Sunday, August 11, 2013

Insert Jaw-Dropping Reveal Here (part 3.5 of 5)

"None of them?"

"Not one."

Kuroneko began pacing as Valerie massaged her temples. It had been a hell of a day. "Did you check the Marcuses individually and together?" the catgirl asked.


"The Counter Guardians? Wanderers?"

"All those who had encounters with Adrian, yes."

"What about Phoenixia? I know she didn't get a proper body until after Adrian died, but—"

"Been there, done that," Valerie interjected. "Phoenixia's mind is connected to Adrian's on a fundamental level, but computers aren't built to house human souls. Not in the way we're thinking of anyway." The healer pinched the bridge of her nose. "I even went so far as to hunt down Blake, of all people. It took some persuading to get him to let me inside his head, but no dice. He didn't have one either."

With both Michael and Tash backing her jurisdiction, Valerie had been able to extend her search for soul pieces far and wide. The remaining Society Leaders plus a handful of Counter Guardians had been informed of the situation, as well as Danielle and Phoenixia—the former because she had been promised information and was useful to the search, and the latter because there was really no keeping anything secret from her—but it still fell to Valerie to do most of the leg work. In the past two days, virtually every inhabitant of the Library Arcanium had had their minds scanned for Adrian's aura, but to no avail. They were running out of options here.

Kuroneko drummed her fingers. "Maybe there aren't any more to find," she suggested. "Maybe three pieces is all there was."

Valerie shook her head. "I asked Danielle about that this morning. There's still a good-sized chunk missing, from what she can tell." The healer stood up, wobbled a bit, and regained balance. It really had been a hell of a day. "I don't know about you, but I'm running out of ideas."

"You're also running out of steam," the catgirl pointed out. "So I'm going to give you an excellent idea: get at least twelve hours' sleep and a giant pancake breakfast, and we'll get back to this when you're ready."

The healer chuckled, but didn't have the energy to argue. "Better knock that off, Kuroneko," she said, "or people will start thinking you actually care."


On her way up, she found Phoenixia milling around outside the med ward, looking a little lost. Valerie wondered if she had been sleepwalking, which had been a problem with her recently. "Can I help you with something?" she asked.

Phoenixia turned toward her and smiled. "I was just wondering how everything was going. You haven't been on the computers for a while now, and I was getting curious about your progress."

Valerie chuckled. Phoenixia had apparently known all along what the healer was up to all these months—as noted many times by various agents, there was simply no keeping secrets from her, and it was a waste of effort to even try. "To be honest," she admitted, "we're running out of places to look. I mean, I could try re-writing that search engine I was using before, but I doubt it'd do much good, what with natural variations between different soul pieces... It's like searching for something, but you don't even know what it looks like."

"I can do that for you, if you'd like," the woman offered. "It's complicated, but I could probably do it faster than you."

"That'd be helpful, yeah," Valerie smiled. "Although, now that you mention it, how come you never said anything to me before, if you knew what I was doing?"

Phoenixia shrugged. "He was dead, Valerie. I knew he was dead, and if anyone would know that for a fact, it's me. Never in a million years did I think you might actually find anything..."

Valerie pondered that for a moment. "To tell you the truth, I didn't know what I was looking for myself. All I knew was that he couldn't be dead, because I could still sense him there, just like when he was alive."

"I thought I could sense him anywhere, but maybe not..." She trailed off, then looked sharply at the healer. "Do you think I have a soul?" she asked suddenly.

Valerie blinked, somewhat surprised at the sudden question, and then chuckled quietly. "With all the research I've been doing on the subject, I could go on all day about the logistics of that question alone, never mind the answer." She smiled. "And I could also go on all day about why the answer to your question is yes, even though I know why you're asking me."

"I have a body now, but all I really am is a machine," Phoenixia said softly. "An accidental file, a mistake in programming. Computers can think, but they can't imagine. They can't make something out of nothing, they can only do what their programming allows."

The empath smiled. "Phoenixia, I have a firsthand account from Terrie that you are much more than a program—"

"I live through him, Valerie!"

Both of them were silent for a moment, equally confused by the ex-hologram's sudden emotional state. Phoenixia wasn't prone to sudden bouts of existentialism, at least from what Valerie knew. But then again, what did she know? With a slight raising and lowering of her eyebrows, the healer opened the wide double-doors to the med ward and stepped inside. "Adrian's dead, Phoenixia," she said.

Phoenixia followed her friend in at her motion. "I know, and—"

"And you're still here. What does that say about your own autonomy?"

The ex-hologram stopped dead in her tracks.

Valerie put her hand on her friend's shoulder with a gentle smile. "You forget: I've been inside your head. Is that what brought this on?" she asked. "My looking for pieces of Adrian's soul? Trust me when I say that you are one hundred percent your own person, Phoenixia. It's true that computers aren't quite compatible with the kind of soul you're talking about—in one sense, they don't think in the way that's necessary, and in another sense, they think entirely too much. But the main problem is that everything a computer is is static and unchanging, and the nature of a soul is continuous change. You, Phoenixia, have been fluid and creative and utterly human for as long as I've known you, hologram or not. Maybe you started as an extension of Adrian, but in time you broke off and became your own person in spite of living in a computer—a fact that, given your personality, doesn't surprise me in the least." She grinned.

Phoenixia simply stared at the healer with the oddest look on her face.

"What?" Valerie asked, confused.

"It's just that... I never believed Adrian and Tash when they told me about your lectures, but they really do work."

There was a faint sound of crickets chirping... and then both of them burst out laughing.

"Well it's not like I come out with them on purpose!" Valerie said with an amused grin. "Irrefutable logic just spews from my lips whether I like it or not!"

"That's the other thing I didn't believe," Phoenixia giggled, "That when you get into that 'mode' of your's, you don't even realize you're making a speech."

Valerie rolled her eyes "Well I've been ordered to get some sleep, so I'm probably done with speeches for the day." She eyed the older woman. "You are feeling better now, right?"

"Mhmm," Phoenixia nodded. "And I've got a mission to get to, so I'll catch you later." She waved as she trotted out of the ward's doors and down the hallway.

Valerie smiled and shook her head. Phoenixia was a vibrant woman; it took a great deal to shake her, but the slightest nudge in the proper direction could put her back on the right path, even though she would never truely forget her doubts. Sounds like someone I know, Ari interjected with a small mental smirk.

Oh, hush you, the empath replied.

It's true though! the guardian protested. And goodness knows you could go on all day about the dynamic nature of the Soul. Constantly flowing and changing...

Minute to minute and second to second, Valerie confirmed as she entered her own quarters through the back door in the med ward. And the changes are so subtle and rapid that, most of the time, the person in question doesn't even realize it. She flopped onto the bed, exhausted, and let her mind wander. Changes... and rigidity versus fluidity... How fast do you suppose one person could change without realizing it?

Ari didn't answer, and Valerie thought of Tash's reaction to her little "revelation" a day and a half earlier. The Leader had changed since Adrian's death, to be certain, but so had she. Both of them had been overworking themselves to avoid thinking too much. Tash refused much of her sleep for fear of nightmares, but with all the thinking and meditating she'd been doing, Valerie found she could barely sleep at all. Tash put all of herself into her job, her friends, her duty, in order to hang on to the remainder of those she loved with all her heart. Valerie, though it sometimes tore her apart inside, protected the protector, and kept her from going places she'd regret.

"Whose purpose is to shield the sword?"

Abruptly she sat up, eyes like golden saucers. "Th-that's not possible. It couldn't be..." She couldn't even finish the statement.

"How much of your identity is wrapped up in your purpose?"

Ari was conspicuously nowhere to be found, hiding in the back of her mind as though waiting for the thought process to come to its conclusion.

"What's the answer, Valerie?"

Valerie laid back down and closed her eyes, pouring all her excess energy into her forebrain and launching her conciousness into a meditative trance.


"Back again, I see." He didn't look up at her as he said this; he was busy cleaning Hoshikuzu's blade.

She locked her gaze onto him. "What am I missing?"

"The obvious, of course."

Valerie crossed her arms. "I've been wracking my brains trying to think of any other possibilities, but I keep coming up with nothing. Zilch. Nada. There has to be more you're not telling me."

He smiled at her. "Oh, I'm sure you'll figure it out. You just need some practice finding your targets." And suddenly they were at the Library's archery range, and Seiryu was active in her hand. Not-Adrian stood and pulled another sword seemingly out of nowhere. It was slimmer than Hoshikuzu, but just as strong, and glimmering with power. The blue, V-shaped guard was shorter than the hilt, with a red stone embedded where the guard, hilt, and blade met. A sapphire decorated the pommel, and the silvery blade pointed straight and true, glinting in the half-light.

He flipped the sword over in his hand once and expertly flung it towards the target. It landed with a shuddering halt, point embedded several inches into the wood, dead center.

Dead center, thought Valerie. Ha.

Not-Adrian looked at her, all business. "Try to hit it."

She looked back at him, confused. "I don't want to hit it; I'll hurt it."

"You might," he nodded sagely. "But you know what they say about 'whatever doesn't kill me...'"

"You're a fine one to talk about not getting killed..." Valerie muttered, but turned toward the target range anyway.

After a moment's hesitation, she fired off three shots. Every one of them missed, forming a multicolored half-circle around the sword. The first arrow, to the lower left of the sword, turned a vibrant blue when it landed. The second, to the lower right of the sword, a deep, dark green. The third arrow, just above the blue one, became crimson when it hit. With each hit though, the sword in the center shone a little brighter.

Valerie tilted her head, then looked back at Not-Adrian. "I'm not the type to miss subtle hints like that, y'know."

He smirked. "Clearly. But are you the type to miss the blatant ones?"

She looked back, and suddenly there were two more arrows on the range, filling in the spaces to complete the circle. One of them, directly across from the red one and a little above the green, was a rosey sort of yellow that pulsated subtly when she watched it.

The other was white.


"To know. To feel. To play me once again.
Do you denote from what we feel?
Do you not know? I see you play these games.
Do you?" 
-Globus, "Orchard of Mines"

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