2018-07-16: Silver Millennium

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=================================<* East Nota *>==================================

Once two towns on opposite banks of a large river, East and West Nota are now a single city bound by a large bridge spanning both banks. Both halves of the city are laid out on sprawling terraces carved out of a large hill (some suggest by the Goddess herself). Stone stairs link the terraces to each other; the average Notan spends a good deal of her day climbing.

East Nota marks the border separating the heart of the Meribus continent from the more lawless lands to the east. It serves as a large commercial hub where residents of the eastlands can still experience a taste of what some would call civilization.

Althena's Guard maintains a significant detachment here, ostensibly to discourage banditry, but local rumours suggest the Goddess is preparing to extend her reach and call her recalcitrant children home.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54PlUl6avjw
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

For all the stars that dance in the night sky, tonight, there are seven that stand out.

There are more than a few woodland glens outside Nota, but in this one, that pattern of stars can be seen clearly - seven of then standing in a line. Or perhaps very close to one - one of those stars off just by a hair, so slightly as to be imperceptible. On most nights they are simply points in the sky.

Tonight, they align perfectly. And the serene glen almost seems to hold its breath with anticipation of the legend - for it is said that this only happens once in a thousand years, and when it does, an idol comes forth to bring good fortune to those who see it.

Floating through the glen like little stars of their own, slow-moving fireflies drift, tiny points of pale light against the trees and tall grass. A breath of warm summer's air carries a puff of willow pollen ahead of it, scattering it into little puffs like stars. The fireflies drift through it.

When our heroes and heroines arrive, they can see what's happening. Those shimmering fireflies are beginning to converge on a point at the very centre of the clearing. Almost as though anticipating what is about to happen.

"It's beautiful, isn't it," a quiet voice says from somewhere. The words are quiet, but carry through the clearing with a subtle echo.

Fireflies lazily drift around a spot near that central point. What was once empty air begins to take shape - first an amorphous shadow, one which swells and undulates, taking on a scarlet tinge and forming the shape of a slender figure in a red robe.

Lifting delicate hands, Neriah pushes her hood back and shakes out her curls. The robe catches at her throat to reveal the simple but sleek underdress beneath it. Patterns race through it in thin black lining, etching out the icon of Valmar over each shoulder.

"It won't be long now until the seven stars align," Neriah says with a small, sad smile as she turns towards that central point, where the fireflies are beginning to gather. "A thousand years, and the idol will appear... a Guardian Statue. On Lunar, of all places."

She sighs and moves a hand to her collar, closing her eyes.

"...I didn't want to break another one. But it's necessary."

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    For all that she is a woman of faith, whether in Mother previously, or within the thoughts and sentiments of the fallen Odoryuk tribe, Fereshte... Riesenlied is not certain whether she is a believer in fate. The idea that one's actions are pre-destined, set upon an unchangeable course...

    ... but what happens tonight is nothing short of a small act of fate, as Riesenlied heads towards a glen to see the fireflies and see the stars. It's something that she's wanted to do for a while, and something she hasn't been able to do:

    Show the children such a wonderful sight, as Wayside could not provide.

    "Waaah~!" Mikaia exclaims, dressed in a traditional robe-like outfit that a certain far eastern society in a planet Claude C. Kenny is from may once have called the yukata. You know. Traditional garments for a crow beastgirl that definitely isn't a teng-- "It's all so pretty!! Riesemama, Riesemama, look!"

    Riesenlied smiles warmly as she steps along and expresses, "Don't run too fast, Mikaia, you'll scare them..."

    Janey laughs as she puts her hands behind her back, bobbling along in her usual tradie smock-and-apron getup. "D'you think a place like this exists in Filgaia?"

    "I'm sure it does, but... perhaps not where we lived in Ignas," Riesenlied expresses. She doesn't appear to have noticed Neriah yet.

    This is going to get really awkward in T minus...

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline had to know why.

Felkirk, her followers, the intervention at Castle Pendrago...

Jacqueline had to know what it was that was driving Neriah forward. And, if necessary, try to convince her to turn away from the path she'd been driving toward. One of Neriah's subordinates had told her that she was heading to Meribus, and yet another had told her of Nota, and the forest where an idol would appear when the stars aligned.

Speaking with the people of the city, it was easy to determine where this was. And so, she headed there immediately...but not alone, of course. She had requested some assistance, whom she hoped would be able to help reason with her...

"Remember, Miss Tesni...we're not here to fight, only to talk." She murmurs, as they approach the starlit glen.

Within its center, fireflies glimmer and begin to converge.

"...It is." Jacqueline agrees, stepping into the clearing. Her eyes are drawn to the shadow that appears, and there is no trace of surprise on her face as it begins to take on a human form.

"...It's been a while, Neriah. You look well." Jacqueline greets...and then frowns, slightly.

"...Please. You don't have to do this. Let's just...talk." She urges.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    After the events of K.K.'s low-key casual visit to the young Emperor of Rolance, Ethius finds himself putting distance between himself and Pendrago - no, the continent of Glenwood as a whole. Something compels him to lie low, though there have been remarkably few witnesses outside of Drifters who could have definitively pinned him as being there. (That is par for the course for him.)
     Events as they unfold complicate matters. For now, for whatever reason, Ethius sees it fit to chase some obscure leads north off the continent as he considers future actions. Whatever those actions are, there is a growing sense of dread and tension in the wake of that day's events.
     Keeping tabs on something or another in East Nota with yet another acquired hooded tunic to obscure most of his person, Ethius watches people go to and fro about some legend or festival or another said to happen soon. He doesn't pay it much mind, but watching people go about their lives as they are is - in some way he can't describe - comforting and reassuring, this far away from the turmoil in Glenwood. It is a nice night. Seven stars are almost aligned in a flawless row. Ethius seems to acknowledge this is unusual and interesting as a point of curiosity but doesn't dwell upon it.
     What is a star? There's the question again, its source displaced from time and space other than the awareness of the question being asked. It keeps coming up. It's not a person physically there asking him. Someone or something is.
     Something compels him to leave his inn room. He can't describe it-- oh. The Stone Medium of Rigdobrite. It wouldn't do to leave it there. Having it is, in some ways, a prospective liability if he gets thoroughly shaken down by the clergy... and yet, he keeps it with him anyway, as though not having it is equally dangerous.
     Ethius finds himself following a suspiciously large number of fireflies out in the nearby wilderness. A few even take a rest against his hood. He crouches behind one of the trees for a momentary rest - and also because he can hear people coming by. Laughing children... Riesenlied's voice.
     ...Something else, in the center of the clearing ahead. Someone comments about how beautiful it is. That voice stings at the very mind to hear. His eyes track the blood-tinted shadow that produces a figure in a red robe. The icon of... Valmar, on their shoulders.
     Ethius eavesdrops, adjusting where he is behind the tree to minimize his visibility. It won't be long until the stars align... an ill omen? Those in Nota seemed to discuss the event as though it were something to be celebrated. A thousand years, and the idol will appear... a Guardian Statue.
     On Lunar, of all places.
     Ethius draws his quarterstaff and moves in just as one laments wanting to 'break another one.' If there's something to be done about this, it must be now. Now, while the apparent opening presents itself as he moves in to try and run the figure through from behind.
     All with the same lack of hesitation or apparent humanity in the decision - she may regret breaking another Guardian Statue.
     He does not regret nor think twice - or even once, as though a process as automatic as breathing! - about the idea of taking her life within the instant provided.

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily Keil does not often stop just to watch the stars, anymore. ...But so many nights in the desert found her looking up, casting eyes towards the mysteries of the heavens. This sky is not the one she watched so much, not the same. And yet...

When Mikaia asked her to join them, Lily didn't have quite the heart to deny her this time. Talk of a legend has her wondering vaguely, as thoughtful as she is.

"...It is," she allows quietly from behind the group, in a black dress and cloak, tall boots, a high collar, gloves. It is a sign of attempted relaxation--though the sling her right arm is in mars the effect somewhat. Her dark hair trails down her back as she looks to the fireflies.

"Not where I'm from, either."

A pause. That voice...

"...Riesenlied," Lily murmurs, subtly stepping between her, the children, and Neriah.

"Is it necessary?" she asks, and she sounds very tired.

<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

He has to go with Plan A.

Apparently righteousness, valor and renown are rewards enough for saving a castle. Plus whatever reward offered had to make up for severed damages caused to the castle. Someone saw it happen and ratted Elvis out.

So yeah, Elvis took some valuables. Big deal, wanna fight about it?

"I don't care if it is busted or whole. I need that statue. I have a great vested interest in its powers."

A massive man looks from under a tree, relaxing against it with his eyes closed as he thinks. It was quite the trip out here! And his attention is surely drawn to the woman appearing. Something about her strikes as familair though. Something recent. Hm. "What I do know is if people do what they did to the last one, I can't move it. I tried. I can't even dig it up, something magical roots it in place."

The man moves into view, and becomes clear to those who know, it was Elvis of the Four Sentinels. "So. If you are here to break it, I have no qualms with you." His head raises and looks off to the distance. "Others are approaching. Why do these things fascinate so many people? They should only concern a few." The Metal Demons have surely accrued a good number of enemies. Some may be them.

A look to the sky sees what Neriah references. "Indeed a miraculous creation. Such power, yet so far away. Strange how the world works..." Elvis gets a good look at some of the assembled now. They were familiar. Ones from a castle siege. "Hum." He quietly assesses them; Jacqueline and Ethius get longer stares. What were they set out to do here? Seal, or destroy, he wondered...?

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

    A Crimson Noble is at the Metal Demon's side, almost scooping Janey up for a moment but instead playfully propelling her forwards. She's in high spirits, enjoying the chance to relax after some of their recent and rather harrowing adventures, and it shows in the way she's humming to herself, placing her hands behind her head in a motion that almost seems to mimic Janey.

    She's wearing her armor, self-styled as a dark knight - perhaps it's not terribly appropriate for the occasion, but she learned a long time ago that you prepare for the worst while on a planet where Malevolence lurks around any corner. At least it isn't heavy, looking more like she's dressed for a fancy social outing than an evening enjoying the stars with her family.

    (In other words, just like Noeline.)

    "I suspect it's probably the air," Noeline huffs pleasantly, flanking Riesenlied and offering the orphans a quiet and lopsided smile. "Filgaia has much too much sand - even if you can't see it floating around, it'll still make it hard to see quite as far. You've seen the distance you can get up on Taben's Peak - compare that to anything in the desert," she lectures with a slightly self-important air, before something tweaks at her senses and stops her in her tracks.

    For Noeline, the sensation of a Guardian statue is an almost familiar nagging at the back of her mind, a recognition of the power rolling off the pitted stone. It isn't quite what she's used to - she knows the throb and timbre of Duras Drum by now, and this isn't the faintly amused and often very wayward Hades Guardian. If she had to describe it in words, Rigdobrite's power is a prickling thing, and even when her eyes aren't involved it still feels as if it's too bright to focus on directly.

    Whatever her senses make of the other power and its presence, she prefers not to focus on it all that much; pushing it out of her mind, she sets her jaw instead as she steps forwards together with Lily to quietly cover the children.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

It's ok mysteriously some artifacts of that mysterious eastern society from where Claude C Kenny is from have survived in this JRPG wasteland of doom and decay!

Lydia considers herself as part of the Riesenlied household for many reasons. Wayside gave her a home when she couldn't go back to her birth colony and Lydia has seen how Riesenlied treats Janey and Mikaia, two beastmen children that have suffered greatly at the hands of humanity. Lydia loves her 'sisters' to pieces and seeing them happy makes her happy in a way that she hadn't understood happiness to be until meeting them. It has been awkward sometimes since Lydia is actually pretty old relative to those two and her own nature is hardly as adorable (unless of course lydia is the kind of person you find adorable but we're talking tradition here).

"Stargazing huh?" Lydia nudges Riesenlied in the side. "How'd you know I liked stars?"

Lydia is presently wearing star patterned gloves, carrying a star tipped staff, and wearing shoes that are star patterned. She has sewn in star patches on Ethius's jacket which he gave her before their falling out and while she hesitated to use it at first she has decided to just make it an official acquisition because that's the kind of person Lydia is.

Lydia DOES notice Neriah, but she doesn't really know Neriah well enough to get on her guard here.

"What? A Guardian Statue? Here?" She steps forward, the spooky chatter is enough to make her move forward in front of Janey and Mikaia. If something heads towards Riesenlied she can jump into the way, she thinks, and if it heads towards Janey and Mikaia she won't have to move at all.

"W--what you can't smash the statue!" Lydia says.

Unlike Lily whose movements are subtle, Lydia is totally not subtle at all about it. She's not an elite professional operative and her movements are easily read!

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    "I thought it would be a nice thing, to spend time as a family..." Riesenlied expresses with a bashful smile to Lydia.

    Mikaia blinks a few times as she, as the one furthest forward, is the one to spot Jacqueline, Neriah and the others speaking to her first. "Huh? Neriah?" she bobbles forward excitedly, before Riesenlied can even catch up with her thoughts--

    A Guardian Statue? Here?

    The littlest beastgirl pops in and looks up at Jacqueline, and Neriah, two people she trusts utmost and all! "Neriah! Jaaay! I haven't seen you in so long! Are you doing okay? Mama was really worried after Wayside, but-- you look okay!"

    A pause. "What're everyone else doing here...?"

    Ut oh.

<Pose Tracker> Tesni Inoue has posed.

Tesni Inoue had run into Jacqueline by chance last night and had offered her help to her friend. She looks to Jaqueline.

 "We're here to help you be a good friend and not let your friend do something they won't be able to take back."

 Tess has a leather bag over her back on top of her normal quiver and bow but she doesn't have them drawn just yet she looks to the shadow her eyes narrowing slightly she flanks Jaqueline but makes no move for her pack or her weapon.

 She does not speak but she's clearly here to support her own friend on this, she keeps an eye on the shadows for anything else which might pop out and ambush them.

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

She couldn't call it a spell, or anything so formal, what she did with Avelina. It didn't feel like something that should have a name. It was the working of the world, the constant march of destruction into creation, focused, catalyzed, and laid bare.

And she saw something in the middle of that light. Someone staring at her with a resentment that pierced the sky.

The sound of boots on soil pulls Cecilia out of her reverie. She's called her allies together to escort her, to investigate this woman spreading some hideous power. But as they grew closer, something else called to her, a quiet adagio amid the song. So when she steps out into the starlight, her eyes are up already, expectant. "Something's coming," she murmurs toward Claude. "Be ready, please."

Which is when Neriah makes her presence known. Cecilia's staff comes to her hand, whirled up in defensive posture. A Guardian Statue...secured on Lunar, by millenial magic. There's a lot to unpack about that, but for the moment only one thing truly matters of it:

"It must be sealed," Cecilia says. "To stop this world from burning. We won't let you just do as you please."

<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

It is somewhat questionable as to whether Claude C. Kenny, who was born in Paris (Texas, not the other one) would in fact recognize the aforementioned cultural artifacts as coming from Japan, or even Earth, at all. What limited Asian cultural influences Claude had growing up were restricted to vague Chinese proverbs his mother would quote while literally beating kung fu into him. As a resident of the wider galaxy, most of Claude's cultural influences come from other planets rather than weird subcultures on the planet he already grew up on.*

This is largely irrelevant anyway, as Claude C. Kenny is not here. Escorting Cecilia Lynn Adlehyde is one Cless al'Vane, leader of the Brave Phantasia mercenary company. Cless is, notably, sporting an improvised head bandage, dark circles under his eyes, and general body soreness that he earned over the weekend preventing the Emperor of Rolance from getting dunked on by the Trial Knight. Unfortunately for Cless, the only way to do so was to substitute himself for the aforementioned dunking.

Cless is growing less fond of Lunar with each passing moment.

But concussion or no concussion, when Cecilia (who has thus far flatly refused to adopt the 'Octavia Mamaris' pseudonym he suggested) says get ready to fight, Cless puts on his fightin' togs... although he has not yet replaced the breastplate that got shredded in the fight from two days ago, and looks a bit weird in one-third-plate armour. "Gotcha," he says, drawing sword and an uncharacteristic shield (the latter borrowed from a Rolance guardsman who, er, doesn't need it any more) as he steps close to Cecilia's side.

* - This is the case on most other planets in the Pangalactic Federation as well. Rigel VII has an active and influential Norse subculture, with the Prose Edda and Heimskringla serving as the topics for two highly successful film franchises. The sole Terran subculture to not get much love off-planet are the Welsh, whom most aliens agree have a language that is just danged weird.

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

    Noeline knows from experience and training that she doesn't need to find a weapon; she can summon one herself at any time, has done so and will surely do so again. Still, she finds a knot of tension in her gut all of a sudden, hands grasping at midair reflexively at the sight of the children scurrying around her towards the figure.

    As much as she's ready to put trust in Riesenlied's beliefs as far as Neriah is concerned, things start to immediately break down; Lydie speaks up in defence of the statue, while a giant man stands up to speak of destroying it. Even if she doesn't recognize him from any of the old briefings, her mind can only fill in the word 'Veruni': they don't build humans that tall.

    Cecilia's fierce words from off to one side brook no argument, while members of the Caravan Kinship come in from the other end - and Noeline immediately realizes that once again, Ethius is directly and immediately on the attack--

    --and that, more than anything, is what pushes her forwards with a unfamiliar spike of fear, recognizing all too well that Neriah's counterattack may not be all that discerning or controlled. Her lunge forward is more of a sweep, circling around just enough to scoop both children up under her arm to bring them back towards Riesenlied's side. "--get back! They're going to--" she blurts, half-warning and half-explanation and half-apology all at once as Ethius's strike tries to find a home.

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

One would think that it'd be inadvisable to exert yourself so soon after climbing what may literally have been a Hellion Mountain. But Cyre has decided that it's wise to strike while the proverbial iron is hot and head out for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

One does not always get to see the Seven Wanderers align in their lifetime.

Also, he has a statue to seal. A Guardian Statue. On Lunar! That just calls into question all sorts of things, chief among them whether the Elw were travelling regularly between Lunar and Filgaia back when they had beaten back the Metal Demons the first time. But that's a question for scholars and future adventures.

There's something far more important to do today.
"Well, here I thought we'd be able to get one of these taken care of without a fight for once," Cyre sighs as he descends from a nearby treetop perch. "I'd hoped to stay asleep 'till the stars were right, but I guess that's not going to be a thing, is-- are those kids?"

Cyre stares aghast at Mikaia and Janey.

"W-wait, hold on," Cyre holds up a placating hand in Neriah's general direction. "Can we at least let those two get somewhere safe before starting all this?"

Apparently not, says Ethius Hesiod.

DC: Cyre H. Lorentz switches forms to Wind Shaman!
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

    White Knight Leo has not had a good week. He's here, nevertheless, because the cult festering in Rolance has spread its wicked influence here--Leo heard as much from one of its penitent former members. He cares not for Statues, or for the heathen gods they represent, but he knows this: Neriah has embraced the corruption he sensed in her.

    She must be stopped before she spreads her vile influence further.

    Leo arrives at the perimeter of the clearing without further fanfare--there are Guards at his back, of course, but this is the same regiment he brought to that ambush. They're well-trained in the art of concealment. Leo takes stock of the situation, using almost un-Leo-like discretion. He's still injured from the Trial Knight's attack, after all, and as he watches Jay try to reason with her friend, he finds himself almost wishing she could break through.

    Then he shakes his head. His hand comes to rest on his blade, ready to charge in the instant hostilities begin.

<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


"Ya know," This from the tall lanky fox-eared form of one Morgan Newkirk. "Ya really should think about takin. I know know, a few days rest there 'Cless'." He can't say that with a straight face. He just can't. "Ya look like your about to fall over."

The fox himself is looking slightly better, having only be set on fire and stabbed instead of dunked on by a Trial Knight. Ambling up behind Cecilia and her little knot of mercenaries. And heroes. And...whatever he is.

He wasn't ever very just where he fit in that spectrum.

Other people want to talk and Morgan seems more than willing to let them do just that. After all less talking means less fighting. Less fighting means same amount of money for less about of getting shot, or stabbed, or set on fire, or anything to that effect.

He even offers a bit of a wave in greeting towards Neriah. One white furred ear tilting slightly in greeting. "Just what is necessary about breaking the statue though?" He asks. "Color me curious, darlin'."

Then there is a flicker of movement on the edge of the clearing. A shadow detaches from the deeper darkness and Morgan just pauses a moment.

"...ah hell."

That about sums it up.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah had expected Riesenlied to show up. But who she brings with her--

"Mikaia," Neriah murmurs, her eyes widening and her face going absolutely pale. "Riesenlied, you...." Her lower lip hangs a little as a storm of absolutely genuine emotion wracks her face - and for a moment, the sense of guilt and shame around her is utterly palpable.

Then she presses her lips gently together, forcing them into a smile she doesn't really feel. "...Mikaia, let's talk later, okay, sweetie? There are lots of fireflies here."

More of them begin to emerge - another one dear to her. "...I'm sorry, Jay," she says with a dip of her head, and there's genuine contrition in that tone. "I don't have strong feelings about Mother... but the Metal Demons did help me to break the Chains of Arius. And the Guardians aren't...." Her eyes turn to Lily. "...Oh, hello miss. I'm sorry you got dragged into this."

Cecilia makes her statement. Neriah sighs, pushing one hand through her curls and giving her a genuinely sad look. "I know you won't. And I know you're committed to the Guardians. But I can't share your love for them."

Then Lydia speaks up in protest. Neriah frowns a little and tilts her head. "...I've debated whether I should," she admits. "I mean, if I'm being honest, my inner shoulder Valmar and shoulder Granas are kind of tied on the matter? But...."

Before Neriah can finish her sentence, Ethius Hesiod jumps right at her with his quarterstaff and attempts to plow through her.

Until she holds up her right hand. Ethius's staff hits it.

And doesn't budge. Neriah just holds the end of the staff, keeping Ethius dangling in her grip. "Oh, hey, it's my bloodthirsty buddy Ethius! Congratulations," she says before her tone abruptly flattens out.

                             "You broke the tie."

And with a sudden pulse of tenebrous magic, everyone in the clearing is inexorably drawn outward.

The clearing itself expands and darkens. The trees around the group fade from view, replaced by an endless darkness - a darkness studded with pale white stars. And yet... those stars cast little light. They shine only faintly, like sad ghosts hanging in the darkness.

An unseen force gently acts on each of those gathered. It is as though they have been drawn into orbit around the centre of a pocket galaxy - a little haunting universe. And in the centre of it all, the scarlet shape of Neriah hovers like an unshining sun.

Her voice carries back through the vastness of the pocket universe. It seems to come from everywhere at once, soft and with a touch of sadness.

"Jay... Riese... I don't want it to be this way. But you travel with people who don't deserve your mercy. Like Ethius." Of course it's CaraKin's resident lump. Of course. "So I'll cut you a deal. Find your way to the centre of my Phantom Universe and the Statue is yours. But...."

The red shape at the centre of the universe dims -- and a dreadful power begins to build. The ghost-stars themselves seem to tremble, murmuring with little hymns of horror as darkfire wells around the distant spark that is Neriah. "...I am going to murder Ethius," she declares. "I'm going to rip out his soul and make a little hat out of it and make him suffer for everything he ever did to me. And when he dies... I win."



The distance between the group and Neriah is great - but the empty space underfoot is solid enough that one can walk on it and move closer, even as the Phantom Universe opens around everyone.

And yet... as those ghost stars orbit through, moaning their ghastly songs, they begin to phase through all those they touch. Their mere touch is like a horrible, burning taint that pulses through the veins, searing the spirit and the blood.

Others are not so fortunate. Radiating out from the center of the universe, dark energy pulses and swells - and an immense coil of dark power roars outwards, through orbiting shapes that might be tiny illusory planets and stars.

A vast double beam of darkness, aiming to obliterate Ethius and Lydia as swiftly as they arrived.



Of course, not everyone is trapped in the Phantom Universe, mind. Orbiting near Riese is a large, shining white bubble.

Inside it, a field of soft grass provides a comfortable, safe place for Mikaia and Janey to chase a universe of fireflies.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Neriah Parringer with Eldritch Sphere!
GS: Neriah Parringer has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Please react using the attack number in +queue.
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Eldritch Sphere for 0 hit points!
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: That attack doesn't exist. [crystal]
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Morgan Newkirk with Celestialanthemums!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Celestialanthemums!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Noeline with Celestialanthemums!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Celestialanthemums!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Tesni Inoue with Celestialanthemums!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Riesenlied with Celestialanthemums!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Elvis with Celestialanthemums!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lydia Seren with Celestialanthemums!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Celestialanthemums!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked White Knight Leo with Celestialanthemums!
GS: You cannot attack a target more than once in a round.
GS: Neriah Parringer has canceled their attack on Lydia Seren.
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Catastrophic Wave!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lydia Seren with Catastrophic Wave!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Celestialanthemums for 86 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Celestialanthemums for 82 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Morgan Newkirk guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Celestialanthemums for 105 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Morgan Newkirk!
DC: MISS! Claude C. Kenny completely evades Celestialanthemums from Neriah Parringer!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.




    [ MISSION OBJECTIVES ]

    Navigate the Phantom Universe and seal Rigdobrite's Statue!
    Survive the dangers....

    Victory Conditions:
        [ ] Survive 5 rounds

    Fail Conditions:
        [ ] Ethius or Lydia do not survive





DC: MISS! Noeline completely evades Celestialanthemums from Neriah Parringer!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Celestialanthemums for 69 hit points!
GS: Elvis guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Celestialanthemums for 76 hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lily Keil with Celestialanthemums!
GS: CRITICAL! White Knight Leo critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Celestialanthemums for 33 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
GS: CRITICAL! Lily Keil guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Celestialanthemums for 95 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Lily Keil!
GS: Tesni Inoue guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Celestialanthemums for 80 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil used the Force Action Protect! She takes Neriah Parringer's attack on Lydia Seren on herself!
GS: Lily Keil has activated a Force Action!
DC: MISS! Lily Keil completely evades Catastrophic Wave from Neriah Parringer!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Catastrophic Wave for 200 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    In many ways, the greatest fear of any parent is for something exactly like -this- to happen to one's children. As Mikaia runs ahead, as Lydie makes her call and Lily voices her warning-- as Noeline leaps ahead...

    "M-Mikaia! Mikaia--"

    Ethius charges ahead. Riesenlied spots Cecilia's entourage, along with Cl--ess, Morgan and the others; that giant man whom she does not know... and the others at the CaraKin too. Already, there was a recipe for--

    You broke the tie.

    Tenebrous magic draws inwards, and she cries once more, "MIKAIA!"

    Janey growls as she goes, "U-ugh, that lumphead!" Riesenlied stares, whipping her head left and right as she expresses, "W-where are we...?" She stares towards the shape at the centre, shining with an unlight...

    But before she can do much else, she senses a horrible wave of darkness -- one that's aimed towards Ethius and Lydia, as she gazes towards the creatures that are coming at herself. She grits her teeth and falters for a moment, but whispers--

    "Lydie-- Lydie, please hang in there... Janey, Mikaia..."

    ~*~

    A flowery field of soft grass awaits both Janey and Mikaia, as the younger of the two look around with a pleasant expression on her face. "Um-- where did everyone go? The fireflies are all here... it's cute..."

    Janey tilts her head and-- goes, "I don't... I don't remember... I feel like I was gonna do something important, but--"

    ~*~

    Riesenlied rises to her feet. She'll do it... she'll do it for them. "Noeline... let's go. We need to do this-- for-- for their sakes." And she sprints forward as she holds onto the Tear, using her senses to get a grip on her surroundings more than she's using her eyes.

GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Reload!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Noeline with ...I am not Afraid...!
GS: Riesenlied has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

It seems the human that appears has more in common with her own kind--wait, One of them doesn't look human at all. One resembles a Metal Demon...? Somewhat. Intriguing. And she wishes to destroy the statue? It seems everyone arrayed here is set out to do so. It seems it is Neriak and Elvis to defend it! "GO AWAY! I need this statue not sealed for my research! I will take you all on if I must! We--"

'We' is about as far as that teamwork gets. The phasing woman set to destroy the statue seizes one of the fighters, and then erupts with a strange power that engulfs all. "What kind of magic is this...?" the Muscle Professor says, looking about and the unseen galaxy. Ones of the mind. Stars, planets, oddities unexpected and amazing.

And then it goes bad.

"Fine! We can fight them in here I gu--" Once again, cut off, this time, by a strange being, or some kind of thereal entity makes contact. A passing moment, but one of unbelievable torture. "GAAAH!"

Dizzied for a moment, the man turns toward Neriah. "Oh... is THAT how it is gonna be?! You rather just attack everyone than work together? FINE! I will beat you senseless and take the statue, whole or in pieces, MYSELF!"

Quickly wrapping his hands in superior cloth, Elvis turns to the creatures that dare touch it and launches a flurry of punches near invisible to the naked eye! "It will be mine this time! No one can have it!"

GS: Elvis has attacked Neriah Parringer with Rapid Punch!
GS: Elvis has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

The Chains of Arius...? The Guardians?

"Thanks," Lily answers her apology, and even if there's a little sarcasm in it she does appreciate the politeness at least. ...Nevertheless she can't step out of it, if a statue really is in play. And when things go to hell quickly--

Lily narrows her golden eyes. "Hesiod--" Her jaw sets in focus, in irritation? And the darkness spreads. ...Spreads, and the stars shine, anemic in the field. SHe feels herself hover, standing, and looks to the strange, scarlet shape ahead. "Friend of yours?" Lily asks Riesenlied and Jay both, looking for a moment to Noeline, the dark knight beside her. ...They are both that well enough; dark knight, dark mage.

The 'deal' is offered. "...Seriously?" she says to herself. "...All right." She looks to Ethius, notes his position--but there's little time to stop, and think, and act. Lydia is in the path of a growing power, and the ex-soldier Lily surges forward and to the side, throwing out her good hand. The ghost stars pass through Lily, sending searing pain and horrid taint flowing through her. It sends her spiraling, but she already knows her target.

"Lydia!"

Darkness pulses around her in the face of pale light, violet power stretching outward. Darkness meets darkness, and the beam headed for Lydia parts around her, as if meeting a rock in a stream thanks to Lily's power.

"Damn," she says, wincing; her dark clothes make the effects hard to see, but shadows linger around her and they are not her own. She throws out her hand again, and this time the light is red, an aura welling up seemingly from within Lydia, all around her, to mend old hurts, to shield against new ones even as the field fades from visibility.

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Lydia Seren with Red Aura!
GS: Lily Keil takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Lily Keil heals Lydia Seren! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

    "Hah!" mutters Noeline without any humour whatsoever; the outwards push of the expanding space buffets her backwards, and there's another lurch of fear in her chest as it separates her from the orphans, the pocket space rocketing into shape around them. Her knees and feet score a long line in the dirt from the blowback, but she's up on her feet fast enough to whirl on the pocket universe, watching it develop in hopes of learning more about it's structure while she still can.

    "--that's it? That's your 'it must be done'?" she snorts vividly as she picks herself up to her feet. There's a fire in her head, one she's not used to feeling - even in the midst of Wayside's worst moments it was just her and Riese, with the orphans already safe. This time, however-- her knuckles are white against the spear that's suddenly in her hand, having appeared from nowhere. "For petty revenge, and for payback? Have you even listened to a single thing Riesenlied ever taught you!?"

    "And you can't even own up to it," she adds as she begins to push against the darkness, tearing at the power inside of her; if one Guardian attracts another, maybe she can use Duras Drum's own power to find a way forwards. "You can't even show Mikaia and Janey what you're doing! Some trust you have in them!"

    If nothing else, she's drawn inexorably to Riesenlied's side - and the sight of the other Metal Demon seems to bring her back to herself a little bit, calming her as she sucks in a shaky breath. One hand steals for Riesenlied's, even in the midst of the darkness, and clasps it tightly. "... together," she mutters, and then is sprinting forwards as well.

GS: Riesenlied heals Noeline! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Noeline gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Noeline has spent 1 Combo on Reload!
GS: Noeline has attacked Riesenlied with When I'm With You...!
GS: Noeline has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Noeline's When I'm With You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Riesenlied gains 15 extra FP from Noeline!
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

    Space tears and bends. A sudden, sickening sensation settles in the pit of Leo's stomach as the earth--the steadfast, solid earth--disappears from beneath his feet. This isn't like being in a building, or on the water. It's like it's not even there, like he's been translocated somewhere else. The wounds left by the Trial Knight remind him of their existence in a litany of pain.

    Neriah announces her intent to murder a man. Leo doesn't know Ethius, but he has seen Neriah's works. He knows where he falls.

    "I've seen enough," says a voice from Neriah's left. It carries, despite the great distance between them. Leo is there, his blade drawn, cutting a menacing figure despite his injuries.

    In that instant, the 'Phantom Universe' reveals its true nature. A star that Leo thought was a clever illusion drifts close, and the merest brush sends tendrils of pain crackling down his arm. He twists out of the way, flexing his fingers to try and convince his arm not to go numb. "I saw what you think of those you've duped into following you, creature," Leo snarls. "So perhaps I shouldn't be surprised! Kind people offer you mercy and you spit in their face, force them to play your game!" He glances at the two people Neriah struck down. One is the one she vowed to kill, the other--

    It's that Filgaian Beastwoman. Leo's mind is made up. The White Knight surges forwards, adding to the wall between Lydia and her attackers. "DEMON FANG!" Leo roars, slashing a vacuum into the air itself. That vacuum blade races across the intervening distance, at the demon-woman-entity holding the lot of them captive.

GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Neriah Parringer with Demon Fang!
GS: White Knight Leo takes 7 damage from Poison!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from White Knight Leo's Demon Fang for 85 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Elvis's Rapid Punch for 54 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"I can understand that, but...if Mother is free, there won't be anything left. The Guardians are the only thing holding her back." Jacqueline replies, shaking her head.

Lily has a question, and Jacqueline glances toward her with a nod.

"Yes, she is, she-" It's at this point that a certain beastgirl appears. Jacqueline stares, kind of in shock.

"M-Mikaia! It's good to see you, but you shouldn't really-" Jacqueline is interrupted by the sight of movement off to the side. It's quick, and subtle. Too quick. There's nothing that she can do about it.

...Of course Ethius would be here.

Like a death toll, Neriah speaks, and things react.

Jacqueline yelps in suprise as she finds herself drawn backward, and the atmosphere shifts. They are no longer in the clearing - they're surrounded by darkness and countless stars - and in the middle, Neriah, burning scarlet.

Her voice resonates through the world. Jacqueline can hear it clearly. ...She seems well and truly intent on murdering Ethius. Jacqueline is still unhappy with him due to...everything, but...

"Please, Neriah! Even he doesn't deserve this! You don't have to do this!" Jacqueline pleads, stepping forward.

In response to her movement, a ghostly moaning star phases through her. Jacqueline shrieks and, for a moment, is brought to her knees, her eyes shut tight in pain.

...But...she has to keep going.

"Neriah, tell me...why? Why Felkirk? What are you gathering followers for...?" Jacqueline asks, rummaging through her bag. She draws out a potion in her hand...but she doesn't toss it. No, she simply uncorks it and lets the strange atmosphere of this place do the work, as the liquid inside floats out as a mist...

<Pose Tracker> Tesni Inoue has posed.

Things are not going well things are not going well at all here with this at all. She sees Ethius but it's too late there's no time for her to respond fast enough to Hesido's actions. Any chance of talking things out just went up in smoke. Now they want to eat Heisod's soul? Okay, things are getting creepy here, disturbing and downright eldrich horror to Tess. The Dark energy causes her pain, her eyes focus. Terrors from the night, things thought to be myth live in this system.

 "Ethius you fool!"

 The battle is on they have to not die in a place like this? Goodness, this is going to be hard, she does not go for her weapon she reaches out with her powers, the tattoos on her arm start glowing a bright blue as she triggers the spell her mind lashes out sending a force bolt at Neriah.

 "I will never just lay down and die."

 The mind bullet is let rip it's not targeting anyone it's trying to hit one of the strange stars that seem to cause the injuries to everyone.

 "Boss we need to move!"

 She calls out to Jaqueline, she's also trying to get a move on with this in mind.

GS: Tesni Inoue has attacked Neriah Parringer with TK Burst!
GS: Tesni Inoue has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Neriah Parringer with Sapping Solution!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia says, "What the fuck is a Chain of Arius?" Despite the language, it isn't intrinsically hostile though she is a little hostile in GENERAL due to Neriah threatening the statue, something that eases for the smallest of times between Neriah being conflicted on the matter (this person apparently likes Mikaia and she is disinclined to drop a meteor on Mikaia's friend unless she, like, has to) and Ethius trying to murder her. Even if the person does sound pretty crazy that's okay. It's not a crime to be kinda cracked.

Lydia's opinion on Granas is well known but that's really more the religion than the god that may or may not exist or the devil that may or may not exist. "Well--"

And there Ethius goes.

"Ethius!" Lydia growls. "What are you doing here?? Are you here for your cloak well I'm not giving it ba-aaaaahhh shit!"

The aaahh shit is when Neriah goes from creepy to lovecraftian. Lydia draws those portal guns of hers because they may be unfortunately useful in this kind of situation.

She listens to Neriah's complaints.

"You can't...make hats out of souls." Lydia says. "And...you can't just kill Ethius because he's a dick who breaks the hearts of those around him and is uncomfortably chill with murdering people based on what they are and tells everybody around him what to do like he's the boss of everyone and pisses off even Jay and...um..."

A death beam is thrown her way. It's darkness, which Lydia probably won't react well to. Lydia has had dreams like this, dreams in which she walks across the surface of suns. She grits her teeth tightly against one another and considering they're all fangs, it's looking sharp.

But Lily steps in the way and Lydia is jarred out of her stunned horror. "Lily... why are you... all I ever did was hurt you." Perhaps she is hanging around Riesenlied too much because she looks like she's about to tear up. She does stop herself though because she takes in a deep breath as she focuses on Neriah. Hang in there, Riesenlied says, but how can she when she needs to look out after her family?

"You...you..." Lydia draws out her Rigdobrite medium. Now she remembers... Astie Jail.

"The point is you can't! Because you two are being REPEAT OFFENDERS!" She wags her finger. "Repeat offenders go to jail! I'm the last one to talk about being civilized, but this is too much!"

Lydia tries to grab hold of her determination as she summons an array of meteorites in the strange vaccuum like arena, providing platforms for folks if they'd like to bounce about and throw themselves bodily as these ghosts that are appearing. In fact, some of those meteors are heading right for them! It hasn't occured to her that the children are in a protective bubble, so her fear for them is genuine but jumping on meteors is going to take Lydia a bit because there's plenty of people providing her aid. Even White Knight Leo.

"Ah--you...!" Lydia says, eyes wide.

NOTE: LYDIA THINKS WHITE KNIGHT LEO IS SUPER AWESOME BECAUSE HE IS AN AUTHORITY FIGURE BEASTMAN WHICH IS PRETTY UNUSUAL AND COOL IN HER EYES. "What was Neriah doing?" Lydia asks of Leo. "Wait--" She hears Jay. "Felkirk was Neriah?!"

GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Tesni Inoue's TK Burst for 89 hit points!
GS: Please react targeting the attack number in +queue.
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a glancing hit from Jacqueline Barber's Sapping Solution for 0 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Cless al'Vane offers Morgan a grin and the ghost of a shrug in response to his comment; if he was a little (okay, a lot) more well-read, the blonde swordsman would offer an offhand comment or proverb about necessity or duty. Instead, he focuses on Neriah's form, knowing he needs to catch the slightest tells imaginable. So much of the stupid nonsense on this planet is invisible to his eyes, and impossible to confront as a result.

It is therefore a shock to Cless that the swirling stars are not only swirling but that he can see them do so, and one does not need to have graduated from space college to know that it's probably a bad idea to take one of those in the face. He tracks the movements by eye and timing, instincts garnered from countless hours of zero-G combat training rising once again to the fore. Cless sidesteps a swirling asteroid, duck-shuffles under a second, then quickly steps past a trio of arcing planets in orbit around a brilliant vermillion star.

Within his mind, Claude thinks this may also be the result of his connection to the Star Guardian, a.k.a. the only Guardian he can stand on a personal level, the others being kind of jerks in a lot of ways. Maybe, he thinks in total disregard of the actual shaman not a dozen yards distant from him, or the other shaman even closer, he is like the CHAMPION OF RIGDOBRITE or something. He did get a Medium* from Rigdobro, after all! That would be sweet!

Emboldened by this thought, a determined Cless hops up over another attack, then focuses his chi along his borrowed longsword. "DEMON FANG!" he roars, firing a golden-hued energy projectile in the direction of the cause of all these problems, i.e., Neriah's face.

* - Said Medium currently residing, new as the day he received it, wrapped in an old sock at the literal bottom of Claude's backpack, shoved under his bed.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Neriah Parringer with Air Slash!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Claude C. Kenny's Air Slash for 24 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Neriah Parringer with Asteroid Ball!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Asteroid Ball for 86 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    This is the only opportunity he has to stop her. There is no other alternative. It is not a matter that can be talked away - they have seen, twice, the consequences of her presence. He knows inherently that he can't hold their inclinations against them. There are things that must be done.
     The staff is stopped cold against her hand. It's... more chilling than that. From the angle of his strike, and the forces of gravity being a thing, his feet should be touching down on the ground. He's not. He's being held there, eyes narrowed as she faces him with that all-too-casual greeting.
     He has no words for her. He only ever deals with hatred and death, by her description of him. Even now, this short a time since the harrowing battle to save the Emperor, where he must still be nursing grievous wounds to the body, mind, and soul, he's still doing it.
     Ethius has no sense of what happens next as he's hurled back. The wave of darkness swallows him. The vastness of the universe surrounds him. Kind, concerned words do not reach his ears. The promise that he will be murdered, to rip out his soul and-- well that's already on the record.
     He has no words. It's difficult to speak. His eyes squeeze shut, his lungs deflating as he tumbles in free-fall through dark energy that snatches him, to try and tear him apart. He can't breathe. He has no expectations of breathing. The cold of the abyss freezes him solid - at least, the cold he seems to expect for it to be? All this, while ghostly stars orbit around him - mockingly, like vultures, waiting to pick him apart while the beam of darkness swallows him within this Phantom Universe.
     His mind is a total blank. That... might have killed him. He might have expected to be dead, in his environs. Why?
 
     What is a star? This is a question that he hears. This time there's a voice to it. That means he's not dead. That means sound is traveling. That means... a lot of things.
     Ethius coughs violently. Blood continues to circulate. He can open his eyes. The pressure is... more importantly, he recognizes he can breathe. He's also not floating. His back is on the... ground? On some kind of existence that simulates being on the ground.
     The ghosts continue to encircle around him, as Ethius grips the quarterstaff. He's alive, he's not frozen, he's not decompressed, and he is surrounded in a darkness in which only primal fear and oblivion lies. As far as he can tell, no matter his true position, he is alone.
     Alone, with the ghosts, and the overbearing ambient menace of the eighth. That's just like him, isn't it? He's alone. What he does, he has to do alone. As far as he knows, he might be the only one, alone, with the will to try and stop her.
     Will? Intent, more like. Will... before something like this, whose resolve could hold? Even for one who seems intent to just hurt and destroy, maybe this cannot be called 'will.'
     He swings his quarterstaff at the ghostly stars that draw near. They're desperate, rather than calculated. When he has his feet, he moves forward. He moves, at least. Is it forward? The darkness is all-consuming. There may be nothing more than oblivion on the other end of this. There may be no end to this.
     ...Are those meteors, over there? He thinks he can hear Lydia's voice. But he's alone in the darkness.
     He hears a familiar voice cry something about a Demon Fang. He's not sure why it's familiar. But he's alone, isn't he?
     As Ethius continues swinging and flailing against the ghosts that keep him company, the Stone Medium in his posession on his person, somewhere, seems to get a bit warmer.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Neriah Parringer with Desperate Flailing!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Desperate Flailing for 73 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


You broke the tie.

"Would it kill ya ta just try ta talk it out every so often, Ethius!" Morgan shouts in exasperation as the world seems to implode under the force of Neriah's magic. There is a muttered curse as he staggers in the sudden darkness only to have a damn star ghost swoop though him.

It chills to the bone.

More than that memories explode behind his eyes. Thoughts of places far away and what he thought long forgotten. He thought he's come to terms with not being able to go home but the memories bring that little decision into question as he staggers a moment.

There is a growl of annoyance as he backhands though the ghost. A visceral angry reaction assisted by the blue-glowing ARM he wears. Claws seem to sprout from the gauntlet, intent on ripping into the essence of the thing to take out his frustration and momentary distraction on it.

"Gotta...get to the center..." He mutters. "Anything got something that can brighten up this mess!"

It does seem to be really dark in here.

GS: Morgan Newkirk has attacked Neriah Parringer with Rain Down!
GS: Morgan Newkirk takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Morgan Newkirk has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Morgan Newkirk's Rain Down for 27 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Everything goes straight to hell.

Perhaps literally, by some the definition of some religions. Darkness swallows up all the world, and the void of space is filled suddenly with inauspicious stars. But that's only the half of it-- darkness drowns the world, yes, but the ones drawn to its innermost reaches are...

Well. Nobody should be surprised at all that one of them is Ethius Hesiod.

The other, though. The other gets more than just a whispered curse out of the CaraKin's friendly resident wind-speaker. "Lydia!" Cyre roars, surging through the astral catastrophe. "Damnit Ethius!" He growls, grazing the pale, ghostly light of one spectral planet and feeling the numbing, soul-scourging agony spiderweb across his skin. He ignores it. He ignores it because he's way too pissed right now. "I swear if Lydia gets hurt because of your stupid timing, it won't MATTER if Neriah somehow doesn't kill you! I'll do it myself!"

But that's IF Ethius inexplicably survives all this. Cyre snarls, ducking and rolling beneath another dreadful orbit. The wind rushes forward, twisting and twining into the heart of Neriah's maelstrom and... Forms a howling, whirling barrier around Ethius' body.

Because, y'know.

Cyre can't kill him later if he's dead.

<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

At the request to brighten things up, Cless - who has something in his pants that can accomplish this feat - looks toward Cecilia with a question in his eyes.

(He's pretty sure he knows the answer is no.)

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Wind Wreath!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz heals Ethius Hesiod! He gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia's willing to be reasonable, but sometimes you have to go in stating your expectations up front. That's politics! Still, that woman...the sense she gives off is quite different from the hair-raising spite she felt through her connection to Avelina. "...I know," she says, finally. She doesn't understand, not really, but she knows there are those who feel such, and she knows there is...a cause, if not one she finds moving. "But this--this is the world we're--"

And then Ethius tries to murder her. "THIS GUY!?" Cecilia yelps with rather less composure, because Ethius is starting to get down into the 'so in a big picture sense, how big an abuse of power IS having a particularly annoying man flensed, really' levels of the relationship chart.

And then Neriah releases those powers, Cecilia finds her body drawn outward beyond her ability to stop or control. She tries to dig in with her staff, but dig in to what, as Neria seemingly rips the world apart. What a horrible power...As she forces herself up, she takes stock. Her fingers hover over her Crest case, but she can't quite pull herself together enough to release all their power just yet. Got to keep moving. This much magic should move the Leyline, and that will hopefully bring some Leypoints in...

She ducks down. As Neriah commanded, keep moving. Which is actually a problem, for Cecilia - a sorceress is happiest when she can plunk down and start firing off spell after spell, not navigate some horrible maze of anti-dimension nonsense. But...she lifts her foot and forces it down again. Keep moving. She has to keep moving. Lily's here, she heard her, and so are Claude, and Morgan...

She produces one of her crests, a black magic icon splashed across the center, and flicks it into the air. The small stone chip flicks up until she thrusts her staff at it, the magic lines cohering. "SPARK!" Cecilia calls, firing half-blind toward Neriah at the heart of all this. "Are you alright?" she calls to Claude and Morgan. "We have to keep moving! You heard her! Get to the center! And..." ...she grimaces. "You know, keep that dingus alive if you can."

She puts a few feet behind her before she says, "Please don't vaporize the entire clearing unless it looks like a significantly better idea than it does right now," she replies to his query.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Neriah Parringer with Spark!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Spark for 19 hit points!
DC: 1 turn has elapsed in the battle against Neriah Parringer! 4 turns remain!
GS: Neriah Parringer has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Extend!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

At the very centre of the universe, Neriah moistens her lips as someone moves to take a blow for Lydia Seren. "Brave, aren't you," she murmurs. Her voice echoes from everywhere and nowhere, seeming to whisper from the stars themselves.

What does not come from nowhere is the fact that she slips a silvery pistol from her robe, takes aim, and attempts to shoot Lily in the frigging skull.

Phantom stars give way beneath Elvis's thunderous blows. Still more dissipate as Tesni blasts away at them. The ectoplasmic being of the creatures scatters away into the universe, each one giving off a little wail as they're struck. Still more vapourize as Jacqueline's mist hisses through them.

As Leo lashes out with a thunderous sweep of his blade, the vacuum blast travels even to the depths of Neriah's pocket star system - and she lifts her right hand. The wave slams into a flickering field around her, an eldritch shell laced with incredibly complex patterns visible even from here.

"The interesting thing is why people would want what I offer them, isn't it?" her voice rings around the White Knight. "Think about what Althena offers them. At a time of Malevolence, she takes away drink and song. Things people use to dampen their sadness. Has it ever occurred to you that your Goddess has done more to spread Malevolence on this world than most Hellions, White Knight? Because it surprised the hell out of me."

As she monologues, Claude, too, sends a wave of air racing to the centre of the little system. Again Neriah brings her shield to bear, letting the force wave slam into it. "I remember you. You're an interesting one," Neriah murmurs, her voice echoing around him. "Are you one of Rigdobrite's followers? I feel like you might be. In fact, didn't you try to stab me in the face back under Wayside that time?"

As Morgan blasts through more than a few ghost stars, there's a sudden whisper of light around him. Out of the darkness, a shape begins to manifest.

It's a shimmering female form - Neriah's, unclad but featureless, shimmering with a roseate light and translucent. The phantom shape drifts up behind him... and her arms slide about his shoulders. "Y'know... I always liked you," she whispers in his ear.

And then the phantom Neriah closes her arms, and bursts into deathflame that attempts to consume Morgan completely.

"Jay... Felkirk was an accident. There was a man whose powers did something with mine," Neriah admits. "But it showed me just how far I could go. And how I could help others.

"Because so many people, Jay... they're like me. I tried so hard to be a good girl, even though the world hated me. I even tried to master my powers at a low level. I figured I could use them for good."

Neriah's voice hardens. "That lasted until the Demon of Elru broke my skull. And that's when I realized that the Trial Knight was right. That Millenia was right. That I've been denying the reality that I am a destroyer, and all denial got me was lying dead in the street in the middle of a burning Wayside, knowing I'd failed Riese and failed Mikaia.

Cecilia's spark migrates through her monologue. Neriah holds her hand out as it approaches. The shining node of light begins to slow - and it erupts against Neriah's pulsing eldritch field, breaking down into energy.

"So I embraced Valmar and lived," Neriah finishes.

Those migrating deeper into the system will begin to encounter turbulence. There's a broad ring of what appears to be orbital dust looming ahead.

Dust that begins to congeal into the shapes of ghostly warriors - men with swords and blades, with spears and bows. They shriek as they rise like damned spirits from the dust, firing spectral arrows and swinging phantom blades at all and sundry - some even hurling vast fireballs towards the foes before them.

Lydia's meteors thrash through many of them. The way is clear; the girl can drift ever closer to the heart of the Phantom Universe. Ethius's flailing helps to widen the hole all the more. The two can begin to see each other now - off in the distance, little sparks of one another.

But Neriah's leveling her hand again, drawing in a breath. "In retrospect, maybe you shouldn't have let me out of Astie Jail," Neriah admits. "But I am going to kill Ethius. Jay and Riese at least cared about me... but Ethius never did. He deserves what he's due."

A burst of energy comes raging out of the heart of the system. Again it powers towards Ethius and Lydia - but this time it breaks into a series of smaller fireballs, spraying outwards, then converging on them in a punishing rain of shadow fire that threatens to consume both.



The good news for Riesenlied is that Mikaia and Janey seem to be surprisingly safe. They're floating in the outer solar system in a little bubble of peaceful bliss. The fireflies dance around them, forming little patterns and then flitting out of them again.

"You do something important every day, you know," a soft voice says near them.

Neriah, in a knee-length white sun dress, sinks to her knees between the two little ones, smiling as she holds a hand out to the fireflies... or is it Neriah? There's a subtle haziness to her shape - merely a projection of herself, for the real Neriah is still at the centre of the Phantom Universe, hurling death at people.

In the Bliss Bubble, the projected spirit of Neriah smiles and picks a wildflower, beginning to weave several into a circlet for Mikaia. "I'm glad you've both kept Riesemama out of trouble, you know. I'm very proud of you both."

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Neriah Parringer with Inhalation!
GS: Neriah Parringer gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Neriah Parringer heals Neriah Parringer! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Morgan Newkirk with Such A Handsome Guy!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lily Keil with Marilyn in the Black Morass!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Tesni Inoue with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked White Knight Leo with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Noeline with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Riesenlied with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Ethius Hesiod with All-Consuming Evil!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lydia Seren with All-Consuming Evil!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Tesni Inoue takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Cascade of the Damned for 187 hit points!
DC: 2 turns have elapsed in the battle against Neriah Parringer! 3 turns remain!
GS: Claude C. Kenny critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Cascade of the Damned for 36 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Cascade of the Damned for 166 hit points!
GS: Noeline takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Cascade of the Damned for 192 hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's All-Consuming Evil for 162 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Cascade of the Damned for 116 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Cascade of the Damned for 105 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Lily Keil critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Marilyn in the Black Morass for 28 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Lily Keil!
GS: White Knight Leo has activated a Force Action!
GS: Morgan Newkirk takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Such A Handsome Guy for 150 hit points!
GS: White Knight Leo has activated a Force Action!
GS: White Knight Leo used the Force Action Protect! He takes Neriah Parringer's attack on Lydia Seren on himself!
GS: White Knight Leo has activated a Force Action!
GS: White Knight Leo critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's All-Consuming Evil for 33 hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked White Knight Leo with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: White Knight Leo takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Cascade of the Damned for 193 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    The Phantom Universe is a powerful construct, a pocket dimension upon which reality, time and space seem distorted...

    ~*~

    Mikaia beams brighter as she waves towards some of the fireflies, then turns towards the projected Neriah. "Are you going to come back with us, Neriah?"

    She looks on, wide eyes full of innocence. "Our family's getting bigger and bigger. Lydie's with us like, full time now! And Lily, and... you know, it'd be nice to just... sit down... have dinner together."

    Janey rubs at the back of her head to go, "Ah, Mickey..." Something's nagging at her still. What is it? It's almost maddening...

    ~*~

    ... yet, Riesenlied's control over the most fundamental and elemental aspect of her being is enough for her to emit her song, as she holds her hands aloft with the Dragon's Tear floating above her palms.

    "... I am sorry that I could not help you more," Riesenlied whispers. "At Wayside, as you bled... yes, you are right-- it was a failing of mine. I wished to protect everyone, but there's only so much I can do..."

    A pause, as she expresses, "But you aren't helping others, Neriah... the power of Valmar twisted Mederic until he was but a shell of his former self. His body was consumed from the inside out -- this isn't the kind of aid these people need!"

    "As for Ethius... it is not my place to judge who is worthy or unworthy of mercy," Riesenlied expresses, her voice existing less on a physical level and more on a plane she trusts Neriah to be able to hear. "My existence... predicated in everything Wayside has ever stood for... it is to aid and provide relief to those who are in need. No exceptions. And that is why..."

    Her wings spread out with a gleaming veil of light, and she throws her voice out there-- a wordless chant, a Song of the Giants.

    A song that invigorated the weary soul of a knight who'd been betrayed by all that he knew and loved...

    A song that will guide them to the centre of this small universe, filling them with verve and a powerful strength that is borne of a shared effort from each and every one of them. Lydia's regret, even as Lily supports them through the pain that she's caused...

    A song that she casts out to Ethius as he exists, alone, surrounded by proverbial and literal ghosts. A song that she'll extend to anyone, no matter how and what has happened...

    A song that, fortunately as Morgan cries, can brighten up this mess with the light filtrating into the black Universe.

GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Reload!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Noeline with Empathic Prayer - Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Lydia Seren with Empathic Prayer - Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Lily Keil with Empathic Prayer - Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Empathic Prayer - Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Morgan Newkirk with Empathic Prayer - Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Empathic Prayer - Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Empathic Prayer - Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied heals Noeline! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Noeline gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Jacqueline Barber gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Riesenlied heals Jacqueline Barber! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Jacqueline Barber gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Lydia Seren gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Riesenlied heals Lydia Seren! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Lydia Seren gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied heals Cecilia Adlehyde! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Cecilia Adlehyde gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Morgan Newkirk gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Riesenlied heals Morgan Newkirk! He gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Morgan Newkirk gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Lily Keil gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Riesenlied heals Lily Keil! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Lily Keil gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
DC: MISS! Cyre H. Lorentz completely evades Cascade of the Damned from Neriah Parringer!
GS: Riesenlied heals Ethius Hesiod! He gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Ethius Hesiod gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

    Noeline throws a shoulder forwards, pushing straight through the ghostly blades as they come down on her. Some scorch past her skin, moving through her in a pattern that leaves pain in its wake, but the Metal Demon is much too invested to stop now, thundering forwards at speed without heed for her own injuries. She's been through worse, she's reasonably sure, and that time she didn't even have a couple of kids to look out for.

    As she does so, she reaches inside of herself, pulling at the power of Duras Drum and welling it up to the fore. Around her an aura bgins to shimmer, the twisting sorcery alternately mixing and pushing back against the dark sphere they're racing through. It isn't remotely the same darkness; hers is the power of a Guardian, a glow that shifts between dark green and purple, but one whose very domain is darkness and illusion.

    Perhaps that's why Noeline wills it forward into her spear, the shaft's length suddenly blazing in a dark and glorious fire; the living metal of the weapon seems to twist and warp under its power, or perhaps that's just the sheer concentration of illusory sorcery in one place.

    "--you are nothing but a child! Mikaia and Janey have more maturity in their frames than you! Embraced Valmar? You're ashamed of yourself!" she accuses, still feeling the heat in her veins as it mingles with the rush of channeling her Medium. "We at least told our children what we were - what we had done in our pasts! You just hide behind your own power! The Trial Knight would rip that lack of self-certainty to shreds!"

    "You accepted nothing. You just gave in," she adds at a growl, bringing her around and twisting - to slam her spear into the ground. In tandem with Riesenlied's array of glowing lights, her own strike is positively a shockwave - an expanding corona of Duras Drum's magic, seeking to sweep the nightmare space away as fast as it came.

GS: Noeline has attacked Neriah Parringer with Hades Tear!
GS: Noeline has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Noeline's Hades Tear for 23 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

"I remember that!" shouts Cless, even though it was some other blonde-haired sword dude and NOT CLESS AL'VANE REALLY who did in fact try to stab Neriah in the face a little bit. "Sort of!" he adds, entirely truthfully, because the entire Wayside engagement was a bit of a Charlie Foxtrot froms tart to finish. (It's the same fight in which Cecilia basically disacknowledged Ida Everstead-Rey from her existence, which made things a bit awkward between them. This probably contributed to her eating the funions from hell, which is basically what every damned body seems to be doing lately.

For a world with all this talk about this girl god they've got, Lunar seems to be just pooping out evil forever.

The Boy from Earth continues his advance, firing a couple of Demon Fang/Air Slashes forward to intercept the fireballs streaking at him; Cless raises his shield as the projectiles burst, deflecting the worst of the flame and letting his armour soak the rest. "Like, I hate to sound preachy and stuff," Cless shouts as he puts one foot after the other, marching stoically through the gloaming murk, carving a path through it to let Cecilia proceed in his wake. "I mean, some people worship Al Thena! Some people worship Al Mar! Some people like me don't worship any Als at all!" he adds, missing the finer theological points horribly.

Cless continues to walk and talk, interposing sentences with additional Air Slashes. "But if I can offer a suggestion as a no-Al kind of guy," he says, blasting another projectile forward. "It's that the point at which your Al tells you that you're just an evil person and everything would be better if you just DESTROY EVERYTHING is the point at which you should RECONSIDER YOUR LIFE CHOICES!"

(Air Slash.)

"I mean, people with your best interest at heart usually don't talk about how everything would be better with more murder!" he points out.

(Another Air Slash.)

"LIKE, IF THAT HAPPENED TO ME, THE POINT AT WHICH I'M FARTING LITERAL DARKNESS I WOULD SAY 'HEY CLAU---ESS, MAYBE I SHOULD TRY LISTENING TO A DIFFERENT AL ALTOGETHER AT THIS POINT'!"

(Two Air Slashes.)

"MAYBE A GUY CALLED THE DEMON OF AL RU IS ALSO NOT THE BEST PERSON TO DRAW LIFE LESSONS FROM!"

(Air Slashes, Forever.)

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Neriah Parringer with Preaching To The Unconverted!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Tesni Inoue has posed.

The Phantom Universe is a thing of nightmares to Tess does speak to Neriah.

 "You embraced it but at what cost to your self?!"

 Tess calls out as she keeps moving deeper into the system, things are getting more brutal, she notices the ring of orbital dust. Micrometeorites, is the first thought in her mind and this is not going to be good, oh heck now. "For all Ethius behaviour, he does not want to see this world burn."

 She's caught in more of the horrible powers it's painful she's clearly getting the snot kicked out of her and she's not feeling so good.

 Riesenlied's actions help solve a problem of Tess only has a limited number of medical supplies son her, then comes the song. She will follow it she will move and she will pull out a small potion bottle from her medical kid and down it.

 Hopefully the concoction will help keep her on her feet long enough to live through all of this. Or at the very least? Hold out just a bit longer.

 "Keep going!"

 She sees Cless who is totally not Claude C. Kenny make a very good point about Life lessons yet she keeps going.

GS: Tesni Inoue has attacked Tesni Inoue with Med-Kit!
GS: Tesni Inoue has completed her action.
GS: Tesni Inoue heals Tesni Inoue! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Claude C. Kenny's Preaching To The Unconverted for 20 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

    This has not been a good weekend for White Knight Leo.

    A phantasmal swordsman congeals from the shadows to his left as Neriah spouts off about Althena. Leo snarls, steps forward, and leaves himself shamefully open to a sneak attack from the manifestation--its blade sweeps forward, carving into the Beastman's side. Blood sprays from the wound, splattering the nothingness that replaced the ground. Leo reacts on rage-driven instinct, and brings his blade down at the shadow warrior's neck with both hands. The apparition falls over, headless, before dissipating into its component shadows.

    Neriah winds up again. The White Knight draws back his blade, rising to his full height as he steps in front of Lydia again. "STAY BEHIND ME!" he cries. His sword cuts the air once more, the energy wave slamming head-on into the fireballs Neriah threw at Lydia. Some of the blast wave singes Leo's hand, but it's hardly the worst he's endured this weeken.

    "Haughty talk," Leo snarls. "All I see is corruption! All I see is a woman blinded by her own failings! You've thrown away your one life for this!" Claude Kenny opens his mouth. Leo's right eye twitches at the mention of 'Al Thena', but he has much bigger problems to deal with. Leo sweeps his sword through a series of lightning-fast strikes, firing off more of those energy crescents at Neriah. At the very least, he is a bit more in his element now that he has someone to protect.

GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Neriah Parringer with Buzz Blade!
GS: White Knight Leo takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    For a man who seems extraordinarily sure of how badly he wants to completely kill or destroy things, there is little of that laserlike precision in which the man typically moves and acts. He is moving specifically for the sake of moving, because to not do so invites him being picked apart by the hovering ghosts.
     There is a soft green wind that surrounds him. The emerald shimmers remind him of Cyre... but he's on his own. He must. Words continue to echo through, in and out of coherence as Neriah's voice travels across the bizarre pocket universe.
 
     Wouldn't it be easier if you told them? That one's new.
 
     That's the one that's been asking about what a star is. That's not her. It doesn't sound like her. It doesn't sound hostile, but... he can't call it a friend. He is acting alone.
     He does not answer them. He keeps moving. He has to. Even as the lights in the heart of the system intensify, expand, explode out. As far as he knows, he's alone. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. All he can do is bring his arm over his face to stop himself from being blinded as intense volleys of fire, the color of unlight, burn well past the flesh, into the soul. It's too much for the mortal body to withstand. He's alone.
     ...
     Paradoxically, the idea of being alone... does that empower him? Is it that important that he act alone? The fire passes quickly by virtue of its velocity and nothing else. In the distance, he can see her - Lydia.
     ...
     It's too painful to keep walking. Has he been walking? Has he been going anywhere? He falls to his knees, the bottom of his staff striking against the void. It meets a 'ground,' but there's no thunderclap of sound to accompany it. The star phantoms are an indistinct flurry of color to his senses. There is a gentle song far away that overwhelms the senses. No, overwhelm suggests hostility. It... comforts?
     He doesn't slow down to comprehend it. He has to keep going. With his free hand, it flutters to the arrangement of some indistinct heat spell he mouths out four times. Four times, because the first three he accidentally skips a key syllable. Whatever's ahead, between him and her, it has to be burned away. When he gets that spell off, the ambient temperature of that part of the pocket universe rises considerably.
     Someone in the distance goes on about worship of Als, or something. A part of him recoils. An urgency allows him to keep drawing breath, if not make much further progress, as the galaxy ahead of him warps under great heat and duress - spiritually underminding a point Tesni is trying to make.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Neriah Parringer with Watch Him Just Try To Burn It All - As Always!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer guards a hit from White Knight Leo's Buzz Blade for 128 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Watch Him Just Try To Burn It All - As Always for 18
hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

There is a distinct thrumming noise with each punch Elvis throws, a vibration in the air that hums with power. Then again, Elvis is no ordinary man. And certain guesses might be correct at lineage.

His eyes flick to various people fighting. Some were at the castle, others are new. Noeline and Riesenlied however, get a longer look than normal this time around. There is something about them. They seem familiar. Perhaps just by appearance and dress, but they strike a chord in memory, albeit an incomplete one.

He will need to look into them.

For now however, there is an insane Human that dared attack a Sentinel that needs punishment. It is a good thing he wasn't Kartikeya instead. This would in very differently. Ugh, why is he even thinking about him?

---

Somewhere, a man with a Golem ARM for an arm is using ancient textbooks and scrools as flying target practice, cackling like a bewitched hyena.

---

"WHO," Elvis says suddenly, hearing Neriah speak. That guy from the temple. And that lady. "You are in league with them." He cracks his fingers inside his Power Gloves. "I am so glad I am not on your side now." The man rushes forward, and channels energy as he strikes the ground. Is there even a ground? Elvis punches downward and something does respond, a large tipped boulder of some kind, which he grabs, and with all his might, hurls at the manifestations, possibly anything farther behind will feel it too!

"No one stands in the way of my goals!"

And as he attacks, he begins to observe others' actions. Analyze them, their capabilities, for if this is over, he might have to fight them himself. If he has it in him still.

This might be a losing battle for Elvis.

GS: Elvis has attacked Neriah Parringer with Hi-Crush!
GS: Elvis has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Elvis's Hi-Crush for 23 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily's eyes snap once to White Knight Leo, noticing his presence, making calculations to account for his presence. "I'll get the explanation later!" she says to Jay meanwhile, and then looks over her shoulder to Lydia behind her. "...Maybe things like us should stick together," she offers by way of explanation. "I don't care about being hurt."

'Brave, aren't you' comes the echo.

Lily's eyes snap towards the form holding that pistol, and her eyes flash golden, starting to glow in place. The air around her distorts as if in a shimmering heat-haze, and the bullet crashes right through--but not completely on target. Her magic shifts its trajectory, and the bullet grazes her head, ripping open a bloody trail along her temple, half-blinding her in moments. "You--"

She starts to breathe in, "I wouldn't call it bravery," she answers.

"...You were there, weren't you? When Id struck..." She looks to the dust, as she will herself forward. Valmar. A force of darkness that would certainly explain this... though she didn't believe in it before. Not really.

"Honestly?" Lily speaks up, in the void, to wherever Neriah is, "I don't give half a damn what happens to Hesiod. I've tried to kill him myself, before. ...But I won't let you take the statue." The light, the song--they suffuse her, give her power, wipe away what lingers... Still she can feel the pain of the wound, but it is easier to ignore. Just as before, with her arm.

She surges forward, eyes still glowing gold, violet light shining through her collar just barely visible through the thin fabric. Lily shrugs out of her sling and points her broken arm's palm towards spectral figures, aiming to rip them apart outright with calculated bursts of rending darkness. "I won't tell you how to live your life. ...But not everyone who deserves it gets what's coming to them."

GS: Lily Keil has spent 1 Combo on Disease!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Neriah Parringer with Gloompulse!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Lily Keil's Gloompulse for 23 hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer has been weakened by Disease! They take 18.6 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"Right! Please be careful, Miss Tesni...this is not like anything you're likely to have encountered before." Jacqueline warns, then pushes forward.

She listens as Neriah speaks - as she explains what happens, and why she's doing what she is now.

...It's saddening, a little - and enough to stop her in her tracks, as a realisation hits her.

"S-so, when I found you there...you were already...?" Jacqueline whispers.

Already dead - and only alive now through the power of Valmar.

Jacqueline shuts her eyes for a moment - but finds herself on the other end of a devastating barrage that consumes her, forcing her to her knees. She gasps for a breath...and then she hears that song.

That song that helps rekindle her hope in dark times - even now, it resonates. She forces herself to her feet.

She isn't the only one trying to convince Neriah. She joins her voice with theirs.

"...I'm sorry, Neriah. I'm sorry that I couldn't be there for you sooner." She says, shaking her head as she begins to proceed forward once more, eyes set on the shape of Neriah in the distance.

"But...you didn't fail them. They're still here! They're still alive! The village of Wayside might be destroyed, but the spirit of Wayside still lives on! I know they'd still accept you, even now." She calls out.

"You don't have to be a destroyer...there's still time to stop this. You, your followers...you can still do good in this world."

<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


Morgan would very much like to migrate further into the system. However it is hard for the moment to tell which way is up. At least the star form that phased though him dissipates. Then there is a light in the darkness, the featherweight of ephemeral arms settle around him and there is a smirk at the whisper in his ear.

One hand comes up to rest against the spectral arm from a moment. "You know, darlin'." He drawls. "If we both live though this, that offer for dinner sometime is still open."

There is a beat pause.

"This is gonna hurt ain't it?"

The world turns into fire. And it sure does.

The fire eats into his soul and he staggers forwardss, tails and ears smouldering. Everything hurts...but then...

Then there is a song.

And suddenly the darkness isn't as dark. The pain isn't as great. And the fox just smirks slightly. "Little Dragon still works her magic then." He murmurs as he forces himself to move, forces battered limbs to shove himself towards the center. I mean he can't just die here. He's got a long life ahead of him still.

Really long.

Crazy space foxes.

He breaks though the barrier, closer to the center only to be confronted by ranks of ghostly knights. "Ya know," He says to no one in particular. "I'm way beyond feelin' subtle at this point. You want starlight? Fine. I can do that."

He raises his hands as his ARM flares to life, blue energy swirling even here. Shoving past the barrier to yank a weapon from some other space to his hands. A heavy looking rifle with a boxy barrel. One that glows midway down its length with pulsing aquamarine energy. There is a building hum as he pulls down the trigger and when it reaches a crescendo it begins to spit forth beams of energy. Faster and faster, scything towards the ghosts as Morgan rakes fire down their line.

Subtle? No. Effective? God he hopes so.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Neriah Parringer with Urgent Plea!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Morgan Newkirk has attacked Neriah Parringer with Hell to Pay!
GS: Morgan Newkirk has completed his action.
GS: Please react targeting the attack number in +queue.
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Urgent Plea for 0 hit points!
GS: You do not have any attacks from that person in queue.
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Morgan Newkirk's Hell to Pay for 125 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Morgan Newkirk drains Neriah Parringer! Morgan Newkirk gains 62 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Evil flame scorches all it touches, burning souls for candlewick and sin for fuel. It's a terrible, monstrous onslaught of fire. But Cyre and the others are spared from it, for now. Instead...

Instead, he's faced with a sneering doppelganger of him-- oh wait no he just punched it straight through the face.

"Ugh, do you really think I look that slimey? I don't smile nearly that creepily, Neriah!" Cyre barks back into the darkness as he continues to dance and weave through the Phantom Universe. "At least get my handsome mug right! I've caught you glancin' at it enough!"

Is...

He flirting?

No, he's sounding too worn-down for that. It's a technique Cyre has had plenty of practice with. He's distracting himself from the exertion and the fatigue. There's enough weight tugging at his spirit from the lingering darkness of Mt. Manfred, and to let it take hold now would mean certain death. Or worse.

Plus, it might just distract Neriah a little bit. Maybe draw some heat his way instead of in an Ethius-ward direction.

"Gods, though. Sometimes, times like this make me regret saving that lump," Cyre sighs in a not-quite-to-himself kind of way. Paint the target. Come on, Neriah. The shaman leaps over a chest-high wall of hate-flame, wind surging all around him, pulsing outward in waves that are aimed to buffet and distract Neriah as much as they quicken his footsteps. "But this? Is all this worth it? Much as I hate it, I've felt Valmar's power before. It's not anything good, Neriah. Nothing good can come of any of this!"

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Neriah Parringer with Stepping Wind!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
DC: Free attacks can only have the flags Gatling, Reserve, Artillery, Pierce, Heal, Reload, Rush, Strike, Inspire,
Formation, and Follow.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Stepping Wind for 59 hit points!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia Seren says, "You can't kill someone just because they don't care for you! I get the self defense but wiping towns off the map and spreading this Valmar stuff everywhere is WHY he's trying to take you out and it's a bloody easy thing to stop, I think, not doing this junk!"

But there is something disquieting when Neriah says that she would have died had she not accept Valmar's power. Perhaps sometimes there isn't a right choice or a happy ending, perhaps sometimes you just have to fight.

But Riesenlied offers another path. A path Lydia has yet to be able to follow, to be fair, but it is enough to hope for that simple truth even if she is not yet able to grasp it. Besides which, there is Mikaia, there is Janey. Even after what was done to them, did they become bitter and angry people? They're the sweetest people Lydia knows. "And if Cless, who doesn't even know how to read or write, can figure out not to listen to life advice from dark gods and people who blow up continents then you can to! And even if Valmar saved your life, how about you do good things in his name instead of this shit!"

Lydia is further protected from being set on fire (thank god) but this time it's White Knight Leo who intercedes. "You..." Lydia's cheeks are now bright red. "First Margaret, then you... why are you people so nice to me?" She lowers her head. "I don't worship Althena. I don't think I can. I thought you guys were dumbasses honestly... but since I've come here you've been nothing but kind. I don't get it."

She sighs and then shakes her head quickly. "...Thanks, White Knight Leo. You're cool but I... I gotta do something a little risky. I'll try and come back soon."

Her fingers curl around that staff of hers. It was a nice new cute staff she got and is largely cosmetic considering the power comes from the tablet not the staff. She thought it was pretty.

She doesn't need to see Ethius to know where he is. She doesn't need to hear her voice. Lydia was an astronomer before she decided to become an astronaut. The distance between two stars is something she has always been able to calculate even as they drifted through the void farther apart from one another, even if a star falls to the ground.

She launches a portal from her gun to a flying asteroid and then one down to the ground beneath her. "I mean," Lydia tells White Knight Leo. "You could come along if you want but Ethius is kind of an asshole so I'm not gonna ask you to help save him." Eventually she has to get to that flippin' bliss bubble but for now another dude is on the way.

She jumps through the portal and pops out at the asteroid that is throwing itself towards Ethius. She grabs tightly around the medium.

Lydia, I only ask that you follow what you think is right--not what your anger, however justified it is, tells you to do.

She guides a hand out, sending several blasts of laser light towards phantoms but really just to light the place up so she can try to get a grip for where that bliss bubble is. "Hold on Ethius..." Lydia says as she reaches out. "Rigdobrite! Grant me the power to...EXTEND!"

A soothing aura ripples around Ethius, even from this distnace, even as Lydia is closing in on him. Most stars don't get to decide the distance between one another but Lydia has always wanted to bridge that gap.

It is her dream.

"I admit Neriah..." Lydia says. "That I can see where you're coming from. But I had Granny Halle...!"

I have faith in you. Walk with your head held high.

"And she wouldn't want me to abandon Ethius just because I'm pissed at him! Let go of your anger, Neriah, and think this through!"

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Neriah Parringer with Solar Slicer!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: Lydia Seren used Mystic on Ethius Hesiod! Status effect durations increased by 2!
GS: Lydia Seren has activated a Force Action!
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Solar Slicer for 55 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia trudges on. Forces her way deeper in. She grits her teeth and walks, because that seems to be the theme of the weekend. Those flickering stars come at her, and she finally forces her staff down, a wall of magic and light clashes out from her, forcing away the very worst of Neriah's whirling, quiet magic. Cecilia's already shaking from it. This is a new kind of horror to face. She has to keep moving. Doubting it - questioning it - there's no purpose to that. "I think I understand that, actually," she murmurs. "When you cry out, do you take the voice that answers...? Most would, I think. I don't know what quarrel we would have, on another day. But I'm sorry."

She sucks in a breath, unsnapping the latch on her Medium case. "You've set something before me that I cannot afford to fail at. Material!"

She thrusts her staff out amid the false cosmos, and the truth asserts itself for a moment - the magic of Filgaia rushing to Lunar, whirling around Cecilia as flickering, sparkling motes that thicken, harden, solidify and become unmoving...

    The Mountain Medium roars. Cecilia calls, "Earth Surge!!"

It rises, bursting out of the cosmic fabric like a protective shell, wrapping Claude and Morgan up in a coccoon of rock that soon shatters, leaving them with the certainty that the air about them is just as protective as the mountain stones.

And off apart, where Cecilia can just about sense him amid the sea of stars, Ethius finds the same. She doesn't much like the man...but that does not require she let a madwoman kill him for spite.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Material - Earth Surge!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Material - Earth Surge!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Morgan Newkirk with Material - Earth Surge!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Material - Earth Surge for 0 hit points!
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Reload! Ethius Hesiod gains 15 extra FP from Cecilia Adlehyde!
GS: Morgan Newkirk takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Material - Earth Surge for 0 hit points!
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Morgan Newkirk!
GS: Reload! Morgan Newkirk gains 15 extra FP from Cecilia Adlehyde!
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Material - Earth Surge for 0 hit points!
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Claude C. Kenny!
GS: Reload! Claude C. Kenny gains 15 extra FP from Cecilia Adlehyde!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"I can only stay for a little while," says the Neriah in the Bubble of Bliss.

Mikaia reveals that Lydia's part of their family and so is Lily. The projected Neriah lowers her eyes to the grass a moment.

Then, smiling kindly, she reaches out to slide the circlet onto Mikaia's forehead. "I'm so happy for you. You should have a happy family. They all care about you very much."

    ~*~

Back in the Phantom Universe, Neriah's voice takes on a profound sadness as Riesenlied speaks. "What happened to Mederic... it's because the other person whose power mixed with mine... he's awfully mad. His powers are much less stable than mine are. I didn't want that to happen from him and I hate that it did. I won't let anyone else be consumed like that. I promise I won't!"

The shining light Noeline casts into the Universe smashes through more than a few phantom soldiers; they disintegrate before it. But as the light travels further, it washes across Neriah's shield, roiling over it - and yet, the shell holds. The woman's voice echoes around the false vampire, low, almost a whisper. "I admire you for having the power to defy your own nature. But it was my choice to break the Chains. It's my choice to walk down this road, even if I have to walk it alone. We find strength in different ways, don't we?"

As she speaks, Neriah levels her pistol and aims it across the distance. She lines Noeline up in her sights and moistens her lips.

With a crack and a hiss, the Dragon Fossil-enhanced gun fires - and a single bullet rips through space, seeking Noeline's life.

As Claude slashes air towards her with such shouty vigor, Neriah grunts and sweeps her arm out, the blasts straining her shield - but she deflects the worst of them away. "Oh, I don't plan to destroy everything," she admits, her voice a little clearer now that the group is growing closer. "A lot of people were really kind to me. I don't want to destroy /those/ people/ But, say... Ethius? Yeah, totally destroying him."

It is not a better world for her right now, though, because White Knight Leo is unleashing furious punishment through the stars and across the vastness of space. Energetic crescents pound into Neriah's eldritch field. She throws an arm up to shield herself with a pained hiss, straining to keep the shield up. "Tch... and what about your failings?" she bites out. "Do you know how many priests of Althena live in doubt and sadness because of your goddess, White Knight?!"

Out of the fabric of space, something begins to materialize - a ghostly shape, brandishing a shadowy blade. The figure resembles a shadowy Leo himself - and lashes out with a sweeping stroke of its own, unleashing a sickle of darkness upon the white knight!

Manifestations shatter beneath Elvis's thunderous force. Ghostly shadows flicker and fragment, the man's power sufficient to blast on through. Neriah, however, frowns from a distance away. "Wait, who's them," she asks, genuinely uncertain. "If you mean the Metal Demons... nnnnot as much as you think."

When Lily Keil lashes out with such grim darkness, more spectral warriors are consumed. They cannot stand against the dark sorceress's fell magicks. From the heart of it all, Neriah watches - and her eyebrows come up. "You know," she muses, her voice echoing around Lily, "I can respect your position. And anyone who hates Hesiod is okay people to me. The statue's yours if you can reach me in time. But I'm not going to make it easy," she warns, raising her finger.

Jacqueline makes her plea, and Neriah --

Hesitates. She doesn't say anything for several long seconds.

"Jay," she finally whispers. "It wasn't... it wasn't your fault. It was me. I wish I--"

Morgan cuts Neriah off in mid-sentence. Several ghosts burst into flame as the foxman begins to annihilate his way down the line, burning away phantoms with every blast. Neriah watches him with some surprise, surprise broken as Cyre's wind bursts around her. She inhales, then lets it out, voice steadier and more assured. "...I have a legacy to fulfill," she utters more flatly. "I can't turn away from it. Even if you and Morgan are very handsome men!"

To Cecilia, she can only offer a small dip of her head. "...I respect your beliefs. I even like many of you. But I made the only choice I could make. This, or dying there by the hand of the Demon. And so long as this is my choice...."

Ethius soldiers on, a brave but inscrutable man burning the universe before him. Space and time themselves seem to roil and sizzle beneath the power he draws with such agonized urgency. Phantom shapes scatter and break away from him. Lydia burns away still more phantoms, reaching out to unite with Ethius there on the field. As she watches them, Neriah folds her hands together.

"...And I had Millenia," she says quietly. "And Virginia. And the Trial Knight. Maybe things would've been different if I had never left home. But all I know is this.

"That denying myself was wrecking everything for me. And embracing it may hurt... but at least it's my birthright.

"I am NUMBER EIGHT. That's what I am. And that's the road I'll walk."

The phantoms are soon dissipated. A vast, starlit gulf looms ahead. In the distance, fireflies are gathering. They are beginning to collect in odd shapes. It is as though they are beginning to draw out the beginnings of lines in the air. Next to them, Neriah is raising her right hand.

The Phantom Universe TREMBLES. The illusory bubble groans as an immense force roils at its very heart. Tenebrous power pulses around the girl in red. Her eldritch field flares brightly as a coil of ghostly light surges up her arm, then bursts into the sky. It sails up into the night - it joins the Seven Stars as an eighth star.

And then it descends in a devastating rain of bolts of ghostflame and actual fire. Each blast smashes ghostly stars as it passes, pounding into the universe and its denizens without relent.

Only two are spared. Jay Barber... and Riesenlied.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Neriah Parringer with Eldritch Sphere!
GS: Neriah Parringer has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Eldritch Sphere for 0 hit points!
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Noeline with Shadows of Marilyn!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked White Knight Leo with Black Dwarf!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lydia Seren with Destruction Rains From the Heavens!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Destruction Rains From the Heavens!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Morgan Newkirk with Destruction Rains From the Heavens!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lily Keil with Destruction Rains From the Heavens!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Elvis with Destruction Rains From the Heavens!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Destruction Rains From the Heavens!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Tesni Inoue with Destruction Rains From the Heavens!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Destruction Rains From the Heavens!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Thank You!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Riesenlied with I Love You!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
DC: 3 turns have elapsed in the battle against Neriah Parringer! 2 turns remain!
GS: Noeline takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Shadows of Marilyn for 102 hit points!
GS: Claude C. Kenny guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Destruction Rains From the Heavens for 203 hit points!
GS: Elvis critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Destruction Rains From the Heavens for 40 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Destruction Rains From the Heavens for 41 hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer heals Jacqueline Barber! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Cyre H. Lorentz takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Destruction Rains From the Heavens for 127
hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
DC: MISS! Riesenlied completely evades I Love You from Neriah Parringer!
GS: Morgan Newkirk guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Destruction Rains From the Heavens for 124 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil used the Force Action Protect! She takes Neriah Parringer's attack on Ethius Hesiod on herself!
GS: Lily Keil has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lily Keil guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Destruction Rains From the Heavens for 126 hit points!
GS: Tesni Inoue takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Destruction Rains From the Heavens for 103 hit points!
GS: White Knight Leo guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Black Dwarf for 78 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Destruction Rains From the Heavens for 99 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    "I know..." Mikaia whispers, perhaps knowing something deep inside that she doesn't want to admit. "I know you can't stay, but..."

    She puts her hands behind her back. "I miss those days. Back in Wayside, when you'd come back after a long day of excavating... and I'd go, 'Welcome home!!'"

    A pause.

    "I can wait. I have a lot of time."

    Janey is still off having a headache as something doesn't gel right in her brain!! "UGH it's like a brain freeze except I don't even get a tasty treat with it!!"

    ~*~

    "It wasn't just him, Neriah... that Priestess-- the Priestess Avelina that appeared at Rolance during the Trial..." Riesenlied whispers, tremblingly. "It was not until she'd realised what had happened that she buckled and hurt, as well. This is not a strength that can sustain you, Neriah..."

    A pause, as she expresses, "I know that Millenia knows that too. It is not a way to be-- not a sustainable way to exist. You've broken the chains-- but I know Valmar only bides his time until he will consume you too."

    She holds up that cufflink, which she still hangs onto, precious at it is. "And I won't let that happen to a friend...!"

    Neriah announces that she is Number Eight, and that is the path she'll walk...

    ... so be it -- Riesenlied knows the path she walks too, and it's with a wink that she lets herself get blown away in the aftermath of the light. The cascading, elemental photons fly through the Phantom Universe...

    ... and they coalesce next to Ethius, seemingly having travelled an infinite distance, and yet, in such a short amount of time.

    "Mister Hesiod. I can scarce recall how long ago it was... back when we first met, at those grounds in Linga..."

    Her form begins to rapidly decohere, forming into a silhouette of herself. The ghostflame and fire roars with fury, descending down upon them.

    "But I protected you once. And I do not mind doing so once more. ... I may not understand, and may never understand what it is that you seek... what you hold so close to your chest, but--"

    She finally coalesces into being, as she spreads her arms and tries to focus a barrier of light around them. It falters, buckling with the first of the flame descending down... she's not certain how long it'll hold...

    "I know what I am, who I am. I am a priestess of the Fereshte, and a servant to the ideal of Wayside. And that is the road I shall walk!"

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Neriah Parringer with Mikaia - I'll Wait For You!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Mikaia - I'll Wait For You for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

Elvis crushes any who oppose him as thought the weight of Atlas wass coming down to bear! He takes a moment to catch his breath, continuing forward. Neriah addresses him. "Metal Deamons? HAH!" He starts with, with a smile unfurling under that moustache. "I have had plenty of dealings with Metal Demons. I knwo them quite well. Some of which pleasant, helpful, and even enlightening. No..."

"I mean those that follow the Knight. That follow this Valmar. That conduct twisted and corrupted 'trials'. A false pretense to a factual, investing trial of the mind."

"I despise those that use the term in such a way."

THe man charges forward, now angered at this thought. This person was in league with that white armored fellow, and the priestess at the castle. And now she too will pay. The man places up his guard as he charges, the attacks come raining in, striking him multiple times, though pain is a common hand-in-hand word with rage. The attacks continue to come in, but he sees one of those stars coming down, right at him, and he skids to a halt, he rears back his fists as he makes quick calculations on trajectory and angle, charges his fist with energy, and DECKS the object, causing a thounderous sound to peal out and fly at tremendous speed and velocity toward this would-be ally, and her fireflies.

And he doesn't stop charging. This man is the peak of athleticism, and will keep going and going. "You will pay for laying harm to me!"

GS: Elvis has attacked Neriah Parringer with Dropping Straight!
GS: Elvis has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Elvis's Dropping Straight for 58 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Cless's advance falters as Neriah points out that she does not, in fact, want to murder everyone. "I... oh," he says, blinking owlishly. He frowns. "Well, that's... good? I---"

The ghosts and fire and also ghostfire descend at that point, knocking the blonde swordsman back ass over teakettle; he slides to a halt in front of Cecilia, and lifts his shield to ward off the continuing flame. He tries to shoulder it forward, but it pushes back.

"Can't..." he grunts through gritted teeth. His right hand starts to slowly drop down toward his pants. "Might... have to..."

(now would be a good time to intervene)

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Selective destruction? ...Frankly, Lily can't argue it. Not morally, not conceptually. Neriah's corruptive powers, certainly--but not that. She hears the words given to others, ses Leo fighting a double--

And then glances in the direction of Neriah, deep in space. "...I don't mind a challenge," she answers, light still crackling around her forearm. "I'm not a kind person, myself."

A look to Cecilia. Lily sets her jaw, watching the Princess carefully--but this talk of Neriah denying herself? Lily finds she doesn't want to answer it aloud, doesn't want to say something else. But lines... Lines, collecting, shapes and shapes and shapes, and the bubble trembles all around. The field flares--and Lily looks up towards it. She narrows her eyes quickly as she feels Riesenlied moving, not even having to look to understand her mirror's plan. "Damn--"

Conjuring flames beside herself to hurl her body towards Riesenlied and Ethius, great and terrible, forcing herself forward and along. "Riesenlied--"

She throws out shields, raw darkness intercepting much of the light raining down on her in transit. ...But not all. Once Riesenlied's barrier is up, once it starts to falter--

Lily Keil is there, and she shields Riesenlied and Ethius both with her body, not with her magic. The raw magic blasts through her, hitting hard and completely depleting the rest of her old barriers. "Gh--"

Flame flows all around her... But she blocks it from getting farther, smouldering as she stares towards the crimson in the center. Her eyes blaze brighter gold, and she draws in a slow, breath, letting the pain of her new wounds empower her. "....Sometimes, it's all there is. What you have to do." She reaches into her satchel, and pulls a small stone tablet, inscribed with a great serpent. "...Lydia, you asked..."

She begins to channel its power, and the magic around her rises--a sea-blue glow begins to surround her hands, spread across her body. "...Pain is my old companion. I do not fear it. Sometimes it's the only thing that can remind me who I am."

Lily Keil lifts up her Medium, and closes her eyes, gathering up her magical power. "...Great ocean that will one day claim all land..."

"Rise up and mend these souls!" A breath, as the water surges from nowhere around her, rising, rising, to encompass those under her protection in this instant. As she finishes the incantation, a vision of Lucadia herself rises from amidst the waves, and calls upward her brilliance. The water crashes down in waves.

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Material - Undying Sea!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Material - Undying Sea!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Riesenlied with Material - Undying Sea!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Noeline with Material - Undying Sea!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Lydia Seren with Material - Undying Sea!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked White Knight Leo with Material - Undying Sea!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Lily Keil heals Riesenlied! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Tesni Inoue has posed.

The one that messed with Neriah's powers concerns her, they gave them a nudge down this path they are on now. She fears if she ever might meet this being. For now, though she has to endure the pain continues as this strange place is as deadly as it is haunting to her. She tries to keep with Jay, she will not leave her alone s they make their pish trying to get to the center they just need to hold out a bit longer, only a little bit more.

 This time she palms something else it's not a potion bottle, it's some sort of pen-like device which she injects it into herself, she keeps moving.

 "Keep going, if I go down don't stop, the statue has to be reached, got it?"

GS: Tesni Inoue has attacked Tesni Inoue with Trauma-Kit!
GS: Tesni Inoue has completed her action.
GS: Tesni Inoue heals Tesni Inoue! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Noeline!
GS: Lily Keil heals Noeline! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Lily Keil heals Lydia Seren! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Lily Keil heals Ethius Hesiod! He gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Cecilia Adlehyde!
GS: Lily Keil heals Cecilia Adlehyde! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline's words give Neriah pause - for just a moment. She could see that much, and hear them, but whatever she was about to say was lost to time.

Jacqueline feels a little regret, at that.

"...Is this any easier, Neriah? Is this causing you any less pain?" She asks. "To turn away from me, from Riesenlied, from Mikaia, from the people of Wayside, and become a destroyer...?"

Jacqueline shakes her head.

"...You might have embraced Valmar, but for as long as you still have control of yourself, only you can decide where this road you're walking will lead." She says.

She continues walking, unflinching, pausing only to nod wordlessly toward Tesni. She pushes forward, even as the Phantom Universe trembles - even as destruction rains down around her, sparing only two certain individuals. Even as Lucadia's waves, invoked by Lily, rise up and begin to spread.

"...Please don't let it be a path that leads you away from those who care about you. Please don't let it be one that pits us against each other."

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Neriah Parringer with Pointed Question!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Pointed Question for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

She doesn't know her enough, Cecilia recognizes. Cecilia can't really relate to her enough - or rather, she's being so darn pleasant about her intent to destroy the statue that Cecilia just can't get a grapple on her.

But she is planning to destroy it. "...I can't say the same," she finally says, quietly. "I'm sorry. Was that you, I felt in Avelina? Your hatred? The poor girl was terrified, overwhelmed by something more terrible than a girl should ever endure."

She dares trudge on. Pushing in as well as she can through the stellar clouds. "That was your power that did that to her. If that's your blessing...I cannot allow you to simply inflict that on even more people. I cannot!"

Which is when Claude gets bonked right in front of her, struggling. "Not yet," Cecilia hisses, and reaches for a particular crest, the emblem of White Magic gleaming at its core. She throws it out, catches it on a leyline swirl, and it ignites with the power of Fray and Geo. She doesn't call anything - she just pumps her magic into Claude, filling him with boosting energy. "Get back in there, Kenny!" she calls. "Or Alvane! Or whatever!"

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Neriah Parringer with Heart of the Crests!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
GS: Lily Keil heals White Knight Leo! He gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Heart of the Crests for 85 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    All around, many voice their discontent with this man. He may not be able to hear all of them, but he can't be oblivious to this. He has caused them a lot of pain and trouble. In some ways, that he has done so is the reason they're all stuck with this present predicament as they try to navigate the universe.
     The Guardian of the Mountains has a grace extended towards him. Ethius is surrounded by earthen forces that infuse the air with its enduring nature. The inscrutible murderer, vandal, and feelings-hurter is protected.
     Lydia pops out through a portal just as Ethius' senses start to fail him from the overwhelming heat and the all-consuming darkness. Both of his eyes re-open, breaking that eerie stare as the blasts of laser light brighten the air all around. A soothing aura surrounds him, as Lydia grows closer...
     "Miss Lydia..." He mouths her name out. It's all he can do. He has nothing to move behind, as the great wave of darkness and flame begins to descend upon him.
 
     A star is so far away. That voice continues, as many make their declaration of who they are and what path they'll walk. That's something he doesn't really know... does he? But they can be seen, even so far away.
 
     Riesenlied appears before him. Instinctually, he takes a step back. Her being here gives him the strength to stand again - but to take a step back, as though she were... a danger? He silently regards her resolve as she recounts the circumstances in which they met. She knows what she is. A priestess of the Fereshte, servant to the ideal of Wayside - and that is what puts her in front of him.
 
     Tiny... big... bright... dim... alone... clustered...
 
     There's a lot of fire headed their way. It may be too much for any of them. Ethius covers his face again as though expecting for Riese, for al lher courage and resolve, to not be enough.
     There is another moving shadow, as Lily throws herself in the way. The shadow of the person of whom there was... a mild disagreement, back in Lacour. Sometimes, it's all there is, she says. What you have to do, as she brings forth a Medium to bring forth the soothing waters of the very oceans. The mountains and the oceans have both come to his aid, as though it means the world.
     ...
 
     All stars exist to do as they are. A voice says. Lydia can hear this voice, too, coming up this close. The voice of none other than one whom she has dedicated herself to so thoroughly...!
 
     Ethius' physical strength is failing him. It's difficult for him to focus. He can't reach out and swing his quarterstaff. Any ability to channel forth the arcane energies that Symbology gives him access to is dampened in the screaming hellfire that surrounds him. HP and MP reserves dwindle rapidly.
     A stone tablet bearing the mark of Rigdobrite slips outside of his tunic. It floats in the void. Instinctively, he finds the need to reach out and grab it back in his free hand, as though he doesn't want it to be out there in the open. The side with the mark faces towards him as he holds it closer to his chest.
     All he can do is stare out into the expanse, staring ahead. No words of thanks, no words that they stand aside. Somehow, he remains so... solitary, as Neriah's continued promises and condemnation of his character resounds.
     All he has is that stare, and that stone tablet thing he's been holding close to his chest.

GS: Ethius Hesiod enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Neriah Parringer with The Stare of Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Damn, seduction isn't working. What does Cyre have if not his ability to make cheesy lines work!?

Fire.

Fire is what Cyre has.

"What the hell even IS NUMBER EIGHT!?" Cyre screams through the flame as it surrounds him, devours him, nearly turns the very sensation of pain to ash. His cloak burns to cinders as the fire bakes his clothes to his skin. It still hurts. That's the only reason Cyre knows that he's only going to be suffering enormously later instead of suffering from third degree burns.

He really isn't quite sure which he prefers.

But he can still move, he can still keep racing toward the heart of the maze, through the flame cooking his flesh nearly to the bone. Each leaping step is excruciating, but he must still press forward.

After all, his pain is nothing compared to what might happen if that statue is destroyed.

"So what if you're Number Eight?" Cyre asks again, this time unlimbering a long, nearly-unwieldy ARM from over his shoulder. Each shot with it is precious-- it's not like he can just ask anyone to repair it anymore. "What's so great about being just a number? You've gotta do better for yourself than that!"

Cyre fires. Once, twice, thrice, each shot blazing brilliantly in the darkness, tracing out the strange curvature of this distorted space. A path to follow, a warning where not to tread. "Come on Neriah. I get that this is all because you think it's your only choice, but it'd really help if you explained WHAT that choice means!"

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Neriah Parringer with Astral Impulse!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes 4 damage from Poison!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
DC: MISS! Neriah Parringer completely evades The Stare of Ethius Hesiod from Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Astral Impulse for 70 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

    "You think you've found strength?" Noeline laughs in return; her senses blare a warning at her, fast enough for her to bring the spear up in defence. It isn't completely clear whether she manages to block the shot, the shifting form of her weapon thickening in response but obfuscating the actual effect. Certainly she snaps backwards several feet from some kind of impact - but when she brings her head back up she's apparently not badly harmed, her fanged grin bright and angry.

    "All you've found is a power you're not willing to bother controlling, not willing to accept responsibility for. If you'd found strength, you wouldn't hide yourself in shame - you'd face those girls and show them the truth, watch their reactions, learn their thoughts," she adds, her voice almost hoarse with emotion. "Not coddle and belittle them. Who is that bubble protecting? Who are you appeasing but yourself?"

    "If you think for even a second that that lack of conviction will stop us - after we've faced down everything the world has set against us - you're sorely mistaken," she adds as she sways back up to her feet, her reactions making her reflexively slip around and through the first vestiges of the meteoric rain as it begins to fall. "And if you're not willing to own up to your own actions--"

    Noeline grits her teeth, her grip tightening on the shaft of her spear as she hauls it up to her shoulder. She's not sure if this is the best of ideas, truth be told, and there's a spike of fear and nervousness that still pools in her gut for the sake of their children. On the other hand-- she trusts them, as much as she trusts Riese, to be able to handle anything that comes their way.

    Rearing back and bringing her arm up makes her limbs flare with pain, but she grits her teeth and wills herself forward with an effort; still unused to fully accessing her sorcery, she can feel her skin crawl from the effort and her bones groan under the sensation. Lucadia's presence ought not to help the situation, by any right - but somehow the Guardian's power soothes, and bolsters her further.

    The spear tip suddenly billows into dark light in response, the living metal within it seemingly withering away back into her until she's simply holding onto a solidified weapon of pure sorcery; Noeline pulls back, and then flings it forwards. It would be an answer to Neriah's pistol-shot-- were it not aimed at the bubble instead. Disrupt Neriah, or disrupt her illusion; Noeline can take either outcome. "--I'll do it for you!"



    (though she still forces herself forwards at a sprint, directly after it - just in case, just in case)

GS: Noeline has activated a Force Action!
GS: Noeline has spent 3 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Noeline has attacked Neriah Parringer with The Errant Blade!
GS: Noeline has completed her action.
DC: MISS! Neriah Parringer completely evades The Errant Blade from Noeline!
<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


The weapon in the foxes hands spins down as he smirks slightly. Oh he just broke a dozen different Federation rules with that one, but he isn't even in a mind to care. The once-pilot brimming with the energy imparted to him by first Riese and then Cecilia. He raises the rifle barrel to the sky to touch two fingers against his forehead in a salute towards the Princess as he looks back towards Neriah. Or what was once Neriah.

"Oh darlin'," Morgan's voice is suprisingly calm as he starts walking forward. Not at a rush, just a slow steady step. "Ya can be so much more than a number. Don't settle for what your damn destiny has in store for you."

Fire then. Blazing bright though the darkness. He raises his ARM to meet it, blue shields meeting dark flame in a shower of sparks. It drives him back as he grits his teeth though the pain, pouring energy into the energy field as he forces himself forward. Closer to the center.

"It'll leave scars, hell you might leave pieces of your soul behind on that road. But you can decide things for yourself. You don't let anyone or anything or any god decide them for you, you hear me! You walk your own path!"

...He doesn't attack but the energy of hiss ARM spirals out. Trying to push though the destruction raining around them to the real battle going on at the center of this mess.

GS: Morgan Newkirk has attacked Neriah Parringer with Mercy Train!
GS: Morgan Newkirk has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

    "Listen to yourself!" Leo barks. "Gloating and crowing about how you'll murder anyone and everyone solely because they were--" He sees something move out of the corner of his eye, and twists to face it. It's another tenebrous warrior, one that looks like it was sculpted from his own shadow. It could be his own shadow, for all he knows. That swordsman knows exactly where to strike in order to bypass Leo's defenses. Leo swings his blade up, but the shadow duplicate feints, its sword twisting and flowing and sinking deep into Leo's stomach. "Ghk," Leo says, eloquently, as he stumbles back--

    'Rise up and mend these souls!'

    Leo smells the sea. Ethereal waves wash through the darkness, one after another, and in their midst, Leo sees something. A Guardian...? The phantom double melts into nothingness as Lucadia's presence embraces the White Knight, soothes the pain, staunches the flow of blood. Leo stares through the apparition of the Guardian, at Lily. A woman he thinks of as a worrisome enigma channeled a heathen force that feels as soothing as any Litany.

    And Cecilia has done something else to help, whether she realizes it or not. Dinoginos's earthen essence lingers in this place. Leo can sense it, and he draws in a breath, gathering it close as he would the might of Althena's own. It might make the difference between life and death, in this place.

GS: White Knight Leo has attacked White Knight Leo with Earth Prayer!
GS: White Knight Leo takes 10 damage from Poison!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
GS: White Knight Leo takes a solid hit from White Knight Leo's Earth Prayer for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Shield! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Morgan Newkirk's Mercy Train for 93 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Cover! Statuses applied to Morgan Newkirk!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

The Innocent One sends her power coursing into the Boy from Earth, the Crest energy coursing through the Leypoints and into his battered, bruised, and weary form. Brilliant crimson flames wreath around the swordsman's body, pulsing in time with Cecilia's heartbeat, a living embodiment of her will and power. "Holy..." Claude manages to get out before his own, not-inconsiderable aura reacts to the sudden influx of power by...

...well, by exploding a little.

A wave of shifting, blueredpurple forces pulses out, pushing against the waves of darkness, the young man's hair and clothing dancing in time with the aura's shimmering dance, his eyes alight with crackling power. For an instant, the pain of the previous battle is a distant, vanishing memory, the aches from the current one an afterthought. Months of pent-up frustration and worry vanish in the sudden sense of positive energy, of good chi, that consumes Claude C. Kenny. Right here and now, for a few short moments, he is better than he has ever been. Because Cecilia has made him so.

The look he gives Cecilia is one he's never given her before - equal parts awe, pleasure... and belief.

Claude turns on his heel and charges forward in a blazing rush, piercing the night like a crimson arrow through darkness. At this time, in this place, at his absolute peak, there is no doubt in his mind that he can pull off a move he has never even tried before, and only seen once. "Edarl Blade Arts!" Claude screams, hefting sword and shield as he closes on Neriah. "Secret Ar---"

...

"...er..." Claude manages as, in a single instant that stretches out to the horizon, he... forgets the name of the attack. Hell, he only heard Roddick use it once, and it was at the end of a long session with practice lathes. They were about to go out and eat, but Claude begged his master to show him once last move; Roddick did so, but the resulting blows to the head (probably) drove the name of it out of his head. And the name is important! It channels the energy! It's... uh... .............. ................................. ...................................................................................................................................... ........................................................................................................................................................................ "Oh wait, we were going to get Korean," Claude remembers as he lands in front of Neriah, screaming:

"BATS YOU GET ME BULGOGI!"

After which he unloads a seventeen-swing combination, including two shield bashes, his sword exploding with fire every single time.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Neriah Parringer with Batsugetmi Bulgogen?!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Claude C. Kenny's attack becomes clear!
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Claude C. Kenny's Freestyle Combat Arts for 106 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


And as Morgan is warding off fire, the other hand comes up just to palm his face at the shouted attack from Claude.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Maybe things like us will have to be something Lydia reflects on later.

Neriah mentions the people she had. "Honey, Ginny is the sweetest of muffin people, but I'm guessing you knew her when she was SPOOKY flavored and thus not in her right mind! You haven't lost her, y'know! She just is now a HEALTHY sweetest of muffin people! Like before she was high on sugar and totally chocolate but now she's like a muffin with a lot of fruit chunks inside of it and made out of tofu or something look I'm a meat eater I'm doing my best here!"

She is Number Eight? "That's a number you dingus! Your momma didn't name you Eight! Numerology isn't an identity! If you're going to be a number be number one!"

Rigdobrite, she thinks, she just wanted a nice night with family but sometimes it feels like the stars are against her not with her. She rolls away from some flame but it still catches her side. She fwumps near enough to Ethius to talk, batting the flames off of her as she stands herself up at the man who said he wasn't her father. Nor Kourin's.

Lydia can hear the voice of Rigdobrite. She can't let Neriah destroy Rigdobrite's statue. She has failed other statues but this is one she just isn't willing to fail. Even if her faith in the Guardians overall has been shaken from time to time, Rigdobrite at least is one she always believed in, always looked up to.

Approximately ten years ago

They were growing too long. Soon she wouldn't be able to hide them with hats like mom and dad wanted. It'd be harder later, they said, it'd be best if you dealt with them now. We can help you, they said, we have a hacksaw. It'll be painful but it will be worth it. We can numb the pain.

They said it would hurt so she didn't want to do it. She hated them, though, she hated those dumb horns. Why did she have to be born with them? Her parents didn't even have them? She was already wasn't NORMAL, why did she have to have these too?

She hid under the covers. She was tired. She was so tired of being their child. How awful was that, to be so young and hate them so much? Why were they so mean to her? She didn't ask to be born.

It wasn't until she closed her eyes to get the image of that saw out of her head that she saw it.

At first she thought it was just a rock. She had weird dreams sometimes, but soon she saw the tail, she saw the star, and an eye opened up and she recognized it from her teachings: Rigdobrite.

Lydia opened her eyes, covered her mouth, and screamed.

Then she paused a moment, reconsidered, and closed her eyes again.

Oh dear girl, are you all alone? The Guardian whispered to her. Lydia could not see how it was talking.

'Yeah,' Lydia thought. 'I guess I am. You're...Rigdobrite?'

That's my one name, girl with two names. But it doesn't do for a shining star like you to be alone. I will accompany you for now, dear child, but one day when you are ready you will have to find me on your own

Since that time, Lydia would rush home and duck under her covers and tell Rigdobrite about her day. It wasn't just a Guardian to her, it was a friend, someone she could confide in. They'd walk on suns, he'd tell her stories about fantasy men traveling the universe meeting new lifeforms and befriending them. At least, that's how Lydia heard it.

But since the day she left town Rigdobrite's visitations have been infrequent and if then only to offer some brief chastisement. Since then, her talks with the Guardian have been dissapointing, making her feel more rather than less hopeless.

But now she hears Rigdobrite's voice and Ethius hears something from the Rigdobrite talking to Lydia as does Lydia herself.

How many stars are in the sky?

Lydia is healed, supported by other Guardians, but Lydia is barely cognizent of it. She just walks, almost aimlessly, looking for the source of that voice. This time she'll look for her friend.

Would you watch the sky if there was only one star?

"Ethius...I don't know how you see me anymore but... I'm not going to abandon you."

She doesn't summon Rigdobrite or summon a giant bat or anything like that. Not even lasers. She has always calld Rigdobrite to her.

But this time she is going to answer her old friend's call.

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Ethius Hesiod with The Girl Who Stole The Stars!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

A quiet part of Neriah's heart breaks as Mikaia speaks those sweet, pure feelings.

Within the Bubble of Bliss, the shade of Neriah bows her head. Small tears stand at the corners of her eyes as she reaches out to gently cup Mikaia's chin.

She presses her lips to the girl's forehead. "...I wish I were a better person," she murmurs. "More than anything. I'm so sorry.

"Promise me you'll take care of Riesenlied for me... and make sure all the cuccos are alright, okay?"

    ~*~

Outside the Bubble of Bliss - in the Bubble of War - Neriah continues to stand tall as those fireflies begin to sketch out the contours of a rounded shape. No one is yet close enough to see the real tears standing in her eyes - until she lifts a delicate hand to wick them away.

"I won't let it happen to me," she says, her voice a little clearer and with more vigor to it. "I can't. I'll wield the power for the right reasons. I'll punish the guilty and empower the weak. People like me, who were hurt and thrown away by a world that hated them. By gods that rejected them just like the Guardians didn't have the time of day for me!"

    In a ruined temple on Filgaia, a Medium of Moor Gault continues to sit, unnoticed.

"Guardians," Neriah adds, "who forced you to grovel and leave behind your nature... who even now won't give you a Medium, no matter how good you are. Who won't even give Ambrosius and his people the time of day...." Her eyes drift towards Cyre. "...or even protect the Baskar from their persecutors."

Then Elvis has the indecency to interrupt her monologue. The wise man crashes into that star; it plows towards Neriah and hits her solidly, and she sucks in a startled breath as her shield briefly pulses and fades away. "--Goodness, you're a bit of a man of science, huh," she murmurs as she sweeps her arm towards him - and reaching out of the fabric of the universe itself, countless ghostly talons reach out to rake at him with phantom slashes, like a wave of damned bodies grasping through the very material of existence to try and clutch and constrain him.

The group claws onward, and Neriah looks on with quiet calm as Lily calls a Guardian forth to aid her, as Tesni struggles to keep herself in the fight.

But then there's Jacqueline - sweet, caring Jacqueline, fighting with the most devastating weapon of all. Her words. Neriah presses her lips together in a tight line.

"I'll let you in on my plan, Jay," she says quietly. "I'm not destroying the Statue because I want Mother to rule the world. It's not even because I hate the Guardians, even if they're useless."

"It's because if Mother raises so much as a hand against you and the others, I'll kill her myself. Then the world will be rid of that completely."

Noeline, though, fires something into her teeth that genuinely rankles her. Neriah narrows her eyes a little and lets her breath out through her nose with slow irritation. The Metal Demon flings her weapon --

And Neriah reaches out with a hand and captures the Bubble of Bliss as though on a tether of ghostly light. With a last-ditch tug, she huffs, and the whirling slash misses it by a hair. "You're going to disturb the children," Neriah snarls as a well of genuine anger roils up from within her. "What do you want me to do, Noeline? Do you want me to put on my fucking K.K. helmet and start sitting there shouting about how you're going to have to be tested? Did you want me to go full-bore Lord of Calamity on you?" She raises her voice. "BECAUSE MAYBE I'M TRYING TO KEEP MIKAIA OUT OF THIS, YOU ABSOLUTE RANCID WITCH," she roars indignantly, and perhaps somewhat irrationally.

Definitely irrationally, given that she punctuates it by leveling her fingers at Noeline - and with a sudden pulse of energy, she unleashes a vast, pulsating RAY of shimmering ghostflame. It goes shrieking through the diminishing distance between she and Noeline.

There is enough power in that beam to level a small castle.

Morgan's arm carves through the destructive energy of the universe. Cyre, too, fights his way through, blasting away shimmering energy with shot after well-placed shot. Neriah inhales, then lets the breath out through her teeth. She --

--realizes Claude has somehow lunged all the way through the Phantom Universe and is now swinging his sword at her. Neriah doesn't have a melee weapon. All she can do is growl and throw her shield back up, scowling as the Boy from Earth hammers at it with such vigor. "I don't even know what a Korean is!" she snaps at him before thrusting her palm at him.

A huge burst of ghostly white flame blossoms from her hand - and even if it doesn't consume Claude, it'll hurl him back towards Cecilia like a projectile, flames enwreathing him and threatening to consume her too!

The look Ethius fixes Neriah with is met with a flat glare back, and one for Lydia as well. "NUMBER EIGHT isn't a name. It's my inheritance," she growls. "I've come to understand it. Long ago, NUMBER ONE had the powers I have... but a Priest of Ge Ramtos sealed them inside his entire lineage for seven generations with a death curse. Any one of us who drew from the power would die instantly. But...

"...but I'm generation number eight. That was the Chains of Arius - the remnant of the death curse. It was always me being punished for my ancestor's actions by some fucking sadist.

"And now I've broken it," she utters. "And I can't forgive that I had to suffer with a curse that was never meant for me! If that's what Shamans do...."

The distance is so, so close now. The gap between Neriah and the various adventurers is sufficient that one could lunge across it - and there beside her, the fireflies are drawing the outline of a familiar shape. A glowing wireframe of Rigdobrite.

But something else waits for them. A dense, dark fog. it sweeps in across the battlefield, engulfing most of those who approach - and where it touches, it saps away vitality, nibbling away at life energy and vital forces like a cancer.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Neriah Parringer with Inhalation!
GS: Neriah Parringer gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Neriah Parringer heals Neriah Parringer! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Elvis with Cascade of the Damned!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Claude C. Kenny with All-Consuming Evil!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with All-Consuming Evil!
GS: Neriah Parringer has spent 3 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Noeline with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has spent 1 Combo on Disease!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lydia Seren with Miasma!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Miasma!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Miasma!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Miasma!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Riesenlied with Miasma!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked White Knight Leo with Miasma!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Tesni Inoue with Miasma!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Morgan Newkirk with Miasma!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
DC: 4 turns have elapsed in the battle against Neriah Parringer! 1 turns remain!
GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Miasma for 0 hit points!
GS: Disease and Disrupt! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has been weakened by Disease! They take 40 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's The Girl Who Stole The Stars for 0 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Miasma for 0 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Disease, Disrupt, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has been weakened by Disease! They take 50 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer has spent 1 Combo on Disease!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lily Keil with Miasma!
GS: CRITICAL! Lydia Seren takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Miasma for 0 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Disease, Disrupt, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Lydia Seren has been weakened by Disease! They take 50 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Lily Keil critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Miasma for 0 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Miasma for 0 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has been weakened by Disease! They take 50 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Elvis critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Cascade of the Damned for 35 hit points!
GS: Tesni Inoue takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Miasma for 0 hit points!
GS: Disease and Disrupt! Statuses applied to Tesni Inoue!
GS: Tesni Inoue has been weakened by Disease! They take 40 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: White Knight Leo guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Miasma for 0 hit points!
GS: Disease and Disrupt! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
GS: White Knight Leo has been weakened by Disease! They take 40 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Miasma for 0 hit points!
GS: Disease and Disrupt! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Riesenlied used the Force Action Protect! She takes Neriah Parringer's attack on Noeline on herself!
GS: Riesenlied has activated a Force Action!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's All-Consuming Evil for 30 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 123 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Claude C. Kenny guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's All-Consuming Evil for 114 hit points!
GS: Claude C. Kenny enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Morgan Newkirk guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Miasma for 0 hit points!
GS: Disease and Disrupt! Statuses applied to Morgan Newkirk!
GS: Morgan Newkirk enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Morgan Newkirk has been weakened by Disease! They take 25.2 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Ethius hears Rigdobrite, from where he struggles to stay among the conscious - among the living, even with everyone's interference and existence. How many stars are in the sky, he hears. That's one thing everyone knows about a star. The voice clarifies, speaking in tandem between the two.
     Would you watch the sky if there was only one star? He hears someone else being asked. How he can tell someone else is being asked... There's more than one star in the night sky. Ethius grabs his forehead, wrapping his elbow around the upright quarterstaff. His hand covers his face.
 
     Take a look for once. The voice fades, as Lydia comes ever closer in view. 'Ethius... I don't know how you see me anymore but... I'm not going to abandon you.' Her resolve is on full display, even after their falling out.
     It's all disrupted as a dark, dense fog sweeps the entire battlefield. It blots out view of Ethius entirely. He can no longer see. He can no longer hear. He can no longer... do much, as he disappears into the great darkness of nothingness.
 
     They're still there. The voice speaks. So are you.
     Ethius should be, by rights, 'dead.' Neriah could probably claim that he's dead on grounds of him not being seen, and say her game is won. That the statue is hers to destroy.
 
     Even when they aren't seen, they shine.
 
     "Miss Lydia," Ethius speaks. Can he be heard? "Your assistance is... appreciated. The matter at hand... it will require more than one star."
     The Stone Medium glows a faint light. It's the only thing he can see. He can't even see his hands. Even when he puts his hands on it. It's eerie. It's almost like he's not there, any more. But he is.
     A warm light surrounds Ethius as he holds the Stone Medium up high. Up until now, it was just a stone doodad he kept with him because it seemed like something he should do - that he must, lest... what? That's not important. He doesn't know what an Ethius Hesiod is, except that he is one. He does not know the full picture of what he's doing, or why. Only that he must."...Lights above reach, higher than the clouds, that violate the purity of the void...
 
     A bright light starts to shine through the fog...
     "Shine forth the light that leads the way!
     A green rock springs forth from nothingness, little feet and a big tail with a star at the end materializing in the space between Lydia and Ethius. A big yellow shining lens - an eye - opens... and projects forth an even greater, brighter light through the fog.
     It's a beautiful star - a light that shines so brightly as to stave off the darkness of the Pocket Universe. It is a star, so full of light. What does it represent? What does it do? It stands there, circling and shining in the void, ever brightly. He has no justificaton nor definition for it, as the Guardian materializes. The rocky creature who seems to hide themselves in an asteroid shell, a shy(?) lizard whose elongated tail has a star at the very tip. A bright yellow shining lens - a big eye - projects this star for all to see.
     What the star is, what it signals, what it will do...
     For some - those of more knowledge of the universe - it really is just a bright light, and little more.
     For others, whose understanding of the cosmos and reality is more... innocent, one may say... it bestows inspiration and churns the imagination, empowering one ever further.
 
     Ethius Hesiod has obtained the ability to use Material!

GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has spent 1 Combo on Inspire!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Lydia Seren with Medium - Guiding Star!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked White Knight Leo with Medium - Guiding Star!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Noeline with Medium - Guiding Star!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Medium - Guiding Star!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Medium - Guiding Star!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Medium - Guiding Star!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Lily Keil with Medium - Guiding Star!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Riesenlied with Medium - Guiding Star!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: Noeline takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Medium - Guiding Star for 0 hit points!
GS: Noeline gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Medium - Guiding Star for 0 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Medium - Guiding Star for 0 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Medium - Guiding Star for 0 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Medium - Guiding Star for 0 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Medium - Guiding Star for 0 hit points!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: White Knight Leo takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Medium - Guiding Star for 0 hit points!
GS: White Knight Leo gains a Combo from Inspire!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    Lily's magic washes over her, a cascading shell of aquatic power from Lucadia that inspires her to proceed onward. She looks towards her mirror, whispering, "Thank you... thank you for being there where I'm faltering..."

    But Riesenlied has been so utterly distracted by this that she hasn't really tuned in to the conversation with Noeline and Neriah, and how heated it's truly becoming. So much that Neriah is gathering a vast, powerful ray of ghostflame that echoes across the distance--

    "Noeline!!"

    And she becomes light once more, as she crosses the boundary of a universe that's more thought and suggestion than it is physical. It makes it easier, in many ways, for her to transmit herself across...

    ...and as she coalesces once more, she's suddenly transposed herself between her and the love of her life.

    "Please-- stop," comes the whisper, moments before negative light coalesces around her, intertwines with that positive light of hers...

    Time seems to slow down as the lights touch, and she looks towards the bubble, towards Noeline...

    "We all want the same thing here. I don't think there is a shred of conscience in you that would wish to hurt Mikaia or Janey..."

    ...and then pierces through.

    "...so please... calm down... both of you... we can't have a good conversation in the midst of battle... please-- let cooler heads..."

    ~*~

    There's a deep rattling for a moment within the Bubble of Bliss that makes Janey twitch further, as she winces and goes--

    "Mom!!"

    ~*~

    Riesenlied topples to one knee as she stares up towards the centre of the Universe, then back at Noeline. It doesn't... the wound isn't as severe as it could've been, the piercing ray striking through her side and shearing away dragonscales and disintegrating them into nothing more than dust as she bleeds profusely...

    And she feels Ethius' call, as Rigdobrite emerges within. It is a familiar sensation -- the sensation of being able to Materialise a Guardian... and as that energy wells within her--

    ~*~

    Mikaia trembles and hesitates, shaking her head. "J-Janey, what are you doing?"

    Janey sags and shakes her head in turn, grabbing Mikaia by the hand. "Can't you feel her?!"

    "Feel-- who..."
    "Think HARDER, Mickey!"

    Mikaia bites her lip, eyes welling with tears for a moment. She glances towards the fireflies... lowers her head down--

    "Mama... mama...!"

    ~*~

    Something is happening within that Bubble, perhaps, as the sensation of emotion between mother and daughter starts to intensify...

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Neriah Parringer with Janey and Mikaia - Coming Through?!!
GS: Riesenlied takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Medium - Guiding Star for 0 hit points!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Janey and Mikaia - Coming Through?! for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

His attacks are great and terrible, including any projectiles that leave his hands. His attack strikes true. The man is ready to fight even more. But something strikes him to the very core. It isn't a spell or attack, or any kind of harmful action.

Words. Words that cut deep.

"Are you finished."

A calm voice, one that anyone could recognize is the calm before the storm. "You know NOTHING of bout Ambrosious. Or his people. Nothing of their plight. Wanna know how I know?"

"Because it is the same plight I have to face every day of my life."

He looks to a gloved hand.

And takes it off.

Immense power rages within a clenched fist. "I KNOW the Guardians do not. and I know WHY they do not." He looks straight at her. "Tell me, do you even know who you face? Do you even KNOW who you TALK TO?!"

"In Veruni ranks, you can only go so far. But at the top, stand five to lead their people to a better tomorrow! You are but the student attempting to talk to the teacher!" An intimidating grin crosses his face. "You stand before Elvis of the Four Sentinels!"

Those spectral talons come in and claw, and the Veruni closes in his guard as the attacks rake against him. With an explosion of energy repels them before they deal too much damage! "For you, oh you... WORST KIND of person. You get the unbridled fury of my fist."

Are his Power Gloves... some kind of dampener or limiter?! Or maybe he just wants to feel the tactile sense of striking this time.

The man, no-- the Veruni-- steps twice. The first step is a wind up--

The second is a step forward, throwing a punch. There is a deafing sound. An invisible shockwave tears outward toward Neriah. If there was earth, was matter, was anything between him and his target, it is probably gone now. As for his for, well...

It isn't polite to talk about sensitive subjects, now is it?

GS: Elvis has attacked Neriah Parringer with Locus Upper!
GS: Elvis has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Elvis's Locus Upper for 127 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

"I won't let you come to harm," Lily murmurs to Riesenlied, and perhaps the Hyadean can feel the answer more than she can see it.

But knowledge? Lily has an answer to what she is, could offer it. ...But she is not so lucky as to have the same certainty as her mirror. Maybe that's another of the ways in which they differ. Regardless, when Leo stares at her, she turns her head towards him, eyes aglow with strange power. She stares back, for a long instant. "We'll talk later," she says to him.

Things like us, she told Lydia. She does not expect an answer now. She knows some of what she is, at least.

"Whether you are overcome by your power, or not--it's your choice, how to use it. ...But don't forget. You are not infallible. Your perceptions of right, and wrong, justice and guilt, mercy and kindness... They aren't the same as everyone's. For all that you may help the weak, you may also find that you strike blows for your own pride."

"Power can't be wielded without hurting some. Sometimes, those you care for. No matter what you do... That's a truth you'll have to face."

Lily listens to Neriah's ranting at Noeline, looks towards her. "...You want to keep Mikaia out of it."

The number--it brings an explanation, finally. The Chains are revealed, and Lily watches Neriah's form carefully, staring into scarlet as if she could understand simply by focusing. "...An inherited power..."

She trails off, distant. And before she can answer, the deep, dark fog settles upon her, too. Lily closes her eyes, focuses. What was darkness draws into her, the pain of its passing turning to power as she absorbs it. It should sap her vitality, but instead it seems to charge her, even as she goes pale.

And this--this is when she hear Ethius's voice. She turns, to look at him once, to feel the Guardian's presence...

"I guess for now," she says to him, as she feels that light, which to her is a light--"We're on the same side. ...Hang on."

Lily does not notice the darkness that begins to overtake her eyes; they pool with blackness, until darkened sclera are all that are visible as she channels crackling black-and-violet power. Her voice takes on a strange cast. "...I understand how you suffer," she says, distant, half-echoing. "...If only some. But your forgiveness... Isn't necessary."

One arm still broken, Lily stretches out the other, and from the blackness of space a blade coalesces in her hand, difficult to see except by how painful it is to look at. Where it passes, even the strange, ghostly stars are blotted out behind, and this is how it can be seen. It radiates power, as does Lily now, Ether surging around her.

She lifts it; the blade is some six feet long, but she wields it one-handed. Where she swings it, matter turns to ash and dust and then nothing. ...But it doesn't touch much at first, because Lily bends at the knee and leaps upward, using the areality of this space to her advantage. Her form ripples with darkness as she moves herself through the void, crashes downward from behind--

"What happened to you was unfair. But it's not my problem."

With those cold words, Lily swings down her blade with all her magical might, eyes blackened and blade growing, growing as it seeks to rend what power holds them here outright.

GS: Lily Keil has spent 3 Combo on Gatling!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Neriah Parringer with Black Wolf's Claw!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

"THAT'S SPACIST!" Claude roars at Neriah between sword swings 15 and 16, then gets absolutely stuffed in the face by more of that ghostly white flame. The surging Crest energy Cecilia dumped into Claude's body absorbs the worst of the blast, but the impact is sufficient to send the young swordsman bouncing back through the Phantom Universe. On the second said bounce, which twists his neck an uncomfortable number of degrees, Claude loses his grip on his sword, which spins away into the unfeeling, uncaring void, or perhaps its subreddit.

He grinds to a halt some distance short of the Innocent One, and comes up to his feet fighting mad. Still, despite his anger, Claude runs through a mental checklist of orders he has received regarding the course of action he is now considering:

    -not until it seems like a better idea than it does now(spoken 5 minutes ago)
    -not yet (spoken 30 seconds ago)

Both conditions having been satisfied, Claude sucks in a steadying breath and then drops into a low crouch, gathering the last dregs of his borrowed Crest energy, letting it bolster and strengthen his legs. The young man leaps upward, gaining at least 3 to 4 trees' worth of clearance, then drops a hand down the back of his pants, palming an object that looks, even for those who can see from this distance, like little more than the bladeless hilt of an unadorned, unornamented sword. Claude brings it up over his head in two hands, then lets loose a wordless battle cry, letting his aura surge and blaze as though he was powering the absolute ultimate of super moves.

Which he is not. But he really, really wants to seem to be.

"LIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT COME FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORTH!"

Claude swings the hilt down, and a blade forged of the purest, whitest light seems to explode from the end of it, streaking down in a brilliant, actinic column that rips down toward Neriah... at almost the exact same time as a suspiciously similar blade of pure, ebon darkness descends from the other side.

Claude's jaw drops, and he looks up and across at Lily. His mouth moves in a three-word exclamation lost to the roaring noise of combat.

GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Lily Keil's Black Wolf's Claw for 40 hit points!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has activated a Force Action!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has activated a Force Action!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has spent 1 Combo on Gatling!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Neriah Parringer with Sword of Light!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.

GS: Neriah Parringer has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Guard!
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Claude C. Kenny's Sword of Light for 124 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

    "Oh, yes, we wouldn't want to disturb the children! You're willing to try to kill us, to annihilate the Guardians and bend the world to your rule, but own up to that because Mikaia might not like it? That wouldn't do at all!" Noeline crows as she pushes herself onwards. She's always been willing to face down danger in this manner, words flying freely from her lips as she dodges and jukes forwards. It isn't quite with abandon - but it is with a characteristic defiance, Noeline setting herself on a course as straight as an arrow towards the pocket bubble.

    The light that Neriah summons bears down on her all of a sudden, much too fast for her to react to in any sufficient manner - so instead she grits her teeth and steels herself to push through it, ready to put her heart behind her own words. Keep moving fowards, keep facing whatever's in front of you. Step, by step, by step.



    Instead, the attack never comes - instead, Riesenlied's form phases into existence in front of her, the other Metal Demon suddenly and abruptly punctured by the lancing bolt of white light, replacing one lurch in Noeline's chest with another. "--Riese!" she yelps, knocked back by the way the blonde woman stumbles back into her, and before the spy knows what she's doing she's flung an arm around Riesenlied to try to support the both of them, the momentum dragging her down to one knee as well. "You--"

    Her partner's words bring her up short for a precious moment. Protective anger vibrates through her frame; her jaw is set fiercely as she looks up towards that bubble, towards an argument she's deeply invested in. Noeline has always prided knowing her own mind - and the idea that someone might be toying with those of their children evidently wounds her just as much, clear in her eyes. But-- but she wouldn't be who she is now if it weren't for Riesenlied.

    "I know," she mutters, feeling the beginnings of Rigdobrite's power spark across the battlefield; she matches it with her own, winding the tang of sorcery together with her own. She can't offer much, but it does at least establish a space for them in turn, a moment for Riesenlied to try to pull back some of herself.

    When she raises her head, her expression is positively stony, but her voice is a good deal more controlled as she looks towards the figure in front of them, and raises her head in pride. "They are not children. Not anymore. They have suffered just as much - if not more - than any of us. If you think they'd be weak in the face of adversity, and turn away from it... think again."

GS: Noeline has attacked Riesenlied with If The World Turns Against Us!
GS: Noeline has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Neriah has contention with the Guardians. Jacqueline can understand that. Her view on them has changed gradually from when she was just a simple merchant, returning to her hometown for the first time in a long while.

"I couldn't claim to know the full breadth of Mother's power...or yours. But I do know, without a doubt, that if she is released, countless innocents will suffer. Whether or not you can put a stop to that...I can't allow her to be freed." Jacqueline replies, shaking her head and proceeding forward once more.

A sweeping dark fog gives her some pause - causing her to slow down and choke and cough...but then, she sees a light - no, a star.

A star that inspires her to keep moving forward, inspires her...to get ready to do what she knows she must do. Neriah is in sight. She can't stop here. There's one last thing she hasn't tried yet.

She reaches into her bags, and draws out a bright blue potion. If they were outside, and not in this Phantom Universe, this wouldn't work.

But here...

She crushes the bottle in her hand, and it scatters into a blue mist. A mist that spreads throughout the Phantom Universe, to lighten the burden of those it touches.

She doesn't stop to see if it works. She keeps pushing forward to the sight of Neriah in the distance. Just a little further now...!

GS: DISEASE! Noeline tries to heal Riesenlied, but it doesn't work!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Potent Panacea!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Lydia Seren with Potent Panacea!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Riesenlied with Potent Panacea!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Potent Panacea!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked White Knight Leo with Potent Panacea!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Tesni Inoue with Potent Panacea!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Potent Panacea for 0 hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Potent Panacea for 0 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: White Knight Leo takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Potent Panacea for 0 hit points!
GS: White Knight Leo gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Perhaps Lydia is more innocent than she thinks she is.

Sometimes an answer is silent but Lydia has one with words for Neriah. "What do you think the Guardians owe you? They already sustain the world, who do they owe anybody? It's fine to doubt them, do you think they mind? They are fine with being cursed and spat at because Guardians...they reside in our hearts and when we curse the Guardians, we curse ourselves! And it's fine to do that sometimes... Of course it is. There's nothing wrong with doubting ourselves, with doubting the cosmos. Filgaia is a hard world but space is harder still."

Lydia fans out her hand even as she feels it, Ethius accepting something that he does not understand but knows that he has to use. That only encourages her.

"And it's because of that harshness that sometimes we find that which is most important to us. I never knew why the Baskar have such a hard life... but now I do. We may not have the entertainment of Lacour, or the beauty of Adelhyde, or the power of Kislev, or the wealth of Meribia. But we have each other and our bonds are powerful. Perhaps it's not fair, but it's still a gift that we have. We can reach that place in our hearts where the Guardians lay and touch them more easily. And perhaps...that's a greater gift than all these worlds. What gift can we ask of the Guardians when they have already given us their greatest gift! How greedy do you expect the Baskar to be?!"

She can hear them. She can hear Mikaia and Janey calling for their mother.

"I'm coming." Lydia holds Rigdobrite's medium close to her chest. "Help us. Please help us get there."

Rigdobrite was already there. She just couldn't see him because of how dark it was. Lydia takes Ethius's hand with her own, and Riesenlied's with her other. "Come on, mom," Lydia tells her. "I can't bear to hear them cry anymore."

She has unnatural strength which lets her leap on top of the manifestation of the Guardian and together they ride towards the bliss bubble like a rock of inevitability. A blue mist washes over them like stardust. Jay is here too, Lydia thinks, even as the darkness makes it difficult to see, painful to push through...

Neriah has one chance to send the asteroid off its course...but Lydia has never been so determined before. Is Neriah as determined as they are? She supposes she's about to find out.

"Even the Veruni have been given a gift from Filgaia. Even you have been given a gift from Filgaia, Neriah. The Guardians have always watched over you. You just have to...close your eyes and see it!"

GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Potent Panacea for 0 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Lydia Seren has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Neriah Parringer with Meteor Crash!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Meteor Crash for 218 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Tesni Inoue takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Potent Panacea for 0 hit points!
GS: Tesni Inoue gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Tesni Inoue!
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

"You can't forgive a man who has probably been dead for centuries!?" Cyre grits his teeth through the bleak, impenetrable darkness. It settles on him, pouring into his pores like a deathly oil, an infection that every ounce of will must press back against, lest it consume him in his entirety. "Neriah-- Neriah, that shaman chained your family for reasons I don't think any of us here really understand completely. Shamans do all kinds of things, good and bad-- we're just people. But you! You've traded one set of bondage for another! You've broken the Chains of Arius and replaced them with the Chains of Parringer!"

"You've tied--" Cyre chokes, coughing something wet and painful, the darkness surrounding him, choking him, gnawing at his body and vitality in a way that nothing good ever should. "You've tied yourself to hating a man you've never met. The only one punishing you now is you! Stop this, please--"

The miasma is thick. Too thick. Cyre's words are lost in the strangulating haze. His throat fills with the boil of corrupted lungs and pustulating flesh. Is this the end?

A light shines in the darkness.

The power of a Guardian is unmistakable to the ones who follow them. Starlight filters through the black fog, thinning it to wisps. Cyre closes a hand around his own medium, summoning a rush of wind to scatter the last fragments of putrifying magic. It's replaced by a gentle blue mist, easing his pain, drawing away the lingering malignancy. He spits, dislodging blood and black as the power of the Guardians surges through him. "The Guardians... They don't give us everything we ask for. They don't provide everything we need. But that's fine-- human hands are enough for the work of providing for human lives! They want to see us grow, to preserve and protect the world and its people alike, but they want us to have the strength to defend ourselves, too! I can't say what happened to you or your family is fair-- the sins of the father shouldn't burden the daughter. But I can't just sit by and watch as you keep walking down this path!"

The wind gathers, rushing into an ever-tightening helical gyre around Cyre's fist. He pulls back, and the rushing gale becomes deafening. Ribbons of wind sweep around his arm, into his arm, mingling human flesh with raw elemental power. It changes, becoming something more than human, and still the storm winds rage. "Ethius-- I'll be damned if I can't say I'm impressed. I'm still going to lay you out later, but I'm impressed. Just hang on a little longer."

"Now..." Cyre roars, leaping toward that beacon of starlight and the black-and-red shadow looming so close nearby. "Just a little further. Come on! Fengalon, be the wind at my back! I'll do the rest!" He twists, driving his hand-- his claws-- at the shadow. The spiral releases, carrying him forward at the speed of sound itself!

His target...

Neriah's nigh-impenetrable darkness!

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Potent Panacea for 0 hit points!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has spent 3 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Neriah Parringer with Tornado Fang!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Tornado Fang for 43 hit points!
GS: Mute! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Hyper and Quick! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
GS: That is not a valid target. [#-1]
GS: Neriah Parringer has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: You have gained 2 Reflect Charges and entered Reflect stance from using Shell!
GS: Neriah Parringer has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

    On a better day, Leo would sympathize with Neriah's anger towards the Guardians. After all, they're the ones who called Althena a traitor, and demanded he prove his worth to them regardless. When the Guard failed to pass muster--as though they needed the approval of such fickle, distant beings--Leo and his people were grudgingly acknowledged as necessary nevertheless. Their power might be necessary in some ways, but to him, the sorry state of Filgaia is yet more proof of their failures.

    Lucadia's power still numbs the pain. Dinoginos's power still shields him, empowers him. One of those Statue things is at stake, and here he is, defending it. As if on cue, Ethius Hesiod finally breaks a mental block, channeling starlight onto the battlefield. Leo breathes it in, and finds himself remembering when he and Sergei Strelka were squires together.

    Leo breathes out. On his next breath in, Neriah's miasma seeps into his lungs, threatening to choke off its breath with its noxious wrongness. Leo doubles over, gasping for breath, but what he breathes in is not air. He coughs, violently, his vision starting to spot over--

    And then something sweeps in on an air current, dispersing the miasma, replacing pain with soothing calm. Leo glances at Jay, gives a grateful nod. His breath restored, he sets his heels and draws upon his chi. Others may still have words for Neriah, but Leo does not. The Beastman's lifeforce flares around him, condensing along the curve of his blade. It glows brilliantly, dispersing the darkness around him, parting the remains of the miasma. He steps forward. He throws a single, perfect swing, and energy tears free from him with a full-throated roar:

    "LION'S HOWL!"

    And just like that, a great, ethereal lion bears down at Neriah, even as Claude and Lily invoke their swords of light and darkness. Its fangs gleam. It hungers for blood.

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia reacts quickly - thrusting her staff forward as she realizes an attack has been thrown her way. She realizes only too late that that attack is Claude being ejected at her at speed, and she watches him ping off with some alarm. "Oh! Jeeze! Uhm! Claude! Are you OK!?" But it looks like he figured himself out!!

And he's going for the gun. "For a man who insists using that weapon is a violation of his deepest principles," Cecilia asides to nobody, reaching for her Medium case, "He does seem to like that thing."

Several other things occur. One is Ethius finding the light of stars, and Cecilia finds a smile splitting her lips as the splash of power crosses her. Well...maybe he's not all bad.

Cecilia is too far out to hear Neriah declare her intention to kill Mother, which is probably for the best since Cecilia would then have to say a lot more mean words. Instead, she starts gathering the Leyline about her again, hand finding the Medium she wants for this task. Her explanation of her curse, though...mostly makes Cecilia quirk her lips, unimpressed. "I find I am low on sympathy, considering the circumstances," she mutters, and thrusts her staff forward. "MATERIAL!" she roars.

There is, in the phantom space, a roar of thunder.

Cecilia is gone, and in her place, a lion bristling with electric wrath. "What was done to you is no excuse to spread that taint! I saw the look in her eyes! I felt her terror! I calmed her while she wept! What you bring is no mercy, it is SICKNESS, and I'll allow NO MORE! RAGE HAMMER!"

The lion splits its mouth open, and a bolt of lightning as wide as a locomotive races across the stars, roaring to tear into Neriah's stellar core.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has activated a Force Action!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has spent 3 Combo on Gatling!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Neriah Parringer with Material - Rage Hammer!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Material - Rage Hammer for 118 hit points!
GS: White Knight Leo has spent 3 Combo on Gatling!
GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Neriah Parringer with Lion's Howl!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from White Knight Leo's Lion's Howl for 148 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


The fox stalks forwards, bits of light falling from his energy shields like rain and he bulls though barriers put before him by force of stubborn will. He isn't going to let a little fire stop him. No way. No how.

He breaks though as he smirks slightly. "Yeah well, for you sayin' it isn't like a name is sure as hell sounds like you're taking it as one!" Morgan tosses towards Neriah as others declare their hate or their love. Depending on just who it is. And Elvis delcares he is...

Veruni? Oh great. Who invited the extra-terrestrials to the party!

...well. I mean. Beyond him. And Kenny. And Ethius. And...

Well fine there are a lot of them.

ANYWAY! That isn't important! What is important is that a giant bloody eye just opened up in the middle of everything.

"...well that isn't somethin' ya see every day." He mutters before he shakes his head. His shields fall even as the choking mists roll in, they won't kill him. But damn if it isn't making him sick. He falls to one knee before looking up towards the center of the chaos. The play between the various figures around there. There is a slight smirk.

"Come on, Morgan. You ain't gonna let all these kids show ya up are ya?"

He closes his eyes as the devilish mist rolls in rolls over him, eclipses him from view.

At the heart of that mist a blue glow pierces out, evaporating the choking fumes as Morgan bursts free again. For just a moment tinged in a blue-white glow of his shields. And for a moment he isn't dressed in his drifter's finest, but in a glowing uniform that Claude C. Kenny might recognize. Since. You know. Its the same symbol on the back of it. There is a rakish grin on the foxes face as he balls his armored hand into a fist.

"I don't have it in me to just let ya end it all here. Maybe thats just being selfish, but...I guess I'm just a selfish fox." He says as he rushes forwards, the uniform fading as the energy from the shields is drawn in and focused in the fist of that gauntlet of his. That strange ARM that he suddenly swings forwards at lightning speed, timing it with the others, trying to bring some light to the darkness.

GS: Morgan Newkirk has activated a Force Action!
GS: Morgan Newkirk has attacked Neriah Parringer with Hell to Pay!
GS: Morgan Newkirk has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Morgan Newkirk's Hell to Pay for 129 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Morgan Newkirk drains Neriah Parringer! Morgan Newkirk gains 64 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Tesni Inoue has posed.

Tesni Inoue is lucky she had some medical gear on her, she would be wrecked pretty hard at this point. Powers she doesn't quite grasp is thrown at her she's alive yet? It seems to have undone all the work her injection did for her and left her even more injured. She can hear the pain in Neriah's voice as Jay speaks and uses the most powerful thing int armoury of those defending the statue. Words, that would be it.

 "You know I don't pay the Guardians worship, yet ... they care I have seen them care. I have seen them go out of their way to inform one who worships them she needs to change some of her ways. They care and they have trusted a non-beliver like me with this.."

 She pulls out a Medium, she hates to use it but she has little choice now. She will pull out the Medium, the small thing seems like nothing.

 "Noua Shax? If you can hear me ... I need some help..."

 There's a faint glow from the medium as Tes and a thought strikes her as it responds. For a brief moment the Guardians power reaches out all the way to Lunar as an image of a huge lion-like creature comes forth with an armoured head and then comes the thunder, which is let loose in trying to clear the path of further hazard and maybe even get a hit on Neriah.

 "I will not .... let the demons or anything else drag either world down."

 Jay's potion is well timed it fills Tess with fair bit of vigor and she keeps going even as the Guardian power she called down for a moment, starts to fade. She's almost there, just a little bit more they just have to last a bit longer.

GS: Tesni Inoue enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Tesni Inoue has attacked Neriah Parringer with Material - Rage Hammer!
GS: Tesni Inoue has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Tesni Inoue's Material - Rage Hammer for 72 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Far above, seven stars dance - and twinkle in perfect alignment.

Beside Neriah, the fireflies have gathered. Their light shimmers and brightens - and the lines they draw out begin to fill in with sparkles. Those points of light whorl outwards and gain substance.

With a twinkle, the fireflies manifest their magic - and there, before the group, the Statue of Rigdobrite stands, waiting.

With Neriah five feet away from it.

The girl in the red robe watches with wide eyes as no less than Ethius Hesiod calls forth the Guardian of the Stars. Her lower lip hangs a little. This man. This MAN. This man who tried to kill me at every turn... and the Guardians choose him. THEY CHOOSE HIM BUT NOT ME. The stars line up for HIM OF ALL PEOPLE!!

WHERE'S MY DAMN STAR?! she thinks.

Neriah grinds her teeth with a surge of absolute, seething hatred. "Damn you," she hisses under her breath--

And then her RAY punches through Riesenlied.

Neriah stops dead. She widens her eyes. Colour drains from her face all at once.

Riesenlied falls - and in the Bubble of Bliss, something happens.

    ~*~

Neriah bows her head and buries her face in her hands. "I'm a horrible person," she whispers, her voice in her throat. "I'm a horrible person. I'm a horrible person!! I'm a horrible person!!! I'm a horrible person!!!"

The shade of Neriah rends her hands through her hair and dissipates with a wail - and at the edge of the calamity, the Bubble wavers. The shield around it remains intact, keeping any of the violence away from Mikaia and Janey.

But they can begin to see through now.

Neriah inhales and wrestles with the horrible feelings churning in the pit of her stomach. She barely even registers the fact that she mis-raced Elvis. He stomps forward and pounds his fist into the shield pulsing around her - and the eldritch patterns woven through it coalesce, compressing down to a tight point to try and prevent him from dislodging her. The impact jerks her mind out of her rut of self-pity; she throws her hands up and strains against that massive force, eventually managing to push him back a solid ten metres.

Blades of light and darkness descend from either side as Claude and Lily unleash their fury. They slam into the eldritch sphere encasing Neriah. Buckling forward, she clenches her teeth, straining to withstand both awesome powers. Her robe crackles around her as the field strains and contracts, threatening to collapse. Morgan's firepower pounds all the more violently on her shield, bursting through and slashing across her hips and flanks close enough to graze.

As she strains to hold the trio of warriors back, Neriah can hear Noeline mocking her. She grinds her teeth, wanting to sass back at her--

A little dark thought in the dimmest pit of her soul shoulders aside all other considerations.

    YOU SOFT DAMN COWARD
    YOU STILL TRY TO LIVE IN TWO WORLDS
    YOU ARE A DESTROYER
    YOUR DESTINY IS TO DESTROY
    KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND THAT THE WORLD HATES YOU
    AND THAT PAIN
    IS SOMETHING THE *POWERFUL* INFLICT ON THE *WEAK*

              YOU CAN ONLY HAVE ONE OF THESE LIVES, IDIOT GIRL
                        AND YOU HAVE MADE THE CHOICE

Neriah doesn't say anything as Lydia speaks her piece. She lifts her eyes as the girl brings forth the Guardian of the Stars - but there's nothing she can do from here.

Lydia and Rigdobrite smash through the Bliss Bubble and shatter the little illusory world into a thousand pieces. As the asteroid guardian barrels through, everything is laid bare - they can see Neriah at the heart of it all, even as Cyre, Leo and Cecilia all strike at her with punishing blows. Neriah's shield begins to give way. Talonious claws thunder across it as the child of the wind guardian wreaks havoc. Leo's ethereal lion slams into the eldritch power wall of the God of Evil; leonine power burns through and sears across Neriah with thunderous pain, and she growls deep in her throat. And then Cecilia calls forth yet another Guardian - and Tesni adds a SECOND Noua Shax for good measure - and the double blast of divile electricity strips away much of Neriah's shield, burning away chunks of her robes and leaving scorchmarks across her face and limbs.

When the light passes, things hang there for a moment. Neriah's eyes snap towards the remnants of the Bliss Bubble. It is as if time stands still for a heartbeat.

    Mikaia....
                            WELL?

The magically sensitive can feel it first - a split-second beforehand. An immense power is building.

Welling up from deep within Neriah, dreadfire bursts out from around her. The eldritch shield around her pulses to life, shrieking with a renewed fount of power as Neriah draws upon the deepest part of her power. The earth itself trembles, the ground beginning to split and fracture as the field swells out to repel the assembled heroes backwards under the sheer force of it.

"Then I guess I just want to watch the world burn, don't I?" Neriah murmurs. Her eyes, once a pale orchid, blaze with furious scarlet as she rises several metres into the air. Power builds at her right hand as she levels two fingers towards the ground.

And unleashes her RAY at full power straight at Ethius and Lydia.

The backwash of the blast roars through the clearing. The force of it is awesome. In Nota, heads turn and children jolt from their sleep at the thunder in the distance - but in the clearing, the devastation is immediate. It is the very RAY with which Neriah leveled the Tower of Ge Ramtos in the Elw Garden.

And it is the final test for them all, mere meters from the Statue.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Neriah Parringer with Inhalation!
GS: Neriah Parringer gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Neriah Parringer heals Neriah Parringer! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Extend!
GS: Neriah Parringer has spent 3 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lydia Seren with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Noeline with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Lily Keil with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Elvis with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Riesenlied with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Morgan Newkirk with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked White Knight Leo with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Tesni Inoue with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
DC: 5 turns have elapsed in the battle against Neriah Parringer! No turns remain! Time has expired! The battle is over!
GS: CRITICAL! Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 142 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! Claude C. Kenny guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 147 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Claude C. Kenny!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
DC: MISS! Tesni Inoue completely evades Unshining Ray from Neriah Parringer!
GS: CRITICAL! Elvis guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 162 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Elvis!
GS: White Knight Leo has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! White Knight Leo guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 148 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
GS: White Knight Leo has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
GS: CRITICAL! Lily Keil critically Guards a hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 49 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Lily Keil!
GS: Lily Keil used the Force Action Protect! She takes Neriah Parringer's attack on Ethius Hesiod on herself!
GS: Lily Keil has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 250 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Lily Keil!
GS: CRITICAL! Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 119 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Riesenlied has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: Jacqueline Barber used the Force Action Protect! She takes Neriah Parringer's attack on Lydia Seren on herself!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! Jacqueline Barber takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 239 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: CRITICAL! Morgan Newkirk takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 273 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Morgan Newkirk!
GS: Morgan Newkirk enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Morgan Newkirk has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
DC: MISS! Noeline completely evades Unshining Ray from Neriah Parringer!
GS: CRITICAL! Cyre H. Lorentz takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 141 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude gave up on the whole 'deepest principles' thing when he finally agreed to stop lying to Cecilia and start helping her save the world. He is also beginning to suspect that any world in which titanic Golems and at least two alien species (that he knows of) exist can no longer be classified as 'Underdeveloped'.

Case in point is that his phase gun once again fails to obliterate his adversary, which causes him to scream 'whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy' as he's blasted away by more darkness.

<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

    Leo feels that horrible, eldritch power welling up inside and around Neriah. The Statue appears in a literal twinkling of fireflies, next to Lydia and Ethius. It is at this point that Leo realizes that he has no idea how one is supposed to seal those damnable things, and that Lydia, at least, has a chance of knowing. The Beastman half-throws, half-drags himself between Lydia and the enraged cult leader, blade raised. Her shield is failing. They have this--

    Neriah raises her hand, and levels it.

    "GO!" Leo roars, turning to Lydia. This is hers, now. He--

    He can't protect her anymore. The ray slams into Leo's side, tearing through bandages and armor and clothing and reopening wounds made by K.K. not three days ago. Leo bites his tongue until it bleeds, so as not to give Neriah the satisfaction of hearing him scream.

    Then he falls, pitching forward into an expanding pool of blood.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! Cecilia Adlehyde takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 273 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Cecilia Adlehyde!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    A lot of things are happening at once.

    The chaos of the battle is reaching its unnatural climax, with multiple summons from the Lightning Guardian; within it all, Riesenlied has barely moved, even as the mist from Jacqueline's potent panacea slowly rouses her. She hears Lydia urging her-- she reaches out weakly to her...

    ... Noeline is there, with her, bracing her to support her as she stares up at her. "I will accept... the earful I am due from you later. But--"

    As the asteroid hurtles through the air--

    ~*~

    "Um!"
    "Mickey I'm a little BUSY here!"

    Janey is starting to get really antsy as she flexes her mind and whispers, "Gotta find a way, gotta find a way to save mom--"

    "UMMMM!!"
    "Mickey shush please!!"

    Janey's sleeve gets yanked. Mikaia points to the translucent bubble and the giant asteroid headed their way.

    "Um--"

    ~*~

    "--yeaaaaaaaaaaaa--!!!"

    So cries the Lord of Calamity* and her sidekick as Janey grabs onto Mikaia and has her climb on her back and she musters every little ounce of Mouse Beastgirl that's still in her to do a ludicrous longjump, whipping and whirling to land on one side with her arms spread.

    "--aaaaaah!! Made the landing!!"

    Janey's legs give in a split second after.

    The theatrics are dispelled, however, when she sees-- and hurries towards her mother's side and grasps onto her. "Mom! Mom!! Riesemama! Mama, help her!" she exclaims, looking all around her with tearful eyes, looking back up to Neriah.

    "I don't want to watch anything burn..." she whispers. "... I want the Neriah I know back! And if that's greedy, if that's stupid-- well-- I'll be a stupid kid and want it nonetheless!!"

    Riesenlied looks towards Mikaia as she pulls her in closer, whispering, "Mikaia..." as she looks towards Noeline, with a staggered look upon her face.

    Janey pulls up to go, "We'd better get out of here!" as she starts supporting Riese as well, glancing upwards again.

    "Lydie I believe in you!! If you die I'm going to find the worst kind of under-pumped soccer ball I KNOW you hate and I'm gonna learn evil magic to just trap your spirit in it!!!!"

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Cyre was not present when Neriah reduced the statue of Ge Ramtos to so much ash-- and so he completely missed out on seeing her full might on display in person. He felt the thunder, surely. The light was undeniable, from where he had found himself on that floating garden, but this... This is something else.

This kind of power-- Rigdobrite would be turned to rubble if nothing is done. What can be done? What could possibly be done?

...

Cyre throws himself into the beam.

His world turns white hot with pain and soon even that disappears. Thunder the equal of Noua Shax's twin manifestations threatens to turn his bones to dust and it's only by virtue of the power of the wind surging through him that it does not. But he must absorb what he can. He must. When the Guardians can't, it's the place of humanity to do all that they are able...!

And by the end of it... Cyre stands with his body all but torn to ribbons, bleeding and bloody and staggering forward, dazed, out of the lingering light.

He reaches Neriah, swaying weakly, and reaches up...

To boop a snoot.

"Got yer nose."

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Neriah Parringer with Boop the Snoot!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Cyre H. Lorentz's attack becomes clear!
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Cyclone Joker for 93 hit points!
GS: Disease and Poison! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Neriah Parringer has been weakened by Disease! They take 10.7 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline can feel that immense power. It makes the hair on the back stand on end, and she can feel a primal fear raise up in her stomach. She bursts into a run, sliding into position right in front of Lydia and sweeping her arms up.

She gestures quickly, erecting as much sorcerous protection as she can, just as Leo attempts to do the same...

...But it is not enough. It is not nearly enough. This is a power that demolished the Tower of Ge Ramtos. Jacqueline Barber, for all her virtues, is but a mere human.

She shuts her eyes tight...and then takes the full force of the ray's burst, shielding Lydia with her body as soon as Leo falls.

"Lydia...hang in there, okay...?" Jacqueline says, looking back to offer her a smile.

...The beam clears, and Jacqueline still stands. Weakly, but barely.

"N-Neriah..." Jacqueline murmurs. Her voice is weak, and her body burns like nothing she's felt before.

...No, perhaps she has felt a pain like this, once before.

Slowly, she begins to walk toward Neriah, taking care to step over Leo. She nearly trips and stumbles, but she keeps moving. Keeps moving even toward Neriah even as Mikaia and Janey burst out.

"I-I still..." She approaches Neriah her arms wide...and then falls toward her, wrapping her arms around her. "...b-believe in..."

Jacqueline doesn't finish her sentence. Her body buckles and goes limp with her arms still around Neriah, as everything begins to fade...

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Except that Cyre's fingertip had been channeling what little dregs of power he could unleash without also toppling over. The snoot boop is just a snoot boop-- but the rush of wind that follows, driving in to briefly steal Neriah's breath away, is something else.

Also it's kind of embarassing, getting hit in the face by a gust so big that it might cause bits like lips and hair to flap all over the place.

<Pose Tracker> Tesni Inoue has posed.

Tesni Inoue prees on it will be some time before she can call on the Guardian again, it's amazing she can even do it at all. She keeps moving the backwash is coming and Tess proves to be fast on her feet. She moves like Grafh himself was after her, she does not skip a beat. She just barely is able to throw herself away from the pending backwash of power she dives for the statue with all she has and catches a sight that breaks her heart she sees what Jay says she sees what Jay does anfd she sees Jay go down.

 "Jacqueline!!!"

<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

This woman's stopping power is impressive. A full on attack is halted, though it msut have taken considerable effort to do so. Elvis is flung backwards a good distance, skidding finally to a halt with a hand down in balance. His fist is smouldering from the attack, but still serviceable. "I am jsut getting warmed up!" she shouts, running back at her.

Then, rays of pure foreign energy fire off in all directions and would-be heroes and one unfortunate guy caught up in this bullmess. Elvis brings his guard up to block, and the ray hits dead on. He endures it and sidesteps as soon as he rights hsi feet, but his outer arms are finely seared as are his ruined clothes. "AAAAH!" he cries as the hit lands, causing him to grit his teeth and fall to a knee soon as he out-maneuvers it.

"HOW DARE YOU," he says through the pain. "You have cause me such strife today. You should just... GO HOME!"

The man raises his hands both, and orbs of water appear around Neriah and her shielding. THey shape into tube-like forms, and much like a pressure-washer, gout high velocity water in multiple areas, much like a geometric pattern, to try and break through!

He looks to those that seem to plan to seal the statue! "NO! Don't seal it! COME ON!"

He is too pre-occupied with his attack to interrupt the attempt. It takes his concentration to keep the assault. "How can I study it if it is sealed?!"

GS: Elvis has attacked Neriah Parringer with Hydro Pressure!
GS: Elvis takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Elvis has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Elvis's Hydro Pressure for 35 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lieutenant Keil has a good view of Riesenlied falling, from where she is, slamming her blade down as hard as she can. It is fury, but cold fury. More with will than strength of arm does she keep pushing down, looking up and seeing Claude's response only for an instant. "Not bad," she mentions to his blade of light--and the field strains, contracts, and still Lily focuses magic into it. The sheer recoiling force starts to blast against her, flecks of fabric and skin floating off into space before they, too, are annihilated. The God of Evil, is it?

"Not... done..."

Lily is smashed backwards abrubtly when the field swells out, but she hears Neriah's murmur. She sees the change in her eyes, and looks up sharply. Her two fingers are aiming--

The barrier she could protect herself against, familiar with the darkness that seems to power it. The way Neriah gathers power, though--it sucks the air from Lily's lungs as she rushes forward. But she makes it in time. Both arms extend as she, heedless of the fact that the jarring impact will be agony on her arm, shoves Ethius out of the way of the beam and turns towards it to try to make a barrier to defend herself.

...She miscalculates. Her barrier isn't strong enough, and it crumples inward, hissing against the sheer power of the the ray of darkness against it. The ray scythes through her, hitting her flush in the side and travelling right past and through. The shockwave travels around an instant later, flooding through her as she stands against it, passing right through her. "Ugh--" An instant passes, and Lily coughs, blood speckling her hand when she raises it close. "...That..."

"...Was good. You all right, Hesiod?" Her voice wavers, and she falls to a knee, hissing in pain. She looks down at him, looks back to Neriah, above. "...I know something about burning, too."

From her side gleams golden light, and it pulses around her in an aura--before she points her whole hand and a beam of nuclear fire rockets towards the architect of this place, exploding into a sphere of intese heat and irradiating power.

"Gh--You--" She can't spare the focus. Not to Elvis, or to the fallen.

GS: Lily Keil has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lily Keil has spent 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Neriah Parringer with Alphashock!
GS: Lily Keil takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Morgan Newkirk has posed.


And that is a lot of fire.

So Morgan does what he usually does in situations like this. He cunningly identifies the worst possible idea among a plethora of bad ideas...and just goes for it.

He charges the fire.

Logic is fairly sound. The sooner he gets to the other side of the pressure wave the less time he gets to spend in the fire. The less damage he takes. In theory? This is right.

Theory and practice seldom are on speaking terms though.

The fox rushes forwards, leaping though the wall of flame...

...but as previously stated. That is a lot of fire.

When he comes out the other side his vision swims. His person is smouldering. Shield shattered. His flying leap he hoped would be a tackle of some kind ends up more of an uncontrolled sprawl as he eats dirt. Landing on one shoulder with a disturbinng crack before he rolls a few times to end up on his back. Struggling to raise but he doesn't have the strength.

"Dinner...might have ta wait..." He hisses. At least he's not bleeding. Much. I mean fire. Fire sucks.

GS: You do not have any attacks from that person in queue.
GS: Neriah Parringer critically Guards a hit from Lily Keil's Alphashock for 23 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

    Noeline knows what it's like to lead two lives. The fall of Arctica taught her much, and the fall of Adlehyde only reinforced those teachings, forced her to realize that she couldn't simply keep straddling both sides of the war. She's well aware that it can only cause trouble in the end, the white lies building up and building up further and further like building blocks. How much easier would their path have been if she hadn't hesitated, and been open with Cecilia from the start? Though she talks a lot about her hand being forced, it's still something that's nagged at her before.

    The groundswell of power tells her all she needs to know; something is coming, and in response she pulls further at the Medium inside of her, doing her best to try to bolster the protective space she's made for the two of them. It works, but only sort of; the space shakes and shivers, nearly buckles, and certainly doesn't afford any chance for Riesenlied to properly recover the damage dealt to her.

    Still, Noeline manages to hold it steady, grimacing as she feels herself start to shiver from the effort of it, her vision blurring; there's no sweat on her brow, but only because she's a metal demon. "... don't be silly," she mutters down to Riesenlied, her voice undeniably fond despite the hoarseness of her anger a moment before; she draws a hand through blonde hair briefly, sucking in a breath. "I'm not going to give you an earful for following your path. Just rest a bit. I'll get the kids safe," she promises, even without the first idea of how they're going to manage that.

    Fortunately, it's a problem that's solved for her; from out of nowhere Janey and Mikaia manage to find the two of them, and Noeline's gaze is wide-eyed and mildly astonished, even given her words of support for them just a moment ago. "Eh--" she blurts, and glances over them to where their bubble is well-and-truly popped; it forces her to readjust, taking a moment to let Janey take Riesenlied's weight as she sizes up the rest of the battle.

    What she sees does not look good - they obviously have a losing battle on their hands, but she can spy the way in which Lydie flits through the portals towards the statue. Deciding to trust in that, she sucks in a slow breath. "--Lily!" she calls, for once not bothering with the surname. "We're falling back!" Not a command, so much as a warning; she catches Mikaia with a hand, and then looks to Janey with a determined nod, helping to shoulder Mikaia and Riese both. "Janey's right. We have to get safe, first. This-- isn't the time. Go!"

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Ethius feels a twinge of pain in his shoulder as Lydia helps the taciturn man on top of Rigdobrite. She is that strong. His human flesh is still human flesh. Even with the light of the Guardian helping show the way, he is in debilitating pain and struggling with a cloudy mind. The dark vapors through the Pocket Universe care not that he has a yellow bandanna around his face to theoretically limit how much he breathes. He was deep in it. He coughs some more as he grips one of Rigdobrite's grooves in his free hand. At the speed they're going, it's a wonder he's not about to slip off, as the restorative vapors of Jay's medicine disperse and sweep through the artificial cosmos.
     He remembers the circumstances in which Neriah met. He remembers the severity of the action he took when dark powers clashed between her and a humongous death butterfly. He remembers the rationale and reasons for doing so. Little of that matters.
     A RAY of terrible light, destructive and all-consuming, sweeps out towards them. There's little he can do other than leave what faith he has in the Guardian ferrying him and a number of others.
     Time and distance feel... strange. The way everything just erupts as it does. He can't afford to be distracted. Words are said that should elicit his attention. His keen senses - keen in very specific ways - pick up the application and use of items that warrant immediate attention. Here in this void, there is one key priority.
     Others make their key priorities before incredible powers few of them have a chance to live and tell the tale of.
     "Miss Neriah." Ethius speaks on the approach. That even tone of voice. He re-focuses that stare of his through it all. "The circumstances that have come to this point are no longer my concern." Is it not his concern about how much he has HURT her? How much he HURTS and FRUSTRATES everyone? So many of them are seeing to his continued existence ultimately grudgingly! THIS whole scenario... they might have been able to avert it HAD HE NOT TRIED TO KILL HER. AGAIN.
     Some of them may have DIED in this exchange! Because of HIM. Jay just tried to STOP THE FULL POWER OF THE EIGHTH WITH HER BODY.
     Even right now, LILY nearly shoves him off the asteroid ride just to help him clear being shot down by the RAY. He dangles precariously as Lily struggles after the fact.
     "...I will take care of the rest." He responds to Lily, in about as reassuring a tone as he can (which is to say, not very). He renews his strength in his grip. His quarterstaff is in his other hand. The Medium's back under his clothes.
     "Regardless of the misgivings stated, I will clarify a specific matter. You will know this as truth." He maintains this as displaced air whips all around him. How can he expect to be heard above it all?
     "Valmar does not belong here." He readies his quarterstaff, reasserting the grip as he draws ever closer thanks to Rigdobrite. Those words are his rallying cry. Valmar does not belong here. This is... enough, as he kicks off of the Guardian towards the location in which she rages and stands. Mentally, coming this close to her-- no. He holds onto his purpose, however vague it is, knowing that what he is seeing and what he is doing is within whatever it is he seeks or desires.
 
     He seems so unmoved to relent from those he intends to kill, no matter the disagreement or protests.
     He seems so otherworldly in his motives and morality.
     He is a murderer.
     His destiny is his destiny.
     He may not know what he is, and he has very few fans in the world.
     That pain he intends to inflict in his wake.
     He seems to not care how strong nor weak he directs his ruinous behavior.
     No matter what life he must truly lead...
     He has made his choice.
 
     As he comes down to the 'ground,' he tumbles forward in a dangerous-looking, injurious roll off of how fast he's going. It ends with him coming at the end of that roll with a fully-extended quarterstaff shooting to run Neriah through the gut--
     "Stinger." The name of the technique, looking to lift her up and heft her away.
     "I will stop at nothing until Valmar is no longer here." His words are, in this instance, broad, but have that unspoken promise that reflect the summation of her grievances with no reconciliation or hesitation in words nor deed.
     He will, should he ever have the decisive upper hand, kill her.
     He will, should the need arise, kill anyone else that falls under her sway.
     Nothing will stop him until either he or she is dead.
     The matter of sealing the statue is left to Lydia.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Neriah Parringer with Stinger!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Stinger for 85 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia's judgment crashes down on the woman, and afterward Noua Shax dissipates with a puff, leaving Cecilia there to catch his Medium. She looks up, expecting Neriah to be somewhat chastised based on her behavior earlier. Instead...

Instead.

Cecilia's eyes shrink to pinpoints as the song of this distorted place turns horrid and discordant. SOMETHING is here, that much is clear, Neriah siphoning off something vast and horrible. "So that's your master," Cecilia mutters. The Mediums are trembling...

And then so is the whole world. Cecilia throws up her arms, her staff in hand to resist that gathering power. The light of her barrier flashes bright.

Just as Neriah spears the world.

She feels it like a shot to the stomach, the soul, and the skeleton. She doesn't know what G-Forces are, or she'd find the experience comparable, pushing her down like the weight of the world were on her, her knees bending, then buckling as she stares up at that almighty blast of horror amid her silent bubble of light. Her eyes want to close to focus but she keeps them open, instead, teeth grit to the point she feels like they'll explode in her mouth. But she does not break.

She can't defend anyone like this. She can't even fight back like this. She bears up under it, until the last of it erupts out, but even then...even then she finds herself struggling to her feet, swaying and glaring up. Claude's out. She'll have to deliver him to Rena again later. She reaches down to her Crests, huffing for breath, and finds the one she wants - a Black Magic crest, Muse and Fray glyphs etched upon it. She throws the stone chip forward, and it catches in the swells of her magic, flickering as a magic circle scribes itself in the air, echo to the glyph. Muse above, for water; Fray below, for fire. In the center, the blazing icon of black magic, exploding with light.

"BLAST!" Cecilia screams, an untyped bolt of raw Leyline power screaming toward Neriah: The last and best sh can do, in this moment.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Neriah Parringer with Heart of the Crests!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Heart of the Crests for 82 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia still isn't sure why Leo is protecting her, she of another faith and indeed of a faith that Leo doesn't care much for, but even if she can't believe in Althena just yet, at least not in the way they seem to believe in her, there is faith building in Lydia for the people that serve her. First Margaret, now Leo.

Lydia didn't need to be told to 'Go!' but she feels guilty doing so. Leo is hurt, his wounds are reopened, and she's not sure she can repay him.

Neriah already made her choice. Lydia hopes one day she'll make another choice but as she is thrown free of Rigdobrite (who shortly vanishes after making impact), Lydia takes a moment to catch her breath and get running.

She soon findes she's running right for a beam of light. Something that power could rip her in two. She does NOT want to see if that's something she can regenerate from and you know something's bad when you hope it just kills you. But Jay gets in the way.

"Jay!!" Lydia shouts as she gets in the way. Why is everybody rushing into these things!? For her of all people. She's not good enough for--

--no, she isn't going to think like that. She doesn't mind struggling against those thoughts, but not today. Lydia stands herself up and instead of crying for Jay's pain she tries to smile at her. "I won't lose so don't die."

She gets to running. Riesenlied is still okay, she tells herself, she's still okay. One day, she hopes, Neriah will find her own star, but that is also something that has to be pushed aside. She has to think of the words. It's been so long, she has to remember.

Her body is aching. The flames that hit her before still hurt, and the strain of just getting here was almost too much for her considering she still hasn't fully recovered from Ida stabbing her in the chest. She just has to push a little more, a little more.

Janey tells her what's up.

And Lydia persists, reaching forward to that statue, chanting words in the Baskar tongue as she taps a rod to statue, simple as pie. All of that sacrifice just to get here and Lydia isn't about to let it go to waste.

Lydia closes her eyes so she may see.

You found me once more! What a thrilling game of hide and seek we play.

Lydia laughs faintly, placing her forehead against the statue. "Y'dummy. Thank you, Rigdobrite...I love you and...I'm sorry for taking you for granted and...and yelling at you and...arguing..."

Ho ho! Remember what you said proudly, young one, we're just fine with it aren't we? But what about you? Have you found more stars?

"Yuh..yes...and they're the prettiest stars around." Lydia sobs. "Somehow they're here...!"

How did this happen? It was like she was moving through a dense fog of darkness but all of a sudden they were there. And then it's like she just decided to be happy and as if a switch had been flicked, now she is happy. Not all the time, perhaps, but most times. She can chart the general trend. Ethius's promise has at least survived that much, murderer or no.

But even though she's crying when she opens her eyes, she looks at Neriah and says, "The game's over. Will that stop you from killing the people who love you most?" She speaks with neither anger or hatred. It's as if she's asking Neriah whether she'll go to the ball or eat a tofu muffin.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

There's a part of Neriah that absolutely hates doing what she's doing right now.

The other part of her has taken over. The Butcher of Lastonbell. The Monster of Three Cucco Spring. Valmar's Child, born to be a destroyer, sitting on an endless font of bitterness, resentment, spite and vengefulness. Her expression has gone stony and her chin has come up again. The tearstains smudging her mascara are slowly wiped away with the edge of her hand.

Althena's White Knight goes down in a pool of his own blood. A noble warrior who did his best to protect someone Neriah should call a friend. And she took that from him.

Riesenlied falls, too - and she huddles the children close to her.

'I want the Neriah I know back!'

For just a second, Neriah's expression breaks. She can't hold the facade perfectly - and in that couple of seconds, what shows through like a crystal-clear light is the other side of her.

A raw, horrified anguish.

Which fades as Cyre claws his way up her shield and boops her nose through it - a boop which in fact whips her hair back dramatically and briefly steals her breath away. She blinks, then waits a moment to breathe. The shock fades away gradually back to stony annoyance. Letting her shield fall away, she reaches through it to gently push Cyre away from her. When she does, she's left to confront a furious Elvis, bringing forth the power of water to punish her further.

She flicks her wrist and calls up her shield with a scowl, most of the blast soaked up - but much of it bursts around her, soaking her hair and part of her robe and briefly throwing her off-balance. She grimaces and flicks her hair back. "They're going to seal it."

Lily lets the light shine and outright nukes Neriah, even with the battle all but won. Neriah whips her shield back around to soak up the worst of the attack, jaw clenched slightly. Heat and radiation spill around her, scorching the edges of her robe and leaving a few burns behind.

Jacqueline advances on her. Neriah stares, her expression still stony - until her friend holds out her arms and slouches against her.

It hangs there for a moment. Neriah's expression again cracks. Her lower lip trembles visibly.

Wrapping her arms delicately around Jay's shoulders, the Dark Priestess sinks to the ground, lowering Jay towards the earth like a precious treasure. She lays the alchemist on her back and carefully positions her glasses properly. "...You came back for me, never knowing what I'd done," she breathes, her voice so soft that it doesn't carry much past Jay at all. "You're a better person than I can ever hope to be. If everyone were like you, then I might've bottled Valmar's magic up inside me and never thought about it again."

When she rises again, it's to confront Ethius as he comes at her - the man she tried to take from this world. He lunges in - and the quarterstaff slams into her chest, but doesn't break through. She snaps her arm up to block the worst of it, grunting with effort and sliding backwards before her other hand comes up to plant against the weapon.

Her eyes narrow dangerously, but she can say nothing more - certainly not before Cecilia brings forth the thunder of raw lewyline power and levies it upon her. The force of it slams past Ethius and into Neriah. She's swallowed up by the light for a moment. Smoke blooms out from around where she was once standing.

It is in that moment that Lydia Seren makes her move. The Statue of Rigdobrite pulses with a subtle light... and then, simply and serenely, it settles there. Seven stars twinkle overhead, none the wiser.

The smoke slowly parts. Behind it, Neriah's standing with her robes tattered and torn and a few burn marks visible on exposed skin. But her body language is simple and reserved, and she doesn't press the issue.

The question Lydia asks her is a hard one. Neriah bows her head and closes her eyes.

"...You're right. This is over," she says.

When she looks up again, the colour in her eyes has begin to slowly drain away, fading back towards pale orchid. "When Jay and Riese come to," she says quietly, "tell them this: I won't go after any more of the Statues. This time it was a favour, but that person is overdrawn on favours as it is." She begins to turn away, her feet leaving small tracks in the grass as the vestiges of the Phantom Universe begin to melt away around her.

As the clearing fades back into view, Neriah stops and slowly draws her hood up.

"For what it's worth," she says, "I'm sorry. I wish I were a better person who deserved their love.

"But I don't. And I don't think I can be anymore."

With a whisper of dark energy, Neriah folds in on herself, fading away into a shadow and melting into the night.


    M I S S I O N C O M P L E T E


<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

'...I will take care of the rest.'

"Yeah," Lily answers Ethius, breathing more ragged than she would like, for all that she remains calm. Ethius is trying to be reassuring, of all things. "You got it." She nods firmly, and perhaps, just for a moment, two murderers can understand one another--can share one understanding of what needs to be done.

But the focus on Valmar's presence here...? Lily doesn't know whether it's necessary to kill Neriah, but she knows that a dead foe is done. That mercy is a dangerous risk. She struck even when it was unnecessary, after all.

She hears her given name from Noeline's voice, turns her head half to the side to look at her. Sure, it's not a command. But it doesn't need to be. She inclines her head, and looks to Neriah. ...She feels Lydia, sealing the statue. Sees...

Pain. Anguish. "...All right then." A glance to Ethius; the Priestess seems no longer hostile... and after all that, they're in little position to reopen the fight.

"..." Neriah says she won't; starts to explain....

Lily stares after that shadow for a few moments, shakes her head. "...They don't care if you deserve it," she says to the silence, and sighs, before standing back up with a wince, dragging herself towards where Noeline retreated with the others. "Hesiod!" she calls. "...Looks like it's over for now." She pauses, and looks him over. She... looks like hell. "For now, we're not enemies anymore. Try to stay alive."

She shuffles away.

<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

Despite his plans and all his abilities, the heroes arrayed put a stop the destroying the statue. "We could have doen this if we worked together, damnit!" he yells in frustration with the last vestiges of his attack. But words are all that can be traded now.

THe deed was done.

And Elvis just stands there, sulking.

Is he pouting?

Yeah, he is pouting.

"What am I going to tell him..." he says quietly. "All this time wasted and nothing to shwo for it."

He turns to the group, looking utterly furious, a scorched finger pointed to the heavens. But no words come out. He just puts his hands to his face. "Back to the drawing board."

The man takes a titanic tome out of a carrying satchel, and writes something in it.

Experiment RJY-48 Attempt B:

Conclusion - Early termination.

Reason: Humans being Humans.

The book is shut, and the man takes a long, deep breath. It was time to find another possible avenue. This one is closed.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    The stare down lasts longer than the actual time that transpires. His does not relent. He comes out of that fog with a re-sharpened focus. So acute is his focus that when the leyline power comes screaming in, he disengages in one last side roll to the left as he ends in a kneel near Lydia and the statue of her beloved Guardian.
     It is to everyone's benefit that his own energy reserves are overdrawn - that he doesn't move to try and silence Neriah as she explains her feelings on the matter: she will go after no more. It was a favor... she was doing this on someone's behalf. Whose, outside of the usual suspects?
     He is unmoved by the apology and her resignation about her nature, as the beautiful night and its seven aligned stars shine overhead. Seven stars that will inspire curiosity and wonder among those here who have the Goddess-given fortune to be alive in these times.
     "Miss Lydia." Ethius speaks. What he was going to say after the fact, he... can't. He finds himself flopping against the clearing grass in sheer exhaustion, as Lily remarks her appreciation and declaration that they are not enemies any more.
     ...He supposes there is a matter to be discussed with them later. There is one thing he would like to check, when his strength returns to him. (By the time it does, coyly, Rigdobrite won't give him that chance. But that's a laugh for later.)
     Others need immediate assistance. There is not much he can do as he is. Being that close to Neriah - Valmar's power - at her most resolute and unrelenting is not something one pumps their fists and cheers at with reckless abandon.
     It kind of makes one reflect about how content they are to draw breath and really appreciate the rest of the world. One of his hands rests upon where the Stone Medium lies upon his body.
     There really are a lot of stars, aren't there.