Chapter II

"Eidolon, please stop toying with that thing. We're still not sure if those devices have mind control power aspects of their own."

"I'm not "toying with it", Doctor. I am simply examining it."

"Waving it around and watching the pretty, colourful sparks that come shooting out, you mean. Hardly a barrage of rigorous scientific testing."

"Fine, I'll put it away..."

Sounds of buttons being pressed in rapid succession, and the numerous electronic bleeps and boops of a digital lock accepting a lengthy pin code, sixteen digits.

Then, sounds of a heavy lid being opened, briefly, and then slid shut. Sounds of strong locks re-engaging, bolts clacking back in place.

"There, see? It's safely tucked away inside the reinforced, triple-shielded storage unit. Happy, now?"

"No. But it'll have to suffice."

"Wonderful."

Faint noises of creaking chairs, like somebody adjusting their position in their seat.

"What about the Stone? Have you tested whether it works as advertised, Alexandria?"

"...Not yet."

"What?! Why not? You don't even have to do it yourself, just let one of the Case 53s try twirling it around."

A short silence, pensive and tense.

"...It would have to be a Case 53 with functioning limbs, of course; one that can actually manipulate the Stone - but we should have plenty of those left, at the moment, if I remember correctly."

"Hmm.. That might work. Even if the Stone turns out to be a trap of some kind, the risk would be minimal if we use one of our more... disposable assets, to conduct the testing."

"Such a venture would most likely be... ill-advised."

"How can you say that, with such certainty? I thought you told us that the devices and their maker are effectively immune to your power. Blind spots, like Eidolon, or the Endbringers."

"And isn't that a reassuring comparison."

"It is not quite that simple. However, I have gone over your individual accounts of the encounter, and discussed the matter with Alexandria."

"Yes? And?"

"After we... compared notes, certain possibilities and suggestions have become apparent. None of them are good ones, but they are just theories. I may be wrong."

"Well, that's a sentence I've rarely ever heard coming from your lips. If you're being that cagey about it, those bad news must be pretty dire."

"If you consider the possibility that the Triumvirate may now have lost part of their free will, and become subject to what could be described as a persistent Master effect, to be events that might fit under a heading of "dire news"... Then, yes. The news are dire."

Silence.

Then, the room erupts with noise, as several people begin to speak or shout at once, loudly.

"What are you-"

"That wasn't-"

"You can't be seri-"

"Quiet! Everyone, sit down, and shut up!"

Silence, followed by the sounds of people sitting back down in the chairs they recently leapt out of.

"Alright. Now, what's this about loss of free will, and persistent Master effects? We only behaved truly out of character while the Grim Re- ...the mystery cape was present."

"Are you sure about that?"

A creak from a chair, someone leaning forward in their seat.

"...What are you implying?"

"Have you already forgotten the incident with Narwhal, yesterday?"

"That was hardly-"

"Or the confrontation between Eidolon and Myrddin? Or the scene with-"

"Yes, alright. You've made your point. We've all been under a lot of stress, lately. Tempers are high, people's fuses are running short..."

"Or perhaps your passengers are actively trimming those metaphorical fuses."

Another silence.

"...You're not serious. You can't possibly mean-"

"Our passengers are dead. Deceased. Pushing up daisies. Completely inert, insofar as their sense of agency is concerned. They cannot influence our minds!"

"There is no evidence that the vials harvested from Eden can somehow... revert, and begin to act in the same way as a natural trigger! Back us up here, Doctor!"

"...Unfortunately, that explanation would fit our latest observations quite well. We should not disregard it out of hand."

"...What?!"

"This is preposterous! We might still be relying as much on guesswork and blind stabs in the dark, as we do hard facts, when it comes to how much we know about the passengers and how they function, but we've never witnessed a case where they just spontaneously returned from the d-"

"...Oh."

"Oh, no. That can't... No."

"As I said: We cannot afford to dismiss this idea without further study. There is too much at stake."

"But... If our passengers aren't... If they can suddenly influence us, then that means... No!"

"Repeating the word "no", over and over, won't make reality suddenly cease to be so... inconvenient. There are no mystical magic words, or mantras of protection, that can make our problems go away. We need to-"

"Inconvenient?! This is far beyond being simply "inconvenient"!"

"It fits, though. Dead passengers, Deathstick, Resurrection Stone... There's a definite pattern in there, when you think about it."

"We'll have to determine the source of this... interference. Whether it was caused by the Stone, or by the mysterious cape that gave those items to you."

"And then?"

"Then, we do what we always do - find a way to leverage our knowledge to save the world. Whatever it takes."