2017-12-08: What Lurks Underneath

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============================<* Wayside Village *>=============================

Wayside Village sits at the midst of a road exchange leading into the neck of the Badlands. Decades ago, this village was abandoned due to increasing pressure and risk from roadside thieves and bandits, as well as aggressive wildlife, but it was resuscitated recently by the Ebony Wings.

Now, Wayside Village stands as a haven "for those who have been left by the wayside" - it houses an orphanage, school and a homeless shelter and soup kitchen to aid those that have been abetted. A vulnerable, but growing community has gathered here, slightly odd in shape, size and appendages, owing to them being mostly "Tainted" -- rumored to be broken Metal Demons, or perhaps just Beastmen and other demihumans; the real story isn't quite widespread. Besides, those that have nowhere to go seem to be happy enough to coexist here.

For Drifters, a large roadside saloon called the "V4L-H4LLA" acts as an inn, a watering hole and a stable all in one. Those with vehicles that require repair can also find some mechanics who can enact some basic maintenance and a top-up of common fuels. A dojo with all kinds of martial training equipment has been set up near the village centre.

Wayside Village sustains itself largely by trading and selling water for other services, owing to its recently repaired water purifier unit - served to the village via a Qanat with a robust irrigation system stands at the edge of the village, where a Garden with simple hardy crops and other agricultural pursuits can be followed.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        The lucid roar of the waterfall surrounds the Temple of the turtle-like statue of the Guardian of Water, Schturdark. Carved in the image of its majesty, the statue stands tall with a Ley glimmer, stood atop an intricate mandala of complex patterns knowable to those who study Crests as the mark of Muse.

        Below, beyond the depths of the sigil is an ominous and pervasive presence... an ancient and primal sensation that tingles at the very back of the spine, clawing to the very edges of the mind. The reason that the very destruction or sealing of the statue has proven to be so precarious -- what lurks beneath? And how will disrupting the statue affect that?

        Here, Riesenlied is standing guard, pensive and quiet in her contemplation as she waits a stark glimmer of hope from Jacqueline, Catenna and the others. She can only hope Elder Halle had good news. "Hurry back soon, Jay, Catenna... everyone..."

        "Riesenlied."

        The Hyadean whips her hair, blonde hair tossed in the unnatural winds of the underground aquifer.

        A humanoid Metal Demon stands before her, draped in light blue and lilac armour; adorned in the image of a mermaid, carrying a long, thin ARM spear with her. It is Dva, one of the Ebony Wings.

        "Dva, I didn't expect to see you..."

        She holds a finger. "I asked Noeline to come here and relieve you. You look sick."

        Riesenlied's expression dies down a little, with a soft sigh. "I shall be fine for a while longer--"

        "I insist." She steps closer, with a pointed look upon her face. "You seem awfully worried about the Statue, Riesenlied. Why is that? Who're you expecting back so soon?"

        Riesenlied is silent for a while longer... before sighing quietly. "You already know why-- either way it goes, Wayside--"

        "This is about more than just Wayside, is it not?" Dva pointedly presses, frustration creeping in her voice. "You have a stake in it that goes beyond our village."

        Riesenlied stares towards Dva for a bit longer, scrutinising her eyes. She'd never seen the mermaid Demon so sure, so inquisitive before. But she knows where this is going.

        "... yes," she finally admits, lowering her gaze and averting it for a moment.

        "Answer me plainly, Riesenlied," Dva does not let up. "Even in our struggles as the Ebony Wings, in Old Petra, we've followed Lord Siegfried's command. We've fought for Mother, to see her be returned to this world."

        Her eyes narrow.

        "Has that changed?"

        Riesenlied feels a lump in her throat. Her lips thin, as she whips her gaze back towards her comrade.

        "... I cannot," Riesenlied decides as she gains strength and resolve in her voice. "I cannot condone further destruction in the name of resurrecting Mother, Dva... I cannot condone another Adlehyde, or another Arctica..." She trembles further.

        "I cannot adhere to Lord Siegfried's principle of becoming the myth that has perpetuated throughout Filgaia. I do not want us to embrace the pejorative of 'Metal Demon'. I want to see us be better than that--"

        "And when would you have told this to us?!" Dva barks out an interruption. "How many soldiers do you unknowingly lead to commit treason, Riesenlied?!"

        "I would have told you," Riesenlied finds herself on a weak position, wincing. "But I wanted us to be safe. I wanted Wayside established, that's when--"

        She is abruptly cut off.

        (BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nf4AKMhw2MU )

DC: Riesenlied switches forms to Ebony Wings!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        A pin-prick of pain explodes into a harrowing sensation of shredding impurity -- and the blonde Hyadean convulses in seizure as she suddenly drops to her knees. She stares at her shoulder, where there is a familiar large spike embedded in it.

        Riesenlied looks on in horror as she nearly collapses, whimpering, "W-Why do you... ..."

        "It hurts you deeply, doesn't it? Whereas I can't even feel it. This Malevolence," Dva scowls. "I saw what Kalve was doing with it."

        Dva places a hand to Riesenlied's cheek as tendril-like bands of impurity start to ensconce the Tainted demon, binding her further and further into place, sending her into painful convulsions.

        "Don't... do this-- Dva--"

        "Your strength and speed are lacking. You do not heal well. You cannot transform. You bleed red. You feel and act unlike our kin... more like humans. You espouse this 'empathy' that you so embrace. You are even affected by Malevolence..."

        The scowl erupts into a full blown, twisted look of scorn. A few tears are on her face.

        "Can you even call yourself Hyadean anymore?!"

        She raises her spear, her arm trembling as she does so. "You're not fit to lead us! You should've stayed in the Gutter where you belong! You-- You've made everything so complicated!"

        Riesenlied opens her mouth to respond, yet finds herself stiffened as she chokes as a tendril of Malevolence continues to band itself around her neck. Her vision is starting to... blur... into the darkness...

        "D...va....."

        But unbeknownst to the both of them, reinforcements are already underway -- for both the Drifters, and the Demons.

        Some may have even overheard the conversation that led to this struggle.

                   In Deep solitude, bereft of human vanity
            Away from the pride of Life that steely couches she...

        A cataclysmic battle shall soon unfold, on the mere auspice of multiple parties happening upon the same place at the same time, a cruel twist of fate. Light shall be shed on the loyalties of those involved, whether for the sake of a sleeping saviour, or for the future of a race descended towards their old, warlike ways...

                Cold currents do thread, turned to tidal lyric.
               Little would they know their victory was pyrrhic.

        The statue of Schturdark watches on from above, impassive...

<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi emerges from a distant corner of the temple wrapped in a blanket and wiping sleep from her eyes, only to be confronted by the shocking sight of Dva stabbing her own superior officer with her ARM-spear. "Hey! What's going on?" she demands, black steely spiky armor appearing in ripples across her body.

<Pose Tracker> Fenrir has posed.

Fenrir was capable of stealth when necessary. And seeing someone head to the Temple alone...Fenrir followed Dva, keeping a fair distance and holding her breath. She lost the other Metal Demon briefly, but caught up just in time to hear the tail-end of her 'conversation' with Riesenlied. The Metal Demon remained quiet until Riesenlied had been attacked, before moving forward, revealing herself. "I thought you were too soft. How far were you going to take us? Drag us all the way until we were too far deep, until going against your will would have meant willingly throwing ourselves to be culled for your crimes? Just because they consider us 'tainted' doesn't mean we're no longer soldiers, you redblooded wretch." Fenrir sneers, glancing to Malfi as the wolfwoman's own arm begins to shift into a furred claw. "Good to see some of us still know where our loyalties lie. Following you was worth it, Dva. We need to smash the Statue now, before any of her supporters catch up."

Fenrir doesn't have the time to reach it, but she starts moving forward, back turned to the entrance and her fist clenching. "We're still Hyadeans, right?"

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Since Lily learned of the Statue in Wayside, it has dominated her plans. Something so vital, so close--even if it has to be handled carefully, for the town and for those who might stand against Riesenlied's intensions, it must be handled, and so she's come here. ...The truth is that once she made it down to this chamber she didn't leave, never returned aboveground in the intervening period but instead kept vigil over the statue, broken up by sleep and investigation of the nearby chambers. She has not been alone, either, but taking the opportunity to study the magic here as best she can, to try to feel out that presence, its limits, where it's strongest...

She was in the puzzle chamber nearby when Dva came upon Riesenlied. The sorceress--still dressed in military attire, blacks and greys and armored jacket, was investigating a carving with magical senses when she overheard the sounds of conversation. This did not draw her attention. ...Not until she heard the tones, the words creeping towards her on the stagnant winds of the underground. SHe glances once to Fei, nearby, focusing on her hearing as she goes still--but it is not her hearing that results in what happens next. It is an altogether different sense. Malevolence reaches her like smoke, coiling around her though it does not penetrate, and Lily immediately moves. She walks, pulling her ARM and smoothly readying it for use as she strides into the room. Her golden eyes stare out at Dva over Riesenlied, seeing the Malevolence take her. Her eyes are on the Hyadean's back, the aggressor in Lily's sights.

Her eyes pulse once, brilliant gold, as the air around her rosewood-and-gunmetal weapon's barrel heats, seeming to draw some light into it--

Before the bullet rockets out straight for Dva's back, exploding into a brilliant blast of flames that blocks out sight of Lily as she lowers her weapon and whirls into the room, banking left.

"I'm more like you than she is," Lily admits, her voice low but loud enough to carry. "Take comfort in that before you die, if you wish."

Lily's eyes are as merciless as any demon's, cold and focused. She adds--at Fenrir's call, now that she's revealed herself--"You're too late. I'll be standing between you and the statue."

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Hearthblaze!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Lily Keil has canceled their attack on Deep Dragoon Dva.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

The tunnel Neriah dug down here is surprisingly neat and with a relatively welcoming incline. She even strung lights at regular intervals. It kept her mind off of other things. Like the horrible feelings radiating from that ward beneath the statue.

The digging is done now. She has nothing left to distract her. She'd settled for seating herself in a corner of the grand hall, away from the statue.

She can still feel it.

A fresh bandage bites into the creases of her right palm; she knots it off. The pure white begins to take on a little spark of red at its heart already. A low, steady pulse of pain shoots down her arm and into her palm. Wincing, she closes her right hand tightly, shoulders trembling a little, then lifts her head towards the heated conversation some distance away. Neriah looks like she's been through hell; her face is deathly pale and her pupils have dilated down to tiny points, and her shoulders tremble subtly but tangibly, all the more visible for the fact that she's in her tank top and skirt.

Her eyes widen as Dva produces that spike - a spike sparking with a charge of something she's felt before. A fresh shot of pain shoots through her palm.

It gives way to something euphoric. Her eyes begin to roll back a little. kill them all kill them all kill them all kill them all kill them all.

Neriah shakes her head hard enough to at least make some headway at clearing the thought. It doesn't go away.

"Riese," she manages. Her voice carries, just a little. There's a visible, exhausted tremor in it. "I'm sorry. I'm didn't want to hurt... Mikaia...."

She sags forward a little. Inhaling, she seems to clench up - and her entire body momentarily ripples. A wave of dark energy floods across her. Then it's gone.

Neriah's head comes up. Her pupils have shrunk so much as to be nearly invisible. "...but it's too much," she manages, her voice thin and twisted with anguish, as though she were trying to force it out.

Tall heels click against the flooring as Neriah begins to walk towards the statue. A thin whisp of unlight begins to coil around her wrist, flickering. She's not moving to confront the Metal Demons, at least.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius, that sketchy enigma of a man, is present largely independent of the machinations of the other members of the Caravan Kinship. (They might only notice something's up because one of the Sealing Rods is missing.)
        Re-navigating the Wayside tunnels on his own, especially armed with something so valuable in his possession, is a most severe risk with more to lose than just his life. But no, something seems to have been of such great importance to him - some intuition, some habit, whatever the hell drives this man - that he's willing to act independently and quickly.
        Does it have anything to do with what he was doing at the statue? He has a new compass in his possession, but... these details cease to be important as he catches earshot of several pointed words.
        His eyes narrow from his hiding place just beyond the entry to the shrine. He was right to go ahead. He hurls himself into the ancient shrine with a forward roll into new cover behind another piece of fallen debris as he takes mental inventory of how many different voices he's hearing.
        He knows he cannot take them all in a direct fight. All he needs instead, then, is to draw closer - maybe attempt to ascend the difficult climb. He remembers the incantation for the ritual.
        If Riese sees him as she writhes in pain, she'll notice that he does indeed look in her vague direction at least once - but says nothing to her. Does nothing for her.
        Coldly, he tries to move in on the objective without distraction nor delay.
        His approach will not go as smoothly as he seems to believe.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
Riese had asked him to move camp closer to Wayside not so long ago to reinforce what was coming - and he'd been waiting nearby in one of the adjacent chambers. He was keeping watch, though you wouldn't know it by the way his arms were crossed, given that his eyes were shut. But that's only because he had a partner trading off.
 
"Echo!" Ruby calls out, and listens to it reverberate in the distance. "This is boring!" And listens to boring get called back a few times within the caverns. But then she hears something else in the distance- and jostles the young man with her.
 
A tiny voice can't outstrip the roar of the waterfall above, but it's audible. "Asking the deep questions while stabbing someone huh? Can't say I approve at all." There's a pink cat, hovering in the air - a good distance away before she does this small double take as she gets a better 'feel' of the implement. "Wait seriously!? Did Kalve leave those spikes just laying around or something?"
 
This happens just as boots scrape to a stop upon the cavern ground. His expression a little hard to read.
 
And now he's here. But this isn't what he expected at all. A hand slides a sword out of its scabbard, as he grips the hilt with both hands, his palms squeezing into it rather tensely. "Things don't have to get worse here. Just back away from Riesenlied." He cants his head a little to the side - before looking Lily's way - "As I think your window for us just talking about this is closing real fast."
 
There's a glance towards Fenrir - his expression no longer hard to read at all, "Yeah let's get one thing straight. You're not smashing anything at all."
 

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Hearthblaze!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a glancing hit from Lily Keil's Hearthblaze for 36 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil takes Cover! She gains 50 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        By now, Shalune has travelled the paths of the waterway enough that they're starting to become familiar; in the time since she joined the initial expedition down into the caves she's led the Carakin down through them as well, then spent some of her own time travelling up and down the branching paths of the underground river to check for structural damage or other ways out of the water system - not to mention, other ways in.

        The waterway is cramped, but the pink-haired mechanic has gotten very good at piloting the Little Dipper through it; she cuts across the water of the underground temple's docks, then kicks her odd flying scooter up off the surface so that she can ride it straight into the statue chamber.

        She's hurrying. She can't really explain why, but-- something felt off, when they returned to Wayside after conferring with the Elder. It wasn't that anyone was being hostile, more that there was just... a charge in the air that Shalune couldn't immediately identify, something that set her teeth on edge, a sense of expectation that felt too dangerous to ignore. Whatever it was, the impulse behind it sent her straight into the waterway, pausing only to offer a quick warning to Jacqueline on the way, and offer her a faster way through to the inner sanctum on the back of the Little Dipper.

        The fact that she was right - that she arrives just in time to see Riesenlied begin to choke and convulse under the force of Dva's Malevolent attack - that fact sends her into a chill, eyes widening as her knuckles whiten on the handlebars. "--Miss Riese!" she calls, her voice trembling with an unfamiliar anger. "--you-- you get away from her!" Sheer momentum pulls her forwards; the same adrenaline she felt when trying to protect the Rephaim from Berserk, when facing down Shakhan's forces, makes her gun the Little Dipper forward that much faster. Big Shal isn't around to protect her this time, true - but she's not nearly the same scared mechanic she was when she started out.

        Which is to say that, right at this moment in time, she has no qualms letting out a long yell that echoes around the chamber, bracing for impact as she ploughs her scooter forwards right at the aquatic Metal Demon.

GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Ramming Speed!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a glancing hit from Shalune Amira's Ramming Speed for 87 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

                              Was it any wonder?

A filmy pool of shadow slinks from darkened corner to darkened corner, in the depths of the temple. Would that there were candles, their flames would sputter and choke with each lurch of motion. In contrast to the haunting echo of voices from deeper within, there is no sound to accompany each flitting step.

                             Was it any surprise?

The Tainted one was always such a disappointment, but always such an interesting one. That it ultimately came to this, well, that's unfortunate. But the ride had to end sometime. To leave such an ideological wound to fester forever would be very poor strategy indeed.

                     Would it ever have ended differently?

"Such a shame." purrs a velvety rumble of malicious delight from somewhere beneath Dva's feet, as she violently deals with Riesenlied and renews her vow of allegiance to the Hyadean cause. The inky well of nothingness lurches sinuously to one side, "But you couldn't abide by her weakness forever, could you? Patient as you were... there are always limits, aren't there?"

From the oil-slick of shadow rises a shimmering outline of a giantess, cloaked in the fading veil of twisted forces bending the light. A billowing cloak and a scarlet scythe, it seems either Lady Harken has come to pass judgement on her wayward Hyadean herself, or to ensure the statue's destruction personally.

"Well, best finish what you start." the pallid demon rumbles with a wry smile, as she fades into view fully.

As ever, she seems beholden to only her own beat. Awaiting the outbreak of chaos, and violence.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
And then in the brilliant gold of Lily's flame burst - he uses that and Shalune's charge as a distraction - taking off into a mad rush towards the disenchanted Dragoon - trying to run her down and get between her and the Tainted Leader.
 
Darting to her flanks, he spins around on one foot in a flurry of orange fabric and sweeps his blade in low in a slice - before moving in with a high thrust to try to force a backstep or leap away.
 
He's not being particularly cautious right now - hell is breaking loose, and his priority is to just try to manage the chaos before someone opportunistically tries to finish her off.
 
... ... He does at least try to stay out of range of Harken's scythe though.
 

GS: Hiro has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Basic Attack Command!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a glancing hit from Hiro's Basic Attack Command for 82 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei senses the Malevolence too. He remembers how K.K seemed to operate and immediately assumes it's his doing. He rushes out after Lily, his face neutral. He doesn't seem surprised in the slightest, or shocked. If there's any emotion radiating off of him it's numbness. Words he never said fill his mind.

How do you do it? Make all those wonderful little friends and then stab them right in the back? You don't even enjoy the cruelty, you don't even cut them off for your 'higher cause'--not really. You know they still love you

Fei comes up short as he sees Dva encosing Riesenlied in bands of malevolence. Riesenlied bleeds red. She bleeds red. That's what will happen to Elly one day if you keep this up, Fake. Fei shudders and grabs a moment to hold his hand. He's having difficulty moving forward.

It's those higher causes you have that get the real body counts going. You're a coward just like her. Making excuses, passing the pain to others. What you did was worse than what Berserk will ever do. Not out of kindness, but of cowardice. Why didn't you stop this?

I couldn't stop this, Fei thinks. She wouldn't listen to me and it's not like...it's something I don't believe in. But something like this... Something like this...

Something like this you can't beat in a fistfight

Fei hears Kalve's name and rubs his hand down his face. Why is he not surprised that somehow he is wrapped up in all of this. Was it on behalf of Ida? Or is it something else? He approaches Dva almost leisurely, covering his face with his hand. Can she feel it? Can she feel the chains slowly breaking free, the chains barely holding on?

It's not the metal demons we ever had to fear. It's not the Solarians. It's the terrified pawn who drank a little too much of the koolaid, trembling and crying as they murder their savior, who throw them to the wolves, because they know what's impossible...is impossible

"Dva..." He looks towards Fenrir as she starts on her own insults towards the injured Riesenlied but not for too long.

Most metal demons are just like you. You consider your mindless 'honor' to be strength. If your people die it will be because of people just like you.

Fei lowers his hand and shakes his head. "I'm sorry."

And then he throws his foot for Dva's face. "But you can stop this bullshit ANY TIME!"

GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Headstomp!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi assumes a defensive stance and draws her weapon as chaos erupts around her. She wishes she'd brought her REAL weapon instead of the sword she relies on for close-quarters. She nods at Fenrir. "You're right, but smashing the statue will have to wait!" She looks surprised when Lady Harken materializes nearby.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        The message from the one known as 'Auntie Frea' was simple: investigate the the mural, door mechanisms, and as much of the statue of Schturdark as possible. While Frea could not supply any information as to what could possibly be below the statue, she was more than interested in as much information as possible about the find itself for her records. Because, Frea bluntly reasoned, it may not be there very long.

        In other words, 'get it done now asap, it's not like you have a lot of orders to deliver'.

        Considering it was that or peeling potatoes for the orphanage, the latter of which did not contribute to the debt of causing the demise of Frea's first library.

        So that's why Gwen is here, having taken as many sketches and measurements as her still novice-level skills would allow. And right now, she's taking a break, drinking from the urns in the adjoining room. Taking a soaked cloth to clean off the graphite smudges on her face, she looks up, noticing Hiro and Ruby moving with purpose towards the main chamber. Her lips tighten.

        ---

        Now she stands, regarding the scene in horror, her mouth clenched in sympathetic pain- both at Riesenlied's physical wound and the mental one Dva has just opened for her. Her shirt sleeve is already rolled up; her glove undone. She's loading the bullet as she aims, her hand pointing towards Dva's dominant hand. "One of you guys, get Riesenlied! If the Malevolence gets her there's no tellin' what'll happen!"

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Crackshot!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a glancing hit from Fei Fong Wong's Headstomp for 43 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline and Catenna had gone to research the seal at the bottom of the Wayside Wellspring. It was...unnerving, to know that something like that had been beneath the peaceful village for that long. Not only that, but it was causing so much strife...

And then she hears it - people are converging on Wayside, each with their own purposes. She readily accepted Shalune's offer of a ride, and clings to her and the Little Dipper as the two of them fly through the waterways.

"Riesenlied...?" Jacqueline murmurs, her voice a frightened whisper. What was happening to her...?

She can tell what Shalune's plan is - once Little Dipper starts accelerating for Dva Jacqueline leaps off, rolling to her feet near where Lily has just aggressed Dva.

She sees so many familiar faces, all fighting for different things...but right now, Jacqueline has one concern on her mind.

"Lily! That seal...it's a giant Crest! If the flow of power is stopped, it'll cease functioning!" Jacqueline warns. And if it ceased functioning...whatever it was sealing would likely be right behind it, and that would be bad for everyone, no matter which side they were on.

As she speaks she rummages through her bags, drawing out a healing potion and tossing it toward Shalune, just in case she needed it after the collision.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Shalune Amira with Distribution Theory!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia's team of Drifters made path to the statue once, but were foiled in their initial attempt to seal it by ancient defenses rendering the statue inaccessible to them (And finding a waterwheel? It was a weird day). Honestly, you'd think the Guardians would give her some kind of off switch for the protections of the Ancient Day but it seems even in this they are not, quite, up to expectations. Cecilia will yell at them about it later.

They had not, actually, been planning to go back today; still marshaling their resources and practicing wall climbing because of that DANG PEDESTAL. But Cecilia had stopped in the middle of the work, eyes defocusing and head throbbing, as her eyes drifted toward Wayside. Half-lidded, she murmured, "We have to go."

And then, again, suddenly alive with energy: "We have to go! Now!"

        *

Which is why what of the Dawn Chasers could rally while Cecilia ran off at a dead sprint for the nearest horse are now present while Cecilia charges into the chambers. They came the long way but at least this time had the route practiced, and made decent enough time. Decent enough that Riesenlied has barely collapsed when Cecilia storms the room.

Her head throbs. "Riesenlied," she rasps out, and then her eyes sweep up. "The statue...they're already here! We have to stop them!"

Motes of Leyline light spark around her as she briefly takes in the crowd, a hand gliding toward her crest case and producing a Graph marked with the Crests of Muse and Fray bubbling and burning with power; and then a bolt of sparking undifferentiated light races away from her, zeroing in rapidly on Riesenlied's ...killer? Cecilia's green eyes shine; there's no interest in hopeless cries for mercy, here. An enemy has appeared; she must defeat them to advance. Simple.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Ley Blast!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a glancing hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Ley Blast for 48 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Shalune Amira! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Elhaym van Houten has posed.

 
Elly knew about the big turtle statue under Wayside beeeecaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuseeeeee reasons..................

Either way, that was then, this is now. Now she had come back to Wayside, without those helpful friends. The sight of that -Darkness- that engulfs the wounded woman with a soft and gentle dream stands out to Elly's eyes sharply. For a moment she quails, next to Fei. Her eyes turn down to her hands.

Her thoughts are less specifically verbal, but, she thinks: Maybe everything is doomed.

Maybe we only came here to see her die, in the end.
but

Images whirl through her mind. Children running in the streets; the feeling of a flute under her fingers. The pleading look in the corner of Dam Dariam's eyes.

As gunshots fire, Elly thinks to herself...

Maybe what everyone said about me was true.

... but that means I could stand next to any of 'them'... Would Seraphita forgive me over this?? (Elly herself does not understand why Seraphita, rather than, say, Kelvena, comes to her mind in this moment.)

Her hands tighten, and then one reaches down to the hip pocket of her dress. A gray object comes out and is snapped open into a slightly longer gray object as Elly sucks in a deep breath through her teeth. Fei is already moving. As he kicks the Dragoon, Elly takes the opportunity to scream.

"Get away from her!!"

Remember what the Captain taught you, Elly thinks, before her head tilts slightly forwards. The air tenses slightly as if something in it is curdling. Even as Jacqueline explains what is going on with this seal she is already formulating what happens now. A series of tendrils like the trailing wires from a broken Gear; invisibly forming the pattern...

Four sharp shocking bursts of lightning erupt out of thin air, aiming to smash into Dva and shove her towards the nearest non-Riese, non-statue, non-Fei object. "Are you hurting her because she complicates your life?!" Elly cries out, less shriekingly but still forcefully.

GS: Elhaym van Houten has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Anemo Bolt!
GS: Elhaym van Houten has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a glancing hit from Elhaym van Houten's Anemo Bolt for 46 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Deep Dragoon Dva!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        It is utter chaos. Screams of anger, of ideals, of a well-rooted desire to help one that quite a few present would call a friend - even above barriers that may seem insurmountable. Metal Demons are the natural enemy of all Filgaia - or unnatural, as the case may be.
        Ethius mentally maps a route up the shrine that should allow him to get a good ways up before anyone notices - he hopes before anyone can stop him... with one complication.
        Malfi's drawn her sword. Her positioning could see her have a clean shot at the back of Jacqueline as she rushes to Riesenlied's aid. Ethius ceases his ascent for a moment as he finds himself having to gauge his priorities.
        Should Riesenlied survive this ordeal, she would know that in the heat of the moment, Ethius did not stop for her sake. He just kept on going, to his objective.
        Why would Jacqueline be different?
        Ethius looks back up towards the statue one last time. He decides to maintain his present place for positioning's sake - Malfi would have a hard time running up to reach him with just the sword. That would give him time to react accordingly, worse comes to worse.
        Ethius goes through the casting motions with a freed hand, chanting up a Symbology-based heat spell that starts making the air much more unbearable around Malfi. Scalding. Unpleasant.
        The lights of his tattoos and the air around him would give away his position, but in the heat of the moment, the risk assessment declares this is an acceptable trade-off for a surprise attack on the Metal Demon zoologist.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Malfi with Rising Heat!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny was in the middle of something when Cecilia started talking to him about the Guardians. This is not unusual in and of itself; she talks about the Guardians quite a lot, and he spends a lot of that time nodding and doing other things, so that way he doesn't have the attention to spare to ask questions like 'If there is a Guardian of Sword, how come there isn't a Guardian of Axe or Spear? That's kind of weird.' This sort of is essential to the camaraderie between traveling companions and also keeps the yelling down.

This time was different.

Claude recognized the feeling instantly, from the moments when Ronyx J. Kenny would draw in a breath, assume the mantle of his authority, and become Admiral Kenny, Hero of the Pangalactic Federation and saviour of billions of lives. This was almost exactly the same; one moment he was eating hand-rolled mochi and watching the disguised princess of a minor medieval power on a backwater planet as she climbed a wall. The next moment, the Innocent One looked down upon him and told him they had to go. Not five minutes from now, not when Rena, Tethelle and the others could be found, but now - with a young boy from Earth as her only protection from the forces of darkness that threatened to swallow her world.

Claude C. Kenny did not even stop to think. He did, however, grab a mochi for the ride.

Claude bursts in after Cecilia, keeping a step behind her and to her right. His eyes flicker around the room and assess the situation (what his old instructors would deem a total Charlie-Foxtrot), after which he draws his four-barreled pistol and surveys the area, keeping an eye open for two things: attacks incoming toward Cecilia, and people making moves toward the statue. This last review tracks his eyes onto Neriah, who he's... seen a few times. He's pretty sure she's not evil.

Of course, he thought that about Zed.

"HEY!" he roars, leveling the heavy pistol and snapping off a warning shot. "BACK OFF, LADY!"

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Neriah Parringer with Warning Shot!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
DC: MISS! Neriah Parringer completely evades Warning Shot from Claude C. Kenny!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi starts as the heat from Ethius' attack grows around her. It might not do a lot of damage, per se, but it certainly hurts. She glances around for the source of the attack and spots him with some difficulty. The heat is wreaking havoc with her infrared left eye! It takes her a moment to recognize him. "Wha...what are you doing here?" She respond with a distance attack of her own -- the only one she has.

GS: Malfi guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Rising Heat for 63 hit points!
GS: Malfi has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Assault with Batteries!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva critically Guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Crackshot for 18 hit points!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Malfi's Assault with Batteries for 60 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Arleph Ardan has posed.

         "Then I'm afraid I might have to actually step in."
 
         The air right before Neriah condenses, spiraling out into a circle before a wall of ice erupts from the ground, at least blocking off the direct path to the statue. The air shimmers near one side of the large temple wall, already as the rage of chaos of battle is starting to ignite in here to defend the ancient artifact. Arleph Ardan steps out of the shimmer from the stone, tightening a glove around his fingers, staring at the young woman.
 
         "Young lady, if it is your wish, I shall aid you in your endless battle against this darkness." He lets out, lowering his hands down to lay idly by his sides. His stare snaps over to Claude firing off a pistol as he takes in a deep breath. At least the young lad is a very competent fighter. "For it seems you are losing it, currently."

GS: Arleph Ardan has attacked Neriah Parringer with Icicle Ground!
GS: Arleph Ardan has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer takes a glancing hit from Arleph Ardan's Icicle Ground for 73 hit points!
GS: Mute! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        The power of a Guardian thrums through the room, a steady feeling like a heartbeat. Other sensations are woven into it--the sickening taint of Malevolence, the wrongness Neriah is tapping into, and a soft yet undeniably menacing susurrus. One could get lost in the spiritual resonance in this place, and then horrible things would happen. Ida does her best to ignore it as she advances on the Statue room, accompanying Cecilia mostly by virtue of being with her crew. She was with them when they first discovered it, and stuck around because she wanted to see it through.

        Ida still felt oddly redundant, even with Rudy's hospitality and Jack's... odd sense of having-been-there. Now, she is scrambling up the slippery rock face leading to the Statue, trying her best to tune into the voices from above while not falling to her death.

        'How many soliders do you unknowingly lead to commit treason, Riesenlied?!'It does not take much imagination to figure out what's happening up ahead. Riesenlied knew the Statue was here, too--how could she not? Rather than make a judgment on it, she allowed the issue to linger, perhaps because of that eerie sensation around it. Her subordinates had other plans, though, and now she has paid the price for using them.

        She hasn't paid nearly enough.

        'I saw what Kalve was doing with it.'

        Malevolence, Ida thinks. She scrambles up the slick, lichen-covered stone, her breath coming quicker at the mention of the name. She's not surprised in the least he was studying it--magical phenomena seem to be something he's interested in--but hearing him mentioned here brings a frenetic new urgency to everything. Ida wedges one hand into a gap in the rocks, steadies herself, and raises her right arm. It's encased from the shoulder down in some sort of metal gauntlet, well-articulated and kind of skeletal-looking, with what looks vaguely like a firearm barrel occupying the right bracer. She folds something out from the side, and clasps it between the fingers in her right hand.

        'You should have stayed in the Gutter, where you belong!'

        A gunshot. Something whizzes past Fenrir's right ear, embedding itself in a boulder behind her. There's the high-pitched whining hiss of a line reeling itself in, and movement from down below. "Thank you for the assistance, Princess!" Ida says, as the grappling line pulls her past Cecilia and Claude. "I can take it from here!" The line sounds like it should be full of confidence, or at least bravado. Instead, Ida feels an odd mixture of schadenfreude and terror. Fenrir sees Ida race up in front of her from the waterfall below, wearing an oddly pared-down version of an already pared-down outfit: a sleeveless shirt, belted canvas pants, and military-surplus boots. Ida sees her target up ahead, and presses down, hard, on a metal panel on the bracer. A bladed internal mechanism slipes through the rope.

        Without so much as a word, her gauntleted fist falls right for Fenrir's face, backed by at least ten pounds of reinforced metal.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Fenrir with Revered Ancestral Dynamic Entry!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Malfi catches wind of his presence immediately. The situation reminds him of that giant brute Berserk's ability to locate where he was casting from. Sweeping a hand inward with another set of spoken syllables, sparks fly out from the point of impact when this distance attack makes contact.
        Hm. He should consider himself fortunate he's holding from a dry place, if what's going on there is electrical in nature...
        Ethius' grip from where he rests on the climb slips, and he finds himself sliding back down level to Malfi in a rough crouch against uneven rocky ground. She could run up and slash him in a good three-four second run, if she moves quickly enough.
        That's enough span of time for him to start casting again, an electrical bolt escaping an extended left hand that jumps towards Malfi. If it comes in contact with her, it does what one would expect of an electrical bolt coming in contact with much of anyone.
        The problem is, it wouldn't be a simple one-and-done shock. It would keep jumping around Malfi's body, striking about her over and over and over. An electrical shock that wouldn't leave her body, that might slow her approach (if she even makes one).

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Malfi with Recurrent Current!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Deep Dragoon Dva has posed.

        The tinge of Lily's gunsmoke and flame rockets through the air, and what must have been a fatal hit to a lesser--

        --seems dampened by a thin sheen of water that ebbs and emanates, avoiding the worst of the blow and leaving pockmarks on her armor.

        "I take comfort in that," she snarls with a wide grin that seems a bit too intoxicated for her own good.

        Shalune's Little Dipper plows into her next with a 'thwomph' that nearly takes her off her feet with a grimace, but that grin just seems to increase more and more.

        "... I take comfort in this purity!" Dva announces boldly, even as the tears still flow from her face. "The purity of black and white! Of two sides clashing in martial conflict with no regret!"

        She droops her head towards Hiro as he marches forward, his sword out in the strike. There is a clash between blade and spear haft -- the metal of the Metal Demon's weapon made of solid enough metal, as they clash and she leaps to the other side of the battlefield.

        Fei presses his foot upon Dva the moment she stops skidding, and she blocks it with her fist and keeps faltering. She pauses, feeling as if she can--

        They call upon your myriad names, Endless, just as they beckon upon mine...

        Dva's face contorts as she exclaims, "You of all people should know what it feels like to get tangled up in something you didn't want to!"

        Riesenlied has a harrowed breath, even through the veil of the Malevolence as she looks towards Gwen. The world seems to swim before her, like her head were pressed underwater. She sees... fighting, but she can't pick out who's who, where people are...

        "Please... don't hurt--" her head lulls to one side. She doesn't seem terribly coherent.

        A bevy of magical assaults harrangue Dva next, which she has less experience with. She doesn't know Cecilia personally, but her ley blasts are a problem -- one that is once more thrown up under a curtain of water that mostly dampens the blow as she darts towards higher and higher ground... in time for Elly to scorch her with a scream and a quartet of bolts.

        Gwen's strike comes last, the bullet whistling through air as she--

        --she just grabs it out of thin air, the scorch of heat and shred seemingly forgotten.

                  The Detestable Pale, alien it seemed to be
             The welding of their history, no mortal eye could see

        "I'm not Tainted! I'm not like them, damnit!" Dva yells. "Why did you have to... if you'd just fallen in line, nothing would've had to change! We could've still been a team!"

             Prepared for a sinister mate was she, so gaily great
              A Shape of Ice, dissolute of time that we await...

        The immurement of the water curtain around her rises as she gathers her strength-- and what follows is a blindingly fast assault that ricochets her around the room in rapid succession, the Metal Demon little more than a blue blur as she moves in motion.

        "Begone, begone, begone! Break DOWN!!"

GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Lily Keil with Swift Assault!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Hiro with Swift Assault!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Swift Assault!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Swift Assault!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Elhaym van Houten with Swift Assault!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Shalune Amira with Swift Assault!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Swift Assault!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Swift Assault!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

A tiny voice in the front of Neriah's mind sobs at her that this is wrong, wrong, wrong. She can clearly see her little buddy in her mind. If she does what she's going to do, she could condemn Mikaia and the other orphans to homelessness. Force them back into the wilderness to seek out some meager shelter wherever they can find it.

That protest vanishes beneath something else. A pounding voice in her mind, and her right hand. Something grips at her chest, vain and thin, a spark of agony that fades just as quickly.

The dark thoughts simply override everything else. kill them all. kill them all. they hate you anyway. all of them. make them pay.

Neriah stares straight forward, eyes locked on the shape of the statue of Schturdark. Her pace picks up a little, taking on greater purpose.

Which is when Cecilia Adlehyde rushes into the fray to save Riesenlied. Then Claude squeezes off a warning shot at her. She brings herself up short just in time for the bullet to slam into the ground in front of her and deflect away. Neriah draws in a breath and looks up towards Claude.

He's seen her before; perhaps not like this. She's dreadfully pale, drawn, her normally blue eyes almost pure white save for the painfully tiny dots of her pupils, focused on him like twin lasers. She stares at him for several moments.

Arleph manifests in front of her. The frigid spell he casts cuts her off from the statue entirely. For a moment, the girl stares through him.

"...I have help," she says. "My white knight came to my rescue."

At which point Neriah holds out her left hand. Without so much as taking her eyes off of Arleph, she attempts to Cecilia by the throat and fling her to one side. Not even her expression changes.

"I have to make the Guardians pay," she rasps. Her voice is high and intense, cracking a little. Leveling her right hand, she splays her fingers. A deep bloodstain soaks the bandages there. Arleph gets a momentary look of some indistinct light shining through the bloodied cloth before a cascade of roaring unlight begins to pour down her arm. It explodes outwards; the feel pouring off it is sickening even to the soul-dead, a feeling of profound wrongness. The magic itself lashes out like a claw of pure malevolent force, its raw power off the charts as it attempts to power through Arleph. Still more coils of it roar past him, ripping towards Claude with utter violence.

Neriah inhales, canting her head to the right. Her eyes are wide and insanely focused.

GS: Hiro takes a solid hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Swift Assault for 147 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Shalune Amira guards a hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Swift Assault for 138 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Shalune Amira!
GS: CRITICAL! Malfi guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Recurrent Current for 79 hit points!
GS: Poison and Jam! Statuses applied to Malfi!
GS: CRITICAL! Elhaym van Houten guards a hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Swift Assault for 110 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Elhaym van Houten!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with That's Not How You Hold the Baby!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Arleph Ardan with EI8HT!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Claude C. Kenny with An Ungood Occurrence!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a glancing hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Swift Assault for 74 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi flinches as the electricity courses through her. Just her luck, it was magical: otherwise she would've absorbed it. It does slow her down, though;

GS: Gwen Whitlock critically Guards a hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Swift Assault for 31 hit points!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde critically Guards a hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Swift Assault for 31 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Elena has posed.

        Elena still doesn't like the Guardians.
        ... but, debatably, she dislikes the Metal Demons and the threats to Filgaia more than she does the haughty spirits that failed to protect it and tried to kill heroes to recruit them.
        She is in fact still not over that.

        News of the statue's presence travelled far and fast. The Church of Granas sought it like all others. A weapon to repel the Metal Demons, even from another faith, is still infinitely valuable! Sadly, Elena and her team failed to reach the statue, and worse the priestess had gotten stranded from her protectors. Life was awful. She held her scepter tightly, guided only by the now intensifying screams and sounds of battle. What had she gotten herself into and why was every Guardian-related outing a complete disaster from the word go?

        She nears the center of commotion. She sees Fenrir, back turned to the entrance but blocking the path. A single Metal Demon, and she doesn't look so... well, so monstrous and dangerous as the others? No, actually, is that even a Metal Demon at all? It's hard to tell from afar.

        Elena still hesitates. This large rock she's behind is pretty safe, isn't it? Maybe if she waits, the path'll clear up and she can just mosy on ahead. That'd be nice, for a change. It's a voice that prompts her to act.

        "... Lady Everstead!!"
        Oh no, location given away.

        Elena points her scepter at Fenrir, magic shining through it, gathering up in a muddy ball of purple and blue water. She considers carefully.

        IN ELENA'S MIND THEATRE:
        A chibi Ida attempts to fight Lady Harken.
        'I will help you!' shouts a chibi Elena.
        A chibi Lady Harken mauls Elena.

A chibi Fei attempts to fight Grahf.
        'I will help you!' shouts a chibi Elena.
        A chibi Grahf mauls Elena.

        BACK TO REALITY:
        "L... Lord Granas' tests are harsh, but fair." A deep sigh.
        "Nightmare Ball!!"

        A large ball of poisonous water flies for Fenrir!

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's That's Not How You Hold the Baby for 102 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Swift Assault for 164 hit points!
GS: Elena has attacked Fenrir with Nightmare Ball!
GS: Elena has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's An Ungood Occurrence for 19 hit points!
GS: Malfi takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Fenrir takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Revered Ancestral Dynamic Entry for 125 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Fenrir guards a hit from Elena's Nightmare Ball for 78 hit points!
GS: Poison! Statuses applied to Fenrir!
GS: Arleph Ardan takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's EI8HT for 52 hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong guards a hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Swift Assault for 94 hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Arleph Ardan with Experience bIj!
DC: MISS! Arleph Ardan completely evades Experience bIj from Neriah Parringer!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        As Malfi struggles through the electrical current coursing through her, she might look upon the eyes of that man who seems to see it fit to hide the lower half of his face from view. Those eyes of his look to her with that same character as he did when they weren't about to be locked into a mortal battle for the sake of Filgaia's future.
        In the aftermath of the Adlehyde assault, Noeline had put forth a report. A small part mentioned how this man standing a ways from Malfi now might not even be human. Sure, the physical features are a match. The height, coloration, and other known physical features put him as a match for what is biologically understood by the Metal Demons to be 'human.'
        Something about this man's manner. So... detached. There is screaming, bloodshed, and violence all around. His heart doesn't seem to be beating that much faster. His breathing has not accelerated. He stands alert, but not overly guarded, watching Malfi suffer through the repeated shocks that go through her body. If she steps in any water puddles or pools along the way, it can only get worse.
        He takes one of the two satchels at his belt, dumping out the dirt within. He holds it up to where the cleanest, most beautiful water one has ever laid eyes upon cascades from above. The satchel fills quickly with water.
        He throws it at Malfi as she continues her approach, to drench her head to toe.
        It is tactically sound. Yet, with no remorse, hesitance, or fear in his eyes... or hatred, energy, or anything of that sort.
        There really is something fundamentally inhumane about it.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Malfi with Splash Attack!!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
"And which side do you put yourself on?" Hiro asks the Dragoon, "The black? The white? Hero or villain?" He jukes to the side as Gwen fires her bullet - amazed when the Metal Demon just grabs one of her shots like that. The blue blur of the metal demon surprises him. He was mid-step when the flash of movement passes by him.
 
And a slice appears across his midline - bisecting a section of his mail and the tunic a moment later. There's red dripping on the cavern floor.
 
Gagging from the pain, he stumbles in his next half-step. "So what was she supposed to do!? Fall in line with an order that she thought was bad for you all? Stay under Siegfried's thumb forever in just hoping things would get better for her people!? You're delusional!" Ruby shouts back, as she starts flying above and over - towards Riese.
 
Hiro recovers a little quick, his eyes trying to follow the path of that blue blur - using his shield arm to try to track it with his fingertips, "Things aren't as simple as you're making them out to be. They never are."
 
And then he whispers a short chant which ends in- "Ferocious Winds!" Even here, deep underground, the winds pick up into an ever-shifting powerful gale that tries to batter the fast-moving Dragoon.
 
At her current speed he felt their only chance was to make her an easier target, "Gwen! Lily! I'm going to try to pin her down so you can get a clean shot!"
 

GS: Hiro has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Force Gale!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a glancing hit from Hiro's Force Gale for 27 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jack Van Burace has posed.


Sometimes it doesn't pay to buy the cheap horse.

One Jack Van Burace has found that out in spades on this day. Thrown in the first exchange of maddening chaotic combat. The swordsman found himself far outdistanced by his companions, all while Hanpan just gave him that look...

The look that says he knew he should have spent more cash on a horse.

Clambering up the rubble and debris that has seperated him from the rest of his hardy trio of combatants. The swordsman keeps his head down, ducking as magic, ARMs fire and various other weapons of death fly back and forth across the ranks.

Which is when he sees the damn Statue.

And a Metal Demon near the statue. His eyes slowly narrow as he wraps his fingers about the hilt of his old familiar sword. That anger that has been such a constant friend for months slowly burning though his bands of control. The fight. The fact that he now has a target for that anger...

There is a vicious smile on his face as he shifts his stance. Angling his body for a leap that would take him in range of his opponent. More accurately past her in a blisteringly fast slash that would leave after images in the eyes of any normal man.

Or woman.

"Jack..." Hanpan's voice holds a warning tone. "...don't do anything foolish..."

"When do I ever?" Replies the swordsman before he simply lets that anger go. Lets it find that target. Adrenaline burns suddenly in his veins, the world slows down as he throws himself towards the Metal Demon near the statue, uncoiling faster than a striking snake to do nothing else if its not get her attention.

"...ONLY ALWAYS!" Shouts Hanpan as the Wind Mouse finds himself suddenly clinging on for dear life.

GS: Jack Van Burace has attacked Lady Harken with Heal Blade!
GS: Jack Van Burace has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Lady Harken takes a glancing hit from Jack Van Burace's Heal Blade for 50 hit points!
GS: Jack Van Burace takes Cover! He gains 50 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily knew she wasn't alone down here; even the arrival of those who weren't right with her is not a surprise. ...It's time for that. After all, Lily knew that it would come to this. Even as she looks over her weapon at the enemy, even as Fei leaps in and Elly wreaks forth her Ether that Lily finds a soothing presence of its own, as Hiro looks to her--Lily knew.

And she keeps her level look, despite the Malevolence about her. Still, it does not penetrate past her clothes, her spirit, but she acknowledges Dva's comfort with that stare. She acknowledges her announcement, with that stare. Maybe Hiro should understand.

But Lily Keil hears Risenlied's desperate murmurings, and mercilessly, cruelly, she lets them stand. She does not listen. She is not here in this moment to make her mirror happy, but to save her life, and to that end she will sacrifice what she must.

Lily has her weapon braced before her when Dva yells and crashes towards her--that assault of that spear draws blood even as Lily conjures a shield of flames to protect herself, piercing through and leaving deep rents in her armor, a tear in her sleeve that reveals #-1 FUNCTION (ANSI) EXPECTS 2 ARGUMENTS BUT GOT 1 light through her black clothing.

"...Hmph," Lily vocalizes, gritting her teeth as she widens her stance, sliding her ARM back over her shoulder. She flexes her fingers before her, but is flexing more than that; the shadows around her sharpen, somehow, differently than Neriah's darkness, different from the Malevolence. It eats light, but does not emit sickly colors.

"...It's hardly black and white. It's all black. Blood-soaked soldiers fighting each other for a war that won't end." Her voice is calm, certain, not quite spit but laced with disdain. "In the end it means nothing. Death is all it is. ...If that makes you feel better..." Lily lowers her hands, opening her fingers as if to hold something--and abrubtly there is a rent in the air, utter blackness too difficult to look upon directly, a tear in anything light or living in the shape of a sword nearly as long as Lily is tall.

"But we're going to do it anyway."

She lunges suddenly, springing forward and swinging the blade with heft, as if even an unreal thing can have weight--to attempt to hack diagnoally straight through the Demon before her. "Fei! Van Houten!"

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Black Wolf's Claw!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Lily Keil has canceled their attack on Deep Dragoon Dva.
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny is approximately as magical as a half-used tube of toothpaste. He doesn't see Malevolence or its related forces at all, and can barely spell sorcery, let alone perform it. (To be honest, it's at best 50/50 whether he can actually spell sorcery.)

But he knows that Neriah probably should not be able to flash-step from half a room away, dunk on Cecilia and then instantly flash-step back - hell, he's fought Harken and she isn't that fast - and so he reasons that something is definitely out of the ordinary here. This hypothesis receives supporting evidence when a bunch of absolutely nothing at all sends Arleph reeling, and is further confirmed by the instinctive terror rising with the hairs on the back of his neck.

Something is coming at him. Something bad. Something he can't see, hear, or feel. So how do you fight something you can't even sense?

"WIIIIIITH POOOOWEEEEEEEEER!" Claude roars as he drives his left palm forward, brilliant white illumination wreathing his hand as he fires off a chi strike. To Claude's own eyes, the aura emitted by his hand flickers and dances as though blown in a full-force wind, but to those who can see what is truly happening, a furious clash rages between light and unlight, a claw of darkness shattering against the blazing hand of denial. With the other hand, Claude raises the heavy pistol, sighting it carefully. He hasn't reloaded the barrel, but he still has three others, and he unloads each one of them simultaneously toward Neriah's centre mass.

GS: CRITICAL! Malfi guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Splash Attack! for 41 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Malfi!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Neriah Parringer with Lancaster Pistol!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily knew she wasn't alone down here; even the arrival of those who weren't right with her is not a surprise. ...It's time for that. After all, Lily knew that it would come to this. Even as she looks over her weapon at the enemy, even as Fei leaps in and Elly wreaks forth her Ether that Lily finds a soothing presence of its own, as Hiro looks to her--Lily knew.

And she keeps her level look, despite the Malevolence about her. Still, it does not penetrate past her clothes, her spirit, but she acknowledges Dva's comfort with that stare. She acknowledges her announcement, with that stare. Maybe Hiro should understand.

But Lily Keil hears Risenlied's desperate murmurings, and mercilessly, cruelly, she lets them stand. She does not listen. She is not here in this moment to make her mirror happy, but to save her life, and to that end she will sacrifice what she must.

Lily has her weapon braced before her when Dva yells and crashes towards her--that assault of that spear draws blood even as Lily conjures a shield of flames to protect herself, piercing through and leaving deep rents in her armor, a tear in her sleeve that reveals light through her black clothing.

"...Hmph," Lily vocalizes, gritting her teeth as she widens her stance, sliding her ARM back over her shoulder. She flexes her fingers before her, but is flexing more than that; the shadows around her sharpen, somehow, differently than Neriah's darkness, different from the Malevolence. It eats light, but does not emit sickly colors.

"...It's hardly black and white. It's all black. Blood-soaked soldiers fighting each other for a war that won't end." Her voice is calm, certain, not quite spit but laced with disdain. "In the end it means nothing. Death is all it is. ...If that makes you feel better..." Lily lowers her hands, opening her fingers as if to hold something--and abrubtly there is a rent in the air, utter blackness too difficult to look upon directly, a tear in anything light or living in the shape of a sword nearly as long as Lily is tall.

"But we're going to do it anyway."

She lunges suddenly, springing forward and swinging the blade with heft, as if even an unreal thing can have weight--to attempt to hack diagnoally straight through the Demon before her. "Fei! Van Houten!"

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Black Wolf's Claw!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Fenrir has posed.

"Is that so?" As the drifters begin piling in, Fenrir doesn't turn as Hiro calls out to her. "I'll not just smash the statue, but anyone who gets in my way!" A bullet whizzes past her head as Fenrir approaches, finally forcing her to stop and turn. Who she sees leaves her in a grin, as her scarred face, with cubes of weird metallic flesh on the right side, is shown. Her right arm is missing - similar cube-scars down her side, and she's grinning toothily straight at Ida, as her left arm continues to shift.

The grin seems to be punched straight off her as Ida punches her square, sending Fenrir reeling back. One of her feet turns into a blade, pinning the Metal Demon in place, as she...continues grinning, even as she's already beginning to bleed through her mouth. Smirking, even. "You can take it from here? Really? I can hear the fear in your voice. You're still as pathetic as the last time we met. Still shaken up? Still acting like a child? I got my proverbial fingers into you last time, but this time it'll be literal!"

And then Fenrir's shot again before she can even strike, GOSH. The poisonous water also smashes her in the face, the poison sinking into her wound as she stumbles again. Fenrir's twitching and silver blood is definitely a sign that she's not human, as is the fact that her left arm is now a giant wolf arm that's bigger than the rest of her body. "I'll break you and then let you watch the statue crumble!" The wolf-woman rushes forward, moving to toss her massive fist into Ida's gut, before suddenly jerking to the side, moving past her, and moving to spin and swing her arm into Elena's torso. She's just getting started.

GS: Neriah Parringer takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Lancaster Pistol for 48 hit points!
GS: Fenrir has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Wolf's Claw!
GS: Fenrir has attacked Elena with Wolf's Claw!
GS: Fenrir takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Fenrir has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        "--black and white?! Are you stupid?" blurts Shalune automatically in response, feeling her anger mix with an unusual indignance - though she doesn't have time to say any more than that, what with the way she's suddenly struggling for balance. A glancing hit would be bad enough under any circumstances - but when it's at a significant speed, with the rounded hull of the Little Dipper giving Dva an easy way to repel her, the impact sends Shalune careening to one side.

        In any other situation she might be able to recover the spin - but not when the merdemon follows up with a blindingly fast strike. Shalune only manages to dodge through sheer instinct, bucking the body of the Little Dipper up to protect against the attack, but the hit is strong enough to tear through some of the components on the craft's base, and the sudden shower of sparks is briefly, blindingly bright in the cavern.

        The Little Dipper lands heavily, and in a skid; Shalune is thrown clear, and ends up bouncing off the massive stone pillar that holds the statue with a whuff of expelled air. She's got the presence of mind to roll with it at least, pulling herself up to her feet in an automatic motion, and the bulk of her jacket seems to have taken most of the impact, with Jacqueline's potion picking up the rest.

        "That--" a cough, and a wince. "--that's just you not wanting to even think about compromise! Don't push that ideal on other people! What about your home?!" she manages to get out, hunkered down behind the stricken form of the Little Dipper; it's long enough to allow her oddly technological staff to expand out from its compressed form, bringing it to her shoulder to sight along the length of it towards Dva.

        Even now, she hesitates - she wouldn't be Shalune if she didn't, not quite yet enough of a warrior to actually fight in a situation like this without worrying what might happen - and then sucks in a worried, fearful breath as she squeezes the trigger, sending a bolt of light streaking across the intervening space towards the Metal Demon standing above Riese.

GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Rusty Sky!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi growwwwls as the water splashes over her, making the electrical current hurt slightly more. She doesn't care whether the figure before her is human or not, or whether his mannerisms are odd are not. She charges in slashing!

GS: Malfi has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Mage Buster!
GS: Malfi takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        "It really is a shame."
        
        That would be Ragnell's voice, echoing after Harken's; she stands to one side, out of the way of the battles that explode in the temple to Schturdark, half-hidden behind stonework. She half-steps out into the light, watching with unusual-for-her impassiveness as Dva stabs Riesenlied, wraps her up with Malevolence, and Riesenlied is functionally powerless to resist. Just as it seems that Harken should join in on the Metal Demons' side, but holds off, Ragnell too holds off from joining the Drifters.
        
        "I knew she was gettin' weaker," she remarks, mainly to the empty air since as far as she knows Harken can't see or hear her, "but I didn't think it'd gotten this bad. Not that I doubt her convictions, but if you can't back up your convictions with strength... Tch. I'm almost sad about it." She glances up at the statue, up past her shoulder. "So much for a town o' peace and an end to war, huh?" She shakes her head, then turns her red gaze back to Riesenlied and the maelstrom of battle all throughout the cave. "Well, I promised to see how things shake out, so here I am. Wonder how it'll all end.
        
        "Heads up, by the way," she adds, taking a large step to one side as Jack charges at Harken.

GS: Elena takes a solid hit from Fenrir's Wolf's Claw for 132 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Ethius Hesiod critically Guards a hit from Malfi's Mage Buster for 25 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Lily Keil's Black Wolf's Claw for 95 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

It was...a little difficult, to be fighting one of Riesenlied's own. But...she'd seen what she'd done to her. What she planned to do. What might happen, if the Malevolence takes Riesenlied completely...

It's not something Jacqueline can allow.

"'No regrets'? Don't be absurd. War...it brings nothing but pain, suffering, and regrets, no matter which side you're on. There's no purity in that." Jacqueline replies, shaking her head. Dva's assault comes - a blindingly fast blue that comes at her, crushing like the tide. Jacqueline attempts to side-step it completely, but doesn't quite succeed - she recoils backward, wincing.

...This would not be an easy fight. She had never before assessed the capabilities of Riesenlied's people, but...they were soldiers.

Of course they would be dangerous. Right now, though...

"Shalune, are you alright?" Jacqueline asks, with a note of concern. While waiting for a reply, Jacqueline rummages through her bag, drawing out a bottle of bright orange liquid. Haywire Draught - typically used to gum up the works of opponent's ARMs, this time used in the hope of restricting Dva's movement somewhat.

She then slowly starts to edge toward where Riesenlied is, at the same time trying to keep the entire battlefield within view.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Haywire Draught!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a glancing hit from Shalune Amira's Rusty Sky for 33 hit points!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Haywire Draught for 0 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Deep Dragoon Dva!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a glancing hit from Fenrir's Wolf's Claw for 59 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Think of the imagery. Has Ethius pulled that sort of trick on a living, breathing human like himself before? How agonizing must it have been for them to experience that?
        Malfi is not a human. She is a Metal Demon. Debilitating as the sensations might be, their physiology is not so trivially overcome.
        Ethius finds himself forced to move as she lunges at him, hopping back a short ways as he takes his quarterstaff in both hands. This is the part where he is happy to have a wooden shaft, as to not have the electrical shock conduct itself through the weapon and then himself, on contact.
        On the other hand, Malfi's blade is made of a harder material, and she is physically stronger. His guarding posture is on point, but he is at the disadvantage when she gets into her favored range. He finds himself falling into a hard crouch, a pain shooting up through his right knee and thigh as the blade cuts a short way through the quarterstaff's shaft.
        Ethius locks eyes with Malfi's (assuming she's of the sort to look him eye to eye). He has yet to answer her question as to what he's doing here. Maybe he doesn't need to tell her.
        He's here for the statue's sake, isn't he? He's carrying something that matches a certain Metal Demon scout's descriptor of a weapon the humans have at their disposal to protect the statues.
        His strength is starting to give out in the deadlock. Needing to find a way to put a gap between Malfi and himself, he flutters the fingers of his right hand in another Symbological cast.
        A shining shell of blinding, super-hot light envelops him. If Malfi stares too deepy, well... she's not going to want to stare too deeply.
        That's before he pushes the side of the quarterstaff held in his left forward, rupturing the shell of light into a violent push of super-hot cosmic rays which will not be doing any sensitive equipment on Malfi's person any favors.
        Assuming it doesn't just completely destroy them outright. (Ethius' sorcery doesn't seem to play very nicely with technology.)

<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

The breadth of the chaos is marvelous. The whorl of violence at the heart of the temple spins ever-quicker, gathering more actors to its heart as the dance grows ever larger. A rueful chuckle escapes the lips of the towering figure at its calm centre, as an unfamiliar voice rings in her ears. Perhaps to Ragnell's surprise, this Demon can clearly perceive her. To some degree, at least--hard to tell how much. There are reasons, of course.

"Oh, but those weaknesses made her so interesting. And she worked around them so hard, but as you say... in the end, her strength was always waning. And not everyone shares such silly ideals." Harken's own tone is rich with the flavours of regret and amusement alike. "If ever you want to end a war, crushing the enemy is a safer bet than trying to sue and plead for peace."

It's hard to tell if the Metal Demon begins to move before, or after the curious, ethereal prankster has warned her. Such is the speed in question here. But the human flying towards Harken has not gone unnoticed. Even the arrogant Quarter Knight has learned, begrudgingly, not to assume too little of Filgaia's would-be protectors.

"Ah." she sounds like one who has just spotted a particularly poorly-behaved dog making a scene. "Look, this one wants to die. Isn't it something?"

The spray of sparks from Jack's sword striking against the strange metal of that scythe's shaft is sickly and green, and the reverberations echo through both of their arms with unsettling force. Harken has parried the blow at the last moment, though it clearly demanded more of her attention than she'd like to admit. "Eager, aren't we? But I don't think we've met...?"

That quip doesn't work as well as Harken would like, either, and she doesn't know why. Almost as if they have met, which is odd, because clearly they haven't. The towering Quarter Knight scoffs in irritation and does her level best to riposte Jack's blade away with the shaft of her scythe, wielding it as if it were a quarterstaff. Most notable about this effort is that she slips effortlessly into a stance familiar to the mouse-wielding warrior that looks suspiciously like an Arctican Fast Draw style. Also the spike of azure fighting spirit that erupts from the swing. That's a hint.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Malfi with Coronal Shell!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei says, "That's how I know it's bullshit," to Dva, pushing off of his foot. He hears Riesenlied's request and he'd like to help with that, but the future of the world is very directly at stake here and it's not like Dva's some wimp he can hold back against. She could tear him apart. "Did you think Filgaia would accept you with no compromises? You've seen the people you're out to exterminate. They'll be the ones who die first, the ones that hate you will just live on and on and on." He sees Ida's gauntlet. He even sees her clobbering Fenrir, but he doesn't have much time to comment on it because Dva's breaking off for a moment to shout about how she's not Tainted.

"Did you think that Siegfried even really believes that nonsense about 'black and white' clashing?" Fei asks. Elly joined the fight with her own words, her own power. He tries not to let the fear seep into his movements but it's very real. What if something happens to her. What if something happens to Lily. What if K.K pops in out of nowhere and murders someone before you even see him? These are all very terrifying possibilities.

Dva slams into Fei's guard so fast he goes flying. He slides across the ground, struggling almost immediately to get back up again. "Did you think..." He coughs a few times, shaking out his hands, as he unsteadily gets himself back up to his feet. "Did you think that the path to a better life... would be SAFE? That it would require no sacrifices?!"

He waits for it, waits for Dva to get close again before leaping up and trying to literally Mario stomp her rapidly with her feet, trying to slow her down. Even Lily's swipe for the dragoon will pass right under Fei's feet. He is aware of his surroundings, much like a German Ninja, in this situation.

He sees Fenrir lashing out with her claw for Ida and feels compelled to shout.

"Luisa! Don't break her too much! You're basically fighting a child! She doesn't know any better!"

GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Hoten!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
GS: Malfi guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Coronal Shell for 76 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Malfi!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Fei Fong Wong's Hoten for 91 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia's eyes are on Dva as the rapid-fire water assault sees the Metal Demon ping toward her. She swings her staff up, a field of flickering magic affiliated to no particular crest intercepting the assault. The Shaman glares at the Demon.........calling her a traitor is kind of complex at the moment, and pulls her staff back for another assault.

Which is when Neriah is just sort of RIGHT THERE and rips her off the ground and pitches her across the room. Her defenses can't protect against the amazing teleport-throwing woman so she ends up landing in a heap, her barriers protecting her from the impact at least. She turns her eyes up. Should she be filled with mercy? With love and kindness for this person throbbing with strange light?

Jack goes careening across the distance between them. Her lips turn down. Alright, can't rely on him today, she decides, and forces herself up. "Make them pay...?" she rasps out, hand grasping a Crest Graph from her case. She slides it forward and the thing pulses with light, a circle of magic carving itself out of the leyline in the air. She jabs her arms forward. "They already give us everything they have!" The circle of Muse and Wing crackles, water and wind merging together as Cecilia calls: "Spark!"

A blast of lightning forks across the distance, raking across Neriah. "Get BACK and no more harm will come to you!" Cecilia calls; the kindest offer she can give.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Neriah Parringer with Spark!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Jack Van Burace with Fast Draw - Speed Thwack?!
GS: Lady Harken has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a glancing hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Spark for 61 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Jack Van Burace takes a glancing hit from Lady Harken's Fast Draw - Speed Thwack? for 58 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi does something unexpected: as the light rises, she adjusts her eyes to it. It's a bit trickier than adapting to ultraviolet or infrared, but it's not beyond her capabilities. She starts as she hears her portable scanner short out. "That's...going to be hard to repair." She charges at Ethius, intending to run him through.

GS: Malfi has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Riposte!
GS: Malfi takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Arleph Ardan has posed.

         Arleph is still not quite certain what is the young woman using. He knows it is sorcery of some kind. Clearly not Symbology, for sure. Not anything that young red-haired witch was using, either. The lack of light, or perhaps the total opposite side of light, perplexes him, worries him. Yet, there is something he knows, to the depth of his core that he is certain.
 
         He can affect it.
 
         Arleph's hand is tosses out, gloved fingers spreading out with a shield appearing in mid-air, the unlight slamming into it, the darkness spilling around it. The Symbologist lets out a grunt, slamming a foot into the ground as he weathers the unknown attack. "KENNY!" He shouts out, tightening his other fist that glows, surrounded by a circle, covering the entire hand into a blue, aquatic glow while the other tightly balled fist held like a shield. "KEEP THE PRESSURE UP!"
 
         Her white knight? What did she even mean by that? "Pay for what!? Who is talking, you, or this darkness!?"
 
         The glow on his other hand condenses, as he swings it back gathering some momentum, before swinging it onward. A long tendril of water whips out, cracking against the air and cutting at the Shadow user. He cannot do much about Ries, at the moment. Healing is best left.
 
         But he can fight. So fight, he shall.

GS: Arleph Ardan has attacked Neriah Parringer with Water Whip!
GS: Arleph Ardan has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a glancing hit from Arleph Ardan's Water Whip for 45 hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Malfi's Riposte for 100 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Elhaym van Houten has posed.

 
Ida! Elly's eyes are drawn towards her and the sight of her new ARM. All these people with gun arms, she thinks - that's -

Other things are going on, including repeated volleys of weapons fire. Riesenlied pleads with piteous tones and Elly feels herself tighten. "You, you could have," she begins to answer the Metal Demon, WHEN:

She's moving. She's so enormously fast, Elly thinks with some degree of despair, the watery surge of Dva's motion throwing her long red hair to the side as she passes near enough to Elly to stir the air. On her return stroke Elly has turned to face her. She holds up her baton as if it were a tiny bo stick. It does not quite save her - or does it? There is a CLANG and Elly twists with the smashing blow rather than breaking or falling, though she is driven almost into a crouch in the process, hissing pain through her teeth again.

Elly wants to cry out, but, she doesn't.

Lily speaks and Elly hears it even over the hue and cry of battle.

She answers... Riesenlied!! "I don't want to hurt her... but I'm not going to sit passively by and let her hurt YOU! She didn't have to bind you in this cage," and so Elly straightens up, "she didn't have to bring everyone here, she didn't have to do any of this.

"Dva--!! You can't just run away from things being hard. You said Riesenlied was weak - you were saying she belonged in the gutter... why? Why say such cruel things!? Do you think you'll persuade her, that you'll somehow undo everything they've built above us..." It's fumbling, but that's the peril of coming into these situations slightly blind. She takes in a deep breath then.

I can't just beat her to death, Elly thinks. She's fast... her blows are strong... And there's all these people here. And Riesenlied, too.

A trickle runs up her spine. Maybe it was triggered by something Fei said, maybe simple tension and the heat of battle. It is like a biphase recording of the Captain, of Kelvena.

Elly's hand comes up. "..." Imagine, she thinks, a glittering web - and -

Water crystallizes suddenly and intensely, in a thousand polychromatic glimmers, aiming to enmesh Dva and grind her suddenly against the floor in the middle of a maneuver.

"Lily! ... Help Riesenlied," she calls to the MISTRESS OF DARKNESS. "I can't -"

GS: Elhaym van Houten has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Aqua Stall!
GS: Elhaym van Houten has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Elhaym van Houten's Aqua Stall for 75 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        Ida's fist connects. She can feel the impact through the plates around her hand, and it is deeply satisfying. She lands, takes a step back, and raises her arms in a boxer's stance.

        '... I take comfort in this purity! The purity of black and white! Of two sides clashing in martial conflict with no regret!'

        Dva, again. Ida's stomach churns. Her face starts to twist in a rictus of a grin. Oh, she thinks, you sweet summer child. For a moment, she looks down at Riesenlied, helpless beneath an infliction that is sapping her strength. Her eyes gleam. Her emotions, if Riesenlied can sense them beyond the seething mass of Malevolence, are a twisted, tangled knot of fear and rage and disgust and glee.

        "Don't you dare let her tell you what you are," Ida says to Dva. There's something that might be respect in her voice, but it, too, is tangled up with so many other things it's hard to tell. And then Fenrir recovers sooner than Ida was expecting, and barks out a challenge of her own. Ida's lips pull back from her teeth, and a surge of raw hatred animates her. Ida bobs back as Fenrir's fist comes rushing forwards, rolling with the strike. It slams into her chest, sending a sharp surge of pain through her shoulder, but it's not enough to knock the wind out of her.

        'In the end it means nothing.'

        ...Lily. Was Lily already here, keeping watch? Lily took this matter with the seriousness it deserved.

        'Did you think that the path to a better life... would be SAFE?'

        Elly's looking at her. She's demanding to know why Dva is being so cruel, just like how she would demand to know the same from Ida--

        Fei. Fei's not speaking to her, either, but it feels like a barb in her heart anyway. Ida's chest tightens as she reels, recovering from Fenrir's strike. She feels like a wire that's being drawn ever-tighter.

        Or she will break

        'Luisa!'

        "Huh?" Ida finally manages to get out. She spares Fei a moment's attention, and almost loses track of Fenrir because of it.

        'You're basically fighting a child! She doesn't know any better!'

        A child, Ida thinks. A child who knows not her own limits. Just like you.

                        in the trying.

        Luisa who?

        Rage bubbles up through the stew of emotions, taking primacy once again. Ida surges forwards, leading with a left jab to Fenrir's sternum, then a right cross, then a left hook--

        And finally an uppercut, backed by everything Ida has. Maybe it'll shut her up, Ida thinks, distantly.

        If she's noticed she has backup from Elena, she hasn't had time to actually think about it further.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Fenrir with Body Blow!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Fenrir guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Body Blow for 72 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius doesn't stay complacent when the ruptured artifical photosphere does its thing. He's already jogging backwards dangerously across the ledges of an ancient shrine that never was designed for anyone to climb... or for anyone to fight upon the narrow ledges.
        Malfi's ability to adjust and filter her sight affords her an advantage by turning what should be a smokescreen against her... instead, against him. She adjusts to the changing light far faster than he does, and that is quite the feat when he was fully aware of what he was intending to do, and what that spell does.
        More troubling, she's striking at an angle that damned near skewers the Sealing Rod currently strapped on his back. He has to shift his balance to avoid this--
        A small stain of crimson violates the sanctity of the Water Guardian's shrine, as Malfi is rewarded with blood on her blade for her decisive action.
        With a hiss of pain that still seems a touch muted for the sharp pain that runs through his right side, Ethius staggers and drops off to the next level down. Malfi now has the high ground against him, nullifying the advantage of reach his quarterstaff would give him.
        Water splashes under his boots. Malfi is too close and too free of movement to safely cast another spell. Even at the disadvantage, Ethius takes a few pokes at her from below. He has no space in which to escape further back, lest he get caught in some of the crossfires erupting about himself.
        Unless he has some other plan in mind...

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

'"... I take comfort in this purity!'
        'Please... don't hurt--'

        Riesenlied's plea does not go unnoticed by the courier, who shoots the fallen Tainted a sympathetic look. It's not like she *wants* to hurt this former comrade of Riesenlied's. She just doesn't know what the alternative is, at this point.

        Dva advances, and Gwen's ARM naturally reacts against the element it was built to fight, strips of metal quickly fanning out to create a sort of small shield to absorb most of the impact of Dva's blows. Gwen grunts as her arm's 'shield' absorbs the blow, throwing her backwards in the process to land on her back, her ARM returning to its original form.

        "Ngh..." Getting up, she scans the battlefield, then spots the slowly inching Jacqueline, making her way towards Riesenlied. "Jay, can you take care of Riesenlied?" Gwen tries to call to her without attracting too much attention. "We'll need to see how to get this lady down without hurting her too much." Just... how?

        Elly's words have the side effect of strengthening the fellow redhead's resolve. Y'think you got somethin' that can help? Riesenlied might have some ideas too, if you can get her lucid enough." Maybe.

        Hiro creates an opening, his wind magic rustling Gwen's hair as it flows past her. It's happening too fast for her to react with proper words.

        So she'll just react with just the right amount of violence. "-Sorry, Riesenlied!" The blurted apology is offered to the horned blonde before Gwen straightens her ARM, loading another bullet from her shoulder. "We can't let her smash that statue *or* you! If we're ever gonna win, we need both!"

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Malfi with Generic Attack Command!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Coil Cannon EX!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Coil Cannon EX for 91 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Elena has posed.

        Silver blood, giant wolf arm. Elena eeps.
        This, too, is just another trial.
        It's just another trial.
        Face the trial and prove your faith by saving another.

        Fenrir's fist hits the songstress' torso. Those robes offer precious little protection. Elena is thrown back, luckily not torn open but off to a very bad start as she rolls on the ground and comes to a stop, not of her own free will, but because she hits a chunk of destroyed wall courtesy of all the fighting.

        Helping people is hard.

        "L.. Lady Everstead?"
        She hasn't even noticed. She seems so... ANGRY.

        But with Ida in melee, maybe Elena can perform her duty easier?
        From inside her robes, her Mana Egg shines brightly, through the shredded white cloth and illuminating the area around them briefly. The air around the songstress chills suddenly, even still on the ground. She raises her arm weakly, directing the magic towards Fenrir. "Crackling!"

        Strands of white and icy blue shoot out, like thin frosty lasers. On impact with the ground at Fenrir's feet, or with Fenrir herself, they erupt into a sudden blast of sharp icicles, trying to pin the demon in place. Elena uses this time to get back up, still disoriented.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell looks to one side, over where Cecilia and Neriah in particular are clashing. One wants to make the Guardians pay, and the other insists the Guardians have already given all they have... Ragnell would be quite interested in knowing what Neriah's grudge is, just as interested as she is in seeing more of Neriah's powers--and how well Cecilia and her friends fare against them. And then of course there's Elly clashing against Dva, asking in that way that Ragnell finds so amusing why she would be so mean, while Ida boils with anger and hatred so potent Ragnell can smell it from here.
        
        But then Harken reacts and responds to her, and Ragnell looks back at her, eyes widening slightly. Huh. "True enough. Nobody can oppose you if everyone who would is dead," she agrees, tone otherwise noncommittal. "I assume you an' yours have ended many a war that way. Though, war seems to be what y'all *do*." She nods over at Fenrir, at Dva, at Malfi. Dva in particular... Craving the purity of black-and-white combat, honestly. That's just such a Metal Demon sentiment.
        
        Then Ragnell's stepping to one side and Jack's charging in, much to Hanpan's dismay. "Most humans have a death wish, deep down inside," she remarks. "That's what makes 'em dangerous." But Harken's reaction to Jack is a little odd--there's a little... hmm. Not exactly a quaver in her quip, but she lets it sort of trail off before engaging in violence. Maybe they *have* met? Though, if anyone would know, it's Jack. Ragnell's eyes flick over to him to see how *he* reacts next.
        
        The trouble with a battle this huge and furious is that you can only pay attention to so much of it at one time.

GS: Elena has attacked Fenrir with Crackling!
GS: Elena has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Malfi guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Generic Attack Command for 67 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Malfi!
GS: Fenrir critically Guards a hit from Elena's Crackling for 9 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Oh, Claude can definitely see and feel this. What Neriah is slinging at him is not Malevolence at all. It's something tangible and horrific. Even the spiritually blind can see it clearly - and feel it clearly.

The blacklight fades; Claude unloads with that heavy pistol, but Neriah lets out a hiss and flicks her hand again. Claude can clearly see a globe of semi-luminous shadows flicker around her, the unlight pulled into wretched patterns, twisting and contorting. A couple of the bullets hit the field and bounce away; a third rips through and embeds itself in Neriah's shoulder. The field flickers and dies, and the girl lets out a thin gagging sound, lurching forward.

As Arleph lashes out at her, Neriah snaps her wrist out to try and deflect his whip away, darting back with a blur of aftershadows. She can feel the sting of it against her arm. It tears away most of her bandages; blood drips from her palm. Water and a red welt lance up her forearm - the blood seems to come from an oddly regular cut along her palm.

Cecilia hurls that spark into the fray. The thunderous magic slams into that eldritch field. It shimmers around Neriah; lightning bolts creep through it, raking across her, searing skin and clothing. "NO!" she screams through the field, her voice shrill and underlaid by a subtle echo - much deeper than her normal voice. "NO, NO, NO! All they ever did was hurt me! The death spirit-- Ge Ramtos--!! I have to kill him!! AND ALL THE GUARDIANS!!"

Grinding her teeth, she throws her power into the field. Shadowy magic pours from her, pushing back against Cecilia's lightning. It ebbs and swells, fuelled by anger - and by itself. It almost seems to feed off of its own use, and off of the horrible sensations emanating from beneath the Statue not far away, and from the Malevolence of that spike, small though it is. Neriah sucks in a breath; her pupils dilate down to points as she lets it out in a shriek:

                  " "

Cecilia Adlehyde - so in tune with the Guardians - can feel what happens next as clear as day. There is, lost in the negative energy radiating from Neriah, a sudden current of something. An invocation of a Guardian - but the power of Ge Ramtos comes through like an old, frail thing. Outwardly, Neriah spasms a moment as if someone had garrotted her.

Cecilia can feel the thread of that power fraying and giving way.

The unlight around Neriah swells, erupts outward, then compacts. A blastwave of shadow magic radiates out from around her. Exploding from it comes an absolute cacophony of dark magic, cascading in roaring waves, taking on the shapes of ghostly hands and faces. The most vast of those coils rages towards Arleph, as though it could blaze through him - it takes on the shape of a barely humanoid face as it seeks to swallow him. It is not Malevolence. It is something worse.

The shadowflame around Neriah contracts -- if what is there is Neriah anymore. The girl is less a girl now and more an effigy of raw, undulating negative energy, her hair streaming around her face like ghostly white cilia. Any semblance of a face is gone save for a pair of cold, hollow white eyeholes that seem to consume half her face.

The sensation of darkness radiating from her is almost physical. It's like being dipped in molten depravity.

The symbol on her right hand can be seen much more clearly now.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/grandia/images/d/db/ValmarIcon.png

DC: Number Eight switches forms to Dark Manifestation!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi stabs at Ethius yet again--she's noticed the sealing rod strapped to his back and would like to claim it: her superiors would be VERY interested in capturing one! She presses her advantages, trying to trap him against some slippery rocks.

GS: Malfi has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Riposte!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Number Eight has attacked Arleph Ardan with Catastrophe!
GS: Number Eight has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Icon of the Monster!
GS: Number Eight has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Corruption of Blood!
GS: Number Eight has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Number Eight's Corruption of Blood for 79 hit points!
GS: Number Eight drains Claude C. Kenny! Number Eight gains 78 temporary hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Malfi's Riposte for 60 hit points!
GS: Arleph Ardan takes a glancing hit from Number Eight's Catastrophe for 75 hit points!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde critically Guards a hit from Number Eight's Icon of the Monster for 19 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jack Van Burace has posed.


Not many sane people would take on one of the Quarter Knights in what amounts to single combat. However this isn't a first for Jack. Apparently taunting Quarter Knights away from Statues is now part of his job description.

That and he's mad.

Of course, he's always mad.

He smirks slightly as blade meets blade, the exchange between the towering Quarter Knight and the relitively tiny swordsman quick and brutal. One that he knows he nearly had her on as well even as they leap apart. There is a smirk on his face all the way till she opens her mouth to toss a quip towards him.

His breath stills for a moment, his eyes narrow.

'I don't think we've met...'

Something in the tone of the words reminds him of somewhere else. Someone else. Something he would rather not remember. Painful memories burried under a haze of drink and violence.

The point of his blade dips just slightly as his hands loosen a touch. Then though the scythe is swinging and without thinking the swordsman brings his blade up in the proper counter. Blue energy erupts and Jack's concentration is broken as he stumbles a few steps back. The brunt of the force lessened by not dissipated entirely.

His eyes flicker to her stance, then back towards the Knight. "No, we havn't. That won't matter though, after I take your head I'll figure out a name to go with it."

The bravado is there, but the words are almost stilted. The swordsman distracted even as he drops into a mirror of Harken's stance.

He flashes forwards again, Hanpan's magics augmenting the slice of the blade as it screams towards the air. Wind magic trailing behind the cutting edge even as he seeks to close and lock with the staff of that scythe.

"Where did you learn that technique." He hisses, the question low and angry.

<Pose Tracker> Deep Dragoon Dva has posed.

        Riesenlied thinks she can feel ... Ragnell ... from afar. She can't hear what she's saying, who she's speaking to... no, that is definitively-- that is... Lady Harken.

        So... the charade is truly and well up.

        "... I kept my promise to K.K...." she murmurs, perhaps caught on the wind long enough for her to hear.

        Dva starts to rattle again as the winds pick up around her feet, with Hiro's command of energies past her understanding threatening to send her off. "Hero... villain..." she snarls and stakes her spear on the ground as she claws to hold on, the vents at the sides of her body hissing as she looses the excess heat from her assault.

        "None of that matters to Filgaia.... does it?!"

        She hisses with through gritted teeth, "Heroes are just built to be buried in the ground! Villains are just scapegoats to be hung in this blasted wasteland! But what I can't really stand--"

        That scowl contorts into a pitiable look, as she gnashes on her teeth. "Is being treated like this...! Did you think I couldn't handle the truth?!"

        Lily's black sword of hatred emanates through the air and catches her on an upswing, the sheer power railing against her body as she struggles to resist it.

        Riese watches her words fall on deaf ears, as she watches the same blade that once pierced her manifest again.

        "... I didn't consider your feelings enough... I should have spent more time with you... but I didn't do it because I didn't think you couldn't handle it." She trembles further, and manages to lift her head up.

        "... I did it because I knew you were a strong girl."

        Dva scowls, that contorted look seemingly broader on her face as she stares towards Riesenlied. "Don't even try to backpedal now! Don't look at me like that!"

        Her distraction's enough for Shalune's shotstaff to land a hit in, blowing off one of her fins and revealing white blood underneath; if that wasn't enough, orange intermixes with liquid as it starts to rattle and unsettle her--

        "Kffghhihgh--"

        Fei's foot comes flying at her again, each strike of his foot smashing onto her face again and again, and she can't help but finally-- cough quicksilver out of her mouth in pain. Gwen's bullet sinks almost straight through her shoulder, sending more viscous white blood through the air.

        "The people I'm out to exterminate? Yeah, I've seen them..."

        She looks almost delirious as she exclaims, "People like the Demon of Elru, and the Drifters that surround us now. You think you humans are weak?! I--"

        Elly interrupts her as she finds herself boxed into position, the glimmer of ice and crystal surrounding her in a painful manner. "... the weak don't deserve anything but the Gutter ... that's all we've been taught... why, then, did I ever want for more--"

        Elly's words elicit painful memories. Rattled, she backs up and hits another of her crystals. "I-is this already it...?!"

        No.

        She trembles further, holding onto her head.

        Call upon my name.

        She whips her head around and stares down towards the ground, and swallows--

        Call upon my detestable name...

        (BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_0TeykT5NA )

        "RAAAAAAAhh--!!" She pierces Brionac through the ground, and it rattles with an errant sheen of blue energy. Water starts to throttle and accumulate around its length.

        A hairline crack starts to fissure through the seal, ever so slightly. Yet, the seal continues to hold, and no further damage seems to... affect the battlefield.

        Elly's crystals suddenly shatter. An ensconced wreath of water is shrouded around her, emanating with a power that does not feel like the Metal Demon's.

        "You're all horrifying... and scary... I don't comprehend the idea of trying to make peace with..."

        Just as the presence of Valmar manifests around the room, Dva, too, begins to amplify her attacks in a manner that seems quite different -- she lashes Brionac around her, manifesting the image of a Metal Dragon composed of water, channeled directly from the thunderous fountain of Schturdark itself...

        ...and sics it upon the Drifters. It peals with a roar like thunder, threatening to wash them away with brute force.

        "With people like you...!! You terrify me!!!"

GS: Jack Van Burace has attacked Lady Harken with Strike Buddy!
GS: Jack Van Burace has completed his action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Dragon War Cry!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Dragon War Cry for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Deep Dragoon Dva!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Lily Keil with Deepwyrm Lash!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Hiro with Deepwyrm Lash!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Deepwyrm Lash!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Deepwyrm Lash!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Elhaym van Houten with Deepwyrm Lash!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Shalune Amira with Deepwyrm Lash!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Deepwyrm Lash!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva has completed her action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Deep Dragoon Dva's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Hiro takes a solid hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Ebony Wings - Arcane Arte for 232 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Hiro!
GS: Lady Harken takes a solid hit from Jack Van Burace's Strike Buddy for 110 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Deep Dragoon Dva's attack becomes clear!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a glancing hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Ebony Wings - Arcane Arte for 106 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Deep Dragoon Dva's attack becomes clear!
GS: Elhaym van Houten critically Guards a hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Ebony Wings - Arcane Arte for 42 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Malfi pushes on the attack. Thanks to her superior elevation as she comes down on him, she gets what she's after - she knocks him over onto the wet, hard rocks. The quarterstaff holds against it, but only so much as the very edge of the blade seems to come within inches of splitting his very head into two.
        Mortal danger.
        His eyes remain largely the same, to observation, even as Malfi looks like she might soon yet have a dead body in which to retrieve a Sealing Rod off of. This human - if he really is human - he really is fearless, isn't he? A growing bloodstain on his clothes from where that solid lunge got him should elicit more of a sensation of pain than it currently is. To say nothing of how his back hit the rocks... or just how shy he is of having his head split in two.
        Unlight shines, a ways away. Malfi would probably notice, a ways yonder.
        Ethius' eyes widen to... yes, that is human fear!! Not against a compromising tactical position like this, but the sheer idea of being so close to something like the unlight...
        "No." He speaks softly. It should not be able to be heard by Malfi, for all that's going on around them. Somehow, it can.
        He draws back his left leg to try and strike Malfi solidly in her core with a kicking boot, which seems more of desperation rather than of the careful, calculated maneuvers he's shown so far against her. Whatever it is about him and the unlight a ways off...
        It might be very interesting!
        It might also be able to be used against him.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Malfi with Kick!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Deep Dragoon Dva's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Shalune Amira guards a hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Ebony Wings - Arcane Arte for 190 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Shalune Amira!
GS: Malfi takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Kick for 64 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Deep Dragoon Dva's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Fei Fong Wong critically Guards a hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Ebony Wings - Arcane Arte for 52 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Fei Fong Wong!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Deep Dragoon Dva's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Ebony Wings - Arcane Arte for 236 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Lily Keil!
<Pose Tracker> Fenrir has posed.

A child who doesn't know what she's doing. Fenrir growls in Fei's rough direction, but doesn't change her course. She's busy fighting Ida. Wrecking her into the ground. Fenrir's face continues to contort into more terrible expressions as the fight goes on, and she doesn't lose her footing nor her twisted grin, even as Ida tosses a slew of blows at her. Bones crack, and Fenrir reels again, before suddenly Elena fires icicles at her, which pierce into her feet. This is followed by a clean uppercut, a solid *CRACK* to Fenrir's jaw, but...

Fenrir keeps her head jerked to the ceiling, howling in a mix of laughter and battle-madness as she suddenly jerks her feet, painfully ripping the icicles away. When she brings her eyes back to stare at Ida, they're practically bloodshot, as the left side of the Metal Demon's face starts twisting, shifting, the blood vessels wriggling. Blood drips from Fenrir's lips...and starts boiling, as she spits it at Ida. It's burning incredibly hot, toxic silvery blood attempting to burn through the woman's skin. "What, can't respond? Don't have the guts to do it? Where's the backbone? Where's the woman whose toxic words spurned me into a frenzy? Did she die since we last met, huh? Did you become SPINELESS, Ida?" The wolf-woman is probably not all there.

And then, her wounds begin to regenerate. Her bones loudly start to knit themselves back together, as does Fenrir's jaw. Elena only gets a bloodshot glare in her direction, eyes full of rage and hate. She's spared this time.

GS: Fenrir has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Hot Blood!
DC: Zed switches forms to Manic Blade Master Zed!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi notices the unlight, but it's too far away to be of much use. She continues to press her advantage, intent on seizing the sealing rod. At the very least this would prevent him from using it on the Schturdark statue!

GS: Malfi has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Power Surge!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Fenrir has attacked Fenrir with Bloodlust!
GS: Fenrir takes 10 damage from Poison!
GS: Fenrir has completed her action.
GS: Fenrir heals Fenrir! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Malfi's Power Surge for 82 hit points!
GS: Malfi takes Cover! She gains 50 temporary hit points!
GS: Malfi drains Ethius Hesiod! Malfi gains 132 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

There is a saying in some parts of the world. A fundamental law that rings true regardless of where you are, no matter what you are, no matter who you are. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, a frog or a demon, good... or evil...!

'The ninja arrives when the winds change.'

A portion of the stone ceiling suddenly explodes into a vast downward-facing column of shattered dust. The light of the surface shines down as broken rock crumbles down into the murky depths below.

Someone...

        Is...

                HERE...!!

There. A scarf flutters in the breeze. There, a head of moss-green hair hangs over a pair of brilliant, golden eyes. There, a dreadful blade dripping calamity and malevolence and darkness and other various ~bad vibes.~

He.

"I..."

Has

"Have...!"

Come!!

"ARRIIIIIIIIIIIIIVED! IT'S ME!" He poses...!

                         The Ultimate Macho Man...

                       THE GRIM REAPER'S PEN PAL...!

                          THE GREATEST DARK HERO!

        "ZED has arrived!!!" Zed... points his sword at... "And I have come. I have come..." At... Dva!? "To save... My precious little sister...!" Zed drops into a low stance. He holds his blade parallel to the ground and grinds his boot heel against the stone floor, "Even if the Guardians don't listen. Eeven if Mother won't hear. Even if Siegfried disapproves. No matter what, no matter where, I will be there!"

"HERE WE GO!" Zed... Disappears!

NO, ZED REAPPEARS!

RIGHT NEXT TO DVA!!!

"ZED!" Zed swings once! "SUPER!!" Zed swings twice!! "CUTTERRRRRR!!!" ZED SWINGS THREE MORE TIMES!!!

But... What is even going on!? Why is he here? Why is he... cutting Dva!?!?

Could it be... That he's not trying to crush the statue????

GS: Zed has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Blade of the Oniisama!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Zed's Blade of the Oniisama for 73 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

Whatever fuels Harken's Metal Noggin appears to give her enough celerity to tango with this psychotic human and carry on a conversation with the Seraph, whose nature she is entirely in the dark about. But that devil-may-care attitude sits well with her. People who take themselves too seriously as just too common here on Filgaia, you know?

"You think they long for death? Curious. I'd come to assume they simply didn't care, but I do like your take on it." Harken chuckles darkly, her eyes locked with Jack's as they step a lethal tango with each other. Even if the Metal Demon isn't bringing the blade of her weapon to bear, arrogantly. Her focus is clearly on jack when she elucidates on this point: "You're not the first fool to come chasing a good death at my hands--"

Ida, they're talking about you. Totally. Even if they're being somewhat liberal with the truth.

"--but I'm nothing if not generous. Especially to fat-fingered fools who aim higher than their stations!"

The two square off again. Another mirror of stances, the shuffling of feet and the laboured creak of plate armour on temple cobblestone. "Hmmph--imitating my style? How desperate." Harken scowls, tugging her circlet further down into place. She also does her level best not to reflect on that question--where did she learn that style?

When Jack next chooses to strike, so too does the Quarter Knight. She steps into the blow with reckless abandon--the swordsman's blade bites into crimson platemail, but Harken isn't one to show many signs of weakness. Besides, who isn't up for a good cross counter? The dread scythe Azrael's blade flickers into place with a terrible metal squeal, and Harken brings it to bear on Jack in a tremendous horizontal sweep that has no business being effective at such a close range. Luckily, superhuman strength and speed can make up for sub-optimal choices of weapon and style.

GS: Sneak! The true nature of Deep Dragoon Dva's attack becomes clear!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Deep Dragoon Dva's Ebony Wings - Arcane Arte for 218 hit points!
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Jack Van Burace with Azrael - Reaper Slice!
GS: Lady Harken has completed her action.
GS: Jack Van Burace takes a solid hit from Lady Harken's Azrael - Reaper Slice for 164 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Fenrir's Hot Blood for 60 hit points!
GS: Poison and Disrupt! Statuses applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        "--I-I'm fine," mutters Shalune in response to Jacqueline with a serious, curt sort of nod; the expression on her face looks all wrong, her lips drawn into a tight line rather than a sunny smile. ... still, even if her hand is slightly trembling as she watches her first shot fail to penetrate, the mechanic does at least hold her position as she ratches a long lever on one side of the shotstaff's haft. The motion detaches one end, the thick canister falling away as she fumbles in a pocket for another one to socket roughly in its place. "I-- can do this."

        ... that impression is instantly belied when Dva's spectral Dragon begins its rampage, however; Shalune shrieks against the force of it, feeling her knees buckle under the pressure of the mounting attack. It's not that she's forced backwards so much as she's utterly picked off her feet, slammed against the rock pillar in a sudden and hurtling motion, before she feels the world shift uncertainly, swimmingly, to one side.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
"Who cares if it matters to the Blue Star!? If it doesn't matter then make it matter!" It's taking a lot of concentration to maintain this spell, and D.va is fighting it pretty masterfully. He's not certain how long exactly he can hold her at this point. "When you joined up with the Ebony Wings - what did you think it's mission statement meant!? All Riese did was take it to the logical conclusion. If the Hyadeans are trying to perpetuate war too then - that needs to end too. Doing the right thing usually means betraying someone!"
 
Breaking off concentration as D.va tries to lash brionac. A wave of water splashes over him - and almost immediately it's charged by electricity. The youth screams and spasms - "HIRO!" Muscles locked up, he's carried away by the water wave and smashed into the rock wall.
 
It's there that he slumps down for a moment - looking insensate.
 
"Horrifying!? Scary!? Think about what you're doing! Trying to unleash something on Filgaia that's going to destroy it! Betraying your Commander - stabbing her with a weapon that you can't understand! Dummy! If you're scared, look in the mirror and imagine how scared people are of you!"
 
Hiro groans - a little concussed, as he staggers up to his feet, still twitching some - and collapses down to a knee. "If you can't imagine it. ... Then it's no wonder she didn't tell you right away."
 
Taking a few deep breaths, gulping in air as much as he can - his eyes stare forward to D.Va. And begins a longer spell chant - the winds in the cavern picking up, and whipping around as they twist into a spiral that descends upon the Metal Demon Dragoon. In a flash there's a tornado - battering and cutting over and over again within a storm brief in it's ferocity.
 

GS: Hiro has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Cyclone!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Elena has posed.

        There's a big, great pulse of darkness.

        Elena's worried about Ida become secondary as the songstress' gaze shifts towards the building shadows and the mark of the Devil of Darkness. Until now, she had never seen any proof that Valmar existed, per se. Calling people heretics, calling them spawns of Valmar, isn't the same as actually seeing one. The intense pressure, she finally recognizes it. It had been under her nose all along.

        She hadn't noticed. She failed her church in every way possible.

        And yet she can't fall to her knees over it, Fenrir's piercing voice calling out to Ida, screeching insults and trying to gaud her into further rage. Elena glares back, exchanging a nasty look with the Metal Demon.

        he priestess' glare is less threatening, sadly.

        Why, of all times, must she be caught up in a mess when people actually need her? Lord Granas' powers would be better suited to keep Valmar's touch at bay, wouldn't it? But it isn't Lord Granas' way to abandon friends either.

        "Lady Everstead, do not let her get to you! I do not know your connection with her but it is obvious she is attempting to taunt you into making mistakes!!" It won't help but she has to try.

        Her Mana Egg shines, her scepter twirls. The wind picks up - unusual, given the place - and forms into countless spinning blades of air. "O winds, surround and hack apart the demon! Howlslash!" Which launch at Fenrir, from every direction! Dancing around Ida, avoiding her, bending around her, going over and under, leaving room for the angry woman to keep moving without worrying about friendly fire.

GS: Elena has attacked Fenrir with Howlslash!
GS: Elena has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Well that's just all kinds of fucked up. And Ragnell *knew* that Neriah was fucked up, having literally walked through her body and felt the thing inside her in a supremely ill-advised move, but screaming about needing to kill Death itself? The unlight that surges, the darkness that tears, the negative energy that flows outwards? That's a little next level. Ragnell slips further to one side. ...It would be *damned* interesting to fight her, but priorities. She glances over at Ethius, showing human reactions for once--though given his paranoia about *her*, maybe fear is the one thing that gets through his head--and then back over at Jack, acknowledging that, no, he's not met Harken before. Though he at least seems to recognize her technique, but that could mean any number of things... though it's interesting that Harken accuses him of copying *her*. Ragnell files that one for later.
        
        She looks back over at Riese. Although the sound of battle is enormous, somehow Ragnell still manages to make out her words. The Lightning Seraph's lips thin. She glances one more time at Harken and Jack as they clash; then, she begins to weave around the many simultaneous battles, engaging in none, to slowly approach Riesenlied. Even as Gwen gets all but smashed in the everything, even as Dva screams that human terrify her, even as Zed makes his dramatic entrance and fights in defense of Riese.

GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Hiro's Cyclone for 157 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily's sword swings under Fei's feet, as she hears his words. She does not add to them. She works with him, slowly and slowly building up that rapport in battle that comrades have, as surely as anything. ...The Wolves are not all dead.

Lily's blade hacks past, and in that moment she can see Riesenlied, hear her, watch her lift her head. Her golden eyes settle on her once, and there is no malice there. ...Her feelings don't seem to exude much at all, save for channeled into that weapon of Ether. She just does what she has to do.

But Elly--Somehow idealistic Elly--has called to her, has asked something of her, and immediately the black-haired sorceress knows it's a request that she won't turn down, even as she turns on heel to meet the next threat. There are many here, many more than she has the tools to deal with at once. Awful darkness of a kind unlike hers; the sight of Lady Harken; Fenrir, who she helped once, and another demon she saw at Old Petra. But her focus has to settle back on--

Dva may look delirious, but Lily can hear what she says... And finds herself all too aware of the youth that seems to come from her. Another teenager, it seems, on the battlefield across from her, frightened of a foe she was raised to hate. Just like in the desert.

Lily does not speak at first--instead she starts edging closer to Riesenlied, weapon in her hand.... Until Dva tremples, and acts. Lily's eyes widen. That power is not what it should be. The Dragon crashes towards her, and Lily raises her weapon to act as her defense.

Instead, it's driven back, her own blade's too-sharp edge slicing into her own arm's flesh before it dissipates with a thought, Lily's teeth gritting as the Dragon comes still, having pushed her weapon aside, claws and bite and water crashing into her and sending her flying backwards across stone, hurtling through the air and tumbling onto the ground, leaving smears of blood in her wake.

For an instant she remains there, before her head lifts, her golden eyes staring forward at Dva again, pale. Her fingers, gloved, curl into the ground, and it is violet light that shines through the larger tear in her sleeve now as well as the smaller in the other.

"...It's natural to view the enemy that way," Lily says, and spits more blood as she rises to her feet a little too smoothly. "It's fair, to be afraid." She widens her stance, one foot back as she starts to focus, "...And as long as you choose war you choose that fear." Lily readies herself--and then lunges forward, blue light shimmering about her as she gathers her sorcery in her hands. The air around her chills and makes an awful cracking noise as it drops into cold, before she throws the mist outward at Dva.

Lily places herself between Riesenlied and the strong girl the Tainted commander tries to reason with, and from the mist erupt giant spears of ice, crashing in at once, erupting out of nothing to try to pierce the empowered Dragoon.

Lily is less steady on her feet than she would like, as if the use of her Ether is what is holding her up after the assaults she's already suffered.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        With the sealing rod on Ethius' back, it takes a bit of doing to roll the shocked human over and take it, but... eventually, Malfi manages it. By human standards, it's really something special. The cultural value of something like this must be very high, indeed. This will be an excellent prize for the study of the Metal Demons.
        Ethius, for his part, lays there prone, wide-eyed. His mind remembers - no, it's trying to purge - this feeling that is completely incompatible with an ordinary human's psyche. It is frightening. Nobody who stands against such corruption can ever come out of it the same as before. Whatever the meaning of that unlight's power... well, one thing at a time, right?
        Ethius' body rolls onto their back again. All Malfi did was just push him over to take the Sealing Rod. She must be feeling very proud of herself. Ethius is partially drenched in water, preventing him from...
        A hand goes to his forehead, where he lies. Why am I here? What am I doing here? There must be a reason. A greater reason. I would not be here without reason--
        His eyes fall upon Malfi with her catch.
        In another rare(r) show of emotion, his left hand - inside a damp red leather glove - clenches.
        He pulls it off with his right. He can't really dry himself easily. He has no washcloth to dry off with. He has to keep his left hand dry, above water, out of moisture.
        His eyes sharpen - or dull? - towards that neutral expression as he begins chanting again.
        It takes a significant amount of his focus as he chants the spell's syllables, flicking and gesticulating the fingers of his left hand. Electrical sparks dance between the fingers.
        It is Malfi's only warning before he thrusts that hand forward, a sharp jolt of electricity looking to run through her decisively. Through her every defense, her every countermeasure, as though stabbing her like she did with her sword.
        In doing so, Ethius rises back to a stand.
        "If you do not relinquish your hold this moment," he states calmly. Plainly, as though speaking matter-of-factly. "The next thing you will wish to do with yourself is to cut yourself open, with your own blade."
        Why would Malfi turn her sword against herself?
        "That will be the only recourse."
        Ominous.

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Mistgleam!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Malfi with Surge Bolt!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: Fenrir guards a hit from Elena's Howlslash for 62 hit points!
GS: Malfi critically Guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Surge Bolt for 34 hit points!
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Lily Keil's Mistgleam for 157 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny holsters the Lancaster pistol once he's fired it; he doubts he'll get a chance to reload it before something else happens, but he'd rather not lose the thing in the melee that follows. He reaches down for the hilt of his sword, but then freezes as Neriah starts talking about death spirits. He didn't go to Space Sorcery College, but he's pretty sure that's a bad thing. "Cecilia!" he calls out warily, taking a step to the side to interpose his body between the princess and the monster. "Look ou---"

Shadows roar, and Claude screams. Tenebrous tendrils of terror writhe out in sporadic, twisting lines, passing into - through - the young swordsman's body and leaving the faintest stain of darkness in their wake. The chill of the grave runs over his body, and he screams again, his breath misting in the air, as he can feel what for lack of a science education he calls his energy leached out of his body. Whatever this thing is, it's taking a drink from his soul.

You come so far from home, just to lose your soul! Chapapanga titters. Such bad luck you have, Boy from Earth!

Claude C. Kenny grits his teeth. For months now, the young man has been haunted by the echo of that voice, by the mocking tones of an uncaring Guardian. It wasn't enough to point out his failings - they had to taunt him too. Shove it in his face. Mock him, like all the others.

Even though he was thousands of light years from home.
Standing at the side of their Innocent One.
Breaking the laws of his people to give her knowledge she needed.
Spilling the blood of Earth on the soil of Filgaia.
Standing in defence of her people against their ancient foe.

Even now, standing in the lee of the statue of Cecilia's own personal Guardian, wrapped in combat with what is either a dark god or the next closest thing to it. Even now, shielding her from harm. Even now, doing his best to live up to the vow he made, to do everything he could to save everyone in front of him. Even now, they mock him.

Bad luck, Boy from Ea---

space(10)]"SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEW YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU!"

Valmar's meal begins to sour at this point, as Claude C. Kenny erupts with a violent, primal scream, a wave of force roaring out from his body as his chi rises up in a raging flame that beats back the darkness. "I've had it with you losers!" he roars, fists clenching as he continues to call on his inner reserves, blazing through them in every way he has spent months telling Ida not to do. "If you don't like the way I'm doing things, maybe you stuff a cork in your stupid bird mouth, get off your godlike asses and DO SOMETHING USEFUL!" he shouts at Schturdark, Chapapanga, whatever Neriah is channeling, and maybe the universe itself for all he knows. He lets loose another frustrated roar, accompanied by another burst of chi that keeps just swelling upward.

Seemingly without Limit.

Claude vanishes in a sudden burst of speed, flickering back into sight about a foot or so in front of Neriah. He plants his lead foot, sending the roots of his chi tearing down past the stone of the qanat and into the bowels of the earth, then uncoils his body in a violent, fluid rush, driving his right palm forward, powered by every muscle in his body. And then he fires a bolt of pure chi.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Number Eight with Palm of Destruction!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Jack Van Burace has posed.


"I'll make sure I'm the last. Since after I'm done with you there won't be a need of any more." Jack snaps back as he smirks slightly. Thought that smirk on his face is...not normal. There is something all together brittle about it. A mask keeping whirling thoughts away. "Who the hell are you talking to anyway? You should keep your mind on the fight you overgrown ARM."

"She's talking to a Seraph--you know what..." Hanpan intrupts as he clings on. "...just concentrate on not dying!"

The crack about the style though, that roils his blood. His teath grind a moment before he throws himself towards her, all thought of evasion gone. The two blows connect nearly at the same instant and Jack gets the worst of it. Skidding backwards, blood flashing in the wake of his slide.

"That style is my homelands." He snarls. "The only way you could know is it by learning it there. Or stealing it. Is that what your kind took when you burned it all to the ground?" There is no quarter(HAHA) asked for or given as he flings himself back into the fray, trying to ignore the niggling doubts that he's done this with someone similar before. That he could know that voice. That style. That aura.

GS: Jack Van Burace has attacked Lady Harken with Slash Rave!
GS: Jack Van Burace has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny holsters the Lancaster pistol once he's fired it; he doubts he'll get a chance to reload it before something else happens, but he'd rather not lose the thing in the melee that follows. He reaches down for the hilt of his sword, but then freezes as Neriah starts talking about death spirits. He didn't go to Space Sorcery College, but he's pretty sure that's a bad thing. "Cecilia!" he calls out warily, taking a step to the side to interpose his body between the princess and the monster. "Look ou---"

Shadows roar, and Claude screams. Tenebrous tendrils of terror writhe out in sporadic, twisting lines, passing into - through - the young swordsman's body and leaving the faintest stain of darkness in their wake. The chill of the grave runs over his body, and he screams again, his breath misting in the air, as he can feel what for lack of a science education he calls his energy leached out of his body. Whatever this thing is, it's taking a drink from his soul.

You come so far from home just to lose your soul! Chapapanga titters. Such bad luck you have Boy from Earth!

Claude C. Kenny grits his teeth. For months now, the young man has been haunted by the echo of that voice, by the mocking tones of an uncaring Guardian. It wasn't enough to point out his failings - they had to taunt him too. Shove it in his face. Mock him, like all the others.

Even though he was thousands of light years from home.
Standing at the side of their Innocent One.
Breaking the laws of his people to give her knowledge she needed.
Spilling the blood of Earth on the soil of Filgaia.
Standing in defence of her people against their ancient foe.

Even now, standing in the lee of the statue of Cecilia's own personal Guardian, wrapped in combat with what is either a dark god or the next closest thing to it. Even now, shielding her from harm. Even now, doing his best to live up to the vow he made, to do everything he could to save everyone in front of him. Even now, they mock him.

Bad luck Boy from Ea---

          "SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEW YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU!"

Valmar's meal begins to sour at this point, as Claude C. Kenny erupts with a violent, primal scream, a wave of force roaring out from his body as his chi rises up in a raging flame that beats back the darkness. "I've had it with you losers!" he roars, fists clenching as he continues to call on his inner reserves, blazing through them in every way he has spent months telling Ida not to do. "If you don't like the way I'm doing things, maybe you stuff a cork in your stupid bird mouth, get off your godlike asses and DO SOMETHING USEFUL!" he shouts at Schturdark, Chapapanga, whatever Neriah is channeling, and maybe the universe itself for all he knows. He lets loose another frustrated roar, accompanied by another burst of chi that keeps just swelling upward.

Seemingly without Limit.

Claude vanishes in a sudden burst of speed, flickering back into sight about a foot or so in front of Neriah. He plants his lead foot, sending the roots of his chi tearing down past the stone of the qanat and into the bowels of the earth, then uncoils his body in a violent, fluid rush, driving his right palm forward, powered by every muscle in his body. And then he fires a bolt of pure chi.

GS: Number Eight takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Palm of Destruction for 83 hit points!
DC: MISS! Lady Harken completely evades Slash Rave from Jack Van Burace!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Oh, Malfi relinquishes her hold, all right -- she wants to head right back to the Photosphere, prize in tow. She doesn't really want to leave battle -- especially with a Quarter Knight watching -- but some things are simply more important. She starts to turn away. She does not pause to gloat; she's too serious for that.

GS: Malfi has attacked Malfi with Recharge Plus!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Malfi heals Malfi! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        Ida can feel flesh giving, and bone cracking. It's not enough. It's never enough. Just like--

        Harken. Ida's blood goes cold. Her anger abates, ever-so-slightly, as she starts to scramble for a way to solve this. A Quarter Knight, here. She couldn't defeat Harken with backup, and now Harken has people on her side. The Statue. The Statue--!

        'I did it because I knew you were a strong girl.'

        "Please spare us," Ida says, all but spitting into the dirt as she glares in Riesenlied's direction. Her brain feels like a war zone. "She's right about one thing. This is your fault." The rage flares again. Ida whirls back to Fenrir, only to meet with a gout of horrible, boiling, weaponized quicksilver. Ida twists on a heel and leaps into a combat roll, but she's too slow. Gobbets of blood catch her shirt and uncovered left arm, and immediately begin sizzling. It's agonizing, and only made worse by the horrific eruption of power that Ida knows all too well. They can't win this.

        Elena. Oh God, Elena, Ida thinks. She spares a glance back, cradling her wounded arm and grimacing, before shaking the arm to try and get the blood off. "I'll kill you," Ida says, her voice low and dangerous as she turns back to Fenrir. "I've killed better than you."

        Elena would know how true that is.

        Ida blurs back towards Fenrir, raising her guard despite the pain. She opens with a punch with the gauntleted hand, a vicious and unsporting jab at Fenrir's throat. A step forward, and she swings around in a scything kick for the back of Fenrir's right knee. Should Fenrir turn around, Ida does her level best to land a sucker punch in the Metal Demon's gut.

        She does not relent. This is not the steady, ever-shifting defense that Kalve taught her--this is something more like what Jackie taught her, all ruthless, unforgiving offense.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Fenrir with Unladylike Fisticuffs!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Fenrir takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Unladylike Fisticuffs for 142 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline watches Dva uncertainly. There was something...something strange here. She can't tell if her behavior was a result of that fear she spoke of, or something else... This oddity is amplified by the familiar terrible sensation, as that thing overtakes Neriah once more somewhere in the distance. That receives Jacqueline's attention for a moment. Her attention returns back to Dva a moment too late - she's struck by a torrent of power that sends her flying backwards. She collides with a wall with a grunt and slides to the floor.

She wanted to help Riesenlied, but...right now, she had to contend with what was in front of her. That hurt, but...she can see there are other people doing worse.

Still sitting on the ground she rummages through her bags, drawing out two more healing potions and tossing one each to Lily and Hiro. And as she does so, she sees something that changes the situation immedately for her.

"...Shalune!" Jacqueline calls out, afraid. She forces herself to her feet and runs over to her, to try and catch her and confirm her condition.

Please be alright...please be alright...

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Lily Keil with Distribution Theory!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Hiro with Distribution Theory!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Lily Keil! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei glances towards Neriah. Blink. Blink. Did she just ... scream SILENCE?

Yeah he'll worry about that later. Neriah's a nice girl but it's not like he can fight everybody and host a Q&A here. If Cecilia's on it, she'll probably make the right calls.

Fei catches it. K.K. K.K is behind this, just as he thought. He takes in a deep breath. "I don't know what K.K told you, but I'd bet they're playing you." He stalls. Something feels strange. His Medium burns hot against his side. It whispers to him.

Knight of Fire it calls him.

"If there's anything I learned," Fei manages. "If you're on the wrong side of Ruby, you should rethink what you're doing. You're saying you're not Tainted, but you're crying like that--do you really think being 'Tainted' is a bad thing? You should be proud to be 'Tainted'."

He takes the medium into his hands and says, "Forget about sides for a moment, Dva... And answer me this. Are you the kind of girl who can stand by seeing innocent people suffer--and do nothing?"

He's betting on the latter, but it's quite the gamble.

And then Lily is leaving blood smeared all over the floor.

Fei sinks as if he was visibly struck. He is having trouble reining something in. Dva's calling to him. Calling to the demon of elru. She is not the first person to use those words at him. It's only Lily speaking up again and Elly's close proximity that keeps himself together. Unsteadily, Fei stands himself up. He sees the water coming for him and he leaps into the air. It's not going to clear the thunderous swash of water from the fountain.

But that's not what Fei is going for. He hovers in place for a moment, energy gathering in his body powered by his own chi, perhaps even supported by the power of the Fire Guardian--and he crashes down through the wash of water. Fei feels the pain, but fire turns water into steam as he threatens to crash through Dva's attack and into Dva herself, alight with flame yet not burning himself.

GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Hiro! He gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Kakei!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Fei Fong Wong's Kakei for 162 hit points!
GS: Poison! Statuses applied to Deep Dragoon Dva!
<Pose Tracker> Elhaym van Houten has posed.

 
In case the situation couldn't get any worse, a horrible creature arises from the body of what must have been something or someone else. Someone Elly didn't know, and perhaps, given that she has become a portal to an ancient foulness, never will. She wishes, not for the first time, that Kelvena was here... Or Seraphita... Or Vierge. In Vierge she could fix this situation's collective toy wagon, yes sir.

Elly does not have much time for nostalgia given all the war.

So much of what Dva is saying echoes in Elly's mind in strange ways. It's like that feeling when you try to blow your nose and it's a lot more stuffed up than you thought. It hurts. She can't confront it all, right now. "But you were brave enough to hurt your friend!!" she cries to Dva, with the frustration of a growing child.

But then, words drift to her. Her promise? To K.K.??

I can't think about that now, Elly decides. She reaches into her other pocket. Her fingers brush over a smooth tube of a material that is rarely produced on the surface of Filgaia, but the ampoule of plastic is not what she rests her grasp on. Her hand reaches to a stone tablet, even as her eyes, despite all the reasons in the universe to do otherwise, close.

        if I'm to be a shepherd
        then I ought to actually be one

"I never meant to scare you," she tells Dva, even as she focuses herself. The proof of this focus probably comes when that synthetic water Metal Demon smashes down on her and crests around a sphere of Etheric interference about a meter away from her, shoving her back a pace, making her gasp, but not breaking her focus on whatever.

Elly is reaching blindly for help now, because there is only ONE other answer she has readily to hand - and even that, in this darkness...

And then, in the spray and flow coming from the seal, the fountain, from Dva's arts, a rainbow gleams. It swirls together, the colors forming the prism and then brightening into smooth and balanced white light, RISING...

Zed stands in front of the camera, concealing much of the manifestation of the Guardian from immediate view. What happens after is less up to debate; a manifestation of a man in white robes, standing above Elly, arms spread apart as he regards an ancient tome in which is written great secrets...

The light pours downwards, through the steam that Fei's blows creates. The guided will of the Guardian won't harm him. Dva, eh.

As the ray screams into the darkness, Elly speaks. "... Nobody's pure. Everyone's hurt. But that doesn't mean we should make things worse, even if we're in pain...!"

GS: Elhaym van Houten has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Come Forth - Solais Emsu!!
GS: Elhaym van Houten has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

Zed's choice of dialogue is good, and just, but he might worry about the little UI popup on his HyadOS status screen that just reads, simply, 'Lady Harken will remember that'. Maybe.

Distracting the Quarter Knight further is a rumbling explosion of darkness from the opposite side of the statue chamber. As if all of the personal vendettas in here weren't making it hard enough to take a pickaxe to the statue, a figure entirely unfamiliar to Harken has just undergone an unsettling transformation into something entirely unbecoming of this world. Harken's piercing gaze settles briefly on the pallid remnants of what was once Neriah, and files it under 'to review during debriefing', confident that she can kill this irritating human, smash the statue, persecute Riesenlied and escape before she has to deal with whatever -that- is.

Given her track record in actually finishing off major opponents lately, this is a poor assumption.

"Is that supposed to be an insult?" Harken finally returns her gaze to Jack's. Her half-lidded stare of boredom is beginning to narrow into a wince of genuine irritation, though Hanpan seems excluded from the most immediate effects of her ire. That's why Hanpan is the one in charge, honestly. "Overgrown ARM? Tch. Tch. Wretched."

The Quarter Knight sidesteps Jack's flashing blade, her footwork immaculate. Her cape whirls about her, and Azrael spins playfully in her hands as one might twirl a baton. For such a large target, she's irritatingly elusive. "If you were any good at this style of yours, I'd excuse such terrible wordplay, but you don't even have that to fall back on. How embarrassing."

Harken's motions don't end with her retreat from Jack's blade. Her stance squares, once more copying his. But her reach is greater. Something about this exact exchange is too familiar--this trade of techniques. But that couldn't be, after all, Lady Harken is a Hyadean and not someone Jack Van Burace has ever tangled with before. Right? "Oh, still weepy-eyed about the burning of Arctica, are we? Such is the lament of the weak. You lose what you can't keep hold of."

The Quarter Knight manages to stave off this one doubt as she surges towards Jack in a familiar storm of flickering, scarlet swipes, boxing him in for the kill. How did she know immediately what he meant by that? Gosh, what a mystery.

GS: Lady Harken has attacked Jack Van Burace with Fast Draw - Slash Rave!
GS: Lady Harken has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Elhaym van Houten's Come Forth - Solais Emsu! for 121 hit points!
GS: Jack Van Burace takes a glancing hit from Lady Harken's Fast Draw - Slash Rave for 58 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Malfi doesn't heed Ethius. In fairness, there is much going on. She might not have heard his warning.
        This warning is far more than Ethius ever tends to give, as the ungloved hand gesticulates anew. Another set of lights form to the corresponding spell.
        No bolt of electricity or haze of heat seems to escape him. It's not too clear what's going on.
        "Grave Dust," the spell is capped off with its name.
        Malfi might catch a glimpse of some fine, powdery matter appearing around her. No... 'around' is missing the point of what follows.
        If she is anywhere at all within the area in which this powdery dirt appears, she will feel it immediately. Itchy? Maybe itchy at first. This feeling might yet intensify, depending on how much overall purchase it finds.
        Clogging. For humans, it's not unlike a sense of having sinuses stuffed. Maybe constipated, by equivalent of digestive issues. No, there's a more succinct way to describe it.
        Completely stopped up, by matter that should not be in any living body. It does not discriminate where. It could be in her throat. It could be in her lungs. It could be in her blood. It could be in her heart. It's...
        It may well be EVERYWHERE in her, if it is.
        If Malfi's physiology doesn't allow her to easily expel unwanted foreign agents (i.e. vomit, etc.), then Ethius' threat holds true - she might need to cut herself open to purge this foreign matter, if it catches.
        The sensation is nothing short of pure agony.
        The Metal Demons, a proud warrior race, would never typically think to use something like this against much of anyone. This spell is not an example of a contest of might and technique between warriors.
        Its infliction is pure, undistilled, needless cruelty. It's the sort of sensation one might not wish upon their most hated enemy.
        What kind of monster would do that to... anyone?

GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Malfi with Grave Dust!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Fenrir has posed.

Elena's winds cut into Fenrir's flesh, drawing more of that silver blood. She's soaked in it, even as she patches those wounds, as the Metal Demon's breathing becomes more and more ragged. That grin becomes absolutely monstrous as the left side of her face continues to twist. Fenrir just hisses laughter, as she doesn't reply to Ida. Instead, she's smashed into. For a moment, Ida has basically full control of Fenrir as he strikes jerk her around, knocking the wolf to her knees, leaving her without breath and with a possibly fractured windpipe, and leaving her with a massive strike in her gut as Fenrir begins to turn. The blows are brutal...but Fenrir didn't even try to counter. She just took it.

As Fenrir turns, Ida would notice that the woman is shifting her entire left side, her left eye almost bulging. "Will you? I survived him, what makes you think you'll succeed? After the last time we met, I considered. I can't beat him how I currently am. I needed to grow stronger. I wasn't just sitting around doing NOTHING, YOU KNOW! I'll show you how much stronger I've grown, IDA! I'LL SHOW YOU THE HEIGHTS OF MY RAGE TOWARDS THE DEMON OF ELRU! Pay attention to me, not the girl, not Harken, ME! BECAUSE I'LL BE THE ONE TO SLAUGHTER YOU!"

Her rage is maniacal, as Fenrir loses herself. Her left leg twists, practically bending backwards, as her left arm continously shifts until it could support her entire weight, and despite that, Fenrir keeps upright. Her face snarls as the bloodvessels become incredibly prominent, as the arm then proceeds to jerk backwards as the bone basically crunches. The poison Elena previously got into her bloodstream ejects itself, pouring through Fenrir's wounds and orifices. It's absolutely hideous, but the most bizarre part is that Fenrir's entire right side is still the same. Still 'human', even as the left side becomes that of a monster.

Fenrir lurches forward startlingly quickly to try and knock Ida into Elena, before moving to knock them both upwards with her massive hand. Whether or not it succeeded, Fenrir would catapult herself into the air, before moving to slam claws first into the pair of them and continously try and ground them down. "DO YOU REALLY THINK YOU'RE WORTH ANYTHING, IDA? DO YOU?!"

GS: CRITICAL! Malfi takes a glancing hit from Ethius Hesiod's Grave Dust for 70 hit points!
GS: Disease and Jam! Statuses applied to Malfi!
GS: Fenrir has attacked Fenrir with Wolf's Cry!
GS: Fenrir takes a solid hit from Fenrir's Wolf's Cry for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Fenrir!
GS: Restore! Fenrir clears debuffs from Fenrir!
GS: Fenrir has activated a Force Action!
GS: Fenrir has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with The Hand of Fenrir!
GS: Fenrir has attacked Elena with The Hand of Fenrir!
GS: Fenrir has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi backs off from Ethius, coughing and vomiting (right on him) -- but she's still grasping the sealing rod. She is effectively, if temporarily, incapacitated. If he pays attention to such things, he may notice that the vomit is metallic...

GS: Malfi has attacked Malfi with Electrocutie!!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: DISEASE! Malfi tries to heal Malfi, but it doesn't work!
GS: Elena takes a solid hit from Fenrir's The Hand of Fenrir for 199 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Arleph Ardan has posed.

         Arleph is an academic man. A reasonable, logical man, actually, which is rather astounding in the face of the profession that he applies himself to. Yet, even as much Symbology have been transformed into a science by thousand of years of tradition, mysticism, esoteric knowledge still remained inside of it's practicioners. They speak of legends, of paths not taken, of darkness hidden and of things worse than darkness, as the lack of light is not an inherent evil: just a lack of light. It is the mind of sentients that brought it's defamed reputation.
 
         This, however, is different.
 
         The unlight, the transformation of the poor young woman, dangling to some dark powers as it takes over her. Arleph's eyes widens in both shock and terror. The warnings of old coming. The symbol on the right hand. It is not directly known to him, no. It smells different than the purple putrefication he's seen before. This is... The opposite of something.
 
         "See, this is the kind of thing we have to deal with. People get hurt, screams, blames us. That's when they get preyed upon. Aint it fun? I'll stand by, when you're ready.
 
         Arleph snaps out of his surprise, his terror at the words booming in his head. The gruff, growly voice of the Guardian that picked him. Well, that's the first time he spoke up to him without him prodding the Guardian about it.
 
         The Unlight slams into his barrier, Arleph reeling back with girtted teeth as it lack of existence bites into his being. His soul will be fine, he knows. Soulnessness don't just happen because you got snagged by it, even if it robs some warmth.
 
         "Then it looks like... we'll have to do this... a bit heavier than anticipated, Opposite One."
 
         His power is not yet gathered enough, but he stands his ground before the puppeted young woman, the avatar of some Dark Force of some kind with his free hand glowing with light. Pure energy that he fires against Number Eight. Her symbol hurts to look at.
 
         That, by general principle, means a lot of things. Namely: 'Oh god what I'd do for a Positronic Cannon right about now'.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a glancing hit from Fenrir's The Hand of Fenrir for 90 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

The hate and hatefulness pouring off of Neriah sets Cecilia's teeth to grinding. Her eyes cut past her - toward the Statue, instead. They don't have time. They don't have TIME. But--!

Neriah's blast slams into her, but parts around Cecilia's outstretched staff, the sorceress' barrier blasting apart that horrible light. She can feel...something? Some horrible thing. She doesn't have the time to do the math. She doesn't have time to process every horrible thing that could possibly be at play. She seizes on Neriah's screams as she sweeps her staff, batting aside the last vestiges of that shining darkness, and claws her hand forward again, more rakes of lightning skating across the distance toward Neriah. "You can't," she says, simply. No justification, no thought.

She reminds herself to slap Claude later, though.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Number Eight with Crest Sorcery Freestyle!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Arleph Ardan has posed.

         Arleph is an academic man. A reasonable, logical man, actually, which is rather astounding in the face of the profession that he applies himself to. Yet, even as much Symbology have been transformed into a science by thousand of years of tradition, mysticism, esoteric knowledge still remained inside of it's practicioners. They speak of legends, of paths not taken, of darkness hidden and of things worse than darkness, as the lack of light is not an inherent evil: just a lack of light. It is the mind of sentients that brought it's defamed reputation.
 
         This, however, is different.
 
         The unlight, the transformation of the poor young woman, dangling to some dark powers as it takes over her. Arleph's eyes widens in both shock and terror. The warnings of old coming. The symbol on the right hand. It is not directly known to him, no. It smells different than the purple putrefication he's seen before. This is... The opposite of something.
 
         "See, this is the kind of thing we have to deal with. People get hurt, screams, blames us. That's when they get preyed upon. Aint it fun? I'll stand by, when you're ready."
 
         Arleph snaps out of his surprise, his terror at the words booming in his head. The gruff, growly voice of the Guardian that picked him. Well, that's the first time he spoke up to him without him prodding the Guardian about it.
 
         The Unlight slams into his barrier, Arleph reeling back with girtted teeth as it lack of existence bites into his being. His soul will be fine, he knows. Soulnessness don't just happen because you got snagged by it, even if it robs some warmth.
 
         "Then it looks like... we'll have to do this... a bit heavier than anticipated, Opposite One."
 
         His power is not yet gathered enough, but he stands his ground before the puppeted young woman, the avatar of some Dark Force of some kind with his free hand glowing with light. Pure energy that he fires against Number Eight. Her symbol hurts to look at.
 
         That, by general principle, means a lot of things. Namely: 'Oh god what I'd do for a Positronic Cannon right about now'.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        A new challenger approaches! Who is i- oh, it's Zed. Gwen just stares at Zed, then. When he solidifies just what outcome he's working towards, the courier relaxes, letting out a spirited cheer.

        But just as the tides of battle seem to be turning in their favor, Dva seems to call to some sort of new force, her weapon manifesting a watery dragon. Gwen hurriedly struggles to load more bullets into her ARM. "C'monc'monc'monc'mon-" In a way, it's like a chanting for a spell, but unfortunately, like Hiro's own efforts, it falls.

        The Mockingbird reacts like before, the fossil of what was Metal Dragon muscle, nerve, and blood moving like something not quite flesh and not quite metal. When the full impact of Dva's attack hits, it becomes clear.

        Her ARM wasn't built for this.

        The pale redhead is overwhelmed and rudely slammed against a wall, collapsing downwards like a limp marionette cut loose from its strings.
        
        If Gwen could see beyond her field of vision, if she was even aware of anything beyond the pulsing of Malevolence, pain, and the polite warmth of Rigdobrite asking her to get up, she'd notice the things Jack's presence, Ida's unorthodox ARM, Claude's... struggle. That loud, annoying cry.
        
        'SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEW YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU!' ... She'd kind of get that particular feel, even if Rigdobrite is pretty understanding of her need to be optimistic to a nearly fatal degree.

        There's also the annoying, nagging feeling that she needed to be someplace else, rather than this muted, numb cloak of unconsciousness.

        She gets up, planting one hand against the wall. The pounding in her head and body limit Gwen's ability to form any meaningful attempt at tactics. Her ARM glows, then crackles with electric energy, channeling from its own reserves, as well as the energy that flows naturally in Gwen's own body.

        She lumbers into a run, gaining speed, her right fist forming an pulsing, energy-laced fist, aimed straight at Dva's face. "STOP THAT."

GS: Number Eight takes a glancing hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Crest Sorcery Freestyle for 65 hit points!
GS: Arleph Ardan has attacked Number Eight with Magic Missile!
GS: Arleph Ardan has completed his action.
GS: Number Eight takes a solid hit from Arleph Ardan's Magic Missile for 89 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with Special Delivery!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Special Delivery for 142 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Deep Dragoon Dva has posed.

        That Zed appears from above to strike just seems to elicit more anger in Dva, more frustration; but she does not seem to entirely be on her lonesome right now, that sheath-like cloak of water further and further ensconced around her.

        There's a parry, a block -- she steps back and gets cut again, more of her white blood spilling. "You dumb idiot!" she blurts out. "You make me jealous about how much easier it'd be if I had your dumb brain, you dumb dumb-- dummy!"

        Riesenlied's face drains even more of colour as she watches Shalune be slammed, gasping as she exclaims, "Shalune--!"

        Dva is less steady on her feet than she'd like, and Hiro and Ruby's berating just seems to ratchet up the tension in her mind. "You're WRONG! Mother isn't like that at all! Mother is our glorious saviour!"

        She's struck, with a much more powerful tornado that she flat out cannot cope with on her feet -- it's only with a quick lash of a tendril of water that she ratchets herself around the spires of the Temple that she can avoid the full brunt of the damage...

        ... in turn for her to slam into Lily's chunk of ice, impaling through her gut for just a moment-- and then braying into water, absorbed into her cloak. If that weren't interrupted, she might've been dead immediately.

        "I didn't have to feel fear in the face of war before... it wasn't like this before..." Dva mumbles, her hands rattling as she grips Brionac ever tighter. If she were human, her knuckles would whiten.

        "It'll be okay, Dva..." Riesenlied looks to the incoming Ragnell-- even as she twitches and convulses, choked by the bands of Malevolence that hold her prisoner.

        "It's not okay!!" Dva shouts in turn, staring towards Fei as he rises into the air and arms himself with the sheath of mystic flame, empowered by Moor Gault itself. It's with a bulling strike that he pierces through her Dragon and sends her flying, to crash so near the statue.

        She pointedly doesn't answer Fei, but the grimace on her teeth as she squeezes more tears out and clutches her forehead as she rises out of the crater on the floor might be telling.

        Everything kind of goes awash, though -- and Dva stares agog at Elly as she holds onto her Medium and summons... Solais Emsu. "Oh, oh, oh--"

        The light of heaven streaks its wrath upon her, and yet she isn't consumed in one fell swoop... again, largely thanks to that ever-persistent barrier of water that tremulously hardens against contact, even against the Guardians.

        It doesn't save her, laying her low for a moment as she begins to hiss, eye bleeding out as she stumbles. The moment she's tried to pick herself back up, she sees Gwen charging at her with a full-blown electric fist, discharging Metal Demon ARM straight into her body and sending her flying and convulsing once more.

        "I'm not... angry," Riesenlied insists. "I just... want to do right by you... I really wanted to tell you everything that had happened sooner... but I couldn't. Tell me what you want to do, Dva... if it means to step back from the Wings and go back home... then-- that's fine. But... only if that's what you really want to do."

        It's a familiar speech to Zed, delivered too late. As much as she wanted to get in touch with everyone, to tell them all... she couldn't. And she's paying the price now.

        Dva shakes her head and rubs it again, hissing and deciding she's--

        --finally had enough.

        It's yet another burst of speed that she shows, not for the assault... but to just slip around and suddenly reappear next to Riesenlied. She grabs her by the hair and seizes her up.

        "Just-- just shut up, shut up! Why can't you just hate me already?! What's wrong with you?!"

        The tip of Brionac is drawn ever closer to her neck, the shaft of the spear rattling with the panicked fervour clearly on her face and her hand...

<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        "... that is enough," echoes a voice, all of a sudden. It's a study in contrasts - soft and quiet, and yet reverberating around the inner sanctum, cutting through the air like a living thing with the anger held within it. It's familiar to most of those present, but tinged with an echo that isn't usually there, an echo of power behind it that allows it to carry unnaturally around the melee. "That is quite enough. Dva. Stand down." The order carries a weight, if not a presence, even as unfamiliar as it is.

        The cavern pulses again, shakes with the same sort of sensation as the weakening of the barrier behind the statue - but this time, it doesn't come from the watery wall that holds back the unknown creature that threatens Wayside, but from above the melee instead. The next pulse causes a network of spidering cracks to raze their way across the rock, and between them a crawling black flame begins to seep through the gaps, the ongoing rumble beginning to rise in pitch.

        "'Humans are strong'," the voice continues, this time sounding clearer, if no less deep; Noeline's, the second of Wayside, but with an edge and a strength to it that she rarely ever displays. The sensation of a Guardian's power extends behind it, rumbling in time with the way the cavern shakes. "'Humans are terrifying'. I certainly can't say you're wrong. That is a truth that our kind easily forget, cooped up in the Photosphere as they are now. It's true our victory isn't assured. It's true that we kept our intentions from you. ... I apologize for that." The next time the cavern shakes, the ceiling buckles, large chunks dropping from it to ricochet off the central pillar--

        --and then a large segment of it simply and abruptly tears itself apart in a corona of that same blackened flame, the power of Duras Drum racing around the scattered pieces before they fall away. Slipping between them, apparently in freefall, a figure rockets downwards with her unbound hair fluttering above her, an ornamental scythe in crimson held aloft in her hands. It would be Noeline - and yet a Noeline seemingly comprised of the pulsation of a Guardian's power, the energy of it tearing around her in a whorl and igniting the air around her.

        The Hades Guardian might be sealed away, his power limited - but in this instant the Metal Demon appears to have given her all to the Medium inside of her, letting the anathemaic power of the Hades Guardian wash fully over her. It runs in dripping rivulets down her scythe, surrounds her - threatens to burn her away, and yet she endures it, her sighs set on the Metal Demon beneath her.

        "--but what possessed you to think this was the best way to deal with it?! Do you really think there's space for the Tainted in Mother's future? Dva!" she roars - and impacts with the ground blade-first. Under the force of the blow Noeline's scythe twists unnaturally, not so much buckling as simply dissolving and spreading into an explosion of power around her, the force of Duras Drum's power backed by her own body as she twists the scythe into a living blade of liquid metal that rolls over both the Ebony Wings traitor and the Malevolence-bound form of its leader.

        Faced with the sudden, point-blank flame, the stake that binds Riesenlied in a prison of Malevolence shakes, twists - and crumbles away as if it were no more than a fluttering leaf in the wind. The twisting form of Noeline's scythe instantly turns with an inexorable pull, and Riesenlied is ripped from Dva's hands, thrown aside and clear of the traitor's grasp.

        Intersposed between the two stands Noeline, gasping for breath as if choking under the Guardian's power - but her footing, and her protective stance, are held steady. "... I may-- just be the newbie--" she chuckles to herself between gasps, the noise completely humourless. "But whatever her faults may be-- I will not allow you to harm her. Not when her crime is wanting to protect you-- us."

GS: Noeline has activated a Force Action!
GS: Noeline has activated a Force Action!
GS: Noeline has attacked Deep Dragoon Dva with The Errant Blade!
GS: Noeline has completed her action.
GS: Deep Dragoon Dva takes a solid hit from Noeline's The Errant Blade for 211 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jack Van Burace has posed.


You lose what you can't keep hold of.

That phrase resonates somewhere in Jack's mind. Racing back past the haze of bar rooms and brawls. Back past ash and flame and blood. Back to a time where he was...happy. For lack of a better term.

Its such an unfamilar feeling now. Like an old unused set of muscles being tested once again. One that brings pain just from the bare ghost of use. His stagger turns into a stumble as his foot goes out from under him. He will entirley be blaming the rubble on the fact that his sword strike caught nothing but air too. In case anyone was wondering.

Worry threads though Hanpan's words. "Jack? Whats wrong?" The little mouse murmurs as he hops up to his shoulder. Suprise tinges those words as well, the mouse never has known the swordsman to be this distracted in a fight. Even when he wasn't sober.

Jack just shakes his head the distraction there should have gotten him killed right then and there. In fact for most lesser warriors it would.

Harken's sudden leap triggers an answer somewhere in Jack's memories. His bladde sweeps around, each time the scythe met with sword. Each intricate technique met with its counter. Still the power of the blows drives Jack backwards but the rythm of the trade is familiar.

Familiar in a way that can't be faked. That can't be replicated. At least...he thought that they couldn't...

And those words. So familiar to him.

He shakes his head, eyes snapping towards the Quarter Knight. "How long were your kind watching us?" He snarls suddenly. "How long? That is the only way you can replicate these techniques. You had to see us..."

There is a vicious shake of his head as he suddenly shoves fowards, the blade of his sword skidding down the haft of her scythe. Aiming for the place between chestpice and helm. For the throat.

GS: Jack Van Burace has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Number Eight has posed.

                                               I tried so hard not to do it.
                                                 After that time with Astie.
                                               After I met Mikaia and Riese.
                                              But this place feels so wrong.
BUT SO RIGHT.
                                                                 And I don't
think I can
                                                                     try and
hold it back anymore




Perhaps Neriah was under Elena's nose the whole time - if indeed that's still Neriah in there, or if all that's left is Number Eight. The figure of unlight rears back, more ungodly power surging around her as she builds up to something else.

Claude C. Kenny acts first, standing in defence of a world that's not his yet which has in some measure welcomed him. The raw force of that chi blast slams into the shadowed figure and plows her backwards. Shadows eddy in the air, torn and tattered by the potency of the brave boy's chi. Neriah's heels hit the floor with a rusty click and a screech, dragging across stone with a sharp enough sound to suggest something in there is still solid.

She lifts her head. Those empty white eyeholes lock on Claude. A deep, rumbling vibration emanates from somewhere deep within her, like a growl just too low for the ear to hear. As if the earth itself were growling with sickness.

Arleph and Cecilia unload. The former lacks a positron cannon but makes his power known; the glowing light pounds against the body of the unlight entity that may or may not still be Neriah, carving through shadowed matter. It melts back into place, but the entity ripples and shrieks another of those soundless shrieks that nevertheless rattle the cavern. She surges forward, but Cecilia's thunderous blasts slam into her again and again. Layers of shadow peel away, bleeding off into the air like so much water.

Some part of Neriah wants to scream that, yes, she can. She must.

Lightning sings and blasts away - but soon, it's pushed away from her in a vast wave as that darkness globes out from her. The unlight, so unlike Malevolence or even anything else the band has encountered to date, coalesces into vast, howling waves of pure malice. They crash towards Cecilia, slamming towards her with impossible force.

Sweeping her hand out, Neriah casts a rumbling wave of darkness towards Claude. It twists itself into the shape of a vast head and neck, a dozen eyes and six mouths briefly shaped by the energy, before it simply manifests into a hurtling coil that seems to want to punch through him and remove a portion of his very being as it passes.

It is Arleph Ardan, though, who bears the brunt of it. Rising a metre or so off the ground again, the entity that was once Neriah resumes its pace towards the statue. Light blazes from her eyeholes like white flame, pouring out of the hellish sigil carved into her palm. That pale light compresses down into a tiny sphere and winks away.

Until the ghostlight returns. Arleph can feel the soul-curdling sensation of it springing to life around him. A runic circle of phantom light, etched with a ring of jagged symbols, encircles him. Streams of shadow pour upwards.

They descend. Shaping themselves into talonious tendrils of pure darkness, the coils whirl into a vast, cascading maelstrom, a veritable tornado of negative energy threatening to rip him apart and peel his body away from his very essence. Like a vast de-flesher, peeling the meat away from the soul.

GS: Jack Van Burace has attacked Lady Harken with Slash Rave!
GS: Jack Van Burace has completed his action.
GS: Number Eight has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Sin Reaver!
GS: Number Eight has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Catastrophe!
GS: Number Eight has attacked Arleph Ardan with Eighth Circle!
GS: Number Eight has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny critically Guards a hit from Number Eight's Catastrophe for 28 hit points!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde guards a hit from Number Eight's Sin Reaver for 73 hit points!
DC: MISS! Lady Harken completely evades Slash Rave from Jack Van Burace!
<Pose Tracker> Elena has posed.

        What can Elena do when Ida smashes into her?

        When Fenrir pounds and pounds like a rabid beast?

        "Ida..." Not Lady Everstead. In fairness there's no time for the songstress to catch her breath and be formal right now, either way, but... the way she talked about murder like that, the obvious regret about that particular one...

        Elena reaches for her shoulders between blows.
        She's pushed into the ground as it cracks under her due to the pressure. She clenches her fist, grabbing onto twin red orbs, plucking them off her dress.

        "You are strong!" There's barely any time to say anything between Fenrir's relentless assaults. Watery blue Ether gathers, Elena so pressed for time she unconsciously skips using her Mana Egg at all. A shield of soft blue light surrounds Ida and Elena.

        "And worth more than any demon could know! That is why..."

        Elena hurls the two large orbs she's hurling onto upward. They might bap into Fenrir, causing absolutely no damage... until the impact causes them to detonate, violently.

        The shield around Ida should protect her from the blast.
        The shield around Elena breaks and shatters under the combined weight of all those blows it took and the bombs, sending the priestess crashing a few feet away looking rather banged up. Torn clothes from the repeated contacts with a wolfish arm and now a bit from her own bombs.

        Everything is awful.
        Hopefully it's even worse for Fenrir.

GS: Elena has attacked Fenrir with Impact Bomb!
GS: Elena has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        As she makes her way away, Ragnell pauses as Hanpan mentions her, then winks at the blue mouse and shoots him a two-fingered salute of greeting. Then she glances over at Fei when he calls a warning out to Riese, then all but hurls himself at Dva while lit on fire. ...she kinda likes his style. She also appreciates Fenrir's determination to kill Ida a lot, and makes note of... whatever the hell Ethius just did to Malfi, because making someone vomit on command seems deeply unpleasant. But that's not important right now. She focuses back on Riesenlied and continues slinking around the battlefield until she's where she wants to be.
        
        She doesn't need to be here, next to Riesenlied, squatting next to her and the Malevolence-laden spike jammed through her. But she wants to be. And generally speaking, Ragnell does what she wants.
        
        But before she makes it all the way, Noeline happens. That's probably the best way to describe it: Noeline happens. Ragnell was aware that she had a Medium inside her, but she didn't know she could bring out this much power or force. It's quite a sight to see, particularly when she shears away that Malevolence-laden spike and hurls Riesenlied aside, away from Dva, so she can take up position between them.
        
        Ragnell smiles, then circles around Noeline to hunker down to where Riese has landed. "Sure is a hell of a battlefield in here, huh?" she remarks, sweeping her gaze across the room, taking in the rivalries and violence. "You plannin' on doin' somethin' about it now that you can, or are you gonna sit there an' swoon over brave dame Noeline comin' to your rescue?"

GS: Fenrir guards a hit from Elena's Impact Bomb for 76 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Arleph Ardan takes a solid hit from Number Eight's Eighth Circle for 325 hit points!
GS: Poison! Statuses applied to Arleph Ardan!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius doesn't flinch as Malfi tries to purge the foreign matter within her body. It's sickening. It's awful. It's... why would anyone ever do this to someone?
        Without pause, Ethius' boots make contact against the metal-tinged fluids. He does not slip, nor slow. His eyes show no warmth nor concern for her well-being. A near complete lack of emotion. None of the look of a warrior who would excitedly press on the attack to claim their glory against their foe.
        How many people went through this same experience, by his hand?
        "There is one way." Ethius states, his left hand still outstretched. "You wish for it to end, do you not?" Is he smiling? It's impossible to tell. His eyes haven't changed. The rest of his face is, effectively, invisible. "I would not advise raising your blade against me."
        Indeed, both of Malfi's hands are on the Sealing Rod. She couldn't, as long as she held it.
        "This seems beyond the ability of your physiology to process. I have seen its effects on others such as yourself." Has he...?
        "So long as it courses through your body, the damage could be everlasting." Is that true? The emotional tone in this man's words have not changed. He speaks the same rhythm. The same tone. Even as he bleeds out his side. "Should it continue to progress... you could very well become Tainted."
        ...With word of the charges being put against Riesenlied, the Tainted may find themselves under ever greater scrutiny. If Ethius isn't exaggerating, he could be condemning Malfi to the Gutter... or worse.
        ...If he's telling the truth.
        "That is not the fate you wish to befall you." Ethius twists the verbal knife. His hand is still outstretched. "This close to what your people seek. You have only one hope now."
        Ethius draws just shy of Malfi's reach. The expectations of his outstretched hand are clear.
        "Run yourself through with your sword. You may survive. You may purge yourself of what I have inflicted upon you. Otherwise..." Ethius' eyes show no mirth. He narrates these possibilities with a straight face.
        Would Malfi run herself through in order to shed this... disease... running through her?

GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi gazes into Ethius' eyes, trying to judge if he's lying or not. The agony continues -- as does the coughing, and the nausea. She may have another option. Gasping with the effort needed to focus, she uses her native shapeshifting abilities to open small channels in her body through which the corruption can escape. Unfortunately this takes her attention away from the sealing rod. For now. She keeps a wary eye on the Symbologist as well as she can. Surely he can't manage a second spell like this, can he?

GS: Malfi has attacked Malfi with Battle Meditation!
GS: Malfi has been weakened by Disease! They take 180 hit points of damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Malfi takes a solid hit from Malfi's Battle Meditation for 0 hit points!
GS: Malfi has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny is unaware that he's mortally offended Cecilia, largely because he's a bit oblivious. And also because he is extremely, extremely focused on not dying right now. The force of his palm thrust ripples all the way up his arm and into the shoulder, and Claude releases a slow, low breath as he tries to focus, to suppress the pain.

And then the scion of Valmar unleashes a coil of tenebrous fury, which forces the Boy from Earth to meet it. Claude threads his fingers together and extends his arms in front of his chest, then channels his still-roaring chi into the palms of his hands. Blue light surges into being, then coalesces into a massive draconic visage, fangs elongating and scales hardening as it opens its maw into a scream.

"DRAGON'S HOOOOOOOOOOOOWL!" Claude screams as the chi blast rips into the power of darkness, tendrils of shadow snaking past the defence to lick at the edge of Claude's form. He shouts past the pain and the chill, pouring more of his reserves into the attack, until he tears both hands apart, shattering cerulean dragon and ebon coil into a thousand glittering shards before him. He stands there for a moment, shoulders and arms shuddering with the effort. He sucks in a breath, steadying himself.

And then his hands drop to his sword.

Claude charges forward, and metal gleams in the shadows of the qanat as forged and folded steel whispers out of its sheath. Forged by the smith Gamgee years ago, the blade lay dormant in the old man's smithy until Dias Flac, Claude's oldest rival (sorry Zed) beheld it during the Lacour Tournament of Arms and judged it worthy of a promising young swordsman.

It is the finest blade Claude has ever wielded, better than his skill demands. He hopes to be worthy of it someday.

Claude plants his feet and slides past Neriah's shadowy form, bisecting the darkness in a horizontal half-moon arc. He plants his feet, arresting his progress, and then turns. Gamgee's blade rises up, twists, and then descends in another flash of light, on the diagonal, twisting hard and down.

<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi topples into the water, which closes over her with a chilling finality...Perhaps the sealing rod will float to the surface...

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Number Eight with Twin Slash!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
GS: Number Eight takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Twin Slash for 64 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Deep Dragoon Dva has posed.

        Dva's face falls in the wake of yet another Guardian's presence emanating from-- from above her. No, this was no foreign presence, this was--

        "...Noeline...!"

        The words are spoken by Dva and Riesenlied both.

        The scythe comes down, twisting in space as it enormously maws open with the power of Duras Drum and Noeline's own power; the blade of living metal just seemingly roars--

        --and Riesenlied gasps weakly as she finally finds purchase from the Malevolence, tumbling to one side with a weak whimper. She collapses by her side, managing to hold onto her neck and cough as she looks towards the Ebony Wing ... no, even she can't bring herself to say it right now.

        Instead, Ragnell goads her to act, and she looks up towards her, even as she coughs and feels like convulsing like she could throw up.

        You plannin' on doin' somethin' about it now that you can...

        One hand comes up immediately, gripping the Dragon's Tear.

        The Errant Blade's roar does so much more to Dva, awashing her in that black flame as it carves her back, further. She's lost an entire pauldron at this point, a large wash of mercurial blood dripping from her arm and chest as she trembles, anathema to the power of the Guardians.

        "... call upon ..."

        She stumbles backwards.

        "I call upon you again..."

        Two more steps-- and she nearly trips against one of the seams of the seal that she's cracked before.

        Riesenlied throws her hand out as she exclaims, "Dva, don't listen to... don't listen to this voice! I can tell you-- it won't be working in your best interest!"

        The Dragon's Tear shimmers, and that emanation of photonic genteelness starts to shine around the battlefield. "Dva...!"

        "Come to me... Detestable Pale...!"

        The tip of Brionac crushes the nicked surface of the seal--

        And a wash of blue light surrounds the battlefield for but a brief moment.

        The floor underneath the Statue cracks, and gives way as the Seal of Muse fails in its design, no matter the strength Schturdark is lending upon it.

        A massive tentacle bursts out of the ground from out of that seal, dotted with distending, sickly eyes that gaze upon you.

        Then another. And a third.

        An otherworldly shriek ensconces the Temple, and a horrifying maw of eyes opens in the fleshy chamber that is exposed underneath the floor of the seal. It is besotten with the stench of seawater.

        Dva lulls against the light of the Tear, and the light of What Lies Beneath... and drops down, towards that open maw.

        "... creatures of Filgaia.
         Immure thyselves in the Pale...
         And step beyond the Veil..."

        There is a powerful thrush of power, and a terrifying set of fleshy double doors flings open. Dva throws one last conflicted look towards Riesenlied, Noeline and the others...

        ...before she disappears through the entrance.

        [ SYSTEM MESSAGE: You have unlocked the Hadal Temple Labyrinth Dig. ]

<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

A loud and, one might say, heroic cry catches Harken's attention for a moment. In that split-second where poor Jack is trying to out-dance the oncoming storm of ravenous scythe-strikes. Her eyebrow cocks--a second traitor to join the first, but this one is no surprise. Where Riesenlied goes, after all, Noeline is sure to follow.

"Ah. You see?" she asks of her opponent, in a tone warm with a chuckle's measure of mirth. "It was bound to happen sooner or later. Too soft." completely uncaring whether Jack has any idea of who Riesenlied and Noeline are. The ponytailed warrior's parries ring true, though, and Azrael does not bite into his flesh this time. Which is good--despite the protagonist survival rate for such an occurrence still being 100. The two seperate again for breathing space--and to chat. Chatting is an important part of battle.

"You seem preoccupied with my style of combat. But jealousy is unbecoming of a warrior, don't you think?" Harken taunts with a smooth croon, possibly losing herself a little in drawing this out. She can't place her finger on why, but it feels important to put this human in his place. Enjoy his anxiety--truly good to the last drop. "Perhaps some fool in your kingdom stole away with our techniques, long ago, hmm? No wonder they seem a pale imitation!"

                                      ***

Sometime a lifetime ago, a very determined girl feels the shame threaten to swell and burst her heart as her opponent's natural talent and instict outstrips her training, time and time again.

"Ha~a!" she lunges for the younger, blonde student in the dojo with her training sword cutting a dull arc through the air. He vanishes from sight with a rueful chuckle, and a wooden shaft smacks her painfully in the back of the neck.

E*$^!a N??t could barely follow that speed, and it frustrates her to no end. Why? Why?

                                      ***

So it's totally uncertain where Harken learned to dodge like this, nobody can say, but she vanishes from Jack's sight as his sword scythes through the air where she once stood, her form billowing away like smoke before a piercing gust. "Too slow!"

A scarlet flash arcs towards Jack from behind. Whose neck is being hunted now? Who else can he remember to ever step up to that speed of his!?

GS: Lady Harken has attacked Jack Van Burace with Azrael - Cross Cut!
GS: Lady Harken has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Malfi uses every option available on her person to purge the sickness. How much of Ethius' claims are truth? As Malfi finds her body overwhelmed and working on overdrive to try and be rid of this most awful disease, she loses a hold of the Sealing Rod.
        Ethius' movements go from deliberate and careful to decisive and sure, clutching the rod in his right gloved hand as he watches Malfi's body topple into the water. He looks into her eyes as the fight starts to fade from her. What could he do to her next? This man has shown that he has virtually no boundaries. He attacked her with a means her people would consider cowardly. He tried to appeal to knowledge of a subset of Metal Demons that a human should not have, or know about.
        Cruel.
        Monstrous.
        This man might be a demon unto himsel--
        Ethius' gaze sharply turns as the light of the Dragon's Tear falls upon the battlefield, followed by... a shriek.
        Ethius disengages from Malfi's fallen form with all due haste, crouching behind some debris for cover. He knows not what is happening, or the nature of what is surrounding him. He clutches the Sealing Rod tightly. Even without line of sight, he could sense the eyes upon him.
        He is deathly silent.
        It would be time before he emerged from cover to take stock of the situation, and figure out the clear path to the statue - if there is one. He does not yet have the gumption to look or confirm.

GS: Jack Van Burace has activated a Force Action!
GS: Jack Van Burace takes a glancing hit from Lady Harken's Azrael - Cross Cut for 88 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Arleph Ardan has posed.

         Arleph stands his ground.
 
         He can see the terrible light coming for him, the wave of darkness powered by the light blazes, the eye-hurting sigil in her hand. He can feel within the flicker of flame of creation that is within his soul. It flinches, battered by the incoming UnNness of the shadows. His right hand is brandishing an invisible shield, his left is aglow with raw energy of life. The tide rages against him, the Symbologist staring down it's hellish origination. The circle appears below him as he steady himself. The maelstorm of negative energy ripping apart, sending shards of his clothing aisde, his hat flying off and letting his red-brown hair fly in all direction, feasting into his essence, his flesh. His shirt is ripped, his clothes in tatters, revealing the fully glowing network of tattoos hidden on his chest: a labyrinth of power, weaving into one another, below, up, with relief, pulsing, living.
 
         Arleph stands his ground. He screams. But he stands his ground, despite all odds.
 
         A large part of it is due to his own will working against the circle. A larger part is his own power, clashing against the Un Thing.
 
         And then... there's another part.
 
         "Now would be a good time, Wise One. Show what we can do."
 
         Arleph screams, the slashes of blood pouring for him with the labyrinth of tattoos on his chest glowing, a light starting from a circle from one end, going underneath another then ending to spread all over. He slams a shredded fist into the circle, then the world becomes earth for him, in a shower of his dying motes.
 
         "GRUDIEV!"
 
         A large geode erupts from the ground, taller, three time as the Symbologist behind it. It cracks, shatters, then explode in a ruby light. There stands a large, reptilian monster of blue-green scales, snarling out before it. It breaths, steam escaping it's nostrils as it lifts both claws upward, then slamming them down against the stone, the earth beneath them. It shakes, quivering and almost melting, as if being mixed with one another, the deep rising to the top, glistening, wetness being added to make a terrible quicksand that spreads over the Number Eight, erupting upward into forming a prison of mud, crushing, encasing. The soil is soft, suffocating, wet. Crushing.
 
         Healthy.
 
         Then it vanishes, but the upturned earth remains, enriched by the Guardian's action, aided by Arleph's own knowledge. Perhaps, later, when the blood settle, mushrooms will grow there, perfectly in the path of the attack taken.

GS: Arleph Ardan has attacked Number Eight with Material - Terrain Transfiguration!
GS: Arleph Ardan takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: Arleph Ardan has completed his action.
GS: Number Eight takes a solid hit from Arleph Ardan's Material - Terrain Transfiguration for 152 hit points!
DC: Malfi switches forms to Bruiser Zoologist Malfi!
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia's ongoing sorcerer battle with Neriah is having somewhat mixed results. The....woman? has gone silent for now, but Cecilia can feel this...presence, even entangled amid the other chaos around her. The Medium fears it, but she doesn't feel the stinging terror it's felt before from the likes of Grahf. Her fingers adjust on her staff. Maybe she can feel that spite. She cries back, "The Guardians can't be killed! Not as long as this planet lives! And if that is your goal..."

She plants the staff down and her Crest Case bursts itself open, one of her mediums raising out and twirling around her in counterpoint to the flow of her magic. "Then I'll stop you here! Material!"

The Medium takes point in front of her, shining like a beacon. And then, raising her staff high, she cries the rest. Most know by now what the Princess summoning means: Schturdark is coming. Except...

        "Hi-Speed Ripper!!"

When Cecilia vanishes, a whirlwind fires out lateral, slowly resolving into a form - that of a huge, rushing tiger, which screams like a whirlwind and howls like a beast as it rushes toward Number Eight. That power can rip through even shadow as it shoulders into her, lashing out with a claw the size of a wagon at the shadow-thing.

That power dissipates shortly after and Cecilia returns, breathing one, two, three sharp breaths...just in time to go rigid from SOMETHING HORRIBLE breaking free. She half-turns, staring in awe and fear. Her Mediums tremble in sympathy with their Guardians - but the Shaman's feet remain frozen, stunned beyond response.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Number Eight with Material - Hi-Speed Ripper!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Number Eight takes a glancing hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Material - Hi-Speed Ripper for 89 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Noeline feels the shift in the air before the seal even breaks; she doesn't vaguely need the thrum of Duras Drum's power around her to pick out the twisting of the air and the cessation of pressure around the chamber, replaced by the sensation of s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g rising in its wake.

        She swears abruptly under her breath, the curse word sounding closer to 'curse' than 'words' what with the reverberation of the Hades Guardian's power in her voice, and feels herself shove off the ground in pursuit of Dva as the Metal Demon's hand lays upon the door to the ruins below. "Dva! Don't be a-- ridiculous damn idiot, get back here!--" she calls as her feet thunder against the water and stone that stretches across the intervening space, seeking to simply intercept the Metal Demon before she can disappear beneath the surface.

        It doesn't work - could never work from the start, and Noeline doesn't even have time to wonder if she was too harsh before the ground buckles beneath her. Pure instinct makes her throw herself backwards as the creature breaks through the floor; it's not as fast a motion as she'd like, her senses screaming at her already following her rather crazed stunt to save Riesenlied, and one of the tentacles catches her mid-leap to roughly fling her aside. "--gh--" she winces, skittering backwards back from the impact in another instinctive dive, intent on at least skidding far enough to cover Riesenlied as a first priority. A chuckle at the back of her mind - and a lack of presence in front of her - suggests the worst for the statue, and she can only grimace to herself as the black flame around her slowly starts to wick away. In its place, she looks-- heavily burnt, and having a rough time standing, forced to plant her scythe in the ground to keep her balance.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        The rage on Fenrir's twisted face is almost a mirror of Ida's own. You're so very much alike. Just scared, angry children who've been traumatized by monsters who want to ruin them for no good reason. Isn't that what she wants to do to K.K.? Doesn't she want to shatter the Knight's armor, to leave them a twisted, bleeding, broken husk, begging for their life? Doesn't she want to--

        Ida ducks. An arc of Elena's poison flies over her head, but it does nothing against the poison already coursing through her veins. It burns.

        Fenrir rushes forwards, slamming into Ida and knocking the martial artist off her feet. She goes flying, slamming into Elena--but Fenrir is on the both of them again before they can fall. Ida feels claws tightening around her shirt. All you are is violence, and yet, you can't even get that right.

        'DO YOU REALLY THINK YOU'RE WORTH ANYTHING, IDA? DO YOU?!'

        Ida's face is a rictus again, but this time, she looks like she's seen some deep, horrid truth again. Tears drip down her cheeks.

        "No," Ida says. "I don't."

        A shield. Elena's voice. The shield flickers. Ida looks through it, and sees the cavern exploding in negative essence--and Dva, holding Riesenlied at spearpoint, looking up as Noeline shows up to save everything. Just like how Kalve isn't going to save her from Fenrir, like he did at the dojo. Just like...

        "Shut up," Ida says, as if Noeline could hear her over the din. "If only you didn't exist--"

        The Statue wouldn't be in danger.

        Moments later, everything turns inside-out. Ida didn't think that things could get even more saturated with mystical horror, but they do. She watches, in terror, as the seal is torn asunder. The temple starts to crumble. The Statue is in free-fall.

        "No," Ida whispers. She's off like a shot. She works the gauntlet on her right arm with the fingers of her left, the muscles tense and jittery. The end of the grapple line comes free. The statue keeps falling. It is Ida's entire world, but somehow she manages to thread another grapple on the line.

        "Moor Gault," Ida whispers. She notices, then, that something is glowing through its belt-pouch. Ida reaches inside, and pulls out a chunk of rock that's warm and pulsing, like a heart. It sounds too much like a prayer to her ears, and she is suddenly very aware she's doing this in front of a priest. Ida raises an arm, fires a grapple into the distant cavern roof; it arcs past the writhing tentacles, and anchors in solid rock. Ida removes her Medium, passes it to her right hand, clutches it as tightly as she can while still holding the ARM's trigger. The other hand grips the Sealing Rod. "GIVE ME STRENGTH!" Ida's voice is terrified, desperate, enraged. The line pulls in. She's all but flying towards the falling statue, and as she flies, something else flies with her: a silhouette of a great firebird, feathers falling from its wings onto the battlefield.

        Where Moor Gault's plumes fall, the ground is purified, and allies of the Guardians find their weapons imbued with sacred flame.

        The Statue, though, that's still in play. Ida rushes for it, whispering the incantation Halle told her, but will she make it in time?

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Material - Golden Phoenix Wing!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Zed with Material - Golden Phoenix Wing!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Material - Golden Phoenix Wing!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Material - Golden Phoenix Wing!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Material - Golden Phoenix Wing for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Material - Golden Phoenix Wing for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Claude C. Kenny!
GS: CRITICAL! Zed takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Material - Golden Phoenix Wing for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Zed!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Material - Golden Phoenix Wing for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Cecilia Adlehyde!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell goads Riese, and Riese grabs the Dragon's Tear. Dva meanwhile calls upon something that should not be awakened, and blue light floods the battlefield before a creature of flesh breaks free of its seal and spirits Dva away--or Dva flees into it, either or. Ragnell stands back and watches as this unfolds--it wasn't what she'd expected, and that's what makes it spectacular.
        
        The Statue of Schturdark falls. Ragnell doesn't make an effort to go to it. She instead looks around the battlefield, to see who among these humans and Metal Demons do... in the midst of calling up Guardians left and right, anyway. Including Elder Gods, it seems.
        
        Hey, on the plus side: Neriah is no longer the most horrifying thing in the room. Progress!
        
        (that thing of flesh is seriously horrifying and ragnell is sure dva's super-dead right now)

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei can't bring himself to hate people like this. It'd be so much easier if he could but the despair he feels is so much stronger than the hate it might as well not be there. It's never going to change. It's never going to change. Why does this feel so old to him?

Nobody's pure, everybody's hurt. But that doesn't mean we should make things worse, even if we're in pain.

Those words feel old too, but not the same kind of old. they pierce Fei's conciousness and make him remember how little he really knows abotu himself. Is he this demon of elru people keep saying? No, that doesn't feel quite right even in his most cynical of expectations. At the very least, he's not just that, right? He's more than that. He has to be. Still...

How many people have we run into... just like this... smashing the already fragile world out of little else but spite and hurt

"Listen to Elly," Fei says quietly. "She knows what you're going through. Her situation isn't too different, you know?"

But that's the other side of people like this. They are being twisted and turned by greater powers, their hurt is being used as a weapon, they are being puppeted...but they'll just add more strings for such fiends to grab onto. There's only one thing you can do, Fei. She's not too strong for a metal demon. You can take her out. But hope stays Fei's hand.

Hope is such a vile thing sometimes.

The SECOND otherwordly shriek from beyond the pale hits Fei. He wonders, briefly, why he tries to resist that little voice in his head. Why must he live to see this again and again and again? But Elly's there. The source of that hope, that curse. Fei doesn't know what the tentacle here is. The Kraken? He doesn't have time to ponder. He only has time to move. Maybe this time, he thinks, this time will be it.

"Elly," He manages. "Be safe."

And then he shouts, "Lily!"

He turns around and charges up a... is that a ki blast? He's not aiming it for anyone in particular (though some of y'all might want to get out of the way). He unleashes a powerful blue chi wave out from his body and it sends him flying rapid speed and backwards towards the very maw that had been left open.

Along the way he grabs for Lily, intending to use his flying body as a much needed speedboost for her. She has to be the one to catch the statue before it hits the ground. She knows the incantation, she holds the item.

And it's not like she'll be alone down there. Fei's going with her. He hopes Leon can forgive him.

It'll be okay, he chastizes himself for thinking such things, the second time you lose everything is much easier than the first.

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Suddenly, there's a blade to Riesenlied's throat. Jacqueline looks away from Shalune in horror. There was no time. No time to do anything. And then, suddenly, the ceiling is torn open and the familiar silhouette of Noeline appears, wreathed in energy. Riesenlied's horrible fate is averted for now...

But there are more terrible things to come.

Dva calls upon something that should be not be called upon. Something that simply should not be.

The seal that Jacqueline had tried to research cracks and breaks. The temple is filled with an ominous blue light.

And then, it appears.

Jacqueline has no other words to describe.

She stares in horror as some form of abomination of tentacles and eyes appears, its gaping maw open...

And the Statue...

...Statue...

Jacqueline runs, drawing her Medium from her bag.

"Grudiev, please!" Jacqueline shouts, pouring everything she has into the Medium in her hand. Her desire to protect the Statue. The desire to protect Wayside. The desire to protect Shalune, who lay behind her.

Grudiev appears once more - but this time, rather than violence, to take the Statue in a protective embrace of earth, to prevent it from falling, and protect it...



"The Statue! Please...someone!" Jacqueline shouts.

She focuses... This may delay the Statue's fate, but while she focuses, she is an open target from anything that might seek to harm her.

<Pose Tracker> Jack Van Burace has posed.


"What? You all turning on each other like a pack of wild dogs? I was wondering when they would find a backbone." Jack grumbles as he notes Harkan's words and the sudden arival of others. He seems to know what she might mean, even as he does his best to not be evicerated.

Which he does manage.

The breathing room gives him time to access. To try to figure out a tactic that might work. She seems to know every slice before he manages to compleate it. He seesm to know every one of her pieces of footwork, her own skill with a blade. This is a dance he's done before but where?

Its driving him mad.

"Jealousy? Isn't that why you're trying to kill all of us? Jealousy?" He shoots back with a smirk. "Besides there isn't anything to be jealous of. The last woman I fought like this was three the woman you are."

His words trigger something though, something he doesn't want. Lifetimes ago, lifetimes he doesn't want to remember but they return. Full and fresh as all those years ago.




"See! This is what all that training gets you. Smacked in the head by someone like me." He could feel the smirk on his face. The anger and fustration that she felt amused him. Drew him to her. He couldn't help it, she was so fun to poke at.

"Faster! Come on faster!" He tauted her in his memory. Laughing at the look on her face. Pressing her to be better. Until one day he swung at the back of his neck and she caught the blade with hers.

The pride and vindication there made him smile. Even if she followed it up with a low slash that took his breath away.

She had smiled back.

....and that same smile was on her face as a castle gate slammed between them.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
Zed gets a salute from Hiro's bent over position as he rushes in to save his Metal Demon Sister. It's a gesture he can respect.
 
Fortunately it's at that moment that Jay throws him a healing potion. He sticks out a hand and nearly fumbles it with his fingertips - before steadying it, unstoppering it and drinking deep from the draught. In a moment, he rolls his shoulders back, and climbs to his feet. "Carakin are lifesavers... I swear." He flashes a thumbs up her way before tossing the bottle aside.
 
Whereas Ruby looks all bashful for a moment when Fei sort of refers to her as a universal moral compass. If not for the situation she might have gotten to giggling- but as it stands she just beams.
 
"And if your savior is death for everyone else!?"
 
But then her desperation Dva takes Riese hostage more directly. And he freezes. He doesn't make any sudden moves but a hand slowly reaches for his boomerang of all things - he still doesn't do anything with it, but he's ready to -
 
And then a voice reverberates throughout the chamber within the pulsing cavern - black flame seeping through the gaps of rocks. And he's looking around - not realizing what's happening. The impact causes the stake to burn away from the dark flames. "Geez why you gotta show off like that Noeline?" Is that all she's going to say there?!
 
And Dva suffers. Hiro is stepping forward, not truly menacing but as he sees her desperation - he gets that something strange is going on. And suddenly he starts to run - which is when Dva nicks the seal.
 
And then he bursts backwards as that thing smashes the ground beneath the statue - "Crud - crud! CRUD!" And then he starts to run towards it. He doesn't really think he has a chance of making it in time either - but he has to try. He barks out a word for a wind spell to try to slow it's descent - but given how heavy it is... well...
 
Ruby seems to take in the image of the horrifying elder god and everything going to shit around them by flying over alongside Fei's group as they rush in, "Fei! I really think this is a lost cause and I vote we all get THE HECK OUT OF HERE!"
 

GS: Jack Van Burace has attacked Lady Harken with Heal Blade!
GS: Jack Van Burace has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Elhaym van Houten has posed.

 
Ruby! How long has Ruby been there, Elly thinks, looking with sudden comprehension at Ruby and her squire. She has little time to think further because the manifestation of Solais Emsu can't last. She looks forth and then she cries out, "If it's not alright, then let her go!!"

But then comes forth a new challenge. Noeline! Elly's eyes widen.

Ragnell is there but Elly cannot even muster rage at her at this moment. She prays under her breath, though she knows not to who. Riesenlied is crying out. The Dragon's Tear shines... the seal breaks and SOMETHING comes out. Elly recoils from it immediately, the sickly eyes roundabout on the creature's shrieking amorphous limbs making Elly raise her hands. Almost cower.

It's too much, too fast - "Don't!" she calls to Dva, but, well.

Persuasion has failed her in this moment.

elly, someone calls.

Fei! Elly looks at him. He said to be safe -

Her mouth hangs slightly agape as he moves. She's too far away to reach.

<Pose Tracker> Number Eight has posed.

Those who have seen Neriah like this before may begin to notice something by now. Before, her manifestation was a brief thing. There, a moment of pain, and then gone.

Not so this time. Even as she bears down on Claude C. Kenny, she shows no obvious signs of flagging.

Claude puts her a step closer. The young man's blade may exceed his skill, but his skill is sufficient enough in this case to leave a mark. The scion of Valmar hurtles at him, palm outstretched, but his steel rips through first - and there is something solid there, the blade almost seeming to cut through something with the consistency of wet cement before erupting out the other side with a gout of ghostlight.

The lower half of the darkchild's face splits into a vast maw. A horrible noise emerges, like nine mouths shrieking at once at a pitch just too high for the ear to hear. It's an overlayer of ear-decimating buzzes that squeal at the senses like thousands of horrible wasps.

Arleph Ardan silences that screech - and evokes another - by calling upon the power of the Earth.

The strength of Grudiev encases the ghostlit hellspawn. Sacred earth melts around her, solidifying and crushing. Streams of unlight slip anemically through cracks in the Guardian's magic.

The room rumbles. Within it, the entity shrieks with such force that the cavern itself vibrates. The quicksand shudders - and then begins to wither and crack. The Guardian's magic was potent - but not nearly so long as it needed to be.

But it was enough, the holy power seeming especially potent against something so manifestly unholy as Valmar's girlchild. The shadow which has replaced Neriah falls to the cave floor, landing in a crouch, lurching unsteadily as she rights herself. The shadow begins to flow again. Her eyeholes lock on Arleph, a low, sickening gurgle emitting in seven voices from somewhere within the dubious matter of her being.

The power of Cecilia Adlehyde is more potent -- no, the power of Fengalon, the sacred wind. That holy breath rips shadow and ectoflame away from the entity in vast gales. The pale light of her palm sigil pales as the figure raises her eldritch field. With an echoing, subsonic shriek she forces her way forward. The divine claw crashes through the shadows and cleaves shining rifts through the unholy being; again a howl is wrenched from her, scarcely human, and yet --

And yet, there is a subtle sound underlying it. The faintest hint of a human voice screaming in absolute bloody agony.

The power of Moor Gault shines down upon the Guardian callers before her. The sheer divinity of the forces she confronts seems to slice through the pall of malice she emits. For a moment, it seems incredibly small. She barely even feels the opening of the seal beyond her - the sudden plunge of the hated Statue.

There's only madness now. The Guardians are here to fight against her.

KILL THEM ALL. KILL DEATH ITSELF.

The ghastly energy around Neriah begins to well again. The Valmarspawn holds her arms out at her sides. Arching, her chin comes up. That pale, unearthly maw gapes again, like a portal of the damned, hellish white light streaming from both it and from her eyeholes. The shadows build and build, coalescing around her into a vast blob, a huge, undulating orb of writhing darkness. The impressions of skeletal faces and hands blob from it, groaning and screaming. As though whatever power she wields carries with it the hatred of the damned.

The orb compresses downwards - and erupts into an immense tidal wave of energy skulls and roiling darklight. It is as if an ocean of hell has just cast its tide upon the cavern. The brunt of it is borne, this time, by Claude and Cecilia; they are the nearer of the two. It does not entirely reach Arleph, only a few dangerous but less furious coils radiating in his direction.

Those who wish to save the Statue will have a dire threat to force through.

GS: Number Eight has activated a Force Action!
GS: Number Eight has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Savage Toll!
GS: Number Eight has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Savage Toll!
GS: Number Eight has attacked Arleph Ardan with Catastrophe!
GS: Number Eight has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Number Eight's Savage Toll for 145 hit points!
GS: Claude C. Kenny used the Force Action Protect! He takes Number Eight's attack on Cecilia Adlehyde on himself!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has activated a Force Action!
GS: Claude C. Kenny guards a hit from Number Eight's Savage Toll for 86 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Fenrir has posed.

Elena finds purchase with her orbs. They detonate as they impact into Fenrir, sending her flying backwards from the sheer force. Fenrir goes prone several feet away, stirring and starting to lift only as everything goes wrong and the tentacle starts to rise. The shifting continues, as Ida starts to move, to save the statue. Fenrir's thoughts move several places, overhearing Noeline. No place for the Tainted with Mother? Bullshit. If they'd consider her Tainted...she'd prove she could still serve Mother. Fenrir was still a soldier. She was still growing stronger, stronger than she had been before. She was dangerous. And then her thoughts twisted to Ida. Ida was going to win. Ida was going to save the statue, and beat her once again, rub salt in her wounds once again.

Fenrir hadn't known Ida long. Hadn't been her 'enemy' for long. But Fenrir knew she hated her with a passion. And she was not going to let her win. It was petty, but it was fueling her.

Fenrir lurched upwards, interjecting herself into Ida's path. "WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING? I'M STILL CAPABLE OF FIGHTING! THAT'S NOT ALL I'M CAPABLE OF!" Fenrir's arm shrunk...and changed. This time it wasn't covered in horrible fur. It was metal. Shining metal coated in blood, humming with energy as her arm shifted into a horrible massive cannon, focusing straight on Ida. "I am going to destroy you until there's nothing left!"

The cannon fires a single, massive shot at Ida. The gun suddenly slings and moves to fire again at Elena, Fenrir not having forgotten her. The shots are precise, even in Fenrir's rage. "I AM FENRIR! ONE OF MOTHER'S CHOSEN! I will smash everything in my path to bring her back!"

GS: Fenrir has activated a Force Action!
GS: Fenrir has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Howling Cannon!
GS: Fenrir has attacked Elena with Howling Cannon!
GS: Fenrir has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

"Ida," Lily spits dangerously, breathlessly, sparing only brief moments for it, "Shut up." The way she glares at Riesenlied is something the Kislevi doesn't have time for right now. She's having to hold herself together as-is, it being mostly her discipline and sheer stubbornness that keeps her in the battle when the injuries she'd suffer should cause her to step back to tend herself. The others keep fighting, even as Lily's eyes flicker over to Ethius, at the feeling of that magic of his, enigmatic as it is--but she does not have time to focus.

Noeline's voice echoes, but it is not quite Noeline as Lily knows her; even as she stares down Dva surviving her blast of magic, Lily can feel the power in Noeline's voice, hear what she says when she hears with the others. She has not seen Shalune fall, an unfortunate irony for the medic, but she does see this, this light as the cavern breaks. The light threatens to burn. ...The spike does burn. Lily, who is trying to defend Riesenlied, could not herself get there in time. Another mark. Another life she didn't save, even if Riesenlied breathes yet for now. The Dragon's Tear shines.

"Riesenlied--" But Dva calls out for that thing, and the blue light washes over them as the seal breaks. Lily sees the tentacle break out from the ground, sees those eyes, knows they stare into her even as she stands bleeding. The Shriek assaults her ears as she stands. The stench of saltwater demands their attention.

...Lily grits her teeth and pulls something from her things, a familiar Rod much like the one Ethius tried to use. She shifts her weight, starts to move--

Her eyes pass over Elly as she turns her head, hearing Fei's voice; she sees him, sees his power, and reaches out with her other hand to grab onto his arm in turn. He takes hold of her, and she doesn't hesitate. With Fei's speed, she allows herself to be launched, despite the way it wrenches at her arm.

There are things more important than safety. ...Lily speaks of war because she knows what it is to be a soldier. And she hurls herself forward as she does; when Fei lets her go, she lays both hands on the Sealing Rod in her hand.

She begins to chant, intoing the words. She does not know the words' meaning, entirely, but she does not have to, focusing within them.

Red light suffuses her as she lifts the rod, hurtling towards the tentacled monster. The statue is there, before her. She only has to make it through, amidst summonings and barriers and battles.

"--"

The words come still, her golden eyes set, bloodshot.

...She will not make it in time. The power she channels will leave her drained, but it is too late. Knowing this, she makes the Rod shine.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Fenrir's Howling Cannon for 117 hit points!
GS: Elena guards a hit from Fenrir's Howling Cannon for 72 hit points!
GS: Lady Harken takes a glancing hit from Jack Van Burace's Heal Blade for 29 hit points!
GS: Jack Van Burace takes Cover! He gains 50 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Things...

Things have gone from bad to worse.

"Dvakins, what are you even doing!?" Zed growls, Doombringer spraying a great cloud of sparks with each and every impact against Brionac's haft. "Stabbing Riese, filling her with that... That PURPLE stuff! Do you even know what that stuff does!? It smells like witch! Do you WANT Riese to start raising giant gingerbread castles from the wilderness? Huh? Giant toy cuccos that want your blood! That's what we'll get! This is dumb and this is b--"

Oh.

Noeline.

"W-woah--" Zed gawps as he leaps back and lets Noeline... Do her thing...! "W-wow! Noel! That's... That's totally awesome! All those black flames and stuff. You... You're like some kind of... DARK FLAME MASTER!! You need to teach me how to do th--"

Dva

Does

Something even stupider

Guardians get summoned all over the place. Zed immediately assumes that the enormous tentacles exploding from below are some kind of horrifying Deep Sea Guardian. The Octopus Guardian. That might not actually be a thing; Zed does not care. It's terrifying either way. He's seen enough anime to know where this is going to go.

And so...

Zed...

Leaps boldly into the tentacle swarm. He screams Dva's name, desperately trying to reach her before she makes a terrible mistake. Don't go into the tentacles, Dva! That way... That way lies UNSPEAKABLE THINGS...!

He's moments away. Just a hair's breadth. And then...

A... feather?

"Eh?" Zed stops in mid-air. He blinks at the little red-orange feather as it floats delicately over his nose, dancing in his breath. "Uh. Feather...?"

The feather...

Touches Zed's sword...!

Red mixes with green. Zed is still hanging cartoonishly in empty air as Doombringer starts flashing from one to the other. Two conflicting colors flash and dance with one another, each warring against the other in a delightfully Festive lightshow. A sensation shoots up his arm. It's a familiar feeling.

A terrible. Familiar. Feeling.

"Oh," Zed's eyes go wide as he tumbles towards the tentacles, "No."

There's a flash.

Holy and unholy energies explode in a great corona of heat and light. Lances of light and unlight erupt from a sphere of power that almost certainly contains a Zed at its center. Beams smash down on the battlefield, energy coruscates across the stone, temple roof. There are lasers EVERYWHERE...!

Is this Moor Gault's hidden, forbidden Arcana... The Disco Inferno...!?

GS: Zed has attacked Zed with Inner Secret - Heaven's Howl!
GS: Zed has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Inner Secret - Heaven's Howl!
GS: Zed has attacked Fenrir with Inner Secret - Heaven's Howl!
GS: Zed has attacked Number Eight with Inner Secret - Heaven's Howl!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Zed takes a solid hit from Zed's Inner Secret - Heaven's Howl for 147 hit points!
GS: Fenrir critically Guards a hit from Zed's Inner Secret - Heaven's Howl for 18 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Number Eight takes a solid hit from Zed's Inner Secret - Heaven's Howl for 155 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey critically Guards a hit from Zed's Inner Secret - Heaven's Howl for 18 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        That felt disturbingly satisfying, at least. Gwen slows her run to a slow stop, twisting around to look behind her at the scene that is beginning to boil over in earnest.

        Still dazed from her impact against the stone wall, Gwen looks on with mute shock, her eyes straying to Ragnell as she appears. ".... uh..."

        She's not really sure what's going on, as the Being crawls out of a Space Between, staring at her and him and her and him and him and her and everything and everyone - - -

        ---

        Somewhere, Frea looks up from her cup of tea and furrows her brow as she scribbles some notes in her journal. "Hm. Could there be something entirely different buried underneath there?" She casually glances to the sky outside her window. "Wouldn't that be interesting...?"
        
        ----

        "..." The statue.

        "H....!" The statue. Others are already rushing towards it, but could Gwen get there in time?

        Gwen's ARM burns with a crackling light, energy infusing back into her body, her heart, her lungs, her legs. Her feet. The ground feels light against the soles of her boots, the weight of pain and exhaustion pushed away, just for a blessed few minutes.

        It's as close as she'll ever get to flying.

GS: Arleph Ardan has activated a Force Action!
GS: Arleph Ardan takes a solid hit from Number Eight's Catastrophe for 154 hit points!
GS: Arleph Ardan has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei fong Wong goes flying. He doesn't get to see if Lily managed to do what they were aiming for because he's facing the wrong way. One of the many perils of the kamehameha wave. But he can hear Ruby and says, "Yeah," to her sadly. "That's life. I'm sorry, Ruby--"

He can't stop Ruby from following after him. Indeed, in most ways right now he's essentially helpless...but he does have the energy to look towards Fenrir and, with the last ounce of strength that he has, raises his free hand and slowly uncurl the middle finger at her.

<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

                     ... I kept my promise to K.K....

There is a simple secret to going unrecognized:

It helps when to be otherwise immediately and unquestionably recognizable. Recognizable in a way that seems intrinsic, iconic, inseparable from one's identity... and yet is easily and profoundly changed with the simplest of alterations.

What would be impossible to ignore, perhaps even in a situation as dire as this, would be the white-armored figure of a knight who has well-scarred their presence into the backdrop of Ignas in an exceedingly short amount of time right down to its very landscape. What would be impossible to ignore would be the imperious presence of a creature that seems to almost demand attention by its very nature, with bold proclamations and scathing centures and an uncanny gift for the art of violence.

Not so much the figure that graces this deep, dark place now, once forgotten to the scribes of history and yet now more relevant than it has ever been. No -- the one here, at the fringes of all this violence, and chaos, and hate, and regret, is nothing like that. In fact, so subtle is their presence, they are perhaps felt much more than they are seen, at first. When the Malevolence is cleaved through, when Riesenlied is freed from it...

There is the faintest twitch. The sound of footfalls. A tug upon senses beyond sense.

Whatever Malevolence that lingers from where Riesenlied once was bound seems to almost be drawn away as if someone had reached into the fabric of them and gave an imperceptible yank. Vapors wind across the stale, underground air, up, and up, and up... until they meet the embrace of a long, voluminous sleeve before those weak remnants all simply seem to be snuffed out.

And there they are. Perched upon forgotten stone in front of the recovering Riesenlied, is nothing more than a nondescript figure wearing nothing more than a robe of such bland coloration that it seems to make them blend in to the temple itself seamlessly, like a tepid camoflauge. Their hood drawn up, there is no sight or hint as to their identity.

It is the weight of their attentions, the things that go unsaid in their silent focus on the Tainted girl beyond them, that says all they need to say to their identity for those it truly matters to.

Through the violence, they simply stand in the intensity of their own quiet. It's hard to say how they arrived, how long they have been watching this conflict without interfering. But they are here now, almost literally dropping in before Riesenlied. They stand in front of her, in front of the Seraph beside her, head tilt, and in those moments, that calm before the eldritch storm, their silence is deafening. As if they held an executioner's axe sight unseen. They watch... and then slowly lean in, lean down, just enough. Just enough that shadowed lips may whisper.

                     " ."

And so that robed figure rises, just as that shriek rips across the senses. A hooded head lifts to observe the madness birthing itself on this plane. It tilts. Their hand snaps towards their right.

And a grand bow of white and gold easily as large as they are tall forges itself in the firm grip of their palm as they advance upon the horror of that temple.

Wading fearlessly towards whatever might lie beyond before the writhing, pestilent burst of eye-filled tendrils obscures the very sight of them.

<Pose Tracker> Arleph Ardan has posed.

         Sometimes it's just not enough.
 
         The summon of the Material took a lot out of Arleph. The Symbologist takes in a deep, long breath, eyes squeezes shut as he refocuses himself, his clothes in tatters, his tattoos glowing erratically on his chest. He looks up, the sound muted in his ears, his eyes clouded by blood. His fist tightens, staring at what becamse of Neriah. That poor, poor girl. What happened to her so that she was at the mercy of something like this. Do they even have enough power to deal with something like this? The Princess and Kenny... well, Kenny's Claude. He might.
 
         Currently, he do not.
 
         So when the shadowball comes for him, the screams of the statue comes echoing. Arleph makes a choice. With a wave of his hand, he dismisses his shield, turning his attention over to the statue as he pools up energy. His tattoos glows, flows into one another as he thrusts out a hand over to the monument, grasping at invisible tendrils, then pull.
 
         Telekinesis adds it's strength to the statue, working hard on pulling it back from the brink in one, large, glorious yank of power.
 
         And then the orb slams into his back. The Symbologist lets out a muted, gargled cry, sensing the eneriges flowing into him, ripping him asunder further, falling on a knee. The world becomes darkness, his power going out to the statue, until he can't anymore.
 
         He falls on the ground, face first, in a bloody mess.

<Pose Tracker> Elena has posed.

        Elena lays on the ground, considering the series of choices that led her to this situation. She reasons things went wrong around the time she decided she wanted to help people fight, not just sing.

        Yeah that's about where things took this turn.

        As she attempts to get back up, TENTACLES AND TERRIBLE THINGS burst out from below, covered in eyes and adding to the darkness in the area. WHY was this happening?!

        This is basically another point in favor of the Guardians being awful in every way they could be. How do you just forget to mention maybe there are terrible, awful things under the statues and getting near them might make them wake up?! That's IMPORTANT. Granas would never fail to omit something so critical!

        ... right?

        Right.

        The crumbling ground and walls give Elena due cause to get back up and ignore the pain, rising with the glow of Ida's Material summon. Just in time to get shot. A blue-ish shine shields her, water Ether attempting and failing form to a sheet of ice. It slows the shot, barely. Enough that it doesn't skewer Elena, at least, or cause her to fall right back down onto the ground.

        "I... I see. This is what this is about. Lady Riesenlied had told me... that some of you could not see past your warmongering spirit. That you could not envision coexistence... I am sad to see she was telling the truth." Elena is sad, and looks it.

        She'd held out hope Riese might yet reach her peers.

        "Lady Everstead, I appear to have introduced myself into a personal battle... but I was not able to find you when I heard you were distressed and seeking solitude, to allow me to make amends for that! Lord Granas, I require your healing waters! My friend needs your guidance!"

        A pulse of blue light, circles forming overhead. From them water spills, like a glowing blue rain. The droplets concentrate around Ida and Elena both, mending wounds and restoring spirits - predictably, moreso on Ida than on the priestess.

        It doesn't help keep Elena out of Fenrir's sight, sadly, and now she's as choice a target as they come.

GS: Elena has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Droplets of Life!
GS: Elena has attacked Elena with Droplets of Life!
GS: Elena has completed her action.
GS: Elena heals Elena! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Elena used Mystic on Ida Everstead-Rey! 100 Temporary HP gained! All statuses cleared!
GS: Elena has activated a Force Action!
GS: Elena heals Ida Everstead-Rey! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny is an odd companion for the Princess of Adlehyde. Aside from the fact that he can eat about as much as she does, it makes little sense for the chosen of the Guardians to be accompanied by someone who other members of his adventuring party have described as basically as a garden-variety goon. Particularly since the young man in question's contributions to said party tend to include making (bad) swords, making (silly) gloves he claims can be used to punch ghosts, sassing the divine beings Cecilia has been sent to protect, and claiming he is from someplace where people fly around in metal birds.

In short, Claude C. Kenny is a derpy swordguy with a wildly inconsistent backstory. It has been asked - probably including by Cecilia herself, more than a few times - why she would choose to keep him around.

He demonstrates one of the reasons now, as the scion of Valmar summons an orb of actinic unlight around herself, an undulating orb of utter darkness that threatens to swallow both the shaman and the swordguy both. Claude considers the situation, considers his waning chi reserves, and makes a split-second decision; he looks over his shoulder, stares Cecilia in the eyes and speaks seven words.

"You might wanna tense up again."

His right hand snakes out and grabs Cecilia unceremoniously by her belt and the front of her tunic, then hauls back and throws her a good thirty-odd feet straight up, clearing her from the blast radius before she can be consumed. He, on the other hand, has no such option, and so he is swallowed by raging, roiling shadows. Screams are torn from his lungs as agony shoots through his body; the young man falls to the ground, curling his body inward toward the fetal position, only to vanish from sight as the shadows consume him. Tears boil away from his eyes before he can shed them, his throat tears as it splits from his cries, darkness looming up to swallow him whole.

And then Moor Gault's feather touches his shoulder. For a second, the pain stops, a flickering red film of energy pushing away the sorcerous assault. For a second, the pain and anguish and soul-crushing sorrow are swept away, and Claude experiences a heartbeat's length of stillness and clarity. And in that moment, he hears a single, muted voice.

Good enough? Boy from Earth?

And in that instant, Claude C. Kenny demonstrates the second reason why Cecilia Lynn Adlehyde keeps him around, as three words escape the shadow of the void.

                              LIGHT COME FORTH!

A radiant sword of light cleaves through the darkness, scythes toward the scion of Valmar... and then just keeps on going, tearing up through rock and stone and earth on the diagonal, rising upward, bursting through the soil a half-mile distant from the village and then fading away. For an instant, the source of the light can be seen, emerging from Claude C. Kenny's clasped hands; but then the light fades, and the young man staggers forward, the bladeless hilt nearly slipping from his grasp.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Number Eight with 'Sword' of 'Light'!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Number Eight takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's 'Sword' of 'Light' for 133 hit points!
GS: Number Eight has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        At times like this, Ragnell could almost admire humans. Even though a horrific creature has broken free, shattering its own seal--even though the Statue of Schturdark is falling, almost certain to smash under the weight of gravity--they still fight their hardest to try to preserve it. Jay, by summoning Grudiev to hold it aloft. Lily, by chanting the sealing incantation, hurling the staff at it. Ragnell won't interfere one way or another with their efforts, but the fact that they try even though failure is incredibly likely is...
        
        Meanwhile, Claude over there unleashes a massive blade of light on what was once Neriah while also protecting Cecilia from her attacks. Combatants drop in battle left and right, alive but battered beyond any ability to continue to fight.
        
        But then a hooded figure appears before Riesenlied, and Ragnell takes several steps back and away from the Metal Demon (?). Ragnell's eyebrows furrow as they whisper to her--and she takes another step back when they throw off their cloak to reveal K.K., wielding a bow as big as they are, just before they stride towards the mouth of the Hadal Temple.
        
        Ragnell's hands drop to her twin pistols, but before she makes a move, she looks over at Riesenlied. "How d'you wanna do this?" she asks.

<Pose Tracker> Elhaym van Houten has posed.

 
Fei makes a gesture at someone as Elly's eyes rest on him and then he disappears from view. For a moment Elly's heart feels like it is simply and completely absent, her lips still slightly parted.

"Aa," she says.

Lily, too; Ruby; Hiro. Light and wonder and darkness and horror shines behind Elly but the entire cosmos seems to fade for her for a moment, a narrow-lit stage where it is merely her and a light on something whose horrific and glabrous tendrils seem, now, quaint. He's there; he left; he went within.

There are many things you could say about that place where Fei and Lily Keil pursued the Guardian Statue, but 'eaten' would not be inaccurate.

Elly's heart beats again. I couldn't do anything, she thinks. All this power. I can't - I - A brittle frost of rationalization rests on an ocean that has grown dark and turbulent. Fei was what mattered. Fei was the center of ALL of it. Fei was - was - was -

Fei was. Wasn't he?

Elly's hand tightens and hope brushes against the back of her fingers.

(MUSIC INSERT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiyKHr8lkgw)

"... If the commander can," Elly tells herself, "if Kelvena can, if Loren can, if - if -" She lapses into another language, speaking to herself; it is probably easily overlooked, going unheard, if someone isn't attending right towards her. She was, perhaps, nearish to Riesenlied and Noeline, but they might not recognize what she's saying either. "-If all of them can and there's any hope at all, then I have to seize it. I have to. I have to...-"

Elly sucks in another deep breath. She straightens up, drawing her hand out of her pocket and staring dead on at that horrid gash in the ground, full of eyes round-about. "I can't be selfish any more," Elly says, with a quaver in a voice that would have trouble yelling at a rabbit. "There's no choice." Her right hand starts to tighten around the grip of her rod. "I have to -"

The cold determination in Elly's mind is not swayed by the entrance of K.K. into her field of vision, though K.K. is certainly making an impressive wade through the chaos. To what end? Elly doesn't know. Elly raises a thin plastic tube to her mouth and bites loose a protective cap before sliding it on the inside of her right arm. She winces slightly afterwards.

The auto-injector falls out of her hand a moment later. It doesn't make much of a splash on the wet floor.

Elly's heart beats again. Just once. It feels just like it did before, she thinks. My eyes hurt - "Sorry," she says, her voice groping and monotone. "For..."

There is silence for exactly one heartbeat.

DC: Elhaym van Houten switches forms to This Is Your Elly On Drugs!
<Pose Tracker> Elhaym van Houten has posed.

 
Elly doesn't really wake up.

She does, however, straighten a moment later, her skin pallid and her cheeks puffing up as if she's on the verge of tears. She shivers, like a dog that's just had its back thorougly rubbed. Her shoulders roll a little and she seems to look down at herself, and around, and at everything, for about half a second.

The first thing Elly looks at is Riesenlied. Her lips quirk up into something that isn't exactly a smile.

"I suppose I'll be cleaning up your mess," she tells her. "Just lay there and bleed. The arrogance of your 'Friend'... Thinking you two had any difference."

Elly's head turns to look towards that meaty rift. "You're both equally 'garbage', after all." With this Elly strides towards the rift. She almost races. She almost skips.

"COMING ALONG?" she calls towards K.K., before letting out a laugh that's jagged and half-angry. "You had better hurry, or just trail along and eat my scraps!"

A shrieking arc of flame flies out from her hand almost casually, to try and provoke that mouth into opening along the way; if that doesn't work, well, she looks like a person with a plan.

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei




....is kind of turned on.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell raises an eyebrow at Elly and her sudden emergence of a spine. "Wow. She's actually kind of an asshole when she wants t' be, huh?" she remarks.
        
        She sounds approving.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        There's a sinking expression to Riesenlied's face as she watches Dva call upon the detestable name beyond the pale-- and her heart sinks as well. "... Dva...!"

        Through the burst of tentacles studded upon the floor, her expression falls as her pupils shrink. "The Detestable... I-- Dva, come here--"

        There's a look upon Dva's face as she dwells upon Elly's words, before she leaves. That it hurts so much makes it strike so true...

        She's struck back about the same time Noeline is, gasping as she tries to move closer towards her partner.

        Riesenlied can't do anything but gaze as Dva turns with that conflicted look, which hurts her even further. She grimaces... and then holds onto the Tear tighter. "... I won't abandon you, Dva. I won't--"

        The statue is in freefall. She watches Ida try to dash for it -- she whips her head around the scene; Malfi was... down, and Fenrir... was in the midst of fighting her. And Lady Harken?

        A pitted feeling lurches against her stomach as she watches Jack and Harken battle, her expression sinking.

        Jacqueline calls upon the power to summon Grudiev through her Earth Medium -- and the Planet Breaker appears in full height, seizing it to protectively hold it in its grasp. Grudiev's torso is powerful, holding strong against the lash of the withering tentacles. His job is made easier by the strength of Arleph's telekinesis, as much as it will cost him...

        And Lily comes through, riding upon Fei using himself as a particular platform sheathed in ki energy, coasting towards the Statue... in his charge, Fei simply -rips- through one of the tentacles, prompting that shriek, as does Gwen as she simply releases the feeling of weight and pain to propel through the air--

        You have no hold over me, Schturdark, Grudiev. For I...

        There is a shine, from that most horrible maw-- and a cascading lance pierces from below. What lies beneath... shatters through and strikes the statue at its very core, mere moments before Lily and Ida can finish the incantation.

        ...I was born of your lifeblood...

        There's an eerie silence for a moment, as if the gravity of the situation were halted still--

        --and then a trembling howl emanates as some lance of light beams up far into the distance. Some may say, in observation aboveground, in the direction of the Photosphere.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Riesenlied pauses, suckling a breath all of a sudden. She may in her own way not be able to identify who it is that walks before them... but she can feel. Where her body has started to decay and fail her, her senses have only burgeoned further beyond what she has ever expected... at least, until they reveal themselves and step into the Temple.

        And she can feel the sensation of the Malevolence moving, away from her, freeing her. Snuffed, just like that.

        She gazes upon Claude as he draws upon that radiant sword of light-- trembling as she feels the awe-inspiring rage of its power... and how it stills upon Number Eight. This was her chance.

        Her expression falls softly towards Elly as she sticks what appears like a syringe and-- Riesenlied whispers in confusion, "Sorry--? I--"

        She is berated.

        "... I won't lay by and do nothing," she answers both Elly and Ragnell.

        She clenches her Tear.

        "... K.K... I did not stray... I held strong... and... now, I will use what I have been blessed with...!"

        There's a grimace as Riesenlied turns towards the only remaining threat in the room -- towards that which Valmar has spawned, and holds her own Tear (sorry Cecilia) up once more.

          (BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ee0IDUb5YM )
                                                                               
                          Neriah. Come back to us...

        She concentrates as she closes her eyes, and as spoken by a certain someone... the wings of her empathy do spread, peaked upon that singular gem of hers, a wash of that soothing energy once more erupting from her body and channeling towards the Number Eight. And where there was once chaos, where there was once ardour and hatred and violence emanated, the peaceful glow of her emotions starts to spread outwards.

                        ... Mikaia is waiting for you.
                            I'm waiting for you...
                       We're all waiting to tell you...
                                'Welcome home.'

DC: Riesenlied switches forms to Fallen Sword Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Number Eight with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Number Eight takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Number Eight!
GS: Restore! Riesenlied clears debuffs from Number Eight!
GS: Number Eight has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

"Jealousy?" the Quarter Knight echoes incredulously, at her ponytailed opponent's suggestion that the eradication of Humanity is some kind of vanity project. "If that's the best explanation you can all cobble together, I'm lost as to how you ever figured out which end of that sword to hold onto, boy. But--I assure you, the feeling is mutual. The last Human to hold my attention," Lily, they're talking about you, "Offered me far more than this clumsy dance you call swordplay."

Harken skids backwards on her plated feet, anticipating Jacks's swordstroke before it arrives. Catching the blade with her palm and turning it away, uncaring of the wound it opens in her hand. Her stamina is clearly superhuman--even if they traded blows from here-on out, the victor would clearly be the war-machine with the scythe. She chuckles ruefully, clenching her hand and staring evenly at him as the ground begins to shake and a great seal is undone.

There's no way Harken anticipated the madness engulfing the temple, yet there's also no denying she rides the wave of the unfolding chaos as if fashioning herself its master. "I grow tired of your oafish efforts." she laughs, a timbre to her tone shining with snide joy. "And my work here is complete." as if the awakening of some terrible, elder thing and the destruction of the statue was her doing and not the confused lashing-out of a certain Ebony Wing.

Perhaps she was only ever here as insurance.

"Grow strong, and prove to me this technique of yours is more than a coincidence." the Demon levels her bleeding hand at Jack, a cruel smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "Or cower in fear of your death, I care not."

No doubt Riesenlied's heart would break further if she knew, oh, if she only knew the truth of what was playing out between these two. And how quickly Harken accepts the reality of her old allies, now her prey.

The scythe-wielding Quarter Knight's laugh is booming, echoing, buoyed upwards by the Hyadean victory here today. "All forces withdraw. Victorious." and before anyone can do a damn thing about it, the scarlet-armored Knight vanishes with practiced ease. Gone, whisked back to the Photosphere. Gone as suddenly as she arrived, and as suddenly as the violence she indulges in.

Really, what a horrid woman.

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia can feel the Leyline surge - despite the chaos of seemingly a dozen poisoned souls about her, the Guardians are being called up willed to their side. Maybe they can save the Statue, at least, she thinks. But....her feet won't move. She sucks in breath like she's hoping it will kickstart her, but it's not...the mediums, all of them - the Guardians crying out in some new fear - this darkling THING opposite her...everything washing across her mind and leaving her with only her own shaking knees to--

        'You might wanna tense up again.'

Like a well-trained reaction she snaps her attention to Claude just in time to yelp "Huh!?" before being HURLED away from Number Eight's thundering, annihilating darkness. "CLAUDE!" she calls as she soars, watches him get engulfed in that horrible light. Thrust into a moment, instincts come to bear; she throws her arm down and a blast of pure wind pushes against the ground, slowing her fall enough that she lands with a "whoof!" rather than a dull boneless thud. She looks up. Claude, burning; screaming. "Claude..." she whispers. But she also feels something else - Moor Gault's light, drifting across her. And somewhat like when it happened with Dinoginos at the castle, she draws in a breath as that power washes across her. She isn't - despite what a few desperate people hoped once upon a day - that much of a healer. She is something else, she thinks, as she draws up straighter and thrusts forth her staff.

A different medium leaps from her case, power gathering together in front of her as she cries anew: "Material!"

        "Vapor Blast!"

The woman fades again - as the Fire Bird appears again, the vermillion phoenix shrieking once more its defiance to these events; empowered by its own self, in something that seems like it should violate a physical law but stubbornly happens anyway, the Guardian of Fire flaps its wings once, twice, flame gathering together between its wings, before a third blast fires the ball of flame directly into Number Eight!

Cecilia flickers back into view, whirling her staff back into place...even as that awful light washes the statue away.

Any triumph she might feel fades. "No...! NO!"

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Number Eight with Material - Vapor Blast!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Number Eight takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Material - Vapor Blast for 145 hit points!
GS: Number Eight has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        From behind his cover, Ethius nurses a head... ache? Headsensation. For a man who has shown zero emotional restraint on inflicting utter cruelty upon another - a chilling comfort and acceptance of what he does, and how he does it, in so much he has any explanation for it - the forces beyond... he has no frame of reference to call back upon.
        He has never experienced much of anything like this. No matter how far back within buried memories he may try to unearth, he has no grasp of what... much of any of it was.
        Wherever he is, he has a clear idea of where... why... what... who... right? Right. That is correct. There should be clarity. Nothing should surprise him or take him off guard.
        Why this?
        As Riese pulls forth power from the vows she's honored, as many find themselves with a deeper connection to the Guardians at their greatest times of need, as some yet find the courage... or something else... to wade forth into the great, utter unknown after the eldritch creature's challenge... as the sorrow starts to fill upon the realization that the Guardian Statue is lost, Ethius is left seeming... empty.
        Disconnected. Separate, from all that's going around him. He finds the mental fortitude to look towards where the statue once was, and takes back out the newer compass he brought here.
        This turn of events is unfortunate. He would have liked another...
        No, he keeps his thoughts to himself. Riesenlied's presence is dangerous to the mission. He cannot risk exposing his plans, regardless of what he has seen and heard today.
        He may elect to slink away on his lonesome, once the hostiles have been confirmed withdrawn or neutralized.
        The Sealing Rod he brought was for naught. It would not have mattered. He could not have managed a clear vantage point in which to have finished the incantation in time... but what he came here for prior...
        That ace remains in his sleeve. When the time is right...
        ...
        ...

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline shuts her eyes tightly, pouring everything she has into the Medium.

"Please! Hold on...just a little bit longer...!" She urges through gritted teeth. She couldn't let it end like this! She couldn't...!

But...

Against the overwhelming, inexorable tide, 'everything she has' can only allow her to push against it so far.

It isn't enough, not nearly enough, to contend with that which should not be.

She can feel something pierce straight through her - or rather, Grudiev's - barrier, as surely as if it had pierced through her.

She knows instinctively what happened...but she has no energy left to process it. Completely spent, Jacqueline falls forward to the ground, unmoving except for faint breaths, with her Medium still clutched firmly in her hand.

<Pose Tracker> Arleph Ardan has posed.

         Arleph, in time, will know of tragic textent of the failings that occured tonight.
 
         Right now, he's kind of on the ground, bleeding out.

<Pose Tracker> Arleph Ardan has posed.

         Arleph, in time, will know of the tragic extent of the failings that occured tonight.
 
         Right now, he's kind of on the ground, bleeding out.

<Pose Tracker> Number Eight has posed.

The last thing Neriah-as-entity was expecting was... the lord of the dance.

The power of Moor Gault's rhythm comes completely out of left field, shredding lasers of groove through the unflame of Neriah's defenses. Radiant slashes are left behind across the being, more shadowflame torn from her. With a deep, rolling roar that seems like it would be deafening if more than the bass of it could be clearly heard, Neriah gathers more shadow flame along her arms, but it's much less than before.

Claude steps in, his blade a ray of light. His shining blast rips across the scion of the dark god. Shadow sloughs off of Neriah like mud beneath the immense force of a firehose. Unflame gutters and flickers weakly - but begins to ebb back to life as the darkling begins to force herself into the light. Darkness begins to slowly filter into it, like a taint. It's slow - thin. It takes all she has to fight against it.

But it takes everything she has just to do it. And in so doing, the darkness wanes. The next shriek is underlaid by an all-too-human groan.

And it trails off upon the breath of a whisper.

        ...Mikaia is waiting for you.
                        I'm waiting for you....

To touch the entity is to delve into a horrifying font of emotions. Something is screaming - but with Claude's light blunting the darkness, Riesenlied can view the tides as if from fifty feet up. She can almost see the pain and doubt and sadness and hurt roiling like an ocean, some dark, alien thing rising from it like a vast and ancient rock.

The scion of Valmar's eyeholes dim. She can see a tiny face looking up at her. Little fingers sliding into her hand. She can feel no pain or malice.

...mm! let's be buddies!

The Guardian of Fire lets fly that furious flame. Perhaps there is no triumph in it for Cecilia Adlehyde, but the fire dulls the darkness to its lowest ebb. Unlight peels away from a shape that is beginning to seem all too human.

                        We're all waiting to tell you...

" R i e s e ," rasps the thin remnants of Valmar's child. " M i k a i a ."

                                                'Welcome home.'

The sacred flame of the Guardian closes around the hellscion. That inky shape vanishes from view.

Slowly, the flames die away. What is left behind is no longer wreathed in darkness. It's the body of a young girl, battered and bloodied, her right palm oozing a stream of blood. She hangs in the air, scorched and ravaged by blow after blow, grievous wounds marking the places where Claude's sword hit her.

Neriah slouches from the air and to the ground, landing on her knees, then buckling onto her arms. She sags there, unmoving at first save for the subtle sound of her breathing.

Those closest to her, however, can see something else, and hear it. Her shoulders weakly trembling; the sound of faint, pained sobs, muffled by her bloodied arm.

        I don't deserve a friend like you. A little buddy like her. People who would welcome me home, knowing I'm a monster who ruined everything for you.

DC: Neriah Parringer switches forms to Stained Excavator Neriah!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        The grapple line keeps pulling. The tentacles thrash and writhe; any one of them could knock Ida halfway across the chamber like a tetherball on a line, and without even trying. Ida tries her best to focus on the incantation, her tongue tripping over the foreign words even though she's practiced them hundreds of times to be sure she's gotten them right. She hears Fenrir's shout, and then hears the air sizzle behind her. She twists out of the way on reflex, and what could've been a killing shot merely clips her side. A stray beam from Zed passes alarmingly close a moment later, and it's only by curling up that she manages to get her leg out of the way. The muscles in her stomach ache with exertion. She sees a second Sealing Rod flying at the statue out of the corner of her eye. Lily, and Fei. Good, Ida thinks. Maybe--

        Something lances up from below. The world seems to slow down just so Ida can watch the tentacle coming out of that obscene, gaping maw, smashing the Statue to pieces. Chunks of black stone fly past Ida's face in slow-motion. The Medium in her hand trembles, and far away--and yet so very close--something comes undone with a sound like reality itself, shrieking in torment.

        No.

        Ida cuts the grapple line. The motion is dull, lifeless, and when the line breaks, she goes plummeting towards the ground. She lands on the edge of that horrible, fleshy maw, and stumbles off it before something worse can happen to her. As if the worst didn't already happen.

        A figure appears in front of Riesenlied, and draws a weapon. Ida's eyes go wide. She didn't think she could feel any more helpless right now, but the sight of that weapon does it. She sinks to her knees.

        '... K.K... I did not stray... I held strong... and... now, I will use what I have been blessed with...!'

        Riesenlied's empathic power washes through the room. To Number Eight, it may be a soothing presence, but to Ida, it is yet another reminder of her failures--of the entity responsible for this. She wants to scream. She wants to vomit. She is aware Fenrir is probably still trying to murder her, but she almost welcomes it.

        "You are why this happened," Ida whispers. Her voice is tiny, and no one can hear it, but she's thinking that, and to someone with their mind thrown wide open--such as Riesenlied--the words are as sharp as knives. " Remember this, when your village is dying of thirst, and your crops are dust. Remember this." Ida smashes a gauntleted fist into the ground, and it gives beneath her.

        "If you favor the Trial Knight over innocents, you deserve every cruel thing life inflicts on you. You deserve everything. REMEMBER THAT!" Ida surges to her feet, her face suddenly twisting into a rictus of rage.

        "I HOPE SIEGFRIED FINDS YOU, AND MAKES YOU BEG FOR DEATH!"

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Noeline's body aches; her senses are screaming at her with the aftermath of her burning out on the Hades Guardian's power, her bones feeling like jelly as she does her best to summon what she can of her strength together. Dimly, she's aware that the forces of humanity aren't just facing down the tentacled beast that Dva has unleashed, but actively pushing back against it - humans are terrifying, she thinks, as her thoughts echo Dva's - and she can't help but let out another of those humourless chuckles.

        The fact that the assembled Drifters are willing to aim for the creature that has been unleashed is still-- a very, very cold comfort. Their secret has been revealed. They're going to need to let everyone in Wayside know the score - that they're not certain yet whether the water table will survive, that the rest of the Metal Demons may consider them enemies, that Noeline and Riese may have sold them up the river, even if it was for the sake of their safety. They're going to have to post more guards - not just at the gates, but at the waterway as well, until such a time that this mysterious creature can be beaten back. Most of all, they've lost a Guardian Statue, despite their best efforts. Noeline can only hope that the Guardians will at least look favourably on their attempt to live peacefully.

        Sucking in a breath, he forces herself to lift to her feet, ignoring the screaming of her muscles, and finds the strength to bring an arm around Riesenlied, steadying her as the winged woman's own strength fails her in the aftermath of her empathic burst.

        At the very least, their stance has been made clear - and with it, that brings more in the way of allies. Perhaps Wayside might have made the connections to be able to survive in Filgaia's wilderness at least a little longer. Right now, Noeline isn't really sure.

        With a noise of effort, she heaves Riesenlied up in her arms, looking down at her with a drawn frown. A familiar yell full of vicious anger, resounds from Ida's perch; the spy's head moves towards it, but she doesn't answer. "... we should warn people we've got wounded," she says instead, after a long breath to steady herself. Humans are terrifying. And sometimes, more anathema than their thousand-year anathema.

<Pose Tracker> Jack Van Burace has posed.


The world is ending.

Chaos is the word of the day in this dark temple. Madness and pain swirl around the air like live and vicious things. The fate of the world plays out in slow motion as a statue falls and something older than time rises up to devour it.

Hanpan shouts at him. Jack doesn't hear. His attention is entirely on Harken. How could she have read that technique of his so clear. Know that manuver so well. Its impossible, entirely impossible. There was only one person who knew that specific series of manuvers.

Harken laughs and Jack snaps back to reality just in time to hear her taunts. His eyes widen. "No..." He sees the statue destroyed. Hears Harken's laughter as she turns to leave. "NO! I FEAR NOTHING!" The shout more empathic as he reaches for the woman, body bloodied and broken he forces it to move towards her and reaches her just as she vanishes from sight.

He drops to his knees in the space where she just left. Fustration and hate whirling around him like a physical force.

"Who the hell are you."

The words are hardly more than a whisper, but the anger. The fustration it raises like a tornado, ripping though him tearing the edges of his fragile control as he grips his blade hard enough to slide a deep furrow into his palm. Blood flows freely even as Ida shouts threats across the cavern.

Jack just wants to kill something.

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Neriah burns - the power of Moor Gault searing away the worst of that horrible anti-light. Cecilia will have to consider what she's seen of that today - but at the moment she is still in overload. She can FEEL something...something, happening in the Leyline, some crack shot through it like fire. Her hand balls in her shirt. They lost it. "We...lost the statue," she whimpers out. But...that light from Riesenlied...It's a light she knows nothing of. And that mercy she shows Neriah, besides...

Her teeth set but she does not intervene; she draws a slow breath, trying to slow her thundering heart. The statue is lost. But others are saved. She should go. She should meditate. She should...

        "You are why this happened," Ida whispers.

Cecilia's eyes cut up.

        "Remember this, when your village is dying of thirst, and your crops are dust. Remember this."

Cecilia finds her legs moving, her fingers squeezing ever tighter on the staff of her sorcery.

        "You deserve everything. REMEMBER THAT!"

Cecilia stops next to Ida, and kicks the heel of her staff.

Cecilia has occasionally mentioned the training she received at Curan Abbey; sometimes displayed some minimal technique with her staff. But this may well be the first time anyone's seen the light of chi along her weapon - barely a candle compared to the infernos Claude can summon, but shining golden soulfire no less - as it arcs into the form of wild talons along the path of her staff.

        "Maiden Talon!" Cecilia barks, as the weapon arks to slam directly into Ida's throat.

"Shut your idiot mouth," Cecilia says, with a cold fire in her green eyes.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Maiden Talon!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny used the Force Action Protect! He takes Cecilia Adlehyde's attack on Ida Everstead-Rey on himself!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Fenrir has posed.

One of Zed's disco death ball lasers veers for Fenrir, but it hits her laser cannon - it's still pretty painful, but not as painful if it had actually hit her flesh right this second. Fenrir growls, but instead moves forward to Ida, pacing around her. "HEY! How many times have I told you that I'M STILL HERE! Stop getting distr-" And then, Fenrir spots Fei falling into the elder god while he flips her off. In her 'not very lucid' rage state, this offends her incredibly.

Incredibly enough that Fenrir runs straight pass Cecilia preparing an attack at Ida, to chase after Fei. "YOU HUMAN BASTARD, I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING! YOU'LL PAY FOR BREAKING MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT! I'LL BE BACK TO CRUSH YOU, IDA!"

And then, Fenrir made the Stupid Decision and leaped after Fei into the monster. Alone. This will have zero consequences.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has activated a Force Action!
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Maiden Talon for 105 hit points!
GS: Mute! Statuses applied to Claude C. Kenny!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Riesenlied does very much depower and collapse after that final burst of empathy, yes; she's aware that there are very much those within the surroundings that would not like to be in it, but she isn't in a state to be aware nor be in the capacity to finely shape her power...

        ...and she nestles, her knees buckling and her body turning instinctively towards Noeline, held in a princess cary in her comfort.

        She can't hear Ida's prickled thorns upon her, though in some way, subconsciously, emotionally, of course she would absorb it...

                                     Why does a bird fly?

        It is a question she and the Trial Knight have oft asked and ruminated upon, yet... perhaps now... now, for the first time ever...

        She will spread her wings and fly, towards bright blue skies with dangers unknown.

<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

It has been a very long and very bad day for Claude C. Kenny. He fought an elder god (possibly) only to have Ida's dumb friend Riese exorcise it (probably) only the statue got destroyed in the process (definitely) and Ida started yelling things she was going to regret later (unlikely). He wearily stuffs his phase gun into its hiding place (not the butt) before going down to one knee and trying to process the emotions.

He's glad he's alive. He's gladder Cecilia is alive. He's sad that the statue got wrecked (mostly because Cecilia will be sad, which makes him sad). He's indifferent to the fate of the people above in Wayside Village, because he has literally forgotten they were there. He is glad he will get to take a na---

"OH GOD WHY"

Claude manages one last darting rush with the faintest dregs of his internal reserves, managing to interpose himself in between Ida's throat and Cecilia's stick. He's rather a bit taller than Ida is and she was on her knees anyway, so instead of taking it in the throat (ow) he takes it in the stomach (also ow).

Cecilia will get the satisfaction of seeing Claude rock back on his heels when she hits him. Damn, he thinks, she can pack a punch.

"This was... not a good day," Claude rasps, his shoulders weary and drooping. "Let's not... make it worse by..."

He stops, his face taking on a faraway look. "'scuse me," he manages, then leans over to one side and is rather noisily sick, disgorging a fair amount of mochi and also some steak (because of course). stays bent over for a bit, spitting occasionally.

"Ow," he adds, helpfully.

<Pose Tracker> Arleph Ardan has posed.

 Arleph would very much like to dispute and agree with this term of being just a bad, awful, not good day.

<Pose Tracker> Jack Van Burace has posed.


"Cecilia," Jack's voice is sharp as the swordsman slowly makes his way back to his feet. There is a soft chink of metal on stone as he uses the sheath of his blade to push himself up.

He's unsteady on his feet, blood seeping from his wounds as Hanpan urgently whispers to the swordsman. Weather Jack hears or not is not entirely clear.

"Let her go." The swordsman's unfocused eyes swim up, towards the princess. Pain, fading memories, is all mixes together in his eyes before he closes them. "She's right."

There is a beatpause.

"The concequences of what happened here, are all on Reinsenlied and her people." Then that glance goes back to Cecilia. "Come on, we should go."

He sounds so...flat. So defeated.

And with that the swordsman starts his way towards the exit. Hardly looking left or right, simply trying to put one foot in front of the other.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        Riesenlied collapses. It's as though all Ida's rage meant nothing. Her hands clench and unclench in impotent fury, and she can no longer find the presence of mind for words. All she wants to do is rage at the horrible, terrible, wretched world that set everything up so this could happen. Her vision is a blur of tears.

        Cuckoo.

        She's ten years old, and talking to Jimmy, because Jimmy is helping watch her while her parents and Aunt Anna and Uncle Theo are away. She's sharing bird-calls with the rough-looking, one-eyed man who treats her like another one of his children.

        "And this one's a cuckoo," Ida says, pointing to the picture in her book. "It's not very neighborly. It's very mean and unsporting. When other birds make a nest, it lays one of its own eggs in the nest."

        'Shut your idiot mouth,' says Cecilia Adlehyde, a young woman that Ida has tried to support with the kind of desperate awkwardness that comes from knowing someone with an important task you're completely unable to help with.

        Yes. Shut your idiot mouth, child.

        Ida waits for a blow that never comes. Claude's voice. Ida looks up, sees him through the tears.

        Cuckoo.

        "And when the egg hatches, the baby cuckoo makes the mama and papa bird feed the baby as though it's theirs, and it's so big they cannot feed their own babies as well. It goes 'cu-koo!'" Ida imitates the bird's call. "'Cu-koo!'"

        Cuckoo.

        Jack speaks up. Ida will possibly thank him for it, later, but for now, she just lies there, sobbing brokenly.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        The statue
                sh a t t a r s

        Gwen can't help but let out an cry of frustration and despair, collapsing onto the ground with a painful thud of knees and hands against rock. She was prepared. She was even here.
        
        The sudden stop has other consequences as well- that pent up, nervous energy has to go somewhere. Her stomach churns. She coughs.

        The only thing that seems to stop it all is the feeling of something being there. Something-

        The courier stares at the vision of what just may be the Trial Knight. She looks upon them with bewilderment, as if spotting a wolf padding across across the desert, indifferent to her presence. When they leave, she finally realizes she was holding her breath. As well as her emotions, as the power of Riesenlied tear washes over her.

        Ida's words cause Gwen to finally come back to her senses, the strength of her swirling emotions and the context of Gwen's recent visit to Riesenlied adding a level of sympathy for Ida, as well as Riesenlied.

        She just doesn't have the energy to say anything, but just
        
        "... Ida..." The sound from her throat is more a deflated squeak than anything, as she watches everything.

        Jack. Jack was here the entire time. Watching him go, the way he sounds, Gwen finds tears coming to her eyes.

        And when Ida cries, Gwen joins in, the gentle sound of her sobbing an odd noise of comfort to join in Ida's own. If only to say that, even if Gwen doesn't know the extent of anyone's emotions-

        She's overwhelmed too.

        And glad that her friends are still alive.

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

The spell of cold anger is broken by Claude interceding. Cecilia can't stop the blow, and watches with a certain numb shock as he stumbles to the side and vomits. She regrets it, of course, an immediate cringe to her posture. In his way...he's right, of course. And maybe it says a lot about the portions of respect she's alotted that Ida's tears move her nearly not at all; and indeed, she only looks back when Jack recalls her attention to the woman.

"...you're right, Claude," she says, with a breath. A look to Jack, sharper. "..." She doesn't give him quite the same acknowledgement, instead just turning her eyes on Ida again.

To the people who know Cecilia, she has made no secret of her distaste for the palace life; the precision expected of her. Appearances. Perfection. Ignoring slights and welcoming sorrows all in the name of the game. But she speaks like a Princess now; her face not lowering to Ida but her eyes merely cutting asideto indicate the direction of her thought. Her words precisely chosen. "...it is true that the people who live here will have to cope with what has happened," she says. "But I'll have no man or woman of my association heap such curses on another. Certainly not here."

She steps past Ida...then pauses again. "If I see you again..." she begins.

...

"Don't let me see you again," she finishes, and walks away to help Claude up.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        'If I see you again...'

        "Ida."

        She's twelve years old, and the priest oh-so-delicately informed her parents that she made some indelicate comments during Catechism. Her father has called her into the sitting-room, and she can tell he's trying not to worry, because he's doing that thing with his handkerchief he does sometimes when he worries.

        "Father," Ida says.

        "I thought you knew better than to say such unseemly things," says Adam. "What got into you?"

        Ida looks up. Cecilia does not meet her eyes. It cuts like a knife. It burns like the remains of Fenrir's blood, which decorated her arm with splotchy burns. Say you're sorry, you idiot girl. Apologize. Father would want you to apologize.

        Ida looks back down. There's nothing she can say or do. She just kneels there, sobbing, as Cecilia and her entourage--just leave. Maybe Jack will still speak with her. Maybe Claude will.

        "All I said was that I wanted to know why God doesn't let the Guardians help with Valmar." Ida's father polishes his glasses.

        "The Guardians," Adam begins, "are fairy-stories the harbor people and slums people believe in. We are not harbor-people, or slums-people. In this house, we have God and Granas. Am I clear?"

        She'd never seen her father so worried before, and so angry.

        "Yes, Father."

        It wasn't until later that she remembered the strange firebird-carving her father had for a while, and which she never saw again.