2018-02-24: Our Final Stand

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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.

DC: Neriah Parringer switches forms to Dark Manifestation!
DC: Neriah Parringer switches forms to Stained Excavator Neriah!
DC: Riesenlied switches forms to Rising Heart Riesenlied!
DC: Noeline switches forms to Chevalier of the Dragon!
DC: Neriah Parringer switches forms to Stained Excavator Neriah!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Wayside.

        A village borne of the infant wishes of Old Petra, the first such settlement built by the Tainted out of a desire to eke a living away from the reaches of their warlike brethren. A village borne out of its ashes, when Old Petra crumbled when the sky turned red. The Tainted and the survivors had marched through arduous climes, narrowly avoiding death at the hands of Aveh and Kislevi patrols through their warfront, and found their way towards this once-abandoned valley...

        They have withstood many trials and challenges since. They withstood the test of Hadal Temple, where the Primarch of Water was proven to lay at rest beneath. They withstood many visitors that would threaten their destruction, too many close calls that have only been defused by the breadth of a hair...

        But they have not withstood their brethren.

        As with all disasters, it comes so suddenly... a gleaming star in the sky, witnessed only by one Tainted farmer who has had to replace his limbs with a hoe and watering can. He gazes... gazes... and realises that this was no star:

                     ( BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0nf-r5L8GY )

        He's thrown off his feet as the glowing 'star' craters into his paddy field; much to his dismay, his crops are ruined in an instant, but that's the least of his concerns. His eyes widen.

        "BEAST!"

        A characteristic air raid siren sounds. This is it. The moment everyone left in the village had been training for, been fearing for... been readying themselves for.

        More stars descend, and Metal Beasts spawn from where they explode. The Tainted scamper in all directions, some more able to assist others; a young Hyadean with accordion tubing barely stumbles against the Beast set upon him-- and is swept into safety by a yellow blur of a blob, screeching 'Muniii--!'.

        The inn, V4L-H4LLA, is no exception -- the innkeeper Val grimaces as she instinctively scoops one of Wayside's orphans -into- herself, stuffing him in her hollow refrigerator torso as a Beast impacts against her. Sniper rifle shots rain from a fiery Dragon above, Jedan grimacing an exclamation of, "Get to the evac zone, Val!"

        Several of the villagers are clearly hurrying towards an escape hatch where a giant hole once graced the village, courtesy of Lily Keil during the battle with the Primarch of Water. Now, it is a sealed entranceway, possibly used as a bunker...

        The orphanage is just as vulnerable, Dva and Devet both grimacing to race with their Dragons as the latter frantically types and erects barriers of hard-light around the entranceway, narrowly repelling a Metal Beast. "Where's Riese, where's Noeline?!"

        But this would only be the beginning.

        The Beasts are only the forefront of the attack. In the midst of this chaos, the Tainted and the Drifters with them would truly make their final stand to those that they owe their answer to...

        The Quarter Knights... and their champions.

<Pose Tracker> Berserk has posed.

Wayside. A place of peace. A place where human and beastman and Tainted all alike could belong. A place of tranquility and love, nurturing and understanding. A place where boundaries don't exist.

A place of weakness.

And the second he heard about it, Quarter Knight Berserk hated it. With every fiber of his being.

Fury does not really appropriately describe how Berserk feels as he watches the Metal Beast's pods drop down towards Wayside from on high. Fury would suggest some sort of personal need for vengeance. He is angry. He is wrath. He is -Berserk-. But what he feels as he stares down at that place, as the scurrying Tainted, at the excuses for Dragons used for such menial purposes as helping the broken and unwanted to flee with all their traitorous, weak kin, is not fury.

It's utter, contemptible, complete disgust.

Tainted. Everywhere. Burning yellow eyes stoke with scorn. Lips peel back into an irritable scowl.

"I told 'em. I told 'em these disgusting little freaks shoulda been broken down for parts the second they showed up."

                                              ~FOUR HUNDRED YEARS AGO

Berserk looks upon the first of the impure to be born with burning yellow eyes stoked with scorn. Lips peel back into an irritable scowl.

"What the hell is this supposed to be? A joke? Break the disgusting little freak down for spare parts and be done with it. Not gonna be anything but in the way otherwise. Nothing but useless trash."

           NOW

Berserk is nothing if not consistent.

"I told 'em. And NOW look what happens. A bunch of uppity little broken toys that think they're PEOPLE now." One giant pinky scratches the side of his face as he watches the chaos unfold. "Even the Mother-damned Beasts are more reliable than these stupid shits..."

He starts to feel a little better. It's cathartic, watching the weak fall.

And so, a smile crosses his lips. His eyes burn brightly.

"Heh. Oh well." He grips tighter to his wrecking ball, a long, jagged scar that was not there before curving its way along the once smooth and unblemished surface.

"JUST MEANS I GET TO USE 'EM FOR TARGET PRACTICE NOW, RIGHT?! GA HA HA HA HA HA!!"

And it is the terrible laughter of the Quarter Knight that herlads his arrival onto the field as he leaps from his large, flying mount and just descends, head-first, towards the village of Wayside like an angry meteor --

--his impact, aimed for the first cluster of fleeing Tainted he finds, the extinction event for a kind who should have never been.

                               ((BOOOOOOOM))

<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

BACK AT THE PHOTOSPHERE
 
        They revere Mother. They long await the day she awakens and allows them to claim Filgaia once and for all. One such member slithers past the master tactical board that highlights the known locations of the Guardian Statues and their existential status.
        An elongated, semi-solid hand touches the board as they lean closer into the holographic displays. The entirety of the Badlands has been combed over several times. They fixate upon the general marker that denotes Fengalon - the one that was in his very reach to destroy. The one those humans... tricked him, mistaking their means of salvation for a weapon meant to destroy him.
        They sneer at the designation of Chapapanga's remaining an unknown. He shouldn't even be here, let alone touching this board. This has never stopped the advance scout - perpetually wounded in his state as he is from an incomplete and damaged healing process - from fouling almost whatever part of the Photosphere he pleases.
        Normally, he would be delighted to hide and redirect his failures onto someone else. It has gotten to the point they refuse to even acknowledge his part in anything of it, at all. He cannot even find humor in the idea that other advance scouts are going to be wasting their time looking for something that's already a done deal. Usually he would be delighted, as an opening for him to just find a new one under their very noses and claim glory for himself.
        There are none left in the entirety of the Badlands. Twice, he was made a fool of. They would praise those who managed to destroy those statues. Those such as that most hated ^Long Voweler^. There were no more in his grasp. No more chances in which to show the depths of his devotion and--
        "Get out." Someone grabs him by the back of his neck. Who it was, who says it, is not so much important.
 
NOW, IN WAYSIDE'S DARKEST HOUR
 
        Yarobeleedt jostles as he hitches a ride on the back of a deployed Metal Beast, some kind of two-headed lion thing. He wasn't summoned to be part of the offensive against Wayside. He just plopped himself into one of the waiting cages without a care and made sure to hide from prying eyes. He suppresses his yelps and squeals of pain every time a heavy footstep bears down upon him. A scythe-like weapon-arm stabs into the flank of one as he yanks himself up into view of the detestable place as Berserk crows about finally being able to act on feelings well over four centuries old.
        A future pile of spare parts does not care, as they watch from the vantage point above to watch the targets of Wayside scramble to evacuate, or to hold the line, or whatever.
        He sneers anew. At least, until the Metal Beast he's riding on bucks and promptly flings its undeclared travel companion out into the sand, where he narrowly avoids being trampled anew.
        "Nonononono," he panics. He won't be left behind like a worthless pile of garbage while mere Metal Beasts might accrue more glory than himself. No! This is personal.

<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi peers at the Waysiders from behind the front lines, her gaze cool, level. As far as she's concerned, this comeuppance is well-deserved. Malfi has a devotion to her cause that only the young, the deranged, or the fanatical could manage. If the fleeing Tainted care to look back at her, they'll see she's astride an ursine Metal Beast, furless, savage, roaring aggression. They might, if they have time to search their memories, recognize him as Bogey.
                Their Bogey, but how changed.

<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

                              Day ???, Hour ???
                               The Photosphere
                              ------------------

Perhaps the strain of permanent martial law, and the weight of an entire civilization resting around one's shoulders is too much for so small a number to bear.

Perhaps the years, nay, decades of wounds both physical and mental cannot be so simply ignored, or patched away time, and time again.

Perhaps some of the Photosphere's champions are less bulletproof than their citizens would be led to believe.

Would that the humanoid machine engineered for murder had the time to reflect deeply enough on these things, perhaps she would have her own questions. But needless questions are unbecoming of a paragon, and from introspection can surely come only doubt.

Thus: Harken's eyes are closed, as she rests within a sealed tube in a laboratory which doubtless has no presence in any blueprint in any system. Her mind is perfectly blank - by design. The troubling thoughts, the strands of dissent, all of these things are treated like any other minor medical malady. Mother's resurrection demands things be kept to schedule, after all.

An amber light on the tube's rim abruptly switches to pallid green, a shining beacon of emerald in the darkness. It is time. The pale woman's eyes open, as stimulants flood her system.

                                   Wayside
                                     NOW
                              ------------------

A reaper walks among the Metal Beasts.
Kingslayer.
        Executioner.
                Spy.
                        Traitor.
                                    Demon.

Unlike Berserk, Harken might simply pass for a very tall Human, were she concerned about such things. Her every step through the cratered, burning fields of Wayside's shattered farms seem carefully measured, unlike the ravenous creatures of metal that slink and sprint in sinuous bursts towards soft targets.

"You knew," the scarlet-haired princess of the Photosphere says to nobody in particular as she strikes a fleeing figure with the butt of her scythe's shaft. It explodes through the Tainted's chest with meteor-strike force, as he is unworthy of sullying her blade. "That this is how it would end..."

Dust and shattered rock rain upon her form, and it would be artful if it were not a portent of violent and ignominious death. Unlike Berserk, there seems to be no joy in the coming battle. Only the fury of one betrayed. "The traitors are mine," Harken speaks into a microphone somewhere in the collar of her heavy platemail. There's no guarantee that the others are even listening to her. There's less of a guarantee still they would have any reason to agree with her demands.

"The wretch, Riesenlied, and her concubine."

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Lydia Seren has been working day in and day out. She's still not done, deep within the bowels of the craft. She hooks up wires, welds slabs of metal together, hammers nails into wood, panting for breath due to not being an especially athletic beastwoman.

Over the local comms she says, "Riese! It's not ready yet! We need more time!"

That's not the best news to get right now no doubt.

And here's another problem!

A red gear flies in towards Wayside at unreal, coming in from the direction of the Great Aveh desert. Standing on top of the gear's shoulder, is Id who crouches on the shoulder, eyes closed. The great red wings fan out from behind the gear as it snaps to a stop, chaotic energies swirling behind it.

The gear rears its head back and rumbles as if roaring as it hovers in the air.

Id snaps his eyes open and gazes down to the battle. He places his head on his forehead and chuckles, then bursts into full on laughter. "I knew it...! I could hear the cries of desperation and fear on the dry Filgaian winds!"

The crimson gear crosses its arms. It stares down at the battle taking place throughout Wayside. "Last time I visited I kept my promise and spared Wayside...but that was last time..."

He curls his fingers inward. "This time, however..." He chuckles, this time quieter. "...This time..." He is positively giddy with anticipation and is not trying to contain it in the slightest.

"THIS TIME YOU WILL SHOW ME YOU CAN BEAR THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD OR I'LL DESTROY YOU ALL!"

                       WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING The Demon of Elru
                       WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMWGxmf76ts

                         BONUS OBJECTIVE: SURVIVE ID

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        For Noeline, it had just felt like one of those days since the moment she awoke - as if she'd gotten up on the wrong side of bed and then never managed to claw her way out of that feeling, as if a little alarm was always on the verge of going off at the back of her mind. Uncertain whether to chalk it up to a vague sensation from the Medium within her or simply her own natural instincts, she hasn't really been able to resolve it down to anything specific - left to burn off her excess energy pacing back and forth across Wayside's main square, checking and double-checking their preparations.

        All of that uncertainty dissolves away in the blink of an eye when the first crashing rumble shakes the earth.

        Noeline doesn't need a siren to understand what that noise means, and what it will mean for all of them should the Photosphere forces get their way. In the back of her mind, she'd been hoping to use the Quarter Knights' hubris against them - hoping against hope that at least Siegfried, with his connection to Riesenlied, might be goaded into a frontal confrontation and a chance to talk. An impasse would only work in their favour to give the people of Wayside some more time to get to the evacuation points, and perhaps allow Riesenlied's ability to lead to stall their forces.

        No such luck, she supposes with a grim air, and feels herself exhale. Standard shock tactics - lead with the beasts, mop up as needed. A simple and effective strategy if you consider your troops disposable, not to mention the best way to engender confusion and disorientation in your enemies.

        "Shit," she mutters without feeling, ignoring the faint answering chuckle in the back of her mind. Already coiled like a spring, she bursts into motion - turning on one heel to hare back towards the orphanage as quickly as she can as more Beasts hit the ground around her. She doesn't bark out any orders as she goes - there's no point. All of them have trained and prepared for this day, knowing it would come.

        Instead, Trouble and Strife wing down to orbit her at high speed, the twin orbs peppering laser shots around her at any nearby Metal Beasts. Their shots can't hope to be effective, but it's not efficacy she's looking for, so much as a simple distraction - any moment in which an enemy is turning its attention her way is a moment the Tainted can use, and Noeline's happy to claw for as many of those moments as she can.

        Part of the orphanage roof abruptly splinters and tears apart, together with a large chunk of the nearest wall. A falling Beast has clipped the corner and punched straight through the relatively thin material, impacting between Noeline and the doorway in a sudden plume of sand; it recovers preternaturally quickly, springboarding off the ground with a snarl and a sensation of teeth. Were it any other day, Noeline might try to avoid a direct battle - as it is, that's not something she has the luxury of doing right at this moment.

        Instead, in a sudden blaze of the Guardian's power, she goes straight through it.

        It is in no way an exaggeration; without slowing down she twists, hefting with ease the bulk of a sword the same size she is. Already, its form flickers with a dark flame, and that energy combined with the sheer weight and momentum of the spin simply slams the Beast to one side with the flat of the blade. It lies still; probably not dead, but... subtlety is another luxury she doesn't have time for right now.

        "--Dva! Devet!" she calls, putting her shoulder to the orphanage door as she does so. "--get clear! Take as many as you can! Where's Riese?!"

        Somewhere behind her, a roaring laugh sounds out across the battlefield as Berserk nearly flattens several Tainted in a single leaping slam; a wail comes from one Tainted in the distance, and a slow chill down Noeline's spine informs her that Lady Harken must surely be on scene. That, more than anything, is what makes her pause for the first time, torn and uncertain as she stares at the orphanage in front of her. Here is where she wants to be, doubtless at Riesenlied's side - but there's every chance she's Wayside's best fighter, and needs to be out there. What to do? What to do?

        --and then against all expectations Id's proclamation roars over Wayside, and it's all Noeline can do to stare for a long, long moment of disbelief before she allows herself an uncharacteristic moment to roar in return: "--can people just goddamn leave us alone for a while!?"

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Off in the distance, just outside the village proper, a horse with no name rides through the desert, sat astride by a girl with no purpose.

Neriah looks up with a gasp at the sight of stars beginning to fall from the sky towards the not-so-distant village of Wayside. She pushes back the hood of her chameleon cloak and looks on with her lip caught between her teeth. Even from here, she can hear that air raid siren shrieking its warning cry.

Something terrible has happened. Riesenlied, Mikaia and the others are in danger.

For a moment, Neriah remembers why she refused to return to Wayside before now - her fears that her own darkness could run away with her. But her time with Millenia, and her sparring with Rosaline, have taught her a lot. The darkness feels controllable now. Doesn't it, though? She can do it.

She has to put it to use. She clutches her reins tightly and gives them a firm snap. The horse beneath her surges and bolts forward into a dead gallop.

It's a short trip to the village edge, where Neriah boosts herself out of the saddle and divests herself of the cloak. She's without her usual Excavator's outfit; beneath the cloak there's a Katsuragi-length jacket with a pronounced fur collar, over a simple blouse and a pair of black slacks. Her left hand whips to her side and draws the pistol she calls Marilyn.

It's there as a backup. Nothing more. She fires off a couple of shots before leveling her gloved right hand and drawing in her breath - and calling forth something horrifying.

In one corner of Wayside, there is a sudden, highly visible surge of negative energy. A plume of darkness rips through the air. A Metal Beast is torn asunder, shards of metallic viscera drifting through the air in the wake of the dreadful power.

Stepping through the hail of ruined Metal Beast, Neriah moves at a slow stride. A dark haze streams from her right palm, fingers curled like talons. Dark shadows trace beneath her eyes - but though they're tight at the corners with pain, they're entirely clear. The signs of madness she's shown before are absent - no dilated pupils, no screaming.

As Id makes his appearance, Neriah breathes in through her nose, then lets it out, looking up towards the crimson Gear. Then she starts forward. She can see Berserk slaughtering Tainted.

The hideous, soul-curdling sensation emanating from Neriah begins to mount as she slowly levels her right hand. Through her glove, ghostlight shines.

"Assholes who want to take away what Riesenlied has achieved," she says flatly. "Kneel and embrace death."

        NERIAH PSYCHO: FURIOUS

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        The Orphanage

        Riesenlied didn't particularly anticipate a day like this -- though she should have. She'd often wondered how it would unfold, yet upon the day it finally struck them... when the stars descend upon their little, fragile offering of peace to the world--

        She's huddled behind where the wall has just collapsed with wide eyes, seeing Devet's barrier erect around the orphanage space and Noeline tear down the first of the Beasts emerging to assault them. In her arms is... Mikaia, who's quietly clung to her dress obediently, keeping her head down and out of danger.

        The children are around her, looking quietly afraid... but they aren't untrained for this instance either.

        She hears Lydia's call to her. She bites her lip. "Cetiri, assist Lydia and enact Sequence F-6. We'll get things started without the materials on the aboveground hangars," she explains calmly on her throat microphone.

        "... unfortunate, but that is what we must do," Cetiri respond simply and cuts the comms.

        "Everyone! I need you to be strong..." Riesenlied speaks firmly, but gently to her children as they gather before her. Children of all shapes and sizes, almost entirely Beastchildren, cast away from human orphanages and finding discrimination elsewhere. "You all have your buddy -- look out for them, follow Devet and she'll bring you to safety. Call out if your buddy is missing. Got it?"

        Each of the children are holding hands with one another, nodding as they raise their hands. "... yes, Riesemama!!"

        Devet stands outside as she readies a spherical shield to accomodate the children, grimacing. "C'mon, c'mon!"

        Riese steps towards the entranceway and holds her hand to her chest, gasping. She can already feel the palpable hatred and anger as Harken marches upon their location. And... she can plainly see it-- but also sense it, high in the skies, shining like a crimson omen that once heralded their imminent demise. But she won't show fear. Lily and the others are with her, and she knows there are those who will come to their aid at their darkest hour.

        It feels nostalgic. This was when we first met, was it not? one subconscious voice speaks to another, unbidden by those who are not privy. It is Nasrin.

        "... with all the power I can muster... let us go, Noeline, Lily...!"

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Lily Keil with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Noeline with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Lily Keil gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Noeline takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Noeline gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
<Pose Tracker> Agatha Pyrelight has posed.

 Well, this was interesting.
 
 Agatha's spies has shown her that the Metal Demons were on the move at this point. The chances of them smashing that small remote refugee town were rather high, and Agatha had made her way across the countryside in order to partake of the carnage. Not because she had any grudge against either side, of course... but there were normal people who showed up at such events, and it was always possible that the seething malevolence such violence would create could help provide her with a breakthrough in one of her pet projects.
 
 As she sits on a rocky outcropping outside of the city, Agatha laughs as she hears Id proclaim that he is here to lay waste to the place.
 
 "Oh, this just makes it *so* much better," she states, taking a drag on her pipe and grinning maliciously. The amount of suffering would go up catastrophically at this point. The Pyre Witch crooks a finger, and several dark figures step from the shadows a moment later - dusky skin and red eyed, her servants look to her for a moment and nod once at her unspoken command.
 
 Spread out, find those who had been cut off or were fleeing without an adequate escort...
 
 ...and see what fun they could have.
 
 Agatha herself rises to her feet, drifting down from the top of her perch until one foot hovers just above the ground. She takes a long drag on her pipe, and watches the carnage commencing before her. "Really, you can't buy entertainment this satisfying. Tragedy is always best when it occurs naturally."

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

It was like Adlehyde all over again. The Metal Demons were here, and they were attacking...but this time, it was their own people they were slaughtering. It was...horrible, awful. How could they? Did they even think about what they were doing?

...She couldn't stand for it. Wouldn't.

In Adlehyde, she felt terrible - she felt responsible for the tragedy, felt like she could've, should've been able to do something to prevent it.

She doesn't experience that now. Now, she feels a sort of righteous fury, combined with a desire to protect the people she had grown to know and love.

Nearby, a pair of Metal Beasts pounce toward Tainted fleeing toward the bunkers...

Reflexively, a Crest is drawn. Tendrils of earth shoot from the ground, a pair of them wrapping around the midsections of the Metal Beasts before they catch their prey. The rest move to block the path, preventing further Beasts from assaulting her charges.

"Get to the bunker, quickly! Before the others catch sight of you!" She urges. Her free hand gestures and, responsively, the earthen tendrils fling the beasts far away, attempting to remove them from the battlefield entirely.

She had to do what she could to protect them...even if it meant fighting back.

<Pose Tracker> Cassidy Cain has posed.

A FEW HOURS EARLIER....
 
 Lost July, forgotten and desolate, the site of recent tragedies.
 
 A recuperating Cassidy Cain tilts her head back, eyes of green and gold glittering from under the shadows of the hat pulled low over her head. There's an easy smile as a slim shadow falls over her, the figure to which it belongs still wrapped in bandages - she had a rough time, getting out of her very own hostage situation.
 
 Another favor. It's a reasonable one and really, after threatening to kill the hostage and the things she said, it is the least she could do, and she wasn't the sort to wrack up a tally of debts unless necessary - not like she ever pays them.
 
 But as the details tumble out, the smile vanishes from her features.
 
 "You want me tae take you where?"
 
 Wayside sounds familiar. She remembers signs pointing towards it in a drunken night of revelry with one Josephine Lovelace as they stumbled out of some haunted library in some half-hearted effort to get to some kind of civilization.
 
 "Why? What's there?"
 
 NOW...
 
 The expression on Cassidy's face as she wheels the wagon towards the village is utterly indescribable. It's a what for who??
 
 Gulliver remains tethered to the front, recently re-purchased from Morgan Newkirk due to the blonde conwoman's own machinations of what may be the first very horse-laundering transaction (long story) in the history of Filgaia, along with another animal - a rented stallion that she has convinced someone from Lost July to part with, with promises to return it in one piece. The plan had been to drop Gwen and Gulliver off Wayside and she could take the other horse and embark on the next length of her travels. Still, she's been taking shots from a flask borrowed (stolen) from Morgan and as the wagon wheels towards the outskirts of the village, there's a skeptical look angled at Gwen Whitlock's direction.
 
 "Speaking as an expert in bad ideas, I'm bloody surprised it's still standing," she tells her. "Would nae let it stand, this. If I were the other metal-blooded buggers, I'd have been plotting its destruction from the start. Just send the most vicious motherfookers I could think of tae come down from the sky and-- "
 
 GA HA HA HA HA!
 
 CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!
 
 The still and silent air shatters around them, spiced by distant screams.
 
 After a moment of long, considering silence:
 
 "...maybe it's time tae consider a career change."

<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

        What do you do in the days following a deflected attack on the palace of the Kaiser, coupled with a pitched fight against a murderous ancient mobile ARM, and an exploration into the depths of a destroyed city to stake out the path to a most unsual ruin?

        If you're Josie, you spend a few days taking a well-earned rest.
        Also, drinking.

        It had been a welcome respite -- local brews in Wayside, some light conversation with the innkeeper/bartender Val (remarkable, honestly, how well she gets on with the woman -- perhaps people are people wherever you go and whatever they're made out of).

        "--so like I was saying, there we were in the chamber in the tower when all of these Symbols kicked on, and--"

        Whatever story Josie had been about to tell will have to remain unsaid. The air raid siren kicks off, followed by a tremblor and a rain of debris from the ceiling inside the inn.

        A whirring of wings announces a singular bird's rapid departure from her perch atop the roof.

        "...Guardians bless it," the archaeologist swears, setting down her drink with a heavy thud against the counter. Val bolts into action. Josie similarly wastes little time, grabbing the rifle left resting againt the counter and running a quick check of her personal arsenal.

        Her expression may run grim. Yet, she still manages a lopsided smile Val's way, coupled with a lazy salute as the innkeeper evacuates.

        Josie heads for the roof.

        "...Damn, Sunshine," she mutters to herself from her vantage point, gazing out across the hordes intruding on the little village. "You sure know how to pick a fight..."

        Almost as an afterthought, she pulls the communication device from a pocket in her longcoat, clicking it on.

        "Hey Sunshine! Sugar. What's the plan?" she asks the pair of demons over the radio frequency. "If Tiger's not with you, I'd go see if she's there."
        Even in this scenario, she's managed the brightest of tones.
        Yet her gaze is hooded as she eyes the Metal Demons making their approach.
        Watches the Tainted getting slaughtered in the streets.
        She's not smiling.
        "...Honestly, I recommend getting the hell out of here myself but--"

        Amidst everything else, a crimson Gear alights on the field.

        "...Okay. We've got a Gear, too. Don't suppose they're a friend?"
        A pause stretches out as Id introduces himself. Josie's silence is audible.
        "...Yeah, I didn't think so."

        Slipping the communicator into a chest pocket, Josie crouches on the rooftiles and lifts Gawain to take a long careful look through the sights. Just what she thought, the bastard really is perched up there on the Gear's shoulder. Doesn't look like he's got headgear on, either.

        Her lips curl into a faint grin as she carefully, carefully lines up the shot.
        And pulls the trigger. The bullet rips through the air--

GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Id with Kick the Bucket!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily Keil, on the other hand, considered many ways that this day could go. She considers it part of her job, after all, in terms of protecting Wayside, protecting Riesenlied... And it's a job she's taken on despite the poor odds ahead of them. Lily hears the calls of the Metal Demons, watches a barrier set up, from her position standing next to Riesenlied. She listens to what is said, listens to the readouts...

And more to the point for the moment, she judges who is coming at them. There's just a glance to the orphans, and a nod. "...You'll be fine," she says. "We'll see to that. I promise you."

Lily watches Noeline further as she looks back and forth. "...Do what you need to do," she says. "I will not let them take her." The sorceress's voice is dark, resolute. And she continues to be there, to step forward, despite the fact that she hears Id's proclamation, that she knows he is coming. Id...

"Bad timing," she says, with a shake of her head, and steps out in front of Riesenlied. "...I expect a lot of collateral damage," she says to her mirror. "Unfortunate, but... You had to run anyway. I'll try to hold her off for as long as I can."

Lily, for her part, is dressed in military attire--black and grays, with an armored jacket, steel-reinforced boots. ...But as she stands, this time she removes her gloves, one at a time, revealing dark circuitry on the backs of her hands, about her fingers. She sets her stance, feet apart, and stares forward, taking a long breath. ...The gloves go into a pocket; the ARM at her side stays holstered.

Her hands lift, and the patterns turn blue as mist begins to form about her--and around Lady Harken as she stalks forward. "I'm with them," she says over the communicator to Josie. "You're about to see why."

Ice crystals erupt, expanding fractally, seeking to crush and spear straight through Harken--or, more likely, give her a nice greeting.

"Engaging." Lily starts forward. "HARKEN!"

"...I think I'd like to try again."

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Lady Harken with Mistgleam!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Siegfried did not march in with the other Quarter Knights.

He comes in from above. A Gear twists, violently, as it flies through the sky. Inside of the cockpit, its pilots eyes are wide, as it jerks and twitches to the side. His hands shake on the controls, as the experimental thrusters on the flight units cough and spit. They are damaged; Kislev is not supposed to field flying Gears. It was not, however, the Solarians that found this pilot. It was something far less human.

Siegfried's clawed gauntlet wraps around the pilot's throat, squeezing hard. "Keep flying."

"W-We're over the village--my god, please, just--don't kill me!" the pilot screams, tears in his eyes, as the Gear drops down sharply, and then sputters black smoke into the air.

"No," Siegfried answers.

The first thing to drop from the sky is a soldier. The Kislevi man screams the whole way down -- before he slams into the middle of Wayside, his body turned into a bloody, meaty smear on the ground. Then the skies are darkened by a Gear descending straight down for the village. The Gear, midway through the sky, is bisected from within. It splits into two halves, which slam down into the outskirts of the village, and Siegfried drops down. He lands near that bloody smear, in utter contrast: careful, controlled, and whole. His cape flutters out behind him.

He stands and looks up. His eyes flash red. Dangerously, and with a cold, quiet anger as he looks over all of Wayside.

<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

As fate would have it, Xantia happened to be in Wayside at the time. After the initial misunderstandings, it got to be a bit of a habit, to drop by every now and again, to see if there was anything she could help with. Sometimes her help was more helpful than others, but she meant well, as anybody could tell. Not once did she treat anybody in the village differently than she would anybody else. All she ever saw was people who needed help, so she helped them. It was that simple.

When all hell breaks loose, Xantia is at the inn, just about to enjoy some shaved ice. She only gets to wonder "What's going on?" before a Metal Beast breaks in and assaults Val. Two seconds later, the Metal Beast leaves the establishment as abruptly as it arrives, Xantia flinging it right back where it came from. Figuring Jedan has Val's retreat covered, she announces, "I'll keep them busy!" And with that, she's off, not even listening to whatever the response might be.

Speeding through the village, she doesn't even allow herself a moment's pause to voice a concise thought such as 'this is terrible'. At a time like this, every second counts. Even if she had any plans to start with, seeing all this would have made them all go out the window in favor of positioning herself somewhere between aggressors and those who can't defend themselves. That's just what comes natural. Several more Beasts meet her fists along the way, her position easily identified by creatures flying through the air that aren't supposed to. Her only objective is to get through the outskirts, meeting the enemy force head-on to keep as many of them out as she can.

And when she makes it there, she points a finger straight ahead at the assortment of Demons, Beasts and Quarter Knights alike, not in the least intimidated even though she absolutely should be. "You're not getting through here!" With that promise, she swings her fist forward, blowing away the first group of volunteers with the shockwave caused by the air displacement. Factually, she should realize that there's no way she'll be able to fight off a whole army. But that's never stopped her from trying.

And that was before the wild card that appears. A red Gear that Xantia instantly recognizes. "Id... it's Id!" Is she... is she really waving? Yes, yes she is. Quite possibly the only one to ever look and sound happy to see Id, even in this giant mess that she should probably be keeping her attention on.

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Sometimes, a man must choose the difficult path.

Ill-portuned stars fall from the heavens like the fists of an angry god. The delicate, temporary peace is shattered into so many pieces at the hands of tyrants who want nothing but to enforce a monstrous philosophy upon an already blasted wasteland. War was once, ware still is, war shall always be. That's how it goes.

For years and years and years and years, that's how it's always been. Always, every possible sign of another path; of a way that led away from the great current, was called impossible- heresy- betrayal. To turn away, they would say, is to deny the sacrifices of all those who have fallen. Abandoning the hill built upon the corpses of the slain is the same as spitting upon their memory. Releasing the hate and the drive for vengeance is the ultimate sin. To turn away from the Path of the Mother, to turn from avenging her imprisonment, was unthinkable. Impossible. Punishable only by death.

Then, why does the orange scarf flutter so boldly in the wind?

Why does the black hurricane tear a bloody swath through hellion and demon alike?

Why is Zed here?

Why does he have that look on his face?

"HEY!" Zed screams over the din, "BER-SUCK!"

Zed... Points with his sword.

Why is he here looking so fucking, infuriatingly sure of himself!?

"Why don't you leave those guys alone and fight a REAL man for once!?"

Why...

Is he being so goddamn suicidal!?

GS: Id critically Guards a hit from Josephine Lovelace's Kick the Bucket for 13 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        "--Riese," Noeline mumbles to herself. She doesn't mind showing a weak moment like this in front of Dva and Devet, let alone the orphans; for a moment, she clings gently to the other demon's sleeve, letting out a breath to calm herself even as she shoulders the enormous blade held in her other hand. "... with everything we have," she agrees after a moment, her face stony and her voice solemn. "Even if the whole world turns against us."

        A pause, and then she's broken off to help the last of the orphans inside Devet's protective barrier, offering them a toothy smile. It doesn't quite meet her eyes, but it doesn't need to right at this moment. "... watch out for Miss Devet, yes? She'll look after you as best she can. Make sure you stay cuddled up safe once you get down below, and we'll be right along to show you we're all fine." False bravado, but bravado nonetheless, and not just for the children's benefit; she draws her own strength from it, despite the roars and cries from just outside.

        Straightening up, she looks again to Riese, then to the two members of the Ebony Wings, and gives them both a nod as the black aura around her begins to strengthen, flaring and licking around her in growing waves as she bolsters herself. She's never dug into Duras Drum's power this much before, reaching and clawing for as much of the sealed Guardian's power as she can muster through their odd and unconventional link. It isn't much - but it's enough for her to stride from the orphanage into the open air, her sword raised high-- before she slams it into the ground in front of her, a wave of force that signifies and embodies the power that sustains the world.

        A beacon of power to draw the attention of those Quarter Knights with an objective in mind.

        "--Siegfried! Harken! ... so long as I stand, you won't take her!" she calls. Once, she slunk away from the Photosphere as a spy, her tail tucked in-between her legs. She's a long, long way from that life now, she quietly thinks, and tightens her grip on her blade. "And I'll be damned if I let you simply torch all we've done!"

GS: Noeline has attacked Noeline with Deceiver's Shield!
GS: Noeline has completed her action.
GS: Noeline takes a solid hit from Noeline's Deceiver's Shield for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Shield! Statuses applied to Noeline!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        The Tainted

        The Tainted are trained for this contingency -- it is the one fear that they all share, a kind of existential threat to their very being that is borne into their very essences the moment they were created with their imperfections.

        Back then, four hundred years ago, there was simply no other way to create pure Metal Demons -- and thus the Tainted were spawned as a disenfranchised, impoverished caste out of a need for cheap labour. It was a matter of no small contention, but ultimately one of necessity in the wake of the Day of Collapse. And now...

        Those that have the misfortune to be closest to Berserk are thrown off their feet, some of them collapsing outright from the sheer shockwave of his landing. One turns and-- keeps crawling, towards the bunker, even though his leg is missing. "Gotta make it... gotta make it..."

        "C-c'mon... I'll help you...!" a lowly soldier Hyadean pulls him up to his feet, slinging his arm over his shoulder. It's the least he can do to assist his fellow brethren, even with the terror stricken on their faces.

        There are many soldiers who saw a different reality to the iron glory they were promised; they gaze as the Beasts seek to overrun them -- Malfi on Bogey amongst them, some of them who might have been her comrades once, but injured in battle. Missing arms, legs... unfit for combat. And also--

        "I--is that Yaro?"
        "Just keep running!"
        "H-hey, wait, up there--"

        Yarobeleedt is flung a little distance beyond them, and the frantic and escaping villagers keep hurrying towards a certain path underground. But he stares up, up to where the sky, once more...

        "The sky... it's turned red again... just like... Old Petra..."

        The sweltering burst of Neriah's dark plumage erupt around them, and a child hurries covering her head as she murmurs a thank-you to the dark excavator. "Thank you, Miss Neriah!" she'd seen her before when she was helping with the Waterway... even despite her power...

        Several of the Tainted nod towards Jacqueline, huddling around an earth pillar for safety as he catches his breath. "Thank you... Miss Jacqueline..." gasps the Tainted villager, and what looks like her husband -- with a toaster for a face -- helps her along.

        There are multiple entrances to the bunkers, built to house those incapable of fighting. They were prepared... but...

        Will it be enough?

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda had no intention of getting wrapped up in something like this -- truthfully, the only reason she was in Wayside was to resupply after her trip to Lost July. ... but then, making history is rarely intentional, is it?

She's filling a flask of water when the air raid siren starts to sound; her first response is to flinch, looking frantically from side to side for the source of the alarm. She spots Jay first, and moves toward her, Freischütz at the ready and knife drawn. Wielding Freischütz one-handed is a little on the awkward side, but now really isn't the time to worry about that.

... and then the smear hits. Matilda only has time enough to process the Kislevi uniform before the... splat -- and then what lands not far therefrom. Matilda's gaze rests on Siegfried. It's -- difficult to even look at him, truthfully; just knowing him by reputation is enough to render him fearsome.

She approaches, but cautiously -- from the side. Rushing in would be a sure way to get herself killed; she's carefully assessing him -- and herself -- with every step. The compounder says nothing -- she just advances, quietly. ... but perhaps not quietly enough.

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

The Guardians told Cecilia that Wayside had their blessing; not their protection, necessarily, but that the Shaman had better things to worry about than whether the village of Wayside was a problem. She had better things to do, like hunt for statues.

Still, the young princess is out in the wilds following what happened with Jack leaving - betraying them, really - drawing in the feeling of Filgaia around her in what is either a head-clearing walk, an act of meditation, or possibly both. She doesn't, entirely, realize she's been walking to Wayside. She draws in a breath as she cranes up to look at the gates, suddenly returning to herself. "...guess it makes a kind of--"

Which is when the stars start slamming down from over head toward the town. "...no..." she rasps, eyes turning up. The sky...did they break the sky again?

It doesn't seem like it, but they're here in nearly the same force, beasts screaming downto feast on lives. Her staff flashes to her hand. "Again..." she whispers, something cold gripping her heart.

She rushes in, magic curling around her fingers. People she hates like none other - Harken, who stole her father; Siegfried, who aided the deed; Berserk, who stole her hopes.

The Mediums throb. She can't handle Harken or Siegfried. She probably can't even handle Berserk. She's out of time to risk not trying.

So as Berserk sends innocents scattering like doves, he may not hear feet approaching, but maybe he'll see something familiar, anyway - as the Shaman flickers away, and Grudiev appears instead. "Magnetron Bomb!"

The massive earth lizard shrieks like the grinding of the world as power gathers in its crystalline shoulders - and then a blast of flickering power races down toward Berserk, shattering the ground around him and throwing up chunks of shattered ground, hopefully enough for people to hide behind as they go.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Berserk with Material - Magnetron Bomb!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Berserk takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Material - Magnetron Bomb for 100 hit points!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde takes Cover! She gains 50 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny has had a busy week. He has:

        -Invaded the long-lost tomb of a long-dead Quarter Knight
        -Discovered Siegfried was in love with said Quarter Knight
        -Shot Siegfried in the chest
        -Survived learning all of the above, albeit barely
        -Discovered the Temple of the Guardian of Luck
        -Sealed the Statue of the Guardian of Luck
        -Accomplished the preceding two whilst not flipping off the Guardian of Luck
        -Found a really nice place that does something like a churro, except it's a cinnamon vanilla cake
        -it's amazing
        -how is that even possible

But now it is fighty time, because the voice of the world (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) are speaking to their chosen shaman (i.e., Cecilia Lynn Adlehyde) and telling her to go places and beat stuff up. Claude normally takes this duty on with a bit of a resigned air, because every time this has happened so far - literally every time - he has ended up getting the tar beaten out of him. This is particularly concerning because the Guardians made it clear that they don't like him (except for Rigdobro, who is cool), in particular the aforementioned Luck Guardian, who is an epic, cosmic troll.

But Claude swore an oath to protect people who can't fight back, never mind that doesn't so much claim this part of space as actively disclaim it. And it's important to Claude that the world doesn't get taken over by evil metal aliens, not just because he's standing on it, but because the Federation Navy is supposed to stop that sort of thing, never mind that he's just a single dude with a single gun. And when he sees Berserk ripping toward a group of fleeing civilians, it doesn't matter if they're aliens, reformed aliens, tainted aliens, or whatever. It doesn't matter that Berserk has nearly crushed him into paste, twice. What matters is there are people in danger, and he's got to save them. And so as Cecilia strikes from down low, Claude leaps up to the skies, pulling his blade back over his shoulder. "AIR!" he shouts, his chi humming through his body as he focuses it into---

---hang on---

There is a sudden shift in energies as Claude focuses his chi, concentrating it even further as he unleashes the attack. He's not sure why - but after firing hundreds of these projectiles, there's something... obvious about it. Like he should have been doing it this way from the beginning, but was just missing the practice.

"SLASH!" Claude shouts, and the vacuum-energy blade that rips down toward Berserk is GOLDEN TINGED! How bizarre.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Berserk with Air Slash!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Air Slash for 43 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi urges Bogey into a lumbering trot -- his top speed-- as she searches the field for new opponents. She spots one in Jacqueline Barber, and directs Bogey her way, lance couched and ready. Bogey is slow enough that the human might be able to dodge, but if this attack hits, it's going to do some serious damage...

GS: Malfi has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Improv Tango!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a glancing hit from Malfi's Improv Tango for 31 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        "Well, yeah. I parked my wagon there. Y'think I'm gonna cart a wagon-full of valuables to _Lost July_? With two horses it'll be much faster, n' you'll some of my wonderful company for a part of it!" That was the reason Gwen gave.

        "It'll be fun!" That's another reason Gwen made.

        "Also, it'll make up for the fact that you threatened t'shoot me."

        ---ALMOST TO NOW---

        "C'mon, y'think all the Metal Demons were on board with this whole 'destroy humanity' deal? I just don't talk 'bout it much cause.... uh.... that's..." Gwen trails off as they crest a dune nearby with a good view of the desert town beyond. What's left of it after the first hit, anyway. "Guardians..."

        Okay. New plan. To the bandaged courier's credit, she does take a moment to think on this, her own mortality a hazy irritation that lingers in the back of her mind. She *is* recovering, after all. So is Cassidy.

        Well.

        Gwen straightens. "Okay, we're gonna park the horses to a safe location, n' then we're goin' in." She grins. "C'mon, you've crushed through your share of Metal Demons. And I think it'll make up for the fact that you were gonna shoot me. You get to shoot other things now!" A pause. ".... Lots of things." The sky goes red. "... Goddamn, that guy's here too?!"

        ---NOW---

        "Timmmeeee for a rematch!" A bandaged Gwen runs into the field with her right ARM loaded and at the ready, aiming a quick shot at Berserk as she gets into position between him and a group of fleeing innocents.

        She blinks.

        "Zed?" She looks between him and Berserk. "Are you, uh, with him, or are you, uh, helping us?"

GS: Zed has attacked Berserk with Berserk more like BerSUCK!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Berserk with Crackshot!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken takes a solid hit from Lily Keil's Mistgleam for 124 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Id has posed.

"NO!" Id yells back at Noeline. Yes he's about that mature.

Id's attention is solely focused on the village. Agatha doesn't have to worry about this guy suddenly turning on her. At least, not while there's still a village. After that, who knows what he'll do?

A bullet rips through the air towards Id's face. It slams into his skull and explodes his brain and splashes blood everywhere as he tumbles to the floor off his gear lifelessly.

No wait. That's not what happens.

The rips through the air towards Id's face. It seems to hit him in the face as it jerks back but when Id turns his head back around and looks at Josephine.

Yes at Josephine.

He spits the bullet back out into his hand and he studies it for a moment as if with curiousity. "Interesting. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, kid."

He flicks the bullet back to Josephine at high speeds.

Id looks down to Xantia, grins, then turns his gaze to Neriah. Gestures forward with both hands and beckons towards them.

"Come at me." He tells to Xantia before focusing on Neriah. "You too. I'm curious about the power of Valmar. I want to know if it can hurt more than just small villages..."

He smiles. "Quaint of you to spare the children, wouldn't you say?"

He then takes in a deep breath. His chi rebalances.

"That's right!!" He bellows. "Come at me! All of you!"

He sees Siegfried in full rage and chuckles darkly, yes darkly, at this.

"Siegfried... you pissed him off so much...hahahaha! You wouldn't like Siegfried when he's angry, Riesenlied!"

Nasrin

It's a bit too much 'old man' for my liking, but if she can't survive this...

She might as well die here

He glances briefly towards Claude as he AIR SLASHES at Berserk but shakes his head. Not now.

GS: Id has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Kung Fu Is Bullshit!
GS: Id has attacked Id with Yin and Yang!
GS: Id has completed his action.
GS: Id takes a solid hit from Id's Yin and Yang for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Shield! Statuses applied to Id!
GS: Berserk has adjusted their boss level for 5 opponents!
GS: Josephine Lovelace takes a glancing hit from Id's Kung Fu Is Bullshit for 78 hit points!
GS: Berserk has adjusted their boss mode to Optional!
<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

        The slug-naga-screechy thing that is Yarobeleedt is just shy of becoming collateral damage in the stampede of Metal Beasts. He slithers to and fro, darting with a speed that almost exceeds the very human eye's capabilities as he finds company in dust clouds that show him no warm welcome as he is clipped by another stampeding Metal Beast.
 
SOME TIME AGO, PHOTOSPHERE
 
        The majority of the Quarter Knights have assembled. He was but a fly on the wall (...a maggot on the wall, almost literally) when he heard the briefing being addressed to those selected to partake in the assault against Wayside. He looked upon Malfi - ^Creature Creature^ - with no small amount of scorn. His name was not selected. The selected were hale, hardy, healthy.
        But he remembered seeing Riesenlied and Noeline rebuke him and his motion to try and kill the humans present on that crashed, abandoned Metal Demon wreck. He wanted to show them. That ^Tainted^. How he despised her... and to think Noeline would be confused by what she saw in the mirror to believe she would... live in... harmony? With humans?
        He hid in the shadows when the Lady Harken came by, snapped from his furious memories with the pangs of mortal fear. He climbed into an open Metal Beast pod just to make sure she would have never seen him if she so much as turned her head.
 
NOW, AT WAYSIDE
 
        The dust clears, and a battered, beaten Yarobeleedt lies low to the ground like a little snake as the villagers try and flee. The Quarter Knights probably don't know he's here. They might not care what he does. He was shamed to new lows, to greater depths of that yawning abyss that is his petty psyche.
        If he can't destroy a statue, then he'll just kill those helpless villagers who can't fight back. Easy, easy. Glorious, to a craven coward like himself. He starts up towards the slope of a shattered wall turned into an impromptu ramp...
        And stops, when he sees a flash of crimson and unflash of unlight. His entire body siezes up, solid. It is ^That^, and... another he has no name for.
        Only a deep, existential terror that does not seem possible for Metal Demons to have, when they are but known as being an unstoppable marauding force. Yarobeleedt presses down low against the little ramp, surrendering what would have been a perfect ambush opportunity against some of the fleeing villagers as his beady, unfocused eyes shift restlessly while waiting for the crimson and the unlight to pass out of any and all of his senses... shivering.
        Cowering.
        Like a little weakling.

GS: Zed has canceled their attack on Berserk.
GS: Zed has attacked Berserk with Berserk more like BerSUCK!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock has canceled their attack on Berserk.
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Berserk with Crackshot!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        The Tainted

        Over at the inn, Val looks rather weathered and beaten as she picks up several more kids, a wry grin following a narrowing of her binocular eyes. "Stay alive, Josie. I'll show you my even more potent vodka if we both live through this." She hurries out the door, as Xantia, bless her heart, wrestles the Beast and gives her and the children some time to flee, covered by sniper fire. "Treat you to a meal later, Xantia!" "Stay safe, miss Xantia!" exclaim the children in Val's hands.

        Josephine next speaks to Riesenlied over their shortwave. She presses her hand to her throat, and speaks, "Josie, Jedan, focus on sniping threats from your vantage points to the escaping villagers. We will proceed with a plan of escape once everyone is in the bunkers."

        Two soldiers see the Kislevi soldier fall and become nothing more than a messy, bloody pulp. "W-what the-- Kislev? No--it's--"

        Their expressions fall as the blue bolt descends, the sunder of the Dark Spear cleaving the Gear as if it were nothing more than paper. It is nothing more than paper, before Glumzambor.

        "Lord S-Siegfried...!!"

        Dva grimaces as she swings a little closer, witnessing Princess Cecilia as she charges and exclaims, "H-hey, be careful--" and is silenced as she witnesses the rise of the Planet Breaker, the all-powerful Guardian of Earth... and shakes her head, exclaiming, "We have Guardian help! C'mon, Devet!"

        "R-right!" Devet exclaims, as Riesenlied sets Mikaia down and gives her a peck on the forehead. "Be brave." The youngest Hyadean in the Ebon Wings marches, surrounded by their barriers...

        ... and comes near Yarobeleedt as he waits against that little ramp, not quite having seen him yet. The hatred has grown huge in his heart, no matter how and what the predicaments are that has gotten him where he is. He has an opportunity to ambush the youngest of the Ebon Wings -- and to assault those that Riesenlied, the ^Tainted^ that he hates so much, hold most dear:

        Her children.

DC: MISS! Berserk completely evades Berserk more like BerSUCK from Zed!
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Crackshot for 85 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

Against the dazzling flare of exploding fuel-tanks and billowing, blossoming flowers of luminous smoke, the slender silhouette of the Metal Demons' agile executioner is long and otherworldly. Her movements fluid, a dance that under any other circumstance would be as beautiful as it is deadly. Silver arcs of glimmering light glint and flash through the air in the wake of her blade's trail, and spraying gouts of vital fluid geyser for the sky in her wake. She pauses only briefly to watch a familiar red gear thud heavily into the landscape, an ominous figure perched upon its metallic shoulder.

But unlike last time, Id makes no move to wound Siegfried, to which Harken's loyalty is unquestionable. And thus, the sole female Quarter Knight laughs a horrible, filtered chuckle to herself as the flames catch and spread. After all here is ash, there will be time to settle that score.

Noeline can feel the baleful gaze upon her before she catches sight of it. Burning points of scarlet, hateful stars piercing through the veil of smoke that Harken solemnly strides through. The tide of extras trying to impede her progress surely slows, as the bodies pile up and the commands to retreat are heeded.

"How woefully you wield that blade." Harken sneers as the clouds of soot and ash part before her. "Has none of my instruction ever taken root? I suppose not. Lest, you would never have fled under such stupid auspices." she sounds, at least, more... stable. No less furious, but the screaming meltdown from their last duel is nowhere to be seen. Either way, her attention is got.

Lily's magical assault breaks whatever solemn reverie was taking place between the two Metal Demons on opposite sides. Sorcerous crystals of ice explode from tiny points of azure light and from the ground alike, as frost spirals and whorls and builds into sharp crystals at an astonishing--nay, impossible rate. Harken's plate armor frosts over instantaneously from simply being nearby, and she is forced to pause before the horrendous blade of Azrael sweeps before her, a precise slash to avert being brutally impaled. There is an explosion of ice, hurling razor-sharp shards in every direction. Nature's own fragmentation grenade.

"Try as you like," the Quarter Knight replies with a cold smirk, her blood racing. She rears back with one hand and hurls her tremendous weapon forward at those foolish enough to confront her. Betraying all sensible physics, Azrael leaves her hands like a vorpal boomerang, cleaving through a windmill on its way towards Lily and Riesenlied in a worryingly unerring arc. It seems to be adjusting on the fly as they move.

"But this may be the last time we dance. Don't worry--I'll preserve your corpses, as my finest hunts!"

Blazing white circuitry on Harken's armour roars to life, and she explodes forward out of the still-spinning cloud of shattered icicles with a sonic boom. Unarmed. She bears down on Noeline with one fist raised and a demonic grin upon her face, eyes impossibly wide and luminous against the wreckage behind her. "Come, traitor!"

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Even despite her power, children thank Neriah. She keeps that in mind. Files it away next to the memory of the children of Three Cucco Spring. Children who pleaded with her for their lives.

"Hurry," Neriah urges the little child, waving her free hand. "Get to safety. It will be okay, I promise." And then she straightens, and plants a heel in the turf, moving to position herself between the fleeing child and Id.

Once, Neriah took a step too far, and an entire village was drowned in blood at her hand. She won't make that mistake again. Not here. Not in Wayside.

A concern Id simply dismisses as... quaint. Neriah draws in her breath, and then lets it out in a slow rush, staring up at him. Will we allow him to tease us in this way? Hmmmm?

No. I must not give in to his taunting, she tells herself, as she takes a slow step forward, watching the way Id dares them to make a move. "What I did was an accident," she says, her tone low but underlaid with a sullen, defiant growl. "Innocent people don't need to die. Only the ones who hurt people who matter. And I'm not going to let you do to Wayside what I did to Three Cucco Spring."

Neriah tenses visibly. That oppressive feeling in the air begins to build - and she peels her glove off and casually flips it to one side. Bloody lines cut across her palm in a geometric shape, phantom light and shadow streaming from it as she begins to build power. Coils of negative light begin to pour out of her body and up her arm, welling in her palm.

Do not let it feel good, Neriah reminds herself. Do not lose control.

The darkness explodes from Neriah's hand with a rumbling shriek that rattles window panes around her. Coils of dread magic twist and writhe together like eldritch tentacles as Neriah's power blasts outward, aiming to engulf Id and batter him with raw evil energy - the kind of power that could strip the body away from the soul like a deflesher if one were a lesser being than That Asshole.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Id with Discipline!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

In the distance, a Gear falls from the sky in two halves, causing the earth to tremble as they collide with the ground. Something terrible has arrived in Wayside.

...Well, there were already terrible things, here, it's just that the already terrible situation had gotten even worse.

As such, Jacqueline doesn't realize she's attracted attention until it's almost too late. She jumps to get out of Malfi(and Bogey's way), but the Metal Demon's spear still manages to clip her.

Jacqueline winces, stumbling backward, and invokes her Crest again. More tendrils of earth shoot from the ground, lashing out at Malfi and her mount, while several more form a sort of barrier between Jacqueline and her aggressor.

She squints somewhat, looking at who's attacking her...and lets out a gasp of surprise.

"It's...it's you! I've seen you around before... Why? Why are you attacking your people?" She asks, backpedaling.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Malfi with Earthen Grasp!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Lady Harken with Lethal Momentum!
GS: Lady Harken takes a solid hit from Lady Harken's Lethal Momentum for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Quick! Statuses applied to Lady Harken!
GS: Id guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Discipline for 68 hit points!
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Lily Keil with Azrael - Spinning Slash!
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Riesenlied with Azrael - Spinning Slash!
GS: Malfi guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Earthen Grasp for 37 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes Cover! She gains 50 temporary hit points!
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Noeline with Odious Combination!
GS: Lady Harken has completed her action.
GS: Lily Keil critically Guards a hit from Lady Harken's Azrael - Spinning Slash for 23 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

To say Siegfried doesn't notice Matilda is wrong. He does; he notices practically everyone here, allied and enemy. His focus, though, is on the betrayals. On Zed, so brazenly challenging Berserk. On Noeline, who supported this--this treason! On Id. His eyes linger there, and he remains uncertain if he wants Id as an ally. He is certain that he cannot be trusted, which makes his decision for him.

But the vast majority of his focus and his ire is directed towards one person here. His eyes fall on Riesenlied, and the cool mask breaks in a moment. He screams at her, bordering on a howl.

"RIESENLIED!"

And then he leaps. Despite his rage, there is an absolute calm and control to his every movement. He turns as he moves. First, he aims for Zed -- and his forearm plate pops open. A bolt of blue light erupts towards the wayward Metal Demon, striking for his side. Next, he fires a shot towards Gwen Whitlock, threading the needle through the chaos of the battle.

Then, Glumzambor is swept backward, and he slashes at the air. A pulse of air shoots across the ground. The iai strike rips through a storage shed -- it explodes into so many wooden shards -- and then comes crashing towards Matilda.

Perhaps he doesn't ignore her.

But he descends near Yarobeleedt and Mikaia alike. He comes crashing down for Riesenlied, and slashes the sword down -- trying to slash it into, and through, her stomach. But he also sticks his face and screams directly into hers.

"Traitor! Traitor! TRAITOR!"

GS: Siegfried has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Shadow Slash!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Arm Cannon!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Zed with Arm Cannon!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Riesenlied with Dark Spear!
GS: Siegfried has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Lady Harken's Azrael - Spinning Slash for 56 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Siegfried's Dark Spear for 53 hit points!
GS: Zed takes a glancing hit from Siegfried's Arm Cannon for 56 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Siegfried's Arm Cannon for 114 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Noeline takes a solid hit from Lady Harken's Odious Combination for 127 hit points!
GS: Poison and Cripple! Statuses applied to Noeline!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi scowls at the human -- whom she remembers seeing around Wayside -- and reflectively uses her batteries against her temporarily-earthen-shielded opponent, directing a nasty shock her way. "These?" she snarls contemptuously. "These aren't my people...they're traitors, apostates." She should've expected the human to dodge; it was nigh impossible not to telegraph a charge, after all.

GS: Malfi has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Assault with Batteries!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Cassidy Cain has posed.

Y'think all the Metal Demons were on board with this whole 'destroy humanity' deal?
 
 "...ay?"
 
 Cassidy has consulted with Emma Hetfield about this, an expert in golems and whatever, that's what she was told and if she can't trust a scholar about these matters, who can she trust? The indescribable expression on her features only becomes more apparent.
 
 "I mean, have you seen who heads up their bloody crew? Big Blue and Mighty and Smoking Redhead With a Giant Sword? Fought them both before, y'ken, dinnae think their society would have room for any degree of bloody defiance. Plus I've met plenty that subscribe wholeheartedly tae our doom and destruction. Still, if that's what's happening now, I'm nae opposed tae watching them kill each oth-- "
 
 Okay, we're gonna park the horses to a safe location, n' then we're goin' in.
 
 "I'm all for the first part of the plan, but like I said, I'm nae opposed tae-- "
 
 And I think it'll make up for the fact that you were gonna shoot me.
 
 Cassidy throws up her hands, her expression shifting from indescribable to exasperated at the drop of a hat. "It was just the one Metal Demon and let's nae forget that his bloody response tae all of that is tae turn into a fookin dragon." Another problem for another time, but with Gwen's continuing, the pale-tressed Drifter only sighs. "Bloody hell. Tell you that once and mean it and suddenly that's all you remember. If I dinnae do this, is this how it's going tae be? 'Hey Cass, remember the time I was taken hostage and your grand plan was to kill me and take me out of the equation.'? I was just aiming tae bring out the best in you. You're nae a damsel in distress, you just needed the push!"
 
 ...nope. She's not listening. The strawberry-blonde is already leaping off the wagon once they've wheeled Gulliver and his temporary companion to a safe place.
 
 "Ach, fook me running."
 
 She scrubs her face with one hand, and swings herself out of the wagon to land on the ground.
 
 When she follows Gwen, she takes her time - the carnage is already in full swing when her companion announces her presence to a Zed and she doesn't seem to be sure whether he's fighting for one side or another.
 
 "Better make sure then," she says, as she pulls out Hawthorne's revolver and another pistol, the former trained on Berserk, and the latter trained on Zed.
 
 And pulls both triggers.
 
 Cassidy Cain: Never above shooting first.

GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a solid hit from Malfi's Assault with Batteries for 97 hit points!
GS: Cassidy Cain has attacked Berserk with Blame It On My Youth!
GS: Cassidy Cain has completed her action.
GS: Cassidy Cain has attacked Zed with Blame It On My Youth!
GS: Cassidy Cain has completed her action.
GS: Zed takes a glancing hit from Cassidy Cain's Blame It On My Youth for 46 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead guards a hit from Siegfried's Shadow Slash for 63 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline finds a shock sent her way. Though her shield of earth absorbs some if it, plenty of it still manages to reach her. It courses through her body, and it takes some effort to keep standing.

"They just wanted to live peacefully! Is that really so wrong...? They're no threat to you!" She replies.

Her opponent isn't the only one who can wield electricity, however. Jacqueline draws another Crest from her pouch and invokes it. The air above Malfi will heat up and become charged with energy...shortly before a bolt of lightning comes crashing down her way.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Malfi with Lightning Strike!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Malfi critically Guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Lightning Strike for 28 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Riesenlied's own eyes whip across her burning village as she sees that Gear explode, its remnants falling onto the village square.

        "Lord Siegfried...!" she whispers. She knows, in her heart, that he can hear her. That he has made his entrance clear, his intentions -- crystal.

        Noeline makes her own proclamation, erupting with a powerful and enormous aura of Guardian's flame... and Matilda has chosen to approach Siegfried as well. She's not about to berate her on whether or not that's a good idea -- they have not one, but two Quarter Knights threatening their very well being at present.

        You pissed him off so much... hahahaha!

        Riesenlied is surprisingly quiet and calm even as Id taunts her, as much anxiety wells within her, as cold and clammy as her fingers feel... she's never felt more ready and awakened. Her heart is what has seen her through all this, as much as it has made her doubt in the events of the Summer Palace...

        Somehow... I feel disappointed enough to agree with you, Id. Somehow, Nasrin mulls deep within Riesenlied's heart.

        Her heart... is what will continue to lead her forward, to the new world.

        The battle is joined all too horrifyingly fast, as the twist of Azrael warping air around her sends her on a course through to the ground--

        --and the vicious scythe still cleaves and draws red blood from her. Tainted blood. Forever a reminder of her difference against her superiors.

        "... you once told me that you wished for me to usher in an age of peace, Lady Harken ... that I was born too soon," she speaks. It isn't a very loud voice, but it speaks with a clarity that can be heard through the roar of battle. "Just what is your vision of peace, then...?!"

        She has hardly any time--

        RIESENLIED!!

        A bolt of blue light surges throughout the battlefield, and that she raises her deformed, Dragon hand--

        --is all the reprieve she gets between Dark Spear Glumzambor and her heart. Despite its origins as living metal, it is nowhere near hardy enough to be used as armor -- more blood seeping through as her scales are shorn off in a single powerful strike, prompting a cry of pain. He can hear it from behind him, as Mikaia gazes with panic-- "M-mama! Riesemama!!"

        "Lord Siegfried... this... is my answer," Riesenlied speaks. She looks to the Orphanage behind her, to the village around her. "This is the future I believe Hyades needs. The future we need, as a people, as a species!"

        She bites her lip, as her hand bleeds and trembles further; she buckles away, closing her eyes as she focuses on the Dragon's Tear.

        She does not fight like Harken or Siegfried instructed her, once; she is now too weak to hold a sword or bow properly, to fight martially like a Metal Demon. Instead, she fights with light--

        Weaves upon weaves of light billowing in like veils upon Lily and Noeline, surrounding all of them in protective layers of power as she gazes back towards the man she'd call father. Tears are on her face.

        "And for you... Lord Siegfried. To let you heal... the wounds of a thousand years that I believe still bleed in your heart...!"

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Riesenlied with Rising Heart - 'Seek the New World'!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Noeline with Rising Heart - 'Seek the New World'!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Lily Keil with Rising Heart - 'Seek the New World'!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied heals Riesenlied! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

At least Neriah has enough sense to not be taunted by Id. But as for Xantia... she is told by Id to come at him, so she does exactly that. Flexing her fist, she responds with a grin, "You got it! Last time I was already tired, but this time... this time I can fight you with everything I have!" And with that, she breaks into a run. If Id hasn't come down from his Gear by then, so help her, she's going to find a way to get up there, even if she has to use Metal Beasts as springboards to do it.

Aside from her being in a better condition, it's all too similar to last time. Out of all possible actions, Xantia choosing to focus her full attention on Id, and seeming remarkably happy about doing so. It's like the rest of the battle doesn't even exist anymore. She's even stopped thinking about the meal she was promised before she ran out here. The only thing that matters is making it over to Id, and launching a volley of punches directly at him. It's simple, but even her most simple attacks have a great amount of force behind them.

It's like the two of them have some kind of strange rapport, or at least she feels like they do. Even Xantia herself couldn't begin to explain. Well, she couldn't before. But this time, she manages to put it into words, somewhat. "Fighting's about all I'm good at, but when it's you, more than anybody else... it really feels like I'm doing what I'm supposed to. Why do you think that is?" She's genuinely curious to hear Id's thoughts on the matter, expecting a serious answer. And why wouldn't she? From her perspective, Id's always been very helpful.

GS: Xantia has attacked Id with Utter Predictability!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

        Yarobeleedt presses down even harder against the makeshift ramp as Siegfried descends, exercising righteous anger upon Riesenlied a ways ahead. He is simultaneously filled with the sheer terror of being in the company of the fury of the head of the Quarter Knights, utterly jealous that he cannot go in there and sink a misshapen metal flesh blade into Riese herself, and elated to watch Riesenlied suffer. A complex range of emotions that run through a brain so addled with difficult stimuli and scenarios that are difficult for him to prase.
        Almost never have the Metal Demons suffered such dissonant existences, once united by a pure cause unpolluted by anything outside of the scope of full, unquestionable, uncompromising military victory.
 
BACK AT THE PHOTOSHERE, SOME TIME AGO
 
        Yarobeleedt flees back down into the dregs of the Photosphere to avoid the latest attempt to feed his flesh into the recycler after his... gentle chiding... after failing to find the Fortune Gear a second time in the company of other Metal Demons to corroborate his claims. His body is dessicated from dehydration after having expended much biomass to tip that game of roulette into his favor, with little spare matter in which to reconstitute his injuries.
        Down in the gutters he lingers, as another Tainted like him - barely at all conscious of their surroundings, a goopy mess of a creature, a mirror of one far less fortunate than himself - comes closer. They can no longer speak. They hardly interact with the world outside of touching things with an almost entirely liquid pseudopod. The pseudopod slaps the ground gently a few times near Yarobeleedt.
        "Silly ^Tainted^!" Yarobeleedt wheezes. With much laborious effort, he turns his left forearm into a jagged, serrated saw-spike thing. "Worth no more! Use none!!" He stabs it into them. Relentlessly, screeching and wheezing angrily. "Use none!! Use none!! Use none!! USE NONE!!!"
 
BACK TO THE PRESENT
 
        "Use none..." Yarobeleedt utters, feeling a certain powerlessness that paradoxically fuels him with what gumption he needs to act. He sees Devet come by with a number of... the tiny warrior caste, surely off to move to flank the Quarter Knights...
        His googly eyes find the metallic flesh to pull them further into his skull, effectively narrowing them, as he rears back a left forearm into a jagged, serrated saw-spike thing as the youngest Hyadean of the Ebon Wings comes too close...
        "USE NONE!!" Yarobeleedt screeches in fury and frustration, daring to plunge it into the barrier - and through her.

GS: Id guards a hit from Xantia's Utter Predictability for 43 hit points!
DC: Creative Free attacks can only have the flags Gatling, Reserve, Artillery, Pierce, Heal, Reload, Cover, Slow, Break, Weaken,
Quick, Shield, and Hyper.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi isn't intimidated by lightning at all; in fact, she absorbs non-magical electricity, and this time the lightning bolt only glances off her armor; otherwise it would've done more damage. So, Jacqueline wants to play with electricity? Two can do that. Malfi reverses her healing technique, intending to siphon off some of her opponent's bioelectrical energy, what the uneducated called life force. "Peace," she intones, "is impossible."

GS: Malfi has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Power Surge!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber critically Guards a hit from Malfi's Power Surge for 27 hit points!
GS: Malfi takes Cover! She gains 50 temporary hit points!
GS: Malfi drains Jacqueline Barber! Malfi gains 76 temporary hit points!
GS: Riesenlied heals Noeline! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Yarobeleedt

        Indeed, once upon a time, there was no such ideological difference that necessitated a split in castes, the extreme outcome of which can be plainly seen today. Yet, Yarobeleedt is an inevitable product of that outcome too... even if the tainted metals had never come into question, into play -- those that are regarded as failures such as him would have inevitably cropped up... wouldn't they?

        Devet yelps as she clutches her laptop, staring towards Yaro as he suddenly surfaces and smashes his aberrant saw-cleaver onto her barrier. It holds, but ever so barely as the orphans yelp and hurry behind her. "Yaro! G-geez, you almost gave me a heart attack-- just-- just go away!"

        It's no secret amongst the Ebon Wings: Devet isn't a fighter. She's long shirked her duty to take up martial arms, preferring technological research and software development up until now. She would be no match for him...

        "J-just keep going, I'll-- I'll try to--" she's hesitating and thinking of how to split her barrier to protect her children and herself--

        GERONIMOOOOOOOOO!!

        "Who--"

        Suddenly, a rock would go 'doink' against Yarobeleedt, hucked with... let's say mild strength. Enough for him to notice, not enough for him to be pained.

        A not-terribly-tall figure stands ontop of that ramp, dressed in leather and bearing a smock of various tools and gizmos liberated from a certain absent Veruni's workshop. Her hair is grey, the seams where her mouse ears visible.

        "Mr. Slug! Beware!! If you threaten those children-- you face Janey... Lord of Calamity!!!"

        Devet's face drops. "JANEY! You get in here right now!"

<Pose Tracker> Berserk has posed.

Siegfried arrives. And Berserk just stares on, blandly, as the soldier slams into a bloody smear to announce the Quarter Knight's arrival.

"'Bout time," sneers the large behemoth of a Demon. It is a meaning two-fold, as Berserk's clawed foot lifts.

"Still think that Tainted trash is so precious and wonderful now?"

But Berserk has never been good at subtlety.

CRUNCH.

"Heh heh heh heh..."

The sound of Berserk's chortle is a mild mockery that he projects just enough to carry through the fresh scars of war that the Wayside has become -- that the Wayside will BE. The sound of his feet crushing rubble and wounded underfoot like the sweet melody to his song of violence.

"You idiots were born in a gutter. Where did you ever get off, thinking you could live anywhere else after you SPIT on MOTHER'S FACE?!"

And there. There is the hatred. There is the rage, spit with flung saliva and gutteral spite as his thundering steps shudder across the ground, fast on the approach of that soldier seeking to help the Tainted to flee. A hand, massive, sweeps out, to grab him by the back of his head. Lift him, until his feet dangle off the ground.

"And you. You people. Are the worst of all. These Tainted? Whatever. Foregone conclusion. I told 'em ALL since the god damn beginning they were born with NO SENSE. But YOU? You're just STUPID. SOFT. And now we're just gonna hafta find the parts of you that aren't so we can use 'em for the people who deserve 'em, yeah?"

His hand exerts pressure over the soldier's skull. Slowly. To let him feel it mount to the inevitable, crushing exertion that will end his life.

"Don't worry. Pretty obvious we're not gonna be needing your brain. GA HA HA HA--"

A fluctuation of magic. A surge of a familiar sensation. "Eh?" Berserk turns--

And sees the form of Grudiev, seconds before he channels his wrath through his intermediary.

Magnetron Bomb!

AIR! SLASH!'

The ground quakes, cracks, SHATTERS beneath him in an explosive BURST of power that loosens his grip just enough to free the soldier in his grasp and allow him to scramble behind that fresh coverage. The crescent of golden chi that SLAM into him moments later distract him from pursuit as an annoyed snarl looses from his slavering jaws. He staggers backwards. Yellow eyes squint.

"... The hell are you doing here?" Berserk's voice flatlines. "Oh, don't tell me. The princess and her boyfriend suddenly think the trash are innocent just because they're trash. HAH! That's ADORABLE. You think, because they're kinda like you, they are you?! You wanna know how many of these rejects helped burn your people to a CRISP, PRINCESS?" His legs brace.

"'CAUSE I'LL POINT EACH ONE OF 'EM OUT TO YOU BEFORE I BREAK 'EM IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES, AND THEN YOU CAN TELL ME HOW PRECIOUS YOU REALLY THINK THEY ARE."

And he LEAPS.

It's a surge of motion that sends him skywards, body still smoking, at speeds impossible. His eyes fiery with rage, he descends rapidly upon Claude and Cecilia -- headfirst. With every intention of COLLIDING with them like a living missile of thickened, Metal Demon skull, focusing the brunt of his fury upon Claude.

"GA HA HA HA HA!!"

The impact RESOUNDS with brutal finality; earth cratering beneath him, Berserk RIPS himself upwards, snarling -- before a shot ricochets off his skull. He blinks. Turns his head. Squints. Gwen is familiar. Vaguely. "Who the hell are you, frail?" But not enough for him to bother trying to remember. He turns...

... and it is Zed, then, who arrives. Dramatic. Unassailable. Calling him the -hell out-. Berserk looks up towards Zed. Blinks slowly. He says he ought to face a real man.

And because he is Berserk, because he has always seen Zed as a comrade, if not a worthless one, he--

"You find one, tell me, runt! I'll smash 'em and show you how it's done!"

-- does not immediately put the implications of Zed's proclamations together. He will be furious when it all sinks in. Beyond furious. But for now...

"In the meantime--"

... for now, it still doesn't stops him from lashing out with the chain of his weapon, looking to ensnare Zed within it.

"How about you start bein' useful, and take care of this meatsack for me, huh?!"

And then HURL him at Gwen, as hard as possible.

Because he is still Berserk.

GS: CRITICAL! Berserk takes a glancing hit from Cassidy Cain's Blame It On My Youth for 115 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Berserk!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline is not a front-line fighter. Her role is, primarily, support - so finding herself face-to-face with an opponent like Malfi is somewhat of nightmare. Still, Jacqueline is not without her tricks. She can feel her life-force being sapped, and in response quickly brings up a pillar of earth using a Crest, temporarily separating herself from her opponent and cutting off the connection before she can take too much.

Jacqueline takes a deep breath. Her action has afforded her a moment of peace, but it won't be long now... She rummages through her bags, drawing out a potion...then starts to dart off to the side, hurling the bottle at Malfi.

If the bottle connects it'll shatter on impact, spilling out a liquid that has a tendency to sap strength from those who come into contact with it for too long.

GS: Riesenlied heals Lily Keil! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline is not a front-line fighter. Her role is, primarily, support - so finding herself face-to-face with an opponent like Malfi is somewhat of nightmare. Still, Jacqueline is not without her tricks. She can feel her life-force being sapped, and in response quickly brings up a pillar of earth using a Crest, temporarily separating herself from her opponent and cutting off the connection before she can take too much.

Jacqueline takes a deep breath. Her action has afforded her a moment of peace, but it won't be long now... She rummages through her bags, drawing out a potion...then starts to dart off to the side, hurling the bottle at Malfi.

If the bottle connects it'll shatter on impact, spilling out a liquid that has a tendency to sap strength from those who come into contact with it for too long.

"I don't believe that! I've seen these people...I know your kind is capable of kindness as well!" She replies.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Malfi with Sapping Salve!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Malfi takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Sapping Salve for 38 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Malfi!
<Pose Tracker> Berserk has posed.

Siegfried arrives. And Berserk just stares on, blandly, as the soldier slams into a bloody smear to announce the Quarter Knight's arrival.

"'Bout time," sneers the large behemoth of a Demon. It is a meaning two-fold, as Berserk's clawed foot lifts.

"Still think that Tainted trash is so precious and wonderful now?"

But Berserk has never been good at subtlety.

CRUNCH.

"Heh heh heh heh..."

The sound of Berserk's chortle is a mild mockery that he projects just enough to carry through the fresh scars of war that the Wayside has become -- that the Wayside will BE. The sound of his feet crushing rubble and wounded underfoot like the sweet melody to his song of violence.

"You idiots were born in a gutter. Where did you ever get off, thinking you could live anywhere else after you SPIT on MOTHER'S FACE?!"

And there. There is the hatred. There is the rage, spit with flung saliva and gutteral spite as his thundering steps shudder across the ground, fast on the approach of that soldier seeking to help the Tainted to flee. A hand, massive, sweeps out, to grab him by the back of his head. Lift him, until his feet dangle off the ground.

"And you. You people. Are the worst of all. These Tainted? Whatever. Foregone conclusion. I told 'em ALL since the god damn beginning they were born with NO SENSE. But YOU? You're just STUPID. SOFT. And now we're just gonna hafta find the parts of you that aren't so we can use 'em for the people who deserve 'em, yeah?"

His hand exerts pressure over the soldier's skull. Slowly. To let him feel it mount to the inevitable, crushing exertion that will end his life.

"Don't worry. Pretty obvious we're not gonna be needing your brain. GA HA HA HA--"

A fluctuation of magic. A surge of a familiar sensation. "Eh?" Berserk turns--

And sees the form of Grudiev, seconds before he channels his wrath through his intermediary.

Magnetron Bomb!

AIR! SLASH!'

The ground quakes, cracks, SHATTERS beneath him in an explosive BURST of power that loosens his grip just enough to free the soldier in his grasp and allow him to scramble behind that fresh coverage. The crescent of golden chi that SLAM into him moments later distract him from pursuit as an annoyed snarl looses from his slavering jaws. He staggers backwards. Yellow eyes squint.

"... The hell are you doing here?" Berserk's voice flatlines. "Oh, don't tell me. The princess and her boyfriend suddenly think the trash are innocent just because they're trash. HAH! That's ADORABLE. You think, because they're kinda like you, they are you?! You wanna know how many of these rejects helped burn your people to a CRISP, PRINCESS?" His legs brace.

"'CAUSE I'LL POINT EACH ONE OF 'EM OUT TO YOU BEFORE I BREAK 'EM IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES, AND THEN YOU CAN TELL ME HOW PRECIOUS YOU REALLY THINK THEY ARE."

And he LEAPS.

It's a surge of motion that sends him skywards, body still smoking, at speeds impossible. His eyes fiery with rage, he descends rapidly upon Claude and Cecilia -- headfirst. With every intention of COLLIDING with them like a living missile of thickened, Metal Demon skull, focusing the brunt of his fury upon Claude.

"GA HA HA HA HA!!"

The impact RESOUNDS with brutal finality; earth cratering beneath him, Berserk RIPS himself upwards, snarling -- before two shots ricochet off his skull in swift succession, the combined impact enough to make his head knock forward in a small lurch. He blinks. Turns his head. Squints. The blonde is unknown. Gwen, familiar. Vaguely. "Who the hell are you frails?" But not enough for him to bother trying to remember. He turns...

... and it is Zed, then, who arrives. Dramatic. Unassailable. Calling him the -hell out-. Berserk looks up towards Zed. Blinks slowly. He says he ought to face a real man.

And because he is Berserk, because he has always seen Zed as a comrade, if not a worthless one, he--

"You find one, tell me, runt! I'll smash 'em and show you how it's done!"

-- does not immediately put the implications of Zed's proclamations together. He will be furious when it all sinks in. Beyond furious. But for now...

"In the meantime--"

... for now, it still doesn't stops him from lashing out with the chain of his weapon, looking to ensnare Zed within it.

"How about you start bein' useful, and take care of these meatsack for me, huh?!"

And then HURL him at Gwen and Cassidy, as hard as possible.

Because he is still Berserk.

GS: Berserk has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Flatten!
GS: Berserk has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Hellacious Headbutt!
GS: Berserk has attacked Zed with Taunt!
GS: Berserk has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Zedball Special!
GS: Berserk has attacked Cassidy Cain with Zedball Special!
GS: Berserk has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Cecilia Adlehyde guards a hit from Berserk's Flatten for 115 hit points!
DC: MISS! Cassidy Cain completely evades Zedball Special from Berserk!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Berserk's Zedball Special for 82 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Despite a careful approach, Matilda finds herself assaulted by the leader of the Metal Demons anyway. She takes a quick sidestep to get out of the way of the slash itself and then throws up her arms to protect herself against the backblast of the shed itself.

A nail sticks in Matilda's armored under-layer, and she winces. "... Damn," she hisses, starting a sprint forward nevertheless. Now that she's been seen, the only option she has is to press in.

She doesn't press in... all the way, though. Matilda puts the knife away, though -- she can't get in that close, not yet. Nor would it be wise to do so in the first place, honestly. She picks up a handful of rubble and loads it into Freischütz's magazine slot hastily, strafing a little as she does so. She snaps the weapon up, and fires a steady stream of rocks and masonry in Siegfried's general direction -- no path forward but through him now, one supposes.

Matilda Whitehead has nothing to shout at Siegfried. She saw Adlehyde, true -- but it's not her place to seek its vengeance. In the end, she's just a person trying to evade oblivion. She does, however, think aloud...

"... Is it treachery if you abandoned her people first?" She has seen Wayside, after all. She has seen the Hyadeans who have had to make do with farming implements and utilities for body parts, scraping an existence from the wastes...

That's all she offers before giving Siegfried a second volley of rocks and masonry. More than that would probably not be her place.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Siegfried with Automatic Fire - Rocks!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Claude C. Kenny critically Guards a hit from Berserk's Hellacious Headbutt for 53 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi flinches as she feels her strength being sapped, but she's still far, far stronger than a human, even at that. "Kindness doesn't enter into it...we need to make Filgaia our home," she explains, before directing Bogey forward (at least as far as he can manage). "Which means changing this world completely." Jacqueline proves too sheltered to reach with her lance, so Malfi relies on her batteries again, putting that stolen life force to good use!

GS: Malfi has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Assault with Batteries!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Malfi's Assault with Batteries for 60 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Zed takes a glancing hit from Berserk's Taunt for 0 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Zed!
<Pose Tracker> Agatha Pyrelight has posed.

 'THE LORD OF CALAMITY!'
 
 "Oh my."
 
 Agatha smiles as one of her servants brings *that* bit of declaration back to her ears. "The Lord of Calamity, is it?" she asks with a faint smile, and picks up the pace, gliding across the ground as she moves towards where Yarobeleedt is generally making a mess of things. She had been intending to stay out of the situation for the most part, but hearing that sort of bold proclamation... that was something she couldn't pass up.
 
 It could make for some delightfully interesting tragedy, to say the least.
 
 The Pyre Witch comes to a halt a good hundred yards away from the incipient confrontation between the small yet terrible 'Lord of Calamity' and the massive Metal monster. Janey might be expecting to just get Yarobeleedt's attention - and she might with just that rock.
 
 But a flowing shadow moves across the ground behind the small girl, rising up behind her... and then Janey is backlit by a burning aura of red and black fire, spreading out behind her like a pair of terrible wings and a long flowing cloak. A dark and terrible voice, sounding like a hundred people shouting at once, bellows with a terrible authority.
 
 "ALL HAIL THE LORD OF CALAMITY! TREMBLE BEFORE HER MAGNIFICENCE AND KNOW DESPAIR!"
 
 Yaro might take her a *bit* more seriously now.

<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

        That crooked smile of Josie's only broadens. "The good stuff, huh? Let's call it a date, then," she tells Val, saucily raising a pale eyebrow before she turns to head for the stairs.

        It's something to make it through this alive for.

        Chaos fills the air outside. It's a fell wind that plucks at Josie's pinned tresses as she makes that call, of sorts.
        "Over and out, Sunshine," she informs Riesenlied, dark-eyed gaze watching the Tainted townsfolk flee -- and die -- in the streets below. "I'll do what I can."
        Do what doesn't get her killed.

        Though. That part of that little promise to herself may need reevaluation in the next seconds, as she takes that shot at the red-haired man astride the Gear--

        Josie's gaze narrows. She readjusts the rifle resting on her shoulder, squints through the sights

        spots Id as he spits out the bullet into his hand

        and a somewhat different expression settles over Josie's face as she processes what she's just seen happen.

        "Well, fuck me."

        Id gives her the bullet back. In a manner of speaking.

        She rises in a jolt, running, vaulting--

        Not fast enough. The section rooftop explodes behind her, throwing the archaeologist forward in a spray of tiling. Rolling into a low rise here atop the inn, Josie gets a brief look at the lay of the field below.
        Sights a familiar set of armor.
        "...Knew it," she mutters. the Demon in blue. It's him, Siegfried.
        "...Hope you know what you're doing, Sunshine."
        She pauses.
        "And you, too, Tiger."

        She, in the meantime, slips behind the ramshackle chimney atop the inn, tiles clattering underfoot.

        Who this bastard with the Gear is, she doesn't know, just that he's capable of doing something like that, just now. Quite possibly, she's bitten off more than she can chew.

        And yet.

        She still takes aim across the top of the chimney and cracks off a shot for the man atop the Gear.

        "Let's find out if you can bleed!"

GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Id with Rear Sight!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: Id critically Guards a hit from Josephine Lovelace's Rear Sight for 0 hit points!
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Matilda Whitehead's Automatic Fire - Rocks for 60 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Things get ugly... Quickly. And worse even than Lily expected at first. She watches what she interrupted, narrowing her eyes at Harken and throwing up a hand to shield her face from the sharpnel. The Quarter Knight speaks to her, and Lily looks with sharp golden eyes. She is waiting for the counterattack, expecting it--practically demanding it. So Azrael leaves Harken's hands...

Lily's hands are already up. There's a flicker of violet light as shadows erupt from Lily's hands and feet, becoming a shield that prevents the blade from finding its way into her blood and bone, merely knocking her backward with set teeth instead.

"I don't plan to leave one," Lily says. "...For once, I don't need to worry about civilians being in the way."

"Carver!" Lily starts to rush around--and that's when Siegfried lands. "Shit," she murmurs, "Of course they'd both go for the leader." Not that it doesn't seem to be more personal than that, of course. Talk of traitors. Lily speaks up, "She's like us, that way. Good at betrayal. I'd rather have her with us than most humans!" That, to Siegfried, as she throws a hand out to her side, and abrubtly there is a length of void in it, carved out from the world itself in the shape of a greatsword some six feet long. Lily takes it into both of her hands, this time, and quick-steps forward in a stance that isn't hers.

She's perfectly willing to rely on Harken's distraction to hack her back.

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Lady Harken with Black Wolf's Claw!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken takes a solid hit from Lily Keil's Black Wolf's Claw for 114 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        If nothing else... if nothing else, Noeline at least manages to keep her footing, her gaze held firmly towards Lady Harken and the Quarter Knight's imposing approach. Perhaps that counts for something; once upon a time, she wasn't possessed of even that sort of confidence. Once upon a time, hounded by the soldiers of the Photosphere as a matter of sport for being smaller and weaker than them, good practice for barbs both verbal and literal, she would have slunk back from it and slipped away in quiet acquiescence.

        Instead, she meets the Lady's taunt with that same grim frown, her expression holding steady through the faintly shifting aura that surrounds her, the mark of Duras Drum's power. Ever so slowly, she sounds out a faint chuckle, purposefully not rising to meet the other Quarter Knight. Keep them talking, if you can. Stretch out the battle as long as possible. Noeline would never claim to be Harken's match - but she can at least try her best to give those around her time to escape.

        "Forgive me, Lady Harken. I am but a Tainted, after all. There is no chance of my standing against your strength," she hums - and hauls her blade up both hands as her voice becomes sharper, edged with a steel she doesn't bring out often. "... but I'll damn well try."

        It's a cute sentiment, certainly - but of no use when Harken simply and abruptly enters her space, far faster than even Noeline can hope to defend against. The aura around her twists and buckles - and then is broken in the space of an instant, the power of the sealed Guardian hopeless against a Metal Demon's power.

        Her vision snaps back once; she realizes she's taken a punch somewhere in there, dull motion and a muted sensation making her wonder briefly if her arm is simply broken before her synapses catch up. When it comes, the pain sends her biting her lip hard enough to draw blood, desperately trying to reposition her sword - but the other demon's knee catches her and lifts her bodily off her feet, suspended in air and unable to squirm out of the way of Harken's final blow.

        Masonry crumbles around her; it takes her another moment to realize that she's tumbled straight through part of the orphanage wall to the dulcet tones of Siegfried's injured, hysterical roar of 'traitor', all too aware that there's simply too many targets, no way to deflect their leader's fanatical anger away from Riesenlied. Good job, she thinks sourly, and for a moment, the sword slips out of her hands--

        --but the light of Riesenlied's hope pulls her up from the ground like no matter of healing ever could, grimacing as her muscles protest and ignoring the pull of one shoulder. Wood and stone crumble off her back as she uses her sword to first prop and then heave herself back up.

        "I serve a power I trust in, Lady Harken," she responds as she does so, her red eyes flashing with a bright anger. "One that I know will allow me my own feelings and actions. --can you say the same for yourself?!"

        For a moment, she meets the other demon's eyes - and then she's abruptly broken off to one side, disappearing through a doorway that's somehow still standing, and into the corridors of the orphanage.

        For a moment it seems almost like she's chosen to cut and run - but then a sudden gout of purple flame explodes out of the other doorway next to where Riese is facing Siegfried. The burst of Sorcery is rough - unfocused and far too weak - but Noeline can only hope it's enough to mask her own assault, her form rising through it in the direction of the clash. Rather than trust in her ability to channel the Medium, she simply channels it through herself - hurling an offhand punch straight at their former leader's face. "--get away from her!"

GS: Noeline has attacked Siegfried with Pyrrhic Flame!
GS: Noeline takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: Noeline has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

It's true - while Jacqueline can tell that her potion has had some effect, even after that she's still dealing with someone who's leagues beyond the average human. Once more she finds electricity surging through her body - she's able to shrug it off a little better this time.

"We can work together! Riesenlied is trying to find a way...and I believe she can do it!" Jacqueline urges. She draws a Crest, and sends a pillar of earth flying straight for Bogey's side...but it's a feint. Jacqueline rushes off, ducking inside a nearby structure, devoid of citizens, to draw out one of her healing potions and downing it.

She has to think of a way out of this...

GS: Siegfried critically Guards a hit from Noeline's Pyrrhic Flame for 18 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Trusty Tonic!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Jacqueline Barber! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

        "USE NONE!!" Yarobeleedt screeches like a madness mantra. 'Worthless.' Treated as nothing more than a barely tolerated asset around the Photosphere, where attempts to reclaim and harvest his base materials are often dropped out of something else coming up... or just boredom on the part of those trying to stuff him in the recycler. Like a game of telephone, he catches those insults, those injuries, those injustices...
        And sees it fit to continue delivering them, in turn, to someone even weaker than himself. Someone who can't reasonably fight back, reclaiming dignity stolen by taking it from someone else. He rears back an arm, heedless to Devet's protests, when...
        doink
        A rock bounces off of him. He turns his head a little. One eye turns a lot, towards the very source of it...
        On top of the ramp, that... the rest of him turns around to face this tiny warrior, as she speaks...
        "The... the ^Load of Caramel Tree^?" Yaro's mind goes through all the little things he's seen in the last year or so of active operations. A bunch of strange people in simpler arms and armors, doing weird things and talking about looking for someone by that label.
        Another human that humans fear... is a scary human. Can it be? With no ability to truly understand the Malevolence - unable to reconcile what the hell happened with that strange female soldier on that battlefield who came at them like they were a Metal Beast unto themselves - there is no supporting evidence he can have against the claim.
        "what" His eyes widen, beady little irises contracting as to become invisible as he inches backwards. His forearms lose cohesion, spraying and twisting outward in shock as if to take on crude shield-like forms. "^Tiny Warrior Caste^ is ^Load of Caramel Tree^???"
        ...Now is not the time for anyone to be playing around, and yet, the slug-bug-snake-thing seems to be playing along? No, 'playing along' is not the term for it.

<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny is about as magical as any block of cheese you could name, so he doesn't really pay much attention to the self-declared Lord of Calamity, beyond experiencing a brief surge of pleasure at the progressive practices of the weird moon Alisha and her people come from. It's good that they let ladies be Lords.

Besides which, he is intensely focused on his present course of action, i.e., not dying. This is the third time he has fought Berserk and about the dozenth time he's fought a Quarter Knight; while he's never scored anything remotely close to a victory against any of them, he has learned a few lessons. They're tougher than humans, as well as stronger and faster. Their unique biology (ferrology?) means they can heal almost as fast as you can hurt them. They are scary and almost impossible to kill. Claude's advantage, in that sense, is that he can basically treat them like his mom.

"DRAGON'S HOOOOOOOOOOWL!" he screams as Berserk drives in, throwing a fistful of blue chi, forged into the visage of a shrieking dragon, up into the Quarter Knight's path. Berserk barrels through, but the ball of controlled violence slows the charge enough that the Boy from Earth can take a glancing blow, which spins him around in a tight circle. He lands hard on the ground and leaps back after the titan; lesson two of fighting Quarter Knights (and also his mom) is that focusing on defence is a good way to get killed. You've got to attack, attack, attack, and hope you do enough damage that they back off.

And so he fires another Air Slash toward Berserk's legs, trying to slow the Metal Demon general, then leaps up toward his face in a sudden rush, whirling his katana around in a half-moon arc aimed for the crest of the furious titan's helmet.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Berserk with Helmet Break!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Id has posed.

"Siegfried!" Id says. "My friend! My enemy! It's wonderful to fight with you on the same side! I see you've finally decided to kill your own people for not believing in your cause." Id chuckles to himself. "How very human of you. I'm proud!" He is not expecting Siegfried to go after him in this state. He shifts his gaze just slightly and...

Id frowns.

It's that...thing

He doesn't attack it. He just glowers at it for a brief moment before focusing back on Siegfried. Mikaia might as well not even be there.

In this moment, Neriah unleashes her dark power upon Id. The dark tendrils ripple around Id's body and he exhales as the power slams against him repeatedly, bashing him from left to right atop his gear's shoulderplate.

And then like Jiren, Id flexes outward and the dark tendrils are sent flying back and away from him.

"You aren't striking with conviction." Id tells Neriah. "Own what you did with your own two hands. Don't look away from it, don't succumb in terror at what you have done." He smirks. "It's not about losing control or keeping control, it's about making the power inside of you yours instead of Valmar's. Until you can do that, it matters little how you struggle. Don't believe in Gods..." He fans a hand towards her. "They don't exist!"

A crimson blast bursts out of Id's hand and flashes for Neriah's body. He is holding back as well--but for how long?

Xantia comes at him next, striking at him with a flurry of punches. He blocks these, but Xantia can tell she's hitting solidly against his hands. Id's own palms are a flurry of movements. As Xantia usually gets from Id, it's a look of curiousity more than cruelty.

He glances again to Riesenlied. Glancing away... in the middle of a fight?! He seems to be waiting for something. Maybe the true reason he's here--but what could he be waiting for? What is he expecting Riesenlied to do?

It's those higher causes that get the real body counts going.

Id says, "Maybe you were made to fight me." to Xantia. "Wouldn't that be something! Maybe there's a way we can find out." Id grabs for one of Xantia's hands and then throws her off of the Gear--

--but the Gear lashes out with a hand and grabs for Xantia, intending to tighten its grip around her. Gradually. Painfully. Id isn't trying to kill Xantia, just cause a great deal of pain.

"Feel free to call uncle whenever you'd like, kiddo!"

In a smooth motion he catches another Josephine bullet. He doesn't fling this back at Josephine however because something has caught his attention.

Janey? The Lord of Calamity?


She doesn't... feel like a Lord of Calamity, no--it's that's shadow. That entity. Either way, there's a method of making sure of these things."

Id promptly launches a second chi blast for Janey.

He then turns towards Josephine. "I feel like I'm a scientist again. All these experiments!" He says as the red gear launches itself for her. Id lashes out with a foot, intending to slam it against Josephine's wrist.

"You're just not strong enough." He tells her. "But I'll go slow so you can find the reserves deep within you." He smiles. The red gear won't let go--not if Xantia doesn't make it let go.

GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Helmet Break for 81 hit points!
GS: Id has attacked Neriah Parringer with Crimson Shot!
GS: Id has attacked Xantia with Mountain Crusher!
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer takes a glancing hit from Id's Crimson Shot for 136 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Id has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Demon Fist!
GS: Id has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi falls for the feint-- she's trained but not experienced. Bogey's side is bruised, but he's not seriously injured. She seeks out her opponent with keen hunter's instincts: compared to what some monsters can do, humans are crude hiders indeed. "Come out," she calls. "Come out and die." She directs a bit of healing energy towards herself while she waits...

GS: Malfi has attacked Malfi with Electrocutie!!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Malfi heals Malfi! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Xantia guards a hit from Id's Mountain Crusher for 122 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Josephine Lovelace takes a glancing hit from Id's Demon Fist for 170 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Yarobeleedt

        Janey-- wobbles and stares behind her for a moment, her* burning aura of power erupting behind her as she... for her age, for her relative childishness -- is actually pretty good at improvising and just rolling with things as they come. It's how she and Mikaia have come this far, how she's struck a bargain with Riese to live under her wing, how she's survived Little Twister.

        ALL HAIL THE LORD OF CALAMITY! TREMBLE BEFORE HER MAGNIFICENCE AND KNOW DESPAIR!!

        "..."

        Janey flaunts and-- sucks her breath in, and starts guffawing:

        "Gwa--haaa-haa--haaa-haaa-haaaaaaa!!"

        She folds her arms and spreads her hands to both sides. "Yooou've only witnessed a small inkling of my own power, Mister Slug!"

        Janey actually gets attacked for realsies, gawking as a chi blast has come -straight- for Devet, the children, Yarobeleedt, and her. Devet yelps as she forms up her barrier, but she can't get it wide enough for all of them--

        "MISTER SLUG!"

        She points to the incoming chi blast.

        "If you let me absorb that incoming light, I shall become even more powerful than you can imagine! I'll become... the Lord of DOUBLE Calamity!!"

        Mikaia whimpers and exclaims, "T-this isn't the time to be joking, Janey!"

        But they're in a deep pinch right now. Id's power could obliterate them in an instant. Will Yaro... fall for the bait?

        (*not actually hers)

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Berserk screams at her arrival. As always, Berserk's brutal, blunt assessment of the world makes her flinch almost as much as his absurd, phenomenal speed. She throws up her staff, a shining magic barrier sparking into being between her and Berserk's ENTIRE FACE.

The face wins; the barrier shatters and Cecilia goes skidding back before her legs fail her and she topples over, slamming into the wall of a structure she doesn't know the name of. "Nngh," she groans, vision swimming. Eventually she forces herself up while Berserk decides to go demolish some other people. "Maybe you should," she mumbles, as she forces herself to her feet. "I don't take them for innocents! But they're trying something else! Something new and amazing!"

Her eyes hood and the magic circle flares in front of her as she draws her powers forth, sparking energy crackling through her as she draws up a Crest Graph from her case. "I will protect that! SPARK!"

The magic circle sputters and sparks before releasing forking, screaming lightning downrange into Berserk, seizing his body in electric energy.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Berserk with Spark!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Spark for 106 hit points!
GS: Berserk enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

"YOU CALL THIS A FUTURE!" Siegfried screams down at Riesenlied. She fills with light, and he braces for an attack that never comes. Instead, she bolts her allies. A strange thought to a Metal Demon like Siegfried. It does not give him pause like it might, in ordinary circumstances. "To crawl around with weaklings and cowards! To give aid and succor to the humans! To take up arms with them! What future is this!?"

He reaches out for Riesenlied, his hand breaching through the waves of golden light. He reaches for her, the red blood on the ground -- and he tries to hurl her back with a shove, throwing her to the ground. "Have you forgotten what power is!? Where is your sword, Riesenlied?" he bellows at her. "Because kindness will not spare you today!"

He looks sideways at Berserk, and his lips curl back into a snarl. "Silence, Berserk!" he snaps. "Or I will see what use Alhazad can make of your carcass, when I finish with you!"

Bullets slam into Siegfried's side, the masonry hurled at him slams into his armor and leaves dents -- and he whirls to face Matilda. "Abandoned her people! Don't make me laugh! I protected them! I took a weak, broken people under my care--and kept them safe! I gave them purpose, and this is how I am repaid!? This is how Mother is repaid!?" Siegfried shouts at her. The arm cannon swivels -- and then a beam of blue light, tinged white, fires off towards Matilda. He can't answer Lily, because a blast of purple flame washes over him -- and then Noeline's fist slams into his palm.

Siegfried's massive hand crushes down around her hand, and he drags her upward. Then, he slams the Dark Spear at her, trying to pitch her away from him with all of his might.

'I see you've finally decided to kill your own people for not believing in your cause.'

Memories flash through Siegfried's mind's eyes. The Diablos Gears, standing over ruin and wreckage, as flames burn through a city. Mother, laying shattered at the feet of a man wreathed in red fire. Lacan, turning to stare at him, with a horror that shifts. Enkidu, laying broken and shattered in his arms. Siegfried turns his head, and then he screams.

"I am NOTHING like a human! NOTHING! This is for Mother--for a goddess, for something better than broken statues and spirits that these humans worship!" the Quarter Knight snarls, before he lifts his arm, and fires another beam of blue-white light for Id.

GS: Siegfried has attacked Riesenlied with Hyadean Martial Arts!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Ion Pulse!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Noeline with Nemesis Cleave!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Id with Ion Pulse!
GS: Siegfried has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Siegfried's Hyadean Martial Arts for 103 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a glancing hit from Siegfried's Ion Pulse for 69 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Oh. Oh no. Zed is standing there with his sword all outstretched and pointing so dramatically while his scarf billows so proudly in the breeze and--

And Berserk just...

"B-berserk," Zed looks positively dumbfounded, "Old Man, I mean, you gotta have... some kind of sense for the dramatic, right? This is the part where you scream at me for my unforeseen but inevitable betrayal and then I get to shout back about how I get to finally take vengeance for shoving me into a locker and I even put special confetti and smoke in my smoke bombs for this so maybe take me serio-oop."

Berserk... Gets Zed all tangled up in his chain! Zed squawks as his big dramatic speech is interrupted not only by THE MOST CLUELESS OF METAL DEMONS (who is so dense even a neutron star would break against his adamant chin) but also by said metal demon's flail. Specifically, by the chain bit. Zed is the flail in this comparison. And it's an unfortunate thing indeed that he is wrapped up in all those chains, because it only kind of lets him avoid being blasted by Cassidy's handcannon (even as he completely misses Cassidy herself) and by Siegfried's arm-mounted blaster. Doom Bringer flashes malignantly as beams and bullets partially ricochet off from the flat of the blade, but only partially. The metal fragments and the lingering energy from the blast find purchase in Zed's bound torso, but even so he has the wherewithal and the sense to say...

"Uncle Zeik... I knew you'd understand...!"

And then he smashes right into Gwen.

Comically. The kind of collision that ends with Zed's face shoved right up into her belly and under normal circumstances at least one serious concussion. Fortunately, Zed's head is harder than tempered steel, and he survives it with only a few scratches for his trouble.

"Uuuugh, Gwennnn," Zed groans, wobbling back up to his feet, "Are you okaaaay? This is getting crazy. Uhh. Where's Berserk...?"

Answer: being Dragon Howl'd.

Also happening: Janey has apparently become the Lord of Calamity for realzies? What happened to Lucia!?

"HEY, YOUNG LADY," Zed roars, "DON'T FORGET TO MAKE A COOL POSE WHEN YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF." Advice dispensed, Zed turns to his actual important business.

Ohhhh boy, this is gonna suck.

Zed closes his eyes and prepares for the inevitable. Doom Bringer surges with light as if in response. He ducks his head, charges at full speed, and...!

"BERSEEEERK!" Zed yells, "SORRY BUT I CAN'T PUNCH KIDS, SO CONSIDER THIS MY RESIGNATION!" He swings, his sword BLAZING WITH LIGHT. "ALSO, I'VE ALWAYS KIND OF WANTED TO FIGHT YOU SERIOUSLY, SO THIS IS AS GOOD AN EXCUSE AS ANY! YOU KNOW HOW IT IS, BATTLE LUST BURNING IN MY VEEEEEEEEEEEEINS!"

GS: Zed has attacked Berserk with RayBlade - Zed Saber!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Zed's RayBlade - Zed Saber for 59 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline takes a deep breath as she feels the potion running through her, supporting her. It's okay. She can do this.

Surprisingly, her opponent doesn't rush in after her. No, she issues a challenge. 'Come out and die.'

Jacqueline's expression falls somewhat. That's what this was about, wasn't it...? She shuts her eyes tight and...exhales. She emerges from the shelter, a pair of Crests drawn.

"...I'm sorry. I can't allow myself to die here. There are too many people counting on me. ...Sorry. I know it must be the same for you, so..." She replies.

And she invokes both Crests, practically at once. Energy tears at the ground around Bogey's feet, ripping up rock and stone and hurling it into the air, possibly with him and Malfi along with it. From above, there's that sensation of heat building once before before lightning crashes down, with enough force to send everything that had been brought into the air slamming into the ruined ground below.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Full Clip!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Oh great, Neriah realizes. Id's talking to Josephine - that nasty piece of work who talked down to her so awfully back in Nortune. Someone who's on Neriah's internal list of people she really wants to torture to death. So why don't you do it, Neriah?

Because you aren't striking with conviction, are you?

A little internal voice parrots the words Id is telling her even as she stares up at him, jaw set and eyes narrowed. She lowers her hand to her side and breathes, trying to ignore that nagging feeling. It's stubborn but she can't let it feel good, no matter how much she wants to let it all out and simply destroy him, destroy Josephine, destroy Berserk, destroy Matilda over there who told her she deserved to be summarily executed --

The sassback on the tip of her tongue dies a horrible death as Id hurls a blast towards her. The crimson energy rips towards the girl; she lets out a hiss and lunges to one side.

But it's not enough. The crimson light engulfs her and rips across flesh and fabric. Neriah cries out and staggers, then is thrown into the air bodily as part of her jacket is burned through. A horrific burn slashes across her side, the blast hurling her back far enough that she slams physically into a house and slides to the ground.

Neriah lands on her hands and knees, wincing with pain. Yet there's still a quiet fire behind her eyes as she scowls up towards where Id is hovering.

Make the power inside her yours, he urges her. He's right. Coward. All this time and you don't accept that the Chains of Arius are yours to break.

"I don't care about gods or demons," she rasps as she pulls herself back to her feet. "All I know is there are two kinds of people - the ones who give a shit about me and the ones who think I'm a monster. And if this curse can help me kill the second group for the sake of the first one...."

She trails off, even as she begins to build her magic up again. Coils of magic whirl up out of her body, writhing, then coalesceing along her arm. The thought goes unfinished. If it can, how far will you go?

Neriah doesn't answer herself; she answers Id with violence. Snapping her arm upwards, she unleashes an immense torrent of raw darkness. The negative energy swells into a beam easily big enough to fell a Gear, pseudopods of negative light writhing sickeningly outwards to form hideously twisted talons as the power of the Dark One rises to try and swallow Id whole.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Malfi with Dualcast - Voltaic Quake!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Id with Catastrophe!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Malfi takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Dualcast - Voltaic Quake for 279 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Agatha Pyrelight has posed.

 Oh that's even better.
 
 Gaining Id's attention is quite interesting, and clearly the strangely powerful man is willing to waste a potent shot just to test something.
 
 For Agatha, it doesn't really matter what the outcome is. Someone is going to take the hit, and if it's a poor innocent girl, or another Metal Demon... well, that was fine with her. The flaming wing banner continues tom burn behind Janey, giving her an air of menace and gravitas that she is probably getting some benefit from, even if it is attracting some sort of terrible attention from some of the more powerful people on the field.
 
 And Agatha smiles even more broadly, and just waits to see. Tragedy, or hilarity? She's fine with either.

<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi and Bogey are knocked right into the air by Jacqueline's duel attack. Both are bleeding chrome from the resulting wounds. Malfi is shaken -- though she'd never dare show it -- and enraged when they land, along with big earthen clods and a few rocks. She knows what to do now. Her opponent uses magic, so it's time to make the magic stop. Malfi readies an attack designed just for sorcerers...

GS: Malfi has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Mage Buster!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Noeline critically Guards a hit from Siegfried's Nemesis Cleave for 24 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber critically Guards a hit from Malfi's Mage Buster for 20 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

        Yarobeleedt can't see the crimson one giving them a sideglance. He doesn't have hairs on his neck. His neck stands up fine on its own. The timing of it adds further credence to the fearful claims of Janey, whom drinks up every passing second of this bizarre and unlikely scenario like it's a delectable giant goblet of strawberry milk, chewing the scenery with her Malevolence-tinged fangs fit to feast on a giant ham!!
        Yarobeleedt continues to cower, moving the shield-forearms into his line of vision... then tilting his head so that one eyeball can kinda-sorta peek over it. He shakes and shivers like he were caught out in Arctica, and not in the middle of the harsh Badlands desert...
        ...Then, from behind him, a great, life-rending, city-erasing power flies their way... and the ^Load of Caramel Tree^ lays down a difficult truth as he thinks back to his near-success against Fengalon's statue.
        That statue and its comfy plode job that it would not be fired from. Such power that wasn't a weapon to destroy, but to reinforce and empower... is what's coming... another such thing...?!
        "Then!! Then if Yarobeleedt get zeroth..." His jaw unhinges and almost falls off his face. If he could steal power, then he could use the power! Silly ^Load of Caramel Tree^, he thinks...
        He screams an ear-piercing yell as he leaps in the way of Id's power, throwing his arms aside as he lets it strike him dead on to absorb the power to reinforce and make him invincible--
        There is a tremendous crash and a spray of quicksilver tinged with the color of something that instinctively informs one they probably shouldn't touch (let alone ingest), as one unflattened Wayside structure collapses unto itself in a great, big dust cloud.
        If Yarobeleedt has stolen the power to become invincible like a ^Load of Caramel Tree^, he sure looks like he needs time to let it settle in as he lies sprawled against wreckage, tongue lolling out of his mouth as all sense seems to leave him in shock.
        "Fufufu," he cackles, "so silly, silly, now not double...!" A tactical win is a tactical win, he decides, as he loses sight of the children and their less-than-capable fighter of a guardian.

<Pose Tracker> Cassidy Cain has posed.

Berserk's words capture her attention immediately - something about Adlehyde and how he means to point out everyone else in Wayside that had been involved in its destruction. Not that she needs to be reminded; from where she stands, they were all complicit to that disaster, no matter which side of the line they stand, no matter Gwen's words earlier. Maybe if they had pulled out, she would be more forgiving.
 
 Maybe.
 
 But she remembers the seven days she spent watching him sputter in and out of life. The seven days she spent watching past and present fold together on a person's deathbed. Pupils shrink to mere pinpricks.
 
 "Oh, ay. Nae wonder you look familiar. I saw you, then. Saw you recently, too, in a flashback. Weird thing about the desert....sommat about it these days makes you see more of the past than anyone would prefer."
 
 Her smile remains, however faint, and the way her hand flicks to one side to dislodge the chamber on Hawthorne's revolver is deliberately casual, to slip another few rounds within before snapping it back in. She doesn't even look at Zed when he comes hurtling towards her and Gwen, merely taking a long step sideways, leaving the Metal Demon free to hurtle past her as she checks her weapons. Hawthorne's revolver, she stows away, for now.
 
 From her pouch, she takes out an object - under ambient light, it glitters, a strange metallic gem, with dozens of spikes protruding from it, sharp enough to cut skin when handled even carefully. A few of its barbs nick her fingers, drawing crimson beads.
 
 After a moment, the thing finds its way into a sling, and shot towards Berserk.
 
 "I pulled that out of the chest of one of yours," she tells him casually. "Loyal one, too. Would nae stoop tae this." She gestures to Wayside. "I looked him in the eyes while I gouged his heart out from his chest and felt it beat in my fingers. Certainly nae one of your traitors-- "
 
 BERSEERRRK SORRY BUT...CONSIDER THIS MY RESIGNATION...!
 
 "-- or your ex-employees. Wow. I dinnae ken the Abyss you all lived in was such a revolving door. Welcome to the real world, luv, you just cannae find good help these days. I mean-- "
 
 YOU CALL THIS A FUTURE?!!
 
 "-- between you and me, your boss sounds really frustrated about it."
 
 She levels the revolver towards Berserk again, attempting to draw a bead on one of his eyes and fires a single explosive round.
 
 "If it makes you feel any better, you'll nae get any of that from me. See, I want the same for yours as you do for mine."
 
 Her smile pulls up higher on her lips.
 
 "I want your entire race fookin culled from my planet. So what do you say, mate? Care tae make a wager as tae whose desire is stronger?"

GS: Cassidy Cain has attacked Berserk with Bye Bye Baby!
GS: Cassidy Cain has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer has canceled their attack on Id.
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Cassidy Cain's Bye Bye Baby for 37 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

Once, Harken may have qualified as Riesenlied's mentor. Pragmatic, but not needlessly cold. Violent, but not needlessly destructive. Driven, but not zealously dogmatic. The winged woman recalls correctly; Harken was disappointed in her, that time. Did believe that, when their conquest was complete, perhaps it would be Riesenlied's time.

Yet, this luminous devil shows no sign of recalling such. Not even the barest hint of a memory in Harken's mind gives her the slightest pause of hesitation. As if those thoughts had simply been

                wiped
                        out

"Your empathy tricks won't work on me, Riesenlied." Harken sneers her reply to that question, as Azrael boomerangs back into her hand, the blade slick with tainted blood. "Your desire for peace... what a joke! The proud leader who destroyed Adlehyde, retiring to raise orphans and farm! You MOCK everything you have ever built!" her words are backed by absolute conviction. As much as she may make fun of Riesenlied's empathy, perhaps therein lies a hint. There should be some -tiny- fraction of recognition in there, but there is a total, yawning, void.

                                     How?

Lily's gambit is a solid ploy. She summons forth what seems like the power of the gulf between stars to her hand, forming an inky black blade that drinks deeply of the light. A negative space. Nothingness. But, as she may recall from earlier encounters with the Quarter Knight,
                Harken accelerates.

The glowing circuitry upon the woman's armour has begun to glow rose instead of white, which would quite pretty if it didn't herald a marked increase in speed. Too-wide eyes swivel on that pale face, and where Harken's attention was once held solely by Riesenlied a moment ago--now her gaze locks furiously onto Lily.

The towering killer is an elusive target. Where Lily seemingly swings true, the horrible black blade bites only a shimmering afterimage at first, scouring a glowing trail upon the ground which looks more like a spatial anomaly than burned patch.

"Even the weakest Tainted is more than any human could hope to be." Harken corrects her assailant, who has rushed to Riesenlied's defense. "Even the interesting ones, like you," she licks her lips as Azrael's blade crashes against the weaponized nothingness. The noise is horrendous. "Still wither and pass with the years. No wonder you would cling to someone so superior."

It isn't all phantom dodges and perfection. Noeline has plenty left in her, despite getting rolled with the opening volley of blows. "I have ALWAYS believed in Lord Siegfried, you wretch!" Harken scowls at her fellow scythe-user, falling for the bait. She sounds proud of it, though. "A loyalty you could never imagine!" Shouldn't that be loyalty to Mother...?

Lily's final swing strikes true. A shower of sparks erupt from Harken's plate armour, as the void parts Hyadean steel and circuitry. But worryingly, something lurking underneath repels the blade before it can hit something vital. Something less technological. It's hard to tell.

"Now, there's that curious toy of yours..." Harken broods aloud, as Riesenlied and Noeline find themselves dealing with Siegfried's wrath. It is like being stared down by an entirely different predator to the one she faced last time. "I wonder what we'll find hiding in there, when I carve you open in the lab? What secrets set you apart from your kin...?"
                Harken accelerates.

The Quarter Knight doesn't just parry and riposte Lily's unthinkable weapon with her own, no, she leaps into the air with a braying cackle and seemingly splits into three. Two of the ghostly afterimages hang midair like an illusion, yet the crackling arc of sky-blue energy that flies from their scythe-sweeps towards Noeline and Riesenlied, beleaguered by Siegfried's assault as they are, seem very real.

The third one ricochets downwards and pulls Lily into a long and arduous dance of blades. Broad sweeps, quarterstaff strikes, Harken seems to be luring her into a test of wills. How long can that sword stay projected? How hard can she parry? How finely can she riposte? Whose horrible, alien weapon can last the longest?

"Impress me. More. More...!"

GS: Lady Harken has attacked Riesenlied with Spiteful Split-Image!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Oh great, Neriah realizes. Id's talking to Josephine - that nasty piece of work who talked down to her so awfully back in Nortune. Someone who's on Neriah's internal list of people she really wants to torture to death. So why don't you do it, idiot girl?

Because you aren't striking with conviction, are you?

A little internal voice parrots the words Id is telling her even as she stares up at him, jaw set and eyes narrowed. She lowers her hand to her side and breathes, trying to ignore that nagging feeling. It's stubborn but she can't let it feel good, no matter how much she wants to let it all out and simply destroy him, destroy Josephine, destroy Berserk, destroy Matilda over there who told her she deserved to be summarily executed --

The sassback on the tip of her tongue dies a horrible death as Id hurls a blast towards her. The crimson energy rips towards the girl; she lets out a hiss and lunges to one side.

But it's not enough. The crimson light engulfs her and rips across flesh and fabric. Neriah cries out and staggers, then is thrown into the air bodily as part of her jacket is burned through. A horrific burn slashes across her side, the blast hurling her back far enough that she slams physically into a house and slides to the ground.

Neriah lands on her hands and knees, wincing with pain. Yet there's still a quiet fire behind her eyes as she scowls up towards where Id is hovering.

Make the power inside her yours, he urges her. He's right. Coward. All this time and you don't accept that the Chains of Arius are yours to break.

"I don't care about gods or demons," she rasps as she pulls herself back to her feet. "All I know is there are two kinds of people - the ones who give a shit about me and the ones who think I'm a monster. And if this curse can help me kill the second group for the sake of the first one--

Id fires a chi blast at Janey.

"NO!" Neriah screams as her eyes bug out of her head in utter horror. Only the fact that Yarobeleedt is there, hurling himself into the path of the assault, prevents something horrible from taking place. If Janey is there, so's Mikaia. And if Mikaia is there--

Id can feel what happens as clearly as day. The aura of malice radiating out from Neriah builds and builds. It swells as sheer rage begins to override her good sense. "Don't you HURT HER," Neriah roars as she snaps her arm towards Id.

The buildings around her shudder and the ground vibrates as she unleashes an immense torrent of raw darkness, pouring out of her like water. The negative energy swells into a beam easily big enough to fell a Gear, pseudopods of negative light writhing sickeningly outwards to form hideously twisted talons as the power of the Dark One rises to try and swallow Id whole. And yet through it all, there is still that thought in her mind:

I mustn't. I mustn't. I mustn't. If I lose control I'll kill Janey and Mikaia trying to save them.

I M U S T N ' T .

GS: Lady Harken has attacked Noeline with Spiteful Split-Image!
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Lily Keil with Azrael - Cross Cut!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Id with Catastrophe!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Lady Harken with Inner Focus!
GS: Lady Harken has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken heals Lady Harken! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Lady Harken's Azrael - Cross Cut for 189 hit points!
GS: Poison and Cripple! Statuses applied to Lily Keil!
GS: CRITICAL! Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Lady Harken's Spiteful Split-Image for 68 hit points!
GS: Poison and Cripple! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Noeline critically Guards a hit from Lady Harken's Spiteful Split-Image for 22 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Id guards a hit from Siegfried's Ion Pulse for 92 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Even after that, her opponent is still intent on fighting...Jacqueline herself is shaken, as well, though a part of that was due to the fact that she was a little winded from her own combination of spells.

She stumbles a little bit from their impact against the ground, and as she does so, she feels Malfi attacking her very core, trying to cut off the source of her Sorcery...

Jacqueline shuts her eyes tight and invokes another Crest, an earth pillar shooting out in an attempt to slam into Malfi and knock her off her mount, or at least interrupt her before she can succeed.

Without her Sorcery, she wouldn't stand a chance...she couldn't allow that attack to continue.

"Please...just turn around and leave these people alone." Jacqueline urges. ...She had a feeling that Malfi wouldn't accept that, though.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Malfi with Pillar Crash!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Malfi critically Guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Pillar Crash for 36 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        There's a rattled flinch from Riesenlied as Matilda's assault goes a little awry, as Siegfried lays the offensive on her first. She witnesses that ARM of Matilda's again as she strafes and peppers rocks upon him -- she needs to give her some support as well, or they'll all be demolished before long.

        Noeline has tumbled behind her, towards the orphanage wall -- she winces just for a moment. Too many people need her assistance, now and again... prioritise, Riesenlied, prioritise! Just as she's found herself frightened, however, Noeline comes to her aid as she assaults Siegfried, to push her away and give her breathing space. She doesn't waste it.

        "How much longer, Cetiri, Lydia?" Riesenlied asks more quietly, in a rare din in the combat.

        "Three minutes. That is the bare minimum for our preparations," answers Cetiri over the comms.

        "Three minutes it is," Riesenlied utters, looking towards Lily as she summons more power. She trembles for a moment -- would she see the conflagration that she saw consume Kaiser Sigmund's Summer home once more? She trusts in Lily... yet, she can't help but feel an old scar on her chest flare up when she sees that greatsword--

        That greatsword of hate.

        She's suddenly lifted straight off her feet, Siegfried's blue gauntlet grabbing her lightweight form like it were a ragdoll. She nearly chokes as his hand seizes on her.

        "They are not... weaklings. And they are certainly not... cowards," Riesenlied resists through words, coughing and being flung to crash through the same orphanage wall that Noeline once burst through.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        Cassidy's reaction is rather understandable. "Well, I should kinda explain that they're... not seen as exactly the creme of the crop, normally? Like, from what I know, they're kinda seen as trash."

        Those words echo through Gwen's head now as she sees that very prejudice in action. A brief look on horror crosses her face, distracting her nicely from Cassidy's arrival. But not the guns. "Whoahwhoahwhoah! Hey there, let's not--" *BANG* She's a second too late.

        That's also the time Siegfried shoots at her on his way to Riesenlied, the impact causing another one of those bandages to become stained with blood. "Goddamn it-"
        
        Berserk is staring at her and Cassidy. 'Who the hell are you frails?' "It's okay! To be honest, our last meetin' was kinda lackluster. It was my hometown, I was embarrassed, y'know." She packs her left fist into her right hand. "Then again, maybe I just punched you so hard my name just clean fell out of your head. Would'ja even known itOH Guardi-" Zed puts a stop to Gwen's little speech, by knocking the air right out of her. Sure, he's got a nicely metal head to help with any possible concussions, but that head is wedged RIGHT IN HER STOMACH.

        Thankfully, he's nice enough to ask if she's okay. Gwen sits up, groaning. "Lessjus call it even after the whole chili spice thing..." she says, wobbling to her feet.

        'I will protect that!' Gwen looks over at the battered former princess, declaring her verdict at the advancing Berserk. Her expression softens, realizing the full context of Cecilia's words. This was a young woman who had to deal with her father being killed by Metal Demons, as well as her entire homeland being overrun by them. And now...

        Well, the moment would feel a little grander if Cassidy wasn't reiterating the opposing view. Well, at least she's here to help, right? Right?

        Running up to Berserk while he is (hopefully) distracted, Gwen gets her knife out, and attempts to jam it into a part of his armor, like a knife into an oyster. "How's this?"

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Berserk with Comet Clip!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Riesenlied looks horrific and wounded as she slumps to one side. She has crashed into a large room-- and if Harken and Siegfried would give chase, it would be clear that this is the primary play room of the orphanage. Crayon drawings are pinned on the walls, lined up from side to side.
                                                                               
         a cheerful stick figure of a dragon-lady and a twintail-lady
                                                                               
          a blobby 'muni~~' carrying the kids near to a swirly sun :)
                                                                               
     a dark haired lady and a blonde man marked 'lily' and 'leon' with a big
                       oversized flame and buster sword

        Meaningless. Such... drivel. Human sentiment, however young. And yet...?

        Another big one, on the wall. Riesenlied is there, as is Noeline. As is the rest of the Ebon Wings... and the children... and the rest of Tainted, yet...

        a blue figure in armor and an oversized cape and a cool long haired lady with a cape and scythe behind them. It looks like the kind of figure that could only have been drawn through description, not sight.

        There is crayon scrawling on the wall: 'granpa?? :) big sis! :) one day'

        "... it is not a trick, Lady Harken. It is pure and simple, spoken from the heart. And that you do not recall..." Riesenlied clenches her teeth. "What are you allowed to know...? What are you..." she shivers for a moment. "Did I destroy Adlehyde, Lady Harken, or is that a mere fabrication once more...?!"

        Riesenlied haggardly whispers through wound and pain both, "Even in Adlehyde, I stayed my hand. These children have shown me... a love that I could not understand in the Photosphere. A love Noeline has shown me, that all of these Drifters have..."

        She plants a hand to her chest as she appeals to him again, even though it is undoubtedly so futile. She lowers her head, grimacing. "It is out of love for you that had me endure for so long..."

        "When you first told me that Arctica would save Mother, to see the elation on your face so... I bore the pain then... and-- to see you seize upon the Teardrop and tell me, 'One more'... only one more..."

        She lowers her head further. "I have no strength in my arm to wield a sword. Not against you. All I have-- is my love, Lord Siegfried. My desire to see you heal. And that will never change. Ever."

        She speaks with conviction, thrumming with power that seeks to appeal to something inside of him...

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Siegfried with Rising Heart - 'Wave-Particle Duality'!
GS: Riesenlied takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Jay's pillar slams into Bogey but doesn't do as much damage as she'd hoped, nor does it knock Malfi off his back. Malfi grins wickedly, her left arm forming into tendrils to ensnare the sorceress. If she succeeds, Jacqueline MAY be lucky enough to live out her days as one of Malfi's specimens (which is still infinitely preferable to being one of Alhazred's "toys").

GS: Malfi has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Cybersnare!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Siegfried takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Wave-Particle Duality' for 0 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak! Statuses applied to Siegfried!
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Malfi's Cybersnare for 51 hit points!
GS: Entangle! Statuses applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: CRITICAL! Berserk takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Comet Clip for 86 hit points!
GS: Cripple and Jam! Statuses applied to Berserk!
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

        Spoilers: Id doesn't bleed. In yet another defiance of all that is good and just in this world, he snatches her bullet right out of the air.

        Josie's smile attains a somewhat strained quality.
        "Hmm. Guess you don't?" she offers to the air.

        A counterattack is not immediately forthcoming.
        The reason why can be found on the ground below. Too late, Josephine realizes the source of it... and what Id is intending to do about it.

        Normally it wouldn't matter. She has her target right now, she doesn't need to worry about someone else's skin.
        Kids are different.
        Vaulting over the chimney and sacrificing what little cover it might have presented, she snaps the rifle out, already lining up that next shot.
        Even though it's already too late.

        And that's as far as she gets when Id's foot slams into her wrist, pinning her against the rooftop. The Gawain-series rifle slides from her grasp and rattles its way down into the gutter.
        Out of reach.

        Her gaze focuses on the man now standing above her as she blinks.

        "Not strong enough, huh...?"
        She stares at him, dark eyes curiously wide.
        Through him.

        Her mouth splits into a wide smile, of the unhinged type. A low chuckle escapes Josie's throat.

        "Don't think you've beat me yet, kid."

        Her lips move briefly, a fleeting invocation of a few hoarse syllables. And she plants her right hand -- her maimed hand -- on Id's calf.

        The onrush of galvanic force driven through her arm comes soon after.

        She's only dully aware of the darkness rising and roaring, the bass thrum echo of Neriah's power being channeled in the background.

GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Id with Bolt Lance!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Id critically Guards a hit from Josephine Lovelace's Bolt Lance for 16 hit points!
GS: Cripple and Jam! Statuses applied to Id!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Yarobeleedt
        Janey is just about beside herself with terror, and yet has experienced firsthand how empowering the adrenaline that terror brings... nodding as she-- puts on a mock-look of terror. "No! Mister Slug, don't you dare--"

        And she dives headfirst into Devet's barrier as everyone huddles behind the youngest Ebon Wings' cybernetic barriers. There's a powerful throooom, and Janey grimaces as she coughs and says, "T-that's a bit much even for me, but-- let's go!"

        Devet nods as she whispers, "Riese is going to yank me from ear to ear for this...!" as she hurries, the orphans finally getting clear to run away as Janey stares back towards the slug.

        "... I'll get you for this, Mister Slug!! Don't abuse that power, and I'll rob it back from you as soon as I can -- this I swear, as Lord of Calamity!!" Janey hollers at Yarobleeedt.

        Well, you gotta maintain kayfabe till the end...

GS: Id guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Catastrophe for 73 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

She managed to dismount Malfi. Jacqueline breathes a sigh of relief. She'll be much more dangerous without the added benefit of a mount...

...or so she thought.

She knew some Metal Demons were capable of altering their forms, but Malfi hadn't displayed that capability up to that point, and so it hadn't entered her mind.

"A-ah!" She lets out a gasp of surprise and invokes a pillar. Some of Malfi's tendrils collide with it...but the rest snake around it, getting her in a solid grapple. The Crest falls from Jacqueline's hand as she is lifted, and the pillar in front of her dissipates.

She struggles to reach her Crest Pouch...but she can't reach that far. The only thing she can reach is...

...is...

"I-I...I'm sorry!" Jacqueline says, pulling her knife from her pouch with some difficulty and cutting at the tendrils keeping her in place.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Malfi with Harvester!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Malfi guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Harvester for 60 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

That arm cannon fires, and Matilda hits the dirt -- but it's not enough, not fast enough. Though it's only a little bit of exposed flesh along the side, flesh does sizzle, and the compounder lets out a strangled scream. She stays on the ground for a few moments. She could just stay here, she realizes. She could probably pass for a corpse.

... but no. Matilda pulls herself back to her feet before she even realizes she's doing it. "... Hnh," she snorts, trading Freischütz for her knife. That knife has put in a lot of work for Matilda lately; what was once a holdout weapon has become an essential part of Matilda's style. "'Purpose.' 'Safe.'" She practically spits each word with disgust.

"You've been on Filgaia a lot longer than I have, and you haven't figured it out? There's no purpose here. There's no safety here. Anyone who tries to give you something like that just wants to control you." She stalks toward Siegfried, stance low -- and then leaps, driving a knife for the cannon-arm and following up with a quick judo-style trip using the stab as a fulcrum.

... a little on the ambitious side given her target, perhaps, but what other choice does she have but to be ambitious? The alternative is a sure death -- just slower.

"You gave them nothing, and they owe you nothing."

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Siegfried with Planting a Seed!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi winces a little as Jay cuts into her tendrils. The damage is more cosmetic than dangerous, quicksilver blood leaking out around the contusions. The first order of business was to stop that knife. Malfi directs her uninjured tendrils around Jay's hands -- or attempts to -- which should put a stop to the cutting AND prevent her from reaching her Crests. She pulls the Sorceress closer, lifting her off the ground. "You may be worthy to be spared," Malfi comments without further explanation. "I'd like to study you." She immobilizes Jacqueline as completely as she can while waiting for a response. Humans, she was learning, often have surprising abilities.

GS: Malfi has attacked Malfi with Electrocutie!!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Malfi heals Malfi! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

        'Mister Slug,' maybe more appropriately now 'Mister Slugged,' twirls and stirs from his little heap. The twitching intensifies as a washing wave of unlight barely restrained in Neriah's moment of heightened emotion sees him rise up and hide himself against the contours of the ruin. Unable to discern the true nature of Neriah's capacity for kindness and companionship for what dwells within her, Yarobeleedt can only take any stimulus, any movement, any idea foreign to him as the one thing he understands.
        A threat.
        He hides accordingly, now crouched down in the ruin of the playroom that Riesenlied crashes into separately. In the shadows, away from sight, he sees the elaborate tactical anatomical detailings of the weaknesses of a number of the Quarter Knights, of the ^Tainted^ herself, and of the ^Crimson Fable^.
        No wonder Riesenlied bends knee to these terrifying creatures. They know her weaknesses in such exacting detail...
        ...So gripped by fear and cowardice in the wake of Lady Harken, he dares not reveal himself - he dares not take a swipe, as Riesenlied goes off on a spiel about... what? Love? What is she doing. She is an enemy. Why is she walking towards Load Zeikfried like that? That is not how enemies battle.
        Even for ^Tainted^ this is weird... but for one who hates her so much, for one that wishes to see her utter destruction for turning into a slave to the humans out of sheer cowardice and forgetting the power of Mother and what she'll do to the ^Tiny Warrior Caste^ when she awakens...
        He can't find it in him to reach out and try to stab her, so bewildered and perplexed he slithers out away from Riesenlied and the Quarter Knights surrounding her.
        "No overstand..." He quivers, flattening against the outer wall as he struggles with all the weird things he cannot make sense of going on.

GS: CRITICAL! Siegfried guards a hit from Matilda Whitehead's Planting a Seed for 140 hit points!
GS: Cripple and Jam! Statuses applied to Siegfried!
<Pose Tracker> Berserk has posed.

"Heh."

It isn't really satisfaction that crosses the features of the Quarter Knight Berserk as he watches Zed fly towards the two irritants daring to try to interrupt him. It's more catharsis. All of this. Catharsis. Catharsis for having to put up with this frailty for so long. Catharsis for the ones who would blatantly turn their back on Mother to support the ones who would sooner see them extinct.

Catharsis for every. Moment. He had to share air with these weak fools.

And just like that, they are forgotten, as if they never even existed. He turns his attention away, back to all of them as he pounds ground on a path towards the bunker. And then he pauses. Yellow eyes turn towards the orphanage, as if in thought.

"Hrnmf."

He sees them. Riesenlied. Noeline. The causes of all of this. The origin point of all these Tainted thinking they had the spine enough to turn their back on everything they are.

And so he turns, slowly, in that direction. One foot lifts.

... And is introduced towards the edge of another Air Slash, sweeping at his limb and colliding with an explosion of just enough force to make him hesitate, for a single, precious moment. "Hrn?"

A moment that Claude immediately capitalizes on by launching into the air and bringing that katana down into a singuarly violent arc. The sharp blade COLLIDES with the green, horned outcropping of the crest on Berserk's dense skull.

And comes to an abrupt stop, wedged in place there in a shallow gauge, trembling with the strain of Claude's swing against the impossible durability of Berserk's head.

"... Heh heh. I've eaten -Tainted- that howl more intimidatingly than you do, meatsack."

And Claude can be left to ponder the implications of this for another time because right now, Berserk is following up his statement with a freight train of a right hook aimed to clobber him -- right in the direction of the orphanage.

And off he walks again, until he hears Cecilia's mumbling words. He pauses, looking towards the shaman priestess. Squinting at her. Magic -sparks- in a circle of violet crests before -bolting- into him in electrical currents that would seize most anyone within crippling spasms. And even for Berserk, it does for a time, lightning dancing its chaotic arcs across his metal flesh, making the alien physiology that is his body sputter and pause.

"Heh... hah... GA HA HA HA!"

For a time.

Until that chain -lashes- out, attempting to snare Cecilia by the throat and -hold- her, even as electricity lingers in little glowing ebbs around clenching, green claws.

"Come ON! COME ON! BE HONEST, PRINCESS! I bet a tiny part of you is loving this! Lookit 'em! Scrambling away, just like your WEAK little GRUNTS did, crying out for mercy, just like YOU WORTHLESS SACKS OF GARBAGE. Satisfying, isn't it? To watch 'em burn, like they made you burn?" His lips curdle into an ugly, ugly grin.

"Think I'm gonna let you live to the end, princess. So you can see what the new and AMAZING things of weaklings ever amount to."

And then he -tugs- on that chain -- intent on hurdling Cecilia, head-first, towards the orphanage, with an impact that will no doubt disorient if allowed to complete itself.

"A MOUNTAIN OF ASH! GA HA HA HA!"

His laughter ripples across his belly, a full bodied thing that shudders his tremendous frame even as he -yanks- his wrecking ball chain back with the clank of jangling metal through the air. It's a laughter that subsides only slowly as Cassidy speaks, yellow eyes turning her way as he regards that metallic gem in her hand. He knows exactly what it is, if not the source. He knows what she's trying to say. The beating heart of one of his men. Loyal. She shoots it at him.

And whatever she might have expected, what that heart meets is the open jaws of Berserk's gaping maw.

Crystal crushes beneath slavering sharp teeth, metal churned into so much shredded aftermath before --

*gulp*

-- Berserk eats the heart of Vorthuzahl without even so much as blinking, the dead-eyed stare of a shark burning its holes into Cassidy Cain's gold-flecked gaze. "Dunno you," he says, once he's finished, voice flat. "Probably won't remember who you are after you're gone. You mad about something? That ice land, maybe? Think we killed most of 'em, though. Can't be that." His head tilts. "Adlehyde, then. Heh. Whatever. You wanna know the sad, sorry truth about all your sad, sorry woes, little frail?"

She puts that bead on him. But she chooses the worst time, as he hears Zed in the distance. Sees him charging. Assumes that it will be towards Cassidy, like they -discussed-.

"YOU WOULDN'T BE HAVING ANY OF THEM IF YOU AND YOURS WEREN'T SO. GOD. DAMN. WEAK."

She shoots. His maw opens, fully intent to -eat that explosive bullet- too. He lurches forward --

--and with a cry of his resignation, Zed CARVES his light-soaked blade through Berserk's bristling body, sending him arching off his path just as that bullet EXPLODES across the side of his skull.

For a moment, Berserk just stands there. A wound glowing a bright orange of superheated metal across his chest. A scorchmark decorating his skull, billowing smoke into the air. He just stands there, and stares. Wide-eyed. At that wound.

"... you hit me..."

He hit him. Zed. Hit. Him. Zed. TURNED. ON. HIM.

BETRAYED HIM

"................................."

There are no words. And perhaps that is exactly what makes it worse as a cold stare focuses itself upon Zed, and -snatches- him by the head, intent to -lift- him up off the ground and -hold- him.

He hit him. He hit him. He hit him he hit him he hit him HE HIT HIM HE HIT HIM HE--

"You like kids so damn much, huh."

And then?

Berserk answers Cassidy Cain's challenge by LAUNCHING towards her in a bull's rush with Zed in tow, his eyes wide and spittle flinging from his searing lips.

"LET'S GO SEE THEM, THEN."

Cassidy wants to cull his race? Wants to make a wager?

Berserk answers with the sheer indifference of his palm as it seeks to SMASH into her entire face and -drag- her along in his charge. "YOU WANNA KILL US? HAVE YOU BEEN TRYING? HOW'S IT GOING FOR YOU?! WHAT SAD SHIT DID WE DO TO YOU, EH? KILL A FRIEND? FAMILY? -WHO GIVES A SHIT-. BOO HOO! YOUR WEAK MEATBAG LOVER GOT THEIR DUMB ASS KILLED BECAUSE -THEY WERE TOO MUCH OF A WEAK DUMBASS-. THE WORLD WEEPS FOR YOU."

Fury bellows at his lips so loudly it would give anyone too close tinnitus. And right in that path is Gwen. Poor, brave Gwen, facing down the charging Berserk--

--and -stabbing- him directly in one of his exposed shoulders to score a shallow wound even as he has every intention of dragging HER along.

As Berserk barrels into the orphanage where the other two Quarter Knights linger with hell and wrath upon his heels.

"Dunno! HOW'S THS?!"
BOOOOOOOOOOOM

GS: Berserk has activated a Force Action!
GS: Berserk has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Torment!
GS: Berserk has attacked Zed with Torment!
GS: Berserk has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Concussive Carnage!
GS: Berserk has attacked Cassidy Cain with Torment!
GS: Berserk has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Torment!
GS: Berserk has completed his action.
GS: Zed takes a solid hit from Berserk's Torment for 179 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Cecilia Adlehyde guards a hit from Berserk's Concussive Carnage for 124 hit points!
GS: Claude C. Kenny guards a hit from Berserk's Torment for 103 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Xantia is really determined to make it up to Id. Metal Beasts are sent careening off course in mid-leap while the red-haired pugilist uses them as makeshift platforms to push herself off and gain the height required to launch herself onto Id's Gear, immediately engaging him in hand-to-hand combat. Though he's on the defensive, Xantia can instinctively tell that this is not fully due to her own merits. He's just choosing not to strike yet. She's not about to let her guard down. Where Id's concerned, at least. She barely even processes that others are also fighting him, and she should probably be careful of stray bullets or terrible powers of darkness tearing her apart by proximity.

Maybe you were made to fight me.

It only takes a response like that to unbalance Xantia's focus, immediately evident in her following punch lacking the same force as the previous. She isn't even sure how she feels about that possibility. It would be a purpose, at least. Could it really be that simple?

She doesn't have a whole lot of time to consider things further. Her slower strikes make it easy to intercept and unbalance her, sending Xantia falling-- only to be caught immediately, within the hand of Id's Gear. It doesn't take her very long to realize what's happening. Stretching her arms as far as they can go within its constrictive grasp, she uses her superhuman strength to push back against the force being used against her. She can't manage to open the hand any further, but it also doesn't manage to close on her any further. A stalemate.

For a time, at least. The effort isn't exactly painless, and is rapidly exhausting her. Even her physical strength has limits. Id's calling on her to call uncle. Surprisingly, she doesn't interpret this as him literally claiming to be her uncle, she's heard that particular term before. He wants her to give up. But when she starts to consider this--

A huge red blade suddenly bursts straight through the Gear's hand. Xantia does possess an ARM capable of producing such an energy blade, but it's not normally anywhere big enough to match the size of a Gear's hand. Still, that's exactly what she's using in an attempt to cut herself free from the machine, while using her her left hand to make certain she won't fall, and flip herself back onto the Gear to face Id once again. Her expression is very different from before, all emotion drained from it. Just sort of staring Id down while the blade dissolves into thin air.

Ether. Now it's clear: the blade isn't actually generated by the ARM. The ARM is an amplifier that gives shape to Xantia's will, a focus for her innate abilities.

A moment later, Xantia blinks, looks confused a moment, then reassumes her fighting stance. "How about that? Looks like I got out just fine!" Somehow. It's obvious enough that she did, but the exact means are a little hazy... oh well, she'll worry about that later.

GS: Xantia has activated a Force Action!
GS: Xantia has attacked Id with Crimson Flash!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
GS: Id critically Guards a hit from Xantia's Crimson Flash for 19 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        There is an instant where Noeline's heart lurches with genuine fear, her attack stopped dead in Siegfried's fist as she hangs in the air and still riding on the momentum of her wild strike. The fact that she and Matilda have helped to reduce the Quarter Knight's attack on Riesenlied to a simple shove is a comfort, but that comfort is very cold when she's a few inches away from the wild and impossibly angry look in the demon leader's eyes, the Dark Spear steady in his grip and raised towards her.

        and yet

         and yet

        Keep watching, all the time. Learn everything you can. That sheer and overriding curiosity was the creed that allowed her to leave the Photosphere and strike out into the human world; that belief was what allowed her to soak up its culture and history, to slide herself into it and wear it like a coat, to ultimately let it shape her into the woman she is today. Even now, here in Wayside, she's done her best to keep that going.

        Even now, in the back of her mind, she registers the wild look in Siegfried's eyes. He has always been a perfect foot soldier for Mother - caring for her, fighting in her name - but she finds herself absolutely certain that there's something else behind that fury he's showing today, and Noeline tucks that thought away carefully, packaging it neatly into a recess in the back of her mind--

        Her thoughts are interrupted as she's lifted into the air by the force of Siegfried's throw, but somehow it already feels like the wild fury beneath her has changed the course of the battle; she catches the lip of the orphanage roof - or what remains of it - for just long enough to gain the leverage to bring the wide flat of her blade to slam against the tip of the spear, the weight of the metal pressing down it and pushing it aside as a line of shearing sparks lights up the space between them.

        There's no time for her to raise a rebuttal; a thrum of air sounds out just bare inches above her head from Harken's direction. She feels it more than she hears it, like a physical thing as the other Quarter Knight's attack barely slips by her; for a wild moment part of Noeline's overactive mind almost imagines she could reach out and clasp the scythe made out of force, and very nearly does.

        But then the demon's words reach her - and she feels a different sort of emotion take her over, feeling an anger of her own rise to the fore. Abruptly, she's rounded on Harken, that fire in her eyes a blaze. "Why the hell would I mean Siegfried? Or have you already been made to forget Lacour and what transpired there?!" she accuses, picking up speed; she suddenly sweeps low, far lower than she should be able to sustain with a sword that heavy and huge and yet managing anyway.

        The sweep she delivers is enormously wide, the blade at its full length; Noeline simply lets the tip of her weapon fall to the ground in its wake, then pushes forwards to lever herself up and over into a somersaulting strike, simply bringing its size to bear down on the demonic scythe. "--Alhazred, Lady Harken! How can one speak of loyalty when there's only control?!"

GS: Noeline has attacked Lady Harken with Lacy Dance!
GS: Noeline takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: Noeline has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken takes a solid hit from Noeline's Lacy Dance for 160 hit points!
GS: Cassidy Cain takes a glancing hit from Berserk's Torment for 88 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline keeps cutting, but Malfi's regenerative capabilities prove strong. She finds herself lifted off her feet and drawn closer to Malfi. One tendrils grabs her knife-hand, but her other hand retreats into one of her bags before it can be snared.

"W-we can talk, if you like...but I'd appreciate it..." Jacqueline's hand emerges from her bags again, with a bottle of liquid greatly resembling the healing potion she had drank...but as if its colors had been inverted. "...If you put me down first!"

"With that, Jacqueline hurls the bottle at Malfi. The liquid inside was made to counteract healing abilities - she only hoped it would work on Malfi, as well, and give her enough time to get free...

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Malfi with Reverse Restorative!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Malfi critically Guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Reverse Restorative for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Id has posed.

"You can't rush greatness!" Lydia says over the comms while trying to rush greatness.

Id sees Janey trick Yaro into taking the shot. He's impressed. He decides not to shoot her anymore. Maybe in a few years she'll be a true Lord of Disaster. It does sound like she's going to have to experience a great deal of traumatic events, after all.

"Ah but Neriah." Id says. "I do care about you. After all--" He gestures forward with one hand. "It's thanks to people like you that I've taken a change in perspective."

He is zorched hard by Josephine's strike against his leg. The electricity channels through him and Id is forced to pull his foot back as well as the red gear to close his eyes for a moment, shifting his breathing before exhaling--and the electricity crackling around him dissipitates.

"Nice." He says. He does not say he's not a kid.

Xantia manages to rip free from the gear with her red blade, though it's more likely prying the fingers open rather than tearing through the fingers. Id watches this for a moment before saying, "Ether. But I already figured you could use ether. Someone made that ARM for you....but there's another you behind you."

In that moment of distraction though, Neriah eats Id's gear. He sees it coming moments before it happens. He throws a snap kick for Xantia, though this might be for HER sake even if it's hardly gentle--and leaps off of it himself. The dark energy ripples around the gear. The red gear vanishes within the darkness. Id marvels at this for a moment. The power of Valmar truly is something.

Then the gear, and the darkness, swarm up into the air, and slams down hard--sending waves of that Valmar energy flying back out at Neriah and Josephine. Xantia has plenty of time to deal with it since she got kicked farther away from it.

Id is suddenly blasted by a blue-white beam! He slams through the orphanage wall and tumbles into the, yes, the playroom. He looks up and sees a picture: https://dreamchasers.space/File:IdDoodle.jpg

"..." Id stands himself up and dusts himself off with his hands. "Touchy as ever..." He looks around the pictures of the children. He actually does stop fighting to look at these things that should mean nothing to a man such as Id.

He turns to look at Siegfried, for a moment looking serious and not joking at all. He sighs faintly, rubbing at his neck for a moment.

"Come on, man." Id says. "This isn't really about Mother."

He raises his head. "We loved him too, you know. What is a scattering of years before millenia of loss?"

He doesn't strike back just yet. Instead he stares at Siegfried for this moment, his wounds healing from being thrown through the building as if he is a man who cannot die.

He can, of course, all too easily. But he doesn't seem to be lying to Siegfried here.

"What happened to you, Siegfried? This feels more like some nonsense I'd pull. You are a far better being than me."

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily has faced Harken a few times, now--she is aware of how fast she is, even if she truthfully can't even hope to offset that speed--knowing doesn't make her faster. ...But it means she can take it into account. The black blade of hatred in her hands hacks towards Harken, and the circuitry there is met by the circuitry on Lily's hands. Harken's gaze locks on her, and Lily swings--but she doesn't stop there. She keeps attacking.

"Is that so?" Lily asks, about weakness about the awful noise as they clash. "...Don't count me out yet."

Talk of loyalty falls on deaf ears for now; Siegfied could not answer her, but Lily keeps her focus on the woman before her. The cackle brings Lady Harken into three. They hang, mid-air, and Lily is left to contend directly with the original, bone-crunching force in strikes that hammer hard against her arms as they would for a real blade. How long can it stay projected? It's a good question--there is a test of wills here, and at first Lily matches it strike for strike, teeth gritted as she forces more Ether to the weapon, more magic to keep it up. "You--"

She keeps swinging, realizes that she's smaller, weaker than Lady Harken, and that this duel is one she is destined to lose, sword to scythe. Her golden eyes stay on Harken, fearless, as she sets in resolution. "...As you wish." With that, Lily's blade winks out in an instant, and Lady Harken's scythe hacks across her, the momentum of the blade spilling blood and sending Lily hurtling through the air to crash into a makeshift building, the whole thing starting to fall behind her--but not on top of her.

Lily has been to the room Riesenlied is forced into, been there many times. She knows the drawings. ...And she knows, unfortunately, that it's where she has to go next. There's a quiet intake of breath, along the ground... Before there is a pulse of Ether drawing towards one place. Lily's eyes go black, completely--before strange colors flit onto her eye, a dark prism of gleaming color that makes up her pupils, that makes up the segments of her irises. She reaches out, and rips open her jacket, just enough that energy wings of strange colors can force their way through--a lock of her hair turns them, as the circuit patterns spring around from her eyes, one line up her forehead, two down her cheeks, glowing brilliantly in five colors.

"...Sorry," she says to herself, to Riesenlied, as abrubtly she leaps upward--and hangs in the air.

In an ancient language, she intones as if possessed, "<Limiters unlocked. Full output charging.>"

She extends her hands, but it becomes unbearably hot where she was, the wall exploding backwards along with the pile of rubble, as the mist coalesces around her--and shapes into a gigantic, jagged lance some twelve feet long, which Lily lifts--and hurls from the sky straight at Harken, ice coating the ground in its wake as it gets close.

"...You won't have them."

<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Jacqueline is undoubtedly disappointed to see Malfi shrug off her Reverse Restorative -- surprisingly, with a chuckle. "Very well," the demoness intones, "but no tricks!" Her gaze tells Jacqueline that any attempt to reach for her Crests, and she'll be run through. Malfi carefully sets her down and withdraws her tendrils, reining Bogey in at the same time. "His kinsight's back on," she explains. "He'll attack you if he gets the chance." It may be a bit creepy how fast the tendrils are healing, silverblood rushing back into them and the wounds sealing within seconds. Malfi forms them back into a normal-looking -- though armored -- arm and hand. She continues restraining Bogey, who whines protest.

DC: Lily Keil switches forms to Awakened - Omega Stage!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Lady Harken with The Precious Reed of Enmity - Spear!
GS: Lily Keil takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Lady Harken takes a solid hit from Lily Keil's The Precious Reed of Enmity - Spear for 204 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Lady Harken!
GS: Id has attacked Xantia with Demon Fist!
GS: Id has attacked Neriah Parringer with Nightmare Shockwave!
GS: Id has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Nightmare Shockwave!
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a glancing hit from Id's Nightmare Shockwave for 127 hit points!
GS: Id has attacked Id with Absolution!
GS: Id has completed his action.
GS: Id takes a solid hit from Id's Absolution for 0 hit points!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Id!
GS: Restore! Id clears debuffs from Id!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Berserk's Torment for 104 hit points!
GS: Josephine Lovelace guards a hit from Id's Nightmare Shockwave for 75 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Agatha Pyrelight has posed.

 Well, that was... interesting. Agatha lets her performance die away, allowing the flames and shadows to disappear back into quiet observation. It wasn't quite as dramatic as she had hoped, but it seemed that the Metal Demons were going to continue to wreak havoc on their own, and this was perhaps the best opportunity that she had found in a long time to search for what she had long hoped to discover.
 
 After all, she doubted she had a soul any longer - who said you needed one to fall into Malevolence? And observation of Metal Demons in crisis could give her oh so much information.
 
 That Siegfried, for instance... the man who called himself 'Id' was another project, part of her belief that even the people of Filgaia were shackled by something, and breaking those shackles were the key to releasing even greater power.
 
 There was so much to discover - actually interfering was only for her own amusement. Although that display of power by Lily...

<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Welp, thinks Claude C. Kenny, if there was a way to make this situation worse, it would most definitely be by adding in the revelation that Berserk eats people. Or, at least, aliens. But most probably also people, because for whatever reason most alien races tend to look at humans like a delicious snack.* What comes at him is thankfully not a bite but a fist, although Claude does not feel quite that good about it about a second after he tries to block the punch.

"DAMN IT!" he curses as he's bashed backward, lines of pain shooting through his left arm and shoulder; he flips vertically and plants his feet, which dig furrows into the dusty soil as he slides backward. Claude comes up just as Berserk goes after Cecilia, and his eyes start blazing with red. "Hey! HANDS OFF!" he shouts as he dashes back in, lashing out with a pair of brutal strikes aimed at the monster's left elbow. "Why don't you pick on someone Zed's size!"

Claude C. Kenny: a good rival.

* - The idea that aliens possess incompatible biologies (perhaps dextro-chiral amino acids as opposed to terrestrial levo-chiral amino acids) was a popular one that did not survive first contact. Shortly after their arrival on Earth, an attache to the Eldarian ambassador who stepped outside a gala for some fresh air encountered a gardener who was smoking a medicinal herb designed to help his "glaucoma, or whatever." The Eldarian attache, intensely curious, sampled the herb, and spent the next several hours discussing whether purple was really purple or just red and blue all mixed together.** Indeed, all planets surveyed by the Panglactic Federation have been found to have amino acids, proteins, and sugars that are largely compatible with those found on every other world. After ten millennia of increasingly acrimonious correspondence in the annals of several xenobiochemistry journals, the scientific consensus is that this is "pretty weird."
** - The answer: Aren't we all purple where it counts?

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Berserk with Twin Slash!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Riesenlied is slammed into the orphanage, breaking through the wall. Siegfried steps in after her, stalking across the battlefield like a lord laying claim over his dominion. He walks through the hole that he broke through the wall. He stalks into the room, and then he looks around -- at the childish drawings. He never understood children, really. Metal Demons did not quite have something like them.

He stares for a moment, in absolute confusion. Confusion so strong that it overrides his sense of rage and hatred; confusion that makes him stop in his tracks, and turn to regard the sketch of him on the wall.

He recognizes it. It looks so like him, even in its simplicity -- even with its errors. "This... what have you done? What have you told them about me?" His voice quiets. "...this is foolishness."

He lifts his arm and fires the arm cannon, burning a hole clean through the drawing of him. Then, he turns, and looks back to Riesenlied. "Love? You speak of love? Love does not save anyone, Riesenlied. Love is the lie we give ourselves, to tell us that the universe cares for our wishes and will not trample upon our hearts."

He looks at her and his eyes narrow. "Love changes nothing. There is no God, except the one we create and set free--and that is Mother. If you seek love... then you turned away from the only love that will sustain."

He closes his eyes. "Her."

And then Matilda is on him. Her knife digs into the forearm plate, carving some of it out. Sparks explode and fly, as the ARM in Siegfried's arm proves to still have the mechanical pieces necessary to power it -- including a power supply, which erupts. He stumbles forward, thrown forward by her judo-style trip.

But he catches himself, whirling to face her. "Purpose and safety don't exist for you humans," he spits back. "They only come from Mother! How many of you damn humans must I kill before you see that!?"

He grits his teeth, eyes turning upward. What is Harken saying? Is she forgetting? But Id speaks to him. Siegfried's ears can only hear taunts -- and his lips curl back into a snarl. "Be SILENT! Mother is all there is! The only thing that makes this MISERABLE existence worthwhile! The only thing that gives us MEANING!"

He hears the language of Zeboim and turns, staring for a moment at Lily. Only a moment. He swings out Glumzambor, and light burns and gathers along the blade. Then, fangs and arcs of light twist out. They burn black and white; green and blue; yellow and green. They slash at the walls of the orphanage, trying to level what remains even adter Berserk busts in.

But they also fly for Riesenlied, for Matilda, for Ida -- and yes, even for Lily Keil, with a promise of power and destruction.

GS: Siegfried has attacked Riesenlied with Negative Rainbow!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Negative Rainbow!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Id with Negative Rainbow!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Lily Keil with Negative Rainbow!
GS: Siegfried has completed his action.
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Twin Slash for 61 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Siegfried's Negative Rainbow for 95 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

"Spicy... Thing...?"

Zed's eyes widen slightly. His memory returns-- of a certain day, in a certain desert, and of surviving in the aftermath of what can only be described as a Zedder Sunshine Supernova. "Oh." Zed says, his realization dull and terrified, "Oh right." But not nearly as much as when his face is seized by the iron fist of a demon several times his own size. And especially not nearly as much as when he catches sight of... Of an expression he has never before seen Berserk wear.

What is that?

That... That hatred...? He's never seen it-- scorn, rage, but this... This...

Still isn't enough... to quench Zed's spirit!

"G-ghahahahaha, so you finally recognize it...! I've had it up to here with bein' pushed around! From now on, Zed does what Zed wants!"

Except Zed's glorious declaration is largely muffled by the fact that Berserk has him by the face. You can't exactly talk properly when there's the better part of a palm in his mouth.

Also, most people would have trouble talking-- when being driven through several layers of orphanage and earth.

Zed tries to scream as quicksilver leaks from fresh lacerations across his scalp and neck. This place... This place is where the kids used to play, and...!

"I won't... Let you destroy their dreams...!" Zed... Digs his heels into the ground. He strains, with all the might in his body, lifting, turning, redirecting all of that devastating momentum straight into the ground...! "I finally find people who think I'm kind of cool; I can't just let you guys walk all over them!"

GS: Zed has attacked Berserk with Desperate Suplex!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Lily Keil takes a glancing hit from Siegfried's Negative Rainbow for 95 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a glancing hit from Siegfried's Negative Rainbow for 98 hit points!
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Zed's Desperate Suplex for 36 hit points!
GS: Xantia critically Guards a hit from Id's Demon Fist for 39 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

It had worked on a Metal Demon before...but it seems as if Malfi possesses more of a resilience to it. Jacqueline resolves to go over the recipe once more when she gets back - or if.

But, even more surprisingly, Malfi actually...elects to set her down? Jacqueline draws in a deep breath. She hadn't expected this, but she'll gladly take it. She takes a couple of steps back and raises her hands away from her Crest Pouch, letting the knife fall to the ground next to her.

She hadn't thought this far ahead, but...

"U-umm, for starters...I'm Jacqueline Barber, but most people call me Jay... What's your name?" She asks.

It felt a bit silly to be introducing herself right now of all times, when the world was going to hell all around them and people were fighting for their lives...

...But right now, this was keeping her alive, and more importantly, keeping Malfi's attention off the escapees...and Jacqueline's not the type for tricks.

Not really.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Id guards a hit from Siegfried's Negative Rainbow for 91 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

        It is only Siegfried's defiant reiteration that all is for Mother that it gets Yarobeleedt out of his pro-nonfusion (which is clearly the opposite of confusion, because words). He's not sure he understands what he's seeing when he feels ambient waves of great heat and cold alike a ways off, and Yarobeleedt re-focuses. He continues to leak quicksilvery blood from the inflicted wounds of taking an offhand Id blast. It is a miracle he is even still intact.
        "Mother... Mother... yes, yes, Mother--" His fervor is stopped as he sees, from an angle just out of their sight, Zed and Berserk fighting one another. Arguing, speaking pointed words about wills and ways - wait. Is the ^Silly Greenhead^ standing against...?
        Yarobeleedt won't let this stand. Once more, he forms a nasty, pointy weapon of vague and improbable make with one forearm as he darts up behind Zed as he moves to try and lift the greater, stronger, meaner, greener, less silly Belselk, and a shadow begins to grow...
        "mother" Yarobeleedt weakly and meekly whispers, as the inevitable approaches.

<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi wasn't really the type for tricks, either. While she was a scientist rather than a warrior, she was still more honorable than some. "My name is Malfi. I'm a scientist. I study monsters and would like to examine humans more closely, too" she begins. It was a heck of a place for a conversation, with the chaos of battle all around them, but somehow they were going to make it work. Seeing that Jay didn't seem to be trying anything devious, Malfi starts to relax a bit. She withdraws her lance but doesn't let it get too far out of reach. "Oh, and this is Bogey," she adds. "He bites," she adds (not that Jay seems inclined to pet him). "Do you mind if I scan you? It won't hurt..."

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

I mustn't, Neriah tells herself over and over again. I mustn't. I mustn't. I mustn't lose control. I mustn't let it consume me.

For all that Neriah is angry - for all that she wants, with all her heart, to absolutely annihilate Id - she can't do it. She holds back. There's more inside of her; she keeps it in the bottle and drinks from it responsibly.

Even in this small amount, Neriah levies an insane amount of power upon Id and his Gear. She strains, clenching her teeth and snarling even as the man acrest the Gear mocks her. Acts like he does care about her. "What perspective are you talking about," she shouts, her anger coming through roughly. "And I barely know you. How could you possibly care about me?!"

The Gear descends - and another darkness propels the nightmare back towards her. The backwash of Neriah's own darkness buffets her, flooding across her like a tidal wave crashing across the beach. It's widespread enough that it actually tears into a couple of buildings to either side of Neriah; masonry cracks and structural materials strain. Neriah herself is driven to a knee by the sheer force.

Her own power can, perhaps, drive her down. But it can't kill her. She inhales and draws in the essence of herself, and it's become so concentrated by her spell that the sheer saturated Valmar energy is like pure cocaine straight into the vein. She closes her eyes, moaning faintly with effort -- or is it something else?

Break the chains. Break them. We must.

"I can't," she whispers as she opens her eyes, shaken and unsteady. Slouching forward, she looks up towards Id, watching that beam knock him up -

And away, into the orphanage. Neriah's quick to pursue him, but as she realizes what building he's in, she tenses up. The orphanage. The place where the children live and play.

It occurs to her instantly that she could simply level that building - annihilate it to the last brick and probably consume Id along with it. It could be within her power.

Neriah... recoils at the thought. She cannot bring herself to descend that deep into the darkness. Instead, she boosts herself up onto a chunk of debris, then higher up, trying to get a clean shot at Id through the hole he just made. She resists the temptation to plumb the depths of Valmar's curse.

She has another choice. The gift her mother gave to her when she set out upon her journey. Crooking her right arm, Neriah braces her pistol with the left and whispers to it.

"Marilyn, please save me."

She can see Id talking and Siegfried screaming at him, but she keeps on aiming. Finally, she tenses - and she fires. There is a distinctive CRACK of a steam piston going off, then another, then another, as Neriah fires off three bullets through the opening. Steam whisps out of the back of the Dragon Fossil-enhanced pistol.

She's trying to interrupt Id's conversation by just shooting the fucking guy in the head.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Id with Marilyn Snapshot!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Id guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Marilyn Snapshot for 41 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Yarobeleedt falters along the side of the playroom, hidden under the broken awning of a staircase. Even if Riesenlied cannot see him, she thinks she can sense him for a moment... and as much as her heart hurts, she cannot help him.

        Not when his heart is so overwhelmed with a bewilderment and perplexion that prevents him from listening to anything other than his own thoughts... yet, it won't stop her from trying.

        Even from just the back of her spine, Riesenlied can still sense that ever-present, bloodthirsty hunger of Berserk's hatred for all that they are... there is no discussion to be had, and-- it's with a frightened and wincing flinch as she sees Claude and Cecilia get punted towards the orphanage, wincing to herself...

        Yet it is nothing, compared to Berserk's rampage dragging Zed and god knows who else in his fury-shorn path.

        Noeline moves about the battlefield like a dervish, and it is that expertise that Riesenlied has come to trust. She cannot pick up a sword and battle anymore; not without bleeding out and succumbing to everything that she has worked against, at least...

        Her eyes widen, however, as Lily crashes through, the pulsation of Ether and the blacks of Lily's eyes signalling a foray she is familiar with. "L-Lily..." is all she can whisper, as Lily speaks her apology. There it is again -- that ancient language--

        The circuitry, the wings...

        -Id- comes on through a moment later, and between Harken, Siegfried, an incoming Berserk, and Id, this simple playroom in the midst of a hidden valley can now claim it's been host to four planet-threatening abominable horrors. Five if you count Neriah incoming a moment later.

        But there is Siegfried.

        "Only what you have told me, Lord Siegfried. Every story and every ounce of wisdom you have told me, over the countless years," Riesenlied answers firmly and yet gently.

        She lowers her head once more-- a terrible thing to do in a battlefield, really, and yet-- "It was not love that I sensed from Mother, Lord Siegfried. On that day, in your greatest moment of elation... when she awoke--"

        She looks up with tears to the man she'd call father.

        "I could only sense hatred. Deep and profound hate that I have never felt before. An anger that I know will shake Filgaia to its knees... and leave nothing, even if you were to win your campaign of vengeance, for any of us."

        Higher causes... Nasrin finally ruminates in return to Id, after a long moment of silence. Yet, where are we without them?

        Her eyes close as she-- is flung straight off her feet as the light of Glumzambor burns out towards her; the ribbons of vengeance shorn about by the Dark Spear tear at the walls--

        Paper and crayon markings upon them shredded into not so much scraps as mulched pieces of nothingness, laced with a tinge of ember and marked with a deep scorch upon them.

        There is no defense for Riesenlied save for her light, seeking to banish away the rainbow with an oscillating barrier of light, rattling in ever so fragile a form...

        More blood flows from her, as what fragments pass through cut against her, further and further shoring away skin and making blood drip.

        All she can do is continue to protect those who have gathered here, to protect her in turn. The empathic power has erupted at a high reverberation now as she continues to speak, ribbons upon ribbons of shimmering veils of light further and further ensconcing those even within a stone's throw away with power. Around Claude and Cecilia, as they get struck close by Berserk. Around Lily, Noeline and Matilda, who've been at her side at their darkest hour. Around Zed, and Neriah as she steps on through. It brings a sensation of hope, as she speaks with full clarity.

        "You have given me meaning, Lord Siegfried. You have given many of us meaning -- Yarobeleedt looks up to you as leader. Lady Harken... has just said she places all her trust in you..."

        Her eyes full grant the depths of the sorrow, and yet, the hope that she still places in him.

        "Forgive yourself, Lord Siegfried. As long as you refuse to do that... then you cannot move forward."

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Noeline with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Lily Keil with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Zed with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Neriah Parringer with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Matilda Whitehead gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Lily Keil gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Claude C. Kenny gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Neriah Parringer gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Noeline takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Noeline gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
<Pose Tracker> Cassidy Cain has posed.

Berserk eats Vorthuzahl's heart with a shattering crunch of hardened metal and bones and the expression on Cassidy's face is both surprised and disappointed. Because she expected many things: for the thing to just bounce off him, a large fist to bat it away, but she certainly didn't expect him to consume it. It was her favorite paperweight!!
 
 "Bloody hell. Look what you did. Now I'm going tae have tae find a replacement. Is yours available?"
 
 But she does catch his attention and the way he swings between laughter and unbridled, unfettered fury nearly takes her breath away, when every single hit amounts to next to nothing, sending battle-frenzied senses in a spiral, enough to make her lightheaded. It's the fear that comes with every, inevitable bloody engagement - adrenaline and biochemicals, surging through open veins with every pulse and beat of her heart. It is like every time she faces against one of these monsters and while the look of her never changes, the fear is a fiery, bittersweet and palpable thing. It sends every nerve singing inside her, feeding into that tendency to feel just that much alive when she taunts the Reaper to dance with her again.
 
 And he does. Those pitiless eyes swing towards her direction and in that moment, almost everything else fades away.
 
 Berserk is terrifying, at least to her, and she knows, deep down, why that is.
 
 Not that she would ever reveal it to anyone, it was just not her way.
 
 It doesn't stop her from attempting to paint herself as a big red target in an effort to distract the beast. She doesn't know if anyone else has a plan. She knows she doesn't - in these kinds of circumstances, she tends to make shit up as she goes along!
 
 And then the bull charges for her.
 
 To keep up their exchange while she's moving would be suicidal - she's reckless, but she likes to think she isn't stupid. And so the Metal Demon gives her no recourse but to run like hell.
 
 She does, and she can run when given impetus to, her fleetfooted form dashing across dust and dirt while the rampaging monster of a Metal Demon guns for her in a streak and destroys everything he runs into in the process. Her heart is in her throat, because it's like attempting to swim away from a shark that's scented blood - if the sands were water. They very well could be, ships sink in them all the time...
 
 She laughs. She can't help it. She's about to die and she laughs anyway, because of the futility of trying to resist this and failing miserably every time.
 
 "Oh, ay," she exclaims. "I am weak!"
 
 And that's when a fist snaps out for her head.
 
 She twists away at the last second and a spray of blood rents her cheek open, crimson coating Berserk's fingers. But she follows through on his attempt on her own volition when a hand grasps that outstretched wrist, when she leans into his side, to plant a boot on one bent knee as he surges forward and vaults up in an attempt to grab onto his long, wild hair...
 
 ...which of course doesn't stop his charge and simply carries her along as he rockets forward.
 
 "SO WEAK IN FACT THAT I'LL PROBABLY TURN INTAE PASTE AFTER ONE PUNCH FROM YOU," she shouts into the wind. "SO YOU'RE GOING TAE HAVE TAE FORGIVE ME IF I MAKE IT REALLY DIFFICULT FOR YOU TAE DO THAT. BECAUSE IF YOU CANNAE BREAK A WEE LITTLE WEAKLING LIKE ME, WHAT DOES THAT MAKE YOU? WOULD NAE THAT MAKE YOU A WEAKLING..."
 
 He rushes forward.
 
 "JUST."
 
 He leaps, and she dangles along with him helplessly.
 
 "LIKE."
 
 He makes for a collision course towards the orphanage.
 
 "US?"
 
 The walls of the structure loom before them.
 
 "....ah, shite."
 
 BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        OUTSIDE

        Outside, a fair distance away from the orphanage where -most- of the action has been focused, the hatches to the bunker begin to open. Perhaps Malfi and Jacqueline can first see them, as the last of the villagers begin to make their escape there.

        The thrum of a powerful series of turbines can be heard as the ground begins to rattle slowly...

        "Condensers are showing the all green. Thanks to Miss Hetfield's motors, we'll be able to sustain enough lift with our slave generators," explains one understudy.

        Cetiri lets out a slow hiss as she looks towards the opening hatch. "Do or die... don't disappoint us now, everyone."

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Chaos is waged all around them, certainly. In the distance, Jacqueline see the orphanage, torn and ruined. ...It hurts, deep inside, to see it like that. She can only hope all the children made it out alright...

How was Riesenlied doing? And Noeline? And Janey, and Mikaia...and Matilda and...

...Well, she can't worry about that for now. She has to keep this going, keep Malfi talking.

Jacqueline doesn't lower her hands, not yet.

"Malfi, is it? That's a nice name. And Bogey...yes, I believe I've heard the townsfolk talking about him." Her voice is - understandably - a little shaky as she replies...and she panics a little as Malfi brings up a scan.

"A-a scan...? That seems a little invasive...! Can I ask you what you'll use it for...?" She asks, looking about cautiously to get a feel for how the evacuation is going. "I can't accept it if you'll use it to hurt people..."

She can see the hatches open. If that was happening, then perhaps it wouldn't be long now...just a little longer...!

<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

Riesenlied's words trigger no change within Harken. Her tone does not falter and her movements do not slow, which in itself, should be starting to paint a bigger picture for the Tainted's leader when she has a moment to put the pieces together if she survives this day. "There are no secrets, Riesenlied." the apparition booms angrily at the frail woman,

        a corpse of Arctica's final defender hovers serenely in a bath of gently-bubbling blue, her wounds long since healed, but the spark of life has long since faded

"There is no horrible truth. I am like you, but pure! Not everything is a romantic mystery, you fool woman!" Harken shouts this with remarkable calm, given the unsettling apex-predator-like vibe she's giving off with the rest of her movements. It just feels like she's puzzled at Riese's insistence on believing something that simply isn't true. But maybe that's natural--panic does things to one's sensibilities, after all.

Noeline catches the Lady Knight's attention, and her eyes narrow in what might charitably be called a wry disgust. "I bested the finest these wretches have to offer at Lacour and left out of boredom! Jealousy has addled your memory, Noeline!" Harken laughs uproarously, unable to believe how utterly pathetic this whole thing is. That image of her spreads her arms wide and leans forward, "Nobody controls me. I bow to Lord Siegfried, not some perverted SLUG--"

The fullblade scythes through Harken's neck--but that was just her shadow, and it vanishes in a puff of fragmenting prisms of light. Noeline has won at least a moment's reprieve, but the real thing is mere metres away.

Harken's cloak billows behind her, and the circuitry upon her ornate platemail begins to glow a ferocious torch red as she stalks forward after her prey. Where Lily has been flung. The only Human to repeatedly harm her, and not die from a single hit. This gives Ms. Keil the unfortunate position of being 'very interesting', which is arguably worse than just making Harken upset. Bricks shatter underfoot and the drywall explodes in a shower of dust as the Quarter Knight bowls through it with an unstoppable, robotic quality to her march.

"Get up," Harken barks with disgust, prior to Lily doing exactly that. It feels like all the world's actors are drawn to this tiny room, so filled with competing emotions that one wonders if you could set it all aflame by striking a match. So confident is she in her purpose, and her superiority, that she has no clue that her blind and spoken devotion to Siegfried is actually, possibly, just pissing him off. Maybe it's finally time to ask Alhazred what the fuck he has DONE--

It feels as if the entire side of the orphanage dissolves. Bricks and mortar and wood and nails and spittle and sound spray Harken in a waterfall of force and noise as Berserk interrupts every single thing going on with what feels like every Human with a unique portrait carried along for the ride. Her lip curls a little.

Then she bares her fangs.

"You IMBECILE!" the youngest of the Quarter Knights roars at the unstoppable force, sizing him up. Fuck it. She's going to gut this stupid pig right now while he's occupied and free up that seat for someone with two neurons to rub together. So absolute (and honed) is her fury at being interrupted, that she does not see Lily rise into the air as if possessed. Does not hear her whisper things in a language she does not understand.

Does not dodge the spear of Absolute Zero that forms from atmospheric moisture, so rapidly swirling and building to a monofilament point. The Quarter Knight jerks backwards with a look on her face of further disgust, but also shock. Through the lust of battle, she can tell--an injury this grevious will slow her down. Immensely.

"Don't interrupt again." Harken is in no place to give Berserk orders, but doesn't seem to care. Someone's playing favourites, given that she doesn't lecture Siegfried for interrupting, either.

"Ah, this was going so well..." the towering woman with the fancy armour sighs, as she pulls the icicle out of her midsection. Crimson runs in furious rivulets down her armor from the whole, and while she is clearly not a human because that would just be a silly thing to suggest, she is leaking terribly from the gaping hole in her torso, and it doesn't seem to want to close very quickly. "But now I just feel disgusted."

Thus, Harken flips the poleaxe-sized icicle in one hand and holds it like a javelin, before hurling it at Lily. "This is yours. Show me more, again...!" With her other hand, she does the exact same thing with her horrendous scythe, and hurls the blunt end at Noeline. "And you can borrow this, traitor."

GS: Zed takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Zed gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Lady Harken with Killing Intent!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Cecilia Adlehyde gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Lady Harken takes a solid hit from Lady Harken's Killing Intent for 0 hit points!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Lady Harken!
GS: Restore! Lady Harken clears debuffs from Lady Harken!
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Lily Keil with Return to Sender!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

"The scan," Malfi replies, "will just give me basic and medical information about you. It won't hurt," she argues again. "I'd like to find out if your magic will show up on it." She pauses. "My people can't use magic." She reaches out to pet Bogey. "We used to live here: that's where you've heard of Bogey before..."

GS: Lady Harken has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lady Harken has attacked Noeline with Azrael - Guillotine!
GS: Cassidy Cain has attacked Berserk with Anything Goes!
GS: Cassidy Cain has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken has completed her action.
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Cassidy Cain's Anything Goes for 47 hit points!
GS: Poison! Statuses applied to Berserk!
DC: MISS! Lily Keil completely evades Return to Sender from Lady Harken!
GS: Noeline takes a solid hit from Lady Harken's Azrael - Guillotine for 228 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia doesn't know how he does it. Berserk is so furious - about everything - all the time! It's in the name, of course, but the sheer anger he can muster, constantly, stymies the young woman. For all her own underexpressed frustrations...

This creature is truly something there can be no accord with. Cecilia manages to get her staff up, and a flash of magic protects her from the worst of it. Sadly Berserk still flings her into and through a building; the bubble breaks on the first bounce, sending her cartwheeling through a window. She lands dazed, but slowly, slowly crawls herself upright...

He's wrong. It doesn't. She hates, yes; the anger inside her at the suffering done to her people.

"These people...wanted to stop it. To try and find something we could finally agree on..."

"And you'll take it all away for laughs. You're right, I will never love these people...but I'm just fine HATING YOU!"

Which is when a bolt of flame blasts through the shell of a window and into Berserk's hide, the Princess not quite dazed enough to stop her casting.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Berserk with Crest Sorcery Freestyle!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

"This is honestly just sad -- all that power and you wield it for that?" Matilda shoots back, shortly before Glumzambor swings out -- and she weaves to one side. Her coat catches ablaze; there's enough in it that's volatile that she has no intention of continuing to wear it after that, either, so she tosses it aside after pulling Freischütz back out of it, trading her knife for a box of bullets she'd much rather salvage than have cook off. There's another significant burn left behind, too, this one on her shoulder, on the same side; she's starting to favor her right fairly significantly.

Matilda without her coat cuts a very different figure -- all black breastplate and exposed shoulders. She's got that lean farmer muscle -- no, at this point it's lean Drifter muscle. "... You said that Mother is a goddess -- that she's something better than the broken statues and spirits we worship," she starts, eyes narrowed. "... but I don't worship them, either. Not after what they did to Kaguya."

Matilda pops the box of bullets into the back of her curious ARM, stepping in toward Siegfried again. "'Purpose?' From something bigger than you? The only things something bigger than you has to offer is fear and pain."

Even though Riesenlied's kindness, her sorrow -- her desire to reach out -- ripples through Wayside... Matilda finds it just as uncomfortable as it is invigorating. Indeed, the biggest purpose it serves for her is a distraction -- while eyes turn to Riesenlied, Matilda quickly dashes up and sidesteps to Siegfried's back, stomping on the back of his knee before pointing her gun at his back and firing seven times. "... The last time someone acted like he was bigger than me and threatened me, I killed him," she says, with a sneer. "I'm confident Mother isn't any better."

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Siegfried with Seven Bullets!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
GS: Siegfried critically Guards a hit from Matilda Whitehead's Seven Bullets for 30 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Berserk takes a glancing hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Crest Sorcery Freestyle for 158 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Id identifies the true nature of Xantia's powers. Which causes Xantia to blink blankly. "...Ether?" She's been using it for the longest time without even knowing what it is. Par for the course, really. There would be other things to question and consider, like the possibility of that ARM being made for her rather than it being something she wasn't supposed to have, like she'd started to assume. She didn't even get the time to even start thinking about 'another you' at all. Suddenly Id's foot lashes out, and it's all she can do to throw her arms up in defense.

That much was a success. But the force involved still launches her backwards, right off the red Gear. Right before it's engulfed with the dark power of Valmar, essentially saving her from a nastier fate, but it doesn't exactly parse like that when you're falling to certain doom. Her body reacts on its own, twisting in the air to land on a passing Metal Beast's head in a perfect headstomp, launching up into another somersault... and briefly panicking when she goes sailing over a building and sees nothing else she can use as a springboard. This doesn't look like it could possible end well...

Until Xantia bursts into the orphanage, covered in yellow stalks, trailing hay everywhere. Yes, of all things to be rescued from a nasty fall by, it was the convenient-placed haystack. Go figure. Either way, she clearly wasted no time in making her way back to the action, returning in time to see Id speak to Siegfried like... like an old friend? Is she interpreting that right? Here she was about to march right over and continue their fight, but seeing that gives her pause. And the response makes her wince. She actually... finds herself feeling sorry for Id. Perhaps later, she'll recognize this as the moment where she lost the will to fight him. That seemingly eternal impulse to fight him apparently isn't absolute after all.

Of course, that might also have something to do with Siegfried going absolutely mental right after, threatening to take down the entire building. Thus when she does come rushing back in, it's not in the direction of Id. She's gunning for Siegfried, leaping to bridge the last of the distance between them, fist drawn back to direct a single punch at his head, accompanied by the most eloquent request, "KNOCK IT OFF!!" An explosion of force follows, perhaps not the wisest thing when your surroundings are already threatening to collapse, but nobody ever accused Xantia of being particularly wise.

GS: Xantia has attacked Siegfried with Exploding Fist!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Xantia's Exploding Fist for 82 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Basic and medical information...Jacqueline panics briefly, for reasons that may or may not relate to the previous night's meal. It had been a fairly big one... W-would it reflect on-

No, no. Don't be stupid, don't think about that right now.

The more important worry was that she might be giving information to the enemy...but it was information they could possibly get elsewhere, and she had a feeling Malfi might not take rejection too well.

"Yes, I recall seeing him before..." She replies, then takes a deep breath...and nods.

"Okay...I...I suppose I can allow that. I...I'm a bit of a scientist, myself, though my focus is on potions. Healing mixtures, mostly..." She replies, and then manages a weak grin. "You'll tell me if you spot anything bad, right...?"

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Siegfried's words are filtering into Lily's ears, even as Harken growls at her to get back up. The fascination, the drive... Lily shares some of it, shares a need to test herself against this monstrous Lady Knight. But it also serves her purpose--if she can keep Harken's attention just enough...

She gets more than she bargained for. Glumzambor's light crashes towards her, and Lily banks mid-air to avoid the worst of it, now that she's thrown her weapon. Throwig a weapon is often considered unwise... But when you can make more, well--

"Riesenlied," she says, looking to her for an instant, watching her tears. She can feel her motions, shakes her head, prepares to cut herself off as best she can--in ways she was not aware that she could. She does not have time for that. ...She has time for that power, instant, the eruption of light that courses down Lily's circuits, that she absorbs to make as her own. Power--she can feel it. Riesenlied's power, familiar by now to her, as Lily accepts it--and then has to deal with Harken again. She does not have fangs to bare in turn; she lifts an eyebrow at the sigh. "Sorry it's not more fun for you," she deadpans--and then Harken hurls the weapon straight at Lily. On that trajectory, it would assuredly be a fatal blow, one enough to run her through and leave little room for much else. ...Which is why she doesn't let it. Her hands come up, still glowing, and as it approaches her the spear conjured of her own magic simply ceases existing where it reaches a foot in front of her. She sees Lady Harken bleeding... But she has no illusions that, bleeding as she still is too, that this will be simple. Power alone...

"Carver, I'm going in." Lily's hands rest on one another, as she stares at Harken, meeting outstretched before her--and she has little time to work. The markings on her person gleam brilliant red as she draws in another breath, and the vortex of Ether briefly reappears around her, invisible but tangible. ...But the focal point of it this time is Harken. Lily stares at her, and a red glow begins to surround the other woman--what her allies would recognize and question as exactly what it looks like when she begins to heal someone.

...Except that the aura suddenly starts crackling black, and a red line of power rushes towards Lily's hands as she works to bring death itself, opening old wounds, draining away energy.

"Since you asked. I will take something back."

If it works, she'll need everything she can get.

GS: Lily Keil has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Lady Harken with The Slayer of Life's Duration - Death!
GS: Lily Keil takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken takes a solid hit from Lily Keil's The Slayer of Life's Duration - Death for 165 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil drains Lady Harken! Lily Keil gains 164 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi hefts her scanner, which whirrs and clicks as she turns it on Jacqueline. As promised, it doesn't hurt, though it takes awhile. Malfi pulls it closer to look at its screen. "Nothing bad," she began, "although you're injured. It'll heal." Jay's magic hadn't shown up, but Malfi'd expected that -- monsters' magic never showed up, either. "I could heal you, but it would hurt. Do you want me to?"

<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

        Josie doesn't wait. Not even a heartbeat has room to pass. She yanks her arm free from where Id had pinned it, twisting across the rooftiles to grab for her rifle, still perched precariously in the gutter.

        She snaps it up. "See, what did I--"
        She has a moment to breathe as darkness completely consumes the Gear, on the edge of her awareness now.
        She has a moment to slip her hand over the trigger.

        "--tell you--"

        The Gear, indefatigable, slams down with enough force to perhaps leave the inn with serious structural problems in the future.

        Josie, on her back on the sloped side of the rooftop, has nowhere to go but down as the energy's blast disperses and pitches through the building; she tumbles over the lip to fall--

        --twists her body--

        --lands in a roll and then rises. It was not an easy landing to judge by the expression fluttering across her face, but she doesn't halt for an instant.

        In her own way, she's intent as any hunter might be, upon their prey.
        Even if that prey is capable of catching bullets in midair.

        That's the orphanage, the thought intrudes.
        So that's where Sunshine, Tiger, and the rest all got off to, runs the next thought.

        "Good start," she begins to say to Neriah, near at her side.
        And in the next moment, backpedals hard as Berserk comes right into the wall of the building.
        Holding her ground as the roar of anti-rainbow light comes tearing out again soon after.

        The first thing she sees as the dust clears is her target of the moment.

        "Bingo," she murmurs, gaze flickering from the masonry to the man's head. To the remnants of a roof above him. He's not looking at her right now, he's talking to Siegfried--

        The rifle lifts, arcs her hand a twitch to the left, and there she fires.

GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Id with Into the Darkness!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Josephine Lovelace's attack becomes clear!
GS: Id guards a hit from Josephine Lovelace's Ace in the Hole for 107 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

        The bullet comes in from a surprising angle, even for a shot taken at the back of a man's head. It pings its way along a series of surfaces, as if every point along the way was well-calculated, before finding its way to its target.

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline tries to get a good look at the scanner as Malfi turns it on, through from what she can see it's difficult to get a read on what it's doing. She stands still for as long as necessary, and relaxes a bit once the process is done.

Healing? That's...interesting. She was curious, but...at the same time, she couldn't entirely be sure that their methods would be compatible.

"N-no, it's okay...but I do appreciate the offer, Miss Malfi." Jacqueline says with a smile. "I have my own methods of healing, so I should be fine, in time..."

Hopefully, quickly enough to be at full strength for whatever would be coming after this...the Quarter Knights were preoccupied now, but there was no telling when one of them, or more soldiers, would start gunning for the bunker...

...She is treated to the sight of an impressive series of ricochets, though. She has to wonder who's responsible...and who's the target.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        The knife goes in, alright, as Gwen tries to weaken some point in Berserk's armor. There's just one weakness to this little plan of hers, however.

        It's hard to get that knife back out. "That's, uh, p-pretty good," Gwen admits as she's taken along for a ride on the Berserk pain train, straight into the orphanage.

        At least she is able to get her knife back, the force of the collision being enough to dislodge the thing, as well as, uh, her, straight into some toys on the floor like a makeshift bowling ball. "Agh... Ow. Yeah. Uh. That was great." She slowly gets up, rubbing her backside.

        And, while Harken is busy yelling at Berserk for his rude interruption, Gwen comes running at the massive Quarter Knight, fist held back to launch straight at the side of Berserk's meaty face. "Now how's this?!" Yes, she asked that question before, but that was a trial turn.

        She'll notice that there's a Whole Bunch of Dangerous People Gathered Here a moment later. That will be fun.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Berserk with Special Delivery!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Special Delivery for 99 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi puts the scanner away; Jacqueline wouldn't've been able to read it anyway, unless she's fluent in Hyadean. "If you have a means to heal, you might want to use it," she comments, keeping a wary eye on her specimen just in case. She hopes it doesn't involve using Crests...

<Pose Tracker> Id has posed.

Id listens to Siegfried. His hand twitches as Siegfried blasts through a child's drawing. Id pulls free the Id doodle and pockets it. What the heck is he expecting to do with that??

Better off

How could he think that Siegfried would accept this side of him? How could he think that he could get real with this guy!? No, he thinks, if anybody it would be Siegfried that understood him. Truly understood him. Even Riesenlied, for all her inroads, he can't trust her. Not if Siegfried can't accept him.

Neriah shoots Id three times in the skull. His head explodes and he slumps down against the orphanage ground.

No. That's not what happens.

Neriah shoots Id three times in the skull. His head jerks from the force and he turns to look back up to her. The bullets drop from his face. He DOES bleed. Neriah can see that now. Shallow wounds drip from his forehead. It's blood, normal blood. Normal, red, blood.

"Because," Id says. "You are a destroyer. Like me. But you are still bound by the chains of causality."

Suddenly Id is in front of Neriah, blurring figures trailing behind him as he knees for her gut, then slugs a full on punch towards Neriah's face, trying to send her flying. He is holding back less now. He looks at the floor for a moment. "...Is that what they've been working on..?"

He drops down only for Siegfried's energies to pierce him from several angles. Id tries to absorb the Nightmare Rainbow but it proves to be too much for him and he erupts in a shower of red and other matter.

No. That doesn't happen either.

The Nightmare Rainbow is nothing to be scoffed at even by Id. He weaves around the bulk of the energies but he grabs one tendril by the hand and howls in agony as the deadly energies ripple around him--and then he expels it, pushing away the Nightmare Rainbow before it can strike critical damage into his body.

Id sinks to one knee, panting for breath, but he rubs at his faces once and stands once more.

"...You...." He grabs at his head. "YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU!!! KEEP!!! REJECTING!!! ME!!!!"

He is then shot in the back of the head.

No that's not--

--No that is what happens. Id is hit with such force that he goes flying into the back wall, slamming hard against it, and leaving a bloody smear against the wall from his face slamming into it, blood dripping out the back of his head, though it's hard to tell how much with that hair color of his.

Is that it? Is that the end of the demon?

Id slowly pulls himself back up and looks towards Josephine. "Good job. You got me."

He floats upwards like a friggin' DBZ character. The red gear's cockpit opens up and Id floats his way inside.

The cockpit shield closes around Id and flicks on his external speakers.

"I'm killing everybody in this town now, then I'm killing everybody who tries to flee." He snaps off the comms afterwards. Anybody he cares about surviving will no doubt survive.

The crimson aura ripples around the red gear as it launches a large red blast for Josephine and Neriah. Really it's for Josephine but Neriah is in the way which should, in theory, diminish some of its effects for Josephine. Maybe. Hopefully?

The gear then PUNCHES for Siegfried and Riesenlied, fully intent on crushing both of them with its fists. Can Id feel Xantia's hesitance?

Maybe, because Xantia just has to worry about avoiding accidentally getting crushed by the red gear's fist. He doesn't attack Xantia himself. Yeah the orphanage is not likely to survive this, whatever's left of it. Still, at this point Id might start launching city destroyers any second. It's up to his whim, which is unpredictable at best.

"DIE FOR YOUR MOTHER THEN!" Id shouts though this is without the speakers on so it might be a touch difficult to hear. "MOTHERS WANT US TO FEEL PAIN! MOTHERS WANT US TO BREAK! SO! LET! ME! HELP! YOU!"

GS: Id has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Big Bang!
GS: Id has attacked Neriah Parringer with Big Bang!
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Id's Big Bang for 256 hit points!
GS: Id takes Cover! He gains 50 temporary hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: Id has attacked Siegfried with Flying Blaze!
GS: Id has attacked Riesenlied with Flying Blaze!
GS: Id has completed his action.
GS: Siegfried has activated a Force Action!
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Id's Flying Blaze for 153 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Berserk has posed.

BOOOOOOOOOM

Cassidy Cain rides along on a bull that can pulverize buildings. It may be a short-lived ride, at best, with all the tumultuous mass of his hate as he -smashes- his head through a wall to -drag- her through the rubble and -hurl- her off. Walls burst. Rubble powders. Everything around him becomes ruin by merit of his very momentum, barreling through that orphanage like a train. There's no laughter, no sadistic glee at the act. Just incomprehensible hate that surges through Berserk in a furious rampage. That makes him want Zed to -see- as the things he cares about are torn down -all around him-.

To know what it means, to turn his back on his people.

Dust and debris kick up thick, choking veils around Berserk, and yet he is not stopped until the green-haired Metal Demon in his grasp -drags- his feet across the earth to -stop- himself, and -use- the Quarter Knight's momentum against him. Berserk's large size comes to be his detriment, as he is redirected, twisted into the air...

... and as that shadow looms larger than life over Yarobeleedt, Mother's Favorite Chum, like a Sword of Damocles, Berserk doesn't even notice the week whimper --

--until he feels something helpfully squish beneath him to buffer his fall.

*WHUD*

Dust gushes around Berserk and Yarobeleedt as the larger Demon falls. He lingers there for a time, slowly looking beneath him as if to peer at what has so gracefully cushioned him. But the Quarter Knight's hate wins out over his curiosity by a large margin as he rises, slowly, from the flattened Yarobeleedt.

"... What the -hell- are you doing here?" he questions of the Demon beneath him, eyes squinting. "Worthless. Go kill something. Now." Eyes burn, blazingly bright. Fury. Incomprehensible fury is his gaze. "GO."

And with that, that baleful gaze turns upon Zed once more.

"Weak. But you've always been weak, haven't you, -Zed-," snarls the Quarter Knight. "For a second I thought, it was that -impotent- Riesenlied that did this to you. But it isn't, is it? Nah. I thought that locker woulda taught you an important lesson, but I guess you were just a lost cause from the beginning. Stupid. Frail. No better than a Tainted. These idiots think you're 'cool'? You wanna protect them? They important to you?"

Blood red mist rises in a haze at Berserk's shoulders.

"GOOD. I'M GONNA MAKE YOU WATCH ME SMASH THEM."

He sees Harken from his peripherals. Sees her shout. Warn him. THREATEN HIM.

You IMBECILE!

And he turns that cold, hateful gaze on her, the gaze of a creature that is no less than the absolute pure expression of everything spiteful and violent in this world condensed into a single shell.

"If you... EVER... talk to me like that again, FREAK, I'm gonna take you apart piece by piece and show you what you're really made of."

Belittle him. Mock him. Claim him the idiot.

But there is nothing but virulent promise in that stare.

It is only seconds later that Claude is upon him in Cecilia's defense, lunging at him with that gaze of furious red. Twin strikes COLLIDE with his elbow seconds before he is about to turn his wrath upon Zed anew, ironically (??) giving the green-haired Demon a brief reprieve from Berserk's vengeful scorn.

Claude: a GREAT rival!

He wheels around to face him, snarling -- and then FLAMES and FIST -gush- and -mash- across his head and face, BURNING at his skull and Gwen's fist PUMMELING at his face in an impact violent enough that combined, in sorcerous spite and metal-laced resolve, those blows send him staggering away from Claude with a snap of jaws that just -- JUST -- barely misses his face, saving him from -whatever- Berserk was planning to do with all those rows of razor-sharp teeth.

"GRARGH!" snarls Berserk, in pain and annoyance, and he POUNDS his head into a nearby wall, collapsing it, too, as he snuffs out the flames that engulf him. "Is this tiny human important to you, princess? Maybe I should crush him NEXT, eh? He can join your father! How's THAT sound--"

He hears her. He hears HER. The one who poisoned Zed. The one who deceived Siegfried. The one who started this entire, -cancerous- land. Trying to sow her insidious seeds in the fellow Quarter Knight he has stood by -- if not always on the best of terms -- for over a millennia.

"SIEGFRIED." It is a single, mighty bellow, made all the more impressionable by the sheer -weight- behind it. "There's only ONE ANSWER. ONE! The one we've followed for YEARS before this COW existed. The one we SHOULD HAVE FOLLOWED when these THINGS were born! THE STRONG THRIVE. THE WEAK BREAK. THAT'S OUR WAY." He bears himself upward, gripping tight onto his ball and chain as he stands to that full, imposing height. Grips his precious, scarred weapon tightly. His eyes BURN.

"Okay, frail," says the Metal Demon, slowly, as he regards them all. All of those assembled before him. The constant thorns in his side. The constant annoyances. The constant BETRAYALS. That yellow stare falls towards Zed. Towards Cassidy.

And he smiles, the most spiteful, most cruel smile he has ever mustered.

"One hit."

That mace swings. And swings. And swings. Building up more and more speed until it is nothing more than a gunmetal gray smear across the stale air surrounding him. Dust kicks up in a whirlwind around his body, spiraling up towards the point where that weapon is building more and more speed.

And the sonic boom that rips through the orphanage is deafening and cataclysmic when Berserk hurls that ball in a wide, uncompromising arc that breaks the sound barrier, the rings of air left in its wake desperately chasing after it as he demolishes EVERY. INCH. of that building he can find.

And EVERYONE in his path. Betrayed. Belittled.

Everything. Will. BREAK.

GS: Berserk has activated a Force Action!
GS: Berserk has attacked Zed with Berserk Break!
GS: Berserk has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Berserk Break!
GS: Berserk has attacked Cassidy Cain with Berserk Break!
GS: Berserk has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Berserk Break!
GS: Berserk has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Berserk Break!
GS: Berserk takes 4 damage from Poison!
GS: Berserk has completed his action.
DC: MISS! Riesenlied completely evades Flying Blaze from Id!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde guards a hit from Berserk's Berserk Break for 248 hit points!
GS: Zed takes a glancing hit from Berserk's Berserk Break for 153 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        "... you've truly forgotten," Noeline mutters as she sets her blade again, her tone one of almost muted surprise. She'd already guessed what might have been happening in the Photosphere, given Jack's suspicions and the wild and unbridled attack which they witnessed at Lacour - and yet, seeing it laid bare in front of her is still a blow. Somehow, she can't even bring herself to be angry; not at the demon in front of her, at least. That anger is reserved for the Quarter Knight who couldn't even deign to be with them today. Always willing to have others dirty their hands. The very model of everything their 'proud' race should not be.

        The golden light that flows through her is a reminder of why they're here, however, cutting through the red; her attention turns towards Riesenlied, her eyes wide as she realizes that despite it all, despite everything they have shown him, Siegfried is still coming after her with those pulses of negative energy. "Riese--!" she calls, fully intending to race towards her; it's much too slow, however, and much too late.

        Lady Harken's terrible scythe slams into her from one side as she lets out a yelp of pain, borne with the Quarter Knight's strength and the properties of its baleful edge apparently extending to its hilt as well. Immediately, she's flung to one side with the improbable force of the throw, the spinning scythe tearing at her limbs before its motion buries the blade in her shoulder; she crumples, grimacing against the pain, and only barely has the presence of mind to catch herself in a direction that won't drive it in further.

        Vision swimming, she grits her teeth, looking back up. Over the din of the battle, a distant but building whine is still a palpable relief; whatever else happens, they've actually managed an evacuation despite such long odds. And yet-- as far as she's concerned, it's all for nothing if they can't bring Riesenlied.

        Pulling herself up towards her feet, her enormous sword winks away - there's no way she can maintain it in her state, and if she's really going to follow the stupid plan in her head through she's going to need as much metal as she can get. Instead, her hand goes to the blackened hilt of the scythe lodged into her - and wrenches. This time, her grunt is one of muted pain, ready for the way in which her body bucks as she tears the blade back out of her.

        "--then I will use every weapon I have available," she rasps out to the Quarter Knight who gave it to her, a grin summoned up to her face. "If we can live even a minute more, then we shall. That's the Tainted way, I hear."

        It's weightier than she's used to - but she still manages to wrench the scythe around in a wide circle, a white light sparking on its edge as she does so. Not fast enough to produce anything - but then, she's not about to stop any time soon, and the next sweep carves a bright white line across the remnants of the orphanage. It passes through the ruined walls, slides past the windows and doorframes that are still standing, but impacts on the Quarter Knight as if it were a physical thing.

        And then, she tears the scythe down in an overhead swing, producing another that washes over the air.
        Emboldened, she darts forwards and to one side, using the momentum to tear another wave forwards.
        Move closer to Riese, she tells herself. Another wave. Dive and roll past some cover. Another wave.

        A yell rips from her as a final darting strike lands her next to the Tainted leader; this time, she winds up - and simply hurls the scythe right back towards Harken as a closing strike, the arc that Azrael draws flickering with the power of Duras Drum. "--now take it back!"

        Immediately, she turns - just in time to see Id's threat, and the fist that curves down towards Riesenlied, bigger than she is, and again her heart lurches in her chest. "--Riese--!"

GS: Noeline has activated a Force Action!
GS: Noeline has attacked Lady Harken with Infinite Slash!
GS: Noeline takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: Noeline has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Berserk's Berserk Break for 120 hit points!
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Berserk's Berserk Break for 275 hit points!
GS: Josephine Lovelace takes a solid hit from Id's Big Bang for 234 hit points!
GS: Id takes Cover! He gains 50 temporary hit points!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: Cassidy Cain takes a solid hit from Berserk's Berserk Break for 329 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline is not, as it happens, fluent in Hyadean. Not that the idea hasn't crossed her mind, she's considered asking about it, but has never really had the time to learn.

When Malfi suggests she does it, Jacqueline gestures toward one of her bags - on the other side from her Crest Pouch. She doesn't have any Crest Sorcery that heals - she's an apothecary, after all, and she could brew her own medicines.

"They're in here. I'm going to grab one now." She says as a warning to Malfi. She reaches into the bag and pulls out bottle, taking a swig...and that's when she sees it.

In the distance, the orphanage practically explodes.

"A-ah!" She cries out in alarm, backpedaling away from the sight of it.

E-everyone would be alright, right...? She finds herself desperately hoping that's the case.

<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

        "Mmmmmfmfmgmgmgmmffffmfmph," Yarobeleedt's muffled whimpering is, somehow, more coherent than usual so that it can be identified helpfully as muffled whimpering and not, say, snoring. This is hardly an improvement, as more quicksilvery blood filters out from the flattened form of the much maligned advance scout.
        ...Nothing like the angry gaze of Berserk to sober one up from crush syndrome, the creature cowering with his forearms in a planitive gesture as the burliest Quarter Knight of all gives him a rare mercy.
        "Yes. Belselk. Yes. Will kill human! Kill human. Kill all," kill any? Doubtful, but he peels himself up and flits away, backwards. Zed will hear Yaro's voice, and understand the depths of the differences between them. Zed, for his ignorance and idiocy, is someone capable of making his own thoughts and decisions of what means most to him.
        Yarobeleedt simply lacks that courage, darting off at a speed his wounded body should not be able to maintain. He leaves behind more of a filmy trail than usual as he flees, leaving Zed to deal with the consequences of his actions.
        You know, that part isn't anything new, really, Yaro's always been reasonably adept at making sure he gets the hell out of dodge before he suffers immediate consequences.
        Behind him is madness. Behind him is anger. Behind him is ruin. Behind him is a promise that everyone here will die. Yarobeleedt only thinks of himself, and only himself, as he darts out further and further and further, and...
        ...Sees the ^Creature Creature^ making nice with... with her?!
        "what" Yarobeleedt pants out, as his strength slowly leaves him from quicksilvery blood loss. "^Creature Creature^! Is human... is human... is human not kill? Not kill human?" He remembers Jay from as recent as that second humiliation that he is somehow even more angry about people failing to acknowledge happening than... this sentence is getting weird and snarly, let's move on.
        He grows suddenly more incensed. Wait. Is ^Creature Creature^ scouting? They picked Malfi to scout? Over him? She is somehow doing such a good job of this that even Jacqueline isn't taking up arms against her in the middle of a pitched battle for the continued existence of a blight upon the Metal Demons?!
        "Is ^Creature Creature^ trader?!" Yarobeleedt freaks. This could get out of hand fast and make Malfi as much of an outcast as Riesenlied and her ilk are, but then again...
        ...Like hell they'd believe Yarobeleedt after failing to show other Metal Demons that Fortune Gear place twice...

<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

"You fight only for what others think of you!?" Siegfried bellows at Zed, head snapping to face him. "You FOOL! You could fight for honor, for your own might--for MOTHER!"

It seems that Siegfried is unwilling to let that stand. A moment after Negative Rainbow looses, he leaps towards Zed -- and comes down, slashing hard. The Dark Spear slashes down diagonally -- trying to bite deep into the Dark Hero's back, and then rip outward. "You seek the easy way out, Zed--so let me give you the easiest! An inglorious death!"

Nevermind that he is trying to steal Berserk's kill.

He lands, and then he turns -- looking back towards Riesenlied. His eyes widen as he listens to her, and then he shakes his head. "Forgive myself!? What sort of foolishness is this!? I have no hatred for myself--I live with no regrets! You say Mother is full of hatred? YOU HAVE NEVER KNOWN HER!"

He spins the Dark Spear around, and then leaps into the air. The Quarter Knight rises near the battered, broken ceiling -- and crashes down, trying to stab the massive Glumzambor down through the Tainted's midsection with one massive stroke, then tears it away.

He spins then -- turning to face Matilda, as she fires into his back. The rounds slam into it, and then he turns -- and his foot snaps out, blocking hers. Then, he hacks out, chopping for Matilda's side. "For... Kaguya--tch! And you would stand here, with them! With those who venerate the Guardians!"

And then he spins, raising his forearm -- with its damaged forearm cannon still jutting out -- and intercepts Xantia's punch. He returns the favor by spinning on a heel, and driving the Dark Spear for her midsection, trying to pitch her backward. "Your words will not move me! They will not--"

The Red Gear.

He looks up in time for the fist to smash down into him. Before he is pressed into the floor, flattened, he throws his hands up. An interlocking set of hexagons appears and intercepts the worst of it -- pushes back -- and when it shatters, he gets thrown to the side. He goes hurtling away, rolling a few times. His armor is blackened and dented, scorched and even torn. His helmet has chunks missing from it. He looks up, spitting grey-silver fluid out. He turns, looking at Berserk.

His eyes narrow for a moment -- but he does not argue.

        WAYSIDE VICINITY

The sonic boom, even on the very outskirts of Wayside Village, sends a ripple through Boomerang's duster. The Metal Demon looks down, though his expression is unreadable behind his mask. Beside him, a massive purple wolf steps up; it looks down with baleful, furious red eyes, and its tail swishes in the way of an angered dog. Its fangs are bared.

"You can feel it, Luceid," Boomerang says. "A beating pulse. You want it, don't you? To bite down--to rip out their jugulars, let their blood fill your mouth."

"I want nothing less," the Guardian of Desire says. Then, immediately, corrects himself: "NO. No. Her... I want her!"

"You'll get her," Boomerang promises. "I've seen enough. This... this isn't the hunt I want. It's time to claim it. What should be mine. Mother be damned. I'll take it."

"Good. GOOD! Bleed them all! Bleed every last one of them!"

Boomerang laughs -- then turns, and walks away.

GS: Siegfried has attacked Zed with Azure Cleave!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Riesenlied with Blue Destiny!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Nemesis Cleave!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Xantia with Dark Spear!
GS: Siegfried has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Siegfried's Blue Destiny for 84 hit points!
DC: MISS! Zed completely evades Azure Cleave from Siegfried!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi is right in the middle of watching Jay imbibe the potion curiously when the orphanage goes up, the resulting explosion distracting both her and Bogey. Now is Jay's chance to run if she's going to, but she may not be able to outrun Bogey, even if his top speed is a trot. If she stays put, Malfi will ask for the empty potion bottle for analysis. This is her first time seeing a potion!

GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a solid hit from Siegfried's Nemesis Cleave for 134 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Matilda Whitehead!
GS: Xantia takes a glancing hit from Siegfried's Dark Spear for 51 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Lady Harken takes a solid hit from Noeline's Infinite Slash for 160 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        "... your memory is fragmented," Riesenlied has no choice but to just lay her thoughts plain to Harken. "Because I have watched you struggle -- I have watched you struggle to come to grips with what has been fed to you. And Lord Siegfried knows this too, and he finds Alhazred's methods distasteful."

        Lily's enormous sorcery is all the more chilling, in the confined space that they're at-- she shivers under the intense pressure of the spear that spears forward towards Harken; but that is not the end, not when she feels that connection with Lily for a moment--

        Hears her say her name. She rattles for a moment and gasps quietly, staring as the vortex of Ether emerges in a sensation not unlike the healing power Lily uses... contorted and twisted into the visage of death. "Lily..."

        She moves closer in that span, moving towards Noeline as she gasps and-- instinctively tries to reach out for Azrael as it screams across the distance, threatening to plunge straight into her partner-- and yet she returns, bloodied but unbowed, even wielding Lady Harken's own weapon with a tinge of Duras Drum's own power laced straight through it.

        Xantia's fist comes in a rush of extreme power, followed by Josephine's powerful ricocheting rifle shot. Everything is collapsing around them. Everything.

        That's okay.

        They don't need to defend this orphanage. They don't need to defend this village anymore.

        Especially when Id speaks in the way that he does, floating up to his Gear and shutting himself in his cockpit. Her eyes widen, uncertain about what Id meant by Siegfried's rejection of him... her eyes narrow for a moment, witnessing the moment in which it all seems to snap for him.

        The crimson Gear's fist descends upon her, a crushing force that could very well turn her into nothing more fine than dust...

        ... and it does.

        Riesenlied is nowhere to be seen, as the fist collides against the ground -- fine mist shimmering with an ephemeral shade of gold.

        The spirit of Wayside is safe with them.

        "It's time," speaks Cetiri to Riesenlied, over the shortwave radio.

        Still finely dispersed into a form of Mist, she is largely safe from Berserk's overwhelming and devastating rampage that threatens to collapse the rest of the two-storey townhouse into debris and fragments-- and yet she can't help but feel threatened still as the sheer force of his anger wells through her very form...

        Everyone. Please listen to me.

        The echo comes straight from the heart, as Riesenlied speaks to each Drifter not vocally, but through the power of empathy. Even Jacqueline is in reach of the voice.

        An airship will deploy from the grounds very soon. We must board it. It is the only way we will escape the Quarter Knights with enough speed.

        She's about to speak more, but-- her power just about runs out, as she coalesces -back- into shape--

        --in time for Siegfried to try to stab at her midsection in one fell stroke. The spear pierces onto her side, once more drawing and slicked red with her blood...

        "... you must be honest with yourself, Lord Siegfried ..."

        ...and once more, she has turned into photons to give herself distance. She can't keep this up anymore. She's starting to wane. Her priority is those that have fallen and are incapable of escaping under her own power. What can they do to get everyone out of here safely?

GS: Riesenlied takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Yarobeleedt's screeching finally penetrates Malfi's concentration. "This is MY SPECIMEN!" she announces. "Go get your own!" She doesn't seem to care whether Jay will be offended by being described as a specimen.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        OUTSIDE

        The three that are assembled outside would feel the ground shaking further and further -- up and until the rest of the ground-based hangar hatch has opened completely. A thunderous 'FWHOOOM' is heard as the ground rattles, the drone of an Emma Motor engine roaring into life as winches start to drag something... something out from beneath the ground. Beneath Hadal Temple, where the Primarch of Muse dwelt for far too long a time...

        And Jacqueline, Malfi and Yarobeleedt would be the first to see what comes out, locking into place and only held back by large, Gear-sized cables fixing it onto a makeshift catapult.

        It is a skyship: https://imgur.com/a/clFTf

        The top half is a majestic repurposing of Hyadean technology -- the bright-blue, balloon-like hull of a former Hyadean supercarrier, fitted with much more contemporary fins, sails and protective padding hooked atop where bits of obvious damage have carved away at it. It is crested with a majestic Dragonshead at the front, and possesses translucent blue fins for steering...

        ...

        ... and the bottom half is truly Wayside engineering at its finest, because it seems to be a sailing boat that's been hooked up to the carrier through makeshift masts and plastered together with scrap bits of metal, wood and anything anyone could get their hands on.

        A title is on its side, over white paint where the once-ship probably was:

        The FERESHTE.

        And it is ready to take its maiden voyage to the skies...!

<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi watches, astonished, as the skyship rises, her surroundings (and captive) quite forgotten. Escaping, they're escaping!! Was it really important? The gesture of disapproval was what mattered. After all, the fugitives were now exiles who would never be welcome back in the Photosphere.
                Not even in the Gutter

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

As she takes aim with the scant firepower Marilyn can provide, Neriah finds herself touched by a feeling she seldom experiences.

Hope and clarity. Riesenlied, reaching out again. A woman Neriah once wrote off as the most saccharine being on the face of Filgaia - yet one she has come to love as a friend and even, sometimes, a companion.

Then Josephine touches down next to her, and Neriah has to hold back the urge to say something venomous to the woman. Instead she just glances at her and lets out a short huff. I can kill her later.

Besides - Neriah's not half the ARMs markswoman Josie is. So long as those bullets are heading for Id, Neriah is happy. And she can't help but be impressed as Josephine bounces a bullet off of... things a bullet should not ricochet from.

"Granas's cornhole, woman," Neriah compliments with a quick blink Josephine's way.

Her own bullets are significantly less effective. She looks on with a blink as Id just shrugs off the bullets. Bleeds, but what's blood?

'You are still bound by the chains of causality.'

"What's that supposed to mean," Neriah says before Id suddenly shows in in front of her. She gasps and snaps her arm back.

And Id punches her in the face hard enough that there is a pronounced SNAP as the entire left side of Neriah's face seems to cave in.

Neriah goes flying off the outcrop she was standing on - and Id shoots her in midair. The red blast consumes her; clothing and flesh simply incinerate in a flash. Neriah doesn't feel it but only because her nervous system has completely overloaded.

With a fleshy thud, Neriah hits the ground a couple of blocks away. She skids, digging out a trench in the turf before her momentum finally runs out. What's left of her slumps into the muck and dirt, unmoving and unbreathing. Her left cheekbone and orbital bone have both been smashed and her jaw seems to have been broken, and she's riddled with brutal burns. There's not much blood blood because the heat simply cauterized anything that was torn open before the point of impact. After impact, she landed hard enough to snap her right arm in two places and her leg in one.

        AND SO THIS IS HOW IT ENDS FOR YOU.
        In the nightmare hellscape of dreams on the brink of death, she can see the mocking laughter of familiar faces. Seven she has seen before. Monstrous ones behind them. They whirl around her like a hurricane. The scythe of the reaper whirls around her like a hurricane. The stench of her own weakness whirls around her like a hurricane. The certainty that Mikaia and Janey and Riese will die because of her failure whirls around her like a hurricane.
        Her tears are nothing against the fact that the sickle is against her throat. TEARS SHED BY A WEAK THING BOUND BY THE CHAINS OF ARIUS. A WEAK THING WHO COULD HAVE DONE SO MUCH MORE. A WEAK THING BOUND BY THE CHAINS OF CAUSALITY.
        BECAUSE ID IS NOT WRONG.
        WE WERE A DESTROYER.
        Above her, the arms of the reaper god begin to close. A noose draws around her neck. There can be only seven after all.


                  YOU KNOW WHAT YOU NEED TO DO, DON'T YOU?








save me, valmar.



                        i... i embrace you.






In the streets of Wayside, a dead girl draws in a slow, shaking breath. Neriah's eyes open just a slit.
        They are unseeing, but their pale blue colour has shifted to take on an entirely different hue.

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Malfi is distracted. This is a good time to run...or it would be if another Metal Demon hadn't arrived, making the possibility of a successful escape that much more difficult. One of them could flank her as she tried to escape, and while Bogey's top speed was comparably slow, his size more than made up for that.

"Y-yes! Not kill human...please." Jacqueline says, holding up her hands. That, at least, is easy enough to understand. She recognizes him, and gets the feeling that he recognizes her.

...He's probably not too happy about the 'Statue of Luck' situation.

She's a little distracted and doesn't hear Malfi's request for the bottle - but even if she did, the contents of the potion was a trade secret! She couldn't just hand it over.

She looks between Yarobeleedt and Malfi, as the latter declares her to be her specimen.

"U-um...that's a little sudden, isn't it...?" She asks.

And then, she hears it - Riesenlied's voice, sounding as if it was coming from deep within, somewhere close to her heart.

The airship was ready - and in fact, she sees it, emerging from the ground, reading to be boarded.

"That's my ride. Miss Malfi...you should consider coming with us. I'm certain Riesenlied would welcome you back..." She says.

But, she can see that Malfi is distracted. Jacqueline is not about to pass up this opportunity. She turns to bolt toward the Fereshte, moving as quickly as she can.

And, still on the ground, from where she had been unable to pick it back up after Malfi had grabbed her with her tendrils, is a single Crest - the ever-trusty Earth Pillar.

She can always go back to a Sorcery Guild and get the spell recombined to another one, but she will be feeling this loss for what it means to her...

Right now, however, her survival was more important.

<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

Lily commands the kind of magic that makes very dangerous people sit up and take note, and maybe that's what Harken enjoys about it. She doesn't know what to expect. Not like other Humans, who are generally frail and break after only a few moments of effort. The baleful lady with forbidden power is more than that. Worse than that.

A glittering outline of ruby shines darkly from the Quarter Knight's form as foul magics scythe into her being, into her body and essence alike. A spiritual anchor crashes into whatever misshapen flame burns in Harken's breast as a soul. "Oh~?" she croons in surprise as flickering scarlet and black roil from her wounds, a tether of light winding its way to the young sorceress's hands. "I see what you're doing... what a beautiful gift you have. With every panicked breath, you show me something more interesting..."

Chemical injectors buried deep within Harken's armor fire, new life surging through the Quarter Knight's veins even as it is robbed from her in turn. Automated systems begin over-correcting an already heavily-overmedicated subject, with unpredictable results. She stalks languidly towards Lily's floating form, despite her vanishing reserves of stamina. Reaching for her as one might paw for a favourite toy.

 "But be careful," comes a warning through strained teeth. The glowing link between Lily and her inhuman foe surges brightly as pallid, violet flame begins to lick at the edges of the hole punched clean through Harken's torso. "You might find you've bitten off more than you can chew."

Rather than resist, it seems Harken is forcing Lily to try and drink from the spiritual firehose. To stomach a bottomless wellspring of some kind of horrible, tainted mockery of Human lifeforce. To add insult to injury, she's also trying to lay a hand on her human foe's cheek. What kind of twisted, mocking affection is this supposed to be?

Everything is just coming apart in this orphanage. Physically, the place is in splinters. Mentally, even the people on the same side inside are threatening to murder one another. The bloodied, scarlet-haired Quarter Knight turns her head to regard Berserk with the very embodiment of odious disrespect. Her pupils are tiny pinpricks upon a sea of white, her grin growing too large for her face. The thrill of it is too much to bear, coming face to face with destruction given form. The evolutionary endgame of strong defeating the weak.

"When the last of these jokes breathes their last, you wearisome fool, I'd love it...!" Alhazred, to his credit, probably deserves a medal for maintaining such a tight grip over his prize subject that she really doesn't twig a damn thing despite the constant hints they're dropping.

The whole queer affair between Harken and Lily is cut short, perhaps mercifully. Noeline's first strike has the advantage, because it is unexpected, but also because the scythe Azrael is made of who-knows-what, and Harken's first reflex of raising a hand to catch the weapon results in it piercing through her hand. The mighty Quarter Knight reels backwards, the spiritual tether between herself and Lily snapping like a broken chain. "Interrupting..." she seethes, still magnificently controlled despite it all. "Beseeching your enemy for power..."

What's probably most worrying is the way the scythe, imbued with the Guardians' power as it is, burns in Harken's hands horribly despite her rather astounding catch of the shaft as Noeline hurls it back at her like a weapon. It doesn't bode well at all.

Before she vanishes, Riesenlied can see the gears turning in Harken's head as those frenzied eyes focus on her with laser-point precision. This is no blind frenzy, but a state of supreme awareness. And she is comprehending every single word. "You lie," the Quarter Knight's breath is visible--superheated steam, as she denies what may very well be the truth. "You lie"

A great deal happens in a short amount of time. A giant crimson fist seemingly explodes Riesenlied into a million motes of gold. Id has betrayed their short-lived alliance, and strikes the commander-in-chief of the Metal Demon civilization with that same blow. Harken has never known such fury, but her foes--

Have all but vanished.

GS: Lady Harken has attacked Lily Keil with Azrael - Guillotine!
GS: Lady Harken has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

This is okay, Claude C. Kenny thinks as he barely avades the gnashing jaws of the Quarter Knight; an acrobatic kick-flip takes him away from the titanic terror before he can bring fists or that monstrous hammer to bear. This is okay - he's alive, he's fighting, Cecilia is up and doing her thing. And for all that Berserk has been laying about him, the Metal Demon general hasn't managed to land a clean hit yet. The downside is that Berserk only has to be lucky once, while Claude needs to be lucky always. But it's fine. It's okay.

But then the hammer starts whirling, and whirling, and it is not okay. It is not okay. "Cecilia!" Claude shouts. "Get ready to dodge - you go high, I'll go..." Claude breaks off as he suddenly realizes where he's standing. He looks frantically over his shoulder to see what remains of the orphanage; a faint flicker of metallic eyes dart back from behind a window, as Claude's stomach drops down through his guts and into the earth. He can't dodge, the building's behind him. There are Metal De--- Hyadean children inside. The so-called Tainted. If he dodges - if everyone dodges - there'll be nothing between them and the Quarter Knight's fury.

They aren't his people, aren't even his species. This isn't his world. But he made a promise.

"BEEEEEEEEEEEEERSEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERK!" Claude screams, sheathing his sword and pouring every bit of power into his arms, the limbs wreathed with chi, blazing like fire. The young man lifts both hands up, his muscles swelling as the roar of the Quarter Knight's whirling hammer reaches hurricane force. He calls on everything he's got, knowing it almost certainly won't be enough. But he's got to try. "TEEEEEEEEEEEAR INTO PIIIIIIEEEEEECEEEEEEEEEEES!" Claude bellows, slamming both arms down into the earth, sending a massive tidal wave of stone ripping across the earth toward Berserk, trying to crush him under, or at least stop the backblast.

The Quarter Knight tears through it like paper, the sonic boom rippling across the stone, taking the wall down in an instant. Claude staggers backward, battered by a dozen projectiles, then bowled over by the remaining force of Berserk's attack. He bounces off a ruined chunk of something, then takes another hit on his scalp, a crimson stain spreading across wheat-blonde hair. The impact spins the young man from Earth around, and he measures his length across the broken world of Filgaia.

nice try boy from earth

Claude coughs wetly, crimson staining his lips; pain shoots through his left side as he tries to stir. He coughs again, then grits his teeth as a wave of pain washes over him, bringing with it a grey haze that threatens to drag him under.

just bad luck

"Nnnnnnnrgh," he growls, rolling onto his stomach, bringing with it a fresh rush of pain. Claude welcomes it like an old friend, using it to push back the exhaustion, quell the fear. He can't bear to look behind him right now - he doesn't want to know if his effort helped or hurt. He might have blocked some of it. Or he might have made it worse by giving the shockwave a bunch of heavy rocks to throw around. He doesn't want to know. He can't - because Berserk's still standing. That means he has to too. Claude levers himself up onto one knee; he tried to go further, but nausea and daggers of fire drive him down. He coughs again. One knee, then. It'll have to do.

Claude slowly unzips his jacket, reaching inside with his right hand; his left arm is held close to the body, shielding the wounded side. "N-not yet," he sputters. "Said I'd do... everything I could... to save everyone... in front of me..." Claude pants, his shoulders bobbing as he sucks in breaths that write symphonies of main all through his body. "'m not... done yet." He draws out a slim, bladeless sword hilt that the Quarter Knights have seen before; he's deployed it against each of them, to little effect. On previous encounters, Claude has attempted to conceal the nature of this attack by flaring his chi, making it seem like a sword technique or sorcerous attack. He'd like to do it again, but he can't. He doesn't have the time, he doesn't have the energy. And if this doesn't do the job, he hasn't got a prayer.

So he says one now.

"Light, come forth," whispers Claude C. Kenny, as an incandescent beam rips across space toward Berserk's hate-filled heart.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Berserk with 'Sword' of 'Light'!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Even Noeline has to suck in a breath at the sight of the skyship rising up - which isn't easy, as she desperately dances around the fist of Id's gear in the wake of her dash over to Riesenlied, throwing herself around the red metal before rolling low to one side as Berserk's wrecking ball thrums a few inches over the top of her head. For an instant, she wildly flicks her head around to one side and then the other - but somehow, Riese has slipped past the attacks, and she's left pushing herself back up to her feet as she sees the golden motes coalesce again some distance away.

        It isn't just seeing the craft fly - it's a matter of what it represents, a matter of knowing that at least some of the Tainted will survive today and carry on their legacy. Noeline might be something of an individualist - but you don't spend so much time being in Wayside without being infected by its spirit, let alone assisting in leading it, and she can appreciate that this is, at its core, mission accomplished.

        ... that said, she would still like to survive.

        Riesenlied is visibly faltering, and that spurs Noeline onwards despite already being nearly at her limit; her breaths are rough and fast, and the exertion rocks through her frame as surely as the pain from the wide cut at her collarbone left by Lady Harken's scythe. A jump over some strewn rubble offers her a chance to look behind her, to take stock of the ridiculous mess that is all that remains of the orphanage - and realize, in a tiny blessing, that Harken does not appear to be pursuing either of them.

        All the better for her to prop Riesenlied up with one shoulder, look towards the skyship as it begins to launch, and suck in a deep breath as she tries to keep a shudder out of it. "... I've got you," she insists quietly, because with Siegfried's attention on Id and the other Quarter Knights bickering amongst themselves in anger, now really seems like the best possible time to try to get clear.

<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

        "Capture?!" YArobeleedt seems incredulous about this, because this seems like an excuse to steal away a kill. He starts to inch closer to Jacquleine. "Wait. Nononono. Yaro caps sure outstead. Easy easy. Fufufu." He has a glint in his eye that seems... well, more desperate than dangerous. If he did Malfi's mission for her, then they can yell at her and beat her and threaten to throw her in the recycler instead, and, and, and--
        Then, the Freshte appears, to a great rumbling on the ground, and Yaro screeches as he hides underneath the metallic fabric cocoon as though expecting a great weapon to come down upon them...
        ...
        ...One doesn't come? He doesn't see Jay bolt off.

GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's 'Sword' of 'Light' for 84 hit points!
DC: MISS! Lily Keil completely evades Azrael - Guillotine from Lady Harken!
<Pose Tracker> Cassidy Cain has posed.

She lets go before Berserk can take her through the rubble, but not after leaving him a small gift - the nick inflicted from the innocuous-looking blade on her side. The impact has her going limp, bouncing off the ground and rolling into dust and dirt, coughing through the smoke. Still, she has her wits about her, still, when she uses her momentum to plant a heel on the ground and leaving her skidding backwards and further into the decimated orphanage.
 
 And then, she realizes that there are too many people inside the building.
 
 It is a deathtrap if she ever sees one, not when it contains not just another Metal Demon, but two others, and this one she recognizes with her blazing red hair. Through the dust haze, green and gold eyes find Harken's glorious mane, and past her to recognize a few other faces.
 
 Including Lily Keil.
 
 Well, at the very least, if she doesn't die here, too, she has a relatively good chance of surviving. It seems that the members of her party aren't the only ones mad about what happened.
 
 YOU IMBECILE.
 
 "Wow," she says to Berserk, because she can't help herself. "You going tae take that from the pretty one?"
 
 This is bad. This place is--
 
 She doesn't have the time to finish the thought when the world is suddenly awash in blistering white light...
 
 It happens so fast that everything outside of her body vanishes to make way for the tidal wave of devastating pain that nearly reincarnates her into her next life - it certainly feels that way. She lies unmoving in a flat piece of masonry, blood and tattered clothing painting its surface in a grisly mosaic, her shattered body a sacrifice to the Altar of Hatred. Her head is tilted off the edge, sunlit streamers of her golden hair spilled in a tangle...
 
 ...and faded, lifeless eyes staring directly at where Gwen has fallen.

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia does her best to protect Claude, as he strives to protect her. Her fingers clench, white-knuckled, on her staff, as Berserk tries to once again threaten someone else to get to her; and once again, it works. He found out her one weakness and chips and chips and chips. It's a different kind of anger from the screaming tyrade she deployed at Jack, but nonetheless her blood boils. "You--" she spits out - and then he detonates everybody. She has her shield up, which is why every bone in her entire body doesn't explode; she slams hard into the ground what feels like six miles away and is probably only four hundred feet, rolling uselessly to a stop. She doesn't have a quip or a sneer; she groans, tears in her eyes, fingers quaking.

Her head pulses.

        Shaman.
                You cannot stop him as you are now.

"I know..." she whispers. "I know, I know!" even as she forces herself to rise.

        The words, Shaman.
                The words.

"MATERIAL!" she screams, releasing her power - a stone medium flashing up before her, a glyph of claws upon it.

"Hi-Speed Ripper!"

If anything were still standing between Cecilia and Berserk, it's bowled over in short order as the Medium erupts into light, releasing Fengalon to dash upon the earth and barrel hard into Berserk. Cecilia starts running, hoping to catch back up with Claude and the others, even as her lungs burn.

Her head pulses.

        Not those, my child.
                The sky! In the sky!

She sees it - hears Riesenlied's warning. An airship. Incredible! But they'd have to get away, somehow...

        You are not ready. But you are the only one who can.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Berserk with Material - Hi-Speed Ripper!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Somehow. Inexplicably. Zed manages to lift the greatest (in terms of girth) of the knights. He twists, hurling Berserk into the air, into the ground, into... into...!?

Y-yaro!?

Yaro, what are you even doing there!?

"What! Yaro!? Get out of here, dumbass! Do you want to get yourself killed? I thought you were supposed to be good at this self-preservation thing!? Go! You don't wanna be anywhere near here when..." When, what? When Berserk gets even more angry? When Harken insults him to his face? When Siegfried's grief finally runs over its vessel? When the Demon of Elru appears to shatter yet another safe haven?

How many apocalypses does it take to kill a man?

And he feels that gaze fall upon him.

Incredibly, the fear is second to the rage.

"Weak...? Hahahaha, maybe. Maybe I am weak! I've never been able to beat you, that's for sure. Adversity breeding strength, that was the idea, right? That's what the plan was." Zed's hand tightens around the hilt of his accursed blade. Doom Bringer reflects the light of a fantasy in flames-- and the face of a man who finally decided he couldn't take it anymore. Zed's eyes are manic, terrified, furious, defiant. His heart throbs in his chest, quicksilver pulse hammering a primordial beat against his eardrums. It screams a single word, over and over again. Each throb recites that mantra.

Live.

Live.

LIVE!

"I dunno, Berserk. You should feel proud. Your plan worked fine. I ain't a weak, lily-livered child anymore. I'm not going to back down. Not to you. Not to uncle Zeik. Not to anyone! I'm strong! Strong enough to stand up to someone like you!"

A blade.

Falls.

A sword.

Rises.

Sparks fly Siegfried decides, finally, that Zed no longer deserved life. He's in good company in that regard. But-- he doesn't die. The Dark Hero is not so easily slain. Doom Bringer takes the blow, turns it aside. Zed slips under and out, rolling to safety as Glumzamber transforms the space he once occupied into a zone of absolute carnage.

How close had he come to dying just then?

"Terrified. I'm fuckin' terrified, but I can't not do this-- I wouldn't be able to forgive myself," Zed mutters, his voice a hushed whisper in the moments Claude-- best rival extraordinaire-- buys him. Power floods into him, a warmth he barely recognizes as belonging to Riesenlied. Zed clenches his teeth, his jaw tightens. "Sieg... Sieg. Honor, glory, whatever else. That stuff... doesn't bring anyone anything. It doesn't bring any smiles to any faces. I... I can't. I can't keep going on honor alone. I can't fight for a goddess I've never even really met. Maybe you know more than I do. Maybe. But--"

"I refuse. I can't keep killing myself a little bit inside every time I pick up my sword! I'll go my own way from here, walk my own road, and we'll see which of us is better off in the end!"

But then.

The cataclysm is unleashed.

It comes like a thunderclap. Like a hurricane. One hit delivered at speeds beyond sight, beyond sound. The world rushes in to catch up with the impact. It throws off shockwaves that shatters stone and pulverizes earth. Nothing should remain in its wake.

Zed.

Zed. Infuriatingly. Zed. Impossibly. Zed. For a single, split, terrible moment-- Zed...

Resists.

Berserk might catch sight of him-- of that awful, manic, terrible grinning mug as the gnat he used to push around... Braces his blade against the impossible. For the slightest speck of time, Berserk's terrible wrath is stopped. And then the inevitable happens, momentum reasserts itself, Zed disappears with the blastwave.

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.


...

...

For a long moment, it seems as if he has turned into nothing but a silvery stain on the wasteland.

But.

Then.

Zed is nothing if he is not a cockroach.

Something erupts from off in the distance. Something huge, something hard, something driven by a plume of power that burns red and green and gold.

It's...

A... rocket ship?

No. The shape unfolds, transforming in mid-rush. A cape flutters in the breeze. A shock of green hair twists in the breeze.

It's... It's...!

"ZEDDEEEEEEEEEER KNUUUUUUUUUCKLE!"

Zed's fist.

Goes to meet Berserk's jaw.

"Claude!" Zed's voice roars out of the... The...

...

It's. There's no real other description here. It's a super robot. Like, just straight up Zed's head on a black Getter Robo body.

"You... Put yourself at risk to help those people. For that, you have my thanks. But now...!"

Zedder Robo clenches a fist, its eyes flash with power. "Let's hold them off! As long as we can! Until Riese can do what she needs to do! What do you say... MY RIIIIIVAAAAAL!?"

DC: Zed switches forms to Monsterous Zedder R!
GS: Zed has activated a Force Action!
GS: Zed has attacked Berserk with Ultimate Zed!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Material - Hi-Speed Ripper for 83 hit points!
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Zed's Ultimate Zed for 83 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

"That's not it," Matilda replies to Siegfried -- but she's cut off by his vicious swing, which gets her square in the gut. The armor takes the worst of it, slowing Glumzambor significantly before it makes impact, but she's left with damaged armor and a bleeding slash wound just the same.

"Nngh -- I'm here... because of the data she promised me. That's -- all," she breathes, realizing she's extremely out of her depth. Siegfried can't be engaged like even a strong human -- he's just... different. Or maybe... she's just not strong enough to engage him on her own terms.

She starts to back away, then, instead, as Siegfried looks to Berserk. "... He's wrong, you know!" she calls to Siegfried, voice low. "He's an idiot. Anyone who's handled shoddy tools knows better."

Conveniently, it's about time to exit. Matilda starts to move away, offering no further resistance. She doesn't fire, but she does offer Siegfried some parting words: "If it's too hard, it just breaks. The strong shatter. The weak bend."

<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Thanks to Siegfried's timely block, the explosion only really serves to push Xantia back after her strike, saving her from taking the follow-up spear strike full-on. But just getting clipped by it is sufficient to increase the distance she flies considerably. Though turning her fall into a roll, allowing her to get back to her feet quickly, that wasn't exactly a painless experience, what will all the... orphanage bits scattered around.

Moreover, in turning her attention to Siegfried, she took her eyes off Id. Perhaps that was a mistake. Perhaps it's the only reason why she's still standing right now, not being among the ones targetted by the red Gear's following assault, but it can only feel like a mistake when she hears Id's broadcasted words. "But why?!" She has to ask, even though there's little chance her words can reach him. She must be one of the few who would wonder why the Demon of Elru would do the things he does. That sort of thing is only to be expected. And yet, Xantia is seemingly incredulous.

But that isn't going to stop this building from going down. She has to get out of here. And somebody has to stop Id from making good on his threat. So there's only one thing to do. When the red Gear's fist raises after its attack on Siegfried, it has a passenger. Xantia clings on tight to the back of the hand.

Only afterwards does she hear Riesenlied's voice. An airship...? She should probably getting on board of that, get herself to safety. But then what about Id? Is the airship fast enough to outrun a Gear? What should she do?

In the end, it's a compromise. Atop the red Gear, Xantia activates her ARM once more. The blade is not as ridiculously huge as it was before, still longer than usual but also much thinner. She drives it downward, piercing the Gear's armor, before simply... leaping off its side. In her fall, she aims to trail a path through the Gear's side, hoping to cause enough damage to at least be an inconvenience in Id following through with his promise.

Of course, step two will be somehow managing to land safely afterward, if she can get away with this to begin with. But she's never been one to think two steps ahead. It'll probably be fine... right?

GS: Xantia has attacked Id with Frenzy Dance!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
GS: Id takes a solid hit from Xantia's Frenzy Dance for 72 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

        Once and only once, Josie's gaze tilts Neriah's way. An eyebrow arches.

        But before her, Id bleeds.

        Josie, rifle still raised, takes a step forward, sights trained on the bloodied man. Her breathing is shallow, her stance tight and controlled.

        "Good," she tells him, finger easing over the trigger again. "Want another?"

        Before he lurches to his feet, takes flight in his rise upwards to the...

        The rifle dips downwards as Josie takes stock of the sight of Id settling into the cockpit of the red Gear.
        He makes a promise.

        And Josie has the sudden realization that a critical error may have been made just now.

        Amidst the blaze of red light, amidst that moment where time slows to an agonizing crawl, Josie breaks into a dead run.
        Oh, she knows it's too late. It's already too late, but she'll be damned if she rolls over and dies, just because
        just because

        The wave of energy sufficient to carve a Gear into bits breaks.
        Neriah is struck. Neriah--
        Then there's just the haze of red, of black so bright it flashes red behind the eyes, and here too is the pain.

        She's caught in its rapids, she floats above it. She reaches for her hand--
        She drowns. Sinks.

        "...will you, too, sink with it, child?"

        Something burns within her psyche. She stirs dully against the rock where she was left lying limp, rifle cradled in her arms like a toddler's plaything. Someone was calling...?

        'Let go', burns the urge again.

        ...We must board it. It is the only way we will escape the Quarter Knights with enough speed.

        Ah. That's where she is.
        That's right.

        Josephine Lovelace, bleeding onto the masonry upon which she's fallen, drags herself up to her knees.

        That's right.

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst'!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Rising Heart - 'Empathic Burst' for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Gwen Whitlock gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
<Pose Tracker> Id has posed.

"You, Siegfried," Id whispers in his cockpit. "You allow experimentation on human beings, I can imagine the tortures you inflicted upon her. I tried... I tried..."

He chuckles cynically, flicking the switch back on.

"Yeah, he finds it 'distasteful' alright. But for his higher cause, he'll do anything."

But then he strikes. He hits Siegfried who blocks it, impressively as he would, but even then it's a strong hit for the Metal Demon leader... but Riesenlied does something incredible. It stops Id as he sees it.

She turns into photons, avoiding his strike entirely. Id has the werewithal to turn off his speakers as he observes this with shock.

"Emmy...?" He murmurs to himself. "No it can't be. That level of control should be hers and hers alone... Ultimate cell control... How did she manage something like that...?"

He hangs his head for a moment. Are they strong enough, he wonders for a moment, are they strong enough to bear the weight of the world?

MEANWHILE

Lydia cackles over the airship's speakers. "HEY DIMWITS! TIME'S UP! GET ON OR GET LEFT BEHIND!" She then picks up Cetiri and gives her a twirling hug. "We did it! AIR TRAVEL! We're geniuses! NAH HA HA HA HA HA!"

Id closes his eyes within the cockpit. He could destroy that ship, tear it down from the skies. No matter how fast it is, Weltall-Id is faster. But...

No, Riesenlied can't be Emmy. It's impossible. But that power...it definitely feels similar. There's only one way he can be sure. Id doesn't pay any further mind to Neriah. If she survived, then he'll worry about that then. If not, then he'll never worry about it ever again. His death beams are shot out of love.

The red gear turns its full focus on Siegfried. Despite Id's threats, as long as Siegfried (and Harken, to be totally honest) stand, his ability to really kill everybody in the neighboring vincinity is somewhat hampered. Id hears Zed's cries.

He hears the cries of Zed's heart as well.

The speaker comes back on.

"Remember that kind of optimism, eh Sigmund?"

Xantia carves down the red gear's side. Her ether power is considerable and she slams it into one of the propulsion engines. It does notable damage.

But she can sense that it's not enough to really cripple the machine. It's hard to tell if she bought time. Regardless, the red gear pinches the back of Xantia's cape before she can touch the ground.

The gear swings her around a couple times before throwing her for the airship. As usual, Id just assumes Xantia can take this shit.

He assumes Josephine is dead. It's just as well for liking the fake more than him. The red gear bursts towards Siegfried and a palm presses into his shield, pressing against it, pressing Siegfried down. Siegfried's defense is incredible, his power beyond measure, his will mighty--but Id intends to keep him still.

"Enkidu..." Id murmurs. "The only one who is to blame is us. And him. For our weakness. So let's bury this town...together!!"

Energy starts building up from within The Red Gear. It starts to expand out from him in a brilliant light.

It's probably a good idea to abscond quickly, because it's slow now thanks to Siegfried's proximity.

But it's gonna get faster.

<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

"You--you KNOW NOTHING!" Siegfried screams down at Riesenlied, eyes wide with a fiery, furious anger. He steps back, though, as Riesenlied vanishes into so many photons -- which whisk away, before his outstretched and battered gauntleted hand. It closes around nothing, and he looks down at that hand with a growing anger.

An anger that metasizes, as Zed finalizes his treason. He turns to look at him. "Craven," he spits. "Flee, then! Flee, and do not think I won't hunt you down! You won't walk far, traitor! I will gut you! I will end you!"

And then Zed is blown away. Siegfried looks after him, thinking about that -- and then grabs Glumzambor. He meant what he said. He looks up at the airship, eyes narrowed in rage, and then he looks up -- and the Red Gear is glowing brightly. The Gear slams him down into the ground; the earth shatters under him, and the shield erupts to hold it at bay as best he can.

"ID!" he screams, as red light engulfs him and drowns out his features.

        ABOARD THE FERESHTE

Leon Albus steps from below decks, onto the main deck of the Fereshte. He peers down from the railing, and then quickly ducks back behind it when he gets a good look at the fight below. "Bloody hell," he swears, softly, to himself. He looks down at Neriah's corpse -- for that's all that it seems to be, from this high up. No one, he thinks, could survive such a grisly injury. He bows his head, for a moment. He didn't know her.

Still.

Then, he steps back from the edge of the railing. He thinks better of being too close to the railing. With the Demon of Elru and the Quarter Knights down there... yes, Lydia is right. She calls out to them. So, instead, Leon looks back to the crew. "Get ready! We'll have a lot coming aboard, and we can expect injuries!"

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Riesenlied has no idea of what shock she's triggered inside Id. Yet, the question of 'how did she manage that' is perhaps an ironic one, because it wasn't until she met interfaced directly with the Guardians did her own body become unstable...

        And her fateful meeting with Id was what truly set it off.

        To bear the weight of the world... that may well be what Wayside's flag has come to characterise. To continue to rise when they fall, to be unbowed, even when they are beaten. It is what Noeline espouses, and it is what Riesenlied embraces...

        "Perhaps I know nothing, Lord Siegfried. But... I am willing to learn."

        Noeline moves by her side and supports her, as they both turn towards the fruits of everyone's labour. No one is left behind. Everything upon her body aches--

        There are people that need aid, however. Josephine, as she collapses onto the masonry and bleeds on it. Neriah, as she... gods, where did Neriah go? The thought of the excavator falling apart on her own terrifies her.

        She can't move anymore.

        She may not be able to, but she can hear-- no, she can sense it--

        MATERIAL!!

        She feels the ripple and thrum of the Guardian of Wind bite against her flesh, ever so softly-- as if some form within her still tingles upon it.

        "Please, Princess..." is her fervent whisper. She believes in her...

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        Berserk goes... berserk, and the landscape trembles. The orphanage is barely enough to be called a building now, debris, paper, toys, and furniture strewn about as if a natural disaster had hit. Gwen doesn't fare that much better, having been crushed momentarily by a piece of roofing.

        If it weren't for her ARM, as well as the small protection her tablet granted her, as well as being in the right place at the right time (as much as anyone really could be underneath a falling roof), Gwen would likely have been in worse shape that the condition she's in now, as she emerges. Gwen shifted the piece of plaster and terra cotta tiling off slowly with her right ARM, grunting as she slips out, looking around to assess the damages. Riesenlied is missing. There's a few others missing as well. The Quarter Knights are still here. The red Gear is here.

        And there is Cassidy.

        The redhead stands, bloody, dusty, and worn. She hears some voice. Riesenlied's, maybe?

        Her mind's elsewhere. "... Cassidy...?"

        She brought Cassidy here. She insisted on it. She did that, knowing just how dangerous it would be, as well as Cassidy's condition.

        Gwen's not supposed to be the one who's alive. She's not supposed to survive.

        Cassidy's dead. Gwen killed her with her own incompetence. "... Cassidy..." Nono. No. Nononono.

        There's too many things to react to, but this section is what drives Gwen, causes her to turn to Berserk, her lips curled into a snarl, her ARM crackling with electric energy, all yellow gold and thrumming with the beat of her frantic heart.

        She doesn't really care right now. She's going to punch Berserk with all the lightning she has, all the force she has, because if she doesn't do it now, she'll never have a chance to. She's too damn angry to let this go, and if she does, she'll never be able to scream with the force she does right now.

        Because it is her fault.

        And she's going to take this fault and shove it as deep as she can into Berserk's face before rational thought dictates a saner path.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Berserk with Corona Discharge!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Berserk takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Corona Discharge for 143 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline runs. She runs as fast as her legs can carry her. She's pretty quick, all things considered, even weighed down by her bags full of goods. She runs, and runs, until...

...She stops.

But not because she's boarded the airship. No. In her path, she sees Neriah, sprawled out on the ground. She lets out a squeak of surprise.

"N-Neriah! Are you alright? Hold on!" Jacqueline says, rushing over to her side. "We have to get to the Fereshte, quickly...can you walk? I can carry you, if you need me to..."

She hasn't seen the powers Neriah hasn't brought to bear this day. She hasn't seen her die. She is, currently, blissfully unaware of what has transpired.

She might be making a mistake, though she does not know it. ...But even if she did, she's not sure she wouldn't make it anyway.

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Noeline stumbles as her injuries throb; Riese isn't heavy in the least, not for her strength, but that strength is almost exhausted right now. For a moment, it's all she can do to soften the other metal demon's fall to the ground, but it's still enough to cause droplets of red to spread where the blonde's hands hit the ground, and Noeline's face sets at the sight of it. Her own blood is silvery-white, revealing the now paper-thin story about her own species; no Crimson Noble ever bled metal.

        Still, she forces her aching muscles up, concentrating as she tries to force her anatomy to clot her wounds. It is an effort, particularly in her current state - but it's something you learn quickly on a planet as lacking in living metal as Filgaia, especially when she has the werewithal to pull out a small vial, offering it to Riesenlied; one of Jacqueline's remedies, kept aside for an emergency.

        This time, she simply lifts her partner up, cradled against her in both arms; better to support Riesenlied's wounds, rather than force her to walk through them. "--we have to trust she'll get the rest of them clear," she mutters as if in explanation, then sucks in a breath; realistically, she knows they've got a long way to go themselves, and behind them is an expanding ball of angry, destructive energy. "... and us, as well, if I am honest."

<Pose Tracker> Cassidy Cain has posed.

If there is anything the last few days have taught her, it is this:
 
 When Gwen Whitlock is pushed, really pushed - threatened with inevitable death, threatened with unbearable loss - she is capable of incredible things.
 
 She will scream and cry while she does it, the blessing and curse of a passionate and fiery heart, but they are no less amazing.
 
 Cassidy Cain has not known her for very long, but she reminds her, very much, of someone she used to know. These parallels are enough, at the very least, to fill in the gaps of her knowledge. And true to form, she is not above manipulating the odds to her favor, even if it means exploiting her wide plethora of skills, old and new. Including bits of her more recent history, in a life when she had been a relatively accomplished performer. A singer.
 
 An actress.
 
 Some would say it is cruel, too, to toy with a person's heart this way, to make a nightmare seem real to gamble on a productive result. As she told Berserk earlier, she is weak. She does not profess herself to be perfect. Almost always, she does not even claim to be a good person.
 
 That, she leaves to the rest. She leaves it to people like Gwen.
 
 Biting back a groan, her bleeding, broken body rises from the masonry like a limp marionette, blood pouring down one side of her face. Dimly, she recognizes Riesenlied's voice pulsing through her empathic link through everyone present, and the idea of the woman being anywhere inside her makes her skin crawl. But she provides a way out and that is something that she has to accept, otherwise she really will die here.
 
 It is testament to Berserk's horrifying stature that even with Gwen's rage and pouring her pain and will into that incredible, blinding burst that the monster will probably recover...
 
 ...but she will help.
 
 After everything, it is the least she can do.
 
 She chambers a special round and with shaking fingers, she lifts it up to aim right into the center of Gwen's growing Corona as it bears straight into Berserk.
 
 "You better watch yourself, lass," she murmurs around the copper-tang of blood in her mouth.
 
 "After all of that...might....actually...start believing you care...just a little."

GS: Cassidy Cain has activated a Force Action!
GS: Cassidy Cain has attacked Berserk with Before The Music Ends!
GS: Cassidy Cain has completed her action.
GS: Berserk takes a solid hit from Cassidy Cain's Before The Music Ends for 145 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        THE FERESHTE

        It's only with the hard work of Lydia, Leon and the others that the airship could possibly be ready in time -- the aeronautic-interested shaman's designs, Leon's expertise with all kinds of machinery -- including the Kislevi slave generators and servo motors that are currently being repurposed as a power source, and of course, Emma Hetfield's own revolutionary designs serving as actuators for the propellers and fins.

        The Fereshte is angled upward, the makeshift catapult likely only ready for one shot before it falls apart, made out of spit, bubblegum and hardwork.

        Cetiri whips her tail frantically as she looks to the railing next to Leon, rasping, "Hurry, Miss Jacqueline!" she drones towards the incoming alchemist stopping to pick up Neriah.

        They can't wait for long -- they must deploy before the crimson Gear's overwhelming light erupts and consumes them all. Can they...?!

<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Xantia's effort is... semi-successful, she realizes, understanding more about Gear's workings than makes sense to herself. Was it worth doing something so reckless, something which may get her killed if she can't find some way to break her fall? Well, it's useless thinking about it after already doing it. It felt like the right thing to do at the time.

But before she can really start to think of a way to deal with the freefall... "Urk--" Her cape is grabbed, cutting off her blood and oxygen flow at her neck, and making her dizzy as she's spun around, before she's sent flying again. More horizontally this time. She doesn't have a ton of time to react by the time she becomes aware of what's happening, seeing the skyship getting closer and closer...

At the last second, she thinks to extend her hands, catching onto the lower edge of the Fereshte's upper level, holding on for dear life... and in the end, losing her grip, thankfully after having already killed most of her momentum. Leon thus finds Xantia dropping in right next to him at a very unexpected moment for the second time in as many weeks, the red-haired amnesiac seeming to literally fall out of the sky as she lands on the main deck, flat on her back. She's not immediately getting up from that, but miraculously, she doesn't seem seriously injured. "I... I'm flying... whee..." Though very out of it.

Saved, for now, somehow, thanks to... Id? Will wonders never cease.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

For all intents and purposes, Neriah looks dead. She's lying in the street, badly burned and with her arm broken in one place. (Wait, didn't she have a broken leg and another arm fracture when Leon looked at her a couple of minutes ago?)

But Jacqueline can tell she's breathing, and her eyes are open, even just a little.

The girl can't actually reply; it's doubtful if she's even conscious. Jacqueline did, at least, find her alive. It's clear enough that walking's going to be out of the question.

Jacqueline Barber will get the distinct privilege of carrying Neriah off the battlefield. Granas only knows how she survived a wound that should've killed her.

        TRUST US. GRANAS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

A battlefield is chaos, in Lily Keil's experience as a soldier. This is no exception, all the worse for where it is... But this place no longer needs defending. The only reason to hold back is to avoid harming her allies, or those she cares about. And so Lily keeps working as she's able. ...She is indeed, very easy to see, floating, winged, glowing with bizarre power unlike magic that should be seen on the face of Filgaia and yet unabashedly magical--and quickly, an angry red glow, as well. This is foul magic indeed, the very opposite of what Lily has known how to do for so long, as a child, healing wounds as a matter of course.

Harken seems surprised, but pleased somehow. "I'm improvising," Lily says. "...A wound isn't enough to hold you down. What if this is the answer?" If she's to be believed, she made up the magical effect herself--no spell learning, no crest, no symbol to compile. Lily has to float lower, in order to keep the magic going, and keep it going she does, continuing to absorb, to breathe in the life force, the evolution, really, of something akin to empathy that she has as a gift, as well.

"Glad you're... entertained..." But the glowing link surges abrubtly, and Lily's bizarre black-and-rainbow eyes widen. "What--" For a moment she nearly hesitates, her arms stiffen--but she forces herself to continue instead, leaning in and drawing it harder, knowing that if she steps aside it's as likely to go through her as into her. Pallid, violent flame rushes towards her, coats her, and yes, it is strength... But it is a tainted mockery indeed, something not human but perhaps related to it. Lily shudders with it for a moment, but it does not seem to injure her, as it should. But then, she is a witch. Isn't this how this sort of thing is...? What it does do is worsen her pallor, give her a sickly cast, cause her to sway briefly where she floats. She shudders with it, and her eyes look... wrong. Ill. Drugged.

She draws a little longer, staring into Harken's eyes as she holds her cheek. "..."

Lily stares into her eyes. "I don't like being touched."

It's ready, the voices tell her, the comms, but also Riesenlied's. Riesenlied, who is still wounded. The glow about her fades. It fades into darkness that for an instant seems to draw all light, her circuitry glowing with light once again, brighter for the shadows. Erupting from her hands is weaponry--but this is not one blade. There are two of these void-borne axes to start, both moving to hack towards Harken's midsection from the sides, while Lily keeps starin. For an instant--just for an instant--her expression matches Harken's, down to the precise angle of her mouth.

She lunges back and hacks with another, letting the momentum take her back, and then conjures a greataxe twice her height into both hands to slam down beside Harken--this time, not just to Harken, but to collapse what remains of the nearby buildings on her.

Lily's wings beat once, and she hurtles backward, flying into the air and sweeping down to pick up Josie--bridal carry, not that she'd ever call it that--and starts towards where she hears the sounds. Id...

"Hope you're not afraid of heights," she comments, but this close, Josie can see--she is pale, and drawn, and looks ill. "I don't know how fast I can go. Hold on." She goes for the Feresthe, faster than she could run. ...For now. She doesn't look so good.

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Lady Harken with The Blood-Ember - Axe!
GS: Lily Keil takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Lady Harken takes a glancing hit from Lily Keil's The Blood-Ember - Axe for 71 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"O-oh, goodness, Neriah..." Jacqueline murmurs, looking over Neriah. She hadn't noticed how bad her condition was until she drew closer, and had thought she might be conscious, but...she can't just leave her here.

Carefully, very carefully so as to not aggravate any wounds, Jacqueline scoops her into her arms.

"I-I'm on my way, Miss Cetiri!" Jacqueline calls back, picking up the pace now that Neriah's well-being is now in consideration.

...Or should she call her Doctor? The situation is a little too frantic to worry about the proper respectful appelations.

<Pose Tracker> Lady Harken has posed.

                                   Wayside

There are no howls of rage from Harken, whose cold fury remains lashed within a mental cage of near-perfection. If only she could hear what Id had to say to Siegfried, but his words are beyond her hearing. Truths best left hidden remain so, confided solely between . The rapidly-devolving situation demands action, however, as any good soldier would know. And despite being a psychotic murderer who sometimes cannot be trusted, spending three-fourth of her time exclusively in Alhazred's company, Harken is a soldier.

"Hmmph. Farewell," the Quarter Knight scoffs rudely, as Lily strikes the foundations of the building they're in and collapses the shattered remains on top of her. While hardly lethal, as the scarlet knight's reflexes are too dang quick for mere falling brick to stop her, it achieves the intended effect. It slows her down--keeps her from exchanging blows. Lily... is safe.

A scarlet light threatens to engulf what remains of the village of Wayside. Harken will, however, not be denied her duty once more. Thus, she subjects Siegfried--screaming with rage unbridled--to the ultimate dishonor and disrespect.

Harken tackles her superior, who she would likely obey if he told her to kill herself that instant, that he might be shielded from the worst of the blast.

Loyal to the last.

Truly, Alhazred's finest work.

                                   Fereshte -Top Deck-

Hair of gold. Eyes of blue. Garb of sunset. A healthy disregard for danger.

"Correction! Nobody gets left behind!" the voice of Maya Schrodinger rings merrily after Lydia Seren's, correcting her in the most friendly manner possible. There she stands upon the deck, holding a gravimetric-sensor-guided missile launcher with holo-targeting reticle and IR tracking. "We might've cut it close, but here we are! The maiden voyage!"

The enigmatic mimic of the Ebony Wings squints as she tracks the carnage below through telescoping 12x zoom, seemingly unmovable from the deck despite the lurching of flight. "Riesenlady," Maya calls through a borrowed radio mic, "Leon's just arrived up here, and I'm gonna blow up anything that so much as looks at our incoming wounded."

A pause, as the transmission ends, and the blonde thrillseeker eyes the gear threatening to engulf the whole town in a dome of light. "Come on, I know you're all gonna outrun that thing... right...?"

<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

        Just once, Josie attempts to rise to her feet. This is cut short by an immediate fall forward onto her sole good hand, blood pooling to patter onto the stones below.

        Maybe... this time is it, she thinks, arm shaking.

        Any potential emptiness such a thought may have prompted is interrupted as Lily rather abruptly bears her up.

        And up, as it happens.

        Muzzily, Josie tilts her face up towards Lily.

        "Heh... playing the guardian angel, are you," she mumbles, lids heavy.

        Has Lily always been that pale?
        A good contrast, black hair with that skin.

        "Not... a bad look."

        She slings an arm over Lily's shoulder and closes her eyes.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah is sure Jay will never, ever have cause to regret what she's doing.

A bit of blood drips from Neriah's mouth and onto the ground. She has the courtesy, at least, not to bleed on Jay herself all that much. Well, relatively "all that much," anyway. She doesn't have much to say, though; unconscious people in the grip of excruciating pain tend not to.

Through the swimming pain, however, Neriah at least has the companionship of her thoughts.

        I was too weak to help Wayside.
        But I can change that.
        The only way to change the world is with power.
        The only way to be happy is to kill the ones who hurt me.
        The only way to master the darkness is to embrace it.
        I don't know what the Chains of Arius are.
        But if they're mine to break...
        Let them be broken.


<Pose Tracker> Berserk has posed.

Zed resists. For a fleeting, brief moment, Zed resists the velocity of Berserk's weapon in a moment that rightly ought to be impossible.

And Berserk would be much more angry about it, if it were not for the fact that Zed is smashed aside exactly one second after.

That? That just makes everything that much more cathartic.

In the moments after, Berserk just admires his work, scoffing at Harken's threats with a gutteral chuckle that burbles balefully at his throat. Yellow eyes lift...

And for a long time, he stares at it. The Red Gear. The sight of it evokes memories to another time. Not any simpler. Not any better, either. He stares at the destruction that is leveled, on everything, Metal Demon and foe alike...

And the large creature just snorts, once, in disdain.

"Wanna wipe this place out? ... Heh. Let's see who's quicker, then."

And with this, Berserk has every intention of walking past the ruin that has become the orphanage, feet stomping a shuttering path across bursted concrete and sundered earth as he wades towards the rest of the village proper -- towards the direction the Tainted were fleeing in.

"Alright. Let's get this over with -- hrn?"

Glowing, yellow eyes stare at the fallen, lifeless form of Cassidy Cain for a short time. The Quarter Knight's head tilts at a gradual, amused angle. And then...

"GA HA HA HA HA! Lookit that! Always the same, isn't it?" His grin wide. His eyes a vicious gleam. "A bunch a loud noise and then a sad, sorry whimper--"

It is Gwen Whitlock, first. One punch, direct across his face, full of energy charged through the ARM that gives her life and strength in equal measure. Electricity crackles across her knuckles and discharges with a storm of retribution upon Berserk in a blow that sends him -staggering- towards the side with an almost metallic CRACK of ARM meeting demon flesh. A scream tears through the air. And Berserk? Berserk -lurches- forward to seize the girl by the torso.

"Aw. Mad? Get used to it. This is what you are. FODDER. You're just another PATHETIC NOTHING who got mad over another PATHETIC NOTHING. You're BOTH gonna be the same WORM FOOD in the end! LEMME SHOW YOU--"

The coronal discharge is still raging around him when that single, special bullet BLOWS across the mad monster's skull. Chunks of green metal flesh fly as his grip slackens, releasing Gwen from his death grip. Electricity still sputtering and sparking and raising, quicksilver slowly oozes its way down that mending wound across his temple, matting strands of white hair gray and dying a smouldering yellow gaze with alien blood as it rolls itself, slowly, towards Cassidy.

"... Heh. Look at you. All playing pretend. Shoulda stayed playing."

Gwen is forgotten. Berserk turns, to face Cassidy Cain, his gaze full of nothing but the promise of a painful end. "How about we REALLY see how much she cares, huh? Maybe she can be the next sniveling little shit who thinks they can be mad their idiot friend did something -stupid-."

And -off- he tears. His speed is immense for something of his size. His fury like a force of nature. His strength --

                                BOOM

-- moreso.

"OR MAYBE SHE WON'T EVEN GIVE A DAMN! GA HA HA!"

And down he turns, drawing his wrecking ball backwards in his fist -- to POUND Cassidy through the air with a single, titanic blow that would simply CRATER the ground beneath him with the impact. His rage. His frustration. His WRATH.

Every sadistic ounce of it, poured into the singular act of violence he inflicts on the unkillable blonde, to test the limits of that long and lucky life.

And then,

MATERIAL!

The Guardians come once more into play.

Berserk rounds upon Cecilia instantly. Too long, she's been alive, ruining everything. Compromising everything for him. For Siegfried. For Mother. Fury is in his eyes as he advances upon her. He's seen this before. He's felt it before.

And it says something that Berserk just CHARGES into it with a reckless disregard for his personal safety, COLLIDING with Fengalon's avatar as wind and claws TEAR through armor and metal flesh in a spray of quicksilver through the air that does. NOT. STOP. HIM. He rushes, gripping his wrecking ball in two hands.

Light, come forth.

And then he sees the weak, kneeling form of Claude C. Kenny, interposed between him and the fleeing princess.

Yellow eyes widen. He remembers this. That beam of light, not quite like any sorcery he has ever seen. And now he knows why. He can see, there, the second that Claude activates it. Not sorcery. Technology.

"What the HELL are you--"

Light and heat travels faster than the human eye can keep up with. It COLLIDES with Berserk's chest. It melts through metal. And still he moves, slowed, slowed, slowed TOO MUCH to catch up to Cecilia. He feels that thing, that light, burn down towards what counts for his lungs. He does not care. His howl is one of frustration, not pain, as he rears back -- and HAMMERS Claude with that wrecking ball.

With every, savage ounce of his power to terminate that light and PUNISH the boy for harming him so. For ruining his chance. His opportunity. His weapon lifts again. High into the air. Intent to finish what he starts with one hurl towards Claude.

And then he sees it. That ship. That SHIP. They're going to--

"NO!" He turns, wrecking ball pointed at that means of escape, rearing back--

And for yet another time, Berserk finds himself blindsided by something he does not expect. He gazes upon what Zed has become, something strange, something unusual, something completely surprising. His jaw gapes, mildly.

"What the hell did you do, runt?! What is a Zedder--"

CRACK
        BOOM

Knuckle.

What is a Zedder Knuckle. That's what he meant to say.

And in that impact, Berserk is ripped off his feet. He goes flying, CRASHING into a nearby building in an EXPLOSION of concrete and wood and masonry that buries him.

It buys Zed exactly fifteen seconds seconds to move and help everyone to flee, before that debris -BURSTS-.

"ZEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!"

And Berserk starts running, even as the Red Gear threatens to obliterate everything.

Run.

Run now.

GS: Berserk has activated a Force Action!
GS: Berserk has activated a Force Action!
GS: Berserk has activated a Force Action!
GS: Berserk has activated a Force Action!
GS: Berserk enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Berserk has attacked Cassidy Cain with I'm Gonna Wreck It!
GS: Berserk has attacked Claude C. Kenny with I'm Gonna Wreck It!
GS: Berserk has completed his action.
DC: MISS! Claude C. Kenny completely evades I'm Gonna Wreck It from Berserk!
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia watches Berserk barrel at her. She's dazed...despite that attack she can't fully do much more. Fengalon's disruption cut herself in a way. Claude saves her. She watches Berserk turn on him, and shuts her eyes, hissing. "Please..."

But she can't intervene. She can tell she needs...something. Her head is throbbing, the voice of the world singing at her - at her, into her, compressing itself into a space too small to fit it and burning at her brain. She breathes, desperate. Berserk is a titan that refuses to so much as bend. Her eyes travel up, staring as Id releases all his awesome power and Siegfried does likewise. The Mediums tremble in terror. She can feel the Leyline in her, more magic than a body can contain, a leypoint leaping into existence around her.

The word is easy, she realizes; obvious, been on the tip of her tongue for months. Spoken before, without power or chant. But now she knows its use and she opens her mouth to speak it, and all that comes out is a sickly cough. Like slathering the wall of her throat in peppers, it burns to even try.

"Sa..."

She coughs, chokes off, flinches. Her blood is boiling, overflowing with a power she isn't ready for. It wasn't a quip or an insult, when they said she wasn't ready, and she can feel it now. Her body was not meant to control this power. Not yet. She can't imagine the way you would.

But she must. They all have to leave. She's not ready. And she's the only one who can.

"Sacr..."

She cuts off again, and there's blood in what comes out with the next cough, blood and streamers of Leyline light. She sucks in a breath. She rasps.

"Sa...cred..."

And then she screams.

                             "SACRED MATERIAL!!"

Cecilia vanishes in an explosion of light and a scream that reverberates in the soul, glorious white light turning to a brutal, flaming red as Cecilia is once again replaced - but the Guardian that appears this time is not in attacking posture, not moving with that rapidity of imminent battle.

Moor Gault ruffles its feathers, shakes its wings, and shrieks like a forest fire. The bird is warm, but not made of literal fire, as evinced by Cecilia--clinging to its back?

"CLAUDE! EVERYONE! GET ON!" she screams, her voice ragged.

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda does not need to be told to get on twice. She was retreating to begin with; this just gives her an actual means to do so that doesn't involve, presumably, getting hunted down by Metal Demons in the desert. She leaps onto Moor Gault without any hesitation.

She looks down at the Guardian's Material for a while, thinking on it. ... Is Siegfried right? Is she doing something she doesn't believe in, and which holds no future, solely in some vain hope that it might change things in some unforeseen way?

Joining the Hyadeans would be out of the question, of course -- but should she ever have defended the Guardian Statues? Was any of this... meaningful?

It's that heavy thought that she rides out with, as she leaves her coat and her pistol and her knife behind. ... those are going to be a pain to replace.

GS: Cassidy Cain used Mystic on Cassidy Cain! 100 Temporary HP gained! All statuses cleared!
GS: Cassidy Cain has activated a Force Action!
GS: Cassidy Cain takes a solid hit from Berserk's I'm Gonna Wreck It for 262 hit points!
GS: Cassidy Cain has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Well, Claude C. Kenny thinks to himself. This is how I'm gonna die.

The Boy from Earth manages a faint grin as his shot burns through Berserk's plating, and a half-hearted chuckle escapes his lips. It was a good last shot - but it wasn't enough, and now he's going to get pounded into oblivion by a giant alien demon on a planet a billion light years from home. Just like mom always said he would.*

But then Zed shows up in a giant robot with a head that's like his own head, and Claude C. Kenny decides that this cannot possibly be the last thing he ever sees.

The young man can barely move, but he can fall like nobody's business - he sort of rolls to his wounded side, which hurts a massive amount, but this leaves his right hand free to pull the trigger again, which sends a second blast of phase-gun energy smashing into the hammer blow, deflecting the force away from Claude's tender body. Gritting crimson-stained teeth, he gathers the dregs of his flickering will into his legs, using the fading embers of his power to leap up and back, toward the vague noise of Cecilia for him. A third shot, poorly aimed, burns into the Earth in front of Berserk, just as Claude lands atop...

...a giant fire chicken?

Claude stares at the sky, then Cecilia, and figures okay, great, so this is going to be the last thing I see before I die.

At which point he passes out.

* - Actual ways Claude's mom has said he would die include:

        -Crossing the street without looking
        -Making that face
        -Sticking his head into an antimatter reactor to see what it looks like
        -Eating too many churros
        -My foot, in your ass, if you don't learn to block that punch already
        -Banging a bug alien
        -My foot, in your ass, if you bang a bug alien, I'm not spacist, I just want to keep the grandkids below a dozen, okay

<Pose Tracker> Id has posed.

The energy rips out and around Id. It engulfs Siegfried. It engulfs the town. It speeds after the fleeing airship but it's gaining. It's gaining. It's upon you.

It engulfs the airship in brilliant light and incinerates the skyship and everyone onboard. Villain. Hero. Bystander. Friend. Foe. It cares not. It's pure destruction and nothing is safe from it, nobody can survive it.

No.

NO!!

That's not what happens, damn it!!!

Let's try that again

The energy rips out and around Id. It presses against Siegfried when, suddenly, a red haired woman steps in the way. It's just a half second that the power erupting from Id shifts, a moment where he mistakes Lady Harken for another. The blast that hits her doesn't quite hit with its full force, though it will...still be very unpleasant. Siegfried is knocked free and similarly doesn't get hit by the direct blast and, as the mightiest Quarter Knight, if anyone can survive this--it would be him. The ship gains a half second before the eruption of energies pushes forward.

Cecilia summons Moor Gault with such power that she herself vanishes and is briefly replaced by the Fire Guardian. The fire bird looks at Id as a small thing planned months ago in the Guardian Temple pays off.

The medium in Id's pocket glows red hot. It sears into his leg. He howls in pain.

Another few additional seconds are provided for the airship and its people.

The red gear sinks to one knee. The blast expands outward.

Fereshte

"Oh fuck!!" Lydia shouts, looking behind her. She pushes the ship as fast as it can, turning on all accelerators. "Come on come on...!" She looks to Maya for a moment and snaps, "I know!! Nobody left behind! I was just trying to get 'em movin'!!"

And then she smiles. "But yer right....this is our maiden voyage...! And I'm not going to let anyone with a MOMMY COMPLEX put an end to it!"

The blast chases after the ship.

It's gaining.

It's gaining...

...but the ship pulls ahead at just the last moment as the blast radius reaches its apex. The force, rather than destroying the ship, provides it with extra propulsion--though it's definitely very bumpy. Yes, you can outrun it. The red gear vanishes within the light.

You've won. Somehow, you've won. It's not the end, but you survived the impossible.

You carried the weight of the world on your shoulders.

All of you.

But...

SOME TIME LATER

The destructive light fades. The red gear straightens up and looks at its hands. Then it turns around and looks for Siegfried and Harken. It can't find them. Wayside is eradicated. It's off the map.

But all of the people of Wayside have escaped. Despite the awesome power, the casualty count (unless you count Neriah) seems to be negligible, if any at all.

Id turns his gear around. He exhales once more. "...Rejected..." He presses his hand against his face. "...Of all the times for me to hesitate..."

No. He thinks. It was more than just that. Anti-casuality.

The gear turns and looks in the direction the skyship has fled in.

It can't see it. Id can't see it.

But...

"You can't escape from me, Riesenlied..." He murmurs. "Thanks to you, I'll always know where to find you."

And the gear, damaged--but still terrifyingly functional...blasts off after the ship.

It'll search for the Fereshte until it finds it. And then...Well...

We'll see how long you can carry that weight.

<Pose Tracker> Yarobeleedt has posed.

        If people aboard the Fereshte look out one side, they might see a soft metallic thing flying at a dangerous velocity parallel to them for a short while. It sounds like high-pitched screaming, but it's gone about as fast as anyone might acknowledge its existence.
        Probably nothing important.

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

No no Claude, it's not that Zed showed up in a giant robot with a head that's like his own head. It's that Zed showed up AS a not-so giant robot with a head that's like his own head. "Hmph!" Zed harrumphs as he summarily knocks Berserk straight into a nearby wall and... minorly inconveniences him for all of fifteen seconds before the Quarter Knight proves exactly why he's kept his seat for so long.

It's not just that Berserk's ass is inexplicably stuck to the chair.

More importantly, Zed has learned a few things by coming back to clock his boss. In the fifteen seconds that he gleans, he spends about five contemplating the following:

Claude totally has some kind of awesome super laser in his pants and Zed will have to compare how cool it is with his own super laser.

That weird princess with the short shorts can turn into a giant flaming cucco. Riese should be informed.

The giant red gear is going to obliterate everything within several kilometers and they should probably get the fuck out right the hell now.

Also. "Sieg," Zed says as his former boss goes to tilt mightily at a thermonuclear windmill. "You... We really need to talk about you calling everyone who disagrees with you a traitor. But. Later. For now...!"

Zed... Transforms again. Into a rocket ship.

"SORRY SHAMAN, DON'T THINK YOUR BIRD WOULD LIKE ME MUCH. I'm going off on my own power! ZED, AWAAAAAY!!"

And then Zed goes flying off.

...To add his not inconsiderable thrust to the Fereshte's retreat.

He's helping!!

<Pose Tracker> Cassidy Cain has posed.

Should have stayed playing.
 
 Her eyes lift to the monster addressing her. The words he utters tilt her face up, staring at him with hooded, but defiant eyes. Her smile lifts, tugging higher up the corners of her mouth - brilliant and searing, an expression that cuts like a blade.
 
 "Cannae blame you...for making such an elementary mistake..." she breathes in response. "...since apparently you're...nae...the brightest bulb of the bunch. She could be exaggerating, but I'm...inclined tae believe her. Then again..."
 
 She laughs. It sounds wet and sick. Blood trickles from the corner of her mouth.
 
 "I'm tremenduously biased...towards redheads..."
 
 He surges towards her, and she has no strength to evade. Now, she has nothing left in her but her will to defy. Now, she has nothing left but luck.
 
 She remembers dying, too. White heat scoring her back, the endless fall towards the black. The sound of rushing water, obliterating the vibrant crimson of her life.
 
 Water saved her, then.
 
 Light gleams from the spikes on Berserk's wrecking ball and she can't help but watch and marvel. Even in brutality, and savagery, she can't help but find some beauty in it. She laughs, again, low - but unfettered still.
 
 It slams right into her center mass.
 
 For a moment, there is nothing but the rising of dust from impact, the way the ground doesn't just crack, but utterly breaks underneath the way he pummels at her. At the wake and ruin of it all, she tumbles back into her past: that white hot pain, the endless fall into the black, and the sound of and embrace of rushing water.
 
 Water saved her, then.
 
 Once the smoke clears, and Berserk leaves, in no way satisfied with the destruction he has wrought, there is nothing left but a hole dropping into fathomless darkness.
 
 ....and the sparkling scatter of pearls broken off from a precious necklace, their bloodstained luster gleaming dully in the dust.

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Moor Gault's eyes turn aside from igniting Id's pants, and with all aboard, it shrieks once, and then soars into the sky, taking flight after Fereshte. But the people aboard both may detect a problem...

The Shaman is visibly struggling to remain conscious, sucking in irregular breaths, her eyelids drooping even as Moor Gault makes the fastest time it can toward the airship. It soars, caws and screams, flapping with mighty wings. A Guardian of Fire perhaps may not be most associated with speed, but it can sprint if it must, and it comes up under the balloon, overtop of the deck, and--

Vanishes, dissipating in a sudden puff of Fray, leaving the battered escapees to fall to the deck.

Princess Cecilia, blood staining her tunic and slowly seeping from her nose, her skin pale from overdrawn energy, barely even moves.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        And just like that, in a blinding flash, what's left of Wayside is gone. The Fereshte flies free, with Moor Gault flying along after--one phoenix flying after another. As it soars into the sky, it passes over a lone figure who started running from their initial post about three minutes after Id showed up. Their dust-colored poncho makes them invisible against the surrounding terrain. They reach up, holding their hood in place as the tailwind of the Fereshte's passage tries to snatch it away. The figure looks up.

        Ida raises the field binoculars to her eyes, and watches the kludged-together airship leave. She sucks in a breath, and lets it out. She has no idea what's going to happen now--if everyone aboard that airship will be shot down by Gebler, or by Aveh, or Kislev. She can't help but color even this triumphant display with a patina of sorrow and frustration.

        Ida reaches down and pats the pocket holding her Medium.

        "You follow your path, Riesenlied," Ida whispers, though there's no way she can hear her. Her breath hitches in her throat. "...I must still find mine."

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        Too much momentum o get out of the way. Gwen's ARM is powerful, but it's meant for a body that has the weight and build to better balance against it. Gwen, for the decent amount of muscle she packs in her slim frame from having to lug the thing around, isn't that. And the Mockingbird, named for its adaptable nature, is not that level of adjustable.

        Gwen grunts as Berserk grabs her, his strong grip a painful sign of what's to come. She can't breathe. Her right ARM digs metal its metal fingertips, the molded humanoid fingers too blunt to to much damage on their own. Her human hand? Even less so, lacking the strength her right hand has.

        The world begins to get fuzzy. It's like being pinched between two mountains. Something like that, anyway. Gwen wouldn't know. One of the mountains is ranting, overloading her ears with yelling.%R
        Thankfully it's just one mountain that's yelling. There's a silver lining to everything, right-

        The grip retracts, letting Gwen crumple to the ground. She gasps for precious air, even if it's painful to breathe, but it's such a welcome pain because she's breathing and there's air and-

        'Shoulda stayed playing.'
        'I'm tremenduously biased...towards redheads...'

        Cassidy was alive. She was alive this entire time and Gwen RUINED it, damn it, forcing Cassidy to come out of hiding. Gwen struggles to get up, but movement is hard. Something's broken, likely, whether from a few seconds ago or a few minutes ago.

        EIther way, she can't move that quickly. She's still human.

        "CASSIDY!"

        When dust manages to clear, Cassidy is... not there.

        The redhead just begins yelling and crying between each wheezing breath, hot tears stinging her eyes-

        ----

        Somehow, survival instincts kick in. Probably a few helping hands as well.

        Either way, when Gwen comes to, she finds herself on the fleeing ship, clutching those few blood-stained pearls in her left hand.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Riesenlied barely flutters her eyelids, staring towards the emanation of light that they must absond from... and fast. She looks towards Noeline, her limbs aching with a pain unlike any other -- as the last of the adrenaline that had moved her starts to wane away, every fibre of her being screaming at how much she's abused her imprecise and unusual way to shatter herself into fundamental particles and move through the medium of light.

        SACRED MATERIAL!!

        "... let's," Riesenlied whispers, as she rests on Noeline's weary arms-- she turns and clings onto her, nodding as she looks towards the Guardian of Flame and moves towards it. She holds on with a faintness of breath as she looks to Cecilia, a nod on her frail and scale-laden face. In that regard, they're both deeply worn and at the ends of their energy. But she says the most absolutely Riesenlied thing in the midst of her delirium on the opportunity to be able to lie on the feathers of a giant chicken depositing them on the deck of the airship:

        "Cucco..."

        The blazing speed of the materialised form of Moor Gault is absolutely necessary to bring the Drifters to speed, especially as the whelming light of Id's Crimson Gear forces the Fereshte into motion, complete with additional Zedder Robo rocket boosters giving it the additional propulsion that it needs. It rattles and swims a little under the overwhelming force behind it--

        UNDERNEATH

        One of Cetiri's understudies, Lv. 1 Pilot-in-Training, gawks as something metallic nearly takes his head off across the underhull. "I don't think-- we needed that--"

        -GONK-

        "That either--"

        The servo motor begins ominously vibrating.

        "I-- I believe in the Fereshte..."

        AT THE DECK

        It is done.

        They have overcome the impossible -- survived against impossible odds, against the combined force of nature that is the Quarter Knights and the Demon of Elru. Not once... but twice, the sky has turned red. And yet, bloodied as they have become... neither the villagers of Wayside nor the Drifters were bowed--

        Taking further and further steps forward every time. Observing, learning, understanding. Months ago, they were a disappointment to the Guardians -- yet, the best they had to choose from on this dying planet. And since then... they have overcome various trials of personal hardship, tribulations against a harsh and uncaring world--

        --and been the stronger for it.

        Wayside is no more now -- as they witness it from an aerial view above, it is little more than dust and paved ground, every trace of what remains of it disappeared off the map as if it'd never existed. Perhaps it will become the site of curiosity for Drifters to come, opportunists who will no doubt try to scavenge what's left of Hadal Temple underneath.

        But Wayside was never meant to last. It was a stepping stone in their collective journey, a way to carry forward the torch-- against the winds of hate. A potential solution to bring salvation to their beleaguered brethren back home, and towards new horizons and hopes. Towards the new world that they seek. As she one spoke to the Trial Knight:

                             They will spread their wings and fly.