2018-02-25: The Frogs and the Ox

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========================<* Krosse - Sunlight Square *>========================

Krosse is a walled city, and the killing grounds inside the entry to the castle have been given a much nicer spin than is typical. Known as the Sunlight Square, it is a wide-open plaza with a fenced-off grassy park in the centre. The square occupies the same sort of role as a village green, and residents of the city frequently gather to socialize, work, or even kick off their boots and enjoy a nap in the sun.

Small shops surround the edges of the Sunlight Square, offering a variety of goods and services to travellers. A three-story building in the northwest offers lodging at a reasonable price, and a stone cathedral in the northeast is one of two surviving houses of worship of the Warrior of Light remaining on the continent.
<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

It all started with a dream.

There was a spark. A spark became a flame. And the flame spread, far and ravenous, until it consumed a kingdom. In this dream, he saw an end the people he was meant to protect. And he would do anything, anything to save them. It was a portent. A vision. And it would not leave him until he did something about it.

                                    -+-

It all started with a necessary evil.

Krosse declared it would cut off relief from it's long-time ally, Adlehyde, after the latter had been ruined by the incursions of mankind's ancient enemy. Krosse had to focus on its own problems. Its own defense. And so the kingdom cut itself off from world affairs, an event that went overlooked by many because it was, perhaps, simply expected.

There was so much, after all, to be worried about.

                                    -+-

It all started with suspicion.

The months crept by, and the people of Krosse began to notice. Notice the people who did not belong. And they could not shake the nightmares that plagued them. The thought that anyone, anyone they did not, could not know, was an enemy. Was dangerous. Wasn't it true, they thought, that the Demons of old could look just like them? Or like any passing Beastman? A frightening thought.

So was it really so surprising, the day Krosse shut down its borders?

                                    -+-

It all started with a disappearance.

The first person to disappear was no one special. They had no papers, and so they were brought in for questioning. To ensure they meant no harm to the crown. They were never seen again. So the first, went the second. And the third. Until people began to notice. Until the problems of Krosse became apparent. The suspicious glares. The paranoia. The increase of military activity. Almost overnight, things seemed to be at a point of no return.

But it was always there. For months. Festering. Growing. Little by little. Bit by bit. Because you see...

                                    -+-

It all started with a nightmare.

The Krosse Catacombs were built beneath Krosse centuries ago. Perhaps before Krosse even existed as a nation. It has served a multitude of functions since then, been privy to a plethora of purposes.

Never before has it been used towards an end so harrowing as this.

It is here, at the center of the Catacombs, that they can be found. The prisoners. Past the boundaries, past the guards, past the horrifying monstrosities that make the crypts here their home. Past the tests of one's very limits. Malevolence soaks this labyrinthine, honeycomb rings of prison cells, but it is instantly recognizable as different, even to ones with only passing knowledge of the dissonant stuff and how it works. It spreads, pulsing like a heartbeat, before being drawn back in -- the very lifeblood of impurity drawn inward and gushing back out, stronger than before. Because that Malevolence is busily planting its seeds within fertile, spiritual soil.

Making a farm of prisoners' misery.

There are no guards here. Strange, that there are no guards here. But maybe that's hard to think about, when malevolent trails saturate the air. The prisoners can be evacuated, are evacuated, from one end of the vast, underground prison to the next. But something else draws one inward. The veiny trails of Malevolence twining the air, flowing ever inward like a trail to be followed... towards that single chamber at the very center of this. At the very center of everything. Waiting for you.

                                    -+-

It is waiting for you here. At the center of the central chamber, where space itself seems to twist into little loop-de-loops of bending causality and distorting purpose that weighs weary on the spirit. Perched upon an altar, a gem perfectly spherical in shape. Purple, crystalline. Those who saw this artifact at the Baskars' sacred grounds might remember it. Those who saw it held by the one responsible for Wehaca might remember it. And here it sits now, and there is one thing painfully clear.

It is bristling with dissonance.

It is feeding on the Malevolence.

All rivulets of that impurity eventually flow into the orb on that altar, like water soaking into a sponge. And every little pulse of the thing, like the beat of a heart, sends more of it out, saturating the air, making the Malevolence of the prisoners grow, so it can feed off that in turn. An ever-growing ouroboros of misery and despair. The air around it ripples like a heat mirage. Reality churns around the sheer amount of Malevolence it has soaked, making it almost difficult to make out. But it is there. Absorbing, endlessly. Like that is what it existed to do.

And it is here that they stand, beside that orb. Here that they wait, silent. As if they were expecting the arrival of others. As if anticipating your arrival.

The Trial Knight is here, a purity of white amidst a morass of black and violets.

Their faceless helm promising nothing but the reflection of all those who arrive within its polished depths.

It all started with a purpose.

<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

        Virginia Maxwell had come here, to the Catacombs, on the auspices of investigating the disappearances at Krosse... but it quickly became apparent that that was a flimsy cover story. She wasn't here because of some detached investigation out of the concern of what had happened to Filgaia's political borders. She was here because...

        All of this...

        This was probably only possible with the Ark Scepter, wasn't it?

        It's your fault.

        Ethius and Matilda had said they'd move on her gesture -- and terrifying as it is to step even deeper into the heart of the chamber... she had to walk. She had to move forward and confront it.

        She'd spoken confidently to the seal at the door. That she would take flight and rise to the skies, on her own wings, on her own auspices.

        "There...!" Virginia hurries forward, her ARMs clicking into place. She holds the Gunsmoke revolver up at head level.

        There's silence from the rookie Drifter from Boot Hill for a moment... and then, she speaks: "I'm here to fix the mistakes I made. You heard me, right, Trial Knight? Back at the door?"

        She cocks the hammer back.

        "I'm not the same scared girl you twisted into a Hellion months ago. This time... I'm gonna make it right."

<Pose Tracker> Sorey has posed.

 Their path through the catacombs had been an interesting one - Sorey, Rose, and Alisha had discovered a shortcut by solving a rather strange puzzle, and then had run smack dab into the middle of a large number of Hellionized guards. One fight later and they had confronted a giant, Malevolence possessed statue... and then they had fought an even larger, nastier worm creature.
 
 Really, par for the course when it came to exploring ruins. Sorey had seen quite a few things in his time, and this didn't really max out his 'oh this is strange' meter thus far.
 
 Not until he had seen the nightmare that was waiting for them in the depths of the catacombs.
 
 An entire farm of people, being harvested for malevolence - being forced to suffer for the sake of creating a nightmarish world of Hellions and other monsters.
 
 Swirling streams of malevolence wash over this room like a tide, flowing in towards the orb that seems to be the focus of all of this horror. Whatever the plan is, Sorey can already feel in his gut that it is something that they cannot allow to continue. As soon as they had found the farm, he had sent out an urgent mental call to his Seraphim - he knew that whatever they would find here, it was not going to be pleasant.
 
 The presence of the Trial Knight is not that much of a surprise - not really. Sorey had been forced to confront the reality that this misery was not Lucia's doing, that there was something else out here helping to create malevolence and cause misery to the people of Filgaia. And so Sorey draws his lacquered wooden blade as he walks forward, his green eyes determined as he looks at the Knight.
 
 He has his friends with him, and the flowing mass of malevolence seems to hit a point about ten feet away from the Shepherd... and turns, flowing around him as if striking a great invisible rock or glass dome. The weeks of training with Lailah have helped to strengthen the Shepherd's power, and their time in Krosse has not been wasted. Even if their movements had been restricted, Sorey had continued to train relentlessly in understanding malevolence and honing his power to purify it.
 
 The Shepherd stops a modest distance away from K.K., reversing his grip on his sword as it bursts into blue flame. He doesn't say a word... and slams it into the ground, the ground below being consumed in a wave of purification that leaves it stripped of darkness and corruption. The initial burst only clears an area as wide as the disruption of the malevolence around Sorey... but Lailah steps up next to him, and Mikleo joins her a moment later.
 
 The area of purification begins to spread outwards, slowly and steadily.
 
 There is no more direct challenge that the Shepherd can make to the Trial Knight than this.

<Pose Tracker> Talise Gianfair has posed.

"Trial Knight," Talise Gianfair says from the doorway as she beholds the human Malevolence farm the catacombs have become, "you are fucking dead."

Once again, Talise should've seen this coming. Her inner voice insists that she could have somehow stopped this. As she gazes upon the sheer horror that these Catacombs have become, however, she knows that she's just doing that thing again - expecting too much of herself, expecting that she should be able to solve every problem before it starts. Nothing she could have done would have prevented this and nothing she had encountered until now would have even let her know that it's possible.

The realization does nothing to make her feel any better, nor temper the noxious stream of anger and horror churning through her mind. Nor does it temper the concern for her friends. Dahlia and the others from Layna's crew.

Good people caught up in this... this abomination.

Talise's gaze centres on the heart of the chamber - on that violet gem. A locus of raw Malevolence, she realizes with a deep chill and a tightening deep in her guts, as if her body wants to reject a realization too hideous to process. She clicks her teeth together, watching that sphere, the altar, the trickles of Malevolence in the air. The streams of them.

And the figure standing beside the orb waiting for them.

There is a sudden jingle of chain and a crackle of fabric, and a serpentine siss of steel through the air.
        Do not let your anger rule you, a voice in her mind reminds h--
                NO, FUCK THAT!!!

Talise doesn't wait for anyone else. She charges straight down the central corridor of the Catacombs, gripping Rastaban in both hands. A voice in her mind tells her that this is stupid.

She doesn't care. She simply barrels at K.K. like a freight train.

"MOTHER FUCKER," she roars, drawing Rastaban back. She's fully intent on just charging into the fight and attacking the Trial Knight head-on with all the rage she can muster.

<Pose Tracker> Alisha Diphda has posed.

It took Alisha Diphda a little time to calm down after she found the prisoners. In a way, it was easy; their need was so great, so immediate, that her panic and disgust had to be relegated and shoved to the side to help them -- to free them. Others were here, though, and that made it easier.

Now, she runs down the hallway. Her feet are clad in crystal-steel greaves, which make a distinct ringing down the stone steps. She doesn't know if stealth would be better here. She doesn't know if she should care. Malevolence was, before, always something natural -- an unfortunate fact of their existence, something that sprung up by virtue of human emotion. It was not created.

It was not deliberate.

And yet, today, it is. It is something horrible; a crime that burrows into her mind, the way a thorn sticks into skin and digs in. She has been quiet as she runs down the hallway, her green eyes sharp and focused. But angry, in a way that she hasn't felt for months. She comes running in just a little after Virginia. She doesn't know who she is.

She slides to a stop next to her, anyways, and looks up at K.K. Her hand has a long sword gripped in it; she left the spear in the inn room, when she arrived. Blue fire from Sorey reflects in her eyes, as she brandishes the blade, and points it at them.

"Trial Knight!" she shouts. "How--how dare you! How dare you do this!"

<Pose Tracker> Talise Gianfair has posed.

"Trial Knight," Talise Gianfair says from the doorway as she beholds the human Malevolence farm the catacombs have become, "you are fucking dead."

Once again, Talise should've seen this coming. Her inner voice insists that she could have somehow stopped this. As she gazes upon the sheer horror that these Catacombs have become, however, she knows that she's just doing that thing again - expecting too much of herself, expecting that she should be able to solve every problem before it starts. Nothing she could have done would have prevented this and nothing she had encountered until now would have even let her know that it's possible.

The realization does nothing to make her feel any better, nor temper the noxious stream of anger and horror churning through her mind. Nor does it temper the concern for her friends. Dahlia and the others from Layna's crew.

Good people caught up in this... this abomination.

Talise's gaze centres on the heart of the chamber - on that violet gem. A locus of raw Malevolence, she realizes with a deep chill and a tightening deep in her guts, as if her body wants to reject a realization too hideous to process. She clicks her teeth together, watching that sphere, the altar, the trickles of Malevolence in the air. The streams of them.

And the figure standing beside the orb waiting for them.

There is a sudden jingle of chain and a crackle of fabric, and a serpentine siss of steel through the air.

Do not let your anger rule you, a voice in her mind reminds h--

        NO, FUCK THAT!!!

Talise doesn't wait for anyone else. She charges straight down the central corridor of the Catacombs, gripping Rastaban in both hands. A voice in her mind tells her that this is stupid.

She doesn't care. She simply barrels at K.K. like a freight train.

"MOTHER FUCKER," she roars, drawing Rastaban back. She's fully intent on just charging into the fight and attacking the Trial Knight head-on with all the rage she can muster.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius filters in silently behind Virginia. He's been largely quiet throughout. He's already physically and mentally exhausted from the trials that have brought him here, but whatever reason he has to be here - a simple desire to be, or some deep-seated thought he has yet to disclose - he points a palm out and upwards from back over behind Virginia's left as he takes in the grisly sight that just... churns, in ways his mind acknowledges is something is happening that's wrong, but the depths of it is...
        ...It doesn't belong here. That's enough.
        Ethius' eyes narrow as he quietly considers the best spell to cast in which to try and disperse this as others pontificate, posture, position, or - in one specific case - purify. He's already murmuring the beginnings of some spell or another, flexing his fingers in the beginning stages of some gesticulations in which to consider the best, most efficient one to put a stop to this.
        If he ca-- no. There is no 'if.' He must.
        He is of the same mind as most anyone else, and yet, the man seems to keep his mind and his heart to himself as the confrontations mount, and prepare their transition to whatever complications may yet await.

<Pose Tracker> Rose has posed.

        Rose, along with Alisha and Sorey, had been working her best to get the prisoners to safety. The Shepherd and his two Squires could provide some safety, however fleeting - their Domains, like wandering safezones that surrounded them, warded off the Malevolence like shields of light. Naturally, Sorey's was the largest, but Rose had made significant progress in attuning herself to her magical side.

        That Domain shone almost as brightly as the Shepherd's. Almost. It still faltered, in places, but the desperate situation certainly made her glow brighter. That Resonance of hers was finally awakening, after so long.

        Appearing alongside Lailah and Mikleo, Dezel forms out of wisps of green wind, head lowered and eyes under his hair and hat. He has nothing to say, really.

        Rose can't channel the Silver Flame yet, try as she might; and so rather than make her own move, she stands by Sorey, hoping all he needs to get stronger and better at purifying is the presence of his Squires.

        No sense talking. It won't be heard in the sea of people suddenly shouting or charging on. Rose draws her knives, but thanks to Ragnell's pushes and shoves, she feels confident she could hold an Armatus long enough to matter here. Remains to see if that ends up being necessary. It might be better to conserve their energy.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Edna has posed.

         Edna knew that there was far more to this than simply chasing down Lucia and purifying her. But she chose to sit back, let the humans do as they do, and allow the clues to seep in. The shades of the truth to come into the light in time. She watched as Sorey, Rose, Alisha, and the people they interacted with continue to grow wiser and stronger with the passing months. And now... Now they stand here, before this font of Malevolence, the Trial Knight before them. The impurity is strong here. Strong enough that even Edna decides that maybe sitting back and watching the humans struggle and walk their own path isn't really an option this time.

         From within the Shepherd, a golden mote of light flutters out, and then flashes, manifesting into Edna's form. She joins Mikleo and Lailah, unfurling her parasol and setting it against a shoulder as she takes casual steps forward, icy blue eyes locked onto the knight. "......" Not a word is said. She just stays back and assists Sorey and the others with the purification.

         "Whatever happens here, try not to get murdered." Edna murmurs in a faint monotone to the others. "You all still owe me Royal Crablettes."

         Of course.

<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        The ground shakes, as if something massive were making its way through the winding catacombs with no regard for their structural integrity. The sound of crumbling, tumbling rock emanates from somewhere farther down a corridor--and a figure in white charges through the door, red cape flaring out behind him. His pristine uniform is stained with blood and crypt-dust, and his blade rests in his hand, but he has not tired. Perhaps it has something to do with what's biting at his heels.

        A Crypt Wurm chases after Leo, weakened and injured from its previous encounters, bleeding from countless gunshot wounds and slashes. The imprint of a human hand is burned into the base of its head, and all the flesh around it is a blackened, dead ruin. It is still nothing compared to the hell that awaits before him. The White Knight bares his fangs, his ears flattening as his mind processes the final element of the horrific tableau laid out before him. Others are going to rescue the prisoners. If Leo didn't have an infection to see to, he would be helping them.

        "TRIAL KNIGHT," Leo thunders, his voice all righteous indignation and authority. He spins on a heel, flowing through into an elegant sword-swing; a crescent of energy flies from his blade, into the Wurm's open maw. It lets out a horrific screeching noise, and slows almost to a stop--not dead yet, but nearabouts. Someone else can finish it.

        "TODAY, YOU FACE ALTHENA'S JUDGMENT!"

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Malevolence. It's a spiritual disease that lurks in the contradictions of man.

Fei didn't stop Loren from sneaking off. Honestly, if Solarian decides to provide a response here, it might even be warranted. Still, he sees K.K there, a so called purity of white admist the darker colors. In this moment, Fei is exceedingly grateful that Elly isn't here even if, of course, he is nervous because of the note she had left him.

"Another test..." Fei spits to the side before focusing on K.K. "...When will it be your turn to stand trial?"

FEI PSYCHO 95

Fei approaches K.K but as he approaches, he sees a group of strange people. He blinks several times in confusion before he looks at Sorey directly, staring at him.

Then the floor underneath Sorey. The ground, he thinks, Sorey is purifying it.

Fei rushes over to Sorey and steps into the area of purification as it expands past him. "Sorey!!" He shouts, eyes wide. "You're the Shepherd aren't you?!"

Fei gives the man a big dumb ass grin. "You're the guy who purified Lahan! Thank you! Thank you so much!!" Is he... Is he doing this while K.K is ominously staring down at everybody? You betcha!

FEI PSYCHO 40

"Thank god you're here...!" Fei says and, unless stopped, will give him several comraderly pats on the shoulder. "Ha ha ha ha I know this isn't the time but...I've been looking for you all this time, ha ha ha ha! I can't believe it! Ha ha ha ha ha!"

TODAY YOU FACE ALTHENA'S JUDGEMENT.

Fei's expression chills out a bit before adding, "Man, this is a relief. I have no idea who any of you people are? Are you also shepherds? Are you like a whole crew of shepherds? That's incredible!"

He looks to Alisha. "No..wait..." He frowns. "You're not all shepherds... but whatever, man, this is just a relief considerin' everything. We can finally fix the problem!"

<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Fortnight Cove was no more. It had been attacked, destroyed by the Royal Guard. That she could forgive. She was a pirate, after all, her true home was the sea. It was meant to be temporary, to hold them over until they could get back the Ruby Empress.

What she could not forgive was the abduction of her people. The abduction of Dahlia. For her sake, Layna had been able to hold in her anger, to wait and to plan instead of charging in with her Gear and tearing Krosse apart, down to its very foundations.

But once she saw what they did to them, what they did to Dahlia, she couldn't hold it in any longer.

As Talise charges in, there is the sound of boots following from the hallway. It is a slow, controlled walk.

Layna appears, her face shadowed by her hat. She notices Virginia, notices the Shepherd, his seraphim, and his squires, notices Ethius, who is after all of this not at the bottom of her list of least favorite people anymore, since the Royal Guard of Krosse was taking up the entirety of those slots. She even notices Leo because, really, how could you not?

She draws her revolver and points it at the Trial Knight, a look of barely-restrained fury on her face.

"So you're the blaggard responsible for this mess. You've made a terrible mistake. ...I'm going to break you. I'm going to break you and everything you stand for." She says, her voice surprisingly calm...and then adjusts her aim, unloading her revolver's entire cylinder toward the orb currently absorbing the Malevolence.

...She doesn't know if it'll actually work, or if the Trial Knight won't just intercept them, but she needs to make a point, and that's a good enough way to do it.

Besides, she won't need her revolver for this.

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

        Not long after passing through the sealed door, Loren had fallen back, checking something in his bag. Shortly after that, he'd vanished down a side passageway without a word.

        Against all odds, he'd received an urgent summons from Major Kahm Yugh.

        The meeting with the Major had confirmed his suspicions -- this was the same as the situation out east, with even the same player's hand on the table.
        Which meant that his thoughts about what could happen next were likely on or close to the mark, too.

        And there was more. Orders had changed. This nation's troubles were no longer their highest concern.

        Investigate, but don't play every card you have, in other words. Retreat if needed.
        In a way it's liberating: what happens down here is no longer on him if it goes south. But neither is he out of the woods quite yet.

        He's largely quiet when he reunites with Fei a while later, bearing an ordinary shield typically used by one of Krosse knights.
        "Had to get something," he'd said.
        He's not equipped for what's down here and he saw the opportunity, so he took it. That's all it is.

        So there they were, the two of them a highly unlikely partnership within the heart of the catacombs.
        The miasma weighs heavier the closer they get to the root of it all: choking, thick and staining the air with it. He can see it for what it is now, feel its malign weight on his very being.

        And he can see the pure white figure here waiting for them. He exhales a breath, gripping the shield he bears tightly.

        Other people surge ahead to challenge the Trial Knight directly. Loren on the other hand hangs back, his gaze fixed on none other than that oddly glowing stone in the midst of the mire. He can feel it in his gut -- the perhaps all-too-familiar sense that something is about to go sideways -- and he can't afford to get caught in the middle of it.
        Whatever it was.

        It's Sorey who tears his attention away from the gemstone, his gaze fixing on the familiar -- now he remembers, back at that seminar -- young man who begins to blot out the tangible malice clinging to this place.
        So it is possible run his thoughts.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
It all started with good intentions...
 
And became a lot of running. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" And screaming. They'd been called in by Jean, who noticed the nightmare earlier than the rest of them. And along the way ran into others who had noticed. Though it was more like others had run into them because they're definitely fugitives.
 
A small pink flying cat leads the charge through the tunnels by virtue of the simple fact that she can fly the fastest. The rest are pounding pavement as fast as their feet can carry them.
 
Covered with wounds they limp headlong through the trails of malevolence, not really paying attention because they think their death is behind them.
 
WHAT DO WE DO!? WHAT DO WE DO!?" Ruby calls backwards as Hiro dyspneically calls forward while holding his side, "Try to catch... our breath... and think..." "OH GOOD PLAN! WITH THAT THING RIGHT BEHIND US HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO T-" Ruby zips past a figure in a hat, Oh hey Ragnell." Then double takes, "RAGNELL?"
 
-=-=-
 
Of course Ragnell knew which way to go. Which fortunately took them temporarily from Leo kiting the thing for a breather.
 
When they make it to the central chamber it's less triumphant and more weary.
 
Sorey is crouched and purifying, Alisha is shouting how dare he. But it's to the girl who's pointing a gun that he addresses first, "Ginny." Hiro's eyes follow over to the armored figure in front of the orb.
 
He knows him by repu tation. He knows him by Lahan. Sliding his sword out of his sheath, "We all know things are different now." A beat pause, "We're with you." He gives a glance to the others, to Sorey. Who he hopes is strong enough that he can end this.Just a silent look of a shared goal in this. To Jean and Ragnell and Margaret and Fei. "Let's stop this. We've gotta buy Sorey some time."
 
Leo shouts out his indignation. His judgement. He gets a look, a look of determination in their shared goal. An easy one in this. And then he charges. His charge is limping and waring given what he knows of what he faces. He's here to help the people of Krosse, but his address to the Trial Knight is a different complaint entirely. Low and dangerous, "Do you know how many times a friend of mine has been blamed for what you've done?"
 
Ruby meanshile climbs over the side of Ragnell's shoulder, "If it's all the same... I'mmmm gonna stay back here. Where it's safe." She eyes K.K. and shrinks, while giving Fei a look, "... more safe..." She whimpers.
 

<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
Astride the top of the great wurm is a figure in purple. Shimmering with nebular force, the "Evil" Sorceress Margaret, Black Pearl of Neo-Vane, would be thinking that she is having her own shtick of giving lengthy talks taken up, were she not

A. very focused on the fact that she is standing on top of a screaming, slobbering monster that has gnawed the Blue Star's roots for aeons, no doubt
B. feeling pretty subdued about the yelling today, for various reasons.

The White Knight speaks and the wurm screeches in agony while coming up in a reeling halt. Margaret takes the opportunity to leap into the air, executing a kick-flip and pivoting downwards, sighting along the long red wood haft of her naginata. She hangs there...

The stars in her aura shine bright...

SHHHHHHNKKKKHHHHH

A single neon-violet line, a pure and chromatic hue compared to the stinking purple filth in the air, traces down along the wurm's side. As it ruptures and spills out its life and organs behind herself, Margaret twists her naginata to the side, flicking juices off and away from the group at large. Her posture moves with fluidity between fixed, but relaxed-seeming states; after the flick, up she rises. Another evolution and she has the long bladed polearm lifted, sighted towards the armored figure.

"So," Margaret says, her voice ragged.

"Had your fun?"

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

This.

This is all far too familiar.

A figure in a stark white cloak erupts from the tunnel not too far behind Leo and his entourage. In many ways, he's a strange face amongst that group- the lone Filgaian in a squad of Lunarians. But he is here for a reason- his arrival has been driven by a singular purpose, one which is writ in the bloodstains and the grime clinging to his once-pristine robe.

This.

Is all too familiar.

And it's so very, terribly clear why.

"Trial Knight," Cyre Lorentz snarls, his staff slamming hard into the corrupted ground. His eyes peek out underneath his cowl, pupils drawn into thin, narrow, angry slits. They're fixated on that cancerous, pulsating organ, pumping its corruption into the world. It sickens him to think that he actually recognizes it.

It disturbs him to know that he knows what that thing is.

"My home wasn't enough for you. You had to set your eyes on Krosse-- on all of these people-- too!?" The shaman's hand wraps painfully tight around his staff. The wood creaks beneath his grip. "You.... You monster. You've blighted this world for long enough. What do you even want with this world!?"

He stops, eyes drifting across the others who have gathered here. More than just the group following Leo, there are... Familiar faces. Some he has seen in Wehaca. Some he hasn't. One...

...The Shepherd is here too.

Ominous, perhaps.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell had come here originally with Virginia, Maya, Ethius, and Matilda; along the way, somehow, they'd gotten separated. There were lots of morpheous masonry bits trying to crush everyone. It's easy enough to get separated in a situation like that, especially with the Malevolence as thick as it was--as it still is. Ragnell hadn't managed to find her way back to Ginny; instead, she'd found others wandering and worrying through the catacombs.
        
        "Sup, Ruby. Sup, Hiro, Jean," she says casually, flicking her hand up off the brim of her hat in greeting, rather more fresh than the rest of them on account of she's not had to fight a giant crypt wurm. ...not directly, anyway. Her gaze turns towards the slavering creature, which she'd narrowly escaped with Ginny and the others earlier. "Strange bedfellows, huh? Well, not that I'm one to talk. You're lookin' for the core o' all this," she gestures around them at the motes of black and purple and the rumbling corridors, "right? I'm sure you'd find it on your own sooner or later, but lemme point you in the right direction. An' maybe ditch that thing chasin' ya at the same time." Good thing apparently Leo's pulling it away from the rest anyway.
        
        And so soon they find themselves at the center of the catacombs, where humans are farmed for their Malevolence into an eerie orb, as the Trial Knight looks on. So to be speak, given that eyeless helm. Ragnell's expression is grim and unchanging as she beholds it all, but she *does* glance towards Sorey as he begins purifying the Malevolence in a steadily growing circle, Lailah and Mikleo at his side, and half-smile with a slight nod. Busy as the Prime Lord is, she doesn't try to catch Lailah's eye. She does, however, snort in faint amusement at Edna's mutterings. "Never change, Edna," she murmurs.
        
        She does look briefly at Alisha and Rose as they stand at the ready, and at Fei as he rushes up to Sorey in open relief at his mere presence, then at Leo as he and Talise charge at the Trial Knight, while Layna opens fire on the orb and Loren hangs back to err on the side of caution. Margaret snipes at the shining knight, while Cyre conveys his anger for his ruined hometown.
        
        Ragnell pats Ruby on the head as the little dragon cowers on her shoulder. "I wouldn't call me *safe* exactly, but I *do* specialize in ranged combat, so you're probably safer here than hangin' on Hiro's head," she remarks. She nods to Hiro and the others. "Right. I'll be supportin' y'all, Hiro. ...We're *all* countin' on Sorey, here."
        
        Then, at last, she gazes over at the Trial Knight, hands resting on the handles of her guns, body tense and expectant. Battle-ready, perhaps. It's obvious there's about to be a fight, after all.

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

What lay in Matilda's response to the door wasn't confidence -- no, the screaming she did not long ago was born of a very different emotion indeed. ... perhaps it, too, could be called purpose.

She's started to put herself back together -- less screaming, more focus. But she's still a little -- off, from her experience at the door. Just as she said, she moves along behind Virginia, weapons at the ready. As more and more people pour in alongside them, Matilda finds herself -- surprised? Maybe even shocked. She hadn't expected this in the least. ... truthfully, part of her was expecting their little group to be it -- how can so many people care about Krosse?

... oh, she finds, a moment later. They're more concerned with the Trial Knight. Of course. Her eyes narrow a little, and she slips into a close-quarters combat posture -- knife and pistol. Her more... unique, ARM, is momentarily neglected.

"... There's nothing that could possibly be worth this," she says, as her gaze sweeps over the thick Malevolence. "... and, anyway -- certainly not here. You've made a mistake, 'Trial Knight.'"

<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

Yes, their intentions were fairly good. ...Jean's intentions had been fairly good. But it got... complicated, moreso than it already was. Jean doesn't have enough to drink for all of this, frankly. So she is running with Hiro, charging through as Ruby calls back. "Don't--"

Ragnell! Of course it was Ragnell. Jean doesn't mind her showing up, really. But... They get here, and there are others already here. She looks up. "...Ginny," she repeats. "I knew you could."

She looks to K.K., leveling her stare at him. "Yes, we can buy time. ...That may be all we can do, but..."

She does not trust Leo, exactly, but she's sure he's going to face them, not the Fiends right now. "...I'll be counting on you," she says to Ragnell, as she steps up, beside where the Shepherd and his friends are--his Squires. She doesn't look to them, even if she is surprised to see the group of them this way, but...

"I'm here to help." Jean, at that, pulls the fans from her hips, adopting a combat stance incongruous with the simple yellow dress she wears, with the bandana... But not that incongruous.

<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

When will it be your turn to stand trial?

"Every day I walk on this land is my trial, boy. 'Tis a fire through which I stride unflinching."

And then it comes. Violence, like a familiar friend, bears down upon the Trial Knight in the form of a rath-filled Talise Gianfair. She shouts her rage upon them, breaking through that entrance, lunging upon them.

"You still do not see."

Metal shrieks on metal; the impenetrable length of a spear's haft finds its counterpart in the sharp edge of Talise's Rastaban, the gold-snaked white of that long pole catching and holding the Beastwoman's blade in sharp place. And K.K. holds that spear that came from little more than a flash of light as if it were made so unbreakable against Talise's fury by the knight's raw will alone, the plate of their faceless helm showing the woman's endless fury back upon her.

"Hatred without the power to act upon it. After all that has transpired, you yet come to this place with a soul ripe for the taint of your get."

And indeed, as K.K. holds Talise, the tendrils of that Malevolence flowing through the air divert itself, branching into divergent patterns that draw it away from the gem on its pedestal and towards the tantalizing sight of Talise. To settle like sediment in her soul. To grow and prosper.

Before they catch aflame.

Purifying fire, silver and blue, ignite the air so close to Talise seconds before the knight seeks to -knock- her aside. The Mark of the Shepherd makes itself known well before the words of his comrades do. A silent challenge washes through the chamber in the form ofthose Flames of Purification, ebbing slowly outward towards the mass of of discordant sentiment that has embroiled itself within that strange, sponging gem.

"... There was a time, when man had not the means to burn the impurity from their heart," says the knight, slowly. Their hand settles upon that gem, unfearing of the Malevolence that burns from it ceaselessly in warping contours of malaise. "So they looked towards other methods. A sponge for their sins. But a sponge does not destroy. It but merely collects, and collects, until it drips with everything it has gathered. 'Til it bursts. 'Twas their folly, but in their arrogance, man merely called it anomalous."

That faceless helm turns to regard all those who enter. Staring, with little more than the weight of their regard. They stand their ground, even against the encroaching flame.

Unflinching.

"Would you bear the weight of that crime?"

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG

A pirate's words, and her bullets, fire one after the other, relentless and with a cold vengeance. And each of them, each and every one, stop and bend against the warping space around that swelling gem. Malevolence eats at metal. Eats at velocity. Eats at WRATH. Until everything that propels those bullets crumples away in an uncompromising entropy.

"You shall try."

And it is only then that their cold, eyeless gaze falls upon Virginia Maxwell. At her declaration. At her resolve.

"I saw the depths of you. A girl who has scraped herself from the fall. Well met, Virginia Maxwell." Is that a -- compliment? "But 'tis not mercy nor kindness that compels you here to my sight this day, is it?

"'Tis a conscience weighed heavy by its guilt."

The judgements come. From the prodigal son of Wehaca, evoking the ruin of his village. From the righteous child of Krosse, leveling her accusation. To the questioning anger of a boy who would support the so-called Lord of Calamity. Their attention turns, briefly.

"The Destroyer," they acknowledge, simply and without reservation, as if wholly content to sadle that blame.

"Tell me, boy. Do you know the purpose of a destroyer--"

CHOOM

And any additional claims that the Trial Knight may make is drowned out of the sound of a shrieking Crypt Wurm and exploding rubble. Dust spews through the chamber as the creature writhes and squirms -- only to be ended by the righteous blade of the White Knight. Debris falls like rain. Everything is muted within the dying shrieks of the beast. Save for two things:

TODAY, YOU FACE ALTHENA'S JUDGMENT!

And that one, lingering question...

How dare you do this!

<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

"Enough!"

The voice comes, but it is not the Trial Knight's that speaks. A man's voice. Old, haggard, but still full of a command that only one who has known only rule can bring. And towards the far side of that chamber still yet unruined, through its opened door...

... strides the King of Krosse.

He is old. Yet he looks older yet still, as if some terrible weight has ground him down towards dessication. Thin, gaunt, his eyes sunk and glassy, they still possess an imperious edge of command tempered only by the flitting paranoia that twitches at their fringes. Dressed in the regalia of his station, Krono I makes his way forward, past the rubble, past the ruin...

... as the Trial Knight steps back behind him, almost as if in some sort of deference.

How dare they do this?

"The knight has acted on no one's behest but my own."

The King of Krosse sounds nothing less than certain in that proclamation. But to those who can see, it is clear: Malevolence wreathes around him like the royal cloak of his station. His pallid features turn, to regard all who have assembled here, before his gaze falls squarely upon Leo.

"White Knight Leo, you are not allowed within this place, and you will stand down and tell your men to fall back or you shall risk spoiling the courtesy I have extended to you and yours," says the king, his voice a slow tremor, fingers twitching. He approaches that pedestal... and from behind him, members of the Royal Guard begin to pour out of that door. All armed and ready to fight.

All Hellionized.

And all surrounding those gathered here.

"This knight walks with the goddess. I have seen it!"

He approaches that orb. He lays his hand upon it, and instantly looks relieved. As if it was the only thing to protect him. As if it were the only thing he could trust.

"I had a vision. Of my Kingdom dying. Being torn apart by the Demons, like Adlehyde before us. And there was nothing..." His sentence trails. He bites his lip. His fingers tremble. "I will not let this vision come to pass. This knight has helped me, before even you deigned to acknowledge us, -White Knight-. They gave us a weapon. A weapon that has made my soldiers stronger... that will keep my people safe. I had hoped that after the Baskar it would be enough to be complete... but it still needs more." His eyes close, slowly. He looks so tired. So old. So desperate. The Malevolence seethes through him, infesting every fiber of his being.

"So I've done what I must. When this weapon is complete, it will be able to burn away the Metal Demons. It will fend off Aveh, and Kislev, and ANYONE who would dare threaten MY PEOPLE AND MY KINGDOM! This knight is no enemy. They have made no mistake -- they are our savior! And YOU all--"

His fingers curl. The glow of the orb grows ever-brighter, even as the Flames of Purification start to approach.

"You all have NO PLACE in OUR LAND."

And everything distorts.

Soemthing happens. Responding to the King's will, perhaps, or something else entirely, that orb -shines- with a furious light... and a SHOCKWAVE of dominating Malevolence RIPS through the chamber. Through the entire prison. Through the entire catacombs.

Through the entire castle of Krosse.

The color of things changes. Everything dyes in purples and blacks. The air grows heavier. Bleakness replaces air. Despair replaces oxygen. As if the world had become a purple-filtered nightmare, everything is dragged down, down, down into a morass from which there is no escape...

... as the Anomalous Orb establishes its Domain.

It is like a crushing presence upon the soul. The Guardians cannot help you. The spiritual bonds of your magic dissolve. The precious connections between you and the world of the spirit erode away within the muting landscape this place has become. It feels harder to move, harder to breathe, harder to THINK, as the Domain established here, like a wrong, distorted mirror of everything pure and doubtless settles its roots upon this place. It is the very definition of soul-crushing. A pressure that weighs horrid upon the mind and spirit.

And the King stands, his stare solemn and sad as it rolls towards Margaret, towards Leo, towards Matilda... towards the Shepherd and his revenue.

"Leave. Now. This is not the place for a citizen of Krosse, or the people who have so given us aid. I give you this one chance of clemency. The rest..."

The King of Krosse turns his back. Waves his hand, errantly.

"They cannot be allowed to endanger us any further."

And the Hellions of the Royal Guard lunge in a mass of metal and swords and teeth and claws and RAGE, aiming to try to strike down and disable anyone they can...

... as the Trial Knight remains, kneeling. But watching.

Watching their work unfold.

Perhaps a fight could be had here, in any other circumstance. But as the Domain weighs down, as you are dragged into the dark spiritual depths and drowned a slow but certain soul death, there is but one clear option.

-Run-.

                     M i s s i o n O b j e c t i v e
                           The Malevolent Domain

                   Flee Krosse! (Survive for 4 rounds!)]

S e c o n d a r y O b j e c t i v e

                       Make Your Way
            Make an opening past the Royal Guard!

DC: Dispellado switches forms to The Trial of the Catacombs!
DC: 1 turn has elapsed in the battle against Dispellado! 4 turns remain!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Jean with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Matilda Whitehead with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Seraph Ragnell with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Hiro with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Loren Voss with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Layna Manydays with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Fei Fong Wong with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Ethius Hesiod with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Talise Gianfair with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Virginia Maxwell with The Surrender of the Spirit!
GS: CRITICAL! Talise Gianfair guards a hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 117 hit points!
GS: Jean takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 66 hit points!
GS: Virginia Maxwell takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 139 hit points!
GS: Layna Manydays takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 137 hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong guards a hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 71 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 67 hit points!
GS: Loren Voss guards a hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 77 hit points!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Jean with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Margaret with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Hiro with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Loren Voss with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Layna Manydays with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked White Knight Leo with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Seraph Edna with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Rose with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Talise Gianfair with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Alisha Diphda with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Sorey with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Hellion Horde has attacked Virginia Maxwell with Anomalous Pulse!
GS: Loren Voss guards a hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 35 hit points!
GS: Poison and Disease! Statuses applied to Loren Voss!
DC: MISS! Talise Gianfair completely evades Anomalous Pulse from Hellion Horde!
DC: MISS! Rose completely evades Anomalous Pulse from Hellion Horde!
GS: Alisha Diphda guards a hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 36 hit points!
GS: Poison and Disease! Statuses applied to Alisha Diphda!
GS: Sorey takes a glancing hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 27 hit points!
GS: Poison and Disease! Statuses applied to Sorey!
DC: MISS! Jean completely evades Anomalous Pulse from Hellion Horde!
GS: Layna Manydays takes a solid hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 47 hit points!
GS: Poison and Disease! Statuses applied to Layna Manydays!
GS: CRITICAL! Virginia Maxwell takes a solid hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 85 hit points!
GS: Poison, Poison, Disease, Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Virginia Maxwell!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 66 hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong takes a glancing hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 24 hit points!
GS: Poison and Disease! Statuses applied to Fei Fong Wong!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 62 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Matilda Whitehead takes a solid hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 70 hit points!
GS: Poison, Poison, Disease, Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Matilda Whitehead!
GS: Hiro critically Guards a hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 24 hit points!
GS: Hiro takes a solid hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 55 hit points!
GS: Poison and Disease! Statuses applied to Hiro!
GS: CRITICAL! White Knight Leo guards a hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 32 hit points!
GS: Poison, Poison, Disease, Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

        "... Hiro," Virginia answers in turn, a solemn nod on her face. Unlike the bright-eyed girl who'd bumbled into their camp so long ago... she's full of determination now. "Layna." She sees the revolver click into place -- and she takes the shot before she does. She scowls just for a moment, but doesn't blame her.

        Leo emerges on through with the crypt wurm, and yet it doesn't rattle her one bit. The Shepherd... so he is real. She had to wonder how she'd managed to miss Sorey and his entire entourage in her entire trial as a Hellion, but-- perhaps it's for the best. There's as much chance she could've been vanquished.

        Jean emerges as well, and she nods. "It's all thanks to you guys... Layna... all thanks to Lydie, and Maya too."

        The Trial Knight... compliments her, unusually -- but she frowns quietly as she murmurs: "... that's okay. Guilt can drive people too."

        Her expression clams up just for a moment, paling as she stares towards the King. As he marches forward and vouches for the Trial Knight. Her stomach sinks.

        I had a vision. Of my Kingdom dying. Being torn apart by the Demons, like Adlehyde before us. And there was nothing...

        She places a hand to her face. "Yeah..."

        She looks askance to the Drifters, then to the King again. "I know. I know you had those dreams. That nightmare. Because..."

        Her face drops somberly as she mutters...

        "I conjured those dreams for you."

        It's spoken so plainly, but the admission of guilt is deeply clear. All those months ago, under the influence of Malevolence... no, she has no excuses. This was her sin and hers to bear.

        Her lips thin, however, as she--

        --rather heavily succumbs, her knees buckling as she starts coughing and hissing.

        "This is just like..."

        The morass of spirit from the orb erupts upon them. It's a terrifyingly familiar power, succumbing down onto her spirit. She feels that familiar tug again, threatening to drag her down towards the abyss like once she did.

        "My own Domain..."

        She shakes her head and exclaims to Ethius and the others, whoever can see her, "We-- we need to get the heck out of here--" she chokes, stumbling on one leg. "Come on!!"

        She puts her revolver near her own head, focusing on hearing its click as she helps Matilda with an outstretched hand.

<Pose Tracker> Rose has posed.

        That pulse.

        Dezel flinches. For the first time in almost a decade, he's cut off his vessel. Cut off his host. Laid bare to the Malevolence everywhere around them. He withdraws. With an annoyed click of his tongue, the Wind Seraph hurriedly snaps back into Rose like a wounded animal.

        Rose isn't doing much better. She can't feel the link to Sorey and Alisha anymore - not to Dezel, not to Lailah or Edna or Mikleo. Where there were idle thoughts and voices, there's silence again. The same silence she once sought refuge in, prefering, by far, to be blind to the world around her than admit its realities.

        It's maddening, now.
        Or maybe it's just the sickness gaining on her, the Malevolence warping her vision into shades of purple, black, red and brown.

        Moments earlier Rose had wanted to nod to Jean and say she was glad to have her by her side. Now she feels so heavy she can't think of anything but leaving. Her Domain is gone. That bubble of shining light is completely crushed under the weight of the orb's own, far greater Domain.

        "Sorey, what'd he do?!"
        Of course she doesn't know. This is new.

        The Royal Guards are charging them. Rose's knives raise, and they catch the blades of two of the Hellions. She's pushed back, weaker than the beasts. "This is... absurd! I feel like my arms are made of jelly!"
        Moreso than usual, at any rate.

        She summons what energy she can. There's no time to be nice. Her knives twist, trying to repel the weapons and plunge into the necks of the two guards upon her in one surgical motion. She lacks the strength to spare them, and it's them or her.

        They just need to clear a way out, don't they?
        At least the Trial Knight isn't attacking them.

GS: CRITICAL! Margaret takes a glancing hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 35 hit points!
GS: Poison, Poison, Disease, Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Margaret!
GS: Virginia Maxwell has attacked Virginia Maxwell with oh my god ginny's getting the nep out of here!
GS: Virginia Maxwell takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Virginia Maxwell has completed her action.
GS: Virginia Maxwell takes a solid hit from Virginia Maxwell's oh my god ginny's getting the nep out of here for 0 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Dispellado's The Surrender of the Spirit for 111 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Sorey has posed.

 Knowing that he's not alone is something that is a vast comfort to Sorey. His Seraphim are beside him, as well as his Squires and friends. While he might have been hesitant at first about having Alisha and Rose put themselves in the line of fire like this, the Shepherd has to admit that he is profoundly grateful for their presence now.
 
 "Alisha, Rose, I don't know if we'll be able to purify this place with the Trial Knight here - if the others can distract him, I want to purge the malevolence before it can affect anyone who's come to help these people. But if not, we're going to have to go in fast and try and end this as soon as we can."
 
 Sorey's voice is serious, his eyes glowing faintly green from the silver flame running through his body... and then he is taken aback as Fei just rushes up to him in a surge of gratitude.
 
 But rather than tell him to wait until later, Sorey stands up, the point of his sword still buried in the ground and his hand atop the hilt, and holds out his hand to the young martial artist. If Fei takes it, he'll be able to feel the reassuring warmth of the Shepherd's silver flame flowing up his arm, causing hints of malevolence from the catacombs and early to shrivel and vanish. "What happened in Lahan was wrong, and I'm glad that purifying it has given you a bit of peace of mind," he replies with a grin. "And yes, they do call me the Shepherd - but no matter what, I'm here to help. And if you are as well, then I'm glad to have you here."
 
 Words of praise that extend to all who have shown up, as Sorey sweeps his gaze across the room. Everyone might have their own reasons, but they recognize something terrible when they see it. "Alisha and Rose are my Squires, and Lailah, Edna, Dezel, and Mikleo are the Seraphim who are helping us to oppose this malevolence." Even those who might not have become sensitive to spiritual resonance at this point can see the Seraphim in Sorey's domain as wavering, indistinct figures - perhaps more like ghostly lights than anything else, but it's enough to make it clear that the strange young man isn't joking when he says that there are spirits at his side.
 
 But the Trial Knight speaks then, and Sorey turns to regard him for a long moment. "People are able to make progress, and move forward. Simply because they had to use a stop gag measure before does not make them wrong - because as they advanced and better options appeared, they moved on to find new ways to resist the malevolence. I respect their spirit, trying to keep from succumbing to the darkness."
 
 But then things get worse. So much worse.
 
 The wave of malevolence that the King's madness unleashes is something that Sorey was not expecting. This was a domain that exceeded anything else that Sorey had experienced thus far - a vast amount of malevolence that threatened to drown everyone around him. The black wave of darkness and despair even presses down on Sorey, pushing against the Shepherd and threatening to drown him out. Sorey drops to one knee, grunting and closing one eye.
 
 He can't feel anything now - not his friends, not his Squires. The sense of not being able to feel anything spiritual after so long is horrible, and for a moment Sorey almost lets himself be crushed by it.
 
 Almost.
 
 If the Shepherd were corrupted by malevolence, then his Seraphim would be consumed as well - a new Hellion of immense power and several dragons appearing in the world at once would be an even greater disaster than even this situation. But Sorey has been working with Lailah, and though he feels the Malevolence slamming into him, he closes his eyes and focuses. It takes a moment before he feels that he can move, but despite everything the Shepherd pushes himself to his feet.
 
 "The orb has created a malevolent domain! This darkness is too strong this close to the source! We need to get out of here!" Sorey calls out, and brandishes his sword. He looks to Alisha and Rose, and reaches down to help them to their feet if they've been downed by this blast of darkness. "Come on - we've got to go. If we're going to oppose this, we're going to have to work from the outside in - break it up from the edge and purify it all the way back to the center." Sorey has one eye closed, and he looks pained - but he's not ready to give up. He can see the amount of work the Trial Knight has put into this - they have to keep moving. And while Rose strikes to kill, Sorey brings his wooden blade around to knock one of the incoming guards out with a swift strike.
 
 He's still staggering, being battered by the waves of evil coming from that orb, and almost goes down to one knee again. As long as those pulses keep coming, he's going to have trouble moving, with his higher sensitivity to this evil.

GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 44 hit points!
GS: Poison and Disease! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Sorey has attacked Dispellado with Ka-Bonk Strike!
GS: Sorey takes 10 damage from Poison!
GS: Sorey has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Edna takes a solid hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 60 hit points!
GS: Poison, Poison, Disease, Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Seraph Edna!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Sorey's Ka-Bonk Strike for 36 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Alisha Diphda has posed.

Alisha looks sideways at Fei. Her eyes widen -- and it takes her a long, long moment to even piece together what he is saying. His questions, though, make her step back. Make her push her anger aside. "Sorey is the Shepherd," she says. "But... the only one. We can help him, though."

The princess looks from Fei to Sorey, then back to K.K. As a result, she isn't looking when Hiro approaches -- and she tenses for a moment when she hears a voice. She looks back over her shoulder; at Hiro, at Jean. Her eyes widen for a moment, and then she nods to him, and to Ragnell too. "...We'll need more than Sorey. This much Malevolence... we'll all need to buy him time."

She doesn't know how she feels about working alongside Hiro. It is a thing to untangle later.

K.K. catches and neutralizes Talise -- a frightful display of skill, which Alisha knows very well. Her arm tenses, her fingers clench the sword in her hand tightly, and she gets ready to charge forward. She looks at the Trial Knight; then, she looks to the gem, and she listens to their words. A frightened feeling runs through her, icy and cold--and then that man's voice. She looks up, staring at the King of Krosse, already gripped in Malevolence. So, too, are the Royal Guard.

And the world distorts and shatters. She looks to the side -- and Lailah, Mikleo, Edna, and Dezel are gone. She looks behind her, then, and realizes--

"R-Ragnell?" she asks, her voice small for a moment.

But the Domain demands everything. It crushes her spirit, dragging her down, and she looks up in time to see the guard rushing forward. Her jaw drops, before her expression screws up. She looks sideways to Rose, and -- and realizes she can't sense her, the way she was used to, now. She turns, looking at Sorey, eyes wide -- and then she nods. "Go, GO!"

She rushes at the first Royal Guard she can. She ducks past the first slash, and then rams her pommel up underneath the man's chin.

GS: Alisha Diphda has attacked Dispellado with Pommel Strike!
GS: Alisha Diphda takes 9 damage from Poison!
GS: Alisha Diphda has completed her action.
GS: Rose has attacked Dispellado with Asura Edge!
GS: Rose has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Alisha Diphda's Pommel Strike for 91 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Dispellado takes a solid hit from Rose's Asura Edge for 120 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Dispellado!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Many things happen.
        Virginia reveals a horrible truth, and Ethius brings a hand to his forehead. Putting it all together, what it could all mean, then... he regains his composure.
        Somehow, he doesn't fixate upon the brilliant white of the Trial Knight. He seems to be of an entirely different idea.
        The mysterious Symbologist's attention falls squarely upon the king. He slams the butt of a three-quarters-intact quarterstaff on the ground, a thundering, startling echo - or would be, if it were not drowned out by the glowing orb whose light seems to drown out... sound... emotion... but not his focus.
        He was right to come here. He must do this. Everything, in the heat of the moment, makes sense - and he goes on autopilot.
        The strange Technology Hunter begins to flutter his fingers in what is unquestionably an aggressive gesture against the King - a preparation to cast whatever awful spell he might have to strike them down, lights forming around him as his spell completes--
        'You all have NO PLACE in OUR LAND.' So is the King's decree. And then...
        Ethius' breath leaves him. A conjuration of fine dust particles fizzles, disintegrates into the nothing as the Malevolence establishes a Domain. His eyes widen with fear as his feet start to give out underneath him, stumbling back like he were shot dead through the abdomen by a rifle. He only stays up with help of the quarterstaff to keep him upright. The Hellionized Royal Guard arrive.
        He extends a palm again, flittering fingers, more loudly and unevenly stating syllables... but nothing comes. He is hit with an instinctual, deep-seated, will-bludgeoning truth. There is...
        He refuses to finish the thought. Being closer to the front means he's among the first to have to deal with the descending Hellion horde. He takes his quarterstaff in both hands to try and batter them back.
        They are too many. They come from too many angles. He is struck, clawed, battered. One even manages to grab a hold of his right forearm as Virginia calls for them to get the heck out. His own attempts to push, batter, and poke back with his partially chewed quarterstaff seem less masterful and controlled, and more desperate, as he struggles to catch up with those he came in with.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Dispellado with Caught Out Of Position!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes 9 damage from Poison!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        Leo recognizes that voice. His eyes widen as the man it belongs to--haggard and weary, infested with spiritual taint--steps out from the shadows. "King Krono," Leo breathes. He stares at the monarch for a long moment, as if trying to process what is happening before his very eyes. "What have you done. What have you done?" Pain and anger seep into his voice. His gaze flickers over to the Trial Knight, then to the hideous spiritual cancer that is the Anomalous Orb. K.K. and the King laid it all out for him, but there is a part of him that dearly wishes to not believe it. This was festering right under his nose, in the hearts and souls of the people he'd sworn to protect. It hits him like a physical blow. Krono's accusations--and Virginia's own admission of guilt--don't make it any easier. Leo stares at Virginia for a moment that seems to stretch into eternity. Then...

        The Orb pulses. It's like being hit dead-on by a tidal wave. Not even the White Dragon Aura can protect Leo from it; the big Beastman reels, driven to one knee by the force of it. He lets out a choking noise, as though he were being dragged into the depths of the sea, to drown. The Seraphim, who were visible as clear as day mere moments ago, disappear entirely. The reassuring rightness of the Aura goes with them. Leo doesn't dare think about what else it's taken from him--can't think about what else it's taken from him.

        But even in this hell, he is Althena's White Knight. It falls to him to hold the line against the darkness. "BEHIND ME, SHEPHERD!" Leo roars, forcing himself to his feet and lunging towards the enemy line, interposing himself betwen Sorey and part of the advancing Hellion guard. If Sorey falls here, everyone else is doomed.

        Leo strikes back, his blade flashing once, twice, three times--each strike flawless in its execution, especially considering the circumstances. He's trying to hold off, not kill, but any misguided mercy could mean a fate worse than death for everyone here.

GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Dispellado with Flash Blade!
GS: White Knight Leo takes 9 damage from Poison!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from White Knight Leo's Flash Blade for 122 hit points!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Caught Out Of Position for 94 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
Margaret's eyes turn momentarily towards all of the other people who came here; she frowns for a moment. When...?

Then comes the King.

Margaret's mouth opens and closes for a moment. She looks towards Leo for a moment, and then her head tilts as if to indicate the Hellions coming in after the old man. She may be trying to gear up a strategy to kill them all. It would have probably been an elegant new chapter in the legend in her own mind.

Instead something comes. A feeling like a bell that's been ringing softly coming to a stop washes through Margaret. She feels cold, and small, and helpless, as the dreams and the work of twenty-five years is casually plucked away from her. The sense is like nothing she has ever felt, the closest being a brief turn in an experimental chamber and even THAT having been at most a point of loose comparison, like comparing cucco salad to cucco waste.

The Hellions attack.

Margaret did not live long enough to become a wizard by simpering, and it is pure muscle reflex that leads her to block the incoming axe blow from a Hellionized Guardsman with the heft of her naginata. She sweats cold grease and the White Knight shouts an order. She twirls round and kicks the Hellion that had tried to open her head in the chest, and follows up with a plunging thrust at his abdomen - where the mail has a flexion point.

Sorey is shouting something. Margaret twists around to flank him. She hopes in a small interior place that nobody looks at her face; she's quite confident she looks like complete garbage.

She certainly feels like it.

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

This light...

Fei takes in a deep breath. He feels...better. He felt a little better just walking into that circle, but now he feels like he's just... just him again. He still feels those strange memories, stranger voices...but they're distant in this moment. No. Not distant. Normal. It hadn't occured to Fei just how loud it all was.

This power...

"Such confidence in your own test, that you rip out of the private pains of others while hiding your own." Fei says to K.K, though the venom seems to have tapered off a bit. Whatever Sorey did seems to have eased Fei's mind and soul. His troubles aren't gone, nor is his pain, but it isn't running the show in this moment. It's a refreshing moment.

How long will it last?

He smiles over to Hiro for a moment when suddenly--The King speaks. Fei listens to the king, and about halfway done he exhales and asides to Hiro. "Can you believe this guy? He calls this saving his people!" He is looking at Hiro but lets be real here, he is probably half talking to Ruby here as she is the bastion of wisdom. He already knows this isn't going to go well just from the king referring to K.K as his own minion. This is beyond him but--

"We have to help Sorey!" Fei says. "He's our greatest hope against the malevolence!" And he seems to believe it.

Refreshed as he is from Sorey's power, he takes some hits, but compared to others he's a little better off though--still not great. It's especially when he realizes something else is going on.

He feels ... not alone, not alone but...he can't reach something, something that has been with him his whole life.

Longer than his own life.

Hello?

The prayer is absorbed by the darkness.

Fei clears his head. Worry about it later. He looks to Alisha for a moment as she reveals that not only is Sorey the shepherd, but the ONLY shepherd. "...Then I'll help him!"

Luckily, while Fei may not have magic and his chi may be muted, he still has hitting people really hard in the face.

He strikes at guards that swarm for Sorey. Without chi, he can't reach that orb. He looks around at the group before his eyes settle on Virginia.

The gunslinger.

"You!" He shouts to her, seeing the gun. "You have to take out the orb!"

He uh ... he doesn't actually know Virginia Maxwell.

GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Dispellado with Hoten!
GS: Fei Fong Wong takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

When, when?

Jean watches, as the others strike the Trial Knight, as they look out to them, as they speak. ...As the nature of a gem seems to be explained. For a moment she breathes in the purified air being close to Sorey--a sensation special on its own. But... This Knight knows so many of them. Mentions the destroyer. "The purpose isn't--"

Jean looks up at the Crypt Wurm, as it appears, and then suddenly--Enough. Enough, as an old man full of command says, and Jean looks visibly surprised. He is gaunt, he is awful... And he is... behind this? Jean, of course, sees the Malevolence. She sees it wreathe him, sees his form as he demands that Leo step down. The guards come out, and Jean stares. She stares, enough to listen of the vision, to hear these awful statements. No place?

"...You're MAD!" Jean shouts, disturbed and shocked and angry all. "You--You've taken all these people--just so--"

The distortion happens. THe light shines, and Jean almost doubles over, slipping backward at the sudden feeling. But the shockwave is enough to nearly prepare her for the rest. The Domain starts to establish, as Jean falls to one knee, and she closes her eyes immediately. ...But 'almost' prepared is not prepared enough. The air is so heavy; bleakness is everywhere, despair sinking as her own rises to meet it. The world is down, down...

She feels the sensation of being cut off, first. Then it is a matter of how difficult it is to think, as her battered soul speaks, as something inside her betrays her against this. "En... danger..." She grits her teeth. She can't move. But Ginny--Virginia says that she gave that vision, and Jean hears it, closes her eyes. She can barely move, and there are Hellions coming towards them.

She cannot speak to Rose, hear her words. She cannot feel what was there for Sorey moments ago. the explanation filters from her ears, and she can only almost see it. And yet...

They have to get out. Or it gets worse. All the many reasons that she should run melt from her; Lucia, Hiro, the Caravan. They're so important, and yet, she can't reach out to them. ....Jean feels the despair take hold.

...In that despair, in that mix of contradiction and guilt, she can't face the others. ...It all drains away... And she finds a stillness in her mind, just as she was taught long ago. A stillness, an utter emptiness that can be filled only by death. She is not so far from Fei, now, where she kneels... And begins to look up. Here, in the stillness, where her feelings fade to the side, she can stand. The pain in her soul, the drowning, the awful feelings cannot hold her... yet.

But it is walking on a broken leg, to function like this while the Malevolence drains at her spirit.

She lowers her fans, lifts her hand instead, as she faces the first of the lizardmen to come at her. ...And she sweeps beside him, her hands come out in the familiar claw stance of the Shadow Dragon as she goes for the neck, the purple mist seeming to gather about her hand--but it is her own spirit, in answer.

She has to remind herself; there is more to do here than fight, more to do than strike back. Her soul feels so, so heavy. ...But it should, shouldn't it? After all, she's--

She doesn't say anything. She can't say anything. But there is a dull, dead look in her eye as she attempts to subdue enough to give clearance to run, and run she does. Almost she manages words.

...But before she does, she winds up at Fei's back.

GS: Margaret has attacked Dispellado with Shellcracker!
GS: Margaret takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Edna has posed.

         Edna watches, frowning as the King of Krosse steps out and reveals himself. So it was him who called for this. Not the knight. She can't help but shake her head. Humans. Why is it always humans? Her grip on her umbrella tightens a bit, and then...

         FWOOSH.

         Malevolence everywhere. A domain has been established. And not the good kind. The sickening feeling is immediate. Cut off from Sorey, Rose, and Alisha, the Earth Seraph frowns even deeper. "That moron..." But no one can see or hear her now. All spiritual connection seems to have been banished. At least temporarily. Tsk. Slowly twirling her parasol, icy blue eyes sweep slowly across the ranks of the enemies that appear to accost them.

         "Yeah, this isn't going to work right now." She says, pretty much to herself at this point. One hand clutches her chest, feeling the Malevolence attempting to worm its way into her very being, and she focuses. "Not... going to become... like him..." She growls, eyes narrowed as she steps back... and back again. Suddenly a Royal Guard is bearing dowm upon her with blade in hand, she she feebly tries to conjure up a defense, only to fail under the power of this corrupt domain.

         The blow is swift, and the Seraph goes flying. Sailing a few feet till she hits the floor with a thud. "Ugh." Groaning, she hobbles back up to her feet, panting all the while. "I swear..." A deep breath, and then the blonde closes her parasol, gripping it like a sword. "Fine. I don't need Sorcery to beat some sense into you morons." Edna growls as she sidesteps another swing, and then counters with a parasol swing right to the head of a Royal Guard. "Out of... my way..."

DC: Seraph Edna switches forms to Earth Seraph Edna!
GS: Seraph Edna has attacked Dispellado with Sunshine Swing!
GS: Seraph Edna takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Seraph Edna has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Seraph Edna's Sunshine Swing for 95 hit points!
GS: Seraph Edna takes Cover! She gains 50 temporary hit points!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Margaret's Shellcracker for 98 hit points!
GS: Jean has attacked Dispellado with Razor Dance!
GS: Jean has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Fei Fong Wong's Hoten for 128 hit points!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Jean's Razor Dance for 125 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna watches as her bullets are stopped. No...not stopped. It's like they were being eaten away completely, along with the words she had fired along with them.

She had expected the bullets to just 'plink' off. This is far worse than she expected.

She quickly returns her revolver to its holster and goes back to Plan A - drawing the armblades from behind her back and affixing them.

"Aye, try I will. But one thing's for sure - one of us ain't gonna be leaving this room." She says. She starts to charge for him, but then...

'Enough!'

A man. Appears. An old, old, old man, an oldness more of spirit than of body. It's the King of Krosse. Another man on Layna's list of people who needed to die.

"A vision? Well, isn't that fantastic? So many people, tortured, twisted, all because some old bastard had a nightmare. Well, guess what? You don't have to worry about the demons anymore." Layna says with a chuckle. "Because I'm going to kill you first."

She starts up an incantation, but it is cut off with a choking sound as the King makes that declaration, and everything distorts.

Layna is forced to her knees, choking and coughing, as a horrible something crashes against her, pressing down on her from all sides. Her mind was muddled. She couldn't think. Couldn't move, couldn't breathe -

On the whole, Layna has proven to be rather resilient to Malevolence. Largely this is due to her...intense stubbornness. Layna does what Layna wants - there's no internal discord in that.

In a way, that makes it all the worse for her, as she is plunged headfirst into a Malevolent Domain stronger than anything she has ever encountered.

Layna shuts her eyes tight. What was she to do? She couldn't get the revenge she wanted...

Get out of there, you reckless fool.

...Right. That's what Dahlia would say, wouldn't it...? This was all for her, after all. Dahlia... If Layna got herself killed for revenge...

Layna forces herself to her feet.

"...Aye." She says reluctantly, with a nod toward Virginia. "Aye. The lass's right. Come on, me hearties, let's make waves!"

She's sounding a little more like herself, now, as she turns and runs.

"Come on, come on, don't fall behind on me now! Don't listen to anything else! Just listen to me! If not me, then someone next to you!" She shouts, raising her voice. She has a lot of experience raising her voice over loudness - storms at seas, battles, particularly rowdy visits to the bar...

...Is she loud enough to cut through the cloud of Malevolence as well? At least enough to get people moving...

GS: Layna Manydays has attacked Layna Manydays with On Your Feet Me Hearties!!
GS: Layna Manydays has attacked Virginia Maxwell with On Your Feet Me Hearties!!
GS: Layna Manydays has attacked Matilda Whitehead with On Your Feet Me Hearties!!
GS: Layna Manydays has attacked White Knight Leo with On Your Feet Me Hearties!!
GS: Layna Manydays has attacked Margaret with On Your Feet Me Hearties!!
GS: Layna Manydays takes 4 damage from Poison!
GS: Layna Manydays has completed her action.
GS: Layna Manydays takes a solid hit from Layna Manydays's On Your Feet Me Hearties! for 0 hit points!
GS: Restore! Layna Manydays clears debuffs from Layna Manydays!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a solid hit from Layna Manydays's On Your Feet Me Hearties! for 0 hit points!
GS: Restore! Layna Manydays clears debuffs from Matilda Whitehead!
GS: Virginia Maxwell takes a solid hit from Layna Manydays's On Your Feet Me Hearties! for 0 hit points!
GS: Restore! Layna Manydays clears debuffs from Virginia Maxwell!
GS: White Knight Leo takes a solid hit from Layna Manydays's On Your Feet Me Hearties! for 0 hit points!
GS: Restore! Layna Manydays clears debuffs from White Knight Leo!
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

        In walks the king himself.

        Slowly, by degrees as the ruler explains himself -- explains precisely what is going on here -- Loren's expression turns ever more incredulous.
        He's done... what precisely?

        Oh good, run Loren's thoughts distantly. Great. Exactly what they needed, more Lambs with delusions of grandeur.
        Or perhaps just madness. They'll have to divert attention from the Aveh-Kislev front for this, runs the thought, the medical officer beginning to tense where he stands near the opening to the chamber. Command is going to love having to handle this.

        ...He needs to get out of here.
        Such runs the thought, even before EVERYTHING DISTORTS.

        He doesn't even have room to notice that a couple of people who had been present -- to his senses -- have abruptly vanish.
        He has more pressing things on his mind. Namely:

        The abrupt, complete way his awareness of ether is silenced.
        The hideous roil of soul-crushing corruption that comes with it.
        He flattens up against the wall. The... Major's Gear had done something similar but... Loren twists, nearly a writhe as he pushes back against the clutch of the devouring void. "Gah..." he gasps, shoving himself off the wall and forward in a stagger, unable to shake its grasp entirely.

        Oh, and there's the matter of the press of twisted knights after that.

        Fortunately, he's not precisely unarmed. With a shield much like the ones the knights themselves bear/bore, he catches an incoming sword strike across it, the force of the hit sending an uncomfortable reverbration down his arm.
        In the next instance he shoves back, using the shield as a lever against the Hellionized knight to slam and push it away.

        The entrance is just over there. So near, and yet, so far.

        "If... we can break through..." he mutters, gritting his teeth as the Domain continues to eat away at him.

GS: Loren Voss has attacked Dispellado with Krosse Knight Shield!
GS: Loren Voss takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Loren Voss has completed his action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Loren Voss's Krosse Knight Shield for 94 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
"We'll buy him as much time as we can." Hiro says to Alisha. He can see that Alisha is uncertain about working with them. He knows how he breached her trust and worse besides. And yet he doesn't have to think about it right now. He just has to do. Whereas Ruby, "Yep. It's definitely safe-r sticking around you."
 
"She's not a Destroyer." Hiro replies immediately, "She's not! What do you think you're gonna tell me? That she's going to upend the order of my world?" His words echo Agatha's, though the distinction between Lord of Calamity and Destroyer has been lost to him. "Even if I believed that, she's gonna do it by saving it!"
 
He shouts back, but then 'Enough!' and Hiro finds himself still pointing his sword at the Trial Knight, but his eyes fall upon the King of Krosse. "What?" He murmurs, until realization seperates the intense malevolence of this place from his distinctly, like his mind is sorting it out. "You're being deceived!" He cries out in protest, though with that malevolence he doesn't expect a favorable answer. Especially as all of his Guard enters. All warped and changed. Words of a vision.
 
Fei echoes pretty much what he's thinking, and Hiro calls out, "This isn't going to save anyone! It's just going to doom all of you!" Whereas Ruby mutters in her own response, "I've seen crazy but this guy has lost it if he's accepting this brand of help."
 
And then Ginny makes an admission. And Hiro... he'd known what she was during that time, but he didn't know how bad it was. What she'd done. Gravity causes him to lower his sword as he stares numbly at her. He wishes he could absolve her so swiftly, but he remembers what Jean said when he tried the same. The past doesn't matter?
 
Stupid words from a naive child.
 
He doesn't have time to bring voice to how he feels.
 
And then the room distorts. Malevolence warps and twists and Hiro starts to gag, as he feels like he's drowning in an ocean of spiritual poison. Like part of him is drowned so far that he can't reach it.
 
Even his thoughts become more distant, slow. Ruby tries to scream. Few know her nature, so her reaction may not be entirely expected. As the Blessing of Althena is denied...
 
Near to swooning in the first pulse, clinging to what she thinks is Ragnell's shoulders with her pink pawsies with a whimpered declaration of "I feel sick." And tries to nestle right in, as if losing a sense of what's going on around her.
 
Hiro looks first at Sorey as if knowing instinctively that he was perhaps their only hope of combatting this - and that hope dies away swiftly with his words. If even he's running then if they stayed here then there's nothing that can be done.
 
Others have already said run, he doesn't say it too, instead he breaks into a run, every motion feeling like he's swimming through awful incarnate, over to Jean's side. They're slammed into quickly by the Hellions, a savage blow that would have flensed his skin clean away only barely turned aside by juking his shield into place.
 
Dragging his sword along the ground with a scrape of silver on stone, he pivots harshly into a twist in a diagonal cleaving strike to try to at least wound one that's pressing on him and Jean, "DODGE THIS!"
 
As they fight their way over to Fei... "You're sure that's a good idea Fei!?" He says kind of distantly, because the only thought on his mind is covering Sorey's retreat on their own way out. "Feels like we have to get out of here!"
 

GS: Hiro has attacked Dispellado with Poe Sword!
GS: Hiro takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda folds in on herself a little, moving back from those simply leaping into the fray, until --

"My liege," Matilda says, almost the instant the King enters; that reverence falls away, however, when he speaks -- and when she sees the Malevolence that wreaths him. She listens, though -- oh, does she listen. ... and the truth is...

... the truth is...

... something that isn't for today, at any rate. Suffice it to say that Matilda looks almost wounded as Krono I describes his singular need for power -- to burn away the Metal Demons, Aveh, Kislev...

... and then the Malevolence asserts itself, laying domain across ... is it all of Krosse? Could it possibly extend so far? It feels like it, in the moment -- like it could extend into infinity, practically. Matilda's whole body sags.

She has never been connected that deeply to the Guardians, to the world -- learned only her letters in Marze, told that if she didn't have the gift that was all they could teach her. "Nnh," is all she manages, at first. "I'm -- not going to abandon these people..." So that's it, then -- rather than accept the clemency, she's going to fight her way out with the rest.

... the good news is that, as someone already very nearly cut off from magic and -- ----- ---- --------, this... isn't quite the assault on her that it is on many others. She's having a hard time moving, she's obviously weighed down just as anyone else... but she doesn't feel like she's been left naked before the power of God.

The Royal Guard charge, and Matilda is ready for it -- but not in the way she'd like. Her stance is wrong after seeing the King's entrance, and getting back into it is so heavy... She takes a vicious slice across her unarmored forearm, and screams.

Well, right. It looks like there's only one thing left to do -- which becomes a little clearer as Virginia takes her hand, and as Layna takes command. "This... is simply the way it has to be," Matilda says, startled out of the tremendous weight of that moment.

The pistol -- that'd be a little much for this situation... with the Shepherd present, it would seem almost cruel to immediately begin shooting people in the head. Armor presents a deflection issue, as well, in close quarters like these -- which means Matilda's best bet is to slowly and deliberately advance, lashing out with quick slashes and forceful judo.

"The next time I come back here," Matilda hisses, under her breath -- though what she says next is too quiet to hear over the weight of the Malevolence and the clatter of her flipping another member of the Royal Guard over.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Dispellado with Planting a Seed!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Hiro's Poe Sword for 116 hit points!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Matilda Whitehead's Planting a Seed for 131 hit points!
GS: Margaret takes a solid hit from Layna Manydays's On Your Feet Me Hearties! for 0 hit points!
GS: Restore! Layna Manydays clears debuffs from Margaret!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        "Time means a lot more than ya might think," Ragnell drawls to Jean. "'Specially when it comes to you humans. You got so little of it, after all." She half-smiles, then gives her companion a two-fingered salute. "Sure thing. Go strut your stuff, Jean."
        
        Except...
        
        KK speaks of a time when humanity had not the ability to purify the taint of Malevolence, when they instead used tools to absorb it. It's a history lesson Ragnell knows well, thanks to the Seraphim she grew up with--not parents, not precisely, but those who took her in when she was young and wild and prone to not listening to anyone. (One might argue she hasn't changed since then. One might be right.) Ragnell doesn't remark on or respond to K.K., but she does listen to and watch them, even as they take on attacks both physical and verbal from all comers. Except...
        
        Except, the King of Krosse emerges, and after he makes his declarations, so too does the Malevolent domain from the Anomalous Orb.
        
        "Haha, shit," Ragnell remarks eloquently.
        
        Of course, she might *act* blase and flippant, but she is still a Seraph. Ragnell never gets to touch her pistols; the crushing Malevolence of the domain surrounds and envelopes her, and she grits her teeth, clutching at her chest. She has the purity of a certain thing to protect her, but this protection isn't perfect. She's built up her resistance to Malevolence by spending time near those with lots of it--but this resistance isn't perfect. She knows it clear as a bell: remain here, and she will be overcome, sure as the sun sets in the west. This Malevolence is already crushing in on her like the abyssal depths. For a moment, a vision of a certain Fell Dragon flickers over her vision.
        
        The King commands everyone to leave.
        
        "Yeah, okay, I'm down with that," she gasps, then turns and bolts, Ruby still on her shoulder. To one side, when Virginia admits she was the one who gave the King those nightmares, she calls, "Ginny, you can confess your sins later, it's time--right, she's not gonna hear me, fuck. Never mind!!"
        
        The Hellion Knights are attacking. Sorey and various others might be exempt, but Rose is right there into the fray, as soon are Sorey and Alisha--Alisha, whose eyes Ragnell catches an instant before the Domain unfolds. Ragnell, for her part, had enough foresight to gather some metal bullets a time ago, and she swiftly loads her pistols.
        
        "I feel ya, Ru," she croaks, patting the Red Dragon clinging to her shoulder, before running-slash-stumbling over towards Edna, the only other person who can see her right now. When Edna fights back, Ragnell helps her out by opening fire on the Hellion attacking her--aimed for the knees rather than the chest in deference to the fact that Sorey would give her the biggest sadface ever if she helped him out by shooting to kill.
        
        Ugh. These soft-hearted Shepherds.
        
        "Edna!" she calls, coming to a pained halt near her. She'd offer her a hand if both of them weren't full of gun. "I got your back--let's get the hell outta here!"

<Pose Tracker> Talise Gianfair has posed.

It registers on Talise that others have found their way here. Alisha's here - so is the White Knight of all people. A number of names and faces she knows, some better than others. People she can probably count on to help her.

She keeps charging. Talise Gianfair may not be anyone of special status to Althena - indeed, she may be damned by her own goddess, abandoned and treated like a sinner for the crime of loving Althena with all her heart.

But it doesn't matter. Malevolence - and the Trial Knight, and monsters like the Trial Knight - have done too much. Losing Rosaline Calice to the darkness - Rosaline, a sweet girl and a dear friend - was one loss too far. Loathing herself over it wasn't going to do anything.

Talise found other people to loathe. The damned Pyre Witch, and the damned Trial Knight.

Rastaban hits the Trial Knight's impenetrable shaft. Clenching her teeth, Talise plants a heel and holds the lock, her muscles bracing against the longer weapon. Once again, the Trial Knight gives her a lecture about how powerless she is.

"You don't understand a damned thing about why I'm angry, do you," she snorts, her eyes narrowing.

Malevolence does not require the Trial Knight's understanding. Tendrils of it seep towards her like hungry fingers - and begin to coil through her. Talise's shoulders swell a little, and she lets out a low, rumbling laugh.

Steps back. And reverses Rastaban, planting the point at her chest, perfectly prepared to commit suicide rather than succumb to Malevolence. "You don't understand at all," she laughs.

Purifying blue flame robs her of the need to take her own life. That little seed of malice shudders, then vanishes, as Sorey's power pushes out what seeds the Trial Knight might dare to sow. Talise exhales and reverses her weapon.

And then gets punched in the face and topples into a cell door hard enough to half-dislodge it. Growling, Talise pulls herself back to her feet, then draws in a breath. She's blushing - Uncle Piet, damn it, I should've known better than to not listen to you. My damn anger nearly put me in the same situation as Rosaline. If not for the Shepherd--

The King of Krosse himself makes an appearance. Reveals that this came at his own behest. Talise clicks her teeth together - remembers Uncle Piet's wizened face, not for the first time. She breathes in through her nose, then out again, reminding herself that she can't solve this by cutting everyone's heads off. That even the Shepherd might not be able to fix this. Particularly not as the Malevolent Domain begins to establish itself.

More and more negative emotion washes over Talise. She closes her eyes for a moment.

And then she laughs. It is a slightly crazed sound. "I thought I knew what idiocy was," she pushes out. "Until this day. Have fun with yourself, 'king.' I'm sure you'll never, ever come to regret it."

The Hellionized guardsmen proceed to jump her. Just trying to fight them off feels like it's impossible. She moves her sword to parry a few strokes but it feels like there's no point.

        Because this is my life now. Just an endless stupid parade of over-the-top despair. Bad enough that Rosaline got taken. Bad enough that Ida can't turn the bow of the ship towards the horizon. Bad enough that the fucking Witch won't stop messing with Sephilia. Bad enough that Althena doesn't want anything to do with me, or that I'm too much of a fucking bit player to do anything to help Filgaia. Bad enough that all I am is a footnote in someone else's story. Bad enough that I'll never live up to what Lady Chloe was.

Swords and darkness slash around her. A few blades bite through her chainmail. Talise's eyes are sunk deep into shadow. She inhales, slowly.

        But there are people who matter. Tethelle. Layna. Dahlia. Sephy and Ida and Rosaline. Alisha. Jean and Hiro and Ruby. Even the Shepherd.

Steel suddenly sings - and for a moment, Malevolence itself divides to either side of Rastaban's blade. Talise swings a single, massive arc, slashing into several Guardsmen all at once.

She charges forward, powering towards the nearest exit. Her breathing is strained and her face is pale. A thousand horrible doubts and nightmares cling to her like lead weights threatening to drag her soul down into the darkest mire. Things she shouldn't have said. Things she should have done. Things she could have prevented. Things she was powerless to stop.

She runs, hard.
        I've learned to live with despair. But none of these others should.

GS: Talise Gianfair has attacked Dispellado with Infinitely Rippling Stream!
GS: Talise Gianfair has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Talise Gianfair's Infinitely Rippling Stream for 142 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 35 hit points!
GS: Poison, Poison, Disease, Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Seraph Ragnell!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Dispellado with Double Shot!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Of course, it could never be so simple.

Who would have ever expected this? That the one at the heart of all of this was none other than the King of Krosse. No. That's not right. This story has played out countless times before, hasn't it? It's just like that corrupt organ-- that malevolent sponge. Malevolence breeds malevolence. Paranoia breeds paranoia. The evil that took root here-- was it brought in from elsewhere? Was it always here, in that man's heart? Does it matter?

The only thing that does is that man's words.

The Baskar Were Not Enough.

"You... You nearly destroyed my home to do... this? To inflict this disease on your own people? What kind of king sells his kingdom's soul to protect a nation of husks!? You... One or both of you are at fault and I don't particularly care which. I WILL make things right!" Cyre feels it. The wrath boiling up inside of him, the anger surging within. The wind answers. A storm howls, gathering into a single devastating downburst--

And then.

It's gone.

The world turns inside out. The air is made stagnant. Krosse, is suddenly torn away from the very spiritual framework that sustains the world. The leylines are shorn away, as if a hole was punched through a great tapestry. Cyre gasps as he feels it. Something vital, something incredibly important being stripped away.

He calls for the wind. To his horror, nothing answers.

Nothing.

Despair.

Sorrow.

The end of all hope is all that awaits him here.

And yet...

And yet...!

"You... You...!" Cyre snarls. His gloves shred to pieces as the guards-- each and every one of them turned into a monster beyond human ken-- crush in all around them. Despair? Hopelessness? Stop joking around.

Justified Hatred. Righteous Rage.

Everything he sees feeds a fire that demands retribution.

"You monster!" Cyre roars, not with the voice of the Guardian of the Wind, but with that of the one who has walked closest to him. He presses back against the despair with the flames of his rage, he strikes at the onrushing horde with his own bestial claws. "Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But this isn't over. You will pay for everything!"

But not today.

Cyre cusses as he turns, as he runs. He sees someone else among the crowd. Someone else struggling. Someone he recognizes.

And so Cyre drives a clothesline right into Ethius' midsection and begins bodily dragging him away. Or at least. Keeping him from stumbling and dying.

"Move, damnit!" The shaman growls, "Move! I don't want to explain to Jay why we've both wound up dead in here!"

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a glancing hit from Hellion Horde's Anomalous Pulse for 28 hit points!
GS: Poison and Disease! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Dispellado with Escape Claws!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Double Shot for 100 hit points!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Escape Claws for 95 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Dispellado has posed.


Even if I believed that, she's gonna do it by saving it!

That sentiment lingers, and just before the Domain asserts itself, the faceless gaze of the Trial Knight falls upon Hiro.

"..."

They say nothing. But perhaps it is the weight of that nothing that is important, just before...

Everything goes wrong.

And as the King falls back, the Knight rises -- offering nothing more than a cold, eyeless stare towards those assembled as they fall, one by one.

As they struggle to defy. One. By. One.

And the King of Krosse hesitates, but briefly, as Virginia confesses. Those glassy eyes blink slowly. And his hands tremble within the clench of his fist.

"... The lies of an outsider," is all he can mutter, the words of all others falling upon the deaf ears of a man whose desperation has corrupted his good intentions.

But rise they do, and as the Hellion Guard fall upon them, they all in their own way show the strength of their convictions. The strength of purity in Sorey, as he immediately attempts to help the others, to guide them through an unknown. His wooden blade CRACKS through a nearby, reptilian Hellion, the blow able to plow the beast away. It shows in the necessity of Rose, as the strong and resilient jab of her knife fells two Hellions in twin, fatal blows; their lifeless fall topples two other of those men-turned-monsters, buying precious time capitalized by the defiant thrust of Alisha's pommel, knocking another of the Guard aside. In the Seraphim who still fight despite the Malevolence that beats upon their spirits, the umbrella blow of the stubborn Edna bashing a Guard aside as Ragnell's bullet fire wounds and cripples others rounding upon the Earth Seraphim in short order.

It shows in the defiance of the Althena's Guard, in Matilda, all of them rejecting the offer of leniency from the king. It's perhaps their contribution that helps to surprise and weaken the line of the Royal Guard just enough to let start up a significant opening of the ranks -- courage where they could have simply let what would happen, happen. There is a hiss of "TRAITORS!" from one of the Guards, before Matilda uses their own momentum against them, -launching- them into another member of the Royal Guard, lupine and armored forms hitting with the protest of metal on metal. Leo helps to guard Sorey from harm, his blade carving through armor and wounding and warding the Royal Guard as they attempt to subdue the Shepherd, one after the other, and in Margaret's direct and physical approach towards making an escape, knocking aside one of those Guardsmen with a single, firm kick.

In the Fiends, they find strength to persevere and open the way past. Virginia finds strength in that guilt, her stumbling forward and the focus of the sound of her gun helping her to carry on and assist others. Hiro's sword cleaves through another member of the Hellionized Guard, and Jean and Fei, working in tandem, use that physical prowess to all but shatter their way through the ranks, past that central chamber for themselves and the Shepherd's retinue.

Loren and Ethius, deprived of the important source of their magics, still manage to persevere, and through the desperate swing of quarterstaff -sweeping- through the legs of several surrounding guardsmen, destabilizing one just enough for the slam of Loren's shield to -knock- him aside. Layna, Talise and Cyre all push through -- Talise, remembering those who remain, finds the strength within her to charge, the massive blade of her sword and the strength behind it -CARVING- through multiple Guardsmen hard enough to send them through the air. Despite the choking strength of the Domain, she finds the strength to reach the exit of that chamber. Cyre finds his strength in the righteousness of the retribution that he requires, and through it, he finds the strength to literally claw his way past the Guard and save a comrade, helping to -drag- Ethius through the opening in the Guard's lines. And in Layna, strength is found through the sentiment of the precious crewmate she saved from this hell, shouting her encouragement to the rest as she rushes towards that opening.

And an opening they make, sweeping past the stumbling Guard and out the central chamber. Past the vacated cells -- a testament to all they have accomplished, a reminder to keep fighting no matter how grim it may seem. They have saved lives today.

Now they just need to save their own, as well.

The Guard rush past them. It might be possible to attack the orb, but not recommended, as the Domain it exerts presses down on all around it, even stronger at its epicenter. The Trial Knight lingers there for a long time... before gesturing to a few of the Hellions still lingering. "To me," the murmur, voice tinny... and then they disappear, through another exit of the chamber.

And they run. The Guard in hot pursuit, they make their way out of the dank gleam of the honeycomb prison, into the antechamber, the ostentatious sign of the first King. And they know what will come. Bleeding eyes. Glowing veins. A statue come to life.

It screams, but compared to the Orb, what can it truly do besides blast the chamber in discordant power? Make your way through here, defy the Phobic King. Your fears are not anyone but your own to command. Down, past the colossus, an escape can be found...

... and all around, the loosened, crumbling pillars of this room serve as a potential means to create a barricade to block off the approach of the Guard.

And use the rubble of a demolished statue as a means to aid your escape, rather than a tool to spread fear.

                   S e c o n d a r y O b j e c t i v e
                              Nothing to Fear

         Destroy that ridiculous statue and bring down the house!

GS: Dispellado has attacked Fei Fong Wong with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Seraph Edna with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Margaret with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Layna Manydays with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Jean with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Sorey with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has completed their action.
GS: Dispellado has attacked Rose with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Virginia Maxwell with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Alisha Diphda with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked White Knight Leo with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Ethius Hesiod with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Loren Voss with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Talise Gianfair with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Sorey takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 102 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Sorey!
GS: Talise Gianfair guards a hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 60 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Talise Gianfair!
GS: Alisha Diphda takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 107 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Alisha Diphda!
GS: Loren Voss takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 113 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Loren Voss!
GS: Layna Manydays takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 54 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Layna Manydays!
GS: Seraph Edna takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 106 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Seraph Edna!
GS: White Knight Leo takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 102 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
GS: Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 58 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: CRITICAL! Cyre H. Lorentz takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 180 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
GS: Margaret takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 96 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Margaret!
GS: CRITICAL! Jean takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 190 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Jean!
GS: Fei Fong Wong guards a hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 63 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Fei Fong Wong!
GS: Virginia Maxwell takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 103 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Virginia Maxwell!
GS: Rose takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 106 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Rose!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Hiro with The Phobic Scream!
DC: 2 turns have elapsed in the battle against Dispellado! 3 turns remain!
DC: 3 turns have elapsed in the battle against Dispellado! 2 turns remain!
GS: Hiro takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 103 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Hiro!
GS: Dispellado has completed their action.
Loren Voss (Loren) pages Layna Manydays and Cyre H. Lorentz: i think actually i can only get cyre!
Loren Voss (Loren) pages Layna Manydays and Cyre H. Lorentz: so do it to it
Cyre H. Lorentz (cyre) pages Loren Voss and Layna Manydays: yes plz
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

        Virginia kind of-- slumps, her shoulders feeling ever the more heavier with each moment; she gazes towards Hiro for a moment, biting her lip and turning away. She doesn't blame him -- how could she? She understands that forgiveness and absolution isn't an instantaneous thing. Trust is easily broken... but she believes in Hiro, as he once believed in her. She shudders harder, for a moment--

        "... it's up to you if you want to believe it or not, King, but... that's the truth. And I'm sorry."

        It's pretty tough when you're 18 and you've possibly committed political upheaval of a scale that will permanently warp the lives of thousands. But she endures, looking to Ethius as Cyre helps him up. She does too.

        "You believed in me, or at least I wanna think you do-- so I'm gonna give you the aid you need too," Virginia hisses as she looks to Matilda as she says, "You got any of that fizzy stuff in you? I can't use my Crests right now!!"

GS: Virginia Maxwell has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Ready! Lady Gunner!!
GS: Virginia Maxwell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Sorey has posed.

 That this situation is bad is not something even Sorey can deny. That doesn't mean that he thinks that it is beyond recovery, but the Shepherd is willing to admit that there is nothing he can do from here.
 
 "Still not strong enough," he states quietly, looking around - hoping in vain that he can see Edna, Lailah... Mikleo. But this darkness... it's terrible, and it presses in from all sides.
 
 But as long as he doesn't bend, the Seraphim are sheltered because their vessel remains strong. He just has to push through and keep moving.
 
 The group is plowing its way through the guards at a good pace, and while Sorey dislikes seeing people get hurt... well, he can only use non-lethal measures on people who he is fighting. He can hardly ask others to do the same, especially when their lives are on the line. If you want to save them, he thinks, you need to get out of here and do something about this domain.
 
 "Edna, Lailah, everyone! We need to get out of here!" he calls out. "I don't know what you're encountering, but... stay strong! We'll get free of this!" With his friends addressed, Sorey brings his sword around, knocking another Hellion out of the way, leaning on Fei for support as he continues moving onwards. He doesn't have access to his spiritual connection... but that doesn't mean he can't use his techniques.
 
 Sorey silently thanks his master for making sure he was prepared for all different occasions. The statue up ahead is a massive obstical, but there are quite a few people running towards it. "Just keep me from falling over after this," Sorey mutters to the people supporting him... and he summons his inner will, imbuing his sword with a glowing edge of power. "CRIMSON EDGE!" he shouts, slashing at one of the statue's legs to try and cut it down to size!

GS: Sorey has attacked Dispellado with Crimson Edge!
GS: Sorey has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 hit points of damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Sorey takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Sorey has completed his action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Sorey's Crimson Edge for 137 hit points!
GS: DISEASE! Virginia Maxwell tries to heal Ethius Hesiod, but it doesn't work!
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

        Virginia nods haggardly as Layna takes charge, finding her words infectious. She always finds vigour in the words of those who have spirit; she grins quietly to say, "You've-- helped me since I was knee-deep in this stuff too... I can't really thank you enough save--" she heaves herself forward. "Hhggh--... to... see this through to the end..."

GS: Dispellado has attacked Matilda Whitehead with The Phobic Scream!
GS: Dispellado has completed their action.
GS: CRITICAL! Matilda Whitehead takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Phobic Scream for 197 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Matilda Whitehead!
<Pose Tracker> Rose has posed.

        A Domain, Sorey calls it. Good enough for Rose. It's a word! It's better than not knowing. It doesn't mean much to her, but she can guess something called a 'Malevolent Domain' is neither helpful nor kind. And case in point, life sucks right now.

        Blood drips from her knives. The blood of Hellions and necessity. Even in the chaos she has time enough to look at it, running, frowning.

        She wipes the knives, she sheathes them.

        What had Sorey and Alisha done to her that she felt shame coating Brad's knives with the blood of monsters? Fleeting as it was, that feeling was there. Well, the knives're gone now. She'll spare the Shepherd and the princess the sight of another life being taken, necessary or otherwise.

        Rubbes falls as a statue screams itself to life, seemingly; Rose narrowly avoids a pillar, grazed by sharp broken stones as they fall. She looks up at the colossus. Is that the same they encountered on their way in? Well, this one's moving a lot less.

        Strength returns, at least, as they get away from the orb. The Domain is still crushing them, but every bit of power that returns helps. Sorey aims for a leg. Rose digs into her pockets, finding something metallic and round in there.

        "...! Oh you handy lifesaver you!"

        She lobs the grenade, for the same spot Sorey aimed at.
        Note to self, Rose thinks, thank Morgan again for that.

GS: Rose has attacked Dispellado with Leftover Supplies!
GS: Rose has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Rose's Leftover Supplies for 100 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Alisha Diphda has posed.

Alisha bolts through the door, emerging into the antechamber. The statue that they left behind -- they climbed up the statue, before, even as it came to life. The statue's eyes bleed and it screams, and then she takes a long look around. She grits her teeth, and then she looks sideways -- eyes peering towards Virginia for a moment. Is what she said true? The princess's eyes narrow, suspicion entering them.

Anger, too. If it were Hyland, then...

Those are thoughts best considered for a later day. She grits her teeth, slowing to a stop -- and stares up at it, and then she stares at the tall statue. She runs, then, sprinting up at the wall. She runs up the wall, then kicks off it, and comes flying at a pillar.

"Get clear!" she calls out to the others here. She spins back, and her sword spins around in the air -- before it slams into the middle of a pillar and tries to knock it over with a mighty chop.

GS: Alisha Diphda has attacked Dispellado with Skewering Spear!
GS: Alisha Diphda has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 hit points of damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Alisha Diphda takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Alisha Diphda has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Alisha Diphda's Skewering Spear for 126 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius' air escapes his lungs as Cyre saves his life from being overwhelmed. He might have taken a few Hellion guards off their legs, but he was in too deep. Cyre, noisily, reminds him that someone is waiting for him - for them, to make it back. Matilda, too, whom called this place her country.
        The Domain bears down upon all senses, and yet, somehow, to Ethius, everything is just so... noisy. Everything earns him a flick of an eye. They have to keep running, they have to get out of here. They have no choice. Anything and everything about this which would dare hold his attention has to stand aside.
        "M-Mister Cyre," Ethius' words stumbles as he tries to breathe. "Miss Matilda." He coughs as he finds his feet again as the screaming comes of the statue of the first King. "Miss... Virginia."
        He closes his eyes, takes the quarterstaff in both hands, and starts to circle the chamber's ruin. There is one toppled pillar here that seems to be just the right size. Virginia shouts words of encouragement towards the mysterious man who seemed to be willing to trust her - despite her previous afflictions and actions - as if a part of his heart were still... closed off, even now.
        "This matter is..." He retorts to Virginia, but never finishes his sentence. A heart remains guarded.
        He points the more intact end of the quarterstaff forward as he lines it up. Impeccable angling, placement... with one hard lunging strike...
        "Far Point!"
        He seeks to bowl the loose, overturned pillar rolling forward towards the statue - to trip it up under its own size and weight.
        It is not the wailing of a moving statue that reintroduced primal concepts digging deep into memories he cannot place into context or reason that seems to dissuade this man, to strike fear into him - but those who came here have seen him be shaken.
        What does this man fear, that he would have decided striding head-first into a place like this to begin with?

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Dispellado with Far Point!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 hit points of damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        Leo keeps up his position at Sorey's right flank, his blade flying from parry to parry, blocking the swords of the Hellionized Guardsmen. To think that so many of them were people who worked hand in hand with his own--that this corruption was festering, unseen... Leo shakes his head, and charges onwards. He should not find resolve in the words of a pirate, but Layna gives him something to focus on that isn't that horrible sense of doubt. Doubt creates cracks in the soul, precisely the sort that can let Malevolence take root.

        "Keep moving!" Leo roars. "Don't look back!" They've all but passed the cells, now; if Lemina is still freeing prisoners, he can't see her in all the chaos. Is she all right? Why is he even thinking about that?

        Leo ignores his own orders. As the group flees into the next room, he takes up position next to the door, doing a headcount as people flee through. Only once everyone is through does he slam the door closed, charging it shoulder-first. It might not hold for long, but it might hold long enough.

        The statue, again. A memory flickers up in his mind, unbidden--the sound of Mauri crying in the hay-maze, alone and frightened. He's trying to find her. The same memory the spike called up. How can you call yourself protector if you allowed this to happen? Leo staggers, and clamps his hands to his ears as the sound of the King's scream reverberates through the chamber. It still feels like he's drowning, but he stumbles back towards the front of the line, towards where Alisha is dealing with the pillars. "DEMON FANG!" Leo cries, and he sweeps his blade through a mighty strike. A surge of force leaps from the blade, churning up the earth as it heads towards one of the remaining pillars.

GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Dispellado with Demon Fang!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Talise Gianfair has posed.

Through it all, Talise barely seems to register that everyone has been cut off spiritually.

Because that's just the normal state of affairs for her. She alone, perhaps unique among Lunarians, has never manifested Althena's Blessing. She has fought her way here using nothing more than skill, muscle, luck, emotion and determination.

        And those things haven't helped you to save Rosaline, or to help Ida, or to protect Sephy. So you managed to save a couple of Statues. That means nothing. You can't even stand against Siegfried, idiot girl. What makes you think you're going to be able to protect Filgaia from Mother, or Lunar from whatever it is that Lucia fears?

Severed bits of Guardsman - Malevolence-driven men choked with the stuff, unable to be saved - land on the ground around Talise even as she dashes through that opening in the ranks. The empty cells blur around her and she has just a moment to recognize that, yes, they are empty. Sephilia and Tethelle, she realizes with a little spark of hope.

        They saved a handful of people who will go on to die in a world that can't be saved. If Sorey is powerless down here, what're you? Have you even won one battle in recent memory, idiot girl? No - all you've done is lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, LOSE.
        Because you're fucking useless.

The ostentatious scream of the statue of the old King sends a charge of emotion through her, pouring more horror and sadness into the ever-filling bucket. Talise's eyes bead up with tears. Little droplets trail in the air behind her like crystals. As pillars crumble around her, she shields her head with one arm, a few chunks of debris nevertheless bouncing off her armour and driving her to a knee. She sucks in a pained breath and squeezes her eyes closed as the Malevolence screams through her mind in relentless waves.
        You're useless. Stop running. Accept your fate. Nobody will care if you're buried here. Your friends don't need your help. Your companions aren't really your companions - they don't give one single shit about you. You know that, don't you? And it's not even that you're not a good enough hero.
        It's that you're not a good enough person to deserve their love and affection. It's that you're a worthless human being who adds nothing to Filgaia or Lunar. And nobody will ever care about you, or love you, or even bat an eyelash if you're left behind, because you're useless. You have no value.

Down on her knee, Talise doesn't move, save to tremble. She buries her face in one hand and clenches her teeth, struggling to think of her friends. The friends she needs to help. The friends who'll suffer the same fate as Rosaline if she doesn't help them.

The dark miasma simply brushes aside her thoughts and serves up one that cuts through her mind like an icy knife.

                    Kill yourself, you worthless bitch.

Talise bows her head and clasps her hands. Tears stream freely down her face.

"Althena," she whispers, her heart breaking as she mouths the word. "Please... Dragons... Lady Chloe... please help me find the strength to get everyone through this...."

                    Kill yourself, you worthless bitch.

"...please help me... do something...."

                    Kill yourself, you worthless bitch.

Talise clenches her teeth. "...No," she hisses through the tears. They drip little stains into the stones. Passing things - ephemeral marks that, once, a worthless bitch who deserves to kill herself cried like a little baby here, because she was too weak to do anything. Talise slides her hand over her heart.

A sudden shock of realization interrupts her train of thought as she feels something there. A lump against the shape of a pocket. Reaching into her coat, she comes out with a small, wrapped parcel.

The chocolate biscuits are the same ones Ida carries around. Talise had bought a box for herself after Ida had gone off to wherever it is Ida went. The tall swordswoman stares at them for a moment.

She takes a small bite. The crispy, chocolatey taste is sweet against her tongue.

I wonder if this is how Ida felt every day...?

Ida....

...Thank you. Even if I haven't been the best friend.

Talise reaches over her shoulder and comes up with her sword. She clenches her teeth and remembers her friend's face. Remembers the hug Ida gave her the moment they came out of the cursed cavern and saved that Statue. Remembers the moments with Tethelle she spent after Rosaline turned. Remembers Rosaline telling her how much they cared. Remembers Sephilia giving her a hug. Remembers Lynnai and Lestaci saving her from the depths of a dungeon. Remembers--

People helped me. I can't fail them. I can't.

                          Kill yourself, you wo--.

Talise roars. With a sudden surge of movement, Talise draws Rastaban back - and she proceeds to SWING at several of those pillars. Stone begins to crumble and give way as she works to bring down a chunk of ceiling in the way of the Guard.

She's also, incidentally, carved a message into the wall.

                              FUCK YOU HELYANS!

GS: Talise Gianfair has attacked Dispellado with Tidal Blow!
GS: Talise Gianfair has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Edna has posed.

         Edna finds herself covered by Ragnell, and she nods to her. "...Thanks." She mutters, straightening herself up after swatting another guard, and then turning tail to book it. "Let's get out of here before something stupid happens." She says afterward, focusing to keep herself to being corrupted, and proceeding to book it after the others. That corrupting howl reverberates through her entire being, and almost tripping over her feet. But she rights herself, frowning deeply as she keeps herself going on pure force of will alone. ...nd then they run into a roadblock.

         "Well, this is annoying." She mutters aloud, before rearing back with her parasol and STRIKE! "What an eyesore." Yes. That's about all she has to say about this nonsense. They don't have time for any of this! Especially not her. She still hasn't had her second round of mabo curry! ... What? Did you think there was something else?

         Shhhh we don't talk about Eizen.

GS: Seraph Edna has attacked Dispellado with Sunshine Swing!
GS: Seraph Edna has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 hit points of damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Seraph Edna takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Seraph Edna has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda scrambles out, close behind Virginia; she gives a glance back to Cyre and Ethius, but can barely spare the thought for now. ... later. Right now, she turns instead to Virginia, focusing entirely on her for a few moments. "I usually synthesize in the field -- ugh, but I can't..." Her brow furrows and she tries desperately to dislodge any kind of thought from her head.

The scream comes, though, and that is completely out of the question. "Bbblughnh," is what she offers, this time, instead. "I don't... I can't... help with this. With any of this. In the end... she's just another citizen of Krosse, isn't she? No one special. And, like every other Filgaian... singularly doomed.

She reaches into her coat, fumbling frantically for something or another. Eventually, she finds it -- a bottle of thick syrup. "... Had... something ready to go," she offers to Virginia while also offering the bottle itself. "... It's extremely sweet. Don't drink it all at once."

That's all she manages; frankly, that scream preys so exactly on her worst fears that it's hard to do anything else except wait for everyone else to make it stop, to provide a safe path forward.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Virginia Maxwell with Syrup Bullet!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Dispellado takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Far Point for 150 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Dispellado!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from White Knight Leo's Demon Fang for 142 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Dispellado takes a solid hit from Talise Gianfair's Tidal Blow for 232 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Dispellado!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Seraph Edna's Sunshine Swing for 91 hit points!
GS: Seraph Edna takes Cover! She gains 50 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna keeps running. Even as the blades of the Hellionized guardsman tear and cut at her, she keeps running. She can take this pain, it's not like she hasn't been through worse.

Though usually it didn't happen while despair was literally weighing down on her, making every attack she takes feel that much more painful.

But she charges on regardless, trying to power through everything. That's all she knows how to do, after all. She charges on into the statue room alongside the others. She flinches as the Statue screams at her...but it is only another, smaller weight, compared to the one that was already weighing on them.

But the Statue itself is a tool - useful tool that they can use. The others see to demolishing it, so Layna does what she's best at - yelling.

"Keep at it! Bring that eyesore down!" Layna says, pointing at the statue. "And if you've got healing items, bring 'em out! Don't be stingy!"

As for Virginia, Layna sends her a grin. It's weak, but there.

"Aye. That's all I need. Just get out of here alive, that's the important thing." She says, giving Talise's message on the wall a nod.

It was a sentiment she could get behind.

GS: Layna Manydays has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Captain's Orders!!
GS: Layna Manydays has attacked Loren Voss with Captain's Orders!!
GS: Layna Manydays has completed her action.
GS: Loren Voss takes a solid hit from Layna Manydays's Captain's Orders! for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Loren Voss gains 15 extra FP from Layna Manydays!
GS: Matilda Whitehead heals Virginia Maxwell! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a solid hit from Layna Manydays's Captain's Orders! for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Cyre H. Lorentz gains 15 extra FP from Layna Manydays!
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei is fully intent on making sur Sorey gets out of here. He owes that much at least to the man for what he did for the village. "No!" Since the time he brought up the concept of dealing with it, he's been hit by three more pulses of that strange energy. He is neverminding that idea almost as fast as shit went from bad to nearly hopeless today.

The team comes upon a statue. Fei sees quickly this isn't just about hitting it hard, but by hitting it hard properly. But can he do it while carting Sorey? He looks over his shoulder towards where Jean is keeping guards off his back and he says, "Jean..."

The statue sheers into his soul, but with the recent purification he is able to tank it. He looks to Jean.

He nods once. In the wordless communication of the MNK class a plan is formed without language.

Fei says, "Hold on Sorey." And then he guides the shepherd to Jean long enough for him to flip back behind a group of guards. He punches out forward like Saitama and sends a whole slew of guards slamming against the statue before charging at the men before they can recover and slamming his foot into the front guard--

--which sends a cascading ripple effect through the guards before the full force of the strike SLAMS into the statue before them.

This is only half of the plan. "Jean!" Fei shouts, counting on her to handle the rest!

GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Dispellado with Hagan!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 hit points of damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong takes 9 damage from Poison!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Fei Fong Wong's Hagan for 101 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

        Of all people, it's Ethius who presents Loren with an opening, there as he parries the incoming hit from the knight and seeks to press on out of the crush. His gaze, fleetingly, locks with the mysterious man, who he had once watched carefully over a series of months.
        He doesn't linger, though; whatever the man's secrets, the only thing that actually matters is that Loren himself get out of here alive (and hopefully, sane) to pass on word to higher authorities. So to speak.
        Someone else needs to handle Krosse, and the more information they have for it, the better.

        Such as the absence of a power he's had nearly all his life. Somehow, he thinks, in a dead sprint out of the honeycombed center of the catacombs, he doesn't think he'd be the only one so cursed--

        There, ahead of him, stretches the yawning gap in the floor. Below is the statue, still animate.

        It screams.
        It's just another instrument in an orchestra of despair, a background thrum, a reminder.
        You'll die it reminds him; he winces. You'll die down here on the surface. You'll never see home again.

        "...Don't you think I know that?" he mutters, to no one at all.
        It's almost a relief -- if relief can be had in a place where the spirit itself is sunk into the mire -- to acknowledge it at last.

        And to keep moving.

        His hand's already on his kit when Layna starts giving orders. Her, that pirate. Something cross his face -- indignation? he's being ordered about by a Lamb -- but he can see reason in a time like this.

        And so as others take to the task of rending the statue to pieces and using them, he's busily distributing some of the contents of his kit.
        Throwing them, if need be.

GS: Loren Voss has activated a Force Action!
GS: Loren Voss has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Aquasol S!
GS: Loren Voss has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Aquasol S!
GS: Loren Voss has attacked Jean with Aquasol S!
GS: Loren Voss has attacked Layna Manydays with Aquasol S!
GS: Loren Voss has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 hit points of damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Loren Voss takes 4 damage from Poison!
GS: Loren Voss has completed his action.
GS: Loren Voss heals Fei Fong Wong! He gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Loren Voss heals Layna Manydays! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Loren Voss heals Jean! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

"You can thank me later. The more we talk the more we breathe, and I do not want this shit in my lungs." Of course Cyre has never been one to take his own advice. He feels the corruption creeping across his skin, seeking some point of weakness by which it can slip in, plant its dread seeds in his mind. He can feel it. He knows this sensation-- he's experienced it once before.

The only saving is that today he's not walking through liquefied Malevolence.

Not that the alternative is much better.

"Captain--" Cyre growls-- more out of frustration and pain than anything else. "You... Got it. Let's see what an Everstead-Rey weapon can do." Cyre reaches back and unlimbers...

...

That.

Is a very big gun.

It's as much a long cannon as it is a sniper rifle. Cyre takes aim for the statue's legs, firing a full clip of heavy slugs with incredible precision. Each is aimed for a particular crack in the stone.

The task keeps his mind off the creeping despair.

They need to keep moving. Too many people are counting on him right now. Too many--

Something wet breaks against his scalp.

For a single terrible moment, Cyre thinks maybe he got clubbed over the head and it's his brains leaking out, but then he starts feeling... A little lighter. A little less... Tainted.

Aquasol S - The soulquencher!

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz used Mystic on Cyre H. Lorentz! 0 Temporary HP gained! All statuses cleared!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has activated a Force Action!
GS: Loren Voss heals Cyre H. Lorentz! He gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
People are shouting, Margaret thinks. Layna's words galvanzize her. Where did my courage go? she thinks. Was that all it was? Did I just manage to enchant myself? Oh, what has that king done; has he found some relic that's slain the Goddess? No, no, she thinks.

I can't stop. I don't want to die here - I won't die here -

It is perhaps remarkable how subdued she is, though there are many other, more pressing things to remark upon. The words of the king ring in her ears, even as they flatten against the sides of her head.

Her pride wrestles in her gut but it is latent for now. But Sorey's here, she thinks. That man. He can do something about this, can't he? She certainly hopes so. She reaches at her hip, to check a card.

The pouch won't unlatch. "Of course," Margaret murmurs to herself.

She looks up. Pillars! Margaret is briefly relieved. This, she thinks as she leaps up with sudden muscular strength - for, of course, magic or no, she has not skipped leg day a day in her life - this is something I can deal with.

And from there she stomps on the top and sides of the pillar. After a while she starts making gasps. Some might call them 'mouth noises,' if they wanted to be nasty.

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Dispellado with Gun Beats Rock. And Paper. And Scissors. Cyre is not allowed to play RPS.!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Gun Beats Rock. And Paper. And Scissors. Cyre is not allowed to play RPS.
for 101 hit points!
GS: Margaret has attacked Dispellado with Chain Jumping With More Than Half An A!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Margaret's Chain Jumping With More Than Half An A for 102 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

Strike, punch, kick--Jean is a whirling dervish for a few long moments. In the moment she spares the barest notice when her targets fall, just enough to move to the next, to keep moving after. She can no longer hear Ragnell. She is close to Hiro for a few moments, however, as he raises his shield, shields her as well as himself. She glances to him once, but says nothing. Her expression is resolute, not quite empty but with none of her usual softness, her usual sharpness or her usual humor. She is simply there.

The past cannot be dismissed so easily as wishing it. However hard that wish may be made.

So there she is amidst the Shepherd's retinue, rushing past tthe opening, finding the exit here. ...And moving past Leo. She looks at him only long enough to see what he's doing, notices the cells, just in time for... the statue. Oh, the statue.

She does not look to Virginia for now, though there is much yet that she has to say. Layna shouts encouragement--but--

Fei gets her attention, speaks to her. She turns her head to look at him. "Fei," she replies, short. The statue is searing into hers as well, but she's disconnected now, lsost in the deluge. ...The greatest fear that she has to offer is what she already is. Isn't it? What she's been... what she could be... What it means--the memories of all of that--

She nods back to Fei. They get it, immediately. Jean lifts her hands to catch Sorey, watching Fei punch out. Her grip is hard but not painful; she turns with him for an instant to blow debris coming at them, and then, "Hiro!" She hands him off to Hiro with a look at him, and then she spins back.

The guards Fei displaced are falling, some are getting up. The dancer charges forward, at that, and then leaps--onto the first guard, onto a second, moving up to thsoe still standing and leaping off, somersaulting up towards the statue. She looks for the weak point...

A part in the chest, vitally important.

Her hand sears with violet energy as she lashes out with both claws and tears.

GS: Jean has attacked Dispellado with Double Claw!
GS: Jean has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

Strike, punch, kick--Jean is a whirling dervish for a few long moments. In the moment she spares the barest notice when her targets fall, just enough to move to the next, to keep moving after. She can no longer hear Ragnell. She is close to Hiro for a few moments, however, as he raises his shield, shields her as well as himself. She glances to him once, but says nothing. Her expression is resolute, not quite empty but with none of her usual softness, her usual sharpness or her usual humor. She is simply there.

The past cannot be dismissed so easily as wishing it. However hard that wish may be made.

So there she is amidst the Shepherd's retinue, rushing past tthe opening, finding the exit here. ...And moving past Leo. She looks at him only long enough to see what he's doing, notices the cells, just in time for... the statue. Oh, the statue.

She does not look to Virginia for now, though there is much yet that she has to say. Layna shouts encouragement--but--

Fei gets her attention, speaks to her. She turns her head to look at him. "Fei," she replies, short. The statue is searing into hers as well, but she's disconnected now, lsost in the deluge. ...The greatest fear that she has to offer is what she already is. Isn't it? What she's been... what she could be... What it means--the memories of all of that--An Aquasol is thrown to her, and with just a glance at it she epresses the spray and uses the whole thing at once. It doesn't make her feel much better, but it helps her wounds.

She nods back to Fei. They get it, immediately. Jean lifts her hands to catch Sorey, watching Fei punch out. Her grip is hard but not painful; she turns with him for an instant to blow debris coming at them, and then, "Hiro!" She hands him off to Hiro with a look at him, and then she spins back.

The guards Fei displaced are falling, some are getting up. The dancer charges forward, at that, and then leaps--onto the first guard, onto a second, moving up to thsoe still standing and leaping off, somersaulting up towards the statue. She looks for the weak point...

A part in the chest, vitally important.

Her hand sears with violet energy as she lashes out with both claws and tears.

GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Jean's Double Claw for 90 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
The weight of that silence is maddening beneath that gaze. Under it, Hiro feels like a child being patronized - looked down upon. And while he can't acknowledge that it's right to do that on the subject of Lucia... somewhere deep down he can acknowledge that in some ways, he's still that small child playing at being Dragonmaster. And it's entirely right for anyone to do that. "You'll see." Is his answer to the imagined silence, and it sounds almost petulant in the face of that.
 
Ruby feels a pat, but by now she's not doing so well. Her pink fur has gone several shades paler, like she's starting to fade away.
 
And Virginia... deep down he knows how he'll eventually feel. It'll just take him some time. He knows he needs to talk to her in the same way he talked to Jean. Just not right now.
 
But that was before everything went to metaphorical hell. That was before he started to drown.
 
That was before he started to run through the honeycomb prison. Until he sees how Leo is falling back. Sees what he's doing, and he stops for a moment just past the door, "Leo c'mon!" Totally ignoring Leo's own orders. He was their most persistent foe in a way. If he was doing this pragmatism dictated he should leave him behind. But pragmatism never dictated his actions, especially when it's a good man like him. "Now that you've caught up to us you're not let us just run off right?"
 
As if trying to push against his heroic instincts. "C'mon! Or we'll be halfway to Pentagulia before you catch up." He wishes he could add a good natured grin, but he can't, not with how grim this scenario is right now.
 
That was before the statue came to life. The scream is almost familiar as his worst fears are heightened by the simple question of what a Destroyer is. And feels himself being smothered faster rather than slower.
 
Catching wind of Jean's plans he offers, "On it Jean!" And rushing in, he hooks an arm under Sorey's opposite as she spins him in, keeping him supported like a crutch in the wake of his attack on the statue. And then before the Shepherd can protest, he presses a faintly glowing silver circle against the Shepherd from the inside of his pack which brings a small surge of vigor at least, but without any real healing. "The Shepherd doesn't have the luxury of falling over." He says in way of explanation. In this sea of malevolence-this corrupt domain. Keeping him upright is all it feels like he can do right now... even as he wants to fall over on his own.
 

GS: Hiro has attacked Sorey with Starlight of Hope!
GS: Hiro has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 hit points of damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Hiro takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell glances at the King and Virginia and their verbal exchange. She's not surprised that he didn't believe her, but... it is what it is. Virginia tried to tell him the truth. She clucks her tongue, then glances at K.K. as they retreat with several Hellions in tow. Then she focuses back on Edna and Ruby.
        
        "No prob," she replies to her fellow Seraph, grinning--although that grin is forced and pained under the domain's overwhelming Malevolence. "Sage advice if I ever heard it. Hang on tight, Ru."
        
        She hurries along with Edna, hearing Sorey's call to her and Lailah and the others to keep on running. She half-smiles and, when Edna stumbles, holds a hand out towards her--not that it's ultimately needed, since Edna manages to right herself. Ragnell, for her part, wheezes against the Malevolence surrounding her, but she's hanging in there... for the time being.
        
        They come up short against the raving statue of the Phobic King. "No kiddin'," she remarks, understanding that Eizen would not be the best topic to bring up right this second. Maybe when Edna needs the motivation... but not right this second. "Eyesore like that--" She aims her pistol high, not for the statue's head but for loose and cracked stoneware over its head. "--need t' get smashed to bits!!"
        
        She fires from both guns, sharp and sure. If all goes well, hopefully that loose masonry will fall down and smash the statue, either breaking it or stunning it so others can break it more easily. And if it doesn't, well, the falling rock should help form a barrier against the Hellions chasing after everyone. Win/win!
        
        Except for the part where Ruby's starting to get *awfully* pale. Is it Ragnell's imagination, or is she starting to feel lighter, too?

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Dispellado with Crush Crush Crush And Demolish!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 hit points of damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes 9 damage from Poison!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Crush Crush Crush And Demolish for 65 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Dispellado has posed.

Pressure. It is immense and uncompromising, like being dragged into the very depths of the ocean where even light can no longer reach. But the further that they get from the Anomalous Orb, the more that pressure relents. Bit by bit. Little by little. They find their freedom in the piecemeal slackening of their spiritual bonds.

Whether it manages to keep them until they are overwhelmed is another matter entirely.

The creatures here seem to draw strength from the Domain, Hellions energized and revitalized as one might be within a Seraphim's Blessing. It reinforces the fears of the Guard, minds tainted by nightmares, as they rush and scramble across ground, floors, even up above, scraping across the ceiling.

And there, within the center of that antechamber, the stonewrought first King of Krosse grips at its head and roars. No king would ever want to see this become of his people. A dishonor to the memory of a great man. Wracked by fear, wanting nothing than to wipe out everything to escape it.

But in the face of the unparalleled defiance of those Drifters here today, that phobia cannot compare, even in the wake of the Domain's amplification. Even as it screams, the glowing edge of Sorey's ceremonial sword SMASHES into the Phobic King, staggering the stone colossus as chips of the material that make it up burst apart. A grenade EXPLODES across its ankles, demolishing the statue's heels. The blow of raw force from Fei Fong Wong SMASHES into the legs of the colossus, and, combined with the weapons fire of Cyre's EXTREMELY LARGE ARM, sends it teetering...

... so that a single, well-timed SMACK of a parasol can the statue slowly toppling backwards with a deafening, dangerous groan.

As the first Guard to arrive are blown off their feet by the force of Fei's blow, the first thing that they see is a looming shadow --

--seconds before the stone king collapses on them with a monumentous sound of a crash.

The Phobic King slowly begins to drag itself upward, legs shattered at the knees and hands alone helping to heft it upright, the pillars are another matter entirely. The other Guard that have followed in pursuit are slowly scaling their way down to the antechamber proper as the rest of the drifters turn their attentions on the surrounding beams of support. The chop of Alisha's sword CRACKS through stone, fracturing it just so that, combined with Margaret's kick, it -collapses- the entire thing with a shatter of stone and a tremble of ceiling, dust starting to rain from above.

The Phobic King starts to rise, stone eyes glowing violet with its lifeless madness, glaring at all those assembled. Its mouth gapes --

--and it is filled with a mouthful of rubble for its troubles, as Ragnell's shots dislode the already precarious masonry above to send a chunk of it COLLAPSING upon the statues head. The glowing violet hand of Jean SMASHES through the chest of the desperately rising monument...

... and combined with Ethius' pillar -smashing- into what remains of its legs, bowls it over...

... just as the defiant roar of Talise Gianfair prefaces one very pressing, salient point.

Run. Run run run runrunrunr--

BOOM

The sound of Talise's sword ripping through stonework like it was butter deafens all else as that precious support comes down like it was little more than paper mache. The hallowed hall of (literal) living history shudders, groans...

... and as the Phobic King tries to rise again, it and the Hellion Guards desperately trying to run towards the exit are buried underneath all that rubble in a gush of dirt and cobwebs and old, forgotten memories, the last thing visible that defiantly carved 'FUCK YOU HELYANS' before the ceiling rains down upon them all.

Fear, conquered.

Still. Running. A very good idea.

Deeper they go, through the winding halls of times gone by, the shifting architecture of many different, layered additions to these sprawling catacombs. Where the past was once honored, and now dessicated by a desperate need to protect the people of the kingdom by defiling the people of others'. Past the busts of kings who have come and gone, previously solved puzzles providing a winding path past the searching guards combing through the catacombs in search of them.

And when they arrive, in a vast, seemingly naturally made tunnel, there is silence amidst the oppressive dark and dank. A moment to catch ones breath, perhaps, attempt to recover even as the Domain hammers home...

... before something slimey oozes through the cracks of the walls.

Slimes. So many slimes fall through the tunnel, sharp, jello-like teeth chomping in amorphous ways as they leap upon the drifters. And from the backs, the sight of spectres can be seen -- Nightmare Lords, sentiments that should have stayed buried with the dead given Hellionized life. Pure Hellions. Compelled by a force greater than them, to find, and kill, and--

        --and--

                --what is that rumbling--?

A shriek. A hideous shriek. And the walls simply EXPLODE.

Explode into a mass of glowing, blue tendrils.

The slick, black body of a Crypt Wurm is what greets the drifters at the opposite end of that tunnel, BURSTing angrily into the passageway it made to traverse these catacombs. It shrieks, four-pronged jaw gaping wide as it -snakes- across the ground, earth rumbling as it charges for them.

Hellions behind. Crypt Wurm beyond. And yet...

... The Crypt Wurm seems almost disinterested in them. As if only lashing out at things within its territory. Things that don't belong. Things like Hellions. And then, one might notice...

... there is no Malevolence possessing this wurm.

Reclusive by nature, ferocious only when provoked -- maybe, as they ward off the Hellions, if one plays their cards right, maneuvers things just so--

--they might have a form of unlikely assistance, rather than a horrifying roadblock to overcome.

                   S e c o n d a r y O b j e c t i v e
                            Friends, Not Food!

       Make friends with a Crypt Wurm and make your enemies suffer!

GS: Dispellado has attacked Hiro with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Virginia Maxwell with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Ethius Hesiod with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Sorey with The Crypt Keeper!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Alisha Diphda with The Crypt Keeper!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Rose with The Crypt Keeper!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Talise Gianfair with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has attacked White Knight Leo with The Crypt Keeper!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Seraph Edna with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Fei Fong Wong with The Crypt Keeper!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Layna Manydays with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Matilda Whitehead with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Loren Voss with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Seraph Ragnell with The Crypt Keeper!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Margaret with The Crypt Keeper!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Jean with The Crypt Lurker!
GS: Dispellado has completed their action.
GS: Sorey critically Guards a hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Keeper for 24 hit points!
GS: Rose takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Keeper for 120 hit points!
GS: Alisha Diphda takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Keeper for 129 hit points!
GS: Talise Gianfair critically Guards a hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 9 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Keeper for 69 hit points!
GS: Hiro critically Guards a hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 9 hit points!
GS: Seraph Edna critically Guards a hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 10 hit points!
GS: Layna Manydays takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 42 hit points!
GS: Loren Voss guards a hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 29 hit points!
GS: Jean takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 26 hit points!
GS: Margaret guards a hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Keeper for 73 hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 28 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 28 hit points!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 29 hit points!
GS: Sorey takes a solid hit from Hiro's Starlight of Hope for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Sorey gains 15 extra FP from Hiro!
GS: Fei Fong Wong guards a hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Keeper for 79 hit points!
DC: 4 turns have elapsed in the battle against Dispellado! 1 turns remain!
<Pose Tracker> Rose has posed.

        A FAIR FEW MOMENTS AGO

        Rose's knives slice across the hide of a KRYPT WURM. From the other side, Sorey bombards it with the Silver Flame. Alisha leaps and strikes downward, sending the beast halfway back into the earth.

        A great bonfire of silver and blue consumes the KRYPT WURM, and it withdraws back into the ground moments later, leaving the Shepherd and his Squires to rescue the Royal Guards and move on into the catacombs.

        NOW

        Slimes. Slimes everywhere. But more than just that corrosive mess, there's a massive KRYPT WURM ahead.

        Rose spots its injuries. Ice burns. A large cleave mark going down its body. AND. AND! ... it isn't a Hellion.

        "... hey Sorey, Alisha, I have a dumb idea. REMEMBER ME AS SOMEONE CLEVER IF I GET EATEN!"
        Please don't eat her, giant worm.

        Rose dives through the slimes, pressing on and weaving between them - she approaches the KRYPT WURM, which the narration refuses to spell any other way - and she reaches out with one hand, trying to appeal to it.

        "Heeeey there buddy, remember me? And the dork over there with the wood sword and the fire? And the nice lady with the spear? You wanna be a good worm and do something AWESOME for us?"

        Rose seeks to mount the wurm. This can't go badly.

GS: White Knight Leo guards a hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Keeper for 79 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Sorey has posed.

 Ah hey wait-
 
 Well, it seems like Sorey is being helped in a way he was really not expecting, and it is quite strange finding himself getting thrown around like this. Not that he... incredibly minds, mainly due to the fact that he's having trouble moving in this entire mess, and he looks over one shoulder as Jean catches him to make sure that Alisha and Rose are keeping up.
 
 He doesn't want to lose them, not after they had offered so much of their help, only to follow him into this terrible mess. "I can-" Urp. Tossed again, and Sorey finally manages to get back on his feet after being passed around like a hot potato. "...I can walk on my own!"
 
 He doesn't make a very convincing example of this, staggering for a moment as he tries to catch his footing and another wave of malevolence pours out from the orb. On the other hand, Hiro's application of some sort of energy boosting item seems to be helping some.
 
 Either that, or the fact that they are moving away from the center of this mess.
 
 The tentacles that lash out from the wall snake forward, lashing out at Sorey even as he swings his blade to fend them off. "This just keeps..." he growls under his breath, but he can tell that this isn't the end of the world. The Crypt Wurm is the sort of obstacle that would do a great job of keeping the Hellions from catching up, although the fact that it's not tainted with malevolence isn't really something that Sorey can notice given that basically EVERYHTHING is tainted with it at this point. But Sorey looks at the wiggling forest of tentacles, and points. "Alisha, help me clear a path," Sorey shouts, and slams his sword into its sheath. He thinks back for a moment.
 
 'Remember Sorey, while this technique does use magical power, it's core essence is a lightning fast strike that cuts through your opponents in a single instant. Don't hesitate, and even if you can't draw out it's full power, you will find it effective.'
 
 Sorey opens his eyes, and shouts, "Howling Blade..."
 
 And lashes out with his sword, aiming to cut through a number of tentacles and give everyone a path forward.
 
 "BOLT TEMPEST!"
 
 As soon as he finishes his slash, he looks back towards Rose and her little bit of craziness. "Rose! Don't go dying on me! But do what you need to!"
 
 She's the master of crazy ideas. It has to work, right?
 
 "Lailah, Mikleo, Edna... I don't know if you can hear me, but please help her out if you can!"

GS: Sorey has attacked Dispellado with Bolt Tempest!
GS: Sorey takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: Sorey has completed his action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Sorey's Bolt Tempest for 179 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Talise Gianfair has posed.

Even after passing through Althena only knows how much solid stone, Rastaban's blade hasn't dulled in the least. And yet, there's not so much as a whisper of magic to it. What arcane craftsmanship could result in a blade so sharp that even solid masonry could shear away before it without damaging the metal it's made of?

Talise whirls Rastaban in her hands and huffs, drawing in a shaky breath as she begins to descend. Tearstains mar her cheeks, but her eyes are fixed forward now. That horrible voice in her mind continues to follow her, like a mother duck followed by countless little ducklings, all chirping a different regret, a different fear, a different question.

She can't stop and tend to those little fears right now. Since leaving Lacour, Talise has shed more tears than almost any human being has a right to shed. She has lost too many close friends and been powerless to stop the Trial Knight too many times. Too many of her days have been lost to the machinations of these Hellions and these Metal Demons. Always the same shit - by the time everyone finds out what's up, it's already a fait accompli and all that's left to do is run.

There are no more tears left to pour out of Talise Gianfair. There is only what is left when the sadness is scraped away.

Into the chamber beyond they erupt. The ooze seeps into being; Talise has no time to catch a breath. The damned themselves come to life, charged with Malevolence. Even if I had killed myself back there, K.K. would've still gotten me, she realizes with a certain self-reproving amusement.

Then the only answer is to give them no doubt, she decides. To give them nothing to latch on to.

Something shrieks - the Crypt Wurm, she realizes instantly. No, a Crypt Wurm. One not charged up with Malevolence.

Through the miasma of despair that threatens to pull Talise down into the abyssal nightmare that is the Trial Knight's little ocean rift, there is a spark of utterly ridiculous hope. "Who would've thought we'd have a buddy down here," she murmurs with utter disbelief in her eyes, though she manages to crack something she hasn't in a good while.

A genuine smile.

        What makes you think you deserve happiness?

Talise clenches her shoulders and whirls Rastaban in her hands - and then, she sheathes the blade, and turns to something else.

Her Everstead-Rey Model 492 shotgun. The little toy Ida gave you for that tournament. The one you failed, 'cause you're weak. You couldn't even beat Alisha, and she's half your size and grew up pampered. You couldn't even beat Lunata. Pathetic, weak girl.

"You know what, Purple Me," Talise says to nobody in particular as she begins to feed rounds into her shotgun. Her voice is still shaky as she struggles to fight back the turbulent emotions wrenched out of her by the Malevolent pall in the air. "If you were half as hard on me as I am on myself, I'd have jumped off a bridge years ago. And I'm starting to think that maybe I should change that."

What remains behind the scraped away sadness?

A steel as hard and sharp as Rastaban itself.

Talise brings her shotgun forward, holds the trigger down, and begins unloading shot after shot. The trick with the Model 492 is there's no trigger disconnector: Talise is effectively firing like an automatic shotgun. Blast after blast of buckshot hurtles into the mess of Slimes and Nightmares, aiming to drive them back into the maw of the Crypt Wurm!

"LAYNA," she shouts as she begins to reload. "Let's hurry!!"

GS: Talise Gianfair has attacked Dispellado with Slam Fire!
GS: Talise Gianfair has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Of course the Phobia is slain. You silly fear monster. Don't you know that fear isn't really a thing anymore once someone has already given themselves over to the fight or flight response. Cyre beats feet without even paying much attention to the catastrophe of stone and ~sick burns~ unfolding behind him. He is far too busy trying to not die, make sure Ethius does not die, and upon realizing that Matilda is in the general area, also making sure she doesn't die.

Sure, she might have some kind of terrible crush on an evil alien invader, but she's still family.

At the very least, the further they go from the throbbing, decrepit heart of this place, the less terrible the grip of despair seems to squeeze around his heart. Each step is lighter than the last. The essence of the wind still remains silent in the stagnant crypt air, but he knows. Soon, he will hear it again. Soon...

Soon...

SLIMES!?

"God-- why is it slimes!?" Cyre yells as the oozes begin squeezing out of every nook and cranny, little elemental incarnations of corruption and stagnation. He snarls, taking aim at one and knowing full well that bullets probably won't do a goddamn thing. And then the earth rumbles.

And then a giant Crypt Worm erupts from the earth.

"By Althena's Amazing Push-Up Corset," Cyre swears again in that manner he has learned by the name of a foreign god. He immediately swivels his aim, when he realizes that...

...This... This worm.

It's not corrupt...? And indeed, it seems to be... Aiming for the slimes?

...

...

MONTHS AGO

Cyre is being dragged through a cavern by a giant sandworm. Smoke is everywhere. Why? Because he thought that burning a concoction of incense would calm the worm down.

IT DIDN'T.

IT JUST MADE IT HIGH. AND HUNGRY.

And then he ended up... In a chamber full of mushrooms.

Mushrooms.

Mush...rooms...!"

NOW

"Ah--" Cyre blinks. He frowns, reaching into his cloak. No, he could ask Matilda if she had some, but... Why would she carry mushrooms around? That's silly. Only people who intend to use mushrooms for reasons other than eating would carry them around in a place that might just rot them out.

And so Cyre pulls... A great big triple-handful of Avehan Psilocybin.

"Hey, hey big guy," Cyre waves the mushrooms in the air in front of the big worm's sensing proboscis. "You want these? You want the mushrooms, boy?"

Cyre turns. And hurls the shrooms at the slimes. "GO GET 'EM. Hahahaha! Sacred Baskar Herbalism saving the day!"

...And then, and only then, once he's made an honest attempt at getting another sandworm high for his own personal profit does Cyre resume his run.

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Dispellado with Psilocyrebin!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Talise Gianfair's Slam Fire for 148 hit points!
GS: Poison! Statuses applied to Dispellado!
GS: CRITICAL! Dispellado takes a solid hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Psilocyrebin for 0 hit points!
GS: Mute! Statuses applied to Dispellado!
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei might feel bad about crushing a bunch of sick people with a statue someday but right now he's just glad they're no longer trying to kill them. Fei, as a note, completely lost the tournament and doesn't seem to care about that in the slightest.

fuck you I care!

Yep he doesn't care about losing the tournament at all and not even winning a single match.

A medkit crashes against his skull and he jerks for a moment before he opens it up and splashes down the contents on his face.

He feels better! He wonders where it came from? With all the chaos, it's hard to keep track of everyone. It's honestly impressive they've managed to make their escape as well as they have.

"We should kung fu together more often," Fei quips to Jean. "Honestly, it's refreshing to see another practicioner at work that isn't a crimelord or a psychotic mask wearing nonsense-person."

He falls back a bit to catchback to Sorey. He says, "You alright, man?"

BOLT TEMPEST!!

"...To be totally honest," Fei tells Sorey. "I totally figured you'd be carrying a staff." He gives Sorey a pat on the shoulder.

*pat*

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius thinks to himself when Cyre draws that gun and fires. There was something odd about the distribution of his weight, the way he was moving. He'll ask later.
        The rare moment of rest that comes after the statue's fall gives Ethius just a moment to take in a brief inventory of who all is actually here. Faces, if not always names, that he could attribute to reasons.
        The raging screams of a wronged Beastwoman. The Shepherd. That pushy merchant he hastily bought a red hat from to make her go away. A dignified young woman who went with Jay once. That pirate captain. Two friends of the so-called Lord of Calamity. The White Knight. The Black Pearl. Fei. Cyre. Matilda. Virginia.
        That one he was standing next to in the ensuing melee after... whatever happened, happened. Their behaviors related to associates don't seem to immediately stand out as one that might be cause to be h--
        Slimes. Nightmare Lords. Both of which he previously encountered. He points the sharper end of the quarter-eaten quarterstaff in a defensive posture - his only means of defense - and then... rumbling.
        A swift pivot turn into a deflecting blow with the more intact end, preventing a tentacle from grabbing him... but it's a bit of a struggle to pull his weapon loose from the flopping tentacles until it seems evident that it just doesn't want to eat the quarterstaff.
        "Mister Cyre... Miss--" Ethius sees Cyre toss the mushrooms into the slimes. He steps aside as a Nightmare Lord looks to claw at him again. No time to chide them for what they're doing--
        Ethius tries to stab the sharper end of the partially broken weapon into one such 'spiked' slime, wave it about, and then fling it in the direction of some of the encroaching Nightmare Lords after two or three good attempts to flick the slime off of his weapon. Each attempt is more frantic than the last, because he doesn't want the slime to still be on it if the KRYPT WURM is going to take Cyre's bait.

GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Sorey with NO NOT THE PATS pat pat!
GS: Fei Fong Wong takes 10 damage from Poison!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Edna has posed.

         Edna stands next to Sorey once all that madness from before is done. Done, but not over. And she watches as Rose runs off to be crazy, and do crazy things, as Rose is wont to do.

         "........"

         Slowly, she rubs the bridge of her nose. "If you die, I'll be sure to smack your ghost for being an idiot." Of course, Rose can't hear her, but the VIBES MAN. ...No those vibes can't even be felt either.

         Tsk. It's like they're back in the stone age. Annoying. But all the same, Edna steps forward, parasol swung to clear away errant slimes and leave a path open as she watches Rose's back. That's really all she can do right now.

GS: Seraph Edna has attacked Dispellado with Sunshine Swing!
GS: Seraph Edna takes 10 damage from Poison!
GS: Seraph Edna has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Sorey has posed.

 Sorey smiles a bit weakly at Fei, and holds up his sword. Which isn't an actual metal blade, but instead a blunt lacquered blade that isn't really going to be slashing anyone soon. It's definitely more of a bludgeoning weapon. "I think one of the early Shepherds used a staff, but I'm not really using a regular sword," he admits.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Dispellado with Slime-On-A-Stick - Should've Brought A Carrot!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes 4 damage from Poison!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        "Don't press your luck, boy!" Leo shouts, as Hiro urges him to keep moving--but while there's a bit of an edge, it doesn't seem aimed at Hiro, specifically. "And mind after your own!"

        Leo is breathing heavily by the time he catches up with Margaret; his face is pale, and he can feel a sort of dull fogginess settling in behind his eyes. It really does feel like he's being suffocated, slowly, but he's got to stay on his feet despite that. People are counting on him. "Excellent work, Guardswoman," he says, flashing a genuine smile.

        The group runs. Slime bubbles up from the walls--followed by more of those horrible ghosts. And then the ground erupts. Leo is nearly knocked off his feet, but manages to catch himself before he pitches over. It doesn't stop him from stumbling forwards, and knocking his head against a wall. Leo sways a bit more as he stands up, and sees the wurm. Rose immediately goes for her opening. It's not corrupt, Leo thinks, distantly. That means...

        Leo tries to kite a crypt wurm for the second time in about thirty minutes. He somehow manages to make his legs work well enough to run out towards the front of the group, waving to Rose as if she could somehow steer the creature after him if his attempt isn't good enough. As the slimes ooze and burble towards everyone, Leo runs towards them--

        And at the last second, throws himself to the side, letting the wurm do its thing.

GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Dispellado with LEOOOO JENNNKINSSSS!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Seraph Edna's Sunshine Swing for 92 hit points!
GS: Seraph Edna takes Cover! She gains 50 temporary hit points!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Slime-On-A-Stick - Should've Brought A Carrot for 99 hit points!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from White Knight Leo's LEOOOO JENNNKINSSSS for 105 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna catches the bottle that Loren tosses her. She...doesn't actually know what to make of this, it's not like any healing item she's ever used before. Is she...supposed to drink it? She watches what the others do, and realizes she's supposed to spritz herself with it...which she does, and ends up feeling a little more refreshed afterward! It buoys her spirits a bit, helping to ward off the effects of the Malevolent Domain, at least somewhat.

The statue falls and Layna lets out a cheer, but it doesn't stop her from breaking into a run along with the others. It's a good thing the puzzles are already solved - she'd just punch them into submission if they weren't. Unfortunately, it isn't long before something she can't punch arrives - slimes, terrible amorphous creatures, as well as a return visit from the Nightmare Lords.

Without her magic, there's not much here she can do against them. Fortunately, she's here with a good friend who's already had to adapt with having to live a life without magic, having never had it in the first place.

There is one thing she can do, though, to make things a bit easier on her. She reaches into her coat and draws out a bottle with a familiar label - Old Man Ettlesbury's Olde-Fashioned Heal Berry Liqueur.

It's a move Talise might find familiar, having done it many times herself. This time, Layna's the one offering it to her.

GS: Layna Manydays has attacked Talise Gianfair with The Old Standby!
GS: Layna Manydays has completed her action.
GS: Layna Manydays heals Talise Gianfair! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda continues forward, moving at a clip that would be impressive from anyon eelse, but merely feels passable coming from her. She feels boneless. Heavy. But still she continues. She looks to the puzzles, to the catacombs... it's so much history -- so much of her own heritage. If she had a chance to wander these halls while they were intact...

... she can't let herself think about that now. Not with the Crypt Wurm present. Masonry blasts her as the beast snakes around. What can she do? What can anyone do in a situation like this?

Matilda spots the creature's propensity for identifying foes in short order; she decides that now would be a great time not to borrow any trouble. When Rose announces that she has a great idea, Matilda seems to latch onto that; she swaps her weapons, drawing Freischütz fumblingly and loading something into it.

... She promptly fires at Rose.

It's okay though! It's the good, fun, invigorating kind of fire! Rose gets shot with sparkling liquid briefly and feels invigorated! It's fine.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Rose with Fairy Bullet!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
GS: Matilda Whitehead heals Rose! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

        The scream resonates, raising the pitch of the wave of fear undercutting the spiritual and prompting another brief flinch from Loren. But that's it -- that's the worst it has left to offer as several parties deliver their all against it. The statue accordingly shatters, forming a most useful blockade.

        Loren takes one look at the wreckage in the wake of its destruction and rushes for the entrance for the corridor.

        Bit by bit, the further he gets from the core of this mess -- of the catacombs -- the easier it gets to move, to think.

        But by no means is he able to channel the power that ought to be his birthright. It's still cut off from him, a disconnect that troubles him more deeply the further they're able to get from the Anomalous Orb.

        What is Malevolence? What is it really?
        ...What, for that matter, is Ether?

        For now, heresy will have to wait. To his recollection, it's a long way back through the catacombs to the surface, and that assumes they don't have a whole host of the Krosse military (Hellionized or otherwise) waiting for them.

        And he has a connection he needs to meet unless he wants to get stranded in Krosse.
        That lights a fire under him; he accordingly puts everything into his run down the hallway. Down all the twisting corridors.

        Into a side corridor where Loren slows for a moment, catching his breath, and looks up at the...
        Weren't the passages he took in here built by human hands? This looks like it was carved out by the passage of time itself. That, or--

        The expression on the medic's face is something along the lines of 'you've got to be kidding me' as the slimes begin to ooze in through the cracks. He debates rounding back, as seen by the glance he tosses over a shoulder. Is there time for that, though--

        And then, there's the Wurm. Right behind them. It screams, maw wide.
        Loren's expression races so far beyond 'you've got to be kidding me' that it may as well be completely blank -- a sort of expressional zen state, if you will.

        "... hey Sorey, Alisha, I have a dumb idea. REMEMBER ME AS SOMEONE CLEVER IF I GET EATEN!" calls out some girl that Loren doesn't know.
        She rushes past the slimes and right for the--
        The Wurm, yes.

        "No. No, no, no, no--" he starts to shout at her.
        It's too much, he can't take this anymore.

        "Are you an idiot?!"

        Incredulity spent in that brief outburst -- Cyre, as he tosses something for the Wurm to devour receives a similar but somewhat dampened blank look -- before the medical officer rounds on the slimes too close at hand and has at them with the shield.

        He needs to get out of here.

GS: Loren Voss has attacked Rose with This Isn't Really Happening!!
GS: Loren Voss takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Loren Voss has completed his action.
GS: Rose takes a solid hit from Loren Voss's This Isn't Really Happening! for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Rose gains 15 extra FP from Loren Voss!
GS: Fei Fong Wong heals Sorey! He gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Rose has attacked Dispellado with Rangetsu Style Forbidden Technique - Worm Riding!
GS: Rose has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
"I'll risk it if it means keeping a rival like you!" Hiro calls back.
 
"Ragnell... if I don't make it..." Ruby murmurs pathetically in her cachexic state over the sound of her gunshots, "... tell Lemina she can't have my things." At least the fact that she has a sense of humor is still a good sign that she's fighting this.
 
With Sorey under his arm he can't exactly run as fast he wishes he could, but he does try to set the pace in a hot step of forcing the Shepherd to stay with the group. "Sure you can." Hiro says as he tries to keep Sorey from staggering aground, "But right now you don't have to."
 
Which is when the walls explode in a mess of Blue Tendrils and one after another buffets his shield, as he tries his best to frantically fend off the Shepherd against the weight of blow after blow. Knocked just away from him by each battering blow, he keeps his shield raised.
 
"Hey what- don't get eaten!" He calls out to Rose. "We'll remember you as way more clever undigested!"
 
Sorey tries to clear a path, but there are still more that he can see. "Jean!" And in a hot step over to her takes her by the hand, "I think we need at least six of you to get out of this mess. Think you can manage?"
 
And with that, he uses that hand to pivot her around with his off-hand, to grant her speed and further momentum. While not a true martial artist like Jean, the two had trained together more times than he could count. He works her up faster and faster, before releasing her forward to rocket into that mess. In a stagger stumble afterwards, he manages to plant his foot, using his momentum in a blade flourish that sucks up the air around him in the chamber. And spring upwards into a leap he follows her storm of needles with a downward swipe that launches an intense slicing vacuum blade of pressure in this high-low combo as they work to further clear the path.
 
Landing nearby, he takes a knee... apparently a little dazed from the effort, "I think you're taking the Shepherd part a little too literally Fei." He manages a hoarse chuckle this time at least.
 
And that's when Leo starts to kite a crypt worm. Even in this situation Hiro can't help but gawk for a moment. "....I..." He finally decides as he leads it towards the Hellions, "... I feel kind of sorry for the Hellions."
 

GS: Hiro has attacked Dispellado with Sybillium Sword!
GS: Hiro takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
It's hard for Margaret to think of what happens in this moment, but perhaps due to extended exposure, the weird, cold, furtive fugue she's fallen into is fading. Is it the receding of the Phobic King's act - not enough to restore power but enough to reduce that sense of being spiritually smothered?

The real answer is that there's a squirt of envy at the heroism that the White Knight is showing.

A squirt of envy that is perhaps the niche in which Malevolence can lay its claim...

IF SHE WAS SLOWER but that is not a problem right now. The sudden eruption of the Crypt Wurm makes Margaret finally exclaim with something like her previous levels of brassiness, "Oh for the Goddess's sake! We just - wait -"

Margaret doesn't speak for a few moments, and then leaps forwards with a sudden surge of leg flexion, letting out a hellacious (but not Hellion-acious) shout, potentially right in Ruby's ear, as she aims to stab her naginata's blade into the creature's side -- and hold on tight!!

GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Hiro's Sybillium Sword for 162 hit points!
GS: Margaret has attacked Dispellado with Straight!!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Margaret's Straight! for 131 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

Jean knows that Hiro doesn't focus on pragmatism. ...Though it sneaks away from her at first, feels far off much like everything else here. It's awful. Jean does not feel it as awful though; the way it weighs her down, she may well be able to keep moving up until it begins to claim her for good. It may be soon. It may be late. But now...

Now, she fights, focusing on the movements of her body, the sensory details that scream at her that things are Wrong, the way that fear causes her blood to pump harder, makes her faster. "Right," she says to Hiro when he offers, and then she is moving.

Still, she does not see Seraph Ragnell.

She wonders for an instant--

...The wonder dies as the Domain pulses, and Jean keeps moving. They are running, now, past puzzles that she could not solve herself, that she helped with, but could not understand. There is silence, and when there's a silent moment, Jean looks backward, rising to her full height and staring back. ...She doesn't flinch when the slimes ooze through. It is not that they are not frightening. They are terrifying foes on their own, but--

She does turn in surprise as the Crypt Wurm bursts through. Her eyes widen slightly--and then she looks, and makes a decision, as the tentacles crash out. ...As Fei speaks with her. He quips her way, and she glances at him, and it stings and she almost wants to laugh, a brief moment breaking free. ...It is getting a little better. "...Not these days," she says, a little pained to him. Which does she mean???

It gets worse though, because of that, and she has to force herself to set it down, not as effectively. ...But Rose--Jean grits her teeth, but Hiro takes her hand, andshe looks at him with some surprise--and then nods, immediately. Jean lifts both arms, to let herself spin, a graceful dance move over and over untils he has her momentum--

And leaps forward, tapping down into that darkness inside her--not the Malevolence, precisely, but something that could build it--and draws. Her hands shift, and she whirls again mid-air, before--

Suddenly she is six of herself, all pulling needles from a hidden space, each firing paralytic ki at tentacles as the others work on the Wurm, to give them time.

All of them are faint, shadowy, blurred. But then, that's the sort of place this is.

GS: Jean has attacked Dispellado with Needle Step!
GS: Jean has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Jean's Needle Step for 45 hit points!
GS: Break! Statuses applied to Dispellado!
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Rose's Rangetsu Style Forbidden Technique - Worm Riding for 95 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        The Phobic King conquered, everyone keeps running for the exit with as much speed and energy as they can muster when they feel like they're swimming in chains through a molasses swamp. Ragnell had, after getting separated from Virginia and the others, taken the opportunity to acquaint herself with the layout as best she was able, which allowed her to at least find the center even if she hadn't been able to reach it alone at the time, but there remain several troubles.
        
        One: slimes oozing all through the walls. Two: specters, undead Hellions, screaming to unlife. Three: Rumbling. And lots of it. Right before a Crypt Wurm BURSTS into the cavern... and starts attacking not them, but the Hellions.
        
        Huh.
        
        Mind you, Ragnell's dealing with having to stomp, like, a million horrifying slimes without any use of Seraphic artes, so there is that. At least the others have matters well in hand. In point of fact, Rose doing something simultaneously incredible and stupid makes her break out into a deep belly laugh as she claps a hand over her forehead. "Ahahahaha, oh Althena, Rose, you beautiful idiot!"
        
        Ruby is murmuring. Ragnell interrupts herself to listen, only to laugh again. "It's rude t' call Hiro a 'thing,' Ruby," she quips back. A sense of humor is always a good thing; it means the pain isn't quite so immense that it overwhelms all else. Still, Ruby's *really* looking in a bad way, and Ragnell's close to out of bullets. "Anyway, Lemina's kind of a whiny punk, so Imma pass on that, Ru. You tell her yourself, y'hear?"
        
        She holsters one pistol, transfers the limp Red Dragon from her shoulder to be cradled under one arm, and flips her other pistol around so she can--yeah. That's Ragnell pistol-whipping any slimes that dare irritate her. Protecting Sorey and his Squires is important, but Ruby looks to be possibly *literally dying*, so priorities need to change. Perhaps being cloaked in Ragnell's presence, and poncho, might make things a little bit easier for Ruby, at least long enough to keep her intact while the group makes their escape. "Outta my WAY, outta my WAY, outta my WAY--"

GS: Virginia Maxwell takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Crypt Lurker for 68 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Dispellado with Outta My WAY!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes 4 damage from Poison!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Dispellado takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Outta My WAY for 125 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Dispellado!
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

        The worst things tend to just-- happen in the blink of an eye.

        Virginia starts to lag behind, grimacing as she finds herself having to manoeuvre around the blocks upon blocks of debris and rubble slamming down around her; she's only saved from imminent death from the ceiling thanks to Matilda's syrupy concoction, as she gasps and nods her thanks to her. "It's okay, we'll-- make do," she answers her comment about not having the right synthesised solutions for the occasion.

        But the Crypt Wurm has beleaguered her once, and it beleaguers her-- again--

        Just rocking the once-rookie Drifter clean off her feet; she seizes the sides of the walls as she grimaces and exclaims, "No--!!" and stubbornly holds onto a piece of rock--

        --but as the Wurm continues to thrash around, she's just flung clean off and starts descending into the darkness of the broken ground from whence they came. She grits her teeth and-- decides to yell: "J--Just keep going, I'll be fine!"

        Wow, bold words, Virginia. Descending, descending, descending...

        She has surprisingly ample time to think to herself as she falls to the depths of the catacombs.

        Guilt can be a strength too.

        She bites her lip-- and vanishes into that depth.

        She's spiritually severed from the connection to the Guardians... and her crests are of no use here. Even Skeleton won't be an aid here -- she really hopes he never gave up and made it out... and ARMs are of no use when you're freefalling.

        But there is one power that should still work here. One power that stubbornly clings to her, like a scab that just won't heal, even after the peril of the wound has long gone...

        The black-dressed girl laughs again.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell turns her head when she hears Virginia yell that she'll be just fine, just in time for her to see the Drifter vanish into the subterranean depths. "..."
        
        Well, either she'll be fine or she won't be. Ruby needs her help more right now, and there's a certain solidarity between magical beings. ...Besides. Ruby still owes Ragnell a *ton* of favors. The Lightning Seraph can't just let the Red Dragon keel over.
        
        Ragnell thus takes Virginia at her word and continues to focus on protecting Ruby--which, along with escaping this literal hellhole, will be her focus until the group at large has escaped the Malevolent domain.

<Pose Tracker> Dispellado has posed.

Even when things seem futile. Even when things are at their worst. Even when there seems to be no chance.

There's always hope, as long as one can persevere long enough to find it.

There is hope, in the form of a thing that would look like it gives none of it. In the form of enemies, working together. In the form of the Crypt Wurm, freed of the Malevolent taint, scarred in ways that Rose recognizes, spills out into the tunnel even as others hack away at its tendrils. Jean moves, paralyzing them in a multi-form blitz that seizes several of those glowing blue tendrils up and gives others precious time to escape the frantic flailing of the panicking beast. It shrieks, those remaining unharmed appendages flailing, seeming like it might very well simply turn its wrath upon all of -them- as the ground beneath it shudders, trembles.

But just before it can charge into them, just before it can attempt to turn them into a snack in a most unfortunate pincer -- Rose imposes herself between the Wurm and its targets -- and reaches out with a single hand.

And rock and mineral crash on the hard, wurm-tunneled earth beneath them as the Crypt Wurm comes to an abrupt stop. It looms above Rose, eyeless head tilting down to leer at her with its horrifying regard.

And that is the story of how Rose found herself slobbered on by the happy application of a slimy blue tendril.

It's probably a small price to pay.

Maybe.

But it's as clear a sign as the Squire may need that the Wurm does remember her. The Sparrowfeather mounts the large beast. It stays there, for a moment.

And then Margaret, thoughtful as she is, gives it helpful encouragement in the form of a light (hard) naginata prodding (stabbing).

It's good for morale!

And so the Crypt Wurm lets out another, deafening shriek. It turns its attention onwards, intent to, perhaps, just charge blindly forward...

... if not for the efforts of Leo and Cyre both. Leo becomes a beacon to the creature and for Rose to guide the wurm towards, his waving arms catching the limbless beast's attention. Instantly, it is bounding towards him, the ground trembling unpleasantly as it goes as slimes and phantasms alike lunge --

And the first batch of them are swiftly dispatched by the lash of tendrils ensnaring and and crushing them in short order. Even the ghosts. Strong tentacles, clearly.

It rampages, head snapping about wildly, long body lashing and bashing Hellions into walls. It doesn't dare eat them -- it's learned that a lesson on that already. But what might devolve into directionless rage once more... if it weren't for the mushrooms. It looks at them as they are tossed in front of another batch of slimes. It tilts its head. One could almost imagine the confused blink.

And perhaps it gets a whiff of what is inside, because it's only seconds later that it is all but LEAPING upon those slimes in a frenzy.

The others do their part to help. Blast after blast of clustered shotgun fire from that trusty Everstead-Rey ARM obliterates some of the Slimes and drives the rest, and the Nightmare Lords besides, directly into the path of the Wurm. Many are crushed underfoot, some seized up by tendrils and smashed into walls angrily. Slimes cling to what remain of Ethius' staff, sliding their way up it as if they could just incorporate it all into their grasp, only to be flung off, -directly- into the path of the phantasms. They strike those ghosts, and the ooze immediately just spikes out further, amorphous body attacking blindly in a fearful cacophony of confusion that almost makes it look as if those Nightmares are trying to -slap- the creature off them... Before they are introduced to the crushing flick of the Wurm's tail in short order.

And then, so does the Crypt Wurm, after having clobbered literally EVERYTHING IN ITS WAY and treated Rose to what it surely must be like to play Bucking Bronco but with a giant subterranean monstrosity instead of a mechanical bull, finally gets its prize.

*gulp*

Seconds pass on in silence. The Crypt Wurm just lingers there, like it was seized up, in the midst of gulping down its Crypt Snacks.

...

... ...

And then Rose has all of a handful of seconds to leap the hell off before it -lunges- itself into a nearby wall, shrieking in a way that almost sounds like -- laughter? Like amusement? Like the thing is stoned out of its mind??

Either way, it's still ear numbing and awful, but at least its pleased as the entire chamber begins to rumble once more with its feverish burrowing back into the dirt.

And as rocks begin to fall all around them, it is Hiro, Sorey, Edna and Ragnell that clear the path forward. The mighty blow of a parasol not to be underestimated SMACKS creatures aside in its wake, treating these Hellions to the hell Mikleo must endure on a daily basis. The stomps of Ragnell's boots and her other physical abuses that she has honed so well to wonders at picking off errant slimes and keeping poor Ruby safe.

And Hiro and Sorey, working in tandem. Lighting and air. A vacuum of the blade and the thunder of the Shepherd. Both of them -tear- through the space ahead of them, ripping through what Hellions remain, tearing them aside in bursts of Malevolence that clear that path open for everyone else.

And it is as Virginia falls, in the dark, that a voice unfamiliar speaks to her, just before she is lost:

"Guilt IS a form of strength.

"But let it not consume you from walking ever forward."

And then it is gone, as she falls, as if it had never been.

Hope. There is always hope. As long as...

<Pose Tracker> Dispellado has posed.

They carry on. Deeper and deeper, the Guard seem to have lost the scent of them. Past the crypts, past the tombs. Past the sight of hanging prison cages in the distance. The fresh air can be felt somewhere just beyond. Somewhere close. Somewhere--

... and then that is when they come across it.

A gaping chasm, eroded by the endless surge of Malevolence that the crushing presence of the Domain has merely exacerbated. Ground is still falling away. Crumbling down towards that endless dark beneath them, eating away more and more. Widening the gap further and further.

"'Tis the end of your rope."

The voice, tinny and familiar in its authority. In its unyielding, uncompromising tone that warps across metal like sword across a sharpening stone. They are behind them. Horned helm. Polished white armor. Bearing somehow still noble, despite all the madness they have wrought around them.

Accompanied by a horde of Hellionized Royal Guard, bows and arrows pointed at the drifters, at the Shepherd and his Squires, at the Seraphim, at the Vile Fiends and the Althena's Guard. At even Matilda, scion of Krosse.

At everyone.

"You have but one path before you, lest you wish to suffer unnecessarily," the Trial Knight utters, those words always so cryptic. Always like some sort of judgement. Some sort of criticism. "'Twas one you decided upon the moment you stepped foot in this place. You had but not seen the face of it."

Their hand lifts, slowly. Their clawed fingers gleam in the dim light.

And the words they say, a repetition of one uttered in the past. The meaning behind it?

"Know well your limits, now."

There is a sound, below, in the chasm. The sound of rocks hitting something wet. The sound of running water. The Domain here, weaker, enough that the Seraphim may flicker out of existence to one's sight. The spark of magic, barely present.

The gap widens, but is not impassable, if one can leap. But below...?

The hand falls. The arrows fly.

"Lest you seek to drown."

                   S e c o n d a r y O b j e c t i v e
                       The Limits of Those Who Soar

                   Decide your path. With your own will.

GS: Dispellado has attacked Hiro with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Jean with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Margaret with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Fei Fong Wong with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Layna Manydays with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Matilda Whitehead with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Seraph Edna with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Talise Gianfair with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked White Knight Leo with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Ethius Hesiod with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Rose with The Leap of Faith!
GS: Dispellado has attacked Sorey with The Leap of Faith!
GS: CRITICAL! Sorey guards a hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 144 hit points!
GS: Rose enters CONDITION GREEN!!
DC: MISS! Rose completely evades The Leap of Faith from Dispellado!
GS: Fei Fong Wong takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 166 hit points!
GS: Talise Gianfair guards a hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 100 hit points!
GS: Layna Manydays takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 82 hit points!
GS: Talise Gianfair has activated a Force Action!
GS: Seraph Edna guards a hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 106 hit points!
GS: Jean takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 57 hit points!
GS: Hiro critically Guards a hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 20 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a glancing hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 59 hit points!
DC: 5 turns have elapsed in the battle against Dispellado! No turns remain! Time has expired! The battle is over!
DC: MISS! Margaret completely evades The Leap of Faith from Dispellado!
GS: White Knight Leo critically Guards a hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 22 hit points!
DC: MISS! Cyre H. Lorentz completely evades The Leap of Faith from Dispellado!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Dispellado's The Leap of Faith for 105 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Talise Gianfair has posed.

The last thing Talise was expecting down here was a little help from the Old Man.

Layna offers her the bottle with the label of her tournament sponsor on it. Talise blinks a couple times. And then, in spite of the immense weight of the raw despair attempting to lay her soul low, she fires the older sea-dog a rough smile before popping the bottle and knocking it back.

        BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_jcT08MqoU

The sweet bite of the alcohol goes a long way towards submerging some of the worst of Talise's anxieties.

Until Ginny goddamned Maxwell vanishes into the Malevolence-choked hellrift that is K.K.'s domain. "NO," Talise shrieks, the bottle of beer dropping from her hand. It shatters against the ground by her feet.

Talise doesn't know Virginia Maxwell from Adam, but seeing the girl sacrifice herself so recklessly brings a surge of terror back to her heart. She starts forward but is nowhere even close. All she can do is click her teeth together and force out a breath through her nose.

"...Damn it, girl, don't do anything dumb," she mutters past that horrible, sick feeling. She forces herself to turn away. Ginny Maxwell is a big girl. She knew what she was doing, Talise tells herself.

It makes her feel absolutely no better, but as she rushes on, she turns her thoughts forward as best she can, trying to force down the constant roil of that insistent little voice that wants her to take her own life.

And then there's a breath of something. Fresh air. The pall of sadness descending over Talise once again shakes. She gasps -

'Tis the end of their rope.

Talise looks back, to find what they started with. The Trial Knight once again lecturing them about their limits. And arrows falling around her. Hunkering down for a moment, Talise throws a bolt of her mail-lined coat over herself; a few arrows still hit her. A couple of them punch in and embed themselves in her back. With a pained hiss, she curls into herself a little more - and widens her eyes as she realizes she's at the edge of the chasm.

It's a long way down. A long way down into Malevolence.

And it's the end of her rope.

Talise looks up, towards the spark of light beyond the chasm - and is suddenly reminded of something ridiculous. Of the minecart in the Lightless Shaft, speeding up towards the end of the line to hurl her into the air again and again.

A minecart puzzle she eventually solved, she reminds herself. "You know what, Trial Knight," she begins, her voice low, still a bit unsteady, but with a hint of some rough mirth behind it. "You've got me. I mean, let's face it. I'm the one who always falls off the fuggin' ropes. By all rights I should've stopped climbing.

"But I did something else," Talise says as she reaches into her coat and grips an object. "And do you wanna know what that was, shitface?"

Talise turns away from the chasm and starts running.

Towards the Royal Guards. She lines up her course -

And at the last second, hurls herself at K.K. - snaps an arm out to try and deflect the inevitable attempt to skewer her in midair, because at this point she knows what the damn Trial Knight's fucking game is -

"I DIDN'T GIVE UP!!!" she screams as she attempts to plant her heels in K.K.'s face and kick herself into the air.

The momentum she gets, whether she kicks off of K.K., a guardsman or a wall, isn't going to be enough. She sails upwards, backflipping in the air. Her sheer weight will drag her down into the pit. Her momentum will cause her to fall short. Idiot girl. Falling off your fuggin' rope again.

Talise snaps her other arm out - the arm holding her Hookshot.

There's a THOOM as a charge goes off. The pronged head of the Hookshot lances through the air, grasping for an outcrop at the cave mouth - and with a steely tang, it latches on, and Talise hits the trigger.

"FUCK YOU, HELLIONS," Talise shouts as her Hookshot proceeds to reel her towards the exit like a caught fish.

GS: Talise Gianfair has attacked Dispellado with Savior's Storm!
GS: Talise Gianfair has completed her action.
GS: Dispellado takes a solid hit from Talise Gianfair's Savior's Storm for 184 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Rose has posed.

        Healing! It's beyond welcome. To get near that worm Rose had to brave awful slimes. And then Loren chimes in, too! Rose would like nothing more than to have the spare five seconds to thank Matilda and this strange young man both. Sadly, her time is used up by the following conversation:

        "I'm PRETTY SURE I know what I'm doing!" she shouts at Hiro.
        Cyre gets it high to boot. It's a good thing Leo is "guiding" the worm for her and all she has to do it convince it to go on a rampage, or this would be catastrophic. Probably for the best she can't hear neither Ragnell nor Edna right now.

        ... for all the situation is dire, a bit of levity seems to return some of Rose's strength to her. It's probably healthy not to let that Domain crush them too much. No, in fact, everything she knows of Malevolence tells her this is probably the best thing they can do right now. Don't let it get a foothold.

        This is also a great way to ignore the ghostly, undead Hellions present. Giant worm beats ghosts. If only she had a giant worm on-hand everytime she has a ghost problem.

        Also she's covered in Krypt Wurm goop.
        That WAS a small price to pay for not being eaten.

        Its work done, its rampage over, the beat disappears into the tunnels, Rose jumping off when she realizes it's about to dig itself away. She dusts itself, attempting to look like this was all completely planned.

        Internally she's screaming.

        And it's made infinitely worse when the Trial Knight, and countless archers, catch up. That's. That's super bad.

        "Limits, huh..."

        What was that, in the chasm? Water...? A lake, or a river?
        And what's that flicker of magic?
        That... hint of a link, like Sorey and Alisha are slightly closer again, like they're not alone. She can't see any of the Seraphim, but... they're still there, right...?

        "What about you, K.K.? You ever find out what your limits are? I think I'm not there yet. I've got a lot of growing left to do! I think you knew we'd get pushed to this exact ledge, didn't you?"

        Did he? Well, there's a rain of arrows coming down. No time to hear his answer. Rose steps off the ledge, plunging down towards the water!

        "You IDIOT!" comes Dezel's voice, flickering in and out of existence, but audible by all who jump with Rose. His form can't be seen, but the winds rise, slightly, just enough to cushion the Drifters' falls. It's cutting it close, and expending that energy causes Dezel to be cut off from Rose again for the moment.

        Better than crashing at the bottom at full-speed though.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Edna has posed.

         Okay, so Rose isn't dead. That's good. And their new, incredibly high friend cleared the path for them, so all they need to do now is run... run.. run all the way into... a dead end. Nice.

         And there's the Trial Knight behind them. Awesome.

         Edna is silent for a moment, then a dour little smile forms as she turns around. "Sorry. Not planning on getting killed today. I've still got a brother to save. And mabo curry to eat. And Alisha owes me fifty royal crablettes for losing the tournament." With that said, she raises a foot... And stomps the ground.

         An earth pillar bursts up out of the ground at an angle, launching Edna into the air. "Bye now." She waves, and then opens up her parasol at the apex, fluttering along through the air like Mary Poppins.

         Edna Poppins.

         Yes.

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

"A chasm..." fei reflects... "...One path huh?" He looks over his shoulder. "I'll show you one path...!"

He bats away arrows, running backwards now, managing it with periodic hops. He can feel the connection coming back. The voices within are louder. The strange connection is back. Or maybe it never left. Maybe it was only Fei's perception that was muted. "Hey... being an actual shepherd isn't so bad...! I thought it might be a bit like that!" He glances to Sorey's 'blade' for a moment before turning to Jean. "I'll see you in a bit." He hesitates before adding, "And uh--I meant no offense, we can chat about it later! Take care of Hiro and Ruby...!"

Regardless, Fei can totally leap.
Hisnd he does leap into the chasm. Hopefully at this point Sorey doesn't need him to help him up any more.




...What? There might be treasure down there.

Fei nods to Rose as he plummets, offering her a mid-plummet high five.

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

And so on that day, Cyre Lorentz learned a valuable lesson about the megafauna of the Ignas region.

Well, okay. Two things. But Cyre is pretty sure that the legend of Atreides the Wormspeaker is something most Baskar should have at least passing knowledge about. No, what Cyre has learned is that the worms really, really like psychedelic mushrooms.

He'll have to tell Ida's science friends! He's sure they'll get into all kinds of interesting experiments as a result.

But he cannot linger on his new discoveries now. He can patent the Lorentz Effect on Worm Physiology later. Right now, he has running to do. Everyone has running to do. And then...

They don't.

Not because they've made their escape, but because they've simply run out of road.

Cyre whispers a soft curse under his breath as he skids to an abrupt stop. The very land here is being worn away by this... this corruption. How much longer can it last before--!

No...

That voice...!

Cyre's attention snaps from contemplating the abyss to regarding the man responsible for this... this--!!

"You--" Cyre snarls, "Colossal, cryptic, tincan helmetted ASSHOLE!"

"You steel suppository what crawled out of the ass-end of Lunar. What the hell right do you have to tell us what has and has not been decided!?"

There is a chasm between he and the knight. A volley of arrows pours down like a biblical deluge. It's impossible to dodge through the lethal raindrops-- only escape into the pit is a surefire means of escape, but...

But...!

Cyre... chooses another path!

He leaps, boldly, bravely. The arrows fall to meet him, he snarls at the inevitability of his fate--

And then, at some point between here and there, he crosses an invisible threshhold.

Suddenly, the wind howls. With a tremendous, stone-shattering scream, razor-sharp gales suddenly smash the rain of arrows aside. Cyre throws his arms open, the wind catches in his cloak, carrying him to the other side of the chasm.

His claws glint and gleam. Emerald energy surges down his fingertips.

"We... are not going to let a monster like you decide what is and isn't our limits. Now..." Cyre stands, jade sutras weaving across his skin like tiger stripes. He glances momentarily at a Certain Voice and the girl so nearby. He huffs and turns his attention to the army of hellions between he and freedom. "In the immortal words of my ancestors," Cyre says to the assembled guardsmen.

                   Move, bitches, and get out of my way!!

As he surges forward on a tremendous burst of gale force wind, intent on tearing a path to freedom by raw hurricane force.

<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna returns Talise's smile with a grin of her own. It's the little things that keep one going, sometime. ...Even when Virginia Maxwell falls, Layna doesn't despair.

The girl's found her wings again, after all. She'll figure out a way out of it, Layna's sure of it.

So she runs...and runs...and runs...until she can't run anymore.

There is an immensely deep chasm in front of her. And behind her is the Royal Guard of Krosse, accompanied by...Them.

The Trial Knight.

They were at the end of their rope.

Layna whirls around to face them and backpedals. ...What could she do? They were stuck. They could either try to fight back, or they could dive into the chasm below...

...No, wait.

...The answer was so obvious. It was right in front of her.

'I DIDN'T GIVE UP!!!', Talise screams.

Layna smirks...and then grins...and then laughs.

"You're not wrong. There's only one path for me." She says. "...It's the path I make for myself. The future is mine to decide! Nothing is decided for me until I say it is! I'll figure out my limits, Trial Knight...and then I'll break right past them!" And with that, Layna turns and leaps.

She can feel it, like a spark deep within her. But a spark can be enough to generate a raging fire...or in this case, a windstorm.

Her magic's come back to her. It's not a lot, all things considered - it's not enough for her to consider fighting back...but it is enough to generate a powerful gust behind her, to propel her forward to the other side along with Talise and her Hookshot.

It's not like this situation was unfamiliar to her - after all, she's boarded enemy ships many times. It's just that this time, the water is much, much further down.

GS: Layna Manydays has attacked Layna Manydays with Prepare to Board!!
GS: Layna Manydays has completed her action.
GS: Layna Manydays takes a solid hit from Layna Manydays's Prepare to Board! for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Layna Manydays!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Natural Infusion - Fengalon!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a solid hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Natural Infusion - Fengalon for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Arrows catch Matilda in the back; her armored under-layer does a good job of keeping her from dying, as does her continued movement forward, but that's not to say it's painless. She looks back toward the Trial Knight, a scowl upon her face.

"... I suppose you're right -- there is a limit to what one can achieve, and I've seen mine... more than I'd like," she admits, with a look down at the chasm. Running water. Others making the dive as well -- good, possible sustained disruption of the surface tension.

... besides -- Matilda's always been much better at climbing and swimming than leaping for distance.

Nothing for it, then, but to dive. Simple. Straightforward. The rivers and seas of Filgaia have shown Matilda kindness many times -- what's hoping for one more?

... many times, but not -- perhaps -- the one that mattered most, she thinks to herself, mid-dive.

<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
Forward motion. Even when things are at their worst. When you're going through Hell, keep going.

Margaret does not know how weary she truly was. She felt old, weak, helpless, even as she struck a blow. The blade of her naginata chips. It is not a weapon of proof and renown. The wurm does most of the work. Idiot luck, she thinks, as a voice speaks to them.

"Oh," Margaret says, to nobody in particular, "bugger you." The erosion of the bones of Filgaia itself by Malevolence itself confronts them soon enough, and then there is a faint twinkle of something.

It's tiny. But it's precious. Margaret feels a spark come to the back of her eyes, her nose twitching, her back suddenly straightening. The Drifters flee into the chasm, leaping with hopes into that great hole, and Margaret stares after them. The army comes behind them, an arrow streaking towards her, leading her to weave aside on reflex. Turning her head, she sees -

Well, there is Leo, doing his thing. On the other hand, there are the forces of Krosse. Margaret's reaction is trefold.

The first thing she does is rear back and hurl her naginata straight and dead-on into the front of a column.
The second thing she does is start taking off her jewelry. She's lost one of her bird skulls but she has two earrings of black pearl and another of them. As she does this, she does the third thing, which is speak to them.

That third thing:

"Know my limits? Which one of you said that...? Because if you're asking me where my limits are, then I would have to apologize to you, you desperate piglets, because --"

The last jewelry to come off is a gold chain around her neck. She wraps it around her wrists in a complicated pattern, holding the pearl decorations in her hands and the chain around her wrists like the sign for infinity.

Her eyes gleam. "I haven't found it yet. LEO, YOU FOOL!" she then shouts. "I'M BEING INSUBORDINATE!" Margaret's eyes are cast towards the Hellions. "This is how we do things in Neo-Vane. Power stored within my tokens, BE LOOSED!"

Her hands crush down. The pearls disintegrate into powder with a sudden flare of that nebular shadowy magic she's often put on herself. As the bone shards and ruined jewels pour through her fingers, they clutch at the gold chains and pull steadily. The material breaks... bends... sparks with electrical light.

"Starlight--"

There is a surging upswell as the chain rips apart with a sound of thunder. And a moment later Margaret is running forwards-- to arm-bar Leo around the waist, throw him into a fireman's carry and accelerate like a maniac towards that cliff edge. The wind howls around her, her teeth bared in the face of death:

Then she leaps. Her legs kick sparks and stars as she aims to vault the chasm.

GS: Margaret has attacked Dispellado with I Say Run!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
"Ha... maybe I will..." Ruby says more faintly like a child falling asleep, "... come back as a spoopy ghost and tell her like that... get her back for that mansion..."
 
"HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY THINK THAT?" He shouts back at Rose's bravado. The path is clear but Hiro is limping. And while Virginia falls - "Ginny!" He blurts out. But after a moment he tears his eyes away, not out of a desire to abandon her... but out of knowledge she'll make it out alright. Somehow.
 
But then he stops short, skidding up dust as a gaping chasm appears. The endless surge of teeming malevolence below a promise of their fate.
 
And then there's the trial knight flanked by the Hellionized Guard. His glare is baleful, knowing he's cornered. Knowing they all are. Backing up a half-step closer towards the widening crumbling chasm. He hears a faint rushing sound below. "... Yeah. Guess we have."
 
He'd come a long way from the boy in the Blue Spire who couldn't even dream of helping a magnificent Goddess.
 
But facing down the horde, that helmed figure, he knew exactly what kind of vast chasm he had to cross and it wasn't just the one that he was facing right now. He feels like he's choking on the depth of it, his vision blurring into visions of malevolent eyes and dulling senses.
 
And facing that he finds there's one thing he can say in defiance, "Everyone acts like they know everything there is to know about her... while I know absolutely nothing..." He says as if they might be his last words, because they might very well be.
 
Crouching down the first arrow - then the second thuds against his shield, wrenching his arm aside. He needed to stop delaying and he knew it.
 
"... but one day she's gonna surprise every last one of you."
 
Turning on a foot, another arrow slides into his orange scarf as he takes a singular step, the only one he can, before leaping- down into the chasm, a little behind Fei.
 
Apparently Fei didn't have to hand off that duty after all, as he calls out - "Ragnell take care of Ruby!" He doesn't even know if she's still around as he hasn't seen her in some time... he just figures she must be. And while Ruby would kill him for leaving her behind. She'd kill him harder if he didn't make sure Fei made it out of this.
 

GS: CRITICAL! Dispellado takes a solid hit from Margaret's I Say Run for 75 hit points!
GS: Poison, Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Dispellado!
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        Leo allows himself a grin as he witnesses the crypt wurm's work. He doesn't dare linger for long, though--he pushes himself to his feet, digging deep in search of reserves. The group runs, and as the crypt walls give way to something more natural--or unnatural, as the case may be--the Domain's stranglehold on Leo's soul starts loosening. It's not enough to breathe in earnest, but it feels like a burst precious oxygen to someone who is suffocating. It might not last long, but it might last long enough to let him free himself.

        The Trial Knight. Leo whirls around, skidding a little on wobbly legs. "Judgment will come for you yet, vile creature," he snarls. Talise hurls curses, and charges. Leo sees the guards nocking arrows, and decides upon a different course of action. "Althena," he whispers. "From the depths, I cry out unto you."

        The arrows fly. Leo stomps a bootheel into the ground, and the earth answers him. Pillars of stone rise up before him--thin sheets compared to the usual sturdy barriers, but in this case, they are enough. Leo crouches down behind his makeshift shield, hears the scraping and crunching of arrowheads burying themselves in rock. One of them punches through, but the barrier saps its momentum--it doesn't so more than scrape his cheek.

        'I'M BEING INSUBORDINATE!'

        This is more or less all the warning Leo has before Margaret grabs him, throws him over her shoulder, and rockets towards the chasm. Insubordination or not, she definitely saved him the risk of having to use that magic again.

GS: White Knight Leo enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: White Knight Leo has attacked White Knight Leo with Sack Of Potatoes Methodology!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
GS: White Knight Leo takes a solid hit from White Knight Leo's Sack Of Potatoes Methodology for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

After the soul-deadening effects of the Domain, other pains can be endured, embraced, noted and acted around. ...And Jean gets a number of those. She watches others make use of the time she and Hiro bought, but she doesn't stay far behind; she crashes forward, rushing ahead, and stops. She stops, as Virginia falls, and stares, and there's a pain that causes her to stumble, her heart sharply pierced. "...Ginny..." She grits her teeth, thinks to go back for her--looks to the others. ...The ones she needs...

But she can't make the words come to make it better, can't say they'll find her, can't express worry, can't manage anything as it all sloughs off again. But those words come. Guilt... She shakes her head, and does not think that guilt is strength. Does not think there is much good that comes of the reasons she must feel that way. ...The things she will continue to do now.

They make it to the chasm, and Jean stops, turning when she hears the tinny tone of K.K. Somehow noble, somehow strange; the arrows are pointed at her, and she narrows her eyes. One path...

"...I'm already drowning," Jean answers. "If you want to know my limits..."

Her voice is dull, "It's the wrong question."

She adds for Fei, "Don't worry about it," as he jumps, and should usually stop and stare at this. And yet, she says, "I will."

She must first block and dodge arrows coming at her, as some sink into her flesh through her lack of armor and some are knocked off course by her too-fast movements. But she cannot endure that forever. There are more coming, yet. ...And Hiro speaks up about Lucia, and she knows it is true, with every inch of herself. That much she does know. ...And then he falls. He just... leaps. Jean looks back--and looks to the others. Her expression is harsh, but not heated. "...I've drowned just like this, before. And it wasn't my own strength that saved me."

Jean puts up her hands, but not in a fighting stance--palms forward--before she immediately turns, ignoring the further arrows, and sprints to leap just far enough to clear the rocks... Straight for the depths.

She's hit with an arrow as she goes, and the stinging pain as she falls brings back memories.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius stretches a hand out as Virginia begins to fall, but there's that strange assurance in her yelling. That's when he remembers, even in an area so charged with negative emotion, he wanted her consultation here as an expert in Malevolence. Things as they are...
        He keeps moving with much the rest. He should be more tired, with how difficult one finds it to move... but yet, as they approach what he recognizes as some of the initial chambers of the catacombs, he doesn't feel quite as winded as he should be. Is it easier to move? Easier to breathe--
        He notices the chasm, slapping a hand up against the wall to catch himself before he pitches himself into the yawning abyss. He sharply turns his head to that voice, as others most assuredly have. That armored white figure... and a whole horde of Hellions armed with bows and arrows. Ethius looks past the gleaming of the Trial Knight, towards the horde. Their drawn-back arms, the way they hold their bows. He fixates upon these tiny body language cues. He has a reasonably good estimate as to when any given individual that might shoot at him will release their arrows.
        He murmurs something off-hand, feeling a small bit of warmth in his fingers. Wishful thinking? No, he might be able to cast again, but there is another complication to the first thought that comes to mind.
        The arrows, when released, are likely to be too slow - in the way less beneficial to Ethius' chances of survival. He doesn't think the Symbological barrier spell he has would stop them. He stares deep into the eyes of the Malevolent archers. It is no mean feat to tune out the Trial Knight's chosen words, for one who only sees to test the limits. He once again has to gauge which one(s), exactly, are going to let arrows fly at him first once he sees the dim light of the clawed white-armored hand descend - no mean feat that this innate skill of his, somehow, still largely remains intact even staring into the mutated personifications of spiritual poison. All bets are off if he tries to grab... that thing... while his feet are planted on flat ground.
        Ethius' eyes meet the helmet only for a fraction of a second, giving back very little. No words of challenge, no furrowed brow of promise, no overt rage, almost nothing.
        As if he has attained some sort of level of understanding of the situation, sobered and subdued only by the logistics of their odds versus their environs.
        Ethius turns a full 180 and jumps. He twists his body to the left, which allows him to avoid the first volley as an arrow grazes his throat. His left hand grabs the harness of the patchy, beat-up sack. Understandably, he has no time to wrap his hand around it correctly. The busted quarterstaff is discarded to fall into the chasm as he chants up the proper incantations, hoping he's got enough wiggling room with his fingers while gripping the thing directly to perform the gesticulations correctly...
        Hot air shoots out his hand, filling the sack following flashes of geometric patterns of light. It worked. He grips it in two hands as he drifts across the yawning chasm. He can maintain height almost indefinitely...
        And therein lies the Achilles' heel - he is a sitting duck for other arrows. Facing backwards, he keeps his eyes firmly on those who might shoot for the balloon, to shift his body weight as he can to avoid it getting punctured. The rest...
        Thwip-splorch. Arrows bury themselves in his shoulder, in his abdomen. In his thigh. Another one in his shoulder damned near the jugular....!
        He doesn't let go of the makeshift hot air balloon. He grips it tighter, as fresh crimson stains his clothes from these new wounds. In this moment of vulnerability, he expresses that same quality that saw him through to the heart of the Catacombs in one piece - a single-minded, stubborn, unrelenting toughness to see to the heart of the matter at hand - one that still survives even out into the outer reaches of the Domain.
        He does not know why, exactly, he was as compelled as he felt to come here - only that he must, that he could no longer have turned his back given the circumstances. The door to the inner chambers saw and accepted whatever it is that Ethius would never give up on.
        Even if the mind cannot presently acknowledge what it is, that mission engraved upon his very soul seems to hold him together enough on the physical level as he drifts to the other side of the chasm.

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

"I wasn't really expecting this many people to jump in," Fei says, mid plummet. "But well said, Hiro."

He hasn't seen Jean jump down yet but will probably react to her getting shot in the following round.

<Pose Tracker> Dispellado has posed.

Judgment will come for you yet, vile creature.

"So shall it for us all. I know well mine. What shall be the wages of your sins, once cast upon the scale?"

The arrows fly. And the Trial Knight stands their ground, even as Talise directs her defiance upon them. Lets them know the depths of her determination.

I DIDN'T GIVE UP!!!

Shows them her limits.

She lunges, and as the Trial Knight begins to lash out, the bard deflects, whirling with her built up momentum to -drive- that heel directly into that faceless helm with tremendous force. A fissure cracks along that strange, nigh-unbreakable metal that composes that helm, always pristine whenever they arrive no matter how badly damaged it becomes in times before. She -strikes- them--

--and then -launches- off, flipping through the stale, Malevolent air to cast her hook...

There's only one path for me. ... It's the path I make for myself. The future is mine to decide!

And Layna, launching herself away right beside her. Across the chasm, with that declaration of defiance.

There are those who choose the unknown. The uncertain fate. Fei, showing that he will make that path himself, make his own choice, lunges into the chasm. Matilda after, diving towards the depths after her admission. Hiro, taking the plunge after defying the fate of Lucia. She'll surprise them all. Jean follows after, knowing Hiro's words to be true. It isn't simply one's own strength that can save a life.

And as the arrows fly, Rose takes her plunge, leveling her suspicions. Have they found their limits? Did they know that they would end up on this path?

The answer may well go unknown as the Knight reels from Talise's blows. But Rose has encountered the Trial Knight well enough to know by now.

Nothing they say nor do is without meaning.

For those who take that plunge, there are those who choose the certainty of a clear exit, a brave move in the slim hope that they will not be shot down in the trying. A bold move for those who have not yet begun to truly touch upon those limits. The burst of Margaret's sacrificed artifacts creates a sudden and unexpected veil for the others through that veil of shadowy magic. Leo's stone walls, combined with Edna's pillars, provide cover as Margaret ensnares her commander who may well have taken the fight to the source. Edna literally floats her way across the gap, her umbrella truly a force to be reckoned with. Ethius says nothing, but his silence speaks volumes. As the Trial Knight recovers, they share that stare, for a simple sliver of a moment that seems like an eternity, as if all things could be said and revealed about one or the other of them through equally silent, equally nebulous gazes...

... before Ethius shows the depths of his silent, stubborn will, clinging to the vestiges of his magically-imbued hot air to carry him across the gap.

And Cyre, shouting out profanity-laced declarations of resolve and promises to be carried out in the future, -tears- a path through assembling Guards waiting at that exit, -bursting- through them with raw air pressure and unrelenting force that swats them aside like ragdolls to give the others a clear way out.

But it is not over for them. Not yet. As the others lunge across the gap, the Hellions lift their bows and arrows again, nocking their weapons. Readying for another volley.

And then
        there is
                a rumbling

                        shriek.

And the last any of those Drifters will see of the Catacombs is their Crypt Wurm, screaming its giddy scream as it PLOWS through a nearby wall and COLLIDES with the Guard, -slamming- into the Trial Knight and DRAGGING them away into the tunneling depths before the Guard can execute those who attempt to leap the gap.

                                    ---

Two different paths. Those who take the plunge hit the depths of a deep, underground river, the crystalline waters clear and pure, refreshing in their cool depths. There are no Guard here, no Hellions. Following the river will take one well outside the city limits of Krosse, completely safe. But one can rest here too, for a time, if they wish it. There might even be some treasure in the form of lost, historical artifacts of Krosse, fallen into the chasm.

Hurray! Random treasure!

Those who take the entrance out of the Catacombs find themselves within Krosse itself. It might be difficult, traversing through the city, but they will manage. The Guards here do not yet know to be looking for them, outside some particularly notorious people whose names rhyme with Schmayna or possibly Schmalise, but they will be safe in absconding out of the city. And, in so doing, they learn a very valuable bit of information:

The Malevolent Domain of the Anomalous Orb, whatever that artifact's true purpose, extends only out to the castle of Krosse. All is not yet lost.

                               M i s s i o n

                                Complete!!

........

Within the depths of the Catacombs, the Crypt Wurm lashes itself about in an exhilerated frenzy, screeching and screaming. A white, gauntleted hand rests upon its slimy black skin, gently. Reassuringly.

"There now," murmurs a tinny voice. "'Tis nothing. You will be safe here. Away with you."

The creature shrieks once more, high and thrilled as it is, as it leaves behind the damaged form of the Trial Knight, helm sundered down a shard that reveals a sliver of their golden eye. They look behind them, towards the tunnel the Wurm has made that reaches towards the Malevolence-soaked depths of the Catacombs. Their head tilts slowly.

... but one day she's gonna surprise every last one of you.

And that sliver of an eye squints, as if within the breadth of a soft smile.

"... 'Tis a day I well look forward to."

And with that, they continue onward. Fearlessly back.

Into the fire.

                         To Be Concluded in Act 4!