2018-08-05: Nemesis Games, Part 2

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========================<* Meribia - Merchant's Row *>========================

Meribia was once both the largest city and port on the continent from which it draws its name; both honours have since been ceded to the Holy City of Pentagulia. It is nevertheless a major commercial centre for the entire Meribus continent, and all manner of goods are found here.

Merchant's Row is the name given to the merchant district of Meribia, which runs from the landside entrance through to the centre of the city. Everything from weapons and armour to more mundane household goods can be found here, and the atmosphere is highly competitive, with barkers screaming from both sides of the Row.

The largest shop in the city belong to the legendary Ramus family, an ancient line of merchants that has been operating since the time of the Dragonmasters. While Blue Master Lunn speaks formally for the city, Ramus is an influential figure.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3jru8_hq_s
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Both the leaders of Hyland and Rolance came to the start of the tournament in Meribia. Officially, it was a chance for peace -- a hope, even, by some people.

Except, of course, that the Shadow Dragon Cult attacked the tournament before it could begin. The various and important people at the tournament are not all on the fair grounds; some are in a large pavilion, where merchants local and far from Meribia have set-up shop. Carts, stalls, and stands populate them, providing food and wares to those so-inclined.

The Hyland and Rolance parties are not hard to respond. It may be suspicious, then, that Chancellor Bartlow and a ring of blue-armored knights make haste shortly before the start -- vanishing into a tent. A moment later, a scream echoes across the grounds. Cardinal Runette Forton, wearing her white dress, turns and blinks.

A cry echoes: "The Shadow Dragon Cult is attacking...!"

        -=-=-

        EARLIER

Talia craned her nook, looking up at Bartlow. As her employers went, he wasn't the worst of them -- which, really, said more about her other employer than it did about the virtue of Bartlow's character. The old man smiled, adjusting his suit, and then laid his hands on his cane's top. "So... you've all proven yourself well, despite the difficulties we encountered in the Battle of the Three Hills."

The Chancellor tilted his head. "I see a chance to end this war. If Cardinal Forton were to perish... well. That would be unfortunate." His smile was not kind. "And it would throw Rolance into chaos, as nobles began to compete."

It would, Talia though. But... how much did he know? "So, you want me to do... my primary job." She looked at Kaguya, then smiled. "I'd say that our Lady Kaguya is cut out for such grisly work, no?"

"Indeed," Bartlow said. "And I happen to also have heard that... the Shadow Dragon Cult may create an opportunity for us. A little confusion, to cover your tracks."

        -=-=-

        PRESENT

Cardinal Forton is surrounded by six armored guards. One of the red-garbed knights turns, his eyes widening, as he looks towards the direction of the tournament grounds. A blast of smoke and debris shoots into the air, from where the scream came. His mouth works. "We need to get the Cardinal to a secure--grrk!"

That, it seems, is when a dagger slams into his eye. He crumples to the ground in a heap.

Down the street, clad in the dark cloak that she bought from Katherine Weaver, Talia stands stone-faced and cold. Her hand reaches down; she draws another dagger out, and its steel glints in opposition to the strange, mottled blue-and-grey metal of Mirage. Her head turns to the side, and she looks at her companion.

"...Let's make this quick," she says, her voice rougher than it should be.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        Speaking of Katherine Weaver!!Boy, it's a bad time for a weaver to be, especially when you woke up this morning with a fresh sunshine-y face, put on your Sunday best -- a blue dress with white trimmings and a cute white capelet to go with it, and then picked up a basket full of poppy flowers that she's picked throughout the mountains.

        "Flowers! Flowers!" calls the Seraph, knowing full well that she won't get most anyone paying attention to her, but if she can at least get one or two...

        "Get your commemorative poppy flowers to respect those that have fallen in the war! Mark your respect today, in remembrance of peace!" Katherine expresses.

        Then it all turns to pot.

        The Shadow Dragon Cult is attacking...!!

        "Huh...?" Katherine blinks as she glances around as people escape all around her, some toppling over crates as they flee. "Wait, what...?"

<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

Lady Kaguya just grinned back then. "Yeah," she said. "I think I can do something like that."

-=-=-

PRESENT

There's an ugly, horrid snapping sound, and another of the guards falls, his head twisted at a deeply unpleasant angle by a pair of gloved hands. Kaguya steps out from behind the falling body with a little smirk and a shrug, dressed in dark clothing, strange green metal glinting at her limbs--a bizarre white-and-black weapon holstered at her side, an ARM far beyond the technology of Lunar.

She starts to pull it. "I mean, we don't have to make it quick," Kaguya points out lightly, pleasantly. "But I think you'd prefer if we do."

"I'll give your guards an opportunity to run."

There's a clacking noise as she readies the TK-38K to fire.

DC: Kaguya switches forms to Alien Berserker Kaguya!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Cless al'Vane... is missing, presumed dead, after the events of the Battle of the Three Hills. This seemed like the safest explanation for him to use after his disguise-which-wasn't was literally blasted off of him thanks to Kaguya's liberal application of plasma guns. What is elft of the mercenary company known as Brave Phantasia is still out there, probably escorting the Emperor of Rolance, probably currently fighting members of the Shadow Dragon Cult... minus a few of its hero units who have mysteriously vanished into the night following the apparent death of their leader.

On which note...

A figure clothed in a tan uniform jacket of bizarre design, white pants, and impossibly stupid shoes compared to anyone not named Fei Fong Wong, darts out from an alley off to Kaguya's side, his body whirling in a tight circle in mid-air. During the spin, he accomplishes two things simultaneously - the first is that he draws from a sheath at his side what at first appears to be a standard-issue cavalry sabre set with a non-standard issue Symbologically carved ruby, which causes the blade to light up with a thin aura of red fire.

The second, and perhaps more pertinent to Kaguya, is that his right heel lashes out in an attempt to spinkick her in her precious facemeats.

"HEY GUYS!" shouts Claude C. Kenny (who has been totally absent from the story while this mysterious and handsome Cless al'Vane person has been running around) as he lands in between the little maybe-alien murdergirl and the probably-priest dude. "I just wanted to go watch people punch people in the face. So, like, can we not with the murder?! Seriously. Can we not."

They probably can't, he sighs silently.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Kaguya with Face Kick No Jutsu!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny has canceled their attack on Kaguya.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

This was a big event! Representatives from Hyland and Rolance had come to Meribia for this tournament. It seemed like there might finally be an opportunity for peace.

As a merchant, Jacqueline was set to take advantage of this. A stall for the Caravan Kinship was set up, with a variety of wares on display. Business was good!

...Unfortunately, it was not to last.

Chaos rocks the pavilion. Panic begins to rise.

Jacqueline quickly scoops her wares into one of her bags and steps out from behind the stall.

"Everyone! Please remain calm and exit the pavilion in an organized manner! I'm sure the Guard will be here soon to return order!" Jacqueline calls out, attempting to put on her most authoritative voice. She then looks to the side, where a certain Katherine Weaver also has a stall set up.

"Miss Weaver! Can you put up another one of those signs? We need to get people out of here as quickly as possible! I'll take the other side of the pavilion." She asks, recalling how the seamstress aided in the evacuation of Lastonbell.

She then runs off, where she is suddenly stalled by the sight of a familiar figure.

"--Kaguya!?" Jacqueline remarks in surprise.

...And then Claude kicks her in the face.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Suddenly there's a strange BWEE BWEE BWEE as a trio of circular colorful rings of light lash out and hit Talia's newest dagger. There's that BWEE BWEE BWEE noise again and the weapon shrinks down smaller and smaller until it becomes toothpick sized and significantly less fatal looking.

Amber the Falconeer steps out from behind a cart, twirling a PURELY LUNAR TECH pistol around her fingers and then pockets it in a side holster. "Sweet," She says. "Finally got the hang of it."

Lydia Seren steps out as well and adds, "Yo!" to Talia, waving a hand in her direction, smiling sheepishly but in this case the sheep is the black sheep of the family and totally ate a chicken while everybody was on guard for foxes. "What's up? Hi Kaguya! Hi Talia! I thought maybe we could do less murder today? That makes peace conferences super awkward!! It's like 'I just wanted a peace conference' but the other guy is like 'it was all a trap ga ha ha' and then a dragon eats the city? Anyway I'd watch your back if I were you. There might be an Ethius around!"

Actually, Lydia has no idea if there's an Ethius around but if he is around Lydia expects him to try and gank somebody.

She asides to Amber. "Help with evac but don't fight Kaguya she will pop off your head like a doll."

"Don't get decapitated. Got it." Amber says.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius keeps watch of the proceedings best he's able, from what distance he presently has to work from. The intel he has being what it is, there is value in allowing negotiations to proceed - though there is already multiple causes in which to believe it will not.
        He puts on a believable appearance of someone who is here to participate in the festivities and not just a skulking sneak, and probably managed to get to the pavilion only because he's technically in employ of an increasingly influential merchant company (guess who).
        He visits the various stands of food and wares. He has a good handle by now about what sorts of items are 'correct' for the area, as if making certain none of the merchants were possible plants. His appraisal is interrupted when he catches sight of Chancellor Bartlow and a number of Hyland knights seem to be moving to a tent with all due haste. He can't draw any closer without arousing suspicion. He only has the event by itself to go by--
        A scream follows. Attacks by a Shadow Dragon Cult...
        Something reeks of premeditation. He has a split decision to make. He could rush the Hyland tent and remove a person of influence from the picture - a short term gain, as it doesn't address the central problem.
        A new prospective opportunity comes to mind that might make what appears a future eventuality easier - and he moves for the last known position of the Rolance representative(s).
        r IN THE PRESENT
        There is a blur of ashen and maroon color, a hooded figure hurling themselves into the weakening defense line for Cardinal. The knights are already overwhelmed by there being two elite operatives cutting through them. They roll right on out into the open in front of them, back turned to the overwhelmed knights as they face one Lady Kaguya and Talia. They cross a forearm inward to the rapidly-spoken syllables to the tell-tale lights and sounds of a Symbological spell being cast... but no apparent effect.
        From under an ashen hood and a yellow bandanna, Kaguya will recognize the figure's stare almost immediately - and hey, sure means that Lydia's warning rang true!
        He is also totally and blatantly standing in front of a prepared TK-38K that should in theory render him a fine mist at any time she pulls the trigger, because he sure as hell ain't wearing any kind of armor that could withstand a direct hit from it. Maybe he hit his head again recently and could use one last shot to the head to set things right (permanently).
        "Cardinal," Ethius addresses, "I will see--"
        Claude comes out of nowhere to try and jump-kick Kaguya in the face, and Ethius goes stone silent.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Kaguya with Face Kick No Jutsu!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Tabitha deVriese has posed.

EARLIER:

Janus Cascade wasn't there. He hasn't answered summons since the fall of Lastonbell. Did he die there? Consumed by that horrid dragon? Dying ignobly in the rubble he thought would protect him? Or did he just decide Hyland was no longer worthy of his time? What could possibly get a man like Janus Cascade to turn down the prospect of a little homicide-for-hire?

NOW:

WELL WE'RE NOT GONNA FIND OUT TODAY BECAUSE a blur of green and black shoots out of the crowd, surging high, arcing gracefully through the air, flipping head over heels and coming down near Kaguya, touching down from her meters-high leap as if light as a feather, neat and controlled. "This hardly seems neighborly," she declares, with her teasing little smile, and then swings her ARM up to level it at Kaguya's head. "Kindly set the weapon down, child."

<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
MARGARET

the BLACK PEARL of NEO VANE

is here to watch the fights. She had been eating a meat kebab provided to her by one of her comrades who had thoughtfully bought a half dozen and then given two of them to her and another individual. She had settled in for the tournament.

A bunch of blue knights run across the field.

"Huh," says Silf, who is eating four of the six kebabs... all at once.

Then comes a cry.

Margaret leans forwards and rises up to her feet. "Well," she growls.

SHORTLY THEREAFTER

The speed-enhancing arts of the Hounds of Hell are, at this point, well known and so it is not too much of a shock to all concerned when Margaret moves like inexpensive computer-generated imagery to close the gap between herself and the cardinal. And others, she sees with a certain sense of grim relief. Well, at least that isn't as bad as it could be.

"All of you," Margaret says with an air of authority as she sets down the butt of her spear, "Let's think this through."

She closes her eyes.

When she opens them again they have the starry cold of the void in them as she looks at Kaguya. (This is, of course, mummery, but you never know what might work.)

"I see a few branches here... but in most of them you end up running away from the Cardinal. I could threaten you, my dear girl, but if you are here, doing what you are doing, then I doubt it would moot much. So instead I will say - choose the path with one fewer murder."

Margaret smiles at Kaguya without using her eyes even as little lightning arcs crackle up the copper buttons of her boots.

"Just get started with the running."

Her lips pull back from her teeth. "I want to see," she says, leaning slightly forward, "where you go."

GS: Margaret has attacked Margaret with Thunder Road!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Margaret takes a solid hit from Margaret's Thunder Road for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Margaret!
GS: CRITICAL! Kaguya guards a hit from Claude C. Kenny's Face Kick No Jutsu for 69 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        A big event for the Carakin means a big event for Shalune, not to mention a big event for Big Shal. The mechanic's stall is quite diminished here on Lunar, where she's quickly learned that she can't show off the more technologically-complex gadgets that she keeps in stock - but that's okay, because she's learnt that cuts both ways, and a stall full of simple mechanical toys can still pull in a lot of attention.

        (The fact that Big Shal herself does not count as 'technologically-complex' is probably just a mild blind spot in Shalune's perception; it seems okay, because it's a little difficult to see the golem for all the kids clambering over her most of the day.)

        Things are going well, until the shout goes up. Shalune doesn't actually know what a 'Shadow Dragon Cult' is, but the ripple that runs through the crowd tells her pretty much everything she needs to know, and she's shouldering her path and reaching for her shotstaff before she even fully knows what she's doing. "Big Shal! Keep people safe, okay?!" she calls over her shoulder, watching long enough to register the slow creaking nod she gets in return as the golem lifts up from where it was sat, and shares a glance at Katherine nearby.

        In contrast, the mechanic leaps onto the Little Dipper, the craft hovering in place for a moment before Shalune guns it forwards after Jacqueline; her heart's already a little in her throat, worried that once again the alchemist is going to overextend. Shalune knows that Jay can take it, even if she's not sure how their leader actually manages to do it - maybe that's why she's their leader, after all. But an impulse inside of her doesn't want to see Lunata upset again.

        She doesn't immediately register the identity of her attacker, at least not before she's brought her shotstaff up to her hip and fired a couple of warning shots. They go wide, but Shalune wasn't looking to hit; only to build enough time to sweep around in front of Jacqueline, her pink hair whirling around her as the flying scooter comes to an improbably sudden stop, banked to try to shield them both. "--Kaguya!" she blurts in a mix of astonishment and unfamiliar anger.

GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Back to Back!
GS: Shalune Amira has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a solid hit from Shalune Amira's Back to Back for 0 hit points!
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Jacqueline Barber!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"Wh--"

The first thing that Talia notices, really, is the dagger that shrinks on her hand. She drops the shrunken weapon; it slams into the ground with a clatter, a little tinnier sounding than a dagger falling should be. It is, after all, smaller than it should ber. Her eyes widen, and then she looks up. Lydia asks the same question that Claude did; her eyes widen, and then she narrows them.

"We're not trying to make a peace here, Lydia," she answers, her voice a little thin. "This is part of the job. I didn't want to involve you in it."

She catches Jacqueline Barber's voice. It isn't really a surprise. Her eyes widen, because she caught the name that she said. 'Miss Weaver.' Her eyes widen, as she looks sideways towards Katherine. Her voice catches, for a moment, and then she steps backward. Then, her eyes narrow. "Miss Weaver... Lydia."

Talia looks up. The corners of her lips turn up, but it isn't a smile. "...You should leave, no?"

Two clouds of a thick, icy mist begin to rise up -- one around Lydia, and one around Katherine. They hurt to breath; the mist has the sharp, biting cold of a frigid chill on the coldest winter day. Talia turns, looking at the guards -- who, with others rushing Kaguya, are closing around the Cardinal. One of them looks at Ethius; he nods. "We'll get her out of here! Thank you!"

They push the Cardinal -- hurrying her away, down the street. The rapidly emptying street, as Althena's Guardsmen are directing people with some efficiency away from the unfurling battle scene.

"Damn!" Talia shouts. "No you don't!"

Mirage drawn, she starts to sprint, directly for those escaping guards and the Cardinal.

GS: Talia has spent 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
GS: Talia has attacked Seraph Amaranth with Frigid Mist!
GS: Talia has attacked Lydia Seren with Frigid Mist!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Amaranth takes a glancing hit from Talia's Frigid Mist for 76 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Lydia Seren critically Guards a hit from Talia's Frigid Mist for 25 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

Kaguya is sure that Janus is fine. He's probably just mourning his business or something, and to be fair, it was a good business. She does think of him, for a moment; he, and her dear friends, Robeo and Damaris, would be really helpful right now.

"Hey Lyds," Kaguya greets Lydia casually, with her ARM pointed at the Cardinal. "No can do about the murders--but thanks for the heads-up! You could totally run, we won't follow you or anything."

But then--Jay calls out to her. Ethius appears, between her and the Cardinal. An old woman shows up in a blur of green and black and is suddenly pointing an ARM at her head and calling her a child. And Claude?

Claude comes out of nowhere and his foot impacts her face hard enough to knock her head to the side, making her stumble once and lose track of her aim. She snarls, looks up at him--

"ENOUGH with the FACE!" she growls, which gives her time as she's turning to look to Margaret, who seems to be... telling her fortune? That's really something. Thinking it through--it's, frankly, pretty spooky. But...

The first thing Kaguya does is turn her gun and fire, point-blank, straight at Claude. "No, we can't not with the murder you ASS!" The blast is green, and clings, weakening. But Kaguya whirls into motion then, ducking down to avoid Tabitha's clear shot. It is... about this time that she hears Shalune's voice, surprised and angry both. "Okay so--"

Tabitha gets a shot to center mass, next, after a pump of the shotgun's mechanism, "I'm probably older than you you hag," she complains, and whirls to Margaret, "Did anybody ever tell you that you are SERIOUSLY CREEPY? Like skin-crawling, seriously, just--" While she sasses she loads her weapon, and a prismatic spray of light crashes towards Margaret next.

And then she leaps up, "Guard your head, buddy!" ...And slams down in a snapping strike straight for Ethius's face. "Jay, Lunie, I'd really rather you both just left! Who cares about one rando priestess, anyway!?"

...A priestess who's getting away. "Blue, get her--!"

GS: Kaguya has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Riot Breaker!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Tabitha deVriese with Riot Burst!
GS: Kaguya has spent 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Margaret with Prism Canister!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Falling Star!
GS: Kaguya has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a glancing hit from Kaguya's Riot Breaker for 45 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Claude C. Kenny!
GS: CRITICAL! Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Kaguya's Falling Star for 168 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Kaguya!
GS: Margaret takes a solid hit from Kaguya's Prism Canister for 160 hit points!
GS: Toxin! Statuses applied to Margaret!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        Katherine had been having a good time by Jacqueline's side, chatting with the apothecary and her friends and selling flowers as people passed, but--

        ccCCRAACCKKkk

        Kaguya snaps a guard's neck and he falls onto the ground, dressed with elements of green metal with a weapon she's never seen before. "A-ah..." she steps back, shying away from the carnage erupting rather handily around them--

        Jacqueline calls her out to pull one of her signs, and that's a great idea! Big Shal's even here to help with the endeavour, but--

        "T-T-Talia?" she gasps, looking towards Lydia when she enters. "Talia, Miss Talia! Why are you doing this--"

        The blessing of Althena rises around them, and she starts coughing as the ice starts to make it painful to breathe in. She chokes for a moment and whimpers, stepping back as she falters to one knee, dropping her basket.

        Please take a moment to appreciate the trailerbait shot of Katherine's basket falling, the poppy flowers ensconced in ice.

        "When you said you were a sellsword, I could not have imagined you-- wait, Miss Talia! Miss Talia!" Katherine sounds visibly distressed as she looks to Lydia. "Are you chasing after her too? Be careful..."

        She concentrates, and for a moment, a Tales-appropriate Arte bar appears ontop that reads:

                                -=[ Barrier ]=-

        And then it gets very rudely hipchecked as it suddenly reads, in glamorous pretty fat cartoony letters:

GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Lydia Seren with Angelic Pretty!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Amaranth heals Lydia Seren! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Tabitha deVriese takes a solid hit from Kaguya's Riot Burst for 151 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

As Jacqueline runs she looks back, offering Shalune a nod. In the end, Shalune gets to Kaguya first, pulling ahead of her. Jacqueline is a little taken back by the anger in her friend's voice...but her presence here is reassuring, at least.

"...I can't do that, Kaguya." Jacqueline replies, shaking her head. "If Cardinal Forton dies, a lot of innocent people are going to get hurt."

"...This was supposed to be a peace conference. Why are you doing this?" She asks. She sounds...disappointed.

"Please, it's not too late to stop this." She pleads. Of course, it might very well be, with all the people currently gunning for Kaguya's head.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"Yeah yeah," Lydia says. "I am too cute and innocent to be a part of this business." She waggles her hand from side to side. "You should do things that you enjoy doing, instead of doing things you don't enjoy doin' because you're so bad. Even if it feels good at the time, it's got a terrible aftertaste I can tell that much."

Amber moves to try and help escort the cardinal away but is frankly counting on everybody else to keep Kaguya off of the Cardinal and has little interest in challenging people she can't beat directly. Kaguya is already pretty shrunken so the shrink ray probably wouldn't be very effective on her.

Lydia summons up her own barrier with Rigdobrite's power, a pattern of cartoonish shaped stars rippling in front of her, largely blocking the mist. Lydia promptly fires down a pair of portals with HER portal gun and positions herself before Talia, her metal arm turning into a blade that swipes upward for Talia, its edge heated by solar magic. She doesn't need to beat Talia, she just needs to keep her occupied.

"I'm not gettin' involved because of any high concepts like that though." Lydia says. "But I'm sure you know why I keep getting in your business by now!"

And then there's Katherine hitting her with a barrier and ANGELIC PRETTY and--

"Gahh--!" Lydia's eyes widen. "T---too much...pretty!!" Pause. "Yeah uh. Are you chasing her too? Is this a competition? Lets do a business sometime."

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Talia with Solar Slicer!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Talia takes a glancing hit from Lydia Seren's Solar Slicer for 63 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Disrupt, Jam, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Talia!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny's answering grin is quick and ephemeral, because by the time his verbal sally has landed, Kaguya is already leveling that bizarre plasma pistol. In their first encounter a week ago, the blonde swordsman was caught off-guard by the power of both the weapon and the woman who wields it; this time around, he's already got a healthy (and accurate) respect for their lethality. Before she pulls the trigger, his defence his ready.

The burning sabre flicks up into a third position guard, and Claude backsteps, buying an extra quarter-second of space and time. His sword flickers out in a pair of whip-quick slashes, hardly moving anything more than wrist and forearm, aiming for speed rather than any kind of power. The motion sends twin lines of fire - angles like an inverted V - hissing toward the plasma shot, cutting through part of it and breaking the momentum. The force and heat bloom carry through, however, and Claude recoils another step, lifting his arm up in front of his face to take the worst of it on his jacket's armourweave, where it sizzles and bubbles, emitting sickening, acrid vapour.

Kaguya's got him outgunned, Claude thinks. The right move here would be to close and destroy, take her weapon's superior range and firepower out of the equation. But he's also got her outnumbered, he realizes, as a jumpy blonde girl with a gun that looks way too advanced for both of these dirtballs begins blasting from above. Others jump in, and so Claude drops down low, trying to rub the clinging green gunk off onto the dirt, drawing his sword back with his other hand.

"AIR SLASH!" Claude snaps, firing a golden blade of air, tinged with traces of fire because that's how elemental weapons work, yo. He aims low, even for Kaguya, trying to disrupt her footing so the shootyshoots can shoot their shots.

"Pretty sure it is!" he shouts at Jacqueline. "I don't know how it works here on Magical Cow Patty Planet, but generally 'I won't quit with the murder' is a pretty too late kind of thing to say no matter where you are!"

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Kaguya with Air Slash!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
"Wh - you -" Margaret says, and honestly she must be completely baffled to the point of total and complete bonetrouseling by Kaguya's remark, the perfect yin-yang of 'I'm older than you' and 'you're a hag' meaning she has her guard lowered to get hit by a streaking ray of prismatic light.

I mean she didn't have a lot of chance to dodge light anyway, and may in fact be particularly weak to it, but it's the principle of the thing. It's a Point for Improvement.

"Yiiiiiiieeereghkh!!!" Margaret shrieks as her ears flatten back against her head, driven back a half-foot by sheer light pressuree. After this she twists her spear off her back, twisting it round to ignite the head as she tells Kaguya, "Creepy, is it? Ah, but here's the difference between us, short-stack: I can go to charm school, but YOU ONLY GO TO THE GRAVE!"

When we said 'ignite the head of her spear' we mean it is now literally on fire, and when Kaguya starts trying to talk down the others, Margaret shoves the spear forwards to try and put a cauterized gash in Kaguya's leg.

GS: Margaret has attacked Kaguya with Straight!!
GS: Margaret takes 12 damage from Toxin!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        "So you can murder someone without any morals gettin' in the way?! Good for you, but I ain't going!" Shalune shoots back, her eyes for once alight with fire; she's being more cautious this time, banked on the Little Dipper to present its curved underside to Kaguya, using the main body of the craft as a shield to hide behind. The way she does so while perched on one of the two low railings freshly welded onto the scooter's side suggests this might even have been something she planned.

        After all, if nothing else, Shalune is always ready to learn from her past mistakes.

        The mechanic sweeps around to try to cover the priestess' flight; her weapon is drawn down, set into a notch on the other side of the scooter to act as a steadying device. "That's my question right back to you. Why are you doin' this? If she was Baskar I'd at least get it, but she's not. If it was Filgaia, I'd at least get it, but it's not. I thought you liked this place, but you're willing to let it go to rack and ruin just 'cause someone paid you to?"

        For all that Shalune sounds angry, she still looks unwilling to go on the attack - but she's smart enough to know that she doesn't necessarily have to, so long as they can get the priestess and her retinue safe. To that end, she kicks the Little Dipper backwards, drifting her craft backwards in a retreating cover as she gathers her courage, and deploys the most powerful weapon she has available right now:

        "--does Miss Riese know you're doin' this?"

GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Shalune Amira with Hand in Hand!
GS: Shalune Amira has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
GS: Shalune Amira takes a solid hit from Shalune Amira's Hand in Hand for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Shalune Amira!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius stands unmoving. He knows full well how quickly Kaguya can - and has - laid him out with but a singular strike. Why would he care to throw his life away for 'one rando priestess,' as the Cardinal is decribed? He doesn't answer. He challenges her trigger finger, in spite of having no ARM himself to fire back. The quarterstaff is not even drawn. He dares her to pull that trigger just by standing there.
        She does, in fairness, pull it on Claude and a somewhat familiar woman of unusual aerial movement - and believes he has a moment of opening when Kaguya reloads her weapon to a colorful rainbow of light to Margaret. He draws the quarterstaff and moves in for a swing at her present position--
        --and misses, as Kaguya taunts from her leap to guard his head. The point of impact is not seen.
        It is witnessed. The taciturn hooded man tumbles across the ground like a horse kicked him across it. He is kept from being ejected from the site of battle by virtue (and misfortune) of being halted by a sturdily constructed stall nearby. One that, for all its workmanship, does not survive the impact as it collapses in a heap of broken wood.
        Ethius clutches his head with his right hand as he miraculously returns to his feet. The world is but blobs of color and whooshing, indistinct noises. Eyes and ears fail to make sense of much of anything - but some of the flashes of colors of these indistinct blobs register as something more. His psyche holds its vice grip upon the reason he stands here right now. (Er, the reason he stands back up here right now.)
        He flutters his fingers from the hand not presently attached to his bleeding head. Jay will notice Ethius stumbling past her, already chanting the syllables to some Symbological spell. As long as people like him are here, who seem to think very little of doing anything outside of the complete eradication of whatever things offend him...
        Ethius is too concussed to offer much punchy back-and-forth dialogue. The Symbological spell that follows concentrates intense heat into a single point near Kaguya's seven-o'-clock position until it expands outward in a simple but effective explosion.
        This, cast and projected while sight and sound struggle to return, is probably as good an indication as any - he will not let a concussion stop him from trying to put a stop to her.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Kaguya with Combustion!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Tabitha deVriese has posed.

Tabitha gets totally aced by a shotgun and goes flying back. She is protected from having her organs cored out in an artistic display by the power of the Lord God, and also probably armored clothing and magic. Still, she gets lifted fully off her feet by the shot...

....and lands on the far wall, nimble as you please, idly plucking at her ARM. She watches Margaret engage the woman, and calls out, in her usual sing-song, "Margie, dear, don't let the child get the better of you. It's the life in your years that count!"

...she might be twisting the knife on purpose, there.

Then she leaps off the wall, swirling around midair, pirouetting impossibly - falling down and twirling around an eye-crossingly impossibly center of gravity as she calls over, "And I'll punish any rude child, be they five of five hundred!" while she's peppering Kaguya with blasts from her ARM, green blasts lancing toward and then exploding in tiny razorwind explosions.

GS: Tabitha deVriese has attacked Kaguya with Spire Inversion!
GS: Tabitha deVriese has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"I'm on it!" Talia calls out to Kaguya.

She keeps running. She hears what Katherine asks her, and her eyes narrow. Her jaw sets. She doesn't like those questions; she does her best to ignore them, which is a practiced thing. Her jaw sets, and she keeps running, until she sees a portal flicker in front of her. Talia's feet skid to a stop, a few stones skipping down the flagstones of the pavilion, and coming to a short stop before Lydia.

Her eyes widen, and she swings Mirage up desperately to block the armblade the swings in. Her movement is too late -- and the blow slashes along her side, cutting just below the armor. It sends a line of blood flying and knocks her, hard, into a stall. She cracks through the wood, and then spins to look at Lydia.

Her eyes narrow, and for the first time, anger enters her expression. "Shut up," she snaps, heatedly. "How it makes me feel... is the last thing that matters!"

She throws Mirage out. It shoots up over Lydia's head, and slams headlong into the face of a large statue of Jessica Alkirk. Talia's body splits apart into strands of shadow, and reappears, clinging hard to the hilt of Mirage. She looks down at Katherine; her jaw is set, her eyebrow twitching.

"What did you think I was!?" she shouts. "I'm an assassin! Not some charming scoundrel! I've killed better people than her for less money! Now..."

She holds a hand out. A spike of ice forms; it seems like a brutal statement of intent, as it flies down like a missile, hurtling for Miss Weaver's midsection. "...stay out of this, Katherine!"

Except, the spike has a rounded end, rather than a pointed one.

GS: Talia has attacked Seraph Amaranth with Freeze Lancer!
GS: Talia has attacked Talia with Warp Point!
GS: Talia takes 10 damage from Poison!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
GS: Talia takes a solid hit from Talia's Warp Point for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Talia!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Talia!
GS: Seraph Amaranth takes a solid hit from Talia's Freeze Lancer for 139 hit points!
GS: Kaguya critically Guards a hit from Claude C. Kenny's Air Slash for 21 hit points!
GS: Kaguya takes a solid hit from Margaret's Straight! for 124 hit points!
GS: Kaguya takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Combustion for 113 hit points!
GS: Kaguya guards a hit from Tabitha deVriese's Spire Inversion for 42 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        "H-huh? No, I'm not having a contest with you..."

        That distraction's long enough as she stares towards Talia, trembling as she continues her hardest to catch up after the much more agile assassin. She's just a weaver, after all, there's nothing terribly combative about her.

        She yelps as Talia throws Mirage again, and disappears with a warp-strike that takes her onto a statue of Jessica. She can feel her looking down at her...

        ... no, that's not quite it.

        "I--I did not know," Katherine answers super-honestly. "I--"

        oh gosh golly that's a terribly pointed piece of ice that is nowhere near as colourful, tasty and sugar-laden as a popsicle

        WHOMPF

        Katherine is hit on her side as she tries to run out of the way and is sent spinning, as she trembles and clutches her side and whispers, "Has this got something to do with your 'employer'...??"

        She waves her hands gently, seeking to weave another piece of magic that she crafts out of thin air with a trembling gasp. Weaves upon weaves of magic start to encase Lydie's armblade, seemingly making it more... powerful. More artsy. "I don't want to do anything terrible and uncouth, but..." Once more, that Arte bar appears--

                               -=[ Sharpness ]=-

        And a 'womp wommmp' noise plays as it gets kicked out of its own window to be replaced with:

GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Lydia Seren with Atelier Pierrot!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has completed her action.
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Seraph Amaranth's Atelier Pierrot for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

"Yes!" Kaguya answers Shalune, "That's exactly what I want! Why do you care so much, you don't even know this lady!" Jay gives an answer to that. She sounds... disappointed, and Kaguya's eyes snap to her, hurt for a moment. "They're going to anyway--do you think any of these people are sincere about a peace talk? How do you think things got to this point to begin with!?"

The power of teamwork means she can leave the Cardinal to Talia for now--after all, Kaguya is surrounded and indeed, quite outnumbered. To wit: there are a lot of attacks coming her way.

Kaguya's eyes snap to Claude in surprise as his sword technique manages to partially block her shotgun blast, even if it does get through--a maneuver she couldn't have expected. "That's--" The golden blade of air and fire performs its task well. Oh, Kaguya spins in place and punches it, blocking very effectively, but while she's defending from it it leaves her open to others. "Yeah it's a little late!" Kaguya agrees with Claude. ...Just in time for Margaret to finish shrieking and make her retort. 'Short-stack', and Kaguya snarls back again, her sharp, sharp teeth showing.

"I KNEW I WAS SICK, THANKS--" Kaguya starts shouting back, but then a spear that's on fire stabs straight into her thigh, and the small Veruni shrieks in pain as she wrenches herself back from it. She's able now to see Shalune shielding herself. And the question--

"Yeah," Kaguya answers Shalune, "I do like this place. But you think they wouldn't find someone else if I said no? This way I can carve out a place for myself here!"

Ethius goes flying back, and Kaguya eyes him for an instant carefully. ...He gets back up. Not ideal. She doesn't want him dead, but she knows some of the things he's capable of. "Really don't want to kill you, Eth--" But he's chanting a spell. The intense, sudden heat explodes beside her, sets her shirt's hem ablaze and knocks her right off her feet, rolling into a stall--though the dust-cloud puts out the fire, at least. That's when she hears Shalune's question, glares right back at Lunie in a clear show that it hit. "You--"

Tabitha calls her a child again, leaping, impossibly fast. "You--" Kaguya, in seeming rage, starts standing, taking the blasts outright--and as they burn away fabric, they show impacting on armor of a strange metal instead as she loads her firearm. "I'll show you punishment!" There's a flash of black and white on the cartridge she sets in--and then she aims, barely bothering to look over the sight, and fires, inverting colors blasting towards Tabitha in a column.

"Riese doesn't get it!" Kaguya snarls at Shalune, "She thinks we can all just live together happily, but you've seen it! These humans are going to keep killing themselves anyway!" She loads again, and aims. "Sorry, but I can't let you interfere." She aims straight for Little Dipper and fires, the blast another clinging set.

"And you--" She recognizes the threat Claude represents if he can keep her pinned down, and she ducks under a barrier and lunges, swinging out her elbow for a first strike and then snapping out her hand for a punch straight to his solar plexus. She follows up quick, still moving, "Consider this a warning shot, Jay!" As she says it, she bends down, rips a huge stone out of the ground, and hurls it for her merchant friend--but not for her head, not for her vitals.

"That STILL HURTS!" Kaguya roars as she turns next on Margaret, firing a quick, one-handed shot straight for her chest as she starts pulling another shell, this one strangely green-gleaming. "And stop being so persistent!" to Ethius, as she lifts the weapon--in both hands, this time, for the recoil--and a blast of sonic energy explodes out of it, white waves visible as they crash towards the Symbologist.

GS: Kaguya has spent 2 Combo on Poison and Disease!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Tabitha deVriese with Inversion Cartridge!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Shalune Amira with Riot Breaker!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Don't Fear The!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Comet Strike!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Margaret with Riot Burst!
GS: Kaguya has spent 4 Combo on Gatling!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Concussion Rounds!
GS: Kaguya has completed her action.
DC: MISS! Margaret completely evades Riot Burst from Kaguya!
GS: Claude C. Kenny guards a hit from Kaguya's Don't Fear The for 42 hit points!
GS: ! Statuses applied to Claude C. Kenny!
GS: Tabitha deVriese takes a glancing hit from Kaguya's Inversion Cartridge for 0 hit points!
GS: Disease and Toxin! Statuses applied to Tabitha deVriese!
GS: RUIN! All positive status effects and temporary hit points purged from Tabitha deVriese!
GS: Tabitha deVriese has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: Shalune Amira guards a hit from Kaguya's Riot Breaker for 102 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"I'm gettin' a little better at it," Lydia says, a bit offhandedly. She has no malice against Talia even if Lydia is not Riese enough to be free of frustration (Lydia's perception of Riese may be not entirely accurate). She's talking about making use of her body naturally. "I actually nearly got murdered by assassins like two days ago and at first I was pissed off at these ninja assassins because they kidnapped my sister and a bunch of kids which is, like, really not okay. But then I hear they're also all kidnapped kids and I realized that folks don't become cool super professional assassin ladies by being asshole people who don't deserve kindness or having their feelings taken into consideration."

Only a few short months ago Lydia probably would have agreed that ninja assassins that kidnap kids and nearly murder her don't deserve forgiveness because they are perpetuating a cruel system and all that but Lydia has something now that seems to be in short supply: A family that isn't horribly abusive. Even Lydia isn't dense enough to take that for granted.

"Katherine!" Lydia says. "I...am not really good at fighting actually!!" She is pretty worried that she'll fail Katherine here since if Talia got serious here she'd probably have all sorts of openings that Talia could exploit. "So uhhh---"

Lydia instinctively ducks under the blade because she isn't so good as to be willing to be stabbed in the face and not nearly as good of a fighter to recognize it wasn't going to hit her before she ducked.

She draws out a frisbee like device and fires a portal into it, sending it flying over Jessica's head. Lydia is clearly going to jump in and try and tackle Talia from above but--

--oh no wait, she's just throwing a large rock into the portal so that it falls for Talia instead.

"They become that way because of old selfish people who are dicks to them so they don't think they can be anything else!"

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Talia with Asteroid Ball!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Lydia Seren's Asteroid Ball for 53 hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Kaguya's Concussion Rounds for 143 hit points!
GS: Break! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a solid hit from Kaguya's Comet Strike for 106 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

The earnestness to Amaranth's reply stings Talia. Her expression falters, for a moment, as she looks down at Katherine. Then, her eyes narrow, and she shakes her head. "What does it matter? I chose to be here!" she says. "I didn't choose to runaway from that!"

This, she thinks, isn't the wisest conversation to have in front of Kaguya.

"Almost murdered by--that isn't how it works!" she shouts back. "People--We--"

Her words die in her throat. All told, it is far more on the mark than she would like to admit. Her eyes narrow, and then she looks up. She spots the portal -- and then the rock that comes through. She kicks off the face of Jessica's statue, just before the large rock smashes through it. It shatters to pieces, but one of the rocks slams into her back. She hits the ground, rolling a few times, before she stands up.

"Where we came from," she says, with an edge of malice in her voice. "It is just an excuse, no? It's more complicated than that. There are people we can't leave behind." Her cloak flutters out behind her, and she sizes up Lydia and Katherine both for a moment. Then, she holds up Mirage, blade glinting strangely when the light hits it. "There are things we did that don't go away."

She throws her freehand out. Ice shoots up Katherine's feet and legs, unless she moves quickly, and tries to lock her into place. Then, she throws Mirage -- and it slams into the cart just behind Lydia. Talia splits apart into shadow. When she reappears, she has both feet brought back--

--and slams a two-footed kick for Lydia's midsection, before landing right in front of her.

GS: Talia has attacked Seraph Amaranth with Death's Grasp!
GS: Talia has attacked Lydia Seren with Point-Warp Slash!
GS: Talia takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Amaranth takes a glancing hit from Talia's Death's Grasp for 78 hit points!
GS: Seraph Amaranth enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny - who is still dealing with the fact that his arm is a tiny bit on fire, thank you - grimaces as Kaguya continues to shrug off multiple attackers and just barrel on through. "What the hell is she made of?" he mutters, half to himself, keeping the other, more pertinent question in his own mind: what the hell is she? And what's her connection to Ida's friend Riesenlied? Is she---

---wait a minute---

"DID YOU GIVE IDA THE FUNIONS?" he barks out, inexplicably, but his question is cut off as Kaguya advances forward. He tries to intercept her with another flame-tinged air slash, but it passes harmlessly over her head. He backsteps as she comes in, slapping her elbow strike out with his left hand, but the movement opens up his chest beautifully for her follow-up palm strike. "Hgrk--" Claude sputters as he stumbles backward, dropping to a knee as lines of lightning ripple through his chest, radiating out from the solar plexus.

Thankfully (for Claude, at least), Kaguya doesn't follow up by punching his face in, thanks to the intervention of some other people. This buys him (ow) a few seconds to recover (ow) and consider his next move (ow ow), which is to drive his sabre down between two cobblestones, the flames dying as he releases his grip on the handle. Claude sucks in a breath, gathering his chi, which coalesces into a whirling ball of blue and yellow energy, motes of power swirling around it.

"Suck on THIS!" Claude shouts as he throws the totally-not-a-hadouken (it's absolutely a hadouken) forward, scorching across the distance toward Kaguya's centre mass.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Kaguya with The Ladies Call Me Hadouken Because I'm Down Right Fierce!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren critically Guards a hit from Talia's Point-Warp Slash for 18 hit points!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Talia!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"'They're going to anyway'. ...That kind of talk is what causes these situations, Kaguya. If you automatically assume the other side is going to stab you in the back and act pre-emptively, of course nothing is going to change." Jacqueline replies, shaking her head, at Kaguya and at Claude. "...And, I disagree. It's never too late. You can still stop this."

Shalune is trying, too. Jacqueline appreciates her comment at the end there, and she notices Ethius moving...but Jacqueline's attention is soon returned to Kaguya.

"...You aren't giving Riesenlied nearly enough credit. She knows what people can be. She does, as you said, 'get it'. But she still tries - after all, look where she came from. She knows all too well what people who strive only for violence are like." She replies...then lets out a yelp of surprise as Kaguya fires for Shalune and the Little Dipper. This proves a potentially lethal distraction as She finds a stone hurled toward her mid-section, far too quickly for her to dodge. The stone impacts her solidly, eliciting a choked gasp and knocking Jacqueline backward and to the ground.

...She finds herself glad she had worn her formal outfit today, including the armor. She probably wouldn't be getting up right away if it wasn't for that.

"I-I'm okay...!" She chokes out in Shalune's direction then forces herself to her feet.

"...I'm not leaving, Kaguya." She says, then draws a bottle from her bag and hurls it at the other girl's feet. It detonates in a puff of lavender smoke, releasing a cloud that saps the strength of those exposed to it for too long.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Kaguya with Sapping Solution!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        Lydia exclaims that she's not good at fighting-- but surely they'd make... one fighter between the two of them? Okay maybe not, but as Lydia rattles on about the Shadow Dragon Cult, Katherine's expression starts to sink. She remembers that assassin that she encountered the other day, who she doesn't know is currently fighting the battle of her life against Jean at this very moment.

        Nothing's changed...

        Katherine's look of shock could be haunting as Talia comes after her again. It isn't as if Talia was forced against her will and trained like a child assassin. Just like the Shadow Dragon Cult. No, assassins exist in all stripes and sizes...

        "You chose to be here..."

        Nothing's changed at all...

        Katherine's hair looks mussed as she gets thrashed once more, ice forming around her feet to try to entrap her. She thrashes, and winds up--

        Not a damn thing.

        --flying against a nearby window and getting hurled straight across a dining table that had been set for a wonderful meal for after the peace negotiations. It is perhaps a mocking gesture, because perhaps, both sides had already known that that peace dinner would never come to be.

        For a moment, it looks as if that could be it for the weaver.

        But then she resurfaces. A small little glinting object is in her hand... it's hard to make out with its tiny size amidst the dust, but it's...

        A butter knife? It's crooked and couldn't even make for a good table spread utensil, at this point. Utterly useless.

        An assassin like Talia can sense the shift in Katherine, however. Her erratic breathing has stopped, the passage of air through her Seraphic lungs is controlled. The way her body limberly shifts, sinewy and full of purpose, is at distinct odds with the carefree and cheerful weaver that explodes into bursts of happiness and joy.

        Have I not changed either...?

        "... Miss Talia. Just... tell me one thing," she expresses. Her fingers are splayed over her eyes-- only a single golden eye gleams out over her purple fringe. She looks battered and vulnerable...

        "Do you want to be here...?"

DC: Seraph Amaranth switches forms to The Spectre of Hexennacht!
GS: Seraph Amaranth enters a Counter stance!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Seraph Amaranth with Psychosoma!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Amaranth takes a solid hit from Seraph Amaranth's Psychosoma for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Tabitha deVriese has posed.

Armor. Got it.

The blast engulfs Tabitha, and she slams into the ground, skidding roughly to a stop and kicking up dust against the stones. She sways a little. "That was hardly," she says, and then suddenly feels something at her nose, and produces - OF ALL THINGS - a hand mirror from some implausible fold of her vest, clicking it open to watch the blood slowly trickling down her nose. Well. ...She snaps it shut, coughing lightly into her gloved fist, and looks up at Kaguya with steady blue eyes.

The smile's gone, so that's nice.

Then, rather without pretense, she snaps upward in a single savage kick at Kaguya.

If she allows it to connect it will send her flying through two walls, three tents, and one innocent man's cabbage cart.

Tabitha levers herself back down from her impromptu vertical split. She dabs at her nose lightly with a handkerchief she....must have somehow fit into that outfit... "I did try to be reasonable," she says, quietly.

GS: Tabitha deVriese has attacked Kaguya with Ascension Sequence!
GS: Tabitha deVriese takes 10 damage from Toxin!
GS: Tabitha deVriese has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Words become much more legible in the passing time. Pleading, rationalizing of one's actions. Sight remains more of an issue, up until he sees a gleam of green. Somewhere in the unsharpened blobs of colors, Ethius recognizes that gleam of green - back in Lastonbell. His eyes widen as he swings his arm inward again to the slurring of some quick syllables. He did this right at the start of the engagement. Doing it a second time is not explicitly necessary - actually, a waste of precious calories.
        Eardrum-shattering sonic energy bursts forth. It should liquefy him on the spot. Loud, flashy sparks blindingly and deafeningly around his person as it washes around him - that electrical Symbological shield. That Symbological shield of his that allows him to withstand this kind of weaponry in place of heavy armor. It mitigates the impact in so much that it changes the result from 'now a tub of goo' to 'violently shook, equal parts nauseous and in debilitating pain.' As the sonic waves pass, Ethius finds himself at a kneel. His ears ring. He coughs. A tiny bit of crimson stains the bandanna. He's not looking too hot in its wake - but he sure as hell came out of that way better than the defensive wall of Lastonbell.
        "I must be persistent." Ethius responds. His stare levels. There's not much emotion in there. "I will not allow this." No appeals to better nature, or to call to friends or allies Kaguya has made as she bade what time she had left. He picks back up the quarterstaff he dropped from when he took that shot to the head, which he uses more for a walking stick than a proper weapon as he breaks into coughs again.
        How much pain is he in, after taking the brunt of the Concussion Rounds? He should stay down. But he won't. Why? What's so important to him about this backwater planet that he's willing to stand against a superior foe that countless others like him could never hope to stop?
        He can draw no closer. He breaks a hand from the quarterstaff, bending fingers in an appropriate fashion to some other chanted syllables that all come together to another flash of light patterns and soft sounds that follow a successful cast.
        "Recurrent Current!" With that, a jolt of electricity jumps for Kaguya - to jump in there, and keep jumping around, threatening to repeatedly shock her again, and again, and again, and again - as though it could slow her.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has spent 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Kaguya with Recurrent Current!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Claude C. Kenny's attack becomes clear!
GS: Kaguya takes a solid hit from Claude C. Kenny's Freestyle Combat Arts for 157 hit points!
GS: Kaguya critically Guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Sapping Solution for 6 hit points!
GS: Kaguya guards a hit from Tabitha deVriese's Ascension Sequence for 88 hit points!
GS: Kaguya loses a Combo from Interrupt!
GS: CRITICAL! Kaguya takes a glancing hit from Ethius Hesiod's Recurrent Current for 64 hit points!
GS: Jam and Toxin! Statuses applied to Kaguya!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
Margaret's brow knits again. "what?" she says when Kaguya informs her about her illness. She does not have time to react further because Kaguya is both under assault and is being quite heroically strong for a sick woman! She loads her weapon, but, Margaret resolves, she won't get me the same way twice--

Kaguya shoots at her, dead straight on at the chest...

... and it flies through a shadowy afterimage, Margaret herself erupting from within her. "Well if it's any consolation," Margaret says with an acid tone of voice, "I'm sure that you'll be able to tell us all about how rough you have it when -"

And here she leaps to vault in front of the fallen guard. "THIS man," Margaret says, pivoting the spear to point at him, "will never have ANY pains and suffering to worry about EVER again! Of course, I'm sure he had family, friends, loved ones, pet, decorative plants --"

She derails momentarily when Claude screams about Funyons. She loses several action points staring at the man from the stars with an expression of complex incredulity.

The fact that Claude is such a Claude that he threw Margaret, though, puts her brain (which is of decent make) on a different track entirely. Her eyes narrow at Kaguya as she crouches down, spear held out before her as if to fend off a sudden lunge or attempted midget headbutt. "You're not talking like your comperes usually do," she says. "You're calling me out but you're not threatening to fry my ears and feed them to dogs this time."

EDITOR NOTE: THAT TOTALLY HAPPENED
WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT GUY?
ASK GRIZ SOMETIME

She leans to the side - and suddenly there is another bifurication, Margarets seeming to ripple like a repeated overlaid photo-exposure. One of them has a spear which is jammed at Kaguya's leg again - but which one?

This could be nastier. But now Kaguya has Margaret's attention, which is perhaps a more dreadful thing than her ire.

GS: Margaret has attacked Kaguya with Fading Riposte!
GS: Margaret takes 8 damage from Toxin!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Margaret's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Kaguya takes a glancing hit from Margaret's Seven Sisters for 82 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Kaguya!
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        "Last I checked, carving out a place for yourself didn't involve having to kill people, or prolong wars - not on Lunar, at least!" she feels a little lame that she has to clarify that, and a stab of regret for Filgaia's sake. "What good is it making a name and a home somewhere if you're gonna let it dump itself full of Malevolence? How is that gonna help you?" she presses, her eyes wide--

        --because she can see the gun line up, and ducks beneath the line of the Little Dipper with a yelp. The rounded shape of the base of the craft does help deflect much of the blast past her, though smoke starts to rise from a few components as they short out; her duck is just about fast enough to avoid most of it, though a tiny shread of pink hair is ripped away from where there's simply too much of it to get out of the way.

        "And you know that argument doesn't work! Just because something might happen doesn't mean it must! You don't know until you try! And you definitely do know if you interrupt peace talks tryin' to kill one of the people present!" she yells, her gaze flicking across to Jacqueline for just a moment as the alchemist calls her way, gritting her teeth at the sight of the Carakin leader being forced backwards. Dimly, with a jolt of surprise, she registers Miss Weaver getting flung through a window - and Shalune wishes under her breath she knew exactly where Big Shal was right now.

        She knows she can't dwell on it for long, though, and sucks in a breath as her knuckles tighten on her staff. "If I left now, I'd just prove you right," she mutters to herself, and twists the head of her weapon around, several clicks marking a change in mode. When she fires, it isn't a scattershot burst of laser fire as it normally is - instead, there's a solid impact, a fragile glass slug that shatters from the heat a moment after it leaves the staff's odd barrel.

        It's more to subdue than to kill; Shalune was once an alchemist, and even if she wasn't a particularly good one, she still knows enough about soporifics to just mash them all together into a single payload.

GS: Shalune Amira has spent 2 Combo on Poison and Disease!
GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Kaguya with Everlasting Regret!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
GS: Kaguya guards a hit from Shalune Amira's Everlasting Regret for 56 hit points!
GS: Kaguya suffers Infect, extending negative statuses by 1 turn each!
GS: Disease and Toxin! Statuses applied to Kaguya!
GS: Kaguya has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"Look the point is, whatever you did, no matter how edge you are, you can always step back from it. I've made lots of mistakes myself, you know that! But no matter how many times you fall, if you keep trying to do better--it's okay! Our worlds are too harsh to not allow ourselves this kindness."

She takes in a deep breath. Katherine's question is a good one. Maybe she misjudged her. She's not sure what she misjudged Katherine AS but maybe she can endure the PINK next time. You know, because she does seem pretty cool.

Talia throws herself both feet first for Lydia's chest. Lydia unfortunately grabs up her legs with her metal arm moments after impact. Lydia isn't doing this well because of skill--she's actually pretty amateurish even if she's gotten SOME training recently--she's doing this well because of tech level.

"I don't know about your brother. Maybe he's super sweet..." Lydia admits. "But speaking from experience...you can totally leave family behind. Even if it's selfish, sometimes you have to because they're not letting you be you and you gotta be you. Whether that's a woman, or a beastman, or a shaman...or you."

And with that Lydia lets Talia drop for the portal she summoned at her feet before.

And if Talia goes through she's going to suddenly find herself on the underside of a frisbee that decidedly does not support her weight.

GS: Lydia Seren has spent 3 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Talia with Freefall!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Talia takes a glancing hit from Lydia Seren's Freefall for 71 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Talia!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia gets grabbed by the foot and yelps, as she is spun through the air. She can't answer Lydia, but there is a flash of sharp, terrible anger on her face -- the rawest anger that she has shown yet -- before she flies through the portal. She slams into the frisbee, before it gives way. She starts to tumble--

--and Mirage slams into the ground. She vanishes, and shadow reforms into her, standing before both Katherine and Lydia both.

Talia's jaw sets.

When she looks in Katherine's direction, there is a flush of worry. A thought, even if it is misplaced, that Katherine Weaver is not nearly as battle trained or sturdy as she is. When she flies back through the window, glass shattering, Talia feels that worry deepen; it annoys her to worry at all. She tries to tell herself that the way her heart is pounding is only from the adrenaline.

But, then, she catches the change. The control that Katherine exhibits; the way she moves with that purposefulness, and the way the usual cheer is gone. Her eyes lock onto Katherine's, dark red meeting that lone golden one, and her eyes narrow at the question.

She is quiet for a long time.

"...What does it matter?" she spits back. "What I want... what I want never changes anything. All I have is what I can do--and that gives me purpose and definition!"

She throws her hand out, then. Another blast of mist flies out; this one, however, is also a powerful gust. It floods down the alleyway that they fight in, and makes the air bitter and icy. Talia shouts over it. "And I would not abandon Ivan! Not for you, not for my future, not for anything! He is my brother! I won't leave him to Lubov's limited mercy!"

GS: Talia has spent 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Talia has attacked Seraph Amaranth with Dire Mist!
GS: Talia has attacked Lydia Seren with Dire Mist!
GS: COUNTER! Seraph Amaranth strikes at Talia with a counter attack!
GS: Seraph Amaranth takes a glancing hit from Talia's Dire Mist for 26 hit points!
GS: Toxin! Statuses applied to Seraph Amaranth!
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Seraph Amaranth's Counter Attack for 107 hit points!
GS: Talia takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
GS: Lydia Seren critically Guards a hit from Talia's Dire Mist for 10 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

"I didn't give her anything except THESE HANDS!" Kaguya shouts even as Claude is sputtering. ...She actually seems to remember a human's name, which might be progress? She doesn't dwell on the matter of snacks. She just ends up stuck dealing with others before she can punch Claude's face, which frankly, she'd rather be doing in that instant. No answer comes to what she is, what she's mae of. Instead...

Serious arguments come at her like darts, and Kaguya frowns back at Jay. "Come on, you think they aren't? Even if they'd made up today, they'd just find some other reason to fight soon."

Kaguya keeps an eye out for each of her opponents, taking advantage of the temporary reprieve--but it is, indeed, temporary. "Riese tries to make peace with the EXACT SAME JERKS who caused what's wrong in the first place! They don't DESERVE it!" Luckily for Talia, maybe, Kaguya is too busy to listen much to her conversation. For instance, with Margaret yelling back, after using... weird magic trickery. "You know what?" Kaguya answers, voice dripping with the sarcasm that only a teenage girl can muster, "Thanks! That's real sweet of you. What, you think I care? His problems are over!"

Margaret's question confuses her, but the spear indeed does fend off any sudden maneuvers. "What exactly aren't you going to allow, Ethius!?" Kaguya shouts at him. Of course he's not emotional. "Bad shit happens whether you want to allow it or not! Trust me!"

Eyeing Margaret she shouts nevertheless to Shalune, "You think I'm causing Malevolence!? That white knight is right--Malevolence is just a side-effect that comes of humans being human! It's already--"

She cuts off, as Margaret becomes two, rippling, and Kaguya makes a quick choice--she shoots straight through one of the duplicates.

...The wrong duplicate--there's a scream of anger as much as pain when Margaret's spear sinks into her wounded leg again, its strange magic making her head swim. "Gh--"

She starts coughing as Jay's compound is thrown at her, shattering at her feet, making her feel the drain already. "Argument whatever!" she shouts back at Shalune, "The only thing that solves arguments around here is who can hit first and harder!" But the slug impacts, and it impacts Kaguya's arm as she moves to block when she sees the gun lifted. It evades armor, sinks into skin under fabric, and the small Veruni wavers on her feet. ...Just in time for Ethius to approach. For Ethius to chant his syllables, bring out his light instead of his staff. "Gaah--aahaa--" Shock, another shock, another shock.

She starts to search for him at first, to try to pin him down--but suddenly stops, going still, accepting the next shock and the next as--"Hah-!" With a sudden rush, Kaguya bends at the waist and delivers a hard kick for Ethius's stomach to knock him back. Unfortunately for her, Tabitha makes it right over, unsmiling. "What, did I mess up your make--"

The last word doesn't come out, because, in a stunning reversal, it's Kaguya this time who's kicked hard enough to send her flying. Walls shatter against her, a tent ripping on the edge of her glove, a cabbage cart breaking her fall. It's not that far--but it's far enough that for an instant, there's silence.

"..."

The clue that she's back is sudden and brutal--a column of green fire, all too reminiscent of the thing that took Lastonbell's walls, erupts horizontally, straight for Tabitha, about as big as she is in height. Kaguya appears after a moment later in a sudden rush, her movements too close to telegraph. She lifts her ARM and pops off a shot for Claude, which erupts into a column of sickly yellow light, as she keeps moving forward. Forward--and quickly her target is clear.

She charges up, zags to the side to evade the spear, and hops up--Just to somersault down with a devastating axe kick straight for Margaret's shoulder, hopefully inside her guard, that could shatter concrete. This time, she doesn't say anything at all.

GS: Kaguya has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Comet Strike!
GS: Kaguya has activated a Force Action!
GS: Kaguya has spent 4 Combo on Gatling!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Tabitha deVriese with Genocide Shot!
GS: Kaguya has spent 2 Combo on Smite!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Moonbeam!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Margaret with Falling Star!
GS: Kaguya takes 4 damage from Poison!
GS: Kaguya takes 8 damage from Toxin!
GS: Kaguya has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Kaguya's Moonbeam for 179 hit points!
GS: Claude C. Kenny suffers Infect, extending negative statuses by 1 turn each!
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Kaguya's Comet Strike for 116 hit points!
GS: Tabitha deVriese has activated a Force Action!
GS: Tabitha deVriese takes a glancing hit from Kaguya's Genocide Shot for 146 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren used Mystic on Lydia Seren! Status effect durations increased by 2!
GS: Lydia Seren has activated a Force Action!
GS: Margaret takes a solid hit from Kaguya's Falling Star for 108 hit points!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Kaguya!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        "... it matters because there's always a chance," Katherine responds. Her voice sounds utterly drained of emotion, utterly detached... but in a way, it isn't cold. It's just... weary, extremely weary. Even if she's speaking of hope--

        "That girl throwing you about is talking about it. The way you're reacting..."

        It's too late for me.

        She slumps her head one way-- and Talia attacks her with another gust of mist, both buffeting her and her clothes and shreds her at a dozen little places, ripping fabric and flaying skin in a painful way.

        There is a contorted motion in the midst of it-- and with an underhanded fleck, the butter knife SAILS across the powerful gust which should so buffet it aside to land square against Talia and rebound--

        But you can change.

        --and catch it in midair. A third teleporting party has joined the battle, for it isn't only Talia with Mirage, and Lydia with her portals, that can do such a thing -- Katherine's form resurfaces as inky blackness, the telltale guise of a Seraph of Darkness, in front of her as she sets down after retrieving her knife.

        She looks at her straight in the eyes.

        It's a very familiar look. The look of someone who's killed before.

        "... you dodged my question. But that's okay."

        She closes her eyes...

        I'm scared, Ragnell... sis... but...

        ... and when they next open them

                                      The
                                     lines
                          crisscrossing around Talia
                                so clear to see

        "... I understand having no choice. All too well."

        The motion that Amaranth manuevers next in feels all too twisted, all too unnatural-- in a distinct moment, all has turned to darkness in her view as she gazes upon the fibrous lines of life that every living being possesses.

        All she does is perform a simple lunging leap. She rears back,

                                 And her knife
                               that dinner knife
                         it does not need to be sharp
                          it isn't aimed at the body
                                 but the lines
                                      for
                                                                               
                                     one day
                                    we all
                                     must
                                    return
                                      to
                                   becoming
                                      in
                                        a
                                      ni
                                      mate
                                     ....
                                      ...
                                      ..
                                       .
                                       .
                                       .

GS: Seraph Amaranth has spent 3 Combo on Gatling!
GS: Seraph Amaranth enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Talia with A Return to Inanimateness!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia looks back to Talia. Using a portal trick like that on Talia is way less effective than it would be on most people. That may be why she did it.

That mist pushes through Lydia and chills her to her bones or, at least, her bone equivalent. She knows it should hurt more than it does even as her fingers fail to turn blue--maybe they can't do that anymore, but it does slow her movements purely from the cold. But maybe the fact that it doesn't hurt her as much as it should is telling in of itself. Talia may have her priorities, but Lydia knows Talia doesn't want to hurt her.

She might, still, but Lydia will cross that bridge when it's stabbed in her gut.

Lydia approaches all the same, swinging back with her fist. "I can see he means a lot to you... Then why don't we..." Lydia begins before she throws her punch which actually detonates upon impact. "JUST RESCUE HIM!? DUHHH!! AND STEAL ALL LUBOV'S ASSETS WHILE WE'RE AT IT!?" Yeah she may still have SOME growing up to do.

Still, she doubts Kaguya at least would even mind that plan.

GS: Lydia Seren has spent 2 Combo on Gatling!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Talia with Metallurgical Arm Detonation!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Seraph Amaranth's A Return to Inanimateness for 140 hit points!
GS: Talia enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Talia takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Metallurgical Arm Detonation for 186 hit points!
GS: Talia has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"...Maybe they will. Or maybe they won't. But either way, a temporary peace is preferable to an unending war." Jacqueline replies, frowning back at Kaguya. The fight continues...and Jacqueline winces as Kaguya is thrown right through a building.

...But of course it couldn't be that easy. Kaguya erupts out in a column of green flame, unleashing a flurry of attacks against those arrayed against her. But she and Shalune are spared.

"...Is that what you truly think, Kaguya? That violence is the only way to solve things?" She says with a sigh. "...Violence can only take you so far."

She reaches through her bags, pulling out a few bottles of invigorating bright red liquid and tossing them into the fray. She doesn't really toss them at anyone in particular, but they'll find their way to people all the same.

"...I'm sorry, Kaguya."

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Boosting Brew!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Margaret with Boosting Brew!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Tabitha deVriese with Boosting Brew!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Boosting Brew for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Claude C. Kenny!
GS: Tabitha deVriese takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Boosting Brew for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Tabitha deVriese!
GS: Margaret takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Boosting Brew for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Margaret!
GS: Tabitha deVriese has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

The weariness in Amaranth's voice is a shock. So are a lot of other things about this whole encounter: the realization of what Katherine Weaver is. Suddenly, the magic she commanded makes sense. Talia doesn't know, precisely, that she is a Seraph -- but she can guess. "You're--" Her eyes meet hers, and she watches as her head slumps, and then the knife sails. She steps to the side, and it clatters against the ground. "--you're a Seraph."

Her voice sounds small. It sounds somewhere between awed and sad; as if, in a moment, a religion she thought had fallen apart is more real than she wanted to give credence to.

But then, it becomes more complicated. She knows the look in those eyes: the same haunted, tired look she sees in her own eyes, when she looks into the mirror in the morning. "You're--"

The lines.

The butter knife carves through the lines. Talia jerks, an unnatural and sudden motion that perfectly matches the way those lines yank her. She hangs there, letting out a shuddering gasp. She stumbles, then, halfway to crumpling.

Before she can say more, Lydia's fist connects with her chin -- and she goes flying backward. Talia slams into a wall and falls down, Mirage clattering out of her grasp. She looks up at Lydia, dazed eyes blinking. "It's not... it's not that simple, damn it!" she yells. "It's... it's complicated. You should--"

She grabs Mirage. Her fingers tremble, as she picks it up. "...You should forget you ever met me. Both of you. I've told you what I am. I'm not... I can't change. The blood I've gotten on my hands--it lies on my heart."

<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
"HIS troubles, yes," Margaret says. "But those who survive --"

She can't really get her thoughts going further than this as the hyperkinetic battle space evolves with shocking speed! Also Kaguya does have a pretty big voice. There is a burst of green that makes most of the Margaret's recoil, only two left as Kaguya makes her guess...

And she guesses right.

There is a snap of bone as the arch-sorceress is kicked with horrid force. She lurches to the side, feeling hot pain pour up the inside of her ribcage, extending through her, the wire mesh of her nervous system seeming to be an independent entity existing only for suffering for hot throbbing seconds before she hits the ground -

and yelps.

Looking up at Kaguya, cold sweat on her brow, Margaret grins at her, again without mirth. "If this is you when you're sick, darling, I'd have to - mmf - heh -"

She kisses the air at Kaguya.

Something sparkles...

GS: Margaret has spent 1 Combo on Disease!
GS: Margaret has attacked Kaguya with Illusion Kiss!
GS: Margaret takes 8 damage from Toxin!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Kaguya takes a solid hit from Margaret's Illusion Kiss for 0 hit points!
GS: Disease and Weaken! Statuses applied to Kaguya!
GS: Kaguya has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny decided to bring his fire sword to this fight in the hopes that he could use it to cut plasma. It's basically fire right? So use fire to cut fire. That's science.* And having put this plan into action successfully once, when Kaguya levels her pistol a second time, he tries it again.

Only this time it fails, horribly; the fire blade cuts through the plasma, but it keeps on coming, coalescing into a column of sickly yellow light that envelops the boy from Earth, who screams in the same way the ocean is wet and the desert dry. He isn't quite sure what the hell he's been hit with - technosorcery is as close as he can come - but he knows it hurts, in the same way the sun is hot and space is cold.

So he screams. A lot.

After a few seconds the light vanishes, and the boy from Earth tumbles to the cobblestones, smoke trailing from his body as he collapses to hands and knees, his sabre clattering to the ground behind him. The smell of scorched hair and flesh is sickly sweet, and he blinks tears of pain and acrid hate out of his eyes as he pushes himself up. It's a lesson drilled into him by both his masters - to keep fighting, keep moving. Standing in one place is a good way to get yourself killed, and lying down moaning about pain is worse. There is a reason death in combat is synonymous with the phrase 'he fell.'

Move or die, Claude, voices from the spaceman's past echo in his head. And so he does.

Claude breaks into a stumbling charge, catching Jay's bottle out of the air and downing it without thinking, feeling renewed energy surging through his body. His sword forgotten, Claude opens his right hand, fingers hooking into claws. He gathers his chi on the move, streaks of blue light swirling around and inward, gathering into a crackling aura of power. Kaguya has seen this attack once before - a living dragon of chi, fired from the spaceman's hand - and this one is initially no different.

Until he tries to grab the front of Kaguya's chest armour before firing it off.

"DRAAAAAAAAAAAAGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON'S!" Claude screams, dragging the hand along and through a nearby stall for good measure. "HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWL!"

* - No it's not.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Kaguya with Dragon's Howl!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Kaguya's question is a good one, to the outside observer. What does Ethius hope to do, taking in so much harm? Does he assume that stopping Kaguya and/or her allies would suddenly make Lunar a wonderful place to live, free of war and conflict? Hyland and Rolance have a long, long history of sustained on-again, off-again aggression. If it's not Kaguya who lights the fires of war, it'll be someone else, right? Just not far from here, others had to confront some scary child kidnapping assassins. Why isn't he jumping on top of that?
        One thing he does allow - if maybe for the inability to bring himself to move so quickly after suffering a direct shot from that sonic cannon - is for a tiny alien bundle of wrath and pluck to plant her leg against his midsection and launch him back like he were a ball.
        He sort of looks like one, in mid-flight. A tree catches him this time, a third of its branches cast off from its inability to both support his launched momentum and weight as he lands on his knees. He's not sure how he didn't drop his quarterstaff from that impact, but that means he has something to lean on to stand up - if he can.
        He doesn't look like he can, so he must. So he does.
        Breathing becomes difficult. His reserved body language tends to subdue even the most idle tics of a living being, but his breathing becomes especially visible. He limps back along the way towards a great green column of fire that marks the closest thing he has to Kaguya's present position.
        "The people of Lunar have made numerous errors in their judgment." Is this a concession? How does he manage that even tone of voice when he's in such obvious pain that he can't control the shake of his right hand? Lunar's a backwater, less-developed land compared to Filgaia - hell, compared to the Veruni themselves! To say nothing of other, lesser, would-be annoyances with their own thumbs in the pie. "They will continue to do so."
        He lifts his staff up, off the ground. It should void his balance and see him tumbling to the ground... but then he slams it down into the ground, the sound echoing like a crack of thunder as he rises up to his proper height.
        "You will not decide for them." Ethius breaks out into a short sprint that pretends it's not him staggering and nearly slipping on his face, kicking off forward as he dares to dive into Kaguya proper - a change in form from his decision to maintain some distance. She may be much stronger, but he has more mass. That extra mass, he weaponizes in a sneak attack to try and throw her off balance in tandem with the oncoming attempt of Claude to try and grab the front of her armor.
        By tumbling straight into her, quarterstaff held horizontally, to ram into her and roll across before ending in a crouch a ways away.
        "Rank Breaker!"

GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
FROM KAGUYA'S PERSPECTIVE...

"It's all been so hard, you know," Margaret soliloquizes. "Everything, for all these years. I never thought I would go to two worlds - I never thought the Blue Star was even a place where we COULD live. All my dreams, my hopes and ambitions..."

Margaret, from Kaguya's view, continues in this perspective, and dies realistically if given a coup de grace. It is undramatic and suitably bloody.

FROM EVERYONE ELSE'S PERSPECTIVE

Margaret clutches her shoulder and limps away from Kaguya, hissing breath through her teeth as she pushes through the pain. It is probably not really clear what is going on, other than the obvious 'she just broke her shoulder or something'. "Rip her ass," she mutters to herself as she hears the battle scream of Claude C. Kenny and the lunging run of Ethius behind her.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Kaguya with Rank Breaker!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: Kaguya guards a hit from Claude C. Kenny's Dragon's Howl for 99 hit points!
GS: Kaguya takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Rank Breaker for 91 hit points!
GS: Kaguya loses a Combo from Interrupt!
<Pose Tracker> Tabitha deVriese has posed.

Tabitha huffs a breath, centering herself. "How unseemly," she says, attempting to adopt that fun and chirpy persona again, and then Kaguya shoots her with a laser. Her head snaps to the side. She blurs - jerking aside from the oncoming ray of some horrible radiance. It singes the front of her vest, radiant heat vaporizing fibers even despite her armors and shields. Tabitha's eyes are wide with surprise and alarm as that horrible blast roars acrosss her. That...wasn't magic. That was...her eyes glide down to her bracer, searching for something there.

But whatever she's looking for, she looks up without reacting; she eyes Kaguya. She draws in a long, slow breath. Right. Of course. She'd let herself forget for so long, but this...this person she's supposed to be...

She surges. It's inconceivably fast, the air around her blasting out in all directions like it had been ripped by an impossible gale as Tabitha suddenly covers the distance between her and Kaguya in a single heartbeat She approaches her in a leap - legs open to land rather rudely, crotch-first on the woman's neck. But there's no saucy smirk on Tabitha's face or sneering smugness. Rude though it may look, it has a practical aspect. WIth her legs wrapped around her upper body, Kaguya will find it rather difficult to dislodge Tabitha. With her abdomen in her face, she can't see.

Also, this is an excellent position from which Tabitha can slam her gun into Kaguya's skull and fan the trigger.

GS: Tabitha deVriese has spent 3 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Tabitha deVriese has attacked Kaguya with Angel Sequence!
GS: Tabitha deVriese takes 10 damage from Toxin!
GS: Tabitha deVriese has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Kaguya guards a hit from Tabitha deVriese's Angel Sequence for 84 hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Tabitha deVriese!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"Wait--Katherine's a Seraph!?" Lydia says. "...That explains a lot actually." She looks over towards Katherine for a long moment. And naturally someone who is so invested in HAPPY of course has some dark sad side to them. Lydia isn't sure what to say to this person she barely knows but she does say, awkwardly, "Look um... I'm just a little shy okay your outfits are off the chain so..."

Okay Lydia doesn't actually believe Amaranth is in this state because of her prior reaction to her outfits but Lydia figures she has no idea wtf about that so she can just comment on the other thing. It's what she's got.

She extends her non-metal hand this time (her other arm is uh not there at the moment).

"Can't it be?" Lydia asks. "I get there's probably complications I don't know but it's something we could do, right? If we're clever? With maybe a little bit of overwhelming firepower?"

<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        "Everyone says that!" Shalune bites back at Kaguya's last comment to her. "All the time! And it sucks! I don't wanna hit hard! I don't wanna hit at all! But you're forcing the point just to try to make it true!" The words come much too late, and are more than a little hollow when a number of defenders are, in fact, hitting hard enough to send the Veruni girl almost out of the fight.

        Part of her wants to complain at them, too; she feels her stomach lurch with the words, but bites them back as the moment of respite gives her time to throw a wild glance in the direction of the priestess and her retinue, remembering the reason she's even here in the first place. She can't see them - she's not even sure if she's got the right direction, and there's the din of the city around them to contend with - but she's gotten this far assuming that no news is good news, and isn't looking to upend that assumption any time soon.

        She shrieks at the sudden gout of green light when it comes, far more out of surprise rather than pain; the wave of energy is not close to her, but she shrinks back from it anyway, instinctively hurling the Little Dipper hard to one side to try to avoid it as she recognizes the sheer energy in the strike. With the Little Dipper's navigation hindered by the damage it's taken, she can see that it's going to take her much too long to swing back around on the attack, especially given Kaguya's speed, and even if she can dimly tell that one half of the battle is somehow over, she's not sure they can all face Kaguya down alone--

        --but they doesn't need to. Instead, a stone wall near to the Veruni girl deforms with a resounding impact, and then a second - before wholly shattering as the rounded fist of Big Shal powers through it, closely followed by the rest of the golem. The lunge is simple and unadorned, but the golem doesn't need much more: just a surprise punch backed by the strength of a Veruni construction golem and a million little tiny improvements.

GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Kaguya with Big Shal - It's Showtime!!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
GS: Kaguya takes a solid hit from Shalune Amira's Big Shal - It's Showtime! for 136 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"Wait--Katherine's a Seraph!?" Lydia says. "...That explains a lot actually." She looks over towards Katherine for a long moment. And naturally someone who is so invested in HAPPY of course has some dark sad side to them. Lydia isn't sure what to say to this person she barely knows but she does say, awkwardly, "Look um... I'm just a little shy okay your outfits are off the chain so..."

Okay Lydia doesn't actually believe Amaranth is in this state because of her prior reaction to her outfits but Lydia figures she has no idea wtf about that so she can just comment on the other thing. It's what she's got.

She extends her non-metal hand this time (her other arm is uh not there at the moment).

"Can't it be?" Lydia asks. "I get there's probably complications I don't know but it's something we could do, right? If we're clever? With maybe a little bit of overwhelming firepower?"

She is told to forget she ever met Talia. She is told about the blood on her hands, on her heart.

But Lydia hasn't really MURDERED anybody, she just killed one dude on accident and maybe others indirectly but she knows that's not the same.

So all she can really say, quietly, is "I can't. My eyes...aren't my eyes."

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        There's a shocked gasp as Amaranth finally-- finally--

                            the butter knife drops
                            there is no blood on it
                     because it does not need to cut flesh

        --she jitters as she snaps out of that reverie, looking deeply revulsed at herself and yet suddenly and so thoroughly aware at what'd happened.

        You're-- you're a Seraph.

                     Oh Lanval... Oh Ragnell... oh Althena, forgive me...
                    After everything you've done for me...

        Lydia expresses her shock, and Katherine shies away a little from that. She isn't certain how to react. She started the day wishing one or two people would see her and now--

        It's like she wants the opposite.

        "... I can't forget. I won't forget..." Katherine's voice burbles and swims, her head filled in dark clouds as the ambient Malevolence, no matter how scant, begins to tease away at her.

        She's lucky she isn't in a battleground at present.

        She lowers herself to the floor on her knees, looking to Talia as she grapples with what she is. Her eyes are full of tears, but it is with confidence and resolve that she whispers:

        "... we'll set you free."

        Is she already including Lydie in that?!

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"It's..."

Talia's eyes squeeze shut. They're burning, hot with anger and more. She doesn't want to look at the world right now. She doesn't want the world to look at her, either, but she has never had much luck with what she wants. When she closes her eyes, though, she can see it again. A darkened room, the rain from outside the shattered window splashing down on the ground -- and mixing with, diluting, the blood pooled on the floor.

The feeling of parchment, between her fingers: of a stack of parchment, the letters blurring under her tears. Those same tears made the ink on the paper start to run. More than that, though, she felt the feeling of the sword hilt in her hand.

She hates Mirage, as much as she hates anything.

Her jaw clenches, and she doesn't answer Lydia's very good questions for a moment. She hears Katherine's voice, promising to not forget. Her jaw trembles, and she hangs her head down. Her hair falls limply, bangs in front of her eyes and shadowing them. Her hand wraps around Mirage's hilt, with a grim determination.

She looks up, eyes opening. There are tears in them, rolling down her cheeks, and a half-formed sob escapes her lips. "I know you'll try. Damn you." She looks at Lydia. "I know you could find ways. But if I told myself that I deserved freedom..."

Her fingers tremble around Mirage. "...then I would be a liar."

Head still hanging, she throws the weapon to the side. It rips through a window of a home; it hits a wall with a thwock.

And, a blink of the eye later, she vanishes into shadowstuff. A few wisps of it linger, where she was, before they blow away too on the wind.

DC: Seraph Amaranth switches forms to Phantom Thief -La Fille du Temps-!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        Hearing Talia work through her own feelings, her own tears and her own shame reminds Amaranth all too much of herself. Her heart is wrenching. She knows exactly that feeling-- that feeling of sinking deeper into a trade that makes you think, again and again and again, like you deserve less and less...

        Less of anything, ever.

        Talia disappears. She lowers her head as she closes her eyes. She's murmuring.

        "... forgive this little sinner of yours ..."

        She's making a prayer to Althena. And after she's done, she slumps and looks towards Lydia-- with an awkward little smile as she murmurs, "... will you help me?"

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"Talia..." Lydia says, but there she goes. Lydia dips her head for a moment, allowing that hurt to pass through her for a moment before she sets it aside. You can't force somebody to like themselves. Even after what everybody did for her, Lydia still has trouble liking herself sometimes.

As for Fornett, Lydia is counting on Amber and the Hired Help ability to handle the Cardinal. She doesn't really want to drop a meteor on Kaguya anyway right now. Even if her body is pretty good considering, her MORALE stat took a considerable hit and she would prefer to avoid hitting 0 morale today.

Besides, there's a new friend to attend to.

Lydia makes her way over to Amaranth and she just gives Amaranth a one armed hug (she uh can't do two arms right now).

"You kiddin'? That was always the plan. Of course I will." Lydia smiles. "Thanks for all the help today...and, you know, for being there for Talia. Going for a happy ending right?"

<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

Kaguya rushes out, faster than a frail young girl has a right to be. She doesn't even seem to answer Margaret's statement about those who survive. She makes her guess, and guesses right, and when Margaret lurches down, Kaguya looks right down at her, something aloof, almost aristocratic in her gaze. She hits the ground, grins. "...Heh. You're right," Kaguya says. "You should see my sister--"

She stops, the sparkles in the air confusing her for an instant, the blown kiss strange. "Look, I'm already seeing--" She blinks, and Margaret keeps talking. She talks with her worries, and while Margaret keeps going, Kaguya just shakes her head. "Yeah," she says. "It's pretty rough. I get you. ...Stay down, and I don't have to hurt you more."

She seems entirely to fall for the illusion. Besides; real attacks come at her again quickly. Claude stumbles forward, and as he does, Kaguya turns to face him. She doesn't look at Jacqueline as she answers during the struggle. "Yeah, Jay. I do." As Claude starts forward, his chi gathering, he might see a twitch in Kaguya's jaw. The pain is coming back, with all these injuries added to it, and those of the CaraKin know what it looks like when Kaguya's pushing through it. But she answers Jay, as Claude charges, widens her stance, remembering the attack. "The Guardians taught me that! Then I saw--People here are like that, too."

Claude comes forward--and gets hold of Kaguya's chestplate. The dragon launches. "Gh--" It hits full on, its brilliant light too bright to show Kaguya for an instant, slamming through her like the spectral, powerful display it is and knocking her steps back. "You--"

Ethius is talking next. he can barely breathe, but he's limping towards her. "Come on. You're half dead--" The crack of the staff rattles through her bones, and Kaguya immediately adopts a defensive stance. He makes his ultimatum, and slams into her. The staff hits her flush and she meets it full-force, but Ethius can feel the power of it sinking in, his mass adding to the strike enough to bend something in her, make an awful noise that suggests a deep injury, a 'pop' as the quarterstaff wrenches her arm out of place from where she'd lifted it to defend. "Ts--"

She hisses with it, stepping back, and her arm looks a little wrong. "I--" Kaguya spits to the side, and it comes out bloody, a glob of ugliness. "...Agree entirely, Ethius. I'm not making a single decision for them. ...I'm just helping them carry out the ones they make. I want to see where their choices lead them. ...And if I get something out of it along the way..."

"Even better." Her voice isn't even cold--just harsh, too bitter for ice.

What she's doing, technosorcery is about right; now that she's been here long enough, there's a sense of strange magic in her aura. She's cast no spells, though. Not even the strange Ether-like magic she's been known to use before. Her ARM's power is technological, is some force far beyond the gunsmoke ARMs that her soldiers on the battlefield wielded. ...And she might get the chance to fire again, but first--

"LOTS of things suck, Lunie!" Kaguya shouts back now at Shalune, just before Tabitha launches right at her. The leap comes--and surprisingly, Kaguya with just a step back is entirely capable of supporting Tabitha's weight. The heartbeat passes, and Kaguya is blinded for an instant. She just jerks to the side, unable at first to dislodge her--

The gun hits Kaguya's skull hard enough that she might expect it to chip bone, but the sudden movement of the girl jars the aim. The bullet doesn't sink into Kaguya's temple, doesn't kill her outright--it's just a little off, and instead it blasts a furrow through skin and blonde hair, hitting the edge of her skull and sending blood all over Tabitha's leg--

Before Kaguya grips the woman with hands like iron and wrenches her loose, hurling the woman off into a wall. "Get OFF!" she shouts, and the blood from her head wound starts to flow down. "That's--"

She's staggered from all this, if nothing else. "Look, all of you can just--"

There's a resounding impact, and the wall shatters, the brick pieces sending shrapnel across Kaguya's body as Big Shal's surprise punch hits Kaguya straight on, and without even time to react shit hits the brick on the other side, shattering an outdoor firepit and skidding across the ground. ...For a moment, she's still.

For a moment, she hears the others talking to Talia, notices that the fighting there has stopped. ...And then Talia is gone.

"...Ugh. The Cardinal's long gone, too," she mutters, as she starts to stand. "You guys are pretty good. I didn't even have the chance to get to her." Her eyes narrow. "...But you know, I think I need a minute." Kaguya reaches behind herself, into a pouch--and pulls a strange gray disc, gleaming with tiny lights. She passes her hand over one--

The lights turn red, and it starts sounding a clear, whining alarm. "Clock's ticking."

She drops it in an instant. The group can see how her left arm isn't quite responding though, is jarred still, worse after throwing Tabitha. So in the next instant, Kaguya takes her gun-hand and grabs her arm, a sucking, gasping noise passing her lips as she jams it back into alignment outright. "Ghh--"

She hops up and kicks off of the wall, whirling out in a sudden spinning kick for Claude's face. "How do YOU like it!" she snarls, dizzy with it, loading her gun sluggishly, her arm still not wanting to cooperate. It gets her away from the device, anyway. The awful, black-and-blue-and-gray colors of her gun fire next at Jay, a single shot to disable rather than destroy, and with its ammunition expended for the moment, the ARM slips back behind her back as she runs along the ground in an effort to grab Ethius with her bad arm--it grinds in protest, but whether she gets him or the rubble behind him, she hurls what she has straight for Shalune. "Clock's still ticking!" she shouts, agony making her voice sound manic. ...But she's not slowing down much.

GS: Kaguya has activated a Force Action!
GS: Kaguya has activated a Force Action!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Tabitha deVriese with Iron Grasp!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Claude C. Kenny with Falling Star!
GS: Kaguya has spent 2 Combo on Poison and Disease!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Inversion Cartridge!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Meteor Stance!
GS: Kaguya has attacked Shalune Amira with Meteor Stance!
GS: Kaguya takes 9 damage from Poison!
GS: Kaguya takes 9 damage from Toxin!
GS: Kaguya has completed her action.
GS: Claude C. Kenny has activated a Force Action!
GS: Claude C. Kenny critically Guards a hit from Kaguya's Falling Star for 20 hit points!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Kaguya!
GS: Claude C. Kenny takes an additional 35 damage from Reaper!
GS: CRITICAL! Tabitha deVriese takes a glancing hit from Kaguya's Iron Grasp for 91 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Tabitha deVriese!
GS: CRITICAL! Jacqueline Barber takes a solid hit from Kaguya's Inversion Cartridge for 0 hit points!
GS: Disease, Jam, and Toxin! Statuses applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: RUIN! All positive status effects and temporary hit points purged from Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off their temporary hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Shalune Amira guards a hit from Kaguya's Meteor Stance for 159 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Shalune Amira!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a glancing hit from Kaguya's Meteor Stance for 25 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        Amaranth has no idea that Lydia already boosted herself to max Combo Points to summon powerful Hired Help for the low, low price of 30,000 silver. That's just crazy! It could even be a PC or two!

        Neither does she know about what's going on with the war too hard, really. She peeked in on Forton, but that got her a face full of Symonne wing-wong. That wasn't a good time, even if she was cutest security alarm she'd ever met.

        She tucks her arm in next to Lydia and smiles weakly in return. "Not just--" A pause, as she takes a deep breath and sticks her thumb into her mouth and blows.

        There's an inflating sound like she's literally injecting happy gas into herself again.

        "A happy ending but--" She wags her fingers, her hair all wavy and primped up again with the usual glam and glamour. "A h a p p y ending!"

        Boy, that was a heck of a quick change.

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia is gone. The shadows whisk away, carried into the light and the wind, until nothing remains of the assassin's presence here save the weight of her words.

        MEANWHILE, AT THE HARBOR...

Cardinal Runette Forton walks with purpose. She has long mastered the art of looking calm even in the worst, most stressful of situations. Clad in white, flanked by her surviving guard, she looks imposing: a beacon of white hope, against skies of grey and churning seas. A wooden frigate awaits her, a gangplank lowered to the pier. The crimson banner of Rolance snaps.

She strides, confidently, past a group of Hyland soldiers. Their blades are half-drawn; one is shying away; another is starting to stumble backward. All are frozen in place.

All are made of solid stone.

Runette's smile grows, slowly -- and the violet eyes of another Seraph, watching from a nearby window, hover on her back. A few more motes of Malevolence drift upward, slowly, as she walks.

<Pose Tracker> Claude C. Kenny has posed.

Claude C. Kenny is hunched a little forward with fatigue, sucking in quick breaths as Kaguya slips out of his grasp. Walking around in all of that plate armour was great for a core and leg workout, but his cardio has suffered in the past few months. Going to have to punish the body if he doesn't want to wind up dead, but this is a problem for Future Claude, unless Future Claude is Dead Claude.

Tangent.

Kaguya comes streaking around with a spinning facekick, but Claude knows from spinning and kicks and the faces thereby, and meets the murderfraulein with a whirlwind of his own, their legs crashing into each other with considerable force. Despite the fact that he's (as far as he knows) twice Kaguya's weight, the impact drives him back, and with a mightily aching shin for his troubles. Claude lands and rolls backward, awkwardly, coming up with a wince.

The Earthling's eyes sweep across the field, tracking Kaguya's movements and the flow of the fight. He measures his internal reserves. "Got enough... for one big shot," he mutters to himself, gathering what he has left and focusing it into both hands, which begin crackling with crimson power. Claude lets a slow breath escape his body as he channels his chi, forging it into pure destructive force. He takes his time, molding energy deliberately. A faint flicker of guilt passes through his mind; he's allowing his erstwhile allies to take the brunt of the fighting, hoping his muted presence will escape Kaguya's notice. But if he's got one shot left, he's going to make it a good one.

He takes five seconds. Ten.

At fifteen, he shouts, "Clear the road!" and then lifts both arms over his head, rising to his full six feet and change, every muscle on his body tensing, poised to unload. "TEEEEEEEEEAR INTO PIECEEEEEES!" he finally shouts, slamming his left hand downward, causing a wave of stony spikes to rush forward from his position, growing taller and more chaotic with every yard they travel. They rise up and continue, forming a broken path of crackling rock; alarming enough on their own, but two facts will not escape the notice of anyone standing too close. The first is that, laced through the stony spikes, a spiderweb of glowing crimson light can be seen.

The second is that Claude's right hand is still glowing with that awesome power.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAND BURST!" he roars, clenching that hand, causing the stone stalagmites to denotate from within, showering the area with blazing shards of fire and rock.

GS: Claude C. Kenny has attacked Kaguya with Burst Ripper Knuckle Blast!
GS: Claude C. Kenny has completed his action.
DC: MISS! Kaguya completely evades Burst Ripper Knuckle Blast from Claude C. Kenny!
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        Shalune grits her teeth - but whatever she was about to say dies on her lips as the Little Dipper wobbles in midair, nearly threatening to pitch her off; she twists for the handlebars as she tries to steady the craft, forced for a moment to right herself and hang onto the control stick for - if not dear life, then certainly in order to not concuss herself on the pavement.

        Kaguya's rather petulant response rings in her ears, and she doesn't have a lot to respond to it with. 'Lots of things suck' is a lesson she learnt pretty early in life, but by the same token she knows she can't let it get to her; she'd like to cling onto her beliefs as hard as she can, and started her journey with the Carakin in service of that wish. She can't simply give up on it, not when the alternative path is just to lay down and do nothing.

        The Veruni girl returns Big Shal's favour; a large chunk of rock comes hurtling for Shalune, and while she tries her best to swoop the Little Dipper low to slide under it, the block is simply too massive to dismiss so easily. Her scooter scrapes against the ground, bits of the bodywork scratched and torn - even then, the mechanic takes a heavy blow from the stone that leaves her seeing stars, wincing against the pain as her bobble hat is torn away by the scraping friction of it.

        Sparks fly from the base of the Little Dipper as it struggles for height, and in a moment of anger and desperation Shalune kicks at the ground, forcing the craft back up into the air as she guns for more speed. If Kaguya wants a head-on assault, it's what she'll get - the nose of the flying scooter, damaged as it is, can still carry enough impact and speed to act as a battering ram, and she dives the machine forward in pursuit of that, a quickening mess of white metal and pink blob.

        ***

        The golem lumbers up to Amaranth and Lydie; with the townsfolk out of the picture, and the Cardinal apparently safe, Big Shal has decided to interpret Shalune's order to keep people safe in their direction, holding out a hand to offer the tired pair a ride.

GS: Shalune Amira has spent 3 Combo on Gatling!
GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Kaguya with Soaring Clouds!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
GS: Kaguya critically Guards a hit from Shalune Amira's Soaring Clouds for 52 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        'I'm not making a single decision for them.'
        What? That might be what he's mouthing, if his mouth were visible. Ethius turns his head sharply, and the muscles in his neck twinge in pain. He doesn't say it aloud. He knows that Kaguya is considered in high esteem of Hyland - to the point she is in consideration of a title. He can't chalk this up as a cultural difference in how the Veruni or anyone else may see it. She's a willing participant in the war - this is bad enough on its own, for what presence and effect she brings - but it throws his understanding of the situation into further disarray.
        She's not the one calling the shots? Who is? A hand goes to his forehead. Precious moments and opportunities in which to press an attack are lost, as others call and move all around him. Based on the intel he had received, he had a number of assumptions of what was going on.
        Now... the situation complicates that much more. His body aches. He might not yet rise again, but Kaguya seems content to move to disengage with her praise of their level of strength and effectiveness of action. The Cardinal may be safe.
        'I think I need a minute.' Ethius turns his head the other way and chances the muscles in his neck again. The strange gray disc, gleaming with tiny lights. For all the abuse his ears have received, it pings away at his overly sensitive, shall one say, recognition of the presence of high-tech devices.
        "Hand that--" He extends a hand. Kaguya basically takes his hand for him, pulling him into the beginnings of a back-breaking throw until he can yank his arm free of hers. He still loses ground, rolling across the rubble-strewn ground and coming up on his knees, supported by his hands. His hood slides off his face, revealing unkempt white hair stained in blood. Even his bandanna starts to slouch. (There's nothing interesting revealed, but one good tug would reveal his face.) His quarterstaff lies over there.
        Precious seconds go by as he struggles to find the strength to move again. He must. There is... something vast, at stake. He can't put a quantity or an identity to it, but something vast seems to be at stake.
        "Don't touch that." He says. Someone could theoretically pick it up and toss it to him and save the fleeting time it would take for him to get there, but yet, he doesn't want anyone else touching it. As though that, too, were just as important. He stumbles and falls, hitting his chin against rubble.
        This still doesn't stop him, clawing away at the ground to yank himself over until it falls within arm's reach. He snatches it greedily, hiding even the shine of its red lights as he clasps it clsoe to his chest. His torso would totally not void the resulting explosion.
        Even if it appears in desperation, there is a care and concern in the way even his fingers are curled around it. His gloved hand never overlaps the lights, as though he's hesitant to directly touch them. His mind already comes up with a number of ideas and arrangements for the innards of the thing just by holding it - some level of initimate familiarity with this. By hearing its ambient electrical sounds, the way the lights blink. He closes his eyes, and mouths things inaudible.
        Something about a current. Other things about a failsafe. He keeps his calm even as people scream and call around him. The clock is ticking.
        He sets it down not on level ground, but on a piece of rubble - as though the way it would balance upon it is, in fact, key to its proper disposal. He closes his eyes once more to shut out the disruptive chaos of those who yell, flail, panic. One hand remains on his forehead, as is his habit. The other twists and contorts as he chants together the proper syllables, two or three of them louder in the sequence than the rest.
        "Surge Bolt!" Ethius calls as he points the gesticulating hand back down towards the glowing disc, infusing a bolt of electricity into it - a specialized electrical spell that bypasses the vast majority of protective casings and fields in order to work past any safeguards to prevent accidental premature demolition by any sneaky devices of that nature, to put a halt to its inner workings.
        It is balanced specifically on the rubble where it is so that it won't tip or press into the ground in ways where it might re-activate - this is, at its core, an educated guess working around numerous contingencies he cannot put into spoken word or coherent thought. Just some deep, innate understanding of the possibilities it presents...
        ...and the overwhelming sense that only he can see to its safe disposal.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Kaguya with Surge Bolt!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

...Jacqueline doesn't have a response to that. She just looks at Kaguya, with eyes full of sympathy.

"...I'm sorry." She repeats, shaking her head. This world has been cruel to Kaguya. She knows that. It's only natural that she'd lash out. "But...I still can't let you just...do this."

She feels the same way Shalune does. She doesn't want to hurt people. ...But there were so many people in this world who couldn't be swayed by mere words.

...What was she supposed to do...?

Her introspection is cut off as Kaguya draws out a strange gray disc. Jacqueline is immediately on guard. 'Clock's ticking', she says...

Jacqueline thinks back to the device that destroyed Lucadia's statue.

"Everyone, be careful! I don't know what it is, but-" This warning creates an opening that gives Kaguya all the time she needs to fire off that shot. It lands solidly, phasing right through her armor to connect with Jacqueline herself.

The effect is...immediately. Suddenly, Jacqueline pitches forward, forcibly dropping to one knee in order to avoid falling face-first. Her vision swims. She feels...numb, but at the same time indescribably awful all over, as the effects of the Inversion Cartridge begin to take hold.

She can't...get a good view of anyone. Hearing isn't great, either. Her right arm, still trembling from its effects, reaches out to where she saw Kaguya last...

...And brings a bolt of lightning down toward her, as Jacqueline tries to buy some time to shake this off...

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Kaguya with Lightning Strike!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes 11 damage from Toxin!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Kaguya critically Guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Surge Bolt for 16 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Kaguya!
GS: Kaguya takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Lightning Strike for 136 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

 
Margaret does not rejoin the battle. This is because she has a broken shoulder.

IT F***IN HURTS MAN

However, she is keeping herself together, crouching on the fringes and watching as the purportedly sick young woman battles a half-dozen warriors, including the great hero of Rolance, Cress al-Vine.

"I know I said it before," she mutters, "but I'd"
"Hate to see her when she's healthy," Silf, right behind her, says.

Margaret half jumps and then momentarily passes out from the pain of her shoulder. Silf catches her and looks baffled for a moment; the joke wasn't that bad, Silf thought.

<Pose Tracker> Tabitha deVriese has posed.

Kaguya dislodges Tabitha rather brutally - Tabitha didn't quite expect her to be able to lever that kind of force at her, and she hits the ground HARD, slamming roughly and rolling a couple times. She comes away bloody and scuffed, her lip and nose trickling; some of it, the result of whatever awful toxin Kaguya inflicted, but others from the sheer FORCE of that throw. She grunts, and her eyes slide up. Watching Kaguya go. If she's concerned about that mysterious dropped disc....well, she doesn't seem to be, actually. Instead, she fiddles with her ARM - even as the masked weirdo tries to...vaporize? she thinks? the ...probably a bomb let's be real...and then, finally, whips her weapon up, aiming down the ironsights. She finds Kaguya amid her whirling movements. Aims carefully.

You might not notice the little bwip of the shot - a tiny tag roughly the size and shape of a home drill bit bolting across the distance, aimed to strike Kaguya in the arm or chest. It'll hurt, like a bite, but is removed easily.

But it does its work oh so terribly quickly...

GS: Tabitha deVriese has attacked Kaguya with Memory Tag!
GS: Tabitha deVriese takes 12 damage from Toxin!
GS: Tabitha deVriese has completed her action.
GS: Kaguya guards a hit from Tabitha deVriese's Memory Tag for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

If she can take satisfaction in nothing else here, Kaguya can enjoy that sharp turn, that surprise she thinks she saw in Ethius, is sure she can identify for all that he's so damn hard to read. But Tabitha's gone; the Cardinal has escaped.

Claude's strategy is a solid one. While she's busy dealing with the others, there's little she can do to focus on him; no, she has to bring Ethius down, make sure Tabitha isn't coming back yet, make her throw at Shalune. Her eyes flicker over Jay for an instant as she watches her strange invention work--but says nothing. Instead...

Well, it's about this point that Claude shouts, and gets very tall. "--Don't tell me you're going to flex again--"

Instead of that, the spikes come, and Kaguya looks down at them quickly. The brilliant red light, the web of power...

Kaguya can sense how powerful it's about to be, so she does what any reasonable conqueror would do: dives, rolling across the ground to get behind the remnants of a stall, using it as cover to block out the explosion from hitting her.

She kips up an instant lately, and sees Shalune rushing her. The bobble hat falls, and Kaguya glances at it, once. ...Which is when the full out assault happens. Pink blob and white metal--

Kaguya twists to the side, ducking down so that her shoulder armor can take the brunt of the impact, and it skids her back, too fast and powerful for her to just stay in place for. ...But her armor diffuses a lot of the impact, so that when, yards back, they hit the wall, Kaguya can look back up at Shalune. "I guess that's how it is, huh?" Jay can't let her do this, she's sorry. Shalune...

Well, Jay gets a lucky shot--even though Kaguya's moved, she's briefly the most metal in the courtyard, and the lightning crashes into her, shocking through her whole body in a few very unpleasant instants. "Aaa-aa-a-"

She doesn't appreciate it much. ...But she is fighting a large group--enough that she doesn't see Margaret and her ally. Instead...

While Kaguya is fighting, Ethius does not need a warning; he is already working quickly, as quickly as he can given his injuries. The disc can easily be picked up, though it sounds its alarm louder and louder as he sets it on the rock. The lights start to flash faster, faster--

The bolt of electricity rockets through the device, and there's a faint scent of burning as, with a shower of sparks, it stops its noise. ...But it's not destroyed. Merely shorted. The lights are green again. ...Does it still work...?

Hard to say. But Kaguya turns as she gets a sudden sting, whirls around to look--sees Tabitha, and frowns. "...Come on," she says. "You can do better than that." Annoyed, she reaches up and pulls the bit out of her arm, throwing it to the ground, and then scowls over at Ethius.

"...Yeah, yeah. You just had to go for it. You could've run away, instead..."

A shake of her head, before Kaguya looks to the distance. More guards are coming quickly to take control of the situation. She offers a big shrug. "...Looks like my dance partner already left."

"Don't be surprised when this goes pear-shaped."

Kaguya pulls her gun again and points it straight down, and the resultant explosion of stand and rock sends up a cloud of debris... That obscures her escape.

The small Veruni is gone.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Tense moments pass as the bomb's lights reset to green. A hand remains extended over it, as though that were a necessary gesture to be sure of the character of its inner workings. Ethius visibly exhales - grappling with that uncertainty of the results, as he pulls the bandanna back up a bit higher over his face.
        He pulls the hood of his tunic off entirely, leaving his white hair exposed as he retrieves and gently wraps the explosive within it with all the caution and consideration one might their own child. The material of his hood is soft enough that he believes the chance of accidentally activating it again in transit to be... about as close to zero as he can manage, on such short notice.
        "I cannot." Ethius replies to Kaguya. He cannot because of some crazy man madness, or because he's so grievously wounded? Maybe both. He keeps the wrapped-up bomb close to him in one hand. In the other, he grabs one of the two satchels at his belt. He can't let the oncoming guards take what he has.
        A smoke cover - from the (in)famous Powder Grenade he likes utilizing in expeditions - gives him the visibility blockage he needs to retreat at an unflattering pace.
        He might need to use the other one in short order.

<Pose Tracker> Tabitha deVriese has posed.

Tabitha watches Kaguya go, whirling her gun around her finger and then tucking it into its holster. "Yeah," she mutters, and surreptitiously twists her right wrist to present the broad face of her gauntlet to her eyes. She taps at it with a fingertip.

A tiny red dot pulses on it, then begins scrubbing across the surface, outputting something in strange, spidery text.

She starts off - back toward another source of mayhem, so she can go make sure Loren didn't explode.

"Yeah," she repeats. "I sure can."

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

The effects of the Inverse Cartridge start to fade as Jacqueline manages to get to her feet. She's still uneasy, though, and definitely still woozy. She still can't see clearly, but she can hear.

"Pear-shaped? What do you mean by-" There's an explosion...but it's not the devastating, fiery kind. It's the kind that precedes an escape.

Kaguya is, undoubtedly, gone.

...And even if she wasn't, Jacqueline's not certain she's in any condition to withstand what she might do to her if she did catch up to her.

"Sha-..." Jacqueline's voice is caught in her throat for a moment. She swallows. "Shalune...are you alright?"

She looks around, looking for that tell-tale blur of pink.

"...Let's...find Big Shal and go home." She calls out. Jacqueline sounds...defeated, even beyond still feeling ill.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        Where is Big Shal at present??

        Well, a certain Seraph might be getting extra Big Shal time, perched right ontop of the golem in an incredibly comfortable position at present. "Aah, you're so incredibly round and wonderful, Big Shal..."

        Ammy is recharging... please wait warmly...

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        SUDDENLY, NONE TOO FAR - ACTUALLY, RIGHT IN THE WAY OF - KAGUYA'S ESCAPE PATH
 
        A charred, serrated husk of churning metal biomass in the shape of a worm-slug-whatever finally comes back down from the last tremendous blow rendered upon them. They roll about the ground, tongue lolling out the back, as their raspy breath seems choked between tears and fury. One arm seems to want to pretend to be a puddle. The other is a sharp, serrated scythe-hammer. They lie prone, wounded and shamed.
        "Khhhhh... did not run... did not run... ^Killer Killer^ will not get...!"

<Pose Tracker> Kaguya has posed.

Kaguya can move quickly--it's her arm, not her legs that are injured, and just a little injection is enough to let her ignore the pain enough to escape. She's pretty sure at least that whatever happened is going to leave an impact. ...But she isn't interested in stopping to people watch just now.

Her thoughts are interrupted; she had been looking back and forth carefully, but abrubtly something lands in front of her and Kaguya stops short, blinking wildly. "What the--"

She stops. She looks down. She looks to the awful, disgusting tongue lolling, hears the raspy, awful breath. The paddle arm. The hammer. The slime. There's silence for a few heartbeats.

Then into the air, loud enough even for those left behind to hear, echoes a girlish shriek out of nowhere.

"Oh EW EW EW EW?! I think it touched me--" Kaguya rears back her foot and kicks Yarobeleedt towards the horizon with all the strength she can muster, crossing her arms and gagging. "Ew, EW--"