Mana P5y1s13

Mana: And so it was written: Pokiehlember 5th, Year 1, Dryad's Day. As the sun sets over the city of Titania, there's a strange chill in the air - the streets a little less crowded, a thin-ness in overheard conversation.
Mana: Even without the Emperor's orders, it'd be easy to slip into Jinn District now.
Wilhelmine makes her way to the tower again. At Millions' old place, she probably did little more than exchange pleasantries, trade introductions, and offer a quick farewell to Venetia. As usual, there's business to attend to, and so little time.
Mana: The tower - gleamining in shining amber and glass - is full of Ironclad, moreso than usual.
Mana: "I'm not saying it was an earthquake, but I am saying all my pens rolled right off my desk…" "…I wouldn't mention it to anyone. Everybody's on edge tonight."
Mana: The overheard discussions of bureaucrats heading out to late lunches. Very late.
Wilhelmine: "Yeah, Millions is charging a giant cannon pointed right here. Who wouldn't be on edge?"
Wilhelmine: "Of course, the eclipse tonight should happen first."
Mana: "There's an eclipse scheduled? It's not on our…" "The Emperor has spent the whole day shut up in his orrery chambers. I imagine he knows better than us."
Wilhelmine: "Pure Heart business."
Wilhelmine: "Both of them are, well - kind of dicks."
Wilhelmine shrugs. Then again, takes one to know one.
Mana: "G…guess we'd better be careful."
Wilhelmine: "I'll be around."
Wilhelmine: "Entirely unrelated, which … way to the Vault of Hearts?"
Mana: "It's… the eighth floor, isn't it?"
Wilhelmine: "Funny. Floor 8, for the ∞ floor."
Wilhelmine: "Elixir of immortality and all that."
Wilhelmine: "Anyway. Thank you." She moves for the stairs.
Mana: A long ascent, past the strange halls of the tower. She almost, for a moment, feels it shifting beneath her feet as she ascends.
Mana: And then she arrives at the Vault of Hearts.
Mana: Red light leaks from the tremendous steel doors leading inwards, watched over by one of the Ironclad - this one older looking, tarnished, cold and black.
Wilhelmine: "Hello. May I pass through?"
Mana: The Ironclad lifts himself up a little: "I suppose you can." He pulls at the door, opening it ajar just a bit, just slightly.
Wilhelmine smiles. "Appreciated."
Wilhelmine: "I can come chat with you later. Duty seems … lacking in the excitement department."
Wilhelmine: "From the looks of it. You know."
Wilhelmine scoots on through.
Mana: "So it is." The Ironclad says.
Mana: The Vault of Hearts is a strange alchemical laboratory - its floors crowded with glass jars arranged in aisles, lit by red lamps. They are secured with intricate golden locks upon the top, and they are full of hearts.
Mana: They pump gently, floating in the bubbling, red-lit liquid. The tile floors are lined with black-and-gold rugs.
Mana: Tiny name-plates indicate their owners, and the dates of their donations.
Wilhelmine passes by, inspecting some of the names. Anyone she'd recognize?
Mana: No, not in truth. One of them belongs to the Shade's artist-in-residence, Mira Detta - but I don't think Mina has met them.
Mana: A black, lean, hairless cat sits on top of one of the containers, watching Wilhelmine with a milky-amber eye.
Wilhelmine offhandedly comments to no one in particular, even though she's aware of the cat's presence. "Thought there'd be donors here, for some reason. Was more interested in people without their hearts than the hearts themselves."
Mana: "Ah." The cat says. "I suppose we've misled you."
Mana: "They're on the fourteenth."
Wilhelmine: "Not that I'm -not- interested. I'm … curious what the process would do to someone like me."
Wilhelmine: "Is it … reversible?"
Mana: "Someone like you…?" The cat leaps down, paces forward.
Mana: "Is there… something interesting about your heart?"
Wilhelmine: "Enough for some synecdoche about it. Heard of the Pure Hearts?"
Mana: "I have. What would the process do…"
Mana: "…And yes." The cat says. "It may be reversed."
Mana: "…The extraction of base sentiment, the rarification of the mind. The elimination of all desire and of passion."
Mana: "Some philosophers might argue that it's bliss."
Wilhelmine: "Some such as the Emperor, I'd imagine."
Mana: "I've always gotten the impression that he views it as laudable but flawed."
Wilhelmine: "Hence his current designs."
Wilhelmine: "Given that description, by the way, I … think my curiosity has been sated enough. I'd rather not try it."
Mana: "Isn't it nice to want things…?"
Wilhelmine: "'The city is suffocating. This, the emperor does not know.'"
Mana: The cat snickers.
Mana: "I suppose it's a compromise."
Mana: "Nobody wants their passions stretched out over an eternity."
Mana: "…But you're immortal already, aren't you?"
Wilhelmine: "In a sense. Not all it's cracked up to be."
Mana: "Yes."
Mana: "…Anyway, all the donors are within the tower except one."
Wilhelmine: "Leads to complacency. A smug assuredness. No conflict. Nothing interesting or relatable. Makes for poor stories."
Wilhelmine: "Oh?"
Mana: The cat paces past the jar name-plated "Mira Detta" :
Mana: "This one's in the Shade."
Mana: "Life's too short to be misdirected, don't you think?"
Wilhelmine: "Misdirected?"
Mana: "Led a-stray."
Wilhelmine: "Who are we referring to here? Mira Detta specifically? The donors as a whole? Me?"
Mana: "You, I suppose."
Mana: "I'm not about to send you chasing dead ends."
Wilhelmine: "Aha."
Wilhelmine: "I suppose I can't take one with me, can I?"
Wilhelmine: "No 'return to sender' shenanigans."
Mana: "That's not permitted."
Wilhelmine: "Figured."
Wilhelmine: "Should I bother with floor 14?"
Mana: The cat's tail flicks either way. "It's pleasant enough."
Mana: "It might give you some insight as to the purpose of the project."
Wilhelmine: "I can guess as much. That other side of the heart - the shadow of the Goddess. The emperor detests it."
Wilhelmine: "Would I find out anything I didn't already know?"
Mana: "The other side of the heart…?"
Wilhelmine waves a hand. "Never mind. Convoluted stuff about the Mana Goddess, creation myth, all that."
Mana: "Purely mechanical matters. Perhaps."
Wilhelmine: "I'll take a look then. Do take care."
Mana: "Yes. I will."
Wilhelmine steps back outside, and looks up to the Ironclad. "Got a name? And got any stories?"
Mana: The Ironclad cracks a smile. "I'm Thema. I fought in the southern war."
Wilhelmine: "How long ago was that?"
Mana: "A long time. Before the coronation."
Mana: "They would pour tremendous streams of sand upon my legion and burn them into glass. Against the march of the Ironclad, only a mire will do."
Mana: "Some of my brothers and sisters are still entombed there."
Wilhelmine: "What sides were even involved?"
Mana: "The forces of the Emperor, and… one of the southern kings."
Mana: "The names and histories of all the foreigners are shredded."
Mana: "Even to the east, they only call it the Moon Kingdom."
Mana: "Even with its moon now gone."
Wilhelmine: "Its moon - so different than the Luna kingdom above us? (Or below us, depending on how you look at it.)"
Mana: "Not different from the one now above us at all."
Mana: "That was quite the prize. Would that I have come along for that one."
Wilhelmine: "Mm."
Wilhelmine: "So, a giant cannon wouldn't even do you in, would it?"
Mana: "No. But it might bury me."
Mana: "Tower feels shifty to me today, too."
Wilhelmine: "Hm. Is this assault … three-pronged, then?"
Wilhelmine: "Or no - Millions' Fortress is below, isn't it?"
Mana: "No. Not below. Out to the north."
Wilhelmine shrugs.
Wilhelmine: "So three potential … catastrophes."
Wilhelmine: "The eclipse tonight, though that might only strike the Emperor. The cannon charging, most likely around noon tomorrow. And … whatever's below."
Wilhelmine: "Unless they're the emperor's countermeasures."
Mana: "…Yes."
Wilhelmine shrugs.
Wilhelmine: "You gonna be alright after it all goes down?"
Mana: "Do you know why I'm here, instead of buried in a graveyard of glass?"
Mana: "Even if I can only flex my fingers, I'll scrape my way out from the bottom of the world, if I have to."
Wilhelmine chuckles. "I gathered."
Wilhelmine waves as she walks off. "Good talking to you."
Mana: "Same to you."
Wilhelmine: Floor 14.
Mana: Palatial marble. Gorgeous, gleaming white. Fountains everywhere. Artists lounge in togas, just inside the gate. Some are writing, some are painting, some merely resting.
Mana: One of the artists looks up from her work: "Yes?"
Wilhelmine stands at the door, dressed in contrasting black. "Hello. Mind if I drop in?"
Wilhelmine: "I've heard about you. I'm just … curious."
Mana: "I don't mind." The gentle pass of paint and brush over canvas.
Wilhelmine steps over to inspect the painting, curious what the beauty of a heart without desire looks like.
Mana: A fantastic landscape - cold, empty moon-light, a wasteland forest of gold wire. A figure on giraffe-like legs strides through the scene, tracking black, black oil.
Wilhelmine: "… I must say, I'm not entirely sure how to react."
Mana: "What were you expecting…?"
Wilhelmine: "Nothing, I suppose."
Mana: "Painting can be a glimpse into distant worlds. I wish to say something about the terror of the distant but… I am not sure what."
Wilhelmine: "Kind of trying to defend against them, lest Titania opens itself and lets them bleed into her like an empty vessel."
Wilhelmine chuckles. "You'll pardon me if I'm a little nonplussed about the … subject material."
Mana: "How sad that would be."
Wilhelmine: "Would you like to do something about it?"
Mana: "…Not really."
Wilhelmine: "So I figured."
Mana: "As life remains, life remains."
Mana: "When life is extinguished, there is paradise."
Wilhelmine turns about-face. Nothing she already didn't know.
Mana: Nothing to see here.
Wilhelmine: - except that last bit. "What is paradise to you?"
Mana: "I'm told of it, though I know little. It's an idyll, where I can be reunited with my heart."
Mana: "Where one can live forever, without being bitten for their passions."
Wilhelmine: "Would you be able to express them, to act on them? This, I am curious about."
Wilhelmine: "I won't bite. What are your passions?"
Mana: "Love, perhaps? The thrill of adoration? To show my nature to others and, perhaps, be rewarded for it…?"
Mana: "The same as anyone else, I think, though the memory has grown cold."
Wilhelmine sits down next to the artist. "Do you need paradise for that?"
Mana: "To avoid the chill of sorrow coupled with it, I do."
Mana: "Otherwise, those I grow fond of will pass from this world, departing forever."
Wilhelmine: "Is there any guarantee your fondness will persist as long as paradise lasts? What makes it eternal?"
Wilhelmine: "Your existence may not end, but will your passion be as strong as if it were temporal, ephemeral?"
Mana: "Nothing makes it eternal. But the soil is kinder to it."
Wilhelmine: "The soil?"
Mana: "The world, the setting, the stage."
Mana: "You can imagine a world that's crueller to love than this one, can't you?"
Wilhelmine: "I don't need to imagine it."
Mana: "Then…"
Mana: "There can be one that's kinder, too."
Mana: "And that's the nature of Paradise."
Wilhelmine: "Paradise, fertilized by the dead of the last world. Kind, indeed."
Mana: "That's one way to put it, I suppose."
Wilhelmine: "While my sorrows aren't from this world, I would not do without them. They provide … perspective."
Wilhelmine: "A world that does not know sorrow is a world that does not know the gift it has."
Mana: "Ah?"
Mana: "Perhaps we'll have to invent something to be sad about, then."
Wilhelmine stands and turns to leave. "I think that sentence alone suffices."
Wilhelmine: No slam, no anger - just disappointment.
Wilhelmine: That's … well, there's probably nowhere to go from here in a sufficient amount of time. So that's the note this'll end on.
Mana: And so it was written.

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