rooftops across from his apartments, looking up to the sky as the sun had finally set, letting the stars take center stage. The streets sprung to life with its own sparkle, as strings of holiday lights snapped on, adding some color to the night. Despite the melancholy he felt within, he could not but feel slightly at ease. The decorations, the colder weather, and the overall season of joy and giving always brought a sense of peace and serenity with it. A small gust of wind tousled his ginger bangs into his face, and with closed eyes he pushed a hand upwards along his forehead to tame the wild flame on his head. 

A familiar voice called out to him from down below, catching his attention. Opening his eyes and turning them downwards revealed Lessa standing there, her always kind eyes looking back up to him. "Lessa, hey" he responded in a soft voice as he swung his legs back over the balcony, "Sure, give me one moment." As he began inside he stopped at the scattered sheet music he had thrown to the floor earlier. He gathered the blank documents and placed them back onto his desk.

After a short moment, the clicking of a lock could be heard, and the front door to Jomei's home opened. With a small smile he steps to the side to allow Lessa to enter, "Please, come in." He leads her a short distance down the main hallway to an open doorway leading to the main living space. A comfortable living room with a off white loveseat and matching armchair set around a coffee table. Connected is a small dining room table, and a kitchenette past that. "Make yourself at home." he says to her as he walks into the kitchen and retrieves two glasses. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure?" 

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"Thanks!" She called up as Jomei agreed to let her in. She shifted her weight from her left foot to her right, mind racing to formulate some sort of explanation. Surely he was going to ask what she was doing, especially considering how rarely she visited him. It had been months since they had even seen each other. Why now? And why with a six pack of pop? Why didn't I think of this on the way over? She hadn't thought of anything, except to close the distance between herself and her friend. Now she wasn't even sure if he needed the support.

Still, she returned his smile as she slid past him. It was a pleasure to see the redhead again, regardless of the circumstances. She made a note to check on her friends more often. Maybe then she wouldn't have to find out about their lives from strangers in bars. 

Shoving aside the pang of guilt, Lessa held out the cardboard carrier, and gave it a little jingle. "Faygo," she declared proudly. "Grape, orange, a red pop, and a cream soda." She scrunched up her nose at the last suggestion, and added, "Not sure why anyone would drink the cream soda, but I threw it in there just in case." She was stalling, of course. And as she stood in his tidy living space, she realized just how awkward her unannounced arrival really was. "I hope you don't mind the random visit," she began slowly, gently setting the bottles on the coffee table before lowering onto the edge of the love seat. "I just wanted to see how you were doing. It's been a while, and-" Like a bandaid. "Well, I heard that you and Telrenya ended your engagement. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

She'd seen car crashes play out with more grace, but at least the deed was done.

 

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Aside from just a friendly visit, which Jomei always appreciated from his friends, it seemed Lessa had caught wind of his current predicament. How, he was most curious, given he really didn't speak with anyone since, let alone told anyone. Plus, it wasn't like her and Telrenya were friends.. he couldn't even recall a time the two had formally met. Despite his curiosity, he supposed it did make having to break his new status to the world, especially after being dubbed "Aincrad's Power Couple" not too long ago. 

Jomei sat on the edge of the arm chair that sat perpendicular to Lessa's. His finger prodded through the bag, looking at the various colored bottles of soda. Eventually, he grabbed hold of the cream colored drink, which Lessa had dismissed with a sour face. Jomei scoffed as he lifted the bottle, inspecting the Faygo label. "I actually don't mind cream soda, my father used to enjoy one every once in awhile.. so I grew to like it. That, and makes for a pretty good mixer." He cracks open the bottle cap, the released gas creating a quick hiss. He takes a long sip, and then places the bottle back on the table in front of him.

He sits quietly for a short moment before speaking, "I appreciate you checking up on me, I really do." A small sigh escapes through his slightly parted lips, "But yeah, wherever you heard it, its true. The two of us split it off." His obviously tired, olive eyes rise to meet Lessa's as he continues. "It was my fault, really. Being part of the raid team was always a touchy topic for us. Went back and forth from her wanting to come to boss fights with me, to deciding it was better for her to stay home, to wanting me to retire as well. But.. the frontliners needed me, so I couldn't just back down.. especially with our dwindling numbers. As we tried to plan our wedding, the fights always got in the way. Always just one more meeting, one more boss, then we could get married and retire. One more became one too many and.. well, I can't really blame her." He picks up the bottle again, his thumb running along the label of the bottle for a moment before bringing it to his lips again. "But I'm - Well.. I will be okay."

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  • 5 weeks later...

“I’m really sorry.”

It was likely the most cliche thing she could have told him, but she couldn’t seem to find any other words. Besides, it was the truth. She felt her heart breaking for him, and as her gaze held his, she felt the same pain he did. She felt it, because she hurt for her friend. And because she knew what he was going through.

”Breakups are hard,” she stated plainly, continuing her trend of saying the wrong things. “I mean, I think they’re bad anywhere, but they’re kind of worse in Aincrad, I think. Because there are so many unique factors. Most couples don’t have to decide if they’re going to risk their lives on the frontlines or not, you know? They don’t need to plan weddings around boss battles.” Her blue eyes dropped to the drinks on the table between them. Robotically, she drew out the grape pop, unscrewed the cap, then just stared into the bottle. “They don’t all suffer from some weird kind of PTSD.”

When she looked back to him, her eyes reflected his pain. But she smiled as she added, “You’re right though. You’ll be okay. I never doubted that.”

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Olive eyes met Lessa's as she went through her own reasonings as to why breakups are so much harder in Aincrad. Jomei could agree, to a point, but could also argue the opposite. Hardly stifling a chuckle, he would furrow his brows slightly and speak his mind. "You would think that with more pressing matters at hand, like actually getting out of this virtual world, or staying alive every day, we wouldn't let things like relationships and breakups tear us down. But.. I suppose that's just us keeping hold on our humanity. Reminds us that, inside of these virtual copies of our bodies lives our actual souls." 

A bit of a deep quote, not entirely sure where that came from. But it was true, nonetheless. Jomei met Lessa's gaze again after speaking, catching the pain he felt reflected in the blue pools of Lessa's eyes. He did not need to force the small, yet caring smile that broke through. Unsure of whether Lessa was simply sympathizing with Jomei's hurt, or whether it was a fresher wound she too currently felt, he decided to try and pull the topic of conversation from his own situation. "What about you? I feel like this is one of the first times we really just.. sat and talked, instead of fitting in small talk while chasing ghosts or fighting monsters. How is everything on your end? 

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The hard exhale came like a humorless laugh. Finally, the blonde lifted the bottle to her lips and drank deeply. "I wish relationships didn't hurt as much," she muttered once she'd downed half her drink. "I wish I could focus so much on clearing floors that romance didn't matter as much to me." She wedged the bottle between her knees, then made a 'tunnel vision' gesture with her freed hands. "Just forget everything else, and keep all of my attention on getting out of here. It would definitely be easier, wouldn't it?" Lessa's voice trailed, and though her eyes remained on Jomei, it was evident she was miles away.

Sighing, she scrubbed at her face with both hands. "Shit," she muttered, her voice muffled against her palms. "I did it again."

Eventually, she retrieved her drink, and took another swig. "Yeah," she managed, cupping both hands around the bottle. "First time we really sat and talked, and I'm ready to go off like your my therapist." She smile she offered him bordered on sheepish, and didn't quite reach her eyes. "I don't normally do this, I promise. Honestly, I never do this. I'm always the one who does the listening, and the helping. I thought that's what I'd do here. That's what I came here to do." The rushing river of her rambling crashed against the rocks, and she choked out, "Thing's aren't great right now."

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Posted (edited)

Jomei frowned slightly at Lessa's almost pessimistic, but somewhat realistic, view of finding a lover to share her time with while in Aincrad. Yeah, Jomei had just said virtually the same thing, but he knew deep down that it was something that they, as young adults, could not --and frankly should not-- avoid. He started with a small exhale, as he quickly collected his thoughts on how to proceed. "Listen, like I said earlier, we are humans. Its just.. in our nature to seek out someone we want to spend time with, whether its platonically, or romantically. I've found that extreme loneliness is the real killer here, I know that first hand." his eyes trailed off as he thought of his friends that took their own life for that very reason. "If we lose that grip we have on how our hearts feel, and focus just on the fighting.. I don't think the transition back into the real world would go very smoothly if that was our mindsets. With all the death around us and the risks we take, sometimes we just need an anchor to keep us grounded." 

His face contorted into that of concern when, not only the pain, but the stress was apparent in Lessa's body language. "What. .did you do again?" 

With a small shake of his head, Jomei rose from his seat and moved to where Lessa was. He sat down beside her and placed a cautious, gentle hand on her shoulder. Offering a smaller version of one of his sly smirks, he continued. "Well, unlucky for you, I'm the exact same way. All ears, and never spilling my guts. Its obvious that something is eating at you, and yeah, you came here to make sure I was okay. But its heartbreak, God only knows how many times I've felt that in my life and got over it.. grew from it." 

Swallowing own the pain from his own issues as he spoke softly "We've been close nearly since the beginning.. and you've always been dear to me. So you know I mean it when I say I'm here for you.. you can talk to me. Hell-" he chuckles "Maybe your favorite Irishman will actually help you feel better. So lets make a deal, I spilled my guts to you.. you can spill your guts to me -- if you feel comfortable -- and then we do away with the tears, get out of here, and do what we do best. Get into trouble and fight something." 

Edited by Jomei
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Slumping forward, Lessa propped her elbows on her knees and dropped her head into her hands. With an almost comical groan, she squeezed her eyes shut. The couch shifted as Jomei took the seat next to her, and she paused to take a long breath, then let it out again. "Thanks," she said finally. The single word weighed heavy with exhaustion, but hints of raw emotion bled through as she continued to speak. "Really, it means so much that you'd be up for listening. I haven't really finished sorting through things myself, so this will probably be incoherent blabbering." She aimed a small, self-deprecating smile at her lap. "You're right though. The loneliness is the hardest part, I think. I've been so damn lonely the past few months. Even longer, if I'm being honest with myself. It's been a while."

"I can't seem to find the motivation to do anything. Or even the desire. I've spent so much time in my bed. I don't want to train, or craft, or quest, or anything. I'd been excited to get better at cooking, but that just kind of died off. I'd kind of thought about writing about my time in Aincrad, then that never happened." Her voice cracked as she concluded, "I don't even want to go riding anymore."

She pulled in air slowly, her lips pursed as if she drank through a straw. Then she pressed the heels of both hands against her eyes. "I don't know what's wrong with me, Jomei. I've never felt like this, even before SAO. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do about it. I feel weak, and alone, and useless, and just so low in a way I've never felt before. Not even after Alkor died. Then, I was sad. Now I'm..." She clenched her jaw, then gave up and finally said it aloud. "Empty."

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"I haven't really finished sorting through things myself, so this will probably be incoherent blabbering."

Letting out a tiny laugh, Jomei slouches over slightly to level his face with Lessa for a moment "Do any of us really have things sorted out?"  He then sat back up, and allowed her to continue. Removing his hand from her shoulder, he stretched it across the table to grab his own beverage. Though despite retrieving it to take a sip, he did not find himself doing so throughout the entirety of Lessa's confession.

The loneliness, the lack of motivation.. Jomei would not have pinned Lessa as depressed with the way she normally holds herself. Though, its usually the ones that are the best at hiding it are suffering the most. There were so many things that she seemed interested in that she just could not bring herself to do anymore, and it did not seem all caused by the loss of her friend.

Once she had finished talking, Jomei let out a slow exhale through slightly parted lips. Placing his glass bottle on the table before him, he rose to his feet. "Can I show you something?" he said softly, turning a courteous palm upwards towards Lessa to invite her to follow him. 

If she were to accept his hand to help her up, he would then lead her out of his living room and across the hall to another door. Inside was an open space, almost reminiscent of a music classroom without the desks. Windows lined the walls to the right and back, with a grand piano sitting idly in the far corner. Various instruments fitting the fantasy setting lined the wall under a large green chalk board that's clouded over from signs of recent vigorous erasing. On the sides of the door, one bookshelf held an array of recording crystals, while another loose sheets of paper. Jomei walked into the room, turning to Lessa to invite her in. "This is my workshop... well, the game provided it as a place to do crafting, but you know that I like to use my perks as a Performer for more casual reasons." He ran his hand along the bookshelf with loose sheet music. "When I feel the muse.. or the motivation.. I could feel myself compose for hours. Just getting lost in creating. It would bring me joy, fill me with purpose." He eyes the larger collection of sheet music tucked neatly within a folder on a table beside the bookshelf for a moment before continuing across the room. "That's only when I feel that spark of inspiration, when I actually feel like I can do it. But in reality, that isn't all the time. The reality is I haven't found that muse for awhile now, and before that, pretty sure it was even longer. But, when I knew I needed to just sit my ass down and write something, then I would find that spark again. It would remind me that this is what I love doing and what I need to do to feel whole again." 

He takes a moment before turning back to Lessa, scratching at the side of his neck when he realized he was rambling. Clearing his throat, he made his point. "W-What I'm trying to say is.. If you're surrounded by friends, but still feel that emptiness and loneliness.. then the only person who can truly pick yourself up off the ground is you. You're not going to want to train, craft, ride horses or whatever you want to do until you tell yourself that you can do it." He shrugs, "Then you'll be reminded why you loved doing it in the first place." 

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As he spoke, Lessa drifted from one side of his workspace to the other, pausing to study a stack of crystals, or admire the way the light gleamed off the instruments. Moving around seemed to help her remain grounded. Not looking at him kept her from breaking down completely.

When Jomei finally fell silent, the woman paused to drag her fingertips across the ledge of his chalkboard. Rubbing the powder between her fingers, she stared out the nearest window. "I like your chalkboard," she told him, lips quirking into a small smile. Though it trembled, she spoke the truth. "It's pretty retro. Your whole space is really nice." She motioned to it with both hands. "I can see why you'd want to spend your time here. It's a creative space, and an inviting one, I guess. It kind of reminds me of the band room in my old high school. I never did band, but some of my friends did, and Mrs. Keith always let us hang out. She had this single serve hot chocolate machine, and she always let us steal some."

For a few moments, she simply gazed out over Taft. The story hadn't been one she'd planned to tell. In fact, that memory hadn't been unlocked in years. But it had served as a convenient distraction from the reality of the situation, and the truth in Jomei's words. As she finally turned back to him, bathed in the city lights that spilled through the window, she wrapped her arms tightly across her chest. "You're right." She paused to swallow around a lump in her throat. "You're right, I just need to force myself out of it. Shock my system, get back on track. Make myself do the things I want to do. I'm the only one who can. It's so easy when I say it out loud like that. I have to make my own happiness"

Though she smiled wryly, a cloud passed across Lessa's flushed face. "My problem is that I did it again. I started getting my happiness from someone else. Even though I can make it myself, it was such a rush to feel like I was the center of someone's world, you know?" She lifted both hands helplessly, then let them drop to her sides. "I loved who I was so much with them that I forgot who I was when I was alone."

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Jomei could not help but smile as Lessa was able to reminisce about her real world life while in this space. It was his space of solace, so it brought him joy to know someone else was able to share in the moment as well. Jomei watched Lessa as she moved about the room, the pain in the lost woman's voice and stature very apparent. He wondered, for a moment, if he had given the right advice, or if his rambling went off topic and were lost. Maybe not, as she finally acknowledged his finishing point.

Jomei shook his head in response to her, "I never said it would be easy. Me dragging you onto your feet to do something is one thing, but when you don't have someone there to give you that push then its all on you."

Lessa's point of depending on someone else to provide her happiness drove home a bit. Jomei had to admit he was a bit hypocritical, preaching to Lessa about finding her own happiness when he, himself, spent the past few days feeling like all was lost because he was on his own again. However, this therapy session wasn't just to help Lessa, since their problems seemed, to an extent, one in the same. He just needed to heed his own words just as much as he hoped Lessa would. "I know. I know that all too well." he said, taking slow steps towards her to close some of the distance. "I'd be lying if I said I did not feel the same way after Telrenya left, but I just needed to remind myself the same thing I'm reminding you of now." 

"You can still play such a large part in someone's world, and find all the happiness you could from them, while still staying true to yourself. You can still find that happiness in someone, whether a friend or more, without depending solely on it. I guess its kinda like that saying 'learn to love yourself before you can love someone else.'"

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"I know." The words were hardly audible, a whisper in the cozy space. "I know it. All of it." She reached back to rub at the base of her neck, fingers kneading the knotted muscles. Her entire body remained tensed, like a housecat gathering itself to pounce. She simply couldn't figure out how to release the weight. But she blew out a hard breath, and shook her head in a way that sent her blonde hair slipping and sliding across her shoulders. "I've learned all this before," she finally explained. Her expression softened the slightest bit, but her eyes remained hard as she smiled ruefully. "I already had my 'finding myself' arc." With her free hand, she threw up the air quotes. "I was such a mess after I thought I loss Alkor. I even considered ending it, too." She hated to admit it, and Jomei now belonged to a very small group of people who knew that about her. "I know I come across as being so confident and sure of myself, but I wanted to die when I thought-"

She fell silent then, both hands dropping to her sides. She paused to rub her damp palms on the rough fabric of her blue jeans. The expression she wore when she finally looked at him held a silent plea. "I bounced back. I figured out what I was capable of on my own. And even now that Alkor's back in my life, I haven't allowed myself to fall back on that... that need. I haven't even wanted to. But... Bahr..." 

"This feels so different. He felt different, and I felt different when we were together. I can't get myself out of this one, even though I know that I need to. I know exactly what I have to do, too. I just... I just can't." She pressed her fingers to her eyes, acknowledging the pressure there. They weren't gathering tears. Rather, she felt a stress headache mounting. She didn't feel like crying. She felt like turning herself inside out. In a sense, that's exactly what she'd been doing.

"I'm sorry to dump all of this on you," she stated suddenly. "I know you'll say I don't need to apologize, but I feel like I do. You didn't sign up for it, and I would never expect you to watch me go off like this. But... I'm glad you were willing to. So thank you."

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Jomei felt his heart sink in his chest when Lessa admitted that, after she had thought Alkor had died, she felt as though that was the end of her story. Stories of players allowing themselves to expire within Aincrad were frighteningly high, as was expected from a bunch of teenagers and young adults pulled from their every day lives and forced to fight for their lives, loosing friends and loved ones left and right. Like a knife to his gut, twisting and turning, it always hurt whenever someone close to him admitted they had such thoughts. He frowned, as his eyes fell off of hers for a moment and drifted towards the floor. 

He stayed silent, only allowing Lessa's voice to fill the room. A room that was made to block most outside noise and allow the music to acoustics of the room to fill the void with his music. There was no music, only her voice, and he could hear every break in her voice.. every shaky exhale. It really helped him realize, even more so, the pain she was feeling. "I told you I would be here for you, so that's what I'm doing." he said as he crossed his arms. 

"I will admit.. I was a bit caught off guard by everything, but I'm not complaining. No, not at all. I guess it just shows that we were both keeping our own lives locked up a bit while we focused on just being comrades in arms.. just players of this game. So.. I guess I'm a little glad that you trust me enough to open up like this." His gaze turned to the side, staring towards the corner of the room next to the chalkboard.. but nothing in particular. "I'm not the best at advice, even though I know you didn't come here looking for it. I usually end up talking in circles, or just trying to relate one thing to another."

"If there was one thing I had to ask you now, is what do you want?" He turned his gaze back to her, a bit more confidence in his eyes. "If you go looking into that big heart of yours, what do you feel you truly long for, if anything specific I guess. I know you just want to be happy, we all do. You want to be able to get yourself out of bed each morning and do what you love. But if there's a longing for something that will give you that extra push.. what is it? And is it worth it to fight for?" 

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That was an easy question to answer. Yet when Lessa opened her mouth, the words simply would not come. Bahr is what I want, she wanted to say. Or, at least, what she thought she wanted to say. But no matter how she tried to corral the words, the sentence wouldn’t form, and the words never left her lips. All that slipped past was a soft puff of air, like the last of a breath she’d been holding for far too long.

“I’m not sure what I want,” she finally admitted. Her hands slipped silently into her pockets, and when she gazed up at her friend, she felt impossibly small in comparison. “It feels wrong, and I don’t even like admitting it to myself, but I’m just not sure. I don’t have this big ‘why’ that’s guiding me anymore. I used to. Getting home, obviously, was the biggest one. Then it was fixing Alkor.” Despite the situation, when she gave a small laugh, it held a watery humor. “Which was silly of me, of course, but I thought he needed saving. After he was gone, it was all about distracting myself. Even just staying alive, for a little while. Then I tried my hand at teaching, which was nice, but never felt quite right. Then I met Bahr, and I just focused on being happy. Carving out a little piece of this place where I could settle down, and have some normalcy.”

Her shoulders rose and fell, and the hard soles of her boots scuffed as her weight shifted from foot to foot. “I guess happiness is still a big part of it, but like you said, everyone wants that.” The silence stretched between them, Jomei waiting patiently while Lessa searched for answers and words. She found neither.

“Is it okay if finding out what my purpose is is my purpose?” When she finally spoke, the question held a faint, almost melodic quality. “Just for a little while? Until I know where I want to go from here?”

Slowly, gingerly, Lessa lowered herself onto the corner of the piano bench. Her eyes wandered the gleaming black and white keys as she continued to think aloud. When had she last put voice to her thoughts like this? When had she last felt comfortable enough to do so? She owed Jomei more than she realized.

“I’m just so mad at myself. I'm mad that I have to do all of this again. The finding myself thing, and all that.” She accented her words with a quick wave of her hand. When it fell again, she rested her fingers delicately over the ivory. “But I guess that’s probably a little unfair. I’m so different than who I was a couple years ago. Maybe it’s natural to go through it over and over again, because the ‘why’ I found then doesn’t fit me anymore.”
 

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Jomei chuckled, "Honestly.. the whole question was just hypocritical of me. I'm searching for that same answer.. what my purpose is. And if destiny really plays a part in our lives, and what happens is meant to be, am I supposed to find my purpose here? So yes, its alright that you're still searching for what you're meant to be, or hell, just what makes you truly you." 

His feet carried him across the wooden floor, finding his way to the other half of the bench that Lessa lowered herself onto. Facing himself away from the piano, he rested his elbows on his thighs and let out a small sigh. 

"I wouldn't worry about having to 'find yourself' again.. this world is so much different from what we grew up in. But despite that, its just part of growing up I suppose. So I'm positive you'll find that happiness you deserve, even if you don't find your purpose right away. You'll just know what you need to do to get back to being you." 

Allowing his words to linger in the air for a moment, Jomei brings himself to his feet and takes a few quiet steps forward, pondering on if the two should continue their soul searching a music room that bounces their words right back to them, or if they should do something else. Finally, he turns to Lessa, a hint of a smirk pulling at his lips as his olive eyes lock onto her. "Though I can assure you that I can talk to you for hours if it'll help both of us out of our funks, I'm starting to get a sense that.. maybe you aren't comfortable dumping everything on my floor right now. Do you want to get out of here? Maybe do something fun, or dangerous, to get our minds off of things. Hell, maybe we'll find our answers wherever we go." 

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"Growing up," Lessa echoed, grimacing. "I guess we could still call it that. I'm only, what, twenty something? Twenty somethings get to make dumb decisions, and then figure out how to navigate the fallout." She raked her fingers through her mane of blonde hair, then shook it back from her face with a quick groan. "I feel so, so much older. I'm going to assume gray hairs aren't a thing in Aincrad, because if they were, I'd look like an old lady."

She caught herself then, recognizing how easily she could slip into a joke about her appearance. How long had it been since she had dropped a comment like that without any thought? Inhaling deeply, Lessa felt her chest expand, pressing against the weight that had lessened considerably. As if to demonstrate, she rolled her shoulders back, noting the considerable lack of tension. She had a long way to go before she could consider herself relaxed, but her visit to Jomei's house had changed everything.

Would she ever be able to explain that to him? Could she ever prove to him what their talk had meant? She studied him for a moment, with that goofy smirk and those laughing emerald eyes. Then she let loose a laugh of her own. "Yeah," she answered him, the single word as heavy as a glacier calving into the sea. It took all of the breath from her lungs, and left her feeling infinitely lighter when she found her feet once more. "You know what? Yeah, I do want to get out of here. Maybe fun and dangerous?"

Without waiting for his answer, Lessa summoned her HUD with a flick of her wrist. With practiced motions, she navigated to her available quests. She had accumulated dozens during her time in the game, but she had made little progress clearing them out. Squeezing her eyes shut, she scrolled through with dramatic flair, then stabbed a quest at random. "Guardian of Fire," she declared. "Floor nine. How's that sound?"

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Letting out a small laugh, Jomei shrugged his shoulders with extended arms. "And technically we're stuck in these twenty-something year old bodies for who knows how much longer. So just means more time to make those dumb decision." His tone suggested he was mostly just joking, since he figured their bodies were still aging outside of SAO... how ever long its been so far. The experiences they would face here, despite being a video game meant for teenagers and young adults, would probably age them mentally as well. So, maybe there wasn't truth behind his words after all.. probably should have kept that to himself. 

"That's the Lessa I know." He couldn't help but smile a bit brighter at her slightly more eased demeanor while expressing a want to do something more fun than listen to their sad words echo off the walls of an empty room. The woman too initiative in choosing an adventure for the two to partake in, and randomly at that. His grin faltered ever so slightly as she closed her eyes and spun the wheel, worried it might land on something that would be over the two's head. When Lessa picked out Guardian of Fire, Jomei let out the exhale he was holding. "That's a throwback." he said with a nod, before furrowing his brow, "If I recall, I completed it with Meokka.. but she called for help from Ssendom when things were looking a bit rough. Pretty sure she vanished after that." He grimaced, before looking over to Lessa, "Please don't disappear on me like that, if you can help it." the uncomfortable, grit teeth look curved into a bit of a smile as he toyed with her. "

"Alright, I'm going to head upstairs and grab my gear." he looks past Lessa, "The windows in here don't provide much privacy.. so you could always use the living room to put your gear on if you wanted." The way the game worked made putting different outfits on quick and easy, but he personally still liked getting changed without prying eyes. So he offered the same, if it made her comfortable. "I'll meet you back in that room in a moment." he said to her as he turned to the open doorway, and made a left up the staircase to his smaller bedroom.

He had taken his armor and weapon out of his inventory, for whatever reason, and placed it in his wardrobe. Retrieving the items by opening a menu containing the wardrobe's contents and placing it into his own virtual pockets, he moved to stand in front of his tall mirror. Olive eyes took a long glance at himself for a moment, before rubbing the palms of his hands down his face. A slow exhale, as if letting out any of the bad emotions he could, passed through his lips before he gave himself a small smack on the cheeks. "You've got this." he said to himself in a quiet voice. A few more swipes into his own inventory, and the casual house clothes he wore disappeared into a flash of white, soon being replaced by his long black and green coat and rapier on his hip. He tugged on the lapels of the jacket, seeing himself in his combat attire for the first time since the last boss raid. Giving Lessa an extra minute or so, he moved back downstairs and into the living space. "Alright, you ready?" 

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  • Jomei changed the title to [PP- F9 + 11] Into The Depths to Blow Off Steam <<Guardian of Fire>> (Lessa)

"I'm pretty sure there are people who would kill to stay in their twenties forever." Though it was actually a pretty morbid subject, Lessa's gave a soft laugh. "So maybe we should consider ourselves lucky."

At the mention of Meokka, she tilted her head in thought. "I don't think I'm familiar with that name. Meokka, I mean. I remember Dom. He actually gave me a weapon, but that was a million years ago, and it randomly disappeared from my inventory at one point. I guess there are some weapons that do that? I'm keeping a close eye on Hell Rose now, because I'd be devastated if that one vanished. It has so much sentimental value." Realizing she'd gone on a bit of a tangent, she waved her hand through the air to indicate her backtracking. "That doesn't really mean a whole lot, though. I wasn't all that social, even back then. Honestly, I can count my close friends from Aincrad one hand. It's a very different experience than the huge crowds I drifted in and out with before SAO."

Only after she'd finished putting voice to her jumbled thoughts did Jomei's final statement sink in. Her hands, which had been gesticulating wildly, fell limply to her sides. "I won't," she assured him solemnly. The rigid finality in her voice, the assured way in which her gaze bore into him, left no room for skepticism. "I'm not going to disappear on you." Emotion, which she had only just succeeded in burying, threatened to bubble once more to the surface. She shoved it back down again. "There's been far too much of that going on lately, but I'm not going anywhere."

He dismissed himself to go change, and though Lessa had never been too worried about privacy, she drifted into his living room. Once he'd left her alone, she donned her familiar gear, hardly noticing the heavy weight as it settled across her body. The ribbons of light had hardly faded before she strolled to the table, picked up her bottle, and downed the remainder of her grape pop. In another world, she may have laughed at the concept of chugging Faygo in a full set of armor. But after so many years in the game, nothing about it seemed out of the ordinary.

Jomei emerged from the doorway just as her used bottle burst into fragments - another thing she might have found bizarre had she not grown accustomed to it. "Welcome back," she greeted, and when she smiled, the expression finally reflected in her lake-blue eyes.

 After they had exited the apartment, and begun to walk down the sidewalk, Lessa motioned toward a nearby corner. "I dropped Riker off in the park over here, so he could get some fresh air, which he completely hated." Laughing, she added, "He'd just stay inside and sleep all day if he could, and he hates the crowds in places like this. So I'd put money on the fact he's just waiting for us to show up and come get- Yup, I knew it."

Her enormous wolf familiar loped down the street toward them, scattering Players who lunged out of his way. He halted a few feet away, leveling a gaze that clearly said 'I will never forgive you for this.' Then he dutifully plopped down at her side. 

"Now I think we're ready."

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