2018-06-27: The Intercession of Saints

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====================<* Lastonbell - Church District(#341) *>====================

The Church of Althena has a sizeable church located in the western half of Lastonbell. This provides a place of sanctuary, as the walls around the church make a place for the city's government and residents to meet. This part of Lastonbell is calmer than the rest, too. Homes are more common than shops, and the lack of inns mean most foreign merchants don't linger here. Still, the main street leads to the western gates and Pearloats Pasture beyond, and one can rarely escape how busy Lastonbell is most times of the year.

The church itself is of simpler construction, built in the ages before Althena returned. The priesthood here, however, has bought into the new doctrines since the Goddess's return and follows in the footsteps of Cardinal Forton. The interior of the church is decorated in fine gold and gems, donated by the faithful. Lastonbell's church also includes those chosen to care for the city's famous bell tower.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6Qv2JpBbGo
<Pose Tracker> Dispellado has posed.

Just like toppling dominoes in a row, there are sometimes events in life that cause a chain reaction that cannot be stopped until they spiral completely out of control. In war, this is especially true. These events cannot be undone -- they can only be mitigated.

Or made worse.

It all started with the siege. Lastonbell's mighty walls undone in an instant by weapons its defenders could not even begin to fathom, let alone its citizens. Hyland troops, pouring in, thanks to the assistance of hired hands. A city -- a bastion against invasion, fallen. Some of its people were fortunate enough to flee, refugees embarking to the tentative safety of Pendrago -- the more ancient heart of an old empire. Some. But not all.

Some found themselves trapped in Lastonbell, under the watchful bootheel of new leadership. Subjugated, humiliated, and exploited. Resentment grew. But perhaps they were the fortunate ones. Others, who attempted to flee... were not so lucky.

The rumor spread. That tradesman -- innocent civilians -- trying to make their way back to their homeland were slaughtered indiscriminately by Hyland's dogs of war. Women and children, painting the roads in the blood of senseless sacrifice.

The telling took time to spread, but inevitably it reached Lastonbell's stragglers. And the story became greater and even more horrendous in its traveling, as rumors often do.

And that was when things grew so much the worse.

                            L a s t o n b e l l

                            Before the Landfall

Discontent has become outrage within Lastonbell. A populace ground under heel and unable to leave their cities, any attempts at riots or protests have been quelled in short order thanks to Hyland's new, strange weapons. Alongside the rumors of massacred Rolancian citizens, it has bred two things in many of the people still in Lastonbell: a sense of powerlessness... and a feeling of hatred.

All breeding grounds for Malevolence.

Dissonant sentiment has been rising within Lastonbell and the area surrounding it at a disproportionate rate ever since the day of that slaughter by the would-be soldiers of Hyland. Ever since the citizens learned of that atrocity, though, Malevolence has simply begun to boil over within the city and its surrounding territories in a way that is bth alarming and frightening to anyone who can sense such things. War is one of the greatest breeding grounds of that sickly sediment of the soul -- and within Lastonbell, it finds fertile soil in which to flourish like it might not anywhere else.

Soon enough, things reach a tipping point. Arguments and fights and violence become a daily occurrence. The city streets become clogged with a murky black pollution most of its citizenry cannot see. Bandit attacks become more common, animals attack with greater frequency on the roads leading in and out of the city. The weather begins to fluctuate wildly, veering from searing hear to manic thunderstorms to hail to worser still. Rumors of a creature of legend lurking within the mountains.

And that is when they come.

The first is treated as little more than an anomaly. Animals rushing the front gates of Lastonbell, swiftly dispatched by soldiers trained to use their new firearms.

The second wave is more difficult to deal with, and harder to simply brush off as a few wild animals. The ARMs are not quite as effective, and the reason why is clear if only to those with the sight to see them:

Hellions. They are all Hellions.

They come in waves that have no pattern or rationale -- and all of them attack and run with a crazed fervor, as if they were not just attacking Lastonbell mindlessly -- like it was in their way.

As if they were fleeing from something.

So it has been for longer than most would care to remember -- an endless combat against swarms of monsters that look like most to be little more than rabid animals. Minutes have turned to hours, and those hours have stretched on, with little breaks in between to salve the exhaustion of injured Hyland soldiers. It is madness, and there is only so much of it the soldiers stationed here can stand in what seems almost an endless mob of frenzied creatures.

Word spreads about this strange phenomenon through Rolance. For those adventurers not yet there helping stem the tide, the rumors would doubtlessly reach their ears before too long. With the help of others, the insanity of these Hellions might be abated...

... but it is not them that the people of Lastonbell should truly be worried about.

                            L a s t o n b e l l

                                 Landfall

It all starts with a roar.

Piercing the skies, deafening the ears, it is like nothing ever quite heard before -- flanged and resonating with a strange sense of heat and foulness that clutches at the soul as much as it defiles the ear. It shakes through the entire city of Lastonbell, and in that moment, everything stills. Stills, for a precious few seconds of utter, unpleasant silence.

And that is when the sky bleeds violet.

Within a moment, the heavens turn to darkened shakes of purples and blacks as everything becomes illuminated under a sky of Malevolence -- the signs of a powerful Domain exerting itself upon the land. A shadow blots out that illness-stained light, casting itself over the city, and even without spiritual sight one can see it, soaring overhead:

A Fell Dragon.

Its wings spread wide, glowing insets of violet like little pools of Malevolence bubble at forearms of its vast wings; every beat of those leathery limbs gushes a maelstrom of wind through the city of Lastonbell as it soars overhead. Its immense, scaled body rushes past the skies over the city, Malevolent fire wreathed at its abominable claws and burbling from its deadly maw. The slits that might as well account for its eyes burn with wrathful purple-pink light as its horned visage sears overhead. It flies further, further, further...

... and when it makes landfall upon the verdant plains of the Meadow of Triumph, the weight of its impact shakes the ground straight through to Lastonbell.

Panic soon sets in within the city of Lastonbell. And as the Fell Dragon starts to turn its baleful gaze upon the city, the violet light of its stare SEARING with an unexplainable sense of hunger, as it begins to advance upon the city, as the hordes of minor Hellions rush like lesser predators in its wake...

... the mighty bell tolls throughout Lastonbell to signal one, damning thing--

"Evacuate and prepare the front lines! We must hold it off as long as we can!"

And for however many difficulties they may have had, many of those Hyland soldiers who have not fled or worse start to attempt to organize evacuation groups to the best of their ability -- a fact made harder by one simple fact: this Dragon's Domain does not behave as a normal one should, not choking out the soul and cutting off spiritual power, but instead seeming to exacerbate the spirit -- to goad at baser instincts, dredging out more violent and aggressive impulses that people might otherwise see fit to suppress. Help might be needed from those capable to get the evacuations moving before the behemothic monstrosity rains calamity upon the city.

And to those of Lunar's more superstitious and scholarly lot? The appearance of this dragon seems to match that of descriptions of a legendary beast of ruin straight from the annals of Rolance's legends...

DC: Seraph Ragnell switches forms to The Free!
DC: You switch forms to The Saint of Sinners!
DC: Dispellado switches forms to The Saint of Sinners!
<Pose Tracker> Mihaya has posed.

 Mihaya has been working with the Rolance Empire as part of their foreign... whatever the name is corps. A place where she can get more information and discover about the strange ARMs and people who had turned up during this most recent clash between the two empires. Her own interests in attempting to discover what these strange new weapons were and more about the people who were using them would be enough to bring her into the area under normal circumstances. The fact that there were strange and unusual events going on around here just made the prospect of exploring... much more interesting.

 Also a bit more frightening, which she couldn't deny. This situation sounded quite frightening, and she definitely did not want to get killed when there was still so much important work to do...!

 The elven symbologist stands out among the normally dressed people who might be in Lastonbell at this point, with her purple and red robe that is cut off at the knee, its detached sleeves, and high boots. The situation is hardly normal, however - and there are not many people around given the amount of impure energy that is surging around right now. But Mihaya has seen such surges of impure energy before - so she isn't taken entirely off guard when the Fell Dragon arrives on the scene, channeling such terrible power into the area. The elf staggers at the impact of the Domain as it washes over the area, leaning on her staff heavily for a moment. She grits her teeth for a moment, and then takes a deep breath. "...wanting to make me mad. That's fine, I can be mad," she growls quietly. "I've been mad before, and I've weathered it then. I'll weather it now."

 One breath in. Hold it. One breath out.

 Breathe in the anger. Hold it. Recognize it. Understand that it was something being forced up from within her, and not her choice. Breathe it out.

 In and out.

 In and out.

 It takes a few moments for the elf to finally regain her focus, and it feels... precarious. But she can hold it. She has a higher purpose now, unlike before. She has to succeed.

 Her ears drooping from the effort of bringing herself back under control, the elf puts one foot in front of the other, moving from a walk into a brisk job, and finally a run as she races towards where the Fell Dragon has come down into the town. The symbologist raises her staff into the air, and shouts, "Over here, you scaly wurm!"

 Not the most subtle of announcements of her presence, but she has to get its attention somehow. Mihaya REALLY hopes she isn't the only one rushing out to oppose this thing. "Face me fiend, or leave this place and threaten this city no longer!"

 ...really, really hopes she isn't the only one coming out here...

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia was one of the people who helped bring down Lastonbell's walls. As a rule, she doesn't like to confront her responsibility for that and the occupation that followed. Keeping something as just business, she finds, means sometimes distancing herself from ideas. However, she remains in the employ of the Kingdom of Hyland; she also remained close enough to be sent to the city when word came of the attack upon the city.

She runs down the streets now, with Mirage out and gripped tightly in one hand. Her knuckles whiten about the weapon's hilt, the blue-grey short sword gleaming oddly in the shifting light of the Malevolence here. Her eyes shift, looking ahead, and narrow at a massive, wolf-like creature that was, once, a hunting hound. A rifle shoots it through the head.

"What--what are those!?" she shouts. "I saw a lady who became something like that, but--"

Her uncertain cry, however, is cut off. The roar echoes through the air; it rattles the buildings overhead, and Talia's feet slow to a stop, as she looks up. She knows about -- heard about -- Fell Dragons. Twisted monsters, so different than Althena's blessed guardians, who are things of legend. She gawks, staring up at the violet light that pours off it and the huge, leathery wings. Then, she feels its landing; the ground shakes under her stopped feet. Talia turns her head, the darkness rolling over her, and her eyes narrow. Something, she reflects, feels wrong.

She still manages to turn, and look at Lydia. "I'm going after it," she says to her companion. "If you don't want to come... I don't blame you, no?" The ghost of a sly, knowing smile darts across her face. Then, it vanishes. "...Try to stay alive."

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Sister Domitia had wondered about a few things. Why the temperature was being dialed up. Why it was so vital that the war breed so much hate.

Now she is beginning to understand.

Cardinal Forton's tame abjuress had thought to take advantage of the chaos around Lastonbell to launch a raid - and it's why a handful of unlikely people come dashing out of concealment now. They're four men with the bearing of soldiers, wearing plain clothes and mail, but their weapons are standard for Rolance soldiers.

"Wait," Sister Domitia murmurs from behind them.

The four soldiers turn to look back at her with some surprise. "Sister?" one of them murmurs with a blink.

The hooded Priestess takes a couple of slow steps forward. Touching one of the soldiers on the shoulder, she coaxes him backwards. "This city," she says quietly, "is rightfully ours. The men of Hyland will fight to keep their hold on it, even against this fell beast. Remember... the Hylanders are monsters in the shape of men. Miscreants who slay mothers and children, and sisters and grandmothers."

The soldiers' faces all begin to harden. They, too, heard the rumours of what happened to the caravan of refugees. Sister Domitia's voice remains impassive as she continues, "We will remain here for now.

"You...." She gestures to the youngest of the four. "...go to the watch station on the Third Hill. Send word to Colonel Runcom to be ready to move on Lastonbell should the fell beast slay the Hyland garrison."

The soldier nods and breaks into a dead sprint away from town. Domitia slowly looks forward. "...We will let the Hyland garrison fail in their task," she says quietly. "Only then will we step in and make this right.

"All of it."

DC: Lemina Ausa switches forms to Premier Lemina!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

'A SHORT TIME AGO'

Following the losses suffered in the siege of Lastonbell, the Rolance Empire put out a call for mercenaries. Under the circumstances, it would look extremely strange for a mercenary company to not at least consider the offer - and even stranger for one to refuse, once the extremely generous terms were extended. Which is how the company known as Brave Phantasia, which was started largely as an attempt to serve as a disguise on a strange new planet, got itself caught up in an honest to goodness war.

Claude C. Kenny would be more upset about this, but he's in trouble enough with the UP3 at this point. They can only execute him once.

Given the small size of Brave Phantasia - only a dozen highly trained skirmishers - scouting out the terrain around Lastonbell to keep an eye on Hyland's army was a natural fit for such a specialized (and, from Rolance's view, highly expendable) company. As the only person in said company with actual honest-to-goodness military training, Claude took the assignment himself, and for the first day or so, things were pretty quiet.

Then a dragon showed up, and they really weren't quiet any more.

"Holy shit," Claude breathes from his post in the woods overlooking Lastonbell (a position that would be a natural place to set up a mortar company and pound the garrison to gravel, if Claude had either mortars or a real company). This isn't the first time he's seen a dragon - they owned the skies over Adlehyde, almost a year ago - but this thing is truly monstrous. Even without being able to sense the Malevolence blackening the skies, the sheer aura of malice is almost tangible even from this distance. With or without fancy new ARMs, the dragon is going to wreck this town. Which is... good. Because they're his enemy. Sort of.

Technically.

The screams begin rising from the city below, and Claude grits his teeth. "We're going!" he barks before leaping down toward the trees below.

'NOW'

Cless Al'Vane, the leader of Brave Phantasia - who looks an awful lot like Claude C. Kenny would look if he let his hair grow out and strapped half-plate armour on - lands atop a building a short distance away, pausing to catch his breath from the half-mad sprint. By the time he'd got to the city, thoughts of evacuating civilians had passed out of his mind, overridden by the realization that it would be better to avoid having to evacuate entirely, i.e., by killing this thing dead. But even with Claude's outsized ego, even with the knowledge he's got a pretty good weapon hidden in a holder at the small of his back, this thing is massive. It will take a lot of killing - too much for one man.

Fortunately, he did not come alone.

Claude/Cless draws in a breath and holds it for a second. "BRAVE PHANTASIA!" he roars in his best parade-ground voice. "FIRST ASSAULT UNIT! /FORWARD/!"

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    White Knight Leo

    Word of the butchery was quick to spread up the ranks of Althena's Guard. It has done little to increase solidarity in its ranks. White Knight Leo, being one of the people who stumbled across the scene, was ill-prepared to answer questions--or to address the accusations of barbaric, honorless behavior his troops are levying against each other. Nevertheless, he owes it to those who died to investigate what happened, and that means heading to Lastonbell. Leo doesn't want to believe that Hyland's troops would commit such an atrocity, even though in his heart, he knows that men are capable of unthinkable things when they succumb to the evil in their hearts. After much thought, he dispatched a team to Lastonbell, acting under the auspices of Althena Herself to investigate what happened. They've been speaking with those who fled, as well as those who remained behind, and Hyland's soldiers, but the story they're getting isn't adding up.

    Things only got worse when the Malevolence appeared, and with it, wave after wave of Hellions. Leo's priority became crystal-clear--hold off the monstrosities so the citizens can escape.

    The sky darkens. A horrific roar splits the air.

    Leo tugs his blade out of a corpse that was a hellionized boar less than ten seconds ago. He raises his hand, and the earth rises up in great, solid chunks to reinforce the the failing right flank. Only then does he look up and see the monstrosity that fell upon Lastonbell. White Knight Leo has heard rumors of these blasphemous beasts, but never seen one in person--until now.

    "HOLD FAST, GUARDS!" Leo bellows, even as anger and fear and cold, sickly dread twist in his guts. His vision starts to spot over with red. Part of his mind starts to wonder how this is the Destroyer's fault, how she did this--

    But the beasts are still coming down on the city, and if he lets a single one through, people will die. He will kill the dragon when the dragon gets to him. "ALTHENA IS WITH US!" The White Dragon Aura flares around him. It's a bolstering, calming presence.

    Leo hopes it will be enough.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

    Amaranth should not be here.

    As a rule, she generally avoids areas of even moderate build-up of Malevolence; even amongst Seraph, she's particularly vulnerable, and there's nothing preventing her from being influenced by a Domain that tickles at the recesses of her mind, brings to the fore horrible things that are best left forgotten.

    The roar of the Fell Dragon ahead brings to the fore deeply horrific memories. She can scarce say that she's seen an actual Fell Dragon, but...

    It would not be incorrect to say that it is as if one gazes upon a mirror too darkly, at this point.

    As Katherine Weaver, Amaranth happens to be by Talia's side, clutching far too close to the chest an impressively bound grimoire that emanates with the light of a Divine Vessel.

    "Those are Hellions, Miss Talia," Katherine struggles to speak, rather clearly struggling as the Domain's influence--

    "... Live, my daughter," speaks the woman garbed in white armour, whose hand reaches hers. "Live true... to your emotions."

    --she shakes her head as she cups at her mouth, nearly retching for a moment. She grimaces, looking for all the world like she's about to collapse... but that moment passes.

    "Our priority is the people of this city," she announces with a grimace. She doesn't voice that she'd really, really rather stay far away from the Dragon as possible. "I have a plan, but I need help! Anyone not headed Dragon-wards, come with me!"

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

FIVE MINUTES AGO

It's a dragon.

It's a dragon!!

A DRAGON, CLAUDE, A DRAGON!!!!

"Oh man!" says one particular member of the coalition of contra-dragoning, looking every bit like he's about as excited as a human can possibly be which honestly is kind of a strange reaction given what it is they're dealing with here. He's also standing on a tree, because of course he is. His scarf is blowing in the wind, because of course it is. "Oh man!!" His reaction makes perfect sense, though, when you notice that his hair is a bright, mossy green and his eyes are a bright, shiny gold and his teeth are noticably fangy and he is waving around a sword that is frankly just a little too big for one hand to have any right to properly swing around. Also, he has a vibrant orange scarf around his neck. Each of these things on their own is weird, extraordinary and signify that their bearer probably has a character portrait whenever his dialogue box pops up.

All of these things together mean only one thing.

"CLAUDE," Zed squeals not unlike a little schoolgirl, leaping down from his perch and fidgeting fitfully as if to contain his UNLIMITED HYPE. "Look! It's a dragon! I haven't seen a dragon like that since Uncle Zeik and the rest of us went and sealed that one near the home dome with the Photosphere's main reactor! That one was HUUUUUGE! Even Uncle Zeik couldn't take it down!"

"Which means," Zed declares, pointing his BIG OLD SWORD right at the giant winged monster, "If we can take that thing down... We're even stronger than he is!" That's how that works, right? "Probably!"

Beat.

"Can I go fight it, please?"

Yes?

YES.

YEEEEEEEEEEEEES.

RIGHT THE HELL NOW

'FIRST ASSAULT UNIT! FORWARD!'

There's a sound like a high-pitched siren followed shortly thereafter by a sonic boom of tremendous proportions. If you listen closely to the dopplering noise, you might be able to make out the word "YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE--" And if you LOOK closely enough, you might be able to catch sight of the green and orange and black blur racing across the field. "--EEEEEEEESSSSSSSDRAAAAAAAGOOOOOOOOOON!"

Oh no.

It's him.

"COME AND GET SOME," Zed roars, leaping boldly over the front line, his weapon held up so tremendously high! It glows with an awesome power. Or maybe that's just the malevolent sun...!? "DRAAAAAAGOOOOOOOOOOON!"

Zed... slashes!

That manic grin on his face, that terrible glint in his eye... Oh no, this swordsman has been possessed by the Malevolence, hasn't he!?

(No, he's just always like this).

GS: Zed has attacked Saint of Sinners with Dark Horse - Supreme Tornado!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia was also one of the people who helped bring down Lastonbell's walls. Specifically, she fixed an elevator that let the saboteurs in. Lydia will never know for sure how much easier that made things for them or if it would have happened anyway.

The war is nothing new but what Lydia saw in Lastonbell before was a relatively orderly occupation. However at some point Hyland started killing civilians. That wasn't in the plan. Lydia endeavours to be opportunistic but in a situation like this, it's hard to see much opportunity but there is at least one that she can engage in.

Behind her is a new hire: A blonde woman wearing a blue cape and a brown tunic, boots, and a single brown glove whereupon a falcon sits. At her side are a pair of gunsmoke arms that she just so happens to have made a legal purchase of. "That's a dragon. Bones isn't liking this." There's a pause. "I'm not liking this either. Bit above your pay, Lydia."

Lydia glances back. "It'll be okay, Amber." She doesn't sound confident before considering. "I know...Jay's heading in too. Check with her and help lead folks out. Bones--" She nods to the falcon. "Would be good for that yeah?"

Amber rolls her shoulders back in a shrug and falls back, heading towards the evacuation team. She'll be there momentarily.

Lydia then finally looks back to Talia and manages a smile. "Gotta take responsibility somehow, right? Haha... I'll stick with you, don't worry. I hate killin' people, but that's just an animal yeah? It's still gross, but I can manage that much."

Well as far as she knows.

She takes a baseball bat swing at a lunging malevolence squirrel and sends it flying out of the scene.

"Though I'm more surprised," Lydia admits. "That you are going after it."

She hears some shouting.

"Aw geeze Clauuuu--Cless is here." Lydia says. "I think we'd do our best if we stick to him. He punched out a giant meteor god."

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    Ever since she returned from her expedition with Riese and the others to find a Metal Dragon, Ragnell's been watching over Lastonbell. The Malevolence has gotten *extremely* bad--almost 'point of no return' bad--and after leaving Gwen behind in Malory to get a closer look, she's had to climb a tree to avoid the surge of wild animals and then Hellions at the gates of Lastonbell. Their behavior has been giving her more and more concern. It's not like they're *attacking* the place; it's like... they're trying to *escape* something, and the town is in the way.
    
    There had been rumors of dragon sightings over the last couple days. Ragnell had assumed they'd meant Lombardia. The timing was right, after all. But if it wasn't here...
    
    And then the answer alights in waves of purple-black shadow.
    
    Ragnell's eyes widen in horror as Lastonbell's defenses sound the alarm. "No..." she rasps, standing up on her branch, thoughts buzzing in a sudden chaos that has nothing to do with the Fell Dragon's Domain--though its influence certainly doesn't help either. "No, no, no, *no*!! Why?!" She leaps out of her tree-perch, invisible to many of the Hylandian soldiers now dealing with the Hellions assaulting the walls. She barely even acknowledges they're there, beyond that she weaves around them, heart pounding, eyes rooted on the Dragon before her.
    
    The legendary Saint of Sinners.
    
    As foul winds blow and storms form overhead, Ragnell screams, "WHY ARE *YOU* HERE?!"
    
    Yet for some reason, she doesn't attack. Perhaps the anguish that suffuses her scream and presence, the trembling that shakes her body and hands, might hint as to why. She might simply stand there in uselessness, too, were it not for the shout of a familiar voice. Slowly, the familiarity of it permeates Ragnell's brain, and she turns slowly to stare at 'Katherine' with wide and haunted eyes.
    
    "Eh? You? 'Re here too?" she utters. She completely ignores Talia, next to her; she, as well as the many other warriors on the battlefield right now, may as well not even exist in this moment. "Eh...?"

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline had remained distant from Lastonbell. It pained her, but she didn't want to get caught up in a war. She remembered the price the Caravan Kinship had paid for it the last time, and it was not a price she wanted them to pay again.

But...when word reached her ears of the trouble they were facing, the pain in her heart became too great. She had to go, had to do whatever she could to help them.

And thus she went there with her wagon. Primarily, her goal was just to treat the wounded as best she could.

There were a lot of wounded. It took a lot of time...and there wasn't nearly enough of that.

And thus, she was in the area when...IT appeared. An immense dragon, radiating Malevolence. Just the mere sight of it struck fear into her...but she knew this was no time to listen to her fear.

These people needed help, and she could offer that help.

"Everyone! If there is anyone unable to move under their own power, please help them into my wagon!" Jacqueline calls out, her voice authoritative. The horse pulling it was agitated, and it took effort to calm it down...but she had to.

It's while she's doing that, however, that she hears someone familiar.

"Miss Weaver! Why are you- W-well, I suppose that's irrelevant at this point. I'll hear this plan of yours!" Jacqueline says, approaching her. She sends Talia a nod of greeting, as well, but her attention soon returns to Katherine. She takes note of that book, but doesn't call attention to it - there were more important things at hand to take care of, anyway.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Ethius, always looking the part of some forgettable hoodlum, has been active in the region. What exactly he's been doing, that's... anyone's guess. He hasn't been open about it. Careful excursions into occupied territory for further investigation of these vague goalposts have gone from 'difficult but doable' to 'a few degrees off from miraculous' and, as of late, 'nigh-on impossible' when he's had to flee a few roving packs of Hellions before he could get anywhere too deep into Hyland's new sphere of influence.
     Circumstances have worked against him. He's only started to move again, opportunistically, under another swell of Hellionized creatures. The occupied Hyland forces would, in theory, increase the viable number of approaches he has, so long as--
     A roar that defines itself, with no further need of adjectives. The world turns black and violet, and Ethius finds his back up against the corner of a damaged Lastonbell structure that used to be a wealthy person's home. Did the shaking ground throw him back up there? He's not sure. He's not even thinking about that.
     Every movement is scrutinized. Every step across the damaged cobblestone by those running and screaming are met with narrowed eyes. Every deviance in balance. Every fold of clothing that might conceal. Every gesture. Every deviance from the norm in one's diction as the yell and scream. The chaos of what lies beyond seems to filter out of what holds the man's attention at a vice-grip.
     Ethius runs in as two wounded Hyland soldiers stagger onward. His gaze has never been more intense. To some outside observers, there might even be something vaguely predatory about the way he comes up behind one of them, wrapping an arm around the one who is already struggling to support the other.
     "Th-thank you," a wounded soldier gasps out.
     "You're coming with me." Ethius states. His voice is too calm for the swirling chaos, and yet, there is nothing calming about this. It is not a demand - it is a fact. These two are coming with him.
     That he would be in the company of others assisting in evacuation efforts is a coincidence. Opportunistic, even.
     He has yet to catch line of sight with Jay, or much of anyone else who might have been looking for him for some time... but it's him.
     What is he doing here, and why?

<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


You know. Living free is kinda nice.

Not that much in the way of responsibility beyond surviving. No real responsibilities at least. No one hunting you. No one you're really hunting. It's been...nice...really. A pleasent vacation. A break for a few months.

...the lack of legal booze has been a pain in the tail. But...well...you can get around things like that if you know the right people. Or hire on with the right company.

So one Morgan Newkirk has been surviving, bouncing from various merc contracts. Basicly living the good life of a wondering bum.

...the problem with merc contracts is that they sometimes land you in the middle of things like this.

"YOU! CROSSBOWMAN!" An officer shouts towards a laconic looking figure with a pair of tall fox ears causing him to look taller than he actually is. "GET INTO POSITION! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!"

Morgan looks at the dragon. Looks at the officer. Looks back at the dragon. One hand snaps out to grab the startled man by his collar as the 'beastman' simply flings him over his shoulder sending him crashing headfirst into a haybale behind him.

"I think I quit!" He calls cheerfully as he begins to amble away, looking at the rest of the small knot of mercs around him. "And I think you all should get the hell out of town. And take whoever ya can with ya." A flash of a wicked grin.

"I'm going with the lady with the book," How he saw and heard Amaranth is hard to say as he ambles out of the chaos in her direction.

The other mercs scatter.

And the fox looks curiously down towards the Seraph, one hand looking to be encased in a strange gauntlet flexing easily. "So lil' darlin'. What's your plan? Please don't tell me its 'run'. I'm pretty sure that ain't gonna work."

Of course then he hears a familiar shout and those ears perk up.

"Hey! Jay!" Morgan calls as he raises his gauntleted hand to wave lazily. "How do ya keep endin' up in the middle of things like this?"

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida Everstead-Rey

    Ida should not be here. She's still recovering from the Trial Knight showing up at Castle Rabenstein and making everything awful. Nevertheless, she has been feeling... oddly refreshed, for some reason she hasn't disclosed to anyone else. She received a message from someone in the command structure of the unit she promised her Mannikins to, and departed the castle with a smile, and a promise to bring back something lovely for her Hellion companions.

    Somehow, this is just as worrying as her locking herself in her room and emanating despair and helpless rage into the ambient Malevolence for literal hours.

    Five minutes ago, Ida was perched atop a hill, a rank of Mannikins kneeling before her, firing at the monsters assaulting Lastonbell's gates. The faceless, human-sized metal dolls don't feel things like 'fear' or 'trepidition', and repeat the cycle of fire-and-reload with their primitive gunsmoke rifles. Ida lingers behind, dressed in a sleeveless coat made of black silk, leather boots, gloves, deep blue pants, and a golden vest laced up tight around her chest. Her eyes are closed, and she scents the wind, taking in all the flavors of the local Malevolence.

    The sky darkens. A horrific roar splits the air, and sends a frisson of terror, dread, and rage down Ida's spine. She looks up, and sees the monstrosity descending from the sky. Part of her mind, the intellectual part, remembers those texts from Tintagel, and she wonders which one this one is. The rest of her mind recoils as though someone just drove a knife into it, a knife coated in maddening, soul-twisting venom.

    "HOLD THE LINE!" Ida bellows, to her mannikins. The doll-Hellions obey without question. They will remain until their master returns, or until they are destroyed, or until the Saint's Domain overcomes their master's influence.

    NOW

    Shadows blur on a rooftop above Talia.

    "Oh," says Ida's voice. "My ears are burning." The shadows congeal, taking shape--Ida, in Hellion form, all lean, hard muscle and angry, Malevolent radiance. The star above her heart flares like it could go nova at any minute. "I see your introduction to this is going as well as mine did. They--we--are Hellions. We are what happens to those who succumb to their baser instincts."

    Ida smiles. It's too wide. She seems to register the presences of others, but right now she's laser-focused on Talia, as though she needed to instill fear in this one to bolster herself for the task at hand. "Slip, and the same will happen to you."

    Ida waves to Ragnell and Lydia, then, a flippant three-fingered gesture entirely at odds with the too-wide, too-sharp grin on her face. "Let's go kill a dragon, now, shall we?"

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


A roar.

"Oh... no ... HIRO - HIRO LOOK UP!" Ordinarily Ruby would be quite excited about the appearance of what's overhead. She doesn't sound excited though. She's instead frantic, and terrified. And Hiro... stares at the dragon, his fingers numb upon his sword hilt. "I've... seen that one... before..."

Wouldn't it be cool to say something like he saw it once in a dream?

"What!? Where!?" "Ruby - don't you remember it? We saw it at Wayside..."

Ruby starts, then thinks about it. "You've gotta be freaking kidding me." She whimpers, "That's the one Ragnell tipped her hat to!?" "Yeah..."

There's something underlying this feeling. This hint - of aggression. "Well what are you waiting for! Go kill the thing!" And Hiro finds - he absolutely wants to. Wants to go out there and slay it. And after he's done - he wants to... he wants to...

'ALTHENA IS WITH US!' He hears shouted.

"... Yeah... I'll go kill the thing." He says with this low hint of malice. His grip tightens around his sword, "Then after I'll go put Leo on his back - make him understand there are consequences to always coming after us..."

His pulse pounds heavy in his ears, as he hears the sound of battle being joined by Brave Phantasia Seeing Dark Horse Zed running back. He takes a step forward.

"... then maybe Zed after..." But Ruby suddenly seems a little stricken, "Wait no... this is... something's wrong... Hiro - what were we here for?" "What does it matter what we were here for? That's there now!" Ruby puts her pawsies together in a T, "Nope! Time out mister! We are going crazy on some kind of freaky malevolence!"

And that's when he hears that scream. That sounds dissonant in that he's never heard Ragnell scream - yet all too familiar. "... she needs our help." "Maybe! But she's a big girl! Who needs our help more?"

Wincing, he tears his eyes away. "We're... here to help... the civilians... and the wounded." That's right - now hop to it mister!"

And he starts to jog towards Amaranth at her announcement and a group of other familiar faces, "... Alright... I'd like to hear your plan too." He needs to focus in on it quickly - because if he hears another scream like that he might not be able to restrain his bloodlust.

Ruby though finds her eyes lingering on Ragnell's position a little overlong - before whispering. "... Please survive this..."

<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

Kaguya's work in bringing down the walls of Lastonbell is set to make her a very wealthy woman, indeed. ...But she wasn't paid to keep peace within the town. The alien mercenary--'Lady' to people here--has been keeping to a bar for the most part, enjoying time off, delighting on how effective her weapon was... and then, more and more curious, at the rumors. At the way the city seemed ready to boil over.

Kaguya can see the pollution that infects them, the thing perhaps that marks humanity above all. ..And she waits. The animals come. The animals get worse. ...Maybe...

Walking through the city, she moves for what would have been a wall of defense, slowly. So she is outside, when the sky bleeds. Something comes that she has never seen. Something that she thinks she could never have imagined. ...She breathes in its presence, through the haze of painkillers, and the Veruni's bloodshot eyes turn to pinpricks. '...Heh. Heh heh heh..."

From behind a voice slides into Lydia's ears. "I can handle the killing part, Lyds," Kaguya says, stepping forward, all in green, knives at her belt. "...I want to see if this thing bleeds. It's magnificent. Megafauna on a scale I hadn't imagined here. I--" she pauses. She frowns, looking at the dragon again. Looking at Ragnell. "...Wait a..."

She shakes her head, "Ghh. Messing with my head. Whatever. It'll stop when we kill it."

She doesn't have her soldiers onhand. ...But she wouldn't need them against most things.

"Wouldn't you normally be on this thing's side?" Kaguya asks, and steps forward.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how you guys handle it. But I'll lend a hand. I really feel like killing something."

<Pose Tracker> Lemina Ausa has posed.

Lemina lets out a shriek as the dragon flies above them. For a while, she's paralyzed with fear -- she remembers the last time she was subjected to a Malevolent Domain, and she didn't much like it. She's actually pretty quiet, as a result -- there's the very real fear, for an instant, of being rendered... well... just Lemina. She doesn't really like that thought.

As Hiro starts to move, though, Lemina moves with him. "Okay! Okay, this is... great, actually," she says. She knows full well, with Hiro's behavior, that something's weird here... but honestly, she doesn't feel it. "If we help everyone out here," she reflects, "then... we can ask for a big reward later! Maybe two big rewards, since it's occupied!"

Is there really that much of a difference between this Lemina and any other? ... given she just tested out her magic and proved to herself she can fire an icebolt into the ground, nope. Not especially.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    ---BEFORE---

    Gwen was in the forest. Gwen was attacked by Malevolence-infested wolves. Gwen shot them down. Hanpan chastised her for going into a dangerous forest. Gwen met with Ragnell. They talked. Gulliver got scratchings and love. Gwen brought out a bottle that may or may not be alcohol.

    Something to relax 'before the storm'. She said something like that, at the time.

    --NOW--

    Gwen stands. She stares.

    ---There once was a beautiful town, in the mountains, where one star shone so brightly, so fiercely, blessing the battlefield with its light.

    But one day, violet tendrils of dark crept in, corrupting the shining land. Fire burned, and the smoke filled the sky, and the dragon gazed at everyone, its maw so large, so wide, so hungry---

    "It's the same one..." Gwen remembers this dragon, from the dream she shared with many others. She rubs her face, trying to remember the details. Those memories... were....
    
    "You can't seriously be thinking about going in there." Hanpan, ever the voice of reason, pokes his head out. "We had enough trouble with the animals in the forest."

    "Yeah, I am." She quickly scoops up ammunition and supplies. "I gotta do this. And you... gotta get Gulliver and my supplies to safety. We're gonna need them. I'd go and..."

    She sighs. "This won't be like what happened with Jack. I'm gonna be among friends out there, so..." She grits her teeth.

    "It's the malevolence talking."
    
    "... Damn it! Just what do we-"

    ----

    So what's a person to do? Jump on into the fray, bullets flying. "Ragnell!" Gwen calls out, seeing the Seraph. "Keep on your toes! We'll all worth together on this, okay?!" It sounds more forceful than supportive, but right now, Gwen's just trying to keep things in check. "We're _working together_ and we're going to SAVE people."

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Beast has posed.

    In this world there are secret and known things.

    The sun will rise in the east and set in the west - this is known. There are people who drift through the world unseen by mortal eyes - shall we call this secret? Shall we say that there are things which have happened in the past, shall we say history repeats?

    Shall we say the echoes tore through the world and wounded it for years to come? Shall we? Shall we?

    In this world there are big and small things.

    The wounds which tore open poured Malevolence into the world. Malevolence breeds Malevolence - and the echoes of terror are still terrible things. How do you say it wasn't so bad, when it was the worst thing which happened? How do you say that at least the terror you have witnessed was a small thing?

    Shall you look upon horror and know the truth of the world? Shall you? Shall you?

    Oh, but none of this matters. Here it what does:

    The Beast of Lohgrin is trying her best to help Ida. It is a complicated thing, the force of evil pressing upon her. She can't get too close, for too long. Certainly not to the place she has called her home - which certainly the Beast has pointed out. Ida's home is evil.

    But there is something which makes her reluctant to give up - to set her teeth into Hellion flesh.

    It is what has brought them here. It is why she watches that Hellion as she emerges. A statue's eyes cannot cast judgement - cannot weigh the weight of a soul's sins against its good deeds. And yet...

    The last time she came here, she failed to help at all. She underestimated the fear of a flock of mortals - she paid the price for it. But she has not given up, on Lastonbell. Though humans slay humans, and it is a sorry business - she cannot give up on them.

    But oh, oh, does it hurt.

    The statue of a dragon - draft-horse sized, not the gigantic force bearing upon them - is perhaps an ironic thing to see, here, a Fell Dragon's domain flooding the sky and the senses. But the holy intentions of the iron plates, a crude fascimile of the Black Dragon, are so much different to the Malevolence in the air. It is a vessel, and it is her best defence against this world.

    It is her best defence, and yet the way those plates lag a little in their movements - the way the green-tinted magic holding it seems to waver, pulling one plate over another, a third drooping out past where it ought to settle - speak to a great effort which cannot be reflected on a face carved eternally into a snarl.

    And oh, does it hurt.

    "T-this -" - a voice strained by effort, feminine and gruff for the strain of it - "- is surely the nadir of our descent. I have... never seen it this... t-this..." A puff of air, frustrated, and the spring breeze cannot hope to bring fresh air to the smothering Domain.

    And there is fear in that voice. It is not so much hatred or greed or suspicion or anger - though isn't it interesting, the way she judges her friend in this place? - but terror, clasped like iron in her grasp. "This - is the evil in our hearts." This is the evil she so fears. This is the evil she cannot become.

    She is not focused on any of the people she has come to meet with. Hollow eyes are all for that dragon, and what it represents in her world.

GS: CRITICAL! Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Zed's Dark Horse - Supreme Tornado for 46 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.
<SoundTracker> Carnage - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJluols5x8k

The sky seems to tremble, painted in its ichorous violet fury, as the Saint of Sinners turns its seething gaze upon Lastonbell. Burning claws dig deep furrows into the earth. Flames spill from its gaping maw as if it were a furnace of Malevolence, endlessly churning so much of it that it simply must vent the excess.

But for a time, the Fell Dragon simply seems to linger there on the fringes of Lastonbell, towering over the leaning spires in the Meadow of Triumph as it stares, fathomless and indecipherable, at the city.

In these waking moments, it is not the dragon that is the problem -- it is the Hellions, both fleeing and opportunistic alike. The Hyland defense is broken through in one or two locations where the Hyland defense has simply fled the clamor, even as the invading kingdom prepares those soldiers that remain and are still hardy enough for war with a creature of myth. The streets of Lastonbell become awash with knights, Mannikins and Guardsmen fighting beasts, unseeing of their true nature.

They are the first problem. But not the biggest. The Saint's maw raises as that burning gaze stares deep into the city, vapors of Malevolence swirling around it like a tempestuous storm. Claws twitch in a spasm as its Domain spreads to encompass the whole of that age-old city.

And then, a glint of green in the sky. Is it the hero everyone needs. Is it the savior of the city?! Brave Dragon Slayer Zedder flies high into the sky, shining with justice! The Fell Dragon looks up at his descending form. Its head almost seems to tilt for a moment. It turns--

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE--

--just so--

--EEEEEEEESSSSSSSDRAAAAAAAGOOOOOO"so that it can formally introduce Zed and his slashing blade to the immense length of its tail in one single, errant -flick- of motion that contains all the momentum of a runaway train--

-- to send him blasting offfffffff into that glorious, heroic sunset.

But he knicks it, at least. And that ought to count as a win.

It is exactly at that point that it turns its burning gaze upon Mihaya at her defiant approach. As she shouts up at the behemoth, Hyland's braver soldiers put themselves into position. ARMs are loaded, aimed, fired.

And the bullets ricochet off that thick hide as its long neck extends upwards towards the bleak skies.

Face me fiend, or leave this place and threaten this city no longer!

And it is the heavens that answer Mihaya's challenge as they quite literally -split open-.

Clouds part, as if opening the way to some horrific, other world; and within the wreath of violet coverage, something churns, black and orange and purple and hues that mix together in a way that makes the stomach churn, a gateway to somewhere WRONG.

A gateway that answers the challenge of Mihaya and all those assembled as a rocky meteor of rubble soaked in pure, twisting Malevolence screams through the skies.

And then another portion of the sky splits open.

And another.

    And another.

        And another.

Until they fill the heavens. Until it rains a meteor shower of pure, unrelenting malice -- on -everything- that dares to get in the way. Hyland soldiers are blown away, their defenses shattered as stone explodes in the midst of their desperate attempts to hold their front lines.

And the Saint of Sinners begins to advance upon the city that beckons it so.

GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Mihaya with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Talia with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Neriah Parringer with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Kaguya with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Seraph Beast with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Lydia Seren with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Zed with Tail of the Serpent!
GS: Saint of Sinners has completed their action.
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 22 hit points!
GS: Mihaya takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 115 hit points!
GS: Claude C. Kenny guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 71 hit points!
GS: Zed takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Tail of the Serpent for 162 hit points!
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 59 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 60 hit points!
DC: MISS! Kaguya completely evades Malice Meteor from Saint of Sinners!
DC: MISS! Seraph Beast completely evades Malice Meteor from Saint of Sinners!
DG: A party led by Seraph Amaranth is now entering The Intercession of Saints.
=======================<* The Intercession of Saints *>=======================
==================<* CHALLENGE - For Whom the Bell Tolls *>===================
|Type: Entry       |Dungeon Ability: Agility   |Challenge Rating: 2          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 Lastonbell has seen better days. War-torn and struggling, those caught under
 the boot heel of Hyland occupation have found every day a new experience in
 helplessness. Malevolence rises from this helplessness, growing too much,
 too fast, as news and rumor of the atrocities inflicted on Rolance's
 citizenry circulate throughout the Empire. And as the skies blacken towards
 bleak hues of violet, as a roar echoes so forcefully in the air it makes the
 ground tremble in terror...

 ... things are bound to get much worse.

 When the Saint of Sinners makes landfall, evacuation alarms run through the
 entirety of Lastonbell through the heavy sound of its ringing bell; those
 who are capable have been enlisted to aid in escorting both citizens and
 wounded soldiers alike out of the city while those capable try their best to
 hold off the Fell Dragon's advance. And this is where you find yourself, at
 the ancient arch of Lastonbell's war-damaged bell towers, together with a
 gathered group of evacuees...

 ... when the Saint of Sinner's horrible roar blasts through the landscape,
 heralding a surge of Malevolence through the air. The violet-clotted skies
 part -- and churning chunks of Malevolent meteors rain from the sky like
 purple-black brimstone. While many are directed upon those mounting the
 defense on the frontlines, one of them screams through the blighted heavens
 for Lastonbell.

 Smashing straight through the prominent belfry.

 Stone groans. Trembles. And those it has held fast for centuries, already
 damaged as it is --

 -- the Great Bell of Lastonbell starts collapsing right on top of you in a
 rain of rubble and deafening clang of the tower. Perhaps it would be best to
 start evacuating. Swiftly.
=Dungeon Conditions: Hesitate=================================================
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 58 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia looks sideways, back to Katherine. Her expression is concerned; she doesn't know if it is the strange miasma in the air, or something, else, but she seems sick. She reaches a hand out, hesitantly, and clutches her by the arm. She bites her lip, for a moment, before she nods. "...Yeah. Be careful, Miss Weaver. It wouldn't do, to die here, no?"

She tries to put on that cocky smile at Katherine, but it doesn't work. She looks up, catching the glint of light off Zed's armor, and then she frowns.

"...They're going to need help," she says. She looks back at Katherine. "Stay safe, whatever your plan is! I'm..." The people of this city are the priority. She tries it on; she finds it doesn't fit at all. She isn't a protector. She is something else. She reaches down, her hand clutching her blade at her side, and draws her dagger with a flourish. It spins, before she lifts it up. "...I'm going to help buy you time, Miss Weaver, Miss Barber."

She turns her head, to look at Lydia, and flashes a smile; she doesn't notice Amber, in the chaos. She only pays Ragnell's scream a brief glance -- because there is a lot to scream about. "...Guess I'm having a moment of being a half-decent person," she says. She looks up, then, at Ida. "You... whatever you're planning, stay out of my way. I intend to be busy, no?"

She looks over her shoulder, back at Kaguya. She opens her mouth; an impulse strikes her, a briefly angry look crosses her face, but she quashes it. Instead, she looks back ahead at the Fell Dragon. "...Let's go."

Zed goes flying. So does Mirage. Talia sends the short sword flying with a throw. The blade spins through the air, and the weapon strikes at the Saint of Sinners, biting into scales without biting through then. The meteor slams into the ground, exploding just behind her, and a shockwave erupts. It throws her forward--

--and she vanishes, splitting apart into a dozen strands of shadowstuff. They come together, her hand gripping Mirage's hilt, as she looks up at the Fell Dragon. Her eyes widen, red and enraged, as she slams her parrying dagger at the scales and tries to rip through them. "Some sort of beast from hell, are you!?"

GS: Talia has attacked Saint of Sinners with Warp and Dagger!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
GS: Please react using the attack number in +queue.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Talia's Warp and Dagger for 32 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 72 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Zed's sword! Hits the dragon! Zed's sword DRAWS FIRST BLOOD! Zed's face is grinning a little too much than is reasonable for the given circumstances. "Ahahahaha! This is great, Dragon! I have you right where I want you!" Zed's sword! Begins to glow, its crescent edge buried in the dragon's scales. It blazes with power, as if it's about to explode! "Ahahahahaha! I'm a genius!"

                                  !!WHAM!!

Zed! Is smacked by a tail moving at frankly unreasonable speeds!

Zed is sent spinning off into the horizon! Zed yells in a voice that suggests that his lungs are somehow not crushed into fleshy pulp, "OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

And then Zed... disappears into a little twinkle next to the setting sun...

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

LYDIA

Lydia sees Ragnell act totally out of character by her understanding of Ragnell's character. "Y'know that thing?" A pause. "You okay?" Another pause. "Okay stupid question but...anything I can do to help?" She hears Katherine talk about the hellions but she knew that stuff already and honestly she's just kind of glad Katherine isn't talking about how cute she'd look in this or that right now because she remembers running away when that last happened and she is pretty embarrassed by it still. While Lydia doesn't exactly see 'dragon' as 'people' at the moment, she is still kind of a squeamish person. "Hey uh. Ida. If you ever want to be purified offer's on the table and all."

Is Lydia feeling more violent than normal? Maybe, but so far she seems to be handling her instincts. Her emotional rage isn't quite overpowering her emotional depression at the moment.

But it does make her a little sassier than normal since that's how Lydia expresses bloodlust. "There's a shocker," She says to Kaguya before hesitating and adding, "Uh... actually that might be the evil energy waves. So I guess ... I mean it feels kind of damned if you do damned if you don't."

Another moment and then adds, "You know I feel a lot better thinking about how like I used to think I was the only fucked up person but then it's like 'wow like half these peeps are actually more fucked up than me'." She grumbles a bit and adds, "And why can't folks just kill each other for once and not unleash some kind of demon?"

AMBER

Amber the Falconeer says, "Hey," to Jay. "I'm hired to help folks get outta the city. Was told to talk to you." Amber's head turns and she spots Ethius helping out a pair of wounded soldiers. She interprets this as him helping the men rather than taking them prisoner to be interrogated. She makes her way over and helps support the other wounded soldier, the gunsmoke arm on her hip is on the opposite side but Ethius wouldn't have a hard time seeing it.

"The Carvan Kinship's nearby," Amber tells Ethius as Bones, the falcon, looks right at him. "They're leading an evacuation route out of the city."

The bell falls and Amber shouts, "Look out!" as she throws herself and the individual she's been supported clear of descending rubble. At least this means Ethius doesn't have to take two to safety but in terms of avoiding it he's on his own there.

LYDIA

"I'm pretty sure fighting a hell dragon counts as more than HALF decent!" Lydia sasses Talia back, because again--bloodlust in Lydia manifests as sass. She dodgerolls out of the way of the meteor smashes but the shockwaves still send her bouncing along the ground in short order.

Lydia exhales briefly and then raises up her hand into the air, gripping the medium of Solais Emsu in one arm. She fires a sudden flash of blindening white light for the Fell Dragon, punching through several meteors on the way.

"I'll fight th'dragon, Jay! Just get 'em out!" Lydia shouts.

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Saint of Sinners with Solar Burst!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
Zed (Z) pages Saint of Sinners and Claude C. Kenny: If appropriate
<Pose Tracker> Mihaya has posed.

 Casting meteor right off the bat is cheating...!

 But there's not a lot Mihaya can do about it at this point, as the giant flaming rocks of impure energy come roaring down from the sky in rapid succession. She isn't the sort who deals well with being exploded or hit by large heavy things, and one of the meteors making a near miss is enough to knock the elf off her feat and toss her several sharls away. She skids to a stop, before pushing herself back to her feet, both hands using her staff as a prop to allow her to quickly regain her feet. "...owwwww..." she mutters, waving slightly. That... that really hurt. She grimaces for a moment, before dusting off her clothing for a moment and setting her staff.

 "Right. Giant dragon, going to kill everyone unless we distract it," she mutters. "I guess the best thing to do is try and get its attention!"

 The dragon is already advancing, its attention taken inexorably by the city before it, and the elf knows that it isn't going to stop unless they've managed to put a real hurting on it. So she is obliged to try at least. Even if she can't make a difference... she owes it to herself to not buckle before evil like this. To at least raise her staff against it and pray that victory can be obtained.

 And so she raises her staff, touching one finger to the crystal at its head. Lines of tattoos ignite with magic as she taps into their symbiological effects, pulling the energy from the core symbol over her heart and channeling it through her arm and into her focus crystal.

 And with a snap of her arm, she brings it around to unleash the blast of flame directly towards the side of the dragon's head. It's not about doing damage as much as it is getting it to turn aside from its path forward. "Come on!" Aya shouts at the top of her lungs. "How much do I have to burn you to get you to stop and turn around!?!"

 She has the feeling its going to be a lot. She looks around, hoping there's someone nearby she might be able to coordinate with... but there's no one here she *knows*...

GS: Mihaya has attacked Saint of Sinners with Fire Ignition!
GS: Mihaya has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

    Jacqueline asks why Katherine is here, and to be honest, Katherine doesn't have a good reason...

    Katherine -- Amaranth -- looks directly towards Ragnell with a tight-lipped frown, as she swallows and shudders. The Saint of Sinners, here... she well agrees with Ragnell's loud, frustrated, exasperated scream.

    "I--I could ask you the same... but I'm-- glad you're here, Ragnell," Katherine says, though her attention is drawn to the Drifters that have gathered around her. Jacqueline has a horse and wagon with her -- good, that'll give them the mobility they need. Hiro and Ruby pull up by her side as she nods at the young man, holding her forehead; Lemina arrives with her. She's familiar with the Premier, as a regular haunt of the Vane library. "Miss Lemina."

    Morgan arrives next to Jay, and shows familiarity with her -- Jacqueline seems to be a good point of contact with these adventurers!

    The plan, the plan...

    Amaranth cannot fight worth a damn and that's something she's not about to change if she can ever help it, but she gets up to the top of Jacqueline's wagon and concentrates--

    --and throws both her arms out as she manifests the full brunt of her illusory powers.

    A gigantic sign about ten by twelve feet erupts ontop of the wagon that reads

    [ SAFETY THIS WAY \o/]

    sprouts on a coil of amaranthine vines, and she further twirls as she starts scattering the fantasy magic equivalent of deck lights as magical breadcrumbs start to scatter in a path about her.

    That... is when the sound of stone creaking and groaning can be heard directly above them. A bell tower right above, direcly blasted by the swarm of malevolent meteors the Dragon is firing--

    --and the bell creaks as its hinge all but gives way.

    "That way, hurry! I'll focus on the lights to attract citizens, but I need your help clearing a path!" she desperately shouts.

DG: Seraph Amaranth has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward its party's challenge, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Mihaya's Fire Ignition for 69 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Lydia Seren's Solar Burst for 54 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

The Malevolent Domain somehow doesn't seem to ruffle Sister Domitia. She steps into it without so much as a hair or a thread out of place.

The soldiers with her are less sanguine about it. "Sister, we must kill it!" one of them growls, fingering the hilt of his sword anxiously.

Holding out one arm, Sister Domitia shakes her head. "Not yet," she says, her voice still as quiet as ever. "For now, we hold here." She holds even as the Fell Dragon begins to lift its immense maw - and that Malevolent Domain begins to spread, filtering more thickly around the little group of Rolancers.

The meteors begin to fall. Hyland soldiers crumble before the onslaught of the Saint of Sinners. Metors plunge throughout the city - and fall even towards that quarter where the three Rolance soldiers have holed up. They let out a shout almost as one and raise their arms --

Until the meteors suddenly slam into a field of shimmering eldritch patterns.

"Have you so little faith in Althena...?" Sister Domitia murmurs as she steps into the centre of the group of three men, her arm outstretched to hold up her eldritch sphere around them. Meteors pound against its surface without truly penetrating. One slams into it furiously; Malevolent flame bleeds around it, incinerating structures and collapsing building frames. Some of the power even leeches through and lashes across Domitia herself.

She lets out a low breath, before smiling thinly, hiding her focus behind that unnatural calm. "You three men," she says. "The murderers of Hyland are no match. I will give you the power you need." Reaching out, she lays a hand on one soldier's shoulder, the opposite on another's, then moves it to the third man.

The eldritch field pulls inward. There's an odd shimmer of something - and the three soldiers straighten, tensing and seeming to bulk up perceptibly. The nervous aggression levels off to a more focused fury.

"Go," Sister Domitia urges. "Commander Oaks, please lead the charge."

"YES MA'AM!" the three soldiers shout - and with a battle cry, they're off.

Two of the Rolance soldiers split to the flanks. The third is Commander Oaks, a broad-shouldered blond man in a heavy-cheeked helmet, brandishing a huge battleaxe.

"This city doesn't belong to you!" the Rolance soldier roars as he goes barreling in - and he lunges forward.

Much faster than a normal soldier has a right to. And the way he's swinging that axe comes with more power than he has a right to. Some immense FORCE is bolstering the Hyland commander's strength as he swings that huge war axe with a two-handed blow, aiming to cleave into one of the limbs of the Saint of Sinners itself.

From behind the line of battle, Sister Domitia looks on, smiling thinly beneath her hood. "...I have given you the blessing of the seven stars of Althena. It will see you through...." she murmurs, mostly to herself.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Saint of Sinners with Commander Oaks - Strength of Althena Heptasterios!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"Because my desire to help people is greater than my desire for self-preservation, I suppose..." Jacqueline comments, glancing toward Morgan. That would explain a lot, really. When you got down to it.

And then, the dragon's assault begins in earnest. Malevolent meteors crash down in the battlefield behind them, while some of them seek targets in the city itself.

Talia...decides to fight.

"...Be careful, Miss Talia. We'll do our best - you do yours, too." Jacqueline replies with a nod. It's at this point that someone approaches her - Jacqueline doesn't recognize her but she nods.

"Right, here - take these, you might need them." Jacqueline says. She unbuckles one of the bags of potions from her person and tosses them to Amber. She'll let her use her own judition on when and how to use them.

And then, Amaranth enacts her plan. She hops on top of her wagon and then...invokes a gigantic sign? Well, it would be the best way to get people's attention, in all this chaos!

Jacqueline hops back into the seat of her wagon and glances toward those who will be helping with the evacuation. She could see some good, reliable faces among them...

...But...would they all get out of this alive? It felt like they were struggling against the inevitable. There wasn't any hope, was there?

...Jacqueline shuts her eyes tight and takes a deep breath. ...No. Of course there was hope. And even if there wasn't, she couldn't let the others see what she was feeling.

She sets her horse moving, then looks toward the others.

"Alright, let's go! They have this here." She says...and then, looks up, right as a meteor collides with the side of Lastonbell's belfry.

Jacqueline understands what this means. She urges her horse forward faster. If they weren't quick enough, they might suffer some rubble...or worse, their path out being blocked completely.

DG: Jacqueline Barber has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Cless Al'Vane takes the few seconds preceding Zed's charge to catch his breath and survey the field. People are running and screaming, but there are defenders emerging from the heart of chaos; some of them known to him, in one or either guise. Ida's arrival sends a bolt of irritation flickering up the young man's spine. She's all but proclaimed that she's joined Team Evil after consuming the Hell Funions, and despite the fact he can't see her power, he deduces that the floating mannequins with guns (and, oddly, one herky-jerky dancing beast statue, for some reason) are her own work. He opens his mouth to snap something----

!!WHAM!!

"Holy..." Cless breathes as the dragon tail sweeps Zed flying through the air, presumably in the direction of a pack of whelp eggs or something. For a few seconds, Claude just stares in the direction of the departed commander of his First Assault Unit (which is commanded by, and consists solely of, Zed), mouth working silently. For all that they consider each other rivals, on the one occasion Claude and Zed fought in earnest - leaping and dancing through the burning fires of Adlehyde - the Hyadean swordsman put paid to the ambitions of the Boy From Earth. If this thing can do that to Zed... what chance... what chance...

Screams from the streets below alert Claude to imminent danger, and he looks forward, to the sides, and then up before spotting the tumbling meteors. Fear sends the young man bursting into motion, and he takes two quick steps before leaping from the building, seconds before a meteor pulverizes the roof and slams through the next three floors, eventually coming to a stop wedged between the ground floor and the basement, stones and (from Claude's perspective, normal) flames spraying outward. The young man is hit three times in the air, spoiling his balance, and he lands hard and awkwardly.

Cless comes up spitting blood from a split lip, and the taste of it in his mouth adds to the invisible pressure from the surrounding Domain. The hell with this, he thinks as he draws his sword; a second or two later, Cless is running toward the city's outer walls, leaping from building to building, his borrowed red cloak with the symbol of the Rolance Empire flaring out behind him with each leap. Even through irritation pushing over into anger, the young man remembers he's playing a role here, and amends his attack shout on the fly. "DEMON FANG!" Cless roars, firing a blistering shockwave through the air toward the dragon, aiming for its eyes - though at this range, he'll settle for hitting it at all, big as it is.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Saint of Sinners with Air Slash!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Commander Oaks - Strength of Althena Heptasterios for 119 hit
points!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Air Slash for 46 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

It's simply huge. Kaguya looks up at the Saint, frankly marvelling at its horrific wrongness, its extraordinary size. ...Not but for too long; Talia's response draws her attention, and the small woman grins. "Ooh, not having a good day, huh? C'mon, lighten up!"

...But the skies open, and the gateway answers: the rocks crash through the skies, multiple, all around. "...Huh. Evil energy waves?" Kaguya answers Lydia as she stares up, looks to the meteor coming for her--and bends at the knee, leaping to the side, where she hits a collapsing roof and rides it back down to stand amidst fallen defenders who were not so lucky. "...You know Lydia, I don't think that was very nice of you. I don't really apprecite it when people aren't nice to me." The smoke running off of the impact crater rises purple-black, and Kaguya shudders as she inhales more of it. "Haah..." Her hands close into fists for a moment and her eyes narrow. "...How worthless." She looks down to soldiers, shakes her head, walks among them. "Tsk, tsk. ...Up we go. You can still help." The small woman kneels down, and and sinks her fingers through armor, taking hold of two soldiers, one in each hand. One starts to stir. "Shh. Don't worry."

Rising, Kaguya keeps her shoulders down and starts to sprint forward with the soldiers. "Come on... Coome on..."

She waits until she can see the side of the dragon's head, and hurls the first in a spin, leaping up and swinging the next an instant later, making armored projectiles of men. ...When she lands she keeps sprinting forward.

GS: Kaguya has attacked Saint of Sinners with Flowing Advance!
GS: Kaguya has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Nearby are voices of people that have been very worried about Ethius. He does not seem keen to listen to them. He is not gentle in helping escort the Hyland soldier in his grasp, who in turn is struggling to help the other. Complaints that he's going too fast are not heeded. People suffer all around.
     "...That way!" The more injured of the two soldiers tries to get their attention. The gigantic sign is attractive to them. The breadcrumbs tease safety, a route.
     Ethius overpowers them with a hard tug away. He has other plans for them.
     'The Caravan Kinship's nearby.' Ethius doesn't even look their way as they speak, though Amber's notice were to help this strange man who must be crazy afraid (maybe?) and not thinking straight as she takes hold of the more injured soldier. From the corner of his eye, he sees the tiny hint he cannot describe or vocalize aloud in her gait. She's carrying something.
     "Wai--"

          BOOM - Direct quote of meteor through the Great Bell of Lastonbell
     An initial wave of rubble falls before Ethius and the remaining soldier. He loses sight of Amber. The tower is about to collapse. The ground is too precarious and uneven to run.
     The Hyland soldier yells in fear.
     Ethius gets out that patchy sack and goes through the Symbological motions. The yield of heat spell he uses is much harsher than usual, scalding his gloved hand as it swells with hot air. A few smaller pebbles bounce off the inflating sack as Ethius tries to hover over the initial rubble already there. He's going to have to throw himself and this person of interest into the wagon from one heck of a leaping stunt that might dislocate the opposite shoulder - that other injured Hyland soldier's not exactly lightly dressed.
     He can't let that one escape his sight either. He can't let any more of them out of his sight. This thought overpowers whatever sensory information would throw off any sensory stimulus.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has used his Tool Hot Air Sack toward his party's challenge, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
<Pose Tracker> Lemina Ausa has posed.

Letting out a sharp "Eek!" as the Great Bell of Lastonbell starts to collapse, Lemina practically scurries toward the first sign of safety available -- which is, as it happens, a very literal sign saying exactly where safety is available.

She looks to Katherine -- Amaranth -- and says, "Hey, uh -- do you want a hand with the lights? Light isn't my favorite type of magic, but I'm mega-good at just about everything, so~ooo..." After a little thought, she appends, "Though you're gonna have to pay me back later!"

... Pay her back... how? And for what?

These are questions.

At least she actually starts doing it before getting confirmation that she's gonna get paid; she thrusts out her staff and begins, one by one, setting those magical breadcrumbs of light much, much more on light. D -- dual tech...!

DG: Lemina Ausa has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    A familiar battlecry catches Ida's ear, and she glances up, watching as Zed descends on the Fell Dragon like a meteor. Concern flashes in her eyes, but the massive Hellion's Domain quickly warps it into schadenfreude--she remembers how he hurt her, how he made her look like a fool in front of her peers, spoiled her chance for greatness. She finds herself beaming as the Saint of Sinners smacks the Metal Demon out of the air like a fly, sends him soaring off towards the horizon. He'll probably be back. He's like a cockroach. In this moment, Ida does not care.

    Talia tells Ida to stay out of her way. "Oh, but of course," Ida says. "Go on. Throw yourself against it. I want you to see this with your own eyes." Ida pauses a beat, lets that sink in, and turns to the Shaman standing next to her. "I'd rather not," she says, to Lydia. The shadows around Ida twist and writhe, engulfing her once again.

    The shadows near the Saint of Sinners' right flank condense, writhe, assume the form of a certain Hellion. Ida sucks in a breath, tastes the might of the Fell Dragon's Domain anew--it is equal parts terrifying and libeating. God, if only she could do that. If only she could exist without feeling like she was making the world worse just by living in it. She isn't given much time to dwell on it. The sky opens once again, and this time, spheres of Malevolent flame rain from the heavens like hail. One of them smashes into a house a dozen feet behind Ida's alleyway catwalk perch, throwing shards of stone, wood, and metal into the air with killing force. Three scraps of iron slam into Ida's right shoulder, one after another, tearing through flesh. She reacts reflexively, her body condensing into inky blackness, leaving those three scraps floating in mid-air; Beast, following close behind, can surely see this display of hellish might. Claude just sees Ida appear out of nowhere, perched in the shadow of a chimney atop a half-destroyed building next to the Dragon.

    "Claude!" Ida cries, her face twisted in a too-wide grin. To his eyes, she looks like she hasn't eaten a good meal in a week, and hasn't had a good night's sleep in maybe twice that long. "I wasn't expecting you." Shadows condense in Ida's right hand, forming the outline of an eerily organic shotgun. The details fill in shortly after--some sort of rotary, revolver-like assembly, a sturdy grip, a short barrel. Ida cocks the nonsense shotgun one-handed, and unloads at the Saint of Sinners in rapid-fire, powering through what must be horrible recoil through main strength alone.

    "MONSTROSITY!" Ida roars, over the sound of her own rapid gunfire. "FACE THE HEIR OF A DRAGONSLAYER!" Each shell explodes into clouds of flame and anger-laced shrapnel.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    If Amaranth thinks the sentiments in Ragnell's scream were frustration and exasperation... that's probably for the best. Simply seeing her there, talking to her, helps the Lightning Seraph focus, though her shaking hasn't *quite* died down. Lydia asks her if she's all right, and--all Ragnell can do is Look at her. She doesn't offer a solution.
    
    Ida pops in with reinforcements, and her cocksure laughter about killing a dragon makes Ragnell rip a glare over at her like a knife through a still-breathing body. Kaguya also talks about wanting to kill a magnificent megafauna, and Ragnell looks fit to kill something too. But through it all, she says only one thing:
    
    Nothing.
    
    Hiro, Ruby, and Lemina run up to join Amaranth, aiming to hear about this plan. Ruby meets Ragnell's eyes and murmurs for her to please survive, and Ragnell breathes out a hollow laugh. "...are you kiddin' me...?" she murmurs, shaking her head slowly. "I'm not pickin' another fight with THAT."
    
    Gwen rides up then, tells her basically that she's got her back. Ragnell stares at her for a hard moment; then she nods. "...You go fight." She tilts her head towards Amaranth and the others. "I'll help these guys out." She turns then, hurrying off to join her fellow Seraph and crew, but half-turns as Gwen turns towards the Saint of Sinners, which begins its counter attack by calling down rage from the heavens. Eyes on the tableau of Gwen and many, many others racing in to slay the dragon, the Lightning Seraph whispers, "...Don't you dare die, you hear me...?" She sucks in a deep breath and screams, raw and furious, "DON'T YOU *DARE* DIE!!"
    
    She pants for a moment. Then she grits her teeth and focuses in on the others. "Right. We're doin' this, then," she says tersely, rubbing her wrists. She reaches back into her travel pack, produces several delicious chocolate rusks, and shoves them at everyone who's got a hand free. "This'll keep you from gettin' slowed down for a short period of time. Eat it or done," she says brusquely before one of the Saint's meteor projectiles smashes into the famed Lastonbell Belfry--
    
    It starts to topple--
    
    *Zorch,* goes a lightning bolt on the side of the stone tower. It's not much, comparatively speaking, but it ought to provide enough counter-force to slow the fall by a few critical seconds. "Keep goin'!!" Ragnell roars, waving Lemina and the rest on.

DG: Seraph Ragnell has used her Tool Chocolate Rusk toward her party's challenge, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Saint of Sinners with Devil Bullet!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Kaguya's Flowing Advance for 113 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Devil Bullet for 56 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


And then there's Ida. And Hiro's head whips around to look at her. "IDA!" And for just a moment he almost turns to go after her. Seeing her in this malevolence infested place almost causes him to lose it. He just wants to go after her and knock her down a peg.

And yet - why does he want to fight her? The reason slips away from his skull like sand in an hourglass until he seizes hold of it.

And that causes him to step back in a place.

"Dangit..."

Ruby has flown over to Amaranth and asks lightly, "So what are you planning anyhow - are you thinking of just fleecing them enough that the whole mob of refugees runs after you because lemme tell you I don't think that's going to work in this panic-" A sign sprouts atop a wagon and Ruby gawks. Then after a moment- "WELL - I GUESS!"

And then a blast rips through the air. And the Belfry starts to fall.

Whatever aggression Hiro has is suddenly not gone - but averted, as he starts to pick through the crowd in a fast triage of the slower movers, and hoisting one up over a shoulder. Which is when he spots, "Gwen! Wait she's going out there!?"

He almost runs after her right that moment. But with the Belfry falling and someone on his shoulder - it puts things into perspective real quick. "You - you'd better come back!" He yells, "Promise me we're not going to have to deliver Auntie Frea any bad news! Promise me!" He seems almost frantic - before carrying the refugee he's hoisted up to the wagon.

A crying toddler who seems alone and lost - and in danger of being trampled is the one who grabs Ruby's attention, who starts to fly over to her. "H-Hey kiddo it's okay! It's okay! Auntie Ruby is here for you!" The tot seens entirely unmoved, until Ruby starts to clap her pawsies together, "This way! This way-" The kiddo starts to look. Ruby starts to sing lightly this lullaby. A little off-key - but she's been practicing for Odjn - and hearing Lucia sing way too much to the kids back at the Peak. But mostly for Odjn.

Dream now my baby of life in the clouds /o~
Your head held so high and your wings spread so proud /o~
For I know a secret I promise is true. /o~
Here there be dragons and one of them's you /o~

The toddler finally starts to be drawn her way after her - at least following after her as she says a single word happily. "Kitty!"

Ruby's eye twitches but she keeps on flying backwards and drawing her after her.

Until at last she's able to be hoisted up into Jay's wagon.

Ruby notes how Ragnell has joined them and he almost asks Ragnell if she's okay - almost. She sees how she looks in the midst of all of this but - there's a certain urgency in how she roars. "You heard her! Everyone keep moving!" And if there's anything Ruby can get behind... it's running away from how you feel.

DG: Hiro has used his Tool Ruby Being Helpful toward his party's challenge, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


"That would explain things," Morgan agrees with Jay as he gives her a nod. "I suppose thats why I like ya. I've never been big on self preservation myself." The fox says with a smirk as he turns his head towards the unwinding chaos around him.

But then his new friend seems to have a plan. And the plan is...

...a billboard.

"Huh. Nice hologram." He drawls before his ears twitch and the crack of stone meets them. His head snaps around and his eyes widen.

"Well," Suddenly his gauntlet lights up. Energy working its way in veins across the metal. "Time to get to work!" He shouts as he draws back his arm. Energy wells up, a long lash of power that he slings forwards towards the bell, intending to tear it off course and away from those that might be harmed by its fall. Even as Ethius flings his spell towards it. Hopefully the combined power is enough.

"I think getting out of here is gonna be what we need to do! Pick up who you can as we go!" He shouts towards the bulk of the Caravan.

MEANWHILE!!!

...near the Hellions dueling Ida's Maniquins.

"Oh," Says a while haired former Digger. "This is what Ida is up too.." The man once known as Jack, now known as Garrett sits astride a great skeletal form of a wyvern. Ice encrusts the beast as the once knight now Hellion circles the flank of the battlefield.

"Well can't let her have all the fun. Bitey! Show them who the biggest monster is." A pause. "And no not the dragon, Ida is taking care of that."

And with a scream the ice-rimmed beast drops from the air into the midst of the Hellion horde.

...this is likely fine.

DG: Morgan Newkirk has used his Tool Force Lash toward his party's challenge, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
=======================<* The Intercession of Saints *>=======================
==================<* CHALLENGE - For Whom the Bell Tolls *>===================
|Type: Entry       |Dungeon Ability: Agility   |Challenge Rating: 2          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 Lastonbell has seen better days. War-torn and struggling, those caught under
 the boot heel of Hyland occupation have found every day a new experience in
 helplessness. Malevolence rises from this helplessness, growing too much,
 too fast, as news and rumor of the atrocities inflicted on Rolance's
 citizenry circulate throughout the Empire. And as the skies blacken towards
 bleak hues of violet, as a roar echoes so forcefully in the air it makes the
 ground tremble in terror...

 ... things are bound to get much worse.

 When the Saint of Sinners makes landfall, evacuation alarms run through the
 entirety of Lastonbell through the heavy sound of its ringing bell; those
 who are capable have been enlisted to aid in escorting both citizens and
 wounded soldiers alike out of the city while those capable try their best to
 hold off the Fell Dragon's advance. And this is where you find yourself, at
 the ancient arch of Lastonbell's war-damaged bell towers, together with a
 gathered group of evacuees...

 ... when the Saint of Sinner's horrible roar blasts through the landscape,
 heralding a surge of Malevolence through the air. The violet-clotted skies
 part -- and churning chunks of Malevolent meteors rain from the sky like
 purple-black brimstone. While many are directed upon those mounting the
 defense on the frontlines, one of them screams through the blighted heavens
 for Lastonbell.

 Smashing straight through the prominent belfry.

 Stone groans. Trembles. And those it has held fast for centuries, already
 damaged as it is --

 -- the Great Bell of Lastonbell starts collapsing right on top of you in a
 rain of rubble and deafening clang of the tower. Perhaps it would be best to
 start evacuating. Swiftly.
=Dungeon Conditions: Hesitate=================================================
==================<* The Intercession of Saints - Round 1 *>==================
====================< Results - For Whom the Bell Tolls >=====================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Amaranth                     0 --(5)--> 5                   Pass
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ethius Hesiod                       0 --(5)--> 5                   Fail
Hot Air Sack                        2   Agility Effects: Resilient
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   0 --(5)--> 5                   Fail
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Morgan Newkirk                      0 --(5)--> 5                   Pass
Force Lash                          2   Agility Effects: Stalwart
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hiro                                0 --(5)--> 5                   Fail
Ruby Being Helpful                  2   Agility Effects: Resilient
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lemina Ausa                         0 --(5)--> 5                   Pass
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Ragnell                      0 --(5)--> 5                   Pass
Chocolate Rusk                      1   Agility Effects: Cleanse
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Seraph Amaranth             0 --(20)--> 20                 Pass
Conditions: Hesitate(2)
Effects: Cleanse|Resilient(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Seraph Amaranth has passed this challenge! The party gained 20 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Beast has posed.

    If only the Beast of Lohgrin could follow the signs to safety. There's a dragon there too. It looks like a much nicer dragon than the one she's facing down.

    But it's happening again. It's so much worse this time.

    And there is no way to reason with a hellenised Seraph.

    The first amongst them strikes; he is knocked away like a cat batting a mouse aside. There is little time for concern for brave or foolhardy humans - because the Fell Dragon's call is Malevolence and it tears the sky to ribbons.

    Even the stones which hurtle down are wrong, and the Beast knows one thing above all else: she is terrified of them driving in past her plates, through her very soul. She is a creature of air and breeze, and terror inspires fleetness in anyone; she leaps and twists and ducks, from awning to rooftop to staircase, and she is not touched at all. It's concerning, seeing Ida warp herself to push herself past the attack; just as concerning as the way she smiles.

    (And watching her, following her - judging her - it might just seem as though she's one more automation under Ida's command, huh?)

    There are so many concerning things, happening in quick succession - the sound of familiar faces screaming at them not to die, the sight of someone using corpses to attack the Fell Dragon - but they all pale in comparison to the creature looming and advancing. The Beast of Lohgrin takes a sentinel's position before Claude and Ida, and the wind picks up, biting and unforgiving as it tries to force this creature of Malevolence back.

    It is the magic of a Seraph with a dragon's seeming, against the overwhelming might of one who has fallen.

    And she knows in her heart it cannot be enough, because all is the fear of the truth.

GS: Seraph Beast has attacked Saint of Sinners with Buffeting Headwind!
GS: Seraph Beast has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

    Amaranth can't really understand Ragnell's relationship with the Saint of Sinners, and perhaps, she thinks, that exasperation and fury is more understandable than the likely more complicated relationship they both have...

    But she doesn't answer, because her focus is taking all of her seraphic energy -- as well as resisting the pall of the Domain pushing against her.

    Ethius' assistance tugs several soldiers out from the way of danger; there's too many to help at once, but he picks up the injured soldier and pulls the sack out to spring them up into the air and onto the wagon. They make it safely -- but as he might be able to surmise, the injured soldier's undressed wounds as well as their rough landing cause problems as he cries out in pain.

    "Whatever you can do to help..." Amaranth hoarsely answers Lemina, knowing that she's a greater conduit of magic than she can hope to be. "Just make sure it's bright, and easy to see!" She relegates some of the more minor illusions to her, since it's evident that she'll need to make *other* kinds of illusions as the situation worsens.

    Ragnell's rusk biscuits aid several of the citizenry and even members of the team, as do Jacqueline's potions -- whether from the most injured to keep them on their feet, or to hasten those that need the aid.

    Ruby does a noble duty, to sing a lullaby to a toddler and soothe has as she pulls her to the wagon; the toddler coos as she expresses the word that Ruby hates most.

    As for the bell itself, Ragnell throws a mighty lightning bolt that clashes against it, in a shower of sparks that blasts the object in one direction and away from their wagon... prompting an acceleration that Morgan well takes care of with his lash of force that flings it against a relatively open cobblestone street. It slams to the ground and crushes it, with a resounding noise, but there are no casualties.

    Onward!

GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Seraph Beast's Buffeting Headwind for 78 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Saint of Sinners!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    A meteor pierces the ground in front of Gwen, casting her aside with the rubble. Getting up from the pile, the redhead coughs, shaking debris from her hair. "Damn it..."

    The soldiers don't know what they were playing with.

    She's here to help SOLVE their problem for them, something that they themselves caused, with how they primitively grasped at those shiny new weapons, like they were mere toys, not appreciating-

    The familiar scarf catches her eye. Hiro. And there's Ruby there too. They're getting refugees out.

    It's Ragnell yelling that managaes to deliver the final blow, piercing the haze of violence Malevolence placed over Gwen's mind. If just for a mooment.

    Gwen locks her gaze with the Seraph's, looking confused. She rubs her face, and nods. "Gulliver, Hanpan, n' the wagon should be where you probably last saw it. There's supplies in there. Use 'em. I brought what I could." She then shoots Hiro a grin. "I don't plan on dyin'!"

    This is Lunar. Those people, and by extension, everyone on Lunar, aren't primitive. Hiro isn't primitive. Ruby isn't primitive. Ragnell isn't primitive. Lemina is.... not primitive, no, she's business-savvy, there's a difference. The child she rescued, Heath, who still clings to her when she visits Taben Peak. He is...

    ... someone she wants to protect.

    They are friends. Rare, valuable, all full of heart.

    She grasps onto that precious, tiny sliver of hope, and holds it close to her heart. "... I'll protect all of you."

    She doesn't know how long this feeling will last.

    So she better get going. She laughs, as a faint glow issues from beneath her blouse, right over where her heart is.

    "Wish you could see this, right now, Vash," she says, under her breath. It'd be okay to say this name here, right? "This time, I'm gonna be the one who arrives in the nick of time."

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Bounding Flight!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Bounding Flight for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Quick! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
DG: Jacqueline Barber has drawn a new Challenge.
=======================<* The Intercession of Saints *>=======================
======================<* CHALLENGE - Lash of the Whip *>======================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 1          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 The Saint of Sinners is an immense creature, and the closer it gets towards
 the city, the more its impact can be felt. A sudden, sweeping spin of the
 Fell Dragon's behemothic body sends its long tail lashing through the air
 overhead, casting you briefly in its shadow before it SMASHES through a
 nearby building. Stone shatters as carefully constructed architecture comes
 undone in an instant, spilling rubble into the streets before you until
 debris clogs your path. Rubble that will need to be cleared or blown away in
 order to proceed further -- hopefully, before the advancing fight creates
 any more collateral damage to potentially cause a premature end to your
 escort.
=Dungeon Conditions: Exhaust, Treasure========================================
<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

Hell rains all around the Fell Dragon. But the Saint of Sinners seems wholly unconcerned with the devastation it lays out against its surroundings, against those that stand against it. Almost as if it simply does not -notice- those things, these people.

Its attention is wholly on Lastonbell, in the way an animal might eye its prey seconds before the pounce.

But to say it does not notice would be somewhat of an exaggeration. The way its gaze just SNAPS towards Talia the moment that blade is loosed upon the beast is evidence enough to the contrary, at least. The immensity of that burning, Malevolence-oozing stare is almost crushing alone as if almost looking -through- the mercenary. And yet -- the Fell Dragon does not even try to -move- as Mirage bites and lodges into its scales at its leftmost shoulder, just below the neck. As Talia disappears into wisps of shadows only to knot back into existence upon the hilt of her weapon, to gauge a blow into that hideous hide. And what she finds -- is an -extreme- amount of resistance. Harder than steel, harder than any material she might well have worked with before, it is like waging a war to scratch into the beast. But gouge she does, dealing a shallow wound across the draconic monstrosity's thick skin...

... whereupon Malevolence spills from the wound as if it was the beast's lifeblood, shrieking songs of agony bursting forward like a pustule of ill will that will fill Talia's soul with wretched, fetid thoughts and nightmarish torment if she cannot dislodge herself in time.

A sickness for the soul.

That wound will continue to sear its blighted corruption as the Saint drags itself forward in its almost inevitable march towards the city limits of Lastonbell -- only to be stopped by twin efforts of Lydia and Mihaya. Light from one side shatters through meteors and punches into the side of the Fell Dragon's head, sending it rocking slightly towards the right as the blinding light washes over it; a hiss spits past its maw in a gout of fire -- fire that is met by the -blast- of flame that collides with the -other- side of its head. Flame washes over it in a burst of heat, scorching its scaled hide... and those burning things that amount for its eyes -flare-.

They have been noticed.

The roar loosed after shakes things buildings down to their foundation and reverborates through the soul in some unseen, despicable wavelength as Malevolence IGNITES around the Saint. It draws inward, sucked free from the lesser Hellions that surround and race past it; the beasts wither away into little more than husks as their energies surge through the Dragon, making the violet flames that surround it intensify as if feeding off their accumulated wrath. A flaming claw lifts upward --

-- and swings that blazing appendage towards the valiant elf, easily twice the size of Mihaya herself and BURNING with impurity.

Lydia does not go unscathed, either; moments later, the Saint rears its body upward. Malevoelnt magic swirls around it, ancient sigils engulfing the vast stretch of ground that encompasses it.

Not seconds later does a blistering tower of Malevolent flame spawn itself around Lydia like an ancient, wrathful tempest, intent to engulf her if she cannot defend herself in time.

It is the sheer strength behind Commander Oaks and Kaguya's dual assaults that rip its attention away from Lydia before that magic can intensity. The immense sigils surrounding the beast terminate, shattering into motes of Malevolence as the Saint -snaps- its fiery gaze towards the axe-wielding Oaks. Its maw opens, as if intent to bite the Rolancian soldier clean in half --

But the Demon Fang ('Demon Fang') of Claude ('Cless') and the body of a fallen soldier of Hyland CRASH into its head simultaneously, momentarily blinding the beast with a snarl that makes the air shake with its frustration. The shockwave of energy rips across that burning slit that accounts for its 'eyes', sending its maw snapping prematurely before the COLLISION of that soldier knocks its head -just- out of the way of the commander, giving him the perfect time to CLEAVE into the beast.

Scales resist, so impossibly, horrifically strong -- but eventually, they split, as a long, narrow gash of ichorous, glowing black -carves- into its immense limb.

And as that second corpse comes swinging, it -crunches- against the great back of the beast as it rears upwards...

... and ROARS.

It is not pleasant. It is, in fact, physically -painful-, enough to rupture eardrums, send the senses into crazed alert -- and carrying with it that horrible, insidious undercurrent of Malevolence that laces through its every breath, its every motion, its every -waking moment-.

And Claude, Commander Oaks, and Kaguya are the ones who have the esteemed honor of listening to the Saint's voice.

As it abates, that burning gaze lances downward; it fixates, then, upon Ida and her weapon -- upon the strange, seeming-automaton that seeks to guard her. Flames broil from its fanged maw as its claw raises, sigils etched in violet flame searing a brand beneath that massive dragon's paw.

And shrapnel LODGES into the Saint of Sinners past the density of its armored hide, tiny gleams of rage-fused metal against a sea of scales, flames licking at its scaley skin as it -slams- that claw downward... and a spear of pure, raging Malevolence LANCES from the ground beneath Ida in an inky black pattern that reflects nothing but overwhelming, pure, discordance. It rears backwards, maw opening up.

And -lunges- for Ida just as the Beast of Lohengrin interposes herself, winds BUFFETING violently at the maw of the Saint -- slowing it, but not -stopping- it. And the Beast may see many horrible truths within the seemingly endless depths of that churning, Malevolent abyss that is the Saint of Sinner's mouth...

... seconds before it seeks to -snap- its terrible jaws around her as if to try to tear her clean in two between its tremendous, hellacious fangs.

And not seconds later does it rear back upwards, intent to -spin- its way back towards Lastonbell. The sheer speed at which it moves for its mass is baffling -- but it is no more dangerous for it as that tail swings about as a natural consequence of its motion, TEARING through architecture almost purely on accident and sending rubble flying in a raucous rain of debris --

-- chunks of which fall for Gwen Whitlock, even as she steels her resolve, invoking the name of a man considered in and of himself a living, natural disaster.

GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Saint of Sinners with Malevolent Coil!
GS: Saint of Sinners has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Malevolent Coil for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Talia with Nightmare!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Lydia Seren with Ancient Nova!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Mihaya with Claw of the Saint!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Roar of the Wyrm!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Kaguya with Roar of the Wyrm!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Neriah Parringer with Roar of the Wyrm!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Bloody Howling!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Seraph Beast with Fang of the Fallen!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Tail of the Serpent!
GS: Saint of Sinners has completed their action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Roar of the Wyrm for 76 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Ancient Nova for 185 hit points!
GS: Mihaya takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Claw of the Saint for 168 hit points!
GS: Kaguya critically Guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Roar of the Wyrm for 24 hit points!
GS: Claude C. Kenny guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Roar of the Wyrm for 81 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Tail of the Serpent for 167 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Bloody Howling for 73 hit points!
GS: Toxin! Statuses applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Nightmare for 75 hit points!
GS: Disease! Statuses applied to Talia!
GS: Talia has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Seraph Beast guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Fang of the Fallen for 139 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Mihaya has posed.

 The dragon was, unfortunately, something of a tough cookie to deal with. Its sheer size would defeat many attacks, and they didn't really seem to have the capacity to defeat it. But what they COULD hope to do was turn it aside, and distract it to give people time to get away from the city... and hopefully without a population to attack, the beast would lose interest.

 That was what Mihaya was hoping, at least. The Domain was a terrible thing pushing against her, and having to fight against it was taking a good bit of her concentration. That this beast could do such a thing... she'd never felt anything like this before.

 And she did not like it. This dragon was totally hashing her cool, and she did not like it AT ALL.

 It also hashes a lot more than just her cool when it swings a claw around and smashes her with it in a rather contemptuous gesture. Its almost like getting hit by a house that just sort of casually swings by and tosses the symbologist a good distance across the field.

 Aya bounces a few times before she finally comes to a stop, pausing and coughing up some blood as she slowly levers herself back to her feet. "Aaah... damn," she mutters, groaning in pain.

 Ow. Just... ow. Oooowwww.

 She was going to have to put a bit more effort into trying to hurt the dragon. She turns, and spots the Brave, Handsome, and Kind of Crazy But That Was A Good Thing In This Situation 'Cless Al'Vane'. Plus... she couldn't take too many more hits like that. Not without losing consciousness. "I'm going to try and use a higher level fire spell on it's head! If I can distract it, will that give you a good chance to hit it?"

 Well, worth trying no matter what. Focusing her magic once more, Aya adds several additional symbols into her casting sequence, increasing the power of the spell by a modest factor. Enough that this fire spell might actually cause some REAL DAMAGE. "And... NOW!"

 And with a blast of magic, Mihaya unleashes a beam of fire straight towards the dragon's head once more. Double the power! Enough of a boost that the attack could only be referred to by a greater numeral.

GS: Mihaya has attacked Saint of Sinners with Fire 2!
GS: Mihaya has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Mihaya's Fire 2 for 44 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Shield! Statuses applied to Mihaya!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"Are you alright there, Ruby?" Jacqueline asks, glancing back as Ruby and her charge are helped into the wagon. Jacqueline's main focus becomes keeping the wagon going. Hiro's help in getting people in is greatly appreciated - it means she doesn't have to worry as much about it, herself. He's always been trustworthy.

She doesn't see Ethius yet - if she did, she might have some things to say. But those words will have to be saved for later. Right now, she has to get these people out of here.

Fortunately, the hard work of her allies prevents them from getting buried in rubble...but unfortunately, another problem soon presents itself.

The defenders arrayed against the Fell Dragon are doing their best, but it still continues to move toward the city.

"Look at!" Jacqueline cries, pulling her horse to a stop and ducking as a massive tail swings overhead, smashing right through a building as if it were made of sand. The rubble crashes down in front of the party, blocking the way forward.

"We need that rubble removed, quickly!" Jacqueline urges, before turning in her seat to face those who are currently in her wagon.

"Don't worry, we'll take care of everything...just put your faith in us, okay?" She says, with a sweet smile. She could tell at the general atmosphere was causing some amount of fear and concern among her charges. That was a problem. If things got out of hand...

She rummages through her bags, taking the time while the others deal with the rubble to pass out some potions to those still able to drink them. Right now, the important thing was bolstering their spirits and keeping them as calm as possible.

DG: Jacqueline Barber has used her Tool Brewte Force toward her party's challenge, Lash of the Whip.
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"Self-preservation is usually half-decent at best!" Talia answers Lydia, but there is a slight edge to it. The miasma here makes her impulses change; she is, typically, well in control of those impulses. Here, she feels them slip, but this Domain -- this power -- is more than she has ever felt before. Her teeth grit, tightly, even as Ida calls out to her too.

She ignores it, for the moment. She needs to do more than see a Fell Dragon's power. She needs to survive it -- and Ragnell's shouted advice may not include her, but it is advice that she plans to follow regardless.

Even if that feels hard, the way its eyes look down and stare at her. Her blade digs deep and Malevolence bleeds through. She snaps her arm back, and fights back a gasp. Talia stumbles backward, as if it could be a source of grave infection. It burns her vambrace mottling and skin on her hand blistering as she yanks it away. She looks up -- and gawks as a statue is there, between the Fell Dragon and the Hellion that taunted her. Talia grits her teeth, head snapping back to it. "Lydia!" she shouts, "Kaguya! I think this thing is not normal, no? It will destroy the city if it gets in!"

And Katherine, Jay, and the rest of them are there. Her eyes narrow.

"This isn't really in the job description..." She mutters, under her breath. Then, she throws her hand out. A circle of pale blue light erupts underneath her feet, and then fades. Moisture in the air over her head grows heavier, before forming a long, jagged spike of ice. "Althena's blah blah grant me your whatever you want you call it, make the air sharper than a Dragonmaster's something something bluish imagery!"

The stalagmite of ice hurls towards the Fell Dragon.

"FREEZE LANCER!"

GS: Talia has attacked Saint of Sinners with Freeze Lancer!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

For all that he's just one Rolance soldier out of a thousand of them... Commander Oaks swings that axe shockingly hard, and he stares down the Saint of Sinner with startling courage. As the monstrous creature wheels on him, the man with the war axe doesn't give ground. He begins to step forward as if to try and attack into that maw. Malevolence fuels aggression in this case.

Cless spares him a bite. The big soldier blinks, then darts to the side and makes his swing. Immense scales give way.

The roar of the Beast rips through the heart of Commander Oaks. His teeth clench as that dreadful feeling seeps through him. "Damn it all," he hisses as he hunkers down, dropping to one knee and shielding himself with his weapon. The shrieking pain of that thundering roar forces him to drop a hand from his axe and press it to his ear as his eardrum threatens to burst.

"COMMANDER!" one of the other two Rolance soldiers shouts. Both of them begin to move in from the flanks - on the right, Corporal Trent, with longsword in hand, and on the left, Corporal Severn, carrying a long-handled warhammer.

Trent's the one who gives the game away. He's pulled out a shield with the coat of arms of Rolance on it, dropping down to cover Oaks and provide a Healing Nut.

It's left to Corporal Severn to make a move for Rolance's contingent. The big, bearded soldier twirls his heavy warhammer over his head. "Too much has been done to this city," he snarls. "To see it fall first to the Hyland monsters... and then this...."

Severn rears back, lifting his massive hammer. "WE WON'T HAVE IT!" he screams as he brings the hammer down, aiming to smash it into the flank of the Saint of Sinners.

Whatever FORCE infused Commander Oaks is infusing Trent and Severn, too. The hammerblow hits as hard as any Drifter's strike - with a pronounced shockwave.

As the three Rolance soldiers fight with strength they should not have, Sister Domitia begins to walk slowly forward, a lone beacon of serenity amidst the Malevolent Domain. The hooded priestess's voice carries like a bell even clearer than that in the crumbling tower of the town.

"See what the barbarism and madness of this war have wrought," Domitia intones. "Hatred. Atrocity. Monstrosities borne of the bloodstains of evil deeds. And yet these men you face now do not fight with anger...

"...but with righteousness."

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Saint of Sinners with Corporal Severn - Warhammer Shock!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Talia's Freeze Lancer for 54 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Corporal Severn - Warhammer Shock for 56 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Note to self: never, ever say that name again without good reason.

    "I'm okay, I'm okay!" Gwen croaks, coughing as she shakes herself loose from the rubble. It's... not like her friends would be in earshot. Thank the Guardians for that.
    
    But what's her next move? Gwen sizes the beast up, fear threatening to trickle in and freeze all rational thought.

    She breathes. Think.

    If she could just aim for a weak spot... someplace...

    Belly. A lizard's belly'd be the soft spot, right? It's worth a shot. Literally.

    Loading the needed ammo in her ARM as she hunches in the shadow of some fallen rubble, Gwen inserts her hand through the slanted remains of a window. "Just keep payin' attention to em'... yeah, just like that..."

    The bullet is quick, and meant to be well-aimed. The impact, if it hits, may not be as noticeable at the larger attacks, but the opening it creates may allow a small window of opportunity for the others.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Saint of Sinners with Comet Clip!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

LYDIA

"There's a hate dragon spewing hate waves that make people hate," Lydia says to Kaguya. "I'm sorry if I'm only operating at half cute! I'm doing my best!! I got hit by a meteor today, Kaguya! A meteor! Do you know what that's like when normally you are the one firing the meteors? I'll tell you what it's like, it sucks!! I have to be responsible now sometimes sort of and it's awful!!" She exhales briefly and adds, "Sorry, uh. You know. When life gives you Fell Dragons, you make Fellmonade."

Speaking of Fellmonade, Lydia stumbles backwards, more out of shock than anything else, when the dragon turns its attention onto Lydia. "Ah--" Lydia begins.

Lydia doesn't defend herself in time. In fact, she's hit pretty full on by the fire. It surges around her and briefly makes her literally vanish within the fire scourging around her. Lydia screams in pain and she doesn't stop. She just keeps screaming and screaming. There's not even a break for breath, she's just screaming until she goes hoarse.

GAME OVER?

FALCONEER AMBER

Amber guides the Hyland soldier to the cart before looking up and back over to Ethius, marveling at his sack of hot air. She says, "Keeps strange company don't she," under her breath as she sets the soldier into the wagon, nodding to Ethius. "Thanks for the help. Lets see...next we should..." She trails off before seeing the rubble ahead. She isn't going to be much help here so she adds, "I'll keep a look out." to Jacqueline, waving off the potion. "We don't know if anything else is gonna come down."

LYDIA

Oh maybe it's not Game Over because something is walking out of the fire. Her clothes are largely burnt away with heavy burns but a fair chunk are already starting to heal, leaving faint grey patches along Lydia's skin. Her face is pure red, as if her skin had been incinerated away. Lydia's hands--both of them--are practically skeletal. Lydia stumbles forward, sinks to what can charitably called a knee and throws up. It's largely silver gunk intermixed with food.

Panting for breath, the flesh along her face starts to knit itself back together. Her eyes are bugged out like she's screaming but she can't speak.

Eventually she gives up on this and launches a portal towards some falling debris. She hops in, appears on the underside of the rubble, spikes from her feet digging in as she unleashes another wave of white beams from Solais Emsu, this time carving out in a long slice for one of the dragon's wings.

"Ghhh...ghhkhkk." Lydia noises.

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Saint of Sinners with Solar Slicer!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Just like that, a man whose existence - and also his lack of such - seems to often bring unease and sometimes even fear. There is no warm bedside manner for the Hyland soldier Ethius all but deposits in the wagon like one might like a toy ball. No words of reassurance from him to anyone else. Just that stare, that suppressed body language to the point it is questionable as to whether or not he even breathes, and a seeming lack of care for anything and anyone else other than whatever it is that drives him to be here. He gives Amber no response to her thanks.
     There are frightened screams and falling tears among those within the wagon. Misery is everywhere. The man looks entirely unmoved by any or all of this. A smaller child clutches something small in their hands. Something that glints with metal, in a light that--
     Ragnell, if she is present, will remember seeing something looking exactly like that tiny object when Ethius decided to pull some secured gunsmoke ARMs apart. She may remember what he ultimately did with that bit. (Or any bit, for that matter.)
     He moves to snatch it from them. There is a sharp wail, protesting from a scared mother who is so drained and hurt that all she can do is yell. He does not seem perturbed by this. This boiling confrontation comes to an abrupt halt as a great shadow passes over them - and then collateral damage of the Saint of Sinners' giant tail.
     Rubble blocks off the way forward. The strange man relents only to come out of the wagon to do what comes natural to him. Somewhere a ways off, a ralling cry is recited about the barbarism and madness of the war. It rubs him the wrong way. He can't let it stop him.
     Familiar Symbological incantations are put forth, and a great wave of heat washes over the rubble ahead, threatening to melt them into flatter, much easier to traverse smoothened stone that cools off a lot more quickly than it appears it should be able to for just how much heat the man brings.
     His gaze keeps looking back towards numerous people in there. No, specific ones. That gaze bears down ever harder. What is he looking for? It is not a friendly, pleasant gaze.
     Morgan gets a harrowing four seconds' worth of staring.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Lash of the Whip.
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

"...Okay, that's cool," Kaguya says to Lydia. "Ugh. Talking to you chils me out some. C'mon, let's make some... whatever."

Kaguya finally skids to a stop when the Saint rears upwards, looking up, seeing it start to breathe out--and claps hands to her ears, glaring daggers at the dragon in its terrifying roar. It vibrates through her bones, runs through her whole body, and for a moment she thinks she might faint outright... but when the roar ends she is standing, and lowers her hands. Blood trickles from her ear as she grins again, sharp-toothed.

"There's nothing natural," Kaguya agrees with Talia, "About this thing. I can feel it already, like I want to just.... ditch." Kaguya looks around, looking for ammunition, shakes her head.

"Righteouness," she calls out to Domitia, scoffing audibly. "Yeah, right. ...Okay."

Opening her fists, Kaguya takes a deep breath of the awful air, coughing bloodily as a result of all the dust and debris--she spits some of that to the side, and looks up. Kaguya turns, watching Lydia stumble forward. "...Lydia, hang on!" Kaguya's eyes widen as she looks at just how awful her friend looks, she she sprints forward, gritting her teeth, and leaps atop a broken pile of debris. "I'll... I'll take down all three of you," she mutters darkly to the Saint, and rears back. Strange green light starts to rise from beneath her feet, a bizarre hexagon sprouting sparkling motes that begin to twirl all around her. Her free hand moves forward, channeling what... feels like Ether. "Let's see... what you.."

The motes become a shining wall of light as a cyclone riddled with strange, orange-and-pink petals and thorned stems and leaves crashes towards the dragon, each hit--if its fragments hit--glowing in time with a brief spark about Kaguya, too.

"Come on!"

GS: Kaguya has attacked Saint of Sinners with Blossom Wind!
GS: Kaguya has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


It's not like Gwen's in earshot - probably a good thing otherwise he'd definitely shout that she sure doesn't SOUND Okay.

Jay asks Ruby something though and - "No! I'm not okay! I just had an urge to deck a baby!" Ruby answers Jay. "And it's all that dragon's fault!"

Things are getting worse quickly, as they escort the wagon - it has to brake fast as the building in front of them is smashed - crashing down. "... Hasn't it ever heard of kicking people while they're down?" Hiro mutters with a sense of righteous indignation.

"Lemina let's get this blown away quickly! We'll worry about the reward once we're out of this..."

Hiro simply speaks a word, "Ferocious Winds!"And joins with Ethius as a magic vortex of fast moving-air forms on the other end of the rubble, churning into what he melts down to try to scatter it away.

"Ragnell..." Hiro finally asks in this moment... there's so many things he'd like to ask but... "That thing's been around for a long time hasn't it?"

There's a distinct pause and... "Any idea why it'd be returning here... and now?"

DG: Hiro has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Lash of the Whip.
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

The Saint of Sinners' roar contains elements of Malevolence, fairly dripping with the coalesced emotions and hatred it has accrued over the years. In this place - the site of a battle involving thousands of deaths, coming at the heels of a war that has dragged on for generations - the sheer stinking mass of it must be overwhelming. But Claude C. Kenny, a man roughly as magical as a cold tuna fish sandwich, senses none of this. It simply exists on a plane he can neither see, nor hear, nor access. All he hears is the roar.

It's enough.

The sheer volume of it slams into Cless like a physical wave, checking his advance as he drops to his knees, his own scream a drop of rain into the ocean of the dragon's fury. It persists in stabbing agony for several seconds, and then - nothing. Cless gets to his feet, tears dripping from his eyes and crimson liquid leaking from his ears. Whether his eardrums are truly burst or not he has no idea, but the effect is the same - he can't hear a damned thing. And it hurts like hell.

The Boy from Earth shakes his head, absurdly grateful for the stabbing pain. It gives him something to focus on, allows him to push past the primal urge of rage and fury that is even now welling up within him. Roddick Farrence's words echo faintly in his memory - pain is your body's way of telling you not to do something that stupid again, he would say, often after having drummed a lesson into his only student. The young man draws in a steadying breath. He can't beat this thing on power or fury - it's got him beat on both. He's got to fight quick. Smart. He's got to think.

Clau--no, it's Cless, he reminds himself. /Cless/ looks toward Oaks, who by virtue of the fanciest armour seems like he's in charge around here. "We've got to turn it!" Cless shouts, his voice oddly pitched... and inaudible to its speaker. The young man suppresses a faint surge of panic, reassuring himself that Rena can handle it. She can handle damned near anything. "Draw it away from the city!" he adds, then suits action to his words, leaping down toward the other side of the walls, his borrowed Rolance cloak flaring as he goes. Cless lands in a roll, then begins sprinting off on the diagonal, firing another Air Slash/Demon Fang on his third step.

Then again on his fifth.

And again and again and again, firing blast after blast in the monster's direction with each second step, aiming for face and wing joints and other vulnerable areas. On his 46th step, he breaks off his attack chain briefly, as he wonders whether evil demon dragons from another planet have nards that he can target. On his 48th step, he realizes that his life has reached a point where dragons having nards stands a good chance of determining his survival over the next minute and a half.

On his 49th step, he sighs mentally. This is my life now.

"DEMON FANG!" he roars on step 50, firing a twentieth Air Slash in a slightly more down/rearward direction than the first nineteen.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Saint of Sinners with Unlimited Air Slash Works!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Lemina Ausa has posed.

Lemina gives Ammy an easy grin. "Just leave it to me! And tell me a little about how you're going to pay..." It's at this point that Lemina actually develops some self-awareness. She seems a little dizzy for a second. "NNhh... don't -- we'll -- talk about it later." She waves the topic of conversation off, now that she has her head... semi-together.

She ducks into the wagon, practically hitting its floor, as the rubble rains down; when she forces herself to pop back up, she's covered in dust. Jay calls for them to remove the rubble, though -- and that's where Lemina's most at home.

Rubbing her hands together and pulling her staff out again, Lemina closes her eyes for a moment. She starts a low chant, feeling the power within her --

-- and starts giggling a little bit. It feels *really* good to feel that power inside her... -- no, focus! You're going to lose control of the spell! Lemina takes another deep breath, and restarts her chant, before summoning forth a spike of ice and gravel in front of them.

It retracts after a few moments, having -- hopefully -- pushed much of the rubble to either side of itself.

DG: Lemina Ausa has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Lash of the Whip.
<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


Morgan noods with a bit of satifaction as the bell is diverted and he grips onto the side of the wagon with one hand, hauling himself up to clutch to the side as he clatters on. "Evenin, Ethius!" He calls out as he clings there, one hand raising up to clutch at his hat...

...only to realize he doesn't have it on anymore.

Old habits and all.

He notes that stare and just grins.

"I see ya haven't changed much." He adds cheerfully enough as he charges his Gauntlet again.

The tail swipes overhead. The debris comes down. The fox curses under his breath. The ARM glows under its own power as trails of power form around it. Studs of missiles form in a ring around the ARM before he smirks slightly. "Fireball! Or somethin' that wizard types say!"

And the missiles streak forwards, corksscrewing though the air to crash into the debris, hopefully blowing enough out of it to allow the little group passage.

Morgan isn't really in for subtle.

DG: Morgan Newkirk has used his Tool Everyone Loves Fireworks toward his party's challenge, Lash of the Whip.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    The group makes it past the collapse caused by the meteor falls, but then the Saint's tail flicks out and causes yet more structural collapse through the city. This is with the dragon not even *here* yet, too, not properly, just winging its way overhead. Ragnell grits her teeth as she gazes up at its menacing glory; then she gives Ethius a sharp look as he exacerbates a stressful situation by snatching something that shines out of a child's hand. She's momentarily tempted to kick him in the head; she doesn't, mostly because it wouldn't serve any purpose but venting her pique, and there's plenty of other ways to do that.
    
    One way is to storm forward when Jay calls that they need the rubble before them removed and just start *kicking* shit out of the way. It may not be all that successful at its stated purpose, but hey, venting pique is always worth doing. It's just a matter of figuring out how best to go about doing it. If maybe there's a bit of Malevolent Domain involved, well, she's still not kicking a human being, so it's all good, right?
    
    Hiro is asking her a question. "Fell Dragons usually are," she says, voice clipped. "As for why it's here, I can say for a *fact*--" kick kick kick "--that it's 'cuz of the city gettin' broiled up in Malevolence." Kick. "That's--" Kick. "--how it was--" Kick. "--the last time--" *KICK*. "--too."

DG: Seraph Ragnell has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Lash of the Whip.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Comet Clip for 14 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak! Statuses applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Solar Slicer for 66 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Kaguya's Blossom Wind for 96 hit points!
GS: Kaguya drains Saint of Sinners! Kaguya gains 48 temporary hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Claude C. Kenny's attack becomes clear!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Freestyle Combat Arts for 149 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida sees those tiny dots of metal and rage hit home, embedding themselves in the Dragon's hide. She doesn't know from Fell Dragons, but she knows ballistics well enough to know they didn't penetrate very deeply. Insect bites, at worst. The big Hellion sets her jaw, Malevolent vapor hissing from her nostrils like steam. She has to do better. She must do better.

    'DON'T YOU *DARE' DIE!!'

    Ragnell's raw, impassioned scream echoes across the city, unheard but all by a comparative handful. Ida's head cocks ever-so-slightly, cocksure, domineering pride giving way to something inscrutable. She remembers Tintagel. She remembers the bit of history Ragnell told her after Ida told her she wanted to kill the Nameless Lord.

    She feels like she should feel upset, or regretful. Here, though, the full weight of the Saint's Domain is upon her, and it amplifies things that Ida's Hellionization had already brought to the surface. Empathy is ruthlessly crushed, replaced with the assertion that maybe Ragnell should feel grateful Ida is putting this maddened former Seraph out of its misery.

    Self-loathing boils beneath the surface like magma, waiting to erupt.

    The Beast of Lohgrin surges out from behind her on a ferocious tailwind. Ida tracks her out of the corner of her eye. The sight manages to drag Ida's sense of concern out of the hole it had been unceremoniously jammed into. "BEAST!" Ida cries. "RETREAT IF YOU MUST!" The Saint's voice tears across the battlefield a moment later, loud enough and discordant enough to drown out Ida's thoughts. The gun falls from her hand, hits the ground, and breaks apart into shadowy tendrils. She claps both hands over her ears, even as the star of Malevolence in her chest rages and burns at the thought of this creature trying--daring--to assert dominance over HER.

    Ida feels the Saint's influence on the ground beneath her as a sudden upwelling of dissonance in the Earth. She surges forwards, leaping towards the Dragon even as the ground around her explodes in a pillar of sickening black light. Tendrils of the Saint's Malevolence lash out at Ida, sinking barbed hooks deep into her flesh, burrowing in. Ida lands in a crouch, bites back a scream of agony, and sucks in a breath. The Malevolence around her flows into her mouth alongside air, moving through Ida's lungs, infusing her blood. It reaches her heart, merging with the star there. Ida's discovered there's more to it than just an interesting visual trait. It's a bit like a strange engine--it reacts to the presence of Malevolence, grows stronger or weaker based on how much Ida has within her and how conflicted she feels.

    That's nothing more than a footnote as the Saint's head comes rushing down at her, those horrible jaws opening so wide Ida feels like she can see oblivion just behind them. The Beast of Lohgrin leaps in between them.

    CRUNCH.

    Ida's reaction is instinctive. "YOU BASTARD!" the big Hellion roars, as the inky black tendrils of the Saint's Domain spray from the rents in her flesh. Her hand darts into her shadow, and comes up with a length of dark, heavy chain. The end is tipped with a wicked-looking barbed hook, and the whole thing seethes in anticipation of a foe's blood. Ida throws the hook without even bothering to wind up. The end deforms in mid-air, changing from a hook to a long, barbed spear. A thousand years' worth of pointless violence and dominance displays infuse it.

    Even in death, Berserk's legacy lives on.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Saint of Sinners with Raging Thunderbolt!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes 13 damage from Toxin!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

    Amaranth cowers for a moment underneath the boards of the wagon, at the nearbly slam of the Dragon's tail that crushes a building overhead and sends debris flying down towards them. Unfortunately, she can't hide for long, because the wagon keeps moving--

    --and as the wagon moves, it's clear that Amaranth is spending more and more of her energy to reach each side street to connect the breadcrumbs to the main trail, wincing as she arrays a network of lights that attract bystanders and citizenry out of danger and towards their path.

    There's a haggard breath from the violet-haired Seraph as she fails to drop the next length of light out-- but she accepts one of Jacqueline's potions and quaffs it in a hurry, feeling rejuvenated. "Thank you, Jacqueline..."

    There's an aggrieved since as the debris kicks up once more, and she's forced to abandon her next cast as she throws up a translucent force-shield that thrums with a faint, warbling noise.

    "... they are attracted such," Katherine murmurs very quietly to Hiro. "A nest of Malevolence is as a pot of honey..."

DG: Seraph Amaranth has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward its party's challenge, Lash of the Whip.
=======================<* The Intercession of Saints *>=======================
======================<* CHALLENGE - Lash of the Whip *>======================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 1          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 The Saint of Sinners is an immense creature, and the closer it gets towards
 the city, the more its impact can be felt. A sudden, sweeping spin of the
 Fell Dragon's behemothic body sends its long tail lashing through the air
 overhead, casting you briefly in its shadow before it SMASHES through a
 nearby building. Stone shatters as carefully constructed architecture comes
 undone in an instant, spilling rubble into the streets before you until
 debris clogs your path. Rubble that will need to be cleared or blown away in
 order to proceed further -- hopefully, before the advancing fight creates
 any more collateral damage to potentially cause a premature end to your
 escort.
=Dungeon Conditions: Exhaust, Treasure========================================
==================<* The Intercession of Saints - Round 2 *>==================
========================< Results - Lash of the Whip >========================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Amaranth                     5 --(5)--> 10                  Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ethius Hesiod                       5 --(5)--> 10                  Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   5 --(5)--> 10                  Pass
Brewte Force                        1   Brute   Effects: Fanfare and Strengthe
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Morgan Newkirk                      5 --(5)--> 10                  Pass
Everyone Loves Fireworks            3   Brute   Effects: Rally
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hiro                                5 --(5)--> 10                  Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lemina Ausa                         5 --(5)--> 10                  Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Ragnell                      5 --(12)--> 17                 Fail
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Seraph Amaranth             20 --(25)--> 45                Pass
Conditions: Exhaust(1)|Hesitate(1)|Treasure(1)
Effects: Strengthen(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Seraph Amaranth has passed this challenge! The party gained 25 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Beast has posed.

    If anyone had been able to hear her to ask the Beast of Lohgrin if she would ever defend a Hellion, when she dwelt on her mountain, she would have laughed. A rough and coarse sort of laugh, more a chuckle than anything which carries. There would be no way in the world. A Hellion is a terrible thing. A Hellion does not think of the damage it causes; it only destroys.

    But beasts are not the only Hellions in this world. Some of them were human, once.

    And humanity is...

    It all happens in an instant. The Fell Dragon descends in a fury - it means to swallow Ida whole.

    The Beast of Lohgrin is a guardian above all else. She is swift as the wind as she is there, before her, stalwart and unmoving as the jaws crash down. It will have to get through her. She will not retreat. She cannot.

    There is no sound from her, as those jaws open up and reveal oblivion.

    There is no sound, and yet there is the momentary drooping of her plates -

    - before they lock together, defending against the great dragon's jaws. It compresses her. Makes her smaller than she was. Makes her just small enough...

    ... to be enveloped by jaws which catch.

    Not completely. Jaws cleave through the point where plates lock together, part them effortlessly. She is, in a word, bisected, front half from saddle onward disappearing in between terrible Malevolent teeth. It would be a picture of horrible violence were there blood to spill - but she has none.

    And yet - and yet - can a thing die when it cannot bleed?

    Metal plates which make hindlegs and tail clatter to the ground, lifeless, as the Fell Dragon's head lifts.

    But the Beast of Lohgrin has enough left of her vessel to cling to, in the darkness. Barely enough - barely enough. It is all-consuming, the Malevolence, this close. It hurts.

    But I am not like you.

    It is cloying and it is everywhere and it is sickness and death.

    That was the horror of a child - and now I am grown. There is so much I have seen, so much I have yet to see, and yet I know I am not like you. I cannot be like you. In this venom you mean only to destroy; and I shall not destroy these creatures which have lodged so firmly within my heart. They are everything to me, in all their faults and foibles. I will not - I cannot - I refuse -

    It is horror and it is destruction and it is overwhelming.

    Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.

    It is -

    - going to kill everyone. It cannot be more obvious, here. It permeates every angstrom of the dragon.

    The Beast of Lohgrin knows one thing, even as the world becomes a scream which she does not immediately recognise as her own: she must help them.

    Objectively, it only takes a few seconds for the wind to pick up, for iron to ram at the dragon's mouth from the inside, fully meaning to knock aside as many teeth as it takes to get free.

    Subjectively - it is an eternity.

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"I-I see..." Jacqueline says, in response to Ruby. There really wasn't much she could say to that! The important thing was that Ruby didn't deck a baby...but speaking of being mean to children, Ethius.

The sound a wail reaches her ears and Jacqueline looks back...and there he is.

"Ethius!?" Jacqueline says, surprised. This was the last place she expected to see him. She can't even be relieved about it - she's doing her best to push down the fear and helplessness that's trying to force its way to the top.

"Right, thank you." Jacqueline replies with a nod to Amber. They needed all the help they could get...but they were receiving it, certainly. They were all working together, all trying to help remove the rubble in their own way - melting it and scattering the remains with wind, pushing it away with ice and stone, kicking it, and just generally blowing it the hell up.

It works like a charm, really, and soon the path is clear.

Meanwhile, their number is growing - Katherine's sign has been attracting attention, and scattered bystanders are gradually coming to them. Some of them are carrying wounded friends, who join the others in the wagon.

"It's alright...hang in there, okay?" Jacqueline says, offering Katherine a smile before turning around and urging her horse into motion again. She listens quietly as Katherine speaks of Malevolence, but right now, her focus is on the way forward.

The path may be open, for now...but they were still not quite out of danger yet.

They had to keep moving.

GS: Seraph Beast has attacked Saint of Sinners with Ramming Speed!
GS: Seraph Beast has completed her action.
DG: Ethius Hesiod has drawn a new Challenge.
============================================<* The Intercession of Saints *>============================================
=========================================<* CHALLENGE - ARMing the Citizenry *>=========================================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 1          |
-----------------------------------------------< Challenge Information: >-----------------------------------------------
 Evacuating in a Hellion-strewn city would likely be a bit easier if the
 people you were evacuating were capable of defending yourself. Escort
 missions can just be the -worst- sometimes. But luck, it seems, is on your
 side, as you find yourself stumbling upon the gutted ruins of a makeshift
 garrison for Hyland troops. Weapons can be found here -- swords, spears,
 blunt instruments -- there's even a few Gunsmoke ARMs to be found, here and
 there. Arm people with what they can use, recuperate if you need to, and
 head out. Now the people on your escort mission can fight! Hooray! Hopefully
 they don't misfire on you! Hoo...ray...?
=Dungeon Conditions: Save Point, Overzealous, Treasure========================
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Raging Thunderbolt for 98 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Seraph Beast's Ramming Speed for 59 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

The situation looks dire. The Fell Dragon wields might spoken of only in dreadful whispers in the most dreadful of legends. Lastonbell's belltower has crumbled. The citizens panic to escape their homes. It is a dark day, and it will only get darker. But... Then...

Something... Changes.

There's a shift in the wind. A distinct scent of ozone and moss in the air, like an impending rainstorm. There's a sound like... A twinkling star, a shrill, but falling, whistle... And...

"Draaaaaaaaaaaaaa--"

What is that?

"--aaaaaaaaaaaaaa--"

A black meteor, falling out of the sky!?

"--aaaaaaaaaaaaaa--"

It's-- IT'S!!

                           "--GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON!"

That's not a meteor!

THAT'S A... REALLY. GOOFY. ROBOT!

WITH HAIR!

AND... What appear to be firebreathing lizards strapped like thrusters to its fists!?

"PUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNCH!" The robot yells, as it flies fists-first right into the corrupt beast's snout!

"Did you really think--!?" The robot declares, its moss-green hair fluttering in the breeze! "THAT YOU'D SEEN THE LAST OF MEEEEE?!?"

DC: Zed switches forms to Monsterous Zedder R!
GS: Zed has attacked Saint of Sinners with Rocket Punch!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Zed's Rocket Punch for 83 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

Liquid flames of black and pinkish-red drip from the snapped maw of the Saint as it hefts its head from its ducked position. Rubble from the walls of Lastonbell roll down around its feet, pieces of stone almost literally melting as drops of that insidious spiritual flame falls upon them. The green grass rots away against the dripping Malevolence, burning into little more than a hellish, bleak patch of ruin beneath the patches of flame.

The Saint's blessing works its miracles, even as others strive so desperately and valiantly against it.

Fire and ice are the first order of the day as the adventurers and soldiers recover themselves from the behemoth's onslaught. A column of flame and a sharpened chunk of ice SMASH across the Fell Dragon's hide in almost perfect tandem, freezing scales even as it impales -through- them and -burning- away the creeping frost as that broiling flame washes over the dragon's horned skull. It lurches almost lazily to its left, the shuddering step making Malevolence-riddled musculature flex in a way that cracks fissures along that embedded spike of ice. It opens it up, for the briefest of moments--

--one that Corporal Severn capitalizes within moments. The blow of his hammer would be enough to fell a tree, burst through stone -- yet pounding into the flank of this fallen creature, he will soon find, almost feels like trying to crush a mountain. Scales dent inward with the raucous BOOM of impact -- the Fell Dragon sways towards its left with a resounding snarl as the shockwave rips through the ground beneath its massive feet.

... But it's enough. Enough that Claude and/or Cless can capitalize on its brief instability combined with the efforts of Mihaya and Talia with a Demon Fang. And then an Air Slash. And then a Demon Fang. And an Air Slash. Over and over as he blows past, blast after blast turning the beast's horrific attention upon the young adventurer, sending it turning with horrendous speed to face him -- face -away- from the city, to lift a claw upwards and send it SWINGING for him in a blur of brown scales and foul flames, as if intent to send him flying as valiantly as it did Zed.

It's a distraction, however brief it is -- and a distraction that lets Gwen make good on her plan. Hidden in the shadows, she aims, she fires -- and that bullet SLAMS into the belly of the beast, ricocheting off in an impact that seems harmless -- but unsteadies it, even with so small a shot. Another, brief window.

And one exploited by the reforming Lydia Seren and Kaguya with swift tandem. The searing light of a Guardian BURNS for one of the dragon's wings. Malevolence emanates from the scaled structure of its supporting limb, bubbling like a pit of magma as that bright white light carves through the - relatively - more fragile membrane. It scorches at the skin there, sears into it in a way that makes that sinful scent of burning Malevolence-flesh fill the air as the beast -rumbles- in annoyance...

... perfectly setting up for the moment that cyclone of petals and thorns collide into the side of the wyrm. The fallen beast snaps its head to the side as life is knicked away from it one slice of ether-like petals at a time -- until those wounded wings stretch, and BEAT, BATTING away the magical might in a hideous surge of hurricane-force winds.

It is a motion, combined with all the other aggression heaped upon it, that seems to briefly blind it to a certain reality; so large is the fallen thing that it does not even seem to notice the Beast of Lohgrin still inside of its mouth until she is HAMMERING at its sharpened maw. The resounding blow ECHOES inside of its tremendous skull, time after time, as its head lurches left, then right -- and then it rears upward, -SLAMMING- into the ground in a way that makes it QUAKE, makes spikes of earth and mineral EXPLODE from the once verdant pastures.

Jagged lances of the natural world that the Saint seeks to hurl the Beast into, with the raucous, tempestuous -snap- of its head to the right.

There is a shift.

It is more a feeling, than a motion. A sensation that there is something amiss. It shows only in the way that visor-like fissure of the Saint's gaze starts to shift towards a darker, abyssal hue. Drawing something inward. A harrowing tingle at the reptilian parts of the brain. And just as Ida HURLS the bloody, barbed spear of Berserk's cannibalized chain --

-- the Saint of Sinners calls out.

For as horrific as its roars were, this sound is almost... hauntingly beautiful. A song, that sinks into the soul like a siren's call, felt as much as heard. Something sad. Something empty, and yet full. With a single, discordant note, barely hidden behind that baleful noise that casts its melody into the stars.

And that is when everything goes awry.

Malevolent magic ERUPTS around the Saint of Sinners like steam from a geyser; a bloodied red-and-violet cross EXPLODES from the ground beneath Mihaya, threatening to consume her. A pool of horrible blackness swells beneath Lydia as trailing ribbons of Malevolence SCREAM outward around her, attempting to wrap her up and devour her within their raucous clatter. And for the rest? The rest that discordant note rings out most loudly of all.

Because Domitia's soldiers, Gwen Whitlock, Kaguya, and Ida Everstead-Rey will find unseen, spectral hooks trying to dig into their souls.

If they do not move -- if they do not somehow defend themselves -- the Saint's song begins to -dredge- Malevolence out of the earth around them -- out of -them-. Those who have none, find the very negative impulses that they nurse within their hearts dragged free and -torn- outward, as seeping sentiment drains towards the Fell Dragon, winding a swirling path towards it. Infusing into it.

Eating their sins. As only their Saint can.

And for Talia? For Talia, the beast reaches out. A strange symbol, looking almost like a Noble House's yet one that would not ever be seen save in books of myth and legend, sears an abyssal brand into the air around her. Tendrils lash out from it, to seize her, to seep into her, to open her mind up.

To link her to something -- somewhere -- deep, and dark. A place the Goddess has forsaken. A place forgotten and twisted into calamity. A void that must not be gazed upon --

--as it seeks to burn its glowing brand into her chest, like a ticking timebomb.

And then, and only then, is it that the fabulous ZEDDAR ROBO makes his reappearance, SMASHING his metal fist into the Fell Dragon's maw with a grand comeback that snaps the beast's head aside just slightly, dramatically late -- like a true hero.

Just in time for him to feel the surge of its burning, sorcerous-seething scales -bursting- into nightmarish infusions of Malevolent magic that seeks to engulf him with its horrific disease.

And as it does, as the Saint lurches? Its wounds begin to mend. Rapidly.

An endless furnace of dissonance.

GS: Saint of Sinners has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Extend!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Mihaya with Shadow Edge!
GS: Saint of Sinners enters a Counter stance!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Talia with Brand of the Lost Land!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Neriah Parringer with Sin-Eater!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Sin-Eater!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Kaguya with Sin-Eater!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Sin-Eater!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Claw of the Saint!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Lydia Seren with Bloody Howling!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Seraph Beast with Din of the Earth!
GS: Saint of Sinners has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Zed with Nightmare!
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Sin-Eater for 99 hit points!
GS: ! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Ethius gives a glare as his name is uttered - as anyone expresses any familiarity towards him. There is nothing friendly or welcoming about this man. He ushers everyone back into the wagon to keep going as the rubble is cleared in which to allow further safe passage. (He also does not give the tiny shiny thing back.)
     The Hyland soldier being there provides further additional worry and conflict for those Lastonbell natives here. Why should he be saved? Why should he be helped? Is that hooded man a Hyland thug too? Etcetera, etcetera.
     The wagon races ahead of the wave of destruction, until it gets a wheel stuck in a pothole. The wheel doesn't splinter or fracture, which is awesome, because they don't have time to put on a new wheel, let alone find a new one. Some will be needed to come out and help get the wagon out of this little predicament.
     There is one building half-open from the initial meteor volley - a building that was turned into a garrison for the occupying Hyland forces. It no longer functions as a garrison.
     "Weapons... they have... weapons there," intones the injured Hyland soldier. Several refugees, eager to avoid the prospective fate of being massacred en route to Pendrago according to rumors, leave the wagon.
     "Stay in the wagon." Ethius demands. They don't listen. They're hungry for supplies and any means of protecting themselves...
     ...One of them walks out with a bayonetted rifle. "The hell kinda spear is this?!" Asks a man.
     "That's what Hyland brought down on us..." A frightened old woman mentions.
     Ethius' gaze turns sharply. Less than a second later, he has tackled that first man over. Exactly a second later, there is a deadly heat rising in the air.
     Those who have traveled with Ethius extensively know exactly what's about to happen. He's building towards that big Symbological spell - the one that calls down a great solar flare.
     There might be more than just weapons in there - there could be life-saving provisions. There are nowhere near enough provisions in that wagon for the amount of refugees present.
     WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING?! ...Can this really be just chalked up to the Domain?

GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Claw of the Saint for 159 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Bloody Howling for 160 hit points!
GS: Toxin! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
DC: MISS! Mihaya completely evades Shadow Edge from Saint of Sinners!
GS: Zed guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Nightmare for 88 hit points!
GS: Disease! Statuses applied to Zed!
GS: Zed has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
DG: Ethius Hesiod has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward his party's challenge, ARMing the Citizenry.
GS: Seraph Beast guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Din of the Earth for 78 hit points!
DC: MISS! Talia completely evades Brand of the Lost Land from Saint of Sinners!
DC: MISS! Ida Everstead-Rey completely evades Sin-Eater from Saint of Sinners!
GS: CRITICAL! Kaguya takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Sin-Eater for 86 hit points!
GS: ! Statuses applied to Kaguya!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

    Ethius' severity makes her flinch, deeply -- but she understands that the toxic roil of emotions is causing everyone to be severely on edge. She looks pleadingly to Ragnell for a moment, like she could give out at any moment.

    She has-- she has no idea what Ethius is about to do, when he starts to conjure that great spell of his. But as the battle continues to rage onward, there's something a lot more immediate that the citizenry that've gathered around them need.

    Protection.

    Amaranth isn't without her tricks, and if there's something that she does have a bonafide specialty in, it's the act of fashion. Whether it's the occasion to dress to impress, or even to dress to survive...

    And thus, it is with that in mind that she grimaces and looks towards those gathered around them. "I shall conjure armours for you. Do not be alarmed."

    That chain-bound grimoire finally cracks open for a moment as she whirls upon the spot. An incantation mandala erupts underneath her feet as pillars of faint energy rise up with the chant that she beckons from the air, pulling upon her fingers as she frantically conjures magic and calls upon her blessing of Althena--

    BGM Interrupt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cLxRKmGL-Q

                                    --And a

                           -=~~@ R A I N B O W @~~=-

                                 of ribbons!!

    Flies over the citizenry gathered around them!!

    Each citizen gathered by their side begins to shimmer with an indefatigable gossamer light, suits of inordinately fancy but ultimately easy to don armour coalescing around their forms! And because Ammy doesn't actually have fine control over the signature of their magic--

                                    Frills!

    Frills erupt on the hems of their cuirasses, ruffles fluted over the length of the gauntlets, decorative wings erupting along the heels of their sabatons!

    BGM Resume: Horrible Murder and Carnage, As Before

    Mysteriously, this doesn't impede the mobility or hinder the efficacy of the protective garments she's conjured for literally everyone.

    Not so mysteriously, Katherine drops to her knees afterwards, some internal buzzer screaming 'TP ZERO, TP ZERO' to her.

DG: Seraph Amaranth has used its Tool Queer Eye for the Digger toward its party's challenge, ARMing the Citizenry.
GS: Saint of Sinners has completed their action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

It's at that time, when time is of the essence and speed is vital, that the worst thing happens - there's a pothole. The wagon comes to an abrupt spot. Jacqueline shuts her eyes, presses her forehead against the wagon and takes a deep breath before dismounting and moving to investigate it.

It isn't broken, but...

She looks up as a man explains that there's weapons and equipment in a nearby garrison.

"...Right. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to be armed... I'll work on this, the rest of you see if there's anything we can use." Jacqueline says. She begins to work on freeing the wagon...but suddenly, she sees something a bit more worthy of her attention.

"What are you doing!? Stop this, right now!" She hisses, getting her feet and charging for him. She recognizes what he's working toward. If he uses that Symbol here, it could very well burn down that entire building, and risk the lives of everyone who went in to investigate.

There's no time to reason with him. He's larger than she is and her arm strength is...not the greatest, but she attempts to grapple with him, to pull him off of the man with the rifle, while also desperately trying to stop him as he begins to invoke that Symbol.

To the man on the ground, though -

"I-I'm so sorry, sir...!"

DG: Jacqueline Barber has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ARMing the Citizenry.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    If Ida suggested to Ragnell that she ought to be *grateful* for this situation, Ragnell would outright shoot her, so it's for the best that the two of them are on completely different sides of the battlefield.
    
    The wagon moves on. It comes to a stop near a supply depository, and civilians start getting out to supply themselves. Ethius, being Ethius, attempts to tell them to stop. Ragnell doesn't actually care until one guy brings out a bayonet rifle. Her eyes widen and she turns a sharp glance towards Ethius right before the guy outright tackles him, then starts casting a big fuck-off nuke spell.
    
    "He's gonna burn the whole supply depot into slag! Someone he can see, stop him!" Ragnell barks, before pulling out her harmonica. Rather than play a melody--Amaranth has that covered, with her friffy illusions making everything more ~fabulous~--Ragnell uses it to imitate the sound of her electric fan, the one she ditched ages ago. She doubts it'll get Ethius to stop, but it might distract him long enough for someone else--Jay, it's currently looking like--to kick him upside the head.
    
    Honestly, Ethius, this isn't the goddamn time!!

DG: Seraph Ragnell has used her Tool Tarnished Harmonica toward her party's challenge, ARMing the Citizenry.
<Pose Tracker> Mihaya has posed.

 Well, it seemed like they were having the smallest, tiniest but of an effect on the monster. Maybe. Sort of. Mihaya wasn't willing to say that for sure, but she is at least HOPING that is the case.

 But still, the dragon still hasn't stopped yet, and it is still a threat to the rest of the city. They continue to hammer it over and over again with spells and attacks, and still it doesn't even seem like it is taking much damage at all.

 It seemed like they needed a... biggest attack. Something that could do some serious damage, and maybe turn the beast aside? Mihaya didn't know, really. She didn't know anything about this dragon, or what it wanted, and it felt like she was just flailing in the dark. Part of her realizes that this is just another effect the dragon's unholy aura is having on her. It is an unsettling effect, and it seems to wriggle around and try to find some area where she isn't expecting it to try and wreak havoc upon her psyche. The best thing that she can do is just focus on being angry about all of this. To focus her anger on trying to keep the dragon from pushing anything other button. And maybe that will protect her.

 But trying to consume her from below is something that would probably be horrifying. But as she sees the attack forming around her, she leaps up, unleashing a blast of cold at her feet and turning the entire area into a solid sheet of ice. "Not... just yet!" she shouts, sliding away and landing on the clear ground nearby. A moment later the ice surges and buckles as the shadowy energy rips through it... but she is clear at least.

 Slamming her staff into the ground, Mihaya channels as much energy as she can into her staff. It's not the maximum that she can do, but there is something that she can build up to at this point. If she can focus her energy enough, gather enough magic...

 But in order to pull that off she is going to have to channel some MORE FIRE MAGIC. And so the symbols along the elf's chest and arms glow once more, as she invokes even more of the symbological tattoos to invoke more than a beam of fire.

 This time she manifests a spot of absolute heat just in front of the dragon's nose. The air superheats... and then erupts outwards, into a rapidly expanding blast of fire that might do some damage. She hopes.

GS: Mihaya has attacked Saint of Sinners with Fire 3!
GS: Mihaya has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


Between Katherine and Ragnell... Hiro feels a little sick. At that feeling of a dragon being attracted to malevolence. It has just that feel of kicking people while they're down again. He just says in this sorta faintly abstracted way, "Last time?"

He assumes it was the city he saw in the vision - in that mindscape. However - he just wonders, how long has this thing been doing this? How many times has this Wyrm descended upon a city that's already bleeding out. "So this is just what these things do? Destroy - and destroy - and destroy - forever? Just these... horrible raveners?" Ruby just lets out this small whimper.

Thankfully the wagon gets through - going straight into the garrison. The people are desperate. The tensions run high. Even Hiro puts a hand to his sword hilt in anticipation of violence. "Look - everyone - I get that you're scared but -"

And then Ethius starts tackling someone. The power of the spells he's gathering - even he can feel. - "Whoa! Whoa - Hey Ethius calm down buddy!" He suddenly claps a hand down on his shoulder.

And then Amaranth says she'll conjure protection for everyone - "Eh!? What's that going to..." Hiro blinks as suddenly there are rainbows of ribbons gathering over the citizenry, transforming them all into their most brilliant armored selves.

Hiro just stares for a while, then leans over to Lemina, "Is... that any kind of magic you'd ever seen?" "Y-Yes attention everyone! Under the blessing of... definitely probably Althena - you are now pretty Guardians of Love and Justice!" Ruby gives them all a second glance, "Well kind of... anyhow the point is - since you are now superrrr protected..."

Ruby flies right into his field of vision and just claps her pawsies over Ethius eyes, "THERE IS NO NEED TO RILE THIS GUY UP FURTHER! PLEASE GET BACK IN THE WAGON!"

DG: Hiro has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward his party's challenge, ARMing the Citizenry.
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Cless al'Vane's brilliant plan to make the dragon focus on him and not the city succeeds beyond his wildest dreams. The only problem is that the dragon focuses entirely on him. JUST AS PLANN---

The Saint of Sinners' claw rips through the turf and crashes into the young blonde swordsman; metal shrieks in protest as the blow tears his breastplate completely off him, metal bouncing away, then carries into his chest, sending him hurtling backward. Cless's limp body bounces twice before he slams into a stone, slowly sliding down toward the ground.

For a handful of seconds there, Claude doesn't move, because he is struggling not to black out. It's pretty bad.

Eventually his diaphragm remembers what it's for and he gasps in a sucking breath of oxygen, sweet air filling his lungs and dispelling the grey haze swirling around his vision. Cless slowly, gingerly pushes himself upward, sliding up the stone until he's half-sitting against it. The young swordsman's chest armour is gone and his black bodysuit is shredded... but where there really should be guts hanging out or even one half of a person missing, there is just a light tan fabric that some onlookers will recognize as the jacket typically worn by a young and mysterious/weird Digger from Filgaia.

The young man focuses on breathing as a concerto of agonies plays itself out along his abdomen. Even with all his training, even with all the qigong, that thing nearly broke him in two. He coughs up a bit of red-flecked phlegm, praying for a distraction to arrive. And just then---

"WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING?!" Claude shouts as Zed suddenly arrives in his giant robot (man, I didn't even know he had that here!) and decks the giant dragon in the schnozz. God, the UP3 ninjas are going to kill him dead if he ever gets back, Claude thinks. But then again... he wanted a distraction...

Claude sucks in a few more steadying breaths and braces himself against the stone, letting it bear his weight. Less energy on important things like standing under your own power means more energy he can gather into the palms of his hands, chi flowing through the young man's body. Blue light dances around the battered boy from Earth as he charges power, little motes of red hatred being swept along in the mix; Claude takes the time afforded him by Zed's stupid (amazing) awful (incredible) decision to overcharge the attack, figuring nothing short of everything he's got will even stand a chance of being enough. By the time he's done, Claude is glowing incandescent blue, a storm of red fireflies swirling around him as he screams.

"DRAGON'S ----- HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWL!"

Claude's body is slammed backward against the stone by the backlash as a twelve-foot ball of brilliant chi hurtles toward the Saint of Sinners' back and rear. As it travels, the ball condenses and sharpens, focused by Claude's will, taking on the shape of a comparatively small, but seriously pissed off, energy dragon.

It goes looking for nards as well, because Claude figures he's in for a penny on this whole thing anyway.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Saint of Sinners with Dragon's Howl!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia looks sideways to Lydia, as the flame erupts. She tries to cry out a warning. She doesn't in time, and it becomes a strangled noise in the back of her throat. She stares, sure for a moment that Lydia did exactly what Ragnell had forebade. But, then, she sees the silhouette walking through the fire.

The silhouette of someone not, in the senses that Talia understands, human. Her red eyes are wide and confused and, worst of all, horrified. "What..."

The white beam of light from Solais Emsu leaves an afterimage in her eyes. In the presence of the Domain, with its hateful presence making her more callous -- more careless -- more like the angry, bitter person that she knows lurks inside, her guard is down. She talks without thinking.

"...what are you?"

She regrets it immediately. Her head turns, back to the Fell Dragon, and her teeth grit. Its eerie, haunting song-like cry makes her leap back, instinctively, which is good; Talia manages to jump back from the surge of blackness that erupts around the Saint, only to look up into the sigil carved into the air. Inky, terribly darkness reaches out.

But more does too.

-=-=-

Blood dripped down from Mirage's cobalt-steel edge. Its pitter-patter made an even rhythm in the ruined chamber, breaking what was otherwise a complete silence. Talia kept her eyes on the desk, rather than the corpse. She refused to let the body, collapsed in a heap, enter her mind. She refused to see the blood-soaked dress; the way one arm bent at an angle; the way that dark hair was matted with blood.

"No. No, no, no, no," she muttered to herself, over and over. Her shoulders shook, but she didn't cry. Her stomach roiled, but she didn't wretch.

She didn't scream. She would stay in control. She would. With a bloodied hand, she reached out, sweeping the book, until she heard the creak of the door, and--

-=-=-

"NO!"

The sign carved into the air is shot clean through by Mirage. She throws the blade through it before that thing, before it can pull her into that dark place and show her things she must not see. It flies, straight and true, towards the Saint of Sinner's great head.

GS: Talia has activated a Force Action!
GS: Talia has attacked Saint of Sinners with Desperate Throw!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lemina Ausa has posed.

"Nice job, Hiro!" Lemina calls to Hiro over the din of battle. "You're becoming a mega-decent mage in your own right!" It's hard not to be proud of one's student -- even if 'mega-decent' is kind of damning with faint praise.

Ragnell gets Lemina's attention when 'the last time' is mentioned -- but she doesn't dwell on it. Maybe Glenwood has dragon attacks more often. She... has started to accept the idea that for all her book-learning, she's actually kind of sheltered.

Ethius's actions, though, snap her right back to attention. "Hey! None of that! Hey! HEY!" she insists, shouldering toward Ethius with a big bad frown on her face. Jay has already started in on trying to slow Ethius down -- so she'll do... hmmm...

... oh, who is she kidding. She's going to raid.

She moves immediately toward the cache of goods, popping her reading glasses on. "Okay, okay -- let's see, what here is either really useful or sells for a whole bunch," she says, quickly assessing the goods in hopes of getting at least something no matter what.

Nodding to Hiro, Lemina adds, "Illusion, maybe? But like -- wayyyy better than I've ever seen..." THen it's back to assessing the potential things to... reappropriate.

DG: Lemina Ausa has used her Tool Reading Glasses toward her party's challenge, ARMing the Citizenry.
GS: COUNTER! Saint of Sinners strikes at Talia with a counter attack!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Talia's attack becomes clear!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Talia's Mirage Edge for 82 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Dragon's Howl for 135 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Mihaya's Fire 3 for 143 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Sin-Eater for 173 hit points!
GS: ! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

Nothing quite like stolen strength--Kaguya lets the surge of power generated by her spell flow through her, starting to shift to prepare her next attack. ...The motion of the dragon is loud though, and its gigantic stature, the way it is merely annolyed at all of this... Kaguya finds herself staring up at it again for a few moments. Except--

It changes. The feeling is different; Kaguya takes a step back, closing her hands into fists, preparing for whatever it is, but she was not prepared for this; for beauty, for a song that sinks into her. The small Veruni wavers in place, held there for a moment, dazed--and she does not move. She does not notice the hooks until they start to tug, and she coughs immediately, staggering, hitting a knee. She does not have Malevolence, is a different kind of danger, is alien to this moon and to it. Right? It might not be possible. ....But she has negative impulses in spades, has collected them, gathered them over time, and her many, many sins are ripped forth.

Hatred; resentment; fear; anger; bloodlust. Everything that drives the warlord rips forth in a cascade of dark power, winding towards the dragon. ...And kaguya wavers again, still on a knee, as if kneeling before a monarch. "I.."

she looks up, distantly, pale green eyes empty. "..."

She rises to her feet, glancing down at herself. "This..." Turning her head to and fro in apparent confusion, Kaguya looks up at the dragon without fear, without much of anything at all. she looks down, towards a fallen support beam, and lifts it casually; the end is jagged, from where it broke, and the pile of debris it was in falls again without it. "Why have..." She looks down again, into nothing, before setting her foot to the side--and starting to whirl in place. One big spin--

Like a shotput hurler Kaguya twirls in place until letting slip the beam all at once, letting it rocket towards the dragon like a ballista bolt from her freakish, alien-strong arms.

She steps forward, behind Talia. "...You don't like it much, do you?"

GS: Kaguya has attacked Saint of Sinners with Orbit Throw!
GS: Kaguya has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia vanishes, splitting apart into the dozen strands of shadow. They streak through the air, and then slam together. Talia reforms on the crest of the dragon's head, standing on its snout. Her balance has always been good; her feet find purchase, to keep her from falling over, and she looks down for the eyes of the creature. She screams, primal and furious, and yanks Mirage back.

Then she drives it, hard, for the Fell Dragon's right eye -- or as best she can manage, with its strange visor-like ridge. "I'm not looking at that, damn you! I'M NOT!"

<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


A guard post. That is a good thing. "Supplies! Armor! We might be able to find medical supplies there..."

...which is when he sees someone run out with a rifle.

"...what in tha' hell is that doing here?" He mutters though the question is wiped away as Ethius tackles the poor man.

"Of for the love of whatver higher damn power you believe in. Now is not the time!!" He shouts as he rushes forwards, others are grappling towards the silent and angry man so the fox does something entirely different.

Shields sprout from his gauntlet. Blue panes of energy spiral out to block in the fallout from that solar flare, even as the fur on his ears and tail shift to white. Apparently he's more worried about stopping this than looking like a desert fox.

"Back in the caravan! Hurry!"

He isn't sure if he can actually hold this off.

DG: Morgan Newkirk has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward his party's challenge, ARMing the Citizenry.
============================================<* The Intercession of Saints *>============================================
=========================================<* CHALLENGE - ARMing the Citizenry *>=========================================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 1          |
-----------------------------------------------< Challenge Information: >-----------------------------------------------
 Evacuating in a Hellion-strewn city would likely be a bit easier if the
 people you were evacuating were capable of defending yourself. Escort
 missions can just be the -worst- sometimes. But luck, it seems, is on your
 side, as you find yourself stumbling upon the gutted ruins of a makeshift
 garrison for Hyland troops. Weapons can be found here -- swords, spears,
 blunt instruments -- there's even a few Gunsmoke ARMs to be found, here and
 there. Arm people with what they can use, recuperate if you need to, and
 head out. Now the people on your escort mission can fight! Hooray! Hopefully
 they don't misfire on you! Hoo...ray...?
=Dungeon Conditions: Save Point, Overzealous, Treasure========================
=======================================<* The Intercession of Saints - Round 3 *>=======================================
===========================================< Results - ARMing the Citizenry >===========================================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Amaranth                     10 --(5)--> 15                 Pass
Queer Eye for the Digger            4   Wits    Effects: Efficient and Rally
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ethius Hesiod                       10 --(5)--> 15                 Pass
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   10 --(5)--> 15                 Pass
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Morgan Newkirk                      10 --(5)--> 15                 Pass
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hiro                                10 --(5)--> 15                 Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lemina Ausa                         10 --(5)--> 15                 Pass
Reading Glasses                     2   Wits    Effects: Resilient
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Ragnell                      17 --(5)--> 22
DG: The party led by Seraph Amaranth has passed this challenge! The party gained 25 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.


What the hell is he doing?! That's obvious, Cless (Claude) al'Vane (C. Kenny). Zed is doing what the Dark Hero was born to do. He is here to fight in the dark so other people don't have to! He's here to protect the precious dreams of all children who dare to reach for the stars! He's here to fight for truth, justice, and the Hyadean way! He's here!!

To be a giant pain in this dragon's ass!

Or face, as it would be.

"Ha-HA!" Zedder Robo cheers as his fists find DELICIOUS PURCHASE on the Saint's schnoz. It's a satisfying crunch that his hands create, bone and scales crumpling under his hands. It makes him grin beneath his scarf! Vengeance! It never tasted so good.

Or... grapey.

"What--" Zed gasps as a wave of malevolent purple energy washes over him. He can feel it, trying to worm its way into his thoughts. Trying to snake a dreadful, oil-slick path of corruption through his soul. He feels it, reaching out for him, reaching out to open his heart--

                       ERROR CODE 43 - PORT NOT FOUND

"..." Zed un-says as the purple continues to wash against him. He feels it pounding at the walls of his mind. Tearing at the outside of his skull. Scrabbling through his hair like an parasitic infestation, searching for a vulnerability, a crack that it knows MUST be here--

                       ERROR CODE 43 - PORT NOT FOUND

Zed stares at the creatures he had strapped to his arms as they twist and squirm, the malevolence mutating their very souls into twisted fascimiles of their natural state. It is the soul-infection. The black, corrupting blood. The inevitable beast lurking in your heart LET ME IN--

                       ERROR CODE 43 - PORT NOT FOUND

"Huh," Zed says as the lizards struggle and begin breathing fire all over him. THIS he notices, and immediately scrapes the hellionic beasts into a fine streak of purple goo across the Fell Dragon's regenerating flank. He lands in time to watch as the dragon regenerates as well, and...

Also, Ida!

Uh.

Huh.

"Ida! Have you been working out? Those biceps are... Impressive!" Zed! Flashes a thumbs up. Does he... assume that humans also have super forms...? "We can catch up! This is good! I need to ask you where Kalve's been. Did you SEDUCE HIM WITH YOUR HUMAN WILES!? You can tell me later! I need to go make sure Claude doesn't explode."

"Ta~!" Zed leaps away. Once. Twice. Thrice! He leaps a fourth time and boldly mario-jumps his fist back up into the dragon's jaw!! "Hey, you!" Zedder robo roars, "Regenerating is cheating! Fight me fair and square, you draconic devil you!"

GS: Zed has attacked Saint of Sinners with Zed Super Upper!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Wincing, Commander Oaks lifts his head and rubs at his ear, but manages a short nod for Clau-- Cless. "Let's get to it!" he barks as he pushes back to his feet, ready to slip back into the fighting again.

Of course, fighting against a Fell Dragon is easier said than done - how do you defend yourself against something trying to sink spectral meathooks into your soul and reel out your sins? The three Rolance soldiers stagger, groaning and beginning to crumple as their aggression bleeds away, physically torn out of them like streams of blood. The earth rattles around them as still more Malevolence roots itself out of the soil itself. "Regroup... regroup...!" Commander Oaks manages to gag, beckoning with a sweep of his arm as he staggers backwards, taking the pair of Corporals with him as he tries to gain some distance. Trent keeps himself in front of the group with his shield raised, but keeping it up is no easy task.

As they fall back, someone else begins to walk forward.

Even among this much Malevolence, Sister Domitia's calm and serenity haven't been ruffled. She hasn't even raised a hand in anger. Nodding simply to her three soldiers, she takes a few slow, deliberate steps. They are delicate. Innocuous. The hooded priestess cuts a brilliantly pale white shape amidst the havoc and chaos, like a cold goddess-ray cast down through dark clouds to shine upon one single spot.

For a moment, Domitia's head tilts. She can tell you're sassing her, Kaguya.

Her lips curve into a small smile before she folds her hands together and bows her head. "Yea," she says, her voice echoing. "Though I do walk beyond the Boundaries of Her arms, through the Vile depths of darkness and chaos, I fear no Calamity."

The ground around Sister Domitia begins to vibrate. It's subtle at first, but it's beginning to build. The sensitive can feel what's happening.

Magic is building. A cold and implacable magic. It's enough to raise hackles of alarm on the backs of necks.

Sister Domitia lifts her head, her hood still veiling her eyes. "For I do not walk alone. For She is with me. As it has always been." Small stones and pieces of debris around Domitia begin to vibrate alarmingly. A few actually begin to float up into the air.

Rumour has it that Sister Domitia has powers at her disposal which go well beyond the average Priestess of Althena - that Cardinal Forton's mysterious abjuress can drive even the mightiest men and Hellions to dust. Perhaps there's something to those rumours. Domitia remains a simple, toweringly serene figure as debris continues to float around her - and that power continues to steadily mount.

She raises one finger. Slowly.

"Repent," she intones, her voice ringing with an echo of judgment.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Neriah Parringer with That Which the Chains of Arius Bound!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Neriah Parringer heals Neriah Parringer! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    "Yeaah!" WIth a quick whoop before the gravity of the situation causes Gwen to clap a hand over her mouth. Ducking behind the rubble, Gwen begins to reload, wincing at the screams and destruction going on just beyond her fragile, crumbling shield.

    She dares to peek out just then, her eyes alerted to the presence of fire nearby. Well, a specific fire, as there's fire everywhere, a fact that sends prickles of panicked itches up the old scar tissue on her side.

    No, there's someone there. Coming *out* of the fire. "What the-"

    Alarm, fear, and concern draw the courier out of her spot, burning empathy causing her to try to seize Lydia and draw her back to safety before Gwen even has a chance to look at what condition she's in. Burns are ugly, yes.

    But they usually don't heal like that. "What..." Gwen bites down on her tongue, stilling a retch in the back of her throat as she simply draws Lydia closer. "C'mon!" she hisses, through closed teeth, her coat coming off and being shoved protectively over Lydia's frame. "Get behind there! I'll cover you and follow behind in a second!"

    Spoiler: She doesn't come. Because a moment later, the melody of that beautiful, terrible song has pulled something from Gwen, something deep and ugly and painful, and it almost feels good to have it banished. She collapses to her feet like a marionette, staring cluelessly at the Saint of Sinners.

    What... was she... doing....?

    When Gwen finally stands, she begins laughing, hysterically.

    "Gwen!" Hanpan shouts, scampering from a boulder nearby Lydia. "What in the world are you doing?!"

    "I get to be the hero, Hanpan!" Gwen says, laughing, as she runs towards the dragon, head on, fist raised. "Just like, in those... novels!"

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    The scorn and protests of the others appear to mean nothing to this man. Jay might even go back and remember, back on the Blue Star, when the troubled young woman Neriah warned about his character - heck, maybe even some of her customers in the past expressed their concern for him just being there. Words will not sway this man.
     Hiro clamps a hand on Ethius' shoulder. Hiro will find himself thrown back against the wagon. (This helps in freeing the wagon. This also unlocks an easter egg. More on that later.)
     Great, magical frilly things cover the refugees. They look fabulous with their HAPPY BOOST (though some are as bewildered as they are pretty)! Ethius suddenly has a rose between his teeth, leaves obscuring his face instead of a bandanna and in a villainous tuxedo and top hat.
     Jay keeps pulling at him. He's not listening. All she can do is pull. Pull, pull, pull. Her apology probably stems some of the building resentment in the tackled man.
     Morgan prepares for the worst. This should be among the most terrifying moments of his life - not for matter of blocking the spell if it gets off, but what he is in the company of. It doesn't come to pass. What does is a piece of debris flying his way, which his shield neatly shatters. Good he was there!
     Ragnell imitates that sound that has manipulated that man countless times before. He slows, turning his head. Wait. The sound. It's coming from h--
     pink pawsies come to his face. Because Hiro has taken damage, these pink pawsies don't just cover the eyes - they see fit to give a cute, delicate, shove o' love in accordance to Jay's pulling to push Ethius back and give him a F A B U L O U S - C O N C U S S I O N.
     ...NOW GET LOOTING!!
     Lemina, when she completes her search, finds a new staff that'll be great for up to two of the next two big Gunslinger plot scenes before it becomes obsolete. (New challenge: will she actually share the loot?) People filter in to grab what they will.
     They don't have much time before trouble catches up again, as Morgan's timely defense has proven.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Saint of Sinners with Special Delivery!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

LYDIA

Lydia has the urge to deck babies too sometimes. That doesn't make her a monster. What makes her a monster is the not exactly under control nanomachines trying to 'help' Lydia by continuously and gradually altering her body against her will or, in cases like this, rapidly altering her body against her will. Kaguya calls out to her but all Lydia can do is look at her. She only really looks at her with one eye though that flicks in her direction while the other one keeps staring ahead as if it couldn't do likewise.

Lydia is already fixed hard on a flying piece of rubble but she walks up the rubble in midflight so that she's 'on top of it' which requires some upside down walking and the like. Her eye wobbles again so that it can shift its gaze towards Talia.

Or at least that was the plan because that eye is now looking at a RAINBOW of ribbons and such. It is incredibly out of place considering but there is a brief moment whhere Lydia manages a smile or maybe it's a grimace. Hard to tell considering her facial situation.

AMBER

"Huh?" The falconeer says, completely oblivious. "Wait, that's Ethius?"

She has been warned about Ethius. She realizes what's going on a bit too late to do much about it though and instead she will helpfully instruct any civilian in the use of any weapon they pick up. Presuming Ethius doesn't murder them or blow up the weapons.

LYDIA, THAT WAS FAST

Lydia looks at Talia. The shape of her pupils shift, like the lens of a camera.

"Summon Weapon Prototype." Lydia(?) says, her voice tinny, metallic. "Our days will be filled with joy. Sadness. Anger. Hardship. Mirth."

Lydia is promptly subsumed by the malevolence force. She can't withdraw the spikes from her feet in time. The darkness surrounds her. She is made to feel awful, such awful things. Her days will be filled with sadness. Anger. Hardship.

It dredges up memories. Her days will be filled with Sadness. Anger.

They guide her spirit to focus on the rage. Her days will be filled with Anger. She howls in rage. Anguish. She looks at her skeletal hands and can only feel despair. One of her eyes sheds tears but the other doesn't seem to be managing it right now.

But then...

Lydia, I only ask you follow what you think is right-not what your anger, however justified, tells you to do. I have faith in you. Walk with your head held high, young lady.

The malevolence tries to dig into Lydia and infest her. It hurts. It's hard to move. But she is like Filgaia herself--there isn't much fertile ground there. However her despair, these two phrases are part of the innate structure of her psyche now.

Lydia's arms turn into blades--the metal one looking legit enough, but the other one looking like a sharp HAND that just slices through the darkness all around her.

Lydia's face reforms but not the rest of her.

She draws out a stone tablet into her hand and raises it above her head. There is no time to worry about culture when the evangelion soundtrack is playing (or even more terrifyingly, the sailor moon soundtrack). The tablet shines through the malevolent light and the light reaches deep into the skies before the light itself takes the form of a man with a pair of shimmering blue capes, yellow eyes looking down at the dragon below them. He wears long robes and a turban and most of his body is covered in this garb.

So this is Althena's world.

Arcane symbols flit around Solais Emsu's body, taking the form of elaborate runes.

The largest beam of white light yet bursts down towards the dragon with purifying force.

"Moons...are theorized..." Lydia says, her voice sounding more like her old one. "To be broken off of Filgaia thanks to meteorite impacts in ancient history. This world..." Her eyes flash. "This world gave me the gift of knowing I could be someone. I won't apologize for trying to be more than a slave, for trying to be more than just a dredge of society. And this world...This world is Filgaia too!! It's our world too!! And you won't take this from me!"

She has landed by now and she walks forward but has a coat thrown over her body which is probably not pleasant but it might help her heal. Lydia hisses through her feet.

"Gwen..." She says. "Thank you...Thank you for telling me about the world."

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Saint of Sinners with Material - Solais Emsu!
GS: Lydia Seren takes 10 damage from Toxin!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    The chain sinks in. Dark metal links tighten around Ida's hand and forearm as she wills it to bear her to her prey--an order it is quite eager to oblige. The chain retracts itself into that strange shadow-space it came from, pulling Ida off her feet, and dragging her through the air towards the Fell Dragon's flank. The monstrosity begins to sing. Ida closes her eyes, sets her jaw, tries to block out the world--

    Tries not to think about how it reminds her of that night she found Claude on the roof of the Grand Renais. The night he trusted her, told her a secret, let her in on something that's been lurking in the back of her mind ever since.

    Tries not to think about when the Beast found her on the road, and how her first response was that she'd found the Shepherd--how she'd begged Ida to come with her and be healed.

    Tries not to think about how Zed willingly turned over someone she hated, despite having every reason to leave him in a shallow grave, or worse. How he went with her and Kalve and the others into the Guardian Temple, knowing full well he could die there.

    She is failing them. She is failing them, like she's failed everyone else she's ever known.

    What does it mean to fall, Ida Everstead-Rey?

    The Saint of Sinners' song has lodged in Ida's mind. Malevolence seeps from the Hellion's body in thick, violet tendrils, even as she slams into the monstrosity's densely-armored hide. She grips the base of the hook, gets toeholds in the Saint's scales, and pulls the hook out. She slams it into the Saint's hide again, over and over, climbing the Fell Dragon as though it were a mountain. All the while, Malevolence oozes from her. It feels like there's no end to it. The Saint keeps eating and eating, but more Malevolence surges out of that star-reactor to empower Ida.

    "Don't think that will work," Ida grates out. Honestly, it's an arrogant boast. But right now, that star-reactor has two immensely powerful, mutually-exclusive truths powering it:

    Bleak, black despair, and something beyond even that--the absence of all feeling, and the absence of the spark of life.

    Red-hot, burning rage at a cruel, stupid world and its endless parade of horrors.

    Ida climbs, inexorably, towards the Saint's snout. She rears back, switching the hook to her left hand, Malevolence coiling around her right fist--

    She brings it down on the Dragon's snout like a hammerblow. Again. Again. Again. Her gaze slides sideways as Zed appears out of nowhere, asks her questions she's not remotely prepared to answer. She can process Zed later, when she isn't literally trying to both keep herself together and extract the Beast of Lohgrin from the Saint's horrible jaws. If there's anything to extract.

    If you haven't failed someone who trusted you.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Saint of Sinners with Devil Fist!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes 10 damage from Toxin!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
DG: Hiro has drawn a new Challenge.
=======================<* The Intercession of Saints *>=======================
==================<* CHALLENGE - Opportunistic Scavenging *>==================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 1          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 The Saint of Sinners is not the only beast here. Lesser Hellions, like
 hyenas trailing in the wake of a lion's hunt, have rushed the city in a
 maddened frenzy inspired by the agitating Domain that seeps through the city
 streets. They stalk through Lastonbell, here and there, being fought by
 Hyland soldiers who see little more than maddened animals on the attack. You
 see a group of them, barreling through the doors of an inn in Lastonbell,
 cornering soldiers unprepared to deal with the kind of threat they're
 facing. Some of them spot your group, and turn to face you -- boars, snakes,
 wolves, all warped irreparably by Malevolence, spring on the attack --
 making it a race to deal with this infestation and save yourself and the
 soldiers before this situation worsens.
=Dungeon Conditions: Wound====================================================
GS: Talia takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Counter Attack for 236 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Kaguya's Orbit Throw for 67 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


Hiro thumps back against the wagon with a shout - winded and wheezing, "Are you... are you..." Ruby finishes his sentence for him. "Crazy!?"

The bewildered refugees all look really fabulous. While Ruby gives Jay a high pawsie at bringing Ethius down.

As the wagon starts moving though through Lastonbell... it starts with just this sensation they're being watched. It's hard to tell given the din of battle in the distance, the low thrumming growls of the stalking beasts that follow along the edges.

And then as the wagon passes by an inn... and then there's a terrible howl.

Sound Effect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl_UeyvT72Q

The cracked inn doors burst down to a great swarm - leaving behind a killing floor of half-devoured corpses. The ones stalking on the edge join in in blood-frothing fury.

They're all animals - but in the throes of malevolence the distinction between them is lost. A single wounded Hyland soldier seems unafraid - despite the fact that he's seen better days. "Hold fast! Armed as we are we'll make short work of this rabble!"

Hiro gives a quick look at Amaranth, a sweatdrop on his forehead, before saying, "Hey good thought!" He says quickly, a little higher pitched, "Um - Better one though is um - stay in the wagon... as our... last line of defense!"

And that's when the horde just crashes into them. Given that the armor around the civs and wounded is illusory it means that any given hit might be the death of them - "Lemina! Ragnell! Jay! Little help!" He shouts as he frantically slashes into the line of hellionized animals.

GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Zed's Zed Super Upper for 84 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Beast has posed.

    It is enough to annoy it into jerking its head back, forth, unsettling any grip which might be gained, any foothold - but then, something like the Beast of Lohgrin doesn't care so much for those, does she? It is the Malevolence of the Fell Dragon's maw which unseats her. In all things, the Malevolence.

    But it's not just the Dragon's Malevolence now, is it?

    It is like pouring a cup of water into the ocean. Surely the salt will overtake it in a moment - surely the level can rise no further - but splishy-splash it pours in. The Beast hammers against the creature's teeth, and -

    - outside -

    - she's not the only thing annoying it into opening its jaws.

    She has barely enough thought left about her to lock her plates over each other as she is released and sent hurtling into the earth, into so many stone spires. Barely enough wits to see Ida as she falls, upon the dragon's snout. One, another, another; the crags would be deadly blows, were she mortal. Too fast does she approach the ground - too violently does she meet the earth. The power of a Fell Dragon brought to ire is immense.

    But she is not mortal at all.

    She falls from jagged crags to the broken ground, and for a moment she scatters there, pieces laid against the ground as she struggles to collect herself. There is strain, there. A wish to stop, to give in, to lay here inanimate - the ultimate form of fear is the collapse. And it is exhausting, and it is soul-searing. She has no blood to bleed, and yet there is a price. There are things which wound her so much more deeply than blade or bullet.

    And hollow eyes cast upwards from where they have fallen, and they behold a robot who utterly fails to be taken in by any hint of Malevolence, even as it surges over him and takes the creatures he holds.

    It is a noble and heroic sight, and for once Zed inspires TRUE COURAGE...

    The Beast of Lohgrin collects her pieces about herself, arranging herself in order again. "No further!" She screams, and there is fear there, yes - but there is also fierce determination. "This world is precious - these people are precious!"

    The wind picks up, howls about her. It is a swirling storm, as it courses towards the Fell Dragon with all the force of a gale. Her magic is intuitive, unpracticed - and yet there is power, there, talent which cannot be denied.

    She will not suffer it to live.

DG: Hiro has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Opportunistic Scavenging.
GS: Seraph Beast has activated a Force Action!
GS: Seraph Beast has attacked Saint of Sinners with Buffeting Headwind!
GS: Seraph Beast has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    'Last time.' Ragnell had mentioned that, yeah, and then promptly ignored Hiro's and Ruby's questions about the nature of Fell Dragons. Now that they're not in immediate danger of Ethius reducing part of the city to glass, the Seraph sighs and looks back at them. 'That's all they do? Just destroy, and destroy, and destroy?' Then she gazes up and over at the deadly majesty of the Saint of Sinners. "...Generally speakin', yeah."
    
    The moment shatters along with the front door of the inn, and Hellionized animals burst out, blood on their jaws. Good for the Hylandian soldier they picked up to have the courage to fight now that he has a weapon, even though he's wounded, but Ragnell just shakes her head.
    
    "I'm in a bad mood, y'all," she growls, a Seraphic arte pulsing into reality at her feet as stormwinds pick up around her. "So how 'bout y'all go ahead an' *die* already?" She flicks her wrist around, and the arte completes, hailing down the destructive power of several bolts of holy lightning with all the mighty force of, say, a plasma grenade. Cough cough.

DG: Seraph Ragnell has used her Tool Plasma Grenade toward her party's challenge, Opportunistic Scavenging.
<Pose Tracker> Lemina Ausa has posed.

Malevolent animals are on the short list of things that Lemina, at this point, has enough exposure to that she doesn't reflexively 'aaah!' when they present themselves. It's... hard to say that that's necessarily the best thing, but here we are.

As they barrel toward the group, Lemina... well. When you're presented with a horde of mediocre monsters... sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

It's a flamethrower.

A flamethrower in the magical sense, mind -- a gout of fire raining down from a circular point in space just above the advancing horde. ... but the intent is pretty much the same. Cook every Hellion.

DG: Lemina Ausa has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Opportunistic Scavenging.
GS: Please react using the attack number in +queue.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Seraph Beast's Buffeting Headwind for 77 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Special Delivery for 155 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

    Amaranth may as well be a relative bystander to all the antics going on between the Drifters here -- to her view, Ethius seems every bit the terrifying and dangerous individual that she should steer well clear of... but... well, she--

    --she winces for a moment as she shakes her head, not really understanding what their relation is. The shock that Jacqueline exhibits, the way in which Ruby pounces on him--

    He's gonna burn the whole supply depot into slag!

    "... I'm not sure if we've wound up with someone more scary than the Fell Dragon," is Amaranth's uncertain comment...

    She looks to Morgan's gauntlets, which sprouts -- shields! It's a device that she hasn't ever seen before... is this like the FINGERs that Ragnell told her about?

    (ARMs, Ammy. They're ARMs. Even if they look like fingers.)

    "I--"

    Her eyes widen as she cups her mouth and stares to the cracked inn doors, looking utterly freaked out by the throng of Malevolence-ensconced animals. "Too much, too much, too much, it's too much..." she mumbles.

    Ragnell draws forth the powers of her Seraphic artes and hucks blasts of holy lightning ensconced within her grenades...

    She looks to her to mumble, "Just a little more, I just have to..."

    Katherine stares towards the book she's been carrying, gulping with a wince as she finally places her hand on it. Her breath is haphazard and erratic as a loud

    cccCRAAACCKKkkk!

    noise accompanies the unravelling of the enchanted padlock upon it, the tome itself flipping pages as she sucks in a hyper-anxious breath and starts chanting.

    It is not particularly hard to see that what Katherine Weaver, seamstress extraordinaire, summons to existence is Seraphic in origin. A chant that seems the black mirror to Ragnell's white radiance, welling with an inky violet hue...

                    Open, oh twisted doors of distortion...
                   Avaricious dark mass, descend thee now--
                          --a-and crush the wicked...

    Her voice is hoarse, tears welling up as she holds a hand forth with the grimoire. At the apex of the incantation, an enormous mass of arms erupt from underneath the ground, seizing at the horde and clawing and gashing and pulling them into a murky end:

                                Negative Gate.

DG: Seraph Amaranth has used its Tool Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol toward its party's challenge, Opportunistic Scavenging.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

...Whoops. That might've been a little much, but...at least they managed to prevent Ethius from burning down the garrison! She releases Ethius, then moves to give the man he had tackled a hand in standing up, another apology, and a potion.

With that done, she returns Ruby's high-pawsie, because what kind of monster wouldn't?

As for Ethius...well, if it doesn't seem like he's moving after that she'll help him into the wagon, but other than that she'll leave him to handle himself, but not before giving him a disapproving frown.

With that done, though, they're able to move on...but as they do so, there's a horrible howl, and more Hellions emerge.

"Yes! Please leave this to us. We'll take care of you." Jacqueline agrees with a nod. She stands to her full height, still in the wagon, and draws out a bottle. She removes the cork and sprinkles some of the liquid around the wagon. It's...not a great smell, frankly, but in the general chaos that can probably excused. On the bright side, however, it has the likely effect of keeping these beasts back. They may be Hellions now, but they were still animals - some part of them would likely still be affected by the liquid.

But, as soon as this is done, she looks toward Katherine, watching in surprise as she conjures...a Seraphic arte? But more importantly than that...those tears.

"Miss Weaver..." Jacqueline murmurs, concerned.

DG: Jacqueline Barber has used her Tool Reliable Repellant toward her party's challenge, Opportunistic Scavenging.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Some refugees may question why they just don't leave the strange man right out there to die, after what he did. There is something about this man that seems to refuse to allow himself to be swayed or deterred by anything other than overwhelming force - shutting out anything and everything aside from what seems to drive him.
     They are beset upon by Hellions, many of them. They are frightening. There are refugees, many of whom do not have any combat experience whatsoever, armed with weapons who are charged with helping to keep themselves safe.
     Someone with a gunsmoke rifle misfires as they hold it up, putting a hole in the ceiling of the wagon. Ethius sits straight up. The colors of the world are a blur (mostly purple and black). The sounds are indistinct and 'swimmy.' He does not have a great sense of where he is or why he's there. Even with these sensory issues...
     When he can work up a stare, that stare... it bears down upon the gnashing, thrashing hordes.
     It is likely about as effective a contribution as anyone can guess.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Opportunistic Scavenging.
GS: Please react using the attack number in +queue.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Lydia Seren's Material - Solais Emsu for 65 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Devil Fist for 92 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


Morgan should be terrified of a lot of different things right now. Ethius. Solar Flares. Twisted creatures. FREEKING DRAGON. If he starts getting freaked out by one thing...then well...it could be like a cascade.

The'll be time for that later. Hopefully with the help of lots of booze to get over it.

Instead he clenches his fist, the blue glow brightening from the pannels of energy as the 'wizard' pours energy into them and...

...and he doesn't seem to need it. Since Jay tackled the symboligist down everything didn't explode.

And he can breathe just a little easier.

At least until the twisted creatures burst from the inn.

Now Morgan? He isn't the most magical inclined. In fact he is nearly blind to the Melovelance that twists these beasts. To him? They seem nothing more than crazed animals. "They hell drove them so crazy!" He shouts to no one in particular. "I've heard of a stampede but this is ridiculous!"

But his Gauntlet glows again, energy swirling around as the shields dissipear. What appears in his hand then is a sleek looking weapon of white and gold. It looks somewhat like a bulky crossbow...

At least till he points it at the onrushing horde and opens fire. The rapid volley of metallic bolts that streak forth says that it might be just a touch more advanced.

"Stay behind me!" He calls towards Jay, Katherine, and the rest of the refugees as he steps forwards, the beastman trusting his armor and his bulk to protect him and ward them off those creatures.

DG: Morgan Newkirk has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Opportunistic Scavenging.
=======================<* The Intercession of Saints *>=======================
==================<* CHALLENGE - Opportunistic Scavenging *>==================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 1          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 The Saint of Sinners is not the only beast here. Lesser Hellions, like
 hyenas trailing in the wake of a lion's hunt, have rushed the city in a
 maddened frenzy inspired by the agitating Domain that seeps through the city
 streets. They stalk through Lastonbell, here and there, being fought by
 Hyland soldiers who see little more than maddened animals on the attack. You
 see a group of them, barreling through the doors of an inn in Lastonbell,
 cornering soldiers unprepared to deal with the kind of threat they're
 facing. Some of them spot your group, and turn to face you -- boars, snakes,
 wolves, all warped irreparably by Malevolence, spring on the attack --
 making it a race to deal with this infestation and save yourself and the
 soldiers before this situation worsens.
=Dungeon Conditions: Wound====================================================
==================<* The Intercession of Saints - Round 4 *>==================
====================< Results - Opportunistic Scavenging >====================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Amaranth                     15 --(5)--> 20                 Pass
Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol         4   Combat  Effects: None
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ethius Hesiod                       15 --(5)--> 20                 Fail
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   15 --(5)--> 20                 Pass
Reliable Repellant                  2   Combat  Effects: Embolden
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Morgan Newkirk                      15 --(5)--> 20                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hiro                                15 --(5)--> 20                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lemina Ausa                         15 --(5)--> 20                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Ragnell                      22 --(5)--> 27                 Pass
Plasma Grenade                      3   Combat  Effects: Embolden and Liabilit
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Seraph Amaranth             70 --(15)--> 85                Pass
Conditions: Overzealous(1)|Wound(2)
Effects: Embolden(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Seraph Amaranth has passed this challenge! The party gained 15 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


Ragnell's seraphic artes form in the midst of the crowd. The mindless Hellions don't even stop short. Blood-frenzied they keep charging. In a flash several are charred and twitching corpses.

While suddenly Katherine opens the book - and summons a seraphic arte. Shadowy arms burst from the ground - seizing Hellion after Hellion - which bite at the energy arms in frenzied thrashes.

To no avail.

They disappear - but not obviously into the ground.

Where they went is not a question anyone should desire answered. Simply that they are gone.

The volley from Morgan's gauntlet cuts down a half-dozen, pinning snake bodies to the walls, sprouting arrows into the hides of hellionized boars and starting their slow descent unto death by exsanguination.

Or flame - as Lemina flame starts to carbonize their flesh - and boils away the more sensitive organs like their eyes.

The few Hellions that get through run straight into Jay's repellant are heavily wounded and near blind. The scent hits them - and suddenly they stagger, trying to stop short - but being unable to. Several slam head first into the wagons. Making them easy pickings.

For Ethius' stare.

... ... ...

No Ethius' stare is about as effective against blood mad Hellions as nothing at all but - they're definitely looking to pounce him when several soldiers from the cart skewer one of them with bayonets.

"Okay! That's all of them! Everyone back in the wagon!" Ruby points at Ethius, "And you mister need to chill and dial down your creepiness to at least a five!"

Hiro flicks some blood off of his sword. Giving Ragnell a quick glance. He's in a bad mood too - having an awful day - especially with Gwen out there fighting that thing. But he knows who here is having the worst day of all of them...

DG: Lemina Ausa has drawn a new Challenge.
========================<* The Intercession of Saints *>========================
=====================<* CHALLENGE - The Wolf at the Door *>=====================
|Type: Final       |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 2          |
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 The way to Volgram Forest is clear -- the ruined wall that once guarded
 Lastonbell, once a portrait of impending doom, now looks so much like a gate
 to safety and salvation. The sounds of the Saint of Sinners and its pitched
 battle a more distance thing, it would seem the way out is so close in
 sight...

 ... before a howl pierces the air like the sharpest and deadliest lance.

 One need only look up to see it -- a massive wolf, wreathed in a violet
 shroud of Malevolence, perched upon the rooftop of a guttered building near
 the gates. Hungry eyes turn a baleful yellow gaze upon you, upon the
 vulnerable people that you escort. Lips peel back in a snarl, revealing rows
 of sharpened canines. And, at the ruined walls where the safety of your
 charges lies...

 The wolf springs upon you.

 Picture: https://gamefaqs.akamaized.net/faqs/06/74406-163.jpg
=Dungeon Conditions: Save Point===============================================
<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

The Malevolence of this thing is immense. It is like feeling the entire weight of a civilization of sin rest upon your shoulders and daring you to try to support the burden. There is no talking with it, no negotiating, no reasoning. It is a tidal wave. It is an erupting volcano. It is the sundering earth.

And it has a singular purpose.

A singular purpose that the people assembled against it are that much more driven to stop. For all it might seem like the attacks they wield against the Saint of Sinners do very little to deter it, what they -do- do is distract it -- distract it, as more and more people are led out of the city, as more and more are guided further towards safety -- as their friends and companions and otherwise help those in a most desperate need of it.

And that... that they do exceedingly well. Mihaya demonstrates that fact handily as she ignites a veritable firestorm into the more vulnerable nostril of the beast. A funnel of flame scorches into the insides of the Fell Dragon, billowing out a gout of flame within its furious snort. Smoke rises as it reels backwards, long neck rocking back and forth in a shake of what could very well be pain as it bellows out its flanged, harrowing bellow.

Its burning, fissured gaze snaps towards Aya, maw opening wide for her to bear witness to its sizzling depths that would see fit to incinerate her --

-- when dragon is introduced to dragon.

Smaller, dragon. Smaller, furious, dragon. Smaller, furious, chi dragon.

It still counts.

The Saint ROARS at the shining mass of chi, jaws wide as if intent to -eat- it -- but it lunges a second too late, ground cracking beneath its impact as its jaws snap just over the searingly draconic shape as it ducks beneath and collides and--

Claude C. Kenny gets to discover that Fell Dragons to not, in fact, have nards as his efforts send the beast thrashing in an irritated frenzy rather then comedically clenching its dragon-nards in agony.

Or perhaps it's just a lady dragon--?!

That frenzy, though, regardless of the source, is still a sight to behold -- and even if it does not TARGET Clessaude directly, he can STILL feel its wrath as the grassy earth splits and sunders beneath him, as it quakes, as rocks BLAST upwards to hammer into his back with merciless force.

Someone made the Saint unhappy, it seems. But it is -focused- on that unhappiness, enough that the -toss- of the Mirage cleaves clean through that strange sigil as it goes flying for the Saint. Unfortunately, as it breaks apart, it seems to almost -fuse- to the weapon that destroyed it, following along with. Such that, when the blade buries into the crest of the dragon, between its mighty horns, when Talia splits into strands and reknits upon the beast's crown -- her weapon is glowing as she yanks it backwards.

And just as she drives it down --

--it EXPLODES with pent up, magical might; the Mirage is doubtless durable enough to endure it fine. Talia, though--?

The question might be one for later; as it is, the Mirage, even mid-detonation, still RAMS into what amounts for the eye of the beast. The explosion helping to at least damage the -dragon- in turn, the blade sinks in surprisingly easy -- as if impaling itself not into an eye, but into a swampy, viscous morass of swamp and mud. The Saint of Sinners releases its howl -- now a more strangely beautiful thing as if that songlike quality had yet to part with it -- and then -rears- backwards as the wounds within that substance that composes its eyes seal around the Mirage.

To hold Talia in place for what is to come next.

A thing that begins as the others launch their titanic assaults upon the majestic creature. First comes Zed, that colossal punch aimed directly for the maw of the dragon, complete with scathing accusations. Its massive head snaps to the side from the force, blowing away a handful of scales -- and then it delivers its answer in the ringing reveboration of its howl as said jaws SNAP open wide and gouge impossibly sharp fangs for the living metal and armor that composes Zed's body, as if intent to fight him fair and square the best way it knows how. By attempting to consume him.

Whether it really -would- try to swallow the Metal Demon into the raging inferno of blight that is its gullet is a question that is never answered. As its jaws -snap-, a sharpened, jagged plank IMPALES into the side of the beast. So large is it that it looks like a splinter might on one's finger -- but even a splinter can hurt, as the velocity behind that throw is enough to send it lurching backward -just- enough to force its maw open once more in a seething, singing hiss.

Wind and gleeful, uninhibited physical might are the next thing to challenge that force of nature wrapped in Malevolent flesh and scale. A storm -surges- throughout the entirety of the Saint, sending it leaning forward with all its torrential might; claws dig deep furrows into the earth almost as if the beast were bracing itself against all that potential. Its burning eyes, one stuck through with that sword, stare upon the Beast as the Wind Seraph shouts her defiant declarations.

This world is precious - these people are precious!

And when its maw opens, the howl that is unbound from the depths of that churning depths is almost... sad. As if there was a sentiment there, incapable of being transmitted.

A fact that does not stop the -pounding- of Gwen Whitlock's fist into the body of the beast. She might be much smaller, but that strength is enough to let her hear the crack and rupture of scales, feel the density of bone and muscle beneath her fist as the Saint stumbles, however briefly--

--and introduces her to the lash of the whip in the swing of its long, destructive tail, winds rushing tempestuously around its mounting momentum as it looks to swat her with all the force of God hammering a nail.

And then the reflection of a Guardian in all its majesty manifests upon the Silver Star.

All seems to still for a single, fretfully calm moment. Even as Ida climbs the beast, even as the Saint binds Talia to it via her irreplaceable weapon, the Dragon stills. It stares up at the figure of Solais Emsu, looking down upon it in judgment. Its maw seems to unhinge.

And light meets song as the violet, Domain-stained skies of Lastonbell sear with a brief and brilliant white.

The beam is more a column, more a pillar of Guardian's magic, coming with the pure power of Filgaia's spiritual strength. And as LARGE as the Fell Dragon is -- it says volumes that that light utterly CONSUMES it and all atop it until nothing can be seen but the blinding radiance of a Guardian unleashed. It bakes the air, makes all waver. It inflicts its purity.

                *CRUNCH*

But there is purity in the Saint of Sinners, too.

The first thing that can be seen is one fiery claw as it SMASHES into stone and grass and earth until the land literally CAVES beneath the weight of it. Step by step. Little by little. The Saint of Sinners emerges from that pillar of light, even as it begins to fade. Burning, charred snout. Damaged eyes. Smoking body. Step. By. Step. And as Ida rises to the beast's head alongside Talia... its wings spread, charred but mending so rapidly as its superheated hide -glows- with orange warmth. Warmth... and something else.

Something crimson.

Something wrong.

The first beat of its wings blasts of buffet of storming winds upon Lydia, picking up debris and hurtling them her way with the sheer, monumental force of those wings in motion. The second lifts it up off the ground, as its entire body begins to radiate with an inky black and red. It rises from between every scale, from every pit of Malevolence on it. It dyes the fire of its claws. The fire of its maw. And as Ida beats blow after blow upon its snout, hammers it with force that makes Malevolent bone crunch inward even as it reforms and rebuilds around Ida...

... the Saint of Sinners rises into the air. Rises, and turns its burning, baleful gaze upon Neriah.

                                  Repent.

And its maw opens wide.

And the flames within swirl violently.

And it repents.

With the dissonant blessing of its flame.

It breathes. It breathes, and it spawns an inferno in its wake, crimson flames BILLOWING outward to coat the land, to roll across it like a wildfire that cannot be controlled. It sweeps, threatening to consume the Beast, Mihaya -- Neriah -- soldiers of Hyland still desperately fighting. Anything. EVERYTHING. In its way. The world becomes a scarlet splendor.

And then it tilts, at its apex. Its entire body a mass of churning red, it tilts downward --

And divebombs towards the earth.

And in its collision, a branding mark of hideous red SCREAMS across the flame-soaked land, stretching impossibly wide and engulfing all within the forceful, Malevolent EXPLOSION of its impact as crystaline red structures BURST from the ground surrounding it.

It, and everyone caught within that epicenter.

GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Saint of Sinners with Malevolent Coil!
GS: Saint of Sinners has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Malevolent Coil for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Extend!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Talia with Mark of the Beast!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Kaguya with Mark of the Beast!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Mark of the Beast!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Seraph Beast with Sigh of the Sinner!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Neriah Parringer with Sigh of the Sinner!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Mihaya with Sigh of the Sinner!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Tail of the Serpent!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Din of the Earth!
GS: Saint of Sinners has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Zed with Fang of the Fallen!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Lydia Seren with Wings of the Wrathful!
GS: Saint of Sinners has completed their action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Din of the Earth for 76 hit points!
GS: Zed guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Fang of the Fallen for 129 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Wings of the Wrathful for 59 hit points!
GS: Talia takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Mark of the Beast for 329 hit points!
GS: Talia has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: CRITICAL! Kaguya takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Mark of the Beast for 309 hit points!
GS: Kaguya takes an additional 30 damage from Reaper!
GS: CRITICAL! Ida Everstead-Rey guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Mark of the Beast for 179 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

The explosion blows Talia backward. Mirage remains unbroken, if dirtied, by the blast. The girl stumbles, and then she catches herself on the hilt, and she manages to keep a grip on its hilt. She looks at the way it sinks into the flesh of the Fell Dragon with surprise. The consistency is all wrong, she realizes. "What..."

The Fell Dragon has no eyes. Her feet kick, and she yanks, but she finds Mirage locked into place. She watches as light assails it; as Ida flies up to it, and its baleful gaze. She kicks into it, yanks, and pries. "Damn it, no, come on, come on--"

But, it doesn't matter. The flame comes. It slams into Talia -- and she yanks, ripping Mirage free in a spray of Malevolence. But the flame hits her -- and she is thrown, bodily, back into the city. Fire and smoke trail after, as she smashes into one of the taller buildings.

She doesn't emerge from it.

GS: Mihaya takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Sigh of the Sinner for 250 hit points!
GS: Mihaya enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Mihaya has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Sigh of the Sinner for 151 hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
<Pose Tracker> Lemina Ausa has posed.

The wagon continues its even -- no, edging into rapid, now -- roll out of Lastonbell with as many civilians as it can carry. "There! The gap in the wall!" One of them shouts, gesturing to it. The wagon heads to safety, and...

... is cut off inches from the wall. The sharp howl of Managarmr pierces the din of the battle, and it springs down along the sides of Lastonbell's once-proud walls, triangle-jumping down toward the wagon.

"Ohhh jeez, this is mega-bad!" Lemina shouts, as she reaches into her pack and fishes out a pair of small, shield-like objects that she slips onto the back of her hands. "Everyone, watch o --"

Lemina gets an extensive clawing for the mistake of being loudest, as the wolf lands. Surprisingly, she rounds on the creature... well, not quickly, but at least she isn't casually cut down.

... and then it starts. Both crests glow with power as Lemina pulls out her staff, declaring, "Wander in frigid mist!" She swings her staff-holding arm out, continuing, "Perish to frozen fangs!" Twirling it and slamming it down against the bottom of the wagon, she finishes, "Embrace the cold at the moment you fall! Final Embrace!"

A massive chunk of stone and ice springs up from the ground beneath Managarmr, and Lemina says, "Go for it!" Sounds like that's... everyone else's cue.

DG: Lemina Ausa has used her Tool Crest Combo toward her party's challenge, The Wolf at the Door.
<Pose Tracker> Mihaya has posed.

 "I don't have a lot left, but I should have enough energy to get out one last good hit!" Mihaya calls out, although she's not sure if anyone is listening. But they seem to be putting some pressure on the dragon, and that has to count for something. Even if it is just a little...

 Well, she'd cast enough fire spells to prime the pump for this last one. It would just have to do - and hopefully everyone had managed to get the civilians out of the city, so if the Saint of Sinners wanted to force its way in it would only have empty buildings and perhaps some horrible soldier types to wreak its wrath upon. But Mihaya slams her staff into the ground, holding her arms out to her side as she begins focusing her energies. The tattoos on her arms begin to glow with a brilliant red light...

 ...and it's at this point that the dragon decides it is just going to smite her. The massive wave of dark flame reaches out and slams into her, and Mihaya is thrown backwards through the air, crashing down to the field a short distance away. Her clothing smolders, steam rising from her skin and hair from the intense force of the blast that had struck her.

 She doesn't rise, completely unconscious from both the interruption of her magic and the massive impact that had slammed into her.

GS: Seraph Beast guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Sigh of the Sinner for 151 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

"Lydia..." Kaguya stops, and stares at her friend. She stares at the way her limbs shape, at the way her face reforms but the rest of her doesn't, and remembers distantly that Lydia was afraid. "...I think... you're right. About this place." The impulse to sass Domitia is gone, with many other things. "...It's okay," she says, still looking at Lydia, raising her voice and jogging towards her, despite the dizziness that threatens to make her fall when she arrives. "...It's okay."

She makes it close--but that's when the Dragon acts. The dragon, and its beautiful howl. Kaguya looks up to see the dragon hissing under the impact of her throw, and she slowly tilts her head. "...This--"

Kaguya, too, is cast back by story winds, by the sheer Malevolence of what comes. The dragon tilts downward, red, and that mark engulfs her, as well. Its flames crash towards her and send her flying through the air where she lands only ast ruined buildings, rolling to a stop, bloody and burned badly; her sleeve is torn away completely, her too-thin arm exposed and in obviously bad shape. A thin bone may have snapped, to look at her glancing down at it in a daze.

"Why..." It still burns, going through her, as she slowly looks up to the dragon again. "Why am I even here...?"

Still blank, Kaguya looks up at nothing and then pulls a syringe from a protected case, and jabs it into her upper arm. Theres a hiss from her. she doesnt bother standing.

GS: Kaguya enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Kaguya with Blueberry Extract 7B!
GS: Kaguya has completed her action.
GS: Kaguya heals Kaguya! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    And yet, for all that Ragnell is in a foul mood, she's not in such a foul mood that she doesn't recognize the significance of Amaranth joining the battle, using her tome to invoke the darkness arte of Negative Gate. When her own Divine Saber has complete, she stares over at the other Seraph with growing concern. "Am--Kate, you gonna be all right?" she murmurs, stepping close and resting a tentative hand on her shoulder as they get back inside the wagon. "Don't push yourself too hard..."
    
    Elsewhere on the battlefield, the Saint of Sinners impacts the ground, sending shockwaves in all directions, making the wagon an extra-rough ride. It gets rougher still when, in view of the Volgran Forest, a great and Malevolent wolf leaps down to block their way, its bloody howling like a rusty knife to the eardrums. Then it leaps at precious, innocent, wonderful Lemina.
    
    "If it's not one thing, it's another--" Ragnell hisses, shooting Amaranth another concerned look. This time, she pulls out an *actual* grenade from her travel pack, and when Lemina hits Managarmr with her Final Embrace, the Lightning Seraph pulls the pin and aims to hurl that plasma grenade right for the wolf's open mouth. If it swallows it down rather than, say, spitting it out--or it just plain missing--then it'll deal some very decisive damage.
    
    ...one hopes.

DG: Seraph Ragnell has used her Tool Plasma Grenade toward her party's challenge, The Wolf at the Door.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

    Katherine-- Amaranth jerks back as the grimoire, spent and hissing with a low crackle of surreptitious power, drops to the ground flat on its face. "I-- did it, I did..." her head lulls to one side as she rather visibly works through a panic bubbling underneath the surface of her demeanor. She casts her eyes to Ragnell, cupping her mouth as if she could sense herself nearly retching for a moment.

    It passes, mercifully. She stares towards the Saint of Sinners in the distance, at the various blasts and assaults happening towards it...

    She gazes towards Lemina as she summons an arte more powerful than she's ever seen. Truly, a gifted mage worthy of the Ausa name, but more than that--

    "I... I don't have anything left," Katherine admits, staring to the grimoire.

DG: Seraph Amaranth has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward its party's challenge, The Wolf at the Door.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

They're almost there...the walls of Lastonbell are in sight. One of the civilians points out a hole in the wall they can leave through, and Jacqueline urges her horse in that direction...

...When suddenly, one more obstacle appears. Jacqueline's face goes pale as sharp howl cuts through the sound of battle and a massive wolf leaps for them, clawing Lemina.

"L-Lemina!" Jacqueline calls out in concern, then looks at the beast before them. ...It'd kill them all here. They were so close, and yet so far.

They were going to -

Shakily, Jacqueline once more rises to her feet, standing above the people in the wagons. She takes a deep breath, and a hand goes to her heart.

People familiar with her knows that this is where she keeps Grudiev's Medium.

"Everyone, please bear with me...we'll get you through this, but I'm going to need you to trust me here." She says, addressing the crowd. They'd trusted her so far, but if they saw what she was about to do...! "Ethius, if you can hear me...please, help us with this."

And then she shuts her eyes, intoning a silent plea.

'Grudiev...please, help us. I can't...I won't let these people die.'

The Medium glows faintly...and behind her, behind all of them, the image of the Guardian of Earth, in all his saurian glory, appears. He draws in debris from the area - there's plenty of it - before exhaling it. It coats everyone gathered in front of the wall, forming a shining barrier to protect them from further harm.

She wouldn't let these people die here. She couldn't.

DG: Jacqueline Barber has used her Tool Reliable Repellant toward her party's challenge, The Wolf at the Door.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    "Don't worry 'bout it. Just stay behind me," Ragnell tells her, already moving to place herself between Katherine and the Managarmr.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Ethius is verbally unresponsive as Ruby chides him about his creepiness levels. He has a latent primal fear of what he's seeing before him (the tiny flying thing with the bow) he is uncertain as to the origins of. It may be for the best that this specific issue is glossed over in favor of more pressing problems.
     Further and further they go, the Saint of Sinners is physically distant. Their roars and the destruction continues to leave rippling waves of fury, sorrow, and ruin. At this pace, they may yet race out of the very reach of their Domain with a number of wounded, but still alive. A fact a brightly-colored (for those who can see it) wolf would like to correct for the record, mostly by clawing and biting the crap out of anyone and everyone who dares come close.
     Even those who don't, it'll pick up the slack so they don't have to do anything to be clawed or bitten. It's very considerate of them.
     Ethius seems to come to in time to roll off the wagon to avoid a lunging slash as Lemina puts forth the impressive level of sorcery she can command as the Junior Premiere - or anyone at all!
     Ethius falls to a crouch and slinks off to the side, which is a strange tactical decision when Lemina seems to have the great Hellion wolf prepared for everyone's alpha strikes. There's a hole in the wagon from which he can see those refugees gather themselves. Their courage, before a Domain that's asking the worst of all of them. People cry. People hurl hurtful words. It's hard to keep everything together.
     The wounded Hyland soldier, enduring one victim's abuse as they point a gunsmoke rifle at him, recognizes it's not loaded. Some people see Symbological sorcery lights in one of the gaps but think nothing of it.
     Rather than strike the would-be assailant within the wagon down, the wounded Hyland soldier grabs it out of his hands, loads the rifle, and hands it ba--
     Then, there is a smoke cloud. It's absolutely Ethius' own smoke cloud. Unannounced and uncoordinated, its only saving grace is that it is not disruptive to anyone taking more direct positions outside of the wagon to fight the wolf back or away from the wagon.
     When the smoke clears...
     The soldier, the rifle - and at least one other - are gone.
     So's Ethius.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has used his Tool Powder Grenade toward his party's challenge, The Wolf at the Door.
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Of course someone called upon a Guardian, Ida thinks, in the moment Solais Esmu manifests upon the battlefield. Anger grips her guts, twists them in knots. Her body dissolves, uncoiling into shadowy tendrils that flee the Saint's presence with all due haste. Moments later, the might of the Sky Guardian slams into the Fell Dragon, consuming it entirely. The shadows beneath its wing thicken, condense into a humanod form--into Ida, pale, gasping for breath, the Malevolence vents across her body dimmed. The star in her heart pulses feverishly. She looks up, and sees Gwen Whitlock smiling.

    Gwen Whitlock is smiling like she doesn't understand what's going on. She's talking like there isn't a thing that should not be trying to kill everyone within a five-mile radius. Did--did the Saint do that to her?

    Ida's lips peel back from her teeth. Garrett would never forgive her if Gwen was killed. "Whitlock," Ida grates. She raises her hand. A plume of shadowy Malevolence erupts from her chest, her body contorting as it gives more of a resource it cannot afford to spend. It races towards Gwen in a desperate attempt to get her back on her feet, to restore that edge of fear and anger she needs to stay alive.

    Ida sags. Behind her, a hellion that was once a wolf stalks out from the brush behind her, sensing what it thinks is easy prey. Ida turns to face it as it charges, teeth bared, Malevolence dripping from razor-sharp fangs. Her hand moves before she realizes it's even in motion. The crack of a revolver is all but lost in the din. The wolf's charge stops, abruptly, but momentum carries it onwards to collapse at Ida's feet, a bullet in its skull. It's still alive, albeit barely. Ida reaches down, takes its head between her hands, and twists. At the same time, spiritual pressure builds around her, much like it built around the Saint earlier. As the animal Hellion breathes its last, Ida draws out the Malevolence within it, feeding it into the reactor in her heart. Memories of the creature's last, frenzied moments sink into Ida's mind. She throws them into the flame, too.

    When she's done eating, all that's left is a withered corpse. Ida wipes her mouth off on her arm, leaving a smear of Malevolence behind.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


"Go go g-" Ruby calls while a kid in the cart manhandles her. "Hey don't tug on that! That hurts!"

A wolf pounces. "AHHHH - EAT LEMINA NOT ME!" Noone is more surprised than Ruby when Managarmr actually does that - clawing up the mage.

"Lemina hang on!" And Hiro leaps out of the wagon at the thing, but marvels at the result of her spell. Whistling. "That was really impressive." Holding his silver blade up at a high guard, he charges at the thing, seeking to follow up on that. Charging straight at the thing - his blade igniting into flame. "BURN!" His momentum takes him straight into the thing with impressive follow through - he's unlikely able to stagger something so big with strength alone - but he's not just looking to do that. The first two slashes are meant to just cause it's head to rear up as the flames scour it. "BURN!"

Planting one foot down, he pivots into a turn, trying to thrust the blade into a final stabbing thrust into the softer neck or underbelly...

"BURN!"

Assuming it strikes home - the sudden burst of flame is meant to brutally broil the thing from the inside out.

All the while oblivious to the commotion in the wagon.

Ruby isn't though as she shouts at the soldier pointing the unloaded rifle at him. "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING!? WHATEVER YOU'RE FEELING RIGHT NOW! IT'S NOT YOU! JUST STOP AND THINK!" The rifle is loaded by his fellow. "WAIT A MINUTE! JUST - STOP!" And then there's a smoke cloud, and she coughs. And coughs. And tries to cover the kiddo's mouth with her pawsies as she sneezes wretchedly herself.

And then it clears, "O-Oh GREAT! PERFECT TIMING!"

DG: Hiro has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Wolf at the Door.
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

As one who has from time to time been known to stomp stones up out of the earth, Claude C. Kenny is sufficiently familiar with how it feels to figure out what's happening when the earth starts shifting under his feet. The safe thing to do would be jump up out of the way, but he's a little too tired and battered to even think of that, so he simply grits his teeth, focuses qigong on the lower half of his body, and braces for impact. Said impact comes, and it sends the young man cartwheeling up and away from the comfort of his standing rock to the relative comfort of ground. He lands on his face, bounces, and lands again before just lying there.

For another five seconds or so, Claude flirts with unconsciousness. Hell, he pretty much gets to second base with it.

But then the dragon divebombs the earth, and while Claude can't hear the impact, the wave it sends through the ground actually bounces him up a foot or so. He snaps back to awareness in time to land, unceremoniously, upon his butt. He looks up, and stares. "Holy shit," he breathes, eyes widening as the roiling mass of flame and sundered earth spray upward. The crystals, being made of Malevolence, go unseen. But the Boy from Earth sees people go flying from the impact. He's not sure they'll get back up. A shiver runs through his body as he starts to succumb to the Domain's pressure. He can't do this. He... can't. It's worse than the Quarter Knights. He needs to run. Staying would be folly.

bad luck

Claude freezes, eyes staring at nothing as he searches for the sound. A bird twitter? What bird would stay within a mile of this place?

bad luck to face such a foe

The young man's head turn, blonde hair muddied and matted by blood, sweat, and soil. Who cares about a dumb bird? he wonders, as a breath of wind stirs. Time to book it and---

so much for your promise

A cat? How am I even hearing this when I can't hear a damn---

so much for the worth of a kenny

Claude grimaces in pain, twisting awkwardly - three cracked ribs at least, a spider's web of pain rippling along his flank - and slipping under torn bodysuit, under the jacket, in the small of his back, drawing forth a small object from a crude leather holster. "Said it..." he sputters as he slowly turns his body on his butt, rotating to face the dragon. "Meant it."

(Meant what? he wonders. To who?)

"Long as I'm here..." he says, wrapping both hands around what looks like the hilt of a bladeless, guardless sword. "...do... everything I can...." he pants. "Save... everyone... in front of me." Claude sucks in a few breaths, unsure why he wasted them, waiting until he has enough strength to lift the object, arms, shivering, and point it toward the dragon. At this angle, he won't have to worry about the town or the civilians. Nothing but sky on the other side of his target. He inhales deeply, then speaks three words as forcefully as he can manage. It comes out conversationally, barely more than a whisper.

"Light, come forth."

It is then a streak of light flashes out. Leo and some of the Guardsmen will note it bears an impossible similarity to the Destiny's main cannon; others from Filgaia will recall seeing something similar cleaving through the earth near the Wayside village, or erupting from a tower atop Adlehyde Castle during the siege of the city, on the day the king died. It flashes out again, from a battered, barely moving swordsman, carving through the Malevolence without stopping, aimed at the base of the fell dragon's throat.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Saint of Sinners with Sword of Light!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
GS: Please react using the attack number in +queue.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Claude C. Kenny's Sword of Light for 356 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Saint of Sinners's Tail of the Serpent for 102 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Something is absolutely, positively wrong.

The Saint of Sinners wheels on Sister Domitia. The Priestess of Althena folds her hands neatly together again. Even in the face of that yawning maw full of roiling perdition, she remains a pale column of absolute calm.

The flame pours forth. Hell opens up and consumes all in its path.

It swallows up Sister Domitia. As she vanishes from view, she doesn't so much as move, save to bow her head ever so slightly.

Everything roils in dreadful scarlet - until there's a feeling from within it all.

Sinfire pushes outward, roaring across a globular surface. The flame winds itself into bizarre patterns that make no logical sense, beginning to break down into threads that chase along themselves and wind into complex patterns of incoherent geometry. The patterns ripple and merge and separate across the flickering bubble of a shield that has pulsed to life around Sister Domitia.

Her head is bowed deeply and her lips are pressed into a tight line. The Priestess's serenity is broken by one sign: A bead of sweat chasing down her cheek, down to the point of her chin. Holding off everyday Hellions is one thing. Holding off the Saint of Sinners is something else altogether.

And yet... she lifts her head, and draws in a steadying breath as the fire roils across her shield, straining it enough that a few tongues slip through. her dress singes in a few places. It's taking work. But she's somehow holding it off.

And smiling a thin smile. "...All will be well," she utters with a look towards Kaguya. "Too much evil has been visited upon this place. It does not matter where we come from. Only that it is time to set right the wrong."

The flames pulsing across Domitia's shield blaze up for a moment - and then they dim suddenly and begin to slough off it as she lets the field flicker away. Energy pulls into her body. Debris around her again vibrates both with power and with the catastrophic impact of the Saint of Sinners as she raises her right hand, then levels it. Her fingers splay, palm forward.

"See the Light of Althena and begone," proclaims the abjuress.

Those with a sense of the spiritual can feel it. There's a sudden upwelling of power centred right on Sister Domitia. It feels like the Priestess of Althena has grabbed the entire Silver Star and jerked it violently to the right.

And then there's an ear-splitting shriek of magic as a blindingly white RAY lances from Domitia's palm.

Oddly, the RAY doesn't really glow all that much. It's a stark white slash against existence, as if someone has carved through the paper upon which the universe is etched. And it's narrow - incredibly compressed. But the sheer power behind the RAY is almost boggling. It's no ordinary Litany. It could probably level half the wall of Lastonbell if someone let it.

Sister Domitia is aiming it at the Fell Dragon instead.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Saint of Sinners with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 201 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


"That'll teach ya!" Morgan shouts as he leaps back on the cart for a wild ride out of the damn place. A wave of his hand again and the strange crossbow is gone as he holds onto the side of the caravan and careens towards the exit...

...only to be stopped on the finish line.

A wolf. A giant angry hateful wolf.

"...well..." A glance is swept around the refuge cart and those that are fighting for their safety. "Be mighty obliged if y'all forgot ya saw this..." He drawls out before turning back towards the wolf as his gauntlet glows again.

What appears in his hands is something very similar to what that soldier was about to fire...

...except sleeker...

...and with three rotating barrels...

...and a box of amunition attached to the underside.

The roar when he opens up is one long chattering report, aiming to stitch right up the Wolf's body and into its face. If he sets off that thrown grenade? All the better.

...I repead. Morgan is not a subtle man.

He'll worry about a vanishing Ethius after they survive this mess.

DG: Morgan Newkirk has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Wolf at the Door.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia stares up at the fell dragon. She knows that her power as a shaman isn't enough but to slow it down. But that's what she's trying to do.

When the smoke clears, even then she watches. She pockets the stone tablet, feeling her spiritual power dipping even as he resolve is unwavering. The spirit is willing, the mp pool is low. But one more, she thinks, one more oughta buy the time that everybody needs. Fortunately, she has been forced to summon repeatedly when she couldn't bear it before. They made her do it. Over and over.

She sees Talia get knocked around and makes her way towards her intent on helping evacuate her. Lydia isn't the type to leave her to die.

She isn't the type to lead Kaguya to die either. Luckily, Kaguya weighs nothing and Lydia is an abomination. Lydia crouches down by Kaguya and picks her up and pulls Kaguya onto her back. Considering that Lydia is practically half walking greasy metallic skeleton right now, it is probably not very pleasant but Gwen did wrap a jacket around Lydia and that helps a great deal.

"Come on," Lydia tells Kaguya. "We can still make a better world. Even in an unfair world that can be our legacy."

In some ways she is the opposite of Kaguya but Lydia still cares deeply for the Veruni. Lydia's back tendrils hold Kaguya in place like some kind of body horror seatbelt.

She turns before entering the building Talia was KERSMASHED into and draws out her stone tablet once more. It's a different one this time.

"Rigdobrite..." Lydia breathes out, crackling. "Come on, come on..."

There is a flash of light from the stone tablet and a giant lobster meteor appears into the sky, dwarfing even Solais Emsu.

It opens its eyes and looks down at Lastonbell.

No, no this isn't good at all.

The meteor tilts and rapidly descends upon the Fell Dragon. Lydia doesn't look back to see what's what.

Instead she ducks into that building Talia was smashed into, fully intent on bringing out both of her friends from this situation.

Periodically heavy slabs of debris collide against Lydia, but they never hit full on, and they never hit Kaguya (or Talia should she find her).

MEANWHILE Gwen's nice jacket is disassembled by nanomachines and used as material to build Lydiabits. Hopefully that wasn't an IMPORTANT jacket, Gwen. Lydia doesn't even realize it immediately.

"See how you like it." Lydia mutters to the dragon as the meteor summoner that got meteored summons a meteor to meteor the meteor summoner that meteored the meteor summoner.

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Saint of Sinners with Meteor Crash!
GS: Lydia Seren takes 8 damage from Toxin!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

AMBER

Amber readies her pistol as the wolf appears, fully intent on helping out but then--

Then there's a smoke cloud. There's a cry of alarm from Amber---and then nothing.

When the smoke cloud clears...Amber the Falconeer is gone leaving only a shrieking Bones (the falcon) behind.

GS: Please react using the attack number in +queue.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Lydia Seren's Meteor Crash for 75 hit points!
========================<* The Intercession of Saints *>========================
=====================<* CHALLENGE - The Wolf at the Door *>=====================
|Type: Final       |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 2          |
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 The way to Volgram Forest is clear -- the ruined wall that once guarded
 Lastonbell, once a portrait of impending doom, now looks so much like a gate
 to safety and salvation. The sounds of the Saint of Sinners and its pitched
 battle a more distance thing, it would seem the way out is so close in
 sight...

 ... before a howl pierces the air like the sharpest and deadliest lance.

 One need only look up to see it -- a massive wolf, wreathed in a violet
 shroud of Malevolence, perched upon the rooftop of a guttered building near
 the gates. Hungry eyes turn a baleful yellow gaze upon you, upon the
 vulnerable people that you escort. Lips peel back in a snarl, revealing rows
 of sharpened canines. And, at the ruined walls where the safety of your
 charges lies...

 The wolf springs upon you.

 Picture: https://gamefaqs.akamaized.net/faqs/06/74406-163.jpg
=Dungeon Conditions: Save Point===============================================
===================<* The Intercession of Saints - Round 5 *>===================
=======================< Results - The Wolf at the Door >=======================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Amaranth                     20 --(10)--> 30                Fail
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ethius Hesiod                       20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Powder Grenade                      3   Combat  Effects: Fanfare
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Reliable Repellant                  2   Combat  Effects: Embolden
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Morgan Newkirk                      20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hiro                                20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lemina Ausa                         20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Crest Combo                         3   Combat  Effects: Resilient and Liabili
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seraph Ragnell                      27 --(5)--> 32                 Pass
Plasma Grenade                      3   Combat  Effects: Embolden and Liabilit
-----------------------------------< Party >------------------------------------
Leader: Seraph Amaranth             85 --(30)--> 115               Pass
Conditions: Save Point(1)|Wound(1)
Effects: Embolden(1)|Resilient(1)
===============================< Dream Chasers >================================
DG: The party led by Seraph Amaranth has successfully explored The Intercession of Saints!
========================<* The Intercession of Saints *>========================
=========================<* CHALLENGE - Saint's Wake *>=========================
|Type: Discovery   |Dungeon Ability: Conclusion|Challenge Rating: 1          |
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 As the lupine Hellion falls beneath your assault, you can hear the
 ear-splitting roar of the Saint tearing through the skies -- as good a sign
 as any that now is an ideal time to flee. Past the archways of Lastonbell's
 once glorious, now wartorn walls, you manage to safely bring your escort of
 citizens and soldiers out to the relative safety of Volgran Forest's embrace
 with only minor incidents at best. Few squabbles, few succumbing to the
 effects of the Saint's Domain, your steadfast guidance manages to get your
 evacuees out with only minor scrapes and injuries at best. Beyond, more of
 Lastonbell's citizenry and Hyland's soldiers can be found, and as the
 effects of the Domain of the Saint begin to bleed away, it becomes clear you
 are safe -- or at least, far enough out that you may get away from the Fell
 Dragon's wrath (and/or potentially any Hyland soldiers' suspicions) without
 incident. There will doubtless need to be healing and care for refugees in
 the future. But for now... you are safe.

 And as the call for a retreat begins to sound at the front lines, if you
 turn back, you can see it on the horizon:

 The Saint of Sinners, wings spreading and blotting out the skies as it
 begins to ascend into the skies over the burning Lastonbell...
=Dungeon Conditions: Save Point===============================================
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Beast has posed.

    It is incapable of transmitting sentiment, hollow eyes to burning slits, because it cannot.

    It must not.

    The Beast of Lohgrin is hearing shadows and doubts and old hopes and they are so, so disconnected from the world.

    It was not then - it is not now.

    But perhaps the illusion makes sense...

    The crimson flame pouring forth is no trick. There is nowhere to run - nowhere to hide, against a wall of such sick fire. Iron plates lock against each other as the flames wash over her, and the metal heats against the rush of heat. Half of the Beast of Lohgrin glows red-hot against the Malevolence the town is bathed in.

    And then comes the impact.

    She is thrown back by the shockwave, tossed into the street. It's fortunate, perhaps, that it's so close to where she had first fallen - she's able to collect her discarded pieces and make herself whole again. It helps the whole 'balance' issue quite a bit, really.

    (It also means she fully fails to notice Ida's meal. Perhaps it's for the best.)

    The domain here is strong - it is everpresent. There is fear to her. Fear enough that she does not leap upon the Fell Dragon, to bite and claw and lash. But there is something more important than her fear, in this place.

    They are protecting the people.

    The wind picks up again, and it is more than piercing like a wintry gust, this time - it is a hurricane of emotion and intent, and the Beast of Lohgrin stands at the eye of the storm as she pours the Seraphic arte into something which might have shared them, once.

    Once - no longer.

GS: Seraph Beast has attacked Saint of Sinners with Howling Gale!
GS: Seraph Beast has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Well.

Zed certainly got what he asked for.

The Metal Demon roars as his hands press back against the beast's jaws with all the strain his metal muscles can sustain. Hyadeans are incredible organisms-- creatures of living metal whose spiritual architecture is fundamentally different from humanity's. They are strong by nature, it is in their metal bones to be strong. But their nature is anathema-- their existence is counter to the very lifeblood of the planet. One is poison to the other, it is just as it must be.

And so one can imagine that this Metal Demon is leveraging every ounce of that power against the colossal Fell Dragon, and that the Dragon might just be briefly surprised at just how much it would actually need to push to overcome Zed's strength. The two are trapped for a moment in lethal deadlock, muscle and sinew engaging against pure, mechanical might.

And then the balance is tipped... By the Guardian of the Sky.

"What--" Zed barely has a chance to yelp before that column of bright, white light suddenly opens up all around him. His yell turns into a scream of pain, surprise and betrayal as Solais Emsu apparently takes issue with both the Metal Demon AND the Fell Dragon. The white light burns at the very flame of his soul, sapping at his body's strength until finally the dragon is able to overcome him, tearing a gash across his body from shoulder to hip.

Zedder Robo falls from the pillar, leaking silvery fluid from the great tear across his torso. He crashes into a nearby building, cratering its roof and reaching with trembling fingers over his chest with fevered gasps. The planet-- This damn planet. Even here. Even here the Guardians have no mercy, do they? They do not distinguish, even as he struggles to do battle with something even more clearly evil than any other he has seen in months, and--

Wait.

What is that?

Zedder Robo turns his head with a creaking sound toward the strange, metal statue standing so courageously against the crushing darkness. His eyes flicker with a fragile glow as he watches her rise.

            This world is precious - these people are precious!

Zedder Robo's joints creak like they're full of rust as he shifts, rising slowly, painfully, from the crater of a building it had fallen into. He catches sight of another he recognizes. Another... Less... Good.

        I get to be the hero, Hanpan! Just like, in those... novels!

"Hhhhhh," the machine-man growls, a gout of steam hissing from under its scarf. "Gwen--" The serpent slams into her, he reaches out-- too late." You... Didn't need to..." A bolt of light erupts into the sky. A flash of pure energy. Zed's head snaps over to stare at its source, the light reflecting in his eyes--

Long as I'm here... Do everything I can... Save everyone... in front of me.

He wheezes, clenching a fist tightly into that muffler. This. This isn't like him. Just... Because a Guardian disapproved. To sit here in this crater while others fight on. Isn't. Like. Him. Gwen. Gwen got hurt because of that lapse. Because... Because!!

Hatred is so easy. It's so quick. Despair. Surrender. Fear. Rage boils hot at the back of his throat. Anger. At the world? At the dragon? No. No! At himself!

For letting the hate creep back in so easily! For losing sight! Zed squeezes his fist tighter. Tighter still, tighter and tighter and tighter, until the pain brings forth a defiant roar. Zedder Robo rises, his body aflame with violent, viridian light even as the world around him is consumed by crimson crystal. He reaches deep, stoking the heart-flame, surging his vital essence with this roar that is more a declaration of self than a scream of fury.

"CLAAAAAAAAUDE!" Zedder Robo roars as he surges into the sky, his arms reaching out to seize hold of the draconic behemoth just as Claude's blast sears into its side. "I can't believe... I let you show me up, damnit!" The Metal Demon's scarf billows in the shockwave, twisting, twining, then solidifying into a broad, cape-like wing. Flame erupts from his feet, sputtering twice before coalescing into a brilliant thruster cone. Zed presses-- up, up, up, pushing to lift the dragon up, to lift the dragon out! "I'm the Dark Hero!" Zed roars as he becomes a rising meteor to try and push the great beast back out of the city. "I fight to protect all those who can't! I fight in the darkness, so that nobody else has to! An overgrown dinosaur like this... I won't let it...!"

"GET PAST ME! Come on! ZEDDER SHIIIIIIINE!" Zed's body flashes! It shines with the half-forgotten light of fallen Hyades! With each flash, he accelerates! With each flash, his lapsed strength grows to its former height! A true Metal Demon! A fine Metal Hero! Zed's eyes flash as the power erupts from his body like a geyser of pure force and demonic essence! "Shine...!"

            SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHKK-U!

GS: Zed has attacked Saint of Sinners with Final Zednamic Special!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Please react using the attack number in +queue.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Seraph Beast's Howling Gale for 124 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Zed's Final Zednamic Special for 169 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lemina Ausa has posed.

Lemina sets it up --

-- and everyone else knocks it down in a big, big way... other than Ethius, of course, who has mysteriously vanished from the group entirely in the chaos. Morgan puts bullets into it, while Hiro slashes it with a burning blade. Jay focuses on keeping the cart safe -- a wise decision, given the wolf manages to try a few swipes at it -- and Ragnell puts a grenade squarely in its open mouth.

Within moments, the massive Hellion before them is dead. The wagon... is allowed to roll on, at least for the moment. It heads out of the crack in the wall, and -- other than Ethius and whosoever he's taken with him -- everyone riding out of town is safe.

Lemina turns her attention backward, thus, toward the city, and...

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    The impact of metal fist against cracking scales causes Gwen to laugh with delight. A musical, pure sound that has no business being in such calamitous surroundings.

    There was something, though. A nagging feeling, getting stronger.

    She just saw a burning, pained body stumble out of a fire. She promised she'd go back to help her.

    Her. The horns. That was... Lydia?

    Wait, why did she look like that?

    Things are terrible. Her body feels strange. LIke a mixture of hate, fear, pain, so many emotions, rolling, churning around like a pot of boiling water, but not enough to quite to boil over into something more serious.

    Just enough to make her fully appreciate the full extent of the consequences of her actions.

    ".... well, damn."
    
    She's sent flying through the air like a small toy carelessly thrown across a playroom floor. It may look like Ida's sacrifice wasn't enough.

     The concerned Hanpan hops over to where Gwen's body lays. "She's still alive. Gwen, come on! Get up!" His whiskers twitch at the red crystals that explode from the ground nearby. "I can't lift you, you know!!" Gwen begins to groan from Hanpan's poking.

     It was enough, to remember to guard. A little bit of Malevolence does a body good after all.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    The feeling of abominable weakness starts to fade. Ida takes a step forward, feels energy flow into her limbs. She takes another step, and is nearly thrown to the ground by the thunderous force of the Saint of Sinners taking to the air. She twists into a three-point crouch, bracing, and looks up as the monstrosity takes flight. In her mind's eye, she imagines what Luisa Rey would have done.

    Don't you understand?

    Talia's climbing back up again--Ida can see her on the thing's snout. "TALIA!" she roars, "GET DOWN--" As if she actually cared about her. She barely manages to see what happened to Gwen before the flame erupts.

    Ida sees a small, humanoid silhouette go flying, trailing smoke. Another goes flying off at a slightly different angle. There are others, of course. A lump forms in her throat, despite the Saint's Domain doing everything it can to smother it. "You monstrosity," Ida snarls, as if the Saint could hear her. "I will carve vengeance for those you've killed OUT OF YOUR GODFORSAKEN HIDE!" She starts to run. The Saint begins its divebomb run, but Ida doesn't slow down. The innermost sphere of her Malevolent Domain condenses around her like a shield, like the desire to just not suffer because she's sick of it made manifest. It forms a pale, languid aura around her as the Saint hits ground. The explosion feels all too much like a bomb going off.

    Ida is thrown backwards, sent tumbling across the ground like a toy thrown by a toddler during a tantrum. Her hands twist, fingers lengthing into razor-pointed black-violet claws, and she digs them into the earth. Flame washes over her, burning through her Domain. Jagged crystalline shapes erupt on either side of her, shredding into her flesh. It's telling that Claude's strange ARM is yet another data point (albeit anomalously large) in this cacophony of heat and light and sound.

    When the dust settles--if it could truly settle during a fight like this--Ida lies on the ground. And then, suddenly, she is gone, as though she'd been swallowed by her own shadow. That shadow is now streaking across the ground, merging with the shadow beneath one of the Saint's immense wings. Those wings could blot out the sun without even trying. There is plenty of shadow there, and part of that shadow reforms into Ida.

    "BEAST!" Ida roars. "ZED! TO ME!" As if they were obligated to obey her solely because she was yelling loudly enough. "Did you not hear me, abomination!?" That's directed at the Saint, as though it could understand her threats. "You face the heir of the greatest dragonslayer to ever live!" As though she could just disappear into Luisa Rey's shadow, like she's disappeared into the shadows of so many other things--like she's vanishing now. The shadow she's become scuttles across the ground, before vanishing--

    No. Ida reappears from Zed's shadow as he rises up in front of the Dragon, pushing himself to the limit. She reaches up, gingerly grips his shoulder, and pushes. Inertia goes to stand off to the side for a few moments as Ida launches herself up into the air without so much as shifting Zed's position. Raw power lances out from the Metal Demon's body, illuminating the Dragon in brilliant green. The moment it fades, Ida descends on the Fell Dragon like a meteor, bringing both arms down in a double axe handle right at the creature's battered snout. A foot catches on the creature's lip. Ida tenses and springs, vaulting up over the creature's vast snout. Her right arm shifts, changes, twists once more into that blackened, jagged appendage--Ida promptly drives it towards one of the glowing openings that could be the Saint of Sinner's eyes. "You'll suffer," Ida growls, as she pulls her arm back. "You'll suffer for EVERY LIFE YOU'VE EVER TAKEN!" As if it mattered. As if the Saint weren't suffering enough already just by existing. She balls up fists again and lays into the Fell Dragon once more. She's bloodied, bruised, and running on cannibalized reserves, but she launches hammerblow after hammerblow, intermingled with stomps and knees at possible weak points.

    Come on, you wretched thing. Attack her. Attack someone who deserves it.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Saint of Sinners with Gleeful Cessation Of Restraint!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Gleeful Cessation Of Restraint for 164 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

Crystals of crimson jut from the crater around the twisted thing like spires of sin that replace ruined walls and flame-guttered buildings at the fringes of Lastonbell's western gates -- or what is left of them. Red and black smoke rises thick and vaporous from those spiraling towers of crystal as the Saint of Sinners slowly lurches upright amongst its devastation. Towering. Impossible.

Mended.

This creature, this Fell Dragon, this fallen thing that was once something so pure, may be beyond them as they are now. A thing that cannot be so easily stopped, it radiates an intensity, a sheer, unnatural power within the fathomless depths of Malevolence that seems to be without end.

But this is not about defeating it.

They are trying to stop a mountain from moving. And they are succeeding.

They cling to their last legs in the ruinous aftermath of the Saint's assault. And even as they try to recover, the Saint wades forward, everything around it shuddering as if in terror with its every thunderous step. Its burning stare sears a crimson that fades towards darker shades, blacker shades, as it turns that gaze upon Hyland's last line of defense. Cauterizing flames of blackest pitch burble at its maw. It rears back, its shadow overcasting those few, brave soldiers who decided to stay to the bitter last to defend this city; the power of patriotism in wartime can have its often fatal price.

But these soldiers are not alone.

It comes first with the winds. Winds that carry with them a sentiment of pure, unbridled intent, of resolve. They rush through the Saint, roaring at whatever amounts for its ears as its horned head bends backwards -- as it is -forced- to take two, shuddering steps away from the city limits. Its body bends as winds warp at scales and flesh, sending it turning slowly towards Claude. Towards Neriah. The masquerading adventurer armed with something that does not belong in this world. Domitia... armed with a blessing that does not belong in any. Flames ignite within its throat. A raging tempest of unbridled Malevolence directs its ill-colored wrath upon both, as if that horrid, ruinous flame had no end or limit. The heat is even more intense now, the accumulated dissonance reaching a fever pitch that can scarcely be quantified.

The blaze comes.

And three things stop it from incinerating the both before they can finish their assault:

A meteor not of the Saint's own make COLLIDES red hot into its body from one side, full of Rigdobrite-ian fury, SMASHING into it with a crunch of scales that sends it staggering to one side as if to out-meteor its own meteors. And the other--

ZEDDER SHIIIIIIINE!

Is that.

Zedder Robo COLLIDES with the behemoth in perfect time with the efforts of Ida Everstead-Rey, descendant of a legendary slayer of dragons, grasping hold of it with just enough strength to hold it in place for a few, precious moment between himself, Ida's Malevolence-infused blows, and Lydia's -- and Rigdobrite's -- efforts. Even then, the creature's strength is something utterly out of this world -- Zed has had experience, with the Dragon of Rayfalke. But that Dragon was disoriented, waking up. Confused.

This one has nothing to handicap it in these precious few all-important moments.

And yet, as Zed pushes, as Ida smashes maw, knees, ANYTHING she can find to try to debilitate it even for a moment, Zed manages to move the beast with the meteor and Ida's help in unseating it. It lurches, it falls backward, further and further, with each acceleration --

-- until light and unlight engulf it at once.

Rays of two seemingly diametrically opposed elements rush towards the Fell Dragon as it is lifted up off the ground. They collide -- and -rip- into the beast in a rippling haze of whites and blacks that consume it. It struggles against the conjoined forces -- but in tandem, they are too much, too great.

And for the first time, the Saint is ripped off of its feet by something other than its own accord.

And it flies. It flies, until it -crashes- into a nearby, leaning spire in the Meadow of Triumph, utterly demolishing it. The explosion of impact rains debris outward as if it were a storm unto itself, pulverizing down grass and stone and dirt into nothing more than a deep, smoldering crater buried in the rubble of an ancient wonder now lost. The assault is overwhelming. Mind-boggling. The twin efforts of forces that -should not be- leave their mark. And in that moment, there is silence...

... before the Saint of Sinner's roar PIERCES through the skies.

Rubble shakes off. And slowly does the behemoth emerge. Parts of its skull show through missing chunks of Malevolent flesh that looks less like flesh and more like viscous dissonance given physical form. Part of its spinal column is visible where the Sword of Light carved through it. Unlight seethes through it in remnant crackles that dissolves away pieces of it, that rots away its tail into nothing more than a skeletal mass.

Damaged. Indisputably. And yet, looking unstopped. Unperturbed.

Because what is the flesh of the spirit?

It is an answer found in the way the Saint of Sinners' body mends itself whole anew as it drags itself forward. Maw open, it sighs vapors into the air like raw heat steaming off of it, 'eyes' crackling as they focus themselves upon Zed. Upon Ida. Upon Claude.

Upon Neriah, and her fathomless unlight. Her 'blessing'.

And as the Saint of Sinners is made whole once more, red light like electricity crackles around it. Its entire body seems to shift again, as if readying something utterly cataclysmic...

... when a horn sounds through the air.

Distant, so very distant, it comes from the other side of the city. From Volgran, a horn of retreat joining many in a chorus -- a sound signaling one, simple thing:

The city has been evacuated.

They have succeeded.

"Retreat!! RETREAT!" calls out the rare few Hylanders still brave enough to linger; but even they are not so brave as to continue testing their fortunes. They all begin to fall back -- away from the city, away from the Saint. Beyond them is Rolance territory. Unknown. They may be captured, tortured.

But before them, they know, is a more certain demise.

And yet as the Hyland soldiers flee, as they vacate the city, as those horns sound off, one after the other... the Saint's attention diverts. As if those horns were meant for it and it alone, its attention tilts towards Lastonbell. Towards the sound of them. Everything stills.

And then the skies blot out as its massive wings start to stretch.

The beat of them gusts winds through the bleak violet skies as it takes off into the air. Scales reforming over Malevolent musculature, body made whole once more, it rises, higher and higher. Higher. Higher. Until it is such a small thing in the sky. Until the clouds start to part and swirl all around it.

Until something arcane and old forges itself in front of the floating monstrosity.

A sigil. The same sigil that it had attempted to brand Talia with. Old and unknown from a time the centuries have passed by.

The symbol of the Lost Land of Lyonesse.

It is massive. Tremendous. And it needs to be. As it glows, as it grows BRIGHTER and yet DARKER at the same time...

... and Malevolence begins to rise out of the entire city of Lastonbell in thick, spiraling columns of cloudy violet vapor.

It is, perhaps, hard to process the sight. Of Malevolent pillars large as buildings coalescing and rising through the air as if compelled by some unseen, magnetic force. All of it -- every last bit of the blight that has risen so swiftly in the city -- drawing upward, upward, upward --

-- towards the opened maw of its waiting Sin Eater.

And as the Saint of Sinners eats the Malevolence of an entire city, it pays no heed to those below it. An opening, whatever that strange, inexplicable cost might be -- to retreat. To fall back. The job is done. Something impossible was accomplished -- the people of Lastonbell, safe, and Hyland fleeing from its streets. And unless stopped in its efforts somehow, the Saint of Sinners will take off into the air in a whirlwind of motion once its otherworldly, mind-boggling feast is complete.

But what horrors did it all wreak?

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Everyone brings everything they have to bear upon the beast and, finally, it falls. The way is clear. Jacqueline returns to her seat, drained, but looks back to send her charges a tired smile.

"We're almost there...don't worry, everyone! I'll make sure nothing happens to you." She says, urging her horse forward.

Her horse gladly complies, but as they pass through the wall and the horn of retreat sounds, she hears anguished cries from the back of her wagon. She looks back, quickly, and her mouth gapes in horror as she watches the massive beast hang above the rapidly shrinking city.

She watches as it seems to practically draw Malevolence into itself. As it consumes it.

A bit shaken, she pointedly returns her gaze to the path ahead.

"D-don't-" She stammers out, nearly chokes on the words, then shakes her head. "D-don't look back. Just keep your eyes ahead of us. We'll be safe now. Don't look."

She hoped, so, at least, but if they saw her be unsure...well, there might be more panic than there already was. And she can't help but notice something that causes her a bit of panic, as well -

Ethius is no longer with them, as well as others. She can only hope this was by her choosing, and not something else she missed. Something at a crucial moment.

Something she could've done to help.

Jacqueline will stay primarily with the refugees in the coming days, tending to them and doing whatever she can to help them through these troubled times - either by treating their wounds or offering someone sympathetic to talk to.

That's all she can do, really.

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

The impossible is made possible. The union of powers from three worlds, from two sources that should not be, is enough to drive back the dragon of apocalypse. But even then, it cannot stop it completely. They could not kill it. Zed descends and drops, finally, to a knee. The light of his soul restored his body, but not completely. He is... Exhausted in more than one way.

And the dragon is still there.

Still flying.

Drinking deep of the corrupted essence of mankind, it draws great violet pillars into the sky, but...

Zed hears the horns. He hears the declaration. One way or another, they won. They made it work. Somehow. Zedder Robo groans as he rises and staggers back onto his feet. It stumbles back towards the ruined town, stepping behind a convenient pillar where a flash of green light sees the Metal Demon return to his natural state, and...

Then, immediately, begin staggering over towards Claude, and then to Gwen, throwing each over one shoulder before slumping his way back toward the woods.

...His stomach rumbling all the way.

Zed... Will need to eat a cow. Soon.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    There's no sign of Ethius anywhere Jay looks, but that's... normal, for him? Some things, in this time of uncertainty, seem to remain the same. Which is to say, him being inscrutible and evasive - but this is the most inscrutible and evasive he's been by anyone's recollection of him. Maybe even more brazen than ever. How much of that was the Domain?
     What of the two people he abducted as he absconded from the wagon? There remain too many questions. Questions that, for now, must wait. There is much work to do.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida's assault slows, little by little. By the time the two opposing forces slam into the Saint of Sinners, she's clinging to the beast's snout, staring it in the eye, droplets of blood and Malevolence dripping down her burned, bleeding face. Come at me, she tries to convey, with only the emotional tenor of her personal Domain. It doesn't work. She's so tiny, and the Saint is so large, and she's fairly sure this is just a delaying action, like everything she's ever done, and this will change nothing, and people will keep dying, and--

    A flash of light and unlight. A horrific shockwave that snatches the Saint of Sinners off its feet, and knocks Ida free from its snout. The Hellion snarls, spending more precious power--her body tears apart into shadow-streamers, reforms in the shadow of a tree that was snapped in half like a matchstick not that far from where the Saint landed. She sags. She looks at the beast, at its wounds--it looks like something that should not be fighting, much less...

    Regenerating. Regenerating, much like Ida can, like it's been doing off and on this entire battle. A massive claw slams into the ground in front of Ida, and she looks up at the Malevolent horror, fear and hatred and helplessness and rage warring in her eyes. The conflict stokes the flame within her, but her regeneration is comparatively slow, and she's running on fumes.

    "I told you," Ida croaks. The monstrosity looks down at her. The Hellion's lips peel back in a rictus grin. Idiot girl. Do you want to die, or not? Make up your mind.

    Thunderous wingbeats. The thing is taking to the air. Ida meets its eyes for as long as it will let her, and braces again. She watches as its maw opens wide, as the miasma of Malevolence condenses into the thing's mouth. It's like what she did to that dying wolf-Hellion minutes ago, but on a much more massive scale. Of course it needs to eat, Ida thinks. It needs to replenish itself. But why in this way?

    Ida doesn't have much time to think about it. As the Saint leaves, so too does its Domain. The weight of reasoning and societal conditioning returns, heavier than ever. Ida just slumps forwards, sinking into the blackened earth. This is how Seraph Beast will find her--alive, conscious, but just barely.

<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


Morgan clings tightly to the side of the caravan as it tears out of the city. His rifle dissipears back into the aether as he uses both hands for balance. Well both hands when he doesn't need them to pluck a refugee up and throw them into the wain, or keep one from falling out.

He does both in equal measure, stewarding who he can out of the city by way of Jay's vehicle.

There is a glance over his shoulder though at the dragon and what it does. His eyes widening. He may not be sensitive to this sort of thing, but when it is on this magnitude? He doesn't have to be.

"Just keep going!" He calls out as he limpets on to the side of the wagon. A fleeting moment to wonder just where Ethius got too. That man did NOT look right...

...but then he'll fall silent. Sniping as any corrupt that come to close as he hitches a ride well out of town.

"Say, Jay. Think ya can find it in ya ta let me bunk with y'all for a bit? Safety in numbers and all that."

<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

"...Lydia?" Kaguya asks, blinking again as she sees Lydia crouching down. It is depressingly easy to lift the small Veruni, who somehow weighs even less than she looks like she does. She vaguely hangs on... But mostly there's the whole... back tendril, deal. "You're kinda bony," she points out, but doesn't seem to mind all that much right now. But then, she minds very little

She just sighs, loudly, at the Guardian's sight. "...Better world, huh...? I mean, that sounds nice..."

She makes no more attacks; she just puts arms around Lydia and hangs on as the Dragon proves, once and for all--it was not here to die. That roar pierces through, and Kaguya watches as the sigil rises, as Malevolence rises.

"...Better world, huh?" she asks again, and looks quietly at the horror before them. "...Mn." She hugs Lydia from where she is, and seems... maybe half-present, at best, emotionless still.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

    If it weren't for the rest of the Drifters, as well as Ragnell and Lemina, Amaranth would have had no chance against the Malevolent war-wolf. She nods rather mutely as she huddles up into herself, the Dragon's absorption of the Malevolent energies around the city...

    ...

    It's all too familiar, all too familiar...

    ...

    As such, a Katherine Weaver is going to be around the refugees for the next couple of days, since this Seraph isn't going anywhere with her own energies for a bit...

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Beast has posed.

    And it is too much.

    Is that sentence ambiguous? There are so many defenders, here. Some attack with what must be Filgaian might, some Lunarian - one or two with things which don't seem as if they have a place anywhere. The wind, the wind is blessed Althena's might, and the Seraphic arte helps to force it back.

    But it is too much.

    A Fell Dragon is not a drake with hands like hanging claws. It is towering, it is impossible, it is an event unto itself. It is not something which can be defeated so easily. It is hardly something which can be turned aside. It is beaten, wounded, flesh taken from it - but a spirit's flesh is more of a formality, isn't it? Even warped, even hellenised...

    The Beast of Lohgrin can only watch, as it takes to wing.

    Can only watch, as it consumes.

    It feeds itself. It takes the Malevolence from Lastonbell.

    It leaves.

    But there is someone here who depends on Malevolence, and the Beast of Lohgrin has never cared for Hellions enough to know their physiologies. Does not know whether the taking is fatal, does not know whether it will fix them or fell them.

    "Ida," the Beast calls. "Ida!"

    She finds her, there - and she will scoop her up in wing-plates into her green-frilled saddle. She does not ask; she does not broach complaint. "... you have done a good thing here, Ida," the Beast reassures her. She has protected everyone. She has earned another point in her favour.

    But the Beast does not know enough to help her.

    As much as she hates the place Ida has chosen as her own - they may know.

<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


The fight at the gate against maddened hellions wound down after the dragon began to eat its own Domain. Quiet falls before a second smaller shadow seems to pass over town. A house near where the battle ended creeks as the skeletal form of a great wyvern alights atop it.

How Bitey avoided the Melovelance drain is a mystery for the ages.

Ontop of Bitey sits a familiar figure of a knight in armor, sword across his lap. The black blade of the Sword Dancer pulsing softly with terrible energy and his armor slick with the blood of other Hellions.

He leans against his elbow as he peers around the battlefield. Looking for specific faces and forms among the fallen.

"...she couldn't have died to this." He mutters softly to himself, the man seeming 'normal' apart from the pale skin and the white hair. "So where would she be..."

I mean Ida usually isn't hard to spot...

...but he's also easy enough to spot himself.

And when the Beast scoops Ida up, the man once known as Jack sits up a little higher. He raises his voice. "We need to get her home."

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline looks back at Morgan, offering him a tired smile.

"I'm okay with that, as long as you're okay for helping out around the place." She replies. After all, with all these refugees, there was bound to be a lot of work that needed to be done. She was still concerned about Ethius...but, well, that was just Ethius. He had been missing before, and she supposed she shouldn't be surprised that he was missing again. Lydia would probably be disappointed, though.

Right now, though, her biggest concern was...

Jacqueline glances back to Katherine quietly for a moment. It was a little jarring to see the usually vibrant seamstress so...drained, and subdued.

But then, anyone would be, after all this.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"It's fine. Messing up is ok." Lydia can't imagine Kaguya intentionally summoning a dragon that would then nearly kill her and eat her bad feelings. "And being happy is okay too."

Lydia has to believe that, even as she sees what she is, really, on the inside. The very frame and structure of it all. Not human, she thinks, definitely not human. Whether this qualifies as 'beastman', well...

What will she be in a year?

What will she be tommorow?

Her skin gradually reforms. She looks back over to Kaguya. At least her face remains her own for the moment. And perhaps when she finally lets herself sleep she will wake up mostly herself again. Maybe.

"I'll getcha a nice bed if you can be patient." Lydia says tenderly. She doesn't look back towards the dragon as it consumes, well, everything it feels like.

"No matter how hard or how painful," She says, as her escape makes the city a distant memory. "They never gave up. Even if it's pointless...This is the world...."

Her words are interrupted by a lone falcon landing on her, screeching at her.

Later, she'll have to figure out what to do about that.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida hangs limply in the Beast's grip, and does not so much as protest. She's clearly still alive--Malevolence still glows from the rents in her body, and the star in her chest shines, dimly--but she's not making it out under her own power. "Beast," Ida whispers. She wishes she knew this Seraph's name. "I couldn't--" Wingbeats. Ida cranes her neck up, looking past the Beast's own wings towards the skeletal creature and the man riding it. "Garrett," Ida grates. "He's--" Another Hellion, obviously, one Ida recognizes.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Beast has posed.

    As a name, it suffices. How strange, that it always suffices. How strange, that the Beast of Lohgrin has not shared her name. "You did well," she insists, again. And then there is another - another Hellion - and the Beast raises empty eyes to regard him. "Yes," she agrees. "I will return her to her... residence." There's distaste, in that last word, and a subtle distinction.

    A place so evil ought not be home, after all.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

     Ragnell's too far away, being on the other side of Lastonbell, to see the twin blasts that knock the Saint down and rend its flesh from its bones--though she does see the blasts themselves, being too massive to *not*--just like she's too far to see a giant robot or the Fell Dragon's regeneration. But when it takes flight, when it soars impossibly high, when that *massive* sigil forms in the heavens... She turns her gaze up. Sitting on the edge of the wagon near where Amaranth huddles, she gazes up at the sigil of the Lost Land of Lyonesse with eyes of weary, muted sorrow.

     "...."

     When the Malevolence that had devoured Lastonbell is itself devoured in turn, Ragnell sighs, but doesn't turn away. Only once it's all gone, and the Saint of Sinners has winged its way away, far, far away, does she looks back at the others.

     She frowns slightly, eyebrows furrowing, upon realizing that Ethius is missing. But past that initial realization, she really just doesn't care. Much like herself, he's always been the type to do as he pleases--and even for similar reasons. The thought might amuse her if she were inclined towards smiling right now.

     As it stands, she keeps her mouth shut as Jay and the rest bring the villagers deep into the woods for their own safety...